Latest leaflet blunder is example of flawed funding system

Oh dear. You know things are not going as well as they might when you get a grudging expression of sympathy on Twitter from Clare Hilley, the Conservative councillor for Waddon ward whose main claim to fame remains vomiting down the front of her clothes when drunk on a little-watched reality TV show.

Louisa Woodley’s campaign for the London Assembly suffered another set-back this week when it was reported that an election leaflet distributed in Sutton for the Labour candidate stated that that borough was Tory-controlled. The LibDems have held control of Sutton for 25 years.

Louisa Woodley, wearing the Labour rosette, out campaigning in Croydon recently with Ken Livingstone, left, and her party leader Ed Miliband

Ignoring the adage about when in a hole, stop digging, rather than admitting the error and explaining that it is an easy mistake to make in this era of a ConDem government, because it is impossible to tell the difference between the LibDems and Tories, instead Woodley tried to excuse the blunder by saying that she does not proof read everything that goes out carrying her name.

That is not really good enough, though, is it?

The Sutton and Croydon GLA campaign has been a struggle for Woodley, a councillor for Thornton Heath ward, almost from before it got underway.

Strong suspicions remain about dirty tricks at Croydon Town Hall, when it was leaked to a local paper that the full-time teacher had failed to attend sufficient meetings as a governor at another Croydon school, and was therefore suspended from that position.  While Woodley had been traduced, since the chairman of governors had not actually properly informed her of at least one of the meetings she missed, the damage was done.

That ought to have been a warning shot, though, and Woodley and her supporters might have been on notice about negative campaigning by her Conservative opponents, and on their guard to provide them with no more ammunition. Yet last month, another leaflet was distributed in Sutton backing Ken Livingstone’s Mayoral campaign which offered five election pledges. And listed just four. Amateur night.

Of course, the realities of the Sutton and Croydon GLA constituency are that, even with Labour running at between 8 and 10 per cent ahead of the Conservatives in national opinion polls, Woodley will be doing outstandingly well on May 3 if she is able to get within 20,000 votes of the Tory incumbent, Steve O’Connell, Britain’s most overpaid local councillor.

It was, we think, PG Wodehouse who wrote that there are certain parliamentary seats in the country where the electorate would return a Pekingese dog to Westminster if someone pinned a blue rosette to its collar. What else can explain the repeated re-election of expenses-claiming MP Richard Ottaway? Welcome to the one-party state that is South Croydon.

The short-comings of the Woodley campaign offer an interesting reminder of quite what a difference funding and resources make for political parties, and the staffing, management and running in elections.

While the Conservatives receive donations of millions of pounds from wealthy benefactors, such as the tax avoider Lord Ashcroft, and flogging off dinners at No10 Downing Street to industrialists with axes to grind for £250,000 a time, the other parties have to depend on a 21st century version of handing around the collecting tin.

The LibDems, despite being partners in the national government, are unable to afford to put up candidates in every constituency in the local elections on May 3. Their GLA election leaflet distributed in Sutton and Croydon in the past few days is a generic London one, featuring their Mayoral candidate Brian Paddick but without mentioning by name the candidate for the London Assembly.

As for other parties, such as the Greens and UKIP, as far as election funding is concerned, it is as if they have to enter the Grand National riding the winner of the Croydon donkey Derby.

What Labour has been able to do, though, is put together one of the best, most convincing and emotive election broadcasts to have been seen for many years in support of Livingstone. We think it is well worth a watch.

It is interesting that in the negative campaign being run by the Conservatives, enthusiastically supported by the London Evening Boris, the broadcast prompted not a discussion of the policies of the two leading candidates for Mayor, but focused on whether or not the participants in the film were “actors”, because the producers had reasonably paid them their out-of-pocket expenses, that they re-shot some sequences and, in the final edit, used the best bits. All of which is common practice for people working in television, even for news producers.

It is also what many people might regard as doing a proper job to present your arguments and policies. Perhaps the Tories would prefer the Labour campaign to be badly done, unprofessional and full of mistakes. That would certainly distract further from the lack of policy and the poor performance record of Boris Johnson and the likes of Steve O’Connell since they have been in office at City Hall.

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4 Responses to Latest leaflet blunder is example of flawed funding system

  1. Ken’s election broadcast is very effective. I believe he does care about the interests of London and Londoners and the broadcast shows this. The reaction of the right-wing media is to make wholly ridiculous claims that “actors” were used, and to attack it for being “scripted” (how many election broadcasts are not – it’s whether the participants are real Londoners who believe what they’re saying that matters).

    This is all part of a negative and vindictive campaign by the Tories and parts of the media against Ken. Those supporting this campaign predictably include the Standard and Mail and writers such as Andrew Gilligan and Atul Hatwal (a buddy of Tory MP Gavin Barwell) who claims to be a Labour supporter but who writes a series of articles damaging to Labour in “Labour Uncut”.

    The negative campaigning is no doubt to deflect attention from the fact that Boris is weak on policy whereas Ken’s policies of fare cuts, bringing back EMA and opposition to incinerators in Greater London attract widespread public support.

  2. mraemiller says:

    I’m not Atul Hatwal’s biggest fan but it has to be said I think there is an element of shoot-the-messenger here.

    Much of Ken’s campaign has been a disaster. It was Ken who brought tax affairs into the mainstream of debate. He should have known better. His tax situation isn’t illegal and is one operated by many people who have erratic incomes, known as “doing a Ben Elton”.

    His assertion that Boris had similar arrangements has been shown to be false – making him look like an idiot.

    Neither can anyone purport that Boris alone is running a negative campaign. Ken’s “Chickenfeed” has been such a disaster he’s taken it down. Actually, if you ask me, Boris has a point: the Mayor’s salary is chickenfeed compared with that of the CEOs of many councils.

    After this campaign, the Labour party should have some kind of post mortem on how it has gone so wrong and I would postulate that running a personal negative campaign has been a bit of a disaster. For one thing you just cant out-nasty the nasty party. For another, Boris’s sheild of buffonery is very effective against ad hominem attacks. Added to which, who cares if Boris gets £250,000 for banging out a newspaper column?

    A more aposite question is how can 1,000 words a week for 52 weeks possibly be worth £250,000? Boris can be witty, but let’s face it, he’s no Dorothy Parker.

    What the campaign has failed to highlight is that Boris’s incompetence (particularly during the riots) cost lives, or the more shameful elements of his administration such as trying to give a large chunk (£8 million) of the riot reconstruction fund away to a Premier League football club in Spurs.

    The nadir of the Conservative campaign has to be their accusations of anti-semitism against anything that looks red and moves.

    And while I’m here, I think it’s absolutely disgusting that a group of people from the Jewish Chronicle met with Ken under Chatham House rules (something they insisted on), where quotes are not meant to be attributed to any individual. And then they immediately wrote a letter that attributes a whole load of individual statements to Ken (but not verbatim) which they sent to Ed Miliband only so they could simultaneously leak it to the right-wing press. People who engage in this level of duplicity and backstabbing should have their membership cards burnt and be thrown out.

    If Ken was not a man of principle he could have just lied to them that he was a big fan of Israel and nothing would have happened, but clearly honesty is not the best policy in such situations. It just goes to show that no good deed goes unpunished.

    The letter in the Jewish Chronice is one of the nastiest pieces of personal assassination I have ever read. Not a single direct quote is attributed to Ken and yet he is paraphrased extensively in the most negative way. On almost the same day that the letter went to Victoria Street, it immediately went to the Jewish Chronicle before being written up in a national newspaper again by one of the participants

    This was meant to be an internal Labour party meeting and yet the particpants seemed to go to great effort to disseminate their version of events as widely as possible, with the intention of causing as much damage as possible. Statements such as, “At various points in the discussion Ken used the words Zionist, Jewish and Israeli, interchangeably, as if they meant the same, and did so in a pejorative manner”, sound to me to be mudslinging. Of course, under the terms of the Chatham House rules, direct quotes are not allowed. So we cannot see or hear the conversation in context.

    A more cynical mind than my own might conclude that the whole thing was actually some kind of a sting.
    I can understand people not liking Ken, but he was voted for in an OMOV internal election as Labour’s Mayoral candidate by a whopping 68 per cent of the party. Ken is a heavyweight and no other heavyweight put themselves forward, leaving people with a choice between Ken or Oona King (less of a heavyweight, more of a lead weight).

    If people wanted to complain, then that was the time. Indeed, one might argue that any time is the time, except in the last four weeks of an election campaign. It is not as if the party doesn’t have an internal online forum, away from Tory eyes, an NEC and CLPs which people can complain to if they don’t like things… so if they don’t like the candidate I suggest they go over to the Conservatives, where no one has any kind of effective vote at all on who their candidate should be and they are just imposed autocratically through Central Office or via “open primaries” designed specifically to exclude the poor.

    If what Jonathan Freedland has done isn’t campaigning for another party I don’t know what is. The Labour party should expel such people. Some people would argue that such action would be too divisive, but frankly, with friends like Mr Freedman, you don’t need Tories.

  3. I enjoyed reading mraemiller’s thoughtful piece. 2 comments:-
    1. Boris Johnson’s remark about “chickenfeed” related to the £250,000 pa he receives for his column in the Telegraph, rather than his Mayor’s salary. I think it was reasonable for Ken’s team to point this out, as it shows how out of touch Boris is, and the fact that he’s a part-time Mayor.
    2. In reality the Mayor of London’s powers are quite limited. This places a constraint on putting forward positive policies. I think Ken has done remarkably well to produce so many positive policies in these circumstances.

  4. mraemiller says:

    2. In reality the Mayor of London’s powers are quite limited.


    I have to say it does amuse me that when you want the Mayor to do something about (for example) the probably illegal potential catastrophy that was Colin Barrow’s insane parking schemes his powers are extremely limited indeed. “The Mayor cannot intervene in parking issues,
    which are the responsibility of the local borough councils.”
    Yet, when he’s standing for re-election suddenly
    “London Mayor Is Like Being A King”

    Hum … well, I dont see how he is a King exactly
    unless it is in the fact that Boris is adept at passing blame down the chain of command…..

    “off with his head” I say?

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