Tag Archives: conservatives

Gideon’s daylight robbery

There are two ways you can indulge in a bit of fantasy at Blackpool this week. One is to see Hot Ice, the iceskating spectacular. The other is to listen to Gideon Osborne for an hour. If you are under 50, the former would probably be more worth your while.

To be fair, his idea of a flat rate charge on all non-doms (I thought someone who is not dom was called a submissive, but clearly I frequent with the wrong sort of people) is worth considering. It is very easy to threaten to crack down on people who live here yet evade taxation, yet Gordon Brown has demonstrated that the reality rarely matches the rhetoric. We should not dismiss a proposal out of hand that would at least do something. I have an open mind, and I’d be interested in hearing what others thing of this.

This tax rise is to be balanced out with two tax cuts: one on stamp duty for first time homebuyers, the other on inheritance tax. Sadly, both of these cuts are wholly irresponsible.

Firstly, the cut in stamp duty for first time homebuyers for property values up to £250,000. Sounds fair enough, although it means chuff all to anyone buying a first home worth more than £250,000. Is a one-off payment of £2,500 really that significant to a first time homeowner? We might see a few houses just below the £250,000 threshold drop their prices in the very short term, but it is also likely to increase inflationary pressure on properties worth significantly less than that. Overall, it will do nothing whatsoever to make houses more affordable or to discourage speculative property investment.

The proposed inheritance tax cut is even worse. It will lock up even more property that would otherwise be available to first time home owners. It will benefit those families who have benefited from the massive increase in property values over the past decade while punishing everyone else. Far from rewarding hard work, as Osborne suggests, it will severely curtail the purchasing power of anyone struggling to get onto the housing ladder.

I’m not denying that Stamp Duty Land Tax and IHT are bad taxes, although I suspect my definition of bad differs from Osborne’s. I would replace them, along with all other existing wealth taxes with a single land value tax. Simple, fairer and a dampener on property speculation.

Let’s be clear about this: these tax proposals will result in higher, less affordable house prices for first time buyers, while offering the already wealthy a significant tax cut. They are about entrenching privilege not expanding opportunity. Faced with a choice of cutting income taxes on low wage earners and rich homeowners, they’ve opted for the latter. True to form, but the fact they are pretending otherwise really sticks in my craw.

Remembering ’97

Today was a family day, but I still managed to catch most of the key moments of the 1997 General Election results on BBC Parliament. I was having problem with our set top box but I just managed to tune in in time for David Mellor.

It was weird watching it – on the night itself I watched the coverage with about 500 other people in the Main Debating Hall at the University of Manchester Students Union. The film society, which I was also an active member of, was projecting the coverage on its big screen (I understand that the union has managed to kick MUFS out of the building now, which is a crying shame).

The Mellor bit I recall quite vividly, right down to Dimblebum making a wild prediction during it that the Lib Dems were set to win 61 seats (in fact it took us another 8 years to get to that point). His rant about Goldsmith failing to buy the election was much mocked at the time, but he had a point: millionaires should not presume to buy elections out of personal vanity. Goldsmith, having largely failed in his mission, was dead within weeks.

Neil Hamilton was as ungracious in defeat as I remembered (I’d forgotten about the Miss Moneypenny Party, with their candidate towering over the returning officer), Michael Portillo very much the opposite. Two points about the Enfield Southgate announcement. Firstly, Jeremy Browne was the Lib Dem candidate. Secondly, the BBC commentary was by Lance Price, who quite soon afterwards of course jumped into a job at Number 10.

The Enfield Southgate declaration was swiftly followed by the Stevenage one. I remember seeing Alex Wilcock standing on stage with his partner Richard (these were pre-millennial times, otherwise, I suspect a certain elephant would have been there as well) – at the time he was one of the few people I knew who was actually a candidate.

All the Lib Dems being interviewed kept talking about the Lib-Lab constitutional deal. Of course, a large amount of that was indeed delivered – it seems odd to hear people talking about creating a Scottish Parliament, Freedom of Information Act and Human Rights Act as these are all very much part of our daily politics now. Shirley Williams prediction that this was the last – or at worst last-but-one election to be fought under first past the post however proved to be somewhat wide of the mark.

Blair looked close to tears when he spoke at the Sedgefield Labour Club, and shockingly young. Various other faces popped up as well, such as Nicola Sturgeon, then 27, at the Glasgow Govan declaration (with black hair!). Peter Snow’s graphics were fantastic, particularly the animation where they flew over the UK showing Labour/Lib Dem target seats exploding and transforming from blue to red/gold (it reminded me of a cross between the post-2004 BBC weather map and the Death Star trench battle at the end of Star Wars).

If we’d known then how it would all turn out, very few of us would have cheered as loudly as we did, but nonetheless it was a fantastic evening. With the Tories now back on the rise and Labour in long term decline, it is just conceivable that we might have a similarly momentous General Election next time around, or maybe the next-but-one. Can the Tories make the bulk of non-Labour, non-Tory supporters as happy for them as we were for Labour winning 10 years ago? I suspect the answer is no, and I suspect that lies at the heart of Cameron’s problems.

I should explain that last sentence better. As the coverage today repeatedly reminded us, Labour’s vote share in 1997 wasn’t actually that high. What did it for them was the degree of tactical voting, with people voting for anyone but the Tories. Fewer and fewer people are prepared to vote in such a way, but the Tories only really have a shot if the public becomes so sick of Labour that they start to vote tactically against them. I don’t see that happening, not in the numbers that it did in 1997. People are open to Cameron, but the Tory brand remains toxic.

Lies, damned lies, and election results

Iain Dale points me to two differing accounts of the local election results, one by Sean Fear and the other by Mark Pack. Dale hails the former and dismisses the latter as “desperate post election spin” but I know who I’d rather have on my psephological team.

Sean peddles the increasingly desperate-sounding myth that these results show that the Tories are back in business in the North, but his own statistics give lie to the real situation:

The Conservatives gained more than 110 seats across Yorkshire, the North West and the North East.

That would sound quite good, were it not for the fact that total Tory gains were just south of 900. Those regions represent just over a third of the population of England, yet only an eighth of Tory gains were in them. Meanwhile, Tory gains stacked up in areas where they already hold seats. In the most densely populated part of Yorkshire, the West, Sean admits that they actually went backwards. They couldn’t go backwards in many other parts of the North, because they have already been wiped out.

True, they have made a small step forward, and no doubt the Tories will be pinning their hopes on a handful of Northern seats in the next General Election. But a handful does not suggest a comeback.

Meanwhile, Mark points out that, essentially, that where the Lib Dems did badly we did very badly, but elsewhere we held our own. Iain might want to dismiss this as spin, but it is actually a very important point for a party serious about what the implications of last Thursday actually are. As has already been pointed out, the Lib Dems did well in held or target parliamentary seats – overall, they suggest that we are likely to move forward in the next General Election. Meanwhile, I haven’t done the analysis, but I suspect you will find that the Tory gains are concentrated in relatively few areas, suggesting that while they too should move forward in the next General Election, it will not be by as much as they seem to currently think they will.

A caveat to all this, before I get too carried away. I’ve been looking at these results through a Parliamentary prism. From a local government point of view, they are undeniably bad. From a longer term perspective, they are similarly bad news as they suggest a decline in a whole slew of areas that we will struggle to recover from. Jonathan Calder’s suggestion that we perhaps ought to be wanting rather more than just yet another small step forwards next time round also should be considered.

Tristan Mills makes the following point in a comment to one of my posts:

I also think that we need to look at our local politics – reasses whether we are actually practicing community politics or populist pavement politics and also use the Focuses to promote liberalism by framing the debate in liberal terms not populist terms.

I think that is very pertinent. I suspect the genuine community politicians managed to hold out against the Tory horde better than the pavement politicians. The ones who had made great gains in the past due to tactical populism will have struggled as soon as the shoe was on the other foot.

Ed Davey promised a big campaign to promote Community Politics within the party last autumn, but thus far we have seen very little sign of it. Hopefully this set of results will encourage the party to get moving on this.

One thing I do agree with Sean Fear on is the importance of local councillors to keep parties going in areas where there is no immediate prospect of parliamentary representation. The problem we have as a party is that we are terribly good at the tactical business of winning elections but not terribly good at the strategic business of developing a local party over the longer term. There are places where we are better at this than others, but how do we spread best practice, and how do we ensure there we dedicate resources to training and development without harming our target seat operation? These are questions that need to be tackled.

Those election results: hmmm…

Notwithstanding the understandable effervescence emanating from the party’s results service, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, overall, the elections yesterday were not very good for the Lib Dems.

With over a hundred councils still to declare (at least according to the BBC), it is hard to conclude anything much from them yet, especially when one recalls that last year’s results had us losing seats all day until we eventually ended up making a net gain of, erm, one. Nonetheless however, it is hard to see how we are going to recover to such an extent. At the moment (2pm), the BBC has us just a bit ahead of Labour in terms of net losses of councillors.

The positive side of that story is that where the Tories seem to be makiing the most impact, it is in areas where they are already strong. There is very little evidence of a Tory revival in the North (Gideon Osbourne breezily claimed on Today this morning that their gains in Birmingham was evidence of a Northern revival – one wonders if he has any idea of where his Tatton constituency actually is) – where they have been making gains, it is in the few places they weren’t wiped out a decade ago. Where they have been having landslide victories, they tend to already have an MP. Once again, national swing is only telling part of the story.

Partly because we are at the mercy of the electoral system, the Lib Dems have a sad history of failing to live up to our ever declining ambitions in Assembly elections, and once again we have failed to break our duck of 6 AMs. Back in 1999, I remember being confidently told by the then-Lib Dem Chief Exec that we would get 11-12 AMs. In 2003, at least one person predicted we’d get up to around 10. This year, people were talking of 7-9 AMs being a sure thing. The worst thing of it all is that, on paper, they should have been right. Because the system is only semi-proportional (2/3rds FPTP, 1/3rd list), each region has 4 top ups and we are the fourth party, we need to make fairly modest gains in each region to significantly increase our number of assembly members. In South Wales Central, we only needed an increase of 1% to double our Assembly Members. The fact that we have failed to do this twice now ought to be setting off alarm bells about how we fight the Welsh air war.

This was echoed by my own experience. I spent the last week being a footsoldier in a non-target constituency in Wales. We got a disappointing result, but our vote held up in our target polling districts. The national campaign didn’t just fail to boost us in the polls, it failed even to cushion the work we were doing locally.

Initial thoughts? All those ‘cheeky’ references in the media didn’t exactly help, however Lembit might like to dress it up. In and of themselves, I doubt they cost us votes, but they did make it tougher to get a coherent message across. They were an unnecessary distraction.

After three campaigns at the helm, Mike German can’t avoid responsibility. His performances on TV failed to impress. True, none of the Welsh Party leaders exactly set the world alight, but as the longest-serving leader, Mike really should have stood out.

The Scottish results are coming agonisingly slowly now. One thing everyone must surely now agree on is that Scotland must now either adopt a single electoral system for both locals and Parliamentary elections (Ken Ritchie of the ERS reported on News 24 that people seemed to cope with STV better than with AMS judging by the numbers of spoilt ballots, which is ironic given that STV is always presented by its critics as a ‘complicated’ system), or they should have each set of elections on a different year (a la Wales), or preferably both.

Like Wales, the Scottish results that have been coming in are static for the Lib Dems. However, the Scot Lib Dems have the mitigating factors of a) the SNP bandwagon and b) the fact that it is a more authentically proportional system than Wales, which makes it tougher to gain seats. Nonetheless, our failure to win seats such as Edinburgh Central and Strathkelvin & Bearsden was very disappointing.

But, behind closed doors of course, I doubt the SNP are exactly delighted with the result. It remains unclear whether they will win the plurality – at the moment it looks as if they haven’t – and even if they do, it will be by the smallest of margins and in the context of a clearly unionist majority in the Parliament. This isn’t the result that the SNP were confidently predicting last week. Support for their key policy has plummeted during the election campaign.

If Labour manage to form a coalition, this is the last hurrah for the SNP; if the SNP manage to form a coalition, it may well prove just as fatal in the longer term. Simply put, I remain doubtful that they will be capable of managing the transition from repository of protest votes to a party of government. I’m aware that people say that about the Lib Dems all the time, but we’ve now run Scotland for 8 years and not been punished by the electorate. Meanwhile, I am struck by the number of SNP policies that are merely lifted from the Lib Dems (and some, like local income tax, I don’t think are particularly well thought out). The real problem the SNP have is that they are a one-man band. What happens if the sheen of Salmond starts to get tarnished, if he goes under a bus, or if he simply gets bored? A power vacuum may yet emerge in Scotland, and that is a real opportunity for the Lib Dems, if they have the initiative and dynamism to take it.

Finally, there is the Ming Question. I think it is unfair to put too much blame at Ming’s door for this set of unimpressive results. After all, for all my frustrations, I’m accutely aware that our results in Scotland and Wales are almost identical to 2003, and the same questions were not being asked about Charles Kennedy at the time. Perhaps, in retrospect, they should have been, given that the Tories and the nationalists were in a much greater slump back then, and we failed to capitalise on the fact. I haven’t seen anything about Ming’s performance that gives me cause for concern; equally, I’ve seen a number of positive developments which haven’t yet had time to bed down. But the main lesson from this campaign seems to be that we need to work on our air war – there’s only so much we can do on the ground when the national party messages are not coming across and being drowned out by our opponents’.

Darlo Dunce and Metrosexual Maude (UPDATED)

I wasn’t going to comment about this story, but I’m afraid Francis Maude has got me riled up:

There can be no excuse for a mainstream political party promoting extremism and racism. The evidence is there for all to see. Menzies Campbell must get off the fence and sack Steve Jones. He must send a clear message to the rest of his Party that racism will not be tolerated by expelling this councillor from the Liberal Democrats. It’s also alarming that, of the three main political parties, the Liberal Democrats have the worst record in local elections of fielding candidates against the BNP. It is time that they woke up to the danger posed by this extremist party.

Bottom line, the Tories are in no position to start smearing about the BNP and they know it.

You don’t need an elephantine memory to recall that the Tory links with the BNP go right to the top with Nick Griffin’s father who Iain Duncan Smith made a Vice President of his leadership campaign. Only last week, Iain Dale was hailing a frankly bigoted post by Nadine Dorries MP about travellers in which she condemned gypsies and travellers for not ‘settling down’ while simultaneously saying they shouldn’t be allowed to (her blog has been designed by a gibbon and you don’t appear to be able to link to specific posts – scroll down to the post titled ‘She was born in the wagon of a travellin’ show’). Here’s the deal Francis: expel her from the party, and then let’s start talking about which party has the biggest problem with racism and the extreme right.

It’s clear that Stephen Jones has been a bit of an idiot, but it is equally clear that the first person this has undermined is himself, by nominating someone to stand against himself. It isn’t as cut and dried as, say, the situation a few months ago in Burnley where the local Lib Dems really were flirting with the BNP in a way that I find unacceptable.

Francis Maude’s comments will come back to haunt him because as night follows day another Tory is always just days away from getting into a race row. In the ward neighbouring mine here in Barnet, a local councillor – whose idea of fun is to black up and impersonate Nelson Mandela – appears to believe that we should stop immigration to stop Britain from becoming the ‘dustbin of the world‘. Throw a stone anywhere in this country and you have a pretty good chance of hitting a racist Tory.

I’m not saying the Tories are fundamentally racist. I’m not saying the Lib Dems, like all parties, don’t have their own problems with racist elements from time to time. I am saying that if they want to start playing this zero-sum game, they can’t possibly win. Bring it on Francis, bring it on. If you want to drag political discourse down into the gutter, you are going a textbook way about doing so.

You would have thought that Maude would have rather more sympathy for Stephen Jones’ situation given that, less than 24 hours ago, he was mistakenly nominating a Lib Dem to be the Tory candidate for London Mayor. We all make mistakes, but Maude has made bigger ones than most. Perhaps it’s time Cameron came off the fence and sacked him?

UPDATE: I’ve been asked to link to this story about Tory candidate Luke MacKenzie who Francis Maude has mysteriously failed to disown. Happy to oblige.

Vote Blue, Go Red

Friends of the Earth’s assessment of the Scottish Parties’ Green PoliciesNotwithstanding a certain caution about taking Friends of the Earth’s assessment at face value, this diagram (click to enlarge) is a pretty bad indictment on the Conservatives’ claims to be an environmentally friendly party.

More info on the Friends of the Earth Scotland website and The Herald. The Lib Dems fare better than the SNP and Labour but worse than the SSP and the Greens.

On Boy Cameron fingering Dyke

No-one appears to have used that headline yet, which I’m frankly amazed by, so I thought I’d better get in quick.

Overall, this latest incident does rather confirm some of the points I was making last week about the nature of the London Mayor and the GLA. These institutions lack any kind of civic culture, we are struggling to invent one 8 years after the event, and it is a mistake to think that ‘celebrity’ candidates are going to solve the problem.

But what a nasty, undemocratic, bullying idea of the Tories. I’m delighted it appears to have backfired on them. I’m sure they are attempting to spin this as the Lib Dems playing party politics while they are trying to work constructively in the interests of Londoners, but nothing could be further from the truth. As a party we would never be able to recover from being the Conservative’s mini-me. We have a genuine dilemma of who to stand, but the most anonymous face-slapping moron would be preferable to a joint candidate. Far from beating him, an Anyone-But-Ken candidate would be likely to bolster him – one only needs to cast one’s mind back to 2000 to recall that Labour tried that and got bitten in the arse.

Ultimately, there may be only one way of defeating Ken Livingstone: wait until he’s too old to keep going and enjoy the fact that Labour will end up struggling to find a candidate as much as everyone else. In the meantime, old fashioned party (and non-party) politics will have to do. Anyone got a monkey suit? It worked in Hartlepool.

Why Gordon Brown hasn’t a clue

Iain Dale wounded me last night by implying that I spend too much time taking the piss out of him and seldom point out where we agree. Well, when it comes to things like Lords Reform, I tend to keep blog posts to a minimum on areas which are to do with my day job (partly out of a desire to compartmentalise and keep the two seperate, partly out of a desire not to sound like a one-trick pony), and when I do link to his site, it tends to be in response to some criticism or other he has made about the Lib Dems. But, in the interests of not being open to the accusation of mindless tribalism, I will just say that I agree that the recent Tory PEB outclasses its Labour equivalent by quite some margin.

It isn’t that there is anything particularly clever about the Tory one: with the right editing you could make just as successful PEB with almost any other politician. But while it is, of course, all presentation and style made to look like substance, it is done with a certain amount of panache.

There was no reason, for instance, for the Tories to tackle the BNP in the ad, but it was good positioning for them to do so. The way Cameron answered the question about the slave trade, was again quite a clever piece of positioning. This was all about presenting people with the image of David Cameron as a man who doesn’t necessarily tell you what you want him to say, to counter his caricature as a bandwagon jumper. It’s all rubbish of course, but it is quite effective rubbish.

The Labour ad, by contrast, is just rubbish. After 10 years, is a long stream of random questions good enough? We want answers: Labour can only say ‘we’re listening.’ It is appalling. The ‘reveal’ with Blair and Brown in the back of the cab is excrutiating. The scene with half the cabinet answering telephones lacked any credibility whatsoever.

To an extent, during this inter-regnum period, there isn’t very much Labour can say except that they’re listening. The problem is, they’ve been stuck in this holding pattern for three years now and it has grown beyond stale. The whole transition from Blair to Brown has, at every stage, been done on Blair’s terms and for all his harrumphing, Brown has simply let him.

This makes it all the more incredible that Brown is now launching a book called ‘Courage‘. A series of 8 portraits of people Brown finds inspiring, this is a progression from the nonsense we had earlier in the year with Brown making comparisons between himself and Gandhi. Every one of his eight ‘heroes’ unquestionably demonstrated courage in their lives; what is less clear is how Brown can claim to have emulated them.

What is striking from his list, is what easy choices they all are. Every single one of them is unimpeachable; secular saints for a modern age. A more charitable man than me would be pleased that a future leader of the country has taken the time to write a book about them. The cynic in me however is all too aware that he is, by extension, seeking to have some of their magic fairy dust rub off on him. So much for the ‘death of celebrity culture‘. I’ve seen dogs on heat rubbing up against men’s trouser legs make for more edifying spectacles. This isn’t courage: this is vicarious courage.

It would have been more interesting, and more revealing, if Brown had attempted to defend more controversial figures, people who weren’t necessarily saints but who shared his values. Gordon Brown on Lloyd George would have told us far more than hagiography about Aung San Suu Kyi (whose inclusion in any case begs the question: what has Gordon Brown, as one of the most powerful men in the world, done to advance her cause?). What about Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson? What about Thatcher? These must be people that Brown admires as he and the party of which he is a key architect have been so influenced by them. Sticking with people who lead blameless lives is as patronising to the public as Tony Blair chumming up with Noel Gallagher 10 years ago. Using them as political fig leaves in this way is somewhat offensive. Did anyone ask if they minded being co-opted in this way?

By publishing this book, now, Brown shows that he is anything but courageous. Having spent 13 years hiding in the shadow of Tony Blair, his first instinct is to reach out and hide behind eight more people. All this and we are still none the wiser about what will be in his first Queen’s Speech. Make no mistake: Labour is in deep trouble.