Labour Conference: Shocking News

Major shocks at the Labour Party Conference today. The Labour leader Gordon Brown is not taking prescribed medication; there has been no serious challenge to his leadership; and nobody framed Roger Rabbit.

And that is the problem. There is no challenge, not even a phoney war. Everyone is so nice. Everyone is being cautious to ensure that they cannot be blamed for a lack of unity.

There is a general acceptance, not articulated publically, that Labour has lost the election. Quiet lobbying, more akin to speed dating, is taking place in the bars and restaurants around the conference centre.

Only Jon Cruddas is promoting alternative policies. The rest are keeping their powder dry.

So Labour is not quite sleep-walking to defeat, but tip-toeing in slippers. Come the second week of May 2010, the knives will be out and the election that many Cabinet Members have long wanted will be with us.

The honourable approach is that being taken by Jon Cruddas. Speak now. To do otherwise is cowardly and short-changes those who need a strong Labour performance in the election that will take place in the first week of May 2010.

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Labour Conference: Welcome to Brighton

The Labour Party Conference arrives in Brighton this weekend.  Welcome to all delegates. I hope you enjoy your stay in the City and have a Conference that is a spring-board to success in next year’s General Election.

Unfortunately, I fear that certain leading Members of Parlaiment, will use the next week to position themselves for the leadership campaign that they believe will follow after the election defeat.  Whoever is Leader following the next election, they can learn a great deal from the experience of Labour in Brighton.

In the 1980’s led by David Lepper (now MP for Brighton Pavilion) and Steve (now Lord) Bassam, strengthen by a dynamic and active local Party of 2,000+ members (of left and right), the Party won control of the old Brighton Council. Kinnock’s witch-hunt did for all that and Labour has been in decline ever since. What success it has had has been down to the strengths of individuals (Lepper and Des Turner) as well as the anti-Tory tide that swept New Labour into power in 1997.

But Labour as an administration was a disaster, losing touch with ordinary people, resulting in the Tories regaining control of the unitary authority of Brighton and Hove several years ago.  Any any residual activism, radicalism and enthusiasm rests almost exclusively with the Greens who now match Labour on the City Council and who are heading for a comfortable second place (behind the Tories) at the General Election in Brighton Pavilion.

The Greens might win if it was not for an exceptional Labour candidate, Nancy Platts, who will retain sufficient support for Labour and for herself (in spite of being Labour), to split the anti-Tory vote.  The Green candidate, Caroline Lucas, doesn’t quite have it (or at least she isn’t showing it) to become a successful constuituency candidate to win sufficient votes from the impressive Nancy.

Labour cannot hold Brighton Kemptown which will go Conservative with the Greens running Labour close but still ending in 3rd place.  Labour’s candidate, Simon Burgess, is a decent man but lacks imagination and is running a completely uninspiring, almost invisible, campaign.  He is better suited as someone working behind the scenes in support of a more dynamic candidate. He led Labour to defeat at local elections, losing his (previously safe) seat to the Greens including his Green opponent in Kemptown, Ben Duncan.  (The problem for the Greens is that they struggle to be seen beyond Brighton’s muesli-belt of town-centre wards).

Labour lacks the activist base that personified the local Party in the 1980s. No matter how hard Nancy Platts works, she does not have the support required to mount a sussessful campaign.

If Labour is to win, it needs to offer something to inspire voters.  Competing with the Lib Dems and the Tories on cuts won’t work. Labour has been the architect of its own demise – banking out the banks and bankers, fighting two wars, losing its activist base. There is time, just, to turn things around.  If a radical alternative is not put forward by Gordon Brown on Tuesday, we might as well begin planning and organising for the general elction that is likely to take place in May 2014.

The Greens Need to Move Up Several Gears

I have been accused of being anti-Green in recent posts. Far from it.  The Greens, who are sensitive lot, should view me as a critical friend. The Greens have aspirations for national office through Caroline Lucas as the first ever Green MP. I have previously advocated a Green vote for Alex Phillips in the Goldsmid by-election. I came close to advocating a Green vote for Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion but have held back because of what I see to be the poor campaigning qualities of Green councillors locally.

By contrast, I see an energetic and high profile, principled campaign by Nancy Platts for Labour.  I remain torn although Nancy has definitely strengthened her standing over the last 2 months (although I think she is failing to use the Argus effectively).

Scott Redding takes me to task from time to time. It has been suggested that he is a press officer for the Green Party. I don’t know if this is correct but if it is I worry more about the Greens. He posted a comment listing four, yes a whole four, news stories in the Argus in the last three weeks.

I was involved in a campaign in the 1980’s when a Labour candidate set a target of 100 stories in the Argus in 100 days. He failed when he only got 96 within the set time! And he was a candidate for Council, not Parliament.

The Greens damn themselves with their own self-justification. They need to be swamping the local paper, have mass door-knocking events in Brighton Pavilion, at least once each month in each Ward, but fortnightly if they are really serious about winning.  The Greens must (pardon the un-Green expression) move up several gears if they are to lead this race.

The Greens have three significant advantages over Nancy Platts: They are not Labour; they are seen as a fresh alternative; and they have enthusiastic supporters with an eye on the prize. Their three disadvantage are: they have few members who understand campaigning; their narrow City-centre base; and an absentee candidate..

Nancy Platts has one advantage over the Greens – Nancy Platts the Candidate.

Finally, having advocating a Green vote for Alex Phillips in Goldsmid, and now being critical of her invisibility, I do encourage you all to support her in her fundraising efforts for Rise, formerly the Women’s Refuge Project.  Alex is fundraising for Rise  through  Just Giving – http://shar.es/1qlZB

The Art of Electoral Politics

In a recent blog I was critical of the Greens for not campaigning in an effective way over post office closures or the threat to the Open Market. Given that Party’s ambition to win Brighton Pavilion, it needs to fandamentally improve in its campaigning, not least because of the regular absence of Caroline Lucas from Brighton on European and Party business.

In the late 1980’s and 90’s, before the creation of the unitary Brighton and Hove authority, there were annual elections in Brighton, with a third of the Council up for election each year, and the County Council elections every fourth year.  This resulted in Labour, for example, always being on elction footing.

In the marginal wards Labour activists went door-knocking throughout the year, as there was always an election the following May. Leaflets were published at least quarterly and in some areas even monthly.

It was rare for any Labour candidate to be told, “We only ever see you at election time”.

Sadly, that is now the case for all parties, not least the Greens. Take Goldsmid, for example. In May and June you couldn’t avoid being confronted by Alex Phillips or one of her campaign team.  She attracted wall to wall coverage and had a compelling website.

But what has happened to Alex? In a previous post I said it felt like she had disappeared from the face of the earth. Of course she has not, and a recent Tweet from her saw her asking for more support, this time in sponsorship – she is running in support of Rise, formerly the Women’s Refuse Project (why on earth did it have to change its name?).

While I hope she gets a lot of support and money for Rise (one of the most important charities in Brighton and Hove), she should be seen to be doing something, not merely asking for things.

And it is not confined to Alex. Most, other than Bill Randall, are anonymous in the pages of the Argus. Yesterday I admitted I couldn’t remember the name of the 3rd Green councillor for the area including the Open Market (I looked it up, it is Ian Davey).

But what is worse than being invisible, is when a local councillor uses community meetings to score party political points against other parties on the Council. I have been at several meetings in recent months where a senior Green has done so on more than a couple of occasions. Inept. Uninspiring. Counter-productive.

The Greens don’t do genuine community politics

In previous posts I have been critical of the Green Party and its apparent lack of campaigning ability.  Give it a climate camp, and it does fine; Pride and it is there. But when it comes to issues that impact on ordinary people, like post office closures, it hardly has the finest record in town (notwithstanding what Green Amy tells me).

Today I took a stroll through the Open Market, in the heart of St Peters and North Laine, the area represented by two former Green Leaders, Pete West and Keith Taylor, an a third Green councillor whose name always escapes me and must have the lowest profile of all his colleagues (although Alex Phillips seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth since her election).

The Open Market is dying on its knees. Stall after stall is closing.  Even Open Market Matriarch and Tory Leader of the Council, Mary Mears, has closed her stall.

But where on earth are the Greens? Why is there no campaign? Where is the petition, the march, even an occupation? It is because the Greens don’t do genuine community politics. In St Peters and North Laine they have office, but don’t know how to use it.

The Laughable Left

I have always identified myself as being to the left of Labour. Well, that’s not hard these days with even Roy Hattersley coming across as a dangerous left-wing extremist!

The best characterisation of the left is the scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian when the People’s Front of Judaea hate the “enemy” separatist faction, the Judaean People’s Front, more than they hate the Romans

So to does it sometimes appear on the left of British politics. The number of left wing factions is laughable.

The Socialist Workers Party is largely made up of middle age men, still fighting student union battles of the 70s and 80s, with slogans to match.

Disillusioned lefties, such as Dave Hill, have left Labour yet dream of great victories by gathering in new parties such as No2euYes2democracy or the Socialist Labour Party.

Even those leaders of the left during the halcyon days of the poll tax are sidelined. Whatever happened to Richard Stanton? Sheila Hall emigrated to Spain, Jean Calder ended up writing for the Argus (although she does not seem to have betrayed her feminist and left-wing credentials), and Andy Winter  does little more than watch and write about cricket!

There are two main consequences of all this. Young people and campaigners are focusing their time and effort into single issue campaigns, with the wider Labour movement becoming increasingly moribund.

The rightward drift of Labour has created perfect conditions for the growth of the BNP. The rise of the far right is not the fault of the left. It is the failures of the Labour government that has caused division and disillusionment.

A strong “opposition” within the Labour Party could have prevented this.

Tough on cuts or tough on the causes of cuts?

The political landscape for the next 5 years changed this week. The terms of debate and the rules of engagement are no longer as they were even last Sunday.

A week is a long time in politics. The debate last weekend evolved around whether Gordon Brown would use the ‘c’ word – cuts.  Now it is the flavour of the day, month, year, even decade. Nick Clegg says Britain needs “bold even savage cuts” and has asked the Lib Dems to consider whether Britain can afford to abolish university tuiton fees, a dearly held policy.

Today, Ed Balls is proposing measures to cut £2 billion off the education budget. It seems all aspiring prime ministers (and Balls is one) are now wanting to outdo the others.

But the practical reality is that we are in for years of cuts in public sector finances, and consequently cuts in salaries, pensions, jobs and services.

But how will the trade unions respend? Of course they must oppose cuts in public spending. They must draw focus on the causes of cuts. But given that, as of this week, the argument amongst all three major political parties against cuts has been lost, cuts there will be. 

But can the trade unions, particularly the public sector unions, be pragmatic and accept some compromiseries in defence of services? I fear not. Those of us working in the private sector or in the voluntary sector are already feeling the pinch. The public sector unions have a difficult road to travel in getting the right balance between defending their members and sustaining public support.

I fear not.  The consequence will be even worse cuts in public sector services and pay than otherwise would result if compromise can be achieved.