Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Friendly fire

I suppose Labour Party members will have to get used to candidates for the leadership/deputy leadership taking lumps out of each other over the next few months. Dragging the Party down too in order to boost their chances however is unforgiveable.

Somewhere within MP John Cruddas' news item this morning is a positive point about the need to significantly increase Labour Party menbership. Shame then he had to give the Labour-hating media a free hit by suggesting that on current trends there would be no LP members left by 2013.

It's a crackers statistic, as Hazel Blears had to point out in rebuttal on BBC news this morning - in fact LP membership has stabilised over the last two years. The last time I heard year-on-year membership figures for Darlington CLP, our numbers were actually up.

John Cruddas seems to be a hard-working and likeable MP whose central message about building from the grassroots is essentially correct. Maybe he can make that point in the future without handing ammuniation to the opposition.


Jo said...

Dear Nick, if you think there's a way to talk about difficult party issues without them being hijacked by the press I'm sure many disillusioned party members who don't want us to end in oppostion would be very grateful. The truth is that, like it or not, what Jon Cruddas is saying needs to be said. He is right. If the leadership doesn't start to recognise that local parties are dying and continues ignoring members there will be no fourth, fifth or sixth Labour term - in fact, there won't be another Labour term for years to come - a waste of the 30s and 40s generation currently coming through. This is the elephant in the room and it's about time Blears and co acknowledged it. I am glad that at least one Deputy Leadership candidate, Jon Cruddas, actually has the balls to say what many members on the ground have been saying for a very long time.

Darlington Councillor said...

I think everybody would agree that local parties need invigorating - the question is how to make that point without sensationalising the problem. I'm afraid that what John Cruddas did today with his ridiculous prediction that the Party will have no members by 2013.

I suspect that all the leadership contenders will sign up to a programme to revive the grassroots. The challenge will be how that is effected when money is so tight - we've lost this year's Spring Conference for example. A lot rests with an effective National Policy Forum, and so further savings at the expense of this body would in my opinion be very short-sighted indeed.

nick said...

Cruddas obviously did not predict that the party would *actually* run out of members in 2013, he just pointed out that would be the result of a continuing decline at the same rate that we have seen since the start of 2000.

As for the statistics, of course the number of people leaving has declined - there are less people left in the party, so the numbers will be lower even if the proportion remains the same.

As a CLP Secretary I see the membership figures every month and even this year there were issues - particularly health and education - which caused people who'd stayed through the war and everything to resign. We've improved our efforts to retain lapsers and the like but that's only partially stemming the flow.

As to that being ammunition for our opponents, I'd be surprised if you could find many examples of our opponents commenting on party membership levels. Indeed, it appears that you think our opposition are the media, but it's impossible to have any kind of national debate, certainly of the sort necessary for a leadership election, with using at least the BBC.

The leadership elections should be a chance to have an honest look at the party and our problems, discuss the solutions, and elect people to put them in to place. If we try to simply carry on without doing any of that, then I suggest that we'll lose even more members as a result.

Darlington Councillor said...

Without wanting to flog a dead horse, he repeated the same line about no members by 2013 on trends since 2000 in the Times this morning without any qualification. It suggests that John Cruddas is just as prepared to play fast and loose with the facts as anyone else. Good for headlines but not so great for anyone wanting to understand the true picture.

Reading the Times and Guardian pieces, I was alarmed by one of his proposed “solutions” which is to remove the Party’s focus entirely away from the key marginal seats we have to defend in order to stay in power at the next election – he spoke disparagingly of the leaflet “precision bombing” swing voters in one interview.

I appreciate that it’s easy to disparage many of the trends that have been picked up from American politics. If Cruddas is a serious contender for the Deputy Leadership, rather than a lightning conductor for the disaffected left however, is he really advocating we abandon our work in the marginals in favour of consolidation in the safer seats we hold. I can understand how that would play well amongst some of the membership in the heartlands, but is it a serious recipe for electoral success? For sure, if we withdraw, the Tories and LibDem will continue with their “precision bombing” to devastating effect.

By all means let’s have an open debate as the contenders become clearer, because what I have heard from John Cruddas so far does not suggest he can take the Party forward

Jane said...

So, who in your opinion, can? Don't agree with you. Our heartlands have been abandoned so voters living in them are now abandoning us.

nick said...

I read those articles and it read to me like he was just issuing a warning that this was an issue we do need to address in the debates over our leadership this year. I think he's right.

Sure, he took a particularly stark statistic to illustrate the point but I don't think he did so in a particularly misleading way.

Nor did he suggest that we abandon marginal seats - that seems like a wilfully malign interpretation of his remarks to me.

I think that you just want to pretend everything's fine and carry on as we are. That's fine but say what you mean - for me, "one more heave" just won't do.

james said...

I think that when Cruddas talks about "precision bombing" he's referring to the idea that you can replace local campaigns by real people with centrally directed marketing techniques like direct mail, emails, phone calls from national call centres and the like.

He's obviously not suggesting that we completely give up on marginal seats and go back to our heartlands. However, I think it's right to bear in mind that today's ignored safe seat is tomorrow's Lib Dem or BNP target. We need active campaigns in both.

I'd suggest reading that booklet Cruddas wrote if you want to get a proper idea of where he's coming from rather than rely on whatever snippets the press have decided to use.

Ian White said...

I caught the tail end of that program about Labour dwindling, It is no secret its all over the townliar that I have been a Labour man all my voting life, but its all gone wrong it will take nothing short of a miracle to get me to vote Labour again!
Look no further than Cllr Williams to answer the question why Labour is so unpopular within D,ton.
Thats not meant as a townliar swipe at him but a genuine critisism and if thats how things are all over May could be a bleak one.

Darlington Councillor said...

Thanks for the comment James. You're right, I haven't read Cruddas' Compass piece. I think in the current climate, successful political parties need to combine techniques developed in the US such as direct mail with more tried and tested methods. I spent some time at the Hartlepool By-Election, and the combination worked very effectively.

I guess what Cruddas is trying to signal is how he is different from the other potential challengers for the Deputy Leadership. Choosing to give broad hints that the marginals should somehow be less significant in our list of campaigning priorities just seems to me to be plain daft, which is why his press work over Christmas seemed to me to have backfired on him.

I think I would have more confidence in Cruddas' homilies on local campaigning if it wasn't in his constituency that the BNP have made such startling progress. I appreciate that there will probably be complex reasons why this has happened, but what role has he been playing over the last few years? MP's have to show leadership, and can't simply blame the centre when the oppostion make big gains.

Ian - John has led Labour to five thumping election victories since 1991. He is I think the longest-serving and most successful Labour local government Leader in the North East. Without rehearsing old arguments, we'll be campaigning on the huge improvements to Darlington's economy, education, roads and leisure. I'm not sure how attempts by the opposition to try and play on personalities will work next May.

Ian White said...

These issues you will be campaigning on.

The Huge improvement that is the detested pedestrian heart?
The Huge improvement to education being ..the Hurworth debacle?
The Huge improvement to roads being?.... stuck on that one, havent seen any major ones, still traffic backed up all over.
The huge improvement to leisure being the much critisised workmanship at the Dolphin Centre (not astheticly)and a substandard heating system?

OH yes of course your leader under investigation regarding the other major fiasco in town TESCO's!

Just glad you have so many good points as a foundation for Labour's next term.

Darlington Councillor said...

That's a rather jaundiced approach, Ian - you can be sure our election material will be perkier!

Thomas said...

There is one BNP councillor in Jon Cruddas' constituency.

I think you might have made have made this mistake by looking at Govt Minister Margeret Hodge's seat where there are 11 BNP councillors - it is next door to Cruddas' constituency.

It is an easy mistake to make when trying to score cheap points.