Posts Tagged ‘John Braggins’

Under Corbyn, Labour faces twenty years in the wilderness

11/08/2015, 06:04:39 PM

by John Braggins

I think it’s time for a confession. Not because it’ll be good for my soul, it’s too late for that, but for because in 1980, when as organiser for the Labour party in Camden I took the lead in persuading one of our members to run for leader of the Labour party. When I say I took the lead I mean I drove over to Hampstead and delivered the resolution passed by the GC that night urging Michael Foot to run for leader. At the time Labour had suffered a general election defeat – Jim Callaghan losing out to Thatcher – and Callaghan had stayed on as leader for a further 18 months.

To say that the party drifted during this time would be an understatement, equally to say that 18 months of Thatcher had not changed the political climate for the worse would be another understatement. Like many people around me at the time we thought that what the Labour party needed was a charismatic leader, an orator of great standing, a man of letters who could stand up at the despatch box and take the Tories on, a man who could lead marches and address great rallies.

History, I’m afraid, proved us wrong. We were led into the worst election defeat since 1918 losing three million votes and only just coming head of the newly formed SDP with a manifesto later described as the longest suicide note in history.

Today Jeremy Corbyn stands where Michael Foot stood 35 years ago. If history repeats itself Labour will next win a general election in 2033, or more precisely 2035 given the new five year parliaments. I will be 90 years old (hopefully) my children at retirement age and my grandchildren bringing up their families in a world that has had to accept Tory policies as the norm throughout their life.


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Is Labour going back to the future?

17/05/2013, 09:30:38 AM

by John Braggins

Back in the day if you were bored you could go to the pictures at 3pm for the first showing and stay there until they turned the lights off after the last showing.  The projectionist just kept running the films one after the other on a loop. These days politics is beginning to feel like it’s on a loop as well. The arguments Labour faced in the 1980s – Europe, unemployment, benefits, tax and spend and even leadership – are being rehearsed again.

This week, writing in the Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ellie Mae O’Hagan urged Ed Miliband to take Labour back to the time when ‘ordinary people’ voted Labour in the knowledge that Labour was on their side. Suggesting that people who no longer vote Labour would come back into the fold if only it was more left wing is surely to fall into the trap Labour faced in the 1980s.

Ms O’Hagan’s argument is based on the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report which states that ‘attitudes of the British public towards poverty have hardened and that the most marked shift has been among Labour voters. These days only 27% of Labour supporters cite social injustice as the main cause of poverty, down from 41% in 1986. Conversely, Labour supporters identifying laziness and lack of willpower as the main cause of poverty rose from 13% to 22% in the same period’.

Her take on it was that ‘perhaps some of those surveyed by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, who would have at one time classed themselves as Labour supporters, have been repelled by the party’s decidedly un-leftwing behaviour.’

Perhaps. Or perhaps not.

The 1983 general election defeat where Labour secured just 27.6% of the national vote – a mere 2.2% ahead of the Liberal/SDP vote and 14.8% behind the Tories – traumatised Labour and put an end to the fierce arguments that raged in 1981 about which direction Labour should go, symbolised by the election of Neil Kinnock and Roy Hattersley as leader and deputy at the Party’s 1983 conference.

Labour began its long journey back to power, but it took another general election defeat in 1987 before any serious research was undertaken to find out what it was Labour would have to do to get elected again.

There were two lines of thought: one, let’s put together a ‘rainbow coalition’ only comprising of those that still vote Labour, ethnic minorities, environmentalists and trade unionists and target our policies towards them, or two, let’s find out why those who had deserted Labour had done so and build a bigger coalition to include them.

It didn’t take a genius to work out that the first option was, in effect, double counting – a Labour voter concerned about the environment who happened to be black and a trade unionist, only had one vote and however that coalition was put together it could never get past 35%.

I was in the camp of ‘let’s find out why people had deserted Labour and see if we could get them back’ and despite reservations, I persuaded the London Labour party to pay for focus group research in Battersea to find out why popular local MP Alf Dubbs had lost his seat in 1987. The startling news in the report was that whilst everyone in the focus groups had either been helped by Alf Dubbs or knew someone who had, none of them had voted for him.


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Labour’s bandwagon needs a shove

11/02/2013, 12:43:42 PM

by John Braggins

The first polls are out for the Eastleigh by-election and they give the Tories a three point lead over the Lib Dems, or the Lib Dems a three point lead over the Tories – depending on which poll you believe or how you interpret them.  I know from many years of campaigning that by elections have a special dynamic that means early polls often turn out to be deceptive.

Veteran Lib Dem campaign supremo, Lord Rennard, ennobled, it is said, for his services to the dark art of by-election campaigning, says the Labour vote is there to be squeezed in a “classic two-horse race.” Where have we heard this before?  Well in every Lib Dem leaflet penned by Chris Rennard, at every by-election since the Liberals won Bermondsey in 1983.

In the past this was a largely successful ploy as the LibDems have always claimed they were neither Tories nor Labour and if you didn’t like one or the other, then you could vote for them.  But that was the old politics and today things are very different – voters In Eastleigh can vote Labour precisely because they are not the Tories or the Lib Dems.

Now is time for Ed Miliband to step forward and show he has the vision and guts to pull-off an amazing by-election victory in this ex-railway town. And why not, all the components of an electoral bandwagon are in place.

Tory candidate Maria Hutchings begun her campaign being forced to deny quotes from the past and quarrelling with David Cameron on Europe, gay marriage and abortion.

In 2005 she was quoted as saying “With an increasing number of immigrants and asylum seekers then the pot is reduced for the rest of us, Mr Blair has got to stop focusing on issues around the world such as Afghanistan and AIDS in Africa and concentrate on the issues that affect the people of middle England.” Undoubtedly Ms Hutchings could turn into a liability – her presence in Westminster would certainly send a shiver down the spine of David Cameron.

And with a nasty Tory campaign, if the early comments by party chairman, Grant Shapps, are anything to go by, that will upset the many decent voters of Eastleigh.


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Beastly Eastleigh

05/02/2013, 07:00:39 AM

by John Braggins

The voters of Eastleigh – an old railway town just outside Southampton – lost their MP, Stephen Milligan in unfortunate circumstances on February 7th 1994. A Tory with promise ahead of him came to a tragic end, and was found wrapped in a bin bag after accidentally suffocating himself in an apparently solitary sexual episode.

Fast forward 20 years and an another MP, Chris Huhne, this time a LibDem, was on a fast-track to high political office only to find he was travelling too fast, eventually ending his career in an equally bizarre manner, only far less tragic this time.

So the voters of Eastleigh will yet again face battalions of LibDem Focus leafleters, legions of Tory In Touch deliverers and car loads of Labour Rose activists spreading out across the wastelands of Chandlers Ford, Eastleigh Town and Hedge End.

In 1994, along with my colleague Alan Barnard, I was asked by Labour’s elections supremo, Jack Cunningham, to take charge of Labour’s campaign for the forthcoming by-election. Our remit was to avoid the traditional by-election squeeze on our vote and avoid losing our deposit. We were tasked with finding a way to take the fight to the Lib Dems and to encourage Labour voters to stay with us.

The Eastleigh by-election of 1994 was a turning point for Labour, coming as it did after two by-elections in ‘the south’ – Christchurch and Newbury where Labour’s vote was squeezed almost out of existence. Labour was unlikely to win Eastleigh but increasing its share of the vote and coming ahead of the Tory was seen by Labour’s shadow cabinet as one of the most important by-election objectives in the run-up to the 1997 general election, showing, as it did, Labour could increase its vote in the vital southern key seats.

Straight after the by-election result, when Labour had come second in what at the time was one of only six by-elections since the Second World War to have a swing from Tory to Labour, the recently elected leader Tony Blair was able to say “There are no no-go areas for new Labour.”

In his analysis column for the Daily Telegraph on the Saturday after polling day, Professor Anthony King wrote under the headline “The real winners came second at Eastleigh”. He said “The big news from the by-election …… is that Labour is now back, constituting a real electoral threat to the Tories for the first time since 1979″ and “Such an outcome in a general election would sweep Labour to power.”


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