Posts Tagged Labour

God help Glasgow

Hot on the heels of dissent in the ranks of the SNP come tales of woe from within the ruling Labour party in the City of Glasgow.

There’s a lot at stake. A resurgent SNP has taken the prized political scalp of the City Council as its number one target in next year’s local government elections. It signalled the seriousness of its attempt by appointing Cllr Alison Hunter as the opposition group leader after James Dornan won election to the Scottish Parliament in May.

Yet, there are internal problems over the campaign strategy, essentially over the number of candidates to field. One group advocates a 40 candidate approach while, it has been rumoured, a group backed by Nicola Sturgeon MSP, Depute First Minister (from whose constituency Cllr Hunter hales), want more candidates to stand. It has resulted in bad tempered city association meetings and resignations. For what it’s worth, the Burd reckons the latter strategy – of more than 40 candidates – is the right one. In some wards, a carefully targeted 1 – 2 voting scheme could pay dividends. Labour has managed to get more than one candidate from wards elected in the past. But the way the party is behaving it will be lucky to win any wards at all.

The party is undergoing a purge, removing dead wood in the form of sitting councillors to make way for fresh faces. But newspaper reports suggest the scale of the scalping is causing deep divisions with some who have been dumped threatening court action over claims of procedures not being followed properly. And worst of all, the party might find itself embroiled in financial irregularities with allegations against former Shettleston MSP Frank MacAveety, hoping to return to active politics as an elected member, currently being investigated by police. It might come to nought, but the publicity will be damaging to a party already in the doldrums and still recovering from the resignation of its energetic reformist council leader, Stephen Purcell.

God help Glasgow. For in amongst this morass, the city faces huge economic and social challenges. Even during the boom years, Glasgow featured in all the “worst of” rankings. Lower life expectancy, high levels of poverty, long term economic inactivity, huge social dislocation – these are Glasgow norms. And things are about to get worse. The city council’s budget will be hit hard by cuts coming downstream from Westminster via Holyrood. Services are bound to be affected. And measures like changes to benefits through the welfare reform bill will cause unprecendented strain on families and individuals. If folk who have not worked in 20 years are thrown off the new universal credit after 12 months, where will they turn to prevent themselves and their families becoming destitute and homeless?

The ropey economic recovery will also require careful stewardship to ensure that Glasgow, with its lower skill base and more fragile base, is not impacted disproportionately. Investment means new jobs are still being created but it is hard to tell if it amounts to growth or simply displacement. And in amongst it all is the prospect of the city showpiece of the Commonwealth Games in 2014. Glasgow has a chance to shine on the global stage and the city has to be ready for its big moment.

At a time when the city needs strong and energetic leadership, the two biggest parties, vying for the right to rule, are fighting among themselves. We are less than eight months out from the election, and neither of them have all their candidates in place nor evidence of a campaign strategy in the pipeline. To be sure, the SNP’s problems are fewer than Labour’s and it has the bounce to be expected from an outstanding performance across the city.

Perhaps the internecine troubles over candidates point to an obvious solution, that of allowing city folk to participate in candidate selection through primaries. Seeing as the parties are having a little difficulty working out how many and whom, handing the whole process over to the public might work? There have been others touting the use of primaries for candidate selection for Holyrood, mainly I think from the Labour camp. Not only would such an innovation sort a little local difficulty, it would provide a useful road test of a different way of selecting candidates that might result in quite different candidates being put forward.

And Glasgow might just get the candidates and councillors it deserves, rather than the ones the parties think it does.

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Tom Harris: Labour’s transition man?

We have a contender.  Maybe even two, if Ken Macintosh’s denial of denying he ever said he won’t be standing turns out, in a roundabout way, to be an intention to stand.  But definitely – he has financial backers apparently! – Tom Harris MP.

If Labour changes its rules to allow an MP to stand for the post of LOLITSP (trademarked @twodoctors).  Or rather Not in the Scottish Parliament.  This electing a new leader malarkey may take a while yet.

But what of the Harris man?  Did he set up Labour Hame as a vehicle for his ambitions?  If he wanted that, he’d have kept up his own blogging venture.  Where’s the stand-out opportunity for a wannabe leader in a collective that allows people to air their views, sensible and otherwise?  Labour Hame – to this reader – seems to be an honest attempt to create an internet space for Labour peeps – and beyond – to have their say and posit ideas and views on the future direction of the party in Scotland.  It’s not necessarily living up to its aims yet but there is some thoughtful stuff being posted.

Is he treating Scotland as sloppy seconds?  Yes, he might have felt a bit sore at being overlooked for Ed’s shadow Cabinet and the switch of his attentions to Scotland may be an attempt to satisfy his ambitions but what politician didn’t have ambition?  In any event, for all the SNP folk making an issue of this, they have a short memory.  Didn’t the SNP insist that all its MPs stand for Holyrood in 1999?  Didn’t Alex Salmond resume the leadership of the party and still stand for Westminster?  Didn’t he actually lead the party while an MP and not an MSP?  As I recall, it all worked out fine.  If it was good enough for the SNP, why not Labour?

As someone who likes to see the best in folk – most of the time – but is still capable of tempering such idealism with the pragmatism gained from years of living and working in and around politics, here’s my take.  Labour has to go into a period of thinking the unthinkable, of doing the previously undo-able if it is ever to turn its electoral fortunes around.  And it needs a transitional leader to do so:  could Tom Harris be that man?

Already, he seems to be gathering potential support from a wide range of sources within the movement.  This would be one of his strengths, the fact that he belongs to no obvious clique or faction.  Very much his own man and perhaps a bit of a loner in fraternal terms, this lack of alignment with this wing or that, might actually allow him to build the necessary coalition of votes across parliamentary groups, members and trade unions.

Tom Harris has never been an orthodox Scottish Labour MP.  A Blairite when everyone else in Scotland was airbrushing the Prime Minister out of existence, he hasn’t exactly been on-message with the Scottish narrative of the last twelve years.  He thinks aloud, which is refreshing actually.  And means he would not shy away from putting stuff out there, realising what others still fail to come to terms with, that Labour has nothing left to lose.

Aidan outlines the purge Labour requires to perform more eloquently than I could.  From his statements and blog pieces since May, Tom Harris appears to have the appetite for reform, and the challenges that brings, while others who are much more establishment Scottish Labour might not be.

He is a natural communicator, at ease on television, radio and in the world of new media.  Which counts for a lot.  Labour does not need a big-hitting parliamentary politician at this stage, to lead the party in an electoral contest.  There ain’t one coming anytime soon.  Next year’s council elections are a write-off;  if they manage to end up with a similar number of councillors as 2007, it will be remarkable.

Scottish Labour needs to reform internally and renew externally over the next few years.  And while there are potential electoral rewards down the line for the party, the leader who drives such change is only really awarded political plaudits with the application of hindsight.  Just ask John Swinney or Neil Kinnock.

A transitional leader has different qualities from one who wins elections.  He/she needs to be capable of making change happen, to be resilient, determined, with a plan and attention to detail, capable of reaching out to a range of disparate voices, particularly to reassure the fretful, of holding the jackets and allowing robust discourse but also applying discipline when and where it is needed.  Keeping the core on side while jettisoning unnecessary membership baggage (if required) and creating space for new supporters.  Establishing a rationale and a definitive purpose that all can unite around – actual policy comes far later.  Modernisation is a big task.

Already Harris has started setting out his stall – more, much more, will be required of him, and other putative leaders.  He has at least started well – first out of the blocks and acknowledging that no change is not an option.  Now all we need is for Ken Macintosh to show his hand and we might even get a debate and a contest.



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Election round up: Never mind the parties, what about their voters?

How do you round up when there’s nothing to round up?  I mean, they might as well not have bothered this week.

It’s beginning to feel like Groundhog Day: every morning the meeja are summoned to some inane photo opportunity in some poor unsuspecting town; the respective machines reel off constant announcements and statements (go visit the Steamie to see how relentless they are); news programmes dutifully report the day’s headlines and if they’re really lucky, a gaffe.  And then everyone goes leafleting, canvassing, to hustings and meetings and then they do it all again the next day.  Yep, so far, so dull.

What happened this week?  More polls showed a super soaraway lead for the SNP;  a relaunch for Labour put Salmond, the SNP and independence firmly in its sights;  Annabel presented a ridiculous caricature of herself, if this is possible, in a hairnet eating teacakes;  Iain Gray failed to fight Salmond in the Asda aisles;  and Hadrians wall was breached as UK leaders and big hitters headed north to shore up the faltering Labour and Lib Dem campaigns, and Mr and Mrs Salmond went to London to see the Queen and that wedding;  shock, horror there was a wumman in charge of the country and the sky didn’t fall in.

Dear voter, hang tight, the end is in sight. Here’s hoping for a rip-roaring grand finale with two leaders’ debates this Sunday on the BBC and then on Tuesday at STV.  Please inspire us with a gripping toe-to-toe discourse on the key policies and issues.

So that’s the parties;  what about the voters?  Who is actually voting for whom in this election and what does that say about, well, anything?

Using the IPSOS-Mori poll because it has the most detail in terms of voter disaggregation, there are few surprising variations on what we might expect.

If you intend to vote SNP on 5 May, you are most likely to be male, aged 35 -54, working full time, born in Scotland and living in a rural area, in the least deprived communities.  However, the SNP can also expect a considerable vote from pensioners, though amongst younger age groups, its vote is pretty evenly split between those having children and those not.

Given that Labour and the SNP are fighting it out for the centre ground, they might also be tussling over the same voters?  Actually, no.  Labour voters are more likely to be female, under 35, working part time, living with children in a council or housing association house in the most deprived areas in cities or towns.  Interestingly, their voters are just as likely to come from other parts of the UK or indeed, beyond, as from Scotland.

What does this tell us?  That Labour is holding onto its traditional voter ground, is resonating with the “squeezed middle” but needs to do more to secure the aspirational vote.  It is clear that this vote still sits largely with the SNP.  And despite big efforts, the SNP is still toiling to appeal to women and urban voters.  This matters: if the SNP’s projected lead turns into seats, expect Scotland to turn largely yellow all across the North and South of Scotland, but the central belt will stay stubbornly red.  One other interesting demographic is how few people (according to this poll but probably backed up by experience) born outwith Scotland intend to vote SNP:  the party’s civic nationalist messages do not appear to be getting through.

Perhaps the most significant development is the switch of the all-important pensioner vote, which has been mirrored in the polls throughout this election and which I blogged on previously.  Given older people’s propensity to actually go and vote, these are the voters likely to have a huge bearing on the overall result.  And the shift would appear to be just reward for the SNP Government’s overt woo-ing with a range of pensioner-friendly policies.

What of the other parties?  Conservative voters are most likely to be female, retired, without children, born elsewhere in the UK and living in the most affluent areas in rural communities.  Little surprise there then, but note that their main challengers for this vote are the SNP (who are winning it hands down).

The Lib Dems’ vote is most likely to be younger (25 -34), have no children, own their home, and again live in the most affluent areas of rural communities.

Do you see the pattern?  It seems to support the headline findings which show that the SNP is taking votes from both these parties.  And it also shows the danger of believing the national polls in terms of how big the SNP’s lead over Labour actually is.  Unless and until the SNP is winning votes from Labour in urban constituencies, few seats in the central belt will change hands.

Effectively, the SNP is in the lead because it is taking votes away from the Tories and Lib Dems in largely rural seats, which is also supported by IPSOS-Mori’s findings on the regional vote.  These suggest more Tory and Lib Dem constituency voters intend to vote SNP on the list vote than for Labour.

It all points to two things.  First, that we are likely to have a big urban-rural divide in terms of election outcome.  How that will play out in Holyrood and government remains to be seen.  Secondly, Labour has indeed got its campaign strategy wrong.  Its lagging behind the SNP has less to do with losing the national battle (though this has undoubtedly had an impact), and more to do with mistaking this election – as veteran political journalist Angus McLeod deftly pointed out – as a core vote one, when it has actually been a switcher election.

Finally, what of the Scottish Greens?  Well, the party enjoys pretty even support across all the demographics, though its vote is more likely to be urban, living in the least deprived areas and most likely to have been born outwith the UK.  Everything else is pretty marginal: while having a universal appeal across age groups, gender and employment status might suit the egalitarian spirit of the Greens and their need to pick up regional votes from all types of voters, one wonders what might happen if it targeted more heavily towards particular groups and communities?

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Election round-up – target seats and voters

If you were hoping to rest your brain this holiday weekend, you might want to mosey on over to some other blog.  This week’s election round-up is taking a wee look at target seats and voters.  And it’s complicated.

It is one of those sad but true facts that some constituencies matter more than others to the outcome of this, and indeed, any other Holyrood election.  For example, for the SNP to overtake Labour in Uddingston and Bellshill would require some kind of cataclysmic event and a swing of hitherto unseen enormity.  So, even if Michael McMahon never issued a leaflet and spent the whole of the campaign sunning himself in Majorca, he would still be a shoe-in. 

On the other hand, Glasgow Southside is a battleground where every vote counts.  The SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon took it from Labour at the third time of asking, and just as she was getting herself comfy, along came the Boundary Commission to remove her majority.  A few streets added in, a few taken out and suddenly, this constituency has a wafer thin, notional Labour majority.  Ms Sturgeon is in the unenviable position of having to win her own seat back.

The SNP and Labour have key targets up and down the country which they must gain or hold in order to emerge with the biggest number of seats in Parliament and win the election.  However, it should not be assumed that they are only battling each other – some targets involve the other parties.  So where in Scotland might we find the gladiatorial battles?

Glasgow Southside;  Linlithgow;  Stirling;  Almond Valley;  Edinburgh Eastern;  Cunninghame North;  Dundee City West;  Aberdeen Central;  Clydesdale;  Falkirk West;  Kilmarnock & Irvine Valley;  Clackmannanshire and Dunblane; Na h-Eileanan an Iar (all are marginals with either the SNP and Labour in first or second place in 2007)

Midlothian South, Argyll and Bute, Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, and Aberdeen South (SNP – Lib Dem tussles)

Dunfermline;  Edinburgh Central;  Edinburgh Southern (Labour – Lib Dem fights)

Dumfriesshire is a rare beast indeed being a Labour-Conservative battle, while the Conservatives still dream, occasionally, of taking Perthshire South (Roseanna Cunningham’s seat) from the SNP.

But things are not static during an election campaign:  trends and intelligence emerge from polls and parties’ own voter identification activity that bring other seats into play.  Thus, SNP and Labour have both clearly scented weakness in seats held by the Lib Dems and Conservatives;  constituencies like Edinburgh Pentlands, Galloway and West Dumfries, Ayr, North East Fife and Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch are now in the mix.

Of course, the existence of a regional vote that provides a top up of seats through the list system complicates things somewhat.  Parties now cannot focus on these key marginals and ignore everywhere else.  Every vote really does count on the list so there also does have to be a universal campaign to ensure that seats are won through this route.  It is of particular importance to the SNP (and parties like the Scottish Greens who do not put up constituency candidates at all) which is why everyone from Alex Salmond down realised being in the lead on the constituency vote in polls was not enough.  Thus, the SNP has been promoting the regional vote as required to elect the government, which is somewhat massaging what the list system is supposed to do. 

Labour, meanwhile, is working to ensure it does not cede seats on the regional vote, and can pick up the odd one as a kind of bonus.  But its beam is focused firmly on winning in about twenty very marginal constituencies in order to deliver them a majority of seats and election victory.

So, what does it mean to be a target seat?  A shed-load of leaflets;  support from parties’ central resources;  activists being sent in from neighbouring constituencies to help out;  morale-boosting visits from party leaders and other national figures;  remote canvassing by telephone;  and if voters are really, really lucky, a doorstep visit from the candidates.  By this stage, less than two weeks out from polling day, everything but the kitchen sink will be being thrown at these constituencies.

But it’s actually even much tighter than that.  Even within this minority of seats, there are some voters who matter more than others.  Those who have previously voted for one of the parties and who will do so again;  those who are still thinking about it but are inclined to do so either for the first time or again;  those who don’t know;  and when support for a vote is perceived to be soft, the previously identified votes for that party.  There is also the need to factor in those likely to be more cheesed off or more likely to switch, which in this election, is where the squeezed middle comes in – families, women, people aged 35 – 44 and C2s.

If the parties have done the work, with less than two weeks until polling day, they should have a bank of people who are certain or at least very likely to vote for them.  They are effectively votes in the bag.  Now, the big push is to go back to all those they know have voted Liberal Democrat or Conservative in the past to see if they can be persuaded to switch or at least, lend their vote.  A final attempt is probably also made at this stage to persuade some of the undecideds, the classic floating voter who often does not bother, to come on board.

Of course, finding the targets are only half the battle:  getting them out to vote on the day or earlier by post is the most important bit.  All of these poor voters in these key target seats can expect to be hattered and harried several times on polling day, to ensure they do actually vote.

It really is a numbers game:  intensified work and activity in certain target seats combined with identifying enough voters and then making sure those people cast their votes.   

And the moral of this election round up?  If you live in one of the above-named constituencies, and are a 38 year old woman with children who is a clerical assistant or a mechanic, who has voted SNP or Labour in the past but isn’t sure how to vote this time round, you might not want to share any of this with the parties. 

If you want any peace between now and 5 May, you could go on holiday.  Or take a vow of omerta, keep the phone off the hook, change your mobile number and email address and never, ever answer the door.

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Election round up: the media battle

How does the saying go?  A picture is worth a thousand words and elections are no different.  The uninitiated might think the battle is for copy and content but no.  One big, fat visual is enough to make even the most grumpy campaign co-ordinator smile.  For a moment anyhow.

So, two and a bit weeks in, a slew of manifesto launches later, who is winning this particular battle?

Never thought I’d be saying this but STV vs the Beeb?  No contest.  Hats off to Matt Roper, the digital content geek at STV -  the commercial channel has wiped the floor with the one what we pay for.  And frankly, have a right to expect better from.

STVstole a march with the first televised leaders’ debate and a live blog facility.  Its offering includes news, news round ups, live streaming, a postcode searchable facility for your constituency and region, profiles of them and the candidates, blogs and analysis, a twitter stream for all candidates, its pack of reporters assigned a party each, a polling panel, innovative programming and of course, Bernard Ponsonby overseeing proceedings.

What does BBC Scotland offer?  A shoestring in comparison.  No dedicated election space or heading.  A bog standard round up page that scrolls the oldest first (even the burd knows that is a big no-no).  There is, though, an impressively designed candidate map with postcode search facility.  And of course, Brian’s Blog (Taylor in case you were wondering), though it’s not been updated since Wednesday. Tsk, tsk.  It is all a bit, well bitty and half hearted.

The fact remains, though, that newspapers and what they print during the campaign will play a big role in informing the voting public, even if they are no longer the influencers they once were.  Looking at this week through the papers’ pictures provides some clues about who they will all be backing and urging their readers to back.

It’s unlikely that the Record will spring a surprise on us this election by transferring its traditional allegiance from Labour.  The Tories’ manifesto launch got a whole page (with an image of Annabel looking like she was about to eat the thing), the Lib Dems a paltry half page with a bigger photie of Iain Gray than Tavish Scott, and Labour a full two pages, complete with graphics, analysis and one or two well place pics of the leader.  Everyday this week (I think  – funnily enough, I’m not an habitual Record reader) Iain Gray’s fizzog featured somewhere, though Nicola Sturgeon also scored a few.  If Record readers still can’t recognise Mr Gray at the end of the campaign, it won’t be for its trying.

The Sun appears to be moving towards backing the SNP if its current coverage and slant is any indicator. Some nice pics of Salmond, highly positive coverage, a couple of front page exclusives, all adding up to what seems like a successful wooing.  A result in any party’s book.

Of the two Scottish broadsheets, the Scotsman is playing it most canny.  Pretty fair, proportionate coverage so far for all the parties and a share of the images.  Plenty action shots which they all like: how refreshing that someone is playing nicely.  The Herald – well, if they don’t come out for Labour I’m going to be a curry and a tenner down.  The Tories got a nice pic of Annabel (with a bizarre rainbow background) and damning headlines for their manifesto launch, but by far and away the best image of Iain Gray this week appeared in Thursday’s edition to coincide with his party’s manifesto launch.

The SNP, of course, tried to steal Labour’s thunder with Brian Cox’s endorsement of the SNP in this election.  Did it work?  Sort of.  A great big splash and clever headline on the front page of the Sun on the morning of Labour’s manifesto launch ensured coverage spilling over into the broadcast news headlines and into other newspapers the following day.

They did the same to the Lib Dems, with the endorsement of Salmond for FM from retiring MSP John Farquhar Munro.  They needn’t have bothered – no one was up for covering it much anyway.  Yesterday’s people would appear to be the view of the meeja, which tells us a lot.

In terms of news management, the SNP is playing a blinder, though its Scottish Futures Fund launch did fall a bit flat, when such an initiative deserved much more coverage.  Its experience tells, not least because they have veteran media man Kevin Pringle at the helm.  But they should be careful on two counts.  Playing dirty can always backfire, especially when the other parties have time to prepare to counter the SNP’s manifesto launch this coming Tuesday.  Moreover, the problem with blizzarding is that news – and pictures, as happened this week – can get lost in the whiteout.

But of course, the images that dominated the week are the ones that Iain Gray will want to forget.  Whoever is advising him on media management deserves a dressing down.  Or locked in a cupboard until it’s all over and replaced with some more experienced heavyweights.

There’s a Goldilocks effect at play right now.  The SNP?  Too much.  Labour?  Too little.  The media with its low boredom threshhold and attention span needs to be fed just the right amount of stories and images to sate its appetite.  Otherwise, incidents like the one in Glasgow Central station end up dominating the headlines.

Does Labour’s PR fail mark a downward turning point as some journalists and commentators are suggesting?  Nah.  A bad media day dents the morale of the party concerned and provides a filip for the opposition.  Such incidents provide a day’s news, and while they might entertain the masses for a moment, they do not actually influence the outcome of elections.  Anyone remember Jennifer’s ear?

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