Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Todd’

Big tent Labour is underpinned by liberal Labour

14/05/2015, 09:34:32 AM

by Jonathan Todd

The Miliband years were rich in intellectual touchstones, including Blue Labour’s social conservatism and economic statism. As much as improving Labour’s polling on economics and leadership is the absolute precondition of Labour government, Miliband is right that ideas matter.

Just saying aspiration is not an alternative idea to animate the post-Miliband era. There are some terms, like aspiration, with New Labour associations: effective communication, solid economic policy. These are not ideas as much as truisms of political success.

Labour must urgently re-imbibe these truisms. This is a necessary but not sufficient condition of the strongest possible Labour recovery. Sufficiency entails a deeper reassessment of Labour’s ideas. Jeremy Cliffe, one time Chuka Umunna intern and now a writer at The Economist, and Jamie Reed, MP for England’s most remotely accessible constituency from Westminster, which I born and raised in, are making relevant interventions.

Reed is threatening to run for the leadership unless a Blue Labour tinged theme is absorbed by contenders. “The next Labour leader,” argues Reed, “needs to listen to the marginalised, peripheral communities of our country as the United Kingdom ‘balkanises’ in front of us”.

On Thursday at Policy Network, Cliffe, according to the invitation email, “will argue that though UKIP’s rise might suggest otherwise, the electorate is becoming more urban, more educated, more ethnically diverse and (through travel, work and immigration) more used to contact with the outside world”. Winning majorities for Labour, he argues, will be best sought by building “‘cosmopolitan coalitions’ of support”.

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Answers to the questions of general election week 2015

09/05/2015, 12:28:51 PM

by Jonathan Todd

I asked five questions about this week at its start. Now we are at its end, we have our answers. And few of them are pretty. But amidst the rubble of Labour’s defeat, shards of opportunity protrude.

Will a “Sheffield rally moment” happen?

There was an eve of poll rally in Leeds but it generated few headlines. Rather than the Sheffield rally of 1992, we had humbling moments akin to Michael Portillo’s defeat in 1997. Douglas Alexander, Ed Balls and Jim Murphy were all symbolic and significant defeats for Labour. As were Danny Alexander, Vince Cable and Simon Hughes for the Liberal Democrats.

The churn in big names was high. The Parliamentary Labour Party has been shorn of major intellects and players. The Parliamentary Liberal Democrat Party even more so. Much changed eras dawn in both parties.

Can the Tories make it to 290 MPs?

The Tories cleared that threshold by a massive 41 seats. We erroneously thought that the Tories might fall short and that we’d be in for weeks of haggling over the government’s composition.

The 4 per cent swing to the Tories in the key seat of Nuneaton at about 2.30am brought the nightmare scenario of the BBC exit poll a decisive step closer to reality. The Tories did not just beat Labour in seats, like Nuneaton, that they were defending against us.

They prevented Labour PPCs from becoming or returning as MPs in a number of seats that had been held by Labour: Julie Hilling (Bolton West); Andy Sawford (Corby); Chris Williamson (Derby North); Martin Caton (Gower); Ed Balls (Morley and Outwood); Alison Seabeck (Plymouth Moor View); Rowenna Davis (Southampton Itchen); David Wright (Telford); and Chris Ruane (Vale of Clywd).

Conservative Amanda Solloway was so stunned to win Derby North that she hadn’t prepared a speech. “It was a bit of a surprise,” conceded Johnny Mercer, the new MP for Plymouth Moor View. Lucy Allan, who overturned David Wright’s majority, had been, “told Telford was totally unwinnable”.

“They couldn’t use NationBuilder,” Davis recently said of her Conservative opponents in Southampton Itchen. “They haven’t got the people to co-ordinate. And in an election where people don’t trust the media but do trust their neighbours, that’s a problem.” Somehow, however, the Conservatives did communicate more successfully than Labour in that seat.

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Five questions for general election week 2015

04/05/2015, 03:13:28 PM

by Jonathan Todd

I can barely remember before we were looking beyond 7 May 2015 and soon this fateful date will be pasted. Five questions for this precipice:

Will a “Sheffield rally moment” happen?

George Osborne quickly jumped on #EdStone to declare it a “Sheffield rally moment”. It wasn’t. But Osborne seizes on any chance to blur Ed Miliband with Neil Kinnock, now, sadly, cast in stone as the embodiment of unfitness to govern. It is not just Miliband, however, at risk of “Sheffield rally moment”. David Cameron, shouting “up the hammers” as he fights for his career/country, has dropped clangers.

It is extra time in the cup final. The teams are exhausted. A piece of magic could break the deadlock. Or a horrible mistake. Which now seems much more likely than magic.

Can the Tories make it to 290 MPs?

290 Tory MPs is held out by experts – for example, Professor Tim Bale speaking at the RSA recently – as a golden number. Meet this threshold and routes to Conservative-led government remain open, fall short and they rapidly close.

While projected as the party with most seats and votes, they are falling short of this threshold on Peter Kellner’s last election projection. But these figures just about allow the Conservatives to combine with the Liberal Democrats and the DUP to build an effective Commons majority. Falling short of 290, however, particularly if this is accompanied by an absence of Liberal Democrat support, would make Conservative life very hard.

Can Labour build bridges with the Lib Dems?

If Oliver Coppard succeeds in his energetic campaign to remove Nick Clegg from Sheffield Hallam, a discombobulated Liberal Democrat Party will return to Westminster. The Conservatives could not be confident of the support of such a party. Even if Clegg wins, though, peeling the Liberal Democrats away from the Conservatives should remain a Labour goal.

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How Miliband seals the deal

27/04/2015, 11:07:34 AM

by Jonathan Todd

“The Labour leader’s main problem,” wrote Deborah Orr last November, “is that the dialogue he’s attempting to have with the nation is just too negative”. At the Labour spring rally, I worried that this weakness persisted. But tell that to the hen parties of Chester. Or the Milifans. Or even Peter Mandelson.

There is a positivity about Miliband, which the public have not previously known. But the Labour Party has. When, for example, in summer 2010, he drew the biggest crowd to a Labour meeting in Carlisle since the days of Harold Wilson.

If proving that we could be trusted again with other people’s money was the key lesson that you felt Labour ought to take from the last general election, then Miliband’s brother, David, may have then been a more attractive leadership candidate. While David was stronger on this front, he had other limitations. He appeared colder than Ed. The “Ed speaks human” placards may have never wholly convinced but Ed was a warm, even inspirational figure, at least to those holding the placards, during the leadership election.

This Miliband has been submerged for four and a half years and only reappeared in the past fortnight, perversely assisted by a Tory campaign that lowered expectations about him. They told the country that Miliband is useless, he’s shown otherwise. They told the country that the economy is improving, for many what they see around them suggests not. They should have shown us their core strengths of leadership and economy, instead of telling a sceptical public to be grateful.

In turning derision to cheers, Miliband resembles Tim Sherwood, manager of Aston Villa, supposedly David Cameron’s team, while – and, as a Liverpool fan, it grieves me to say – Cameron has something of the Brendan Rodgers about him, at least insofar as, as was demonstrated in defeat by Villa in the FA Cup semi-final, a capacity to squander advantages, possibly induced by nervousness or over-thinking.

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The entwined challenges that the SNP and UKIP may pose PM Miliband

21/04/2015, 10:59:14 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Scotland is diminished inside the UK, argues Alex Salmond. The UK is diminished inside the EU, says Nigel Farage. Scotland did not vote for David Cameron, insists Salmond. The UK didn’t vote for Jean-Claude Juncker, maintains Farage. It would be “nae bother” for Scotland to break up the UK, asserts Salmond. It would be “no problem” for the UK to leave the UK, claims Farage.

Salmond briefly seemed a broken man after the defeat of Yes last September. Having promised to resign the leadership of UKIP if he doesn’t win South Thanet, defeat for Farage on 7 May would also leave him broken. But Salmond has been reborn, as support for Yes has wholly transferred to the SNP. Farage might be reborn too.

Salmond’s rebirth has been enabled by glacial shifts in Scottish opinion that now appear to have unstoppable momentum but which built up over a long period, going undetected by those focused on Westminster. No Scottish seats in the UK parliament changed hands in 2010. The SNP gained two seats at the 2005 general election and lost one at the 2001 general election. The churn over the same period in elections to the Scottish Parliament, however, was much more dramatic. The SNP gained 20 additional seats in 2007, 23 in 2011.

If we look only at the lack of 2010 seat change in Scotland, the SNP’s rise appears inexplicable. If we look instead at recent elections to the Scottish parliament, it seems less so. Perhaps for reasons wrapped up with the referendum, decisive numbers of Scots are now prepared to entrust the SNP with their support in the UK Parliament, as well as in the Scottish Parliament. The decision factor for voters may have migrated from “who is best to lead the UK?” to “who will get the best deal for Scotland?”

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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.

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The economic questions behind and beyond the election

10/04/2015, 04:46:25 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Ed Conway characterises this as “fast becoming the election that economics forgot”. If non-economic factors are determining votes, we might note the uptick in Ed Miliband’s ratings, showing improvement against the variable that I’ve argued Labour should focus on: leadership.

It is a big Tory theme to ask, “do you want this oddity as prime minister?” If the people say, as they seem to, “actually, he’s not that bad”, then this a Tory problem. Nonetheless, Miliband’s ratings have been poor enough for long enough that they risk the electorate buying the stories that the incumbents peddle. Even when reality is inconsistent with rhetoric.

This rhetoric has claimed that Labour caused the global financial crisis (when Mervyn King, the ex Governor of the Bank of England, says otherwise), that Labour spent too much at crucial junctures (when the Tories then backed this spending), and that Labour failed to properly regulate the banks (when the Tories wanted less regulation).

As galling as it may be, though, too much time may have passed for public opinion to substantially shift on these debates. But there remain questions about where the economy is now and where it is going.

The rhetoric was of “the march of the makers” and renewal of competitiveness. The reality is that the balance of payments and productivity are both unprecedentedly awful, evidencing a troubling lack of competitiveness, which may explain two-thirds of economists recently surveyed reporting concerns about the government’s economic management.

The political vogue of economic metrics waxes and wanes. We were more agitated by the balance of payments in the 1960s. Unemployment became a bigger issue in the 1970s. Thatcherism made the money supply “the thing” in the 1980s.

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The view from Birmingham: Tory doctors, Lib Dem machines, Labour hopes

06/04/2015, 12:51:20 PM

by Jonathan Todd

I voted for Gerry Steinberg in the City of Durham in 2001, Keith Hill in Streatham in 2005, and stood in Westmorland and Lonsdale in 2010. I’ll vote on 7 May for Gisela Stuart to retain the Birmingham Edgbaston seat that she’s held since 1997. Then David Hill, a veteran of Labour communications, reacted to this Labour gain by repeatedly saying “fucking unbelievable” at the Labour celebration party at the Royal Festival Hall.

Dr Luke Evans, Stuart’s Tory opponent, is pictured with a stethoscope on his literature. The word Conservative is an afterthought. It bemoans the record of NHS Wales that is Labour controlled, while being silent on Stuart. No attempt to critique her record or change how we should think of her is made.

A “re-elect Gisela Stuart” poster looks out from our kitchen window. Our next door neighbour has one up too. Labour appears to be winning this street. But the constituency has not been blanketed as Tim Farron posters covered Westmorland and Lonsdale during 2010. These declared, “the local choice v the London banker”, which summed up the Liberal Democrat framing of the election as a contest between Farron and Gareth McKeever, a former banker and the Tory candidate.

In contrast to the Liberal Democrats in Westmorland and Lonsdale in 2010, communications from both the Conservatives and Labour in Edgbaston have made minimal attempts to frame the election. And as Evans downplays his Conservative status, Stuart also stands somewhat removed from her party, as her letter heading describes her as, “your independent thinking Labour candidate”.

Reflecting on his comprehensive defeat to Farron, McKeever has written, “the main reason we lost was the sheer size and scope of the local Lib Dem machine and extremely popular local MP”. Edgbaston has no such machine. To the extent that any Lib Dem activists are local, they have relocated to Birmingham Yardley and Solihull, where John Hemming and Lorely Burt seek to hold the only Lib Dem seats in the West Midlands.

Solihull recently hosted Nick Clegg watching a hedgehog walk in circles, a Lib Dem attempt to hold back what the local paper describes as “Boris mania” following a constituency visit by London’s Mayor. It is not just in the south west of England that the Conservatives are seeking to make gains at the expense of their coalition partners. That’s also their aim to the south east of Birmingham.

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Revealed: Osborne’s next Budget

01/04/2015, 08:47:09 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Of course, we strain every Labour sinew to have the next Budget delivered by Ed Balls. Even if the worst happens and the next government is Conservative led, it may be that George Osborne finds himself serving away from the Treasury.

But Osborne’s 2010 “emergency” Budget framed this parliament. Amid a leadership election, Labour struggled to respond. He’ll spy a way to repeat this trick. On different terms, however.

The 2010 vintage made spending this parliament’s key axis. Labour had spent too much. Osborne would curb it. You can’t trust Labour on spending but you can trust Osborne.

This spending card showed its age in 2014’s Autumn Statement. Again playing it big, Osborne crash landed in the 1930s. He predictably backed out of this rickets afflicted cul-de-sac in the Budget. Neither the Autumn Statement’s spending profile for the next parliament nor that which followed his Budget readjustment are truly credible.

It’s a charade engineered to push Labour into positions that allow him to bemoan Labour’s supposedly reckless profligacy. If Osborne does deliver another Budget, he would be expected to reveal the brutal details that he has lead us to expect.

Will he close the police? Or the army? Or is local government an outdated sticking plaster?

Much as Labour sees Osborne as an ideologue – and he probably does have somewhat more deeply held convictions than David Cameron, a particularly light wearer of his beliefs – he is sensible enough to know that the cuts that he has set himself up for in unprotected departments risk policy chaos and political ruin. To the extent that he has ever had a Long Term Economic Plan (LTEP), it has only existed as rhetoric of spending responsibility. The policy substance has regularly shifted, not least away from the 1930s between the Autumn Statement and the Budget.

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The Tories want to park the bus. But the wheels are falling off

30/03/2015, 09:00:30 AM

by Jonathan Todd

This was the week that the supposed Long Term Economic Plan (LTEP) gave way to short term miscalculation. The question is whether it will have a resonance deep enough to reach beyond the narrow cadre of the politically obsessed and long enough to be felt on 7 May.

It was a good week for Labour. And there are precious few weeks left before the election. The Tory plan was to stuff them full of LTEP. Park a bus of LTEP on the playing field of the election and close off all Labour routes to goal. Lynton Crosby as José Mourinho. But the wheels have looked like they are falling off the Tory bus.

“You had one job,” Crosby must ruefully lament. Instead of LTEP, Cameron needlessly diminished himself by triggering speculation about the Tory leadership and increased agitation among the runners and riders to focus on positioning in this race. It’s akin to John Terry tossing aside mid-match the armband that denotes the Chelsea captain.

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