Monday, May 20, 2013
Dave's Attempt to Recast his Party has Clearly Failed
We saw the cultural distance bridged by extravagant photo shoots and stunts involving trips to the Arctic- strong on the environment; calls for us interpreted as encouragement to hug hoodies- strong on compassion; and an attempt to detoxify the Tory brand as homophobic and uncool. Of course the economic Thatcherism, small statism, low tax and euro-sceptisism were retained. The idea was to keep the core vote onside while extanding the party's appeal to wider expanses of the electorate. The problem was that the Coalition, while ending the party's 13 year power-drought, has also placed the party under immense pressure. The failure of the economy to recover and the cuts in public spending, have done much to alienate voters across the board, while the Tory brand has been retoxified to a worrying degree. Like many parties in a crisis, the Conservatives have fallen back onto their core beliefs and call for more economic austerity and more hostility to the EU. Inevitably party activists are more likiely to do this than MPs who have to be acutely sensitive to how people will vote in reality rather than in theory.
Having seen his modernisation attempt compromised by what he feels are the imperatrives of his austerity startegy, he has tried to maintain his claim to be a compassionate Conservive with his totemic gay marriage bill. The trrouble is Dave's stock has plummeted within his own party, who are beginning to tire of his leadership and are looking to alternatives with names like May or Gove or even Hague. With the additional threat of UKIP washing around the prospects of Tory MPs in marginal seats, Dave has essayed a major push to make his party eurosceptic friendly. The trouble is, making so many concessions to them has made him look weak and no longer in chasrge of his party, as Lord Howe, the slayer of the Leaderene in 1990, said at the weekend. I fear Cameron's great plan to recast his party in a form conguent with the changed society we now live in has foundered upon Osborne's failure to revive the economy and the evidence that, unlike Labour, which began its jounrey into the centre ground with Neil Kinnock after 1987, Cameron has tried to do things too quickly. His party is still locked into thinking that is decades out of date and his chnacesw of winning the next electioon have virtually disappeared.
Monday, May 13, 2013
Tories Lie to Sustain 'Truth' of Scrounger-Striver Distinction
In the same way Iain Duncan Smith-IDS- claimed that his cap on benefits was working its magic even before it came into force:
"Already we have seen 8,000 people who would have been affected by the cap move into jobs."
In other words, joy unconfined for Conservative MPs whose reason for living would receive such a crippling blow if the 'benefit scrounger' were to be undermined. IDS, the Thatcherite former leader -well, failed leader actually- who had undergone an emotional conversion to fight against povedrty while visiting the run down Easterhouse area of Glasgow, has based his strategy upon the assumption of the fecklessness of benefit claimants.
In a withering article in yesterday's Observer, Nick Cohen destroyed the basis for this assumption. Cohen asserts that IDS's staff brief the press with 'unpublished figures' which are eagerly disseminated by the Mail, Telegraph and the like.
. "By the time the true figures appear on the DWP website , and informed commentators can see the falsity, the spin, the old saying applies: "A lie is halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on."
Cohen reports how the UK Statistics Authority,whose job it is to oversees all official statistics, has shown there is no basis whatsoever in the figures to support the contention in relation to the benefits cap. Morever, Jonathan Portes, former chief economist at the Cabinet Office has shown that the claim about incapacity benefits is. according to Cohen, 'False and demonstarbly false'.
Far from being a 'good Tory' as Michael Foot said of Disraeli, IDS seems to be just like all the other Tories, eagerly accepting falsehoods about the lower orders because such people have always had a vested interest in denigrating the poor and disadvantaged. And the public, always receptive to such knocking copy, just lap it up. Well said, Nick Cohen.
Thursday, May 09, 2013
Queen's Speech Eloquent on Coalition's Electoral Fears
Some commentators, like Simon Hoggart and Polly Toynbee in The Guardian dwelt on the absurdity of the ceremonial. The Queen’s Speech, they wrote, is printed on goatskin vellum. the ink used, taking three days to dry properly, thus placing a time limit to measures proposed for inclusion. A handy piece of flummery with which to mock the arcane ceremonials which still comprise our political seasons. However, Nick Robinson managed to get there first yesterday on his blog and then had to perform an acute U turn:
" I regret to have to report that the goat has fallen victim to the age of austerity. This year's speech will be written on plain - or, in truth, rather posh - paper."
The key point of the event has little to do with goatskin or the Queen, of course, who is obliged to read out a mind numbing 7 minute speech, scripted by Number 10 detailing the measures scheduled to be discussed and then passed into law before May 2014. There were 15 bills included and some of them, dealing with pensions and social care were useful - more pension and reduced social care costs- and even liberal additions to our welfare provision. But the main theme running through the Speech, was not May next year, but in 2015. Fear of doing badly in the general election- catalysed by the rise and rise of UKIP- seems to have injected syringes full of fear into the coalition.
Most political observers saw further immigration controls as the centre-piece of the programme. The proposed bill will restrict access of EU migrants to jobseekers allowance to six months, urges local authorities to give priority to local people when allocation social housing and reinforce the responsibilities of EU members to pay if their citizens take advantage while in the UK of the NHS. Not a world shaking measure, you might correctly think, but within the context of a new rampaging party howling about EU exploitation of British taxpayers’ money, it is makes a kind of sense. It is clearly designed to tell Tory voters thinking of voting UKIP that they are best advised to stick with David Cameron’s brand of measured euro-scepticism.
Will Conservative voters stay within the fold? Well attempts to out UKIP Farage at the Eastleigh by election in February rather backfired and it will be interesting to see if UKIP’s surge is sustained over the next year or whether, rather like that other new party, the SDP in the early 1980s, it fades quickly from view.
Writing elsewhere in The Guardian, Martin Kettle’s judgement of the speech was that it marks the ‘beginning of the end for the coalition.’ He argues that the coalition will soldier on, rather like, it seemed to me, the kind of soured old couples you sometimes see sitting miserable and silent in pubs and restaurants, unable to communicate let alone have anything like a good time. Like them Kettle thinks the original purpose of the coalition partnership has died:
“… the larger animating purpose articulated by the coalition enthusiasts in 2010, the possibility that there was a sustainable liberal-conservative alternative to both Labour and to Thatcherite Conservatism, has failed. The apostles of this view, who certainly included David Cameron and Nick Clegg themselves, wanted to create a compassionate, internationalist, less intrusive, greener and more modern form of social and economic liberalism. True, they can point to some successes along the way, but in the main they have not done what they set out to do – and the new focus on immigration underscores their failure.”
Further evidence is provided by the measures not included in the speech. It seems likely the Liberal Democrats vetoed the ‘snooper’s charter’ proposals to give the security services power to monitor our emails. It seems like Tories vetoed the proposal for minimum pricing for alcohol plus proposals that cigarettes be sold in plain wrappings and that overseas aid be guaranteed rather than remain vulnerable to claims from predators in defence and other departments.
When Cameron and Osborne consider that a 2% increase in their vote will make them the biggest party and 5% win them a majority, it is easy to see why the Coalition’s l;eaders are so obsessed with out kipping \UKIP.
Thursday, May 02, 2013
Has Leveson Been Defeated Already?
"In the course of the post-Leveson debate, a great principle – the free press – has been shamelessly hijacked by vested interests. Freedom has been elided with press self-interest. Press opposition to reform has been brash, heavy-handed and single-minded. Even the extraordinaryall-party agreement in March to put significant parts of Leveson under the umbrella of a royal charter caused only momentary hesitation. In the end, not even the fact that no single MP voted against the agreement counted for anything. The press ignored parliament's verdict. It simply resumed its battle to stop it from coming into effect. And now, with its own counter-charter, it has seemingly succeeded".
He predicts that the charter based regulator will be still-born, spurned by the majority of the press. Looking to the future he sees trhe Tories staying any action which might prejudice press support in the run-up to the election and Miliband, even if he becomes PM, holding back from tackling such a ferociious vested interest while trying to establish his period in power. A depressing judgment but he compares Leveson, who has struggled so mightly; his report has already become as impotent as In Place of Strife did 44 years ago. I fear he may well be right.
Sunday, April 28, 2013
UKIP's turn to soak up some punishment
UKIP asre fielding 1700 candidates, a massive intervention in an area where they scarcely figured last year. As most of the seats contested will be Tory, there will be a good oppostunity to see how big a slice of Conservative votes UKIP are likely to take not just on Thursday but in 2015: a long time away still but still a focus of Tory high anxiety. UKIP stand at 11% in the ST's Yougov poll, equal to the Lib Dems, so whilst it is likely to poll better than ever before, it is unlikely to storm any citadels this time around. Thrasher ad Rallings, of Plymouth University, see UKIP's following as typically older than the average and less well educated and more likely to be male than female. They tend to be against gay marriage and favour the return of the death penatly.
By entering the fray so agressively UKIP have taken a gamble: if it fails it will be ridiculed and dsimissed by the mainstream parties. Hence the row over alleged Tory 'smear tactics'. UKIP's deputy leader has answered that, "UKIP has been subject to a co-ordinated smear campaign." Ken Clarke, for the Tories has dismissed the party as hardly worth botherring about. But there can be no doubt Tories are worrying about the threat posed by Farages insurgent army,. A poll for The Sun today predicted Tories would lose 360 seats and control of 11 councils: a virtual meltdown. Ukip will aim to improve mightily on the 8 seats it managed in 2009. Farage had better get used to the roasting he is receiving- it's a compliment really to how grave a threat he is perceived to pose..
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Crime statistics spring 2013 Register further falls even when increases were expected
Sunday, April 21, 2013
A Couple of Thatcher Reflections- on her Legacy and her Sanity
It took about two decades after t he last war for modern historians to decide we were living in time of a 'post war consensus'; maybe it's taken till now for us to realise we've been living in a 'post Thatcher' period of consensus. Mrs T claimed her most precious achievment was Tony Blair- who, with Gordon Brown, quarried New Labour's macro-economic policy from the Lady's legacy. Unlike her he applied social democratic values to the distribution of wealth. Cameron and Osborne, on the other hand are seeking to apply both economic and social wings of Thatcherism in a doomed attempt to pull off a Thatcher type 'rescue' of the UK economy, and, they like to think, its soul as well.
What seems beyond a doubt, is that Dave and George both calculate that hijacking Maggie's demise for the party- effectively politicising her funeral- will pay a political dividend. Well initially the polls showed no movement though I see that today the polls show Labnour's lead pegged back by a few crucial points, so maybe it has worked to a degree. But as Jonathan Freedland pointed out, it could back fire.
"Cameron has seized upon Thatcher's passing as a chance to do himself some good, or at least avoid trouble, with the Tory right wing. Giving the warrior queen the works has proved an easy, cost-free way to throw some red meat in their direction. Short of a British veto in Brussels, there's nothing they'd want more."
However, banging on about Thatcher might encourage even more of his colleagues to conclude that poor old Dave is but the most feeble imiotation of the great lady. Moreover, digging too deep into Thatcher and all her works, might exhume the toxic effects she was certainly felt to have in the mid to late 1990s. Whatever her achievements as a politician she in no way brought 'harmony where there was discord'.
The final thing about Thatcher is offered by Simon Hoggart Saturday 13th April when he concedes that she did well to reclaim the Falklands and to curb the unions but cannot hold up her deindustrialisation of vast tarcts of the country on the assumtion capitalism would as if by magic, move in and create more industry. It didn't and her callous disregard to the consequencs of her actions will forever out trump her achievements as far as I'm concerned.
He goes on to suggest, on this occasion seriously, that Maggie towrds the end was virtually certifiable:
"What seems to have been left out of all the obsequies is the fact that, by the end, she was going mad. I wrote as much while she was still prime minister and heard it from several of her colleagues. Neither the evil witch nor the saviour- of-our-great-nation brigades could cope with that because it challenged their certainties.
But look at the evidence. The way she would grab a microphone from a TV reporter whose questions she didn't like. The predilection for tiny gestures at irrelevant times. (In his memoirs, Cold Cream, Ferdinand Mount recalls her breaking off an important and over-running meeting to fetch him painkillers he didn't need and had specifically said he didn't want. He also recalled her obsessive concern for "the mill girls of Bolton", even though, thanks to her policies, there were no mill girls left in Bolton.)
"We are a grandmother." Bonkers! Her unbelievable rudeness to colleagues, including Geoffrey Howe, who later helped destroy her. The way she came to speak about the government as if it had nothing to do with her. (The late John Biffen said she resembled a woman sitting under the hairdryer saying to her neighbour: "I blame the government, don't know what they think they're up to …"). The way she re-wrote her own history, obliterating things that hadn't worked, imagining those that had.
Most of all the poll tax, which might have come out of some ancient legend. "Once there was an unhappy land governed by a cruel queen. She decreed that everyone, from the richest lord to the poorest serf, should pay the same taxes, whether they could or not. So the people rose against their wicked ruler…"
And she didn't see it coming. Being off her trolley she had come to believe that whatever she believed must be right merely because she believed it.There is a nice line about that in John Major's memoirs: "Why did Margaret press ahead with what turned out to be an act of political suicide? Even lemmings have their reasons."