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Cameron stays in Downing Street: don’t expect electoral reform

David Cameron stays in Downing Street. The exit poll, which few could really believe, turned out to be very accurate.

As I write the Conservatives are headed to to a overall majority. But that will be a smaller and more difficult majority than that which the coalition with the Lib Dems gave them.

Westminster MPs are going to have a tough time. It will be much more difficult for them to be away from Westminster when a vote is expected.

All the pre-election polls were wrong in showing a very narrow gap between the Labour and the Conservatives. With 627 seats declared the Toy share was 36.6% while Labour was on 37%. But Labour increased its share of the UK vote increased by 1.4% twice that of the Conservatives. The Labour increase was despite its near wipe-out in Scotland.

There is a lot of number crunching to be done to understand this election which also saw UKIP take 12.7% of the popular vote while the Lib Dems slumped to 7.8%. Clearly UKIP did not greatly damage the Conservatives who inflicted terrible punishment on the Lib Dems for their support over the past five years.

On the face of it, these results – a party with just over a third of the vote getting an overall majority in Westminster – reinforce the the case for electoral reform. But the Conservatives who have won with the first-past-the-post are unlikely to propose a change in their Queen’s speech.

As the psephologists get to work we will learn more about who UKIP took their votes from and where the Lib Dem votes went.

The Conservatives now have to decide how they will govern the whole UK. For the defeated Labour party there will be the probable replacement of its leader and how work with the second largest opposition party, the SNP.

Alex Salmond (SNP) will be one of of the biggest beasts on the opposition benches. A new Labour leader will have find a way of working with the Westminster leader of the party which has inflicted such damage of her, or his, party. If they don’t the opposition will be weakened.

We face interesting political times.




UK threatened by rule from the English shires

Tomorrow we face the very real danger of deciding the United Kingdom should be ruled by the English shires.

If the predictions are anywhere near right Labour will strengthen its dominant hold on London (an underreported topic in the campaign) and will remain the biggest party in Wales by a big margin. English parties do not contest seats in Northern Ireland, while the Conservatives were virtually wiped out in Scotland some time ago.

That leaves the prospect of the Conservatives, with Liberal Democrat allies, forming a government totally dependent on the English members from outside the capital.

We would not be in this position if both Conservative and Labour parties had not totally mishandled the Scottish independence referendum. First devomax was ruled out as a question on the ballots, then it was effectively promised in order to get a “No” vote.

In the aftermath of the vote, the Conservatives demanded English votes for English laws, which would create two classes of MPs at Westminster.

Scots, not surprisingly, were angry and are expected to vote solidly SNP tomorrow. Nicola Sturgeon has ruled out calling for a new referendum in the next parliament, although I feel she could reasonably go back on this if there is a UK referendum vote to leave the EU. She is campaigning for a distinctly Scottish voice at Westminster.

The Scottish Labour party will not be wiped out tomorrow: it will still have 38 seats in the Holyrood parliament and will still fight for Scotland to remain in the UK. That is an argument they stand a very good chance of winning as there is evidence that attitudes on independence have changed little since the referendum. It is only the maladroitness of English parties which will change this quickly.

But the entrenched positions taken during this campaign means Labour has some difficult decisions to make if it wants to be the next UK government. Miliband and Labour can hardly row back and go into coalition with the SNP which has wiped out Labour representation at Westminster.

It should accept that an effective Scottish Labour party which has 38 MSPs must be given independence to fight the SNP in Holyrood with a Scottish voice. It could still support an English and Welsh labour party as does the SDLP in Northern Ireland.

With independence kicked into the long grass for the next five years and Labour actively campaigning for the UK in Scotland, Milband could enter into an informal partnership with the SNP at Westminster and not have too much egg to wipe off his face. The two parties share much more than separates them.

It would not be easy for him, but it could save the UK. An English nationalist Conservative party trying to force through a referendum on EU membership and English votes for English laws would surely end the union.

Owen James has a good piece on this theme in today’s Guardian, English nationalism is out of the bottle, whoever wins.

Let the debate begin. But that will only happen if the Conservatives do not form the next Government.


Deciding how to vote in a constituency where the outcome is certain

Living in Central Suffolk and knowing that my vote is not going to make any difference to the national, or local,  outcome should make deciding who to vote for easy. Yet have spent the past few weeks vacillating.

While it was never likely I would vote Conservative, Dan Poulter, a personable man with a 13,786 majority last time, has worked hard as a constituency MP and is bound to be re-elected. His literature concentrates on what he has done in the area although some of his claims are “a bit of a stretch” according to a friend in a village where he suggested he was instrumental in saving the post office. The mystery is that in none of the leaflets I have seen does he mention that he is a health minister. Why?

UKIP: there was never a chance I would vote for their man although I do admire the party’s recognition that the way politics is done has to change.

English Democrats are simply not a party I would vote for.

Liberal Democrats: The only political organisation I have ever belonged to is the Young Liberals when I was 17. The main reasons was that I was a member of CND and the Labour party supported British nuclear weapons. Also the Liberals were strong advocates of Britain joining the EU. We worked with the Young Socialists, in a sort of coalition, to bait the Young Conservatives.

Five years ago I lost all trust in the Lib Dems when they went into coalition with the Conservatives. In this campaign it has become clear that Clegg would be prepared to go into the same partnership which could mean supporting a referendum on EU membership. That is my red line.

Labour: If I was in a Conservative held marginal I would vote for them. Their candidate here is young. Jack Abbott, who lives in my village is impressive, wrote his own election leaflet which is full of determination and shows a real understanding of the issues facing the area. He would make a good MP and I hope he gets the chance in a more winnable seat.

Greens: Rhodri Griffiths, their candidate, has retired to Suffolk from Wales where he had fought elections and looks like a safe pair of hands in a currently unwinnable constituency. The party has been building an organisation and in the Mid Suffolk district council elections, also on Thursday, could overtake the Lib Dems to become the largest opposition group.

Years ago we used to judge political trends by the numbers of election posters in an area. Now few people put up posters but of those that do would the Greens are winning in the villages around here.

Until this weekend I was undecided between voting Labour or Green. The deciding moment was when I realised Ed Milliband’s pledge stone was not a hoax. I will vote Green.

By bolstering the Green vote I will, at least, be helping to make the case for electoral reform to give  us a more proportionate system. And I prefer their vision of the future, unformed as it is.


More people will have voted against the next government than for it

This election will be decided not by votes for political parties but by votes against them and their ideas. Students voting against the Lib Dems, Kippers voting against Europe, public employees voting against pay freezes, the rich voting against more taxes, the poor voting against the rich, the Scots voting against English parties, parents voting against school cuts, many voting against gradual privatisation of the NHS – there is a lot to vote against.

But what is there to vote for? There is the smaller state, but that has not been well articulated as a political philosophy. Continuation of the post-war social settlement; again not well articulated. It boils down to a battle between neoliberal and Keynesian economics and that is difficult to explain, especially in the rough and tumble of daily politics. This quote is worth considering:

The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else.

The author is John Maynard Keynes in his The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936) and quoted on the website of Foreign Policy in Focus, a US-based think tank.

Neither Labour nor the Conservatives have projected a vision of the future, which is the way politicians can assert their political philosophy. We can be sure that whoever becomes prime minister after Thursday will have substantially more votes cast against him (assuming either leader is able to form a government) than for him.

Both Miliband and Cameron have failed to tell us the basis of their policies. Boiled down to single phrases it seems to me Labour want a more equally paid society, while the Conservatives want to shrink the state and let the market provide.

By not presenting a clear choice they have left the electorate confused, uncertain and hostile to politics.


Two stupid ideas: stone in garden probably cheaper than law against tax rises

Second thoughts on #edestone. A monolith in the garden to remind prime minister Miliband of his pledges and passing a law to remind prime minister Cameron not to increase taxes are probably equally stupid gestures.

On balance, the stone in the garden would probably cost the taxpayers less so is marginally less unacceptable. But both cast doubt on qualification to lead a country.

Miliband unveils his stone. Unbelievable but there are pictures

When I first read that Ed Miliband was to unveil a stone inscribed with his pledges to be installed in Downing Street if he is Prime Minister, I thought it was a hoax.

But it turns out to be true. John Crace writes in the Guardian:

In one of the tightest elections in 50 years that looks set to be won by the party leader whom the public mistrust the least, Ed Miliband has just raised the stupidity bar still higher… There isn’t a single sentient being with connecting synapses anywhere in any planet in any universe who could think that was a good idea.

Why are Scottish politicians better than English one? The answer is in the videos

Ian Jack asked a question, in yesterday’s Guardian, which has puzzled me for some time: Why are Scottish politicians so much better than English ones?

By better, I mean more persuasive and more likable, and by the plural, I mean more than the obvious example, Nicola Sturgeon. Her predecessor Alex Salmond may have been less universally admired, but he too has made the Westminster leaders look awkward and false. Patrick Harvie, who leads the Scots Greens, is undeniably an improvement on his English equivalent Natalie Bennett, while the Scots Tory leader, Ruth Davidson, has become the most engaging Tory woman in Britain (a title previously held by the woman she replaced, the hard-to-dislike Annabel Goldie). Cameron and Miliband clearly feel they need to advertise their combative personas in case you haven’t noticed them – they tell us, hell yes they do, that they’re “pumped up” and “bloody lively”…

He does not come up with a really convincing reason but the question is is valid. I had been pondering a similar question – Why are English politicians feart of their Scottish counterparts?

I think it is that they relate to people, go amongst them and have visions of the future which they share with their people. By contrast Cameron and Miliband are both protected from contact with the people they are trying to convince, avoid answering difficult questions and go on about the failures of others rather their dream of the future.

The nearest we have seen to contact with the people was when David Miliband was mobbed by a hen party and posed, looking embarrassed, for a selfie. Nicola Sturgeon would have gone amongst them, dispensing hugs, touching arms and shoulders; looking as if she regretted she could not be with them later when the male stripper arrived.

In the first, short, video, from the Press Association Sturgeon gives her message briefly, concisely and clearly, but also watch the body language.

The second, longer video, is shaky, shot with a hand-held camera by the YouTube user chunkymark, but is instructive because we hear the whole speech, unlike highly edited TV news items.

There is an old-fashioned political rhetoric, a masterly working of the crowd, simplicity and if there are contrived sound-bites they fit in with the flow of the speech. Above all she looks comfortable to have the people around her. Watch at the end when rather than escaping at the back of the crowd but walks into its midst.

One thing which has just struck me: where are the minders. They must be there but they are not obvious as they are whenever Cameron or Miliband go anywhere.


‘None of the above’: my Question Time verdict

The audience at last night’s Question Time debate (BBC1 iPlayer) may have, in the words of this morning’s Guardian headline, “smelled blood and went for it,” but it was not an event that did much credit to the three participants.

Cameron, Milband and Clegg all evaded questions and looked less than trustworthy. The audience was “the star” according to Jonathan Freedland in the sketch which has the “smelled blood” headline only in the dead tree version of the paper.

It was the star but sometimes it was unreasonable, Two questioners who looked like a mother and daughter seemed to have a blood lust, and I just wished the man who claimed seven countries were likely to leave the EU was told that he was living on another planet.

The Guardian/ICM instant poll made Cameron the winner with 44%, Miliband second on 38% and Clegg trailing on 19%. Cameron may have won simply by going first and getting an easier ride from an audience which was only just learning its power. Clegg did not do that badly.

In a disingenuous move Cameron produced a copy of Liam Byrne’s handwritten not to his successor as chief secretary to the treasury: “I’m sorry there is no money left.” Cameron knows, as well as any sensible person who has ever worked in an office, it was light-hearted, the sort of off-the-cuff message people leave for a successor.

To suggest it was a serious statement of fact is demeaning but the Conservatives have elevated it to an admission of over-spending by the previous Labour Government.

Miliband did not help himself by not mentioning the note at all when asked about it. He looked slippery and gave Cameron’s interpretation credibility. And Milband’s rejection of working with the SNP, which is aimed at reassuring English voters also looked like a denial of reality.

My feeling at the end of Question Time was “none of the above”. None of them looked like statesmen.



Sun and Scottish Sun’s opposite views of SNP can serve Murdock’s commercial interests

Today’s revelation that The Sun in London and The Scottish Sun have radically different voting advice for readers presents Murdoch watchers with a difficult analysis to make.

The Sun says: Vote Tory to stop the SNP running the country.

The Scottish Sun says: May the 7th be with you: Why its time to vote SNP.


Presuming that Rupert Murdoch is still taking an interest and talking to his editors regularly it is reasonable to assume that the hid not object to either of today’s front pages.

His Twitter account does not help much as he seems not to have tweeted since April 26 when he said, Tweet responses interesting. Maybe I guessed 10 too many Cons, but either way Scots probably will hold the balance.

Through this we know he is following the election.

Some years ago when Wordblog was dedicated to the media, I argued Murdoch did not influence election results but was very good at predicting what would happen. His business benefitted if leaders believed he had helped them win.

This would be an explanation of today’s divergent views from his papers in England and Scotland. Cameron is likely to have the most seats in England and Sturgeon in Scotland.

But like so many things in this election it does not make complete sense. Could he have bought the analysis that depriving Labour of seats in Scotland is increasing the chances of a Conservative UK government? He would have probably got that view from his people in London.

My guess is that the opposed views of the two papers is calculated to further his commercial interests in the UK.



The mystery of Labour’s ‘limpness’ in responding to austerity

Paul Krugman, the Nobel prizewinning economist, pinpoints the great mystery of the past five years of British politics and this election campaign, in a Guardian article, headed The austerity delusion, today. He writes:

It has been astonishing, from a US perspective, to witness the limpness of Labour’s response to the austerity push. Britain’s opposition has been amazingly willing to accept claims that budget deficits are the biggest economic issue facing the nation, and has made hardly any effort to challenge the extremely dubious proposition that fiscal policy under Blair and Brown was deeply irresponsible – or even the nonsensical proposition that this supposed fiscal irresponsibility caused the crisis of 2008-2009.

Why this weakness? In part it may reflect the fact that the crisis occurred on Labour’s watch; American liberals should count themselves fortunate that Lehman Brothers didn’t fall a year later, with Democrats holding the White House. More broadly, the whole European centre-left seems stuck in a kind of reflexive cringe, unable to stand up for its own ideas. In this respect Britain seems much closer to Europe than it is to America.

This quote is towards the end of the long – nearly five-and-a-half thousand words – read which is closely argued and academic in tone, with charts.

While Krugman’s analysis is convincing and his general view that austerity is not the way out of the financial crisis is supported by the majority of economists, he fails to present his argument in a way which will enthuse the man (or woman) on the Manchester Metrolink.

Confronted with a controversial economic issue someone in a group will eventually come out with the old saw, “If you lay all the economist in the world end to end, they will never reach a conclusion.” It is too easy to dismiss the argument of an economist.

Supporters of the small state, the real motivation for austerity according to Krugman and many others, will often describe the banking crisis as a “market malfunction”, as if it was akin to a “wardrobe malfunction” which exposes a celebrity nipple.

Why Labour has been so ineffective in confronting Osborne and his policies is a puzzle. I suspect it is because they have treated it as an economic argument rather than the vision of the sort of country we want to live in.

The success of the SNP, the Greens and Plaid Cymru has been largely because they have a vision which is not that of Osborne and Cameron. They want to expand the state, not contract it and are not ashamed to say so.

The effort of reading Krugman’s long read before voting is worth it.