Monday, 27 April 2015

Lutfur Rahman: now let’s see Labour’s ways of working change

It is surely hard for any Labour member – okay, Ken Livingstone excepted – to shed a tear for former Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman.

The man who was yesterday unceremoniously turfed out of office, after anunequivocal judgement against him in an electoral court, has become the subject of arguably the worst scandal in local government since Westminster council leader Dame Shirley Porter’s conviction for gerrymandering two decades ago. Criminal charges may yet be brought.

But as we look at it, we have to ask ourselves: what have we learned? It would be good to think that the party leadership is right now taking a few moments to reflect, thinking “how can we make sure this never happens again? How did we ever get here?”

It seems, sadly, that the reaction seems more likely to be “phew – good job he left the party before all this”.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Reaching out to centrist voters now is good tactics. Strategy it ain’t

Happily, Labour has had a very good fortnight. Since my last election piece two weeks ago, Miliband’s personal ratings have jumped up and the Tory campaign has blundered from unforced error to unforced error. Bookies and polls now put him as neck and neck with Cameron as next PM, not lagging way behind as before.

The final piece of this recovery in both results and performance, last weekend, was a quite unexpected outreach programme from Labour to the centre ground, of which more later.

After the last election, the new prime minister, formerly known for his husky-cuddling and his “greenest government ever” shtick suddenly remembered his back benchers and became, for the most part, a much more traditional kind of Tory.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Lutfur Rahman. Yessss.

For regular readers, you will probably understand why the guilty finding today of an election court on the Mayor of Tower Hamlets is such good news (his office did, after all, report me to the police, one presumes in the hope of having me charged and arrested - I can now leave readers to draw their own conclusions as to the good faith of Mr Rahman on this matter).

According to the BBC, he is found guilty of:
  • Voting fraud: ballots were double-cast or cast from false addresses  
  • False statements made against Mr Rahman's rival Mr Biggs 
  • Bribery: grants approved to organisations which Mr Rahman favoured, most of which were run by Bangladeshi groups
  • Treating: providing free food and drink to encourage people to vote for Mr Rahman
  • Spiritual influence: voters were told that it was their duty as Muslims to vote for Mr Rahman.
The judgement also mentions "being untruthful on occasion" i.e. judge-ese for "lying". Although an election court cannot (I don't think) send him to jail, the 2014 election will now be re-run and he is barred from standing. There are also reports that the Met is considering a criminal enquiry.

In fact, as of this moment he is no longer mayor; it is as if the election had never happened.

Not only is it an important and genuine victory for British democracy and against corruption and sectarianism, it is a real chance for the long-suffering burghers of Tower Hamlets (and especially its Labour Party) to make a fresh start in a healthier, multi-cultural environment which favours no community above others.

Oh, Lutfur, Lutfur. You have got your just desserts at last.


Two little snippets to make you smile:

1. The Guido Fawkes blog has kindly reminded us of the reliable imbecility of some of the Guardian's writers, who defended Rahman with the brilliant headline from last year"The smear campaign against Lutfur Rahman is an insult to democracy". Just fantastic.

2. And who could it be, taking to the airwaves on LBC yesterday to defend the indefensible yet again, in the shape of his old pal, Lutfur Rahman? Step forward fellow ex-mayor, Ken Livingstone, to say this:
"I don't think election courts should be there. If someone breaks the law then the police should arrest them."
You couldn't make it up. I mean, lucky he's not on the National Executive Committee of our beloved party. No, wait...

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Tory fumbles put Labour back in the race

As I wrote my last piece a week ago, things were looking pretty rocky for Labour. But, as if to give me a bit of come-uppance, we immediately proceeded to have a very good week.

First there was a poll which, in the wake of the TV debates, saw Miliband’s personal polling jump from -49% a couple of months before, to +3%, a quite extraordinary recovery and above Cameron’s for the first time. Given that leadership (of which I guess this is some kind of crude measure) was one of Labour’s two big weaknesses, the other being the economy, this is very encouraging news. Also Labour’s party polling has nudged a little higher, although probably not enough to be significant.

Second, the Tory campaign, aided and abetted by the Tory press, has been in disastrous form. After being forced to defend Britain’s anomalous “non-dom” tax status for rich people in a nifty bit of political footwork by Labour, they then proceeded to unleash a set of personal attacks on Miliband. However, so clumsy and inept were the attacks, that they seem to have had an entirely counterproductive effect. Most spectacularly useless was the Daily Mail, which splashed on Miliband’s ex-girlfriends, thereby converting Miliband from wonkish nerd into an unlikely "lad"; or, as my friend Anthony Painter put it, from "being Wallace to James Bond”.*

Finally, its Millbank HQ panicked, and started releasing all kinds of uncosted spending pledges, notably £8bn for the NHS, on which Labour politicians and indepdendent-minded journalists alike gleefully seized, thus painting the party of supposed fiscal rectitude briefly, at least, as the party of fiscal idiocy.

All in all, a terrible week for the party for whom the election was really theirs to lose. Good.

A few words of caution, however:

1. It’s by no means over, and this welcome burst of strength may well not be enough to tip the scales. Bear in mind a large part of it is down to Tory failure.

2. Cameron has come 
right back this week with a trap on “right to buy” council houses, which Labour looks extremely likely to fall into, thereby setting itself (yet again) against the aspirational classes.

3. 1992 should still be borne in mind. The then phenomenon of “shy Tories” – people who vote Tory but refuse to disclose this to pollsters – could yet confound Labour’s expectations that polls will carry through to parliamentary seats.

4. We should not forget that, as my friend John Rentoul is fond of pointing out, Cameron is the “essay crisis prime minister”. He gets too relaxed at times, but also has a habit of performing well when the pressure is truly on. It now is.

5. Scottish Labour is still facing a meltdown.

Labour is back in the race, but that race is still far too close too call.

*Wallace of "Wallace and Gromit" fame, of course.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Labour: on the verge of a historic victory, or partying like it’s 1992?

Carter USM's 1992 album - at least one
good thing that happened that year.
The short campaign has finally kicked off. Not that that usually makes much difference, and particularly not when we have all known the date of the election for the last four years. Perhaps fittingly, no party’s campaign has so far exactly knocked Britain off its feet.

In polling, Tories and Labour have been showing as neck and neck for some time, with each main party in turn delighted when a poll says it is a couple of points ahead. But within any measure of what statisticians call “standard error”, these polls tell us little.

In other words, any difference of this size – a few per cent – could just as easily be explained by the inaccuracy of polling as a predictor per se, as by a meaningful trend. In this strange, Alice-in-Wonderland world where the tossed coin seems to land on its side, we have to make our judgements using less obvious, but no less compelling, means.

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