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

Time for Labour and the Conservatives to stop personal attacks and to present their alternative budgets

I am back from my Rip van Winkle hibernation. Regarding the future of this blog, I have paused, listened, reflected and … You know the rest. I will continue for the time being. This decision is down primarily to the daily pleas for me to continue from my three regular readers, Grizzly, Doris and Biker Dave.

I think there has been enough now on this blog about Christopher Hawtree and libraries. As Geoffrey Bowden posted at 1.05 yesterday morning, everyone with views on libraries should contribute to the consultation by visiting the council’s consultation portal.

Moving on. Where are we at. Unlike me, Lord Bassam appears to have gone for at least 2 weeks without sleep as he attacks the Greens in Brighton and Hove for Tory imposed cuts from Westminster. It is a shames that Labour continues to see the Greens as the enemy. All I can think is that by attacking the Greens in such an unrelenting fashion Labour hopes to deflect attention from their absence of policies.

Ed Balls has made it clear what we can expect:

“My starting point is, I am afraid, we are going to have keep all these cuts. There is a big squeeze happening on budgets across the piece. The squeeze on defence spending, for instance, is £15bn by 2015. We are going to have to start from that being the baseline. At this stage, we can make no commitments to reverse any of that, on spending or on tax. So I am being absolutely clear about that.”

Look at Scotland, Labour hitched its wagon to the ill-thought through Tory referendum quicker than you can say Alex Salmond. Why didn’t Labour find a position somewhere between the Tories and the SNP? It is because Labour cannot see beyond trying to protect its own short term interests by attacking those to the left, be it the SNP in Scotland or the Greens in Brighton and Hove.

So why vote Labour …..? What does Labour offer that is different from the Tories? It no longer offers an alternative when it comes to pulic spending. If I want to vote for a party of austerity, I might as well vote for the one that is enthusiastic about cuts, about small government.

Locally, just Lord Bassam, There’s-only-one-Caroline-in-Hove, Warren Morgan and Craig Turton seem to be fighting for Labour, but their focus appears to be purely on the Greens. It must be difficult to be in the Labour Party when Ed Miliband is failing to make an impact, and Ed Balls is signing up to Tory cuts. I would appeal to Labour activists locally to say what there alternative is to the cuts imposed by the Westminster Tories. Please list what services you intend to put forward for cutting, how many jobs will go, and how you intend to make up for the shortfall in income resulting from buying into the Tories’ Council Tax freeze gimmick.

The Greens have published their draft budget, and are consulting on it. I do think their approach has been the most open, consultative approach to budget setting that I can recall. Credit to them there. I don’t agree with everything they are proposing to do, but anyone in control locally, Green, Labour or Tories, would have no choice but to cut.

So what is Labour’s alternative? Each time you oppose a Green cut, it is required of you to put forward an alternate cut. It is what you demanded when you were in control locally. Or are you saying you would not cut, that you would set a deficit/illegal budget? It is time Labour locallyshows it has an alternative (assuming it has one).

And the Tories, you too need to list your cuts. There are many who want to know how exactly you will obey your Westminster Masters and make the cuts required in Brighton and Hove.

One reason I considered closing down this blog was because politics locally is about to become very nasty indeed. I hate the prospect of the closure of services, making people redundant, new hardships.

So, Labour opponents of the Greens, please stop the attacks and let’s hear from you what you would do.

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 …?

Labour talking a good fight and paying respect to Pat Hawkes

The Honey Monster (Craig Turton) has reacted to my comment that “So disorganised are they (Labour) in some seats that members have complained about not being given posters for their windows”. Craig says that could be because “like in East Brighton ward – where doorstep enthusiasm for Labour far exceeeds 2003 and 2007 – demand for posters is outsripping supply. Same in Hangleton and elsewhere.” Nice try, Craig, but the empty windows suggests otherwise. There is still no enthusiasm for Labour. Brighton and Hove is not like the rest of the country – the Caroline Effects will still make a difference.

As for enthusiasm for Labour in the future, Blue Labour isn’t going to play at all well in Brighton and Hove. I wanted Red Ed Milliband to win. What on earth is he doing? He is proving to be a disaster, while Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper are, at least, putting some clear water between Labour and the Tories.

Steampunk suggests that Labour has given up on Central Hove: “A Labour party member told me ruefully last weekend, ‘no matter what you do, the Tories will always win in Central Hove’. So I suspect that having come fourth last time round, this year they have been focussing on the more winnable wards further out such as Wish, Hangleton and the two in Portslade. Or perhaps everyone has gone to Queens Park?”.

Blue Lady Linda says that “There is a hive of activity going on in most of the wards from our activists: telephone canvassing, envelope stuffing, literature deliveries, knocking up and general cross ward support. There is much that goes on ‘under the radar’”. Lady Linda is right that traditionally the work of the Tories is not that obvious but they have been able to get out its vote.

She says that she thinks that all parties other than the Tories have given up on Hove Park. “I come to this conclusion, because I have yet to see any literature or sighting of a candidate, other than Tory, in Hove Park Ward.”

MJ must be a Labour hack because who else would come out with the following tosh: “Word is that the Greens are under pressure in Regency and are stalling in Queens Park and Brunswick. They may also drop one seat in Hanover, Preston Park and Goldsmith. The Labour vote is too high to see Green or Tory gains.” There’s no such ‘word’, there is no such pressure, they are not stalling, and the Greens are not going to drop seats. Luke Walter’s reaction is right when he simply responded “LOL”.

The love within Labour is overwhelming. Baron Pepperpot writes: “As a paid up member of the Labour Party who fully supports our Queens Park campaign, I would like to say how happy I would be to see us get completely stuffed in Hollingdean and Stanmer…”. Wow! I’m intrigued as to why you feel this strongly. Do say more. And if this is the mood with Labour ten days out from an election, what levels of fratricide can we expect if my predictions are correct and Labour is left with a smaller rump than they currently have?

Christina Summers, one of the Green candidates has responded to my praise of Luke Walter and his campaigning zeal: “Don’t worry BPB, Luke is most definitely not a lone Green campaigner in Hollingdean & Stanmer…and our opponents are most definitely not complimentary nor do they resemble any sort of firework…apart from the occasional banger…usually when we’ve leafleted their homes.”

As regular readers will know, I have been predicting two Greens and one Labour (Jeane Lepper) being returned in Hollingdean and Stanmer. This would see the end of the long and illustrious council career of Pat Hawkes who has represented the area for many decades. She has also been an active trade unionist, rising to be President of the NUT. Consistency in service (although not always in views) means that she deserves respect, and she certainly has mine.

Is the Brighton Politics Blogger becoming the Darling of the Tory Right? Perhaps not.

What a reaction there has been to two recent posts about young Conservative hopefuls, Robert Nemeth and Rachael Bates.  I think that, in spite of my fundamental disagreement with the politics of Nemeth and Bates, I seem to becoming something of  ‘the Darling’ of the Conservative right!

Rachael herself has taken me to task for failing to mention that Robert Nemeth is a Conservative candidate in Withdean where he “has been running a solid campaign there for months now.  Paragraphs and paragraphs could be written about Robert … but perhaps the best story that I know about him was the time when he chased and successfully caught a thief on a bike who had tried stealing his phone. I wouldn’t have wanted to be that guy on the bike!”  So there we have it, Momma Grizzly and Batman, one in Hollingdean and Stanmer, the other in Withdean.  What can the people of the Brighton Metropolis have to fear.

Lionel Crabb says we should forget about Batman’s membership of the Sir Winston Churchill 50 Dining Club, suggesting that Mr Nemeth is also a member of the exclusive Bilderberg Group.  I personally find that improbable given the exclusive nature of this exclusive club.  Perhaps Robert will let us know.

‘Clive’ has been doing some digging on Robert Nemeth. He quotes from Robert’s Latest Homes column: “I bought my first property over ten years ago as a student back when property was actually affordable.”  That prompted this response from Clive: “Property was a lot cheaper in the late 90s but nonetheless, but even the smallest flat in B&H was still beyond the sole means of most students. Which reinforces the notion that these people live very different lives to most of the rest of us.  Apparently he gets paid absolute peanuts for that Latest Homes column too – again, a luxury that most people who make a living by writing could not afford”.

When it comes to Rachael Bates, support for her and her right wing views have poured in.  ‘NG’ takes me to task: “Your rather childish attack on Rachael Bates doesn’t really enhance your reputation does it?”  (I didn’t think I had a reputation worth enhancing!  Have a look at what people say about this blog!)  NG continues that Hollingdean and Stanmer “does have a problem with parking and travellers. Isn’t she right to highlight this?”  And finally, NG asks: “Come on BPB you can surely raise your game a bit.”  If I was to raise my game, become erudite, I would lose the majority of my readers who seem to like, or at react against, the personal nature of this blog.

HP offers Rachael the hand of friendship, or the hand of something …  Judge for yourself: “Speaking as a H&S voter myself, I say she can certainly have my vote…..  She’ll just need to come and take it from my cold dead hand.  Seriously though, is there anything worse than a young conservative? It borders on being creepy, like being a young born-again christian. I believe I’m right in thinking that all young male tories grow up to be Michael Gove – is that really the future they want for themselves????”  But he is wrong about Michael Gove, as William Prothero reminds us, “At university, Gove was in the Labour party!”  And it is worth remembering that Ed Balls is rumoured (according to Wikipedia) to have been, for a very short while, a member of the Oxford University Conservative Association.

A particularly disturbing (should it be disturbed) comment comes from a website calling itself  keeptonyblairforpm which says: “Rachael is some smart girl as regards Tony Blair, and no, she is not one of a kind.  Tony Blair was, is the most inspirational leader this country has had for decades. A pity so many in the mainstrem press don’t like him – for one reason or another.”  I just don’t get it myself.  It’s like putting pins into your eyeballs.  Some people just don’t get the enjoyment you can get from bleeding eyeballs. 

Finally ‘Nick’ rejects my criticism of Rachael’s apparent lack of vision for Hollingdean and Stanmer and her obsession about seeing the Council Tax in Brighton and Hove becoming amongst the lowest in the country. “Isn’t it possible to make “Brighton & Hove’s council tax one of the lowest in the country” at the same time as making it a “better, fairer place to live”?  I doubt it, but let me know what you think.

And finally finally!  Dan Wilson, fast becoming the Beast of Regency, springs gazzelle like to the defence of the Legend that is Brian Fitch in response to my comment about the oft deselected former councillor:  “to be selected so many times! Such love! And he in like Flynn once more. A true fighter. Not a “gap year” councillor like so many Greenos who chuck it in after one term.”  All together, now Ooooooh.  Cutting.  The Beast says: “Brian Fitch is a legend and much loved by Labour people. I would happily join a fan club.”  Please form an orderly queue behind Dan Wilson.

Imagine what it would be like to wake up on 7th May with David Cameron as Prime Minister. Vote tactically to keep the Tories out.

The three polls published tonight have all three parties within 4 or 5 points of each other.  The Lib Dems ‘surge’ remains intact, Labour have settled a couple of ponts down, and the Tories about 5 points down. Converted into seats, Labour on 28 or 29 points, the Tories on 32 or 33 points, and the Lib Dems somewhere between, Labour would be the largest party in the new parliament.

The media seem obsessed about the hung or ‘balanced’ party.  Ed Balls tonight on Newsnight out-thugged Paxman, refusing to get drawn on a hung parliament.  Balls was right to say he wanted to talk about values and policies, the difference between Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories.

I refer back to the article by Johan Hari that I blogged about on April 11th.  This is an election about class.  To quote Hari: “(Cameron) will give a £1.2bn inheritance tax cut to the richest 2 per cent in Britain – with most going to the 3,000 wealthiest estates (including his wife’s). Then he promises to end the 50p top rate of tax, giving another £2.4bn to the richest 1 per cent. Then he has pledged to cut taxes on the pensions of the richest, handing another £3.2bn to the same 1 per cent. Then his marriage tax relief policies will give 13 times more to the rich than the poor”.

If you haven’t read the article, do so here.  Then think what it will be like to wake up on May 7th with David Cameron  as Prime Minister.  Think strategically and vote tactically.

Double barrelled problems for rich, non dom Tories

These are interesting times. The latest opinion poll in the Independent has the Tory’s lead down to just 3 points.  The likelihood of a hung parliament comes ever nearer. And it is great to see the Tories in such trouble.  David Cameron has had to apologise for unfounded attacks on Ed Balls’ handling of allegations against Muslim institutions. Tory candidates, including Brighton Kemptown’s own Simon Radford-Kirby have been advised to drop their double barrel names because they are trying to avoid coming across as Tory toffs.  He is now common-as-muck Simon Kirby.  Failed candidate in Brighton Pavilion, Scott Seaman-Digby, tried to do likewise by promoting himself as plain Scott Digby.  It didn’t work for him and it won’t work for Radford-Kirby.

As for the successful candidate in Brighton Pavilion, Chuck Vere, there is no suggestion that she is really Charlotte Alexandra de Pfeffel Johnson-Vere, and certainly not related to Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson also known as simple Boris Johnson. No, her problems are more serious.  She is a close associate of Zac Goldsmith.  Today’s Mirror reported that “rising Tory star Zac Goldsmith is avoiding tax by claiming ‘non dom’ status”.  Mr Goldsmith inherited a fortune from his industrialist father Sir James Goldsmith.  There have been calls for David Cameron to sack him. Non-domicile tax status lets people avoid tax on earnings outside the UK.  According to the Lib Dem peer, Lord Oakeshott, “He’s not fit to sit in parliament and must pay the millions he’s dodged to the British taxman.”

Mr Goldsmith has denied he had “dodged” tax and said, “Virtually all my income comes to the UK, where I pay full tax on it.” But he added that he had decided to give up his “non dom” status.  Because of her close association with Zac Goldsmith, Charlotte Vere should make a statement about her attitude to non doms, and she should condemn rich Tories for avoiding tax.

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.