Safety First Campaign – Can it Last?

I am finding this ‘election campaign’ quite tedious already. This is mainly because the Tories strategy of hiding May away and announcing no policies makes it dull for those who like me are wanting to watch every twist and turn and work out what it means. As Marina Hide outlines in this excellent article this is ‘Health and Safety gone Mad’

I will make sure during the campaign period I maintain a focus on the Tories and the consequences of them winning, because this seems the most likely outcome form the polls. I am not sure this will be enough still for my Momentum trolls! However, the Tories  are making it hard work because they are saying and doing so little. And I guess this is the whole point. As I wrote last week the election campaign where you start with an 18-21 point lead is only there for you to lose. I understand their safety first approach given that May is such a poor performer on the stump. But I am not sure they can keep this up until 8th June. The story of the Tories ‘hiding’ might just start to stick with such a lengthy campaign period and some key voter groups. I am guessing this is a risk they feel worth taking.

As we know Lynton Crosby is back in the fold and his iron discipline and ‘message discipline’ is notorious. It shows already in this campaign. The trouble is for those of us who want to fight a proper election based on trading and comparing manifestos we really do need to know elections don’t work like that – however much we want them to!

We have to understand that most people don’t follow the election in the same way as those of us who have bothered to read this blog this far! They don’t really follow the election at all. You will be absolutely fed up of the phrase strong and stable. It is now a joke amongst journalists who hold sweepstakes at every Tory event about how many times it will be used. But of course they will only use it once in their 20 second bulletin and this is the once a voter *might* just hear it. Most won’t even hear it once a day. This is an example of where political class really is out of touch with ordinary voters. All too often they assume the electorate follows every policy announcement and every twist and turn with the same interest as Party members. What they really forget is that party membership puts you in the slightly strange category!

This is where I am afraid I return to my favourite MUST READ – Don’t think of an Elephant by Lakoff… I have covered this idea of Framing in previous blogs and why an election is all about the Frame or narrative. We know you don’t do lists of policies… voters often like Labour or Democrat (its an American book)  lists of policies but framing means they like Tories or Rep Values and messages much more. We pat ourselves on the back when voters tell us they like our Labour policies. The trouble is that if they don’t like the leader or trust us with their economic future none of this matters. 

Labour is winning the ‘policy list test’ but doesn’t have an overarching theme and message that resonates yet. Some of the polling and focus group work I have seen doesn’t suggest it is having much of an impact because people can’t get past Corbyn. (Huff Post)

On the other hand Labour didn’t give the impression of an Opposition caught out by the surprise snap election. I know Tom Watson MP has been saying for months that May would call an early election and it looks like some planning has gone into being prepared. I say ‘some’ as not having candidates in place across most of the country and not in the marginal seats is a serious mistake as far as I am concerned. I will look at the Labour campaign next week. I am a little worried that there is a simple narrative yet and a string of policy announcement that have been good at grabbing daily headlines haven’t added up yet to a proper strategy. I will also look in a little more depth at what the strategy is trying to achieve. I felt there was quite some bluffing going on from both sides this week.. Corbyn in Harlow a target seat we need to win to form a government and the Tories talking of targeting quite safe Labour seats (Leicester West and Nottingham South around us here in Loughborough). When we have an idea where the resources are being pumped we will know what is really happening. I still suspect we are in the territory of Labour losing up to 100 seats but that it will be a lot less worse than that because of the movement and uncertainty still of voters not wanting to give May a 150 seat majority. Some will return to Labour knowing its safe Corbyn will not be PM. That is certainly a fear for the Tories. Complacency might mean they don’t get the massive majority they desire. I have heard it from moderate Labour & Remain supporters who didn’t want to vote for Labour if it gives Corbyn comfort that he wasn’t beaten too badly and tries to stay on, that they now feel safe voting Labour again. These though processes do mean this is a really tough election to call until we get nearer polling day. I am still not in game for calling this one!

However, as much as we all dislike the Tory safety first tactic it is what will win them the election so they will stick to it. It will really annoy those of us who want to expose the Tories record and their plans for the next 5 years. But they don’t want to engage on this. They want to repeat Strong and Stable and focus on May v Corbyn as the next PM.

It will mean this is a difficult to election to cover and the trivial will become the ‘story’ for the day because there is so little government policy to scrutinise. Now I may be wrong. I know there is pressure from within the Tory ranks to create a radical manifesto as they feel they are assured of a victory and would love the ‘mandate’ to carry this out. They are from the wing that allowed Cameron to win them an election but never bought into his Notting Hill set. If they do win then the Tories may well be playing a patient game. There is plenty of time still to announce policies once the manifesto is launched. We will see if there is shift in emphasis and pace. Somehow I doubt there will be.

I will write in more depth this week about why I will still be voting Labour despite all my misgivings about Corbyn and I will be out helping when I can good local Labour MPs defend their seats. I feel passionately that any Tory government elected on June the 8th would be a disaster and more so one with a large majority free to wreak havoc. We must stop them. Which is why I have fought so hard over the past 2 years to get us an electable leader so that we might be challenging them at this election – not 20 points behind. That battle has halted. We are where we are and I still want to see the Tories lose!

In the meantime Monday 1st May is 20 years since I was elected in 1997 – 10 years after I had fought my first council election in 1997. Some of us had plans to celebrate this with some events over the next month but these have all been postponed. So to celebrate there will be the 1997 election coverage on BBC on Monday and I will be posting  few thought about how we won, what went wrong, what went right and why we have drifted so far from potential power since 2010…

How Will This Play Out? No Predictions Yet.

I recall going into the 1997 and 2001 & 2005 elections as confident as you can be about winning given the polling and analysis of our constant voter contact work. Until the 2015 election I had been able to predict our local results within 500 votes at every election.

However, there was always the fear in the back of your mind that something out of your control nationally might go wrong during the election campaign and defeat could follow. In 1992, although a candidate in a non-winnable seat – I thought we were going to win too (nationally not locally!) . It seems in 1987 and 92 we (Labour) were judged to have the best ‘campaigns’ but still failed to get over the line on election day. In 1997 Major deliberately called a long campaign in the hope that ‘something’ would turn up or the lengthy spotlight on Blair would lead to another surprise victory or at least holding us to a small win.

This is why I have found the decision to hold a lengthy election period quite a gamble for May and the Tories. It will be a long 8 weeks if they want to their campaign to stay risk free. We saw yesterday how quickly a story can run. For a short time Labour’s position on a second referendum looked confused as different things had been said by McDonnell and Corbyn. Fortunately it was quickly shut down but the speed of social media adds an extra danger to modern day campaigns.

There will be many theories about why we lost in ’92 but the Major Soap Box was an interesting factor. Shunning the glitz of the ‘rally’ for meeting voters on a box in shopping centres. There will be a big contrast between the styles of May and Corbyn which is already evident over the first 48 hours. May is not comfortable thinking on her feet as we have seen at PMQs and other media performances. They won’t risk her out on the stump. Ironically however much people know I don’t rate Corbyn his strength does seem to be meeting like minded campaigners on the stump. It may not do enough to cause a major upset but I guess people will warm to him a little more as the campaign continues. I am not sure it will change their minds on his suitability to be the next PM but it may blunt some of the absolute media and Tory hostility that will pour down on him over the next few weeks.

Ok so if I am not going to predict the election 3 days into the campaign what will I cover? Well hopefully I want to cover a variety of aspects of the election and the key aspects of the campaign that you are interested in. . Clearly much of my experience is from being a Labour and Co-operative MP and campaigner in a marginal seat but there will be other aspects raised on twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn that I will try to cover here – so no question about policy, process, politics or personalities is too stupid. let me have them.

However, from the outset it seems for the sake of some of the Corbynistas I have to make it clear I will be voting Labour and will be doing what I can in my limited way these days to help secure victory for as many Labour MP’s as possible. I only mention this because I posted a simple question on Facebook to ask my non-political friends what they thought about the 10 Pledges announced by Corybn this week. It seemed a harmless question because I constantly hear how popular the policies are – but not Corbyn the politician. I want to cover why this disconnect happens and asked friends what can be done to win them round. I did have some concerns about some of the language being used in the pledges but this will form the basis of a separate blog. Yet once again they pile in with their abuse and name calling. Many non political friends on Facebook often privately message me or stop me and talk to me in the street for fear of posting replies on Facebook because of them! I don’t think they realise what damage they do to the Party in so many ways.

10 pledges

I fully understand that during an election where I want to help secure as many Labour MPs as possible I will try to be measured in my comments about Corbyn and the Labour campaign. I can’t hide my views about Corbyn and his leadership. I have spent the last couple of years hoping he would be gone before we got to a General Election but here we are. So quite rightly It is my duty to support the Party and candidates.  I will also make sure I post and blog lots more about the awful state of the country the Tories are creating and exposing the mess of BREXIT. But I can’t be silenced to stop making sensible comments however hard they try.

But despite the opinion polls showing a large win for May is inevitable I am not so convinced. When you look at the seats that the Tories have to win  there are too many in the ‘too difficult box’ for me to predict a comfortable win for the Tories. Privately Labour MPs have admitted the fear of losing 60-100 seats. The reason it is so hard to call is the uniform swing doesn’t take into account the decline of UKIP and their boost for the Tories or the decline on the prospect for Labour in northern seats where they came 2nd in 2015. The other big unknown at this stage is the performance of the Lib Dems.  Their strong anti Brexit stance will pick up votes – but enough in the right parts of the country to actually win many seats?

So taking this all into account I am not going to be making any specific predictions until we are well into our stride during the campaign. However, we do have to be honest about the impossible task of Labour actually winning the general Election. In order to have a majority of just 1 it needs to win about 106 seats. When you look down that list Loughborough is now about the 97th seat we need to win with a 9k plus majority. I have not heard a single Corbynista/ Momentum member locally explain with any evidence how they think that size of majority will be overturned. If we can’t win seats like Loughborough we are not going to win the election.

It seems we are into the realm of hoping there is another surprise. They do happen. ‘Jennifer’s ear’ John Presott punch and the Gordon Brown bigot comment  all could or did derail campaigns. This is why ‘campaigns’ have generally become so safe. The no risk strategy for the candidates is boring for us all. But you can see why nothing risky will be tried for the next few week by the Tories. They have everything to lose and expectations are high. Safety first seems to be the formula for the Tories. As it election day looms and the polls have not shifted I wonder what risks Labour will be willing to take.

It will be an interesting few weeks ahead. 

So far the best detailed analysis I have seen about the seats that Labour will need to defend is here from the Fabians – showing why it is all a bit more complicated than the usual swing. Andrew Harrop argues Labour has 6 different campaigns to figh 

http://www.fabians.org.uk/labours-six-battle-grounds/

Finally. I know at every election we claim the future of the country is at stake. But I genuinely feel it is particularly true this time around with the rise of populism across the globe and our own BREXIT issues. I fear any half decent mandate for the BREXIT Tories who have embraced many UKIP policies is a country I don’t recognise or want to live in. It has been bad enough already for the last 7 years. Another years of a right wing Tory administration makes me fear for the future of my children. It is a fight for the future direction of the country. Perhaps that’s why I get so animated about the current state of the Labour party in the polls under Corbyn. Because a strong credible Labour Party has never been so needed by the country & for that I make no apologies. Political anger is quite normal and healthy!

 

 

For decent polling analysis during the election it is really worth following Matt Singh. I declare an interest having watched Matt grow up and a family friend. But I would be recommending this anyway.

Over the coming 7 weeks I will try to post the odd lengthy blogs in response to the questions I am asked on social media by friends and followers. Of course my main area of expertise is the Labour Party and it’s performance having fought 5 general elections. However, as a campaigner and election nerd I have always been interested in messaging, tactics, manifesto claims and general political operations.

Normally there is a long run up to the election so messaging is already clear. If you look back at 2015 the campaign had been pretty much been running for 2 years on the same basis for Lab & Tories. The major shift during the election was the prospect of the SNP & Labour working together which gave the Tories another angle. This time the battle lines seem drawn and the SNP card has been played already.

As this is an iPhone blog I will keep it short. But please do ask any questions you want answering over the next 7 weeks. All sensible ones will be answered…

https://t.co/H7eoIpVsnV?ssr=true

No I won’t be Running

23256 -  1 Andy Reed MP

Although I have no intention of running in any election I am quite flattered that people still ask if I will do it!

I think anybody who knows me understands why I would not be running for a marginal seat under Jeremy Corbyn at this stage in my life.

I was honoured to have fought the Loughborough seat from 1992-2010 – representing the area for 13 years in Parliament. I did the job to the best of my ability and when I lost in 2010 I said it was time to move on. I don’t see any reason to change that view at this stage.

I will give my support to any Labour successor as I did to Mathew in 2015.

Thank you to all the kind words from across social media. I will enjoy writing about an election from the side again in 2017!

 

General Election 2017

I spent the Easter weekend clearing out my garage – still full of old paperwork from when I closed down my office. I was feeling a little nostalgic for the 5 general elections I have fought, as I threw out old leaflets and newsletters.

So little did I suspect today would start the #GE2017 blog series on this site today as I was returning from the ‘tip’

gene election

There will be lots to write about over the coming weeks. But today is a surprise. I thought the time had gone when she could call a snap election. It is a huge risk for May and the Tories despite her huge opinion poll lead. It is also something that people will judge for themselves. There is NO NEED for the election even based on her spurious arguments made outside NO10 this morning.

I am also not looking forward to this election. First we have become a deeply divided country and we have to put up with all these arguments again.. but I guess that’s democracy.

Secondly, I am uncertain about if this is good for Labour in the short and long term. I didn’t want Labour to limp on under JC until 2020 – when there would probably little left to pick up and rebuild. However, getting smashed in June with a possible 100 seat Tory majority for another full 5 years fills me with dread. We might have disliked Cameron but the Right in the Tory party has been asserting itself in recent months. I would feel better if I was certain JC would go after a massive election defeat. I can see Momentum making their excuses already about why JC needs the next 5 years as he hadn’t had long enough. You can see why I have mixed feelings.

Updates as the weeks roll on to June 8th…

Good Campaign Week but 21 pts Behind Tories?

I was about to finish the blog below today to explain the 21pt Labour deficit.. but as you can imagine the General Election being called for June 8th has slightly changed the news today! More to follow on that later…

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Unfinished blog…

At the end of a blitz of Policy announcments during the Easter recess it looked as though the Labour leadership had found out how to look half competent. Indeed according to the Poll in the Independent released today many of these policies seem to be popular with the public. I am not sure you can read too much into these findings as it would be difficult to find many people who don’t like the idea of a £10 Minimum Wage. The same could go for other policies – like free school meals and reigning in high earners. The worrying finding for Corbyn in this polling is the suspicion of the £500bn ‘investment’ bank. It sounds like more Labour borrowing and people are still wary of Labour on the economy (more of this later). But overall it did look as though all the boxes had been ticked. Most of the policies hit the mark – causing a headline, good media coverage (see what happens in the MSM when you work properly) and creating mini fights to highlight Labour taking on vested interests. Some of the policies don’t really add up under scrutiny but at this stage of the electoral cycle that isn’t the purpose. Job done. Well done from me. But of course there is still the elephant in the room in a week like last week. ‘The Leadership’.

But it was such a relief that Labour had a normal week and a pick up in the polling on policy that Corbynistas got very excited on my timelines tweeting the polling with great excitement. But of course the same newspaper was also reporting its own ComRes poll which put the Tories 21 pts ahead. Of course to Corbynistas this part of the polling is surely #fakenews as its a little inconvenient. They pointed to the ‘other’ poll which showed the gap was ‘only’ 9% behind. This update isn’t really about the accuracy of polls so if you want to enter that debate it is worth following a good friend of mine who does these things for a living! – Matt Singh over at Number Cruncher Politics . Is it a 21 or 9pt Tory Lead? 

This ability for Labour to have ‘popular policies’ but struggle in the polls and at elections is not a new problem. Indeed it is a re-run of the run up to the 2015 election for Miliband. The individual policies (at least most of them) polled well with our core support and those needed to be won over as part of the infamous 35% strategy.

So if all these policies are so popular what is going on when Labour are then a massive 21% behind the Tories and heading for another poor set of local election results?

Perhaps this article from Helen Lewis best summarises the problem. The electorate have already made up their mind about Corbyn and thet aren’t prepared to listen.

There was also ‘the’  photo which showed his team are not quite keeping their eye on the ball all the time but to be fair this job is much harder than it used to be. We all know a photo can haunt a politician as Ed Miliband found to his cost when that Bacon sandwich photo became the abiding memory of the Labour leader.  The toilet photo is poor and thanks to social media has been shared more than it deserved to be. For me this isn’t the same bracket as the Bacon sarnie fiasco but it does reinforce a poor image of Corbyn.

I write these things in desperation that Corbyn supporters may start to take an interest in the damage he is doing to the Party and what it takes to win a general election where we need to win marginal seats like Loughborough. I watched I Daniel Blake this week. It reminded me of the cases I was able to take on as an MP and win. Being out of power and allowing a regime of sanctions against the poorest makes me angry and desperate to see a Labour government as soon as possible. It won’t be me in Parliament but it needs Labour representation asap. With Corbyn

At Last..how to do a policy launch

At last it seems Corbyn and his team may have briefly understood about how to work with the media (one good day is a real start!)

This week you will have seen wall to wall coverage of a policy announcement. The Policy to provide free school meals for all primary school children generated lots of coverage and the photo opportunity below.

To make matters even better Labour then managed to not do something stupid on the same day to detract from the story they wanted covering. (unlike earlier in the week when they launched the local eleciton campiagn on the same day Ken Livingsonte hearing and decision- unsurprisingly drowning out the launch).

When Corbynistas moan about the MSM it’s usually because they don’t know how to work with it or how it actually works. The story this week shows what you can do even with a ‘biased media’, when you learn the basics!

Now of course the policy outcome itself is questionable. I really understand the desire to ensure that children from poorer households get a nutritious meal. However, after years of watching policy development both from inside and outside parliament I have become much more intersted in the evidence base for policy effectiveness. As this Opinion from the Independent argues this is one of those policies that grabs a headline but doesn’t meet the VFM for effectivness test. Of all the demands on the education budget I don’t think there are many who really believe this is the most effective use of new investment if it were ever made available.

Of course some policies are designed to capture headlines and not stand up to detailed scrutiny. They are more a signal of intent than the last line in how a specific idea could be rolled out in 3-4 years time. I have seen plenty of ‘policies’ adopted for a slow campaign day never to be heard of again.

The intent of this launch rightly highlights the growing inequality between the 7% in private schools and the poverty in society and many schools where poor children may not be performing at their best because of their difficult home backgrounds. In a country of ‘The Foodbank’ it is unsurprising that nutrition is a key political issue.

However, as many who have studied the previous policy for infant children introduced by Nick Clegg the costs of introducing the universal scheme really do outweigh the benefits. There are much better ways of tackling poverty impacts on school attainment than providing 70% of kids who can easily afford a hot nutritious meal to get to the 15-30% who will benefit. Sometimes the principle of universalism can be questioned.

If you have time it is worth reading the blogs from a twitter friend Andy Jolley who has exposed the Universal Free School Meal costs and policy gaps for some time. His analysis had already convinced me that this was not a brilliant way to tackle the issue we are all agreed needs tackling!

So to return to my original point. This was an example of what can be done if Corbyn and his team can get their act together. The MSM will give you coverage (and quite rightly challenge the news release with an opposite view) if you take the trouble to do it this way. I am nothing if not fair. If I think there is something worth praising from Corbyn I will do so. At last I have spotted something worthy of a big thumbs up for presentation. Getting policy right is the next stage but we have time to do that.

Having said nice things about this day… do I now have permission to say awful all the others have been this week. First Ken Livingstone and then *that* reaction from Corbyn on Syria. I have got to the stage I am grateful for small adequate days.

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