Freedom of information request reveals Labour MP Kate Hoey behind hospital anti-cycling campaign

When a London hospital is lobbying against a healthy activity – cycling – it kind of feels like something is going wrong.  So when Guys and St Thomas Hospital in London runs an extensive (and expensive – campaigner Tom Kearney has uncovered that £10k of NHS money has been spent so far) lobbying and legal campaign to try and prevent a cycle lane being built outside, it’s hard not to smell a rat.

Turns out that the rat was called Kate Hoey, the MP for the local area. (The rat usually does turn out to be a Labour politician, doesn’t it?)

In the FOI’d documents below, you can see how Kate Hoey initially contacted the Trust with a “great opportunity” to sabotage the cycle track.

hoey

There seems to have been some internal division, with the children’s wing of the hospital trust sounding pretty incredulous about the whole campaign:

 

Children's hospital.jpg

And even – and this is maybe the most telling line in all the documents – the Trust itself in internal emails admit that they have zero evidence for their claims:

evidence

Documents are below:

6-chairmansboardreport27apr20169-may-to-director-of-comms-re-comms-plan-about-petition9-may-to-media-team-re-email-to-ft-members-about-petition10-may-to-communications-team-and-other-trust-staff-re-petition11-12-may-to-chairman-ceo-and-others-re-comms-plan-and-press-release11-may-to-kate-hoey-and-others-re-quotes-in-press-release12-may-to-digital-media-producer-re-digital-screens-artwork12-may-to-digital-media-producer-re-graphic-design-artwork12-may-to-digital-team-re-message-on-trust-website-homepage12-may-to-tfl-re-petition-launched-and-press-release-planned13-may-to-communications-team-and-other-trust-staff-re-media-interest13-may-to-digital-media-producer-re-graphic-design-artwork13-may-to-digital-team-re-news-story-on-trust-website13-may-to-directors-re-media-interest13-may-to-kate-hoey-and-others-re-media-interest-in-press-release13-may-to-tfl-re-media-interest160513_foi-55328_gaskin_request160513_foi_request20160429-tfl-petition-_3_bus-stop-petitionbus-stop-petition-1bus-stop-petition-2bus-stop-petition-j-letter-copybus-stop-petition-j-letterbus-stop-protestbus-stops-10bus-stopsfloating-bus-stopsfw-bus-stops-11fw-bus-stopsfw-buses-bikes-and-benchesfwd-bus-stop-protestre-bus-stop-petition-3re-bus-stop-protest-1re-bus-stop-protest-3re-bus-stop-protest-4re-bus-stop-protest-7re-bus-stop-protest-8re-bus-stop-protest-9re-bus-stop-protest-10re-bus-stop-protest-11re-bus-stop-protest-supportre-bus-stops-1re-bus-stops-2re-bus-stops-8re-bus-stops-9re-re-bus-stopsre-westminster-bridge-petition

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Published in: on September 13, 2016 at 11:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

Resisting the lure of protectionism

I’m living in Derby at the moment, so have been particularly conscious of the news that new carriages for Thameslink will be built by German firm Siemens rather than local firm Bombardier. Well, I say local. German/Canadian, actually, as if you couldn’t tell by the rum foreign way everyone pronounces it. Still, it means the loss of 446 permanent jobs and 983 temporary contract staff, which is sad for a city that’s already struggling.

What has been still sadder, though, is the protectionist rhetoric that the decision has prompted.

Bob Crow and the RMT today announced that they are considering a legal challenge to the decision. The general response from the popular press has been to demand British jobs for British people. Local Labour MPs Chris Williamson and Margaret Beckett have been doing the same. Which I suppose is fair enough– they could hardly be expected to do otherwise. But the Shadow Cabinet have also jumped on the protectionist bandwagon, which is the height of irresponsibility from the Labour Party.

Most of the Tory argument has been evasive – just noting that the previous Labour Government wrote the tender rules and are technically responsible, and noting that Labour also left the incoming Government with a project 16 years overdue and £600 million over budget. Fair enough, but good on Philip Hammond for also making the point of principle in the House: “I firmly believe that free trade and open markets are the best way for us to proceed.”

Shirley Williams was a hero on Question Time last week, making the case for Free Trade:

“I’m going to say something very unpopular: think very hard before you go for protectionism. We have thousands of people in this country who work for German firms, French firms, Japanese firms, and they have on the continent thousands of people who work for British firms. If you want to start down this train, I’ll tell you exactly what will happen: you will lose at least as many jobs as you’ll gain. If you bring in protectionism, you’ll see the 1930s back again.”

The World Depression was caused and exacerbated by protectionist policies.

We need world trade- free trade. It will be vital to the country and the world’s economic recovery.

If you’ve ridden the railway in South Africa recently, you may have been on a train manufactured at the Derby Carriage and Wagon Works. Likewise if you’ve been to Taiwan. If you’ve traveled on a high-speed train in Switzerland, Italy, or China, ridden the light rail in Madrid or Melbourne, been on the Metro in Guangzhou or Shenzhen, or a tram in Strasbourg or Milan, it may have been one of those designed by one of the hundreds of design engineers employed at the Derby plant.

Which is to say, British manufacturing relies on exports as well as the home market. What would have happened in Derby if the government in Pretoria had demanded on a policy of South African jobs for South Africans?

Published in: on July 12, 2011 at 12:04 am  Leave a Comment  

Islington Fairness Commission: one out of three ain’t bad I suppose.

I bet Ed Miliband thought he was being original when he came up with his wheeze of starting with a blank sheet of paper and crowdsourcing all of Labour’s new policies. Not so! Islington Labour pioneered this stupid tactic with their ‘Fairness Commission’. The Commission has now produced its report, as advertised in the Guardian and online.

I’m not sure what I think about this method of producing policy. One one hand, surely it’s a political party’s job to come up with a manifesto and put it before the public. I can’t help but feel that Labour unexpectedly snuck into power in Islington on the back of a national election campaign, and then had to ask other people what they should be doing. Basically, it’s a bit like Labour spent £13,990 of public money (plus the extensive amount of work presumably done by the council’s scrutiny and press officers) to crowdsource a manifesto that they really ought to have written before the election. There’s also a whole weird appendix to the Commission’s report dedicated to the positive press coverage it got, demonstrating that it was also a massive publicity stunt to be judged in terms of column inches as much as anything else.

On the other hand, it is good for civil society groups and the wider public sector to get involved in the policy-making process, and Commissions are a good way of doing this. The Fairness Commission took inspiration from a similar Commission on Young People and Safety, chaired by Cllr Greg Foxsmith back in Islington’s Liberal days. Because of the input of the CPS, Youth Offending Service, police, and charities and civil society groups, it produced some genuinely good responses to the problem of Islington teenagers constantly stabbing each other to death in the streets.

But the Young People and Safety Commission had a clear aim, and a clear frame of reference. The Fairness Commission had no particular goal. Fairness. It’s a word that focus-groups well, but/because no-one knows what it means. It’s not like asking the community and experts a question – ‘what can we do about youth gangs?’ – and getting some informed answers. It’s just saying, ‘so, guys, what do we think would be nice?’

And lo, the Commission just ended up producing some ideas about what would be nice.

I was actually expecting something pretty radical to come out of this process. Labour councillors in Islington are unabashedly socialist, unreformed loony-lefties. I was expecting a report that looked like it came from bloodthirsty communards.

They even got academic huckster Richard Pickett to chair it, and he was ostensibly intent on applying his (demonstrably wrong, obviously) idea of the Spirit Level, which is to say communism. They talked– and the report’s preface goes on and on about– their desire “to close the gap between Islington’s rich and poor.”

“The campaign against excessive inequalities in income is the next major task in front of us. What is at stake is nothing less than the emancipation of a very large part of the population. And Islington is leading the way.”

Adam Bell has written a great post in which he calls it The Wishful Thinking Commission.

Asking local businesses to voluntarily pay more to their staff certainly falls into the wishful thinking category. Even publishing pay differentials is wishful thinking, for all the difference it would make. What scientific purpose does it serve to know that big local employer Arsenal FC has a pay differential of at least 475:1?

Other bits are just bizarrely ineffectual and ill-considered, like banishing payday loan companies from the borough. Indebtedness is one of the worst causes- and features- of poverty, as an actually-good report on Islington from the charity Cripplegate reveals. But if you get rid of regulated debt companies, people will turn to loan sharks. It’s really not the supplier that’s the problem here. And in any case, people from Islington could just nip to the Money Shop in Dalston. Or phone one of the companies off the telly.

Apart from the wishful thinking and the crappy, we’re just left with a list of nice things.

Identifying unused grassy areas on estates that can be perked up. That’s nice. The last Lib Dem administration already negotiated a contract bringing standards of estate green space management up to park standards, but I’m sure there’s more that can be done

Safer streets. That’s nice. I’m pretty sure someone already thought of that, though. Do we need this insight from a £14,000 Commission?

Apprenticeships! I don’t think I’ve ever seen an attempt to end poverty that doesn’t have this as its main plank of tackling youth joblessness. It’s nice, but only ever going to be a tiny sticking plaster on this massive issue.

… but is this what the Spirit Level was calling for? Is this the best that the land’s most bloodthirsty communards can muster? Is this closing the gap between the rich and poor in any meaningfully radical sense? Does this even come under the watery abstract concept of “fairness”?

No. These are nice things. Good things. Motherhood AND apple pie. The things that every political party has in every manifesto.

It doesn’t begin to say how they are going to bake or give birth to it, but it is the Labour party, who were always better at theory than execution.

There is one thing covered in the report that is a serious Fairness issue: a huge problem of overcrowded housing combined with massive underoccupation in council housing.

The report reveals the shocking fact that “tenancy audits of large council homes suggest as many as 40 per cent of them are now under-occupied as family members have moved on since the tenancies were granted.”

The Fairness Commission suggests a poster campaign and easing the bureaucracy, which is fine, if unambitious. Do they really think that this will clear out the 40% of houses that ought to be going to the people in desperate need? That this will really address the horrors of inner-London overcrowding?

You know, it would be good to get this problem sorted out. The Coalition Government is moving to clear high-earners out of social housing they don’t need, and have fixed tenancies to prevent underoccupation.

What do you think, Ed Miliband?

“Social housing should not be immune to reform, but we are opposed to the government’s plans on tenancy reform.”

Essentially, there are a lot of people sitting on subsidised housing who don’t need it. Or, in this case, don’t need as much of it. Stopping this is going to effect a lot of people who are enjoying large houses on the cheap. It’s a lot of voters to alienate, even if there are desperately overcrowded families living next door. Ed Miliband won’t do anything about this problem. Simon Hughes has spoken for the Lib Dems that we won’t do anything about it. Islington Labour and Prof. Pickett won’t do anything about it.

Maybe the Tories, precisely because they don’t rely on those votes anyway, can do something about this real fairness issue.

Meanwhile, Labour are left tinkering, and pleading with business, and offering pointless merit badges to do things that don’t actually make any difference anyway.

Published in: on June 11, 2011 at 2:47 am  Leave a Comment  

Are Labour preparing to sabotage Lords reform?

Hilary Benn has written an ominous piece on Labourlist. He ostensibly supports the principle of reforming the House of Lords to make it more democratic… but his carefully constructed wording suggests that Labour are preparing the ground to sabotage the whole process to score cheap political points.

Benn writes:

“The Labour Party is firmly committed to a 100% elected House of Lords, and therefore what we will look for in the government’s Bill is whether it provides for a wholly elected second chamber. … how could anyone contemplate reforming our system on any other basis than full democracy?”

The hypocrisy is obviously staggering. How could anyone contemplate reforming our system on any other basis than full democracy? I don’t know, Benn, you were the one in power for thirteen years who, rather than reforming our system on the basis of full democracy, oversaw the greatest expansion of political patronage in modern British history.

Given that there isn’t a majority in the House for a fully elected Upper Chamber, we are likely to be presented with a compromise bill with an 80% elected chamber and the appointment of cross-bench peers. It’s not ideal or perfect, but as the Conservatives are the largest party in Parliament, this should be considered a massive victory for Clegg and a thoroughly worthwhile reform.

But now we can expect Labour to vote this down on the basis of their suddenly-discovered love of “full democracy”. Combined with the votes of the reactionary Tory right, this will sink Lords reform.

If and when this happens, I hope liberals will realise that, as with the AV referendum, Labour are trying to wreck even the good things the Coalition is doing for their own narrow political ends. I hope we remember that in their thirteen years in power Labour amply demonstrated that they have no love for democracy.

And, most importantly, I hope that all liberals remember that, however they may prattle on about their “principles”, the Labour party, from the very top to the very bottom, are a bunch of bastards who have no higher goal than to screw us over.

Published in: on May 16, 2011 at 10:11 pm  Comments (1)  

Islington Council meeting ends with left-on-lefter débâcle

As a connoisseur of Islington Council meetings, I was very sad to miss this month’s council budget meeting. Islington’s new Labour administration ended up directing the police to eject 60 people and finished the Council Meeting, which made £52 million of cuts, in secret.

I have no time for the cuts protesters. They are deficit deniers that even make Ed Balls look sane and responsible. They want Labour councils to pass illegal budgets and help foment popular protests, to topple the democratically-elected Government “by making the country ungovernable”.

Still, there’s nothing more satisfying than watching two villains duke it out. In this case, it’s particularly ironic because Labour council leader Catherine West, a shrill harpy of a woman, spent her time in opposition trying her hardest to hijack and disrupt meetings, either by shipping in stooges to heckle and shout, or by giving endless filibustering speeches. Looks like Labour can dish it out, but they can’t take it.

Islington’s Labour council also deserves the protests, because a good portion of the cuts are entirely of their own making: they are wasting millions of pounds on their ‘meals for millionaires‘ scheme– universal free school meals, even for the children of bankers in the borough. Literally even for Boris Johnson’s children.

The Lib Dems opposed this when Labour brought it in; but now the budget is being squeezed, it’s unconscionable that millions of pounds are spent on giving free lunches to bankers’ children, while services are cut. ‘Free School Meals’ was the pet project of an influential Labour councillor, who was also a professional lobbyist for a fake charity which campaigns for universal free school meals across the country.

Labour have also refused to cut back on the communications budget and council propaganda magazine.

It’s also a fact that Islington is in a relatively good position because the Liberal Democrats, who ran the council until last May (though latterly as a minority administration), having inherited a Labour-run council with more debt than a lot of third-world nations, brought in far-reaching efficiency savings. Would it surprise you to learn that Labour opposed almost all of these savings at the time? Rationalising office buildings and disposing of unnecessary offices was called ‘asset-stripping’ and ‘selling off the family silver’. Moving back-office functions to Manchester, where it’s cheaper, was opposed by a Labour campaign to keep the staff on “Upper Street not Coronation Street”.

Published in: on February 20, 2011 at 4:57 pm  Comments (1)  

Hackney’s Labour Council shows no interest in making cycling safer

Every year in Hackney, around 6 cyclists are killed and 150 seriously injured. There have been so many accidents recently that the local newspaper has launched a safer cycling campaign. Our Labour Mayor has claimed to support the campaign, but the borough’s new Transport Local Implementation Plan has been released – and it won’t do a thing to improve safety for cyclists.

Mayor Jules Pipe told the Gazette:

“In recent years, Hackney Council has gone to great efforts to improve safety for cyclists, including free cycle training to people living, working or studying in the borough. We also host a local safety working group, where the council and its partners meet up to discuss ways of improving cyclist and pedestrian safety around heavy goods vehicles. As a council, we support any additional efforts to try and create a safer environment for cyclists in Hackney.”

But the proposed Transport Local Implementation Plan barely says a thing about physical improvements to make the transport network safe for cyclists.

Three out of four of the borough plan’s cycling goals are just to provide more cycle parking:
– Estate cycle parking: providing cycle lockers in Hackney Estates.
– Increase in cycle parking at rail, Overground and Tube stations in the borough.
– Provision of on carriageway and on footway cycle parking.

That’s all very well – and very cheap. Hackney has about half the amount of bike stands as neighbouring Islington; and installing secure cycle parking at rail stations would be particularly welcome, although I’ll believe it when I see it. In general, though, Hackney already has a tolerably good amount of cycle parking, so this doesn’t add much.

No matter how much parking there is, without improving the safety of the road en route, more people won’t take up cycling.

No matter how much “Provision of cycle training levels 1,2,3 to adults” the council offers, without improving the safety of the road, more people won’t take up cycling.

The council’s plan wants more pupils to cycle to school. That’s not going to happen without without improving the safety of the road en route ETC. ETC.

Hackney Council are currently making Goldsmith’s Row ‘safer for cycling’, involving a massive amount of digging-up and repaving. It’s a popular cycle route into the borough… but it was already safe. This is a quiet, slow, minor street. It was even one of the few places with a segregated cycle path. This couldn’t be a more pointless tinkering exercise with something that was already basically fine.

This seems utterly symptomatic of Mayor Pipe’s approach to cycling: tinkering around the edges. There are mad five-way junctions like Pembury Place, HGV Chaos at Dalston Junction (the scene of the most recent killing). Even on Goldsmith’s Row- after the clear and safe stretch that the council are pointlessly digging up- on-street parking narrows the road to a bottleneck and causes constant clashes between cyclists and traffic. What will be done to tackle these genuine problems?

In conclusion, Hackney’s transport plan is utterly uninspiring, doing only the easiest of the easy stuff. It lacks any sort of coherant vision, and doesn’t even plot a clear way to achieve its stated goals.

It’s still out for consultation of course- but why bother responding? As we know, no matter what people say, Hackney’s Labour council isn’t interested in listening.

Published in: on February 18, 2011 at 2:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

No sex please, we’re Hackney

Hackney Council’s licensing committee voted this week to approve a new ‘nil’ policy on sex establishments in the borough. Sex shops, strip clubs, and porn cinemas will not be able to open in Hackney if and when the Committee’s decision is endorsed by full council. This fight between a broad coalition of libertarian citizens on one hand, and a nest of clucking moralistic biddies on the other, is instructive, as the former were in the majority even if the latter have won this round.

I’ve never been to a strip club or porn cinema BY THE WAY, and when I went into a sex shop once I went scarlet and wasn’t sure where to look. Such, I suppose, is the residual effect of Catholicism even on the committed apostate. But, as a matter of principle, freedom of choice should always be respected, and it is deeply offensive that the borough authorities should be able to stamp their moral code on the rest of us.

The consultation went massively against the Council’s proposed ban. It was reassuring that most of the responses from members of the public to the council’s consultation were broadly libertarian. Two-thirds of respondents opposed the council’s proposal to ban sex encounter establishments; three-quarters opposed banning sex shops.

Local businesses also opposed the ban. Strip clubs in particular seem to generate a lot of business for other aspects of the evening economy. Bars, kebab shops, cab companies, and the local comedy club all opposed the nil policy.

A lot of residents told the consultation that the establishments are well-run and not a cause of antisocial behaviour or crime. Local Tennants’ Associations wrote that “None of the tenants or residents have complained of the crime of anti-social behaviour from Browns or the White Horse. Off-licences causing more problems”. Pubwatch, an organisation that runs a voluntary accreditation for well-run pubs, noted that the “premises operate in a professional manner.” Even the Vicar at St. Leonard’s Church, Rev. Turp, told the committee that although there are “tensions between local residents and transient commercial users” and crime caused by local bars, the strip clubs happen to be a “big success” when it comes to managing antisocial behaviour, and that “none cause trouble for the police or community disruption.”

This doesn’t surprise me. When For Your Eyes Only was applying for a license on City Road, the police told the licensing committee that in streets where this chain had opened a club, crime and antisocial behaviour actually went down, so effective were its door staff.

30% of the consultation responses were from Gay men, many attempting to save the ‘Expectations’ sex shop as a resource for the gay community. Shops like this may sell rude items, but they are also an important source of condoms and lubricants and other sexual health needs.

So why did the curtain-twitching moralistic tendency win out?

The obvious response is that Hackney traditionally has a respect for democracy roughly equivalent to Cuba, and the Labour Council is all about imposing their own moral code despite people’s actual wishes.

Yes, Hackney Council’s consultations are usually some form of sham. But pandering to moralistic groups is not the preserve of one party or one borough – even the Liberal Democrats have jumped on this bandwagon before.

Lib Dem councillors in Archway fought against a new strip club for example. (I should declare an interest as having drafted the press releases.)

To be fair on them, the councillors involved there are impeccable liberals, and the argument was always couched in the ostensibly liberal terms of local people having a say on what happens in their community. The loophole in Labour’s 2003 licensing act pretty much allowed licensed pubs and bars to transform into strip clubs at will – a loophole that was closed by the Coalition Government last November. There probably are good and bad places for strip clubs, and councillors are there to make that decision for the local community. I guess that’s legitimate local democracy. Although sitting as it does in the middle of an ugly and inhospitable – and largely inaccessible – gyratory, I probably wouldn’t think of the Archway Tavern as an obviously wrong place.

From the Islington Lib Dem press release, you’ll note that the Liberal Democrats were working hand-in-hand with the Fawcett Society and Object, who aren’t interested in finding the right place for different sorts of entertainment. They want it banned outright.

Almost all of those responding to support the council’s proposed policy included the formulation that the “Borough has a duty to tackle gender inequality”, usually citing Harman’s Gender Equality Duty 2007. According to the Committee’s own analysis of the consultation responses: “When looking at the arguments presented in support of the “nil” policy and in opposition to the different types of sex establishments, the ‘exploitation and objectification of women’ was the main reason presented”

The chair of OBJECT (tagline: “Women are not sex objects!”) sent a response, and many followed her template. Including, in a move I find rather disturbing, an apparently official submission from Amnesty International UK.

“Very uncomfortable with the existence of the licensed clubs”, says one supporter of the nil policy, summing up the Object argument in a nutshell.

In this case there was clearly an organised group of Feminists attempting to use the force of law to impose their morals on everyone else.

In one brilliant example from Islington, the licensing committee was considering giving an adult entertainment license for a new strip club at Bar Aquarium in Shoreditch. The committee was bombarded by letters and template emails from outraged women saying how degrading it was to have women stripped and objectified, how it would inevitably lead to rape on Old Street, and so on. The bar, however, was applying to have male go-go dancers. The feminists are fiercely organised, even if they are bad at reading the small print.

So what are the lessons here?

That in this country, even here at the heart of the Metrop, politicians are keen to legislate for morality. In Hackney it’s a problem with Labour, but even Liberal Democrats can jump on that bandwagon to curry favour with vociferous local groups of WI-type ladies, and that’s a difficult beast for a liberal to ride.

These noisy interest groups can represent a form of tyranny. As Lib Dems, we have to recognise that while localism is good, the dangers of autocracy are as relevant at a local level as a national one. Adam Bell has warned that the Tories in Government are in favour of state intervention as long as it’s at the local level – which shouldn’t be surprising, but is something we need to keep an eye on.

But the most heartening lesson is that, at least in Hackney, the vast majority of people just want the Council to mind it’s own damn business.

Published in: on January 13, 2011 at 4:32 pm  Comments (1)  

Thornberry appointment shows No2AV intends to go negative

‘Labour big beasts say no to voting reform’, goes the Guardian headline. Well they don’t come much bigger or more beastly than Emily Thornberry. Labour activist Seph Brown has written that “Reading the comments of Emily Thornberry today, I fear that from the outset there are indications that the referendum on the Alternative Vote could get nasty.” He is right, and I’ve no doubt that’s what Thornberry was hired for.

Emily Thornberry said on sky news that “It’s unduly complicated, it’s expensive, it’s unnecessary – and I think it’s important to have a direct relationship with your constituents.”

As Seph Brown writes, this is a series of lies: “Ignoring her initial opinions on necessity and expense etc, her final point seems to suggest that the Alternative Vote would break the ‘constituency link’ between a single MP and their patch. This is simply not true.”

I wrote earlier about why I think Emily Thornberry is against AV: the ugly self interest of an MP who is disliked by the majority of her constituents in her marginal seat, and would very possibly lose out from the reform.

Seph Brown adds that she could be motivated by her “years of hard – often bareknuckle – campaigning against the LibDems has developed a near pathological distaste for the party constantly breathing down her neck in Islington South and Finsbury”. Blocking reform to spite the Liberal Democrats, regardless of the consequences for the country, is an incredibly immature approach, but one that you can see among a lot of tribal Labour supporters.

Seph is a Labour activist, of course, so he goes too easy on Thornberry in other respects.

He says that her “willingness to stand up to her own party on civil liberties… has secured her place amongst politicians of principle.” TheyWorkForYou records her as having voted strongly for Labour’s anti-terrorism laws and very strongly for ID cards (which she didn’t think was a big deal, apparently). Apparently she only thinks that you should be banged up for a month, still the longest pre-charge detention limit in the western world, which is maybe good by Labour standards, but hardly strikes me as the principle of someone who holds civil liberties dear.

Seph also praises her for “Her dedication to progressive climate policy”. I think I must have missed that. She did promise to vote against Heathrow Expansion, but when it came to the crucial vote in Parliament, she refused to turn up for the vote. She also gave 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. Still, her Copenhagen Summit diary is a truly hilarious account of a bag-carrier who travelled (probably flew; the journey goes unwritten) to an international convention with nothing actually to do – not even meat in the room, as In the Loop might have put it.

Seph calls Thornberry’s intervention: “a deliberate attempt to mislead the public on what the Alternative Vote will do to constituencies”. As a long-time Thornberry watcher, I have to say that I’m not surprised. She’s a veteran attack dog/ human shield, often bussed in to do Gordon Brown’s dirty work. She was the only MP willing to defend Labour on TV during the Derek Draper affair, for example.

She will be the attack dog of this miserable little campaign, and a human shield for Prescott, Beckett et al.

Published in: on November 27, 2010 at 12:20 am  Leave a Comment  

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.”

Quite.

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)