Archive for December, 2011

The twelve rules of opposition: day seven

31/12/2011, 12:00:17 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Rule 7 – My enemy’s enemy is my friend

It’s new year’s eve, a time to look forward to 2012 with hope. For her majesty’s opposition, it was a bad 2011 and if ever a political party needed to see some light at the end of the tunnel, Labour does now.

While most of the rules of opposition take a while to implement, rule 7 offers the potential to change the political weather sooner, rather than later.

It’s based on a simple fact of political life. Oppositions do not bring down sitting governments. Government backbenchers do. (more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Atul’s twelve days of opposition: day six.

30/12/2011, 02:00:21 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Rule Six: Use the leader’s life to show their  human side

“Show don’t tell’ is normally advice for fiction writers. It involves minimising the exposition and letting readers or viewers experience the story through the character’s thoughts and actions.

Increasingly, it also applies to politics.

Not because political campaigns are works of fiction, not entirely at least. But as the spotlight at each election shines ever brighter on the leader, each party has a story to tell about why their man or woman understands the needs of the country.

Politicians talk about this incessantly, but there is little as persuasive as showing rather than telling. If a leader has a similar background, has gone through comparable experiences and tackled the same challenges as the typical voter, then these actions speak a lot louder than words.

For a prime minister who has the gravitas of office as well as the ability to make decisions that impact people, their personal narrative become less important the longer they are in office. Their “show don’t tell” comes from the choices they make in government.

But for an opposition leader, who has no means to affect people’s lives, and who will likely be largely unknown to voters, the detail of their personal story is critical.

Rule six entails showcasing the opposition leader’s own story in a way that builds a connection with voters and tackles the negatives that are barriers to future office.

It doesn’t matter if they have had a deeply unremarkable past. It doesn’t even matter if their lives are run through with gilded privilege, voters will be interested and use their impressions of the leader’s home life in determining their choice for prime minister.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Romney will win Republican race starting with Iowa

30/12/2011, 08:00:52 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Mitt Romney has always been the frontrunner in the Republican presidential nomination race. There are, however, Republicans with doubts about Romney-care, his religion and his corporate background. Given such concerns, I had thought Rick Perry might usurp Romney by matching his strongest card, economic credibility, and having more appeal to the religious right.

That was before I realised Perry’s oratory makes George W Bush seem Cicero-like. Such a shambles can’t possibly have more ability than Romney to reach out to business people or even evangelicals sceptical of Mormonism. We live in an unpredictable, crazy world but it is surely now predictable that Perry as a presidential candidate is too crazy.

Romney’s other rivals, however, drift inexorably to the same status. Almost as if the whole thing has been orchestrated by Romney’s campaign, with the aim of securing their man victory and everyone else a laugh. The race has been characterised by Romney being the only consistently leading presence, periodically challenged for ascendency by the latest hyped candidate, before this hype dissipates, often in a blizzard of insanity.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

The twelve rules of opposition: day five

29/12/2011, 03:58:14 PM

By Atul Hatwal

Rule 5: Be the change you want voters to see

How does an opposition leader convince the sceptical public that they have what it takes to lead?

Just as defeat means voters do not believe a losing party’s economic prescription, they equally have little faith in the leader to make the big decisions that will determine the fate of the country.

Even if an opposition elects a new leader, they are usually little known by the electorate and tainted with the failure of the past.

Starting from this position of deep public mistrust, the opposition leader needs to demonstrate that they are fit to take that 3am call.

And this has to be achieved without being able to make any actual decisions that will impact voters’ lives.

Making statements on national and international issues is expected, but ultimately it’s merely opining.  An opposition leader has as much actual power as a newspaper columnist or a blogger. (more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Peter Watt’s 2012 crystal ball

29/12/2011, 07:51:26 AM

by Peter Watt

No doubt we will begin to see people’s predictions for 2012 over the next few days. So here are mine.  I have two, which are inter-related and they are to do with the economy and leadership.

First the economy. You don’t need to be much of a soothsayer to know that next year will all be about the horrific state of the international economy. Much of the world, although by no means all, is teetering on the edge of recession. I am no longer sure that anyone knows either what is happening or how to sort it. Years of trade deficits in much of the West coupled with cheap credit of which many individuals and countries took advantage have produced huge instability. Add in a toxic mix of complex financial instruments that would challenge the average nuclear physicist plus a bodged European single currency. You have to ask how we never saw this coming. But it seems that payback time is nearly upon us.

The euro might collapse; it might not. I suspect that ultimately it won’t. But the next few weeks will all be about the desperate battle between countries and the markets. The chances are that the markets will win. There will be endless Euro summits that nearly make a decision and then definitely don’t.  Spain, Italy and probably France will come under pressure and the cost of borrowing and servicing their debt will rise. Germany is going to have to decide what will cost its taxpayers more – saving the euro or having it collapse. But something will have to give, because the status-quo cannot endure. Either there will be a much stronger financial union, with Germany effectively calling the economic shots within the eurozone, or the currency will collapse. Both scenarios will have huge implications for the UK, European and indeed the world economy. Even those who feel that a collapse of the euro would be the best outcome can’t really know what the immediate implications would be.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

The twelve rules of opposition: day four

28/12/2011, 11:33:08 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Rule 4: Recruit the right support team

Voters pick leaders as much as parties or policies. And what turns an opposition leader into a prime-minister-in-waiting is no accident.

This process has been completed seven times since the war. Although the politics of the moment have varied, and the individual matters enormously, there are still some common features to each successful transformation.

First, recruiting the right support team. Second, demonstrating leadership in the party. And third, showcasing the biography so voters understand their future leader.

Ensuring these three elements are in place will not overturn natural disadvantages if the leader isn’t up to the job, but they will help maximise the chances of success.

So much of the focus in defining a leader is on the individual, it’s easy to overlook the importance of their back office team.

So easy that opposition leaders themselves frequently miss it. (more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

The twelve rules of opposition: day three

27/12/2011, 03:23:04 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Rule 3: Re-draw the dividing lines with ring-fenced, costed policy measures

Following each election, there is a single characteristic common to the public view of the loser, regardless of party or the issues which defined the election.

They represent the undeserving few rather than the honest many.

In 2010, Labour was the party addicted to state spending at tax payers’ expense. In 1997 the Tories were too busy settling their own personal scores to be bothered with the welfare of the country. And in 1979 Labour was a government beholden to the unions not the country.

The central task for any political campaign is to convince voters that the other side is on the wrong side of this divide.

Rule three of opposition involves using ring-fenced, costed policies to re-draw these dividing lines in the opposition’s favour.

It means defining in detail those areas where privileged, special interest minorities, preferably allied to the government, will pay for the measures that benefit the hard-working majority.

This is easier said than done, but all it takes are a limited number of emblematic policies.

For example, in 1997, one of Labour’s five pledges in the election campaign was for a windfall tax on utilities to pay for training and work for the long term young unemployed.

As a policy it tapped into voter anger at the privatised utilities making abnormal profits, an area on which the Major government was vulnerable, and made the connection to tackling youth unemployment, something to which the Tories were seen as indifferent.

The dividing line between helping the young unemployed under Labour versus protecting privileged utilities under the Tories was as clear as it was bright.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

The twelve rules of opposition: day two

26/12/2011, 12:01:56 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Rule 2: Use the government’s tax and spending plans as a bridge back into the argument

All oppositions start their lives with a trust deficit on the economy.

Defeat at a general election is the most stark demonstration of voters’ lack of faith. It is the public sending a clear message that they do not believe that the party has either the policies or the capability to deliver on their promises of a brighter tomorrow.

The pre-eminent requirement for an opposition is to bridge this trust gap, as quickly as possible.

But deprived of power, and the ability to demonstrate how alternative policies would have been more effective than the government’s, the options are limited.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

The twelve christmas rules of opposition

25/12/2011, 07:08:24 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Today is a day for presents. And at Uncut we are keen to join in the joy of giving. So we bring the gift of opinion.

It’s a gift that will keep giving, over the Christmas holiday at least. Each day for the next twelve days, twelve rules that determine how to be an effective opposition will be set out. The rules are drawn from a review of the experience of the seven successful oppositions since the second world war, with an emphasis on the most recent.

This isn’t Labour specific, as the rules are eternal and apply to whoever is unfortunate enough to sit on the wrong side of the House.

Neither is it remotely concerned with the substance of politics, the big changes that will make a difference to the lives of people in the country. For the current opposition, there is a paintbox of pamphlets – red, purple and black – waiting to be read for that and a massive policy review process under way.

Instead, the focus here is the low politics, the process, which most politicians profess to disdain but still somehow provides the content for 99% of political discussion.

The rules are divided into four categories that map the essentials for a short-lived life in opposition – first, adjusting to the limits of opposition, second, building an alternative prime minister, third, hitting the government where it hurts and fourth, how to make it all happen.

There could be more individual rules, or fewer, but whichever way the format is cut, the same basic truths of opposition will always emerge.

Adjusting to the limits of opposition

The transition from government to opposition is traumatic. It’s more than demotion, it’s diminution. Where once you mattered and made decisions that had consequences, opposition is life on the other side of a mirror. Visible but immaterial.

The first three of the twelve rules of opposition help the party deal with the immediate consequences of defeat.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

A closer look at Ed’s new chief of staff

23/12/2011, 12:30:46 PM

by Atul Hatwal

One of the longest running vacancies in politics was finally filled earlier this week. Over a year after he became leader, Ed Miliband has appointed a chief of staff: Tim Livesey.

The role of chief of staff is an essential part of the leader’s office. Part project manager, part adviser, wholly accountable for the smooth running of the leader’s world, whatever is going on, particularly if it’s going wrong, the buck stops with the chief of staff.

The billing for Tim Livesey is that he is a heavyweight appointment. He’s the man who will bring experience and assurance to the running of the team.

Following a difficult year with problems ranging from avoidable flurries such as the recent confusion around the departure of Ayesha Hazarika from PMQ preparation duties, to major misjudgements like that conference speech, a firmer hand on the tiller will clearly help.

Tim Livesey’s background seems to fit the bill. A high flying career in the foreign office, media experience as assistant press secretary to Tony Blair and the best part of a decade in the service of the Archbishop of Canterbury, principally running his PR operation, mean he has the type of broad experience required.

Using Livesey’s record to divine (so to speak) the type of advice he will give to the Labour leader, three incidents stand out.

First, his comments in a seminar about how politicians should present themselves in the media; second, the row over the church of England’s ham-fisted intervention on gay adoption; and third, his role in Rowan Williams’ controversial sharia law speech.

Just before Tony Blair left office, in one of his final speeches, he discussed the adverse impact of the media on public life. In a subsequent seminar, Tim Livesey was on the panel discussing this view.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon