No chance for a proper blog tonight (tomorrow, I promise). Meanwhile, enjoy this very brief observation from Stewart Lee on politics in Britain.
Wednesday, 1 July 2015
The most popular posts last month were:
1. Short Notes on Jeremy Corbyn
2. Don't Blame the Council
3. What is Jeremy Corbyn Playing At?
4. The Gnashing of Blairite Teeth
5. How the Conservatives Can Win Again
Another very busy time on the blog. After last month's peak we've had to settle for being the third best month ever. Diddums. Still, very good for what has always been a too quiet time of year as far as my little corner of the internet is concerned.
Enough backslapping. The announcement of Jeremy Corbyn's candidature pulled the punters in as I started musing about its potentials and its qualities. Likewise, the internet travelling public lapped up the mild rebuke aimed at what then seemed an unserious attempt at getting himself on the ballot. ITV's Don't Blame the Council saved my blogging bacon last week as I was for want of something to write about. Upsetting Blairites appears to be a niche I've started cornering, so expect more of that. And bringing up the rear is how the effects of Tory policy, i.e. the generation of greater insecurity and social anxiety might, after all, provide ideal electoral fodder for them in the future.
Who's hanging around for a second chance? There's yesterday's piece on the running sore that is local politics in Stoke-on-Trent. And there is my slightly chin-stroking piece on the politics of labour supply helps explain why British business can live with the Tories hammering migrants - because their social security cuts are aimed at unlocking a perceived labour reservoir at home.
Tuesday, 30 June 2015
The announcement of what became Smithfield was three years ago, but it has cost Labour dear. It saw our party lose control of the council and I think it's fair to say it depressed Labour's parliamentary share too. The constituency of Stoke-on-Trent Central, where I'm sitting right now, saw the lowest turn out in the country. Yet rumours of doom and gloom about the chosen developer, Genr8 didn't come to pass and today the first two buildings of the Smithfield development are up. But they're definitely not running. Of course, as if confirming every cynic ever to have drawn breath in the city limits, it's gone wrong. Potentially very wrong. Possibly knock-it-all-down-and-start-again wrong, according to some. It's a project that's had its share of mishaps. First there was a debacle where the council, late in the day, discovered that it had better order some furniture. Then there was the embarrassing oversight of the council not spotting the routing of a gas pipe ... through its main fire exit. And the third? Well.
The plans for the two buildings, imaginatively titled Smithfield 1 and Smithfield 2, specified that there would be a great deal of exposed concrete in the interior. We're not talking yet more brutalism but a smooth kind of concrete that would not be aesthetically objectionable and would also, apparently, allow for easy access to the building's innards. The contractors responsible for the concrete, the Manchester-based firm Laing O'Rourke, were to prefabricate the various odds and sods at their facility and deliver them to the site for installation. However, in the best traditions of if-something-can-go-wrong ... something went wrong. It turns out that either the mix of the materials used was wrong, or that some impurities got into it. Whatever the case, the nice, smooth textures that were the buildings' endoskeleton have turned out to be a touch less. It is my understanding that the impurity has left the floors and the supports with a slight bubbly appearance. The developers maintain that it is merely cosmetic and has no bearing on their structural integrity. The new council leader and his triple alliance of City Independents, Tories, and UKIP maintain that it's a bit more serious than that.
Ah. What another fine Stoke-on-Trent fuck up.
However, there is a danger Cllr Dave Conway could make a bad situation worse. If there is a difference of opinion about the viability of the concrete used, then fine. I can understand why he's asked for patience on the part of interested Stokies as other materials experts are sounded out. He is, after all, very keen to differentiate his ragtag and bobtail outfit from the perceived authoritarianism of the previous administration. On that I'm willing to give him a bit of slack. Yet if it does turn out to be okay, and I suspect it will be, our alliance of pub bores, anti-immigrant tub-thumpers, speak-your-Daily-Mail-headline machines, and unprincipled combinationists are courting further disaster. It's a mystery whether the late Cllr Paul Breeze or the Chuckle Brothers penned the inimitable City Independent manifesto, but their main pledge was to stop the council move from Stoke to Hanley and flog off the buildings. Let's just think about this for a moment. Suppose you are a business or government department looking at locating some operations to Stoke's Smithfield because of its location and, ahem, "competitive" wage base. You see that the Council Leader has a record of denouncing the development as a waste of money. You see how over the half-year he has used rumours about its concrete floors and supports to build political capital. And you also note that should, as is likely, the expert(s) give the build a clean bill of health, the council aren't going to move in. On what planet is that business or organisation going to ever pony up the full value of the building? In what possible reality are they going to happily lease those offices at the appropriate commercial rates? What Dave Conway has done, and given his minions full licence to continue doing, is undermine the market potential of a council asset. If the local authority can't show any confidence in its new build, what makes it think an inward investor will?
Not to worry. If the Smithfield development stays empty while money is bled out through existing, inefficient council buildings; or if it's sold on at a massive loss, at least the people of Stoke-on-Trent can look forward to the exciting debut of the City Indies' Staffordshire Hoard tea set.
Monday, 29 June 2015
How would you like to improve the job prospects of the young?
SC: We've got to get the deficit down because of all the interest payments going to the bankers. But we do need to adopt a different approach, one that emphasises house building, jobs growth, and putting money into people's pockets.
AE: We must invest more in young people and work against insecure jobs and zero hour contracts. We also have to attack the Tories for their false economies, such as their willingness to cut preventative health care programmes.
BB: We have to grow the number of well-paid jobs, and we can do this by investing in infrastructure, developing a dedicated industrial strategy, and also keep up the investment when the economy is strong. We also have to tackle the productivity challenge - we saw output grow under Labour but it has declined under the Tories.
TW: We used to make things here in the West Midlands, and hi-tech and green industries offer an opportunity to rebuild our manufacturing base. We should also set up regional investment banks.
CF: Labour has to be credible on the economy, and on this point we were too unclear to voters. We need to have something we can offer small and medium-sized enterprises to help create good jobs. It's also appalling that too many kids are leaving school without the education we need.
Should Labour review its links with the trade unions?
AE: I'm proud of our links - the unions gave birth to our party and keep us connected to people's workplaces. Too many are treated badly at work, and so democracy should be something more than what we do every five years. The unions are part of our soul.
BB: Labour needs to mend, not end its relationship with the unions. We have to make the case for union membership, and work to build them up in the private sector and new economy.
TW: Organised labour is under attack, be it on political funding or the democratic right to withdraw your labour. The unions have stuck with us through difficult times, and we need to stick by them now and show our solidarity.
CF: I'm proud of being a trade unionist and we shouldn't be cowed by the Tories. We've got to reach out to recruit as well as reach into the union membership and find out why many of them didn't vote for us.
SC: Unions have made a difference and I'm very proud to have worked with them on the campaign against legal loan sharking and women's rights.
Which previous deputy leader of our party was best, and why?
BB: All of the deputy leaders since I was elected in 1997 have been great. It's a tough job keeping the party together and delivering difficult advice to the leader. At the moment Harriet is doing well taking the fight to the Tories.
TW: I get compared to John Prescott the most, but I am also very proud of Roy Hattersley and the role he played holding the party together in the 1980s. Also I would pay tribute to the calm, cerebral qualities of Margaret Beckett.
CF: All had their own talents, but I would have to pick Harriet. She has twice stood up and performed her duties in very difficult times for out party.
SC: I've always had a soft spot for John Prescott, and he is backing my campaign. Like John, a deputy has to work with and encourage the grassroots, but do that with a modern twist.
AE: Margaret Beckett is backing me. When John Smith passed away she stood up and made a moving tribute to him. She was our first woman leader, and the job of the deputy is to be loyal to our leader.
What issues are important to women?
TW: They are the same issues they have always been: fair pay, education, childcare, affordable homes. The attacks on in-work benefits are going to hit women more.
CF: Women and men tend to be affected by the same issues, but we do need to find better ways of talking to women especially about them. This is something I have a great deal of experience doing.
SC: I am a proud feminist and a proud socialist. Why is it that childcare is still seen as a women's issue? Also, two women a week are killed by domestic violence - if that was happening on the football terraces there's be uproar. And we need to get more women involved in our party.
AE: We've got to work at supporting women in our party structures. If women can't be heard then our party has to be their voice.
BB: I think everyone here is worried about these issues. For example, how cuts to tax credits will impact families. We also have to look at how we do politics and I think we would do better if we moved to a more encouraging, more feminine politics.
What does Labour need to do to take votes back from UKIP and the Greens?
CF: We increased our vote in my constituency and ensured UKIP came in third place. We had more open ended conversations with voters and ran target campaigns. For instance, we found and named and shamed bad employers, and from there we were able to address voters' other concerns.
SC: Those parties told a powerful story of who is to blame and who will defend the people from them. To win, we have to build on the work our councils are doing. We need to champion people trapped in renting, offer a strong house-building plan and offer some real answers to the difficulties faced by the young.
AE: Since 1992 we gave double our majority in my constituency and we've done this by having conversations and confronting people's worries. We have been able to overcome the lure of anti-politics by being seen about in the constituency and accessible to anyone who wants to get in touch.
BB: We need to have credible policies on immigration and welfare but not use UKIP's rhetoric. We also have to be green and combine that with our broad appeal. But we must remember that four out of the five voters we needed to convince supported the Conservatives. That has to be the main focus of our challenge.
TW: UKIP is an 'irrational vote'. I recently talked to a group of UKIP voters and one of them told me we should microchip immigrants so we can keep track. We have to be willing to listen to those opinions so we can build a response to them. And the way we can win UKIP voters back is by encouraging and strengthening our community focused councillors.
How can we make sure the environment is back on the mainstream political agenda?
SC: This is an issue for Labour in Europe. Only through collaboration across borders can we make progress on climate targets. But we have to make the case for showing a strong relationship between the environment and local politics, this is the only way scepticism can be overcome.
AE: We do have to deal with climate change together as a group of nations, but progress has stalled since the Kyoto Protocols. But the potential opportunity for social change here is huge. To meet the targets and prevent environmental catastrophe means we could be on the cusp of a great transformation of our politica because we need to work together.
BB: We need to talk about environmental justice as well as social justice, but we should be proud of our record - we were the greenest government ever. The Tories' moratorium on onshore wind robs us of cheap renewable energy and that will be passed onto bills. We also need to reach out to the activist work done by NGOs around this and celebrate them.
TW: We need to restate our commitment to international institutions while here we have to invest in industrial diversification and adaptation, which will help create thousands of new jobs. Green issues are the most important area of policy today.
CF: It's important to talk about the threats but we must discuss the opportunities too. By aligning climate change mitigation with job opportunities, we can make it matter to many and reach out to them.
How should we appeal to older people?
AE: We didn't have enough policies that older voters found attractive. We must ensure that people feel secure in their retirement, but also that it is a retirement that is active, supported by free travel, and social care must become an top priority.
BB: They didn't trust us on the economy and believed there was a deficit when it came to leadership. We also need to challenge this notion of 'selfish OAPs', they often vote the way they do out of what is best for their families. We need to sound credible across different age groups.
TW: Too many older people live a lonely life, and that is something we need to think about and tackle. Our party also has to get into and be part of their social networks. I also think they were alienated by the cult of youth we have on the front benches.
CF: As you get older you're more likely to vote because wider issues matter to you more and more. That is why social care now is a massive issue and it's something we need a credible position on. We also have to realise that the age of deference has gone and adjust accordingly.
SC: We should not accept the Tory logic of winners and losers. Older people are parents and we should starting thinking of them as such - this way we can make a pitch for solidarity rather than trading off.
In their summing ups, Stella said that for us to win we have to start fighting back now and keep up the pressure. But this is something the whole party can do - we have to make sure we're visible in all manner of grassroots campaigns and use the new techniques available to us. Angela said she never wanted an exit poll moment like that exit poll moment again. We have to ensure our campaigning is better connected and give our members more of a say. She said she's a straight talker, and will always be the members' deputy. Ben said he was the candidate for the tough challenge of prising voters off the Tories. His experience in Exeter, which was once a safe Tory seat and is now a safe Labour seat, means he's suited to this job. He also said he would not fear telling the leader hard truths. He has no agenda and can work with any of the leadership candidates, and that 'Labour', 'loyal', and 'winning' are the only labels he would accept. Tom said that the hardest truth is knowing that it's always our fault when we lose. What we say, what we do, and what we don't always matters. We have lost touch with the people we should be representing - our people who voted UKIP did so because they were voting against us. But we can win again if that connection is rebuilt. And lastly, Caroline talked about her background as the child of an alcoholic single mum who used university to escape her past, and was then a mum of two kids by the time she was in her mid-20s. She has had real life experiences and this has fired her as a campaigner, constituency MP, communicator, and policy originator. We need a real community movement, and her experience makes her very well placed to lead it.
Once again, I was only able to capture the substance of what was said. But overall all the candidates were well received by the audience. There was little in the way of polemical shadow boxing between the contenders. I think the winners on the day was a tie between Ben Bradshaw and Caroline Flint. Ben came across as polished but genuine, and Caroline as tough and straight-to-the-point. Their closing pitches, which is hardly conveyed by their rendering here, were among two of the best I have ever seen anywhere. Some might say they were better than any so far seen in the leadership campaign proper. So kudos to them for that. Angela was perhaps the most ill-at-ease of the five, what she said was good but, tellingly, she made her way to the podium and read her closing remarks out whereas her opponents had memorised theirs. Tom was Tom - he was assured, charismatic, and clearly felt relaxed performing on his home turf. And Stella came across very enthusiastically, if not a bit too earnest. In all I think all the candidates did well.
Dare I tempt fate again and perhaps jinx a candidate by making a prediction? I'm going with the bookies favourite, Tom Watson. His candidature is a real unifier. I know people on the left who are supporting him, and likewise people on the right. What he conveyed was an understanding of the kind of beast the Labour party is and what needs to be done to get the organisation fired up and sorted out. I'm afraid Caroline and Ben are likely to split the difference when it comes to what you might describe as the 'Progress vote', though I think Ben particularly does have something very interesting to say about the Tories and how we can beat them. Stella, of course, has a high profile and also has that cross-wing appeal Tom has, except he's been around for longer. And Angela stands to scoop up the remainder of the vote of those people who are anti-Tom (they do exist), aren't particularly enamored of the New Labour right, and think Stella is too new. Unfortunately, that's not a terribly large vote pool.
Yet, again, all could change. Events and all that, and there's still a long summer to get through.
Sunday, 28 June 2015
Sky's Sophy Ridge moderated proceedings. There was an hour for leader candidates followed by another hour for the would-be deputies (the latter will be covered in a separate post). Each candidate was expected to stick to a strict time limit and at the end of questions gave a concluding stump speech. The questions and answers were ...
How would you tackle Middle Eastern terrorism?
Liz Kendall: What is happening is a struggle that is generational. A Labour government would look at attacking the sources of IS funding, help develop a political strategy for the region, look at ways of countering extremism at home, and engage more closely with the EU as a united foreign policy on this issue gives our approach added strength.
Yvette Cooper: This is a huge challenge. At home we should work more effectively at rooting out homegrown Islamist radicalism by listening to those already working in Muslim communities fighting extremist influence and working to support them. We should also overhaul Prevent.
Jeremy Corbyn: What had happened on the beaches of Tunis was appalling and all solidarity with the victims. We need to take the longer view about where we are. We need to ask who is funding IS and who is arming them? We also need to support all democratic forces in the region, work to sort out a just Palestinian settlement, and fight against Islamophobia at home.
Andy Burnham: We need to redouble our international efforts. We also have to make sure our troops are properly resourced, and we must take the Prime Minister to task when he says that many Muslims quietly condone terrorism.
Why was Jeremy the only candidate protesting against austerity at last week's anti-austerity march?
YC: Labour need to stop running away from its record in government, we need to stand up and tell the truth - not apologise for it. We have to make it clear we are for reducing the deficit and debt, but in a fairer way.
JC: Enjoyed the demo, but if we're going to win and connect with wider layers of voters we have to inspire them with a different economic strategy. In the mean time, things are going to get worse for people on low pay, people in insecure working, and people who need social security to make ends meet.
AB: Everything I'm saying and doing is to make sure we win in 2020. We need economic credibility, but at the same time we did fix the roof while the sun is shining - the public sector was rebuilt, but the truth of the matter is we were in a weak position as we went into the crisis, we should have run a lower deficit.
LK: No one wants to see cuts and the devastating impacts they have. This is why we should champion the living wage, we need to move more money into house building, which can help turbocharge the economy. And we need to regain our economic credibility while setting out our key differences with the government.
Was it Labour's policies or Labour's past record that lost us the election?
JC: The bankers are absolutely to blame for the economic crisis. We have accepted arbitrary time limits on when we should run a budget surplus by, and that is leading us to be ineffective when it comes to opposing £12bn in benefits cuts and reduction in infrastructural spending. We need to reject this message.
AB: It was both of these things. Our failure to defend our record was devastating - historically Labour has ran more surpluses than the Tories. We need to be honest about our achievements, and ensure we set out a positive, credible plan.
LK: We didn't spell out why we put money into the banks, but the question we need to ask (and have an answer for) is how we're going to change the economy? We also need to define the debate on Europe.
YC: People wanted a fair deal but felt that Labour couldn't be trusted. We need to be more pro-business and set out how we would support the economy and help create the hi-tech jobs of the future.
What will your immigration policy be?
AB: Labour were out of touch on immigration. We felt uncomfortable talking about it on the doorstep, so we should have a policy position we can be proud of. Therefore Labour should champion the freedom of movement, but not the freedom to claim. We should not allow cheap labour to be imported to undercut wages, and more resources should be allocated to those places where migrant workers settle.
LK: It was a tough issue on the doorstep, so we need firm rules on claiming [benefits]. We need more respect for host cultures and a points system for non-EU immigration, but at the same time have zero tolerance of discrimination.
JC: We should defend free movement and migrants. Britain should also be taken its share of Mediterranean refugees, and multiculturalism is something to be proud of.
Tony Blair won three elections. What have you learned from him?
LK: I've learned that we win when the party is modern, relevant, looking outwards, and have a broad offer. We must engage with the world as it is.
YC: That we can combine a stronger economy, a fairer society, and optimism for the future. But we can't win by rerunning 1997 - we face multiple challenges now that we didn't then.
JC: I have some differences with Tony Blair ... but under each of his victories, our vote went down. Why? We didn't inspire people to come out and vote, and they didn't think we remained true to our values.
AB: Tony has the pulse of where people were and could speak for everyone, though we did get too close to business and the media. But we need to build on what Ed Miliband did too - he made inequality an important issue again. Labour is best when it speaks for everyone and can help them get on.
Why were Labour so heavily defeated in Scotland, and how can we win there again?
YC: Our party had become hollowed out, and we were not strong enough to face the rising tide of nationalism. The way we can come back is if we make principled arguments.
JC: Party membership in Scotland is very small, but there is plenty of things we can challenge the SNP on. They have a programme that is overseeing privatisation, and they too have a programme of austerity. We also made a huge error being involved with Better Together.
AB: The party has never really been comfortable with devolution, but ultimately the problems in Scotland are felt elsewhere too. What was lacking is that emotional connection, and that's what we've got to re-establish, and we do that by fighting now.
LK: What happened in Scotland occurred over a long period. Ultimately, we came unstuck because we didn't make a positive case for the union. We beat the SNP by organising from the grassroots and challenging them, such as why are fewer young people going into FE and HE under their watch? And we have to combat the divisiveness of nationalism.
How would you appeal to non-voters?
JC: This is worrying because large numbers of non-voters were young people. To counter this, we have to make ourselves into a social movement again. We need a much larger party with more democracy so members feel like they're part of something. And even then that will only be a beginning.
AB: We've got to listen to what people are telling us, no matter how unpalatable that might be. But more than that we need to get beyond retail politics, of offering a small pledge here, a small pledge there. We should try defining political debates with big policies like the National Care Service. Then we can show how relevant our ideas are.
LK: The big problem is the centralised way Westminster works. We also have to face up to the fact that our millions of conversations were really voter ID, and that needs to change.
YC: We need to knock on every door because non-voters don't feel as though anyone speaks up for them. Westminster has to be shaken up, politics should go where the people are.
What are your views on academies?
AB: I vehemently oppose what the Tories are doing, and I opposed it when we did it too. We need a comprehensive system and a role for the local authority; the market is not the answer. This is intrinsic to Labour values.
LK: Andy backed the Everton Free School, so we need to be consistent about our approach locally and nationally. There is no accountability in the academy system, so that should be addressed. Ultimately though our job is to back good schools regardless and get away from an obsession with structures.
YC: Parents want what's best, but the problem is the Tories are centralising power. There has to be local accountability. Furthermore free schools are a misallocation of resources. The school system has to get away from academic snobbery and more stress placed on vocationalism.
JC: We should be defending local democratic accountability and bring back local education authorities. Comprehensive schools also allow for a mix of people and help build string communities.
In their summing ups, Liz said we had to champion great businesses and sound public spending, while dispersing powers and making sure there is accountability from top to bottom. We cannot afford to stick in our comfort zone. Yvette spoke about a woman - someone in arrears because of the bedroom tax - who she convinced to vote Labour, but because we didn't win she felt that woman had been let down. We need a leader who is strong across all areas and can take the fight to the PM, who stands for Labour, not Tory values, and can deliver jobs of the future and a childcare revolution. In the best line of the afternoon, she concluded by noting that Dave and the Tories have a woman problem, so let's give them a bigger one. Jeremy said we need to face the crisis austerity has created and the arguments justifying it have to be faced down. Instead we should be ensuring everyone is housed, everyone has the chance of a job, that destitution is eradicated and, for good measure, Trident should be done away with. Lastly, Andy said he wants to win for Labour, but we have to face up to the truth that we've lost that emotional connection. We can't carry on, we need to get out of Westminster more, ensure the front bench has the accents and make up of the rest of the country, trust our councillors more and develop a vision for the 21st century. The aim should be not to give the Tories a problem, but to beat them.
Obviously a great deal is lost summarising contributions in this way, not least the atmosphere. For instance, Liz got heckled a lot during her education comments, while the biggest rounds of applause were reserved for Jeremy - it's as if a whole generation of activists are glad to hear those arguments from the platform again. And in truth, he did make some contributions that might be stolen by whoever ends up the leader. Performance-wise, I thought Liz didn't do as well as she might, and I'm not saying that because I'm opposed, her performance was a touch deflated. It was competent but came across like a graduate fast-tracked into middle management bidding for a senior role after a year in position. I remain of the opinion that she doesn't understand the nature of the Labour Party. Jeremy was quite measured and charming, not tub-thumping or hectoring at all. Andy was very accomplished, I do agree that we have to start "thinking big" but his arguments don't always cohere with one another. And Yvette has visibly improved since the first few webcast hustings, you now get a sense that she wants it and has started speaking with some passion.
Who's going to win? On the basis of these hustings it's very difficult to say. I imagine teams Andy, Yvette, and Jez will be happy with how their candidate came across. But if you want to put on a sneaky bet, (and ignoring my awful record at predicting politics) I think Yvette is the candidate with momentum, and I wouldn't be surprised if Liz comes in last. Yet there's a long bloody way to go yet.
For an alternative pro-Liz take, here's what my friend and comrade Rowan Draper has to say.
Number of Candidates
* There were three by-elections in Scotland.
** There were nine by-elections in Wales.
*** There were three independent clash this quarter.
**** 'Other' this quarter were Mebyon Kernow (340 & 180 votes), SPGB (42), Christian Peoples (99), All Peoples Party (25), and Community Action (1,870), Llais Gwynedd (148), Independent Community and Health Concern (404, 378, 326), Tower Hamlets First (1,472), and Something New (40)
377,770 votes were cast over 102 individual local authority (tier one and tier two) contests. Fractions are rounded to one decimal place for percentages, and the nearest whole number for averages. You can compare these with Quarter One 2015's results here.
Of course, the figures for this quarter are inflated by the small matter of the general election taking place on the same day as many by-elections. Nevertheless, it's the percentage that is most interesting - the gap between Labour and the Tories over the quarter is not as emphatic as one might suppose. Also, as you might expect the third parties get a squeeze, with the exception of the Greens and SNP. The margin between UKIP and the LibDems is narrowing too, a gap I think will continue to get thinner as kipper mania goes into slumber.
Next quarter, however, is going to be messy. A handful of SNP councillors were voted in as MPs in May, so there will be a disproportionate number of Scottish by-elections and don't be too shocked if they win a plurality of votes in the July polls.