Monday 29 June 2015

West Midlands Labour Deputy Leader Hustings

We've had the leadership hustings, but what about the other contest running in parallel? Who will deputise for the leader and take the party by the scruff of its neck? It's going to be Ben Bradshaw. Or Angela Eagle. Or Stella Creasy. Or Caroline Flint. Or Tom Watson. Like the preceding hustings the format was identical, so there's little reason to style this write up differently.

How would you like to improve the job prospects of the young?
We've got to get the deficit down because of all the interest payments going to the bankers. But we do need to adopt a different approach, one that emphasises house building, jobs growth, and putting money into people's pockets.

AE: We must invest more in young people and work against insecure jobs and zero hour contracts. We also have to attack the Tories for their false economies, such as their willingness to cut preventative health care programmes.
BB: We have to grow the number of well-paid jobs, and we can do this by investing in infrastructure, developing a dedicated industrial strategy, and also keep up the investment when the economy is strong. We also have to tackle the productivity challenge - we saw output grow under Labour but it has declined under the Tories.
TW: We used to make things here in the West Midlands, and hi-tech and green industries offer an opportunity to rebuild our manufacturing base. We should also set up regional investment banks.
CF: Labour has to be credible on the economy, and on this point we were too unclear to voters. We need to have something we can offer small and medium-sized enterprises to help create good jobs. It's also appalling that too many kids are leaving school without the education we need.

Should Labour review its links with the trade unions?
AE: I'm proud of our links - the unions gave birth to our party and keep us connected to people's workplaces. Too many are treated badly at work, and so democracy should be something more than what we do every five years. The unions are part of our soul.
BB: Labour needs to mend, not end its relationship with the unions. We have to make the case for union membership, and work to build them up in the private sector and new economy.
TW: Organised labour is under attack, be it on political funding or the democratic right to withdraw your labour. The unions have stuck with us through difficult times, and we need to stick by them now and show our solidarity.
CF: I'm proud of being a trade unionist and we shouldn't be cowed by the Tories. We've got to reach out to recruit as well as reach into the union membership and find out why many of them didn't vote for us.
SC: Unions have made a difference and I'm very proud to have worked with them on the campaign against legal loan sharking and women's rights.

Which previous deputy leader of our party was best, and why?
BB: All of the deputy leaders since I was elected in 1997 have been great. It's a tough job keeping the party together and delivering difficult advice to the leader. At the moment Harriet is doing well taking the fight to the Tories.
TW: I get compared to John Prescott the most, but I am also very proud of Roy Hattersley and the role he played holding the party together in the 1980s. Also I would pay tribute to the calm, cerebral qualities of Margaret Beckett.
CF: All had their own talents, but I would have to pick Harriet. She has twice stood up and performed her duties in very difficult times for out party.
SC: I've always had a soft spot for John Prescott, and he is backing my campaign. Like John, a deputy has to work with and encourage the grassroots, but do that with a modern twist.
AE: Margaret Beckett is backing me. When John Smith passed away she stood up and made a moving tribute to him. She was our first woman leader, and the job of the deputy is to be loyal to our leader.

What issues are important to women?
They are the same issues they have always been: fair pay, education, childcare, affordable homes. The attacks on in-work benefits are going to hit women more.

CF: Women and men tend to be affected by the same issues, but we do need to find better ways of talking to women especially about them. This is something I have a great deal of experience doing.
SC: I am a proud feminist and a proud socialist. Why is it that childcare is still seen as a women's issue? Also, two women a week are killed by domestic violence - if that was happening on the football terraces there's be uproar. And we need to get more women involved in our party.
AE: We've got to work at supporting women in our party structures. If women can't be heard then our party has to be their voice.
BB: I think everyone here is worried about these issues. For example, how cuts to tax credits will impact families. We also have to look at how we do politics and I think we would do better if we moved to a more encouraging, more feminine politics.

What does Labour need to do to take votes back from UKIP and the Greens?
CF: We increased our vote in my constituency and ensured UKIP came in third place. We had more open ended conversations with voters and ran target campaigns. For instance, we found and named and shamed bad employers, and from there we were able to address voters' other concerns.
SC: Those parties told a powerful story of who is to blame and who will defend the people from them. To win, we have to build on the work our councils are doing. We need to champion people trapped in renting, offer a strong house-building plan and offer some real answers to the difficulties faced by the young.
AE: Since 1992 we gave double our majority in my constituency and we've done this by having conversations and confronting people's worries. We have been able to overcome the lure of anti-politics by being seen about in the constituency and accessible to anyone who wants to get in touch.
BB: We need to have credible policies on immigration and welfare but not use UKIP's rhetoric. We also have to be green and combine that with our broad appeal. But we must remember that four out of the five voters we needed to convince supported the Conservatives. That has to be the main focus of our challenge.
TW: UKIP is an 'irrational vote'. I recently talked to a group of UKIP voters and one of them told me we should microchip immigrants so we can keep track. We have to be willing to listen to those opinions so we can build a response to them. And the way we can win UKIP voters back is by encouraging and strengthening our community focused councillors.

How can we make sure the environment is back on the mainstream political agenda?
SC: This is an issue for Labour in Europe. Only through collaboration across borders can we make progress on climate targets. But we have to make the case for showing a strong relationship between the environment and local politics, this is the only way scepticism can be overcome.
AE: We do have to deal with climate change together as a group of nations, but progress has stalled since the Kyoto Protocols. But the potential opportunity for social change here is huge. To meet the targets and prevent environmental catastrophe means we could be on the cusp of a great transformation of our politica because we need to work together.
BB: We need to talk about environmental justice as well as social justice, but we should be proud of our record - we were the greenest government ever. The Tories' moratorium on onshore wind robs us of cheap renewable energy and that will be passed onto bills. We also need to reach out to the activist work done by NGOs around this and celebrate them.
TW: We need to restate our commitment to international institutions while here we have to invest in industrial diversification and adaptation, which will help create thousands of new jobs. Green issues are the most important area of policy today.
CF: It's important to talk about the threats but we must discuss the opportunities too. By aligning climate change mitigation with job opportunities, we can make it matter to many and reach out to them.

How should we appeal to older people?
AE: We didn't have enough policies that older voters found attractive. We must ensure that people feel secure in their retirement, but also that it is a retirement that is active, supported by free travel, and social care must become an top priority.
BB: They didn't trust us on the economy and believed there was a deficit when it came to leadership. We also need to challenge this notion of 'selfish OAPs', they often vote the way they do out of what is best for their families. We need to sound credible across different age groups.
TW: Too many older people live a lonely life, and that is something we need to think about and tackle. Our party also has to get into and be part of their social networks. I also think they were alienated by the cult of youth we have on the front benches.
CF: As you get older you're more likely to vote because wider issues matter to you more and more. That is why social care now is a massive issue and it's something we need a credible position on. We also have to realise that the age of deference has gone and adjust accordingly.
SC: We should not accept the Tory logic of winners and losers. Older people are parents and we should starting thinking of them as such - this way we can make a pitch for solidarity rather than trading off.

In their summing ups, Stella said that for us to win we have to start fighting back now and keep up the pressure. But this is something the whole party can do - we have to make sure we're visible in all manner of grassroots campaigns and use the new techniques available to us. Angela said she never wanted an exit poll moment like that exit poll moment again. We have to ensure our campaigning is better connected and give our members more of a say. She said she's a straight talker, and will always be the members' deputy. Ben said he was the candidate for the tough challenge of prising voters off the Tories. His experience in Exeter, which was once a safe Tory seat and is now a safe Labour seat, means he's suited to this job. He also said he would not fear telling the leader hard truths. He has no agenda and can work with any of the leadership candidates, and that 'Labour', 'loyal', and 'winning' are the only labels he would accept. Tom said that the hardest truth is knowing that it's always our fault when we lose. What we say, what we do, and what we don't always matters. We have lost touch with the people we should be representing - our people who voted UKIP did so because they were voting against us. But we can win again if that connection is rebuilt. And lastly, Caroline talked about her background as the child of an alcoholic single mum who used university to escape her past, and was then a mum of two kids by the time she was in her mid-20s. She has had real life experiences and this has fired her as a campaigner, constituency MP, communicator, and policy originator. We need a real community movement, and her experience makes her very well placed to lead it.

Once again, I was only able to capture the substance of what was said. But overall all the candidates were well received by the audience. There was little in the way of polemical shadow boxing between the contenders. I think the winners on the day was a tie between Ben Bradshaw and Caroline Flint. Ben came across as polished but genuine, and Caroline as tough and straight-to-the-point. Their closing pitches, which is hardly conveyed by their rendering here, were among two of the best I have ever seen anywhere. Some might say they were better than any so far seen in the leadership campaign proper. So kudos to them for that. Angela was perhaps the most ill-at-ease of the five, what she said was good but, tellingly, she made her way to the podium and read her closing remarks out whereas her opponents had memorised theirs. Tom was Tom - he was assured, charismatic, and clearly felt relaxed performing on his home turf. And Stella came across very enthusiastically, if not a bit too earnest. In all I think all the candidates did well.

Dare I tempt fate again and perhaps jinx a candidate by making a prediction? I'm going with the bookies favourite, Tom Watson. His candidature is a real unifier. I know people on the left who are supporting him, and likewise people on the right. What he conveyed was an understanding of the kind of beast the Labour party is and what needs to be done to get the organisation fired up and sorted out. I'm afraid Caroline and Ben are likely to split the difference when it comes to what you might describe as the 'Progress vote', though I think Ben particularly does have something very interesting to say about the Tories and how we can beat them. Stella, of course, has a high profile and also has that cross-wing appeal Tom has, except he's been around for longer. And Angela stands to scoop up the remainder of the vote of those people who are anti-Tom (they do exist), aren't particularly enamored of the New Labour right, and think Stella is too new. Unfortunately, that's not a terribly large vote pool.

Yet, again, all could change. Events and all that, and there's still a long summer to get through.


Phil said...

Reading your summary and ticking off the black marks as I go:

Ben Bradshaw comes out pretty well, except for the UKIP question where he seems to be saying that UKIP aren't a threat but Labour should trim that way anyway.

I knew nothing about Stella Creasy, but she's gone right down in my estimation. She clearly fights dirty; she lost my vote at the first hurdle with a gratuitous populist swipe at "the bankers", then played the "why is it a women's issue?" card to wrongfoot Tom Watson. Also, she lumped the Greens in with UKIP as anti-political scaremongers.

Angela Eagle rang alarm bells by saying "the job of the deputy is to be loyal to our leader" (deputy leader as leader's enforcer?), then confused things by asserting that "she's a straight talker, and will always be the members' deputy". If she doesn't realise that's a contradiction, that's worrying in itself.

Caroline Flint did OK, and Tom Watson did well.

Nobody actually sounds like a right-winger apart from Stella Creasy; I knew Ben Bradshaw was New Labour, but I'm surprised to learn that you see him and CF as the right's candidates and SC as a centrist.

Tom's going to get my vote, naturally.

Matty said...

Good point made by Phil about SC's comment on bankers. Banks actually hold very little Govt debt, it is mainly the pension funds who do (and recently thanks to QE the Bank of England).
Personally, as a Labour left I am leaning to either AE or TW but have yet to hear any of the debates in person yet.

BCFG said...

"Banks actually hold very little Govt debt"

The banks just caused the effing debt!!!!