Posts Tagged ‘Atul Hatwal’

The Tories’ tartan scare was made in America by Jim Messina

25/04/2015, 09:34:58 PM

by Atul Hatwal

The Tories’ tartan scare is the defining political gambit of this campaign.

Labour advisers see Lynton Crosby’s handiwork. But Crosby is not the only big name consultant, calling the shots in their campaign.

Sitting along-side Crosby, at the top table is Jim Messina, the man who masterminded President Obama’s re-election and will run Hillary Clinton’s campaign for President.

Crosby is a convenient lightning rod for Labour discontent but Messina has had a critical role in framing their strategy.

Unlike the absent David Axelrod, Labour’s own big US name hire, Messina has been a constant presence in the Tory campaign, in person and on the phone.

On Thursday he was in Conservative HQ finalising plans for the fortnight to polling day and giving the Tory campaign team a pep talk on the floor of the war room.

A sign of his status is that he operates outside of the strict media rules that govern all other consultants and advisers. Lynton Crosby’s code of omerta does not apply to Jim Messina who tweets freely about his activities.

The previous week he had been in London, reviewing the Tories’ field intelligence and focus group research on the effectiveness of the tartan scare message on their target voter groups – Ukip supporters and centrist and right-leaning Lib Dems. He even hit the phones to see the effectiveness of the messaging for himself.

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Labour’s kidding itself about this campaign. The Tories are winning the strategic battles

22/04/2015, 07:00:10 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Labour chiefs are happy with progress in the campaign so far. Most activists are upbeat. Even PLP pessimists have been given to moments of optimism.

But for all the pleasant mood music – from the poll averages which suggest Ed Miliband is within touching distance of victory to the parliamentary number-crunching which seems to offer manifold routes into Number 10 – Labour’s campaign strategists have misread their three biggest strategic challenges: how to deal with the Tories’ SNP scare, which voters to target with the ground operation and what retail offer to make.

Over the next fortnight, the impact of these mistakes will become clearer.

Most immediately, Labour has utterly failed to understand the Tories’ intent with their scaremongering over SNP support for a Labour government.

The view of Labour staffers has been that the Tories are principally trying to frighten Ukip voters back into the Tory fold. But that for every vote the Tories get back on their right flank the more they accentuate their negatives as the nasty party with wavering voters.

The Labour analysis is correct about appealing to kippers but wrong about the impact on swing voters, specifically English swing voters.

Labour’s more frantic recent statements, denouncing the Tory attacks as “smears” – a sure sign that a political party is becoming panicked and does not have a line to take – suggest that the impact of what’s happening has started to dawn on party strategists.

The Tories’ objective is to fuse the SNP and Labour in English voters’ minds.

This vision of McLabour as an unabashed, economically left-wing party that will prioritize Scotland’s interests over England not only scares ex-Tory Ukip voters into switching back, it resonates with right leaning and centrist Lib Dems not to mention the quarter of 2010 Labour voters who have since abandoned the party.

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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.

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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

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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.

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Yes, the Tories were in the gutter yesterday. But that’s where elections are won

10/04/2015, 09:53:43 AM

by Atul Hatwal

It’s the hope that kills. That’s what large sections of the Labour party are about to find out. I certainly did in 1992. Now, as then, the Tories are accused of being in the gutter. Now, as then, several of the headline polls flatter.  And a few weeks from now, as then, Labour will be left to wonder how it all went wrong.

Yesterday, while Twitter was rapt with Ed Miliband’s rising ratings in Survation’s latest poll, a more apposite survey went without comment. The Sun’s YouGov poll, which asked who voters’ preferred as PM – Cameron or Miliband – found 40% opting for David Cameron and 24% for Ed Miliband.

Elections are a comparative choice. Only those questions which force voters to make a choice between the applicants for the job on offer, approximate the electoral decision-making process. Polls such as Survation’s, which ask questions on approval vs disapproval are better at capturing the public’s views of a leader’s performance relative to their past perceptions of that politician.

Some good days for a historically poorly rated leader could result in quite a bounce. Vice versa for a leader traditionally well regarded who stumbles.

This is what happened yesterday with Survation. On Tuesday, when the poll was conducted, Ed Miliband did well while David Cameron and the Tories looked awful defending non-doms.

But as James Kirkup astutely highlighted, while the public stand with Labour on the issue of non-doms, few votes will be switched. The perception of Labour as more committed to fairness is well established. As is the Tories’ penchant for backing the wealthy elite.

All of this has already been baked into voters’ perceptions. Which is why, when forced to choose between the two on preference for prime minister, those self-same voters, who will have seen an improved Ed Miliband over recent days, would still opt for David Cameron by double digits –  a majority that has remained stubbornly in place for years.

A few weeks from now, Thursday’s excitement will seem like yet another cruel false dawn. Rather than being viewed, in the words of an excitable Guardian splash as the “day the polls turned,” the focus will be on the Tories much derided mud-slinging strategy as a tactically telling intervention.

Michael Fallon and his Tory colleagues have been castigated for gutter politics with their emphasis on Ed Miliband’s conflict with his brother and patently ludicrous claims about Labour abandoning Trident. As news of the positive polls broke, the Labour Twittersphere was convinced that the Tory attacks were the last desperate act of a flailing campaign.

The Conservative’s onslaught was exactly the type of behaviour which alienates the public from politics. But parties, all parties, habitually engage in these types of attacks because they work.

The objectives of yesterday’s seemingly random act of political ABH were threefold.

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The French ambassador’s Sturgeon statement looks like a non-denial denial

04/04/2015, 10:33:09 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Diplomats weigh their public statements carefully. Words are parsed for intent, implication and likely inference. Which is why the French ambassador’s response to the Telegraph’s Sturgeon scoop is so interesting.

“While the ambassador and the first minister, some time ago, have discussed the political situation, Ms Sturgeon did not touch on her personal political preferences with regards the future prime minister,”

At face value, this seems like a denial. But the words have been very carefully chosen. The key phrase is “did not touch on her personal [emphasis added] political preferences.”

Why use the words “her personal”?

Why draw a clear, albeit implicit, distinction between Nicola Sturgeon’s views as a person and her views as the leader and representative of the SNP?

Surely it would have been simpler for the ambassador’s spokesman to say that there was no discussion on preferences for PM or the outcome of the election. That would have been a categorical and water-tight denial.

The words “her personal” are utterly extraneous, unless they are there for a specific reason.

The statement makes it clear that the “political situation” (in other words the election) was discussed and it would have been extraordinary if the ambassador had not asked Nicola Sturgeon for her views on the result and the SNP’s preferences. She simply would not have been doing her job, and so far noone has suggested that the French ambassador, Sylvie Bermann, is incompetent.

Following the meeting, it is entirely plausible that a Foreign Office official, drafting a short contemporaneous account intended for internal consumption, would assume Nicola Sturgeon was speaking in her capacity as leader of the SNP  – the FCO memo seen by the Telegraph states, “She’d rather see David Cameron remain as PM (and didn’t see Ed Miliband as PM material.)” – after all, why else would she be meeting the French ambassador?

Just as it’s plausible that a French diplomat looking for a way out of a sticky situation could willfully interpret the memo differently, and take the meaning of the wording, “She’d rather see” to refer to Nicola Sturgeon’s personal views. This would then allow an ambassadorial denial of the story without calling the British Foreign Office liars.

Such semantics might seem esoteric, but this is the stock in trade of senior diplomats. And right now, the French ambassador’s statement looks like a non-denial denial.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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Labour’s response to the Tories’ business letter has been an epic act of political self-harm

01/04/2015, 08:22:37 PM

by Atul Hatwal

When the history of the 2015 general election is written, the Tories’ business letter in the Telegraph will be seen as a pivotal moment. Pivotal because of what it presaged for the potency of a key Tory line of attack in the campaign and Labour’s inability to mount a convincing response.

For the Tories, the letter is not just a one-off story but part of a longer, sustained offensive that will build over the coming days and weeks. More business leaders will have been lined up to intervene to kick the story on, reheat it if it cools and bulldoze the central Tory message on Labour and the economy, into the public consciousness.

How do I know? Because I have a memory which stretches back to the 2010 campaign, something that Ed Miliband’s strategists evidently lack.

In 2010, the single most damaging intervention in the campaign was the letter from business leaders opposing Labour’s National Insurance tax rise. The manner in which more and more business signatories were rolled out by the Tories dominated days of coverage and shattered Labour’s fragile reputation for economic competence.

To paraphrase Tony Blair, the public might not cherish these business leaders as national treasures but they do believe that Britain’s CEOs know more about creating jobs and wealth than politicians.

In the end there were over 500 signatories of the 2010 letter running businesses that employed over 1m people, with all sectors and ethnicities represented.

Tuesday’s letter in the Telegraph is just the start.

Damaging as the Tory offensive is though, perhaps the worst aspect of the exchange between the parties has been Labour’s response.

On Twitter, Labour activists, candidates and Labour supporting journalists engaged in an epic, collective act of political self-harm as the story broke.

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David Cameron has made a massive mistake but Labour’s picked the wrong line of attack

24/03/2015, 08:50:59 AM

by Atul Hatwal

If the Conservatives win the next election, David Cameron has turned himself into a bystander in his next government.

By pre-announcing his resignation he’s dissolved his future authority with backbenchers, who will be more interested in winning the favour of the next leader, and shifted the media lens onto his potential successors. The question of when he will resign – because he surely won’t last a full term – will dog him each day and ultimately he will struggle for relevance. He’s condemned himself to a living political death.

In the wake of such an extraordinary unforced error, Labour’s chosen line of attack is that Cameron is taking the electorate for granted by assuming he will win the next election. It fits with Labour’s broader critique of him and in that sense is logical, but it’s also wrong.

Two of David Cameron’s greatest political assets are his double digit lead over Ed Miliband as the public’s preference for PM and the extent to which he personally outpolls his party.

David Cameron’s telegraphed resignation is the very antithesis of leadership; it’s the epitome of weakness and raises the likelihood that any one of a gaggle of unappealing Tories could be prime minister in the next Parliament. Suddenly, there might be some hope for Labour.

Instead of talking about arrogance, Labour should be recasting the leadership choice at this election as one between Ed Miliband and the dangerous unknown.

There are two aspects to this.

First, the message should be hammered home that David Cameron is about to quit on the British people in the next Parliament.

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The budget was Labour’s last chance. History is clear about what happens next

19/03/2015, 12:08:19 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Labour desperately needed George Osborne to produce another omnishambles budget. Something to reverse the ebbing tide of Labour’s poll lead.

It didn’t happen.

Osborne may have concocted an utterly ludicrous public spending profile for the next parliament – savage, penal cuts immediately followed by lavish expenditure, which led even the Office for Budget Responsibility to describe it as a “rollercoaster” – but he managed to kill Labour’s most potent attack line: that spending would be taken back to levels last seen in the 1930s.

Now, with under two months until the general election, history is very clear about what happens next.

Labour’s poll rating will almost certainly slide. Over the past fifty years of elections, Labour has lost an average of 4% in the last two months before an election.

Given an average poll rating in March (so far) of 33%, this would take Labour back to square one on May 7th with 29% of the vote, the same as 2010.

Poll rating1

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