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.