Posts Tagged ‘Jessica Asato’

The positive alternative to just denouncing cuts

23/05/2011, 03:00:42 PM

by Jessica Asato

I don’t agree that Labour should stop fighting the cuts as Peter Watt wrote last week. But in the furore surrounding his audacious suggestion, most people seemed to miss a sensible point. That the public still blames Labour for overspending and is aware that, had we been elected, would be making cuts too, seems lost on the wider party.

On the doorstep, the overwhelming impression I get is that people are indeed angry about the cuts that are threatening their communities, but don’t believe Labour has yet set out a credible alternative. The question – so what would you do differently – has become as tricky on the knocker as taming a tetchy pitbull.

It is because we have such trouble answering this simple request that the cuts have become our single narrative. We cling to the belief that as people see services falling away they will repent of ever doubting Labour. They’ll flock back to the true righteous path and thank Labour for spending their money on great things. Except, they won’t. No matter how much we shout “international global financial crisis”, the public believes that Labour got the country into a financial mess like they always do and don’t know how to get out of it.


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Caption contest: Lefty love in special

05/05/2011, 11:46:12 AM

“The party is split” read the headlines. “Labour is dangerously divided over electoral reform” they said. They wish. Tomorrow a  temporary division will come to an end. If Huhne and Clegg thought the AV campaign was bad – wait until the Labour assasins are reunited.

Where does he get those shirts?

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Together we are stronger

19/11/2010, 04:42:56 PM

by Jessica Asato

Is social action ‘un-Labour’? On Twitter, I recently praised this Progress article by Tessa Jowell. In it she describes what fun she and her local party had during a day of volunteering in her constituency clearing flower beds, planting bulbs and launching a new tenants’ association. I suggested in my Tweet that this is the sort of grassroots community engagement local CLPs across the country should be emulating.

I wasn’t prepared for the reaction which came from two Labour councillors and campaigners whom I much admire – Antonia Bance and Luke Akehurst. “We’re not Tories; our social action is making the system work for ordinary people, not isolated acts of benevolence”, wrote Antonia. “I’m with Antonia on this”, wrote Luke, “I think it’s a bit tokenistic and a sticking plaster where we need a shield”.

I can see where they are both coming from. Labour people shouldn’t have any truck with the idea of noblesse oblige or that entrenched social and economic inequalities can be transformed by acts of charity. Or “the big society”, for that matter.

But if Labour members plant some bulbs with local residents, this can’t mean that they have capitulated to one nation Toryism? Our history should tell us otherwise. The strike by the Bryant and May factory girls in the late nineteenth century was an impressive display of the growing power of organised labour, but it was still supported by the soup kitchens of the salvation army. Early socialists did not just agitate for justice, they tried to build it through social activism. The two should not be mutually exclusive.

Matt Carter, in his fantastic, if dense, book on TH Green and the development of ethical socialism, writes that this strand of Labour’s early thinking places “individual moral development and character above simple state reforms”. According to Carter, ethical socialism recognises that “however beneficial state action is, it cannot simply force through social improvement”. If one lesson should be learnt from the last 13 years of Labour in power, it is that unless we take the public with us, our progressive reforms will be smashed to pieces the moment we are out of it. Too often, New Labour imposed change on our poorest communities, rather than taking them on a journey where citizens felt they owned that change.

Planting bulbs may seem a far cry from a discussion about the role of the state, but reconnecting with people, in a soggy trousers, dirty hands sort of a way, is essential if we want to engage in a wider debate about what the party should do in power. This is what David Miliband understood when he launched the movement for change as part of his leadership campaign. In his Keir Hardie lecture, Miliband spoke of how the Labour movement was “built on ethical relationships that were forged between people through common action”, and how Hardie embodied this: “Hardie was not a mechanical reformer who tried to bring about change through external control. He was a moral reformer who understood that you cannot create virtuous people by bureaucratic methods”.

Of course, it would be better if the system ran perfectly, with the state keeping flower beds neat and the new tenants’ association not needing Labour’s support to get it going. But there should be more to Labour’s aims than keeping the bureaucracy in check. Our mission should be to help build the conditions necessary for people to become the best they can be, in a society which is the best it can be. Robert Putnam’s seminal paper, Bowling Alone, developed the theory that the decline of situations in which people could interact socially had led to a decline in trust and political engagement. In its simplest form, when we get together with others we develop bonds which make it easier to trust one another and understand differences. We share knowledge, networks, news, jokes and cups of tea, which helps society to rub along better. Facilitating these opportunities should partly be Labour’s role. If we say we speak on behalf of deprived communities, that has to be real, otherwise we take these people’s names in vain.

No one is saying that members from local parties scrubbing off graffiti will solve the deficit or poverty. (Well, except for some Tories perhaps). But it helps to open up a conversation which is far better than “can I ask which political party you usually support at election time”? That has to be a step forward.

Jessica Asato is a social media consultant and Islington councillor.

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The real reasons Ken wants Lutfur back in the party

13/11/2010, 12:00:13 PM

by Jessica Asato

It is clear that, despite trying to arm-twist some quite senior members of the Labour party into allowing Lutfur Rahman back into the fold, Ken Livingstone has failed the new mayor of Tower Hamlets for the time being. Instead of pushing the issue at the next meeting of the NEC, Ken has recently rowed back – having had the riot act read to him by Victoria Street – and said there’s no timescale. Though the ambition is still there. Earlier this week Ken said “there is a lot to be said for letting this all calm down and seeing how Lutfur performs”. So why has Livingstone gone out of his way to find such common cause with Rahman?

When I last wrote about the Mayoral election, some commenters suggested that Ken was merely being politically pragmatic by supporting Lutfur. This was not an endorsement of Lutfur’s ideological position, but instead a calculated partnership with an eye on the future. They pointed out that his vote doubled in Tower Hamlets during the 2008 London Mayoral election, arguing that the East London mosque and the Islamic forum of Europe (IFE) were key to his success. By siding with the Labour candidate three weeks ago, Livingstone might have alienated these two important lobby interests in the borough, which could create a mass desertion of Muslim voters from Labour’s cause across London ahead of 2012. (more…)

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Labour has become too focussed on winning

30/10/2010, 04:34:04 PM

by Simone Webb

Reading Jessica Asato’s article on negative campaigning yesterday, I felt deeply uncomfortable. While delighted that we won the Kentish town by-election, the tactics described in the article worried me. I don’t disagree with negative campaigning if it’s confined to revealing the flaws in opponents’ arguments or criticising their actions in power. But the deception and trickery involved in dressing our leaflets up as Tory leaflets or, later in the article, using “ever so in-accurate bar charts” seems to me to be wrong on several levels.

First, it’s the idea at the heart of it: the idea that Labour needs to win, almost at any cost, even by trickery. Now, I believe people are better off under a Labour government. I wouldn’t be a party member otherwise. However, I also believe that people have a fundamental right to make an informed choice about which party they elect into power. If Labour party candidates are distributing leaflets which are even superficially deceptive, or show inaccurate data, or mislead the voters, then they are misinforming the electorate. (more…)

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Negative campaigning: it’s not very nice, but it works

29/10/2010, 03:07:46 PM

by Jessica Asato

Does negative campaigning work and how should Labour people feel about it in the ‘new generation’ era? 

I asked myself this question last night while watching the Kentish Town council by-election result in London flash up on Twitter. Labour’s Jenny Headlam-Wells trashed the Lib Dems, who held all three seats in the ward just six months ago. Having spent a few hours coaxing people out of their warm homes to the polling station, I was of course delighted. There are few more satisfying activities than participating in a successful Labour election, particularly when the government is taking us back to the 80s. But something was niggling me.

During the election, the Liberal Democrats accused Labour of underhand tactics for distributing this leaflet. Printed in blue, without a Labour logo, it could be easily mistaken by a voter for Conservative literature. Richard Osley, North London political blogger extraordinaire, called it a “feast of negative campaigning”. My first reaction was that Labour would have failed in its political duty if it had not brought the Lib Dems’ broken promises on tuition fees, VAT, cuts and child benefit to the attention of Kentish Town residents. The fluffy community campaigners cannot hide from the fact they form a government presiding over public sector cuts three times the scale of Thatcher’s. (more…)

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The lessons from Tower Hamlets, by Jessica Asato

22/10/2010, 02:00:27 PM

Were you out campaigning in Tower Hamlets yesterday?

I thought not. You’re not alone; lots of Labour campaign stalwarts stayed away. They took one look at the situation and thought that their precious holiday could be saved for a more deserving campaign.

Even without knowing the complex saga of Tower Hamlets politics, trying to elect an imposed candidate who came third in a party selection seemed like electoral suicide. It was. Despite a valiant ground campaign which I witnessed yesterday, our candidate Helal Abbas was beaten solidly by Lutfur Rahman on 51% of first preferences. I can’t remember the last election day in which I felt so outnumbered by the sheer presence of opposition campaigners. Rahman’s supporters drove round in cars plastered with his literature and quite happily flouted electoral rules by crowding round the entrance to polling stations with leaflets. The few of us who did make it there were stretched thin. It won’t count as one of my happier campaigning experiences. (more…)

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The week Uncut

17/10/2010, 04:04:00 PM

George and Liam have been fighting again. And it looks like the defence secretary is claiming victory on this one. Other departments are likely to be less lucky as the Chancellor sharpens his knife ready for the spending review on Wednesday.

But this week was all about Ed. He entered the chamber as the young pretender. The media waited for the slick PR machine that is the PM to swat him aside. Ed stood up, a little shaky at first, and then, very slowly but surely he started hitting him. And he didn’t stop.

Yes it was only his first PMQs, and there are plenty of rounds to go, but he did something very important. He gave the Labour benches something to really cheer – for the first time in a long time.  Cameron now knows what he is going to face week in week out. The game has changed – the new boy knows the rules, and can play rough too.

In case you missed them, here are Uncut’s best read pieces of the last seven days:

Dan Hodges interviews Ed Miliband’s consigliere, Peter Hain

Tom Watson promises the new boss that he’ll stop behaving like a child

Siôn Simon gives his verdict on Ed’s first PMQs

Jessica Asato makes the case for the Oxbridge wonks

Pat McFadden offers a sensible review of the Browne report

Anthony Painter kicks off a debate on the role of the state

James Watkins says Labour mustn’t leave the countryside to the Tories

Uncut looks at the new generation front bench

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Oxbridge wonks are people too, says Jessica Asato

15/10/2010, 03:20:25 PM

When is a job not a proper job? And can you get by in politics without having done one?

Apparently not, if my previous experience of writing online is anything to go by. Whatever I wrote, be it an argument for universal childcare or a fairer funding system for older people’s care, the most frequent comment was that my opinion was irrelevant since I had never done a proper job.

On the face of it, the commenters had a point. I have never stacked shelves at Tescos, or dealt with angry customers in a call centre. I have never been a street cleaner or driven a bus. I cannot claim to have come from a family of miners or dockers. My career path, if it can be given a linear route at all, has been predominantly academic and political. Put the words Cambridge, think tank and Progress on any CV and it will scream privileged, middle-class Blairite. I am the walking, talking stereotype of a NuLab politician and I worry about it. (more…)

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