Monday, 1 August 2016

Labour leadership contest: a (mixed) metaphor and a struggling set of scenarios

As an ordinary longstanding and active member of the Labour Party, I feel like I am in a very bad dream, observing the leadership contest from the upper circle: and it has all become a dark pantomime with elements of Dante and Brecht mixed in.

Below me in the circle, are legions of grinning Tories enjoying the grand gladiatorial spectacle on stage. And in the stalls on the left and right of the auditorium are members, supporters, advisers, past leaders and the parliamentary Labour party who are just shouting at each other:

“Only Corbyn/Smith can win the next general election!”
“Oh no he can’t!”
“Oh yes he can!”
“Oh no he can’t!”
“Oh yes he can…!”
etc etc…

And on stage are the bold contenders on the edge of a chalk circle. In the middle is the heart of the Labour movement. In their heads is the wise judge’s command that only the true custodian of this heart will have the strength and determination to pull the longest and strongest and drag it over to their side of the circle.

And all the while, the heart is being pulled in two

And I wake up from my dream, in an oh so cold sweat, wondering urgently which contender will love the heart of the Labour movement the most… and let go.

-----

But I don’t think either of them will let go: too much is invested in their current positions. And so it is now only a question of whether the contest will be over before the heart is ripped in two. And whether once the contest is over, the opposing factions can come together again…

Right now, I am not optimistic. And this is mainly because I only see three scenarios:

1) Against all expectations, Owen Smith wins. This would mean that enough people with a vote will have been persuaded to vote for him. This could mean that the £25 members who joined over 48 hours a few days ago could have swung it for Smith. Or maybe that enough previous supporters of Corbyn will have been persuaded to switch to Smith. Or maybe... we will never know. But one thing is for sure, there will be a large number of very angry and incredibly irritated Corbyn supporters who will probably be out for deselection blood. The question will be whether these supporters will be organised enough to make this happen in a party led by Owen Smith. The hue of the NEC will have a critical role to play, not least in the decision over when to lift the moratorium on party meetings… But the hope that the party will magically return to the sweetness and lightness of a grumbling unity and thence begin to prepare for the next general election is unlikely to be fulfilled, I fear. An Owen Smith win is not going to be anything less troublesome than a Corbyn win.

2) Against all expectations, Jeremy Corbyn wins, but (like the referendum) only just. This is a truly dark scenario where I think the party, the whole movement if not the entire Left descends into even further levels of Dante’s inferno. Both sides will feel righteously empowered to continue fighting at every single level of the party’s machine. And the winners in all this will be the Tories, of course. The losers will be the ordinary women and men of the country who just want to see good government: passing legislation in the interests of the many (not the few) and effectively tackling the main issues of the day (health, housing, crime & terrorism, fear of the same and prosperity etc).

3) In line with expectations, Corbyn wins with a large majority, perhaps even bigger than last year. This will not solve all the problems of course. I observe how the narratives critical of Jeremy have morphed over the last ten months (as they have successively failed to unseat him) into now resting on his personal leadership style. I am a Corbyn supporter. But I am happy to say that I think his leadership and organisational wherewithal do now really need to come out of second gear. But he cannot do this alone and key members of the PLP will need to reflect on whether they are prepared to help him. Equally, Jeremy needs to accept their help once it is truly offered. But I do believe all this is possible if everyone concerned stops for a moment (just one bloomin’ moment!) and realises what we are all risking if we do not… (And yes, I do believe that Jeremy has the capacity to change, just as I believe that many PLP members have the capacity to change as well…)

And so we will see what happens.

Meanwhile I made a promise to Owen Jones that I would address the set of cracking questions he posed in his article yesterday for the Corbyn campaign (even though I know it matters not to him that I do address the questions). The article is to be found at https://medium.com/@OwenJones84/questions-all-jeremy-corbyn-supporters-need-to-answer-b3e82ace7ed3#.ystgl1dln

How can the disastrous polling be turned around?
Where is the clear vision?
How are the policies significantly different from the last general election?
What’s the media strategy?
What’s the strategy to win over the over-44s?
What’s the strategy to win over Scotland?
What’s the strategy to win over Conservative voters?
How would we deal with people’s concerns about immigration?
How can Labour’s mass membership be mobilised?

I sum up my small practical socialism as being about working for a world in which everyone has dreams & ambitions... and the resources to achieve them. I think what makes the Tories such a formidable political force (and it’s the much the same thing that just won the referendum for the Brexiteers) is their capacity to engage emotionally with people’s hopes, ambitions and dreams.

As we know, they then let those ambitions crumble and shatter on a wasteland of bad economics and disastrous social investment… but that happens only after they have won the election. Quite simply, Tories do political strategy better than Labour, in my opinion (discuss…)

So what we in the Labour movement have to do is to connect our policies with personal ambitions: really connect. We need more people to vote for us because we offer a believable and practical set of policies that do this. And then do this really well when we get into power.

And these policies must start with housing, especially for young people who are trapped by high rent or dangerously high mortgages where small interest rate increases spell doom. We must find radical socialist policies that help people get secure homes at affordable costs. If we do this well, many of Owen Jones’ questions are answered.

There is more I could say, but I now need to get back to some things I really ought to be doing!

Saturday, 2 July 2016

A dream manifesto??

Please let us have a Labour manifesto which will say this:

The Conservative Party took the step in 2016 to organise a referendum on the United Kingdom's membership of the EU. As we all know, the country voted by 52% to 48% in favour of leaving the EU. In Labour Party we believe that having the referendum was a thoroughly reckless action because no plans had been drawn up for that eventuality. Moreover the impact on the country has been to divide families & communities, and created unprecedented levels of hate, fear and distrust in our country. Economic forecasts now look gloomy, to say the least. And under the Conservatives, we see no hope for this getting any better. The Prime Minister, the architect of the referendum and the lead Tory campaigner for Leave have both now walked off the stage. They have left a divided party to clear up the unholy mixture of confusion, economic destruction, community unrest that they created. This is the very height of irresponsibility and shows clearly just what they think of the country that they have purported to lead.

But we are where we are and now the Labour Party (as often is the case) will have to clear up this mess left behind by the Conservative Government. But how to move forward from here when the future looks very bleak and there will not be a person in the country left unaffected by this?

A Labour Government will give the country a second referendum on membership of the EU.

We will do this because a constitutional question of such magnitude and long lasting effect cannot be delivered by such a narrow margin of less that 4%. After all if we sign up to a new life insurance policy, we are given a 10 day cooling off period so that we can be sure we have made the right decision. We are merely offering something equivalent to the people of the UK. Moreover, in our referendum, 16 and 17 year olds will be given the vote, as they should have been. Anyone who has lived in the country for more than 10 years and have made their contribution to our society, will be given the vote. All British Passport holders will be given the vote, no matter where they live. This is a decision for all of us. We also make the threshold 55% for a positive vote to change the constitution of this country.

During the June 2016 referendum, the people of this country were crying out for more facts. They were given few. Instead on offer were untruths, plain lies, rhetoric and downright racist propaganda. This will not happen again under a Labour Government. In Labour, we respect the people of the country. Therefore we think they deserve to hear and understand the facts. We are scornful of some on the Leave side who dismissed expert advice as being of no greater consequence than an person's gut feelings. We do not accept this in medicine, why should we accept such an ignorant approach when it comes to this big question?

And so unlike the first referendum, we will investigate the full legal, economic, social, political, technological, environmental and constitutional implications of a vote either way. These will be developed after careful negotiations with our current European partners. So that when people come to cast their vote, everyone will know exactly what future they are voting for. These futures will be created independently of government.

We will also have plans in place for either result. If the vote is to continue being a member of the EU, we will take forward a radical plan for reform of the institutions in collaboration with other progressive governments of the EU. If the vote is to leave then we will ensure that we leave with all of the progressive and positive features of our current membership: employment rights, environmental action, peaceful cooperation built into the future constitution of this country.

Vote Labour if you believe the country needs to think again about this momentous decision.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Bucks Free Press a Tory magazine after all

This has been copied from http://www.labour4wycombe.org.uk/bucks_free_press_a_tory_magazine_after_all - Thank you to Linda Derrick who does a sterling job at issuing Labour focused press releases to local papers.

Full text of letter sent by Wycombe Labour's press officer to the Bucks Free Press' letters page. Will they print it???

Dear Editor

I have been the press officer for Wycombe Labour for about 3 years.  During that time the most frequent question I have been asked is why Wycombe Labour gets such little coverage in the Bucks Free Press or, less politely, why I waste my time trying to get Wycombe Labour’s views into what is a Tory magazine.    

Up to now, I have explained to people that the BFP is a private sector company whose responsibility is to make a profit for its shareholders and thus increase its readership on-line and in print.  Like other newspapers, it has no obligation to be politically neutral or fair or balanced.

I also point out that it is natural that there is a Tory bias in the paper; most of the political institutions in Bucks are Tory-dominated (e.g. Wycombe District Council, Bucks County Council) and all of the Bucks MPs are Tories.   If the BFP report what the local Councils and MPs do, it will be reporting on the activities of the Tories.

And I add that I am an unpaid, untrained volunteer who does the job in my spare time.    The MPs and Councils on the other hand have full-time, paid, professional press officers or agents.   I would expect the paid professionals to flood the media with their news.

Nevertheless, up to recently, I have been able to say that Wycombe Labour has had reasonable coverage in the BFP.

I regularly put out a couple of press releases a week, plus letters, plus statements or responses to news.    All of this has been of local interest, topical and I hope interesting to Wycombe readers.   All of this material has also been carefully researched so we can back up what we say with evidence.    Frequently the BFP has asked for our source material and I have been happy to provide this.  

Most of this material, until recently, was covered by the BFP and/or other local newspapers and/or local radio and occasionally by the national press and TV.   So we must have been doing something right.

However, something changed at Christmas.  Suddenly, nothing from Wycombe Labour went into the Bucks Free Press.

Naturally I asked why.   The BFP was kind enough to explain the difficulties and said they hoped they could cover more of our stories in future - which they assured me were invariably newsworthy.

Unfortunately, 5 months later, this is not happening.  The BFP prints letters we send in and it covers something of what Labour Councillors say at WDC meetings.  But little else.

The BFP has ignored, amongst other things, items we have put out on

-          the PREVENT programme in Wycombe,
-          the EDL march in Wycombe,
-          the demolishing of social housing in Castlefield,
-          the proposals for a unitary council in Bucks,
-          the privatisation of schools in Bucks,
-          the EU,
-          the lack of school places,
-          WDC’s failure to deliver on its targets in its corporate plan,
-          the increase in crime and our concerns on gang crime,
-          tax havens,
-          the local ambulance service
-          school funding
-          the use of B&Bs outside Wycombe by WDC for homeless families, and
-          funding cuts in Bucks to organisations giving advice to young people on sexual health and sexually transmitted infections.  

Over this same period, there have been numerous articles from Tories or Tory-dominated bodies in the BFP.   These articles appeared to go in unchallenged by the BFP who never seemed to check their accuracy as they did with our stories.  Neither was the Labour Party, the main opposition party, given any opportunity to comment on these stories although the Tories were invariably given the opportunity to comment on ours.  

The article in the BFP on Friday from the Police and Crime Commissioner illustrates the one-sided nature of BFP’s coverage and its double standards towards the Wycombe Labour Party.  I have set this out in some detail in an annex and I have put some questions for the BFP to answer.  I hope you consider this carefully.

The edition on Friday was for me the last straw.   There is a single mention of Wycombe Labour amongst the Tory deluge and, to add injury to insult, this mention was a statement by Steve Baker to say that Labour supported his EU Vote Leave campaign – a statement which is completely untrue.

So enough is enough.  If someone asked me the question now as to why I waste my time trying to get Wycombe Labour’s views into what is a Tory magazine, I simply haven’t got an answer.

It is time for me to stop battling against such an extraordinary in-built bias in the BFP’s reporting.   Just to remind you 66% of Wycombe voters didn’t vote Tory in Wycombe at the last general election.  Of course, Wycombe Labour recognises the dominance of elected Tories in Wycombe but, in proportion to our votes, we would expect about half the coverage the Tories get.

I have told Wycombe Labour I am prepared to continue as press officer unless someone else wants to have a go at bashing their head against BFP’s brick wall.   However, in future, unless I am replaced, Wycombe’s views/opinions will be found on our website and Facebook.  You can follow us on Twitter if you wish.  I will occasionally provide a link for the media to anything I think they might find interesting.   We will do the occasional letter and I am happy to provide responses to news on request and provide interviewees.

This is a major challenge for someone like me.  The social media revolution has passed me by and I am computer illiterate.  I may well crash the Labour Party website and bring cheer to many in Wycombe.

But I think the BFP is now a Tory magazine; it has lost the right to call itself the Bucks Free Press.

Linda Derrick

Press officer

Wycombe Labour
____________________________

Annex

Wycombe Labour has been raising concerns about crime in Wycombe, including gang crime, for many months.  The BFP covered these concerns, including our concerns about gang crime, up to Christmas, despite the police downplaying our concerns.

However since then, we have had no coverage.

In January, we pointed out that, after a decade of decreasing crime, recorded crime was on the increase and provided the link to the Government statistics.   The BFP did not cover this.

In February, we issued a press release pointing out that the Home Office had concerns about gang crime in Wycombe and had selected Wycombe for its programme set up to combat gang-crime.  We also pointed out the Home Office had promptly closed the programme due to austerity cuts.   The BFP did not cover this.

In April, the Police and Crime Commissioner put out a leaflet as part of his electioneering material claiming that during his time in office crime had gone down.  We put out a press release pointing out that crime had gone up with the evidence in detail.  The BFP did not cover this.

A few days later, the police put out the crime stats for 2015/6 and indeed recorded crime had gone up.  The BFP did not ask for, or cover, our response.

In May we put out a press release again expressing our concern about gang crime in Wycombe based on papers to the office of the London Mayor which said that 85 gangs based in London were operating in the Home Counties and 4 of these were operating in Wycombe.  We pointed out that the stats did indeed show an increase in the sort of crime you would expect from an increase in gang activity i.e. drug dealing and possession of a weapon.   The BFP did not cover this.

Instead the BFP put an article on-line from the Police and Crime Commissioner (and a shortened version in the paper on Friday).  He says crime is spiralling because of the operation of East European gangs.  He cites this as one of the reasons for leaving the EU.   The BFP did not come to us for a comment.

Now we find from the Observer that the PCC’s comments are part of a Brexit campaign to frighten us with the prospects of immigration from Turkey.

So I ask

  • Why has the BFP not covered any of our material on crime since Christmas? 
  • Why has the BFP not asked us to respond to the articles on the increase in crime and on the alleged East European gangs?
  • Did the BFP ask the PCC for his evidence for his assertion that the increase in crime is due to East European gangs?
  • Did the BFP ask the PCC why in April before the election he thought crime had gone down but now he thought crime was going up? 
  • Did the BFP know that the PCC’s comments were part of a co-ordinated campaign by Brexit?

Monday, 16 May 2016

​Private Harvey's thoughts on electoral success

I am just an ordinary foot soldier in the Labour Party electoral machine: a lowly leafleteer, who has been battling with letter boxes for over 40 years. I first smelled electoral cordite when getting out the vote for Frank Judd, being bussed around the outer reaches of Portsmouth North. I have never been privy to what senior strategists in the Labour Party decide about how to 'run' elections or indeed prepare for them. But what I do know, is that sometimes Labour has lost elections when we should have won, (and probably won some when we should have lost...) I have seen campaigns come and go and a fair few party leaders as well. And I watch, listen and learn.

Prompted by the thoughts of Mayor Khan, here is what I have learnt about how Labour wins elections. We win when we are:

  1. united: many voters think if a party cannot agree with itself - why should I? 
  2. focused on the goal of winning the election: Sadiq is correct in that there are no heroic losses 
  3. true to ourselves: voters smell Labour fakery a mile away (in a way that they don't with the Tories, perhaps?) 
  4. issuing messages and policies which reach out and are relevant to ALL (even if they disagree): in cities, towns and villages, and from smoke stacks to beaches, coast to coast...
  5. bold and courageous: talking in a language that resonates with what really matters to people (not what just matters to the party or historic 'positions')
  6. we have authentic conversations with people and don't exhaust ourselves just ticking voter registration boxes
  7. BOTH pragmatic and visionary: ideology that cannot be implemented is as pointless (and unpopular) as cheap political gimmicks that 'work' only in the minds of the spin doctors
  8. promoting policies which are in clear contrast the failed policies of past Tory governments: 'blue' policies with a few red tassels and upbeat mood music erode voters' confidence in Labour politicians
  9. squeaky clean and brimming with honesty, integrity and transparency
  10. listening to voters, really listening and showing we have done so
  11. known for telling the truth, no matter how uncomfortable
  12. just getting on with getting our messages out there rather than complaining about bias in the main stream media (which will always be biased)
  13. using the Tories' own words against them: they are rather good at digging their own holes
  14. smelling the zeitgeist and being prepared to revise/abandon policies that are just not resonating with the electorate (e.g. Iraq)


What else would you add?

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Is it all down to Israel?

I had an interesting short twitter chat with Luke Akehurst yesterday. Here it is:

OK. Let's examine what he said - as he seems to be one of the main protagonists endeavouring to undermine the democratically elected leader of the Labour Party.

His first tweet is evidently inciting Parliamentary Labour Party members to act against the leadership: "Hopefully MPs who have been avoiding rocking the boat b4 polling day will now hold our inept leadership to account far more robustly". Of course politely phrased as 'holding to account' but we all know what that coded message really means. Do we not?

His second tweet is highly illustrative. It seems that he (and many others too) are just intent on getting him removed by standing on an "anti Corbyn platform" - so that is it... Just anti-Corbyn...?

So I challenged him for something positive...

He then comes back with a list which is not dissimilar from a list that I (as a supporter of Corbyn) would put up - although I would have added in housing too. Trident - is an old chestnut - one that now deserves more debate. This the party is having at the moment - and you can see my response.

But why mention Israel? This seems a curious addition. Remember I asked him: "what are you FOR?"

I am for all countries that help the world be a better place, do well by all their citizens (without discrimination) and uphold international human rights. Surely all of us are?

But why pick out Israel? Genuinely I am curious...?

I am beginning to wonder whether, if we strip away all the hogwash about left/right/Blairist/Bitterite etc and indeed Trident (because the party will decide that as whole) what we are left with are concerns about Mr Corbyn's views on Palestine and Israel...?

Is that it? Is that where all the dissent is coming from? In other words that the real hard core of the concerns about Jeremy rest on what people think might be the future foreign policy of a Labour Government towards Israel?

Surely not?!?

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

ESA WRAG cuts: Work makes you free

Along with 100k+ people, I signed the petition asking that the decision to cut the Employment Support Allowance (Work-Related Activity Group) from April 2017 by £30, be reversed. Like many other people, I was sent this text this morning:
The Government has responded to the petition you signed – “Reverse the ESA disability benefit cut”.
Government responded:
We are committed to providing the right support to those with health conditions and disabilities. This change only affects new claims from April 2017 and no current claimants will be cash losers.
In the Summer Budget 2015, we announced that, from April 2017, new Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claimants who are placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG) will receive the same rate of benefit as those claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA).
This change only affects new claims made after that date and there will be no cash losers among those who are already in receipt of ESA. This reform affects those with limited capability for work. Those with the most severe work-limiting health conditions and disabilities, who are placed in the Support Group, will be completely unaffected by these changes.
The reason for implementing this reform is clear. The current system fails to provide the right support to help those with health conditions and disabilities towards and into work, and acts to trap people on welfare. We are committed to ensuring that people have the best support possible, and that is what these changes are about.
The recent record employment levels have benefitted many but have yet to reach those on ESA. It is important to remember that whilst 1 in 5 JSA claimants move off benefit every month, only 1 in 100 of ESA WRAG claimants does so. Those with health conditions and disabilities deserve better than this.
In addition to providing financial security for individuals, work often has a profound effect on people’s life chances and it is right that this Government does everything it can to provide better support to get people into work. More than three-fifths (61 per cent) of those in the ESA WRAG say they want to work – and there is a large body of evidence showing that work is generally good for physical and mental wellbeing.
This change enables us to recycle money into providing practical support that will make a significant difference to the life chances of those in the WRAG. This new funding will be worth £60 million in 2017/18 rising to £100 million in 2020/21 and will support those with limited capability for work to move towards and into suitable employment.
As set out in the Budget 2016, the nature of this support is being influenced by a Taskforce of disability charities, employers, think tanks, provider representatives and local authorities. Furthermore, we are providing a further £15 million for the Jobcentre Plus Flexible Support Fund in 2017-18 to help claimants who have limited capability for work with the extra costs that can be involved in moving closer to the labour market and into work.
These changes are part of a wider reform to help support more disabled people and those with health conditions work and to remain in work. Over the coming year we will build the progress we have made in partnership with disabled people, their representatives, and healthcare professionals, using their insights to understand how the welfare system can work better with the health and social care systems.
Our reforms are aimed at improving the quality of life of those in greatest need. Again, it is worth noting that we spend around £50 billion every year on benefits to support people with disabilities or health conditions, which represents over 6 per cent of all Government spending. We are proud of that commitment and we are determined to ensure that those most in need continue to receive the support they require.
Department of Work and Pensions
And moreover that it won't be debated in Parliament as it has already gone through several debates...

I don't know about you: but seems like a complete slap in the face to democracy. If more than 100k people can sign a petition and all that we get is a long, turgid and defensive response, that is not democracy as far as I am concerned.

Indeed words like "there is a large body of evidence showing that work is generally good for physical and mental wellbeing" sounds ominously like "work makes you free". This is not a comparison I make lightly.

And phrases like the "current system fails to provide the right support to help those with health conditions and disabilities towards and into work, and acts to trap people on welfare" is so disingenuous as to take my breath away. What they are really saying is "the current level of money given to these claimants is so 'high' (just over £100 pw) as we think it's making things too easy for them, so we are going to cut it by £30 as something of a stick to make them do work, even if their mental or physical state makes such a move extraordinarily difficult".

It curious how this government cites the Laffer curve as the reason why taxing people on higher wealth and income does not work: "if we raise more taxes on the rich and super rich, they just won't pay it or will move to another country". But with people on the margins of society, who are trying to make ends meet on barely more than £12 a day the approach must be a punitive one. So if you are rich, you are incentivised by being given more money via tax cuts. Whereas if you are poor, the incentive is less money...

It makes my blood boil.

And all this in a week when supposedly the Tory Party have rediscovered their compassionate heart, care of Iain Duncan Smith.

Yeah, right!

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Why we need to be in the European Union

The referendum campaign is finally under way. Although you might be forgiven for thinking we have been in the middle of such a campaign for years if not decades. My hope is that there will be a resounding vote to remain in the EU and all the 'Brexiteers' will fade into the background (I can but dream!)

In recent weeks, I have been challenging some of the 'Leave' campaigners to say how exactly being in the EU has damaged their lives, directly. They blather on about control, and paying more tax and bloomin' EU regulations but when it boils down to it, they have not got much to say. To them, it seems to me, that the EU is something out there like a roaming beast in the night, although it has never bitten them or any of their families...

So this got me to thinking, why do I want to stay part of the EU? What have the Eurocrats ever done for me... (aside from the Romans)?? So here is my list:

  1. I feel safer being part of an international club where conflict is resolved through dialogue rather than violence. The EU alone has not kept the peace in Europe for the last few decades, but it has been a big part of it.
  2. I have several friends who have enriched my life and added to the fabric of the country, who have come here from other states. Without the EU, they would not have been so able to come and start their careers and families here. 
  3. Conversely, I know many people who have gone to live abroad and started a new chapter of their lives in Ireland, France, Italy and so forth. They could not have done this so easily without the free movement of people around Europe.
  4. I know this might raise an eyebrow, but I like the EU regulations on critical matters such as health and safety, working conditions and childcare etc. These have added to my life and I feel protected by them.
  5. The EU has taken much international action on climate change. There is still far more to do, of course. But I know that only bodies as big as the EU have any hope of tackling the interests of large multinational corporations who may not always be that bothered about environmental matters
  6. I enjoy being able to get on a plane, almost at a moment's notice (as I had to do a few weeks ago) and trip off to Italy (or wherever), without the need to find out how to apply for a visa etc. I feel freer as a consequence
  7. I am an internationalist in outlook and I don't think the big problems we see in other (poorer) parts of the world can be solved by nation states working separately. The reason we have both the UN and the EU is to work in concert with other nations to tackle these big issues. I am comforted they both exist and we are part of them.
  8. I identify with being British and European - I see no conflict there. I would feel less European if we came out of the EU. My life would be darker as a result.
  9. I want to reform the EU and even though I know what a momentous task that is (like many of the other issues that bother me), I know for a fact that we will not be able to reform the EU from the outside.
  10. And I fear for the world that might come about if we were to exit from the EU. Possibly the UK would break up and maybe even the EU. I don't want to live in a world where such fragmentation is happening. I fear for the future for my children.
There are probably many other reasons too. And I have deliberately kept away from 'facts' as I think there are precious few facts about the EU that can be agreed upon. And I don't think people will be using facts to determine how they vote in June. I am all for facts of course... but...

So what are your reasons to vote to remain (or leave)?

Friday, 24 July 2015

The questions I would like answers to (and I mean straight answers)

Looking back over the last 40 years of UK politics, which party has been more strategic: the Labour Party or the Conservative Party?

Over that time, what was the biggest mistake the Labour Party made - either in opposition or in government?

Looking over your own political career, what is the biggest mistake that you will admit to have made?

Beyond basic living, eating, brushing your teeth etc, what is the most ordinary thing that you do on a regular basis?

Which living person do you most admire?

If you were elected Leader of the Labour Party, what would be the first thing you would do?

Similarly, what actions would you take to unite and heal our fractious party?

What three specific policies would you ensure are in the next Labour Manifesto?

The next 4+ years are going to be bruising, how will you hold yourself together?

How much do you agree with Tony Blair that even if very left wing policies were electoraly popular for Labour, that you would still not support them?

Can you imagine local and national politics based on proportionality?

Saturday, 18 July 2015

What leader does the Labour Party need?

Like many party members, I have been thinking much about who to vote for in the coming ballot for Leader and Deputy Leader of our party. I think I have decided, but I am not 100% sure yet.

I won't say who at this point (for Leader) but I can reveal that I will be backing Stella Creasy for Deputy. I am already on record for doing so. For a whole range of issues, she stands out for me. Although I would add that holding down a single solitary blip of red in the South West, Ben Bradshaw will be getting my number two vote, as well as for many other reasons for supporting him.

But for the Leader... hmm... The qualities I am looking for are listed below: see if you can guess whom I am likely to support...

I want a Labour Party Leader who:
  • Always knows what matters to people and is in touch with the zeitgeist
  • Encourages, nay demands, that all local Labour politicians must stay in touch with the issues that matter to local people... really stay in touch!
  • Fascinates people and has a way about them that draws people in (and doesn't bore them!)
  • Recognises that most of the media will always support a right wing tack and doesn't keep on moaning on about it, but who instead...
  • Makes the political weather such that the media cannot ignore Labour
  • Recognises that politics is about power: earning it, winning it, keeping it. (Labour cannot help people enough unless we have real power and influence)
  • Recognises that voting decisions are based on emotion & tribal loyalties not intellectual debate and rational argument
  • Wants the party to have real doorstep conversations (not more bloomin' voter ID tick boxing & obsessive canvassing)
  • Knows what the Tories' weapons are and uses similar against them
  • Will focus on being Leader of the Opposition over the next 4 years and ruthlessly, relentlessly and indeed obsessively leads the party to challenge, refute, disrupt, undermine the Government's narrative and harmful policies
  • Knows what it means to be strategic (recognising that up until now, Tories are typically more strategic than Labour)
  • Will have the steel, grit and determination to fight the Tories at every level
  • Will lead a Party that will be overflowing with ideas, actions and outcomes that will help people dream and realise those dreams for themselves and their families
  • Knows that every interview, every conversation, every tweet is an opportunity to change the narrative to one where people recognise the truth behind the Tory flim flam and the real offer Labour is making
  • Will approach campaigning without any assumptions as to what works and what does not: everything is possible
  • Leads a party in which every MP and every Councillor has a project designed to make a difference to people's lives - whatever power or position they have
  • Explains what serving the many not just the few really means and uses practical examples that reach out to and connect with people
  • Has endless stories about how Labour puts in place changes that focus on helping people achieve their ambitions 
  • Can evidence the value of a collective society and highlight the stupid inefficiencies of a fragmented "I am alright Jack" society 
  • Will ban all daft gimmicks (no more stone work!)
  • Understands that all politics starts locally and recognises that if the party is not connecting with people locally, we are not connecting
  • Will not trail the 2020 manifesto until 2020
  • Will gain power through influence, not just the ballot box
  • Look for the fault lines in the Tories and prize them apart
  • Will be known for giving straight answers to straight questions...
  • Will be committed to constitutional and electoral reform that is unashamedly pluralist (not tribal) and seek to install policies that will create a governance structure that works for the people and is government by the people
It is a tall order: who do you think measures up best?

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

How did I become an active member of the Labour Party?

After the election defeat (although, in my view, it was more of the case that we did not win in the way we hoped we would), this has left me reflecting deeply on why I am an active Labour Party member and supporter. In a time of a leadership contest when divisions will be magnified and when the Tories bathe in their win, I felt the need to go back to my socialist roots, as it were.

So here are my ten foundations for why, after 30+ years, I have been and will carry on being a Labour activist until my ashes wash out into Cardigan Bay:

1) My parents were both Liberal teachers and I heard them tell stories about the students they taught who were experiencing hardship of various kinds. My early childhood was spent in dusty haystacks, small friendly schools and on Welsh beaches. I was lucky. So it did not seem right to me that there were others who were far less fortunate than me. I wanted to change this from an early age.

2) I now cannot remember why, but at secondary school, I became involved in supporting Oxfam. I went away on youth weekends and met charismatic people who educated me about the vast divisions in wealth and opportunity in the world, both between and within nations. I became angry at this huge injustice and informed myself by reading numerous articles in the New Internationalist magazine. I began to consolidate my political opinions. I remember helping to get out the vote late into the evening for Frank Judd in Paulsgrove in February 1974, just a few days before my 16th birthday.

3) At university, I became an activist: a pragmatic socialist that helped to organise a 'Progressive Alliance' of International Socialist, Labour, Liberal & Ecology party members into a combined force that wrangled control of the Student's Union out of the hands of the Federation of Conservative Students (from whom I first heard the abusive label of 'pleb'). While still at university, after the 1979 general election, I joined the Labour Party. I was prompted to do so out of fear of what was to come from a Tory government.

4) I was involved in many political activities then around gay liberation, amnesty international, men's health, Anti Nazi League / Rock Against Racism, National Council for Civil Liberties, supporting the Miners etc. Even though many of these were apolitical, with a big P, there were never any Tories involved then. I remember that in these days when (at last) social liberalism has been adopted by the Tories.

5) My first few jobs in the public services (unemployment benefit office, council housing department, learning disability planning, health promotion services) served to consolidate my belief in their importance. Along with my appreciation of education (remember 1 above), I learnt that public services are not merely a 'safety net' for those who are less fortunate. Public services are the glue that holds our whole country together and creates the essential conditions for enterprise and commercial growth. Publicly funded & commercially developed organisations are two sides of the same coin, the same economy, the same society...

6)  I well remember the bleak years between 1979 and 1997 with rampant militarism, legalised homophobia, political corruption and harsh treatment of anyone or any group that wasn't 'one of us'. Ours was a grey country when public services and capital investment was stripped to the bone as the government revelled in selling off the 'family silver'. The housing crisis began and continues to this day. This is when I fully began to appreciate that Tories only seem to want to know the price of everything while the value is of far lesser concern. The accountants had taken over the asylum.

7) 1997 was a turning point and the sun shone again. The Labour government made real progress on many matters such as SureStart, social exclusion, community policing, human rights and decent investment in schools and hospitals. The economy grew steadily and this all seemed like practical democratic socialism in working practice. For ten years, the engines of commercial business and public services hummed along well: a fact that appears to be have been forgotten after the 2007 worldwide financial crash. Suddenly the national debt and deficit became Labour's fault, even though they were not and indeed had been far higher in previous decades.

8) However lurking behind the Oz curtains, were some of the same old same old: inequalities, militarism, privatisation, corruption and pandering to big business interests. At times like this, my pragmatic socialism comes to the fore and I remain with the party with which there is always hope of better times to come (whereas with the Tories, there is never any hope...)

9) The harsh & cruel reality of 5 years of Tory led government has only bolstered my resolve: only the Labour Party can really offer hope to the many people. For me socialism is about creating the conditions in which people can find the resources to shape their dreams and achieve these ambitions for themselves and their families.  Tories like to pretend they are party of aspiration for the many but in truth, they are the party of aspiration only for the few who are lucky enough to have the resources.

10) In my head, I have a poem by Roger McGough: There are fascists pretending to be libertarians like cannibals on a health kick, eating only vegetarians. Now I am not saying that any party to the right (or left) of the Labour Party are fascists - by no means! But I think there are many politicians who pretend and fake a concern for social development and the interests of the ordinary working person but who actually have other aims really in mind. Only the Labour Party has the organisation, the principles, the policies, the reach and the experience to deliver a country that is fair, creative, ambitious, peaceful and prosperous for the many (not just the few).

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

OK: so the general election result was not what we wanted...

I expect that all local Labour Party members and supporters are feeling a little raw at the moment. And of course the corporate media will now have a field day doing their best to stoke up division & recrimination within the Party. I am certainly not adopting an "I told you so" position. There is much to learn from this election - and if we do this well: coherently, passionately & dispassionately... we will be well positioned for 2020.

But although we might be licking our wounds nationally - we have much to cheer about:

Cllr Robin Stuchbury was re-elected to Aylesbury Vale District Council. Moreover, he topped the poll in Buckingham South (he was close to coming third 4 years ago - two councillors are elected). And whilst I came fourth, I doubled my vote from 4 years ago and increased my share of the vote by nearly a fifth as well. Which shows that good local action and campaigning can make all the difference.

Ward: Buckingham SouthTurnout: 64.7%Spoiled vote: 17Status: Final result
CandidatePartyVotesElected
Adams, NicolaUKIP315
Harvey, JonLabour873
Howitt, LouiseUKIP290
Hunter, FlorenceConservative962
Mordue, HowardConservative1,307Win
Stuchbury, RobinLabour1,478Win

In Buckingham North we had some excellent results too - although Christine was very disappointed to poll 5 votes less that the UKIP candidate.

Ward: Buckingham NorthTurnout: 60.1%Spoiled vote: 30Status: Final result
CandidatePartyVotesElected
Barton, DinahGreen Party413
Cole, SimonConservative1,358Win
Mills, TimConservative1,259Win
Newell, RuthLabour803
Shipp, NickUKIP595
Strain-Clark, ChrisLabour590

4 years ago, the two LP candidates polled 499 and 609 - so we were up on both those two results by a significant margin. But both were down, as a proportion of the overall votes cast.

The only other place that we put up a candidate for the District Council was Long Crendon. Liz Liggett stood again. In 2011, she polled 358 votes (in what was a two councillor ward). This is the result this year:

Ward: Long CrendonTurnout: 72.3%Spoiled vote: 14Status: Final result
CandidatePartyVotesElected
Evered, ColinUKIP257
Hawkett, MikeConservative1,083Win
Le Brun, MikeGreen Party265
Liggett, ElizabethLabour240
So fewer votes, but a greater proportion of the overall votes cast from 4 years ago.

Buckingham Town Council has 6 declared Labour councillors out of a council of 17 members. One Labour candidate was not elected in the North (the South was uncontested). We had 8 in 2011. All others run as independents (even when they are not) or as no description. Unsurprisingly, a fair few people vote for "anyone but Labour" because we have the honesty and integrity to run as the party members we are. There are two places up for co-option, so this overall tally might change. 

Finally, it is also very much worth celebrating a second Labour win, outside our constituency but inside AVDC: 

Ward: SouthcourtTurnout: 56.9%Spoiled vote: 10Status: Final result
CandidatePartyVotesElected
Agoro, PeterLiberal Democrat772Win
Bateman, MarkLabour604Win
Black, RoyUKIP560
Butler, ClareGreen Party152
Eckersley, RichardGreen Party93
Hussain, AkhmadConservative586
Jarvis, Sally-AnneLiberal Democrat522
Sproat, SarahConservative547
Steptowe, BrettUKIP432
Warshaw, TanyaLabour398
Mark will be working with Robin to form a small, but powerful, Labour Group within AVDC. Watch this space!