Farewell Regional Board, parting is such sweet sorrow

My membership of the East of England Labour Party Regional Board came to end this weekend. I have been a member since 2008 and have enjoyed those seven years.

I won an election to get onto the Board, and have fought off a number of challengers over the years. My end came not through the ballot box though, but rather through a failure of paperwork.

Whilst I am undone by a failure of my CLP, I am not desperately disappointed; perhaps it is time to give someone else a chance to serve.

I confess to being a little irked, especially now that Southend’s voice in the Labour movement has shrunk a little. I have no idea who has replaced me.

At least it removes one distraction in a year that sees me trying to retain a presence in Southend’s council chamber. My contest in Milton will be an intriguing one. It is a marginal, and my scalp is certainly high on the local Tory hit list.

Mind you, I have yet to see my Tory opponent do anything in the ward, but perhaps hers is an under-the-radar campaign.

Lib Dems in the East

A look at the Liberal Democrat General Election performances in the East of England.

Top five Lib Dem performances in the East:

39.1% North Norfolk
34.9% Cambridge
27.5% Colchester
20.2% South East Cambridgeshire
18.5% St Albans

The worst performances:

1.3% Thurrock
1.8% Castle Point
1.8% Clacton
2.0% Harlow
2.0% Waveney

The worst performances see four from Essex (which has to be set against their Colchester performance), and this suggests they have a problem in my home county. The common link amongst these five (and others which are near contenders for this list) is that they all are seats which have had Labour representation in the recent past.

North Norfolk has the only Liberal Democrat MP for the East of England. This represents a loss of three.

The story of the May General Election is the story of a collapsing Liberal Democrat vote. Of the fifty-eight Eastern constituencies, twenty-three saw the Lib Dems fail to hold their deposit.

As regards to swings, the Lib Dems may take a little comfort from Cambridge and Clacton insofar that there were swings their way from the Tories – but then look at those results.

The biggest swings against the Liberal Democrats:

15.8% Chelmsford (to Labour)
15.1% Chelmsford (to Conservative)
14.6% North West Norfolk (to Labour)
14.2% Huntingdon (to Labour)
14.2% South Suffolk (to Conservative)
14.0% South Suffolk (to Labour)

May 2015, UKIP in the East

Despite accruing an impressive number of votes nationally, UKIP’s performance in the May General election was distinctly underwhelming. They entered the election with two MPs, and halved that on exit.

This was their big chance. Last year they ‘won’ a national election insofar as they got the most votes in the European elections. They entered this year on a wave of hype, and some quite friendly media coverage. They were boosted by the increasingly pluralistic state of most ballot papers, ensuring that relatively modest vote shares was all that was required.

Back in the day of genuine two-party politics half the vote was required to guarantee success – nowadays MPs are regularly elected with less than 40% of the votes cast. Yet UKIP stumbled, stuttered, and failed. The coming EU referendum will rob UKIP of their prime reason for existence. Will they matter anymore, will they figure in the next General Election? Only time will tell.

They stood candidates in all fifty-eight East of England constituencies in May, and retained their deposit in every one of them.

The top five UKIP performances in the East:

44.4% Clacton
31.7% Thurrock
31.2% Castle Point
26.5% South Basildon and East Thurrock
23.3% South West Norfolk

The worst performances in the East:

5.2% Cambridge
7.8% St Albans
8.9% Hitchin and Harpenden
9.4% Norwich South
9.6% Bedford

Thirteen second places and one win may be considered good enough, and if this election is considered a builder event then I guess it could be. However, if the referendum poses a question about the future of the UK it also poses a question about the future of UKIP, or more properly whether UKIP has a future.

The Greens in the East

The Green Party stood candidates in fifty-four of the fifty-eight East of England constituencies, and they lost their deposit in forty-three of them. They only attracted above a tenth of the vote in one constituency, which must be a disappointment for them.

Their best vote shares in the East:

13.9% Norwich South
7.9% Bury St Edmunds
7.9% Cambridge
6.3% South Cambridgeshire
5.9% Suffolk Coastal

And their worst:

0% Basildon and Billericay
0% Hertsmere
0% South Basildon and East Thurrock
0% Thurrock
2.2% Great Yarmouth
2.2% Harlow

My opponent in Southend West attracted 4.7%, and in Rochford and Southend East they just about saved their deposit with 5.0% of the popular vote. All round Essex was not fertile territory (Colchester saw their best vote share with 5.1%) although I doubt this will put them off.

Swings in the East

The position in the East of England, Parliamentary wise, is

52 Conservative
4 Labour
1 Liberal Democrat

Four MPs is a doubling of the Labour presence in the House of Commons. The Liberal Democrats are down three, whilst the Conservatives (with one gain and one loss) see no change in their overall representation. UKIP are a plus one on 2010.

One of the more interesting statistics is that in all fifty-eight constituencies there was a swing from the Liberal Democrats to Labour. This is not true for the Conservatives, who can boast a swing from the Liberal Democrats in all but two seats; Cambridge and Clacton saw a swing from the Conservatives to the Liberal Democrats.

In twenty-seven seats there was a swing from Labour to the Conservatives, making thirty-one where that swing was reversed – which is reasonably good news for Labour and its supporters.

The five biggest Conservative to Labour swings:

10.8% Cambridge
5.7% North West Norfolk
5.7% Welwyn Hatfield
5.0% Norwich South
4.0% Luton South

(In Southend West the swing was 0.6% to Labour; in Rochford and Southend East it was 2.4% to Labour.)

The five biggest Labour to Conservative swings:

4.6% Watford
4.0% Witham
3.9% Castle Point
3.8% Harlow
3.5% North East Cambridgeshire

The five biggest Liberal Democrat to Labour swings:

15.8% Chelmsford
14.6% North West Norfolk
14.2% Huntingdon
14.0% South Suffolk
13.8% Broadland

(In Southend West it was 12.5%, and in Rochford and Southend East it was 10.2%.)

The smallest Liberal Democrat to Labour swing was in Clacton, where it was 0.2%.

The Conservatives also recorded a fair number of sizeable swings to them from the Liberal Democrats. Here are the biggest:

15.1% Chelmsford
14.2% South Suffolk
13.4% Broadland
13.3% Colchester
13.3% Suffolk Coastal

Regional conference in Luton

Ed Miliband at the TULO reception

Ed Miliband at the TULO reception

I have returned from Luton, a weekend in Bedfordshire, attending my seventh consecutive East of England Regional Labour Party Conference. These, in my limited experience, circumscribe a route through the six counties that form the Eastern Region, and seven years ago this journey, for me, began in Bedford. Since then the conference has visited Copdock, Stevenage, Southend-on-Sea, Peterborough and Norwich. Now it is Luton, the only place in the East of England with a Labour MP (and has both of our current complement of two).

Conference began with a brief Regional Board meeting. This was followed by the arrival of Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, who after some press interviews gave an address to those gathered for the TULO reception. The evening ended with the Gala Dinner, moved from its usual Saturday night spot to accommodate the presence of the leader. Ed also spoke at this and then made sure he spoke with all present individually.

The conference continued through Saturday and finished lunchtime on Sunday. Speeches were made, reports given, resolutions discussed, workshops conducted, fringes held, questions asked and answered, and other words it was a packed agenda.

Ed speaks at the Gala Dinner

Ed speaks at the Gala Dinner

I have a number of highlights, not least of which was coming last in the Luton CLP fun night quiz. It was good to see comrades that I had not bumped into in a while. I was also pleased to have been re-elected onto the Regional Board to serve a seventh year, although I did feel for the good friend that I defeated. I did encourage him to keep trying, hoping that he will have another go next year.

The ASLEF organisation fringe reminded me that with nine railway stations in my home town the cost of rail travel and the service provided are of very real interest to the thousands who commute or travel for pleasure on these iron horses. Rail, like water, is a natural monopoly and the choice agenda is therefore irrelevant. I am unashamedly pro re-nationalisation of the railways and I think many people are increasingly of the same opinion, right across the political spectrum.

I came away with some material for the impending European Elections, a tad over six months away. This coincides with the local elections in my neck of the wood, and I will be encouraging all voters to use both their votes for Labour. I intend to dispel some of the scaremongering about Europe, although I am acutely aware that the institution requires reform.

The General Secretary

The General Secretary

A stimulating fringe

A stimulating fringe

A resolution is seconded

A resolution is seconded

Kelvin, Vaughan, Eileen, Russell and Gavin

Kelvin, Vaughan, Eileen, Russell and Gavin

Yesterday’s regional board meeting

Although not unique it is nonetheless unusual to attend a political meeting where women outnumber the men, or so this has been my experience. In this regard yesterday’s East Of England Labour Party (a.k.a. the Regional Board) meeting was unusual. We did get through our business a little quicker than normal, although this may have been coincidental. The Regional Director has been seconded to London (as a result of Ken Clark’s retirement) and his place at this meeting was taken my Carl Morris (although Carl is not the replacement, this is the subject of an internal recruitment process).

So, aside from the usual reports (Regional Director, Parliamentary, European, local government, trade union, NPF) what was the interesting bits? Accepting that this carries my bias, here are the highlights.

Further confirmation came that as far as Labour is concerned the Parliamentary Boundary Review is dead, and so the 2015 General Election will be fought using the same constituencies as 2010. The selection schedules that were put in place when we believed that the reorganisation was going to happen still hold. This means that Peterborough selected yesterday (Lisa Forbes) and the following should follow within the next few months: Great Yarmouth (an all-women shortlist), North West Norfolk, Hertsmere, Broxbourne, South Basildon and East Thurrock, and Watford.

By my calculation this leaves 42 constituencies still to select, with about two years to do so – a tight timetable. CLPs cannot apply to start their selections; the timetabling will begin at the direction of the NEC.

There is a national demonstration, organised by the trade union movement, scheduled for Saturday, 20th October. It is hoped that this will be as big as the March demonstration (I will certainly be marching). The unions are also campaigning for a living wage as it is now accepted that the minimum wage must be built on.

This year’s regional conference is in Norwich (23rd – 25th November). This gives me a small problem as my son is going off for a year’s travelling on the 24th.

The PCC elections are two months away. There is an obligation on all constituencies to donate to help fund our candidates, and I can imagine that this will give some treasurers a problem as many CLPs have a hand-to-mouth existence when it comes to funds.

The ballot paper for the PCC elections will have two columns for recording one’s first and second preferences (using a cross ‘X’ in both). This will confuse some voters and I expect some wrongly completed, and therefore spoilt, ballot papers.

East of England Regional Conference – Peterborough 2011

Harriett prepares to inspire

Balls on the up

Kelvin and Johanna

This guy wants to be Mayor of London again

A women, in politics

I returned home this afternoon from this year’s East of England Labour Party Regional Conference, held at the Peterborough Marriott Hotel.

Regional Conferences appeal on a number of levels. It is chance to learn, to mix with comrades from other constituencies and counties, and to re-invigorate those campaigning batteries. It is a highlight of the political year. I think this is my fifth successive year as a delegate from Southend West.

Friday began with a Regional Board meeting which discussed some of the rule changes and arrangements for the weekend. It was here that I discovered that I would serve a fourth term on the board, having been re-elected unopposed as the male Essex CLPs representative. I value my position on the board and was delighted to be returned to serve again.

The board meeting was followed by the TULO reception, and this was followed by a Peterborough CLP organised quiz. Then it was on to the bar to catch up with friends and comrades. A late night was guaranteed when I started mixing politics and football with the former Waveney MP (and am I pleased to note that he has been selected to contest that seat at the next General Election) Bob Blizzard.

Harriet Harman is becoming a fixture at our Regional Conferences and she never disappoints. She kicked off the speeches on Saturday morning. Hers was a warm-up for the day ahead.

A brief report from the Conference Arrangement Committee (which sets what posts are being contested and therefore require election, and what rule changes have been proposed) was followed by an excellent housing debate. Labour in Government never did really crack the housing shortage, although the coalition’s record is, so far, even worse. What is apparent is the need for a concerted effort to create the social housing we desperately need.

The shadow chancellor was up next, giving the best speech of the conference. Ed Balls stated that there is an alternative to the austerity cuts being implemented by David Cameron’s administration. Ed is a charming speaker who oozes gravitas, and builds confidence for those of us who deliver Labour’s message on the doorstep. He said that the economic argument is there to be won by Labour, and will be as the coalition’s plans bring misery to millions.

It was then my pleasure to pick up NEC member Johanna Baxter from Peterborough rail station as she was to address an animal welfare fringe organised by Fox in Parliament. Johanna was a third of a trio of excellent speakers. Kelvin Hopkins MP and Mike Huskisson (Animal Cruelty Investigation Group) also delivered the message that cruelty is unacceptable and that all animals should be treated with dignity. Labour has a record to be proud of when it comes to animal legislation, in contrast to the Tories who in the main treat animals with contempt, cruelty, and indignity.

I missed that European report (sorry Richard!) although I did pick up a copy of the speech to read this week sometime.

Ken Livingstone spoke on a number of topics, including his contest against Boris Johnson next May in the London Mayoral election. He did promise to campaign in the Eastern Region after next May – I hope someone reminds him of this.

After dropping Johanna back at Peterborough rail station I attended the boundary review workshop. The re-drawing of the vast majority of Parliamentary boundaries has huge implications for all parties. Eastern Region loses two seats, one in Essex. I have stated before that I support the concept of equalisation, but as in so many things the devil is in the detail. The reduction in the number of MPs defies logic, as does the decision to use poor data on which to base the new constituencies.

I did not go to the gala dinner (a good miss it seems as most I spoke to described the food as awful or worse). I chose to swim and sauna, and caught up with colleagues later in the evening. I think something has to be done about the quality of the food at these gala dinners. These are arranged to bring in much needed funds, but £45 for school canteen quality food is no enticement.

An early morning fringe on police commissioner election was interesting. Labour is opposing the implementation of election police chiefs, but it looks set to become law anyway. Labour will field candidates, and the selection of these candidates was talked on at length. It looks like, as far as Labour in the East is concerned, that these selections and elections will be organised by the County organisations. As a CLP treasurer I am concerned about the cost of these elections. We will have to put up candidates, but I wonder how much we should spend in areas where our chances of success are less than slim.

The results of elections to the Regional Board were announced and rule changes voted on, then the resolutions. Two resolutions were discussed and passed: that the maintenance of rail tracks be brought back into public hands, and that public sector pensions should not be subject to savage cuts. There were some excellent contributions from the floor, and it seemed that support for these two resolutions was pretty close to unanimous.

I have been concerned for some time about the lack of women who are attracted to politics and so I attend the women in politics workshop. Although male I am proud to describe myself as a feminist.

The Parliamentary and local government report was given by John Kent (Thurrock), Gavin Shuker MP (Luton South) and Kelvin Hopkins MP (Luton North). I thought John’s contribution was excellent, and all three set out the problems arising from being in opposition.

Best practise was rewarded, and conference was closed by Richard Howitt MRP. Jerusalem and the Red Flag were sung with gusto. Fortunately the words were on a big screen for despite having sung these many times I still do not know the words. I am dreadful at lyrics in general, unless I am their author.

The Regional Board next meets in December when Refounding Labour will feature.

Three selections in the East of England

There were three Parliamentary selections resolved in the East of England this week.

Stevenage have selected Sharon Taylor (to replace Barbara Follett).

Luton South have selected Gavin Shuker (to replace Margaret Moran).

Thurrock have selected Carl Morris (to Andrew MacKinlay).

These three seats are currently held by Labour. Their MPs are standing down at the General Election.

John Cook was selected for Norwich North last week.

East of England county council composition

I have just unearthed these statistics from June’s county elections in the East of England.

Council composition after 4th June 2009:

  Labour Conservative Liberal Democrat Green Others
Bedford 7 9 13 0 7
Cambridgeshire 2 42 23 1 1
Central Bedfordshire 0 54 11 0 1
Essex 1 60 12 0 2
Hertfordshire 3 55 17 1 1
Norfolk 3 60 13 7 1
Suffolk 4 55 11 2 3