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, February 28, 2010

Time to put a sock in it Peter

I am getting increasingly irritated by the stream of conspiracy theories about Labour's parliamentary selection process coming from Peter Kenyon at his blog http://petergkenyon.typepad.com/.

These undermine Labour PPCs and reinforce a media narrative about "parachutists" etc. that is coming not from the left but from the Daily Mail.

It is wholly inappropriate for an NEC member to publicly undermine the workings of a panel actually elected by the NEC. Any of us active in local government would be outraged if a member of our borough Local Government Committee publicly attacked the LGC's role in council selections. Peter's behaviour is the same.

Let's correct some of the insinuations that are floating about around the selection process (some but not all of them reported by Peter):

- There aren't any "parachutes" - people dropped into seats. Everyone being selected has to win a ballot of all local members.
- Supporters of the leadership haven't disproportionately benefited since the Special Selections Panel took over shortlisting - left candidates John Cryer (Leyton & Wanstead) and Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) have been picked, which has given the Campaign Group two more new members than they got in the whole of the period when local CLPs were picking shortlists!
- Almost all selection winners to date have been local or had local roots. Metropolitan outsiders are the exception in a tiny minority of seats - usually because they have been exceptional candidates e.g. the National Treasurer of the Labour Party.
- If Ashfield as Peter reports is an Alll Women Shortlist that actually blocks a male Special Adviser to Gordon Brown from running who would have been a frontrunner.
- If Gloria de Piero as Peter reports is running for Ashfield she is hardly a latecomer to Labour politics - before going into journalism she was a party activist in Bradford and Birmingham from the age of 16, fulltime Campaigns Officer of Labour Students in 1996-1997 and comes from a working-class background that would make her an ideal representative for a place like Ashfield.
- Jack Dromey would have won Birmingham Erdington whoever had compiled the shortlist because he shares the CLP's politics and priorities- why would one of the CLPs with the most manufacturing jobs in the country not want someone as PPC who has spent their working life as a senior official of the main manufacturing trade union?
- I very much doubt the West Midlands Labour Party is purging opponents of the Mayoral model in Stoke - Labour officials in all regions are institutionally hostile to elected Mayors and the politics of the Labour right in the West Midlands is particularly anti-Mayoral models.
- Luciana Berger was selected by local members in Liverpool Wavertree based on a shortlist they drew up not one devised by the NEC. She won because she is a brilliant campaigner and despite not being from Liverpool, not because of any NEC jiggery-pokery.

Peter should try actually talking to Party staff and his NEC colleagues about the story behind selections rather than speculating based on gossip, innuendo and stories in the Mail.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Wrong, wrong, wrong, Mr Hain

Peter Hain has said in today's Guardian that "the new development in British politics is the emerging common ground" between Labour and the Lib Dems:


Whilst I applaud his efforts to garner tactical votes from Lib Dem voters in Labour vs Tory seats, he couldn't be more wrong in his analysis of the Lib Dems' positioning.

In fact, the Lib Dems are remarkably close in tone to the Tories, with "Orange Book" free-marketeers very much in the driving seat.

Hain's claim that "we share common ground on the fundamentals of economic strategy" is nonsense given Clegg's stated support for "savage cuts".

Hain is right to say that "Millions see themselves, not as dyed-in-the-wool Labour supporters, but as progressives who may also vote Lib Dem or Green or, in Wales, Plaid Cymru."

But he is wrong to suggest that the way you get those people to vote Labour is to indulge in "me-tooism", making out that all party allegiances on the centre-left are interchangeable and never laying a glove on the parties he names.

In fact, we need to be educating those voters that although superficially progressive, the Lib Dems, Greens and Nats are in fact the opposite. The Lib Dems are the Tories' "mini-me", in coalition with them in twice as many hung councils as they are with Labour, and far more likely to prop up a Cameron government than a Labour one. The Greens are a party that has no connection to working class values or needs whatsoever, and want to destroy the economic growth and revitalised manufacturing that working class communities need. The SNP and Plaid are nationalists whose ideology is the antithesis of progressive internationalism and would see England left to perpetual Tory rule.

We need to be highlighting the perils of letting the Tories in through the back door by voting for the Lib Dems and minor parties, not cosying up to them.

We need to destroy the myth that the Lib Dems are somehow progressive and work to get a situation where Labour is the only rational voting choice for people who consider themselves on the progressive left.

The route to mobilising the "natural anti-Tory majority" Hain talks of doesn't start with giving the Lib Dems a kiss of life with tactical voting, it starts by destroying them as an electoral force so that the division of the anti-Tory majority disappears because the party that caused that division is no longer a viable alternative to Labour.

As Harold Wilson said in his early '60s speech that famously began "the Labour Party is a moral crusade or it is nothing", we, Labour, were created for a reason - because the Liberals believed in political and religious freedom but did nothing to campaign for economic freedom.

We should be trying to purge our political system of this relic party from the pre-universal suffrage days of 19th century,which hasn't held power since 1922 and last time it did landed us in World War One.

I have no idea why Hain is trying to resuscitate Lib-Labbery when it is anathema to almost every Labour activist and member. It is particularly damaging in seats where we are trying to build Labour from third place, as it gives the green light for a tactical squeeze on Labour there.

The job of Labour MPs and PPCs everywhere should be to promote Labour voting on its own merits, not as part of a mushy melange of indistinct vaguely or faux progressive parties.

Council by-election results

Last night's results - net gain of 2 seats for Labour overall with contrasting results in neighbouring bits of Nottinghamshire:

Owlsmoor Ward, Bracknell Forest DC. Con hold. Con 508 (54.2%, -1.8), LD 238 (25.4%, +25.4), Lab 126 (13.4%, +13.4), Green 66 (7%, +7). Swing of 13.6% from Con to LD since 2007.

Eastwood South Ward, Broxtowe BC. LD gain from Lab. LD 985 (53.1%, +34) Lab 484 (26.1%, -12) Con 387 (20.9%, -0.4). Swing of 23% from Lab to LD since 2007.This is in Geoff Hoon's Ashfield parliamentary constituency.

Fenstanton Ward, Huntingdon DC. LD gain from Con. LD 391 (51.1%, +4.3), Con 337 (44.0%, -4.2), Lab 37 (4.9%, -0.1). Swing of 4.2% from Con to LD since 2007.

Yeo Ward, Mid Devon DC. Con gain from LD. Con 714 (59.4%, +26.4), LD 489 (40.6%, -26.4). Swing of 26.4% from LD to Con since 2007. This is in the highly marginal new parliamentary seat of Devon Central.

Portland Ward, Mansfield DC. Lab gain from Ind. Lab 407 (45.8%, +2.2), Ind 263 (29.6%, -26.8), Con 116 (13%, +13), LD 66 (7.4%, +7.4), UKIP 37 (4.2%, +4.2). Swing 14.5% from Ind to Lab since 2007. This and the next two seats in the list are in Mansfield parliamentary constituency.

Sherwood Ward, Mansfield DC. Lab gain from Ind. Lab 406 (46.4%, +7), Ind 171 (19.5%, -42.4), Con 156 (17.8%, +17.8), UKIP 93 (10.6%, +10.6), LD 49 (5.6%, +5.6). Swing of 24.7% from Ind to Lab since 2007.

Mansfield South Division, Nottinghamshire CC. Lab gain from Ind. Lab 1342 (33.5%, +13.4), Ind 1108 (27.6%, -5), Con 774 (19.3%, -9.3), UKIP 489 (12.2%, +12.2), LD 295 (7.4%, -3.6). Swing of 9.2% from Ind to Lab since 2009.

Primrose Ward, South Tyneside MBC. Lab hold. Lab 854 (42%, -6.8), BNP 566 (27.9%, -5), Ind 213 (10.5%, +10.5), Ind 174 (8.6%, +8.6), Con 124 (6.1%, -12.4), LD 100 (4.9%, +4.9). Swing of 0.7% from Lab to BNP since 2008.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tory lead down to 5%

Mori poll out tonight says:

Con 37% (-3)
Lab 32% (-)
LD 19% (+3)

If there was a uniform national swing (yeah, I know there won't be but it's still fun to look at!) the Commons would have 285 Labour MPs, 283 Tories, 50 LDs.

YouGov has Labour a bit higher on 33% but the Tories on a slightly higher 6% lead (as per every day this week).

Spectator: "The Tory situation is now verging on critical"


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

It's all about the marginals

Politicalbetting.com has just published an Angus Reid poll that shows that although the gap in the national polls is closing, the Tories are getting a 4.5% higher swing in the key marginal seats: http://politicalbetting.com/index.php/archives/2010/02/24/pbar-poll-has-the-swing-45-pc-bigger-in-the-marginals/

It's less the overall figures that concern me - Angus Reid consistently show a far higher national Tory lead than all the other pollsters but like the others, the trend is towards Labour. What is concerning is that the Tories are still making more traction where it counts.

This is partly explicable by the Ashcroft funding of very intensive "long campaigns" in Tory target seats - though an ICM poll in January suggested Labour's key seat campaign was holding its own organisationally and had reached a similar percentage of marginal seat voters to the Tories' campaigning.

But it's also political and about positioning. The key seat swing voters are not typical of all voters, they have particular concerns that need to be calibrated and addressed if you want to win. They are not even typical of each other as they comprise many different types of voter, not just some generic stereotype like "Motorway Man","Worcester Woman" etc.

It's not fair, but the electoral system we have delivers the national decision to this small group of voters. I deplore the way First-Past-the-Post does this, but until we can change the system we have to understand and address the policy preferences - indeed sometimes prejudices - of swing voters in suburbia, seaside resorts and middle-sized middle England towns if we are going to get in and deliver as well on the complementary - not necessarily mutually exclusive - policy needs of places that (hopefully) always return Labour MPs like Hackney where I live.

So I hope Ed Miliband, who I understand is currently drafting our manifesto, will ensure that whilst it has broad themes and rafts of policy that will energise our activists and deliver on the needs of our base of consistent Labour voters, will also be peppered through with policies that resonate strongly with the key voters in the key seats where we currently, if the polls are to be believed, still lag too far behind the Tories.

I believe that we can win. I'm not sure I did believe that last year. But the Manifesto and the tone of the campaign will be decisive. We have to have a policy content and a language and mood to the campaign that wins back the critical voters in the critical seats.

Monday, February 22, 2010

People in glass houses ...

... shouldn't throw stones: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/dec/18/andy-coulson-bullied-news-of-the-world-reporter

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Good news for Labour

Pleasing reading this morning, after attending a fired-up meeting of Hackney's Labour council candidates and organisers yesterday.

Three polls:

You Gov is the most dramatic - smallest Tory lead for 14 months:

CON 39% (nc)
LAB 33% (+1)
LD 17% (-1)

A 3% shift in 48 hours. At this rate of improvement we will overtake the Tories by Tuesday this week.

ComRes shows the same pattern:

CON 38% (-2)
LAB 30% (+1)
LD 20% (-1)

PoliticsHome tracker poll says the following according to them:

"Analysis of tracker data since the party conference season reveals that:

Cameron's lead over Brown in performance ratings has halved since September
The image of the Conservative party has also deteriorated in several key areas since September, while Labour's has improved
Cameron’s leadership performance ratings have fallen at a faster rate than the Conservative party image and the party’s lead in the polls

Voters are asked on a weekly basis to say whether they think that the party leaders are doing a good job or a bad job. The percentage thinking a leader is doing a bad job are then subtracted from the percentage thinking he is doing a good job to give a net performance rating. Since mid September, Cameron's performance rating has fallen from +36 to +12, while Brown's has risen from -55 to -33. The gap has thus halved from 91 to 45.

At the same time, the image of the Conservative party has deteriorated in key areas, while Labour's image has improved."

Friday, February 19, 2010

Council by-election results

Last night's results, including two Labour gains.

Pendre Ward, Bridgend UA. Lab gain from LD. Lab 200 (36.6%, -12.8) LD 193 (35.3%, -15.3), Ind 68 (12.5%, +12.5), Con 60 (11%, +11), PC 25 (4.6%, +4.6). Swing of 1.7% from LD to Lab since 2007.

Birstall Watermead Ward, Charnwood DC. Con hold. Con 674 (47.7%, +2.8), Lab 452 (32%, +32), BNP 288 (20.4%, +20.4). Swing of 14.6% from Con to Lab since 2007. LD candidate was not validly nominated.

Hyde Park & Woodhouse Ward, Leeds MBC. Lab gain from LD. Labour 1054 (47.6%, +9.1), LD 671 (30.3%, -10.4), Con 188 (8.5%, +1.1), Ind 160 (7.2%, +7.2), Green 140 (6.3%, -3.8%). Swing of 9.8% from LD to Lab since 2008.

Fazakerley Ward, Liverpool MBC. Lab hold. Lab 1525 (57.5%, -0.1), Lib Dem 807 (30.5%, +11.2), BNP 234 (8.8%, -5.2), Green 84 (3.2%, +1.2). Swing of 5.6% from Lab to LD since 2008.

Ivybridge Filham Ward, South Hams DC. LD gain from Con. LD 379 (44.3%, +11.9), Con 356 (41.6%, -26), Lab 121 (14.1%, +14.1). Swing of 19% from Con to LD since 2007.

Evesham South Ward, Wychavon DC. Con hold. Con 358 (52.3%, +1.2), LD 176 (25.7%, +2.1), UKIP 150 (21.9%, -3.3). Swing of 0.5% from Con to LD since 2007.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Class War alive and well at ConHome

ConservativeHome has sprouted a rather strange spin-0ff site - http://mylabourposter.typepad.com - which works on the premise of taking Tory posters that do exist and doing spoof Labour versions based on the phrase "I've never voted Labour before...".

I suppose this odd premise is understandable given that we (Labour) can't afford to do any posters this time round (other than the ones that say "Vote Labour" that people will stick in their gardens for free rather than ad agencies stick on billboards for large amounts of various tax exiles' money), and hence there's nothing we've done for them to spoof.

Whilst some of the ideas are funny, some of them merely demonstrate what sad people the average Tory bloggers are.

Labour voters are, we learn from the spoof posters, illegal immigrants queued up at Calais (which would be difficult - immigrants can't vote unless they naturalised or are EU or Commonwealth citizens); BBC staff (obviously a hotbed of leftie thinking if you are a Daily Mail reading conspiracy theorist); Nick Griffin; postal vote fraudsters (of course Tory-perpetrated election fraud in Slough and Hackney never happened); criminals; and leaders of foreign countries.

The one that really wound me up though (and was probably intended to) was the portrayal of Labour voters as personified by Frank Gallagher of Shameless: http://mylabourposter.typepad.com/blog/2010/02/shameless.html

Because of course it was an outrageous travesty in the eyes of our Tory chums when Labour has had a bit of fun talking about "Tory Toffs" and pointing out how many Tory high-ups went to one expensive school and were members of one Oxford drinking club. That, we are told, is Class War and the politics of division and envy.

But to characterise Labour voters - not our leaders, just the people who vote for us (and whose votes presumably some rational Tories want) - as job-shy benefit fraudsters is fine. That's just ConHome having a laugh. Not class warfare at all. Not being patronising, condescending snobs who see Labour and its supporters as being not quite the ticket and a bit common, and well, taking mummy and daddy's hard-earned millions to spend on the plebs.

Here we have the whole Tory philosophy summed up in one poster:

Labour voters = working class oiks who didn't go to Eton or even whichever place Osborne went to = people on benefit = work-shy benefit-fraudsters.

A philosophy and a party that wants people to be ashamed, not proud, of being working class, and to be ashamed of receiving any benefits, even if they are getting them because they are sick, disabled, unlucky enough to have lost their job or never got one back after Thatcher destroyed most manufacturing communities, have kids, or are paid so little by Tory bosses that the state has to top up their wages.

When there are Tory activists who think it is funny to smear everyone on benefits as being part of the cast of Shameless, and to have cheap laughs about people less fortunate than they are, I stop feeling any qualms about pointing out the absurdity of the privileged and out-of-touch backgrounds of the Tory leadership.

Lib Dem dirty tricks

An interesting new website: http://www.nastylibdems.org/

Seems to be written by a Tory but still some useful insights into the no-holds-barred Lib Dem approach to campaigning.

Up and walking

Long-term readers will know I was in hospital for five months last year and have been using a wheelchair since last April.

Months and months of intensive physiotherapy are starting to pay off though, and yesterday I took my first steps without having to use a crutch.

There's still a long way to go - I need to wear orthotic supports as my ankles are still weak; I will need the wheelchair for longer distances, particularly outdoors for a while yet; and whilst I can balance when moving, oddly I can't stand still unsupported. But it's quite something to be ambulatory again. Next I need to re-learn walking whilst canvassing and leafleting.

Teenage pregnancy rates in Hackney

The Tory "broken Britain" document published on Sunday with it's now infamous missing decimal place on teenage pregnancy was using the borough where I am a councillor, Hackney, to produce its dodgy stats.

It claimed "In the most deprived areas, 54% are likely to fall pregnant before the age of 18." The figures were based on statistics for the 10 most deprived areas in the UK - Birmingham, Easington, Hackney, Islington, Knowsley, Liverpool, Manchester, Middlesbrough, Newham, Tower Hamlets, but with the real rate multiplied by ten.

The real rate of teenage pregnancy in the City & Hackney PCT area is 5.7%, not 54%.

Still too high but down by 25.9% from a rate of 7.7% between 1998 and 2007.

If such a basic, check-able fact gets published in print by the Tories exaggerated by ten-fold, how much more of their "Broken Britain" narrative is just Daily Mail style hysteria?

What makes this worse is that they actually have a reasonable presence on the ground here (nine councillors, at least until the May elections) so ought to have some awareness of the reality of the situation. Just a glance around at the number of prams and buggies on the streets and the apparent age of the people pushing them would have told the 54% figure was nonsense.

Inner city areas have enough social problems for councils and governments of any political colour to tackle without spurious stats being made up to scare swing voters living a long way away in suburbia.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Council by-election results

Last night's results:

Hucknall Central Ward, Ashfield DC. Lab gain from Con. Lab 675 (38.4%, +11.1), Con 437 (24.9%, +2.6), LD 357 (20.3%, -12), UKIP 158 (9%, -3.6), BNP 131 (7.5%, +7.5). Swing of 4.3% from Con to Lab since 2009 by-election. This is in Sherwood constituency, a long-shot Tory target (number 141 on their target list). The Labour PPC Emilie Oldknow is also the Party's Regional Director and it looks like her campaigning skills bore dividends here.

Aylesbury Central Ward, Aylesbury Vale DC. LD hold. LD 354 (50.6%, -1.9), Con 213 (30.5%, -5.8), Lab 67 (9.6%, +9.6), UKIP 65 (9.3%, -1.9). Swing of 2% from Con to LD since 2007.

Luffield Abbey Ward, Aylesbury Vale DC. Con 343 (49.7%, -30.7), UKIP 151 (21.9%, +21.9), LD 133 (19.3%, +19.3), Ind 63 (9.1%, +9.1). Swing of 26.3% from Con to UKIP since 2007.

Plaistow Ward, Chichester BC. Con hold. Con 504 (56.4%, -0.7) LibDem 301 (33.7%, -9.2) BNP 89 (10%, +10). Swing of 4.3% from LD to Con since 2009 by-election.

Easington Ward, Durham UA. Lab hold. Lab 702 (55.8%, -8.3), Ind 311 (24.7%, +24.7), LD 126 (10%, -25.9), Con 120 (9.5%, +9.5). Swing of 16.5% from Lab to Ind since 2008.

Henley South Ward, South Oxfordshire DC. HRG hold. Henley Residents Group 642 (52.5%, +18.3), Con 472 (38.6%, +10.5), LD 110 (9%, +0.2). Swing of 3.9% from Con to HRG since 2007.

Mayfield Ward, Scarborough BC. Con hold. Con 436 (38.5%), Ind 282 (24.9%), Lab 238 (21%), Ind 112 (9.9%), LD 65 (5.7%). No swing calculable as unopposed in 2007.

College Ward, Telford & Wrekin UA. Con gain from Ind. Con 252 (29.3%, -5.6), Ind 237 (27.6%, -37.5), Lab 219 (25.5%, +25.5), Ind 127 (14.8%, +14.8), TAWPA 24 (2.8%, +2.8). Swing of 16% from Ind to Con since 2007. This ward is in The Wrekin parliamentary seat, a Tory-held marginal.

The Nedge Ward, Telford & Wrekin UA. Con gain from Lab. Con 760 (42.5%, +13.1), Lab 688 (38.5%, +10.1), UKIP 237 (13.3%, -3.8), BNP 103 (5.8%, +5.8). Swing of 1.5% from Lab to Con since 2007. This ward is in Telford constituency, a Labour marginal which is number 130 on the Tory target list.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

BNP to contest Mayor of Hackney

The BNP says it will contest the Mayoral election in Hackney this May (and the ones in Newham and Lewisham): http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23803640-bnp-to-contest-borough-mayoral-elections.do

I'm the Labour agent for incumbent Mayor Jules Pipe and whilst I'm not blase about this threat I can't say that I am trembling in my boots given the BNP got only 1409 votes (2.3%) in Hackney in the 2008 GLA elections.

The BNP hasn't managed to field a council candidate in Hackney since 1998. The last time their membership list was leaked to the national press they had only seven members in the borough. I have my doubts that they will find a candidate who is qualified to stand (i.e. lives or works or is on the electoral register in Hackney) and willing to do it.

This is obviously an attempt to disrupt community cohesion in a harmoniously multi-cultural borough. It is particularly sick for the far right to run in an area with a huge Orthodox Jewish population, a community that originally came to Stamford Hill as refugees from the Nazis. I think it will backfire and is likely to increase the turnout of voters for mainstream democratic parties.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Vote NHS

Labour has launched an excellent new campaign website: http://www.votenhs.com/. The site compares waiting lists now and since 1997 and shows the massive improvements that have taken place in every part of the country, and promotes the concept of a new NHS guarantee- that if your doctor thinks you may have cancer you get the tests you need, with results, within a week.

The Party has also produced this new ad on Cameron's deceptive stance on the NHS - public spin that he is very pro-NHS but this is contradicted by the fact he would scrap the cancer guarantee:

Monday, February 08, 2010

Tory Key Seat PPC Resigns

With just months to go until a General Election, Karen Buck MP's Tory opponent has resigned.

Joanne Cash, Tory PPC for marginal Westminster North (notional majority about 3,000) stepped down following what ConHome calls "internal tensions in the local party". Be interesting to know what that means.

Not useful for the Tories in such a target seat for them on a night when their national poll lead dropped 3% according to Populus.

Labour goes for online ads

Labour seems to have sussed that targeted online advertising can reach key groups of voters a lot better than spending £400k on easily graffiti-ed billboards does.

First up are mums with family income over £31k who are warned at http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk that they will “get less than they bargained for” if the Tory plans to cut Child Tax Credits are introduced.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Council by-election results

This week's results (one of them had a Tuesday rather than Thursday polling day):

Queen's Park ward, Blackburn with Darwen UA. Lab gain from LD. Lab 638 (54.2%, +3), LD 366 (31.1%, -17.8), Con 174 (14.8%, +14.8). Swing of 10.4% from LD to Lab since 2008.

Holmewood and Heath Ward, NE Derbyshire DC. Lab gain from LD. Lab 373 (64%, +24.6), Con 209 (36%, +17.7). Swing of 3.5% from Con to Lab since 2008 by-election.

Newchapel Ward, Newcastle-under-Lyme BC. Con hold. Con 204 (33.1%, -11), UKIP 148 (24%,+10.5), Lab 138 (22.4%, +0.1), LD 127 (20.6%, +1.5). Swing of 10.75% from Con to UKIP since 2008.

Whyteleafe Ward, Tandridge DC. LD hold. LD 444 (57%, +3.1), Con 236 (30.3%, -11.2), UKIP 99 (12.7%, +12.7). Swing of 7.2% from Con to LD since 2008.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

More from The Mirror


And the Tory Right wade in - Tebbit calls for a core-vote strategy:


Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The Mirror on Cameron

I get the impression the Daily Mirror doesn't like David Cameron:



Some of my best friends in politics are ardent first-past-the-post supporters, but having been a member of the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform since 1990 I am delighted by the PM's announcement of a parliamentary vote on a referendum on changing to the Alternative Vote.

This is about giving voters more choice on two levels - enabling them to say yes or no to change and if it goes through enabling them to rank the candidates/parties rather than just voting for one with an "X". This would ensure that no one needed to use their first vote "tactically" because tactical voting can be done through the second and lower preferences - so we would suddenly discover a hidden army of first preference Labour supporters in Con vs. LD seats who have been voting tactically for the Lib Dems for years. It means there are fewer wasted votes, and all MPs would have the mandate of having had the backing of a majority of voters in their seat.

Of course it isn't a proportional system - and we need a system where share of seats in the Commons more accurately reflects share of vote if we are to apply Labour's values of justice and equity (one vote, one value rather than power being concentrated in the hands of voters in a small numbers of marginal seats) to the electoral system and to give Labour voters in safe seats and un-winnable seats a fair share of influence on the overall outcome and hence an incentive to turn out. But it's a good start so I welcome this Damascene conversion.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Tower Block of Commons

I watched Tower Block of Commons on Channel 4 and cringed. It's a series where four MPs (IDS, replaced by Nadine Dorries when his wife got ill; identikit Tory boy Tim Loughton, Mark Oaten and Austin Mitchell) go and live on a council estate to find out what it's like.

Their ignorance of how a large slice of the population live was astonishing e.g. not knowing how to use a door-entry intercom system.

Austin made matters worse by decamping to middle class friends in Hull for a posh dinner party rather than eating in the flat he had been allocated - all on camera.

Oaten observed that he would "have to check if the BNP really are racist" after meeting some Barking & Dagenham BNP voters. He decided in typical Lib Dem Focus fashion to start a petition to demolish the block he was living in, without any checks to see if it's in line for regeneration anyway, or whether any funds exist to replace it.

None of them seemed to possess any casual clothes that might be worn by normal people, leading to them walking around trying to blend in in hoodies they had been given.

Only IDS seemed to be at ease speaking to local residents without sounding like he was communicating with residents of another planet.

I guess I had naively thought that because here in Hackney holding public office involves spending a lot of time on council estates either canvassing or holding surgeries or attending tenants' meetings (and people from all parties do this, not just Labour) that all MPs had some familiarity with the challenges facing many people living in social housing, be it disrepair, overcrowding, poor stock, anti-social behaviour etc. Judging by this series there are some MPs who are more familiar with life on Mars than life on a council estate.

We need more MPs who have lived or do live on council estates if we're going to get a focus on improving social housing rather than treating council tenants like the subjects of an anthropology expedition. There are Labour MPs like Andrew Smith who lives on Blackbird Leys Estate in his Oxford East constituency and don't need to be sent by a TV series to find out how their constituents live.

I also resented the way in which the series seemed to paint a picture of estates as though most residents are druggies or in a cycle of long-term benefit dependency or both. There is a dangerous conflation in public debate between the "broken Britain" narrative and estates, using council tenants as shorthand when people mean a social underclass. In fact loads of people on estates have jobs and completely responsible lifestyles and thanks to right to buy most estates have some home-owners on them.

Before anyone starts pointing fingers we don't live on an estate but both grew up on social housing estates (and feel this is an important part of how our political values and priorities were shaped) and live in a street that has a council estate on one side of the road and a mix of owner occupied and housing association properties on the other.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Jackie Ashley's theory

Jackie Ashley puts forward a theory yesterday that the Iraq War "destroyed progressive politics in Britain for a generation" (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jan/31/new-labour-iraq-destroyed-progressive).

This would have some credibility were it not for one very big, unfortunate fact. There has already been a General Election since the Iraq War, and at a time in 2005 when the war was a far more resonant and current issue. The man who led us into the war, Tony Blair, also led Labour into that General Election. Far from the 2005 General Election destroying Labour or progressive politics, it resulted in an unprecedented third victory for Blair and New Labour, with a result that was in terms of seats the fifth best in the hundred plus-year history of the Labour Party. Not just that but it left Labour holding such unlikely bastions as Hastings & Rye, Hove and South Dorset, none of which Harold Wilson or Clem Attlee had been able to take in their heyday.

The biggest obstacle to progressive politics getting over the trauma of the Iraq War is the determination of some of Blair's critics to personalise their disagreement over a policy decision - yes a contentious, life-or-death decision but still a policy decision; their refusal to accept that people who supported the war did so in good faith, believing what they were doing was morally right (oh, and legal); and their insistence on re-fighting the political battles of 2003 rather than looking at the question of where Iraq is now as a country and what needs to happen there next. I can understand some people's passionate opposition to the war. I cannot understand why they can't move on and get over it (will they still be defining their politics by opposition to a 2003 war in twenty years, or thirty?), or why they choose this one aspect of Blair's premiership to define him by. It is very odd that people on the left can feel more angry about Blair, and felt more excited and joyful about getting rid of him than they felt anger about Saddam or excitement and joy about his removal from power.

The weekend polls

It hardly needs saying but - game on.

That 4th "victory for the true believers" looks tantalisingly possible.


I found Channel 4's film about Mo Mowlam last night almost unbearably poignant.

I met Mo quite a few times when I was in youth and student politics in the mid-90s because she chaired the Labour NEC's Youth Sub-Committee. She was a real champion of young people in the Party and handled a committee which had quite a few egos on it with a combination of biting wit, enthusiasm and strategically called cigarette breaks.

I can't help feeling that in the last two decades Labour has been prematurely robbed through tragically early deaths of a clutch of extraordinary politicians: Mo, Robin Cook, John Smith and Donald Dewar. I always thought Mo would have stood a chance of becoming Party Leader if her health had held up.

Last night's film was a fitting tribute to a much missed person.

"It's called the Iraq inquiry, but where are the Iraqi witnesses?" T Blair

Now the President of Iraq has his say:


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