Rhetoric v Reality

Like the majority of people in Britain I didn’t intend to listen to the Prime Minister’s speech to the Party faithful in Manchester yesterday. However, I got my timing wrong and my car journey to a Sports Chaplaincy Board meeting meant it was live on my favourite radio5 station!

Likewise I was not going to blog about it because I found myself shouting at the radio. Mr angry should never reply online or write a blog. My anger would not read well I thought. So I have compromised. I listened and I will keep this very short – maybe a few bullet points.

  • This was hailed as a great speech and one that made claim to the Centre ground – or Common ground as they now like to call it in the spin room. Indeed, Cameron can deliver a speech, there is no doubting this. I find his voice deeply irritating but I am biased. I have never really liked the guy since early days on the back benches in the House together. But it was a well constructed, spun and delivered speech which reached beyond the conference hall. In fact I am surprised so many in the hall enjoyed it as it cleary was a challenge to them & their priorities. They had cheered the awful right wing plea by Theresa May the day before!! This was in contrast to Corbyn who seemed only to speak to the party faithful in his speech.
  • Nice bits over. Why was I shouting at the radio? It was simple. The rhetoric was a million miles away from the reality of what Cameron, Osborne, May, & IDS are impelmenting every day. They are creating the very poverty and inequality that Cameron in his address claimed to want to tackle. I shouted loudest at the passage about helping hard working families IN work when he failed to mention his Tax Credit cuts coming their way – making millions of them £1000 a year worse off. Time after  time he sailed through passages bemoaning the world he is creating. After years of declein Child poverty is set to rise again because of HIS policies. 

Indeed his speech, while full of pious aspiration, had nothing intelligent to say about any of the great issues he will face in the coming months as Prime Minister”(Peter Oborne today in the Mail)

This was a tactical speech to ‘position’ the Tories at the centre ground of politics whilst ironically carrying out one of the most right wing agendas we have seen in a generation. The Tories are doing things even Mrs Thatcher dare not do. By 2020 they may well have smashed both the NHS and the BBC. We will have the smallest State for generations. Marketing, the media and a weak Labour opposition,  because of Corbyn perceptions in the centre ground voters, will allow them to get away with this for the next 5 years.  

The Prime Minister is of course a diminished figure since he set out that he would be gone by the next election. As we have seen this week his potential successors have been making their early pitches to replace him. It means whatever the amazing delivery of his speech there is unlikely to be much delivery of anything significant he wants to do. There is goodwill to him because he won them the election but power is draining from him every day of this Parliament. 

There will be lots of positive media coverage. Let’s be thankful most voters take no notice of PM speeches to conference, but the commentariat have set the tone of the debate for the next few years, and although Corbyn hates the media and commentariat our reality is that this ‘tone’ will dominate. 

The only hope is that this speech is quickly forgotten as the daily cuts amd misery caused by their inadequate policies bite voters in the coming years. They vote on their world view – not the Pious aspirational speeches none of them heard anyway!

Time to Watch it all Unfold

Over the last few weeks I have been enjoying observing the political earthquake that has unfolded during the Labour Leadership election campaign and the subsequent victory of Jeremy Corbyn. I say ‘enjoy’ in the sense of watching something close up and being able to comment from an insiders perspective. I am grateful for all the comments and positive feedback about how useful this has been!

I aim to wrap up the thoughts here and then watch quietly as events unfold – either in the way I predicted or as I have said before if I am wrong about the electoral Psephology for the first time since 1987 then I will be the first to hold up my hands in 2020 and say so. I know there is great interest and excitement inside the party (well the new 600,000 strong party) and a little bemusement outside from my non political friends.

This week I did attend the Labour Party conference and posted a few thoughts on my conversations on the first couple of days. Dream or nightmare.

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As well as the genral observations I did make my way into the main hall to watch the Corbyn speech live as well as to observe the support inside the hall for what he was saying. Watching live is always different to observing these things through the lens of a TV Broadcast.

The speech was very different to the ‘normal’ conference speech. It did have the feel of a report to a Labour Party event, and certainly made little attempt to make any pitch outside the conference hall to the wider electorate,and that made it feel strange. I guess I have become too keen as a politicla observer to look for messages. There were none. I did think however, that overall the lack of gimmicks and rhetoric did allow the genuine Jeremy Corbyn to shine though, and that does remain his personal strength.

The New Statesman summary was what summed up for me the fundamenta problem that Corbyn and Labour now face. “Swing voters on Corbyn speech – authentic (good); authentically preoccupied with the wrong things (less good)” Rafael Behr

I don’t think I need to keep repeating this line of argument. I am genuinely delighted that Corbyn managed to excite a proportion of the left to get engaged once again in the Party and to join in large numbers. I am genuinely delighted that many who left the party have now rejoined. I hope they pay their full membership, and get involved beyond clicking to vote and posting on twitter! I have many sensible friends who have either rejoined or are genuinely excited by what is happening. It’s great they are back. I actually share a whole series of the hopes that Corbyn espouses. I would love a kinder more generous politics. I apologise in advance that I am too focussed on winning elections and not just feeling good about policy statements and campaigns. Indeed the Leaders speech did sound as though we were looking forward to being a principled opposition. I know many colleagues around Corbyn are very comfortable with opposing things ad setting out a vision. It is genuinely lovely stuff. I wish him and the Party well. I don’t think it is a winning formula as I have explained from a general view of the electorate. A winning formula does require us to attract votes from a wider range of voters than are attracted by the Corbyn worldview. I still fear we might pile up labour votes in Labour seats and make no progress in the marginal seast we need to form a government in 2020. I have said it often enough now so I will step back and watch carefully as the policy process gets underway. I will offer my views and help suggest what I know the wider electorate would support. I am guessing that even though I was never a Blairite, anybody these days who doesn’t quite support the new direction is labelled as one! For those of us on the soft rather than hard left and certainly not ‘the right or Tories ‘ we clearly need to articulate the vision and passion of what Corbyn has started but produce a manifesto that can reach the general electorate. It doesn’t have to be boring – but it does need to be sensible. So I will disappear behind closed doors to put over my thoughts and allow the new Labour Party its run at the London, Scottish, welsh and local election in 2016. It needs the people to speak and give Corbyn their verdict now.

Having left the comfort of the Party conference I spent a day with a great group of compassionate people who as some explained ‘wanted to feel comfortable voting Labour’ but who have been genuine swing voters over the years. ie the people who decide the outcomes of elections. My conclusion from those discussions was similar to the Behr comment above. They like the lack of spin, he looks genuine. But he doesn’t look like a Prime Minister and we don’t really like much that he is saying. We need a lot more detail.

So there may be some short observations on twitter as big events unfold and the direction of some of the big decisions become clear. There are some big battles ahead about policy and the difference between the membership and the PLP. It will be a difficult time and It is best I get involved in a constructive way. But I still want to hear that the debate is open and transparent.