Labour Fails to Listen by Jean Calder

Labour had a disastrous general election. Activists believed polls indicating they were neck and neck with the Conservatives. They are now reeling from the shock of failing to win target seats such as Brighton Kemptown and Hastings – and of losing leading politicians like Ed Balls

John Woodcock MP, chair of the influential Progress group said the party would need to examine what went wrong. I’d suggest the answer is simple. Leaving aside the wisdom or otherwise of pursuing an economic policy of ‘austerity lite’, Labour was arrogant, took the electorate for granted and failed either to explain or to listen. There were several examples of this. I’ll mention just a few.

Since Labour’s 2010 defeat, the Conservatives and their media supporters have repeatedly accused Labour of ‘trashing’ the economy by overspending. It would have been possible to provide simply-worded and honest replies to these accusations – and to have reproduced them on leaflets, in interviews and on websites – but, inexplicably, Labour’s leaders chose not to do this. As a result, the Government successfully persuaded the public that Balls and Brown ‘spent all the money’ – and a golden opportunity to educate the public was lost. Up until the 2015 election, David Cameron regularly reminded voters of arch-Blairite Liam Byrne’s mocking note, left for the Treasury team, that said no money was left. Instead of condemning Byrne’s letter and excluding him from the leadership team, Ed Miliband foolishly kept him on his front bench, appearing to endorse his view – and allowing Byrne’s colleagues, by association, to take the blame.

Labour focussed its election campaign on the NHS. It rightly attacked the Conservatives’ expensive re-organisation, but failed to acknowledge, or apologise for, the dreadful failures in care standards that happened on its watch, not least in Mid Staffs and in Wales, and the terrible breach of trust that this represented. It condemned the Coalition government for excessive NHS executive salaries and pursuit of private sector service delivery, but did not apologise for its own past complicity in both. Finally, fixated by it’s commitment to spending ‘responsibility’, Labour found itself trapped in the ludicrous position of offering less money for the NHS than the Conservatives and attacking them for promising too much.

Labour said it planned to reduce immigration, but I doubt people believed it. Voters knew that, when in power, Tony Blair had enthusiastically pursued uncontrolled European immigration and that this undercut working class wages and put pressure on housing and services. Ed Miliband’s arrogant refusal to countenance a referendum on Europe flew in the face of his stated commitment to controlled immigration – and to democracy. He placed the free movement of cheap labour – and the profits of some businesses – before the rights of British people, particularly women, who were most likely to be low-paid or using public services.

There has for years been a whiff of corruption around Labour – ruthlessly exposed by newspapers such as The Times and Daily Mail – which Labour’s leaders have not addressed. They have ignored growing evidence that some Labour-dominated councils have tolerated instances of corruption, including electoral fraud, manipulation of school governing bodies and organised exploitation of teenage girls.

It’s true that no party has yet acted effectively against electoral fraud, especially in relation to misuse of postal votes by ‘community leaders’ and heads of households. However, there is a widespread view that, in some parts of the country, Labour has actively encouraged or at least turned a blind eye to this – partly because it feared accusations of racism, but mostly because Labour’s candidates have been the primary beneficiaries. This is despite the fact that such practices may have disempowered and effectively disenfranchised thousands of women. When, in late April, the Election Commissioner found that Lutfur Rahman, the independent former Mayor of Tower Hamlets, had been guilty of “corrupt and illegal practices” and ordered the 2014 mayoral election to be re-run, Christine Shawcroft, a long standing member of the Labour Party’s NEC, condemned the judge and addressed a public meeting in Rahman’s ‘defence’. This was just days before the General Election. Shawcroft’s action may have appealed to some voters in London, but sent a terrible message to the rest of the country.

Despite the Labour Party’s theoretical commitment to gender equality, there has been no coherent explanation why, under the Labour government, there was such reluctance to investigate either the organised abuse of teenage girls in northern and midlands cities (despite early warnings from former Labour MP Anne Cryer) or associated allegations of collusion by some Labour councillors. Similarly, the party has refused to acknowledge its apparent unwillingness, when in power, to confront harmful ‘cultural’ practices, such as FGM and forced marriage – or to challenge the blatant gender inequality inherent in the operation of sharia courts. In the days before the election, undecided female voters were hardly likely to be impressed by photographs on twitter and in newspapers of prominent Labour MPs addressing a gender-segregated political meeting – nor by the party’s deputy leader, Harriet Harman, who defended their actions. The fact that Conservative-supporting newspapers like the Daily Mail publicised these matters, did not make them any less true or significant.

While north of the border, a powerful charismatic female leader was seen to carry all before her, Labour leaders continued to patronise women and take them for granted – as they had for the previous five years. The party placed little emphasis on the fact that young women were more likely than young men to be unemployed and that women were the primary victims of austerity policies, experiencing increased poverty, exploitation, sexist discrimination and violence – while continuing to bear primary responsibility for child- and elder-care. Instead of empowering women and girls and setting out what a Labour government would do differently, the party’s male leadership largely ignored them. When occasional parliamentary debates on female equality or violence took place, Labour’s male leaders took themselves off on visits to factories, to be photographed in macho poses and hard hats. In debates about youth unemployment, education and training, females barely featured. And when the Labour party commissioned a report on ‘Older Women’ it took two years to publish and then failed to consider the needs of anyone over 70. I know I wasn’t the only one to laugh, at the start of the election campaign, to see the party send out female MPs in a bright pink bus to ‘listen to women’s concerns’ – when it was far too late to do anything about them.

The truth is that if Labour is to rebuild, its leaders and activists must learn to confront its failures and listen to the people, female and male, young or old, powerless or powerful – not because the party wishes to appear well, or to recruit, exploit or manipulate the individuals involved or solicit their votes – but because what they have to say is often true and usually of value.

Only when Labour learns to respect the people, will it be fit to govern them.

Jean Calder

Advertisements

Doorstep Brighton 13: Ghosts, Spectres and the Grudges of Christopher Hawtree

Christopher Hawtree has raised the spectre of the ‘Simon Fanshawe Problem’, as he describes it. He asks what happens if there is a hung Council after the local elections. Would Simon become the King, or Queen, Maker?

‘Steampunk’ asks whether the “trepidation of Fanshawe’s ‘domineering approach’ imply that, given a close result in May, there will need to be some rough and tumble between the sheets (besides behind smoke filled doors) to determine who comes out on top? How much slack does Mr Big need exactly? I can’t speak for Simon Fanshawe but I can’t imagine Bill Randall will be thrilled at this prospect.”

If this was to happen there are many elder statesmen and women locally who could be an honest broker if talks were collapsing, although I think that Mary Mears and Bill Randall could work it out together. It wouldn’t be pretty, but they both have the best interest of Brighton at heart in spite of their obvious political differences.

The Ghost of Nobby Clarke suggests that Celia Barlow might be standing in Central Hove. Chris Hawtree says that this “must surely stem from her being seen by the Brighton Political Satellite’s cameras as she waited on Church Road to go into the selection meeting the other Saturday.”

Chris Hawtree suggests that “the LibDems are so desperate that Paul Elgood is trying to lead Argus readers into thinking that Brian Stone is already a Councillor. Beneath the letter in which he tries to get in on the great border/North Dakota debate, he puts ‘Couns Paul Elgood and Brian Stone’.” He says that the campaign in Brunswick and Adelaide is “getting dirty”, but ‘Andy’ says that “if politics is getting dirty it is only because Hawtree makes it so. His grudges are legendary – Sue John, Ken Bodfish, Mary Mears and most famously his duel with the clown David Smith.” Not so, says Hawtree: “I do not have grudges. Life is too short to waste on such things. Banter is another matter. Sue John and Ken Bodfish came to dinner, and it was a jolly time.”

Luke Walter says that the Green slate was completed in January, “probably the first and only party in the city to do so”. I have been quite critical of Labour for not having candidates in all seats in place months ago. I reserve the same judgement for the Greens. This election has been known about for ever. Candidates should have been identified months and months ago. Immediately after the general election the Greens should have selected all it’s candidates as well as having a recruitment drive on an unprecedented proportion. I realise everyone must have ben exhausted after getting Caroline elected, but a superhuman effort continues to be required if the Greens are to make the breakthrough elsewhere.

Warren Morgan says that “most Labour candidates in our target seats have been in place for over six months – many were selected before the General Election. What’s the point of the Greens selecting candidates but keeping them under wraps? Surely the whole point is for them to be out there campaigning and making themselves known? If I don’t know the Green candidates running in my ward, the public are hardly likely to have registered them.” Luke responds, jokingly, that the Greens “just like to keep the opposition in suspense.”

As for the Greens and the 2015 general election (assuming the Coalition lasts that long), I think that the Green candidates for Brighton Kemptown and for Hove should be selected by the autumn. There are one or two individual who would make outstanding candidates. I will return to this theme after May.

Rob Buckwell, leader of the Estate Agents Tendency of the Tory Party, and candidate in Goldsmid, says that I am “right to point out that bringing council tax down is important to us. However, you are wrong to say that I “cannot think beyond council tax cuts”. We have many other important issues which we are campaigning on. If you are lucky enough to live in Goldsmid, you will have received or soon receive our leaflet outling some of these. Of course, if you don’t…”

Showing more imagination in Goldsmid is councillor Alex Phillips who with St Peters and North Laine Green councillor Ian Davey organised a very effective demonstration on Saturday in The Drive against the ludicrous decision of the Tories to remove the cycle lane. If you haven’t watched the video, do so by clicking this link.

A word of apology to Ms Phillips. The title in a post yesterday referred to ‘Ice Cold is Alex’, a feeble play on words referring to that great movie ‘Ice Cold in Alex’, trying to reflect it was very cold on Saturday morning.  A resident of Goldsmid ward questioned me about this. I apologise to councillor Phillips who is anything but cold. She is one of the most able politicians locally, hard-working and who the Greens should consider for to be a candidate in a national election in the not too distant future. Perhaps I will return to this theme after May….

Why the Greens are likely to get the better of Labour in May’s local elections in Brighton and Hove

I’m always amused by the reaction some of my posts receive.  If I criticise the Greens, I can anticipate righteous indignation from Green activists from far and wide. If, as I did yesterday, criticise Labour (on this occasion for lacking a vision for Brighton) I am accused of being a Green supporter.

Anyone who regularly reads this blog will know I dish it out to both Labour and the Greens.  I accept that it is not necessarily in equal measure, and that I have been more critical of Labour than the Greens.  I do this because I think Labour deserves it more. But that doesn’t make me a Green.  I hope that I might be seen as a critical friend of both Labour and the Greens.

Many in Brighton and Hove who see themselves as being on the left of British politics, are in a privileged position of having choice when casting their vote.  In many parts of the City a Green vote is certainly not a wasted vote.  Neither is a Labour vote.  Labour activists are mistaken to point to Oldham East and Saddleworth as evidence of the Greens in decline.  They are equally wrong to say that the result across the City last May point to Labour coming fourth and therefore Labour is the challenger to the Tories in May.  In Brighton Kemptown and Hove, many Green supporters will have voted Labour (as I encouraged in this blog).  In local elections voters are more willing to vote for less traditional parties, such as the Greens.

In Brighton Pavilion, voters will have far greater confidence to vote Green given the result last May.  Labour did some damage to itself by saying that Caroline Lucas had no chance of winning.  Voters will be less inclined to believe scare tactics in future.

When I criticise Labour it is not because I am anti-Labour or pro-Green.  I offer constructive criticism.  Labour needs to articulate a vision for the City so that a floating voter of the left, like me, can decide how to vote.  I will cast my votes based on three considerations:

1. Which of Labour or the Greens is articulating the better vision for the City, and which party’s policies do I prefer. (In this regard, the Greens are winning.  Labour must get its act together to make the choice a bit tougher)

2. Which candidates (there will be two or three fielded by each party in each ward) are most likely to beat the Tories.  Both Labour and Greens should take care not to make unfounded claims (see my blog Labour more guilty than the Greens of misleading the voters of Brighton Pavilion of 9th May 2010).

3. How impressive the individual candidates are (rather there are certain individuals I would be reluctant to vote for as I wouldn’t want to see them elected as a councillor).

In some seats voters will have a proper choice between Labour and the Greens (Goldsmid, Preston Park, Queen’s Park, Hollingdean and Stanmer, possibly Regency although Jason Kitcat will poll very well). As things stand, the Greens don’t have the edge, they have a sizeable gap.  I’m not sure whether Labour is capable of bridging that gap at present.

St Peter’s and North Laine: Why the Lib Dems deserve to be humiliated

The Libe Dems are standing Trefor Hunter as its candidate in the St Peter’s and North Laine by-election on July 8th. In the latest Lib Dem ‘Focus’ newsletter that I understand is being distributed around the ward this weekend, Hunter attacks the Greens for failing to deal with congestion and pollution.

As someone who has fought and lost more elections than just about anyone else in Brighton over the last 30 years, Mr Hunter must surely be aware that the Greens have never formed the administration in Brighton and Hove.  In fact, his party’s coalition partner, the Conservative Party, are the administration locally and nationally.  He writes “Decades ago residents elected their first Green Councillor, but what difference has it really made?”.  Actually, quite a lot, and if we achieve a 20mph speed limit in Brighton I for one will be delighted.

The more relevant question is what difference does voting Lib Dem make?  In Brighton and Hove they are an absolute irrelevance.  In Brighton Kemptown and in Hove, they split the anti-Tory vote that saw two Labour candidates defeated and the election of two Conservatives.  Nationally, millions voted tactically or positively for the Lib Dems as a way of voting against the Conservatives.  What happened?  The Lib Dems jumped into bed with the Tories.  The sight of Vince Cable bumbling and stuttering through feeble and half-hearted defences of his party’s total sell-out of his policies, his sound economic analysis and his principled stand on the banks, is pitiful.  Actually it is beneath contempt.

If I had a vote in the St Peter’s and North Laine by-election, would I vote Lib Dem?  Give me an honest Tory any day. At least you know what you can expect from them.  The Lib Dems deserve to be truly humiliated in the by-election and in each test of voter opinion up to and beyond the next general election.

What is the point of the Lib Dems?

So David Laws has gone – the shortest Cabinet career in living memory.  Lib Dem supporters are lamenting his passing and paying some rather ludicrous tributes to him.  The most ludicrous of all was that of Lord Paddy Ashdown who described him as “Mr Integrity”. 

Mr Laws took an “holier than though” stance during the height of the expenses scandal, only to be brought low himself because of his claims. And now he tries to say it was about protecting his anonymity.  Ben Summerskill of Stonewall, writing in today’s Observer, said that this isn’t about homophobia, more “second home-ophobia”.  He goes on “…. Laws moment in the spotlight wasn’t because of a welcome difference from other MPs, but  because of a tragic similarity”.

The problem with the Lib Dems is that they have often taken a ‘plague on both your houses’ approach, not least by Nick Clegg during the Leaders’ Debate.  But the Lib Dems under Clegg have moved rightward, and the natural coming together with the Conservatives was made all the more possible by the Lib Tories like Clegg and Laws.  Laws is a natural Tory but is said not to have joined them because of his disgust over Section 28.

It now begs the question, what is the point of the Lib Dems.  They have become little more than the recipients of Tory votes with a conscience.  But even that is lost because of the likes of Laws whose appointment gave comfort to more hard-line Tories who had a distaste for the Lib Dems.

This blog called for tactical voting in the general election, to keep the Tories out.  How wrong I was.  I had always thought I would vote Lib Dem in Lewes and Eastbourne had I lived there.  No longer.  Norman Baker and Stephen Lloyd have forfeited the right to anti-Tory votes.  My advice in the future will be to rather vote for a real Tory than one cloaked in false conscience.

The Lib Dems split the anti-Tory vote in Brighton Kemptown and Hove, allowing the Tories to win.  The sad and ineffective bunch of Lib Dem councillors in Hove (if two can be called a bunch) should just join the Tories.  Their supporters should join the party that most represents their views, Labour or the Greens.  There is no point in voting Lib Dem.  There’s no point in the Lib Dems existing.

Labour’s nightmare choice in Brighton Pavilion – split the vote to keep the Greens out, or stop the Tories and see the end of Labour

On Sunday morning I blogged about the threat to Labour from a Green victory in Brighton Pavilion on Thursday.  There is joke doing the rounds that Labour supporters are being encouraged to vote tactically for the Tories to keep the Greens out!

It would be quite funny if there wasn’t some truth in it.  The consequences for Labour in Brighton and Hove of a win by Caroline Lucas would be catastrophic. It would be further compounded by Labour losses in Hove and, more so, in Brighton Kemptown. Such results would see the Green targeting Brighton and Hove City Council in the 2011 local elections.  What is more, they would stand a realistic chance of winning control.

Labour, on the other hand, would struggle to avoid a wipe-out on the scale seen in 1992, and it could end up with a shambolic rump of a Labour Group, similar to that of the Lib Dems locally.

A Tory victory in Brighton Pavilion would probably see David Cameron reach Downing Street. What a choice for Labour supporters. Split the anti-Tory vote to keep the Greens out, or vote Green and see Labour’s further decline in Brighton and Hove.

Labour and Green campaigners must stop their squabbling and focus on beating the Tories

The finger pointing in Brighton Pavilion is getting out of hand.  Some Labour and Green supporters seem to be spening more time attacking each other than they do promoting their own policies.  For some it seems that beating the other party is more important than beating the Tories. Allegation and counter-allegation about dirty tricks featured highly on many tweets over the last days.

As one observer commented (sorry, mislaid the reference), both Greens and, in particular, Labour have emphasised in their leaflets who they think will come third. 

Beating the Conservatives on Thursday should be the highest priority.  There will be not benefit at all for either Labour or Green supporters, and more importantl ordinary people, if the Tories win Brighton Pavilion and in the country as a whole.

I appreciate that both Labour and the Greens have much to lose if they are not succesful in Brighton Pavilion.  A Green breakthrough will establish them as a progressive alternative to Labour and provide a springboard for further successes locally and nationally, probably at the expense of Labour. Failure to win on Thursday will put the Green Party’s prospects back a decade.

Labour campaigners need to consider whether a ‘scorched earth’ policy aimed at defeating the Greens is more important than trying to avoid a Tory government.  They must put aside their tribal differences and accept that there must be a Green tactical vote in Brighton Pavilion and Labour votes in Brighton Kemptown and in Hove. Defeating the Tories is most important.