Tag Archives: Labour Party Conference

Women are more likely to vote Labour than Conservative

With the Scottish referendum successfully out of the way and Labour Party Conference concluded, it’s time to start reporting again on women, Brussels, London and related matters. I should, of course, also add that the European Parliament went back on 1 September and that we’re now beginning the hearings for the Commissioners designate. But more on that later. In the meantime, I was very interested in this opinion survey.

The excellent Mumsnet, the UK’s biggest network for parents which aims to make their lives easier by pooling knowledge, advice and support, has teamed up with Ipsos MORI to find out how women are intending to vote next year.

It’s very good news to hear from this survey that women are still more likely to vote Labour than Conservative

Thirty-nine per cent of women back Labour while the Tories have thirty per cent

Howver, the survey also found that the female vote is still up for grabs, and six out of 10 women (58%) say they may change their minds between now and next May

Mums Net Graphis

The lesson for Labour surely is that we need to be vigilant about women voters and always take women’s views on board. Women could make the difference between winning and losing.

Although Labour has done better among women than the Tories for several years, this has not always been the case. I well remember the Conservatives being well ahead during the 1980s. There is nothing automatic about women voting Labour. We need to earn this support which could mean forming a government or spending another five years in opposition.

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One Nation Labour Party

I have enjoyed Labour Party Conference in Manchester, apart from its famous daily rain. I failed to bring an umbrella so many thanks to everybody who has kindly shared an umbrella with me. The highlight clearly was Ed Miliband’s outstanding speech. At yesterday’s Question and Answer session people around me commented how Ed from a distance (this photo shows how far back I was) looked like Tony Blair as he came on stage. Today Martin Kettle in the Guardian makes a more political comparison, and if you are pressed for time skip to his last paragraph summary.

Ed is not another Tony Blair and as his commanding comprehensive Leader’s speech demonstrated he has his own history.  What they do share are the ability to win elections and the ability to unify the Labour Party. Looking back now with the divisions with Gordon Brown more known, it gives a false view of what life was like in the Labour Party when Tony Blair was Leader.

On the ground in 1997, 2001 and 2005 the Labour Party was never more unified and committed to winning so that we could introduce a minimum wage, lift children and pensioners out of poverty, ban fox hunting and make a difference to people’s lives. Never more unified than until possibly now. I sensed in Manchester the same commitment that Labour has previously had, perhaps even more so.

Labour Party members believe that if you earn £1,000,000 a year then £523,495 after tax should be more than enough to get by on. David Cameron and George Osborne supported by the Liberal Democrats believe that is not enough and that £565,790 is more appropriate. I think this is wrong and I think the overwhelming majority of British people agree that an extra £42,295 to the wealthiest people in society at a time of austerity is unfair. Plan A for most of us, Plan B if you are a millionaire!

I note also that Ed Miliband’s £40,000 figure in his speech shrewdly rounds down from £42,295 by £2,295 the money that will be taken from sure start centres, womens refuges and rape crisis centres and given to each millionaire tax payer.

Coming away from Manchester I am inspired and determined with other Labour members to change this. Bring on the plebiscite!

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Labour Women Pioneers into Power Liverpool 2011 Part 3

 Here is the third part of the fringe meeting I chaired at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool.  In this part Harriet Harman talks about how important female representation is for international politics.  As you would imagine, she spoke very eloquently about how having more women involved in elected politics in the UK is beneficial for women in other countries, like Kenya, who need our support. 

I have posted the video below.  Please enjoy.

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We should change the way we elect the Labour Leader

It’s time, I think, for some reflections on Labour Party Conference other than talking about my fringe meeting Blogging for Labour. As I’m now back in Brussels wrestling with the harrowing and appalling subject of child pornography on the internet as well and judging a European journalism prize, now seemed as good as any to put my thoughts on paper.

First and foremost, we must unite behind Ed Miliband.  I say this as a committed David supporter, and I would not be telling the whole truth if I said I wasn’t upset that David didn’t make it.  David is, in my opinion, one of the most able, most intellectually capable and most sincere of our MPs.  He was one of the best Foreign Secretaries this country has ever had with a deep understanding of foreign affairs and the international stage. (Since I am posting this blog before David has made a statement on his future, I won’t say any more at present).

Yet, we all have to move on.  The overriding task now is to fight the coalition and win the general election.  It’s not a Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition, it’s a Tory Government. This should be our message.  Those who voted Clegg got Cameron while those who voted Cameron got exactly what it said on the tin.

Having attended almost every Labour Party Conference since 1978, I am far from being one of the new generation. However, I completely agree with Ed that Labour must now look forward. There’s nothing to be gained in harking back to the past, and I for one now hope that all references to the Iraq war are well and truly laid to rest.  Yes, I opposed the war publicly as an MEP. But now, I truly believe it is not only unhelpful but utterly damaging to rake this one over any more.  Both Labour and Great Britain have to move on.

The Conference was more than aware of the awesome nature of the events as they unfolded.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it, a subdued and expectant atmosphere amid the thronging delegates and myriad exhibition stands.

In my conference lifetime, I have been a Party member under seven leaders, including Miliband E – James Callaghan, Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock, John Smith, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Of these, Callaghan and Foot were chosen before the electoral college was introduced and were elected only by MPs.  Kinnock, Smith and Blair faced little serious opposition and Brown was crowned without a contest.  Step up Ed Miliband who won by just over one percent.

It’s been a long 30 years and much has changed.

From the election of the left wing Michael Foot as Labour Leader in 1980 there was a battle royal between the Left, represented initially by Foot but later metamorphosing into the Militant Tendency and other Trotskyite factions (the Hard Left), and the Labour Party’s right wing, ironically during this period led by a number of influential trade unions. The exception among the trade unions was the then largest, the Transport and General Workers’ Union, who held a more left wing position.

Neil Kinnock, himself from the left stable, to his credit moved decisively away from the Foot legacy  as did John Smith his short period as Leader of the Opposition.

Crucially, however, it was not until Tony Blair and New Labour arrived, subsequently winning the 1997 general election, that the Hard Left was seen off as a force to be reckoned with. Although no longer influential, the Left as such never went away.  Moreover, there remained a significant number of Labour Party members who felt New Labour had sold out.

Yet this was nothing compared to the trade unions, who are by and large now to the left of the Party.  The affiliated trade unions, now mainly representing public sector workers, were never really on side with New Labour, and their evolution from right to left is, perhaps, the most interesting aspect of the 2010 Leadership contest.

So where does this leave us?  I have to say, I have difficulty with a system whereby victory can be gained without either a majority of MEPs and MPs or of local Party members.  The electoral college was, ironically, set up in the 1980s to give the right wing unions power on the basis their vote would marginalise the Hard Left. Since we no longer have a Hard Left, merely a Left, the time has, I believe, come to reform the way the ballot is held.  One member one vote would obviously be more democratic.  Even the Tory Party has OMOV for the two candidates selected by the 1922 Committee.

The new generation have to prove themselves.  What better way than reforming the way our Leader is elected to bring our outdated system into line with today’s Labour Party? To take this bold step would be to send a strong signal that things really had changed and that Labour is continuing its modernising agenda.

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Blogging for Labour

Some first quick thoughts on tonight’s “Blogging for Labour” fringe meeting. I was delighted almost 100 people attended even without the prospect of a free meal! Many thanks to all the panel members. John Gray for giving an insight into the perils of libel actions and the need for more guidance on legal issues.

Jessica Asato talked about how Twitter had brought more activists and importantly advocates to David Miliband’s campaign for Labour Leader. With many present tweeting (note the heads down in the photo) a hashtag would have brought everybody on Twitter together online. Next time!

Mark Ferguson talked about how many people had sat through less than riveting General Committee meetings, and highlighted how some Labour supporters found more interesting debate on sites like Labour List which he edits.

Kerry McCarthy turns to twitter first thing in the morning (I still go for Radio 4). She explained how she could debate with and at times advise members of the public on Parliamentary procedure through tweeting. As the photo shows she won the award for most demonstrative hand movements!

In the audience were bloggers Political Scrapbook, Cllr. Stephen (Cowan report), Jon Worth (Euroblog), Tracey Cheetham (A View from the Public Gallery), Mark Nottingham (From One End of Kent), Colin Ellar (Mayor of Hounslow) and several more bloggers.

I will write some more thoughts tomorrow when I have more time. Thank you to everybody who came and to Cllr. John Paschoud from Lewisham for his technical support.

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Glenis, David and Alistair

It’s been quite a morning at Labour Party Conference.  Although the talk of the town has been David Miliband’s gracious and heartfelt speech as Shadow Foreign Secretary, my interest also lay with EPLP Leader Glenis Willmott.

Speaking to conference delegates, Glenis pointed to the work being done by Labour’s team in the European Parliament: “Day in, day out, Labour MEPs are still making laws for the whole of the UK.”

Focussing on examples of recent wins, covering civil liberties, social protections and banking regulation, she told the conference that even when Labour is out of power in Westminster it can still make a real difference by acting in Brussels.

She went on to say: “The political battles we fight are not with Europe. They are with the right – in Brussels, at home and elsewhere.

“And in this battle Europe can be our ally.”

“It’s wrong that within our own party, we still regard the European Parliament as being over there. We still see the EU as merely a branch of foreign policy. Don’t forget: over there is also over here.

“Conference, up until now Labour hasn’t quite “got it” on Europe. “But I’m delighted to say that Ed (Miliband)”get’s it”.”

Next on stage was David Miliband who, eloquent as ever, gave us a passionate but thoughtful   speech.

Appealing for party unity, David declared: “no more cliques, no more factions, no more soap opera.” He even went as far as to quote Labour’s fourth leader, John Robert Clynes, who said Labour politicians went into politics “not to practice class war, but to end it”.

At the heart of the speech was what David called “hard-headed internationalism”. On Afghanistan, he said: “we’re not an occupying army, we’re trying to prevent an occupation.” He also reminded delegates that foreign armies never end civil wars. In addition, in what looks like an unaccustomed outbreak of consensus, he promised to support David Cameron if he did the right thing. “When he takes risks for peace, we will be the first to congratulate him every step of the way.”

David looked very inch the statesman. Those of us who supported David for the Leadership of the Labour Party must now unite behind his brother to take us to victory and a Labour government.

The final big speech of the morning was Alistair Darling, not as he himself lamented ever the “darling” of conference, but an excellent Chancellor of the Exchequer and a likeable, understated politician.

In his last weighty conference speech Alistair said that Labour should be proud of its record in power, “Proud in the way we changed Britain for the better, in ways big and small.”

He  accused the coalition government of gambling with the economic upturn kickstarted by the previous Labour administration.

Although Alistair had himself planned spending cuts to bring down the deficit, it would have been done at a lower and slower rate while continuing to invest in public services.

“Don’t let anyone tell you that there is no difference between us and the coalition …we never have been, and never will be the same,” he told us in no uncertain terms.

“The Tories are using the need to reduce borrowing as a way of dismantling the support millions depend on,” and their Liberal Democrat partners are passively going along with cuts targeted on the poor and needy.

Alistair also said that to abandon Labour’s balanced approach will put tens of thousands of jobs at risk and hit the living standards of millions of people.

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On the Road to Fair Votes

Last year at Labour Party Conference, when Gordon Brown promised a referendum on changing the voting system, specifically holding a referendum on the Alternative Vote system (AV), I was absolutely delighted.  Today the Guardian provided this very helpful demonstration of how AV would work.

My twenty- five years of struggling to get even the very idea of fair votes for the House of Commons recognised seemed at last to be getting somewhere.  When you’re involved in what is often seen as a minority, not to say geeky, campaign it’s sometimes hard to keep your sprits up.  But we have, and we’re finally winning through.

Going that crucial step further, Gordon’s announcement in a speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) yesterday that the referendum will be held in October 2011, was the next thing electoral reformers wanted to hear.  The Prime Minister has now said he will have a referendum, a pledge he will, I believe, do everything he can to honour.  It is now up to Gordon to find the parliamentary time before the expected Easter dissolution.

I understand that some Conservative co-operation may be required to make such time available.  However, Gordon has to come out on top on this one.  Having made such a public commitment, he really must see it through and get the law setting the date for a referendum passed before the general election in order that his target date for the referendum of October 2011 may be met.

Gordon has made it clear that the referendum would be restricted to whether to stick with first past the post or to move to the alternative vote.  There are, I know, those among electoral reform campaigners who think AV is not proportional enough.  I think we must embrace Gordon Brown’s initiative as the only change we are likely to get in the foreseeable future.  It may not go as far as we would like, but it’s much better than first past the post.

We must also all be aware that our opponents do not like PR.  Since there is little that is fair in Tory social policy, it is hardly surprising they don’t want fair votes.  Quoted in yesterday’s Guardian, William Hague showed his usual lack of imagination: “It’s not the voting system that needs changing, it’s this weak and discredited prime minister. New politics needs a new government.”

Things are very different in the Labour Cabinet.  Ed Balls, the schools secretary, is a supporter of AV, as is Home Secretary Alan Johnson, John Denham, the communities secretary, Peter Hain, Welsh secretary, Cabinet Office minister Tessa Jowell, and, last but not least, Ben Bradshaw, the culture secretary.

Though the introduction of AV is the most important policy demanding immediate action, Gordon’s speech yesterday did not stop there.  He also announced that he wants a written constitution by 2015, the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta; a right for constituents to recall MPs if found guilty of corruption: a draft bill introducing a mainly elected Lords; and approval for local government reforms, entitled Total Place, that he said could produce £15bn of savings. He also said he supported votes at 16, but gave no commitment to put the proposal in the Labour manifesto.

I believe constitutional reform is important for its own sake.  Britain is the only country in Europe which does not have a proportional electoral system for its upper house.  On the other hand, I remain to be convinced that a package of changes to the way parliament and other representative institutions are elected will achieve very much in restoring people’s trust in politics, except perhaps for the measure to recall corrupt MPs.  Gordon Brown is setting out a vision for a modern democracy.  As the only real modern, progressive Party in Britain, Labour members have, I believe, a profound duty to support our Prime Minister in this crucially important task.

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