UKIP’s populism in action

As the UK elections are approaching, the uncertainties how the people will vote are increasing. Polls demonstrate that there will be a new political player in the parliament- UK Independence Party.

UKIP is building the majority of its campaign on issues related to immigration and anti- European Union Policies. Every political party needs to have some strategy, but what the UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage did during the TV debate with the other leaders was disgusting. Mr Farage has stated that 60 % of the people diagnosed with AIDS each year are from overseas.  All of the participants in the leader’s debate have condemned Farage’s statement, except the Prime Minister. In the programme of the UKIP is stated that if its measures for insurance of each person coming to the UK are implemented ₤ 2 billion per year will be saved to the UK taxpayers.  However, the reasons of the majority of the immigrants in the UK are economic, instead of intentionally coming to benefit from the so called ‘health-tourism’. The case with the healthcare is different- the immigrants are also paying taxes hence they are also contributing to the UK economy. Why they will need to be double-taxed (to pay taxes and at the same time to pay for health insurance- something that already they have been paid for)?

Another ridiculous statement of UKIP is that the immigrants are taking the jobs of the British people. If you consider the facts carefully, there is still a demand for non-qualified jobs- like agriculture, cleaning etc. Looking at the percentage of the British people working in these sectors, simply there is no interest from the local people to work in these sectors. If there is a demand for the business, that means that the gap needs to be filled somehow and the absence of interest from the local population leads to these trends.

The people so easily forget the hysteria that was created by Nigel Farage the end of 2013, when the restrictions for the Bulgarian and Rumanian citizens were lifted. Mr Farage was making loud statements that as soon as the restrictions are lifted the entire population of these countries will come to the UK to live on benefits and to take the job of the British citizens. The actual reality was different, most of the people who had desire to come to the UK were already here, even before the accession of the two countries in the EU in 2007 there was a possibility for the people to obtain a working visa.

The main problems for the UKIP are the immigrants and the European Union. There is an absence of political solution to the problems. Unlike the other political parties, UKIP does not provide a comprehensive political programme, it just relies on the populist statements. The most ridiculous facts are that Mr Farage himself is with French origin and his second wife is German.

It needs to be emphasized that the politics of hatred should be avoided, at least from the major political players. The politicians should take responsibility for their actions and give an example to society. The British society has proved its tolerance and multicultural identity and have to continue being proud of itself. Of course there are two sides of every coin, so people also should take responsibility by reading carefully and thinking what the programmes of the political parties offer and whether the goals of the political parties could be implemented.

Labour must be more aggressive in fighting the SNP!

Recently Alex Salmond gave a very provocative interview to Andrew Marr in which he stated that ‘if you hold the balance, you hold the power’. He then went on to claim that any future Labour government would have to negotiate their budget with the SNP. This has drawn an angry response from Labour leader Ed Miliband who called these statements a combination of ‘bluff and bluster’. However this has not stopped the Conservatives and the Tory oriented press jumping on these comments.

The Conservatives have released a video showing Ed Miliband dancing as Alex Salmond plays a penny whistle. The Tories clearly believe this is a productive line of campaigning for them to take with a previous poster showing Ed Miliband tucked into Alex Salmond’s pocket. The comments from Salmond also featured prominently in much of the press with many traditional Conservative supporting newspapers reporting them and using them as an explicit warning.

With many people in England fearful about the influence the SNP may have after the next election and the personal disdain that is felt towards Alex Salmond, pressure was placed on Miliband to rule out a coalition with the SNP. This promise though has not stopped the story and so Miliband had little choice but to hit back hard over these comments. Being seen to be in cohorts with the SNP is an electoral millstone and Miliband must distance himself from Salmond and insist he will not work with the SNP.

However although they both protest, Salmond and Miliband are likely to need each other after the next election. Without Labour, the SNP have nowhere else to go. They have already ruled out a deal with the Conservatives and Scottish voters would look very unfavourably on any SNP party which took down a Labour government and let in a Conservative government.

Alex Salmond may have overplayed his hand and forced Labour into a corner where they have to come out swinging. Labour can seriously weaken Salmond’s position by holding onto their Scottish MPs but to do so they will have to adopt a more aggressive approach to the SNP. Miliband must show that he is the one calling the shots and not Salmond. This will not be easy against the old wily political campaigner though.

 

Our leaders still have a lot to give even when they step down from their roles!

Party politics is a cut throat business. An incumbent Prime Minister cannot now expect to survive a bad election result and remain as leader of their party. This forces former Prime Ministers onto the back benches only for them to leave the political stage as soon as possible to pursue alternative careers away from Westminster.

Recently David Cameron has stated his aim to remain in the House of Commons after he stops being leader of the Conservatives and Prime Minister. In modern times this would much make him a rare exception but one who could benefit his own party and also the British parliament. A former Prime Minister or leader of his party would have considerably experience, insight and expertise that should only add to our Parliament.

The only former Prime Minister sitting in the Commons at the moment is Gordon Brown. For much of the last five years he has been conspicuous by his absence and we have rarely seen him on the national stage. We saw from his late intervention in the Scottish independence referendum debate that he still has a lot to give, and his absence from the Commons appears to have been a missed opportunity. Brown will stand down at this election and there is a perception that much of his final five years in conventional politics have been wasted.

It is hard for any Prime Minister to take a step back once they have been removed from their position. Going from being the leader to being one of the troops again is understandably difficult. Add to this the opportunity to go and fulfill other dreams and interests, and the perception from your own party that your continuing presence is a liability to them, the decision to step down is often an easy one. However, if more could be done to encourage them to stay in the Commons, this could benefit party, parliament and the country.

As elder statesmen, former Prime Minister’s hold rare positions.  They have witnessed, experienced and been part of much and that means they still have much to give. David Cameron’s intentions are to be welcomed and we can but hope that in the future he will be one of many former Prime Ministers that opt to stay in Parliament and continue to contribute to public life in this way.

 

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.