Monday, April 27, 2015 

Can you feel the passion?

Election fever has finally reached my humble rotten borough.  Not in the form of canvassers obviously, as the place was written off as Tory bastion many moons ago, although UKIP may well have made some recent inroads.  No, with the delivery today of a leaflet from the Green party candidate, we have now received literature from all of the big five parties.  This is an improvement over last time, when I don't recall getting anything from either the Lib Dems or the Greens.  Considering the wider constituency could be just about said to be marginal, in that on a very good day Labour should be taking it from the Tories (Labour held it from 1997 until 2005), that you could quite easily pass through the area without seeing anything to suggest there's an election on ought to tell you the nation's mood hasn't exactly been captured by the campaign thus far.

This isn't exactly surprising considering just how controlled and traditional the approach of the main parties has been.  No chances are being taken of either a Sharon Storer or Gillian Duffy moment occurring, despite all the evidence suggesting that Gordon Brown's description of Duffy as a "bigoted woman" had absolutely no impact whatsoever on how people voted.  If they could both Labour and the Tories would conduct all their set-pieces for the cameras in hermetically sealed temporary constructions, accessible only to friendly media and the activists/extras recruited to act as background props, and then only once they had been carefully disinfected.  The other slightly different approach, the one George Osborne has been stuck with, is to do a Hugh Abbott and spend the entire campaign touring friendly businesses.  Any unpleasant behaviour by employees, such as asking questions not provided by Osborne's advisers and minders will no doubt be noted and reported back to the person who invited them in the first place.

Cameron, responding to the criticism of how he's spent the campaign thus far in a barely interested torpor, has duly rediscovered his passion.  Passion to David Cameron is getting slightly flush in the face and saying the same things only louder.  Only with the odd vaguely rude word thrown in.  It's also pretending that what really excites him is not just how much more time he'll have to chillax once he loses the election, but getting that all important childcare place, that workfare placement, that bedsit.  If you want excitement, go to Greece!  If you want showbiz, go to Essex!  If you want Boris, go to Barking!  If you want insincerity, you've come to the right place!

At this point it's worth remembering that David Cameron's key objection (beyond his realisation he was on a hiding to nothing) to taking part in the debates was he believed they had overshadowed the campaign last time.  They did, but that's because as we've seen, strip them out of the equation and all you're left with is two sides fighting a battle against the opponents they would like to have.  The Tories are stuck back in an age, if it ever existed, when letters to a newspaper mattered.  Seeing the Mail, Telegraph and Sun act as an adjunct of CCHQ for a leader they and their owners don't really believe in invites pity more than it does fear.  At least Richard Desmond has been honest with everyone on that score.

Unspoken is how both parties have all but come to terms with the fact there's going to be another hung parliamentEven if today's outlier poll from Lord Ashcroft which shows a 6% Tory lead became reality, on an uniform swing it would still deny the party an overall majority by 4 seats.  This hasn't stopped Labour from trying, with the various pledges over the weekend on housing, but there's little to suggest promises that have been made before and gone unfulfilled are going to swing many votes at this point.

Little wonder that whether it comes in the shape of Russell Brand patronising schoolchildren or Nicola Sturgeon promising to end austerity by being less radical than Labour, it's that something different however silly or based in falsehood that cuts through.  The Institute for Fiscal Studies' verdict on the SNP manifesto ought to have been damning: what little difference there is with Labour's plans would be for the worse, the reality being it's Labour pulling the nationalists to the left rather than the opposite.  And yet still the SNP share of the vote in the polls edges upwards, to the point where you suspect some are now saying they're voting SNP for a quiet life, in a reversal of how in the past Tory voters were embarrassed to admit they were going blue.  I still can't quite see how the SNP can overturn a majority of 17,000 in Douglas Alexander's seat when their candidate is a 20-year-old who has twice called no voters "gullible", to take just one snapshot, and yet such is the apparent mood, in spite of everything that should be screaming the SNP are interested in just two things, themselves and independence, it would be a brave person now that bets against a SNP whitewash.

If nothing else, Cameron and Miliband have little to lose from adopting the Sturgeon approach at this stage.  Just turn up at places, don't bring the entire retinue along and listen to some real people rather than bussed in party hacks.  Go off script, stop repeating the same lines we've heard a bazillion times now and Ed, please stop saying "...and let me explain why", as though you're talking to an especially dull and dim child.  At the weekend the ever brilliant Marina Hyde characterised this as the Jose Mourinho election, with both parties waiting for their opponents to make a mistake, indulge in the utmost gamesmanship and most certainly not try and win through expansive flair and attacking dexterity.  No one wants to be Jose Mourinho; not even Mourinho wants to be Jose Mourinho.  As someone might have said, surely we can do better than this.

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Monday, April 13, 2015 

The Labour manifesto.

"It's about values," said George Osborne yesterday, as David Cameron outlined his dream.  Even by the standards of other people's dreams usually being extraordinarily tedious, Cameron's was stupendously dull.  One of the most basic human desires is to take care of your children, and this instinct remains whether they're 5 months or 50.  Why then should the taxman demand a cut when it's completely natural to want to leave your home to your kids?  What difference should it make if they've already got a home of their own, or if the house is worth £374,000 or £999,999?  To object to this intensely natural order is the politics of envy, plain and simple.

George Osborne was right, of course.  It is all about values.  Alan Clark wrote in his diaries of how "the trouble with Michael [Heseltine] is that he had to buy his own furniture," the kind of attitude that was once so prevalent in the Tories.  Most though at the same time would never have dreamed of suggesting that death duties or inheritance tax as it has become should be all but abolished, for the reason being there is moral virtue in taxing unearned wealth.  Clark might have sneered at someone needing to buy their own furniture, but would have equally sneered at someone in his position not going out into the world and making their own money.  As far as the modern Conservatives are concerned, home ownership is an end in itself.  The how and why doesn't enter into it; so long as the home was acquired somehow and it's worth less than a million it should be able to be passed on.  The effect this will have on the housing market is completely immaterial, or rather is absolutely integral: almost every Tory policy post-2010 has been to boost house prices and to hell with the consequences.  What's good for those lucky enough to have got on the housing ladder is good for the country.  There could not be more difference between a party making such a promise and the others pledging to introduce a yearly tax on properties worth over £2 million.

Which brings us to today's Labour manifesto launch.  Little remembered now is a certain Ed Miliband was the principal author of the last Labour manifesto, not so much the longest suicide note in history as it was an immensely elongated acceptance of fate.  Where that manifesto promised a "future fair for all", illustrated by a family burning out their retinas by staring into the sun, today's instead informs us all that "Britain can be better".  Well, quite.  Britain also only succeeds when working people succeed, which doesn't instantly follow; bleeding working people to the bone might well give the impression of the country succeeding also, but maybe we shouldn't be splitting hairs.  Where the last manifesto's cover was garish, this time the entire document is austere (PDF), the cover simply white with red text, while inside apart from the single full page photo of Ed and multiple images of said hard-working Britons, the design is remarkably minimalistic, or if you prefer, plain.

And that, frankly, is what the manifesto is.  It almost reminds of the semi-witty advert Labour ran at the time of the changeover of power: not flash, just Gordon.  There is very little flash contained herein, and that presumably is exactly the point.  It doesn't so much say there's still no money as it does suggest any there is we're not going to splash on frivolities.  Indeed, everything has been costed, or so it says on the second page, and locked in also.  Not a single commitment requires additional borrowing, and in future Labour will legislate to require all manifestos be audited by the Office for Budget Responsibility.  The deficit will be cut every year, the national debt will fall, dogs and cats will live together, but there won't be mass hysteria.

From not mentioning the deficit Labour has decided it can't be talked about enough.  It's difficult to judge precisely why the party has decided at the last minute to invent this budget responsibility lock, or for that matter what the point of it is.  As the IFS has been pointing out for some time now, Labour's economic plan is broad enough to allow for no further cuts whatsoever after 2016, which would still allow for a surplus come 2020.  The manifesto doesn't enlighten us as to what cuts there will be, beyond the fact there will be cuts outside of the protected spending areas of the NHS, education and international development.  We can obviously expect them not to be as severe as the ones promised by the Conservatives, yet at the same time the areas designated for cuts are those already slashed hardest.  How much more in the way of savings can be found from the Home Office budget, the local government budget, the welfare budget?  The manifesto also restates the commitment not to mess with the taxes that raise the most revenue, beyond putting up the top rate of income tax back up to 50p, further reducing room for manoeuvre if such promises are to be kept.

If this is meant to reassure those convinced it was Labour's profligacy in the first place that resulted in the crash and the deficit (pro-tip: it wasn't) it's both far too late and just not airtight enough.  The Tories might have spent the last few weeks throwing money around, but you can promise ridiculous things like the all but abolition of inheritance tax when, regardless of whether it's deserved or not, the Conservatives are trusted on the economy.  More than anything else the emphasis on the deficit and the triple lock has distracted away from what is the manifesto's greatest strength: not the policies, which are for the most part underwhelming, but the message that work isn't paying.  While not specifically stating there's a crisis of productivity, it sets out how it's the quality, not the quantity of jobs that really matters, and the party will not accept Britain becoming a low-wage economy as the Conservatives are prepared to.

Naturally, saying this when so many are ready to accept secular stagnation as the new normal and doing something about it are two separate things.  All the manifesto really pledges to do to improve productivity is via "a long-term investment culture", while "encouraging small businesses to grow".  An National Infrastructure Committee will apparently achieve this, making recommendations and holding government to account.  Short-termism in business is also fingered, but how much of a difference will really be made by giving additional rights to long-term investors when takeover bids are mounted and by requiring remuneration committees to have worker representation is open to question.

Still, there is radicalism or something approaching it hiding beneath the utilitarian wrapping.  The big six energy companies will be separated into generation and supply businesses, required to open their books and sell their electricity through an open exchange, while the water companies will have to sign up to a national affordability scheme.  The rail franchising system will be reviewed, a public sector operator will be allowed to take on lines and challenge the private firms and city and country regions will be given more power over the bus operators.  Less immediately helpful will is the proposed repealing of the Health and Social Care bill, which will surely necessitate another NHS reorganisation, and the new "Directors of School Standards", which sounds remarkably like a way of allowing free schools just under a different guise.

The one thing more than anything else that seems absent, despite there being few policies to violent disagree with (it's hopefully indicative that I gave the biggest snort of derision to a throwaway line on building resilience in young people through the use of mindfulness) is anger.  Or even a general sense of real concern for what the next five years could bring should we again have a Conservative-led government.  It's not as though the Conservatives are hiding their intentions, as they did last time: they want to spending two years banging on about Europe, and could possibly even lead us out by mistake; they want to cut everyday spending to 1960s levels; they want to all but deny benefits to the young, while feather-bedding the old; they want to repeal the Human Rights Act and leave the European Convention on Human Rights; they want to make life as unpleasant as possible not just for those on benefits, but also those on low wages via universal credit.  The list could go on.

Despite all this, you don't get the sense from Labour or the manifesto that 5 more years of the Tories will be that bad.  We are it's true in this new territory where another coalition or some variety of moderating influence on the Conservatives seems all but a certainty, and with that in mind we've had pithy remarks about the launches of the manifestos being about the beginning of the bartering as anything else.  5 more years could mean the breaking of the public services as we know them.  Britain can be better, but Labour doesn't seem to believe in itself, let alone the country.

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Thursday, April 09, 2015 

Stabbing a dead horse in the back.

There's a reason why, up until today, we hadn't heard the old Ed stabbed his own brother in the back therefore he can't be trusted line in a while.  Quite apart from how it implies the Labour leadership was David's birthright, which it most certainly wasn't, there's the obvious problem of how Ed's decision to stand was hardly the action of the weak, pusillanimous loser of Tory and right-wing media construct.  Instead it speaks rather of a ruthless streak, even if that doesn't necessarily instantly translate from being a personal quality into one of leadership.

Just the two weeks into the "short" campaign then, and the Conservatives are panicked enough to have gone nuclear.  Yesterday's pledge from Labour to abolish non-domicile status was apparently judged by Lynton Crosby to be damaging enough to justify bringing out the first "dead cat" of the battle so far.  This is when a politician does something daft enough to completely distract attention from everything else, akin to chucking a dead cat into the middle of the dinner table.  It doesn't matter how stupid the intervention is, so long as it serves its purpose in the short-term.

Grudging credit duly must go to Crosby and pals, as they came up with an absolute doozy, so magnificently idiotic that everyone has been temporarily blindsided by it.  Poor old Michael Fallon was tasked with taking one for the team, and what better outlet than the Times for an article so inherently contradictory and confused?  You see, if Ed Miliband was prepared to stab his brother in the back, why wouldn't he also stab the country in the back?  And because he's so unutterably weak, able only to lead a government with the support of the SNP, the very first thing he'll sacrifice is our independent nuclear deterrent, the one so loathed by the irrational nationalists.  Nicola Sturgeon has said we'd better believe it's a red line, so who wouldn't take her word for it?

Describing it as contemptible purely on that basis doesn't properly do it justice.  Rarely does a politician dare make an argument based on such a bizarre mixture of interpretations of their opponent's qualities, as while journalists can swallow extremely hefty amounts of bullshit in the right circumstances, to expect the average punter to do so also is to stretch credulity.  When even Fallon seems unsure whether Miliband is weak or ruthless, the obvious question is which is it?  Either he's so spineless yet power hungry he'll put our national security at risk, or he's so without scruple he'll do anything to get into Downing Street.

The whole thing is complete and utter bollocks.  Quite apart from how Miliband gave a straight no to the question of whether he would barter away Trident when asked by Paxman, Sturgeon herself has all but said any confidence and supply agreement with Labour would not fail due to disagreement on Trident.  The SNP would just vote against any renewal bill, and any such bill would get through the Commons regardless because of Tory support, whatever the make up of the next government.  Besides, as Andrew Sparrow points out, the Tories themselves delayed the decision on replacing Trident in the face of Lib Dem pressure.  Getting into the hair-splitting over whether or not Labour would support a like-for-like replacement of four submarines rather than the Lib Dem policy of dispensing with one and not always having the "deterrent" at sea is to be transported to a country where, as Fallon insisted, the replacement of Trident really is the most important issue facing the nation.

This is after all one of the few SNP policies grounded in something approaching reality.  Trident isn't independent, nor is it a deterrent, or at least isn't to any of threats we currently face.  You could almost make a case for renewing it at great expense vis-a-vis the uncertainty surrounding Russian foreign policy, but it's difficult to believe a complete return to the days of the cold war is on the horizon, as it's not in anyone's interests.  There's no reason whatsoever why we couldn't move to the same policy as Japan, so called nuclear latency, retaining the ability to produce a nuclear weapon quickly if the world situation changes.  Only to do so would obviously be to reduce ourselves further on the world stage and further annoy the Americans, neither of which can possibly be countenanced.

I have though been thoroughly distracted, as was the point.  Thus far, the Conservative strategy of campaigning almost solely on Miliband being a joke and on their economic record just isn't cutting through, unsurprisingly it might be said considering they've been doing so since the turn of the year.  Rather than shift to the themes suggested by say, Tim Montgomerie (also behind the Times's paywall), the response from Crosby and friends has instead been to double down.  It could quite possibly still work; we remain just two weeks in, with a month to go.  Getting excited over polls today either showing Labour regaining the lead or narrowing the gap is then more than a little premature.  It might be the start of something, or it could just be sampling errors.  A better guide is probably Lord Ashcroft's latest marginals poll, that shows in the main a consolidation of support for the party in the lead at the turn of the year, and a fall in UKIP support. 

What is apparent is the Tories are on the backfoot, and with the latest rabbit from the hat being the promise of a freeze on rail fares, rather undermining all the arguments we heard against Labour's energy price freeze, they still seem more concerned on shoring up their vote rather than trying to win over the undecideds.  Whether throwing the dead cat onto the table will have had the desired effect, as opposed to just showing the Tories up as running a one note campaign we'll need this weekend's polls to confirm.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2015 

Labour stupidity cancelled out by the Lib Dems' lack of credibility.

Having set out where my vote's going this early, I'm obviously going to be spending the next 37 days grinding my teeth at every stupid, ignorant, counter-productive and downright indefensible leaflet and argument from the Labour campaign, all whilst still trying to convince myself I've made the right decision.  For instance, a sensible position for Labour to take on law and order would be to recognise crime has continued to fall in spite of the state of the economy and the cuts to the police.  It should therefore follow it is absurdly wasteful for the prison population to continue to be at a record level, and one of the very first things you could do to alleviate the pressures on the system would be to make clear no one should serve a short sentence for mere possession of drugs for personal use.

Except, of course, Labour remains anything but sensible on law and order, especially around election time.  THE LIB DEMS: SOFT ON CRIME, DRUGS AND THUGS screams a leaflet, the yellow peril having "made it harder" for the police to use DNA evidence, sent Anjem Choudary a pallet of hydrogen peroxide and given out crack to schoolchildren.  I exaggerate, but not by much.  You'd also mind less if the leaflet was clearer on where the Lib Dems have gone so wrong, only for the solutions apparently to be to scrap police and crime commissioners, which is fair enough but has nothing to do with the above, put "more bobbies on the beat", and "strengthen professional standards".  Jesus wept.  Responding to the complaints from among others the Transform charity, which quite rightly branded Labour's defence of jailing people for simple possession as "medieval", the party also said the Lib Dems "should explain why under this government drugs treatment has become much harder to access".  Or perhaps Labour can explain what help it is to a hard drug user to be sent to prison when they could instead be required to seek treatment.  That wouldn't be tough though, would it?

It's not even as though the Lib Dems aren't setting themselves up as a massive target elsewhere.  Their big promise today was to spend £3.5bn extra on mental health care should they be returned to government, only considering every single Lib Dem policy comes with a big question mark after it due to how we know they'll abandon a shedload of pledges for the slightest glimpse of power, who knows whether or not it would be a "red line".  To give the Lib Dems and Nick Clegg himself some credit, they have recognised mental health care has been underfunded for too long, whether you agree with their wider idea of a "zero" target for suicides or not.  £3.5bn, if it truly was extra spending, would be exactly the kind of money needed to help bring down the current waiting times for treatment, as well as help to address the chronic shortage of beds that has seen under-16s have to spend weekends in police cells rather than in hospital.

Only, as Kat explains in the video supposedly meant to support the party's commitment, the Lib Dems in coalition have presided over a NHS that has seen mental health become even less of a priority.  She was lucky in that her parents had private health insurance, so that on both occasions when she was overcome by her eating disorder she was able to get the treatment she needed on an inpatient ward.  On the second occasion this was only however after she had tried to get help via the NHS, which ended with the assessment deciding she wasn't sick enough to meet their criteria.  Predictably this led to Kat blaming herself for not being sick enough, leading to her starving herself further, to the point where she once again had to rely on private healthcare.  It doesn't exactly strike as an endorsement of the Lib Dem stewardship of the NHS, enlightened as they might be on mental health.  Why then should anyone trust them to put this right when they have made clear a vote for them is a vote for another coalition, with all that entails for the policies outlined in their manifesto? 

Answer came there none.

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Monday, March 30, 2015 

We need a Labour government.

You know what's always fun?  No, not that, get your mind out the gutter.  I meant, it's time to have a look back at just how amazingly wrong I could have been 5 years back.  You can quote me on all of these:
  

At the start of the campaign the Liberal Democrats were the least worst of the three main parties. On the 5th of May they are now by far the best of the three main parties.

[The Liberal Democrats are] the best possible mainstream option on offer in 2010.

Where the Liberal Democrats can win, vote Liberal Democrat.

To be fair to myself, I couldn't have known just how quickly the Lib Dems would abandon so much of their manifesto in order to grab hold of power, however fleeting and however illusory it turned out to be.  I could I suppose have looked at their record in local government, which might have tipped us all off as to how they would surrender anything and everything to retain power, but surely they wouldn't act like that nationally?  Right?

Oh.  And oh again.  And thrice oh.  We can all at least take some comfort from how the party has suffered since the decision to prop up the Tories was made.  Some opinion polls on the eve of the 2010 election had the party on 28%; most now suggest it to have the support of around 8%, behind the monomaniacs in UKIP and even occasionally behind the Greens.  The Guardian, in a typical example of not being able to see the wood for the trees gushes today about how coalition government can be stable, ignoring how the only genuine reason for why the constituent parts of the coalition didn't go their separate ways long ago is because they were hoping something eventually would turn up.  For the Lib Dems that meant a poll rating suggesting keeping hold of 30+ seats; for the Tories, a majority.  Neither happened.

We are then at last entering the "short" campaign, the long campaign having begun some time back in 1792.  The Liberal Democrats have in the space of 5 years gone from seeming the long sought after third option to being the choice only of those who vote blindfolded and scrape randomly at the paper.  Perhaps in constituencies where there's an especially foul prospective/incumbent Tory or Labour candidate/MP and the Lib Dems are, confirmed by local polls, the only viable alternative, you might just be able to justify marking their box, albeit with head covered and nose pegged lest anyone gets even an inkling of what you're doing, but that's not exactly going to be the case for many.  The party itself has after all completely given up even the slightest pretence of winning a majority: no, instead their pitch to you and me is they'll ensure the Conservatives are less brutal with their slashing and burning, as though we haven't just been through the last 5 years, whereas if they prop up Labour they'll make sure they don't borrow too much.  Inspiring stuff (look left, look right and then still get run over), and while you could make the case they're being realistic considering just how far they've fallen, it can also be taken as the party not realising how despised they've become.  Didn't you get enough of us these past 5 years?  Well, there's more where that came from!

Which, coincidentally, is almost exactly the Conservative message to the electorate.  After declaring on Thursday that he probably shouldn't have described Ed Miliband as "despicable and weak" and that the opposition leader does have some good qualities, it was straight back to making it "personal" for Lynton Crosby has decreed it.  It could well be that no previous PM has attacked their opponent in a way similar to Cameron did today while announcing the dissolution of parliament, which tells you both everything about him and everything about the way the campaign will play from here on out.  Expect Miliband to be monstered like never before, and since his old man has already been described as hating the country he fought for when he didn't have to new depths will be plumbed.  A vote for Labour is a vote for chaos, for extra taxes of £3,000, for the mass round-up and gunning down of entrepreneurs.  A vote for the Conservatives by contrast is for competence, decency and moist toilet tissue.

Yes, decency.  A party that refuses to explain where it will make "savings" of £12bn on social security, with leaks to the BBC suggesting the all but abolition of the carers' allowance and the taxing of disability benefits, that puts the massive rise in the number of food banks down to a change in job centres being allowed to promote them, that has imposed a system where hundreds of thousands of people have their benefits stopped for the most spurious of reasons talks of decency.  David Cameron wants to make this campaign personal, so let's make it just that: decency to him is being grateful for the gruel you're given, not complaining when you get punched in the mouth, accepting that economic competence is stalling a recovery for two years and then claiming everything's coming up roses despite wages and productivity still being in a slump.  A vote for the Conservatives is not for the chaos and uncertainty of a referendum on the EU, which because of his announcement he won't stand for a third term will turn into a proxy leadership contest, it's one for continuity, for what you know, for more of the same.

For most people of my age or thereabouts, this will be the first election where Labour isn't the incumbent.  Media bias against the Labour party in opposition is something we might only have read about; now we can see it, breathe it, imbibe it.  Both the Times and the Telegraph tomorrow lead on stories about how Labour's campaign is off to a terrible start; should the polls remain the same, let alone a Labour lead develop, it can only be a matter of time before Ed Miliband's head ends up in a light bulb.  A party leader who has for the most part refused to play the old games with the media, and they absolutely loathe him for it.

We shouldn't pretend Labour has made things easy for itself.  It continues to campaign in Scotland on the flat out lie that the biggest party gets to form the government, as banged on endlessly about by the SNP.  Considering Alex Salmond seems in all but alliance with the Tories to make things as difficult as possible for the Labour leader by issuing demands and carrying on acting as though he was still leader of the party, it's slightly easier to take but daft all the same.  Just as you can understand the party selling mugs about controlling immigration, or Rachel "boring" Reeves making clear Labour is not the party for welfare recipients.

Last time round, I voted Green.  Until recently, I was probably going to again.  I disagree with Green policy fundamentally in a number of areas, including nuclear power and GM crops to name but two, just as I disagree with Labour on lunatic foreign adventures and its general failure to make a stand on things like the living wage, to be radical enough.  A few things have convinced me this time to vote Labour beyond just hoping the end result is a Labour government of some variety.  First, my increasingly lack of patience with the claims Labour won't do anything different or will be austerity lite.  In fact, the difference between Conservative and Labour spending plans is massive, the choice stark, as both Cameron and Miliband have for once rightly said.  If you want a smaller, meaner state and to hell with the consequences, then yes, the Conservatives this time are your go to guys.  If you want the deficit paid down but not through swingeing cuts, Labour offers a real alternative.  Second, if by the same token you really think Labour under Ed Miliband will continue on the path that sees a dividing line placed between "strivers and skivers", with the poorest losing more than anyone else, with an ever tightening sanctions regime for benefit claimants, feel free to carry on zooming, or plump for Natalie Bennett.  There's no one to stop you.  Just count me out.  Lastly, when idiots with influence say either voting doesn't change anything or that the Labour party has left them, not the other way around, it only gives encouragement to prove them wrong.

Ed Miliband's Labour party is not a united one, a radical one, even a great one.  It does however this time offer the best of a very bad lot.  I'm not going to say don't vote tactically if you have to, or don't vote Green if Labour has no chance in your constituency, as that would be daft.  Equally daft though is to pretend that the Moon on a Stick Party gives a damn about Westminster, or that the Greens have a chance outside of a tiny number of seats.  We've seen what 5 years of a Conservative party in coalition has wrought; a further 5 when it no longer hides what it intends to do hardly bears thinking about.  And if I'm wrong again, perhaps I'll still be here in 5 years time to admit it.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015 

Just the 57 days to go, eh?

There was a rather telling moment during today's prime minister's questions.  After the never knowingly modest David Blunkett had said his piece, David Cameron took the opportunity to pay tribute to the former home secretary.  Blunkett is a remarkable, extraordinary politician (and man), and Cameron for one will never forget the strong leadership he provided after 9/11.  Dave was too kind to mention this leadership included ordering tanks to be placed outside Heathrow only a matter of days before the massive February 15th anti-Iraq war march off the back of a spurious terror alert, the introduction of indefinite detention without charge, struck down by the House of Lords, or how Blunkett, not entirely seriously, suggested dealing with a prison riot with the army if the prison service itself wasn't up to the task.  Cameron also failed to mention their mutual, likely former friend Rebekah Brooks, whom was dining with Blunkett the night she got a little too tired and emotional and ended up smacking her then husband Ross Kemp.

Prior to blowing smoke up the arse of the most right-wing home secretary of the last half century, Cameron was calling Ed Miliband "despicable and weak" for not ruling out an accommodation with the SNP after the election.  Certainly, any politician needing the support of another party to stay in power can only be damaged and reduced by the ignominy of being unable to govern alone, which must surely make it extremely likely Cameron is to be a two-time loser.  How the Tory backbenches will respond to their leader once again failing to win a majority, as the polls suggest is odds on we can't know, but it's not exactly going to further endear him to them.

That the Conservative strategy remains to portray Miliband as not capable of breaking the skin of a rice pudding even as Cameron refuses to go one-to-one with this pitiful excuse for a human being speaks of how increasingly confident they are of returning to power, whatever the make-up of the government turns out to be.  As has so often happened before as an election approaches, the opposition's lead appears to be falling away, with the Tories having gained a slender advantage over the past week.  


Of special note is this has coincided with Cameron making clear he intends to give the debates a wide berth, the latest attempt by the unholy alliance of the Graun, Telegraph and YouTube almost guaranteed to be a similarly forlorn one.  A great example of both the uselessness of opinion polls on anything more complicated than party support, and how the public doesn't know what to think is contained in ComRes's attempt to gauge feeling on the debates.  Apparently Ed Miliband is both right and desperate to challenge Cameron to a head-to-head debate at any time, while, somehow, 18% don't know whether or not the debates will be important in helping them decide how to vote.  You can only presume the same 18% don't know whether or not they like breathing.

Quite why Miliband then decided to spend today plugging away on the debates we can only guess.  Yes, most would rather like them to go ahead, but they don't care enough about them for it to change their vote.  Yes, it makes a mockery of Miliband being weak, but Cameron has the advantage of appearing prime ministerial by, err, being prime minister.  Cameron has long made up for what he's weak on, which is detail on policy, debating and negotiating through sheer chutzpah, almost charisma and the quality of looking vaguely credible.  He's always been a poor man's Tony Blair, but that seems to be good enough for most people.  Compared to Ed, who in the latest ill-advised attempt to fight back invited along the BBC to see just how normal he is, during which they went to his old school to speak to one of his teachers, the kind of thing most of us do rather than run a mile from, it's never going to be much of a contest.

Where Labour's "long" campaign has failed and where the Tories' has succeeded is that Labour has not despite the media cynicism kept banging on about their central themes.  All we've heard from the Tories day in day out has been long-term economic plan and competence not chaos.  It's utter bilge, but it seems to have worked, while Labour have tried and failed to take advantage of events like the disclosure of the HSBC files or the debates.  They've also made some bizarre if not downright foolhardy choices, such as deciding to reopen the tuition fees sore when the current system, fees of £9,000 or not, works pretty well overall.

This doesn't of course mean the Tories are going to gain enough support between now and May to be able to form a majority, especially when you factor in some of those currently saying they'll vote UKIP, SNP or Green will almost certainly return to one of the two major parties.  It does however make George Osborne's final budget next week all the more important, with the suggestion being he'll rein back the cuts even if only somewhat in order to stop Labour claiming they signal a return to the 1930s  We could nonetheless be left with a situation where the Tories are only one or two seats shy of the point where they can form a majority with Lib Dem and DUP support, and as they're in government they'll have the first go, whereas Labour's only realistic option is to govern in a vote by vote arrangement with the SNP, Liberal Democrats and lone Green, and even then the sums might not add up.  If Miliband wants to at least go down with something approaching dignity, he'll spend from now until May the 6th out on the road, not indulging in stunts or trying to cash in on events but campaigning like the weirdo he so obviously is.  He'll probably fail, but just imagine the smirk being wiped off Cameron's face when he is forced into resigning, the natural party of government still not having won an election since 1992.  That has to be a prize on its own.

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Monday, March 09, 2015 

Dear me.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Kill yourself.  It's all downhill from here.

(In all seriousness, don't kill yourselves kids.  Just don't believe life will necessarily get better, especially when you're told it will by some of the most vain, privileged and self-absorbed people to have ever lived.  They could for instance have asked their legion of followers what their problems are and given advice based around that, rather than believe their experience remains universal, although considering most of these jump-cutting preening narcissists are barely out of their teens themselves perhaps it will be.  But hey, it's for International Women's Day, so can't be too critical, can we?)
 

In other adventures in bullshit:

Matthew D'Anconservative in the Graun reckons David Cameron is not "afraid of scrutiny", not least because of his PM Direct events.  There is after all nothing quite like being asked the same questions over and over again in a controlled situation where the audience itself will no doubt have been carefully screened, as opposed to say, having monthly press conferences like both previous prime ministers did.

Which brings us to this week's example of how the Tory narrative so often becomes the media one.  Barely has the debate row simmered down before Cameron demands that Labour rule out any sort of agreement with the SNP in the event of a hung parliament.  This is nonsensical on a whole number of levels, not least that it's up to the voters to decide what the permutations will be on the morning of May the 8th, and why wiser heads should rule nothing in or out before then.  Second, Labour's response should be to mock how Cameron apparently doesn't believe he's going to win a majority, and that he seemingly doesn't trust the voters to know their own minds.  Then we have the latest ridiculous campaign ad from M&C Saatchi, really earning whatever fantastic sum it is they're getting for their 10-minute photoshop work, depicting Ed Miliband in Alex Salmond's pocket.  Presumably this means David Cameron has been under Nick Clegg's control this entire time, rather than having given away much for very little in return, as has been the reality.  Nicola Sturgeon has already said Trident renewal would not be a "red line" for supporting a Labour minority on a case-by-case basis, which by SNP standards is a major sacrifice on its own.  Lastly, as John Harris argues, playing off England against Scotland is precisely what the SNP's zoomers want, but seeing as ever since the referendum result was confirmed the Conservatives have seemed as determined as the nationalists to break the union that might be the point.

What then have the broadcasters asked every shadow minister since?  To rule out any deal with the SNP.  Jesus wept.

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Monday, February 02, 2015 

Who's winning the campaign before the campaign?

Most of you are probably familiar with Betteridge's law of headlines, popularised by John Rentoul as questions to which the answer is no.  Today's Graun front page for instance asks "Are insects the new sushi?"  This not only follows Betteridge's law, it asks whether something is the new something, which again, can nearly always be responded to with no.  To cap it all, if you bother to look at the piece, something I wouldn't advise, you'll find it's one of the Graun's sponsored articles, or in another words an advertorial.  Marvellous.

Every so often though you get a headline which doesn't adhere to the rule.  These I humbly suggest can nearly always be categorised as questions to which the answer is who gives a fuck.  The BBC, bless them, ask "Who won the social media Super Bowl?"  Is this, as a species, what we have become?  Where it's not enough to not care about the result of the most overblown and wretched sports event of the entire calendar, you also have to not care about who won the battle on Twitter and Facebook?  The Graun for some reason sent out a push notification about the Super Bowl getting under way; unless the mind's playing tricks, I can't remember them doing the same for the World Cup final.

Perhaps it's not surprising when one of the bigger news stories of last week was girlfriend of tennis player swears.  And then, ho ho, she responded to it yesterday by wearing a sweatshirt with the old parental advisory logo you sometimes got on CDs on it.  Everyone laughed.  Then cried.

Much the same ought to have gone for the comments of a certain Stefano Pessina, who until yesterday 99.9% of the country had never heard of.  He is of course CEO of everyone's favourite crap shop, Boots, a chain that mystifyingly continues to exist in spite of it how it does precisely nothing better than its rivals.  Its continued existence is no doubt helped by its tax arrangements, for which it has been hammered in the past.  You might then have thought Pessina, who naturally resides in Monaco, would have considered the potential consequences of launching the first attributable salvo from a business leader against Labour of the election campaign.  Not that Pessina could so much as put his finger on which Labour policies would be a "catastrophe", as he put it, probably because they're so benign they wouldn't make a scrap of difference, it was the mere intervention of such a titan of industry that really had an impact.

Stupidly wealthy man in not wanting to potentially hand over more tax shocker!  Except, such is the incredible bias against Labour, much as there was an incredible bias against Scottish independence, the merest utterance of an entrepreneur or chief executive of a fairly large company demands that anyone so much as thinking of voting for Red Ed or Yes should mull it over again.  Labour fighting back against such idiocy, which anyone even remotely fairly minded would consider to be par for the course, becomes "LABOUR'S WAR ON BOOTS THE CHEMIST".  Yes, because Pessina is Boots, isn't he?  There's always a danger in a mass employer commenting on politics, not least when most of those employees are likely to be young, female and low paid, and look favourably on Labour's catastrophic utterances.  Still, George Osborne clearly thought it was a great idea, so we can no doubt expect this to be just the first in a stream of wannabe John Galts denouncing the opposition's socialism.

The whole bash Labour as if they were an unstoppable political juggernaut and not an incredibly pusillanimous wee beastie campaign has undoubtedly commenced.  This is completely expected, yet still instructive for what it's distracting attention from.  Labour's re-running the 1992 campaign, sighs a man who ran a disastrous campaign of his own, and might just have a conflict of interest due to his private health interests, a message taken up not just by the right-wing press, but also by Newsnight.  Matthew d'Anconservative in the Graun says Miliband is ever more solitary, and it's true in the past the Conservatives have tended to make up lost ground in the last few months before an election.  Only, for everything supposedly in Labour's favour, little things like a growing economy, low unemployment (relatively, with the figures hiding a multitude of sins) and now also low inflation would normally signal a victory for the incumbents.

Instead they're still neck and neck, reduced to cringeworthy stunts like promising a return to learning by rote for the kiddies, presumably alongside compulsory semolina pudding at lunchtime.  Cameron can't even work out if the education budget will remain protected if they win, unsurprising considering the "colossal" cuts needing to be made to be able to reach a surplus and reduce taxes as promised.  There was almost no comment on George Osborne's refusal to spell out anything in his interview with Evan Davis, while Andy Burnham's frankly superior altercation with Kirsty Wark received far more attention.  The focus isn't however on a party that hasn't won an election for 23 years, and which at the moment shows no signs of breaking that record, it's on the one fighting to return to office after a single term out of power.

Only another three months to go.  Where's that social media Super Bowl article when you need it?

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015 

Is it that time already?

Gosh, can it really only be 100 days until the election already?  The last 1,727 days have just flown by, have they not?  It seems only last week Dave n' Nick were consummating the coalition deal in the rose garden, except what if they didn't and it was all just boasting?  Perhaps if we end up with much the same result as last time we'll have Tory leader Boris Johnson renouncing the coalition mid-term on the basis Clegg really did have relations with Dave despite his denials.  Is that a convoluted enough non-gag that doesn't work referencing Wolf Hall and Tudor history for you?  I sure hope so.

We could do with a politician much like Hilary Mantel's depiction of Thomas Cromwell, that's for sure.  Ruthless but compassionate, dedicated to his masters yet ferociously independent, against lunatic foreign adventures and depraved and corrupted religious scroungers, what's not to like?  Well, you could factor in the real Cromwell almost certainly wasn't as enigmatic as Mantel paints him in her wonderful novels (I must thank a certain someone whose sort of recommendation finally persuaded me to stop my procrastinating and read them), more a brutal cove who introduced the first sort of intelligence service, enabling Henry to become a tyrant, but all the same.  He rather puts Dave, Ed, Nick and Nige in a certain perspective, doesn't he?  Son of a blacksmith, did a real job abroad before entering law, a man truly out of time.

Anyway, enough wishful thinking and putting off discussing our rather sadder reality.  In truth, no one except those paid to be have been remotely interested in the campaigning thus far.  This might have something to do with how dismal it's all been.  We've had the Tories release their don't vote Labour and drive advert, or whatever it was, which the Lib Dems have since parodied.  Without inserting a joke sadly, although some might say, ho ho, they are the joke.  Both Labour and the Conservatives are hoping to attract your attention with a set of themes, even though we all know it's going to be NHS, NHS, NHS from Miliband and pals and, economy, economy, economy from Dave and friends.  Ed was duly at the site of the first NHS hospital today, while yesterday dearest Cameron was explaining how thanks to them every man, woman and child can look forward to tax cuts, provided they're hard-working men, women and children, naturally.  If they aren't, and they're naughty workshy layabouts, the benefit cap will drop 3 grand almost immediately after a Tory victory, while unemployed under-21s will also be denied housing benefit.

The Conservatives are forewarning everyone at least.  Any questioning of just what sort of jobs have been created under the coalition is jumped on as being dismissive of "aspiration".  Heaven forfend for instance that a business leader of the future might have been able to launch their enterprise sooner if they hadn't been stuck on zero-hours work, saving the little they could, or indeed needed housing benefit to be able to escape a home life from hell.  The message from here until May the 7th will be we've sort of stabilised the economy, so just put all the unpleasantness of the past few years at the back of your mind and try not to think of the cuts to come.  Cuts which George Osborne in best infuriating fashion succeeded in not outlining in last week's interview with Evan Davis, falling back on the old no one thought we could achieve the cuts we have made argument, so obviously we can hack and slash without anyone suffering in the next 5 years also.

Nor would Labour under Ed Miliband be the party we've come to shake our heads about sadly without an old Blairite figure turning up and dripping poison.  Labour is running a "pale imitation of the 1992 campaign", says Alan Milburn, which is just a bit rich considering it was a certain Alan Milburn behind 2005's phenomenal "forward not back" Labour election campaign.  His warning of the party being seen as not in favour of reform and just putting in more funding would carry more weight if Labour was promising increased spending, except they aren't.  Only the Lib Dems say they'll find the minimum £8 billion NHS head Simon Stevens believes is needed, and they all but needless to say have not given the first indication of where they'll get it from.

Speaking of which, have the Liberal Democrats started campaigning yet?  One might assume if they have they're keeping a low profile due to how utterly ashamed they are over the party's strategy:  neither "reckless" borrowing or reckless cuts, you can rely on the Lib Dems to keep those wild crazies in Labour and the Conservatives on the straight and narrow.  This presumes the public give the party credit for reining in the Tories worst excesses, except they don't, nor has the experience of coalition led many to want the same thing again.  Or at least not with the involvement of the Lib Dems, who surely must be getting extremely worried they could end up with fewer seats than the SNP and back in the wilderness years of the 70s prior to the SDP-Liberal alliance.  That would be quite the legacy for Nick Clegg, to go down not so much marching towards the sound of gunfire as leading his party off Beachy Head.

One thing Cameron must be given credit for is just how successful his kill the debates gambit has been.  As soon as the broadcasters suggested including UKIP, as they simply couldn't resist the prospect of bar room bore Nige shaking things up, they ought to have known every other smaller party would say hang on.  Rather than just invite the Greens as Cameron insisted, and say it's daft including the nationalist parties when they don't fricking stand candidates outside of their respective countries we now have the SNP and Plaid Cymru involved.  Why not the DUP and Sinn Fein?  Why indeed?  While we're at it, why not also Mebyon Kernow, Britain First, the Monster Raving Loonies, the Natural Law party or any other gobshite?  Does anyone honestly believe a 7-leader or more debate or debates is viable?  Of course they don't, just as the "empty chair" threat is precisely that.  Without Cameron there aren't going to be debates, and so his terms with minor concessions, probably a couple of debates, one between him and Miliband, one also with Clegg, one before April and one during, will probably win out.

All in all, it's shaping up to be an extraordinarily tedious, long-winded and highly familiar campaign.  Much like something something you might add.  Except, I wondered, perhaps not.  Looking at today's Sun front page, could it be possible the paper had finally, genuinely opened up itself to the views of its readers as suggested?  Err, no.  Sun readers apparently want the BBC cut down to size, and also think politicians should ignore the Twitter mob, among other priorities that just happen to also be the paper's long-term concerns.  Interesting at least the Sun is so exercised about Twitter demanding attention; in the past of course it was the Sun politicians listened to.  Not everything remains the same.

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Monday, December 15, 2014 

Oh the joy (of the next 5 months).

There are a couple of reasons why l spend inordinate amounts of time slamming away at a keyboard instead of advising the Labour party.  First off, I'm not American, nor have I been parachuted into a safe seat, more's the pity.  Second, I cannot for the life of me work out why you would effectively launch your general election campaign in the middle of fricking December when most people's minds are even further away from politics than usual.  Presumably, and I'm really clutching at straws here, the idea is to get a head start on the other parties and begin the process of drilling the 5 key pledges Labour has decided upon into everyone's skulls.  Come May, all concerned will march to the polling station, their minds focused on controlling immigration fairly and cutting the deficit every year while securing the future of the NHS.

The words under and whelming come to mind, as they so often do when the topic shifts to Labour.  If you wanted to be extremely charitable, you could say it's an indication of just how spectacularly the coalition has failed that Labour seems to have pinched wholesale two of the Conservatives' pledges from 2010.  Alternatively, you could point out it's spectacularly unimaginative and an indication of Labour's chronic lack of ambition for it to be defining itself in the exact same way as the hated Tories did.  5 fricking years ago.

Again, to be fair, we're promised Labour is getting the less pleasant of its pledges out first, with the more unique ones to follow, defined by those all time classic Labour values.  Quite why Labour has decided upon the pledge approach in the first place is a difficult one to ascertain: presumably modelled on the 1997 pledge cards (and Christ alive, the photo of Tone on the card is easily as terrifying as this year's Christmas effort), is it meant to bring to mind the good old days when Labour could win a vast majority on the most vacuous of aspirations?  They're not even pithy, as the actual pledges amount to three sentences of deathly prose.  Cutting the deficit every year while protecting the NHS would be great, if the exact same message hadn't been plastered around the country accompanied by Cameron's suspiciously taut forehead.

Dear old Ed today gave what must rank as one of the briefest speeches of his career, outlining the second pledge, emphasising how he wouldn't repeat Cameron's promise of getting migration down to a specific point, only that Labour would control it, and fairly, that distinction apparently intended for both those pro and anti to interpret as they see fit.  Call me picky, but saying you'll control something you cannot still makes you a hostage to fortune in my book.  Miliband's audience helped by moving the debate swiftly on, similarly to how the campaigning against UKIP document leaked to the Torygraph suggested Labour candidates do when the topic is broached on the doorstep.

As pointed out by Andrew Sparrow, the briefing paper is about the most sensible thing Labour has said about immigration in months if not years, recognising they're not going to win over the virulently opposed while also suggesting for most immigration is "used as a means to express other concerns".  Except as it sort of implies people aren't steaming about immigration directly, and the party for whatever reason has decided to so much as suggest this is the equivalent of not taking legitimate concerns seriously, shadow ministers have all but disowned their own strategy.  It's also meant the media can talk about the distraction rather than a boring old policy Labour are only re-announcing anyway.

Still, what a jolly 5 month long general election campaign we have to look forward to.  Already the dividing lines are set between Labour, Tories and Liberal Democrats on the economy and the deficit, and they are of course the most absurd caricatures of actual stated policy imaginable.  Special marks for dishonesty must go to David Cameron, who managed to scaremonger about a difference between his party and Labour of about £25bn in borrowing terms in the most hyperbolic way possible.  Just imagine if there was another crash and Labour was once again racking up the debt!  Except, err, if there's another crash and borrowing is only falling by as much as the Tories are projecting it will, there will still be problems, although nothing as compared to elsewhere.

Labour meanwhile is making as much as possible out of the 1930s comparison on everyday spending, which is technically correct, again if the Tories mean what they say, just not particularly illuminating.  A better approach would be, as Ed Miliband somewhat tried last Thursday, to set out exactly what sort of state it is most people want.  If George Osborne carries through and magics into existence his surplus, parts of government will be left barely functioning, which really isn't to scaremonger: cutting the budgets of departments other than health, education and foreign aid (which surely won't continue to be ringfenced) by as much as needed doesn't look remotely plausible.  When the best minds are baffled by what the chancellor is up to, apart from mischief, it deserves highlighting.

Even if we look at Labour's plans in the most flattering light, Ed Balls is still promising to run a surplus as soon as possible, not because it's good economics but as a result of the way the debate has been framed.  Doing so is still going to require huge cuts, savings which the party has done the least of the main three to outline.  In the grand scheme of things, as Chris and Alex Marsh have so persuasively argued, this doesn't really matter.  The real issues affecting the economy are the collapse in productivity, and with it the decline in wages growth.  We are though operating in a climate where the difference is between "colossal" and merely "eye-watering" cuts, where the Tories claim to have succeeded on the basis they've more or less reduced the deficit to the level Alistair Darling pledged to, except they've done so on the backs of the poorest, and where it seems personal taxes will never have to rise again, despite government having apparently decided not to bother taxing companies properly either.

There's a third reason I'm not advising Labour.  I'd be even worse at it than the current lot.

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Thursday, November 20, 2014 

The speed of stupid.

It's hard to disagree with Chris when he writes of a turn away from politics.  Not in the sense of apathy, but in how so many appear incapable of seeing the wood for the trees.  Never has it been so possible to fully immerse yourself in politics, and yet many of those who chose to do so spend much of it squabbling at the margins.

Take just today's example:  Labour MP Emily Thornberry tweets a picture of a house in Rochester with three England flags adorning the outside.  There's also a white van in the drive.  Image from #Rochester is the message.  Almost instantly she's jumped on for her apparent blatant snobbery, veteran idiot Dan Hodges describes it as "an entire political movement defined by a single tweet", and those whom should know better like Anne Perkins are describing it as Labour's biggest mistake since Ed Miliband stabbed Myleene Klass live on TV (is this right? Ed).

Small things like how Thornberry had already tweeted a photo of a "vote Felix" sign and what ordinary voters had told her under a Tales from #Rochester hashtag obviously don't matter.  Her explanation, that she was surprised by how the flags were blocking a window entirely also makes no odds.  Clearly just a feeble effort from an Islington liberal to deny her own bigotry.  Right on cue, in calls a hopping mad Ed Miliband to reprimand Thornberry for not considering absolutely every possible way her tweet could be interpreted, and the inevitable apology is made.

Which is the key.  Being incredibly loud and not giving in works.  It's why #gamergate is still going on, despite everyone having long since forgotten what it was meant to be about.  It's why Sheffield United have now retracted their training offer to Ched Evans, Julien Blanc was refused a visa, and a real life Nathan Barley received far more attention than his alleged comedy had previously once he became the target for campaigners.  Both left and right can lead a monstering in this brave new world, where tribalism meets narcissism and threats are the most powerful currency.  Forgive me if nihilism seems ever more attractive.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014 

Bringing out the worst.

By-elections in marginal seats always without fail bring out the absolute worst in politicians.  They know full well that in the grand scheme of things i.e., as a guide to what might happen at the general election they're meaningless, and yet still they campaign as though it's the last ballot ever.  Every Conservative MP we're told has been ordered to visit Rochester and Strood 3 times, while cabinet ministers are expected to have made the journey 5 times.  Bizarrely, no one seems to have connected this swamping of the constituency with those lovable rogues from Westminster and the continuing rise in support for UKIP.  Can you imagine just how hellacious it must be to turn one corner and see Michael Gove in all his finery, and then discover Jacob Rees-Mogg further down the road holding forth on the iniquities of EU farming subsidies?  And this has been going on for a month.

24 hours before the vote and the campaign has predictably ended in a battle over whether it's the Tories or UKIP who are going to be nastiest to migrants.  For sure, it's being conducted as though it's truly outrageous Mark Reckless could ever have suggested Poles might be repatriated should the UKIPs' vision of leaving the EU become a reality, while the UKIPs for their part are feigning contempt for Tory candidate Kelly Tolhurst's letter-cum-leaflet which nearly suggests people might not feel safe walking the mean streets of Rochester because of uncontrolled immigration, but let's not kid ourselves here.  The fight over who can move closest to shutting our borders completely without being objectively racist or invoking the old policies of the BNP/National Front has been going on for some time now, and just when you think they've gotten near as damn it, they inch ever nearer.  The "go home" vans were just the start.

Because the by-election is obviously all about immigration, see?  It's all the Tories want to discuss, it's all Labour wants to broach, and err, are the Liberal Democrats bothering to stand a candidate?  Oh, they are.  That's £500 wasted then.  It's also the only topic the media wants to cover, as they can't seem to handle the idea a by-election might be about more than just the one issue, especially when they decided beforehand it was the only thing anyone was interested in.  As Frances Coppola writes, and she's unlucky enough to live in the constituency, even the BBC's local political editor says it's the immigration, stupid, and this in a piece headlined issues beyond immigration and in which she concedes the main topic of discussion on the doorsteps is the local NHS hospital.

Other reporters point towards concerns about the Medway as well and, staggeringly, this might just be why Mark Reckless despite being far less popular than UKIP itself seems to be winning.  It's also no doubt helpful the Conservatives haven't learned anything from the Eastleigh by-election, where it was decided their candidate should try and out-UKIP the UKIPs and came third for her trouble.  Tolhurst if elected will apparently "demand something be done" immediately, although seeing as David Cameron is yet to figure out exactly how to temper free movement without angering business and coming off the worst at the European Commission it's not exactly clear what the tactic will achieve.

Then we have the never knowingly unconfused Labour party.  Last week Ed made great play of how Labour wouldn't pander to UKIP, as once you looked "[at their vision] it is not really very attractive".  This week, first up was Yvette Cooper informing the world one more time it's not racist to be concerned about immigration as she announced yet another new border force, this time complete with shiny uniforms, and then yesterday it was Rachel Reeves' turn.  Apart from the heart sinking at the very mention of the name, it's an odd sort of not pandering to all but agree with the greatest myth of them all, that it's the welfare system attracting EU migrants and not the promise of better paid work, or increasingly, a job at all.

In the name of listening to real concerns people have Labour will prevent migrants claiming out of work benefits until they've paid into the system for two years, an arbitrary period of time if there ever was one, and also stop migrants from claiming child tax credits and child benefit for children back in their home countries.  Reeves also intends to look at migrants claiming tax credits in general, as "it is far too easy for employers in Britain to undercut wages and working conditions ... knowing that the benefit system will top up their income".  The inference seems to be it's fine if Brits have their income topped up in such a way as has become the norm, rightly or wrong, while for migrants it's a subsidy too far.

Quite apart from the obvious problem of basic fairness, one the EU isn't likely to peer kindly on, it once again makes you wonder if the logical next step isn't to extend the same restrictions on JSA to everyone. Small things like how claimants are sanctioned for the slightest alleged "infraction" don't matter, nor does the false economy of reducing so many to relying on food banks, a development Labour has never condemned too loudly, presumably as it has no intention of changing the JobCentre regime.

If as expected UKIP win tomorrow it most likely won't result in the reckoning or further defections some predict.  For a start we're getting too close to next May for there to be any point in more by-elections prior to then, especially when UKIP's real aim has always been to keep the Farage bandwagon rolling on.  Second, if more defections are in the offing, delaying them until nearer the election will damage Cameron and the Conservatives that much more.  Third, it'll go some way towards confirming a pattern: as we saw in Clacton, voters who already favoured their MP aren't too bothered if they move slightly more to the right, especially when most Tory voters are sympathetic to UKIP in the first place.  There was some anger locally at Reckless's betrayal, but if anything Tory support will likely hold up thanks to tactical voting.  Lastly, the sensible will point out how by-elections are always fought on local, rather than national politics.  No doubt however the media and parties both come Friday will be crowing on how it proves immigration is set to dominate next May.

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Monday, November 10, 2014 

The worst of it is Dan Hodges could be right.

There are two main factors behind the shadowy manoeuvrings against Ed Miliband.  The first is the party, riven by the competing personalities of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, has never attempted something akin to a proper reconciliation since.  In a sense, what we've seen over the past few days are the attempts made against Brown replayed 5 years on.  Sure, then it was far easier to define just who it was trying to get rid of Gordon, not least as first James Purnell and then Geoff "Buff" Hoon and Patricia Hewitt were all incorrigible Blairites.  They also in fairness to them had the courage to come out and say Gordon was leading the party to certain defeat.  The problem was both they had left it too late to change the leader again, and also there was no one willing to take over anyway, the attempts to get David Miliband to stand against Brown having failed.

When the favoured Miliband then lost the leadership contest to his younger brother, it was no surprise there were ructions from the beginning.  Ed wasn't the continuity Brown candidate, Ed Balls having taken on that role, but he wasn't seen as anti-Brown enough either.  More importantly, he hadn't just thwarted the obviously most electable prospective leader, he'd defeated his own brother.  This of course wasn't taken as evidence of Ed's ruthlessness, rather of his treachery.  Although, having now suffered under 4 years of Ed's leadership, ruthless isn't one of the first adjectives you'd choose to describe it.

Miliband hasn't been a weak leader by the most standard definition, just as David Cameron hasn't been a weak prime minister by the same measure.  Taking on Murdoch, Paul Dacre, speaking against "predator capitalism", calling for an energy price freeze, none are things a cowardly or spineless opposition leader would have done.  If anything, it's his luck that's been out: we are living through a time when the public itself doesn't know what it wants, so confused are the various poll findings, the rise of the UKIPs, the Greens, the SNP.  David Cameron is more popular than his party despite his kowtowing to its worst elements; Ed by contrast is less popular than his party despite embodying Labour's values.  Cameron has the advantage of being prime minister: it's easier to be thought of as being up to the job once you're in it.  That he often comes across as incredibly easy to fluster and wind up, exactly the qualities you don't want from the person set to renegotiate our most important trade relationship doesn't then matter so much.

Ed's biggest mistake has been to not attempt to properly unite the party.  Instead, he did the bare minimum, trying with his speech immediately after winning the leadership to dress old wounds.  He might as well have thrust in a salt coated finger for all the good it did.  The old Blairites hate him for not being David; the right-wing of the party hates him for not hugging closer to the Tories, for not copying their spending plans to the letter; Ed Balls and his supporters (are there any?) hate him for standing in his way; and the left-wing of the party, if there is still such a thing, can't work out why, having done the hard part of standing up to the press, he then hasn't pursued the coalition's beastliness to everyone below the middle.

Atul Hatwal's post over on Labour Uncut is fairly representative of why this is happening and now.  As from the beginning, it's the same complaints: Ed isn't seen as a potential prime minister, and the Tories lead on economic competence because Labour hasn't managed to convince the public they won't revert to tax and spend.   If it was one or the other rather than both, it would be different, but it isn't.  Quite what Labour is supposed to do at this point to try and win back trust on the economy, having apologised plenty of times despite the Tories claiming they haven't, and with Ed Balls promising to match the Tories' spending plans, just with some additional leeway on spending on infrastructure isn't explained, for the reason this isn't really about that.  Dan Hodges admits as much in his Torygraph piece: no one believed in Ed as leader from the outset, for their own specific reasons as summarised above.

The other factor then, 700 words later, is the sheer cowardice of all involved.  And I mean all involved, as neither side wants to do anything other than brief journalists.  None of the 20 shadow ministers desperate to get rid of Ed, if we're to believe the Observer, want to be the first to come out wielding the knife.  Nor do those within the shadow cabinet or even the parliamentary party want to visit TV studios and say I'm backing Ed, except for those forced to do so when confronted at camera point.  Moreover, if the strength of feeling has been running at this level for so long, why postpone it until now, when there simply isn't the time for a replacement leader to bed down, not that one has come forward anyway?  Yvette Cooper is a joke, Andy Burnham would be attacked mercilessly by the Tories over Mid-Staffs, Chuka Umunna isn't ready yet, and Alan Johnson, apart from having been a hopeless minister and shadow chancellor in the past, has enough brains to know a poisoned chalice when it's put in front of him.  That Johnson probably is the best alternative is indicative of the intellectual poverty, not to forget the absolute stupidity of doing this now.  Just as some tried to get John Reid to stand against Gordon Brown, so the moron tendency in Labour thinks all you need to do is stick someone certifiably working class into the leader's chair and everything will be awesome.

All that's changed to trigger this has been Labour's slip in the polls.  Ignore the nonsense about the conference speech as it's just that.  It was bad but ever since it's just been used as the excuse.  The same goes for the Heywood and Middleton by-election, where the Labour share of the vote held up.  Yes, Labour does have its own problems with the UKIPs, just not anywhere near to the same extent as the Tories.  UKIP is clearly not going to end up with the 15+% share of the vote the polls suggest come the election, nor is it likely the SNP will all but wipe out Labour MPs north of the border.  Just as the argument goes Labour can't win the election not trusted on the economy and with a useless leader, neither can the Tories when they need to increase their share of the vote to get a majority.  There is not so much as a smidgen of polling evidence to suggest they can.

2010 was meant to be a good election to lose.  Such has been the success of the coalition that 2015 is now being described in the same way.  Perhaps as Dan Hodges says Miliband needs to lose so Labour can move on.  The problem is whether the voters oblige.

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