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.

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.

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.