Thursday, May 22, 2014

#Lewisham2014: Lewisham council elections

Don't forget to vote today.

Here are some last minute comments on a few Lewisham council wards (the "yellow" ballot paper), my last election post. (Check the previous posts on the mayorals and the Euros.)

This is probably one of the better hopes for the Green Party, although, as Clare notes, the loss of their "star" Darren Johnson will not help them. The People Before Profit candidate Toby Abse is very decent politically (Candidates here.)

Crofton Park 
In the last elections, with a high turnout, the Lib Dems took one seat from Labour, so I would recommend an all-Labour vote. (Check out Crofton Park Labour's website.) The Greens did respectably, but not enough to break through, so a Green vote risks letting a Lib Dem in. (Candidates here.)

Forest Hill
This is another ward that has a Lib Dem councillor, who polled very high in 2010, and so I'd recommend an all-Labour vote. Here's the Forest Hill Labour Party site.

TUSC logoThis is a target ward for People Before Profit, who came second there in a March 2013 by-election. In my opinion, Evelyn has been really badly served by its Labour councillors, although I like the look of new candidate Jamie Milne. If you want a left alternative, my strong recommendation would be Jessica Leech, standing for TUSC. She's a local resident of great integrity and determination, who has been involved in several community campaigns, including defending council housing.  (Candidates here.)

Telegraph Hill
In the last election, the Socialist Party (standing under the TUSC label) did well, with around a thousand votes each, which would be enough to win in normal elections. However, the high turnout and Labour surge put them in second place, though still far ahead of the Greens and Lib Dems. This time, though, the left vote will be split, with PB4P's leader John Hamilton standing, so I don't know if TUSC can make it. (Candidates here.)

New Cross
This will be an interesting race, with a very strong and popular Labour team, but also a Green candidate active in the  New Cross forum and three high-profile People Before Profit candidates. In the last election, the Greens got a very low vote and People Before Profit came third, behind the Lib Dems. To win, PB4P would have to more than quadruple their vote, which seems unlikely. (Candidates here.)

The People Before Profit candidate in Ladywell is Helen Mercer, who I believe has been very involved in the Lewisham Hospital campaign. She came fourth in the by-election of 2010, with 233 votes, so is unlikely to be elected. Labour won the ward, but with a majority of less than 200 over the Greens, so this is another key target for the Greens. Mike Keogh, who represented the ward 2006-10, is the most likely of the Greens to break through in Ladywell. There are also strong Labour candidates, including Bill Brown. (Candidates here.)

Downham has the distinction, once again, of being the only ward in Lewisham with a fascist candidate, Tess Culnane, standing this time as an independent. According to Hope Not Hate:
Veteran fascist and former “Nit-Nurse” Culnane has jumped backwards and forwards between the BNP and NF over a number of years. Served as an aide to Richard Barnbrook, the BNP’s one time Greater London Assembly member, where she was dubbed a “Nazi Granny” by the media.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

#Lewisham2014 and London's MEPs: vote tomorrow

I had planned to do a whole series of election posts this year, but haven't had the time. As a late effort, I've just posted two quick posts: The Lewisham Mayorals and The London Euros, with a third one on the Lewisham council elections coming later. My earlier, fuller, post on the Lewisham mayoral election is here.

The European parliamentary elections in London

This is the very long white ballot for the European elections. London has eight MEPs selected by party by proportion of the vote, so any party getting about 12% of the vote gets an MEP. So, these are the things to bear in mind:

Greens: The Green Party got just over 10% of the vote last time, and one MEP, the quite impressive and sensible Jean Lambert. I voted Green, because I want to keep her.

UKIP: UKIP placed just behind the Greens in 2009, getting one MEP. With the "Boris bagel" of outer London part of their heartland, they are likely to increase their percentage. If they can double it, they will get two MEPs, which will give them even more media exposure and more EU funding (and more EU funding to whatever far right alliance they join in the European parliament). This is why it is imperative that the sensible vote is as strong as possible, and a very good reason to vote tomorrow.

The far right: The BNP got nearly 5% of the vote in 2009 and have pretty much imploded since then, so has no chance of an MEP, though we shouldn't be complacent. There are a whole welter of other far right parties standing this year, some not obviously far right: the National Liberal Party, which, despite its name and standing with a bunch of non-white candidates, is actually a fascist party. The English Democrats are not strictly a fascist party, but are full of fascists.

Left alternativesSadly, I think it's fair to say there are no real left alternatives. The vaguely left party is the Little England No2EU, supported by the Stalinist Morning Star and the late Bob Crow, who I wouldn't dream of voting for. (See Phil's nice account here.) And then there is the National Health Action party, which has a strong support base in Lewisham, where its activists have been heavily involved in the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign. I don't see the point of them standing in the European elections, given that the EU has no power to save the NHS, so their candidacy should be seen as a propaganda opportunity on the threats to our health system and as a warning to Labour to stand firm on the NHS.

Further info: Here's the Londonists's helpful guide to voting in the council and Euro elections. Here's Hope not Hate's guide to far right and UKIP candidates

#Lewisham 2014: the Mayoral contest again (and navigating the supplementary vote)

My long post on all the mayoral candidates is here. There are some interesting comments in the (short) comment thread, which I recommend if you already read the post.

This is the "peach" ballot paper. The only thing I'd add is to remind people that you get a first choice and a second choice vote. If noone gets more than 50% first choice votes, second choice votes are counted. So, if Bullock is not a clear winner in the first round, low vote candidates get their votes redistributed to second choices.

I'm guessing Lib Dem DuWayne Brooks is the most likely to be in the second round with Bullock, but there is a chance the Tories or conceivably the Greens will. This means that if you want to vote for a left of Labour alternative, but can't stomach the possibility of a Con-Dem mayor coming first, put Bullock as your second choice. Conversely, if you can stomach voting Lib Dem and your priority is unseating Bullock, you can vote for a left alternative and put Brooks as your second choice. However, if you put Bullock as your first choice, your second vote is unlikely to count as there's not much chance Bullock won't be in the second round.

Further info: Here's the Londonist's helpful guide to voting in mayoral elections in London's boroughs. Here's an explanation of the complexities of the supplementary voting system.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Taj Hargey in the Mail

This is a guest post by Sarah AB

There has been much discussion of halal slaughter following news stories featuring Subway and Pizza Express.  How far it is possible or legitimate to raise this issue without shading into bigotry, even racism?  While recognizing that outlawing ritual slaughter would have a major impact on many Jews and Muslims, I don’t think bigoted is the right word to describe the tough, consistently secular approach.  If you really don’t think religion should be privileged in any way, then the Danish decision to ban such slaughter is a coherent one. Agriculture Minister Dan Jørgensen asserted that ‘animal rights come before religion’ and I think that’s a legitimate perspective though not one that (at least in practice) I share.

By contrast, there are many people who don’t apparently favour an outright ban, simply clearer labelling, whose approach seems tendentious, if not bigoted.  Although it seems odd to describe an Imam as a bigot, I’d argue that Taj Hargey’s recent article in the Mail might have the effect of stoking prejudice.  His first proposition gets the reader nodding along – who could disagree with it? It’s in the third sentence that problems begin to emerge.
When I walk into a restaurant, I’m usually a hungry customer. It shouldn’t be important to the waiter what my religion is. I could be a Muslim, a Christian or a Jedi warrior. Whatever my beliefs, I have a right to enjoy my meal without any hidden agendas.
‘Hidden agendas’ is a very loaded way of describing what’s been going on here.  Pizza Express hadn’t made it absolutely clear that it uses halal chicken – but neither had it kept it a secret. As it’s pre-stunned anyway, this labelling shortfall doesn’t seem such a big deal.  Perhaps we should demand labels saying things like ‘the chicken in your meal was killed after going through a constant-voltage, multiple-bird, electrical water-bath stun system.’  The idea that halal proliferation is part of some sinister ‘hidden agenda’ feeds bigotry without really being evidenced.  And don’t forget that many Muslims also had no idea Pizza Express used halal chicken.  

Hargey then complains that there is much unlabelled halal meat in supermarkets.  There’s nothing inherently bigoted in asking for more information to be provided, and unlabelled hindquarter kosher meat should certainly also be labelled if we are to go down that road, particularly as shechita doesn’t permit pre-stunning. But then he says:

Friday, May 09, 2014

#Lewisham2014: The Mayorals

22 May will see European Parliament elections, local elections across London and elsewhere, and the vote for Lewisham's directly elected mayor. I hope to blog on all of those, but this post focuses on the mayorals in Lewisham. [UPDATE: Extra info on how to navigate the supplementary vote system and who to put second here.]

Here are the seven candidates, and some comments on them.

Liberal Democrats: Duwayne Brooks @DuwayneBrooks
My impression of Duwayne Brooks is of a smart, charismatic, passionate, decent person. His main campaign theme seems to be that it's time for change in the borough, with Sir Steve Bullock (see below) having been in office for too long. Probably he is the candidate that has the best chance of unseating Bullock: the Lib Dems came second with 25% of the first round vote in 2010. However, his campaign material overstates this by dishonestly including the second round vote (including transfers from Tory votes) in a bar chart purporting to show that Tories can't win in Lewisham.

The main reason not to vote for Duwayne, however, is that he is a candidate for the Lib Dems. However, you'd not notice that from his Twitter feed or website, which barely mention his party affiliation if at all, which is not surprising given what a liability it must be around here. Who could vote for the party that has enabled the Cameron government's austerity regime and dismantling of public services? Who could vote for the party that utterly failed to stand up against Jeremy Hunt's Clause 119, legislation drafted in response to the people of Lewisham successfully winning a legal challenge against his attempts to close our hospital? For these reasons, and more, we can expect the Lib Dem vote in Lewisham to have evaporated since 2010, making Duwayne a no hope candidate (and a vote for the Greens or a real left alternative at least as meaningful a protest vote as for Brooks).

Labour: Steve Bullock @mayorbullock
Sir Steve Bloke, as he's known, is the Gordon Brown of local politics: competent, gently intelligent, controlling, utterly un-charismatic. Having clocked up a longer term in office at the town hall than Thatcher or Blair did at 10 Downing Street, it's hard not to sympathise with the idea that it's time for change. In 2010, when Gordon Brown was unsuccessfully defending his tenure in Downing Street, Bullock got 44% of the first round vote (a majority of well over 20,000). Four years of Cameron/Clegg misrule, as well as Bullock's important role in the legal challenge against Hunt's attempt to close our hospital, will surely contribute to a strong Labour vote this month, so it's hard to imagine Bullock not romping home again.

Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition: Chris Flood @ElectChrisFlood
Chris Flood is the candidate for the Socialist Party's front TUSC, possibly the least exciting left party Britain has ever produced. Flood had a decent record as a Socialist councillor in Telegraph Hill, during which time he played a major role in defending council housing and fighting hospital cuts - but he probably has little borough-wide profile. It's hard to see TUSC doing very well. In 2006, during the Iraq war, John Hamilton (see below) got 8.2% of the vote, and so at best Hamilton and TUSC might expect to compete for that fraction. Despite that, at the moment I'm thinking of voting for Flood, as Bullock's majority means a non-Labour vote is fairly risk-free, and I like the idea of showing Labour that they can't take its multicultural working class heartlands for granted in its rightward quest to conquer middle England.

People Before Profit: John Hamilton @PeopleB_4Profit
I've voted for Hamilton in the past (in 2006, when he got over 4,823 votes), but am not going to this year. Hamilton and his merry band are pretty indefatigable campaigners on a range of local issues: Hamilton was a key activist in the fights for a new school for New Cross, to save Ladywell pool from Labour cuts, and to save Lewisham's libraries from Labour cuts. I like what People Before Profit say in their election material. However, I have written about Hamilton a few times on this blog before, and regular readers will know why I can't vote for him: read posts on his disruption of Holocaust Memorial Day and on his involvement with the antisemitic Holocaust denier Gilad Atzmon (as well as his guest post replying to the latter). More recently, allegations have emerged on the internet about the business practices of his People Before Profit colleague Ray Woolford, which I won't repeat here because I have no idea if they are true, but which raise worrying issues.

Green: Mike Keogh @lewgreenparty
Mike Keogh, also standing for the council in Ladywell ward, won 12% of the vote in the 2006, but the Green vote shrunk by a few hundred to 6% in 2010, as the turnout increased and the Labour vote swung up. The Greens therefore have little better chance this year than the more left-wing alternatives to Labour, and interestingly the party website has nothing on the mayoral election, concentrating on the council elections where their results might be more interesting.

UKIP: Peter Lello @PeterLello
I doubt many of my readers would even consider a vote for UKIP so I won't bother to tell you not to vote for their nasty, isolationist anti-politics. I'm fairly optimistic that, despite UKIP's worryingly high national polling results, the demographics of inner London (young population, confidently multicultural) play against them here. UKIP's stronger chances are in the Euro elections, for which the whole of London (including the outer London "Boris bagel" where they are performing well) is a single constituency returning eight MEPs: UKIP got 11% of the vote last time (one MEP). Holding off an increase in the number of UKIP MEPs is a very good reason to make sure you do vote on May 22. 

Simon Nundy (Conservative) @SimonNundy

If the Lib Dems have massaged the figures to claim only they can unseat Bullock this month, the Tories have been even more fast and loose with the stats. The fact is they only got 15% of the vote in 2010 and, while the Lib Dem vote will collapse, the Tory vote is likely to hit a long-term low here. Nundy's campaign rests on five "pledges", almost all of which are hollow promises. 
  • Pledge no.1 is a 5% reduction in council tax, which looks superficially appealing but will benefit higher rate payers the most, is too small to make that much of a difference to our personal finances, and will create a hole in local government finances that can only be filled by further cuts in already frayed services. 
  • His second "pledge" is offering every kid a place at a good or outstanding school - a good aspiration, but he promises to achieve it by expanding the "free school" programme, a programme which has been thoroughly discredited. 
  • His third "pledge" started with less a hollow promise than a bullshit promise: to work with Boris Johnson to get more police on Lewisham's streets - bullshit because Johnson has reduced the number of police on our streets dramatically (I asked Nundy about this on Twitter twice, but he declined to answer.) In his leaflets, he has since downgraded this to a meaningless promise: to create a "Mayoral Crime Liaison Office", whatever that means. 
  • The fourth pledge is to bring all social housing to decent homes standard. The standard was introduced by the Labour government and Labour Lewisham has spent millions bringing thousands of its homes to standard, but I can't find out how many are still below that standard - if anyone knows please leave a comment below. 
  • Finally, pledge number 5 is a "package of support for small businesses", but he has been very vague on what such a package might include. 


OK, that's all for now. I intend to come back with a post or so on the Euro and council elections too, but in the meantime check out coverage on Clare's Diary, Our Hither Green and Alternative SE4. Hopefully needless to say, but this post is purely my own opinion; I am not connected to any political party; and you're more than welcome to offer your own views and comments below. All my Lewisham posts can be found here; all my election-related posts here. The image at the top comes from the Lewisham council website, and links to information on candidates, how to vote and other useful stuff.