A press release on the Barnet Labour website caught my eye yesterday. Labour are seeking an election organiser for next years local council elections. The salary will be £33,000. A few things sprung to mind. I had been under the impression the Labour party was strapped for cash. As there are 32 London Boroughs, should each local party have a paid organiser, then that would be well over a million pounds. Of course, it is up to the Labour party how they spend their money, I'm not a member, but I was genuinely surprised. I then wondered if it was a new post, or it's just replacing someone who has been doing it for years.
It seems that the brief of the role is to put the Labour party in a position where they could actually win in Barnet. I could tell the, for absolutely free what needs to be done. If Labour, The Lib Dems and The Greens were to agree a progressive alliance, then the maths supports the argument that all would gain seats and the Tories would lose control of the Council.
This would simply take the form of the three parties agreeing to run less than three candidates in seats where the Conservatives are the incumbant party. So in Mill Hill, you could have one Labour, one, Lib Dem and one Green candidate. This would still give people the choice of voting for their preferred candidate. It would also give them the opportunity to vote tactically. In seats where Labour are close, they could run two candidates and the Lib Dems/Greens divvy the third seat between them. There are tens of thousands of Green voters with no representation in Barnet. Lib Dems only have two out of 63 councillors, which in no way reflects their vote.
I get the feeling that Labour have analysed the polling from the Mayor of London elections and have concluded that Barnet is winnable. I am not quite sure whether they factored into their math that Labour put their best possible candidate up in Anne Clarke, whereas the Tories put their worst one with Roberto Weedon-Sanz. Anne has done a lot of work and has managed to reach out beyond the normal Labour support base. My gut feeling was that Robert just about managed to get the Tory faithful out. Council elections are a bit different.
Labour look as if have decided to throw the kitchen sink at it. Whilst £33,000 seems like a lot of cash for the job, looking at the job spec, I am not sure it's really enough to get a top notch candidate with the skills they need. It seems that they want a social media expert, with a strong background in Graphic design. A quick search of Jobserve tells me that you'd probably have to pay £55-70K per annum to get a really effective person for the role, with the right skill set. It may sound like a lot of money, but unless you get someone who can really hit the ground running and has the experience to get to grips with the issues that have fuelled Labours election failure in Council elections since 1998, it is all money down the loo. Personally, I'd have a clear out of the party's local executive before I appointed anyone, as I think you will end up with a nodding donkey, who simply ensure's that the failure is better managed. The current exec have an awful track record of failure in Council elections since 1998. Each defeat has had its own unique set of excuses, none of which come down to the fact that the local Labour bigwigs have not engaged with the reality of Barnet politics or taken into account the local issues that might swing the 2-300 votes in needed to win the marginals. Prior to that, they had Alan Williams as Leader, who was the last Labour politician who really understood what you need to do to win locally and did it ruthlessly, winning 2 elections against all of the odds, mainly by doing side deals with the Lib Dems in key seats. The template is there, but no one has had the guts to use it since. In 2010, these 'side deals' imploded spectacularly, with Labour canvassing in Mill Hill and upsetting hundreds of Lib Dem voters, who had previously voted Labour in General elections. Andrew Dismore lost his seat by 105 votes. The Lib Dems lost in the Council and the Tories retained control.
Barnet is a bit of a strange Borough and a bit of an outlier. As London has gone more to Labour, it has stayed Conservative, with the Tories massively increasing their number of Councillors at the last election. Of course having professional support will always improve a parties performance, I will be fascinated to see if there is a change of tack when the person is in post. From talking to local people, many of whom have voted Labour in the past, I am struck by the lack of enthusiasm for the party beyond committed believers. As the role is for a die hard Labour stalwart,according to the job spec, I do wonder if they will have the right mindset. If Labour locally simply do more of the same, then I can see no way that they will ever oust the Tories.
If you are a Labour member with a strong history of organising campaigns and are looking for a job, this may well be the opportunity of a life time. I wish whoever gets the job the best of luck. I did wonder what I would do if someone told me the Lib Dems had £33,000 to try and win the election and it was up to me to decide how to spend it. I'd use the cash to support existing work by activists and to offer proper training to those who felt they could contribute more. I'd spend a bit on a more responsive website and a bit on better quality leaflets. I'd probably employ a co-ordinator part time a day a week, just to ensure things get done. But hey ho, what do I know.
Here are the full details if you are interested.