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6 December 2007

Hockney bites back

Brian Coleman used his blog to take potshot a

By Damian Hockney

Spraying invective and bile against the two smaller political groups on the London Assembly, Brian Coleman betrays just how far the old parties have to go to become genuinely inclusive of diverse voices.

And to understand why two thirds of the electorate for the Mayor and Assembly elections just couldn’t be bothered to even turn out to vote. The old parties just don’t get it.

Brian berates the electorate for voting for “Others” like the Greens and our own free market anti-regulation One London Party, and betrays the arrogance of those who assume they have a God-given right to hold the reins of power.

Presumably Brian sheds mere crocodile tears for the millions who abstain – he makes no reference to them in his column. The real threat to the cosy duopoly lies with the rise of smaller parties that are cleverly exploiting this complacency.

He blames everyone (voters, BNP, Greens, One London, even the voting system itself) – everyone except himself for his failure to stop the haemorraging of votes from the old parties.

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He criticises the Greens for doing deals with an already sympathetic Mayor and accuses them of misusing resources to fund their party activities – the latter a scandalous, unfair and untrue allegation.

He criticises the One London Party for what he considers to be sartorial inadequacy and grandstanding (a truly bizarre accusation for one publicity-seeking politician to hurl at another). He neglects to mention that our own two-man One London band were the first politicians to point out in detail on record, back in 2004, that the Olympics would cost £10 billion, when Tory/Labour/Lib Dem cheerleaders for the bid were applauding the obviously tongue-in-cheek £2.375 billion budget.

We were the first to call in mid 2005 for the resignation of Sir Ian Blair. Tories and Lib Dems now agree. And we were the first to call for a full public inquiry into the 7/7 bombings. A year later the Tories did likewise. We were first with the Greens on the police authority in denouncing the authoritarian exclusion zone around parliament while Brian joined New Labour in publicly berating those who wish to demonstrate.

He was furious when One London broke the cosy cross-party agreement and voted against the Mayor’s (and Assembly Members’) inflation-busting pay increase. And again when we stood alone in calling for the abandonment of postal voting on demand, pointing out that the integrity of the voting system is far more important than boosting turnout with sackloads of fraudulent postal votes.

As Chairman of the London Assembly he has been subjected, since our arrival at the Assembly, to the annual nightmare of One London pointing out the absurdity of the Assembly’s role in the budget process, whereby a two-thirds majority can amend just the bottom line of the Mayor’s budget but cannot cut specific items of expenditure. A truly pointless power in anything other than an emergency.

The attacks grow in ferocity as we spearhead and develop policy which his own party should be fronting. His own party has a stitch-up deal with the Lib Dems to run Assembly affairs in a way which clashes meetings, ensuring that the two-member parties are physically unable to be in two places at the same time, allowing the bigger parties to send substitutes.

Then he uses those situations to attack the smaller parties for “not turning up”. It is doubly rich for Brian to comment about this when his own party contains one member who has not been to a single meeting for almost six months and others who sit on few committees because of their highly paid roles as MPs in addition to the £50,000 a year we all get as Assembly Members.

Small parties thrive on pointing out the inadequacies of their larger and more flat-footed opponents for the same reason that mammals prospered while the dinosaurs perished. The Greens and the One London Party had members elected (One London was originally elected under the UKIP banner) because well over 20% of voters felt so strongly that they purposely cast their votes against the three old parties.

And because their message held resonance with those voters. That is why they hold four London Assembly seats. That, Brian, is called democracy. Get used to it – it’s only going to get worse for you unless you sharpen up your act.

Brian is right to worry about the rise of the odious BNP. They may well win Assembly seats in 2008. The BNP came close to winning a seat in 2004 but were kept out on the day by UKIP’s sudden and short-lived Kilroy-fuelled electoral surge, which also saw UKIP knock the Lib Dems into fourth place in the Euro-elections.

But if the BNP do win a seat, it will be because Labour and the Tories no longer appeal to those voters – voters from all over the political compass who believe that they have nowhere else to turn, and those who have figured out that voting BNP is a way to thumb their nose at the political establishment.

So if Brian and his new Grand Coalition mate Ken want to see the Greens and One London members thrown off the London Assembly at the next election, and the BNP excluded, they have to convince voters that they are worth voting for. Relying on rants against voters and small parties is not going to cut it. And if he is successful in silencing alternative voices while failing to sharpen up his own act, turnout will fall yet further.

Damian Hockney
Leader, One London Party