Archive for the ' General Election' Category


After a general election choice that CON defined as being competence or chaos LAB is proving them right

Monday, August 24th, 2015


The shambolic nature of the process could be as damaging as the outcome

I have long been of the view that the most important message a party needs to get over in an election is that it can offer competent government. That was how the Tories managed to succeed on May 7th and why they achieved a majority, against all the odds.

The Lynton Crosby line repeated so much during the campaign was that the choice was between competence and chaos. The latter, given the issues relating to Scotland and leadership perceptions, was easily pinned on Labour.

Voters might not have loved the Tories but at least when faced with what else was on offer they perceived rightly or wrongly that the party did offer competent government.

    So what is Labour’s current leadership election and all the associated process issues doing to the party’s ability to present itself as a viable alternative government?

    My guess is that the manner of the current election will be remembered and have an impact for a very long time.

Firstly this has all gone on for too long. The Lib Dems were able to go through their election and have somebody in place in the first half of July. Why not Labour?

Why oh why has the red team been lumbered with the ludicrous pay your £3 and get a vote system – something that, as we are seeing, is so open to abuse. The idea that you could vet of tens of thousands of people in such a short period should have been foreseen as a problem.

Then there is the possibility of a legal challenge to the result when it is known. I paid my £3 and I’ve heard nothing. No ballot pack and no “you’ve been purged” letter. What is going on there? There must surely be many like me.

The one saving grace, I suppose, is that at least we have been saved the normal political silly season.

Mike Smithson


Jeremy Corbyn’s path to Number 10

Sunday, August 23rd, 2015


Picture: Why this shouldn’t be the Tory reaction were Labour to elect Corbyn.

Governments lose elections, oppositions don’t win them – A recession & no Cameron could hand the election to Corbyn.

There are those, inside and outside of the Labour party, who think by electing Jeremy Corbyn as leader, Labour are committing the greatest strategic blunder since Emperor Palpatine allowed the Rebel Alliance to know the location of the second Death Star. By electing Corbyn Labour can say goodbye to taking power in 2020, but is that assumption correct?

The economy will dominate the next general election, just as it did at the last general election, if the performance of the economy declines over the next five years, then one of the main reasons for voting Tory will be nullified. An advantage Jeremy Corbyn possesses is that it will be very hard for anyone to blame or associate him with the past economic record and legacy of the last Labour government, so that Tory attack line will also be neutered.

After a decade of ‘austerity’ perhaps the country will want to try something different, particularly if it is felt that austerity contributed to a future recession. If you’re a Scottish Nationalist, you might want to skip the next paragraph.

We saw in the Scottish Independence referendum, it is possible to garner (and hold on to) the support of 45% of voters, even if your economic policies are incoherent, lacking in any economic or fiscal reality, so long as you can sell a vision that your plans are better than the status quo. 45% might not win a referendum, but under FPTP it can lead to a landslide in a general election. One of the things the SNP have managed to do brilliantly is get people who haven’t voted in the past to come out and vote for them, something Labour haven’t been able to replicate, Corbyn might be the man to do that with a different, bold vision.

Last night we saw some of that vision last night, when it was said “a future Corbyn-led Labour government will reserve the right to bring [privatised companies] back into public ownership with either no compensation or with any undervaluation deducted from any compensation for renationalisation.” Remember that nationalising the railways is popular with the voters so other renationalisations can also be popular with them, especially if Corbyn can say it won’t cost the taxpayer a penny.

The other factor why the Tories shouldn’t be confident about the election and why Labour shouldn’t be despondent, the Tories will be fighting the next general election without their strongest asset, David Cameron. After a particularly fraught EU referendum, the Tories could elect someone who is the antithesis of David Cameron’s One Nation Conservatism. All those voters in the marginals that backed the Tories, and the gains the Tories made from the Lib Dems might be at risk. Even if the referendum doesn’t damage the Tory party, I’m not sure there is anyone in the Tory party who can appeal to these type of voters in the way David Cameron can. As the 2001 Tory leadership election showed, the Tories can make horrifically bad leadership decisions too.

The Tories only need to lose around 20 to 25 seats, for a rainbow alliance headed by Jeremy Corbyn to take power in May 2020. Jeremy Corbyn’s route to becoming Prime Minister is a lot easier than some think and the Tories should not underestimate him.


PS – It is thought that some of Corbyn’s friends could cause him problems, but again that might not be the case. He can point out when it comes to the IRA/Sinn Féin, he was merely ahead of his time. Now even the Queen meets the like of Martin McGuinness, and Corbyn’s always been open and honest about meeting them, unlike for example Sir John Major, who told the House of Commons, face-to-face talks with the IRA ‘would turn [his] stomach’ whilst his government was secretly talking to the IRA.

He can argue the people he meets now, will be the people who British Governments deal with in the future, just like his meetings with Sinn Féin.


Corbyn will win but he is popular with the wrong people at the wrong time for the wrong reasons

Saturday, August 15th, 2015


Surfing a wave of superficial attractiveness can only get so far

There is no good reason for believing that Jeremy Corbyn is not going to win the Labour leadership. The polls have all pointed heavily in that direction, constituency nominations have favoured him ahead of his rivals, union nominations (and organisation) will count for even more, and the late and huge surge of voters joining up to take part cannot rationally be explained other than as an active endorsement of the veteran left winger.

Furthermore, for the moment, he is popular. His meetings have attracted crowds so big they wouldn’t fit in the venues. The Survation poll for TSSA released today indicated that the policies he espouses have a resonance with a sizable section of the population, and that he personally is seen as more ‘in touch’, more trustworthy, more intelligent and more likeable than all three of his opponents. He’s believed to care more about the British people and expected to hold David Cameron to account better than Burnham, Cooper or Kendal.

All of which goes to reinforce the momentum behind him. And all of which is largely irrelevant. The poll was based on the public’s view of four one-minute clips of the candidates on the Andrew Marr show. While these were aimed at being balanced – and they probably are a fair representation of the four – they are also a trivially short snapshot of who they are and what they stand for.

The fact is that the Leader of the Opposition has a lot of roles to perform. He is the executive chairman of his party; he not only heads the opposition to the government but heads the official alternative government; he distributes patronage, within parliament and way beyond it; he leads on policy formation; he performs ceremonial duties; he has six questions a week at PMQs; he leads his party’s media campaign; his sign-off is needed on campaign strategy, on internal organisation and any number of other things; his speech is the highlight of the party conference – and so it goes on. Some of these are more important than others but one minute on Marr gives but the briefest hint as to how well they’d do any of them.

The problem for Corbyn is that he has virtually no experience at them and hasn’t been inclined to gain any. Unlike some left-wingers, such as Dennis Skinner, he hasn’t even been a member of Labour’s NEC. He may surprise in some areas but most successful party leaders have spent years gathering the skills needed, both through practice and close observation. Corbyn hasn’t had the chance to do either.

That’s not all bad – he won’t look the polished politician and that alone brings an interesting challenge to Cameron in how to handle him – but there is a reason that pole-climbing politicians develop those skills: they’re effective. Furthermore, if there is one political skill that he’s developed over his time in the Commons, it’s rebelliousness: between 2005 and 2010, he defied the Labour government’s whip 238 times. How the PLP reacts to such a leader will of itself be interesting but even more interesting will be whether Corbyn himself can find the discipline that collective responsibility demands. The public, we are told, doesn’t respond well to split parties despite telling pollsters that they also dislike an excess of control.

And what of the policies? This, after all, is what seems to be driving Corbyn’s popularity. Survation does indicate that among the public in general, and Labour voters in particular, his state-centric approach is out of the mainstream, not the lunatic fringe.

    However, this is one area where I would take issue with the poll, where the wording is critically important and slanted towards Corbyn, in that it repeatedly asks the public if they would like more without being asked about the cost.

Suppose the question asking respondents how much they agree with:

    Removing all privatisation from the NHS to make it completely publicly run

Had instead been worded:

    The NHS should use the most effective provider as long as the care remains free at the point of delivery to patients

That’s essentially the same question but loaded the other way, and I’ve no doubt that it would produce a markedly different response.

Much the same could be done with the other questions. And this is the point. Corbyn’s ideas have not been taken on by the other candidates (perhaps because they agree with some and would find themselves sat alongside the Tories on all). Consequently, Corbyn has won the policy debate by default. Ideas that sound good in isolation will fall apart once subjected to serious scrutiny.

Finally, there’s the question of his past and his associations; again, something of which few will yet be aware. This is where Corbyn really stands out as on the left, more so than, say, Michael Foot. Foot was a firm supporter of democracy and opponent of dictators; Corbyn has associated with rather too many people and opinions that polite politics regards as beyond the pale. The Survation / TSSA was designed in part to tease out whether Labour’s UKIP defectors could be brought back on board but UKIP voters tend to be proudly patriotic. Even if they agree on domestic policy, it’s hard to see them overcoming the barrier that his views on immigration and foreign policy would create. On the contrary: those views could easily push considerably more of Labour’s one-time core vote towards UKIP.

Put simply, Corbyn’s attraction is superficial. His campaign has been superficial because although his campaign has led on policy, those policies themselves are superficial. But they’re enough to attract positive reviews now, not least because no-one has dared counter them. That won’t last. But it will last long enough.

David Herdson


This YouGov polling hits the nail on the head about policies and leadership contenders

Thursday, August 6th, 2015

Having policies that poll well doesn’t necessarily mean electoral success

This supports my long-standing view about the importance of policy positions. They have a part to play but only a part. The quality that voters most look for in a leader is competence – the word that the successful Crosby GE15 campaign used repeatedly.

Thanks to Matt Singh (NumberCruncher) for highlighting this.

Mike Smithson


Methinks that Burnham’s nationalise the railways plan could come back to have haunt him

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015


It just looks as if he’s scared of Corbyn

Although Burnham has been careful to say that he’d move the railways back into the public sector line by line it is the headline that is going to stick and will be used by the Tories.

This can easily woven into a narrative about the red team’s economic credibility and we saw in May how blisteringly effective that can be.

Lynton Crosby always says that it is not policies themselves that are election issues but what they say about those proposing them.

This appears as though Burnham has panicked about the Corbyn threat which, as we should remind ourselves, is there because the Burnham team were happy to lend MP nomination support to the left-wing rebel.

Mike Smithson


Remember the Saturday when the Telegraph and Sky News both declared that Alan Johnson had won the deputy leader election

Saturday, August 1st, 2015

With AV LAB elections don’t always go to plan

Remember June 2007? So many Labour MPs had chickened out of doing other than nominate Brown for leader that there weren’t enough left for another candidate to go on the ballot. The result – the party got what the polling indicated was a leader who was an electoral liability – not someone who could lead them into a fourth successive general election victory.

Instead there was a hard-fought deputy race which on the day, even before the offical announcement SkyNews and the Telegraph had published that Alan Johnson had won.

As it turned out the victor, by a whisker with a margin of less than 1%, was Harriet Harman who has remained in the post since. She got it because of the way the lower preferences of the third place, John Cruddas split.

It’s reckoned in the current election is that Yvette will pick up the lion’s share of Liz Kendall’s second pref assuming she comes last. The question will then be whether this is enough to beat Burnham in the second round.

Mike Smithson


David Herdson asks: Where are UKIP’s 34 peers?

Friday, July 31st, 2015

An unreformed Lords shouldn’t be a closed shop for the old parties

Sex, money and people in high places all make for a good scandal, as Lord Sewel found out to his cost this last week. And as usually happens when a member of the Lords gets into trouble, the opponents of the institution cite it as an example of the need for reform of it, or even its outright abolition.

Not that there’s a chance of serious reform any time soon. It suits both Conservative and Labour governments to keep a second chamber that doesn’t pose too much of a threat to the first and into which they can parachute placemen and -women. It suits the Lib Dems too to keep their hundred peers in place while their representation in the Commons lies in single figures; a point which may have to the forefront of their thinking when they folded so easily on the subject in the last parliament.

Because the fact is that even more than the Commons, the Lords is a club for the established parties: the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems have 539 peers between them; all other parties, just twelve. There are of course more than two hundred non-party peers – crossbenchers, unaligned and bishops – but while that provides diversity in one sense, it does little to reflect changing voting patterns.

The last government in its coalition agreement pledged itself to appoint new peers with the intention of reflecting the previous election. It never quite got there and it was always a bit of a silly objective: were it to be followed rigorously, the see-saw effect of electoral swing combined with the length of peers’ service would see numbers in the Lords expand out of all control. To have been pushing Lib Dem membership up to 23% when their opinion poll rating was marooned in single figures would have looked unjustifiable.

However, that objection can be navigated if we take not the last election as the baseline but an average of the last three, both to mitigate the see-saw effect and on the basis that 15 years is closer (though probably still short) of the average length of a peer’s service. If, to avoid the introduction of flash-in-the-pan parties, we also introduce a 3% UK-wide threshold, or a 10% threshold for the regional parties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, then on the basis of 550 party peers there’d be the following numbers:

Con 202 (actual 226)
Lab 181 (actual 212)
LD 101 (actual 101)
UKIP 34 (actual 3)
SNP 15 (actual 0 on principle)
DUP 4 (actual 4)
Plaid 3 (actual 2)
Sinn Fein 3 (actual 0 on principle)
SDLP 2 (actual 0)
UUP 2 (actual 2)

The Greens fall below the threshold (the three Green parties within the UK averaged just 1.9% between them over the 2005-15 period) but do have one member of the Lords at present.

Various things stand out on that list: the existing bias to the Tories and Labour (soon to be increased, apparently), the Lib Dems being spot on their ‘quota’, and the near-fair representation of those regional parties which allow their members to participate in the Lords. But by far the most striking is the scale of UKIP’s under-representation.

There may be some justification for this. On the criteria above, UKIP wouldn’t have crossed the qualifying threshold until this last election (their average from 2001-10 was only 2.3%) but even if they were expected to work up to their full allocation over three parliaments, they’d still be entitled to eleven or twelve in this one: four times what they actually have.

The House of Lords has never justified itself on democratic legitimacy but on grounds of effectiveness. Which is all very well but the fact is that democratic arguments are put forward when it suits one politician or another to do so. So would it really hurt to give a voice to the one in eight at the last election who voted for Farage’s party? Who knows – they might even brighten the place up.

David Herdson


The Temperate Desert

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

YouGov Left Right

Antifrank asks who will appeal best to centrist voters?

The centre ground of politics used to be very crowded.  And with good reason.  Roughly half the electorate sit in the middle stratum of electoral geology.  In a YouGov poll taken just after the election, 13% described themselves as slightly left of centre, 19% described themselves as centre, 14% described themselves as slightly right of centre and a further 23% didn’t know where to place themselves (presumably they would regard themselves as having mixed left and right views).  Elections will continue to be won and lost among these voters.  Either they will be met on their ground or they will be persuaded to move onto different ground.

Public perception

YouGov regularly asks the public to place parties on a left-right spectrum.  The results up to July last year are shown in the graphic above.

The public in aggregate, incidentally, see themselves as pretty much in the dead centre.  Up to now, the public in aggregate haven’t regarded the Labour party as being as leftwing as they have seen the Conservatives as being rightwing.

The empty centre

7 May 2015 has left the centre ground looking like a wasteland.  The Lib Dems were reduced from 57 to 8 MPs, with relatively few seats even looking like plausible targets for 2020.  The Conservatives long ago ditched the green crap.  And despite Ed Miliband having aimed to engineer a move in the political centre ground towards the left, the reaction of the Labour party membership in the Labour leadership campaign has been to canter further leftwards in pursuit of a real alternative to austerity.  For a group of voters who are supposedly assiduously and obsessively courted, centrist voters are lacking obvious representation right now, particularly those on the centre left.

In the post-election opinion poll referred to above, 31% of the public thought that Labour was slightly left of centre or centre (exactly the same percentage that thought Labour was fairly leftwing or very leftwing), but 44% of the public thought that Labour should aim to be slightly left of centre or centre.  Among those who expressed an opinion, by a margin of nearly 2:1, the public thought that the next Labour leader should try to take the Labour party towards the centre politically rather than take it towards the left (more recent polling has been more equivocal on this last point, however).  There is nothing obvious in any of the polling that suggests that the public wants Labour to turn to the left.  Labour party members seem to believe that they know better.

That said, winning over these voters is not as simple as just plonking yourself as closely as possible to them.  At the last election the Conservatives gathered a greater share of the vote than it had managed since 1992, yet they were the furthest distant from the average member of the public of Labour, the Lib Dems and themselves.  The voters take many things into account other than how much they identify with policy.

This may sound like good news for a Labour party that is exiting stage left.  It is not.  In May, those other things led to the voters decisively preferring the Conservatives despite their greater ideological distance from the public in aggregate.  That decisive preference in favour of the Conservatives will get still stronger, all other things being equal, if Labour withdraw further from the bulk of the voters.

This time around, the other relevant considerations may well have included the quality of the main party leaders, economic credibility and the wish to have a stable government.  We may also have seen some voters deciding to stick with known quantities.

The relevant considerations in 2020 may be different.  Right now it seems entirely possible that all of those will continue to weigh heavily on voters’ minds.  Becoming more ideologically distant from the voters would only make Labour’s challenge harder.

The hopefuls

Nature abhors a vacuum.  Who is going to fill that gap?  The answer isn’t obvious.

The Lib Dems are ideologically close to the average voter.  They will hope to profit from any move to the fringes by Labour while being able to attack the Conservatives in government.  But the Lib Dems’ closeness to the public’s views did not result in the public giving them their support in May.  And the hammering they received will make it harder to get that support back where it counts.  Voters who are motivated by choosing a government will not linger over the possibility of voting for them, new leader and new direction notwithstanding.  The Lib Dems will only gain votes either by persuading voters that it is a costfree choice or by getting voters to conclude that both of the two main parties have drifted too far from the centre.  Even then, such voters might well just decide to abstain.

After their experiences of government, the Lib Dems may wish to pitch themselves as a party of opposition.  Indeed, they have already taunted Labour after the Welfare Bill fiasco with the tagline “Be part of the real Opposition”.  This may be effective at picking up protest votes (though there is heavy competition for these now) and the votes of those who live in safe constituencies.  Centrist voters in marginals who want to choose the next government will, however, be looking for something more constructive.

Can Labour offer them something more constructive?  If Labour move leftwards, they will need to persuade a sizeable section of voters – from opposition – that their more hardline critique is worthy of trust in government and they will need to do so without frightening a similar sized section of voters into the arms of the Conservative party.  Labour seem likely to embark on this strategy.  I don’t fancy their chances if they do.

A different strategy might have been to offer a broad tent based around themes that all strands of left and centrist opinion could rally under.  None of the three mainstream candidates for Labour leader have been able to articulate such themes and the opportunity is going begging.  It seems unlikely now that the Labour party will take that chance in the next few years.

If the Labour party is not going to appeal to centrist and centre-left voters, preferring to broadcast a hard left message, might a breakaway party take up the slack?  All things are possible but the prospect looks unlikely and past precedent is offputting.  Establishing a new national party needs a clear message, big names, organisation, nerve and luck.  Labour moderates do not seem to have any of these right now.  The SDP was stronger on almost all of these counts in the early 1980s and still it ultimately failed to break the mould.  Only two of the eight Lib Dem MPs were in the SDP.  They are outnumbered by Conservative MPs with an SDP past.

Speaking of which, can the Conservatives extend their advantage with centrist voters?  Unlike Labour, they certainly want to try.  The summer budget showed George Osborne gleefully trying on progressive clothes for size.

The Conservatives face a different problem, which is that they have long been seen as further from the centre than either Labour or the Lib Dems, as can be seen from the diagram above.  Changing longterm perceptions takes a lot of doing.  At a time when the government is undertaking extensive spending cuts, are they really going to be able to achieve this?  Also, this Parliament is going to be dominated by the referendum on EU membership.  It would be highly surprising if traditional Conservative rightwingers are not heard at great length in this process, undermining any Tory attempts to colonise the middle ground further.

So far as the Conservatives are concerned, in the short term the question is a bit of a red herring.  They don’t need centrist voters to identify with them.  They only need them to continue voting for them in preference to other parties.  Enough of these voters gave them their support on 7 May, however unenthusiastically.  They would settle for that in 2020 as well.

In the longer term, however, we are looking at an unstable political landscape where the voters must choose between parties with prospectuses that do not enthuse them and a party with a prospectus that they do not believe will stand a chance of being implemented.  This cannot last indefinitely.  Sooner or later, the gap will be filled.