View from the Margins

Politics from a 'Marginal Constituency’ by Andy Reed

This feels a strange day. In normal circumstances news would be dominated by the announcement of a new Labour Leader. Quite rightly the special conference arranged for today was cancelled. So instead I sat at home refreshing my twitter feed like thousands of others across the country.

Keir Starmer – Labour’s new leader.

I actually stopped writing here at the end of 2019 after the disastrous December election defeat. Labour suffered its worst defeat since the 1930s yet there was little acknowledgement of how bad this was by the Corbyn leadership and the ‘outriders’. I thought he should have resigned and left immediately but we have had to endure the last few months with Jeremy still clinging on. The last few weeks have frankly been cringeworthy. As the leadership election took place I knew this was the final throw of the dice for Labour and so I have worked patiently backing candidates who will give us a fighting chance.

I had decided that if RLB or Burgeon had won today Labour would have collectively given up the hope of ever winning power again, and that was not a Party I wanted to be associated with. Today could easily have been my last day in the Labour Party. I am so pleased to say it isn’t.

I made it clear – as you could guess – that I would vote for the candidates best able to give us the chance to distance ourselves from the Corbyn era and who also best understood what it would take to win back the trust of the electorate lost over the last decade. For me that was Kier Starmer and to a lesser extent Lisa Nandy. For the deputy leadership for me that was Ian Murray and Rosena Allin-Khan. I went for a Starmer – Rosena ticket and actively campaigned for both.

Backing Rosena Allin-Khan on her visit to Loughborough

This blog has always been around to focus on how Labour wins these marginal seats like Loughborough that allow it to form a majority government. This will still remain the focus in the lead up to the next General Election. As a change of focus it will mean talking a lot more to people who voted for me but deserted Labour between 2010 and 2020, and what it will take to win them back. I will talk to businesses, charities and local communities about what sort of policies are needed from a viable opposition. This will be a local stories translated into national policy not the other way round.

Normal Politics Suspended

Because of the Coronavirus outbreak normal politics is obviously suspended for the time being. When we come out of this current crisis it is still too early to say what ‘normal’ will look like and how an opposition leader can make their mark. What were considered the ‘Big Issues’ in January now seem a long way from our current priorities. Surely we will have to revisit the Brexit timetable and priorities for a starter.

Over the coming weeks there will be moments worth commenting upon. When this current crisis is over I hope to write a little more about Labuor politics and what the country needs to rebuild. The idea that Labour has been written off for a decade seemed right in January. I am not so sure anymore that making predictions beyond a few weeks makes any sense anymore. As the governments handling of the Coronavirus comes under increasing scrutiny and some of these early mistakes are exposed the landscape may look very different.

Overall, today is a good day not just for Labour but for good government. I decent funcitoning opposition is vital in Parliament. If Keir is able to bring back some of the senior Labour MPs who are languishing on the backbenches this may happen.

So is Labour back in the Game? Well clearly today is too early to tell, but there is at least there is now hope! I am delighted. My energies will once again be put back into Labour politics and creating a fairer more just society.

Andy Reed – April 2020.

Last Saturday I wondered if it was worth covering the Cummings story because it looked like a Westminster Bubble/process story that political nerds like me enjoy but ‘real voters’ never really take any notice of!

Well I got that one wrong. What a week.

But as I write today Cummings in still in post and the government is unlocking the country against its own advice and tests it set itself. That’s the real story. Death rates are not at a level that warrant the opening up of the country.

The Cummings story cut through because there is a sense of fair play value amongst the public. If Cummings had even shown a little remorse or contrition in the extraordinary Rose Garden press conference we may have been able to move on. But instead he spent an hour confirming all the stories No10 claimed were untrue were in fact right and the concocted the ludicrous tale about testing his eyesight by driving 60 miles on his wife’s birthday to a Beauty spot with his child in the car. It was at this point I realised he was just playing the media and us for fools. It’s all a game to him. And the worst bit is it looks like Johnson needs him so badly he may just survive. I always think after 7 days the story has to lose its legs. Cummings holds everything in the world in contempt so he won’t care.

My LandRover App

One thing I have not understood or seen raised during this story is my theory on the LandRover APP. I have a similar car to Cummings – the Discovery. It comes with an App that allows me to see everything I need to know about the car and every journey I take. I can tell you where my car was and what journeys it took on the days that Cummings was taking about for example. It even tells you your fuel performance on the trip. For a data guy I can’t believe he doesn’t have access to this data from his car. So to claim he didn’t know if he stopped for petrol is nonsense. The app will show where the car stopped and for how long. It was another lie surely? I can also conform that there is no way I could get 500 miles out of the car on a single tank.

The impact has been real though. Polling throughout the week has shown the public have been really angry. And I mean genuine anger. Thousands of people who have endured genuine hardship and sacrificed funerals or contact with loved ones feel cheated by his arrogance and attitude. But that has cut through to Johnson and the Government ratings. Just wait for those number to get worse as the full facts about their incompetence leading to one of the highest death tolls in the world comes to light. Add onto all of this 3m unemployment figures and believe it or not – BREXIT still to come and the next 12 months look grim for the Johnson.

He was unsuited to being PM despite his lifelong ambition for the role. We are all paying the price for his ineptitude and the more conspiratorial stuff that Cummings and his friends are up to behind the scenes.

There is a good long read in the New Statesman on him. I have been sort of looking into him a bit more deeply than I would like for the Teaching I do at Cranfield Business School – helping senior civil servants on working with MPs and Ministers. When he took over I had to rewrite sections of my presentation. It is still a work in progress.

I think Starmer has done the right thing and allowing the Tory backbench to lead the revolt. It’s far more powerful than an opposition calling for a resignation.

I fear for the future more than I have done since the 1980s. Not for me but for the next generation as my children wonder if they will be at University or find a job after graduation this summer.

As I throw myself into the local roles on the LLEP and Loughborough Town deal for example, the figures and statistics of the impact make stark reading. To be fair the government interventions have helped stave off something that could have been even worse.

Only 5 months ago I was working with clients advising how to work against the backdrop of a stable Tory government with an 80 seat majority. I am rapidly looking at a different scenario when things return to some form of political reality and I do feel Starmer has put Labour back in the game by playing a steady and sensible hand throughout this period. The polling figures look solid enough if not exciting. But with 4 years to go I would prefer to see a long game being played at this stage!

I will return to the poor performance of the government. Yes it’s a difficult time and there are difficult decision to be made. But ideologically they have made choices over the economy v lockdown on which they will have to be judged on in due course.

Let’s see if Cummings in still in post this time next week – and what stories will have been lost/ hidden by the farce.

This weekend it’s now almost impossible to avoid talk of Dominic Cummings.

Photo by Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash

On Saturday morning with the Dominic Cummins story first breaking I thought I’d leave it alone as it seemed as though it may be just a bit of a process or Westminster bubble issue therefore not important in marginal swing voters in seats like Loughborough.

I know my own social media had gone crazy on Saturday, but I understand the size and scale of my own echo chamber and whilst the anger was palpable I wonder if it was still limited.

At that stage I started to look a little wider and would normally talk to people outside of my bubble. But with locked down this is increasingly difficult. I tried asking a few people that I know who aren’t political and all these sources helped me sense that something was different about this story.

By Sunday evening when the Prime Minister was at the Downing St press conference there was already a lot of momentum for him to take some action or even sack Dominic Cummings. But his performance was one of the worst piece of arrogance I witnessed by 30 years of politics. No hint of humidity or contrition. We sat at home and found ourselves shouting at the Downing Street ‘press conference’ Boris hides from week to wek and we can see why. He has been found out. AT PMQs he looks and sounds terrible and even in this format he looks lost and broken.

As usual there have been some fantastic articles detailing where, when , who and what happened but also some fantastic language in some of the links below from some of the better sketchwriters , so i won’t  to try to emulate or beat them at their game. Just read and enjoy the likes of John Crace!

Stephen Bush

Marting Kettle – By Backing Cummings, Johnson has laid bare his disdain for the British Public

John Crace – No dignity, no future: Boris forsakes leadership to protect Cummings

it does seem what this boils down to  two things. First, Cummins is a senior advisor to a government that has asked the country to lockdown and many people have followed for the letter and spirit of the law and regulations. He then clearly felt that these rules and las don’t apply to him. That part is bad enough and the excuse of looking after children doesn’t wash with literally hundreds of thousands of people who had to sacrifice family times, funerals, illnesses, birthdays etc over this last period. People have made sacrifices to follow these rules as social media and the news is highlighted over the last 24 hours. These people are angry.

However, it’s the second charge that makes this politically damaging. Cummings has traded on and elite versus the people as his trademark. He has natural contempt for the civil service the politicians for the media Europe and somehow he is manipulated these into general contempt for what is now known become as the elite (in my day this wasn’t the elite it was the Etonians that he’s looking after that were the elite!).

The problem is his contempt is universal. I think he probably has contempt for everybody, but Dominic Cummings and this episode has shone a sharp  light on his arrogance. We know he despises nearly everybody he has to work for. When this is seen as genius it is sometimes forgiven. Both him and Johnson have built up characters of themselves. The ‘Classic Dom’ or the Boris ‘Clown’.  I found myself even getting wound up by the way he was wafting away journalists outside his house with his notebook in the most contemptuous way it is possible to do.

When you see some of the newspaper headlines today even some of the most Tory Boris fan club media seem to have abandoned him. It’s always been the case that when the advisor becomes the story it’s time to go. For some time the  ‘Classic Dom’ line has enabled No10  to shrug off worst his worst traits which are portrayed as just slightly eccentric not dangerous. I’d put him in the dangerous bracket.

So it’s Bank Holiday Monday And I have no idea where this story will go over the next few days as it seems certain it will rumble on. The question inside the Downing St bunker is whether to ride it out for a week let’s see if they can survive and then assess whether there any long term damage to the reputation of the government . I believe there is. It has changed the mood towards the government.

Or second they decide it’s too damaging and Cummings off as quickly as it can before even more damage is done  Given the Prime Minister and the cabinet have been spineless and rushed to his defence it would have to come as a resignation from Cummings admitting his failure and not wishing to do any further damage to the government or to Johnson. He doesn’t appear to be the sort of person who would do the honourable thing – but it may be forced upon him.  But who is strong enough to force Cummings to do anything? Everybody in the Government owes their positions to him! He has weak people in place deliberately

I’d really be interested to gauge the level of anger felt by those who want as political with myself under my echo chamber on social media. And what I’ve seen the anger has gone wider and deeper than I first envisaged on Saturday morning, so this could be really quite deeply damaging to the government.

The original reason for not wanting to blog about this process story was the fact that The Sunday Times was also going to cover a long history of why they believe there have  been excess numbers of deaths in the UK because of the mishandling of the crisis early on in March by the government and for me this seems a much more important issue!. But if you look at polling it appears that the public generally seemed to have some trust in the handling of the crisis by the government. (although weekly it is slipping way)

 Again this has been a difficult line to tread for the opposition And I found my pet myself personally having massive misgivings about the handling of the crisis but not being able to be seen to be two parties at all political in the way of expressing this , despite it falls being the most political event after Brexit of my lifetime.

Moving reasonably quickly I feel this blog might need a postscript or update on a daily basis until something gives. As I say other Cummings goes or the Storey moves on and we try to assess how deeply damaged Johnson and his government are. Whilst mostly anger is rightly pointed at Cummings I have noticed since the Downing St press conference yesterday but the woeful performance of Johnson hasn’t gone unnoticed and not just by the electric but by a number of his own Tory MPs who started to break rank last night. They say a week is a long time in politics let’s try and guess where we are this time next Monday. When the hated Daily Mail turns on the Tories you know there is trouble!

(dictated Monday 25th 9.30am)

New polling of the public has found Keir Starmer’s net favourability has jumped 50 points compared to where Jeremy Corbyn left off as Labour leader.

It’s only one measure but an important one. We live with a more presidential political style whether we like it or not. Leadership and economic competence matter. This is a solid base from which to progress.

More thoughts to follow!

— Read on

One of the benefits of social media is the annual reminder of past events. I love May 1st when friends and colleagues pop up on my timleines with the memories of May 1st 1997. Forever 1st May will be a reminder of the historic Labour victory in 1997 for me. It certainly changed my life!

After weeks of campiagning – the last fax from the Key Seats Unit!

Whilst I am reaching an age where I regularly feel nostaligic the 1st May reminder goes deeper than that. It was a profound moment in the nations history and specifically for the Labour Party in 2020 where I realise there are many members who have no experience or idea of what it takes to win.

In one sense this is why this blog exists. Not to hark back to the 1997 victory (and the ones in 2001 and 2005 and the narrow loss in 2010) but to constantly update how Labour wins back somewhere like Loughborough. It still needs the Loughborough seat to form a majority government. The fact that there is now a 7,169 Tory majority in the seat is a constant reminder of how big the mountain Labour has to climb is in order to stand a chance over the next decade of returning to power.

The precise policies and remedies will constantly change over time but the basic principles remain the same. What frustrates me all too often is having to go through making the same mistakes time after time inside the Party.

In a place like Loughborough and other marginals the most important thing to do is listen to every part of the community. You only win by building a broad coalition of support. That’s why seats like this are a microcosm of the entire country. It’s about building a coalition of support outside our so-called base. You can’t just pile up support from various parts of the electorate. And it usually means some really tough conversations and a few compromises along the way.

I learned this lesson harshly when I first set out in politics. Knocking on doors in my home area.. a place I thought could or shold be Labour just outside Leiecster but always returned Tories and then later a few Lib Dems. I may return to these early days and my swift shift into supporting the modernisatoin of the Labour Party from my early flirtation with the Bennite wing of the Party. It’s alos when I started wearing a tie! My first political compromise and the road to New Labour! I realised our voters didn’t want their representative to look scruffy!

Unfortunately within the Party it feels as though we need to re-learn these lessons. We need to listen to people we want to vote for us and understand their concerns, hopes and dreams. We need to understand their aspirations. It still sounds from too many on the left that we ‘don’t get them’ and in fact are quite dismissive of their world view. I saw some reaction on social media to the Keir Starmer reponse on patriotism this week (another seperate blog on this I suspect) and it highlights why we have a massive problem in the so-called RedWall seats. The hard left rejects patriotism as racism/ xenophobia. We have to win back our understanding of patriotism before we can hope to connect.

The path to victory is hard and requires some sacrifices along the way. Social media echo chambers mean too many Party members think we did ‘win the argument’ in 2020 and the disasterous election result was’nt that bad!

I will come back to Starner time and time again, but my initial lack of enthusiasm for him was his inability to articulate during his campiagn that there would need to be some tough policy choices ahead. Instead all the candidates felt they had to show the Party membership they would keep large parts of a 2019 manifesto that had been roundly rejected by the electorate. The path back into Downing Street starts with listening to those outside the Party and social media echo chambers. When both our leader and the Manifesto were so roundly rejected lets tackle both issues!

The modern solutions for the problems faced by Britain in the 2020s will follow and don’t need to be set out in detail just yet. Not the other way round where we try to fit our past solutions (state natoinalisation for exemple) into a modern setting. The post Covid-19 world will hopefully give us space and time to think very differnently about political and social solutions to the problems of the modern world. I am certainly not advocating going back to 1997 and never have. My progressive politics has always been about finding modern policy solutions to the problems of the future.

That’s where my personal focus will be in the next phase of my life. I have joined the Fabians for exampke and during Covid-19 am finding time to read and study more widely. My persoanl policy priorities will remain around economic justsice and wellbeing (in its widest sense) but I will dip in and out of other policies priorities over time.

Once again on this blog the above focus will look at what some of this means practically for a place like Loughborough. Once Lockdown is over I am going to be out and about in the constituency just chatting and listening. What do people not involved – or even usually interested in politics feel about themselves and their local community. I have seena brief taste of this as part of the Town Deal Board, where I pushed us to make sure we led genuine community engagement. I urged this because I know all too often policy makers have different experiences and outlook to those we aim to serve! I wasn’t disappointed. But again more of this later. What the public wants and thinks ‘government/councils’ can deliver is again part of the reason for political disconnnect and disengagement. I will write about this process as the plans for the town develop.

So as I conclude, I am really making a plea to the Party and its supporters to be open to change after listening to voters. Don’t dream up ideas of political education or assuming the electorate have been duped by the MSM. When we listen we can start to properly engage and not lecture. Then we might start to slowly earn some trust back from the wasted last 5 years.


(First Draft – Comment and build this together!)

The strangest of times for Starmer’s first PMQs

The routine of PMQs is obvious. Since Blair changed the format  in 1997 (Blairs first PMQs is worth watching – even for my 20 seconds of doughnutting) to Wednesday lunch time it’s a regular feature of the political week. But lockdown has done strange things and I thought yesterday was Tuesday. I had wanted to see how Starmer went on… I did after all watch Corbyn at his first outing to see how he would cope. I even wrote a Mercury Column praising some of the style. Probably the last positive thing I ever said about Corbyn.

So I was slightly surprised when my timeline in twitter lit up after my lunchtime daily run with near universal praise for Starmer and headlines which paraphrase as – at last we have a serious opposition back!

I found the online recordings and watched for myself. Whilst the format was of course completely different, Starmer hit the right tone in difficult circumstances. Polling shows the public don’t want us to play politics with Coronavirus. This is difficult because of course many of the mistakes and shortcomings of the government are deeply political. Starmer has said from the beginning he would be constructive in his opposition. This is an important distinction. Opposing does not mean disagreeing with everything the government does or assuming their intentions are ‘evil’ as many on the hard left seem to think. So in the current climate the 6 questions were used well, and his ability to think on his feet was a real bonus. Corbyn’s team got better at some of the questions but his inability to adapt to the answers he was given was embarrassing.

Whilst his team will be pleased with the headlines today (from most of the media) they know they shouldn’t get carried away. This was not a normal House of Commons PMQ. It will take time but the noise and bluster of PMQs will return over time. The calm barristers style might not survive over the noise. I hope it does. The House is at its best when its quiet and has to do serious. We need that more often. Yesterday was bizarre to watch for those who have sat through the wall of noise. I recall having to hold my nerve when the Tory opposition tried to drown out my question on job losses at Astra Zeneca. I was 13 years in by then, simply paused and waited and pointed out how people would view them laughing at people losing their jobs. It worked and I carried on. Keir is a much better parliamentary performer than I will ever have been. I think he will cope.

But also of course he was facing Raab, who has been like a rabbit caught in the headlights since his first day standing in for Johnson. When the PM returns to work he will have some of the public sympathy that the press seem to have created for him after recovering from the Virus. It will be a different proposition. Johnson doesn’t even attempt to answer the question – bumbling and rambling his way through as usual. It’s infuriating to those who watch closely. The unknown factor will be how long this public adulation of the government’s handling of the crisis can hold? That’s why Starmer got the tone right. Not too much hindsight and told you so – but skewering Raab on their own claims and predictions on PPE and testing for example. For the record I think the Government have made a whole series of avoidable mistakes – including the slow response to lockdown. As a family we had decided to lockdown about 10 days ahead of the government finally getting around to it.

One final observation. I say it was near universal praise yesterday. My timeline was also punctured by some Corbynites claiming Starmer didn’t shout or show enough anger and that the Party is a sell-out etc. I guess we are going to have to live with those who demanded loyalty to their great leader disparaging Starmer with venom at every twist and turn without any sense of irony. The one thing about lockdown I miss will be the bumping into people over the next few days and being able to gauge a more general mood and response from those who don’t follow politics too closely.

There is a long way to go. A long way. But a good solid start was vital to land a decent narrative. Competence is a great badge to collect.

Strange times for the House of Commons – Virtual sitting

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