Archive for May, 2011

Ed’s Dilemma (and one possible solution)

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Ed’s getting it in the neck at the moment. This happens when he goes away. It happened when ho took paternity leave and it’s happening again now he’s on honeymoon. Of course some do it constantly, but so much so that they are in serious danger of overplaying their hands. One can only write the same column so many times before it disappears in into its own sense of self-importance. But yes, when Ed goes away, the restless come out to play. Sadly, we must leave aside the classlessness of that. Politics is what it is.

Ed’s dilemma is not that there are people sniping at him. That happens to every leader. It’s how Blair knew he was doing it right. Ed’s problem is that there is a real tension between the two things the Party really wants. Members of the Party are determined to remake the Party into one in which members voices are heard, listened to and acted on. Ed has clearly made this his top priority and the emphasis being put on projects like Refounding Labour is truly admirable. At the same time, the Party also wants to see the shape of our party and platform that Ed wants to see. What shape are we going to be in. That’s understandable, but equally understandable is Ed standing firm and saying to members that this is up to us now.

Tonight I have been working on my personal submission for Refounding Labour. Mine will a bit of an essay – possibly even four essays. I fully intend to publish my answers here for people to read, and I don’t think there’s anything to stop others from doing the same.

So why not Ed?

What better way to show how seriously he takes this consultation than by submitting his own response? How better to show that there is form and shape to his vision but to lay it out to the Party members? How better to demonstrate that the Party is lead by Ed but informed by the members than to have the final document be written by us jointly?

When Ed gets back from honeymoon, he should put fingers to keyboard, and write the answers he envisages to the Big Questions. Making it clear that his is not the final answer, but a part of the vision puzzle.

Go on Ed – yours might even be better than mine!

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Shadow Boxing

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

John McTernan had a very interesting column in the Scotsman yesterday. Essentially a two cheers for Ed, it also speculates on the variance in performance of the Shadow Cabinet.

I think this a fair assessment and his response to my question that “the shadow cabinet will always be less than the sum of its parts until they are prosecuting a consistent argument” rings totally true.

My assessment is that there are a couple of reasons this isn’t happening consistently.

Firstly, Ed is trying to move away from the control freakery of the recent past. This is the right thing to do overall, but does make consistency more difficult -especially in the middle of a policy review.

Secondly, as soon as a Shadow Cabinet member does start to shine – and be recognised for doing so, there are instant whispers that they are on manoeuvres against Ed. This is true of both Ed’s detractors (see Dan Hodges on Ed Balls) and his cheerleaders (see the comments on this article where Mark Ferguson rightly praises Jim Murphy).

My instinct is that the Shadow Cabinet is probably the body in the Labour Party most over the knife-edge leadership contest. The rest of us need to follow on and catch up. If we allow ourselves to fear talented ambitious people, we won’t get the best from them. If we constrain them out of a misplaced notion that loyalty is quiet subservience, that serves neither our Party nor our leader particularly well.

Frankly the best way for the Shadow Cabinet to prove they aren’t on manoeuvres is to get on with doing the best they can for Ed and dismiss the speculation from their minds. The longer they go on doing so consistently, the weaker the rumours become.

(By the by, I do think some people are starting to be on manoeuvres in the Tory Cabinet, especially Liam Fox (a bit too obvious a portion of red meat to the Tory right to ostentatiously miss Obama to celebrate Regan) But I’m ok with stirring dissent among the Tories, and speculation from opponents is quite different from internal speculation).

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Ten Top Tips for great phone canvassers

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Most of this blog is about analysis. About policy and campaigns on a national level. Today, I thought I’d try something a bit different. (not only because everyone else is writing about how much they love Obama and I do too, but don’t think I have anything unique to add to that love!).

I’ve asked before that Labour focus on a qualitative relationship with voters. That while volume is important, making 10,000 poor phone calls is less useful than making 5,000 useful ones.

Because we are so used to the telephone we don’t really think as we attend phone banks or even work from home about the skills needed to be a convincing phone canvasser. Some of these tips will sound really cheesy. I don’t write them to patronise. I write them because it isn’t until we think about them on a conscious level that we understand why they are needed and ensure we do them no matter how we are feeling.

All of them are there to help, not to chide. To make phone canvassing a more enjoyable and fruitful experience. Not every tip will work for everyone, but just thinking about these things helps us immeasurably.

edited to say: I would be delighted to have any other tips in the comments!

1. Smile. It sounds stupid, but when I canvass on the phone (which is my preferred method) I smile while I do so. It changes my voice. It make me sound nicer, sunnier and more approachable. People can tell without looking at you if you are smiling.

2. Gesticulate wildly! Also modulate your voice more than you would in normal conversation. The telephone dulls and flattens our voices. What sounds to you like normal conversation sounds over the phone just a little more stilted and just duller. Don’t go crazy – it’s a small degree. But if you gesticulate as you talk, it modulates your voice to more extreme ends of it’s natural spectrum. be aware and take advantage of that. It will make you sound more interesting and more real.

3. Never put the phone down. use the button to cut off the call, but keep the receiver in your hand. It will keep you focused.

4. Don’t chat (too much!).Share the odd joke or story with your friends of course – you’re volunteering after all! But try to stay in the phone zone (urgh!) as much as possible.

5. Socialise afterwards. Because of rule 3 & 4 make sure there is a social event after the calls are done. That way we can ensure that this is a fun evening and keep energy and spirits up.

6. Respect busy voters. If someone doesn’t want to talk to you, delaying them won’t convince them to vote Labour. You must ask permission to interrupt people’s evening. If they are busy arrange a time to call them back and STICK TO IT!

7. Don’t read a script, tell a story.It has been tradition for phone canvassers to be given a short script and when they’re lucky a list of relevant facts about the area they are canvassing. The facts are important, the script is not. Ignore it. Introduce yourself and then have a conversation with the voter on their terms. If it feels right, tell then why you think it’s important to vote Labour, but it’s more important to find out why they think it might be important. What are they worried about. That’s when your list of facts can be skillfully deployed.

8. Don’t take it personally. Some voters are angry with Labour, some are angry with being disturbed. If you get an angry phone call just remind yourself that they don’t know you and they aren’t angry at you. If you can learn the trick of not taking it personally, and just quickly and politely getting off the phone you will be just fine for the next call.

9. Listen to the signals.On the other hand, not every complaint a voter has is them telling you to get off the phone. If they are complaining about the issues, they are engaged in the issues. Presumably you’re giving up your personal time because you believe that Labour has a good story to tell on the issues. Respond the to the voter’s objection with the reason that you find plausible as to why Labour have the best alternative.

10. Supervision – not slave-driving. At every phone bank and in every room in which phoning is taking place there should be a supervisor. They are there to gee on the troops and to look after them. They should be well versed in constituency and policy knowledge and they should be willing to pick up a phone call when a caller is struggling. They should be the fetcher and carrier for the group, getting water and sweeties and treats to keep spirits up.

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It’s not right wing to be on the side of victims of crime

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

There has rightly already been widespread condemnation of Ken Clarke’s comments about “serious” and “date” rape and his seeming differentiation between the two. A great deal of furore from Labour and a strong attack on Clarke’s judgement and the policy in general by Ed Miliband at PMQs has been widely described as “outflanking the Tories on the right on crime”. This is nonsense.

To expect a strong state to support and protect all its citizens is not a right wing concept. As a left of centre party, Labour must enable the state to support and empower the vulnerable and that includes those vulnerable of being victims of crime.

Where the difference can be seen as having a right/left divide is in a belief in the power of the state to rehabilitate and in the definition and punishment levels of some forms of damaging crime (such as corporate manslaughter and other “white collar” criminal activity). Labour must be on the side of all victims and potential victims of crime. Where we would differ from a right wing analysis is in how different the state as actor can be in reducing crime rates and reducing reoffending. If one believes that the state and society – at our best – can have a positive effect on people’s lives, we have to believe that a large part of this is in reducing the incidence of crime in our communities. This means not leaving criminals who have been convicted to be ever hardened and better trained future perpetrators. It means spending on rehabilitation programmes that can be proved to work however much the Daily Mail bang on about a cushy ride.

Labour has a responsibility to the victims of crimes that have happened to bring the criminals to justice and to punish them. But we have a responsibility to potential victims of the future to combine that punishment with rehabilitation to dramatically reduce the likelihood of future crime. We also have a responsibility to those who are likely to commit crime and to look at innovative projects that can rescur them from the brink. For example, Chepstow House in Stoke is a free service that provides support and information to help women change the things in their lives that lead them to offending. The service is open to women who have current or previous offending history, or who are at risk of offending. They offer a holistic approach to support, bringing services together under one roof. They can help women with accommodation, skills and employment, health, drugs and alcohol, finance, benefits and debt, children, families and relationships, attitudes, thinking and behaviour, abuse, rape, domestic violence and sex work. Figures from the Probation Service indicate to the end of October 2010, of the 44 women referred into the service, 32 accepted support and of those only 2 have reoffended since engaging with Chepstow House. 12 women declined the service and of those 5 women reoffended, suggesting that Chepstow House does help women reduce their offending.

It is project like this that are exemplary of the way that a Labour government could support projects that make a real difference to the lives of all people touched by crime. By trying to stop crime before it takes hold of a person’s life, we reduce pressures on every part of the system, save victims from potential crime and stop the wastage of lives. By working to rehabilitate criminals, we do the same.

Tony Blair once brilliantly pledged that Labour would be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. Labour needs to maintain his correct stance that these two are part of the same larger project of protecting citizens.

It’s not right wing to use the state to protect its citizens. It is right wing – not to mention counter-productive – not to remember that this includes all its citizens, and that those often most at danger of committing crime are also most likely to be victims.

This post first appeared on Labour List

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Reform has to mean all parts of the Party – staff too

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

There was an important post on Labour List this weekend about one of the real uphill battle the Labour Party has to face. It’s a problem I have battled with for years.  It’s a matter of our legitimacy, our ability and our credibility. And we are shying away from it.

In all the reviews of Labour’s policy making and party structures there is something missing. Any discussion of root and branch reformation of the Party staff. The Party staff work long and very hard. But I am unconvinced – sceptical even – that they are led to do so in the right way with the right outcomes in mind.

Everyone has a story about the control freakery of the Party. From the “lost” submissions to the press releases not viewed by candidates; from queries never answered to open derision aimed at member bodies. From the canvassing for votes and strongarming delegates at conferences at which you were supposed to listen to the will of the party to ignoring what came out of those votes when it didn’t go as planned.  But few in a position to do so ever speak up further than complaining at our branch meetings.

Mostly we rightly blamed the leadership. And we will be right to do so again if Ed doesn’t get a handle on this problem. But we can’t ignore a whole aspect of the Labout culture that exists and reinforces itself among the staff.

What has happened at head office is understandable in a historical context. When Labour was tearing itself apart, an over emphasis on their role in our internal discipline wasa essential to bring us back from the brink. But what was once essential is now habit. Current and former party staffers I meet take pride in defining themselves against the members, despite the members having grown and matured away from the undisciplined rabble we have been. We don’t need a nanny anymore, and clinging to that role is making you an inadequate provider of what is needed.

The Party is about to appoint a new General Secretary. I urge whoever that is to be far bolder than any person in that role has managed for years and remember why you are are. Remind the staff what they are for not just what they define themselves against. Introduce member feedback and modern mechanisms and understanding of politics. Don’t just have  a Movement For Change officer, have a genuinely changed ethos.

I want to support the staff in continuing to do the hard, hard slog of getting us back to power. All I ask, all I want is that they decide to support me and the millions like me in doing the same.

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Confessions of a floating voter

Sunday, May 15th, 2011

I’ve always voted Labour (well there was that one time in London in 2000, but that worked out OK). I’ve always known pretty quickly which side represented my point of view on an issue and been an active and vocal supporter. What I don’t know about the ins and outs of campaigning could be written on a postage stamp. Or so I thought, until I realised that what I really didn’t know about campaigning was what it was like to be ambivalent, to be campaigned at. What I discovered was that I didn’t like it, not one bit.

As I’ve documented in previous articles on this site I was completely ambivalent about the AV referendum. I eventually came down on the side of No, but with so little conviction that I didn’t even try to change the mind of my husband who voted the other way. I had no strong political conviction on one of the biggest issues of the day. I felt lost and confused.

Ambivalence was one of the most eye-opening political experiences of my life. What I saw wasn’t good.

In this election I was like the vast majority of voters at most elections. I didn’t have a team, I was open to persuasion and by the end of the campaign I was thoroughly sick of the whole thing.

Not having a team meant that I had the opportunity to evaluate dispassionately the tactics and behaviours of both sides and their supporters. The Yes campaign believed they had right on their side. They were high-minded and high-horsed. They talked of change and its transformational properties. The No campaign believed they had the Right on their side. They used low cunning and base humour. They talked of waste and the cost of change.

But mostly what each campaign talked about was each other. Endless attacks on Twitter and in the press about the other side, their tactics and their supporters. When you don’t have a side, this means nothing to you. You get that the two sides don’t like each other, but if you don’t like either of them, you don’t get why you should care. These spats may have energised and outraged supporters, but it left the rest of us out in the cold.

A lot of people I like and respect seemed to believe very strongly that I should agree with them, but they didn’t agree with each other. Both groups seemed to feel that my lacking a view was somehow a deficiency on my part. The yes campaign in particular saw my inability to become a fellow traveller as a quite abhorrent act. I was actually told by a yes campaigner to whom I confessed early on my ambivalence that voting against was immoral. I didn’t find this a very persuasive argument.

Both campaigns were self-congratulatory and self-reinforcing (if my Twitter feed was anything to go by there would have been a Yes to AV landslide, and I think some convinced themselves there would be because everyone they talked to was voting that way) and while No to AV won a convincing victory, it wasn’t a campaign you could ever replicate to vote for something, and there aren’t any winning tactics to copy to elect a party.

Throughout the campaign I seemed to be asking questions that neither campaign would answer. No one seemed to want to bother to answer anything off the FAQs track. My objections to either side were met not with a considered reaction to my issues but by a retreat as fast as possible to the talking points.

So what does this mean for Labour and our future campaigning? Because at the end of the day, I’m not a floating voter. I’m a Labour tribalist who has been granted the chance to see where we go wrong and try to fix it.

Well firstly, attacking the Tories just for being Tories is fine for branch meetings but people without a party card won’t jump to the same conclusions we do when they hear the word Tory. We have to prove why the Tories are wrong in their policies and damaging to the country and people’s lives. We can’t assume people will hate them “because they are Tories”.

Secondly, a fixation on horse-trading keeps us geeks alive and active, but again those who aren’t tribal don’t care. If you’re not in a campaign you don’t care about a campaign. You might care about the messages and how they resonate with your lives, but you don’t care if the head of the campaign made a gaffe or compared their opposite number to a plank of wood. Our concentration on process over policy is far too imbalanced. That’s fine on this website, which is for Labour to talk to Labour (and we do need places to have the necessary discussions about strategy) but in the generalist press, on television and particularly when engaging personally with voters, we need to talk issues not inside baseball.

Finally, we need to be a lot cleverer when engaging with voters on a one-to-one basis. We need to listen to the questions they are asking us and respond properly and accordingly. We need to stop treating canvassing like it’s a race. It should be a qualitative not a quantitative exercise in engagement. It should be a two-way exchange of information and views which are fed back through the party, just as we hope convinced voters will pass on our convincing messages to their friends and family.

I’ve had a chance to experience life as a floating voter. What I saw shocked me. It also seemed a bit too familiar.

This piece  first appeared on Labour List.

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Where next for the democracy movement

Sunday, May 15th, 2011

The question of electoral reform is now closed for a generation. Anyone who disagrees with this statement is part of the much wider problem that the democracy movement has.

The movement likes to believe that it listens and that it represents “the people”, but, generally, what that has meant in my experience is that people who agree with the aims of the movement get a hearing as to how their aims might be achieved, while those who question the priorities of the reformers are dismissed as dinosaurs and not engaged with to understand their reticence. And while the movement certainly represents some of “the people”, who deserve a voice as much as anyone else, the inability to grow from a niche to a mass movement demonstrates clearly that it is not the voice of all the people.

At the moment, the blame game is moving quickly. So far we have the mendacious No campaign, the toxicity of the Lib Dems and particularly the childish tantrums of Chris Huhne, the intervention of the prime minister and the split in the Labour party. All of which did – of course – play a part in why the Yes campaign failed. But for my money, the biggest reason the campaign failed is because it was run by people who don’t know the electorate and don’t understand what they want and what they fear.

Most of my friends voted yes to AV (full disclosure, I didn’t) but among them I couldn’t find a single one with a good word to say about the Yes campaign. If even your strongest followers think you’re getting it so wrong and you aren’t listening to them, you have a real issue and you need to think very hard about how you deal with that.

If the democracy movement want to make real and positive changes to the impact of democracy on people’s lives and the engagement people have with the process, they need to do three things.

First I would urge them to take a year off and spend it getting their own house in order. While the campaign for fairer votes was made up of many disparate organisations, those who were at its heart – like Unlock Democracy, the Joseph Rowntree reform trust and the electoral reform society – need to get an external party to look properly at why they are failing to reach beyond their metropolitan support base. They need to look at absolutely every aspect of their organisations and campaigning, from the language they use to their campaigning methods, from their leadership to their relationships with their supporters. I suspect the results will be extremely uncomfortable, but should also be fully digested and changes implemented. The failure of this campaign shows the desperate need for the movement to get its house in order. This will take time, but is essential and unless they take the time to do this nothing else will be achieved.

Second, they need to stop being an anti-politics movement. Most of the thrust of the campaign was about teaching politicians a lesson and making them work harder. It was negative and that doesn’t really work when you’re campaigning for something. The No campaign had by far the easier job in that respect. But in truth, electoral reform is about improving political engagement which may or may not have a knock on effect on the behaviour of politicians. The honest and hard truth is that anyone who wants to talk about political or electoral reform is already politically engaged. They may be engaged through anger at politicians, but they are engaged. By being anti-politics you denigrate that which you want to improve, which is a confusing and confused message. It’s also mendacious which made fighting the No to AV’s baby and soldier posters harder, because frankly you all looked as bad as each other.

My final point is the most important and the most overlooked: There has been far too much focus on how we vote and far too little on if we vote. Whole swathes of the country, and usually those with the most to lose, are disenfranchising themselves by disengaging from the political process. Turnouts are dropping year after year after year. Electoral reform has been offered (rather unconvincingly in my opinion) as a solution to this, but in Scotland they have PR for Holyrood elections and turnout in this election varied from 34.5% in Glasgow Provan to only as high as 62.8% in East Renfrewshire. Given that a change in the voting system is now dead in the water for a generation, perhaps the best outcome of all would be a shift from the democracy movement away from procedural matters that obsess those who already vote, back to a focus on the cultural factors that stop  those who don’t.

What happened last Thursday was a massive setback for the democracy movement. This is a dangerous time for them. They could retreat further into their own self-reinforcing bubble, blaming everyone else for their loss, but they could take this loss and use it as a springboard for the rejuvenation the movement has so clearly needed for so long. As democrats, they should listen to the message the people have given them before it’s too late.

This piece forst appeared at Labour Uncut.

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Ed needs to be careful

Monday, May 9th, 2011

First and foremost a massive congratulations to the 800 new Labour councillors. You have a tough job to do and this government is going to make it harder and harder. Just keep remembering who elected you and why and you’ll be fine.

However, despite a provably decent result in England and Wales, knives that were never fully sheathed are out and slashing away at the leadership. Suddenly the Labour right wing have remembered about the existence of Scotland. Ed’s under attack and he needs to be really careful in how he responds.

I’ve said before and I’ll say again: Labour are not going to rerun the leadership elections. We’re just not that suicidal. But if Ed doesn’t calm some of the frayed nerves in the Party, we’ll continue to fight each other rather than the Tories. It will all be done in the name of helping the Party back to victory of course, but will remain a tactic of division and derision to squash those of us who don’t think a neoliberal economic agenda is the best route to either electoral or governing success.

At the moment the air battle in Labour’s internal division is being fought over which voters we are trying to attract – former Labour to Lib Dem switchers or current soft Tory voters. There are dangers in appealing too strongly to one at the expense of the other, but also dangers in trying too much to be all things to all people, leaving a sense of a lack of definition. We need to keep appealing to both but with quite different, but complimentary messages. The Labour leavers have largely – to the extent that they are largely going to be – been convinced to leave their current Lib Dem affiliation (this post is true only in England. I don’t know Scottish politics well enough to comment on the very different issues there). Not all of them have been attracted to Labour, but that is because (rightly) we do not yet have a full policy offering with which to attract them. What we have not yet managed with real numbers is to convince those who are soft Tories to abandon them in any large numbers. The Tories are not yet disastrous enough and memories of disastrous Labour are just too fresh in the minds of these voters. Knocking the legs out from the electoral credibility of the Lib Dems was important for the first group of people. Now the Eds need to keep a focus on the “Too far too fast” message – which polling indicates is taking hold – but start to highlight the damages this is doing as it takes hold – not just the potential for damage people don’t yet see. So I’d like – now the Lib Dems are proved to be something of an irrelevance as an electoral force – a laser-like focus on the Tories. Their errors forced and unforced and the pernicious effects of their policies on most levels of society.

I’ve seen the same polling Ed has and I recognise the dangers of appealing to a Centre-right audience through centre right policies at the risk of alienating the large groups of people who left New Labour over just such triangulation. But you can take the fight to the right without tacking to the right. Labour can talk about the economy without bowing to unpopular corporatism and about crime without bowing to unpopular statism. We have solutions we believe in, that we can fight for on solid ground against the Tories. We won’t beat them by saying “yeah, your mostly right, but we’re nicer because we aren’t Tories”. We have to be more aggressive in taking the fight to them and sidelining the Lib Dems.

Having said all this, I understand but don’t really share the frustration of Dan Hodges and his anonymous backbencher when they stand aghast at Ed choosing to go after the Lib Dems in this Sunday’s Observer. At first glance the message does seem to be unbalanced, too Lib Dem focused at a time when Ed really does need to be taking the fight to the Tories. I think though that in his own way, that’s just what Ed is doing. He’s playing coalition politics and making sure that if the Lib Dems bring down Tory policy, Ed and our Party get our fair Lion’s share of the credit. But Ed has now got to turn his fire more continually on the Tories. But having set that up, Ed must now recognise that if it ever went away, two party politics is back and we have to play accordingly. Also rather more galling, Ed is going to have to be more strategic with how he treats his dissenters inside the Party (probably sometimes at the expense of actually achieving external victories, but sadly, that’s the nature of Party politics). Giving them some of what they’re seeking, but going on a full frontal attack on the Tories might just be the right thing to do for both strategies – internal and external.

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Lessons all round, but apart from Scotland good news overall for Labour

Friday, May 6th, 2011

Ok, let’s get it out of the way. Scotland was a disaster. I don’t know enough about Scottish politics, but looking at the statistics, while our vote held up, unlike in England, those leaving other parties weren’t attracted to Labour at all. Not one bit. That’s an enormous worry for Labour in Scotland. There will need to be real questions asked and we need to be ready for uncomfortable answers. As I said, I don’t know the arena well enough to have any clue what those answers are. Ed has already announced a full root and branch investigation and I hope the activists in Scotland hold him hard to that. The harder part will be implementation of the recommendations. Especially if they show answers that would make the English and UK wide Party uncomfortable. That will be a tricky set of negotiations for someone and for once I’m glad that someone won’t be me!

In England, the story is a lot better. Labour look set to gain over 750 seats, one year after our worst General Election defeat in 20 years. Which as this analysisfrom Luke Akehurst shows is actually a pretty good result, if not the fireworks some of us were dreaming of. It’s a great start and will give us some really strong councils to build towards victory on. It’s not a glide straight through the door of number 10. But on the other hand it’s a good, big first step in the right direction. For the first time in a while.

There is – rightly – going to be a lot of concern that the Tory vote has not collapsed at all. In fact they have made some gains though at the Lib Dems expense, not ours. The Tory vote remains strong and motivated to get out. How much the referendum was a factor in that motivation I don’t know. I felt it was right for the first year to keep the focus on the Lib Dems. These were admittedly the easy pickings, but I feel that we will be better able to take on the Tories from now on with the base that eliminating the threat of the Lib Dems has given us. But now it’s time to assign the Lib Dems the percentage of our focus they and their electoral standing deserves and focus solely on the Tories and beating them first in London and council elections not encumbered by a referendum, and of course ultimately in 2015.

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Watch the reshuffle carefully – it will determine what will happen to the NHS

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

There has been a lot of speculation that Andrew Lansley will be moved from his disastrous stint in the health brief at the rumoured summer reshuffle. I’m sure this is right, just as I’m sure Michael Gove must wake every morning thanking his lucky stars for Lansley.

In the linked article above, one of the names suggested as a potential replacement is David Laws. If he gets it, it will be because David Cameron has decided that it is better to press on with the reforms. If that’s the case Laws is the perfect choice. An economically right wing Lib Dem who would have been a Tory but for Clause 28 wouldn’t have a problem with the policy, and was an early proponent of the Lib Dem strategy of taking full responsibility in coalition for all decisions, and the clear relish he took in announcing the first £7 billion of cuts shows he would be more comfortable than most with being the minister to see through reforms hated by so many.

However, if Cameron has decided to kill the Bill, egged on by Lib Dems both emboldened by the members conference resolution and desperate for a win after the local elections and AV referendum (I’m publishing and preparing to be damned today) there is no way he will allow a Lib Dem to be the front man – the visual savior of the NHS. It would be needlessly handing their weakened party a win at the expense of the Tories, would further underline the good cop bad cop act that has the Tory right enraged and would do nothing to staunch the hemorrhaging of trust over the shibboleth issue of the NHS so personal to Cameron’s attempt to detoxify the Tory brand. In addition it could cause a thaw in relations between Labour and the Lib Dems, which is the last thing Cameron wants to risk in case he once again fails to win a majority at the next election.

So watch closely. Who is put into the essential brief will tell campaigners all they need to know about what is to come on the health reforms.

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