I phone banked for four weeks but picked up no Labour surge. And then, on polling day, there it was

09/06/2017, 06:00:53 PM

by Andy Howell

Early Thursday morning, election day. I made my way into Birmingham Labour’s phone bank with long time, fellow traveller, Bill Lees. As we approached that final push we wondered whether this might be the last time we could run a simple and conventional Get Out The Vote Operation (GOTV). Despite all of the computers and the clever pieces of software GOTV remains based on brute strength. It worked in Stoke on Trent with the backup of hundreds and thousands of volunteers. But could it still work in basic elections?

Bill and I seemed to have been locked in that phone bank for most of the previous four weeks. Bill — who was running the operation — seemed to have moved into the Birmingham office for the duration of the campaign. We survived on a poor diet of caffeine, sandwiches and very bad jokes.

For a month and more a dedicated team spoke to literally thousands of voters, initially to all and then latterly to those who had more closely identified with Labour over the last few years. It was hard going. We experienced little of the Labour ‘surge’. The last few days were positively depressing. In all honesty, we didn’t see Labour’s 40% vote coming, even as we ran wave after wave of phone knock-ups on polling day. Maybe our work did help? Maybe our work had made a difference? Maybe it didn’t? But our input into Labour’s Contact Creator seemingly hadn’t lied. The polls seemed to be right. We missed Labour’s rise completely. So, what were we missing?

Turnout was up significantly in our target seats. In some parts of Jack Dromey’s Erdington seat we were shocked at past voting records. We used Labour’s software to do some fundamental analysis. In one key area — Castle Vale — 42% of voters had not voted once in eight years. Two-thirds of voters had only voted twice across an eight year period and that voting pattern was heavily weighted to the beginning of that eight year period. It seemed these were elder voters simply getting too old to vote.

Voting turnout on ‘The Vale’ is dismally poor and yet residents came out in their droves for the EU referendum, to vote Brexit of course. Anecdotes from Party workers and polling officials suggested that in the referendum many had voted for the first time. These voters had no voting record. Phone numbers and accounts are regularly switched. From our phone banks we had no way of properly engaging with many of these voters; maybe if we had have been we would have not been caught so unaware.

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If Jeremy Corbyn forms a minority government on Friday, he needs to scrap the Fixed Term Parliament Act

07/06/2017, 10:42:33 PM

by Trevor Fisher

With the opinion polls all over the place nothing is clear, but the possibility of a hung parliament has to be considered. One poll with a week to go put the Tories having a 3% lead, another a 12% lead, and the latter is more likely. But the prospect of a hung parliament and Labour having to fess up to challenging May is now worth thinking about. Paul Mason (in the Financial Times of 3rd June) called for Labour to ‘pledge his willingness to govern from the centre… should signal he would form a government with cross party support in parliament, at the very least from the Greens and the progressive nationalist parties’. That raises more questions than answers, but is not what the Front Bench is stating is political stance is going to be anyway.

The Guardian on 1st June reported that Corbyn and Thornberry at a rally in the odd venue of Basildon, considered the options if Labour were the largest party but had no majority. Corbyn echoed Tim Farron in rejecting coalitions, the two leaders clearly aware the coalitions are not popular, stating “We’re not doing deals, we are not doing coalitions, we are not doing any of these things. We are fighting to win this election”. Which is all well and good, but McCluskey of Unite said two weeks earlier that Labour would do well if it did not lose many seats, and to win the election would need Labour holding all its marginals and taking seats off its opponents, especially in Scotland.

However the comment by Emily Thornberry was more important.

She said “We are fighting to win and we are fighting to win a majority. If we end up in a position where we are in a minority, then we will go ahead and put forward a Queen’s speech and a budget, and if people want to vote for it, then good, but if people don’t want to vote for it, then they going to have to go back and speak to their constituents and explain it to them, why we have a Tory government instead. Those are the conversations we have had. No Deals.”

This needs teasing out. If Labour is the largest party, and Corbyn is called to the Palace and becomes PM with no majority, this comment means the front bench are planning to put their plans to the Commons and risking being defeated. If that happened, the Tories would then be the next in line and Corbyn could be the PM with the shortest time in office on record. Blaming the other parties would not be much consolation if the Tories stitched up a deal, as they unlike the Lib Dems and Labour, have said nothing about ruling out coalitions so far.

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Polls: Labour’s surging. Non-London doorstep: It’s a “nuclear winter for Labour.” Party braces for worst

05/06/2017, 10:51:57 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Just over two weeks ago I posted a projection of huge losses for Labour – over 90 seats – based on dozens of conversations with activists, candidates and officials who cumulatively had sight of tens of thousands of canvass returns.

Since then, I’ve continued those conversations as Labour has apparently surged in the polls.

The result is a marked improvement in London but precious little to cheer about outside the capital.

The last few weeks have seen a strong rise in Labour promises in key seats across London, although constituencies such as Dagenham and Eltham remain very difficult.

But in the West Midlands, Yorkshire, North West and the North East, any improvement has been nugatory.

One campaigner from London who spent time in the North East last week described it as a “nuclear winter for Labour.”

The doorstep returns outside of London are saying that Labour is still running substantially below its 2015 vote, that Ukip votes are transferring in huge numbers to the Tories with losses in prospect of the mid-60s to mid-90s and a lingering possibility that the situation could be even worse come Thursday.

What on earth is happening? Are the doorstep results wrong? Or is it the polls?

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Whatever happened to the good old election poster?

03/06/2017, 02:32:56 PM

by Lucy Ashton

Once upon a time our streets would have been ablaze with colourful orange triangles, lurid yellow and red squares and true blue garden stakes. But now, while people are quick to add a twibbon to their twitter profile or a flag to their Facebook picture, the humble election poster has fallen out of fashion.

When I was a kid in the 1980s, I used to help out in election campaigns and we would order posters by the boxful. They were probably one of the biggest election expenses and people very often wanted two or three for their garden, bedroom window and car as they proudly declared their allegiance.

By the 1990s, I was working as a journalist and posters were still popular. I remember writing photo stories where whole streets were decked out in one colour, or married couples had rival stakes in the garden.

Even a few years ago, I could name streets in Sheffield where you could find a swathe of Labour posters in a row or a clutch of Lib Dem triangles.

And then, quite suddenly, election posters seemed to fall out of fashion. It seems normal to lambast friends on Facebook over Brexit and for complete strangers to hurl abuse on Twitter, but admit how you’re voting in an election? That’s a step too far.

People have mixed feelings about them.

Conservative supporter Mike Love stopped putting up posters after a spate of vandalism. “I displayed a Tory poster in my garden in 1987 and someone set fire to it. I’ve tended not to display them since.”

Chris Shaw, a floating voter, says he did once display a Green Party parish council one. But would he display one now? “No way. I’ve traditionally been a shy Tory. I’m considering switching from May but would be embarrassed by a Labour poster.”

For Linda Lefevre, it wouldn’t be a proper election without a few posters. She said: “I display one on our front window as it’s traditional and adds excitement. I hope it will encourage neighbours to get involved and vote.”

Linda does need to impress a certain neighbour though: “We live opposite Ed Miliband, who also has a poster, as do our two next door neighbours.”

I remember my dad strategically placing one of our election poster by the back wall so it looked as though it was in our neighbour’s garden. Scott Barton – who took the photo with this blog – spotted this house in Sheffield. “This was the same back garden so I guess they’ll have to agree to disagree,” he said.

So if the poster has fallen by the wayside, along with loud hailers on cars and giant rosettes, elections will seem that bit more drab compared to the colourful campaigns of the past.

Lucy Ashton is a journalist and former regional newspaper Political Editor

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Why Catholics like Corbyn

01/06/2017, 11:41:25 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Support among Britain’s Jews for Jeremy Corbyn may be flat-lining – with just 13 per cent planning to vote Labour according to a poll in the Jewish Chronicle – but Britain’s Catholics are set to ride to Labour’s rescue.

In all probability, Labour’s most important demographic, many of Britain’s five million Catholics are habitually loyal to the party, supporting it through thick in thin for generations. This peaked with a 60-19 per cent gap over the Conservatives back in 2001.

Even in 2015, 41 per cent of Catholics voted Labour – 11 per cent higher than the population at large, according to figures from the British Religion in Numbers project at Manchester University. While Muslims also vote Labour is very large numbers, I suspect the wider distribution of Catholic voters across the country has more strategic impact on Labour’s fortunes.

Indeed, much of the party’s meltdown in Scotland at the last general election (where it lost forty seats) was down to Catholics abandoning Labour in droves. Between 2010 and 2015, Labour’s share of the Catholic vote fell from 63 per cent to just 36 per cent. Any way back for Labour in Scotland means retrieving Catholic support that went to the SNP.

Catholic support for Labour is perhaps most pronounced in general political attitudes. After the 2005 election, IpsosMori found that while fewer than a quarter (22 per cent) of the public generally described themselves as ‘Old Labour’, over a third (34 per cent) of Catholics said that description best suited their political outlook.

On questions of distributional justice, many Catholics are reliably left-wing. Perhaps Corbyn’s genuine moral outrage about poverty connects deeply with the Faithful? As does his commitment to peace and dialogue. Even his embroilment in Northern Ireland is potentially a positive here.

Quite apart from his support for Irish republicanism, Corbyn was also involved in campaigns to overturn the miscarriages of justice concerning the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four and has been active on Irish community concerns, from fighting racism to supporting Travellers’ rights throughout his career.

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The final straight of two terrible campaigns

01/06/2017, 05:21:00 PM

by Rob Marchant

A week left of campaigning, and Britain’s political race to the bottom is in full flight. Polls all over the shop; but narrowing at the end, as they invariably do.

In different ways, the Tory and Labour campaigns are spectacularly failing to enthuse the electorate.

The Tories, for whom the election has always been theirs to lose, seem intent on torpedoing their own campaign. Uncosted pledges – almost unheard of for usually-meticulous Tories – and their fiasco on the “dementia tax”, resulting in a mid-campaign U-turn by May.

Then there is the air campaign. First she is front and centre: then the party panics and sees her wooden, unengaging and largely absent. John Prescott reports a senior Tory viewing the campaign as “a disaster”, and that opinion is surely not a one-off among the grandees, let alone the commentariat.

To round off her dismal campaign, she has made an awful blunder, not so much in boycotting the televised debates, but worse: sending a substitute and saying she is too busy “thinking about Brexit negotiations”. The optics, as they say, of such a high-handed approach are awful, and the natural response uncomplicated. “I’m sorry? Who was it actually called the election?”

The one ray of light on the horizon for the self-sabotaging May must surely be that the poll-narrowing currently taking place will probably be enough to animate her base to come to the polling station, rather than stay at home. Meaning she will win comfortably where she does not deserve to. But, then again, neither does her opposite number.

Ah yes, Labour. Where to start?

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Why doesn’t Corbyn just go and join the Tories?

31/05/2017, 02:26:04 PM

by George Kendall

Jeremy Corbyn’s astonishing victory in the Labour leadership contest of 2015 was in reaction to the then Labour leadership’s decision to abstain on some parts of the Tory welfare bill. At the time, Corbyn said: “Families are suffering enough. We shouldn’t play the government’s political games when the welfare of children is at stake”.

On being elected leader, Corbyn was remorseless in continuing his attacks on welfare cuts.

In autumn 2015, Corbyn’s ally, the Shadow Chancellor, committed to reversing the tax credit cuts in full. He tweeted: “We are calling on Osborne to reverse his decision to cut tax credits. If he doesn’t reverse these cuts, we’re making it clear that we will”.

Even as recently as Monday of this week, in his interview with Jeremy Paxman, Corbyn said: “I am fighting this election on something very important, that is the levels of poverty in our society, the levels of children that are not supported properly in our society. I’m fighting this election on social justice”. (7.15 mins in)

These are stirring words. But are they actually true?

Earlier in the interview, after considerable pressure from Paxman, he said that benefits wouldn’t be frozen for three years (3.33 mins in here). According to the respected independent think-tank, the IFS, this would require an additional £3.3bn per year, yet any funding to pay for this is missing from his costed manifesto.

Even more striking is that his explicit commitment in the Paxman interview, to ensure that “children are properly supported in our society” isn’t matched by his manifesto, which fails to reverse child tax credit cuts, a change that would have required £4.8bn per year. In addition, his manifesto only allocates £2 billion of the £3 billion per year that would be needed to reverse cuts to universal credit.

In combination, these cuts will take £9.1 billion per year from the lowest paid in our society.

Instead, he and his team have chosen to allocate most funds to initiatives which will be particularly attractive to middle-class voters.

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No matter what the Tories hope, Britain is not an island

30/05/2017, 07:38:31 PM

by Jonathan Todd

We’re wasting the finite time that Article 50 affords the UK to agree terms for our departure from the EU on an election supposedly about Brexit in which Brexit has hardly featured. This exit is not a trifling concern: no part of national life will be untouched by it.

“We’re being infantilised as a democracy,” Matthew Parris observes (£) of the lack of Brexit debate during the general election. But if there is a group of people with less appetite for Brexit discussion than our political class, it seems to be the general public.

“When it comes to Brexit, people have moved on,” wrote James Bethell after canvassing one Labour and two Conservative seats in East Anglia. The UKIP vote has moved on to the Conservatives. The Remain vote has failed to move on to the Liberal Democrats.

Roughly half of those Remain voters now accept that the UK must leave the EU – the other half want a government to ignore the referendum result or find means of overturning it. Whereas the defeated side remained energised after the Scottish referendum in 2014, the passion of the 48% has quickly dissipated.

Britain is over Brexit but Brexit isn’t over Britain. The grim prophecies of Remain have not really gone away. The UK’s trade balance, for example, has worsened by 1.8% of GDP since the final quarter of 2015. The fall in Sterling that Brexit triggered has sucked in imports, which are pushing up inflation, with no compensating rise in exports.

Our ability to pay our way is deteriorating – before tariffs are paid on goods moving from the UK to the continent (due to our exit from the customs union) and regulatory divergence further undermines the UK’s competitiveness (as a result of single market departure). To say nothing of the loss of labour and productivity induced by the end of free movement.

We’re on course to gut the NHS of the European workers upon which it depends but what happens in Libya, won’t stay in Libya. The things that we dislike about abroad (e.g. Islamic extremism) won’t avoid us just because we inadvertently curb the things we like from beyond our shores (e.g. NHS workers).

Did we intervene too much in Libya (in using aerial power to help topple Gaddafi who was butchering his own people) or too little (in failing to stabilise the country afterwards)?

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Campaign frontline: In Weaver Vale, the Tories might outspend Labour but the party won’t be outworked

29/05/2017, 01:00:15 PM

In a series of reports from the frontline, Uncut looks at what’s happening on the ground. Kevin Meagher visited Weaver Vale, a seat Labour needs to win to form a government

Tidy stone walls and trimmed high hedges in glorious summer colours frame the journey on the road in to Weaver Vale. Interspersed are rows of pretty terraces with brightly-painted doors and big, detached properties with spacious gardens. Every now and then there are hand-written signs hung over gates or staked in the ground advertising ‘New Cheshire Potatoes’ from local farms.

Then the lettering above an old road sign brings it home: ‘Vale Royal Borough’. The previous name for this part of Cheshire, before the old county and district councils were scrapped to create two new unitaries a decade ago.

Cheshire is not ‘the North’ as many would recognise it. A collection of attractive and often very prosperous market towns and villages set in lush farmland and countryside. It is a beautiful part of the country and far more affluent than Greater Manchester to its north and Merseyside to its west, serving as a hinterland for the well-heeled who work in either.

But the county also has odd bits of heavy industry like the giant Ineos chemicals site that seems to take an eternity to pass driving along the M56. And there are still reliable urban redoubts for Labour. Towns like Warrington and Runcorn and Widnes remain safe bets.

Weaver Vale is an amalgam of these two Cheshires, incorporating the smart market towns of Frodsham and Northwich as well as the eastern part of Runcorn. Labour has always had a decent base in Cheshire and held this seat easily enough between 1997 and 2010. Even in 2015, the Conservative majority here was only 806.

I’m here to meet Labour’s candidate, Mike Amesbury, a recent veteran of Andy Burnham’s successful mayoral campaign and a former adviser to Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner.

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Whatever the result in this election, voter registration must be a big part of Labour’s future

28/05/2017, 10:39:31 PM

by Trevor Fisher

Last Monday, 22nd May, my inbox was full of messages about the election – the big news being the Tory manifesto or rather the May manifesto, building on the lead May has in the opinion polls with her running ahead of her party – while Corbyn runs behind his. The latest polling before the manifesto row the previous week showed Tories 47%, Labour 32%, LD 8% and UKIP 5%, but on the leaders May was 24 points ahead, with just 23% believing Corbyn would make a good Prime Minister.

However the 22nd was an inbox of reminders that the deadline for registration, with some 7m people not registered. On the day in fact some 2m registered, leaving 5 million out of the system. This is bad news for Labur as 30% of under 24s and 28% of people who moved in the last year were unregistered. The old, pensioners without jobs but with no plans for moving are the stable basis of the Tory vote, with much more likelihood to cast a ballot. Indeed, the news prompted a brief flurry in the Independent which deserves to be more than an eve of deadline chatter fest. Corbyn will go at some point. But the problems of a Tory bias in voting will remain. And the individual voter registration system may be the most serious of all New Labour mistakes, and another you can’t blame Corbyn for. Not that he understands the problem.

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