Wednesday, December 19, 2007

So the Lib Dems have elected Nick Clegg...

Clegg's election is probably a good thing for the Lib Dems. He's a palpably nice man in a way Chris Huhne is not and the Lib Dems have always marketed themselves as the "nice" party (indeed they started slipping in the polls when they displayed "not-nice" behaviour - knifing Charlie Kennedy and not standing up for the chilly but elderly Ming).

It's perfectly true that Clegg is a bit waffly, but I'm not sure this matters. Charlie Kennedy was also waffly and poor at party organisation, but he led them to their best performance for about eighty years. The public know that the LibDems won't form the government, so they don't pay much attention to LibDem policies, let alone whether their leader can explain them. Instead they look at the leader and ask whether he is a decent bloke that they can trust with their protest/tactical vote. Likeability matters more than anything for libDem leaders.

Clegg should help the Lib-Dems in LibDem/Tory marginals - Labour tactical voters in these seats will prefer the nice and genuinely good-looking Clegg to the balding and bullying Cameron. Both are public school men, and Labour voters will go for the least nasty one - Clegg in this instance.

Labour/Conservative marginals should be interesting too. In 2005 we had the interesting phenomenon of Tories winning seats off Labour without increasing their share of the vote, simply because some of the Labour vote switched to LibDem. And in other seats, Labour MPs saw their majority slashed for the same reason. These Labour switchers thought that Charlie Kennedy was a good bloke, a man of the people, whom they preferred to Blair whom they saw as increasing elitist and arrogant, particularly on the issue of Iraq. In a sense, these Labour voters felt that Kennedy was to the left of Labour and were comfortable voting for him. Clegg however nice, is not "the common man" in the way Kennedy was. Given the choice between earthy Labour (as it is in it's present incarnation) and the "posh" Clegg, these people should return to Labour, particularly as we are steadily withdrawing from Iraq and are unlikely to get involved in any new foreign adventures in the forseeable future. Labour should really work these marginals hard - there is all to play for.

I note with some amusement Tories trying to dismiss Clegg as a "Cameron clone" as though Cameron was some sort of original! But of course both Cameron and Clegg have modelled themselves on Tony Blair, who has turned into the John F Kennedy of European politics, influencing not only British oppposition parties but European politics too, with politicians from France to Sweden modelling themselves on him. (and in a sense if Kennedy had lived he would have faced Blair-like consequences in Vietnam). Clegg however comes closer to capturing the early "bambi" Blair than Cameron whose facade has slipped to exhibit his true personality which is nastier and altogether more off-putting. This will have implications in southern seats with a particular strand of "nice" middle class voters. Clegg out-nices Cameron by a mile.


Praguetory said...

" Labour tactical voters in these seats will prefer the nice and genuinely good-looking Clegg to the balding and bullying Cameron. "

Is this political commentary of chick-lit?

Political Umpire said...

"particularly as we are steadily withdrawing from Iraq and are unlikely to get involved in any new foreign adventures in the forseeable future."

Is this a reason to be pleased with Labour?

I believe in the following three points:

1. The invasion of Iraq was wrong.

2. Britain was just as culpable as America in the lack of planning for running Iraq post-invasion.

3. Whether the war was just or not, having invaded Britain and America assumed a duty to the Iraqi people to stabilise the country and leave it as a governable place, not a militia-run third world hellhole.

The lack of planning caused utter chaos. Four years on, however, America has finally faced up to its failings and, through the surge, pacified some areas previously thought long gone (Fallujah, Anbar Province in general, parts of Baghdad). Meanwhile Britain admitted that most of the violence in Basra was against its troops and withdrew to the airbase. This left the militia in charge of the place, not the Iraqi army, whatever fluff appears from Whitehall to the contrary. The militia know Britain is on the way out, and can bide their time before really stepping things up.

Admittedly years of overcommitting the forces without adequate funding and other resources meant that Britain probably wasn't able to mount a surge against the insurgency even had it wanted to.

But we are now leaving the citizens of Basra terribly vulnerable to the rule of the mob, and stories are coming out by the day of the abuse of women by hard line Islamic militia. It will only get worse - unless America's success continues and enables them to send some resources to sort out Basra as well.

Either way: Britain went in, failed in its mission and is now withdrawing, showing itself incapable of any other major commitment for years to come. Thus it failed the Iraqi people, and failed its ally the US by leaving them to clear up the mess. Not much reason to vote Labour.

Meanwhile it is true that we are "unlikely to get involved in any new foreign adventures in the forseeable future", but it's equally true that we are committed to Afghanistan for the forseeable future and, if we don't want it to end the same way as Iraq, we will have to increase the commitment accordingly - probably by sending those troops who've just come home from Iraq.

snowflake5 said...

Political Umpire - I agree that the Iraq war was wrong.

I disagree that Britain was as much to blame as America for the post-war planning. You overestimate our influence. Read Alistair Campbell's diaries to get an idea just how difficult it is to persuade the Americans to do anything - and this was as true with Bill Clinton in Kosovo as with Bush in Iraq.

Regarding Basra, it's a Shia area, and the Shia had elections and the new elected officials have to exert authority in their state. Part of the reason they avoidung hard choices and not confronting the militias is because they feel they can off-load hard decisions on the coalition, and hide behind them when things go wrong. This molly-coddling doesn't do anyone any good.

Re our commitments overseas - I agree we can't afford to do as many wars. And I agree that Afghanistan is the more important war. We are withdrawing troops from Iraq to concentrate on Afghanistan.

You praise the Americans for what they are doing in Iraq, but neglect to mention that the Americans were only able to increase troops in Iraq by withdrawing troops from Afghanistan - if they can't cope with two wars, what makes you think we can?

I know the armchair generals everywhere are upset by Imperial Loss of Face - but these same people will resist paying more tax to support this sort of Imperial Grandstanding. The truth is that we are simply a medium European country, comfortably off, but not yet rich enough to grandstand around the world. The trouble was that Blair rather saw himself as "president of the world" and persuaded himself that the costs would be neglible, but it's not turned out that way.

I think you'll find that the Tories will shy away from any new foreign adventures too. Thatcher was an abberation. John Major's govt for instance, was very reluctant to get involved in Bosnia. The mood in Britain at the moment is very against all foreign adventures.

Political Umpire said...

Hi Snowflake,

The tories carry the blame for the war as well as they voted for it (I don't support any particular party, incidentally, and bemoan the loss of the days when an MP was the local worthy whose job was to represent his constituents in Westminster, not a professional politician beholden to the party whip, devoid of experience of life outside politics, and who regards constituents as a means to an end).

But the failure of post war planning is that of the government of the day. I agree that the UK had no influence over the Americans in that respect, but they were still responsible for the area they were allocated, namely Basra and surrounds.

Word around the campfire has it that the relevant department virtually went on strike over the affair, being still headed by Clare Short who had opposed the war (but kept her ministerial salary anyway).

I agree that the Iraqis have to take responsibility themselves, but equally I think the British intervention has simply produced the sort of conditions in which the most violent militia thrive. If anything Basra should have been an easier task than many other parts of the country because of its relative religious homogenity. But the British were too complacent, and unprepared for Iran's influence in the area.

The result is that religious thugs now rule the roost where Saddam's thugs used to, which may be a net loss for the Iraqis. The US are unimpressed by Britain's withdrawal which rather undermines the reason for war - to support the USA - though as you say that might be offset somewhat if Britain's commitment to Afghanistan continues.

The other way in which the government has been criminally negligent is in funding for the armed forces. If they thought the taxpayer wouldn't wear it they shouldn't have gotten involved in the first place. Instead they sent squaddies off with vehicles barely adequate for Northern Ireland, never mind the known threats of RPGs and roadside bombs (the Americans too were caught out, though not to the same extent). And all the while traditional British regiments - the core of the British army - have had their numbers cut.

The sad thing is that this was all so predictable, and indeed was predicted by the likes of Swarzkopf and Cheny when defending the reasons why they didn't go to Bagdhad in 1991. Irony is that they had an army of an appropriate size in the field then, instead of the far too few troops in 2003, and Iraq's infrastructure was better too, meaning there wouldn't have been the same degree of economic chaos.

The fact that no further foreign adventures will be undertaken by any one is a given, since the forces are far too overstretched with existing commitments anyway. Here's hoping there won't be another Falklands equivalent ...

America could easily cope with two wars if it went back to its 1990 army size, never mind if it went on to a war footing as it did in WWII. It's just that the taxpayer and voters won't have it, as they won't here. All the more reason not to start unnecessary conflicts then ...

Thanks for an interesting discussion. Merry Xmas too!

jams o donnell said...

Here's wishing you a merry Christmas Snowflake

Anonymous said...

Dear Snowflake, this morning I've been asking the posters on whether there's an economic case for re-visiting the debate for Britain's entry into the euro and I wondered what your views were on this?

snowflake5 said...

henryg - sorry for the delay in replying, have only just found the time to check my comments (new years resolution is to make sure I find more time for this blog, and I'm behind already!). I'm going to have to think a bit on the euro question, and maybe do a full blog post on it.