Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Cooperatives to challenge Big Society?

With the financial pressures all local authorities are facing I took the opportunity to attend a fringe meeting at Labour Party Conference on Co-operative Councils: mutuality and the new politics. These are my notes and thoughts (apologies for any mis-spellings, I'll be happy to amend any comments by participants).

Steve Reed, Leader of Lambeth Council said that Cameron’s “Big Society” was the use of language to try and stake a claim to an area of politics that has traditionally been Labour territory, mutualism. Steve said a co-operative approach should not be just a response to cuts, but rather a more flexible and responsive way for local government to respond to what people want in local services.

With British society increasingly less homogeneous a “one size fits all” big state approach cannot be responsive to communities like Lambeth where over 150 different languages are spoken. He disparaged Suffolk County Council’s proposal to privatise all its services. This was the right’s response to automatically see public provision as bad.
Steve talked about Lambeth’s Community Fresh View scheme. Here areas where rubbish is dumped are no longer dealt with by the council. Instead the Council provides the tools, the spades, the skips and the flowers for local residents to transform semi-derelict sites into a play area, or a garden, depending on what neighbours want. The local people take ownership of the problem and respond as part of Civic society, enabled but not enforced by the Council.

Meg Hillier MP chairing the meeting urged all present to read the book issued by Local Government Leadership - Co-operative Communities, Creating a shared stake in our society for everyone.

Jim McMahon the Leader of Oldham Council and one of the youngest council leaders in the country talked about the need for co-operativism to extend outside local authorities too. So Councils should hold their money with ethical bankers who did not fund the arms industry and land mines for example, not banks putting a culture of bonuses first.

Oldham Labour'sl policy was that the top earning member of staff should not earn more than 10 times the pay of the lowest paid member of staff. An excellent idea!

Jim wanted to restructure financial responsibilities so local ward councillors had a greater say in how monies were spent in their communities. He concluded co-operativism should be part of everything a Council did and not just a branding exercise.

Tessa Jowell MP believed there was a moment for mutualism politically and the packed fringe meeting with more than 70 people present with standing room only. Some people had to be turned away showing the enthusiasm for this in the Labour Party. Co-operativism with worker and user boards had transparency at its heart.

Tessa believed Council’s preparing their manifestos for the 2011 elections should look at including co-operative commitments in their pledges. This had approved by people in Southwark and Lambeth in 2010 local elections, who had returned councils with co-operativism in the heart of their campaigns.
Bryony Rudkin a Suffolk County Councillor commented on how unfair Big Society was with the prospect of Suffolk becoming a virtual council and the need for an alternative.
Neville Gregory a Swindon councillor saw the spending of money on the proposed new “free schools” was the wrong approach and could potentially allow BNP members to set up a school.
Money could be better spent continuing the Building Schools for the Future programme.

Michael Stephenson General Secreary of the Cooperative Party said there were 3 key things

1. The credit crunch meant people questioned financial arrangements.
2. Mutualism was becoming fashionable with 24 pledges in Labour’s last manifesto.
3. The Big Society is an insidious version of Thatcherism where volunteers were available in wealthier communities but not poorer ones.

He thought many councillors did not still understand co-operatives and mutualism, and those present should explain and evangelise for co-operatives. Co-operatives were an option but not the only solution. Trade unions had unfounded fears about the prospect of greater, mutualism and this needed to be robustly explained as co-operatives had been part of the Labour movement for more than a century.

The Co-operative Bank had an excellent record as an ethical financial institution without bonus scandals, and mutual housing could compliment Council provision. He also said that opportunities would only be maximised if the inevitable teething troubles were understood.

Sharon Taylor is Leader of Stevenage Council wgere every Labour councillor is also a Co-operative councillor. She wanted greater decentralisation of budgets into neighbourhoods and local communities. The principle should be to maximise decentralisation of budgets.
Ed Davey a Lambeth Cooperative councillor wanted to ensure cooperatives were not dominated by middle classes and that those in lower socio-economic groups were fully involved.

Helen Holland Bristol Council’s Labour Leader said trade unions were concerned about cooperativism and wanted to hear of strategies to explain and reassure trade unions that cooperatives could work for all.

John Smith from Surrey Youth service was very concerned about how Surrey County Council was looking at using this approach to cut youth services by replacing staff with young people volunteering to run clubs. He saw co-operativism and social enterprise as a threat to current provision.

Councillor Lambert from Rochdale responded that Rochdale were looking at a workers cooperative to run their youth service. He said that mutualism should be part of the toolkit of modern local government management.

Nick Yates from MIND wanted to see how those with disabilities might have their voices excluded from the running of cooperatives.

Mo Baylis from Heywood and Middleton CLP was concerned as to how coops could raise capital monies. For refuse collection, a new lorry is £250,000. Could cooperatives raise these monies and meet euro procurement rules. On accountability how do you vote out a cooperative board member like councillors who stand for election every 4 years?

Andy Sawford from Kettering thought cooperatives could lead to an atomisation of services and wanted to know how councils could ensure a core of services was maintained.

Tudor Evans leader of Plymouth Labour group wanted a quick guide to cooperative law so that when officers challenged the use of cooperatives he could insist on how cooperatives could be legally accountable.

Jim McMahon advised that Oldham had 40 senior managers yet not one of them lived in the borough whereas 85% of low paid staff did live in the borough. The managers mostly lived in leafier postcodes like Cheshire. He wanted standards of accreditation to stop people claiming to be cooperatives without achieving a kitemark.
Sandy Martin Leader of Suffolk Labour group said it was easier to have this conversation in opposition. There should not be division, cuts should be opposed but services should also be transformed through use of the cooperative model.
Councillor Alison Moore from "easy council" Barnet wanted to use mutualism to oppose the minimising of services which Barnet Conservatives wanted to introduce.

As a Thanet councillor I raised the issue of provision of affordable housing through cooperatives and how cooperativism could not just work for local authorities, but also nationally to help the Labour Party to win the next election.

Michael Stephenson said with coming elections Scotland and Wales could test cooperative approaches in their manifestoes and governments.

Steve Reed said an opinion poll in Lambeth had shown 80% of people were in favour of the cooperative model and called this political gold dust. However, safeguarding children should always remain a council function. Cooperativess handed power to the people an idea at the heart of Labour ideology.

Manchester had seen the return of its renowned wet and windy weather. With the meeting being in the USDAW marquee all present had battled through background noise as rain pounded the tent roof.
For myself I was most impressed by Jim McMahon and I think Labour's manifesto for the 2011 Thanet Council election should see a commitment for the highest paid member of staff to earn no more than 10 times the hourly rate of the lowest paid member of staff. The current Conservative administration has seen report after report which have increased the pay of senior officers ahead of the rate of inflation; even when the recession has meant that far more talented and able executives have been available in the job market.
I think a proposal like this would see senior officers showing a far greater interest in the issue of low pay, and would make for a more equitable society and communtiy locally.

A Modern Romance

This article caught my eye this morning because it is a romance that "Brief Encounter" style commenced on Hereford rail station a place I know well, and still visit regularly. Hereford s not the most beautiful station but this story of Sarfraz Manzoor, a Muslim man romance with bridget a Christian woman in a secular society might bring a slight tear to your eye as it does for me before the end.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Traffic Lights

Well yesterday's post showed I have no future as Mystic Meg! The Labour Party very quickly united around Ed Miliband as its new Leader.

I am working at Labour Party Conference in Manchester. Ed Miliband's first scheduled speech at a fringe meeting after the leadership result announcement, was at the London Labour Party reception. Word got out and quickly the room was absolutely heaving.

One of my favourite parts of Labour Party Conference is the chance to catch up with old friends. My fellow Thanet Labour councillors Linda Aldred (left) and Michelle Fenner (right) were also present and took the chance for a quick word with Labour's candidate for Mayor of London Ken Livingstone.

Michelle had a longer talk with Joe Derrett. Joe is fondly remembered and regarded for all his work in the South Thanet constituency in the 2001 general election. Joe has just successfully run Ken Livingstone's press campaign during Labour's Mayoral candidate selection.

I happily acknowledge I am not the world's best photographer. The bottom photo shows the reaction to my "great idea" that Michelle and Linda should line up with my employer Mary Honeyball, Labour's spokeswoman on Women and Cultue in the European Parliament, in "traffic lights" formation.

Perhaps against their better judgment they kindly went along with the idea.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Don't Believe the Hype

If you're not that interested in the Labour leadership campaign look away now...

OK here goes, in a few hours this prediction could look very silly, but I think David Miliband will be declared Labour's new leader later today. Labour's selction is based on 3 equal electoral colleges. MPs and MEPs, Labour Party members and Labour trade unionists.

First MPs, the college with most public information on voting preferences. Here David Miliband leads Ed Miliband on first preferences. I take most Andy Burnham supporters to put their second preferences to David. Diane Abbott's nominally left wing supporters have been leaking away with a surprising proportion moving to David, but the majority to Ed Miliband. Key here will be how Ed Balls supporters vote. Wisely Ed Balls is abstaining, his supporters seem to be splitting equally between the Milibands. So I take David Miliband to win this electoral college not massively but not closely either.

Labour Party members are the trickiest part of the college to assess. There are a number of regional differences. The North West shows strength for local candidate Andy Burnham. Andy has run a sound campaign and will leave this contest positioned to be a future Labour Leader depending on what known unknowns might bring.

Similarly as a North East MP David Miliband has extra strength in that region. A weakness for Ed Miliband is that he has a rival in Yorkshire, Ed Ball,s so he does not have a region to give him extra voting strength from strong regional support.

The region with the greatest number of Labour Party members London is not supporting its local candidate. Diane Abbott's campaign has been poor. I am surprised at how few leading left wing Labour activists have been prominent in her campaign, which has been amateurish at times. I think Diane will have an even greater media career in future but politically she has underperformed.

This has left a void in London which both Miliband brothers have been filling. My sense for what it is worth is that younger Labour Party members (a post Iraq generation) are heavily supporting Ed. London though is the most multicultural part of the country and here David has strong support. I think this is perhaps a legacy of his work as Foreign Secretary when he kept in touch with diaspora communities.

There seems to be an assumption that all voters understand the Alternative Vote (AV) system being used. I don't think this is the case. Any candidate who has stood in a local election will know that the person earliest in the alphabet normally tops the poll. No matter how many times you camapign and explain that people have 3 votes, between 10 and 20% of voters only vote for one candidate. Similarly my experience of AV elections is that the same applies. Media commentators automatically assume that trade unionists and Labour Party members are somehow brighter than the general population. Would that this were so, but both anecdotally and from experience I think there will be many votes which fail to transfer. Every vote which does not transfer weakens Ed Miliband.

This is bad news for Ed Miliband whose campaign has focused heavily on securing second, third and fourth preferences. With David Miliband coming first for first prefernces in all the polls this failure to transfer may well be what wins it for him. My view is that most Andy Burnham 1st preference voters will move to David M. The reverse applies for Diane Abbott supporters with them overwhelmingly moving to Ed M. Ed Balls supporters are the voters Ed Miliband needs to switch ovewhelmingly to him. I think he will get a majority of them, but I don't sense that it will be as heavily as he needs.

Ed Balls has fought an outstanding campaign. Anyone who ever suggested he was overpromoted because of his closeness to Gordon Brown looks pretty stupid and should be eating large doses of humble pie. He will be a political heavyweight for the next two decades.

Overall this is hard to call but I call this part of the electoral college as 50/50 between the Miliband brothers.

Turning to trade unionists there is an assumption that Ed M will win here as trade union leaders are strongly supporting him. Trade union supporters are the least political part of the electoral college. Many of them would struggle to name all 5 candidates. Diane, David and Ed Balls are well known, and I expect this greater public awareness to help these candidates. There are also a large number of black and ethnic minority trade unionists who I expect to vote Diane first and then exercise their second preference.

I take David to win this section, partly because of his far greater profile amongst the general public.

I don't believe the hype. There's been a brilliant social media campaign by Ed Miliband. Twitterati and Facebook friends have been advocates for Ed, but I think this has generated lots of heat in terms of media coverage for Ed Miliband winning and little light. Older voters always have a hoistory ofhigher turnout proportionally, and I take this to favour David. It feels to me like all those predictions that the Liberal Democrats make that they will breakthrough, which but rarely come true. If David wins he should take these talents in Ed's campaign and place them in Labour Party HQ.

So in a few hours this may look like a lot of nonsense but here goes

1. David Miliband
2. Ed Miliband
3. Diane Abbott
4. Ed Balls
5. Andy Burnham

caution as a David Milband supporter, I have my biases!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Five 45s

I have just added Richard T Kelly's blog to my blogroll. I have been meaning to do so for a while, he is into football and a David Miliband supporter. As a novelist his blog is far better written, do try it I think you'll like it. His latest post is 15 albums that meant something to him when he was 15 years old. In that vein here are 5 songs that meant something to me in my teenage years. I've been honest and one of them would be better forgotten. The first single I ever bought was from Sham 69, there's one for the embarassing moments file! I might inflict some more on another occasion!

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Human beings too

I know politicians get a bad press, it can be dispiriting sometimes as to how you are treated. This email received by a London Labour councillor gobsmacked them slightly when they received it:

"I am terrible at politics. I hope you will forgive me for the rude tone of my email. I was replying to you as a councillor and neglecting to remember you are a person too. I'm sure the situation here will resolve itself amicably and I chastise myself for letting it get the best of my manners."

Monday, 13 September 2010

Green Open Space - Dalby Square

I am delighted to welcome a new guest blogger Cliftonville West Labour Councillor Doug Clark who piublishes an open letter to his fellow councillors on Thanet District Council's plans to give away an open green space to developers.

Dear Colleagues

I’m afraid I am unable to attend the TDC Planning Committee on 15th September so I would therefore like to inform you of my serious concerns regarding the development of the much loved and well used green open space in Dalby Square, Cliftonville.

Firstly, this public green open space provides opportunities for social interaction, physical activity and play and general enhancement of the local environment. It also improves the quality of life of our residents by providing space for social interaction, especially for children, in an area dominated by densely situated and internally cramped living conditions.

Fighting obesity, especially in children is a particular problem for us here in Cliftonville West. The green space currently provides physical and mental health benefits which improve the health of our residents through the ability for children to ‘let off steam’ in a positive manner and stressed adults to simply take a break, rest and unwind in the open air.

Suggestions have been made that there are other places nearby for children to play, namely the small playground at the other end of the square and the Viking Playground on the seafront. The playground at the other end of the square is small and for ‘tiny tots’ only, with small apparatus for very young children. The Viking Playground is around the corner and across a very busy and dangerous main road. Consequently it is only really suitable to be visited with parents. This playground is also covered with apparatus, indeed another open green space was lost when it was created, and so ball games would be extremely dangerous and practically impossible in both the areas suggested.

My ward colleagues and residents will no doubt expand on these matters at the planning committee meeting but as a Justice of the Peace of twenty eight years and the Chairman of the Cliftonville Police and Communities Together (PACT), I am particularly concerned about the knock-on effect that taking away the green could have on anti-social behaviour in our ward.

Groups of children from many different backgrounds come together on the large green open space in Dalby Square and iron out their differences in a positive manner using a ball and in a spirit of sportsmanship instead of ‘running gangs’ in a concrete jungle.

I simply cannot express strongly enough just how important this green is in preventing crime and anti-social behaviour in an area where it has even proved necessary to create a special Task Force!

Yours sincerely

Cllr Douglas Clark JP

Friday, 10 September 2010

Kelvin Mackenzie on Laura Sandys

My felllow Labour Thanet District Councillor Peter Campbell has kindly sent me this from Thursday's Sun (which he had sent to him by a friend).

It is the column from the former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie regarding a meeting between him and South Thanet's new MP Laura Sandys.

“I recently sat on a television panel with Laura Sandys, the new Tory MP for South Thanet and daughter of the old Conservative Defence Minister Duncan Sandys. What a complete waste of space she is. One more brain cell and she would be a keep left sign. If she is the quality of the 2010 Tory intake, God help Cameron and God help Democracy.”

I can't find the original article on the Sun's website to link to it.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Chris Bryant for Labour's Shadow Cabinet?

I have been quietly impressed by Chris Bryant, Labour MP for Rhondda in his work. He was Minister for Europe prior to the general election. After Labour's Leadership election, there will be a new Shadow Cabinet elected. If he turns in more performances like this then he must have a very good chance.

This is not just Kay Burley screwing up. It is the Sky News team, with researchers, an editor able to brief her through her earpiece and a producer who puts the whole team together. When these interviews happen, it is often overlooked that the BBC or Sky will have far more resources to prepare for the interview than the politician. Do have a watch as Bryant kebabs Burley.

Hat tip to Tomos Livingstone of the Western Mail.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Racing up the Charts

I am delighted to be, as they used to say, the biggest mover in the charts. Leading Conservative blogger Iain Dale reports I am number 20 in the Total Politics top 100 Labour blog awards. Rising a massive 79 places I scrape into the Top 20, to provide another nice button to go with last weeks entry into the Top 30 councillor blogs.
I have been very touched by a number of people who have told me that they voted for me to show their support in the light of the repeated unfounded vexatious attacks this blog has had made against it by some Thanet Conservative councillors. I am humbled by such solidarity.
Congratulations to fellow Kent Labour blogger Tristan Osborne's Musings from Medway which rises from 98 to 59. I recommend this recent post which reports:

"There are also (apart from kerb crawling) incidentally further cases pending of staff bullying, problems with leading cabinet members disclosures and accusations of skullduggery over the recent primary school re-organisations. Each of these involves Medway Conservative Councillors."

Monday, 6 September 2010

Thanet Reform' Synagogue's 25th Anniversary

One of my favourite buildings in the Northwood Ward I represent is the Thanet and District Reform Synagogue in Margate Road. You can find the location here.

They have an open day this coming Sunday from 11am to 3pm. Having visited a previous Open Day it is well worth a visit and you will receive a very friendly and informed welcome. This is part of the European Day of Jewish Culture and Heritage, and to celebrate the 25 years of the Synagogue there will be an exhibition entitled Art in Judaism.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Thanet's Abusive Conservative Cabinet Councillor

Thanet Council Labour Group Leader Cllr. Clive Hart has written today to Thanet District Council (TDC) Leader Cllr. Bob Bayford's Cabinet member Cllr. Chris Wells. I understand Thanet District Council Leader Bob Bayford is aware of this ongoing abusive behaviour and considers it to be acceptable conduct.

Clive Hart writes...

"Dear Cllr Wells,

I write to you on a serious matter that for the past two weeks I have tried to raise in a diplomatic manner through your Conservative Group Leader and Deputy Leader. Unfortunately they appear either unable or unwilling to deal with you concerning this particular issue.

The fact is, we in the Labour Group can easily deal with the regular stream of throw-away comments you make regarding serious decisions at TDC, such as at the last council meeting where on one costly financial matter you clearly stated 'lets make this decision now and look at the detail later'.

We also have no problem dealing with the contradictory statements you make such as at the last TDC cabinet meeting where you supported giving away what is currently open green space (used by local children) for free to a developer for them to build on and around the same time you reportedly spoke on local radio about the problems of child obesity.

These kinds of comments are all part of the political process and we are more than happy to respond through that process.

Unfortunately, your are also well known for making nasty, appalling and outrageous comments in public. More recently these have included calling some residents of Thanet "inbreds" during a council meeting and also calling our Labour Shadow Cabinet a "mutual masturbation society". I find that kind of language disgusting and completely unnecessary and I believe most decent people in Thanet would too.

Now I have had it brought to my attention that you recently posted a comment through a local weblog on the world wide web that included the words "senior local labour members who have had restraining orders, or are said to be a little handy with their fists at home when they are frustrated and upset".

As Labour Group Leader I cannot ignore such derogatory comments and you can be assured that if I believed they were in any way true I would deal with the matter immediately.

I sincerely hope you agree these are extremely serious allegations. As a group we could use the standards process to deal with your comments. However, as an individual I have never used the standards process, despite on several occasions having good reason, and as Labour Group Leader I will not be drawn into wasting local rate-payers money to deal with your nasty outbursts (though I can't rule out others feeling differently on this matter and taking such action).

I therefore demand that you retract this latest appalling accusation and make a full public apology!

I also request that you keep such nasty personal thoughts to yourself and please try to temper your language in future.

Cllr Clive Hart - Labour Group Leader.

Please note: As you made all the comments I have referred to above in public I will also be making this communication public.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Blog Award and Back from Break

Many thanks to everybody who voted for me in the Total Politics Top Councillor blogs run by leading Conservative blogger Iain Dale. I am delighted to have been voted Number 7 in the Top 30 councillors section. Last year I was surprised to be voted in the Top 100 Labour blogs having only blogged for a few months. I'm the highest new entry to this section - the only way is down!
Whilst this is my blog I would be unable to produce so many entries without the help of many others. Every one of my fellow Thanet Labour councillors has featured at some stage, and I greatly appreciate all the tips, advice and snippets of news they provide. Several have featured with guests posts from Clive Hart, John Watkins and Iris Johnston especially appreciated. I am also assisted by several other people who do not seek recognition, but often help out with research or provide me with information that is best in the public domain, even though they choose to remain anonymous. I welcome information and always protect my sources.
I have just had a month's break from blogging. Two weeks holiday and then two weeks harvesting. Picking, preparing and freezing beans, plums, raspberries, rhubarb, beetroot and all the other bounty is the highlight of a vegetable gardener's year. As the nights start to draw in I'll be posting more again.
Thank you again to all my readers and especially those of you who kindly took the time to vote for me, it is very much appreciated.