Posts Tagged ‘Labour’

The breathless reporting of Labour advancing on the bastions of Torydom continues apace, including here in the national media in Australia.

But since two days ago, we have been focusing our attention on two issues – firstly, the seat by seat betting odds for the various parties, and secondly, intelligence leaking out from impeccable Labour sources.

Both would seem to suggest that any “surge” in the Labour vote may have been over-estimated by an over-eager or badly-informed media.

Screen Shot 2017-06-07 at 12.18.55 pmWhat the punters say

The betting odds which reflect real money (laid by people in the know, usually) are certainly not predicting wholesale Labour gains.

Everywhere but London, Labour support looks soft, measured by this perennially reliable predictor. The odds aren’t always right, it has to be said, but they are consistently more right than anything else, including opinion polls, and especially when looking at individual seats. Parties often try and ameliorate the cost of their local campaigning through smart betting moves.

So if Labour activists the length and breadth of the country who can actually see the doorstep canvassing results are not plunging on with their own hard earned, then that says something.

What Labour insiders say

But Labour intelligence is even more interesting. Along with private messages we have received, the Labour Uncut website (which has excellent contacts and who have previously given real insights) point to certain factors that we should respect.

Calling potential results outside London as potentially “a nuclear winter”, the blog calls for extreme caution as regards the recent optimism over Labour, quoting the following points:

Labour members and supporters have been knocking doors in core Labour wards, in seats that are under threat. In the last week they’ve been focused specifically on Labour voters. If there was a shift [in favour of Labour], this could happening out of sight of the canvassers. For example, Labour might be piling up support in safe Labour seats where there is little activity.

This is a well-known phenomenon, which bedevils polling organisations the world over. Unless they are polling ONLY marginal seats, they may detect a hardening of support for a party in seats where that surge in support doesn’t actually matter. Look, for example, at the huge leads for Hillary Clinton on the east and west coasts of America. She still lost in key battleground states.

People are generally pretty savvy about who is going to win their seat. “It’s always been [so and so] around here.” And people like voting for the likely winners. So in safe Labour seats they are more inclined to vote Labour, in safe Tory seats, the same. This well-understood effect doesn’t mean that a rise in support in seats like this is reflected elsewhere.

The other phenomenon that has been noted in this election, which we mentioned the other day, is the rise in activity in younger voters. Labour Uncut hazards the following:

One explanation might be a rise in support among those in a household that don’t normally take part in the doorstep conversation but do answer online polls, such as young voters. The polls themselves indicate that Labour’s rise is being driven by enthusiasm among young electors with a striking proportion saying they are committed to voting. But since the rise in the polls, Uncut has heard various stories about Labour candidates and campaigners scouring their electoral rolls to identify households with voters under 25 – whether they live in Labour wards or not, whether they or their families have a history of backing Labour or not. The feedback has been that in the overwhelming majority of cases, this pool of voters is neither sizeable enough to make a difference nor are the canvass returns from these targeted efforts tallying with the level of rise that the polls are suggesting.

This may indeed be the case. A switch to online polling has changed how polls should be read.

Screen Shot 2017-06-07 at 12.25.42 pmThere is a prevalent view that online polls aren’t as accurate as phone polls, and phone polls aren’t as accurate as face-to-face discussions. And it is on this latter point that Labour Uncut is most damning.

They encourage us to first note (looking at the last election) the difference between ‘party preference’ and ‘desired government outcome’. Voters might have identified with Labour but they didn’t want an Ed Miliband-led coalition so voted accordingly.

Second, they suggest that some voters “gamed the polls”. They used them to signal a protest before reverting to a different choice in the polling booth. It’s worth taking in, what Tory pollster Mark Textor said,

“We were polling massive numbers of voters every night and assessing how they looked at their choices, so we knew that in normal public-style polls they were saying they preferred Labour … but at the end of the day the actual outcome they wanted was a David Cameron-led Conservative government, and the only way to do that was to vote Conservative in their local seat,”

“We measured their preferred style of government … they might say: ‘Normally I prefer Labour’, but we asked: ‘Which scenario do you want as an outcome?’…so we knew there were a lot of voters who on traditional voting patterns were Labour voters but had made the tactical decision that the best choice was to vote for David Cameron … we were measuring outcomes and not just voting preference.”

“They were using polling like a protest vote – they might think: ‘I don’t really want Miliband, but I’ll say I prefer him to tickle up the Conservatives’ – or whomever – but we knew at the end of the day when we measured their preferred model in government what they really wanted was the outcome of a stable Cameron-led government.”

Labour campaigners fear something similar is happening right now.

In every seat, canvassers are encountering lifelong Labour supporters who still identify with the party but not with Jeremy Corbyn.  (The point we made much of the other day.)

This group tends to have voted forScreen Shot 2017-06-07 at 12.28.56 pm Ed Miliband reluctantly or abstained and are now either sitting out this contest as well or are ready to vote Tory for the first time to prevent a Corbyn premiership.

These switchers represent a new generation of so-called “shy Tories”, located deep inside Labour’s core vote.

The theory is that they are embarrassed at voting Tory, sufficiently so to deny their intent to friends, families and pollsters. Some of the older Labour officials and campaigners have reported familiar doorstep cadences from 1992 – “It’s in the eyes,” one said.

One last point is worth noting in judging what is happening on the ground. Lib Dem campaigners note they are in very tough fights to hold three or four of their seats, although hopeful of picking up a few more.  So no shock increase in Lib Dem seats coming up to skew the likelihood of a majority for May. And Labour campaigners and supporters are privately conceding seats that in a good year they would hold. But perhaps most of all, as Labour Uncut point out:

The Tories do not look like a party that thinks Labour is threatening a range of their seats in England, which is what the polls suggest.

Based on what Mark Textor said after the 2015 election, we know something of what they are doing. Large scale nightly polling, targeted at specific seats, with questioning framed as per the quote above. At this stage in the campaign, postal votes – which have been sampled over the past 5 days, giving them an idea of actual vote performance – will also be factored into the mix.

This is then used to shape their social media targeting on Facebook, local newspaper ad buys and visit schedule for the cabinet and leader.

Last Friday, Theresa May visited Sheffield. Specifically she was in Don Valley, Caroline Flint’s constituency, a seat where Labour led the Tories by 21% in 2015. On Saturday, she was in Penistone and Stockbridge, Angela Smith’s seat, where she won by 14% over the Tories in 2015. Tonight, May was in Bradford South, a seat where Judith Cummins beat her Tory opponent by 17% in 2015.

The fear of Labour officials and candidates, particularly in the West Midlands, North East, North West and Yorkshire, is that if the Tories are on course to flip seats like Don Valley, then many more could be vulnerable. One official in Yorkshire told Uncut that a string of Morley and Outwoods – the seat Ed Balls lost in 2015 – was on the cards for 2017.

Labour Uncut concedes they might be wrong, as you can see below, but we don’t think they are. To our eyes, the sheer un-electability of Corbyn has always been the key factor.

The polls might be right. There could be a surge of young voters that rewrite general election rules. This could be the first contest in living memory where a party increases its rating by so much during the short campaign. Labour could be about to poll near its 1997 level at the general election.

Or not.

We have consulted one election guru whose advice we consider near infallible. Not least because he personally steered some of the most famous by election victories in electoral history, and his political “nose” is about as attuned as anyone we have ever met, and he makes it his business to campaign in a variety of seats during an election.

He confidently reckons the Tories by 40-70 seats. So we are content to revise our prediction for a Tory victory upwards from the 30-40 where we had it. We’ll go with 50-70, especially as any pick ups for Labour in Scotland look increasingly unlikely. Maybe one or two. Maybe none. Not enough, anyway.

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-07 at 12.09.41 pm

Apparently men with beards are seen as more aggressive – not a feature people like in politicians. Yet they like “strong” leaders. Go figure.

 

Still not a thumping endorsement for Theresa May, at all, but it finally would be a profound rejection by the voters of Jeremy Corbyn, personally. And we have no doubt he would retire from the leadership immediately in the event of such a result. Who would replace him is more problematical. The party is split top to toe between its parliamentarians and its members. There will be tears before bedtime.

One thing that is not really on anyone’s radar is whether May herself is under threat in, say, the 12 months following this election.

Her election performance has been underwhelming in the extreme. She’d have to do a damn good job of Brexit to avoid being tapped on the shoulder by the grey ghosts of the Tory Party.

Oh, one last thing. Buy some sterling. A Tory win will see a significant jump upwards in its value.

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kennedyIn recent times, we have seen an upsurge in a rejection of the status quo and the success of populism, overwhelming the accepted norms of political discourse. The litany of events is very obvious … Erdowan in Turkey becoming progressively more authoritarian, the election of Syriza in Greece to oppose the EU-imposed austerity, the British public voting (albeit narrowly) for “Brexit”, the near-defeat of the Liberal-National coalition Government in Australia, the ascent of a virtual fascist to the Presidential run off in Austria, the likely ascent of the far-right National Front in France to a run-off in the coming French elections and the inability of a left-centre candidate to even make the frame, the rejection of Prime Minister Renzi’s attempt to rationalise decision-making in Italy leading to his resignation, the likely future success of the ultra-right in Holland, and above all, the election of businessman and reality TV star Donald Trump to the most powerful position in the Western world, President of the United States.

In reality, this trend can be traced back even further, to the velvet revolutions in Eastern Europe and the collapse of the Soviet Union (although this was also a more complex situation than mere discontent with the failures of the incumbent power structures). It could also be argued that the ultimate example is the steady move towards a command-capitalist model in China, with attendant liberalisation – creeping, at times reversed, but inexorable in its trend – of the media, of criticism of Party officials, and of the material expectations of a growing middle class. Indeed, in unleashing the forces of capitalism on Chinese society, Deng Xiao Ping can be said to have headed off a more dramatic and cataclysmic change in China.

When people are asked why they are participating in these quiet (or not so quiet) electoral revolutions they invariably answer with comments like “I am just sick of all of them”, “I am tired of the status quo, we need someone to shake things up”, “Politicians have failed us”, “We need someone to fix things up.”

The danger, of course, is that the people wreak major changes based on their discontent, without necessarily taking the time to consider whether those changes are what they really want. Fed a diet of rubbish and lies by both the media and their political leaders they simply cannot work out what is true or not, and therefore fall back on their gut instinct. And their gut instinct is that they are being badly led – which they are.

This is emphatically not to say the people are stupid – not at all. It is simply to note that in their desire to punish the under-performing elite they place rational decision-making of what might come next as secondary to their desire to give the establishment a damn good kicking. They argue, if questioned on precisely this point, that “it couldn’t be any worse”.

Winston ChurchillThe fact that it could, definitively, be much worse, is ignored because of the same anger that created the switch to populist idols in the first place.

Churchill’s warning that “democracy is the worst form of Government, it’s just better than all the others” is forgotten as the public elevate people who do not essentially subscribe to democratic ideals to run their democracies, with as yet untested outcomes.

In Russia, for example, the putative glasnost and perestroika of the Gorbacev era has now been thoroughly replaced by the quasi-fascist rule of Putin and his cronies, with uncertain outcomes that could be argued to threaten peace in Europe, at least. The Brexit vote at a minimum calls into question the “Union” part of the European Union, which is now on the nose throughout most of the EU, and the great dream of a peaceful, co-operative Europe that transcends mere trade freedom seems to lie in tatters. We might also note Churchill’s prescient remark that “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” People used to understand the limits of Government to “fix things”. No longer, it appears.

How did it come to this?

It is important to see this collapse of the ruling consensus as more than any desire to attend to this particular problem, or that, because the matters creating the angst vary from theatre to theatre.

Unquestionably, above all, the refugee flood around the world (and not just from the Middle East, at all) has created great tensions – great fear of “the others” – because it has happened at a time when the world seems to be collapsing into an ongoing conflict between the West and extremist Arabist/Muslim sects. But when massive population shifts occurred immediately after the Second World War there was considerably less social angst about an inflow of refugees, although by no means was there none, as any of the Italians, Greeks, Albanians and others who were shipped en masse to Australia (and America, and Canada) can attest. But it produced no mass revolution against the status quo. As recently as the late 1970s, huge inflows of refugees from the communist takeover of Vietnam produced barely a ripple of protest. So something different is happening here.

Unquestionably, economic uncertainty is playing its part.
The lost of traditional jobs has devastated some areas,
and not been replaced withtightrope anything else. That politicians seem unable or unwilling to recognise and successfully the problem is a staggering failure. During the 1930s, a huge “whole of Government” effort in some countries prevented the compact between the governing and the governed from breaking down altogether. The “New Deal” in America being the best and most successful example. But the mass unemployment caused by the breakdown of capital in that decade led inexorably to World War 2 and all that meant. That Western politicians can look at societies with 50% youth unemployment, can gaze on as we witness the wholesale collapse of traditional industries, can make mealy-mouthed contributions when someone brings up the obviously inadequate funds to support the aged and the ill, and yet imagine that such a cataclysm could not occur again? This is the ultimate desertion of responsibility.

It seems to us that the world is experiencing a “perfect storm” of fear – endlessly beaten up by politicians and the media – at precisely the same time as politicians are struggling, and usually failing, to come to terms with the stresses and strains created in economies by “instant” international banking (which can change the dominant rules of a market in seconds), globalisation (which has led to the wholesale demise of “old” industries in the established economies), a series of scandals that imply that our political leaders are little more than a series of ever-hungry pigs with their snouts so deep in the trough that their eyes can’t see anything over the top, and, and this is critical, a failure of leadership.

On the one hand we have the populists, with their broad brush stroke slogans, their breathlessly simple solutions, and their fellow travellers that constantly beat the drum praising the perspicacity of their chosen flag bearer. Only he (or she, in the case of Marie le Pen) have the strength and vision to ram through “the change we need”. And like parched wanderers in the desert, the people turn inevitably to the promise of relief. Tongues hanging out for any water, no matter how brackish.

But this is just a mirage of “we can fix it”. It’s a big lie. A big con. So big, indeed, that people swallow it, because surely no-one could be so ruthless, so uncaring of the effect they are having, so roguish in their pursuit of power, as to promise relief with no real idea of how to deliver it. But they can. As Stalin so chillingly said, “one man’s death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic”. The same hideous calculation is made by the populists when they promise change they cannot deliver, and solutions that are paper thin in their analysis.

But what has the response of the liberal democracies, the “ruling elite”, been to this challenge? It has been to bury themselves in perpetual over-intellectual obfuscation, to sneer at the populists as if they do not represent a threat, to blithely fiddle as their Rome burns. It has been to bleat “but we are doing our best”, when Blind Freddie can see that their best is woefully lacking. It is to lock themselves in their ivory towers – towers made of parliamentary walls, and TV studios, and offices – and to make little or no real attempt to explain to the people why they are doing what they are doing, and that is assuming they are doing anything much, at all.

How has this situation been allowed to persist?

The reasons are many and various, but in our view they come down to this:

THE FIVE GREAT FAILURES

The failure of vision

Politicians are no longer driven by a desire to create better societies – to serve their people – but by careerism. There is no doubt that no one succeeds in climbing the slippery pole without a strong streak of self-regard, but until the relatively recent past politics was still full of people whose primary, over-riding motivation was the betterment of their electorate, and more widely, humankind. There were more “enthusiastic amateurs”, drawn from all walks of life, chock full of useful experiences. To be sure, they never turned their noses up at the perks of office, nor the thrill of handling the levers of power. But at the core was a desire to conserve what was good, and to develop what was promising, and – based on evidence – to eschew what was failing. It is highly questionable whether that still applies to most politicians today – certainly those of reach the top of the heap – and the people smell the rot with absolute accuracy.

The failure of honesty

It is now a dispiritingly long time since any politician, anywhere in the West, dared to say “Actually, we’re not really sure what to do”. And yet, in huge swathes of decision making, it is perfectly clear that our leaders do not know what to do. The pace of change, and the relentless news cycle, is leading them to pretend they know what they’re doing when they really don’t. In vast areas of public policy – balancing the structural changes in economies, achieving unanimity on climate change, reducing the proxy conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere, preventing a new Cold – or Hot – war, it is plain they are thrashing about, confused and dispirited. And yet, turn a camera and a microphone on and they act like Mastermind contestants with all the answers.

This has two linked effects. Firstly, it destroys trust, when it becomes clear that the assurances and calming words are so much hogwash. Second, it removes responsibility from the public to be part of the solution to intractable problems, leaving them reliant on blowing up the entire system when they are – inevitably – disappointed, as they had no part in devising the solution, and no ownership of the outcome.

The failure of communication

Politicians seem to no longer be able to phrase their goals in simple language, without succumbing to the temptation to reduce everything to focus group-led slogans.

It would be hard to think of a single major Western politician – with the possible exception of Angela Merkel, although her days may well be numbered – who still has the required “common touch”, although Justin Trudeau in Canada is undoubtedly a standout exception – and he, it should be noted, is of the left, and is an intellectual, thus giving the lie to the assertion that all this change is merely a revolt against “left intellectualism”.

A politician like Churchill, for example, could be autocratic, even waywardly so, but he never forgot the absolute need to take the people with him. Perhaps in war-time this need is more obvious. But in the recent past – much as we disagreed with some of her policies – a politician who widely admired Churchill – Margaret Thatcher – also had the ability to communicate broad themes in a popular way, while making changes that many argue were long overdue in Britain despite being sometimes achingly difficult.

Where are the democratic politicians who offer us soaring rhetoric, yet rooted in common sense, to enliven and inform civic debate? Certainly Obama offered the soaring rhetoric, but outside of campaign mode he so often failed to return to those heights, and was too often hidebound by a toxic combination of an obstructive Congress, a swingeing economic crisis, and his own innate conservatism.

The cupboard is depressingly bare.

The failure of thought

The West, in particular, but by no means exclusively, is failing itself. The essence of democracy is free, vibrant and deep debate, the development of philosophy, the parsing of solutions. One of the inevitable results of the dumbing down of Universities – through the diversion of their funds increasingly to commercial “applied science” rather than humanities such as literature, politics, and philosophy – even theology – has starved our system of thinkers. The problems we face are massively complicated, yet those who used to work diligently behind the scenes in thousands of “thinking hives” are increasingly no longer there, and no longer contributing. Political parties are increasingly less full of thinkers and increasingly full of yar boo sucks partisans. Where political thought across the political divide was once welcome and respected, now it is virtually unheard of. While politicians of different ilk may well be friendly “behind the scenes”, for them to acknowledge the thoughts of an opponent as having value, of being worthy of consideration, is apparently political death. Little wonder the public don’t trust them, faced with such ludicrous and childishness obstinacy.

The failure of media

Our media organisations have become helplessly addicted to the brief, and the sensational.

Whilst this was always true of the tabloid media, it is now true of all media.

The people they employ are largely intellectual pygmies, and in television in particular they are in the job because they look good and can follow a producer’s brief.

Across all types of media, they don’t scare the horses, because they rarely ask any hard questions. Hard questions require that the journalist has knowledge and the politician can address that knowledge intelligently, taking whatever time is required. Neither is true, and anyway there is no time.

There are exceptions, to be sure, but they are very few and far between, and becoming more so. The success of the series “Newsroom” showed the public’s deep desire for a form of journalism that is principled, erudite and independent. But of how many journalists today can those three qualities be said? And increasingly, anyway, mainstream media is being over-taken by social media, where the provenance of any story is impossible to divine, and where the impact is so transient that clear nonsense is forgotten almost as soon as it has trended, but not before it has added to the dominant zeitgeist, whatever that may be. If we are in the era of “post truth politics” – a terrifying concept in itself for admirers of democracy – then the most brutal criticism of all must be levied at the media – all of the media – that simultaneously tolerates and encourages the situation.

So what’s to be done?

It may indeed be way too late to close the stable door after watching an entire herd of horses bolting in all directions. Or to mix our metaphors, we may all be just a bunch of well-boiled frogs who should have acted to redress the decline a long time ago.

Yes, we will be accused of being pessimistic because it appears “our side” of politics is currently losing, and we will also be accused of succumbing to conspiracy theories.

In fact, we confidently expect we will be today’s Cassandra, doomed to wail on the battlements while all around mock us.

But in our view, the first step in redressing this danger – the danger of the collapse of modern liberal democracy – is to acknowledge the problem and seek to persuade others to address it. Others, we note, regardless of their native political bent. This is a task for all of us, whatever our political persuasion.

As we do not have the influence to turn the ship around on our own, we simply point to the mounting evidence, and suggest the general shape of a solution.

It will take a mighty effort to reverse the trends outlined here. But as Horace said 2000 years ago, “A journey, once begin, is half over.” To begin this journey, we have to agree that there is a problem, yes?

“This just in”, as they say. Just an update for fellow election tragics.

jim-mcmahon-oldham_3508904bWe were right to predict that Labour would hold the seat, but they actually did substantially better than predicted, achieving a very creditable result based, for certain, on good postal vote collection.

UKIP did moderately well overall but by no means well enough, and never mounted the challenge that was expected, the Tories did poorly, and the Lib Dems, Greens and Monster Raving Loony Party did abysmally badly, losing their deposits.

This will be seen as a very good result for Jeremy Corbyn and will presumably quieten, temporarily at least, calls for his head.

Jim McMahon, the 35-year-old leader of Oldham council, will swap the town hall for Westminster after persuading 17,322 people to vote for him. Turnout was 40.26% – not an embarrassment on a very rainy Thursday in December but still depressingly low. McMahon increased Labour’s share of the vote to 62.27%, up 7.49% from the general election in May. UKIP’s John Bickley, a Cheshire-based businessman, was runner-up, on 6,487. It was his fourth second place in Greater Manchester in less than two years, having lost out to Labour in by elections in Wythenshawe and Sale East in February 2014 and Heywood and Middleton in October 2015, failing again there in May’s general election.

Dark mutterings from UKIP – who are being portrayed as having suffered a bloody nose – on the conduct of the postal vote will probably be investigated. Nigel Farage blustered on Twitter: Evidence from an impeccable source that today’s postal voting was bent.

The needle on the dial for the Lib Dems didn’t shift upwards even a millimetre, as we suggested would be the case, which again shows what a difficult situation they are now in. A lively debate is already underway as to future Lib Dem tactics.

Here are the full election results, with all the percentages, from the Press Association.

Jim McMahon (LABOUR) 17,322 (62.27%, +7.49%)

John Bickley (UKIP) 6,487 (23.32%, +2.71%)

James Daly (CONSERVATIVE) 2,596 (9.33%, -9.65%)

Jane Brophy (LIBDEM) 1,024 (3.68%, -0.00%)

Simeon Hart (GREENn) 249 (0.90%, -1.05%)

Sir Oink-A-Lot (LOONY) 141 (0.51%)

Labour Majority 10,835 (38.95%) – 2.39% swing UKIP to Lab

Electorate 69,009; Turnout 27,819 (40.31%, -19.32%)

Result in 2015: Lab maj 14,738 (34.17%) – Turnout 43,137 (59.63%) Meacher (Lab) 23,630 (54.78%); Arbour (UKIP) 8,892 (20.61%); Ghafoor (C) 8,187 (18.98%); Harkness (LD) 1,589 (3.68%); Hart (Green) 839 (1.94%)

The 2010 result - next Thursday will be wildly different.

The 2010 result – next Thursday will be wildly different.

Dear Reader, we have often claimed a 100% record for our election predictions around the world since around 1979. Of course, the fact that we haven’t managed to parlay these into a cushy job standing around in an ill-fitting suit on TV on election night is another matter altogether. Still, it’s a fun game: half political nous, half consumer insight, and half instinct.

Thus friends who have been following our prognostications for half a lifetime or more have been urging us to put up or shut up. Mostly, we suspect, shut up.

But this election in the UK is proving notoriously difficult to call accurately.

For those of you who aren’t following it with the same obsessive pleasure as your indefatigable correspondent, we will lay out the basic issues.

A majority government after next Thursday?

Will either Labour or the Conservatives get an overall majority of seats?

This is the easy one. No. The reasons are many and varied, but the essentials are that no one party is particularly popular in a country that is ravaged by political division and has endured tough times in recent years.

Normally, tough times would usher in the Opposition, on the basis that Oppositions don’t win elections, Governments lose them.

But there is the rather odd situation this time where none of the major party leaders are genuinely popular, and the electorate is also keenly aware of the fact that no major party seems to have a very clear idea of what to do to combat the general economic malaise affecting a Europe stricken with structural debt and over-spending, matched to low levels of productivity and innovation.

Labour would have won the election in the good old bad old days, but the seemingly unstoppable rise and rise of the populist, quasi-socialist Scottish National Party (and to a lesser extent their Welsh equivalent) will rob them of the seats in the major urban areas of of the Celtic states that they historically thought they “owned”.

The Lib Dems, although they have done a little better in the last week thanks to a creeping decline in the UKIP vote as the anti-immigration party come under greater scrutiny and a good performance from party leader Nick Clegg in a TV debate, will not win enough seats to make another straight Tory/Lib Dem Coalition a possibility.

So who will be the next Prime Minister?

That’s probably a rather easier one. If one adds the likely SNP wins to the likely Labour wins, then it will be Ed Milliband of Labour. Except that he has gone out of his way to insist (without any credibility) that he will not even consider an agreement where the SNP guarantee supply, let alone a full-blown coalition, so there is still some uncertainty. If Labour wins the popular vote (say by 35-34%) in the old days that would have seen them within a seat or two of a majority given the current standing of the Lib Dems and UKIP. The rise of the SNP is a new political reality that Westminster has to grapple with.

As we cannot predict with any certainty what politicians will do behind closed doors – who would have bet on the Lib Dems backing the pro-austerity Euro-sceptic Tories last time rather than their more amenable centre-left Labour colleagues? – we cannot predict what will happen after Thursday. But we suspect the outcome may be as follows, or something like it:

As the leader of the largest party, and the sitting PM, the Queen will invite David Cameron to try and form a majority Government – which may need to be tested on the floor of the Commons – but he will fail to pass a vote of confidence. The Lib Dems won’t have enough seats to get him over the line, even with the support of the protestants from Northern Ireland and a couple of UKIP MPs, and anyway they will abstain because of the current Tory insistence on an “in out” referendum on the EU.

The Queen will then invite Ed Milliband to do the same, and his motion WILL pass, but without a formal agreement with the SNP, putting him in power as a genuine minority Government – a situation almost unknown in British governmental history. Why will it pass? Simply because the SNP will calculate that they have more chance of negotiating successfully and informally with Labour, with whom they share many policy objectives, than they would with the Conservatives, who are anathema to them and their supporters. In effect – and this may be Milliband’s current calculation – they are pretty much caught in the cleft stick of their own anti-Tory rhetoric.

This process could take a long time, and will be the subject of fevered discussion in the media and the country. If you thought post-2010 was chaotic, it’ll be nothing compared to this.

So why not just call the election now? Isn’t that what you’re doing?

Well, sort of. Except when we make predictions we like them to be as accurate as possible, and there’s one factor that prevents a rush to final judgement.

The last weekend

One of the things most misunderstood by political pundits and commentators that have never actually been politically active themselves is the effect of the “ground game”, as the Americans call it. The Obama ground game – making sure one’s own supporters get out and vote in sufficient numbers, and getting waverers back into the fold – was the main reason he won re-election in 2012, for example, and it went to pot in the 2014 mid-terms, which is why the Republicans did so much better then.

(That’s a deep simplification, and other factors were at play in both elections, but it’s essentially a very true and much-ignored fact.)

Yes, the all-important ground game: that’s the effect on the electorate of the work done by political parties in each constituency. These can produce utterly skewed results, seat by seat. Taken over the country as a whole, they can affect the result significantly.

We won’t know the effect of the last weekend’s campaigning until polls are taken on Sunday night (by telephone) in key marginals, hopefully picking up any last minute impacts.

Similarly, whilst it might be hard for those of us obsessed with such matters to believe it, politics isn’t the most important factor in many people’s lives. So many people make their mind up in the last few days of an election, including, in the UK, whether to vote or not at all. We would normally suggest a low turnout for this poll, given the unpopularity of the main parties, but two other factors suggest it will be an average or even slightly higher turnout. One: other options now exist for disenchanted voters to express a protest vote, such as UKIP, the Greens and the Nationalists. Two: everyone understands the election is close, and therefore people feel their individual vote may carry more weight than usual. Those people are not yet reflected in polls – unless they are “Don’t Knows” – and in a tight election working out what they might do is central to understanding what will happen.

Sanders

For those of you who may never have lived in a marginal seat, here’s a brilliant example of what’s known as a “Last minute squeeze leaflet” employed by sitting Lib Dem MP in Torbay, Devon, Adrian Sanders. Normally, one would expect Sanders to be in trouble in this seat, which was a Tory fiefdom for decades, despite the fact that he is a hard-working local MP who is well-respected. But this leaflet makes it clear to all those who intend voting that only the Lib Dems or the Tories have a realistic chance of winning. Voters like being on the winning side – messages like this, if conveyed successfully, produce so-called “tactical voting” (aka I want the MP I least dislike) – which can boost the result for one of the main contenders or another.

Of course, the Tories can employ the same tactic against intending UKIP voters – and will, in this seat and others. Both Tory and Labour candidates will ruthlessly “squeeze” Lib Dem candidates and others in seats where they are going head to head.

How well each party makes this argument, seat by seat, will have a profound effect on the result. Pollsters will be seeking to track that effect from Sunday night onwards, which is why we will reserve our final prediction for a day or so.

We will note these general trends, which we expect to show up more clearly in polls over the next few days.

  • The number of “Don’t Knows” is falling, and this will increase as next Thursday approaches. Opinion polls that combine face-to-face interviewing with telephone interviewing, and which include constituency-specific data in their polling, will be more accurate, and are the ones to follow.
  • UKIP’s vote has peaked and is in decline. They have had, essentially, a poor campaign. Will probably only win two seats in England.
  • The SNP will probably not win all the seats in Scotland, as people have so breathlessly been reporting, but they will win a great many. The Lib Dems will retain Orkney and Shetland and maybe one more seat.
  • Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats is now marginally less likely to lose his seat of Sheffield Hallam than he was a couple of weeks back. The Lib Dem vote is trending up again, inch by laborious inch, and we expect it to end up on or near 9-10% nationally. Predicting their result nationally is fiendishly difficult because there are some seats – Eastleigh is a good example – where their ground game and local Government presence makes it almost impossible for them to lose, whereas on notional national swings they could. We have said all along they will end up with 20 seats or less – which will be a disaster for them – but we concede that other wise heads predict 20-to-30. We think we’re nearer right than wrong.
  • The Greens will only hold one seat after the election, the one they hold now in Brighton.

More news as it comes to hand. We will make our fearless prediction on Monday or Tuesday. Maybe.

Interestingly, The Independent newspaper’s poll of polls where they consult the heads of the ten largest polling organisations is headlined “A Tory lead but a Labour Government” and includes this very apposite comment from one of the pollsters, Michelle Harrison of TNS:

This election represents what happens when a country is not confident about its economic future, unsure of its place in the world, and fed up with the state of its politics.

The political stalemate at the centre, and the fragmentation of the traditional party system, has left us with a set of polls incapable of telling what will ultimately happen, when there are so many potential scenarios. What we can feel confident about though is that Thursday will be a seismic night for politics in Scotland. When the votes are counted, we expect the Tories to be the largest party, but that Labour should still have the greatest chance of forming a government. But how do we measure the advantage for the Conservatives of already being in No 10 in the days after the general election? The real drama will start on Friday.

We agree. Meanwhile, if you think you know better, put your assumptions into this rather excellent Election Predictor, one of many around. Here’s another good one. Hours of innocent fun for all the family …

Incidentally, putting an average of the most recent polls into predictors today (using different figures for Scotland of course) gives this result which would mean our predictions over the last year about most of the result have been well-nigh spot on. Long way to go yet though:

National Prediction: Conservative short 46 of majority

Party 2010 Votes 2010 Seats Pred Votes Gains Losses Pred Seats
CON 37.0% 307 33.5% 18 45 280
LAB 29.7% 258 31.5% 53 33 278
LIB 23.6% 57 10.0% 0 40 17
UKIP 3.2% 0 13.8% 2 0 2
Green 1.0% 1 5.1% 0 0 1
SNP 1.7% 6 4.1% 45 0 51
PlaidC 0.6% 3 0.6% 0 0 3
Minor 3.4% 0 1.4% 0 0 0
N.Ire 18 0 0 18

Tony Benn

Those who think being “business friendly” (or “Conservative Lite” as I like to call it) is the way forward for the UK Liberal Democrats should keep a close eye on the German Federal Election this weekend.

The Lib-Dems’ long-term European ally the Free Democrats may be effectively wiped out at the election by failing to meet the 5% hurdle to enter Parliament and remain in the governing Coalition.

Essentially the FDP’s support has either drifted to the majority party with whom it has been in Coalition on and off for a generation (the CDU under Angela Merkel) or it has wandered off to a variety of other options on both left and right, according to whichever way members of the party’s somewhat amorphous supporter base lean.

The same fate applied to the Australian Democrats a while back, when they got too close to the then Conservative government and passed a regressive tax package, although leadership wrangling played just as much of a role in their demise.

Back to the future: the day Tony Benn predicted the Lib-Dem’s current crisis to me.

I well remember chatting for some time to Tony Benn at a Liberal Party conference at Harrogate deep in the last millennium, at which he was addressing a fringe meeting.

Opinions on Benn differ – I considered and still consider him a national treasure, and I read his famous diaries voraciously – in a discursive conversation that especially covered his views on the essential non-independence of elected Governments, which his Wikipedia entry summaries as follows:

By the end of the 1970s, Benn had migrated to the left wing of the Labour Party. He attributed this political shift to his experience as a Cabinet Minister in the 1964–1970 Labour Government.

Four lessons

Benn quoted four lessons:

1) how “the Civil Service can frustrate the policies and decisions of popularly elected governments”;

2) the centralised nature of the Labour Party allowing to the Leader to run “the Party almost as if it were his personal kingdom”;

3) “the power of industrialists and bankers to get their way by use of the crudest form of economic pressure, even blackmail, against a Labour Government”; and

4) the power of the media, which “like the power of the medieveal Church, ensures that events of the day are always presented from the point of the view of those who enjoy economic privilege.

As regards the power of industrialists and bankers, Benn remarked:

“Compared to this, the pressure brought to bear in industrial disputes by the unions is minuscule. This power was revealed even more clearly in 1976 when the IMF secured cuts in our public expenditure.

These [four] lessons led me to the conclusion that the UK is only superficially governed by MPs and the voters who elect them. Parliamentary democracy is, in truth, little more than a means of securing a periodical change in the management team, which is then allowed to preside over a system that remains in essence intact. If the British people were ever to ask themselves what power they truly enjoyed under our political system they would be amazed to discover how little it is, and some new Chartist agitation might be born and might quickly gather momentum.”

That was essentially Benn’s thesis as we talked. He shared a few examples which it would be inappropriate for me to repeat here, as it was a private conversation. I was left profoundly convinced that – even though I disagreed with much of his prescriptions to solve these obvious problems – his analysis of the hidden state-behind-the-state that influenced the public behaviour of governments was totally accurate.

I genuinely don’t think it was his obvious charisma and passion that led me to conclude he was correct, although Benn is undoubtedly a very attractive and convincing individual, especially for a young Parliamentary candidate in his twenties. It was more that the stories he told me simply “rang true”.

As I nursed a pint and Benn enjoyed his perennial mug of strong tea and a pipe – he has been both a lifelong teetotaller and longtime pipe smoker – the conversation moved onto the manner in which essentially left wing parties may nevertheless sometimes be required to enact unpopular social policies, specifically cutting public expenditure as the wider macro-economic situation demanded.

I have never forgotten these words

And Benn said something to me that I have never forgotten, and which I later heard him repeat on various occasions on TV in the coming years, especially as Labour sunk deeper and deeper into the Blairite fog.

I am paraphrasing, but it ran thus:

“We are not the bastards” he said, somewhat whimsically. “The public know we are not the bastards. When we try and act like bastards, we do a poor job of it, and the public know our heart is not really in it. If they want the bastards, they’ll vote for the real ones – the Tories. If we try and pretend to be Tories, they’ll simply kick us out and go get the real thing.”

This weekend, the FDP will pay the ultimate price for deserting their community-focused, small business friendly, “small is beautiful”, environmentally aware, co-operative roots. They will be decimated, and may well end up a footnote to history.

Nice Clegg

The Liberal Democrats led by Nick Clegg and the right-leaning cabal he has gathered around him – or the Lib Dems led by someone else – should listen and learn, or they will face the same fate – and frankly, what’s more, they will deserve to.

“They don’t want us to pretend to be the bastards.

If they want the bastards, they’ll vote for them.”

Liberal Democrats: you have been warned. Don’t say you weren’t.

UPDATE

"What's the similarity between Becks and the FDP? They've both got 4.9%."  Oh, those crazy whacky Germans.

“What’s the similarity between Becks and the FDP? They’ve both got 4.9%.” Oh, those crazy whacky Germans, eh? How cruel to say they don’t have a sense of humour.

Well, our direst forecasts have proven correct. As has Benn’s essential thesis. Some 2.2 million FDP voters switched directly from the FDP to Merkel’s ruling CDU to deliver her one of the biggest election victories since the war.

(An interesting aside: If she stays in power for the next four years, as she has said she intends to, she will pass Margaret Thatcher’s record as the longest serving female leader in modern European electoral history.)

The FDP’s vote collapsed to 4.9%, tantalisingly close to the 5% they needed to ensure survival, and denying it seats in the lower house of the Bundestag, effectively making them and the country’s Vice Chancellor Philipp Roesler (ironic, huh? Vice Chancellor … Deputy Prime Minister … geddit?) utterly irrelevant to Germany moving forward.

And by the by, denying Merkel a natural coalition partner despite her electoral triumph; she will now have to laboriously try and stitch together either a “Grand Coalition” with her natural rivals the SDP, or cobble together an arrangement with the Greens.

Both options look problematical. Ironically, Merkel now has both unparalleled authority in her country, and a real chance that she may struggle to govern effectively, which given Germany’s key role in re-shaping the Eurozone is hardly good news both for Europeans and the rest of the world who are hoping that the economies Greece, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Portugal et al are going to continue to avoid collapsing entirely, which would plunge the world back into a credit crisis.

Vince Cable - a burr under Clegg's saddle, but wisely so.

Vince Cable – a burr under Clegg’s saddle, but wisely so.

After four years of bickering and failure to deliver on its tax-cutting pledges German voters overwhelmingly bled to the “real bastards” (exactly as explained above) and for those who couldn’t make that switch there were a variety of more left-wing options to try. What they didn’t do was stay with a party that didn’t seem to know why it exists.

We maintain the Lib Dems need to work much harder on effectively differentiating themselves from their larger Coalition partner or face the same fate.

Buying the Tories’ free market schtick holus bolus is most certainly not the way to do that.

Senior economic spokesman Vince Cable is often criticised by those on the right of the party for his often mournful warnings that the Tories talk at least as much crap as they do good sense about reducing deficits and applying austerity measures to cure the country of its bloated welfare culture.

As Cable has appositely pointed out, Jeremiah might have been a miserable old curmurdgeon, but his famously depressing prophesies were correct.

Er ...

Er …

Meanwhile, Merkel’s continuing onward march gives us an excuse to tell again our very favourite completely politically incorrect joke.

So Angela Merkel turns up in her stretched Mercedes at the border with Greece.

An Immigration Officer wanders over to the car. “Name?”

“Angela Merkel,” says the Chancellor as she passes over her passport.

“Occupation?” asks the officer, as he flips through the pages.

“No, ” smiles Merkel sweetly, “just a holiday this time.”

FOOTNOTE: We were saddened to see that the seemingly indomitable Tony Benn was admitted to hospital this week after feeling unwell. Let us hope he recovers fully and our thoughts are with him and his family. Agree with him or not, his contribution to modern political debate in the UK and beyond has been colossal. We are also reminded of his famous quip in 2001 that he was retiring as an MP “to concentrate on politics”. Maybe Nick Clegg should view the Deputy Prime ministership with similar askance humour sometime soon.

First ever cover of the New Yorker in 1925. Now published 47 times a year, it has a fine literary tradition.

There is a curious tradition in America where journals and newspapers of all kinds “endorse” (or support) one or other of the leading candidates for President.

For example, there was an amused titter the other day, for example, when a leading Utah newspaper (Utah being the “Mormon” state) came out against Romney calling him untrustworthy. Ooops.

This endorsing of candidates is a phenomenon seen around the world, but it is engaged in somewhat desultorily in other democracies, and rarely to any great effect.

Probably the only time of any great note recently in the non-US English-speaking world was when the Sun newspaper under Rupert Murdoch switched from the Tories under John Major and backed Labour’s Tony Blair. But in general, it rarely means anything much except in the USA.

The New Yorker is an august production, with a fine tradition of both political cartooning and political comment, as well as a diverse range of articles on other topics. It is not, however, it must be said, hugely influential any more, although it is highly respected. Although its reviews and events listings often focus on the cultural life of New York City, The New Yorker has a wide audience outside of New York. It is well known for its illustrated and often topical covers, its commentaries on popular culture and eccentric Americana, its attention to modern fiction by the inclusion of short stories and literary reviews, its rigorous fact checking and copy editing, its journalism, and its single-panel cartoons sprinkled throughout each issue.

It is a shame, really, that it is less influential than in the past, because it has just delivered one of the finest pieces of political writing I have come across in a very, very long time. It is well-researched, sparsely written, convincing and relevant. And sure, it endorses Obama, and I have made no secret of my passion for having the President re-elected.

But that is not why I suggest you read it.

In a world bedevilled by sound bites and the dumbing down of politics it stands out as principled, erudite, and yet easy to understand by all and sundry.

What an example it sets for us all. Honestly, if anyone can find a comparable piece of writing endorsing Romney I promise I will republish it. I strongly urge you to read this whatever your political persuasion.

http://www.newyorker.com/talk/comment/2012/10/29/121029taco_talk_editors?mbid=nl_Weekly+%2827%29

The final paragraph gives you an insight into its quality.

The re-election of Barack Obama is a matter of great urgency. Not only are we in broad agreement with his policy directions; we also see in him what is absent in Mitt Romney—a first-rate political temperament and a deep sense of fairness and integrity. A two-term Obama Administration will leave an enduringly positive imprint on political life. It will bolster the ideal of good governance and a social vision that tempers individualism with a concern for community. Every Presidential election involves a contest over the idea of America. Obama’s America—one that progresses, however falteringly, toward social justice, tolerance, and equality—represents the future that this country deserves.

Yup. What he said.

It certainly seems so. Coming on top of losing the appallingly mis-handled referendum on PR for the UK Parliament, they also recently lost Council seats in the UK by the bucketload, confirming that it is they, rather than the majority partner in the governing Coalition – the Conservative Party – that is wearing the opprobrium of the public for the austerity measures currently wracking the country.

 

From smiling chumminess in the garden at No 10 with his new mate David Cameron to contemplating the worst Council election results in his party’s history – is this mid-terms blues or is the party really over for Nick Clegg?

 

As nobody ever expects the Tories to do anything but ruthlessly “cut, cut, cut” when they are in power, (especially when they inherit Government from an utterly profligate and incompetent Labour Government), and the Liberal Democrats have for years portrayed themselves as nice, warm, wooly middle-class people who are in favour of just about everything sugary and nice and against anything nasty and pooh-bum-ish, then when they were pitchforked into the maelstrom of handling an economic crisis this outcome was, of course, utterly predictable.

As the inestimably wonderful Tony Benn once said to me over a beer in Harrogate  – although, as a teetotaler, he was drinking a mug of tea, of course – “The people don’t want us to be the Bastards, Stephen, they know we’re no good at it. If they want the Bastards, they’ll go for the proper Bastards. The ones who do it naturally. Left wing parties have no job being Bastards. Not you, not Labour.”

And he was spot on.

I sent an email to a friend commenting that the very good Lib Dem candidate for the London mayoralty really shouldn’t have come fourth behind the Greens. He commented by return:

You think London is bad? In Edinburgh (where the Lib Dems were the largest party until Thursday), one Lib Dem candidate received fewer votes than “Professor Pongoo, the Six-Foot Penguin”.

Well, I have endured some pretty awful election results as a Liberal in my time. However, I am pleased to say I was never beaten by a Six-Foot Penguin, no matter what his level of academic achievement. It reminds one fearfully of the wonderful Monty Python “Election Night Special”.

Eerily prescient. Anyway, since almost the very day that the deal was done between Clegg and Cameron and the Coalition came to power, worried Lib Dem campaigners with generations of experience have been tearing their hair out to convince the left-of-centre party’s central leadership that they need to be effectively – note, effectively – differentiated from their bigger Coalition partners or inevitably face an electoral backlash of considerable proportions.

The problem is, the Lib Dem leadership (with a very few exceptions) generally seem to show every sign of being perfectly convinced that the Government’s parsimony is the only way forward for Britain, when what was needed, of course, was an intelligent re-direction of spending priorities away from massive, flabby bureaucracy but back into the economy, to ensure adequate investment in national infrastructure which would duly trickle through to a variety of private enterprises.

Yes, the country must live within its means, or at least, very close to them. Ultimately, all countries must. However, there was and is still a deal of work to be done deciding exactly what that entails. Economies are like hungry bellies – they need feeding or they grind to a halt. Private business just doesn’t pick up the slack. Sticking up a few stadia for the upcoming Olympics will not cut it: on the basis of its transport infrastructure alone, for example, the UK lags far behind its European competitors. What was needed was a measured, thoughtful re-direction of investment. What Britain got was a wholesale panic shut down of Government spending.

In short, Clegg has singularly failed to convince anyone that his party is doing a smart job of ameliorating the Government’s excesses, or of creating smart outcomes that lock in a future for Britain as an innovative, manufacturing nation. He is now a figure of sarcastic fun, and electorally tainted – probably, in my opinion, damaged goods beyond repair.  There will be a gradually growing pressure for change within the party from the “ABC”  tendency – “Anyone But Clegg”  – not that many of the leading Lib Dems look well poised to take over.

In the historic scheme of things, the Lib Dems will recover from this experience – eventually – although they may have reached their modern high water mark at the last two general elections. In future, what positive effect they have on legislation is unclear, and probably subject to the concomitant electoral success of an eclectic bunch of nationalists, greens and anti-European bombasts, who will all make uncomfortable ginger-group colleagues.

(Perhaps the best thing that can be said about the UK Independence Party is that they are not the British National Party, which did very badly at the Council elections. However, those who enjoy watching the fringes of British politics might like to consider this story before they try and keep their kippers and toast down.)

In our opinion the Lib Dems should have resisted joining a coalition and supported legislation on a case by case basis, playing honest brokers between the two major parties, and demonstrating what it is that makes them different from the big boys.

Yes, it would have been messy, untidy and complicated, and the arrangement would have been roundly criticised for not being “stable”  enough.

But on the other hand the British public might have learned something about non-majority Government, (as Australia has in the last two years), and they would have kept their soul, and their uniquely independent and refreshing view of the political landscape in the UK. I know I will be accused of 20-20 hindsight, but I did say it at the time.

In the end, though, the lure of the Government benches was too strong. Being treated like grown ups for the first time in three generations was a heady brew.

Sadly, though, the hangover may go on for a very long time.

Nazir - idiot or worse?

It is alleged that British Lord Nazir Ahmed put a £10 million (US$16 million) bounty on both President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush Friday, according to The Express Tribune, an English language Pakistani newspaper.

Nazir, who is of Pakistani heritage and a controversial Labour Party member of the British House of Lords, (he is supposed to have been suspended from the Labour Party following these reports), supposedly made the comments while at a reception in Haripur, a Pakistani city 40 miles north of Islamabad. Nazir told the audience that he was putting the bounty out for the capture of the American leaders in response to the bounty placed on Hafiz Muhammad Saeed by the United States.

“If the U.S. can announce a reward of $10 million for the captor of Hafiz Saeed, I can announce a bounty of 10 million pounds on President Obama and his predecessor George Bush,”  Nazir reportedly said.

Hafiz Muhammad Saeed

Hafiz Muhammad Saeed (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Saeed is widely believed to be the head of the Pakistani based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was responsible for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India that killed more than 160 innocents including numerous overseas visitors to India. After the 2008 attacks, Saeed denied being connected to the terrorist group. Nevertheless, in April, the U.S. government announced a $10 million reward for information leading to his capture in connection to the attacks.

According to The Express Tribune, Nazir said the bounty on Saeed was a grave insult to all Muslims and that he would sell his house if necessary to obtain the funds necessary to pay the bounty he placed on Obama and Bush.

The Pakistani report was brought to the attention of blog The Daily Caller by the Middle East Media Research Institute.

If this report is accurate, this man is at best an out and out idiot. Someone should also consider whether or not his comments amount to something amounting to treason or lending support to terrorism.