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.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The ex-mayor of Wasilla

There are lots and lots of good attack lines on GOP VP candidate Sarah Palin - not least that she is an off-the-scale conservative - but I'm not sure it is wise to focus on mocking her for having been "mayor of a town of 9,000 " as Democrat spinners have.

Surely rather a lot of American voters, particularly in rural bits of swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, and in the western states that Obama thinks he can make a breakthrough in, live in towns this size or smaller? Won't attacking the size of the place she is from reinforce a perception that the Democrats, with a ticket headed by a man from Chicago, are the party of the liberal big cities and "don't get" the values of smalltown America?

I've checked out the facts from the last US census and the numbers are as follows:

21% of the US population live in rural areas i.e. settlements of fewer than 2,499 people
a further 1.5% live in villages of 2,500-4,999 population
9% live in Wasilla size small towns of 5,000-49,999
10% live in middle-sized towns of 50,000-199,999
58% live in large towns and cities of over 200,000

Friday, August 29, 2008

That speech

No, not that one - I tried to stay awake but gave in and went to bed when the warm-up act for him praised his opposition to the Iraq War - sorry Barack, still don't agree with you on that one.

But this guy the night before was as usual stellar, and a good argument against term limits - a shame he can't run again.

Council by-election results

Last night's council by-election results:

Pimhill Ward, Shrewsbury & Atcham BC. Con hold. Con 341 (45.6%, -25%), LD 331 (44.3%, +44.3%), BNP 59 (7.9%, +7.9%), Ind 16 (2.1%, +2.1%). Technically a 34.7% swing from Con to LD since 2007 but this is because the LDs did not run in 2007 but had run in earlier elections and come similarly close. Labour ran in 2007 but not in this contest or any of the pre-'07 ones.

Wickersley Ward, Rotherham MBC. Lab hold. Lab 871 (31.1%, -4.9%), Con 824 (29.5%, -9.3%), BNP 538 (19.2%, +19.2%), UKIP 373 (13.3%, -11.9%), LD 191 (6.8%, +6.8%). Swing of 2.2% from Con to Lab since May this year, when another seat in the same ward was won by the Tories by 100 votes. Good result for Labour in a split ward which was also being targeted by the BNP.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Hilton on Cruddas

I don't share Jon Cruddas' politics but I was shocked to see the way Alex Hilton - a Labour Parliamentary Candidate - has described him in a comment here on Labour Home.

The attacks on Cruddas' political opinions are fair comment, but for Alex to say this

"In fact, I think Cruddas is the Labour politician most reminiscent of Oswald Mosley, he is dangerous, and should be kept away from power at all costs"

is not acceptable and profoundly un-comradely and insulting, particularly to an MP who is in the front line of the battle against the far right. I think Alex should retract it. In the mean time I'm intrigued to know what Jon has said or done to provoke this.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Labour needs a McAuliffe or Dean

Coverage of the Democratic Convention - particularly Newsnight's interview with an extremely fired-up Terry McAuliffe (the previous Chair of the DNC), and extensive newspaper explanations of how Howard Dean (the current Chair) has been implementing his 50-state strategy to rebuild the Democrat grassroots - made me realise that one of the factors in Labour's current malaise is the lack of an equivalent to the Chair of the DNC to lead our campaigning.

We need someone whose job will be to fire up activists, lead the partisan attacks on the Tories, and be the point at which politics and governing are co-ordinated with organisation and campaigning.

The PM can't do that - it's not appropriate to the office.

The General Secretary can't do that - it needs to be a politician not a staffer.

And Harriet as Deputy Leader is over-loaded with other responsibilities, including Ministerial ones, and isn't really the right kind of personality for attack politics and tub-thumping calls to action.

If there is an Autumn reshuffle one priority should be to ensure we have a heavyweight politician unencumbered with departmental responsibilities and solely dedicated to campaigning, fundraising and regeneration of the party grassroots.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What were you doing when you heard about...

I've been tagged by Bob Piper to do Iain Dale's meme about what I was doing when I heard about the following:

Princess Diana's death - 31st August 1997
I was extremely hung-over following my flat-warming party in Earlsfield, South London. I seem to remember Andy Charlwood, now of the Leeds Labour Party, waking me up to tell me.

Margaret Thatcher's Resignation - 22nd November 1990
I was sat in my room at Wills Hall, Bristol University, listening to the radio and putting off writing an essay. Unfortunately the rest of the hall of residence was full of Tories who didn't wish to celebrate this event with me.

Attack on the twin towers - 11 September 2001
I was pitching to do a PR project for a middle eastern country that wanted to boost its tourism. I think they decided not to appoint anyone ...

England's World Cup Semi Final against Germany - 4 July 1990
From the date and the fact I can't remember it, I've deduced I was working the late shift as a General Catering Sales Assistant (= waiter and dish-washer) at the Little Chef, A2 London Bound Gates Service Station.

President Kennedy's Assassination - 22 November 1963
Was 9 years before I was born, so I was definitely not the man on the grassy knoll ...

I'm tagging:
Hopi Sen
Dave Hill
Dave Cole
Colin Byrne
Ewan Watt

Friday, August 22, 2008

Ahmed Benyermak

I won't be writing anything today other than to say that my thoughts are with the family and friends of Ahmed Benyermak, the 16 year old who died tragically yesterday falling from a tower block on the Trelawney Estate, which is in Chatham Ward, the area I represent on Hackney Council.

We don't know all the facts yet as the police investigation is ongoing, but if it is correct that he died because he was being chased by a gang, this is yet another tragic incident where a young life has been lost in London because of senseless gang-related violence.

I am also thinking about the local people I know who are residents on the estate, and will have been traumatised by this terrible incident.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

More Campaign Group shrinkage

The hard left Socialist Campaign Group of MPs has seen two more of its 22 current members (John Austin, and yesterday Ann Cryer) announce their retirement at the next General Election.

In percentage terms this means 50% of the Campaign Group are leaving parliament through retirement or deselection, compared to just 8.5% of the rest of the PLP.

Diane Abbott MP
John Austin MP - retiring
Michael Clapham MP - retiring
Katy Clark MP
Harry Cohen MP
Frank Cook MP - deselected
Jeremy Corbyn MP
Ann Cryer MP - retiring
William Etherington MP - retiring
Neil Gerrard MP - retiring
Ian Gibson MP
David Hamilton MP
Kelvin Hopkins MP
Lynne Jones MP - retiring
Bob Marshall-Andrews MP - retiring
John McDonnell MP
Austin Mitchell MP
Linda Riordan MP
Alan Simpson MP - retiring
Dennis Skinner MP
David Taylor MP - retiring
Bob Wareing MP - deselected
Mike Wood MP

The hard left has also been remarkably unsuccessful in getting new potential Campaign Group members selected in winnable seats - though the soft left Compass has done quite well. Janet Oosthuysen in Calder Valley is the only PPC in a Labour-held seat who I am aware of who is likely to join them.

There is a serious implication to this as it further reduces the chances of John McDonnell or any other hard left challenger being able to muster enough MP nominators to get on the ballot paper in the event of a leadership election in the next Parliament. If all the 11 above who are restanding, plus Janet Oosthuysen, hold their seats (which is a tall order as some of the seats involved are marginals) that means that the PLP as a whole would have to shrink to just 96 MPs in order for the Campaign Group to hit the 12.5% threshold needed to nominate for Leader and Deputy.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Warwick II - what got decided

Although it was nearly a month ago, there hasn't been coverage in one place of all the policy decisions that came out of Labour's Warwick National Policy Forum.

I think that's a shame, as there were some very good decisions that could provide useful ammo for Labour campaigners and inspire people to go out and work for the Party.

I've tried to collate everything I could find about the outcomes and publish it all here in one place.

Sources I've lifted this from are FT, Guardian, Times, Tribune, letter from Pat McFadden MP to Times, LGA Labour Group briefing, Labour Party website, BBC Online and most significantly a very comprehensive report sent round by NEC member Ann Black:

Policies Agreed

Agriculture, Rural Affairs, Food and Animal Welfare
· Allowing tested GM crops to be used commercially.
· Labelling goods made of real animal fur.
· Continuing to work with all agencies to ensure that the hunting act is effectively enforced.
· Continuing to push for a global ban on whaling, and to research new ways to reduce animal testing.
· Involving those who live and work in rural areas on provision of services.

· Wholesale replacement of the phrase “hard-working families” with more inclusive language.
· Positive discrimination to increase the number of ethnic minority MPs and MEPs.

Constitutional Reform and Local Government
· Continuing debate on a UK constitution.
· Votes at 16 (subject to consultation by a new youth citizenship commission)
· Elected House of Lords.
· Consider ways of increasing voter registration and participation in local and national elections, weekend voting and the duty to vote.
· Further consultation on the Review of Voting Systems in the UK but opposition to proportional representation for electing local councils.
· "We have given local communities the choice of directly elected mayors for their towns, and where adopted, some elected mayors have proved effective and popular with residents. We have recently legislated to give all councils a choice between mayors and indirectly elected council leaders and will consult on making it easier for local people to decide to have a mayor. However, Labour recognises that indirectly elected council leaders can provide superb leadership and as such we will not seek to impose elected mayors. We will include in our consultation the process whereby a decision to have a directly elected mayor can be reversed by referendum or vote of the council."

Cultural policy
· Combating looting and illegal trade in art and antiquities through international co-operation.
· Confirming commitment to the BBC and ensuring adequate funding.

· Extension of the city academies programme: wanting all local authorities to promote academies, but affirming that money for BSF (Building Schools for the Future) is not dependent on this.
· Replacing Key Stage tests at ages 11 and 14 with “stage not age” tests, if pilots are successful.
· Encouraging more people from disadvantaged backgrounds to enter higher education by increasing awareness of financial support.
· “Academic selection at 11 is socially divisive and can damage self-esteem, achievement and development …Local parents can vote to remove selection at local grammar schools and it is right that such decisions are made locally”.
· A universal offer to support and advise 18- to 25-year-olds with fewer than two A-levels who want to study or train.

· The government "should" pay the adult rate of minimum wage from age 21, instead of 22, if the low pay commission recommends it for a fourth time next year.
· Tips will be on top of, rather than included in, the minimum wage.
· Apprentice schemes will be opened up to older workers.
· More apprenticeships, particularly in the public sector.
· Parents of children aged up to 16 will get flexible working rights.
· The Government will ensure "adequate investment" in Remploy factories and give the firm the opportunity to compete for public sector contracts.
· Measures to allow mothers to share paid parental leave with fathers.
· An increase in the statutory minimum redundancy pay.
· Considering an inquiry into health and safety standards in the construction industry.
· Examination of whether the gangmasters' licensing authority should be extended from food and agriculture to the construction industry.
· Introducing tripartite sector forums (representing government, business and unions) to investigate means of improving skills and pay in the care, contract cleaning, betting and hospitality industries.
· Prevention of the false use of self-employed status for workers by employers.
· “We will work with the CBI, unions and others to gather evidence of the effectiveness of promoting best practice on equal pay audits.”

Environment & Energy
· Nuclear power is included with clean coal and renewables as part of the future energy mix, but with added guarantees of full public consultation on planning applications for nuclear stations and assurances that companies would have to meet all the costs, including decommissioning and waste disposal.
· Making micro-generation an integral part of energy production.
· Increasing re-use and recycling of products, and reducing excess packaging.
· Eradicating fuel poverty in vulnerable households by 2010 and all households by 2016.
· Moves to ensure that people in the UK have the right skills to make the most of the “green collar” employment opportunities created by the investment in nuclear energy and renewables over the coming years.

Foreign Policy/Defence/International Development
· Withdrawal from Iraq as soon as realistic but in Afghanistan “our presence as part of a multinational mission is strongly supported by local people and is essential to building long-term stability”.
· “Failing to renew Trident would be a gamble with the nation’s security that the Labour government must not take”.
· Allowing America to use British bases for its national missile defence (NMD) programme "will provide the UK and the US with warning of missile attacks on our countries and is therefore consistent with the Labour party’s commitment to protecting the safety of British citizens.”
· Adding “through peaceful means” to a sentence about preventing the emergence of failed states [possibly a drafting error as elsewhere the use of military intervention as a last resort was accepted].
· Recognition of Israel and commitment to peace as pre-conditions for Hamas to join peace talks.
· Condemnation of killings of trade unionists in Columbia - but a proposal to stop military aid to Colombia was defeated.
· Providing access to legal and safe abortion, as well as to contraception, to women in Africa and South Asia.
· Promoting fair trade products.
· Supporting and promoting the concept of a "Social Europe".
· Challenging the World Bank not to force developing countries to privatise their public services in order to qualify for development aid.

· Support for the Darzi review.
· Exemptions from prescription charges could be “better used to tackle health inequalities”.
· Monitoring access to NHS dentists, and ensuring access for every child.
· Fines for primary care trusts who do not achieve 90% use of the Choose and Book system by 2010.
· Encouraging voluntary registration for organ donation, rather than an opt-out system.
· More use of in-house services for hospital cleaning.
· Recognising the importance of hospital cleaning teams, but stating that there is no evidence of better infection control with in-house provision.
· More recognition and support for carers.
· Starting a debate on how to fund long-term social care, with no preferred option at this stage.
· "We will oppose any attempts to create an EU single market for healthcare which could undermine the NHS".
· Health check-ups for everyone as part of a shift to a preventive NHS.
· Longer GP opening hours.

Home Affairs
· Preventing criminals from profiting from books about their crimes.
· Reviewing the availability of healthcare for failed asylum-seekers.
· Ensuring the highest standards of humanity and dignity when asylum-seekers have to be detained.
· Reclassifying cannabis as a Class B drug to send a strong message that it is harmful.
· Action to combat cannabis farms.
· Rejecting evidence obtained through torture in UK courts, and fighting to close Guantanamo Bay.
· Titan prisons will be built near large cities so that more prisoners are close to home.
· Recognition that that many prisoners have mental health issues, and some should be in more appropriate accommodation.
· Noted “the public’s steady support for our proposals” on ID cards and that “these plans are being implemented on a pilot basis, and their success and acceptability will determine how rapidly the full biometric database and accompanying ID cards will be rolled out”.
· Turning community service into a tough new community payback scheme with a stronger voice for the public in how this works in local areas

· Regulation of estate agents, so that consumers are protected in advance rather than having to seek redress after things have gone wrong.
· Investigating heat-retention material for older houses without cavity walls.
· "Government recognises the need for reform of the system of council housing finance which is why we have launched a review of the housing revenue account subsidy system. The review will address a wide range of issues including; subsidy, rents, management and maintenance, major repairs and borrowing. Labour recognises the need, particularly in a more difficult housing market, to have a mixed economy of housing providers and believes that local authorities and ALMOs, as well as housing associations, have a key role to play in the future of affordable housing provision. The review is considering how we can ensure councils have a sustainable, long-term system for financing their housing, in particular how we can work with local authorities to ensure stock is of a decent standard as well as providing the social and affordable homes, including council houses, we need in the future."
· Councils will be allowed to apply for social housing grants formerly reserved for housing associations to enable them to be future providers of social housing. This will create a "level playing field" between local authorities with ALMOs and those who continue to directly manage their stock.

Public Services
· An assertion of "the central role of the public sector in delivering public services". UNISON described this as "It makes clear that direct provision should be the preferred option - and that privatisation is not the way ahead".
· Endorsement of the use of the private and voluntary sectors to deliver public services, including "welfare-to-work" and the NHS.
· Requirement for private sector companies contracting with the public sector to provide more information on the proportion of women they employ.
· "£160 billion is spent by the public sector on private sector contracts. The equality duty will require public bodies to give due regard to the need to tackle discrimination and promote equality through their purchasing functions. We will use our purchasing power to help private sector contractors to contribute to the delivery of our public policy objectives of greater equality.”
· Maintaining a publicly owned and integrated Post Office.

Taxation, poverty and redistribution
· “Despite progress in reducing poverty under this government, the current wealth gap between rich and poor is still too large. There is growing evidence that social strains and ill-health are greater in more unequal societies, independent of overall wealth … reducing inequality will contribute to the development of a fairer society. We are committed to narrowing inequalities in society, tackling the gap between rich and poor and eradicating child poverty. A progressive tax and benefit system has an important part to play ...”
· Ministers agreed to try to boost take-up of tax credits, even though this would cost money.

· Supporting the sustainable growth of aviation and the development of green aviation technologies.
· Simplifying rail fares and making them more transparent.
· A promise to "look at" non-profit making companies acting as train operators.
· A big electrification programme for the railways.

Policies Referred to Annual Conference
Only two policies received over 25% but fewer than 50% of the votes at the NPF and will hence be referred to Conference for a final decision. In both cases the author was Sir Jeremy Beecham, Labour Group Leader on the Local Government Association:
· More councillors on police authorities
· Commissioning an independent review of the civil legal aid system

Policies rejected
The following policies were proposed at the NPF but rejected or never pushed to a vote:
· Higher taxes for earners of over £150,000 per annum.
· Higher total government spending.
· Linking out-of-work benefits to earnings.
· Paying the minimum wage at age 18.
· Allowing minimum wage inspectors to enforce other rights such as paid holidays at the same time.
· Cheaper phone calls for prisoners to their families.
· Allowing only parents with children under 11 in the catchment area to vote in the ballot on abolishing the 11+.
· Immediate inclusion of Hamas in Middle East peace talks.
· Withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan.
· A windfall tax on energy companies.
· Higher rates of National Insurance.
· Legalisation of limited second picketing.
· Simpler balloting for industrial action.
· Universal free school meals.
· Reopening of public sector pay deals.
· Rejection of using private companies in the public sector.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Promotion for Jim Murphy?

I hope the Guardian is correct in its prediction today that Jim Murphy is going to be promoted to the Cabinet.

He deserves it on merit quite apart from the political ramifications set out by the Guardian.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Council by-election result

Only one council by-election last night, but a great result for Labour and a hilariously bad one for the Tories (6th, with 1.6% of the vote).

Cilfynydd Ward, Rhondda Cynon Taff CBC. Lab gain from LD. Lab 331 (43.5%, +5.0%), LibDem 252 (33.1%, -19.9%), Ind 85 (11.2%, +11.2%), Plaid 69 (8.8% +0.2%), Green 14 (1.8%, +1.8%), Con 12 (1.6%, +1.6%). Swing from LD to Lab of 12.5% since 1 May.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Fourth and Fifth Ways

Martin Bright in the New Statesman identifies three factions in Labour, soft left Compass, ultra-Blairites backing Miliband, and a "third way" around John Denham advocating that Labour "redefine its values under a Brown premiership".

As usual the journalistic community has failed to appreciate that not one of these three tendencies actually has a presence on the ground in the CLPs or trade unions which control 2/3 of Labour's electoral college, or much of one beyond a few loudmouths in the PLP.

In fact they are all rather similar in culture and milieu, representing the - often well-meaning - denizens of the Guardian op-ed pages and think tank cocktail parties rather than the reality of Labour politics on the ground. They are all in competition to prove how many "new" ideas they can come up with rather than dealing with the gritty realities of electioneering at a council and constituency level.

Ignored by Bright is Labour's historic loyalist tendency around Labour First who want Brown's premiership to succeed without junking any of the common sense values and understanding of the essentially moderate politics of both our core vote and swing voters that led him and Tony Blair to create New Labour.

Equally ignored are the Hard Left who whilst they only have two dozen MPs retain enough votes amongst grassroots members and in the unions to have a destructive influence in any future leadership election.

Appeal from Georgian Young Socialists

The "Union of Socialist Youth of Georgia", sister organisation of Young Labour and Labour Students here in the UK, has sent the following email:

"12 August 2008
Letter of Appeal

We, the Union of Socialist Youth of Georgia (USYG), consider it our obligation to inform international community about existing situation in Georgia. It is evident, that existing internal conflict in one of the regions of Georgia (Samachablo or, so-called South Ossetia) has gone beyond the conflict zone and has been transformed into a full-blown Russian-Georgian war. The military operations of the Russian Federation make it evident that we are witnesses of clear attempt of annexation of Georgia by Russian Federation. Russian aviation carried out military operations not only in conflict zone destroying the entire city of Tskhinvaly, but also attacked Georgian military bases, communication infrastructure and peaceful citizens beyond the conflict zone on behalf of peace-keeping operations. All over the country Russian air forces bombed peaceful cities, regional centres and villages, including: city of Gori (where there are ruined dwellings), port of Poti (which is the important strategic object for food import), the capital of Georgia – Tbilisi, aircraft factory and territory nearby the Tbilisi international airport. All these objects have no connection to conflict zone. Despite the statement of Russian officials, that they only try to keep peace in conflict zone, it is the fact that they have crossed the boundaries of conflict area and occupied the country’s strategic locations; the Russian military forces occupied the several west Georgian cities, central highway and are now approaching Tbilisi.

We, the USYG, are expressing our concern about the current situation, and consider actions of Russian federation actions as invasion of Georgia. The attacks of Russian military forces against Georgian army could not be considered actions for peacekeeping purposes. This way Russian Federation tries to assure their imperial ambitions and restore its political influence on Georgia. It is now clearly possible that sooner or later potentially other countries may also become victims of Russian aggression. Current actions of Russian Federation jeopardize not only stability of one country or region, but also the whole world. It changes the established principles of international justice in the world and pushes for establishment law of power.The analogy of Soviet Union’s invasions of various regions of the world in the last century to the Russia’s current actions is evident. If during those times, soviet interventions in Czech republic, Slovakia, Hungary and etc. were justified by the need for protection of workers’ rights, today they are carrying out military operation under the justification of protecting Ossetian population.

We, the UYSG underline that our guiding principles are peace, freedom and human rights and would like to express our greatest concern against Russian aggression, demand an immediate halt of military operations on the territory of an independent country and insist on an immediate departure of Russian troops from the Georgian territory.

We, UYSG appeal to all Socialists, Social Democrats, Labour youth and all of the progressive youth organisations, for whom peace, freedom and human rights are the important issues, to express your attitude toward Russian aggression. Today, as never before the Georgian people are in need of international support, therefore we are asking you to express your protest against Russian aggression in your countries at the Russian embassies and diplomatic units, and support and express your solidarity with Georgians population.We hope that our appeal will not be disregarded and adequate actions will be taken form your sides.

In hope in your solidarity

In name of Union of Socialist Youth of Georgia

Dimitri Tskitishvili
The president of Union"

The politics of an energy Windfall Tax

I'm getting various emails from Compass promoting a Windfall Tax on energy companies. They seem to be still using the Barack Obama branding ("Windfall tax: yes we can!") not having realised that having postured as a radical to win the primaries, their hero is thankfully now triangulating away like an old-school Clintonista.

There are starting to be some sensible names of people whose opinions I take seriously on the policy's supporters list though (Stephen Twigg, Khalid Mahmood, Geoffrey Robinson, Paddy Tipping) so my mind is not entirely closed to the concept.

However, I am still not persuaded on the merits of the policy:
- has there been a profit "windfall"? - surely energy prices have gone up partly because it is more expensive to get oil and gas out of the ground/sea as the easy to reach stocks dwindle, not just because of rising demand
- how do you stop the companies passing the cost of the tax straight on to customers?
- why would we want to decrease the capital reserves of energy companies at the exact moment we are begging them to make capital investment in very expensive new nuclear power stations, clean coal technology and wind, wave and whatever else? Won't they just walk away from the British market muttering that they are running businesses not piggy banks for the Government to raid?
- why is profit incurred by energy companies specially worthy of a windfall tax as opposed to profit made by any other kind of company - why this rather than a windfall tax on lawyers at times of heavy litigation, on toy manufacturers at Christmas or a windfall tax on food companies and supermarkets to subsidise food for people hit by rising food prices? (NB to Compass these were not real ideas before you launch campaigns based on them!)

As for the politics of it, I'm afraid that any kind of new tax gives ammo to the Tories. The public won't necessarily clock that it is a tax on businesses, not them, when Cameron's PR people add it to the list of X hundred alleged stealth taxes.

The presentation of the concept has been all wrong and reflects the prejudices of its soft left originators.

They've consistently and consciously chosen to badge it up as a "Windfall Tax", then added almost as an afterthought "for social & environmental justice".

A more politically savvy approach would have been to call loudly for a "Fund to combat fuel poverty" and then quietly added "funded by a one-off Windfall Tax on energy company profits".

This leads me to suspect that the originators of the policy (not I hasten to add the supporters I named above) are motivated less by the thought of helping poorer energy consumers and more by the chance to burnish their radical anti-capitalist credentials by giving business a kicking.

We spent the best part of 20 years persuading the business community and more importantly voters who own shares themselves or through their pension schemes, or work for private sector businesses and depend on their profitability to a) keep their jobs and b) fund public services through all the existing streams of taxation and c) fund their pensions, that Labour was not anti-business. This wasn't just a Blairite campaign - remember John Smith and Margaret Beckett as Kinnock's Treasury team going on the "prawn cocktail offensive" to try to reassure the City. We throw away that hard-won credibility at our peril.

With the economy teetering on the edge of a recession do we want to take an axe to the profitability of any sector in the economy? I thought most Compassites were Keynesians - I don't remember from my first year economics lectures from the now Dr Roger Berry MP that raising taxes was a Keynesian response to economic bad times.

I'm just reading Bernard Donoughue's fantastic memoir of his time as Wilson's Head of Policy at No10, "The Heat of the Kitchen".

Talking about Labour in the 1970s he says:

"The activists were disenchanted with the polls because the polls showed the electorate was disenchanted with them. The left preferred to believe that they alone knew what the electorate wanted, and certainly what was good for the public - which they saw as a strengthened diet of state nationalisation, intervention and controls over industry and the lives of ordinary people, together with fiscal punishment for anyone who had the impertinence to pursue success in the private sector."

I worry that Compass, like their 1970s antecedents, are primarily looking for ways to, as Donoughue puts it, administer "fiscal punishment for anyone who had the impertinence to pursue success in the private sector".

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Russian historical sensitivity

Prime Minister Putin quoted at the weekend:

"Russia has played a positive, stabilising role in the Caucasus for centuries, a guarantor of security, cooperation and progress. This is how it was in the past and this is how it is going to be in future. Let there be no doubt about this."

"Positive, stabilising" actions by Russia in the past including having invaded and colonised the place in the 19th century.

Georgia was independent previously for a brief period from 1918-1921. A democratic republic, it elected what was reputed to be the first majority democratic socialist/social democratic government (led by the Menshevik Party who won 81.5% of the vote in the 1919 General Election) in the world. Despite armed Bolshevik uprisings stirred up by Russia, particularly amongst the Ossetian and Abkhazian minorities, Georgia had a multi-party system, granted regional autonomy to Abkhazia, founded a national university, brought in universal public education and carried out land reform. In 1921 the Red Army invaded, overthrow the democratic regime and incorporated Georgia into the Soviet Union - the example of a democratic socialist neighbour being too provocative for the Communists to bear.

How long before Putin starts talking about the "positive, stabilising role" of Russia in the Baltic States, former Soviet Central Asia, or Ukraine? And then will we get to hear about the "positive, stabilising role" Russia played in Central and Eastern Europe from 1945 to 1990?

I cannot see any moral difference between NATO affording membership and collective security against Russian aggression to Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, or indeed Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, and offering it to Georgia, unless we are to accept that some neighbouring states Russia chooses to designate as under its influence are to have less sovereignty and less security than others.

If Georgia had already have been in NATO, the events this week could not have happened because an attack on one member state triggers a collective defence agreement.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Council by-elections

Last night's council by-election results:

Maldon North Ward, Maldon DC. Con gain from Ind. Con 339 (40.8%, +6.9), Green 200 (24.1%, +24.1), Ind 115 (13.9%, -21.4), BNP 107 (12.9%, +12.9), Ind 69 (8.3%, +8.3). Swing 8.6% from Con to Green since 2007.

Woolaton West Ward, Nottingham CC. Con hold. Con 2769 (62.2%, +16.6), Lab 1042 (23.4%, +3.1), LD 424 (9.5%, -4.2), UKIP 220 (4.9%, -4.1). Swing 6.8% from Lab to Con since 2007 but note that Labour vote share is up.

Newsham with Eppleby Ward, Richmondshire DC. Con hold. Con 295 (59.4%), LD 130 (26.2%), Ind 72 (14.5%). Conservatives were unopposed here in 2007.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Fantasy/nightmare cabinets

Today's Daily Telegraph reports that "David Miliband has lined up Alan Milburn to be Chancellor of the Exchequer if he replaces Gordon Brown as Prime Minister".

This is interesting in that I had assumed that Miliband was going to try to position himself as slightly to the left of Brown. The highlighting of Milburn as Chancellor-candidate suggests actually he is running on an ultra New Labour ticket.

Miliband must know something about the maths of Labour's electoral college that the rest of the Party don't. I can't see how this kind of a ticket could win. The votes just aren't there.

To win the Labour leadership from the right you need not just a popular candidate but to construct a coalition that includes the whole of the right of the Party - New Labour and the "old Labour" trade union right; Brownites and Blairites - and extends deep into the soft left. For instance, when Blair won in '94 he had John Prescott as his de facto running mate, Brown clearly as part of the package and Robin Cook running the campaign. "Miliband plus Milburn" doesn't really have that broad coalition feel to it, does it? None of these elements by themselves can stack up more than about 20% of the electoral college.

If a Leadership election was precipitated, and it is difficult to see how this could happen without the support of the major unions, who I don't think are really ready for a Miliband/Milburn ticket, it is difficult to see who this kind of line-up could beat other than a straight fight with John McDonnell or another Hard Left candidate.

You could end up with Brown being replaced with someone not disimilar in their political positioning such as Johnson or Straw. But the results of last year's Deputy Leadership election suggest there would be as good a chance of ending up with a candidate from the centre of the Party and offside on some major issues like the already proven winner of internal Labour ballots Harriet Harman, or even an overtly soft left candidate like Jon Cruddas.

Thus the Miliband/Milburn ticket seems to me to offer the possibility of self-liquidation for the Blairites, taking themselves down with Brown.

This is daft politics. At the moment Brown needs the support of former Blairites. He has been extremely generous in promoting them - more generous than he has been to his own people, and more generous than Blair was to Blairites! All the reshuffle gossip points to promotions for the likes of Jim Murphy, Caroline Flint and Liam Byrne and maybe even for a comeback for Milburn in a Brown Cabinet. And in policy terms Brown has since the New Year embraced a clearly modernising policy agenda and given former Blairite ministers like James Purnell and John Hutton the space to pursue aggressively New Labour policies.

Destabilising the current balance of power in the Party is the equivalent of a double or quits gamble, quite apart from the churlishness of it as a response to Brown's considerable efforts to draw a line under past divisions. It's most likely outcome is to weaken everyone on the moderate wing of the Party and strengthen those who would move the Party to a more leftwing and less electable stance.  It's cutting off your nose to spite your face and I hope I am not the only person who was proud to call myself a Blairite for 13 years to be counselling against this kamikaze strategy.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

New policies not a new leader will help Labour win

Buried in amongst the attempts by the sunday papers to keep speculation about the Labour leadership going with publication of a leaked draft of a memo written nearly a year ago was a very good policy idea from Stephen Byers. To quote the Observer:

"Byers called for Margaret Thatcher's right-to-buy programme for council homes to be turned into a deposit scheme where instead of getting discounts of up to £38,000 tenants could use the money as a deposit to buy a private home - thus helping unlock the crippled housing market."

And freeing up social housing for new tenants who need it.

It would be nice to hope that we could move from a debate about personalities to one about which policies will help Labour get back into a winning position.

That Labour could still do that is shown by a further small increase in the party's opinion poll share to 29% in today's ICM poll. Factor in the inevitable recovery all governments see in their polling position as you come out of the midterm (and in this case out of an economic bad patch) and you can see we are still in the game for a fourth term.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Well said Mr Hutton

Some useful comments from John Hutton and YouGov in the online version of the Guardian:

"Gordon Brown received support from a cabinet colleague today as a survey suggested that Labour's standing in the polls would be even worse under a new leader.

John Hutton, the business secretary, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning that Labour could win the next election with Brown in charge.He also insisted that Labour ministers should "stop sounding miserable about ourselves" and that they should concentrate their efforts on attacking the Tories.

Hutton's comments will be well received in Downing Street, because other cabinet ministers have not been defending the prime minister in public since David Miliband signalled that he was available as an alternative leadership candidate in an article published in the Guardian on Wednesday.

But, although Miliband is well regarded within the party and by commentators, a poll published today suggests that he would not help Labour's poll ratings if he were to replace Brown.

The YouGov survey, published in the Daily Telegraph, shows that, although Labour is deeply unpopular with Brown leading it, it would do worse under Miliband or any of Brown's other rivals."

Council by-elections

Last night's council by-election results:

Pentyrch Ward, Cardiff CC. Con hold. Con 554 (41.9%, +7.5), Lab 542 (41%, +10.2), Plaid 129 (9.8%, -10), LD 97 (7.3%, -0.6). Swing 1.4% from Con to Lab since 1 May. Not a bad result given the national picture.

Whickham & Sunniside Ward, Gateshead MBC. LD hold. LD 1612 (72.5%, +4.4), Lab 394 (17.7%, +4.2), Con 217 (9.8%, -8.6). Swing 0.1% from Lab to LD since 1 May. Tory vote seems to have collapsed in a middle class part of Tyneside, allowing Lab to move into a very distant second place to LDs.

Louth Wolds Division, Lincolnshire CC. Con hold. Con 1013 (49.9%, +13.5), Ind 361 (17.8%, -0.6), LD 304 (15%, -18.3), BNP 219 (10.8%, +10.8), Lab 75 (3.7%, +3.7), UKIP 59 (2.9%, -9). Swing 7% from Ind to Con since 2005.

Oadby Uplands Ward, Oadby & Wigston BC. LD hold. LD 774 (55.3%, +1.7), Con 625 (44.7%, +16.3). Swing 7.3% from LD to Con since 2007, with Lab not running this time.

Witnesham Ward, Suffolk Coastal DC. Con hold. Con 316 (53.7%, -28.8), LD 272 (46.3%, +46.3). No Lab candidate although we got 17.5% in 2007.

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