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

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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

The Future of LGBT Labour

I joined the Labour Party in 2008. This was before I was prepared to accept my sexuality. I have now come to realise that it was joining the Labour Party, and learning of all of Labour’s achievements in Government in striving for sexual equality that helped me on my way in accepting myself. Being proudly gay and proudly a member of the Labour Party can and should be mutually reinforcing. I will always be thankful to Labour for this.

Whilst we can look back proudly on all Labour achieved in equality – and there is no need to list these here – ending legislative homophobia is not the same as ending homophobia engrained in society. Top-down measures can only work so far. Greater acceptance of homosexuality as being ‘equal but different’ to heterosexuality can only be achieved through increased exposure of what it is to be gay, i.e., being capable of loving someone of the same sex. At its most basic this can include couples walking down the street holding hands. Unfortunately, we are not yet at a stage where this simple statement of homosexuality is uncontroversial. There is still a need for gay couples to act as pioneers. I can speak from experience that some members of society are not ready to witness such sights.

Labour is at its best when fighting for the rights of minorities within society, championing the fundamental need for equality. However, whilst I am well aware that homophobia remains an issue, the greatest issue of inequality relates to income. The lack of equal opportunity in the world of work adversely affects women, the BME community and disabled people more than it does the LGBT community. With this in mind, the LGBT Labour needs to rally round and support those who also fall under the umbrella term ‘minority’. Liberation Campaigns and caucuses are vital in recognising and celebrating our differences (note the very discourse of the word ‘Pride’ in our annual Pride Marches, and the rightful presence of Labour at these marches), but our shared difficulties and experiences need to be at the forefront of our campaigns.

This is, I believe, should be the next step of LGBT Labour in Britain, standing up for the voiceless in society, speaking for those adversely affected by the Government’s draconian and ill-balanced cuts. Even if we do not self-define as members of a particular caucus, Labour needs to unite and continue the fight for equal opportunity for all.

By Dan Harrison, Outgoing BULS Chair

Fourth by-election on the trot

That’s right, four by-election victories on the trot. Yes, all these were in Labour held seats, but it’s important how every single one has seen a significant swing towards Labour each time. The results were as follows:

Labour – 12,639 (54.42% up by 10.79%)

Conservative – 6,436 (27.71% down by 6.32%)

Liberal Democrats – 1,364 (5.87 down by 7.87%)

UKIP – 1,276 (5.49& up by 3.45%)

This has seen a 8.6% swing from Tory to Labour, when compared to the last general election which saw a mere 4.8% swing from Labour to Tory. Yes, the turnout was very low, but what do you expect at this time of year?

Either way, great result!

Max

An Englishman’s Home is… beyond his wildest dreams

For some reason, going back into the mists of time, the British people have an obsession with private home ownership, even though most of us should technically never be able to afford one without borrowing. In Continental Europe, people are far more satisfied to rent, either from private landlords or more ‘trustworthy’ institutions – maybe there is some correlation between these statistics and the lower levels of stress and dissatisfaction there compared to the UK.

Nevertheless, we are where we are, and there is no going back on the ‘Right to Buy’ scheme introduced by Margaret Thatcher in 1981 however much we might want to reverse it (indeed, many of us may actually agree with it, being as it was extremely popular with the low paid, who for the first time had a stake in their council homes and some sense of freedom, however delusional). What we have now is a housing crisis coming at the worst possible time, during a dire economic climate caused by sub-prime mortgages themselves.

Tensions over housing and its’ availability have an effect on many areas of life, including levels of antagonism towards immigrants, the environment, growth, inequality in our cities, personal debt, and of course the Daily Mail and Daily Express front pages. We need to deal with this timebomb if we are to stem a rise in far-right politics and avoid a lost generation of young people. However, worryingly this government is going about it completely the wrong way.

Not only has it made squatting illegal when there are more empty properties than there are homeless people in this country, but it has appallingly placed a cap on housing benefit, effectively pricing the poor out of our capital city and entire swathes of the country – those parts of the country which have job vacancies. The government is slashing the public sector and saddling young people who go to university with ever higher debt, meaning their chances of even being able to look forward to putting down a deposit are negligible.

What our housing market needs is a Keynesian-style investment in house building and construction; not only would this lower house prices for first-time buyers, but it would also ease tensions in the community and increase demand in the economy generally, leading to growth and the beginning of the end of the deficit that the ConDems love to remind us about so much. As a bonus, it would even lead to a return of Location Location Location to our TV screens. Gordon Brown’s plan before the proverbial shit hit the fan in 2007 was to build 3 million new homes – we need this sort of commitment now, coupled with a healthy proliferation of 1940s-inspired New Towns (hopefully better designed than the likes of Milton Keynes) and more social housing. Today’s announcement from Cameron and Clegg about guaranteeing 95% mortgages may look like a repetition of exactly what went wrong in the first place, but should not be dismissed entirely, as it is the taxpayer, not the banks, helping first-time buyers, and there is real potential for an increase in demand as a result.

However it goes nowhere near far enough. If we can’t get people to fall out of love with the owner-occupier dream, then we need to build, build, build, spending more money in the short term to get us out of the mess in the long term.

A great year for Irish Labour

Michael D Higgins, of the Irish Labour party, is set to be confirmed as Ireland's ninth president. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA

Michael D Higgins and Eamon Gilmore will now go down in History as two of the Irish Labour Party’s electorally successful Politicians. It was announced today that Michael D Higgins is to be elected the 9th President of Ireland receiving almost 40% of the first preference votes. This will make him the first ever Labour Presidential Candidate to have become President without the support of from other parties.

Of course this adds to the great success Irish Labour received in the Irish General Election last May where Eamon Gilmore led Labour to its largest number of seats in the Irish Parliament ever. This meant Labour has entered its 8th time in a Coalition Government where it takes up 8 out of the 20 Cabinet posts.

On behalf of all of us in Birmingham University Labour Students (BULS) I would like to wish our sister party across the Irish Sea a huge congratulations on the results they’ve had this year. And we hope the best is yet to come.

Max