Thursday, 29 May 2014

Struggling Out Of The Crawling Chaos

You know, with all the praise heaped on the SNP and on to Salmond, you could be forgiven for thinking that the SNP don’t do duff election campaigns.  You’d be wrong of course, unless you’d forgotten “More Nat’s, Less Cuts” from the last Westminster elections.  Then there’s the one for the Euro Elections – “Vote SNP to keep UKIP out of Scottish Politics”.

To be fair though, the SNP really shouldn’t shoulder all of the blame for an uninspiring campaign – all parties have been focused on polls in September and next May.  Every one of the televised hustings meetings spent all of the time discussing European issues filtered through the referendum.  This left the field clear for UKIP to take some votes here, break through the 5% barrier and win a seat in the European Parliament, just by focusing on free movement, or as UKIP put it "unlimited imigration".

UKIP are the undisputed winners of the Euro Elections UK wide.  Topping the poll on 27.49% of the vote and picking up 24 seats, the Westminster parties were wearing their wearying look of “oh no not again” with Farage and co.  Their taking of a seat in the Scottish contest succeeded in getting under the skin of SNP supporters who turned their fire on people who didn’t vote, on UKIP voters…  in fact on anyone but their own party.  A UKIP MEP undermines the SNP dual narrative that Scottish politics is different from UK wide politics because of the different Scottish sensibility and that Scottish People are universally Pro EU.  The first bit is true & really shouldn’t undermine that narrative that much, the second bit…  well that’s always been patiently rubbish and Sturgeon’s assertion that euro-scepticism is some sort of Right wing English disease should really be put to bed.

I also have an issue with blaming non voters for not voting.  As someone who chose not to vote 5 years ago, and couldn’t vote on Thursday, I can understand why people wouldn’t want to engage with arguments that essentially want you to vote to keep out another party without explaining why you should vote for them.  Rather than blaming these people for not voting, politicians would do better to find out why people are not voting.  Rather than look like one of the big winners, the SNP emerged as petty and frankly rather bad winners.

The First Minister probably has an eye on the fate of his Westminster…  er…  colleagues though.  Cameron’s Tories were long thought to be in for a bad night.  And so it proved, finishing third behind Labour.  Except they only dropped 4% and 7 seats from 2009, which in respect is not the bloodbath we were thinking.  Milliband’s Labour finished second, but it was a very poor second, with the London results and the Scottish results pushing then ahead of the Tories by the tiny margin of 1.47% and picking up one more seat than the Tories.  It’s more down to news management that Labour are perceived to have had a worse night than the Tories.  But both sides did not suffer the bloodbath handed to the Lib Dem’s.

The Lib Dems vote halved, their haul of MEP’s were all but wiped out, with Catherine Bearder the sole survivor for the South East region.  This was the Lib Dem’s worst result since…  well 2011’s Holyrood elections when more than half of their vote left them (both in the constituency and regional list vote).  Four years into the coalition, the Lib Dems appear to have now woken up to the disaster that has befallen their party and responded.  Unfortunately that response is in the style of Mr Bean.  The 24 hour news networks couldn’t believe their luck when Lib Dems appeared on television to critisise their leader and to call for his resignation.

The Lib Dem’s have the look of a party about to erupt into civil war, or at least they did until Matthew Oakshott was outed as the mastermind behind a series of polls that showed his pal, the former sage of the Lib Dem’s Vince Cable in the best possible light.  They also showed that the Lib Dems were on course to loose the Sheffield Hallam (of Nick Clegg) and Inverness (Danny Alexander).  Whether Oakshott’s resignation from the party lances the boil remains to be seen.  I do think that sooner or later, there will be a Labour circa 1980 style fall out between the social democratic wing and the Orange Bookers. 

What the worst leadership coup in British politics since the attempt to oust Brown in the aftermath of the last Euro Elections does tell us is that, if we didn’t know it already, Vince Cable is finished as a top ranking politician.  Now forever fated to be laughed at as the man that got so many things wrong in Government.  The brutal assassination of Consumer Focus and the sale of the Royal Mail to men that Cable himself would have described four years ago as spivs and speculators count as his… er… high points.

The Lib Dem’s were not the only institution who’s reputation took a battering.  Salmond’s attempted admonishment of Dimbleby during the results programme played well not just among pro-Indy supporters convinced the BBC’s coverage has been actively biased against their cause, but among Labour and Green supporters convinced that the BBC’s coverage has been too balanced in favour of UKIP at the expense of Labour and freezing out the Greens.  Labour’s council results were constantly talked down all through Friday, while the Greens complaint is that as a Left wing party sceptical about the direction of the EU their views have been ignored.  Salmond’s complaint was that this enhanced coverage of UKIP gave them more coverage that they would normally have received.  All are correct in their complaints as the Anglocentric media were simply obsessed with Farage and his crusaders for a much simpler time when men were men and women knew their place.  Watching Ian Hyslop’s series on people hankering after (and re-writing) the past reminds me of UKIP – hankering after a version of the 1950’s that simply never existed.

Looking forward, the Tories still have an awful lot of work to do to retain the voting share they won in 2010.  Labour still has an awful lot of work to do to convince the voters that they are an alternative government in waiting.  The Lib Dems have an awful lot of work to do not to implode.  And…  oh, yes there’s the small matter of the plebiscite in September.  The focus of the political classes can now fall on that referendum.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

The Election Appearing On the Horizon

One of the things the coalition has done is set up the fixed terms act, which sees the date of the next General Election in the public domain in advance.  For political junkies like me, this has taken all of the fun out of trying to speculate when the next election is going to be, with Gordon Brown (below) being the last Prime Minister to pick an election date.  We know that we will be going to the polls on Thursday May 7th 2015.

Of course perceived wisdom among the Westminster village is that the Westminster Election a coming a year today is the big political event.  The resources of the Westminster parties are entirely focused on next May and winning power for their party.  That there is a very large Scottish Referendum shaped elephant in the room seems to have bypassed those villagers – though it does explain the haste in trying to bury the pro-Independence parties in January.  If we can park that issue for one moment – assuming a “no” vote, what is likely to happen.

For starters, do not expect a repeat of the “leaders debates” from 2010.  Cameron and co have been reticent to repeat these debates.  Cameron’s claim is that they broke up the rhythm of his campaign schedule and that rather than campaign out in the stump, he had to prepare for debates.  Instead, Cameron thinks that there should be a debate between himself and Miliband, one mirroring the debates from four years ago (Cameron, Clegg & Miliband) and one that includes Farage.  This strategy has been dubbed the 2-3-5 debate strategy.

If Farage is included in the “Leaders Debates” and the SNP/Plaid Cymru axis are ignored, then you can expect court action to take place – launched by the SNP.  It would be possible then for the Scottish Courts to ban the showing of these “Leaders Debates” in Scotland under the Representation of the People’s Act.  This would probably give Cameron the excuse he needs to not take part – though lets be honest Cameron really would take any excuse not to take part considering he has run away from debating with Salmond.

No Cameron/Milliband debate will make it easier for Cameron, not that he needs it.  I think that we will be looking at a small majority Conservative government after the election.  Milliband & co have never looked like being an alternative government in waiting, while I think that the informal Lib Dem/Labour tactical voting pact that has lasted since 1997 will begin to break down.  After all, what’s the point in voting Lib Dem to keep out the Tories when the Lib Dems went into government to prop up the Tories.

The Tories need a swing of 1.8% to take a majority.  Remember as well that out of the thirty easiest seats the Tories need to win (winning 20 will give them a majority) 8 are Lib Dem seats.  With Osborne constantly ahead of Balls on economic polling, that decision to sign up to Osborne’s austerity drive and not to formulate your own alternative looks more and more like folly.

What we don’t know is how the hangover from the referendum will affect the Westminster elections.  A no vote might not necessarily see the return of Scotland voting for 40+ Labour MP’s, especially given the conduct of “Scottish” Labour during this campaign.  In the event of a Yes vote though, all of the best laid plans of Osborne, Alexander and their expensive foreign advisors will go up in smoke.

The surprising aspect about this is how the possibility of a yes vote has been written off by the Westminster Village.  There is no tailoring of policy towards trying to keep us in the Union, indeed there seems to be the reverse which is why Labour’s show of unity with the Government over Sterlingzone backfired so spectacularly.  The policies of the three main parties are being tailored towards winning over the marginal seats in the Midlands and the South East of England (and to fending off UKIP).  This is why it took so long for Labour to commit to scrapping the Spare Room Subsidy, and this is where the rot started for Better Together.

A yes vote would completely obliterate the timetable that states that the next Westminster election will happen next year.  It would become a possibility that it could happen this year.  We could see Cameron being forced to resign, as the Prime Minister that lost the Union.  Of course there are those who would say that Salmond should resign if there was a no vote.  He shouldn’t, but Cameron should resign in the event of a Yes vote.  As the figurehead of this countries government, his defence of the union has been pisspoor at best.  After all what sort of confidence are we to have in the Union when Cameron doesn’t want to defend it in a debate. 

That’s just the…  ah…  known unknowns regarding a Yes vote.  What is completely unknown is whether a Yes vote would lead to a destabilising vacuum of power at the heart of government. We are talking about here the biggest vote of no confidence in Westminster…  well ever.

An awful lot of the predictions being made do not take into account the Independence Referendum.  Whatever happens will cast a shadow over the following Westminster Election, and that in itself makes reading the tea leaves just that wee bit more difficult than just sitting here and saying that Cameron will win, or will lead the largest party.  This September’s events will go a long way, and play a larger part, in next years Westminster Election than the Anglocentric commentariat will acknowledge.