Posts Tagged ‘Andy Howell’

Corbyn must commit to being a leader of the many and not just the few

10/04/2018, 07:00:31 AM

by Andy Howell

By any measure Jeremy Corbyn has had a bad month or two. He was far too slow to react to the controversy over Anti-Semitism and, perhaps, even indifferent to it. On the Skripal front Corbyn’s anti cold war instincts may be understandable, indeed admirable, but the tone and manner of his interventions over Russia simply struck a wrong chord. The perception of those outside of the Party’s membership is that Corbyn only took a ‘proper’ line when dragged to it by the press, public opinion and the views of most of the world’s political powers.

Let us not also forget three high profile sackings. First off, Corbyn’s office announced that Debbie Abrahams had stepped down as shadow Work and Pensions Secretary as a result of allegations of bullying made by her office staff. Abrahams herself made it very clear that she considered she had been sacked and countered by claiming that she herself was the victim of bullying from the leader’s office. Owen Smith was sacked over calls for a further referendum on Brexit despite the Party’s conference policy still holding this out as a possibility if the May’s eventual deal proves to be unacceptable. Officially General Secretary Ian McNicol resigned, but effectively he went when the leadership told him his time was up.

On leftist social media channels Corbyn’s supporters remained out in force, defending their leader’s stance, until the Leadership itself was forced to reposition itself. In the narrow and rarified world of Facebook and Twitter, loyalists are convinced that Corbyn and his team have been dragged into these new positions by the dark forces of the press when, in reality, they have been responding to the concerns of the wider electorate.

This weekend YouGov’s polling — taken during this turbulent period — shows that only 31% of the public think Corbyn is doing a good job as leader of the Opposition; 56% think that he is doing a bad job.

In many ways the greatest frustration over the last couple of months is that so many of our problems have been self-inflicted. On Russia Corbyn could have better defended his position if his statements had been more measured or more statesman like. In talking to a number of younger, and newer, Labour members over the last few weeks I have sensed a growing confusion or disenchantment with his Leadership. Some of Corbyn’s most fanatical supporters still refer to him as ‘magic grandad’ but you don’t have to search very hard to find many who are becoming more muted.


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In praise of Ann Black — The mythology of the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance

14/02/2018, 09:47:35 AM

by Andy Howell

The battle for Labour’s soul has now moved firmly into the arena of Labour’s National Executive Committee. Not content with winning all of three of the new NEC constituency seats, Momentum’s Leadership have not their sights on un-seating Ann Black — a founding member of the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance — in the forthcoming NEC elections. Momentum’s actions under the leadership of Jon Lansman seem to be not only unnecessarily aggressive but designed to heighten the current state of factionalism within the Party. If there has been anyone, over the last twenty years, who has championed the role of the ordinary Party member it is Ann Black. Throughout her twenty years Ann has tried to work on a non tribal basis and Labour’s members have much to be grateful for.

Today, many members of Labour’s NEC produce their own regular reports of meetings but Ann was the first to do this. Ann set a new standard in openness and transparency and I doubt if she had not maintained her reporting that others would have followed, not least as Labour’s Hard Left has never been that keen on openness and transparency themselves. It is easy to overlook the fact that when Ann first started writing these reports they were very controversial. Labour’s leadership really didn’t like them at all; proper reporting and open minutes are not part of Labour’s NEC tradition.

Back in the late 90’s the Party’s initial distrust of Ann came from the simple fact that she was a founder member of the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance. Back then alliance was truly a centre left construction. Ann campaigned (and then worked) very much to the agenda of the group who she represented on the slate, Labour Reform, a centre left alliance of members who came together in opposition to much of Tony Blair’s Party in Power process. Labour Reform championed the greater involvement of ordinary members in Party affairs most notably through the adoption of One Member One Vote. Labour Reform had two innovative features for a Labour pressure group. Firstly, Labour Reform operated very openly and maintained regular contact with the then General Secretary Tom Sawyer and his deputy Jon Cruddas. When Labour took power in 1997 Labour Reform continued to meet regularly with Cruddas who by this time had moved into Downing Street. For Labour Reform it was important to engage in dialogue. We wanted the leadership and establishment of the Party to understand, directly, about our concerns and to hear at first hand our ideas for a building a better party. These were the principles that Ann took with her into the NEC. Not only was important to Ann maintain deeply held beliefs and principles but it was critical to commit to working positively across all sections of the Party.


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Expectations for Labour are high. Policy is the way for Jeremy Corbyn to meet them

28/06/2017, 10:36:47 PM

by Andy Howell

So, the deal with the DUP is well and truly in place. Tonight its MPs dutifully trooped through the lobbies with the Tories, blocking a Labour amendment to scrap the public sector pay cap. The deal buys May and Tories time although just how much will remain to be seen. It seems designed to last for two years by which point Tory optimists hope that a decent Brexit deal has been finalised. However, as always, political events do not aways go to plan and it is quite possible that this government will not last to the end of the negotiation period.

Corbyn is right to continue to make the case that Labour is ready to form a government at any time. At Glastonbury it is reported that he told organiser Michael Eavis that he could be Prime Minister within six months. This is not just a fanciful boast. The conference season will be a major test for May. If she continues to make the wrong choices, continues to appear wooden and inhumane and — critically — continues to be a subject for ridicule then the end could be quick.

In such a climate Labour’s biggest problem may well be the temptation to sit back and rely on its current campaign strategy and manifesto. At the moment both strategy and manifesto look to be effective but time always changes the context in which both must sit. The more that Corbyn is seen as a credible Prime Minister, indeed as the likely next Prime Minister, the bigger the challenge he faces in fleshing out the manifesto and in beginning to address detail.

Take one of the issues that devastated the Tory campaign plan, social care. The electorate was spooked by the Tory manifesto programme and singularly unimpressed by a series of subsequent U-Turns. Everyone in this country knows we face major challenges in this area. If we are not yet thinking personally about our own social care we will have parents and grandparents who, today, face the future with a great deal of uncertainty and fear. As we get closer to becoming a Party of government it will not bee enough for us to simply talk about more cash, we will have to spell out how and where we will make our investments. It might be acceptable — in a political campaign — to simply call for a new Social Care Service but it is clear that we might form the next government the health and social care sectors will look for more detail and will expect to be able to enter into a real dialogue with the opposition about the future.


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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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Labour primaries: a dash for cash?

02/11/2011, 08:43:54 AM

by Andy Howell

As Labour’s newly elected NEC prepares to settle in for the new year, it appears that one of the issues they will be considering carefully is that of primaries for selections. Primaries are loved by some and hated by others and, perhaps, the controversy over them was why refounding Labour was relatively passive on the subject or, at least, kicked it into the long grass.

Renewed interest in primaries follows the French socialist party’s recent use of a primary system to select their presidential candidates. Here at party HQ, interest in the French experiment seems to lie less with a desire to expand democracy, and more with of a sense that primaries are an opportunity to pull in some quick cash.

The business case following the French primaries is simple. To vote in the French Socialist’s primary voters had to pay a €1 fee. 2,860,157 people voted in the second round which, of course, equates to a lot of dosh — just short of £2.5 million pounds. (more…)

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We must ensure that fewer MPs means more democracy

14/09/2011, 01:00:13 PM

by Andy Howell

Much of practical politics is about dealing with paradox and balance. At one end of the political continuum we have creativity (risky) and at the other caution (inaction). Those at the creative end of the spectrum have to be brave enough to cope with the Daily Mail, the Express and, of course, Murdoch. Those who stay cautious may feel safe, but inaction and indecisiveness tends to see events pop up and bite them on the bum.

There is a great deal of indignation among Labour’s ruling elites about the Tory-Lib Dem government’s plans for boundary reform. They argue that this is all a fix to bash Labour; and in many senses they are right. But it is worth reflecting on lost opportunities as well as considering how we deal with the review and subsequently position ourselves on constitutional reform.

There has long been a widespread view, for which I have some sympathy, that we have too many MPs. The Lib Dems, in particular, have been vocal in pointing out that Labour did very little in power to think about representation and constituencies; our electoral law and practice is based on registered voters and not on population. Labour — they say — was simply too comfortable with falling turnout and poor voter registration. There may be some truth in this, but Labour’s real failure was in not reforming Parliament.

Quite simply, the job of a backbench MP does not look that great when viewed from outside. Why do we need so many MPs simply to act as voting fodder for the executive? Labour missed a massive opportunity to act imaginatively and decisively in renewing our system of governance. Select committees should have been given more power, more independence and — critically —more resources with which to carry out their work. Our leadership should have been more comfortable with the relaxation, or reinvention, of the traditional “whip” system.


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GP commissioning: how some GPs could make a shed load of money

07/03/2011, 12:00:29 PM

by Andy Howell

Do general practitioners (GPs) stand to make enormous profits on the back of the government’s GP commissioning reforms? Government ministers have responded to such suggestions aggressively, arguing that recent stories to this effect are simply the result of scaremongering of behalf of their political opponents.

However, talk to almost anyone involved in running local health services and they will tell you that it is inevitable that there will be huge profits to be made by GPs through commissioning, and they are not happy about it.

But if there are huge profits to be had, then how are they to be made and where will we have to look to find them? Will the opening up of GP services to profit-based ventures change the nature of our NHS forever?

It is not difficult to find experts in public sector organisation and finance who will tell you how they expect the new commissioning service to develop. Here is one such scenario that maps out what we might be letting ourselves in for.

Initially, I thought it might be difficult to monitor profits and to understand exactly how they were being made. After all, GP practices are not limited companies and as such they do not produce public accounts. But the experts tell me that it is not in established GP practices that money is to be made.

The new profits will come through newly commissioned services which, as limited companies, can be developed in very different ways to traditional GP practices. The key to understanding how the money may be made involves appreciating that local GPS will be able to be both commissioners of local services and providers of local services at the same time. There is no rigid separation of purchaser and provider here.

Let us consider two GPs who work on the same patch. Let’s call them Fred and Sally. (more…)

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