Labour is now the Party of the Big Cities

Labour Party


Yesterday’s blog Labour is a Progressive Party or we are Nothing cries out for a follow-up. As is shown only too graphically in the map at the beginning of this post, the UK Independence Party took votes from what used to be considered Labour’s “core” vote in the largely white old mining and industrial areas outside the big cities. The white working class outside the major conurbations is no longer blindly loyal to Labour, and the European and local election results showed a very marked difference in voting for UKIP and voting for Labour in the cities as opposed to the less urban areas. While we have come to expect UKIP to do well in the Tory shires, their rise in Labour’s old heartlands is relatively recent.

Rather than concentrating on what are still seen as Labour’s “core” areas where mining and the older industries used to hold sway, the Labour Party would do well to examine why we did so well in the big cities – London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds – as well as other urban areas. As an MEP from London where Labour topped the poll with four MEPs while the Conservatives went down to two and UKIP remained at one, I do feel able my views on this are valid.

The statistics are revealing. Across London Labour won 36.37 per cent of the vote, the Conservatives 22.52 per cent while UKIP managed only 16.87. In both Manchester and Liverpool Labour again came first with 51 per cent of the vote in both cities, although UKIP were second in both places. Labour also won in Blackburn. Although not as high a percentage of the vote, Labour was first in the Sheffield, Leeds, Bradford and Kirklees.

While I completely accept that both the European and local council elections are often used as a protest vote and that people act differently when choosing a government, it is still valuable to look hard at why Labour succeeded in the cities in 2014 but lost out in our “core” towns and more rural areas. Indeed, the Labour Party should not be too complacent about regaining these voters at next year’s general election. While some will undoubtedly want a Labour government, there will also be those who may continue to vote UKIP. Lord Ashcroft, who has made a bit of a name for himself as a pollster, reckons that about half of those who voted for UKIP will unfortunately stay with them.

Tragically for those of us who want to look forward not backward and believe that it is of the utmost importance that all of us in this country live together in peace and harmony whatever our ethnicity or cultural background, immigration is one major dividing line between the cities and most of the rest of the country. Even more tragically, it’s not just immigration; there is also a strong dose of racism working to increase UKIP’s support. Put simply, if you live in a city surrounded by people from all over the world speaking a number of different languages you accept everyone who is reasonable and decent. People in all of this country’s large cities are used to diversity and do not fear it.

I suspect this is not the case in mainly or all-white areas, a situation made worse by lack of government funding for schools, doctors, hospital and housing. While the Tory-led coalition has been responsible for the rise in the UKIP vote by starving our communities of much of what they so badly need, voters would not have turned to UKIP without the innate fear of the outsider often felt by those who live in racially homogeneous areas. While I believe politicians should be aware that this fear exists, I think it is neither right nor helpful to act on it by condemning immigrants or immigration. People are people after all and Labour is the party for everyone, the many not the few.

In addition to ethnic and cultural diversity, people living in Britain’s big cities are also younger and better educated than those in the old mining and industrial areas. UKIP have, in fact, admitted that London’s population was too well educated to back their party. As reported in the Evening Standard,UKIP’s communities spokesperson, Suzanne Evans conceded that UKIP “haven’t really got our message across” in London, where …. support for Nigel Farage’s party is significantly lower than in other parts of the country”.

Ms Evans told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There is work to do, I think we haven’t really got our message across in London. As you say, we do have a more media-savvy, well-educated population in London, and they are more likely I think to have read some of the negative press that’s been about us and I think they’ve been more likely to believe it.”

Whether Suzanne Evans meant to put forward her views in quite this way is unclear. She did, however, hit the nail on the head.

Britain’s big cities make up a large proportion of the electorate. The population of England and Wales in 56.6 million, London is 7.8 million, Greater Manchester and Liverpool together 5 million while the cities of Birmingham and Leeds combined come to 1.85 million, a total of 14.65 million or nearly a quarter of the population of England and Wales. This is, of course, a very rough calculation and does not take account of all Britain’s large urban areas.

There is clearly a lot of electoral sense in Labour concentrating its efforts on Britain’s cities. While much of what Labour used to see as its heartlands is showing unmistakable signs of moving away from the party, the cities, which have also generally shown strong levels of support for Labour, are coming towards us. Labour is now the party of urban Britain. In order to win in 2015 we really must embrace and nurture these supporters, wherever they are from and whatever their ethnicity.

Interview in Evening Standard on my work for women

Labour Party

I am interviewed in today’s Evening Standard by Political Editor Joe Murphy on my work in Europe on women, and especially on the need for more women on company boards. You can read the interview here.

Here is the interview:

Britain risks looking like a “dinosaur” if David Cameron blocks tough quotas for women in company boardrooms, Labour’s Euro-MP for London said today.

In an interview with the Evening Standard, Mary Honeyball said heavyweight nations such as France and Germany were dismayed that the UK Government has forged an alliance with tiny states such as Latvia and Malta to stop quotas.

She said: “We are going to look like dinosaurs if we stand in the way of action to promote women without even waiting to see what the detailed proposals are.

“What David Cameron has done in putting together this strange alliance of small countries is not going down at all well. It does not make us look powerful or impressive. It just looks like Britain is being prehistoric and difficult.”

Ms Honeyball, who represents the UK Labour representative in the Women’s Rights committee in the Strasbourg parliament, is backing European commissioner Viviane Reding who is drafting plans to force listed companies to reserve at least 40 per cent of their non-executive directorships  for women by 2020 or face fines.

UK ministers prefer a voluntary target of 25 per cent of FTSE 100 seats by 2015 but Ms Honeyball said: “I don’t think that is ambitious enough. Quotas have really worked well in Norway and France and now it is just accepted. But there is a culture in this country and when you have so few women on board it becomes  difficult to break through.”

The MEP compares the controversy with the row over all-women shortlists in the Labour Party in the 1990s. “There was serious opposition and even legal action to stop it, and then there were all the jibes about Blair Babes and women who only got to Parliament through quotas. But that has all gone away now because women MPs have shown they can get on with the job.”

She would like Ed Miliband’s shadow ministerial team to come out fighting for Ms Reding’s plan when the details are published. “They are keeping a bit quiet at the moment.”

The MEP, a leading campaigner at Strasbourg against sex traffickers, revealed how her efforts to protect young women were reinforced by the horrific discovery that an old school friend who vanished in the 1970s had been one of the victims of serial killers Fred and Rose West.

Lucy Partington went missing in 1973 and her fate was not known for another 20 years. Ms Honeyball,  an 18-year-old growing up in Cheltenham, was among school friends questioned by police baffled by her disappearance.

“I knew her quite well in our last two years at school,” said the MEP. “After she disappeared there was no news at all for all those years. I don’t think any of us in our worst nightmares dreamed what had happened to her.”

In fact Lucy, a cousin of novelist Martin Amis, had been abducted while waiting at a bus stop that the young Mary also used. But that was not known until her remains were excavated from the Wests’ basement in 1994.

“I heard the news on television and they showed a photograph taken of her at the time she disappeared,” she said. “I immediately phoned a friend we were both at school with. Your first reaction is to think ‘this cannot be possible’, but then it sinks in over time and it is something that stays with you forever.”

Ms Honeyball, an MEP for 12 years, has used her contacts in Europe to campaign for tougher laws against people traffickers who bring thousands of young women and girls into London as sex workers. She praised the Metropolitan Police for making serious efforts to prosecute the criminals behind the trade but says the police in some of the countries where the women originate do not bother.

“All crimes are  underground, but sex trafficking is deeper underground than most,” she said. “But it is such a London issue because this is where many women and girls from eastern Europe end up. Political pressure is needed to make other countries treat this as the serious crime it is.”

She is also trying to ban sex ads in local newspapers, which she says are often used by the criminal gangs who have coerced women into prostitution. “I sympathise with local newspapers that are struggling, but that’s no excuse for taking adds that are actually part of a trade that is not only morally unacceptable, but also criminal.”

Cameron should show less arrogance towards Eurozone leaders

Labour Party

Unwilling and seemingly unable to lift Britain out of our damaging double-dip recession, David Cameron is taking refuge in attacking the Eurozone.

This is not the first time our Tory Prime Minister has lectured, no to say, harangued Eurozone leaders. It is obvious what he is trying to do this time. Cameron is patently trying to deflect attention from the dire condition of the UK economy by violently attacking our European neighbours.

Cameron’s words in the House of Commons yesterday, that Britain is impatient with Eurozone leaders and that they “either had to make up or it’s looking at a potential break-up” demonstrates his inability to understand just how closely the UK economy is tied up with the Eurozone. What happens in Greece and Germany has a massive impact on us.

Mr Cameron would do well to behave in a more acceptable manner to other European leaders. “Cameron should be working hard to get a deal rather than stoking fears of a Euro break-up.” This Labour source quoted in the Evening Standard yesterday hit the nail on the head.

Cameron’s arrogance and unwillingness to engage with European leaders does not even come from a position of strength. Britain is struggling with a double-dip recession thanks to the Tory-led coalition. What is it that makes Cameron believe he can attack the Eurozone when his own and Chancellor George Osborne’s economic competence is so severely lacking?

Meanwhile the Bank of England Chief Mervyn King has forecast an even lower growth rate for this year, down by a third from 1.2 per cent to less than one per cent, 0.8 per cent, to be precise, this year. All we can hope is that the good news yesterday from Ellsmere Port will help raise this figure.

It is becoming ever clearer that the UK   cannot go it alone. Our economy is well and truly tied up with the Eurozone. To believe anything else is to regress to some kind of post imperial cloud-cuckoo land when the EU did not exist and Britain was great.

While the UK is still a leading power in the world, we are also a member of the European Union and the majority of our exports go to Eurozone and other EU countries. To slag off these countries when the UK is faring as badly as we are is sheer folly and does nothing to build future relationships. Cameron, of course, behaves badly towards the EU to appease his feral Eurosceptic backbenchers, the “constituency” who supported him for the leadership of the Conservative Party.

David Cameron would do well to understand that he is Prime Minister of Great Britain as well as Leader of the Conservative Party. Now is the time, Mr Cameron, to put country above party for once.

Cameron’s pot has the temerity to call the Eurozone’s kettle black

Labour Party

David Cameron is one of those people who never fail to take the biscuit, and his attack on Angela Merkel in Davos yesterday was a massive one covered with lashings of chocolate.

Cameron had the temerity at the World Economic Forum to tell Eurozone leaders how to run their affairs, affairs Cameron has made sure he has had nothing whatsoever to do with.

The non-Eurozone British Prime Minister, according to the Evening Standard warned that Europe was at a “perilous moment” and attacked its leaders for “tinkering here and there” rather than showing the bold leadership needed to save the Euro. You may be forgiven for forgetting that this is the same British Prime Minister who flounced out of the European Summit in Brussels on December 9 and has resolutely refused to engage with his opposite numbers – the national leaders across Europe – preferring splendid marginalisation instead.

Just to rub it in, David Cameron with breath-taking lack of subtlety blew his own trumpet telling Angela Merkel and the others world leaders that Britain – i.e. his Tory-led coalition – is doing it right.

Are they really? There are now 2.69 million unemployed in the UK, up 118,000 in the three months to November and still rising. The IMF revised its growth projection for the UK downwards due to lower than expected output in the production and construction sectors.  And, to cap it all UK government debt is now over a trillion pounds – 64.2% of GDP.

Britain is so obviously in as bad, if not worse, state than the Eurozone. The facts speak from themselves.

EU Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou visits London

Labour Party

Visiting London last week, EU Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou praised the Evening Standard’s Get London Reading campaign. Mrs Vassiliou told the Standard: “In Europe we have a big problem with one in five 15 year olds reading at a very low level. Literacy is not just about reading, it is the foundation for life…..The Evening Standard campaign is unique in that it is the only newspaper-led literacy initiative in Europe.”

My report on early school leaving, recently agreed by the European Parliament Culture and Education Committee, is obviously relevant to the Standard’s campaign. Lack of literacy skills make leaving school without qualifications much more likely and then hinder the young person’s job prospects. We all need to be able to read and write. Since many years ago I volunteered for the On the Move adult literacy campaign, I have a special interest in this.

As part of her visit to London, Mrs Vassiliou spoke at WorldSkills 2011, the largest gathering of trainees and apprentices in the world, held this year at the Excel Centre in Newham. Mrs Vassiliou spoke not only about the importance of vocational training but also pointed out the mismatch between educational outcomes and employers’ expectations.   

I was privileged to join her on the platform for the discussion panel and to back up the Commissioner in her call for improved language teaching in Britain. Another panel member, rugby player Simon Hunt, supported us and told the audience that living in France for three years had widened his perspective as well as providing a valuable skill. 

 Posts about the appalling level of foreign language learning and the inability of most Britons to speak anything other than English have regularly appeared on this blog. Having the major international language as your mother tongue is no excuse. Native English speakers who master other languages open up a whole range of employment options for themselves as well as gaining insights into another country and culture. Our monolingualism sells us short. Let’s make a big effort to do better.

Cameron and Osborne should support Gordon Brown to lead the IMF

Labour Party

I find David Cameron’s rejection of Gordon Brown’s bid to lead the IMF quite appalling. I always thought the Conservatives claimed to be patriotic, until recently singing “Land of Hope and Glory” at their annual conference. We now know they do not put Britain first, living up to Winston Churchill’s damning condemnation of a former Tory Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, whom he accused of putting party before country.

Since many believe Gordon Brown has excellent credentials for the IMF post, Cameron and Osborne’s attitude comes not from a desire to support the best candidate, but rather from narrow party advantage.

This Tory-led government would, indeed, find it difficult to blame Gordon Brown for Britain’s economic crisis while at the same time putting him forward for a high-level international economic job. If they came out for Brown, Cameron and Osborne may just have to admit that the global economic crisis had something to do with the parlous state of our economy. Since every Tory and coalition spokesperson has taken all possible opportunities to blame the last Labour government for our economic misfortune, the Tories would lose a major plank of their attack strategy were they to allow this particular rug to be pulled from under their feet.   

Quite simply this Conservative-led coalition prefers to support Christine Lagarde, the French Finance Minister rather than a former Labour Prime Minister in order to be able to attack Labour’s economic record. Gordon Brown is one of us, i.e. British, and should, I firmly believe, be our candidate for the IMF top job. There are times when country comes before party and this is one of them.

I completely agree with James Wolfensohn, former Director of the World Bank, quoted in the “Independent” today following his article in the “Evening Standard”, who said “Gordon Brown has proved that he has the leadership skills, the vision and the determination to bring the world together”. Gordon Brown has also been endorsed by Lord Skidelsky, a cross-bench peer and economic historian, not to mention Labour MP Tom Watson.

Hynter joins Serota in condemning Arts Cuts while Universities UK say Britain will lose its Place as the World’s Number Two

Labour Party

Savage is not too strong a word to describe the 2010 Conservative Party Conference.  The Tories (along with Nick Clegg, the third most influential right-winger in British politics) have certainly started with a vengeance which is no doubt how they intend to continue.

And it’s not just about child benefit where Cameron’s political antennae seemed to disappear down a very large hole. Cutting child benefit for higher rate taxpayers was always going to create a storm, made much worse in this instance by the insanity of allowing couples where both worked and both earned less than the higher rate tax threshold to both keep their child benefit. This would have meant that a double earner family would receive vastly more child benefit that one where one parent stayed at home to look after the children.

Cameron and Osborne got it so badly wrong that I see that they are now having to make amends.

Sadly and tragically, it’s not just about what went on at the Tories’ annual conference. The BBC website today reports that Universities UK (UUK), with whom I have had quite a bit of contact over the years, warn that cuts proposed for the higher education sector could see the UK lose its position as a world leader in education.  In their submission to the government’s comprehensive spending review (CSR), they also state that “misplaced and “mistimed” cuts would impact on future economic growth and prosperity. 

The Treasury has asked government departments to look at cuts between 25% and 40% by 2015.  The UUK makes it clear that although, “The UK currently has the second strongest university system in the world … as the latest global rankings make clear, this position could be at risk if we do not invest now.”

I think this is more than enough damage and destruction to be getting on with, especially since it impacts so enormously on our future as a country and on our children. But this is obviously not the Tories’ view.

Yesterday, National Theatre head Sir Nicholas Hynter joined his colleague Sir Nicholas Serota, warning in the Evening Standard that cuts to arts funding could destroy our cultural life. Thirty years ago 60 percent of the National Theatre’s funding came from public sources; it’s now only 30 percent. Sir Nicholas also believes that regional and “fringe” institutions will close if there are swingeing cuts.

Culture and the arts are enormously important for their own sake, for the pleasure they bring and the way they enhance the quality of the way we live.  However, there are also strong economic reasons for a vibrant cultural and artistic life. Culture generates money. The cultural industries in London are the second largest employer after financial services. Cameron, Osborne and the Culture Secretary Jeremy Bunt would do well to bear this in mind before they turn this country into a complete cultural desert.

Andy Burnham’s Campaign Supremo to vote David Miliband second Preference

Labour Party

You may remember that I blogged on 1 September that one of Ed Ball’s most prominent supporters, Geoffrey Robinson, was giving his second preference vote to David Miliband. 

The London Evening Standard has now reported that Gerry Sutcliffe, Andy Burnham’s campaign supremo is also giving his second preference to David

This has to be good for David Miliband.  He already has more first preferences than any of the other candidates and it now looks as if he will pick up a good number of seconds in the MP/MEP section.  

It’s also good news for the Labour Party.  David Miliband is the only one of the five candidates who is prime ministerial material.  He has a sound electoral platform which will appeal to many outside the Labour Party – the very people we need to vote for us in the next general election.

As a Party activist in the 1980s I know what opposition is like – frustrating and soul-destroying.  Believe me, it would not be good for the Labour Party of the people who vote for us if we remained in oppositon party for any longer than necessary.

David Miliband is a winner.  Vote David for victory.

UKIP Ally Goes Potty

Labour Party

The Evening Standard Diary ran this clip today.

‘All sorts of potty ideas seem to emanate from the European parliament but London MEP Mary Honeyball has found an EU equivalent of the Early Day Motion which seems downright cracked.  Italian politician Mario Borghezio is calling for “public archives on UFOs to be opened up and for records to be declassified.”‘

The aforementioned Mr Borghezio is a member of the political group which UKIP belong to – Europe of Freedom and Democracy.

I am left wondering whether UKIP MEPs are aware of this astonishing EDM (Written Declaration in Euro parlance).

I have to say I have rarely come across something proposing a greater waste of public money.  Funny, I always thought UKIP were the self appointed guardians of the public purse.  Well, perhaps not.

Michael Foot, 1913 – 2010

Labour Party

I am very saddened by the news that Michael Foot has passed away today.  He was the leader of the Labour Party during the early part of my political career and I was once fortunate enough to share a platform with him during my time as a Councillor in Barnet in the early 1980s.

Though Michael Foot was our leader during what was the most turbulent period in Labour Party history, he has always been a popular and well-regarded member of the party, as the tributes from across the political divide today have shown.  Throughout his long political career he remained true to his convictions and was an outstanding parliamentarian.  His speeches in the chamber during his time as leader are revered as some of the best in post-war British Politics, even by Conservatives and his political enemies.  Michael Foot was also a journalist and prolific writer, who had managed to rise to the heady heights of editor of the Evening Standard at the age of twenty-eight.  This was before he began his political career which started when he was first elected to the House of Commons in 1945 and lasted until his stepping down as an MP in 1992.  During this time he served as a member of both the Wilson and Callaghan governments, as Employment Secretary, Leader of the House of Commons, and Deputy Prime Minister, before becoming party leader in 1980.

He was an intelligent, thoughtful and charming individual, who cared passionately about the Labour party and British people.  He will be sorely missed.