What on earth is going on with politics at the moment?

by Peter Watt

Does anyone know what is going on out there?  Really?  Until a month ago it was all so much simpler.

The Tories didn’t really have a coherent tale to tell but then nor did anyone else so it didn’t really matter all that much.  They bumbled along making mistakes and generally looking incompetent.  But crucially voters had been persuaded that they were dealing with an out of control deficit that Labour had caused.

And that was the end of the discussion.

Anyway, they had David Cameron and he looked and sounded prime ministerial, made tough decisions and even diplomatically bashed the Germans and French.  No matter how bad it got, he was their trump card.  And Labour, not to put too fine a point on it, had its own problems:  perceptions of economic incompetence and a leader who was still finding his feet as far as voters were concerned.

But then came the budget and suddenly the Tories and David Cameron are wobbling.

All that bravado and self-confidence appear shaken to its core.  Instead of charting a route to sunnier times the budget looked elitist, favouring the rich.  And worse it looked muddled as its measures unravelled and established more and more losers.

Ed Miliband gave one of his finest performances in the Commons after Osborne’s budget speech.  The discomfort on the faces of David and George was there for all to see, and on the benches behind them you could see doubt.

Over 4 weeks later the budget is still the issue of the moment, and at issue is the Government’s credibility.  George Osborne appears to have disappeared and no one on the Government side seems overly keen to defend the finance bill.  Certainly not David Cameron; he seems intent on avoiding answering any of Ed Miliband’s questions at successive PMQ’s.

Ed’s victories at the despatch box have rattled Cameron.  And the more rattled David Cameron gets the less prime ministerial he looks and sounds.  His attacks become more and more sneering, dismissive and personal and his lack of attention to detail becomes ever more obvious.  It’s not attractive.

The polls appear to have moved against the Government as well.  Steady 4 – 5 point Labour leads before the budget have become steady 9 – 11 point leads after it with UKIP nibbling at Tory support.

So all in all it’s not been a great few weeks for the Tories.

So what of Labour?  Firstly there appears to be a bit of a civil war going on at head office with damaging briefings and leaks appearing all over the media.  Whatever the rights and wrongs of how they got there it is clearly not a good place to be a few weeks before an important set of elections!

And then there was Bradford West.

Whichever way you cut it, the result was a disaster for the party.  Labour should have won in its heartland.  Instead it got smashed and humiliatingly didn’t even see it coming.  Worryingly for Labour, given a credible (electorally speaking) alternative the voters gladly turned safe Labour into safe Galloway.   At a time when Labour should be developing into the focal point of an enthusiastic national anti-Tory movement, the movement was away from Labour.

Then there is the London election campaign.

Even the loyalist of the loyal is quietly conceding that thus far it hasn’t been Labour’s finest hour.  The allegations of hypocrisy over tax have hurt Ken badly and the assortment of his unfortunate comments and associations haven’t helped.

The most passionate debates have been between party members over whether or not they should vote for him.  Which is why, despite Labour’s national poll lead, in the mayoral campaign the party has been playing catch-up.  Ken starts the final few weeks as the underdog in a tight race with Boris in the lead despite being seen as favouring the rich and not focusing on the poor.

The national polls might be looking good for Labour superficially but look a little harder and the numbers on economic competence although improving, are still difficult.  And Ed’s personal numbers are dreadful with voters absolutely not yet seeing Ed as a prime minister in waiting.

Conversely, although less popular than he was, David Cameron is still the most popular party leader by a significant margin.

So all in all it’s not been a great few weeks for Labour either.

But it could be worse for Dave and Ed – they could be Nick.  The Lib Dems are in a truly dreadful place with the polls putting them neck-and-neck with UKIP and predicting only handfuls of Lib Dem MPs after the next election.

Nick Clegg’s personal ratings are appalling and they look like losing hundreds of Councillors on May 3.  I suspect that come the general election they will rally and it won’t quite be as bad as the dire predictions.  But right about now it must be hard to be optimistic if you are in the orange camp.

So it’s not been a great few weeks for the Lib Dems.

And meanwhile UKIP are polling at 8 – 9 % and people are seriously betting on an independent coming third in the London Mayoral elections.   The Labour bastion of Glasgow city council appears to be in danger of falling to the SNP but Labour looks poised to win back Birmingham Council and win hundreds of extra council seats.

So it’s all in flux with all of the parties having had a bad few weeks.  The Tories are increasingly seen as incompetent and are damaged by the politically disastrous budget that has put them further behind Labour in the polls.  But David Cameron is still relatively popular and they are still seen as the most economically competent.

Labour is extending its poll lead but is still seen as economically dangerous, even if less so than a few months ago.  And Ed is not yet seen as a prime minster in waiting.  The Liberal Democrats appear to be living on borrowed time.

Confused? You should be and it all makes politics very interesting at the moment.

Peter Watt was general secretary of the Labour party

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12 Responses to “What on earth is going on with politics at the moment?”

  1. Anon E Mouse says:

    Peter Watt – Agreed on the tories. David Davis would have made a far better leader for that party but the main problem the government has is really bad PR.

    To not be able to articulate why it is wrong that rich people can pay taxes as low as 10% by giving their money to charities to let the rest of the poorer population pay for public services is simply incompetent.

    On Labour things are going from bad to worse. To not have a majority in Wales or Scotland and to lose some of their heartlands is a serious matter.

    What is worse is that the party seems oblivious to the facts and continues to act as if it has some god given right to be in government in this country which it most certainly doesn’t.

    If Labour activists spent a little less time trying to convince people that we are wrong and they are right they may be taken seriously.

    To allow individuals like Ken Livingston to remain in the party with the types of views he holds is shameful.

    Neil Kinnock got massive kudos for taking on the unions and if Miliband grew some balls and started acting against what is indefensible Labour may be taken far more seriously.

    As for politics the truth is it’s just boring at present…

  2. Nick says:

    Mean while, government spending is up in real terms.

    The government debt is rocketing past the 7 trillion mark.

    And politicians don’t give a toss.

  3. The Future says:

    There is no way an independent will come third. That’s insider nonsense talk. Same with a lot of this stuff I’m afriad.

    I also don’t think you can attack Ed Milibands personal ratings that much. On the economty we are no tied, remember Blair and Brown were behind the Tories on the economy in 1997.

    What is clear though is that the pre packaged narrative that Labour is rubbish and Cameron a genius is now dead. It was never true of course, but people like yourself couldn’t face a reality where what they believed was untrue.

  4. WG says:

    What is the point of Westminster if we now have a ‘European’ government?

    All I see is that we are paying for two governments – the wealth and democracy is being drained away by a European political and corporate class.

    I’ll give Peter Watt his due – he has spoken up for a referendum on the EU.

    As a working class person – a skilled tradesman – I feel totally disenfranchised by the main three parties – I just don’t see the point in voting for any of them.

    And yes – I am going to vote for UKIP – I’ve had it with the lot of them.

  5. Clr Ralph Baldwin says:

    of course some of us were warning about this years ago. The political separation from reality is deepening and fractures now increasing. The decline is deep and the party Leaderships are blind…truly blind. In Labours case its a voluntary choice as looking after ones mates and pals and family is the path they have chosen using excuses like “profession” and “political class” to try and clumsily cover up their ineptitude. The three parties are like dogs of varying intelligence and low wisdom, throw a piece of meet and they all go dashing for it, scrambling in the mud, but it’s been a cold rainy season in politics and the mud is deep and as they scramble they sink, deeper. Totally oblivious to what is occurring around them and determined in Labours case not to look but continue to be cynically determined and close off the very things the party was created to address. No beliefs, no conviction, Milliband enjoying a short protest boost at a mid term before a local election, we have seen it before with Labour winning locals but losing nationals and Europeans. Galloway showed us all what happens when a viable and outspoken opinionated candidate decides to speak up for people, the real opposition wins and he did. Politics is on hold currently. Until politicians return to politics.

  6. paul barker says:

    The problem with this analysis is that a lot of what “is” happening isnt, its froth made up by the media, further reflected in the distorting mirror of “the polls”.
    The establishment & in particular, the media, fall into labour & tory supporting factions. There are no independent or libdem factions. Both sides hate the libdems & both sides hate the coalition.
    The old Deadtree press are in a very bad mood as journalists see their prospect of a comfortable life in islington or highgate evaporating, they are looking for someone, anyone to blame but themselves.
    Siobhan benita is the media candidate, a rosie barnes for today.
    Everyone from rallings & thrasher to yougov says the libdems will be slaughtered again in 2 weeks, lets wait & see.

  7. Chris Kitcher says:

    At the present time I don’t have a clue what the Labour Party stands for. If one of the clones that currently occupy Shadow Cabinet positions could clearly state where Labour stands on Tax Defence, Welfare, the NHS and a whole raft of important issues I for one would be profoundly thankful.

  8. madasafish says:

    Chris Kitcher

    Tony Blair epitomises what Labour Ministers aspire to and act to reach.

  9. BenM says:


    “To allow individuals like Ken Livingston to remain in the party with the types of views he holds is shameful.”

    Eh? What views does Ken hold that are shameful?

    The broad thrust from Peter is right I feel. Labour will get a little momentum from the government’s troubles and ideas of a Tory majority in 2015 in spite of the attempted gerrymandering of constituencies is now for the birds.

    That doesn’t mean a Labour majority either. At least not yet. Some of the supplementary questions in these polls are still weak for Labour and the upcoming elections – particularly in London – may well take the wind out of Labour’s sails.

    That said, the opportunity – and opportunity is all it is – is there.

    Cameron, though his numbers remain high, looks more exposed to some long overdue criticism. Underneath it all and whatever the erroneous image of statesmanlike ability – Cameron is really another simple reactionary Tory and that needs to be picked over and exposed.

  10. uglyfatbloke says:

    Paul Barker – good points, but the Labour/Tory dominance in the media is probaly a reasobnable reflection of the electorate right now. That said, media strength is not everything; in Scotland almost all of the press and the BBC are immesely hostlile to the Gnats (I don’t know what the situation is in Wales) but they are still much more popular than anyone else.
    Will UKIP eclipse the Glib-Dumbs? Maybe, but probably not for long once people get to know them for the bumbling twats they are.
    If Labour have a good election it’ll help to raise Ed’s profile and ratings, but it won’t last unless he can offer a real alternative to the tory agenda…tinkering with the details won’t do the trick.

  11. Alan Williams says:

    How has Ken Livingstone gone from being much more popular than the Labour Party in 2000, 2004 and 2008, to being less popular now? I mean, is it because his personal popularity has gone, or because the Labour Party’s popularity has gone up?

  12. uglyfatbloke says:

    I imagine ethre are several factors, but Ken becoming less popular as the party becomes more so is, presumably the key. Not so sure that it is all that important; a strong Labour GLA will keep Boris (mostly) under control and in any case we have a dreadfully London-centric politcal culture. Contrary to common perception London actually costs the rest of the country a fortune. Topry claims about the contribution of the ‘The City’ are compormised by massive tax evasion and are misleading because so many companies that do no actual business in London still have their headquarteres there, which distorts tax and NI figures.
    Additinally, a great deal of London’s tax contribution actually comes out of the public purse in the first place due to the ridiculous concentration of ‘national’ civil service jobs inside the M25. Poor people in Cornwall and Cumbria pay heavy taxes to support meaningless government departments and offices in London; that can’t be right.

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