Yes we can! Should Labour be doing more to reach aspirational voters?

Labour has been criticised during this parliamentary term for running what has been seen as a core vote strategy. Within the Party there are mixed views about how best to campaign in and win the forthcoming election. A significant proportion of the party believe Labour is at its best when it offers aspirational voters a chance to see and reach for a better future. However, the more cautious wing believe that the current fragile economic situation does not lend itself to this sort of campaign and that Labour should concentrate on its core vote. This debate has spilled from the party into the media.

The Labour leadership refute claims they have adopted a core vote (35%) strategy based on securing traditional Labour supporters allied with defectors from the Liberal Democrats. They argue they have offered a wide ranging agenda which has been both ambitious and radical. However an analysis of their policies and focus supports the core vote argument.

This is a policy which may prove to be successful for the Labour Party. The electoral system and boundaries still favour the party and if they could reach 35% of the electorate then this would probably be enough to see Ed Miliband into Downing Street. Excluding the more aspirational, middle England voter is a risk though and may back-fire.

Recent history would suggest that Labour has been at its best when it has reached beyond its core base. New Labour were unashamedly aspirational in their approach and attracted many new supporters as a result. The language and rhetoric of “things can only get better” was later echoed by Obama in the US with his “yes we can” campaign.  It made the aspirational feel more comfortable with the party, which was rewarded with three election victories.

The lesson for the current Labour leadership is clear. Move away from the core message and reach out to voters who may not have always voted for the party.  To move beyond being potentially a one term electoral success and a natural party of government Labour must be seen to be on the side of aspirational voters. The current antipathy towards this group, seems at best to be short-sighted, and could ultimately see the party remain in opposition for the foreseeable future.  Labour and Miliband now have a decision to make, one which could have a significant impact on the future of the Labour Party.

Is talk of a grand coalition farfetched?

Talk of coalition (albeit out of the public limelight) is currently very much in fashion at Westminster. Polls pointing towards a hung parliament have led to commentators and pundits speculating about coalitions (formal and informal) and which parties could work together. Of the many potential “marriages” that have been discussed, one has tended to be neglected; a coalition between Labour and the Conservatives.

This possibility was raised and discussed by Lord Baker of Dorking in an interview for the Independent on Saturday. The Conservative peer called for a grand coalition between the major two parties if the SNP held the balance of power in the event of a hung parliament. His comments have been criticised by the Labour Party who have accused the peer of having ulterior motives. However he is not the first political figure to mention this as a possibility, with Labour MP Gisela Stewart also floating it.

A grand coalition between these two parties has happened before, but only in wartime. In peacetime Britain, this has never really been contemplated before. Any coalition between these two parties would hold a comfortable working majority and would not have to worry about getting any legislation through Parliament. A deal between the two parties would also rule out any negotiation, and possible concessions, with other parties, notable the SNP.

Coalitions between major opposing parties have happened and succeeded in other European countries most famously in Germany. However, because of our voting system, the concept of coalition is something we are only just getting used to in this country.  There was considerable drama and excitement about the recent agreement between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. Could the public cope with a deal between these particular parties?

Logic says that such a deal is far-fetched. Lord Baker would of course have known this when he made the comments and was perhaps being mildly mischievous.  Labour will not be helped in Scotland by such talk, and arguably the greatest beneficiaries of such talk is the Tories. Despite both being unionist parties, fundamental political differences between the two parties are substantial and it is hard to see how they could agree on a working platform from which to govern.

These comments did cause some excitement and theoretically a deal is possible, but the honest answer is that it simply won’t happen. There could be many coalitions and alliances after the General Election, but this won’t be one of them.

Should Labour rule out a deal with the SNP?

The current polls still provide us with no clear indication about who will form the next government or indeed whether any single party will have an overall majority. The one thing that does seem clear though is that the SNP are on course to make major gains, notably at the expense of the Labour Party. With Labour seemingly unlikely to win enough seats for an overall majority, the potential of a deal between the two parties has been mooted.

If a formal agreement was to happen, it would prove highly controversial. Only a few months ago the SNP and Labour were on opposing signs of an emotional referendum campaign. By helping the “No” campaign Labour inflicted some deep wounds to the SNP’s cause, wounds that will not easily be forgotten. The SNP has accepted the result of the referendum but their long term aim still remains an independent Scotland and it therefore seem incongruous that an independence party can form part of a United Kingdom government. For many in the Labour Party a deal with the SNP is unpalatable, hence the pressure on Miliband to rule it out.

Despite these differences both parties seem unwilling to publicly rule out the possibility of a deal. Nicola Sturgeon has made it clear she would support a Labour government (albeit on an issue by issue basis) and would be happy to talk to Miliband. Miliband has also refused to rule out a deal, perhaps realising that this is his best opportunity to gain power.

With the polls so close,  Labour are not going to want to show their hand too early and are keen to leave some “wriggle room” and not  to rule out any possibilities at this stage. Any deal is likely to anger traditional Labour supporters and would not be without long term ramifications. However if the choice for the Labour leadership was going back into opposition and seeing Cameron return to 10 Downing Street or doing a deal with the SNP, there is only one option they are likely to push for.

For many unionists seeing the SNP with “the balance of power” in Westminster is perhaps the ultimate nightmare. However with the SNP rise showing no sign of ending, and an overall majority seemingly unlikely it is a possibility we may all have to entertain. Alex Salmond as Deputy Prime Minister, anyone?

Forget 2015, its 2020 UKIP are really planning for!

Are UKIP here to stay and do they have a long term strategy?  Both are questions which have been asked about UKIP since their emergence on the political scene. UKIP’s recent fall in the polls has given weight to the argument they have reached their high water-mark and are on their way down. This however ignores the way our political system works.

For a long time in many Northern heartlands, Labour has faced no real opposition. The perception of the Tories as a party for the rich means they have struggled, and continue to struggle, in the North. The Liberal Democrats have been slightly more successful, but are likely to be hurt by their period in government and could effectively be wiped out in 2015. This leaves an opening for UKIP to exploit. Although unlikely to win many seats this time around, UKIP are likely to finish second in many of the large cities in the North, making them the only real opposition to Labour. This provides a platform to build on for future elections and enables them to benefit from any future disillusionment with a Labour government.

UKIP’s rise in the North is likely to be helped by a Labour led administration after the next election. Labour are committed to harsh economic cuts which are likely to anger many of their more traditional voters. Labour is not offering an EU referendum and with tensions running high, this gives UKIP another dividing line with Labour and enables them to continue their focus on immigration and the EU. The scenario of more cuts and continued high immigration would place UKIP in a position where they could benefit from the disgruntlement felt by many Labour traditionalists and pick up a number of seats in 2020.

Any prediction of UKIP’s demise is surely premature. They were never likely to maintain the high poll ratings they received over the course of last year, but that does not mean they cannot be successful. The nuances of our electoral system mean a political party is rewarded for having concentrated support in specific areas. If they are able to establish themselves as the main opposition to Labour in the North, this is the position UKIP will find itself in after 2015. They would then be in prime position to reap the rewards in the 2020 General Election.

The Monstering of Miliband

In July 2011, in an interview with the Observer, Ed Miliband called for the dismantling of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, then under scrutiny following the phone hacking scandal of the News of the World. The leader of the opposition argued that the power he had accumulated through mass newspaper ownership posed a danger to society. This danger ultimately came from the pervasive power that Murdoch had over the political class through his papers ability to influence public perception.

Since then Miliband has continued to break away from political convention, by attempting to attack, rather than placate, this power. Later that July he questioned the position of Rebecca Brookes, a close associate of Murdoch’s, who had held political influence through friendships with both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. In 2012 he called for the resignation of Jeremy Hunt, the then culture secretary who oversaw the sale of BskyB to Murdoch’s News Corps in the face of monopoly regulations. He has continued to support tighter press regulations and the proposals of the Leveson enquiry. In doing so has made himself a threat to the hegemony of Murdoch’s media empire, but a threat that can be neutralised if he is unelectable.

Fast forward to his speech at the opening of parliament in 2014 ‘Red Ed’ joked about the difficulty of eating a bacon sandwich on national TV. Later in the year, in a speech aimed at challenging his public perception, he went on to make light of his likeness to Wallace. Indeed he is now spoilt for choice in his self-deprecation – from his father who ‘Hated Britain’ to his blunders that make ‘Mr Weirdo’ unelectable. The polls would suggest the tabloids have done their work spectacularly, and it seems that Murdoch’s pervasive power has borne through.

In saying this, it must be pointed out that there is much Miliband could legitimately be criticised for. His inability to properly galvanize a popular platform from which to challenge the coalitions program of austerity is blatant evidence of how close he has sailed Labour to the verge of ideological obsolescence. Such criticism would be a legitimate deconstruction of power by the press, but ‘monstering’ is something different all together. When privately owned newspapers can so effectively alter public perception on the back of trivialities then the principle of the free vote is contorted.

This contortion encapsulates the dialectic of modern democracy. Each has a vote, but only a few have power over that vote. If this power over public perception, over what is popularly considered ‘true’, continues to be consolidated into the hands of a few individuals then the ability to construct bias as impartiality, and the trivial as pivotal, will greatly increase – undermining the whole basis of a free press, and to a degree the democratic process also.

The assassination of Boris Nemtsov- another step towards strengthening of Putin’s power

Last week was sad not only for the Russian democracy, but also for freedom of speech in the country. The opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was brutally murdered in the center of the Russian capital, right in front of Kremlin. The Russian President has condemned the murder of Nemtsov and had accused opposition in the organisation of the execution.  At the same time the state propaganda continued through launching of press conference on the state owned agency Russia Today entitled: ‘Murders of Politicians: the Methods of Maidan’.

However there are some interesting facts, suggesting that motives for that murder are political and have nothing to deal with business interests, as claimed accordingly to another of Putin’s hypothesis. 

Nemtsov was killed just few meters away from Kremlin. It must be noted that the area is under constant surveillance, from police and security services. So it is against the logic, the killers to choose exactly that area for assassination. Also the same day all of the CCTV system were out of order due to maintenance. Another interesting fact is that when Putin became a President for the third time in 2012 he stated, that the opposition will launch attack against some of its own leaders and that will be used to discredit him.

Furthermore according to Nemtsov’s friend Olga Shorina, he was preparing to publish evidence that Russian soldiers are actually involved in the Ukrainian conflict and the Russian citizens who were killed in the conflict are soldiers, not volunteers as claimed by Mr Putin. Last, but not least Nemtsov has planned to organise demonstration against war in Ukraine on first of March. It is most likely that the authorities in Moscow were concerned that such a demonstration might turn as a second ‘Maidan’.

There are a lot of facts suggesting that there is a governmental backup for that murder. Despite the fact that opinion polls among Russian electorate show President Putin to have significant support, it seems that he wants to ensure that his power will be undisputed, by following the famous advice of his predecessor Josef Stalin: ‘When there is a person, there is a problem. When there is no person, there is no problem’.

Can the Tories ever escape their rich party image?

As with most things in life, perception and image are often as powerful as fact and as such are very important to politicians and political parties. Once a particular label is given to a party or an individual it can often be hard to escape this tag. For generations, the Conservatives have been labelled as the party of the rich and that tag follows the current Tory party and leadership who are seen as being on the side of the rich and not understanding the concerns of the ordinary man.

This image is not been helped by the demographic of their current leadership. Labour and other opponents are quick to point out the privileged backgrounds of Cameron and Osborne in particular and how their policies favour their rich peers. Whilst unfair to judge Cameron and Osborne on their background; it is fair to judge them on their policies.

Cutting the top rate of tax from 50p to 45p was always going to be controversial. When trying to claim as Osborne famously did that ‘we are all in this together’ this sort of move sends out a contrary signal. Ignoring any economic logic behind the move, it appears politically foolish. The recent HSBC scandal which has been linked to party funding, also fuels the impression that the party are not as tough on the super-rich as they could be.

The Tory’s annual Black and White Ball has long been used as a fundraising event for the party. Tickets for this event are expensive with attendees given the opportunity to bid to spend time with members of the Cabinet in various leisure pursuits.  Whilst of itself there is no issue with a ball, the way this particular ball is conducted strengthens the perception of privilege and doesn’t aid the Conservatives.

The Conservative Party need to be seen as a party for everyone and have made some positive steps in this regard. There have been policies and reforms in government targeting the less privileged such as increasing the personal tax allowance. However with the help of their critics the focus falls too often of those policies seen to aid the rich and privileged. While this continues to be the case, many “ordinary” voters will remain unconvinced about the party and consequently unwilling to vote for them. In a close election this could be crucial.

A Fine Line on Europe

With the UK General Election fast-approaching, it is a good time to look back and reflect on our government’s successes and failures, and what this could mean for the future.

Our relations with Europe in particular have been dramatic. In the term of this government Cameron has vetoed a EU Treaty change, tried and failed to block the election of Jean-Claude Juncker to the role of President of the European Commission and has generally been ostentatious in his obstructiveness.

In this way we have almost crossed the fine line of no return. Cameron says if he is re-elected there will be an In/ Out Referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. He vows that he will push for a change to the EU freedom of movement, one of the fundamental freedoms on which the Union is founded. If no such revision can be achieved, which it won’t, then he will call for the UK to leave the European Union.

How have we got here? To the brink of leaving a 40 year old Union with our closest geographical and cultural neighbours and biggest trading partners, and them wishing us good riddance.

We cannot just blame Mr Cameron, who is trying to appease both euro-sceptic Tory back-benchers and trying to ‘out-UKIP’ UKIP. Cameron is unwilling to be the third Tory Prime Minister to step down over Europe.

Media misinformation has had a big role to play. National newspapers peddle inflammatory and either misleading or completely wrong headlines. UKIP is riding the protest vote as some parts of the electorate rally out of fear, general hatred of politicians and the current establishment. The rise of UKIP has only hastened what has been ongoing for a long time.

Admittedly, the UK is an island. It is separate and distinct from Continental Europe and indomitable powerhouse that also has close ties with America due to a shared language.

However, it cannot be denied that our relationship with Europe is on the rocks mainly because of internal struggles for power. The public, in some instances ignorant and misinformed, bay for blood. The EU is an easy scapegoat. It is distant and complex; hard to understand and harder still to believe in.

Nonetheless, the EU is the UK’s biggest business partner. Multinational companies are based in the UK for its enviable access to the EU Single Market. The greatest challenges the UK faces in the future are borderless: climate change, terrorism. Cameron is walking a fine line, and the future of the UK walks it with him.

The Latest Cash for Access Stories will only help fuel the anti-politics mood!

Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind are linked by two things. Both have held one of the highest offices in British politics; that of Foreign Secretary; and both are currently suspended from their parliamentary parties. This comes after they appeared to be caught offering their services to a private company for cash after being trapped in a sting set up by the Telegraph and Channel 4’s Dispatches. Presently these remain only allegations and both men have referred themselves to the Parliament’s standards watchdog and have claimed they have done nothing wrong. However the allegations are very serious and that is why both parliamentary parties have been so quick to act.

Both Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind are long standing and well known politicians. They are both big beasts within Parliament and have occupied other prominent roles in their careers. It is not unusual for politicians to be caught out in journalist stings, but it is unusual for it to be two politicians of this calibre and seemingly high standing. This makes the story even more explosive and the implications for politics in general even more serious.

There is already a strong anti-politics mood in the country. Trust in politicians has not recovered from the expenses scandal and this story is only going to add fuel to the fire. It heightens the perception that politicians are only in their jobs for the money and do not care about their constituents. It damages the image and reputation of all at Westminster who become tarred with the same brush.

The winners in this story could be the smaller parties such as UKIP and the Greens. If voters remain angry with mainstream politics and politicians they are likely to look for an alternative. Although perhaps most likely to manifest itself in not voting at all,  this anger provides the smaller parties space to highlight the need for change and to distance themselves from the present incumbents in Parliament.

These are two of our more respected politicians and both have given much to this country. However, if these allegations are proven to be true, than their previous records of service will be forgotten and they will simply be remembered as crooks and money grabbers. This would be a sad personal ending for them and again drags the name of politicians through the gutter taking their reputation ever lower.

Dominic Grieve interview continued..

On young people & terror, rehabilitation: We don’t entirely know, we have some idea why some young people turn to terror. It doesn’t happen by accident. It has a foundation. My best opinion, from many years engaging with the Muslim community in this country is that we cannot exclude the fact that within some sections of the Muslim community there is a lot of anger about quite a lot of things. I’m not suggesting by that that the anger is directed towards advocating terrorism but a sense of injustice to the Muslim world, concern that the Muslim world doesn’t match the high moral framework they would like and in reality it is in many cases, a place in which many people are trying to leave and escape because it doesn’t have basic human rights and the societies are in a very difficult position, often being dominated by tyrants and a sense that historical forces may be to blame, some of those historical forces in some cases are a result of western intervention in the Muslim world in past decades. All those things may be legitimate factors in the debate but they don’t get us away from the reality that if people get angry and manifest long term anger I don’t think we should be entirely surprised that some elements in those communities start to resort to violence. I do happen to think that the foundation of the terrorism which is manifesting itself with young people going off to Syria and Iraq to join terrorist groups and perpetrating in many cases appalling acts is at least in part rooted in their disaffection and anger which they share with other people who don’t do it and so I do think that requires us all, and I should emphasise that it’s not about the Muslim community, but I do think we need to address this underlying issue of anger. Western society has a lot to offer, that’s why many Muslims have come to live here and particularly in this country. There needs to be a better articulation of the advantages of living in a pluralist society rather than at times a denunciation of what it has to offer. That’s one way in which we need to address it. I think that involves as much non-Muslims taking a lead in this because unless you have dialogue, you don’t get people moderating each other’s behaviour which is what flows from dialogue. If in fact there is little engagement and people are leading compartmentalised lives then that will act as a fuel to people becoming estranged and from estrangement can flow the violence. Now when it comes to rehabilitating people I always have the slight sense that it’s almost as if somebody’s got an illness and you’re saying well there must be a cure. If you pay some money you can cure people when they have got this disease. I’m not sure that’s entirely right, I accept that we do need to make effort with people who return from Syria. We can’t coerce them but if they wish and there are issues to be addressed we should be making provision and indeed the government’s prevent strategy is designed to try to do that but in a sense the solution lies in their dialogue. Of course people need to be rehabilitated and actually the legal system is quite sensitive about the motives that people may have had initially about going out to Syria but equally we need to make quite clear that going out to Syria and joining a terrorist  group is almost clearly the commission of a very serious criminal offence, we can’t escape that. So I don’t think there are easy solutions to this but I think that just saying the government’s got to throw money at having people who can rehabilitate individuals coming back form Syria may slightly miss the point. the question is do people who come back from Syria wish to reintegrate into society; what is it that they want and how can others in society help them.

And do you think that the government’s current prevent strategy is working?

Government is doing it’s best in what I think is not an easy environment to find ways to prevent people from turning to radicalisation and if they have been radicalised to try to find programs which persuade them through engagement that in fact their radicalisation is an error and there is a good future for Muslims in the UK, as integrated members of British society yet at the same time able to maintain their own faith which I’m quite confident exists. Most other faiths groups in this country seem to have very little difficulty in combining the two. So of course we need to concentrate on that but I’m rather loathe to criticise; it’s far too early to say whether its succeeding or not, its clearly something we need to pay attention to, and I’m confident the government’s going to continue to do so.