Archive for the ‘election’ Category

Hello to friends of denverthen. ‘Estimologist’ here. My brother has roped me in to his one-man effort to get the Communitarian revolutionaries out of Downing Street, with a piece of flattery that probably isn’t true. But if it turns out I’m an idiot, I hope I’m a useful one!

The purpose of this blog, as I understand it, is to try to help our struggling country to its feet again, in whatever small way we can, so I’ll try to keep it along those lines.
I’m not sure if this recessionary situation we’re in is in fact the Big One that people have been rumbling about since the 18th century, starting I suppose with Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798, and in our own era ‘The Limits to Growth‘ (Club of Rome, 1972) and latterly many scholarly (and many more totally useless) articles on the internet about subjects such as Peak Oil. (I’ve not read these wiki articles thoroughly, they are offered as a starting point for the more interested digger, but one I find interestingly general and enlightening is a paper called ‘How Civilizations Fall: A Theory of Catabolic Collapse‘ by a chap called J M Greer.)
If it is (the Big One), and it’s not entirely Gordon Brown’s fault, there is probably absolutely nothing that any number of well-intentioned rants by me is going to be able to do about it, but hey, it might not be, and even if it is, maybe it won’t be so bad as all the Twenty-twelvers are saying. (Notable physicist and author Fred Hoyle thought that living in a dark age, post-catastrophe, would not be too bad, and that it might even be an age of liberty and innovation).
That said, the most effective approach I can think of to the Big One scenario is to try to make as many people as possible believe that this is it, on the basis that they will adapt their behaviour to avoid it, and maybe make it a bit less of a bother if it does happen.
One thing Mr Cameron is right about, either way, though: We can’t go on like this.

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…Looks like Liz Truss’s failed to open, given her impact on the Conservatives (and others) in the Norfolk consituency that didn’t choose her as a PPC. “Lead balloon” springs to mind.

At all times, candidates for Member of Parliament should be local people. I would have thought that was blindingly obvious to all but Iain Dale, who’s banging on about it in yet another pretty bitchy little post today (you have to wonder whether his personal ambitions in the direction of parliament have coloured his judgment on this), Conservative Party Central Office – and, oh yeah, the Labour Party. I doubt if Dale would be in the running for MP anywhere were it not for the prospect of the helpful parachute. Mind you, it looks like he might have given up after coming third in Bracknell. Don’t get me wrong, however, I wish neither him nor Miss Truss any ill will. I just don’t like candidates foisted on people. It’s a stitch-up, it’s patronising, it takes the electorate for granted and it should never be tolerated. To put it another way, there should be a law against it.

Conservative policy on this really does need to be clarified, as the excellent DT commentary from Melanie McDonagh (see link above) states. To say there are mixed signals coming from the Tory high command on localism is a major understatement. Pickles’ presence, no less, is required.

Iain Dale (I had no idea he read this little blog – maybe he has staff to do it for him) believes that the shortlist system helps to stop the “parachute effect” from ever happening, although he didn’t put it quite like that (see comments). I’m not convinced, frankly, although I concede that the picture is more complex than the one I painted in my slightly bilious initial remarks. It does not, for instance, answer the question that is being put by Swaffham’s Conservative Association: how much influence does, can and should Central Office bring to bear on local Associations in the selection of candidates? A better argument for universal open primaries (or open caucuses, to be precise) I have yet to hear. Mr Dale himself came a dignified cropper because of this excellent innovation as the people of the constituency for which he had hoped to stand opted for someone who, in terms of the crowded clusters of towns and villages in the south east of England at least, qualifies as a local man.

Interesting, that, and, I think, goes some way to proving my point. In the case of Elisabeth Truss, David Cameron on the radio just now said that he thought she would be an excellent candidate and that he hopes she is selected. I am sure he is absolutely right – she would most likely be an effective MP. But given that he sounds like he’s otherwise washed his hands of the whole affair, it seems she’s on her own, and we haven’t been given the policy clarification on MPs’ independence, localism and the relationship between constituency and party that is clearly needed.

We haven’t forgotten about the expenses scandal yet. Does David Cameron (and, perhaps, Mr Dale) really need to be reminded just who MPs are elected to serve: constituency, parliament and party in that order?

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Sometimes Guido can be refreshingly pithy. His latest piece of pith is a fine example:

On his blog Bad Al Campbell argues that Dave hasn’t sealed the deal with the electorate thus; “December 5, 1996, Gallup poll. Labour 59. Tories 22. Now that’s what I call a lead. And they’re nowhere near it, because they have not sealed the deal, because they’re not serious on policy, because they haven’t changed much, and because a lot of people don’t really like them.”

Bad Al is really grasping with this line of spin. Labour are 19% behind in the polls; suggesting that if people don’t really like the Tories, they must despise Labour. The voters have come to a settled view of Gordon – that he is a useless weirdo. You can’t spin your way out of that…

“Useless weirdo,” lol. A fine pith-making effort. I love it.

There is one other thing this particular blogpost throws up, however: the polls from those days, as psephological guru Mike Smithson has pointed out on politicalbetting.com until he’s blue in the face, were unreliable, heavily weighted as they were in favour of Labour because of poor practices. Polling methodologies have changed beyond all recognition and for the better since then with the result that they are now, by and large, completely reliable sources that quite accurately reveal voting intentions. Campbell either knows this and is being dishonest or he doesn’t and he’s being stupid. Either way, he’s a damn fool for making the comparison at all.

If you want to know more about why you should be careful with historical polls, Mike Smithson explains here.

Fact is, a 19% Tory lead according to modern polling techniques means a sub-200 seat wipeout for Labour if that was repeated at the general election. And it’s a reliable poll. Campbell can’t spin his way out of that reality, either.

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This is what I call top-class political journalism. Clear, cogent, cohesive and devastating. Another journalist seems to have finally understood the true scale of the damage set to be inflicted upon Brown and Labour by a country that has, quite simply, had a bellyful of them. It’s worth the read…

They have no idea what is in store for them. Not really. When Labour convenes in Manchester for its annual gathering next September, its members will look back on this week’s conference in Brighton as another era, another country, another world. Gordon Brown will be gone, David Cameron will be in No 10, and a new Opposition leader will be telling his or her flock not to despair – or, more accurately, to stop despairing. Factionalism, introspection, recrimination: these will be the hallmarks of the wrecked movement that once carried all before it as New Labour.

But that moment lies ahead. For now, the governing party is too busy ensuring that it will lose the general election to think of what life will actually be like once defeat is in the bag. Charles Clarke pops up to perform his constitutional role as the man who urges Gordon to go, for health reasons or something similar. Baroness Scotland, the Attorney General, is fined £5,000 for employing a Tongan housekeeper illegally – with the magnificent twist that she is in breach of a law she herself steered through Parliament. Baroness Vadera, one of Gordon’s closest advisers, quits as a minister. Gordon himself, apparently shunned repeatedly by the President, is initially reduced to meeting Barack Obama in a New York kitchen, thus bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase “kitchen cabinet”. The polls strike hammer blow after hammer blow to Labour’s morale. David Cameron may not have “sealed the deal” with the public, but Gordon Brown most certainly has.

The entirely predictable corollary of these pre-conference fiascos is epically unsubtle positioning by the principal leadership contenders. Alan Johnson, whose false modesty is now starting to grate, admits that he’s “not willing to rule myself out for all eventualities in the future”. I’ll bet he isn’t. In a Guardian profile yesterday, Ed Balls was reported to have mumbled to a seven-year-old who asked “if he wants to be prime minister… that he would, if asked, adding that someone has to do the job”. Again: you don’t say, Ed.

Meanwhile, in New York, the other Ed (Miliband) told Mary Riddell in The Daily Telegraph yesterday that “I just think for me to start speculating about [the leadership] is a distraction and a bit presumptuous.” Another big fat “yes”! Pressed on rumours that the PM might stand down before the election, the best Miliband could muster was: “I don’t think that’s going to happen. I don’t think it would be right. Honestly.” Not exactly a passionate oath of loyalty, is it? If I were Gordon reading that, I would mutter “Et tu, Ed?” into my porridge. Or perhaps just hurl the porridge against the wall, as seems to be the Prime Minister’s preferred method of expressing mild irritation these days.

Mr Miliband’s pre-conference mantra is that “there’s no future for Labour in not being a party of the middle classes”. This is true – indeed, it is obvious to the point of banality – but it is odd to hear Mr Miliband of all people say it, given that, for the past decade, he has been one of the most outspoken advocates of what he calls “fair taxes”. And what Mr Miliband calls “fair taxes” is what the rest of us call “being fleeced” and “having less of our income left to us by the rapacious state to spend on our families”. In his interview with The Sunday Telegraph today, Mr Brown claims that Middle Britain is top of his list: “These are the people who I identify with.” Again, could have fooled us, Gordon. If the Brownites think that they will win over the electorate by reinventing the Blairite wheel at this late stage, they are in for a shock.

As, indeed, is the whole Labour movement. The shock of defeat lies not only in the loss of power, terrible as that undoubtedly is. A party driven from office must expect a whole array of traumas, great and small. For a start, the political landscape on the morning after the election is utterly transformed, and makes all pre-electoral prophecies instantly redundant.

The sheer scale of Labour’s victory in 1997, the consequent tininess of the Conservative parliamentary party, and the absence of Michael Portillo from the Tory leadership race: none of this could have been foreseen at John Major’s final conference as leader in Bournemouth in 1996. Most Conservatives knew they were heading for defeat. But it was 22 years since the Tory party had lost an election. It had forgotten the rank smell of failure, the ashen taste in the mouth, the sudden experience of irrelevance.

Irrelevance is at the heart of it all, and it is this that should most frighten Labour as it gathers by the sea. A party in power, no matter how divided, no matter how exhausted, no matter how useless, is still interesting: its exhaustion, its infirmity, its lack of trajectory are important because they affect all of us as citizens. If John Prescott is rude about Harriet Harman, it is a story. If Tony Blair is reported by Adam Boulton to think that Gordon Brown is a “quitter”, that’s a story, too.

Labour has grown used to the limelight, and has forgotten that nobody has a right to the public’s attention. It is a paradox that the longer a Government lasts, even as it suffers cellular damage and approaches invalidity, the more convinced it becomes that its beliefs are obvious, that its arguments are plain common sense, that it does not have to win the battle daily. Philip Gould, Blair’s chief pollster, used to quote approvingly the belief of the US strategist Dick Morris that, in modern politics, a government needs a “daily mandate”. Plainly, Mr Brown believes no such thing. He exudes only contempt for his opponents and their policies, even though the polls suggest that Mr Cameron’s personality and proposals have achieved considerable traction with the public.

The election of a Government does not represent a collective swoon before an ideological blueprint, but something much messier and more numinous: boredom with or suspicion of the other lot, intuitive enthusiasm for what the victorious party represents. That enthusiasm is provisional, probationary, and must be renewed constantly. Labour has completely forgotten this. It believes that Britain is a Labour country suffering a temporary bout of false consciousness. In fact, the opposite is true: after three general election victories, the scales have fallen from the public’s eyes.

It will all look so different in Manchester a year hence. But let me predict this much about the week ahead at Brighton: Brown will give a decent speech, better than expected, which will include at least one killer punch (remember “no time for a novice” last year?). He will face down his internal assassins once more. The Labour Party will feel a little buoyed by its leader’s determination. Then, it will disperse, go back to its constituencies – and prepare for Opposition.

All I would add is that contained within this piece is an implicit and powerful warning – for Cameron in particular and the Conservative party at large. If you unpack that warning, it might go something like this:
1. Do not take the power you will be lent for granted (again).
2. Do not lie to the people who gave you the job. Respect them by being straight with them.
3. Treat the offices of state which you will once more occupy – and the mother of parliaments – with respectful humility.
4. Seek that “daily mandate” and put it at the centre of your political philosophy.

Democracy is a continuum. Elections are merely the legal and essential expression of the need for a healthy democracy to change direction from time to time. The coming General Election, and the democratic change of direction we all so desperately crave that it will bring, is long overdue.

If Cameron follows these principles honestly and not as some sort of publicity gimmick or disingenuous ‘triangulation’ (stifling a debate by lying about your intentions, thus elbowing out any genuine antithesis), then there might be room for a glimmer of hope to emerge that British parliamentary democracy can become healthy once more, after the severe damage that has been done to it by years and years of Labour misgovernance and dishonesty and the daily abuses by MPs of every stripe of a system of remuneration that relied on their personal integrity to function.

If Cameron does this, he will have my vote until the day one of us dies. If he doesn’t, he’ll have one term and then, well, we’ll need another “change of direction”. We’ll kick him out and continue our long, long search for a decent prime minister. (We might even give Boris a try!)

That’s the challenge for Cameron. I think he’s up to it. I hope I’m right.

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Just been listening to Michael Portillo arguing on This Week that it’s in Brown’s political interests to ‘sort out’ the public finances immediately because Cameron’s ‘inexperience’ will somehow then tell against him and Brown’s 12 years in office (his ‘strength’) will suddenly, somehow win him support. This misses a lot of elephants in the proverbial room. For one thing, it is not-only the electorate that seems to have collectively moved on from Brown, as even former Brownite, spendaholic economics guru, Anatole Kaletsky, has now acknowledged in the Times, the media has too.

Added to this is the fact that there is precisely no evidence to support the idea that Brown accepts the cuts argument anyway, let alone has a firm agenda set for spending controls. He is psychologically, stubbornly opposed to the non-expansionist narrative. His reluctance to admit his errors (and lies) over public spending is testament to this. He has not promised cuts in the way his Chancellor (sort-of) has, he has merely given vague, generalised assurances about efficiency savings and the abandonment of ‘unnecessary’ and/or ‘wasteful’ departmental projects – in much the same way as he did in 2005 when he told the same lies to cut the ground from under Michael Howard’s feet over his modest proposals in his brilliant manifesto for an efficiency drive. The idea of genuine reductions in government spending, and bringing the deficit and debt under control, are anathema to him. He might have been bounced into using the ‘c’ word by his own party, but he did so reluctantly and he did it disingenuously. He hasn’t changed – and he hasn’t really changed his tune.

In fact, I think Portillo knows this and he was actually seeking to make a clever if implicit, disguised point about how boxed in Brown has become, as is always the way with someone who has a genuine problem facing up to reality. The reality is that the electorate have had enough of him, in every possible way. The reality is that he can’t immediately start setting the agenda for real public spending cuts because he’ll be straying straight into the unmarked political minefield that is Tory economic territory: sound money and the small state. In other words, he won’t because he can’t. Whether he knows this or not is quite another matter. I think evidence suggests not. That’s what the public suspects, too – and that’s why he (and Balls with his sudden, bizarre, £2Bn assault on his own department), and Labour generally, have no credibility on this key policy area. Unlike 2005, when debt-fuelled growth and Brown’s property bubble were reaching their peak, in 2009 no one’s buying the Brownite lies and spin any more. A crash, Gordon, is a crash and the leaders in charge at the time of that crash and the recession that follows will be forced to take responsibility for it – especially if they are responsible for it!

For this and a whole host of other reasons, Brown-Labour has completely lost the argument on public finance.

Add to this the view that, as is clear now from a succession of polls, in the minds of millions of Britons Brown caused not only the debt crisis, but the recession itself and there is more than enough evidence to suggest that Labour under Brown are facing wipeout, assuming Cameron’s Tories don’t make cannibalism and the culling of all six-week old puppies owned by small children firm manifesto pledges. Labour’s only hope of avoiding this fate is to oust Brown and November looks like the month.

We really have moved on. There are signs the mainstream media is beginning to sense that. Slow on the uptake, aren’t they? But not as slow, it seems, as the Labour party.

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For the incurable optimist — of which there are no doubt several in the Downing Street bunker — there are signs that Britain is starting to recover. The stock market is booming once more, confidence is returning to the housing market and the recession may soon be over. Is it possible Gordon Brown really has saved the world — even if it is too late to save himself? Or, as Labour used to warble, might things only get better?

If only. The bleak truth for UK plc is that after 12 years of stupefying Labour incompetence, the worst is yet to come. Britain is once again on the slide towards the margins of economic influence and military clout. We have the worst public finances of any comparable western economy. The British Chambers of Commerce warned this week that the UK faces a ‘grim’ economic future, with a high risk of a relapse. Unemployment is not just spreading but setting like concrete for years to come. And our shabbily treated troops, once a match for the world’s best, will soon be driven humiliatingly out of Afghanistan.

This is not the slow, managed decline of an empire looking for a role. It is a sudden, embarrassing discovery that we don’t count on the world stage any more. Thanks to our lumbering Prime Minister, we have been given the unwelcome gift to see ourselves as others see us. And it ain’t pretty.

I am writing this from New York, whose citizens once saw Britain as a staunch economic, diplomatic and military ally. It is only a few short years since they hailed Tony Blair as a 9/11 hero and awarded him the Congressional Medal he was so embarrassed to collect. That was the high-water mark for New Labour.

Today, thanks to the Oil-for-Megrahi fiasco, we are a bitter disappointment to America. Newspapers from the Wall Street Journal to the New York Daily News are still running every fresh turn in this tawdry story.

It was perfectly summed up by a devastatingly editorial in the News: ‘Gordon Brown has given grounds to believe today’s British are a cowardly, unprincipled, amoral and duplicitous lot. Because he is all of those.’ Those are cruelly exaggerated words, but they put the finger on a single identifiable cause of Britain’s collapse. The new decline in Britain’s standing on the world stage is not just about Lockerbie. Nor is it even the decision to trade a convicted mass murderer for Libya’s vast oil reserves. It is about the shifty, furtive and ultimately disastrous management of a country which, in 1997, had every conceivable chance of becoming great again.

Labour strode to power with a huge Commons majority, the goodwill of the British people and the prospect of at least two terms in office. For the first time, Labour could ride an economy which had just taken off on a long and sustainable boom.

Tony Blair could have done one or two truly great things. His government had the cash and clout to transform a welfare state in which almost three million were on incapacity benefit. Instead, it left them to rot while importing migrants to fill almost all of the three million new jobs created. It could have performed drastic but urgently needed surgery on the lumbering National Health Service. Instead, it poured truckloads of taxpayers’ money into a giant bureaucracy, entrenching inefficiencies that will cost us up to £40 billion a year, every year.

And so it goes on. Read it!

If I’d known how to say it, that’s exactly what I would have said – and many others besides me, I strongly suspect.


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Martin Bright, a journo for whom I find I have increasing respect – I like someone who doesn’t seem to let his personal political proclivities get in the way of journalistic professionalism (hey, I’m not a professional journalist) – pointed out today that a leadership challenge to Brown might still be on the cards, unbelievable as though that might sound after all the epic cowardice on the part of PLPists everywhere to date. It seems the cold political equation is finally getting through the numb skulls of senior Labour MPs. Keep Brown, and you’re out for far, far longer than if you dump him, even this late in the game.

Rachel Sylvester’s column today provides more than the usual share of insight and high-level gossip — what more do you want from a political columnist?

The following paragraph is devastating about the Prime Minister’s handling of the Megrahi affair:

“Even members of the Cabinet who remain publicly loyal are privately scathing about Mr Brown’s performance in recent days. “We can’t go on like this,” says one minister. “It’s beyond difficult — it’s farcical. We’re going from one fiasco to another and Government by fiasco doesn’t work. I’ve never been a plotter but I feel total exasperation.”

Rachel is right to say that this is the Labour Party’s Groundhog Day. As we enter the conference season all talk is of plots, conspiracies and coups. The difference compared with last year is that there is no obvious “Prince-in-Waiting” whose ambitions need to be crushed and no “Prince-of-Darkness” to ride to the rescue.

Jackie Ashley wrote yesterday of Labour “semi-stunned amble to the slaughterhouse”. Today Polly Toynbee suggests a programme of political boldness, but drips with pessimism about the outcome:

There is nothing left to lose. High risks, high principles and high ideals might just save them now — and certainly preserve enough respect to live to fight another day. What’s the alternative? Quarrelling dishonestly into the salami-slicer over which party will cut what most, each pretending we can have it all when everyone knows its a lie?”

The left is in almost complete disarray. This is why the intervention of Jon Cruddas this week is so significant. As The Observer reported at the weekend, Cruddas is now taking on “the leadership” of the party directly. His Compass speech today could be seen as something of a watershed, if, as I suspect, it is the beginning of a Cruddas/Compass move for control of the soul of the party.

Cruddas’s argument is clear and appeals directly to the party’s grassroots. The Conservatives have revealed themselves over the summer as the Thatcherites they always really were, but the Labour government has failed to capitalise on this, he argues.

The Labour Party still has the ability to win the election, but it needs to get its message right or it will deserve to go down to a catastrophic defeat. This is as close as Cruddas has yet come to throwing down of the gauntlet. Now that would be an interesting challenge — and not as easy to put down as David Miliband or even Alan Johnson.

It’s Bright’s clear-headed and consistent, erudite and honest views on the Megrahi debacle that have warmed me to him – as a journalist. Here we see some pretty good stuff on something people outside the World of Labour have known for quite a long time now, that Brown, simply, is “the problem”.

From Bright’s post you get the distinct impression that possibly, finally, improbably and unlike the last time(s) around, the Brown side of the cold equation seems to be understood by those that seriously needed to understand it. (The other side of the equation is the general election). The solution, for them at least, will be found by determining the right person to replace him. That’s the distinct impression I get from Bright’s, and other left-of-centre writers’, opinions. My answer to the puzzle is rather different from most of theirs, but it should be an obvious one: Alistair Darling.

I think people actually trust him. He would sort of be Labour’s Major in ’92 (sort of). He is also the one, if I were a Cameroon, that I would be genuinely worried about. All the rest are so contaminated they would be almost as much of a liability as Brown so definitely is. All the economic calamities that have befallen Britain under Labour are associated, rightly, with Brown, not Darling. The latter still enjoys some credibility and no small amount of sympathy even among Right-thinkers in the general public, who see Brown’s treatment of him as shabby in the extreme. Darling appears to have remained loyal throughout his trials, it seems. Not even when slimy Balls was maneuvering himself into the belly of Number 11 did Darling lose his poise. People like poise. Brown doesn’t have any. Balls wouldn’t understand poise if his poise teacher was Darcey Bussell.

Labour might still lose with Darling. But they would not lose as badly as they will with Brown. Hell, they might even win!

God help us all if it really has finally dawned on them that the equation is very real – and that the only solution to it that makes any logical sense is, astonishingly, Darling.

Bet you any money it hasn’t…

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