Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Labour made some strategic wins in 2011

In the political sections of the press it's wall-to-wall articles and editorials about how Ed Miliband needs to be toppled from the Labour leadership. Newsnight even headlined a "Should Ed go" feature on the night before the Feltham and Heston by-election. Luckily the voters ignored them and returned a Labour MP with a bigger majority and a healthy share of the vote.

Why all the wall-to-wall shrillness from the press? It's simple; none of them backed Ed Miliband for the Labour leadership, and they are terrified of the prospect of a potential Prime Minister who owes them nothing. What happened to the NOTW only serves to reinforce this terror. Ed Miliband was free to go on the attack precisely because he owed them nothing - and it's something his brother would not have been able to pull off.

Most newspapers are not profitable (with the notable exception of the Daily Mail). Instead they are vanity projects for their owners - the Barclays and Desmonds and Murdochs of this world take losses on various print titles but believe this is an "investment" because they get to influence the government of the day, which in turn has a beneficial effect on their other non-press business interests. If they lose influence, then what's the point of pouring all this money down a black hole?

So their agenda is always to try to ensure that all the main parties owe them something.

When the Tories in the heady excitement of their very first one-member-one-vote election in three centuries chose IDS, Fleet Street was horrified. He was not their man and they despatched him in the usual way - they made up a false smear against his wife, got some useful idiots in the Conservatives to get worked up about it, and forced him out. His replacement Michael Howard did no better than IDS in the 2005 election, so the Conservatives gained nothing from dethroning an elected leader - but Fleet Street was delighted - Howard owed them allegiance, and that was all that counted.

Labour should remember that when the press starts shrieking about EdM. The press cares even less about us than it does about the Tories.

Time is on our side, the power of the press is waning. The lack of influence of the Newsnight broadcast just before the Feltham and Heston by-election is one indicator. The 2010 general election is another indicator: the entire right-wing press backed Cameron, and the Guardian and Independent backed the LibDems - and yet the Tories failed to win the general election, and the LibDems couldn't even match Charlie Kennedy's tipsy 2005 performance and lost seats.

The press are screaming into the wind with ever greater force - but the voters are not listening to them. Indeed the only part of the electorate that is paying attention are the elderly, and that's mainly because they have time on their hands and try to fill it watching the news channels and reading newspapers. And for the moment that's where the Tory support comes from.

The Labour party should take the demise of the NOTW as a massive strategic victory this year. A big part of the 4 million NOTW readers have not shifted to the other papers - they simply stopped reading a Sunday paper and have gone shopping or to a footie match instead. That's several million people not getting their minds poisoned on Sundays then.

Going into 2012, capitalism is our friend in this instance. Businesses are being very careful about their budgets and scatter gun advertising in the print media yields a much lower return on investment than targeted advertising on the search engines for terms like "pyjamas" or "watches" or whatever it is you are selling. So the advertising revenue streams of the newspapers will be under even more intense pressure, and at some point their owners will need to decide whether it is really worth keeping them going. With any luck we should see another paper bite the dust (no need to mourn the loss, journalists are on the record about what a paradise life on benefits is and how they long to appreciate it's charms).

When happens when the shrill make-stuff-up mafia print press shrivels? Well broadcast press is regulated, and the newspapers who ply an honest trade and don't make their stories up have a small readership, so politics then shifts to the ground war, old-fashioned door knocking, leafleting and talking to people face to face. And Labour is good at the ground war. The Tories like to talk a lot about work but they don't actually like doing it. Their local associations are amongst the laziest in the western world. Going into 2012 this should help us - we will continue to win where it matters in local and by-elections - at the ballot box.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Americans have moved on already - for them, the challenge to their vision is Berlin

The British papers are understandably obsessed with Cameron's EU veto, with the right-wing press thrilled, the LibDem press (BBC, Guardian and Indie) appalled and the financial press (FT and Economist) deeply concerned. (Labour's sole media representative, the Mirror, has ignored the EU crisis entirely and focused on X-Factor and Tories-in-a-Nazi-themed-stag-party-scandal!).

The Americans however have moved smartly on. For them it's all about Germany v the USA - Germany and US in Tactical fight, says the NYTimes.

According to the American version of events, Obama has prevented global financial meltdown by putting in a huge stimulus and empowering the Fed to print money and fire fight wherever it sees necessity, and they feel Merkel is putting the whole thing in jeopardy by trying to impose austerity on the EU.

They even accuse the Germans of wanting financial instability because it plays into their hands:

The Germans, for their part, seem almost to welcome the collapse of market confidence: without the rising pressure from markets, Silvio Berlusconi would not have resigned as prime minister of Italy. And without the incentive of fear, most European partners would have been more reluctant to give Brussels oversight authority over national budgets — and the right to impose sanctions for violators.

“The Germans had a strategic insight or advantage to let the crisis get to the threshold within the European Union necessary for France to be willing to hand over the kind of sovereignty the country has always resisted,” said Jacob Funk Kirkegaard of the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “You could say that the crisis has either been the wake-up call or the tool that Germany has used to beat them into submission.”

Obama sent his Treasury secretary Tim Geithner to Brussels ahead of the summit - and it's known he tried to contact Cameron too, but Cameron missed the call (or dodged it?)

The Reagan and Bush I administrations used close ties with the Tories to influence European policy, and the Clinton and Bush II administrations used close ties with Labour to do the same, (and Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State in Obama's administration had a very close relationship with David Miliband in Brown's administration).

But the Americans have no relationship at all with either Cameron's Tories or Clegg's LibDems. Further, by removing himself from the EU theatre, Cameron has removed himself as a useful friend to the Americans.

What now?

Well notice how the Americans are worrying about French sovereignty. Obama's relationship with Sarkozy is good, fuelled by his romantic appreciation of France as America's original ally (and pretty much one of two important countries the Americans have never been to war with, the other being India). In addition, to him Cameron is the equivalent of George III and he isn't going to shed many tears over losing him as an ally at the European table.

For the Americans the French are now their proxy in their 60-year strategic goal of keeping the Germans down and the Russians out. Expect maximum help from the Americans to the French in their attempts to ensure that Germany doesn't walk all over them and the rest of Europe.

FWIW, I think Obama is right and Merkel is wrong - wall-to-wall austerity is pretty much nuts - if everyone's consumption contracts, who will buy your products?

Britain needs to hope that the Americans via the French prevent the Germans from sending the entire EU into depression. We are no longer in control of our fate now that Dave-no-mates has found himself locked out of all the top tables in Europe and across the Atlantic. We are in the bizarre position of hoping the French (of all people) manage to prevent made-in-Germany eurogeddon.