Archive for May, 2012

When three tribes go to war

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

The Labour Party has – except for a few stragglers – largely got over the battles around the leadership. The result that was announced in the autumn of 2010 has finally been accepted in the spring of 2012 as Ed has had a good year and capitalised well on the government having a worse one.

This is probably a relief to all sides (again except for a tiny handful of stragglers). Not because those who supported other candidates, and particularly those who supported David feel they were wrong, but because that fight became first a proxy for – then a distraction from – the real argument that Labour are having now about strategy. This one is hotting up and while I fully expect it to be considerably less bitter than the leadership skirmishes, it will be no less divisive or decisive about the future direction of the party.

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Do we have to talk about Tony?

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

So there it was, the 2003 show all over again. Only this time we had Twitter to amplify the reaction to every sylable, every utterence, even – it seems – every hand gesture. It seems that love him or hate him, some people just can’t stop talking about Tony. Yesterday was just the latest in a long line of occassions on which every utterance was disected and pored over by the lovers and the haters while the rest of us stood by in abject “huh” mode.

Does it matter? A little bit. If Blair is a keen as reported to get back involved in domestic politics, then these explosions will become more frequent and as a result more distracting from the real politics of the day. Which doesn’t work either for those who love him or loath him and is incredibly frustrating for the rest of us.

At the end of the day, Blair is just one man. He was and still is an extraordiany communicator. He was and still is largely (but not solely) responsible for one of the biggest political mistakes in recent British history. I’m less angered by him now than I was during the long and extremely divisive leadership contest. I don’t miss him, but with distance I can appreciate his better qualities.

But those qualities, the strategies that made New Labour successful and the policies he persued on everything from public service reform to the minimum wage are not confined to one man. And as long both extremes continue to act as if they are, they will continue to detract from the virtues of the case for either a continuation of those actions and politics or a differentiation.

These days I’m relatively neutral on Blair, though I accept that I have not come from such a place, and will be treated with suspicison by his fans and treated as if I’m rejecting all morality by his detractors. But if he is to take up a greater role in public life, we should not let that be at a detriment to the current political health of the nation. He’s an elder statesman and he has the right to be heard, he’s certainly earned that. But he’ll never lead Labour again and his time of doing so has passed. He is neither always right nor always wrong, but if his every utterance is treated either a the sole blueprint for the future or as the works of the devil to be avoided at all costs, then any value in what we can learn from Blair – for good or for bad – is lost.

If Blair’s fans want their man to have a role in public life, they will need to learn to behave more naturally when he intervenes, and less like a 12 year old at a Justin Bieber concert. If his detractors want to convince Labour to turn their backs on all things Blairite, they need to behave less like a convert at thier first stoning. Make the arguments about the policy, not the man. Criticise him where it is due of course. Praise him too where that is also due. But take on the arguments in thier substance not the essential ephmera of an all too human individual.


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Fight to change the EU from the inside

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

I’m generally pro-European. Well actually, I’m generally ‘please stop talking about Europe now’. It’s not an abiding passion – I used to find my mind slid off the topic like butter off parsnips – but in general, I guess I am in favour if not in fervour. From my non-scientific method of never recalling a conversation being started with me on the topic outside of SW1, I suspect that’s how most people feel – some will lean anti, some will lean pro, but very few will care all that much.


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Saturday, May 19th, 2012

Yesterday, I arrived at work 20 minutes late and almost shaking with rage and upset. For the third time in a week, my bus had once again changed it’s destination, stopping early and throwing us all out into the rain and wind to wait for another bus. The reason for this is to “regulate the service”. So when traffic gets bad, the buses clump up, and those at the end of the line have to wait longer. It is those longer waits that the bus companies lose a bonus on, performance standards are based on waiting times alone, not the service given to ongoing customers. The drivers don’t appear to be trained in customer relations, and are frequently rude and uncommunicative. When things like this happen they don’t make a point of offering transfer tickets, which those who pay for their travel journey by journey need, and in fact can be quite surly when this is requested.

What I started thinking about yesterday morning, as I shivered in the cold, was the Fares Pledge we campaigned on at the election. Minimising costs while incomes are so squeezed is, of course, incredibly important.  But actually, what is really missing on every part of London’s transport infrastructure is any sense of value of money; any sense of being a valued customer.

The same is true of the trains. The operating companies have contracts based around minimum lateness, but they too will stop services early, run shorter and shorter trains, cram people in to tiny spaces with no sense that they have to provide for everyone on the station trying to force themselves into the cattle-trucks. Again, there’s no respect for the experience of the day-to-day user. Just a fall back on legal obligations and minimum standards.

Then there are mobile phone and utility companies. They tie you in to a long contract then provide shoddy service, that stays just on the right side of the insanely intricate contract they know you can’t understand. When you look to leave because of poor service, they try to tempt you to stay with cheaper deals. If you do leave, they know and you find out that the grass isn’t greener with another provider.

We all need gas and electricity and few of us are willing to go without a mobile phone. There are only so many providers - huge corporations who between them have monopoly provision. They know they don’t have to invest in good quality service if their competitors don’t. So once again, we are stuck in a world of minimums – including the minimum levels of respect for customers.

The people who get the sharp end are those the companies put on the front line. The drivers of the buses, the ticket collectors, the call centre workers and meter readers. They are shouted at, cried at, wailed at and whaled on. They face abuse from the customers who are being done over by the companies who employ them to stand between them and the reality of their minimums. They too are victims of the lack of respect culture.

So much of our lives is spent in frustration at the daily  reminders that in the world of corporate capitalism we are not deserving of respect. The delusion of choice has led to less service, less understanding, less respect. We demonise young men who don’t treat the world around them with respect, and knight old men who do precisely the same, just on a grander scale.

There must be another way. I value the benefits that late 20th century capitalism has brought us. I recognise how much easier my life is than those of my predecessors. But that doesn’t mean I should have to accept my settlement warts and all. I don’t believe that progress has to be attended with depersonalisation. I don’t see why greater provision means a lesser humanity.

Labour has a challenging job to do in a challenging environment. If we are able to win in 2015, we will find ourselves with an economy whose growth has been choked by Osborne’s failed experimenting with expansionary fiscal contraction. We will still be saddled with a very large deficit and as such choices will need to be made about spending and taxation.

We will need to have policies that are about improving people’s lives that aren’t about higher public spending. We need to look at other levers of Government, and a new compact on consumer rights, greater standards and ways to reward those companies that go above and beyond could and should be an exciting area of policy for Labour. It will differentiate us from the stand aside headbangers running the country today.  As we look at an active industrial policy, let’s look beyond the obvious, and look at how we can link that strategy to the daily improvement of people’s lives.

We will need to look at how this is done in a way that enhances businesses. My next post will look at how we regulate and what needs to be done to ensure that raising standards doesn’t make life harder for smaller businesses who are often closer to their customers in the first place. But as I have said before, being difficult is never a reason not to do something.


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Mulder, Scully, Ed and the Fabians

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

I’m an odd sort of politico at times.

Like all other political obsessives, I have my passions,  my causes and my beliefs. I have a vision for what I want from the Labour Party and the next Labour Government. But within that vision, are layers of possibilities. An understanding that my utopia will not be the same as my neighbours (especially as we’re both quite loud, and have very, very different taste in music). I understand the bargaining that an appeal to electability across a mass audience can bring. But even with this understanding, I know that there is and always must be a difference between bargaining and capitulation.

I’m an odd sort of politico at times.

I see too many people on every side of any argument cherry pick evidence to prove not just that a policy will work, but that it will be popular. Clutching at those articles that reinforce your world view, while disregarding anything that challenges it. I think that to be a Socialist, you have to be an optimist. Not necessarily an unrealistic one, but an optimist nonetheless. But to be a strategist, you have to be a pessimist. Not a hopeless one - that’s no good to anyone – but able to see the bumps in the road. Reconciling the need for pessimism in favour of the greater cause of optimism is tough to balance. So it’s not that I am not easily pleased, more that my fear of being too easily pleased will send me too far in the other direction.

I’m an odd sort of politico. For these reasons, when I read something that I find speaks to both my desire for how things are, and my sense of how tings could be, my first reaction is not joy, but caution. Like Mulder, I want to believe. Like Scully, I want to see proof.

This is how I felt when I read Andrew Harrop’s excellent and potential strategy changing article on Labour List about “Ed’s Converts”. If this research is robust (and the Fabians are rarely anything but),  then it supports my belief that Labour has a new space arising from the Lib Dems abandoning their left flank to go into coalition. A space to be a more openly Socially Democratic Labour Party and future government. I want this research to be be right so much. So much so that my Spidey-senses are tingling. Do I want it too much? Does the research really support a more left-leaning Labour Party? I want this research to be right and I want it proved right, and as such it will need to be tested almost to destruction. If it can withstand all that might be thrown at it, it could be the basis for a realignment of politics as powerful and successful as New Labour. I hope that the Fabian “Labour’s Next Majority” project will do that testing. I have a few questions that I’d like to offer for their consideration.

The first place I would want that testing to begin is on the idea of the current coalition of interests that make up that group. In Andrew’s piece he speaks of two core groups that make up the group: lower income communities and left liberals. These two groups are not always ones it is easy to produce compatible messages for. On areas like crime for example, they are often diametrically opposed, while both rating their issues highly. For example around surveillance and the role of the state. Would appealing to one group automatically repel the other? How do Labour chart their way through that territory.

Equally, the article states that the worst case scenario with these groups is a hung Parliament with Labour the largest Party. But id their support is as solid as that supposes, would it not be more electorally viable (if not, for me, politically desirable) to tack right and shore up some centrist floating 2010 Tory voters? What would and what wouldn’t put these voters off and how can or should they be slotted into an “Ed’s Converts” based strategy?

Finally – just as part of a starting response – what can and what should we be promising the left in order to keep it united? When does the left’s optimism become the naivete of stereotype? I think we have more scope than some, but we’re not going to be living in or building a brave new world come 2015. Many of the problems that are stymieing Governments of all kinds all over the world will still be ongoing. It will not be simple and it will not be perfect. If this is the framework for a new coalition of the Left, forged under a Labour banner, how do we make sure it doesn’t just win, but lasts?

Those are a few questions I think need to be looked at as an ongoing part of the Fabian’s excellent work. I am incredibly excited by this, and the way you can tell is that I’m questioning it. Strengthening through questioning is – to my mind – the best possible way to support the growth of an idea. I’ll be hoping to contribute further to the Fabian’s ongoing work in this area, and I look forward to more like this.

I want to believe!


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Reshuffles fulfil our need for gossip, but little else

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

It’s reshuffle time again. Let joy in Westminster be uncontained. Rumours abound. Who’s up? Who’s down? Who’s in, out or sideways?

For Labour questions include the unlikely Will this be a glorious leftist revolution? and the more likely Will it be steady as she goes? The coalition have more to worry about right now. Does Cameron have enough women in the Tory Party to move Theresa May, Cheryl Gillan, Baroness Warsi and Caroline Spelman all at once? Does Nick Clegg have any women he can promote to the cabinet at all? Will Vince move? Can Laws return? Who will they keep in the Cabinet just to keep them off the backbenches?
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Subversives, the sausage making process and Cold War Syndrome

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

Every organisation needs someone whose job it is to think their rivals are excelling and formulate the arguments against their own strategies. In business, in campaigning and in politics, this is an essential quality.

People who do this well have internalised a cognitive dissonance. They know that in truth, they have far more belief in the principles and functions of their own organisations, yet also know that to properly strengthen the organisation in which they believe, they must be its own critical friend.

Those who do this badly fail to internalise that disconnect. They stop questioning why their opponent’s tactics work. They stop trying to bring the best of their strategies to the organisations they once believed in and start simply believing in the superiority of their opponent. They stop questioning the strategies of their organisations in order to strengthen them, and start to simply question the organisation. The keen critical eye that was once so valuable has become a combination of jaded cynicism about their own organisations and a naive faith in the power of what was once their opponent. Like Cold War sleeper agents, they wake up one day realising they have far more in common with their opponents than they do with their own side.

This matters less in business than it does in politics. No one is expected to be ideologically wedded to Coca Cola over Pepsi. A defection between the two hurts few people, and challenges a person’s sense of self far less than a move from Conservative to Labour or vice versa. It is a clean and simple transition from two highly similar organisations with simple business aims. You won’t lose friends whose values have not changed as yours have.

Politics, especially party politics, is more complicated. Firstly there isn’t a profit motive. There isn’t a simple bottom line. We can measure our success electorally, but that’s not the whole story. The point of a political party is not simply to get elected, but to implement a programme through government that changes the country in ways compatible with their shared ideology and the values of their supporters.

Delivering in politics is far more complicated than delivering in business, because the definition of delivery varies from stakeholder to stakeholder. Individual policies that form a small part of the whole of a Party are guaranteed to be of make or break importance to at least some members, one group of whom will loudly proclaim the Party to be wrong when it makes a decision one way or the other. At the moment, even my bald statement that the Labour Party does not exist simply to be elected will be considered dangerously naive by some, while others will chastise me for wanting to focus on electability at all, preferring to focus their energy on opposing the Tories.

Politics is largely an amateur sport. While there are a few dedicated professionals who run the offices and run for office, who create the campaigns and organise from the centre, the late 20th century dominance of professionals in politics is proving largely to be an aberration. Politics is the business of communicating ideas. For the most part that’s done friend-to-friend, member-to-member.

The proliferation of literature on how the backroom works and how politics is done, at the same time as the explosion of social media onto the political scene has led to a massive growth in “armchair generals” like myself, all convinced that we know how it can and should be done. Many of us are right at least some of the time (I hope I’m occasionally one of them) and the combination of new rules around Party funding and the new openness provided by social media will make the prize of harnessing this in a way that helps the Party a valuable one indeed.

But there are downsides that need to be managed too. Discussions that were once wholly internal are now being held in public. The sausage-making process is becoming ever more exposed, and as it is, ever more commentated on. Those commentators who have enthusiastically grasped the role of cynic so essential within an organisation are – without the professional capacity for objectivity or the surrounding of those whose job it is to be more optimistic – more susceptible than ever to Cold War syndrome – especially as the flattery of attention from the other side – those whose strategic qualities you have come to so admire – is incredibly intoxicating.

The Labour Party and Party members need to learn to be more relaxed about such events. The defectors, the semi-defectors, the loud “thorns in the side” are a fact of modern life. They are frequently wrong and frequently and as unlikely to accept that fact as anyone else. They still – for the moment – feel shocking and subversive, but if we remain as relaxed and unbothered by them as they are about the impact they might have on us, that won’t last. And when we relax, they will only be able to shock us when the shocking message they have to impart is of value.

This post first appeared on Labour List


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It’s time the UK had compulsory voting

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

In the French General Election last week, turnout was an estimated 82%. At our last General Election it was 65%. In the closest election we’d had for 18 years. And that was up a mighty 4 points on the 2005 election.

This is a problem. Decisions are made by those who show up, but increasingly decisions are made to favour those who turn up. The very crude and simple reason that young people have been hammered by cuts that have largely left the elderly alone is that young people are significantly less likely to vote.

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What do the results mean for the coalition parties?

Sunday, May 6th, 2012

So I’ve done the inevitable London postmortem, and got the worst news out of the way (I will do a final piece tomorrow on turnout, which is the biggest fly in the Labour ointment). London is stuck with Boris for a while longer. But so is David Cameron, which is better news.

Boris continues to be extremely popular among the Conservative grass roots, but polling (which come with heavy caveats) suggests that Boris may be just a bit more “Marmite” than Cameron, and therefore not an overall vote winner.

But Cameron is deeply unpopular with his backbenchers, and not just the usual headbangers like Nadine Dorries. The Tory right have taken the opportunity of electoral battering to loudly promote a more traditionally Tory policy platform, and some indications show it may be working, as gay marriage and Lords reform seem set for the very long grass.

Of course, Cameron’s popularity doesn’t – for the moment – mean there will be an actual leadership challenge. There isn’t an obvious challenger, and because of this, Dorries is likely to fail in her mission to replace Dave. But that doesn’t mean that Cameron’s leadership won’t be challenged, regularly, loudly and increasingly angrily from many quarters of the Tory party and their supportive press. And this matters deeply to George Osborne, widely seen as the man behind Cameron’s modernisation strategy. The more the Tories are seen to fail politically, as his nearest rival Boris soars from strength to strength, the worse it gets for Osborne.

Last year’s election results were a mixed bag not because of the Labour performance, which in England and Wales was excellent, but because of the performance of Tories and the collapse in Scotland. This year neither of those things happened.

The Tories suffered at the worst end of their predictions and also failed to properly dampen Labour victory. Their expectation management prior to the elections were trying to push Labour as having to get 700 seats and that Glasgow and London were the ones to watch. In the end, Labour got well over 800 seats, an overall majority in Glasgow and increased our grip on the London Assembly, despite losing the Mayoralty. And no one is blaming Labour or Ed Miliband for a loss widely attributed to Ken.

This inability to understand the game of expectation management is just one symptom of a malaise that should be much more troubling to the Tories. It is becoming increasingly obvious that from around the time of the unravelling of the Veto that never was the Tory leadership significantly lost their ability to do politics well.

Forget the individually bad polices for a moment, forget even the meta-narratives building up that the Tories are both incompetent and out of touch, forget the omnishambles, forget Jeremy Hunt, forget all the individual difficulties that are assailing the Tories. The fact is, that if the Tories had decent political instincts, the individual mistakes and unpopular policies would not be allowed to build up into the narratives, and the narratives would not be allowed to be so sustained in the public imagination, until they are close to defining this government. But the Tory strategists, led by George Osborne, have been like rabbits caught in the headlights. They’ve had simply no understanding of how to manage a narrative in challenging times.

Perhaps they had it too easy for too long and got lazy, got complacent or got out of practice. From the 2010 election campaign onwards, I’ve often said that I thought David Cameron was lazy and either unwilling or unable to do the heavy lifting. But he has surrounded himself not by people who can fill the gaps, but by those who reflect his best and worst qualities back at him. He’s surrounded by people like him, who are not necessarily the people he needs to help him reach the whole of the country.

This matters to Osborne, who wants to be seen as Cameron’s natural successor. If he can’t turn the tide on the Tory omnishambles; if he can’t shift the blame for that narrative from his disastrous budget and the subsequent handling of it; if he can’t lose the narrative that the Tories biggest problem is that they are “out of touch” he will never lead his Party.

The next big narrative that is building up around the Government is based around the 2015 election. Ever since Alexander signed the Lib Dems up to committing to cuts in their next manifesto live on Newsnight talk of a potential electoral pact between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats has intensified. Cameron chucked a giant can of gasoline on that fire when in an interview for the Evening Standard last week he said of the 2015 election “When it comes to the next election, do you want a Conservative-led Government…”, indicating that he may not be planing to attempt an outright Conservative victory at the next election.

I never used to believe that the Lib Dems would go for either a coupon election or a permanent pact. I thought the worst they would go for would be to prop up a minority Tory Party using a deviation of their standard branch of twisted electoral math.

But I’m increasingly believing it will be possible. It explains Clegg’s continued relaxation about his failure to differentiate his Party from the Tories. It follows the Lib Dems ever-increasing willingness to trade nominal power for their few MPs for their local electoral base, for their principle and for the prospects of their long-tern survival.

I wrote a few weeks ago about the ways in which the Lib Dems were and weren’t proving that coalition works. If they allow themselves to be seduced into a coupon election or an electoral pact in 2015 for their short-term gain, they will regret it immensely in the long term. It will be the end of their democratic values. It will see them hemorrhage support in the North and it will ultimately prove to everyone watching once and for all, that coalition doesn’t work. That doesn’t seem like a price worth paying, but it is a price I can see Nick Clegg easily sacrificing. His Party can and must stop him for thier own good.

Labour had a good win on Thursday electorally. People with newly elected Labour representatives have people on their side against the Government, ready to do what they can to help. This is the main prize. But the exposure of the political weakness of the Tories, and the continuing exposure of the Lib Dems to the reality of their Faustian electoral pact is not to be dismissed.

It is a truism that oppositions don’t win elections, Government’s lose them. I don’t believe this. Labour still have a lot of work to do, a fact rightly recognised by Ed Miliband. But the Tories are being exposed not just for the inept government, but for the increasingly obvious fact that they have little strategic ability, and less understanding of how to do politics in tough times. Long may that continue.


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Ken, the Campaign and London

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

Labour did extremely well in these elections and the Tories and Lib Dems did not. I’ll be writing more about that in detail later. In the end, it will be the far bigger story. But there does need to be a forensic examination of how Labour won London and lost the Mayoralty. This needs to be done quickly but exhaustively. Labour and London Labour need to move on, but we need to move on in a way that gets it right next time.

Pretending that Ken was a good choice is daft. He was clearly a drag on the Labour ticket and no amount of appalling statistics mangling is going to change that. But Ken wasn’t running this campaign alone and those who will run future campaigns need to learn from all the lessons of this campaign.

I grew up with the GLC and saw the difference it made to my inner city upbringing. From funding trips on the Jenny Wren and to a working farm in deepest Suffolk for deprived kids, to providing our run down school with equipment (the most iconic being the little brown rubbers that almost, but not quite, worked as bouncy balls). The GLC, and Ken’s leadership of it made those of us in poor, inner city London feel less abandoned in Thatcher’s Britain.

In 2000, I voted for Ken for Mayor as an independent. This is something I feel decidedly uncomfortable about now. Not because Ken wasn’t a great Mayor. He was. But because it made my ability to ask Labour members uncomfortable with voting for Ken this time around far more difficult. I understood their plight and they recognised the weakness of my position. People like Luke Akehurst were better placed to reach them, and all credit to Luke for trying and campaigning so hard. I was a lot younger in 2000. When I look back now, my remembrances are sound tracked by Dylan’s excellent My Back Pages – I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.

However, I wasn’t that naive. In 2000 we were in a very different situation than we are now. We had a Labour Government with an enormous majority. One I felt at the time were being occasionally too timid and who could use a well placed shove from the left on occasion. The Tory candidate was a no-hoper who wasn’t going to win. And finally the electoral system gave me an insurance policy. By voting Ken 1 Frank Dobson 2, I was confident I would be supporting a candidate of the Left over  the Tory. All that remains true. But if I had my time over again, I would reverse those votes. I owe Frank Dobson, the Labour staff and most of all the Labour activists of 2000 an apology. I offer it now, unreservedly. It doesn’t change the fact that the choice this time was different – it was always going to be Ken or Boris.

This time around, Labour’s campaign started to go wrong from the moment of Ken’s concession speech in 2008. Ken immediately made it clear he intended to seek the Labour nomination again, as was his right. Ken firmly positioned himself as the Labour voice for London and for two years (until the formal nomination process) he held this position unchallenged. No one else came forward to be a voice for Labour in London in those two years, and I strongly suspect Ken made sure of that. So instead of a plurality of Labour voices and figureheads for London, increasingly we had just one. This meant of course that when it came to the Labour contest to choose a candidate, there was one front runner, and next to no one with the background, positioning and machine to challenge him.

The timing of the contest was ridiculous. There was no need to run it alongside the leadership campaigns. it became sidelined. Run a year later we could have had a real contest. As it was we didn’t.

I was looking for someone to support who wasn’t Ken. Not because I disliked Ken. I didn’t then and – despite his many flaws – I don’t now. As I said above, I’ve been a strong supporter of Ken in the past. But I was concerned that Ken was no longer the strongest candidate Labour could and should offer. When I went to see Ken speak, it seemed more like a history lecture than a forward offer. He seemed more interested in telling us of his past than the future he offered London. I didn’t think that running a candidate who had lost to Boris against Boris was the best plan.

So going into the selection for London’s mayoral candidate I was open-minded. But like many, many other Labour activists I was more wrapped up in the Leadership contest, so it got little of my focus. I wasn’t convinced by Oona King at the beginning of the campaign, but as it became clear she was the only other option, I wanted to give her a chance.

But Oona and her team ran a dreadful campaign. They allowed themselves to boxed into a “continuity Blairite” corner. Allowed is perhaps wrong: they revelled in such a position. They were not simply robust in their defence of an unchanging and unchallenging New Labour position, they were aggressive about it to the point that dialogue quickly descended into argument. Not the way to convince waverers like me. They were also disorganised and cliquey.

In the end, I was faced with a choice between two imperfect candidates. I opted for the one who was polling better, whose campaign had made an effort to reach out to me and who seemed to have an understanding of campaigning politics. I suspect I wasn’t alone in this half-hearted decision.

Sadly, my loyalty to Ken was tested almost immediately after he was selected. Ken’s campaigning for Lutfur Rahman in Tower Hamlets not three weeks after he was chosen was a disgraceful act. It was a slap in the face to every Labour member who had voted for him. It was incredibly disrespectful to Oona King, being in the Constituency she had lost to Respect. I know several people in Tower Hamlets who were incredibly hurt by the actions of a candidate they had only just voted for. Once again, Ken was testing the loyalty of Labour members for seemingly little more reason than because he could.

Ken has always been a factional member of the Labour Party. He has always dedicated at least as much time fighting his own party as fighting the Tories. His decision to run for Labour’s NEC during the mayoral contest was a clear signal of this. I was dismayed by the signal this sent to the wider electorate about Ken’s priorities. While we rightly attacked Boris’ “part time” attitude to the mayoralty, I felt this was diminished somewhat by the idea that Ken wanted his fingers in more than one pie. The constituency positions on the NEC are for ordinary members like the marvellous Johanna Baxter. They shouldn’t be for MPs, Mayors or candidates. I hope that the language and rules around those NEC slots will be tightened up to protect these places as a genuine space for the voice of members, especially as more high profile elected positions open up with the introductions of a few more city mayors and police commissioners. I said during the campaign that I wouldn’t be voting for Ken for the NEC, and despite there no longer being  a potential conflict with the mayoral role, I stand by that. I think it diminished the left of the Party to run him, and I think it would therefore diminish me to support him now.

The two biggest mistakes Ken has made during the campaign have been well covered elsewhere. The despair of the Jewish community at Ken’s behaviour was real and was extraordinarily badly handled. As was Ken’s position on taxes and the failure to put this long-running story to bed with either full disclosure or mea-culpa.

So Ken was far from an ideal candidate. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some questions to be asked about the campaign too. While many of the despairing voices I have heard in private have been about Ken, many others have been about aspects of the campaign.

The 2008 campaign was incredibly nasty. We were obviously going to be attacked and attacked hard this time around. Our rebuttal to such attacks was not anything like swift or hard enough. Both the charges of tax hypocrisy and anti-semitism were allowed to linger throughout the whole campaign period. Yes the Evening Standard is a disgrace of a newspaper. But that’s no reason to gift them such open goals. Our rapid rebuttal needs a lot of work.

The Labour Party have a marvellous and potentially revolutionary new system for running volunteer events, contacts and activities. But we are not yet using it well. As I had cause to say in an email to the campaign:

The Labour Party is belatedly but enthusiastically starting to explore the things we can do with Social Marketing and I’m all for that. But, and forgive me if I sound too Blairite (something I’m not often accused of!), we’re in real danger of confusing outputs with outcomes. What matters is what works.

In an outputs focused campaign, this looks like a success. Yesterday I followed a link in one email to sign up to a campaign action, and within 24 hours had a response – certainly an improvement on the Labour Party of old!

But the impact of this message on its key audience does not seem to have been evaluated at all. So a communication that – I presume – was supposed to make me feel more engaged and valued has left me deflated and confused as to the actual action I’m being asked to take. And I’ve been doing this stuff for well over 25 years.

If this is a new manifestation of broadcast politics, where we have simply replaced the demands of the leadership with the demands of the technology, then we’re missing the point of what that technology is for, what it can do for the party at all levels.

Many, many people have heard my complaints about Membersnet, and I’m sure you’ve heard it all. At the heart of every complaint I’ve ever made or ever received is that it seems to have gone through the entire design process without any user input. So what has come out is a site driven by the needs of a small cabal at the top who instinctually hoard information, not a resource tailored for the audience it professes to serve.

The campaign had an amazing success at the beginning of January with the Fare Deal campaign. The mass leaflet drop just as fares were going up and while Boris was out of the country was inspired, and it put us right back in the game. It was a great idea, and fares were an important theme for the campaign.

But it seemed that after that, the campaign became a victim of its own success. The campaign needed an equal focus on at least two other themes. Ken had good strong policies on crime, education and housing, but while there were half-hearted attempts to bring them into focus, there was never the resources or the time and energy devoted to them as there was to fares. I was asked to leaflet the same commuters on the same topic week after week. I was desperate to be more innovative,  but as I worked with others to offer the Party materials, lines to use and attack possibilities around housing, we found it harder and harder to engage with the campaign team. In the end there was a limited run of 5000 leaflets with none of the key messages in them. A promised day of housing action (where the plan was to get activists out onto the estates with targeted materials) never happened. In an election that was all about turnout, that was a real mistake. That was my experience, I know from conversations with others it was not unique.

Fares lost their impact as an issue over time. But instead of responding to that by opening up new fronts, we found new ways to talk about Fares. In leaflets, in adverts, at rallyies and from the top of a bus.

Finally, beyond a relentless focus on fares, the campaign did not seem to have a coherent strategy. One week, we’re sending people dressed as chickens (or Boris Johns-hens) to chase Boris around the city, the next we’re trying to take the high road promising a non-negative campaign. Both of these are decent campaign strategies – both together look a bit chaotic. Offering Lynton Crosby the chance to run a high-minded campaign seems naive.

In the end, we were playing with the hand we were dealt. We have some amazing staff and volunteers and they worked incredibly hard. With all of the flaws of Ken’s candidacy, along with Boris’ continuing popularity, to have run a campaign that ended so close was an incredible achievement and Luke Akehurst is right that those in charge deserve enormous credit for it. This post is not to denigrate that achievement or to blame those involved – not at all. I applaud their work, their dedication and their passion with everything I have.

But in the end, we did lose, and we did make mistakes, ones which offer real and important lessons for Labour in London and nationally. Let’s make sure that in our appreciation for the exceptional sacrifice of our staff and members, the opportunity to do so is not lost.


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