Together in election dreams

You can find one or two brave souls who are willing to put a positive spin on Ed Miliband’s speech to the Labour party conference yesterday. But the dominant view among the commentariat seemed to be that it all felt rather flat and unfocused. Given this was the last big set piece before the General Election that has got to be a worry for the Labour party. Hasn’t it?

Miliband’s omission of the passage on the deficit generated a lot of excitement, although it seems likely that this was a genuine failure of memory rather than a strategic omission. He would surely have realized that any such intentional omission would be jumped on, given that it had been pre-briefed to the media. He would, wouldn’t he?

I’m not surprised Miliband forgot some of the speech. Not just because it was long, but because it lacked much shape. I wasn’t able to watch the speech being delivered but I’ve read it and it lacks any clear structure or sense of direction. It also lacked much in the way of light and shade; highs and lows. I’m not sure it will keep students of political oratory detained for very long, except perhaps as a salutary lesson on the pitfalls of overdoing the empathy and attempts at humanisation.

Others have been more scathing. After spending several paragraphs picking out some modest positives from the speech John Rentoul finishes by summarizing with this zinger: [Read more...]

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Liberal Democrat travails over the bedroom tax

Well, well, well. It turns out that the bedroom tax isn’t such a good idea after all.

Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander have U-turned on the policy, ostensibly in the light of the (delayed) publication of interim report of the DWP evaluation. The report indicates that the policy largely isn’t achieving the objectives set for it.

Early tabloid headlines announcing that the Liberal Democrats were calling for abolition were misleading. Instead, what Clegg and Alexander would appear to have done is withdraw support for the policy in its current form and adopt a position broadly in line with the motion critical of the bedroom tax passed by Liberal Democrat conference last autumn in Glasgow. To be fair to NC he did state at the time of the Glasgow conference that the independent evaluation would be important in shaping support for the policy. And so, it would appear, it has proved to be. [Read more...]

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Strategic silences

I’ve been thinking a bit since Nick Clegg’s big speech on Monday. It was a speech intended primarily for the party faithful, rather than the broader public. Some of the shifts in position it signalled were only really going to be detected by those with well-tuned antennae.

Some of Clegg’s speech on Monday was as toe-curling as usual. It repeated some tired Coalition tropes. Some passages captured that air of vacuous profundity that you expect from these types of political speeches. But then again I thought some of the substance wasn’t so bad. [Read more...]

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Going down fighting

decision...My goodness the atmosphere around the Libdems is febrile at the moment.

No sooner had it become clear that Friday’s Libdems4change petition was going to fizzle out than we learn of Lord Oakeshott’s freelance polling manoeuvre. It’s almost as if the timing of the leak of the poll results was planned to keep the heat on.

A number of people online referred to Lord Oakeshott as a Scooby Doo villain, but his acrid resignation letter may yet prove to be genuinely damaging not only to Nick Clegg but also to Vince Cable, his preferred party leader. If so then the self-inflicted damage means the comparison with Dick Dastardly might turn out to be more apt.

As Lord Oakeshott disappeared sulphurously into the sunset the next instalment in the saga arrived in the form of a letter to The Times from the co-chairs of the Social Liberal Forum. The letter calls for a review of strategy and approach, including to the leadership. This was initially represented – and indeed was represented by the Times – as another call for Nick Clegg to stand aside. But, to be fair, the letter doesn’t call for that. Not quite. [Read more...]

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Storm in a Libdem teacup?

You might have thought we were currently in the eye of the storm. We’ve been through the pain of seeing more than 300 Libdem local councillors lose their seats. And today the results of the European Parliamentary elections will no doubt bring fresh horrors. So perhaps the intervening period was the time to take a moment to quietly steel ourselves for further bad news.

Not a bit of it. Person(s) unknown thought it a good idea to launch Libdems4change. My first reaction to that title was to think surely all Libdems are for change? They are very much for a fairer and more liberal society than the one we currently have, for a start.

But Libdems4change has a rather more specific agenda. The website sets out the argument that Nick Clegg needs to step aside as leader in order that the party can get a fair hearing in the run up to the General Election next year. Clegg is seen as so unpopular and so untrustworthy that the voters have simply stopped listening. So it’s time for a change. That way it might be possible to prevent electoral annihilation. [Read more...]

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Dissent in the ranks

Modern HousingYou’d expect lefties to kick up a fuss about the Coalition’s austerity-justified policies. An agenda that is having serious negative impacts upon the most vulnerable, while at the same time transferring wealth to the already wealthy, will have a tendency to annoy those who prioritize solidarity, dignity and security over the search for profit and the appeasement of plutocrats.

But that can be dismissed as just so much hot air from the naïve and irresponsible.

The problems really begin when your own people start cutting up rough.

And perhaps we’re beginning to detect that that is what is happening in the housing sphere. [Read more...]

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Insipid centrism

That’s what the Liberal Democrats are risking. That, at least, is the view Jeremy Browne expressed on last night’s Radio 4 programme about Nick Clegg. Chris Huhne wasn’t much more complimentary about the current strategy of trying to situate the party between the two major parties. Huhne felt that defining the party negatively – at least we’re not as bad as Labour on the economy or the Conservatives on just about everything else – isn’t really a very appetizing message. A more positive case for what the party stands for needs to be made.

We could dismiss these views as sour grapes from the rejected and discarded. There might be something to that. But Browne and Huhne are hardly alone. While there are high profile defenders of what we might call the “non-specific centrism” strategy, there are plenty of activists who feel that just parroting “stronger economy, fairer society” all the time hardly adds up to a compelling political offer. And I’m not even thinking of those who would have preferred it to be “fairer economy, stronger society”.

The leadership’s non-specific centrism strategy is now seemingly accompanied by an attempted rapprochement with Labour, presumably in the expectation that a coalition with Labour is viewed as more likely than another coalition with the Conservatives.

It seems to me that pursuing the strategy of publicly courting Labour may make the coalition outcome less likely. [Read more...]

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Ed and Nick go courting

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Today, as might have been anticipated, Andrew Rawnsley took as his subject the apparent thawing of relations between Labour and the Lib Dems. The opinion polls suggest that an outright Labour majority in 2015 is by no means assured. So it makes sense for them to leave the option of plan B open this time around. The major news this week was Ed Balls’ concession that it would be possible to work with Nick Clegg, rather than demand his head on a plate as the price of coalition. Others in the Labour party – notably Tom Watson in the New Statesman yesterday – are, however, holding firm to the Clegg’s-head-on-a-plate option.

[Read more...]

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Recalibrating the savings from the bedroom tax

To be fair to the DWP, ex ante assessment of the impacts of policy change is difficult. Especially when the impacts rely upon behavioural effects that are unknown and unknowable in advance. So when it modelled the savings from the implementation of the so-called bedroom tax it was always going to represent a broad estimate. The DWP quite rightly conducted sensitivity analysis to see how robust its conclusions were to different assumptions on key variables.

However, once the policy is in place real data will begin to emerge and ex ante assessments can be recalibrated. That is what Rebecca Tunstall of the Centre for Housing Research at York has attempted. Her report, published yesterday, has generated considerable political and media interest.

The brief report is well worth reading, for several reasons. [Read more...]

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Browne study

Reshuffle day is for politics nerds as transfer deadline day is for football supporters. You hope for some big name signings and some surprise moves between big clubs, but most of the activity takes place in the lower divisions.

What was the most interesting component of today’s activity? For some it is no doubt Ed Miliband’s so-called culling of the Blairites. The right wing press have already interpreted this as incontrovertible proof of a lurch to the left and a sign that Len McCluskey is the power behind the throne. On the other hand, most commentators seem to see the reshuffle on the Tory side as being rather unexciting. And that that is fundamentally a good thing.

One specific issue which might develop into something interesting is the fate of the housing policy portfolio. It appears that Labour have moved the shadow housing brief up the pecking order to give it greater prominence. Yet the initial impression is that the Tories have demoted the housing brief within DCLG. If that is the case then it is a frankly bizarre move, given that there is general agreement that housing is going to be one of the top half dozen issues in the run up to the General Election. This may be a story that has further to run.

But perhaps the single most interesting move in the reshuffle was the removal of Jeremy Browne from the Home Office and his replacement by Norman Baker. [Read more...]

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