Friday, July 16, 2004

Running up that Hodge Hill

One all, I think.
So Labour hold Hodge Hill by 460 and lose Leicester South by 1654.
Very tough campaigns and hard fought until the last minute. The LibDems even tried to demand a recount in Birmingham - unheard of on a majority of 500 with a low turnout - but the returning officer only allowed a brief inspection of the piles of ballot papers.
Losing any seat is never a good thing, but we are seven years into government and have had a very rough year as a result of foreign policy decisions. The Tories were haemorrhaging seats from very early on in their government before there was any danger of losing their national majority. This is the second that we've lost and I'd put some money on Labour retaking Brent at the next general.
The Liberal Democrats did well in both seats, but they won't be able to replicate the level of resources deployed into Leicester and Birmingham on a national basis. I have never seen so much yellow and orange and the streets were awash with Liberal Democrat campaigners. Their choice of candidate is really at fault here - her links with the mobile phone companies cost her enough votes in this election. Sadly, we can't rely on that level of inept politics every time. Equally, how long will the LibDems be able to trade on the war to win votes?
The really bad news was for the Tories. They've held both seats within living memory - Leicester was Tory until the late 80s and Hodge Hill went Tory after Roy Jenkins went off to Europe in the late 1970s. Nobody seriously expected them to win either, but their performance was very poor, given that they claim to be ready to form a government.
Still, by-elections are strange creatures and you can't draw an awful lot from them. For a few short weeks, the eyes of the country and all the resources of the political parties are fixed on a few thousand people. Perhaps the real concern for all politicians should be the low turnout - 36% in Birmingham and 42% in Leicester. How do we reconnect with people?

Thursday, July 15, 2004

BNP racist? I am shocked.

Don't miss this.

Lovely people - particularly their candidate who thinks that campaigning involves squirting dog faeces through someone's letterbox.

Whatever else you do - vote for anybody other than the BNP. They only win where there is a low turnout, so if you have the chance to vote, go and do it.

Gordon's Spend and Save

So, that's the round of departmental spending plans out of the way and they seem to have been well received all round.

The Civil Service Unions are up in arms about the job losses, but I suspect that many of those "losses" will disappear into redeployments and perhaps the creation of new independent agencies.

The relocation of departments outside London probably doesn't go far enough - just 20,000? Why not move whole departments to different cities? The Met Office has just completed a move from Bracknell to Exeter. Why shouldn't the Home Office shift large parts of the operation to Birmingham or Manchester? I'm sure York would welcome the MoD and somebody would be able to look after the ODPM.

Dealing with sickness should also be a positive thing, if handled correctly. A good sickness policy ensures that people know that if they are genuinely sick, their employer will support them and help them back to work. If people are taking liberties - do you know anyone who has regularly has mysterious colds and stomach upsets on Monday or Fridays? With the Disability Discrimination Act in place, it can't be used to get rid of staff with genuine problems, but it should help to tackle members of staff who are letting their colleagues and the public down.

It should have been tempered by an exploration of the issues behind this absenteeism, which can be an indicator of poor morale or excessive stress.

Otherwise, good news:
- more community support officers (up to 15,000 more)
- more funding for nursery provision with pilot projects for two-year-olds
- massive investment in some of the poorest housing stock in the country with an extra £525 million for the neighbourhood renewal fund each year
- extra funding for overseas aid and the World Service with a tripling of aid to Africa to over a billion pounds in 2007/8
- the costs of unemployment have fallen to a third of what they were seven years ago, as we keep the employment levels high

My only concern is that it is easy to talk up the potential for stopping waste and reducing the number of penpushers, but actually finding jobs that aren't necessary and rooting out the waste is very difficult and time consuming. The easy way is to demand that every department cuts back on a set quota basis, without regard for services.

The Tories whinged, as they are wont to do. After all, Gordon was driving his tanks onto their turf with this opening strike in the general election campaign. They may go on about 'big government' - forgetting that they presided over a massive increase in the size of the civil service.

It takes big government to do big things.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Should I stay or should I go?

Another tough week for Tony...

Gordon getting all the positive publicity on Monday with extra spending on front-line services

Butler report published - how critical will it be?

By-elections in Birmingham Hodge Hill and Leicester - two safe Labour seats in any normal year. The word is that we'll hold Hodge Hill with a reduced majority and probably lose Leicester to the LibDems.

So, should he go or stick around?

If he goes over the summer, he can go with his head held high and the Party will eulogise him as a great leader who chose his time to leave and laud the genuinely great achievements of the past seven years of Labour government. As Tony so identified himself with the Iraq war, much of the negative feeling will leave with him and those voters turned off by Blair will return to the fold - key to reviving a drooping party structure.

If he sticks around? Sure, we'll win the next general election with a reduced majority, but the mud from Iraq will continue to stick to the whole party. In any case, the gossip about the succession won't subside - just get worse until the whole structure of political government is consumed by it. The real issues will be completely obscured by gossip.