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Showing posts from April, 2010

It is the economy not Mrs Duffy that is "a disaster"

Yesterday is not a day that Gordon Brown will want to relive. He misheard a Labour supporting widow talking about immigrants: she said "flocking", not the well-known expletive. He ranted a little about it in his limousine, and sine his microphone was still live, it was picked up. He then went to make a probably rather insincere apology- which since Mrs Duffy will not now vote Labour was clearly not really accepted. This frankly trivial incident has nevertheless led to the biggest media furore of the entire election campaign, and people are talking now about a Labour meltdown. Meanwhile, something far more serious has been relatively unreported. Yesterday the European sovereign debt crisis took a drastic turn for the worse. The Greek government can not stabilise their finances without growth, but the collapse of global trade has destroyed their shipping sector, and their failure to tackle their competitiveness problems now makes Greek unit labour costs more than twice that of

Why the Tories do not deserve a majority

Amidst all the media hype it is easy to get lost amid smoke and mirrors: The fact is that the betting and the reality of this election is that the Conservatives are set for a majority government, even upon no more than 36% of the vote. The fact that the Tories genuinely believe that 36% qualifies them for 100% of the power is why the Conservatives should not be given such power. The Liberal Democrats are going to face attacks from all sides in the last week of this election: and we are more than capable of dealing with the smears and untruths that the other sides are spreading. The fact is that the economic crisis is systemic, and so is the political crisis. Swapping red for blue will not change the system, it will merely validate it. Unless the Liberal Democrats can disrupt the system, then the Tories will win- and within 6 months will be the most unpopular government in British history. The deep desire of the British people is to change the system that allowed Tory MPs to claim for

The Conservatives doublethink on change

The spectacular breakdown of the financial industry and the drastic economic upheavals that have followed, left most politicians struggling simply to keep up with events. The exposure of a ramshackle, and slightly corrupt system of expenses in Parliament has hugely discredited the political class. All of this left voters very angry, fearful and frustrated. The general feeling is one of contempt for politicians in general and -as they were in government- for Labour in particular. So, despite the fact that Conservatives were more guilty than most on the expenses farrago, and despite the fact that George Osborne has earned little more than mockery amongst business and financial leaders, the Conservatives could have looked a reasonably fair bet to take over the government. However, even that would not have been easy: the electoral system, which the Tories still support, nevertheless has been working against them in recent years. The number of seats that the Tories need to win is quite di

The downfall of the Labour Party?

How much worse can it get for Labour? The trend in the polls looks pretty awful for them, and there is clearly no atmosphere of peace and love in their campaign either. Judging by the ground war, Labour seem very short of money and very short of activists. There is a real chance that Labour will come third in votes already. The question that is going to be asked pretty soon is whether the scale of the Labour collapse gets so big that they start to lose a large number of seats. This asks two more questions: which seats and to which of the other two parties ? A Hung Parliament is still pretty likely - if the polls stay roughly where they are. If, however, Labour falls significantly below their current polling average of about 27%, which was thought to be pretty much their core vote, then it could get pretty catastrophic for them. In 1997 we saw Labour elected on an unexpected and unprecedented landslide. Could 2010 see them removed in an unprecedented and unexpected obliteration? For

Clegg cruises in the debate

Just to add my sixpence worth on the second leaders' TV debate. I think Brown and Cameron raised their games. Nick Clegg was a bit flatter than last week, but he was still scored as either first (by most observers) or very close second to Cameron (by Tory supporters). Despite the attempt to smear the Liberal Democrats back down in the polls, and to launch personal attacks on Clegg ahead of the debate, Nick Clegg was generally unruffled and again did well. That Cameron did better than last time is not enough: he needed to obliterate the memory of the last bravura performance from Nick Clegg- and he couldn't do it. Although he tried to talk to the camera, he was more clunky- it was obviously something he had been told to do, and it looked uncomfortable. This was not the game changer that it needed to be for the Tories. I think that the third debate will not be a game changer either. We will need to absorb the impact of the concerted Conservative smear campaign against the Libe

The Liberal Democrat surge is killing the Dead tree press

I do not think I have ever seen such a concerted attack by the press against one man in a single day. The range of headlines from the Daily Mail "Clegg in Nazi slur on Britain", The Sun "Wobble Democrat", The Daily Telegraph "Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem donors and the payments into his private account", The Daily Express "Clegg's crazy immigration policy", the FT , "Clarke unleashed to attack Liberal Democrats", Metro "Lib Dems plan new house tax". The problem for the press is that the attack is so random, it looks rather like a drunk in a pub car park: full of noisy rage, but not actually focused enough to land much of a punch on their opponent. The message from this spasm in the newspapers is not that the Liberal Democrats are crazy, corrupt, or even Nazis (a sure sign that the Mail has lost it there, I think): it is that a large block of vested right wing interests are desperate to stop the Liberal Democrats at any co

Breaking the Mould

As another poll puts the Liberal Democrats on top, it is pretty clear that whatever happens over the next few days, the party is going to reach levels of support not seen for nearly a century. To be absolutely frank, it is a fantastic but daunting prospect. The party will immediately face two crises: one will be the constitutional wrangling of a minority Parliament, the second will be the continuing economic crisis. Barring a fluke, there seems no chance for the Conservatives or Labour to form a majority government, and the Parliament seems set to be "well hung" (not a tribute to Nick Clegg's supposed potency, but to the fact that the Liberal Democrats could choose between the other two parties as to who they wanted to work with). Indeed there is an outside chance that the Liberal Democrats could end up with a plurality of seats, though this is still, for the moment, less likely. In any event, the sharp surge in support for the Liberal Democrats of the kind the polls a

The Liberal Democrats and the new media

Interesting times to be a Liberal Democrat. One feature of the campaign that is only slowly being picked up is that the contest is shifting from the old battlefield of newspaper columns to the new battlefield of the new media: not just blogs, but Facebook and the rest of it. This is undermining a key advantage for both Labour and the Conservatives: the influence of the press. At the last election only The Independent was prepared to endorse the Liberal Democrats, while all the others endorsed to other two parties. That position seems set to be repeated. The Conservatives will gain the support of the Murdoch media, and doubtless hang on to the motley crew of the Daily Express , the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph . Labour will keep the Daily Mirror and The Guardian. None of it may make any difference. The fact is that the old system of newspapers endorsing political parties (and often gaining knighthoods and peerages for their editors) smacks of 19th century patronage. This e

Tory Panic at Lib Dem advance

The opinion polls have made very interesting reading this morning. I imagine that the Conservative and Labour leadership and their advisers are feeling somewhat concerned about their prospects. Both parties are going backwards in this campaign. The problem that both Labour and the Conservatives face is that the surge in support for the Liberal Democrats is not just about the good performance that Nick Clegg put in to the first television debate- though this may have come as a surprise to them, used as they are to Prime Minister's question time, where he is usually marginalised. The fact is that Liberal Democrat support was already growing well before the debate took place: Vince Cable had already won the Chancellors debate, and the Liberal Democrat manifesto was also well received. The " Clegg surge" has not come out of a clear sky: there had already been signs that the Liberal Democrats were set for a good performance. The other two parties are now facing something th

After the debate

Victor Hugo once wrote that " On résiste à l'invasion des armées; on ne résiste pas à l'invasion des idées", which is usually translated as "There is no power on Earth that can resist an idea whose time has come ". Amidst the Liberal Democrat euphoria after the decisive victory of Nick Clegg in the leader's debate, a few people have become rather excitable about the prospects for the party this election. The immediate, dramatic moves in the first opinion polls do not yet mean that the Liberal Democrats are poised for government. However, what they do mean is that the voters may now be prepared to listen the the party's ideas in a way that they were not doing previously. It may also mean that the threat from the Conservative Party in many of our own seats has now been checked- though even this is far from certain. It probably does mean that several hoped-for gains may now materialise. In short, the Liberal Democrats may be able to hold what they hav

Mood Music

I see Ken Clarke believes that the Scottish Conservative manifesto should " strike a chord " with the Scottish people ... Alas I think he is mistaken , I think it is more likely to ring a bell - and the dwindling support for the Conservatives north of the border seems set to continue : having hoped for at least five seats , they are now favourites in only two . The Conservatives thus seem set to remain very much a party on the fringes of Scottish politics . People have not forgotten nor forgiven the outrageous way that the Conservatives behaved under both John Major and Margaret Thatcher . As we await the first television debate , it will be interesting to see if Mr . Cameron has truly " decontaminated " the Conservative brand - he doesn 't seem to have done so in Scotland at any rate.

Watching the Leaders debate

Alas! I will be in Vilnius speaking at an economics conference, so will not be able to watch the first leaders debate- at least not live. It is quite a moment - the first time anything like this has happened in British electoral history. The historic excuse for not doing so was ostensibly because the British system is Parliamentary, not Presidential. However, as power has been centralised on 10 Downing St, so the resistance to the idea of a debate has fallen. It will be - of course- a highly managed affair, though David Cameron tried to pretend today that the rigid restrictions were nothing to do with him, in fact the Tory minders, such as Andy Coulson, pretty much dictated the rules: so if Mr. Cameron thinks the debate might be "slow" he has only himself to blame. In fact Cameron is on very thin ice- he has a record of breaking down at interviews, the latest with Gay Times , was particularly excruciating, but he has also done it on Sky too. It is no wonder that he is trying

Politics and Anti-Politics

The 2010 general election campaign is now just over a week old, and much about it so far has been fairly predictable. However one thing has turned out not to be predictable: the way that disenchantment with the British political process is leading to considerable support for a new Parliament where no party has complete control. In fact in my lifetime, no political party has ever attained a majority of the vote, however with the exception of just a few months in 1974 and 1979, the electoral system has usually delivered a majority to the largest minority- except in 1974, where the Labour Party gained more seats, but actually obtained less votes than the Conservatives: in other words, the electoral system can sometimes deliver some pretty erratic results. Usually, however, the bulk of MPs are elected for seats which are not competitive for other parties, the so-called "safe seats"- it takes such an exceptional set of circumstances to change the political party in those seats, th

Orła Białego się na Ziemię - The curse of Katyn

The death of President Lech Kaczynski is hard to write about. It bears so many echoes of the great tragedies of twentieth century Polish history. President Kaczynski is the third leader of Poland to suffer sudden death: The first President of the Second Republic, Gabriel Narutowicz, was assassinated, and of course the wartime Prime Minister, General Wladyslaw Sikorski was killed in plane crash in 1943. It is the death of Sikorski, rumoured, but never proven to be at the instigation of Stalin, that brings the most terrible echoes to Polish ears. Nor was President Kaczynski the only head of state to die on the plane in Smolensk. The last President-in-exile of the Second Republic, Ryszard Kaczorowksi, was also on the plane. When Lech Walesa was sworn in as the first President of the Third Republic, it was from President Kaczorowski that he took the insignia of office, while the insignia of the "Polish People's Republic", worn by General Jaruzelski was retired to a museum. T

Fighting the Election

There is a sharp difference between fighting the election as a candidate- as I did last time- and merely campaigning, or even observing. The process of being a candidate is all absorbing- and requires considerable concentration. The process of campaigning is a much less demanding role- though it too can be exhausting, as long hours and often repetitive jobs, like envelope stuffing, take their toll. I wonder, though, whether as a candidate I might not have noticed the extraordinary turn that the 2010 election seems to be taking. The battle remains tight. The result of this election remains genuinely unclear. From the perspective of the Liberal Democrats, however, this election is already shaping up to be one of the best results that I have ever known. Reports from across the country suggest that the party is gaining ground in seats that it is challenging in, and holding off the competition in seats where it is being challenged. The party has gained some momentum in the latest polls:

No longer waiting for Gordon

The prolonged agony of the non-election in the UK finally seems set to reach its culmination: Mr. Brown is going to the Palace to start the election campaign. I think that the feeling across the country will be relief. This coy game of "guess the election date" at times has tipped into farce, and sets pretty low standards in the banality of much of our political life. Sadly I fear the campaign is already set to be an exchange of simplistic half-truths, rather than the informed discussion about the future of the country that it ought to be. Politics has about the same following as the Highland League, so I guess we should not be surprised that the metaphors are all about the kind of loyalty that one gives a football team, rather than a debate about ideas and policies. It is depressing nonetheless to see how little we are able to understand the policy platforms on offer from Labour or the Conservatives: they have explained little or nothing about what they intend to do. In p

Ruin in a Nation

"There is a great deal of ruin in a nation" - Adam Smith Returning to the UK, I see the familiar streets subtly changed by the passing of the seasons. The electoral season is, of course almost with us- the general assumption being- hopefully- that Mr. Brown will go to the Queen to request a dissolution on Tuesday, for a general election on May 6 th . The past week has seem a slew of improving economic numbers: in particular a sharp recovery in manufacturing, exports and GDP growth. Some of these numbers are more in line with what expectations were in November, before a run of truly awful figures caused me- amongst others- to revise down their forecasts. The huge depreciation in the currency does finally seem to be having an effect. Nevertheless the economic outlook is uncertain and unstable at best. Even if we have indeed turned the corner on the last two years of economic recession, the impact of the gigantic increase in debt that we have taken on will be felt for decades.