Court Defeat: The Wheels Come Off Swinson’s Presidential-Style Campaign

Swinson bus

Tony Blair has in the past been criticised for introducing a presidential style of government where the focus is disproportionately on personalities rather than policies. David Cameron also carried on the ‘presidential’ style of leadership. However, neither man propelled themselves as the front and centre of their election campaigns in the same way that Jo Swinson seems to have made the Lib Dems’ election campaign all about her. There is a massive mug-shot of Swinson on the side of the Lib Dems’ battle bus accompanied by the words ‘Jo Swinson’s Liberal Democrats’. Does she now own the Lib Dems? Her legal challenge to feature in the ITV leaders’ debate has been rebuffed by the High Court in a sign that her weird presidential style of campaigning may be running out of steam.

As the election campaign got underway, voters across the country were treated to an A4-size Lib Dem pamphlet emblazoned with a picture of Swinson on the cover with the wording, “JO SWINSON: Britain’s next Prime Minister”. This led BBC’s Andrew Neill to ask Swinson, “When did you indulge in fantasy politics?” on his eponymous political show on 30 October 2019. Swinson is suffering from delusions of grandeur, because she leads the party which came fourth in the last general election with only 12 MPs. There was no opinion poll that suggested that the Lib Dems might gain over 300 seats next month. At least in 1981, the Liberal-SDP Alliance was polling as high as 50% prompting the then Liberal leader, David Steel to announce to his party faithful, “Go back to your constituencies, and prepare for government!”. The rest is history as they say, but support for Jo Swinson’s Lib Dems has actually been plummeting since she unleashed her presidential style election campaign.

There are many reasons why Swinson’s election campaign is falling apart with the latest setback delivered by the High Court. It is undoubtedly a mistake to make this election campaign all about her rather than policies. Even as a personality, Swinson is not a compelling figure in British politics. She was a junior minister in the Tory-led coalition in which she consistently voted for austerity measures such as the ‘bedroom tax’ and trebled university tuition fees. She voted in line with the Tory whip more than some Tories. She lost her East Dunbartonshire seat to the SNP in the 2015 general election. There are signs that she might lose her seat again to the SNP next month.

Swinson has tried to portray herself as a better candidate for Prime Minister than either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn without any previous track record to back it up. Her strategy seems to be to repeat it as many times as possible hoping that it will cut through to voters. That may have had the opposite effect with the Lib Dems losing ground in opinion polls.

Swinson’s policy of cancelling Brexit by revoking Article 50 has been widely criticised including by Caroline Lucas whose Green Party is in the so-called ‘Remain Alliance’ with the Lib Dems. Remain voters overwhelmingly view Swinson’s position as anti-democratic. It is being seen as a gimmick to hoover up disenfranchised pro-Remain Tory voters. However, latest opinion polls show that Remain voters are not responding to Swinson’s ‘cancel Brexit’ mantra.

Another feature of Swinson’s election campaign which has come under criticism and mocked on social media is the rather imaginative use of bar charts in Lib Dems’ election material. In my own constituency, Tottenham, the Lib Dem leaflet had a bar chart showing the Lib Dem vote was higher than Labour’s according to the EU election. This is misleading, because the Lib Dems finished a distant third in the last general election. They have no chance of winning in Tottenham and they have never won in Tottenham. The Norwich South Labour MP, Clive Lewis tweeted a picture of a Lib Dem leaflet from his constituency showing that Lib Dem were first, Greens second and Labour third based on the EU election result. The reality is that Lib Dems finished a distant third in the 2017 general election. This prompted Clive Lewis to tweet the following to Swinson, “@joswinson how about some straight-up honesty re your party’s bar charts? Pls don’t take the electorate for mugs. You do all of politics a disservice with this distant approximation of a vague half-truth.”

On social media, activists have taken to mocking Lib Dems’ fake bar charts. I have seen a meme with two bar charts on the map of North Korea depicting that Kim Jung Un was out of the race and that only Lib Dems could win there. Clive Lewis has tweeted a picture of an astronaut on the moon with a Lib Dem garden stake that says, “Liberal Democrats winning here”. With these fake bar charts, Swinson’s campaign has lost all credibility.

The High Court defeat exposes that there was no legal basis in Swinson’s challenge to feature in ITV leaders’ debate. A massive billboard foisted on a van outside the High Court showed yet another mug-shot of Swinson with the words, “Debate her”. The British public might be put off by such overzealous personal branding in an election campaign that is not electing a president. There are still some weeks to go before the general election. If the Lib Dems want to salvage this election, they will be better off ditching Swinson’s presidential style election campaign. Instead, they should focus on announcing policies that will help the ordinary people of this country who are suffering from nine years of crippling austerity. They might want to apologise first for their part in inflicting austerity.

First published in http://www.labourhub.org.uk on 19 November 2019.

Campaigning for Labour in marginals will be the key to our success in this election

Campaign Harlow

I live in a safe Labour seat, which David Lammy won comfortably with a majority of over 34,000 votes in 2017. This means that I can afford to go away and campaign in marginal seats that Labour are hoping to gain or defend. There are around 100 marginal seats that Labour can gain from various opposition parties. There are also around 60 marginal seats that we need to defend.

On Saturday 9 November, my comrades and I from Tottenham Labour Party travelled to Milton Keynes to campaign in two seats: Milton Keynes North and Milton Keynes South. Both are marginal seats where Labour are just fewer than 2000 votes away from the Tories. We spent the morning speaking to residents in Milton Keynes North urging voters to back Labour’s Charlynne Pullen, a local candidate who was one of the first babies to have been born at Milton Keynes Hospital. The incumbent Tory MP stood down and the Tories have selected a new candidate who describes himself on his Twitter profile as a “drinker of beer” (perhaps modelling himself on Farage!). The Labour candidate fought the 2017 election and is more well-known than the new Tory candidate.

In a marginal seat like Milton Keynes North, we are fighting for every single vote. Every doorstep conversation we have is a potential new Labour voter. While there was a little hint of apathy, I had a positive response overall. An elderly gentleman showed me some anti-Labour propaganda that he had been reading in the Daily Mail that day. I managed to steer the conversation to how the Tories had failed the UK with nine years of austerity and that Labour gave us hope with investments in the NHS, free personal care for the elderly, giving back free TV licence to the over 75s and keeping the winter fuel allowance. These are some of the things that mattered to him. I left feeling that he would give Labour a chance.

I also knocked on the door of an actual ‘Workington man’ who was now living in Milton Keynes. He fit the stereotype of over-45, white man from a rugby town who had voted Brexit. The right-wing tabloids are hoping that the Tories will somehow win over enough ‘Workington man’ type voters in Labour strongholds to win an outright majority. The gentleman I was talking to was a swing voter. He was keen to engage with me about the NHS. He said that one would be lucky these days to get an appointment with their GP given years of under-investment under the Tories. He admitted that Labour is more trustworthy on the NHS. Again, he was another voter who said that he would consider voting Labour.

After lunch, we made our way to Milton Keynes South where the Labour candidate, Helen O’Neill came within 1,725 votes of taking the seat from the Tories in 2017. She is the deputy leader of the Milton Keynes Council. Although it was raining and cold, our spirits had not dampened. We knocked on doors and had those important conversations about Labour’s real change message.

I produced a video of our trip to the Milton Keynes marginals to inspire other Labour members to campaign in marginal seats across the country. At the 2017 general election, Labour successfully defended or won every single marginal seat in which my colleagues and I from Tottenham Labour Party campaigned. Labour members across the country should visit http://www.mycampaignmap.com where they can put in their postcode and it will tell them the nearest marginal in which to go and campaign.

Winning marginal seats like in Milton Keynes or defending marginal seats like Kensington where the excellent Emma Dent Coad is defending a majority of 20 will be the key to our success in this election. It makes sense to organise with a number of other comrades from your area. Carpooling is cheaper and more environmentally friendly. Send out a message on Facebook, your local activists’ WhatsApp groups or Twitter and organise your trip to a marginal seat. Labour has an energised army of ordinary members to take on the constant barrage of negative publicity in the right wing media. Having a doorstep conversation will be far more effective than the negative ‘fake news’ campaign that the Tories are orchestrating.

Liberal Democrats should stand aside in Labour-Tory marginals

LibDem - Tory image

The Liberal Democrat candidate for Canterbury, Tim Walker, stood down this week and pledged his support for Labour incumbent Rosie Duffield, who is defending a majority of 187. Walker is now facing possible disciplinary action from his own party, and Jo Swinson has installed another candidate to replace him. On the following day, the Lib Dem candidate in High Peak, Guy Kiddey (now also removed as a candidate), expressed solidarity with Walker and urged voters to follow the advice of tactical voting site Remain United. Labour’s Ruth George is defending a majority of 2,322 in High Peak. The Lib Dems finished a distant third in both constituencies at the last general election.

The actions of both Walker and Kiddey during an election campaign are unprecedented, but entirely commendable. Other Lib Dem candidates across the country in Labour-Tory marginals should also stand down. The Brexit Party has stepped aside in all Tory-held seats. If the Liberal Democrats do not stand down their candidates in Labour-Tory marginals, we risk electing a hard-right Conservative government in alliance with Donald Trump and Nigel Farage. Our NHS will be at risk, and the Lib Dems would be enabling a hard Tory Brexit.

The time has come for the Lib Dems to put national interests first. Jo Swinson’s talk of being a candidate for Prime Minister and suing ITV to be included in the televised debate is not cutting through to voters. Lib Dem polling has remained static and in some cases, they have gone down. It is Labour that is on an upward trend: a recent Survation poll shows Labour only six points behind the Tories with another month to go before the election. Labour has not even unveiled its manifesto yet, and that is what helped Labour close the gap in the 2017 election. Labour has a radical and transformative programme, which will once again prove to be a vote-winner.

Like the Brexit Party, the Lib Dems are not contesting a number of seats, as part of the so-called ‘Remain alliance’ with the Greens and Plaid Cymru. It has emerged that candidates in ten of the 13 Labour-held seats targeted by the Remain Alliance have a strongly pro-Remain Labour candidate. This is surely a tactical mistake. The Lib Dems and their allies risk splitting the vote and allowing the Tory candidates in some of these seats to win. Take Penistone and Stocksbridge, for example, where the Greens did not contest and the Lib Dems came a distant fourth with 2,042 and the Labour candidate won with a majority of 1,322 in 2017. The Remain Alliance is targeting this seat, and there is a risk that this decision will allow the Tory candidate to win.

At the last general election, the Lib Dems came a distant fourth, winning only 12 seats across the country. There are some signs that they will improve on this performance at the upcoming election – but there are no major signs that they will make significant gains. They keep referring to their relative success at the European elections in May, when they finished second behind the Brexit Party. If we follow their logic, the Brexit Party would be in pole position to win this election. That is clearly not the case.

The Lib Dem position to revoke Brexit without a confirmatory referendum is not popular and will harm their chances at this election. With this policy, Swinson has effectively become the Nigel Farage of Remain. Even Caroline Lucas, whose Green Party forms part of the so-called ‘Remain alliance’, strongly criticised the Lib Dems for adopting such an overtly anti-democratic position. It is not sustainable in a democracy to cancel what 17.4 million voted for without asking them again, even if the Lib Dems could win an outright majority. The Conservatives achieved 13.6 million votes with a 42.4% vote share at the last general election – still fewer than 17.4 million.

It is more than likely that the Lib Dems will once again finish fourth behind the two main parties and the SNP. They can, however, play a critical role in this election, because they hold the balance of power in a number of Labour-Tory marginals. In Kensington, for example, Labour candidate Emma Dent Coad is defending a wafer thin majority of 20. The Lib Dem candidate, Sam Gyimah, should stand down and throw his weight behind the Labour incumbent to ensure that the Tories do not win there. Similarly, in the Cities of London and Westminster, the Tory majority is only 3,148. The Lib Dems came third with 4,270. They should withdraw their candidate, Chuka Umunna, and focus on ensuring that the Labour candidate wins. The more Labour candidates we have across the country, the chances of a confirmatory Brexit referendum increase and the risks of a hard-right Tory government decrease. It is a no-brainer. It is time for the Lib Dems to act in the national interest.

Also published in http://www.labourlist.org on 14 November 2019.

Narendra Makanji held the door open for BAME politicians like me

fb_img_15553621287662422513792181072482.jpgfb_img_15553621169088491411816449840380.jpgNarendra’s pioneering work in the Black Sections is well documented. He continued to encourage and inspire BAME politicos until the very end.

In 2017, Narendra wrote a glowing endorsement to support my candidacy when I was seeking nomination to stand in Noel Park, which he had represented for 24 years. He gave me plenty of excellent advice and canvassed members ensuring that I was successful in securing nomination.

Throughout the election campaign in 2018, as these photos testify, he was always there to lend me a hand. He came to the campaign photo launch and gave me a hand in putting up garden stakes. He spent an entire afternoon with me taking me to another ex Noel Park Councillor, Martin Appadoo’s house where we put up about 10 garden stakes. It was strategically placed opposite a polling station and we had to drape it in Labour colours to send a subliminal message to voters as they were going into the polling station, Narendra explained.

Today, I am proud to represent Noel Park which was Narendra’s home and where he had served as a very popular local Councillor. Many a resident spoke to me with fondness about Narendra’s hard work. If I could achieve only half of what he had one, I would be extremely proud.

Remembering comrade Narendra Makanji

Narendra’s house was like a little museum. He had photos hanging on the wall depicting all the great struggles and campaigns of which he had been a part from anti-apartheid movement to anti racism activism.

He always had a lot of time for political novices like me. I took these photos during a visit to his house. His house was the de facto committee room at every recent election. I will miss all the long chats I had with him and the great advice he used to give me.

During the 2018 local election campaign, I went to put up a Labour garden stake outside Narendra’s house. From the archives in his house, he gave me two big posters of Stephen Lawrence and Rahimullah Aramesh who were both brutally murdered by racists. I helped to auction them off at the Haringey Stand Up to Racism fundraising dinner.

I will certainly miss going to Narendra’s house to see what hostoric documents lie in his treasure trove. I hope we can archive the documents in his house for future generations to see. The struggles against racism in which Narendra played a key part in the 70s, 80s and 90s are again relevant today. And we must carry on that fight.

RIP Comrade Narendra Makanji

Rest in power comrade Narendra Makanji, my mentor, lifelong socialist and anti-racist campaigner and a Noel Park Councillor for 26 years. He passed away on 4 April 2019.

This was Narendra’s last message in Noel Park Labour Party WhatsApp group at 12.37 on the day that he passed away:

“With Ahmed and Buffy on the leadership platform, my old age is even safer!”

He was referring to two of our members, Ahmed Mahbub vying to be Vice President of NUS and our youth officer, Buffy Collette standing to be President of the Students’ Union at her college.

I will remember his good humour. And all the great advice he gave me.

He served Noel Park as a Labour Cllr from 1982 until 2006. When he was elected, he was one of a handful of BAME Cllrs in the country. He was a trailblazer.

At every recent local and general election, his house became the committee room including at the last local election in 2018.

I first met Narendra in 2010 when I became the chair of Noel Park Labour Party. I remember going to his house and he gave me a little pep talk about Labour Party in Noel Park.

He wrote a glowing endorsement for me to put in my leaflet when I was seeking selection in 2017.

He will be sorely missed. He was a life long socialist and firmly on the left wing traditions of our Party.

This symbolic photo was taken in the run up to the local election 2018 with Narendra, John Brennan and Alan Dobbie, former Noel Park Cllrs handing over the baton to the then prospective Noel Park Cllrs, Peray Ahmet, Emina Ibrahim and me.

No to Islamophobia: Hands off hijab!

On Saturday 30 March, there was an Islamophobic attack on a young Muslim woman on the platform at Turnpike Lane tube station. The attacker pulled her hijab off, which was reported immediately to the police and on twitter by a friend of the victim.

The incident horrified me and other activists in Haringey. With comrades in Haringey Stand Up to Racism, we organised an urgent protest vigil outside Turnpike Lane tube station at 6pm on Monday 1 April 2019. Although organised with only 24 hours’ notice, the protest was very well attended with nearly 150 people.

I spoke at the protest not just as a Haringey Councillor but also as a member of the local Muslim community. I reminded those present that Haringey stood up to and defeated the fascists from National Front not too far from where we were standing. It was important for us to hold the protest vigil to show that Haringey has a zero tolerance to Islamophobia, racism and all other forms of xenophobia.

Lina, the victim of the Islamophobic attack addressed the crowd saying that Muslim women are easy, visible targets for racists because of their hijab. She appealed to Muslim women and others to always report hate crimes.

#UnseatChuka

On Saturday 16 March 2019, I spoke at the #UnseatChuka event on Streatham Common along with the iconic Diane Abbott MP and Owen Jones calling for a by-election in Streatham after Chuka Umunna MP left to form the Independent Group. Later, I joined activists to knock on the doors of local residents collecting signatures for a petition to have a by-election in Streatham to elect a Labour MP. Below is the speech I delivered.

Comrades, I bring you greetings from Haringey Labour Party where we have the first Corbyn Council in the country and I am a proud member of that administration.

We achieved something quite amazing with our grassroots Labour Party members in Haringey.

We took on the Haringey Development Vehicle – the biggest privatisation of council homes – and defeated it.

We stood up to demolition of people’s homes, social cleansing and gentrification.

Instead, we articulated a radical vision for Haringey. We said we will build council homes on council land and protect existing communities against demolition, destruction and displacement. We have recently announced a £1billion investment in building council homes. That is the radical vision in Labour’s 2017 manifesto – to build one million council homes.

Comrades, why am I telling you this? Because my experience in Haringey has a direct relevance to Streatham where the Cressingham Gardens – a beautiful estate with 306 council homes is facing demolition. It is something that Chuka Umunna enthusiastically supported.

Now that Chuka has left the Labour Party in which he had never felt comfortable and got elected on the backs of grassroots Labour members, we have an opportunity to change the discourse. And we must seize this opportunity.

Last time, I gave a speech at your democracy roadshow in August, I met Helen Carr, a resident on Cressingham Gardens who has been campaigning against the demolition of her home and destruction of her community.

Like we did in Haringey, Streatham Labour Party members need to take on this fight to support Helen and the other residents on Cressingham Gardens.

And the fight needs to be part of a radical shift in our political direction.

We need to own our 2017 election manifesto – a radical vision for Britain which attracted an extra 3.5 million voters, the biggest increase in vote share since 1945.

We need to go to the people of Streatham and talk to them about ending auterity, renationalisation of our railways and utilities, free tuition fees and a foreign policy based on diplomany and dialogue.

As opposed to austerity supporting, war mongering and privatisation agenda of Chuka Umunna’s Independent Group.

I will end by saying this to Chuka Umunna:

You got elected on the backs of handworking grassroots Labour members, but they deserve to have a Labour MP. Since 1992, Streatham has always had a Labour MP.

And you are always banging on about a second referendum. Well, people of Streatham deserve to have a referendum on your manifesto.

I read the ideas in Chuka’s Manifesto. Amongst a whole swathe of discredited neoliberal policies, he advocates a national service. Let’s have a national service for Chuka Umunna, for Mike Gapes, for Gavin Shuker, for Angela “Funny Tinge” Smith and the rest of the Incoherent Group, and the Irrelevant Group. Thank you.”

Vigil for Christchurch victims of terrorist attack

On Friday 15 March 2019, the world woke up to the news of terrorist attack by a white supremacist on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. 49 people were brutally murdered with the death toll later rising to 50. This was the biggest terrorist attack on Muslims in the West. Rampant Islamophobic rhetoric by politicians such as Donald Trump and the demonisation of Muslims in the media have contributed to such an attack on ordinary Muslims offering their Friday prayer.

Shock and grief has been felt by Muslims across the world especially in the West. I was touched by words of solidarity from my non-Muslim friends and colleagues. Along with activists from Haringey Stand Up to Racism, I organised a vigil outside Wightman Road Mosque at 6.15pm. Despite such short notice, the vigil was well attended by hundreds of people from Haringey’s diverse community.

The leader of Haringey Council, Cllr Joe Ejiofor underlined that Haringey is a multi-ethnic, multi-faith borough and that its people will never be divided. The Borough Commander, Helen Millichap reassured the local Muslim community that the police were doing everything to provide safety and security. Faith leaders from Grace Baptist Church, Muswell Hill Synagogue, Masjid Ayesha Tottenham and Wightman Road Mosque also spoke in a show of solidarity and unity. Messages from local MPs were read out.

I am proud to be a resident and a Councillor of Haringey, which has shown once again that it is a truly cosmopolitan borough that respects and values its diversity.

Haringey councillors oppose racism and fascism

“We are proud of Haringey as an ethnically mixed borough with a proud history of anti-racism. We want it to stay that way.

Yet racism, fascism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are on the rise across the world, inspired by the election of President Trump. From Bolsonaro in Brazil and Le Pen in France to government ministers in Hungary, Austria and Italy – racists and fascists are moving off the political margins to centre stage.

In Britain, a new far-right street movement is attempting to take advantage of the political crisis by scapegoating migrants, refugees, the Muslim and Jewish communities. A wave of Islamophobic hate crime is continuing to grow, with Muslim women at the sharp end. There has been a resurgence of antisemitism. Even in Haringey, we have seen examples of hate crime and racist graffiti.

The Windrush scandal has shown the inhumanity of the government’s ‘hostile environment’. Detention and deportations are blighting the lives of people who are part of the fabric of our society, and thousands of refugees remain stranded in northern France. Some Haringey Labour Councillors have been on refugee solidarity trips to Calais.

Our EU residents and colleagues have become pawns in the Brexit negotiations.

The threat is real and growing but together we can turn the tide, as we have done before. In Haringey, we have a long tradition of welcoming migrants and of challenging racism. We gain strength from our diversity.
On UN anti-racism day on 16 March, there will be marches and demonstrations in cities around the world, including London. We urge residents and workers across Haringey to join the national demonstration against racism and fascism, called by Stand Up To Racism and supported by the Trade Union Congress.

Assemble: 16 March, 12 noon at Park Lane, London W1 – nearest tube: Hyde Park Corner.
Haringey meeting points: 11.15am at both Seven Sisters and Turnpike Lane tube stations.

Celebrate our diversity. Say no to racism and fascism.”

Cllr Joseph Ejiofor
Cllr Emine Ibrahim
Cllr Seema Chandwani
Cllr Khaled Moyeed
Cllr Kirsten Hearn
Cllr Mike Hakata
Cllr James Chiriyankandath
Cllr Sheila Peacock
Cllr Barbara Blake
Cllr Yvonne Say
Cllr Eldridge Culverwell
Cllr Daniel Stone
Cllr Makbule Gunes
Cllr Zena Brabazon
Cllr Peter Mitchell
Cllr Mahir Demir
Cllr Ruth Gordon
Cllr Sarah James
Cllr Mark Blake
Cllr Anne Stennett