This was just going to be a round up of yesterday's by-election results and just as I was about to start writing, Labour's leaflets from the Downham by-election in Lewisham yesterday hit my desk. For those who are not clad in by-election anoraks, the background was that 2 Lib Dem cllrs retired from the Council last month, both representing the same ward. So the by-election was a double header. Lewisham itself was one of the councils where Labour went into meltdown in the last elections in 2006. They went from having a large majority to having 29 out of 60 councillors. This was rather academic however given there is an elected mayor, Labour's Sir Steve Bullock, the thinking man's cure for insomnia.
Though Downham is a Lib Dem held ward, it does have a Labour history. And Labour had high hopes of taking the 2 seats and winning back a majority on the council. In the end they nearly came third. Looking at their appalling literature, they deserved to come last. Labour seemed to think there was a BNP threat in the ward. The actual threat could hadly be described as anything other than weak. The BNP only had one candidate. They hadn't stood in the ward last time. And BNP resources were clearly going to another by-election, in Sevenoaks, which they won from Labour.
So why Labour should campaign in the ward in the style of the BNP is an as yet unanswered question. It seems that much of their message was the desperate need to have the Union Jack flying above the town hall. They had a petition on it, in an attempt to persuade the mayor to see sense and fly the flag. (Interesting that they felt the need to run a petition to persuade themselves to change something they were doing!) Anyway, Labour's campaign of waving the flag was an outstanding success as the Labour mayor had a rethink and decided to have the Union Jack fluttering from the municipal flagpole on "at least 14 special occasions such as Trafalgar Day and the Queen's birthday." (It was noticeable that Nuuuuuu Labour don't mention May Day as a special day, though that may have something to do with Labour's successful approach to reducing the number of workers.)
Personally, I think flying the nation's flag on special occasions is a great idea. But it should be done as a matter of course, not something adopted as a tactic in a political battle. The flag belongs to the nation as a whole, not to one political party. Politicising the Union Jack is a tactic of the far right and Labour should be ashamed of themselves for posing in such a manner. If you want to beat the BNP, you do so by giving a different and better vision, not posing as a pale version of the far right.
And couldn't Labour find something closer to people's needs on which to campaign? Whilst Labour may be keen to have the flag flying above their head, the rest of us are more concerned about having a roof above our head.
But Labour's stupidity does not end there. Though they posed as flag waving nationalists, one of their campaign messages was that the battle was a 2 horse race between Labour and Conservatives. And whilst Labour drools with indignation everytime they see a bar chart in a Lib Dem Focus leaflet, Lewisham Labour stuffed their leaflets full of graphs suggesting that it was only Labour or Tories who could win there.
So I can imagine the surprise and confusion of voters therefore on polling day when they received a Labour leaflet claiming "The BNP winning in Downham - it's more important than ever before to vote Labour today."
And the next day, of course, people woke up to the news of a Lib Dem election victory!
So, posing as watered down right wingers, ignoring bread and butter issues, talking up both the Tories and BNP - even that must be a record for Labour. Still, though they fly the union jack "on special occasions", at least we will be guaranteed that Labour certainly won't be flying the red flag in Lewisham.