Labour’s Long Denial


Since the election there have been thousands of words written about why Labour lost the election, many by very senior national Labour figures. Lord Mandelson stuck the knife into Ed Miliband, and Lord Prescott also announced his contempt for a campaign that offered nothing to Middle England. Tony Blair offered his advice, which was promptly condemned by anyone wanting to become Labour’s new leader. Even David Miliband weighed in, blaming his brother and taking the chance to knife him back.

Labour’s campaign message was relentlessly negative, amateurish and at times appeared to be contradictory, angry and negative. Fundamentally though, Labour were unable to persuade the public they were trustworthy with the economy.

In the final weeks of the campaign Labour were hit time and again by the relentless messaging of Lynton Crosby, who focussed on the SNP/Labour message that broke through with the public. But Crosby would not have been able to use that message if Labour had been substantially ahead in the polls – if they had a message that was appealing to the public. Essentially he pushed on an open door.

Last night I was talking to someone who should be a Labour voter. Why, I asked, didn’t they vote Labour. The answer boiled down to trust, and that Labour didn’t offer policies that appealed to people who wanted to make their lives better.

One prominent Labour campaigner has described this as voter’s self-interest. I think to some extent he is right – but having identified many of the flaws in Labour’s campaign he then comes to the wrong conclusions.

The Tories offered policies which appealed to aspirant families who want their children to have an easier time than they did. Policies like Help to Buy – proposed but then abandoned by Labour run Ipswich Borough Council – persuaded thousands of voters in marginal seats to stick with the Tories.

But ultimately it comes down to trust. Labour were not trusted to run the economy. In part this was because the Tories successfully placed the blame for the worldwide economic crash on the last Labour Government, on Gordon Brown personally, and by extension on his two key advisors, Ed Miliband and Ed Balls.

Ed Miliband told a BBC Question Time audience just a couple of weeks before the election that he didn’t believe that Labour overspent – yet they were borrowing money at the peak of the boom. Economic policy now is that we should run surpluses in the good years to pay down debt, but Labour never properly made the argument that this was not a policy followed by previous Governments – Tory or Labour. Labour were unable to shake that reputation for economic incompetence, in part because it fed on preconceived ideas about the Labour Party, but also because every single measure the coalition had taken to deal with the deficit had been opposed by Labour in Parliament.

Labour struggled because they offered a negative view of Britain, with very little offer to aspirant families and they had neither a reputation for economic competence or a personable leader.

Here in Ipswich you could argue that it was a microcosm of the national picture. Ben Gummer offered a 6 point vision for Ipswich. David Ellesmere campaigned on his record as IBC leader and on national issues. Ultimately offered a positive local campaign or a negative national one, voters chose Mr Gummer.

I’ve written in recent days that David Ellesmere is not the man to take Ipswich forward. Ipswich Labour Party clearly disagree with me – that’s not really a surprise but I still think it’s a mistake. David will have to show he can work with Colin Noble and Ben Gummer to stop Ipswich Borough Council being isolated in a sea of blue. The future of our town depends on it. Unfortunately evidence of the last four years shows that David will instead spend the next five years creating dividing lines to exploit at the 2020 General Election. That isn’t in the best interests of Ipswich.

But David is perfectly capable of beating Ben Gummer in five years’ time and realising his long held ambition to become an MP. All he has to do is make himself Mr Ipswich. He has to show that he is happy to work with anyone if it is in the best interests of Ipswich voters – all of them not just the Labour ones. He has to show that he wants the council to do all it can to give people a leg up rather than getting in the way.

David needs to show to voters who didn’t support Labour that “a Labour Government does not just mean higher taxes, people having an easy life on benefits and money being wasted on stupid projects.” To do this he will need to rapidly extricate himself from the Sproughton Road sugar beet factory, which has been seen as a spectacularly bad piece of real estate investment by many in the business community in Ipswich. He will need to show that he accepts that higher taxes hurt everyone, by making efficiency savings at IBC and freezing council tax. And he will need to show that he wants everyone who is currently on benefits to have the opportunity to get a job; he can show that he is compassionate by reminding voters that people would rather work than claim, but that this doesn’t mean we should treat those who have to claim as though they are a drain on our society.

Ultimately Labour will not win elections while they consider that they ran a good campaign locally. They offered a negative view, attacking the Tories rather than telling us what they would do for Ipswich. While Labour nationally will now spend some time considering who is better to lead them – be it Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall or Chuka Umunna – they need to consider locally what they did wrong. Obviously I don’t expect them to do this in public, or to acknowledge that anything went wrong in public, but if they want to win they really do need to stop being in denial.

Time for new leadership at IBC

Ed-Balls-and-David-Ellesmere-17th-Apr-15So Ipswich has voted for five more years of Ben Gummer as the MP – well 45% of them did, and that’s usually considered a majority when Labour get that much of the vote.

They also voted for the Tories at the council – though by a much lower margin.

Yet we don’t seem to have any change. By all accounts, Labour are going to fudge their AGM on Monday and elect David Ellesmere to remain as the Borough leader.

I like David. I think he has good in his heart, and I think he believes that Labour’s policies are better than the Tories. I think he believes that the Tory market ideology is wrong for the town and wrong for the country. And I think he is wrong there – rather than focussing on systems and structures, the only focus should be on outcomes, and where the market is capable of producing a better outcome it should be allowed to.

But the fact remains that regardless of how well-meaning David is, he stood on his record as council leader – and he lost.

I’m sorry David, but I think you have to go. It is time for new leadership at Ipswich Borough Council – leadership that will focus on working with the new leadership at SCC, and the MP, rather than on ensuring dividing lines for partisan gain. Ipswich desperately needs a leader who will work with others to deliver for everyone. Perhaps David has the capacity to become that leader. But his record – the one he ran on – doesn’t show that yet.

No pleasure from seeing an honourable man lose his dream

Journalists, bloggers and politicians. We all live this symbiotic relationship. Journalists and bloggers need access to politicians to make sure our stories are accurate and that we’re reporting the “news” to our readers. Politicians need access to journalists and bloggers to ensure that they get their message across to the maximum number of potential voters.

Yet it is a product of this symbiotic relationship that we bloggers come to know politicians better than our readers do. We have to be careful not to get too close, because that can interfere with objectivity. But some politicians become friends, others acquaintances.

It was with this in mind that I was suddenly faced, in the early hours of Friday morning, with the knowledge that one such politician, for whom I had developed a growing respect, had missed his ambition. David Ellesmere had clearly wanted to be the town’s MP for a long time, and to be rejected by the electorate must have hurt. To then have journalists shoving microphones in his face, jotting down his thoughts in short hand, seemed almost cruel.

Don’t get me wrong. I would have found it much more difficult to interview Ben Gummer after a loss. But that doesn’t mean I had any pleasure in watching David’s dream crumble to ashes before him. He fought a valiant campaign, but was unable to beat the relentless positivity of Mr Gummer.

Mr Ellesmere now wants to return to being Leader of the Council, with his name going before the Labour Group AGM on Monday. I think that’s a mistake for him. He deserves some time away from the front line of Ipswich politics. After all, he did run his campaign on his record as council leader, and that record was rejected by the public, both at the General Election and in the Borough Election, where the Tories gained five seats, four of which came from Labour. The Ipswich public clearly want a new direction here in Ipswich – and Mr Ellesmere doesn’t represent that new direction.

UKIP leaflet misleads public


Claims made by a UKIP council candidate in a leaflet related to an offer of land by IBC for car parking at Suffolk One have been claimed as false by the Leader of IBC tonight.

Alan Cotterell, UKIP constituency chairman and Borough Council candidate for Sprites Ward, claimed on a leaflet that Ipswich Borough Council had offered to sell land to Suffolk County Council for car parking at a discount.

The offer was genuine, but the claims about a discount were not – a fact Mr Cotterell was apparently told immediately after a meeting at which the issue was discussed.

Mr Cotterell had brought up the concerns of some local residents in and around the Suffolk One sixth form college about parking at a meeting of Ipswich Borough Council’s South West Area Committee, challenging visiting County Council Cabinet Member for Transport Graham Newman to do as residents demand and refusing to accept the council’s legal advice that this was not legally possible.

During the row Labour’s council leader David Ellesmere revealed that Ipswich Borough Council had offered to sell land to the County Council to allow for a car park to be built, but had not heard back from the County Council. Mr Newman said that this was the first he had heard of the offer but he would investigate it.

However at no time did Mr Ellesmere suggest that the land had been offered at a discount – indeed the Borough Council has a legal duty to obtain the best value possible for all land disposals. And tonight Mr Ellesmere confirmed that he had not offered a discount to the County Council – and that Mr Cotterell had been told that.

Mr Cotterell has been asked about the claims in his leaflet but has yet to respond to questions.

Unpredictable? Anyone who says they know what’s happening is lying.

Less than three weeks to go until polling day and this is still one of the most unpredictable elections anyone can remember. Indeed Ed Balls quipped, on a visit to Ipswich yesterday, that even when people were wrong in the past, they were collectively wrong. Wilson was incorrectly expected to win in 1970. Kinnock likewise in 1992. Cameron was expected to get a majority in 2010.

Anyone who tells you they know what will happen in this election is lying. But what we can do is start to predict individual seats. There are some really exciting changes happening, which will make election night one of tears of joy and anguish.

Here are my tips for seats that will – or won’t – change hands unexpectedly.

Castle Point – The Tories have held Castle Point for every election since 1983, with the exception of 1997 when Labour took the seat for four short years. Bob Spink quit the Tories in 2008 and briefly joined UKIP, before resigning the whip and sitting as an independent MP. He lost to Tory Rebecca Harris in 2010. Yet UKIP’s Jamie Huntman might well be on course to become a UKIP MP, in what has suddenly become a close fight between the Tories and UKIP. UKIP gain.

Harlow – This seat is a classic bell weather seat. Labour hold it when they are in Government, the Tories when they’re in power. In 2010 Robert Halfon won the seat from Bill Rammell and many expected it to go back to Labour in this election. But Mr Halfon has been an outspoken and populist MP and privately some Labour officials have conceded that they’ve lost Harlow. Tory hold.

Norwich South – In 2010 the Liberal Democrats narrowly beat sitting Labour MP Charles Clarke, leaving Norwich unrepresented by a Labour MP for the first time in decades. However in a defining example of the dangers of coalition for the junior partner, the Liberal Democrat candidate Simon Wright is likely to come third – or even fourth – in his defence of his seat. This seat is a competitive race between former BBC journalist Clive Lewis for Labour and the Green Party’s Lesley Grahame. It’s apparently very tight, but I suspect that Labour will have done enough here. Labour gain.

Clacton – There is a rule in politics that personal votes are rarely worth more than a handful of votes. Clacton is the seat that proves that every rule has an exception. Douglas Carswell won this seat with 53% of the vote as a Tory in 2010. He then won the seat in a by-election he caused to become UKIP’s first elected MP – with 59% of the vote. Everyone else has given up on this seat, and it would be a massive shock for Mr Carswell not to be returned as the next MP for Clacton – a shock akin to David Cameron losing his Witney seat to the National Health Alliance party. UKIP hold.

Rochester – I’ve heard rumours that there are Tories at Conservative Campaign Headquarters who are so angry with Mark Reckless that they’d be happy to have lost the General Election to a Labour majority, so long as Mark Reckless lost his seat. The Tories have flung everything they have at this seat, and with UKIP unable to maintain the by-election atmosphere they had six months ago, Rochester Castle is likely to be breached. Tory gain.

Finchley & Golders Green – Most of this seat is an approximate successor to the seat that Baroness Thatcher represented for 33 years – yet in 1997 it went red. Labour’s Rudi Vis held the seat from 1997 to 2010, when Mike Freer won with a healthy majority. Yet a shock poll by Lord Ashcroft this week puts Mr Freer 2% behind his Labour opponent Sarah Sackman. Since the poll was carried out over Passover, it is likely flawed, and it would be a huge shock for Labour to have overturned a 12% majority. Because of this poll, and because it was Maggie Thatcher’s seat, expect the media to be shocked that Mike Freer holds on. Tory hold.

Miliband shows NO history of standing up to power; he bends the knee

The national media appears to be obsessed with Ed Miliband in a way that they haven’t been with previous opposition leaders – red or blue.

Miliband is a busted flush, they say, the public mistrust him. He’s a joke, or he’s the man who stabbed his brother in the back. Most damningly, he’s the Tories secret weapon.

All of this is utter rot, of course. He’s a decent guy who has an ability to connect with voters in a very direct way – face to face. It is hardly surprising Labour want to hold 4 million conversations with voters; if Miliband was involved in all of them, they’d be a lot further ahead in the polls.

But Labour have GOT to get a better answer when the national media come calling and question his leadership qualities.

Labour candidate for Ipswich, David Ellesmere, told Channel 4 News a fortnight ago that people recognise Ed Miliband “stood up to power” because he took on Rupert Murdoch. Last night he was at it again, claiming on BBC Newsnight that:

“When people think about the way he stands up to powerful interests, when he stood up to Rupert Murdoch over phone hacking, when he stood up to the energy companies when David Cameron didn’t, and in particular when he stopped the headlong rush to war in Syria, I think people do actually like those qualities.”

Labour campaigners are not going to like me saying this, and they’ll accuse me of the same bias they’re currently accusing the BBC and every other national news organisation bar the Mirror, the People and the Guardian, but what absolute rubbish.

Standing up to power? Let’s take the briefest look at the facts shall we?

On phone hacking, Ed Miliband and Labour got most upset because Labour MPs and peers, like Lord Prescott, had their mobile phones hacked. Despite the fact that interfering with a mobile telephone is already a criminal offence, Labour used the scandal to push for laws that would allow Government’s to regulate the content of our “free” press.

As for standing up to Rupert Murdoch, if only he had! Just last week Rupert Murdoch told the world how Ed Miliband fawned over him so much at their meeting it was embarrassing. But even if he had stood up to Murdoch, it is easy to attack your enemies in the media, but much more impressive to stand up to your friends. So while Labour MPs were berating Ed Miliband for posing with a copy of the Sun, which he weakly apologised for, there has been total silence from Ed Miliband about the revelations that journalists at the Mirror operated an industrial scale phone hacking that pushed celebrities like Paul Gascoigne into the alcoholic gutter.

David Ellesmere with a block of iceOn standing up to the energy companies, I am astonished that any Labour candidate, anywhere in the country, wants to remind the voters of this flawed policy. What happened? Oh that’s right, Ed Miliband announced a price freeze on energy companies after the election. But it turned out that prices were right at their peak; had the legislation that Labour tried to introduce in the Commons been enacted we’d all be stuck paying much more for our energy than we are now. Since Ed Miliband announced a price freeze, prices have fallen considerably. Suddenly this “freeze” was a cap. Which presumably explains why Labour candidates were queuing up at the Labour Party Conference to have their photo taken with a giant block of ice; ice being related to caps after all. Indeed, now we don’t know if it is a cap (some Labour people say so) or a freeze (some Labour leaflets still claim this). Chaos.

But, I hear you say, surely where David Ellesmere is spot on is when he argues that Ed Miliband stopped the headlong rush to war in Syria. Sadly this too is a re-writing of history. Dan Hodges eviscerates Mr Miliband in a piece for the Telegraph here, making it quite clear that Miliband was initially quite happy to vote for military action after Bashar Al Assad had used chemical weapons on a civilian population – only the second dictator to do so in fifty years – until his backbenchers started organising against him. He then introduced amendment after amendment to his conditions for supporting military action, all of which were accepted by the Government, whose own backbenchers were also organising against. Ed Miliband showed the type of leader he was by doing a reverse ferret and following his rebelling backbenchers into the no lobby in a show of party unity.

So when David Ellesmere says that Ed Miliband stands up to people in power I don’t really know what he means. The only time Ed has shown any backbone at all is when he stood against his brother for the party leadership. It seems he only stands up when he wants to seize power.

A positive campaign? Some hope.

Today sees the start of the General Election campaign “proper”. You might be forgiven for thinking it had started weeks – or even months – ago. Residents of Ipswich, a marginal seat, have been bombarded with literature by both Tories and Labour since the beginning of the year.

At a meeting of the local Labour Party, the election campaign they promised was one of positivity, hope and change. The local Conservatives also argue that they will campaign positively, arguing that Ben Gummer’s record as the town’s MP is one to be proud of.

Will we really be able to get through the next six weeks without the parties descending into negative campaigning? I don’t mean the sort of rubbish you see in the USA, but are we really going to see the two main protagonists stick to arguing their own messages and their own policies rather than denigrating the other?

Sadly I would not put money on it. As much of the message coming from either camp is about negative elements of their opponent’s message as it is positive elements of their own. David Ellesmere and Labour will want to highlight what they perceive as the failings of the Government and Ben Gummer’s complicity in those failings. Ben Gummer and the Conservatives will want to highlight what they perceive as the failings of the Borough Council and David Ellesmere’s complicity in those failings.

Rather than spending the next six weeks taking lumps out of each other over disputed statistics, who said what to whom and who broke what promise, would it not be better to spend the time explaining to the voters what each candidate would do to make things better for the residents of Ipswich?

Unfortunately a desire to prove the other side wrong is strong in any politician. I suspect that desire will overcome any positivity or hope in this campaign. The public will hate that.