Lord Toby Harris Logo

Archive for the ‘Political campaigning’ Category

Apr 21,2010

Civil servants are supposed to be in “purdah” during the General Election campaign.  However, despite central Cabinet Office guidance, Government Departments seem to be developing rather different interpretations of what this means and some seem to be taking it to ludicrous extremes.

Three examples that I have come across this week illustrate the point:

  • one Government Department has cancelled a meeting that takes place in private, whose papers and proceedings are classified, is only attended by civil servants and official representatives of public bodies, and does not take decisions – canceled in the name of “purdah”.
  • another Government Department allowed a meeting of an officially-constituted Advisory Group (on a fairly non-controversial area of work) to go ahead (on their premises) attended by about twenty voluntary sector representatives – but no civil servants attended in the name of “purdah”.
  • a third Government Department has instructed a contractor to stop working on a Departmental programme (one that is likely to continue in some form whatever the result of the election) because the work involves talking to the external bodies that deliver the programme concerned – business-as-usual-not, in the name of “purdah”.

I am not sure that any of the decisions make particular sense, but they all stretch the meaning of “purdah” as previously interpreted.

Presumably, civil servants are now so busy producing policy options for so many different permutations of electoral outcomes that day-to-day government has had to come to a grinding halt – no wonder it took them so long to notice the volcanic ash crisis.

Apr 18,2010

It is a sunny Sunday morning and it is an absolute delight to be canvassing on the Campsbourne Estate in Hornsey.  The Estate is the heart of the ward I represented on Haringey Council for twenty-four years and it is gratifying that, even though it is twelve years since I last stood for election here, a number of local residents still remember me fondly.

My canvassing team includes Makbule Gunes, who has been working impressively hard as one of Labour’s local Council candidates, and is greeted warmly by many local residents as we go round.  She will clearly be a superb local representative when she is elected on 6th May.

Even more gratifying are the improvements that have been brought about on the Estate as a result of a Labour Government working with a Labour Council.  Each block we visit has new windows, new entrance doors and better security.

At Wat Tyler House, I remember what that block was like when I first went there as a Council candidate in 1978 – bleak, frighteningly insecure, lifts not working and with a dismembered pigeon in the stairwell – now it is bright and welcoming.

The Labour vote is clearly holding up – and no-one mentions Nick Clegg!

Pictured below is John Healey, the Housing Minister, with Karen Jennings, our excellent Labour Parliamentary candidate, and two of the local Labour Council candidates, Makbule Gunes and Eugene Akwasi-Ayisi, outside Wat Tyler House three weeks ago.

Campsbourne visit by John Healey by Karen4HWG.

Apr 14,2010

I am just back from an inspirational rally in Hornsey and Wood Green, where a couple of hundred people packed into a school hall (in the centre of the ward I represented on Haringey Council for twenty-four years) to hear former Labour Party Leader, Lord Neil Kinnock, speak alongside the Labour candidate, Karen Jennings, and the excellent new-ish Leader of the Council, Claire Kober.

Neil was in swashbuckling form demolishing Cameron’s Conservatives:  “So, if after a hard day’s work, you come home and you’re not ready to run your local school, it’ll be your bloody fault.”

Karen was quietly authoritative and demonstrating why selecting this former nurse who expects to become a grandmother this week was exactly the right choice to win the seat back from LibDem, Lynne Featherstone.   (Interestingly, Lynne Featherstone has not dug in locally – in the way that other freshly elected LibDem MPs have tended to do elsewhere in the country – she seems to have been so captivated by the chance to strut the national stage that she has rather neglected her local constituents.)

Apr 12,2010

Left Foot Forward has launched a series of short videos that are pretty good too …

Catch the first three here.

And then pass them on …..

Apr 12,2010

I know that I am biased but I have to admit to being highly impressed by Labour’s new Party Political Broadcast, “The Road Ahead”.

Watch it here.

And then send it to all your friends.

Apr 9,2010

I am sometimes a bit unfair to the BBC’s political editor, Nick Robinson.  Although I like him personally and enjoy his broadcasting style, I sometimes find it difficult when watching him to forget his Young Conservative past.

However, in his blog today he manages to sum up the nonsense that masquerades as Tory economic policy so succinctly that I will even forgive his history.  He explains that the Tory offer is to “say they can head off one tax rise (national insurance) whilst cutting other taxes (inheritance tax, council tax and some, as yet unspecified, marriage tax breaks) whilst also cutting the deficit faster than Labour and protecting spending on health and international development.”  And if it is like the Queen in Alice in Wonderland explaining that sometimes she believed “six impossible things before breakfast”, that is because it is.

There are a number of parallels between this General Election and the one in 1992.  However, in that Election the Party with the wackiest ideas was the Natural Law Party which fielded 310 candidates and garnered 0.19% of the vote on a platform that promoted “yogic flying” to solve the country’s problems.  Listening to Nick Robinson’s summary of the six impossible things before breakfast that make up the Conservative Party’s economic policy it is clear that the Tories are the natural successors of the Natural Law Party and that George Osborne is promoting the equivalent of yogic flying without, of course, any use of hallucinogenic substances.

Apr 9,2010

David Cameron and the Conservative Party are still fudging their economic policies and being deliberately misleading over their so-called public sector efficiency savings.  Peter Gershon, who is advising the Tories on their policies, has told the Financial Times that 40,000 jobs would be cut over the next year by a public sector recruitment freeze.  (This is the same Peter Gershon whose firm will benefit from NHS cutbacks.)  This was reiterated by Cameron in the BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme this morning.

But a recruitment freeze is NOT an efficiency saving.  Quite the opposite: it makes services less efficient.  Job vacancies occur all the time – staff move on or retire – and most of them are doing work on which others depend.  Some will be front-line and some will be providing support services that are vital for front-line workers.  When a post is frozen, either the work of that post is not done or others have to cover that role to the detriment of their own work.  You end up with a Swiss cheese effect and services are delivered less efficiently or there are random gaps in the service.

So just imagine what it would mean to a local community where the local health visitor has retired and the neighbourhood police officer has been promoted, the dustbins cannot be emptied because the person who maintains the refuse collection vehicles has gone on long-term sick and cannot be replaced ……

Welcome to a Tory Britain.

Apr 4,2010

So what have the last seven day’s taught us?

First, the Tories remain obsessed by tax cuts, even if this means ditching their whole economic policy about starting to tackle the budget deficit now.  Cutting the tax paid by the better-off is for them far more important than protecting the vital public services used by the many – so cutting the inheritance tax for a few thousand of their richest supporters remains the corner-stone of their economic policy.  And now George Osborne has told us that, rather than make a start on reducing the deficit now (economic madness though that was, given the fragility of the recovery), their allegedly paramount core principle of policy will take second place to cutting National Insurance.

Second, the Tories are backed by powerful business interests – 23 business leaders (many of whom turned out to be Tory donors, or in one case a Tory peer) wrote a letter to the Daily Telegraph backing George Osborne.

Third, the Tories say one thing in public and another in private – Chris Grayling was happy to undermine the Tories’ supposedly gay-friendly new image when he thought he was amongst friends (speaking at a Conservative think tank).

Yes, same old Tories ……

Mar 30,2010

I have just spoken at a Smith Institute debate on whether the 2010 election will be the “IT” election.

The Smith Institute invite explains:

“This will be the first election campaign where ‘tweeting’, ‘social networking’ and ‘blogging’ will be in eveidence. But how much of a role will the new information technology play, and do the politicians really understand it? This debate will address these and other related issues concerning the use of new technology in election campaigning.”

I have to admit that when I heard the topic with IT shown as “IT”, my mind was inevitably drawn to the Wikipedia definition of an “IT” girl:

“An It girl or It-girl is a charming, sexy young woman who receives intense media coverage unrelated or disproportional to personal achievements. The reign of an “It girl” is usually temporary; some of the rising It girls will either become fully-fledged celebrities or their popularity will fade. The term “It boy”, much less frequently used, is the male equivalent. This term is unrelated to the abbreviation IT.”

I don’t know about IT or its proponents in the next election being charming or sexy, but they are certainly receiving intense media attention and in my view it is probably disproportionate to likely achievement.

And indeed my view is that 2010 is not going to be the General Election where the result will be determined by bloggers, Twitter or social media.  This opinion is no doubt a jaundiced one, but there were similar claims about the significance of IT before previous General Elections.  Some will remember the claims made for the Labour Party’s Excalibur system in the run up to the 1997 Election …..

My argument is that 95% of the electorate will cast their votes in blissful ignorance of what has been going on in the blogosphere and – as in previous Elections – their votes will be influenced by their past allegiances, their perceptions of what the Parties stand for in policy terms, and their assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of the different Party leaderships.

So the question is what influences those perceptions and assessments – what creates the zeitgeist?  The answer is still predominantly television, radio and newspapers.

Over time this changes: television was not a factor in the elections of 1950 and 1951 and probably did not become really significant until 1964; newspapers are no longer decisive (The Sun may have boasted that it won it in 1992, but I doubt that the same will be plausible in 2010.).

People are increasingly getting their news and opinion in new ways.  However, the old media – at present, at least – are still central.  Nevertheless, politicians need to adapt to the changing media landscape and master the new ways of communicating – as Roosevelt did with radio in the 1930s and as Wilson and later Blair did with television in this country.

But – and it is a big but – even though the new media are not yet decisive and mastery of them is not yet obligatory for an effective politician, new media will have a significant indirect impact on the forthcoming Election.  This will be manifested in the way they impact on the terms of the debate reported by the traditional media.

Individual bloggers will from time to time set the agenda, rumours in hyperspace will eventually get reported, bloggers will subject policy statements from the main Parties to rigorous analysis and fact-checking, and the speed of the blogosphere and the rapidity with which material (particularly “gaffes”) can be spread on YouTube and via Twitter will challenge the traditional media and require a more fleet-of-foot response from the political parties and from politicians.

There will be a premium on seeding material in the blogosphere and on harvesting useful information or arguments that emerge there.  Political parties will be able to energise their supporters and communicate with them more rapidly.  And there will undoubtedly be benefits for those individual politicians who can communicate effectively in the new media, retaining their own authenticity whilst avoiding creating (too many)  hostages to fortune.

Are the political parties and our leading politicians going to be able to meet this challenge?  Well, we will soon find out.

Mar 19,2010
  • Launched the Swimming Challenge Fund to support free swimming for over 60s and under 16s.
  • Banned fox hunting.
  • Led the campaign to win the 2012 Olympics for London.
  • Free admission to our national museums and galleries.
  • Devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, an elected Mayor and Assembly for London and directly-elected mayors for those cities that want them.