Following the riots, labour’s response is the right one.

While the right has launched its rabble-rousing vindictive against those in society it deems responsible for the riots, the labour party has largely remained level-headed in response.  This country needs labour to maintain that position.

For the announcements coming thick and fast from the tories should be enough to worry all of us about the long term direction the government may be leading us in relation to the rights and liberties enjoyed by all in our society.

The labour party has without reservation denounced the appalling and seemingly epidemic levels of violence experienced on our streets but has rightly tempered that with thoughtful views on the reasons behind it.

Indeed, Ed Miliband has himself made clear that he accepts that  labour should have done more while in government to tackle socio-economic issues that have afflicted certain sections of society for decades, and may have contributed to the present situation.

So I am concerned that some on the right of the labour  party, were I myself normally feel most comfortable,  are becoming critical of the party’s present position and what it is saying in response to the riots.

Their concern seems to be that we will lose all reason and damage our recent good form by sacrificing everything on a soft, hug-a-hoodie narrative that the electorate would never allow us to recover from.

They shouldn’t worry.

I believe the people are more than willing to try and understand what is happening on their streets and would welcome the sort of discussion that the labour party has been eager to promote.  But to indulge those concerns for a moment what stance would those on the right of the party prefer labour to take?

If the rioters, some as young as 10 years of age, get as far as managing to avoid the water cannon, or being shot dead by the plastic baton rounds our Prime Minister, by his own admission, is in favour of using, what next?

Do we then get those kids evicted from their homes along with the completely innocent family who reside there with them?  Do we then have those kids named and shamed prior to being forced into orange jump suits and made to work on our streets as a penance?

Would that be enough?

Or do we then proceed to close down social networking sites to stop those rioters, few in number, from organising more attacks and with it access for 99.9% of the population who are minding their own business and bothering no-one?

Would that satisfy our impulse for revenge on the rioters?

Or perhaps we should impose whole town curfews forcing trouble-makers to either stay indoors or face the consequences of walking British streets including that 99.9% of the population whose democratic right it is to walk those streets, who are minding their own business and who are bothering no-one?

Would that be enough to move the labour party into the apparently safe electoral ground of these reactionary, populist policies being arranged for the citizens of this country by David Cameron and the tory government?

The same policies, incidentally, that are in no way designed to resolve the major problems being faced by the communities in riot-affected areas but rather have been cynically designed to fix David Cameron’s broken, incompetent image in the eyes of an electorate disillusioned by the entire political establishment.

The police were caught out by unprecedented events on the streets of several English towns and cities.  They have now taken back control of the streets assisted by the vast majority of those people who want to live there in peace.

I believe we should have confidence in their ability to maintain that control and allow them to get on with doing their job.  Instead what we have at the moment is truly remarkable, unbelievable commentary from many on the mainland led by the right.

Britain has issues but it is not in crisis.  Let us hope that the labour party doesn’t
make the mistake of following the irresponsible and dangerous example of the government in the search for votes as just at the moment we appear to be facing an unprecedented and quite unnecessary
response to recent events.

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The Lost Leader

The long-running exchange of mutually abusive texts between us reached fever-pitch yesterday, all as a result of the Labour leadership contest. And, there’s no point in disguising the fact, my best friend is right. He, of hardcore Tory mindset, poignantly cut to the chase by sending through a final sermon, “you’re a member of a party that you can’t even vote for and treats you like a 2nd class hanger on….mental case”. Quite – the Northern Ireland dilemma, support UK Labour but vote for who, exactly? I’m utterly gutted tonight and am fleeting between moments of self-ridicule and not a little embarrassment for feeling this way. But I can no more change how I feel about the political ideology of the Labour Party, or the outcome of its leadership contest, than I can change what woman I was born to or what day of the week it is at any given moment. I can forgive myself for how I feel because I feel this way for the right reasons; there is no malice of forethought attached as a penance. David Miliband was my first preference choice for the Labour leadership, his brother Ed, second. The other 3 candidates had no chance. I have admired the abilities of David Miliband for a long time. He was at the heart of constructing the policies that delivered the Labour Party its thumping election victory in 1997 and he continued in that vein by employing his brilliant mind in new, innovative ways by developing ideas which benefitted and enriched our party and served our people through 3 successful and historic terms in Office. His time as this country’s Foreign Secretary was a period when he blossomed into Labour’s obvious successor. It didn’t surprise me to learn that on his visit to Britain in August, Pakistan President, Asif Ali Zardari, was reported to have actively sought out David Miliband, feeling more at home in his company in order to discuss his country’s profound problems, rather than that of our own Prime Minister, David Cameron. That isn’t to say I haven’t had my moments of doubt about David. Doubts that have had more to do with the manner and style he employs to express his ideas rather than the substance behind them. Inexplicably, during the Hustings, he at times looked disinterested, remaining silent when opportunities arose for him to confront the ideas and views of other contestants. At those moments, when you are instinctively motivated to move in for the kill, David Miliband failed to express the ideological passions that reside within and drive him. In contrast, his brother Ed was vocal and passionate throughout. Ed Miliband is, in a tactical, intelligent sense as unashamed an opportunist as you could reasonably expect to encounter. If there is one attribute that I’ve discovered in him in the last 4 months it is that. He recognised that his brother would fall victim to the accusation of being too closely aligned with Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and New Labour – a willing and loyal foot-soldier bound by conditioning and loyalty to remain ever faithful to its cause, regardless of the consequences. Ed Miliband positioned himself as the change candidate, committed to reconnecting the party once more with its core support and renewing the trust between the leader and the party’s grassroots. Secondly, and related to the New Labour issue, he identified a sizeable but frustrated core of support within the party that was not naturally cohering with the overtly left-wing tendencies of Diane Abbott. Ed Miliband duly obliged, looked the gift-horse in the mouth, and won them over. If David Miliband was initially disappointed and a little disconcerted by his brother’s decision to challenge his expected ascendency to Labour leader, he closeted it well. In retrospect, there was a definite Ides of March feel about how Ed went on to despatch his brother to the likely and ignominious fate of chancery on Labour’s back benches. What a tragedy, what an appalling and insufferable waste of outstanding talent. Ed Miliband won this campaign by playing a dangerous game that may come back to bite him and the party he has embarked upon leading. Getting the unions on his side and winning the leadership contest as a result of their votes, provides the Tories with top quality ammunition and charges of “Red Ed” during a time when it is they that should be under the spotlight. The label of “Left-wing Labour” sits perilously alongside a memory that has been plaguing me today – that now infamous Michael Hestletine speech at the Conservative Party Conference in which he won over the faithful with a devastatingly simple military analogy of a marching army, but with a twist, “Left!….Left!….Left! Left! Left! The greatest trick Ed Miliband pulled in this contest was convincing the disillusioned Labour supporters out there that he was not an inherent believer in New Labour. Now that he has assailed to leader, he has to deliver a left-wing agenda that he does not believe in and therefore simply can’t deliver to the unions and those more broadly who won the leadership for him. Indeed, he will probably spend the next few years facing down Tory and media accusations that he is old, left-wing Labour in both style and substance by feeling it necessary to continually prove by words and deeds otherwise. This dangerous cocktail of accusation and counter-measure will ultimately disappoint those who have supported him and cause untold confusion in the electorate at large. It is bound to undermine the chances of the Labour Party at the next election and beyond. My fear is that it will make Ed Miliband, and the Labour Party, unelectable – that and the fact that he is at times unconvincing. As for the other candidates in the race I got their final position by the end of play today spot on by the end of day one. About 4–6 weeks ago Ed Balls gave up the pretence of running for the leadership and instead set down his claim for Shadow Chancellor. He was extremely convincing in how he set about the Tories dogmatic economic agenda, dissecting it with ruthless efficiency; the inexperienced Tories were left reeling in his wake. Andy Burnham is a nice, down to earth labour Party MP. You’d have him in your Shadow cabinet and government as a safe pair of hands. He is not a leader. Diane Abbott led a cynical campaign which targeted her male contestants, their education and perceived privileged upbringing and that did little to encourage the membership to support her. As well as that, you simply cannot predicate an economic agenda based entirely on the eradication, desirable though it may be, of Britain’s nuclear deterrent. It looks unlikely now that she will be offered a job in the Shadow Cabinet, or at least it should look that way. I knew straight away when David Miliband walked into the conference hall this evening that he had lost. He simply is not the sort of man that would smile from ear to ear upon being told he was the new party leader. It would not be in his nature or style to act so crudely or be so insensitive to the feelings of those whom he had defeated. But tonight belongs to Ed Miliband. Before my personal disappointment this night is misunderstood as an attack on our new leader, let me say this. I’m letting off steam. I’m disappointed. I want to trust, support and fight for Ed Miliband. He is a good and honourable man. In these days of MP claim scandals and public cynicism in politics, Ed Miliband is a damn good alternative. I could enjoy a good pint and a conversation with him and feel right at home. I did, after all, have him as my second preference and for good reason. Ultimately, he will be facing the Tories in the Commons and fighting for the Labour Party and that in itself will intuitively win me over. He can expect my full, unwavering and loyal support from Northern Ireland. That is, except for tonight and for a little while thereafter. Tonight, I am a wounded soldier feeling sorrow for a fallen comrade, and it hurts.

The Labour leadership contest – One member, how many votes?

I’m not renowned for my mathematical ability, or rather I am but not in a good way – an admittedly alarming confession from a government Excise officer.  I get there eventually you understand, it’s just that you wouldn’t have employed me on any of the trajectory calculations for the Apollo-One mission.  Thankfully, the level of ability required to understand the voting entitlement adopted by Labour in order to appoint itself a new leader isn’t quite so complex; except, that is, for me.

There were 150,000 Labour party members during the May 2010 General Election.  Following the result, which led to the forming of the Conservative and Lib Dem coalition government, this number went up by an astonishing 32,000.

This of course means that there are presently 182,000 Labour party members (even I can get that sum right). And, as a loyal cheer-leader of the democratic process, my logic dictates that all you have to do now is ballot your membership, get someone other than me to tally up the votes for each candidate and then announce the result to an expectant party – yes?  Fat chance.

For one thing I discovered that of the 182,000 members, 269 are Labour MP’s or MEP’s (256 + 13) who command a third of the vote.  Or, to put it another way, a third of the overall vote is presently allocated to 0.14% of the Labour Party membership.   That’s not accurate in absolute terms, because each MP/MEP can vote at least twice.  This is because they are members both of the Parliamentary Labour Party, (or European Parliamentary Labour Party), and the main Labour party that I’m also a member of.

So they get 2 votes in the race for the leadership.  One of these is equal in all respects to my own vote while the other in all respects overwhelms my own; in much the same way that a falling oak tree would overwhelm me should I be standing beneath it upon impact.

Then there are the Labour Party members.  They are also allocated one third of the overall vote, even though they presently outnumber the MP’s by a whopping 677 to 1.

So, do you see where I’m coming from here?  My point is proven; my maths has let me down again because none of what I’ve typed logically adds up, does it?  How could such an outrageous discrepancy in relation to voting entitlement amongst 2 different groups within the same party be justifiable?

I wish I could say that this was the end of the matter.  I’d really like to sit down, put my feet up and reach for a glass of wine having satisfied myself with the entire process while managing to avoid falling pieces of woodland in the process.  Alas, no.

I also learn that trade unions and socialist societies affiliated to the Labour Party are themselves allocated a third of the overall vote.  To you and me that means 4.6 million votes.  Well, not quite.  A word of caution here; and that word is potentially. My limited research suggests that only those union members who pay a political levy to the Labour Party get to vote but I have no idea what percentage of that 4.6 million figure actually pay this.   And this is great news for me in one respect – it negates the necessity for me to attempt another calculation.

I discover that union and socialist society members pay a nominal fee to achieve affiliated status within the Labour Party and can vote on certain matters including who leads us.

I can just about handle this revelation but am required to take a sharp intake of breath while simultaneously leaning against the nearest oak tree for support.  After all, I’ve just learned that the Labour Party, that I’d understood to have a manageable membership of 182,000, has suddenly exploded into a colossal, unruly beast with a potential leadership electorate of some 4.8 million people.

I checked the TUC website to confirm the affiliated union membership numbers to be certain that I wasn’t imagining the figure.  I didn’t do similar, exploratory work on socialist societies except that I learned that the Fabians have the largest membership of these, approximately 7,000.

Suddenly, the penny dropped and I remembered what Diane Abbott had said but that I had not fully grasped at the time, “Labour is not just a party, it’s a Movement”.  We love you, Diane.

Whereas before I was looking at a ratio of 1 MP vote equating to 677 party member votes, It’s now potentially looking more like 1 MP vote equating to 23,791 of the combined Labour party member and affiliated member votes; with MP’s now representing 0.0042% of the overall leadership electorate.

Then I learn of an aspect to all of this that has me on the ropes.  If you are a full party member; a member of one of the affiliated unions; as well as a member of any number of the socialist societies affiliated to the party, you are entitled to cast a vote in the leadership contest for each membership that you hold simply by virtue of the fact. Are you taking this in there at the back?  You, yes – you!  Stay with me because we’re almost done.

Now, I can understand the logic behind having a third of the vote attributed to MP’s.  They have to work with the new leader in Parliament and if the Parliamentary Labour Party is going to be a confident, focused and motivated force that is driven by the need to defeat the coalition government and return to power, it makes sense to me that it must have trust in, and support for, the Labour leader.  One of the ways to ensure this is to provide our MPs with a significant voice to determine who that leader should be.

But it is in relation to a third of the vote being allocated to the unions and socialist societies, and specifically this ability to have multiple votes by being members of more than one of these, that I personally have great difficulty accepting.

The unions are an intrinsic part of the Labour party and its history; this is simply a matter of fact.  The Labour Party was borne out of the trade unions.  Many of their rank-and-file form the fundamental core of our grassroots support as well as membership, and historically this has always been the case. The unions also provide much needed funds for the labour party to fight elections with as well as provide ideas for the party to consider in relation to a whole host of issues from working hours and general working conditions to fair levels of pay and the rights of employees in the workplace.  Socialist societies bring much needed intellectual debate leading to possible policy adoption as well as a number of election candidates.

But I struggle to accept individuals having more than one vote in any election.  Instinctively this doesn’t feel right or democratic.  In my mind there can be only one vote per person and no more.  I’d keep the MP’s right to exercise a third of the overall vote for the reasons given above, but the remaining two-thirds I’d allocate entirely to Labour Party members.

If you’re in a union or socialist society join the Labour party as a full member and exercise your right to vote for the leader like the rest of us, instead of it being the wrong way round.  If the party has to feel your wrath in terms of financial support or in other ways as a consequence then so be it, do you support the Labour party and its values or do you not?

So, what have I missed here?  Explain to me where I’m going wrong.  I’m looking at a system for the first time and questioning the logic that created it as well as trying to determine whether the reasons that formed the logic remain valid or relevant today and whether there remains an argument for maintaining the present system. And I am of course open to persuasion, you may just add a seed of doubt in my mind or, to put it another way, from small acorns……