Friday, April 30, 2010


It's Beginning to Look Like He's Won it

This election campaign nhas been extraordinary. For months in the run-up it looked like Cameron would walk it. Then his lead began to narrow and in early March a hung parliament became first a possibility then a probability. Some thought Camereon would blitz the televised debates but it was Clegg who did the dive bombing on the two big parties. I harboured wistful thoughts of a possible coalition between Labour and Lib Dems founded on a deal to bring in PR voting.

But, one has to be fair to Cameron, whom I have never liked- on more than mere tribal grounds I would argue- has raised his game.I had initially agreed with Jacob Weissberg, author of the brilliant Bush Tragedy, that Gordon, astonishingly given his disastrous Wednesday, had come back strongly and won the argument. This just shows how tribal conditioning determines one's perceptions. I was wrong, I had been aware Cameron had appeared very confident and in control when attacked- rather as he is at PMQs. Poll results revealed how the majority of the 9 million viewers had come round to agreeing he was the 'winner'. After a rocky start, he has mastered the new medium of television debating and eclipsed former wunderkind, Nick Clegg.

This doesn't mean that Dave was right and Gordon, bless him, wrong; merely that Cameron was the better presenter of his case; on the night Cameron emerged as the master of the stage. In future expect ever more movement towards this 'presidential' style of politics. Policy gets submerged in the showbizzy sides of ther media. It's their personalities which engage us- how they take the strain, do they perspire? do they wear too much make-up? It's politics as the X Factor, but it was a big hit and, rather like Simon Cowell, appears to be here to stay.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


'Bigot Gaffe' Could Prove Crucial Turning Point.

Could this be the moment Gordon 'lost' the election? Mandeslon, desperate to apply soothing balm, insists Brown was only 'letting off steam', but perceptions, in the super-heated atmosphere one week before polling, will embrace much more than that. Brown's gaffereinforced Gordon's:

i) reputation for boorish grumpiness, so well documented in Rawnsley's book and others. Rawnsley makes the point here.

ii) reputation for gaucheness in public- a low level facility with the words which, after all, are a politician's stock in trade.

iii) reputation as a 'typical politician', saying one thing to voters' faces, yet another totally contradictory thing behind their backs.

The Tories must be chortling with disbelief. Just when he should have been scrupulously gaffe-free, he's blown it. if only the plotters had got rid of him last summer.

Finally, Rawnsley offers us some comfort: it could have been worse:

If there is one consolation for Labour, it is that this could have been so much worse. To Justin Forsyth, the long-serving aide at whom the prime minister was venting in the back of car, this would have seemed a very mild example of Grumpy Gordon. Mercifully for Labour, this was not one of the expletive-rich explosions to which he is prone when really frustrated and angry. The microphone did not capture him using the F-word or pummelling the car seat in front of him. On the Brownout Scale of volcanic eruptions this was only a three or four. For that small mercy, at least, Labour can be grateful.

Monday, April 26, 2010


The Coalition Game

Nick Clegg has seemed to rule out coalition with Labour in a hung parliament. I don't believe it. First off, according to Hugh Pemberton from Bristol University the options in a hung parliament are very flexible according to recent Cabinet Office guidance:

"In appointing a new Prime Minister, as at other points, the Monarch invites the person whom it appears is most likely to command the confidence of the House of Commons to serve as Prime Minister and form or continue a government. It is for those involved in the political process – and in particular the parties represented in Parliament – to seek to determine and communicate clearly who that person should be"

According to this view the person who forms the government does not have to be a party leader. If Alan Johnson thinks he can bypass Gordon and his party agrees, the Queen might think he is the guy to invite. It is the incumbet government, (not necessarily PM) which gets the first shot at doing this piece of political creativity and the Cabinet Office which seeks to facilitate things, suggesting the officials concerned might have no little influence on what transpires from the possible post electioon confusion.

Clegg has said he doesn't want to negotiate with Brown if he has come third in the vote i.e. if he has 'lost' the election. This suggests Cameron might be the political swain advised to call a wooing. But as voting reform is bound to be Nick's preferred dowry I cannot see how this will work. The Tories know that if PR is introduced, they might well receive a fair return in seats for their votes but the two thirds of the electorate who vote left of centre will exclude the Tories from direct power indefinitely.

They will cling onto FPTP - their life really does depends on it. Moreover, as in 1974, I'm fairly sure the Lib Dem party would just refuse to ally with the Tories and Clegg knows this. If you doubt me, add EU to PR. Any suggestion by Cameron that he'll do a deal on electoral reform will be false promise, intended to be forever fudged. Clegg will know this. In the end Nick would do a deal with Labour as they could just about live with PR.

What they don't want is any more of Gordon Brown; nor, I fear, do the voters. I thought Clegg's interview with Sky News this morning was almost an invitation to Brown's potential successors-Johnson, Miliband et. al., to start discreet campaigning. I also thought Cameron's lambasting of Clegg was just a little too robust-he's got the tone wrong. He could find a more emollient tone would have helped win him a big slice of whatever power is available on 7th May.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


Has Chester's Labour MP Given Up the Fight for her Marginal Seat?

I was pleased to be invited to a 'Question Time' event at The Kings School, Chester last night- see picture left. All the candidates were there- right to left: Stephen Mosley(C), Lizzie Jewkes(LD), Tom Barker(Green) and on the far left Alan Weddell (UKIP). I am in between the chair- John Heap and the UKIP guy. But where was the sitting Labour MP? Christine Russell(picture right), it seems was too busy campaigning elsewhere to attend this hustings type event. So the field was left open to the Tory- not as bombastic as some but still bombastic(though, to be fair with some redeeming charm) and the rest. I thought she made a bad mistake with BBC cameras there too. OK, her majority is only 915 but the splendid Lucy Powell, is fighting a marginal in Withington against the Lib Dems with great energy and optimism.

Some Labour supporters told me Christine has virtually given up. If she has this relfects badly upon her. If she did not intend to campaign vigorously she should have stood aside and let another more energetic candidate have a go. With a UKIP and English Democrat standing too the Tories were by no means a shoo-in. But they may be now.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Spin Threatens to Dominate Campaign After Second debate

How was it for you? I found it a bit stodgier this week but it still held my attention to the end when I gratefully raced out to the pub where I found nobody has bothered to watch it. I was fascinated to read, courtesy of the Mail(so it's likely to be true), of the feuding in Tory high command on how to respond to 'Clegg-mania' and how their campaign was paralysed for days as a result.

The origin of the word 'spin' derives from US media aides' efforts to big up their masters at party conventions. The aftermath of these debates provide a perfect equivalent to such conditions and I fear spin has intruded into the camapign with an unseemly lurch. To me it seemed all three candidates were basically no better or worse than last week, though I did feel Gordon had raised his game more than a tad. Yet the instant yougov poll gave the game to Cameron with Clegg second and Brown third. This dubious judgement was feted as gospel truth by the triumphant Tories but some later polls gave it to Clegg by a sniff or two.

I was pleased to see Sky News had decided this morning to say the debate was 'too close to call' which was about right. Nobody delivered any knock out blows, least of all Cameron; Gordon was combative and believable I thought; and Clegg, if not sparkling as before, did not allow his momentum to stall. If you look at the papers though spin dominates. The Sun was back to 1992 form with its absurd cheer leading for Cameron. It was also The Daily Mail for Dave; Times for Dave; The Guardian for Gordon and the Mirror for Gordon> The Independent opted to highlight the poll which made Clegg as the winner. So, given the closeness of the polls the papers chose the result which suited their prejudices. So depressing when organs of opinion surrender any objectivity to bang their partisan drums.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Is Cameron's Big Society Just a Load of Rubbish?

When Dave was asked yesterday why he failed in the debate to mention any of the themes he had introduced 48 hours earlier at his Battersea power station manifesto launch he replied: 'Well, all the subjects were rather subjecty subjects'. Hmm. I kind of think I know what he means but if your main theme doesn't relate to any of the obvious election debating subjects maybe one has the wrong subject for a manifesto theme?

I have to confess I was attracted by the idea underlying the Tory manifesto and it seemed initially the Conservatives had come up with something quite fresh and radical in their quest for the hackneyed old idea of 'change'. But now I'm not so sure it's a good idea either intrinsically or as a piece of political marketing.

Yesterday's Guardian quoted a grass-roots Tory saying 'Power to the people isn't it? That's a pie in the sky dream. Community minded people are few and far between'. The Observer editorial took a look at it and found it flawed:

i) it seemed to assume 'voluntary action' will be a substitute for central funding- this smaller state will require smaller funding, whilst such reduction would reduce extent and depth of provision.

ii) there is no process envisaged whereby this tsunami of voluntarism will be generated: 'the method for harnessing this charitable impulse turns out to be mere exhortation'. I heard a community development worker on Radio 4 saying it might take a decade to encourage, wheedle and nourish a community to become self starting and ready to particapate in its own self improvement.

Writing in The Economist, Bagehot is sceptical of this overarching theme:

Are community groups really going to spring up to, say (the Tories do), manage local libraries? It is doubtful whether the incentives Mr Cameron is offering are strong enough to galvanise them. Indeed, his party’s faith in an imminent frenzy of civic activism rather contradicts another of its mantras—that British society is "broken".

I'm afraid Cameron and the author of this idea, his key strategists, Steve Hilton and Oliver Letwin, will have to accept that the main intellectual framework of the manifesto suffers from exactly the failings of which the Tories have always accused the left: well intentioned but impractical and based on an over oprtimistic assumtion about the average person's altruism.

How can you sell such an idea on the doorstep? Do two job families want to spend their evenings sitting in boring meetings to work out how litter can be picked up? Or would they prefer to spend these precious few hours available to them watching the telly en famille with maybe a visit to the local boozer later on to watch football on the telly and have a bit of a laugh?

I wish it were not the latter but anyone involved in volunbatry work will know that people recently invloved might display some initial enthusiam but that this most often falls away after a short period. The kind of wholly committed community minded activist is a very rare creature indeed. And yet Cameron has based a whole 100 page plus manifesto on the assumption such people are there, plentifully in our midst and just raring to go. Oh dear.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Can Lib Dems Maintainh Their Momentum?

It is quite astonishing how one single innovation- the televised debates- has proved a game-changer. The campaign has been transformed. According to Sir Robert Worcester, however, we should not jump to the conclusion Nicey Nick is going to replace Nasty Gordon on 7th May. Commenting on the 2nd place 30% given by the Sun's Yougov poll, the doyen of pollsters says:

If the Tories have a mountain to climb, the Liberal Democrats are looking from base camp to Everest. They had 63 seats in the last parliament. A 1% swing would bring that to 68 seats, 2% to 78, 3% to 97 (where they are on the latest YouGov figures), 4% to 121 seats, 5% to 154 seats, 6% to 197, 7% to 250 seats – where they just might be the largest party – and 8% to four short of the 326 needed to be the majority party.

So it's a really a big ask for them, a mountain they have only just begun to climb and Clegg faces at least two problems come Thursday's second round: firstly both Gordon and Cameron, awfully politely and smiling like crocodiles, will be swimming through the interview waters to chomp him; and secondly, after his star debut, he might find it hard to keep up the same intensity of performance. My bet is he'll not be quite as good.

And this will be for one of the reasons he was perceived as being so good last Thursday: the media love exciting newcomers who exceed expectations. So it was with Cameron and his 'look Mum, no notes!' at the 2005 party conference; so it was with fusty Susan Boyle on Britain's Got Talent that time; and so it was with fresh faced relative unknown Nick Clegg on his debut. He'll never quite have the portents so favourably arranged as he did last Thursday. But, having said that, he's probably sunk the Tories' chance of winning an overall majority now. 'Thanks Nick' smirks Mandelson in a recent email to party members but goes on, less believably, perhaps, to predict : ' most people will not follow through on their current flirtation with Nick'

Friday, April 16, 2010


Dave Must be Sick as Clegg Comes out Top

Well, how was it for you? Like most viewers-well, 40% according to the Times Poll- I thought Cameron would cream it, but he did not. I thought Clegg would be shrill and lacking substance- but he was far from this. I thought Gordon would be like a sullen, immobile bull- and he was to some extent- but he performed better by far than in PMQs. Perhaps that was the secret: this was a different context where Brown's policy wonkism and serious mien fitted in. Cameron found he couldn't swoop in and attack him with sarcasm, sneering and bullying, backed up by a complicit baying bunch of Tory MPs.

In fact, Cameron was a bit at sea. He couldn't quite fit in. As a result he was wholly unable to expand upon his Big Society theme- you know, about including everyone in the government of ther country. I don't think he mentioned it more than once, which suggests it is as I suspected, a ploy to seduce the voters rather than anything he truly believes in. I'm fairly sure Tory strategists today will be rueful about agreeing to the debate in the first place. As the front runner he had the most to lose but his unimaginative advisers failed to realise this would be in no way like PMQs where Dave has weekly skewered Gordon like a matador.

At first I thought Nick Clegg was too lightweight but he adapted rapidly and showed no nerves- a sign he has made the upward shift into the top league. I even thought Vince Cable could not have done any better which is something I never thought I'd think. After last night Dave and company will find the 23 Lib-Dem marginals they need to win to accumulate the seats they need to win, might well have become a degree or so less marginal.

What about the event as a whole? I was favourably impressed overall. It was a bit odd to have no applause and no heckling from the audience- this was not Question Time either- and it was notable that the audience only laughed- nervously and inhibitedly- a couple of times(Vince would certainly have improved the laughgter count). But with 10+ odd million watching, this had to be something special and I do hope it has injected some life into this lack lustre campaign. Though I doubt if the top Conservatives will be thinking along smilar lines just at present. I can't wait to see what effect the debate has had on the already up and down polls.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Times Poll Poses Dramatic Questions

Along with many others I was finding the campaign a bit boring until I saw the poll in The Times yesterday. Analysis by Peter Riddell (see left) revealed a number of remarkable things.
i) Cameron's lead was a mere 3% while others are posting an average figure closer to 8%
ii) four out of eight policies are being attributed to the wrong party by voters- which makes a nonsense out of all this earnest manifesto writing.
iii)More than 40% of voters expect Cameron to win the debate tonight.
iv) 32% would prefer a hung parliament as against 50% for one with a clear majority.
v) by 44 to 31 per cent Lib Dem voters would prefer their party to join a Labour rather than a Tory one.
Based on this poll Labour would be the biggest party with 300 seats with Tories on 264 and Lib Dems 54. But this poll was taken before the launch of the Tories' striking manifesto which might well shift the advantage back a little. But this poll makes the contest interesting!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Tories' Manifesto Breaks New Ground

I got the email from Ellie Gellard(20) -see left- telling me about Labour's manifesto and I read today in The Times that Iain Dale had come up with a post from 2008 when she had told Gordon to give up. Her defence is that it was after a by election loss and that since then Gordon has shaped up, (no doubt in response to Ellie's exhortations). I know just how she felt and feels but I have to say it's embarrassing for Labour and another trick to the nation's foremost blogger.

So what about the manifestos? I've only absorbed the two major ones second hand but I think here too the Tories have edged it. Labour's effort is brave and tries hard to sound radical in promising an 'active reforming government' which is 'on your side'. Interestingly Brown has gone for more Foundation hospitals, Academies and new procedures for removing poorly performing agencies. Rawnsley's book documents how Brown lambasted and impeded such policies as the first two when championed by Blair and Milburn in order to pose as leftish against a leader who had 'sold out'. It is fairly cynical one has to confess, but few things surprise me these days. 'This is a plan' writes Peter Riddell, in The Times, 'for an activist state'.

The Conservartive manifesto is surprising and impressive in its ambition. The product of what we learn is years of gestation, this weighty 130 page document invites each voter to 'join in' the government of the country' and take back control from the state. Amongst other suggestions, public sector workers will be given the chance to run their organisations as coops; parents given the chance to set up new schools in their communities; and academies expanded throughtout the country. I am sceptical as to the practicabality of coops in the public sector, especially as the Tories have dismissed such ideas as arrant rubbish in the past and I'm not sure how the coop model can be translated from, say, John Lewis, to say, a health clinic.

Nor am I sure voters want what they might have said they want to pollsters or in focus groups. A fair amount of participation is allowed in planning processes but experience suggests it is seldom taken up. Voters might think they want this surprisingly left-sounding 'invitation' but in practice will probably ignore it. But it catches the zeitgeist in this 'anti-politics' time and sounds sufficiently radical to be genuinely exciting. I suspect Cameron has come up with something authentically new this time- though totally counter intuitively so for his rightwing party. Personally I don't believe it, but I think it'll sell better than Labour's half cooked offering.

Thursday, April 08, 2010


Conservatives Have Won Round 1 But Will They Win Round 2?

Simon Jenkins has listed a fair number of the wild claims already made during this embryonic campaign

We have had the hilarity of health service spending being protected by "a £1bn cut in sick leave among NHS staff" (Labour). We have had an extravagant pledge of "a right to a new school" (Tories). We have had free care for the elderly (Labour), tax cuts for marriage (Tories), new trains for all paid for by more potholes (Liberal Democrats), no rise in VAT (Tories), no more council taxes (Liberal Democrats) and any cancer drug you like paid for by holding down national insurance on the NHS (Tories). Labour proposes to give football supporters their clubs, a £1m Green Bank and a living wage.

But the real action so far has circulated around the NI question. Darling proposed to increase it by 1% in his budget to help reduce the debt mountain. Cameron has opportunistically forgotten about his own number one priority and has switched tack to resist Labour's foul imposition. What is more he has suggested the amount to be raised- £6bn- should be raised by 'efficiency savings'. As Darling pointed out in The World at One, if he had included such a measure with such a nebulous cost justification in his budget he would have been laughed to scorn. But election campaigns are different: you can lie and then lie your way again out it. Cameron and Osborne know they are doing this, just as Brown and co. know they will probably do something similar later on.

The Tories have just struck lucky but it's a gamble. Labour have decided to stick with the NI issue and try to unpick it for voters so the mendacity of the Conservatives can be revealed. If they succeed they will win the second round and more. But voters- reassured by a tax averted- might not listen and Labour might have to cut their losses and move on. The endorsement of the Tory position by business leaders is damaging to Labour but is scarcely surprising. NI increases would indeed affect jobs and the Tories have been clever in focusing on this while avoiding the key issue of how it can be paid for. Busines, in any case, naturally cleaves to the Conservatives and have merely 'returned home' after a decade long etra-marital affair with New Labour.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010


They Are Off! But Don't Forget Coulson/NoW Scandal

Like all political obsessives I'm pleased the starting pistol is about to be fired- Gordon is shortly to progress up the Mall as I write this-but I hope the superb investigative work of NickDavies won't be squandered by ther Labour campaign. By meticulous and adhesive research Davies has shown:

i) there were not merely a 'handful' of phones being hacked into by NoW journalists and other employees but over 4000. As editor Coulson must have known about the widespread practice on his own newspaper. Yet he told the select committee he knew nothing about these illegal activities.

ii) that the officer in charge of the inquiry, assistant commissioner Andy Hayman, is now employed by News International, owner of NoW, as a columnist.

iii) the NoW has paid out £2m to two prominent victims of the hacking- PR agent Max Clifford and Gordon Taylor of the PFA.

iv) it has also paid out money to the jailed Goodman and private investigator Glen Mulcaire 'which are believed to require them not to speak'.

Joining up the dots the implications of Davies's findings, it seems fairly obvious that: Coulson must have known about the illegal activities of his newspaper; that he told porkies to the select committee; and that people who might speak out about it have been bought off. The result is that the sanctimonious Cameron, if he wins on 6th May, will proceed to place in a prominent place in British government, a person who has very possibly been party to flagrant breaches of the law. Labour will be mugs if they let the din of the campaign drown out the possibility of catching the hypocritical Tories bang to rights.

Saturday, April 03, 2010


Time for Blair to Give Something Back?

I've always thought a Labour politician was more believable if he or she was not too vulnerable to the lure of material goods- cars, houses, jewelry, private planes, yachts and the like. So the disappointment I felt was acute when Tony Blair proved to be such an enthusiastic fat cat. Not that by this time I'm not all 'disappointed out' with the former member for Sedgefield.

But the recent article by Martin Kettle contained a suggestion which caught my eye by 'one of his staunchest Westminister supporters' that 'Tony needs to donate a million pounds to the Labour Party.' I don't think it would win any votes but the party needs it and deserves it considering how much of his earning power is the result of the position won for him by the party and its 'small batallions' to which I belong. I think it would also reassure me and others that Tony still has a shred or two of integrity left. Mind you, I don't think Cherie would for a moment let him.

Thursday, April 01, 2010


Could Gordon Really Beat up Cameron?

I really like the idea of Gordon Brown being a loutish tough guy, threatening to beat up 'Posh boy' Cameron. And, as every year, I kind of half believed it. I especially liked the idea of him putting his face close to Dave's in the TV debate, saying 'what did you say?' and then punching him hard in the face. Never mind John Prescott, that really would liven up the campaign. But then, I caught the name of the Guardian 'journalist- Olaf Priol- and the penny dropped. Well done the Grauniad- they always manage an inventive one.

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