Wednesday, 23 May 2012

This voter registration drive. Why, exactly?

High turnout is good. It is an unequivocal Good Thing. In fact, it is perhaps the only social good to which all democrats – at least technically – aspire, because it affirms our faith in our chosen system; a metric for the distance we stand from chaos. In other words: reach a turnout of zero, and you’re no longer a democracy.

At the same time, for those of us who have worked at the political coal-face as staffers, the detail of elections is our bread and butter. We are intimately acquainted with wards, polling districts, the intricacies of contiguous and non-contiguous boundaries in a way which is not entirely normal (as I said to a former colleague a couple of weeks back, it is a measure of the total anorak this party has made me that, even years later, I can still recount the names of the parliamentary divisions in cities I have never lived in: Southampton, Sheffield, Liverpool). And it is this same, backroom party perspective that caused me a butterfly-like feeling of apprehension as I watched Ed Miliband announce “the biggest voter registration drive for a generation” at the Progress conference ten days ago.

I want to feel pleased about this and, in one sense, I am. It’s important that we formulate policy for reconnecting voters with politicians and something, looking at recent election results, that Britain urgently needs. But it is one thing to propose a policy, and quite another to roll up your sleeves and implement it yourself from Opposition. Or, put it this way: I’m not happy with the state of the health service, but that doesn’t mean the party should go out and build its own hospitals.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

The status quo in London is not an option

As the post-election dust settles, we must hope that the party is, somewhere, currently holding a quiet post-mortem, to take away the lessons for next time. There are many positives we can take away, of course: that the locals went swimmingly and so did the London Assembly. And that we held Glasgow, that vital first step in turning around the Scottish party, a task which is, in turn, a sine qua non for preserving the very Union.

However, in a post-mortem, the biggest lesson to learn – and the easiest to forget if, as in this case, things have gone well – usually comes from what went wrong, not what went right.

In this case, it’s staring us in the face: we lost the mayorals to a mediocre candidate whose party was fairly unpopular, while our London result overall was a resounding win. And what went badly wrong was not the policy offering or the party’s campaign tactics, but the Livingstone candidacy itself.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The left's tale of two cities

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…”
- Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

There seemed to be eerie echoes of Dickens’ words last weekend in the parallel events in those same cities of London and Paris. It was, in the midst of an economic downturn, a very positive one for the left. Yet it is also as yet unclear how the results will be interpreted: wisely, or otherwise.

 London, Miliband rather secured the best of all possible worlds. For months the media had speculated that a defeat in the mayoral election would be a calamity for Labour. They were wrong. In the end, the defeat was such a personal one for Livingstone, and the wins elsewhere so resounding, that it seems to have caused very little damage at all to Labour’s 2015 electoral chances. And probably much less than might have been caused by Miliband’s jousting with a revitalised, awkward Livingstone as the party’s highest-placed representative in public office. Barring some major personal calamity, his position is secure.

o, the only damage might have derived from Labour having selected such a poor mayoral candidate in the first place, as even the normally-supportive New Statesman described him, thus reminding the electorate that it is not yet looking like a sure-footed party of government.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

A last word on Livingstone

Yesterday morning I watched Livingstone's runner-up speech (you can see the whole five minutes here). Although there were moments when it was difficult not to feel human sympathy with a man confronted with the humiliation of what was an extremely personal defeat, at the same time it seems that his extraordinary lack of self-awareness stayed with him till the last. In the middle of the speech, he pulled out this gem:
"...and I think how different the result might have been, if the BBC hadn't cancelled that Question Time debate, and stopped candidates being interviewed on the Today programme.
But, irrespective of bias in the media..."
No words of apology to the thousands of London activists for the things done or said in a disastrous campaign which was patently thrown by the candidate himself. No, instead - and you really couldn't make this up - the traditional attempt to make himself the victim of antipathic media, a reflexive tactic used throughout the last forty years of his career. And how wonderfully ironic that he should pick the one outlet which is regularly accused of being full of woolly lefties.

Ah, it was all the BBC's fault. The terrible, nasty, right-wing BBC.

My fourth piece at the New Statesman, on a more important way in which Livingstone was affected by the media, is now up here.

Friday, 4 May 2012

A difficult decision

The polls have closed. It may be relatively close, or not, but Ken Livingstone will probably lose (and, at this point, whether he wins or loses, the argument is the same). And I feel like I can finally send this rather personal piece that I wrote some time ago. I know it’s a little long, but I feel the need to explain some things that you may not all know.

This is the first election in my entire life that I remember feeling unable to support the Labour candidate (and that includes 1983, under Michael Foot, although I was too young to vote then). For the record, I was supportive of, and would have voted for given the chance, all the London Assembly candidates who stood yesterday. I have broken no party rules; I have not campaigned for a non-Labour candidate. That said, I cannot find it in my heart either to criticise those members who have done so (although, personally, I’d be embarrassed to vote for Boris Johnson, a candidate with an woolly policy agenda and who clearly sees any kind of political conviction as a terrible hindrance). I criticise neither them, nor the thousands of decent activists who have decided to “hold their noses”, as Tom Watson put it, and “vote for Ken”, not to mention their loyal campaigning for someone who so clearly does not deserve it.

No, if there was ever a special case, this is it. Before I tell you why, a few words to the people who feel it is wrong for me, as an activist of twenty years and former staffer, not to support Labour’s candidate.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

The double-dip, if it is one, has not changed the rules of the game

Delight, for many on the left, met the economic figures last Wednesday. Britain was not in recovery after all, but was the victim of a double-dip recession. Paul Krugman wrote eloquently of Britain’s “death spiral of self-defeating austerity”, and Ed Balls had a very good day.

All true, or very likely so, although one cannot know for sure, Balls and Darling seem to have been closer to the mark, and Krugman is usually a pretty shrewd observer.

Balls’ argument is looking considerably stronger than it did and, in parliamentary terms, as Dan Hodges puts it, he “put George Osborne on the canvass” . So this is the start of Labour’s long road back, right, now we have fixed our economic credibility problem?

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