Campaign frontline: Despite its short term woes, UKIP hopes to bounce back

15/05/2017, 06:54:17 PM

In a series of reports from the campaign frontline, Uncut looks at what’s happening on the ground. Kevin Meagher was at Little Lever, in Bolton South East to take a look at UKIP’s local campaign

Reversing a coach into the narrow entrance of the car park of the Queens pub in Bradley Fold took some doing. Eventually, though, the driver managed it. Perseverance and a steady hand paying off. Given this was UKIP’s new campaign battle bus, emblazoned with the smiling face of its newish leader, Paul Nuttall, the moment served as a perfect metaphor.

Small steps. Incremental progress. Steady as she goes.

This was certainly the hope as Nuttall arrived in Little Lever, a village in the Bolton South East constituency and the closest thing UKIP has to Ground Zero. The party has all three council seats and intends to build out from here into neighbouring villages.

Amid its difficulties elsewhere, with losses of county council seats and plunging opinion poll levels, Little Lever, a Brexit-voting ‘upper working-class’ enclave, counts as safe ground for the kippers.

Owner occupiers with nice semis. Small business owners. Vans on the driveways. Satellite dishes. Nice gardens. Not Emily Thornberry territory, it is safe to say. This isn’t Middle England though. This is a small town full of classic aspirational Labour voters. Skilled manual workers, not middle class professionals.

It’s also a totem for how UKIP still hopes to replace Labour in its political backyard across the north of England, picking up on working-class disaffection with issues like immigration and the general drift under Jeremy Corbyn.

Defying the stereotype, Nuttall’s advance team are chatty and friendly. There are the obligatory burly security guys, replete with their CIA-style earpieces. A few local activists gather while a pasty young man paces around the car park, his plummy accent and Barbour jacket giving him away as a UKIP staffer.

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Three quick thoughts on the Labour manifesto leak

11/05/2017, 03:33:23 PM

by Kevin Meagher

1. The butler did it…Or perhaps he didn’t

So who leaked it? Who benefits from Labour’s policy commitments spilling out over the evening news bulletins in one big, tangled heap? No-one, is the answer. It’s unlikely too many of Jeremy Corbyn’s internal opponents (is ‘enemies’ too strong?) would have been privy to the working draft and just as unlikely they would deliberately sabotage the campaign. The mood on the right of the party is ‘let Corbyn fail on his own terms.’

Did someone in his team think it was a useful tactical ruse? Perhaps to strong arm critics who would prefer a more hard-headed manifesto with fewer uncosted commitments? (The idea being that if they’re in the public domain there can be no rowing back in today’s Clause V meeting of party grandees that agrees the final cut). Again, what we see doesn’t bear that out. The contents are, frankly, much less swivel-eyed than many expected.

Was the document leaked to cover-up something more damaging? Again, that doesn’t ring true. There was nothing going do disastrously wrong yesterday that warranted slapping the proverbial ‘dead cat’ on the table. Indeed, Jeremy Corbyn’s cancelled appearance at a poster launch this morning, gives the clear impression the leadership knew nothing of the leak.

As ever, never overlook bog-standard, garden variety incompetence, either because it’s innate to a surprisingly large number of people working in politics, or, quite possibly, through fatigue. In his book on the 1997 election, ‘The Unfinished Revolution’ the late Philip Gould recounts leaving a set of poster designs in Euston station before catching a train. When the horror of what he’d done dawned on him, a party staffer was hurriedly despatched to retrieve them. Luckily, they were still where he’d left them.  Sometimes in politics you’re lucky and your mistakes aren’t realised. And sometimes you’re not.

2. Whisper it, it’s not that mad
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It sounds counter-intuitive, but better for Labour’s survival to lose seats to the Tories than the Lib Dems or Ukip

09/05/2017, 10:26:26 PM

by Atul Hatwal

The future seems bleak for Labour. Catastrophic local election results, Mayoral losses in heartlands like the Tees Valley and West Midlands and a general election wipeout in prospect. It’s hard to think how things could be worse.

But they could.

There are three ways to lose: on points, knocked-out and retired from the ring.

Under Jeremy Corbyn, the last of those three options has been a real possibility. A defeat so total and damaging that it will be lethal to Labour’s chances of ever returning to power.

A beating of this scale would involve the long term fracturing of Labour’s coalition of voters with a mushrooming of Ukip representatives in the North and Midlands and losses to the Lib Dems in parts of London, the South West and university towns

This is the road to retirement.

Both of these parties thrive as vehicles of protest against the status quo, whether the metropolitan elite or establishment elite or both.

Labour campaigners have years of experience of how difficult it is to dig out Lib Dems once they have taken root locally. A combination of effective organisation and the ability to always promise that grass is greener, made them political knotweed (that’s not a criticism).

It’s no coincidence that Lib Dems were only removed from places like Bermondsey and Southwark, islands of orange in Labour territory, after the Lib Dems threw their lot in with the Tories, entered government and had to defend government policies.

Ukip’s strategy has been explicitly based on the traditional Lib Dem approach and after the Lib Dem’s 2015 electoral experience, Tim Farron has taken them back to basics in their local campaigns.

If Labour’s collapse in the local and Mayoral elections had been synonymous with Ukip and Lib Dem gains, it would have been a portent of an extinction level political event on June 8th.

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The real defeat for Corbyn and Farron was when Theresa May suckered them into voting for an early election

08/05/2017, 11:37:41 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The June 8th election will set a new low for political manipulation in British politics. It is run only for the short term advantage of the Conservative party being a classic cut and run while you are ahead move which the Fixed Term Parliament Act was designed to prevent from happening. Historically May scored her biggest victory over the Lib Dems and Labour when they failed to defend the Act. The Tory gamble came off, as neither party had the political courage to call Theresa May’s bluff and vote against the election. The failures of Tim Corbyn and Jeremy Farron will be lasting.

This is the stolen election and a historical turning point. Unless Theresa May had stitched up the vote on the Early Election bill, unlikely as Tim and Jeremy are not going to do a deal openly with the Tories, she was gambling when she called the election, calculating she could get away with it despite the Fixed Term Parliament bill requiring 5 years before a general election – and promising the date would be May 2020.

Theresa May lulled the other parties into planning long term, and they were  caught out by the loophole in the Act which allowed an early election – if two thirds of MPs voted for an early election Bill, which needed 434 M Ps voting for it to pass. As the Tories did not have a two thirds majority only if Labour voted for the bill could this happen. Labour voted for the Bill, thus triggering an election which could only help the Tories. All the problems which were gathering around the Tory party notably election fraud allegations, the economy and major policy areas including prisons, May’s former job as Home Secretary making her responsible, were removed at a stroke.

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The state of Labour: Post-anger, pre-recrimination

08/05/2017, 07:12:10 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Anger towards Jeremy Corbyn – and the blind alley into which he has led Labour – is probably futile at this point. The party was going to lose this general election whenever it was called. It was inevitable the moment Corbyn became leader 20 long months ago. There is a modicum of relief, perhaps, that the process of rebuilding can now begin in 2017 rather than 2020.

After a gruelling week, the scale of the challenge is now agonisingly clear. Glasgow. Tees Valley. Lancashire. The West Midlands. With its heartlands deserting it, there is nowhere in the country where Labour can’t lose at the moment. Much worse is, of course, to come in a few weeks’ time.

Actually, it feels slightly macabre to speculate about Labour’s short term future. So many decent MPs – servants of their community, country and party – are set to have the ground cut from beneath them.

The immediate issue is what do the party’s campaign managers do about Corbyn himself? His penance, such as it is, is to spend the next five weeks campaigning around the country observing the pretence that he is on course to be our next Prime Minister. But where do they take him where he adds any value to Labour’s campaign?

Just wait for the old soldier to accost him on a walkabout. Or the teenager to come up to him and call him a ‘loser’. Or the Jewish granny who gives him a dressing down for soft-pedalling on anti-Semitism.

No party leader who trails amongst every main demographic group is going to win an election. The voters’ basic, crippling assumption that he is not up to the job is not going to change now. In his heart of hearts Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t believe he is winning either. He knows he is squandering the moment.

But here’s the thing. There is little point railing against Corbyn. Better to accept that he is a victim of circumstance. Others created the opening for him and the hard left to make this extraordinary breakthrough. He never wanted this job. It was, infamously, his ‘turn’ to stand for the Labour leadership, as John McDonnell had done before him in 2007 and Diane Abbott did in 2010.

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Theresa May’s dead EU cat shows the fragility of her campaign and paucity of political judgement

03/05/2017, 06:04:40 PM

by Atul Hatwal

The question is why? Why would Theresa May make that speech on the EU in this election? She’s already guaranteed a huge majority. Reports from all parties make it abundantly clear that the number one doorstep issue for switchers is Jeremy Corbyn.

She also knows that this speech will have a long term impact.

In France, Emmanuel Macron, most likely victor in this week’s second round is sure to be asked about it and will harden his line on Brexit. Merkel, approaching her own campaign, will do similar.

The Tory right will use May’s words to  make any backsliding towards the perfidy of compromise for an interim deal that much harder.

The chances of a Brexit disaster on Theresa May’s watch, in the next two years, just leapt exponentially.

So why do it?

A big part of the reason is that her team have been bounced: criticism of the Tories’ lack of policy, her own sheltered campaign which has studiously avoided contact with the public and the robotic repetition of the same lines, has clearly had an impact.

It’s hard to fill an election grid when the only policy commitment is to not make a commitment, journalists are getting restive and bored of anodyne events and the principal lacks the basic retail skill to deliver her core message without sounding like a ZX Spectrum speech program from the 1980s.

This is why Theresa May has thrown a dead EU cat onto the general election table.

Now, the next 48 hours will all be about May versus Brussels.

A great short term media win for the election campaign, disastrous for the premiership that follows.

That Theresa May would sacrifice her own prospects in office for this transitory triumph when facing Jeremy Corbyn says it all about the fragility of her campaign and her underlying lack of political judgement.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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Why Diane’s bungling matters

03/05/2017, 01:37:42 PM

by Kevin Meagher

It’s often said, usually pejoratively, that Tony Blair and New Labour represented the ‘professionalisation’ of Labour politics.

An obsession with presentation. Style over substance. Spin.

What a contrast, then, to today’s unprofessional Labour party.

Diane Abbott’s interview yesterday with LBC’s Nick Ferrari, as she announced Labour’s pledge to recruit 10,000 extra police officers, was invariably described as a ‘car crash’.

Actually, it was more like a plane slamming into a mountain. The scale of calamity was of an altogether greater magnitude.

Pieces of smouldering fuselage were scattered across television and radio studios. Diane’s reputation as a ‘serious’ politician was utterly incinerated.

She clearly had no idea how the policing pledge was to be funded, initially suggesting it would cost £300,000. The actual figure is apparently £300 million. 1000 times her original estimate.

Of course, Jeremy Corbyn was ‘not embarrassed in the slightest’ by her blundering.

He should be.

Corbyn can do himself a lot of favours by running a basically competent, functioning election campaign.

I’ve mentioned before that his easy manner contrasts well with the stage-managed hysterics of Theresa May’s campaign.

The obvious caveat is that he is going to lose; but it’s the manner and scale of the defeat that’s in his hands.

Bluntly, he can lose badly or he can lose catastrophically.

The only card he has to play is to confound the low expectations voters, the media and his own colleagues have of him.

That requires using every opportunity, straining every sinew, to at least offer a semblance of coherence.

Alas, that’s too much for Diane.

She is an experienced broadcaster but she is used to spouting her opinion on television and radio.

It requires a higher level of skill and preparation to defend the party line, something she is simply not used to doing.

Did she think she could bluster past the entirely predictable line of questioning about how she was going to pay for 10,000 extra coppers? Is she really that inept?

I guess so.

The upshot is that she has made Jeremy Corbyn’s life a lot harder.

So catastrophic it is then?

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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Election 1997 20th anniversary: Britpop in London, Coronation Street in Bassetlaw

02/05/2017, 09:05:54 PM

In a series of pieces, Uncut writers look back at election day 1997. Lucy Ashton is the daughter of Joe Ashton, MP for Bassetlaw 1968-2001 and a political journalist.

While the Millbank machine was thundering through key seats in 1997, it was business as usual in Bassetlaw, my father’s constituency in North Nottinghamshire.

My dad had been the Labour MP for 29 years and had lived through the toughest times ever to face both the party and the country, including the devastating Miners’ Strike. He had won successful elections through the bleakest of periods so the media monitoring, battle bus and key message cards somewhat passed us by as we did business as usual.

My dad was a big supporter of Blair and a fan of Alistair Campbell (mainly through their shared love of football) but he knew his constituency better than anyone. Geographically, it’s huge and diverse so he would spend his days hammering posters into farmers’ fields, then door knocking with a loud speaker on disadvantaged council estates. The London Labour party with its Britpop celebrity endorsements seemed a world away.

One of the main towns in Bassetlaw is Worksop which was lucky enough to have a wonderful old building called the Labour Party Headquarters, ideally positioned opposite a pub. It was a great curiously shaped building, full of character and heritage and was used for everything from storing leaflets to holding important ballot meetings.

My dad was in his 60s and I remember him lying down on a 1960s-style orange and brown settee to have a nap mid-afternoon.

But this time my dad knew that finally, he could celebrate a Labour landslide, so while Blair was in his private plane, we were preparing for a street party.

We used chairs to unofficially close the little back street where the HQ building was, effectively shutting off access to the pub but given the landlord was a long-standing party supporter no one seemed to mind.

I wore a bright red polo shirt – nothing fancy to celebrate such a historic occasion – and spent the whole night playing games with the little kids, drinking and laughing.

I remember dancing to ‘Come On Eileen’ with my mum and a group of the Labour party woman, hugging and stamping our feet. This was our time after years of fighting. I still think of that moment when I hear the song.

While Millbank had create a new era of campaigning which would change the way every election was  fought in future, in Bassetlaw it felt like we had returned to the days of Coronation Street in the 1960s, of Harold Wilson, of simple booze-ups and happy times.

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Election 1997 20th anniversary: Fear and loathing in Conservative Central Office

01/05/2017, 10:55:57 PM

In a series of pieces, Uncut writers look back at election day 1997. Mark Stockwell was a staffer at Conservative Central Office.

Twenty-odd points behind in the polls. Divided, discredited, and despised. Doomed to defeat, a whole generation of talent set to be swept aside in an electoral tsunami from the south of England to the highlands of Scotland, and all points between.

That was the situation facing the Conservative Party on 1 May 1997. And although the eventual share of the vote was closer than the polls suggested, the impact in terms of seats won and lost was every bit as devastating.

In the early hours of the morning of 2 May, as the scale of Tony Blair’s victory became clear, a small crowd of ‘well-wishers’ gathered outside the then Tory HQ. Some maintain that they were chanting “You’re out and you know you are” (to the tune of ‘Go West’). From inside the Smith Square bunker, I think it was the more traditional football-terrace lyrics I could hear. And while some were outraged at this impertinence, and still shocked at what had unfolded during the course of the night, a good deal more were inclined to shrug and think to themselves, “fair enough”. Eighteen years of Conservative rule had come to a shattering end and those who had hastened its demise were in no mood for an insincere display of magnanimity.

Earlier, preparing to hunker down for a sleepless night of election coverage and (let’s be honest) steady drinking, a few Central Office staffers in the ‘war room’ had printed off a list of marginal seats and pinned it to the wall in order to keep track of the results as we went along. (Even the memory of this quaint, paper-based approach seems to tinge the whole scene with sepia. I don’t think we even had Excel in those days.)

After a handful of early results had filtered through, the extent of the swing to Labour and the patterns of tactical voting had become obvious. A few of us began to exchange anxious glances. I can’t recall exactly who said it first, or at what stage in proceedings, but pretty soon the conclusion was unavoidable: “We’re going to need to print out another sheet.” And pretty soon, another one. I recalled the words of Pitt the Younger on hearing of Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz: “Roll up the map; we will not be needing it these ten years.”

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Election 1997 20th anniversary: “Were you up for Portillo? Sort of.”

01/05/2017, 09:51:19 PM

In a series of pieces, Uncut writers look back at election day 1997. Tony Sophoclides was a political adviser to John Prescott and closely involved in the key seats campaign

The morning was knocking up in Enfield Southgate and the afternoon Brentford and Isleworth. For two years I’d been immersed in the key seats campaign and finally polling day was at hand.

Everything about Labour’s campaign in 1997 had been focused on 91 seats to secure a majority of 45. By May 1st our returns pointed to big wins in these seats and a new swathe of seats was targeted in the final week.

Looking back with hindsight, you wonder if we should have expanded the target list much earlier but at the time the fear of failure was stamped on our psyche. To even contemplate a comfortable victory was to tempt disaster.

Canvassing went well but still I was edgy. Some of team Prescott met at a pub in Westminster at about 2030 before heading over to Festival Hall for the party an hour later.

Only then did I relax.

Walking in, you knew it was a party. Word of the swings being reported on the ground had got through and there was a feeling of huge expectation.

Various celebs were dotted around the Festival Hall, including Richard Branson. Labour had tried so hard to get him to back us, only for him to tease but not commit. Yet here he was, at the party.

A group of us ended up chatting to him when he did a very odd thing, which is apparently one of his common tricks.

We all shook hands with him when after a few moments he asked one of our number, Sue Haylock (who worked for JP then and still does), the time. She looked at her wrist but the watch was gone.

Branson opened his hand and there it was. Even with all that was going on that evening, I clearly recall wondering how on earth he had time to learn and perfect that trick when he was meant to be running a mega-million pound set of businesses.

The evening rolled on as did the booze. Maybe a little too much.

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