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, February 28, 2009

Meanwhile in Islington ...

Congratulations to my Labour colleagues in the next door borough of Islington after their success at Thursday night's budget council.

Islington is Lib Dem-led based on the Mayor's casting vote - composition is 23 LDs, 23 Labour, 1 Green, 1 independent elected as an LD.

But on Thursday night the absence through illness of a Lib Dem meant Labour's budget was passed - including free school meals for all primary school children, a £100 rebate for pensioners, and a cut in annual allowances for senior councillors of £127,000.

Cue much hysterical squealing from the Lib Dems.

You can read more here.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Council By-Election Results

Last night's council by-election results:

Greaseley Giltbrook/Newthorpe Ward, Broxtowe BC. Con hold. Con 1125 (49.1%, +0.4), Lab 600 (26.2%, +1.6), BNP 301 (13.1%, -2.5), LD 232 (10.1%, -1), UKIP 31 (1.4%, +1.4). Swing of 0.6% from Con to Lab since 2007. This is in the marginal Broxtowe constituency, number 42 in the Tory target list.

Honiton St Michaels Ward, East Devon DC. LD gain from Con. LD 636 (51.1%, +51.1), Con 609 (48.9%, -20.9). Swing of 36% from Con to LD since 2007.

Court Ward, Epsom & Ewell BC. Lab gain from LD. Lab 377 (33%, +1.3), LD 343 (30%, -10), Con 281 (24.6%, +7.6), Res Assoc 143 (12.5%, +0.2). Swing of 5.7% from LD to Lab since 2007. A Labour gain in Surrey!

Ruxley Ward, Epsom & Ewell BC. Con gain from Residents' Assoc. Con 564 (51.3%, +13), Res Assoc 363 (33%, -11.7), Lab 73 (6.6%, -2.6), LD 60 (5.5%, -2.2), UKIP 40 (3.6%, +3.6). Swing of 12.4% from Res Assoc to Con since 2007.

Rushahh-Shelfield Ward, Walsall MBC. Con hold. Con 809 (49.8%, -11.2), Lab 411 (25.3%, +5.6), LD 178 (11%, -1.4), UKIP 165 (10.2%, +10.2), Green 61 (3.8%, -3.1). Swing of 8.4% from Con to Lab since 2008.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

UKIP mis-using Lords facilities for fundraising?

UKIP Peer Lord Pearson of Rannoch has been sending out invites to a party fundraising dinner.

Nothing unusual about that.

Except the £200 a ticket dinner ("cheques payable to the UK Independence Party"), which appears to be to raise dosh for the June 4 Euro Elections, was held in the Cholmondley Room in the Lords and the invites were sent out on House of Lords stationery. Even the reply envelope was a Lords one.

UKIP in the comments say it isn't a breach of the Rules of the House. It should be as it's using facilities taxpayers pay for for party fundraising purposes.

Here's the letter and reply slip:

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Progress: Labour 2.0: campaigning for the net generation’

I can't make it to the Progress conference this Saturday on "Labour 2.0: campaigning for the net generation" because it clashes with my ward reselection meeting for Hackney Council.

I'd encourage Labour-supporting readers with an interest in e-campaigning to go though, as it looks like an impressive event. Joe Rospars, New Media Director of Barack Obama's 2008 Presidential Campaign, will be making the keynote speech at the conference. It will follow an opening address by Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP, Labour’s general election coordinator.

Bloggers due to speak there include Tom Barry of Boriswatch, Adam Bienkow of Tory Troll, Theo Blackwell, Jag Singh and Derek Draper (without whose efforts in 1995 Progress would not exist and be running such impressive events).

You can register here: http://www.progressonline.org.uk/Events/event.asp?e=1399

Monday, February 23, 2009

Against Term Limits

Trevor Phillips has called for term limits for MPs, with each MP having to retire after 4 terms or 20 years in order to create vacancies so that diversification of the Commons to include more women and ethnic minority MPs can happen faster.

This suggestion is profoundly undemocratic. If voters want more than the current 20% turnover of MPs they can do it at general elections by voting out incumbents. Inside the political parties you can get a faster turnover of MPs by deselecting them. But the evidence is - given the boost that incumbent MPs seem to get compared to candidates from the same party in comparable "open" seats and the tiny number of deselections in recent years - that voters and party members prefer experienced incumbent MPs to newbies. Which makes sense - you'd prefer to see a doctor with a few decades experience, or hire a lawyer with hundreds of cases behind them, so why would you want to swap your MP any faster than you swapped government?

The trouble is that Trevor has put one objective that might influence how you want the Commons composed - representativeness by gender and ethnicity - above other objectives that might also be valid considerations and need to be balanced with that, such as ensuring there are enough people in there experienced enough to do the different roles.

The Commons is the main reservoir of potential Ministers. Whilst there have been some notable exceptions who have achieved high office after just a few years in Parliament, most people need a couple of terms working their apprenticeship as backbenchers, and then a series of periods as a PPS, a PUS and a Minister of State before being ready to join the Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet. Under Phillips' rule it would be virtually impossible to gain this experience so almost everyone in Cabinet would have less prior experience of office than they do now. This would be bound to reduce the quality of Cabinet - experience brings improved judgement and ability to react to major events based on lessons learnt at a lower level of responsibility. There's a case for a few fast-trackers but most politicians need to reach high office slower, learning the job and growing as they go.

For parties in opposition for a long period it would virtually guarantee that there would be no continuity of personnel at all from their previous period in government - increasing the power of the civil service mandarins - for whom no such term limit is proposed by Trevor - over inexperienced Ministers.

Within Parliament the scrutiny function exercised by select committees is strengthened by having MPs of great tenure and experience chairing them, who can stand up to Ministers who often don't know a policy area in as great depth as an MP who has followed it for decades. Under Trevor's rule Gwyneth Dunwoody would have left the Commons in 1990 and never been available for her period as Chair of the Transport Committee.

Other casualties of the Phillips term limits would have been:

Churchill - out of the Commons in 1920
Thatcher - out of the Commons in 1979 just at the point she became PM (not such a bad thing?)
Attlee - out of the Commons in 1942
Foot - out of the Commons in 1970
Benn - out of the Commons in 1973 (maybe not so bad either?)
Disraeli - out of the Commons in 1857, 11 years before he became PM
Gladstone - out of the Commons in 1852, just at the start of his first term as Chancellor and 42 years before he finally stood down as PM

His proposal is also self defeating, as amongst the MPs forced to step down after 4 terms in 2005 or after 20 years in 2007 would have been two of Britain's first four ethnic minority MPs, Keith Vaz and Diane Abbott.

Greater BME representation in parliament is happening - Labour has new BME candidates in place in Labour-held seats including Shabana Mahmood, Yasmin Qureshi, Anas Sarwar and Chuka Umunna. It's not happening fast enough but it would be better if Trevor was looking at ways of spreading best practice in fighting selections, or ensuring more BME candidates arrived at point of selection with enough experience as party office-holders, activists or councillors to make them credible parliamentary candidates, or even for all-BME shortlists inside political parties, rather than calling for the culling of all the MPs who have been there long enough to be at the top of their game.

Friday, February 20, 2009

New Labour Blog

A New Labour blog - in both senses - from Darren Murphy - http://darrenmurphy.org/

Well said, Hazel

At least someone in the Cabinet - Hazel Blears - is focused on winning the General Election, not maneuvering for their post-election career.

Council By-Election Results

Last night's council by-election results.

Bilton Ward, Harrogate BC. LD hold. LD 902 (50.4%, +1), Con 673 (37.6%, -6.9), BNP 164 (9.2%, +3), Lab 51 (2.8%, +2.8). Swing of 4% from Con to LD since 2007.

Downham Ward, LB Lewisham. Double vacancy. 2 LD holds. LD 1075, 1067 (39.3%, -12.5), Lab 655, 634 (24%, -0.8), Con 654, 632 (23.9%, +6.9), BNP 287 (10.5%, +10.5), Green 63, 62 (2.3%, -4.1). Swing of 5.9% from LD to Lab since 2006.

Thringstone Ward, NW Leics. Lab hold. Lab 593 (35.9%, -6.7), Con 520 (31.4%, -2.2), BNP 465 (28.1%, +28.1), LD 76 (4.6%, -19.2). Swing of 2.3% from Lab to Con since 2007.

Swanley St Mary's Ward, Sevenoaks DC. BNP gain from Lab. BNP 408 (41.8%, +41.8), Lab 322 (33.0%, -22.3), Con 247 (25.3%, +0.4). Swing of 32.1% from Lab to BNP since 2007.

So a mixed bag: not bad results for Labour given the national polls in Lewisham and NW Leics; a truly scary result in what had been a safe Labour ward in Sevenoaks (yes, I'm surprised such a thing existed too), giving the BNP their first councillor in the south east, and another good BNP performance in the NW Leics seat too (1930s politics to match the 1930s economic situation?); and the Tories showing no signs of translating their national poll lead into votes, indeed going backwards in wards in their number 81 (NW Leics) and number 153 (Harrogate) parliamentary targets.

For those of you interested in the technical question of whether you can predict the broad general election picture from council by-elections, the answer was given in detail yesterday on ukpollingreport.co.uk - basically you can't because "Liberal Democrats always do better in local government by-elections than elsewhere, Labour always do worse, but the amount Labour do worse and the Lib Dems do better isn’t constant".

However, I do think whilst they don't tell you the national story they do give you pointers about the state of party organisation in different areas and straws in the wind about the specific individual parliamentary seats they are in.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Philip Collins in the Times

Today's piece in the Times by Philip Collins claiming that Labour's "positioning has left it left of sensible" is really pretty tragic stuff - opening with a rather silly personal attack on the PM's motives for supporting greater equality.

Bizarrely, it accuses of lack of radicalism and reforming zeal a string of departments that include many - DCLG, Home Office, DWP - which are run by former Blairites.

I'm agnostic on public service reform issues. When I hear about a public service reform policy that will really deliver better services for ordinary citizens, like city academies, I back it. But when I hear about schemes that appear to offer little improved service delivery at a price of deliberately picking a fight with the unions or our own core supporters, or to be predicated on the basis that every existing public service is the wrong way of doing things, I don't.

Collins seems to have elevated public service reform to an end in itself, not a means to delivering Labour's objectives of equality and social justice.

He has misread a Tory Party that is moving to the monetarist right as having "moved gingerly across the spectrum" to the centre.

The reality is that voters really don't get as excited about the public service reform agenda as policy wonks do. They are interested in the end results - better or worse services - but not the positioning war over who is the more radical reformer.

Collins doesn't seem to get that we only have one Prime Minister and he is a bit busy dealing with the greatest world economic crisis since WW2 to focus on whizzy new reforms that will bring no electoral benefit and probably just cause a fight in our own ranks.

Similarly DWP Secretary James Purnell has been rather too busy making sure Job Centre Plus can deal with the dole queues to keep David Freud on side by pushing the welfare reform agenda.

Public Service Reform is a debate we can come back to when the economy recovers. Or one that departments and ministers not in the economic frontline should just get on with with the minimum of fuss.

In the mean time there's a more urgent task and voters would see any distraction from it into a "my reform is more radical than your reform, I've slain more sacred cows that you have" as frivolous and disconnected from reality.

Labour's focus on finding Keynesian solutions to the economic crisis isn't "left of sensible", it's the only sensible response to a crisis of this magnitude. Collins' obsession with the minutiae of a policy agenda that isn't where the debate or the reality in the country is at, and with point-scoring attacks on Brown based on yesterday's battles, is miles from "sensible" positioning. Someone needs to tell him that he is acting like the ultra New Labour equivalent of Japanese soldiers found in the jungle in the 1970s refusing to accept the Emperor had surrendered. Describing a Government with Peter Mandelson in it and Alastair Campbell advising it as "left of sensible" is evidence of Philip having lost the plot.

Collective Responsibility

I'm a little confused about the noises coming from around my party's Deputy Leader.

According to Harriet Harman's "supporter" Sally Keeble MP (and why would you have backbench "supporters" speaking on your behalf to the media unless you were up to something?) "Harriet has distinct views and speaks out for them".

I thought though that in the UK system of government we had a doctrine of Cabinet collective responsibility which meant that Ministers never expressed their own, distinct views and spoke out on them, but instead debated matters in private in Cabinet and publicly supported Cabinet decisions - to the extent that no one should ever know the individual views of specific Ministers.

Surely what Ms Keeble meant to say is "Harriet is a loyal member of the Government and I have no idea if she privately disagrees with some government policies as she would never be so indiscreet as to undermine her boss the PM, her colleagues or the collective position of the Cabinet by letting her individual views be known."

Politicalbetting.com is right to point repeatedly to Harriet's win in the Deputy Leadership election as evidence that she would be the front runner to win a Leadership election if a vacancy existed (assuming Alan Johnson doesn't develop a sudden enthusiasm for campaigning to win which he seemed to so distinctly lack in the 2007 Deputy race). That's one of the main reasons why I don't want a vacancy to exist - partly because I don't like some of Harriet's politics (which carry a little too much baggage from her 1980s youth for my liking) and partly because, as commenters on PB.com have also stated, in a kind of mirror image of the Republican adoration of Sarah Palin, the appeal she has amongst Labour electoral college voters is not one that is expected to translate into electability with the wider British public.

The one way Harriet could really damage her chances of getting the top job is by being seem to undermine Brown. Labour doesn't like disloyalty. As Michael Heseltine observed, "he [or she?] who wields the knife seldom wears the crown."

Unite/Amicus Ballot

I got my ballot paper for the Unite/Amicus General Secretary election yesterday and have voted for Kevin Coyne.

I have never been a supporter of Derek Simpson but I suppose in a way he has been better than the extremely low expectations I had of him. Certainly on the political side of things it has been difficult for someone with my politics to criticise someone whose relationship with Government has been subcontracted to Brown-loyalist Charlie Whelan - though Charlie's people-management skills, if the Observer is to be believed, seem to be interesting - I would have thought that it is quite difficult to get into a grievance situation with affable former Campaign Group MP John Cryer, who was/is one of the most personally popular and easy-to-get-on-with characters amongst Labour MPs of all persuasions (I declare an interest in that my partner Linda was his Agent in the 2005 election).

However, the belated endorsement of Simpson by the hard left Amicus Unity Gazette caucus - after their preferred candidate dropped out - and the Gazette's slogan of "stop Coyne" because he is "the right wing candidate of the future" (i.e. the person who could win the General Secretaryship of the merged Unite against some Unity Gazette/TGWU Broad Left headbanger) tells those of us on the moderate wing of the Labour Party everything we need to know about who to vote for.

Simpson's leadership style - or perhaps that of his sidekicks - has been less than inclusive. My own personal experience of this was seeing one of Simpson's senior aides instructing people on the door at the Unite reception at party conference to turn away union members who were not considered loyal to Derek. That included me as a member of the union's national parliamentary panel. It was a funny way to reach out to people as at the time I was open-minded about Derek's leadership, but I gather rather typical of their modus operandi. At a more serious level than getting into a drinks reception, Derek seems to have made enemies of group after group of basically loyal-to-whoever-is-GS union officials, including the entire senior leadership of the former GPMU print union, whose membership he is now making a crude attempt to win the votes of by smearing Kevin Coyne as supported by the "Murdoch press" (the Sun and the Times have endorsed Kevin but I doubt he went out to seek their backing - the Times is hardly the paper of choice of the Amicus rank-and-file) - perhaps the most serious and divisive allegation you can make in a union that through merger now includes both sides - SOGAT/NGA and EETPU - from the Wapping Dispute.

As well as being autocratic, Derek's leadership style has a kind of "imperial" feel to it. In 2002, when he opposed Ken Jackson as General Secretary of the AEEU, he argued that it was wrong for him to stay on beyond 65, and that he had misused members' money by living a lavish lifestyle at their expense. Seven years later and Derek Simpson stands accused of doing exactly the same.

The final stages of this election campaign have illustrated the way in which Simpson seems to treat the union's resources - paid for by ordinary members - as though they were his own political resource. As I posted last week, members received a letter personally addressed to us from Derek Simpson, laying out his strategy for their Sector of the union . This unprecedented personal approach was made in the week before the election opened, and is believed to have gone to every Amicus member. The union has paid for this letter, using members' subs, at a cost which must exceed £250,000. Its purpose is clear. It is a cynical attempt to influence voting.

The letter has been followed by "United" magazine, delivered to every Unite member. The magazine is littered with photos and articles about Derek Simpson, and carries letters complaining about other candidates. Coyne and the other two candidates have been given no right of reply.

In 2002, when he stood against Ken Jackson for the General Secretary position, Derek Simpson said:
"Journals have carried multiple photos and articles about Jackson whilst I was told that unless the law or the rules forced it they would not grant equality of access. If Jackson is so popular and is recognised for his ability and leadership, why do all these issues arise? According to his spokespersons, there is little chance that Jackson will be overthrown. However, members ... are sick to the back teeth with the way the union has become divorced from its rank and file members, who now have little or no confidence that the union will stand up for them."

Kevin Coyne has commented:
"I hope that members will see the hypocrisy of this situation and vote to save our union from such abuse of power."

The ballot closes at 12 Noon on 6th March.

Vote Kevin Coyne for General Secretary.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

One year on from Northern Rock nationalisation

A timely reminder from the Pensions Minister that if Labour hadn't nationalised Northern Rock a year ago - and Cameron said the bank should be allowed to collapse - "thousands [of savers] could have lost years’ worth of deposits".

Monday, February 16, 2009

Another new(ish) blog

West Lancs Labour Councillor Paul Cotterill complained yesterday that I've linked to my friend Matt Cain and never to his worthy publication.

As he has done rather a neat riposte to my and Matt's attacks on Compass, and just to test Cllr Cotterill's theory that a link from me will bring untold hordes of readers, here's his post.

P.S. Cllr Cotterill, I'm not best pleased with your reference to me having "less in the way of traditional Labour values" than Bob Piper. It might be a different tradition, but Ernie Bevin, Herbert Morrison, Hugh Gaitskell, Denis Healey represent just as legitimate a tradition in Labour thinking as the left does - indeed historically the dominant one except for an aberrant few years in the late '70s and early '80s when some alien traditions were imported by the followers of Tony Benn. Discuss.

What's the real level of Lib Dem support?

Recent opinion polls are a bit contradictory.

The two at the weekend both had the Tories in about the same place (low to mid 40s) but online pollster YouGov found 32% support for Labour and just 14% for the Lib Dems, whilst phone pollster ComRes had us on a derisory 25% and the LDs on 22%.

The council by-election results I report every Friday are not picking up an LD surge, but that could be because they are a fairly random sample (though they tracked the Brown first bounce in summer and early autumn 2007 fairly closely, and the subsequent fall in Labour support).

Is anyone (perhaps Tories would be objective third party witnesses as this is about the ratio between Labour and LD support?) picking up the LD high support shown by ComRes in their local canvassing?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Two new blogs

First up my Stoke Newington neighbour and Labour comrade Matt Cain is now blogging, and has a go at Compass here.

Secondly Derek Draper now has a personal blog so that he can rebut some of the incoming fire he is taking from Guido.

I have to say I find it very distasteful that Guido has sought to undermine Derek's professional reputation in a job that has nothing to do with his political life, quite apart from the stream of probably libellous comments about Derek's family and personal life that Guido allows to be posted by his commenters. There's quite enough legitimately for anti-Labour bloggers to attack/disagree with about Derek's politics and past without the very personalised way in which Guido has sought to undermine Derek's work life in recent days.

It doesn't really encourage people to contribute to debate on the blogosphere if you feel that by doing so you set yourself up for character assassination that might damage your ability to earn a living.

Irish Labour soars in the polls

The Irish Labour Party has soared 10% to 24% in the latest opinion polls, overtaking Fianna Fail for the first time in the history of the state.

More here from my work colleague and former European Young Socialists comrade Conall McDevitt.

Council By-Election Results

Last night's council by-election results were particularly interesting as they included two Lab vs Con marginal wards in electorally important outer-London boroughs, Croydon and Enfield.

Both these and a seat in Cannock Chase in the West Midlands showed an increase in the Labour vote, with the Enfield seat gained on a large swing. This suggests the Tory poll lead may be a little hollow. June election back on the cards?

Cannock West Ward, Cannock Chase DC. Con hold. Con 654 (60.6%, -14.1), Lab 333 (30.8%, +5.5), LD 93 (8.6%, +8.6). Swing of 9.8% from Con to Lab since 2008. This is a safe Tory ward in a parliamentary seat Labour gained in 1992.

Waddon Ward, LB Croydon. Con hold. Con 1462 (46.0%, +2.7), Lab 1222 (38.5%, +0.7), BNP 157 (4.9%, +4.9), LD 150 (4.7%, -2.7), Green 115 (3.6%, -5.4), UKIP 48 (1.5%, +1.5), People's Choice 13 (0.4%, +0.4), OMRLP 11 (0.3%, +0.3). Swing of 1% from Lab to Con since 2006. This is a key ward in terms of control of Croydon Council, though it sits in the safe Tory Croydon S parliamentary seat.

Jubilee Ward, LB Enfield. Lab gain from Con. Lab 1346 (51.3%, +7.8), Con 1049 (40%, -3.4), LD 69 (2.6%, +2.6), Green 60 (2.3%, -10.9), UKIP 59 (2.2%, +2.2), Ind 41 (1.6%, +1.6). Swing of 5.6% from Con to Lab since 2006 in a ward that was split 2 Lab/1 Con in 2006. Congratulations to new councillor Rohini Simbodyal, one of London Labour's rising stars (aged 21!), on this victory. This is in Edmonton constituency, a 1997 Labour gain.

Grange Park Ward, South Northants DC. Con hold. Con 407 (76.1%), LD 128 (23.9%). Uncontested in 2007.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tories rewrite the history of art

Haven't they got anything better to do?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Winning from 28%

Not that anyone has asked, I've been trying to figure out how on earth Labour can bounce back for a third time from the current 28% poll rating.

This needs to happen fast before in usual Labour fashion, we turn in on ourselves and go into a downward spiral like we did last summer.

Here's my unsolicited advice to Gordon:

  • Bring forward the Budget date and in it announce a fiscal stimulus for the mass of ordinary voters, as opposed to the banks - a big increase in the threshold for paying income tax so that consumers actually have tangible extra take home pay. It'll pay for itself if they go out and spend it and thereby save people's jobs and keep the dole bill down.
  • Concentrate government bailouts on manufacturing industry if there isn't enough cash to go round all sectors. Manufacturing jobs are what we will need now that the myth you can run a nation based on financial services, not making stuff, has been exposed. And the people who work in manufacturing happen to be disproportionately concentrated in the social groups who are swing voters and in the regions where there are lots of marginal seats.
  • If the banks won't lend the capital you are giving them, fully nationalise one of them both pour encourager les autres, and to give the state a vehicle for lending to SMEs and people that need mortgages.
  • Hold an early reshuffle. No names but some of your ministers seem to be keeping their heads down and not coming out fighting for the party in its hour of need. Or indeed doing much at all. At least one is making an embarrassing hash of their portfolio. Sack a few of them and move the others. Promote a combination of aggressive old attack dogs who know how to take the fight to the Tories and have nothing to lose, and youngsters who might benefit from a brief experience of having Cabinet rank in case we are heading into opposition for so long that only the youngest current Ministers will ever hold office again.
  • Harriet Harman has too many jobs and isn't very good at hiding that she wants to add your's to the list. Removing her role as Party Chair will a) remind her who is boss and b) free up the Party Chair role to go to someone who will do it full time and run the election campaign a la Chris Patten '92 while you save the economy. This person can also do some of the emotional connecting with the electorate that isn't exactly your favourite aspect of the job.
  • If this narrows the gap, you won't get a fourth chance and a fourth bounce. Cut your losses and go to the polls on 4th June, Euro and County election day. Governments usually get a lift in the polls during the actual campaign - and the Tories need a big lead for a majority - so you could win even if you start behind. You won't have a bad set of "mid-term" elections to respond to if they are on the same day as the General Election. It will kill the BNP's chance of winning MEPs as the turnout will be higher than if the Euros were held alone. And if we lose we die with our boots on, while we still determine the timing.
  • We can't just fight the General Election on our economic recovery package. That isn't a four year programme. We need a positive message about what happens after the recession. That needs to take the form of two or three bold, radical social policies of the scale of the National Minimum Wage in 1997 that all our voters and activists will be inspired by. I'd start with a huge increase in free early years childcare.
  • But we also need to remember the stuff that motivates the 7% of voters who backed Blair in 2005 but are not with us now: we need some uncompromising new policies to show we are still serious about tackling crime, illegal immigration and security.
  • Attack the Lib Dems as well as the Tories in the campaign.
  • If we don't get a majority or very near to it, don't do a Ted Heath and try to cut a deal to hang on in the event of a hung parliament. Accept the verdict of the electorate and walk away with dignity so that Labour can regroup properly not cling on in government for the sake of it.

The Other Taxpayers' Alliance

This - http://www.taxpayersalliance.org/ - is a rather good response to the TPA - I don't agree with everything on the site (e.g. the attack on PFI) but good to see someone isn't allowing the TPA a free run.

A few quotes:

"The TaxPayers' Alliance is a tremendously successful campaign group. Barely a day goes by without Chief Executive Matthew Elliott appearing in the media, representing the views of "ordinary taxpayers". In fact never a day goes by: the Alliance boasts an average hit rate of 13 media appearances a day and puts the links on its website to prove it.

The problem is that it isn't an alliance of ordinary taxpayers at all. It is an alliance of right-wing ideologues. Its academic advisory council is a who's who of the proponents of discredited Thatcherite policies: Eamonn Butler and Marsden Pirie of the Adam Smith Institute, academics Patrick Minford and Kenneth Minogue, Margaret Thatcher's former economic advisor [the late] Sir Alan Walters, and others such as ex-Institute of Directors policy head Ruth Lea.

Like all the best propaganda, there is some truth in the Alliance's message. Who could disagree with its commitment to "criticise all examples of wasteful and unnecessary spending", or to putting 2012 London Olympic spending under scrutiny? But the Alliance's concern for better public spending is a stepping stone to its desire for less public spending. And far from being a voice for "ordinary" taxpayers, its policies – opposing all tax rises (what, for everyone, in any circumstance?) and backing a flat rather than progressive tax – will increase inequality and shift wealth from poor to rich."

"Mission impossible
Here's the TaxPayers' Alliance mission:
To reverse the perception that big government is necessary and irreversible.[Have they heard of the credit crunch?]
To explain the benefits of a low tax economy.[Don't forget to explain the benefits of cutting public services at same time, especially when there is growing pressure on the NHS and when social care provision can barely keep pace with an aging population.]
To give taxpayers a voice in the corridors of power.[Thanks for offering, but the TaxPayers' Alliance is no more representative of taxpayers than Mary Whitehouse was of viewers and listeners.] "

"Somalia …
… where every day is Tax Freedom Day."

Junk mail

Many members of the Amicus section of Unite may come to the conclusion that Derek Simpson's bid for re-election as General Secretary isn't going too well after receiving a personally addressed letter from Derek regarding work he claims to have undertaken for their industrial Sector. A customised version has been written for each major sector of the union and is being sent by the union to every Amicus Section member.

The campaign team for Simpson's main rival, Kevin Coyne, has responded saying:

"The purpose of the letter is clear – it is blatant use of union resources to support Derek Simpson’s campaign and it is timed to arrive the week before ballot papers land on members’ doormats. Kevin will be launching a complaint to the Returning Officer, John Gibbins; the Electoral Commissioner, Professor William Brown; and to the Certification Officer on the grounds that the letter breaches the union’s own Rules.

In the meantime we have been inundated with calls and emails from angry reps and members wanting to know how Derek can spend union money in this way.

It is an act of desperation to so publicly and obviously flout the union’s rule book in this way. There must be real panic in Derek’s camp for them to resort to this tactic. The key issue now is turning the vote out for Kevin so that he can stop this sort of abuse of power and build a clean union."

Monday, February 09, 2009

He who pays the do-nothing piper calls the laissez faire tune

Interesting to see that the going rate to be a member of David Cameron's new "economic recovery group": a £10,000 donation to David Cameron’s leadership campaign and over £168,000 in donations to the Conservative Party since 2006 from Mr Simon Wolfson, and almost £90,000 in donations to the Conservative Party since 2003 from Sir Christopher Gent.

Mind you, the quality of advice David Cameron has acquired may not add very much to the country's economic prospects. Mr Wolfson publicly agreed with the statement that “the recession does have to take its course” and co-authored a report for Cameron with John Redwood which advocated the complete deregulation of the mortgage industry; whilst Sir Christopher was a member of the Conservative Party tax reform commission which advocated £21 billion cuts in public spending and was described by the independent Institute of Fiscal Studies as producing proposals that “benefit the rich” and contained “a lot more for the well off than there is for the poor”.

Sounds like Tory economic policy going forward will be remarkably similar to its current iteration, and indeed the model they implemented during recessions in the 1980s and 1930s.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Council By-Election Results

Last night's council by-election results.

Plaistow Ward, Chichester DC. Con hold. Con 455 (57.1%, -21), LD 342 (42.9%, +21). Swing of 21% from Con to LD since 2007.

Hyde Newton Ward, Tameside MBC. Lab hold. Lab 1379 (45.6%, +9.1), BNP 889 (29.4%, +1.9), Con 485 (16%, -7.8), LD 172 (5.7%, -6.5), Green 69 (2.3%, +2.3), UKIP 33 (1.1%, +1.1). Swing of 3.6% from BNP to Lab since 2008. Pleasing result for Labour and anyone hostile to the BNP. In raw terms Labour got over 250 more votes than in May last year.

Tynemouth Ward, North Tyneside MBC. Con hold. Con 1538 (62.2%, -5.4), Lab 701 (28.4%, -4), LD 233 (9.4%, +9.4). Swing of 0.7% from Con to Lab since 2008.

Heath Town Ward, Wolverhampton MBC. Lab hold. Lab 621 (49.2%, +5.5), Con 495 (39.2%, -17.2), LD 147 (11.6%, +11.6). Swing of 11.4% from Con to Lab since 2008. Excellent result for Labour (though on a low turnout) in a ward where another seat was lost to the Tories last May.

Rossett Ward, Wrexham UA. Con hold. Con 604 (63.7%, +2.7), LD 218 (23%, -8.2), Ind 85 (9%, +9), Lab 41 (4.3%, -3.5). Swing of 5.5% from LD to Con since 2008.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Hackney Homes gets Audit Commission thumbs up

The Audit Commission has announced today that "the housing service provided by Hackney Homes is 'good' and has 'promising' prospects for improvement".

"On a scale from zero to three stars, the Audit Commission inspection team gave the service a good, two-stars rating. This is because there is positive performance in rent arrears, gas servicing and estate services. The ALMO has achieved value for money efficiencies, and has increased tenant satisfaction. However, satisfaction is low is some areas, such as leaseholder services, and the response to complaints is weak."

Adrian Brown, the Audit Commission's Lead Housing Inspector for East London, said: "Hackney Homes has improved a number of services that matter to residents, such as repairs and estate services, while improving value for money. This has resulted in improved satisfaction with most services. However, the ALMO needs to improve its approach to anti-social behaviour and to managing performance."

The big - indeed massive - implication of this is not just the fact that Hackney Homes' service has improved, but that because of hitting the two star grade, Hackney will receive from central government £225 million in Decent Homes funding to spend on making tenants' homes wind and watertight with modern kitchens and bathrooms. If Hackney Homes had not achieved the two star standard, this funding would have been withheld.

So what sounds like a dry audit report is actually fantastic news for the thousands of tenants in my council ward and across the rest of the borough waiting for their homes to be improved, quite apart from meaning that their landlord has actually been delivering services better.

Well done to all the Hackney Homes staff who have worked so hard to achieve this, and to the ALMO Board members - councillors, tenants and independent members - who steered this improvement.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Lib/Lab Pacts? No thanks

Sunder Katwala of the Fabians is a nice guy and a clever one too, but he's not covered himself in glory with his proposal for a pre-election Lib/Lab coalition in the New Statesman.

To quote Labour newsletter "Liberal Demolition":

"The most ludicrous and objectionable contribution the debate on the future direction of the Labour Party was made in the New Statesman this week by Fabian Society General Secretary Sunder Katwala. In his article he calls for a "pre-emptive progressive coalition" to be formed before the end of April, with the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats joining together as a political force and Gordon Brown appointing Nick Clegg as Deputy Prime Minister.

This would be a betrayal of the British electorate and Labour Party members as great as that of Ramsay MacDonald in 1931. In 2005 Labour was re-elected with a healthy majority of 66 MPs with a clear mandate for governing Britain. The Lib Dems failed to win over voters then with their soft-on-crime policies, pie in the sky spending promises, plans for local income tax and a 50% top rate of tax. Since then under Calamity Clegg they have lurched to the right, promising to cut public spending by £20 billion, but they are still soft on crime and their sums still don't add up.

The Labour Party has no mandate to hand power to these people. It would also be a slap in the face for Labour activists who are fighting the Lib Dems in council wards across the country and who know just how nasty and opportunist they can be.

Labour thinkers should know better than to peddle this nonsense."

Couldn't have put it better myself.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Don't believe everything you read on politicalbetting.com

Usually I am a great fan of the polling analysis on www.politicalbetting.com.

But the site is written by a Lib Dem and most of the commenters are Tory (with the notable exception of Nick Palmer MP) so sometimes they get their internal Labour tips really badly wrong.

There was an example yesterday, where based on complete hearsay the site said Home Secretary Jacqui Smith might be moved from marginal Redditch to a safe constituency in Wolverhampton.

This is of course nonsense, as anyone inside the Labour Party knows.

"Chicken runs" as practiced by large numbers of Tory MPs in the run-up to 1997 (examples being Peter Bottomley going from Eltham to Worthing, and David Amess from Basildon to Southend) are banned by Labour's rulebook and there's no way round that. They are banned for the very good reason that they send signals of defeatism and remove the party's incumbency advantage in marginal seats. You'd need to change the Party rulebook at Annual Conference (I think it has to be passed by two successive conferences) or run the risk of judicial review by other disappointed candidates to get past that rule.

The Wolverhampton seats PB.com talks about have as their candidates Rob Marris MP, whose seat is just as marginal as Redditch, Minister Pat McFadden MP, and former Geoff Hoon Special Adviser Emma Reynolds, who has only just been selected after a tough battle, and gave up her job to be candidate. I can't see any of them stepping aside for anyone, however senior, even if they were asked to.

Finally, does no one at PB.com apply logic?

If Labour loses Jacqui's Redditch seat, we have lost the General Election. We won't hold the post of Home Secretary or any other Secretary, so it would be pointless to have saved the Home Secretary by moving her to another seat.

Labour MPs like Jacqui Smith in the seats that make up our majority have known they are were in for a tough defensive battle ever since 2005 and are fighting a tenacious battle to hold their seats and keep Labour in government. The Tories shouldn't underestimate the ability of local campaigning and incumbency to give them a tough fight even in seats that should go blue on a uniform national swing; and unlike them in 1997 we are sticking by our guns and defending every inch of Labour territory, not cutting and running to the Labour equivalents of Worthing or Southend.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Nobel prize-winner slams Cameron's economic policy

I don't normally bother reading the Independent, but yesterday it had a great interview of Paul Krugman by Johann Hari.

In it, Professor Krugman, the Nobel prize-winner for Economics, lays into David Cameron's laissez-faire policy:

"he was "shocked" by hearing David Cameron's economic statements in favour of "tightening the government's belt" in a recession. "It's pure Herbert Hoover," he says. "In fact, it reminds me of Andrew Mellon [Hoover's Secretary of the Treasury], who said the [government] response to the Depression should be to 'liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, and liquidate farmers'."

Many of Cameron's statements are "just wrong", Krugman says. For example, Cameron says Britain can't afford a fiscal stimulus because we are going into the recession with the highest debt of any developed country. "But that's not true. Britain is at the lower end of the middle of developed countries [when it comes to national debt]. Less than the US, much less than Japan or Germany or Italy." He is worried by the incorrect lessons Cameron has drawn from the 1930s. "Renouncing a fiscal stimulus when private spending is contracting is strange. Governments have very few tools at their disposal, and Cameron wants to not use them." So are you saying our recession will be much worse if we follow Cameron's advice? "Yes. For sure.""

Hari concludes with a quote from FDR:

"Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the constant omission of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference".

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