Labour Party

A little perspective, please

ed miliband

Ed Miliband is in trouble.

This much is undeniable. Two of his MPs have defected to an insurgent party who are taking vast swathes of his party’s voters and activists. He has been forced into an embarrassing volte face on almost every policy position he initially espoused. More than 30 of his MPs have called for him to go, and now his party’s polling has dropped to 27%, within touching distance of UKIP.

Oh, hang on. That’s not Ed Miliband and the Labour Party, is it? That’s David Cameron and the Conservative Party.

Read on…

A weekend of knocking on doors

matt, ian and anne in st luke's

If anyone wants indisputable proof that I am indeed mad, then may I present as exhibit 1, the fact that I spent both Saturday and Sunday mornings out knocking on doors and talking to strangers.

(There is an argument, and a compelling one I think, that by doing just such I am in fact the one who is stranger)

We are still some eight months away from the next round of elections, so most political parties in Southend are conspicuous by their absence on the campaign trail, and I suspect will remain so until January at the earliest, but I am glad to say that Southend Labour are out campaigning almost all year round.

Read on…

Why the Labour-Trade Union Link is Essential

Ed Miliband on the Andrew Marr Show this morning, ahead of the start of the Labour Party Conference

Being interviewed on The Andrew Marr Show, Ed Miliband has just said the following, and I think it bears repeating:

There’ll be some people who say ‘Why doesn’t Ed Miliband make a splash, by breaking the link with Trade Union members?’ I tell you why I’m not going to do that. Because think about politics and what people think about politics: detatched from the lives of most people.

What does that gives us? At its best, the link with Trade Union members, and I underline members, gives us a link with people up and down this country, who go to work every day, who get up early, who put in all the hours that God sends, who know what life is like at the sharp end.

And I’m not going to break that link, but I am going to make the right decisions in the interests of the country. And that’s my position as Labour Leader.

And he’s absolutely right. The system might not be perfect, from either perspective, but we are a party which came out of the Trade Unions and the working people of this country. We cannot allow ourselves to forget that.

“Predistribution” is a godawful buzzword

Centre-left governments of the future will have to also make work pay better by making work itself pay.

But as an idea, it might just be the key that the left — and this country — is looking for.

Allow me to elaborate a little. Yesterday, Ed Miliband gave a speech organised by the Policy Network. In it, he outlined further the direction of  Labour Party policy, unveiling the idea of “predistribution”. Ed explained it as thus:

Predistribution is about saying: We cannot allow ourselves to be stuck with permanently being a low-wage economy… Think about somebody working in a call centre, a supermarket, or in an old peoples’ home. Redistribution offers a top-up to their wages. Predistribution seeks to offer them more: Higher skills. With higher wages. An economy that works for working people.

It sounds pretty good, and it gels with the other policy speeches that Ed has given since he took over the party leadership. In his conference speech last year, he talked about “predatory capitalism”. It got a panning in the right-wing press, but since then has become the political centre ground. The idea of predistribution is an extension of that idea.

The problem is not the content, it’s the expression. Yesterday, LabourList’s Mark Ferguson said of the speech, “It was more academic lecture than political speech“, and he was right. Ed has always been a more cerebral kind of politician; a thinker rather than a showman. It’s a characteristic that has also come in for frequent criticism, and one I’ve been quick to defend. David Cameron is the epitome of leaders who can “talk the talk”. We need one who can “walk the walk”.

However, if this idea is going to reach ordinary people, it’s going to have to reach them in plain and everyday English. Just as the Conservatives’ disingenuous “maxed out credit card” analogy connected with the lives of voters, so will this. And “predistribution” just isn’t going to do that.

So what should it mean in practice?

A great many of the votes that Labour lost at the last general election were because people had lost faith that the economy was working for them. It’s hard to argue that this isn’t the case. You only have to open the pages of the Daily Mail, the Daily Express or the Sun to see railing against “scroungers”. But the root of the problem is that a large number of people aren’t earning, and cannot earn, a wage that they can live off.

This was addressed by the last Labour government with such redistributive measures as tax credits. The minimum wage was a good first step, but if it’s not enough to live off then what good does it really do?

We need a statutory “living wage”. If a person can be ensured that by working they will have enough to live off, then what greater incentive can there be to get people to work? Talk of “scroungers” would disappear, and people would have real money to spend and put into an economy that badly needs it. We need a taxation system where anyone earning a “living wage” is exempt from income tax, and a government that helps to enable people to thrive, rather than excusing the fact that they aren’t.

As an idea, it’s still in the early stages of its genesis. But it has real potential. David Cameron’s Tory-led government is the last gasp of trying to fix the broken economic and social system. It’s not working. The government talks about making work pay, but when the minimum wage in the country is not enough to allow a person to survive, then it work self-evidently not paying.

Ed Miliband’s ideas are grand, and mean changing the nature of our society completely. But it’s been done before, so it can be done again.

And if the worst thing about “predistribution” is the name, then I feel we’re onto something important here.

Wokingham Election Results – An Analysis

The results of Wokingham’s 2012 local elections are in…

I’ve had a few hours now to reflect on the results of the Wokingham local elections, and to do some some fancy arithmetic with the numbers to get a full picture of how the votes played out across the borough.

There were a total of 31,630 votes cast between the hours of 7am and 10pm in the borough as a whole. I don’t yet have the information on turnout, but it doesn’t seem terribly good- probably around 30%. The weather contributed to this, doubtless, but there has been a slump in turnout across the country.

Here is a table of information on the election, showing the number of seats won by each party, the gains that it means for them, the total votes they received, and how that stands as a percentage of the overall vote (Note: I’ve rounded the percentage figures to one decimal place, which is why the total comes to 100.1%).

Seats Gains Votes Percentage
CON 13 -2 15,345 48.5%
LD 4 +1 7,643 24.2%
LAB 0 0 3,862 12.2%
GREEN 0 0 2,378 7.5%
UKIP 0 0 1,733 5.5%
IND 1 +1 496 1.6%
Spoilt - - 183 0.6%

There were 18 seats up for election this year, which is a third of the council, and the Tories lost two. Somehow (think #wokyrubbish) the Liberal Democrats managed to buck the national trend, and actually gain a seat in Winnersh. The independent Nick Ray (about whom I know embarrassingly, well, nothing) taking Charvil from Tory incumbent Emma Hobbes was the shock of the day really.

Firstly, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed. I had held private hopes of Labour winning a seat- Greg Bello came agonisingly close in Bulmershe & Whitegates, and I maintain he would have been a superb representative. I’m also disappointed that I came third after a candidate who did no campaigning at all, but I did significantly increase my share of the vote. Thank you to everyone who came along to help me campaign, and especially to everyone who voted for me.

The results show, I think, Labour as the solid third party of the borough. The Greens get fourth place, largely out of the number of candidates they stood (they didn’t poll badly, but only Marjorie Bisset in Shinfield South posed any serious challenge). I’m still waiting for any signs of this supposed UKIP breakthrough.

There are several lessons I take from these results with regard to improving Labour’s performance. The first is that we need to stand a full slate of candidates. We can’t be seen as a credible challenger in the borough unless we’re fielding candidates all across it.

Secondly, there was a distinct lack of canvassing all across Wokingham. I worked hard knocking doors and distributing leaflets, and so did my opponents (well, one of them did). But many of the returned Conservative councillors didn’t do a thing by all accounts. There are so many votes that are there to be picked up, if only we could run even a minimal campaign- and not to mention a get the vote out operation.

The next election isn’t until 2014, so that gives us two years to look at what needs to be done, and take steps to do it. Labour is here in Wokingham, and we’re not going away any time soon.

Matthew S. Dent for Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe

Matthew S. Dent, Labour and Co-Op candidate for Remenham, Wargrave & Ruscombe

With nominations closed, all of the forms in, and the full list of candidates to be officially announced next week, I think this is as good a time as any to make my own announcement: I am standing on May 3rd as the Labour and Co-operative candidate for Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe.

This has been something of a given for a long while now, but my nomination forms went in last Wednesday without hiccough, and so pending Tuesday’s announcement everything will be official.

Over the next few weeks, I will be putting leaflets through letterboxes, and talking to people all across the ward about the issues they are concerned about, and what I can offer them if elected. The advantage of being involved in local politics all year round, not only at election time, is that I’m already familiar with most of the issues.

On a national level, the economy is still in the doldrums and the Conservative-led economic strategy seems only to be making things worse. There is a real risk that we will shortly be back in recession- officially; many households will testify that the struggles they face day to day already speak of recession- and what are the government focusing on? Taxing pasties; taxing pensioners; snooping in our emails; shutting down transparency; cutting tax for millionaires; ending child tax credits for ordinary working families and a whole load of other unhelpful and regressive measures.

One thing is becoming very clear- we are not all in this together.

But this is a local election, and whilst the national picture cannot be discounted or ignored I want residents to cast their votes based on local issues. So here is an overview of some of the issues I will be campaigning on:

  • Bin collection: the new scheme has proved disastrous. The scheme is a stealth tax on residents, and even central government has serious concerns that the council have no legal basis for doing this. Residents are in uproar, and the councillors who implemented this scheme are nowhere to be seen. My view on this is simple. We are calling for three things: firstly, the scheme should be suspended immediately; secondly, there should be an inquiry into what has gone wrong with the scheme, particularly the problems besetting the launch; thirdly, the consultation with residents that the council didn’t think was necessary should be conducted, and no new scheme introduced without public approval.
  • Libraries: the plan to privatise libraries across the borough was central to my campaign in the July by-election, and since then it has dropped off the agenda a little. I am not happy about this; the council dismissed residents concerns when a petition triggered a debate, and have done nothing to mitigate the damage that I believe this plan will cause. Privatising libraries will lead to corners being cut in the pursuit of profit, and our currently great libraries will be at risk of decline. The decision is due to be made in May, so this is a vital issue on the doorsteps.
  • Real democracy: At the moment, the Conservative elite who rule Wokingham seem completely disconnected from residents. Time and again, they do exactly what they want with concern neither for the views of voters or whether it is a good idea. There is little to no debate, and a sense of aloof disdain for disagreement. They have even admitted that they don’t think they need to listen to residents. I believe that the way to solve this is by putting different voices, of different parties, on the council. If elected I will make holding the council to account my primary business, and pushing for better policies for the borough.

I will be expanding on and adding to these points as the election grows closer, and as I receive more feedback from residents on the doorstep. If you live in the ward and want to get in touch with me, I welcome any and all contact, and you can do so by:

Or simply wait until I knock on your door.

WBC: “We don’t have to listen to you”

Readers must be getting sick of me ranting on about bin bags, but as long as it’s still an issue, and as long as it’s emblematic of Wokingham Borough Council’s utter disdain for the opinions of local residents, I’m going to keep pushing it.

I’ve been saying this for a long time, but the council’s (Conservative) administration simply does not care what the people living in the borough think of what it’s doing. I get that there are probably a lot of people who would paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davies in response to that: “Well, he’s a Labour candidate; he would say that, wouldn’t he?

Indeed, that has actually been said of me. But the thing is, my accusations are borne out by the council’s actions. Look at the library privatisation fiasco. The announcement of the plan was made last May, just after the elections- yet it had gone unmentioned in election literature, and there was no consultation. When residents signed a petition objecting to the move, the council quite simply didn’t care.

Now the same thing is happening with the bins. The new scheme is widely hated, people feel the council are taking them for a ride, and there has been no consulting of the electorate. Yesterday the council (by which, I should make clear, I mean local government officers- not the politicians who actually make the decisions) conducted a Q&A session where residents could submit questions about the scheme.

They didn’t handle it badly, but the answers weren’t particularly revealing. The general sense of things was “this is the scheme, deal with it”. But there was one answer which I found astounding:

Read that carefully. They “didn’t feel it necessary to consult on the services”. That basically translates as “we don’t think we need to listen to what you think”. I believe I called that a long, long time ago.

The reason that people are so angry, for the benefit of any council staff or Wokingham Tories who might be reading this, is that you have imposed a flawed and unsuitable waste scheme on them for questionable reasons without once asking their permission. That is not how democracy is supposed to work.

So here it is. I alluded above to the fact that I am the Labour candidate for the ward of Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe in the local elections on May 3rd. I am pledging here, in writing, preserved for all to see, that if elected I will oppose this scheme with all the passion that I have shown so far. I will push, as I have been calling for, for:

  1. An immediate suspension of the scheme.
  2. An inquiry into the execution problems that have thus far dogged it.
  3. A public consultation on the future of waste collection in the borough.

But more than that, I pledge that I will fight with the same tenacity against the aloof, rule-by-elite attitude which has taken hold. No more radical changes to services without consultation. No more ignoring or dismissing residents opinions and concern. And no more democratic failures from elected representatives.

I know that, even if elected, I won’t be able to dictate local government policy. Even if Labour take a clean sweep of all the seats up for election, it would only give us 18 seats (out of 54). But what a victory for me (or any of my fellow Labour candidates, for that matter) would do, is make the Tories stop and think. Their disdain for residents stems from a belief that they are safe. That they will suffer no electoral consequences no matter their decision.

It is only by challenging this belief, and the Tory hegemony that they enjoy in Wokingham, that residents can reassert their democratic right to be heard.

Out with the old…

So there goes 2011. Another year behind us, with all the experiences it brought. Honestly, I’m not sure where it all went.

But a lot has happened in the life of me, the vast majority of which has gone recorded in this blog. Looking back, I’m not sure where to start…

  • I finished university. Yep, after three long years of study, I finished my exams and in July graduated with an LLB from the University of Sussex. I’m as surprised as anyone, to be honest. But I even managed to cross the hall and receive my degree without tripping over. I have video evidence!
  • Having, at the beginning of the year only dreamed of it, I ended up standing for election this summer. Following the conservative incumbent’s resignation a mere five days after the local elections in May, I stood as Labour candidate for the ward of Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe. And despite the staunch blue shade of the local politics, I managed to poll well and come a not-too-distant third.
  • I’ve been writing, as always. I’ve only had the one story acceptance this year, sadly, but I put that mostly down to the need to focus on university for the first half of the year. One 2011’s highlights was definitely taking part in the excellent Halloween Shorts project, alongside my fellow writers Jennifer Williams, Kev Clarke and Andrew Reid.
  • For the last few months I’ve been volunteering, part-time, for the political blog Political Scrapbook. I’ve learnt a lot from it, and had the pleasure of working with a whole host of great people. Hopefully, the new year will herald the arrival of a “proper job” of some form.
  • I’ve also been volunteering with the local Scout group. Honestly, this was always likely to happen. I was a Scout as a child, my mother is a Cub leader, and the path towards the leader’s uniform has already been tread by my brother. But it’s a great experience, and hopefully I can make the difference in the lives of the lads I’m working with that my leaders made to me.
  • I have, after much procrastination, joined the British Fantasy Society. This was only a week ago, so not much has yet come of it, but I’m excited and inspired. And, of course, looking forward to my first FantasyCon, in September next year!
  • And finally, yesterday marked the end of a third year spent with my wonderful Ashleigh! We celebrated by spending the day in London, at the Saatchi Gallery and Forbidden Planet (of course!), followed by a beautiful meal at Manna vegetarian restaurant. I know it’s a cliché, but I couldn’t be happier.

So that’s the highlights of my personal year. I could have done a political rundown, or a writing run down, but there are other people doing that. For today, I want this to be a record of my year, of what I’ve managed, what I’ve tried, and where I stand on the cusp on 2012. I’ll start looking forwards tomorrow.

Labour’s Infighting Only Distracts from the Real Enemy

Whether you personally voted for him or not, Ed Miliband was elected Labour leader. Now we either unite behind him, or resign ourselves to the wilderness.

And it was all going so well. When Labour lost the 2010 election (along with all the other parties who fought it…) I held out hope because we seemed to have escaped the infighting which marred the Conservatives post-1997, and Labour post-1979. There were lots of competing ideas, lots of suggestions of the direction that the party should go in, but it manifested as helpful debate, amicable and above all civilised.

But now it seems we’re heading back to infighting. Since the last Prime Minister’s Questions of 2011, grumblings about Ed Miliband’s leadership have reached fever pitch, with the “Blairite” “right” of the party (read: David Miliband supporters) saying that Ed should be removed as leader. It culminated in spectacularly vain and vapid comments in yesterday’s Independent on Sunday by Tom Scholes-Fogg. The best commentary on this I’ve seen so far is from Owen Jones (a Labour blogger I respect far more than TSF):

Witty Kinnock paraphrasing aside, he has a point. Rubbish like this only helps the Tories, at the expense of Labour members and voters, and the ordinary working people of this country who we should be focusing on helping. Here’s a few of my views on the criticisms. You know, just to join in.

  • Ed has been leader for 15 months. Labour suffered a fairly catastrophic defeat in May 2011, and as has been pointed out by those more qualified than myself he’s fighting against the tide. The British press is mostly right wing, and the idea that they’d be more receptive to even David right now is pure fantasy. Any Labour leader would be struggling, under the weight of the repeated myth that this whole mess is our fault.
  • Ed is a different kind of leader. Ed is trying very hard to forge a new politics (pardon the phrase) and break with norms. He led the attack on the Murdoch press, despite the very obvious risk to the party. His unfairly-ridiculed conference speech earlier this year attacked the model of capitalism which has caused financial ruin. If we, rather than fighting with each other, spent our time working out political philosophies and directions, and a tranche of new policies, we could win the intellectual argument and return to power not on a wave of anti-Tory feeling, but a positive groundswell of optimistic change.
  • PMQs does not matter as much as you think it does. Yesterday Shelly Asquith tweeted: “Is performance at PMQs really the be-all and end-all? Most voters I know are at work on a Wednesday afternoon, not glued to BBC Parliament.” Quite. Sunny Hundal wrote a very interesting article calling on Ed to focus much less on PMQs, with which I agree.
  • What exactly do you think this makes the public think of us? When the Tories conspired to stab IDS in the back, do you think it made the party look like a model of competence? No, of course it didn’t. One of the things that did for us in the last election was the rumblings of rebellion against Gordon Brown. It confirmed to the public what the Tory press were saying, by giving an image that the party didn’t have faith in him either. How were voters supposed to have faith in us in those circumstances.

That I didn’t vote for Ed Miliband is a matter of public record, but the facts are still that on Thursday Labour held Feltham and Heston with a swing of 8% from the Tories. The polls oscillate wildly, and really don’t show anything useful at this stage in a parliament. But yeah, if you want to give an image of a party in chaos, unable to work together cohesively in a time of economic disaster, carry on throwing rocks at other Labourites. Meanwhile, the Tories will continue to play the “Labour can’t be trusted” card, and on the evidence we present the public will believe them.

On Experience: In All Its Forms

As regular readers of this blog will know, I recently stood as the Labour candidate in my home ward of Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe (in Wokingham Borough). It was a fairly safe Tory seat, and I managed to poll third place, with a substantially increased share of the vote.

As those of you who have read my “About” page on this blog may be aware, I am originally from a medium-sized industrial town in the North West, called Warrington. It’s famous for (in the plus column) Lewis Carroll, Warrington Wolves RLFC and playing a considerable role in the Northern Ireland peace process, as well as (in the minus column) Kerry Katona and Chris Evans. It also has a local by-election today, in the Poulton North ward.

I’ve been keeping half an eye on it, and today I noticed this article on the Warrington Guardian website, in which the Lib Dems have been slating the Labour candidate, Ashley Pemberton, on the grounds of his lack of experience. Ashley is a student, and rather than tackling him on policy grounds (on which the Lib Dems across the country seem mostly bankrupt), Cllr Bob Barr has gone for his youth as a factor which makes him unsuitable to be a councillor.

This not only seems stupid to me, but seems to be representative of a destructive malaise which has taken hold of local politics nationwide. Look at Borough and District councils across the country, and at the ages of the people sitting on them. By and large, I’d guess, they’re over forty. Not that this is a bad thing, there is a certain level of experience which age alone can offer, but I do think it stilts a council to have such a homogeneous age of councillors.

Obviously I have a personal stake in a matter such as this, as a local candidate still under 21 (for a few more weeks, at least). The charge of being too inexperienced (read: young) was never levelled at me directly during my campaign, but it was always bubbling just under the surface (ironically, not from the Tories, who fought a campaign which although I disagree with was quite clean and amicable).

Now, I am young. But in that I don’t think I lack experience, I simply have different experience. In a time when central and local government cuts are falling on the young in particular, I can see more clearly what affects will be had. And aside from that, I am a completely different generation from most of the people sitting on Borough and District councils across the country, and have completely new ideas.

What people of my generation, and my age (and, dare I say it, my experience) can offer to local communities is a completely different way of thinking. My views and my ideas differ even from the older members of my own party, and I expect the same goes for Ashley, and the rest of my fellow young Labourites across the country. And, in fact, probably young members of other parties too.

What Cllr Barr is doing here is an campaign tactic: the Lib Dems are going to lose Poulton North and they know it, so they’re resorting to dirty tricks on the eve of the election. But it’s a dangerous idea to start throwing around. Do we really want our local government to be entirely controlled by the upper echelons of society, by middle-aged businessmen and retirees with time on their hands? That sounds like a serious threat to representative democracy to me.