Are Labour's target seats missing the mark? Photo: Flickr/viZZZual.com
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Polling shows support for Ed Miliband in target seats – but are they really targets?

Polling released today shows 75.8 per cent of Labour councillors in the party's 106 target seats support their leader. But how significant are Labour's targets?

Some cheering numbers at last for Ed Miliband. Polling released today by Anglia Ruskin University's Labour History Research Unit shows significant support for the Labour leader – whose leadership has come sharply into question over the past fortnight – among councillors in both Labour's target seats and those seats most vulnerable to a Tory swing.

The polling finds, contrary to what we've been reading about rumblings in the PLP, that the majority of Labour's ground troops are happy with Miliband as their leader. When asked whether or not he should resign if the media monstering of Miliband and his tumble down the opinion polls continues, 75.8 per cent of Labour councillors in the party's 106 target seats said no, and 72.6 per cent in their 50 so-called defending seats said no. Also, 78.9 per cent in target seats and 80 per cent in defending seats put their leader's recent problems down to the press "whipping up a story", rather than a poor performance.

And although the respected Labour MP and former cabinet minister Alan Johnson has unequivocally ruled himself out as a potential replacement, 59.8 per cent of target seat councillors and 60.6 per cent of defending seat councillors said Miliband would be a greater asset than Johnson as leader, come May 2015.

These must be encouraging findings for Miliband. Often neglected by those observing a party's fortunes through the warped Westminster lens, support on the ground is crucial for a party to remain afloat. For example, Ukip insiders have told me in the past that defections of local activists from the Conservatives to their party has been significantly more useful when out campaigning than high-profile MP defections. So support from councillors, though it doesn't sound glamorous, is crucial.

However, it is time to question the significance of Labour's 106 target seats. In January last year, the party unveiled a list of constituencies it would be targeting in the build-up to the general election. According to LabourList at the time, these seats were decided using national swing, demographic and regional vote share models, and the results of local elections. Four out of five seats on the list are currently Tory-held.

Yet with such massive shifts in the political landscape since January 2013, a number of their targets look unwinnable. For example, Thurrock – the party's second top target – went from a sure win for Labour (the Tory incumbent has 92 votes) to a three-way marginal, with Ukip polling top.

On top of this, the Spectator's Isabel Hardman reported in February this year that Labour HQ was not as optimistic as Miliband about Labour's chances regarding its target list, and was secretly attempting to scale the number down from 106 to as few as 60, or 80. 

The newest development in this story emerged last week. I heard from a Labour MP that those attending a near-mutinous PLP meeting in the Northwest last Tuesday evening discussed cutting down the number of Labour's target seats, due to Miliband's unpopularity making it increasingly less likely that many of them could ever be won. "There is a problem with the leader, so we'll have to discard some of our targets," my source revealed. "Because the leader is doing that badly, it's such a turn-off. So we'll have to stop putting resources [in certain target seats]".

The party will have to focus more on simply "defending" the vulnerable seats it already holds, "rather than trying to win new ones", the meeting apparently concluded. I hear such seats include Bolton West, where the Labour MP Julie Hilling has a majority of 92. It's in shaky Labour holds like these where MPs could be most damaged by their constituents criticising Miliband on the doorstep, even if their councillors appear to be onside.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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The Future of the Left: trade unions are more important than ever

Trade unions are under threat - and without them, the left has no future. 

Not accepting what you're given, when what you're given isn't enough, is the heart of trade unionism.

Workers having the means to change their lot - by standing together and organising is bread and butter for the labour movement - and the most important part? That 'lightbulb moment' when a group of workers realise they don't have to accept the injustice of their situation and that they have the means to change it.

That's what happened when a group of low-paid hospital workers organised a demonstration outside their hospital last week. As more of their colleagues clocked out and joined them on their picket, thart lightbulb went on.

When they stood together, proudly waving their union flags, singing a rhythmic chant and raising their homemade placards demanding a living wage they knew they had organised the collective strength needed to win.

The GMB union members, predominantly BAME women, work for Aramark, an American multinational outsourcing provider. They are hostesses and domestics in the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust, a mental health trust with sites across south London.

Like the nurses and doctors, they work around vulnerable patients and are subject to verbal and in some cases physical abuse. Unlike the nurses and doctors their pay is determined by the private contractor that employs them - for many of these staff that means statutory sick pay, statutory annual leave entitlement and as little as £7.38 per hour.

This is little more than George Osborne's new 'Living Wage' of £7.20 per hour as of April.

But these workers aren't fighting for a living wage set by government or even the Living Wage Foundation - they are fighting for a genuine living wage. The GMB union and Class think tank have calculated that a genuine living wage of £10ph an hour as part of a full time contract removes the need for in work benefits.

As the TUC launches its 'Heart Unions' week of action against the trade union bill today, the Aramark workers will be receiving ballot papers to vote on whether or not they want to strike to win their demands.

These workers are showing exactly why we need to 'Heart Unions' more than ever, because it is the labour movement and workers like these that need to start setting the terms of the real living wage debate. It is campaigns like this, low-paid, in some cases precariously employed and often women workers using their collective strength to make demands on their employer with a strategy for winning those demands that will begin to deliver a genuine living wage.

It is also workers like these that the Trade Union Bill seeks to silence. In many ways it may succeed, but in many other ways workers can still win.

Osborne wants workers to accept what they're given - a living wage on his terms. He wants to stop the women working for Aramark from setting an example to other workers about what can be achieved.

There is no doubting that achieving higher ballot turn outs, restrictions on picket lines and most worryingly the use of agency workers to cover strikers work will make campaigns like these harder. But I refuse to accept they are insurmountable, or that good, solid organisation of working people doesn't have the ability to prevail over even the most authoritarian of legislation.

As the TUC launch their Heart Unions week of action against the bill these women are showing us how the labour movement can reclaim the demands for a genuine living wage. They also send a message to all working people, the message that the Tories fear the most, that collective action can still win and that attempts to silence workers can still be defeated.