Wednesday 13 May 2015

Election 2015: Where does Labour go from here?

What an total disaster last week's election was for Labour, turning the clock back to the worst election defeat since 1987.

The result highlighted three failings and future challenges for the party. They failed to take votes away from the Conservatives, they lost votes to UKIP in the North and worst of all they were wiped out in Scotland by the SNP. If Labour are ever going to get back into government they need to address these points.

Apparently Ed Miliband and his closet colleagues were aware through their own internal polling that things weren't going their way but this was kept inside Miliband's inner circle.

People have attacked Ed for the way he supposedly stabbed his brother in the back by running for and winning the race to become leader of the Labour Party, but it should be remembered the differences each brother was offering to the party and the country.

David Miliband essentially wanted to continue down the 'New Labour' path while Ed wanted to move away from it. For me this was a legitimate reason to run and is not a sign of so called treachery.

This issue I have is that many people have said Labour lost the election because they were too Left wing. This depends on your definition of Left wing.

There's no doubt Ed has in many people's eyes moved the party away from the centre ground. It's been commonly reported that following the Financial crisis in 2008, Ed believed that the centre ground in British politics had moved sharply to the Left. He was wrong as the election results proved.

However, there are those in the party and those firmly on the left that believe that Labour and Ed weren't left wing enough and point to the success of the SNP in Scotland. This got me thinking about what Labour want to be as a party and who it is they think they are representing.

Does the Labour Party know what it wants to be or who it's meant to represent?

One thing that has baffled me for sometime about Labour is this. The Conservatives had a leader in Margret Thatcher who won three General elections, she is revered and remains an icon of the party. Labour have a leader who wins three General Elections in Tony Blair and he's treated like a slightly embarrassing uncle who nobody wants to invite round to the family party!

Labour seem to view it's 'New Labour' era as an inauthentic period in its history, like a romantic relationship which they look back on and think: What was I thinking of'.

Here's the stark truth for Labour, if you take away Tony Blair's 3 election victories, Labour have failed to win a solid majority in an election since the 1960s so Blair and New Labour was clearly successful and attractive to the electorate.

Reading comments on the Guardian (something I'm going to stop doing) you commonly hear comments that Blair was 'Tory lite' that Ed Miliband is not much better, that Labour has abandoned the very principles it was founded for. But what do these people actually want?

When I was growing up, the then Labour leader, Neil Kinnock was accused of being to right-wing. Do people on the left want Michael Foot, Harold Wilson, Clement Atlee?

Labour seem to live in this romantic past, congratulating itself on its triumphs of building the welfare state, of creating the NHS, these should of course be remembered but we're now in the 21st Century and the challenges and achievements of the last century are not always relevant to today.

When I compare Labour and the Conservatives, a characteristic of conservatism is defined by slow evolution. What has made the Conservative Party so successful over the last 150 years is that they've always managed to evolve and adapt and remain relevant to the electorate and the changing society. When I think about the Conservative Party I think about pragmatism over ideology, although this was reversed under Thatcher.

Labour is a party that in many ways has more of a soul than the Tories. Those on the Left tend to be more ideological, with firm and at times dogmatic beliefs. By capturing the middle ground Tony Blair embraced more pragmatism by attempting to break away from previously held beliefs and policies (I'm thinking Clause 4 here).

After being roundly rejected by the electorate, the Labour Party have to figure out how to continue appealing to their core voters but at the same time appealing to the wider electorate. There were many things about 'New Labour' that appealed to the electorate and as part of the process of thinking what the party should stand for, they should look back at recent history to see what proved to be successful rather than rejecting it.

Do Labour grimly hold onto the founding beliefs and principles or do they start adapting to the realities of Britain in the 21st Century?

They can still make up ground in the 2020 election, 70 seats will give them the chance to look at a possible minority government but there's a huge amount of work to do in the next five years.

Monday 11 May 2015

Election 2015: How did we all get it so wrong?

I've had a few days to reflect on last Thursday’s election result and I'm still in a state of shock from last week's result.

Scroll down to my earlier blog last Wednesday and I said this would be an election without winners. How wrong was I! In my defence nobody else predicted the result and there are far more experienced political pundits and pollsters than me who also got it wrong.

The moment the BBC's David Dimbleby announced the exit polls at 10:00 my reaction of: Are you kidding me, was probably echoed across the country. Earlier in the day on my lunch break I decided to place bet on the outcome of the election. Few of the odds on offer really appealed to me except for one. The Conservatives to form a minority government with odds at 9/2. I felt very confident that would be the outcome with the Conservatives winning between 300 - 310 seats. A Conservative majority never ever occurred to me.

Last week I said this would be an election without winners, well clearly the Conservatives won. They won because ultimately David Cameron was viewed as a more credible Prime Minister than Ed Miliband. Secondly, the Conservatives won the argument on the economy.

They've been competent at managing the economy and reducing the budget deficit. Competent isn't exciting or sexy but it doesn't need to be, Labour never managed to convince the electorate they could be trusted.

It's a great personal achievement for David Cameron, he's not universally popular amongst bank-bench Tory MPs and there were many who were unconvinced by him due to his failure to win an outright majority in 2010.

They can't complain now as he's delivered on that front and increased the number of seats and share of the vote, something Margret Thatcher and Tony Blair never achieved. However, just like John Major's unexpected 1992 election victory, Cameron may face problems from troublesome back-bench right-wingers during the next five years.

So what about the losers. I feel sorry for the Lib Dems, I knew they would take a hit but I expected they'd still have at least 30 MPs left - instead they have 8. They've been destroyed and it may take at least 30 years for them to get back to pre-election levels.

I admired Nick Clegg's decision to enter into coalition in 2010 but in hindsight it was a suicide note for the party. I read over the weekend that German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Clegg that the smaller junior partners in coalitions always suffer in elections.

She was right but I do think the Lib Dems deserved better. It would have been too easy to sit on the sidelines being a party of protest, instead they took the risk of having an opportunity to go into government and have some genuine power and influence. Unfortunately their legacy will most likely be that in the event of any future hung parliament, no small party will ever consider going into coalition again. That's understandable but I feel it's a shame in many ways.

And finally we go to the Labour Party.

On Friday I sent a text message to a good friend who's a Labour councillor in South London. I told him the result was an unmitigated disaster for Labour. During the last month Ed Miliband had what I and many people considered was a good campaign. For so long he struggled to convince people that he was a credible candidate to lead the country, but in the last month he seemed to grow in stature and looking at the opinion polls it started to feel that he could actually do this.

Last Thursday's result simply proved that those of us who had our doubts were right all along. Ed Miliband is a decent and principled politician who is in politics for all the right reasons. He genuinely wants to make a difference but he got it wrong, and his vision and view of Britain and what the country needs was roundly rejected.

I will discuss Labour's election defeat in further detail in my next blog but he was the wrong choice for Labour leader and the last five years have been a failed experiment.

The biggest losers: The pollsters

The 1992 election which I remember vividly is seen as the last time the pollsters got their predictions horribly wrong. This election was a complete disaster! I actually feel like I'd been lied to for the past few months, apart from the prediction of the SNP winning most seats in Scotland everything else wrong. Even my favourite political forecaster, the American Nate Silver got it wrong. Can we ever trust them again?

Over the weekend the Times reported that some of Labour's internal polling revealed they were behind the Tories but this was kept quiet. We know about the phenomenon of 'Shy Tories' but did everyone underestimate David Cameron's advantage over Miliband and the fact the Tories were trusted more on the economy? Just those two things should have indicated the the Tories would be ahead of Labour.

Wednesday 6 May 2015

Election 2015: An election with no winners

Tomorrow the General election will take place, an election which by Friday evening will leave more questions than answers.

We already know that no party will get anywhere near achieving a majority in Parliament, and we can expect days if not weeks of further discussions and negotiations on who will form the next government.

When I think about this campaign and look back on British politics over the last few years, I've come to the conclusion that both the Conservatives and Labour have a number of serious long term issues to address regardless of tomorrow's result.

I've said earlier that looking at a number of factors objectively, such as the economy, levels of unemployment, job creation and David Cameron's personal popularity, the Conservatives should win quite comfortably. The thing is they're not. The Tory brand is still tarnished, many people refuse to consider voting Tory.

They lack a presence in many of Britain's major cities in the North and Midlands and are non existent in Wales and Scotland. Across London and other cities BME (Black, minority and ethnic) voters have a bigger influence but the Tories just don't seem capable of tapping into this vote.

Labour are little better, no presence in the South outside of London, looking at electoral meltdown in Scotland, a leader who has exceeded expectations but whose level of popularity remains low. A party that isn't trusted on the economy and despite moving to the left and leaving behind its 'New Labour' past is still struggling to get support above 35% of the electorate.

It doesn't matter who 'wins' and when I say win we're probably looking at one party getting somewhere between 280-300 seats. No party has nationwide support or confidence of the country.

For all the promises made in the party manifestos, no party is going to be in a position to push through all their policies as they won't have the numbers in parliament.

Tomorrow's election is all about who can lose best which is a pretty depressing scenario to consider but that's where we're at. We don't have a party, a leader or a political system anymore that can deliver a solid mandate and appeal to a large enough section of the electorate. As a result we're going to have a messy result tomorrow followed by even more messy political dealings to form the next government.

Hope you're looking forward to it.

Friday 1 May 2015

Politicians should leave the wealthy alone - they already contribute more than their fair share?

This week the Sunday Times published its annual rich list for the 2015. It's something I always read mainly out of curiosity but this year particularly with an election this month, the list had greater significance.

Since the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition came into power in 2010 the country has experience significant spending cuts in an effort to reduce the budget deficit, for many people the last 5 years has been tough we stagnant wages and a cut in benefits. At the same time Britain or should we say London is home to some of the world's super rich. People who have not really been affected by the governments cuts and the age of austerity.

With this in mind, I attended last week an event by the Spectator Magazine where a Panel discussed whether or not the super rich should be taxed more or whether they're already paying their fair share.

I decided to go based on the quality of the line up. Chairing the discussion was journalist and presenter of the Sunday Politics show, Andrew Neil. In support of the motion, was Spectator editor Fraser Nelson. Journalist, Toby Young and Conservative MP William Cash.

Opposing the motion and on the left of the political spectrum, were Guardian columnist and author Owen Jones, food blogger and campaigner Jack Monroe and Green MEP for the South West, Molly Scott Cato.

Each panel member was given 10 minutes to talk to the audience and put forward their case on why they believed the wealthy should pay more in taxes or not. Being the political geek that I am, I enjoyed listening to the arguments and the questions at the end from the audience.

My natural default position is that the rich should clearly pay more of their income in taxes and in the pre-debate vote which took place, I voted that the rich should pay more.

The three speakers in favour of leaving the rich alone argued that the wealthiest already contribute a significant amount in income tax. The best-paid 1 per cent pay 25 per cent of the income tax. When put in those terms you start thinking that the rich already pay more than their fair share, but what about VAT.

The poorest in society still pay more in taxes from their overall incomes through VAT then the wealthiest in society. I don't begrudge people who through their own hard work and effort become multi millionaires but I agreed with Owen Jones' view, when he said that the rich can still pay a bit more.

When it comes to taxing the rich, I accept that you have to be pragmatic about it. Tax them too high and some will leave the country and the revenues received actually decrease as was seen in France when President Holland increased the rate of tax to 75% for the wealthiest before having to make a U-turn.

The real issue is when you have a super rich elite that is growing ever richer while people on middle and lower incomes are increasingly struggling - this is where you start to have problems. It's not about class envy it'a about questioning whether that economic model is fair and sustainable.

We keep getting told that the super rich are vital to our economy and to the wealth of the country, if we tax them too much they will leave. But for me, everyone working in this country are contributing to the wealth of the nation, regardless of whether they're earning 10,000 a year or £1 million a year.

I'm against rising inequality and think societies face more problems if the gap between the richest and poorest is too big. Over the last 30 - 35 years this neo-Liberal economic consensus has lead directly to this gap widening.

As I mentioned in my last blog, those in favour of the status quo face a big problem in trying to convince people who are turning to populist left wing parties that the present system still work for them. You can't keep championing the current system of lower taxes for the rich when the majority of ordinary people see no gain in their own living standards.

The rich can increase their wealth, I just don't believe the levels of growth in their incomes should outstrip the majority of people by such huge amounts. Sadly this is the situation we've got. Supporters of free markets, capitalism and wealth creators can argue all they like in favour of the super rich, this situation will lead to serious problems in the future.

At the end of last week's debate, the audience got to vote again on the motion put forward - the final vote was in favour, although I decided I was undecided.

I don't know why voted that way when I still feel in my heart that the rich should pay more because they can afford to and because in the long term it's better for all of us.