Confessions of a Political Animal

June 21, 2010

Time for the street-fighting council

On May 6th 2010, Labour won by a small landslide.

Yes, you did read that correctly. Because as the party fell to defeat in parliamentary seats across the country, it swept to power in London borough after London borough. Before the elections, of 32 London boroughs, Labour had majority control of just 7, running a further one in a coalition and one more as a result of having the elected mayor. By the evening of Friday 7th May, Labour had overall control of 17 boroughs, running one more as a minority administration. In 9 of the remaining 14 boroughs, Labour increased its number of seats. Eighteen months before the elections, I suggested that if the general and local elections were to coincide, this might prove to be to Labour’s benefit. So it turned out, but the results were far beyond what I predicted in that post. There is something more than just an increased turnout behind these very good results; and I believe that it has a direct bearing on how Labour councils in London, both newly-elected and returned, should conduct themselves over the next four years.

The easy answer to ‘Why did Labour do so well in London’ is that the party’s core vote turned out. But the core vote cannot deliver 18 boroughs – in reality (as was tested in 2006), it can be guaranteed to deliver about 5 boroughs. What turned out across London on May 6th was what I will describe as the ‘Core+’, a coalition of broadly progressive forces more akin to that which delivered two Livingstone victories than to that behind the 1997 landslide. With a Conservative victory nationally seen as certain, voters with personal or political reasons to fear the onset of Osbornomics (the radical, ideology-driven downsizing of the state using deficit reduction as a pretext) turned out, only partially in hope of preventing this, but equally to try to ensure that savage cuts would be opposed at a local level. For better or worse, this coalition of forces overwhelmingly saw Labour as the party best placed to deliver that opposition.  (more…)

May 24, 2010

A Job Description

This is a joint post by Political Animal and Lost Lucan

The brave new world has dawned, and in the hard cold morning following the battle we can survey the wreckage: the promise of retrenchment with a nasty twist. Cuts, and a re-pointing of the welfare state to the benefit of the better off, with a hike in VAT rather than employer’s National Insurance being used to fill the Treasury’s coffers. From amidst the dust and rubble we rise, clutching the few belongings remaining to us, to start again down the road to government.

And so who will lead us down the twisting path ahead? In some respects it matters not: the hats already thrown into the ring, and those promised to follow adorn the heads of a talented bunch, all of whom could make a decent stab at the task. We are fortunate in having an acting leader who is more than capable of setting the tone for the months and years ahead. No, what matters more is what policies we choose to pursue, around what principles we rally.

The government we face will be nasty, brutish and, sadly, not quite so short. In these times, it is imperative that we offer our new members and the electorate a distinct and decent platform, that we provide a strong voice for employees, the less well off and everyone else who does not fit into the Cameron mould and who would otherwise comprise the great ignored.  To that end, we believe that a successful Labour leader must pursue a progressive set of policies which promote not just equality of opportunity but equality of outcome, with an acceptance that the structural causes of poverty outweigh any impacts of so-called agency in preventing social mobility.

The Whigs had four policy areas to all but sacrifice upon the altar of ambition. We also propose four areas which, in our view, a successful candidate for the Labour leadership should  pursue. They are by no means the only important ones, but they strike at our core values, values which should not be offered up for any price. (more…)

November 13, 2009

A Waste of a Post

waste_barge

London waste being transported to landfill

I’m aware that waste management is not the sexiest topic around (that’s what I call a Cillit Bang opening sentence – BANG! And half your readership’s gone). I doubt anyone but the local party hacks even read my mild criticisms of Greenwich moving to a weekly bin collection. But like it or not, with decreasing levels of landfill available, and tougher central government recycling targets, this is going to remain a political hot potato for some time to come. And as there seems to be a bit of a market out there for blog posts with graphs, here’s a blog post with graphs. About rubbish. In London.

Last week, DEFRA released waste statistics for England for 2008/09, which can be accessed here. The overall story is at least moderately positive. Total quantities of household waste being produced in England have fallen below 25m tonnes for the first time this century. Indeed, the drop of just under 1m tonnes compared to 2007/08 is remarkable, and may indicate an unintended impact of the recession. The key question is whether this decline can be sustained as a recovery kicks in. The figures for 2008/09 represent a drop of 3.8% from the previous 12 months, and 3.0% down from 2000/01. The up-front figure for tonnage being recycled has continued to grow, although more slowly this year than in most previous years. 37.6% of England’s household waste is now being recycled, compared to 11.2% in 2000/01. The government has a target of 40% recycling by 2010 (I’m unclear if that’s 2009/10 or 2010/11), so isn’t a million miles from achieving that. (more…)

September 4, 2009

What a difference 12 months doesn’t make

Summer's over, Mr Mayor

Summer's over, Mr Mayor

Last autumn I wrote a couple of posts examining the effectiveness of the London Assembly’s questioning of the Mayor – and in particular the interesting (that’s to say hands off) approach adopted by the Conservative Group.

So, with a year passed and the summer recess over, I thought it might be apposite to see if anything much had changed. After all, the Mayoralty has certainly moved on in those twelve months (in many cases in ways the Mayor would probably rather forget), so shouldn’t the Assembly have moved with the times too?

With the usual caveat of  quantity not being everything, let’s take a quick look at just how many questions the political groups are now tabling, using the forthcoming Mayor’s Question Time on 9th September (questions publ;ished here) and comparing it with that held on 10th September 2008. (more…)

July 29, 2009

What a load of Phibbs

conservative-homeIn many ways I admire ConservativeHome. It’s an attractive, reasonably open and user-friendly site that does genuinely appear to seek to engage with the Party’s grass-roots activists and supporters.

It has a problem though – serving as it does as a bit of a shop window for the Tories, it does with some regularity highlight to the outside world the more, ahem, interesting points of view and personalities within the Party. You know, the sort any party would want to keep a little under wraps – it’s not a partisan thing, every party has them. However, ConservativeHome sometimes seems to go out of its way to highlight them. Take, for example, the innocuous sounding statement ‘Cllr Harry Phibbs edits ConservativeHome’s Local Government page‘. I don’t know a huge amount about said Cllr Phibbs, but I’m learning – largely through his own teachings. And the more I learn, the more I feel that an equivalent statement would be ‘Margaret Moran MP edits LabourHome’s Probity in Public Life page’.

Cllr Phibbs represents the Ravenscourt Park ward in the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham, flagship council of the Tory right since they took control in 2006 – tax-cutting, service-slashing, employee-bullying, homeless-bashing. The council’s most recent brush with the media spotlight has surrounded the intriguing views of Leader Stephen Greenhalgh about exactly for whom and where social housing should be provided. Some have intimated that his policies are almost Porter-esque. The Animal is saying nothing for fear of the libel courts. (more…)

July 3, 2009

New Standard – same old news values

Printed in Southwark: not all that interested in reporting on it

Printed in Southwark: not all that interested in reporting on it

I am Political Animal, and I am a secret purchaser of the Evening Standard.

Well, just once in fact, so perhaps I don’t need to head for Standardholics Anonymous just yet. But yesterday, the sun was shining, there was 50p burning a hole in my pocket and my train home was 5 minutes late. So I gave in to temptation. But, honestly folks, I had a motive. I wanted to check a hunch I had. Bear with me.

I’ve written before about the running fiasco that is the Elephant & Castle regeneration project. This is probably the biggest such project in Europe and affects the homes and businesses of thousands of people in one of the most deprived areas of inner London. It includes thousands of new homes, businesses and transport facilities. Well, on Wednesday the newswires(alright, Google News Alerts, but that makes me sound so much less important) alerted me to the latest depressing development – or rather, non-development – in the saga. With the project already around seven years behind the original timescale, the Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition at Southwark Council have failed to meet their self-imposed deadline of 1st July to reach a deal to progress the project. This follows two years of exclusive negotiations with struggling Australian property giant Lend Lease (also responsible for the Olympic Village) – the exclusivity deal expired on Wednesday. Where this leaves the project is anyone’s guess – in these difficult financial times it is entirely possible that Lend Lease will refuse the meet Southwark’s demands on affordable homes, small business premises and green space protection and simply walk away, leading to years more of delays. The thousand households in the soon-to-be-demolished Heygate Estate are effectively in limbo: no-one knows when their replacement homes will be built and the council is years behind targets in building the temporary ‘decant’ homes. (more…)

June 10, 2009

Party like it’s 2008 – sort of.

London Boroughs Euro Labour

Note: I have published my data sheet for the London European election results with borough-by-borough breakdowns here. I am missing the exact breakdown of independent candidate votes in Hillingdon and the results for the City of London (unless the latter are included in a neighbouring borough). If anyone has access to these, please could they leave me a note? Thanks! UPDATE: data now complete thanks to Nick in comments.

If the patterns emerging on the map above (apologies for the atrocious reproduction quality) look slightly familiar, it’s probably because, like me, you spent some time last year poring over maps like this or thiswhich showed clearly the inner/outer London divide in voting in the Mayoral elections. Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised that last week’s European elections produced similar results – voting patterns aren’t likely to change that much in 13 months – but they are evidence of the re-emerging political disconnect between the ‘two Londons’. The dominance of New Labour did much to smooth over that disconnect. It may be the case that its death throes are widening the gap further than ever before.

There’s no getting around the fact that the European Election results were very, very bad for Labour, but as Dave Hill has pointed out, what was calamitous in the rest of the country was merely dismal in London. Whilst Labour’s vote dropped 7% nationally compared to 2004, it fell by only half of that in the London region; the Tory increase was smaller even than the limited national figure (+0.6% in London, compared to +1% nationally), whilst UKIP, surging into second place across Britain registered a 1.9% vote decrease in London, narrowly falling into fifth place behind the Greens. (more…)

June 4, 2009

Dear Hazel

blearsDear Comrade,

I thought about writing this last night. I didn’t, because it’s generally a good rule that when you want to write something really angry, you should wait twenty four hours and see if you’re still just as angry then. Also, I didn’t want to leave myself open to accusations of hypocrisy by effectively acting in the same way as you have. However insignificant I am in this Party of ours (and believe me, that’s insignificant), I do not bear my responsibility towards it lightly. I did not want to publish this before polls closed.

We have never met. I am a party member of ten years standing, hardly active enough to be called an ‘activist’. I’ve delivered a few leaflets, served in a few branch positions, occasionally written vaguely supportive things on this blog. I’m extremely happy that for the past six years of my professional life I have worked alongside Labour politicians from every wing of the Party, all genuinely committed to helping the disadvantaged and the disenfranchised. There are real and deep ideological debates within our Party and we debate those forcefully, but we are united in the knowledge of a common aim and a common enemy. We do not, as a rule, engage in public character assassination. However, comrade, by your despicable actions yesterday, you have – in the eyes of many members – forfeited that protection.

Those of us who sat through hustings meetings in the last deputy leadership contest (no fewer than three in my case – I know I’m sad, but I enjoy elections) will have had the pleasure of hearing you harangue the audience, and indeed several of the other candidates, on the duty of loyalty that we owe to the party and its leadership. This, indeed, was very much your USP. I did not and do not share your hardline views on cracking down on ‘dissent’ within the Party. Slavish loyalty to the Party leadership is destructive and dangerous. But in the position you held until yesterday, there was one very distinct duty of loyalty that you held. (more…)

May 27, 2009

No expenses spared

banknotesStudy leave, exams and recuperation now over, the Animal is given to understand that there has been something of a hullabaloo going on in the febrile world of British politics. Before going on to my substantive point, therefore, four quick observations on the whole ‘Troughgate’ merriment.

1) A number of the claims are beyond the pale. There are some MPs from all parties, including my own, who need to go, go now, and go, like, yesterday.

2) We are getting dangerously close to a situation where certain sections of the media and population will denounce any MP with an expenses claim greater than, say, £0.00 as having their snout in the proverbial trough. Yes, there is a collective failure of non-whistle blowing; there is very limited evidence of a collective malaise of greed.

3) If at the conclusion of this mess, we end up with a situation whereby the only people who can afford to be an MP for a non-London seat are those who can privately afford to rent, furnish and run a second property, then democracy in this country will be in a far worse state than it is currently.

4) <Selfish mode> As a former employee of an MP, I am so glad that the feudal, tax-exiled Lords of Brecqhou have probably got my bank account details.</selfish mode> (more…)

May 1, 2009

Revealed: £2.75m down the River

boris-johnson-11“One thing we cannot do is spend tens of millions keeping projects alive, for political reasons, when there is simply no government funding to deliver them. The truth is that we don’t have to cash to do everything we would like, and it is better to be honest than continue to play upon false hopes.”

Boris Johnson, “Way to Go“, November 2008

So said the Mayor last year, as a justification for removing any ambition from Transport for London’s infrastructure investment programme. Johnson’s implied criticism of the previous mayoral administration was that it had spent money developing and promoting transport projects that were unlikely to ever come to fruition. The weakness of the argument is palpable: it was investment in the development and promotion of schemes such as Crossrail and the East London Line Extension that paved the way for funding eventually emerging from central government.

However, a few schemes escaped the Johnson Axe, including stage 1 of the Greenwich Waterfront Transit, a partially-segregated bus route linking the Jubilee Line station at North Greenwich with Woolwich and Thamesmead. The principle aim of the route was to improve bus services to Thamesmead, a heavily deprived area on the borders of Greenwich and Bexley with woeful public transport links. Given the opprobium heaped on the Transit scheme by Boris-friendly commentators, in particular Andrew Gilligan, its survival in November was very surprising: all the more so as its proposed future extensions across the river had been rendered impossible through Johnson’s scrapping of the Thames Gateway Bridge. (more…)

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