Will Labour sabotage AV out of ugly self-interest?

Yesterday I was wondering how local Labour politicians will come down on AV. Emily Thornberry, Labour MP for Islington South and R’lyeh, immediately answered my question in a new article on Labourlist (which should surely now be called IslingtonLabourList for trading standards purposes). She declares her unambiguous opposition to AV.

The main thrust of her argument is that her constituents are too bestially stupid to understand preferential systems of voting. Never mind that they are able to muddle through for the Mayoral elections, or that the savage Celts somehow manage. Apparently, the poor benighted denizens of Islington aren’t capable of making informed choices, or counting. Doesn’t she even worry that her constituents might, uh, read this and take offence?

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Thornberry is worried that she would have lost under AV in 2005 and 2010. AV helps elect the least unpopular candidate. As she’s unpopular with the majority of her voters, she will probably lose her job.

At the last election, Labour secured 18,407 votes in Islington. The Lib Dems got nearly 3000 more votes than in 2005, but still trailed on 14,838. This leaves only 3570 votes to make up.

8,449 people voted for the Tories. It’s likely that many more of these would fall to the Liberal Democrats than to Labour. Next time, after they’ve seen Lib Dems work with Conservatives in coalition, and after having suffered under a seriously zany Labour council, this is even more likely.

With 54% of the vote when added together, Islington South and Finsbury is really a Coalition Constituency with a Labour MP.

Even in Islington, the Green Party is a minority interest, but there are 700 votes there that would be at least as likely to fall to the Lib Dems as to Labour. Green supporters I spoke to while canvassing in the constituency were impressed by the local Lib Dem council’s environmental record, and wary of Thornberry’s environmental credentials. Thornberry really didn’t help her cause by refusing to vote against airport expansion when she promised she would, and then giving a bizarre tirade on the floor of the House of Commons accusing Greenpeace of having “been manipulated by the Conservatives into being their cheerleaders” and demanding they apologise to their supporters!

I think it’s obvious that anyone in North-East London who cares about political reform and making Parliament more democratic should recognise that Labour is our enemy. Those like Thornberry are scared that they will be kicked out if the voters get the representation they actually want, and will fight to save their own skin. The idea of the voters being in charge petrifies them. Others, like Cllr Richard Watts, are more interested in using the referendum to attack the coalition Government, never mind the cost to democracy.

I can’t wait to see their anti-AV leaflets, though. “No to Alternative Vote: because you proles are just too stupid to understand.”

The article does have one nice Freudian slip from Thorners, though:

“But preferential voting cannot create honest politicians by itself, if it did, then I would be handing in a monster Chartist-style petition for first past the post.”


Thornberry and Brown think you are stupid.

These people think you are stupid.

Published in: on September 15, 2010 at 3:12 pm  Comments (6)  

Will Labour sabotage AV out of spite?

I wrote to my Labour MP Meg Hillier today to ask whether she will be joining the YES campaign in the AV referendum. She was elected on a manifesto commitment to do so, after all. But statements by other local Labour politicians and activists suggest that Labour are preparing to break that commitment in a mad kamikaze attack on this reform.

The 2010 Labour manifesto supports AV, “To ensure that every MP is supported by the majority of their constituents voting at each election”. Yet local socialists seem more motivated by spite than principle.

A LabourList article by Islington Labour councillor Richard ‘Weasel’ Watts and his gold-plated spin doctor Graham Copp argues that:

“Whatever view one takes about electoral reform, it would be an enormous and avoidable own goal the newly elected Labour leader to introduce themselves to the public by supporting a losing cause in the AV referendum.“

Which is to say: Labour should ditch a manifesto commitment because the fight may be hard and it might fail. Rather than fighting for a principle but possibly losing (isn’t that what oppositions are supposed to do, anyway?), they would rather see, and think the public would rather see, their leaders renege on a promise.

Which way Labour ultimately fall on this is going to be important to the campaign, so I’m interested in seeing what my MP has to say for herself.

But from the evidence of Weasel and Copp, it seems like Labour are as willing to abandon their manifesto in opposition as quickly as they abandoned it in Government. After all, their 1997 manifesto said, “we are committed to a referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons” where they would support “a proportional alternative to the first-past-the-post system”.

I think an uncharacteristically honest statement falls half way through their article -albeit a plan, or possibly a wish, disguised as analysis:

“Referenda very often become a vote of confidence in the government itself. If the referendum comes when the cuts are really biting next May, it’s easy to envisage a scenario where the argument “vote no to send a message to about cuts” has a lot of resonance, particularly among Labour voters.”

It would be entirely in character for Labour’s kamikaze spin-doctors to try and turn the referendum into a mid-term judgement on the coalition’s ‘cuts’, even if that sacrifices both the best opportunity to improve our democracy and their own reputation for keeping promises. But Labour are currently suffering from a collective madness and are twitchily unpredictable.

Published in: on September 14, 2010 at 1:11 pm  Comments (1)  

Could Boris Johnson be the Coalition candidate for Mayor?

Who will be the Liberal Democrat candidate for London Mayor? Liberal Democrat Voice had an inconclusive discussion, and applications for the nomination are currently open. In other news, Nick Boles proposed a pact between the two Coalition partners at the next general election. But why wait ’til 2015? Maybe Boris could be our Coalition candidate for the London Mayoral election.

What are our options?

Lembit Opik? God seriously forbid, and I don’t think London members will be rushing to Pick Opik (as the slogan inevitably goes). Floella Benjamin? I’m sure she’s perfectly nice, and she probably deserves her peerage and all, but I can’t see how’s she’s even the slightest bit qualified to run the metrop, and Londoners will see that. And do we, brand new to the business of Government, really need people talking about our ‘playschool’ candidate? Brian Paddick is certainly qualified for the job, with his experience in the Met. His performance on the stump impressed me last time round, and I wouldn’t be sorry if he got the nomination.

But the issue is that, to be realistic, we will once again be squeezed in a two-juggernaut race. The important thing is to lose in style, and in a way that gives us most influence in the future. As a third party, we should be used to thinking like that.

My favourite idea would be to follow the example of the Greens, and put the excellent Caroline Pidgeon on both the Mayoral and Assembly ballots. This would almost certainly increase our share of the vote for the Assembly and give C. Pidge the higher profile she deserves.

Or, most radically, we could endorse Boris Johnson as the official Coalition Candidate for Mayor!

The most important thing is that Labour are stopped. Ken Livingstone is probably going to win the Labour nomination (or if he loses, stand for Mayor anyway), and stands a real chance of getting his unspeakably horrible claws back on City Hall. As well as being a terrible old crook, he actively promotes disharmony between London’s communities by encouraging identity politics. He ferments grievances for his own political gain. And I literally shudder to think how much he’d relish revisiting his old battles with ‘Thatcherism’ and what a disaster that would be for the administration of London (and our council tax levels).

But Boris can beat Ken, again. He’s a proven winner. But it will be midway through a difficult Parliament, and if the Tories are worried about their chances of success, maybe they could be convinced of the merits of a ‘coalition agreement’ for London that would actually put Liberal Democrat policies into effect. We’re finding out in Government how good that is.

I believe that Boris is broadly Liberal in outlook, with his failures being more in the implementation than the ideology. He has some admirable achievements under his belt, not least the Boris Bike scheme. He believes in local democracy and works well with the boroughs, which Ken never could.

Just a thought.

source: Conservative Home

Published in: on September 13, 2010 at 11:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

The park in the dark

Tower Hamlets’ zealous park wardens locked me inside Victoria Park (again), reminding me that Boris Johnson once said how disgraceful it is that every evening, thousands of acres of London are placed Strictly Off Limits to the public. As the evenings draw in, the amount of London available to us shrinks and shrinks. It is a shameful admission of failure by our society that the authorities refuse to guarantee the safety of citizens in parks after dusk, and rather than confronting this problem just lock us out.

Boris Johnson’s manifesto for public space London’s Great Outdoors says:

“Many of London’s larger public parks are fenced and locked at night. This can create severance as sections of the city are literally decommissioned. It can also turn many surrounding streets into inactive cul-de-sacs. The main reason for locking London’s parks at night is fear of crime and antisocial activities.

“However many parks, such as Highbury Fields and Streatham Common, are not fenced or gated. This suggests that 24-hour access could be made to work in more of our parks and green spaces with the right design and right lighting and management regimes. High quality, creative lighting can increase feelings of safety and encourage ownership and use.

“I want to ensure that access to public space is as unrestricted and unambiguous as possible. The needs of different users and age groups can be accommodated through intelligent design. With proper consideration at the outset of safety issues, the usage of public spaces can be extended well into the evening without the need for unnecessary barriers.”

This is absolutely correct, although I’m not sure much progress Boris has actually made.

It is only right that some green space is fenced off. It would probably be thought unfair to inhabitants of residential squares to encourage people to congregate outside their windows all night long. Where people do congregate at these residential squares, like they did at Percy Circus and Vernon Square near Kings Cross, the authorities are justified in dispersing them.

Highbury Fields isn’t fenced, and is safe to use and cross all night. Although in a distinctly less ritzy part of town, London Fields is also safe at night. It is well-lit, has clear lines of sight right across the park (at least it does until Hackney’s dreadful council goes through with its plans to astroturf, fence off, and plant up a good portion of the middle of the fields), and is therefore used as a route by pedestrians and cyclists 24 hours a day.

As in all cases, the best way to reduce crime and make somewhere safe it to make sure it is used. Victoria Park is getting a restoration in time for Olympics – I hope part of that is restoring the lovely gas lamps along its paths, and keeping it open into the evening. When places are treated by authorities as being unsafe, people use them less which leads to them actually being more unsafe.

Published in: on September 13, 2010 at 8:36 pm  Leave a Comment