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.

The Tories and UKIP vote against Children

Labour Party

You would have though that investment in pre-school education and care would be pretty uncontroversial. However, the Tories and UKIP have other ideas, voting against or abstaining on my report looking at how countries across the EU can try to give their children the best possible start in life. 

Just to illustrate how backward looking and out-of-touch the European Conservatives and Reformist Group, which comprises a majority of British Conservatives, and UKIP really are, my report on early years education and care received 506 votes in favour, 27 against and 55 abstentions when it went through the European Parliament today. The abstentions were from the ECR Group while UKIP voted against.

My guess is that the Tories and UKIP do not know about the body of research showing that those who have received a high standard of care and attention plus some education in their earliest years prior to statutory education achieve better at school, are healthier and are more likely to be employed than those who were not so fortunate. Or perhaps they have just chosen to ignore the findings.

Early years learning, which can encompass anything from formal pre-school education through to advice to parents about how to help their children understand the world around them, is crucial in laying the groundwork for success in school and beyond.

As far as the EU is concerned, Europe is made up of a rich and diverse mix of educational traditions, with early education provided in a host of different ways across the continent. And it is important that these services are available for all, in a way that does not stigmatise children by focussing just on people from disadvantaged social or economic backgrounds.

All the more reason to be concerned about the impact of the UK’s Tory-led coalition government’s austerity dogma on children’s services and Labour’s Sure Start legacy. Figures from earlier this year suggested that 250 Sure Start centres could close as a result of funding cuts, while 2,000 will have to provide a reduced service.

 Staff at 1,000 centres have been warned about the threat of redundancy, according to the survey of almost 1,000 centre managers across England.  It has been claimed that the closures and reduced services as a result of government cuts could see 60,000 families lose their local centre.

It is heartbreaking that there is a real danger that the Labour Government’s efforts will have been undermined by short sighted Tory-led coalition cuts that are neglecting children’s long-term needs. But it’s also very clear from our European Parliament experience that the Tories just don’t care.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Another week and another clash with Europe, this time it was over the issue of human rights legislation. Britain’s most senior judges have warned that new legislation threatens “the way the entire system of criminal justice in this country works”. They have warned that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has rejected fundamental rules of criminal evidence enacted by Parliament to ensure that criminals do not escape conviction. You can read the full story here.

Whatever the case the ECHR is unpopular here because the Conservative led government is unhappy with many of its rulings. However, I was not surprised that the Government will seek to reform the relationship between the ECHR and national parliaments when it assumes chairmanship of the Council of Europe in November. It follows controversial rulings on sex offenders and votes for prisoners. I blogged on both of these at the time and am more in agreement with the ECHR than the Con-Dems on both these issues.

The usually pro-European Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show that the government intended to scrutinise the UK’s relationship with the ECHR following calls from a large number of Conservative backbenchers for the UK to walk away from the ECHR because they are unhappy with its rulings. However, once again these little England Tories show a huge lack of understanding of the ECHR. You can read more on this here.

Sex Offenders, Prisoners and Europe

Labour Party

You couldn’t make it up if you tried. By one of those tricks fate occasionally throws up we have seen two European Court of Human Rights rulings come to the fore in the past couple of weeks.

Prisoners getting the vote and those convicted of sexual offences coming off the sex offenders’ register are not matters to be treated at all lightly. Put these together with a European institution and you have a potent mix. The waters then get very muddied as Tory  anti-European feelings become part of the equation.

I have blogged before about prisoners voting, and I have to say I largely agree with Justice Secretary Ken Clarke in that I have no real objection to giving the franchise to this group of people and believe that in the end most of them won’t vote.

Sex offenders present more complex problems. Protection of the public has to be the main aim of any criminal justice system, especially children and young people and other vulnerable groups. This should be at the forefront of our thinking.

I have to say I have been shocked by those who have sought to turn this into a debate on parliamentary sovereignty with seemingly very little concern for the victims of sexual crimes.

Given that this debate is about public protection, there seems to me little problem with sex offenders on the register being allowed to appeal after a reasonable length of time, perhaps 15 years as is the case in Scotland.  It is, after all, only an appeal not a guarantee that the offender will come off the register, and if handled properly should reflect the offender’s likelihood of re-offending. In other words, a sex offender who is still dangerous will not be removed from the register.

In my worst moments it has seemed to me that the sex offenders issue, something which directly affects lives in the most dreadful way, has been turned into an anti-European tirade and used to attack the European Convention on Human Rights.

As many of you know I used to work for the Probation Service. I therefore know at first hand the appalling damage crimes of a sexual nature can cause. I only hope this Tory-led coalition government and Home Secretary Theresa May in particular will start to see this issue in terms of the victims, those who have suffered so much. It’s about making sure we protect the public to keep the numbers of victims as low as we possibly can, not about her and her government’s feelings on Europe.

The Tories’ atempt to deny prisoners voting rights is about self interest not public interest

Labour Party

The Daily Mail and David Cameron are trying to tell us that the Government’s decision to give MPs a free vote on whether or not long-term prisoners should have the vote is about asserting the supremacy of the British Parliament over the European Court of Human Rights.

It sounds good, doesn’t it, and is music to the ears of Eurosceptic MPs. Good old Blighty taking on those uppity continentals who want to destroy our way of doing things.

However, on closer examination it becomes clear that the European Court of Human Rights is not by any means the matter as a whole. Giving prisoners the vote could potentially upset the electoral arithmetic in some Tory seats.  For instance, Dartmoor Prison in the Tory held Torridge and West Devon constituency has an inmate population of about 1000. Since the current Tory majority is just under 3000, the potential for the prison vote to make a difference is very high.

I believe it is no coincidence that Cameron is seeking to deny prisoners the vote as his plan to reduce the number of House of Commons constituencies is going through the House of Lords, albeit with strong opposition from Labour peers. The move to stop prisoners voting is quite clearly part of the same process – to gerrymander constituencies so that the Tories gain maximum advantage by foul means or fair.

So while we have Cameron behaving extremely cynically in order to maintain Tory MPs in Parliament and dressing up in his best anti-EU rhetoric, his junior coalition partners now have a real problem. Since the Liberal-Democrats before the 2010 general election actively wanted to enfranchise prisoners, I wonder where this leaves them in relation to their coalition responsibilities.

Meanwhile the question of European Court of Human Rights rulings still remains. Quite clearly the UK should not go against the European Court. Former Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay, who was incidentally appointed to the post by Margaret Thatcher, has insisted Britain must recognise its rights under the European Convention on Human Rights and is very clear that politics should be conducted under the rule of law.

This is, indeed, true and I wonder what former Labour Home Secretary was doing in signing a motion with Tory MP David Davies calling on the British Parliament to ignore the European judges.

In conclusion it is worth bearing in mind that the only EU countries with an outright ban on prisoners voting are Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Luxembourg and Romania. Were Britain to go down the David Cameron route, we would be among the EU countries that have the least respect for human rights.