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

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The Sun's decision is not surprising

It is no surprise to me that The Sun has turned its back on Labour.

Its decision to come out in favour of the Tories today was an unmistakable, deliberate act of sabotage, timed to steal the Prime Minister’s thunder.

No wonder Brown and Mandelson were furious. It has just flat footed us again.

Party members put on an admirably brave face but they must recognise that it is a blow.

The Sun is not as powerful as it once was, but it is a good bellwether of public opinion. And its decision shows that public opinion is shifting towards the Conservatives.

In close elections, like 1992, newspapers do have the power to influence their readers. The Sun’s disgraceful attacks on Kinnock, a good man, in that election did influence what their readers thought of him. And I expect that the Sun’s endorsement of Cameron might just give the Tories an extra edge if the next election is really that close.

But why someone didn’t see this happening two years ago is a mystery to me. It was inevitable that The Sun would switch sides. We haven’t been addressing the concerns of Sun readers for a long time now.

The Sun’s announcement clearly infuriated the Prime Minister. When he stormed out of his interview with Adam Boulton on Sky today, part of me thought, “Oh, good on yer!” But I felt sorry for Brown and even in Blair’s darkest days I never felt sorry for him. Blair was always in control of events around him. Brown’s temper tantrum, on the other hand, only further exposed the personality flaws we have come to know so well. No one votes for a leader because they feel sorry for them.

The loss of the Sun is a blow. But there is a lesson here for us. Our love affair with the Murdoch press never delivered what we expected and hoped for. Let’s remember that next time.

And let’s hope that the ever loyal Mirror is there to support us come the election this time.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Was Brown's Speech Enough?

It didn’t quite live up to all the expectations, but Gordon Brown’s speech to the Labour Party Conference today was a tubthumper.

The Prime Minister put on a strong performance and delivered a policy rich speech. He promised a referendum on electoral reform, a care home network for teenage mothers, an extension of free childcare places and to enshrine in law the commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on international development. If the intention was to put clear red water between us and the Tories then it worked.

The new announcements showed that we are still capable of delivering up fresh ideas which are relevant to the British people.

I particularly welcomed the strong attacks he made on anti-social behaviour. It wasn’t directly mentioned but there were strong echoes of Tony Blair’s Respect Agenda in what the Prime Minister said. Up until today Brown has ignored this issue but I am pleased it is at the top of his agenda again. It will certainly help us to appeal to floating voters.

Some of the policies he announced also pivoted to our base which was good. The announcements on Post Offices and ID Cards were met with big cheers. They will win him friends where he needs them.

I also thought he established the Tory lines of attack very well, while still managing to sound positive. I think there is a view, increasingly taking hold amongst the British public, that Cameron made the wrong call about the recession twelve months ago. Brown hammered this point home. “The Conservative Party were faced with the economic call of the century and they called it wrong”, he said. I think Joe Bloggs will agree with him.

He also made promises on the minimum wage and a National Care Service for the elderly which will leave the Tories in a tricky position. Will they be able to match them?

Unlike some cynics, I also liked Sarah Brown’s introduction. It was personal, emotional and honest. It worked the first time and I think it has again.

But the speech was not a game changer.

Of course, it takes more than just one speech to turn around the fortunes of a political party but for me it still sounded like a rag bag of ideas and sound bites stuck together, rather than a compelling narrative or vision of what Labour’s election message will be.

I thought it could have been bolder. Why stop at the recall of corrupt MPs? Why not introduce primaries? Why not hold a referendum on PR on the day of the election? Why not take tougher action on bankers’ bonuses? It didn’t go far enough. It won’t be enough to convince the voters.

Brown may have littered his speech with good announcements and good reminders of what we have done, but the trouble (as it has always been with him) is that the British public have just stopped listening.

Maybe we can get them to listen again. But I doubt it.

That’s why at the end of the day, it may have been a good speech, but it will be the last he makes as Prime Minister.

Monday, 28 September 2009

A Barnstorming Speech from Mandelson Saves The Day!

"If I can do it, we can do it," declared Peter Mandelson to the Labour Party Conference.

His speech today was a barnstorming attempt to breathe life into a conference which up until then had looked moribund.

He told delegates that if he could return from oblivion, so could the party. Labour was in the fight of its life. And it was exactly what we needed to hear.

If the architect of our successful 1997 victory still thinks we can win, then who are we to argue?

Although Mandelson announced an extension of the car scrappage scheme, there was little in the way of new policy announcements in his speech.

But this didn’t matter. Mandelson directed all his fire at the Tories.

Frequently referring to the Shadow Chancellor as ‘Boy George’ he said that Osborne had sailed too close to the wind, too often. A neat reminder to all of us of the last time the two men met on a yacht in Corfu.

He accused Cameron of being shallow and mocked the Shadow Secretary of State, Ken Clarke for his inability to get to grips with modern technology. No mobile phone. No Blackberry. A Business Secretary who can’t function in the modern world. Ken Clarke –the old duffer. A highly effective form of attack.

The speech was littered with criticism of the Tories. If only more Labour politicians could do it.

It was theatrical, camp and a little self indulgent. But if anyone can get away with this, it is Peter Mandelson. And it worked.

It gave us some fire in our bellies, made us laugh at ourselves and reminded us that the real enemies are Cameron and his cronies.

I remember the second time Mandelson resigned from Government and the Mirror newspaper or the Sun (one of them) carried a picture of him and Blair sat on the frontbenches looking thoroughly miserable. The headline was “He could have been one of Labour’s Heroes”.

I hope that Peter Mandelson has put headlines like that to rest now. Over the last twelve months, he has proven his ability and his judgement.

His speech today showed that he has true star quality. God knows Labour needs some of that magic and sparkle.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Brown needs to surprise us at conference

As we all head to Brighton for Labour Conference this week, there are a number of things that I would like to see happen.

Firstly, Gordon Brown has to announce some big policy changes in his speech. It is the only way the polls may move towards him.

Last year, in the wake of Lehman Brothers collapse, the Prime Minister’s response to the crisis played to his strengths. He showed he was a capable, effective and experienced politician. Public opinion shifted and for a time the polls improved.

Andrew Rawnsley points out in today’s Observer that Brown could still do this by surprising us. On this, he already has form – remember his announcement regarding the independence of the Bank of England or even Mandelson’s return to Cabinet. But any surprise announcement has to be a game-changer. And it has to be sufficiently startling to resonate with the British public.

Secondly, we need to ram home our message that only Labour will make cuts in a careful, sustainable way that doesn’t ruin our public services or destroy our social fabric. In the 1980s Mrs Thatcher made brutal cuts which created enormous poverty and deprivation. Generations of families are still reaping the consequences of this.

Cameron and Osborne are no better. If they had their way, they would make severe cuts now based on a perverse out-dated ideology with no thought or conscience about how it might affect ordinary people. Labour can be trusted to be kinder and more careful. This has to be our line of attack. I believe our core working vote could respond well to it.

Paul Richards wrote on Labour List this week that conference needs to be a ‘Cameron Killing Machine’. He is right.

So thirdly, we have to stop talking about the leadership question. I have been very clear all along that I do not believe Gordon Brown was right for the job but I accept that the party has now come to a settled view on this.

As much as I agree with what Charles Clarke says, it is now time to put these questions behind us. It destabilises us when we need to come together. It makes us look divided when we need to show unity.

This is the last conference before an election so we need to take the fight to the Tories. There is much to be said for adopting a strategy of throwing everything including the kitchen sink at them.

If that means negative campaigning then so be it. How do the British public know we will fight for them if we don’t take the fight to the Tories? We need some fire in our bellies. And a bit of Tory bashing in Brighton this week is exactly the right medicine.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Brown's Best Week Yet?

Gordon Brown has had one of his best weeks in office so far – which is good news for him as we approach the start of the Labour Party Conference in Brighton.

His address to the UN General Assembly was masterful, right and displayed his best qualities. His spontaneous response to mad dog Qadaffi’s bonkers behaviour won him good will and the support of most sensible onlookers. He looked and sounded like a world leader.

His press conference with Presidents Obama and Sarkozy to talk about Iran was effective as well. It is about time we stopped messing around with this despicable regime and put on a united show. It was good to see all three leaders there but Brown’s strong rhetoric and push for greater sanctions singled him out.

I have even been watching him over the past few weeks on BBC Two’s excellent ‘The Love of Money’ show, which explored what happened during the financial crisis and ended on Thursday night. Anyone watching that could not doubt Brown’s importance to what happened. It is quite clear that he saved this country from a terrible depression, contributed to the rescue of the banks and was the first to encourage a global stimulus which is now helping the world to move out of recession.

Forget this media rubbish about Obama snubbing him too. I know the British media love to write those stories and the Conservative’s Propaganda Chief Nick Robinson worked himself up into a flap about it, but the President is just BUSY – you know, chairing Security Council meetings and stuff like that.

Both leaders can work off the same page without meeting every two minutes to discuss it.

So I was very proud of Brown this week. The UN and the G20 obviously played to his strengths but he handled it all very well. On the eve of conference, Brown should feel happy that he did all he could, which was more than most people expected.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Cuts, Cuts and Cuts

Up until this week, it had seemed like the word “cuts” was a whisper Labour politicians dare not even speak.

And now it seems we can’t get away from it.

At the beginning of the week Lord Mandelson made an impressive speech in which he said that Labour would be the “wise spenders” while the Conservatives would impose “savage cuts”.

At the TUC conference, Gordon Brown said he would “cut costs, cut inefficiencies, cut unnecessary programmes and cut lower priority budgets”. He talked of “tough choices” ahead.

And only this morning, the Sunday Times reports an interview with the Education Secretary, Ed Balls, in which he details more than £2bn worth of cuts across the schools budget.

Every adult with half a brain knows that public spending cuts are inevitable. This message seems to have finally gotten through.

I would not have started by going after the schools budget though. I thought we were meant to be the party of ‘education, education, education’. Instead, why shouldn’t we be bolder and immediately scrap Trident and ID cards? These policies are not bread and butter Labour stuff.

At least now we are being honest though.

Labour has laid down the battle lines for the next election. We are the party which will make sensible, wise choices while the Tories are the party practically salivating or “foaming at the mouth” (as Mandelson said) at the prospect of being able to cut spending. This is a wiser strategy for Labour.

It even hints at the ‘nasty’ label which the Conservatives have unsuccessfully tried to shake off.

On balance, the Government had a good week and now that a strategy is settled on, we can go to conference feeling a little less gloomy.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Labour still has to be more honest

At last Labour seems to have started to change its message on the economy.

I thought Alistair Darling's speech in Cardiff today was better because it was more honest.

The Chancellor spoke of 'hard choices' ahead and went further than any other senior minister has done to talk about spending cuts.

He also made a vigorous defence of why cutting spending now (but not necessarily in the future) would only prolong the recession and have a negative social and economic impact. Heaven forbid, it was almost an attack on Tory policy.

So much so the better.

But I still think Labour will have to be more direct about where it thinks cuts might fall. I don't think we have been honest enough with people about the scale of the problem.

On the other hand David Cameron has been very clear that a Conservatve Government would impose cuts. To show he is serious about cutting public spending, he has said that he will reduce miniserial salaries and end subsidised food and drink at Westminster.

I know this all populist nonsense and will only save a relatively small amount of money each year but I think it will go down well with voters. And it sends out an important signal.

It will certainly make it easier to sell public spending cuts further down the line if politicians can show they have made sacrifices as well. I wish Labour had made a similar suggestion first.

Labour still needs to be more honest with people but the Chancellor's speech today was a start.