Posts Tagged ‘Paul Wheeler’

Stormy waters lie ahead for Labour in local government, most of all in London where the conflict over ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhoods’ brings overtones of Brexit

20/10/2021, 10:32:16 PM

by Paul Wheeler

For generations Labour locally had a unique and enduring offer for working class communities. Labour councils provided decent and affordable housing for millions of families and in time their adult children, they offered high standards of education for their children and in many instances provided secure employment across a range of skills. In return those communities provided the bedrock of Labour support across a whole range of towns and cities.

But that solidarity has been shattered by decades of privatisation and council house sales and none of those essential services are now provided on any scale by local councils. More recently national politicians have urged supporters to view local elections as a referendum on the respective party in power centrally (‘send them a message’) much to the outrage of local councillors who wanted to be judged independently of their parties national standing.

But that strategy has faltered in recent elections. Local politics has become more transactional. This is most clearly seen in the rise of hyper localist independent groups bidding for council seats and usually aligned with a desire to maintain property values and stop any form of housing development. For the Conservatives the trend is most clearly seen in rural and suburban District Councils where they have lost control to an array of Residents Groups and Liberal Democrats trading on a localist anti-development platform

For Labour the trend is more complex. In many of its metropolitan councils and county councils the hyper-localist parties have been able to exploit long standing grievances in local Townships that the ‘Town Hall’ doesn’t understand or care about their concern. There was evidence of this in the recent Batley and Spen by-election in respect of the policies of the ‘remote’ Kirklees Council. Across conurbations such as Greater Manchester such discontent has translated into support for independent councillors in traditional Labour towns such as Radcliffe, Farnworth and Failsworth.

The Conservatives as the governing party have a range of responses to the rise of transactional politics. They can offer a range of financial incentives such as Town Fund Bids (which have an unerring tendency to be awarded to Tory councils and constituencies) to keep voters on board locally. They can also simply abolish troublesome District Councils as part of a wider move to larger unitary councils.

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Labour in local government is the launchpad for general election victory. But right now, it’s over-stretched and the party leadership needs to pay attention

19/07/2021, 11:00:15 PM

by Paul Wheeler

As the political world staggers towards the summer recess let’s spare a thought for Labour local government.

Because lost in the spats at PMQs and Parliamentary by-elections the sad reality for the Labour Party is that the local election results in May 2021 were much worse than the General Election in December 2019. May saw the continuation of the collapse in Labour support in many traditional towns and shire county councils such as Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Lancashire which were Labour controlled within the last decade now have substantial Conservative majorities. Durham a Labour council for over 100 years is no longer controlled by the party. Labour now has only one Police and Crime Commissioner in the English shires and Cleveland, a Labour fiefdom until recently, elected a Conservative Metro Mayor with over 70% of the popular vote. In many district councils Labour groups are in single figures.

Obviously, politics can change quickly. After the April 1992 general election Labour continued to lose support at the subsequent local elections and there was much speculation that the Conservatives were the natural party of government’. Along came the collapse of the Exchange Rate Mechanism and with it the Tories reputation for economic management and within a year they had lost every shire county bar Buckinghamshire. By 1994 Labour gained over 4000 council seats – its largest ever margin of victory – destroying the Conservatives in local government and paving the way for the 1997 general election.

But those hoping for a similar post Covid reaction need to remember that history or hindsight are never suitable explanations for future events. In the past Labour generally faced challenges from mainly Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. The local elections this May have shown new challenges from the Green Party in Sheffield and Bristol and from a range of hyper-localist independents in towns such as Bolton and Bury and traditional shire and new unitaries such as South Yorkshire and Stoke.

You don’t need to study ‘The Art of War’ by Sun Tzu to know that fighting on four different fronts presents considerable challenges to any political party.

Yet if Labour is to continue as a mainstream party across England we need to develop campaigns and policies that can respond to these multiple challenges

And amidst the gloom there is hope. Labour was able to advance in local government in new localities such as Worthing and West Oxfordshire. And even more encouragingly we were able to win the new Mayoralties of the West of England and Peterborough with Dan Norris and Nik Johnson (although spoiler alert: the Government have announced plans to abolish the electoral system that made such victories at regional level possible).

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Why the Labour Party still has a problem with black men (and it’s getting worse)

19/11/2020, 11:05:15 PM

by Paul Wheeler

Back in 2014 I wrote a comment piece for Labour List. I was criticised then for an ‘unhelpful contribution to the debate’. Well it wasn’t meant to be helpful it was a warning that without action the existing problem about black male representation in the Labour Party was likely to get worse.

The recent elections to the NEC are a classic example of how the last six years have been wasted. Terry Paul and Jermain Jackman were excellent candidates who would have added much needed experience and knowledge to our National Executive. Neither were elected. Whilst we rightly congratulate the progress of black women to become Labour MPs at the last General Election the applause is missing for any new black men in the PLP. It’s shameful to our party that we now have more black men as Conservative MPs than on the Labour benches. The position in Labour local government is even worse with precisely two black leaders of Labour councils. Recent events in Southwark where a talented black councillor was rejected as Leader shows that the situation is not likely to improve either. We can criticise the Conservative Party for its politics but it’s record of promoting black men to positions of influence in Parliament and the party organisation is one that that we conspicuously lack.

For a party that believes in planning and social justice we display a remarkably ‘laissiez-faire’ approach to candidate selections. As a consequence, we have a ruthless free market with considerable advantage to those of insider knowledge of the process and networks built up over years at University and within parliament and favoured think tanks. The problem has been compounded as our membership becomes more middle class and an implicit tendency for many members and councillors to select in their own image. The problem could have corrected in the last six years if the Trades Unions (many who have large numbers of black men as members) had made serious efforts to sponsor talented black male candidates but they haven’t. In fact over the last three General Elections several Trades Unions, including my own Unite, have made the situation worse by endorsing privileged white men as favoured candidates in safe Labour seats such as Ilford South and Leeds East.

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“Boiling a frog” or how our voting rights have been eroded by the Tories

09/01/2018, 10:04:49 PM

by Paul Wheeler

If four years ago political commentators had suggested that millions of eligible voters would be arbitrarily removed from the electoral register or that the government would be introducing a system of voter identification at polling stations outlawed in Texas, they would have accused of paranoia.

Yet as we enter 2018 that’s precisely what’s happening in Britain – one of the world’s oldest democracies. In a classic Tory approach none of this has been announced as a public policy but in a combination of stealth and cock up we are heading to a fundamental erosion of long held voting rights.

Individual voting registration (IVR) was introduced in 2014 and sold as a way of democratising the registration process by allowing anyone to register to vote rather than relying on a self nominated (and usually male) Head of Household. The problem was that it relied on 350 local councils- the majority small district councils- to introduce this radical change at a time when their overall budgets were being dramatically slashed by central government..

The Electoral Commission, who were the cheerleaders for IVR,  could have learnt from Australia where IVR had been a feature of the electoral process for decades and relies on a comprehensive system of data tracking with government and housing agencies to maintain an accurate record (they even cross-reference to ensure that the recently deceased are automatically removed from the electoral register). They chose not to contact any of the relevant agencies in Australia presumably on the basis that Britain knows best.

Needless to say the introduction of Individual voter registration didn’t go well. Millions of forms were dispatched to individuals in a complex paper chase of which the only real beneficiaries were the Post Office and the suppliers of official stationary. Apart from a few London and metropolitan boroughs little attempt was made to cross reference the voter register with other official records to maintain an accurate electoral register. One example indicates the shambles of IVR as introduced in Great Britain. ‘Attainers’ – 16-17 year olds- had traditionally been included on the register by heads of households. Now no-one had responsibility for including them. The result was that the number of 16-17 years on the register collapsed in a large number of areas (over 50% in Liverpool). In Australia their inclusion on the register was the responsibility of schools and colleges –a sensible approach not even considered here.

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Just not good enough – a story of Labour selection

06/03/2015, 03:49:55 PM

by Paul Wheeler

I had an interesting conversation with a well connected Labour councillor recently. We both had an interest in a recent Parliamentary selection contest.

His preferred candidate won and it was clear why. He had the better website, he had been full time contacting members for months, he was bright, articulate and union sponsored. In fact he was so well organised he even got his supporting union to provide a breakfast to ensure his supporters turned up for the early morning selection meeting. As my new friend put it cruelly but accurately my preferred candidate ‘just wasn’t good enough’

And he was right. He ran a slip shod campaign with a pretty poor website and relied on old contacts and promises. All he had going for him was that he was born and bred in the constituency and as a leading councillor had helped turned the town around when everyone else had written it off.  Critically for a lot of new members to the area he hadn’t been to university and was therefore not ‘quite up to the job’ of being an MP.

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