29 August 2014

Scottish Independence and a Narrow Win

Today’s poll puts Yes at 47% and No at 53% after you strip out the undecided. Six months ago, polls like this, with less than 3 weeks to go until polling day were thought to be unlikely. It will be a very close finish. Whether the poll methodology is accurate will have to wait for polling day to come and go, but my feeling is that the groups of voters being targeted by the Radical Independence Campaign generally don’t vote and generally don’t register on polls.

The ground operation of the Yes campaign (and Better Together’s efforts) will now be crucial, but what happens if Yes succeeds by a very narrow margin (say a few thousand votes) on an 80% turnout. Will we have “hanging chads” and legal challenges to contend with from an establishment intent on preserving the union? If that is the case, then onlookers from south of the border need to be very aware of some key findings so far in this campaign.

A study by Dr John Robertson, from the University of West Scotland, pointed to media bias during Phase 1 of the campaign (up to 18th September 2013). He has experienced hostility since then from the BBC

BBC Scotland was found to have broken editorial guidelines on accuracy over one of the key issues of the independence debate - membership of the European Union

A narrower follow up study on a specific programme, again pointed to BBC staff making more negative statements about independence than positives

We shall have to see exactly how editorial comments are delivered the day before the election, but again it is likely that the mainstream media will be urging a “No” vote. Should Scotland then go on to vote Yes to Independence, no matter how narrow the margin, it will be a positive vote when the odds were stacked against them. Any vote for Yes needs to be accepted, and while the betting is still against it, the momentum is there for Yes and this really looks from an outside perspective that it will be going down to the wire.

26 August 2014

Northern England and Scottish Independence

I work in West Lancashire but even in our office today, the talk is about Scottish independence. As someone who still speaks with an accent with its origin from north of Hadrian’s wall, people are asking me how would I vote?

When I answer, I make it clear that if I lived in Scotland, I would vote “Yes”. If we get into a debate, I explain why I think voting Yes is in Scotland’s interests. You don’t need me to rerun that discussion. Instead you should read Adam Ramsay’s 42 reasons to support independence.

I answer the question carefully because as a resident in Liverpool, who works in Skelmersdale, two very Labour dominated areas, if someone asks me whether they think it will be good for Northern England if Scotland votes for independence, then the answer has to be a clear “no, unless…”

This is the heart of the problem for Labour campaigners and others who are crossing the border to campaign for Better Together, like our own Mayor in Liverpool, Joe Anderson. For Liverpool, for other northern cities, for the poorer northern regions unfortunately dominated by a London centric economy, then it is a case of Better Together. The presence of Glasgow and Edinburgh as major cities helps offset London’s dominance of Britain. The 59 seats in Scotland prevented the Conservatives winning an overall majority in the 2010 Westminster Election. Without Scotland, the electoral mathematics to form future governments becomes much easier for the Conservatives. Understandably, self-interest of northern English campaigners will play a strong part in those interventions, but it should not ever be mistaken for the Scottish self-interest.

This doesn't mean unrelenting gloom for those of us living in the North of England if Scotland becomes independent because there is the very important “unless” bit to consider. There are clear opportunities from a “Yes” vote for the Remaining UK. Getting rid of Trident is an obvious positive, but that would require a brave decision from a new government. I’m not very optimistic about that, but I’m not ruling it out either, particularly given the abject failure of this government to tackle our annual budget deficit and the huge cost of replacement.

Another opportunity is a fairer voting system for both General Elections and Local Elections. There may only be a narrow window of opportunity for that legislation to pass from 2015 to 2016. If Labour forms a minority government as the largest party after the 2015 General Election, with 320 seats, Lib Dems 20, Others 30, Tories 280, then Scottish independence means the remaining UK Parliament after 2016 will have Labour and the Tories on an even number of seats. The electoral mathematics would permanently be tilted in favour of southern England under FPTP and an inevitable boundary review would make a Labour majority very difficult to achieve in future. There will be some urgency for this, so I am optimistic that at least some progress will be made if we end up with a hung parliament or narrow Labour majority next year.

A final opportunity will be for England, Wales and Northern Ireland to take a clear look at the current constitutional arrangements. England could discover its vibrant 21st Century self, that is no longer steeped in a colonial heritage, but instead celebrates a newer England and embraces a future where we will become more diverse and more open to the outside world. The alternative is that new England will be dominated by a media and an establishment that pander to the worst excesses of UKIP and ultimately votes for an exit from the European Union, dragging Wales and Northern Ireland with it.

In relation to the last point alone, the biggest risk to Scotland if it doesn’t vote for independence next month is being dragged out of the EU in 2017 or later. Indeed if there is very narrow win for the Better Together campaign, but in a future referendum the UK votes as a whole to leave the EU, while Scotland has a majority in favour of staying, then expect a strong argument for another referendum on independence. However, it was only a unique political result and an SNP majority with Greens also voting in favour of the referendum that even allowed Scotland this opportunity to vote. This chance to shape their own destiny may only come once to Scottish voters alive today. The Westminster parties of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives did all that they could to block a referendum. Given the circumstances outlined above, the Westminster parties would argue that Scotland has already voted on this issue, and would block it from happening again.

The parade of civic leaders from south of the border illustrates that Better Together is definitely a valid slogan for northern England in particular. But this is a vote and a choice by the people of Scotland for the people of Scotland. If I was still living as a resident in Bo’ness where I grew up, then I would be voting “Yes”. To paraphrase the Proclaimers, I can’t understand why they would let someone else rule their land [cap in hand], especially when those people are going to be more responsive to the dominant right wing media and UKIP voters in a handful of marginal seats, than to the needs of Scotland.

23 August 2014

Liverpool's next cohort of Green Councillors

From a Press Release sent today:

Greens Announce Target Local Election Candidates

Anna Key could become Liverpool’s first Polish born councillor after winning the Green Party’s selection contest for St Michaels. A governor at a local school and a former chair of Liverpool NCT, she will be defending the seat currently held by Cllr John Coyne who will step down in 2015.

Announcing the results of last week’s ballot, Cllr Coyne, leader of the Greens in Liverpool said:

“I’m really pleased that we have a well contested internal ballot and I’m delighted that Anna has been selected to defend the seat in May next year. She brings a great deal of personal campaigning experience from outside the party and is someone who already makes a strong contribution to our community. I think she will make an exceptional councillor.”

The Greens have also announced that David Morgan has been selected to try and capture a second Greenbank seat after Cllr Lawrence Brown’s stunning win in May. The Greens should continue to see a great deal of support due to the possibility of housing being built on Sefton Park Meadows, but will be expecting a close contest against Labour councillor Laura Robertson-Collins who will be defending her seat for the first time.

In other results, Helen Randall will again lead the campaign for the Greens in Mossley Hill ward, Rebecca Lawson in Riverside, Martyn Madeley in Kirkdale and former Liverpool University student Rachael Blackman will contest Central ward. A second round of selections will be taking place in other wards around the city in the Autumn.

19 August 2014

Wavertree Constituency

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve been selected as the Green Party Parliamentary candidate for Wavertree and as such this blog will now be a campaign one between now and May 2015.

As we've previously made clear, Liverpool Riverside is our target constituency here in Liverpool. I stood there in 2005, Cllr Tom Crone was our candidate in 2010 and Martin Dobson is our excellent candidate there this time. We are the established second place party in the last three sets of local elections. Labour “won” Riverside by 53% to the Green 27% in this year’s local contest.

In 2010 we also stood in Liverpool Wavertree constituency (where I live) for the first time, gaining a modest 1.6% in what was then seen to be a marginal constituency between Labour and the Lib Dems. Oh how times have changed, and I bring you a comparison between the last local elections before the 2010 General and Locals (which took place on the same day) and the 2014 local results.

2008 Local Elections

Lib Dems 53.7% (all wards)
Labour 25.9% (all wards)
Tories 7% (all wards)
Greens 6.3% (all wards)
UKIP (no candidates)
Others 7.9%

2014 Local Elections

Labour 53.6% (all wards)
Lib Dems 17.2% (all wards)
UKIP 12.2% (all wards)
Greens 7.4% (5 out of 6 wards)
Tories 4.2% (all wards)
Others 5.4%

You can see why in 2010 the Liberal Democrats genuinely thought they could win Wavertree. Those local numbers in 2008 were very promising for them and they won every single ward. Fast forward to 2014 and Labour are winning every local ward in the constituency. UKIP have emerged with a decent vote after standing in every ward and benefiting from their Euro vote coverage. The Lib Dems have not collapsed completely but were vigorously defending their last few seats in the constituency this year.

So what should we expect to happen in 2015? The 2008 local election results shows that Labour will do better in General Elections than in local ones in Wavertree. I’m sure that Luciana Berger and her team will be expecting a 60%+ vote for Labour.

In 2010 the Green vote was undoubtedly squeezed in what was seen as a marginal constituency. That won’t happen in 2015 and I expect us to do improve on our 1.6% result. We can also highlight our improved showing at the local elections (although this is a lot smaller than our Riverside constituency improvement), despite only standing in 5 out of 6 wards. We had an arrangement with a local independent candidate in 2014, but even so our support is up and it is evidence we should gain more support at the General Election too. Finally, I think we will also see a benefit from our new status as the official opposition in the city.

The Lib Dems will be trying very hard to defend their remaining two wards, Church and Woolton, only one of which is in the Wavertree constituency. So I would expect some localised Lib Dem campaigning in that ward that matches the Lib Dem effort constituency wide in 2010. Overall, they will do well to finish 2nd in the constituency and holding onto Church ward in a General Election year (with the much higher turnout that benefits Labour) would be an exceptional result. My view is that they are unlikely to hold the seat whether or not Cllr Richard Kemp chooses to defend it.

UKIP will probably do much better than their 2.3% in 2015, but I would expect the Tories to fall back as a result. The remaining potential wild card in all of this was the potential candidacy of Cllr Jake Morrison, who felt bullied by Luciana Berger’s team and resigned from Labour. Recently there has been very little from him to suggest he is still going to stand, but it would be reasonable to assume that if he did, he would pick up some the residual disaffection from Labour supporters within the constituency who are still less than lukewarm about their MP. If he doesn’t, I think most of those voters will back the Greens as a more radical alternative to austerity than Labour.

Coming full circle, it is crucial to point out that our efforts, with our limited resources, have to be targeted in a General Election under our crude First Past the Post electoral system, and because of our stronger support there, financially we have to focus on the Riverside constituency. However by standing, I will give everyone in Wavertree constituency the opportunity to express their support for the more radical policies against austerity, such as a tax on wealth for the top 1%, that we Greens offer in comparison with the Labour Party. I also want to make sure that the current and likely continuing MP for Wavertree is tested at hustings and that the issues that are key for our supporters are on her agenda if she is re-elected. Most of all, I want people who have seen Caroline Lucas in action as our first MP, to vote for us everywhere in the country. Those votes are an endorsement of Green MPs in Parliament and a positive vision for our society.

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.