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The curly sandwiches have all been eaten, the beer has all been drunk and everyone has a cold. It must be end of conference season. For the first time in my life, I attended all three Party conferences this year.  I met and spoke with friends from each Party, and I also took the time to just sit quietly in the throng and listen to what the delegates had to say when talking to each other. This – far more than the stage managed media focused messages from the stages – will tell you where a party is at.

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David Cameron isn’t very good at politics.

When I first said this it was a controversial  statement. Now it’s pretty commonly accepted. He still has his moments, but right now he’s basically the badly burnt toast of the London Olympics. His party have limped their way to the Summer recess infighting and imploding all the way.

So no, David Cameron isn’t very good at politics. For example, today, he has been out maneuvered by the Lib Dems. Let’s say that again – outmaneuvered by the Lib Dems. Wowzers.

Today, the Lib Dems announced that they are going to run their candidate selection process according to the 2010 boundaries. the first and most obvious message to take from this is that the Lib Dems are confirming the seriousness of their intention to the Tories to stop boundary changes. That’s certainly the immediate message to be taken, but actually, this is cleverer and more subtle than just that.

This move leave David Cameron in a terrible hole. His Party are suffering from very poor polling, and while Labour is far from certain to win the next election, they are in a much stronger position than anyone predicted a year ago. His admirable stance on gay marriage is losing him grass root activist support, the number of Tory members already having slumped dramatically. the last thing he needs is something that’s going to make it harder for his activists to fight in their constituencies next time around.

But that’s exactly what he’s done.

As long as he insists on believing he will be able to change Lib Dem minds over the boundary changes (or think he can somehow pull off the Parliamentary arythmatic another way – something nobody things can be done) he will be unable to do as the Lib Dems did today and Labour did earlier this week and organise the selection process for Tory candidates at the next election under the most likely boundaries. To do so would look like capitulation and would bring the end of the boundary change argument forward before any vote were cast.

But to not do so means that Labour and Lib Dem candidates will have the run of these constituencies until the final vote in Autumn next year. It means that Tory MPs whose seats would be abolished under the changes will continue to face uncertainty. Shy, retiring types like Nadine Dorries for example.

So in failing to accept that he has lost the advantage he was seeking in changing the boundaries, Cameron has placed his party at a further disadvantage by making it harder for their candidates to establish themselves and giving his opponants a huge, huge headstart in so doing.

Well done Dave – yet another masterstroke of tactical politics.


It’s reshuffle time again. Let joy in Westminster be uncontained. Rumours abound. Who’s up? Who’s down? Who’s in, out or sideways?

For Labour questions include the unlikely Will this be a glorious leftist revolution? and the more likely Will it be steady as she goes? The coalition have more to worry about right now. Does Cameron have enough women in the Tory Party to move Theresa May, Cheryl Gillan, Baroness Warsi and Caroline Spelman all at once? Does Nick Clegg have any women he can promote to the cabinet at all? Will Vince move? Can Laws return? Who will they keep in the Cabinet just to keep them off the backbenches?
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So I’ve done the inevitable London postmortem, and got the worst news out of the way (I will do a final piece tomorrow on turnout, which is the biggest fly in the Labour ointment). London is stuck with Boris for a while longer. But so is David Cameron, which is better news.

Boris continues to be extremely popular among the Conservative grass roots, but polling (which come with heavy caveats) suggests that Boris may be just a bit more “Marmite” than Cameron, and therefore not an overall vote winner.

But Cameron is deeply unpopular with his backbenchers, and not just the usual headbangers like Nadine Dorries. The Tory right have taken the opportunity of electoral battering to loudly promote a more traditionally Tory policy platform, and some indications show it may be working, as gay marriage and Lords reform seem set for the very long grass.

Of course, Cameron’s popularity doesn’t – for the moment – mean there will be an actual leadership challenge. There isn’t an obvious challenger, and because of this, Dorries is likely to fail in her mission to replace Dave. But that doesn’t mean that Cameron’s leadership won’t be challenged, regularly, loudly and increasingly angrily from many quarters of the Tory party and their supportive press. And this matters deeply to George Osborne, widely seen as the man behind Cameron’s modernisation strategy. The more the Tories are seen to fail politically, as his nearest rival Boris soars from strength to strength, the worse it gets for Osborne.

Last year’s election results were a mixed bag not because of the Labour performance, which in England and Wales was excellent, but because of the performance of Tories and the collapse in Scotland. This year neither of those things happened.

The Tories suffered at the worst end of their predictions and also failed to properly dampen Labour victory. Their expectation management prior to the elections were trying to push Labour as having to get 700 seats and that Glasgow and London were the ones to watch. In the end, Labour got well over 800 seats, an overall majority in Glasgow and increased our grip on the London Assembly, despite losing the Mayoralty. And no one is blaming Labour or Ed Miliband for a loss widely attributed to Ken.

This inability to understand the game of expectation management is just one symptom of a malaise that should be much more troubling to the Tories. It is becoming increasingly obvious that from around the time of the unravelling of the Veto that never was the Tory leadership significantly lost their ability to do politics well.

Forget the individually bad polices for a moment, forget even the meta-narratives building up that the Tories are both incompetent and out of touch, forget the omnishambles, forget Jeremy Hunt, forget all the individual difficulties that are assailing the Tories. The fact is, that if the Tories had decent political instincts, the individual mistakes and unpopular policies would not be allowed to build up into the narratives, and the narratives would not be allowed to be so sustained in the public imagination, until they are close to defining this government. But the Tory strategists, led by George Osborne, have been like rabbits caught in the headlights. They’ve had simply no understanding of how to manage a narrative in challenging times.

Perhaps they had it too easy for too long and got lazy, got complacent or got out of practice. From the 2010 election campaign onwards, I’ve often said that I thought David Cameron was lazy and either unwilling or unable to do the heavy lifting. But he has surrounded himself not by people who can fill the gaps, but by those who reflect his best and worst qualities back at him. He’s surrounded by people like him, who are not necessarily the people he needs to help him reach the whole of the country.

This matters to Osborne, who wants to be seen as Cameron’s natural successor. If he can’t turn the tide on the Tory omnishambles; if he can’t shift the blame for that narrative from his disastrous budget and the subsequent handling of it; if he can’t lose the narrative that the Tories biggest problem is that they are “out of touch” he will never lead his Party.

The next big narrative that is building up around the Government is based around the 2015 election. Ever since Alexander signed the Lib Dems up to committing to cuts in their next manifesto live on Newsnight talk of a potential electoral pact between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats has intensified. Cameron chucked a giant can of gasoline on that fire when in an interview for the Evening Standard last week he said of the 2015 election “When it comes to the next election, do you want a Conservative-led Government…”, indicating that he may not be planing to attempt an outright Conservative victory at the next election.

I never used to believe that the Lib Dems would go for either a coupon election or a permanent pact. I thought the worst they would go for would be to prop up a minority Tory Party using a deviation of their standard branch of twisted electoral math.

But I’m increasingly believing it will be possible. It explains Clegg’s continued relaxation about his failure to differentiate his Party from the Tories. It follows the Lib Dems ever-increasing willingness to trade nominal power for their few MPs for their local electoral base, for their principle and for the prospects of their long-tern survival.

I wrote a few weeks ago about the ways in which the Lib Dems were and weren’t proving that coalition works. If they allow themselves to be seduced into a coupon election or an electoral pact in 2015 for their short-term gain, they will regret it immensely in the long term. It will be the end of their democratic values. It will see them hemorrhage support in the North and it will ultimately prove to everyone watching once and for all, that coalition doesn’t work. That doesn’t seem like a price worth paying, but it is a price I can see Nick Clegg easily sacrificing. His Party can and must stop him for thier own good.

Labour had a good win on Thursday electorally. People with newly elected Labour representatives have people on their side against the Government, ready to do what they can to help. This is the main prize. But the exposure of the political weakness of the Tories, and the continuing exposure of the Lib Dems to the reality of their Faustian electoral pact is not to be dismissed.

It is a truism that oppositions don’t win elections, Government’s lose them. I don’t believe this. Labour still have a lot of work to do, a fact rightly recognised by Ed Miliband. But the Tories are being exposed not just for the inept government, but for the increasingly obvious fact that they have little strategic ability, and less understanding of how to do politics in tough times. Long may that continue.


Ahhh Lords reform, we meet again. Back when I was young and still considerably more naive, I got involved in various campaigns to reform the House of Lords to a fully elected chamber. After the mess of 2003, where there were so many options on the table that MPs failed to properly back a single one, I vowed never again. Life is too short, and there are and always will be far more important issues.

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Don’t get complacent, Labour

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By Emma | One comment

Three polls came out yesterday showing Labour 10-11 points ahead in the polls. The Tories are as low in the polls as they have been since the formation of the coalition government. The government’s credibility is in free-fall. For the first time in one of those polls, Osborne and Balls are neck-and neck for who could best manage the economy. Meanwhile the budget debates stumble on, each week seemingly bringing a new issue arising from it. First it was grannies, then pasties and now charities.

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Where we are and where we are not

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By Emma | 4 comments

What has felt at times like a mammoth parliamentary session is now over. The assumptions of mere weeks ago have been challenged, and in some cases changed. As we take a breather, it’s time to take stock and consider how the last few weeks will affect the next few months and shape the narratives to come.

Ed Miliband had a bad strike, but a good war. He was in a difficult position over the strike (though less difficult than some that are coming. These unions were not affiliated to Labour) but while his message was probably the right one tactically, even a staunch loyalist like me won’t say he delivered it well. Sunny Hundal is right in his contention that that kind of interview is hardly new, but media practices are changing, and that interview left Ed looking flat-footed, tongue-tied and struggling to achieve an understanding of that new reality.

What a difference a crisis makes.

Ed’s handling of the NI affair has been superb. He’s been able to use his strongest weapon against Cameron – his grasp of detail – to devastating effect. Labour (led by Ed, but it would be supremely churlish not to use this space to praise Tom Watson and Chris Bryant) have made all the running, and have won every concession they sought from the Government.

In the long term, this matters for two reasons, the narrative about Labour and the narrative about the Tories.

Ed has rightly started to use the crisis as a jumping off point for a conversation about the responsibility agenda he has been shaping. Pulling together a narrative that encompasses the bankers who threaten our economy with their unreformed practices, journalists who threaten our privacy for the profit of oligarchs and politicians -of all parties – who threatened our democracy to line their pockets. I also have no truck with the glass-half-empty malcontents who read that speech and focus only on what is being asked of those at the bottom (which boils down to enforcing rules to protect the integrity of the welfare state) without understanding or acknowledging  the tectonic shift that a senior politician talking this way about the responsibilty owed from those at the top of the pile to the rest of us.

Ed has in the last two weeks earned the right to be listened to and cemented his leadership. He has also opened up the ears of the public by being on thier side at a time when he has some useful and important things to say. There will – of course - be a few last drinkers in the Bitter Bar, whining and anonymously briefing their pet gossip-mongers, but Ed has won the leadership and has now earned himself the space to lead.

Meanwhile, Cameron’s stock is seriously – though not fatally – damaged. He got this wrong from the start and worse failed to notice quickly enough how wrong he had got it. He has had two problems over the last week, both of which do him considerable damage.

Firstly, he’s let Ed Miliband make all the running. He gambled that being on the side of NI was the safest place to be and failed – until it was far too late – to see that the world there had changed. So he not only ended up doing all the things that will annoy the constituency he was trying to court so assiduously, but he also clearly did them at the bidding of his opponent.

Secondly, as Deborah Mattinson lays out in this report from recent focus groups, he has undone most of the good work that he had done pre-election to change the image of the “same old Tories”. The public may once have briefly thought they wanted coalition, but after thier outright rejection of Nick Clegg and thier new distaste for Cameron’s dithering and disillusion with his platform they are using comfortable familiar language to define Cameron and his Party – which is a disaster for the Tories.

Finally, let’s be honest about where we are not. Cameron has been damaged and the sheen is now off him, but I don’t think he will be forced to resign. Certainly the rumours of backbenchers calling for his blood proved to be sound and fury only. This issue has changed the mood music, it hasn’t brought down the Government. We need to be cautious that we don’t over claim or be over optimistic.

Cameron will continue, and he will have other good days. Ed will continue and he will have other bad days. Labour have earned the respect of the public on this issue, but the hard part will be translating that to a decent hearing for and support of our broader agenda. That will take a continued hard slog.


We live in a very fast moving world and very fast moving times. As a result, we tend to move quickly from issue to issue. While the News of the World is preoccupying all our campaigning capacity this week, it is as yet unclear whether anything will actually change. Murdoch will probably still be allowed to buy BSkyB.

I am usually full of admiration for the measured and interesting work of Steve Richards. But I fear he’s called it wrongly today in his celebration of the demise of News International’s power over politicians and the police.

Certainly at the moment it feels like we’ve won an important victory. Advertisers are deswerting the sinking ship, and Cameron has ostensibly announced an inquiry. But the fact is most of the key players in this saga are just playing for time and hoping it will blow over.

Admittedly. that has been their strategy for some time now, and while originally it seemed to be working, this week has shown it as foolish. So far…

We are a fickle public. I can’t help but think of the outcry over the behaviour of the paparazzi after the death of Diana. It was a mere 5 months later that photos of Britney Spears being carried from her home in an ambulance were available in every news outlet (no I’m not linking).

The press – having finally decided it is safe to comment on this scandal – have unanimously decided that Cameron’s equivocation harms him. I say it’s too early to tell. It may well be that Cameron is unconfident about speaking under oath about Andy Coulson. But equally, Cameron may just be making the assumtion that this will blow over, and that the News International stable will once again rise to be a powerful ally and more importantly a dreadful enemy. For both moral and partisan reasons, I hope Cameron has miscalculated. I hope all the commentators are right. I hope that as Steve Richards says, this is a turning point.

But for that to happen, we need to distinguish between the initial outcry and a sustained fight. News International and others with a stake in tbhis affair will keep the pressure on politicians day in, day out. If civil society moves on and forgets to push back, distracted by the next shock, the next campaign, the next outrage, their pressure will win.

For the sake of brave politicians like Tom Watson and Chris Bryant – who battled on when this was their fight alone despite extraordinary pressure to do otherwise – we need to keep up this fight. We need to follow the example of the people of Liverpool in thier longstanding boycott of the Sun after their disgraceful coverage of the Hillsborough disaster.

If we don’t, I have a horrible feeling that Richards declaration that “Nothing will ever be the same” will ring hollow a lot sooner than we might think.


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.


There’s a very interesting post on Labour Uncut today, from Tom Watson. Essentially Tom is repeating gossip from a senior Tory that they might consider breaking the coalition and going for an early election in May. 

These ideas aren’t plucked from the ether, and Tom has clearly been given this line by someone, but ideas like this don’t always get floated because they will happen.

Sometimes they are floated because people want to see what the reaction to the idea would be before deciding whether or not to implement it. A negative response means the idea will quietly be dropped while it remains unattributable gossip, a positive response might elicit a stronger action.

On the other hand – and for me the most likely scenario – the idea is being floated not to test its popularity, but to remind some people that it is a possibility.

The possibility of the Tories breaking the coalition will terrify the Lib Dems, putting them firmly back in their boxes,  and (partly) assuage the Tory right, who will be pleased to know this option is being considered. If we let it, it could also wrong foot Labour who are (rightly as I have said) taking their time to renew and revise our policies.

Cameron can’t really want an election now, as the electorate would punish him for turning on his own five years built to last rhetoric, and Osborne would be furious if Labour got a chance to get their hands on the instruments of power before the cuts had a chance to be fully embedded and the state shrunk.

Ironically, I’m willing to believe there is a strong possibility that the possibility of the coalition being broken is being floated in order to remind MPs on both sides what they get from it, and to strengthen it through its current wobble.



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