Oh dear, Ed. You’re making a mess even of your own feeble Big Idea

Further to my post this morning, Ed Miliband has exacerbated his feeble ‘Big Idea’ by refusing to confirm that the £6,000 student fee would be a manifesto commitment, nor would he confirm that £6,000 would be the maximum that Labour would support. His performance on the Andrew Marr programme will have hardly inspired. Watch it here if you can bear it.

I supported Ed Miliband for the leadership, and still believe that David Miliband would have been a disaster. David is, and always will be, associated with the worst aspects of Blairism. The Tories are keen on him for one or possible two reasons – he is more right wing that Ed, and there are sufficient suspicions about his record in office to allow him to be truly independent. The problem with Ed, he may have a cleaner past, but he is falling over himself to appear safe and to compromise.

On the other hand, Harriet Harman, Ed Balls or Yvette Cooper …?

Celia Barlow’s candidature in Central Hove makes this seat a three way marginal

When David Miliband was defeated by his brother Ed for the Labour Leadership, he announced that he would be withdrawing from front-line politics. He did not mean he would be resigning his seat in the Commons, withdrawing to become an academic at an Oxford college, or joining the lucrative lecture circuit in the United States (he may well be doing so for all I know). No, he meant that he would no longer be on the front bench. This description of ‘front line politics’ shows just how arrogant he has become, that it was his birthright to be leader of the party of his choice.

Does David Miliband have any idea what the real front line is like – those candidates going from door to door in wet and windy February and March, hoping to persuade the electorate to support them or, more than likely, someone else in the local elections. This is the real front line. David Miliband, and Ed as well, see knocking on a few doors when making a whistle-stop tour to Brighton, Hull or Swindon, as a photo opportunity that might secure them a few votes in an upcoming leadership election.

Is it any wonder that Labour in government became so detached from ordinary people when they see the cosy gentleman’s club of the Westminster Bubble as ‘the front line’.

Why do I mention this now? I wish to pay tribute to the decision of Celia Barlow, the former Labour MP for Hove and Portslade, who is standing for election to Brighton and Hove City Council on May 5th in Central Hove. I say good luck to Celia. Many former MPs see local government well beneath them after the have scaled the lofty heights of Westminster. I do not include David Lepper or Des Turner in this criticism. Both had given a lifetime of service as local councillors and had they not been elected to Parliament they would probably be thinking about hanging up their canvassing cards and Council gowns (oh, those were the days) about now anyway.

Celia said: “Politics is in my blood. I have been a member of the Labour Party since I was 16 and even served as a parish councillor in my time. I do not think it’s that unusual. I know of people in Parliament who have gone back to being councillors”. The last one I can think of locally, Celia, was Dennis Hobden when he lost his Kemptown seat to Andrew Bowden in 1970. But Dennis was not, I am told, your usual politician. Nor, in this respect is Celia.

Celia has a huge mountain to climb, and again this is to her credit that she has chosen a tough seat to fight. The two Labour candidates came seventh and eighth in Central Hove behind the Conservatives, Lib Dems and the Greens. Celia’s candidature should boost Labour because of name recognition (which is second only to Mr Pickwick himself, Christopher Hawtree, rumoured to have made the ultimate sacrifice by switching from the safe Green target of Rottingdean Coastal to Central Hove). Celia can certainly beat the Lib Dems. Let’s face it, anyone can beat the Lib Dems these days, even Leo Artreides who polled just 19 votes at the general election in Brighton Pavilion. We could have a situation where there is a split result. I think that Jan Young will hold on. Andrew Wealls, a decent Conservative (most at local government are), may yet again be a Tory candidate fighting the wrong seat at the wrong election. He was beaten by the unstoppable Alex Phillips in the Goldsmid by-election a couple of years ago. The Greens will have hopes of making a breakthrough here, especially if the Lib Dem vote does collapse as spectacularly as the polls suggest. And then there is Celia.

I think that it will be a split result, Jan Young and either Celia or a Green. But the Greens better get their skates on and decide who will be their ‘lead’ candidate is to be in Central Hove.

The final word goes to Jan Young, and she pays a huge compliment to Celia: “Of all the wards in all the city she had to choose mine”. Perhaps, if Celia is successful, along with Jan, it could be the start of a very beautiful friendship ….

A plea for Labour in Brighton and Hove to become an inclusive party of the left

It is said that Margaret Thatcher’s greatest legacy was New Labour, and in many regards this is the inheritance that Labour has to overcome.  Gordon Brown had a great opportunity to break with the past by making some big, bold changes, but he fluffed the chance.  So too had (has, just possibly) Ed Miliband.  But rather than announcing something ambitious, he set in train a two year review of Labour’s policies.  That might work for Labour Policy Forum anoraks like Simon Burgess (its national vice chair), it leaves most voters cold and bemused.

But there is another legacy of Thacher – the “enemy within”.  This was a phrase famously coined by the Iron Lady for trade unionists, most notably Arthur Scargill.  She had seen off the Argentinians in the Falklands War, and she turned her sights on the unions.  Under the disastrous leadership of Neil Kinnock, Labour turned on Scargill and then other ‘enemies within’ – Militant, the left generally, and then under Blair, the Brownites.  So much of Labour defined itself as Blairite or Brownite, even though there was not that much in policy terms to separate them.  After the fall of Brown, the primary points of reference related to the Miliband of Brothers, Ed and David.

Labour used to describe itself as a ‘broad church’.  There have always been those on the right (traditional social democrats), the soft left (Fabians), the non-aligned left (in Brighton these even included Christian Socialists), and  Trotskyists (divided into as many sects as there were members).  This mindset persists.  Recently in conversation with me, someone referred to the “Trots” as though they were as unpleasant as their namesake!  Little credit was given to the positive contribution Militant made to the building of the Party in Brighton, and to the success in 1986 when Labour took control of the old Brighton Council.

The leadership of any political party finds dissent difficult, and some times the dissenters can be a right pain in the proverbial. But that is a small price to pay for a vibrant political party.  Labour in Brighton and Hove should seek to become, once again, that broad church, inviting and welcoming anyone and everyone who is left of centre.  Sadly, it is unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future.  Labour is still licking its wounds from the last general and local elections, viewing the Greens as the new ‘enemy within’.  I cannot count how many times in conversation Labour activists have been quick to attack the Greens in general and Caroline Lucas in particular.  This constant sniping makes Labour look churlish  and sectarian.  Not attractive qualities.

The Greens offer a broad church for those concerned about environmental issues, and attract support and members from former Labour, Lib Dem and even Tory members and supporters.  While this is a strength, it is also a weakness.  The Greens don’t offer an ideological home for the left and socialists in particular.  I am more likely to say “I am a socialist, which is why I joined Labour” that “I am a socialist, which is why I joined the Greens”.  But at the moment most on the unaligned left are not likely to say either.

Con Dem Nation will see the Lib Dems wiped out in Brighton and Hove

I have been cut off in Outer Patagonia for the last 12 days.  No news, no internet, nothing.  On the way back someone told me this ludicrous joke that Nick Clegg had done a deal with Cameron to creat a Con Dem Nation, that Uncle Vince Cable was in government proposing the sale of 49% of the Royal Mail, that Norman Baker had gon into government with the Tories, and that David Miliband was standing for the leadership of the Labour Party!

Actually, I hve found the last 12 days quite depressing.  But there is one silver lining on the cloud, and I have recognised a terrible mistake I made in the run up to the election.  It all has to do with the Lib Dems. 

This blog advocated tactical voting to kep the Tories out.  In Eastbourne and Lewes I said that a Lib Dem vote was important to keep David Cameron out of Downing Street.  I was wrong.

Next election my advice to voters in Eastbourne and Lewes will be ‘Vote Tory’. I would rather have the real thing than a poor yellow imitation that lends repectability to the Tories.

Clegg is the most rightwing Lib Dem leader in several gereations, cut from the same cloth as Cameron.  It is no surprise that they make such good bed fellows.  But Norman Baker, how could you ….. ?

As for the silver lining, the Lib Dems will see their support from left of centre voters collapse.  In Brighton and Hove this is good news for the Greens who can now be even more optimistic about picking up two seats from the Lib Dems in Brunswick next May.

Hollow promises from Miliband

David Miliband today made a speech in which he called for fundamental reform of the structure of the Labour Party. I applaud many of his proposals including open primary is to select candidates for local and Parliamentary elections and to involve in party meetings the 3 million trade unionists who pay the political levy.

Cynics might suggest that these are desperate measures aimed at trying to resurrect a dying party. Miliband himself said that certain political parties were close to death, made up of “shrinking membership, declining affinity and fuzzy identity lead many to proclaim that death has already happened, with a few tears at the funeral”.

Compare the Labour Party today to the thriving activity of the 1980s. It is the Blairites who killed Labour, being themselves largely responsible for the infighting, in tolerance, and witch hunts that suck the lifeblood out of local activity.

I agree with many of the measures that Miliband has proposed, not least the open primary is the selection of candidates. However, the sad truth is that none will be implemented, not least by Miliband himself should he in the unlikely event ever become Labour Party leader.