Archive for August, 2010


How does Miliband handle the memoirists?

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

How difficult will their revelations make it for him?

History repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second as autobiography. Or something like that. It seems almost obligatory now for retired cabinet ministers to set down their version of the time in office, their influence on events and their view of – amongst other things – their colleagues.

The number of these memoirs being written always starts to increase when any party’s been in power for a while and people start retiring but it takes the sudden impact of a change of government to turn that trickle into a flood. Those ministers are all ejected at once, they have more time on their hands, the value of the memoirs declines with each passing year and delaying means the historical record of their time in government could be established by others before they publish.

The problem for whichever Miliband wins Labour’s election is that each new publication is going to drag up the past again and reopen old controversies.

Margaret Thatcher certainly didn’t do John Major any favours when she wrote her two volumes and there’s no guarantee Labour’s will be any more helpful. That they tend to be published at or just before party conference season adds an additional hurdle if the new leadership is seeking to ‘move on’ from the Blair-Brown years.

Of the central players in Labour’s term in office, Alistair Campbell, John Prescott and Peter Mandelson have already had theirs published theirs but those of Blair, Brown, Straw and Darling have yet to go on sale (Blair’s will be the first, next week), and have a lot of contentious ground to cover – especially Iraq and the handling of the recession. I’m assuming that they will all write one but I’d be surprised if they don’t.

Also on sale from next week is the second volume of Chris Mullin’s diaries and while Mullin wasn’t central to the Labour government, his earlier book was both very readable and at times biting in its observations. Often the best diarists are not those who attain very high office but who serve close to them. With this volume covering the 2005-10 parliament, he will have had much to observe and a lot to be biting about. I predict a good deal of gallows humour.

In the big scheme of things, the distractions of yesterday’s men and women and yesterday’s events shouldn’t make or break a leadership. They won’t, however, make it any easier, both because the events described in the books will rake over events the leadership may want to leave behind and because with Blair and Brown especially, comparisons will be made between leaders now and then.

That won’t be fair because Miliband won’t have had the opportunity to prove himself in office (it’s very difficult comparing against, say, Blair in 1995 on a like-for-like basis as Blair’s subsequent career intrudes), but then whoever said that politics was fair?

David Herdson


What’ll Farage tell next week’s conference?

Friday, August 27th, 2010

Is he’s going to run to get his old job back?

So far there’s been very little activity on the next UKIP leader market and only Ladbrokes have deemed it important enough to quote prices and lay bets.

At the moment everybody’s waiting to see if ex-leader, Nigel Farage, will enter the fray in the fight to head the party that came second in the 2009 Euro election.

Farage, as will be recalled, stood down in order to devote himsellf full-time to unseating Speaker John Bercow in Buckingham – an effort that ended in disaster in more ways than one. For not only did Farage end up a disappointing third in that fight he was involved in a light airplane crash on polling day.

He says he’ll announce whether he’ll run for the leadership at next week’s conference.

If he does then I think he’ll win. The Ladbrokes evens against Farage winning is almost about whether he’ll take the plunge. It is probably worth a punt.

Mike Smithson


Will increasing media coverage help the outsiders?

Friday, August 27th, 2010

How many will actually use 2nd, 3rd and 4th choices?

In just 29 days time the results of Labour’s leadership contest will be announced after a prolonged battle that has only this week started to attract serious attention from the mainstream media.

This lack of attention has probably helped David Miliband because what polling there has been is likely to have been affected by the name recognition factor – and the former foreign secretary is much more widely known than his younger brother.

We saw that in polling for the 2007 Labour deputy race where the early YouGov surveys had Hilary Benn well ahead – probably because everybody within the Labour movement has heard the name “Benn”. When the ballots were counted Hillary did not even make the top three.

Yes the voters are all committed in some way because they are party members or political levy paying members of the trade unions – but what proportion of the electorates are watching this as closely as those who visit the main political websites each day or track every minute news development? Not as many as we think I would suggest.

But levels of awareness will change as we move into September and there is more coverage. A week on Sunday, admittedly at the non-prime time slot of 10.30am, the Sky New Labour leadership debate will take place and my guess is that it’ll attract a lot of news coverage that weekend.

My reckoning is that the more the contest gets featured the more it will help candidates other than David Miliband simply because it erodes his higher name recognition advantage.

But there is one factor that will help DaveM that has not really been examined – that large segments of the party member and trade union voters will not exercise their alternative votes. This will reduce the number of potential 2/3/4th preferences in play that could help EdM to catch up. For the big theory behind the younger Miliband’s challenge is that he’ll do much better with the alternative votes.

So my reading is that David Miliband is still the odds on favourite but EdM has a better chance than the current prices suggest. As I write the Betfair odds make DM a 71% chance with EdM at 27.4%.

Mike Smithson


WANTED: Someone to put the NO case

Thursday, August 26th, 2010


Could you write a PB guest slot?

At the start of September I’m going to be out of the country for a few days and I’m setting up some guest slots in advance. Rod Crosby has been commissioned to write a “The case for voting YES” in the AV referendum and I’m looking for someone to present the NO argument.

Dont’ write anything yet but if you’d like to have a bash email me first here.

I’ll need it all sorted by Monday morning.

Mike Smithson


What will the Milibands do about Gordon?

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Should they back him for International Development Secretary?

According to Guido Gordon Brown is taking soundings about making a return to the Labour front bench as Shadow International Development Secretary.

When Labour is in opposition the members of the shadow cabinet are not decided by the leader but by the parliamentary which votes on the 19 places. The plan is for this to take place once the new leader is in place. If Gordon is serious about this, and we’ve only got Guido’s report, then he would have to put himself forward for election.

That could be a high risk strategy because he might not do as well in such an election as would be expected for a former leader.

But international development is an area where he took a very special interest when he was both chancellor and PM and he is well regarded around the world. I think that it would be a good idea.

The big question is would Ed or DaveM want him in their line-up?

Mike Smithson


Is Labour getting it wrong on the Lib Dems?

Thursday, August 26th, 2010


Should the red team look at its own recent history?

One of the most provocative political columns this morning is John Harris’s look at Labour’s view of the Lib Dems by in the Guardian.

He concludes:”… Miserable poll ratings may serve to bind the Lib Dems in, for fear of another election and a real calamity. And one other thing: never forget their deep, burning and often understandable hatred of the Blair and Brown governments – which, given the basic messages given out by the Labour leadership campaign, will endure. As far as Lib Dems are concerned, the two Labour frontrunners effectively cancel each other out: the Miliband keenest to question the last government’s record (Ed, that is) lectures them about the alleged betrayal of their own traditions and jokes about making them “extinct”, whereas his brother is said to be more open to what we must now call “pluralism”, but remains more or less unrepentant about the New Labour fundamentals – and in particular the great Lib Dem irritant cum badge-of-honour that was Iraq.

Yes, this year’s Lib Dem conference will have its moments….But here is what far too many people are missing: that even if the most malign accounts are true and the party has been hijacked by a free market clique, the fact that it has delivered power will probably be more than enough to keep a lid on any trouble. Before Labour people get far too carried away, they ought to remember that until very recently, that was their story too.”

I’m not totally convinced by Harris’s conference point. Lib Dem conferences are much less controlled by the central party machine than Labour and there are fewer constraints on dissident elements. Things could erupt in Liverpool.

The big picture, of course, is that in the last decade and a half all three parties have at some point entered into what amount to Faustian pacts for the sake of power.

The Tory party acquiescence at aspects of the Cameron leadership and now the coalition is a case in point. After all what’s the point of being in politics if you are not in power or striving to achieve it?

Maybe until the events of May 11th many on the yellow side took a different view. Now for them the world has changed. It is far better, surely, to be under sustained fire than to be sitting on the opposite benches experiencing the impotence of opposition?

Mike Smithson


How big a development is this?

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

News Statesman


How will the coalition deal with Harriet’s landmine?

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Is her equalities measure going to make it harder to govern?

If you’ve got five minutes then listen to Treasury minister Mark Hoban on the Today programme this morning as he was pressed on whether the Treasury had conducted a formal study assessing the impact of the cuts on ethnic minorities ahead of June’s budget.

For one of the final bits of legislation enacted by the outgoing Labour government was a requirement in Harriet Harman’s Equalities Act to “to consider how decisions might help to reduce inequalities associated with socio-economic disadvantage”.

If there has been no formal consideration then ministers can be taken to court and their decision subject to judicial review – and, already, the Fawcett Society is planning such proceedings.

What’s going to happen? The coalition could repeal that bit of the legislation but what an almighty fuss that could create and would be a big peg for the new Labour leader to attack the government. I don’t think that they’ll proceed with that in the short-term.

My guess is that the civil service will come up with some procedure that complies with the act but imposes as little restraint as possible on the process of government.

Mike Smithson