As the dust begins to settle from last week’s election I have written an article for Byline Times on where politics should go after Labour’s defeat and Liberal Democrats failure to make a big impact. And also why Conservative victory is not as decisive as the Parliamentary arithmetic shows. You can read it here.
Thursday’s election offers a defining moment for some 3.8 million women who have had to wait for up to six years for their pension.
None of the parties are offering full restitution for the women – which could still be won in the courts if the Court of Appeal gives permission to appeal the High Court’s dismissal of the judicial review bought by the BackTo60 campaign.
There is however a very big difference in what is (or not) on offer because we have an unexpected general election this week.
The most comprehensive and only detailed offer comes from the Labour Party.
The offer is not full restitution but for those born between April 1950 and April 1956 it promises substantial compensation. It is less generous after this tailing off altogether by April 1960.
The offer starts at £400 for those who lost the least and rises to £31,379 for those born around April 1955. It is a universal payment but is taxable.
John McDonnell, the shadow Chancellor, has promised both further negotiation with all the groups involved and early implementation. He has set February 5 next year – the date of both Labour’s or the Conservative’s Budget – for the full announcement. He also announced recently that repayments could either be at the rate of £100 a week over five years or an annual lump sum.
At the moment this is the only firm offer in town and he has been roundly criticised by the other two main parties for the cost of ther compensation which amounts to £58 billion over five years. Some Labour candidates want to go further and pay full compensation – notably candidates standing in Hemel Hempstead and Ian Duncan Smith’s seat in Chingford.
The Conservatives are offering nothing after Boris Johnson at first suggested he would look at it and then said it was too complicated to compensate people and he did not have the money to do so. All Conservative candidates have been told by the party not to pledge any money to help them.
The Liberal Democrats have also been critical with Jo Swinson, their leader at one stage denouncing Labour’s offer as offering ” something for nothing ” to 3.8 million 50s born women.
They do back a reference to the Parliamentary Ombudsman who is going to look at six test cases to see if compensation is justified. This will take time though and will certainly not be delivered in time scale envisaged by Labour. Any offer depends on whether the Parliamentary Ombudsman does think there has been maladministration.
The Welsh Nationalists-Plaid Cymru – say there is a moral case to back the women.
Adam Price, their leader said:“There is a moral debt that is owed to these women … scrap Trident – that will save you £205bn … HS2 – there is a £100bn there – I’ve saved you £300bn – there’s money to spare for the WASPI women.”
Intriguingly the possibility of abolishing Trident would come if a minority Labour government joined forces with the Scottish and Welsh Nationalists – who both have a commitment to abolish Trident while Labour at the moment do not.
The Scottish Nationalist Party have always had warm words for the 50s born women and do want them properly compensated. But they have failed, unlike Labour, to say exactly what they would do.
UKIP have not mentioned the plight of the 50s women at all.
In Northern Ireland the Democratic Unionist Party have a strong commitment towards 50s born women – they are the only party to support a special temporary measure offering full compensation. But they only have a tiny representation in Parliament – and have fallen out big time with the Conservatives over Johnson’s Brexit deal. Should Labour form a minority government, they could like the Nationalists, put pressure on Labour to improve their offer.
The Green Party have avoided a direct commitment to compensation but instead offered a basic pension of £178 a week and a supplement for lone pensioners.
It is your choice who you vote for – but if getting compensation is your main priority this election you should look very carefully at what is on offer and weigh up which party could deliver. It is a once in a lifetime chance to influence events.
Conservatives lose, Labour disappoint, Lib Dems revive and Greens grow
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The 2019 local elections were one of the most surreal in recent times. For a start two of the newest party groups, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party and the breakaway group, ChangeUK, were too late to field any candidates. So they didn’t reflect the range of political alternatives on offer.
They took place against a background of massive disillusion with politicians and country bitterly divided between Remain and Brexit.
The comparison with 2015 – the last time the seats were fought- was not equally valid as the 2015 elections were on the same day as a general election when more people turn out to vote.
So it was not surprising that the two major parties suffered and there was a rise in the number of Independents elected reversing a trend for decades.
However contrary to some of the reporting disillusionment did not fall equally on the Tories and Labour. The Tories lost out massively , Labour did not.
The Conservative party lost 1,330 seats and lost control of 45 councils. They now have control of 93 councils. Labour gained some councils but finished with an overall loss of six councils ending up controlling 60.
The Lib Dems managed net gains of 11 councils – leaving them in control of 18. The Greens did not win any council but are now a presence in both rural and urban areas.
When you get down to the detail you find Labour’s performance reflects a trend that was going on last year. The party is finding it is losing ground in some traditional working class areas where they have dominated for decades but still gaining ground in the most unlikely of places, particularly in the South.
The must dramatic losses were in Sunderland ( 10 seats), Bolsover (14) and North East Derbyshire ( 17), Redcar and Cleveland ( 13) all traditional working class areas. They also were driven back in Derby where the Tories are now the largest party and lost five seats in South Tyneside. Labour lost to a landslide of Independents in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire and now only have two councillors left. Labour disappeared completely in Dacorum ( Hemel Hemsptead) where they have been declining for years. In Stoke on Trent where Labour launched its local election campaign it lost five seats and the Tories gained eight. They also lost control of Bolton, Darlington , Stockton, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool.
Now the council leader of Sunderland Graeme Miller blamed the loss of Labour seats on a ” massive protest ” over the party’s attitude to Brexit by agreeing there could be a second referendum. This may have been partly true – as other big losses were in Leave areas – but in Sunderland voters seem to be saying ” Anybody but Labour” by voting in UKIP, Liberal Democrat , Conservative and Green councillors.
Now if this was repeated all over the country it would have been a very bad night for Labour. But it wasn’t. Labour gained seats to take control of Trafford, High Peak and Gravesham in Kent. They also remarkably took over Witney town council winning 15 of 17 seats on David Cameron’s doorstep.
And again like last year they won seats in areas where Labour hasn’t existed for years. This included one seat on South Norfolk council, one seat on Lyme Regis town council, 16 gains in Thanet – last time a UKIP stronghold, six in Folkestone and Hythe, where they hadn’t been represented, and they doubled their councillors in Worthing from five to ten. They also won 3 seats on Lewes council in East Sussex where they have not been represented for a decade.More surprisingly they took two seats in Surrey on Waverley council – both in Godalming, bringing back into politics the former Labour MP for Broxtowe, Nick Palmer. The rout in Waverley which covers true blue Farnham and Haslemere saw a 49 seat Tory majority collapse with 30 Tory councillors losing their seats ( Lib Dems gained 13, Greens two, and Farnham Residents, an independent group ended up with 14 councillors.
The Liberal Democrats did well with landslide results in Chelmsford, North Norfolk, Bath and North East Somerset, Vale of the White Horse, Hinckley & Bosworth, Winchester, Cotswolds, North Devon, Mole Valley, North Devon, Somerset West & Taunton and Teignbridge. Without doubt at a local level they have shrugged off their appalling performances after the coalition government but it is not entirely clear that in every area it will mean a rejection of Brexit. The Greens also now have a presence on many councils by winning seats in both rural and urban areas and strengthening their position in Lewes, Brighton and Norwich.
The Conservative losses are so numerous that it is impossible to list all the 45 councils they no longer control. But there was a devastating trail across Kent and Surrey and serious losses in the West country. Among the biggest losses were Waverley (30), Guildford ( 22) Bath and North East Somerset ( 25) ,Chelmsford (31) , Swale (16) North Norfolk (19) and Kings Lynn (16).
What does all mean? It is too facile to see this as a Brexit v Remain result particularly as they have been a substantial rise in Independents. These are by no means all Tories in disguise. On one level it is the reverse of the 2017 general election which saw the two main parties dominate. Now they are in the back foot in some of their strongholds – whether it be the North East or parts of the Midlands for Labour or the South East, West country and parts of East Anglia for the Tories.
Labour is still advancing the South East and has strengthened its position in Manchester. The Lib Dems are back with a vengeance in former strongholds.What will happen next with the European elections and the Peterborough by-election may also not be a true guide.
We live in surreal times and these were surreal local elections.
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The local elections have been portrayed in the mass media as a disappointment for Labour ,a shot in the arm for Theresa May and a revival for the Liberal Democrats
In the pre election scenario Labour were expected to sweep all before them winning Tory councils in London and elsewhere, Theresa May was going to face a dire night and the Lib Dems were not going to do so well because of their poll ratings.
Yes Labour are partly to blame for creating this scenario with the promise of a Momentum style surge knocking the Tories out of Barnet, Westminster, Wandsworth and Hillingdon in London and winning Swindon, Plymouth and Trafford outside the capital. They had high expectations after the surprise rebirth under Jeremy Corbyn in the last general election and thought another heave would do it.
But it would be very foolish to write up these elections as the end of Labour’s progress or ruling out a slow revival of the Liberal Democrats.
For a start the final analysis of voting by the BBC shows that if there was a general election was based on these voting figures Labour would have got another 21 seats, andbecome the largest party in Parliament . The Tories would have lost 38 seats and the Lib Dems gained another 10. If that had happened last year Theresa May would not have been able to form a government and it would be Labour plus a coalition that would be negotiating with Brussels. And if you compare it with last year’s council elections it was the Tories making nearly all the gains. not Labour.
A more detailed analysis shows why this is true. Although Labour did not gain the breakthrough to take another four London boroughs from the Tories, their vote share was much nearer than their seat share. In Westminster where the Lab vote share jumped by 7.6 per cent – the difference in percentage support between Labour and the Tories is not much more than point. In Wandsworth there is only a 150 votes difference between the Tories and Labour running the council.
Even in Barnet where Labour’s self inflicted wound over antisemitism led to a 13 seat Tory majority- the Tories biggest gains – the Labour share of the vote went up 2.8 pc but was trumped by a 6.6 per cent rise for the Tories.
Also not noticed in London is that Labour increased the number of seats on councils they already run, notably in Ealing, Enfield, Harrow, Hammersmith and Fulham and Waltham Forest – which will make it difficult for the Tories to regain Parliamentary seats.
In Swindon where Labour gained just one seat more people voted Labour than Tory but obviously not in the key wards. Interestingly in Plymouth where Labour won the council, more people voted Tory than Labour but not in the right places.
Also where councils switched from no overall control to Tory control – it was often by a couple of seats in places like Peterborough. The one exception was Nuneaton and Bedworth where the Tories were robbed – they got 51 per cent of the vote there but could win enough seats to take the council.
The other big factor which stymied Labour and helped the Tories was UKIP. Many UKIP voters became Tories so they could get a hard Brexit. In Basildon and Great Yarmouth this gave the Tories the edge over Labour. Labour did take back seats from UKIP, but the Tories took more. In Great Yarmouth former UKIP candidates actually became Tory candidates. Britain Elects shows this disparity examining 81 UKIP losses with the Tories gaining 47 seats from UKIP while Labour gained 30.
It should not be a total surprise that the Lib Dems do well in local elections, they have won quite a number of by-elections over the last year. But in three councils- where the whole authority was up for grabs – they did spectacularly well, trouncing the Tories. These are South Cambridgeshire, Richmond and Kingston, where they won sweeping gains pushing the Tories out. They also won seats in Hull, Sunderland and Gosport but were pushed back in Birmingham and Newcastle upon Tyne.
So what is the prospect? The Tories can take comfort that they were not trounced and could claim a mandate for a hard Brexit after hoovering up much of the UKIP vote. It is rather ironic that Theresa May treated councils she had not lost as a victory parade-normally you go to places to celebrate a Tory gain.
Labour need to tackle the antisemitic issue promptly and to reflect soberly on how they need more than an incompetent government to form a majority administration. And the Lib Dems need to build on their local government base as a springboard to win more seats in Westminster.
The reality for all parties is that it is going to be a hard slog to get or stay in government.
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As the Labour conferences is just about to start one of the greatest achievements of Jeremy Corbyn has been to revitalise political activism in Britain.
According to a report in the House of Commons library active membership of political parties fell to its lowest ever recorded proportion of the population – at 0.8 per cent – in 2013. It was virtually teetering on near extinction. It had also veered to the right – with UKIP going from now nowhere to 74,000 members.Labour in 2013 was also at a low before Corbyn won the leadership of 190,000 members.
So dire was the membership of political parties that political commentator Andrew Rawnsley in a comment is free article in The Guardian could joke that as many people had declared their religion in the census as a Jedi knight than belonged to each of the main two political parties.
After Corbyn’s leadership victory in the autumn of 2015 membership of the Labour Party had soared to 388,000. Under his leadership, despite a hostile press, it grew again to 544,000 by the end of last year. Since then it has risen to 552,000 in June. And on the eve of the party conference now stands at 569,500.
To do him credit the other person who revitalised an ailing party was Tim Farron. Fuelled by their Remain stance the Liberal Democrat party moved from 61,000 members in December 2015 to 78,000 by the end of last year and to 102,000 by May this year. though this is dwarfed by Labour.
Between the two of them they have increased membership of political parties to 1.7 per cent of the population – still small – but more than double the numbers in 2013.
The biggest losers are UKIP who have seem their active membership collapse in lone with their poor election performances. Membership of UKIP was around 74,000 in December 2015 but had fallen to 39,000 in July last year and fallen again to 34,000 by December. No new figures have been issued since.
Slightly surprising has been the demise of the Greens – though they seem to have started to turn this around.Their membership fell from 63,000 to 46,000 from 2015 to 2016 but the trend appears to have reversed itself – with an increase back to 55,500 in March this year.
Membership of the Scottish Nats has also stopped growing with it flatlining at around 118,000.
The real mystery is the Tories. They say their membership is 149,000. But this figure has never been updated since 2013 as no political party is obliged to publish its membership numbers in its annual report. Their shyness in producing any new membership figures since then – suggests that they may have suffered a decline in membership.
Certainly if they had any big increase in membership they would have immediately published details – to try and take the shine off Jeremy Corbyn’s extraordinary ability to attract new members in droves.
It has recently come out that the average age of Tory members is 72 which suggests that while there have been enormous increases in Left and Centre parties – the Tories could well be in terminal decline and turning literally into the party of the living dead!
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If I was a Conservative strategist I would be very pleased with myself. The local election results could not have gone better to plan. In one fell swoop the 650 plus Tory gains have put Labour on the defensive and even threatened their heartlands, halted the Liberal Democrat revival in the West Country, pushed back the SNP advance in Scotland and destroyed UKIP. One symbolic Tory gain was winning a seat in Sedgefield, Tony Blair’s old Durham constituency. The only small flies in the ointment is that the Tory advance was contained in the big South Wales cities and they failed to make any impact in Manchester and Liverpool. We have no indicator of how London will vote.
On the face of it Theresa May is heading for a coronation in the June general election with a majority of anything from 140 to 220 with most of the four million UKIP voters in the bag to add to her diehard Tory supporters. Grim reading indeed particularly if the convention is that previous local election results underestimate swings to the government party in a general election.
But note that the Conservatives are not crowing too much about this result. The result in one sense ( with 11 council gains) has been too successful and they have to big up ” Corbyn ” or they will have no bogeyman to frighten their more affluent voters to come out and vote for May. Because if they think it is in the bag they may not bother.
They also have an interesting campaigning challenge – do they limit campaigning in Tory seats on the grounds that they are impregnable now – and go and campaign in seats where Labour has a 10,000 majority on the grounds that May is so popular that they can take these. Or do they take a more cautious approach and fight hard in their marginals.
Whatever the situation the Labour top team have got to up their game and try and convince both working class and middle class voters that are tempted by May and her robust nationalist challenge over Brexit to switch.
Labour should have the high ground on the rest of the agenda, the NHS, police and crime, education, transport, the environment and welfare. In all these areas the government is making a mess of it – and with five years of more austerity and rising prices the message ought to get through that we need a change in direction.
But it will still to be dominated by Brexit and how Britain is going to lead the negotiations – and Labour has failed to counter this.
There may be a way to deal with this. As May is not going to reveal her negotiating stand perhaps Labour who have a talented Brexit secretary in Keir Starmer should do so. What would happen if Labour took the risky chance of holding a press conference to announce their negotiating stance and their team that would go to Brussels. And what if that was combined with the post Brexit future a Labour government would provide for Britain. It would look like a government in waiting.
It would be controversial as the media would concentrate on Labour’s plan but it would put May on the defensive to explain her vision – something she is reluctant to do so given she is after a blank cheque wrapped up in the Union Jack.
And it would widen the gap between Labour and the Liberal Democrats who are seen as the remain party – but they have the problem that their increasing vote share has been eclipsed by UKIP supporters swamping them by voting for May in the West Country and elsewhere. While the Lib Dems will probably gain some seats in Remain constituencies ( St Albans,Twickenham and Bermondsey) they have no chance of becoming the official Opposition even if Labour do badly.
To my mind for Labour to try and combine their vision for Britain with their vision for Brexit could cause some of the people who have quit Labour for May to think again. It could also avert some of the most dangerous aspects of a complete breakdown with Europe.
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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.