Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

It was encouraging to hear that the numbers of women on corporate boards has crept up again. However, we are only talking of a minimal increase of one per cent, but at least it’s heading in the right direction and it’s happened less than a year since the last figures were published.

So, the percentage of women on corporate boards in the European Union now sits at 18.6%, up from 17.8% in 2013, the European Commission figures revealed.

Although an increase is encouraging, this remains far short of the 40% target set by the commission. In addition just over 3% of Europe’s biggest companies have a female CEO. This is a poor figure and needs improving quickly which is why I believe there is a real need for quotas for women sitting on company boards. Three per cent is woeful and shows that there is still so much to do in order to make real impact at a corporate level.

The Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft, revealed in his latest poll that Labour will win in Lib Dem target seats. He also said that Labour is on course for a comfortable majority. There will be an abundance of polls between now and the general election next year, but The Labour Party is right to remain cautious because despite the election being a mere eight months away we still have a lot of work to do; not least fighting off UKIP in their target seats. Indeed we mustn’t lose sight of the real threat they pose and we must be vigilant in dealing with this. To ignore them would be dangerous.

We only have to look across the water to France and the municipal elections to see how well UKIP could do here in the UK. The far-right Front National (FN) won its first seats in the upper chamber over the weekend elections, marking a shift in the political map of France.

Anne Penkith in The Guardian writes, “scored a historic victory in elections to the French senate on Sunday, winning its first ever seats in the upper chamber as the ruling Socialists and their left wing allies lost their majority to right wing parties.” If the FN are starting to gain seats in France there’s no reason to think UKIP couldn’t pose a similar threat in the UK.

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.

Labour is a progressive party or we are nothing

Labour Party

It comes as a disappointment that the Labour Party appears to have done little analysis, at least as far as I know, of the results of the European and local elections held a month ago. While I fully accept that these two polls, often the repository for protest votes, do not necessarily provide pointers to the outcome of a general election, nevertheless, it would only be sensible for the Party to look at the way the votes went and draw conclusions which may be helpful for the future.

The Labour Party really needs to do this for the simple reason that, outside the large urban areas, it is not too good for us. Furthermore, in some places where Labour has traditionally regarded the electors as its “core vote” we lost and UKIP gained at Labour’s expense. There is obvious disillusionment in parts of the country which Labour ought to address urgently and certainly in time to take some remedial action before May 2015.

What is generally regarded as strong Labour territory in some of the Yorkshire and Humber region and southern working-class areas such as Thurrock turned to UKIP rather than us in the European Parliament elections. In Doncaster UKIP gained 24,240 votes against Labour’s 23,743. Across the Yorks and Humber region as a whole, UKIP won 31 per cent of the vote giving them three MEPs and Labour had 29 per cent with two. UKIP also won in Thurrock with more than twice as many votes as Labour, 17,416 to 8,645. The Labour Party should be worried by this strong showing for UKIP, not least because disaffected Liberal-Democrats turned to the UK Independence Party rather than Labour, which would have been the norm in the past.

The exception for Labour was the big cities, especially London, where we won four out of the eight MEPs. This is, I believe, a separate but linked phenomenon, and will be the subject of another blog. The urgent lesson for the Labour Party to address now is what we do about the fact that UKIP came first in the European elections. To imagine that all those errant electors will come home to Labour in a general election reeks of too much complacency. Tory polling guru Lord Ashcroft reckons about half of them will stay with UKIP. While I accept it’s a while to May 2015, Labour needs a strong and credible response in relation to the parts of the country, notably the old industrial and mining areas, which have suffered over the years from loss of jobs and Tory cuts in public services.

The Labour Party firstly needs to understand the lessons it should learn from the decline in its fortunes in these areas which were once solid for us. Although, as a Londoner I’m not particularly qualified to pontificate on the actual places under discussion, I do think that those living in the cities where Labour’s vote is holding up have valid comments to make. Let’s start with the old “being out of touch” chestnut. The Guardian today published their research into the backgrounds of prospective parliamentary candidates in marginal seats. In the 90 seats where Labour is the challenger, the majority of candidates had links to either Westminster or Brussels. In other words, they were political insiders.

While I think the “political insider” criticism is just a bit too trite, it is definitely one of the problems Labour is facing. Any political party which doesn’t represent its voters will find in the end that the voters go somewhere else. Yet the problem goes beyond this since UKIP did very well even in Dennis Skinner’s Bolsover. It is also true that some of these UKIP voters were for the British National Party in the past. It is, of course, also true that society has changed and those in the old mining and non-urban industrial areas are now a minority of Britain’s population.

Maybe it is this very change in the nature of our country – much higher levels of educational attainment, mass communication, the fragmentation of families and communities and, of course, immigration, to name but a few – which is causing UKIP to gain support. UKIP is a backward-looking party, a cancer eating away at the strength of our country which will inevitably attract those who are feeling alienated and disconnected. Labour, by contrast, is a progressive force, outward looking, wanting to improve people’s lives. Sadly, and possibly unhappily for Labour in the short-term, quite a few of those in former Labour areas feel the changes which are taking place so rapidly in our country are nothing to do with them and in any event they don’t like what is going on.

Short of becoming a UKIP clone, possibly in rather more of a sheep’s clothing, there is realistically little Labour can do about the old “core” vote in places which are currently rejecting the party. We need to look forward, to keep to our values, and to represent what is best for the country as a whole and not simply try and get back those whom we have clearly lost. Trying to out-UKIP UKIP would only move the whole political discourse rightwards with disastrous consequences for what the Labour Party should be about – fairness, equality, justice, freedom for the many not the few.

The irony of UKIP, led by Nigel Farage, a public school educated stockbroker, becoming the party of the old white working class is really quite tragic. I very much hope Labour will win back these voters by putting forward a programme in government for all the people of our country. If Labour does not fully embrace progressive policies which recognise the benefits of immigration, are strongly in favour of Britain playing a full part at the centre of the European Union, seek to improve living standards, including health, housing and education, and maintain Britain as a major player in the world economy and in world affairs, we will be hard pushed to get there in 2015. The choice is ours; the 2015 general election is Labour’s to lose.


Unjust Rewards by Polly Toynbee and David Walker

Labour Party

As the Tories get into ever greater trouble over Lord Ashcroft and his Belize dollar, it seems timely to review Polly Toynbee and David Walker’s excellent book  Unjust Rewards.  This short, punchy polemic represents something of a rarity these days – an unashamedly progressive critique of poverty and wealth in present day Britain, and specifically the growing gap between the income of those at the top and those lower down.

Unjust Rewards is hard hitting, using real life case studies and well researched statistics.  Toynbee and Walker have no doubt where to place the blame for our greedy society, personified by out of touch bankers who let the recession happen because they have no contact whatsoever with people outside their narrow social circle.  It lies firmly with Margaret Thatcher.

The other eternally damaging Thatcher legacy is the idea that if you are rich enough and can therefore  get away with it you don’t have to pay tax.  Coupled with this is the equally, if not more damaging belief, that government is incompetent and our tax goes to waste.  We who can afford it do not pay tax and we will convince everyone we possibly can that we don’t need the tax as public provision is useless.  Neither a correct nor an endearing political philosophy.

By contrasting the bubbles in which both the rich and the poor live, Toynbee show just how divided Britain in the early 21st century.  And as ever it’s the poor who pay. 

Yet it doesn’t have to be like this.  Early years intervention in the lives of disadvantaged children can have truly amazing effects, as studies about the effect of Sure Start have shown.  By the time adults face difficulties such as unemployment, practical help can make an enormous difference in getting people back to work.  Government, by no means the inefficient big brother the right would have us believe, can and does have positive effects.

The point of all of this is that revenues go up when people work and medical costs go down as those in work are generally healthier.  Reducing the gap between rich and poor also reduces the corrosive bitterness between the haves and the have nots.

The book’s final chapter is a “manifesto” for action, including the end of “non dom” status so that everyone living in this country pays UK taxes.  If the Ashcroft affair has done anything, it’s surely put this on the map.  No representation without taxation perhaps.