Local Elections – First Thoughts (A good night for Labour, a bad one for democracy)

It is far too early to judge the significance of the local election results but, as of 7am on Friday morning, here are my early thoughts.

Labour have had a good night, whatever way you spin it a projected gain of 700 seats is not to be sneezed at. More importantly Ed M can point to gains in places like Harlow as evidence that Labour are able to at least compete in the South again. It is not a watershed moment and they will be disappointed if the share of the vote stays under the magic 40% mark. This gives Ed some breathing space to carry on with his ‘slowly but surely’ strategy and means they have earned the right to be heard again – a vital first step for any longer-term recovery. The disappointing result in the London Mayoral race announced later today will not be blamed on Ed or his team (in fact it arguably makes him look more of an electoral asset) and is unlikely to take the shine of his first real electoral success.

Although it was a bad night for Lib-Dems, I don’t think they will be too disappointed. The ongoing slide in the opinion polls has not borne fruit, with their vote actually holding up well compared to last year. Their biggest problem is, due to the peculiarities of our voting system, even small fluctuations in the share of the national vote have the potential to destroy them come General Election time. They have pinned their hopes on a significant economic upturn by 2015 and all the goodwill that comes with it, now all they can do is wait.

For the Tories this is a shocker, the leadership may have ‘priced in’ this scale of loss, but that is no consolation for the hundreds of ousted Tory councillors who feel the government has no guiding vision, no plan for growth and has become detached from its Tory roots. Better news to come for them later when Boris is returned as London Mayor – this is a poisoned chalice for the leadership though. How is it Boris can be so popular when Cameron, to put it mildly, isn’t? How come Boris looks like a heavyweight when Cameron, to put it mildly, isn’t? How come Boris has a mission when Cameron, to put it mildly doesn’t? Expect an angry and rejuvenated right-wing of the Tory party to put real pressure on the Cameroon both pre and post the upcoming Queen’s Speech.

All of this however will be overshadowed the the terrible turnout. Less than a third of people managed to get to their polling stations and put an X in a box. I haven’t really got my head round what this means yet – expect that it is bad for democracy and shows political parties continue to be detached from the people they purportedly represent. This probably deserves a post of its own, so I’ll have a think and get back to you.

Will try and write later once the dust has settled and the Mayoral results have been announced.

Tc Bx


Lembit offers Clegg some sage advice

If Nick Clegg is wise he will avoid consuming any media whilst he is on holiday. But, being a politican, it is unlikely he’ll be able to resist taking a sneak peak at the latest polls. But Nick, if you are sitting on your sun-lounger wondering if you have just killed not only your own political future but that of one of the oldest political parties in the western world, then fear not, Lembit is back to help.

‘Don’t Panic – Keep the faith’ is Lembit’s advice to the Lib-Dem leader, followed by ‘Actions speak louder than polls’.

Wise words from the ex-darling of the Lib-Dems. And something he has personal experience of – the constituents of Montgomeryshire certainly acted very loudly indeed in May, when they chose to vote for a Tory rather than face another 5 years of him.

Perhaps not the help Nick Clegg needs right now.

An Apology to the Labour Party

Dear Labour Party,

This is a difficult letter to write, but write it I must. It is important that I put down in words my misdeeds in the hope that others can learn from my mistakes.

I admit I strayed. Even now I am not sure exactly what it was. The debates helped for sure – he just looked so young, so fresh… a different politician for a different age. The lack of campaign from yourselves was a factor as well – why didn’t you remind me of the good times a little more? The schools, the hospitals, equality laws, sure-start, the national minimum wage?  All I heard was a squabble about £6billion and all I saw were a lot of white, pasty middle-aged men.

Still this letter is not meant to be about you, but rather about me and my shortcomings. I admit I was seduced by Nick… I liked his casual style and I still think he has a point about creating a more liberal Britain. But I listened to John Prescott at the weekend and I realised just how misguided I have been. Creating a liberal Britain is important, of course it is, but the real prize is a socially just one. There is no point in a liberal state unless we also build a fair state alongside it. And we should be clear – there is no fairness in refusing to rebuild falling-down schools, depriving our children of learning in the best possible environments;  there is no fairness in the closing of sure-start centres in some of the poorest communities; and there is no fairness in the shutting off of funding to schemes that boost employment and training of our young.

Fairness is innate within the Labour Party, it isn’t about sound-bite or a response to focus groups – the fight for fairness is what created the party and it still runs deep in the blood of the membership today. In fact, when it comes to fairness there is only one party in town. I have learnt that now and will never again have my head turned by others.

That is not to say we are without problems. Hopefully we can all learn to work and play together  again after the divisive policies of ID Cards, Student Fees and, of course, Iraq. But looking forward also means creating a vision. Borrowing from Mr Prescott again, how do we define traditional Labour values in a modern setting? How do we regain the trust of the public? How do we excite and inspire in this age of austerity and gloom? The party needs to renew itself – not just in policy (though this is key) – but from it’s local parties upwards. We have to change the way we campaign, fighting passionately on local issues, but also linking them to a national agenda. We have to reach out to first time voters and engage with them on the issues they care about. Most of all however we need to make our local parties more inclusive again, for too long party meetings have been the exclusive domain of the political geek. By simplifying our structures and making meetings more focussed on genuine debate, local issues and the exchange of ideas we have an opportunity to create a wider, more representative membership than ever before.

So, if you’ll have me, I want to come back into the fold – but this time I am not going to stay quiet. I am going to fight hard for what I believe in – for making the party more open, improving the level of debate, giving  new members a voice and, most of all, ensuring that fairness remains at the heart of who we are.



A personal tragedy for David Laws – but what does it say about us?

I am not going to write much this morning – partly because it has already been covered by many people more eloquent than I. Partly because last night I was out in town and am feeling a little delicate this morning.

Anyone who has followed David Laws personal tragedy unfolding in their newspapers and on their TV screens cannot help but to have been saddened at the downfall of an honourable man who was trying against all odds to protect his privacy. This is not like the expenses scandal that captivated us last year – Laws did not make money through the claiming of rent, he lost it. Had he been honest about the relationship he was in he could have claimed more without any questions being asked. This is a rare occassion where an MP breaking the rules actually increased value for money.

That he broke the rules looks only too clear. So soon after the formation of the coalition and with the expenses scandal still clear in the minds of the press and public David Laws had little choice to stand down – that he did it in such a timely manner and with candour and humility was of great personal credit to him and should ensure his smooth transition back to cabinet status in the not too distant future.

The real question we all have to grapple with is why he felt he had to hide his sexuality at all. As a straight, white man working in the charity sector I honestly believed that we as a society had moved on, surely being gay is no longer an impediment to anything anymore – personal or private? This whole episode suggests otherwise. News reports this morning suggests his close family are practising Roman Catholics, with all the connotations this confers. You only had to listen to The Big Questions on BBC1 this morning to know that the liberal gay friendly world that exists within my immediate sphere does not neccessy expand across the rest of the country, let alone the world.

So farewell to David Laws, for now at least, I wish him luck and happiness in a world that has changed dramatically for him in the last few days. I hope he and his partner’s relationship flourish and his friends and family continue to be there for him. For the rest of us it is time to look again at how liberal we really are and redouble our efforts against any group or individual that continue to promote homophobia and bigotry in our society.