Sunday, February 24, 2013


Loss of Triple A and Rennard allegations Won't Stop Lib Dem win ihn Eastleigh

My picture reflects just a little of the bemusement Cameron must be feeling, alongside his turkey of a candidate, as Thursday approaches. The Rennard allegations are ugly and it's hard to believe Clegg knew nothing about something which apparently was common knowledge in senior Lib Dem circles. But it seems not to be affecting the chances of candidate Mike Thornton: the latest Populous poll for The Times shows Lib Dems flourishing, (with their previous poll shown in brackets):

Lib Dems 33% (+2%)
Conservatives 28% (-6%)
UKIP 21% (+8%)
Labour 11% (-8%)

We see Clegg's party climbing by 2% but the Tories plunging by 6%- very possibly reflecting voter dismay at Osborne's embarrassing loss of his much prized triple A rating. This event, comparable to the Tory's 1992 'Black Wednesday', blows a huge hole in the Cameron-Osborne's credibility. After Black Wednesday their ratings collapsed and stayed collapsed until 2005; it won't happen this time but it is, to a degree, as significant as Eastleigh. Martin Kettle, in his splendid piece on Friday argued the by-election's importance is pivotal.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Mansion Tax Seems Unecessary

Sorry not to have posted for over a week but I have been to Paris for a long weekend to celebrate my wife, Carolyn's 60th birthday. Looking at the occasional estate agent's window it was obvious Paris is full of top value real estate.  Which brings up the issue of the 'Mansion Tax'.. Originally the brainchild of Vince Cable it was dismissed by Osborne as likely to infuriate the Conservative constituency of rich or wannabe rich homeowners.  Ed Balls however said he liked it in September 2012 and this month the other Ed has suggested it might get into Labour's manifesto for 2015.

Simon Jenkins, always a bit of an unusual columnist, writes a clear and sensible critique of the proposal in The Guardian. He points out that there are only 74,000 houses worth over £2m and that the tax would yield only £1.7bn a year. A much better approach would be to increase the number of Council tax bands for houses worth between £1m and £2m: likely to produce more revenue and preclude the need for more legislation and political fights with those admittedly rich home owners who would have to find unreasonably large annual sums to meet the tax's requirements.

"If politicians really want a more progressive local property tax, there is no problem. They should use the one they already have: council tax. The Welsh introduced an upper I band in 2005, with no revolution of the rich. England could be given half a dozen extra bands above the H-band threshold of £1m, capped at 0.5% of value. It would be less penal on the lower bands than mansion tax, would spread the burden and raise far more money."

What's wrong with that alternative? Nothing that I can see. But I'm very doubtful anything like a 'mansion tax' is ever likely to happen in this country: Osborne hates it, Tory voters hate it and it would mark a shift into a completely new way of taxing the British: a wealth tax. 

Monday, February 11, 2013


Humdinger of a Contest Hotting up in Eastleigh

Take a good look at this picture- it's of Maria Hutchings, the Tory candidate for Chris Huhne's old seat in the by-election to be held 28th of this month. One reason for looking carefully is that it doesn't look much like the Ms Hutchings we see on the telly as it's clearly a picture when the candidate was some years younger. The second reason is that she could prove the weak link in Cameron's assault on this Lib Dem seat. She is almost UKIP on the EU and therefore not a fan of her party leader. She also is out of step on abortion and is against gay marriage. Very definitely then, she is not one to express the modernizing zeitgeist. I just wonder if her candidacy will deny Cameron a contest he desperately want to win.

This contest has all the ingredients of a classic. It's the first head to head of the coalition partners and as such anticipates many of the key 2015 contests where the Tories hope to win a couple of dozen at least seats off the Lib Dems.Andrew Rawnsley reckons Labour might spring a surprise, according to Andrew Rawnsley.

"At the general elections of 1955 and 1966, Labour came within fewer than 1,000 votes of winning Eastleigh. Admittedly, the shape of the seat and its demographics have changed considerably since then, but more recent elections also suggest that Labour should not entirely write off its chances. The last time there was a byelection in the seat, in 1994, Labour came second, ahead of the Tories, with more than 27% of the vote. At the 1997 general election, Labour achieved a similar score."

Eastleigh moreover, is prime 'squeezed middle territory and Miliband should be able to improve on his party's record. That is, if he doesn't think his supporters should vote tactically for the Lib Dem candidate. But, given the coalition this line of argument makes much less sense than before the partnership was forged. Is it impossible to imagine a Labour victory?

 "Ukip nibbles away at the Tory vote from the right flank. Labour gains some switchers from the Conservatives and more from the Lib Dems. It is then just about possible to envisage Labour winning the seat. I have heard Labour frontbenchers talk about "the Brighton scenario". Caroline Lucas won the Brighton Pavilion seat for the Greens with just over 31% of the vote because of the way in which the rest of the electorate split between the other parties.
The first poll out, produced my Michael Ashcroft, gave Conservatives a 3% lead but the one reporteed in The Guardian today gave the Lib Dems a slight lead: 36% to Tories' 33% with UKIP on 16% and Labour on 13%. The Brighton scenario' might come about but it seems a long shot, even for volatile by-election contests.
Gaby Hinscliff in The Guardian today offers a number of new angles on the contest. She quotes my colleague Phil Cowley, Professor at Nottingham University who points out the Lib Dems have never lost a by-election.

What strikes me about this by-election is that Labour are, unusually, in the potential recipient of protest votes against the coalition. They can rouse the low earning voters of Eastleigh to cast a vote against the government which has so signally failed to sustain, let alone improve, their quality of life.They have to fight the contest hard- it will be interesting to see who their candidate is- and things might just go their way. Lib Dems lead slightly in the polls, have the constituency sewn up in terms of elected local government on the ground and have assiduously nourished their support for many years. Phil Cowley's observation is interesting and suggests Tory hopes will be disappointed.  


Wednesday, February 06, 2013


Gay Marriage Strategy Backfires as Nasty Element Strikes Again

Oh Lor! Poor old Dave's ongoing 'moderisation' process took a turn for the worse last night as, whilst the second reading of the bill was passed 400-175 some 136 Tory MPs rebelled against his wishes while the 129 who voted as he wished proved to be substantially made up of the 'payroll' vote of ministers, junior ministers and the like. Given that 40 others abstained, well over half the Conservatives' 307 MPs refused to back their leader. That explains why the news stories on this issue ignored Dave's advancement of a liberal agenda and focused on the fact his leadership had been made to look weak and his party to be desperately divided.

The size of the revolt is explained firstly by the fact that his aprty is not happy with Cameron- he is seen as haughty, detached and apart from the rank and file of his MPs, many ofd whose names he does not even know, so unlike his heroine, the Lady, who knew not only their names but their spouses and chiuldrens' names as well. On top of that Dave is seen by many on his party's right-wing as too close to the Lib Dems and believe he uses them as a reason not to pursue genuine true blue Tory policies.

The second reason, alas! is that the Tory Party's 'modernisation' has only gone so far; there is a substantial chunk of it which remains unreconstructed and, well, nasty   

Sunday, February 03, 2013


Inequality for All- a Must-see Film

Robert Reich's most obvious physical attribute-I'm almost ashamed to mention it but it is relevant- is his height: a rare condition limited it to 4ft 10inches. However, this diminutive man is a hugely charismatic author and speaker as well as a brilliant academic and former Secretary for Labour 1993-7 for Bill Clinton. For thirty years he has been banging on about social and economic inequality and now has been made into a film by Jacob Kornbluth, a documentary called Inequality for All..

In an interview with Carole Cadwalladr in today's Observer , we discover that this seemingly dry topic has been turned into a compelling film which is hard-hitting as well as funny: Reich has a deadpan sense of humour which leavens the film very effectively. Being so small of stature, Reich has always felt on the side of vulnerable people- in the present day, that's essentially means the poor.

"The figures that Reich supplies are simply gobsmacking. In 1978, the typical male US worker was making $48,000 a year (adjusted for inflation). Meanwhile the average person in the top 1% was making $390, 000. By 2010, the median wage had plummeted to $33,000, but at the top it had nearly trebled, to $1,100,000 Something happened in the late 1970s," we hear him tell his Berkeley class. 
And much of the rest of the film is working out what happened. Some inequality is inevitable, [he says]. Even desirable. It's what makes capitalism tick. But at what point does it become a problem? When the middle classes (in its American sense of the 25% above and below the median wage) have so little of the economic pie that it affects not just their lives but the economy as a whole.
He argues that anti-union legislation and deregulation of markets produced a situation where markets boomed but very little wealth 'trickled down'. For a while, people coped and nobody really noticed- more women went out to work and people worked longer hours but then in 2007 it all came crashing down once all the options had been exhausted.  
Recent editions of The Economist, show how worried world leaders are at growing Grand Canyon of a wealth gap is and the Observer editorial reinforces this ,a href="l">today
. Lets hope the film reaches a wide audience but, though I hope I'm wrong, I'm as cynical as ever as to anything happening as a result.

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