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…)

October 15, 2009

Hey, low earners! Thanks for the subsidy.

Fare change 2010

You can read plenty about Boris Johnson’s rather impressive hikes in TfL’s fares today elsewhere. With many of the increases coming in at more than 18 times the current rate of CPI, describing them as ‘inflation-busting’ would be like calling Richard Littlejohn ‘moderately right-wing’. And, worryingly for our jovial Mayor, for all his attempts to pass the blame for the increases off as being the fault of Ken Livingstone, the quite correct notion that Johnson inherited healthy TfL reserves and has bought this for the most part on himself is gaining traction. As Dave Cole notes, the extra revenue to be raised by the incredible 20% increase in Oyster Pay-as-You-Go fares on buses fits very neatly into the £50-£70m hole left by the removal of the Western Extension of the Congestion Charge.

Combine that with the decision not to proceed with the Gas-guzzler Charge, the end of the Venezuela oil deal, the scrapping of bendy buses and the advent of the neo-Routemaster – all at a time of falling fare-box income thanks to economic circumstances pertaining – and you begin to see where the hole comes from. And that’s why Boris is coming after you with his hat.

And when I say ‘you’, I mean ‘you’ (possibly), not ‘me’. One thing you won’t see much of in the coverage of the new fare regime is a complaint that you aren’t paying enough. Well, here’s one. The 2010 TfL fare settlement is too lenient on me – and on people like me. And it makes me sick. The graph at the top of this post may give you an idea why. (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…)

April 23, 2009

Brain drain or brain dead?

darlingSo now we know. You only have to wait twelve years into a Labour government before you get a sensible top rate of tax. Much celebration ensued yesterday at the Town Hall when we realised that our beloved Chief Executive would be…erm…required to contribute generously to the economic recovery.

And why these sour grapes from a certain Mr Boris Johnson Esq? According to the BBC’s budget calculator, a hard-working 44 year old married man with 4 children under 16, earning £137,759 a year, plus £250,000 of self-employment income, will be £455.32 better off, thanks to the Chancellor’s largesse.

But to be serious, whilst the introduction of the 50% tax band is welcome, it is as Polly Toynbee rightly says, too late. Whilst I thought Cameron’s budget response to be a rather empty exercise in rhetorical grandstanding, the likes of which I haven’t seen since the Animal last attended a university debating club, one of his attacks ought to stick, although not really as Cameron meant it. Criticising the level of the budget deficit and the PBR, he rehearsed the old line about Labour ‘not fixing the roof while the sun was shining’. (more…)

January 20, 2009

Liberal with the spin

Norman Baker MP

Norman Baker MP

Skimming through Guardian Online yesterday, I came across this doom-and-gloom article about rail franchise holders going cap-in-hand to Geoff Hoon, waving the threat of service cuts if the Department for Transport (DfT) doesn’t show some ‘flexibility’ (for which read slashing) in the premium payments that it will be demanding from many of them in the next financial year. This has come about as a result of falling growth in passenger numbers – note falling growth, not falling numbers – due to economic circumstances pertaining.

No-one is expecting the franchises  in question to cease to be profitable (only the most lucrative routes have to pay premiums – others receive subsidies): simply that the profit margins will be a bit less comfortable than their holders bargained for. Given this, my advice to Hoon would be to wave an offer back at the franchisees – if you don’t want to pay up, hand in the keys and a new National Rail will run the services, keeping all the profit for re-investment in the railways.

But this is all as an aside. What really caught my eye was the footnote to the article, headed:

Go further in Serbia

What could this possibly have to do with the UK’s railways, wondered the Animal? Well, reading on… (more…)

November 21, 2008

Scooping the Standard

Proportion of total affordable housing output to be delivered per borough 2008-11

Proportion of total affordable housing output to be delivered per borough 2008-11

They’re a speedy lot over at ‘London’s Quality Paper’, aren’t they? Eighteen days ago, the Animal wrote about how Boris Johnson’s affordable housing targets were heavily skewed towards allowing most of the Conservative-run London boroughs to continue with their abysmal record of constructing affordable housing. And I can’t claim to be first – Inside Housing and Dave Hill both got there before me. The notifications of the targets were sent out to the boroughs’ Chief Executives the week before I wrote the post. So what’s this I see whilst idly scanning the Evening Standard’s website today?

Tory Councils ‘get easy ride on cheap homes’

Yup, nearly three weeks on, the Standard gets the story. I doubt if the blame for this tardiness can be placed at the door of Pippa Crerar, the paper’s generally even-handed City Hall editor, whose by-line (more…)

October 31, 2008

Short hiatus and some updates

I am away this weekend (the picture should be a clue as to where) and today looks busy, so probably no posting this side of Monday. Don’t cry too much, please.

However, I thought it might be worth providing some updates on a few of my earlier posts, just so they don’t feel forgotten (and so in some cases the Animal can say “told you so”).

October 28th Is the Game Afoot? The Animal speculated that a prolonged period of single figure Conservative poll leads over the next couple of months would suggest that the narrative about the next election would change, with a hung parliament maybe becoming a stronger possibility than a stonking Tory majority. We’re a long way off a prolonged period yet, and the latest Yougov poll does show Labour moving out a smidgin, but the Tory lead remains (just) within the psychologically important single figure zone. 

October 27th European Left Watch: Out of Office in Lithuania The Animal reported on the defeat for the parties that formed the Social Democrat-led government in Lithuania by a mixture of (more…)

October 30, 2008

Is this the most ridiculous Boris quote of all time?

Westfield. It'll save the world. Boris says so.

Westfield. It'll save the world. Boris says so.

Move over cyclist-squashing bendy buses, culturally-derivative Chinese, inverted pyramids of piffle and tribal warriors with watermelon smiles. For Boris Johnson has managed, to my mind at least, to top practically every previous statement for sheer jaw-dropping bonkersness. As reported by today’s Evening Standard in relation to the Mayor’s visit to a new shopping emporium somewhere out Shepherd’s Bush way, Mr Johnson has deigned to provide us with the following words of economic wisdom:

“If anything can persuade the British public not to worry too much but to spend, it will be the Westfield shopping centre.”

You have to admit, it is more coherent than anything that the Tory’s real economic spokespeople have yet to utter. Time after time, the economic textbooks have told us that what dries up consumer spending is not a fear of unemployment or home repossession; not the drying up of consumer credit (more…)

October 28, 2008

Is the game afoot?

One of the essay titles that I can choose to write 3,000 words about for my masters module on British Politics is ‘Can Labour win the next general election?’. Given that the questions were set some months ago, I’m guessing that they were expecting me to address the likelihood given a Conservative opinion poll lead of 20% plus. But now, at least temporarily, the rules of the political game have changed with those of the economic game. Keynsian economics is back from the dead and dead political ducks might just be learning to fly again.

So far in October, three opinion polls from two different organisations have shown Labour’s poll deficit to be in high single figures (either 8 or 9%). With the exception of one 9% lead in a September poll, this is the first time since April that the deficit has been that low, with no fewer than 20 polls having shown a Conservative lead of 20% or greater during that period. Throughout those past few months it was widely, and understandably, assumed that a Conservative majority in the Commons was now a (more…)

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