Wednesday, April 15, 2009

It's not cheating to run a good campaign

Journalist John Harris has many admirable qualities. For example, he once wrote a long article in the Guardian about how great my friends in Oxford are.

However, he is also capable of writing some terrible rubbish, like today's article, which tells the Terrible Tale of the latest Blairite Stitch Up.

Erith and Thamesmead are choosing their parliamentary candidate for the next election, and the Blairites are apparently supporting Georgia Gould. Apparently, her supporters are doing shocking and devious things like encouraging Labour Party members to vote in the selection and producing leaflets to support her. This is kind of like cheating, apparently, because it might look bad to unspecified members of the general public (this is actually Harris' argument).

In a super classy way, John Harris also manages to find space to repeat all the smears about Georgia which he has read on the internet and not managed to find any actual evidence for (this is in the same article as his condemnation of Damien McBride for, um, passing on smears about his political opponents).

I'm not a Blairite, but I have met and campaigned with Georgia and I think that she will make an excellent MP. Harris mentions that Erith and Thamesmead only has 279 members. If they select Georgia as their candidate, then she will be able to use her extensive experience from campaigning in Mitcham and Morden and Oxford East (two constituencies where the local Labour party is very active, and where she has spent a lot of time over several years volunteering as a campaign organiser) to make sure that the local party spends its time getting new people involved, and in keeping in touch with local people, listening to them and helping with their problems. Those are exactly the skills which, in my view, any constituency with a large majority but a small membership should be looking for when choosing their parliamentary candidate.

It would also be good if we could kill off this idea that it is somehow cheating for aspiring parliamentary candidates to encourage members to vote in selection processes, or to produce effective campaigning leaflets. These are exactly the campaigning skills that we need Labour candidates to have, and are far more useful than, say, the ability to make a speech in a room full of activists. John Harris should know this, because my friends in Oxford explained it to him last year very patiently and clearly, and he wrote it all down for his article in the Guardian. But he's obviously forgotten it.

There is an ocean of difference between bright, committed young Labour activists like Georgia Gould and poisonous individuals like Damien McBride or other members of the Nasty Party Tendency. In contrast, there is no meaningful difference at all between New Labour spin doctors briefing against their political opponents and self-proclaimed left-wing journalists repeating smears that they've read on the internet against their political opponents.


At 10:31 am , Blogger Matt Sellwood said...

I don't know, I'm quite in favour of you lot outlawing effective campaigning. Sound idea, that man!


At 11:54 am , Anonymous Paul said...


I think the thing that J Harris does not pick up, in what I agree is a very lazy piece of journalism, is the detailed issue, - easy enough to find out about on the web if you bother to click the mouse a few more times - of whether in fact Georgia is technically cheating (perhaps not even having realised it, I wouldn't know).

To be precise, if you go over to a commenter at Grimmer Up North (the blog of Susan Press, who has just been defeated by postal votes in the PPC process for Calder Valley), someone who has acted as Porcedures Secretary quotes in full the rules as they pertain to postal votes:

'Postal votes shall only be granted to those who are unable to attend a hustings meeting - not to those who choose not to attend. Postal votes will be granted for those who cannot attend due to a medical condition, cannot make reasonable travel arrangements, are away on holiday, have work commitments or caring responsibilities or any other appropriate reason for non-attendance at the hustings as agreed by the NEC designate representative. They will not be made available to those choosing to undertake other engagements unless they are candidates for selection in this process.'


'No shortlisted nominee or any person acting on behalf of a nominee should benefit from interference in the process of applications for, or the issue and return of, postal votes. Any evidence of such interference may lead to the disqualification of the nominee concerned.'

I have no way of knowing right now whether these rules quoted are in force for the Erith selection, but assuming for a second that they are, then may be a prima facie case for the prosecution.

In general terms, I agree with you. Campaiging skill and vitality, including securing postal votes, is an important indication of the quality of a candidate. However, if these are the rules - somewhat archaic as they may be (I do not side with the argument, in a non-public meeting age, that public hustings should be the key vote determinant, for example) - these are the rules and they need to be kept to until they are changed through due Labour party process (don't get me started...).

So I have nothing against Georgia, and certainly she' ll not be the only person to have been 'flexible' with the postal vote rulings if that is what she is being (don't get me started...), and I know I might come over as a petty bureaucrat, but if she has broken the (quite difficult to interpret) rules, she should be disqualified. After all, there's plenty of HoC rules to abide by, and which if you break you do your party a big disservice, so it's only logical.

Of course, the same goes for Ms booth in Calder Valley, though I note the integrity with which Susan Press is acting, refusing to cry foul even under pressure from some of her local members and others to do so. Well done her, I say.

At 1:02 pm , Anonymous tim f said...

The last point Paul makes is important and should be noted by those who accuse Susan of disloyalty to the Party - Susan's much more loyal than the kind of people who are only loyal when it suits their own aspirations.

I do disagree with her and agree with Dan on the issue at hand, though. If a candidate can mobilise a team of people to knock on doors, encourage postal vote take-up where that is legitimate and disseminate effective literature about their qualities, that candidate is likely to be able to do that when there's a general election on too.

We only need look at Crewe for an example of a relatively left-wing Labour MP (compared to the current crop) rooted in her community and with a huge personal vote, who didn't believe in voter id or building a proper campaigning organisation. Because of her personal qualities and long standing in the community she was able to keep the seat while she lived, but after she died the seat reverted to its traditional Tory bias.

I'd also add that the refusal by some people on the left to get supporters signed up to postal votes frustrates me. There are bound to be plenty of people who support each candidate in an election who can't get to the hustings for legitimate reasons. So why not go and seek people out, persuade them to vote for you and be forward in offering them a postal vote if their circumstances fit.

I'm leaning towards the idea that it would be better if the current restrictions were lifted, and anyone could get a postal vote regardless of their reason for not attending the hustings meeting. Postal vote applications could be sent out with notice of the hustings meeting to avoid extra cost. (Or even ballot papers, provided sufficient arrangements were made eg numbering of envelopes to make sure people couldn't vote twice.)

At 1:56 pm , Blogger susan press said...

I have now taken part in two Parliamentary selections. I was defeated in one at a traditional hustings and in my home constituency by postal votes. And I do not agree at all that it is legitimate to go round hoovering up as many PVs as you can.
The rules state clearly they are only supposed to be for specific circumstances
The calder Valley selection was a re-run following a smear campaign orchestrated by Labour Party members which meant my opponent, who lost first time round, had had seven months to work the constituency.I had a week (literally) to contact potential postal voters.
There was so much bitterness around the process that many members chose not to take part at all. Not a good strategy but understandable
Before I entered the hustings meeting, I knew i had lost. A third of the constituency had voted by post. And it's NOT acceptable. Nor is it a level playing-field.
Under LP rules, candidates are not allowed to attend nomination meetings and speak to members. Yet meetings of a handful of people still decide who to nominate purely on the basis of a paper cv. In short, in the only opportunity I got to address the CLP, I got two-thirds of the vote. The postal votes, 73 to 17, rendered the hustings a farce.
My Branch, the biggest by far in the constituency, is calling for an enquiry and they are right to do so.I've spent 30 years in the LP campaigning and did the best leaflet I could afford with a first-class graphic designer.
Fortunately I'm a journalist so didn't have to shell out for a consultancy or speechwriter - as now seems to be the norm
Georgia Gould, I understand, also has the resources to come up with a 20-page colour brochure. What chance does that give to candidates with modest incomes ? As I said in my campaign leaflet, we need more MPs with ordinary work and life experience. Sadly, under the current system, the chances of getting them are very very slim.
Unless we tighten up the postal votes procedure, which is open to abuse, that will continue to be the case. I have spoken to people in Erith and Thamesmead, and i hope they will have the sense to elect a candidate with a track-record in the constituency - and someone who has done an ordinary job. Not yet another member of the elite

At 2:21 pm , Anonymous tim f said...

Susan, my comment above isn't intended to be a criticism of your campaign.

Your circumstances were highly unusual, partly because of the overlap with another selection you were standing in and partly because it was a re-run. (As I don't know anything about the circumstances of the first election I'm inclined to go with your account of it.) I'm addressing the situation of a more normal selection, like the Erith one.

I don't know whether it's legal, but I think it ought to be allowed to seek donations for selection campaigns, eg from trade union branches. And I agree that there should be no bar on candidates speaking to branches before they nominate (although clearly if one candidate is to do so, all ought to be invited).

I do think you're wrong to focus on the postal element, though. Our selection procedure could be improved - but let's do it in a way that opens it up (eg by allowing postal votes for any reason, so left candidates felt no stigma to campaigning to increase them) rather than closing it down.

I remain convinced that with decent organisation and networking left candidates stand as much chance of winning selections as Blairite candidates.

At 2:40 pm , Blogger susan press said...

Tim, no, left-wingers don't stand an equal chance. I had the best political CV, the best speech, the best ability to answer questions on the night .But I did not have the machine working for me, nor the money to throw at endless mail-outs. I did what I could in very difficult circumstances which, as you say, were pretty extraordinary.
When push tomes to shove union backing - and the money that goes with it - is what clinches it all in most CLPs. I wasn;t even asked to attend the nomination meetings ( if there were any) by the trade unions and have a go. UNITE actively intervened and circulated most of the CLP telling people not to vote for me.One of the reasons why we're asking for an inquiry
Janet OOsthuysen, who tried before me , DID win despite all the above difficulties. A real victory. But then she got stitched up with a smear campaign. How many new left MPs were elected at the last election? I can think of two. Katy Clark and Linda Riordan.
I wish you were right but my experience sadly is that it is much harder than i could ever have imagined . I hope others prove me wrong - becasue we desperately need more Mps who are independently-minded

At 6:46 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 12:40 am , Anonymous Daniel Blaney said...

I'm with Susan Press on this one. This original blog post made an easy attack on John Harris, an over-rated journalist.

There are two issues.

1. The Rules. Who obeys them? Who enforces them? Who blatantly breaches them and gets away with it? Who is accused, sometimes on a fabrication, of a technical breach and excluded/smeared?

2. The Politics. The last thing the PLP needs is an inexperienced Blairite in his/her 20s. The PLP needs members with good politics, integrity, guts and ten tonnes more experience of the real world.

At 4:52 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good of you to condemn nasty personal attacks on Miss Gould, but I would have thought you'd have linked this selection story to your previous posts about the importance of encouraging Labour candidates from a diverse range of backgrounds whose life stories connect more with voters. Gould may be a terrific campaigner, and that's great, but her connections to Labour's elite are clearly helping her and her CV is basically: got to Oxford, doing a masters at LSE, working for Blair's faith foundation. I don't want to belittle those achievements at all but we really don't need any more candidates that are so obviously immersed in an elite political bubble. Can't we find people who have maybe struggled in their lives a little bit more to step up as parliamentary representatives? Couldn't Gould try her hand at being a councillor for a bit before taking on the massive responsibilities of being an MP at so young an age?

At 2:02 pm , Blogger Duncan Hall said...

Tim - I don't really understand your point. Whatever you would like the rules to be, it can't be fair for the existing rules to be inconsistently followed and implemented now. There is room for a debate about any changes to the rules, in the mean-time some candidates follow the rules (and the code of conduct that they are all provided with which is equally clear) and some do not. Some procedures secretaries follow the rules (and the code of conduct that they are all provided with which again is equally clear) and others do not. Whether those rules and codes of conduct are the best rules possible, are out-of-date, need changing - surely all that is beside the point at the moment: some people follow the rules, and you shouldn't be disadvantaged by not breaking the rules! On that basis there are two close selections I could have won that I didn't (in both cases, as far as I know, everyone followed the rules, so I was not disadvantaged, but I could have given myself an advantage had I not assumed the Code of Conduct was intended to be taken seriously). Yet I can't help but suspect that, had I gone PV-farming, somebody in the regional office may well have recollected the rulebook in a way that doesn't happen if you're related to one of the founders of New Labour. Or are matey with Charlie Whelan.

At 2:19 pm , Anonymous tim f said...

Duncan, I agree that it's unfair for existing rules to be inconsistently applied. But there's no point commenting on that as I haven't direct experience of the Erith selection and can't say whether they have been or not. And I don't trust the allegations in the national newspapers.

Frankly if we liberalised the postal vote procedures it'd make it fairer for everyone - one consequence would be it'd be less ambiguous as to whether someone had acted within the rules or not.

At 2:19 pm , Anonymous tim f said...

And you won't often get me arguing for liberalisation!

At 2:45 pm , Blogger Duncan Hall said...

I probably agree that the procedure needs changing - primarily because people seem to breaking the rules all over the place! However, while I'd normally be suspicious of allegations in national newspapers, I'm pretty confident that the rules were breached in Erith and Thamesmead (before the more obvious breach committed at Labour HQ - how bizarre?); I don't doubt that this was done, not because an individual was cheating, but because some people in the party have stopped following the rules (for all the reasons you gave earlier). They may or may not be right that there rules need changing (personally I think there's a lot to be said for members seeing the candidates take questions altogether, but I hate to seem like an anachronism!) - but even if one candidate has followed the rules as written then the selection was already unfair.

At 7:51 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

We need to use anti terrorism laws to find out, bring in MI5 perhaps even MI6 or those coppers who hide their ID numbers to stop anyone knowing who they are , they would rough up the lefties, and stop them moaning about cheating, Brownies will win, well except the next election.

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