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.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

How about a mea culpa?

Earlier this week both Jackie Ashley and Polly Toynbee issued calls for the PM to step down. These two Guardian columnists have undergone a complete about turn having previously been the cheerleaders for ditching Tony Blair and replacing him with Brown.

I didn't share their judgement then and I don't share their judgement now.

What I haven't heard from either is a mea culpa for their previous views. Both their columns should carry the warning "I reserve my right to completely change my mind within 12 months, please don't take seriously anything I write, because my own retrospective verdict on my punditry is that I was completely wrong, so I'm quite likely to disown the opinions expressed here in 12 months too."

This week Toynbee tried to claim there was a Cabinet split between "Triangulators" and "Progressives". Quite apart from the mischieviousness of trying to conjure up imaginery divisions, politics isn't that simple. Many potential Labour voters would favour centrist policies on some issues and more leftwing ones on others. Some swing voters have quite leftwing views on certain issues whereas lots of our working class core vote have views that go beyond triangulation and Toynbee would call  plain rightwing on crime/immigration/security.

Similarly I would guess that most Cabinet members would be in different places on different issues and quite difficult to place in Toynbee's binary divide.

Finally many policies she would write off as triangulation are both popular with the poorest voters and arguably very progressive e.g. Welfare-to-work as a mechanism for breaking a cycle of poverty/dependency.

Right content, wrong candidate, wrong timing

One of the advantages of blogging on holiday is that you get the time to think (whilst dismantling tents, building sandcastles and accompanying 2 year olds on steam trains) before responding to the latest coded moves in the unfolding political tragedy.

Yesterday, enter stage right David Miliband.

I've read his Guardian article and at face value there is nothing much for someone with my politics to disagree with.

Except that it clearly wasn't cleared by no10, which in the current circumstances is inexcusable. If Miliband didn't realise it would be interpreted as the opening shot in a leadership campaign then he hasn't got the political sense to be in his current job, let alone the top one. If he was aware of how it would be seen then he ought to do the decent thing and resign from the cabinet and call for a  leadership election, rather than further destabilise the PM just at the time when people should be rallying round him.

If Miliband is the answer to Labour's travails I'm not quite sure what the question is, because in many ways his faults are the very ones Brown is being attacked for, minus the experience, gravitas and strategic vision:
•Indecision: this is the guy who spent months in 2007 in a 'will he, won't he' game about running for Leader, then ducked it
•Poor communication skills: he was winner of my all time prize for woodenest platform speech for his effort at Spring Conference '06 - simply excruciating, whereas Brown can when necessary deliver a barnstormer. Worse still, the content is usually bland beyond belief. It's the other Miliband brother, Ed, who is the stunningly good communicator.
•Other-worldliness: I'm not in a great position to criticise anyone for being geeky but there's just something about Miliband that doesn't work in terms of use of language that chimes with ordinary people's experiences - which unfortunately Cameron is very good at. Too little experience outside the narrow confines of Oxford, policy wonkdom, Special Advisory and Ministerial office. If there was a vacancy for Leader, which there ain't, I'd prefer someone with experience as a councillor or trade unionist, or in a job outside politics somewhere on their CV.

Miliband clearly has many outstanding qualities: sound politics, competence and intelligence being not the least. But those aren't enough to qualify you as PM and Leader of a major political party. Indeed, academic intelligence as opposed to common sense and low cunning is an over-rated virtue in political leaders - an obvious example being Michael Foot.

I also worry that Miliband has been around quite a while now as a Minister, yet left very little record of concrete achievement. In fact the only policy I can think that I associate him with is the invitation for two-tier councils to go unitary, which split Labour in Durham and Northumberland and contributed to heavy losses in both counties this May. He hasn't had to front any flagship or controversial policies so we just don't know what he'd be like under extreme pressure. All I do know about his ministerial career is that some of his colleagues earlier in his career found him insufferably arrogant.

Finally, I am suspicious of anyone that you can't quite place on the political spectrum, and hasn't engaged with the organised right of the Party, for the simple reason that there is no form guide to how they will behave. I'd be more trusting of a predictable leftie.

Yesterday's Times said only Downing Street itself was trying to avert a leadership contest. Well me too. Where can I sign up for the keep Gordon campaign?

I leave you with the thougts of my partner Linda when asked what we should do if there was a straight fight between Miliband and a hard left candidate "Don't worry, the grown-ups in the Party will never allow that".

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Meanwhile back in reality

The latest email update arrives from www.electoralcalculus.co.uk and reminds me that the Tory poll lead whilst huge  "is slightly reduced from last month. Populus (Times) has 13% (down from 20%),
YouGov (Sunday Times) has 22% (up from 18%), ComRes (Independent on Sunday) has 21% (unchanged),
ICM (Guardian) sees 15% (down from 20%), and Ipsos-MORI has 20% (up from 17%).

Overall the Conservative lead is 18% which is 1% lower than June. The prediction also
includes the results of the recent YouGov poll in Scotland showing the SNP 4% ahead of Labour.
As is our standard practice, we do not include the results of by-elections in the prediction
because they are not a good predictor of subsequent general elections."

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Answering the wrong questions

What's striking about the policy reactions to Glasgow East, such as the statement yesterday from Compass, is that many of them are just recitations of the writers' pet hates, not attempts to address voters' actual concerns. Voters are angry about the credit crunch, knife crime, unaffordable housing, fuel prices and fuel tax, and food prices. The Labour left are talking about hostility to ID cards, Trident, 42 day detention and public services reform and PFI, issues where the public support the Government or just don't care. For instance the involvement of the private sector in public services matters a great deal to staff who may get a new employer, but is likely to be judged by ordinary voters who use the service on a wholly pragmatic basis i.e. Will the service be better dellivered for me, will my tax go down because the service costs less? In any case the resonance of issues like health and education is dropping like a stone in the polls  as voters refocus on the overriding economic issue of can they afford the cost of living.

Where solutions to the real problems facing voters are offered they seem 50 years out of date culturally: a massive council house building programme is mooted by many on the left, but younger working class voters don't want to live on council estates, they want to be able to afford to own a home of their own.

Or solutions are imaginative but with huge unintended consequences. Compass is calling for a windfall tax on energy companies but surely increasing taxes on any private sector company just as fears of recession grow would be deflationary and cause job losses, and how would you stop the energy companies passing on the cost of the tax to consumers by putting fuel prices up?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Council by-election results

Glasgow East wasn't the only by-election last night. Council ones were:

Coastal Ward, Boston DC. Con gain from Boston Bypass Independent (BBI). Con 344 (30.9%), BBI 306 (27.5%), LD 213 (19.1%), BNP 119 (10.7%), UKIP 88 (7.9%), Lab 44 (3.9%).

Darley Ward, Derby UA. LD hold/regain from cllr expelled to Ind . LD 1040 (35.8%, -0.9%), Con 976 (33.6%, +4.1%), Lab 695 (23.9%, -1.1%), Green 192 (6.6%, -2.2%). Swing of 2.5% from LD to Con since 1 May '08.

Castle Hill Ward, Ipswich BC. Con hold. Con 843 (64.3%), Lab 282 (21.5%), LD 186 (14.2%).

Hurstpierpoint & Downs Ward, Mid Sussex DC. Con hold. Con 1040 (51.4%, +21%) LD 608 (30.1%, +3.3%) Green 374 (18.5%, -4.8%). Swing 8.9% LD to Con since 2007.

Magnus Ward, Newark & Sherwood DC. Con hold. Con 310 (49.8%, -17.5%), Ind 173 (27.8%, +27.8%), LD 140 (22.5%, +22.5%). Swing of 22.7% from Con to Ind.

Muxton Ward, Telford & Wrekin UA. Con hold. Con 795 (60.2%), Lab 341 (25.8%), Ind 100 (7.6%), UKIP 48 (3.6%).

Church Street Ward, LB Westminster. Con gain from Lab. Con 955 (53.6%, +24.6%), Lab 652 (36.6%, -2.9%), LD 176 (9.9%, -2.2%). Swing of 13.8% from Con to Lab since 2006. This is usually one of four safe Labour wards in north Westminster, candidate was Blur drummer Dave Rowntree.

Unfit to park a bicycle/run a whelk stall

Can we really trust the government of the country to a man who chains his bicycle to a bollard so short that a thief can just lift the whole chain over the top and walk off with the bike?

Don't panic!

Not the first time I have used this headline, and probably not the last.

Last night's result was very, very bad. But it actually just confirms what we already knew about the current state of public opinion - people are hurting economically, they are angry, and rightly the Government has to take responsibility for the state of the economy. If we sort it out and the economy recovers before the General Election we will likewise take the credit.

I don't think it's all about Gordon. I think it's all about rising prices and the credit crunch. Switching leader might achieve something if we had a British Barack Obama waiting in the wings. But we don't - we have a bunch of people who are either not quite yet ready for the top job, or are just as much associated with eleven years in power as Brown is. The PM we've got, for any flaws he has, is the best one Labour has available.

Undoubtedly there will be rent-a-gobs going on TV calling for Brown to go - has Graham Stringer got up and made it into a studio yet?

I think we in Labour need to take a deep breath, realise the good times were not going to roll for ever, get behind the man we elected with such overwhelming support that he didn't even face a contested election and realise that it's going to be a long haul, slow recovery through to a 2010 General Election. We need to get on with governing and delivering policies that will help people deal with the current economic circumstances.

Over in Warwick at the NPF I hope the unions concentrate on getting some of the fairly reasonable policy detail they are floating into the Manifesto and avoid the kind of moronic sectarian grandstanding exemplified by Tony Woodley's call for a cull of Cabinet Blairites today, which just plays into the hands of Tory rhetoric about a return to '70s-style union power.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

NEC Election Results

A reliable source has told me that the results of the constituency section of the Labour Party NEC elections are that the following six got elected: Ellie Reeves, Ann Black, Christine Shawcroft, Pete Willsman, Peter Kenyon and Peter Wheeler. This maintains the previous 4-2 balance between Grassroots Alliance candidates and those supported by Labour First, but means that men called Peter now have 50% of the seats!

Labour First-supported Ellie Reeves topped the poll, displacing the GRA's Ann Black who has been the most popular candidate in most of the recent NEC elections.

Deborah Gardiner did extremely well on her first run at the NEC, coming 7th as best runner-up.

For Treasurer it appears challenger Mark MacDonald did very well in the constituency half of the electoral college but incumbent Jack Dromey took 99% of the affiliates' half of the vote.

10.15am update - full results now confirmed by the Labour Party:

National Executive Committee, Constituency section:
Ann Black
Peter Kenyon
Ellie Reeves
Christine Shawcroft
Peter Wheeler
Peter Willsman

National Executive Committee, Local Government section:
Jeremy Beecham
Ann Lucas

National Treasurer:
Jack Dromey

National Auditor:
Ian Lavery
Michael Leahy

Association of Labour Councillors, NEC Joint Local Government Committee:
Caitlin Bisknell
Mehboob Khan

Association of Labour Councillors, National Policy Forum:
Jamie Carswell
Pauleen Lane
Roger Lawrence
Irene MacDonald

12.15 update. Numbers are:
Ellie Reeves 21407 LF ( +7557 from 2006)
Ann Black 20203 GRA (+712)
Christine Shawcroft 19988 GRA (+2014)
Peter Willsman 17131 GRA (+1372)
Peter Kenyon 16464 GRA (new candidate)
Peter Wheeler 16395 LF (+2434)
Deborah Gardiner 15577 LF (new candidate)
Sonika Nirwal 14026 LF (new candidate)
Mohammed Azam 12895 GRA ( -540)
Azhar Ali 11523 LF (+1030)
Turnout: 19.82%

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Decide the Top 100 UK Political Blogs

Iain Dale's new venture http://www.totalpolitics.com/ is publishing the 2008-9 Guide to Political Blogging in the UK.

As last year this will list the Top 100 UK Political Blogs.

Because, with a few notable exceptions like my good self, many Labour folk are too busy in government bringing democratic socialism to a grateful nation (well, 28% of the nation is grateful according to ICM, up 3%!) to write or read blogs, this list is usually dominated by Tory blogs.

If you are a Labour supporter and enjoy reading Labour supporting blogs, please do vote for them to get them into the list and thus draw them to the attention of a wider potential readership.

Simply email your Top Ten (ranked from 1 to 10) to toptenblogs@totalpolitics.com
If you have a blog, please encourage your readers to do the same. The famously non-partisan Mr Dale will then compile the Top 100 from those that you send in. Just order them from 1 to 10. Your top blog gets 10 points and your tenth gets 1 point.The deadline for submitting your Top 10 is Friday August 15th. Please type Top 10 in the subject line. Once all the entries are in a lucky dip draw will take place and the winner will be sent £100 worth of political books!

The rules are:
1. Please only vote once
2. Only blogs based in the UK, run by UK residents are eligible or based on UK politics are eligible
3. Votes must be cast before Friday 15 August
4. Blogs chosen must be listed in the Total Politics Blog Directory.
5. You must send a list of TEN blogs, ranked. Any entry containing fewer than ten blogs will not count.
6. Anonymous votes left in the comments will not count. You must give a name.

Boris' new Policy Director on race and Hackney

Boris Johnson has just appointed Anthony Browne, fresh from directing David Cameron's favourite think tank Policy Exchange, as his Director of Policy.

I'm not sure we can expect a sensitive approach to policy questions regarding race and migration from Mr Browne, given the views he has expressed about these matters (and about my home borough of Hackney) here in the Spectator.

Personally I found his little essay incredibly offensive. There are many things wrong with Hackney (though the charge sheet on the first page of Mr Browne's article was 5 years out of date even when he wrote it in 2005). One of the things that is right about my borough though, and really works, is that it functions pretty well as a model of a multifaith and multiethnic community. People live along side each other in relative peace and harmony and on the whole they appreciate and enjoy this diversity.

Amongst the gems in his piece (sub-headed "People like to live among their own kind") are:

"Many on the Left ... believe that the only way to end racism is to end races; the only way to conquer Nazism, they argue, is mass miscegenation" (I've never heard anyone on the left say this!
"The champions of diversity ultimately believe that our future is not as a species with many races, but with one race — a quarter Chinese, a quarter Indian, a quarter African and a quarter European."
"The eternal human urge for self-segregation — surrounding yourself with people like you — is likely to triumph over the more ephemeral economic and political incentives to leave what you know."
"It is not Hackney that is the future of the world, but Japan."
"Sharing the same language, culture and values as the people you come into daily contact with may not be excitingly multicultural, but it means you end up with deeper relationships, a sense of community, belonging and security."
"The white flight — or white self-segregation — which is such a feature of US cities is now endemic in the UK, with hundreds of thousands of white Briton’s (sic) fleeing the effects of the government’s open border policy on London each year."
"The slowing of mass migration is good for those who appreciate real diversity. The decline of diversity within countries preserves the diversity between them."

Do Hackney's Tory Councillors, eight out of nine of whom are from minority faith and ethnic communities, know about the views of their London Mayor's Policy Director about the model of community harmony represented by our borough?

The appointment of someone who has such a disparaging take on the benefits of immigration and multiculturalism to the position of Policy Director to the Mayor of a city that has benefited from and been characterised by mass immigration and multiculturalism is a very odd move and will add to the unease London's BME communities already feel about Boris.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sunday Times implies SNP could be "treating" and "paying canvassers in kind"

Today's Sunday Times carries a rather pointless article written by a journalist who infiltrated Labour's Glasgow East campaign posing as a volunteer.

It could have been a description of the experience of volunteering on any campaign in any English-speaking democracy in the last 100 years, for any party: you go to a temporary office, they give you some leaflets and a blurred map, you go out and deliver them, you come back and if the Agent knows their stuff you get your arm twisted to do another round as well. Welcome to the glamorous world of the campaign trail!

What the journo has totally missed is an implication he himself has made of two possible election offences by the SNP.

He writes that SNP volunteers "are rewarded with free food and drink." That's quite a serious allegation to make during an election campaign.

The legal guidance Labour Party Agents get makes it quite clear that this is an area where you could find yourself on the wrong side of the law:

"The ‘treating’ of electors is a corrupt practice and you must be very careful that it is avoided.
A person shall be guilty of ‘treating’ if s/he, either before during or after an election, directly or indirectly provides any food, drink or entertainment, to influence that person to vote or refrain from voting at that election. Free food and drink should not be provided at public meetings or
meetings of supporters. A charge should be made for any food or drink provided to avoid any possibility of treating.

Agents should also take care that any provision of refreshments for election workers, which may be seen as ‘payment in kind’ are treated as such and could not be interpreted as ‘treating’. In the case of members canvassing the public on the phone or the doorstep, it would be illegal to pay them for this work. It is therefore important that provision of refreshments for these workers is an occasional expression of gratitude and that it is quite clear that they are not promised in advance as an inducement to do this work."

i.e. if the Sunday Times is correct in stating that SNP canvassers are "rewarded with free food and drink" then they may have broken the law prohibiting payment of canvassers (an "illegal practice") and, if the canvassers live in the constituency, broken the law prohibiting "treating" (i.e. bribery with food and drink) of electors (a "corrupt practice"). These are very serious offences, conviction of which can carry jail sentances, heavy fines and bans from holding public office.

Of course it is far more likely that the Sunday Times journalist has misunderstood, and the alleged vast army of SNP activists are not fed and watered on a regular basis by their campaign, and when and if they are, a careful effort is made to check that no one resident in the constituency benefits. I'd like to believe even the SNP is not as ignorant of election law as this particular Sunday Times journalist.

I do hope the Sunday Times will issue a clarification, or put as much effort into investigating their own allegation as they did into infiltrating the Labour campaign.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Council by-elections

Tonight's council by-election results:

Castleside Ward, Derwentside DC. Ind hold. Ind 297 (82.3%,+8.3%), Con 64 (17.7%, +3.7
%). Swing of 2.3% from Con to Ind since 2007.

Townfield Ward, LB Hillingdon. Lab hold. Lab 1031 (45.3%, -12.6%), LD 506 (22.2%, +8.7%), Con 445 (19.6%, -9%), BNP 186 (8.2%, +8.2%), NF 74 (3.3%, +3.3%), Green 34 (1.5%, +1.5%). Swing 10.7% Lab to LD since 2006. This is in John McDonnell's seat.

Batchley Ward, Redditch BC. Con gain from Lab. Con 630 (39%, -12.4%), Lab 539 (33.4%, -4.3%), BNP 299 (18.5%, +18.5%), LD 121 (7.5%, -3.4%), Ind 25 (1.5%, +1.5%). Swing of 4.1% from Con to Lab since 1 May this year. This is in Jacqui Smith's extremely marginal parliamentary seat.

Uckfield New Town Ward, Wealden DC. LD hold. LD 311 (47.4%, -16%), Con 289 (44.1%, +7.5%), UKIP 56 (8.5%, +8.5%). Swing of 11.8% from LD to Con since 2007.

Arrow Valley East Division, Worcs CC. Con gain from Lab. Con 1437 (42.2%, +11.1%), Lab 1041 (30.6%, -17.3%), LD 455 (13.4%, -7.6%), BNP 367 (10.8%, +10.8%), Ind 103 (3%, +3%). This consists of another 3 district wards from Jacqui Smith's seat. Swing of 14.2% from Lab to Con.

Cameron on redistribution

I haven't once listened to Radio 4's Today programme since 1990 - these days I'm already on a 243 bus to work when it starts.

Luckily DWP Secretary of State James Purnell does tune in, and is pointing any Labour folk he happens to run into towards this telling quote - evidence of an increasing harshness in the Tory line on social issues now they feel they have detoxified their brand - from an interview with David Cameron on Tuesday morning at about 07.59, where Mr Cameron clarifies the ideological difference between the two main parties on tackling poverty:

"The Labour Party for a long time said it, only it, could deal with deep poverty because it understood about transferring money from rich to poor, but I think we've reached the end of that road, ... we need quite conservative solutions to deal with those problems".

I think we can take it from the phrasing "I think we've reached the end of that road" that a Tory government won't be seeking to increase redistribution. They seem to have an interesting view that making the poor richer doesn't er... reduce poverty. Run that past me again will you Dave?

Anyway, the bottom line is that if you think there should be redistribution to make our unequal society more equal, David Cameron doesn't agree with you. I dread to imagine what his "quite conservative solutions" to poverty might be. Any guesses?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Cancellation of Spring Conference

I'm not impressed by the Labour Party's decision to cancel its 2009 Spring Conference reported in the press today.

It's pretty pathetic if we can't manage to organise an event in a way that is at least self-funding and ideally profit-making.

It's also insulting to Labour councillors as the main function of the Spring Conference is to discuss local government issues - and removes a platform that could have been used to launch our campaign for important County and Euro elections.

The proposed substitution of regional events was a disaster when it was tried before in 2007 - amateurish, poorly publicised and attended and attracting none of the beneficial collateral media coverage the Spring Conferences get.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Could Glasgow East be the turning point?

Conventional wisdom and media punditry has liked the idea that the Glasgow East by-election due on 24 July was going to be the final nail in Gordon Brown's political coffin.

Personally I think there is more chance it will be the turning point when Labour's, and Brown's fortunes, start - perhaps slowly but surely - to go upwards.

Today's ICM poll in the Sunday Telegraph puts Labour on 47% in the constituency, with the SNP on 33%, the Lib Dems on 9% and Tories on just 7%.

I'm sure it will be closer when it gets to polling day, but such has been the media expectations game played so far that even a narrow victory is going to look like an against the odds triumph for the PM.

The results in inner London constituencies on 1 May with similar (though more ethnically mixed) demographics to Glasgow East showed that where a good campaign is fought, Labour's core vote is still remarkably solid - and will turn-out enthusiastically in a tight contest.

There's good reason for this. Contrary to the incredibly patronising portrayal of Glasgow East voters in the media over the last couple of weeks, voters in the most economically deprived constituencies in the UK aren't cannon fodder voting Labour through habit against their own interest. They've had to deal with the worst excesses of Thatcherism and they know that whilst the past 11 years of Labour government have not been a socialist Nirvana, they've been a hundred times better than the alternative. They are also not gullible enough to be sucker-punched into thinking that Norman Lamont's ex-Special Adviser Mr Cameron, whilst he may indeed have developed a social conscience since his Thatcherite youth, really knows or cares about life in parts of Britain his party drift into for an occasional "gosh look at all these poor people" by-election walk-about, rather than live in and represent all year round.

Life in Glasgow East is tough - beyond tough - for many of its residents, and the health and poverty statistics for the constituency (and similar areas in East London and other major cities and outside them in former mining areas) are as good an argument for democratic socialism and as good a reminder of why the Labour Party exists as any one needs. Labour's work in Glasgow East and similar seats isn't finished. It's hardly begun. A fourth term Labour Government isn't a luxury for these kind of constituencies - it's a matter of life or death when male life expectancy in a constituency lags behind the national average by 11 years - if you don't have a Government whose priority is redistribution and investment in healthcare, that 11 year gap will get bigger not smaller.

But the direction of travel after 11 years of Labour Government is a good one and if you are living in what Australian PM Bob Hawke called the "inch between a Labour and a rightwing government you know that inch is a good place to live". Many people in Glasgow East don't have the buffer zone of comfort in their lives to gamble and risk a return to the economic decline, under-investment in health and education and disinterest in the regeneration of their city that they endured under the Tories until 1997. All the things that it's easy to be blase about that Labour has done over the last 11 years have had the greatest impact in the seats like Glasgow East with the greatest poverty: the National Minimum Wage, massive investment in police, schools and hospitals, a massive reduction in unemployment, child benefit up 26%, Sure Start, huge reductions in pensioner and child poverty, tax credits. All of these things, which have been at the core of what Labour in government has been about, have made the most difference in this kind of constituency. That's quite apart from the specific investment happening in Glasgow - ranging from the city's shipbuilding industry getting a major share in building the new Type 45 destroyers and the two new aircraft carriers, creating and sustaining jobs and skills, through to the £1.6bn Clyde Gateway project, which has targeted building 10,000 new homes and 400,000 square metres of commercial property in the next 20 years and aims to create 21,000 new jobs and increase the population in the East End of Glasgow by 20,000.

I think we'll pull it off - maybe narrowly - in Glasgow East because voters there aren't stupid and will vote in their self-interest to protect the improvements to their lives of the last 11 years and to safeguard the future hope that only Labour cares enough to bring to the UK's least well-off communities.

It looks like we have an excellent local candidate and I have a hunch that in a few years time we may all be raising a toast to Margaret Curran and the people of Glasgow East as the folk who saved Labour in its hour of greatest need.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Compass - less than 300 active members

The results of the executive elections for soft left faction Compass are out here: http://clients.squareeye.com/uploads/compass/Compass1.xls

They reveal that it only has 274 members active enough to bother voting in its internal elections. You can - like former NUS President Gemma Tummelty - get on their executive with only 10 first preference votes.

Hardly a mass membership organisation poised to sweep to control of the Labour Party.

Council by-election results

There were some real by-elections last night, as well as the pointless waste of public money in Haltemprice & Howden.

Croft Ward, Blyth Valley DC. Lab hold. Lab 439 (48%, -9%), Ind 266 (29.1%, +29.1%), LD 176 (19.3%, -7%), Con 32 (3.5%, -13.2%). Swing of 19.1% from Lab to Ind since 2007. However, there is a swing to Lab compared with the May 1 results for the new Northumberland Unitary. Blyth Valley DC is being abolished next year.

Risca West Ward, Caerphilly UA. Lab hold. Lab 636 (56.0%, +5.6%) Plaid Cymru 315 (27.8%, +0.3%) Con 137 (12.1%, -10%) Lib 47 (4.1%, +4.1%). Swing of 2.6% from PC to Lab since May. Good result given context of tightness of outcome in May on Caerphilly (32 Lab, 32 PC, 9 Ind - there were 9 Labour losses on 1 May).

Barton Ward, Canterbury DC. LD hold. LD 993 (51.8%, +8.1%), Con 701 (36.6%, +4.2%), Green 121 (6.3%, +6.3%), Ind 102 (5.3%). Swing of 2% from Con to LD since 2007. Strange that there was no Labour candidate in a ward that I'm fairly sure was a 3-way marginal in the '90s - is there a non-aggression pact between the former coalition partners in my home town?

Aberystwyth Rheidol Ward, Ceredigion UA. Plaid Cymru gain from LD. PC 271 (40.2%, +12.0%), LD 252 (37.4%, -30.2%), Ind 98 (14.5%, +14.5%), Lab 36 (5.3%, +5.3%), Con 17 (2.5%, -2.7%). Swing 21.1% LD to PC.

Bury Ward, Chichester DC. Con hold. Con 431 (69.3%, +14%), LD 191 (30.7%, +30.7%). Changes in vote share are since 2007 when it was a Con vs Ind straight fight.

Bradwell South & Hopton Ward, Great Yarmouth DC. Con hold. Con 623 (49.9%, +1.9%), Lab 429 (34.4%, +15.2%), UKIP 196 (15.7%, +5.3%). Swing 6.7% Con to Lab (mainly because the LDs did not field a candidate).

Dalton Ward, Kirkless MBC. Lab hold. Lab 1397 (40.5%, +10%), LD 1155 (33.5%, -0.8%), Con 605 (17.5%, -1.9%), BNP 157 (4.5%, -6.3%), Green 103 (3%, -2%), Ind 34 (0.9%, +0.9%). Swing of 5.4% since May. Good result in a ward where the other 2 cllrs are Lib Dem. This is in Huddersfield parliamentary constituency.

Cranbrook Ward, LB Redbridge. Con hold. Con 1,625 (60.0%, +8.4%), Lab 729 (26.9%, -5.1%), LD 318 (11.7%, -4.7%), BNP 37 (1.4%, +1.4%). Swing of 6.8% from Lab to Con since 2008.

Common Ward, Stafford BC. Con gain from Lab. Con 397 (40.4%, -3.5%), Lab 294 (29.9%, -26.1%), LD 140 (14.2%, +14.2%), EPP 78 (7.9%, +7.9%), Green 74 (7.5%, +7.5%). Swing 11.3% Lab to Con since 2007. Labour's worst result of the night due to intervention by minor parties in what had been a two-way fight.

Trowbridge Central, West Wiltshire DC. Con gain from LD. Con 452 (55.3%, +21.9%), LD 366 (44.7%, +3.8%). Swing of 9.1% from LD to Con since 2007 following withdrawal of independents who ran then.

Wigan West Ward, Wigan MBC. Lab hold. Lab 817 (38.3%, -5.5%), Con 528 (24.8%, +5.8%), LD 344 (16.1%, -2.4%), BNP 200 (9.4%, -5.1%), UKIP 124 (5.8%, +5.8%), Community Action 118 (5.5%, +5.4%). Swing 5.7% Lab to Con since May.

With the exception of Stafford these are rather better results than for several months.


Any worries I have ever had about getting into trouble with senior management at work for saying something too controversial here have now disappeared, as my company's Chief Exec, Colin Byrne has got a bit of coverage here, here, here and here for being less than complimentary about the No10 press operation.

Being a multi-party agency we have quite a diversity of views in my workplace, so just for the record I don't share Colin's critique (sorry Colin!).

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Empowerment White Paper

As I was in local government geek mode today I've posted about my take on Hazel Blears' Empowerment White Paper, announced today, and related issues ranging from elected Mayors through electoral reform for local government, Foundation Hospital Board elections and tenant participation to "double devolution" over on the Progress website.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Waking the political dead

Serves me right for being a) provocative and b) naively honest about saying what I believe.

I have achieved the unique double of breathing new life into the decaying political corpses of both the Hackney Conservatives and Hackney Liberal Democrats (an endangered species down to their last 2 councillors) with my slightly hard line positions on counter-terrorism expressed here previously.

I now feature on the front pages of both parties' websites - the Tory one and Lib Dem one which judging by the similarities in text is being ghost-written by Labour-to-LD turncoat/Hackney-to-Islington carpet-bagger Meral Ece.

I'm braced for another exciting story in the Hackney Gazette.

For the record, my views as the strapline to this blog says "are entirely personal" and don't represent those of anyone else or any organisation I'm a member of.

I just happen to take the pragmatic view that there are some very dangerous people out there who want to cause mass casualty terrorist incidents (using CBRN materials if they can get them) that would dwarf 9/11 and 7/7 in scale. Security agencies have a good idea who and where some of those people are, but lack the necessary evidence to arrest and convict them using conventional law enforcement methods (or they live in territories where there is no conventional law and order, or a state that has a lot of law and order but is sympathetic to what the individuals want to do and hence unsympathetic to arresting and extraditing them). Hence the need to pick some of these people up extra-judicially and remove them to custody in another jurisdiction, known as extraordinary rendition.

Some of these people also turned up in battle or after it in Afghanistan, having been involved with the Taliban or al-Qaeda. They were not part of an army so were not conventional POWs. It would have been irresponsible beyond belief to let them loose to carry on with their terrorist careers. They needed to be kept somewhere where they couldn't escape from and where they could be interrogated about what they knew about al-Qaeda and its plans. Hence the need for Guantanamo Bay.

I believe that it is probable that many thousands of innocent lives may have been saved - perhaps some of them here in London - through the thwarting of potential acts of terrorism by the US Government's use of extraordinary rendition and Guantanamo Bay.

That doesn't mean, as Lib Dem Councillor Dawood Akhoon (known as the Invisible Man of Hackney Council so infrequently does he appear or speak in the council chamber) claims, that I'm "actually in favour of people being .... tortured". I believe that extraordinary rendition of people to countries where torture might be used is wrong. I also believe that the alleged use of extreme forms of interrogation at Guantanamo is wrong, not least because quite aside from moral objections to the methods used, it's a useless way of getting information out of people because they just say anything to get the interrogator to stop.

The onus on people who don't believe in extraordinary rendition is to explain how they would deal with people believed or known to be terrorists at large in third countries. Leave them free to carry on planning atrocities? It's also on people who oppose the creation of Guantanamo Bay to explain how they would have dealt with the influx of Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters picked up in Afghanistan. Set them loose with a promise not to be bad after confiscating their Kalashnikovs?

I've no doubt the other political parties in my home patch will attempt to play a sordid game of communalism with my views on this come the 2010 council elections and will try to smear my Labour colleagues (despite the fact they as far as I know they all disagree with me). I've also no doubt that Muslim residents in my council ward are a lot more interested in my ability to get their lifts fixed or a new controlled parking zone set up, the job they elect me to do, than in my idiosyncratic but deeply held views on international issues. Far from my views having "outraged" Hackney residents as Cllr Akhoon claims, they only seem to be of interest to Lib Dem and Tory councillors - I've not had any ordinary voter raise them with me, though as I reported a couple of weeks ago, my appearance in the Gazette did bemuse/entertain some of my constituents.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Susan Press

I don't normally bother reacting to the lunacy spouted by Susan Press of Labour Left Briefing and the Labour Representation Committee on her blog, http://grimmerupnorth.blogspot.com/

But three of her four most recent posts really are extraordinary.

Post one attacks the Labour campaign in the Glasgow East by-election. How about waiting until after polling day to critique it Susan? Did it not occur to you that Labour members should be saying supportive things while an important by-election is actually being contested?

Post two reveals that one of Susan's mates in the LRC is named Lenin, presumably because his parents thought it was appropriate to glorify a mass-murderer and dictator when they named their kids.

Post four urges Labour Party activists to pick where they will campaign based not on the marginality of the seat, but on the politics of the MP i.e. the left should only campaign for left MPs. Having spent a lot of time earlier this year campaigning for Ken Livingstone, and in previous years alongside Diane Abbott - despite not sharing much of either one's politics - I find this suggestion grossly offensive. Labour activists should campaign for the Labour Party Candidate in their own seat, and for the nearest MP in a marginal seat that needs their help - you don't pick and choose who you canvass for based on whether they pass your own ideological litmus test.

In contrast ...

One of the people who should have been Deputy Leader and is displaying admirable loyalty to the PM, Hazel Blears, was on form at the LGA last week, with this to say about the role of political parties, councillors and councils:

"So I am announcing today a new set of powers for local authorities to be able to promote democracy. This ‘duty to promote democracy’ will mean that local councils are placed in their proper context: not as units of local administration, but as lively, vibrant hubs of democracy.

I want councillors to be in charge of councils. That may seem obvious – unless you’ve served as a councillor!

I am reminded of the story told by Tony Benn from his days as Minister for Technology in the Wilson Government. There was a large demonstration outside the department, as so often happened in the 1960s. There were all the usual groups: the International Socialists, the Revolutionary Workers, the Anarchists. The Permanent Secretary burst into Tony Benn’s office, and warned him: Minister, we have to evacuate. The Anarchists are trying to take over the Department. To which Benn replied: ‘but I’ve been trying to do that for months…’

It always sounds better when he tells it!

So I see this new duty being interpreted in various practical ways which will help councillors be more effective.

For example, I never again want to hear an officer tell a councillor that they can’t hold surgeries on council premises, or appear on a council website or leaflet because that’s ‘political’.

I want political parties to be able to hold their meetings in council buildings, and to have stalls at council-run public events, so that political parties are seen as every bit as legitimate as the chamber of commerce or the voluntary sector.

I want every citizen to be able to phone up their council, and for the person on the end of the phone to be able to tell them the name of the Leader of the council, the political party they belong to, which party or parties are in control, and when the next set of elections is.

I am making money available to train these council staff in the basics of local democracy.

I want leaders of councillors to have reasonable facilities: a desk, a phone, a computer, support staff.

I want every council (not just the best) to run lively campaigns to explain the voting system, to encourage first-time voters, and to sign people onto the register.

Some of you may say: but Hazel we already do all of this stuff. But ask yourself whether every council does it, and you will see we need to send a signal loud and clear that councillors are in charge of councils: elected, representative, accountable.

These measures will make it clear that politics is not a dirty word, that councils are political entities, and that councillors, with power on loan from the people, are in charge."

Et tu, Harriet?

If this article, suggesting Harriet Harman is promoting herself as a potential successor to the PM, is true, it represents a degree of personal betrayal and disloyalty that I find breathtaking, given that Harman spent the whole Deputy Leadership election portraying herself as the candidate closest to Brown.

Ministers should be using their spare time to canvass voters in Glasgow East, not to canvass the PLP in pursuit of their own ambitions.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Council by-election results

Last night's council by-election results:

Christchurch Ward, LB Bexley. Con hold. Con 1192 (47.8%, -16.1%), LD 459 (18.4%, +3.5%), BNP 431 (17.2%, +17.2%), Lab 411 (16.5%, -4.7%). Swing 9.8% Con to LD since 2006. Tories hit by BNP intervention in an area that polled very heavily for Boris on 1 May.

Chadwell Heath Ward, LB Barking & Dagenham. Con gain from Lab. Con 842 (37.4%, +7.5%), Lab 641 (30.7%, -7.0%), BNP 564 (25.1%, +25.1%), UKIP 142 (6.3%, -6.9%), Ind 11 (0.5%, -18.7%). Swing 7.3% Lab to Con. More evidence from Jon Cruddas' constituency that there is a fundamental flaw in his strategy of moving Labour to the left i.e. his own constituents want a more right-wing, not more left-wing government.

South Hornchurch Ward, LB Havering. Ind gain from Residents Assoc. Ind 661 (Ind 27.0%, +7.9%), BNP 518 (BNP 21.2%, +21.2%), Con 438 (Con 17.9%, -4.7%), Lab 416 (17.0%, -5.9%), Havering Residents 287 (11.7%, -12.8%), UKIP 64 (2.6%, +2.6%), English Dems 28 (1.1%, +1.1%), London Residents 17 (0.7%, -4.5%), Ind 17 (0.7%, +0.7%). Swing 6.7% Ind to BNP since 2006. This ward goes into Cruddas' Dagenham & Rainham seat under the forthcoming boundary changes - it's a split ward with 1 Labour cllr.

Eckington Division, Derbyshire CC. Lab hold. Lab 824 (35.9%, -15.3%), Con 658 (28.6%, +11%), Ind 300 (13.1%), BNP 253 (11.1%, +11.1%), Ind 150 (6.5%), LD 113 (4.9%, -9.1%). Swing 13.2% Lab to Con since 2005.

Killamarsh West Ward, NE Derbyshire DC. Lab hold. Lab 480 (46.1%), Con 342 (32.8%), Ind 169 (16.2%), LD 51 (4.9%). Labour were unopposed in 2007.

Unstone Ward, NE Derbyshire DC. LD gain from Ind. LD 169 (31.2%, +31.2%), Con 160 (29.6%, +29.6%), Lab 146 (27%, -13%), Ind 66 (12.2%, -47.8%).

Bexhill Sackville Ward, Rother DC. Con hold. Con 571 (49.4%, +6.5%), LD 491 (42.5%, +5.8%), Lab 93 (8.1%, +0.7%). Swing 0.4% LD to Con since 2007.

Burgess Hill St Andrews Ward, Mid-Sussex DC, 2 seats. 2 LD holds. LD 876/829 (56.8%, +1.3%), Con 561/501 (36.4%, +0.5%), Green 65 (4.2%, +4.2%), Lab 40 (2.6%, -6%). Swing 0.4% Con to LD since 2007.

There was also a referendum in Bury on whether to have Directly Elected Mayor - result was "no".

Apologies for the late posting of the results this morning, I'm recovering from celebrating being awarded the title "UK Consultant of the Year" at last night's Public Affairs News Awards, the trade awards for my day job as a public affairs consultant.

Off to see Morrissey at the Wireless Festival in Hyde Park this afternoon.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Ingrid Betancourt

Well done to the Colombian military for rescuing former Green Candidate for President of Colombia, Ingrid Betancourt, and three US defence industry contractors from their years as hostages of the FARC narco-terrorist organisation.

I wonder if those people on the left in the UK who campaign against Britain and the US helping to train and equip the armed forces that pulled off this amazing rescue are celebrating her freedom with the rest of the world or are depressed by this setback for those seeking to overthrow democracy in Colombia?

Who are Compass backing?

For an organisation dedicated to changing the political direction of the Labour Party, Compass seem a bit silent on the current NEC elections. They aren't part of the Grassroots Alliance yet some individual Compass members seem to see themselves as part of a "broad left".

Who are they backing?

I'm particularly interested to know their stance on Treasurer, given the personal backgrounds of both Neal Lawson and Jon Cruddas in the TGWU, Jack Dromey's union.

David Clelland MP

What a great letter.

I hope the PLP office send a template version to all Labour MPs to deploy in case of receipt of letters like this one.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Why Labour can still win the next General Election

The answer is buried in the most recent Populus poll for the Times, and has been unearthed at www.politicalbetting.com by Nick Palmer MP.

Although the headline figures are Con 45%, Lab 25% and LD 20%, scroll to table 9 and you find that 45% either like the Labour government or would prefer it to a Tory one, whereas 42% would prefer a Tory one.

Incidentally the lowest level of satisfaction with Labour at the moment is shown in this poll as not amongst the richest or poorest voters, but amongst traditional swing voters - the lower middle class/skilled working class C1s and C2s - showing that a retreat to the ideological comfort zone would be drawing completely the wrong lessons from the current polls.

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