Lack of Inspiration in Leadership election is worrying me…

I meant to write this post last week and then again at the weekend. I hoped that I would have been inspired by the Labour Leadership election campaign enough to continue you my election blogging for my non-political friends. But despite trying to muster any enthusiasm I have struggled. Today in a chat with a fellow senior party member we came to the same conclusions – but with a similar and unhealthy lack of enthusiasm.

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I had hoped by now that I might have declared my support. I know I am not important enough any more to have a nomination so none of the candidates or their campaigns are really worried about me yet. Getting to the magic 35 nominations within the PLP is the first and important stage. It looks as though Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall will reach that number. It looks as though Mary Creagh will struggle and I am not sure if enough MPs are keen enough to see Jeremy Corbyn on the ballot paper that they ‘give’ him their nomination even if they won’t vote for him? We will see. I did tweet earlier this week that I would like to see him on the ballot paper, even though he won’t win. All political parties are strange alliances of political ideologies (with quite a lot of crossover which many will deny) between all parties in the centre ground. Labour has a strong socialist as well as social democratic tradition and their voices need to be heard and their messages debated and challenged – not simply ignored.

At the start of the process I made it quite clear that this time we should vote for the person best able to lead a Labour party into government – so that means voting for somebody who can appeal to the widest parts of the electorate in the seats we need to win (now 106 target seats just to have a majority of one!) and who will look like a PM in waiting by 2019. This last part is hard to judge. The trappings of power and the office help people look like leaders and or potential PMs if the basics are right. I found the same when friends were made junior ministers. Quite often the didn’t have the appearance of a Minister at first, but success at the dispatch box, SPADS and PPS officials with folders walking alongside or behind and a Ministerial car all add up to having a ‘presence’. Not everybody carries this off as Ed Miliband showed. He never quite looked the part for much of the electorate. It is an awful thing to say but modern politics like much of our celebrity driven culture demands the image to be right. I wish it were not so. But for now it is.

So having given myself some ground rules I have set out to ask as many non Labour party members and voters that I know what they think. I have been met by a shrug of the shoulders and many genuine ‘I don’t know’. To be fair even amongst keen political types the response has been similar. Many friends have declared their support and I admire their enthusiasm and decisiveness. I wish I had seen enough to get to the same point.

What is even harder writing this piece is the fact that those involved are generally people I could call friends. I am closest to Andy Burnham. We were both working in DCMS in 1999-2000 when Andy walked into the office one day and wanted to discuss the news that the MP for Leigh was going to retire and asked me if he should go for it and what it would take to win. I really liked Andy and his fresh approach to the old guard and thought it would be great to see him in Parliament in 2001! we both loved our sport and our politics often matched. Andy rose up the ranks quickly and remains popular. I almost want it to be Andy as a friend who wins. But that is not enough in my heart to suggest he should or will.

The others like Yvette I got to know reasonably amongst the 97 intake. Again Yvette progressed into government ranks and there becomes a divide with back benchers who see them less and less. I want Yvette to be great and to do well but the steady calmness and assured performances in the Chamber have still not added up into a winning formula. I haven’t heard anything new or compelling to make me take notice of her campaign.

I have also got to know and like Mary Creagh during my time. Again a bright and enthusiastic MP with a different perspective. Much as I like her as a front bench spokesperson and hopefully in cabinet the extra gravitas is still missing.

For me Liz Kendall has been the surprise candidate. She has at least ruffled a few feathers with some of her interventions but is seen too much as a simple ‘Blairite’ candidate for many in the party. Although these are not my personal politics this does at least say to me she is willing to challenge the Party about what it needs to do to win in places like Loughborough. I know there are many on the left accuse her of being a ‘Tory’ but this betrays our ideological purity tests that the average voter does not conduct! I still haven’t seen enough in terms of performances and close up but Liz will be one to watch and a surprise newcomer.

Finally there is Jeremy Corbyn. As I have said I think it is important his voice and the politics of anti austerity get an airing. I really detest the way we have given up as a nation believing that austerity is the only way to balance the books in the long term. I really hope Corbyn allows the alternative economics programmes to get some exposure. We can’t let the Tories write the election battle grounds for 2020 in the next few months again.

I haven’t even had a chance to look across all the deputy leadership candidates. I will do that once they are formally declared with enough support from the PLP. This an even tougher choice because I am not that clear about the JD and person spec. Indeed I would argue that we need two Deputy Leaders – one internal focussing and one externally. It is why I supported Alan Johnson last time round. I wanted a human face to match Gordon Brown. It seems all the candidates seem very inward focussed.

I hope I am wrong to be so uninspired so far. Perhaps it is simply that I am being exposed to the election through the prism of the national press and social media. Having been close up to the leadership elections since 1992  am probably suffering from feeling very much like and unloved outsider!. My hope is that once the nominations are secured the pace will haste and the platforms developed. As and when I feel inspired I will declare… I hope it is before ballot day and I am down on their canvass sheets as a Don’t Know!

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4 Days and Counting…

With just four days to go and most of us thinking about our normal Bank Holiday routines rather than the election it did seem it was another of those non-days of this campaign. Even from the politically battle hardened lobby journalists seems to be struggling to make sense of what should be the most exciting election for a generation, but which is still boring the pants off most of us and the electorate.

The BBC have tried to sum up today

Key Points

  1. A TV debate takes place among Scottish leaders – the last of the election campaign
  2. Nick Clegg says public sector pay rises will be a Lib Dem coalition red line
  3. Labour restates its pledge to cut tuition fees to £6,000
  4. David Cameron warns against protest votes and says people must choose their ‘preferred prime minister’
  5. Nigel Farage insists UKIP is growing in popularity and calls Mr Cameron ‘desperate’ for talking down the party
  6. There are four days left until the general election

I guess the lack of focus today or any excitement sums up the campaign to date. The only highlight of my day (true I have been out at a Charity Rugby Game so have only relied on snippets of twitter and web news) was the social media reaction to the ‘Tablet of Stone’ unveiled by Miliband. It did seem a little too close to a “Thick of It” script. A bit of me rolled my eyes, but then I realised of course not everybody reacts to a twitter storm in the same way and the people Labour wanted to reach are those who needed some solid rock guarantees.

 I think it seems a similar risk was taken by Ed going to see Russell Brand earlier this week. A story in the Guardian hinted that the Postal Votes were a disaster for Labour in the marginals and the anti SNP messaging from the Tories was working. Who said negative campaigns don’t work? the public hate them but then fall for them and vote accordingly. It is so depressing.

To make the deadlock worse the Poll of Polls is also showing a dead heat. Given the changes in Scotland and the Ashcroft Polling showing a large variation in the Key seats there is still all to play for on Thursday. An extra 5-10 seats here and there will put each party in a completely different bargaining position after Thursday so they will be out over these last 4 days chasing every vote in the 200 seats that matter.

So all to play for. I have shifted my predictions a little over the last week doing a little more analysis and taking into account the slightly hardening of the Tory vote and the inability of UKIP to get back up to the 20% that would really hurt the Tories.

We are in for a very messy political week. It is not even clear we will have a government by this time next week. For us political nerds this is all very exciting.

Thinking of Exit Polls Already

There is another week of this election to go. I am not sure how that makes you feel but  I did get the impression from the Tory announcement today that they don’t trust themselves enough to keep a promise on tax  so they would legislate not to increase tax (well VAT & Income tax for example). This is clearly a gimmick to have something to say for today. It wasn’t in the manifesto so we can only assume it’s one of those pointless policies that don’t mean much but send a ‘signal’. I can see why people are bored of this election. Despite the amount of detail allegedly given by the Tories about the ‘books for the next 5 years’ which allows them to make such an empty promise we know they have already got about £35-30bn of expenditure we don’t know where it will come from. Add to this the fact that GDP for last quarter fell to 0.3% growth and you can see why predicting 5 years growth to pay down the deficit and find the £30bn is really taking the electorate for fools.

Back to next week. As you know I have been keen to fast forward to the election result ever since I cast my postal vote. I am not sure I can take another week. It has been far too long. They are running out of photo Opps and repeated speeches. And from what I hear in all my conversations none of it is really helping make up peoples’ minds. Most people on my table at a dinner last night were ‘undecided’ despite all voting in 2010. They were shifting their thinking all over the place amongst the parties. 

I am probably very sad but I did get the adrenalin running at the thought of sitting up through election night when the exit polls start coming in

Usually about 12.30 was time for me to head to the ‘Count’ and look supremely confident, encourage my supporters and make the opposition worry. This time I will be sitting with my laptop and twitter enjoying every moment and  messaging friends who have won or lost. 

I will be watching the seats that will most likely change hands and what these mean for the final result. As we know only about 100 seats normally matter in a General Election and only a few thousand votes in each of these seats needs to change hands to change a government. I am a supporter of PR as I believe people should have their vote count wherever they live in the country. Being Labour in the South of much of England is pointless but those hundreds of thousands of votes should count for something. 

The reason I got excited by the polls again today was twofold. First the Ashcroft poll suggesting (its a snapshot no a result) that nick Clegg and Farage may not win their seats. On top of this was a Scottish poll suggesting the SNP might win every one of the 55 seats north of the border. Extraordinary if that is true. But it would also deny the Lib Dems of Danny Alexander. Strip out Jeremy Brown who is already going and perhaps David Laws and the Orange Book (ie Tories) grouping is no longer the force to do the post election deals. With 55 SNP and a slightly lefter leaning Lib Dems and the maths starts to look difficult for Cameron. I think political commentators have been too quick to put the Lib Dems in the Tory column for reaching the magic 323 seats target. There is still lots to play for. 

On a final note this evening as I blog – whilst trying to watch Leicester City defy the odds and beat Chelsea out of the corner of my eye – I have been keen to see how the media have covered this election. I think it has been a really low point for people who regard themselves as serious journalists in papers like the Telegrapgh. Yes we know they support the Tories and will say so but journalistic standards have just gone out of the window. But more objectively it is great that Loughborough University General Election Media analysis helps show just how biased the coverage has been and what Labour have had to contend with (negative attacks in the amount of coverage they get)

Loughborough University media monitoring

The latest over the top coverage that annoyed me today was the storeis around Ed Miliband daring to to an interview with somebody young people identify with – Russell Brand. Don’t people get that politics is no longer done through Radio 4 Today programme? I think this was brave and sensible way to try and engage. Thumbs up and it is stupid of the other media to attack him. But of course you can see why! social media makes it possible to by-pass the old media. Great!

Vote for the Party or the Person?

As party affiliation or identification has weakened over recent years the question I am asked more frequently is about voting for the individual or the Party. It seems in 2015 this is even more prevalent as so many people are still undecided with just over a week to go.

Clearly I am biased. Despite being a nice gentle parliamentarian I do recognise the necessity for parties and am surprisingly tribal!! I would therefore always start from the point of view that you should be voting for the party that is closest to your values. As I wrote yesterday I don’t think voting at elections is about a shopping list of which party is best for me or just my family. However, I do understand that many people look to their short term individual self interest however depressing I find this practise!

Voting for the party closest to your values means of course you have to aware of your own values and those of the parties. Being based on the values and aspirations of a party means that people like me do forgive parties when they make mistakes or don’t quite get everything right. However, even in a knowledge driven world I am still surprised at how little people know about the parties policies and values. There are of course websites around that help…

So if you are not particularly tribal in your politics should you vote ‘for the person’. Again I declare an interest. I worked hard as an MP to generate a following amongst non-Labour voters who might at election time be so impressed by my work rate and effectiveness that they would put behind their party loyalty and vote for me personally. I was aware that even this was only ever worth a few hundred votes at most. But it did exist. I knew many people who personally backed me against their normal voting pattern. I even had Tory councillors vote for me!

So I can’t deny it is possible to vote for the person not just the party. But why would you do this? I would hope that whilst I was largely tribal and loyal to my party on big issues of conscious and issues of trust I would ‘rebel’ and represent my views and those of constituents. On big issues like Iraq, Tuition fees, Trident etc I did rebel – at the cost of always happily being a back-bench MP not on the Ministerial greasy pole. My successor for example has little ideology and was ambitious only to be an MP. Ambitious to climb that greasy pole has meant that there have been no rebellions – just party loyalty. If this is the case what is the point of voting for the ‘person’ if all you get is party cannon fodder with a smile? In a Party based parliamentary democracy you vote for the party because that’s what you get… party votes on party lines.

These days the level of public scrutiny is greater and the type of MP is changing. Across all the parties it is harder to see the old fashioned lazy MP survive. It used to be just MPs in marginal seats that worked hard, but increasingly I saw signs of the new post 97 generation working harder to be in touch and active in their constituencies. Therefore, there will be less areas to discern what is a good local MP and why you should vote for a ‘person’.

You might have a political or from my experience a faith based reason to vote for an individual. There might be something very specific or a local issue where the candidates have taken a different line outside the national party whip remit. So there are grounds in a few cases for going with a local candidate if you are not particularly tribal. But for me it’s Party first every time. Even if I lived in a constituency of an MP friend from a different party, I would vote against them every time. There are still friends in opposite parties standing this time and whilst I wish them well, I want my party to do well in their constituency!

All these thoughts came about from a Facebook discussion and a tweet from a well known Tory who said he would be happy to see the Labour Party reduced to 4 MPs – including me! So even the most tribal can put these feelings aside.

Saturday Sport v Politics

It is a Saturday. It must be sport for me. Throughout my life a Saturday has meant looking forward to some form of sport and the anticipation of kick-off. From a young lad playing rugby in the morning and football in the afternoon to just about struggling to make Birstall 2nds most weekends. It was the same throughout my time in politics and and as an MP. I think it is why I never fully fitted into the way politics is run. You see for political types Saturday is more canvassing time and political conferences. Don’t get me wrong I did all those things, it is just that like today when there is a big sporting day v a political day the sport usually wins!

Today for sport in Leicester it has been a big day. As most people know Leicester City have been rooted to the bottom of the Premier League for too long. It seems a long time ago that they beat Man Utd 5-3. Whilst we all were encouraged to #keepthefaith I am afraid I did start to doubt about a month ago. And then 3 wins on the bounce and today a six-pointer against Burnley. By now you know the result. 1-0 win to Leicester and we are out of the drop zone. Still there are 5 games to go and it could all go wrong but after this last month we would be stupid not to think it is possible.

As a Tigers fan I have always been disappointed at the football side not quite replicating our success, but this year Tigers have been pretty poor too. It will take a separate blog to outline all the reason, but once again like the Foxes it was still possible for Tigers to make the play-off top four if they kept winning. Today it was up against poor old London Welsh and Tigers were already talking about the bonus point before the game. They did it. They got the win and bonus point. I can’t see us doing that well even if we do progress to the final 4. 

All of this is a distraction from the main points from the election campaign today and illustrates the inability some days to ‘cut-through’. Some days you just have to hope the non sporting population (of which there are millions) are not shopping and paying some attention to the news. 

Given that there is lots of other real news and the election seems to have been going for ever it is no surprise that most of what I have seen has been about the earthquake in Nepal.

But politically I have been following the excellent www.may2015.com polling and logs which as far as I can see give the most accurate and best appraisal of all the commentaries. In particular this one is worth a read.

This is how Ed Miliband get to 323 seats and becomes Prime Minister

The other news from the FT is the way Nick Clegg seems to have chosen to paint himself into the Blue corner again for post election discussions. 

Of course Nick Clegg is ostensibly a Tory anyway and this is where he feels most comfortable. But I suspect there will be many of his MPs and many in the Party who thought they were a left of centre party and the idea of propping up a Tory, UKIP, DUP coalition is far from ideal. There are some tactics being played here as many Lib Dems will be losing their seats to the Tories in the SW but in other parts of the country where they pretend to be leaning further to the left of Labour this announcement won’t have pleased them. Vote Lib Dem and get another Tory government isn’t a great sell in Leeds or Manchester where a couple of LD friends are defending slim majorities.

Finally as it is sport v politics I couldn’t help laugh at the sporting slip from Cameron – who seems to have forgotten he is a die hard Aston Villa fan, but telling everybody to back his ‘West Ham’ As Jonathan Ashworth wryly commented on twitter as the Foxes beat Burnley – perhaps being confused by the colour of the kit again & the PM will be crying at another loss for his beloved team.

Creating A Storm in a Teacup

Last week we looked at the ‘Dead cat on the Table’ strategy, but today we saw another amazing, yet depressing, spin job in operation as the Tories attacked a sensible Miliband speech on Foreign Policy. 

Even before the speech was given the spin operations were of course in place – they have to be to trail the story and gain interest from journalists to let them know it may be worth reporting and turning up! It is sad but now standard part of our news cycle.

The BBC Covered the story like this 

The Spin:

This is a story of what happens when it may have been overspun or journalists re-interpret the spin to get an opposition reaction to something that actually isn’t being said.

So as you can see from the reactions of the Tory Liz Truss and Nick Clegg is actually an over reaction to a point that is not even being made. 

But Conservative minister Liz Truss said Mr Miliband appeared to be suggesting that David Cameron was directly responsible for those deaths, which was “absolutely offensive”.
And Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said “political point-scoring” on the back of a “total human tragedy” was “pretty distasteful”.

There is enough wriggle room for Truss as she used the ‘appeared’ to be… which in reflection she could say, – “it appeared he had but in fact he didn’t” – at a later interview. But of course that later interview never takes place and the story is running that Miliband has accused Cameron for being directly responsible for the deaths in the Med over the last week when in fact nothing of the sort has been said. Indeed a very sensible point about the lack of planning for post war Libya is a valid foreign policy point to make – considering the one thing we ALL learned from Iraq was to plan for the aftermath. By allowing Libya to turn into a ‘Failed State’ we failed in our duty. But of course by attacking Miliband for what would look like a pretty horrible thing to say, nobody discusses the main point of the failure of the foreign policy.

It is days like today that politics and the Westminster political lobby really annoys me. It did as an MP when nuance and reasoned arguments never got a chance to be studied – always cut down to bite size controversy. 

To be fair to grab attention the spinners make this worse – but the whole façade relies heavily on the fact that 99.9% of people won’t watch or read the speech and about 95% of people who comment won’t either! To rectify that I am making sure I read every last word today and will link to the full text!

general election 2015