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.