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.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

MPs' "expenses"

There seems to be a remarkably warped sense of priorities in the British media when the Home Secretary's ignorance of whether her broadband package included TV or was just for internet and phone services has taken higher priority in the headlines for days than a G20 summit on rescuing the global economy.

We've had lots of prurient public laughter about the embarrassment of Jacqui Smith and her husband when given they paid back the tiny sums involved there is no public interest in the details being made known at all. Morally there is no difference between an expenses claim for watching C-Beebies or the more adult channels Richard Timney tuned into - the issue was that it was a wrongly claimed for expense, not what he watched (I assume there could be quite a few MPs and their spouses watching Television X and not sending the bill into the fees office).

On the wider question of MPs' pay and expenses some observations:

  • The vast bulk of the headline "expenses" figures quoted in the press are not expenses at all - they are staff pay. When non-MPs fill in expenses claims at work we don't add a section for the pay of the staff that work for us.
  • Most of the rest is legitimate - is anyone seriously saying MPs should pay for travel on parliamentary business, their office IT equipment or postage costs for casework letters out of their personal salaries?
  • The basic salary MPs get is a good one compared to the vast majority of the population but derisory -even taking into account discounting it for an aspect of voluntarism/public service - compared to jobs of equivalent seniority (and in the case of Ministers scary levels of responsibility) - including the salaries of the newspaper editors getting sniffy about them.
  • MPs need a second home because we expect them to live half the week in their constituency and half in London. If a non-MP had an employer who expected us to live away from home half the week we'd expect to be able to claim the accommodation and subsistence on expenses.

The legitimate debate is about:

  • do we pay MPs enough to get the best people, assuming we want the best people?
  • which aspects, if any, of the fittings and furnishings of a second home should be claimable?
  • what should count as the "second" home - the London one or the constituency one?
  • for seats within what travel time/distance of Westminster does a second home become unnecessary because you can commute?

I would suggest that a quick solution is to find a "public sector comparator" - the Civil Service is an obvious one - and put MPs onto exactly the same expenses regime as the equivalent public servants, and allocate them to one of the civil service pay scales so their annual increments, pensions etc. are transparently linked to it, with Cabinet Ministers earning the same as the Permanent Secretary who reports to them.

MPs need to grow up and stop pretending they can live the lifestyle of someone far better paid whilst publicly appearing to have a salary of only £64k. If they want the better lifestyle they need to accept the scrutiny that will come from having a salary proportionately bigger. Otherwise they should learn to live on £64k, which after all sounds like megabucks to over 90% of the population.

They also need to take a good long look at their consciences and ask if the tax payer really ought to be paying for 88p bath plugs or £700 stereos. Whatever the rules say, I'd feel queasy and morally sullied if I claimed for either. The question they should ask themselves is "this will end up in the public domain by one means or another, how would a reasonable elector in my constituency view this use of their tax money?"

The media needs to decide whether outing the late-night TV viewing of an MP's spouse, and labelling all MPs as chiseling crooks on the basis that they employ staff, send out mailings and travel to and live part of the week in their seats is really going to enhance British democracy.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Elections at Conference

For those of you who are Labour activists wondering who to vote for GC nominations for positions elected at Annual Conference, the forces of light candidates are:

National Constitutional Committee:Judith Blake

Conference Arrangements Committee: Stephen Twigg and Marge Carey

Their Grassroots Alliance opponents are NCC - Theresa Pearce (who charmingly called me a "twerp" in the post about Erith below) and CAC - Garry Heather (LRC executive i.e. McDonnellite) and Gaye Johnston (Save The Labour Party).

My own GC in Hackney North was as usual finely balanced last night - every vote on the above positions ended in a draw so we decided not to submit any nominations.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Council by-election results

Tonight's results:

Long Clawson and Stathern Ward, Melton BC. Con hold. Con 463 (50.7%, -4.1), Ind 231 (25.3%, -20), BNP 120 (13.1%, +13.1), Lab 100 (10.9%, +10.9). Swing of 8% from Ind to Con since 2007.

Royal Docks Ward, LB Newham. Lab hold. Lab 723 (46.3%, -0.2), Con 708 (45.4%, +13.9), Christian PA 94 (6.0%, -6.2), Respect 35 (2.2%, -7.5). Swing of 7.1% from Lab to Con since 2006. Labour did well to hang on here in a ward undergoing the same massive demographic changes that have delivered Tory seats in similar bits of next-door Tower Hamlets.

Yarborough Ward, NE Lincs UA. LD hold. LD 763 (35.8%, +4.4), Con 513 (24.1%, -0.4), Lab 437 (20.5%, +2.5), BNP 370 (17.4%, +17.4), Generalist 49 (2.3%, -2.4). Swing of 2.4% from Con to LD since 2008.

Headington Hill and Northway Ward, Oxford CC. Lab hold. Lab 548 (38.3%, +2.1), Con 443 (31%, -2.4), LD 378 (26.4%, +2.5), Green 62 (4.3%, -2.2). Swing of 2.3% from Con to Lab since 2008. Labour majority up from 37 votes to 105 - another good result from the excellent Oxford Labour campaign team in a very marginal parliamentary seat.

Central Ward, Redditch BC. Lab gain from Con. Lab 700 (51.3%, +15.2), Con 511 (37.4%, -9.7), LD 84 (6.2%, -3.5), Green 36 (2.6%, +2.6), Ind 34 (2.5%, -4.6). Swing of 12.5% from Con to Lab since 2008. Looks like Jacqui Smith will be holding ultra-marginal Redditch come the General Election.

Headless Cross & Oakenshaw Ward, Redditch BC. Con hold. Con 764 (48.2%, -14.7), Lab 502 (31.7%, +8.5), LD 162 (10.2%, -3.7), Green 113 (7.1%, +7.1), Ind 45 (2.8%, +2.8). Swing of 11.6% from Con to Lab since 2008.

Ettingshill Ward, Wolverhampton MBC. Lab hold. Lab 1274 (59%, +0.5), Con 449 (20.8%, -3.7), LD 366 (16.9%, -0.1), Ind 72 (3.3%, +3.3). Swing of 2.1% from Con to Lab since 2008.

Not good results for the Tories overall. ConHome describes them as "frustrating"!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Defection to Labour of Tory Council Leader

Some good news from south Essex: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/essex/7964803.stm

"An Essex Conservative council leader has quit his party and joined Labour.
Terry Hipsey blamed the Conservatives' taxation policies for his decision, as well as Prime Minister Gordon Brown's handling of the recession.
His defection gives the two parties at Thurrock Council parity with 23 seats each, with two independents and one BNP councillor."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Boldness rather than the Bank's advice

I'm worried by the mood music emanating from the Governor of the Bank of England.

Calls for fiscal restraint were what came out of the BoE and Treasury establishment in 1931 and led to the collapse of the MacDonald Labour Government once it became clear the only way to exercise that restraint was to make terrible spending cuts that made the Depression worse not better.

Unlike Ramsay MacDonald, Gordon Brown should thank Mr King kindly for his advice and ignore it and push ahead with reflationary measures.

We haven't had much of a fiscal stimulus in the UK so far - 1.5% of GDP compared to 4.8% in the US, 3.4% in Germany.

I hope the Budget will include bold measures such as Stephen Byers' suggestion this week that the 2.5% VAT cut should be diverted into raising income tax personal allowances by £1,520 to £7,995, taking 1.7 million low-paid workers out of paying income tax and giving everyone £304 to spend on boosting the economy.

Kerron still Cross

The former Vice-Chair of Croxley Green Parish Council appears to be inordinately bitter about two things: All Women Shortlists, and me rather than him appearing as Labour blogger in residence on the BBC election night coverage last year.

He's still going on about it now, though his reference to being "dropped at the last minute" is seriously delusional as my diary for last year records a meeting with the programme's producers on 24 April.

It would be worth doing again just because it annoys the aptly named Mr Cross so much.

Perhaps if Mr Cross wrote more posts that actually expressed political opinions other than his distaste for measures to increase the number of women MPs, or showed much interest in election results given that's what election results programmes are about, he might get the job on 4 June.

US election map

Hat-tip to Stuart King for finding this set of US election maps:


Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Sunder Katwala says we have got to get over Militant and New Labour.

I find this Year Zero approach to Labour history somewhat surprising from the General Secretary of the over-100-years-old Fabian Society.

He quotes a guy in the audience at the "Change we need" event last night shouting out
"I remember the 1980s. The Trots will be back. We must have a Trot infestation strategy".

I suspect it may have been John Spellar, but whoever it was, they were right.

The Bennite left and its Trotskyist allies have not gone away. I see the evidence of that every time I go to my local Labour GC meeting. Their cadres are getting older but a Labour defeat in the General Election will allow them to recruit new activists and reactivate old ones around a myth of leadership betrayal.

Insurgency from the left has afflicted Labour during every major period in opposition - the 1930s, the 1950s and the 1980s.

In every case it has been necessary to wage a long and bitter internal struggle to smash the left and purge entryists who are not democratic socialists in order to make the party electable again.

This is not a pleasant task but it is one that has to be done. Sunder worries that this is "deeply alienating for new generations of activists". Not half as alienating as having your local party taken over by revolutionaries is.

The "why can't we all have a group hug and be idealistic" school-of-thought won't last five minutes once the next big scrap for the soul of the Party starts.

We will need moderate activists with the guts and moral strength to stand up to the ultra left and the stamina to out organise them. If we can get to a position where mass participation means we can just out vote the crazies, as in 1994-1997, then great, but there may well be a period before that when being a Labour activist means entering into a world of pain and political trench warfare, and we shouldn't kid recruits it will all be nice social events and a happy-clappy unified crusade.

Ben Brandzel said at the meeting "When all you have to choose from is professional politicos and the unemployed Trot newspaper-seller, then you are in trouble. Seven loud and angry people can dominate a small meeting".

But we will be in trouble if we lose the next election, and meetings probably will be like that. When that's the choice, those of us who are what Brandzel calls "professional politicos" will have to get eight people of good will into the room to out vote the "seven loud and angry people". Unless you win those fights then the chances of ever getting "thousands of people" involved are nil as the people who actually want Labour to win elections will not control the structures of the party.

The big question that will face Sunder and other people of good will in the party is will they get their hands dirty and help win that battle again or will they be at home watching it on TV and wringing their hands about how nasty it all is.

Monday, March 23, 2009

MP Griffiths says he is 'ashamed'

Quite right too. If I had voted against my country being properly defended by having a strategic nuclear deterrent, and resigned from government over it, I'd be so ashamed of my daft views on defence issues I'd never show my face in public again.

Appearing in glorious full colour in the News of the World for your extra-curricular activities is small beer in the shame stakes compared to voting to, as Bevan put it, to "send a British Foreign Secretary naked into the conference-chamber" (the NotW would probably publish pictures of that too).

Erith & Thamesmead selection

Interesting that the national media is suddenly showing an interest in the Erith & Thamesmead parliamentary selection (here, here and here).

This now looks like one of the most wide-open selections in a safe seat (maj. 11,500) in recent years, after NEC member Ellie Reeves, who was the early front-runner, decided not to run.

Regarded as a left citadel by the Grassroots Alliance - Pete Willsman of CLPD and the NEC lives there -the main fight was expected after Ellie's withdrawal to be between leftwingers Angela Cornforth and Theresa Pearce.

However, as is the case in many CLPs allegedly identified with the left, it looks like the activists around Willsman are perhaps not that representative of the wider membership, and that the One Member One Vote process may throw up someone more sensible as the next Labour candidate, with names being mentioned including Georgia Gould as detailed in the press coverage linked to above, and Unite national officer Rachel Maskell who I voted for when the London Regional Political Committee of the union decided its nominee.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The noise of hatchets being buried

The rapprochement between Blairites and Brownites heralded by Peter Mandelson's return to Government seems to be accelerating with the news that one of the most thoughtful former Blairite Special Advisers, Patrick Diamond, who previously worked for Blair, Milburn and Mandelson, is leaving the EHRC and returning to No10 to work for Gordon Brown. This is good news as Patrick is an ideas man and likely to generate the kind of fresh thinking on policy that might really help at the moment.

Labor wins in Queensland

Congratulations to the Australian Labor Party on unexpectedly holding on to power today in federal PM Kevin Rudd's home state of Queensland. It's the first time Labor has won a fifth term in the state since 1944, and important for Rudd and federal Labor as the party gained 9 marginal seats in Queensland when it won at federal level.

Full results here: http://www.abc.net.au/elections/qld/2009/

Pauline Hanson, former leader of the racist One Nation party lost to the Liberal Nationals in the seat she was trying to make a comeback in.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Council by-election results

Last night's council by-election results:

Pendlebury Ward, Salford MBC. Lab hold. Lab 1055 (38.2%, +1.3), Con 874 (31.6%, +0.4), BNP 373 (13.5%, +0.2), LD 368 (13.3%, -0.9), Ind 49 (1.8%, -2.6), Green 43 (1.6%, +1.6). Swing of 0.5% from Con to Lab since 2008.

Chiltern Woods Ward, South Oxfordshire DC. Con hold. Con 382 (79.4%, +9.4%), LD 99 (20.6%, +5.2). Swing of 2.1% from LD to Con since 2007.

Leek East Ward, Staffordshire Moorlands DC. Con 452 (38.7%, -7.6), LD 238 (20.4%, +20.4), Ind 197 (16.9%, +16.9), Staffs Ind Group 189 (16.2%, +16.2), Green 91 (7.8%, +7.8). Swing of 14% from Con to LD since 2007.

Larkswood Ward, LB Waltham Forest. Con hold. Con 1393 (73.5%, +19.3), Lab 255 (13.5%, -2.1), LD 144 (7.6%, -4.1), Green 102 (5.4%, -4.2). Swing of 10.7% from Lab to Con since 2006.

Next week's ones should be more interesting as they include marginal wards - a Con vs Lab fight in Jacqui Smith's Redditch seat and a 3-way Con/Lab/LD one in Andrew Smith's Oxford East seat, both parliamentary ultra-marginals.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Who is Cameron putting first?


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Not all American lessons cross the pond well

Somewhat belatedly I'm responding to the news that the PM has penned the foreword to a new Fabian pamphlet about things Labour should copy from the Obama campaign.

I want to sound a note of caution.

I think it's great that we are looking at what we can learn from a winning campaign by a sister party.

Clearly there are tactics and technological advances that we need to replicate. And the Obama campaign reaffirmed the importance of voter contact - good old-fashioned phone and doorstep canvassing.

But I am fed up with the "cultural cringe" that assumes we can never innovate in campaigning ourselves, that the Democrats have nothing to learn from New Labour, and that every good campaigning idea originates in the USA.

We just won three General Elections in a period when the Democrats couldn't even beat George W Bush. Maybe as well as looking at the US we should look at what worked here, in our political culture, in 1997, 2001 and 2005.

We are also in danger of being so completely caught up in Obama hype that we forget to look at great campaigning by sister parties that are geographically nearer (the Nordic social democrat parties could teach us a thing or two about organisation) or culturally more similar to us than America is - the Australian Labor victory by Kevin Rudd in a similar parliamentary system to us is a rather more practical model for UK Labour than a massively-funded US Presidential campaign.

The pamphlet isn't out yet but press coverage of it suggests it is overly starry-eyed about the way Obama built a mass movement. We could have done that in 1997 when we were the insurgency against an unpopular government. To a certain extend we did as we managed to get 400,000 people to join the Party. To suggest there is any potential for creating a structure to harness mass volunteer enthusiasm a la Obama for Labour as incumbents in the coming General Election is a dangerous fantasy and a potential waste of time and resource. We need to work out how to deploy and get the maximum effect from our knackered tens of activists per seat, not dream about thousands of youthful fanatics who don't exist in our current political reality or if they did would probably be actively hostile to Labour. In any case as an organiser I know I'd rather have ten experienced activists prepared to canvass for ten hours each than 100 newbies only prepared to do an hour each - the output is the same but the organisational effort involved in training and co-ordination isn't worth it.

Most dangerous of all are the hints at undermining Labour's structures. It's because we have permanent structures that are based on units for fighting elections - branches for council wards, CLPs for constituencies - that we do not have to reinvent campaigning networks every four years at immense financial and organisational cost like the US parties do. The "rigidity" of Labour's structures that the pamphlet knocks is the skeleton around which the flesh and muscle of individual campaigns take shape. The Democrats would do well to copy European political parties and set up permanent membership-based structures.

We don't need or want open primaries here because we are part of a European democratic socialist tradition of membership based parties where - flawed though the model is in Labour's case - membership carries both rights to chose the ideological direction of the party, its policies and candidates and responsibilities to fund the party and campaign - a contract that give us long-term resilience rather than short-term flashes of mass enthusiasm that disappear with the candidate that inspired them. If every Labour MP disappeared, Labour would still exist as a membership organisation and could be rebuilt. It almost happened in 1931. The same would not be the same if the Democrat office-holders all disappeared - there is no permanent body of members that gives their party a life beyond being a series of temporary fan clubs for candidates.

I don't believe for one minute the idea that the Obama campaign was about dropping "Command and Control". It was about making volunteers think they were self-organising but actually was highly controlled in terms of message, tactics and use of IT. I've read precinct organiser packs that Obama's people produced and they micro-directed the ground operation - stuff like specifying when the coffee breaks should be at phone bank sessions and how each committee room should be laid out - to a degree that any Labour Agent, all of us having our own quirky ways of doing stuff - would never accept. Nor did Obama volunteers have the opportunities to debate and dissent from the party's platform and policies that Labour activists expect.

I'm pleased the Fabians are contributing to this debate, but let's not lose sight of the differences between the UK and US that mean many aspects of the Obama campaign experience are inspiring to have seen but either irrelevant to us or actually possibly damaging to the existing campaigning and democratic strengths of the Labour Party.

Spring arrives with Mori

Tory lead falls by half from 20% to 10% with Mori today.

Spring has arrived ...

Con 42% (-6)
Lab 32% (+4)
LD 14% (-3)

This change is worth nearly 90 extra MPs for Labour.

Friday, March 13, 2009

I'm with Gorby on mixing capitalism and socialism

My birthday twin Mikhail Gorbachev (both 2nd March though several decades apart) has been taken to task by my near neighbour in Stoke Newington Dave Osler for saying this on his visit to the Evening Standard yesterday (goodness knows how it went down with them):

“We need to find a new model of capitalism, taking the best of the old model and the best of socialism …”
“From capitalism, it must take incentives and stimulus and from socialism, more equality and social justice,” Mr Gorbachev, wearing a pin-striped suit and a black polo neck jumper, told the newspaper’s staff …
He praised Gordon Brown, the prime minister, for taking “several really wise decisions” and said the opposition Conservatives had not given up on “Reaganomics”, the economic policies promoted by the former US president. “Maybe they would like to take the initiative but they are not ready for that.”

I'm with Gorby on this ideological approach, and believe it is a historic tragedy that he never got to try it in Russia - he was starting to elaborate a social democratic future for Russia in his final years in office before the Yeltsin rush to full-blooded capitalism.

Dave Osler accepts that "Social democracy resulted in some of the most humane societies ever created" but then says "But the key point is that [it] failed."

I don't accept that that's the case. In Sweden in particular, and also the other Nordic countries, there have been market reforms in the last 20 years but the fundamentals of the social democratic society are still going strong. The Swedes have managed to create an egalitarian welfare society which whilst not problem-free (e.g. on the integration of immigrants) has dramatically fewer social problems than the UK because, as the Guardian explained today, our society is screwed up by inequality. At the same time they have globally competitive manufacturing industries.

Unless you inhabit a fantasy land where you think a new economic system based on social ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the abolition of the market, is attainable or more to the point, desirable, then rejecting social democracy - the half-way house that tries to mix the best aspects of socialism and capitalism - leaves you with full-on Thatcherite capitalism. I don't find either economic model remotely appealing.

I'm for the real world that Gorby is in where we try to build the best realistically attainable society, not repeat the disastrous Utopian projects of the 20th century which tried to create perfect societies but in doing so created nightmares. The degree of control implicit in what Dave would call socialism - a non-market economy - inevitably leads to the suppression of choice and liberty we saw in the USSR, and would have done whether the Soviet Union had been led by Trotsky instead of Stalin.

If social democracy really has "failed" as an option as Dave suggests, then Labour as a party might as well shut up shop and leave the field to a fight between the SWP and the Tories. The real ideological debate is about where on the spectrum between socialism and capitalism social democrats should be taking their parties, and if in power, their countries. We ought to reject a false choice between a heartless economic system and an unworkable one.

Council by-election results

Last night's council by-election results:

Maryfield Ward, Dundee UA. SNP gain from Lab. First Round STV result: SNP 1550 (47.6%, +3.2), Lab 1013 (31.1%; +0.5), LD 354 (10.9%, -2.2), Con 224 (6.9%, -1.4), SSP 52 (1.6%, -0.4), Ind 35 (1.1%, +1.1), Ind 28 (0.9%, +0.9). Swing of 1.4% from Lab to SNP since 2007.

Bowthorpe Ward, Norwich CC. Con hold. Con 915 (35.8%, -10.2), Lab 761 (29.8%, -5.7), LD 686 (26.8%, +19.7), Green 193 (7.6%, -3.8). Swing of 2.3% from Con to Lab since 2008. This ward is in Norwich South (Charles Clarke's seat) which is both the joint number 2 parliamentary target seat for the Green Party (with Lewisham Deptford and after Brighton Pavilion) and the number 156 target seat for the Tories.

Parr Ward, St Helens MBC. Lab hold. Lab 851 (48.2%, -15.3), LD 551 (31.2%, +5.5), BNP 183 (10.4%, +10.4), Ind 98 (5.6%, +5.6), Con 55 (3.1%, -7.7), Green 27 (1.5%, +1.5). Swing of 10.4% from Lab to LD since 2008.

Rainhill Ward, St Helens MBC. Lab hold. Lab 1562 (45.6%, -6), LD 1059 (30.9%, +17.4), Con 512 (14.9%, -11.1), BNP 215 (6.3%, -2.6), Green 80 (2.3%, +2.3). Swing of 11.7% from Lab to LD since 2008.

Hartland and Bradworthy Ward, Torridge DC. LD gain from Ind. LD 786 (63.4%, +24.6), Con 317 (25.6%, +25.6), UKIP 103 (8.3%, -6.2), Ind 33 (2.7%, -32.6). Swing of 0.5% from LD to Con since 2007.

A good week for the LDs ... and yet another one where the Tory poll lead does not seem to be translating into votes on the ground.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Fair play on redundancy pay

Labour's affiliated unions have been running a campaign about up-rating the cap on statutory redundancy pay - Lindsay Hoyle MP has a Private Members' Bill on this up for Second Reading this Friday.

Earlier this week they asked people to get in touch with them to let them know why they're supporting the campaign for fairer redundancy pay. They've put them into a short video message:


In Belfast

I'm in Belfast today for a meeting of the different offices of my employer Weber Shandwick.

We took time out at lunchtime to take part in the peace demonstration organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions outside Belfast City Hall in response to the recent murders.

I was pleased to see my own union Unite heavily represented with banners in the crowd.

It was a very impressive demonstration of the will for the peace process to continue from ordinary people in Northern Ireland, with a huge crowd assembling at short notice.

To quote ICTU Assistant General Secretary Peter Bunting who closed the rally: "there is no political cause in the North of Ireland that justifies violence".

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Unite/Amicus Result

As readers of my previous post will have guessed, I am disappointed that Kevin Coyne did not unseat Derek Simpson as Joint General Secretary of Unite in the result announced on Saturday. Whilst Derek is loyal to the PM and deserves credit for that, I would have preferred a Joint GS who had a more dynamic, open and inclusive leadership style and a sharper political definition (OK I'd really prefer Sir Ken Jackson still to be in post, but recognise that isn't an option - then again I'd like Ernie Bevin to still be running the TGWU). The full result is here: http://www.amicustheunion.org/Default.aspx?page=9439

We shall have to see what happens when the first election for the GS of the whole of Unite takes place, and then you are into territory where frictions/dynamics between and within the TGWU and Amicus officer machines will cut across left-right considerations.

My take on the results:

  • Derek's ambiguous political positioning - talking left but, thank goodness, backing Brown politically and the party financially - meant that instead of being the clear left candidate as he was versus Jackson he seems to have lost hard left support to Hicks but picked up some moderate support to offset this.
  • Abysmal turnout - under 15% - indicates that a small number of voters will decide how Unite's huge slug of votes - 13% of the whole electoral college - gets cast in any future Labour leadership election.
  • People who are serious about becoming the first GS of the whole of Unite need to start building a national media profile - on the TV and in the tabloids, not just the Guardian and Tribune - now - you can't win an OMOV postal ballot just by being a union officer with a good reputation amongst activists.

Compass' poll

Compass don't seem to be making very much of the poll they got YouGov to do of Labour Party members.

This is not surprising when you read the detailed results: http://www.yougov.co.uk/archives/pdf/Compass-FEB09_results.pdf

Party members don't want post office part-privatisation, and are keen on a windfall tax, but aside from that their views will have contradicted Compass' soft left world view:

They overwhelmingly think Gordon Brown is doing a good job.

More of them think Lord Mandelson is going a good job than they do Harriet Harman!

Only 11% say they are "very left wing" (Hard Left?) and a further 36% "fairly left wing" (Soft Left?), whilst 50% are either "slightly left-of-centre" or to the right of that.

Younger members, women, middle class members and southerners are very slightly to the left of their older, male, more working class and more northern comrades.

A majority want to see the DWP's welfare-to-work reforms implemented.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The inevitable tweet

I've finally succumbed - 140 character moderate Labour rants will now be flowing from here: http://twitter.com/lukeakehurst

Link as promised

I went to Rt Hon John Spellar MP's annual dinner at The Hawthorns in West Bromwich last night along with about 300 other guests.

Amongst them I had the pleasure of meeting fellow blogger David Hallam.

David is a former Sandwell Councillor and (rather leftwing by my standards!) MEP for Herfordshire & Shropshire but more importantly is originally from Hackney where he was Chair of Dalston Branch Labour Party.

I've promised to link to his blog, which is an intriguing mix of stuff about his political life and his role as a Methodist lay preacher, so here it is: http://www.methodistpreacher.com/

Council By-Election Results

Last night's council by-election results. Not a good night for the Tories at all:

Buxton Ward, Broadland DC. LD gain from Con. LD 555 (71.4%, +50.4), Con 201 (25.8%, -14.6), Green 22 (2.8%, +2.8). Swing of 32.5% from Con to LD since 2007.

Belah Ward, Carlisle BC. Con hold. Con 700 (46.4%, -39.8), Lab 307 (20.3%, -3.4), Ind 221 (14.6%, +14.6), BNP 142 (9.4%, +9.4), LD 79 (5.2%, +5.2), Green 61 (4%, +4). Swing of 18.2% from Con to Lab since 2008. Carlisle is the Tories number 93 parliamentary target.

Castle Ward, Carlisle BC.LD hold. LD 465 (36%, -8.3), Lab 304 (23.5%, -0.1), BNP 255 (19.7%, +19.7), Con 143 (11.1%, -5.1), Green 125 (9.7%, +9.7). Swing of 4.1% from LD to Lab since 2008.

Ravenscliffe Ward, Newcastle Under Lyme BC. Con hold. Con 229 (25.4%, -14.5), Lab 213 (23.6%, +1.2), BNP 180 (20%, +20), LD 149 (16.5%, -2.4), UKIP 131 (14.5%, -4.4). Swing of 7.9% from Con to Lab since 2008.

Atherstone Central Ward, North Warwickshire DC. Lab gain from Con in a split ward. Lab 320 (37.1%, -4.8), Con 221 (25.6%, -17.9), BNP 186 (21.6%, +21.6), Ind 136 (15.8%, +15.8). Swing of 6.6% from Con to Lab since 2007. This is in the number 147 parliamentary target seat for the Tories.

Llandow - Ewenny Ward, Vale of Glamorgan Council. Con hold. Con 612 (69.6%, +3.8), Plaid Cymru 140 (15.9%, -3.4), Lab 127 (14.4%, -0.5). Swing of 3.6% from PC to Con since 2008.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Hackney “Improving Strongly” for second year running

The Council I'm a member of, Hackney, has been rated today by the Audit Commission as “improving strongly” and also retained its 3 star rating in the national Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA).

Hackney's Value for Money element of the Use of Resources score has risen from 2 to 3. That is of major importance in the current economic climate – in which Hackney's position of financial strength has enabled us to keep Council Tax frozen for four years in a row - we froze the Council Tax again last night at Budget Council - without cutting services, while continuing to drive up the quality of our services.

In addition, we have these scores for the following services:

4. Benefits - up from 3; Housing - up from 3

3 Environment - up from 2; Use of Resources - maintains its 3 with Value for Money moving from 2-3; Adult Social Services - retains its 3; Children’s Social Services - retains its 3.

Most importantly, residents are feeling the difference, with an almost 12% point increase in resident satisfaction with Hackney the place being a key headline of the 2008/09 Place Survey conducted by Ipsos MORI.

Yesterday it was also announced that the Council has been awarded Beacon status for outstanding work in two areas: Strategic Commissioning and using the Opportunity of Hosting the 2012 Games to encourage communities to be more active.

This is in addition to the improved 2 (out of a possible 3 stars) rating for Hackney Homes, which unlocks significant additional government funding to complete the Decent Homes programme for Council homes.

On 25th March Hackney will find out whether our shortlisted entries for “Most Improved Council of the Year” and “Partnerships/Team of the Year” have won the Local Government Chronicle national awards.

Congratulations to the Mayor, Cabinet and all of the Council's staff for driving forward these improvements.

The Audit Commission's Direction of Travel Narrative reads:

"What progress has the authority made in the last year?
Hackney Council is improving strongly. Hackney is delivering significant improvement in priority areas such as community safety, children and young people and adult social care. The pace of improvement is higher than the national average with three quarters of performance indicators improving in 2007/08. Overall resident satisfaction has improved with 60 percent of residents feeling their views are taken into account. This is supported by the Service First programme. Challenges remain in the planning service and tackling childhood obesity The Council works well with partners to deliver wider community outcomes such as health inequalities, addressing worklessness and tackling crime. Infant mortality and teenage pregnancy rates have decreased. Apprenticeships are used to deliver more local job opportunities. Crime overall has decreased. The Council provides improved value for money and financial standing is good. Leadership, planning and prioritisation are strong. Consultation is used well to shape services to meet the needs of diverse communities. The Council continues to improve performance management and is making good use of joint appointments to increase capacity. The Council is well placed to sustain and deliver future improvements."

Fabian Fact for the Day

Fabian Society national membership is at an all-time high: 6,340.

This is 20% higher than when Labour came to office in May 1997.

It is double what it was when Clement Attlee left office in 1951.

But Labour membership is half what is was in 1997. Obviously most of that decline is caused by political factors. But I think the contrasting Fabian membership increase points to another factor: you actually get something from being a Fabian member - a steady flow of magazines and pamphlets, at least some of which are an interesting read. Whereas party membership gets you invited to do stuff - canvassing or attending meetings; some democratic rights to select candidates and vote in national ballots; but hardly any information or publications compared to almost any other membership-based organisation. You can't imagine a trade union, or the RSPB, or the National Trust, not sending at least a quarterly magazine to members, yet Labour now only publishes a national magazine for members when there is a major ballot being mailed out at the same time. No wonder we have trouble hanging on to members after their first year, when if they didn't become activists they would have received no benefit from their membership other than a feeling of altruism and a set of ward meeting agendas.

London Labour Board

One for London Labour Party train-spotters. The final seat on the London Labour Board has now been filled. The election for Disabilities Officer had to be run as a postal ballot after some procedural wranglings at last year's regional conference.

Congratulations to my fellow Hackney councillor Sally Mulready who won a convincing victory:

Sally Mulready - 51.10%
Nicholas Russell - 27.39%
Rosamond Stock - 17.51%
Stephen Aselford - 2.67%
Ajit Singhvi - 1.33%

I understand Sally got about 70% of the vote from Constituency Labour Parties plus USDAW and the Amicus section of Unite. Nick Russell was the incumbent and I think supported by UNISON. Rosamond Stock was the candidate of the organised left and was backed by the TGWU section of Unite. Of the other big affiliates I think the Co-Op voted for Nick, not sure what the CWU did.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Winning back the suburbs

There's an interesting debate going on between Ken Livingstone and Tessa Jowell about why the suburbs didn't vote Labour in last May's Mayoral election.

I think there are aspects to what both of them say that are correct.

Tessa is right to suggest people in the suburbs thought Labour was anti-car and in favour of high taxes.

Ken is right that some people in outer London feel Labour nationally has let them down over lack of new social housing (though I doubt all but a few tenant activists care if their home is managed by the council, an ALMO or a housing association) and lack of support for manufacturing. But that's one kind of outer London voter, blue collar on the big peripheral estates, not the taxi-driver and white collar demographic living in semi-detatched stereotypical suburbia.

Other factors were cultural. Ken gave the impression of being a voice only for places like my home patch of Hackney - he talked a lot about inner London and multi-cultural London's concerns and not much about making life better in Croydon or Havering. And he didn't visit those areas enough as Mayor or candidate. There aren't many votes in hugging up to Hugo Chavez amongst Dagenham residents. He also alienated two large blocks of swing votes in suburban London - the Jewish community because of his stance on Islamist preacher Yusuf al-Qadari and his row with Evening Standard journalist Oliver Finegold; and black cab drivers with his stance on breaking up their monopoly in favour of licensed minicabs.

My hunch is that the suburban vote is leftwing on the economy and extra spending on public services and might have bought a message about Ken's investment in the police and the tube if it had been properly put to them; but populist/rightwing on tax, immigration and crime and did not feel Ken's campaign was talking their language on these issues.

Rather than swapping theories though, maybe someone should commission some research and polling so we can actually define what suburban voters are like (there's a lot of difference between say Harrow and Bexley) and what really motivated their support for Boris.

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