UNCUT: Week 3 of the campaign: the good, the bad and the ugly

19/04/2015, 01:07:23 PM

In our second installment, Uncut’s weekly review of the campaign looks at the events of week 3.

The good

Labour’s costed policies

Sunday 12 April – Marr and Osborne. The core Tory strength is a reputation for fiscal probity. Yet here was prime time Osborne appearing anything but.

After more than five years when it has usually seemed that only one party, the Tories, know how to make their sums add up, Marr suddenly left the impression that this party is Labour, not the Tories.

Sam Dale has previously argued on Uncut that the Tory advantage on fiscal credibility is so well established that they can afford, as they certainly now are, to play fast and loose with it. In doing so, though, they deepen a theme of the Tory campaign identified by Jonathan Todd: taking people for idiots.

If Labour keeps showing how our policies are costed, the Tories might just find a trump card slipping away at the last, crucial moment.

The manifesto launch event

The team managing Labour’s events deserve some recognition. Often overlooked as the plaudits go to the more flashy spinners, events folk only tend to get mentioned when something has gone wrong.

But for Labour, trying to shift some pretty entrenched pre-campaign stereotypes, the backdrop and staging of the set-piece events needs to provide the pictures that validate the message.

If anything were to go wrong – as at Ukip’s campaign launch when the blu tak came unstuck and the backdrop fell down – then it’s a lock for the news bulletins as a metaphor for a campaign in trouble.

This week’s manifesto launch was another in a growing list of impressive events.

The message was about responsibility and fiscal discipline and the pictures of Ed Miliband at the event reflected this exactly.

Ed M

 

Read the rest of this entry »

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

UNCUT: This election needs a soapbox or an Irn Bru crate

18/04/2015, 11:47:04 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Paralysing fear has infected every aspect of the parties’ campaigns.

Strategists fear the voters, so they stage tightly controlled events, away from the truculent public. Junior staffers fear any slight mishap that might make the news, so even the most minor decision is dictated by a safety first doctrine.

And Ed Miliband and David Cameron fear everything and anything, otherwise they would not accept the counsel of caution from their advisers which shackles all that they do.

The result is an arid campaign, a dismal parade of media moments contrived for broadcasters that lack the incident and passion to galvanise anybody but the already committed.

A news vacuum is developing. The manifesto launches commanded attention earlier in the week, but now what?

The front pages are already drifting away from the election. Soon, as is always the way in politics, this lacuna will be filled with the grumbles of worried candidates and plotting leadership contenders, taking aim at their leaders.

It doesn’t have to be this way. For the party bosses running the party campaigns, there is an alternative.

1992, which has already provided much of the template for this contest, also offers a lesson in how to fill that vacuum without the need to scramble out new half-baked policy announcements dreamt up the night before or to escalate the ferocity of personal attacks to shock a path into the news.

Imagine if one or more of the party leaders took a leaf out of John Major’s book and didn’t just do managed Q&As with pre-vetted, politically emasculated supporters, but actually went out to meet the British public on the high street, in the shopping centre and at the market.

If they went to where the public are, rather than hiding in a hall ringed with security, put down a soapbox, stood on it and spoke to real voters.

Jim Murphy is Scottish leader in no small part because of his one man campaign across Scotland in the independence referendum, speaking to the Scottish public from atop his Irn Bru crate.

There were baying nationalist mobs, protesters, eggs, but also, fabulous pictures for print and broadcast, personal guts and raw emotion.

The plaudits from journalists or every persuasion – right, left, nationalist and unionist – after the clip below was shared were extraordinary. It’s hard not admire Jim Murphy’s passion, resilience and commitment.

Read the rest of this entry »

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

GRASSROOTS: Miliband could have a legacy even if Labour lose

17/04/2015, 08:04:26 PM

by David Ward

Most people don’t realise that the guy who invented the computer was a bloke called Tommy Flowers who worked for the Post Office.

Sure Turing made some logic sketches, but it was Flowers who designed and  actually built the machine that broke the German codes. After the war he thought there might be something in it. He wasn’t allowed to say he’d built one before but he took his idea to British banks for funding to build another one. Of course they laughed him out of the office, the Americans took over the industry and the rest is history.

I mention this story because it shows big ideas can quickly become bigger than their creators, and I think Ed Miliband could be on the verge of a big change too.

It’s not exactly news that the post-Thatcher consensus is coming to an end. You only need to look at the fracturing of politics a la the late 1970s to see that the predominant mood out there is uncertainty.

As we know, the entire case Ed has been making since 2010 is that the left doesn’t have to accept rampant capitalism on its own terms. We don’t have to accept that those at the top should reap unsustainable rewards. We don’t have to accept that markets and big corporations can’t be reformed so society and employees benefit too. And we don’t have to accept that people in work still don’t earn enough to live on.

That’s been the pitch. It’s seen him derided in many quarters – even in his own party on occasion. In any normal circumstance Labour should be expecting a chastening during this campaign.

But the funny thing is it hasn’t quite happened. It’s taken a few years of sharpening to get the pitch right but Labour’s message is beginning to cut through. Take a look at this Ipsos Mori published a word cloud of the issues that people have remembered from the last few days. Since the first few debates Ed’s approval ratings have improved markedly.

Read the rest of this entry »

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

INSIDE: Cameron beware: Benefit claimants lose money when they don’t turn up to an interview

16/04/2015, 05:42:54 PM

As the only national political leader taking part in tonight’s “challengers’ debate,” is it a mistake for Ed Miliband to put himself on a par with the nationalists and minnows of British politics?

We’ll soon find out, but assuming he does well enough (in a format that usually favours his softer public style) it will bolster an already confident Labour campaign and throw the spotlight on the absent Prime Minister’s reluctance to defend his own record.

Indeed, Miliband has a neat line on David Cameron’s failure to turn up: “I think if you are applying for the job of Prime Minister, the very least the British people expect is for you to turn up to the interview.”

Such bad form, especially when Employment Minister Esther McVeigh has been very clear on this point: “…jobseekers have a responsibility to do everything they can to get back into work. We are ending the something for nothing culture,” she has previously opined.

For the first offence of failing to turn up to an interview, an unemployed benefit claimant faces losing four week’s Job Seekers’ Allowance.

Cameron should beware, the penalties increase with every no-show.

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

UNCUT: The smaller parties should be careful what they wish for. It always ends badly for the kingmaker

16/04/2015, 09:57:12 AM

by Atul Hatwal

We are approaching peak minnow for the campaign. Yesterday the Lib Dems and Ukip launched their manifestos and this evening there is the five-way debate featuring the smaller parties minus Nick Clegg but inexplicably with Ed Miliband guest starring at the front of the coconut shy as the designated representative of Westminster’s failed big party duopoly.

But as much fun as the SNP, the Greens, Plaid and Ukip will have beating up on Ed Miliband the smaller parties should be careful what they wish for.

They might be eyeing eventual roles as kingmakers or junior partners in government, but history has a harsh lesson: it always ends badly.

In peacetime, every time there has been a coalition, confidence and supply agreement or any type of deal for support in the last 100 years, it has been electoral poison for the minor party.

On three occasions there have been coalitions in the last century and one period of less formal support to sustain a government.

All involved the Liberals, with the SNP and Plaid Cymru also becoming mired in the mess of the 1970s Callaghan government.

The results speak for themselves.

Minor party fall

Read the rest of this entry »

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

INSIDE: The Ukip meltdown has begun

15/04/2015, 09:40:27 PM

Long simmering tensions within Ukip are now bubbling into public view. Earlier today, Uncut bumped into an old 1990’s Westminster stalwart who had been involved with the long and difficult development of Ukip’s manifesto. He painted a picture of a house divided, riven by personal and political enmities.

At the root of all of the problems lie Nigel Farage’s personality: a man given to fads and enthusiasms with a notoriously thin skin and a congenital inability to hold his tongue or stick by the rules he sets for others.

Farage’s elision of immigration and race is blamed for toxifying Ukip’s brand by Douglas Carswell who is now operating virtually as an independent.

Mark Reckless is said to feel that Farage doesn’t understand the scale of risk he took in defecting while Raheem Kassam, Farage’s spinner, is regarded by many MEPs and staffers as a poisonous disaster.

Douglas Carswell’s absence from today’s manifesto launch almost did not register. He was absent from Ukip’s general election campaign launch at the end of March and can barely bring himself even to mention Nigel Farage’s name.

A prolific tweeter, Carswell has managed just two tweets in more than 250 over the past fortnight that mention his leader. Probably a record for a candidate in this campaign.

Mark Reckless has always lacked a certain bonhomie, as his former Conservative parliamentary colleagues attest, and has been cut out of the leader’s inner circle. Party resources aren’t flowing into Rochester and Strood to defend the seat as volunteers are being directed to Thanet to fight for Farage and so Reckless too is coming to terms with life as a virtual independent.

Read the rest of this entry »

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

UNCUT: Labour’s blind spot on right to buy will prove costly

14/04/2015, 10:49:10 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Three words: right to buy. Three simple words that unhinge the Labour party.

The Tories have set the most obvious and well sign-posted trap for Labour by extending right to buy to social housing tenants. A trap that was first set over thirty years ago to lethal political effect.

As news of this latest 80’s revival broke online on Monday night, Labour activists, MPs and Labour supporting journalists tweeted themselves into angry apoplexy.

Meanwhile, the leadership ran for cover. Emma Reynolds, Labour’s shadow housing minister, released a statement with the headline, “Another uncosted, unfunded, unbelievable announcement from the Tories.”

The Tories’ sudden pledge to spend £8bn on the NHS might not be believable, but does anyone seriously think they will not extend right to buy? Come on.

Right to buy is more than just a housing policy; it embodies a set of values and delivers a precision targeted retail offer. Labour’s guttural online reaction demonstrates a desperate lack of understanding by the party on both counts.

In terms of values, right to buy is about aspiration and personal freedom: the dream of owning your own home and taking control of your life, outside of the purview of the welfare state.

The media debate about extending right to buy is not about technocratic policy but whether the parties are for or against home ownership, whether they believe the state should or should not allow people in social housing to buy their property.

Labour complaints about the policy might be well founded. It does indeed do nothing for the growing army of private renters who will not benefit.

Read the rest of this entry »

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

INSIDE: Ashcroft marginals’ polls show Labour’s not ahead enough and now needs the other parties to fail

14/04/2015, 04:45:35 PM

Where would we be without Lord Ashcroft? His metamorphosis from Belize-based Tory financier to philanthropic godfather of British psephology, has bequeathed to the statistical junkies of British politics a treasure trove of polling in marginal seats to chew over.

The latest tranche of data from ten Conservative/Labour marginals shows that the overall race remains tight, with the Tories edging the lead in five, Labour in three, while the parties are tied in the remaining two seats.

These are the kinds of constituencies that the governing party has to win. What the polls reveal is that two serious strategic threats remain for Labour.

The first, is that having successfully squeezed the Lib Dems, Labour can’t realistically harvest any more votes from them. They are down around the 5-7 per cent mark in all of the ten seats. This is rock bottom for them and the only direction they can now head in is back up. Any revival in Lib Dem fortunes during the remainder of the campaign comes at Labour’s expense.

The second, is that the Tories still have ample opportunity to squeeze UKIP. Their support ranges from seven per cent in Finchley and Golders Green, through to 21 per cent in Dover, with their support in the remaining eight seats clustered at around 15 per cent.

This gives the Tories something to target in their own attempt at squeezing their nearest rival, with Cameron’s plea to disaffected Conservative defectors to “come home” a lingering threat as we approach the midway point in this election campaign.

None of this is to discount the hard work done by Labour activists on the ground. On the contrary, these polls clearly show Labour’s ground war having an effect, with Labour’s candidates beating the Tories’ campaigning efforts by 64-47 per cent when voters are asked which campaign has been in touch.

Yet in the increasingly complex arena of British politics, the unmistakable message from these polls is that Labour is not far enough ahead in some of the seats it must win and finds itself reliant on the fortunes of the other parties.

It needs the Lib Dems to stay sunk and for the Tories to fail to peel off support from UKIP. Or to quote Gore Vidal, it is not enough to succeed, others must fail.

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

UNCUT: Labour’s manifesto launch went well but it’s tin ear on aspiration could prove costly

13/04/2015, 09:04:49 PM

by Samuel Dale

Labour’s manifesto launch went well. The focus on tackling the deficit was right and Ed Miliband’s performance was assured.

But on Tuesday it’s the turn of the Tories and how Labour responds to their retail offer will be critical to deciding the outcome of the election.

We already know one of the centre-pieces of the Tory prospectus: inheritance tax cuts were widely trailed across the media, over the weekend. And so far, Labour has seriously mishandled its response.

George Osborne first floated a £1m inheritance tax-free allowance in the autumn of 2007 when its popularity saw off the election that never was.

The latest plan removes family homes worth up to £1m from inheritance tax from 2017.

It comes hot on the heels of big cuts to inheritance taxes related to pensions and Isas.

The current inheritance tax rules offer a £325,000 individual allowance with an additional £325,000 transferable allowance from your husband or wife. In effect £625,000 can be passed tax free to a married couple’s children.

Labour has been keen to point out that only 4% of people will benefit from the changes. The IFS says “over 90%” of estates are unaffected.

The implication has been that only the rich will benefit and as such this can’t turn an election.

So why do the Tories think it is a big vote winner? The £1bn centre-piece of their manifesto.

Firstly, it gives a bottom-line financial incentive to the wealthy estates who will directly benefit. They are the better-off pensioners who vote in large numbers (and the Ukip vote the Tories desperately need back).

Secondly, and more importantly, it is about aspiration.

Read the rest of this entry »

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

UNCUT: This curious Tory campaign is coming to us from another country

13/04/2015, 09:06:27 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Famously, the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there. In that country, they have naked women on Page 3 of The Sun. That publication peddles lies about football fans crushed on the terraces of Hillsborough. And claims to be able to determine the outcome of general elections.

That which largely went unquestioned in 1992 would not do so in 2015. The Sun has changed to survive in a changed country. In such a country, it may not necessarily follow that treatment for Ed Miliband akin to that which Neil Kinnock endured in 1992 will contribute to the same electoral outcome.

The fears about Kinnock that the Conservatives and their supporters in the media were then able to arouse chimed with underlying public perceptions. It may be that attacks like those of Michael Fallon on Miliband will again tap into deep seated fears about Labour.

Equally, reflecting on Miliband’s improving personal ratings, Damian Lyons Lowe, founder and chief executive of Survation, concluded, “people like the happy warrior”. If Fallon were mainlining fears in the same way that the Tories did during the 1992 campaign, we might expect Miliband’s ratings to be going in the other direction.

The Tory brand is also not as robust as it was in 1992. This weakness – the persistence of the “nasty party” perception – is one of the reasons that I have anticipated Labour victory this year. When brands have limited purchase, their capacity to impact how other brands are perceived is also undermined.

If you go round slinging dead cats on tables, people will think, “these are the kind of people who sling dead cats on tables”. Boris Johnson – whom David Aaronovitch recently described as being “like a man who breaks wind in a lift and everyone wonders what smells so good” – could sling a dozen dead cats on the table. And we’d all laugh. Then ask him to do it again.

Read the rest of this entry »

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon