Monday, December 27, 2010

Tory Vat Bombshell gets dropped on Jan 4th

It's hard to avoid news of the Tory Vat Bombshell getting dropped on January 4th. Everytime you turn on the TV, there is a retailer spending hard cash on prime time television adverts warning the public that the Conservatives are going to hammer them with a VAT rise even though the economy is still in a fragile state.

We should also note that during the election campaign, George Osborne specifically promised he wouldn't raise VAT.

Here's what he said

The plans we set out involved around 80 per cent of the work coming from spending restraint and about 20 per cent from tax increases . . . The tax increases are already in place; the plans do not include an increase in VAT.

And here's what Cameron told Jeremy Paxman in an interview on April 23rd:

We have absolutely no plans to raise VAT. Our first budget is all about recognising we need to get spending under control rather than putting up tax.

This is clearly a Government Of All The Liars.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Why have the Con-Dems lost control of the street?

The 13 Labour years look remarkably peaceful as well as prosperous now, don't they? How have the Tories lost control so quickly?

Some part of the responsibility must be down to Boris Johnson, who seems to spend more time guzzling and having affairs, than running the capital. It's a massive contrast to the way Ken Livingstone ran things. Trafalgar Square was a mess in 1999, but he cleaned it up and reclaimed it for ordinary Londoners pretty quickly. The Met was given more funds and hired more police, and managed to handle really large demonstrations like the one million Iraq war marchers and the Countryside marchers, without problem. Nobody dared to go awol under Ken's watch, because he had a grip on what was going on at the Met and in his capital.

So what has changed?

When the first student protest got violent, the feeling was that the Met had been caught off guard - they simply didn't have enough police on hand to deal with it. But now it's the fourth protest, and they still haven't got a grip. Have they cut their budget so much they can't afford the overtime for extra officers? Are the police deliberately holding back in order to make a protest of their own? Who thought it was a great idea to drive Charles and Camilla through the middle of the riot? And with the light on in the car, so the students protesting about unaffordable fees could get a really good look at all the diamonds and emeralds Camilla was wearing, Marie-Antoinette style. Given that the instinct of the ordinary Brit is to steer out of troubled areas, only someone in the police feeling malicious would have decided to drive the royals right into the riot.

And what about this juxtaposition: on the 7th December, Ken Clarke announces that short-term prison doesn't work, but three days later Cameron declares that the "full force of the law" is to be applied to the rioters! Is this another U-turn for him on his law and order policy, or is he just venting for the cameras? And there's also the juxtaposition of Cameron being a violent member of the Bullingdon club in his student days, criticising other violent students. You really couldn't make this up.

P.S. For those interested in the protests against Topshop and others for tax avoidance, please visit the following blog by someone called George, called Boycott Big Business, which gives a detailed look at why these companies are being targetted.

I'd like to point out that the Inland revenue benefits from these protests. It works like this: Say you have £20 to spend on a top, and decide to boycott TopShop and spend your money at John Lewis instead. Because the £20 gets spent regardless, the effect on the economy is neutral. However, because John lewis pays all it's taxes, the Treasury experiences an increase in tax revenue. Employment at TopShop may go down, but employment at john lewis should go up, so the effect on employment is neutral too. And best of all, other retailers may hastily decide to get their affairs in order so that they are not targeted, which also leads to an increase in tax revenue. It's win-win-win, as we then don't haemorrhage tax money to the less scupulous parasite states.

Monday, November 29, 2010

House prices slump for the fifth month running

Today Hometrack reported that house prices slumped for the fifth month running, and the BoE reported that mortgage approvals fell for the sixth month in a row. Why is this important? Because house prices impinge directly on middle Britain.

I've written before that I believe that slumping house prices were responsible for the thumping defeat that the Tories got in 1997. Though the economy was growing in the run up to the '97 election, house prices remained below their 1989 levels, and middle Britain was thoroughly fed-up as a result.

Labour was very conscious of why they were elected, which was why the first action of the Labour government was to make the BoE independent, at a stroke restoring confidence to the housing market.

When the credit crunch happened in 2008, Labour did everything they could to prevent forced selling - you got help with your mortgage after 13 weeks unemployment instead of 39 weeks previously, schemes were put in place to help people who were struggling, the government made it clear they would do everything and anything to keep the economy going.

And it worked. In May 2009, house prices began rising gently again - not much, but they weren't falling. A flat market meant no-one lost money. Once house prices had been rising for about six months, Labour began to rise again in the polls - indeed they rose enough to deny the Conservatives a majority at the general election.

However, all our good work has been undone by the Tories. They have been frightening the voters on a weekly basis since the end of June. They not only don't appear to realise that confidence is vital to the economy, but George Osborne couldn't resist gloating about all the jobs he was going to axe. I guess having power over so many people went to his head and he couldn't resist savouring it in public.

People who are frightened about their job prospects don't buy houses. They don't budge and the housing activity shrivels, leaving the few forced sellers to set the price - downwards.

There are 14.5 million home owners just in England. This is a massive interest group. It dwarfs public sector workers (8 million) or the 3 million people on disability benefit.

The disabled tend not to vote (from my contact with them, they struggle so much with pain and distress, they don't pay attention to anything outside their personal lives). A lot of public sector people voted LibDem in the 2010 election (they didn't want to vote Labour because Labour were the boss). They may switch to Labour in the next election.

The key to Labour winning the next election is to get the home owners back. According to this BBC graphic Labour won 41% of homeowners with mortgages in 1997, and 39% of home owners with mortgages in 2005. In 2010 we got 29% of home owners with mortgages. That was where we lost it - those home owners took for granted that the house price recovery and economic recovery were set in stone (confidence about the economy was high in May 2010), and felt they could switch without hurting themselves.

It will start dawning on them that a Tory government means a prolonged house price slump - again. At that point I expect we shall see people switching from Tory to Labour (up until now the rise in polls for Labour has been down only to LibDems switching to Labour).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

CSR Verdict

The most stunning thing that came out of the CSR for me was this: The ConDems are planning to increase the International Development budget by 37%. A 37% increase on what Labour spent (even in boom years). 37%!

And they are cutting the welfare budget by £18bn, and aiming the distress squarely on the most vulnerable such as the disabled.

They are taking mobility money away from people who can't walk and p***ing it away overseas? Really?

If Gordon Brown felt we couldn't afford an extra 37% for international development because it would come at the expense of our own vulnerable, then we really couldn't afford it.

Perhaps call-me-Dave wants to ensure that nascent superpowers such as India can afford aircraft for their aircraft carriers? What other explanation is there?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

How much do election pledges matter?

There've been a gazillion U-turns by both the Conservatives and LibDems since they entered government, but none so massive than the LibDem pledge to abolish tuition fees, only to double them as soon as they got into power.

The response from the LibDems like Cable is to bleat that they "didn't expect to be in government" when they made the pledges - in other words, they felt they could safely trick voters with any number of unrealistic policies in order to get elected. Not only that, they seem to feel that the voters they tricked will nod sagely and decide that it was OK that the LibDems were pledging all sorts just to get elected, as long as they didn't expect to be in power! And that their pledges to their coalition partners are more important than pledges to the voters!

How much do broken pledges matter? Quite a bit, I think. One example is David Cameron's pledge to hold a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, and the subsequent U-turn in late 2009. The Conservative lead started to plummet as some of their voters simply abstained in disgust. They had been 20 points ahead in mid 2009, but when the general election results came in, they failed to win a majority.

Breaking pledges in government is even worse. Labour was very, very careful to stick to it's manifestos - the Labour government even delayed the passage of the tuition fees bill, so that fees were in the 2005 manifesto and voters could vote against if they didn't like it (and Labour had a mandate for them when they got elected). I recall only one pledge broken in 13 years of government and that was the pledge not to raise income tax - higher rate tax was raised to 50% with effect from April 2010, a month before the general election. And the only reason that took place before the election was because it was impractical to hold the general election on 2nd April and then the council elections in May. So one broken promise right at the end of 13 years in government.

What hurt John Major's government so badly was making a great fuss of how Labour would raise taxes (the so-called "tax bombshell") and accusing Labour of wanting to pull out of the ERM and then breaking both pledges just six months after the election, leaving voters feeling like they'd been tricked.

Major and the Tories also thought that as the broken promises happened right at the start of that parliament, the electorate would forgive them five years on when the came to vote in the next election. You hear a lot of LibDems and Tories saying something similar now. "The next election is not till 2015".

But not only did voters not forgive Major, the longer they were denied a say, the more furious they got. What had been shock in 1992 and 1993 had hardened into implacable fury by 1997, and when they finally got to vote the electorate blasted the Tories into their worst defeat since 1832. John Major would have been better off holding the election in late 1993/early 1994 before momentum against him had started to build.

LibDems and Tories dismissing voters annoyance by saying "people will have calmed down by 2015" are making the same mistake Major did.

General elections are great safety valves. Let voters have their say early and you take a minor hit. But if you blatantly fib to get elected, and then dismiss voters concerns with a patronising "they'll get over it", anger just builds and builds and builds. The longer people have to wait to have their say, the bigger the blow-out. Luckily for Labour the coalition are too stupid to grasp this. Incidentally, this is why fixed parliaments are a bad idea, and fixing the length of parliaments for five years is even worse. We should retain the right to have elections at any point (in practice this means four year terms and the ability to consult the voter in unusual circumstances).

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Congratulations Ed Miliband

I can't tell you how relieved I am that Ed Miliband defeated David Miliband for the Labour leadership. I'm sorry for David M and all, but he would have been wrong for the leadership. And my fave Ed Balls came a respectable third.

I think Labour people will be pretty happy with this result. The press of course are spitting feathers as their pick didn't get the job.

One meme going around is that he wasn't the first pick of the MPs part of the electoral college. But the MPs don't exactly have a brilliant record for picking winners do they? In the last 30 years, the only two leaders of Labour who were chosen solely by the MPs were Michael Foot and our poor grumpy Gord. Good men to be sure, but they didn't win elections.

The full electoral college has a better record. When they chose Kinnock over Hattersley, there were similar cries about how Labour had "lurched left", but actually it was a sign Labour was marching to the centre. It was Kinnock after all who chased Militant out of Labour and began the rebranding of the party that was to lead to victory in 1997. The full electoral college also chose John Smith and Tony Blair, and in 2007 chose Harriet Harman as Deputy Leader.

When Harman won, again we saw the press cry "left wing" (and the MPs went for Alan Johnson, the man who was silly enough to urge people to vote tactically for the LibDems in the lead up to the 2010 election). Harman proved to be the right choice - under her temporary leadership, Labour recovered incredibly fast after the election. The Tories took 10 years and four leaders to at last recover in the polls in 2007 after their 1997 defeat. It took Harriet two months.

Why does the full electoral college make sounder decisions than the MPs? Mainly because they live in real Britain, rather than in the Westminster bubble, talking to a narrow press that seeks to influence them.

As for the meme that the EdM is a "union" man, the affiliates weren't exactly uniform in the way they voted. USDAW plumped very heavily for David Miliband, CWU went heavily for Ed Balls, and Aslef and the Musicians Union went for Diane. As for the non-union affiliates, the Fabians went narrowly for David Miliband, as did Black Asian Minority Ethnic Labour, Labour Students and the Society of Labour Lawyers. Labour is quite a complex movement and not easy to stereotype - though I've no doubt our enemies will have a go.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Labour Leadership Election

I've been way too busy to post, and to be truthful haven't had the time to follow the leadership contest closely either - but I'm not sure that's entirely a bad thing. This is how most voters absorb their politics, on the periphery of their lives, in snippets. Tiny things seep through, lots of things that the chatterati think are important don't, and a conclusion is formed.

So here's who I'm voting for (and the list is in a different order than it was when the contest first started, so the long contest has changed my mind).

1. Ed Balls. He gets my first preference. I think he's the brightest of all the contestants, and the only "Essex bloke" type in this contest, and why shouldn't Essex bloke have a go at leading a major political party? Polls are showing that on education the coalition has a negative rating, which is entirely down to how well Balls has communicated his position to voters. He probably won't win due to his closeness to Brown, but I'm giving him first preference so that he has a base to play a major part in the fight to regain power.

2. Andy Burnham. He wasn't even on my radar when this contest started. I'm giving him second preference (and hope he wins) mainly because I like him. It's not just me -everyone seems to like him, whether they are political or non political. This is a huge deal for a politician, it's like the holy grail. I also like his opposition towards electoral reform, and his willingness to think outside the box. He is not associated at all with the previous Labour administration, despite having served in it, and I think a Burnham led Labour party would mark a fresh start. I also think there's some underlying grit in him in the way he has kept at it, refusing to concede that it's just a Miliband v Miliband affair, and continuing to come up with initiatives.

3. Ed Miliband. Originally he was my favourite, but has fallen back. It boils down to this - I don't think he's tough enough for the job of leader.

4. David Miliband. I tried to give him a fair hearing, but every time he opens his mouth he puts me off. He just talks jargon, and sometimes I'm not even certain he knows what he means. The only time I got a glimmer of the real David underneath the geek-speak was when he did a live web interview on the Guardian's CiF - but unfortunately he cut it short because he apparently had somewhere more important to be, and for me that summed up his problem: he doesn't realise he has a communication problem and that engaging with voters and critics is important. The MPs will probably vote for him overwhelmingly, but we must hope that members and affiliates don't.

5. Diane Abbott. What can I say? She's intelligent, not as left wing as she pretends, but ruins it all by being too grand to engage. Still she did inject a little flurry of excitement at the start of the contest.

So there you go. I'm crossing my fingers that Andy Burnham is the dark horse who will come through the middle. I wish I had been able to campaign for his candidacy earlier but life and business got in the way.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Labour edges up in the polls

In the opinion polls since the general election, Labour has slowly been edging up. We were about 32% in mid June, and that went up to about 35% in early July. And then we appeared to be stuck.

But the latest poll from YouGov (fieldwork 15th - 16th July) shows us on the move again. Here's the figures:

Con 40%
Lab 37%
LD 15%

So we are within 3% of the Tories.

And the cause of this sudden shift? In my opinion it's down to all the stuff in the news about the NHS. Cameron made a big song and dance during the election campaign about not touching the NHS, and here he is looking to break it up by re-organisation.

The Con-Dems seem to have decided that manifesto pledges and promises don't matter, and every day they get more cavalier about breaking them, reasoning that there wasn't that much of an outcry about the last pledge they broke, so why not break some more? It actually does matter, and the effect is cumulative. The more pledges you break the more distrustful the population gets, and then comes the tipping point.

The NHS is also the third rail of British politics. Touch it and you die. If there is any fall-out in patient care as a result of this, the Con-Dems will pay a penalty.

The other interesting thing about the YouGov poll was the response to the question "Do you think this coalition government will be good or bad for people like you?"

Total good 36%
Total bad 39%
No difference 15%
Don't know 9%

That's a change round from the YouGov poll done at the start of July (fieldwork 1st-2nd July). Then it was

Total good 41%
Total Bad 36%
No difference 15%
Don't know 8%

The constant pessimism dripping out of the government combined with such events as the chair of the new OBR resigning, have dented confidence.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Congratulations Spain

... and now is the cue for Zapatero to announce that Spain only wins the World Cup, European Championships, the Paris Open and Wimbledon Championships when a socialist government is in power!

Meanwhile, in Britain everything has turned to ashes since the ConDems took power - we were bottom in the Eurovision, out in the second round in the World Cup (after coming second to the USA in the first round for heavens sakes!) Business confidence has turned down, the IMF has downgraded our growth forecast directly as a result of the draconian action of the ConDems to take vengeance against the public sector, (the coalition dimwits believe the public sector caused the credit crunch).

Plus all sorts of lunatics are going on gun rampages - first Derrick Bird, now Raoul Moat. You have to go back to John Major's government and Dunblane (and Huntingdon under Thatcher) for the last episodes. And it's only been just over two months since they were in power.

Crime always rises under Tory governments, it rose steadily from 1979 to 1997, and looks like rising again. It's a combination of Tories cutting back on the police while at the same time causing stress in the population at large, which always tips those at the edge into violence.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Minutes from BoE Monetary Policy Committee

The minutes have been published of the BoE's Monetary Policy Committee for their meeting in the first week in June - and the shock is that for the first time in two years, one member, Andrew Sentence, has voted to raise interest rates.

He was worried about inflation, and the minutes show that other members agreed with him in discussion (though they didn't vote for a rise in interest rates). And remember this was before they BoE members knew what was in the budget.

The budget will have made him even more hawkish - as I said in my previous post on VAT, it will add to inflationary pressures that are building due to the falling pound (and sterling as been falling since the election because the markets believe that the Coalition is going to tip us back into recession).

I have some sympathy with the need to normalise interest rates. If you look at the graph left, during the global recession of 2001-3, the UK dealt with the crisis by loosening fiscal policy, and while interest rates were cut, they didn't fall too low, and the monetary stimulus was removed pretty promptly. The USA though not only loosened fiscal policy, but turned on the monetary taps too wide, causing the massive commodity speculation that did so much to hurt the world economy, plus of course a housing bubble, which led to the credit crunch.

It might be smarter for all economies to have higher interest rates and a looser fiscal policy rather than the situation we have now, where everyone in Europe is tightening fiscal policy, but money is still extremely cheap, which means we have all manner of speculation going on, from attacks on sovereign countries to an oil price that is artificially high given global economic conditions.

The nightmare scenario is if uber-loose money causes inflation, and you end up with a toxic situation of tightening monetary policy at the same time as tightening fiscal policy. The Coalition are expecting the BoE to keep monetary policy loose in response to their fiscal tightening (see the comments from the OBR), but the BoE might not be able to deliver, especially when the government recklessly puts up VAT. You'd think they would have learnt from Thatcher's experience of jacking up VAT from 8.5% to 15% in the early 80's, but no!

Like most Labour people, I hate VAT with a purple passion; it slows consumption, it's regressive, it contributes to price inflation, and worst of all, once you put it up you can't cut it without the agreement of all 27 members of the EU (and that's unlikely to happen when many EU countries have higher VAT than us).

I've no idea why Tories are so enamoured of it. I think they believe that it's a stealth tax that no one notices - but it actually causes a lot of damage to the economy, (a lot of the ills of the previous Tory govt can be laid at the door of their VAT policy). I guess we are heading back to an era of low growth under Conservatives

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tory VAT Rise was being planned as long ago as August 2009

Lots of Coalition supporters are trying to claim that this VAT rise was unplanned and merely a consequence of coalition negotiations. But actually it was planned as long ago as August 2009.

The Sunday Telegraph, which always has good contacts within the Tory party, reported on 8th August 2009 in an article titled Tories study plans for 20pc VAT that

"The proposal [to raise VAT to 20%] is being “very actively considered” at the highest level, according to senior shadow ministerial sources.
It could be introduced within weeks of a Tory victory at the next election, which must be held by June, in a package that is also likely to include severe cuts to public spending.

...A shadow ministerial source said: “Tax rises will have to be part of the equation. It will be time for some strong medicine.”
By moving quickly to increase VAT after the election, senior Conservatives believe they will be able to pin the blame for the state of the public finances on Gordon Brown and his outgoing Labour government.
They would be following in the footsteps of Margaret Thatcher, who increased VAT to 15 per cent in the 1981 Budget, also at a time when Britain was struggling to emerge from a recession.

...It would hit charities and businesses which do not levy VAT – because they would have to pay the tax on items they bought but would not be able to recoup the cost from customers."

After the Sunday Telegraph scoop, Tories took to the airwaves to deny they were raising VAT, but of course they were lying. The lies were continued by Cameron into the election debates.

My assessment of this budget is that it's pretty much exactly what the Tories were intending to do if they had got a majority of their own. There appears barely any LibDem input - in other words this is a budget that the country refused to endorse by refusing to give the Tories a majority - yet we've got it just the same.

The LibDems need to start asking questions about just what they are getting out of this - If they are rubber-stamping this just for electoral reform in return, they will find they've been had, as I am pretty sure no electoral reform will be forthcoming. It's actually quite stunning that they've allowed themselves to be made responsible for a far-right budget and without protest.

One more thing - the VAT rise will bump up inflation, which means that the BoE will have to respond with rising interest rates, especially as the falling pound (which has been dropping like a stone against the dollar every since the Coalition took office) continues to stoke inflation in oil and food. So we will have a tightening fiscal policy at the same time as a tightening monetary policy, and at the same time as our main trading partners in Europe contract demand. Watch not only for a double dip recession, but for the budget deficit to increase as a result of these hair-brained Tory policies hitting growth.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Duplicitous Dems: Nick Clegg on Expenses in the Debates

Found this classic of Nick Clegg on expenses, where he condemns CGT avoidance, and expense abuse, and then says "I have to stress that not a single LibDem MP has done any of these things".

Monday, May 31, 2010

Re-emergence of expenses scandal puts Ed Miliband in pole position for Labour leadership

Today we have the Telegraph going for Danny Alexander - it's clear that they will continue to use their treasure-trove of unredacted expense accounts to attack anyone who was in the last parliament.

IMO, this puts Ed Miliband in pole position for Labour leadership because his expenses are so low.

Here's what they were in the last parliament:

2008/9 £7,783
2007/8 £7,670
2006/7 £7,795
2005/6 £7,246

The low claims are due to the fact that his second home is a tiny two-up two-down terrace in his constituency that he rents. He's one of the few MPs who lives in similar surroundings to his constituents. According to the Telegraph the rest of his expenses consisted of utility bills on his second home, a TV licence, council tax and telephone bills. That was it. No cake-tins, no claims for wisteria-trimming, no food, no telly, no furniture, no gardening, no mortgage interest.

He clearly regarded the expenses in the spirit they were intended - as simply a way to enable him to crash in his constituency at the weekends while he did his surgery work. It never seems to have crossed his mind that he could profit from them.

If he's elected leader of the Labour party, he will make a sharp contrast to the two posh boys at No 10. Here's their expenses bills for those who missed them, and note how both Cameron and Clegg claimed close to the maximum they could despite being millionaires.

David Cameron

2008/9 £20,240
2007/8 £19,626
2006/7 £20,563
2005/6 £21,359

Nick Clegg

2008/9 £17,081
2007/8 £23,083
2006/7 £22,050
2005/6 £21,610

Ed Miliband also checks some other boxes: he was educated at a comprehensive school; he was not in parliament at all during Iraq either as an MP or as an advisor (he was lecturing at an American university at the time). He is a warm personality who can communicate. His family set-up also resembles modern Britain more than that of the leaders of the other parties: he lives with his girlfriend and the couple have one child and are expecting another in November.

For me, the only doubt is whether he can be assertive. But then again, he can always leave the bad-cop stuff to a member of his cabinet. Politics (especially in Labour) is a team sport.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Press gets a govt scalp just three weeks into new parliament

Further to my previous post on David Laws and expenses, David Laws has resigned. Honeymoon over for the new ConDem Coalition, just three weeks into their government.

There appears to be a lot of gnashing of teeth from both the Tory and LibDem camps, indeed some on Conservative Home are talking about boycotting the Telegraph, which is childish in the extreme!

I suppose none of them were really prepared for the ferocious bearpit that governing Britain in the 21st century has become. Pre 1997 there was no BBC news 24 or other UK 24-hour channels, there was no blogosphere, newspapers had barely gone online let alone got into the habit of updating their sites all hours of the day at the first hint of news. If Tories are struggling with the new world, it's even harder for the LibDems, as they were generally ignored, which meant they went under the radar most of the time.

Both Tories and LibDems have got used to carping from the sidelines, and suddenly they are in the hot-seat. Laughably, some were arguing today that Laws should be left alone, "because he's in government and has a job to do". Well being in government means having to do your work while being battered 24/7 by the press, and you fit in eating, sleeping, cuddles with your spouse and reading stories to your kids, as and when. Anyone in doubt should read Alastair Campbell's account of the Blair Years.

There seems to be some pique amongst the Coalition that Tory papers such as the Telegraph are having a go. What they need to understand is that while the Tory press will be supportive of a Tory govt when they can, they are essentially businesses in an era where they are all making losses, bar the Daily Mail. The need to hold onto readers and therefore advertisers is paramount, and trumps any loyalty they may have to Cameron and co. That's business for you.

The Telegraph has decided that their USP is breaking important stories. The more they can do this, the more likely they will become the go-to place for all news, and gain an edge over their competitors. Yes, they will lose a few hundred activists from Conservative Home, but may gain a several thousand readers from middle Britain. For them, it's a dog-eat-dog world and yes, they will happily eat Tories for breakfast too if it earns them a crust.

Tories and LibDems should get used to it - it could be much worse. Labour not only had to face hungry-animal press, but wall-to-wall hostile Tory press, even when they'd been fed. Despite this, Labour still lasted 13 years and managed to deny the Tories a majority in 2010.

If the poor precious ConDems can't cope, there is always the option of throwing in the towel and letting the battle-hardened Labour machine take over the hard business of government.

David Laws and Expenses

After all the showy grandstanding done by David Laws on how he wanted to save government money (even insisting that ministers walk to meetings instead of using cars), it turns out that he himself was claiming about £40,000 to subsidize his lover by saying he was renting rooms in his house.

Now that expenses has reared it's ugly head again, I thought it would be a good time to look at the expenses of the candidates for the Labour leadership. We need them to be scrupulously clean as well as capable of being Prime Minister. So here's what was claimed in the last parliament (figures are only available up to 2008/9).

Ed Miliband

2008/9 £7,783
2007/8 £7,670
2006/7 £7,795
2005/6 £7,246

Ed Balls

2008/9 £11,840
2007/8 £12,219
2006/7 £15,979
2005/6 £13.618

David Miliband

2008/9 £ 9,083
2007/8 £17,387
2006/7 £16,728
2005/6 £21,611

Andy Burnham

2008/9 £12,301
2007/8 £10,504
2006/7 £13,461
2005/6 £16,147

John McDonnell

2008/9 £0
2007/8 £0
2006/7 £0
2005/6 £0

Dianne Abbott

2008/9 £0
2007/8 £0
2006/7 £0
2005/6 £0

For contrast, here's the expenses of the leader of the Tories and the leader of the LibDems:

David Cameron

2008/9 £20,240
2007/8 £19,626
2006/7 £20,563
2005/6 £21,359

Nick Clegg

2008/9 £17,081
2007/8 £23,083
2006/7 £22,050
2005/6 £21,610

John McDonnell and Dianne Abbott are both London MPs (represending Hayes and Harlington, and Hackney North and Stoke Newington respectively), so they didn't need to claim anything compared the to MPs representing Northern seats, such as Doncaster (Ed Miliband), Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls), South Shields (David Miliband) and Leigh (Andy Burnham). It's worth noting however that Jon Cruddas, a London MP, somehow did manage to claim the full allowance (another reason it's a good thing that Cruddas isn't running), so good on Dianne Abbott and John McDonnell for being so honest

Ed Balls did move his primary residence from London to Castleford in 2007, but insisted on paying the full CGT at the time, despite being told he didn't need to by the expenses office. He was also part of the minority in the House of Commons who voted to reform the expenses system in 2008, indicating a certain political prescience (if that vote had been won, a lot of grief would have been avoided).

Cameron and Clegg claim rather a lot considering they are both millionaires. Cameron for instance was claiming nearly three times what Ed Miliband claimed, and his constituency is considerably closer to London than Ed's. All our candidates look good compared to them.

Monday, May 24, 2010

George Osborne's Spending Cuts

Osborne unveiled his spending cuts by claiming that unless he cut, debt repayments would "spiral out of control".

As it happens, the deficit is falling. Contrary to the claims made by Osborne and Laws that the Labour government's projections were too optimistic, it turns out that Darling was being too pessimistic: last year's deficit turned out to be £156 bn undershooting Darling's projection of £170bn. (Laws owes Darling a public apology). Given that many Tory forecasters were claiming that the deficit last year would hit £200bn, they must be scratching their heads wondering how Darling managed to "cut" the deficit so sharply without actually cutting.

Simples. You just hold steady, reassure consumers, and economic activity lifts, raising tax receipts sharply and cutting support you need to give those unemployed.

Labour's argument was always that you should only cut govt spending when the private sector is going full-pelt (which is what Gord did in the six years to 2002 and the recession). That way, not only does the economy not feel the cuts, the cuts dampen the chances of runaway inflation.

But for ideological reasons, the Tories seem to be chomping at the bit to make cuts right now, regardless of the state of the economy.

From what has been announced, two sectors will be really hit - local government will expecience a 7.4% cut in grants, which they will need to make up either by council tax rises or cuts.

The other sector to be hit is the private sector, as Stephanie Flanders points out in her blog. They will be bearing 27% of all the cuts announced today by Laws and Osborne. They are getting screwed in multiple ways, from having contracts cancelled to taxi drivers losing business. All of this will impact those sectors' revenue, profits and the tax receipts the govt gets from them.

A lot of ideological anti-state people simply don't realise how intertwined the private sector is with the state. This is not 1979 when the state directly employed everyone who did anything with public money. The Labour government tended to hire private contractors whenever they needed stuff done.

Therefore it shouldn't surprise that any public spending cuts will hurt the private sector most. And this is just the first round.

If the Osborne-Laws cuts damage the private sector badly, watch for tax receipts to nose-dive and the deficit to get bigger as a result of these cuts.

Friday, May 21, 2010

How worried are the Tories about the Daily Mail?

Ever since the ConDem Coalition was formed, the Daily Mail has been attacking, with a negative story pretty much every day. Their narrative is that the Coalition is attacking Middle Britain, and that Cameron is a desperately weak man who is being walked all over by Clegg, who is really running the country.

This is clearly bothering Cameron, who penned an article in the Mail today with the title Yes, we've ditched some policies but I'm still a Tory PM

The bit that leapt out at me was that he felt it necessary to say that he was "still a Tory" - and predictably, most of the comments responded "no you're not", and talked bitterly about manifesto pledges dropped.

How dangerous is all this for Cameron?

The Daily Mail used to attack Tony Blair relentlessly too, but Blair had the advantage that Labour voters did not read the paper (the "Tony's Tories" who had switched to Labour in '97 read the Times, which remained firmly supportive during Blair's period in office). The Mail had to wait till 2001 to get a scalp with the Cheriegate affair, and then only because the story was taken up by the broadcasters and other news outlets. Blair also had the benefit of vast majorities, which meant that if he lost two or three million voters here or there, it barely dented him in the first ten years.

Cameron does not have a majority in his own right, and can't afford to lose any Tory voters at all. Worse, his voters actually read the Mail and are affected by that paper's narrative.

I'm also struck by how people are mentioning manifestos more and more. Voters don't like being told one thing during a campaign and getting another after the election. Labour was very careful in it's 13 years to honour it's manifestos, even delaying tuition fees so that it could go into the 2001 manifesto so that those who hated it had the chance to vote against. You can count on one hand the manifesto pledges dropped in the last 13 years.

By contrast Cameron has dumped a shedload of pledges in just two weeks, and coupled with his dropping of his "cast iron guarantee" before the election, gives him the aura of a man with no honour. Add to this the accusation that he was "weak" during the negotiations and you get a toxic cocktail.

My assessment of the coalition so far is that the LibDems are having a better press about it. They are on TV all the time, and they seem to have the upper hand. Clegg is handsome, articulate and also seems to be leading his parliamentary party better than Cameron, prompting jealousy amongst Tory MPs. The rivalry between the two groups can only grow.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Ed Balls brings a touch of Essex Man to the Labour Leadership Contest

In the Newsnight focus group on the Labour leadership contest a few nights ago, one member of the group said that Ed Balls looked like the type of bloke who could be found behind a kebab counter. Which made everyone laugh because there is a touch of Essex man about him (he actually comes from Norfolk, but for our purposes lets use "Essex" as a shorthand for the culture of those regions east of London).

We've never had Essex bloke contest the Labour leadership before. Blair was smooth barrister man, Prescott was northern working class man. Brown was grumpy dour Scotsman while John Smith was bank-manager Scotsman. Kinnock was a Welshman and Michael Foot was other-worldly academic man. David Miliband is geeky wonkman. The brash hustler that is Essex man has never had a look in - till now.

It was Essex man of course who put Thatcher into Downing Street, Labour has never really had deep roots in the Eastern region. In the 2010 election, the only seats in the east we won were the two in Luton. But we need to regain seats there if we are to win the next general election.

So I'm glad Ed Balls is standing, he brings something of the culture of eastern England into the contest (though ideally I would have preferred his wife as a candidate).

One of the benefits of the long leadership contest is that the public will get to really know these candidates - at present, they are only really well known by activists and politicos. We know how they play in the blogosphere, but not really how they play in Middle Britain. Lets hope something happens to make one of them resonate with the voters. Will they want to sip wine with a Miliband over erudite conversation or watch the World Cup over a few beers and a kebab with the Essex bloke? It will be fascinating to find out!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Post Election Polls

We have two polls, signalling a sharp increase in the Labour share of the vote since the general election and the formation of the ConDem coalition:

ComRes: 38%, Lab, 34%, LD 21%
ICM: Con 38%, Lab 33%, LD 21%

Note that both these pollsters have a habit of overstating the LibDems and understating Labour. Here's how their pre-election polls compared with the actual General Election result:

Election result 6th May: Con 36.1%, Lab 29%, LD 23%, others 11.9%
Com Res 5th May: Con 37%, Lab 28%, LD 28%
ICM 5th May: Con 36%, Lab 28%, LD 26%

So Labour has much to work with. Apart from electing a new leader, we need to defeat the attempt by the ConDems to fix parliament terms for five years with a 55% requirement for disolution. I understand that they are justifying these constitutional changes with "stability", in much the same way the Chinese government cites "stability" as the reason not to hold elections at all. We also need to hammer away at the weak points of the coalition (after all, the duty of the opposition is to oppose!)

Finally, we need to think about reclaiming the LibDem areas, where we traditionally don't bother to canvass overmuch, leaving our Labour supporters to "vote LibDem to keep the Tories out". Obviously that won't work anymore, and Labour needs to step into the vacuum in various parts of the country, and the sooner this work gets under way the better - after all, given the history of coalitions, there may be another general election next year.

Update: Check out this post by Tom Harris MP, where he quotes Nick Clegg in 2008: "Will I ever join with the conservative party? No, I refuse to be merely an annex of another government." He was just saying one thing to Labour voters, while no doubt saying something else to Conservatives to trick people into voting for him.

Update2: Very interesting to compare the current situation to the post-election ICM polls of 1992 and 1997. ICM came closest in predicting both those election results and here's what their post election polls looked like:

1997: Lab 61%, Con 23%, Lib 12%, Others 4%
1992: Lab 34%, Con 45%, Lib 17%, Others 4%

Part of the reason Labour got such a bounce in the post-1997 poll was because Brown made the BoE independent the day after the election, delighting the whole country, including Conservative voters, and restoring confidence to the property market. However, it's interesting to note that John Major got a bounce in the post 1992 poll too, fitting in with the pattern that most govts get a good-will post-election bounce.

Now we have a 1% bounce for the Tories, a 3% drop for the Libs, and Labour after being in govt for 13 years in govt, and losing an election, bouncing up 3% within a week. What is going on?

I think the country is in an uncertain mood - I'm not at all sure they liked all the horse-trading and negotiating. With normal election results, you pick a manifesto, those who voted for the winning party got the manifesto they wanted. With this horse-trading, almost no-one amongst the voters get the package they wanted, but the politicians got jobs they weren't expecting (e.g. Cameron fully expected to be turfed out by his party for not winning, and Clegg probably expected the same after winning fewer seats than Charlie Kennedy). Would not be at all surprised if the referendum on AV delivered a No.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Can we persuade Yvette Cooper to run?

Someone who commented on my previous post noted how narrow Ed Ball's majority was in the recent general election - it's a major handicap to him becoming Labour leader. So I guess that's him crossed off the list. What about Yvette Cooper instead? She's ruled herself out, but can the Labour movement persuade her to change her mind?

She would make a decent contrast to the bland Miliband brothers, and an even better contrast to the two posh boys in Number 10.

Here's the bones of her C.V.:

She was born in March 1969, the daughter of Tony Cooper, a Nuclear Industry specialist who was appointed by the last Conservative government to their Energy Advisory Panel, and the grand-daughter of a miner.

She was educated in a comprehensive school in North Hampshire, and then went to Balliol College, Oxford to read PPE. She then won a Kennedy Scolarship to Harvard University in 1991, and when she finished that, got a Masters in Economics from the London School of Economics.

She then worked in Arkansas as domestic policy specialist for Bill Clinton in the lead-up to his successful bid for the US Presidency in 1992.

She's been the MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford since 1997, winning large majorities in what is a very safe seat. She married Ed Balls in 1998, and the couple have three children.

The main barrier to her seeking the Labour leadership appears to be the ambitions of her husband. But instead of her doing the traditional thing and stepping aside for her husband, wouldn't it be nice if he stepped aside for her? It would make a telling contrast to the posh boys at No 10 and their Stepford wives.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

ComDem CGT rise will precipitate a property crash

First some background on Capital Gains Tax (CGT).

CGT was 40% under John Major, with taper relief which took into account that part of capital gains was down purely to inflation, but distorted the market in that it forced entrepreneurs and shareholders to wait ten years or more before their CGT tax dwindled to anything bearable.

Gordon Brown as chancellor changed this to a flat 10%, so that start-ups could if they wanted float their companies within three years or less and not be penalised. This did encourage start-ups such as Phones4U and others. Of course his CGT cut also benefited the new Buy-to-Let entrepreneur.

Alistair Darling then raised the CGT rate to 18% in 2008 (though it remained 10% for business payouts under £1 million).

The new ConDem government aims to raise CGT to the marginal tax rate on "non-business assets" - so 20% for basic rate taxpayers, 40% on higher rate taxpayers and 50% of those whose income is over £150k. It's also clear that they don't regard property to be a business asset.

Unfortunately, they haven't said "this tax increase is effective at midnight tonight". They've given notice that it will come into effect at the emergency budget in June. Anyone around at the time of Nigel Lawson's idiotic "notice" that he was removing double tax relief on property will recognise the dangers. You'd think the Tories would learn from their mistakes, but no!

We are going to see a flood of properties listed on the market by entrepreneurs hoping to beat the tax deadline, and they are likely to slash prices just to get a sale (the CGT increase is so eye-watering, it's worth cutting prices).

The increase in supply will undoubtedly lead to a crash in prices. Especially when the sellers have a deadline. One of the successes of the Brown government was to ensure that property prices did NOT crash during the recession. The idiotic Con-Dem'd government appear to be undoing all the good work.

There are 14.5 million homeowners in England alone, who will all be affected by a property crash precipitated by the stupid Con-Dems.

Some on the extreme right and the extreme left like to rail at landlords, take pleasure in property prices falling and long for the disappearance of the private landlord. However, landlords service a need in our economy. People aged 18-30 need somewhere to live, this is the stage of their career where they move about the country and homeownership hampers them. Private landlords fill a need. The alternative is council housing, but most of it was sold by Thatcher and there wasn't any capital to rebuild the stock (and even less capital to do so now). It's either rent a flat or live in a cardboard box. There is no benefit to these entrepreneurs being forced to sell out, and no benefit in precipitating a property crash.

On a lot of the financial forums there are people ruefully wishing they had voted Labour. New Labour was a careful balance between helping the poor through a minimum wage increased faster than inflation plus tax credits, and supporting the middle class by underpinning the property market and encouraging entrepreneurship, with the governmemt always ready to support the economy in downturns through public spending.

The Con-Dems by contrast have an incoherant set of policies. The stability of the economy seems secondary to getting themselves into government with ministerial Jags. I understand that some LibDems are peeved that Ed Balls was scornful of their fiscal policies during the coalition talks. Apparently he hurt their feelings. Well, Good On Ed Balls, I say. If the Conservatives had any sense they too would have sent the LibDems away with a flea in their ear.

As the distress in Middle Britain sharpens, my sense is that Labour's best chance to win the next election is from the centre where we won in 1997. I was going to go for Ed Miliband for leader just because he's nice, but am now seriously considering Ed Balls. Telling the fruitcakes in the LibDems where to go shows great judgement. Among his achievements is the original idea to make the Bank of England independent, and he was key to persuading Gordon Brown that the euro was rubbish (and Brown, with his usual political skill used Blair's weakness over Iraq to permanently rule out the euro in summer 2003). He has the brains to make a great Prime Minister.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Here's how the Daily Mail welcomed the first day of the ConDem'd government...

They are not happy at the new love-in. Why, taxes were lower under the Labour government (especially CGT)!

If they continue in this vein how long before we see a Daily Mail editorial saying "Come back Gord, all is forgiven..."?

Meanwhile when the Osborne cuts make their way through the system, watch for the Mirror, Guardian and Independent turn sharply negative too.

And there remains just one opposition to all of this...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Farewell Gordon Brown

So Gordon Brown went to the palace today to tender his resignation and advise the Queen to summon David Cameron.

The details of the last extraordinary 24 hours are still murky, but I understand that the Labour team slowly realised that the LibDems were not really serious about coalition talks, they were merely talking to put pressure on the Conservatives (with good effect). As soon as Gord realised this, he did the proper thing and advised the Queen that he couldn't form a majority and to call Cameron. The LibDems are reported to be "annoyed" by his timing, but they would surely strung everyone out till the end of the week playing one side against the other, the constitution be damned.

Nick Clegg has been on our TV screens practically every day since the election, but Cameron has stayed away. So his speech at Downing Street was the first real view we got of him since the debates. My first thought was that he is nowhere near as fluent a speaker as Clegg. This coalition should be very interesting indeed, as one party in the coalition always obliterates the other. On paper the Cons should obliterate the LibDems - but they've been played like violins by Clegg (who also played us by getting Gord to make his statement yesterday). Clegg is going to be a huge presence in the new government, and may eclipse Cameron.

I feel rather relieved that Labour is not in coalition with the Yellow Peril, we are well out of it. I'm also relieved that the Cons have caved to LibDem demands for a deal for at least three years. The British public always like to give people a fair go, so if Cameron went for another election this autumn, chances are he would win. In three or four years time the novelty will have worn off, and the implications of the Con-Dem'd govt will be clearer and Labour has a good chance of being returned to government.

The Rainbow Coalition

I'm a bit distressed at Brown stepping down. I like our Grumpy Gord, and I was of the school that felt we were better off sitting this hung parliament out in opposition, with Brown as our leader for at least 18 months before we chose a new leader at the optimum time for the next election.

However, it appears that after five days negotiating with the Tories, the LibDems were unable to come to terms and requested formal talks with Labour. I guess we have to step up to the plate however reluctantly; someone's got to be the government. If the Con-Dem'd govt has fallen through, it's either a rainbow coalition or another election in a month's time.

So how would a Rainbow Coalition work? The numbers are eye-wateringly tight. Here's who will be in the coalition:

Labour 258
LibDems 57
SDLP (who are affiliated with Labour) 3
Alliance N.I. (who are affiliated with the LibDems) 1
Sylvia Herman independent N.I. 1
Plaid Cymru 3
Green 1

That gives a total of 332. Labour can comfortably work with all, they are all centre-left. The SNP who have six MPs also want in, and though they set our teeth a little on edge, we could include them as a margin of safety. (It will also look mean excluding them when we are including everyone else).

If this coalition is to be stable, it needs to be truly collegiate.

That means giving some of the small parties minister/junior minister posts to bind them in. I'm particularly keen on giving the SDLP, Alliance and Sylvia Herman junior minister posts - it will delight their constituents. We shouldn't underestimate how badly Northern Ireland wants to be part of the mainstream government after being this thing on the outside of mainstream UK for all of living memory. Including them in govt will do more to normalise N.I. than anything we've attempted before. After all, if we are the United Kingdom, why should bits be excluded permanently from the business of governing the UK?

We could give Caroline Lucas the environment ministry, make Nick Clegg the foreign secretary and Laws the business minister (Mandy can retire at last!).

The difficulty with this coalition is actually the Labour party - I've no doubt that all the other parties will behave beautifully as this is their one and only chance to be part of government. They'll probably stick it out for the full five years if they can.

Not only is Labour reluctant to be part of a coalition, the Labour party in the last three parliaments has been the most rebellious governing party in the UK's democratic history. This tendency to rebel and indulge individualism could be accomodated when we had large majorities, but in a coalition as tight as this one, there needs to be iron discipline.

But what can we do? The Con-Dem program includes such unpalatable things such as cutting the deficit this year, while the economy is still fragile and gerrymandering the number of MPs so that they have a permanent majority. Plus the Cons are a bunch of fruitcakes, so I suppose we have to make the attempt.

The difficulty of sustaining this coalition means we need to elect a Labour leader who is particularly persuasive and can carry the party no matter what. We need an Attlee-type manager. That kind of rules out the more abraisive characters. I'm still plumping for Ed Miliband.

If Labour is reluctant to go into coalition, the Conservatives are the opposite, palpably desperate to do a deal. Within hours of Gord announcing he would step down, they were offering the LibDems a whipped bill through parliament authorising a referendum on AV. This wasn't even in their manifesto and I doubt Cameron even discussed it with his MPs first. I guess his back is to the wall - if he doesn't become Prime Minister, he's for the chop, that's how the Tory party works.

These truly are interesting times

Sunday, May 09, 2010

So will it be a Con-Dem'd government or a Rainbow Coalition?

If you'd told me a week ago that Alex Salmond would be offering to go into coalition with Labour, I'd have disbelieved you. Yet that's just what he's done; offered to go into a rainbow coalition with Labour, and with an admonishment to the LibDems that they should follow suit.

Is he serious and will he follow through? The answer is yes to both - but I suspect like most of us he thinks a Con-Dem'd govt is more likely. So what is the reasoning behind his offer?

He's laying down a marker. He's letting Scottish voters know that he tried everything to prevent a Tory government, and if they get one anyway, it's the LibDems to blame. Plaid Cymru quickly followed, and the DUP made a statement about supporting whoever maintained their block grant (something they got from the Labour government, but which Cameron specifically threatened in his interview with Jeremy Paxman).

The LibDems have 11 seats in Scotland, and all will come into play if they ally themselves with the toxic Tories. They have three seats in Wales, and two seats in the North-East (another place singled out specially for cuts by the Tories), and all these will come into play too.

Basically, the word will go out in England, Scotland and Wales that if you wish to keep the Tories out, voting LibDem is not the way to go.

I have said in previous posts that coalitions are tricky, because one party always obliterates the other. Given the weakness of the LibDem performance in the election, they might be the ones for the chop at the next election, which may be as near as six months away.

Friday, May 07, 2010

The Election Result

Phew! We started off at 10 p.m. last night seriously worried that we might not be able to match Michael Foot's 209 seats. In the event, we appear to have got 258 seats - just 53 seats less than the Tories with one seat yet to declare as of the time of writing this.

Why is Labour so cheerful about this? Well we've done what we set out to do, which is to deprive the Conservatives of a majority.

Without a majority they can't force any legislation through parliament without having the support of others. What this means in practice is that the right-wing parts of their manifesto can be binned right now - and this holds regardless of whether they govern as a minority government or in coalition with the LibDems. They will not be able to sell bits of the BBC to Murdoch, they will not be able to get their IHT cuts through, they will even struggle to take revenge on a north-east that refuses to vote for them.

The right wing part of the Tory agenda is well and truly stuffed. Only the touchy-feely bits will survive - the bits that feel like New Labour! Given how right-wing and unreconstructed the new Tory parliamentary party is, this should be fun to watch.

From a Labour point of view, these events seem astonishing. At the end of the Tory party conference last Oct, ICM had the Cons on 45%, with Lab 26% and LibDems 18% - a 19 point lead for the Conservatives. We had plenty of Tories anticipating a 100+ majority, gloating about landslides and how they'd use power to kebab Labour, and about how they'd wiped Labour out "for a generation".

Then during the contest, we had the LibDems claiming that they would "replace Labour" and push us into third place. That didn't happen either.

The two other parties spent way too much time gloating and yakking about what they'd do with their perceived success and not enough time actually trying to secure it.

Labour is still standing despite no newspaper backing us apart from the Mirror (which did great!), and despite Elvis, bigot-gate, and a hysterical press demonising Brown. I was going to go into an analysis of how we actually achieved this, and then I thought, no, why gives ideas to the Tories and LibDems? Let them carry on just the way they are. Okay, just one hint: we didn't have any MP doing impersonations of Blair, LOL.

P.S. In my neck of the woods, Southampton, we held onto both Southampton Itchen and Southampton Test. Along with Ben Bradshaw's win down Exeter way, it was important as the continued presence in the south means Labour are still the only party with seats in all parts of Great Britain.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Hung Parliament

Today we have news of Cameron putting out feelers to the LibDems, saying that he would consider electoral reform if it meant a coalition with them, and the LibDems saying that they won't enter any coalition with a party in third place in votes (and most polls show Labour in this position).

So we are very likely looking at a Lib-Con coalition, with Labour in opposition. Labour shouldn't be unhappy with this, in democracies you have to lose sometimes after all, and if you do, the best place to be is the main opposition and even better the only opposition.

I'm in Southampton, and we have experience of how a hung council works. In 2007, Labour and the Conservatives got 18 councillors each, and the LibDems got 12 and held the balance of power. The LibDems put the Tories into power. In the 2008 elections, when the govt was deeply unpopular and the national YouGov polls had Labour on 23%, the council went Con 24 councillors, Labour 14 councillors and LibDems 8. Everyone locally expected the Conservative surge, but no-one expected the LibDem collapse. Essentially by siding with the Tories the previous year, they got obliterated. Labour is now the main opposition to the Tories in the council and hopes to regain seats.

If the LibDems go into government with the Conservatives, one party will obliterate the other - this always happens in coalitions (look at Germany, where the SPD and Merkel's CDU were running on the same record, having been part of a grand coalition, but Merkel got all the credit for handling the financial crisis, even though all the work was done by the SPD in the finance ministry).

Conventional wisdom is that the Conservatives will obliterate the LibDems. I'm not so sure. Clegg has achieved rock-star status and is far more popular than Cameron - he looks like a nice Tory without the nastiness, in fact he would have fitted in nicely with MacMillan's government. I think what might happen here is that the LibDems (who are incidently one of the oldest political parties on earth, dating back to 1678) will obliterate the Tories.

If Labour is the only opposition, we will benefit in the same way we benefitted in 1945 for being the only opposition to the national government of the previous 15 years. If you have to lose an election, forming the only opposition is the best way to do it.

BTW, there are some excitable people claiming that the LibDems will "demand" that Brown goes as the price of a coalition and Labour will deliver. You'd think people would have learnt from the last few years, but clearly not. Once again - to change leader of the Labour party requires an election involving three electoral colleges - the membership, the affiliates and the parliamentary MPs. It will take a good three months to organise. Labour cannot change leader in a backroom deal in a couple of days the way the LibDems or Tories can. My guess is that if we lose the election, Brown will remain leader for the rest of the year, and when we do have a leadership election, Ed Miliband will get elected. And I also predict we will not be part of a coalition.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Now new poll threatens Labour

Latest YouGov poll shows LD 33%, Con 32% and Lab 26%. Obviously the LibDems are now starting to eat into the Labour vote.

So what should we do? Nothing. We gain nothing by attacking the LibDems. It would be like attacking Susan Boyle (or like Hague attacking Blair over Diana's funeral - remember that?) We just need to wait it out and see if it blows over.

Suppose there is a hung parliament, what should we do? We should let the LibDems form a govt, possibly in coalition with the Tories. We should stay out of it. This might seem perverse, but just as having the SNP in power in Scotland suddenly revived Labour there, a LibDem govt would help Labour too - especially as the latest YouGov poll indicates the public doesn't really like their policies apart from the reform of the electoral system and their tax policies.

We need to play the role of Stanley Baldwin in 1923. It was a hung parliament and though his Conservatives had the most seats, he declined to form a government and Labour formed the government with Liberal support. The Liberals then brought down the Labour government and Baldwin benefitted - and apart from a brief interlude from Labour in 1929, the Conservatives governed from 1924 to WW2. Baldwin's calculation was that in a Labour coalition with the Liberals, one of the two parties would die, and as opposition he would come back to power. He was right and the Liberals faded for seven decades. [There is other evidence of this happening in coalitions: the grand coalition between the socialists and Merkel's party ended up with Merkel killing the socialists, and Labour's coalition with the LibDems in Scotland ended up with Labour killing the LibDems there.].

If the LibDems and Tories form a coalition, in these trying times, chances are that one of them will die. We need to get out of their way and be the opposition people turn to when it inevitably goes pear-shaped. If Lab go into coalition with popstars like Clegg's LibDems, we will be the ones who get killed

I know this is hard for people who want to fight back. But when there is a popular tsunami of the sort we are seeing, the best thing to do is simply stay out of it's way. Democracy has these flashes of mood and instead of intervening we should allow them to run their course.

The Polls!

It turns out that voters really do judge personality in 5 seconds. Nick Clegg sealed the deal when voters looked into his eyes during his closeup at the start of the debates and decided they liked him. Cameron's eyes are too small (like Kinnock's) and our poor Gord is blind in one eye, legally blind in the other and couldn't locate the camera to look into it in the first place.

The polls since the debate have been stunning:
BPIX CON 31%(-7), LAB 28%(-3), LDEM 32%(+12)
Comres CON 31%(-4), LAB 27%(-2), LDEM 29%(+8)
ICM CON 34%(-3), LAB 29%(-2), LDEM 27%(+7)
YouGov CON 33%(-4), LAB 28%(-3), LDEM 30%(+8)

As recently as Tuesday YouGov had the Tories on 41%, so the implosion has been swift.

What happens now? Furious tactical voting. In Lab-Lib marginals, the Tories will be voting LibDem. In Lib-Con marginals, Labour will be voting LibDem. Lab-Con marginals could go either way as the LibDem voters decide who they'd rather have.

Whatever happens we shall have a hung parliament, and I predict a second general election this year, possibly after the referendum on electoral reform delivers it's results.

All this has come about because David Cameron challenged Gordon Brown to a debate. The Tories didn't think Brown would accept, they only challenged Gord so they could set him up to be labelled "bottler" or "chicken", chortle chortle. Gordon took the risk and said yes knowing that he wouldn't win and that he could be made a fool of, but also knowing that Cameron's appearances hitherto were all controlled set pieces and there was no saying what would happen if he had to go 90 minutes in a debate. Gord was sacrificing himself and risking humiliation for the good of the party.

Cameron then foolishly bigged himself up - on Tuesday, just two days before the debate, his handlers were feeding the line to the Guardian that Cameron's new manifesto was a "JFK moment" and the Guardian duly headlined with it. If Cameron is JFK, Gord must be Nixon, geddit, chortle, chortle. What a childish bunch of tossers they are at CCHQ.

The thing is even JFK didn't bill himself as anything special before the debate - the impact of his debate against Nixon was largely down to how he surprised the audience. Cameron's achilles heel is his collosal vanity. Viewers looked at him and thought "You are no JFK" and then looked at Clegg and thought "I like you, maybe you are". And the Tory lead collapsed, just like that.

Some Tories have been complaining that Cameron shouldn't have agreed to let the LibDems into the debate, but he could hardly refuse now that they have a substantial amount of MPs, and in any case, if he was as good as he thought, he'd have seen Clegg off.

Lots of people have been remarking how cheerful Labourites have been at the LibDem surge. The truth is that though we disagree with them very seriously on lots of policies, the cold hand of fear doesn't choke us when we think of them taking office. We think a LibDem govt would try to govern for the whole country (the way we have these last 13 years - people in Tory and LibDem constituencies prospered as much as people in Labour constituencies). We also don't believe they would vindictively try to hurt Labour voters just for kicks.

In a democracy no party can govern forever, but you always hope to hand over to people with some decency. And that was the case till 1979. Everything changed then. Labour voters were systematically singled out, make jobless, their families impoverished, their self-esteem shredded, just because some Tory boys in the Thatcher government thought it was amusing.

The changes Cameron wrought were largely cosmetic, the nasty core of the Tory culture remained intact - witness Osborne's glee at the idea of making public sector workers pay for the mistakes of his banker friends. It's no wonder that the Tory lead started to slip at around the time of the Tory conference when they started to take power for granted and the mask slipped.

That's the reason Labour has been fighting the Tories so hard. It's too dangerous to let them back into government while the vicious side of their culture goes unchecked. They'll have to return to the culture of Macmillan for real before they are let back into government.

If Labour has stopped the Tories from taking govt, we have achieved our goal, regardless of what happens to us. Gord can be content that his suicide bomb mission in agreeing to the debates paid off. As for the LibDems, I wish them luck. I certainly hope that Labour voters in Tory constituencies switch their vote en masse to help remove Tory MPs.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The first TV debate

It's been interesting reading responses to the TV debates, I can't help feeling we were all watching something different (but then we all bring our own biases to the event however much we try to be objective).

Anyway, here's my take. I thought Clegg was seriously good at the opening speech, he looked directly at the camera and the camera seemed to get closer, allowing his head and shoulders to fill the screen - and it helps that he's very good-looking. Our Gord by contrast approached the opening like a speech, looking at the different parts of the audience, but this didn't work on TV, he appeared to be looking away to his left. "Oh no", I said, "Gord's blown it". "Wait", said my other half, "you can't judge within five seconds". Then he said, "I don't like Clegg". "Why?", I said, "he's doing well." "Don't know", he said, "stop talking over the debate".

Then to my relief, Gord did improve substantially. The cameras moved back a little while the debate proceeded so it didn't matter so much that he couldn't see where they were. I thought he was really good on the need to keep support for the economy going. His best asset was his voice. It's nice and low and rumbly and reassuring. He was also best when he had his grumpy face on.

Cameron was, well, Cameron. He kept mentioning his dead son over and over, and it started to grate. And he did the "I once met a black man" thing that Tories used to do in the 1990's, but which we thought they'd all grown out of (clearly not). I thought he struggled with the questions - all the questions from the audience were on the lines of "why arn't you spending more on the police/education/elderly who need nursing/the troops". They were clearly demanding more, whether they realised it or not. It meant that Cameron struggled because he appeared to be promising to deliver it all without any money and while cutting tax.

Nick Clegg started to lose the plot halfway through - he waffled, came across juvenile and a little patronising. "Cocky", said my other half. I had to agree - you wouldn't make him prime minister no matter how much you liked him. He also went on about Trident too much, irritating my other half; "Of course we can afford a bomb over 25 years". Now he had something substantial to pin his dislike of Clegg on.

Then we went online to see what everyone was saying and found to our surprise that it had been called for Clegg.

I'm not sure. I think women would have liked him but men would have found him irritating (based on my sample at home). Brown exceeded expectations and improved as things went on. Cameron was bland and evasive; if you liked him before you wouldn't have minded, if you disliked him before, this would have been reinforced. He was no JFK though (and i note he seems unable to curb his vain streak; giant Kim-Jong-il-type posters of himself, imagining himself to be Kennedy, this kind of self-importance doesn't play with the British electorate).

It will be interesting to see what the opinion polls make of it in a day or so. Labour's 31/32% support in current polls is from people who are sticking with the party despite the massive personal attacks on Brown these last three years. So I'm not expecting that to change much (especially as Brown's performance was better than normal). Many potential Tory voters though actually bought the Dave-is-the-new-JFK thing, and they will have been surprised to find he is not.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A few facts about Unite

Tories appear to be thrilled that BA has pulled out of talks with Unite, which means a three-day strike will go ahead. They are in full cry against Unite, convinced it's just like 1979 and bashing the unions will mean they soar in the polls again.

However, it's 2010 and some things are different. For instance, in 1979, most union members voted Labour. That's decidedly not the case now.

Populus did a poll of Unite members between 10th March 2010 and 16th March 2010 [update: that should have said 2009 - but the rough proportions should be correct, give or take a few percent, the point is that only about a third of Unite people vote Labour]. Here's the voting intention:

Con 31%
Lab 34%
Lib 19%
SNP 6%
PC 1%
other 9%

And 79% of Unite members said they were either very satisfied or reasonably satisfied with how Unite represented their interests (amongst the Tory Unite members, this was 74%).

Tory union bashers should ask themselves why Tory and LibDem voters have voted in favour of this strike: and the answer is that they have a predatory employer, they don't want a pay cut and they are frightened. These union members are also taxpayers who helped bail out the Tory bankers (many of whom are now trying to become Tory MPs).

The smart thing to do would have been not to politicise the dispute - after all it is taking place in the private sector. All aristocrats like Cameron prove when they attack them is that they are out of touch with people who work.

The 31% Tory Unite members on the receiving end of the Tory venom (probably for the first time in their lives) will also be rethinking their vote. Nobody likes being singled out and attacked by a political party when all you are doing is legally defending your job.

As the Tories found when the Sun endorsed them last autumn and they promptly plummeted in the polls, this is not 1979. Heroes of that era such as Murdoch, are now villains. Villains of that era such as union workers, are now weary taxpayers who are bailing out the bankers, while trying to defend their pay and prospects against demands made on the management by those very same bankers in the City (who then rewarded themselves tax-payer funded bonuses).

Update 22nd Mar 2010. Latest YouGov poll shows:

Con 36% (38%)
Lab 32% (31%)
Lib 20% (19%)

The figures in brackets show the YouGov figures from 19th March, just before the strike. Look at the direction of travel. And no wonder - the Tories went straight from defending Ashcroft's tax evasion to attacking taxpayers earning considerably less, some of whom had been intending to vote for them just a few weeks ago.

When Thatcher attacked the unions in 1979, it was risk-free for her as she knew union members didn't vote for her in anycase. The situation is completely different now. If Tories can't even recognise what century we're in, let alone how different things are now compared to 30+ years ago, they arn't fit for governing.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Weighing into this poll weighting controversy

The latest YouGov poll shows Labour at 34%, just three points behind the Tories on 37%. But how believable is this? I must admit to doing a double-take when I saw the figures. So I did what I haven't done for some time - I actually went to the YouGov site to look at their tables.

The tables for the latest poll arn't up, but yesterdays (which had Con 37%, Lab 32%) was there.

YouGov weight by newspaper affiliation, and here's how the data looked for yesterday's poll:

Newspaper Type Uneighted Weighted
Express / Mail 370 236
Sun / Star 204 323
Mirror / Record 140 235
Guardian / Independent 128 59
FT / Times / Telegraph 173 140
Other Paper 181 184
No Paper 275 294

And here's what the Guardian reports daily newspaper circulation to be:

Express/Mail 2,790,884 (677,750 + 2,113,134)
Sun/Star 3,647,893 (2,862,935 + 784,958)
Mirror/Record 1,540,255 (1,225,502 + 314,753)
Guardian/Independent 487,480 (300,540 + 186,940)
FT(UK)/Times/Telegraph 1,314,825 (115,447 + 521,535 + 703,249)

Looking at the above, YouGov are right to scale down their Guardian/Independent respondants sharply. The problem seems to be in the tabloid section. They are not getting many raw Sun/Star readers, and getting way too many Express/Mail readers. And it's hard to work out why they've weighted the Mirror up.

I guess this is the problem with online polling. The types of people who read the Sun and Mirror will be construction workers, plumbers, front line people who can't log onto the net during work hours, and who probably can't be bothered to go online when they get home either, especially if there is sport or soaps on TV (or the pub to go to). In addition, you get activists such as BNP types who organise to sign up to all the online polling units - and they probably give their political affiliation as Labour, to tie in with their line, "I used to vote Labour, but..." Hence the reason YouGov ask them what newspaper they read (it's less likely they will fake that, and this may account for the number of Express/Mail respondants in the unweighted figures). You can see why YouGov are having a mare and weighting their respondants to correct for this.

My hunch (and that's all it is), is that the telephone pollsters will be more accurate, as these biases simply won't occur for them. But we shant find out till the general election. Labourites should assume that there is still a ton of work to do, and should not relax till the telephone pollsters show us closing the gap.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

The Change Election was 2005

Voters have a eight-year tolerance for prime ministers. Any longer than that, and they get restive and fretful. We saw that in the run-up to the 2005 election, where large amounts of left-of-centre people were fed-up with Blair and his zeal to get us involved in wars that had nothing to do with us.

Luckily for Labour, Blair announced unprompted in late 2004 that he was standing down in the next parliament. So voters knew they'd be getting a new Prime Minister. And Labour was careful to show Blair and Brown together throughout the 2005 campaign. We were as open as possible with the voters in letting them know who would succeed Blair. So the voters knew they were getting a change - the question was which change they wanted - a change to Brown or a change to Howard. They chose Brown and Labour.

Roll on to 2010, and the Tories are campaigning on Vote for a Change, and have been careful to let us know that there will be Swinging Austerity ahead if they win. In other words, if you vote Tory, you will be voting for A Change for the Worse. Only voters don't want any change at all, let along a change for the worse. What they want is things to go back to how they were in 2007. Given that 2007 was Gord's glad morning, large amounts of people think he's the one who knows how to restore that moment - hence the tightening in the polls.

Monday, February 08, 2010

House prices and the Labour vote

Even the most hardened anti-Labour activists have noticed that Labour has been recovering slowly but surely in the polls. YouGov put us at 24% just before the Labour party conference in September 2009. The latest YouGov poll showed Labour at 31%. That's a shift of some 7 points in six months. Muttering "it's within the margin of error" each time there is a poll doesn't magic away the trend.

So what has caused the move? David Cameron has undoubtedly helped - Cameron's airbrushed vanity plus his evasiveness and flip-flopping have made people nervous about him. The economy recovered slightly in the fourth quarter of 2009 and unemployment has stabalised at 2.45 million. At 7.8% of the workforce, it's roughly where it was when Labour came to power in 1997.

Tories seize on these facts to "prove" that the recovery won't mean a Labour win. Even with unemployment as "low", in Tory terms at least, as 7.8%, and an economy that had been growing for four years, John Major still lost the 1997 election.

This overlooks the fact that voters vote based on how the economy is affecting them, they arn't really swayed by headline figures in the newspapers. GDP growth means nothing. But "my house price has risen and I'm in a job" means something.

There are some 40 million people eligible to vote in the UK, and between 25 million and 30 million actually do. There are also 14.5 million homeowners in England alone, and therefore house prices have the biggest impact on voters, far more than anecdotes about what is happening to other people, or unemployment which affects a smaller percentage of the electorate.

The Labour government has taken a completely different approach to recession than the previous Conservative government. Norman Lamont and co made policy on the grounds that "if it's not hurting it's not working"; their goal was to hurt as many people as possible to wring the inflation that the Lawson boom had caused, out of the system. By contrast the 2008/9 global recession took place in a deflationary environment, and the Labour government's mantra was "we must avoid hurting people, pain impedes the recovery". To this end, all sorts of measures were taken. The bank bailout, and the stimulus are the things most people remember. But there were also a lot of small policies designed to mitigate the effects of the recession on the individual.

For instance, prior to the recession, you only got help with the interest portion of your mortgage if you had been unemployed for 39 weeks. This was promptly changed to 13 weeks. The government decided that it was cheaper to help people stay in their houses than to have to house them elsewhere with full housing benefit. It had a knock-on effect that it put a kibosh on the forced selling of homes that contributes to house price crashes. Trade unions played their part too, arguing for pay-freezes in return for no redundancies - and they found employers willing to listen; they too had memories of the early 90's recession where they made people redundant at great expense and then found themselves having to hire the same people back during the recovery.

And when it finally twigged at the Bank of England that this was a serious crisis, they cut interest rates aggressively, which meant that many of the people who were struggling to meet their mortgage in early 2008 found themselves able to breathe a sigh of relief. Home owners further used the drop in interest rates to overpay their mortgages. The Bank of England reports that mortgage debt fell by £7bn in Q1 2009, £7 bn in Q2 2009 and £4.9bn in Q3 2009. The more people pay down their debt, the less vulnerable they become to forced selling, and the less likely a full blown housing crash becomes.

The sum result of all of the above is that the Halifax reports that house prices have now risen for 7 consecutive months. The average house price according to the Halifax is around £169,777, which is down 15% from it's all-time peak in 2007. Importantly, the trend is up.

This is all in sharp contrast to the situation in 1997. Back in July 2006, I wrote a long post arguing that it wasn't sleeze that did in John Major's government, it was house prices. To illustrate my point, I posted price changes in London between the peak of 1988, and 1995. A full seven years after the peak, house prices were still in the doldrums. In fact house prices didn't recover their 1988 levels till 1999 - two years into a Labour government, whose decision to make the Bank of England independent restored confidence to the housing market.

Just to underline the difference, I'm going to repost the figures:

Average Price

          1988            1995                     
E1 £111,855 £ 72,010 -36% Steepney
E2 £ 80,658 £ 70,133 -13% Bethnal green
E3 £ 88,481 £ 86,269 -2% Bow
E4 £ 89,347 £ 77,110 -14% Chingford
E5 £ 79,244 £ 67,454 -15% Clapton
E6 £ 71,728 £ 51,666 -28% East Ham
E7 £ 69,497 £ 51,441 -26% Forest gate
E8 £ 96,424 £ 65,137 -32% Hackney
E9 £ 79,834 £ 65,071 -18% Homerton
E10 £ 64,831 £ 51,960 -20% Leyton
E11 £ 74,805 £ 66,005 -12% Leystone
E12 £ 72,743 £ 60,835 -16% Manor Park
E13 £ 63,935 £ 45,875 -28% Plalstow
E14 £121,729 £ 76,965 -37% Poplar
E15 £ 66,949 £ 47,655 -29% Stratford
E16 £ 71,207 £ 44,701 -37% North Woolich
E17 £ 66,885 £ 56,229 -16% Walthmanstow
E18 £ 89,053 £ 74,760 -16% Woodforrd
SE1 £ 84,712 £ 86,777 2% Southwark
SE2 £ 60,705 £ 51,552 -15% Abbey wook
SE3 £110,009 £ 91,978 -16% Blackheath
SE4 £ 71,175 £ 58,508 -18% Brockerly
SE5 £ 91,696 £ 95,027 4% Camberwell
SE6 £ 73,931 £ 63,182 -15% Catfrod
SE7 £ 72,669 £ 69,859 -4% Charlton
SE8 £ 70,171 £ 56,656 -19% Depford
SE9 £ 88,586 £ 72,842 -18% Eltham
SE10 £109,023 £ 90,617 -17% Greenwich
SE11 £107,695 £ 89,279 -17% Kenington
SE12 £ 78,779 £ 70,014 -11% Lee
SE13 £ 71,095 £ 61,565 -13% Lewisham
SE14 £ 75,195 £ 56,585 -25% New Cross
SE15 £ 74,480 £ 57,896 -22% Peckham
SE16 £ 90,481 £ 77,725 -14% Rotherhyde
SE17 £ 81,681 £ 66,449 -19% Walworth
SE18 £ 64,781 £ 53,108 -18% Woolwich
SE19 £ 71,505 £ 59,180 -17% Norwood
SE20 £ 65,283 £ 57,741 -12% Anerly
SE21 £ 88,365 £113,095 28% Dulwich
SE22 £ 74,459 £ 72,835 -2% East Dulwich
SE23 £ 74,539 £ 65,878 -12% Forest Hill
SE24 £ 91,261 £107,809 18% Herne Hill
SE25 £ 66,173 £ 52,403 -21% South Norwood
SE26 £ 72,065 £ 59,202 -18% Sydenham
SE27 £ 74,806 £ 64,903 -13% West Norwood
SE28 £ 59,946 £ 41,740 -30% Thamesmead
SW1 £155,444 £143,949 -7% Pimlico
SW2 £ 73,355 £ 75,317 3% Brixton
SW3 £179,108 £286,283 60% Chelsea
SW4 £104,969 £101,298 -3% Clapham
SW5 £123,264 £150,934 22% Earls Court
SW6 £125,794 £154,992 23% Fulham
SW7 £202,467 £309,205 53% South Kensington
SW8 £ 79,711 £ 75,780 -5% South Lambeth
SW9 £ 79,461 £ 78,125 -2% Stockwell
SW10 £138,141 £149,483 8% West Brompton
SW11 £112,650 £122,419 9% Battersea
SW12 £ 94,880 £101,541 7% Balhan
SW13 £151,440 £213,998 41% Barns
SW14 £145,167 £160,891 11% Mortlake
SW15 £116,233 £133,784 15% Putney
SW16 £ 78,829 £ 71,502 -9% Streatham
SW17 £ 78,376 £ 81,292 4% Tooting
SW18 £ 99,452 £ 93,966 -6% Wandwoth
SW19 £ 94,504 £104,880 11% Wimbledon
SW20 £119,287 £123,355 3% West Wimbledon
W1 £186,261 £160,324 -14% West End
W2 £141,258 £137,045 -3% Bayswater
W3 £ 99,658 £ 92,276 -7% Acton
W4 £112,954 £141,164 25% Chiswick
W5 £119,393 £104,85 -12% Ealing
W6 £113,409 £106,397 -6% Hammersmith
W7 £ 86,619 £ 82,690 -5% Hanwell
W8 £178,362 £252,656 42% Kensington
W9 £113,235 £129,276 14% Maida Hill
W10 £ 99,949 £102,227 2% North Kensington
W11 £147,168 £202,748 38% Notting Hill
W12 £ 96,080 £107,936 12% Shepards Bush
W13 £104,843 £108,235 3% West Ealing
W14 £103,523 £115,983 12% West Kensington
NW1 £128,027 £118,038 -8% Camden
NW2 £ 94,768 £ 82,839 -13% Criklewood
NW3 £136,916 £162,687 19% Hampstead
NW4 £112,462 £ 97,307 -13% Hendon
NW5 £111,719 £137,997 24% Kenish Town
NW6 £103,487 £100,780 -3% Kilbourn
NW7 £114,286 £ 91,416 -20% Mill Hill
NW8 £130,556 £164,265 26% St Johns Wood
NW9 £ 90,753 £ 73,471 -19% The Hyde
NW10 £ 81,750 £ 69,790 -15% Willesdon
NW11 £152,377 £144,263 -5% Golders Green
N1 £126,169 £118,018 -6% Islington
N2 £115,475 £130,491 13% East Finchley
N3 £113,428 £109,560 -3% Finchley
N4 £ 83,772 £ 86,198 3% Finsbury Park
N5 £116,772 £109,871 -6% Highbury
N6 £128,605 £169,553 32% Highgate
N7 £ 97,678 £ 86,880 -11% Holloway
N8 £ 92,203 £101,196 10% Hornsey
N9 £ 75,355 £ 58,552 -22% Edmonton
N10 £108,290 £106,685 -1% Muswell Hill
N11 £ 89,087 £ 80,152 -10% New Southgate
N12 £104,052 £ 95,928 -8% North Finchley
N13 £ 92,338 £ 70,766 -23% Palmer green
N14 £131,327 £112,201 -15% Southgate
N15 £ 73,075 £ 55,931 -23% South Tooting
N16 £ 82,812 £ 81,106 -2% Stoke Newington
N17 £ 72,228 £ 54,282 -25% Tottenham
N18 £ 78,221 £ 56,145 -28% Upper Edmonton
N19 £102,708 £ 98,869 -4% Upper Holloway
N20 £130,108 £117,172 -10% Whetstone
N21 £127,239 £114,728 -10% Winchmore Hill
N22 £ 80,880 £ 72,934 -10% Wood Green

Staggering, isn't it? That's the reason the Conservatives lost the 1997 election. Nearly nine years after the housing peak, house prices were in the doldrums, affecting most homeowners in the land - a vast number of people, and after all that time people simply lost patience and thumped the Conservatives in the general election as hard as they could. It wasn't just that the Conservatives lost a lot of people a lot of money (which is pretty bad). They caused social grief too. Loads of unmarried couples had been encouraged by Nigel Lawson to buy properties together to take advantage of double mortgage tax relief - when they split up they found they couldn't sell, and had to endure the hell of co-habiting with an ex. People who had started families in small flats found they couldn't trade up, had to endure the pressure of bringing up small children in very cramped conditions. The Major years record the highest divorce rates ever, as the pain gleefully unleashed by Lamont and co, tore families apart.

By contrast, the Labour government's more protective family-centric policies are holding people and the economy together.

If you are wondering why Labour has been rising in the polls these last six months, look to the similar rise in house prices in the last seven months. People who don't own property tend to be dismissive about property value. You have to live somewhere, they say, why the obsession with price. But most people who own property are long-term dwellers. They have no intention of moving. But they like the idea that they have the option of moving if they need to. And nobody likes the idea of taking losses, even if they are paper ones.

If the economy continues to recover, and houseprices continue to recover, then there is the possibility that Labour can make the final push to the 35% of the the vote that we need to win. If we can stage a full recovery just three years after the peak, we deserve victory. The Tories can do what they've been trying to do all last year - talk the economy down in the hopes of panicking people and inducing a crash. But they failed at this doom-mongering when the economic danger was most acute. Things will get more difficult for them from now on.