Posts Tagged ‘Mark Stockwell’

A coherent centrist response to Brexit means resisting economic nationalism – in all its forms

17/05/2017, 10:14:43 PM

by Mark Stockwell

One of the many, many issues faced by Labour’s moderate wing at the moment is that they are – perfectly understandably – so preoccupied with the short-term problem of saving their seats in June, and the medium-term one of how to oust Jeremy Corbyn and his ilk afterwards, that the longer-term challenge of putting together a viable centre-left platform is going largely unaddressed.

Those who favour trying to resuscitate a seemingly moribund party have directed longing glances across the Atlantic to Justin Trudeau’s Canada. Those who are coming to the painful conclusion that a breakaway may be necessary – with a view to triggering a full-on realignment – are casting admiring looks across the Channel to the newly-inaugurated French President, Emmanuel Macron, and his fledgling ‘la République en Marche’ movement.

But more immediate concerns have left little time or energy for thinking through what political centrists will need to do to provide an effective opposition – and, all in good time, an alternative government – to an emboldened Theresa May with a large majority at her back.

The Prime Minister is essentially campaigning for a free hand to negotiate Brexit, in the hope that increased parliamentary numbers will strengthen her negotiating hand, not just with the EU but also with potential internal critics.

She has also repeatedly made it clear, however, that she is looking to take both her party and the country in a different direction. Brexit is only a part of this story: a necessary but not sufficient condition for what amounts to a rethink of the Conservatives’ view of the role of the state in the economy. The May team’s conversion to the cause of a cap on domestic fuel bills is a recent, high-profile example of this, and recent pronouncements on ‘workers’ rights’ are also part-and-parcel of this repositioning, but the change in approach goes much deeper. It amounts to a rejection of the laissez-faire approach that has characterised Conservative industrial policy for 30 years and more (with the exception of Lord Heseltine, now paradoxically estranged from the higher echelons of the party).


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Election 1997 20th anniversary: Fear and loathing in Conservative Central Office

01/05/2017, 10:55:57 PM

In a series of pieces, Uncut writers look back at election day 1997. Mark Stockwell was a staffer at Conservative Central Office.

Twenty-odd points behind in the polls. Divided, discredited, and despised. Doomed to defeat, a whole generation of talent set to be swept aside in an electoral tsunami from the south of England to the highlands of Scotland, and all points between.

That was the situation facing the Conservative Party on 1 May 1997. And although the eventual share of the vote was closer than the polls suggested, the impact in terms of seats won and lost was every bit as devastating.

In the early hours of the morning of 2 May, as the scale of Tony Blair’s victory became clear, a small crowd of ‘well-wishers’ gathered outside the then Tory HQ. Some maintain that they were chanting “You’re out and you know you are” (to the tune of ‘Go West’). From inside the Smith Square bunker, I think it was the more traditional football-terrace lyrics I could hear. And while some were outraged at this impertinence, and still shocked at what had unfolded during the course of the night, a good deal more were inclined to shrug and think to themselves, “fair enough”. Eighteen years of Conservative rule had come to a shattering end and those who had hastened its demise were in no mood for an insincere display of magnanimity.

Earlier, preparing to hunker down for a sleepless night of election coverage and (let’s be honest) steady drinking, a few Central Office staffers in the ‘war room’ had printed off a list of marginal seats and pinned it to the wall in order to keep track of the results as we went along. (Even the memory of this quaint, paper-based approach seems to tinge the whole scene with sepia. I don’t think we even had Excel in those days.)

After a handful of early results had filtered through, the extent of the swing to Labour and the patterns of tactical voting had become obvious. A few of us began to exchange anxious glances. I can’t recall exactly who said it first, or at what stage in proceedings, but pretty soon the conclusion was unavoidable: “We’re going to need to print out another sheet.” And pretty soon, another one. I recalled the words of Pitt the Younger on hearing of Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz: “Roll up the map; we will not be needing it these ten years.”


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

3 years on: Ed Miliband has created Blue Nun Labour

30/05/2013, 06:20:09 PM

It’s 3 years since Uncut started so, in a series of pieces, we’re taking stock of what has changed for Labour since 2010. Mark Stockwell gives the other side’s view of Labour’s progress

You could see it on Ed Miliband’s face, that far-off day in September 2010 when he snatched the party leadership from under his big brother’s nose. David had led him in every round of the ballot, eclipsed him over every fence, but at the end, somehow, Ed had snuck through on the rails and won by a short head. And the new leader of the opposition was as surprised as anyone. In truth, he wasn’t ready for the responsibility that had been thrust upon him. Over the last three years, it’s shown.

Granted, he didn’t start from the most auspicious position. For all that the Conservatives had failed to win a majority, this only served to disguise the scale of the defeat Labour had suffered at the hands of the British electorate. When what Labour needed was to face up to the manifold reasons for that defeat, too many have sought comfort in the travails of the coalition and revelled in the difficulties of the despised Liberal Democrats.

It fell to Miliband to drag his party away from this comfort zone. He has failed. In truth, he hasn’t even tried. Yes, senior Labour figures have queued up to utter insincere pieties about how the leadership had been wrong in the past to dismiss the concerns of the party’s supporters about immigration. But the party as a whole continues to give the impression it doesn’t think it got much wrong in office – on the domestic front, at least.

It is no use Labour going into the 2015 election telling voters it was a mistake to kick them out last time. Asked to review their verdict (and you may be sure Conservative strategists will happily play along with such an approach), the good people of Britain will apply a swift coat of polish to their boots and find their own way to make sure Labour “reconnects with the voters.”

Miliband’s lack of preparedness has manifested itself in his desperate casting around for a distinctive, coherent agenda. It is rather as if, like the second year politics undergraduate he so closely resembles, finding himself unexpectedly home alone one evening, he has set himself the task of coming up with a tasty supper using only the ingredients he can find already in the kitchen.

Blue Labour? Hmmm, yes I remember picking that up on the way home after the leadership election. Maybe I’d had one or two glasses of wine. Anyway, it sounds interesting, in it goes.

But hang on, it’s missing something. I know, there’s that half-empty packet of incomes policy that’s been hanging around at the back of the cupboard since, ooh, about 1979. If I stick a big label on it saying “predistribution”, maybe I can kid myself it’s not past its sell-by date.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Cameron needs to show the Conservatives have moved on from Thatcher

09/04/2013, 03:18:09 PM

by Mark Stockwell

The events and policies that defined Margaret Thatcher’s premiership politicized much of the current generation of politicians. The legacy of her time in office, and the manner of her departure from it, continue to cast a long shadow over British politics and in particular over the Conservative Party.

By a somewhat macabre twist of fate, I found myself marking the occasion of Thatcher’s death at a recital of Fauré’s Requiem. Predictably, the wall-to-wall retrospectives of her political career have been divided between those who would have the angels lead her into paradise, and those who would condemn her to punishment in the infernal lake. Perpetual light on one side; the darkness of the abyss on the other.

The left has for the most part observed a self-denying ordinance against open outbreaks of glee. But there’s a strong sense that this is primarily for reasons of self-preservation and concern as to how voters will react, rather than out of any genuine respect for her achievements. Once a period of grace has elapsed, I confidently expect some metaphorical dancing on the grave. (Some have already rather distastefully alluded to Elvis Costello’s ‘Tramp the Dirt Down’ – but she’s going to have the last laugh there by being cremated.)

Meanwhile, the entire Conservative Party has lined up to heap praise on “the woman who saved Britain”. This reaction is reasonably genuine – but it, too, is based on somewhat selective recall. Yes, the country had become almost ungovernable by 1979 and radical surgery was needed but if Thatcher hadn’t been removed when she was and the poll tax scrapped, there’s a fair chance we’d have gone full circle.

Thatcher’s political legacy to the Conservative party is also decidedly mixed. It’s hard to argue with three decisive general election victories, and no defeats. And the policies she pursued, the economic reforms she put in place, have continued to make the political weather. But the coalition she built with the voters in the 1980s was unsustainable once Labour got its act together and addressed its ongoing problem with the middle class. New Labour was the product of Thatcherism – but it was also its electoral nemesis.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Cameron’s flirtations with the UKIP agenda are grist to Ed Miliband’s mill

01/04/2013, 12:15:45 PM

by Mark Stockwell

At the Conservative party conference back in October, David Cameron gave a strong speech reiterating his commitment to modernisation and ongoing detoxification of the Conservative brand.  It was an encouraging indication that in spite of all the rumblings about Boris Johnson and a return to a more traditional Conservative agenda (whatever that means), wise heads still prevailed within the prime minister’s inner circle.

It was always questionable whether Cameron could translate the warm reception his speech received into a firmer grip on his rambunctious backbenchers, and the outcome of the simultaneous by-elections in Middlesbrough and especially Rotherham in November put paid to any such hopes.

A sizeable caucus of right-wingers seized on the supposed “UKIP surge” to try to hijack the Conservative agenda and shift it their way. Some – bizarrely – even talked openly of suing for peace with Nigel Farage’s motley crew and trying to persuade him to stand down UKIP candidates come 2015.

Despite the fact that another by-election, in Croydon North, the same day showed very little sign of a similar pattern, they were (eventually) rewarded with the prime minister’s speech in January, promising a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.

Then came the Eastleigh by-election at the end of February, widely portrayed – not least by the same ideologically-driven section of the Conservative Party – as a humiliating setback for the prime minister and a rejection of the “metropolitan liberal” agenda they believe he stands for. This despite the fact that the seat was won by, er, the Liberal Democrats – a governing party in mid-term, mired in scandal and with a personally very unpopular leader, a pro-EU platform and a ‘liberal’ stance on immigration.

Cue more wailing and gnashing of teeth from the right about the supposed threat from UKIP, further fuelled by traditionalist angst over the vote on same-sex marriage earlier in the month. Although given that this issue was apparently going to tear the Conservative party apart, it would be remiss not to note that less than two months down the line, nobody much is talking about it anymore – this side of the Atlantic at any rate.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Conservative MPs will be more, not less, reliant on David Cameron after the gay marriage vote

05/02/2013, 12:24:15 PM

by Mark Stockwell

Tonight’s vote on same-sex marriage will deepen the divide between Cameron and his party but ultimately it will make Conservative MPs more, rather than less, dependent on their leader.

The “rebels” (inverted commas, as it is technically a free vote) believe Cameron’s failure to win an overall majority marks him out as a loser and that they would do better without him. They were wrong to start with, and their actions over Europe and now same-sex marriage will make them even more wrong.  Cameron may be a “posh boy who doesn’t know the price of milk” but on both these issues he’s more in tune with the electorate than those who seek to displace him.

If there is damage to the Conservative party, it will be a result of the right refusing to acknowledge that they are a busted flush electorally and grieving publicly for the lost causes they continue to espouse. The impression of disunity is far more damaging than the exaggerated fears of a small and dwindling section of the population around the validity of institutions, social or political, that they seem to think they have exclusive rights to define as they see fit.

That said, it is astonishing that so many of the supporters of same-sex marriage, both in the upper echelons of the Conservative party and their supporters in the media, have such a tin ear for the sensibilities of the Conservative party in parliament and at large, that they have chosen to frame their appeals to the traditionalists in terms of how their vote may be perceived in 10, 20, 50 years’ time.

This is straight out of the Whig version of history – a view which is just not shared by this section of the Conservative party. In fact, the traditionalists, almost by definition, see themselves as a bulwark against precisely this sort of progressive view of the world. The past (stuff that’s already happened) and the present (stuff that’s happening here and now and might get them re-elected) matter much more than the future (stuff that may or may not happen some time after the next election if these lefty johnnies get their way).

Telling them they are ‘on the wrong side of history’ is the equivalent of pointing out to Luis Suarez that taking a tumble in the box may get him a penalty, but it will look bad in the TV replay.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Cameron’s EU policy is not about getting the best deal for Britain – it’s about keeping his own party quiet

24/01/2013, 11:00:15 AM

by Mark Stockwell

When we think of the great speeches in recent history, one perhaps stands out above all others: Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in March 1963. Nearly fifty years later, Barack Obama consciously channelled the spirit of that magnificent, spine-tingling oration in Monday’s inaugural address. It is, if you like, the gold standard by which major speeches are measured.

In his big set-piece on Europe on Wednesday, David Cameron seems instead to have sought inspiration from the man after whom MLK was named – the 16th-century German monk, Martin Luther, whose ideas and writings provided the theological underpinning of the Reformation.

Cameron must surely have had Luther in mind when he talked of Europe having “experience of heretics who turned out to have a point.” It is an allusion he must have hoped would not be lost on the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, herself the daughter of a Lutheran pastor. Judging from her response to the speech, indicating that she was open to negotiating “a fair compromise”, these hopes have not been entirely in vain.

Quite how this reference was greeted in some of the other chancelleries of Europe – in staunchly Catholic Italy, Spain, France or Poland, for example – is another matter. Other European leaders have been rather less complimentary in their responses, with the French in particular indulging in the sort of wryly-amused sneering in which they can legitimately claim to be world leaders.

Presumably Cameron feels this is relatively unimportant: the EU’s centre of gravity has shifted emphatically to Berlin as the eurozone crisis has unfolded. The prime minister no doubt believes it is primarily there, rather than Paris or Brussels, that the fate of his renegotiation strategy will be decided.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

If gay couples can’t get married, my parents shouldn’t have been able to either

12/12/2012, 07:00:19 AM

by Mark Stockwell

At a recent event for “Conservatives in communications”, I was gently upbraided (cruelly mocked, some would say) by culture minister Ed Vaizey for my all-too-apparent ignorance of the fact that the government’s proposals on same-sex marriage would fall under the remit of his boss at DCMS, Maria Miller. In common with most of the population, I simply hadn’t given the issue a moment’s thought. So it had not occurred to me that the culture secretary, in her dual role as minister for women and equality, would be responsible for the legislation.

In all honesty, I’d rather not be writing this. I’ve got Christmas shopping to do, for one thing. And it’s not as if I’ve got skin in the game. I’m pretty certain I’m not gay. To the best of my knowledge and recollection, I’m not married either. As for the religious aspect, well, the closest I come to belief in the power of a supernatural being is my blind, unquestioning Tory faith in the guiding force of Adam Smith’s invisible hand.

In other words, the whole issue just didn’t seem that important to me. Certainly not important enough to spend time thinking or writing about. Until now.

I’m not sure whom I should blame for the fact that I now find myself hunched over my laptop typing this when I could be hunched over my laptop buying overpriced wooden toys for my nieces and nephews, and working out how to ship some of them to New Zealand in time for the big day. (Just in case my niece and nephew in NZ are reading this, yes, of course Santa will bring all your presents and no, he’s not a supernatural being, he’s absolutely real. I’m afraid you’ll have to ask your mum what “gay” means.)


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

The rule of law is more important than unbridled press freedom

28/11/2012, 06:46:03 PM

by Mark Stockwell

Like cornered cobras, journalists and editors have been baring their fangs in recent weeks to put pressure on the government to reject the statutory regulation of the press most now expect the Leveson report to recommend.

This is only to be expected – their way of life is being called into question.  Even those newspapers usually so quick to dismiss ‘producer interest’ are suddenly spouting every self-serving rationalisation as to why their industry should be uniquely free from interference.

Let me be clear – I hold no brief for statutory regulation of the press. Instinctively, I favour self-regulation. And I accept that the press is different from other industries, that having an open discourse of ideas and opinions is part of the lifeblood of parliamentary democracy. I get it, I really do.

But it is wholly unacceptable for an editor to state, as Fraser Nelson of the Spectator did on Wednesday, that he will not abide by the law.

Before he has even seen what Leveson proposes; before the government has come forward with its response; before the democratically-elected parliament has had a chance to consider and debate the proposals, Nelson has taken it upon himself to declare his publication and, by extension, his profession, above the law.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

The Tories would have to be mad, literally mad to cosy up to UKIP

27/11/2012, 07:00:49 AM

by Mark Stockwell

“Political correctness gone mad.” That’s what they’re all saying about Rotherham Council’s decision to remove three children from their foster parents because they had joined UKIP. In this instance, sadly, it seems they may have a point. Now it seems a fair few Conservatives are also intent on beating the well-trodden path to political insanity.

UKIP can clearly expect to do very nicely out of the foster-care furore.

As chance would have it, the good people of Rotherham go to the polls on Thursday to choose a new MP. Normally this would be a shoo-in for Labour – the town’s former MP, Denis MacShane, won with a handsome 5-figure majority over the second-placed Conservative in 2010 – but the circumstances in which MacShane was forced to stand down have left a nasty taste in the mouth.

There has been a controversy in Rotherham lately after the ill-starred local authority asked staff to bring their own IT equipment to work in an effort to cut costs. It turns out they could just have popped into see our Denis in his office, made him a few cups of tea, and walked away with one paid for by the taxpayer after all.

Now the storm over the three foster children means UKIP is ideally positioned as the party of protest against mainstream politics, especially in a town where it’s hard to see the party’s stance on immigration costing it too much support outside the council’s social services department.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon