This has been one of the weirdest 10 days or so in politics for some time, and pretty much all of the bad stuff has happened to the Tory led coalition government.
The Budget was always going to be a toughie for George Osborne – but because everyone knew that, to an extent the disharmony arising from it was likely to have been discounted by the spin doctors in advance. So the Tory press were at the ready, ready to tell us what a good job he’d done, protecting the most vulnerable in a time when nothing he did was going to please many people, but he’d done his best – blah blah …
It didn’t happen though.
He made a public relations catastrophe out of cutting the 50p tax rate (even though it’s deferred a year, even though it’s almost an article of faith for Tory rank & file, and even though it’s quite obviously been a hand grenade with a long fuse lobbed by Gordon Brown in the dying days of the Labour Government, designed to cause maximum embarrassment to the Tories).
Catastrophe number two – the Granny tax – minor adjustment leaving old people worse off – Most people didn’t really understand it – but the perception that the Tories value millionaires over poor pensioners (some pensioners are millionaires too by the way) did not go down well.
And of course Pasty-gate. A relatively minor alignment of an anomaly in VAT – should have been able to have been broken in gently, should have gained fairly little attention, but no – it again emphasises the crass prioritisation of the needs of people who lunch at the Savoy Grill, over those who grab a snack from Greggs in their 30 minute lunch break, and then goes viral – helped in no small part by the laughably pathetic attempts to justify all their moves by the Tory spokespeople who were wheeled out. The arguments about who ate which pasty where, only serving to make the whole thing – and the whole government look more and more ridiculous, and by inference totally incompetent and unable to manage their own public image. The fact that probably the biggest losers as well will not be pasty-munchers, but the entrepreneurial owners of fast food sellers such as Greggs, was again not lost on the Tory press.
Then there’s the Dosh for Dinner with Dave debacle. There we are with the Tory treasurer caught in the act, pretty much with his metaphorical pants down. He knows the jig is up, and he walks, but it doesn’t stop the rest of the senior Tories (minus the PM of course who’s too scared to show his face) frantically trying to defend an undefendable position by doing what ? Well by blaming Labour of course !
Oh yeah, this isn’t about selling your policies to the highest bidder, it’s about Labour getting all that money from the unions. Those big bad unions ruled by unaccountable despots who pay the Labour party to do what they want.
Well actually no it’s not, and the public for once aren’t falling for it, and to their credit neither are the normally sycophantic Tory press – Labour was formed by the Unions, donations to Labour are effectively the aggregation of the many thousands of large donations from working people which are passed to the party - and they still add up to only a fraction of the sums handed to the Tories by their wide boy spiv friends.
Then comes the biggest own goal – Francis Maude, who uses a strike ballot and an up-coming bank holiday as an excuse to panic the whole country into hoarding petrol. Despite the fact that there’s been no strike called, nothing to suggest an imminent strike, and it being very unlikely that one can be called before the holiday weekend.
Throw into that the fact that Unite are quietly and methodically inviting the employers to get in touch with Acas in order to mediate a settlement, and have published their ballot details – which are absolutely overwhelming and on a huge turn out, and the Government starts to look very foolish in deed.
So when in a hole, what do they do ?
Naturally they do what they’ve been trained to do : Blame the mess that Labour left.
Except this time it’s not being swallowed by anyone – even The Mail and The Telegraph are now openly criticising David Cameron and his chaotic management of what isn’t really any kind of crisis, but has turned into something that looks very much like one. The pantomime that’s ensued is reminiscent of the sleazy comic chaos of the worst parts of John Major’s government. A state of affairs that led in no small part to Labour’s landslide 1997 General Election victory under Tony Blair.
So a by-election in a safe North of England seat should be signed sealed and delivered at the end of all this stuff shouldn’t it ?
It was George Galloway that won it – the same creepy egotist that sucked up to Saddam Hussein and Rula Lenska’s outstretched hand.
So how did that happen then ?
A shift in the Muslim vote? a misunderstanding of the depth of feeling over Afghanistan ? George’s brilliant oratory skills (please – it’s just not true)
Well I don’t really know – but what I do know is that it could only happen if Labour hadn’t royally messed up.
What we have is a Government that is as unpopular as Thatcher’s ever was, as chaotic and sleazy as John Major’s government ever were. More than that though – where Margaret Thatcher’s unpopularity in some quarters was unbounded. It was matched by hero worhip in others. There’s no such mandate for David Cameron – he didn’t even manage an overall majority. Even the Tories don’t like him.
In contrast to Thatcher, The Cameron government sneaks in right wing ideological change in the guise of sorting out a fictitious “mess” left behind by Labour, or on a pretext of austerity. Margaret Thatcher didn’t do that – she said what she was going to do, and she went ahead and did it – to applause and boos in roughly equal measure.
In Dave Cameron’s pantomime though there are only boos – even his loyal Tory Press are now rounding on the Government incompetence.
Which makes it all the more worrying that Labour can’t hold on to a safe seat.
So at the end of this almost unprecedented period of British politics, I have unfortunately got to conclude that our leadership in the Labour Party is not delivering.
Ed Miliband – I will always be loyal to the party leader, and wish that the rest of the party would be too; but the Bradford West by election is one which Labour should and could have won. The conditions for victory could scarcely have been more favourable for the party.
So Ed, I think you really need to do something very dramatic now to inject momentum into the party’s fortunes. I don’t know what form that should take – but if we approach the General Election with the same kind of leadership that we approached the Bradford West by election , then we will probably lose it.
There are probably lots of lessons from the Bradford by-election – but one that is clear is this : However badly the Tories and Lib Dems mess up, and however un popular they are, it’s still no guarantee that Labour will benefit.
Please Ed. Get it sorted.
- Why conventional Westminster wisdom is wrong about Bradford (liberalconspiracy.org)
- Bradford West By-election (wmmbb.wordpress.com)
- Bradford West by-election: 5 initial thoughts on an astonishing result (libdemvoice.org)
- How Labour lost Bradford West (newstatesman.com)
- +++ Labour crashes to sensational Bradford West by-election defeat to George Galloway (libdemvoice.org)
- Pasties and a 250 G Sting (hopisen.com)
- We don’t need George: we have hope (burdzeyeview.wordpress.com)
- Why the odds are against a Tory majority (newstatesman.com)
- Galloway stuns Labour in Bradford West (newstatesman.com)
- George Galloway – The Bradford Spring (olivermeredithcox.wordpress.com)
To say I’m interested in politics is something of an understatement, yet I’m not someone who necessarily enjoys some of the more high profile political rituals we have.
Prime Minister’s Questions for example.
It drives me up the wall. Petty point scoring on both sides which leaves key issues completely unexplored, and commentators saying who “won” and who “lost”
To me that’s not politics. True political debates takes more than a few soundbites and glib put-downs to make an argument, and the strength of an argument, lies in just that – the strength of the argument – and not the smart arsed manner in which a party leader can make a joke at his or her opposite number’s expense.
Yesterday was a case in point.
I jumped in my car hurriedly trying to find somewhere to buy a sandwich for lunch before heading back to work. Along the way I chanced to hear on BBC 5 Live, a fair bit of Prime Minister’s Questions. On this occasion it was Ed Milliband‘s turn to have David Cameron on the ropes, belligerently grilling him on lack of economic growth, and rising hospital waiting times – among other issuess. To which David Cameron responds, by resorting to the time honoured tactic of not answering the question about the particular statistic he has been questioned about, but picking another more sympathetic statistic to present so that he can claim that the leader of the opposition is talking rubbish.
It irritates me. In a sensible discussion all of the different indicators could be discussed in an adult manner which attempted to shed some light on the issues at hand. Instead there are merely attempts to embarrass each other – which in David Cameron’s case are increasingly turning into opportunities to act like a smug condescending upper class former public schoolboy. Which I fear is what he actually is.
I could scarcely believe what I was hearing, the ill mannered smugness and contempt with which he delivered this put down came across very unpleasantly indeed. He realised straight away what he’d said, and tried to pretend he’d been talking to Ed Balls – on the radio it seemed is if he could well have been – but on television it’s clear that he was not : David Cameron tells MP Angela Eagle: ‘Calm down, dear’ .
To me the remark was evidence of his deluded sense of superiority to the opposition members, and to female members in particular, and to women and people who do not share his priveleged upper class male background. It casts him in the role of the all knowing father speaking down to a naughty child. It’s a rude and obnoxious way to respond to an opponent, and if you’re asking whether it’s sexist, my answer is – of course it is !
Another reason why I don’t like PMQ’s
There are more reasons though – the follow up to this incident was all too predictable – the inevitable phone-ins on the radio – Was he being sexist ?, or can’t the Labour MPs take a joke ? The predictable comments – it’s PC gone mad ! etc etc ad nauseam.
On the BBC’s own website, comments seemed to give the impression that Ms Eagle got what she deserved since she had had the temerity to interrupt the PM : ‘Calm down dear’ Conservatives accused of sexism
and then today in the Guardian we have the former MP, and current GP Howard Stoate, who Mr Cameron was discussing at the time, weighing in with his claim that he was misrepresented Calm down, David Cameron – and get your facts right at PMQs and that “The prime minister distorted my views. He should stop using the health service as a political football” – An article which has quickly been linked around the twittersphere to allow we Labour types to thumb our noses at the Tories.
In true PMQ fashion though we get scant dissection of the meat of the issues involved.
Mr Cameron chose to highlight Mr Stoate by referring to comments he had made earlier which he claimed supported the Tory plans to involve GP’s more in the commissioning and running of NHS provision. In his statement he said that Mr Stoate had ceased to be an MP because he had been defeated by a Tory candidate. Angela Eagle’s interjection was simply to state that this was blatantly untrue. He was NOT defeated in any election – he stood down as an MP – which in the context of the Prime Minister’s statement, was highly misleading. The Prime Minister knew why she was interjecting, he knew that she was telling the truth – but refused to correct the “error” – if that’s what it was, instead telling her to “Calm down dear”.
Mr Stoate for his part, seems unperturbed by the assertion that he was defeated – but more so by his feeling that the Prime Minister said that he had become a GP after he stood down. It’s very debatable whether the PM said this – certainly it’s not what I took from his statement, I think most people assumed that he’d been a GP all along. Which is the case.
Mr Stoate also is annoyed that he’s been misrepresented by the Prime Minister. Well that would fit the tabloid cycle of claim and counter-claim very well. Tit for Tat as it were. Except, read the article ! :
As far as I can see Howard Stoate is saying precisely what the Prime Minister said, and it does make exactly the point that the Prime Minister wished to highlight.
Of course if Howard Stoate had been defeated in the election as David Cameron said, than Labour could claim that this was in part due to his maverick ideas. He wasn’t though – which you’d think would work in David Cameron’s favour.
All in all, a fairly unsavoury and ultimately pointless crock of the proverbial.
So what is the point of PMQs ?
I’d like to see a political procedure which gives our politicians the chance to prove that they’re NOT pompous, ill mannered and sexist, rather than a routine event to reinforce the idea that they are
I had the rare pleasure today of seeing Prime Minister’s Questions live on BBC Parliament, and more by luck than judgement I chanced on Ed Miliband’s first outing as Leader of the Opposition at PMQ’s.
People (as ever) will argue about who had the upper hand in this clash – I felt it was game set and match to Ed, but I heard others on the radio later saying exactly the opposite. Well that’s politics I guess – a matter of opinion,
What really hit me though is Ed’s style of delivery.
David Cameron bellows his answers, and makes theatrical wails and exclamations of mock hilarity, backed up with hearty guffaws and “hear hears” from his own benches. In recent history it would have been pretty much the same on the Labour side as well – in fact the pantomime nature of PMQs has been like this for as long as I can remember.
Ed’s different though. He delivers calmly, quietly, assuredly and without hesitation. You get the feeling that he’s not got any particular dislike for his opponents – just that he disagrees with them. You feel that he’s not so much interested in a theatrical show stopper, as showing up the Government’s theatrics; that he’s not worried about sound bites, but about making sure that his bites are soundly delivered at the ankles of the premier.
I found it very refreshing and enjoyable – see what you think :
- Live: Ed Miliband’s First PMQs (news.sky.com)
- How will Ed Miliband prepare for first PMQs (bbc.co.uk)
- Ed Miliband uses PMQ debut to attack child benefit reform (independent.co.uk)
- Miliband uses PMQs debut to attack Cameron over child benefit reforms (guardian.co.uk)
- PMQs: A good start for Ed Miliband| Michael White (guardian.co.uk)
- PMQs: Ed Miliband plays safe (blogs.telegraph.co.uk)
- Ed Miliband faces David Cameron for first time at prime minister’s questions (guardian.co.uk)
- Ed Miliband gets the better of Cameron in first PMQs (newstatesman.com)
- PMQs – just like an Oxbridge freshers’ week | John Harris (guardian.co.uk)
- Ed Miliband to face David Cameron at PMQ’s for first time (newstatesman.com)
This was David Miliband’s “thank you” email to supporters tonight – not sure if it went to all Labour members or just to those who voted for him – but here it is anyway for anyone who missed it : -
” I wanted to write to you this evening to thank you for the phenomenal support you have given me, and the Party over the last few months.
I am so proud of the campaign we ran together, it is a testament to each of you that as we campaigned for Labour, we also campaigned to make a difference in our local communities.
I was proud also to see my brother take the stage today, the new leader of the Labour Party, and know you will join me in uniting with Ed to take on this divided coalition.
As Ed said today, we must now secure the opportunity for Labour to serve the country again; to make it a more prosperous, more equal, more fair society.
Within seconds of the election of Ed Miliband as Labour leader being announced this afternoon, media outlets and the twittersphere began to complain that Ed had been elected not by grassroots Labour supporters but by the “Unions” – hinting at some terribly un-democratic process which somehow these terrible militant organisations had managed to wield over the Labour Party. ( David Cameron punches air as unions hand Labour leadership to Ed Miliband (guardian.co.uk) )
Well let’s get a bit of perspective on that …
First of all the only Unions that get to have a say in the Labour leadership election are those formally affiliated to the party – and there aren’t that many of them. My own union – the National Union of Teachers is not one of them.
Next – members of affiliated organisations know about their union’s affiliation before they join it – there’s no such thing as a closed shop any more – and can opt out of paying the ‘political fund’ part of the membership fee (although that would also lose them their vote in the leadership election).
There’s also no such thing as a block vote – every vote in an affiliated organisation is worth the same – whether you’re one of the 83 members eligible to vote in the Labour Party Irish Society or one of the 1,055,074 eligible members of Unite the Union – the largest affiliated organisation. Every individual vote counts the same – and goes to make up 1/3 of the electoral college.
1/3 of the college is made up of Labour MP’s
1/3 is made up of Labour Party Members.
This means that different votes have different values in each section. Effectively an MP’s vote is worth 0.12 per cent of the total electorate, a party member’s vote is worth 0.0002 per cent and an affiliated member’s vote is worth 0.00000943 per cent. ( see this Next Left blog for details Next Left: What Labour leadership votes are worth when they are counted) (This assumes 100% turnout btw – which is far from the case)
It’s all very clear – a little involved, but does manage to capture every aspect not just of the Labour Party, but of the wider Labour movement – which allows Labour supporters in affiliated groups to have a say even if they are not formally party members.
Note also that the party, and many affiliated organisations have been very open about giving new members a vote – in this way opening up the election to the general public should they take the plunge and join even up to a few days before voting closed.
The full results Votes by round | The Labour Party show that indeed sections 1 and 2 of the ballot, the MPs and the Party Members, placed David Miliband first, whilst section 3 – the affiliated organisations – of which the unions are the biggest part, plumped for Ed Miliband.
Just have a look at the numbers though – 211,234 returned votes from affiliated members, as opposed to just 126,874 from full members of the party.
Undemocratic ? Not in my book it’s not.
Compare it with the way that the Conservatives choose their leader Conservative Party (UK) leadership election, 2005 – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia – in the Tory system, the rank and file party members don’t even get to vote until the MP’s have selected the last two candidates for them. Even then they have to have been a fully paid up member for at least 3 months to get a vote. A distinctly less democratic approach in my own humble opinion.
Democracy is always flawed to some extent, but is an attempt to reach a difficult consensus, in the fairest way possible. I think the approach used in the Labour leadership election is probably the fairest that could have been achieved. I say that having voted David Miliband as first choice – yes I’d have preferred him to win – but Ed Miliband has been elected fair and square by hundreds of thousands of Labour members and members of affiliated trades unions and organisations. I have no complaints – and will support him as best I can.
If Labour were to look at difficulties in the electoral college by the way, they might want to consider the anomaly that a low turnout in any of the 3 sections means that individual votes in that section are given relatively more weight as part of the whole college as a result. Just a thought – maybe next time ?
In the meantime congratulations to Ed Miliband – please leave a comment if you happen to read this !
- Labour’s voting system: the case for reform (newstatesman.com)
- How Ed can counter the Tories’ attack lines (newstatesman.com)
- Ed Miliband victory is ‘a great leap backwards’, say Tories (guardian.co.uk)
- Ed Miliband elected new leader of the Labour Party at Manchester conference (menmedia.co.uk)
On the Sky News channel today, during the televised leaders debate featuring five candidates for the Labour Party Leadership, a question was posed of the candidates ( YouTube – 2 of the 5 Labour Leadership candidates knew that St George’s day is on 23rd April ) which caused a bit of a flurry on Conservative home Only two of Labour’s putative leaders know when St George’s Day is – LeftWatch
The question quite simply was to give the date of St George’s Day – and 3 of the candidates got this wrong,
(For those of you who don’t know, St George is the patron saint of England, with St Andrew, St Patrick and St David being the patron saints of Scotland, Ireland & Wales respectively)
There is a long tradition of wrong-footing politicians with unexpected questions – like how to pronounce Barnoldswick, or Slaithwaite – or indeed what Menzies Campbell’s name really sounds like. Asking candidates who their favourite Spice Girl or Tellytubbie was, proved a novel way of exploring knowledge of current affairs, and more recently quizzes about Bill Shankly and Ferry Cross the Mersey have been used to try and catch unsuspecting political hopefuls out.
So this unexpected question is perhaps also entirely predictable.
Does it matter that they couldn’t answer ?
Well I’d probably have got it right – I had the 4 patron saints’ dates for the UK drilled in to me as a Cub Scout between the ages of 9 and 11. Assisted in no small part by Blue Peter, who never failed to remind us when there was one coming up (I preferred Bleep & Booster myself).
I remembered St. Andrew’s Day because it was my brother’s birthday – and also Winston Churchill’s – as my working class Tory grandmother was very fond of reminding him. 30th November
I remembered St. David’s Day because it was easier to remember because it was on the 1st day of the month – and also because it was more or less in daffodil time - 1st March. My working class Tory Grandmother would also remind me as this was one of the 12 days per year when she said “Rabbits Rabbits Rabbits” to everyone she met.
I found St Patrick’s difficult to remember because that was the other March one. It was also difficult because my racist working class Tory Grandfather claimed every thing was the fault of the bloody Irish (except for the things that were the fault of Arthur Scargill and Joe Gormless), and my working class Tory Grandmother felt it best not to rattle his cage. In later life I’ve remembered it because it’s the only one of the four patron saint’s days that ever gets celebrated by anyone March 17th
St George’s day was a funny one to remember because it’s the Queen’s Birthday on the 21st April, St George’s day, and Shakespeare’s birthday on the 23rd of April and my birthday on the 27th. Or was it the Queen on the 27th, me on the 23rd and St George … – you get the picture . My working class Tory Grandmother also had lost interest by this time as it was Spring, and she was getting ready to provide me with a suitably wonderful birthday present. Usually I could just about work out when it was though.
Having lived in England all my life and as an Englishman, how have we celebrated our patron saint’s day ? Well I can honestly say that except for 3 years I never have. Nor do I remember any body else doing, although I’ve seen a few things on pub black boards promoting Happy Hours & the like in recent times.
Those 3 years were of course when I was part of the Cub Scouts. I was the “sixer” of the Yellow Six, and as most of Yellow Six turned up and paid their subs I got to hold the flag at the St George’s Day Parade. This involved meeting with all the other scout and cub groups in the area, and walking down the middle of a road for about half a mile to a Church of England church (this remember was in a fairly secular area, where such Christians as there were, were far more likely to attend non-conformist churches or “chapels”) , where we then had to sing a few hymns and listen to a vicar. The hymns invariably included “Onward Christian Soldiers”, “I vow to thee my country”, “Stand up Stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross”, and “Soldiers of Christ Arise”. All of which to be fair were fairly standard fare from my County Primary School.
As an adult I’ve looked back on those times and felt saddened that as children we were effectively schooled in a para-military fashion – donning uniforms, waving national flags, swearing allegiance to our monarch, and to the established church, with it’s militaristic soldiers of Christ. In truth I can’t say it’s done me much harm. It seems a bit weird though.
So that’s what I associate with St George’s day – jingoism & indoctrination – which are thankfully far less common now. As an atheist who’s spent some time swotting up on Christianity as well, I have to say also that the whole cult of sainthood is one of the weaker aspects of Christianity, which stretches the credibility of the movement as a whole.
So what I’d have liked at least one of the candidates to answer would have been this :
“I’m not interested in St George’s day, because I’m not a Christian, I don’t support an established religion, and I have no wish to prop up the church and it’s non-elected leader the Queen by promoting it”
That would have made news. Sadly it would have also played right into Sky and Adam Boulton’s hands, and have lost Labour votes for many years to come. So maybe it’s better that they didn’t rise to the bait.
It wasn’t that tough a question really I guess – and the candidates I’ve voted for as first and second choice both got it right.
A far easier question actually than predicting when Ash Wednesday falls – something which Sky News’s Kay Burley has found difficult in the past :