The Thick of It

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Friday, August 27, 2010

One week on crutches

I have now reached seven days on crutches. I've been pleasantly surprised by the attitude of Joe Public in letting me sit down on public transport and giving me a wide berth when I have needed it.

I've found some daily tasks almost impossible. Getting food or drink for myself doesn't happen. carrying a plate of food with crutches? I've been horrified when I've been set up for work then lose my pen in the couch. That requires me to move and that isn't good.

I've made some progress. I'm not in acute pain and much of the swelling has gone, though much of the feeling in my foot is yet to return.

Bring on two months time, though I hope to be able to walk again before then.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Torn ankle ligaments

I have torn my ankle ligaments. This leaves me immobile and reliant on crutches and the generosity of others to get around. It is very frustrating. The few trips I have made since this problem afflicted me has opened up a world that is often all too easy for most of us to ignore.

The life of someone who is mobility impaired isn't one that offers the same opportunity that able bodied people enjoy. Access to transport is difficult. My nearest bus stop doesn't take me anywhere of use like work. That makes it difficult to get anywhere. I had to travel back from Hampton to North London by public transport after the injury. What would normally take an hour took three. The stairs. Oh the stairs. So much effort.

That one of do nothing mayor Boris Johnson's first moves in power was to cancel projects to improve accessibility of our transport network (including to my local station Finsbury Park) shows that he doesn't get it. It also shows he doesn't care about opportunities for disabled people. Fortunately my predicament is temporary and I can access my office remotely. Some people aren't so lucky and will be excluded from opportunity and employment. This is unacceptable and highlights the difference a politician and political party that is aware of these issues can make. Or not.

Friday, August 20, 2010

100 days later: Labour would win & death of the Lib Dems update

I'm a big fan of Channel 4's "fact checker" which independently vets political claims. I was also interested to read this morning that a Channel 4 "poll of polls" suggests that Labour would be the largest party in a hung parliament if an election were held today.

Unfortunately an election won't be held today and I don't expect there to be one for several years as Clegg is so close to the Tories it feels almost inevitable that he will be absorbed into them at some point. These polls could suggest that the public is starting to wake up to the reality of a pre-meditated Tory cuts agenda. What is clear though is that the Lib Dems are the biggest losers. This is just the latest in a series of damaging polls for the Lib Dems. What will they do for people to start liking them again?

Charles Kennedy apparently doesn't see much hope of that happening and is planning to join the Labour Party with a few other Lib Dem MPs. I'd welcome him to the party. I never thought I'd write that.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Labour mayoral candidate

There has been a great deal of comment following yesterday's post among email subscribers about the "feeling" among London's Labour Party members about whether Oona, Ken or someone else should be the candidate.

One point, made previously is that the selection is taking place too soon. There is plenty of time to select a candidate with the next mayoral elections taking place in almost two years time. If we waited I doubt we'd find new candidates. I don't expect that a new, high profile candidate would "emerge" when many suggested names, such as Alan Johnson, ruled themselves out. There are almost two years for whichever candidate to build a campaign, oppose the Tories, gain media profile and propose their own programme.

Ken Livingstone is a formidable opponent with three decades behind him at the top of the London Labour Party. That King has forced him to not only work hard for his support but has also shown that London Labour might also want a change is a significant achievement. There is no doubt that support for Ken remains strong, but the same is true for Oona. My experience of her campaign is quite different from that suggested in Paul Sagar's blog. I wasn't at the event on Tuesday. The real proof of this, whichever way it goes will be in the result in September.

I also find it unfortunate and unhelpful to both candidates when the "old Labour" and "new Labour" terms are bandied about. One could easily argue that Ken is both old and new, being on the left of the party but having stayed close to Sir Ian Blair or having worked with many private companies to secure investment in London when mayor. Oona is younger and supported many of new Labour's policies but has a firm background as a trade unionist when I thought new Labour was meant to be weak on unions? There is balance to both sides. Both are Labour and that is all that matters.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Oona and Ken

The race between Oona King and Ken Livingstone to be selected as Labour's candidate for London mayor is running into its final weeks.

I was interested to read the comments after Andy Newman's post at Socialist Unity on the contest. Newman, as one would expect from a blogger of the left, feels that King is out of the race. My experience from talking to London Labour members is that the reality is very different. London Labour members are quite split. There are those who will back Ken and have done for several decades. There are many more who want to see a new candidate, like myself. My rudimentary polling would suggest the contest is far closer than posts such as Newman's might suggest.

The comments also suggest this. Even if it is hard to accept it has to be pointed out that Labour and Ken lost in 2008. He does also have many enemies and many voters simply will not back him. The RMT London Taxi Branch are supporting Oona's nomination after opposing Ken's proposal to allow minicabs into bus lanes.

I firmly believe that if she were to win the candidacy that Oona King could beat Boris Johnson. The reason for having the selection so early is to give the winning candidate as much time as possible to both build profile and to attack the woeful record of the Tories in London. Ken has his profile. Oona has hers. Whoever wins the candidacy has enough time to build a powerful campaign and win for Labour.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Alan Milburn?

Alan Milburn has tried to push himself back into the political limelight a few times since he left the cabinet. There was his "rallying call" with Charles Clarke and his role in a failed coup to get rid of Gordon Brown. Now he is to work with the Tories as a social mobility tsar many in the Labour Party feel let down.

The Guardian's Gaby Hinsliff suggests that the backlash Miburn is now feeling highlights divisions within Labour. Cameron is clearly trying to hive off some Blairite individuals to leave Labour looking more extreme. It also gives us more reasons to argue. Back to Milburn though. The point is he has chosen to support a Tory government. He should leave them to it and let Tories and Lib Dems do the dirty work.

Milburn doesn't have a great deal of credit left with the Labour Party. Many won't be surprised that he is helping the Tories and if he is kicked out of the party I doubt many will miss him.

It is naive to suggest, as his move does, that the Labour Party doesn't offer him any means of influencing future government policy. We are selecting a new leader and there is every chance that with a good leader we'll be able to fight back, highlighting the nastiness of the Tory government. Milburn just lost his right to complain.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

I love a graph

I love graphs, especially those that show data I approve of. In this instance I disapprove of the UK's coalition government and YouGov's latest poll shows that almost as many of my fellow citizens disapprove of the coalition as approve. Given that government's approval ratings tend to start high, then decline slowly, is this an ominous sign?

Friday, August 06, 2010

"Hi it's Ken Livingstone"

I was feeling a little undervalued by both the Labour leadership and mayoral candidates as none had courted by votes by phone. I tend to ignore emails and papers that come in the post. You can blame the bank and my many online lottery wins for that. I don't ignore text messages. Yet.

That all changed last week when "Ed Milliband" texted me to court my vote. I said I wouldn't support him and was promised a call back within five days. That was five days ago, so I'm looking forward to tonight's call with his team.

The texting now never stops. "Ken Livingstone" has just texted seemingly everyone I know in the London Labour Party asking for their vote. Again, I said no and have been promised a call from his team. Lets see whether who, if anyone, calls me first?

I think connecting with members through a range of channels is commendable. I'd like to know how much this costs. Can we get the same from Oona King? I certainly hope so, as Ed Milliband's claim to have recruited over a thousand campaign volunteers this way would be valuable. 

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Ed Balls has balls we need

After last week's Radio Five Live Labour leadership hustings I wrote of how I was impressed by contender Ed Balls. He has been written off by most commentators as not having a chance behind the Millibands. Those two are certainly the front runners. However I feel that Balls has a lot to offer Labour, perhaps just not as leader.

He has been almost the only senior member of the shadow cabinet to land regular blows on the Tory coalition. He is a great attack-dog and that is sorely missing from Labour at the moment. We are suffering from an empty chair crisis and the sooner the leadership is decided the better.

I thought The Economist's profile of Balls was spot on too. Sometimes he is characterised as a brute but there is more substance to him than that. colleagues in the Labour Party should be careful before they dismiss him. He has a role to play and the leadership contest has been good in raising the profile of all the candidates. It will be interesting to see how he fares in the shadow cabinet elections. I hope the PLP sees his value.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Re-open the race for London mayor candidate?

Today Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian argues that Labour should re-open the short-list for candidates to become Labour's next mayoral candidate. He cites the Tory example when Boris Johnson came into the race late as evidence as to why Labour should wait.

Why does Labour need to find someone other than Ken Livingstone and Oona King? Freedland argues that Livingstone is tarnished by having been Labour's London head for three decades and has made too many enemies. That could be true. He argues that Oona is damaged by her vote for the Iraq war. I'd argue that not to be relevant to the London mayor though I suspect that some will.

Freedland goes on to say: "If Labour bided its time, other candidates might emerge". I don't think that is likely. He mentions Alans Sugar and Johnson. Johnson ruled himself out and Sugar has shown little interest. I'm sure that the Labour Party would have explored these possibilities before setting the timetable. 


With an empty chair at the top of the party and a new Tory government getting away with far too much Labour needs to make some appointments quickly. The sooner an a Labour candidate can start holding Boris Johnson's rather pointless mayoralty to account the better. London Labour members have a clear choice too. That is between the same man who has won and lost for Labour in the last thirty years and a new candidate. Regular readers will know that I'm opting for the new. 

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Tony Blair's journey: Labour's journey

The website for Tony Blair's forthcoming book, A Journey, launched yesterday. The book is released on 1 September. Watching the video on his site where he previews the book reminded me of how easily, too easily, we have forgotten his achievements as Prime Minister.

Many of the leadership contenders have made much of attempting to distance themselves from New Labour, saying we need to move on. They are of course correct to say that Labour needs new policies and solutions as the world today is very different to that of the mid-1990s.

At the same time I am concerned that we need to heed the same lessons that Labour was harshly taught in the 1990s. A lurch to the left isn't wanted by the country when they have just voted to the right. If Labour takes that path the party will end up shouting to an empty room. Labour needs to talk to the whole country, not just the heartlands. That was Tony Blair's greatest gift to the Labour Party and one that must not be surrendered.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Hi it's Ed Milliband

At a wedding for a Labour party friend on Saturday I received a text from "Ed Milliband" canvassing my vote for the Labour leadership election. I replied with "N" though according to his official page 45% of respondents wet the other way and voted "yes". I suspect that might be because those who responded were more inclined to show their support than those who didn't bother at all - because they were not backing his campaign.

Text messaging members was dubbed groundbreaking by Ed's campaign. That it may beand any further means of easily communicating with party members is a good thing. It doesn't give me a reason to vote for him. I worry that he is playing to the Labour Party gallery to gain favour in the leadership election. I don't believe he is strong enough to stand up to the party and ensure that Labour takes back the centre ground, without which no party can win power in the UK.

"Ed" replied to my "no" asking for my support as a second preference. "He" asked if there was anything he could do to convince me. I replied with my worry that he won't be able to stop Labour lurching to the left, keeping us in opposition. I have been promised that his team will be in touch with me in the next five days. I'm looking forward to engaging with his team, even though I doubt there is much they, or "Ed", can do to make me change my mind.

I praise Ed's campaign for engaging me in this way, one of several text message canvasses by his campaign according to Labour List. Now is the time to see if he has the balls to do the right thing for Labour.

UPDATE: I have also been informed by someone who replied "yes" that their follow up text from "Ed" asked if they were willing to volunteer for his campaign. This is likely to be the source of the large number of additional volunteers his campaign has announced.