Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Manchester Withington

This weekend saw a lot of campaigning in the sunny suburbs of South Manchester.

Saturday morning was a listening surgery at Chorlton Library where Lucy Powell, our prospective candidate and Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council heard constituents with a range of issues from congestion charges to special needs provision in schools.

I must admit the prospect of canvassing on a Sunday afternoon was a bit daunting but we were amazingly well received.

Manchester Withington was a seat the Liberal Democrats won with the big lie that Christies Cancer Hospital was under threat and we are going to win it back. Lucy is an exceptionally talented candidate and will be Manchester's first woman MP - if we get behind her and do the donkey work now.

Anyway - next campaign session is on Sunday August 25th at 2.00 p.m., 4 Holly Royde Close (off Palatine Road) followed by a barbecue.

If you can help let Jeff Smith know at: cllr.jeff.smith@manchester.gov.uk

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Saturday Morning Canvass

On Saturday we were back again canvassing in our ward.

The Council are beginning to address the constant complaints about the state of the roads and I picked up plenty of casework.
The level of Labour support was very good. At this rate the result next May could be very interesting and the roads in the ward should be perfect!

Wirral South

Friday evening saw an enjoyable evening on the Wirral at a hot pot supper organised by Wirral South CLP with Tony Woodley, Joint General Secretary of Unite as the Guest Speaker.

It was good to meet old friends from the 1997 by-election and Tony was in good form. It was also good to see a big turn out from Unite members at Ellesmere Port car plant - Tony's old stamping ground.

By-Election Triumphs and Corn Beef Pie

Took a day's holiday to go up to Sedgefield. Left early morning picking up Tommy from Rochdale and Nick from Liverpool.

Called in at Newton Aycliffe first - good to see lots of members busy getting the vote out. It was clear from early on that we were going to win clearly. Then went up to Trimden Labour Club. Sedgefield is a very attractive constituency with Labour-voting villages and town set amongst rolling countryside.
The party in the North East understands the important principle that an army marches on its stomach - and the food for volunteers at Trimden was excellent - especially the corn beef pie - so packed with corn beef it must have been a full cow! Lovely.

When they prized me away from the pie, we went knocking up in Camforth. Again Labour vote solid but a worrying number of young women (in their twenties and thirties) who "never vote".
I don't know if it was because of the Government's need to release petty criminals early but there seemed to be a lot of BNP driving around. It made me laugh when I heard them playing "Jerusalem" on their loud-speakers - it will be in the Internationale! Next.

Had to leave at tea-time to get back to Salford for our constituency meeting but everything under control and good reports coming back from Ealing.
The results are an excellent start to Gordon Brown's Government. Two potentially difficult by-elections successfully and, in the end, quite comfortably negotiated.
Woefully bad for the Tories - "Cameron's" Conservatives were created in West London and they really thought they were going to win at one stage. That crashing sound is wheels coming off the wagon!
Liberal Democrats will be disappointed as they don't appear to have done badly enough to ditch Ming Campbell. That suits us in places like Rochdale, Cambridge and Withington but might not be good in much of the South.

Sedgefield had 2494 BNP votes too many, which needs addressing.

Congratulation to Virendera and Phil and both their campaign teams and all the volunteers who secured their victories. Who's tempted to start betting on a spring General Election (or even October!)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Look Forward

Going through the old leaflets the other day I came across the sort of membership pamphlet we used to put out door-to-door - eight pages of text - A5 - no pictures.

The wording of the leaflet carries possibly the best short description of the Labour Party I've come across:

1) Labour is more than a political party. It is a faith and a positive force for good in the world. Constantly it campaigns for social justice throughout the whole range of human affairs. Its deeds are as impressive as its words - an unusual quality in these days of high-pressure economic and political propaganda.

2) Labour's strength in power and purpose is no accident; it comes from the people who make up the Party. People from all walks of life, of all ages, and from every social group. Men and women and young people who see wrongs around them and are determined that society shall put them right. They are people with consciences with ideas, with zeal. Together they add up to a force that can't be ignored.

3) The Labour Party was born sixty years ago. But its roots go back much further than that. Throughout the ages there have always bee men and women who struggled against tyrannies and injustices, visionaries who saw that life could only be really worthwhile if people worked together and not against one another. It was the evil conditions of the industrial revolution, and the continuing injustices which remain even today, that brought people like this together, inspired them to join in common causes, and eventually to bring their causes together in the Labour Party.

The Conscience of the People

1) We stand for justice. Not justice in any narrow purely legal sense, but justice throughout the whole of society - social justice. We realise that we shall not achieve it in the lifetime of the older among us; there is too much injustice - political, social, economic, racial - in the world for that. But if we do not start the advance now, the goal will never be reached at all. We are building for our children and for all children. We want them to inherit the society that we have dreamed of and striven for during these sixty years.

2) We need all the help we can get, for the forces ranged against us are powerful and wealthy, and their motive is an insidious one with a universal appeal to selfishness. Our task is formidable, but every new member who joins us lightens the burden on others and adds more power to our effort. We are not an army on the march, or a crusade with a single purpose: we are the conscience of the people finding its expression. If you think and believe as we do, your place is with us.

This was written forty-five years ago and is the sort of material we used to put through doors. The language might seem a bit archaic but it gets the message right - especially the second paragraph "Labour members - a force that can't be ignored."

National Executive Committee 17 July 2007

Gordon Brown's first NEC meeting as Prime Minister. A brainstorm leads me to think its at Victoria Street not Westminster - resulting in spending £8 for a taxi to go round in a circle! Try to look composed and collected as I arrive five minutes late.

Under the new Prime Minister, Cabinet meetings are on Tuesdays which delayed the arrival of the Prime Minister and other Cabinet Ministers so we had a discussion about the role of the Chair of the NEC and the Party Chair. Many of the previous problems of an unelected Party Chair are solved by that post being held by the elected Deputy Leader.

When Gordon arrived his leader's address was very much in tune with the tone of his new Government - he wants to speak directly to the concerns people have.
New policy initiatives include:
1) A new version of the "New Deal" with big employers signed up to provide work to people who have the most difficulties in entering the job market - an initiative funded by unused accounts of the big financial institutions.

2) Grants for two-thirds of students with loan repayment holidays at key times - such as buying a house, starting a family. Students on education maintenance awards at sixteen to see them carried through any university course.

3) Better housing opportunities with more money for housing to rent and a greater role for local Councils. 550 areas of public land to be released for development. There will be a Housing Statement next Monday.

4) More for younger children - including five hours of sport per week. (That won't be popular with all young people!)

5) A new Pensions Bill with more help for victims of pension fund failures

6) Much greater support for Youth Services

7) More support for carers' - especially those caring for the elderly.

Gordon acknowledged the party on the ground was in a bad state - that's why he's proposing changes to involve all members.

There was plenty of time for questions - let the record show that Gordon's second NEC question as Prime Minister was from yours truly. I welcomed his new initiatives as the sort of down to earth policies we needed but stressed the need for more support for manufacturing and the importance of using the voluntary skills and efforts of our own members in campaigning. The importance of both were acknowledged by the Prime Minister.

All in all - it really does look like we're on our way! Then there were report backs from the National Policy Forum and the consultation on renewing party democracy.

We had a brief report from Harriet Harman. No fault of her's as she had to be back at the Commons to prepare for a policy statement on women.

Amongst other things she referred to sex trafficking and how prestigious local papers are full of advertisements for such things. Have we ever thought of prosecuting them for living off immoral earnings?

The General Secretary gave a full report on the recent deputy leadership elections - which were a credit to the Party and saw us recruit 1000 members per week.

Our finances are really beginning to improve and whilst we're far from healthy we're off the "life support machine" and into "intensive care". We have also safeguarded the staff's final salary pension scheme.

The Hayden Phillips review of party funding is nearing its end - will report back when finished.

We discussed Annual Conference and several of us made the point about the need to have separate debates on health and education - key issues which need their own separate discussion rather than being lumped together as in the past.

The Leaders' speech will now be on Monday.

I raised a request from Constituency Labour Parties to increase the Trade Union affiliation fee which has not been looked at for many years - currently 6p per member. It will be "looked at".

Lots of business packed into a four and a half hour meeting with a brief stop off at the "Red Lion" before the train to Manchester - and a day's holiday booked for Thursday in Sedgefield.


Thursday night saw me going down to Cheadle - just a 20 minute drive - for their GC. A small but enthusiastic group of members were there and we had a thorough going discussion on the state of the party and current political issues.

Cheadle is obviously a difficult seat for us - we came third at the General Election - but the members were in good heart - and happy with the current direction.

Members in Cheadle play an active part in Oldham East at General Election times - this sort of active twinning is crucial for General Election success.

Left after 10.00 p.m. - nice evening, nice people.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

National Policy Forum - Sat14 / Sun15 July

Up at 5.00 a.m. Saturday morning for the drive down to West London for the NPF. Held in a vast hotel near Heathrow which I'm told we got a good discount on.

The day opens with an address from Gordon Brown - a sincere, confident 45 minutes delivered without autocue or notes.

Some very positive news about:

- greater enforcement of the minimum wage

- more grants for student and "holiday" periods from Student Loan repayment at key times: such as starting a family, buying a house

- much greater emphasis on Youth Services

- crucially, a major drive to increase the number of houses being built - including building by Councils.

Gordon really is picking up on the mood in the party and there's a good feel.

Its clear that the super Casino in Manchester is not going ahead but he said the Government were looking at ensuring the same number of jobs via other regeneration programmes.

In terms of the party, he knows the problems of members leaving or becoming detached from the party.

He knows that has to change and wants the party at the centre of the local communities and for that members have to feel a real sense of involvement.

The final policy news was of possible progress on agency workers - as the new Portuguese President to the European Community has made progress on this issue a matter of urgency - watch this space!

We then paid tribute to Ian McCartney who is retiring as Chair of the NPF, for his massive contribution over the last decade and more. We elected Pat McFadden M.P. as his successor unopposed.

All in all - a good morning's work.

The afternoon was taken up with discussion of the second stage papers of the Policy Review.
At tea-time we all (or most of us) boarded a coach for Southall but then - the best laid plans of mice and men . . .!

The distance is just four miles but due to a traffic accident the streets were grid-locked and it took us one and a half hours to get there! Still we stuck with it and managed about three quarters of an hour leafleting before we had to get back.

Most of the shops in Southall seemed to be hedging their bets by displaying posters for every candidate - either being very politically astute or very polite.

The Tory candidate also seems very polite having donated a substantial amount to the Labour Party just a few months ago.

Sunday morning saw a presentation on Gordon Brown's proposal to improve the policy making process. These will be going to Conference in September and should give us a serious debate on how we improve our policy making.

All in all, this was the first NPF I've been to that felt really useful. Thanks to all the staff who organised it.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

NEC Sub-Committees

Tuesday 10th saw the first set of NEC Sub-committees since March - the May ones being cancelled due to the Leadership elections.

The Womens, Race and Equalities Committee started with us welcoming Will Martin from Stonewall describing their work on diversity and welcoming the Labour Party as one of its diversity champions.

We then welcomed Harriet Harman and congratulated her on her recent successful election campaign.

Harriet outlined her role as Deputy Leader, Chair of the Party, Minister for Women and Leader of the House. It was good to see that Barbara Keeley, our neighbouring MP, is included in her team.

She outlined what she believed should be our three policy priorities:

- supporting the working family - especially older relatives

- tackling violence against women, both domestic and sex trafficking

- community empowerment

On the first point I stressed the importance of the USDAW campaign on carers' allowances, which Harriet made clear she understood.

We then had reports on the continued, pleasing, growth of the Black Socialist Society and reports on the development of LGBT Labour.

On Parliamentary Selection discussions there were reports on a number of seats and discussion on the importance of ensuring the equality dimension of Women and BME candidates do not conflict.
Disputes Committee followed the WREC meeting and amongst other things I've been delegated to oversee proceedings in Derby and West Lancashire so I'll be on my travels again.

Organisation Committee discussed and ratified a number of decisions taken by NEC Officer in the absence of committee meetings including Ealing Southall and Walthamstow (All Women Shortlist).

We had a very full report on current parliamentary selections - where we are now beginning to make real progress. There is still a real issue about the lack of new BME candidates.

Stress was put on the need to win the two current by-elections in Southall and Sedgefield.
We had a report on the progress of positive action in selecting women in Local Government in 2004, 24% of Labour Councillor were women, by 2006 this had risen to 32% - a significant increase but still not up to the NEC target of 50%. It was good to see that Knowsley, a very strong Labour area, now has 50% women.

We agreed to continue positive action procedures and I managed to move an amendment to ensure that CLPs were involved in drawing up the targets - not just Local Government Committees. Anyone who wants the detailed background papers please e-mail me at Peter.Wheeler@amicustheunion.org

I've got to be honest that by the end of what's effectively six and a half hour meeting the brain begins to melt. So If anyone has any queries about other matters - please contact me.

NEC meeting next Tuesday.

Supper With The Minister

On Friday we had a very successful branch fundraiser with Kitty Usher M.P. for Burnley and a Treasury Minister (sorry Kitty, I can never remember all the titles).

Kitty was in great form and it was good to have Hazel there - able to relax on home ground.
The format seems to work - a good two and half course meal for £20.00, raffle, auction and plenty to drink.

Our ward is Liberal Democrat at the minute but we are out canvassing and leafleting and the support shown at events like this tells me we could be on for a Labour gain next May.

Good to see Gary Titley M.E.P. there as well - Gary is a great supporter of the branches and CLPs throughout the North West - just got to find a Minister to come in October now!

Monday, July 02, 2007


Our office is going sunflower crazy.

We're having a sunflower sweepstake with the biggest sunflower by mid-August getting a big cash prize (£20.00) and 25% of the proceeds going to our election fund next year.

Its amazing how competitive people can get over sunflowers.

Here's To The Next Ten Years . . .

Ten years after we won the General Election Tony Blair leaves office and Gordon Brown moves into 10 Downing Street. He inherits a Britain in a much better state than 1997. It is a better place to live then it was then.

Gordon's' new cabinet shows that he's preparing for the next ten years. Interesting to see Shaun Woodward in the cabinet and the promotions of James Purnel and Andy Durham are welcome rewards for talent and hard work. Good to see Hazel at Communities and Local Government - her experience in Salford will stand her in good stead.

Nice to see John Denham back and I thought the appointment of Jacqui Smith as home Secretary was inspired. Very competent but re-assuring as well - and a very nice person. (Personally I just hope she's not as keen on ID cards as the press suggest.)

Most of the messages about the first few days look good - the only mistake was not to find a role for Stuart Pearce in the Ministry of Sport.