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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It is far too early to tell what effect the News International scandal is going to have on the future of the British media. It is even too early to tell what effect it will have on the premiership of David Cameron and the fate of the Tories.
But something was different this week. The narrative shifted. The opposition reported in the press was all Labour. The Lib Dems have been nowhere to be seen. No longer was the story “coalition splits” but about the tireless campaign of two Labour backbenchers Tom Watson and Chris Bryant and the effective dissection of Cameron by Ed Miliband at PMQs and in the media since.
Will this be permanent? Probably not. Splits are an interesting story. Lib Dems complain that the media don’t understand coalition when they report on splits, but frankly this is for show. The fact is they are desperate to burnish their oppositional credentials and being the opposition within is a perfect way both of doing so and of cutting Labour out of the picture. Those who complain about it now will miss it if – as I predict – it slowly ebbs away.
It’s possible the Govenrment will decide not to oppose Labour’s motion on Wednesday. That they will play a statesmanlike “not every party has the monopoly on wisdom” role, and minimise their defeat by being seen as colluding in the right decision. This kind of tactical U-turn is hardly unheard of from David Cameron. But from all we’ve heard so far that doesn’t seem likely. Some of the key parts of the Conservative family are already on the offensive. It does not feel like a coincidence that the day we learn that senior News International journalists have threatened to make it personal about Ed in retailiation for his rightly attacking the position of Rebekah Brooks, Conservative Home have started to attack Ed’s spinner Tom Baldwin. How neatly coordinated.
What Cameron will have to decide is whether to swallow a humiliating defeat with his party on the wrong side of public opinion in the belief that the News International empire will rise again. And rise with enough clout to have been worthy of all this pain and of the humiliation the Prime Minister is taking now. Will rise and support him and annihilate his enemies. It’s not totally unlikely. As I posted on Thursday, Nothing solid has changed yet. The banks remain unregulated and unrepentent, the press may well do so too.
Wednesday’s opposition day debate will be a test for the Lib Dems. However, it is one I and most others expect them to pass. We all know that were it not for Vince’s unfortunate premature articulation in front of a giggly blonde that he would have been trying his damndest to put the knackers on the BSkyB deal. We know it’s what the Lib Dems want. What Clegg and his party have to decide is do they want it enough to defeat the Government?
What will the Lib Dems in Government do? What will their backbenchers do? This feels like it should be a simple question. There’s nothing in the coalition agreement to force them to vote for Murdoch. If they don’t they can prove their mettle and their plaintive cry of being a seperate party. If all the Lib Dems – from Clegg on down vote against, the Tories can be defeated on this issue. But there will be hell to pay for the Lib Dems. They can kiss goodbye to any – even slight – chance they had of Lords reform, for example. I also predict they won’t gain much in the polls either, their invisibility on the issue mean that the public see this as Labour’s thing. Labour have rightly won this issue. Will doing the right thing be worth the political pain for the Lib Dems? I hope so.
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.
I should probably blog about the Budget, but there wasn’t an awful lot to it. In the opinion of this non-economist, there didn’t seem to be enough there to boost growth. The corporation tax is a giveaway to companies already here, but they will continue to be cautious throughout the next few years, particularly as consumer confidence contracts. It won’t trickle down, but they’ll be some happy Tory donors tonight.
I thought Ed’s speech was one of his best performances to date. He was very good with some great lines, and if consumers continue to feel the pinch, the down, down, down and hurting not working lines will get more and more traction.
But there are many, many places to get a better and more detailed analysis of the details of the budget.
What I thought I’d talk about was the stream of post budget press releases that inevitably go along with a big financial announcement from the Government (any government) and the thinking behind them.
Basically, unless your industry or sector has been totally royally utterly screwed, unless you believe it simply couldn’t get any worse, you will always give a reasonably positive headline. If you think you’re mostly screwed, but there is something to be salvaged, you might make that luke-warm (beware the cautious optimists - they do not mean what they say). The detail is in the text.
The always amusing though never purposfully @torypresshq have been tweeting press releases they believe are supportive to the Government. For example, at 15.29 they tweeted
If you just read the headline of that link “Chancellor makes down payment on balanced growth – EEF Budget Response” you might believe it was a glowing tribute to the Chancellor’s measures. But the full text is littered throughout with “but” and “however”. The overall balance of the release has clearly been crafted to keep a decent relationship with the Government, as is essential, but it is overall pretty critical.
The only sector which doesn’t seem to go for the say something positive if at all possible approach is the charity sector. For example here is Scope’s response to the budget http://www.scope.org.uk/news/budget-2011 which strangely @Torypresshq have not seen fit to retweet.
Not all charities are uniformly negative, not all corporate and trade associations are uniformly positive. But if you want the real story on the response to the budget, remember to look beyond the cautiously optimistic headlines.
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.
Here are 11 predictions for 2011 (with some explanation to make it vaguely interesting!). I promise to come back and mark myself honestly this time next year…
1. Ed will still be leader of the Labour Party. Of course he will, we don’t have the money, the stomach or the suicidal insanity to re-fight that fight. That won’t stop the bitching or the briefing but as what most people know becomes ever clear to those who can’t quite see it yet, these will subside.
2. Labour will remain – in aggregate – ahead in the polls. There will be times when we are quite far ahead, and times when the Tories spike. We should treat these imposters both the same. We are a nose ahead and should fight accordingly.
3. Labour will win Oldham East & Saddleworth, but it will be close. In the end, not enough Tories will switch to compensate for the loss of Lib Dem voters to push the Lib Dems over the line. The Libs could possibly have won this with a different candidate, but that we will never know.
4. Labour and the Greens will be the big winners in the local elections, both increasing their numbers significantly at the expense of the Lib Dems.
5. The AV referendum will be closer than I once thought it would be, but it will be lost. I just don’t think enough of the public care enough. I know I don’t – I’m a hack and I don’t even know which way I’ll vote.
6. The coalition will hold, but will falter briefly as after the AV & local election losses, Lib Dems see their polling number increase to about 12-15%. There will be some agitation from the left of the Lib Dems that that’s as good as it’s going to get and they should take that opportunity to leave. The leadership will tough it out. They will succeed in doing so as unless there is a new war, the totemic issues for the left have already been capitulated on.
7. This will strengthen the Tory right and Cameron will have to give them something. It probably won’t be hunting as the polling and imagery is too bad, it probably can’t be Europe, so I suspect there will be something on either tax cuts or immigration or both.
8. Gove will be reshuffled into a role he can’t screw up so publically.
9. There will be at least two more cabinet resignations, and at least one will be a big beast. Neither will be Vince Cable who missed his chance to make a difference, and is nicely neutered as far as Clegg and the Tories are concerned.
10. The 10% cut to Housing Benefit will be dropped from the Welfare Bill.The Lib Dems will claim this as a victory despite a lot of the other pernicious stuff that will remain.
11. There will be at least one quarter of negative GDP and unemployment will rise.