Posts Tagged ‘Labour’

The Cost of Living

Labour has decided that councillors in Bristol should preserve democracy by ensuring that there is a constructive opposition on the council. The debate about that decision is raging in plenty of other places, I want to think about what constructive opposition might mean. Opposition is easy, highlighting the mayor’s mistakes (which there are bound to be, no-one is perfect), use the council structures to frustrate his plans (very difficult given the power’s of a mayor) and use any opportunity to criticise.

Being constructive is more difficult. But being constructive is what is required and needed by the City. Below are a few ideas but there are bound to be more:

Scrutiny and overview. The scrutiny committees have struggled to find a role. Labour could use them as they were intended to look in detail at key issues, to engage with experts and citizens (these overlap of course – seeks Venn diagram) to develop policies to propose to the Mayor and or develop feasible alternatives to his policies (even he admits he doesn’t have many beyond urban design where his views are pretty sound so there is plenty of scope to influence).

The full council meeting: This meeting is and always has been the worse of the council, its structure, indeed the layout of the room encourages bad behaviour. It is also the place where members of the media and even sometimes the public attend and is thought to typify the way the council works, whereas it is often a twisted parody of what people expect of politicians. Labour needs to avoid falling to the trap of this meeting, using it to showcase policy proposals rather than loutish tribalism.

Mayoral commissions: It seems likely the mayor will establish policy commissions. We should encourage Labour members and supporters with the necessary expertise to play a full role in this, they will be an excellent opportunity to promote progressive policies.

Outside the council Labour should not concentrate on leaflets attacking the Mayor. The - door knocking which is solely about identifying peoples’ traditional support has limited value. The work with the citizens of Bristol needs to be a discussion rather than an opinion poll. The work Marvin Rees started at the beginning of his campaign needs to be continued. Holding meetings open to the general public on issues of importance to seek solutions to the cities problems, having a real debate with local people. These could be in large groups in meeting rooms and halls or among a small group in someone’s living room.

Constructive opposition’s aim is not to disagree and resist but to persuade and influence. It is not about focussing on the here and now but also about preparing for the future.

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New Years Day #2012

The twittersphere is an interesting place to see the Labour Party turn in on itself (used to have to go to meetings for that – no more).

The main complaint is that Ed Milliband has failed to impress the electorate and that Labour has not pulled away from the Tories in the polls. Both these things are true but, for me not unexpected, but then I was active in the Thatcher years and have seen the country move away from one term Government of the 60s and 70s to a more stable view around giving a party the chance to get things done.

Firstly why is Labour only neck and neck with the tories.  As someone who spent a lot of time on the door step I know that many people were unhappy with the Labour Party in Government, some of this was classic ‘time for a change’ but was also coupled with some anger (Iraq, 10% tax, economic collapse – people had 13 years to decide which issue had upset them).

While Labour people seem to think that the voters realise that the economic collapse was due to the inevitable periodic implosion of capitalism. Many voters still see the Labour Government as at least partly responsible (which one could argue that the failure to regulate the City or to deal with bonus excess until the horse had bolted).  The general election was not that long ago and people don’t switch their views that quickly, even those suffering under the austerity programme.

This is also partly the reason why the Tories are maintaining their popularity (above general election levels).  People who support their analysis of the economic problem are happy to support them, there are others who do see them as trying to sort out the mess left by the previous Government.

The Tories have also been partly shielded by the Liberal Democrats whose polling collapse has almost returned us to 2 party politics. The view seems to be – ‘we expect the Tories to be bastards, they are doing what tories do’ indeed some people who are not conservatives are privately pleased that they are tackling ‘excess’ in public expenditure and the welfare system.  The lib dems are another matter, having sold themselves as fluffy, left of centre, tree hugging pavement politicians they have found themselves branded as traitors and turncoats who have rejected their principles for power. This is not entirely fair, Nick Clegg did promise ‘savage cuts’ and did give interviews to magazines like the Spectator putting forward a right of centre agenda – unfortunately for him people weren’t listening to that and so the u-turn on tuition fees – a totemic lib dem policy – and lib dems fronting Tory policies has done them in. This means the people who like the Government’s policies are crediting the tories and those that don’t are blaming the lib dems.

So why isn’t Ed Miliband having an impact.  Wouldn’t Labour be better if David had won. I think that whoever the Labour party had at its head would make little difference. As the opposition 3 years away from the general election the media and the public largely see the Party as irrelevant.  It could have perfect policies and a fantastically charismatic leader, but it can’t do anything – not yet anyway – so its pronouncements are largely meaningless. Any policy the Labour Party had now is almost certainly not going to be in the manifesto – the world and the economy is moving and the answer today will be wrong in 2015.

The only interesting domestic politics is the dynamics between the three parties of the coalition – the tories, the lib dems and of course the completely barking tory fringe.

So Labour people if you want to make a difference stop refighting the last leadership election and engage with your communities and work places and build a foundation for 2015.

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Well with the Bristol elections over for 2 years and the dust settled from the emotion around the elections who were the big winners in Bristol.


Labour gained 3 seats from the 2007 election (elections are fought on a 4 yearly cycle) and regained one seat which was lost in a by-election.  These were reasonable results but in no way matched the results in the Northern cities where Labour swept the board.  The swing to Labour was from the lib dems was 4% only half that achieved nationally. All Labour’s gains were at the expense of the Lib Dems and failed to win any seats from the Tories.

Labour will feel that they have momentum and are winning seats again but have failed to make a big enough impact to take control of the council over a four year cycle – If all the seats had been up Labour would have won around 32-34 seats just short of taking control.

Lib Dems

The Lib Dems have lost 5 seats and lost control of the council but must surely being quite pleased not to have lost more. Indeed they increased their vote since 2007 by just over 3,000. They will be calculating that the next elections in 2013 could leave them level with Labour on seats or even the second party.


On bristol247.com Tony Dyer the Green’s election guru had predicted two gains, Ashley and Southville. In the end they won in Ashley (with the highest vote on the night). This extra seat allows them to register officially as a party on the council which is a big step forward for them. However they will be a little concerned with the size of the loss in Southville and the failure to make progress in Easton.


The Tories are treading water they neither lost or won a seat. The tories in Bristol don’t seem to be going anywhere and they have more vulnerable seats up in 2013. They will be a little worried that unlike the national party which advanced against the lib dems while losing seats to Labour they have made little impact in Bristol.

Parliamentary Seats

Two parliamentary seats had all their local wards contested, Bristol East and Bristol South. There has been surprisingly little change in vote share since last years GE:

Bristol East

Labour + 2.6%

Con  +0.2%

Lib Dem – 4.9%

Bristol South

Lab +3.5%

Con -2.9%

Lib Dem -6.6%

Given the results it is hard to identify a real winner from the Bristol elections. All parties will take some cheer from the results and all have reasons to be depressed. Overall the Liberal Democrats, despite their losses, probably have had the best result given the national situation.

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The Leader

The Labour Leadership race has started, here is what I am looking for (in no particular order):

1) A commitment to a fairer distribution of wealth and opportunity – which means closing tax loopholes for the rich, tackling tax havens, Robin Hood tax, investment in early years, attacking unemployment, fairer system of benefits/tax/tax credits

2) A liberal attitude to society – less interference from state in personal affairs, no ID cards, no control over internet in favour of powerful vested interests, no detention without charge for more than a week, reappraisal of drug rules and a more effective and humane system for dealing with asylum claims

3) Commitment to public services – rejection of ‘private sector management philosophy’ replace with a strengthened public service ethic with a balance of consumer needs and professional skills of staff, reduction in target lead culture to one concentrating on outcomes rather than outputs (this is already starting).  Front-line is meaningless ensure skilled staff have proper support and training.

4) Ditch Britain’s costly, pointless and immoral nuclear weapons. End to US led intervention abroad, army for national defence, UN  and relief work.

5) Policies to tackle Britain’s housing problem – not enough houses in the right places, lack of social rented housing in South making prices unaffordable and many major cities, not enough effective regulation of private rented sector.

6) Move to carbon neutral economy with action to reduce energy usage and increase renewables. Nuclear power is not a green energy folks and should not be classed as green jobs either.

7) Recognition of the critical role of universities in developing high tech high skill economy.

8) Bonfire of the quangoes (spell checker suggest mangoes) with their expensive offices, senior management teams and annual reports. This can be achieved through a combination of nationalisation, localisation (passing responsibilities to individual or groups of local authorities) or provision through third sector.

9) Democratic renewal, review of national and local voting systems, fully elected second chamber, increase proportion of single tier authorities and expand number of elected mayors.

That’s all for now, sure others will occur to me after pressing “publish”

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Shout To The Top

Rory Doona’s latest leaflet

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The Three party slogans for the general election are now out.  First came the Conservatives with

Then Labour’s

and then unable to choose between the first two they are amalgamated into the Lib Dem

Interestingly on a blue background.  Presumably in Tory marginals the first one phrase will be used and the second one in Labour marginals.

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Pretty Vacant

A big thanks to Labour List for publishing a political biog, yes I know it has a typo or two, but then it wouldn’t be mine if it didn’t.


For those of you who are not sure PPC means Prospective Parliamentary Candidate not Pay Per Click.

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Message in a Bottle

(Extract from my mail to local residents)

2010 is going to be a critical year for this city, country and the world.

We enter the year with the world coming slowly out of economic recession but without any legally binding agreement on how to tackle climate change and with war continuing in Afghanistan.

In Britain there is a debate about tackling the budget deficit and the future of public services.  I think we need to back the people who deliver the wide range of essential services such as health, education, policing, higher education and care, protecting frontline and support services with any cut backs focussed on glossy PR, unnecessary bureaucracy, expensive overcomplicated IT projects and management consultancy.

I would be keen to know your views. I believe that the days of politicians broadcasting the party line without consideration of local views or deeper principles are over. My political party is my platform and not my prison.  I was involved as a community activist before joining a political party and am happy to work with people from other parties or from none where we share views. For example I was involved in the campaign to save the Bristol-Bath railway path with Greens, Respect and Lib Dems and other wide ranging work on opposing the BNP and supporting expansion and improvement of the local rail network.

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Famine, War, Want and Williams

The Green Party has selected Ricky Knight from West Devon as their parliamentary candidate for Bristol West. Knight makes a great deal of the Green’s local election results and suggests that the seat is a ‘four horse race’.

Local election results have a poor record in predicting general elections and in Bristol west this is particularly tough. When Valerie Davey won Bristol West for labour in 1997, she received 6,000 votes more than the Labour local election candidates and on that day of Labour Landslide the Lib Dems won Cotham ward from Labour.  In 2001 Labour had another landslide but the Lib Dems secured their grip on Bishopston and Redland wards.  It is clear that the Liberal Democrats do much better in council elections in the constituency than they do in the parliamentary seat. In 1987 and 1992 Labour Party activists were told how local election results in key seats showed that they were about to win the general election, they didn’t.

The greens have also had a strong showing in local election results in the area for some years now but have failed to turn it into general election voting.  There are two factors which affect this:

1) Split voting – people voting one way at local elections and another at general elections.  Some of this is about specific candidates who tend to have a larger influence at local level.  Some people also use local elections to ‘punish’ the main parties.  Others vote on ‘local’ issues in council elections and national/international issues in the General.

2) Differential turnout. The number of people voting in local elections is smaller than in general elections. Those voting at the local level are not a representative sample of the voting electorate in general elections. Those who are more passionate about politics and more engaged in the local community are more likely to vote locally, also those who have been contacted by or know the candidates.  The general election turnout is likely to be around twice as high as the council elections and the main parties do better partly because general election coverage is focussed on who is likely to form a Government.

There are two websites that seek to identify the starting point for the 2010 general election taking account of the Parliamentary boundaries:

Electoral Calculus http://www.electoralcalculus.co.uk (this site also allows you to type opinion poll results into a calculator and predict the general election result in any seat, it also does its own calculations monthly on average of polls – popular with political geeks)

Its starting point for election (i.e. its calculation of the 2005 result on new boundaries is)

Lib Dem     18,157   38%

Labour       17,709  37%

Con                8,380  18%

Others          3,539     7% (this would be mainly green votes but also Respect/socialist Labour)

Majority       448       0.9%

UK Polling report http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog (this site analyses all polls and also has a rolling average but doesn’t predict the results in individual seats only overall)

Lib Dem    18,051  41%

Labour      17,411  39%

Con               6,117  14%

Other           3,010   7%

Majority        640   1.4%

These are both independent sites with no party political bias.  Although Knight is the best name of all the candidates for a horseman this seat is a two horse race.


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Labour of Love

Michael Cocks MP for Bristol South in 1982

Writing yesterday’s blog reminded me of when I joined the Labour Party. My experiences are not unlike those described by John O’Farrell in his book “Things can Only Get Better”.

At the time the local party was in a bitter internal battle over the reselection of local MP and Labour Whip, Michael Cocks.

I was 17 and involved in running a local youth council which was campaigning on youth homeless and unemployment. I got involved in the youth council a year earlier through the Catholic Youth Club I attended and which sent me as a delegate to a meeting to set up the youth council. I had planned to sit in the back; this was hard when only 3 people turned up, one of them heavily pregnant and two youth workers.

The campaigning work had involved meeting local councilors and the MP. We had tried to stand a candidate in a council by-election but then you had to be over 21 and we didn’t have anyone old enough. The election was the day before my 18th birthday so I couldn’t even take part in our campaign to spoil my paper in protest at 18 year olds being unable to stand and vote for themselves.

I decided to join the Labour Party. My dad a traditional Labour supporter told me that if I ever joined a political party he would kick me out the house as they were all dishonest and would ‘stab you in the back’.

I joined Bishopsworth Branch Labour Party in April 1982. I should say I was allowed to join. The Branch Secretary liked to keep the membership at 51. 50 members gave you 4 votes at the constituency meetings, 51 gave you 6 so there was no need for more after you reached that magic figure. Some years later when I was membership secretary I found several members who didn’t even know that they were because that nice Mr Cocks actually paid their subscriptions and filled in the forms.

I only went to one Bishopsworth branch meeting before moving to Newcastle for university. That meeting was a revelation. Apart from a couple of young socialists and me the members were largely retired. Two women, one tiny, the other enormous swapped recipes during the meeting and hissed every time Tony Benn’s name was mentioned. I could imagine them sitting at the front row near the Guillotine in the Terror. The meeting was run by a group of men who would have looked at ease in the Politburo. One person was refused membership because he had green hair.

Of course this was the time when Labour was supposedly in the grip of the left. Michael Cocks survived the boundary changes and the reselection and Labour went into the following general election fighting not just Margaret Thatcher and the Tories but also a large number of their own members who had formed the SDP. Those were the days.

Footnote 1: I went on my first canvassing session in April that year. One of the then Labour Councillors said it was a shame I was going away to university as she could give me elocution lessons and I “make something of your life”.

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