Wednesday, 30 May 2012

NEC Ballot - A View From Aycliffe

OK, my ballot papers arrived in the post today, so this is who I’m voting for and why.
I wondered whether it was maybe a presumption to post my voting intentions, and I certainly wouldn't want to sway you from your choices.  However, I usually share most of what I think about politics, so why should this be any different?
So, without prejudice:

* Luke Akehurst – tireless campaigner, principled, anxious to debate – a man with the clout and the desire actually to get an increased say for the rank-and-file.
* Lewis Atkinson – north-easterner, principled, energetic … and a brilliant manifesto in the booklet.
* Johanna Baxter – again, very energetic … and someone who takes accountability and reporting-back seriously.
* Ann Black – authoritative, respected, experienced … and a much-needed left-wing voice.
* Darrell Goodlife – outspoken, enthusiastic and a principled man with fine principles.

After that, whom does one choose from people you don’t know about?  After a degree of agonising (Christine Shawcroft seems an excellent candidate), for better or for worse, I eventually went with:


* Peter Wheeler – because he is from the north, and goodness knows we need a voices from outside London.

Really hard, because there has been so little out there – I tried to suss them out on the web, and one of my criteria was that a modern campaigner ought to have a web presence.  I also read their manifestos in the booklet. 

Eventually I went with:
* Nick Forbes – leader of Newcastle Council (obviously a top-class candidate).
* Nick Wallis – from Sedgefield (our local man), who seems very reasonable and approachable.

After that, again, who to choose from people you don’t know?  After a degree of agonising (Brynnen Ririe seems an excellent candidate), for better or for worse, I went with the following, on the grounds that they had a stronger web-presence:

* Liz Twist – a NHS Unionist, and who will be a vital voice in Labour policy-making.
* Veronica Killen – higher education unionist, and from what I have been able to find out, it seems like she will be a (much-needed) voice from the Left.

Police and Crime Commissioner

(Remember here that you have to number the candidates 1-3 – your vote will be discounted if you just mark one candidate with an ‘x’.)

After a very lot of agonising I went for:
1. Ron Hogg – on the strength of his faultless presentation to our Branch meeting, which showed him to be a man with sufficient experience, and a fine Labour vision for what might be achieved.
2. Peter Thompson – currently head of Durham Police Authority, principled and popular … a fine man.
3. Bill Dixon – well-recommended from within the CLP.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

So - Who Should I Vote For In The NEC Elections?

The National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Labour Party is the representative body of the Party, alongside the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), and it is vital that we get the best people for it.  This month we will get a list of names – most of them will be utterly unknown to us – so that we can vote for our NEC; but who on earth should we choose?

By what right?
Yes I KNOW I don’t really know what I’m talking about and yes I AM nervous about getting things wrong.  But – as always – I am happy to share what I do know with you, and you will have an opportunity in the comments to rebalance as you wish.

To be honest, I have heard of few of the candidates for Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC), and have never met ANY of them. 
For the National Policy Forum (NPF) it is even worse; I don’t even know who’s standing!

This – I hear you think – surely disqualifies this man from writing about the NEC elections … and there you would be wrong.
Because – inasmuch as I in my ignorance am 100% representative of 99% of the thousands of Labour supporters who will be voting in the NEC and NPF elections – in fact I am JUST the person to comment.

None of the people who are going to be elected will really be representative of the Labour Party rank-and-file, because most of the Labour Party rank-and-file will never have heard of them, and will be voting in the dark for something they don’t really comprehend.
So – since I assume that most of the other people writing about this issue know (or pretend to know) what they are writing about – that makes me the ONLY genuinely grassroots-representative commentator on this business.

Anyway, I read on twitter this morning that the ballot papers are out, and so that’s why I’m writing … to give you, and the candidates, the benefit of my crushing ignorance.

The Candidates
The one person I do ‘know’ well enough to vote for is @lukeakehurst, who is prolific on the web (his blog is here).  If Mr Akehurst and I were ever to meet, I am sure we would find ourselves diametrically opposed.  Mr Akehurst is right-wing, pro-Israel, and can get aggressive.  But he is bright-red, true-through, loyal Labour to the core.  I know how hard he works – and works at down-to-earth-things like #LabourDoorstep – because he tweets everything he does.  He is always the first to share a blog-record of NEC meetings.  He has also published his manifesto on the web and it includes – though lower down than I would have wished – a commitment to increase the say of the rank-and-file in policy-making (which is the only thing which REALLY matters in this election).  Like him or hate him, Mr Akehurst is the exemplar of what every NEC member should be, and he deserves re-election.

The other person I’ve heard of is Ken Livingstone.  Mr Livingstone will no doubt be elected on name-recognition and notoriety alone … but I hope he isn’t.  There comes a time when people need to realise that they’ve had their day, and it’s time to step down and, personally, I feel that time has arrived for Mr Livingstone.  If he does get elected, as I’m sure he will, I hope he will adopt the role of elder statesman rather than activist, even though I suspect my politics are much closer to his than to those of Mr Akehurst.

Other names I recognise by reputation.  Ann Black is very highly thought of.  She has more CLP nominations than any other candidate.  She is ‘on the left’ politically and a member of Labour Left.  She also publishes her accounts of the NEC meetings, though apparently later than Mr Akehurst.  She has written an article which can be regarded as a manifesto, which includes an aspiration* to communicate more with members. 

I am told that @JohannaBaxter (#JB4NEC) is very active – she has certainly visited dozens of CLPs during her term on the NEC – and she too declares that she wants greater member involvement in policy-making. She is the subject of this eulogy by Lord Jim Knight.

For north-east people, you will probably be wanting to vote for @LewisAtkinson from Gateshead, who has made contact with me, and seems a lively and motivated person.  I thought Mr Atkinson was the only north-east candidate, but I heard at today’s CLP that there may be a chap from Sunderland standing – if there is anybody out there who knows him, give me a wave and I will add his name here.

The other name I just must run past you is Darrell Goodlife. Mr Goodlife is a member of
Labour Left, so you will appreciate that his politics and mine merge almost seamlessly – he runs a great blog called Moments of Clarity, so you can suss out his opinions before you vote.  The other thing I like about him is that he is a History graduate, which puts him a cut above the rest in my opinion!  I am sure that he doesn’t expect to win, but feels that a good showing would publicise issues that need raising; I tend to agree with him, so you might find him worth a tick.

The Slates
There are two slates that I am aware of.

Progress, as you may be aware, are on the right-wing of the Party.  They are very slick and well-funded, and closely connected to the Shadow Cabinet and therefore the policy-making centre of the Party.  I sometimes get a bit exasperated by some of the quasi-Tory stuff they come out with, but you can probably count on them to be safe, sensible and centrist.
The Progress slate carries:
- Luke Akehurst (sitting NEC member)
- Joanne Milligan (National Policy Forum constituency rep)
· Florence Nosegbe (Lambeth Council’s Cabinet Member for Culture, Sport and the 2012 Games)
- Ellie Reeves (sitting NEC member)
- Ruth Smeeth (parliamentary candidate for Burton in 2010)
- Peter Wheeler (long-serving NEC member until 2010)

The other, very powerful slate is the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance.
Their slate is:
- Ann Black
- Ken Livingstone
- Kate Osamor
- Christine Shawcroft
- Darren Williams
- Peter Willsman his rather impressive article/manifesto is here.
The CLGA always do very well in the NEC elections, because they are much more left-wing in their approach than Progress.  Their web-presence, I have to say, is complicated in the extreme.

The saddest thing about both these slates, I feel, is that only five of the twelve candidates come from outside London, two of those are from Oxford, and the most ‘northern’ is Peter Wheeler from Salford – which raises all kinds of questions about the nature of the Labour Party and how seriously it ever intends to involve its rank-and-file members … most of whom, let’s face it, come from the north.

I have published this, as you are aware, not in the belief that I have any great insight into who-you-ought-to-vote-for, but in the belief that I might as well share what I know so that you can add it to your own knowledge.
I am hoping that readers who know other candidates – different facts – and perhaps simply more(!) – than I will be able to redress my personal ignorance on this subject via their comments below.

Please note that I am trying to do my best here, and if you are aggressive, unpleasant or abusive I will simply delete you.

However, if I have made an error, please tell me and I will correct it.
If you wish to add a recommendation or comment on any of these candidates or others I would be delighted.
And if you are a candidate, please feel free to use the comments to appeal or inform as you wish.

Because, at the end of the day, we all want the same thing – the best-possible NEC for the Labour Party.

* The only problem with any existing member assuring you that they are committed to improved communication with members is their record; they didn’t get very far last year, for example, did they, when the NPF met only twice, and briefly.  There is a real tendency for candidates to get a leg-up from grassroots members by agreeing that grassroots opinions need a greater impact at the highest – only to ‘go off’ the idea somewhat when they find themselves at the highest level.
Ms Black’s article refers to the very patchy member response to attempts at consultation on policy.  If that is so, then I hope she will acknowledge that the aspiration for member-involvement in policy-creation is not wrong, and simply that the NEC and NPF need to do much more in terms of member education, consultation procedures and CLP processes AS WELL as steadily improving member participation.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Why are the Tories failing to grow the economy?

The recent spat between the Tories and the business community is the result of the government’s growing realisation that the stimulus they are giving business is failing to deliver growth and jobs.
It is not enough simply to give business loans and orders … we need to build in economic growth as a contractual requirement.

It has always been that the Conservative Party is the Party of business.  To be fair, Tony Blair broke the monopoly for a while, but Gordon Brown and Ed Balls handed it back.  Business turned blue in 2010, and the Tories came in on a promise to ‘transform the British economy’ and ‘re-open Britain for business’.
Labour, we are still told, ‘lack economic credibility’ – even this week, at PMQs, Cameron labelled Mr Balls a ‘muttering idiot … who left us with an enormous deficit and a financial crisis’.
Conservatism, at least in the public mind, is back in bed with business.

The Tory model has failed
Or so it seemed.
To be honest, that relationship is beginning to look a little tetchy nowadays (indeed, the word in one Telegraph article was ‘poisonous’).  Big business, in the person of Justin King, the chief executive of Sainsbury’s, has recently launched a ‘stinging attack’ on the government for doing too little to support growth. 
In response, Philip Hammond has told businessmen to ‘stop whingeing’, William Hague has told them to ‘get on your plane’ … and even David Cameron has expressed exasperation that industry does not seem to be taking advantage of the opportunities the government is creating for growth.
In his turn, CBI president Sir Roger Carr has retorted that business did not appreciate the government cracking the whip – ‘there are no whingeing businessmen here’.  Instead, we learn from the FT, he called on the government to cut regulatory burdens, invest in infrastructure, clarify energy policy, eliminate queues at Heathrow airport and help to increase the flow of finance to small and medium-sized companies (SMEs).

To be fair, Mr Cameron might be forgiven for regarding business as a particularly unappreciative bedfellow.  The government has poured £_billions into quantitative easing.  ‘Project Merlin’ in February last year planned to loan £190bn to businesses during 2011 - including £76bn to SMEs.  Corporation tax has been reduced to the point where it is one of the lowest rates in Europe. 
Meanwhile, for all industry’s constant bleat about regulatory constraints, last year the government launched its Red Tape Challenge, as a result of which the Home Office is proposing cuts to our equality rights, and #Beecroft has proposed abolitions of workers’ rights so extreme that Vince Cable called them ‘bonkers’ … only to find the Institute of Directors saying the Tory's plan offers ‘little to satisfy those in search of worthwhile deregulation’.
Yet in March this year the government set up another loan guarantee scheme which will give access to yet another £20billion of cheap money.

All that stimulus, draconian deregulation … yet no growth!
What is going wrong?

An unrealistic expectation
The underlying problem is that the Tories have bought into their own propaganda.  They are acting on their own ideological myth.  They really believe that businessmen are the ‘wealth-creators’, and that – if you just give them enough financial motivation and enough freedom-- business will automatically create wealth for the nation.

It is, of course, in Mr Cable’s words, ‘bonkers’.
The business of business is not to create wealth for the nation.  The business of business, as the American automobile executive Alfred P Sloan said, simply, ‘is business’!
It is, therefore, simply naïve to believe that if you throw cheap money at industry in a time of recession, firms are going to go out and expand, and take on workers, and energise the economy.

If you are a firm with a debt of £100,000 at 7%, and the government offers you a cheap loan, you are going to take the money, pay off your expensive loan, and sit out the recession in a stronger position.
Much the same goes for the ‘investment in infrastructure’ that everybody is demanding.  If you are a firm, and you win a government order, you first thought is not: ‘Oh goody – now we can expand employment and revitalise the local economy’.  Instead, you use the order to take up the capital and employee slack in your own company, use the income to consolidate and retrench, and hope to ride the recession.
This applies to an even greater degree to deregulation.  I am not the first writer to point out that making it easier to sack people ... in the hope that it will increase employment ... is a complete non-sequitur. The simple reality is that making it easier to sack people is almost certainly going to lead to ... more sackings. 
If anything, firms want greater 'sacking’ powers, not because they want to take on more workers, but because they want to get rid of some of the workers they have … and hunker down to survive the recession.

Taking a more general view of #Beecroft, what the Tories have not realised is that a working business is a critical balance between capital and labour.  Yes, it is true indeed that an entrepreneur needs the prospect of profit to motivate his risk-taking.  But equally the workers need a feeling that they are genuinely benefitting from their labour to motivate them to work hard and accurately.  Giving the employer the whip hand not only fails to motivate growth, it demotivates the worker.  A scared and resentful workforce is not a healthy workforce, whatever the Tory right will tell you.
And, more relevantly to our current discussion, an employer with the opportunity to maximise his profit by screwing down his workforce will actually be less motivated to increase his profit by going out and growing his firm – he won’t need to.

I say all this without any malice.  I am not being bitter or angry when I acknowledge that the business of business is business.  That, to me is just common sense and in the right order of things.  If you have a business, OF COURSE your first responsibility is to that business.

It is simply not true that businessmen are only interested in profit, not growth.  It is simply not true that all they want to do is to bully and browbeat their workers into working harder for lower wages.
But until the government gets its head around the way businessmen work, businessmen will ALWAYS act first and foremost for the benefit of their firm – and that may or may not necessarily automatically be to the benefit of the economy.  And it almost certainly will include as few jobs as possible, not as many jobs as we might wish.

So the Tory plans for growth-through-helping-business are failing simply because businesses do not see it as their job to promote growth.  They see it as their job to safeguard and prosper their business … and at the moment you would have to be an idiot to undertake speculative growth and take on a lot of workers.  

Putting it another way and much more succinctly, supply-led growth is a non-starter in the present economic environment.

Labour’s lost opportunity
What about Labour, then?
Is there an opportunity for Labour to re-take the role of ‘industry’s-friend’?

Clearly, the answer is no.  Labour is nowhere near having a coherent or effective strategy for business or growth. 
‘Black Labour’ would merely echo the failed policies of the Tories.
Meanwhile, the Shadow Cabinet is saddled with a Five-Point Plan which nobody can even remember.
And even the Left – those who are prepared to go down the road of Keynesian stimulus either by borrowing or taxation (depending on author) – have little that takes into account the fact (as the Tories have demonstrated) that it is NOT enough just to throw money at industry and hope it will create growth.
The answer is contractual
So what IS the answer then?

In my humble opinion, it has to be that the government needs to learn how to do business with business.
And that involves learning how to make a tough deal.

Our government hands out each year literally £_billions of contracts.  Indeed, this Tory government intends to hand out more than ever, because it is busy marketising state provision – for example in the NHS.

At the moment, these contracts are required to demonstrate best value – basically, that we (as the client) are getting the best deal for the cheapest price.

What we need to do is to change the basis of the allocation of contracts, and to require that ‘benefit-to-the-local-economy’ be included as a determinant factor within the ‘best value’ process.

Thereby, in simplistic terms, a firm which offered a fabulous service for a low price via a call centre in India could lose out to a firm which offered a fabulous service for a perhaps slightly higher price … but via a call centre on the local industrial estate. 
Similarly – if we ever do introduce economic stimulus through investment in infrastructure – a construction project might be given to the firm which guaranteed to create so-many thousand jobs for young people and apprentices … as well, of course, as doing an excellent job for a competitive price.

The Tories have just abolished ‘Harman’s Law’, which required that procurement be done with an eye to social equalisation. 
What they need to do is to replace it with a law which makes it an audited requirement that all procurement takes into account also the benefit-to-the-local-economy.

There is nothing unethical or anti-competition about this.  At the moment, when it gives out the pitiful sums under the Regional Growth Fund, the government quite validly and legally requires that the applicant firms calculate how many short-term and long-term jobs will be created, and what will be the long-term effect on the economy … and only the firms which can demonstrate the best outcomes are given the funding.
So why, for goodness sake, isn’t the government building similar requirements into every government and local government contract it offers.

You will soon find companies, seeking access to those £_billions of contracts, coming up with all sorts of creative plans to source their supplies locally, find their labour locally, and contribute proactively to the local economy.

(And then, sharing a personal beef with you, government needs to learn how to build real, meaningful penalties for failure into contracts – but that’s another Rant).

Being realistic and really quite right-wing, I can accept that we do need to throw money at the businessmen, and to motivate them through profit-opportunities.
But, as we do so, we need to recognise that if we just throw money at them all that will happen is that they will take it.

If we are going to dole out the money, and inasmuch as we do, we need to make sure that business delivers, for every monitored penny of it, not just excellent services, but real, tangible, measureable outcomes in terms of jobs and growth.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

We Have A Government Which Is Actively Trying To Make Us Hate Each Other

I don’t really have time for this, but I have realised something so hugely important that I am going to scribble it down before the immediacy leaves me.
Because I have just come fully to appreciate the truly, wholly divisive nature of this Tory government.

Now, I will understand if at this point you look askance at me and tell me that this idea is ‘old hat’.
We’ve long known, you might sneer, that the Tories ‘divide and rule’.  And that would be fair enough.

But what I realised only a few minutes ago was the insinuating, pervasive nature of the Tories’ ‘divide and rule’ policy. For it is not just A Tory tactic – it is THE Tory tactic, and I only just realised now how it lies behind everything they do.

The ‘Easy Targets’

Let’s start with the easy ones.
It cannot have slipped your notice, for instance, that before the Tories unleash a round of cuts or of legislation which hacks away at our rights, they precede it with a surge of hate-propaganda.  Before they cut benefits, or impose a cap, or vow to weed out applicants, we have days of ‘scrounger’ talk; the idea is to build up a wave of anti-poor or anti-disabled feeling on which they ‘surf-in’ the legislation. 

Equally, attacks on the public sector pensions and pay, and the lay-off of public sector workers and civil servants, is floated in on the crest of an appeal to private industry to see the public sector as a leech on society.  Good people believe this – people whom you regard as friends and family. I have just given up on a twitter-argument I was having with a chap called @VernonsBoots.  I tried to get him to see that public sector workers merely sell – at cost – essential services that will otherwise have to be provided by the private sector making a profit.  I tried to get him to see that public sector workers, like private sector workers, sign a contract and do a job, and that in that they are no different to private sector workers.  But it was all in vain:

“Why should they get better than those in the private sector … They shouldn't be as they are paid out of tax money … paid for by private sector. So I'm also buying your flat screen tv too …”
and so on.

What is true for sections of society, is also true for regions of the country.  The narrative behind the push for regional pay is that certain areas of the country are having it cushy – that the people there are living well on the biased effect of national wage agreements, paid for by the hard-working south.  ‘It’s not fair’ goes up the cry again, and on that basis we cut regional grants, re-allocate the business rate, pull government offices out of the regions, redistribute NHS funding according to age not deprivation, and – I have heard today – cut public sector wages in the north-east by 10%.  And thus the Tories have set up a south versus north antagonism under cover of which they introduce their policies.

And then, of course, there are the hate-groups they use to stoke up fear in general – ‘the unions’, ‘immigrants’, ‘Muslims’, ‘travellers’.  One focus of hostile attention at the moment are ‘gays’ who are, apparently, seeking to destroy the fabric of our society and morality because they want the right – as equal citizens – to be married.

Perpetuated antagonism
This fomenting of division applies as much when they are announcing positive policies as when they are applying harsh ones.  It is not just that they use divide-and-rule to force in tough policies – they use the same principles when they are proposing generous ones.

Part of this can be explained by the Tory faith in ‘competition’, but the effect is still to set citizen against citizen, place against place.  When the Tories abolished the regional development agencies they replaced them with the Regional Growth Fund … for which firms have to bid, in competition with each other.  A real worry in the north-east is the way it is losing business to Scotland, which has – under devolution – greater flexibility. 
Similarly, one of my worries as my town fights a huge windfarm literally across the road is the way the system of subsidies is splitting the community, setting the rich farmers who will be benefitting against the old and the poor who will be paying, the ‘green’ citizens against the campaigners etc.

Everything is phrased in terms of antagonism.  When we introduce Academies, we state that preferential treatment will be given to the ‘best’ schools; implication – that there are ‘worst’ schools somewhere which we need to castigate and attack … by turning them into Academies too!  A push for ‘Free’ schools is similarly formed in terms of a campaign against the implied inadequacies of the existing local schools.

Recently David Cameron announced a scheme to help parents. To be cynical, the Tories have just abolished Surestart, which was doing genuine work to address disadvantage in the earliest years, so we know for a start that this is going merely to be a shallow piece of flim-flam.  But have you clicked the underlying message … which is that the blame for underachievement and worklessness lies – not in the state of the economy, nor in social deprivation – but in poor parenting.  Bad parents!  Parents who have lots of children and claim benefits and thereby set themselves up for an arson attack, as one Daily Mail journalist recently claimed blatantly on daytime TV.  And thus we applaud a scheme which gives them a Boots voucher and hounds them into parenting classes, the failures.

Hatred is Mutual
Now, I know that there’s nothing yet very eye-opening about an argument which points out how the Tories scapegoat different sections of the community, but bear with me for a while.
Because there are two things which it is important to realise.

The first is that this is not a case of a government siding with a ‘Tory’ section of the electorate against a target ‘other’ section.  I am sure that the government has an eye to their voting supporters, but one cannot simplistically portray the Tories as representing ‘their rich friends’ against the poor, or the south against the north, etc.

The situation is far too fluid and random for that.  A person who is being manipulated to hate one moment will find themselves in a hated group the next.  White working class families who are one moment railing against immigrants and teachers, will suddenly find themselves the butt of criticism because they are in receipt of working-tax credit, or because their son is disabled, or their daughter out-of-work.  Tory Britain isn’t like Nazi Germany, where ‘Volk’ Germans were encouraged to hate the Untermenschen.  In Tory Britain, everybody is encouraged to hate everybody else.

So, the direction of hate is not one-way.  The disabled community may be accused in the press, but they are filled with a fury and bitterness in return.  The south might despise the ‘lazy’, un-entrepreneurial north but, trust me, northerners hate the ‘greedy, grasping’ southerners at least as much.  The rich might despise the ‘scrounger’ poor, but the poor hate the rich with equal venom.

Sacrificing even their own

What is the eye-opener is that this process is aided and abetted by the government.

A while ago, Cameron came under scrutiny because he seemed to be adopting Ed Miliband’s criticism of the bankers, ‘predator’ capitalism and overcharging electricity providers.  Equally, George Osborne’s budget, with its comments about the ‘moral repugnance’ of tax avoidance, and its granting of a tax break for millionaires but a granny tax for pensioners, has led some commentators to suggest that he had lost his political nous.
Not a bit of it.  These Tories are quick to direct hatred at the very people whom they have been encouraging to hate others.  It suits the Tories down to the ground when we all hate Ed Lester, Stephen Hester and Fred Goodwin.  They will hand over their friends to public revulsion without batting an eyelid.  Is not Leveson, however fine its underlying motives, not just a day-by-day invitation to hate – the press, the police, the Murdochs, Rebecca Brooks … the list is endless.  I even found myself hating the celebrities who sat there and bleated about their loss of privacy – they had been anxious enough to court the media when they were trying to become famous.

All this is music to the Tories’ ears, because they WANT a society in turmoil and mutual suspicion.  They want a society where everybody is looking angrily at what everybody else is getting, hanging on angrily to their own small corner, whilst begrudging others even the little they have.

It is a conscious policy, and I have decided that it is at least possible to argue that it underpins EVERYTHING the Tories do.

What it means for the Tories
The second realisation is to understand why our government has set out actively to create mutual hatred.
Part of the reason is because they are just like that themselves. They come from the bitchy, one-upmanship world of private school, university and the stock-broker belt.  I know that this constitutes a decency-deprived upbringing, and we ought to pity them, but the truth is that social Darwinism comes naturally to these people, and they are merely setting about making Britain in their own image … because they don’t know any better.

I think there is also a general sense of ‘divide-and-rule’.  West Bradford was the icing on the cake for the Tories – where one group of Muslims rebelled against another group of Muslims … and Labour lost the seat as a result.  If the Tories can provoke the Unions against Labour, or Socialists against Blairites, or goad an NHS Party to stand against Labour candidates, or create a situation where the Greens poach middle-class Labour, or the BNP poach working-class Labour, or the SWP poach left-wing Labour, then they have won.

Most of all, however, I think that cynical Tories realise that a society in turmoil and mutual suspicion ALWAYS moves politically right.  When you are consumed with anger and hatred against different sections of society, you don’t vote Labour – for a government which is going to try to help those very sections of society you have learned to despise.  You vote Right, for a law-and-order government which assures you it will clamp down hard on the groups you hate, and tells you that you are alright to hate them, and alright to focus on hanging onto the little you have (and which other groups, equally motivated by hatred of you, would take from you).
Labour might be streets ahead in the polls now but – when it comes to the crunch – which Party do you trust to ‘get’ your enemies? 

What Labour has to cope with
The crazy thing about all this is that it is ALL a manufactured mirage.  There may be different sub-groups within society, but ultimately society is inter-connected and mutually dependent. 

At the end of the day, private industry will be destroyed if it allows the government to impoverish public sector workers, because private industry makes a good proportion of its money selling its product to public sector workers. 
Similarly, if the north goes bankrupt, the first people to suffer will be the southerners, because their wealth is generated from favourable terms of trade with the north. 
The rich can’t exclude the poor from housing, benefits and (now) the NHS … because they make their money from what in practical terms is a huge state subsidy, delivered indirectly through the poor as a vector.

Yet, equally, the poor can’t do without the rich either.  If the rich leave, and take their spending and investment with them, it is we who will be impoverished.  Similarly – though I am hesitant to say it – we need to face the fact that we cannot survive as a society and economy without the banks and the bankers.

If Labour is to break through, it needs to counter this divisive Tory narrative of hate, and create a vision of what can be achieved when society works together.
And that is going to be very hard in an environment of cuts and recession.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Losing Our Equality

‘Equality’ is an abstract concept which lacks the glamour of issues such as health or welfare. So I doubt people will ever get as fired up about threats to the Equality and Human Rights Commission as they did, say, about the NHS.
But it is something we OUGHT to consider … it has been the dream of society ever since the Peasants’ Revolt of 1388, and it underlies many of the ‘rights’ which we cherish today.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission
Equality in Britain today is defined by Labour’s Equality Act of 2010, and defended by the non-departmental public body set up in 2006 – the Equality and Human Rights Commission.  The EHRC united, under one roof, functions previously undertaken by three separate bodies – the Commission for Racial Equality, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Disability Rights Commission. 

Consolidating these functions into one body made sense; unfortunately, it also neatly parcelled up our rights into one easily-attacked organisation for the Tories … for whom, as we know, equality of human beings is the very LAST thing they want.

The Commission’s most famous success was its 2009 action against the BNP's restriction of membership to ‘indigenous Caucasian’ groups, but its work and very existence embodies much more – it is, in fact, the culmination of half a century of fighting for our human rights. 
It is the defender of our equal rights: recently, the EHRC issued a strong condemnation of the government’s cuts to welfare benefits and EMA, saying there was no evidence the government had adequately considered in its decision-making process the effects of its policies on ethnicity, disability or gender.

Of course, as with so many things Labour, the EHRC was a chaos.  The Audit Commission refused to sign off its accounts three years running.  It was bureaucratic, slow and unwieldly and drew a great deal of criticism. 
Even so – although the government's consultation report claims that ‘almost a thousand responses were received; most were unhappy with the EHRC’s performance to date’ – when the Public and Commercial Services Union submitted a Freedom of Information request, they found ‘the responses clearly show overwhelming opposition to the repeal of specific sections of the Equality Act 2006’.

Goodbye EHRC
Nonetheless, yesterday, the government proposed to slash the budget, staff and functions of the EHRC and to:
* halve its budget by 2015.
* sack nearly two-thirds of its staff.
* repeal its good relations powers (under which it tackled hate crime, disability harassment etc.).
* curtail its monitoring powers and reduce its requirement to report from every 3 to every 5 years.
* axe its helpline and grants.
* end its provision of conciliation in non-workplace disputes.
* pass the handling of disabled air passengers’ complaints over to the Civil Aviation Authority.
* reduce the number of Board members, replacing them with members with ‘stronger business skills’.
* and make the EHRC’s approach to enforcing equality law ‘much more proportionate and appropriate for small and medium sized enterprises’ (as part of the Red Tape Challenge Spotlight on Equalities).

Just how detrimental to the working of the EHRC these measures will prove to be is, of course, debateable, but PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka summed up the Unions fears when he said: 

“Rather than helping to make our society more equal, these cuts risk setting us back decades and abandoning people who need help. Investing in equality is not 'red tape', it is absolutely necessary in recognition of the fact that, after years of fighting, sections of our communities still face discrimination and hatred.”

The greatest loss – Harman’s Law

One of the triumphs of the Labour government in the area of equality, and which you may not know about, was the so-called ‘Harman’s Law’ – the requirement of the 2010 Equality Act which (building on the EHRC's general duty ‘to perform its functions with a view to making society fairer’) imposed a ‘socio-economic duty’ on public bodies to consider the effect of their policies on the gap between rich and poor.

It is easy to see how this duty was something that the Tories hated.  If properly applied, it would have forced Councils to give more money to schools in poorer areas, it would have forced the government to award NHS funding by deprivation not by longevity, and it would have forced the Chancellor to favour the north-east over the south-east, and the low-paid over the super-rich, in his budget.

But now – labelling the provision ‘socialism in one clause’ – Theresa May is abolishing the requirement.
And whereas the cuts to the funding and powers of the EHRC might be debateable, the loss of this key principle is not.

In 2011, Theresa May was quite correct when she said:
“You can’t solve a problem as complex as inequality in one legal clause.  You can’t make people’s lives better by simply passing a law saying that they should be made better.”

But the ‘general duty’ was about much more than a simple function, a legal clause; it was a declaration of intent … a declaration of war on the causes of poverty, as well as its results. 
It envisaged a society which had at the forefront of every decision a determination to do away with economic inequality.

Fixing Inequality into Society
Critical here, are the grounds on which Theresa May justified her decision: 

“At its worst, it could have meant public spending permanently skewed towards certain parts of the country … We shouldn’t just compensate people for the barriers to opportunity that they face.”

And it is here that the contrast between Labour and the Tories is most stark.

For what is wrong – given that the south-east’s business advantage sees a continuous flow of wealth out of the north – with a system where every government department was required to make sure that its policies did not make the situation worse?  What is wrong with policies which attempt to strengthen north-east industry, and even to redistribute funding back the north-east?

Labour sees inequality as something to be addressed and redressed … as something which it is the duty of government and public bodies to compensate for, and to work to eradicate.
The Tories see equality as an election slogan – a fine-sounding principle to which to pay lip-service – and their focus is much more about providing a fair and ‘equitable’ return to employers and the advantaged.  Within such a vision of society, inequality becomes almost part of the natural order of things … an inevitable cost and consequence of opportunity.

As Harriet Harman said in 2010: 

“A person’s socio-economic background is still a key factor in determining their life chances – how they get on at school, the chances of continuing with their education, their employment prospects and their health.”

And that is why the abolition of the general duty – of ‘Harman’s Law’ – is such a disaster … because it threatens to embed economic inequality into our society as a permanent and immutable truth of life.
And that, of course, is the kind of Britain which this rich man’s government wants…

Monday, 7 May 2012

Apathy And Disengagement Versus Pragmatism: Labour Is The Only Way To Make Things Happen

If you live in Aycliffe and you’re fed up with the world as it is … join our facebook group!

The Newton Aycliffe Labour Group of Branches (NALGOB) has a facebook page.  Don’t get over-excited – we only have about half-a-dozen active participants – but we have some good discussions, and sometimes we have heated ones!

Chunkymark gets us arguing
Today I had a – shall we say lively – debate with a lady who is one of our most respected and thoughtful contributors.  I won’t give you her name, but let’s call her Joan.  She posted a YouTube video of someone called ‘chunkymark’ having a shout about politics-in-general and the Labour Party in particular.  Don’t watch the video if you’re offended by swearing.

Joan loved it. 
I thought it was awful.

Joan thought it summed up what was wrong with politics today. 
I agreed, but thought rather that if he wanted to improve things he would have done better to wash his mouth out and join the Labour Party to help change it from within.

Joan said that this was precisely the point – it was the system which was wrong, and to be part of it was to be part of the problem. 
I replied that – if our democracy is indeed failing to deliver – then the answer is not to disengage from the system but, like a marriage, to work harder at it to put it right.

Joan did not agree; the current system IS oppressive, we don’t live in a democracy, and we need to create a new way of politics, based on new values, a new way of being democratic that actually empowers people to take part, and be heard.

Disengagement only works in the abstract
Let’s get it straight from the start – Joan is NOT talking rubbish.  She is saying what many people in our society genuinely believe, and what many more probably feel to be the case without having fully articulated the thought. 
How many times have you heard ‘You’re all the same’ on the #LabourDoorstep?

My hairdresser told me the other day that all politicians were liars. 
But I am a politician, I reminded him – was he saying that I was a liar? 
He wouldn’t explicitly say that I was a liar, but neither would he back down.

Throughout the country there is a huge hostility towards politics and politicians, and it translates into apathy at the polls.
People really do believe that ‘the system’ is corrupt and rotten-beyond-retrieval, and that disengagement is not just understandable, it is necessary.

Do I have any answer for Joan?
Well, yes I do.
Because – whilst I appreciate many of the things she is saying – what I would argue is that (like my hairdresser) statements and beliefs like hers only work when they are kept abstract and theoretical.  As soon as you bring them down to actual organisations and actual people, they are far less true, and even downright libellous.

‘Elected representatives’ … or Phil Wilson?
What are we told about Parliament, for example?
* ‘Pigs’ with their snouts in the trough.
* ‘Posh boys’ who don’t know the price of milk. 
* Remote, inaccessible, out-of-touch.

But our MP is the excellent constituency MP Phil Wilson!
Anybody less ‘posh’ it is hard to imagine, although he is always very smart and polite. 
And as for ‘remote and inaccessible’, you can contact him by phone, by email, on twitter … and most Fridays you can go down to Aycliffe town centre and talk to him direct in his office.  You do not need to fume about Parliament and our laws … you can go and tell him and try to persuade him of what you are saying!  Phil will not always agree, but I have never known him not listen.  He has led campaigns about bad landlords, the north-east economy, Hitachi and many other things – you can go onto the internet and look up what he has said.  He is a good man and a caring MP.

When people talk in the abstract, it is easy to dismiss our elected representatives as crooks; but I doubt that Joan would – as she could if she had a mind – go down to his office and tell him so to his face.

And so you have to ask the question. 
How much is it that our democracy is remote, inaccessible and corrupt?  And how much is it that we have all simply become too lazy to be active within our democracy?

‘Useless liars’ … or John D Clare?
The point becomes even more forceful at local level. 
At Aycliffe level, ‘the democratic system’ which is supposed to be so corrupt and ineffectual is the Town Council.
And the Town Council is me and 29 other local people.  They have names.  Many are retired, but we have housewives, shop-assistants, tradesmen, teachers, chemical-workers, civil servants etc.  Many have spent a lifetime trying to serve the community, not just as Councillors, but as youth-club leaders, Community volunteers, Rotarians etc.
These people – of whom I am proud to be one – are the ‘system’ which, if we are to believe the rhetoric, is flawed beyond repair.

And so you have to ask the question.
How many of the people who write us off as useless have ever been to a town council meeting?  How many of them have a clue what we do, never mind how well we do it?

Getting involved

And even if it is true and we ARE all a bunch of self-serving gangsters – surely the solution is not to disengage and shout foul abuse from the sidelines.
It is easy enough to get involved.

There are two Labour Branches which meet every month.  I am in Aycliffe North-West Branch, which meets the fourth Thursday in every month at the Navy Club.
At every meeting, local Town and County Councillors give a report as a formal item on the agenda.
If you really want to change politics, all you need to do is to turn up at that meeting, and hold those councillors to account.

We have thousands of armchair pundits who – like ‘chunkymark’ – are very good at sitting on their proverbial and shouting about ‘what’s wrong with politics’ and politicians.
Well, maybe it’s time that they stopped shouting … when they could so easily be doing something.

Join the Labour Party and change our world.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

So - Do The Local Elections Mean Anything For Aycliffe?

Have this year’s local election results any significance for Aycliffe?

We have not won yet
I think the first thing to realise is that Labour’s lead of 8% is not enough to win in 2015 – to win the next general election, history shows, you need to be 18-20% ahead in the mid-term local elections.  

If there is any message here, it is that we have all got to work a lot harder in the coming year.  Labour has a long way to go still, before we can breathe easy.

We MUST increase engagement
Connected to this, my second point is that a turnout of 32% is shamefully low (it was only 20% in the last Aycliffe by-election), and we must find a way to re-engage people with the electoral process.  This is not a politicians’ problem, it is a community problem, but we cannot ignore it and
get "stuck in low turn-out election strategies, with a race to the bottom: whose vote gets suppressed least wins" (Karin Christiansen).  

Many of those people who stayed at home will have been the very people-on-benefits and low-paid-workers whom this government is hammering the hardest - personally, I am flabbergasted so few of them vote. I suppose the task here is to convince people that we are NOT ‘all the same’ - that we are not all sleazebags in it for ourselves.  Labour is the Party which tries to PROTECT the poor and the vulnerable, but we still have some way to go to motivate the poor and the vulnerable that they need to go out and vote Labour if Labour are to get the opportunity to protect them!

And what about those people who are not ‘poor’ or ‘vulnerable’?  Today I went Labour leafleting in a very affluent part of town – and what struck me in fact was how many of the people there already support Labour.  Most well-off people in Aycliffe have earned their wealth by the sweat of their brow … many accept a philanthropic obligation to care for the poor and vulnerable, and even those who do not can see that the Tories are impoverishing their customer-base.  Very few dispute the need to spend on society’s needs – but Labour is tarred with the taint of profligacy and waste, and we desperately need to find a way to reassure them that Labour can be trusted to spend their council tax wisely. 

We need more workers
Finally, as I watched on the TV all those people working for election, I realised that it is nearly 20 years since that the injustices and damage done by a Tory government swelled the activist-base of Aycliffe’s Labour Party.  

Nearly two decades on, the ‘class_of_1995’ needs a fresh influx of motivated people in the prime of life who see politics – not as a disreputable way to ‘get on’ – but as a way to make Aycliffe a better place.  Aycliffe IS in need – not of people who are prepared to be ‘Labour’ in order to become a Councillor – but of people who want to become a councillor because they realise that Aycliffe needs Labour principles at the helm.

and you...
There is a still a year before we have our local elections in Aycliffe and – if you want to have a positive impact on your community – now is the time to get involved.

Come on Shadow Cabinet - Time To Get Going!

 So what did 3 May teach us as a Party?

We are not yet on course to win in 2015
For me, the key moment was when Jeremy Vine showed us a graph of mid-term opposition leads, and related it to success or failure at the next election.  

Mid-term local elections are traditionally a time when the public delivers a verdict on the government ... they are not a time when they permanently change their voting preference.
So, basically, the way it works is that - until you are winning the local elections by somewhere approaching 20% - you do not win the next general election.  Tony Blair was 20% ahaed of the Tories going into the 1997 election; Cameron was 18% ahead of Brown going into 2010.

On 3 May, Labour led the Tories by 8%.
So, basically, the local elections told Labour that we are not yet doing well enough to win in 2015.

That is not to knock the shine off what people achieved on Thursday.
Given the wipe-out of 2008-2010 it was a great result.
And there is still a lot of time before 2015; 8% is 2% up on last year, and a great figure to build on.

But we are not strong enough yet.

Ed is at last becoming a leader
Secondly, did you not think that Ed came out of the local elections really well - much enhanced?

His statement and email hit just the right note of congratulation-with-humility.
It was a masterstroke to appeal to the non-voters.
And going to Worcester as well as Birmingham was just the kind of thing we have come to expect from this mild, reflective leader.

I don't think we have made enough of Ed's strengths in this respect.
In a political world where we have obviously been fooled again and again by 'smooth operators' - glossy celebrity-types who then have turned out to be utter charlatans - maybe the country is ready for a substance-not-show politician?

You wouldn't ask Phillip Schofield to mend your broken computer, for all his skills as a presenter -- you'd bring in a computer nerd.
Maybe people will realise that a bit-of-a-geek is what we need to mend our broken country.

The success of OPPOSITION
The main message I came away with from the local elections, however, was that - when we heard from the elected local councillors afterwards - the difference between them and the normal pronouncements of our Labour Shadow Cabinet could not have been clearer.

They ALL hailed their wins as a victory for opposition.
Every one of them promised to go away and oppose this wicked, cutting, pro-rich, anti-people government.
At local level, Labour has cottoned on to what makes an opposition part a winner ... opposing!

The contrast with the Labour leadership at Westmonster [sic] could not be more glaring.

Where is the Shadow Cabinet?
Today, I had an interesting tweet from suey2y, the 'Spartacus' campaigner, which appears to be a reply to her friend, who had explained why she had not voted:
Sue Marsh ‏ @suey2y
“@h******* no I didn't. Don't know exactly what #Lab r professing & never vote Tory or libs so stayed out of it” <The UK in a nutshell?
Although perhaps a little unfair, it emphasises that the Labour frontbench *still* has not got a coherent/clear/evident policy of opposition together which ordinary people can follow.

In short, we need the Shadow Cabinet to stand up and be counted - they need to declare themselves as implacable enemies of the government's policies - and if some of them cannot bring themselves to do so, they need to resign.

I have blogged-to-boredom about what I would want Labour to say, but quite frankly it's time we knew what the Shadow Cabinet has to say.  

Where is Twigg - #fail?  Byrne is also a #fail because too equivocal. Even Burnham seems to have wilted (sorry if this is unfair, but haven't seen anything of him since the NHS Bill was passed, even though protests against the Act continue). Has Yvette Cooper *really* made enough of May's bungling? Balls is doing well ... but Labour is still without a memorable economic policy. And the rest of the Shadow Cabinet is awfully quiet.

I am (perhaps fairly) chided that the Shadow Cabinet can only be heard when the media chooses to report them, but this in turn is not quite fair is it.  There are enough media outlets not controlled by the professional media - not least Labour blogs like LabourList - for them to wage a continual war against the government, and we could pick up and spread the message. 
Left wingers like Grahame Morris and Michael Meacher are able to do this well enough - why not the Shadow Cabinet.

The Need to OPPOSE

Rather, I am reminded of John Smith, who gave his Shadow Cabinet free rein to attack the government whenever and wherever they could. And also of the directive which came out before the 1997 election that we were to challenge the Tories every time they said anything - to let them get away with nothing.

People remember a New Labour in government which cracked down on all comment because it didn't want party members embarrassing a Labour administration.  They forget that, before - and especially in the run up to - the 1997 election, New Labour orchestrated a growing outcry against the government, its policies, its sleaze, its ministers and everything the Tories and their ilk stood for.

3 May - especially the London mayoral election - showed a huge fund of Labour loyalty. 

But it's time our Shadow Cabinet gave us something to cheer about.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Does Labour Need To Realise That 'Labour' Is A Brand?

I realised today that Labour is a brand.

I had not realised it fully before, because I naturally see Labour as a political party, representing (or failing to represent) my political ideals.
And yes, Labour is an organisation, with a political credo … but what we activists have to realise is that to most people it is simply a branded product.
Most of the people who vote Labour do so having little clue about what Labour ‘believes’, and I would like to bet that 95% of Labour voters don’t have even the most basic understanding of the party organisation.

And it is only when you realise that Labour is not an ideology or an organisation, but a BRAND, that you are able to explain, not only why certain people choose Labour for their vote (and not, say, the LibDems, or UKIP), but also a lot else about Labour politics that is otherwise incomprehensible.

The power of a ‘brand’

In the world of commerce, ‘brand’ is hugely powerful.
When my wife goes round the supermarket, she will not touch the ‘Tesco Value’ goods, even when they are clearly the brand product repackaged in almost identical packaging; she buys the much more expensive branded product.  She really believes that the mere name ensures that it is better quality … she’s familiar with it, and she trusts it, so she goes with it.
This certainly explains why so many people who vote Labour do so without knowing anything about Labour’s manifesto or corporate structures.  They don’t need to.  They just know that they enjoy a Guinness, support Bradford City, always buy Hovis … and always vote Labour.  It is brand loyalty pure and simple.
In the north-east – where everyone has always voted Labour – you will meet people whose personal opinions are in actual fact archetypal Tory… but who vote Labour, always have, and always will.  Start advancing some of the proposals in the Labour manifesto and they will become quite angry at the ‘rubbish’ you are talking.  They are not Labour because they have considered Labour’s politics and decided to support the party.  Instead, they conceptualise the party in their own image – they ARE Labour, and therefore by deduction what Labour stands for must be what they believe. Anybody who has been out on the #labourdoorstep has met these people, who tell you the most dreadful fascist nonsense, but assure you they’ll be voting Labour ‘and always have’.  (And I bet you didn’t disabuse them, either.)

Brand loyalty
People become comfortable with a certain brand.  You get people who will go to MacDonald’s but would never set foot in a Burger King.  Pepsi recently admitted defeat in their attempt to rival CocaCola.  People develop a loyalty to a certain brand, and will refuse to leave it, even when you demonstrate that they are disadvantaging themselves by doing so – I can remember getting quite stressed with the school secretary, who refused to stop buying Nurofen (at £1.90), even though I proved to her that they were the same drug as the generic Ibuprofen caplets (at 28p).  All she would say was: ‘No, they must be better’.
Thus political branding explains why so many working class people down south vote Tory.  It explains why – on a recent trip to Kendal – the place was still festooned with LibDem posters … after ALL that the LibDems have done. Like the girl who kept on buying Nurofen, they keep on loyally voting for a party which damages them.
It warns us that we need to be cynical about the positive opinion polls. Yes they show that many LibDems appear to have abandoned their party and joined Labour; but, when it comes to it, when it really matters – in a general election – will they be able to bring themselves to put a cross against the red rosette?  Or will brand loyalty reassert itself?

A brand abandoned is a brand hated
Equally, there is nothing so hated as a brand abandoned.  When I had a young family, I bought a Fiat Amigo camper van; it caused us so much trouble, danger, disruption and financial damage that I swore I would never have a Fiat
– any Fiat again. To be honest, I actually drove a Fiat, many years later, for a while as a courtesy car, and I have to admit that it seemed quite nice.  But I will still never touch a Fiat with a barge pole again; mere facts don’t even begin to moderate the prejudice.
Thus, the notion of ‘branding’ explains why those who have abandoned Labour rage against us with such venom.  There is a lovely man in the opposition on our Town Council – he is gentle, polite, left-wing in his views, and I keep asking him why on earth he hasn’t had the sense to join the majority group … but Gordon Brown ruined his pension, and (like me and my Fiat Amigo) he will NEVER forgive Gordon, or Labour.
This, more than any other point, helps to explain the difficulty facing Ed Miliband and Labour at the moment.  During a period in government, a Party usually manages to build up large numbers of apostates, who have been angered enough to abandon the party brand.  I (for example) am of a generation which remembers Thatcher and could never ever again consider voting Tory; it was the closure of the mines which finally turned me Labour, and that die is cast now … I will NEVER relent.
But, of course, any young person over 20 has grown up and become disillusioned, not with brand Thatcher, but with brand Labour.  Blair and Iraq, bad-tempered Brown, the expenses scandal – over 13 years, Labour created brand-enemies, and those people no longer trust the brand, and it is NOT just a matter of saying the right things … there is a real possibility that many twenty-somethings are a lost generation for Labour.

The ultimate message – a Danger of Death
And the very real danger?
Is it not true, as well, that brands ‘have their day’?  Woolworths revolutionised retailing, but decades later they got a kind of fleamarket feel about them, and the brand withered and died.  When do you see an Artic Roll nowadays, or Camay, or Izal, or Babycham? 
And is it not also a danger that Labour, if it is not careful, could become the Woolworths of the political world?
Woolworths did not go down without trying to turn around its fortunes, and in many ways they were good stores – there were all kinds of things that you could only get in Woolworths, and I used to shop there … but there were just, obviously, not enough of us to form a critical mass big enough to keep the firm going.
How well does this describe your local Labour branch?

Re-branding Labour
Faced with a terminally declining market-share, a company will sometimes attempt to ‘rebrand’ – by which is meant changing the name, the product, the image, the appeal … trying, in fact, to bring the product into line with the needs and demands of the changed market which it has failed to track.  An obvious recent example is Marks and Spencer, with its successful appeal to quality and its ‘this is not just…; it’s M&S…’ adverts.
Similarly, there are examples of political rebranding – the most famous and spectacular being Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ brand with his ‘Clause 4’ moment.  Like the M&S adverts, the rebrand ‘hit the moment’, and ‘New Labour’ (for a time) cornered the market.
A decade later, David Cameron realised he needed to ‘detoxify’ the Tories, which he did through a series of stunts which – crass as they were (e.g. ‘hugging a hoodie’) did indeed successfully rebrand the Tory product for its electorate market.

When you begin to analyse politics in this, quasi-commercial way – rather than (as most activists) seeing it in terms of getting across a ‘message’ – the question facing Ed Miliband becomes quite clear: has the time come, again, to rebrand Labour?
Actually, when he became leader in 2010, a small marketing firm did indeed release a prospectus outlining ten ways in which Ed Miliband might, indeed, ‘rebrand’ the Labour Party.  

Its ideas included:
* jettisoning old baggage,
* redefining the target market,
* ‘movement marketing’ (letting the consumers create the brand),
* a new logo,
* a single ‘brandheart’ campaignable idea, relentlessly repeated, and
* a leader with vision and charisma.

But it was a failed message, and (clearly) nothing was done.  There was a long period when nothing happened at all, and what we are seeing now – although it is sometimes erroneously called a ‘rebranding’ – is not a true rebranding, but merely a rehashing of the message … a repackaging.

We live at a time when there is huge disillusionment – even hatred – of the established political parties.  Political mavericks such as George Galloway and the BNP can attract significant numbers of voters.  The Tories and their policies are hated, but Labour is not reliably picking up their votes – even the ‘New’ Labour brand is (to quote the 2010 blog) ‘looking tired and out of ideas and lacking credibility’.

So is there an argument for a significant rebranding?  Not simply to trick the voters into voting Labour, but to re-align the party to the needs of modern electors – a give them a brand they can trust and which (to quote the Ronseal advert) ‘does what it says on the tin’. 
Labour at the moment is torn between the left-wing who want to reassert the pre-Blair Socialist principles of ‘Old Labour’, and a ‘New Labour’ rump, who want to move right, seeking what they perceive to be the electoral centre.
Perhaps the answer is neither.
Perhaps the answer is a new position – a rebranding for the 21st century.

Rebranding: lessons from industry
Just what such a rebranding might involve, I cannot say (if I could, I would be a lot richer and more famous than I am).

But – when I was researching this Rant – I came across this useful list of things NOT to do when you are rebranding.

If you read them, you will see that the final point advises strategists to 'cross-pollinate' ideas with other disciplines.  There is an argument which would advise party leaders to spend some time reflecting on the Party's performance not in terms of politics or political wisdombut in terms of marketing a brand.

Anyway, here they are and
– as you read them I wonder whether they will strike you (as they struck me) as being directly applicable to the Labour Party.

The Top 20 Mistakes Marketers Make When Rebranding
1. Clinging to history
Rebranding well means staying relevant. Assumptions made when the brand was established may no longer hold true. Analyze changes in target markets when exploring opportunities for brand expansion, repositioning and revitalization.

2. Thinking the brand is the logo, stationery or corporate colors
Brands encompass everything from customer perception and experience to quality, look and feel, customer care, retail and web environments, the tone and voice of communications, and more.

5. Not leveraging existing brand equity and goodwill
Dismissing brand equity when rebranding alienates established customers, while unnecessary overhauls can irreparably damage a brand’s perception…
6. Not trying on your customer’s shoes
Simply calling your own 800-number or receptionist may reveal challenges customers face and inform your rebranding strategy. Take the time to navigate your own website, buy your products and return something. Better yet, ask a friend or family member to do so and learn from their experiences.
7. The rebrand lacks credibility or is a superficial facelift
The rebrand’s story must be believable given the existing brand experience and customer perception.  It must also hold credibility internally. If employees who live the brand day-to-day don’t believe, the target audience won't either.

13. Forgetting that people don’t do what they say (they do what they do)
Use caution when basing rebranding strategies on focus group-type research. Unless you’re physically in the customer’s environment observing them using your product or service, you’re not getting the full story. Actual observation, while not perfect, will get you a lot closer to the right solution.

17. Rebranding without research
There’s a lot of lip service about customers, but in brand strategy sessions they’re often forgotten. Current and prospective customers should be front and center when creating solutions. After all, the customer will be your ultimate test…
18. Basing a rebrand on advertising
An ad campaign and a slogan do not equal brand positioning. Brand strategy should lead advertising – not the other way around. Sometimes the most effective rebrands don’t include traditional advertising.
19. Tunnel focus
Focusing solely on your own industry can be limiting. When rebranding, cross-pollinate your thinking with what leaders in other industries are doing in regard to customer experience, retail experience and customer care.