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.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

As I was going to St Ives ...

I got back from a mercifully politics, internet and email free holiday in Cornwall today, booked as recuperation from the London elections before anyone knew these would be followed by a parliamentary by-election.

So I feel slightly guilty about having spent Thursday night not pounding the streets of Crewe, but looking at St Ives Bay from the balcony of the Porthminster Beach Cafe (for anyone interested in food this place deserves the ranking it got as the UK's number 1 seaside restaurant).

Not having been up there I'm reluctant to start criticising a campaign that I didn't experience first hand, based on the caricature of it presented in the media. My hunch is that the size of the Tory majority means it wouldn't have mattered what we put in our leaflets or what stunts involving people in silly costumes we did or didn't do, we still would have lost. This wasn't an election decided by the local tactics, it was decided by the national strategic picture.

I'm in favour of attack campaigning - it works and you need to give voters reasons not to vote for your opponents, as well as reasons to vote for you - but we made the mistake in Crewe of allowing a stunt attacking a person rather than their, and their party's policies, to take centre stage - the political equivalent to playing the man, not the ball. This made it look like we didn't have much to say about policy, when in fact Tamsin Dunwoody had a lot of good ideas about local regeneration. It also starts a trend we might live to regret in future - if we set the precedent that it's fair game in a by-election to savage the background of a candidate rather than their politics, pretty soon there are going to be Labour candidates on the receiving end of similar treatment, and more and more people of all parties will just not bother to come forward to run for public office. I think it's acceptable and indeed fair comment to go after the Tories in general as a party of and for the privileged, but picking on an individual Tory candidate's background was mean-spirited and a distraction from the real issues.

The real issue of course, is that despite the tax changes reversing the 10p abolition, ordinary people are being screwed economically at the moment. Anyone trying to renew a mortgage that has come to the end of its term is facing a huge hike in interest rates and the necessities of life like groceries and both domestic and car fuel are shooting up in price. In these circumstances I think we were lucky to still find 12,000 people to vote for us in Crewe.

I don't think it's all about Gordon Brown's personality, because that wouldn't explain why the same dour grumpy Scotsman was 10% ahead in the polls last September - he wasn't any more smiley then.

But I do think he needs to stop saying how good he is at steering the economic ship, and going on about trust in troubled waters etc. The trust will come back when actions we start taking actually make people's material conditions better. Until then past record is meaningless and irrelevant - people are hurting in the here and now, not judging us on how good we were until this year.

We need to stop sounding like the economy is something wholly outside the government's responsibility and that all we can do is steer our way through it. That's the kind of attitude that governments had in the pre-New Deal era. Voters think the government runs the country - globalisation or no globalisation - so either we should get on with doing it, or let someone else have a go. If the problem is international, then let's start delivering international solutions with other governments.

I give as an example of the lack of imagination being displayed about how to intervene in the economy, my (about to be former) mortgage lender, Northern Rock. The Government actually now owns it, but rather than use this control to help home-buyers they are actually instructing the company to down-size by only offering punitive interest rates, i.e. one of the levers that could be used imaginatively to help the public keep their homes and pay affordable mortgage repayments is instead being used to make the situation worse.

Some of my holiday reading was memoirs of various Tory politicians of the early '90s (OK so maybe my time on the beach wasn't wholly non-political). Folk in No10 should take a look. The Tories in 1991 were in a very similar place to us now. Just ditched a charismatic three times election winner. New PM who wasn't exactly media friendly and was already being muttered about. Nothing good to say about the economy (in fact as they had 15% interest rates and 3 million unemployed they would have given their right arm for our current scenario). Losing by-elections and local elections on huge swings. Not much to say in policy terms as they were knackered after 12 years in power (at least we haven't suggested a cones hotline like Major did).

They managed to get disciplined, get ministers focused on what policies would deliver for the key segments of the electorate that they needed to win back, and ruthlessly analysed and dissected Labour's policies, then exposed all the flaws they found to destroy our reputation as an alternative government. 1992 showed that nothing is inevitable in politics, particularly not the removal of an incumbent government. We need to start looking at some of the lessons from then, and of how sister parties in the Nordic countries have won multiple terms in government in the past (clue: it's because at every general election they offer a social policy change (such as expanding free childcare) that will improve the lives of ordinary voters that is so big and transformative in nature it defines the whole of the election debate, is impossible for conservatives to want or be able to match, and inspires our people to turn out because they know they can't afford not to) and start turning our fire on Tory policies, not their people or each other.


Blogger Chris Paul said...

I disagree Luke. We might have done better by far without this material and these stunts and with a more convention kind of build up of positives and a conventional positive electoral address.

Very low turn out in "our" areas. And no-one who wanted to give us a kicking would be put off by the toff line, the con man line. Though they might have been by a serious mea culpa plus promise of bold representation against any government.

10:19 pm, May 24, 2008

Blogger labourparty said...

//We need to stop sounding like the economy is something wholly outside the government's responsibility and that all we can do is steer our way through it. That's the kind of attitude that governments had in the pre-New Deal era. Voters think the government runs the country - globalisation or no globalisation - so either we should get on with doing it, or let someone else have a go. If the problem is international, then let's start delivering international solutions with other governments.//

Wrong, wrong, wrong!
Go take a look at the last polls they asked this very question. Asked who could solve the troubles, 35% said neither Party (or government). The electorate is not as stupid as the media and politicians sometimes think.

In fact, the very polls which were headlined as disasters for Labour, contain the very reasons why Labour can recover. Don't tell anybody though, it'll ruin the plot...

11:06 pm, May 24, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post Luke. Agree with just about everything you said (for once).

11:36 pm, May 24, 2008

Blogger eeore said...

Uh It helps when you don't run a campaign that attacks someone for being a toff when your candiadate is listed in Burkes peerage.

And it helps when when you run a campaign that is based in reality.

The Labour party seriuously needs to wake up to the reality of life in Britain - it needs to control immigration, stop attacking the sick and disabled, either use Europe for beneifit of the people - i.e by collectively bargaining on fuel prices - or get out of the Eu, stop the cronyism in housing associations and the sale of council houses, stop using multiculturalism as a way of dividing and ruling - in short it needs a total rethink of why people voted for the Labour governemnt in 1997 - it certainly wasn't to get the Tories on Tick.

12:58 am, May 25, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

12000 votes is rather impressive in a 'referendum' on Gordon Brown and an 11 year old government.

Think back to those huge by election swings of 30% in the lead up to 1997 and then 18% looks good, but not amazing. Not dazzling.

Brown needs to re connect in key ways.

The Post Office is a running sore. Competition has gone far enough in most peoples eyes. Most people want to keep their local post office and the universal stamp price. We would not face any issue from Europe as the commission has a report that says postal services are not like parcel services or supermarkets.

Petrol. 4p off a litre asap would help enormously. Not that it would show with rising oil prices, but it would be a very friendly signal.

Iraq. Leave the airport base asap. I was against the war in the first place, but very much back finishing the mission properly. Now is the time to signal the shift.

48 day detention. Make it a free vote. Offer judicial oversight over any 'emergency situations' as part of debate. Lose vote honourably and move on.

Immigration and local services. A very clear policy needs to emerge. Quick decisions need to be made to help London Boroughs in particular. Housing - facing up to the actual facts of 'need based allocation' systems. Political spin on this no longer washes when ordinary people are locked out of much of the new housing and bigger housing because they are already in (slightly overcrowded) accommodation.

Its about facing facts and delivering on the very basic issues that affect the quality of life of ordinary hard working people (not just families).

1:14 am, May 25, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome back Luke, I was wandering where you got too, I trust you had a good hols.
Be very careful what you write, any more of these reasoned sensibly post and you may find yourself dragged into number 10.
Whilst I agree almost entirely on your analysis, only from a Labour point of view however. To an extent I got the feeling from Crewe and the local elections, the very policies that has kept Labour going is what is bringing them down now.
Amongst the C2’s, because of the worsening economy (and we may differ how bad it is compared to the early 90’s) when they hear Labour saying “record investment” they hear borrowing beyond our means, “global economic crises” they translate that as Labour does not have the answers. They just want all the credit for the good times, but cannot deal with the bad times.
There is a long time to go until the next General elections, and yes your right Gordon may yet pull it back, but history says it is more likely to get worse. May 2009 European elections the Conservatives did very badly last time, County Council elections cushioned for Labour being in 2001, 2005 last times plus the unexpected.

3:16 am, May 25, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think we were right to attack the person in this case. We presented the voters of Crewe with a very real choice - someone who they knew would fight for their interests even inside their own party, and an out-of-touch Tory who (due to his background) couldn't even understand people's concerns and who in any case would do whatever Cameron wanted.

Most people seemed to get that message (even if it didn't translate through the wider media) and our core vote really turned out on the day.

Yes, we were never really in with a chance and yes, the size of the turnout showed both that the Tories are organised again and that their vote is really motivated at the moment (we knew that from May, though). But it doesn't show that we were wrong to attack the Tory candidate - in fact doing so changed the narrative in many people's minds from being a referendum on Gordon Brown to being a choice on who was best qualified to represent them.

9:56 am, May 25, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

“it's because at every general election they offer a social policy change (such as expanding free childcare) that will improve the lives of ordinary voters that is so big and transformative in nature it defines the whole of the election debate”

Luke, with the reservation that this approach is weakening in the Nordic countries I would agree. But the reality is that in the UK that we no longer have the institutions, infrastructure or politics in place to make this model feasible.

It was done in the Nordic countries in the context of well over half a century of progressive and strongly redistributive taxation and social benefits systems. The Blair- Brown Governments have in effect made permanent the Thatcher-inspired dismantling of the UK version of progressive taxation and benefits. Another vital aspect is that delivery of public services has never been dominated in Nordic countries by the powerful producer interests at the expense of taxpayer and service-user. Whereas in the UK the reverse applies, and we need honesty on the reality that this includes powerful Trade Union interests that crow on the one hand about the need for quality public services when they actually mean better pay and conditions for their members (of course the professional groupings are a dab hand at that too).

I cannot see how a Labour Government with any of the likely leaders of this present generation in office would countenance, still less champion, the reconstruction of these systems. For one thing, the Blair-Brown administrations are directly responsible for the current obscenity of the super rich in the UK who contribute virtually nothing in direct taxation.

Consequently Labour are unable to facilitate or to pay for the model we propose… in fact the medium-term room for manoeuvre is about to get much more limited as a result of the global turndown coinciding with the UK’s domestic downturn and the economic consequences of the likes of the ‘intelligent’ (oh really?) quasi-nationalisation of Northern Rock, ameliorating the 10p disaster (what did I just say about progressive taxation?) etc.

The priority would have to be to gradually and coherently renew and regenerate the entire set of values, ethics and politics of the Labour Party and (future?) Governments… but the conundrum is that virtually all concerned are wholly fixated on what it takes to win the next popularity contest and then the next election; might I even suggest that that is what your posting is all about – think first about whatever it takes to win an election and just do it purely on that basis? … No real idea of why the election is to be won or what the moral or political purpose would be in winning? In which case the “what’s the difference between any of the parties” scenario will be persisted with and progressive politics will continue to wither.

11:04 am, May 25, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

" rather than use this control to help home-buyers they are actually instructing the company to down-size by only offering punitive interest rates, i.e. one of the levers that could be used imaginatively to help the public keep their homes and pay affordable mortgage repayments is instead being used to make the situation worse."

You're overlooking the extent to which the cost of government borrowing is rising as a result of the money we're already sinking in to propping up the housing bubble - it's gone up by a bit more than half a per cent, which might not sound like much but on a total debt of around half a trillion is the same again as the 10p tax 'remedy'.

That's before we get on to whether it's morally right or politically sensible to suggest that the taxes of those of us who behaved responsibly, by renting when we could only afford to buy with a mortgage which would plainly have been unsustainable in the medium term, should be used to reward those who acted irresponsibly with borrowed money.

1:12 pm, May 25, 2008

Blogger Tom said...

Pretty much agree with all of this post.

10:29 pm, May 25, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

I think it is likely that whilst there was clearly some switching, the high turnout suggests to me that Tory voters who haven't bothered to vote for the past two general elections did turn out in their droves.

Also, the core vote - in this constituency, a working-class vote - was disillusioned.

I do agree with a lot of what you said, but I do think that there is another problem - that is, the Tories have regained credibility in a way which (unfortunately) Labour didn't get under Kinnock's leadership - not that I agree, I think he would have been an inspirational PM, always have done.

So, there isn't the feeling that 'we can't vote Tory', and that is a problem when people are pretty bored with labour and when Labour seem to have nothing very much to offer except 'more of the same'

I do think that housing is a much more influential issue than many realise. I am convinced it makes up the bulk of resentment against immigrants, either because of perceived allocation or regeneration priorities. I would mount a serious campaign to build social housing - and we can't rely on private enterprise to do that

11:40 pm, May 25, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

..oh, and I really do find the views of people like 'transfattyacid' which equate to : be right wing and populist about every other minority group except the one I belong to, well worth avoiding.

11:58 pm, May 25, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the many reasons why you lost C&N, is because you took people for granted. The fact that Chris Paul talks abour "our" areas just goes to prove my point!

I dodn't think anyone of you - NuLab or OldLab - get it.

11:48 am, May 26, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

No, Justin, I fully agree with that - I think that there is a case to be made that the attitude has been to both middle class left-liberal, and working class core voters that there is nowhere else to go so it doesn't matter how much we piss those groups off.

I only voted Labour last time because of the civil partnership issue. I won't be voting Tory next time, simply because my politics are way to the left of anything the Tories could ever or should ever be. But there are really very few positive reasons why I should wish to vote Labour. Amd, bizarrely, the LD's appear to be competing for Tory-leaning voters rather than people like me so they don;t appeal much either ....

4:56 pm, May 26, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem is that most of you are not working class hence the reason the Labour party is not getting the working class vote. Immigration is a huge issue, over 80% of Brits think it is so I'm afraid unless Labour challenge this they won't be winning the next general election.

Next is tax, working people are literally subsidizing the wealthy and those that refuse to work. It's getting too expensive to live in the UK and part of the reason is taxation....the second is the cost of housing.

Most Brits want to own a home and want their kids to own a home also. So why didn't Brown act earlier when house prices were so clearly getting out of control. He could have linked inflation to house prices or regulated mortgages so that people were unable to borrow more than 3.5 times their income. He didn't because he doesn't care about working people....all he cares about is his fat arse and his obsession about becoming PM.

Well he's got the job and now he's also got to deal with the shit storm he has created.

8:06 pm, May 26, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

rich, immigration may "worry" 80% of people (I doubt it's anything like that number, but that's a different argument) but it isn't an issue that will decide an election - people vote primarily on two things: the economy, and local issues. Incidentally these are the two things that Labour are failing worst on at the moment - the post offices being the perfect example.

It's also worth remembering that Gwynneth Dunwoody had a significant personal standing in the same way that Diane Abbot, Jeremy Corbyn and indeed Brian Sedgemore, do/did. In a seat like C+N that could have masked a very sizable swing away from the Labour Party - just look at what happened to your share of the vote when Chris Smith stood down.

And as for you, oh ginger one, what were you doing holidaying in what can best be described as Lib Dem Central? You must have forgotten that Cornwall is (thankfully) a Labour-, and for that matter Tory-, free zone.

9:08 pm, May 26, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check the latest Poll 85% of of voters think immigration is a major issue and is likely to affect how they vote if there was an election.

So is crime and the economy...all of which Labour are failing to manage.

11:20 pm, May 26, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

Rich: if people want right wing policies then they should vote for other parties to get them.

There's no point in having a left-of-centre party if all it is going to is pander to public prejudice. people get the government they deserve.

The level of home ownership is probably not sustainable and is far higher than most other comparable countries. If so many people are home owners prices will, inevitably , continue to rise. Your suggestion would simply ensure that home ownership would be for only the higher earner. Other than actual price control how can you prevent inflation when home ownership is the majority tenure - you can't.

And whilst I agree that the lowest paid should pay less tax, ultimately, public services cost money and have to be paid for via taxation.

Your programme is the classic fascist populist solution - statist economic control, kick out the blacks and the like

if Labour ever go down that path they should be ashamed. better to be in permanent opposition than embrace fascism

1:07 am, May 27, 2008

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

I was in Crewe on the Sunday before polling day with my missus. I questioned some of the stuff that was plastered over these leaflets, especailly the tag line about how fiercely independent Tamsin would be (i.e. like her late mother). This was due to Luke stating in a previous post that any prospective MP has to obey the party whip. I also met one of the blokes in the top hat. I can't remember his name but he was from London, and a very nice chap indeed (we could'nt access the main campaign HQ as it was not accessable for a wheelchair, and he helped us into Gwentyh's old constituency office).

All in all we all worked hard for a Labour victory there but when you resort to the tactics we were using in Crewe it is like we were p*ssing in the wind.

What is needed is a review of the party's policies and also a clear understanding of who we are supposed to represent.

11:40 am, May 27, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The fella Ravi met was John Greenshields, who was North West London campaign manager.

Was working out of Emily Thornberry's office now thought to have gone to the Cabinet Office.

Another complete tosser

1:08 pm, May 27, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did I ever say kick out the blacks, typical left wing liberal way of dealing with the immigration issue. Out comes the racist brush. The reality is that Britain is experiencing an immigration problem either Labour tackle it or they will be forever in opposition it really is that simple.

If you were to talk to all races then you will find that concern for immigration is not confined to white people. Anyone who loves their country wants to protect it against this wave of immigration.

So MerseyMike maybe it is you that is racist as you so obviously think that immigration purely related to black people when the reality is far more complex.

Labour will lose the next election and they will come third and will probably never see power ever again.

9:05 pm, May 28, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

Well, Rich, you know well that EU immigration cannot be prevented. The Tories or anyone else will have to accept that too. Its part of being in a single market with the ability to live anywhere in the EU. That how all those expat Brits are in Spain and France.

So, which immigration are you referring to?

11:42 pm, May 28, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The big left contradiction. The Single market which dictates how much of our budget is spent on public services yet you seem so eager to promote it's benefits. You are probably talking about cheaper mobile phone tarriffs...whoppeeeeeee.

The EU is the reason why so many public companies have been sold as private concerns....the result of competition laws.

You know my views on Europe and I don't want anything to do with it apart from trade. It is a superstate that is unelected and represents everything that is wrong with politics.

I don't want any immigration but would settle with strict limits on numbers and very high point scoring and very strict health screening....which despite what Brown says is not happening at all. I don't want asylum seekers at all....my view on those seeking it is seek somewhere else.

Unless the west is able to resolve many of the problems that affect other less fortunate countries then I'm afraid the problem of asylum is not going to go away. Poverty, climate change, oppressive regimes, wars are all causing floods of migrants. There is no space, no resources and therefore these problems have to be resolved at source and not here.

10:31 pm, May 29, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

No, Rich. you failed to answer the question. We are part of the EU and we will not be leaving.

That being said, which immigrants are you referring to? You do realise that the Tory programme of limits refers only to those outside the EU?

We also have obligations with regard to asylum seekers as do all other countries.

So, can you please re-enter the real world : as we are in the EU, and are not leaving, which immigrants are going to be 'controlled'?

11:14 pm, May 29, 2008


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