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This piece was a cut down version of my speech at the launch of 5 Million Votes.
In the same way New Labour was both a reasonable reaction to what had gone before and a revolution in its own right, the 5 Million Votes analysis must now be just as well informed by our past, as responsive to our present and as mindful of our future.
It must not be a way of fighting stupid, pointless and ridiculously bitter internal Labour Party battles, but of researching ways in which the party can return to power while offering the country the radical changes we believe are needed to our failing systems and institutions.
This isn’t about “getting our party back” but about getting our party back into government, then getting our country back on track.
The Labour Party has – except for a few stragglers – largely got over the battles around the leadership. The result that was announced in the autumn of 2010 has finally been accepted in the spring of 2012 as Ed has had a good year and capitalised well on the government having a worse one.
This is probably a relief to all sides (again except for a tiny handful of stragglers). Not because those who supported other candidates, and particularly those who supported David feel they were wrong, but because that fight became first a proxy for – then a distraction from – the real argument that Labour are having now about strategy. This one is hotting up and while I fully expect it to be considerably less bitter than the leadership skirmishes, it will be no less divisive or decisive about the future direction of the party.
I’m an odd sort of politico at times.
Like all other political obsessives, I have my passions, my causes and my beliefs. I have a vision for what I want from the Labour Party and the next Labour Government. But within that vision, are layers of possibilities. An understanding that my utopia will not be the same as my neighbours (especially as we’re both quite loud, and have very, very different taste in music). I understand the bargaining that an appeal to electability across a mass audience can bring. But even with this understanding, I know that there is and always must be a difference between bargaining and capitulation.
I’m an odd sort of politico at times.
I see too many people on every side of any argument cherry pick evidence to prove not just that a policy will work, but that it will be popular. Clutching at those articles that reinforce your world view, while disregarding anything that challenges it. I think that to be a Socialist, you have to be an optimist. Not necessarily an unrealistic one, but an optimist nonetheless. But to be a strategist, you have to be a pessimist. Not a hopeless one - that’s no good to anyone – but able to see the bumps in the road. Reconciling the need for pessimism in favour of the greater cause of optimism is tough to balance. So it’s not that I am not easily pleased, more that my fear of being too easily pleased will send me too far in the other direction.
I’m an odd sort of politico. For these reasons, when I read something that I find speaks to both my desire for how things are, and my sense of how tings could be, my first reaction is not joy, but caution. Like Mulder, I want to believe. Like Scully, I want to see proof.
This is how I felt when I read Andrew Harrop’s excellent and potential strategy changing article on Labour List about “Ed’s Converts”. If this research is robust (and the Fabians are rarely anything but), then it supports my belief that Labour has a new space arising from the Lib Dems abandoning their left flank to go into coalition. A space to be a more openly Socially Democratic Labour Party and future government. I want this research to be be right so much. So much so that my Spidey-senses are tingling. Do I want it too much? Does the research really support a more left-leaning Labour Party? I want this research to be right and I want it proved right, and as such it will need to be tested almost to destruction. If it can withstand all that might be thrown at it, it could be the basis for a realignment of politics as powerful and successful as New Labour. I hope that the Fabian “Labour’s Next Majority” project will do that testing. I have a few questions that I’d like to offer for their consideration.
The first place I would want that testing to begin is on the idea of the current coalition of interests that make up that group. In Andrew’s piece he speaks of two core groups that make up the group: lower income communities and left liberals. These two groups are not always ones it is easy to produce compatible messages for. On areas like crime for example, they are often diametrically opposed, while both rating their issues highly. For example around surveillance and the role of the state. Would appealing to one group automatically repel the other? How do Labour chart their way through that territory.
Equally, the article states that the worst case scenario with these groups is a hung Parliament with Labour the largest Party. But id their support is as solid as that supposes, would it not be more electorally viable (if not, for me, politically desirable) to tack right and shore up some centrist floating 2010 Tory voters? What would and what wouldn’t put these voters off and how can or should they be slotted into an “Ed’s Converts” based strategy?
Finally – just as part of a starting response – what can and what should we be promising the left in order to keep it united? When does the left’s optimism become the naivete of stereotype? I think we have more scope than some, but we’re not going to be living in or building a brave new world come 2015. Many of the problems that are stymieing Governments of all kinds all over the world will still be ongoing. It will not be simple and it will not be perfect. If this is the framework for a new coalition of the Left, forged under a Labour banner, how do we make sure it doesn’t just win, but lasts?
Those are a few questions I think need to be looked at as an ongoing part of the Fabian’s excellent work. I am incredibly excited by this, and the way you can tell is that I’m questioning it. Strengthening through questioning is – to my mind – the best possible way to support the growth of an idea. I’ll be hoping to contribute further to the Fabian’s ongoing work in this area, and I look forward to more like this.
I want to believe!
Tim Montgomerie had a fascinating post on ConservativeHome this week outlining the Tory plan to get themselves over the finish line next election. I strongly recommend that every Labour Party member – and especially every Labour Party organiser – reads it in full. Everyone at Victoria Street should have it bookmarked.
The piece is a 10 point briefing on what the Tory strategy will be for winning the next election. It outlines how hard that will be for them and their best planned attack given that uphill struggle. It’s an impressive and coherent plan and needs careful thought put into how Labour go about countering, frustrating and defeating it.
I’d like to add my voice to that process as I respond point-by-point to the issues raised.
1. The Tories face an uphill struggle.
This is true. The Tories, faced with a Labour Party and leader who were deeply unpopular, after 5 years of painstaking detoxification work, managed to poll just 3.7% more than they had in 2005. As such, it is not totally clear who the Tories have left to attract. This battle will be hard and bloody.
But, though it is an uphill struggle for the Tories, that is nothing compared to the struggle for Labour. We suffered an incredibly difficult defeat at the last election. Our Party was tired and divided. While a great deal of our energy has returned to us, we remain a Party with more than one voice, more than one hymn sheet and more than one notion of the direction the Party needs to take to return to power in 2015. We are all too used to the comfort of fighting each other, and our focus is not nearly firmly enough sighted on the Tories. While it may seem like the Tories are disunified, we can’t rely on them making the same mistake.
We remain untrusted on the economy, we have a massive financial difference with the Tories and we face a media as hostile as any we have ever known. We also faced the equal difficulty of facing two Parties acting in concert against us whilst also providing their own internal opposition, squeezing us out of the narrative from both sides.
2. The Tories are going to try and change the country’s perception of fairness to make it chime better with Conservative values.
Some in Labour will tell you this is a huge threat to us. Personally I see this as a huge opportunity. Think about what they are really saying here. They are conceding that on the public’s present terms they aren’t seen as on the side of fairness. That on these terms they will never be seen as on the side of fairness. That they have to change the public’s minds about what fairness means, in order to be even be able to compete to be seen as on the side of fairness.
This gives Labour two, three bites of the cherry. We can and must continue to beat them on the public’s current vision of fairness. We must show how we wouldn’t put the burden on those at the bottom; defeat the Tory vision of equality of sacrifice showing what this really means to the lives with those with the least leeway and therefore stop them changing the public’s mind on what fairness means.
3. Reassurance not radicalism
This would be a huge break in style and confirms the world view of those who believe that the loss of Steve Hilton from Number 10 will have a real impact. Others though might point out that implementation is what the second half of any Government is about, and this one has been extremely radical in its first half.
The problem they will have with trying not to appear radical, is that the implementation stage is actually when that radicalism will be felt. Politicians always forget this. For them, the fight starts and ends with getting legislation enacted. But the rest of the country don’t notice that things are going to change, they notice when they do change.
The Welfare reform changes will produce results that hurt real, live widows and disabled families all the way between now and the election. Every single hospital story from here to 2015 will be tied to the disastrous Health Bill.
So however reassuring the Government decides to be between now and the election, the reverberations of their current programme of legislation will continue having radical effects all the way through this term. Labour needs to be right there pointing out the damage done to people’s lives and livelihoods; to their health, well-being and treatment; and to their ability to find adequate and rewarding work.
4. One hundred seats
The Tory strategy centres on 100 seats. 50 of theirs, 14 Lib Dems seats and 36 of ours. This is reasonably sensible. Protecting their vulnerable flank while also encroaching enough into opposition territory to push them over the edge. It’s not too ambitious and gives them plenty of room to invest heavily in these seats. Labour need to think hard about playing both defence and offence in these seats too, and how to counter a well-funded Tory attack.
It is worth noting where these seats are too. The big target areas are in the Midlands and then the North West and Yorkshire. These will require a strong regional and local machine response from Labour as well as innovative ground campaigning from activists. We can’t and shouldn’t run campaigns tightly controlled by London. Empowering measures in Refounding Labour should help to spread the fighting funds and that may make a significant difference.
5. No targets in Scotland
This says two things: The Tories have all but given up on Scotland, but also that they expect the SNP to keep Labour down. This is important. I know little of Scottish politics, but despite the nickname “Tartan Tories” I know we can’t fight the SNP as if they were simply Tories in kilts.
The whole fight in Scotland has to be seen through the prism not of Labour vs Tory, but Labour vs SNP. Scottish Labour must be freed to fight their own fight, local to them. I don’t presume to know what that is, but it is essential that the messages from Labour North of the Border aren’t the same as those aimed at Surrey with an expectation that our Scottish voters will always be with us.
It’s not relevant to 2015, but keep an eye on Conservative attitudes to Scotland, especially from the younger generation. As they give up on it electorally, and as further devolution becomes ever more likely, the Tories might become considerably less attached to the union.
6 & 7. There will be a focus on urban seats and a battle to neutralise negatives among women, ethnic minorities and NHS patients.
I can’t see how they’re going to manage the latter. As I said earlier, if the Bill becomes law, every missing paperclip, everything that goes wrong in the NHS will be down to this Government and to David Cameron for breaking his promise to the electorate.
Equally, they haven’t picked easy battlegrounds. Women are being disproportionately hit by the cuts as are ethnic minorities. Urban areas are starting to feel the pinch. Whatever happens in London, it’s a much closer election than it was predicted to be a year ago.
Labour needs to campaign vigorously to elect first Ken then the raft of other local directly elected Mayors in urban areas. If we can put in place enough spearheads to fight Westminster from and on behalf of their cities, this will go a long way to giving Labour an advantage in our cities. As will an increased focus on the importance of local Government. So either way, what happens in May will be a vital first step to countering this Tory focus.
8. The 10% most reachable for Tories are young, unmarried, above-average income and BME.
Tim is unconvinced about a strategy for the Conservative to focus on these voters, fearing a disproportionate amount of effort being spent on the hardest-to-convert. Tim doesn’t want his party to be seen as a Party for the rich, but a low-taxes Party for the poor as you can see from his recent appearance on Newsnight arguing with two Tories about the Mansion Tax.
I think Tim has little chance of winning this fight in his Party and far less chance of turning around the perception that the Tories are the Party of the rich. Here, he’s stymied by two factors, the traditional right of his Party (and David Cameron) who do believe that rewarding “success” is what being a Conservative is about and what the Conservatives are for. The other is the reality of coalition politics, where the Lib Dems will loudly and often rightly try to take credit for measures such as raising the income tax threshold.
So while I can see that attracting these urban, metropolitan voters will be difficult, I can also see why Tory strategists might think it is their easiest path.
To counter it, Labour need to continue to build their lead in “on the side of people like me” polling. Some may not like it, but a bit of banker-bashing helps with this enormously. Turnout will be key at the next election, so we need promises that help the squeezed middle. Childcare, consumer rights, Public transport, and education will be key policy areas here.
Equally we need to look at some of the places where the Tories tried and failed to run campaigns aimed at these voters in 2010. Hammersmith and Fulham springs to mind, but I’m sure local knowledge will provide plenty of others. Labour’s strategists need to speak to the local activists in these areas to find out what worked to fend the Tories off and why.
9. 80 new graduate campaign managers.
Again, this could be a glass that is half-empty or half-full.
On the empty side, it shows the effect a powerful war chest can have on a Party’s ability to campaign. The 80 graduates will be recruited in the first half of this year and trained intensively ready to be put in place two and a half years before the next election. This is a great deal of firepower and I can’t imagine that Labour will be able to match it in terms of professional staff.
On the full side, these will be 80 new people, largely parachuted into new areas and having to build up their local knowledge and connections. It’s the opposite to the Movement for Change strategy of getting the Party into local communities and training local people to be Party advocates.
You might even call them the Movement to Conserve the Status Quo. A top down centrally dictated power-grab from the Party will not be wholly welcomed by the grassroots, and there may be considerable teething troubles as they find their feet, wasting valuable time as Labour continues a volunteer led fight.
It is widely acknowledged that it was Labour’s volunteer army that stopped the worst of what could have happened in 2010. Innovations like Grace Fletcher-Hackwood’s Mob Mondays – where groups of activists from around the country would volunteer to phone a single constituency (with a crib sheet circulated in advance to help understand local issues) need to be replicated immediately for the 100 target seats (and any others on a target list of our own that differs). Labour must be a permanent campaign, and I agree with Mark Ferguson that to do so effectively, we need better messages.
Tim’s last points were not in the official briefing, but were a result of his conversations with people in the know. Make no mistake, Tim is very well informed.
The Government are increasingly likely to go after the unions. This pleases both Lib Dems and Tories, neither of whom have any love for or understanding of the vital importance of organised labour. They also expect that such a fight will put Labour on the wrong side of the public, neutralising some of their own “on the side of people like me” negatives. The unions need to produce a canny business case (and all the evidence exists) as to why their funding is cost effective, and a PR campaign as to just why union members are ordinary folk like everyone else. This fight is winnable, but just because the motives are purely political, it does not mean that the most effective response will be a political one.
Another ploy being considered are staggering and delaying the debates. This again is fascinating when you look at what it is really saying. The Tories go on and on about what a poor communicator Ed is, but actually, they acknowledge that it was the debates that really harmed slick old Dave last time around. This time, he’ll be older and more tired, and if Ed’s on the kind of form he’s been on lately, the debates could give him a real boost. No wonder they’re trying to neutralise them. I can’t see Clegg complaining either. If he leads the Lib Dems into the next election (a big if) he knows it won’t be in an atmosphere of debate inspired Cleggmania.
Finally, there is the possibility that a referendum may be added to the ballot. This worked very well in increasing Tory turnout last year and the Tories seem to be the coalition Party who have really learned the lessons of the AV referendum (easier to do I suppose when the lessons are positive).
So there it is, an outline of Tory strategy for the next few years and my own beginnings of thoughts on how to counter it. It’s not all negative and it’s not all terrifying, but I’m going to finish where I began by saying that this will be an incredibly difficult fight. It’s going to take a Party operating at its best, empowering its members to action and taking the fight to the Tories time and again, through good times and bad. It’s going to need discipline, and an external focus which the Party loses at times. Most of all, it’s going to take a desire to win. A burning hunger for electoral victory, and an understanding that all the other things we want to do stem only from that goal. That it is only by achieving Government that we will have a chance not just to stem the damage being done by the Tories, but also to create and shape a Britain that is more just, more equitable and better equipped to care for all its people.
This post first appeared on Labour List.
The 2010 election was a tale of two campaigns. On the one hand there were member-led innovations like Mob Monday and #Labourdoorstep which got activists targeting their support and pooling their resources.
Sadly, the campaign at the top seemed unable to capture this spirit and equally unable to really give the activists the space they deserved to lead the campaigns. The one opportunity I remember where this was attempted was the dreadful, disastrous “Fire up the Quattro” poster. When one considers how many people that went through for approval, it is astonishing that not one of them had the gumption to wonder about the public attitude to this pop culture figure. While one poster is not all that important in the grand scheme of things, this was emblematic of how distanced from the public and the lived experience of ordinary people.
To be a properly campaigning Party, we need to be a better disciplined Party. The astonishing situation we find ourselves in today is in many ways a mirror inversion of the situation of the 1980s. Party members – as a whole – are disciplined and focused on defeating the Tory-led government at every level. The staff and PLP are undisciplined, briefing anonymously, undermining the leader and therefore the members and defeating Labour in the public arena with scant attention to the feelings and needs of those they are supposed to serve.
I have already discussed issues around the staff. I believe it is also inherent that we change the way the PLP is organised and run. I believe that the events of the last few months have shown that it is essential that the Leader appoint his own shadow cabinet. As far as I can see it is the only way to restore some discipline into the PLP. While I supported Ed for leader, if any other candidate had won, and Ed supporter were behaving in the way some have done over the last 6 months I would be saying exactly the same. My loyalty is to the people of Britain and to offering them an electable Labour government.
Again I think that MPs need to have a contract with their CLP outlining what is expected of them as representatives.
In the 2010 Manifesto, we said:
“We will ban MPs from working for generic lobbying companies and require those
who want to take up paid outside appointments to seek approval from an independent
body to avoid jobs that conflict with their responsibilities to the public.”
I believe it is essential that we retain this rule while out of office and implement the lobbyist register as soon as we are returned to Government. We can never again be the Party where behaviour like that of Stephen Byers, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon is allowed to take place.
Equally we must be a united force against the coalition. Any MP or Peer working for this Government in a formal capacity, as John Hutton and Frank Field have done, should have the whip removed from them. There should be no question of Alan Milburn getting a peerage.
The selection process should be better staggered over the life of a Parliament. I think the Island seats are a great idea, and selecting early in this way will have a positive effect on our chances of winning these seats. I realise that the boundary review is going to make other early selections difficult, but there should be a timetable rolled out for seats after that. A constant drumbeat of selections will help Labour to campaign long term.
We need to encourage MPs who want to stand down to announce that they are doing so as soon as possible. At present this is difficult as MPs fear they will lose power and status. I propose that MPs who announce early that they are going to step down should form an emeritus committee to consult on manifesto issues and processes, essentially formalising their role as Party grandees. I believe that this committee should have access to the manifesto process, but that retiring MPs should not be part of the Clause 5 process, as there is too strong a chance of a potential conflict of interest.
This column first appeared on Labour List:
When Labour activists talk about tax policy, it’s a racing certainty that someone will bring up the extremely effective Labour’s Tax Bombshell Party Political Broadcast from the Tories in 1992. That advert, and the consequent election loss destroyed Labour’s belief in its ability to talk about – never mind act on – fairer taxation for a generation. A generation of Labour thinkers have been so cowed by this experience that they are simply unable to contemplate the new paradigm in which we now find ourselves.
Ed Balls talk of lowering the threshold of income tax isn’t bad politics if we can convince the majority of people that in doing so, they will be the beneficiaries. In all polls where the question is asked, the 50p tax rate is extremely popular. Unlike in the early 1990s when the popular narrative (rightly or wrongly) largely saw the city as a successful economic driver and therefore were more relaxed about the high earnings made there, people are more wary of high levels of corporate pay, seeing diminishing connections between top level pay and levels of productivity, talent and economic input. They want to see the highly paid giving more back.
Middle England is coming to terms with the limits of its aspirations – now Labour must too. If we want to talk to the real voters, we need to understand who they really are, what they really want and how we can really help. Ordinary people aren’t aspiring to earn £100k, they’re worrying about keeping a roof over their heads. They aren’t worried about the 50p tax bracket, they’re nervous about keeping their jobs. They aren’t hovering on the edge of the higher tax bracket praying Labour won’t lower the threshold, they’re desperately trying to work out how to hold things together as wages are frozen, inflation spirals and the child tax credits are cut. If we want to talk to the real voters, we need to understand who they really are, what they really want and how we can really help.
When Labour return to power there will be a lot to fix. The longer we are out of power, the more we will have to fix. So I would never advocate policies I believed would lock us out of power. On the other hand, Labour is not just here to come in and smooth things over after the Tories have wrecked all that we hold dear. We need to have a vision for a fairer society, and fairness works both ways.
Given the current levels of wage stagnation and the losses people are feeling through inflation, fuel prices and the VAT rise, it’s going to take an awful lot for people to feel they have advanced by 2015. A last giveaway budget in 2014 – as everybody is expecting – may not cut much ice by then. I’m not often one to link to the Taxpayer’s Alliance but this video from these traditional Tory supporters show just how untrusted Tory messaging on taxes is right now. Labour can be upfront about a tax they would impose on a tiny percentage of the country. Labour can say we are being honest about our tax plans, but we know the Tories will lie to you, and will continue to tax the poorest hardest.
Whatever happens between now and the next election, whatever is in the Labour manifesto at the next election, whatever state the economy is in at the next election, I can hands down guarantee you that the Tories will run a campaign based at least in part on the idea that a Labour government would raise taxes. They always, always do. It worked so well for them after all in 1992. But what the 1992 scaremongers don’t mention, is that the Tories also ran this line rather less successfully in 1997. It’s perfectly possible to convince voters of a good idea if we can get them to listen to why we want to do it. As long as we can convince them that the top rate of tax is about the politics of their security and not the politics of envy; about fairness, not punishment and about getting them a better deal there is no reason in the world why Labour shouldn’t be perfectly successful electorally.
When Labour needed to change in 1992, we had the flexibility to understand what it was about our economic message voters didn’t like. We need to do so again to regain economic credibility. That doesn’t mean repeating twenty year old messaging in the hope it strikes a chord. We need to give voters a hope of a security they feel has been lost, and that doesn’t come by pandering to the aspirations of a few, but by supporting the needs of the many.
Last night I had a fascinating discussion with an old friend about the current tensions between classical and social liberalism. We weren’t discussing this in the context of the crisis of the Lib Dems which is different but related, but the implications for policy implementation. It was an interesting discussion about the kind of liberalism we would both want to see a Labour government implement and what the tensions were between freedoms, protections and responsibilities – both of individuals and of the state towards its citizens.
We discussed topics as diverse as the prevalence and necessity of CCTV, ID cards, mental heath provision and intervention, state education and healthcare. We didn’t always agree on where the limits of the state should or shouldn’t be, but it was an interesting and illuminating discussion.
The problem with our discussion – as we both acknowledged – is that it existed entirely on the Authoritarian/Libertarian axis and frankly that’s not where most people live. We are both women with a relatively comfortable lifestyle, but both of us raised financial concerns throughout the other conversations we had that evening. We both voted labour in the election based on economic factors. My friend is far less tribal than I am, and weighed up voting Lib Dem, but didn’t.
Most people don’t care about or vote on issues on the Libertarian/Authoritarian spectrum. We vote on economic issues. We vote according to our understanding and interpretation of the world and its daily influence on our lives and those of the people we care about. Unless you are at a point where the level of your wealth does not affect your daily life, these are the issues that are going to affect you. Are you and your family safe? Are you all warm and well fed? Are you protected in case of harm? Do you have work? These are the real electoral battlegrounds, and only one of these areas areas (safety) would be affected by policies on the lib/auth scale (though there are arguments to be had about which way threats to safety lie).
There are excellent arguments to be had about the balance between security and civil liberties. I don’t believe any of those reasons are about electoral advantage or democratic representation. We can see this in the fact that The Lib Dems core vote has proved to be so small as have seen their collapse in the polls and authoritarian parties have had even less success. Their contributions to the coalition – such as they are – have nearly all been on Lib/Auth issues, and on economic issues, the classical liberalism that gels their right wing with the Tories has held sway. If the oft cited argument of Lib Dems that they are above the Left/Right axis were true, their support would not have failed to anything liek the extent that it is doing. It also would not have been a financial issue that became the emblematic token of that failure, but a failure on their own axis.
I regularly advocate for Labour to be more liberal on issues around crime and justice and related issues like terror laws and drug laws. I believe this is a matter of values and that Labour should be socially liberal while rejecting classical liberalism as largely anathema to equality which must be our highest value. I am frequently shouted down by those who believe that authoritarianism is a better reflection of the value of protection of communities that is also a part of our core beliefs. I accept those arguments and that tension. Those debates need to be had to find the right balance.
I believe that a more liberal Labour party would not lose votes. I don’t believe it would gain us many (we could probably gain a few disaffected Lib Dems but might lose a few soft Tories), but it wouldn’t lose us votes either. I also believe that the corollary is true. Very few people really vote for parties on civil liberties/security issues unless they genuinely feel at threat. While this has been a factor in recent elections, it was only when people felt economically threatened that they changed their voting patterns in meaningful ways. So when Labour talk about this issue, we need to do so in the reality that we neither side are raising electoral advantage but competing visions of state activism. If we can do so, we would have a much better and more productive debate.
Why are the Tories going so dog whistle with their latest poster?
I can’t believe they are feeling the need to shore up their core vote, nor that this would win over waverers. It’s not a middle ground message.
People aren’t angry with people on benefits – they’re angy with people on bonuses. If this is an electoral ploy, it’s a terrible one. Are the Tories just now capable of getting through an election campaign without swerving right?
Five: Before the debate began, there was much noise from Tories about how good Cameron was going to be and very little expectation management. That set the bar far too high for Cameron. Even if his performance had been superb, it would only have been “as expected”.
Four: Not an easy one this, but he should have looked more rested. He looked tired and worn out. As his offer is – at least in part – about being “the future”, he needs to be able to contrast his energy with Brown’s lack. He failed to do this.
Three: He got his facts wrong totally unnecessarily. There wasn’t a need to talk about the cars at that point and if he is challenged on funding specifics – and he must have known he would be, it’s the drum Labour’s been banging for a while – he should have come up with something better.
Two: He looked by turns bored, frustrated and angry. He looked at times like he was holding in a tantrum. Iain Dale discusses here that the calm may have been a deliberate attempt not to seem like a bully. I think that may well be true, but it looked weird and unnatural. He came across as both fake and disinterested.
One: “I was in Plymouth recently, and a 40-year-old black man made the point to me. He said, “I came here when I was six, I’ve served in the Royal Navy for 30 years. I’m incredibly proud of my country. But I’m so ashamed that we’ve had this out-of-control system with people abusing it so badly”".First of course this quote begs the question – was this man 10 when he joined the Navy?
More than anything it’s very, very lazy. It’s intellectually lazy to believe that black people can’t be racist, and so to conjure a mythical example as a buffer when discussing immigration. The fact that Cameron clearly hadn’t done a proper amount of prep – and you do get the feeling he likes to wing it – and his not bothering either to better control his emotions or to better express them also shows a certain contempt for the process. He needs to be really, really careful not to show this. Contempt for the process is easily translatable into a belief that he believe in his “right” to rule. With his heritage and his party’s background, that kind of lazy arrogance could do him a lot of damage in the eyes of an electorate who clearly haven’t made up thier minds.
While that was a rather good general debate, I wish it had done what it was supposed to and focused more on domestic policy. We have the foreign affairs and economic debates still to come. Where were the questions on housing, energy security, human rights and civil liberties and transport? When will we get them if not in the Domestic debate?
I’m going to call this one a tie between Clegg and Brown. Clegg had the easier job but performed it with gusto – I might even remember who he is next time he’s on telly (equating the unions with Billionaire businessmen will get you remembered by me). Brown defied the very low expectations on him and performed solidly, raising a few laughs and making some excellent points both on Labour promises and the differences between us and the Conservatives.
But why the hell have the Tories been talking Cameron’s chances up all week? He simply couldn’t have achieved the expectation put on him even if he had shown up! As it was he looked tired and weary, unnerved and his stories all seemed a bit fake and a little 70s in their “some of my best friends are 40 year old black men” attitude to diversity. A terribly lacklustre performance, which could have been better managed by his team if they hadn’t put such a premium on how he was going to wipe the floor with Brown on the night.
Finally the bit at the end with the handshakes looked very odd. GB naturally went straight into it and it looked fine, Clegg looked like he was going to follow suit, and Cameron grabbed him back. Clegg wants to watch otu for that – just for a moment, he really looked like Cameron’s junior.