Sunday, 10 May 2015

Okay so what just happened?

I tried not to make predictions on this blog, but it's quite clear that I thought a minority Labour government was on and that a Tory majority was almost impossible.  I was wrong.

The internet is now full of Blairites saying they always knew this was how things would end.  With a few dishonourable exceptions (such as Dan Hodges who has been propagandising for the Tories for four and a half years) these people, in private as well as in public, have really been saying that they were pleasantly surprised by Ed Miliband in the election campaign.  That he performed well on the television.  That the strategy might just pay off.

And let's be honest, before we consider anything else, it might have done!  The extraordinary two factors in this General Election - neither of which Ed Miliband had much control over - were the complete disintegration of the Liberal Democrats and the completely rampant success of the Scottish National Party.  The scale of the former took almost every psephologist by surprise.  The latter - though predicted in the polls - was still on a scale bigger than even Nicola Sturgeon imagined.  Let's be honest here, it wasn't just lefties like me that thought Ed Miliband might be Prime Minister now (all be it of a precarious minority government) - even David Cameron thought he might be.  These two factors were really the difference between the trailed scenario - the "mess" that might bring a minority government or a second election - and the Tory majority that prevailed.  How?  The Liberal Democrats vanished even where popular incumbents were expected to hold on, gifting several unexpected seats to the Conservative Party.  The SNP trounced the Labour Party in Scotland, for a range of reasons that everybody is still struggling to fully understand.  And the knowledge that the SNP were likely to be a powerful bloc in the new parliament and necessary to keep a minority Labour administration in power put off a whole load of English voters.  The Tories knew Miliband was not quite the electoral liability they had imagined - or indeed the Blairites had imagined - which is why they constantly spoke of the threat of a "Labour-SNP" government.  This talk, supported by swathes of mass media, was effective.

Other than that, Labour's vote share actually increased, more so than the Conservatives, despite the drubbing in Scotland.  I don't think it was necessarily essential for Miliband to immediately resign; it's become a faintly annoying convention in modern politics that leaders resign as soon as they lose (a convention that Jim Murphy is currently choosing to challenge). 

However, it would be wrong to sit back and simply conclude that an unfortunate series of events, some of them outside Labour's control, delivered a Tory majority.  Because these events are not wholly outside Labour's sphere of control and interest; and there were other factors and trends at play that, while not as dramatic as the two I've mentioned, also played their part.

If anybody tells you they have an easy solution to how Labour will win in 2020 then they are an idiot, and I include former Prime Ministers in that!  But one thing I am sure of is that the solutions getting the most traction in the mainstream media right now are learning exactly the wrong lessons from this election.

You see, they begin on a falsehood: that Labour fought a 35% strategy with a left-wing policy agenda, and this is what lost them the "aspirational" vote in middle England.  I have no inside knowledge of the central command of the ground campaign, but most agree it was professional and extensive.  In terms of the policy agenda there was absolutely no "lurch to the left" under Miliband.  The truth is that they equivocated, fudged and capitulated to almost every Blairite demand, and it did them no favours whatsoever.  The right-wing media said it was hard left; the left said they were "Red Tories".  It was neither, of course, but there was no leftward lurch.  They voted for a benefit cap - they needn't have bothered.  Rachel Reeves said she didn't want the party to represent people out of work. They spend months deciding whether to oppose the Bedroom Tax.  The manifesto was based entirely on "fiscal responsibility" and one of the key pledges was "control immigration".  All of it pointless: the media had decided that Miliband's Labour was going to spend, spend, spend, mostly represented welfare recipients and would have an open-door immigration policy.  They could have spouted the UKIP manifesto and the Mail and the Sun would have reported the identical message to the one they did.  At the same time, left-wing voters, especially those who had an alternative to vote for (like the SNP in Scotland, or a high-profile Green candidate in some English constituencies) heard it all, and hated it.

And of course it wasn't all bad.  There were some excellent policies.  What was lacking was a coherent story.  Ed had one - quite a good one - but these more right-wing policies and bits of rhetoric fudged it and made it a difficult one to tell.  As such, lots of people who should have voted for Miliband's narrative actively campaigned and voted against it.

The obvious place where this happened was Scotland.  The SNP preached anti-austerity.  It hardly matters that their manifesto and spending commitments were remarkably similar to Labour's.  Labour's story was more cuts and difficult decisions; the SNP's was anti-austerity and the SNP swept up our voters in huge numbers.

But it happened in parts of England too.  I haven't done a thorough analysis of how many seats it cost (and we can't know for certain, because we don't know how many "non-voters" were apathetic and how many were calling "a plague on all your houses").  Over 1000 people voted Green in Ed Balls' Morley constituency.  More than enough, had they been enthused by Labour's agenda, to keep him in the Commons. 

3000 voted Green in Leeds North West - more than enough to see Alex Sobel in the House of Commons and have one less Liberal Democrat there!  The same picture can be seen in Derby North.  The Greens got over 1 million votes in this General Election.  I'm not suggesting that even if Labour had fought a more positive, emphatically anti-austerity campaign that all those voters would have voted Labour, but it is unquestionably the case that many of them would have and that there are seats that Labour could have won under those circumstances in England, not just in Scotland.  And indeed in Wales.  In Gower, Labour lost by a few hundred votes.  Anti-austerity voters choosing Plaid Cymru or the Welsh Greens could have given Labour a comfortable win there.

Although lots of Labour MPs had increased majorities on Thursday, chief among them with the high-profile Labour rebels whose local constituents were fully aware of their anti-austerity, unfudged messages: the likes of Dennis Skinner, John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn racked up ever more Labour votes.  It's worth remembering that John McDonnell first started fighting Hayes and Harlington when the Tory incumbent had a reasonably comfortable lead.  It's now a Labour fortress with McDonnell having nearly 60% of the vote.

Then what of UKIP? Of course UKIP are a party of the right. Where they have performed well in the north of England tends to be in constituencies where the Conservatives used to have a strong presence and no longer do, having been replaced with a  new type of "working-class Tory" who prefers a purple rosette.  But that is far from being the whole story.  I can't be the only person who spoke to voters who were long-term Labour voters who had decided to vote UKIP.  Of course there are a range of reasons for this switch and some of them are uncomfortable for liberal lefties who hope everybody could be as chilled out about immigration as we are!  But there is more to this switch than immigration.  It is a dislike of a political class.  So even though the politics of the Labour-UKIP switcher is a polity of the right, their dislike of their former party is not that it is too far from that mythical centre ground, but that it's too close.  That the parties are too similar.  They disliked Labour's leadership team because they were "too posh" and couldn't really speak to them or for them. Many were nostalgic for an Old Labour, some of whose policies you would expect them to dislike more than Miliband's. However, it is likely that these voters have been alienated from the Labour movement over a much longer period than Green, Plaid and SNP switchers and a change in policy emphasis would have perhaps been unlikely to shift them in 2015.

I am sick of reading comments from people claiming that the election results prove what they've said all along anyway, and therefore the lesson to be learnt from the results is for everybody to realise how right they've always been.  This is not my point here.  It is undoubtedly a more complex picture than that.  There are seats in the South of England - outside London - that were winnable under Blair and seem out of reach of even a modestly more socially-democratic Labour Party.  We all encountered voters who were put off by Ed Miliband - whether we think that was fair, or media-fomented or not.  I don't claim to have the answers, but the quick way in which the Blairite/Progressite right have pulled out all their old answers and claimed that the facts on the ground prove their analysis correct simply does not stand up to a look at what happened.  If Labour moves "back to the centre" (which can only be code for "even further right") then those seats I mentioned above cannot be won back.  That is essentially accepting that the Labour Party surrenders Scotland.  How many more seats were there that we just held on to because enough potential switchers were persuaded that - imperfect though we are - a Labour government is preferable to a Tory one.  Would they still be persuaded of that next time if we've moved further right; if we give them more evidence we're the "Red Tories" they think we are, and no further evidence that we will deliver the change they want to see?

Monday, 27 April 2015

Scots, like everyone else, really have a choice between Dave and Ed - the only way to be sure of the latter is to vote Labour

Nobody ever votes for a coalition in the UK.  Politicians sometimes pretend that people do.  Listen to Nick Clegg on the subject of 2010: you'd think the Conservatives and Liberals put their coalition agreement to the public and it won a majority.  But of course really people voted for their preferred parties and programmes and nobody managed to win.  The coalition was an "accident" for the voters; a "deal" for the political class.  That's the only way they can work in a First Past the Post system.  To pretend otherwise is to deceive the voters.

And there's a degree of deception going on in Scotland, where some voters are being persuaded to believe that they are indeed voting for a coalition (or at least for a "progressive alliance").  The story goes like this: if people vote for the SNP they are not helping David Cameron or the Conservatives, they are voting for a bloc of left-of-centre MPs; for MPs who will back Miliband (while pushing him to the left on some issues): a win-win situation.  Scottish voters can have it all: get rid of the Tories, push Labour leftwards and put Scotland first.  What could be better than that?

Except, of course, it is an illusion.  Our political system does not work like that.  Labour seats going to the SNP does not mean they stay in a "progressive alliance"; it means that the Tories could be more likely to form the next government, and certainly are closer to being able to claim a superior mandate.

If Labour had a good year in Scotland, a slim majority would still be very much on the cards.  That's the only sure way to get a Labour government.  It doesn't look like it's going to be a good year in Scotland for them and every seat they lose in Scotland will erode Miliband's chances of forming a government.  Why?

There are a few reasons:

1) One big question on election night is: which party came first?  The fewer seats Labour win in Scotland, the more likely the Tories can claim that first "victory".

Of course, Clegg is extremely disingenuous when he declares that the party that comes second in an election should not be able to form a government.  Liberal Democrat policy now appears to be that they should always be in government even if they come fourth in the election (in terms of seats) and fifth or sixth in terms of share of the vote.  Also, the Liberal Democrats have always favoured electoral reform to a system where there is no logic to the biggest party having the first attempt to form a government: it's all about blocs of support.  But that isn't the system we have in the UK.  There is no constitutional necessity for the biggest party to lead the next government, but that does not mean that there won't be enormous pressure for that to be the case.  There are no rules about what happens on May 8th if no party has a clear majority, but what precedent we have is that David Cameron should remain Prime Minister until a government can be formed.  That puts the ball firmly in his court.

2) Scottish voters voting SNP have no control over how other people vote.

The logic behind the idea that Scottish voters voting SNP can only help a "progressive alliance" and not help the Tories can only even begin to stand up to scrutiny if we assume all the polls are correct and there is no chance of the Tories getting a majority or being able to muster a majority with Lib Dem and/or DUP and/or UKIP support.  But of course that's not guaranteed!  Okay, if the Tories manage to find a majority, then Labour holding onto more of their Scottish seats wouldn't prevent that (though it could hand them a bigger lead) but the chances of the Conservatives putting something together?  Absolutely every Labour seat lost in Scotland helps make that a reality, because a big Labour lead could put it beyond question.

Imagine if Labour and the Conservatives both had 295 seats.  They would each require the support (formal or otherwise) of another 30 MPs to win a confidence vote.  Labour might be able to reply on 40 or so SNP MPs, 1 Green and a few Plaid Cymru in that scenario and feel pretty confident of leading a minority government.  But it would only need the tiniest of adjustments - possibly many miles from Scotland - to foresee a situation where the Conservatives were able to form a formal coalition with 25 Lib Dems, 5 DUP and a UKIP: then they would have a majority and be able to form a government, even if Labour could have got bigger numbers, if they could have got the Lib Dems on side.  Now the SNP could have reason to criticise other UK parties here.  Why have Labour and the Lib Dems both ruled out any sort of deal with the SNP?  That isn't their fault! And I have some sympathy with that view.  Labour has effectively been pushed into that position (and the SNP have seemed to relish making it awkward for Labour, talking up their position of strength in any post-election negotiations).  But there was really no pressure on Nick Clegg to rule out working with the SNP in all circumstances.  Indeed his declaration on the SNP and on a party coming second forming the government is really further evidence that Clegg's Lib Dems are now part of a bloc with the Conservatives, however unlikely that seemed to some in 2010.  It is astonishing that the Lib Dems have ruled out working with the SNP, but not the DUP.  However, if Clegg loses his seat, the Lib Dem position may yet become more fluid.

3) There's an assumption that either SNP or Labour will always win the seats

Of course most of the seats in question will either be won by Labour or the SNP, but let us not imagine that it's impossible for some seats to see a split in the centre-left vote allowing other parties to succeed.  I can't see a Tory or UKIP seat in Scotland (but there are areas that routinely voted Tory in the past and may well dislike the SNP's apparent left turn) but even a Lib Dem could slip through.  The point is that ours is a system where votes cast can have unintended consequences.  While an SNP vote in Scotland might be different from a Green vote in a key English marginal in terms of the laws of unintended consequences, it is still undoubtedly a gamble.

Of course, Labour have got some things wrong which has produced this situation.  They fought the referendum battle in the wrong way and should not have worked so closely with Tories and other unionists and instead forged a separate, Labour, progressive case for a "No" vote.  They have used poor rhetoric on the economy: actually the SNP's tax and spend policies are no more "anti-austerity" than Labour's, but the insistence on a rhetoric of "fiscal responsibility" to spike a few guns in the Tory press has backfired in Scotland.  And let's face it the guns refuse to be spiked.  It doesn't matter how much Miliband says his pledges require no more borrowing and he isn't going to do a deal with the SNP, the front page of the Tory press is still "Miliband and Salmond" and "more borrowing, more debt".  I prefer the SNP policy on Trident to the Labour policy, as do most Labour parliamentary candidates.  With a few days to go to the election, there's not a lot Labour can do about any of that.  We can't rewrite the past. 

But the Scottish voters have to look at the big picture.  On May 8th we could have a government that will scrap the bedroom tax, abolish zero hours contracts, repeal the NHS Reform Act, cap rents and cut many billions less than a government that would make savage, eye-watering cuts to our public spending, with many billions more from welfare.  It is not a choice between blue and red Tories; they are not "all the same"; it is a hugely important election for the whole of the UK and people in Scotland have the power to ensure a Miliband government and not a Cameron one.  Other governments are not available.

Friday, 17 April 2015

The Tories are focusing on post-election scenarios, but betray a shocking lack of confidence

If the Conservatives really think that "Vote Ed get Nicola" (or even "get Alex") will win them the election then they are strategically na├»ve.  Of course this is possibly true - after all with the same strategist they imagined "Vote Blair get Brown" would be a vote-winner in 2005 and we all know how that went.

But actually, the Tory line on the SNP is not so much about getting votes now as about controlling the post-election scenario.  As such, with this now being the only focus of Tory campaigning, they appear to have accepted that they are not going to win a majority.  Not only that, they are acutely aware that there is unlikely to be available arithmetic for them to find a majority.  People talk about Liberal Democrats, DUP and UKIP but even if the numbers are there (and the models don't suggest they would be) even the Liberal Democrats might balk at a deal with UKIP and, more importantly, their prices are likely to be entirely contradictory.  The Lib Dems would want to lose the EU referendum; UKIP and the DUP would demand it as soon as possible.  Only a few weeks ago, the Tories appeared confident (I felt surprisingly so) that they would win quite comfortably in the end; it is now increasingly difficult to see a scenario where Cameron could lead a functional government.

So what's the strategy?  The Tories have accepted that they aren't going to win a majority, but they want to be certain that Labour won't win one either.  As such, it is (secretly-ish) in Tory interests for the SNP to conquer all in Scottish seats.  Their "spinners" have talked up Nicola Sturgeon after both debates, and they are pushing Labour into making anti-SNP comments which is doing Labour no favours in Scotland.  They have also successfully got Ed Miliband to rule out a coalition with the SNP and are doing everything they can to get him to rule out any other sort of arrangement too.  That way, even if Labour are the biggest party, if the arithmetic is not there to get a majority with the Liberal Democrats and the SDLP, Miliband will be left with very few options.  It almost seems like the Conservatives, who 5 years ago created fixed-term parliaments, might be putting their hopes on a second general election!

It's a clever strategy in some ways and one which Labour needs to counter.  But actually Labour should feel empowered by this: the Conservatives are on the back foot and, as the odds suggest, people who bet on Ed Miliband to be the next Prime Minister a few weeks ago should be feeling quite confident now.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

In an era of coalitions, is a manifesto just a dull work of fiction?

It might be the case that, on the morning of May 8th we wake up to a majority government with either Ed Miliband or David Cameron accepting a straightforward invitation to form a government, the other having conceded in the early hours.

But most people are not anticipating that.  In what still looks like a very close election fight, most are predicting another coalition, or a minority government having to make deals with other parties.

One of the interesting facts about the 2010-2015 coalition is the extent to which the final programme is unlike the manifestos of either of the partners.  The Liberal Democrats' "broken promises" are better known, but of course they were the junior partner and could not expect their full manifesto to be implemented.  The Conservatives too had policies that they lost in the process, such as changes to inheritance tax that are again on offer for 2015.

But the radical extent of the proposed (even the amended!) health reforms, the bedroom tax (or "removal of the spare room subsidy") or increasing VAT or trebling tuition fees: they weren't in any party's manifesto.

That's okay, because no party won the election.

Where does that leave manifestos today?

I listened to Andrew Neil making Danny Alexander defend the details of the Liberal Democrat manifesto on television this morning with increasing incredulity.  Who cares?  The sums may or may not add up, but there is no realistic scenario where they would be implemented so who cares?  The Green manifesto, or the Westminster manifestos of the nationalist parties are even more odd fantasies.  They might be wonderful, they might be robust, they will never be tested.

Is there perhaps a case for not bothering with small-party manifestos at all?  Would it not be of more use to understand their broad aims and aspirations, their key criticisms of the main parties and their main "red lines" in the eventuality of any coalition negotiations?

But of course, the pointlessness of small-party manifestos has always been a feature of UK elections, perhaps more so in an era of strong majority governments.

But is it now the case that the main parties are engaging in a weird sort of fantasy politics too?  They are worried that their figures add up and their policies are credible but not because they want to be sure they can implement them.  No, the reason for any concern is about whether they can defend them.  A theme I have explored before is that the message is driving the policy.  That's been true for some years and is a worry; but increasingly the message and the policy do not have to resemble to any great extent the actual reality of what happens.

It leads to the rather odd situation where the Conservatives, after preaching austerity and economic "competence", can start promising to throw money around like water.  The issue is, to what extent can a government be held accountable for their promises at election time?  If the answer is "not at all" (please comment either way!) then there is a danger that we are engaging in a bizarre fiction at present and, indeed, a deception of the public.

Of course, majority governments broke manifesto promises too, but as manifestos become starting points in future negotiations rather than real proposed programmes, so people are less able to vote for the ultimate programme and are less able to hold parties to account. And that has to be bad for democracy.  I am aware of course that turnout levels are higher in many countries where coalitions are the norm and the parties still publish manifestos, so perhaps my concerns are misplaced.  I'd be interested to hear your thoughts!

Is Austerity the Real Issue?

Everybody's talking about austerity, but is it the real issue at this election?

After all, the Conservative Party is offering a whole raft of tax cuts for the well off: hardly austerity!
The Labour Party is proposing tax rises for the wealthier, and cracking down on tax evasion: much more "austere".
The Greens and the SNP (among others) want to save billions by scrapping Trident: a good austerity measure if ever there was one!  The Greens also want to put up the top rate of tax: again, pro-austerity.

Surely the issue of this election is not actually about cuts vs. spending; competence vs. chaos; austerity vs. real change.  Actually, it's a much more traditional kind of an election: it's about who you're for.

The Conservatives have backed their horse: the rich.  Perhaps more explicitly than at any election I can recall, the Tories are running a pro-rich election. The pitch to others is "aspiration".  It's been effective enough in the past and could be again: a whole raft of people who will never earn £150,000 a year or need to worry about inheritance tax end up backing a Tory view on these issues because they aspire to "succeed" and they believe that "successful" people are well-off because they've worked hard, not because they've been lucky.  They therefore defer to the interests of the rich.  My sense is that the foundations of such a view are shaking.  I'll return to that theme in a future blog...

The Labour Party find it much harder to firmly back a horse because of two extraordinarily successful pieces of hegemony on the right: the "pro" and "anti" business discourse, and the demonization of people who claim social security.  To come out as being on the side of the poor, a party will be charged as being pro-welfare and ridiculed accordingly.  To come out as being on the side of workers on low and middle incomes is rapidly re-presented as being "anti business". 

However, more so than in any recent election, the Labour Party has come out in favour of the latter group: workers on low and middle incomes and their families, and is currently riding the "anti business" storm.

This does leave two groups without much representation in this election at all: the very poor and the provincial pretty well-off.

The provincial pretty well-off are not so very different from "middle income" workers - the difference is probably more ideological than material - while most of the "very poor" are on low incomes.  As such, if the Labour Party could tap these areas they are probably saying the most for both groups in this election.  However, despite fighting hard on the Bedroom Tax (for example) they have used some rhetoric that has switched off poorer voters.  Those voters are still most likely to not vote or perhaps to cast a protest vote.  The "pretty well-off" are likely to vote Conservative as they aspire to being very well off, or perhaps to vote UKIP who, with a bit more discipline and professionalism, could actually have taken over from the Conservative Party outside its traditional heartlands.  The influx of disillusioned BNPers has probably ended that possibility for them.

It is clear why the discourse is currently about austerity: it helps those who wish to suggest the main parties are "all the same" (they're all "pro-austerity") while it helps the Conservatives to suggest that the election is all about economic competence rather than about values and choices.  It also ties into a clearer European and Eurozone argument which is much more clearly about austerity and anti-austerity.

However, it is probably doing the election campaign a disservice.  It is keeping the discussion very much about technical economics, huge sums of money and tricky concepts like the "structural deficit" rather than what it is really all about: who is the government there to serve and how will it serve them?  The latter discussion is much more likely to engage people and bring this election campaign to life.



Monday, 6 April 2015

Some Advice for Ed Miliband before the Challengers' TV Debate

I don't imagine Ed Miliband reads my humble election-analysis blog, but just in case: here's some advice ahead of a debate that holds a number of potential pitfalls for him. There are opportunities in this debate if he handles it correctly.  After all, his personal ratings have improved considerably after each TV appearance so far during the campaign and the same might happen again, if he plays it right.  But here is some free advice for you, Ed!

1) Prioritise the "enemies".  The media are going to try and bill this as Miliband vs. Sturgeon but ignore this.  The chief enemy is the only other possible PM: the absent candidate!  The absence of Cameron and Clegg on the panel is huge open goal.  Take every opportunity to attack the government's record: nobody's going to defend it.  Don't overplay it, but make sure you remind the audience that Cameron and Clegg could have been there but chose not to be.  After Cameron, the next "enemy" is Farage.  I know the SNP are a bigger electoral threat to Labour, but Farage is the ideological enemy, and Labour voters, members and supporters will want to see you challenge him vigorously.  The Scottish leaders' debate will be the "opportunity" to tackle the SNP - keep your focus on the national picture in this debate.

2) Lead the progressive bloc. You've done well showing the public that you can be tougher than they thought, but don't imagine that people want to see you beating up on the minor parties. It's one thing standing up to Paxman and laying into Cameron, it is quite another to attack Bennet, Wood and Sturgeon.  There was some positive public response to the fact that these three cooperated on areas where they agreed.  Why not try a bit of the same?  A bit of "I agree with Nic(ola)" could be worth a thousand attack lines that strike the wrong note.  If you lead the other three in the charge against both Farage and the absent coalition, you should be able to harvest "I agree with Ed" lines too.

3) Don't EVER attack any of the others from the RIGHT.  Just don't do it!  We've seen your notes from the last debate, and I'm worried you're getting some questionable advice in this area.  If you attack Sturgeon on the issue of Trident, you must remember that most of your PPCs and many of your voters agree with her, not you, on this issue (including me, as it happens!)  It's too late in the day to change your policy on this issue before the election (sadly) but it would be hugely counter-productive to use this as a line in the debate.  It would alienate potential Labour voters who are wavering about voting Green or SNP (or elsewhere) and it won't win a single vote from a Tory!  Similarly, don't get into a situation where you're defending spending cuts against anti-austerity arguments.  If you can find an angle where you can show the SNP to have been pro-austerity / pro-"1%" then use it, but otherwise focus on points of agreement.

4) Stay positive.  In the interview with Paxman you put forward some positive, progressive arguments relating to immigration and these are the ones to go with in the challengers' debate -  don't try and sound "tough".  Make sure you make the point about the positive consequences of immigration and your own family's migrant story.  Make sure you make the point about ending zero hours contracts and cracking down on exploitative employers, rather than attacking migrant workers.  This is a strong line of argument and is a good attack line against Farage.  When he says he wants to stop migrant workers undercutting "native" workers, ask whether he supports you on zero hours and the living wage.  If not, he has zero credibility on the issue of low pay.

5) Don't over-react if you're not "the winner".  There is a reasonable chance that either Farage or Sturgeon will come out as "the winner" of this debate in the snap polls.  These polls are more-or-less irrelevant so don't panic about them.  You and the three women are essentially fishing in the same pond whereas in this debate Farage will have a pond all to himself.  If he doesn't "win" then we can conclude that the wheels have come off the UKIP bus and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he doesn't even get his Thanet seat.  You might well be seen as the "Westminster" "establishment" candidate and therefore left-leaning people who are polled might well opt for one of the nationalists.  This doesn't really matter - most of them can't vote for them and they know that the choice is between a Cameron government and a Miliband government (as you should remind them during the debate).

So - there you have it!  Take this advice and you can get something out of this debate.  Ignore it, and you'd have been better off joining Dave and Nick and watching it from the sofa!

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

"Hard Left" or "Red Tories"? Let's get real, Miliband's Labour Party is neither!

If people really believe what they write, and some of what they read, there must be some very confused people out there. 

The Sun on the 1st April (and I don't think it was an April Fool) reminded people that they had backed "moderate" Labour parties in the past, but was opposed to the "hard left" agenda of Ed Miliband.  Many of the Conservative papers continue to label Miliband "Red Ed" and condemn his "old" "socialist" - sometimes even "Marxist" - anti-business agenda.  Both the Mail and the Express have claimed that Miliband is a "Bennite" wanting to bring back the "dark days" of the 1983 General Election manifesto.

People who believe all or some of this must be terribly confused when they read comments from Scottish Nationalists and Greens and people who've lately decided to abandon Labour for the Greens or TUSC or Left Unity.  For these people, Labour are "Red Tories", committed to austerity, on the side of the 1% and there is really no difference between Miliband, Clegg or Cameron.

People who believe all or some of this must be terribly confused when they read the Sun or the Mail.  Okay, they probably don't read them, but they would find it hard to escape the narrative.  Even the BBC today were talking of this being an "old-fashioned" 1970s-style election with Labour fighting for the low-paid and the Tories fighting for the rich in a pitch to their core votes.

Is there any truth to either story?
Is Labour hard left?  I wish, to be honest!  A "hard left" agenda would undoubtedly include nationalising at least the railways and the energy companies.  Miliband's policies are significantly less radical on both.  A "hard left" agenda would argue against austerity on principle. Miliband is committed to further cuts and "balancing the books".  A "hard left" agenda would argue for free tuition fees, not a small reduction.  A "hard left" agenda would take the fight to UKIP and the Tories on immigration, not make controlling it one of their five pledges and plastering it over a mug.

No, we can conclude the Tory/Tory-press narrative is a million miles from the truth.

What about Red Tories then?  Again - nonsense.  Anybody who claims to be on the left who is genuinely ambivalent about who might form the next government (out of the two possibilities) has argued themselves into a very odd place.  The differences between the parties are quite well defined - perhaps more so than for nearly 30 years.  The only bit of the Sun/Mail/Express, etc. narrative that has any truth in it is that Labour has moved some distance from the New Labour perspective of Tony Blair.  People who voted Labour in 1997, 2001, 2005 and 2010 but wish to vote for a left-wing alternative this year again seem to be rather confused, politically.  There are literally tens of millions of pounds between the proposed cuts agenda of both parties.  Labour is going to scrap most zero hours contracts, scrap the bedroom tax, reintroduce the 50p tax rate, levy a "mansion tax" on high-value properties to invest in the NHS; repeal the coalition's NHS Act; clamp down on low pay and tax evasion.  They are also happy to interfere with energy, transport and property markets to control prices.

No, we can further conclude that the "Red Tory" line is a nonsense, at least as far from the truth as the "hard left" story. 

Labour is a very long way from "hard left" but it has found a political position significantly to the left of New Labour and is proposing a large number of distinctive policies.  It is important that we deal with the reality rather than the myths. 

However, I suspect the "hard left" criticisms will continue from the right-wing press and, coupled with a focusing of voters' minds as the campaign progresses, I suspect some of the SNP/PC/Green/TUSC, etc vote will move back to Labour in order to get the government that is closer to their perspective out of the two possibilities.

It will be interesting to see whether a stepping-up of the anti-Miliband language helps the Tories or whether it unwittingly aids Miliband by turning him more emphatically into the "change" candidate.  Watch this space!