This is a sometimes 'cheesey' blog about British and American politics and anything else which tickles my fancy!

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Labour didn't deserve to win Crewe

Labour's horrendous defeat in Crewe on Thursday was not just a case of mid-term blues.

It represents a fundamental shift in the electorate's perception of the Government and the opposition.

If repeated in a General Election, the 18% swing from Labour to the Conservatives, would see over 200 Labour MPs lose their seats including some pretty safe places where the majorities are close to 15,000. This would put Labour in opposition for over a decade.

Labour ran a pretty distasteful campaign in Crewe. The focus on class to attack the Tory opponent was a big mistake. It seemed terribly dated and treated the voters with contempt. Where has the inclusive party of aspiration gone that won us three general elections in a row? I cannot believe Tony Blair would ever have allowed it.

Tamsin Gunwoody seemed like a feisty, 'switched on' candidate but she was facing an uphill struggle from the word go.

I was dismayed even more the next day when the Prime Minister, Hazel Blears and other Cabinet Ministers claimed it was all down to the economic situation. Undoubtedly, this is a concern for voters and it is making them anxious but I think its actually more simple than that:

They just don't like the Government at the moment and they especially don't like the Prime Minister.

No one in the Government seems to get this or if they do they are keeping schtum.

Brown is a bad communicator and lacks empathy. He damaged his own reputation irrevocably with the 10p tax rate and he seems incompetent. All of his problems can be traced back to the-election-that-never-was which has left a residual sense in the voters' minds that he puts politics before principle. An attack the Tories make which unfortunately rings true.

Crewe voters saw through the Labour baloney and made the right decision, sending a powerful signal to the Government.

More than that, Crewe represents a turning point. Barring a radical change of policy - and I mean radical not just tinkering with bits of legislation - or some sort of domestic or international crisis which the PM responds well to, things will not turn around for Labour in time for the next election.

I think its time we started to prepare for a Conservative Government.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Gordon Backs Human Embryo Bill

Gordon Brown's public support for the Human Embryo and Fertilisation Bill is exactly the sort of leadership, people have wanted from him over the last few months.

Although, he got off to a shaky start when he refused to allow a free vote, I was really pleased that he came out in favour.

The Bill includes provisions to liberalise fertilisation laws, use human-animal embryos for scientific research, create saviour siblings (the creation of a child who genetically matches a sick brother or sister) and end the need for IVF clinics to consider the need for a father in the creation of a child - making it easier for women and lesbian couples to have children.

All of these changes have the potential to improve scientific understanding and medical research. No one knows for sure, but the chance that stem-cell research may lead to medical breakthroughs in illnesses like cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy must surely be explored. I think our moral duty is to allow this happen.

I also thought Jackie Ashley got it spot on in the Guardian today when she wrote that issues like this help to distinguish the liberals from the conservatives. If these are to become some of the dividing lines of the future, it is important that liberals in Britain stand up in favour of such measures to counter the rubbish opponents often speak.

I am glad that Gordon was one of the first.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Get Off The Stage Hillary.

Spotted this quote in the Economist today:

"The worst thing in the world is when an entertainer doesn't know when the show is over. The audience is gone, the lights are down, you're getting ready to cut the mikes off and you are still on the stage singing."

Al Sharpton advises Hillary Clinton.

Couldn't be more true.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Purnell - one to watch.

Interesting puff piece in The Spectator today about James Purnell, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Read it here.

It argues he is the right man to stage a leadership challenge. I am glad that other people have recognised Purnell as one to watch - it is not just me then. I think he is great.

But it is too soon for a new leader and not the solution to Labour's problems. I still think Brown deserves more time. Incidentally, it was a good day for him across the media today - starting off on the Today show where he spelt out the government's agenda over the coming months.

More days like this please.

But Purnell - one to to watch.

Edwards backs Obama

John Edwards endorsement of Barack Obama yesterday could not have come at a better time for the Illinois Senator.

It helps to drown out Clinton's crowing after her primary win in West Virginia on Tuesday.

It will play well with the white working classes who have so far failed to respond to Obama's message, but who warm to Edwards.

It gives Obama a further eight votes (I think) in the delegate count.

And finally, it should help persuade more superdelegates to come over to the Obama camp.

Whether this signifies a "deal" over the Presidential and Vice Presidential ticket I am not sure. Edwards brings neither experience not an important state with him. Although, he can reach voters Obama can't, he may still be able to do this without being the VP candidate.

I think Bill Richardson would be better as VP candidate. He can bring Latino votes and the South-West. Or someone older with experience. Perhaps a Joe Liberman type figure? Although, this might be wishful thinking.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

The Party is Over

Hillary Clinton may well be determined to stay in the Democratic race after her win in West Virginia last night, but she risks seriously splitting the Democrat Party in the process.

Obama remains ahead in the popular vote and ahead in the delegate vote. He has also managed to win over more superdelegates today. He has the momentum.

However, results from states like West Virginia and Pennsylvania show that he does have a problem reaching out to the white working class. You cannot win elections solely on this group's support, but you cannot afford to ignore them either.

His problems don't disqualify him, but they do pose a challenge for him and his team. He needs to do a number of things:

1) Stress his background. While Clinton was a corporate lawyer, Obama was working with some of the poorest people in inner city Chicago. He was brought up by a single parent. He knows better than most what it is like to struggle, that nothing in life comes free and hard work pays off. Exactly the message the white working class wants to hear.

2) He needs to lay off the soaring rhetoric of his speeches and campaign at a local grass-roots level. This is not always possible in the bigger states but he needs to acknowledge that his message doesn't always get through.

3) Bread and Butter issues. He must continue to expose the hollowness of Clinton's gas pledge and instead set the agenda himself on issues like food prices, gasoline, tax and health care.

4) He must relentlessly communicate his message of 'change.' This is powerful, right and has so far been a winning formula.

But while Obama is doing this, Clinton remains determined to drag him down.

Her actions look like someone increasingly out of touch with the reality on the ground. Every poll which pits Obama against McCain shows that Obama would win the Presidential Election.

Her actions are poisoning relationships within the Democrat Party and seriously undermining its attempt to successfully win the Election in November.

She has shown by her constant repositioning during the Primary Campaign and her exploitation of racial divisions that she is neither principled nor a woman of conviction. It saddens me that someone, who until now I admired and respected, has chosen to act this way.

Her only hope must be that something so bad happens to Obama or regarding Obama that the superdelegates switch to her. This is wishful thinking.

The idea of a joint ticket is also ridiculous. It would look too contrived, after everything that has been said and I am not sure either candidate would want it.

Obama is strong enough without her and would benefit more from Bill Richardson or John Edwards as VP. Meanwhile, if Clinton genuinely thinks Obama will lose against McCain in November, which I am sure she does, she will not want to be blamed if it all goes wrong. Therefore, there will be no dream ticket.

For her, the party is well and truly over. She can campaign in the remaining primaries over the next two weeks, which I am sure she will, but it will be pointless and damaging.

Bill Clinton rebuilt the modern Democrat Party and took it to power in 1992. It would be a shame if another Clinton was responsible for its implosion.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Frank Field Apologies

I have a lot of time for Frank Field.

He is often a lone voice on the Labour backbenchers.

But he was first to spot the mistake of the 10p tax rate and I admire his determination in successfully trying to get it changed.

However, he let his criticism of the Government become deeply personal at the weekend when he criticised Gordon Brown.

All the better then that he apologised directly to the Prime Minister today in the House of Commons. He admitted that he got carried away.

I think this is pretty honourable and decent. And the PM accepted his apology with good grace. A nice, albeit short, moment of reconciliation in Parliament.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Wendy Alexander is Right.

Sometimes I just despair.

Gordon Brown scored an own goal yesterday when he denied at PMQs that Wendy Alexander, the Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, had called for an early referendum on independence.

She clearly supports the idea, even going so far as to urge the SNP to 'bring it on.' Her argument is that there should be a vote before 2010.

Firstly, Brown is on the wrong side of the argument about this. Labour in Scotland doesn't want to be seen to be denying Scottish voters a chance to have a say. This would appear inherently undemocratic. It is a clear vote loser.

Secondly, his shiftiness on the issue makes him look like he cannot control his own party and doesn't have a grasp of the issue.

Finally, the whole point of devolution is that the Parties in Wales or Scotland are free to exercise their own power and pursue their own policies. It won't work if London tries to dictate policy from the centre. Tony Blair found this out pretty early on.

Essentially, Wendy Alexander's political judgement is sound.

All the polls show that an early referendum (before 2010) would result in a pro-Union victory. It challenges the SNP and gives Labour the initiative. It also removes any doubt about the Party not wanting to hold a referendum. It allows Labour to campaign on the issue of independence rather than the issue of whether or not to hold a vote.

I understand that for pro-unionists Alexander's comments may seem like a real risk.

But I don't understand what we have to be afraid of.

If Scots choose independence they choose independence. The issue needs settling and having a referendum would do exactly that, so why not now?

Independence could be the best thing for Scotland.

It would force the government at Holyrood to make serious choices, instead of dining out on huge block grants from London. The fact that it receives so much money, under the Barnett formula, means it can afford to pursue policies like free university education, which are just not possible in the rest of the UK.

The SNP often cites Ireland as an example of a small country that has enjoyed economic success. It argues an independent Scotland could emulate this. The truth is that Ireland has done well because it is a low tax, economically liberal state, whereas the SNP advocates some some sort of return to a state controlled, Socialist utopia (as if one ever existed anyway)!

It is just wrong and a fight over independence, even independence itself, would expose the bankruptcy of the SNP's current policies.

I know an independent Scotland would change the Labour Party but I'm not sure this would necessarily be a bad thing either. We have to wake up to the fact that the battle over independence is already here.
Wendy Alexander seems to get that. She's also up for the fight.

Why isn't the Prime Minister?

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Time for Hillary to Go.

Hillary Clinton's dismal showing in the Indiana and North Carolina Primaries last night, only goes to show that she does not have what it takes to win the nomination. The fact that today she has lent her campaign a further $6.4 million is further evidence of her dwindling fortunes.

Hillary has run an impressive campaign. She has shown tenacity and backbone - qualities that are needed in American politics. Her impressive grasp of policy and detail also shows what a consummate, experienced politician she is. She and her supporters should be proud of the campaign they have run thus far.

But, it's now time to get out.

She can not possibly win the delegate vote and her only chance of getting the nomination is to win over more superdelegates than Obama. A task which is difficult in itself, if it were not for the fact that Obama has won the popular vote too.

Her scorched earth strategy of throwing everything at the Obama campaign plus Bill Clinton's remarks about the Senator's race also mean that come the General Election, there will be few African-Americans willing to vote for her. The Democrat Party has not won an election in fifty years without African-American support.

The fact is that while Hillary does appeal to blue-collar, white Democrat voters, this section of the electorate is getting smaller and smaller and no longer crucial to Democrat success. Obama's coalition of the young, African-Americans and undecideds represents a greater electoral realignment and the only hope for a future Democratic victory.

If Hillary stays in the race, she is in real danger of doing irrevocable damage to the Party, ruining her own reputation and most importantly harming the Democrat Party's chances in November.

The longer she stays in the race, the more it begins to look like a mixture of ignorance, desperation and hubris.

My advice to Hillary: Get out gracefully and do it now.

Friday, 2 May 2008

What Brown Must Do Now.

Last night was a truly disastrous night for Labour. There is no getting away from it. Even my own hometown of Bury near Manchester went Conservative, the first time this has happened since 1986. As a bellwether borough, which usually supports the party in power, that result should send a warning message to Labour HQ.
Only in Liverpool did Labour manage to give the LibDems a run for their money. They won new seats and exposed the shoddy internal workings of the Council. Labour would be in control now if an Independent hadn't defected to the LibDems at the last minute. Alas, it wasn't to be. Next time though.
But up and down the country things were bad. This is what Brown needs to do now:
1) A complete mea culpa. Listen and Apologise. Don't panic by reshuffling the Cabinet though.
2) Act. It is not enough to say we have listened and learned. This is what Blair said after the last General Election. Instead, we need to act. This means changing the policies and moving the government in a new direction.
3) Policies*. We need to show that we are on the side of every hardworking family in the country. We need a message of fairness that resonates with voters. Fairness when it comes to public services, fairness when it comes to taxation, fairness when it comes to immigration. We need to give people a reason to vote for us. By adopting a platform of fairness we can distinguish ourselves from the Tories.
4) Other Cabinet Ministers need to step up. Where has Hazel Blears gone? What is Hilary Benn doing? Why has Alan Johnson gone quiet? The Cabinet needs to rally round. Nobody has mentioned "renewal" for a long time, but this is exactly what needs to happen. MIlburn and Clarke do actually have some good ideas. They need to be used.
5) Expose the Tories. Their sums don't add up. They are divided over Europe, ID Cards and 42 Day detention. Start attacking them. Brown made a good job of this at the last PMQs by referring to Cameron as a "shallow salesman." We need more of this. Go after Michael Ashcroft. Do this now.
6) Morale. Labour Party members feel let down and fed up. The PLP has effectively given up. If a momentum builds up that 'we are all doomed' and fighting the Tories is pointless, then we really do deserve to lose the next election. Throw us a bone Brown. Reassure us, remind us why we like you.
7) A water-cooler moment. We need one big idea over the next 12 months that will capture people's attention. The Tories have inheritance tax and stamp duty. We need to find our own. Something that people will talk about in the office the next morning and something that chimes with Labour values. It could be about the environment, child poverty or the public services.
8) Look after the economy. Don't cock it up.
*My idea - Bring back school nurses. A full time nurse for every primary school in the country should be a top priority going into the next election. It shows we are serious about preventative health and serious about our children's welfare. They would educate kids, deal with family medical emergencies and spot medical problems before they emerge. They would play a serious role and I think be a real vote winner.