Left Watch
20 Sep 2013 17:26:05

The more Ed talks, the less people understand

By Mark Wallace
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Red EdThere are lots of interesting findings in the polls this week - most notably that the Conservatives are at level-pegging with Labour in several of them, a remarkable erosion of the Opposition's lead in recent months.

One of the underlying statistics in today's Sun poll left me absolutely gobsmacked:

"A massive 71 per cent of voters claim it isn’t clear what [Miliband] stands for — up ten per cent from last year."

That should trouble the Labour operation deeply. It isn't even that voters disagree with them - that would be a luxury by contrast - it's that they don't even know what Miliband is saying one way or the other. The more Ed talks, the less people understand.

18 Sep 2013 08:17:01

Nick Clegg's "free school meals for all" plan clashes with his own principles and policies

By Mark Wallace
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The Clegg UnhappyLib Dem conference was never just going to be about Vince moaning and a plastic bag tax. Sure enough, Nick Clegg's big announcement is free school meals for all school children aged between five and seven.

As Robert Halfon MP notes elsewhere on ConservativeHome this morning, the sensible part of Clegg's proposal (that which gives equality on school meals to poorer students at FE and Sixth Form Colleges) is actually nicked from the redoubtable MP for Harlow, which is further evidence of the need for Conservatives to take full credit for our ideas.

But leaving that aside, two problems strike me with Clegg's headline policy of free school meals for all - one of principle, and one of practice.

Continue reading "Nick Clegg's "free school meals for all" plan clashes with his own principles and policies" »

17 Sep 2013 13:28:16

"Boot Vince out of the party - and the SDP lot" - that Lib Dem divide isn't going away

By Mark Wallace
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Clegg BirdI wrote yesterday about the fundamental division within the Lib Dems between the Liberals and the SDP:

"Any political party is a coalition of sorts - we Conservatives certainly have plenty of tribes of our own, who disagree about plenty of issues. But Lib Demmery is a more divided creed than most.

Having been formed from a merger of two parties, it has never succeeded in bringing the left and centre any closer together. The rift extends to the social level as well as just the ideological - you don't see many deficit hawks hanging out over beers with the Keynesian wing of the party."

I didn't expect their conference in Glasgow to provide a more vivid demonstration of this than the economy debate, but an anonymous MP on the Liberal side of the divide has helpfully provided a confirmatory quote to The Sun's Tom Newton Dunn:

“We should boot out Vince Cable from the party. Him, and all the SDP lot. The merger hasn't worked."

Any party has its disagreements, but this of a different order - and it isn't going away.

16 Sep 2013 17:28:48

Beneath the tedium of the Lib Dem conference is an ideological battle between social democrats and classical liberals

Liberalreformlogo3By Harry Phibbs
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Watching the Lib Dem conference it is easy to sneer.

There is the self importance - which despite being a Party of Government still feels absurd as the tedious procedural amendments are deliberated upon.

There are all the contortions as speakers praise the Government but attack the Conservatives. There are all those speakers combining earnestness with eccentricity. There is something about the Lib Dem Party Conference which makes the jokes especially painful and indignation especially vacuous.

Yet beneath the surface an ideological contest is taking place which - curioiusly enough - the liberals seem to be winning.

The majority of activists still lean towards state control rather than free markets. But the classical liberal fight back continues. It began with the publication of the Orange Book essays in 2004 and was boosted by the coalition agreement with the Conservatives in 2010.

This year it has been given further impetus with the publication of Coalition and Beyond: Liberal reforms for the decade ahead. It includes a mildly encouraging foreward from Nick Clegg.

It is full of radical proposals. For example Nick Thornsby calls for a regional minimum wage as "setting an artificially high minimum wage in the poorest areas, where business activity already tends to be limited, makes workers in those areas less attractive still to businesses looking to recruit: it weakens their comparative advantage."

Continue reading "Beneath the tedium of the Lib Dem conference is an ideological battle between social democrats and classical liberals" »

15 Sep 2013 15:52:51

Further evidence that Ed Balls wants the economy to fail, so he can succeed

By Mark Wallace
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Balls Ed seriousFurther evidence of Ed Balls' miserabilist tendencies in today's Mail on Sunday:

Defence spokesman Jim Murphy threw down the gauntlet by insisting that the party had to revise its message now that the economy was clearly recovering.

He clashed with Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls by insisting Labour could no longer argue the economy was ‘flat-lining’ – a taunt made famous by Mr Balls. 

Sources say the Shadow Chancellor retorted that there was no guarantee the economic upturn would last.

That's right, the man setting Labour's economic policies sees the UK's failure as key to his own success. Stick to the same old line and hope for the worst.

No wonder he seemed overjoyed when times were bad - and he seems so frustrated now that the economy is ticking up.

12 Sep 2013 17:42:29

Our Top Ten Labour Conference karaoke tracks

By Mark Wallace
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Our deadly enemies good friends over at LabourList have just put out an appeal on Facebook. They're holding a karaoke night at Labour Conference and are inviting suggestions for top tracks to sing, so I thought ConHome could make a few suggestions to help them out.

It's a tricky task. A year ago, I imagine Plan B was pretty popular, but now he's off the playlist for obvious reasons.

Instead, here are the top ten tracks to really encompass the spirit of the Labour Party in 2013:

10) Red Red W(h)ine

Ok, so I've taken a small liberty with the spelling, but since when did good English have to stand in the way of a worthwhile pun?

9) Great Balls of Fire

It used to be Cameron going red in the face at PMQs while the Shadow Chancellor did that "flatlining" gesture - now it's Ed Balls blushing on the economy.

8) You Won't Get Me I'm Part of the Union

Two months ago, Unite's behaviour in Falkirk was the "death throes of the old politics", according to Ed MIliband. Now the suspended union officials are restored, the union is cleared of all charges and everything is fine. Teflon doesn't come close.

7) Gordon Is a Moron

I know he hasn't been Prime Minister for three years, but it was too good an opportunity to miss.

6) Under Pressure

Just look at that poll, Ed. Ouch.

5) Steal My Sunshine - by Len

Canadian one-hit-wonders they might be, but the perfect title/band name combo. I would have gone for the punk band McClusky, but none of the songs are publishable on a family website.

4) Puppet on a String

See 5)

3) Money's Too Tight to Mention - by Simply Red

I'm pretty sure Mick Hucknall didn't have the GMB affiliation fee in mind when he wrote this, or when he named his band, but if the cap fits...

2) Wannabe

Prime Minister? Zigazig-no.

1) Things Can Only Get Better

Because they can, right? Right?

11 Sep 2013 15:35:06

Vince Cable, the Psammead Business Secretary

Vince Psammead
By Mark Wallace
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Readers may recognise the two faces above. One is an ancient, grumpy and rather self-centred creature which claims to know secrets unavailable to ordinary mortals. The other is the Psammead, from Edith Nesbit's Five Children and It.

The cantankerous Psammead promises its audience that their fantastical wishes can come true - and then brings them crashing down to earth within a few hours. His uneasy coalition with the five children who discover it living in a sand pit is an uneasy one - without him, they would never be able to go on their adventures, but in return they have to put up with his constant grumblingand the limits of his powers. 

I suspect you're starting to see that the resemblance with Vince extends beyond the eyebrows.

Continue reading "Vince Cable, the Psammead Business Secretary" »

10 Sep 2013 13:17:11

Ed Miliband fudges the union link, zero hours contracts and free schools

By Harry Phibbs
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It is difficult to say how anyone could regard the Labour leader Ed Miliband's speech to the TUC this morning as a triumph. How wasn't cheered enough - the reception was lacklustre. So he could not claim to be inspiring and motivated his core supporter.

But now was he booed enough either. This wasn't a Kinnock moment - of the type when his predecessor confronted the Militant Tendency.

The only really rousing point came when a questioner said he was confusing.

I got under way with a reference to the Conservative Prime Minister Lord Derby legalising the trade unions. He was the 14th Earl of Derby said Mr Miliband pointedly. (When you think about the Labour leader is the 14th Mr Miliband.) But Lord Derby name was Edward. Would he be called "Red Ed" today for saying trade unions should be legal. Er, no.

Continue reading "Ed Miliband fudges the union link, zero hours contracts and free schools" »

9 Sep 2013 12:21:12

Miliband's defeat in the trade union battle threatens Labour's entire election strategy

By Mark Wallace
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Labour holesEd Miliband's increasingly dysfunctional relationship with the unions has many facets: the potential perverting of democracy, the gloomy prospects for Labour's finances, the insights into Miliband's weak character and weaker authority, the list goes on.

Left wing optimists would argue that in the long run it makes little difference to the electorate. "It's a Westminster bubble story", Owen Jones mutters to himself as he tries to sleep. 

That may be true in part. The story has many twists and turns, claims and counter-claims, and most people have more important things to do than follow it closely. However, Falkirk worried Miliband enough to try to tackle it, so even Labour think the issue has some cut through. By the same token, his failure in attempting to deal with the problem will reach some of the electorate and cause damage.

Whether people follow the detail or not, though, the symptoms of the row will reach everyone.

A clear, direct strategy is absolutely essential in any communications, but particularly in politics. Blair's New Labour strategy was written on one sparse page - from its overriding message to the tactical messages that flowed from it. Election winners tend to be able to sum up what they are about in one sentence - and that clarity means everyone else, friend or foe, can do so, too.

A clear strategy makes a campaign focused, concise and free of stumbling blocks.

The union row, and his failure to emerge from it victorious, means Miliband now cannot create and pursue such a strategy (even if he was capable of doing so in the first place).

He knows that for a strategy to be created in simplicity and to remain so when it is implemented, there must be a clear chain of command with one ultimate authority. His need to keep the union leaders happy, and the ever-present threat of them intervening publicly, makes such organisation impossible.

He knows that the messages used must be in keeping with the strategy and targeted at the right audiences. But his internal political and financial conflictsforce him to adopt messages that the public dislike, such as on welfare reform.

He knows that the troops implementing a strategy on the ground must be loyal to its architects and its aims. But Unite and others now boast of "their" MPs, and have reportedly tried to seize ever more influence within a number of Constituency Labour Parties.

There is an old military maxim: order plus counter-order equals disorder. Thanks to his failure to deal with Labour's trade union problem, Ed Miliband is about to demonstrate how true that saying is.

7 Sep 2013 07:32:48

In July, Miliband said Falkirk was the dying "old politics". Now, he gives it mouth-to-mouth resuscitation

Screen shot 2013-09-07 at 05.55.31
By Paul Goodman
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The deal seems to be that Karie Murphy is reinstated as a Labour member (which pleases Len McCluskey), that she withdraws from the contest for the Party's Parliamentary candidacy in Falkirk (which pleases Ed Miliband) and that Labour says that there is no proof of wrongdoing either by them or Unite - which will delight McClusky and embarrass Miliband, who denounced Unite's behaviour in Falkirk as "a politics that was closed. A politics of the machine. A politics that is rightly hated. What we saw in Falkirk" - the Labour leader concluded, as recently as July - "is part of the death-throes of the old politics".

To which the only proper response can be that the old politics seems to be alive and well this morning.  Michael Crick's tweet at the top of this piece reports that witnesses to wrongdoing were allegedly persuaded to withdraw evidence under pressure: Miliband will be well aware of these claims.  He evidently decided that, with the TUC Conference looming next week, it was better for him to suffer a final embarrassment over Falkirk yesterday than remain exposed to it during the coming week. And as Dan Hodges points out, "the Falkirk constituency stays in special measures, McCluskey’s favoured candidate will not be contesting the seat".  So although Miliband is embarrassed by the deal, he isn't humiliated.

The problem for the Labour leader is that voters, in so far as they are following the Falkirk story at all, won't grasp the niceties: all they'll see is that Miliband said something was badly wrong in Falkirk...and that Labour has now told the world to move on - as far as Falkirk is concerned - and that there's nothing to see.  The whole sorry business doesn't exactly project an image of strength, exactly the quality Miliband will need to see his proposed union funding reform plans through; exactly the quality which, on immigration and welfare and Leveson and Syria, he hasn't convinced voters that he possesses.