Saturday, 25 April 2015

Enemy at the gates

Panic spreads through the upper echelons of the Conservative Party as they realise they may be about to go down in history as the administration so inept that they were replaced, at the first opportunity, with the party they had succeeded in booting out of office.
All of this comes back to the question of whether the Tories have the right messaging. Lee Atwater, the Reagan/Bush strategist, has said the key to good message strategy is to choose the ditch you’re going to die in – meaning that messages need to be chosen early and then stuck to because by election day either they will have been proved right or it is too late to choose otherwise. 
The Tory “ditch” was supposed to be leadership and the economy. But Cameron weakened his leadership advantage by failing to turn up for the debates and has relied on an economic message far too triumphalist for the reality of the fragile recovery at hand. 
As a result, the ditch the Tories chose to die in may well result in electoral death rather than messaging victory. 
The grim choice facing the Tories is blaming their likely defeat on Ed Milliband's political genius (which seems a rather weak defence); their own utter uselessness (a strong case could be made; but I don't think they will want to make it); or on the evils of the British electoral system (another strong case, but one that would reuire a degree of hypocrisy I think even the Tories may not possess.)

Bluntly, they had plenty of warning.  They were told not to embark on an ideologically driven programme of austerity, but decided to do it anyway.  As a result, Britain's economy languished while the economies of comparable nations improved.  So trumpeting the recent growth sounds hollow and weak.  Celebrating small falls in unemployment when there are millions out of work and in part time work or facing up to having no work next week makes them sound out of touch and arrogant.  And the recent promises to spend money - even when they don't know where they are getting it from - and somehow reduce deficits at the same time, shreds the whatever is left of their reputation for competence and calm leadership in the eyes of people who haven't suffered as a result of the economic mismanagement that has blighted the country for the last five years.

The startling thing is, though, that this was always going to happen.  There hasn't been a time since late 2010, when the Labour have been significantly behind in the polls.  The Conservatives might argue that they are peaking at precisely the right time; they have pulled Labour back just when it mattered, given that the parliament was going to run for five years; but it is a doubtful claim.  They've had five years and this is all they have to show for it?  And 'peaking' suggests going up, whereas their share of vote has fallen from somewhere in the 40s in 2010 to the low to mid-thirties now.  That isn't peaking, it is bottoming out.

Or at least, they'd better bloody well hope they've bottomed out.  There's still plenty of numbers smaller than the ones they are on just now.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Has Ed gone evil?

Like progressives everywhere (or at least those paying attention to the British election) I was dismayed to hear Ed Miliband mouthing the sort of phrases we normally expect to hear from the other side:
In an effort to shed perceptions that Labour was soft on immigration, Miliband said that in the past his party had been “too timid” about insisting that newcomers learn English when they arrive in the UK. 
“It’s something we should expect from everyone who comes here and it’s especially important that people who work in public services in public-facing roles should be required to speak English,” he told an audience at Pensby high school in Heswall, Merseyside. 
Miliband said the need for people to speak English was “nowhere … more true than in our NHS”, which has a significant proportion of nurses and particularly doctors who have qualified overseas. Of the 267,150 doctors registered with the General Medical Council on 6 January this year, 97,915 (36.7%) were foreign-trained, including 34,120 specialists. 
“I will never demean or devalue their contribution to our country, but it is vital that people who come to fill those roles don’t just have the right medical skills but can communicate with those for whom they care,” Miliband said.
It is interesting that the Guardian clumsily headlines this as "New immigrants must speak English, says Ed Miliband."

Miliband isn't saying that all immigrants to Britain MUST speak English. That would be silly and unenforceable.

The only concrete part mentioned was: "A future Labour government would pass laws to ensure all health workers spoke English well enough to care for patients before they could start work, he said, and regulators would be given powers to enforce the rules."

So doctors, health workers and the like will have to prove competency in English.

I imagine he has this case in mind.

It isn't great to hear him flirting with the xenophobia and hating of the right; but I think he's just about managed to avoid ctually blundering into anything actually evil.

It's pretty obvious tactics really - clearly designed to broaden his appeal to the moderate Conservatives who might be frustrated with Cameron, annoyed by his profligate promises and rudderless campaign, and who might, just might, be responding to the message that Miliband's Labour party is responsible and listening to them.

I don't liek it, but I've always understood how First Past The Post compromises politicians. I'll swallow this rat.  Just don't offer me too many more.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

British election - the week that was

Another bad week for the Tories, with Cameron's massive tactical error in refusing to attend the debate making him look arrogant and cowardly at the same time - a remarkable achievement.

Miliband managed to look like the only real politician on the stage - another remarkable achievement, for him - and Sturgeon over-played her appeal to him, sounding suspiciously like a beggar on the streets of Edinburgh, desperate for change.

(Take a moment to appreciate the cunning play on 'change' - I'm quite proud of that!).

All she needed was some copies of the Big Issue to flog, a wee dog on a piece of string, and a bottle of Whyte & MacKay not very well concealed in her pocket, and she'd have been there. there, I tell you.

Meanwhile, the only possible good news the Conservatives could have exploited - marginally improved employment figures and a good school report from the IMF (which should set alarm bells ringing everywhere) - was pretty much brushed aside.  It didn't register because a) everyone was focused on the 'contenders' challenge' and, b) the Tories had squandered their reputation for economic competence the week before, when they basically promised everyone in the UK would be able to afford TWO golden speedboats, to wave a magic wand at the nasty deficit to make it disappear, and give all the money in the universe to the NHS.

(These may not be the actual policies proposed.)

(Actually, that's a better policy schedule than they came up with - at least it indicates HOW the deficit will be reduced, and relying on magic isn't inherently sillier than relying on 'supply side' voodoo economics.)

Meanwhile, the Daily Mail continues its heroic anti-Miliband campaign, slapping this not-at-all-over-the-top headline across the top of its website:
'You're not strong enough': Debate nightmare for Miliband as Sturgeon insists he cannot get to No.10 without her help - while Farage is forced onto the defensive for 'demonising' immigrants
Not at al biased there, the Mail.

It is intriguing that the rightwing media are still running so virulently anti-Miliband.  Is there a panicked sense on the right that too many of the sort of people who read the Mail and the Sun are toying with the idea of voting Labour?

Also, note the swipe at Farage and the UKIP - the pro-Tory press seem to have realised that they did too good a job of drumming up interest in the UKIP over the last five years, and now it risks fatally wounding the Tories.  Realistically, the Conservatives are unlikely to win any support from Labour at this stage - the 34% voting Labour have proven their unshakeable loyalty to MIliband over the last five years and are now savouring the possibility that they were right to stick with him - and Cameron's only route back is to squash the UKIP vote.

I don't think that will work, because if your stomach is strong enough to let you contemplate voting for Farage, you'll be difficult to sway.  Unless the press have some footage of him actually eating a child, or (worse) running an illegal immigration ring, the people voting UKIP will probably stay with them.  Though it might only take a few desertions to have a big impact.

And the Sun focuses on the issues that realy matter:

In spite of the right wing snipping, Ed Miliband's personal ratings have improved significantly - people really do seem to like the Happy Warrior.  And people don't actually care if he has two kitchens.  Most of us would quite like two kitchens and a nanny, if only we could afford it.  So Ed's 'hypocrisy' doesn't turn people off.  The difference between Miliband and Cameron is that Miliband comes across as humble and human, in spite of his privilege.  Whereas Cameron comes across as a bullying country squire, and a poltroon to boot.

So, another relatively uneventful week, overall, with the polls still quag-mired. It is interesting (very slightly) to speculate about how things might be shaping up if Labour hadn't suffered such a catastrophic reversal in Scotland.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Holy crap!

I've just realised I've been doing this for over 8 years.

And still the world has not seen sense.

If anything, it seems to be getting worse.  I'm probably responsible for, well, everything.  I'm sorry.

Particularly the bits involving John Key and the Levers of Power.

Ed Miliband

A long, but worthwhile read by Rafeal Behr, about the man who will be the next Prime Minister of Britain.

(Or might not be.)

You can fault Ed Miliband for lots of things, but you can't say he hasn't got guts.

He's gone through five years of demonisation and attacks, from pretty much everyone, from the reasonable (You're pretty boring! You're too right wing!) to the preposterous (You can't eat a bacon sandwich like a human being!) to the downright evil (Your dad hated Britain).

And he just kept on through it all.

However, though the article makes something of Miliband's underlying radicalism, it also notes how his tendency to hear too many voices blunts it:
But often his modus operandi was to bring more people into the room, harvesting contradictory opinions and letting them simmer before acting. It was a system that, according to one contributor, “rarely resulted in a choice being made that was more radical at the end than at the beginning of the process”.
Miliband comes across as a man with strong principles and an apparently bottomless fund of self-belief.  But at the same time he also too often seems awkward and technocratic and forced.  It's hard to distinguish what is the real Ed Miliband - the glimpses of a passionate, committed and articulate progressive Behr describes, or the goofy, superior, inflexible academic that we see at other times.

I like to think the latter is just a media caricature, but sometimes the image can become the reality.

And, worryingly, I can recall, an interview with another ambivalent Labour leader on the verge of power.  Way back in the 90s, just before his stupendous landslide, Tony Blair featured in a similar write up, assuring his readers that he would be far more radical when in government than was saying he would be in when in opposition.  I remember experiencing  twin shivers when I read it - one of excitement that he might actually mean what he said (that hope was soon dashed) and the other of unease that this was a man who would say anything his audience wanted to hear, had no scruples and held everyone in contempt (this one, alas, was rapidly confirmed).

We got the rotten Tony back then,  We got the rotten Gordon Brown (raving psychopath rather than  mercurial financial wizard) and we got the rotten David Cameron (sneering snob rather than modernizer).  Form suggests we'll get the rotten Ed Miliband - detached, aloof, awkward and befuddled.

But maybe we're overdue the good one.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Further musings on the SNP, Scotland and Labour

I recall people who Understood Such Things claiming that Labour would never support Scottish Independence because they had no chance of winning a Westminster election without the Scottish seats.

Scotland returns 59 seats to Westminster. Most of them have been Labour for ... gosh ... a very long time. Crucially, since the 70s, a dwindling number have returned Tory MPs. Currently, the Tories have just one MP in Scotland, to Labour's 41.

Well, it looks the conventional wisdom is going to be challenged in 2015.

According to current polling, the Scottish seats aren't going Labour's way. The SNP are predicted to win 54 of the 59. Nothing like this has been seen before. It seems outlandish and impossible that the SNP might actually pull off this insta-rout of Labour. Yet the polls are consistent.  the total destruction of the Labour party in Scotland - or something very like it - seems like it is really going to happen.

(Personally, I think the final result will be much less emphatic for the SNP for two reasons.  First, a slice of its support may stay at home, and this will swing a few seats Labour's way. Second, some currently saying they will vote SNP may waver; whereas if you're still saying your going to vote Labour in Scotland in 2015, your pretty much definitely mean it.

In spite of those considerations, I still expect it will still be a disaster on an incomprehensible scale for Labour, but with expectations now so low, it may not seem like the catastrophe it actually is - and the SNP may find themselves portrayed as having 'failed' for 'only' winning the majority of seats in Scotland. Such is the berserk nature of the British press.)

And yet, in terms of overall seats at Westminster, Labour still look like finishing a whisker ahead of the Tories.

That's a measure of how crap Cameron's rabble are - they can't even beat a Labour Party that is shorn of Scottish seats and led by Ed Miliband.

It's like Labour are deliberately handicapping themselves, to try and make a fair fight of it.

In spite of all this, however, Nicola Sturgeon and her party are in a precarious position.  their support is drawn from three distinct camps: roughly 1/3 actual pro-independence SNP; 1/3 angry traditional Labour voters; and 1/3 Tories and the weird minority of voters who support Lib Dems a for reasons relating to the arcane nature of Scottish politics (henceforth, the Ragbags).

And whatever Sturgeon does, she risks losing a whole chunk of her support.  I suspect the crunch issue will be Trident, which Sturgeon has said she will not support under any circumstances.

If the SNP refuse to vote for a bill allocating money to Trident, and she brings down a Labour administration, she'll lose her Labour defectors; they want the SNP to force Labour to behave like Labour, not like the bastard demonic spawn of Tony Balir.

If she supports it, she may lose the Ragbag element, who are more vehemently anti-Labour than pro-SNP.  But the loses from this group will probably be fewer in number and may be open to the argument that the SNP is acting in Britain's interest - some of them at least will probably support a nuclear deterrent, for all that they are currently voting for the SNP.

If it comes to a vote on Trident and a Labour government loses, then the administration falls - money bills are always treated as confidence bills.  So by knocking back Trident, the SNP topple a Labour government.

It is possible that the Tories could vote for a trident bill; but this seems unlikely  The Tories would probably prefer to topple a Labour government. If no new administration can be formed, parliament is automatically dissolved and a new election is called. The Tories would almost certainly walk it, as they would be the only ones who could afford another campaign, and they would be able to campaign hard on "Look what happened when you let that useless shower have a shot. We governed for five years, they couldn't even last five minutes."

After all, the Tories are fundamentally uninterested in keeping the Tories out of power.  They can introduce their own Trident bill when they have control of the government benches.

So the SNP get Trident and the rest of us getthe Tories and everyone loses.

Labour could play things smartly and introduce a Trident bill before any further Scottish devolution; because Sturgeon can be fairly certain she won't get much out of the Tories on the devolution front. So she may even end up in the perfect storm of Trident in Scotland, Tories in Westminster, and Devo-Max no-where.

But supporting Trident would be the least damaging option for the SNP. IT would reassure the Labour voters that defecting to the SNP was the right choice; ditto the Ragbags.

The only segment of her voter base she can rely on is the dyed in the wool SNP voters. They haven't got anywhere else to go, realistically, as no other party is offering independence. Trident is a rat she has to swallow, I think.

If she's fenced herself into a position where she can't actually compromise on it, then she's been foolish.

Polling companies - who can we trust?

Anthony Wells (who I want to gay-marry) at UKPR has compiled this handy guide to which polling compnies are the best and most reliable (on the left of the graph) down to those who are not to be trusted (on the right):