Archive for March, 2012

Cartoon reactions to Bradford West must stop

Saturday, March 31st, 2012

A Total Politics blog:

“…well this just confirms what I’ve been saying all along.”
Barely was the shocking result out of the mouth of the Bradford West returning officer, than the pundits were rushing to tell us what it all meant and how it confirmed what they had been saying all along (despite none of them predicting this result at all). Saying about what? About Miliband, about Iraq, about the core vote, about policy on the Middle East, about multiculturalism, about political Islam, about Blair? You choose your pundit and you takes your choice.

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Bradford West: jumbled thoughts and questions

Friday, March 30th, 2012

An unmitigated disaster. There is simply no other way of putting it.

A full and complete no-holds-barred, no-excuses-made, no-stone-unturned investigation must take place. It must start immediately. It must be done by those with no corner and no axes to grind. It must investigate every aspect of every decision made.

I don’t know Bradford. I’ve never been there. Some of the questions will need to be asked and answered by the local party, but there are bigger, national lessons to pursue here.

Here are the questions and observations I offer from a dazed starting point.

What could and should the candidate have done differently? I understand that he refused to attend a hustings leaving the floor clear for Galloway. That at least seems a big mistake.

Was the reason our candidate felt safe refusing the hustings because the Tory did too? Were we focussed on the right opponent? Or were we running an anti-Tory campaign while ignoring our biggest threat? What were the canvass returns like? Did they influence strategy?

What is the state of the local and neighbouring CLPs? A vote doesn’t collapse overnight. What is happening on the ground to allow this level of atrophy?

Has there been any Movement for Change activity? As I understand it, M4C is designed to discover, train and equip community based Labour champions. An area like Bradford, well known for its communitarian approach to politics, is exactly where this kind of initiative should bear fruit. What is M4C’s strategy? Has it been properly mapped to where it can do the most good?

Is our organisational base too concentrated in London? Do we miss or fail to deal with local failures early enough because our regional structures are too weak to do so? How do we better empower regions to turn around failing CLPs?

The Tory vote collapsed even further than ours. This was not enough. Our core vote abandoned us and went left. What does this mean for our national strategy? We should avoid reading too much into this until after the post-mortem, but it shouldn’t be neglected as part of it.

Party politics is failing. AV was not the right answer, but the rejection of one solution seems to have stopped all activity to solve the whole problem.Beyond the Labour Party, what can the democracy movement learn from Bradford?

These are just my first thoughts. Plenty of others will have better and equally valid questions. Let’s make sure we work hard to properly find the answers.


Party funding is about the membership

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

This week’s Total Politics column:

Let’s imagine for a moment that the Party funding row is over. That a solution has been found, that donations have been capped and state funding introduced – the Kelly proposals have been adopted in their entirety. It’s by no means a certain scenario, but run with me.

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Playground politics and grown up decisions

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

Ken Livingstone has been very stupid. In a tight election that he was managing to make about fares and living standards, he’s managed to once again become the story. It was the very opposite of what his campaign needs, and what Londoners expect and deserve from their mayoral candidates.

The tax issue should have been cleared up ages ago by releasing his tax returns. While allowing it to fester, he’s also allowing public imaginations to run wild, and the numbers being guessed at by disreputable sources like Andrew Gilligan remain in the vacuum.

The Jewish question is much more complex. I don’t – for one moment – believe that Ken is an anti-Semite. But I do think he sails too close to the wind in too ill-informed a manner too often. Equally, it isn’t important what I think. I’m not Jewish and I don’t feel personally attacked when Ken talks about Zionism. But Ken does have a long history of interest in the middle east issues and he can hardly disavow that now. When he is being questioned not just by those who have always loathed him at Labour Uncut and Gilligan, but by committed Labour activists and supporters who are also Jewish and find Ken’s behavior alarmingly off-putting, Ken cannot simply write this off as a media conspiracy or the right out to get him.

Yes, of course this is being whipped up by the right. Of course Ken’s enemies in the Labour Party and outside of it are continually fanning the flames. But Ken, you’ve been a divisive figure in politics for forty years now, so the question is “what did you expect?”. Of course they were always going to leap on any frailty and leverage any advantage. But why do you keep letting them? Why present them with open goals?

Ken needs to apologise to the Jewish Community and he needs to do so today. Were I him, I would offer the following letter to the Jewish Chronicle immediately*:

As someone who has spent my life fighting prejudice, I am horrified that I have been the cause of such consternation in the Jewish Community. I deeply apologise for any and all upset I have caused. I, like many of you, have strong feelings about the politics of the Middle East. It’s a topic that all too often fosters false divisions between communities in our country and our city.

I don’t apologise for the views I hold about the rights of the Palestinian people, nor do I recant my belief that that Israel is not always a benign actor. I respect you too much to recant my firmly held beliefs for the sake of my own political advantage.

But I sincerely apologise for the way that I have clumsily expressed those views at times. I guess even when you’ve been in politics as long as I have, there is a great deal to learn. Perhaps especially when you have been in politics as long as I have.

If Ken were to do that, he could put the issue behind him and start again to campaign on the issues that matter to all Londoners – Jews and Gentiles, Muslims, Sikhs, Rastafarians and everyone else in our wonderfully diverse city. If Ken were to do that he would be going a lot more than half way (and rightly so) to meet his left-leaning critics.

But here’s the thing. Whether or not Ken does anything like what I’ve suggested, the choice for London in May is still clear cut. The playground politics of division aside, Londoners are going to wake up on 4th May with either Ken Livingstone or Boris Johnson as Mayor. This is not a choice between Ken and a fantasy Labour candidate of your choice.

While I cannot dispute the offence that has been caused to writers like Jonathan Freedland, I found his column a bit disturbing. Not because it questioned Ken – I’ve read columns doing that from writers I respect across the spectrum – but because it seemed to openly acknowledge a hierarchy of offence where Ken’s offence to the Jewish community ranked higher than Boris’ offensive remarks to the black and Muslim communities mentioned in the article. That can’t be right. I am assuming the hurt that Freedland is feeling has blinded him to the way that could be read, but it should not blind more dispassionate readers.

I predicted some time ago that it was a problem for Labour if we continued to frame our campaign as Ken Vs Boris. Not we are faced with two candidates with remarkable similar personal flaws. Both have made remarkable insensitive remarks about minority communities. Ken with the Jewish community, Boris with the black community, the Muslim community and more recently the Irish community. Both have brought people to City Hall with them who are less than reputable. Both have questions about their financial arrangements (Ken on his tax arrangements, and Boris on his Part-time mayoralty). Both are funny, silly, exasperating, daft and a nightmare for their respective Party managers.

So in the end, the choice facing London isn’t about which candidate is flawed and which isn’t. It can’t be, as they both are. So it must be about which mayoral philosophy you believe will be the best for London. For me, I want an activist Mayor who is in touch with the concerns of ordinary Londoners and will spend the next four years – in-between embarrassing gaffes (because we’ll get more of those whoever is elected) – working every day to make the lives of Londoners better. For me, that has to be Ken.

I hope that when it comes to it, others who have rightly expressed their anguish at the worst aspects of Ken’s behaviour, will also see that in the end, that is the choice that needs to be made. It may not be the choice you want, but life doesn’t always give you the choice you want. As grown ups, we have to accept that and do what is best for our city.

Update: Jonathan Freedland has responded to me on twitter to say “Just seen your very thoughtful blog on Ken, Jews etc. To clarify: I was not arguing for any hierarchy of offence. Key point is that [Boris Johnson's] key offences predate his becoming Mayor. [Ken Livingstone] has just kept on making them. 

*Update 2: I am pleased to say that Ken has today (29/03/2012) done just this and written a long and effusive apology to the JC.



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A walk on Part: a review

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Diaries are funny things. As Tony Blair remarks to Chris Mullin midway through A Walk on Part, they’re subjective and self-serving. And of course the author always has the last word. Being a blogger of course, I’d know nothing of such things! Ahem.

I don’t keep a personal diary myself. Frankly a daily list my my humiliations, limitations and failures might be too much even for me to take. I am glad that Chris Mullin kept a diary though. And even more glad that Michael Chaplin has adapted this for the stage.

I’m in a bit of a New Labour kick at the moment, doing a great deal of reading on our recent past to see how it is shaping our present and haunting our future. So when offered a ticket to see A Walk on Part, I leapt at the opportunity.

The play is the story of the New Labour government from 1997 to 2010. It’s a story from a very personal perspective, and all the better for that. It mixes personal ambitions, obsessions and reflections from a close distance.

The staging and casting is sparse. Four actors play dozens of characters each on a set comprised of eight chairs and an under-utilised bank of television screens. John Hodgkinson is extraordinary as Mullin. I think I only realised how good he was when he took a curtain call, and I realised how much he had previously been physically embodying Mullin as he relaxed into himself again.

In many ways of course, Mullin is not the central character, “The Man” (as Mullin refers to Blair) is. You can sense Mullin’s enormous admiration for Blair’s talents throughout. That never leaves him, even when Mullin is seeing those very talents leading Blair in very wrong and hubristic directions. It also doesn’t leave him over the many occasions when Blair is shafting him. He still inspires Mullin’s loyalty, admiration and even love. Others, especially Hillary Armstrong, Jack Straw and Gordon Brown don’t fare so well.

Inevitably, any drama about the New Labour years has a large focus on the disaster that was Iraq. Mullin’s rebelled over Iraq, but clearly did so with a heavy heart. That it wasn’t then the clear-cut decision that many have liked to claim retrospectively is handled admirably and refreshingly honestly. There is a little self-congratulation, but no grandstanding.

The most moving scenes in the play detail Mullin’s relationship with a Ukrainian family seeking asylum. The heart-wrenching letters written by Sasha, one on being removed from Sunderland and the other while in detention at Harmondsworth exemplify both the individual tragedy unfolding and the horror of a lawmaker finding himself completely powerless to help.

Mullin makes it clear that on the whole the New Labour government did a powerful amount of good. They didn’t do enough – it’s unclear whether he believes enough is even possible – but they did transform lives in Sunderland and Britain.

This isn’t a play written for loyalists or oppositionalists and it’s the better for that. But anyone wanting to understand Labour then and the journey to Labour now could do a great deal worse than to get themselves to the SoHo theatre for a View from the Foothills.


Total Politics: Passing the Health Bill is just the beginning of the Government’s Problems

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

I am delighted to say that I will now be blogging regularly for Total Politics. I will repost the introductions to my posts here with links to follow to read the whole piece. I’d be delighted to hear your views on the pieces either here or there. This is the first of these pieces:

In the classic film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, during one of many brilliant exchanges, Sundance refuses to make a perilous jump from a cliff into a rapidly running river below. His reason for not wanting to do so is that he can’t swim. “Are you crazy?” says Butch, “The fall will probably kill you”. So they jump and survive the fall, only to be swept along, pulling each other under in the treacherous current.

Read more…


Power will be devolved to the membership

Monday, March 19th, 2012

Where does the power lie? That seems to be the question on the lips of too many people at the centre  of the Labour Party at the moment. Is it in the new Executive Board? With the General Secretary? With the Leader?

The appointment of the six – no actually seven – Executive Directors could not have been handled worse if it were deliberately designed to torpedo our electoral hopes and the ability of the machinery to deliver them.

There’s been leaking, complaints about leaking and leaking of the complaints. We have a team at the top made up of people who – while am sure are all talented individuals – are hardly the new, fresh start the Party so desperately needs to break out of its divisive rut of the Blair/Brown battles and into delivering the kind of 21st century Party so tantalisingly promised in the Refounding Labour process.

Instead we have had a glut of internal appointments; a seventh appointment announced without advertising, job role, or any transparency of process; a team as unrepresentative of the makeup of our membership and our country as it is possible to be; a demoralised staff, a diminished General Secretary and a Leader who is either deliberately allowing this to happen or is unable to stop it.

These aren’t the moves of a Party that is striding confidently towards electoral victory, but the obvious machinations of two inept machines fighting each other for their own ends. This dispute is threatening to paralyse a Party that was just starting to move beyond the crippling internal battles of our past.

The process has exposed rich seams of division between the Leaders office and the Party Headquarters, but instead of a decisive understanding, there’s been a mess of a fudge of a compromise. As I speak to activists around the country, no one is happy that a single person involved in this tawdry process understands that they should not be competing for personal power, but accepting collective responsibility for empowering a newly fired up membership.

Like aged, tired and starved coyotes the characters involved circle the picked-clean remains of their last good meal as they miss the point completely. The cadaver they are fighting over may look alive, but the monster of centralised command and control has died. This is merely a fight to the death over its zombie corpse.

Politics has changed. It didn’t change because of the coalition; it didn’t change because Blair and Brown left the stage handing the baton reluctantly to a new generation; Politics has changed because the world has changed. The ways we behave have changed and with that they ways we can influence behaviour, and the ways we can and can’t be influenced, have changed.

The politics game and the way it is played is changing because ordinary members find themselves with more voice than ever before. We have new ways of communicating with each other and of communicating with the world. If our Party aren’t talking to us, that no longer stops us publically and loudly talking about them. Apparently it doesn’t stop them publically and loudly talking about each other either.

On Saturday I was delighted to go and talk to an active Fabian Society group in Leeds. When talking about what had brought me into blogging, I told them of my despair at how poorly our last election campaign was run.

I knew that I had better a better understanding of campaigning, of strategy and of political communications than what I saw and heard of coming from the Party. I also had long and bitter experience of trying to help behind the scenes: Writing letters and emails; offering advice where I thought I could help; simply trying to find our basics of where campaigning events were taking place and how to get involved. I’d found more coordination between a bunch of enthused volunteers with mobile phones than I had from Party HQ.

But unlike my parents generation who bear the battle scars of years of trying to make people who never canvass understand what members need, I had the answer at my fingertips. I didn’t need the Party to tell me how to be a member. I didn’t need a Party structure to offer my advice on strategy, comms and campaigning. So I set up my blog, got fired up and the expertise I offer the Party today as then poured out of me.

And that’s the real future of Labour.

Not me. Not any individual member. But a thousand flowers blooming in communities around the country: online and offline. Some of them will burn brighter than others, none will ever agree wholehearted on every issue and never should they, but each of them will feel their own way towards contributing the expertise they have. The prize for the Party is working out how to grab this with both hands.

In this world, can you imagine the kind of tight control the Party wielded over its members and MPs in the 90s (widely understood as tyranny by pager) working ever again?

A few weeks ago I published on these pages an exchange with Mark Thompson, a Lib Dem blogger about the relative merits of our internal Party democracies. Events this week have proved me devastatingly right about the weakness of their prized internal democracy which had so long been untested by power and failed spectacularly under pressure over the NHS.

During that exchange I ended with the phrase:

“Labour isn’t perfect on this score. We have a long way to go. But of the two parties, I’m confident that we’re the one moving in the right direction.”

I’ve been proved right about the direction Mark’s Party are going in. But they’re going in that direction because of their weakness, not their strength. Their new found delight in poorly staged Party management and ignoring the will of their members publically and humiliatingly is hardly a model we should mourn with envy or wish to recreate from the ashes of our own failures.

The measures in Refounding Labour are a good start. But if we stumble at the very beginning of our road to a stronger, better Party we’ll all suffer because of it. Not least those we should be serving – our voters.

The processes of Refounding Labour may have finished the consultation stage, but the passion for engagement they have brought up will not be recontained. We demand that our membership means something and we demand that those who manage the party accept and understand that. That they work with this tide of democracy, messy and haphazard as it can sometimes be. We know that frightens them, but the electoral oblivion of a party without an engaged membership should frighten them all the more. If they thought 2010 was bad, try doing that without your foot soldiers.

Power will be devolved to Labour Party members because we will demand nothing less. We know what we want, we are no longer shy of demanding it and we have more ways of doing so loudly and forcefully every single day.

Embracing this change is the only one way to win in this new paradigm. Those who will win the responsibility for securing the future of the Labour Party will be those who understand and embrace this devolution. The problem is, currently all concerned are locked into an undignified scramble to be the biggest loser; the Kings and Queens of a crumbling sandcastle.

This post first appeared on Labour List.


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The way Labour feel about the NHS

Sunday, March 11th, 2012

Some things in politics are technocratic. Some are ideological, some things are pragmatic, some are defensive, some optimistic. Some things are designed to make things better, some to make things less worse.

The best advances combine the best of our passion with the best of our ideology and the best of our know how. The NHS is all of this and more.

Other parties should understand how Labour activists feel about the NHS. It is our Thatcher; it is our Churchill; it is our religion; it is our monarchy, our republic and our patriotism. It is our Potemkin, our Bastille, our Gettysburg. It is our Brittania, our John Bull, our Uncle Tom Cobley and all. It exemplifies for us the very best of the Britain we believe in. It goes to the heart of our values, and it lives in our hearts.

If the coalition had want to ensure the most ferocious election campaign ever, they couldn’t have gone about it more bullishly. Every Labour activist in the Party has been fired up by this Bill. Every doorstep in every marginal in the country will be hearing about the NHS and the damage done to it from now until 2015.

But Labour mustn’t just focus on the NHS as an electoral issue. We need to take that passion and commitment and apply it equally to planning the future of the NHS and long term care. Andy Burnham has, quite rightly, said that we will repeal the Bill. But we will need to do so carefully. The NHS will have gone through enough shocks and any re-reorganisation will take care, time and most vitally the support of the professionals. We need to work with the experts with whom we have built such a strong coalition in fighting damaging change. We need to listen to them, to work with them and to draft together a strong, long-term, sustainable future for the NHS. One that once again reflects everything we want to present to the world about what it means to be British.


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Scarlet Standard is two today

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

A little over two years ago, I got it in my head that I wanted to start a blog. I was increasingly frustrated with the national campaigns of the Labour Party and thought I had something to offer which, if listened to, could make a difference.

I didn’t expect it to be listened to, or to be read by as many of you as do visit the site. Every day I am grateful for the people who visit, who read, who debate, who agree and who challenge me. I hope all of you will forgive this rather self-indulgent post.

Over the last two years I have found my voice, and with my voice, my confidence that it is a voice worth listening to. I have developed both in myt thinking and my writing. I am subtler than I once was, but no less clear on where the Party needs to go and what our route of travel should be.

I don’t blog as often as I should, but I do blog as often as I can. I know there are times when Scarlet Standard can seem a little dormant, and I apologise for that. But I have always seen the blogging as part of a wider part of my activism. I still give a great deal of my time and energy to the Socialist Societies (I am writing this on the train to visit Leeds Fabian Society), to my local branch Labour Party and to fellow members who come to me for help. I also have a full time job and a pretty satisfying personal life.

I’m not a policy wonk. While I do write on some policies, I am aware through my work with the Socialist Societies of the depth of knowledge on specific policy areas that our Party is blessed with. My expertise is in campaigning, strategy and messaging. Those are the areas where I feel I can make a unique and important contribution, and so that’s where the majority of my focus is.

I’ve had some extraordinary experiences as a direct result of my blogging, Being voted fourth best Labour blog (and the highest by a single author) in the Total Politics poll was incredible. Thank you to everyone who voted for me. It means more than I can possibly say. Equally, being approached by readers of my blog while at conference and elsewhere and having them say such wonderfully complimentary things has been extraordinary.

I couldn’t have done any of this without the support of three amazing people.

Firstly my wonderful husband, Nik – author of one of only two guest posts (the other being, somewhat bizarrely, the result of a dare between myself and Dan Hodges). Nik is not only understanding about how much time I dedicate to the Party and to writing, but also the reason that this page looks so good. Nik helped me design the site, redesign the site and without his technical know-how, there would be no site.

The second is Alex Smith, who as the previous editor of Labour List encouraged me to find my voice in the first place, and to move from commenter on blogs to a blogger in my own right. The support Alex gave me in those early days meant that Scarlet Standard developed as a project and didn’t fall away after the first rush of excitement.

Thirdly, a huge thank you has to go to the wonderful Mark Ferguson, Labour List’s current editor. Mark went from re-posting some of the better posts here on Scarlet Standard to offering me a weekly column on Labour List. Given that other columnists include well known authors, former SPADs and MPs, I was astonished and delighted to be given such an opportunity. Writing a weekly column is a discipline in itself (not one, I’m sure that Mark would tell you, that I’m always disciplined about!). It’s given me a reach far beyond what I manage with Scarlet Standard, and Mark always allows me the freedom to write on anything I like. He’s patient, encouraging of new voices in the Party and has an ingrained understanding of what the Party needs to do both strategically and politically that chimes so well with my own.

But the biggest thank you of all goes to every one of you who read this blog. I know it’s almost a cliche, but it really does mean a great deal to me.


The Tory Masterplan: A Labour Response

Friday, March 9th, 2012

Tim Montgomerie had a fascinating post on ConservativeHome this week outlining the Tory plan to get themselves over the finish line next election. I strongly recommend that every Labour Party member – and especially every Labour Party organiser – reads it in full. Everyone at Victoria Street should have it bookmarked.

The piece is a 10 point briefing on what the Tory strategy will be for winning the next election. It outlines how hard that will be for them and their best planned attack given that uphill struggle. It’s an impressive and coherent plan and needs careful thought put into how Labour go about countering, frustrating and defeating it.

I’d like to add my voice to that process as I respond point-by-point to the issues raised.

1. The Tories face an uphill struggle.

This is true. The Tories, faced with a Labour Party and leader who were deeply unpopular, after 5 years of painstaking detoxification work, managed to poll just 3.7% more than they had in 2005. As such, it is not totally clear who the Tories have left to attract. This battle will be hard and bloody.

But, though it is an uphill struggle for the Tories, that is nothing compared to the struggle for Labour. We suffered an incredibly difficult defeat at the last election. Our Party was tired and divided. While a great deal of our energy has returned to us, we remain a Party with more than one voice, more than one hymn sheet and more than one notion of the direction the Party needs to take to return to power in 2015. We are all too used to the comfort of fighting each other, and our focus is not nearly firmly enough sighted on the Tories. While it may seem like the Tories are disunified, we can’t rely on them making the same mistake.

We remain untrusted on the economy, we have a massive financial difference with the Tories and we face a media as hostile as any we have ever known. We also faced the equal difficulty of facing two Parties acting in concert against us whilst also providing their own internal opposition, squeezing us out of the narrative from both sides.

2. The Tories are going to try and change the country’s perception of fairness to make it chime better with Conservative values.

Some in Labour will tell you this is a huge threat to us. Personally I see this as a huge opportunity. Think about what they are really saying here. They are conceding that on the public’s present terms they aren’t seen as on the side of fairness. That on these terms they will never be seen as on the side of fairness. That they have to change the public’s minds about what fairness means, in order to be even be able to compete to be seen as on the side of fairness.

This gives Labour two, three bites of the cherry. We can and must continue to beat them on the public’s current vision of fairness. We must show how we wouldn’t put the burden on those at the bottom; defeat the Tory vision of equality of sacrifice showing what this really means to the lives with those with the least leeway and therefore stop them changing the public’s mind on what fairness means.

3. Reassurance not radicalism

This would be a huge break in style and confirms the world view of those who believe that the loss of Steve Hilton from Number 10 will have a real impact. Others though might point out that implementation is what the second half of any Government is about, and this one has been extremely radical in its first half.

The problem they will have with trying not to appear radical, is that the implementation stage is actually when that radicalism will be felt. Politicians always forget this. For them, the fight starts and ends with getting legislation enacted. But the rest of the country don’t notice that things are going to change, they notice when they do change.

The Welfare reform changes will produce results that hurt real, live widows and disabled families all the way between now and the election. Every single hospital story from here to 2015 will be tied to the disastrous Health Bill.

So however reassuring the Government decides to be between now and the election, the reverberations of their current programme of legislation will continue having radical effects all the way through this term. Labour needs to be right there pointing out the damage done to people’s lives and livelihoods; to their health, well-being and treatment; and to their ability to find adequate and rewarding work.

4. One hundred seats

The Tory strategy centres on 100 seats. 50 of theirs, 14 Lib Dems seats and 36 of ours. This is reasonably sensible. Protecting their vulnerable flank while also encroaching enough into opposition territory to push them over the edge. It’s not too ambitious and gives them plenty of room to invest heavily in these seats. Labour need to think hard about playing both defence and offence in these seats too, and how to counter a well-funded Tory attack.

It is worth noting where these seats are too. The big target areas are in the Midlands and then the North West and Yorkshire. These will require a strong regional and local machine response from Labour as well as innovative ground campaigning from activists. We can’t and shouldn’t run campaigns tightly controlled by London. Empowering measures in Refounding Labour should help to spread the fighting funds and that may make a significant difference.

5. No targets in Scotland

This says two things: The Tories have all but given up on Scotland, but also that they expect the SNP to keep Labour down. This is important. I know little of Scottish politics, but despite the nickname “Tartan Tories” I know we can’t fight the SNP as if they were simply Tories in kilts.

The whole fight in Scotland has to be seen through the prism not of Labour vs Tory, but Labour vs SNP. Scottish Labour must be freed to fight their own fight, local to them. I don’t presume to know what that is, but it is essential that the messages from Labour North of the Border aren’t the same as those aimed at Surrey with an expectation that our Scottish voters will always be with us.

It’s not relevant to 2015, but keep an eye on Conservative attitudes to Scotland, especially from the younger generation. As they give up on it electorally, and as further devolution becomes ever more likely, the Tories might become considerably less attached to the union.

6 & 7. There will be a focus on urban seats and a battle to neutralise negatives among women, ethnic minorities and NHS patients.

I can’t see how they’re going to manage the latter. As I said earlier, if the Bill becomes law, every missing paperclip, everything that goes wrong in the NHS will be down to this Government and to David Cameron for breaking his promise to the electorate.

Equally, they haven’t picked easy battlegrounds. Women are being disproportionately hit by the cuts as are ethnic minorities. Urban areas are starting to feel the pinch. Whatever happens in London, it’s a much closer election than it was predicted to be a year ago.

Labour needs to campaign vigorously to elect first Ken then the raft of other local directly elected Mayors in urban areas. If we can put in place enough spearheads to fight Westminster from and on behalf of their cities, this will go a long way to giving Labour an advantage in our cities. As will an increased focus on the importance of local Government. So either way, what happens in May will be a vital first step to countering this Tory focus.

8. The 10% most reachable for Tories are young, unmarried, above-average income and BME.

Tim is unconvinced about a strategy for the Conservative to focus on these voters, fearing a disproportionate amount of effort being spent on the hardest-to-convert. Tim doesn’t want his party to be seen as a Party for the rich, but a low-taxes Party for the poor as you can see from his recent appearance on Newsnight arguing with two Tories about the Mansion Tax.

I think Tim has little chance of winning this fight in his Party and far less chance of turning around the perception that the Tories are the Party of the rich. Here, he’s stymied by two factors, the traditional right of his Party (and David Cameron) who do believe that rewarding “success” is what being a Conservative is about and what the Conservatives are for. The other is the reality of coalition politics, where the Lib Dems will loudly and often rightly try to take credit for measures such as raising the income tax threshold.

So while I can see that attracting these urban, metropolitan voters will be difficult, I can also see why Tory strategists might think it is their easiest path.

To counter it, Labour need to continue to build their lead in “on the side of people like me” polling. Some may not like it, but a bit of banker-bashing helps with this enormously. Turnout will be key at the next election, so we need promises that help the squeezed middle. Childcare, consumer rights, Public transport, and education will be key policy areas here.

Equally we need to look at some of the places where the Tories tried and failed to run campaigns aimed at these voters in 2010. Hammersmith and Fulham springs to mind, but I’m sure local knowledge will provide plenty of others. Labour’s strategists need to speak to the local activists in these areas to find out what worked to fend the Tories off and why.

9. 80 new graduate campaign managers.

Again, this could be a glass that is half-empty or half-full.

On the empty side, it shows the effect a powerful war chest can have on a Party’s ability to campaign. The 80 graduates will be recruited in the first half of this year and trained intensively ready to be put in place two and a half years before the next election. This is a great deal of firepower and I can’t imagine that Labour will be able to match it in terms of professional staff.

On the full side, these will be 80 new people, largely parachuted into new areas and having to build up their local knowledge and connections. It’s the opposite to the Movement for Change strategy of getting the Party into local communities and training local people to be Party advocates.

You might even call them the Movement to Conserve the Status Quo. A top down centrally dictated power-grab from the Party will not be wholly welcomed by the grassroots, and there may be considerable teething troubles as they find their feet, wasting valuable time as Labour continues a volunteer led fight.

It is widely acknowledged that it was Labour’s volunteer army that stopped the worst of what could have happened in 2010. Innovations like Grace Fletcher-Hackwood’s Mob Mondays  – where groups of activists from around the country would volunteer to phone a single constituency (with a crib sheet circulated in advance to help understand local issues) need to be replicated immediately for the 100 target seats (and any others on a target list of our own that differs). Labour must be a permanent campaign, and I agree with Mark Ferguson that to do so effectively, we need better messages.

10. Miscellaneous

Tim’s last points were not in the official briefing, but were a result of his conversations with people in the know. Make no mistake, Tim is very well informed.

The Government are increasingly likely to go after the unions. This pleases both Lib Dems and Tories, neither of whom have any love for or understanding of the vital importance of organised labour. They also expect that such a fight will put Labour on the wrong side of the public, neutralising some of their own “on the side of people like me” negatives. The unions need to produce a canny business case (and all the evidence exists) as to why their funding is cost effective, and a PR campaign as to just why union members are ordinary folk like everyone else. This fight is winnable, but just because the motives are purely political, it does not mean that the most effective response will be a political one.

Another ploy being considered are staggering and delaying the debates. This again is fascinating when you look at what it is really saying. The Tories go on and on about what a poor communicator Ed is, but actually, they acknowledge that it was the debates that really harmed slick old Dave last time around. This time, he’ll be older and more tired, and if Ed’s on the kind of form he’s been on lately, the debates could give him a real boost. No wonder they’re trying to neutralise them. I can’t see Clegg complaining either. If he leads the Lib Dems into the next election (a big if) he knows it won’t be in an atmosphere of debate inspired Cleggmania.

Finally, there is the possibility that a referendum may be added to the ballot. This worked very well in increasing Tory turnout last year and the Tories seem to be the coalition Party who have really learned the lessons of the AV referendum (easier to do I suppose when the lessons are positive).

So there it is, an outline of Tory strategy for the next few years and my own beginnings of thoughts on how to counter it. It’s not all negative and it’s not all terrifying, but I’m going to finish where I began by saying that this will be an incredibly difficult fight. It’s going to take a Party operating at its best, empowering its members to action and taking the fight to the Tories time and again, through good times and bad. It’s going to need discipline, and an external focus which the Party loses at times. Most of all, it’s going to take a desire to win. A burning hunger for electoral victory, and an understanding that all the other things we want to do stem only from that goal. That it is only by achieving Government that we will have a chance not just to stem the damage being done by the Tories, but also to create and shape a Britain that is more just, more equitable and better equipped to care for all its people.

This post first appeared on Labour List.


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