2015: Time for Cameron to ‘hug a Ukipper’?

The Battle for Britain

In 2005 the Conservative party crashed to its third defeat at the hands of Tony Blair’s Labour. Michael Howard delayed his resignation to give the Conservatives time to reflect on how they had reached this sorry state and ponder what they should do about it.

Looking back to their last days in power before the 1997 election defeat Conservatives saw three factors at play. First, was their bitter civil war over the European Union; second, the steady stream of sleaze scandals; and third, general public boredom with a Conservative government which had been around since 1979.

But by 2005 most of these issues had gone. Blair had neutered Europe as an issue for the time being by promising a referendum on British membership of the euro. In government, Labour had proved just as sleazy as the Conservatives were. And, after eight years of Labour government, the Conservatives looked ever so slightly fresher.

And still they lost. Even against a Labour government which had bent the facts to send British soldiers into Iraq to remove weapons of mass destruction which weren’t actually there, they had lost. Again the question: why?

A bit of research emerged at around this time which showed that people generally approved of Conservative party policies until they found out they were Conservative party policies. To one group of Bright Young Things this indicated that the problem was one of marketing and the search was on for a salesman. Step forward David Cameron.

Cameron had only been in Parliament for four years before he decided to run for the Party leadership. But he had plenty of political experience; indeed, he had done little else since university. He went straight into a job with the Conservative party. From there he became Director of Corporate Affairs (whatever that is) for a TV company, a role which appears to have involved talking to politicians a lot.

It was this presumed media savvy which won Cameron the leadership in 2005. The party wanted someone to put an acceptable face on apparently popular policies. It didn’t want to be Theresa May’s “nasty party” anymore and Cameron promised to make them “feel good about being Conservatives again”

He and the Cameroons who gathered around him had reached political maturity during Blair’s reign. They had seen how Blair had taken over a party which couldn’t even win an election against John Major in the middle of a recession and comfortably won three elections on the bounce. They believed Blair had managed this by ‘detoxifying’ the Labour brand, by taking on and ridding the party of its madder elements. They determined to do the same for the Conservatives.

On one level this meant delving into Blair’s bag of media tricks. Call Me Dave gave speeches without notes, took his jacket off, went sledging, rolled his sleeves up, hugged hoodies, and at the 2006 party conference he made more wardrobe changes than Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra.

But on a deeper level the Cameroons were searching for a ‘Clause IV Moment’, the symbolic point when you tame your extremists and embrace electability. Their calculation was that they could bully and pick fights with their ‘right wing’ and in doing so they would attract support from the fabled ‘centre’. After all, they reasoned, any right wingers who didn’t enjoy being bullied by them had, like Richard Gere, “nowhere else to go

But there was a problem. By 1994 the Labour left had been so utterly discredited that the original Clause IV Moment was simply an overdue act of euthanasia. In theory, and in practice, during the post war period the left wing orthodoxy of high tax and even higher public spending had been exposed as the economic suicide it remains.

By contrast no such thing happened to the ideas of the Conservative right. Indeed, the last few years have seen one formerly ‘controversial’ view of theirs after another be resoundingly vindicated. Immigration is too high. Government is spending too much. The euro is a disaster.

Ultimately the Cameroon strategy failed. After five years of ‘rebranding’, against one of the most incompetent administrations in history, and in the middle of a recession, in May 2010 the Conservatives failed to win their fourth election in a row.

And those right wingers didn’t just sit around meekly soaking up the punishment Cameron dished out to them in a vain effort to impress the Guardianistas. Lots of them buggered off to UKIP. And how did Cameron, the master political operator (sic), respond? He was gratuitously rude to them. Again. In the Telegraph last week Dan Hodges wrote that come 2015 “the vast bulk of [Ukip’s] remaining support will come home, reluctantly, to David Cameron.” No, it won’t. And why should it if Cameron keeps abusing them to solicit a favourable glance from Polly Toynbee?

Cameron’s support rises when he pursues Conservative policies; the EU veto and welfare reform, for example. Now, I’m no Central Office genius, but perhaps there’s something in this? Perhaps it’s time for Cameron to stop his fruitless flirting with some mythical centre (which is, in reality, just a punji trap with the sharpened heads of George Monbiot and Mehdi Hasan at the bottom) and remember that he’s a Conservative?

The long term Cameroon strategy of replacing the Conservative right with the Labour right will fail. Its hysterical reaction to even the mild fiscal medicine administered by the coalition demonstrates that Cameron will never find enough votes from that quarter to replace the real Conservatives he sent off in Nigel Farage’s direction.

As 2015 approaches Cameron might find he needs to Hug a Ukipper. If he carries on this pathetic baiting they’ll probably tell him to get stuffed.

It’s a No to AV from me please Bob

I’ve found it quite hard to get too excited about this vote. Both sides have made some ridiculous claims. The Yes camp say that the Conservative leadership elections and X Factor use AV. They don’t. The No camp say that the vote is costing alot of money, an argument which could just as well be used to get rid of elections full stop.

That said I’ll be voting No. I started to make my mind up when I heard a debate on the radio between John Reid (No) and some guy for the Yes camp. Reid made quite a worthy defence of the No position, one person one vote and all that, and the Yes guy just responded by being rude to him. As time has gone on I’ve been struck by how much of the Yes campaign has been about complaining about the No campaign (the idiotic Huhne has been the worst, but then he’s less interested in the AV campaign than the next Lib Dem leadership campaign). They haven’t offered anyone much of a reason to say Yes.

Then there is the fact that I don’t relish the idea of having the Lib Dems in power forever and giving their leader the ability to pick the Prime Minister every four or five years.

On top of that I am quite wedded to the idea of one person one vote and despite what the Yes campaign have been saying, that will end with AV. If you vote Labour in a strong Labour constituency your vote is not counted again. If you vote UKIP, however, and they finish bottom your second vote, perhaps for the Conservatives, will be counted again. Thus, your vote for UKIP and the Conservatives gets counted. If you vote Labour only your Labour vote does.

The fate of smaller parties has been a focus of both Yes and No camps. The No camp say we don’t want extremists votes deciding things, a very weak argument as the vote of an extremist is worth just as much as anyone else’s. The Yes campaign say that their system will allow smaller parties to flourish and, hence, offer more choice.

But voters already have choice. In Kensington and Chelsea, one of the safest Conservative seats in the country, voters had a choice last May of Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green, UKIP, Alliance for Green Socialism and an Independent. Proponents of a Yes vote argue that AV will make it more likely that one of these other, smaller parties would win and that the current system gives them no chance.

But they can win. What they have to do is get out, work hard, and convince enough of their fellow constituents that they should have their vote. Sounds impossible? Tell that to Caroline Lucas. Tell it to the Labour party, founded in 1900 and in government inside of three decades. ‘Ah but’, its been said to me, ‘Labour had the power of the trade unions behind them’. Indeed they did. And perhaps the lack of any similar manifestation of support for, say, the Alliance for Green Socialism, shows that it is their unpopular ideology and not the voting system that ought to be their most pressing concern.

The Yes campaign argue that under FPTP the people in Kensington and Chelsea who voted for any one of the six losers will not be represented. This is rather a strange argument given that AV does not propose to award the constituency of Kensington and Chelsea seven seats in the House of Commons so there will always be at least one loser and, by extension, some voters who are not represented.

AV, in short, kicks away a keystone of British democracy in one person one vote and replaces it with something which doesn’t remedy the failings even its supporters diagnose with the current system. That’s why, on Thursday, it’ll be a No from me.

Reflections on the ‘revolution’ in Barnsley Central

A message yes, but a “strong” one?

There’s an old saying back up north; you could pin a red rosette on a pig and people would vote for it. At last years general election the voters of Barnsley Central proved this to be almost literally true when they re-elected Eric Illsley, already mired in controversy over his expenses, now jailed over them.

If the judgment of the voters of Barnsley Central is suspect so is that of their new MP Dan Jarvis, elected last night. His acceptance speech, uncertainly delivered, was a carbon copy of that given by Debbie Abrahams when she was elected to another safe Labour seat, Oldham East and Saddleworth, in January. He declared that “The people of Barnsley Central are sending the strongest possible message to David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Your reckless policies, your broken promises and your unfair cuts are letting our country down”

But it’s difficult to see how Jarivs can come out with this rubbish. This ‘strong message’ took the form of nearly 3,000 fewer people voting for the photogenic ex Para than voted for the decidedly non-photogenic ex NUM employee and fraudster back in May last year.

What appears to have happened is that the Labour vote held up as you’d expect it to in any other year while Lib Dem voters stayed home and Conservatives voted for UKIP. Obviously this is not ideal for the coalition but no one ever thanks the doctor for perfoming neccessary surgery while he is fiddling about in their intestines. Given how doubtful it is that these voters will carry this apathy and protest into a general election where the stakes are higher, the coalition can be fairly happy to have generated nothing more than a bit of grumpiness among its own supporters.

Labour, on the other hand, for all their rhetoric of strong messages from angry voters about unfair cuts have seen their vote flatline in two seats they already held. But then how can a party who’s leader describes its beliefs as “a blank sheet of paper” expect to inspire anything but indifference?

Nigel Farage’s attack was justified

Considering he is the leader of a party which defines Britishness, in part, as “courtesy/politness/manners”, the recent outburst of UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage in the European Parliament was extraordinary.

Little of interest usually happens in the European Parliament but Farage’s remarks were widely reported. Addressing the newly appointed President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, Farage said “I don’t want to be rude, but you know, really, you have the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low grade bank clerk”. Farage wasn’t finished. “The question that I want to ask”, he continued, “and that we are all going to ask is: who are you? I had never heard of you; nobody in Europe had ever heard of you. I would like to ask you, Mr President: who voted for you? And what mechanism – I know democracy is not popular with you lot – what mechanism do the peoples of Europe have to remove you? Is this European democracy? Sir, you have no legitimacy in this job at all, and I can say with confidence that I can speak on behalf of the majority of the British people in saying: we do not know you, we do not want you, and the sooner you are put out to grass, the better.” He rounded off by branding Belgium, where van Rompuy comes from, “pretty much a non-country”.

There were calls for Farage’s suspension as an MEP, some even branded him “racist”. But there was actually more truth than racism in Farage’s remarks.

Janet Street Porter branded Farage a “racist” on Question Time the following day for his “non country” remark. As usual, she was talking rubbish. How, after all, is it possible to be racist against a group of people, like the Belgians, who arent a race? Besides, Farage’s description has some truth in it. Belgium is a shotgun marriage of other peoples convenience of French speaking Walloons in the south and Dutch speaking Flemish in the north, welded together by the European powers in the 1830’s so that ports like Antwerp and the lower Rhine wouldnt fall into French hands. The two groups have so little in common that in 2007 Belgium had no government for over six months as the two communities couldn’t find enough to agree on.

Farage’s attack on van Rompuy’s non existent democratic mandate is also justified. We are Europeans. We now have a President. Not one of us voted for him. We cant get rid of him.

Farage had a strong case on the non democratic lash up that was van Rompuy’s appointment but he spoiled it with his silly remarks about wet rags and bank clerks. The rest was undoubtedly pretty strong stuff but, as Barry Goldwater famously said, “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And…moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue”.

(Printed in London Student, vol 30 issue 11, 15/03/10)