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

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Election result that will change the European political landscape for a decade

The last two weeks have seen election result that will change the European political landscape for a decade.

In Britain, France and Greece, the voters have said a resounding “no” to austerity. Even in the voters of Schleswig-Holstein gave Angela Merkel a bloody nose, her CDU party’s worst defeat in Schleswig-Holstein since 1950. Gone is Nicolas Sarkozy, in comes the anti-austerity Francois Hollande as President, and the two pro-austerity centre parties in Greece have been rejected by the voters.

The two posh boys who don’t know the price of milk have been given notice. Writing in today’s Daily Mail, former Sun editor, Kelvin MacKenzie, has revealed that he has waged a £1,000 on Cameron being gone by November. He got odds of 10-1.

There is so much to comment on, but the rejection of austerity must be the headline. Other matters, in brief, include:

Labours excellent performance up and down the country and its growing lead in the opinion polls. However, the party should not be complacent and, in light of European election results, needs to show that it is setting its face firmly against austerity. Just saying that they would not have cut so far and so fast is the wrong message. It now needs to give people hope and begin to make firm promises about public increasing expenditure, investing in housing and infrastructure products, and reversing changes in the NHS.

Locally, Labour had an excellent result in Hastings, having secured its most seats ever on the Borough Council and reinforcing its hold in that town. But Hastings is a strange place, having elected a Conservative MP, Amber Rudd, in 2010 on the same day as it elected a Labour council. Sarah Owen, Labour’s energetic and electable young candidate, should not underestimate the Blue Lady, Amber Rudd, who has become a highly respected member of the local political establishment, across party divides.

The Greens have much to be pleased about. They increased their number of councillors by more than any other party other than Labour and the Scottish Nationalist Party. The highlight was the third place secured by Jenny Jones in London’s mayoral election, beating the Lib Dems who came fourth. This was achieved in spite of Brian Paddick being given equal coverage to Boris and Ken with Jenny being treated by the media as an also ran.

As for the Lib Dems themselves, they now have fewer councillors than at any point in their history. Perhaps this is a trend that will see these Tory appeasers returning their lowest number of MPs at the next election. Their claim, that they are preventing the worst excesses of the Conservatives, ring increasingly hollow. They are nothing more than Tory-enablers who, but for their enthusiastic participation in the Coalition, the Conservatives would have been able to force through many of their most extreme measures.

Finally, the relative success of the far right in Europe is extremely worrying. While the BNP lost all the seats it was defending in Britain’s local elections, Marine Le Pen in France and Golden Dawn in Greece sends a chilling warning to all democrats across Europe. I will write more about this soon.

(Note: An earlier draft of this post referred to Rising Dawn. This has been corrected to Golden Dawn)

Forget the Westbourne by-election: prepare for the next Battle of Hastings

While the Eurozone is in meltdown and International Capitalism is in crisis, the goldfish bowl of Brighton and Hove politics sees little further than the Green’s budget. The trenches of this battleground are concentrated in a few streets in Hove in Westbourne Ward. This first test of the Green administration is fascinating, with activists cheering on their own champions: Louisa Greenbaum (Green), Graham Cox (Conservative) and Nigel Jenner (Labour).

The UKIP candidate in the Westbourne by-election is being cheered on very loudly by Paul Perrin who is, by coincidence, the UKIP candidate in the Westbourne by-election. The candidates of the other parties have no cheerleaders, no one to defend their honour, and they make a sad sight as they trudged the streets, looking for a sympathy vote. How they would love a Christopher Hawtree, a Momma Grizzly, a Caroline Penn. At this time of peace and goodwill to all please take pity on the candidates for the Lib Dems, TUSC and the European Movement for the Annex of Schleswig-Holstein (I suspect I might have got that last one wrong – bloody predictive text).

But while the pavements of Westbourne are being pounded by the usual suspects, east of the centre of the Universe, in Hastings and Rye, a fascinating local skirmish is developing. It is a fascinating area where at the general election the constituency went from Labour to Conservative while on the same day the town council went from Conservative to Labour control.

The highly popular and well-respected Labour MP, Michael Foster, was defeated by the formidable Blue Tory Lady, Amber Rudd. Her cause was helped by the addition of Tory-stronghold of Rye to the constituency. Since polling day she has carefully nurtured the constituency, making friends and influencing people. As a constituency MP she will be hard to shift, although the backlash against the Tories and their Lib Dem poodles will keep this as a marginal seat. One fears for the future of the decent Stephen Lloyd in Eastbourne while Lord Baker of Lewes is set for higher things (the House of Lords) where he won’t have to renege on written pledges to his constituents.

But hark (a Christmas reference) who is that emerging from stage left, to challenge the incumbent? Who is this apprentice politician hoping to say to Ms. Rudd, “You’re fired!”. (And why this ever-so feeble attempt to mimic Lord Sugar?). For it is Sarah Owen, the newly selected Labour candidate.

Sarah is currently political advisor to Lord Sugar and is helping to develop Labour’s national small business policy. Previously she worked in the emergency planning department of the London Fire Brigade. And just in case My Pal Paul is worried that she might have worked in a genuine small business, thereby ruining his belief that all Labour, Tory and Green politicians have never worked in the ‘real world’, she did work as a ‘political assistant’ at … Brighton and Hove City Council!

And how did Ms Rudd react to Ms Owen’s selection? A little back-handed compliment: “It will be nice to have a new voice in Hastings and Rye for people on behalf of Labour.”

Political Awards 2010: Brighton and Hove Councillor of the Year

Forgive me that nominees for this award come from Brighton and Hove alone. There are others who could be included in this, such as Jeremy Birch, Leader of Hastings Borough Council, for seizing control from the Tories in May on the same day as there was a massive swing against Labour throughout the country. 

The nominees are:

Mary Mears (Conservative) for her single-minded determination to restructure the City Council in a way that could yet defy the wishes of the electorate should the Tories lose control this coming May.  By bringing in a new Chief Executive and senior tier of officers, she has embedded her political views at the highest level.  You may disagree with her on many issues, but she is underestimated at your peril.

Bill Randall (Green) for providing the only opposition on the Council.  As Convenor of the Green Group he argues clearly and consistently against the Tories, something that Labour has massively failed to do.  The Greens have momentum going into the local elections, and will do well thanks to Bill.

Jason Kitcat (Green) for being a campaigning, high profile back-bencher, getting right up the noses of the Tories, raising issues on behalf of his Regency Ward constituents, and becoming a colourful, controversial councillor.  He is the sort of councillor we all deserve yet few of us have.

There are no Labour councillors to nominate since they have, as a group, excelled themselves by being so unremarkable and unimpressive.  As for the Lib Dems, they feature in a category of their own – ‘Bust Up in a Telephone Box Award’ .  That award goes jointly to Councillors David Elgood and Paul Watkins who can be seen on a clear day warmly shaking each other by the throat.

And the winner is … Jason Kitcat.  Jason follows a long line of hard working, or controversial, or colourful councillors in Regency Ward, from Alf Feld (a millionaire Tory hotelier), Chris Giles (a Tory money-lender), and the late and much missed Nimrod Charles Baden Ping (with a name like that he makes the name Kitcat look bland).  Expect Jason to win by a landslide in May.

There’s more to this election that just Brighton Pavilion. Tactical voting remains so important

I am in danger of presenting the general election as being about just one campaign – that in Brighton Pavilion.  In fact Roy Greenslade, a titan of the newspaper industry (and I do mean that sincerely) almost suggested that when he said on the Guardian’s Greenslade Blog, that this was “a lively blog where the left-of-centre author appears to be enthused by the Green candidate in Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas.

In Hove, it is looking increasingly likely that there will be a Tory win, although Celia Barlow pulled off one of the most amazing results last time by holding the seat.  Greens are suggesting that it is a lost cause for Labour so anti-Tories can vote according to their preference.   Don’t vote Green in Hove, not in this election.  Wait until the Greens have developed their base beyond the solitary but high profile and impressive Alex Phillips.

In Brighton Kemptown Green Ben Duncan is putting up a bit of a show, but he will come nowhere near ousing the anti-Tory challenge of Simon Burgess.  Again, don’t vote Green this time around in Kemptown.  Vote tactically for Simon Burgess.

So in Brighton and Hove, I am advocating tactical voting for Labour in Brighton Kemptown and in Hove, and definitely a tactical vote and a principled vote for the Greens in Brighton Pavilion.

In Hastings in Rye I have always been impressed by the work ethic of Michael Foster who is defending the seat against the Tory, Amber Rudd.  Please give a tactical vote for Labour in Hastings.  Michael may not set the world on fire, but he has been an excellent MP.

In Lewes it has to be the Liberal Democrat, Stormin’ Norman Baker.  If Mandelson is to New Labour what Portillo was to the last Tory Government, then the re-election of Norman Baker will be the worst thing possible for Mandelson.

Finally, the election in Eastbourne is turning nasty where sitting Tory MP Nigel Watersons in real danger of losing to the Lib Dem Stephen Lloyd.  All Labour and Green supporters must vote Lib Dem in Eastbourne.  If Stephen wins, it won’t be the last we will hear of Waterson – he has already threatened to see Lloyd in Court over an election leaflet.  Who would have thought it, nasty politics in Eastbourne.

90 days to go until the General Election – Tactical Voting Campaign needed more than ever

If, as expected, the general election takes place on 6th May, there are just 90 days to go until polling day.  It has been said that a general election is decided by less than 100,000 voters, those ‘swing’ voters in key marginals whose votes decide which party gets a majority.  In some constituencies, like Arundel, a monkey with a blue rosette would gain a majority – and in the past it seems that this has happened!

But tactical voting can change that.  Perviously this blog has called for tactical voting in eight of the sixteen Sussex seats.  There is a danger that all sixteen seats could go Conservative, but with tactical voting Sussex could yet return eight non-Conservatives.

The key seats are: Lewes (Tactical vote for the Lib Dem Norman Baker); Eastbourne (again Lib Dem Stephen Lloyd); Hastings and Rye (Labour Michael Foster); Hove (Labour’s Celia Barlow); Brighton Kemptown (tight call between Labour’s Simon Burgess and the Green’s Ben Duncan); Brighton Pavilion (the Green’s Caroline Lucas); Crawley (Labour’s Laura Moffatt); and Worthing East and Shoreham (Labour’s Emily Benn).

This blog previously called for tactical voting in Worthing East and Shoreham for the Lib Dems, but such is the disorganisation and incompetence of that party in West Sussex that it has yet to select a candidate!  The website for the Worthing Lib Dems is one of the most inadequate websites I have ever seen.  The campaigns tag takes you to an empty page! It demonstrates that the Lib Dems cannot be taken seriously as the third party of British politics and should really stand aside in key seats such as Brighton Pavilion and Worthing East and Shoreham.  Therefore, this blog is changing its recommendation and is calling for tactical voting for Labour’s Emily Benn, granddaughter of Tony Benn and niece of Hilary Benn.  Alas, she does not share their politics.

By contrast, the website of the Lib Dem candidate in Worthing West and Arun, Hazel Thorpe, is lively and impressive.  Unfortunately, Hazel (who I personally admire) has little chance of success but nevertheless, this blog urges all Labour and Green supporters to vote tactically for Hazel Thorpe.

My next blog will review the two Brighton seats.

A Tactical Vote in Hastings and Rye is a Labour Vote

Until 1992, the Lib Dems seemed best placed to challenge the Tories in Hastings and Rye, but swept up in the Labour landslide, it went Labour in 1997.  Michael Jabez Foster, a local employment law solicitor and former councillor has been the Labour MP ever since.  Much respected by supporters of all parties, Foster has a large personal vote that could just save him at the General Election. That and tactical voting by Lib Dems and Greens.

Against Foster are Amber Rudd (Conservative) and Nick Perry (Lib Dem).  Amber is working hard and is gaining some local respect. She is the managing director of a recruitment and consultancy firm and contested Liverpool Garston in 2005. Nick Perry is a social worker and a graduate of Cambridge University.

The 2005 result:

Conservative: 16081 (37.4%)
Labour: 18107 (42.1%)
Liberal Democrat: 6479 (15.1%)
Green: 1032 (2.4%)
UKIP: 1098 (2.6%)
Other: 207 (0.5%)
Majority: 2026 (4.7%)

Boundary changes give a slight advantage to the Conservatives.  The UK Polling Report  has adjusted the 2005 result to reflect the boundary changes and reports a notional 2005 result as follows:
Labour: 18528 (40.7%)
Conservative: 17323 (38.1%)
Liberal Democrat: 7229 (15.9%)
Other: 2418 (5.3%)
Majority: 1205 (2.6%)

This is definitely a seat that can return a non-Conservative IF Lib Dems and Greens do the sensible thing.