Posts Tagged ‘Tom Keeley’

Now we’ve got more councillors, here’s how we show the difference they make

17/05/2012, 02:48:56 PM

by Tom Keeley

A major challenge for Labour’s 824 newly elected councillors is to prove to their electorate that the right choice has been made.  In local politics this is easier said than done.  Even the hardest working councillor can be made to look like a one-trick-pony come election time. Avoiding this depends largely on how work done and successes achieved are perceived by the electorate.

Most councillor accomplishments will be small.  Road signs cleaned.  Bulky waste collections increased.  Alleyways cleared.  Double yellow lines painted.  Police patrols rerouted.  And, while there is much more to council politics than this, this is what the majority of the electorate will see the majority of the time.  The little things.  The challenge for local councillors is to present their successes to the local electorate in a way so as to maximise results at the ballot box.

The traditional way of presenting successes is that as double yellow lines are painted we rush out leaflets to the surrounding roads claiming credit.  As potholes are resurfaced, pictures are circulated of the candidate standing by the newly smoothed piece of road.  Night-time door knocks in areas where new street lights have been installed.  The usual.

This traditional way presents success as one-off individual accomplishments.  The problem is that residents do not and will not vote for a councillor simply because there are new street lights on their road.  This is a naïve and commonly held misconception.  Residents want more than this.  Therefore we need a new way of promoting Labour councillor success.  This should present individual accomplishments as part of a larger body of work, maybe even as part of a vision for the local area.

In my professional life I work as a qualitative researcher, which essentially means I make sense of what people say on a given subject; in my case the subject is health and health care.  Stay with me here, I am coming back to politics.  To make sense of what people say you need a structure.  You build this structure by initially pulling out broad themes within what people say, and then attaching or attributing people’s individual statements and opinions to the broad themes.  The structure allows you to make sense of a huge amount of opinions and present a coherent case or argument.  A similar method can be used in presenting local political success.


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The best argument for an elected mayor will come from the people

20/09/2011, 09:35:29 AM

by Tom Keeley

On the day, at the weekend, that “yes to Brum mayor” launched its campaign for next year’s referendum, Birmingham Edgbaston CLP held its annual community conference.  While not at the campaign launch, I find hard to imagine that the assembled activists and politicians could have made a more compelling argument for an elected mayor than that made through the stories that residents gathered at the community conference told.

Time after time, residents expressed concern over the level of service the council provides. From bin bags to education and from rodents to health, residents felt that the performance of the council was unacceptable. All present could remember a time when the council had not responded to their needs; whether during a council tax enquiry or when trying to secure education for a disabled child or when seeking social care for an elderly relative. Most concerning was not that these problems exist, but that these are the same problems their parents had to contend with. Many admitted that they had stopped even trying to sort problems because dealing with the council was futile endeavour. “The lights are on in the council house, but no one is home”, commented one resident.

There was also a feeling in the room that as a city Birmingham had lost its way.  While other cities such as Bristol, Liverpool and Manchester have confidently claimed their place in twenty first century Britain, Birmingham has so far failed. It has failed to address the needs and harness the power of a young, diverse and changing population. It has failed to respond to a changing industrial reality. It has failed to admit that the city we now live in is deeply divided. Rather, it has drifted from year to year led by a council which lives from budget to budget.

Notwithstanding their disappointment, the number of residents present at the community conference is testament to the fact that the people of Birmingham are still willing to give politics a chance. But they need a politics that is accountable to them. Residents felt it unbelievable that the “leader” of Birmingham was selected through internal Conservative party dealings (and that a Labour leader of the council would be selected in the same way).  Residents bemoaned the fact that the leader could not in any meaningful sense be held accountable for his performance. “I would have sacked him long ago if I had the chance”, said one lifelong Birmingham resident.

The position of the elected mayor has the potential to bring vision and accountability to the politics of Birmingham. I am not foolish enough to think that one of the largest councils in Europe would suddenly change direction with an elected mayor; its failings go much deeper than that. But, having a person with whom the buck stops, who is accountable, who must consult in order to understand rather than to pander and who can be fired by the electorate for not seeing through election promises, would add much needed impetuous.  For too long Birmingham has lived with a Kafkaesque council and mediocre leadership.  This is an important election for Birmingham and a great opportunity for politics.

Tom Keeley is an activist in Birmingham Edgbaston CLP.

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Real lessons from the actual doorstep

16/05/2011, 12:00:44 PM

by Tom Keeley

One year after a general election defeat, a resurgent Labour party has taken 800 council seats. With the exception of Scotland, up and down the country people are back in love with Labour.  People are hearing and agreeing with the party message that we are “your voice in tough times”.

Those parts of the electorate who briefly flirted with the Tories are repentantly coming back.  An unpopular prime minister has been replaced with a fresh credible opposition leader, with new ideas.  National control is all but a certainty in 4 years time.  Right?  Well the doorsteps of Birmingham suggest something different.

The Birmingham city council elections were a success for the Labour party.  Lib Dem and Tory seats were taken in equal number.  Not one seat was lost.  Some wards considered safe Tory strongholds like Harborne and Edgbaston were taken, or pushed to the absolute wire.

However, even amongst this unqualified success, the message from the doors and the phones was a mixed one and certainly not the message above. We must listen and learn from the feedback on the doorstep. (more…)

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Trolleys in corridors: only a matter of time

01/01/2011, 10:00:22 AM

by Tom Keeley

The government’s “reforms” are not the most immediate threat to the NHS. The real term spending cuts are. In 2011, the health service will start to feel the effects of the Tory budget. Which will, inevitably, reduce the standard of care it can provide.

The Conservatives claim to have ring-fenced spending by essentially freezing the budget. However, the rising demand for and cost of healthcare means that funding needs to increase, at well above the rate of inflation, in order for the NHS to stand still.

The last seven years have seen the cost of staff pensions rocket from just over £6 billion in 2004 to over £17 billion in 2011. The cost of PFIs will increase by an estimated £7 billion over the next four years. Furthermore, the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, has demanded that £20 billion worth of “efficiency” savings be made, by the most efficient health service in the world, by 2014. And let us not forget the estimated £3 billion cost of the Tory health reforms. (more…)

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We need to oppose, as well as to review

28/11/2010, 12:00:05 PM

by Tom Keeley

This weekend Ed Miliband launched a major policy review. Starting with a blank piece of paper, the big thinkers in the party will now take two years coordinating the biggest review of policy since 1994. The party needs it.

The 2010 general election showed a party which had stopped thinking, stopped improving and had little to say. If it had not been for the economic crisis, the dividing lines between us and the Tories would have been slight. When a Labour party can’t state a long list of differences with the Tories, you know there is trouble.

This review needs to put Labour back as the progressive party in this country. A party to ensure that liberty is not at the cost of security. To ensure the poor provision of housing never again fuels racial tensions. A party to champion schools that serve the poorest, health care that heals the sickest and social security that treats the most unfortunate in our society with respect and deference. This will serve the electorate well in two years time. They will have the choice to elect a truly progressive party.

However, the Labour party has a more immediate responsibility. Opposition. While Miliband described opposition as “crap” (and he might be right), it is the most important job in the country at the moment. This government is rolling out the most regressive series of policies and doing it early in the anticipation that the electorate will forget by 2015. Frontline police are being cut. The NHS is being turned upside down. And, soon, teachers will be let go, when the economic independence that came with the academies bill, turns out to be a noose around the necks of the schools.

The press will report numbers: the manpower lost, the waiting lists and the crime stats. But the Labour party should remember that this is about people’s lives. This is about another generation of children growing up in homes where no parent works and young people going to school in classrooms that are falling apart. It is about families breaking under the stress of mortgage repayments and lost incomes; about people dying on the waiting list for cancer treatments. The Labour party has a responsibility to stand up for these lives now, not in two years time. The most important job in the country is the opposition of this government’s policies.

While the policy review is vital for our party, a responsible, rigorous and careful opposition is vital for the country. If we fail to provide this now, the electorate will look back on these years and see an indulgent, introspective party. A party that failed them. Until the policy review is complete, our priority must be coherent and effective opposition.

Tom Keeley is a member of Birmingham Edgbaston CLP.

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