Wes Streeting, former president of the NUS, Labour councillor in the London Borough of Redbridge, and all-round Labour cheerleader, today expressed his delight at the visit of Ken Livingstone.
Whilst Ken managed to maintain stable support in the inner London boroughs in 2008, he was completely deserted by the outer boroughs, of which Redbridge is one. Indeed, in Havering and Redbridge in 2008, Ken got only 46,000 first preference votes to Boris’ 87,000. As such, Ken’s current tour of outer-boroughs is hugely important for his campaign, and local councillors and activists are doing everything they can to publicise the visits and drum up support. In that sense, Streeting is doing everything you’d expect of him. But, I thought to myself, I’m sure I remember him being pretty sick of Ken Livingstone just a few months ago? Sure enough, back in the autumn he tweeted the following:
Where do I start?! Firstly, what an unnecessary insult from Ken Livingstone against the woman he had beaten to Labour’s mayoral candidacy a month earlier. It is a perfect example of his divisive, hostile nature – anyone who ever disagrees with him or challenges him is the enemy who must be insulted or bullied or smeared. As Wes sarcastically alludes to, Ken is a less than nice guy – a point backed up by the results of last week’s ComRes poll which showed that 25% of people think that ‘nasty’ is the word that best describes Ken Livingstone. I find it interesting, too, that Ken’s divisiveness and hostility isn’t just reserved for Boris and his other opponents. He clearly regards all Blairites – of whom many still exist in today’s Labour Party – as his enemies, too.
I was intrigued by Streeting’s reference to ‘this week’ so I’ve just looked up what happened in the days before 23rd October. Of course, on 21st October, Lutfur Rahman was elected mayor of Tower Hamlets. Rahman, you may remember, was expelled by Labour for his alleged links to Islamic extremism, so ran for the Tower Hamlets mayoralty as an independent. Despite being rightly ostracised by his party, he still received the full support of Ken Livingstone. Ken’s support of an independent over the official Labour Party candidate didn’t go down at all well with Labour activists, Streeting included. Actually, as I wrote back in October, Ken’s support for the (alleged) extremist technically breached Labour Party rules, which should – if applying those rules quite literally – have seen him expelled from the party, too.
All of which makes Streeting’s U-turn quite interesting. Back in October, he was furious with Ken for his support of Rahman, he was angry with Ken’s besmirching of Oona King, he was making sarcastic comments about Ken’s niceness (or lack thereof), and wasn’t at all inspired to help him win the 2012 mayoralty. Just five months later, he is effusive in his loyalty and support. I don’t criticse him for the U-turn itself – we all do it from time to time (indeed, somewhere in London, Michael Gove is probably applauding approvingly) and he has little alternative – but I do criticise the Labour Party for selecting Livingstone in the first place. He is a less than pleasant man with less than pleasant friends, and he deserves for his political career to be finished off, once and for all, next spring. Streeting’s old tweet is a timely reminder of how Ken Livingstone is actually regarded by many Labour supporters.
March 27, 2011 Politics Comments Off
It emerged this week that Ed Miliband would like to now be known as Edward. He seems under the impression that a less casual name will make him seem more prime-ministerial and statesmanlike. I suggested at the time that he will be judged on the basis of what he says and does, not on how he brands himself. That is already proving to be the case. His speech at yesterday’s TUC rally in Hyde Park reached such proposterous levels of self-aggrandisement, and displayed such incredible delusions of grandeur, that he appeared more like an emotional student politician than a potential prime minister.
He wasn’t helped by the PR disaster that saw his support of the march juxtaposed on Sky News with images of protesters fighting with the police:
But the biggest mistake wasn’t that he made the speech; it was the content of the speech. I won’t go through it all, but it started thus:
“The Tories said I shouldn’t come to speak to you today, but friends, I am proud to stand with you…”
Really? Did the Tories say he shouldn’t go? I can’t believe that. And the ‘friends’ things is painfully patronising.
“…because we know there is an alternative. We come here today, from all walks of life, from all classes, from all backgrounds, from all generations.”
This is interesting. I couldn’t possibly claim to know there is an alternative (let alone support it) until I’m told what that alternative is. Given Labour have done no such thing, I’d be fascinated to know what it is that all yesterday’s protesters were clamoring for. And the multiplicity of classes, backgrounds and generations from where the protesters had come isn’t, in itself, a reason to listen to them. I imagine if you went into your average prison, there’d be people from all walks of life, classes, backgrounds and generations, but they’re not paragons of virtue as a result.
“And let me say to you, as I look across this historic park, at the sea of faces, it is a profoundly moving moment.”
This bit was just funny, for two reasons. Firstly, he showed absolutely no sign of being in any sense moved by the moment. Secondly, he read the line from his pre-prepared speech, suggesting he’d made an earlier prediction, when writing it, that he would be moved at that point.
“We come in the tradition of those who have marched before us.”
Oh no. Don’t tell me he’s going to compare the campaign to…
“The suffragettes, who fought for votes for women and won. The civil rights movement in America, who fought for equality and won. The anti-apartheid movement, who fought the horror of that system and won. Our cause may be different, but we come together today to realise our voice. And we stand on their shoulders. We stand on the shoulders of those who have marched and have struggled in the past.”
*stunned silence* So apparently the ‘No to cuts’ campaign which Ed supports (despite Labour having planned substantial cuts themselves, and despite there being no alternative if we wish to rid our country of its colossal deficit) is on a par with the American civil rights movement, and the South African anti-apartheid movement?! The inference (unintended or otherwise) that
Ed Edward Miliband is the next Emmeline Pankhurst, Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela is one of the funniest things I’ve heard in quite a while.
On a more serious note, though, such comments border on the offensive. Try telling the descendants of Emmeline Pankhurst or the children of the assassinated Martin Luther King that Ed Miliband is currently pursuing a struggle similar to those of their respective ancestors. Try telling Nelson Mandela that what he achieved in South Africa is basically akin to stopping the British government from returning the country’s spending levels to those of 2007.
“Our struggle, friends, is to fight to preserve, protect and defend the things we value. Now we know what this government will say…this government will say this is a march of the minority. They are so wrong. David Cameron, you wanted to create a big society. This is the big society.”
At which point the crowd cheered and applauded, which I find strange given I’ve been told by lefties that the Big Society is a rubbish idea, to be mocked and scoffed at? Not so, apparently. It seems that the Big Society is a perfectly acceptable concept, as long as it represents your own side’s views on how things should be done. Furthermore, the suggestion that the anti-cuts campaign represents the majority of people is a complete fallacy. A poll on Friday (in the Guardian, no less) showed that 57% of people support the cuts. Indeed, 29% of people say the cuts aren’t severe enough.
The rest of the speech continued in a similarly banal manner. Miliband’s politicial narcissism, coupled with the appalling damage carried out across London by a number of the protesters, means that the campaign’s message fell on deaf ears. As it deserved.
[Hat-tip to ConservativeHome for the above images.]
I’ve just got around to listening to Friday night’s Any Questions, on which Boris and Bob Crow, trade union leader, featured. Having expected fireworks and entrenched polar views, I was pleasantly surprised to hear them be so amicable towards each other. They had apparently met and chatted in the green room before the show, and agreed to work together in a more conciliatory manner in the future. Indeed, Boris has offered to take Bob for a pint, in what is surely the most unlikely of beer buddy pairings.
Boris has received much criticism for his lack of engagement with unions since he became mayor, but as he explained on the show, so much of the last three years has seen RMT either on strike or threatening to go on strike, that he has had to allow his negotiating team to get on with finding a resolution rather than wading in in the hope of resolving the dispute himself. Bob Crow accepted that reasoning completely.
There are benefits to both men in committing to a new ‘entente cordiale’ (as Boris put it). Politically, Boris would benefit hugely from being seen to work with the unions, and even more so if he can reduce the number of tube strikes in the run up to next year’s mayoral election. Bob Crow, meanwhile, would rocket in the public’s estimation if he was seen as less entrenched and more open-minded. The biggest winners, of course, would be the people of London whose lives are so frequently plagued by public transport strikes.
I’ve got one other thought on this. One of the things discussed by Lynton Crosby at Boris’s Bootcamp last weekend was how polling shows that people see Ken Livingstone as divisive and Boris as a unifying character. Incidents such as this go some way to proving that point. Faced with one of the banes of his life, Boris completely side-stepped any confrontation and ended up agreeing to go for a conciliatory beer. It is that positivity, that cheerfulness, that optimism that marks Boris out as such as a different politician to most.
March 26, 2011 Quotes Comments Off
“Fortnum and Mason remains a crime scene.”
Ken Livingstone’s appearance on Thursday’s Question Time was nothing short of incredible. Given that the programme’s only an hour in length, and given that he was one of five panellists, the number of ludicrous statements he managed to articulate was frankly staggering. Within five minutes of the start of the programme, he had explained that he is against our Libyan intervention (which has prevented the massacre of innocent civilians) on the grounds that we haven’t also intervened in Bahrain and Yemen (apparently if you can’t democratise the whole world, there’s no point democratising anywhere), we are in Libya for the oil (overlooking the fact that Colonel Gaddafi would probably have been more inclined to give us oil if we hadn’t started bombing him), and the Libyan intervention increases the chance of terrorist attacks at the 2012 Olympics (with the inference being that the awful Tories will be to blame if such attacks occur). Later in the programme, he expressed the incredible view that Britain should have fought alongside the Vietcong in the Vietnam War.
More than just foolishness, his comments smacked of utter hypocrisy. He banged on about the importance of human rights, yet he recently worked for the Iranian regime’s TV channel, Press TV. The last time I checked, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wasn’t a leading light in the human right movement. Likewise, Ken’s best mate Hugo Chavez – for whom he’s recently worked as a consultant – has been regularly criticised by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for his approach to human rights. And as for any remarks about our relationship with oil – he is the one who signed the most dodgy of oil deals with Chavez whilst London mayor.
Anyway, at least those comments could simply be dismissed as loopy views or rabid hypocrisy, as opposed to, say, inaccuracies or lies. He saved those for the discussion on cuts and the economy. As Toby Young explains:
“Thank God for Niall Ferguson. On Question Time this evening, Ken Livingstone claimed that when Labour entered office in 1997 government debt as a percentage of GDP was 42% and 13 years later, when Labour left office, it stood at 40%. The implication was clear: The Labour Party in office was a model of fiscal rectitude.
Ferguson pointed out that, in fact, debt as a percentage of GDP when Gordon Brown left office was 71.3% not 40%. And he’s absolutely right, asthis chart from the Office of National Statisticsmakes clear.
How satisfying it was to see an apologist for the last government caught out in a blatant lie.”
It was either a lie, as Young suggests, or evidence that he is numerically and financially illiterate. Either way, coupled with his outrageous earlier views, and coming just a couple of weeks after he flopped on the Politics Show and embarrassed himself in an interview with MayorWatch, the evidence suggests that he is becoming an increasingly unreliable media performer.
Boris’s campaign website, www.backboris2012.com, was relaunched at the weekend. It’s got loads of extra features including an activist dashboard, enabling Boris Backers to recruit supporters, create events, fundraise and connect with other activists in an online forum.
Boris’ campaign team hope that the site will act as a powerful online hub, enabling activists to campaign as successfully and efficiently as possible. In a contest this tight, such a useful resource – and its early launch – could make all the difference. Indeed, when it comes to digital campaigning, Boris’ team has given itself a significant head start over Ken Livingstone’s. The ‘Get Involved’ page on Ken’s website could hardly be described as ‘state of the art’ (to the extent that they’ve apparently not even bothered with a no.4 in the list):
It may well be the case that Ken “reliese” on your support, but Boris is actually doing something to get it.
March 22, 2011 Politics Comments Off
In advance of tomorrow’s budget, CCHQ have produced a couple of clever images to show Labour’s economic legacy and their isolated position regarding the recovery plan:
Not only is Labour’s recklessness to blame for the uncomfortable truths that we’ll hear tomorrow, but that recklessness is continued by their refusal to acknowledge the need for a recovery plan. Tomorrow’s Brown-esque denial of the deficit by Ed Balls et al will be greeted by head-scratching and incredulity from a significant majority of the economic community.
Jenny Jones was yesterday announced as the Green Party’s candidate for next year’s London mayoral election. She doesn’t have a chance of winning, of course, but she still has a relatively big role to play as the candidate for the party that finished fourth in 2008. She will shape parts of the debate, influence other candidates’ policies and possibly even challenge the Lib Dems for 3rd place, depending on the credibility of their candidate. At the very least, she should aim to beat the BNP candidate, something Darren Johnson failed to do in the 2004 contest.
The level of Jones’ success could also impact significantly on the outcome of the winner. She’s a pretty extreme leftie, and is far more supportive of Ken Livingstone than Boris. She was his deputy-mayor for a year when he was an independent and recently said she would be “very cross” if he fails to beat Boris next year. As such, it’s not unreasonable to expect that she will be encouraging her supporters to put Ken as their second preference (as Sian Berry did in 2008) and that, therefore, a wave of Green support would benefit Ken more than Boris.
The public will need to be made fully aware that despite the Green Party’s apparent harmlessness, Jones herself has some truly crackpot plans which she’d like to enforce on Londoners. She said in January that she’d like to expand the congestion charge zone to all parts of the capital, and increase the charge to £50 a day. But, you may argue, surely such policies are irrelevant when she’ll never be elected? Not so. As James Cleverly, Tory member of the London Assembly, points out:
“If Livingstone gets back in he will need the votes of the Greens to get his budgets through, just like he did in his first two terms. Jenny has presented us all with her bargaining position for that electoral support.”
So, just as a vote for the Greens will be a vote for Labour, so a vote for Labour will indirectly be a vote for £50 a day congestion charges. Londoners have been warned…
There are very few things that would get me out of bed at 5.30 on a Saturday morning. The opportunity to meet Boris and spend a day with his campaign team is one of them. So it was that I headed up to London on Saturday for the ‘Back Boris Bootcamp’. It was a great day, featuring, amongst other things, a speech from Boris, a campaign overview from Lynton Crosby, a political campaigning masterclass, a presentation on digital campaigning, an unveiling of the new Back Boris 2012 website, and further sessions on campaign and media strategies.
The event was held on the 28th floor of Millbank Tower, with incredible panoramic views of London on a stunning spring day. The amenity of the weather seemed to have rubbed off on Boris’ team, and the mood of the entire day was one of enthusiasm and constructive optimism. Indeed, I was most struck by how positive the plans for the campaign are. I don’t think Boris mentioned Ken Livingstone once in his talk; he spoke only of his own record – of which he is clearly, and rightly, proud – and his plans for the future.
Lynton Crosby’s presentation, which followed, showed that the media’s portrayal of him as a dirty and negative campaigner is vastly exaggerated. He only mentioned Ken a couple of times – once to mock his ridiculous idea that he could reveal his plans and policies the day after polling day – and was far keener to talk about the positive message that the team want to get out. When he mentioned the Not Ken Again site, he was at pains to point out how strictly referenced it is – every story is coupled with numerous links to reputable media outlets; it isn’t in any sense the basis for a smear campaign. Nor is it, as Ken’s team would like you to think, an act of desperation – it’s just a simple medium through which Boris’ team can remind Londoners of Ken’s record.
Lynton also highlighted on a number of occasions how tough the campaign will be – something I was glad to hear, having written previously about my fear of complacency – but seemed inspired by the prospect of winning Boris a second term. The campaign is truly in good hands.
There was one other thing that stood out for me. It was great to hear how keen Boris is that the campaign should be as devolved and decentralised as possible. Yes, of course, the central campaign HQ will dictate the general message and direction of the campaign, but Boris is keen that as many people as possible should get involved, and that – significantly – those people should have the freedom to campaign in any way they choose. There’s no wish to enforce campaigning methods from above, but instead a desire to use individual activists’ imagination and initiative to secure votes for Boris. There’s evidence to suggest that such an approach will reap dividends – after all, the empowering and inspiring of an army of activists worked pretty well for a Mr B. Obama…
“I hope and believe that Gaddafi’s days are now numbered, and that he will either fall victim to the lead-weighted handkerchief in the bunga-bunga tent or else be issued with a one-way ticket to Venezuela where he can live out his retirement, like other fallen socialists, as a consultant to the regime of Hugo Chavez.”