Posts Tagged ‘Atul Hatwal’

It’s “not flash, just Gordon” redux. And is likely to be even less successful.

25/07/2014, 01:47:16 PM

by Atul Hatwal

It’s been said that he is the son of Brown and today Ed Miliband made a quintessential Brownite move.

His speech on leadership could have been lifted wholesale from Gordon Brown’s back catalogue. In fact, if it wasn’t quite lifted, it was almost certainly written by some of the same hands that crafted Gordon Brown’s attempt to address his image problem.

Back in 2007, Gordon Brown was struggling against a telegenic Conservative leader. Plus ça change. Brown seemed awkward and uncomfortable in his own skin. The response? “Not flash, just Gordon.” Saatchi & Saatchi designed the poster below and the message was clear: substance over style.

Not flash just Gordon

To bolster Gordon’s credentials as a serious but normal kind of guy, his wife was deployed for media opportunities.  A Mirror headline trumpeted in 2008 that she was to be Labour’s “secret weapon.”

Sound familiar?

Fast forward to today and its Ed’s turn to be self-deprecating about his media talents and attack and the emphasis on “photo-opp politics” in contrast to his own sincerity and conviction. And here’s the Huff Post headline for the Justine Thornton interview from 3 days ago, “Could Ed’s wife turn out to be his secret weapon?”

We’ve been here before and we know how this story ends. In fact, its likely to go even less well for Ed than it did for Gordon, for three reasons.

First, Brown was prime minister. Whatever the shortcomings of the politician, the office bestows authority and Gordon Brown’s experience at the top of British politics meant he did have a certain gravitas. The most successful line his team used in this campaign was “no time for a novice.” Not something Ed Miliband can say.

Second, Twitter was not a factor before the last election. It is now. As Ed Miliband delivered his speech, my timeline filled up with his photo-opps, from the 7,000 mile round trip for a photo with president Obama, to this absolute peach from the pasty tax campaign (h/t James Manning),

Photo opp

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Cameron’s reshuffle reshapes the battlefield to exploit Labour weaknesses

16/07/2014, 01:18:15 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Forget the breathless minutiae of who’s up and who’s down or biographies of the newly promoted, most analyses of the Tory reshuffle have missed the most important point: this was a reshuffle defined by Labour. Labour’s lines of attack and Labour’s vulnerabilities.

Ed Miliband was the silent witness, standing in the corner, at the back of David Cameron’s mind as the prime minister worked out his new ministerial jigsaw.

In each of the three major changes David Cameron announced – the promotion of women, the demotion of Gove and the installation of Phillip Hammond at FCO –  the same motivation is evident:  to reshape the battlefield with Labour. To make the Tories a smaller target, minimise the potential for distracting internal conflict and focus the national debate on the two areas where David Cameron is confident he has the beating of Ed Miliband: leadership and the economy.

It is debateable whether Labour’s repeated attacks on Cameron for sexism have won over many wavering voters, but they certainly had media resonance and diverted the political conversation away from the Conservatives preferred topics.

Ta Dah! David Cameron now has a defensible position on women’s representation. Labour will continue with its attacks, as was evident at PMQs today, but the traction is gone. Broadcast journalists are notably less opinionated than their newspaper comrades, but these tweets by ITV’s Chris Ship are indicative of the mood among the lobby.


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The Labour leadership’s reaction to Thursday’s strike action is incoherent

08/07/2014, 10:14:26 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Can you hear it? Those creaks and squeaks disrupting the heavy, doleful silence. That’s the sound of people squirming,  uncomfortably in their chairs. And its emanating from the upper echelons of the Labour party.

The cause is what’s happening on Thursday: industrial action on a scale rarely seen. Heallth workers, teachers, local government employees, fire fighters, university staff, civil servants and rail workers are among the groups that will strike.

Their reasons are understandable: real terms pay cuts, deteriorating pensions provision and redundancies. If the unions didn’t strike in these circumstances, there really would be little point to them. They are accountable to their members and their members are mad as hell.

What is less understandable is the reaction of the Labour leadership. There seems to be no collective line to take.

Tristram Hunt was on Marr on Sunday giving his particular rendition of the Sound of Silence. He neither opposed nor supported the teachers’ strike action, casting himself as a rather odd, impotent observer of events. Certainly for someone who aspires to be the secretary of state for education.

Then there was Owen Smith yesterday on the Daily Politics, initially trying to stick to the no-line-to-take-line-to-take but finding himself compelled, by the pressure of his own logic, to back the strikes as the interview unfolded.

In the 44 press releases issued by the Labour party over the past week, not one has addressed Thursday’s action and given an official Labour line.

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Brownian big numbers don’t persuade anyone, so why does Labour keep announcing them

01/07/2014, 12:59:44 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Today, the disconnect between Labour’s approach to political communications and the general public was on full display.

To accompany the launch of the Adonis Growth Review, the topline of Labour’s story was that it would devolve up to £30bn of central government funding to new regional partnerships of local authorities.

The model of regional co-operation that Labour is advocating has had demonstrable results in Greater Manchester, where 7 North West local authorities are working well together. The incentive of greater devolution of funds from central government would surely prompt other areas to follow Greater Manchester’s lead.

As a policy, there is much to recommend today’s announcement. Which is why the way it has been packaged for the media is so depressing.

Gordon Brown was notorious for bludgeoning audiences with lists of gargantuan numbers to demonstrate his commitment to Schools-n-Hospitals. Notorious because, while these types of big numbers have a certain resonance within the Westminster bubble, they are positively off-putting for most voters.

I’m currently conducting a series of focus groups for the day job, looking at how people understand political messages. The topic we’re looking at specifically is immigration, but the findings are applicable to most political issues.

When confronted with a statistic, particularly a Brownian big number, there is typically a two stage response: “I don’t understand your number,” swiftly followed by, “I don’t trust your number.”

Dealing with the first response is comparatively straight-forward. It’s all about context.

Abstract statistics mean very little to voters. Cash numbers in the billions or percentage growth rates lack any practical resonance with peoples’ lives.  They tend to simply fade into the white noise of politicos’ stat chat.

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How Labour is losing the battle for media relevance

26/06/2014, 07:00:08 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Last week Ed Miliband, gave a major policy speech at the IPPR. One of the biggest of his leadership. The Labour party mounted a significant press operation around it: there was the mandatory trail to the Guardian the previous night, lots of morning chatter on Twitter among Milibelievers about what a big deal this all was with shadow ministers deployed to comment immediately following the speech.

But within two hours of Ed Miliband finishing his Q&A, the story was elsewhere. Rather than discuss the deeper policy or electoral ramifications of the intervention, the media’s attention was captivated by something else entirely: owls.

The Labour party’s twitter account was hacked with this tweet going out.

Owl Tweet

The rest is history. An analysis completed for Uncut by Twitter analytics experts, of tweets by the Westminster media (lobby, press gallery, columnists, political reporters and bloggers) illustrates the extent to which this one rogue tweet overshadowed the big Miliband speech.

From the point Ed Miliband stopped talking, to the end of the day, there were over double the number of media tweets about owls compared to Ed Miliband’s IPPR speech.

Owls vs Ed

By the early evening, loyalist MPs were having to use the owls meme to crowbar Ed Miliband’s speech back into the Westminster conversation.

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We’ve been here before on welfare reform. Now the backlash is coming, will Labour hold the line?

19/06/2014, 01:07:25 PM

by Atul Hatwal

The much quoted definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Today, the Labour party is testing this proposition.

For the third time in seven months, Labour is attempting to re-position itself on welfare. For the third time in seven months the pre-briefing before a welfare reform speech has been about “toughness,” how Labour will cut benefits for young people and respond to public concerns on welfare spending.

We’ve been here before.

As a taster for what’s likely to come, this is what happened the first time Labour went down this road, back in November last year. James Kirkup at the Telegraph wrote a story on potential Labour cuts to benefits for under 25s if they were not in training or ‘intensively’ looking for work, based on an IPPR report and a briefing from the party. 

The backlash from the party forced an immediate denial, with Rachel Reeves tweeting “This is not and will not be our policy” “it’s not our plan” and “it is totally not my position!” Cue much relief,

These weren’t the reactions of random activists, Matthew Pennycook is the PPC in Nick Raynsford’s seat and will be an MP in 2015, Gemma Tummelty works for Ed Miliband and Mark Ferguson edits Labour List.

Take two. In January this year, Tom Newton Dunn at the Sun wrote a similar story about removing benefits for the young unemployed, which was, once again, based on another IPPR report and a briefing from the party. Cue a repeated denial from Rachel Reeves and more relief,      (more…)

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The Sun photo-opp farce shows how Labour’s activist tail wags the party dog

13/06/2014, 05:15:29 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Only in today’s Labour party, with this Labour leader, could a photo-opp for Britain’s most popular newspaper, degenerate into such utter farce.

Set aside for a moment the inexplicable political judgement in agreeing to the picture in the first place. The judgement that a leader who has defined himself as the iconoclastic scourge of Rupert Murdoch, could credibly pitch-in to help the Sun’s World Cup promotion, without harming his brand.  Difficult as it might be, set that aside.

Because once the decision to take part had been made, that should have been it. Yes there was going to be criticism and yes the picture was gormless, but this should have just been an afternoon’s amusement for the Twitterati.

Instead, Ed Miliiband’s response to his party critics has turned a minor Twitter storm into a running news sore where, yet again, his leadership is in question. Today’s quasi-apology is as disingenuous as it is unbelievable:

“Ed Miliband was promoting England’s bid to win the World Cup and is proud to do so.

But he understands the anger that is felt towards the Sun over Hillsborough by many people in Merseyside and he is sorry to those who feel offended.”

First, to pretend that the photo-opp was about England and the World Cup takes the viewing public to be imbeciles. It’s quite clearly a promotion for the Sun. The clue is in the copy of the Sun that Ed Miliband is holding up.

Second, the unquestioning capitulation in the face of protests from Liverpool’s Labour activists and MPs is worrying.

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Labour history uncut: Labour says “no but, yeah but, no but” to a Popular Front

10/06/2014, 09:19:27 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

1937 might have seen the death of efforts to forge Labour, the Communists and Independent Labour Party into a leftist Unity Front, but the idea of Labour joining forces with other political groups had not gone away.

In fact, on the more moderate end of things, there was still plenty of support for a Liberal alliance, which the Lib-Labs called a Popular Front, because Lib-Labs sounded like a brand of penny sweet.

The electoral potential from a new dose of Lib-Labbery was demonstrated in campaigns such as the Fulham West by-election of April 1938 where Labour’s Edith Summerskill reaped the benefits of a Popular Front.

An ardent feminist and anti-fascist, Summerskill was pretty much the living embodiment of a scary lefty for the likes of the Daily Mail. Nevertheless, thanks to the support of Liberal activists, and absence of a Liberal candidate, she secured a 7.3% swing to overturn the Tory majority.

Edith Summerskill’s ability to levitate always drew a crowd on the campaign trail

Edith Summerskill’s ability to levitate always drew a crowd on the campaign trail

Summerskill subsequently took her seat in the House of Commons under her maiden name. This was scandalous behaviour for the time as it made it confusing for the gentlemen of the Commons to know whether or not they were allowed to goose her in the canteen.

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We’ve passed peak Ukip but Labour has yet to hit rock bottom

06/06/2014, 11:57:55 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Two lessons are clear from the Newark by-election result, one for Ukip and one for Labour.

First, we’ve passed peak Ukip. Despite the blitz of media around the European elections and the dutiful trotting out of tropes about “political earthquakes” by the likes of the BBC, Ukip failed in Newark.

They weren’t even close. Forget earthquake. Losing by almost 20% to an unpopular incumbent government doesn’t count as a tremor or even an HGV rumbling down the road.

Newark has exposed Ukip’s hopeless lack of ground organisation and the extent to which their brand was toxified in the recent European election campaign.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how Ukip’s momentum was clearly reversed during the Euro-campaign; from a poll high of 31% before the racism furore, to 27.5% in the European election itself. And from a starting point of 23% equivalent national vote share in last year’s local elections, they fell to 17% in this year’s contests.

Despite the breathless media coverage that greeted Ukip’s results, their direction of travel was down at the point voters went to the polls. The Newark result confirms that they are still on this trajectory.

The enormous disparity between male and female voters in Survation’s final constituency poll – 36.8% of men backed Ukip versus 16.8% of women – illustrates the extent to which Ukip has a major problem with women and is indicative of how they are now seen as an angry, boorish, prejudiced party.

For the 80% of Britons who live in cities, for young people, for women and for anyone from a minority community – be it religious, ethnic or LGBT – Ukip are increasingly electoral poison.

At the general election next year, Ukip will discover that there simply aren’t enough old, angry white men for them to break through.

But in a sense, this was always going to happen. Ukip were and remain in large part, a media construct. When voters go to the polls at elections where they expect something from their representatives – as opposed to the European elections – time and time again, they have shown that they do not trust Ukip.

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At least Ukip’s EU and immigration policies are consistent. John Denham can’t even manage that.

03/06/2014, 01:47:18 PM

by Atul Hatwal

John Denham’s article about immigration on Labour List yesterday was a disgrace. Not because of his anti-immigration stance – it’s perfectly possible to disagree with a view without believing it to be disgraceful – but because of the incoherent politics at the heart of his argument.

Within the Labour party, two distinct groups have now emerged on the anti-immigration side of the debate.

One is consistent and has a coherent case, albeit with potentially major deleterious economic consequences. The other is muddled and guarantees a disastrous electoral denouement for Labour. John Denham’s post was a case study in the latter.

The starting point for the first group is scepticism about the EU. There is a legitimate case to be argued for applying the same entry rules to all migrants, whether from the EU or outside and that if the EU does not change on freedom of movement, Britain will withdraw.

Central to this argument is an acceptance that a British exit from the EU is likely.

When Angela Merkel visited Britain in February she made the German position on reform of freedom of movement abundantly clear, “freedom of movement is intended to allow people to work in different countries, not immigration into social systems.”

There might be some tightening of access to benefits and public services for EU migrants but no fundamental change in freedom of movement across the EU.

Given the government’s own figures indicate that only 4 in every 100 EU migrants claim Job Seekers Allowance, it’s a fair assumption that benefit restrictions will have virtually zero impact on the net flow of EU migrants into Britain.

It’s evident from what MPs like Frank Field, Kate Hoey and John Mann have said in the past that they are prepared for a British withdrawal from the EU and there is a small but growing group within the PLP who take this view.

This is broadly also the official Ukip position. Stripped of the inflammatory and racist language sometimes used by Ukip representatives, it has the merit, at least, of being internally consistent and demonstrates clearly how EU migration would be reduced.

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