P-3: Could the Labour campaign be any more selfish and arrogant?

Go round Stoke-on-Trent at the moment and there are a number of noisy clusters of posterboard and cortex signs – but slightly curiously when you compare them to the electoral register, residents there you will find none.  Now what I am referring to is of course the age old power of the Trade Unions.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no union basher – when it comes to staff and workers right, on pensions, on health and safety and working conditions the history of the trade union movement has much to its credit.  But it’s modern and indeed recent historical context of the political engagement of the union movement is less honourable and, I believe, deeply corrosive.

The Hanley branch of the Unite Offices is currently a forest of Labour and Snell Boards, the Communications Workers Union is almost a barricade of Labour monster boards, specific houses around the city have posters clearly supplied by Usdaw – in short, those workers who fund the union, in turn are funding the price of Tristram Hunt’s resignation and resulting by-election.  (And yes, I know about the political level but that levy has not authorised the main high street building locations that are resplendent with posters).

In fact, when you think it through the Labour movement has a huge grip here. the combined membership of the Labour Party itself, plus the union memberships in a industrialised city like Stoke-on-Trent makes their numbers pretty night.  It also means that within a fairly simple calculation Labour has a inbuilt structural and numerically high number of vote almost ‘in the bag’ that makes losing Stoke-on-Trent unlikely in most seasons.

Take that a little further and you see the sheer numbers of trade union sponsored or funded staff that have been poured into The City to canvass and deliver.

But then when you look a little closer at the campaign you see the complicit arrogance of what is going on here.  I have watched several Labour canvas teams over recent week as they took to the doorsteps – they are clearly working from a filtered canvass.  Now if I was generous it might be a second canvass, it might be a canvass of those on whom they have no data. But that is not my suspicion.

Rather, over the 70 years of dominating the politics of Stoke-on-Trent they have a database that means they can plot their course to victory by tactics, through targeting and through exclusion.  That exclusion of key segments of the electorate in turn is arrogant and selfish.

Labour has realised they are at risk of being punished by the voters for their terrible record here in the City of Stoke and are just on an operation to get out “their” vote.  The trade unions in turn are supporting and funding that campaign.

In fact what they could be doing is having a genuine open and sincere dialogue with the electorate, providing a positive and open offer to residents and winning the debate.  Labour could be trying to mobilise the very workers and residents who feel disenfranchised with and of politics. In fact they are simply hoping to drag enough people out to vote to get them over the finishing line and return back to their old ways.

So rather than inspiring the people – the very approach that Corbyn articulates, but then fails to enact – Labour are calculating that they won this seat with 39% of the vote in 2015, overall turnout will drop further than the 49% of 2015 and therefore they just need to mobilise their hardcore voters to turn out and the Labour HOLD Stoke-on-Trent will flash up.

It this cyclical inbuilt complicit arrogance that is one that I find the Labour Party so unpalatable  – it is an approach based on assumption, based on decades of dominance and based on suppression rather than expression.

For this reason, and more, I am motivated by the campaign of Dr Zulfiqar Ali – no corner of this constituency has been left untouched by the Liberal Democrat campaign.  We have sought to have a dialogue with all of the electorate about our offer, about Dr Ali, about Stoke-on-Trent and it has been delivered by volunteers and activists.

So when the votes are counted on Thursday evening and Friday morning let us hope that the open dialogue of change is heard with increased numbers of votes for Dr Zulfiqar Ali and hope that the tactics of suppression and apathy encouraged by Labour is rejected.  Only two days to go and we will soon find out.

* Ed Fordham is a party member and activist in Chesterfield, Derbyshire.

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18 Comments

  • Guess there are spending limits on the campaign. Any chance Lab is breaking them?

  • All very interesting, but a bit of even handedness about the iniquity of this right wing Brexit Tory Government would have been welcome.

    It may be, just may be, that the Tories are the party to beat in Stoke and Copeland and that a positive case for Liberalism rather than Labour bashing would have been more productive.

  • Interesting point re use of union buildings. Which were NOT constructed with political levy money.

  • Mick Taylor 20th Feb '17 - 9:12pm

    @David Raw. I think if you look at our literature, you will find the positive case for our party is clearly set out.

  • @ Mick Taylor That’s good to hear, Mick – but it’s not the case in the article above which is just negative stuff from the 2010 Coalition song book.

  • David Raw – I hope you are aware I feel the fact on the ground that the Tory HQ here in Stoke is in Copeland and that this is article 20 or so and I have covered most aspects of the election over the course of those. Given the nature of the election battle that is actually taking place here the Tories are trying to stop their votes going to us, labour, UKIP and the BNP… but that Ian not the story here in town.

  • Hi David, have a look at just a few of the many, many leaflets the Lib Dems have distributed in Stoke particularly the 8 page magazine. That is where the action is. You might vary your view.
    What Labour had was a creaky data base at the start of the campaign, but it was a data base. Really all you need do then is to follow up just those who either used to vote for you, or those who are down as probables, in a by election at Stoke you only have to visit 1 in 4 houses at the most. Hopefully we will have such a base after this election.

  • On an ideological level, the criticism of only targeting potential voters is reasonable, however, with our FPTP electoral system, it’s just good tactics. Tactics that the LibDems are often accused of, because we have the audacity (capacity) to analyse data.

  • Michael Cole 21st Feb '17 - 2:02pm

    John Bicknell,

    You raise an interesting point. A possible answer to your question:

    A few big money bets on a rank outsider will shorten the odds quite dramatically. This will give the impression of positive momentum to a campaign, and at a relatively cheap price. The timing of the Tory surge in the betting odds, a few days before polling, adds credence to this possibility. Of itself, this is clearly highly unlikely to win them the seat but may well make their share of the vote less derisory; they might finish 3rd instead of 4th.

    It may well be that the untruths emanating from the UKIP candidate may cause some leakage of votes back to the Conservatives and may have encouraged a punt on the Tories but even at 20-1, much less 6-1, it would not be a good value bet.

    Maybe, I’m being too cynical and see a conspiracy where there is none but we have all experienced Tory tactics in the past. Does anyone have any other evidence or explanations ?

  • John Bicknell – Theresa May was visit g the the Tories placed large Betsy to reduce the odds so she had a story in the absence of all others…

  • The Labour candidate is pretty hopeless and has Corbyn as party leader. The people running the UKIP campaign have apparently upset Farage, who now refuses to campaign for them. The Lib Dem candidate is the same guy who lost the seat at the general election in 2015, dropping from 2nd to 5th place. I don’t know much about the Tory candidate, but he’s a smartly dressed young man – who’s hero is Churchill – and he looked the part walking around Stoke with the PM. Perhaps some people in Stoke – especially those who support brexit – are thinking lets give the young guy a chance. For me the outstanding bet is the 5/6 that turnout will be below 34.5%.

  • Simon Banks 22nd Feb '17 - 9:15am

    There’s a lot of truth here about Labour and its TU base, but they’re not the only people who canvass only people who normally vote for them or, it appears, might vote for them and leave out both known opponents and those who don’t vote. This of course makes sense – canvassing someone who loathes you just makes them more likely to vote for an opponent and canvassing people who never vote is not time-effective. But it does mean nobody tries to motivate the non-voters to vote. Or consider Connect-governed selective mailings, such as on the EU referendum or encouraging people to join. In the absence of canvass data, of course they’re based on simple social profiling. Makes sense. But that means any bias in our membership make-up, for example towards people with middle-class forenames or away from Muslim males, will be accentuated.

  • @ malc “His hero is Churchill”.

    I do wish this Churchill great man delusion would disappear. He was a vastly unsuccessful politician responsible for calamities and mistakes that cost lives (including in the Second World War) and exhibited the loyalty to his different parties of a tom cat……………

    The people who, despite him, won the Second World War were the ordinary folk – and they got rid of him at the first opportunity in 1945.

  • David Raw

    “I do wish this Churchill great man delusion would disappear. He was a vastly unsuccessful politician responsible for calamities and mistakes that cost lives (including in the Second World War) and exhibited the loyalty to his different parties of a tom cat……………”

    No matter what you or I think of him he’s still considered a great man by the majority of people in the country. Come to think of it most polls show Thatcher to be the greatest leader since Churchill and I doubt that would have much support on a Lib Dem site either. Perhaps the “ordinary folk” who won the war did so because they had a great leader.

  • Andrew McCaig 22nd Feb '17 - 5:23pm

    David Raw,
    There were strict limitations in my household as a child on tv, but the one time when I remember (as a 7 year old boy) that we all were sat down to watch was Churchill’s funeral in January 1965.

    The respect for Churchill in my parent’s generation was huge, and the 1945 General Election was not a rejection of Churchill as a war leader. My parents were Liberal to the core, BTW

  • @ malc and Andrew McCaig Which just goes to show the power of the right wing press and media over the years – and the need of people to identify with ‘heroes’.

    Any serious study of his actual record doesn’t stand up to the image, and of course in the 1945 election, he accused a real hero at Gallipoli (Clem Attlee) of planning to set up a ‘Gestapo’ if Labour won.

    “They would have to fall back on some form of Gestapo, no doubt very humanely directed in the first instance. And this would nip opinion in the bud; it would stop criticism as it reared its head, and it would gather all the power to the supreme party and the party leaders, rising like stately pinnacles above their vast bureaucracies of Civil servants, no longer servants and no longer civil.” Churchill election speech, June, 1945.

    No doubt it suits Boris Johnson to model himself on W.S.C.

  • Mark Whiley 24th Feb '17 - 3:52pm

    The use of trade union resource is not a given right to the candidate, there are times when candidates are actively opposed by TUs and their members e.g. in my old CLP http://www.itv.com/news/westcountry/2016-07-13/bristol-mp-not-welcome-at-campaign-office. Nevertheless there are arguments against Labour, a party established by trade unions, receiving any support from trade unions that have been rehearsed time and again. I don’t wish to argue that till the cows come home.

    To your point of selective targeting in a by-election, I would be shocked if any of the major parties didn’t do this, and I know that from my four years in the Liberal Democrats that this is done equally as much by the party as with Labour. Soft Lab or Soft Con targeted with specific messages, knock up your Defs and Probs… You have a limited amount of time, short notice to begin campaigning, ofc you need to get your core vote out there.

    But yes, outside of that by-election you need to be engaging with all people. You need to be inspiring people with a vision and policies that fit that vision, giving them the time to speak about their local area and their livelihoods. This isn’t happening across the country and the lack of leadership at the top of Labour is paralysing for the grassroots.

    The Lib Dems seem to be finding welcome responses and I hope that you’ll be able to make that dialogue on the doorstep, not just at a community level but on national politics where Labour seems unable to.

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