Tuesday, 4 August 2015

At Jeremy Corbyn's Birmingham Rally

My friend and comrade Chris Spence of Newcastle-under-Lyme CLP attended the huge Jeremy Corbyn rally in Birmingham on Sunday, and has been kind enough to provide me with this report of the event.

Before I start I should make a little confession: I’m voting for Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership election and last week I volunteered to help with his campaign so I am far from an unbiased observer!

The left’s man of the moment was rushed by car from an earlier event in Coventry (where around twice the venue’s capacity turned up to hear him speak) to address a huge, diverse crowd at the Bordesley Centre in Birmingham.

Arriving around 15 minutes later than billed, Jeremy entered the main room to cheers and a standing ovation whilst he tried to work his way through the crush to the platform. The hall was so full that additional chairs were brought in on either side of the platform, and it was standing room only in every available space that wasn’t filled with chairs – it was a good job no-one was too concerned with fire safety regulations! The crowd was so large that another room downstairs was also packed out, and watching via video link.

Despite intermittent microphone problems Jeremy laid out his programme for a better Britain, and a better world, based on his vision of a compassionate society investing in housing, infrastructure, high-technology manufacturing, and building real communities. His key themes were far from the “hard left” position which he is caricatured as propounding, and would be familiar to Social Democrats across Europe. In fact the message, and the mood of the room, reminded me quite strongly of 1997, but let’s not go there ...

Jeremy began by talking about the Conservative Party’s “deeply unpleasant” agenda – cuts to the vital public services on which we all rely; cuts to the tax rates for the wealthiest and corporations; the demonisation of immigrants, the unemployed and the most vulnerable in our “increasingly brutalized” society.

He mentioned some of the good proposals in the 2015 Labour manifesto, but suggested that the reason we didn’t win in May was due to not offering a real alternative to the Tory austerity agenda, and by failing to challenge the false economic narrative throughout the last Parliament. He also talked glowingly about the many positive things achieved by the Labour government of ‘97 including Sure Start, repeal of section 28, and the introduction of the national minimum wage. He also honestly accepted that there were serious mistakes like PFI, the Iraq war and the promotion of the financial sector above other industrial needs (all of which he consistently opposed at the time). When people say he couldn’t lead the Party after breaking the whip so many times, my answer would be that the Party should not be wrong so often!

Tellingly for critics calling Corbyn a throwback to the 1980s, he pointed out that the current government’s attacks on the poor, on manufacturing industry, on trade unions and the welfare state are a direct return to the politics of the Thatcher governments of the 1980s. It is the Tories, not Corbyn, who are stuck in a “time warp” of neoliberal orthodoxy for which we are all still paying the price.

Post-May, Jeremy and others on the left of the Party called for a lengthy and serious debate about the future direction of Labour’s economic strategy, social strategy and environmental strategy – instead we had a leadership election. Because of this, the left had no choice but to put forward a candidate to ensure that this crucial debate was held, and to offer a real choice to all the members, affiliated and registered supporters. Jeremy joked about managing to get the required 35 nominations “quite easily” (following a huge grassroots campaign to ask MPs to nominate him) “we had almost 2 minutes to spare after getting the last signature”.

He thanked those Labour MPs who had nominated him, even those who did it “reluctantly, deeply reluctantly, or extremely deeply reluctantly,” to much laughter from the audience. We were told about how his campaign started with nothing but a diary and a list of places to visit, and has now grown to a campaign covering 21 hustings and 42 public meetings to date, with around another 40 still to come. In only a matter of weeks, over 6,000 people have volunteered to help the campaign, and the public meetings are massively oversubscribed, spilling out of venues all across the country. In Liverpool the night before, around 1800 had arrived at the Adelphi hotel where there were seats for 800.

The people supporting Jeremy come from all ages, backgrounds and viewpoints – many are young people newly engaged in politics that finally speaks to them; others are those returning because they see an opportunity for the Labour Party to represent them after years of disenfranchisement. Corbyn has challenged the myth that young people are not political - against a backdrop of the Tory attacks on our youth (lower wages, higher education fees, cuts to housing benefit etc.) Young people may have been turned off by Party politics and the name-calling that characterises so much political discourse in the UK, but Corbyn has always eschewed personal attacks and it has struck a chord. No matter the nature of the personal accusations, Jeremy is insistent on talking about the policies which are important, providing a refreshing alternative to most politicians.

He praised the achievements of the 1945 Labour government (NHS, Town and Country Planning Act, council house building) and talked about the breakdown of the post-war consensus. He suggested that at some point Labour lost our way when we stopped defending the principal of a universal social security system to stop people falling into destitution. We need to stop blaming the victims, and accept that anyone one of us could rely on the social security system after personal misfortune.

Jeremy said he was disgusted at the language used about immigration at the last election. If there is a housing shortage, it is because we fail to build enough housing – it is not because of immigration. Likewise for all struggling public services starved of investment. Jeremy emphasised that we must use inclusive language because that is how we build strong communities – and it is strong communities which can build the future prosperity we all need.

Jeremy then discussed some of his major policy positions - The Economy in 2020 lays out plans including a National Infrastructure Bank – to invest in rail, housing, and also sustainable energy and high tech jobs – this is how to build a strong economy rather than leaving everything to the private sector. It may sound like a radical socialist platform here in the UK, but it is viewed as entirely mainstream and sensible in other European countries like Germany where they invest far more than we do, and reap the economic benefits as a result.

On climate change he said we have cleaned up our air and water in the UK, but by effectively exporting pollution to other countries due to differing legislation across the world. We need to be part of a global movement to harmonise regulations and to combat climate change. Climate change affects all of us, not just the poorest in the world. The steps we can all take: consume less, save energy, preserve our environment – should not be viewed as those of an obscure interest group but must be mainstream, and part of everyone’s lives.

Jeremy described the major programme of council house building needed. This will be based on investment which creates jobs, provides a better environment for people to live in, and provides the security that is so often lacking in people’s lives in the UK today. In contrast to the post-crash consensus, he stated that we must accept state intervention in the market as the best way to achieve this.

He talked about the importance of education to society and individuals and proposed all free schools and academies should be brought back under LEA control, and that all teachers should be fully qualified. We all benefit from people’s education so why should we saddle young people with crippling levels of debt? Corbyn would increase our already-low corporation tax by 0.5% to pay for university fees and would stop the race to the bottom on taxation.

He finished by saying that this is wider than an internal election within the Labour Party – this is about challenging the consensus politics around economics, around foreign policy and so many other things – surely we can do better than that? We should be opening things up, whatever the result on September 12th, we should come together to discuss democracy in our society and the way forward. Politics within the Labour Party must come from the lived experience of ordinary people – we should be developing this now, not waiting until six months before the 2020 election.

Some questions in the Q&A section proved quite rambling and have been reduced here to a policy heading:

Why didn’t Labour challenge the myth of Labour overspending causing the crisis?
Jeremy answered that the Bank of England should be publicly-owned, publicly-run, and the main regulator for the financial system. Banks must work for us, not the other way round. He opposed the sale of shares in RBS, and the fact that those banks continued to sell buy-to-let mortgages and advice on tax avoidance after the bail-out. We should have used public ownership to invest in housing and industry, he says.

Do we need to give up our principles in order to win power?
Corbyn is quite adamant on this answer - no. Winning is about determination to achieve change. Even people living in very Tory areas will be old one day, we will all need social care, high quality medical treatment at some point. We must be bold enough to say that those with the deepest pockets should pay a bit more. We should be proud of the idea that we can unlock the talents of everybody. Be consistent and specific about what we want to achieve. Some will attack us, they always have – but remember the media is not as powerful as they once were. Newspaper sales are still shrinking; people get information from a much wider range of sources such as social media, which opens up new opportunities to challenge political narratives.

Corbyn talked about campaigning in Thanet before the election and said that when we get beyond the bile and nastiness targeting vulnerable minorities, and instead move on to the collective solutions to the problems, you start to engage with communities. Austerity is a political agenda designed to further entrench individualism and reduce the role of the community in providing services. This government wants a return not to the 1930s, but more like the 1830s.

Will you challenge the power of a monopolistic Tory press?
Jeremy supports the NUJ position of not allowing cross-ownership of print and broadcast media. He called on everyone to support the BBC as a public service broadcaster, for all its faults. We should develop a system which allows for plurality of local newspapers that are not owned by large conglomerates.

What will you do to achieve Party Unity?
Jeremy wryly said he recognises that many in the PLP have a very different view of the world than some of those in the room today. He would remind them that there have been 10s of thousands of people involved in the leadership debate and that it is much wider and more democratic than the old system of MPs electing leader. We must open the party outwards to the wider community and not turn inwards into an arcane discussion group; we need to widen the debate on economic, social and environmental policy direction to the membership. This is probably the most radical part of his agenda, and the one which strikes fear into the hearts of many in the PLP!

What do you have to say about Calais?
It is fundamentally a humanitarian crisis. The only solution is a Europe-wide response to a European crisis. We must stop using dehumanising language.

What should be done about local government cuts whilst we are in opposition?
Local Government must cooperate across Party lines to make the case for the vital nature of local services, not compete with each other for central government funding. Youth Services should be placed on a statutory footing to protect them from cuts.

ISIS and the Middle East
You don’t bring about democracy by bombing with a B52 from 30,000 feet. The only solution is a political one, the exclusion of Iran from the process by the UK and USA has exacerbated the problem in Syria. Not to say that it would be easy, our relationship with Iran is problematic and complicated but excluding them and relying on military action has made things worse. Peace through dialogue!

Counter-terrorism strategy
The “Prevent” strategy only targeting the Muslim community simply adds to division – we need to give everyone a stake in society and be inclusive, not drive people away and into the arms of extremism.

Nationalism
Wrapping yourself in a flag does not get houses or hospitals built, or raise children and pensioners out of poverty – it is important to challenge nationalism.

Education
It is vital to teach our young people about the history of democracy and how change has been achieved in the world: how we got the vote, how we got universal suffrage, how we got council housing etc. We need to teach that power lies with us all to build a stronger democracy. The best ideas come from below, not from top-down impositions.

Corbyn finished the lengthy Q&A in the packed (and now seriously sweaty) hall with this call to action:

“If we want to change our society, our Party, we need all new members and supporters to play a full part in creating a strong, vibrant, coherent democracy within the Labour party that will really help bring about the policy changes that will allow us to challenge the philosophy behind what this government is doing – attacking the poorest and most vulnerable, and destroying the life chances of those who work very hard.”

I have attended several Labour Party events in the last few years and have never seen such an enthusiastic and positive atmosphere – it was electrifying!

Image Credit

Monday, 3 August 2015

Labour MPs and Political Leadership

What is the relationship between a Labour Member of Parliament and their Constituency Labour Party? It's a good question as different people have very different ideas. MPs aren't delegates of their local parties, there are no means by which they can be mandated to vote this way or that. Would a good MP nonetheless seek to reflect their members' concerns? Or should it be the other way round? Should MPs be considered the nominal leader of their CLP? John Forrester, the Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent North between 1966 and 1987 was the sort of MP who was very hands-on. He busied himself with the minutiae of CLP doings and basically ran the show. Not that that prevented him from getting deselected in a member-led coup.

The alternative to this hands-on approach isn't hands-off. It's political hegemony, the idea that the MP provides a political lead for the members. After all, everyone who stands for Labour in parliamentary elections have to win people over in selection meetings. That includes stitch-ups too. Presumably most prospective MPs aren't selected because they're urbane, charming, and work jolly hard. There is a political dimension here too: they have to demonstrate (and once they're in, continue demonstrating) how their politics best fit the constituency.

How then does one measure the strength of a MP's political hegemony over their local party? In the absence of hundreds of observations of CLP meetings, the Labour leadership contest has provided us with a crude means of uncovering it. Simply put, I'm supposing here that matches between CLP nominations and their MPs is indicative of some sort of political leadership that the members respect and follow. Are constituency parties a slavish lot? Or do they pay their MPs a blind bit of notice?

All the data used here is from the New Statesman, so if anything is wrong blame them.

A couple of caveats first of all. We know that some MPs nominated Jeremy to enable a debate and aren't intending on voting for him when the ballots open. Nevertheless, for the purposes of this crude exercise a nomination for Jez is treated as a nomination for Jez, regardless of the motive. Secondly, some (but by no means all) had very good reasons not to nominate a preference. It's right and proper, for example, that the deputy leader candidates have kept out of the leaders' debate (though it's common knowledge that Caroline Flint is Andy Burnham's unofficial running mate). Others, like the acting leader, the deputy speaker, and the odd grandee were wise to keep out. Again, an abstention match is treated here as a match.

How does it look for each of the candidates? Andy Burnham's campaign managed a match of 29 out of 68 (42.6%), Yvette Cooper 16/59 (27.1%), Jeremy Corbyn 16/36 (44.4%), Liz Kendall 8/41 (19.5%), and Did Not Nominate 10/25 (40%). Overall, only 30% of constituencies followed their MP's lead. A crisis of leadership? Perhaps. Or perhaps not. Someone like my own MP Tristram Hunt can live with his CLP having nominated Yvette Cooper more easily than poor old Chris Leslie, Rachel Reeves, Keir Stamer, Steve Reed, and Gloria De Piero - high-profile figures with rebellious Jez-supporting local parties. How many of the so-called moderate MPs had CLPS that behaved "immoderately"? Of the 168 MPs who nominated Andy, Yvette, or Liz; Jeremy took 35 of "their" CLPs (20.6% of Andy's, 31% of Yvette's, and 29.3% of Liz's - a higher proportion than she herself took). The moderate "rebellion" among Jez's own was 10 out of 36 (27.7%). With a left rebellion rate of 20.8%, suddenly the picture of seven-out-of-ten CLPs not following their MP's lead doesn't look at terrifying to those opposed to Jeremy.

There are a couple of other things that are worthwhile noting. Firstly, a number of MPs would have calculated there was little chance of getting their choice through, and have worked behind the scenes to ensure their CLP did not nominate. Surprisingly, this appears to have been more likely where Yvette supporters were concerned . I do accept that some CLPs don't take a view on such things because it can act as a catalyst for political divisions, but for 45.8% of "her" CLPs to have taken that view? I'm not naive.

Another factor might be the newness of the MP. It takes time to build hegemony up over one's organisation, and that's something a bit of nifty manoeuvring can't short circuit. I haven't got the time to go through and check the nominations of new MPs and their CLP's decision, but I suspect there is more likely to be evidence of drift. What about gender? Is there more chance of a CLP accepting their MP's choice if they are a man? 51 men and 28 women had their nominations matched by their CLPs. Rebellion by gender split 78 men and 81 women, so yes, a constituency is more likely not to follow a female MP than a man, a disparity wider than the raw figures suggest given the PLP's overall gender imbalance. Or could it be that a greater number of the new intake are women, and the newness effect comes in? I'd like to think the latter ...

At first glance then it does appear that CLPs were reluctant to follow their MP's lead on the Labour leadership. However, this isn't a rebellion against 'moderation' if you define the Andy, Yvette, and Liz camps as such. Only a fifth of "their" CLPs decided to endorse the left insurgency. Most of the "rebellious" moves of local parties saw switches to other like-minded candidates or a decision to sit the contest out.

The full list of MP nominations with CLP endorsements in brackets are below.

Andy Burnham (68)
Debbie Abrahams MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Jeremy Corbyn)
Heidi Alexander MP for Lewisham East (Liz Kendall)
Dave Anderson MP for Blaydon (Andy Burnham)
Hilary Benn MP for Leeds Central (Did not nominate)
Luciana Berger MP for Liverpool, Wavertree (Did not nominate)
Clive Betts MP for Sheffield South East (Andy Burnham)
Paul Blomfield MP for Sheffield Central (Did not nominate)
Kevin Brennan MP for Cardiff West (Did not nominate)
Andrew Burnham MP for Leigh (Andy Burnham)
Julie Cooper MP for Burnley (Did not nominate)
David Crausby MP for Bolton North East (Yvette Cooper)
Alex Cunningham MP for Stockton North (Andy Burnham)
Wayne David MP for Caerphilly (Yvette Cooper)
Peter Dowd MP for Bootle (Andy Burnham)
Michael Dugher MP for Barnsley East (Andy Burnham)
Bill Esterson MP for Sefton Central (Andy Burnham)
Paul Farrelly MP for Newcastle-Under-Lyme (Andy Burnham)
Rob Flello MP for Stoke-On-Trent South (Andy Burnham)
Yvonne Fovargue MP for Makerfield (Andy Burnham)
Pat Glass MP for North West Durham (Did not nominate)
Mary Glindon MP for North Tyneside (Andy Burnham)
Lilian Greenwood MP for Nottingham South (Jeremy Corbyn)
Margaret Greenwood MP for Wirral West (Yvette Cooper)
Nia Griffith MP for Llanelli (Did not nominate)
Andrew Gwynne MP for Denton and Reddish (Did not nominate)
Harry Harpham MP for Sheffield Brightside & Hillsborough (Andy Burnham)
Carolyn Harris MP for Swansea East (Jeremy Corbyn)
Stephen Hepburn MP for Jarrow (Andy Burnham)
Kate Hoey MP for Vauxhall (Liz Kendall)
Kate Hollern MP for Blackburn (Did not nominate)
Dan Jarvis MP for Barnsley Central (Did not nominate)
Graham Jones MP for Hyndburn (Did not nominate)
Gerald Jones MP for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Jeremy Corbyn)
Barbara Keeley MP for Worsley and Eccles South (Did not nominate)
Ian Lavery MP for Wansbeck (Andy Burnham)
Emma Lewell-Buck MP for South Shields (Andy Burnham)
Ian Lucas MP for Wrexham (Andy Burnham)
Holly Lynch MP for Halifax (Jeremy Corbyn)
Justin Madders MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Jeremy Corbyn)
Rachael Maskell MP for York Central (Did not nominate)
Chris Matheson MP for City of Chester (Did not nominate)
Kerry McCarthy MP for Bristol East (Andy Burnham)
Andy McDonald MP for Middlesbrough (Andy Burnham)
Conor McGinn MP for St Helens North (Andy Burnham)
Liz McInnes MP for Heywood and Middleton (Andy Burnham)
Alan Meale MP for Mansfield (Andy Burnham)
Ian Mearns MP for Gateshead (Jeremy Corbyn)
Lisa Nandy MP for Wigan (Did not nominate)
Albert Owen MP for Ynys Mon (Jeremy Corbyn)
Teresa Pearce MP for Erith and Thamesmead (Jeremy Corbyn)
Lucy Powell MP for Manchester Central (Andy Burnham)
Yasmin Qureshi MP for Bolton South East (Andy Burnham)
Angela Rayner MP for Ashton-Under-Lyne (Jeremy Corbyn)
Jamie Reed MP for Copeland (Andy Burnham)
Christina Rees MP for Neath (Did not nominate)
Rachel Reeves MP for Leeds West (Jeremy Corbyn)
Steve Rotheram MP for Liverpool, Walton (Andy Burnham)
Owen Smith MP for Pontypridd (Andy Burnham)
Jeff Smith MP for Manchester Withington (Yvette Cooper)
Keir Starmer MP for Holborn and St Pancras (Jeremy Corbyn)
Jo Stevens MP for Cardiff Central (Did not nominate)
Nick Thomas-Symonds MP for Torfaen (Andy Burnham)
Anna Turley MP for Redcar (Did not nominate)
Karl Turner MP for Kingston Upon Hull East (Andy Burnham)
Derek Twigg MP for Halton (Andy Burnham)
Valerie Vaz MP for Walsall South (Did not nominate)
Alan Whitehead MP for Southampton Test (Jeremy Corbyn)
Iain Wright MP for Hartlepool (Jeremy Corbyn)

Yvette Cooper (59)
Jon Ashworth MP for Leicester South (Jeremy Corbyn)
Ian Austin MP for Dudley North (Andy Burnham)
Adrian Bailey MP for West Bromwich West (Did not nominate)
Roberta Blackman-Woods MP for City of Durham (Did not nominate)
Lyn Brown MP for West Ham (Jeremy Corbyn)
Nick Brown MP for Newcastle Upon Tyne East (Yvette Cooper)
Chris Bryant MP for Rhondda (Did not nominate)
Karen Buck MP for Westminster North (Yvette Cooper)
Richard Burden MP for Birmingham, Northfield (Did not nominate)
Liam Byrne MP for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Yvette Cooper)
Ruth Cadbury MP for Brentford and Isleworth (Did not nominate)
Ann Clwyd MP for Cynon Valley (Did not nominate)
Vernon Coaker MP for Gedling (Did not nominate)
Yvette Cooper MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper)
Judith Cummins MP for Bradford South (Did not nominate)
Jim Cunningham MP for Coventry South (Yvette Cooper)
Nic Dakin MP for Scunthorpe (Jeremy Corbyn)
Geraint Davies MP for Swansea West (Jeremy Corbyn)
Thangam Debbonaire MP for Bristol West (Did not nominate)
Jack Dromey MP for Birmingham, Erdington (Did not nominate)
Maria Eagle MP for Garston and Halewood (Yvette Cooper)
Jim Fitzpatrick MP for Poplar and Limehouse (Andy Burnham)
Coleen Fletcher MP for Coventry North East (Did not nominate)
Vicky Foxcroft MP for Lewisham, Deptford (Jeremy Corbyn)
Helen Goodman MP for Bishop Auckland (Andy Burnham)
Kate Green MP for Stretford and Urmston (Did not nominate)
Fabian Hamilton MP for Leeds North East (Jeremy Corbyn)
David Hanson MP for Delyn (Yvettte Cooper)
Sue Hayman MP for Workington (Andy Burnham)
John Healey MP for Wentworth and Dearne (Did not nominate)
Sharon Hodgson MP for Washington and Sunderland West (Jeremy Corbyn)
George Howarth MP for Knowsley (Andy Burnham)
Diana Johnson MP for Hull North (Did not nominate)
Kevan Jones MP for North Durham (Did not nominate)
Helen Jones MP for Warrington North (Andy Burnham)
Stephen Kinnock MP for Aberavon (Yvette Cooper)
Chris Leslie MP for Nottingham East (Jeremy Corbyn)
Khalid Mahmood MP for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Yvette Cooper)
Shabana Mahmood MP for Birmingham, Ladywood (Did not nominate)
Seema Malhotra MP for Feltham and Heston (Did not nominate)
John Mann MP for Bassetlaw (Yvette Cooper)
Stephen McCabe MP for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Did not nominate)
Catherine McKinnell MP for Newcastle Upon Tyne North (Did not nominate)
Madeleine Moon MP for Bridgend (Yvette Cooper)
Melanie Onn MP for Great Grimsby (Yvette Cooper)
Matthew Pennycook MP for Greenwich and Woolwich (Yvette Cooper)
Jess Phillips MP for Birmingham Yardley (Jeremy Corbyn)
Bridget Phillipson MP for Houghton and Sunderland South (Did not nominate)
Stephen Pound MP for Ealing North (Did not nominate)
Marie Rimmer MP for St Helens South and Whiston (Yvette Cooper)
Geoffrey Robinson MP for Coventry North West (Did not nominate)
Naz Shah MP for Bradford West (Did not nominate)
Virendra Sharma MP for Ealing, Southall (Andy Burnham)
Paula Sherriff MP for Dewsbury (Did not nominate)
Andrew Slaughter MP for Hammersmith (Yvette Cooper)
Ruth Smeeth MP for Stoke-on-Trent North (Did not nominate)
Karin Smyth MP for Bristol South (Did not nominate)
John Spellar MP for Warley (Yvette Cooper)
Daniel Zeichner MP for Cambridge (Did not nominate)

Jeremy Corbyn (36)
Diane Abbott MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Did not nominate)
Rushanara Ali MP for Bethnal Green and Bow (Jeremy Corbyn)
Margaret Beckett MP for Derby South (Andy Burnham)
Richard Burgon MP for Leeds East (Jeremy Corbyn)
Dawn Butler MP for Brent Central (Jeremy Corbyn)
Ronnie Campbell MP for Blyth Valley (Andy Burnham)
Sarah Champion MP for Rotherham (Did not nominate)
Jeremy Corbyn MP for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn)
Jo Cox MP for Batley and Spen (Jeremy Corbyn)
Neil Coyle MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Liz Kendall)
Jon Cruddas MP for Dagenham (Jeremy Corbyn)
Clive Efford MP for Eltham (Did not nominate)
Frank Field MP for Birkenhead (Did not nominate)
Louise Haigh MP for Sheffield, Heeley (Did not nominate)
Kelvin Hopkins MP for Luton North (Jeremy Corbyn)
Rupa Huq MP for Ealing Central and Acton (Yvette Cooper)
Imran Hussain MP for Bradford East (Did not nominate)
Huw Irranca-Davies MP for Ogmore (Yvette Cooper)
Sadiq Khan MP for Tooting (Yvette Cooper)
David Lammy MP for Tottenham (Jeremy Corbyn)
Clive Lewis MP for Norwich South (Did not nominate)
Rebecca Long-Bailey MP for Salford and Eccles (Jeremy Corbyn)
Gordon Marsden MP for Blackpool South (Did not nominate)
John McDonnell MP for Hayes and Harlington (Jeremy Corbyn)
Michael Meacher MP for Oldham West and Royton (Andy Burnham)
Grahame Morris MP for Easington (Jeremy Corbyn)
Chi Onwurah MP for Newcastle Upon Tyne Central (Jeremy Corbyn)
Kate Osamor MP for Edmonton (Jeremy Corbyn)
Tulip Siddiq MP for Hampstead and Kilburn (Yvette Cooper)
Dennis Skinner MP for Bolsover (Did not nominate)
Cat Smith MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Andy Burnham)
Andrew Smith MP for Oxford East (Did not nominate)
Gareth Thomas MP for Harrow West (Yvette Cooper)
Emily Thornberry MP for Islington South and Finsbury (Jeremy Corbyn)
Jon Trickett MP for Hemsworth (Jeremy Corbyn)
Catherine West MP for Hornsey and Wood Green (Jeremy Corbyn)

Liz Kendall (41)
Kevin Barron MP for Rother Valley (Did not nominate)
Tom Blenkinsop MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Did not nominate)
Jenny Chapman MP for Darlington (Did not nominate)
Ann Coffey MP for Stockport (Did not nominate)
Simon Danczuk MP for Rochdale (Did not nominate)
Gloria De Piero MP for Ashfield (Jeremy Corbyn)
Stephen Doughty MP for Cardiff South and Penarth (Did not nominate)
Jim Dowd MP for Lewisham West & Penge (Jeremy Corbyn)
Julie Elliott MP for Sunderland Central (Jeremy Corbyn)
Louise Ellman MP for Liverpool, Riverside (Yvette Cooper)
Chris Evans MP for Islwyn (Did not nominate)
Paul Flynn MP for Newport West (Did not nominate)
Mike Gapes MP for Ilford South (Jeremy Corbyn)
Mark Hendrick MP for Preston (Jeremy Corbyn)
Margaret Hodge MP for Barking (Liz Kendall)
Tristram Hunt MP for Stoke-On-Trent Central (Yvette Cooper)
Mike Kane MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Jeremy Corbyn)
Liz Kendall MP for Leicester West (Liz Kendall)
Peter Kyle MP for Hove (Did not nominate)
Ivan Lewis MP for Bury South (Yvette Cooper)
Fiona Mactaggart MP for Slough (Andy Burnham)
Siobhain McDonagh MP for Mitcham and Morden (Liz Kendall)
Pat McFadden MP for Wolverhampton South East (Liz Kendall)
Alison McGovern MP for Wirral South (Andy Burnham)
Jessica Morden MP for Newport East (Jeremy Corbyn)
Toby Perkins MP for Chesterfield (Did not nominate)
Steve Reed MP for Croydon North (Jeremy Corbyn)
Johnny Reynolds MP for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jeremy Corbyn)
Emma Reynolds MP for Wolverhampton North East (Andy Burnham)
Joan Ryan MP for Enfield North (Jeremy Corbyn)
Barry Sheerman MP for Huddersfield (Did not nominate)
Gavin Shuker MP for Luton South (Jeremy Corbyn)
Nick Smith MP for Blaenau Gwent (Jeremy Corbyn)
Angela Smith MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Did not nominate)
Wes Streeting MP for Ilford North (Liz Kendall)
Gisela Stuart MP for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Did not nominate)
Stephen Timms MP for East Ham (Liz Kendall)
Stephen Twigg MP for Liverpool, West Derby (Andy Burnham)
Chuka Umunna MP for Streatham (Liz Kendall)
Phil Wilson MP for Sedgefield (Liz Kendall)
John Woodcock MP for Barrow and Furness (Andy Burnham)

Did not nominate (25)
Susan Elan Jones MP for Clwyd South (Did not nominate)
Helen Hayes MP for Dulwich and West Norwood (Liz Kendall)
Alan Campbell MP for Tynemouth (Did not nominate)
Alan Johnson MP for West Hull and Hessle (Did not nominate)
Rosie Cooper MP for West Lancashire (Andy Burnham)
Angela Eagle MP for Wallasey (Jeremy Corbyn)
Barry Gardiner MP for Brent North (Jeremy Corbyn)
Ben Bradshaw MP for Exeter (Yvette Cooper)
Caroline Flint MP for Don Valley (Andy Burnham)
David Winnick MP for Wallsall North (Did not nominate)
Ed Miliband MP for Doncaster North (Did not nominate)
Gerald Kaufman MP for Manchester Gorton (Jeremy Corbyn)
Graham Allen MP for Nottingham North (Did not nominate)
Graham Stringer MP for Blackley and Broughton (Andy Burnham)
Harriet Harman MP for Camberwell and Peckham (Liz Kendall)
Stella Creasy MP for Walthamstow (Jeremy Corbyn)
Rob Marris MP for Wolverhampton South West (Jeremy Corbyn)
John Cryer MP for Leyton and Wanstead (Jeremy Corbyn)
Rosie Winterton MP for Doncaster Central (Jeremy Corbyn)
Keith Vaz MP for Leicester East (Yvette Cooper)
Lindsay Hoyle MP for Chorley (Did not nominate)
Roger Godsiff MP for Birmingham Hall Green (Did not nominate)
Mark Tami MP for Alyn and Deeside (Jeremy Corbyn)
Meg Hillier MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Yvette Cooper)
Natascha Engel MP for North East Derbyshire (Did not nominate)
Tom Watson MP for West Bromwich East (Did not nominate)

Sunday, 2 August 2015

New Blogs July/August 2015

New blogs picked up last month were

1. Alun Davies AM (Labour) (Twitter)
2. Anthony Painter (Labour) (Twitter)
3. Empirical Left (Unaligned) (Twitter)
4. Look Leftward (Labour) (Twitter)
5. Incorrigible Rebel (Unaligned) (Twitter)
6. Phil Swatton (Labour) (Twitter)
7. The Daily Tang (Unaligned) (Twitter)
8. The Left Wing Blog (Labour) (Twitter)
9. Workers' Europe (Unaligned/Pro-EU) (Twitter)
10. Zaid's Corbyn Blog (Labour)

If you know of any new blogs that haven't featured before then drop me a line via the comments, email, Facebook or Twitter. Please note I'm looking for blogs that have started within the last 12 months. The new blog round up usually appears on the first Sunday of every month. And if it doesn't, it will turn up eventually!

Saturday, 1 August 2015

The Stupidity of Stoke's City Independents

Ah, Stoke-on-Trent. How I love thee. It's not the oatcakes that captured my heart, but the utterly dysfunctional local politics. And the latest twists and turns by nominal Council Leader Dave Conway has caused my heart to throb even more. This week the long, drawn out saga of the new council offices' concrete floors has got resolved. As predicted by this blog, there was no real cause for concern. However, Cllr Conway has ruled out a proper move. One of the two buildings is to be occupied by council staff, and the other will be marketed for tenants until this capital asset can be disposed of - no doubt on the cheap. Needless to say, this is incredibly stupid.

A little story. As long-time readers know, I'm from Derby originally and that is where I now work. Since I left the place on an Autumnal morning almost 20 years ago the city has transformed itself utterly. There are new buildings everywhere, a huge shopping centre, and a vast business park where there used to be nothing but rotting ruins from Derby's industrial peak. All the big names in shopping, eating, and services have a presence too. You might say it's an example of successful regeneration. That isn't to say it's without problems - the city's renaissance has barely touched some of the inner city wards and outlying suburbs, and some of its schools have some issues. But overall, it's a position most medium-sized cities would like to be in.

Derby and Stoke share a key advantage - location. They more or less occupy the same position in the Eastern and Western parts of the Midlands. They're both on a London line and both reside near heavily urbanised areas. Stoke is between Manchester and Birmingham. Derby is a stone's throw from Nottingham, Leicester, and Sheffield. Both are surrounded by relatively affluent county hinterlands. There are, however, divergences. Derby kept its crucial manufacturing base and supply chain, Stoke did not. As Rolls Royce kept chugging along, as Toyota arrived, as trains kept getting made and repaired, the Potteries lost its potteries. Steel, gone. Mines, gone. Pot banks - mostly overseas. Derby therefore had a much stronger economic base on which it could draw, and the persistence of manufacturing acted as an attractor for more advanced industry and hi-tech firms. It had an added advantage too. Like most 'normal' cities, it had a core shopping and business district. Public spending for economic regeneration could be concentrated in one central area, which ran from what became Pride Park to the city centre proper. That is an advantage Stoke lacks. As a federation of six towns, it has six centres. Hanley, as the Potteries' traditional commercial heart is the generally acknowledged city centre. However, compared to other cities of a quarter of a million people (320,000 if you lump in the good people of the contiguous towns of Kidsgrove and Newcastle-under-Lyme) there's very little to write home about. A few high street names, a small modernish shopping centre, a bus station, and a handful of eateries. Non-retail business is almost completely absent. Why? The primary reason is the other towns compete with rather than complement Hanley. As a city dominated by low-paying jobs, what disposable income there is gets spread thinly across those town centres. As such, Hanley looks like a small town rather than the heart of a sprawling, populous conurbation.

That's the background, without a little bit of violence to some of the detail. How then does one regenerate a place like Stoke with two disadvantages vis a vis its competitor city 40 miles to the east? There's only one option available, and that's to try and overcome the accident of the city's geography. During Labour's 2011-2015 tenure, the limited resources available to the City Council tended to be spent in Hanley. In a series of related projects, the strategy was to make the nominal centre a proper centre attractive to inward investment. More business = more jobs = more reasons to live in Stoke, thereby upping the council tax take. The council did this by improving the roads (including getting a missing quarter of the ring road built), pedestrianising and sprucing up bits and bobs and, most controversially, relocating the main council offices from Stoke to the centre. There was a sound business case for doing so. It meant the demolition and redevelopment of a decrepit section of Hanley. It would also have entailed two thousand or so council staff being about in the city centre in peak business hours, popping into shops, eating out at lunch and after work. Its very presence would have clustered more people to give it the economic boost the centre badly needed. By virtue of its presence it would have drawn people that have dealings with the council - everyday folk, businesses, out-of-town visitors - into the centre too. In all, a clustering of spending power would have improved the centre, provided ready made business units for inward investors with easy access to key council personnel, and have helped that nebulous but nevertheless important structure of feeling: business confidence.

That was before the City Council was gifted to the city's new rulers, a clueless coalition of independents, Tories, and UKIP. All three were opposed to the council move to the new Smithfield development. The indies because time for them stopped in 1971. The Tories because they stupidly think regeneration is driven by business investment, an evidence-free belief that contradicts the experience of city rejuvenation everywhere - including London. And UKIP because they know a bandwagon when one trundles by. The case against as articulated by the independents saw people take to the streets boils down to a set of interrelated arguments.

1. Hanley is always favourited when it comes to public funds. It's not fair.
2. Moving the civic centre from Stoke would devastate the town.
3. The present civic centre is a perfectly adequate building.
4. It's a waste of public money. The move wouldn't create a single job.

As the move was premised on the council's location, not the fitness or otherwise of its present abode; and that the case for regeneration was always about knock-on effects, the latter two points can be consigned to the 'dealt with above' drawer.

On "fairness", over the years I've heard a great deal about the distinctive character of the six towns. That each place has an identity that should be cherished and nurtured. What does this mean? In Stoke I can hang out in the library, do some shopping in Sainsbury's, and nip for a pint down Wetherspoon's. Things that can also be done up 'anley, duck. Down Longton way I can avail myself of the market and scoot around some charity shops. Everything that an be done in all the other towns, except Fenton. Perhaps that's where the character doesn't lie. Maybe it's in the dilapidated buildings that afflicts the towns. Or the communities grown up around factories and pot banks that, like everywhere else, now find most of its cultural meanings in popular/mass culture as conveyed by television, the internet, radio, papers, and magazines. Is it in the pubs independent councillors drink in, or at resident associations where the same-old same-old turn up and reminisce about leaving school on the Friday and have a job by the Monday morning. Is there something I'm missing, an essential 'Stokieness' about Stoke that marks it out from 'Hanleyness', 'Tunstallness', 'Burslemness', 'Longtonness' and 'Fentonness'? There is no such character, truth be told. As much a minority, and it is a minority, think their towns is the bee's knees there are no distinctive identities now. And since the majority of Stokies live in districts outside of the towns, this is irrelevant to the lives of the city's residents and the ways they think about themselves. If you want to talk about fairness, how is holding back a regeneration project so the "precious" unique qualities of Stoke's town centres fair when, ultimately, it means fewer jobs.

On the second point, true, moving the council wouldn't have a beneficial effect on Stoke town centre. The case, however, has been massively overstated. Having worked in Stoke myself, if I nipped out at lunch time more often than not it was to the pub. Or to the supermarket. Or perhaps for a Wright's Pies. Funnily enough, most council workers did exactly the same. You could sit in the window of the White Star and watch council workers file into town and return with either a Wright's Pies or Sainsbury's bag. The town's so-called retail offer consists of charity shops, three bookies, and a Cash Converters. The disposable income of council employees aren't going to the independent coffee shops, the clothes stores, the restaurants, and whatever other small business you can think of. It's going into the pockets of one large and one medium-sized chain. Besides, since Staffs Uni announced its full relocation to its base in nearby Shelton, Stoke Town is set to be inflated by the arrival of a couple of thousand extra students. The passing trade would have been more than made up by new students living in the town. Because of a lack of imagination and a seeming unawareness of what's actually happening, should the continued health and wellbeing of a supermarket and a baker's trump economic regeneration that would benefit the city as a whole? Our pretend Council Leader and his small-minded helpers think it should.

Now the Smithfield development has been passed as move-in-able, the council has decided that one building is to be occupied by staff ... already located in Hanley. The Hanley local centre, the library and archives, and the offices scattered about are going to be condensed here. Everyone else is staying put. Now, that concentration will save money on rent and bills but completely defeats the purpose of the whole exercise and fatally undermines a key prop of city regeneration. Instead, our cack-handed coalition are pushing forward with something they call a "six town strategy". In other words, spreading limited resources thinly in the hope things will somehow get better. Such an approach might have made sense if the city was different and each of the towns had something unique to offer, but they don't. All are smaller, more depressed versions of Hanley itself.

Fewer than three months in and the new council are all set to compound Stoke-on-Trent's economic weakness. If they can screw up economic strategy because their own prejudices come before evidence and experience from elsewhere, I shudder to think how they will deal with the cuts coming from central government.

Five Most Read Posts In July

Most popular last month were:

1. Jeremy Corbyn and Hard Left "Infiltration"
2. Understanding Jeremy Corbyn's Support
3. Harriet Harman's Tax Credit Debacle
4. Some Advice for Andy and Yvette
5. Understanding Labour's Abstentions

Third highest ever monthly viewing figures? That will do nicely, thanks. Yes, going by the posts that got readers' juices flowing last month you could be forgiven for thinking the blog has become a subsidiary of LabourList. What it does reflect is a wider spread of political interest in the Labour Party and how we can make sense of the eruption, seemingly from nowhere, of Corbynmania. Is there likely to be more of the same next month? Of course.

Also, eagle-eyed readers may have spotted that I've finally sorted out a Facebook page. I'm only, like, five years behind the times. Feel free to like, share, like, share, like, and share some more. For even further ease, here's a direct link.

As a firm believer in second chances, in case you missed them last month here's my open letter to Yvette Cooper. If she wants to win, she needs to start acting like she wants to win. And there's this piece on the ATL's member raids on other unions in further and higher education. Do read, it's the first bit of "proper" journalism I've done for quite a while.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Local Council By-Elections July 2015

Party
Number of Candidates
Total Vote
%
+/- June
Average/
contest
+/-
June
+/-
Seats
Conservative
 28
12,137
  26.1%
  -6.0%
    433
 -199
    0
Labour
 26
15,371
  33.1%
  +7.1%
    591
   +2
   -1
LibDem
 20
 6,896
  14.6%
  +1.0%
    344
 -229
  +3
UKIP
 22
 3,163
    6.8%
   3.9%
    144
  -66
   -1
Green
 17
 1,642
    3.5%
  -1.2%
      97
  -59
    0
SNP*
  3
 5,184
  11.2%
 +11.2%
   1,728
 +1,728
    0
PC**
  3
    928
    2.0%
  +2.0%
    309
 +309
    0
TUSC
  1
      85
    0.2%
  +0.2%
      85
    85
    0
Ind***
  9
    787
    1.7%
   -4.5%
      87
  -370
   -1
Other****
  3
    237
    0.5%
   -8.4%
     79
  -445
    0

* There were three by-elections in Scotland
** There were six by-elections in Wales
*** There was one Independent clash
**** Other this month included Llais Gwynedd (123), SSP (81), and Scottish Christian (33)

Overall, 46,430 votes were cast over 29 local authority (tier one and tier two) contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. A total of five council seats changed hands. For comparison see June's results here.

July is usually a sleepy month, but by-election-wise it's been busy and fascinating in equal measure. First things first, the idea Labour is in some sort of meltdown is shown here to be the kind of accurate forecasting one can expect from dodgy polls. The only ones that really matter involve people going to vote, and there's no suggestion Labour's having an overly rough time considering it a) doesn't have a leader and, b) the stupid and desperate naysaying from increasingly unhinged right wing sections of the party. To come top of the polls and lose a single seat is no cause for concern at all. 11 of the 29 seats were Labour holds, while seven were Con holds.

The really interesting story for geeks is among parties the next tier down. After an age of lamentable results, could we be seeing signs of a LibDem revival? Yes, a couple of their results are in super safe seats, but to have netted three new councillors and be within spitting distance of 15% ... these are the kinds of results they were last getting back when Clegg was the newly-minted wunderkind. It's still too early in my book to say there's a revival underway, though I will say the pattern of LibDem results are changing. Whereas they used to be either very, very good or shockingly poor, we are starting to see more middle-range vote tallies come in. Watch this space.

Coping with the opposite problem is UKIP. Again, too early for trends and all that but these suggest the bottom is dropping out of their world. This month's vote average of 144 is a poor return considering the number of candidates who took the the field. Are some 'none of the above' votes transferring back to the LibDems, or is it periodic under performance as the main political story last month has been all about Jeremy Corbyn? We'll see next month if the swill flowing across the tabloids about Calais will have an effect.

In other news, there's no sign of the SNP slowing down, and no early warnings that Plaid is going to experience a similar take off. Greens are in their normal range, and TUSC put in an appearance for once. However, with the complete collapse of its political perspectives - the Labour dog having some quite lively lefty life in it yet - how much longer are the token challenges going to carry on for?