Tuesday 21 April 2015

Election 2015: Can the right respond to left-wing populism?

One of the most significant things to emerge from this election campaign has been the rise of the smaller parties and in particular the rise of parties that are firmly on the left of the political spectrum.

In last week's leaders debate we had three of them in The Green Party, the SNP and Plaid Cymru. All are campaigning for an end to austerity, higher taxation for the rich and further government spending and borrowing.

Last week I read an article in the Spectator magazine talking about this rise of left-wing populism: Left-wing populism is on the rise – and may take Ed Miliband to No10

Being a centre-right political magazine, the Spectator obviously did not hide its concerns about this growing left-wing support but it got me thinking about a number of issues.

Conservative politicians, business leaders, and political commentators can complain all they like about left wing anti austerity parties with their irresponsible and naive economic plans but they need to ask the question why are people turning to the left?

It's not just here in the UK either. We've seen similar left-wing anti-austerity parties in Europe with Syriza winning last year's elections in Greece and the rise of Podemos in Spain.

People are fed up with austerity, government cuts and declining living standards. Here in the UK, the Conservatives can argue how they've got the economy back on track, brought a return to growth, created more jobs and reduced unemployment but they're not pulling away in the polls. The truth is many people don't feel as if the recovery has had any great affect on them.

This is the problem the right has in this election and across Europe. What are they offering as an alternative to the populist left apart from more austerity and cuts?

The left has grown in popularity because the current economic system appears to be failing so many people. Greedy bankers, the financial crisis, austerity who is benefiting from this?

Those on the right of the political spectrum have to respond to this and explain why and how capitalism and the free market can benefit the many and not just the few.

Thinking about this it reminded me of a blog I wrote back in 2011 entitled: Are you part of the 99%

I wrote it in response to the Occupy Wall St protests, which along with the 99% movement protested against wealth inequality and corporate greed. Many of those themes are still prevalent today and have been taken on by many of the left wing parties in the UK and across Europe.

Since the financial crash in 2008, capitalism has been in crisis. If capitalism and free markets are only going to benefit a small elite what is it for? It's no surprise we're seeing the growth of populist left-wing movements - this is the backlash!

It's up to the right to start coming up with a response to this.

Monday 13 April 2015

Election2015: Predicting the future

Are you enjoying the election campaign? Perhaps some of you are fed up of it already and can't wait for it to be over.

As much as I'm a political geek, I want the election to be tomorrow rather than having to wait another 3 and a half weeks enduring the campaigning. It feels like we've been campaigning for the last 12 months!

We're now being bombarded by policy promises from the two main parties, telling us how they're going to reduce the deficit, how much money they will spend on the NHS, and who they'll give tax breaks to. It can feel like being in a room listening to lots of people shouting where you can't actually understand what's being said or who to listen to you.

My problem with the election at the moment is that you hear all of these pledges and promises but how do you know whether any of the parties will deliver them? It's easy to be cynical and say they'll say anything to get people's vote, but when one party says they will reduce the deficit how do we know it will happen in the next 5 years?

Maybe I've reached that age where I've watched enough politicians and seen enough elections to question how many policy commitments actually come into effect. Who can forget in 2010, the Lib Dems pledge to abolish student tuition fees. We all saw how long that lasted once the Lib Dems got into government.

I've started thinking more about how we can make predictions about the future after reading a book by the American writer and statistician Nate Silver, it's called the Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction. Silver came to many people's attention in 2012 when he accurately predicted the results of every single state in the 2012 US Presidential election.

The book looks at how we routinely fail to forsee or predict significant events, ranging from the 2008 financial crisis to natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

It's one of those books that's had a big influence on me, and one of the things I've taken from it is that when we try and think about what will happen in the future, sometimes we have to accept that we don't know. We don't have enough information, evidence or data to be able to predict what will happen.

Going back to the election, how do I know whether Tory plans for spending an extra 8 billion on the NHS will make a significant improvement? How do I know whether Labour will be economically more responsible and better equipped to manage the economy than the Tories?

I don't know and I can't predict what will happen. Who knows what economic or political events may take place in the next few years which could impact on each party's plans? In the end I'm just left with my own gut instincts and political beliefs and prejudices to go on. I don't feel I can predict anything with great certainty.

To echo the title of Nate Silver's book, I'm hearing a lot of noise from the parties but I can't make sense of it. I don't know if there is enough evidence for me to confidently believe in one policy pledge or another. Where are the hard facts and stats I can rely on?

Sunday 5 April 2015

Election2015: Leaders debate: What I learned

Did you enjoy the leaders debate last week?

I have to admit I was sceptical to begin with. I wasn't sure whether having all 7 party leaders would allow each leader the opportunity to put forward their thoughts and policies on the various issues. I was wrong, in the end I enjoyed it. Perhaps because of the novelty value in the fact we've never seen anything like it in British politics before.

There were no clear winners or losers and things certainly got better after we progressed passed the pre-scripted opening arguments. As entertaining as the debate was, I don't think it will change the opinions or voting intentions of many of those people watching. The leader that perhaps impressed the most (certainly on my twitter feed) was SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon.

I was impressed and it says a lot about the work both her and her predecessor Alex Salmond have done with the SNP in the last decade that they are now in a position to exert real influence on who governs Britain. It's no surprise that the backlash has emerged with stories alleging that she would prefer David Cameron to remain in Downing Street.

The biggest thing I've taken from last Thursday's debate is that it highlighted quite starkly how British politics has fragmented from the old two party system. We know that no party is going to win an outright majority but it feels like we're entering a new era in British politics where coalitions will now be the norm.

When I think about things objectively I actually think that the Conservatives should win this election. David Cameron is considered a better leader than Ed Miliband, the Tories are seen as being more competent at managing the economy and employment figures are positive with more people in full time employment. Taking this into account why aren't the Tories odds on for victory next month?

It's simple, the Conservative Party is a tainted brand and they're simply not liked. The election victories of Margaret Thatcher may have made the party the dominant force in British politics during the 80s but one of her legacies is to leave a party that many people simply will not vote for. With the Tories unlikely to gain a majority next month, by the time we get to the 2020 election the Tories will have failed to win an election outright for 30 years!

The Labour Party despite not being trusted on the economy and having a leader with an image problem are still popular but they like the Conservatives face an identity crisis. It's unclear what Labour stand for. They're not reaching out beyond their core vote in the way they did under Tony Blair.

The irony is that despite his three election victories, Blair is seen almost as an embarrassment by some figures in the Labour Party. It's as if the New Labour era was some embarrassing episode in the Party's history. They may have elected Miliband to return Labour back to its roots but Labour have been losing support to the SNP in Scotland and both UKIP and the Green Party in England and Wales.

With both major parties dealing with this crisis of identity the smaller parties have been able to take centre stage in a way we've never seen before. The Lib Dems are feeling the squeeze, no longer are they a party of protest when they have been in government for five years - they're going to take a hit in next month's election.

It's tough on them but I actually admire Nick Clegg's decision to go into coalition with the Tories. They had an opportunity to go into power and try and influence change, they're now going to pay for it but they've struggled to tell a story to the public on what they've done and what they currently stand for.

Finally we've seen rise of the protest vote on both the left and right of the political spectrum. UKIP's support has been on the rise for sometime but the level of support for the Green Party has been significant in the last 6 months. So we have the politics of populism and fear verse the politics of idealism. Given the choice I'll always go with the Green's politics of idealism - UKIP's vision of Britain doesn't bare thinking about.

With next month's election being the most difficult to forecast in decades I'm going to foolishly make my own prediction. I predicted a hung parliament back in January 2010 but I can't confidently say my prediction will be correct this time. Here goes.

There will be no proper winners it will be about who can lose the best. The Conservatives will emerge with the biggest number of seats but it will be below 300 and not enough for a majority and probably to few to continue as a minority government. Difficult to see how they could continue in coalition with the depleted Lib Dems so it will be left to Labour to try and form a government with perhaps an informal agreement with the SNP. It will be a mess and something none of us are used to dealing with but I'm sure we'll get used to it.