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, December 24, 2011

Ding dong merrily on high

Being a glass-half-full sort of person when it comes to the state of the Labour Party (http://www.progressonline.org.uk/2011/12/21/no-need-for-jitters/)  I thought I should respond to the glass-half-empty blog post by Anthony Painter (http://labourlist.org/2011/12/a-pretty-bad-year/), backed up by Peter Watt (http://www.iaindale.com/posts/labour-is-just-speaking-to-itself ).

Anthony says the Party has “stopped pretending it’s in trouble when clearly it is”. This is clearly nonsense, everyone I know in the Labour Party spends their entire time full of angst about why we lost and what we need to do to win again.

He says “I’m afraid by-elections and local elections are pretty meaningless in terms of the national picture”. How come then that by-elections and local elections were a perfect indicator of the national picture in predicting we would win in 1997 and lose in 2010?

He says Labour’s “organisation is a bad fit for the needs of the moment”. An odd time to mention this when we just finished spending a year debating structures in the “Refounding Labour” review, made some radical changes in terms of opening up the Party via the supporters’ network, and we have a General Secretary making the most radical changes in living memory at Party HQ. It’s no use making a statement like that without suggesting specific reforms, and the time to do that was in the summer during the RL process.

He says “You no longer win by putting blocks of support together” but anyone who runs campaigns at a local level knows that’s exactly what you do – segment the electorate based on socio-economic data(Mosaic codes) and previous voting behaviour from canvass returns, and target your message at the different groups. It is correct to say there are more groups, a more splintered society, and the big blocks of Labour support are smaller because society has changed, but the idea that economic class isn’t the primary determinant of voting behaviour is nonsense, if it wasn’t why would inner city and former industrial areas be predominantly Labour, rich areas predominantly Tory and mixed areas marginal?  The way the two parties have acted in government shows that they remain basically vehicles for the aggregation and advancement of class interests – Labour improves life for people in places like Hackney, the Tories make it worse.

Anthony says we need a “nuanced conversation” with voters. Yes, with a minority who follow politics very closely we do. But most voters have very little time to think about politics. They don’t want a “nuanced conversation” they just want to know they can trust us to run the country and once we pass that bar they will think about very broadly sketched visions of the future and what our priorities might be.

He argues that it is “stark raving mad” to think “politics has to change society”. Maybe it is. Maybe I am mad. But you won’t get people to sacrifice their spare time to run a voluntary political party by just accepting society as it is and making politics just about electing the most attractive candidate or most competent team. And British society needs changing – it is grossly unfair and unequal – who is going to change that if it isn’t Labour? If it can’t be changed by politics we might as well all emigrate or slit our wrists. Surely the whole point of even the most rightwing versions of social democracy is about fundamentally changing how society works to make it fairer?

He calls for “heavyweight statesmen and women; not former advisers” to lead Labour. I can’t decide if that is a straightforward attack on the current leadership, most of whom were advisers before being MPs, or just naïve – changing the way we recruit our leaders would bear fruit in 20 years time not now.  I’m not aware of a “heavyweight statesman” sat in the wings waiting to lead Labour. And what’s wrong with being a former adviser? I wasn’t one, I don’t have the patience or self-control to only advise or speak for other people rather than speaking for myself so went down the path of elected political office, but why would we have a downer on people who spent Labour’s period in government working full time helping Labour ministers? A) it’s a commendable thing to do and involved a lot of financial and personal sacrifice and B) it means when they become Ministers they already know how to make government deliver our policies.

He also complains that “the upper echelons of the Labour party is dominated by brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, and friends”. Errr, yes, because if you work together in the common endeavor of getting Labour elected and then governing successfully for two decades, you will end up being friends with each other, and maybe even marrying each other. Does Anthony want people dropped into Labour’s leadership who haven’t got a history of hard work for the Party? I confess I trust people more and tend to vote for them more if I canvassed with them in 1990s by-elections or sat with them at NUS and NOLS conferences 20 years ago. It means I know what I’m dealing with.

He says “we have a party that interprets diversity in purely gender or racial terms. You end up with even less diversity as a result.” There’s an implicit attack there on measures that do address gender and race representation. There’s also a failure to show any recognition of the training scheme the party is currently running to help people get selected from all sorts of non-traditional backgrounds that are under-represented in the PLP, or the high profile example of us running ex-army officer Dan Jarvis in a by-election.

If Labour is a “guild” as he says, it’s one anyone can join by getting a reputation for campaigning hard. That’s the basic criteria – party members will select people with very diverse political views and personal backgrounds if they know they are grafters who have done the hard slog as volunteers on the doorstep, ditto in terms of who gets appointed to jobs within the party staff.

As for Anthony’s critique of Ed’s leadership, I simply don’t agree with it. Listing things you don’t think Ed has done well is not massively helpful. It would be more useful to set out things you think he should do.

Anthony says, implying this is not a good thing, “The highest value within Labour is now loyalty and unity.” I wish it was.  It should be. We’ve tried disloyalty and disunity throughout our history, particularly in the recent past. It never helps.

He calls for “more (constructive) disruption at the top and throughout the PLP and party – including the NEC.” I’m one NEC member who won’t be heeding that call. If I am constructively disruptive you won’t hear about it – it will be in arguments made in private at party meetings or face to face with the people I disagree with, not grandstanding.

If you want to read a more straightforward, upbeat assessment of where Labour is at, read this by Michael Dugher: http://labourlist.org/2011/12/have-confidence-2011-in-review/

It might help you have a merrier Christmas.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Council By-elections

There were four this week, with one held on Tuesday. Turnout was relatively good in all the wards except the Walsall one, despite the timing.

Tuesday 19th

Worlingham Ward, Waveney DC. Con hold. Con 708 (45.9%, -7.1), Lab 586 (38%, +4.8), Green 137 (8.9%, -5), UKIP 64 (4.1%, +4.1), LD 48 (3.1%, +3.1). Swing of 6% from Con to Lab since May this year. A good result for Labour in a parliamentary marginal.

Thursday 22nd

Wembley Central Ward, LB Brent. Lab hold. Lab 1402 (48.3%, +4.9), LD 1022 (35.2%, +0.4), Con 349 (12%, -6.3), Green 130 (4.5%, +1.1). Swing of 2.3% from LD to Lab since 2010. This is in Brent North constituency.

Westbourne Ward, Brighton & Hove UA. Con hold. Con 1027 (39.3%, +3.8), Lab 826 (31.6%, +2.1), Green 645 (24.7%, -1.6), LD 45 (1.7%, -5.9), UKIP 36 (1.4%, +1.4), TU + Socialist 20 (0.8%, +0.8), European Citizens 13 (0.5%, -0.6). Swing of 0.9% from Lab to Con since May this year. Main point to note here is the Green bandwagon in Brighton (they run the council) stalling.

Birchills Leamore Ward, Walsall MBC. Lab hold. Lab 835 (52.8%, -2.2), Con 512 (32.4%, -1.2), Eng Dem 130 (8.2%, +8.2), UKIP 59 (3.7%, +3.7), Green 46 (2.9%, +2.9). Swing of 0.5% from Lab to Con since May this year. This ward has returned a Tory councillor as recently as 2008.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Have your say on Labour's policy review

If you are a Labour member, please take a look at the Party's latest policy consultation documents:


You can submit ideas online as an individual, or hold a discussion in your branch, CLP or affiliate, using the discussion guides on the web page.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Progress Column

In my Progress column this week I respond to the panic over the poll blip last week:


Friday, December 16, 2011


Congratulations to my friend Seema Malhotra on winning the Feltham & Heston by-election yesterday. Seema will make a brilliant MP – she is local to the area but a national calibre politician who has worked incredibly hard for the party for many years. Congratulations also to Malcolm Powers who was Campaign Co-ordinator for an extremely well run campaign on a short timetable.

The full results are worth listing:

· Seema Malhotra, Labour - 12,639 (54.42%, +10.79%)

· Mark Bowen, Conservative - 6,436 (27.71%, -6.32%)

· Roger Crouch, Liberal Democrats - 1,364 (5.87%, -7.87%)

· Andrew Charalambous, UKIP - 1,276 (5.49%, +3.45%)

· David Furness, BNP -540 (2.33%, -1.21%)

· Daniel Goldsmith, Green - 426 (1.83%, +0.74%)

· Roger Cooper, English Democrats - 322 (1.39%)

· George Hallam, London People Before Profit - 128 (0.55%)

· David Bishop, Bus-Pass Elvis Party - 93 (0.40%)

This is in a seat which the Tories held from 1983 to 1992 and were hopeful of gaining in 2010.

This swing (8.6% from Con to Lab, 9.3% from LD to Lab) repeated nationally on the current boundaries would see Labour gain exactly 100 seats from the Tories (down as far as the iconic Enfield Southgate) and 15 from the Lib Dems.

With this impressive result coming on top of four previous good by-election holds and over 800 council seats gained in May under Ed Miliband’s leadership, perhaps it is time for Dan Hodges to stop undermining our Leader and get out and do some canvassing for the Party instead. The same goes for anyone else who thinks infighting, plotting or armchair criticism is helpful or acceptable as opposed to a massive boon to our enemies.

There were a number of council by-elections yesterday as well as the Feltham & Heston poll:

Coombe Vale Ward, RB Kingston-on-Thames. 2X Con holds. Con 1340, 1308 (43.8%, +0.8), LD 908, 778 (29.7%, -7.5), Lab 526, 502 (17.2%, +7.3), Green 122, 108 (4%, -3.3), CPA 94, 76 (3.1%, +0.4), UKIP 70 (2.3%, +2.3). Swing of 4.2% from LD to Con since 2010. The substantial increase in the Labour vote share, holding almost exactly 100% of the raw vote we got in 2010 on a General Election day turnout, is indicative of the massive organisational effort going on in previously weak areas of outer London in the run-up to the mayoral election.

Frisby on the Wreake Ward, Melton DC. Ind gain from Con. Ind 212 (38.5%, +38.5), Con 187 (34%, -37), Lab 89 (16.2%, -12.8), Ind 62 (11.3%, +11.3). Swing of 37.8% from Con to Ind since May this year.

Clare and Shuttern Ward, Mid Devon DC. Con hold. Con 385 (63.6%, +4.1), Ind 166 (27.4%, -13.1), UKIP 54 (8.9%, +8.9). Swing of 8.6% from Ind to Con since May this year.

Central Ward, Shetland UA. Ind hold. All candidates were independents, except a Tory who got 4.2%.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Council by-elections and changes of control and some personal news

I've had a busy week as my second son, Ben, was born on Wednesday at the Homerton Hospital by emergency Cesarean. He's a healthy 9lb12 and he and my partner Linda are both doing well and should be home tomorrow.
Only one council by-election to report:
Hamilton West and Earnock Ward, South Lanarkshire Council. SNP gain from Ind. First preference  votes: SNP 822 (50%, +24.9), Lab 607 (36.9%, -1.2), Con 214 (13.0%, +3.4). Turnout was only 11.8% due to the awful weather in Scotland today. Swing of 13.1% from Lab to SNP since 2007.

Some better news at the other end of the country in Thanet, Kent, where Labour has taken minority control of the District Council tonight following a Tory councillor defecting to independent.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Labourlist column

My Labourlist column explains how the NEC works (if that kind of thing interests you):


Friday, December 02, 2011

Council by-elections

Two yesterday, shamefully neither with a Labour candidate (I've taken this up as an issue in my NEC capacity):

Rayleigh Central Ward, Rochford DC. Con hold. Con 406 (54.8%, +0.1), Eng Dem 218 (29.4%, +15), LD 117 (15.8%, -15.1). Swing of 7.5% from Con to Eng Dem since 2010.

Brent Division, Somerset CC. Con hold. Con 1285 (58%, -11.9), LD 932 (42%, +17.3). Swing of 14.6% from Con to LD since 2009.

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