Stepping Down

Today, the Labour Party set off in a new direction. Unfortunately, it is not a direction I can follow.

It was a great honour to be the Labour Party’s parliamentary candidate for Guildford in May (as it was being a Labour council candidate 7 times in the previous years). I was privileged to work with many wonderful people who were doing everything they could to make Britain a fairer, more successful country by electing a Labour government. Together we increased the number of Labour votes by 132%, one of the highest increases in the whole country.

The national result on 7 May was bitterly disappointing and meant that we would have to think again about how we related to the electorate. I am horrified that the national party have chosen to turn their back on the British people and engage in meaningless posturing instead by electing Jeremy Corbyn as leader.2014-10-09 14.01.46

I spoke to hundreds, possibly thousands, of voters during the election campaign but one conversation in particular exemplifies the problem. I spoke to a self-employed plumber on his doorstep for over 15 minutes a couple of weeks before polling day. We talked about many subjects. Immigration and abuse of the benefit system were in there but they weren’t his top priorities, he needed to know that we understood the concerns though. I convinced him that we did. We talked about the traffic in Guildford and the difficulty for working people doing long hours to support their households generally. We understood each other and empathised on this. He asked if Ed Miliband was really up to the job of leading the country. I told him I had met Ed and looked him in the eye and I trusted him. He believed me. And I believed me.

In the end I put him down as a DTY. (For non-canvassers this means he was undecided how to vote this time, voted Tory last time, but would prefer Labour to Tory this time if that was the only choice).

Now that Jeremy Corbyn is Labour leader, I could not stand on that voter’s doorstep and tell him that he should vote Labour. I could not persuade him that Labour under Corbyn would protect the economy and national security because I do not believe it myself. By the next election every voter will have heard of Corbyn’s positions on reopening coal mines, printing money, giving up the Falklands, appeasing Putin, seizing shares from private investors and all the other daft loony left fantasies and they will laugh at Labour canvassers.

Since I can’t support the direction that the party has chosen to take I don’t feel that I should hold any administrative position any more. I am stepping down from the Surrey Heath CLP Executive Committee and from being the Community Campaigning Officer. I am very grateful to the other EC members for their comradeship over the last few years and I wish them the best for the future. I have cancelled the small extra donation I was making to the party every month. I will not be putting my name forward to be the Labour candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner in Surrey next year.

I will always remain a Labour member and voter because I have a responsibility to everyone, all 6,534 people, who voted for me in May. I have given up much of my free time over the years campaigning for Labour and after a very draining election campaign I am ready for a little break anyway. I fear that the next few years would have been spent battling the hard left within the party instead of fighting the Tories if I had decided to continue. I don’t wish to give up my free time to do this.

Labour is going for a walk in the wilderness now. I won’t be coming along but I’ll be waiting for it to return. I hope I don’t have to wait too long.

Britain needs a Labour government so I’m backing Liz Kendall for Leader

It is over three months since the 2015 general election and I feel like I am still in mourning. The national result for Labour was awful and inevitably means we have to do some soul searching. I have a few thoughts about what happened and I will share these soon but in the meantime it has been decided that we will elect a new leader first and this looks like it will be an even bigger disaster than the election was.

Before nominations closed I speculated about the possible candidates. Unfortunately, Labour MPs decided to use their one special privilege in the new election system to nominate an unelectable leader which the vast majority of them could not serve under, Jeremy Corbyn. The candidates for London mayor obviously thought that this would endear them to some members but Sadiq Khan, David Lammy and Diane Abbott have made a huge misjudgement by nominating Corbyn. One commentator described the MPs who nominated Corbyn as “morons” and I find it difficult to understand their actions too. MPs have a special role in electing the Labour leader so they can’t blame the members (and supporters) if they choose one of the candidates which MPs put on the ballot paper. Everything which flows from the leadership result is primarily the responsibility of the MPs who nominated each candidate.

I’m backing Liz

Since I wrote my last blog on the subject, I have decided to back Liz Kendall for the Labour leadership. I even made a small donation to her campaign fund. I did this because I think she has the ability to challenge us to look properly about why we didn’t win the electorate’s trust in May. She is committed to Labour values but questions the old processes to achieve them. For example, she champions better public services such as social care and education but is open to new ways to make them better for the public who use them. This may be uncomfortable for some colleagues but if we just replay the 2015 election in 2020 then we should expect the same result.

Liz has talked about tackling inequality and reversing the inheritance tax cut. She has pledged to eliminate low pay, something George Osborne’s new minimum wage for over 25s will not do. Britain’s defences and our place in the world are under threat. The 1945 Labour government helped secure the post-war peace and Britain should always take the lead internationally. Liz has pledged to keep our armed forces properly funded and keep Britain at the heart of the EU.

If Jeremy wins I’ll remain a Labour member

Ballots will be going out in the next few days and the polls claim that Jeremy Corbyn will be our next leader. Jeremy has rebelled against the party position over 400 times since he became an MP so I’m sure he won’t mind a humble party member raising a few questions about himself. If Corbyn wins I will remain a Labour Party member. However, some of his people have suggested there may be purges of members who disagree with him so I guess it is possible I may be expelled for “defending my principles”, as Jeremy would call it.

Tony Blair said that if you stood for Labour in 1983 then you are true Labour. I would also claim that if you stood for Labour in the debacle of 2015 then you are true Labour too. A debacle it was: we were led to a position which the electorate could not agree with. We need to learn from this. Again. It happened before. I remember 1983 and 1987. Voters didn’t forgive us until many years after we eventually came to our senses again.

If Jeremy Corbyn wins, I will continue to oppose some of his policies. He proposes to print infinite money to fund public spending. Incidentally, this was one of the policies of the Peace Party in Guildford. They got 230 votes. The problem with the government printing money is that it devalues all existing money, people’s savings, incomes, company balance sheets, government gilts. Personally, I think this is a banana republic policy.

Corbyn proposes cutting defence expenditure even more than the Tories have done and unilaterally scrapping our independent nuclear deterent. He wants closer relations with Russia. This is a recipe for utter disaster. We should be increasing defence spending and making sure our borders and interests are secure.

Corbyn is against HS2 and the third runway at Heathrow. Both of these projects and many similar much needed infrastructure projects are needed to support British trade, business and links to the rest of the world. I will continue to speak up for such projects.

Jeremy wants to renationalise sections of British industry. I prefer to concentrate on what we want to achieve by intervening in markets rather than tie ourselves to one process. If Royal Mail is to be fully renationalised, will the shares be seized from investors and shareholders like postal workers? If not, how will the state pay the market price for hundreds of billions of shares in utility companies, rail companies, telecom companies and airlines? State seizures of assets have been tried before, such as during the Russian Revolution, with mixed results in the long term.

What Larks!

The Labour leadership election is great fun. For Tories and Trotskyites alike. The system means that they can all sign up to be “registered supporters” for £3 and vote in our election. If the Tories had such a system I would definitely sign up to vote for Bill Cash or Jacob Rees-Mogg. They would be out of power for a generation. They can’t believe their luck that they have a chance to remove the only other possible governing party from the field for a decade.

Jeremy Corbyn didn’t really want to be a candidate for leader. Diane Abbott did it last time so it was his turn. He doesn’t act or talk like a leader. Electing him as leader of the Labour Party would do immeasurable harm to the very people we wish to protect and to represent.

But I did not shoot the deputy

Choosing who to vote for in the deputy leadership election is harder. I wish this election had been held after we knew who the new leader was, or on a ticket system. My preferred ticket would be Kendall-Bradshaw to give us the best possible chance of organising to win in 2020.

However, if Jeremy Corbyn wins I expect he will get a metaphorical ice pick that will make his ears burn in a year or two to we will need a deputy leader in the co-pilot seat with the support base to drive things forward. Caroline Flint looks like the best candidate to me for this scenario.

If either of the two less radical candidates, Yvette Cooper or Andy Burnham won (whom I both like), we would need a more radical deputy to make sure we reform. Stella Creasy would be best in this scenario.

I like Tom Watson too but I think a deputy needs to be very loyal and I remember his treatment of past leaders.

My endorsement

I have spent a lot of time talking to voters on the doorstep, including in marginal constituencies, and this is what informs my opinion. As a defeated Labour candidate for parliament in the momentous election of May 2015, I endorse Liz Kendall as our next leader. I like Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham too and I recommend placing them second and third respectively.

For deputy, I would prefer Ben Bradshaw if Liz Kendall was leader. However, I believe that the most likely outcome is that Jeremy Corbyn will win the leadership so I recommend voting for Caroline Flint first as the best person to pick up the pieces when his leadership implodes. Stella Creasy is a great candidate too.

Transporting Surrey’s NHS Patients

Under the Conservative-Lib Dem changes to the NHS, every part of the system is open to privatisation and cuts. The latest service potentially on the chopping block is transporting seriously ill patients to non-urgent medical care, like pre-planned operations. This service in Surrey, North East Hampshire and Hounslow will be put out to private tender soon and a “consultation” has been launched today.

This was received today from Surrey Heath Clinical Commissioning Group:

Patient Transport Services – consultation
NHS Surrey Heath Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is one of several CCGs in Surrey, North East Hampshire and Farnham and Hounslow reviewing non-urgent NHS Patient Transport Services, which will start in April 2017.
Non-urgent Patient Transport Services provide routine, pre-planned transport for patients who need to attend hospital, medical centres and outpatient appointments and cannot make their own way there because of recognised medical conditions which fulfil specific eligibility criteria.
They also provide pre-planned transport for patients who require clinically trained staff to transport them because of their medical requirements.
Have your say!
Please take the opportunity to get involved and have your say on the new Patient Transport Services.
• Hear about the plans at a public meeting at The Camberley Theatre, on Thursday 9th July from 2.30pm.
• Take part in the online survey.
• You can join the PTS Patient Advisory Group if you use the services.
The procurement is being managed by North West Surrey CCG on behalf of all the organisations involved.

Here is a link to the CCGs’ case for privatising this service. They cite lack of funding as one of their reasons for privatising the service:

We have an increasing ageing population and a greater number of people with debilitating comorbidities which will create a future requirement for many more trips to appointments, yet no additional funding will be available to support this.

The South East Coast Ambulance service, as part of the NHS, currently deliver the service. Once it is privatised the £6.5m per year will go to a private company to pay their executives and shareholders. NHS jobs will be lost and private companies will be rewarded for recruiting the lowest paid workers they can get away with.

This is the future of the NHS thanks to the Conservative-Lib Dem Health and Social Care Act.

Choosing a new leader – and a deputy

“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” – Martin Luther King, Jr

As the summer commences, the Labour leader and deputy leader contest is hotting up. I think nominations close next week. To make it onto the ballot paper candidates need at least 35 MPs to nominate them. After that it’s one member one vote, ranking the candidates in order of preference.
I’m still undecided on both contests but I have thought about some pros and cons for some of the candidates.
Leader candidates
  • Andy Burnham. Pros – I like Andy, he has stood up for values which I share consistently and andy burnhampowerfully for many years. He is an accomplished media performer and has support from a wide section of the party. Cons – I would like to see a woman lead the Labour Party if possible. It seems unfair to discriminate against Andy for this reason, however. Also, our defeat was so fundamental last month that it might be necessary to steer away from the last regime. Andy would do well in PMQs against Cameron but would it look too much like the last 5 years? Maybe.
  • Yvette Cooper. Pros – Again, Yvette is very good on TV. 2014-09-20 18.27.17She is calm and confident and definitely a match for any opponent. PMQs would be very uncomfortable for Cameron and the strident SNP would find her a difficult target to hit. In the wider media, Yvette would present a new politics breaking with the stale yah-boo tradition which has turned so many people off. Cons – One word: “#EdBalls”. Mr Cooper was great fun as shadow chancellor and got nearly every call right but he is central to the previous regime in many people’s minds. If we decide we need to make a clean cut with the last 5 years then this might be a distraction.
  • Mary Creagh. Pros – I met Mary briefly at a 2014-03-14 18.35.59meeting of the Southern group of Labour MPs. Admittedly, it was a very sympathetic audience but she really commanded the room. She was shadow transport secretary then and answered a range of questions, including mine, confidently and knowledgably. I remember thinking at the time that it would be brilliant if she was in government – talented, determined, convincing. Cons – Mary is not that well known among the wider public so her first few months as leader would be critical in setting the scene.
  • Liz Kendall. Pros – Liz’s leadership campaign started early and hit the ground running. She is offering a break from the previous regime, which failed and now looks like a failure. If Labour is to win in 2020 we will need to address national identity and present a big vision about what it means to be British. Now, any of the other serious candidates could do this too but perhaps Liz’s supporters have been the first to grasp this. Cons – Liz is not as assured a media performer as the other three, in my opinion, but she hasn’t had as much practice yet. Like Mary, she is not very well known in the country so would have to get off to a good start.

Some deputy leader candidates

  • Ben Bradshaw. Pros – Ben understands what it takes to win in the South and why we failed in May. I personally heard him tell Ed Miliband about 6 months before the election about southern voters’ concerns. He was spot on. Cons – I wouldn’t like to see an all-male, all-white leadership pair.
  • Stella Creasy. Pros – Community campaigning. Regular readers will know that this is the foundation of my politics. Stella’s USP is successful grassroots activism. Could this be the route to one million members and inevitable electoral successes? Cons – What about the South outside London where we are thin on the ground? What about Scotland?
  • Caroline Flint. Pros – Very popular among members, especially in Surrey. Great in TV debates and interviews. Cons – Maybe associated with the previous regime.
  • Tom Watson. Pros – Strong media performer and supported by a wide section of the party. Likeable and friendly. Cons – White male, which would be a problem if the leader was also white male.
  • Others – Labour is lucky that we have many great potential deputy leaders in addition to those above. I will be listening to everyone’s pitch, especially Rushanara Ali and Angela Eagle.

Anyway, I haven’t decided who to vote for yet. I’m looking forward to the campaign and I hope to help out in some way after nominations have closed and I have made up my mind on who to support. The good news is that all of the serious candidates are very strong propositions so I will get behind whoever is eventually elected.

Surrey Tory Councillors Vote to Stifle Democracy

I was in the public gallery at today’s full council meeting of Surrey County Council in the London Borough of Kingston, just outside Surrey. The first hour was spent electing the new Tory chair of the council, unopposed, and general back-slapping.

Regular readers will be aware of my campaign to reverse the outrageous pay hike which Tory councillors awarded themselves last year. Interestingly, the outgoing chair of the council refused to accept his 20% pay hike and gave it to charity. This was covered in the press here:

I have written to the new chair, Cllr Sally Marks, to ask if she will be doing the same thing. Here is the email I sent:

email to scc chair

Tory councillors voted to stifle opposition's right to address council

Tory councillors voted to stifle opposition’s right to address council

After forcing through their money-grab last year, Tories on the council voted to change the constitution this year to give them the power to limit opposition motions at council meetings. The new chair refused to allow a vote on lowering the threshold number of signatures which petitions need to be debated at the council. The whole thing was forced through with Tory votes (and the one Green councillor) and there is nothing that the opposition councillors (Labour, Independent, Residents Association, Ukip and Lib Dem) can do about it. Last year was money-grab, this year it’s power-grab.

The leader of the council, Cllr David Hodge, was his usual snarling thin-skinned self. He gloated about the Tory win in the general election. He has put in place a plan (which was also waved through by the Tory majority) to rename the scrutiny committees “boards” and have them meet less often. The Tory chairs and vice-chairs will retain the full, controversially inflated, special responsibility allowances which they voted themselves last year.

The Communities Select Committee has been laughably renamed the “Residents Experience Board”. It retains the same remit but now has this management bingo style name which will be an insult to the users and employees of the council’s libraries and fire stations and other services. Labour’s Cllr Robert Evans pointed out to Cllr Hodge that he was leaving the council open to ridicule by renaming the committee like this. Hodge was visibly rattled and said, “Well, Labour didn’t win the election, um. Ha, maybe it was because they, um, didn’t have a Residents Experience, um, committee [sic]”.

These buffoons are what we are up against in Surrey. The council started at 10am and adjourned for lunch at 12.15pm until 2pm for more self-congratulatory back-slapping among the Tories. Meanwhile, social care, bus services and school places are being cut and our county’s roads are the most potholed in the country.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can take them on. I am considering setting up a campaign group to fight for residents of Surrey against reactionary Tory rule both at County Hall and Westminster. I don’t want to have meetings, not even one, just campaigning events. Let me know if you are in. Let’s give the Surrey Tory Party an “experience” they’ll never forget!


Cllr Marks has replied to my email:

email from sally marks

I don’t understand why being a Christian means she shouldn’t give back money obtained inappropriately from the council tax payers of Surrey. She “helps those in need” by voting herself a 20% pay rise and hiking council tax every year while support for those least able to pay it is slashed. “Those in need” have to take food out of the mouths of their children to pay for Cllr Marks’ allowances because her government cut Council Tax Support.

It leaves a bad taste in my mouth when religious Tories try to justify their greed and heartless disregard for the most disadvantaged in society.

Homage to Guildford

The UK general election of 7 May 2015 was momentous.

Richard Wilson and Guildford CLP Chair Lynda MacDermott

Richard Wilson and Guildford CLP Chair Lynda MacDermott

Even back in November 2013 it was clear that this would be a big one. About 18 months ago, I was selected to be the Labour Party candidate to contest the seat of Guildford.

I grew up a few miles away from the birthplace of Keir Hardie, one of the founders of the Labour Party, so it was a special honour for me to represent his party in Surrey, the county which has been my home for 15 years. I was selected by the party members in Guildford in a “one member one vote” ballot.

I decided to stand for Parliament because I wanted to contribute the most I could. People deserve a credible Labour candidate to vote for wherever they live. I chose to put myself forward for selection in Guildford because I live about 5 miles away, the local party has a (deserved) reputation for being welcoming, and there are numerous national issues which touch the constituency and should be debated in an election.

This was the first time I had attempted to be selected as a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate (PPC) and looking back with the benefit of hindsight I am sure I did the right thing. My preconceptions about what it would be like were mostly wrong, however. I had been involved in many previous council elections and I helped out in other constituencies like Eastleigh and Reading East. Also, I did lots of Labour Party training webinars, asked advice and read what I could find on being a candidate. I still wasn’t prepared.

I wasted a huge amount of my time and energy trying to achieve small campaign objectives which proved impossible. We also made massive progress on other objectives with relatively little effort. If I had known then what I know now I could have focused on the achievable. I think this is my only regret.

It is difficult being a PPC while working full time but my employer was quite good about it. This is just a feature of our system of democracy. People say they want MPs who have done other jobs but, in reality, insiders will always have an advantage. I gave up most of my free time but that is what I signed up for so I’m not complaining about that.

The highlights of the local campaign were: my petition to reverse the Tory county councillors’ pay hike, the individually addressed election leaflets I designed which 73,000 voters received in the post, the 11 public hustings events, owning the Guildford farmers market, helping Tesco employees on their “Freedom from Fear” day, marching with striking teachers on the High Street, standing alongside midwives and other NHS workers on the picket line outside the Royal Surrey, speaking at the council to stop the Lib Dems closing down the much-loved Boileroom music and arts venue, making a speech at the Labour Party annual conference, social media wars with Tories, door-knocking, leafleting and, above all, bringing great new active campaigners into the Labour Party.

2015-05-04 11.08.33 Collage

The culmination of all that saw a massive increase in our vote, up by 132%. Our share of the vote rose by 7 percentage points to 12.1%. No one thought we could finish ahead of Ukip but we were well clear of them. We are now within striking distance of the Lib Dems. The last time Labour beat them in Guildford was 1979 and it looks like this will happen again soon.


My elation at the result of the campaign in Guildford is tempered, of course, by the very disappointing national results. We didn’t make the gains we expected in marginal seats and we lost nearly all of our seats in Scotland. I have read plenty of analyses of what we did wrong and I nod my head in agreement while reading all of them.

Personally, I still feel too close to the election to analyse it objectively. One thing does leap out at me: targeting didn’t work. I expected that Labour would outperform decisively in key seats. We didn’t. This is important not just because we didn’t gain these seats but also because of the opportunity cost. By focusing on key seats we sacrificed the opportunity to build up our support in safe Tory and even safe Labour seats. We narrowed our appeal instead of broadening it.

There is nothing wrong with our values, on the contrary. I don’t even think there was anything important wrong with our policies in the manifesto. It was our national campaign that was, with hindsight, fatally flawed. It was like an exam where we failed not because we didn’t swot enough but because we didn’t answer the right questions – the ones the public was asking. The first thing to remember when doing an exam is: read the question!

I haven’t decided which candidates to vote for in the leader and deputy leader elections. I will listen to what they have to say about broadening our appeal and achieving a mandate to govern the entire country.

Sincere thanks to all of the 6,534 people who voted for me in Guildford. I’m so grateful to all of the Labour volunteers who made the local campaign possible. There are too many to name them all but the chair of Guildford Labour Party, Lynda MacDermott, deserves special recognition for leading the “ground war” from the front. I feel that the Guildford Labour Party is in a strong position to lead the fight for all the people of Guildford who are suffering under the Tory government.

For me, the campaign goes on. People in Surrey need an effective opposition to stand up for them against the Tories more than ever. Every council tax payer in Surrey is being failed by Surrey County Council. The council election is in 2017 but the full council is tomorrow and I’ll be in the public gallery again.

Surrey might be the height of Tory-dom on earth but I believe that there will be a Labour MP here in my lifetime. I will strive to make that happen and I will always be proud of my part in the momentous election of 2015.

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.” – JFK

From Gallipoli to Guildford

Sgt S Fitz

My great-grandfather Sgt S Fitz. I’m told I look like him.

I watched a bit of the ceremony at the Cenotaph today marking 100 years since the start of the Gallipoli campaign in the first world war. My great-grandfather was there, 100 years ago, as an infantry sergeant. It made me wonder what he thought of the war then and what he would make of Britain and the world today.

Back then, he wouldn’t have thought of it as the first world war. To the men thrown into the slaughter it must have seemed like the war to end all wars, or to end the world. They must have thought that the whole world order must surely change now. The empires and the aristocrats must surely come tumbling down after creating such a man-made tragedy of death and destruction.

What would my great-grandfather, Sgt S Fitz, have thought if he had known in 1915 that another world war was just 24 years away? What would he have thought if he could see the dukes and the earls leading ceremonies at Remembrance Days? What would he think about his great-grandson being an airline captain and standing for Parliament for the Labour Party?

Sometimes, we all have struggles in our lives, or think we have done something courageous. I will be thinking of my great-grandfather when the election result in Guildford is declared on 8 May 2015 and remember where he was exactly 100 years before.

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