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Category Archives: Elections

There are not enough women in politics. They are undoubted outnumbered by their male counterparts and this is a problem that is neither new nor party political. It is over 30 years since the male hegemony was broken in number 10 Downing Street with the election of one Mrs Margaret Roberts Thatcher. Yet since then, there have been four different Lib Dem leaders without a woman making a clear claim to their leadership. There have been five Conservative leaders and Ann Widdecombe’s efforts aside, there has not been one major female contender, likewise Labour, who aside from Margaret Beckett, have failed to produce a female politician to stake a serious claim the leadership. It needs stressing that this is not a party political issue and all parties need to do more to nurture their own talent in their respective parties.

This issue has of course come to ahead with the current acting leader of the Labour Party, Harriet Harman proposing that a quota of 50% men and women should make up the shadow cabinet. Her hope is that such a rule would drive forward gender equality and by making it compulsory for half the cabinet to made up by female members of the PLP. This represents, in my view, a fundamental miss-understanding of the nature of politics, identity and representation. Politics should not be about the identity of the individuals involved. It is about having a vision and a set of ideals for how the world should be shaped. The people that I personally want to be in power are those that I think can delivery on the values that I aspire to and the goals that they achieve. An individual’s gender, race, sexuality, fashion sense or choice of football team should be relevant when considering who a voter wants as a representative. Discrimination, of any kind, is an evil that should only be discouraged and defeated; it should be used when it is convenient because there is always an unfair victim, who loses out through no fault of his or her own. Thus discrimination goes against the core values that the Labour party stands for and is what drives many of us into politics.

The issue of positive discrimination and the arguments that surround it are not new to the Labour party. It was Labour that that controversially embraced all women shortlists as a short term measure and it has to be said had a big impact. When Labour swept to power in 1997, they did so with arguably the most diverse group of MPs in any parliamentary party in the country’s history. The role that all women shortlists played in this success cannot be understated. So is the 50-50 rule the natural next step? The next tough short term measure to strengthen party and country in the long term? Is an all-women shortlist the same as a quota? This is not clear.

The shortlists were introduced to aid the problems that wannabe female candidates had in getting selected, and the problems they had in being taken seriously by Constituency Labour Parties across the country. So the real question needs to be, is whether the leadership of the labour party can be trusted or not to give potential members of a shadow cabinet an equal chance, regardless of gender? It is not clear whether within the PLP; female MPs have had their chances restricted to warrant such a change. In fact the opposite would appear to be the case, with some excellent women ministers many of whom have held the great offices of state, notably the first ever female home and foreign secretaries, amongst many other positions taken up by women that previously had been part of the male monopoly on power. We, as a party, should be proud that we have led the way in diversifying parliament, but it is not only women that has broken through, with first ethnic minority cabinet ministers, first gay and disabled minsters as well. This is tantamount to way in which the party has grown to utilise talent from a wide range of backgrounds. Furthermore, it was notably how this was not case when the first Lib-Con cabinet sat; it was actually a return to the upper middle class, white male hegemony of power.

So which is the right way forward? There appears to be very little evidence to suggest that there is unequal opportunity within the PLP to warrant the constraints of a quota. It appears that the problem is numbers, or lack of them. Amongst the 258 Labour MPs, a mere 89 are women. This is the problem and it needs to be looked at by the new Labour leader. But this should be a wholesale review of not just the candidate selection process, but the whole way in which we engage people in politics. As we rebuild in opposition we need to consider how to engage the disenfranchised and the disinterested into politics, and how we best serve their interests. We need to ensure that we are recruiting members, supporters and candidates that we are looking beyond the end of our proverbial noses. I have personally thought for sometime that there are far too many MPs who have travelled a similar route into politics, from studying politics at university, to working in a think tank to becoming an MP by their late 30s to early 40s and touted as the next bright young things. We need to look further afield. The other major change should be in reforming the selection process, which is in need of being opened up so the same familiar faces do not become candidates.

Since the 1990s there have been too many stifled debates and contests, too many mates parachuted into safe seats and too many of the same old faces are in the PLP as a consequence. Thus, in rebuilding Labour we must heed the lessons of these fixed rules and contests control freakery with the purpose of delivering a pre-ordained narrative and objective. Thus the 50-50 rule is a natural extension of this habit of stifling real debate and real contests in favour of the pre-ordained narrative to show that we are reflective of society and delivering the aim of more women in politics. But this, like the 1990s reforms, fails to get to the heart of the issue and is more about image and headlines, than real hard won progress. I want the party to open up, engage with more than the familiar faces, engage people from different areas and different backgrounds, to take tough decisions and face the consequences of opening up debate, even if we do not get the outcome we wanted. All women short lists were good in many respects, but why are we, 13 years on since the 1997 election still discussing the issue? We are still discussing the issue because of our failure to delve into a real discussion of who were engaging with and how we select candidates. We need real reform here. We need to heed a lot of lessons from President Obama on how to utilise a young, energetic network of supporters and emulate our own open primaries where local residents can choose not only the MP but the candidates as well.

Thus there are two paths for the party to choose here. One based on the same principals that failed in the 1990s and another based on a radical change about to whom we are talking to and how we select individuals as candidates. This should be part of turning Labour party membership into real community organisers and not just a glorified postman of our own propaganda. The quota if introduced will fail to get to the real issue, which is not about who the leader picks in their cabinet, but who that leader has to chose from. By reforming the process around selection, we will, in the long run improve the talent pool that said leader has to choose from. When equality quotas have been introduced elsewhere, there are clear trends that for those who are discriminated against, are put off in the long term, if anybody wants evidence for this look into so many South African cricketers play in England. Quotas are not designed to drive real change but act as a symbolic sign of progress, but it is a fake progress that will hide the real issues, when they should be highlighted.

If the party makes the right choices to open up debate and participation, to engage in the issues that affects their lives, understands the different issues that affects a wide coalition of society then the party will win back power from the Conservative-Liberal coalition. However, if we fail to radically change how we engage, which would be exacerbated with more stifled debate and fixed rules (like 50-50), the public will have no reason to believe we are any different. It was notable yesterday that one Miliband backed 50-50, whilst the other talked about nominating another leadership challenger so that the party has the widest possible debate. It has been those two moments that made my mind up that only through David Miliband will the party look to radically change the way it operates and engage in real debate.


The name of this blog changed this week, changing the ‘Blairite’ to Labourite and I feel that the Labour Party needs to do something similar in changing its leadership. I have not changing from essentially being a Blairite and neither do I want a radical realignment to left for the Labour Party. The key issue is how the Labour views itself and how it divides itself. I changed the name of this blog because the term ‘Blairite’ feels dated and that the term ‘Labourite’ feels timeless, properly representing the Labour movement as a whole.

The real point here is that terms like “New Labour”, “Blairite” and “Brownite” are pointless terms that divide needlessly, and at a time when the Labour Party needs to unite, they are not helpful. The truth is that New Labour was about the modernisers in the 1990s making themselves sound and look different to people’s fears of the Labour Party. It created the opposite term, “old Labour”. Old Labour is a term that is often used by the critics of New Labour, as a means to revert to type, and as a call for the party to move to the left.

But what is “Old Labour”? Is it the party of Kinnock? Yet Kinnock started the modernising agenda, which Blair took further, it would be hard to say he represented old Labour. I hope those that all for old Labour are not so naïve and out of touch to as to hope for a return to the politics of Michael Foot, a leader who was a step out of his time thirty years ago. So what is the old Labour that they aspire towards? The party of Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan, leaders who themselves were hated by the left and were cast as betrayers of socialism. So what do they want? The truth is, I suspect they do not know, but they do not like the party as led by Blair and Brown, thus Old Labour is identified not by what it should be, but what it is not. Furthermore when Blair and co re-branded Labour as “New Labour”, it was an attempt to portray to middle England that there was no fear in voting Labour, it was an attempt after defeat in 1992 to re-assure marginal voters that they can trust the party. So by saying it was New Labour and by definition, it was not the Old Labour that voters rejected in 1992.

However, it is now a generation since Blair’s rebrand when he was elected leader sixteen years ago and the political, economic and social environment is now different. Thus the Labour party does not need the distinction anymore. It has been in power for thirteen years and it no longer needs to perpetuate the myth of ‘old’ Labour in order to be trusted by the British people. The challenge to the Labour Party has changed significantly, it has to do two things; show that it has learnt from the lessons of power and build a new agenda for the next ten years and more. It is clear now that “New Labour”, is now old Labour.

Yet the same overriding principals need to be maintained in so much as we must not be dogmatic about the means and always focus policy around the core aims and principals of the Labour Party. We need to be focused on social justice and fighting poverty. There is a lot of talk about inequality and fairness, but it is my view that this language clouds the core issues. We should not be interested in whether people at the top of society are getting richer, but be deeply troubled about low incomes. The issues do not change, but the means do, that was the core lesson of New Labour and that has not changed.

And so moving forward the party needs to unite, not be scared of new ideas and debates on how to tackle the core issues. What the Labour needs to do is open up and debate new ideas,  stopping the over centralised power in the party that has been so damaging. New Labour was about renewing and modernising the party, but it failed, and effectively died by not renewing itself. With the leadership contest the party now has the opportunity to renew and challenge itself, in essence the party is going through the process that it was denied in 2007, when the party refused to challenge Gordon Brown. That is the reason that, despite disagreeing with much of what Dianne Abbot says, I hope she gets the nominations required to get on the ballot. I have also changed from endorsing David Milliband, to having a more open mind and will assess all candidates based on what they say over the course of the campaign.

So there we have it. Three years after Brown’s infamous dithering about a snap election, two years after Labour’s by-election humiliations, after four weeks of campaigning and five days of horse trading we have a new government. The new government is unsurprisingly led by David Cameron’s Conservatives, but in coalition with the Liberal Democrats to make up the numbers. And we are told that this is the new politics in play, a new way of doing government, perhaps the change the Tories talked of.

In terms of policy from their manifestos, there has been some movement. The Lib Dems have conceded on immigration and Trident, issues that caused more harm than good to their campaign. Similarly the Tories have forsaken their pledges on the married tax allowance and the inheritance tax cut. The former was a long time pledge by Cameron to appease the right of his party and the detail, when it came; the policy had little substance, giving only £150 a year. The latter is a policy that had one objective, to stop Gordon Brown’s snap election in 2007, which it achieved, if anything it is a surprise that the policy has not been ditched earlier. Thus it is hard to envisage either party being too upset about losing said policies. The major movement appears to be giving jobs to Lib Dems. Nick Clegg has the non-job as the new Deputy Prime Minister, two of whom are subservient to George Osbourne, the new chancellor, and the other is in a role, which was earmarked for abolition in the Lib Dem manifesto.

The key issue of the election and of this parliamentary term is the budget deficit, the Lib Dems would appear to wield influence with the appointments of David Laws and Vince Cable to the treasury, yet despite these jobs, the substance is a Tory cuts agenda. Cable, like Labour, has attacked the Conservatives for risking a double dip recession with a plan to cut in this financial year. Whereas the Tories were clear that they would cut £6billion this year, as a “down payment” on the deficit. However, despite having two cabinet members in the treasury the agenda is that of the Tories, with the emergency budget to be held within 50 days to outline said cuts. The substance however, would appear to go further than even £6billion, with proposed cuts of 15-20% in most departments, with the exception of health and international aid. Coalition or not, it is clear that not only are the Tories going to cut as planned but they are going further sooner than they outlined during the election campaign.

Where the Lib Dems have influenced new government is over electoral reform and changes to the tax system. On the latter, the Lib Dem negotiators agreed to the raising of the threshold to £10,000, but did not agree to their plans on how pay for it. The initial policy was a traditional progressive tax measure, to increase the taxes on the wealthy, notably through the mansion tax, in order to cut tax at the bottom. In practice it is a classic Tory tax cut. A measure that will only reduce taxes on the poor by 6%; the greatest beneficiaries are middle income households, paid for by major reduction in public service funding. The ends were in the Lib Dem manifesto, but not the means. Thus the mandate for this measure is debateable, would Lib Dem voters have been happy with the alteration, or indeed, would the voters that they won over from Labour with a tax cut, which would not look out of place in the Tory manifesto? Similarly, there are a lot of noises about VAT, both parties campaigned saying that a rise in VAT was not in their plans. The Lib Dems went as far as, mimicking John Major’s tax bombshell poster from 1992. The Tories accused the Labour campaign of lying when it tried to pinpoint the likelihood of a VAT rise. VAT, like the tax cut was not outlined in their manifestos, both parties strongly made the case for not raising VAT, yet their coalition is implanting these measures without a mandate.

Worryingly most of all is the proposals for fixed term parliaments, a long term ambition of the Lib Dems and a clear victory from their negotiating team. However, there are two surprises in here, which are causes for concern. One is the fact that there will be five, not four year terms, surprising given how common four year terms are and that five year terms are normally reserved for when defeat is likely, as in 1992, 1997 and 2010. However, that detail aside, there is great concern about the fact that the new government, for all its talk, for all its appearance of change, is actually removing its own accountability. In this country we merge legislative and executive power, which is why a Prime Minister can only form a government with a command of a majority of MPs in the Commons. Yet, the new 55% rule means the government can lose the confidence of the house and yet carry on regardless. The key question is; would it be acceptable for legislation to pass with a vote of 45%? It means that a working majority is reduced from 326 to just 292.  Thus had the rule been in place for this election, David Cameron would have been in Downing Street on Friday, with a command of 47% of MPs. Is that democratic?

The Tories failed to get support in key parts of the country. In London, in the north, the midlands, in Wales and in Scotland, people were not flocking back to the Tories. They failed to gain more MPs in Scotland; they failed to take seats like Bolton West and Birmingham Edgbaston, which required swings of less than 5%, or 2% in the case of the latter. The new government cries that it needs the new rule to ensure government stability and to stop the markets overreacting and the four horseman of the apocalypse coming along. They want, what they call a new politics, but are they really suggesting that removing democratic accountability should be part of that new politics?

Furthermore, the 55% figure they have come up with is not in the interests of our system, or in the interests of accountability but in the interests of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties. They are proposing a major change to our constitution without mandate, consultation or reason. It is not done in the national interest but the interests of partisan parties clinging onto power. There are also critics who identify the Scottish model of a two thirds majority to dissolve the parliament. But that is a legislative body and does not have the executive powers of Westminster. Or, for example in Germany, where the head of state can dissolve parliament if it fails to function. In either case the two thirds rule is a super majority rule imposed for stability, but it is a rule that is imposed for different systems of government and different constitutions. The 50%+1 rule, which has been in place for centuries, it bought an end to James Callaghan’s government when Thatcher won power in 1979, and it is a clear, fair and democratic rule. The 50%+1 rule suits our system of government and constitution, other than partisan interest there is no need for this rule of democratic accountability to change.

We have a new government that says it is practicing a new politics, but in substance we have anti-democratic legislation, tax cuts for the rich, taxes increases for the poor and sweeping public services cuts. The Conservatives stood for change, but it sounds more like reversion to Thatcherite politics of division.

I am not sure that it was one of those “where were moments”, but having copiously kept a very close eye on today’s events I was very surprised to read of the Prime Minister’s decision to step down. Thus, just as is typical of the events of the post election period it was not straight forward and it was not clear. The announcement that Gordon Brown will stand down as Labour leader came as something of a surprise.  I had a assumed that he would step down as Prime Minster and as Labour leader simultaneously. The very fact that the events of today happened as they did has become typical not just of the events of the month, but of the year, in the build to the General election.

In “normal” circumstances an unpopular three term government, who have struggled in the polls for most of the third term would lose out to two youthful and energetic leaders, of two parties have been out of office for considerable time. Yet as polling day approached and as the governments economic policies started to prove their worth, the opinion polls tightened and the result in doubt. In truth that has been the case since the start of the year when the polls began to tighten and the reality is that the doubt has only exasperated as a result of the election.

The people have elected the hung parliament that has caused this week’s confusion. It is in this result that reflects the will of the people. There is not a desire, in the current circumstances, that no party will have supreme rule in this parliament. In short the public are demanding the parties work together, they have a preference at the moment for the Conservative party and they want the Labour Party to have less power, with the same body of Liberal Democrats. Against this backdrop Gordon Brown will no longer lead the country or the Labour party. It is to his credit that he will not cling onto power and he has taken on the constitutional duty that the wheels of government keep moving.

The most important factor that needs to be stated is that the need at this time is for strong government to deal with the economic crisis that is on the horizon. As much as I do not wish the Conservative party on the British public, they are the preferred choice of the British public and the parliamentary maths are clear that only with the Conservatives in power in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. It is for the Labour party to retreat to opposition and fight for what we as the social democratic party of this country from the opposition benches. The Labour government died with the last parliament and it must accept defeat and let go of power for now. This scenario is not ideal but it is far better than the prospect of attempting economic reform with the like of the Democratic Unionist Party and Alex Salmond and the SNP to hold the government to ransom at any opportunity.

It needs to be stressed that the way forward for the Labour party is unite behind a new leader.  It is my hope that leader will be David Miliband who will be able to rebuild the Labour party and prove that it has learnt the lessons of opposition and can make the argument that it is only Labour that can take the country forward. The party must pick the candidate with the right ideas and the appeal to the broadest electorate, as the Labour re-builds as the party that represents the whole of Britain. This is aligned to the fact that the Liberals will be in coalition with the Tories and the Labour party has the opportunity to portray itself as the true and strongest progressive party. This can only be achieved as the official opposition to the Tory-liberal government.

The resignation of Gordon Brown is clearly an end to an era and an end to a generation of leading Labour politicians. For all Lord Mandelson is a very influential figure, in terms of its leaders, Brown is the final Labour reformer of the 1990s New Labour revolution left. It is time for the next phase of Labour modernisation and it is the substance of this phase that is critical. This is why it is so important that David Miliband leads this new stage.

So the penny has finally dropped for Polly Toynbee, the long-winded and sometimes irritating comment veteran for The Guardian, that the great revival of socialism was not coming with the Brown premiership. Brown is in what can be informally termed as a spot of bother, both the economy and his opinion polls are only giving him bad news, whilst there is much discontent amongst his backbenchers. This all culminates in another national poll, which gives David Cameron’s Conservatives a 14 point lead and would send him straight into 10 Downing Street without the need to go begging to Nick Clegg to guarantee a working majority.

Wait a second there. I was told, not just by the weather vain Toynbee, but by others on the Labour left too, the likes of Diane Abbot, Ed Balls, Douglas Alexander, Peter Hain and others all gave assurances that “Gordon was the inevitable leader, who would be a great Prime Minister”. This message or variations on it were constantly spouted in political interviews and features, aligned to the assumption that Blair was an electoral liability.

That’s right. The only Labour leader to win, not two, but three consecutive terms. It was his leadership that took on the early confrontations and won them early on; because dropping clause four and taking on the hegemony of the unions in the Labour Party were long overdue reforms, where other “real Labour” leaders lacked the courage. These were not moves that made him popular because they were popular per se, but because they were the right things for party and country. Britain needed a moderate and effective Labour government after two decades of Tory rule. Blair delivered it and his popularity reflected this. Even in the latter days of this leadership when Iraq dominated his political image, his personal ratings dropped, he still lead the party to an unprecedented third term and saw off David Cameron’s honeymoon to hand over the keys to number 10 with Labour back in command of the polls. Toynbee, still clinging to assumption that Brown is the great socialist leader in waiting, credits the summer’s double-digit poll ratings with Brown. But how could they be Brown’s, he had barely put his posters on the walls when these polls were coming through. Last summer nobody knew what a Brown premiership would be like. How could they be his ratings? All he did in the summer was go on a dinghy in Gloucestershire and tell Andrew Marr that he would deal with the terrorist incidents in Glasgow. That’s it. There’s nothing to indicate how good or bad a PM has is from that.

The autumn was the first major test of Brown as a PM and he failed every test going. He thought and thought and thought and thought some more on whether to hold an early election, to the point where everyone, including those high up in the Labour ranks thought the election was inevitable. Northern Rock collapsed and he threw millions upon millions at it before making the inevitable decision to nationalise. Ok, I could go on, anyone who so much as glances at the Sun every now and then knows this. So what does this mean? It tells us that Brown was not responsible for good poll ratings at the end of last summer, but is responsible for the current disastrous polls.

So has Brown been unlucky? The government could pick up once events are more favourable. But how favourable do events need to be? All leaders have crisis when they are least expected. The only time William Hague edged ahead of Blair was during the fuel blockages. Hague backed the blockages and argued against rises in fuel duty and was duly rewarded in the polls. Less than a year later and a foot and mouth outbreak later, Blair was re-elected with the same size of majority; Hague resigned. They didn’t call him Teflon Tony for nothing. Then two years after a million voters protested over the invasion of Iraq, he won a third term. Blair had many a crisis and each time his leadership enhanced. He had many events go against him, but he weathered each storm and won elections.

This is not the work of an electoral liability that the Labour Party fooled itself into believing: Brown’s propaganda clique fooled it. It took six years of Blair government to suffer resignations over policy. He was undefeated in the Commons in his first two terms. Brown has a spilt cabinet, ministers who wouldn’t vote for him and commons defeats in waiting after less than a year. Blair suffered regular revolts from the so-called awkward squad, a bunch of old leftists who wanted a return to the myths of old Labour. Who is revolting against Brown? Stephen Byers and Stephen Pound; a centrist reformer and the most loyal of loyal MPs. And what are they revolting over? Gordon Brown’s decision to raise income tax on the lowest paid, in order to pay for a middle class subsidy. The lowest paid workers struggling so that middle income voters will be more inclined to vote Labour. That must be the great principal that Toynbee talks about.

The more of a Brown government we have, the more we see the worst of New Labour. The spin, the pandering the Daily Mail, the unprincipled pursuit of middle England, the lack of an overall vision and the opportunism. These have increased under Brown as we watch Cameron waltz’s into Downing Street. Oh, but don’t worry because it was Blair who was the electoral liability.