Tag Archives: Chuka Umunna

Streatham On The TUC March For The Alternative

Over a hundred members of Streatham Labour Party took part in the TUC’s March for the Alternative on Saturday 26 March. Here is a video I made on the day.

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Lib Dem Quits After Racist Tweet About Chuka Umunna

Cllr Warren Swaine

No, not in Streatham, where I live, but in the area where I grew up, in Reading.

Liberal Democrat councillor for Katesgrove ward, Warren Swaine, decided to pass comment on the recent performance of my good friend and neighbour Chuka Umunna, Labour Member of Parliament for Streatham, on BBC Question Time.

Cllr Swaine (pictured) tweeted this:

“I am waiting for the Labour guy to claim, ‘Is it because I is black’ as a defence for being a muppet.”

Disgusting. Loathsome. Detestable.

I watched Chuka on TV, as I often do, and thought it was an excellent performance. As a press officer I used to brief people up for Question Time, and still do occasionally. So I can claim to know a thing or two about effective QT performances. I texted Chuka afterwards to say so.

Chuka is young, bright, articulate. He’s a very capable politician, in the Commons, in the media and, crucially, in the community he serves. Warren Swaine has shown himself to be the reverse of that, the negative, the underside of the stone. He is a bilious disgrace to his party, the people who elected him and the office he holds. If anyone is a muppet, it is Swaine. A racist muppet.

I read today that Cllr Swaine has now ‘stepped down’ from his role as Cabinet Member for Environment and Sustainability on Reading Borough Council, but not before turning his not inconsiderable mind to maligning black community leaders on his own doorstep.

Reading is a town (it should really be a city) with a significant black and minority ethnic population. Cllr Swaine, who uses being half Sri Lankan as a defence when it suits, chose to question the integrity of campaigners trying to prevent funding cuts (by his Tory Lib Dem administration) to Reading Council for Racial Equality. Swaine said on his blog:

“Maybe I can be forgiven for thinking that they [RCRE] aren’t quite the spontaneous groundswell of support they were supposed to appear as.”

Swaine also sought to suggest RCRE has leanings towards Labour. RCRE director Rajinder Sophal has responded:

“Cllr Swaine came to RCRE disguised as a friend but actually with malice in his heart. We treated him nothing other that as a friend and colleague and we feel let down by his outburst.”

I do hope that in 2012 the voters of Reading will assist Warren Swaine in ‘stepping down’ from his role as a councillor.

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An explanation: why was I tired and bored?

A few friends have remarked that I look a bit glum in this picture. It hails from the South London Press review of 2010. The SLP was present at the Lambeth Council count to take pictures.

The truth is I wasn’t glum at all – just very tired and a bit bored. The national picture wasn’t looking good either.

Tired because I had been at Chuka Umunna’s count for the Streatham parliamentary seat, where the ‘vote sampling’ I was doing predicted pretty accurately the eventual result, albeit that the result arrived at 8am, which nobody predicted. That was because of the length of time it took to separate national votes from local. The count for the locals reconvened later the same day.

Now, why bored? No reason other than than the phenomenal length of time it took to get the votes counted. Largely because somebody had decided that one ballot box – for local and parliamentary elections – would be enough. So the ballot papers were all mixed up.

If I recall correctly, I knew around the moment the photo was taken that Labour had kept control of Lambeth – the first time in twenty years. Well, it’s tough at election counts to look as you feel. Politicians are human. We get tired too.

It was a great victory. Bear in mind the national circumstances. Give a thought to Lambeth Labour’s months of canvassing and, at last, a full-on day of knocking up, from morning to night.

It goes without saying that I was really happy for Labour to have increased its representation on Lambeth Council from 37 (had been 39, but a death and a defection took down two) to 44 (out of 63).  It also goes without saying that I was really happy we retained three Labour MPs in Lambeth, and Chuka Umunna was elected in Streatham for the first time.

So the picture shows a moment in the long slow process of the count. A moment that can best be equated to ‘my train’s been cancelled for 24 hours’.

And though the Lambeth Labour special chugged to victory in the end, of course, nationally we came off the rails. There are many lessons being learned from that.

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On coming 93rd without trying

It’s a very strange sensation, coming 93rd in the Total Politics poll of the 100 favourite Labour blogs. It means I’m fractionally more popular than Austin Mitchell, who came 99th. I am unsure how to deal with this level of celebrity.

What feels most strange is I really don’t deserve to be in the list – though of course I’m grateful to whoever voted for me. I’ll try to blog more regularly to justify the touching optimism of their votes. But, truth to tell, the Total Politics poll wasn’t on my radar, and nor was this very occasional blog.

My glittering 93rd place was effortless. Literally effortless. I did absolutely nothing to win any votes, and seeing myself propelled to the coveted 93rd spot came as a bit of a shock. I had one of those almost-falling-off-chair moments. It felt a bit like winning a school prize for not doing any homework.

I’m reminded of the time I was in a team representing my (comprehensive) school in a public speaking competition. We finished second, defeated by our hated rivals, a grammar school. Finishing second – silver medal, general glow of achievement, better luck next time – it doesn’t sound that bad I suppose. But there were only two teams taking part. Young man, they were better spoken, said one of the judges. We woz robbed.

But life goes on. I have, I must admit, had a very off and on attitude to blogging, to the extent that my blog posts in the past year have been about as frequent as panda sex. In the autumn of last year I rediscovered a love of messing around with a video camera. Armed with the editing software on my computer, I’ve turned out some YouTube videos I’m more proud of than anything I’ve written in a blog. So maybe that explains why I haven’t been doing words – I prefer making movies.

But as there are clearly innumerable numbers of people out there with an eager interest in what I have to say as 93rd most popular Labour blogger, I’ll try to overcome my blog-block and write a bit more.

Meanwhile here’s a video I made of Streatham Labour’s hard-fought campaign this year that saw Chuka Umunna elected as our MP, and some Labour councillors of some merit (one is 93rd most popular Labour blogger believe it or not) re-elected.

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Trust me, I’m a politician?

Polling station

Polling station

Standards for England, the ethics watchdog for 80,000 local councillors, has done a survey of attitudes to local councillors, MPs and politicians in general.

The findings will not make comfortable reading for many MPs and parliamentary candidates in the wake of the Commons expenses scandal.

The survey of 1,735 adults was conducted in June, after the local and European elections,and finds trust towards local politicians rating higher than towards MPs. Standards for England Chief Executive, Glenys Stacey, has said: “It is pleasing … to see that trust in local politicians held up favourably compared to people’s views about national politicians.”

But looking at the figures, it appears 1% of those surveyed feel MPs ‘always’ tell the truth, compared to 2% for councillors. Hardly a dramatic leap in trust. 

More positive (for councillors, that is) is the result for politicians ‘never or rarely’ telling the truth. While nearly a third (29%) of those surveyed felt that MPs are verbally dishonest, a fifth (20%) felt the same way about councillors.

The same questions were asked in 2007, when the results were 20% for MPs and 18% for councillors. So both groups have seen an increase in mistrust in the past 2 years. 

What is interesting is the decline in the number of ‘don’t knows’ for each category, suggesting that not only has confidence in politicians been dented generally, but perceptions of politicians have been galvanised – there are fewer people without an opinion, positive or negative.

As I said in a recent Guardian article written with my friend and Labour colleague Chuka Umunna, PPC for Streatham, voters’ trust in what should be an open and honest vocation needs to rebuilt. No amount of legislation or codes of conduct will achieve that. It is for politicians to earn trust through personal demonstration of honesty and hard work, looking to our behaviour and that of our parties to correct what has caused the electorate to lose confidence.

Is regaining trust in politics and politicians an impossible task? Perhaps, for some. The voters should give their verdict on them.

To others I would say it will not be short work. Reflect on the words of Dr Samuel Johnson (a frequent visitor to Streatham, by the way).

Johnson said: “Few things are impossible to diligence and skill. Great works are performed not by strength, but perseverance.”

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Time to serve people, not politicians

The article below appears in today’s Guardian. I co-wrote it with my friend and colleague, Chuka Umunna, who is Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Streatham at the next general election.

The collective reputation of MPs has been burned to ash and the clean-up begins not a moment too soon. MPs of all parties have been shamed, but it has been most galling when associated with people on the left, who were first elected by telling voters they would change the rules – in politics and beyond – to make Britain better and fairer. Labour activists who go door to door for them have been on the receiving end of public anger and are themselves furious.

The mantra often repeated is “my claims were within the rules”, but this is a complete irrelevance when the claims do not stand up to moral scrutiny. How can they not see this?

It appears they have been deafened to political reality by the siren songs of vested interest, manifested in the deference of Commons police and staff, the patronage of the whips, the Speaker’s offices and the indulgence of the fees office. To the public, it seems they have been rewarded with TVs, kitchens, massage chairs and imaginary mortgages for doing so. If politics in Britain is to have a future, all this must change.

Another future is possible. We are two Labour politicians but there are many more of us – parliamentary candidates, councillors and activists – who still believe in what Harold Wilson called the “moral crusade” of our party. We are all putting our hearts and souls into it and a better future for our communities.

Most of our politicians are idealistic and well-intentioned. The corrupt are few, and now is the time for them to be driven from office by the many who want to rebuild trust in what should be an honest and open vocation.

As the Commons considers what to do, Labour’s next generation has a duty to make a contribution if it does not wish to inherit the public’s contempt.

We must start by recognising that if we want to dismantle the “gentlemen’s club”, we must tackle the machine ¬politics out of which it was born. Root and branch constitutional reform is a prerequisite. We must elect the Lords, make the voting system more ¬proportional and end the degraded adversarial culture of Westminster, as exemplified by the so-called theatre of prime minister’s questions.

The Labour party must change too. MPs who have acted within the rules but outside the bounds of public acceptability should be deselected. There is a moral and political imperative to do so – we will not retain seats where we are offering damaged goods. The higher education minister David Lammy has mooted introducing primaries as a way of making parliamentary selection more open, and to involve the public. The clamour for this is growing.

But first, changes to MPs’ expenses and the election of the Speaker are imminent. Gordon Brown’s proposal of an independent parliamentary standards regulator, responsible for pay and allowances, is welcome. Expenses should now be fully published online and investigated without further delay, with absolute application of the law towards MPs found to have broken it.

Whatever shape the new expenses system takes, one principle should win out: there must be an end to any privileges that set MPs apart from the people they represent – no first class travel, no London congestion charge reclaim, and no claims for anything that is not directly related to the work of being an MP.

In 1994, the then Labour leader, John Smith, said: “The opportunity to serve our country – that is all we ask.” Service.

That is what our parliamentarians need to remember as they consider reform. The time has come to serve the people, not politicians.

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