Monday, 25 May 2015

The 'Sweetest' Victory



This week sees the first Queens speech of the all singing, all dancing new Conservative government that features a hell of a lot of the old faces from the coalition government.  Arguably the only things to have changed have been the doormats.  Given the surprising result, it’s strange that there’s really not been an awful lot of analysis in terms of looking at how they won.  Even stranger given the wretchedness of their campaign.

Breakfast time, 8th May & the Cameron's
return to Downing Street
Ah, the campaign, so full of tactical gems and traps that Labour fell into.  All of it revisionist claptrap of course.  The truth is that there are several reasons why the Tories won, none of which relate to either the policies they planned to pursue or Cameron’s ability to defend his record in public. We will see how quickly Cameron’s policy to legislate against putting up Income & Corporation tax as well as National Insurance takes to fall apart.  Similarly Labour’s failure to lay a glove on Cameron was shown up by Cameron’s mauling by a Radio 1 audience.

That’s not to underplay the Tories return to being dark hearted Machiavellian’s, as outlined by James McKenzie here.  It’s just that I’m not entirely convinced this was Cameron’s strategy but think this is someone else within CCHQ, somebody with the mind of a chess grandmaster.  Not Cameron then, and probably not Crosby given he was only hired a couple of years ago.  Indeed, if it wasn’t for the fact that “Osborne; political strategist” is something of an oxymoron after the Omnishambles budget and the ‘Sermon on the Pound’, you’d be tempted to think of him being Cameron’s chief tactician.  Especially as Osborne clearly fancies himself as one.

MacKenzies post does highlight the biggest factor in the Conservative’s return – the ineptitude of the other parties.  Hindsight quite clearly will be of no use to a party that was, as my introduction alluded, perceived to be nothing more that the Tories doormats.  Though the Lib Dems did themselves no favours whatsoever for being so enthusiastic evangelists for the Tories Scorched Earth programme.  Most decent Lib Dem supporters probably rue the day they first became aware of David Law’s wretched Orange Book. 

The only card the Conservatives had was that Labour, if they were to creep past the Tories into power, had to deal with the SNP.  Whether they themselves would deal with the SNP (or more likely the sectarian and deeply homophobic DUP) was not the issue – because Labour never made it an issue (much to Owen Jones annoyance).  The issue the Tories campaigned on was that a weak Labour party would strike a deal with the unreconstructed deficit deniers of the SNP and would not be in a position to say no.  That the SNP have been a remarkably centrist party in Scottish politics (vacating the position left behind by 'Scottish' Labour & the Lib Dems) is neither hear or there.  To an English audience, the SNP are a menace that needs to be repelled at all costs.  Vote Conservative.

The Tories tactic of course wouldn’t work half as well if the SNP & Labour were remotely happy bedfellows.  Their tactic works because of the relationship between the two.  That the SNP showed the most mature viewpoint only served to push Labour away, who in their blue funk gave in not only to Cameron but also to the more swivel eyed of their Scottish Labour contingent.  Those for whom the SNP are only to be loathed regardless of the consequences.

In a funny sort of way, the SNP showed some political naivety of their own.  Sturgeon, Robertson & co carried on their campaign, which while sweeping all before them here kind of played into the stereotypes the Tories were painting the SNP as.  There was a piece in the Independent about a week before polling which vox-poped voters in Norwich and Carlisle.  Both places had voters express a dislike for being run by ‘that woman’.  Then again, that’s maybe a by-product of Labour’s obsession with a possible second referendum – so once again they shot themselves in the foot.

Of course, the big reason the Tories won was the time honoured battleground for every election and referendum – the economy.  Say what you like about austerity, and believe me I wish you would, but it is now conventional wisdom among the British electorate that serious cuts are required to solve the issues with the economy.  Milliband spent too long getting his feet under the desk to prevent this narrative from taking root.   Hence Labour hitting a brick wall whenever the economy came up.  The mileage the SNP got for being the anti-austerity party surely must have given Labour pause for thought over their tactic of accepting Scorched Earth.

I’d thought that Cameron would win a second term as far back as 2012, when the Independence referendum started to become reality and Milliband’s poor response cemented his fate.  I had thought that maybe Milliband had got back into the game after the bright start to his campaign and Cameron’s flat campaign.  Then again, if we are looking for turning points, maybe the ‘Ed Stone’ was this campaign’s “Sheffield rally” moment.  From then, the polls showed slight Tory leads which maybe grew on Election Day. 

For the most unconventional of election campaigns, it was the traditional battleground of ‘the Economy’ that proved to be the key to victory.  A lesson that should be learned not just for Labour but for a Scottish National Party still really to work out why the referendum was lost last September.  

Monday, 11 May 2015

Taking The Jewellery While The Corpse Is Still Warm



People say that the Tories are ruthless towards their leaders, but the speed that Blairite leaning Labour politicians turned on Milliband is breathtaking to say the least.  Mind you, when you see Peter ‘Dripping Poison’ Mandleson all over the television giving his views on where Miliband went wrong, you suspect that Milliband was right to keep Mandleson as far away from the campaign as possible.  Blair on the other hand should really have kept his opinions to himself.

The synopsis of many of the Blairite critics of Milliband is that his leadership was too left wing and said nothing to aspirational Britain.  They are right in saying that nothing was said to aspirational Britain.  But Miliband too left wing?  There were left wing policies there, like reviewing the energy market and on taxation.  Economically speaking though, Milliband fell between two stools, not helped by not formulating a viable alternative to Osborne’s scorched earth.  Lets not forget as well that Milliband’s Labour party were fully in favour of TTIP.

Milliband fell between looking leftwards, which is where the 50% tax rate & the scrapping of the Non Dom’s came from, and looking at the centre ground – adopting scorched earth.  Arguably Milliband’s slow getting to grips with the position of leader of his party cost him room for manoeuvre as the Osborne narrative – it was Labour’s fault because they overspent and austerity is the only way out – became perceived wisdom among the electorate & media.  If anything Milliband wasn’t nearly as bold or as communicative enough with his policies.  Even if, overall, Milliband had a decent campaign.  Something I may return to at a later date…

One person who did not have a good campaign whatsoever was the ‘Scottish’ Labour leader, Jim Murphy.  There were three Labour policies on a Murphy compiled loop which showed their credentials as a ‘progressive’ party.  These were quickly drowned out by political ‘whataboutery’ when Labour looked to attack the SNP.  Labour attacked the SNP on full fiscal autonomy – which we don’t have.  Murphy also attacked the SNP because they didn’t rule out a second Independence referendum, despite Sturgeon, Salmond etc not actually promising that there wouldn’t be a second referendum.  Yip, they did say that this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity for Scotland, because the circumstances for another vote wouldn’t come around again for…  how long exactly did it take for Cameron to put his foot in it again? In any case, surely the result of the referendum meant that the Union is only on probation, right?

Murphy does have his supporters within Labour, Renfrewshire Council’s own leader Mark McMillan finds it hard to believe people could be so critical of Murphy after only 6 months in the job, conveniently forgetting that ‘supporters’ of Murphy briefed against and agitated for the removal of Johann Lamont (who?) in the run up and aftermath of the referendum.  Yip, I wanted Lamont removed too and yip I thought that Murphy would be an upgrade on Lamont & Gray.  If Umuna, Balls and Milliband had thought that Murphy had gone native when he pledged to spend the proceeds of the Mansion Tax on Scottish nurses, then his performance up here also shows he’s been south for too long.  His actions too as such keepers of the Blairite flame’s like McTiernan and McDougall were appointed to backroom positions within Murphy’s team.

Five, ten years ago, Murphy’s campaigning style would have been successful and borne fruit with 40+ Labour MP’s.  Now and after the referendum politicized a generation of Scottish voters, Murphy’s tactics fell apart consistently under scrutiny.  £8.00 in 2020, why not now.  You didn’t ban zero contracts before, why should we believe you.  Why is the 50% tax rate threshold at £150,000.  As Lallands Peat Worrier points out in brutal fashion, Murphy behaved like and campaigned as yesterday’s man.

Milliband’s actions on Friday (though if I was a Labour supporter, I’d have preferred Milliband to have stuck about & resigned at the conference to buy time for a proper debate within Labour) have thrown into contrast Murphy’s actions in refusing to resign.  Had Murphy shown any of the tactical nous and pragmatism of early Blair, the result could have been very different.  He has not & it could be argued that ‘Scottish’ Labour have fallen apart under his stewardship not just because of long term actions but as a result of his decisions.

I’d previously argued that ‘Scottish’ Labour might be looked at more closely by their head office.  Any organisation that loses 40 seats and a huge tranche of it’s voters would normally be under investigation and that’s after taking into account the conduct of some elected officials.  It may well be that cutting Scottish Labour adrift or making it a separate party under the Labour umbrella could be discussed in London. Scottish Labour’s issues will not have gone unnoticed.  Given the animosity towards Murphy from members of the Shadow cabinet, maybe if Murphy doesn’t go he might be pushed.

As the Blair cheerleaders line up to demand a return to the New Labour years of being relaxed about the rich & the selling off of our public services, they should bear in mind the success story reheated Blairism has been in Scotland.  They should also be reminded that there has been only two elections where the Labour vote went up in Scotland since the Tories last win – 1997 and 2010.  This leaves me wondering if Labour have an equivalent to the men in grey suits that used to tell Conservative leaders when to go.

Friday, 8 May 2015

General Election 2015: The Tale Of The Tape



10pm, 7th May & Exit poll announces Tories are largest party on 316 seats

At about 20 to 1 this afternoon, the Conservatives passed a landmark that they had not passed since the afternoon of April 10th 1992.  They won the seat of Cotswolds which gave them their first overall majority since that date.  This confirmed a result that we all knew was likely since the retention of the Nuneaton seat about quarter to 2 this morning.  For this election, Nuneaton was this elections equivalent to Basildon in 1992 – results that made flesh Labour’s failure to win.

When the seat of St Ives declared at half past 3, this gave us the final result of –


Seats
Votes
Share
Conservatives
331
11,334,920
36.9%
Labour
232
9,344,328
30.4%
SNP
56
1,454,436
4.7%
Liberal Democrats
8
2,415,888
7.9%
UKIP
1
3,881,129
12.6%
Others
22

7.5%
Conservative majority - 12
Turnout – 66.1%

The Conservatives did not win by voters switching from Labour, there was a swing from the Conservatives to Labour of 1.1%.  What pushed the Conservatives over the line was the collapse in the Lib Dem vote and that simply more Lib Dem seats were Lib Dem-Tory marginal’s.  Like 1992, Cameron’s honeymoon period will be short lived though the bulging in-tray might have more to do with things than any economic problems.  The European Referendum will now be a thing – with negotiations dominating the first part of Cameron’s second term.  Cameron has also indicated a willingness to deal with Scotland as well in a better manner than The Smith Commission.  Those 56 SNP seats now means that those proposals are now obsolete.  While there is things to celebrate for the Conservatives, bearing in mind that the result is better than the exit poll (the Conservatives short by 10), the last time the Tories won with a wafer thin majority – twice the current majority – Major’s government was a walking disaster riven by division and rebellion over Europe.  It’s a good job Europe isn’t going to dominate the…  oh.

The Conservatives are not the only party celebrating.  The SNP surge was very real and much worse for the Westminster 3 than the polling suggested.  That moniker now describes the total MP’s for the pro-Union parties.  Why?  Well the referendum campaign played a part, canvassing areas New Labour took for granted putting their arguments until the penny dropped about Labour’s neglect of Scotland & the Scottish voter. Of course, Sturgeon, like Salmond before her, is lucky that Labour have played into their hands with not smart politics.  The neutral blogger Stuart Winton suggested that the SNP would be marginalised in the new parliament and that the best prospect to save the union would be a new Independence referendum.  I’m not sure a second referendum would be as decisive as the Unionists need it to be, but the SNP are not going to go away – they’re too smart for that.  Remember as well that the SNP will now be eligible for ‘short money’ and also positions in the key select committees.

Douglas Alexander, Mhari Black & Fraser Galloway await their fate
at Paisley's Lagoon Centre
Any talk of the SNP brings about talk about blaming the SNP for Labour’s defeat.  It’s true that Scotland is one of the big reasons Labour lost.  Labour did not handle the referendum very well.  From Milliband’s unthinking acceptance of Cameron’s anti-Independence positioning to their acceptance of the Coaltion vetoing parts of the Smith Commission – time and time again they showed a lack of understanding that the terms of the debate hadchanged.  True, we don’t want Independence but polling showed that Devo Max is the settled will of the Scottish people – Labour’s constant thwarting of this sowed the seeds of them being seen as ‘RedTories’. Scotland also hurt them in the English shires as the Tories pushed the line that a Labour-SNP deal would be deeply harmful to the country.  They did not handle the referendum and they failed to successfully rebut the prospect of ‘that woman’ (as a voter in Carlisle put it) running the UK.

The other reason Labour failed was that they lost the economic argument.  That’s an outcome that you could have predicted within a year of Miliband taking the Labour leadership.  As I pinpointed at the time, rather than formulate a viable alternative to Osborne’s scorched earth policy they instead fully signed up to it.  They also failed to fully articulate their economic policy fully.  They did have good policies, abolishing the Non Dom tax rule, but they were few and far between.  Personally speaking, I was also rather appalled at the gentrification of Labour – not something that had occurred to me until I voted last night.  Two Labour canvassers (not the normal canvassers outside Bushes I hasten to add) were unhappy at the prospect of someone being elected that wasn’t from the town that would bring the reputation of the town down.  Make of that what you will.

Yet, even before Milliband resigned, there were the growing storms of a Blairite coup should he not jump.  Even after he went, the journalists Dan Hodges and John Rentoul were questioning Milliband’s supposed left wing policies while Blair’s former speechwriter Phillip Collins and the former MP John Reid were also urging a return to Blairite policies.  That worked really really well here in Scotland, didn’t it?  Of the so called leading contenders, Andy Burnham’s probably the co-favourite with Yvette Cooper with Dan Jarvis (who?) the outsider. More to follow on that story one suspects though there certainly is the feeling of a changing of the guard moment for Labour with Milliband gone and both Balls and Alexander losing their seats – Brown’s backroom staff from opposition have been removed from the top of Labour

Labour had a really bad night, in being wiped out in Scotland.  At least they didn’t come close to extinction like the Lib Dems.  In 2010 they lost 5 seats but picked up the most votes they have ever taken under the Lib Dem banner.  Last night, the pattern set in the Holyrood elections of 2011 continued as they lost all but a small cabal of MP’s and shed more than half of their voters.  If Labour have huge choices on their future direction, what of the Lib Dems?  Do they continue down the Orange Book path that brought them power followed by the brutal rejections suffered in the past four years, or do they return to the Social democratic model that saw them gradually build as a party since the merger of the Liberals and the SDP in 1988?

The SNP richly deserved their victory.  Unkind Labour wags bemoan the fact that the SNP have stolen their clothes.  Well if you discard things in pursuit of gentrification, then don’t be surprised if vote winning ideas that have been discarded are picked up.  We will see how much influence the SNP/Plaid/Green bloc garner.  Labour deserved their defeat too.  Their campaign was better than Cameron’s, but the failure to rebut the Labour/SNP coalition story cost them as much as their inability to lay a finger on Cameron. 

The Conservative’s election victory is entirely down to the pattern set since Thatcher in the 1980’s – that unpopular governments no longer lose elections but attractive governments in waiting win them.  For all the fury at the performance of the SNP – Milliband, Balls, Alexander & co never ever looked like the next British government.