By-election horrors:Labour’s dilemma and the faux fear of UKIP

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Labour’s: What future? Pic Credit :BBC

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Yesterday morning’s results for Labour were  very bad news. For the governing party which has presided over years of austerity and facing a real crisis over the NHS  to win Copeland from Labour is a disaster for the Opposition. Ed Miliband, after all ,managed to win a mid term by-election  in Corby from the Tories, even if he went on to lose the seat at the next general election.

Ignore any specific excuses -. the locality, nuclear industry,a bigger  rural seat – if Labour want to be in government they have to appeal to a broader sector of people and win marginal Tory seats back -not lose marginal Labour seats to the Tories. Theresa May cannot believe her luck – her message that the Tories will govern for all the people and not the privileged few has resonance whatever the facts.

It is not that Labour don’t have good policies for the NHS, community care, social housing, the railways – to name but a few – but they  have no overall vision of what type of society they want Britain to be in the twenty first century and can’t seem capable of explaining it. Also some local councils in Labour areas have the problem of being seen as the Establishment because they been in power for decades. And :Labour’s stand on just defending the NHS is not enough – that has been made very clear in Copeland.

Labour’s win in Stoke on Trent looks good news – given UKIP threw everything at it including their new leader – as part of their strategy for a new dawn replacing Labour as the working class party. But note that the Tory vote held up well and that the turn out was  36.7 per cent which was even below the 46.5 per cent turn out on the same day at a council by-election in Devon which saw a shock Lib Dem win from the Tories. That means the majority of people in Stoke on Trent were disengaged despite  austerity, Brexit and the NHS.

But we should not be so surprised over UKIP’s defeat – anyone watching council election results – outside their Essex and North Kent heartlands – would have realised they are a busted flush post the referendum. In council election after election their vote has been falling and they have even failed to get candidates to stand in seats where an existing UKIP councillor had quit – for example in Norfolk and Newquay in Cornwall. Their latest humiliation was in the Forest of Dean where a Green candidate who came last in a previous election won a seat  from UKIP. Note in Copeland UKIP came fourth behind the Liberal Democrats.

To my mind Labour has to refocus its attack on the mainstream parties. It has to challenge the Tory mantra that they are governing for everybody and  take into account the revived Liberal Democrat campaign in opposing Brexit. Otherwise they will continue to lose seats to both parties – particularly at local level with the May council elections looming.

This means that Labour’s current position on Brexit – to support it  but then pledge to hold the government to account over the  EU negotiations – has to be real. This means that if the deal for future trade,jobs and freedom of movement for Brits is going to be bad, they should combine with the Lib Dems, Greens and Scot Nats and even the Northern Irish parties if they oppose it, and demand a referendum on the terms. This will be a referendum on the facts of what real life will be like after Brexit not one on a vague hope of ” let’s take control”.

There is one other thing Labour needs to do. What was completely unreported this week was an extraordinary council by-election in Winklebury in  Tory run Basingstoke and Deane. Here a Labour candidate overturned a safe Tory majority,increasing the party’s vote share by 31 per cent and getting almost double the Tory vote on a 29 per cent poll.

Labour’s Angie Freeman told the local paper: “I really wanted to win this seat so I could do something for my community.It’s very humbling to know they believe in me and trust me and I’m determined to do my best for this community.

“I live here and know the issues that affect people well, so I will look to actively tackle the problems we’ve got.

“I’ve seen Winklebury go from a thriving community to become such a rundown area.

“We’re losing everything.First the GP went and now with the school too, enough is enough, so I will fight it as hard as I can.”

From what I can gather people in Winklebury couldn’t care a damn whether the Labour Party was led by Jeremy Corbyn or Tony Blair. But they did care that a local person wanted to fight for them under the Labour banner to protect their community. They obviously didn’t believe that Theresa May or Basingstoke Tories that they were governing for everybody.

Now Labour has a lot of new members who joined and the May council elections are going to be the next big political event. Doesn’t it make sense for Labour to galvanise these Young Turks and get them to stand for local council seats and vigorously campaign on local issues? After that we can tackle the issue of the leadership.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Labour needs a simple message

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Jeremy Corbyn: Labour leader. Pic credit: Labour List

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Unless you live in Telford yesterday’s election results and latest polls for Labour were dire.

The council result in Telford was the one bright spark where Labour took a seat from the Conservatives with a 20 per cent increase in vote share. It is particularly significant because it is a marginal Tory Parliamentary seat won from Labour in 2015 by a right wing libertarian and pretty offensive Mp, Lucy Allan. A local blogger, Telford resident aka Neil Phillips, has blogged about her offensive tweeting.

The person defeated was her press officer and interestingly the Lib Dems and Greens did not stand. Also according to a local party tweeter,Andy Hicks, the Labour council financed a pretty formidable campaign against local NHS cuts so Labour was seen on the side of local residents..

But apart from a holding a  council seat in a ward dominated by Lancaster University the results were appalling for Labour. They were fourth in the Sleaford by-election behind the Liberal Democrats and UKIP and their poll standing dropped to a new low of 25 per cent. An experiment in another council by election in Tonbridge and Malling – where the Lib Dems and Greens consciously stood down so Labour had a clear run bombed. The Tories romped home and the Labour vote barely moved up. Disaster.

So what is going wrong. First the huge row over Corbyn’s leadership which split the Parliamentary Party has been no good for the party or the voters. Divided parties are doomed. The good news is that Corbyn’s decision to bring back  old hand Nick Brown as chief whip has brought some real strategy and discipline to the Parliamentary party. This was shown by the way Labour pushed the government into having to say something about their Brexit strategy last week. But so far this has not yet resonated with the electorate that the row is over..

Second the party has a lot to say – and this is shown in increased support in council by elections in their heartlands – for the poor. But the problem for Labour is not everyone is poor although one wonders under present government policy  how many more people will end up being poor by 2020.

Third Labour’s Brexit position is a mess. The Lib Dems have a simple message – vote Lib, stay remain – and UKIP have – vote for us and we get out now, no if’s or but’s. Labour, rather like the government, is somewhere in the middle – we have to leave but we’re not sure how we are going to do it.

Fourth, Labour has a good strong message on the NHS but has no other strong message on  jobs or Britain’s future. It has a very good point in defending employment rights – but it needs to ram this home in much simpler terms so its core vote sees what it means..

No one in Labour has spelt out in simple terms what sort of society it wants – and what it means for people.

But all is not lost. Paul Nuttall has still to convince me that he is going to replace Labour. His party’s vote is at best flat lining or in worse case scenario losing council seats to the Tories and the Lib Dems. Labour is not being challenged in its heartlands by UKIP – it is the Lib Dems that are  starting to sneak back in the metropolitan cities. And I am afraid I thought their progress in the Sleaford by-election in Lincolnshire – where UKIP had previously  found fertile ground- was pathetic. Their share went down when it should have gone up or they should have able to repeat the Lib Dems shock victory in Richmond Park. They didn’t. This leaves Labour a lot to play for -if only it can get its act together.

The loss of Zac Goldsmith and the Lib Dem revival

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Zac Goldsmith: defeated at yesterday’s by-election by the Liberal Democrats Pic credit: BBC

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I have very mixed feelings about the defeat of Zac Goldsmith in the sensational by election victory for the :Liberal Democrats in Richmond Park.

I completely disagree with him over Brexit and I felt he had been seduced by Lynton Crosby’s dog whistle sub racist and Muslim terrorist smear campaign in the Mayor of London election. Anyone in the Tory Party with any sense should know that this would not work in multicultural and multiracial London from the 2015 General Election result- Labour actually gained seats in the capital. And whatever one thinks of Sadiq Khan he is not remotely a terrorist sympathiser.

But I think Zac should be praised  for a rare  quality in British politics. He is a real democrat who believes MPs should be accountable to the people who elect him.

His plan was to give 5 per cent of the electorate the right to start the process of  forcing an MP to stand down  if they misbehaved badly or were suspended from the Commons. He failed to get such a radical idea accepted in  full – but nevertheless an act was passed which could allow the triggering  of such a process.

He also was a man of his word. He asked approval of his voters to stand for Mayor of London as it would mean giving up his seat and he kept his word  by asking his electorate to approve his stance against Heathrow’s third runway.

This time he lost because  of his stance on Brexit.

It is also to his credit that he is a genuine environmentalist who campaigns on green issues – hence his opposition to Heathrow and his support for renewable energy. It is a bit ironic that the Greens contributed to his defeat as he would agree with a lot of their policies in this area.

He also took a brave  stance on child sexual abuse – particularly when it became clear that his constituency was a venue for historical  child sexual abuse in the 1980s. His stance was justified  when ,under Operation Fernbridge, Southwark Crown Court heard about the abuse of boys at Grafton Close children’s home and a Roman Catholic priest was sent to jail for his part in abusing kids with the now dead head of the home  John Stingemore.. Richmond Council under both the Tories and the Liberals had hidden this at the time.

He also was the driving force to get an all party initiative to set up a national independent inquiry into child sexual abuse because he thought it was such a serious issue. It is not his fault that it is at the moment facing serious disarray and needs to get its act together. He had good instincts and is really concerned about the plight of survivors.

Now why has he lost and what does this mean for the Liberal Democrats and Labour Party.

Political commentators should have seen this coming. The Liberal Democrats have won over 20 council seats since the General Election in by-elections – in some cases with increases in vote share of 30 per cent or more. They are winning in both pro Remain and pro Brexit  areas.There have been gains  in pro Brexit cities like Sheffield – when the Lib Dems leapt over second place UKIP to take a seat from Labour and only last night in Chichester  the Lib Dems took a seat from the Tories in a pro Brexit constituency. In Newcastle – wafer thin remain majority – it is the Lib Dems that are again challenging Labour for council seats not UKIP.

The reason I think is clear. Everyone knows where the Lib Dems stand on Brexit- it is a simple message – and it is getting through and people also remember some Lib Dems as  good conscientious local councillors.

For Labour it is not clear where exactly where they stand. In poor  areas – like central Carlisle and Hackney – where it is clear  that Labour stands for supporting those on the margins – their vote is going up. But in many marginal seats they are starting to lose to the Tories and the Lib Dems. This will not win them the next election and they can’t do it on just defending the NHS – because no party is going to be stupid enough to stand for abolishing the NHS. They are only to chip away at it.

So Labour needs as a matter of urgency to work out some simple messages that voters understand. Otherwise they will lose the plot.An army of  new members will not be enough if they have no simple message.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why the children of Greville Janner believe he must be innocent of 33 child sex abuse allegations

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Lord Janner Image courtesy BBC

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Earlier this blog ran a piece highlighting why  I believed on the basis of current investigations and recent inquiries that Daniel Janner must be wrong to say that all the cases of alleged child sex abuse against his father, Greville, are fabricated.

I sent him the blog. He came back to me to put his case and released some documents including one sent to the child sexual abuse inquiry. He did not put me under any pressure to write anything else.

In the interests of transparency and fairness I think it worth reporting what the family think. Daniel Janner tells me his views reflect the views of his sisters,Marion and  Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner. I am not saying I agree with them but I am saying that if and when the cases are examined by Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse they have to be handled with care. The inquiry will have to ask  searching questions as to why they were not raised all that time ago.

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Daniel Janner QC Pic credit: http://www.regulatorycriminallawyers.co.uk

Daniel Janner points out that the original allegations against his father were raised by the notorious paedophile Frank Beck  during his trial. As the excellent book I reviewed earlier, Abuse of Trust, reveals Beck was a sadistic, manipulative character who conned a weakly run Leicestershire social services department and the local Liberal Party into believing he had a magic touch in dealing with seriously disturbed children. Therefore he would and could manipulate  survivors at the time.

Daniel Janner’s case is that during the original  police investigation into Beck his father’s name was never mentioned despite 400 people being interviewed ( it was the first serious police investigation into child sex abuse). He also has a statement from a convicted burglar who shared a cell with Beck who says Beck planned to  falsely drag Greville Janner into the allegations against him before he stood trial.

He is particularly disparaging of  the claims of one of the survivors – who also made allegations against Janner  at the time- and points out discrepancies into the claims  made by other survivors. In one case, he produced a copy of his father’s passport to show that he was in Australia when an alleged offence took place. In another case in Scotland he says his visit was much shorter than alleged.

He also says as he had the power of attorney for his father, who had Alzeheimers before he died, he has reviewed all the evidence supplied by the Crown Prosecution Service  for the trial that was abandoned against him and in his view none of it stood up. When pressed to explain why there are 33 people making allegations his father, he says a number  of them are a conspiracy which has become a bandwagon aimed to claim money against his father’s estate.

There are at least six claimants – according to  the document submitted by his solicitors  to the inquiry – claiming compensation from the estate.

He wants them to face a civil trial where ” the Estate will be able to examine the claimant’s overall credibility, the consistency of the allegations,the reasons for the delay in bringing the claims and the authenticity of any psychiatric symptoms that are now alleged to have been caused by the abuse.”

“The Estate will also be able to explore the effect of the delay on the evidence, in particular the absence of any earlier accounts by the claimants, the effect of missing witnesses and documents and the effect on memories of the passage of time.”

He says none of this will be possible in the inquiry which could then issue a finding of fact against Janner and the letter to the inquiry from his solicitor says: ” factual findings…will prejudice the Estate’s position in any civil claims, which would be unjust.”

His family’s decision not to become ” a core participant ” in the inquiry – someone entitled to all the documents and to mount a response- does place the inquiry in difficulty.

But he is also taking a risk in the civil court. A criminal court would have acquitted Janner if there had been any  reasonable doubt about the evidence against him. A civil court will have to decide on the ” balance of probabilities” which is a lesser level of proof.

They also have a position where the Criminal Prosecution Services decided there was a case to answer and  the original police investigation which found no evidence is now under investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. None of those points are in Janner’s favour.

That is why  for both the family’s sake and the survivors’ sake in my view  there needs to be a thorough investigation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Austerity Britain: How Unison has helped create Durham’s new poor

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Durham teacher assistants lobbying shadow chancellor John McDonnell at the Labour conference in Liverpool

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While the national  press depicted Labour’s policies as “la la land”  and Jeremy Corbyn as ” unelectable” down at the grass roots  a group of feisty women campaigners were lobbying union leaders and John McDonnell at the conference over the very issues that have led to the rise of Corbyn and the demise of the metropolitan elite.

The Durham teacher assistants or assistant teachers as they prefer to call themselves are just one group who have been hard done by austerity and public service cuts that followed the banking crisis and is still going on today.

Their case has been more eloquently outlined by my former colleague on the Guardian  Adita  Chakrabortty  in this long article where he describes them as the Lions of Durham. Basically they are among 2700 TA’s paid from just £14,000 to  £20,000 a year and now facing a pay cut of 23 per cent or the sack.This follows years of no or minimal pay rises that have already cut their standard of living. Even those who decide to work longer hours still face a 10 per cent cut.

The most they have been offered is some  “compensation” a deferment of the  wage cuts for two years but by the time Britain goes to the polls in 2020 they will all be far  worse off than now.

All this  is happening under a Labour controlled council and they are represented by a Labour affiliated union, Unison, which supported Corbyn for the leadership.

Durham county council – which to be fair has faced substantial cuts under the Tories – seem to have mishandled the whole affair by not implementing properly an agreement four years ago and were faced with legal advice saying they had to bring  the system into line with other authorities and impose cuts..

But probably the worst offender is Unison itself who, according to the campaigners, has done little to represent them by negotiating hard on their behalf like say the FBU does for its firefighters or the RMT for its guards.

Until the Labour conference Unison seem to expect the workers themselves to lobby local councillors and local Labour MPs to try and persuade them to change their mind. Not altogether surprisingly the councillors – faced with advice from officials that they would  be breaking the law to do so – have shied away.

And most of the MPs with one notable exception- Grahame Morris Mp for Easington  – have said they cannot negotiate themselves with Durham County Council on their behalf as it is up to their union.

This has left a load of activist voters very, very angry. It has been made worse by the patronising  and off hand treatment from some officials in Durham County Council’s human resources department who haven’t even bothered to spell out the lower rates of pay.

And while Dave Prentis, the union’s leader, makes great rousing speeches ( he did so at fringes in the conference) on the plight of the lower paid public sector workers, his officials lower down the chain have been distinctly unhelpful, patronising and some times downright rude to their own members. No wonder one of the teaching assistants described Dave Prentis as  “all mouth and no trousers”. But then he is not facing a 23 per cent pay cut from Unison.

All this is leading to damaging repercussions. Some of the assistants are planning to vote Liberal Democrat in May’s elections while supporting Corbyn at the next general election. They want revenge on the councillors and unfortunately if the Lib Dems ( who are having a local council resurgence)  win seats it will be seen as a verdict against Jeremy when it is against a local Labour council.

Following the conference the Unison TA’s have voted overwhelmingly for strike action and want union support – their GMB colleagues voted narrowly against.

It seems to me time Unison pulled its finger out and went into hard negotiations with the local council. The deal they are being offered is worse than people in many other authorities have got – where wages have been safeguarded through regrading – and it shouldn’t be beyond the wit of regional organisers like Clare Williams to organise such talks now there a vote for strike action.

My view on Unison is also shared by local Labour  MPs like Kevan Jones, who has taken stick from the teacher assistants for not intervening. As a former trade union negotiator himself, he is not impressed by Unison’s local tactics and their failure until now  to negotiate on their behalf.

If Unison do let these workers down they will not only betray their members but bear some responsibility for creating more unnecessary poverty for low paid workers and fuel resentment and anger that is already felt by people left out in the cold by the Tories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Labour’s best council by election result night since the General Election

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Victorious Scottish Labour candidate Alex McVey with friends at Coatbridge this morning

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On the eve of the Labour Party conference there is a rare fillip for the divided party .Voters turned out in sufficient numbers to elect councillors in the Midlands, North West and Scotland for the party to gain seats.

The night was not promising for Labour -particularly after spectacular defeats in council by-elections in Sheffield and  Cardiff.

Nine seats were up for grabs – 7 in England and one each in Scotland and Wales and Labour only held one in their heartland in  Gateshead. The Tories held six with the SNP and an independent holding the other seats.

By the end of the night the Tories had lost four of its seats – two to Labour and two to the Liberal Democrats. The SNP lost their seat to Labour and Plaid Cymru took  a seat from Independents.

The result in Scotland was particularly interesting as this is Labour’s second gain from the SNP in a month. The North Lanarkshire council gain at Coatbridge was hailed as “a surprise win” by the Daily Record.  It followed a Labour gain last month in North Ayrshire where Labour beat Nicola Sturgeon’s dad, Robin, to come from behind to win. In both cases it has to be said that the Labour vote fell and the SNP vote went up compared to results in 2012.

In North Lanarkshire  Labour were ahead in first preference votes. In North Ayrshire they were behind the SNP. But in both cases the STV system helped Labour gain the seats. What appears to be happening is that more people voting for opponents of SNP end up switching eventually to Labour ( even Tories in these cases) rather than helping the SNP hold the seat.

In England Labour secured two spectacular gains. In the Lake District they won a seat in Cockermouth with a 5 per cent increase in a solid Tory ward in the town. They were helped by the collapse of the Tory vote and a big 20 per cent rise in support for the Liberal Democrats which pushed the Tories into third place.

In North Warwickshire – a marginal Parliamentary seat which the Tories did particularly well in the General Election – Labour stormed to victory in a straight fight with the Tories.

They won despite a Tory campaign lambasting Labour over local issues. The Tory Party told the electorate.”There will be a clear choice at this by-election; a responsible Conservative councillor who will ensure that the residents of Arley & Whitacre ward get the best deal possible and that their voice is heard, or a Labour councillor who will fail to stand up for local people”

Interestingly UKIP which had done well in this area couldn’t field a candidate and neither did the Liberal Democrats or Greens. Result was a staggering 33.7 per cent increase in Labour share . As @britainelects tweeted:Arley & Whitacre (North Warwickshire) result: LAB: 59.7% (+33.7) CON: 40.3% (+1.7) Greens and UKIP didn’t stand this time round.

This was in area where 60 per cent of the people voted for Brexit.

The Liberal Democrats did well in Devon with a 28 per cent rise in the share of the vote to take Teignmouth from the Tories. They also won a seat from the Tories  in Suffolk  with a 12 per cent share of the vote. The Labour share of the vote in this Tory seat also went up by 5.8 per cent. The Lib Dem performance  is part of a pattern in many Tory and now some Labour seats which has meant the party has made 17 council seat gains since the General Election.

The Tories held two of their safe seats  with an 8.5 per cent vote share  increase in Adderbury near Banbury and they easily saw off a UKIP challenge in Stony Stratford, South Northants – taking over 77 per cent of the vote.

Whatever is said nationally UKIP continue to do badly. In the Labour heartland of  Gateshead where they were a distant challenger they got a mere 1.3 pc more of the vote while Labour declined by 3.7 per cent. Here again the Lib Dems did better. In other places UKIP got a derisory share of the vote – for example coming bottom in Coatbridge with just 63 votes compared to over 1350 for the winner.

My prediction is that on present performance  in council areas it is the Liberal Democrats rather than UKIP that are re-emerging as the challenger to the Tories in the rural shires and Labour in the cities. And all is not lost for Labour on this performance  provided they unite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abuse of Trust: A horrible reminder of a child sex scandal as the Jay inquiry prepares to examine Greville Janner

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Frank Beck. Pic Credit:BBC

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Today  when the pendulum seems to swinging again to start disbelieving claims by survivors  that they were sexually abused the republication of a book examining one of the first major  child sex scandals is a timely reminder of what victims faced in the 1970s and 1980s.

Abuse of Trust looks at the case of the long dead Frank Beck, a charismatic social worker who got away with abusing possibly up to 200 children for two decades before finally being caught and convicted.

It is particularly relevant as Alexis Jay’s child sex abuse inquiry is planning to resurrect the dire situation in Leicestershire social services at the time with an examination of the role of the then local MP, Greville Janner, who was facing multiple charges of child sexual abuse at the time of his death last year.

The book written by two diligent journalists, Mark D’Arcy, a BBC Parliament correspondent and Paul Gosling, an ex Leicester councillor and an experienced freelance journalist, and has been updated by Paul with the latest information about the allegations and investigation into Greville Janner.

The involvement of Greville Janner – who always claimed he was falsely accused by the paedophile Frank Beck  of sexually abusing boys – will be highly  controversial as his family, led by his son, Daniel Janner,QC intend to try and stop the hearing going ahead. They want instead go to the civil courts so all  the allegations from 33 survivors against him can be subject to rigorous cross examination.

This book however concentrates on the horror facing  disturbed children sent to be looked after by Beck and his colleagues and the brutal techniques Beck, an ex Royal Marine, used to subdue, sexually abuse and infanticise teenagers, using faux psychological techniques. He also bullied and sexually abused his staff, manipulated and conned local councillors.

It is highly revealing about the lack of backbone among senior social work management and the failure of democratically elected councillors, particularly in the Liberal Party,who allowed him to stand as a councillor, to take a grip on the situation. The police are also seen as failing to believe the children. It is equally damning of  investigations that followed by distinguished people – notably by Andrew Kirkwood,QC – into the scandal after Beck was convicted and the tragic consequences of Beck’s techniques – which led one disturbed kid to later murder a young boy simulating  the strangulation technique used by Beck.

And it shows the role of insurance companies ,in this case Zurich Municipal, in trying to deny  the council’s responsibility for what happened to these kids -later to be used with similar force in suppressing a report into North Wales child sex abuse.

It is also clear from the book that Beck was not the only person sexually abusing people and  there could have been part of a ring that was never properly investigated. He may have murdered one of his boys – but this was never satisfactorily pursued.

He also like many paedophiles attracted people who believed in his innocence – notably Bernard Greaves, a Liberal Democrat  and Lord Longford  who supported killer Myra Hindley.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to remind themselves about sheer nastiness, brutality and cover ups that seem to dog this area.

Abuse of Trust: Frank Beck and the Leicestershire Children’s Home Scandal. 

available from Canbury Press £15