So what the hell can Britain afford then?

So what the hell can Britain afford then?.

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Scottish polling: Good for Labour. Not bad for SNP.

In 2007 the Scottish Nationalist Party swept to power in Scotland in similar fashion to the Tories in 2010. And by that I mean they just about won an election that left them without a majority despite holding most of the cards.

The SNP won with around 33 percent of the vote to Labour’s 32 percent, based on constituency votes. The list vote was little more resounding with 31 percent beating 29 percent. (Small parties tend to draw support away from big ones in the list vote).

Unlike the Tories however, the SNP treated their win like a win. They didn’t start bitching at each other about a failure to secure a majority against a Labour Party that was, unambiguously, very unpopular by historic standards. They didn’t gripe about the money their donors wasted trying to get them into power. They didn’t start making fatuous comments about their own leadership and the deals they had to do to get through the door.

So, depending on your bias and perception, the SNP acted with a confidence, audacity, ambition or ego that the Tories lacked when they formed a minority government.

It hasn’t been a resounding success.  Indeed their flagship principle of independence fell apart soon after the election. The credit crunch required London to support Scotland’s economy when RBS collapsed. Iceland, one of Salmond’s much vaunted examples of all that Scotland could be alone, went bankrupt. Ireland, the other of his much vaunted examples, has been downgraded and has had to slash services with little impact on their flailing economy.

Yet despite that, and perhaps showing how little people care about cessation, the SNP have remained stable in the polls. With a year to run before the next election they are just one percent down on both constituency and list votes.

That is according to a poll on voting intentions by TNS-BMRB.

The same poll however, says something more interesting about a defeated Labour Party.

Labour, after three years in Scottish opposition, and while hindered by unpopular Westminster leadership, recovered. A lot.

On constituency votes Labour are up on the 2007 result by 14 percent on 46 points. On the list they have risen to 42 percent, 13 points up.

The key to Labour’s success is hard to pin down. The poll might over-state support for a party whose core voter turnout is generally believed to be lower than other parties. But the Lib Dems and Tories are both down in the polls too, suggesting some success in consolidating opposition feeling.

The lessons are not clear, and Westminster has no large collection of opposition groups to take voters from. But as Labour look to recover across the UK from a terrible 2010, it will be interesting to see how the 2011 Scottish elections play out.

Could Clegg stitch up his own party?

 

Lib Dems are biting their nails. Party activists, local councillors, and millions of committed voters are all very nervous. And here is why. Their MPs are talking to the Tories and they don’t like it.

Of course talking is fine. Nick Clegg promised to talk to the biggest party and has stuck to that promise. The horror for Lib Dem supporters is this. The talks should have failed by now. There should have been too little common ground to last this long. Instead the talks might now succeed.

This is an horrific thought for most Lib Dems. They genuinely didn’t believe Mandelson’s jibe that a vote for Clegg was a vote for Cameron. I didn’t believe it either, and I’m no Lib Dem.

While the Tories have moved to the centre ground, they are still a right wing party. They want a small state, less redistribution of wealth, and withdrawal from many aspects of the EU. Some of their MPs remain homophobes, pro-life, and want to bring back hanging and flogging.

The Lib Dems on the other hand are left wing. Their leaders pretend to transcend “old style” left-right politics. But that was always a lie and the voting masses largely know it. Their success in recent elections has been about keeping the Tories out where Labour can’t, or about attracting disaffected young Labour voters who hated the Iraq war and tuition fees.

All of that means any deal to support Cameron as Prime Minister could see Clegg’s party collapse. Many members and voters would simply vote for Labour next time to get the Tories out. Others would leave for the Greens who they trust never to betray their individual principles so utterly to the right. The party might take a generation to rebuild. Worse still the damage could be irreparable and it might just die.

And then there is electoral reform.

Electoral reform is perfect self interest for Lib Dems. They want a more proportional system so they can get more MPs elected. They also, by happy coincidence, genuinely believe that this would be fairer and so better for the country. So in return for that real change members might hold their noses and support the Tories.

But that is a fantasy option. Electoral reform is after all, also perfect self interest for Tories. They need First Past The Post to shut out small left wing parties so they can win elections. They also, by happy coincidence, genuinely believe FPTP makes for stronger government and so is better for the country.

That means that if a deal is to be done, Clegg has to be very clever, very cynical, and very devious. In other words he needs to be an old style politician, and a very good one at that.

First things first, the issue of electoral reform needs addressing. The Tories won’t offer real change. So the demand needs to be watered down. Then the importance of it needs diminishing in the eyes of Lib Dem supporters.

Clegg has already started this process. Lib Dem MPs have stopped talking of proportional representation and instead talk of electoral reform. That is now giving way to talk of wider political change. On top of that, the Lib Dems should talk more about higher priorities like the economy and environment. The press is doing this for them, but the Lib Dems have to do it themselves and do it a lot.

All of that paves the way for telling members they should think of the worthier aim of serving the country, than specific demands like electoral reform.

Then he would need some fig leaf. This is where he should jump at the chance of a special commission or something similar. He should extend it to wider political reform too. And he should talk it up as a great move in the right direction.

Obviously such a commission is a stitch up. It is a pleasantry that will resolve nothing to the Lib Dems’ satisfaction. That is why the Tories suggested it. But that doesn’t matter. It would enable Clegg to pretend in four years time that he was tricked by the Tories. He could argue that he didn’t sell them out, he was just naïve. It would be a lie, but hey, this is old style party politics at its most traditional. And it works.

A rose by any other name?

Because too few Lib Dems would buy into such an obvious con-trick as a commission for electoral reform, a formal coalition may be off the cards. Fortunately a coalition by any other name might smell less pungent.

Clegg should rule out a formal coalition. Instead he can agree to back a Tory minority government. The policy direction of that government would probably be just as abhorrent to his members, and he’d probably get less of what he wants too. But this isn’t about good governance. This is about party politics.

Supporting a minority Tory Government would be easier to spin. Certainly the lack of real political change would be easy to explain away. After all, the Lib Dems wouldn’t be to blame. The Government (Tories) would be.

Likewise Clegg might be able to convince his supporters that he only supports Tory policies that Lib Dems like. He would claim that the Tories hold off from their worst impulses if the know they need Lib Dem support in the Commons. Again, at best that would be an exaggeration and worse a bare-faced lie. But genuine accusations of the inevitable horse-trading might even rally his supporters rather than hurt him. Attacks from outside often do that.

And that is key. Any deal with the Tories would betray his support and everyone knows it. Most of all his supporters know it. Many will leave despite any tactical effort on his part. So he needs to help them pretend this is the least bad option. And they need to remain convinced, despite all the evidence, that their vote was not the vote for Cameron that Mandelson warned it would be.

If that is too hard, perhaps he can still walk away and deal with the rest of the Left. But don’t underestimate the role time plays. The longer the talks go on, the more Lib Dems will cease to be shocked. The more they will resign themselves to what may start to feel inevitable. And as that happens their desire to think well of their party and view their own vote positively will lead them to find their own mitigations and justifications for the betrayal.

Is it really only Wednesday?

The past two days of accusations, counter claims and u-turns have left this observer feeling weary, questioning the abilities of press officers, but growing increasingly excited about the upcoming twists and turns in this campaign.

Whilst most of the country was only interested in a great British (Scottish?) triumph at the Australian Open; we were instead to be found spending our Sunday morning watching the Shadow Chancellor’s appearance on the Andrew Marr show. George Osborne insisted he was sticking to his guns and making immediate cuts to reduce the national deficit.

But it appears someone forgot to inform him that David Cameron had other ideas. Perhaps that trip to Davos really had been transformative.

For later that morning, appearing on the Politics Show, Big Dave wanted to reassure the public that his administration would not implement any “swingeing cuts”. So who had gone off script we wondered? Labour and the Lib Dems jumped on the conflicting messages, accusing the Tories of a u-turn.

We arrived into the office on Monday with news that Labour HQ were going to let their “James Bond” loose to capitalise on the Conservative confusion.

And so Lord Mandelson summoned the city’s hacks to Victoria Street for a round of Tory bashing. Expecting the usual assured performance, our suspicions were first raised when the press release for the event was released. It seems a few more talented press officers could be required at Labour HQ if the best title they could think of was: ‘Instead of bobbing around like a cork in water David Cameron should level with the British people – Mandelson’.

Not exactly snappy.

Liam Byrne and Yvette Cooper stood meekly at the side of the stage, before Mandy glided to the podium and addressed us.  Osborne and Cameron – or Laurel and Hardy as the dark Prince coined them – were guilty of confusion and delay, he warned. The Tories, he said, very slowly and with a strange glint in his eye, would “strangle the recovery at birth”.

Quite the phrase.

Then he went and ruined it. Because Mandy decided the hapless press officer who had coined the clunky phrase was worthy of a mention, and so he publicly called Big Dave “a cork”. Yes, a cork. Followed by a turn as Anne Robinson in which Mandy suggested Cameron remove “his weakest link” (Osborne obviously, do keep up). 

Not the greatest performance by the First Secretary of State. A little too hastily arranged we agreed.

But it had stung the Tories. They used Twitter to mysteriously announce they would be fighting back later that day. When asked what was happening, no one seemed to have much information.

Possibly because the ‘Labour cuts’ campaign they launched later that afternoon wasn’t exactly brimming with new ideas or too much detail.

More was needed. Philip Hammond was allowed do some interviews, but it was not enough.

George would have to go face his critics it was decided. So they sent him to the British Museum the next day to explain his ‘eight-point pledge’ on economic policy. He was going to make Britain a nation of savers, he told us. How? Well the detail would be sorted out later. He was going to invest in green technologies, high-speed rail and broadband. How would he pay for this? All would be revealed at a later date. Hmm. Okay.

Lord Stern was going to advise them he announced. Oh no, actually later that day he was at pains to point out he would not.

“Judge me against these benchmarks”, George cried. Perhaps if you provided us will a little bit more detail we could. If Mandy had seemed a little flat on Monday, the Boy George was positively prancing with nerves on Tuesday. Never the most convincing of public speakers, this turn was proving particularly difficult for him. With half of the Shadow Cabinet also in attendance, at one point he begged the press pack to ask them a question and give him a break. The scent of blood was in the air and poor George floundered as he sought to convince us there had been no conflicting message, no disagreement and certainly no change in direction.

So its been quite the interesting start to the week. A completely lacklustre performance by Mandelson but he still managed to outshine Osborne who is beginning to show the strain more and more as we edge closer to polling day. 

 Oh and the Lib Dems have not escaped unscathed either. Vince Cable’s reaction to the debacle was to suggest that Osborne’s benchmarks were “motherhood and apple pie politics”. Have the parties got any decent press officers between them?!

Political climate change

America has been abuzz with talk of tea-party moments this week. Obama’s gloss has dulled and his party took a pasting on home turf. In England, maybe because we can’t stand to think of all that wasted tea, there are slower changes underway.  

In the last few years I can think of just one tea-party moment; one moment at which politics changed instantly. That moment was the cancelled election. Brown was popular and about to consolidate power with a snap election in which a divided opposition had little hope of success. Then he was weak and feeble and clinging to power until the newly united Tory party inevitably swept to power.

That has been the established climate for a couple of years now. The weather changes from day to day, but the backdrop has stayed constant.

Until recently.

Gordon Brown has been “winning” Prime Minister’s question time for a few months now. He has been more confident in public appearances. Highlighting how in touch the Tories aren’t has also helped a little. But all of that is superficial.

What has really changed is an atmosphere. Labour have changed, subtly and without announcement, from no-hopers to underdogs over the course of a few months.  

Part of that change is inevitable election upswing.  

Firstly pundits get nervous. Most political hacks can be summed up thus. They are politicians who lack the courage to face the scrutiny of a ballot box. Two years before an election they can declare the result with a certainty and pretend to be experts. No one will call them to task if they are wrong years later. With an election looming they get nervous. They edge their bets and muddy the waters so they sound expert but can’t be out and out wrong. So Labour are no longer dead in the water. Instead nothing is certain and “elections are unpredictable.”   

Secondly, the public start to care. People generally drift along with an all-knowing air of negativity. Those who argue that, for example, NHS waiting times have come down, sound endearingly naïve or awfully corrupt. But with an election coming the default setting shuts off. That waiting times have fallen becomes important. People weigh the good against the bad instead of just weighing the bad and ignoring the good. So inevitably that benefits the government.

This seasonal upturn for the Government would mean little normally. But Labour are capitalising. 

The attempted coup a couple of weeks ago fell about as flat as a coup could. It was led by two transparently bitter former ministers. It was backed by the usual gaggle of marginal misfits. Ministers who might be future leaders all backed Brown. Even those of us who love insider intrigue couldn’t sound convincing as we said this weakened the Prime Minister.

Likewise, pick up a paper and you’ll find talk of energy, Iraq and economic upturn. What you’ll see little of, surprisingly, is David Cameron’s latest policy announcement.

Campbell had a simple doctrine at the height of his powers. Stay in the news. Whether it was a new initiative, a response to some disaster, or being confronted by an angry voter at a hospital, he wanted the press to always look Labour’s way. 

That was a good strategy. It took the old adage that you don’t talk about your opponents – and extended it. It is no accident that since he re-entered the fray for Brown, Cameron has been relegated in column inch terms. Politics at the moment is focused on Iraq, energy, and the economy. And Labour are happy to keep things that way. The economy seems set for recovery, all be it a slow one. Iraq is long in the past and electorally of little importance. And energy is an area that Government can act on while the Tories are split about climate change. 

In short, Labour are the main story again. Campbell is clearly back in charge. 

And it is working. Snipes at the Tories are sticking, especially about their social status. That they are all rich and mostly born to money is now an accepted fact even if it isn’t quite true. That would mean little if their tax plans weren’t a list of hand outs to the super-rich. But they are.   

Likewise the Lib Dems are being used well. It is not uncommon now to see newspapers carry a Nick Clegg and a Labour story on the same double page spread with no mention of Cameron. Not so long ago Clegg was a story alongside Cameron while the Government was reported elsewhere. 

The change was signalled somewhat when Brown stated, with no mincing of words last weekend, that he wants a referendum on electoral reform. 

That is music to Lib Dem ears. And it is something the Tories could never offer them. In short, a hung Parliament would now almost certainly involve a Lib Dem and Labour pact, if only a short one to push a referendum. 

And that talk of hung parliaments is good for the underdog. It plays down expectations while playing up hope that no monumental defeat is coming. That is an improvement on six months ago. And it runs well alongside the edging of bets by newly cautious pundits. It raises spirits among Labour supporters. And it ensures wavering Lib Dems have a reason to vote against, not for the Tories. 

None of this will win Labour the next election . For what it’s worth, I still expect Cameron to enter number 10 in May. (no muddying of waters here). But it is good to see a fight being made of it. Labour led for years without opposition, and that can make for poor scrutiny. The Tories should not be so free for their five years in charge now.

Christmas is a time for solidarity

A contribution from Lee Jameson, Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Newquay and St. Austell

With the festive season upon us at the end of a tough year for millions, we should now reassert solidarity with our fellow man.

This year has seen the global economy stumble further and unemployment rise across North America and Europe. That is not a matter of statistics. And it is not just some concern to the markets. It is people losing their livelihoods and with it the certainty and security we all desperately want for our families.

The mortgage chaos of recent years has also meant people giving up or being cast out of their homes. And again, this is happening well beyond our national borders.

Meanwhile the hardship of life in the poorest parts of the world continues as severe weather, political turmoil, and deadly disease kill and disrupt the lives of billions.

So as we prepare to enjoy Turkey and mince pies on the 25th of December, or perhaps the seventh of January, we should remember that Christmas is about our duty to one another.

I’m not talking about compassion for those in need, but solidarity. If one of us is in trouble, we are all in trouble. That is why we pay taxes, donate to charities, and give our time generously to help those most in need. It isn’t because there but for the grace of go we. It is because we are there with them already.

But this year has not only seen the suffering of many. It has also seen the prosperity of an undeserving few.

In the past people talked of a politics of envy. But the nation has not grown angry at bankers’ bonuses and MPs’ expenses because we are envious. We have grown angry because as our collective lives get harder it frustrates us to see callous people share no solidarity with those whose hardships make their privileged lives possible.

To see people carry on regardless is one of the hardest things for a Labour supporter. It spits in the face of every man woman and child in the country who believes that people can and should be better than the selfish and uncaring stereotype some people revel in being.

So as we enter the New Year we must remember to lead by example and act with solidarity in our hearts. Doing that will improve the world despite the efforts of those who avoid their responsibilities.

Merry Christmas

Lee Jameson

PPC Newquay and St. Austell

An easy guide to reducing poverty

 

I have a sure fire way to reduce poverty in the UK. It would be quick. It would be cheap. And it would involve not one single human right being violated.

My simple idea would probably end poverty in time for next Christmas. And best of all it would mean handing more than £100billion back to the taxpayer. We don’t need to kill anyone. We don’t need to massage the figures. We don’t need to rob from the rich and the wealthy and give to the poor.

I’m not even talking about some insane judgement of what poverty. I’m talking about standard poverty. I’m talking about all those people on less than 60 percent of the mean income in the UK.

Indeed I much prefer the quite sensibly weighted, and widely used measure of poverty that only counts disposable income after income tax, with housing costs are stripped out as well.

www.poverty.org.uk has an excellent explanation of this measure, and how the weighting works. But put simply it means a man living alone needs £115 a week after housing and income tax costs to avoid being in poverty, while a couple with two children need £279 a week.

By that measure a little over 20 percent of households are in poverty in the UK. And that brings me to my solution. Let’s sell off the NHS and give an equal share of its annual cost to every man woman and child in the country. Doing so would mean a hand out of £33 per week to everyone, effectively eliminating poverty all together.

Sound crazy? Well here are the figures.

The NHS presently costs us £110.5billion per year. And there are 61.4million men, women and children in the UK. That equates to a £1717 per person this year that we could save by not paying for healthcare anymore.

Meanwhile the mean annual income from which the above poverty level is calculated is £14,317.

Those of you good at maths will have worked out already that £1717 is just 12 percent of the mean income. So if we distribute it equally to absolutely everyone, the mean would rise by 12 percent too.

That means every weighted level of poverty would rise by twelve percent. So the man on his own would now be in poverty if he had less than £129 per week. The two adults with two children would now be in poverty with less than £312 per week to spend.

But think about what £33 per person does to the incomes of our two hypothetical examples.

The man on £115 percent, literally on the poverty line, would now have £148. That is a 29 percent rise that takes him well away from a poverty line weekly income of £129. To stay in poverty under my proposal he would have to be living on less than £96 today.

The couple with two children would see their income rise 47 percent from £279 to £411. Yet the poverty line for them would have risen only to £312. They would have to be on just £147 per week right now to still be in poverty under my plan.

However, I have to ask, do you see the flaw in this plan?

We would solve poverty at a stroke. We could even do to education what I’m suggesting for the NHS and add another £80billion d to the poverty beating pot. We could then means test the payouts to give more to the poor and less to the rich.

And yet those we help out of poverty would almost certainly end up far worse off because of it.

This has of course been a long winded way of saying we need to rethink poverty entirely.

We need to rethink the situation in which poverty is merely a matter of cash. After all, our reasons for thinking poverty is bad are not about cash anyway. We want an end to child poverty because poverty in our youth correlates strongly with an adulthood of drug addiction, criminality, physical and mental ill-health, worklessness, and family breakdown.  

So in poverty we take a social problem and monetarise it in a simplistic way. And that can’t be good for policy making.

For example, if the Government has to cut £10billion of spending, would you choose to cut it from the NHS or financial support for the poor? Far more importantly, would the poor be better off if it was cut from the NHS or from support for the poor.

That’s a tough question to answer. But it is one worth asking. You see, no party and no campaign group has tried to answer it.

I don’t have the resources to do so for this blog. I don’t know the cost of drug addiction to a person’s life, or of dependence on benefits. I also don’t know the extent to which those things can be attributed to degrees of poverty. But if free vocational training for children in poverty was found to better improve their future employment prospects than handing out cash, should poverty campaigners, the left, the right, and the centre not all want to know that?