A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Friday, March 28, 2008

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Please note however, that The Labour Party is not responsible for the content of this website or individual posts as, unless specifically stated, I am writing solely in a personal and individual capacity.


Nominations have closed for the London Mayor and Assembly elections.

A full list of candidates is here:


Of the minor parties:

The Greens are running in every seat

Left List (i.e. the SWP bit of Respect) are running in 12 of 13 constituencies, the exception being North East where I live which is odd given their activist base here.

Respect (Galloway) is only running in City & East (and for the London-wide list)

Socialist Alternative (AKA Militant) is running in Greenwich & Lewisham

The Socialist Party (I think this is SPGB) are standing in Lambeth & Southwark

BNP are also only standing in City & East (and for the list)

NF are standing in Bexley & Bromley, City & East, Ealing & Hillingdon, Greenwich & Lewisham, South West

UKIP are standing in every seat

Veritas are standing in Barnet & Camden

English Democrats are standing in every seat

Christian Peoples Alliance are standing in Barnet & Camden, Bexley & Bromley, City & East, Croydon & Sutton, Enfield & Haringey, Greenwich & Lewisham, Havering & Redbridge, Lambeth & Southwark, Merton & Wandsworth, South West

Christian Party is standing in Brent & Harrow, Ealing & Hillingdon, North East

The two Christian Parties seem to have some joint candidates and a joint list for the list section (ideologically the Christian Party is more fundamentalist whilst CPA says it aims to be a European style Christian Democrat party).

One London (the ex-UKIP, ex-Veritas GLA members) and Unity for Peace & Socialism (which I think is the orthodox Communist CPB) are running for the list but not the constituencies.

The War Between the Greens and Lib Dems

The Greens are making a very tactically astute grab for left-leaning Lib Dem voters - and have taken the gloves off:

Their press release says:

"Following a series of policy announcements from Brian Paddick which have shown him moving away from Liberal Democrat positions, particularly on the environment, Green AMs Darren Johnson and Jenny Jones are to deliver an open letter to Nick Clegg at the Lib Dem headquarters in Cowley Street, London, inviting him and his party to back Green candidate Siân Berry instead.
Paddick has pledged to tear up environmental policies that have been supported by both the Greens and the Liberal Democrats on the Assembly, in favour of Conservative positions. He has said he would:
-- Scrap the Low Emissions Zone which was introduced in February to cut the 1,000 premature deaths caused annually by air pollution.
-- Cancel the £25 congestion charge for gas-guzzling Band G vehicles, a policy championed by Lib Dem MP Lynne Featherstone when she was an Assembly Member.
-- Privatising the tube network so that: "One company runs the tracks, trains, staffing and signalling for a fixed fee and TfL take the fare box." Lib Dem candidates contested the 2000 Assembly elections as "Liberal Democrats: Against Tube Sell-off."
Darren Johnson AM said: "It's increasingly clear that there is no Liberal Democrat candidate in this election. Brian Paddick, who holds the party's nomination, is has made it clear that his aim is to capture Conservative votes and he is turning his back on Lib Dem voters to do that.
"We expected a display of anti-environment, pro-privatisation posturing from Boris Johnson, but it comes as a surprise to see it from Paddick. Lib Dems are no doubt similarly shocked.
"Liberal Democrat voters have been placed in the unenviable position of being asked to vote for a Conservative with a yellow rosette, and most will now find themselves politically closer to the Green candidate then their own.

"Siân Berry may not be a Liberal Democrat, but neither is Brian Paddick. We are urging Lib Dem supporters who still care about public transport, health and climate change to vote Green this time."

Council by-election results

Last night's council by-election results:

Stevenage Bedwell Division, Hertfordshire County Council. Lab hold. Lab 1452 (56.5%, +1.0), Con 625 (24.3%, -0.6%), LD 329 (12.8%, -6.8), UKIP 165 (6.4%, did not stand in 2005). 0.8% swing from Con to Lab.

Pin Green Ward, Stevenage BC. Lab hold. Lab 671 (54.8%, +3.2), Con 303 (24.7%, +1.7%), LD 149 (12.2%, -0.3%), UKIP 61 (5.0%, did not stand in 2007), Green 41 (3.3%, did not stand in 2007). 0.8% swing from Con to Lab.

Redwell West Ward, Wellingborough BC. Con hold. Con 669 (59.2%, -18.3), BNP 177 (15.6%), Lab 169 (14.9%, -7.6), LD 40 (3.5%), UKIP 39 (3.4%) , Green 37 (3.3%). BNP, LDs, UKIP and Greens did not stand in this ward in 2007. 17% swing from Con to BNP.

Well done to Stevenage Labour Party on their results, which are fantastic given the national opinion poll context confirmed by YouGov today - and very heartening in a key parliamentary marginal. Proof for Labour activists in the run up to 1 May that hard work at a local level can mean you buck the national trend.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Plus ca change

As a recovering ex-student politician I am gradually, having reluctantly given up my NOLS card and given my last leaving speech in 1996, letting go of my interest in the internal machinations of NUS (I've now got to the stage where I can only just name the current President (though I've worked out from her presence at Compass conference last year that she is a) politically offside and b) politically stupid) whereas a few years ago I could have recited the entire Block of 12 NEC Members, their factions, and roughly how many transfers they got at each stage of the STV ballot that elected them).

However, I occasionally suffer relapses prompted by coverage of matters NUS in the mainstream media such as today's letter in the Guardian:

"On April 1 the National Union of Students leadership will ask its annual conference to vote on the governance review in the name of "modernisation" and "democracy". Like Tony Blair's reform of the Labour Party, the review will destroy the remnants of NUS democracy in favour of spin-doctors, full-time "professionals" and an old boys' network of sabbatical officers. We will not allow our union to be shut down without a fight.
They want the NUS reformed back to the 1950s, when it was little more then a network of rightwing students associated with the CIA. In 1974, the NUS transformed itself into a mass campaigning movement capable of launching a national grants campaign, coordinating occupations and leading 40,000 students to march on parliament. Under a leftwing leadership, the NUS managed to challenge the government and turn itself into a real national union.
Labour Students and Labour "independents" have spent the past 20 years running down our union. Their unwavering support for the Labour government has confined resistance to Labour policy. Now the leadership wants to ditch all principles in the run-up to the government's 2010 higher education funding review. New Labour's love of business and its immoral foreign policy have created a new generation prepared to struggle for a better world. The left has won the leadership of several local students' unions and will continue to challenge for national leadership.
Rob Owen NUS national executive
Dominic Kavakeb president-elect, Essex University Students' Union
Claire Solomon copresident, SOAS SU
Assed Baig, NUS black students' committee
Jennifer Jones Goldsmiths College SU"

A quick bit of googling reveals all of the signatories are in or allied to the SWP. Now there's a shock.

I am so enthused by the idea of getting "the NUS reformed back to the 1950s, when it was little more then a network of rightwing students associated with the CIA" (though I suspect there may be a hint of hyperbole in the SWP's rhetoric) that I am tempted to sign on for a basket-weaving or motorcycle maintenance course at an FE college so that I can go along and vote for this dastardly reform package.

Personally whilst I would have been well up for going "back to the 1950s, when it was little more then a network of rightwing students associated with the CIA" when I was NOLS National Secretary, I couldn't find the CIA under C in the phone book, and they were a bit too busy arming the Taliban at that stage to fund the student branches of British political parties, who had to make do with standing in the mud as stewards at the Reading Festival to pay for our activities.

The letter concludes "The left has won the leadership of several local students' unions and will continue to challenge for national leadership."

The number of signatories tells you exactly how many student unions the left has won the leadership of: three. Hey, a promising start as there are only, what, 600 student unions in NUS.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Better late than never

Good to see the Government coming round to Alternative Vote (or Supplementary Vote as per the London Mayor election) for the Commons, PR for the Lords and compulsory voting if this is to be believed.

Any measure that increases voter choice and reduces the number of MPs elected on a minority vote should be welcomed.

However, the Government needs to go back to the Jenkins Report and get their heads round why the Jenkins Commission recommended AV+. The "+" means that as well as electing constituency MPs in single member seats by transferable voting (the Australian system) you would have a small top-up list in each region, to bring the representation of the parties in each region nearer to their percentage share of the vote e.g. if say Labour got 20% of the vote in Surrey but no constituency MPs, it might be entitled to a couple of top-up list MPs to compensate it.

Why is this important?

1) AV by itself whilst it increases voter choice can cause even more gross disproportionality in a landslide election than our current First-Past-The-Post system does. For instance in 1997 Labour and Lib Dem voters would most likely have transferred to each other so the Tories would have been left with only about 100 seats for 30% of the vote under AV alone. Amusing, but not democratic. The "+" bit corrects some of the disproportionality.

2) AV by itself does not remove the "electoral deserts" that are a major fault of FPTP - e.g. the absence of Labour MPs in the rural south even though Labour gets hundreds of thousands of votes there, and the mirror lack of Tory representation in urban areas. These "electoral deserts" skew people's perceptions of the parties, and make them less response to voters in all parts of the country than national parties should be in a healthy democracy, because areas are "written off". This is bad both for unrepresented minority voters in the areas concerned, and bad for the political parties. Ultimately it is bad for social cohesion - it would be possible for the Tories to win power under FPTP or AV with hardly any urban or Scottish MPs which would be deeply alienating for the areas wholly represented by the opposition.

Paddick blows a gasket

Lib Dem mayoral candidate Brian Paddick has joined the foaming at the mouth contributors on the Guardian's comment is free.


In amongst the Guardian letters page yesterday (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/mar/24/tibet) were a good few letters that looked like they had been drafted by the foreign ministry in Beijing.

We get some references to "Tibetans' benefits in China's modernisation programme" and the usual guff that "the Dalai Lama's Tibet was a feudal tyranny characterised by torture, enslavement and an exploitation more raw than anything offered by capitalist modernity".

Anyone who has been watching the current BBC series "A Year in Tibet" or who has visited Tibet would be hard-pressed to see what benefits Chinese colonialism has brought to Tibet. Yes it is more "modern" in the sense that there are some tarmacked roads (the better to move Red Army tanks down to crush rebellions) and some tractors. Pretty much the same modernisation Stalin brought to the Ukraine in the 1930s. Given that China colonised Tibet nearly 50 years ago we don't know how modern a free Tibet would be by now.

Like the Chinese people themselves, the Tibetans are on the receiving end of a regime that combines the worst excesses of Communism (zero freedom of political choice, arbitrary human rights abuses, prison camps, total disregard the cultural rights of ethnic and religious minorities) with a Dickensian model of capitalism straight out of the pages of Engels' "Condition of the Working Class in England in 1848". Current day Chinese "Communism" includes such notable features as having no free education, no free health care, no free trade unions and no welfare safety net. The USA has more claim to be "socialist" than China does.

Another letter in the Guardian warns that "China is a nation state composed of at least 70 separate groups dominated by the Han. If the Chinese leadership allows one group to win independence, this could be the beginning of the dismantling of the Chinese state."

Er... isn't that the point? I guess a similar letter in 1947 would have warned that independence for India would lead to the dismantling of the British Empire, or one in 1990 would have warned that independence for the Baltic States would lead to the dismantling of the Soviet Union.

The Han Chinese have no more right to rule the other ethnic groups in China than the British had to rule India or the Russians to rule Estonia, Georgia or the Ukraine.

The collapse of the USSR showed you cannot keep entire nations enslaved in perpetuity. Sooner or later freedom will need to come to Tibet and the other minorities in China, and democracy will need to come to the Chinese people. Someone in Beijing needs to realise that history will look more kindly on China's Gorbachev than it will on those ordering the butchery of monks and other protesters in Tibet.

In defence of Kim Howells

This is one of those posts guaranteed to make me unpopular (including with quite a few of my friends and close political allies on other issues), but I think Kim Howells should be applauded for standing up to Tribune et al over Colombia.

He may have been wrong to claim that Justice for Colombia supports the FARC narco-terrorists, but it's an easy mistake to make as their main campaign at the moment is to end UK military aid and training to the Colombian government, which would directly benefit FARC, the other participant in a civil war, and cuddly old Venezuela, which is busy threatening its neighbour with arms purchased from Russia, China etc.

Justice for Colombia, having clarified their position, ought to drop their biased campaign which would only help one side in the conflict (and would stop aspects of UK military training that are actually about inculcating respect for human rights in the Colombian armed forces) and give as much prominence to atrocities committed by FARC in their website and other materials as they do to those committed by rightwing paramilitaries. In both cases the victims are democratic politicians and trade unionists.

Their other key campaign, for the freeing of political prisoners, is laudable, but again ridiculously one-sided in making to mention of the political hostages - including a former presidential candidate - held prisoner by FARC.

It's a disappointing feature of the British left that otherwise sensible people glamorise or turn-a-blind-eye to the authoritarian left in Latin America - whether Cuba, Venezuela or FARC.

Incidentally, Colombia's President Uribe spent his entire career before winning the presidency as a member of the Liberal Party, which is Labour's longstanding sister party in the Socialist International, and the minority faction in the Liberal Party is in government with him.

I'm glad that the British Government is supporting the democratically elected government in Colombia.

Corrections Column

It's always enjoyable to see just how far off the mark both Tory commentators and journalists can be about internal Labour matters:

e.g. 1 - Iain Dale thinks Neal Lawson and Compass are "Brownite" and that Lawson has "never edited anything in his life". Neal has actually spent most of the last year attacking Brown for being too Blairite, and has edited "Renewal" magazine for well over a decade.

e.g. 2 - The Observer lists Charlie Whelan, Douglas Alexander and Geoffrey Robinson as "Exiles from the court of Brown" and says Whelan "runs a salmon fishing business in Scotland". Which is strange because I thought Whelan was National Political Director of Unite, Labour's largest union affiliate, Alexander is a Cabinet Minister and Robinson owns the New Statesman, the country's main centre-left magazine.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Council by-election results

Last Thursday's council by-election results (belatedly due to an internet-free Easter weekend).

Wish I hadn't bothered to look now I've seen them:

Gooshays Ward, Havering. BNP hold. BNP 865 (38.0%, +9.8), Lab 741 (32.5%, +6.6), Con 489 (21.5%;-5.5), UKIP 70 (3.1%;-7.6), National Liberal Party 62 (2.7%;+2.7), Lib Dem 52 (2.3%;+2.3)

Vassall Ward, Lambeth. LD gain from Lab. Lib Dem 1209 (50.4%;+14.9), Lab 859 (35.8%;-8.4), Con 206 (8.6%;-2.8), Green 109 (4.5%;+4.5), English Democrats 8 (0.3%;+0.3), Ind 7 (0.3%;+0.3)

Yapton, Arun DC. Con hold. Con 620 (59.8%;-4.8), Lib Dem 212 (20.4%;-2.4), BNP 205 (19.8%;+19.8) Labour did not stand.

The Gooshays result confirms the risk that the BNP could get on the GLA if turnout is low on 1 May.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


I have a new geeky toy now that I have been given my own log-in and let lose on data entry on the party's new voter contact database, contact.creator.

Aside from it being web-based, and having some really irritating bugs involving phone numbers, I am struggling to work out quite how it improves on the old system, Labour.contact.

Am I missing something in terms of functionality? Answers from other Labour geeks gratefully accepted.

Well done the Greens

Never thought I'd say this having been involved in some tough council elections against them, but well done Sian Berry and the Greens for their deal with Ken on second preference votes for London Mayor. Green transfers could make the difference between Ken winning and losing.

I hope Green voters follow this lead - it's good to see the Green Party finally acknowledge that it is clearly part of a left/progressive tradition that includes Labour, because sometimes on councils they have been prepared to do deals with the Tories to keep Labour out of power.

I resolve to be especially friendly to Mischa, Danny, Mark, Keith, Mima and the other Stoke Newington Greens out on the campaign trail and will (as I did in 2004) happily be reciprocating as requested by Ken by giving them my Mayoral second preference.

Monday, March 17, 2008

On Hutton

My response to John Hutton's Progress lecture here:


A painful start to campaigning

The Mayoral and GLA election campaign seems to be well and truly under way.

I'm now nursing a nasty cough brought on by seven hours leafleting in the rain, plus extensive bruising from slipping and falling down a set of concrete steps on the way to stick a Ken for Mayor newspaper through a basement flat door. Politics is a risky business!

My constituency party delivered over 20,000 newspapers over the weekend, and as I went past Dalston Kingsland railway station on the 243 bus this morning there was a cluster of Hackney South comrades leafleting there as well.

Last night a team of us including Diane Abbott also stuffed and labelled a mailing with posters in it to all our members and previous poster requesters, so posters should start appearing in windows in the next few days.

Overall, this doesn't feel anything like the previous London-wide elections in terms of activity levels - and feels far more like a General Election.

It will be interesting to see if the weekend's dreadful opinion polls are only pertinent to General Election voting intentions - will start finding out as we crank up the canvassing this week.

So far only the Lib Dems seem to have been out delivering anything of our opponents in Hackney.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Streatham Selection

LabourHome reports that Chuka Umunna of Compass beat Lambeth Council Leader Steve Reed today to become PPC for Streatham:

"First ballot:
Cathy Ashley 60
Dora Dixon-Fyle 7
Steve Reed 143
Naz Sarkar 3
Chuka Umunna 125

Transfers from Cathy, Dora and Naz went 19 to Steve and 50 to Chuka.
Final result:
Steve Reed 162
Chuka Umunna 175"

I won't pretend to be pleased, because I'm not.

Friday, March 14, 2008

My prayers are answered

Christine Shawcroft lost last night's parliamentary selection in Nottingham South. Proof once again that in supposedly "left" CLPs the usual story is of a very small activist base, and that once you consult the whole membership you get a sensible result.

Council by-election results

Last night's council by-election results:

Horsehay & Lightmoor Ward, Telford & Wrekin: Con gain from Ind.

Wrockwardine Ward, Telford & Wrekin: Con hold.

Queen's Park Ward, Brent. LD hold. LD 1242 (47%), Lab 851 (32%), Con 292 (11%), Green 239 (9%). Disappointing result for Labour in a ward we had hoped to regain. Green vote squeezed heavily by LDs as in other recent London by-elections. LD up 9%, Lab up 1%, Con down 3.5%, Green down 6.5%.

Water Park Ward, Cotswold DC. LD gain from Con with 16% swing.

Gresham Ward, Middlesborough. Lab hold.

Marton West Ward, Middlesborough. Com hold.

Marlborough Ward, Harrow. Lab hold. Lab 972, LibDem 628, Con 507, BNP 94, Ind 74, Green 71. Labour down 2.1%, LD up 2.7%, Con down 10.8% and falling from second to third.

Wantage Charlton Ward, Vale of the White Horse. Con gain from LD on 2.6% swing.

Grove and Wantage Division, Oxfordshire County Council. LD hold.

Wallingford Division, Oxfordshire County Council. Ind gain from LD.

The Brent and Harrow results suggest a lack of Tory traction in a GLA Division which is itself a Tory marginal and could be critical to Boris Johnson's chances of winning on 1 May.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Claude Moraes tops London MEP list

Claude Moraes MEP has taken approximately 2/3 of the vote from London Labour members to top the Party's list of Euro-candidates in London. Mary Honeyball MEP will be number 2 on the list and Robert Evans MEP number 3.

Spink resigns Tory Whip

Just heard this about my Tory opponent from the 2005 General Election:

The Conservative MP for Castle Point Bob Spink has just told the Commons he has resigned the Tory Party Whip. He said it was because the party had failed to deal with serious 'criminal and other irregularities' in his constituency . At this point he was cut off by the Deputy Speaker.

I am not surprised. Although Bob's politics are very right wing, he is at least motivated by political ideology rather than self-interest. This seems to have upset some people in the local business/political establishment in Castle Point.

Osler on the Mayoral fight

My Stoke Newington Central Branch Labour Party comrade Dave Osler is on top form today:


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A serious candidate for a serious job

... was actually Nick Raynsford's slogan during the 24 hours at Labour Party Conference 1999 when he was running for Mayor of London.

But it would serve equally well for the contrast between Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson.

On the core issues that the Mayor actually has power over, Ken has a command of the policy detail and the way to actually make change happen and run a huge city that Boris hasn't even realised he needs, let alone started to acquire.

Evidence was yesterday's transport policy launch in Stratford. Dave Hill reports on what the Mayor had to say here: http://davehill.typepad.com/london3ms/2008/03/livingstones-tr.html

Out here at the grassroots the slumbering giant that is the London Labour Party is stirring into life - last night my constituency had a packed telephone voter ID session, tomorrow we hold an all-member mobilisation meeting, and this weekend we hope to deliver over 20,000 leaflets. It's all getting quite exciting.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Iain Dale's house ...

... must be massive if he is he is, as stated here, paying £2253.70 Council Tax.

I don't think we have many houses in Hackney valuable enough to be in a Council Tax band that high (I checked and actually there are about 1,000 homes in Hackney in this Band (G) and the one above it, out of 93,000 ). We froze our council tax this year unlike Iain's Tory council that hiked their's by 4%. Even in a Band G house like Iain's, CT in Hackney is nearly £200 lower in Labour Hackney than he pays in Tory Kent.

Move to Labour Hackney Iain, we've got smaller houses and we've frozen our element of the council tax three years in a row, so you'd save money both ways round. The local Tories could do with some new blood as well.

Iain blames it all on "ten years of Labour". Nothing to do with the people actually setting his council tax: Kent County Council, Tory in all except 4 years since 1973, or Tunbridge Wells District Council, Tory for all except 6 years since 1973?

Iain is also "struggling to think what I get for my Council Tax beyond a fortnightly rubbish collection and a Police Service". Plus he thinks he should pay less for the Fire Service if there are fewer fires ... ho hum.

I know this is a hard concept for a Tory to understand but the point about tax isn't just about what you get back, it's about helping to redistribute money from rich bloggers like him and (unfortunately not quite in the same league) me to people who need services but can't afford to buy them.

Even in Tory Kent local government provides:

- waste disposal as well as waste removal
- schools
- nurseries (including the one employing my mum)
- libraries (probably stocking some of Iain's books)
- social services to protect and care for vulnerable children, adults with disabilities and the elderly
- parks and leisure facilities
- roads (for Iain to drive his Audi down)
- steet lights
- planning and licensing services
- CCTV in case it gets lively in downtown Tunbridge Wells

Anyway Iain thanks for your contribution keeping my mum employed educating Kent's under-5s.

If you really want to get the Council Tax in Tunbridge Wells under control why not stand and become a councillor?

Labour up 3%

Populus poll out today: CON 37% (-3): LAB 34% (+3): LD 19%(+2)

I think we are about to see some major Tory spin efforts to depress expectations about the 1 May elections. I scent the possibility of an upset.

The new General Secretary

Congraulations and good luck to David Pitt-Watson in his new job.

He's the first Gen Sec since Larry Whitty who I haven't known because his previous period as AGS was just after I stopped working for the Party.

I therefore don't have a take on what he's going to be like, but he's got off to a flying start by causing a fight between Peter Kenyon and Susan Press. Neat work.

LRC affiliate backs Respect against Ken

"Labour Representation Committee" (sic) affiliate, the Alliance for Workers Liberty (formerly known as Socialist Organiser) is backing the SWP's Lindsey German against Ken Livingstone for Mayor of London.

Ironically, SO/AWL has a long history of hating the SWP, but apparently they hate Ken even more.

Isn't it time the "Labour Representation Committee" tightened up its rules on affiliates and kicked out the AWL?

Labour Euro Selections

The results of Labour's European Parliament candidate selections are dribbling out region by region:

East Midlands

1) Glenis Willmott MEP

2) Roy Kennedy

3) Kathy Salt

4) J David Morgan

5) Cate Taylor

North West

1) Arlene McCarthy MEP

2) Brian Simpson MEP

3) Theresa Griffin

1) Eluned Morgan MEP
2) Derek Vaughan
3) Lisa Stevens
4) Gareth Williams

Yorkshire & Humberside

1) Linda McAvan MEP

2) Richard Corbett MEP

3) Emma Hoddinot

4) David Bowe

5) Melanie Onn

6) Maroof Hussain MBE

Good Sunday for the left

Good results yesterday for Labour's socialist sister parties in both the Spanish General Election and the French local elections. Congratulations comrades!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

"Opinion" polls

One of my pet bugbears is that "opinion" polls, because of their designation, are taken to be representative of the state of public opinion.

In fact they aren't. The headline figures quoted by the newspapers for voting intention aren't the raw data showing what the public currently think about the parties - i.e. the "opinion" of the nation. In fact they are filtered to take into account propensity to vote so what we are actually given is the "opinion" of the people who the pollsters think will vote - they are therefore a prediction of the likely outcome of a General Election (useful in itself), not a measure of the popularity of the parties.

The February Ipsos MORI poll illustrates this. (http://www.ipsos-mori.com/polls/2008/mpm080226.shtml)

Looking at the headline figure quoted in the press, you would think that the Tories were very marginally more popular than Labour (Con 39%, Lab 37%, LD 16%).

But that's the figure after they've stripped out all the low propensity to turnout voters. The actual "opinion" of the nation is listed below that: Lab 42%, Con 34%, LD 15% i.e. an 8% Labour lead and a government that with the population, as opposed to the high propensity to vote population, is actually rather popular. Of course the very people Labour policies on health, education, regeneration, improving social housing, minimum wage, workplace rights, tax credits, full employment etc. have done most to help are by definition the least well off in society, who because of social exclusion are the least likely to vote. It's bad enough that their opinions don't get registered at the ballot box in proportion to the rest of the population, but nowadays they don't even get picked up by opinion polls.

Imagine how little political momentum David Cameron would have picked up if it had been made clear that for almost the entire time he has been leader, the Tories hadn't been ahead of Labour in terms of public support - only ahead amongst those most likely to vote.

Polling companies and the media ought to stop saying "opinion poll" and start saying "election predictive model". Even the utility of it for predicting elections breaks down if we reject the assumption that election turnout will always be as low as it was in 2001 and 2005. Surely if we had a 1992-style election which people thought was highly competitive again, turnout will go up again and people other than those "certain to vote" will get excited enough by the closeness of the contest to turn out?

Labour needs to focus on how we get the people who constitute our 8% lead in public opinion turned into people who will actually vote. I think we should revisit Tom Watson and Mark Tami's Fabian pamphlet from a few years back that recommended we introduce compulsory voting on the Australian model.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Council by-election results

Last night's council by-elections:

Highgate Ward, LB Haringey. Lib Dem hold. LD 1339 (50.9%, +12.6%), Con 725 (27.5%, -1.5%), Lab 241 (9.2%, -1.3%), Ind 190 (7.2%, -4.4%), Green 138 (5.2%, -5.3%). Similar LD squeeze on the Green vote as in nearby Camden ward of Fortune Green a couple of weeks ago.

Rugby Lawford/New Bilton Division, Warwickshire County Council. Lab hold by 1 vote after two recounts! Lab 724 (33.8%, -7.9%), Con Con 723 (33.7%, +4.7%), BNP 313 (14.6%, +14.6%), LD 235 (11.0%, -3.3%), Green 148 (6.9%, +6.9%). An independent took 15% when the seat was last contested in 2005.

Cambuslang East Ward, S Lanarkshire. Lab gain from SNP. First round result: Lab 725, 28% (-22%), SNP 609, 23% (unchanged), LD 580, 22% (+8%), Con 80, 3% (-6%), Other 600 23% (+20%) (Quirk of STV is that if a minority councillor in a ward dies or resigns, the largest party in the multi-member ward usually picks up the seat - this ward was 2 Lab, 1 SNP last year).

Thursday, March 06, 2008

On selecting Hard Left candidates

As I expected, my post on Christine Shawcroft has got people excited.

Good. Choosing a Labour candidate is an important process. It's vital that selection processes are scrutinised and candidates' records examined - if they become MPs they don't just write our laws, they are the talent pool from which we choose a Labour Government.

The process needs to be political not just a glorified job interview because the composition of the PLP plays a large part in determining Labour's direction and it's electability.

The election of new Hard Left MPs - be they Christine Shawcroft or anyone else - is a bad thing for a number of reasons:

1) It sends voters a message that Labour is forgetting the lessons they (the electorate) taught us about their low level of tolerance of extremist politics in the 1980s.
2) It's the thin end of the wedge - one extra Hard Left MP might not matter now but it could matter a lot if that person is still there in 20 years screwing up a more evenly balanced PLP.
3) In a parliament with a narrow Labour majority, having "Labour" MPs who break the whip and vote against their own government is about as useful to sustaining that government as a chocolate teapot.
4) Not many of them show any aptitude to be ministers - but they deny seats to other potential Labour candidates who would obey the whip and would make good ministers.
5) An MP's politics often shape those of their CLP. I care about the grassroots politics of the Labour Party, so I want MPs who will lead their CLPs in a sensible direction.
6) My personal experience is that Hard Left MPs don't prioritise campaigning or embrace modern campaigning techniques in the way other Labour MPs do - i.e. they have a negative organisational impact.

This isn't a game. When Labour didn't take selections seriously in the past and allowed multiple Christine Shawcrofts into the PLP and even more of them into positions of influence in the wider party, we were unelectable for a generation. The people who paid a price in lost jobs and life chances and public services were not on the Editorial Board of Labour Briefing, they were ordinary Labour voters.

A side issue in the post below concerns Trotskyists and their suitability as Labour MPs. Here my view is one of zero tolerance. If you embrace an ideology - Leninism - that believes in violent revolution leading to a dictatorship of the proletariat, then by definition you are not Labour because we are a democratic socialist party, and if you've really considered the implications of your ideology and the violence and absence of democracy and human rights it involves, you must be quite sick to carry on supporting it.

Strange bedfellows in troubled times

The Bennite Campaign for Labour Party Democracy website reveals a none-too-enthusiastic endorsement for Jack Dromey for Treasurer:

"updated...4 March 2008
Jack Dromey for Treasurer
The T&G, which is affiliated to CLPD, has asked Constituency Labour Parties to nominate Jack Dromey for treasurer of the Labour Party and we are therefore passing on this request to CLPD supporters. "


With supporters like that, who needs enemies.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Beating the BNP in Havering

Havering's only BNP councillor has resigned. At the 2006 council election, Gooshays Ward was highly marginal between Labour, the Tories and the BNP candidate. Yve Cornell, our candidate, was beaten by the narrowest possible margin, on the flip of a coin.

A By-election on 20 March gives us an opportunity to win back a seat on the council and kick the BNP out of Havering. This is the start of the fight back against the recent far right election gains in East London.

Yve has been selected to run for us again. Please come and help her win this vital election. We will be out campaigning every day until the election and will also be organising some telephone canvassing from central London. For more information including meeting places and times, and to offer support, contact Labour’s London East Organiser Rob Chapman on rob_chapman@new.labour.org.uk .

Reproduced from an email promoted and sent by Rob Chapman on behalf off Yve Cornell and the Harold Hill Labour Party all at 273 South St, Romford, RM1 2BE

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Nottingham South

Christine Shawcroft (known as Christine Trotsky in the London Labour Party) has made it onto the shortlist for the parliamentary selection for Nottingham South, having been rejected by at least three CLPs (Reading East, Swindon South, Hackney South where I think she only got two votes out of 550 members) in the run up to 2005.

I have to ask how she got on the national parliamentary panel given that she has been turned down as unsuitable to be both a GLA candidate and a Tower Hamlets Council candidate.

I honestly can't think of anyone less likely to add anything positive to the PLP and more likely to be a wholly destructive factionalist rebel.

Asides from the, some might say carpet-bagging journey from Poplar & Canning Town via the afore-mentioned selection defeats and a candidacy in Meriden in 2001 to Nottingham, her CV consists of an encyclopedic range of offices held in overlapping Bennite factions:
  • Vice-Chair of the LRC (Labour Representation Committee)
  • Member of the Editorial Board of Labour Left Briefing
  • Former Vice-Chair of CLPD

Still at least if she becomes an MP she can't be on the constituency section of the NEC anymore.

Gareth Butler

Last Thursday I linked to an excellent article Gareth Butler had written for Progress: http://progressonline.org.uk/Magazine/article.asp?a=2505

To the distress and shock of the many people in politics and journalism who knew him, Gareth died suddenly at the age of only 42 this weekend.

I didn't know Gareth as well as I ought to have done given our shared interest in political facts and figures, but had met him through my friend Jessica Asato, who he married last year.

Gareth's obituary, written by Jon Sopel, was in today's Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/mar/04/bbc.radio

It's a tragedy that someone so talented and so liked by everyone he worked with should be lost at such a young age. My thoughts are with Jessica and the rest of Gareth's family at this sad time.

Amicus intrigue

I was intrigued to get a direct mail leaflet with a nice neat little label and a Greenford postmark from Ray Morrell, Amicus Unity Gazette candidate for the Unite/Amicus NEC.

As brother Morrell and Unity Gazette's politics are not very compatible with mine (several of their NEC slate are in the SWP) I can't imagine they researched my name and address and singled me out for sending campaign literature to.

Unity Gazette has obviously got hold of either the mailing list for every Unite/Amicus GC delegate in my region, or the entire regional membership list.

There isn't necessarily a data protection issue as the data has remained inside the union rather than going to a third party, but there is one of fairness and a level playing field - have the other two candidates in my region been offered similar access to the mailing list so they can communicate with electors?

I'm happy to take this post down if someone can prove either Unity Gazette got the data legitimately, or it has been offered to every candidate.

Vote Sally Mulready

My friend and co-councillor for my ward Sally Mulready has made it into the final six shortlist for the Hull East parliamentary selection - John Prescott's current seat. Her website is here: http://sallymulready.blogspot.com/

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The speech of the conference

The stand-out speech of the Spring Conference came this morning from Ed Miliband who spoke without notes about the manifesto for the next General Election, was stunningly impressive, and got a spontaneous standing ovation. He was very, very good. You can read what he had to say here.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Spring Conference

I'm in Birmingham for Labour's Spring Conference.

Did anyone watch Brown's speech on TV? In the hall it was very impressive, particularly the Q&A chaired by Kevin McGuire afterwards. I thought it was a lot better than his speech at Annual Conference - more relaxed and with a clearer view of the central theme of govt policy which it's apparent Brown wants to be about helping everyone to achieve their full potential through education, skills, welfare-to-work, tackling child poverty etc. I'm interested to know how it looked to the TV audience.

As a decision on who will be Labour's General Secretary is close there seems to be intense lobbying of NEC members going on by the rival Mike Griffiths and David Pitt-Watson camps. It's a tough choice as both have quite different skill sets - Mike as a veteran party and union official and David as a finance/management expert. A shame the job can't be split so we could get both of them on a Chief Exec and Chief Operating Officer model.

On a totally different topic, hi to London Region Labour Party Director Ken Clark and Enfield & Haringey Organiser Stephen Longden, both regular readers of this blog and part of Labour's thin red line tipped with steel holding back the Borisonian hordes. Keep up the good work guys!

I'm now off to find the Labour First reception.

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