17 June 2014

Labour's Last Chance for a Majority

The strategic objectives of the Green Party at the General Election are pretty clear. We need to hold Brighton Pavilion and try and win Norwich South. Here in Liverpool, our local election vote share in our best constituency (Liverpool Riverside) was only half that of Labour's in the local elections. In seats like these, even with the Greens building, winning is an incredibly difficult (but not impossible) task. However, there are an increasing number of seats that we may not be able to win in 2015 but could be seats we take in 2020.

The Labour Party's objective is to win with a majority of the seats in 2015 and form the government. Right now they increasingly look as though they will fall short. They are being led by someone who has successfully alienated much of the good will he had built up with traditional Labour activists and supporters with his actions last week. An ICM poll in the Guardian reports that Ed Miliband's popularity has dropped below Nick Clegg's. Re-read that then think about it for a minute.

Ed Miliband has not yet made one government decision but is looked on less favourably than a leader who has taken his party from 23%+ to less than 8% in the polls. He has been leader of the opposition during a time of austerity, where service after service has been cut. Libraries are closing. Leisure centres are closing. Adult social care services are closing. The list goes on. Yet Labour are barely ahead in the polls with 10 months to go before an election and Miliband is looked on less favourably than John Major in 1996 and Gordon Brown in 2009.

It is pretty clear to me and to many others outside of Labour that he is the wrong person for the job. He is too cerebral and too disconnected from the public. Cameron looks more comfortable than he does. We can comment on this. We can blog on this. We can speak our minds. Labour members and activists, by and large, do not. However, you can find the mood changing in Labour.

I am no fan of David Miliband but I'm pretty sure that had he run against a hugely unpopular Gordon Brown (in June 2009, David Cameron’s Tories were polling 39% and had a 12% lead over Labour), he would have won a leadership contest. Then the result in 2010 would potentially have been a Labour / Lib Dem coalition rather than the one we got. To any activist in Labour I say - don't let history repeat itself. This is your one chance for a change now, straight after the appalling error of judgement by Miliband in over posing with the Sun (for a third time). Yvette Cooper or Andy Burnham as a leader of the opposition can win the next election. Ed Miliband won't.

Finally, I issue a local challenge to Labour councillors, MPs and activists in Liverpool. Where are you on this issue? Peter Mitchell spoke his mind and deserves credit for saying what others would not. If you are not trying to make a change happen, you are saying cheerio to a Labour win in 2015. While I'm a political opponent and you clearly don't want to tell me about your internal processess, I really, really hope you are not just sitting on your hands and accepting what will at best be something like 2010, or much worse, something like 1992 in May next year. The country will not thank you for another five years of the coalition or indeed, a Tory government.

16 June 2014

A Half-Apology and Peter Mitchell's Chance

Let me begin by stating that Nick Clegg, David Cameron and Nigel Farage all appeared with photos for the Sun's World Cup Special. None of them have apologised. In Clegg's case, local Lib Dems have criticised his posing with the photos. However, they are the government (in the case of the first two) and an unashamed populist in the last case. They are not the the Leader of the Opposition, who has previously made encouraging comments about Leveson yet has now undermined his own position not just on Merseyside, but around the country.

In a world of media spin and angles, the reports are now that Ed Miliband has really come out of this badly. He has posed with the Sun (for a third time) and subsequently been criticised in the Sun after issuing his "apology". I don't think it was an apology. By that, I mean it wasn't a full apology that expressed regret for his actions. Rather, it was a form of words brought together by a media advisor designed to avoid a Sun backlash against Miliband (which it failed to do). So really it was the worst of all outcomes. What is being said about this in the press?

The Guardian reported:

A spokesperson for Miliband said he was "supporting England's bid to win the World Cup" [rather than the paper].

"He totally understands the anger that the people of Merseyside feel towards the Sun over Hillsborough and fully supports the demand for justice for the victims of the Hillsborough tragedy."

But not Ed Miliband himself? The Justice for the 96 Twitter account posted this tweet image:

The Daily Mail (not doing a link) claims he has been humiliated. The Sun lays into him because it says he has apologised. The New Statesman says this about what it calls a half-apology:

"...while this goes further than the initial response, it's still a classic non-apology apology (of the kind that voters loathe): Miliband isn't sorry for the act itself, but sorry if anyone is offended.

The outcome is likely to please almost no one. Those appalled by what one Labour source called "that fucking photo" won't be placated by the non-apology, while those who initially defended Miliband (on the grounds that the leader of the opposition should seek good relations with the country's most-read paper) will now accuse him of lacking the courage of his convictions."

The comments on this Labour List article (which is not directly critical) are telling. The Media Blog also sums it up pretty well.

So here in Liverpool, the Greens, as the new opposition to the administration, have rightly criticised Labour. They are led by Ed Miliband, he is the face of their party, and every bit of campaigning done by Labour MPs, councillors and activists between now and May 2015 will be to put the Leader of the Opposition into 10 Downing Street as Prime Minister. He is the face of Labour nationally. We recognise that local Labour supporters are going to be angry / deeply disappointed with Ed Miliband, but this isn't about media management or misjudgement any more. The local issue now is the half-apology.

He hasn't given Liverpool or Merseyside a genuine apology. He has posed with the Sun three times. This time it hit local and national headlines due to the terrible timing, but he didn't even apologise for that. As the main local opposition party, we have to remain critical of Ed Miliband's failure to apologise, to ensure there is a political price for his actions. You will not find a Green Party leader endorsing the Sun. Far from it. You'll find Natalie Bennett and formerly Caroline Lucas lambasting them for their editorial policy on Page 3, Leveson and other issues.

Locally our response was to criticise Labour, but we need to draw a distinction between the party and the people. Martin Cummins has resigned as a Labour councillor because of it. Peter Mitchell has been directly critical of Miliband and called on him to resign. Today he is meeting Ed Miliband. They both deserve respect for speaking their mind and not being complicit in managing the media issue. Joe Anderson's initial statement was also very forthright but subsequently he has retreated back into what looks like an agreed public line of some criticism, but not too much. John Coyne wrote to all the group leaders looking for a common statement to come from Liverpool City Council to Cameron, Clegg and Miliband. Only Joe Anderson refused.

Local Labour people should be doing everything they can to get Ed Miliband removed from his post and they should be doing it now. At best, he looks like a leader that might be able to gain enough Labour seats so that they are the biggest party after the election but the Tories now look like they will win the most votes according to the bookies. An opposition party 10 months away from the election needs a good healthy lead in the polls and after 4 years of austerity government, Labour should be streets ahead. They are not.

The most talented politician that Labour have on their front bench (regardless of her political position within Labour) is Yvette Cooper. Andy Burnham is a principled and widely respected Labour MP who understands Hillsborough. Labour supporters, councillors and MPs should make a leadership change happen, because otherwise even if they win the next election, they will still be losing in terms of votes and moral authority. They will also have no-one to blame but themselves if they don't act now, and if that campaign is going to start anywhere, it will be in Liverpool. If Peter Mitchell walks out of Westminster and says he can't back Ed Miliband and Joe Anderson were to put his councillor ahead of his leader, then a leadership challenge could happen.

I don't expect to see it. The defences are up and we might instead expect Labour locally to fire every bit of anger and frustration with their own leader at the Green Party instead. I'll say this now. Our criticism now will be for the failure to apologise and Miliband's lack of leadership on the issue. We'll be combining that with his pledge to maintain the austerity budget of the coalition for at least the first year of any Labour government. We'll not let these issues rest because Miliband's Labour Party nationally now looks to voters in Liverpool as little different from the Tory and Lib Dem parties he wants to replace.

12 June 2014

Miliband, that paper and Labour on Merseyside

First, an apology of my own. I'm reproducing the photo and I link to that newspaper. I won't do it again, but it is necessary for this post.

A lot of people are forgetting that it's not the first time that Ed Miliband has posed with the Sun newspaper. Before we get to today's tweet, we can see Ed trying to shake off his "Red Ed" tag here, but the outrage then barely comes close to what has happened on Twitter today. So why the huge reaction today (if you live on Merseyside you'll already know the answer)?

Day by day and week by week, the Hillsborough Inquests are taking place. For years, Liverpool fans were blamed and scapegoated, not least by the Sun. The truth was hidden from view and the anger and outrage at the injustice grew. Today, the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, all posed with the Sun. Even without Hillsborough, this is the paper that continues to promote Page 3 and is owned by a billionaire who has forced generation of politicians to bow down before him. You would never ever find a Green leader posing for that photo.

So you are an MP for Labour on Merseyside, or in Andy Burnham's case, beyond. What exactly do you do? Rightly, Steve Rotherham and others are challenging Ed Miliband. Whatever advice he was given by his American advisor, who probably has no idea about Hillsborough, he is supposed to be a leader. He is supposed to be someone that can rally his activists and members. Not here on Merseyside. Not now. Maybe given the number of safe Merseyside seats, that was part of the calculation, in 2011 and today. So if I'm in the position of Andy Burnham or Steve Rotherham, I'd be making some phone calls to Yvette Cooper. Labour's national leader is deeply discredited now and not just on Merseyside. Labour's poll rating is not where it should be for a party that has been in opposition during unprecedented austerity. Finally, when push comes to shove during the hard times of the next Parliament, even if Labour win, Merseyside's MPs are not going to trust Ed Miliband's judgements.

If you are Liverpool Mayor, you slam Miliband. Joe Anderson has reacted in precisely the right way. As the opposition, our immediate reaction was to condemn this too. However, I know that Cllr John Coyne, our council group leader has now written to Joe Anderson, Steve Radford and Richard Kemp to ask for a cross party statement or letter to show that Liverpool's representatives, of whatever political colour, condemn this.

If you are a councillor or a Liverpool fan, how do you feel about this man leading you into the next election? Can you remain a member and appear on the leaflets (although I don't now think you'll see a lot of Ed Miliband on Labour leaflets here) or do you say that you can't in principle remain? These are difficult ethical dilemmas. If you decide solely on principle, that is rare enough in politics these days, but it may be easier for those in safe Labour seats, where that action won't impact on the General Election result, to make a statement that this was utterly, utterly wrong. If you stay, you get on the phone to Andy Burnham and others to get on the phone to Yvette Cooper.

As for the members and potential activists for Labour, this will have reduced their numbers and activism here. It's difficult to get motivated when your leader is someone who either is ignorant of the proud history of your city and region, or simply made a calculation that on balance that appearing with the Sun is ok. The voters will make up their own mind in May 2015. Labour would still expect to win every MP in Liverpool, but every for every local Labour supporter that sees that photo, Labour's support will drop. In council elections that might make a difference.

At the start of this post, I pointed out that Ed Miliband has posed with the Sun before. Whatever tier of Labour you are in, that is something you have to take into consideration when you make your judgement on Ed's "mistake" today. It wasn't just a one-off.

8 June 2014

Rising Greens: Manchester Central

When time allows, I'm going to have a look around the North West region at seats where a rising Green vote should mean a saved deposit at next year's General Election, with the potential to go beyond that and where based on local election figures, we potentially should be finishing as the second biggest party.

Today's choice is Manchester Central. Format is Party / Vote Share / Seats Contested (out of 8)

Labour 57.2% (8)
Green 13.3% (8)
UKIP 9.0% (3)
Tory 6.7% (8)
LibDems 4.7% (7)
Others 9.1%

This doesn't strike me as prime UKIP territory, but they probably would have polled around the same level of Local Election support as the Greens had they stood in every ward. What is clear is that if the Greens select a high profile General Election candidate early and we run a decent campaign alongside our 2015 Local Election effort, then a saved deposit seems almost certain and a double figure result very possible.

3 June 2014


1 gigaton = 1 billion tonnes

1 part per million of Carbon dioxide abbreviated to 1ppm CO2 = 7.81 gigatonnes of CO2

While the news of President Obama's initiative to circumvent climate change denying bloc in Congress is welcome and the even more welcome decision by China to cap its CO2 emissions we are way behind the curve in tackling climate change (please visit Skeptical Science for the full data - they deserve the full credit).

The recent election omitted any mention of Climate Change in the mainstream media, with saturation coverage on immigration, but now it is over the news hasn't gone away, with the acknowledgement that it will increase the severity of summer flash floods. It is no surprise that the only region of England where the Greens bucked the national trend against us in the European Elections, was the South West, which was hit by appalling floods in the winter. Enough people there have recognised that voting Green is one way to do something about it.

Many of us Greens are exceptionally frustrated that at a time when the issues of climate change, biodiversity and fracking should have been headline news, in the run up to the European Elections, they barely got a mention. The issue hasn't gone away and it won't go away. It will eventually not be able to be ignored. Our battle for recognition of the issues will have to continue. The BBC Daily Politics Show, fronted by a known sceptic, has seen fit to feature women MEPs who have just been elected, including the sole remaining Lib Dem MEP, but not one of our Green MEPs (we have 3 MEPs and the Lib Dems have just 1).

If you haven't signed already then please do sign our petition for media balance on the BBC.

1 June 2014

Liverpool Riverside 2015

[Quick warning - this post contains a lot of analysis and percentages]

As we've previously made apparent, Liverpool Riverside is our target constituency here in the North West, and the results from the local elections show why that is the case. Looking at the 7 council wards in the constituency, vote breakdowns are as follows:

Labour - 11,548 (7/7)
Green - 5,830 (7/7)
Lib Dem - 1,398 (4/7)
Conservative - 1,118 (7/7)
UKIP - 753 (3/7)
TUSC - 545 (5/7)
Liberal - 355 (7/7)
Independent - 148 (1/7)
English Democrats - 60 (1/7)

So Labour are still comfortably winning in Liverpool Riverside with 53% of the vote, but the Greens are now the clear second party in the constituency with 27% of the vote. There are other factors to consider, for example that the Lib Dems didn't contest their weakest 3 seats in the constituency and that UKIP only stood in 3 and probably would have been higher if they had stood in all 7, but I can confirm from our observations of the Euro count, that even in the Euros we were ahead of UKIP in this constituency, despite UKIP ending up as the second party in terms of city wide Euro vote share. Within the constituency there are now 17 Labour councillors and 4 Greens. There are no Liberal Democrats or Conservatives, so on all counts, we are now the party best placed to challenge Labour for this seat.

Labour were genuinely shocked to be beaten by the Greens in Greenbank. Our sampling indicated that we won every polling district, so it wasn't just a protest vote related to Sefton Park Meadows, but a clear indication that voters in Greenbank at least, do want an alternative to Joe Anderson's Labour Party on the city council. It was also a massive swing from Labour to the Greens from 2012 to 2014. In the last locals, Labour beat us by 60% to 19%, yet Lawrence Brown won the seat this year for the Greens 48% to 38%. So what are our prospects in the other wards?

Mossley Hill: Labour 42%, Green (3rd) 18%
Princes Park: Labour 67%, Green 16%
Central: Labour 63%, Green 19%
Riverside: Labour 67%, Green (3rd) 9%
Kirkdale: Labour 79%, Green (3rd) 6%

Mossley Hill was a secondary target for us, with Helen Randall building support. With the last Liberal Democrat councillor gone and their efforts likely to be a desperate bid to hold onto Church and Woolton in a General Election year, we'll be stepping up our campaigning there. This is likely to be our best ward to target after Greenbank for a gain, recognising that the higher turnout in a General Election has previously given a boost to Labour in local elections.

Princes Park may be a wide gap but again we could potentially challenge Labour here if we can generate the same type of swing as in Greenbank. Central may be a better outside prospect and we did a little bit of campaigning there this year and saw a 7% jump in our vote. The huge student population (over half the ward's electorate last time I looked) means that large swings can potentially happen if we get our campaign right. Riverside and Kirkdale will be much tougher to crack for us. It may be 2016 or 2018 before we are in a position to challenge to win seats there, but our new status as the main opposition party in the city should boost our media profile and our recognition at local elections.

Candidate selection will be crucial and I know we are looking to get our 2015 team in place as early as possible. There is an appetite for a real opposition party here in Liverpool and the Greens are ready to step up to the challenge. The message to Labour in Liverpool is that we are serious and we are determined, not just to win council seats, but to win this constituency. Why do I think we can do this? You only have to read the Guardian to see that a Labour government is promising very little difference to the coalition:

"Labour cannot afford to undo the coalition's cuts in the next government and must expect to be unpopular, one of the party's most senior finance spokesmen will say on Friday."

If Labour can't or won't present a real alternative to austerity, then the Greens will and Liverpool we can and will hold the Labour Party to account for both national and local policies.

31 May 2014

Thoughts on the 2014 Campaign

A week on and the dust has settled a bit on the results. I’d like to thank the entire North West team for their efforts, and that includes everyone who leafleted, knocked on doors and contributed to the efforts we made. There was a national swing against the Green Party of 0.75% and we lost 0.68% on our 2009 vote share (only 4,000 less votes but on an increased turnout).

We would have needed 9.2% to win a seat in 2014 (compared to 8% in 2009) and while I’m obviously disappointed with the result this time, it does confirm to me that 2009 was a simply extraordinary campaign by us just to get into contention. Had we actually managed it, history would have been different and an incumbent MEP would have had a good chance of holding on as the Lib Dem vote collapsed here in the North West.

Overall, I’d also like to thank Chris Luffingham who really did everything he could as a campaign manager nationally. Unlike 2009, he made quick and decisive decisions, used the cash available and decisions like the one to put mini-manifestos inside the Liverpool Echo a day before polling day, undoubtedly helped our 3 winning council candidates here on Merseyside.

I think Natalie Bennett had a really good election for us. She has worked incredibly hard over the 2 years since she won the leadership election and delivered on more councillors and our first increase in MEPs since 1999, despite a national swing against us. We have to acknowledge that we also got back a bit of the luck that eluded us in 2009, when we missed out narrowly in four regions. In the South West, we managed an increase in vote bucking the national tread (lots of reasons and I’ll allow SW writers to explain these), finished ahead of the Lib Dems by 6,000 ish votes, benefited from the absence of any other “left of Labour” list like NO2EU, and saw “An Independence from Europe” list take enough votes off UKIP to allow us to sneak in.

On a personal note, I’m sorry that I couldn’t match the travelling and appearances I managed from 2007 to 2009. While I did my best as lead candidate, I had to manage that along with a full time job and still seeing my family. In the previous election, I had sold my flat so I could work part time for two and a half years and that was a one off. The lead candidate can make a difference and I felt that in 2009 I was able to put us into contention. However even if I had given up my job and hit nearly every town in the North West in the last two years, it probably wouldn’t have been enough to counter the national swing and the much higher threshold to win that last seat. Had I won the leadership election, and not Natalie, then there probably would have been a boost for our region, but I think nationally we should recognise that our increase in membership, councillors and an additional MEP is a successful track record so far.

It is really vital that we start the preparations for 2019 as early as possible. My strong preference is that we start to build for that Euro Election in the North West as soon as possible, and that potential lead candidates can start putting in place plans. Like Rupert Read has admirably done in Eastern region, I think it is the right thing to let people know now that I won’t be seeking the lead nomination next time after filling this role twice. This is a hard thing to do but we need the next generation of Greens to come through, and we need to avoid incumbent lead candidates becoming “seat blockers” because they have a profile in the region. I’ll be 47 next time and hope we’ll have a new lead candidate from the next generation in the party coming through to win that seat. My role, eventually I hope as a number 2 or 3 list candidate in the North West next time, will be to use my experience to support that person between now and 2019.

You never know in politics, but there are some really exciting developments in Liverpool for me to be working on, and I’m looking forward to that challenge. I'll be writing again about the 2015 General Election and politics on Merseyside soon.