The Thick of It


Friday, July 30, 2010

It will be all about the second preferences

The race to be the next Labour leader will be decided by the second preferences votes of candidates falling out of the contest. Milliband and Milliband will have to fight over the second preferences of Andy Burnham, Ed Balls and Diane Abbott.

Gordon Brown apparently thinks Ed Milliband will win. The Sun's YouGov poll suggests that David will nudge him out slightly. The strong union support for Ed puts him in the chair to win. To win any candidate doesn't need the majority support of the membership but needs to win the electoral college. There are several unanswered questions as Peter Kellner points out.

MPs have the most individual power in the college as they make up their own third and the second preferences of those nominating Abbott, Balls and Burnham are unclear. My hunch is that the most of the votes will go to David as he is the more publicly credible candidate and MPs will want a leader that is most likely to deliver power. MPs would be foolish not to pick the most popular candidate.

Again I'm reminded that Labour loses out significantly by Alan Johnson's absence from the contest. He was rated as Labour's biggest vote winner. He is such an asset whoever wins needs to keep Johnson close. It saddens me that he has held himself back from both this and the London mayoral candidacy race. It doesn't matter who his second preference is - he is backing David Milliband.

UPDATE: I've just spotted Luke Akehurst's analysis of the MP/MEP part of the electoral college. That puts David in the lead.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Five Live Labour leadership hustings

This morning I listened intently to Five Live's Labour leadership debate. I've not yet been to any hustings so this was my first opportunity to see all the candidates together. Otherwise I've had emails from the candidates, David Milliband leaflets in the post and various friends trying to encourage me to support David Milliband but mostly Ed Milliband.

All through I heard a great deal from Ed Balls and Andy Burnham and not much from David and Ed Milliband or Diane Abbott.

I was surprised and impressed by Balls. He was bullish about Labour's record in government, where many of the other candidates wanted to mention where Labour had gone wrong. He came across well from a Labour Party perspective though I'm not sure that his style would appeal to floating voters. I think he should be given a central role in the shadow cabinet but perhaps wouldn't give Labour the widest appeal as leader.

Andy Burnham spoke well about wanting the Labour Party to trust its members and suggested that the cost of membership, at £39 per year, was too much. He pointed out when asked about the public deficit that under Labour public spending grew less than economic growth. I was pleased when he dubbed the ConDem cuts "public sector vandalism." He also stated when asked that he thought he had more chance of becoming Labour leader than Everton of winning the championship. I doubt either will happen but I really like his personable style and his frankness.

David Milliband talked about wanting to ensure Labour was embedding in communities - something we do in Islington. He was one of several candidates to jibe Abbott, stating: "why trash (Labour's) record?". He admitted he (like many others) was wrong about there being WMDs in Iraq though he thought Iraq not to be an issue in 2010. Sounds most like a leader though we heard little of him for a frontrunner.

Diane Abbott isn't worth much of a mention. Her interjections were rare and predictable. She speaks for a section of the Labour Party and has a rightful role to play in that, just not my section of the party. The country has just voted for more Tories than Labour so I don't agree that moving to the left will help at all.

Ed Milliband disagreed with David. He was right to suggest that Labour kept losing voters over the noughties, through issues like tuition fees and Iraq.However, I heard so little of him that I remain thoroughly unconvinced that he is leadership material.

I suspect that the election will produce a Milliband versus Milliband run-off. If that were the case I'd opt for David. However on today's showing I'm going for Andy Burnham then Ed Balls.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Electoral reformers should feel cheated

I'm not surprised that the Labour shadow cabinet today announced its opposition to the bill proposing a referendum on introducing the Alternative Vote (AV) to UK parliamentary elections. The bill proposes reform to a voting system that would do little to make our elections results fairer. It is also packaged in with boundary changes that while seeking to balance the size of constituencies would have an imbalanced effect on the state of the parties. 

Leftfootforward give a multitude of reasons why the proposals don't create a fairer election system. These proposals seem rushed through at best. At worst it is a botched job from a coalition that is far from committed to electoral reform. The Tories don't want it, while Nick Clegg himself dubbed AV a "miserable little compromise." Funny how he is prepared to accept this for a sniff of power.

Labour is right to oppose this bill. Lib Dems should follow because this isn't the sort of reform they want either. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to engage voters by creating a political system that values every vote. AV won't do that. Cutting the number of constituencies won't do that. I think the Tories really couldn't care less.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Remember where the Olympics came from

As London starts to get excited about the 2012 Olympics it reminded me of how political the event is. That a huge swathe of previously derelict London is being regenerated is purely because London had a Labour mayor. Though I won't vote for Ken Livingstone to be Labour's next mayoral candidate I think all Londoners should be incredibly grateful for his vision that brought the Olympics to London.

The fanfare and sport of the Olympics will provide a wonderful spectacle for London and the world. However the main benefit to London should be felt for many decades after 2012. East London will benefit from better transport, new homes, parks and by bringing contaminated land back into use.

While we are all subjected to seeing Boris Johnson all over reports about the Olympics we should be reminded that were he or anyone else from his Tory party in power the Olympics wouldn't be coming to London. As the "do nothing" mayor, Johnson hasn't put in place any of his own ideas. As I've mentioned previously, the much lauded cyclye hire scheme wasn't even his idea - though one he is keen to snatch the image of himself as a cycling mayor.

Four more Tory years in London and the improvements to London will dry up altogether.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Death of the Lib Dems? Cracks start to form

How many more Lib Dems will break ranks with their rather smug colleagues in coalition? Barnsley councillor Sharron Brooke has been a thorn in the side of Clegg's cost deal with the Tories more than once. She has now released a leaflet in the Lib Dem party name denouncing the coalition, which makes her, like me, "ashamed." 

This isn't the first time Brooke has broken ranks. Straight after the coalition was formed she said to BBC Radio Sheffield, which was then relayed to Clegg: 

"It's stupid (the coalition). If they think this little bit of power will keep them there forever, it's a load of rubbish because we'll be gone, at the next election, whenever it is, because we cannot sustain this. Our policies are miles apart from the Tories, WE are miles apart from the Tories."

What about the coalition? I realise one councillor won't break it by itself. Jonathan Reynolds argues well that the next year is make or break. It will take some time before we can really judge if the coalition will survive the full five years. There is definitely enough of a bond to keep the ConDems together for the foreseeable future. 

What will test them is when something they couldn't plan for in the coalition agreement occurs. What will they do then? That is the true test of government, how you deal with what you didn't see coming. How will the Lib Dems deal with a major European Union or defence issue that arises? There are not that many Lib Dem MPs so it wouldn't take a large number to cause a split. The threat of a split in the Lib Dems is real but may not prove fatal to the coalition, but is likely to be so to the future prospects of the Lib Dems. 

Clegg as the next Ramsay MacDonald anyone?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Move to the left?

I don't often agree with right wing columnists from the Evening Standard but was struck by the potency of Anne McElvoy's column yesterday on the way home from work. She spoke of the dangers for Labour of turning left just at the time when the country has elected, if only just, a right wing government.

In the 1980s Labour made the mistake of reinforcing its left wing credentials at a time when the country wasn't interested. One of the problems of holding a leadership election is that it is all too easy for the candidates to woo the party to win that contest only to face the prospect of having to offer a very different proposition to the country.

The Labour leadership candidates need to be honest with party members about this. It is only right that the offer to the party and the country is the same thing. It is only right and honest that the offer to the party takes into account what the country will accept even if it is what the party might not want to hear. It would be incredibly brave of the contenders to do so, but right.

As the front-runner I'm looking to David Milliband to do this though I'm also interested to see how Andy Burnham behaves in the lead up to the vote. He is unlikely to win the contest but looks to be positioning himself for a high profile position once a new leader is elected. He has warned the party not to be self indulgent in defeat.

At the moment I'm erring on the side of David, though I'm still to be convinced that he can offer a decisive and distinctly Labour alternative to the Con-Dem government and most importantly, one that is attractive to voters. A self satisfied but unelected Labour Party is the worst of all worlds because it delivers nothing.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

London Mayor

I find the comments on Dave Hill's post yesterday detailing Oona King's proposed transport policies quite interesting though I feel many are missing the point. The policies of Labour's candidate matter only as much as their potential to win the election. My feeling is that King could win for Labour and my worry is that Ken Livingstone might not.

In 2008 I desperately wanted Livingstone to win the mayoral election. If he was Labour's candidate in 2012 I would want him to win. Above it all though I want Labour to win. If there was a re-run of 2008, Ken versus Boris, I fear Labour would lose. The same old mud-slinging could be brought up again. 

For Labour to win any election when the Tory vote has re-awakened after going dormant between means bucking the national trend. In the recent general election Labour managed to achieve that, also taking several councils from the Tories, such as Enfield. I would be interested is seeing London opinion polling showing the potential voting if we were faced with another Ken versus Boris contest. The key questions would be: whether a drab and rather pointless term in office from Boris Johnson will put Tories off enough to vote for him again; and whether this would be enough for voters to back Ken again? Has he simply made too many enemies of voters? I don't know, but it is an important question and one that needs to be answered before the London Labour Party makes its decision on the candidate for 2012. 

Anyone but Boris. I'm sure of that.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Support for Ken Livingstone and Oona King grows

Both Ken Livingstone and Oona King, Labour's two contenders to be Labour's next candidate for London, mayor have received increased backing.

Livingstone today received more union backing,  with Unison joining GMB, Unite and TSSA in support of the former mayor. With unions making up a significant portion of the electoral college that selects the candidate this support could be crucial.

King received the backing of TV historian Simon Schama, to go with that of Neil Kinnock and Alan Johnson. None of these will deliver votes in the selection though Kinnock's support could be influential given the high regard with which he is held in the party.

I encourage all Labour members in London to go to a hustings event and ask the candidates the questions that matter to you. If you do, you might find, like I did last week, that both candidates are purporting to offer the same policies. More investment in infrastructure, more housing and a fairer London. Only one, King, offers a new start. For all his previous achievements, and there are many, London needs a fresh face and one that will take the challenges the city faces seriously.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mandelson book fuss?

What is all the fuss about? Really I can't see it. Other than newspapers trying to make a storm in a teacup. Or, as Roy Greenslade suggests, are newspapers turning on Peter Mandelson for selling exclusive rights to his book to one of their rivals, The Times?

Mandelson's forthcoming book about his inside view of New Labour has attracted criticism as "treacherous" - but from who? Tories like Peter Oborne. It seems to me that much of the criticism has come from those who didn't like Labour and/or Mandelson anyway.

There will be many books about New Labour and it is unsurprising that this one has come out now. I'm relaxed about criticism of Gordon Brown appearing now, he is no longer on the scene and I don't expect Mandelson's book to confirm anything that we didn't already know.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The death of the Liberal Democrats?

Former Lib Dem leader of Liverpool council Warren Bradley has said what we all suspect to be true: that in adding their name to the vicious ideological cuts of the Tory government, the Lib Dems have signed their own suicide note. It is not often that I agree with a Lib Dem but I agree with Bradley. There is now no reason for a Lib Dem vote.

Bradley himself said in a letter to the Liverpool Daily Post: "we’re in a weak coalition, that will deliver nothing to the Lib-Dems except total electoral decimation. I give you that absolute guarantee, we will be wiped out by Labour in the North and the Tories in the South, and at last the media will have that two-party system that they have always craved.”

The cancelling of Building Schools for the Future programme was just the sort of once in a lifetime investment that shows Labour was serious about changing the fabric of the country. Bradley says Gove's pre-meditated decision to scrap is made him feel "physically sick". Again we've seen from the Tories that they put short termism first, ideology first and don't care about fairness or planning for the future.

What next for the Lib Dems? Why bother voting for them when they are little more than collaborators in the nastiest government in memory?

Friday, July 09, 2010

Report on London Labour mayoral hustings

Last night I attended a London Labour Party mayoral hustings. Chaired by Mayor of Hackney Jules Pipe, candidates Oona King and Ken Livingstone took questions from party members and pitched for their support to become Labour's candidate. Both had fans in the audience but I went into the session willing a strong performance from King because I feel it is time that Labour puts forward a new candidate after several decades of Ken. I'm not a natural bed-fellow of Ken but I've campaigned for him, shared a radio show with him and am a supporter of the many visionary changes he brought to London.

I asked the candidates how they would ensure the campaign was fought on forward thinking plans for the next four years in London. We heard a great deal about the past. Listening to Ken reminded me of his many achievements over several decades in London. This is his strongest suit and is why I think it likely that London Labour members will pick him as their candidate. Despite his achievements I feel that it is time for Labour in London to move on.

Ken is gearing up for a replay of the 1980s when he battled Margaret Thatcher's Tory government. She was perhaps the most name-checked politician last night, almost all from Ken. This isn't useful. Though we face a similarly vicious and right wing Tory government I want a mayor who will focus on fighting London's problems and not try to score political points against the government.

King was no less forthright in positioning the mayor as a buttress to help protect the poor from government cuts. "We need to win the war" she said. This was fighting talk. It was also clear that King had her eyes on the bigger prize: just as the Tories used winning the mayoralty as a stepping stone back into government, she was clear that this was also a great opportunity for Labour to do the same. Only by having a Labour government can we properly protect the poor - I agree, as there is only so much power the mayor has.

King spoke of the "opportunity cost" of having, in Boris Johnson, a mayor who had done nothing with power. She repeatedly used this term, highlighting the wasted opportunity that has now been lost.

When one strips away the history that inevitably comes with Ken and evaluates what he and King offer to London the offerings look quite similar. They both want to build more council housing. They both strongly support trade unions. They both want to invest in more and better transport infrastructure for a growing city. Unfortunately Ken doesn't demonstrate to me that he has learnt why he lost in 2008. I worry that with him as candidate Labour could lose next time because the media and his opponents will be able to tread over old ground. Ken's attitude last night was symptomatic of someone who thinks the office of mayor is in "stasis" and is waiting for him.

King offers the chance for a new discussion and an election based on the future and not the past. She also shows a detailed understanding of the issues facing the young in London, especially about crime and employment opportunities. I feel she is best placed to win votes for Labour in outer London especially in the places where Ken lost support or is simply unpalatable to those who remember the battles of the 1980s. Time for a change. Time for Oona.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

London Labour mayoral hustings

Tonight's London Labour Party mayoral hustings.I'm looking forward to hearing from Ken Livingstone and Oona King how they will ensure the election is fought about the next four years for London - and not previous elections or Iraq.

Livingstone clearly has lots of ideas about how to improve London. Many of his ideas have been adopted by Tory mayor Boris Johnson such as the cycle hire scheme. I'm worried that the press and Tories will make it a re-run of 2008. Then he didn't have either the energy or ability to fight it off. Can he really do this four years on?

Oona King has a great opportunity to usurp Ken as a new Labour candidate for the first time in three decades. Tonight I want her to show me that she is more than just a different candidate and has a positive agenda for London - and one that will beat the Tories.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Oona King for London

Oona King has started to add flesh to the bones of her mayoral bid. Importantly she is focusing on fairness.

In her Progress interview she is clearly trying to fill the gaps in Labour's unsuccessful campaign in 2008, when incumbent mayor Ken Livingstone lost to Boris Johnson. She is right that living in zone 6 London is very different to life in inner London. Regular readers will know that I'm angry that at a basic level access to regular transport and the Oyster card is sporadic at best out on London's edge.

To successfully wrest the candidacy from Ken Livingstone she needs to offer more that just a fresh start. This is important but not enough. I agree that it would be foolhardy to attempt to replay the 2008 election. King needs to start to presenting some big ideas to enable her to topple Livingstone. I hope she does because I fear that a re-run of the last election would end in defeat.