The Mayor, The Speaker, His Wife and The Bloggers

Across the web, not least at the <em>NS</em> online, the London Mayoral election is raising temperat

With just two months until the London mayoral election, the campaign trail is picking up pace in the blogosphere.

Earlier in the week, Mike Smithson at Political Betting called the election “by far and away the biggest political betting event in the UK this year is,” despite the lack of polls. But later that day Anthony Walls at UK Polling Report resists the bendy bus analogy to announce: “After waiting months for a proper poll on the London mayoral election, two come along at once.”

The first of the two polls Walls refers to shows Ken Livingstone 5% behind Boris Johnson, and Smithson senses a whiff of politicising with the release of the second. “My understanding is that Labour and Ken knew about the MORI poll almost as soon as it had been completed,” writes Smithson, “but it was deemed to be a deadly secret because of the closeness of the finding.”

The mayoral election also attracted a great deal of interest on these very pages, as NS political editor Martin Bright criticised prominent Lefties for signing a Compass letter in support of Livingstone. Anthony Barnett at Our Kingdom reveals the frank conversation he had with Bright over his decision to sign, while Oliver Kamm offers Bright his support.

Also this week, Commons speaker Michael Martin found himself the subject of the latest sleaze allegations. The Daily Pundit, with tongue firmly in cheek, asks: “What’s a working class Scot who didn’t go to Oxford and knows what a day’s work is when he sees it doing with friends? It’s a disgrace.”

While, The Remittance Man takes a different view: “Michael Martin’s working class origins are not the issue here. Both George Thomas and Betty Boothroyd have been from working class backgrounds and both served the Labour Party prior to election as speaker, yet both managed to perform their tasks with reasonable fairness and retain the respect of MPs of all parties and the public. Martin has singularly failed to do the same.”

It doesn’t make for great reading for Martin at Iain Dale’s blog. In a poll of 1,122 readers – of whom, somewhat tellingly, only 46% are Conservative supporters – 91% believe Martin should step down as speaker, and 82% rate his performance as either poor or dreadful. Betty Boothroyd comes out as the best speaker of the past 30 years, with 49% of votes; Martin comes in with just 1%.

David Osler also joins the debate: “It is unclear if Martin has technically done anything wrong in pocketing the money from such a generous scheme for a property on which there no mortgage; perhaps Peter Mandelson or Tessa Jowell - given their special expertise in the field of how to finance home purchase the New Labour way - could advise?

“But whatever the rulebook says, this action is morally equivalent to housing benefit fraud, without the ability to claim poverty as a mitigating circumstance.” So there.

Owen Walker is a journalist for a number of titles within Financial Times Business, primarily focussing on pensions. He recently graduated from Cardiff University’s newspaper journalism post-graduate course and is cursed by a passion for Crystal Palace FC.
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Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.