Monday, 8 June 2015

Labour: The debate....

I've heard countless Labour commentators and politicians talking about how they wish Labour could have a real debate about why they lost before embarking upon a leadership contest.

I'm interested to know how such a debate could take place. Would there be a meeting? Would it be through endless articles in the press? Would it be through focus groups? Who says when the debate ends? Who says what the results of the debate are? Is this the point at which a leadership election happens? What happens if the results of the leadership election is at odds with the results of the 'debate'.

I think it's all fatuous. These 'let's have a debate' ideas don't really add up to much.

The good idea of a leadership election is for the contenders to put their cases forward. If they cannot persuade their colleagues, then how are they expected to convince the voters? The party has to be able to believe in the leader and their position and direction. In essence the leadership vote is the debate. The MPs have to work out whether they want to keep to ideological positions or whether they want to win, and the result of the leadership vote indicates where the party is.

It was only when the Tories elected David Cameron that we knew they were serious about being a party of the centre and ready to win. His election was the manifestation of the debate within the Tory party.

Now where I do agree with the commentators is for the delay before embarking on the leadership vote. Harriet Harman should have put the leadership contenders in significant positions on the front bench to challenge the Tories. This is what Michael Howard did after he lost in 2005. It would be even useful to let them all have a go at PMQs. That's not what happened, and Liz Kendall is still Andy Burnham's number two at Shadow Health.

I think Labour are like the Tories circa 2003 rather than 2005 and I think they will need another attempt to get it right.



Serial: Real Murder

This is an aside from my usual blogs about politics and F1, but about something that has gripped me over the last year.

Anybody who watches Inspector Morse, Lewis, Midsummer Murders et al but would like to get into the nitty gritty of a real life case should listen to the 'Serial' podcasts.

They are from America (but hopefully that won't put you off) about a murder case in Baltimore from 1999. The podcasts talk you through the case of the murder of college girl, Hae Min Lee, a girl who went missing after school and turned up 28 days later in Leakin Park in the city.

At that point the police arrested her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed for her murder on some pretty flimsy evidence and the say so of his friend Jay, who claims to have helped Adnan dispose of the body.

Why is it so gripping? This is real life. Adnan Syed is still in jail serving his life sentence for Hae's murder. During the podcasts you get to hear from Adnan himself, snippets from the court cases, and also from police interviews. You are able to draw a few conclusions but there are discrepancies on both the prosecution and defence cases. But there is something about the way the narrative is told by Sarah Koenig, the investigative journalist, that draws you in.

I was around 65% certain that there had been a miscarriage of justice by the end of the series.

Why am I talking abut this when Serial finished last year? Because there is a second set of podcasts called 'Undisclosed' based on the same case by 3 lawyers who forensically go through the evidence, timing and testimonies and tear the case apart. The podcasts are being released once every two weeks, with a follow-up in the interleaved weeks.

So far I'm even more convinced of Adnan's innocence.

You have to listen and really concentrate to take it all in but it is absolutely gripping and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Here's a link to the original Serial, and the lawyers views appear in Undisclosed.


Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Last thought on the election. The Losers: The Pollsters

The final losers I have to call out for the election are the pollsters. For month after month they were telling us that Labour and the Tories were neck and neck. We now know that this was baloney.

There have been plenty of reasons that pollsters have put forward for the discrepancy:

  1. The shy Tory - those that refuse to admit they vote Tory
  2. The lazy Labour - those Labour people who can't be bothered to vote
  3. The late swing - a last minute change of heart
  4. The non-representative sample - that pollsters tend to sample people who give them time (and there are more Tory professionals who don't have time to do polls)

The fact is that ever since 1992 the Tories have always been understated by roughly 3%, and Labour have been overstated in every general election by 2% apart from 2010. If you factor that into the poll figures then we get roughly near the final result. For that reason I think I'm more inclined to believe that the fourth explanation is closer to the truth and its a systemic problem.

Until the pollsters are proved to a general election spot on I'm going to be mentally adding 3% to the Tories and taking 2% off Labour in every poll. I suggest you do too.


Thursday, 14 May 2015

More thoughts on the election. The Losers: Labour

This election was the worst result for Labour from 1983. Against a Government that had to make the largest cuts for decades Labour actually lost seats to the SNP and Tories. They barely increased the vote from 2010.

Two major factors contributed to this loss. Labour were never able to gain respectability on the economy, during the Labour Leadership contest the Tories had framed Labour for the recession and throughout the last four years Labour have been blamed for the cuts more than the coalition. Additionally, Ed Miliband had major problems convincing the country that he was Prime Ministerial. Something never quite clicked for him and I think it may have been because he seemed lke he was playing student politics. Never has a party been elected when losing on the economy and leadership.

The Labour offer was to appeal to the worst off in society with some retail populist offers, but against this backdrop was a message which came through to the masses that the party was anti-aspiration, anti-business and anti-success. It was like looking back at the 1970s, and for anyone with an interest in economics it was clear that the policies were backward looking answers to modern problems.

Finally hitting Labour was the SNP rampage. Years and years of taking their back yard for granted came back to haunt them as they ended up with the same number of seats as the Tories - 1! This was a major problem in the arithmetic and everyone knew that the only way Labour would be in power would be by an accommodation with the SNP, even if it was only to not vote down a Queen's speech. The Tories were able to lodge this in the public's mind and it must have pulled back quite a few votes from UKIP and the Lib Dems.

The party now has launched into a leadership election, while the Tories make hay with the 'Northern Powerhouse' (trying to take even more votes from Labour). Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Chuka Ummuna, Liz Kendall and Mary Creagh have entered the race. My tip is on Liz Kendell so far, but it's early days.

The task ahead of the party is now momentous. A swing of 8% is going to be needed. They are going to make serious inroads back into Scotland, and the South of England while watching a rearguard action against UKIP in the North. To say that this is like 3D chess is to understate the probelm, do Labour tack, left, right or stay where they are. In fact they just need to be in the centre with an aspirational leader. Tony Blair was able to unite all these parts of the electorate.

I'm not sure whether it will happen in the next 5 years. The Tories seem to have a plan.

And just as a thought, maybe the first elected female Labour Leader will be great or maybe like Rebecca Front's character in The Thick of It.

One more thought, if both leader and deputy leader are elected at the same time and they have a new rule saying that they have to be of opposite sex, what happens if men are elected to both posts, or women? Which one has to step aside and would the elected person feel illegitimate?


Wednesday, 13 May 2015

More thoughts on the election. The losers: Lib Dems

This was a massacre, from 57 seats to 8. I thought they would have at least 25 due to their amazing facility to bed down in a seat and then hold it. It appears that the tide was just too strong this time.

The factors affecting this are threefold:

  • The Lib Dems were the protest vote against Government and Opposition. By being a part of the Government they lost this caché.
  • The left leaning Lib Dems could not forgive them for going into Government and 'propping up' the Tories.
  • The tuition fees pledge and then reversal in coalition.

I think the Lib Dems were brave to enter the coalition knowing that it would be bad for them in the long run, but they had made a naive mistake to be photographed with pledge cards saying they will kill tuition fees. When their only realistic hope for power was in a coalition with two parties pledging to keep or increase tuition fees this was always going to be a disaster.

It was also naive of Lib Dem voters to believe that the only option for the Lib Dems would be a coalition with Labour, in fact if all the people who voted Lib Dem and then got annoyed that they didn't go with Labour should have gone Labour in the first place! What were they actually hoping to achieve? The Lib Dems had always said they would go with the party that had the most votes or seats.

In Government the Lib Dems seemed to start well, but then became obsessed by announcing what they were stopping. It's not really a positive message is it? They then started to dis the government of which they were a part! Finally they started to disclose what had been discussed with their coalition parties - not entirely trustworthy.

For the future it could take a long time for the Lib Dems to become relevant again. They do have to decide what the future direction of the party is though? Are they going to be a true Liberal party or the traditional Social Democrat party? It's no good having no principles but just being equi-distant between the two main parties. Judging by the two main candidates for the leadership it looks like the Lib Dems will head left - but how far? Tim Farron could move it further than the new Labour leader, who knows?

For now though, I think we should just all look away.


Sunday, 10 May 2015

More thoughts about the election. The Losers: UKIP

UKIP needed to keep their two seats and maybe add another 3 to 4 to keep momentum. The fact that they lost one to only keep the Clacton seat, based on Douglas Carswell's personal appeal, is very disappointing for them.

They had a bad campaign and weren't able to appear as the insurgent when the SNP were rampant. Maybe, even at times, were slightly irrelevant. Against the threat of a Labour/SNP coalition the Tory message that a vote for UKIP was a vote for Labour was quite effective. I'm pretty sure that Nigel Farage's movement in the latter days of the campaign to support the Tory party in seats where UKIP could not win may have alienated some supported.

It is significant that UKIP made good strides up north to be second to Labour, more so than down south even.

Now that there will definitely be an EU referendum though, what is the purpose of UKIP?

IT has a confusing position of being right wing on EU and immigration and left wing on benefits  and NHS. You can see that this is positioned for the working class, but is it sustainable? Only targeting one section of society means that you have a ceiling to your support and cannot ever break out.

If it had a more consistent position then they would have a coherent set of beliefs and could cut across different sections - but probably would still hit a ceiling but would make a natural ally to one of the main parties in a coalition position.

Maybe a true libertarian party - the type that Douglas Carswell wants - would appeal?

The problem with UKIP is they have allowed themselves to be portrayed as racists. Stupid comments from too many people make them sound as bigots. Also from the leadership, when accusing traffic jams on the M4 on immigrants. It sounds like they have one xenophobic message. They need to stop that.

I think Nigel Farage has taken them so far, but he alienates as much as he attracts. Should he continue then they will stay where they are. If he is replaced it could go either way, someone who ditches the immigration rhetoric may take them somewhere better, otherwise they may just start to disappear.

I suspect that UKIP will start to dissipate as a force and people will trickle back to their traditional homes.


More thoughts about the election. The Winners: SNP

There is no doubt that this election was a game changer in Scottish politics. Labour have been practically wiped out in their stronghold. Down to 1 seat only - the same as the Tories.

The SNP won 56 seats - practically all. Something strange has happened across the border since the referendum. The party which lost is riding the crest of a wave. I can't claim to understand why this is happening suffice to say that it is clear that Labour rested on its laurels and took their voters for granted.

This is the high point for the SNP, it cannot get better than this (except for independence). It is now going to be a question of how Nicola Sturgeon plays it. She's canny and will extract as many powers as possible, but David Cameron needs to move to full fiscal autonomy. Give them the noose to hand themselves.

The SNP needs to be responsible for raising funds and then how to spend it. The extra spending that they want should happen with a much reduced Barnett formula. When the SNP have run out of money, like all socialists do, it will be time for the Scottish Tories to strike - this is the only way for the Tories to come back in Scotland.

The SNP cannot play the independence referendum again too soon otherwise they will lose support, especially among their new voters.


Saturday, 9 May 2015

More thoughts about the election. The Winners: Tories

For the Tories, yesterday was beyond their wildest dreams. Although they all said that they were working for a majority I doubt that many really believed they could achieve it. They knew that the story on the ground was better than the polls suggested but still I'm pretty sure that they knew a coalition or minority government were the likelihood.

It was becoming a modern theory that the Tories were not able to get a majority any longer. The split on the right with UKIP was going to make it impossible. With UKIP not performing as well as thought against Tories that has shown not to be the case. It was also said that it would be impossible for a government to gain seats, again that is bunkum, though it is the first time that it has happened since 1983. Also the Tories increased their vote share by 1%.

Now, to look at the new Government.

The overriding priority is to get the deficit down without risking the economy. I think it can be done. It will be interesting to see which Welfare reductions they will make. They have closed off some avenues, so room is limited, but I think they should not touch disability benefit. They may need to make even more difficult for those on jobseekers allowance, as this will be a good narrative to get them back into work. They have to not look heartless, and stop the LibDems from saying that it was only them that cared in the last government. I would also keep Iain Duncan Smith in place to let him finish what he started.

The biggest issue dominating the start of this parliament will be the referendum. To keep his party on side David Cameron has to be better at listening to party, especially in this area. While the number of Europhiles is limited, the degree of Euroscepticism ranges from those who want out no matter what, to those who genuinely want a renegotiation. David Cameron needs to ask his party what they would settle for before starting the negotiation, for if he came back with some little changes there will definitely be a split. I think he will need to bring back quite a lot of the political unionism, just short of associate status. The British public want the common market not much more. I would ask David Davis to be used as a bridge to the backbenchers.

For other departments I would like to see Michael Gove back at Education. The reforms must not be diluted and he needs to push forward even more. Jeremy Hunt has done a good job at Health but I'd also bring in Sarah Wollaston as a minister. I'd like to see Priti Patel as Chief Sec to the Treasury.

What to do with Boris? Nothing until he ceases to be Mayor.

The one thing that David Cameron is weak at is party management. With a small majority this is going to be key in getting legislation through. He needs a great Chief Whip - maybe Andrew Mitchell can be brought back.

Other stars deserving a big break are Penny Mordaunt, Charlotte Leslie and Anna Soubry - all women!

There will at some point need to be a decision about David Cameron's future. He can stay as PM, but maybe nearer the end of the Parliament he will need to pass over leadership of the Tory Party to someone else for the next election!

It's going to be fascinating watching. I will give more thoughts over the next few days.


Friday, 8 May 2015

Election aftermath. Carnage for Labour and Lib Dems. Good for Tories and SNP.

So that was a bit of a surprise wasn't it?

When the exit poll came out I thought, well that's wonderful but obviously wrong. As the first seats began to come in, and then Nuneaton I started to believe it, and also to believe that it may have understated the Tories position and maybe, just maybe, the Tories could be on for a majority.

And that is where we are. The exit poll was broadly correct. The Tories are in Government with a majority of 12.

Ed Miliband has gone, deservedly so. From the very beginning he did not have any economic credibility, and he didn't gain any. To refuse to accept that Labour had overspent was a mistake. To bring back 1970's devices such as rent controls and energy price freezes was a mistake. Although the loud people on question time find them popular, the majority of voters see them for the populist but bad measures they are.

I was quite glad to see Ed Balls go as it means Labour can move on from the Gordon Brown days now. It now needs to regain some kind of 'new Labour' South facing policies in order to win. If I were a member, I'd be voting for Chukka Ummuna for the next leader, but maybe he would be unacceptable to the Northern Labour set.

It was quite telling that the Tories made 3 gains in Wales. Another Labour heartland where they weren't able to make a big advance.

For Lib Dems it was even worse. They lost 86% of their seats! Good MPs such as Lynne Featherstone, Jo Swinson, Steve Webb and David Laws have gone. I will shed no tear for Vince Cable though as I found him to be duplicitous in the extreme and I lost all respect for him. Nick Clegg has resigned and the alternative is now down to Norman Lamb and Tim Farron. They're pretty much an irrelevance as of now. No women MPs at all.

For UKIP, they held on in Clacton and that's it. No real advance in seats, 2nd in some seats but with Nigel Farage resigning can they build on it. I expect them to gradually disappear. The referendum in 2017 will make them a complete irrelevance.

There was no advance for the Greens too.

David Cameron can now govern and show us his real self, but with a small majority I expect that party management can become a major issue over this parliament. David Cameron needs to get much better at this.

Scotland now has 1 Labour, 1 Tory and 1 Lib Dem MPs. I expect no Labour person to be throwing the jibe that there are more Pandas in Edinburgh zoo than Tory MPs. The Unionist representatives from Scotland can now travel to Westminster in a Robin Reliant. SNP have reached their high point. David Cameron needs to look to a full Federal system to keep Scotland in the Union. The existing solution and even English Votes are not good enough.

And Boris is back.