Sunday, 26 February 2017

On Labour's Victorious Campaign in Stoke

While Copeland was important, the outcome didn't dangle the possibility of an existential crisis. That exactly what was in play at the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election. For UKIP and their empty cipher of a leader, a viable future was at stake. Both Nuttall and Nigel Farage had made much of UKIP's need to become the party of the working class, and Stoke was seen as a test bed for this strategy. For Labour, a loss would have signalled a disastrous disengagement between the party and a core component of its electoral coalition. As the campaign wore on and Nuttall's person was swamped by a tsunami of lies, Labour's inability to win under those circumstances would have been nothing less than catastrophic.

It didn't happen. After an awful year of grievous retreats, the line was held. And about bloody time. It's the kippers who are now in disarray, and Labour lives to fight another day. The majority fell by a wee amount, and the Tories and UKIP put on small numbers of votes. But on the reduced turn out as per all by-elections, the proportions were roughly the same as the 2015 outing. Apart from the stakes and the media hype, including some truly stupid commentary bigging up UKIP's prospects, was this a pretty dull by-election with very little to say about the state of national politics? Not in the slightest.

As we saw in Copeland, the Corbyn factor combined with the insecurity factor to the detriment of our chances. Did the same happen in Stoke Central? Yes, but with mixed results. During my moments on the doors, the Labour leader only came up the once. It was an old bloke just getting into his motor, and he was voting UKIP. This wasn't because he hated immigrants or thought Labour was a pile of crap, it was a protest: he didn't think Jeremy was any good. And nothing, not the NHS, not Nuttall's lies were going to dissuade him. Having asked around quite a few comrades who worked intensively on the campaign, they found similar sentiments among too many older, white working class voters. These Jez sceptics were either voting for the kippers or abstaining. And yet this was balanced out by the very enthusiastic response he got in other quarters. In Penkhull and bits of Hartshill where there are more middle class and professional residents, and down in Shelton with its large student and Asian populations, Jeremy was a real motivator. When out with Gareth Snell around Shelton, one comrade tells me of how cars would suddenly stop to speak with him and have obligatory selfies taken. 2,500 new electors registered for the by-election, mostly in the student areas, and I would wager that an increased turn out here made up for the decline in the traditional support.

The additional Jeremy factor was evident in the campaign itself. UKIP have talked up its own support on the ground and the people working for it. The party even turned out regular paid-for coach loads from London to bus people in (I wonder if they will appear on their electoral returns?) But truly, the Labour effort was colossal and they were utterly swamped. Yes, plenty of old hands were about doing their bit. However, new members turned out in large numbers as well. For dozens, probably hundreds, The Potteries was their first taste of campaigning. Any analysis skipping the positive consequences of the 2015-16 Corbyn surge is one indifferent to the truth.

The actual campaign was impressive. Huge numbers ensured the entire constituency was covered multiple times. The party could have perhaps dispensed with a direct mail as there were folks enough to deliver them by hand. The strategy was spot on, too. The NHS, Brexit, and more, better jobs for Stoke were heavily featured. Gareth's Plan for the Potteries with his first few months mapped out was exactly the sort of thing our campaign needed to see. Labour did put out one tabloid, The Potter's Wheel, which craftily billed itself as the no spin guide to the by-election, and it spent its time doing over UKIP and Nuttall. It's not often a party leaflet makes me laugh, but as negative campaigning goes its pun-tastic tones were the best way of doing it. The only criticism I would have, and this was evident in Copeland too, was the initial stand-offish approach taken toward the national media. Prioritising local radio, papers and telly is fine, but making it look as though candidates are hiding from reporters is not a good look. Remember, folks everywhere are more likely to follow national news and papers than the local equivalents.

What did annoy me was the constant barrage of claims on the right and the left that Stoke Central CLP had selected a "poor candidate". Never mind the fact Gareth has a campaigning record that would be the envy of hyperactive Trots, never mind Labour Party people. Forget that his tenure as leader of Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council saw a no cuts budget (unless you want to get precious about perks for senior management), and increased funding for domestic and sexual violence services and preparing the council to uprate its lowest pay scales to the proper national living wage. Not one member of our national media did their job and properly investigated his record. Instead they lazily alighted upon tweets written a life time ago, including some apparently abusive criticisms of Jeremy that, in context, were crafted as warnings of being taken out of context. Irony. This occasioned a media carpet bombing of Gareth and should act as a warning for aspirant candidates to take the time and carefully clean up their social media now. And so Fleet Street dubbed our comrade rubbish on the basis of a string of 140 character missives. What a pathetic state of affairs. Ask anyone who knows anything about the Labour Party in North Staffordshire and they will tell you about his energy, his formidable organisational ability, his capacious memory for the minutiae of rules and procedure - a plus should he find himself facing an opponent across the dispatch box - and the fact he is Labour to the marrow. Gareth is among the best of us, as the rest of the Labour Party will see in due course.

The take homes from this then are the differential impacts Jeremy can have, and future by-election and local elections' strategy need to bear this in mind. A campaign should have a small number of, easy-to-remember messages with the promise to do something about insecurity at their heart, and should avoid going into siege mode with the media. Yes, they will trash the party, it's what they do. But resisting engagement is not a good look. There are other observations to be made about the UKIP, Tory and LibDem campaigns that have wider significance beyond Stoke, but they will have to wait.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Local Council By-Elections February 2017

Party
Number of Candidates
Total Vote
%
+/- 
Jan
+/- Feb 16
Average/
Contest
+/-
Seats
Conservative
     20
 6,375
  23.5%
 +4.6%
      -5.0%
    319
    -7
Labour
     17
 6,332
  23.3%
  -2.5%
      -7.8%
    372
   +1
LibDem
     16
 7,421
  27.3%
 +4.5%
   +11.3%
    464
   +4
UKIP
     13
 2,532
    9.3%
 +1.5%
      -1.2%
    195
    -1
Green
     13
   965
    3.6%
 +2.6%
      -1.0%
     74
   +1
SNP*
      0
 

  
     0
PC**
      0

   

      
 
     0
Ind***
      3
   493
    1.8%
 +1.8%
      -4.0%
    164
     0
Other****
      4
 3,043
   11.2%
 +10.4%
    +11.2%
    761
   +2


* There were no by-elections in Scotland
** There were no by-elections in Wales
*** There was one Independent clash
**** Others this month consisted of Fylde Ratepayers (564), Bollington First (939), Uttlesford Residents (824 & 716)

Overall, 27,161 votes were cast over 20 local authority (tier one and tier two) contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. 13 council seats changed hands in total. For comparison with January's results, see here.

With December and January out of the way, at last the by-election season gets back into the swing of things, and what a scrappy mess February proved to be. The Tories were hammered across the board, and nearly everyone gaining some, and losing some. At the risk of the making them even more insufferable, the LibDems took the popular vote. Yeah, yeah, it won't last forever. Their advance was only stymied by their double loss to the might of Uttlesford Residents' Association. Still, a net gain of four is not something to be sniffed at, mind.  When was the last time Labour performed as well? Nevertheless, February was something of a marker for my party: this is our first net gain since May last year. A small crumb of comfort after the loss of Copeland. Meanwhile, UKIP continues its slide into decrepitude, albeit with a small increase in their vote but an overall loss. Particularly interesting is that it was the Greens who administered them that kicking.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Labour and Insecurity

Two opposing stories have emerged about Labour's defeat in Copeland last night. The first is Jeremy Corbyn was a drag on the doors and cost us the seat. The second is Labour's vote saw long-term decline under Jamie Reed, because he was really a Tory. The former requires stuffing the latter down the memory hole. The latter demands ignoring the reception on the doors and the awful polling. For anyone trying to understand what's going on and to address the pickle our party is in, neither of these are particularly helpful.

Jolly old Lenin was fond of noting that one should try being as radical as reality itself, which means looking at things as they are. And, unfortunately, they do not present well. The Parliamentary Party had a good go at trashing Jeremy and making a train wreck out of Brexit, and we haven't recovered since. Pointing this out on social media, while true, isn't going to make it go away. The damage is done. There has been the populist turn in response, but there was little evidence of that on Copeland and Stoke by-election leaflets. In this relatively stable interregnum between the leadership contest and Brexit negotiations hitting the buffers, it's difficult to know what to do.

The key dynamic exploited by the Tories in Copeland was insecurity. Even now, after banging on about it for years, time and again we are ceding this ground to them and, unsurprisingly, we're losing. The three Albatross hanging around Jeremy's neck is his association - however unfair that might be - with terrorist groups, perceived weakness on national defence, and opposition to all things nuclear, which encompasses power stations. It's a truism of politics that people aren't going to follow a leader or a party that makes them feel unsafe. In Copeland, a constituency utterly dependent on Sellafield for its economic lifeblood, such a position was more toxic than spent uranium. Labour had big hopes that the NHS would pick up the slack, but it didn't and never could because, politically speaking, it is a weapon with limited range. Yes, everyone loves the NHS. Yes, people are worried about what's happening at the local hospital. And, yes, invariably thousands of voters in any given constituency will either have had recent dealings with hospital or know someone undergoing them. For most people at all other times, the NHS is a safety net. Few fret over A&E waiting times, lack of beds, and staff shortages until they have to use them themselves. It does not cut to the quick in the same way a potential threat to your livelihood will, and to be honest as the party of the labour movement it's a bad show that we're oblivious to this.

Ironically, pretty much the same reasons underpinning last night's defeat were behind the declining vote share under the dearly departed. Like most MPs, I'm sure Jamie Reed was fairly diligent when it came to representing constituents' interests and protecting local industry. Sellafield wouldn't have taken him on had this not been the case. But politically, throughout the Blair/Brown years, he was the local front man for a party that did little to stymie the complex of anxieties and insecurities their political economy gave succour to. People didn't stop voting Labour because it wasn't left enough. Like the centre left elsewhere more recently, they dropped off because the party didn't act in their interests and, in a number of cases, undermined them. As I'm fond of saying, the Tories don't ever make the mistake of attacking their base.

As leader, Jeremy ultimately has to take responsibility for the Copeland loss. But the underlying culprit is a congenital tin ear. Too many assume that a labourist party can get away with pushing policies inimical to the interests of the coalition of voters that back it up, and then, albeit from a different political standpoint, repeating the same feat and expecting a different result. Two cheeks of the same arse, one might say. Should Jeremy depart before the next general election, looking over the Chukas, the Jesses, the Dans, Yvettes, Lisas, and whoever else fancies a crack, there isn't a single one of them who recognises this is a problem, let alone have a solution. But there is someone who does talk quite a bit about it, despite their politics premised around perpetuating privilege and inequality. And she's riding miles high in the polls.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Stoke Central Polling Day

Admittedly, I've never liked polling day much. Probably because my experiences of them are never the greatest. 2011 in Bentilee found me soaked and dispirited by the small numbers we turned out which, thankfully, were enough to see off the BNP. 2012, Springfields and Trent Vale: over a thousand Labour pledges and we still lost to the City Independents and their manifesto promising a ban on cervical smears(!). 2013 in Baddeley, Milton, and Norton - bloody miserable and another loss to the same crew. 2014 Newcastle-under-Lyme, alright I guess. So too was Stafford 2015, until I got home and saw that exit poll. Silverdale last year was uncharacteristically good as we took one off UKIP. And today?

Let me just say that this was the worst weather I've ever campaigned in. Storm Doris lured me in and gave us a good going over. Despite the multiple warnings from Carol on BBC Breakfast, it didn't look too bad out. Sure, trotting up to Hanley from Chateau BC was a touch windy, it was manageable. It was pleasant enough to pause briefly to admire the kippers going in and out of their HQ. I was asked by a plonker wearing a garish Union Jack-covered suit who I'd be voting for. "Not for your lot, mate." "Why?" "Hillsborough ... for starters." The deflated look was worth holding back the real explanation. Anyway, it was 9am and met up with brothers Tom and Lloyd at campaign HQ, and joined by sister N we hit the first doors around Hanley Park and Shelton.

This ward is predominantly populated by students with a large number of second generation Asian residents and an outer rim of white English locals. It was also the only ward in the whole city to have voted Remain in the EU referendum. A juicy morsel for our Liberal Democrat friends perhaps? Except, going door-to-door, they hadn't bothered going out early to drop off their polling day rounds. It was also quickly apparent that Doris had chosen this moment to do its worse. We were flung from house to house, my kipper-coloured brolly mutilated by the storm's gusty tendrils. As Tom put it, it felt like our hands were bloody stumps. Absolutely sodding soaked, Gareth Snell and Ruth Smeeth joined us just as we were beginning the second round. Thankfully this was a stone's throw from home, so I made my excuses and pegged it to change and put on more appropriate wear. Alas, the umbrella was beyond redemption. We'd had some good times ...

Back at base camp after a quick bite to eat, I went out with sister T and a couple of comrades who'd travelled up from Exeter. This was just down the road from the office and so made short work of a couple of rounds. Then back to recharge (bring me coffee or bring me death) and a chat to the poor bugger charged with hair drying all our soaked WARP sheets. By chance I bumped into me ode muckers Chris Williamson and Cllr Sarah Russell from Derby North CLP. Funnily enough, when I last went out with these motley comrades the weather was almost as appalling (snow storms in Mickleover don't come recommended). Off we headed with sister T and other Derby folks to Birches Head. This is a 1980s estate with plenty of detached housing and can be quite tricky for Labour. Here the big coat proved its worth as pulses of rain and beams of sun were cast down upon us, some times simultaneously. And for the finale, we had a double round back in Shelton with an expanded Stoke/Derby/Newcastle/Manchester/Matlock alliance. On this round especially we hit quite a lot of people who'd been and were about to head off to the polling booth. Interestingly, down one driveway I found a Rolls Royce. Not something you'd expect to see in those parts.

I'm sure you didn't want the diarising, but still. What this campaign has reminded me is that going out and doing the kind of slog others avoid like the plague can be and is a good laugh. Invariably, canvassing is not quite fun, but is always interesting and occasionally uplifting. And I've been heartened not just by the hundreds, if not thousands of comrades who've poured in from all over the country (and some times, from beyond) but also a good chunk of new members who signed up because of Jeremy Corbyn. A lot of old hands like to moan about the inactivity of these recently-activated folks, but they're no lazier than people who've been round the block a bit. Dozens upon dozens got their first taste of party campaign on the doorsteps of The Potteries, and I hope our shining pearl of North Staffordshire hasn't put them off future activity.

Back to business. The real reason why I don't like polling day is you're only left with an idea of how your vote turned out, whereas the normal go-find-your-voters canvassing gives you an overall glance of how the result might fall. That said, as the day went on turn out improved. Even the horrendous morning session wasn't a total loss. I am cheered by what comrades told me. Knowing someone who worked on the Heywood and Middleton by-election, which the kippers missed out on by a whisker, he said there was a palpable shift in their direction as the campaign wore on. No such shift was seen on the doors this time. Indeed, a few Tory-Labour switches (to keep UKIP out) were turned up - the job is to make them permanent rather than tactical voters. Overall then, the data points to a Labour win. But I don't do predictions any more - if that turns out to be wrong, and it might be, there are either a lot of shy kippers or we're not asking the right questions to flush them out.

The ballots are now in, and the result is beyond anyone's power. The tense night of counting now begins.

Stoke Central and Copeland By-Elections

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Dear Undecided Stoke Central Voter

You should definitely vote Labour on Thursday 23rd February. And depending on which way you're leaning, I'm going to tell you why.

Firstly, if you're finding UKIP attractive you should bear a few things in mind. Just take a look at Paul Nuttall. Here you have a man whose sole distinguishing characteristic is his lying. This isn't fibbing to make a CV look a little better, no, he's taken Hillsborough and used it to cast himself as a victim, as someone scarred by tragedy. You have to ask yourself, is this the sort of man you want representing you in Parliament? It's also worth looking at his record as a politician. Since being elected as a MEP, he has acquired one of the worst attendance records in the parliament. Now, you might agree with him. The European Parliament might well be a waste of time. You may sympathise with his view that he's there to show the place the contempt it deserves, but you also know that the best indicator of future behaviour is past behaviour. He's drawn his salary and done sod all as a MEP. He'll draw his salary and do sod all as your MP.

I know why you might find UKIP a tempting prospect. Labour have had all of Stoke's MPs since forever. It's run the local council more often than not. And during that time, local industry has disappeared. Whole streets have been bulldozed without getting rebuilt. Regeneration, a buzzword that has peppered the local paper's pages for 30 years never seems to get anywhere. Jobs are scarce and low paid, housing waiting lists are long, and every time somewhere new opens in Hanley another place closes. What you have to ask yourself is how will Paul Nuttall and UKIP turn that around. If he wins, the party will only have two MPs. Labour currently has 228, and had more before the last general election. But because it was in a minority, that couldn't stop the Tories and LibDems from targeting places like Stoke for cuts, cuts which meant replacement housing wasn't built, that local services were slashed, and which has resulted in a crisis at the hospital and chaos in social care. Assuming the UKIP leader breaks with his past and does some work for a change, what can he do with his even more limited reach? He can shout about immigration and blame East Europeans and other foreigners for Stoke's woes, but you know this has nothing to do with them. You know that if every single immigrant left, whether a recent arrival or second/third generation, there would still be these problems. Voting UKIP might feel like you're getting revenge on the world, but what is that going to achieve?

Because you also know that a UKIP win would be no good for Stoke. Labour has a plan for jobs, and you can see how Gareth Snell will carry it out. The Conservatives too have a plan, even if they're merely implementing what Labour drew up when it ran the council. What's UKIP's plan? Unfortunately, a win for them means a backward step for the city. I don't know if you voted for the BNP in the past, but outside the city their high levels of support meant Stoke acquired a racist reputation. If UKIP win, the repairs done to that reputation will be torn down. Fair enough, you might not care what people outside of Stoke think about us, but you should. Hundreds of millions of pounds worth of investment skipped the city in the noughties because we were associated with the BNP. A similar identification with UKIP will have the same effect. Imagine, if you're someone from outside Stoke thinking about coming to university here, going for a job here, setting up a business here, would being the UKIP capital of the country encourage them? You might think "sod 'em", but that's money not getting spent in Stoke shops. That money not going into the pockets of Stokies. It's fitting UKIP have decided to decorate their leaflets with boarded up shops, because we'll be seeing more of them if they win.

If you're thinking about voting for UKIP these are the things you should consider. You want a better future for your family, for your kids and grandkids, for your friends and for your community. UKIP are not the gate way to better times. Quite the reverse, they will set Stoke back years and condemn the city to dereliction. To more of the same, in other words.

And if you're not going to be voting UKIP but, for whatever reason you don't like Labour and are intending to vote Conservative, Liberal Democrat, or Green, on this occasion I'm asking you to swallow your party loyalty and put your cross next to Gareth Snell's name. You know well the reasons why UKIP would be a disaster for Stoke-on-Trent. And you're aware that this battle is between them and Labour. Should Labour win I'm sure there will be things your new MP does that irritates the hell out of you. But looking at his platform, a jobs plan for Stoke, the creation of better paid and more secure work, working to attract more investment and taking on the divisions in our city that makes it appear so attractive to racists and opportunists, what do you disagree with? As a Labour member and party activist, you won't be surprised to learn that I think our candidate is the best. But whatever you think of him and our party, he's the only way you can get the things you want too. And so when you enter the polling booth, as your pencil hovers above the ballot paper, think tactically and vote Labour. Not only will a Labour win spare Stoke the hardship of carrying the racist town tag again, a huge gap between ourselves and UKIP will throw them into terminal crisis. Tomorrow is the only opportunity we're getting to send a clear message that, despite what people elsewhere may have seen or read, The Potteries is an open, tolerant and friendly place. Crushing UKIP in this by-election is going to help clean up our national politics too. And all you have to do is vote Labour.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Theresa May in Stoke

The Prime Minister managed a double whammy of the unexpected yesterday. First, she visited Stoke, which is something PMs rarely ever do. And second, her presence and parade in front of the local media means she's effectively campaigned for a Conservative candidate who doesn't stand a realistic chance of winning, which is usually a no-no when it comes to playing the Westminster game. How to explain this most unlikely of high profile interventions?

Very quickly, part of it has to do with May's One Nation/Shared Society nonsense. Given the consistency in which the PM talks about this stuff, it is definitely something she's ideologically committed to, even if - like any good Conservative - she doesn't let principles get in the way of power and politics. And so, with nothing to lose in Stoke, her breeze through the Emma Bridgewater factory and saunter about The Sentinel's offices (both "non-political" Conservative-supporting outfits, coincidentally) during the most high profile and important by-election in decades burnishes them One Nation creds. For years Tories have opined about no-go areas, and here's Theresa May herself leading from the front and making the case that Conservatism is for everybody.

She wouldn't have done this if the Tories weren't expecting to turn in a creditable performance this Thursday, and there's every chance they could. UKIP are in long-term decline and have been since before last June's EU referendum, and if there's any justice the lying lies of Paull Nuttall will do for them this Thursday. Furthermore, the polls and deflating performance in local council by-elections suggest chunks of kipper support are returning to the Tories. As far as May is concerned, to hold on in 2020 all she has to do is carry on being the super serious grown up politician, keep her fingers crossed Brexit negotiations don't have a disastrous outcome, that Trump and the economy behaves themselves, and triangulate to retain those fairweather UKIP votes. Her Stoke-on-Trent trip is a field test for that strategy. If the Tories can take extra bites from the purples and improve their position vis a vis Labour, this will be the course she steers between now and the general election.

Monday, 20 February 2017

The Future of Work

Having a wee break from blogging tonight. Here's a piece I did last week for work on, um, the future of work. As it was for the powers that be I had to tone down and be less forthright. Still, writing for different audiences is good discipline ...

There has been a lot of concern recently that millions of jobs are due to be automated out of existence over the coming decades. Of course, this is nothing new.

Since the Luddites undertook the very first acts of machine breaking, capitalism has sought to replace living labour – workers, by hand or by brain – by what Karl Marx called dead labour, or machines. And this has been the pattern of economic development since the end of the 18th century.

We can see this in an accelerated form in Britain over the course of the last 40 years, through the disappearance of manufacturing jobs either by exporting them to low wage zones in the developing world or via obsolescence through technology.

The next wave of automation, however, promises to be deeper and more thoroughgoing. The service sector jobs, the white collar office jobs that grew as manufacturing disappeared, are those set to be replaced by self-service kiosks, software, algorithms and, in a few cases, robots.

What is the future for work?

This has been a concern of social theorists Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. They have argued occupations that place people and the production of social relationships at their heart are the emerging and increasingly dominant forms of work.

The shift in labour markets these last 40 years typify what they call the ‘social worker’, or what we might understand now as the networked worker. Examples run across the occupational and status scale – human resources/managers, shop assistants, couriers, drivers, marketing, trainers and personal services providers, coffee shops, lawyers. Advances in robotics, software and artificial intelligence all variously threaten them. The common pattern is one where tasks are amenable to automation.

For instance:

* Accountancy software requiring a few inputs presents a major challenge to the accountancy profession.
* UK law firms developing software that can turn out legal documentation and provide advice.
* Automated cash registers and cash machines have long displaced retail and shop floor banking staff.

The proliferation of email has grown workloads for professional occupations and rendered many involving “simple” administration obsolete. But where the building of relationships or decision making about relationships are central, these are the careers likely to thrive during the coming wave of automation.

Fewer newer jobs

The problem, however, is that while new technology and new ways of working beget new jobs, it is unlikely the new will manage a like-for-like replacement of the old. In the UK, the well-paid secure manufacturing jobs of old were largely replaced by more insecure, lower paid work. The nature of the coming automation will likely mean even fewer newer jobs.

If automation proceeds to destroy jobs in clerical work, the transport industry, the service sector, and in some professions it could lead to a number of serious social problems and a growing gap between vacancies and the unemployed. This will demand a response from policy makers and governments. Presently, automation is proceeding at a relatively slow pace because labour markets are loose and supply is plentiful.

If post-Brexit the UK decides to restrict immigration, the market overall becomes tighter. Similarly, the baby boomer generation are retiring and withdrawing from the workplace, and the generational cohorts following them are less numerous. Tighter markets allow for the building of wage pressures, and the “solution” to head this eventually off and preserve profits is to invest in more automation, thereby sharpening unemployment.

However, there are a number of policies governments could adopt to avoid these problems. One would be the introduction of a basic income payable to all citizens, which would give people independence from work as a means of making a living – and give them more freedom to take risks, such as starting a new business. Or alternatively, the benefits of automation could be shared by reducing the working week. If automation means higher productivity, do we need people working 39 hour weeks (or more) alongside millions who can’t find work?

These debates are likely to come to the fore over the coming years.

Is there anything individuals can do to prepare for the labour market of the future?

When it comes to higher education, generalist as opposed to specialist degrees in the human, natural or computer sciences provide for a broad range of skills and competencies. This right now appears to be the best way to future proof people for the challenges coming down the line.

Abandoned Stoke

An interesting short from the comrades at WellRedFilms, just ignore the talking head saying things about the passing of Stoke's industry. If you would like more, keep an eye on WellRed's profile page here.


Sunday, 19 February 2017

A Saturday in Stoke-on-Trent Central

Has this week been decisive for the by-election campaigns in Stoke-on-Trent Central? Paul Nuttall must be nursing a cracking hangover. Having been so thoroughly exposed hasn't done his campaign any good at all, to the point where he cannot really go door knocking again - not that he did much except hang around campaign HQ and have a few photos taken. And the lies keep on a-coming. He got rumbled over false claims that he served on the board for a North West skills charity. Michael Crick's digging has discovered that Nuttall was on the local election register before he moved into his house - yet another offence to chalk up with all the others. And the dishonesty is spreading as UKIP supporters at their Spring conference pose as activists in Stoke. I know fibbing and politics are bedfellows, but Nuttall and co are something else. And this is without mentioning his yes-I-would-waterboard-a-10-year-old gaffe.

Despite the repeated efforts of UKIP's helpers in The Sun, The Express and, yes, The Sentinel to put a few daft tweets from seven years ago on the same level as lying about the Hillsborough disaster, going into the last Saturday before polling day things are looking good for Labour. So what was it like on the doors? Yesterday morning I was out in Bentilee. Regular readers will know this is one of the biggest estates in the city, and was - according to legend - once the largest council house build in all of Europe. During the 00s it acquired some notoriety as the then council ward returned three BNP councillors to the local chamber. Concerted campaigning by Labour and change in the national political weather saw them cleared out in the 2010 and 2011 local elections. However, the problems that underpinned BNP support - unemployment, low pay, insecurity, deprivation, housing - did not go away, and were in many ways exacerbated by the cuts forced on the City Council by the Tory/LibDem coalition government. Nevertheless, despite the head of steam building behind UKIP in the run up to the 2015 general and local elections, the purples could only manage the return of two councillors across the city. In Bentilee, Labour held on and retained both seats, which hardly makes it a "UKIP heartland" in my book.

And, as sessions went, it was pretty much what I expected. The round we were on had been doorknocked the previous two weeks and so our time was spent filling in the gaps (you might be pleased/horrified to learn, depending on your affiliations, that Labour had a healthy lead on the prior information). I was on the board, Miss Ford, and so didn't do much engaging, but it did mean I had a proper overview of how we did. Labour came out on top overall by some margin followed by three Tories, and handful of Don't Knows and Won't Says, a couple of Againsts. The BNP and the Greens(!) can each count on at least one vote apiece from this part of Stoke. Too many non-voters though, which is par the course for Benters, unfortunately - ward turnout in 2015 was under 40%. I did get the chance to speak to one bloke who was already down as an Against (read Kipper) who was fulminating against Tony Blair's oh so helpful intervention in the Brexit debate. Another comrade told me later that Blair had come up for him too, a sign that he's firming up the UKIP vote? There is, of course, a rule barring party members from providing assistance to rival campaigns ... In all, not a bad morning. If these canvass returns hold out across the constituency, then Labour can look forward to Thursday's outcome.

In the afternoon we had a flying visit from Jeremy Corbyn. Speaking to the 150 or so present he thanked everyone for coming and laid into UKIP as the Trojan Horse for NHS charges and privatisation. Jez praised Gareth's Plan for the Potteries and looked forward to meeting him in the Leader's Office Monday week to ensure it gets implemented. Lastly, he urged everyone present to grab a canvass board and leaflets and hit the streets.

Much to my amazement, and for the first time ever, when we went to grab a board for more door knocking they had all gone. Our intrepid gang headed off instead to the wilds of Eaton Park with bag fulls of addressed letters. For folks unfamiliar with this district, it is a mix of 1970s and 80s detached and semi-detached housing, a mix of owner-occupied, mortgage holders and privately rented. Politically it's always been a bit tricky for us. The present chair of Stoke Central Labour, Terry Crowe, represented Eaton Park on the City Council 2011-15 and has done so at various intervals for nearly 30 years. Presently, Rita Dale of the City Independents holds the ward. Unfortunately, running around bashing stuff through letter boxes aren't ideal for gauging the mood. Though, somehow, we'd manage to attract a journalist from German radio and she went round vox popping every local that crossed our paths. One young couple said they were voting for Nuttall because of immigration. The woman recounted how she'd previously lived next door to a foreigner, and in the space of a year he bought three cars. Another guy out cleaning his motor said he voted Leave but was undecided in the by-election, though definitely against UKIP. Speaking of the kippers, one comrade out leafleting with us while wearing union paraphernalia was challenged by a lesser spotted UKIP canvassing team. "What do you think of your candidate's sexist tweets?" asked our newly-found allies in the struggle for women's equality. Any other situation it would be "PC gone mad" bollocks.

And that was it for me. Back to base and the humdrum of shopping and putting the tea on. Also, when I got home, I learned that one so-far-unidentified UKIP activist didn't have a particularly good afternoon. One of their leafleters got caught short and decided to relieve himself up against the side of a house. Unluckily for him, he was seen via CCTV and challenged about it. In response, the culprit tried to force his way into the elderly woman's home, presumably to seize the evidence. If Nuttall wins, this will be far from the only time UKIP pisses on the constituency.

Anyway, speaking to comrades out on other rounds the results of the day's campaigning were fair to good. But it's far from job done. Now we have to make sure we turn out the thousands upon thousands of Labour promises on the day. If you haven't had chance to come out yet, want to help and are in a position to do so, there's still plenty of work to be done. Especially on polling day itself. Come join us and help bury UKIP this Thursday.