Monday, 11 May 2015

Taking The Jewellery While The Corpse Is Still Warm

People say that the Tories are ruthless towards their leaders, but the speed that Blairite leaning Labour politicians turned on Milliband is breathtaking to say the least.  Mind you, when you see Peter ‘Dripping Poison’ Mandleson all over the television giving his views on where Miliband went wrong, you suspect that Milliband was right to keep Mandleson as far away from the campaign as possible.  Blair on the other hand should really have kept his opinions to himself.

The synopsis of many of the Blairite critics of Milliband is that his leadership was too left wing and said nothing to aspirational Britain.  They are right in saying that nothing was said to aspirational Britain.  But Miliband too left wing?  There were left wing policies there, like reviewing the energy market and on taxation.  Economically speaking though, Milliband fell between two stools, not helped by not formulating a viable alternative to Osborne’s scorched earth.  Lets not forget as well that Milliband’s Labour party were fully in favour of TTIP.

Milliband fell between looking leftwards, which is where the 50% tax rate & the scrapping of the Non Dom’s came from, and looking at the centre ground – adopting scorched earth.  Arguably Milliband’s slow getting to grips with the position of leader of his party cost him room for manoeuvre as the Osborne narrative – it was Labour’s fault because they overspent and austerity is the only way out – became perceived wisdom among the electorate & media.  If anything Milliband wasn’t nearly as bold or as communicative enough with his policies.  Even if, overall, Milliband had a decent campaign.  Something I may return to at a later date…

One person who did not have a good campaign whatsoever was the ‘Scottish’ Labour leader, Jim Murphy.  There were three Labour policies on a Murphy compiled loop which showed their credentials as a ‘progressive’ party.  These were quickly drowned out by political ‘whataboutery’ when Labour looked to attack the SNP.  Labour attacked the SNP on full fiscal autonomy – which we don’t have.  Murphy also attacked the SNP because they didn’t rule out a second Independence referendum, despite Sturgeon, Salmond etc not actually promising that there wouldn’t be a second referendum.  Yip, they did say that this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity for Scotland, because the circumstances for another vote wouldn’t come around again for…  how long exactly did it take for Cameron to put his foot in it again? In any case, surely the result of the referendum meant that the Union is only on probation, right?

Murphy does have his supporters within Labour, Renfrewshire Council’s own leader Mark McMillan finds it hard to believe people could be so critical of Murphy after only 6 months in the job, conveniently forgetting that ‘supporters’ of Murphy briefed against and agitated for the removal of Johann Lamont (who?) in the run up and aftermath of the referendum.  Yip, I wanted Lamont removed too and yip I thought that Murphy would be an upgrade on Lamont & Gray.  If Umuna, Balls and Milliband had thought that Murphy had gone native when he pledged to spend the proceeds of the Mansion Tax on Scottish nurses, then his performance up here also shows he’s been south for too long.  His actions too as such keepers of the Blairite flame’s like McTiernan and McDougall were appointed to backroom positions within Murphy’s team.

Five, ten years ago, Murphy’s campaigning style would have been successful and borne fruit with 40+ Labour MP’s.  Now and after the referendum politicized a generation of Scottish voters, Murphy’s tactics fell apart consistently under scrutiny.  £8.00 in 2020, why not now.  You didn’t ban zero contracts before, why should we believe you.  Why is the 50% tax rate threshold at £150,000.  As Lallands Peat Worrier points out in brutal fashion, Murphy behaved like and campaigned as yesterday’s man.

Milliband’s actions on Friday (though if I was a Labour supporter, I’d have preferred Milliband to have stuck about & resigned at the conference to buy time for a proper debate within Labour) have thrown into contrast Murphy’s actions in refusing to resign.  Had Murphy shown any of the tactical nous and pragmatism of early Blair, the result could have been very different.  He has not & it could be argued that ‘Scottish’ Labour have fallen apart under his stewardship not just because of long term actions but as a result of his decisions.

I’d previously argued that ‘Scottish’ Labour might be looked at more closely by their head office.  Any organisation that loses 40 seats and a huge tranche of it’s voters would normally be under investigation and that’s after taking into account the conduct of some elected officials.  It may well be that cutting Scottish Labour adrift or making it a separate party under the Labour umbrella could be discussed in London. Scottish Labour’s issues will not have gone unnoticed.  Given the animosity towards Murphy from members of the Shadow cabinet, maybe if Murphy doesn’t go he might be pushed.

As the Blair cheerleaders line up to demand a return to the New Labour years of being relaxed about the rich & the selling off of our public services, they should bear in mind the success story reheated Blairism has been in Scotland.  They should also be reminded that there has been only two elections where the Labour vote went up in Scotland since the Tories last win – 1997 and 2010.  This leaves me wondering if Labour have an equivalent to the men in grey suits that used to tell Conservative leaders when to go.

Friday, 8 May 2015

General Election 2015: The Tale Of The Tape

10pm, 7th May & Exit poll announces Tories are largest party on 316 seats

At about 20 to 1 this afternoon, the Conservatives passed a landmark that they had not passed since the afternoon of April 10th 1992.  They won the seat of Cotswolds which gave them their first overall majority since that date.  This confirmed a result that we all knew was likely since the retention of the Nuneaton seat about quarter to 2 this morning.  For this election, Nuneaton was this elections equivalent to Basildon in 1992 – results that made flesh Labour’s failure to win.

When the seat of St Ives declared at half past 3, this gave us the final result of –

Liberal Democrats

Conservative majority - 12
Turnout – 66.1%

The Conservatives did not win by voters switching from Labour, there was a swing from the Conservatives to Labour of 1.1%.  What pushed the Conservatives over the line was the collapse in the Lib Dem vote and that simply more Lib Dem seats were Lib Dem-Tory marginal’s.  Like 1992, Cameron’s honeymoon period will be short lived though the bulging in-tray might have more to do with things than any economic problems.  The European Referendum will now be a thing – with negotiations dominating the first part of Cameron’s second term.  Cameron has also indicated a willingness to deal with Scotland as well in a better manner than The Smith Commission.  Those 56 SNP seats now means that those proposals are now obsolete.  While there is things to celebrate for the Conservatives, bearing in mind that the result is better than the exit poll (the Conservatives short by 10), the last time the Tories won with a wafer thin majority – twice the current majority – Major’s government was a walking disaster riven by division and rebellion over Europe.  It’s a good job Europe isn’t going to dominate the…  oh.

The Conservatives are not the only party celebrating.  The SNP surge was very real and much worse for the Westminster 3 than the polling suggested.  That moniker now describes the total MP’s for the pro-Union parties.  Why?  Well the referendum campaign played a part, canvassing areas New Labour took for granted putting their arguments until the penny dropped about Labour’s neglect of Scotland & the Scottish voter. Of course, Sturgeon, like Salmond before her, is lucky that Labour have played into their hands with not smart politics.  The neutral blogger Stuart Winton suggested that the SNP would be marginalised in the new parliament and that the best prospect to save the union would be a new Independence referendum.  I’m not sure a second referendum would be as decisive as the Unionists need it to be, but the SNP are not going to go away – they’re too smart for that.  Remember as well that the SNP will now be eligible for ‘short money’ and also positions in the key select committees.

Douglas Alexander, Mhari Black & Fraser Galloway await their fate
at Paisley's Lagoon Centre
Any talk of the SNP brings about talk about blaming the SNP for Labour’s defeat.  It’s true that Scotland is one of the big reasons Labour lost.  Labour did not handle the referendum very well.  From Milliband’s unthinking acceptance of Cameron’s anti-Independence positioning to their acceptance of the Coaltion vetoing parts of the Smith Commission – time and time again they showed a lack of understanding that the terms of the debate hadchanged.  True, we don’t want Independence but polling showed that Devo Max is the settled will of the Scottish people – Labour’s constant thwarting of this sowed the seeds of them being seen as ‘RedTories’. Scotland also hurt them in the English shires as the Tories pushed the line that a Labour-SNP deal would be deeply harmful to the country.  They did not handle the referendum and they failed to successfully rebut the prospect of ‘that woman’ (as a voter in Carlisle put it) running the UK.

The other reason Labour failed was that they lost the economic argument.  That’s an outcome that you could have predicted within a year of Miliband taking the Labour leadership.  As I pinpointed at the time, rather than formulate a viable alternative to Osborne’s scorched earth policy they instead fully signed up to it.  They also failed to fully articulate their economic policy fully.  They did have good policies, abolishing the Non Dom tax rule, but they were few and far between.  Personally speaking, I was also rather appalled at the gentrification of Labour – not something that had occurred to me until I voted last night.  Two Labour canvassers (not the normal canvassers outside Bushes I hasten to add) were unhappy at the prospect of someone being elected that wasn’t from the town that would bring the reputation of the town down.  Make of that what you will.

Yet, even before Milliband resigned, there were the growing storms of a Blairite coup should he not jump.  Even after he went, the journalists Dan Hodges and John Rentoul were questioning Milliband’s supposed left wing policies while Blair’s former speechwriter Phillip Collins and the former MP John Reid were also urging a return to Blairite policies.  That worked really really well here in Scotland, didn’t it?  Of the so called leading contenders, Andy Burnham’s probably the co-favourite with Yvette Cooper with Dan Jarvis (who?) the outsider. More to follow on that story one suspects though there certainly is the feeling of a changing of the guard moment for Labour with Milliband gone and both Balls and Alexander losing their seats – Brown’s backroom staff from opposition have been removed from the top of Labour

Labour had a really bad night, in being wiped out in Scotland.  At least they didn’t come close to extinction like the Lib Dems.  In 2010 they lost 5 seats but picked up the most votes they have ever taken under the Lib Dem banner.  Last night, the pattern set in the Holyrood elections of 2011 continued as they lost all but a small cabal of MP’s and shed more than half of their voters.  If Labour have huge choices on their future direction, what of the Lib Dems?  Do they continue down the Orange Book path that brought them power followed by the brutal rejections suffered in the past four years, or do they return to the Social democratic model that saw them gradually build as a party since the merger of the Liberals and the SDP in 1988?

The SNP richly deserved their victory.  Unkind Labour wags bemoan the fact that the SNP have stolen their clothes.  Well if you discard things in pursuit of gentrification, then don’t be surprised if vote winning ideas that have been discarded are picked up.  We will see how much influence the SNP/Plaid/Green bloc garner.  Labour deserved their defeat too.  Their campaign was better than Cameron’s, but the failure to rebut the Labour/SNP coalition story cost them as much as their inability to lay a finger on Cameron. 

The Conservative’s election victory is entirely down to the pattern set since Thatcher in the 1980’s – that unpopular governments no longer lose elections but attractive governments in waiting win them.  For all the fury at the performance of the SNP – Milliband, Balls, Alexander & co never ever looked like the next British government.

The Unlikely Victory

You might remember that this was supposed to be the closest election since...  well that worked out well didn't it?

The big story was set early on with the exit polls pointing to a likely Conservative majority, but with the most likely result being the Conservatives falling just short.  The exit polls have now come to pass as the Conservatives are certainly going to be the largest party, could conceivably govern as a minority with just a few seats short, but might still edge over the 326 mark.

In contrast, Labour did not perform as they should have and Scotland has been the cause of their troubles.  They simply did not handle the Referendum very well and badly mishandled the Smith Commission negotiations, standing back as the Conservatives vetoed devolution of benefits.  That's why Scotland turned it's back on Labour.  In England, Labour could not find a coherent rebuttal of the Tories charge that a vote for Labour was a vote for letting the SNP run the country.  Of course, not having a coherent economic policy played a part in Labour's defeat, as did Miliband not really looking PM material until the election campaign proper.  The speculation now will be whether Miliband will jump, or will the Blairite Labour MP's continue to agitate for his removal?  Ditto can be said about Jim Murphy.

The SNP had a night that the polls had been suggesting was on since last October, but was scarcely believable until mid March.  I've said before that this is partly anger at Labour forgetting it's heartlands in the lurch rightwards, but the foundation of this was the ground campaign from Yes Scotland in last years referendum. While the SNP won't be part of an anti austerity bloc, the emerging parliamentary figures could be more to the SNP's advantage than if Labour were the largest party.

The Lib Dems's had the night from hell.  Predicted to only hold on to 10 seats, they now look as if they'd be lucky to get to that.  The strange thing is that the Lib Dem experience in government is exactly the opposite to their experience with something called the Scottish Executive.  When they were in coalition there, they got kudos & votes.  In Westminster, they got the blame and lost their votes - the beneficiaries to the Conservatives.  When Clegg gave his victory speech in Sheffield, it sounded like resignation was on his mind.

So, no coalition talks, no uncertainties.  Cameron will be back in Number 10.  Whether it will be a small majority or a minority government (with a confidence & supply arrangement with the DUP/Ulster Unionists) remains to be seen.

So with 501 seats declared, the state of the parties is as follows.

 Conservatives     - 218
 Labour               - 200
 SNP                   - 55
 Liberal Democrat - 6
 UKIP                 - 1
Others                 - 20

Unlikely Result Alert

Exit polls...  Pfft...

If the exit polls have had the slight air of unbelievability about it, the numbers coming in have proved  the exit poll has been more accurate than we would like to have thought.  Certainly the Nuneaton result is showing that there is a prospect of a Conservative majority government.  When the history of this election is written, Nuneaton will be seen as this election's Basildon moment.

It however looks very... very bad for Labour.  Worse than the exit poll suggested.

With no Scottish results in, but twitter chat, it looks like the Scottish results are showing that the SNP surge is a very real prospect.  Labour figures have gone into "lets blame the Scottish voters" mode, but truth be told their mishandling of the referendum, the Smith Commission and the Tories disgusting campaign (in belittling Scotland & it's voters) will have played a very large part in their downfall.

More to come as the night goes on, one suspects.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Voting Has Finished

Polling stations up and down the land have now closed.  The fun now truly begins with the exit poll...

  Conservitives - 316
  Labour - 239
  Lib Dems - 10
  SNP - 58
  UKIP - 2
Conservitives short by 10

Gains predicted for the Tories, but destined to fall short.  Think Labour are predicted to gain some seats, but for those gains to be completely wiped out by the Sturgeonistas.  That bad night for Labour is predicted no be not confined to Scotland then.

Well, The Independent gets it's wish then...

Lastly for the moment, if you are nor aware, you can follow me on twitter - @Greenrhino3

Election Night 2015

Well five years ago, I though that I would try and do a sort of guide which would show when the key seats were due to be announced and why they were key seats. If memory serves, it wasn’t an exact guide and results came later too.  I could have had a quick nap at about 1am too, maybe I would have stayed up for Caroline Lucas winning her seat as well. 
So, undaunted here’s this years (approximate) timetable of events.

Normally the first event will be the exit poll (due when the polls close at 10pm).  Like last time, which successfully predicted the result, the BBC, ITV & SKY News will have a shared exit poll.  As I pointed out 5 years ago, the exit poll hasn’t always been as accurate.  Famously the 1992 exit poll predicted a hung parliament with Labour as the largest party, rather than the outcome of a Conservative majority of 21.  Less famously, the BBC exit poll in the October 1974 election predicted a landslide for Harold Wilson, rather than the majority of 3 he ended up with.

The most striking thing about watching repeats of the coverage of past elections is the speed that the counts take place.  It used to be the case that after the first results there would be a trickle before most of the results being announced between 1-3am.  And a lot of results being announced on the Friday as well.  So much for Iain Dale & Tom Harris campaign, from five years ago, to ‘save’ Election Night.

Now what happens is that there will be a couple of results around 11-midnight with the trickle starting from 1am onwards with results scheduled to be rolling in at breakfast time tomorrow.  With the added complication of Council elections in England, what does the schedule look like this time around?

The first seats to declare will be in the North east, with the uber safe Labour seat of Houghton & Sunderland South scheduled to declare first at about 11pm.  Lat time around, it declared at about 10 to 11 so we will see if it breaks that record.  Also declaring before midnight five years ago was both Washington & Sunderland West and Sunderland Central.  All are safe Labour seats so what we will be watching for will be swing to or from Labour.  Increased majorities suggest a good night ahead for Labour, while a decrease may well signify a second Cameron term.

The first result from outside of the North east is due about 1am and there are a couple of seats that could be this election’s Basildon or Birmingham Edgebaston – harbingers of the oncoming result.  Both Dagenham & Rainham and Tooting might provide an early indicators of whether Cameron can bridge the gap to win a majority for his party, the Conservatives need a swing of 2.5% to oust Sadiq Khan from his Tooting seat.  On the other hand Dagenham & Rainham would require a swing of 3%, wins in either or both seats may indicate a Cameron majority.  Meanwhile Nuneaton is a marginal Conservative seat Labour need to take to win, a swing of 2.3% is required to take this seat.  Labour’s performance here will be a proper early sighter of Miliband’s chances of victory. 

Milliband’s own prospects will become a lot clearer when the flow of results gains momentum at about 2am.  Northampton North needs to be taken by Labour if it is to win, winnable at a swing of 2.4% to Labour.  Meanwhile two Welsh seats due to declare at this point might provide evidence of whether Miliband could be heading for a working majority.  Both Carmarthen East & Dinefwr (held by Plaid Cymru – 4.7%) and Carmarthen West & Pembroke South (Tory held – 4.25%) are around the swing of 4.7% Labour needed (before any losses here in Scotland are factored in) to win a majority.  Wins in both of these seats will point to a shock majority for Labour, while Battersea might be just out of reach for Labour, requiring a swing of 6.15% for Labour to win it.  A win for Labour here would normally point to a comfortable Labour majority of about 40-odd.  Normally…

Speaking of Scotland, of course, this election is not the simple straight Labour versus Conservative fight.  Nah h-Eileanan an Lar is scheduled to declare at about 1:30am, but the scale of the predicted rise of the Sturgeonistas will become apparent from 2am onwards.  East Kilbride, Strathaven & Lesmahagow (Labour’s 26th safest seat in Scotland – SNP swing required 14.3%), Lanark & Hamilton East (23rd – 14.5%), Glenrothes (10th – 20.3%), Rutherglen & Hamilton East (5th – 22.4%) and Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeith (2nd – 25.1%) – all scheduled to declare about the 2am mark and a fairly good spread that will indicate the depth of the so called SNP surge.  Also declaring around this mark will be Fife North East, the fourth safest Lib Dem seat in Scotland.  A swing of 15.1% is required from the SNP, if they take this seat it’s likely that the SNP surge is not confined to Labour seats.

Scheduled to declare from 2:30am are another couple of key seats for Labour.   The seat of City of Chester will be vital for Labour if they are to win, with a 2.75% swing required, while Cleethorpes needs a swing of 4.8% to Labour.  Meanwhile up here, both of the Dundee seats are due to declare.  It will be a huge upset if the SNP’s deputy leader Stewart Hosie is unseated in Dundee East.  If the polling is to be believed, it would be a shock if the SNP failed to take Dundee West too, fifth on the SNP’s target list. Also due to declare is the seat of Kilmarnock & Louden which is the first ‘Scottish’ Labour cabinet minister to be in the firing line, Cathy Jamieson.

The results will now be flooding in and the narrative of this election will be taking shape.  Of interest will be the seats local to this blog, and incidentally the highest profile targets for the SNP.  The shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander, will find out if he has fought off the challenge of the SNP’s 20 year old candidate Mhari Black.  Also due to declare around the 3am mark is the neighbouring seat, where Jim Sheridan will be aiming to hold off Mark Newlands.  Meanwhile up the road in Barrhead, Jim Murphy will find out if he had held on to his East Renfrewshire seat or whether the SNP challenger Kirsten Oswald will unseat him.  Away from the so called ‘Jockalypse’ the results will continue to indicate who will be the next prime minister.  For example a win for Labour in Peterborough, with a swing required of 5.4% would normally indicate a small Labour majority.  On the other hand, if the Tories take Middlesbrough South & Cleveland East, the swing of 1.8% required is the same swing needed for the Tories to get an outright majority.  Also declaring around this time will be Bristol West which is a target seat for the Greens.

We will be in the thick of the results by the time 4am rolls around.  The safe seat of Whitney is due to declare around this time and this will bring us the victory speech of David Cameron, whether it is a declaration of victory nationally or a concession of defeat is another matter.  The same thing applies when the Labour seat of Doncaster North declares and Ed Milliband makes his own victory speech.  Half past Four is the scheduled time for Gordon to declare and for, presumably, the return to Westminster of one Alex Salmond.  Political death…  pah!

By the time both Cameron & Milliband are elected, we should know which way the wind is blowing in the new parliament.  For the political anorak though, there is still some drama to come.  Sheffield Hallam is due to declare around 5am, where we will find out if Nick Clegg can retain his seat in the face of a strong Labour challenge.  Also due to find out his fate will be Cleggs lieutenant in the treasury, Danny Alexander with his Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey constituency due to declare then too.  For the really hardy souls, both Caroline Lucas & Nigel Farage should find out their political fates around 6am.  Just in time for breakfast.

Of course, that timetable is bound to change, however this is just a guide, just a bit of fun as someone with a swingometer once said.  By all likelihood, unless the polls have failed to pick up some late swing, 6am only marks the start of the horse-trading as the parties come to terms with the new political landscape.