Sunday, 23 August 2015

Just three weeks to go for Labour to regain sanity

September 12th is only just three weeks away. All the signs are that the Labour party is about to elect Jeremy Corbyn as its leader.

A few weeks ago I posted that the polls show Corbyn in the leader, but I didn't believe that the party would be stupid enough to go through with it. It now looks like I was wrong and Labour is in a kamikazi mood.

We now have to consider what would happen if he won. I previously pondered that he would step down immediately, now I don't think so and he will try to oppose. How that will be done though, I don't know. 

There are some challenges. Firstly, Corbyn has said that he will pick his own shadow cabinet after previously saying that he would bring back shadow cabinet elections. He actually gave his Labour opponents a good idea for ruining his leadership with his earlier plan. There may be movements to bring back shadow cabinet elections before the leader is announced on the 12th. If many moderates stand in this election and have to be appointed to the shadow cabinet they can make it pretty impossible for Corbyn to effectively oppose. There will be splits in the shadow cabinet on a daily basis.

Maybe Jeremy Corbyn will get to appoint his own people, but with so few supporters amongst his own MPs would he be able to fill enough posts? And will these people, who are a permanent awkward squad, be able to show loyalty to their leader? They've never been able to do it before!

Even if Corbyn gets a shadow cabinet, how on earth can he command a majority of his own MPs for the parliamentary votes. David Cameron and George Osborne will bring forward votes on lots of policies which moderate Labour MPs agree with. It will be like two cats playing with a mouse.

Let's say that the majority of moderates stay silent and go along with Corbyn's votes for the most part. What happens when the polls and elections show Corbyn to be a loser (as they surely will)? Will they still keep their counsel?

Meanwhile, and you can guarantee this, the Tories will bring up every past dubious association that Corbyn has shown in the past 30 years. We've had a taster the last few weeks with some stories of dubious appearances to some extremists, I'm pretty sure that it's the tip of the iceberg.

Also, there's been some fleeting shows of Corbyn's hot temper. Given some tough questioning by our more difficult interviewers it's clear that he will lose his rag. How will this come across?

There are also questions about what the other moderates will do? Will there be a split? Probably not. They will easily be able to get enough signatures to trigger a new election, but will they want to against a big democratic mandate for Corbyn? Will they stay to agitate while waiting for Corbyn to crash and burn?

This is definitely the most interesting period of politics for the last thirty years, and I haven't even starting talking about Corbyn's crackpot policies. Let's tackle them if and when he becomes leader.

It's so gripping.


Thursday, 23 July 2015

Labour pains

It's been an interesting few weeks for the Labour party.

The Chancellor, George Osborne, created a situation where Labour had to decide whether to vote for or against the Welfare Bill. Harriet Harman thought it a good idea to back certain aspects of the bill, including the controversial proposal to limit child tax credit to two children for new applicants. This had the leadership contenders in a tizzy, and a quick backtrack.

Both Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper called it a mess, and it was.

In hustings up and down the country Jeremy Corbyn has been doing well, and Liz Kendall has been received poorly. This bodes ill for the party.

Then there was the YouGov poll which showed that Corbyn could win the first round, and then the overall contest after second preferences are counted for. This really has set the cat amongst the pigeons.

When Corbyn gained enough MPs to enter the race it was so that a debate could happen, he wasn't meant to win!

Tony Blair made a speech telling Labour that it has re-learnt how to lose. It's funny how the Tories revere their most recent serial election winner, Mrs Thatcher, where Labour revile their most successful leader ever. And so his words will fall on deaf ears.

It seems crazy that Labour may elect Mr Corbyn, but it is under a new leadership election system with new members for only £3. Liz Kendall is the only realistic prospect for election victory but she is last at the moment. Labour really don't want to win.

If I was going to compare it with the Tories, this is the 2001 when Iain Duncan-Smith was elected, but Corbyn is even further from the mainstream.

The party is beginning to lose its mind. What will happen if Mr Corbyn does win? Maybe he will step aside. I can't imagine many of the current crop of shadow ministers serving under Mr Corbyn, and so we may get a shadow cabinet of lefties and misfits! Fascinating.

Maybe there will be split.

There is much more to come in this story.


Sunday, 12 July 2015

Greece: Crunch day

The whole Greek Euro crisis has felt like Groundhog day. How many times have we been told that it is crunch time and that there is a firm deadline only for there to be an extension? We were told there was a deadline two weeks ago when Alexis Tsipras announced a referendum for last Sunday, delaying a decision by a week. We then had the referendum which led to new talks. Today is supposed to be the new deadline...

Somehow, this time, it does feel like decision day but maybe it will be another false dawn. 20th July, is though, coming up fast and that is when £3Bn has to be paid back to the ECB. Maybe that will be the new deadline after today.

Anyway, it's been fascinating to watch. I was surprised that the Greek public voted quite so comprehensively against the last bail-out. I'm pretty sure they would be disappointed that the deal proposed by the Greek Government for this weekend is even tougher on Greece than the deal the public rejected last week. All the tactics deployed by the Greek Government over the last few weeks, with speeches denouncing the creditors as blackmailers wanting humiliation for Greece, have led then rest of the EU to be distrustful of the Greek Government, and that is coming across in talks today.

Will there be a deal? I hope not. I know that a Grexit will be incredibly painful for the Greek population, but I think will lead to a real improvement in a couple of years time whereas I think a deal will still be difficult and lead us back to here in three years time. Greece will be in pain in perpetuity until they exit.

I still think, though, that there will be some kind of dodgy deal knocked up. Let us remember that this deal would not be to prop up Greece, but to prop up the Euro.

The Euro has been an unmitigated disaster for many countries. I remember texting into Question Time at the turn of the century when the question of whether we should join the Euro cropped up. Some panellists were saying how the Euro was proving to be successful. My comment was let's see in 10 years, when we see it have to deal with a recession. We've now seen how it has coped. Abysmally. The Euro has been in crisis for half its lifetime.

The implicit contradictions built into the project have been exposed and at some point will have to be tackled. But EuroZone leaders want to bury their heads in the sand, which is why they're still pushing for a deal!

Meanwhile, the Greek banks are slowly becoming insolvent. I'm not sure they can survive another week dishing out 60 Euro notes each day to the population. When the first bank goes down, the others will quickly follow suit.

The End Game could come quickly.... or not!

Today may well be decisive.


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.