Posts Tagged ‘David Talbot’

Labour’s performance last Thursday simply wasn’t good enough

06/05/2013, 02:09:32 PM

by David Talbot

Amid the breathless, endless, commentary on the rise of UKIP, scant attention has been levelled at the only other serious contender for 10 Downing Street come May 2015. Whilst Conservative losses, and substantive ones at that, were long-foreseen they did of course have the furthest to fall, having swept the previous cycle in 2009. The true test was for the much-heralded one nation Labour. Heavy caveats were potted throughout the media by Labour personnel in the days leading to polling day; these elections are taking place in rural, affluent Tory-dwelling shires, eighty percent of the counties holding elections are represented by a Conservative MP, and control of four Councils and two hundred net gains is the target. Well, in their heart of hearts Labour’s strategists will know that last Thursday was not the triumph needed.

Despite matey assurances to the contrary, last Thursday’s results do not readily translate into the sixty seat Labour majority the party is seemingly on the cusp of securing. Although Labour picked itself up off the floor following the dark nadir of 2009, final national voting projections put the party on a mere twenty-nine percent – which is, ironically, exactly the polling figure Labour slumped to in the annihilation of the 2010 general election. That this appears to not be causing considerable alarm amongst the party faithful is troubling, and to say it is not enough for an opposition in mid-term should be so obvious as to be insulting to highlight.

There is no disguising Labour’s underwhelming performance. Despite sporadic advances in battleground seats such as Hastings, Crawley and Stevenage the results do not suggest that Labour will outright win the next general election. Gaining a mere two councils in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, only just, represents a worryingly poor return. Many party activists, somewhat rightly and understandably, are so consumed by the immediacies of their locale that they have swapped the instant gratification of publicising the fruits of their labour for any nuanced analysis of Labour at large. That the party now enjoys a sixty-two seat majority in Durham is indeed joyous, but that it failed to win in Staffordshire or Lancashire, and is still represented in the low single digits in vast swathes of the south, should temper that cheerfulness somewhat.

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What does “one nation” mean? Anyone?

25/03/2013, 09:31:11 AM

by David Talbot

Dark warnings permeated throughout Westminster last week that the chancellor had been put on final notice. Osborne, it was said, had been politely but firmly informed that restless Conservative MPs had earmarked his fourth budget as the last opportunity to restore economic and political credibility before the countdown to the general election in 2015. In marked contrast to last year, the chancellor and his team imposed tight discipline on his preparations to ensure none of the headlines contained a variant of the word “shambles.”

To that end, the chancellor can be relatively pleased. In the run up to the budget he had made, and had deliberately been seen to be making, a concerted effort to court long-neglected Conservative MPs. The frequency with which Osborne systematically name-checked colleagues in marginal seats, who had miraculously succeeded in planting their pet projects into the budget, would suggest a chancellor who, firstly, knows he is unpopular and secondly, who rightly recognises that the government is dangerously listless.

The “aspiration nation” is the Conservative response to Ed Miliband’s much-heralded “one nation” Labour party. It’s difficult to envisage a way in which you could abuse the English language more efficiently, but clearly the Conservative elders are pleased with their effort. For they desperately need something – even a slogan – to inject impetus into a moribund government that is fighting itself, rather than for the country.

The catalogue of errors that are now strewn across the government’s record is now so damaging it threatens the basic concept of governance. Cameron capitulated over Leveson, despite having established the inquiry. Under pressure last year at PMQs he announced the government will force energy companies to provide cheaper tariffs, with no idea how. In 2010 he came into government promising no top-down reorganisation of the NHS and has embarked on precisely that. He emptily vetoed the EU budget last December, and under pressure from UKIP promised a referendum – raising the prospect that the UK might leave the EU, a prospect he is on record as saying he does not want to happen.

The biggest beneficiary of all this buffoonery has been Labour. But the strong national polling figures mask the poor intellectual shape the party is in. As the Eastleigh by-election proved, where the party added a dismal 0.2% to its already bad 2010 total, the warning signs for Labour are there.

“One nation” may have played well to the media and the party faithful, but its lack of policy grit is beginning to hurt.

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Warnings from the prophet Ashcroft

12/03/2013, 07:00:36 AM

by David Talbot

Does the Labour party still have a polling department? The party may not have the funds to do private polling on anything like the scale they have done in previous years, but frankly it may not need to. If Labour’s nice new offices on Brewers Green do indeed still contain a polling unit, no one could criticise them for doing almost exactly what the entire political establishment do, and wait for Lord Ashcroft to upload his latest PDFs.

His latest study is an authoritative account of what the British political landscape. It contains the hearty news that a majority of 84 is seemingly within the party’s grasp. But, alas, the good Lord’s work does not contain all good news for Labour– he is a Conservative, after all.

Ashcroft’s continued estrangement from the Conservative party has ironically served his greatest foe. The Daily Mail ran the curious tale of the peer meeting with Douglas Alexander, Labour’s election co-ordinator from the 2010 campaign. Seemingly, both sides have conveniently forgotten they spent years openly trying to destroy each other – indeed; many defeated Labour MPs owe their redundancy in large part to his finance. And yet again, many newly elected Labour MPs in 2015 may well owe a debt of gratitude.

The polling shows Labour advancing deep into Conservative held territory, with the very un-Labour sounding seats of Dorset South, Somerset North East and Chatham & Aylesford all returning to the Labour fold. Furthermore, a paltry 24% of respondents identified themselves as approving of the government’s record to date, whilst the same again said a Conservative government was their preferred outcome at the next general election.

Labour’s predicament is not as bad as that of the Conservatives in 1997 – for one thing, the party holds 258 seats, 93 more than the Tories’ apocalyptic total. But it does not follow that Labour will bounce straight back. From Jim Murphy’s warning of the rise of “Lazy Labour” – or the Toynbee tendency, depending on your rhetorical flourish – the party’s future depends on accepting why it lost, learning the right lessons, and making the necessary changes. From the research, the evidence shows any signs of doing so are at best mixed.

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Clegg has survived, but his party might not

04/03/2013, 07:57:39 AM

by David Talbot

It would be cruel to deny the Liberal Democrats some light relief from the two years of relentless drudgery they have had endured. Holding a seat they have held for some twenty years is seemingly a cause for wild celebration in today’s Liberal Democratic rump. Overly-excited, and optimistic, Lib Dem officials even audaciously briefed the Guardian that the party would now extend their sights to gaining Conservative seats at the next general election. The bravado is breathtaking, but one has to question the extent that the officials even believed it themselves. Still, it is a poke in the eye to their comrades in the coalition and a reminder to the electorate at large that they mostly still exist.

Let Nick Clegg enjoy his moment. Once lauded to the skies as another Churchill he surely must know that this is as good as it gets. Leading a party on the ascendance merely two and a half years ago he gives the appearance of a man horribly tormented by the reality in which he now finds himself. His party’s paradox ever since it was usurped by the Labour party over a century ago is that is has strove for influence in a hung parliament. Yet the moment they entered it, it hung them.

The Conservative’s masterstroke, having inexplicably failed to win an outright majority, was to in effect buy themselves a comfortable one with Liberal Democrat lobby fodder. The much-heralded Programme for Government, released all too beautifully in the Downing Street rose garden, was short term glory for the Liberal Democrats, but a longer-term suicide note.

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The Toynbee tendency is Labour’s greatest weakness

15/01/2013, 07:35:20 AM

by David Talbot

Thank goodness for the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee. From her dalliance with the SDP in the 1980s to her less than ambiguous flirtation with the Liberal Democrats during the last parliament, Toynbee, clearly, has an astute eye for the British political scene. Many approach the Guardian’s flagship commentator in an almost ritual sense, as if her musings are inscribed in tablet, and come away with faith renewed in the teachings of Toynbee. In general, I do something quite close to the opposite – no more so than her remarks to the Fabians conference at the weekend.

Labour, Toynbee told the assembled throng, would have “to try quite hard to lose the next election.” Alarmingly, this is a widely held belief in the Labour party. The argument, closely echoing Toynbee’s, goes that if Cameron couldn’t win a general election against a disintegrating Labour party and a visibly exhausted, not to mention reviled, Labour prime minister – then how can he possibly win come 2015? Just about every Labour strategist warns of complacency when complacent is exactly what they have become.

It is tempting to assume that impassioned and increasingly aggressive attacks on the Conservatives are all that are needed to secure victory at the next election. After all, moral indignation is what the Labour party does. But outrage is not an electoral strategy. Emotionally and politically it may make sense to oppose each and every cut the Conservatives propose but, to repeat ad nauseam, the public are simply ahead of the Labour party when it comes to the cuts and their provenance.

To win in 2015 we need to persuade the millions of people who did not, who could not, vote for us that we are a credible party of government. The party simply cannot assume the electorate will vote Labour simply because we are not the government. Nor should the scale of the task before Labour be in any way diluted; the 2010 election was an annihilation. Labour suffered its second heaviest defeat since 1918 and was wiped out in the south, south east and east of England. But, predominantly due to the eccentricities of a defunct first past the post system, Labour retained a credible number of seats, enough almost to put us within distant of the Conservatives. Dodging a bullet is not the same as a good result, and it’s about time many within Labour woke up to that fact.

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Labour must overcome its resentment and deal more maturely with the Lib Dems

10/01/2013, 06:22:03 PM

by David Talbot

In the aftermath of the last general election Labour found themselves unable, or simply unwilling, to countenance a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Instead a “big, open and comprehensive offer” was made, and the rest is history.

Two and a half years later, Labour cannot repeat the failures of the dying days of the last Labour government. The party must overcome its resentment and disappointment at the ending of our 13 years of power to at last build a tolerant relationship with the Lib Dems. The current bitterness between the two parties serves no purpose in an era when majoritarian politics is seemingly irrevocably on the decline.

It will take compromise, not a trait that readily identifiable with the Labour party.  The Lib Dems, rightly, resent the way Labour behaves as if it owns their voters, and the machine tribalism that predominates within the party.

Rather than giving the Lib Dems reasons to hesitate about the Conservatives, Labour’s behaviour to date has simply galvanised their determination to stay within the current coalition. The party was taken aback when the Lib Dems showed the capability and determination to enter coalition with the Conservatives. Nothing suggests that they wouldn’t do it again if the political climate is right. In response, Labour needs to have a strategy for making itself an attractive suitor.

David Talbot is a political consultant

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Loyalty will only take us so far

01/01/2013, 03:50:55 PM

by David Talbot

The festive period is traditionally a season of good will; the nation’s increasingly extended sabbatical into family and faith. We now stretch what in most other countries is two days off into ten. The stresses and strains of the past year are forgotten, and the only talk of politics is that of the family variety.

For a glorious week or so we forget all about politics and politicians. Ed Miliband entered 2012 seemingly forgetting what profession he was actually in, and endured a torrid start to the year as a result, not because of anything he might have said or done – indeed the perception that he had not said or done anything loomed large amongst the charges – but because his personal polling and that of the Labour party’s were far below where they ought to have been.

Now that the new year has been ushered in, it is an apt time for reflection and pause before the year ahead. Twelve months ago, the great British public tended to believe that the spending cuts were indeed necessary, that Labour was more to blame for them than the Conservatives, and that George Osborne was a bad chancellor whose policies would yet further damage their our own financial prospects. However, they didn’t trust the Labour party with the nation’s finances and were reconciled, not resigned, to accepting the Coalition’s economic medicine. A year on, by and large, the British public still think that – with astonishingly little variance.

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George Osborne has learned his trade from Gordon Brown

10/12/2012, 09:07:19 AM

by David Talbot

“To bring all these decisions for many benefits over many years together,” Osborne told the House of Commons last Wednesday, “we will introduce into parliament primary legislation – the welfare uprating bill. I hope it commands support from both sides of the House of Commons”.

At that moment a thin smile seemed to escape the chancellor’s lips. Or if it didn’t, it should have done. For it represented the Damascene conversion of George Osborne to the scriptures of a once imperious Gordon Brown. And it was a moment of horribly low cunning that was eerily familiar for the Labour benches.

The announcement managed the near politically impossible. It will raise money, it will be popular and it will trap the opposition. It is vintage Gordon Brown, from the days when he was still known as the iron chancellor rather than the flailing prime minister of more recent memory. Yes, it’s easy to forget, but at one time, Brown was the political master of all he surveyed.

The guttural roar that greeted Osborne’s announcement from the Tory backbenches signified wholehearted approval of their chancellor’s ruse.  Budgets are meant to be about economics. But for the two most political chancellors of the modern era, everything is politics. The statistics, forecasts, tax and public spending changes are immaterial for the political battleground with their hated opposition.

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Begrudgingly, Labour must accept police and crime commissioners

20/11/2012, 07:00:52 AM

by David Talbot

The police must no longer be immune to radical reform. A mighty vested interest, which has historically seen off just about all attempts to reform it, they have grown into a monolithic empire that successive governments dare not touch. It has been a failure of political will to pursue reform; Blair balked from many of the more controversial reforms his bellicose former home secretaries, in the shape of Messrs Blunkett and Clarke, conjured up. For Labour’s leaders, being pro-police was a vital ingredient of being New Labour. But the myopic faith our political leaders, and the public, once had in the police has sadly waned in the light of recent events – and it is why Labour should welcome the newly-minted police and crime commissioners

The police have long claimed the irrelevance of their political masters when it comes to policing. They have operated an arrogant closed doors policy that has intimidated, and dissuaded, many from engaging in their work. These reactions demonstrate that our police are systemically intolerant of debate and virulently closed to new ideas.

The police need democratic oversight. They are one of the most closed, complex and costly of public services. It is can only be right that the police are brought closer to the very people they are sworn to protect. The apparent immunity of the police service to wider accountability has been a distressing aspect of the service ever since the committees of councillors, members of the public and magistrates took over in the 1960s from local watch committees, which had existed since the 1830s.

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Cameron breaches Labour’s Maginot line

10/10/2012, 03:10:56 PM

by David Talbot

The battle lines for 2015 have begun to be drawn. As Labour’s foot soldiers marched to the beat towards the feted middle ground last week in Manchester, its gun batteries trained their aim onto unfamiliar territory with audacious talk of a Labour “one nation” prime minister. The Tories, retreating in disarray, have receded to their ideological redoubt, and Labour skirmishers have at last engaged with hostile middle England in a first serious advance on the mission to Downing Street.

Or so the Labour hierarchy would have you believe. But they have made a serious tactical error.

The infamous Maginot Line was a fortified defensive line built by the French to protect the Franco-German border. It was a formidable defensive structure, and a feat of military engineering and strategising far beyond the era in which it was built. It lies between 12 to 16 miles in depth and stretched from the Swiss Alps in the south to the Channel in the north. The defensive structure was completed after ten years, just before the outbreak of war, and is estimated in today’s money to have cost the equivalent of nearly €50 trillion.

This is the comparable psychological position the Labour party are now staking their ground upon. The party’s grey beards have assumed that, much like the French army, the Conservatives would become unsteady under fire and surrender without trace when grapeshot thinned the lines. This is a first-class misjudgement. The Conservatives are headed through the Ardennes.

Miliband stole the Tories’ one-nation clothes precisely because David Cameron had forgotten to look after them. The Labour leader was executing a classic New Labour move straight from the Tony Blair’s playbook. But unlike the Blair years the Tories will not move ever-rightwards to placate the rabid tenancy and pander to their core. Cameron, frankly, is far too astute for that. Revitalising the “compassionate conservative” model that launched his leadership some seven years ago, the Conservative leader resolutely refused to fall into Labour’s lazy caricature. Moreover, he fought back and punched through Labour’s lines. Tough language on Labour’s Achilles heel – the deficit – will cut through to the nation’s conscience far more than any high-minded seminar on a 19th century Disraelian ideal.

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