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Posts Tagged ‘By-elections’

In the last few days I feel like reading the papers and watching the news again. Labour is certainly out of the woods again and has got its political edge back, this can only be good for British politics, even if you don’t support Labour.

The key reason for the change on political momentum was Brown’s conference speech last week. He hit home with the ‘no time for a novice’ line and the new narrative on fairness that felt genuine thanks to his apology on the 10p debate.

But there are more reasons for the change in Labour fortunes, it has been a perfect storm this week for Labour. Firstly, the financial crisis has dominated the headlines and disrupted the Tory conference. An example is how Labour conference last week dominated the first ten minutes of BBC news at 10 and most of Newsnight, the Tories have only come after long debates on both programmes on the financial crisis. Secondly, the Tories support for deregulated markets, again coming back to Brown’s speech and his reference to Osborne’s ‘misery of others’ quote, means that Cameron now is on the defensive on why his recipe for growth is the seed of the current financial mess. Because of this defensive line he has to take he cannot get his message out (if he’s got one). Moreover, in the electorate’s mind has sunk the idea that the Tories don’t have a plan for the future (something which is true), and Cameron and Osborne’s ‘wait and see’ line isn’t working anymore. No specifics, the ‘no time for a novice’ argument strengthens itself more and more.

In a recent post I argued that the media needed to take a closer look at the Tories and thankfully they are. They are now asking them the tough questions they should be asked and the Tories are all over the place. Moreover, the Government has kept an institutional and sombre profile, the kind of profile that benefits Brown’s image. Darling yesterday quite skilfully deactivated the Tories’ line on bipartisanship by saying a vote in Parliament won’t be necessary as all changes will be done within existing legislation. Both Brown and Darling are looking much stronger these days. The way they sorted the Bradford & Bingley problem was quick and resolute, and on and on…

It’s not over yet, Labour still got a lot of work to do, they are after all still behind in the polls by about 9 points. Unless Cameron blows the house away today that gap should continue narrowing. Key issues No. 10 needs to focus on now, PMQs and the Glenrothes byelection. Brown needs to find a type of performance that can neutralise Cameron’s Blair-like show, and Labour needs to put solvent people in charge of the byelection, a win is a must to keep the momentum. Labour is back my friends.

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Today certainly is a good day to be a political analyst. Ireland has voted no to the Lisbon Treaty, I might blog about that later on, and Kevin McKenzie, former Sun editor, has decided to run against David Davis in this unexpected by-election as the pro-42 days candidate. Both the LibDems and Labour are not fielding candidates against Davis.

I am a Labour supporter and Davis, not sure if mad is a good term for it but certainly unusual would do, decission to resign from Parliament certainly helps unsettle the up until now well-oiled Tory machine. But I don’t want to write here about what could be the consequences of Davis decission. I am more worried about Labour’s current lack of ideological anchoring.

I know many New Labour types will say that ideology killed Labour electorally in the past. But I’m not talking about ideological rigidity Comintern-style, but rather the need to maintain a set of values for political reference. Labour like most modern social-democratic parties in Europe should stand for civil liberties, redistribution of wealth, strong public services and a dynamic private sector-driven economy.

By the end of Blair’s tenure, one felt that Labour was lost at sea and that basic ideological anchoring was gone. Like the Democrats in the US, Labour was scared of being accused of being soft on right-wing issues, from immigration to terrorism or public sector reform. Brown’s arrival to No. 10 felt like the social-democratic anchoring could be recovered, Brown’s ‘moral compass’ I hoped would mean a review of the party’s priorities back to substantial issues. With 42 days pre-charge detention we have gone back in desperation to fight on populist issues to regain some points in the polls. I oppose this legislation, I feel as a social-democrat that civil liberties are extremely important at a time when privacy is paramount. Internet databases, phone call-recording, CCTV, social-democracy differentiates from conservatism in the fact that we still believe people are naturally good and it’s social processes which change that nature. Labour current assault on privacy seems to me a denial of that basic ideological principle.

Davis stunt could backfire, but it could also hurt Labour if people see beyond the current state of panic in the UK. Labour supporters should remember Michael Howard’s 2005 anti-immigration campaign. As with 42 days, it was popular at the beginning, until people saw through it. Under my view, Labour doesn’t need to go back to the old Labour ways, but it should look at the values it stood for in 1997 and stop trying to escape by running forward into right-wing populism. Some of us are starting to identify ourselves less and less with Labour in recent times.

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This is it. The 17.6% swing to the Tories in Crewe and Nantwich was bigger than expected but also shows two key weaknesses Labour is going to face in the next two years before election day.

First of all, the realignment of the electorate to the pre-1997 era. The LibDem share of the vote went down 4% which means Labour centrist voters weren’t just punishing the Government, they actually sought a change of Government by going Tory. In other words, this is not 2005 when Blair got a bloody nose but voters didn’t want Howard in. This time around voters are pointing decisively to PM David Cameron.

And second of all, the old style New Labour campaign strategy of ‘don’t let the Tories ruin it’ isn’t working anymore. People in fact think that the Tories have changed and maybe it is time for Labour to go. Moreover, the ‘class war strategy’ has failed to mobilise the core northern Labour vote. In other words, Tory voters are enthusiastic about their general election prospects and Labour voters go out to vote, if they do, with their fingers covering their nose, hardly a good sign.

I found Sunder Katwala’s column today in The Grauniad extremely good. As I mentioned in a previous post a few days ago, Brown has got a final chance after yesterday’s defeat. Now this mini-electoral period is over and summer recess close enough it is time to start preparing for a September ‘blitzkrieg’ that puts Labour back on the driving seat of British politics. And I couldn’t agree with Katwala more, change will only come if Labour focuses on substance not style. Some of Brown adivsers should read his piece as a good starting point for a well-needed and long-delayed reflection on the party’s future strategy to stay in power.

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Many left-wing columnists, and pretty much any Labour Party activist, keep saying how Labour’s electoral situation is absolutely terrible but how Brown can come back ‘if he does a, b and c’. Then they move on to say how there are still two years to go to the next general election and so on.

That is old-style political Valium, everyone has done it across the political spectrum at some point in their lives, it is an automatic physical response. Having said that, political duck and cover is as silly as it would be in the event of a nuclear strike. The PM needs to rethink his entire approach to his leadership, he has to recover the spirit of the past summer, his very own Summer of Love.

When I look at Brown I see a PM that is an intellectual giant rooted in strong convictions. I don’t know who is advising the PM on how to comeback on the Tories, but whoever it is he’s missing the point big time. Brown isn’t your modern telegenic PM, he’s more of the brainy type and there, is where he can take Cameron and Osborne out for a ride. But everytime I see Brown trying to put out fires on TV, or simply avoiding them, when he fails to be decisive and speak out with solemnity I run to Sainsbury’s and start buying tinned food.

Yes, Brown can still come back, but he’s definitely not on the right path now. And the problem isn’t his image or performances in PMQs or in public, it is his lack of vision and leadership. These are times of uncertainty, international terrorism, the financial crisis, climate change, you name it, people need to know that in the driving seat there is a PM who has broad clear ideas on how to get the country through the troubled waters. But his advisers at this moment are more concerned with out-Blairing Cameron. Cameron is a Sarkozy, he talks and looks good, he could win the next election because he’s a populist. However saying so isn’t going to win you an election, as Labour’s Crewe and Nantwich campaign is going to show us today.

It is time Brown goes back to fundamentals (bit of a Major flare here I’ll admit). The fundamentals of New Labour and social-democratic ideology, equality of opportunity, good public services and a dynamic private sector driving the economy. Stop all these nonsense on state surveillance, tougher immigration and the creation of once again a new classification for schools. Clear policy lines and direction are needed so people undestand where we are and where we are going, it is time for reassurance not short-term panicky legislation.

PMs like Gordon Brown shouldn’t follow the debate, they should set the debate, they should lead with new ideas and strong leadership. That way he will outdo David Cameron any day he pleases. Crewe and Nantwich is going to be lost today and with it goes a bit more of Brown’s political capital, soon enough he will be a lame duck PM and nothing he’ll do would change that, whatever Labourites say.

Crewe and Nantwich is the last warning, Labour’s current strategy is flawed. It is time to bring back ideology to the forefront of the political debate, what style did for Blair won’t do it for Brown.

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