Labour’s best local election result since 1995 and the Tories’ worst since 1996, yeah, we’ll take that

Labour leader Ed Miliband with Labour Group leader Sir Albert Bore

Ed Miliband in Birmingham yesterday with Birmingham Council Labour Group leader, Sir Albert Bore

That’s right, throughout Friday Labour saw it’s best performance in a local election since 1995 (all in proportion to how many Council elections were up for grabs as last year we gained more but far more were up for grabs). And similarly the Tories saw their worst local election result since 1996 and the Lib Dems now have dropped down below 3,000 councillors for the first time in the party’s existence.

This was a result that exceeded everyone’s expectations on all fronts. With most Tories attempting to spin the result to say we needed around 450 councillor gains to be seen as a success, we only smashed that with 823! When everyone expected Scottish Labour to lose Glasgow City Council we not only fought off a SNP challenge but took control of the council at the expense of the Lib Dems and Tories. When everyone said Labour would only win a slight majority in our very own Birmingham City Council, we smashed all expectations by gaining 20 councillors and winning a 34 seat majority. When it was expected Welsh Labour would fail in taking Cardiff City Council, we defied all predictions by gaining 33 councillors and winning a majority of 17! And we’re very proud of very nearly almost gaining control of the Greater London Assembly, falling short by 1 Assembly member.

This election wasn’t without its disappointments though. BULS’s very own Honourary life Member, Dennis Minnis, was unsuccessful in taking Edgbaston. And biggest of all, huge disappointment at Ken’s defeat. We are all glad Ken did defy most  (but not all, sadly) odds by not letting Boris have a shoe-in election by pushing the margin on the second round to a close 3%. Many Tories see Boris as the next leader and Prime Minister in waiting. “Wiff-waff” may well have edged it in London, don’t expect the country to do the same.

Of course, the results did see successes close to our hearts in BULS. Obviously there was turning Birmingham City Council red, but BULS saw former student of the University of Birmingham, Karen McCarthy, join former BULS Secretary, Brigid Jones, as a Councillor for Selly Oak. Quinton ward, where Grandee Nash played a large hand in, was also successful in electing Caroline Bradley.

All in all, while this was a brilliant result for Labour nationally we have to remember this has happened to opposition parties in the past. Hague, Howard and Kinnock all saw similar successes at mid-term local elections in their time in opposition. This was a much needed boost, not a prelude for the general election. Though it is safe to say, that the media, politicians and the wider public can no longer claim Miliband has no chance at 2015. There’s still a hell of a lot of work to be done, but we now know that we still do have a shot at 2015.

Max

BULS Supporting Michael Chessum to be VPHE of NUS

Following careful consideration, BULS has decided to support Michael Chessum’s campaign to be VPHE of NUS and we ask Birmingham delegates and Labour students nationally to do the same. We believe that Michael is the most competent candidate, and will achieve the most for students now, and in the future.

He has been the only candidate to continuously fight against the Tories’ fee regime and its further marketisation of our education system. Michael has been instrumental inthe organising of two national demonstrations, mobilising thousands of students across the country. Such demonstrations proved highly successful, gaining the support of Labour Students, and the general student population, nationally.

As Labour students we should be fighting against the current coalition government’s outrageous, and damaging, policies concerning higher education fees and their on-going commitment to severe austerity measures. Education is a public good and, at Birmingham, we believe that education should be universally accessible and publically funded. Michael Chessum is the only candidate for VPHE who we believe shares our values and will fight to defend them.

Furthermore, Michael is the only candidate committed to opposing Theresa May’s regressive and racist visa changes, which will have a detrimental effect on International Students who contribute so much to our higher education institutions and country as a whole.

Michael’s past record shows that he knows when and how to use direct action tactics, whilst his pivotal role in founding NCAFC proves his dedication to fighting the government’s austerity measures.

We need a VP Higher Education that will offer a robust defence against the coalition’s stark attacks on education. We wholeheartedly believe it is time to put factional divides behind us and unite in our support for Chessum, as the candidate most able to deliver.

Catie, Ed, Ellis, Areeq, Alex, Sam and Dan

Local elections: our candidates

As we all know, the London mayoral election is quickly approaching. The two front-runners, and perhaps the candidates who are of most importance to us Labour lot, are well known: Ken Livingstone, the famous collector of lizards, and Boris Johnson, the living incarnation of a 15th century duke.

However, whilst these candidates have received plenty of media coverage, it remains that others have been pushed into the background. So what I want to – very briefly – highlight, are a couple of local council candidates in Birmingham.

BULS has, in the last year, been very active in the local area. Last year, Edgbaston council candidate Dennis Minnis lost by only 21 votes. This year, he is standing again, and BULS has been behind him 100%. A few weeks ago, a few of us went out on a Saturday to talk to local residents with Dennis. As we were walking down Charlotte Road (not too far from the Vale), Dennis told us that in the early 1990s, he won a large redevelopment fund for the street. Before, he said, there were partially deserted and dilapidated high rise buildings. These tower blocks are now gone, and the street looks entirely different (there’s even a nice playground there, where Catie Garner, our incoming Chair, got very distracted with the shiny swing sets). Dennis is incredibly passionate about his local community, and this is just one example of the astounding work that he has done in the past.

Another candidate who I would like to quickly mention is Elaine Williams, the council candidate for Harborne ward. Unlike Dennis, she has never been a councillor before, but is by no means any less passionate. I met Elaine last October, and have been out campaigning for her ever since. Recently, she wrote in Harbone Local News about the local elections (http://www.harbornenews.com/April2012/index.html). On page 15, she talks about the work she has done in the last few months for Harborne. One point she highlights concerns the sale of the Clock Tower on Harborne High Street, a former local community centre. In short, the grade II listed building was in need of repair, and the local Tories commissioned the erection of scaffolding on the building. Along with James McKay, the only Labour councillor in Harborne, Elaine found through an FOI request that the scaffolding cost around £12,000 a week. They then subsequently found an alternative quote of £2,000 a week, which was ignored by the Tories. Within no time, the debt quickly amounted to around £800,000. Recently, the centre was sold for £100,000, effectively meaning that £700,000 of local taxpayers’ money was lost. As James said in a radio interview, you’d be hard pressed to find a flat for £100,000 in the centre of Harborne, let alone a grade II listed building.

It’s also worth having a look at this – http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/harborne_clock_tower_sale_price?unfold=1 – to see more about the work she’s done regarding the Clock Tower (scandal). 

As one of the most talked about issues in Harborne, Elaine has been at the forefront of the debate. Like Dennis, she has been passionate about local issues, and would no doubt do a fantastic job as Harborne’s second Labour councillor.

This is my first blog, and as boring as it might be, I really wanted to highlight this issue. Whilst other political issues like the London mayoral election and the Birmingham Mayoral referendum are at the forefront of the news, dedicated individuals like Dennis and Elaine are hardly talked about. Of course, I’m not surprised, but I wanted this rant to provide some needed attention to our local candidates. It’s easy for these candidates to be lost in the political mix, but with the local elections dawning on Thursday 3rd May, I wanted to quickly show that councillors can make a difference, and that these candidates will make a difference if elected.

By Ed Gilbert, Vice-Chair-elect

Speech for David Miliband event

The Dear Leader has requested that his speech from David Miliband’s launch for the Living Wage Campaign at the University of Birmingham from the 28th October be published:

Hello and welcome to Birmingham University Labour Students launch of the Living Wage Campaign with David Miliband. I’m Daniel and I’m Chair of Birmingham University Labour Students.

Many of us in this room are members of National Labour Students, and I hope many others are soon to become members. I believe that National Labour Students are a really important wing of the Labour Party; in mobilising for Labour at elections, hosting national events and workshops, but most importantly National Labour Students proud history of campaigning, against the extortionate rise in tuition fees, in the liberation campaigns, fighting for the rights of women, disabled students, LGBT students and BAME students, rights that other students may take for granted. And now in the Living Wage Campaign, taking place on campuses across the country in Kent, Cambridge, Leeds and Leicester, and today starting here in Birmingham.

The Living Wage is the minimum hourly rate someone has to earn to afford everyday basics like housing, food, childcare. A wage as the name suggests, that you can live on, not merely exist.

In London the current rate is £8.30 an hour. In Birmingham the current rate is £7.20.  £7.20 is a target that is not only morally right, but financially achievable.

I am proud to be a member of a party who when in office introduced the National Minimum Wage. This was a huge step. The Tories said it was economically unsound. It wasn’t. The Tories said it would cost jobs. It didn’t. The same arguments are made against the Living Wage.

It is great to see in the room…

Now, I know David doesn’t need much of an introduction. David was elected to Parliament for South Shields in 2001, and in 2006 was Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs where he oversaw the Climate Change Bill, before becoming the Foreign Secretary in 2007. But more important than that, Political Top Trumps gives him a ‘fanciability’ of 84.

Boys and Girls, David Miliband.

They Just Don’t Get It

I’ve now returned to Birmingham after a week in which the Coalition managed to look incompetent and shambolic as well as cruel. We’ve had Willetts admitting he is content to see poorer students having to settle for a degree at their local sixth form, rather than enjoying the full university experience; Norman Tebbit joining the near-univeral coalition against the NHS transformation; U-turns on defence spending and health to add to the growing list which includes school sports and buildings, forests, and even the Downing Street cat; and of course Nick Clegg. When he hasn’t been complaining that he is the nation’s ‘punchbag’ or facing criticism from his own son, he has been making some interesting comments about social mobility.

I am not going to slam the Deputy Prime Minister for having had a leg-up from his neighbour (a peer of the realm) in order to get an internship at a bank (it had to be a bank), because I challenge anyone reading this – assuming I have a readership – not to have seized the opportunity in the same way if they were in Nick’s position. A Labour party which wants social justice and equality of opportunity from birth should not be blaming someone for a background thay had no control over, and that even includes Cameron who had someone put a word in from Buck House. However, Clegg’s attempts at addressing the age-old problem of the ‘It’s who you know’ culture were embarrassing, coming at the same time this government is slashing Sure Start centres, EMA, univeristy budgets and allowing socially divisive ‘free’ schools to blossom up and down the country.

I spoke to people this week in the valleys who have Masters’ degrees who have spent over a year unemployed – young people with ambition, drive and what should be a promising career ahead of them. I overheard sixth form students on the bus complaining that they had not been accepted for any of their UCAS choices, despite the prediction of 4 As at A-level. I have personally had difficulty finding summer placements when I am not lucky enough to be able to work unpaid for six months in central London. Nick Clegg’s diagnosis was correct, but there is far more to it than setting an example to almost-bankrupt businesses by paying interns at Lib Dem HQ.

We need a new cultural shift in this country, brought about by government, where the disadvantaged are caught as soon as possible and at every stage of their lives are helped to gain the same opportunities as the better off. This should not involve positive discrimination or handouts, but should involve investment in our young people which other European countries manage while they bail out their neighbours, but we seem to think is unaffordable. A national internship scheme or national bursary programme, complementing investment in careers education (which at the moment is dire) to inform young people that they are just as talented and ambitious as the more privileged, and what opportunities are out there for the taking, is desperately needed. The underlying factors, such as affordable transport, need to be subsidised so someone who lives in the middle of nowhere with no ‘contacts’ can get work experience in a city near them.

There are important elections coming up in the devolved nations and local councils in England. Young people should be demanding better from the government and their local councils at the ballot box, and should express their dissatisfaction with the Coalition, which just doesn’t get it.

To AV or not to AV? That’s not the Question…

 

So the eagerly awaited and oh-so exciting AV referendum is now in sight, with Ed Miliband today setting out the Labour leadership’s opinion on one side, and many other Labour MPs and party members saying why they will be rejecting the proposal on the other. It does seem that the party is split down the middle – not a great position for an opposition party reassembling itself after electoral defeat. Incidentally, it is perhaps not the most shining example of ‘new politics’ or maturity when our leader refuses to unite with Nick Clegg because of his new status as Public Enemy Number One – surely there would be less cynicism in the electorate if we as an opposition party took each issue exclusively, instead of pointing the finger at the Tuition Fees Bogeyman.

The arguments for or against the Alternative Vote aside (I’m personally in the ‘Yes’ camp for want of something marginally further down the road to Proportional Representation), what strikes me the most after the disheartening advertising tactics of the ‘No’ camp (I’m sure you’ve seen the baby-in-incubator and soldier billboards) is the lack of interest amongst the wider electorate. Today I asked a friend of mine whether he had yet considered which way he would vote, and the reply was that it would make no difference to the political scene, so why should he bother? I wanted to answer his rebuttal, but found to my horror that I couldn’t. Whether or not we stick with First Past the Post or adopt AV will have little bearing on electoral outcomes on a national scale, only at constituency level (where AV would make elections far more interesting, as those who witnessed the Guild election results will testify), therefore the best we can hope for is the lesser of two evils, while those running for office continue to make vacuous or downright deceptive pledges in their election manifestos e.g. the marketisation of the NHS and tuition fees.

The real question on the ballot paper should not be ‘AV vs FPTP’, nor even the far more deomcratic ‘AV vs FPTP vs AV+ vs STV vs AMS…’, but something which reads less like a mathematical formula and more like a choice between two fundamental democratic frameworks that disillusioned voters can really get their teeth into. We need a choice over whether or not we want to overhaul the House of Lords (a process which has thus far taken a century); whether or not we want to de-throne and de-robe the monarchy; whether or not we want to reduce the stranglehold of the elites over our economy; in short, whether or not we want a new constitution. That is not to say the previous government had a gleaming record on constitutional affairs, although devolution and removal of hereditary peers were a good start. But by throwing a bone for the Lib Dem poodle in the form of a paltry referendum on AV, the Tories have got away with it again, whichever way we vote on May 5th.

Oldham thoughts

Given I’m one of BULS’s token few Northerners, I though it would be appropriate to have a blog on the upcoming by-election. Cautious confidence is probably the best way to describe Oldham East and Saddleworth. Already we have seen a number of polls from ICM and Populus showing Labour having a around 17% lead over the Lib Dems (with a surprising slump in support for the Tories). However, another  polling company, Survation, has recorded the Labour leader being 1&(!!). Labour are the bookies favourite to win, but, I cannot stress any less without doubt, not to slacked the momentum. This is the first time in years that the Lib Dems wont be all masterful in by-elections.

Throughout the entire campaign the Lib Dem candidate and Cleggy have been emphasising that this by-election is about selecting a new local MP. I’d have to agree that this is what it ought to be about, but since when have by-elections ever been about local issues?

Max