openDemocracyUK

OurKingdom rolling election blog

Asking the questions and covering the stories most media won't.

Adam Ramsay
Adam Ramsay Oliver Huitson
14 April 2015
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It's election season. We'll be providing regular comment and analysis of events as they unfold, and monitoring Britain's biggest selling broadsheet and tabloid newspapers so that you don't have to. Check back for regular posts from across the openDemocracy team. 

Entries tagged OH are Oliver Huitson, AR, Adam Ramsay, AB, Anthony Barnett. Others will get full names. Enjoy.

May 14th: and that was the week that was

It's now been a week since the election. This is just to say thanks to everyone who's been reading the live blog. As you'll have seen, we've had heaps of analysis of what happened on OurKingdom. Perhaps the simplest answer is that it turns out that many of those who told pollsters that they would vote Labour didn't show up on the day, such was the lack of inspiration from the campaign.

But more on that on OurKingdom. In the meantime, thanks for reading. (AR)

May 7th: Chaos, ransoms, chaos, ransoms, chaos...

Cameron writes in the Times today and manages a wonderful double use of two of the Tories' (and consequently the press') favourite soundbites. He writes:

"...we would be looking at complete and utter chaos in government, with the SNP holding the country to ransom."

In the very next sentence he writes:

"[with Miliband you'll get] the chaos of being held to ransom by the SNP."

It wouldn't be quite so bad listening to the endless repetition of about 5 stock phrases by the parties themselves if their crony press didn't endlessly wheel out the exact same language. And people wonder why the election bores so many... (OH)

May 7th: a belated note on that tombstone

Five years ago, the Tories launched an election poster about inheritance tax. Very quickly, half the country had mocked up their own version using a (now defunct) myDavidCameron.com app. This election, it was Miliband's turn to use an engraved image in his campaign.

The #EdStone was widely mocked, and generally seen as a big mistake. I'm not sure it was. We knew already that the right wing media would spend the bank holiday weekend ripping Miliband to shreds about something. The most effective way for them to do that would have been for them to stick to their usual message - about relying on the SNP, pacts, etc.

By giving them something else to attack him on, Miliband forced the right wing press to change their narrative back to their previous (failed) "isn't he silly" story and, perhaps most importantly, publish lots of pictures of him standing in front of his key messages. In other words, all of a sudden, he was being attacked on his turf again, rather than theirs, in the weekend before the election.

If you're Ed Miliband, you're always going to be attacked by the right wing press. Maybe the best thing he could do was give them a massive piece of bait, and distract them from the message which was harming him most? (AR)

May 7th: Mail faces embarrassment as one of its editorials is leaked to the Daily Mash, unsubbed.

Headline: Miliband nasty bad man

Professor Cleverman, from Best University Ever, say: “If you no vote Tory then Labour make everyone cry with tax and muslims.

“If you no vote Tory, evil Russia man blow up your telly.

“If you no vote Tory, tiny Scottish people raid your fridge and eat your cheesy things.” (OH)

May 7th: Queen to "take control"

This is the Times front page today, alleging there has been a change of heart at Buckingham Palace. The Queen had taken the position that to present a Queen's speech herself that was likely to fall might "politicise" her (read: a Cameron Queen's speech in the event he tries to govern despite losing in the meaningful sense of the phrase, namely, there is a majority against him). In an apparent U-turn this has now changed, and it has been decided she should present the speech.

This does shed some light on the Palace story I wrote about at Vice a while back, and would seem to confirm my suspicions: the Conservatives have gone to the Palace, some weeks ago, seeking support for a Cameron government that does not command a majority. "Cameron remains Prime Minister but he can't borrow the Queen for support", was the critical quote. That was two weeks ago. So how would they do that then?

First, they would have the joint forces of the press, the Palace in a low key manner possibly, and the City. The press has carried out a relentless campaign about how "illegitimate" a Lab SNP pact would be, that the SNP want to destroy the country, it's the worst constitutional crisis since the abdication, and so on. The City, too, have carried out their now familiar election role of warning that any result other than a Conservative government will wreck the country, cause wealth to flee, as every decent, aspirational, wealth creating chap out there decides to leave Miliband's "Stalinist" "geek" "despicable" "pseudo-Marxist" hell hole of "chaos" and bacon sandwiches. If results are as expected, you can be sure to read daily warnings from the City of this nature. They will cry for "stability" - a Cameron minority government.

What of Labour. There was an interesting quote in the press recently, along the lines of, "Cameron will stay on as PM and dare Labour to vote down his Queen's speech". Dare? What is this crazy terminology? Why would Labour ever consider not voting down a Tory Queen's speech? Put 2 and 2 together and what we may see is a vicious Tory-press-City campaign to say "Lab SNP is illegitimate and disgusting, it cannot be allowed. But we need stability. Cameron "won" the election. For the good of the country Lab must come to some agreement by which a Tory Queen's speech is passed." That's how a Conservative source can say they will "dare" Labour to vote it down. (OH)

May 6th: an art or a sport?

Spare a thought for party activists tonight. At the end of what is perhaps the longest election campaign in British history, sore footed and weary-legged, campaigners in key marginals across the country will be heading out on what is known (in some parties at least) as the midnight run.

Muffling the creeks of garden gates, tip-toeing up people’s paths and sliding soggy leaflets through draft-excluding and finger-grabbing letter-boxes, this late night (or, early morning) tradition is how candidates ensure that they get the last word in the battle of Britain's doormats.

How each of the parties goes through this routine tells us a little about each of them. Because from what I have observed in different corners of the country, specific strategies are on display.

Labour, for example, do not deliver to every house, and their leaflets contain almost no policy. Usually, when I’ve seen one, they have simply given directions to the polling station and on how to vote - for their candidate.

This tactic is a perfect window into how most Labour ground campaigns seem to be run. People knocking on doors do so to determine the answer to one question: do you vote Labour? Activists aren’t trusted to communicate messages - if the party relied on them for that, it might have to start giving them a say in what they say.

Instead, the communication is left to the central office - after all, Labour is on our TVs and radios every day, and Philip Gould perfected the focus group so that the leadership didn’t need to talk to its membership to find out what their neighbours thought. Those on the ground exist, it seems, to do two things. Find Labour voters, or potential Labour voters. Second, ensure that they vote. “Good morning” leaflets (or, where they don’t have the resource to deliver to every house in one night “Remember to vote Labour on the 7th” leaflets) are a key part of that (along with knocking on your door/ringing you if you haven’t been to vote and shown them your polling number yet - though all parties do this).

For Lib Dems, the final communication is often a letter, ‘hand written’ in blue ink from the candidate. Usually, it will talk about how they are local/love the local area/want to work hard as an MP or some other such platitude. Even before the party defenestrated itself in 2010, the national brand was usually unused. These are personal letters from one of your neighbours, presumably assembled from a central office instruction manual stuffed with inoffensive adjectives and tips on how many times you can mention your kids before it's too cloying.

Again, the communication tells a story. The aim, in part, is to deliver a final message which sounds friendly, personal and from the heart in a mode which sets the candidate apart from the attack leaflets, dodgy bar charts and spurious claims for which Lib Dems are famous among policital hacks (they, with a few noble exceptions, have long been seen by members of other parties as the dirtiest and most brutal campaigners).

Similarly, where Labour is centralised and controlling, the Lib Dems work hard to give the impression of being local (hence delivering identikit “Focus” leaflets which look like they’ve been designed by your neighbour with Word 97 and an over-fondness of clip art. This isn't because they're amateur, but based on their best research about what voters respond to). Beyond that, their political messages before they went into government tended to be highly localised. In left leaning areas they were the party which had stood against the tuition fees and the Iraq war. In rich suburbs, only they could beat Labour, deliver fiscal responsibility and fill the potholes. It was a successful recipe until they reached government and realised they had promised different things to different voters and couldn't deliver a bag of contradictions.

The Conservatives seem to deliver many fewer leaflets than their rivals and, like Labour, those they do put out have more gloss than policies. This is because they have fewer members but more cash per winnable seat than any other party - by quite a long way. Perhaps more significantly, the members they do have are a lot older than your average Labour, Lib Dem, Green or SNP activist. By this stage of an election, politics is less an art and more a sport. The number of miles of garden path you can trudge with sodden piles of leaflets reduces with age, and Cameron’s party is not getting any younger. Fortunately for them, newspaper delivery boys and girls tend to have young legs, and ensure that the Tory message is disseminated in headlines penned by friendly editors instead.

With Greens you get a mixed bag, with different quality and quantity delivered in different ways across the country. Whether you think this shows admirable localism or failure of organisation is a matter of taste, I suppose. Perhaps the one thing Green leaflets do have in common is that they tend to have a few more words than those of their rivals - just as Green canvassers, unlike their Labour friends, tend to aim for at least a quick chat about some policy or other. The difference is that Labour assumes you’ve heard their key message on the telly. Greens know that you probably haven’t.

The SNP’s preference, in my experience, is for sunbeams, hope and changiness. They seem to have the delivery habits of the Lib Dems (frequent) but with more professional looking graphic design and more political messaging, if in brief bullet points and pretty vague. Their canvassing, though, seems to include more time to chat than Labour - and more willingness to make long journeys. When John Swinney was first hoping to become MP for my parents’ constituency, he travelled up the very bumpy 3/4 mile farm road - 3 miles from the nearest town - to get to the house and ask for their votes. The trip was a success, and so was the campaign as a whole.

I have no experience of UKIP’s attempts at ground campaigns. I hear they have learnt a lot from Carswell and Reckless since their defections, though I would have thought all of their previous Tory members might have brought some experience with them.

Finally, remember this. If you wake up to find a “Good Morning” leaflet on your doorstep, think of the poor sodden activist who tip-toed up to your front door in the middle of a blustery night, creeked open your letter box, squeezed a soggy leaflet through your damned draft excluder - and will now spend all day on blistered feet and aching legs knocking on doors, smiling at voters, and giving them a cheery reminder that today’s the day. And that’s before they spend all night at the count, tallying up which polling districts have or haven’t given them the support they had hoped for.

After that, most of them will go home disappointed.

It’s a funny hobby, I suppose. But it keeps our democracy alive, just about. And so may we wish a long sleep, a good roll of lister plasters and a speedy recovery to them all. (AR)

May 6th: a Mail moment too good not to share

The Mail's level of childishness, spite and stupidity do really have to be seen every day to be believed. It's analysis is on a par with the Sun's. Yet troublingly it seems many of its readers take it to be a reasonably serious newspaper. Here's today's description of Ed Miliband, from a full page Littlejohn colum: "extra-terrestrial Marxoid geek".

This would be deemed childish and facile coming out the mouth of a 16 year old. Yet it's the leading column in one of the country's most popular newspapers. 

On the soundbites of the right wing press a new challenger is shaping up, if Cameron remains PM he "wins", yet if Miliband becomes PM he "seizes power". Of course if Miliband becomes PM it won't be because he "seized power", it will be because the British public voted in parties which, by a majority, oppose the Conservatives. (OH)


May 6th: The Telegraph, The Barclays and Brecqhou

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map: Wikimedia

The Telegraph has got some schtick (to stray into Yiddish for a moment) from these pages in recent months. Today, it's front page declares the coming of a potential "Nightmare on Downing Street". It's the same story as they've been running for a month about how we should all fear the SNP and their seperatist agenda, or whatever.

Looking at it, though, I was reminded of something. The Telegraph, despite being terrified of SNP 'seperatism' are owned by the Barclay Brothers. These are the same siblings who live on the Channel Island of Bercquou. Bercquou is legally a part of Sark, already the smallest self governing territory on earth. Despite this, the brothers spent much of the Nineties trying to win legal independence for their own tiny island. Presumably, though, that's not 'seperatism'. It's just good business sense.

May 5th: that Independent endorsement

The Independent has caused a bit bit of a stir by effectively (whilst saying it wasn't doing so) calling for people to vote for another Tory/Lib Dem coalition. On this subject, Adam Bienkov is worth following. His sources at the paper, he says, are telling him that the demand that the title line up behind Cameron and Clegg came from the paper's Russian Oligarch owner.

As Bienkov puts it:

 Sources at Northcliffe House tell me that it is all down to the influence of the Indy's owner Evgeny Lebedev. They say he has become much more closely involved in the editorial line for both the Indy and their sister paper the Evening Standard during this election.

Describing the Indy endorsement as "beyond a joke," a source told Politics.co.uk that Lebedev was "closely involved [in the editorial line] now. Much more than in 2010."

The source added that the Independent endorsement was due to a "personal diktat" by Lebedev. The Evening Standard will also later today reveal their own endorsement for the Conservatives.

This should, perhaps, be a wake up call to all those in the UK who believe in a free media. A couple of months ago we broke on openDemocracy the story that Peter Oborne had resigned from The Telegraph over advertiser influence. For the last month, Olly Huitson and I have been monitoring and writing about how the Telegraph, Times, Mail and Sun have been marching in step with Conservative Campaign HQ throughout this campaign. Last week, it was reported that Murdoch himself flew into London in order to try to see off a Labour victory.

The Independent has in general been excellent this election, and deservedly has won many prizes this year. It's journalism is top notch. But ultimately, our press isn't free as long as it's owned by a small cluster of the hugely wealthy. If the proprietor is willing and able to dictate an editorial line of this significance, then its (excellent) journalists do not have editorial independence. When push comes to shove, they can be forced to be a mouthpiece for their moneyed man. People don't buy newspapers to make a profit, they buy them to exerpt power. And if Bienkov is right, that was in full display in The Independent  this week.

Of course the paper is welcome to endorse whoever it wants. But if the parameters of our public debate in the week before an election are defined by those who can buy their way into it, then democracy itself is coroding fast. (AR)

May 5th: 'MILIBAND AND HIS TABLET OF SCORN'

The Mail, of course, delivering yet more sharp analysis and measured comment. It goes on to accuse Miliband of "biblical scale hubris", while opponents - we are not told who - claimed it had "echoes of Stalinist architecture". The reporting is almost as silly as the tablet itself. If Miliband finds himself in government it will most likely become a millstone around his neck. Even with pledges as vague as possible, they are not quite vague enough to avoid a very likely scenario in which these absurd stone pledges come back to haunt him - they will be shown endlessly alongside latest figures showing how he has, in likelihood, failed. Take immigration, the only plausible scenario in which a Labour government would reduce inward migration is if the economy tanks. An NHS with the time to care - this will be quoted every single time another nursing scandal erupts. Homes to buy and action on rent - good luck, Ed.

It takes condescension to brave new levels to suggest that a wavering public may see this stone monstrosity and think 'well I was unsure, but now that they've written it in stone - they've got my vote!' Stupidity from the Miliband campaign has not been in short supply. His debate answer on New Labour's spending record was stupid, pure stupid. He would have been much better off, had he insisted on pursuing that line, to explain that "overspending" is necessarily dependent not just on spending but on income. He could have said 'we didn't spend too much, we taxed too little - we weren't tough enough on the ultra-wealthy, the tax dodgers, the multinationals, the bankers...", and so on. Because this is ultimately Labour's downfall - they owe their members and manifestos Swedish style welfare but they owe their money men, the press and their city backers American style taxes. (OH)

May 4th: on future by-elections

A thought struck me today. If the polls are right, and if they don't budge, then it seems perfectly plausible that either Cameron or Miliband will could become PM having won a confidence vote by the narrowest of margins. Particularly if Cameron stumbles over the line with Lib Dem and DUP support, there will be little margin for error (if Labour, the SNP, Plaid, the SDLP and the Greens have a majority, then the Lib Dems may be persuaded to collaborate with Labour for the sake of stability).

Here's the question. What happens if that government loses its majority through a couple of by-elections? With the Fixed Term Parliament Act, it seems perfectly plausible, in theory at least, for a couple of seats to change hands and for the government to go with them. In the past, of course, this would have triggered a general election (as in 1979). In reality, I suspect the incoming PM would want to call one, but it seems to me it wouldn't be required.

In other words, even if Cameron does stumble over the line, won't he be a heartbeat away from losing office?

May 4th: a couple of quick things

First, this piece on headoflegal.com on the constitutional position in a hung parliament is worth a read. The penultimate paragraph is key:

If it becomes clear after May 7th that David Cameron no longer commands a majority and cannot continue in office, then in accordance with convention he’ll resign; and all precedent, all expert opinion and the Cabinet manual itself tell us the leader of the largest opposition party will be appointed Prime Minister. Miliband won’t first need to ask Sturgeon to go looking in her handbag.

Also, it's worth noting quickly that the May2015.com poll-of-polls shows Labour very narrowly ahead today.

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I'm sure this will fluctuate up and down again a little. But it seems that the discussion of a swing to the Tories was premature. Of course, it's possible that there will be a small change at the last minute - that does happen. But having spent a fair amount of time over the weekend talking to strangers about how they're going to vote, my impression is that the vast majority made up their mind long ago.

Put these two points together and they confirm the long term story of this election: time, for Cameron, is in short supply. His political career is gasping for time.

May 4th: some shouting in Glasgow

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The news today is that Eddie Izzard and Jim Murphy were trying to have a wee gathering in central Glasgow when some people shouted various nasty things at them and got, apparently, a little aggressive. Just a few quick thoughts on that.

1) The above tweet from Channel 4's Alex Thompson is telling. The implication is that Murphy knew fine well that this would happen, and that's why he organised the event. Portraying SNP/Yes supporters as rough was a key part of the no campaign's strategy during the referendum. They seem to be returning to this trick.

2) It only works because people are silly enough to fall for the trap. The protesters today have done nothing to help the SNP, and may frighten a couple of swing voters away from them, though I doubt it'll have any serious impact.

3) One of the things that struck me during the referendum was that when yes campaigners did this sort of thing, it was all over the press. When Orange Order skinheads at the end of their 'march for the union' rambled drunkenly through Edinburgh singing to any person of Irish descent who could hear (in Leith, so likely many) "the famine's over, why don't you go home?" and telling my black friend in a yes T-shirt that he "should be lynched", the press reported it as a nice day out for all the family.

4) A part of the narrative during the referendum, as Gary Dunion pointed out to me, seemed to very much be aimed at saying "Scots can't run ourselves. Deep down, we're an aggressive people/uncivilised people". This seems why little shouting matches in the street get blown into massive stories, paticularly in Glasgow, a city which people in much of Scotland are still taught to fear.

5) It's worth remembering, unless things happened which haven't been reported, that this incident had less violence than John Prescott's 2001 punch. (AR)

May 4th: some observations on Question Time 

During the “meet the people” edition of the BBC’s Question Time two things became clear: first that the leaders on display are widely despised, and second that they are plainly unfamiliar with the people whose votes they are soliciting.  All three came to the podium armed with stock answers, crude evasions and an oblique relationship with what most of us would recognise as truth. Cameron side-stepped questions on welfare cuts, food banks and so on by telling his audience, with a show of Pecksniffian bravado, how much he disliked these examples of economic disarray which were none of his doing. Miliband blanked accusations of New Labour fecklessness by referring to hospitals and schools built under Blair and Brown, hoping, no doubt, that his listeners wouldn’t remember the ruinously expensive PFI through which many such projects were financed. Clegg pretended that an apology for reneging on previous electoral promises was all that was needed to brush off a five-year pact with one of the most right-wing governments in modern UK history, and then went on to announce a new red line that, like student fees, “wouldn’t be crossed” and wasn’t remotely credible. Cameron won’t do a deal with Farage, nor Miliband with Sturgeon, while Clegg will do a deal with anyone willing to offer him a seat him at the cabinet table in the event that his constituents don’t eject him from his seat in parliament.

All three spoke as if they considered the electorate more susceptible to bombast and prevarication than to statements of vision and intent. Their words sounded hollow, their promises empty, their appeals fake, their assurances ridiculous, their penchant - a Tory penchant in particular - for misrepresenting and insulting opponents simply repellent. Perhaps nothing better illustrates Cameron’s contempt for the public than his later reference to Scottish SNP voters as "a bunch of people that don’t want the country to succeed". What those voters don’t want, I suspect, is yet another Westminster government that ignores their concerns and dismisses them as “that bunch of people.”

Leaving aside the miserably low level of debate in this election, what I find especially dispiriting are the crass displays of ignorance on show, though we may speculate on whether these reflect a genuine lack of knowledge or simply an intention to deceive. Tories and Lib Dems never miss an opportunity to tell everyone that the economic downturn was a consequence of Labour’s inability to run the economy. In fact, the recession was engendered not by government but by Wall Street and the City of London. Gordon Brown was the first western leader to understand that without massive government funding the entire banking system would collapse. Why didn’t the government spot the problem beforehand and seek to address it? Because no one except for a few specialists in the banks understood what was going on, or would have recognised a CDO or a CDS if he had sat on one. Prior to the 2008 financial crisis David Cameron and co. were beating the drum for less regulation of the financial sector. But neither the Tories nor their friends in the media have allowed facts to get in the way of useful distortion.

Arguments about the tax rate offer another example of real or rhetorical ignorance. Ed Balls complains repeatedly about the Tory’s cutting the top marginal rate from 50p to 45p, while Osborne claims that the lower rate brings in more cash. Neither side refers to - or maybe is even aware of - the Mirlees Review, the most thorough analysis available of UK taxation. Among Mirlees’ conclusions is that the optimal top rate for revenue generation is either  50.4% - 64.5% or 40.2% - 49.4%. Wonderful! Even the experts aren’t sure, so the honest position for politicians would be to acknowledge, as I suggested in an Open Democracy piece some time ago, that tax policy should take account of considerations other than just government income - like fairness, economic growth and so on.

These are merely two examples of an election campaign overloaded with vacuous and deceitful rhetoric. Few experiences are more enraging than being condescended to by politicians. Yet the entire campaign has been based on thinly-disguised efforts to mislead. The BBC Question Time audience responded by showering the three party leaders with their anger. They - we - are tired of finding ourselves represented by ever more callow leaders and addressed as if we were  “a bunch” of idiots. (Jeremy Fox)

May 4: why the young are fleeing London

Midday through a Sunday morning stroll four days before the election, we stopped for refreshment at a tiny café just off Burgess Park in South London. All the tables were occupied, so we sat at the counter and were served delicious coffee by a man his early twenties. As we sipped our coffees, the young man’s colleague, a woman of about the same age, emerged from a rear door and the two began a conversation the gist of which was that all their friends were leaving London for a variety of destinations: Bristol, Brussels, Amsterdam, Glasgow...

“Not sure where I’ll go", the young man said. “Maybe Bristol or abroad somewhere.”

Since the two speakers were standing directly in front of me, I took the liberty of asking them the reason for the exodus. 

“We can’t afford to live here any more,” the young man answered. “Rents keep going up. We’re all leaving.”

He is right. London rents have been rising at a faster rate than incomes while empty homes  - many of them owned by wealthy people who live elsewhere - number above 80,000. Maybe the Coalition expected the 50,000 families forced out of the capital by welfare cuts to solve the accommodation problems confronting the young. If so, it is a mean-spirited calculation that is having no effect on the housing crisis facing London’s poor. According to a report published by the ProHousing Alliance, "Whereas in 2010 67% of neighbourhoods in inner London were affordable it is predicted that this will fall to 20% by 2016.”

Observers of the London skyline will be aware of countless construction cranes hovering over the city. Building sites abound. Apartment buildings are blossoming like daffodils in spring. From time to time, out of curiosity, I venture into a sales office on a building site to ask after the price of a small flat, nothing fancy, maybe a couple of modest bedrooms and some storage space. Invariably I leave with a glossy brochure, a sense of shock at the price I am quoted, and bewilderment that anyone on an average London salary could possibly cover the mortgage payments even if they could muster the deposit. In one sales office, I was told that although I was welcome to visit the show apartment, all were already sold. Already sold?

“Afraid so,” the sales representative said brightly. “A Russian gentleman bought the lot. Fifty-two flats altogether plus a penthouse. However, if you’re willing to wait until stage two of the project…” (Jeremy Fox)

May 3: Stone Me! So Ed plans to carve his committments in stone and erect this in the Downing Street garden. It's another form of the election pledge card New Labour came up with in 1997 to convince sceptical voters they could be trusted. And is far too static. You can't gather momentum from the immobile. One day a politician will come along who asks voters to trust themselves, politically that is, rather than put their trust in them - it's called becoming citizens. (AB)

May 2: The Democratic Dashboard: Patrick Dunleavy of the LSE and Democratic Audit has asked everyone to take a look at the Democratic Dashboard. I have and it's good. Enter your postcode and your constituency pops up with a clear map, graphs and great links, especially to the incumbant candidate if there is one. Try it. (AB) 

May 1: Miliband's comments on the SNP are going down like a shot of nail varnish remover in Scotland  A Facebook friend just announced that, after being a member for most of his life, he's decided he has to quit Scottish Labour. Ed Miliband's comments last night about refusing to work with the SNP meant, he decided regretfully, that the party didn't deserve his vote.

On Twitter, the sentiment was similar. Though most of the tweeters I follow in Scotland have long since abandoned the Labour party, if they ever supported it, their comments on what Miliband had to say had more of a ring of truth to them than they sometimes do. These two tweets from they yes voting playwrite Alan Bissett sum it up.

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There are two ways to interpret this. The first is that the comments were aimed at neutralising the attack on Labour in England - the line that they'll be in the SNP's pocket. As I wrote below, I think there's a better way Miliband could have dealt with that. He could have said that, if he hasn't got a majority, he'll attempt to form a minority government, and seek support from across the House of Commons for his programme of government on a case by case basis. Which is what he is saying. But by hiding it, he's making it sound scarier than it is.

The second is that he's trying to force Scottish voters to hold thier noses and come back to Labour - which has largely been their strategy in Scotland so far. The problem is that he's done it in the worst possible way.

Miliband's line, essentially, is that he finds the idea of Scottish independence so revolting that he's not willing to talk to those who espouse it. He's lumped them in the same category as UKIP. The problem with this, rather like when Cameron called UKIP fruitcakes, is that the category of people who quite like the idea of independence includes most Labour voters in Scotland.

What I mean by that is not that most former Labour voters voted yes. Only about a third or so of them did. What I mean is that for every Labour voter who did stump for a yes vote, there's another one who seriously considered it. Even if they didn't do so themselves, they probably have a family member or a friend who did. In fact, given that one in 40 adult Scots is a member of the SNP, they probably have a friend who fits into that category too. Perhaps most obviously, huge numbers of former Labour voters are currently planning to vote SNP.

So when Miliband says that the SNP is so utterly beyond the pale that he wouldn't collaborate with them, he is saying to all of these former Labour voters who now prefer the SNP that he isn't willing to even countenance talking to their preferred party. Rather than saying "look, Labour and the SNP are pretty similar, but actually, we think Labour is better for these reasons", he's saying "if you prefer the SNP to us, I never want to hear from you again". In the Green Party, there's a mantra abour how to approach Labour: "in sorrow rather than anger". Labour would do well to learn to treat the SNP the same way.

May 1: In case you missed Niki on the BBC  Readers of this blog who do not check out the OurKingdom main page could have missed Niki Seth Smith writing as one of five million potential British voters who live abroad. She is in Athens and very dependent on the BBC and its f***ing worm! It really annoys her, as she explains, adding:

"Watching the Beeb’s election coverage from Greece only heightens the absurdity. Over the last five years, the Greek people have had a harsh education in the reality behind what has been dubbed ‘mediamacro: the dumbing down by the press of macroeconomics into false and misleading ‘common sense’ rhetoric. As Paul Krugman has pointed out, media macro fantasy language like ‘we’ve maxed out the credit card’, or politicians promising to eliminate the deficit within a parliamentary term, dominate the British media, and particularly these elections. It’s laughable, as is the notion that a party in a tiny minority can somehow ‘hold the country to ransom’ – there was no such hysteria within Greece when Syriza, a left-wing party, went into coalition with the populist right-wing Independent Greeks, as with only 13 seats they naturally have limited influence". 

May 1: momentum and reversion to means   Journalists like to write about who has 'momentum' in a campaign. Somtimes it's a thing. During the Scottish referendum, support for a yes vote did increase significantly in the last few weeks (before dropping off in the last couple of days as people got jittery). But there is a much more common phenomenon, written about much less because, well, it's dull: reversion to the mean.

Yesterday, the Tories took their biggest lead in a while in the May2015.com poll of polls. 1.5%. The traditional way to report this would be 'oooh! Tories have momentum! a consistent swing to them across the polls!". But today, they are back down to a 0.5% lead - roughly where they've been for a while now. Because, while swings do happen in polls, what's much more common is bumps - either because a series of samples will sometimes randomly all give one side a little much, or because after some event which favours one party, voters will settle back down to what they've actually thought for the last few years, months or weeks.

May 1: on charity  BTW, sorry for the lack of updates yesterday, I was ringing round various charities and NGOs writing this piece on how the government has gagged them ahead of this election. (AR)

May 1: Ed should have explained how he'd manage a minority government tonight rather than letting the media do it for him In the Question Time leaders' special, a man called Simon asked Ed Miliband the vital question with regard to the SNP: "And you wouldn't put forward a Queen's Speech on the hope they'd support it?"

His answer was pretty clear: "We do want to put forward a Labour Queen's speech, we want a majorty Labour government, and it will be for parties in the House of Commons to vote for it".

Sometimes, politicians manage to have the worst of both worlds. They succeed in at once sounding evasive and giving an answer without defending it. This was one of those occasions.

By continually talking about the desire for a majority, Miliband looked (as Cameron did before him) like he is either deluded or evasive. But piece together the comment, and it's clear what he was actually saying. If there is a majority of anti-Tory MPs, who vote to sack Cameron, Ed will propose a Queen's Speech. And he will dare the SNP not to vote for it. They will vote for it. And he will become Prime Minister. Once he's in, as I described here, he will be able to simply propose his governmental program, and those bits for which there is a parliamentary majority will pass. Those bits for which there isn't won't.

Given that this is clearly what he is planning to do, why didn't he say so? He could simply have said "if you don't give me a majority government, I'll attempt to form a minority government, working with all parties vote by vote." And then gone on to explain why he thinks a Labour majority is better for the country than that.

His problem is that, by refusing to do this, he leaves a vacuum for the press to fill. No one believes that he will simply walk away from office. And so voters are convinced that he will end up as the prey of some brutal SNP machine. By refusing to talk about minority government and make the case for him at the helm of one, he has allowed the right wing press to turn this perfectly reasonable prospect into the most terrifying idea anyone can imagine.

Of course, Scottish Labour might be a little cross. They think they need to persuade people that they must vote Labour if they want a Labour government. But this too is a bad plan. People in Scotland, like people everywhere, will vote Labour if and when they think Labour are the best party. Bullying them into doing so by saying you will refuse to talk to the people they like better than you just alienates them from you even further - no one can believe that Miliband's comments tonight are going to push Scottish voters back to Labour. But his failure to explain why a minority government with him at the helm isn't the most terrifying prospect imaginable will cost him votes in England. (AR)

29th April: the press campaign has been very effective indeed  The Times reports on a ComRes poll for Newsnight in which 55% said the largest party should get to form the government, while only 34% said it should be leader who can command a majority, the "constitutionally accurate" answer. Anyone might think the press have intentionally misled the public on the issue... (OH)

29 April: NHS is voters' top issue, so why isn't it discussed?   In the Times yesterday it noted, extremely briefly, that the NHS is now the top concern among voters. So why is it barely discussed in the right wing press? Other than small mentions about funding - how much each party has agreed to fund - there is virtual silence on the issue. How is it to be structured? Will Labour repeal the Health and Social Care Act? What role for private firms? What of the huge increase in NHS contracts now being given to private firms? You'll hear nothing about any of this in the right wing press because it's a damaging issue for the Conservatives. The biggest revolution the NHS has ever seen is now officially forgotten.

In contrast immigration has moved quite a way down voters priorities, down at 14%. Hats off to the Conservatives and their press, who have both mentioned immigration as little as possible knowing it pulls voters away from the Tories and towards UKIP. It seems to have worked a dream, UKIP support has generally fallen away and the issue has dropped down voter concerns. One just can't help but feel that if Labour or the SNP had failed so dismally on one of the defining promises of their 2010 manifesto, we'd possibly have heard quite a lot about it.

Similarly, in the same edition the "big society" popped up. Adam and I aren't even recording the number of mentions for this core Conservative theme of the 2010 because it is so rarely mentioned, perhaps on average twice per paper across the last 4 weeks. This was Cameron's big idea, he was so proud of it, it was his nod to the savage, anti-social nature of Thatcherism. Which should provide a good clue as to why we have heard so little about it - it was dropped to all intents and purposes. (OH)

29 April: How Nick Clegg has encouraged the Tories to target Lib Dem seats   It's eight and a half hours on the sleeper from London to St Ives. It's a journey David Cameron made last week, on his second trip to Cornwall in this election campaign. This is Cornwall, of course, where there are no Labour held seats; where Liberals are the historical masters.

Earlier this week, I was in Kingston and Surbiton, where Lib Dem Ed Davey is defending a majority of 13.3%. I was seeing a friend who had, years earlier, humiliated Boris Johnsone when he ran for Rector of Edinburgh University by chairing the hustings, and being funnier than him. He told me that the irritable London Mayor had been to the seat twice, that the Tories were working hard there. I'm told they are throwing lots at neighbouring Twickenham too - Vince Cable's seat.

Victory in elections is about many things. But one of those is the careful allocation of your scarce resources. For Labour, that's money. For Tories, it's their very limited activist time - and for both, it's time for prominent figures, like the Prime Minister and the Mayor of London.

Here's my question then.

Back in February, I argued that Ed Miliband's simplest road to Downing Street would have been to pull central resources out of seats where they are facing the SNP, Plaid and Greens, and focus them on Tory facing seats in England and Wales. As MPs from these parties are going to vote for Miliband anyway, battling them does nothing to grow the group that will ultimately carry him over the Downing Street doormat. Ultimately, the winner of this election will be determined by the relative size of each of two groups - what I call "the left collection" and "the right cluster". Pouring resource into intra-group battles does little to help you win.

For David Cameron, the same logic applies. As the Lib Dems are his most likely partner, winning a seat from them does little to take their collective group past the 323 seats they need. Worse, it forces Clegg to divert resource away from Lib Dem/Labour marginals. Why, then, are the Tories putting so much resource into these seats? Why the long journeys from the PM, the repeat trips from The Sun's candidate to succeed him? There are a few potential answers.

First, they still think they can get an overall majority. If this is the case, we can only conclude that they are suffering from delusion.

Second, they accept they haven't won and are playing a long game, and building towards a future Tory majority.

Finally, Nick Clegg has said he will deal first with the biggest party. This changes the dynamic of my original logic: even if the Tories know they can't get a majority alone, they need to win the maximum number of seats overall, rather than having the maximum number for the overall right cluster. Of course, taking a seat off Labour helps more (it reduces their total by one as well as increasing the number of Tories). But they're up in the polls since last time, so it's also harder.

In other words, every seat the Tories take off the Lib Dems makes the Lib Dems dealing with them more likely. The Nick Clegg has, in other words, created an extra incentive for the Conservatives to put resources into beating his candidates. (AR)

29 April: little interest in crime and justice is big relief: “Labour’s manifesto is particularly weak on prisons,” the penal reformer Frances Crook writes here on openDemocracy. Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, interrogates six parties’ crime and justice manifesto pledges.

The Tories, she says, “seem blithely unconcerned by the chaos and misery” they have made. (In two years our prisons have deteriorated into “stinking, inert, violent, crowded and dangerous places”.) 

The Lib Dems “have a welcome presumption against short prison sentences” and “some worthy sounding phrases about getting prisoners active”.

No party has convincing policies to ameliorate the overcrowding crisis, or untangle the mess that is reform of the probation service.

Crook’s verdict? Could be worse. The campaign’s lack of interest is to be welcomed. When crime is a hot election issue, the big new ideas tend to be nasty, punitive, disastrous. (By Clare Sambrook).

28 April: saying you'll deal with the ex-paramilitary bigots of the DUP after their riot stoking, but not the SNP, is deeply offensive, Mr Clegg

I’m angry. Really angry. On Friday Nick Clegg made it clear that he wouldn’t work with the SNP under any circumstances. Yesterday morning Ed Miliband did the same. I definitely don’t believe Clegg. Even if he’s still an MP, he may well not be Liberal Democrat leader for long after the election. But there’s a more important point here - and that’s that all of these parties are still angling for support from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

I think that, in a democracy, you need a really very good reason to not work with another party. The claim by the Liberal Democrats is that the SNP are the wrong type of nationalist. Liberal Democrats are British nationalists, the SNP are Scottish nationalists. That, in Clegg’s eyes puts the SNP in a position where they must be outcast from UK politics. Yet the DUP’s (now ex) health minister made a deeply homophobic comment before Clegg’s choice to rule out working with the SNP.

Rumours circulated at Westminster that the last-day antics trying to make it easier to oust John Bercow as Speaker of the House of Commons was part of a Conservative strategy to offer the position to the DUP in return for support. The DUP are ideal coalition partners - economically right wing, yet easily bought off with money to sort the mess they’ve made in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

It is deeply distasteful that a party that includes sexists, homophobes and racists is making demands of UK parties, but there’s something deeper here. In 2010 the DUP lost East Belfast to the Alliance Party (the Northern Irish member of the Liberal International). East Belfast had been DUP since 1979, and had been held for that period by Peter Robinson, who was first Deputy Leader to Ian Paisley, then Leader and First Minister of Northern Ireland. Robinson helped establish Ulster Resistance, a paramilitary organisation.

The loss of East Belfast stung the DUP very badly. In 2012 they chose to highlight Alliance’s decision to support the flying of the Union Jack from Belfast City Hall on the days it flies from British Government buildings, rather than every day. The suggestion was a compromise response to Sinn Féin’s proposal to remove the Union Jack completely from Belfast City Hall. The DUP delivered 40,000 leaflets to houses in East Belfast blaming Alliance for removing the Union Jack from the Council's HQ. In line with the traditional DUP tactics of lighting the fuse, then running away as the explosion approaches, this produced widespread civil unrest. It also resulted in Alliance Party offices being burnt out, their representatives being sent bullets in the post and widespread intimidation of Alliance representatives.

I don’t expect solidarity amongst Liberals. But I find it extraordinary that Nick Clegg is willing to work with a group that has done so much to physically endanger his fellow Liberals in Alliance. It shows just how obsessed Westminster parties have become with their British nationalism that they would rather work with a party who have been involved with paramilitary organisations and intimidation of their political opponents than the SNP. (Peter McColl)

April 28: a view from Scotland Another interesting Facebook update from Andy Myles, former Chief Exec of the Scottish Lib Dems, member of the Scottish constitutional convention and Special Adivser to the then Scottish Lib Dem leader & Deputy First Minister.(AR):

(I have) several questions for David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg. In September last year you were telling Scotland we were "equal partners" in a "family of nations". Less than one year later you are telling us as we are in fact, to all intents and purposes, a distinctly junior partner (with only 59 out of 650 seats at Westminster which number you think you can just ignore) or a tail (Scottish) that must not be allowed to wag the dog (English? British?). How can you reconcile these widely divergent positions - last year and this year?

You are also telling us that you will have no dealings with our democratically chosen representatives if we have the temerity to elect any that don't agree with your interpretation of the constitution with regard to nationality. Do you accept that this might - just might - be because you don't share the same understanding as we do as to what our nation actually is?

You do realise that we have been a nation for a very long time? You do understand that the Treaty of Union still applies as law in this state, and under its terms, Scotland is a nation, with it's own national institutions and culture - and has been for every one of the last 300 years? The nation never died. It just entered a Union with its neighbour, on terms where it was NOT subsumed within the new entity. Do you not understand that I, for one, feel genuinely insulted when you threaten to treat me as a terrible, dangerous, breaker of homes and all because I was born in Scotland and am a Scot as well as British - a part of the Scottish nation, as recognised in law, whether I like it or not? And just because, in a secret ballot, I might vote for the SNP?

Do you think that people don't notice when you treat those you deem to be "nationalist" as constitutional inferiors? Do you not realise that you seem to have already accepted and, indeed all but declared publicly, that "nationalists" are second-class citizens who should stay in their reservations (a.k.a. devolved parliaments and assemblies) if they want to be involved in politics? You will have no dealings with them because they are wrong - beyond the pale of trust with regard to being in Her Majesty's Government. You will deal with them in Holyrood but you will most certainly not do the same at Westminster.

And are you really seriously so far above what you obviously see as crude "nationalism"? Are you never even just a little bit "nationalist" as you decide that it is in the "national interest" to invade other people's countries, build weapons of mass destruction and so on? What is the "national interest" you seem so keen to "protect" within the EU? Is there even the slightest chance that your dismissal of "nationalism" might be hypocritical -and that the British "national " interest is really no different, when it boils down to it, as the Scottish one?

Well, it looks about two million Scots are about to vote for such Scottish "nationalists" in a week's time - and when you insult them, you are insulting most of the other two million voters in Scotland as well. This is because, under your own lousy electoral system, it is quite possible according to the polls that there will be very few Scottish Unionists in Westminster - and you will be treating the elected representatives of maybe 50 or more constituencies as second class - which reflects on all the voters of those constituencies. Are you really satisfied to leave them ALL effectively unrepresented and excluded from government?

You see, we ARE all Scots AND British - for electoral purposes, whether we are nationalists or Unionists or neither, we live within the UK's Scottish so-designated constituencies. We know this very well because last year we exercised our sovereign power in those Scottish constituencies to decide on the future of our nation. Were we mislead when you all accepted the existence and truth of that sovereignty? Why didn't you tell us that our sovereignty would be politically trumped by the sovereignty of the Queen in Parliament if we dared to vote for the SNP? Why didn't you say then that if we want to be fully represented in the Union Parliament we would, of course, we have to vote for Unionist candidates? why did you wait until now?

Or did I misinterpret that bit when you were explaining about how you wanted us to play a full part in this wonderful, magnificent United Kingdom of ours? Did I completely miss a bit about the British Union being superior to the Scottish nation in constitutional terms?

How does this all fit with Scotland being an "equal partner"? I suggest that you need to think more seriously about these questions, because, as far as I can see, you are severe danger of ripping the "family of nations" apart if you continue on your current course.

April 28: does "biggest party" mean "Labour + SDLP" or "just Labour"

For a long time now, the May2015 number cruncher has given the Tories either the same number of MPs as Labour, or one more or, today, two more. For those insisting on the (constitutionally foolish) idea that it's the biggest party that matters, this opens up a second question: is it Labour that counts, or should their Northern Irish sister party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party, be included too?

This question is of historic significane. If such sister parties aren't counted, then the Conservatives had fewer seats than Labour in both 1951 and 1955, and neither Churchill nor Heath would have been legitimate Prime Ministers, by the 'biggest party' logic. If they are counted, then the three seats the SDLP is almost certain to win takes Labour over the 'biggest party' line in all of May2015's recent projections. Of course, this case isn't helped significantly by Labour politicians using language implying they don't like parties which want to 'break up the UK' - given that their sister party in Northern Ireland is on that list.

The Tories, by the way, have packed in their deal with the UUP, and parachuted candidates in from England to stand as Conservatives. So, unlike in the past, even if the UUP does win any seats, the Tories can't really plausibly count them in their total. (AR)

April 28: the letter "from small business owners", or was it? Over at political scrapbook an article details how the letter in question seems to have been created by Tory HQ and some of the 'business owners' listed are not, in fact, business owners at all. This shouldn't come as any great surprise, the level of coordination between the Tory press and CCHQ is quite remarkable - it's essentially a single campaign. More surprising is the level of incompetence.(OH)

April 28: Mary Kaldor writes I am in an email list where an American based in Washington asked how the election was going and Mary Kaldor replied to him with a neat summary, and here it is (AB): British politics is interesting for the first time in years. We have all three left insurgent parties –the Scottish and Welsh nationalists and the Greens - and one right, UKIP. The nationalists are a bit like Syriza and Podemos. There is a developing phenomenon of left populism (also Sinn Fein in Ireland).  It gave us a fascinating leaders debate at the start of the campaign period with three brilliant women (SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens) and three very wooden over-rehearsed male mainstream politicians (Tory, Lib Dem and Labour) plus Nigel Farage of UKIP.

The Tories and Labour are neck and neck. Ed Miliband is doing better than anyone expected but his and Labour's insistence on cutting the deficit is very disappointing. He is trying to compete for the middle vote by emphasising ‘responsible’ economics. I think Labour might succeed in being the largest party because they are much better at mobilising the activists and have done rather well with online funding. But there will be no overall majority.

The SNP look set to take 50 seats from Labour in Scotland which will almost certainly prevent a Labour majority in Parliament and Ed keeps saying that he won’t do a deal with the SNP. The arithmetic suggests that whoever is the largest party only some sort of Labour-SNP alliance could command an overall majority; something I am in favour of since the SNP are anti-austerity and anti-Trident. However the fight in Scotland is very bitter. Meanwhile, the Tories are playing a dangerous game of attacking this possibility and bringing closer the possibility of a break-up of the UK. Its genuinely interesting and open despite much lamentation about it being dull in the media, who bought the Tory narrative that Labour will have a car crash.

April 28: Tories preparing for failure? In the Sunday Times yesterday it is reported that the jockying for position post-Cameron has begun in earnest, with Boris the front runner, and that if he were leading the Tories now their overall poll position would be five points better. It comes as a number of large Tory donors speak out against a dull, uninspiring and 'cynical' campaign. The project to turn the SNP into an object of national terror has made some gains in polling, thanks in large part to the relentless stream of vitriol with which the Tory press have hammered home the message, yet it's looking like it may not be enough. That said, there is still a real possibility of the UKIP vote declining before election day with a majority of leavers coming back to the Tories.(OH) 

April 27: No, the SNP won't be able to hold the country 'to ransom' A few weeks back, I wrote about how the newspapers were preparing to re-write our constitution in tabloid headlines. At that point, I hadn’t conceived of the scale to which this absurdity would climb. Over the last few days, the Times has declared that the involvement of elected SNP MPs in supporting a government would be a ‘coup’ and the Sun saying that such a pact, if Labour weren’t the largest party, would have no mandate and, in a seperate piece, that they would 'steal power'. Perhaps topping it all, yesterday’s Mail on Sunday front page screamed a quote from Theresa May that a Labour/SNP pact would be the "biggest constitutional crisis since the abdication" of Edward VIII.

Now, I suspect the families of those who died in The Troubles might have something to say about another significant constitutional problem in recent UK history. Equally, the idea that SNP MPs should be quite so feared is ludicrous - they've run the Scottish government since 2007, and their strategy has always been to achieve independence not through silly games, but by appearing more sensible than the British state. Which isn't hard. But amidst this whirlwind of unparodyable and unparalleled panic from the right wing press, it’s important not to miss a key fact. The SNP is likely, in practice, to have much less power than most are implying over any Labour-led government.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that the SNP can’t reach for the nuclear option (perhaps appropriate given their position on Trident). When Labour last relied on the party for support, in the late 70s (a fact the Home Secretary seems to have forgotten), the SNP did eventually pull the plug on the government. The resulting election was won by Thatcher. This piece of history is still one of the most potent arguments used against voting for Sturgeon’s party - in fact, Miliband used it during the last debate. It’s a mistake they know they can’t afford to make again.

The SNP has been aware of this conundrum for a long time - as was confirmed to me by a senior figure in the party a few months ago. What it means in reality is that, without any formal pact, the Sturgeon's party is politically bound into providing Labour with the ‘confidence’ half of what’s known as a confidence and supply arrangement. This is why Miliband can declare that he won’t do deals with the SNP, and still be pretty sure of their support in getting him into Downing Street in the first place - and, with the Fixed Term Parliament Act, keeping him there for five years.

This then leaves us with the question of how in practice he delivers a programme of government, and my second reason that the SNP will have less leverage than people imagine. Once Miliband is Prime Minister with a minority government, he will be able to talk to every other party. Of course, some of that will be easy. In reality, there is much that Labour and the Lib Dems agree on - and, in practice, these are often things that the SNP support too, as Iain Macwhirter has pointed out. In addition, as I wrote on our rolling blog, I am pretty sure that the DUP would prefer a Labour government to minimise the squeeze on their devolved social security budget. Certainly, they will happily deal with Miliband, as, of course, will the SDLP, Plaid Cymru, the Greens and Sylvia Hermon.

On major issues where neither the Lib Dems nor the SNP agree with Labour - Trident being the most notable - the Tories do agree with them. And so they can rely on Conservative support. To put it another way, the government will be able to pass those proposals for which there is a parliamentary majority, and won’t be able to deliver those things without enough support. That seems to me to be a much more democratic outcome than a behind-the-scenes coalition stitch-up. Or, indeed, a "strong government" of a single party, elected on perhaps 35% of the vote, whipping through any legislation it chooses with its majority in the Commons.

Perhaps the people with the most interesting potential role over the next five years are the Conservatives. Because for all their talk of Miliband being held to ransom by the SNP, that can only happen if the Tories allow it. And I suspect that they won’t, because their voters won’t let them.

From 2007-11, the Scottish Parliament had a government of just this sort. Alex Salmond was First Minister, but his party had only 47/129 seats. We’ve heard lots from Scottish Labour recently about how, in that period, the SNP often relied on Conservative support for their budgets. This is usually given as evidence of the true nature of the SNP. In practice, I suspect it tells us more about the political context in which the Conservatives operate. Because they see themselves - and, more importantly, their supporters see them - as the natural party of government; they are expected to make ‘difficult decisions’. They are expected to compromise. And so, when push came to shove, they collaborated with the SNP at Holyrood to ensure that budgets could pass and the country could be governed. (In fact, when it came to it, Labour too at times allowed SNP budgets to pass by supporting them or abstaining, because they feared the political ramifications of being seem to create chaos).

Here’s my point: there has been much talk of the SNP pulling the strings in a Labour government. There has also been some chat about a grand coalition between Labour and the Tories. It seems to me that neither of these things is very likely. What’s much more probable is a Labour minority government who will talk to MPs from all parties in different ways over the course of five years to secure agreement or abstentions for a legislative and fiscal programme which will, in many ways, be a mash up of the less contentious bits of the manifestos of all of the parties.

That might sound to some like a horrific mess. To me, it seems about as democratic as can be expected at Westminster. (AR)

April 27: And if Ed forgot 'his' football team? David Cameron has just got the football team he supports wrong. But this is impossible. For any man who actually supports one, your team is a matter of fate and lifetime loyalty. You are far more likely to forget the name of your wife than your side. It means that Cameron does not really support any team at all. He must have selected Aston Villa (his uncle was its chairman) when told he needed to 'support' a team to seem normal. Which is why he could slip up and say he backed West Ham. Oh, well, at least women voters can sympathise! What made me laugh was the way he explained himself afterwards. Incredibly, the BBC reports, he compared himself to the leader of the Greens, "I had what Natalie Bennett described as a brain fade. I'm a Villa fan...”

Quizzed further in an interview with Sky News' Durmot Murnaghan, Cameron said: "By the time you have made as many speeches as I have on this campaign all sorts of funny things start popping out of your mouth."

Of course the papers had to report the episode. But just imagine what the Mail and the Telegraph and the Sun would have made of Ed Miliband had he explained himself like this after a similar ‘slip’. It would have been the screaming headline moment of ‘weakness’ Tory Central Office is still waiting for:

RED ED ADMITS TO GREEN BRAIN FADE!

“FUNNY THINGS POP OUT OF MY MOUTH” JUST WAIT UNTIL I'M PM! Miliband says just the stress of campaigning means he does not know what he will say next.

ED, CAN YOU REMEMBER THE NAME OF OUR COUNTRY?

Given what they did with a bacon butty it would have made the episode defining (AB)  

April 26: some more on the DUP (and why I think they'd prefer Labour)  Nigel Dodds, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party group at Westminster (once there is one again) is on the front page of the Guardian tomorrow. He's having a go at the Tories for their behaviour over the last few days, which he sees as risking the union. Their side step into English nationalism has clearly angered the arch-Unionist party, who are hinting that they would be more likely to do a deal with Labour instead.

Whilst I am sure he is cross about this, I have suspected for a while that the DUP is more likely to deal with Miliband than Cameron, despite their generally right wing politics - not because of high principles about national unity, but because of the usual combination of cash and votes.

For a long time now, Northern Irish politics has been ground down by a big fight over social security. The Northern Irish government, whose biggest party is the DUP, officially has control over welfare. In reality though, in the past, they just adopted whatever the UK goverment did. However, with austerity, this got harder and harder. The result has been a huge bun-fight at Stormont, which at one point last month threatened to derail the Assembly itself. This all now means, as I understand it, that the Assembly is cutting its other budgets to the bone to keep welfare payments up.

The political consequences of all of this are significant. A few weeks ago, I was out knocking on doors in a working class Loyalist area of East Belfast, the seat that the DUP is hoping to win back. There was significant anger at the party - at the sense that they are hurting their working class Loyalist base by passing austerity onto them. Because the Tories are promising more cuts to welfare than Labour, another Conservative government poses a huge threat to Northern Ireland, and, politically, to the DUP. There is, in other words, a significant incentive for Dodds' party leader, Peter Robinson, First Minister of Northern Ireland, to want Balls rather than Osborne in Number 11 Downing Street next month.

With a likely 9 MPs, that means Nigel Dodds could be signing David Cameron's P45 in a few days' time. (AR)

April 26: Larger is relative. After the last election I took the view immediately that Gordon Brown had to go, and if he remained the leader of the Labour Party that meant Labour leaving office because, whatever the arithmetic of a coalition with the Lib Dems,  the Labour vote had clearly declined and morally it had lost, been given the thumbs down, told to leave. Now Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has just announced that it would be a constitutional outrage not to support the "largest party" in Parliament. He may live to regret this if a) he fails holds his own seat and, b) Labour has one more seat than the Tories. But what if the scenario he is planning on is the case? Adam Ramsay's actute article on the newspapers planning for a 'constitutional coup' will be vindicated. You can see the mathematics here in the latest Financial Times graphic of seat flow: Labour on 264 to the Tories with 285, but with the SNP on 52 and the Lib Dems on 24. According the Constitution-according-to-Clegg he will be obliged to join a coalition with the Conservatives (total 309) rather than back Labour (who with the SNP command 316). But it would be a coalition of loosers - the Tories would be down by 17 seats and the Lib Dems would have lost 33, while Labour would have gained six despite its catastrophe in Scotland. The 'larger parties' would be the loosing parties. It is not just the mathematics of the Commons that matters after an election but also the direction embraced by voters. The Tories are preparing for this by an immediate leader transplant... talk about coups is going to increase. (AB) 

April 24th: Stuart White looks at democratic campaigns and movements around the country

What is democracy? Do we have one? How can we make an effective democracy?

These might seem rather odd questions to be asking in the middle of a strongly contested election, election contests being one of the definitive expressions of democratic politics.

But it is an interesting fact about the current election period that citizens in England are beginning to meet together to debate these questions.

On Saturday, April 11 I took a bus to attend a workshop on democracy run by a group called ACCESS (Abingdon Centre for a Caring, Enlightened and Sustainable Society, @accessworkshops). Over 20 people, some with a background in Occupy, shared an afternoon of presentations and discussion. The key questions were: What is the current state of British democracy? What explains this state of affairs? What should be done now to improve democracy in Britain? What longer-term vision for democracy should we have?

Concrete proposals included electoral reform, a right to recall, reform of party funding and action against ‘revolving doors’, more use of referenda, further devolution and calling a constitutional convention. Reflecting ACCESS’s focus on sustainability, there was a session on how future generations might be better represented in a democracy.

The following weekend, I took the train to attend the Assembly for Democracy (@retakedemocracy) in Manchester (following earlier Assemblies in London and Glasgow). Over 80 people met in the Friends’ Meeting House. The city centre also saw protests on the same day against TTIP and a camp to protest homelessness outside the city hall.

Central themes emerging in the lectures and workshops included reform of the political system and the need to complement this with radical changes to democratise the economy. So alongside things like electoral reform, there was consideration of banking and monetary reform and how to develop an economy more centred on co-ops. Fundamental too was the idea that democracy is not something we only create through institutions, but, as Rashid Mhar, one of the Assembly organisers puts it, something we do.

Participants in the Assembly spoke also about the campaign to get a referendum on ‘DevoManc’ (@VoteonDevoManc). There was a callout for a conference scheduled for June 20 in Huddersfield to discuss a Northern constitutional convention to focus on what form of ‘devolution’ the North needs and wants. Both initiatives are seeking to democratise ‘decentralisation’ rather than allowing elites to practice paternalistic devolution, giving people what is supposedly good for them without their having a say. As Arianna Giovannini points out, the independence campaign and debate in Scotland is a reference point here.

The general election, with its predictable confrontations between the party battalions, is politics on one level. But there is a politics happening on another level too. It is not necessarily dismissive of the election, but nor is it satisfied with it.  It isn’t defined by a particular party label, but by a concern for democracy itself.

With the election likely to produce a hung parliament and a new round in the UK’s ongoing constitutional crisis, this is a politics which speaks urgently to the times. (Stuart White)  

April 24th: a note on the DUP

The excellent Northern Irish blog Slugger O'Toole has a write up of a hustings in South Down last night in which the DUP candidate and Northern Irish health minister Jim Wells made some pretty offensive remarks about LGBT people. The highlight was probably:

“The facts show that. The facts show that you certainly don’t bring a child up in a homosexual relationship. That child is far more likely to be abused or neglected…”

 

Now, South Down is an SDLP seat and will almost certainly stay that way. But this isn't a surprising position for a prominent figure in the DUP to have. Amidst all of the scare mongering about the possible role of the SNP in government, it's worth mentioning that if Cameron manages to stay as Prime Minister, he's very unlikely to do so without the support of the DUP.

Of course, it's perfectly possible that the DUP could do a confidence and supply deal and not force such bigotry onto the government. But they are talking about things like renegotiating the highly sensitive rules around parades and flags - the latter of which has caused riots in Belfast in recent years. Such games in the tinderbox that is Northern Ireland seem to me to be a much more dangerous than anything the SNP are proposing. The party has been clear that it will talk to both Labour and the Tories. It would be too easy for either party to cave in on issues that their voters in GB simply won't understand. It's important that they don't. (AR)

 

April 24th: every story in the Telegraph, Mail and Sun in one quick video

I you want to know what almost every story in the Telegraph and the Sun has said for the last two weeks, watch this film, from the Telegraph, run under the headline "Where should you flee in the event of a Labour-SNP pact?". (AR)

 

April 24: How the Tories hope to swing it. The Conservatives reckoned on being safely in the lead at this point in the campaign and it provides grim enjoyment to see how they are seeking a breakout. The main aim remains to frighten enough voters, even though Ed Miliband is coming across and cuddly and even harmless. But a core part of the strategy has always been to scoop up the UKIP votes essential to a majority. This overview in Total Politics by George Pascoe Watson examines the options now that they have 'fired all the shots in their locker'. The penultimate paragraph is the kicker: they need a five percent swing from UKIP. (AB) 

April 23: I'm #ProudtobeEnglish and why not, I'm not ashamed of it. It is telling that none of the main parties in this country, if we regard UKIP as an outrider, are able to admit to this, even on St George's Day. Indeed, it should be a public holiday, on this UKIP policy is right.

Naturally, John Denham when he was a Labour MP got there first: "I  would suggest that the starting point should be to develop the festival of St Georges Day itself. Actually bit by bit, this has been developing in cities, towns and villages across the country... there are ways in which government could work with the grain of what English people are already doing. Helping give a shape and focus to a national day of celebrations. It would make St George’s Day a celebration of a modern inclusive Englishness within the wider Britain". (See Gareth Young's Toque blog.)

As the BBC reports, "No such angst was expressed by the leaders of nationalist parties outside England, however. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon wished: "A very happy St George's Day to family and friends in England" and similar sentiments were tweeted by Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood." (AB)

April 22: polling on the SNP role in government

Over the last few days, the focus of the right wing press has fallen almost exclusively onto the SNP. Today's Telegraph had more negative headlines about them than they did about Labour. They seem to have decided that this is their last line of attack against an increasingly popular Ed Miliband.

In this context, both the Mail and the Sun today have stories about English and Welsh attitudes to the SNP being in government. Both sets of stats are rather underwhelming. The Mail report a poll showing that 54% do not want Nicola Sturgeon to have a role in government. They don't seem to have asked a similar question - would you like David Cameron to have a role in government? It's not clear that he would get more support right now.

Likewise, the Sun squeel on their front page that UKIP supporting anti-SNP voters could/should swing to the Tories in order to stop Sturgeon having influence. After at least a fortnight in which the dominant story in the papers has been the horror of "Ed Miliband propped up by the SNP", we might expect some serious worries from English voters. In fact, here's what The Sun reports UKIP and Lib Dem supporters think: in both cases, only a minority would prefer the Tories to a Labour government "propped up by the SNP". (AR)

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April 22: The lack of SNP leverage

Mary Riddell has an eminently sensible column in the Telegraph today in which she points out how little leverage the SNP will have over a Labour government. They will be able to vote against stuff they don't like. On most of those things, though, Labour will be able to get them through with the backing of the Tories. And they really can't vote a Labour government down - they would never be forgiven if the Tories won the resulting election. To put it another way, in any negotiations, they would lack the nuclear option - perhaps that's how they like it.

However, there's one sentence of Riddell's piece I disagree with. She says "the SNP in government might be much less powerful than anyone supposes".

In fact, the SNP have understood this very well for a while now, as was confirmed to me by one of their ministers over coffee a couple of months ago. The reality is, whatever the Tories say, that it will be pretty hard for Nicola Sturgeon to call too many of Ed Miliband's shots.

April 22nd: the Mail and the NHS

On both the 20th and 21st the Mail front pages have run with anti-NHS attacks, on executive pay, 'fat cats'. A valid issue to raise, no question, but the 20th they ran with 5 articles, it dominated the news section.On the 21st it again dominated their news coverage, covering 5 and a half pages. That NHS bosses are well paid is nothing new, and indeed is entirely in line with the Lab-Lib-Con efforts to change the NHS into a commercial entity - which they have now collectively achieved. But it seems more likely, given the timing, that is is an attempt by the Mail to tarnish the NHS in voters' eyes. Why? Because they know it's one of Labour's strongest areas, and one of the Tories' weakest. If the Mail wants to run a real expose on the NHS, why don't they list the healthcare interests of all the MPs and Lords who voted for the Health and Social Care Act in 2012? This data has been available and compiled for years, it's just the press won't touch it. (OH)

April 22nd: another glorious Mail front page headline from the 21st

"How I'll blackmail England for £148bn by the most dangerous woman in Britain"

If you put the Mail's top 5 insults/smears/scares into a Mail headline generator I don't think you'd have to wait more than 2 days to see them come alive in print. (OH)

*After writing this entry, I see today's front page headline is "Union's sinister hold over Miliband"...

** A few pages later, the editorial, is headlined: "Left-wing cabal that would ruin Britain". It's another tiny, rage-packed editorial from the Mail that gets so caught up with insults and abuse it doesn't quite make clear what it's trying to say. In a small 150 word piece, it again crams in: "Labour government held to ransom", "Nicola Sturgeon making ruinous demands", union's "vice-like grip on a Miliband administration", "economically illiterate", "trade union wish list", "McCluskey and his antediluvian cronies", and the final paragraph in full: "The Tories have only a fortnight to save Britain from a recovery wrecking alliance of Red Ed (who was only able to stab his brother in the back with union support), Red Len and Ms Sturgeon". All that crammed into an editorial the length of this paragraph. 

Again the Mail approach to editorials seems to be to string together as many insults and smears as possible and somehow cobble an article together from them. It's staggeringly childish. (OH)

April 21: Delegates walk out of STUC dinner over Jim Murphy's presence

Tonight, five delegates at the Scottish Trade Union Congress annual dinner walked out. Jim Murphy had shown up, and the leading young unionists said they wouldn't sit round a table with a man they see as a war criminal and 'enemy of working people'.

This reminds of the moment when it became absolutely clear to me quite how much trouble Scottish Labour is in. Around early November last year, the SNP Trades Union Group tweeted that they now had 13,000 members. That's almost certainly more members than Scottish Labour has.

That simple stat says nothing of the 3,000 people who went to the Radical Independence Conference, many of whom aren't in the SNP, but will be in trades unions and will be utterly fed up with the Labour party. It seems very likely to me that unions in Scotland will slowly disaffiliate over the next couple of years. As they do so, the party's funding will die off. Add that to the loss in funding and resources which will come with every MP who loses their seat, and we're looking at a deep organisational collapse in Scottish Labour.

To put it another way, ten years ago, there were three main pillars holding up the Scottish Labour Party: local councillors, parliamentarians and the unions. They lost many of the former when Scotland shifted to a proportional voting system for local government. They seem likely to lose many of the second next month. What we were reminded of tonight is that the third leg of that stool is hardly steady either. (AR)

April 21: Mare Nostrum and the washing of hands

There's been a lot of hand ringing in the right wing papers about mass drownings at sea. Beyond Katie Hopkins' neo-Nazi bile, even the Sun has shown some concern for human life. In this context, I think it's worth watching the second section of this video from Aaron Bastani over at Novara (from 3:25). In the video, which was recorded in early in November, Aaron makes it clear how obvious it was that the end of Mare Nostrum - and the end of the UK's support for it - would lead to the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of people. When politicians talk about 'getting tough on migrants', it's important to remember what that means in reality. (AR)

 

April 21: Tebbit makes a logical point. This blog covers issues and angles the main media does not, but just to be broad-minded, there is a good encounter with Norman Tebbit by the BBC Newsnight's Laura Kuenssberg on their rolling blog (15.05). I love the bit about a "foreign country" at the end. If the Prime Minister's mind is a foreign country and you want more immigration controls... (AB)

Tebbit said: “What I find puzzling now is the prime minister's position that the SNP is far worse than Labour because, if so, as there are not many seats in Scotland where the Conservative Party has a chance to win, the logic would seem to be that Conservatives should vote tactically for Labour as the lesser of two evils.

“I think it's a huge scare tactic against Labour and whether the particular seat in the House of Commons is occupied by a Labour member or an SNP member perhaps it's not a great difference.

“Having bungled the Scottish referendum it seems pointless to just irritate Scots by shouting at them from Westminster - the English are irritated into voting for UKIP, by being shouted at from Westminster - and the Scots are irritated similarly." He said, "the risk to the union comes from the SNP, not from anyone else.”

The focus on the SNP, he said, is “not helping Mr Cameron's prime task which is to elect Conservative members of Parliament.”

“I just cannot read Mr Cameron's mind, it's a foreign country to me,” he added.

 

April 21st: Time for Labour to stop talking about Scotland  The most overrated underrated politician of my lifetime is Alastair Darling. Not content with being responsible for conceding the need for austerity to George Osborne in 2008, he has since been the face of Tory front organisation Better Together. Now he’s chosen to enter the debate engineered by the Conservative Secretary of State for Scotland (1995-97) Michael Forsyth and the Conservative leadership. It’s the hallmark of the man that Darling can’t see a political play even as he’s blundering around within it. While Labour were desperately trying to win the referendum to protect their 40 Scottish MPs seats in Westminster, the Conservatives were plotting the downfall of the Labour Party. 

At 7am on the 19th September, with Scottish oil secured for the UK Government, David Cameron stabbed his erstwhile Better Together comrades in the back by demanding English Votes on English Matters. This was calculated to set up a dynamic where Labour were seen in England to argue that Scottish MPs should vote on things that don’t affect their constituents, while the notion that they were only in favour of the union to save MPs’ jobs left them looking self-interested in Scotland. Labour have ended up in a nightmarish position: they look like the ‘party of Scotland’ in England, and the party of Westminster in Scotland. 

Over the past few weeks, as the Tories have discovered that the electorate are underwhelmed with their economic performance they have sought a new campaign strategy. That strategy is to crush Labour between the millstone of English grievance at the attention paid to Scotland and the grindstone of a newly invigorated SNP. 

To give the story legs, the Conservative leadership have deployed an old public relations trick - extending the story by giving it a twist. They contrived an argument about whether it’s a good idea to talk about this. On one side Michael Forsyth saying that it’s a bad idea, on the other David Cameron, William Hague and John Major saying it’s very important. The aim is to reinforce the message by creating a debate about whether Labour should be allowed to do a deal with the SNP. 

Into this fray (onto the Today Programme) the man of the hour in every Labour disaster, Alastair Darling strides. By turns defensive, terse and aggressive, Darling came perilously close to ruling out a Labour administration supported by the SNP. He certainly won’t have left listeners any clearer as to why Labour have a strong message about 1,000 more nurses - which is Labour’s lead story for today. Instead he got hot and bothered about how bad the SNP is, and played right into the Conservatives’ hands. Labour need to stop talking about Scotland, and get back onto the territory where they’ve been successful: pointing to the terrible mess the Conservatives have made these last 5 years. (Peter McColl)

April 21st: the Royal coup?

I have just published this article over at Vice, following a story at the Times over the weekend that didnt seem to get the coverage it deserved. Bascially, the Times reports Palace sources as essentially having to rebut approaches from "Miliband or Cameron" which give the impression that the Palace has been sounded out on propping up a government that has not got a majority in the House. For reasons explained in the piece, it's unlikely to be Labour in question. And there is a revealing quote: "Cameron remains Prime Minister but he can't borrow the Queen for support".

So my reading of this piece is that the Tory camp have gone to the Palace to sound them out on options, and the Palace have had to come out and brief against them for trying to drag them in - quite astonishing. If the Queen were to overrule the result of a general election based on vague claims of "illegitimacy" by the press, Cameron, Major and Nick Clegg (who has been spouting about in the last few days) that would be a full blown constitutional crisis, and Adam Ramsay's "coup" would have really come alive. That the Tories appear to have even made this approach, and that the Palace have to come out and brief so strongly, is incredible. (OH)

April 21st: Would just like to share this headline from the Mail on April 20th

"THE SCOTTISH NASTY PARTY - and how its growing intimidation and intolerance of dissents reeks of fascism"

Well, the Mail would know...

The desperation in the Tory press has been growing daily but I didn't expect the F word to be pulled out just quite yet. The article goes on to describe the SNP as "Stalinist" and a "cult." God knows what they'll be printing by May 7th. (OH)

April 21st: The Welsh Liberals

Who was the last Prime Minister who was born in Wales?

It is, of course, a trick question. The answer is Julia Gillard, former Australian PM. But the last resident of 10 Downing Street born in the Principality was a little longer ago - and was also the last Liberal Prime Minister, Lloyd George. I wrote below about the decline of the Scottish Liberals - about how a Scot had led the party for more than half of the 20th Century, about how 3/5 of the last Liberal PMs and 4/6 of the Lib Dem leaders ever are Scots.

Wales, though, given its size, has also played an important role in the party's past - and vice versa. One of the most controversial things that last Liberal government did before WW1 was disestablish the Church in Wales. Historian friends tell me there were riots in England at the time, this was such a shocking act.

Also shocking then, from a long term historica perspective, is that the excellent folks at Cardiff University's Elections in Wales blog are predicting, based on the latest polls, that the Liberals/Lib Dems will, for the first time since elections can really be called such, have no seats West of the border.

This raises another question. Currently, the coalition parties have a total of twelve seats in Scotland, and eleven in Wales. If current polls prove accurate, the Tory/Lib Dem partnership will have between them eight seats in Wales (out of forty) and two in Scotland (out of fifty nine). If, based on English votes, the Tories and Lib Dems managed to retain power at Westminster despite such low levels of representation in two of the UK's constituent parts, I think we would begin to see serious questions being asked about their right to govern. (AR)

April 20th: no, Cameron isn't more popular than Miliband in Scotland 

One of the "facts" everyone keeps repeating in this election is that Cameron is more popular than Miliband in Scotland. This was repeated in James Kirkup's analysis today. It isn't true.

The statistic is based on polling from a few months ago which usually asked questions along the lines of "who is doing a better job as leader of their party" or "as Prime Minister/leader of the opposition". In those polls, Cameron consistently beat Miliband, including in Scotland. But that's a very specific question. It's perfectly possible to think that the captain of the other team is doing a better job than the person leading your side. That doesn't mean you like them.

As the election approaches, pollsters have tended to try to find out which Prime Minister is preferred. Most recently, for example, the Survation poll after the debate asked "If the election was a straight contest between David Cameron and Ed Miliband to be Prime Minister who would you vote for?" among the Scots sub-sample of the poll, Miliband led 48 points to 22.

But don't let the facts get in the way of a good story, eh boys? (AR)

April 20th: why Miliband will be PM in one tweet

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Scotland will send at least 56 MPs to London who will back Miliband. The best Cameron can realistically hope for from Northern Ireland is a net score of 5 (if the DUP back him, which I think they won't). This means he has to beat Labour by significantly more in England and Wales than he did in 2010. In fact, every poll for years has shown that the only Labour leader in my lifetime to have grown up in England is doing remarkably well in his home nation. This effect if disguised in the UK-wide polls because a 20% or so fall for Labour in Scotland knocks about 2% off their overal score. But because SNP MPs will back Miliband anyway, this doesn't take away from the final result. (AR)

update in fact, Mike Smithson has also dug out the England only figures (see below, compared to 2005). The Tories only lead Labour by 1% in England. It's worth remembering that the Tories beat Labour by 0.3% in England in 2005. Labour got 92 more English seats that year.

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April 20th: striking the right tone on immigration

Today, something remarkable happened in the polls - something which hasn’t happened, as far as I know, in a long time. When pollsters at Ipsos Mori asked voters which party they trusted most on immigration, they answered not with UKIP, as they have done lately, nor with the Conservatives, as they have done traditionally, but with Labour. For me, this highlights an important point about politics: sometimes, tone matters more than content.

Before Nigel Farage raised the issue of health tourism, he did some polling about it. He found that most people share his concern. Polls afterwards confirmed this trend. Despite this, since then, he’s lost his lead on the issue which is perhaps most associated with his party. Let me try and explain why I think this has happened.

Over years of knocking on doors, I have spoken to hundreds of people who list immigration as their main concern. In perhaps 90% of those cases, the person has been pretty unhappy about saying it. Usually, the conversation includes something like the famous “I’m not racist, but…” or “I have lots of friends from other countries, but…”.

The reaction of both the left and of UKIP types to those sorts of comments is, in effect, not to believe them. The left tends to say “well, you are racist”. In many cases, this may well be true - racism is much more prevalent in our society than most of us ever accept. But that doesn’t mean that the person isn’t at the very least reluctant about their beliefs. They don’t want to hold them. It’s a mistake to ignore that instinct.

But UKIP make this mistake too - as, I think, today’s poll shows. Rather than accepting the discomfort, they encourage people to revel in it. It may be that most people think that Farage is right that the NHS shouldn’t treat patients from other countries who are HIV positive. In fact, polls show most people do think that, when asked. But that doesn’t mean that they glory in that belief, that they are proud of it, and it doesn’t mean they like the guy who cheers them on. In my experience, they are pretty uncomfortable about thinking it.

I personally find Labour’s position on immigration in this election pretty distasteful. There is not a significant extent to which it drives down the wages of the lowest paid, and Labour shouldn’t, I don’t think, be encouraging people to believe that there is. But it seems that thier tone - critical of UKIP for revelling in it, but sounding like they are concerned, has struck a chord.

This is another bad piece of news for the Tories, who are rapidly running out of time. (AR)

April 19: You thought you had heard it all?  How about "Deliverology"? More on this soon! (AB)

  April 19th: more on my predictions below

I (Adam) published a few predictions below. I thought I'd just expand a little more on the ones people have asked about.

First, there has been some speculation about whether Farage will win Thanet South. The reason for my prediction that he will is simple: the cleverest person I know in Thanet (who is a very clever person) tells me that he thinks he will. The UKIP campaign is, apparently, much more active and much better plugged into local issues. I also think Carswell will hold on in Clacton. Reckless may get back in again in Rochester and Strood, but I suspect he won't. I didn't feel much enthusiasm for him when I was there during the by-election. Beyond that, I don't see what seats they are likely to win.

I think the SNP vote will hold because I see no reason it wouldn't. Apart from anything else, my experience in the referendum was that yes voters tended on average to be much more engaged in politics than no voters. To put it simply, this means that, if you convert the 45% of the 85% of people who voted in the referendum into the 65-70% likely to vote in the general election, then it seems many more of them will show up on the day. The consistent evidence is that these people will vote SNP. That should be enough support to deliver the landslide predicted in the polls.

On Northern Ireland, Fermanagh and South Tyrone is the most marginal seat in the UK, yet I don't count it as likely to change hands. A couple of people asked about this. The reason I don't think it won't swing is, simply, that everyone I've spoken to about it who knows the seat well tells me that they think it won't. I don't have any good reason to doubt them.

Finally, the big one. Here's why I think (and have thought for a while now) that Miliband will be PM:

a) The boundries work in Labour's favour. This is why Cameron was so keen to change them. A tie in the popular vote (as polls currently show) almost certainly means more Labour seats.

b) In the years before the 2010 election, Lord Ashcroft poured huge amounts of money behind Tory candidates in key marginals. They took seats ahead of the national swing, arguably because of this. When Ashcroft withdrew this funding, the Tories lost a lot of their edge - as the Lord's own polls show, Labour is succeeding in contacting voters in key marginals much more than Tories are.

c) Add to that Labour's bigger and much younger membership, and their work on organising them, and it's not surprising they are doing better on the ground.

d) It would have been almost impossible for Miliband to be as bad as most people had been persuaded that he is. Most, as polls have shown, have been pleasantly surprised as the campaign has unfolded. I see no particular reason that this won't continue. Cameron, on the other hand, is having a pretty poor few weeks. Which isn't surprising, as he's hardly a great charismatic figure.

e) The Tory campaign has included a bunch of announcements which have turned out to be pretty unpopular (right to buy) or which have failed to stick within their frame. Why on earth they have spent so much time dragging the NHS into the debate, I'll never understand.

f) People in Britain are basically on the centre left. The Tories only got in last time because lots of people voted Lib Dem in the hope of keeping them out, but the Lib Dems did a deal with them.

f) The SNP will get more seats than the Lib Dems. This is as important as whether Labour will get more seats than the Tories - and we can't even be sure that the Lib Dems will vote against Miliband in the way we can be sure the SNP will vote to sack Cameron.

g) More generally, Miliband will be able to work with almost every other party in the next Parliament. I'm even coming to the conclusion that the DUP will be more likely to do a deal with Labour - they care more about cash than their bigotry. But half of the parties won't work with Cameron. That gives the Ed much more of a chance to form a government than Dave.

To put it another way, as I went through in my piece back in February, "The left collection or the right cluster: Ed Miliband's bumpy road to Downing Street", the best way to look at this election is through potential pacts. Unless things change dramatically, the Tories will need the Lib Dems. But the Lib Dems can expect to lose a huge number of their seats, particularly in Scotland and Wales, to parties who will never collaborate with Tories. To make up for this the Conservatives need to win England by significantly more than they did in 2010 (11.5%). In fact, the England only polls show the parties neck and neck. And that means it's curtains for Cameron.

April 19: prediction time

Two weeks ago, I emailed my colleagues the below nine predictions. I meant to share them before, but hadn't got round to it. So, here goes:

- there will be a scandal as lots of people who thought they were regisered to vote will turn out not to be.

- the SNP vote will hold. They will get at least 45 seat and become the third largest party.

- both Douglas and Danny Alexander will lose their seats, as will Anas Sarwar, Margaret Curran and many, many more.

- at least one newspaper will run a headline on Friday the 8th or Saturday the 9th saying explicitly or insinuating that Cameron has won, whether or not he has.

- Caroline Lucas will be re-elected and be the only Green MP. Greens will, though, come second in a further 5 seats.

- Plaid Cymru will win 4 seats - adding Ceredigion to their total.

- UKIP will win 2 seats.

- Only 1 seat in Northern Ireland will change hands, with the DUP winning Belfast East (though I’m not sure about this).

- Ed Miliband will be Prime Minister.

I might come back with a few more over the next couple of days. (AR)

April 19: Cliché Alert! Danger - chestnuts old and new!! An entertaining website has been launched, Hamish Thompson writes, called Polifiller. It is designed to be an automated political cliché identifier. It encurages you to cut and paste into their magic box and extract of a speech or article and it will put a line through the worst clichés and emptiest lines.

Welcome to Polifiller – a new online tool designed to cut the drivel and clichés out of political speeches.  Simply cut and paste a speech or statement into the box below and the “groundbreaking technology” that powers this site (aka, two bits of coconut connected by a string) will put a line through the worst clichés and emptiest lines.  - See more at: http://polifiller.com/#sthash.CEJ25u8f.dpuf

They claim to given the major manifestos a once-over to check for the presence of chestnuts and buzzwords. This is the result so far (the SNPO have yet to publish):

  • Conservatives: 200 clichés
  • Labour: 58 clichés
  • UKIP: 51 clichés
  • Greens: 49 clichés
  • Plaid Cymru: 48 clichés
  • Liberal Democrats: 44 clichés

They add: The Conservative manifesto features ‘long term economic plan’ and there’s a return for the ‘Big Society’. ‘Balance the books’ and ‘those at the top’ feature prominently in the Labour manifesto. ‘Real change’, ‘the people’, ‘foreign criminals’ and ‘metropolitan elite’ appear frequently in the UKIP manifesto. The Greens’ clichés of choice are ‘long term plan’, ‘Westminster bubble’, ‘bottom up’ and ‘vested interests’. Plaid Cymru favour ‘the people’, ‘our people’ and ‘stand on their own two feet’. The Liberal Democrats include ‘package of measures’, ‘those who need it’, ‘there is more to do’, and ‘a return to boom and bust’.  (AB)

Cliché Cliché

Cliché

April 19th: Labour/Tory pacts

On Marr this morning, Sturgeon was asked, in effect, if she had no cards to play. She can't allow a Tory government in, so Miliband can just propose a Queens' Speech and dare the SNP to vote it down. She replied that, with the fixed-term parliament act, it's perfectly possible for the SNP to vote down Labour proposals without bringing down the government.

This does, though, highlight another possibility that it's important to remember. Once the SNP hav helped make Miliband PM, he can talk to everyone, including the Tories. A minority Labour government wouldn't relp just on the SNP for support - it would be able to go, case by case, for support, to every other party in the chamber. Including the Tories. Of course, there would be some awkward negotiations around budgets and Queens' Speeches. But there is no reason to believe that Miliband would rely just on the SNP. Once he's installed, he would be perfectly able to chat to the Tories too. And on things like Trident, that's exactly what I imagine he'll do. (AR)

April 18th: where are the SDLP?

Plaid Cymru have been a more significant part of the UK-wide story of this election than they have been in any in the past. So have the Green Party. But there is another party likely to help block Cameron's return to Downing Street. It won as many seats in 2010 as the former and three times more than the latter: the SDLP.

The Social Democratic and Labour Party are, of course, Labour's sister party in Northern Ireland. On the Nationalist side of the divide, like the SNP, they want to break up the UK. But while this is enough reason for Labour to rule out a coalition with the SNP, Miliband has kept quiet - and hasn't yet been asked, I don't think - about whether this principle applies to a party which his has worked with for years.

In that context, this interview on Radio Ulster with their party leader, Alasdair McDonnell, is worth a listen. (AR)

April 18th: Scotland polls: this didn't just happen overnight

In September 2013, I wrote this piece about the liklihood of the SNP winning a significantly increased number of seats in this election. As Ashcroft's polls today show the SNP taking a whole new chunk of seats - including Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy's East Renfrewshire by a 9% margin - I thought I'd return to the reasons I gave then for why I thought some big changes might be afoot.

Specifically, I listed six:

- The SNP now having many more footholds across Scotland because of winning lots of Holyrood constituencies in 2011,

- Ed Miliband being significantly less popular in Scotland than Brown was in 2010,

- More reason for the SNP to invest in this Westminster election than there has been in previous years,

- More SNP members (which was already true when I wrote the piece),

- Scotland featuring in the debate and people's memories due to the proximity of the referendum,

- the collapsing Lib Dems.

The reason I think it's worth coming back to this is that there is a very simple story emerging about the rise of the SNP in this election. It largely says that the referendum unleashed a huge democratic wave in Scotland, and this has churned everything up. Of course, that story is also true. That did happen, and it's why the polls we're looking at are quite so extraordinary. But this misses the fact that there were already quite a number of the jigsaw pieces in place for this surge long before the referendum got exciting.

Or, to put it another way, this didn't just happen overnight. Things rarely do. (AR)

April 17th: re-writing the constitution in the headlines of the Sun

Last week, I wrote about how the newspapers were attempting to re-write the British constitution to make out that being the person who leads the biggest single political party is who ought to get to be Prime Minister, rather than the person who can command a majority in the Commons. Today's Sun had perhaps the most explicit example I've seen of this yet.

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Welcome to the wacky world of a country where the powerful get to make up the rules of our democracy as they go along... (AR)

April 17th: collapsing centrists

In the Novara show today (link below) I mentioned a point which my friend Peter McColl has made to me before, that it's not just the Lib Dems who are struggling - their sister paries across the world are in real trouble, most dramatically summed up by the fact that the Progressive Democrats in Ireland literally disbanded a couple of years ago.

It turns out that it's not just them. The Lib Dem equivilents in Australia have also had trouble in recent years and, it transpires, also dispanded, only yesterday, after failing to register 500 members. I wrote below about how they are likely to be wiped out of their historic base in Scotland. Is it possible, though, that, over the next decade, they will follow the fate of their Irish and Antipodean sisters?

April 17th: Novara

I was on Novara FM today, chatting about the debate with James Meadway of the New Economics Foundation, journalist Dawn Foster and host Aaron Bastani. You can catch the show here. (AR)

April 17th: the Campaign for Freedom of Information have published their report on the manifestos here. (OH)

April 17th: debate reaction

"It'll hugely damage Miliband", "he'll be framing himself with all the smaller parties", "he'll be attacked from all sides". This was conventional wisdom going into the debates - i.e. this is what the media insisted was the plain truth. Though they might have been right on the third point, the second didn't matter, and the first simply didn't happen. The electoral math and the momentum are key here.

Miliband has got increasingly confident as the campaign has gone on, starting with the Paxman interview in which though he may still be a "geek", he at least came across like one who wants to make a few things happen and, importantly, has a rare gift of laughing at the media circus rituals and attacks in a way that few others manage convincingly. That matters in the current climate; voters are entirely disenchanted with the political class, the slick PR men like Blair and Cameron, and a vicious and self serving media. That the media hate Miliband, and that he doesn't seem to care, will actually play in his favour with many.

Post-Paxman, what has he seen: improving Labour polling, increasing venom and desperation from the press, a final acknowledgment from the press that there's a good chance he may be Prime Minister, and finally, positive polling from the public on his core policies (discussed below). The only person to have had a better campaign than Miliband is Sturgeon, a first class performer who has a gift for making all the London men look like shifty schoolboys.

So going into last night's debate Miliband was clearly brimming with confidence, and it showed, he was more polished and comfortable than in the Paxman interview and the first debate. Was he attacked from all sides - of course. Did it hurt him? A little, there were some good blows on the NHS and austerity but he largely held firm and adopted an "above the fray" approach that seemed to work well, and the audience responded approvingly.

The media have insisted he won't be PM, that it would be a "chaotic" "diaster", or "catastrophe". These words, straight from CCHQ, every day. They are still talking about how Cameron will build his coalition, what he'll need to do to "get his Queen's speech through", and so on. The game is to make the idea of Miliband as PM unthinkable, unmentionable, it just couldn't happen. So what did Ed do? Repeatedly talked about "what I will do as Prime Minister...", "when I'm Prime Minister..." Why? To make sure this is an image and an idea the public are familiar with, to make it credible, to make it normal, to cement it in the public brain. It came across arrogant at times, but I don't think they'll mind that. It was effective.

As to the final charge, that taking part would frame Labour as one of the "smaller parties", this didn't pan out and was never likely to. People know Labour are anything but a small party, the public aren't quite that suggestible, there will have been no "who's this lot then?" when the camera panned to Miliband. Secondly the momentum matters: Labour are polling high, neck and neck with the Conservatives, it is clearly more likely EM will be Prime Minister - the first-past-the-post dice are very much in his favour. And Miliband is now riding a wave of confidence. The end result? He performed well, he performed comfortably, and critically, he and every other panellist attacked Cameron for "failing to turn up to defend his record". It wasn't just the left - Farage joined in too, reaching parts of the electorate that would have been unmoved by the same words from the other four candidates. Ed cemented the "cowardice" theme with his last words - challenging Cameron to a 1-2-1 debate.

Ultimately, the big loser of the debate, all considered, was Cameron.

How did Farage do: fairly well, aside from his bizarre decision to attack the audience. As Adam writes below, polling on who wone the debate showed "35% say Ed Miliband, 31% say Nicola Sturgeon, and only 27% say Nigel Farage". Only 27%, for a party with 2 MPs and up against a surging Labour and the always flawless Sturgeon? I think he'll be happy with that.

And there was an instructive lesson in UKIP's appeal: a persistent failure from the left to accept the most rudimentary basics of supply and demand. Of course Britain's housing and public services are not a dreadful state "because of immigrants", but does adding 300,000 people a year represent a very significant addition to demand? Of course it does, it couldn't possibly do otherwise and it's disingenuous to pretend otherwise. It's a big chunk of the equation, and a broad equation it is - house building policy, buy to let taxation, empty investment homes, people living longer, more people living alone, right to buy, the failure to replace social housing stock, and so on.

Ultimately, however big the shortfall is from that equation, you need to be building perhaps 90,000 homes a year just to cover the demand from new arrivals (assuming the spare capacity that exists will continue to be 'spare', which it will, short of major changes in policy - which is another debate worth having). The line from Wood, Sturgeon and Bennett was essentially "no, it's not part of the equation, shame on you". That's fantasy economics. And in the real world, where the UKIP vote lives, it plays entirely into Farage's hands. Why have the lessons of the last ten years suddenly been forgotten? (OH)

April 16th: quick debate reaction

There's some instant polling out from Survation on who won the debates. First, a few headline figures.

Perhaps the most significant change is that in the "favourite Prime Minister" question, among a weighted sample of viewers, Miliband is now on 45%, ahead of Cameron on 40%. Interestingly, in the straight choice between the two of them, the parts of the UK where he's most popular are Scotland and Wales (with 48% to Cameron's 21% and 60% to Cameron's 34% respectively).

In general in this election, the more people have seen Miliband, the more they've liked him. Given how much of the Tory strategy has been focussed on making him toxic, this is a real problem for them.

Next, the figures on who 'won' are interesting. 35% say Ed Miliband, 31% say Nicola Sturgeon, and only 27% say Nigel Farage (with 5% stumping for Natalie Bennett and 3% for Leanne Wood). It's worth remembering that there is a very crowded field on the left here, and a lot of open space on the right. I think, given he had all of the Tory viewers to potentially appeal to, those are quite poor results for Farage, and, as with the last debate, clearly excellent scores for Nicola Sturgeon. Given there was a more clear dynamic encouraging people to vote for the group of parties to Labour's left - led by Sturgeon - it'll be interesting to see if this has increased support for Greens in England at all. With "who performed the best" Sturgeon does even better - topping the poll with 35%, followed by Miliband on 29% and Farage on 26%.

Finally, there are a series of questions on who did best in each of the policy areas discussed. I won't go through the detail, but it's worth skimming. And remember, it includes Tory and Lib Dem voters as well as the parties represented there. For example, 30% in total say that the three leaders arguing against austerity were best, 30% say that Farage (defending it) was best, and 40% say that Miliband's position (a sort of middle ground, I suppose) is best. That shows a consensus among the public that's a long way to the left of British political debate.

In general, I think this debate will have been good for everyone involved - Farage consolidating his base, a stronger performance from Natalie Bennett and even more of a sense of collaboration with Nicola Sturgeon and Leanne Wood which may have given voters on the left a reason to vote Green, Sturgeon will return home as conquoring hero again, another good showing from Leanne Wood will boost her party (the only Welsh poll since the last debate showed Plaid up from 9% to 12%) and, perhaps most significantly, an Ed Miliband who came out of it looking, for all I don't agree with his support for austerity, like a viable Prime Minister.

Finally though, I'm skeptical about how much these things make a difference. One TV show rarely changes someone's mind about how to vote. But if people don't change their minds in the next three weeks, Cameron is out of a job.

April 16: the image of the election?

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As shared by @BBCPolitics, Nicola Sturgeon, Natalie Bennett and Leanne Wood congratulate each other at the end of the debate, Ed Miliband looks on. (AR)

April 16: debate predictions

Tonight it's the "challengers' debate" on the BBC - Miliband, Sturgeon, Wood, Bennett and Farage.

First, I suspect that the tone adopted by the SNP, Greens and Plaid against Labour will be “in sorrow more than anger”. Attacking a party in too full-throated a way isn’t a great way to win people who have previously been loyal to it over to your cause. Much better to show Miliband up by providing a more consistent and comprehensive criticism of the Tories than he has done than to go too hard against him.

Second, I’d guess we’ll see more mention of policy detail here and there - this is a debate after the manifestos are out. Have your copies at the ready to check for dodgy claims…

Third, it’ll be interesting to see the interaction between the Farage and the other four - I imagine they'll largely ignore him, apart from the odd quick attack - it's important not to let him define the debate.

Fourth, apart from Farage, we’ll be looking at the collection of parties who, between them, are likely to end up running the country for the next five years (with Labour formally in government, supported by the rest). It’ll be interesting to see whether they come across as having a coherent programme and able to collaborate to deliver it, or as a squabbling mess.

Fifth, Miliband will be in trouble with Scottish Labour if he doesn’t attack the SNP (as he largely didn’t last time). However, it’s important for him that he softens the English electorate up to a Labour/SNP pact. This is a bit of a tightrope, and it’ll be interesting to see if he walks it. Maybe expect an attack on something 'bad' about the SNP which only impacts on Scotland, like full fiscal autonomy.

Sixth, I suspect Natalie Bennett won’t be attacked much - it’s dangerous for Miliband to go after her and be seen to criticise left leaning policies (which is why Labour thus far have largely ignored Greens). It’s possible that Nigel Farage will go after her - UKIPers hate Greens more than almost anyone. It’ll be interesting to see how she copes.

Seventh, I’d expect Farage, as last time, to give a performance which pleases his base - baiting lefties, as they’d see it, but which fails to win over a broader vote.

Eighth, so far, the more the public has seen Miliband directly, the more they have warmed to him. There has been a lot of criticism of his decision to take part in tonight’s show. I suspect it will turn out to have been a wise decision.

So, in general, I wouldn't imagine there will be much of a rammy. Or, at least, if I were advising the leaders (apart from Farage), I'd encourage them to avoid one. We'll see though. (AR)

April 16: The Mail at its finest 

For those readers unaccustomed to reading the Mail, in full, every day, it is hard to describe how much venom it packs into each edition. But this short editorial is both hilarious and a good insight. It's only about 130 words long, it's tiny, on Nick Clegg ("Madame Fifi"), but its just bristles with rage in its trademark, preposterous, moralising, League of Gentlemen absurdity. Headline: "Send the shameless Madame Fifi packing". And in those 130 words, it squeezes in: "breathtaking arrogance", "his self obsessed world", "all he cares about is... keeping his job", "his shameless manifesto", "bereft of any glimmer of principle" and "sanctimonious opportunist". The article is roughly the same length as this blog post: it's just a stream of insults. (OH)

April 16: The Mail on Miliband's children

In a lengthy assault on Miliband's kitchens and bacon sandwiches (ongoing concerns of the Mail's and, no doubt, the voters) the paper summons the audacity to criticise Miliband for exploiting his children for electoral gain while the Cameron's have "allowed much more limited access to their children". Mr Cameron regularly exploits even his late son, Ivan, to protect himself from criticism of his disastrous policies on the NHS and provision for the disabled, let alone his other children which he has wheeled out for the press regularly - including the Mail. The paper has lapped it up. In the last 10 days the Mail has referenced Cameron's children, including Ivan, five times. The amount of times Miliband's children have been mentioned? Once - the story in question. (OH)

April 16: Mail on housing

Somehow, according to the Mail today, a mansion tax will actually make homes more expensive and could "price out" first time buyers "as people fail to sell cheaper homes and move to more expensive ones". I can't follow the sentence, let alone the economics, but something just doesn't seem quite right... (OH)

April 16: public opinion

The right wing press, unsurprisingly, have been championing Tory policies as game changers and major vote winners while slamming Labour policies for being poorly thought through and generally rubbish. Interestingly, the Times today publishes polling showing that the public don't quite agree. On core policies Labour are winning. The Tories' right to buy and free schools policies have gone down badly with voters, while Labour's mansion tax, the £8 minimum wage, price freezes for gas and electric have all gone down well. The most popular Tory policy, backed by 80%, is taking anyone on minimum wage out of income tax altogether.

It's quite rare to see polling like this, at least so far in this campaign, so well done to the Times for speaking to actual voters about policy instead of pointless quotes from vested interests. For instance, in today's Times, we are informed that potential Labour mansion taxes and threats to Help to Buy "could have negative impacts on the UK housing market" - which is precisely the point of the policies, surely, to dampen prices and draw some tax in the process. And who does this grave warning come from? Zoopla, a company that makes its money from... property sales.

Not that we should expect policy polling to become too common. On plenty of big issues (nationalisation for instance) the public are far to the left of Labour, let alone the Conservatives. (OH)

April 16: NHS

The old NHS boss David Nicholson today poured cold water on the idea that £8bn – or any other sum pledged so far by Tories, Labour or Lib Dems – would in itself save the NHS.

Nicholson said that the politicians were ignoring the ‘financial hole’ the NHS is currently in, even as they pledged 24/7 services (Tories) or more doctors and nurses (Labour) or better mental health treatment (Lib Dems).

He pointed out that that even if the Tories could fund their £8bn pledge, the current NHS boss Simon Stevens had pointed out there was still a £22bn funding gap.

Nicholson said that meeting this gap through ‘efficiency savings’ – as Stevens has obligingly promised to do - was a “big ask” that would require “big decisions” and more honesty with the public.

 

Exactly what might those “big decisions” be, if the politicians stay close to Stevens plans? A closer examination of the evidence to date reveals a worrying cocktail of plans including hospital closures, capped ‘entitlements’, service cuts and conditionality. Read more here. (Caroline Molloy)

April 16: Macroeconomics

This is interesting. We know that Osborne only managed to halve the deficit in the first Conservative-dominated term, when he promised to abolish it. The IMF is now basically warning that this remains an ever-receding horizon for any second term, because of the depressive effects of austerity on tax revenues and its expansive effects on benefits expenditures (never mind the reduction of the GDP denominator of the deficit/GDP ratio from what it would otherwise be).

The problem remains, of course, that this Keynesian 'paradox of thrift' remains much more counter-intuitive than the 'household' economics to which Thatcher famously appealed, and to which Osborne returned with his 'nation maxed out on the credit card' narrative. We have to find a way of putting across in a popular fashion that it is precisely when households, and the rest of the private sector, deleverage that the public purse must be loosened to avoid a self-defeating depression.

Miliband being macho about Labour's fiscal responsibility isn't entirely wrong (Keynes never believed in sustained budget deficits, as against behaving counter-cyclically) but it doesn't really address the challenge either. He needs to push how Nordic countries achieve fiscal balance much better through the progressive taxation Thatcher destroyed and how it is crazy not to borrow to invest in even vaguely productive capital projects when interest rates are almost zero. (Robin Wilson)

April 16: Lib Dem/SNP co-operation?

Andy Myles is former Chief Executive of the Scottish Lib Dems and held various senior positions in the party. Here he is on Facebook this morning.

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I (Adam) was speaking at a Fabians event last night about potential collaborations between progressive parties after the election. The otherwise very interesting Lib Dem on the panel exhibited a behaviour I'm noticing more and more of down here - bitter and seriously distored nonsense about the SNP.

From the perspective of anyone who might want some sort of Labour led collaboration of parties to run Britain after the election, this is really dangerous stuff - falling into exactly the trap that the Conservatives and the papers which support them are setting. Of course, in Scotland, every other party is fighting an election against the SNP and it's only fair that they run full throated campaigns. But spreading silly fears about the SNP among the English electorate, who don't have as much direct experience of them, is just playing a tune set by the distorted orchestra of the right wing press. In that context, Andy's intervention is an important one. (AR)

April 16: The, and I mean 'the', Question for the Lib Dems: As the Lib Dems published their Manifesto they made it clear that it is a document for entering into coalition negotiations without 'red lines'. Background information, I understand, is that Nick Clegg, David Laws his chief Manifesto drafter, and Danny Alexander, who was Chief Secretary to the Treasury, are all working for a coalition with the Tories. But why, if they want to position themselves between the two main parties should this be the case? The question I have not yet heard them asked by interviewers is this: if on 8 May Conservatives and Labour have exactly the same number of MPs, with whom would the Lib Dems feel they should offer coalition? Such a result would mean that the Tories had lost and Labour gained relative to 2010. It would on balance be a rejection of the Tory dominated coalition by the electorate. Should the Lib Dems cast their face against this? If they really are equally 'between' the two main parties as they claim in public should not their first duty with such an outcome be to to seek a coalition with Labour? Ed Miliband may not want this, of course, which is not my point which is: what do the Lib Dems want? Voters have a right to know. (Anthony Barnett)
 

April 15: The Mail has come out guns blazing in favour of the Tories' shameless new right to buy proposal. Cutting through the waffle over figures, statistics and all that fluff, it gets right down to business: one of the people who opposes the scheme, a vicar, has a "seedy past" - which they explore in a full article on page 4. The vicar was apparently a fan of "dogging" and "taking drugs" in his youth. "He eventually conquered his shyness with other men when he discovered a lay-by where he could meet strangers and have sex..."

If that doesn't convince you that flogging off more of our social housing is a great idea, I just don't know what will.

Only the Mail can turn a story about social housing policy into a grubby hatchet job on gays and drug taking...(OH)

 

April 15: down is up

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That's the top story on page 2 of today's Sun, making the somewhat controversial case that deflation is an example of economic success. You've got to give it to them - they never stop fighting their party's corner... (AR)

April 15: Even the Times is unimpressed with the Tories cheap and utterly short termist pledge to open right to buy to housing associations, claiming it is underfunded and the numbers don't stack up. When right to buy was introduced in the 80s it was in a very different climate with regards the housing market. And yet still it has caused severe long term shortages in housing supply. Many houses that were formerly public assets, used to house those in need, were bought out at knock down rates and subsequently let out as private rents - at the exhorbitant market rates we see today. A third of properties sold under RTB in the 80s are now rented out privately. This is a huge net loss in social welfare for a large, unearned gained in the private wealth of those taking advantage of the system. Exactly the same thing will happen with the proposed extension - social housing stock plummets, homelessness increases, all for a small number of HA tenants to make massive windfalls. This is a shameful policy, bribing one chunk of the electorate for short term gain at the expense of long term housing capacity.

So much for the Tories' "long term economy plan"... (OH)

April 15: another note on Liberal party history

While I'm on the subject of Liberal Party history (see below) another quick thought. In the 1892 election, the Conservative and Liberal Unionist Parties (who were allied) came first between them, but Gladstone's Liberals teamed up with the Irish Parliamentary Party to sack the Tory PM Lord Salisbury and install Gladstone as Prime Minister.

Swap the Irish Parliamentary Party for the SNP and Liberals for Labour, and, well, it all sounds a little too familiar... (AR)

April 15: the quiet death of the Scottish Liberals

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Gladstone's Second Midlothian campaign (http://www.old-print.com/)The Liberal Democrats have had six leaders ever. The first two served together - David Steel as the former Liberal Leader and Bob MacLennan as the former Social Democrat leader. Both represented Scottish constituencies. So did two of their four successors: Charles Kennedy and Menzies Campbell.Or we could look at the six deputy leaders the party has ever had, three of whom, Russell Johnston, Menzies Campbell and Malcolm Bruce, have also been Scottish MPs. Going deeper into history, the party was led by a Scot for the majority of the 20th century.We can go back a little further. Three out of the last five Liberal Prime Ministers represented Scottish constituencies: William Ewert Gladstone was MP for Midlothian, Henry Campbell-Bannerman’ seat was Stirling Burghs, and Herbert Asquith stood in East Fife and, later, Paisley. The series of speeches on foreign policy made by Gladstone in 1879 and 1880 are often thought of as the first modern election campaign. They are known as "the Midlothian Campaign" after his Scottish constituency.The connection between the Liberal Party and Scotland can be traced back for as long as Britain can really claim to resemble a democracy in any sense at all. From the 1832 Reform Act until the election of Lloyd George’s coalition government in 1918, the Liberal Party got the most votes in every single election in Scotland. If you add together the votes for the two factions in the Liberal Party split in 1918 and 1922, then you can go all the way from 1832 to 1924 before you come to an election in Scotland which Liberals didn’t win most votes.There are moments in this history when the dominant Liberals laid nest-eggs for their successors. In 1885, after another extension of the right to vote, the Highlands and Islands elected four MPs from the Crofters Party and an Independent Liberal ally. Over the previous years there had been a wave of civil disobedience, where tenant farmers occupied their farms (crofts) after a century of Highland Clearances. In response, Gladstone’s government passed the Crofting Act, giving some security of tenure. There has been a strand of the Highland electorate who have voted Liberal to this day as a result.Despite this, the Scottish Liberals in the mid-20th century were reduced to one MP in the years after the war: Joe Grimmond, the representative of Orkney and Shetland: a seat which has elected a Liberal MP of one sort or another at every opportunity since parties first ran there, apart from 1835 and 1935.Since this mid-20th Century blip, though, Scotland has once more become a stronghold for the Lib Dems. 11 out of their 57 MPs, or 19.2%, come from North of the border. The Labour party only depends on the country for 41 out the 258 seats it won in 2010, or 15.9%.It seems almost inevitable that, of the eleven Scottish Lib Dem MPs, they are unlikely to keep more than two: Charles Kennedy may marshal enough of a personal vote (though I wouldn’t bet on it), and Alastair Carmichael in Orkney and Shetland seems unlikely to lose the unique seat. When, in the 2011 Scottish elections, people made such predictions, there were many reasonably convincing claims that popular local Lib Dem MSPs would buck the polls. They didn’t. The party now holds no Holyrood constituencies on the Scottish mainland (though it did retain both Orkney and Shetland, which are separated at Holyrood, with significantly reduced majorities). Every constituency they lost was taken by the SNP.To put it another way, most of the coverage of the rise of the SNP has focussed on how it will damage the Labour party. This misses another story: the devastation of the Scottish Liberals. It took them many decades, but they have managed to climb out of a similar hole once before. Will they manage again? (AR)

April 14: The CBI regularly emails out its views on developments, including through the election.  Today, its press office sent out its Director-General, John Cridland's response to the Conservative Party manifesto. It is not yet on its website. On behalf of the CBI Cridland supported raising the threshold on strike action and expressed concern at the prospect of leaving the EU, much else was similarly predictable. But on housing he said:

“We desperately need bold action to get on with building 240,000 homes a year by 2025 to meet demand. We should aim to build new garden cities to provide the communities our country needs, led by a new independent infrastructure commission.

“Extending the Right to Buy scheme doesn’t solve the problem of boosting the supply of affordable homes.”

Well, well. Imagine if the CBI had issued such a direct rebuke to Labour's defining committments. Will we see the front page of tomorrow's Times or the Daily Mail or the Telegraph shout out, "Business leaders squash key Tory pledge as irrelevant"? I suspect not. The press distorts as much by what it does not emphasise as by what it does.(Anthony Barnett)

April 14th: Weighty analysis continues at the Mail where Ed Miliband's past relationships continue to generate much hilarity and column inches. They haven't quite settled on a new name for him yet but top of the running is 'Raunchy Ed' and 'Randy Ed'. The highlight of last week though was surely the reaction of Jan Moir to Miliband's antics, branding him "an easy liar, a man of low honour, a chancer".

Both the Times and the Mail have been quite frequently citing the Tax Payers' Alliance. I wasn't even aware this dubious, T-Party'esque lobbyist was still running, let alone still being cited by papers as some sort of authority. (OH)

April 14th: Labour's feeble plan to merely allow the state to compete for contracts with the private rail operators is to the Mail another "huge victory for the left wing unions". Considering the national disgrace that is the private rail heist (most expensive trains in the world acording to USB), you might think the first moves towards renationalisation would be primarily a victory for Britain's rail users - the people who support renationalisation by a margin of 60% in favour compared to only 20% against. The public are far to the left of Labour on the trains, and yet to read the Mail you'd think this is just another rotten stitch up between "Red Ed" and the dastardly unions.

Public monopolies - Stalinist. Private monopolies - must be protected. (OH)

April 14th: On violence, class, repetition, and forgetting Ed Miliband was punched

One of the notable things about reading the Telegraph and Sun every day is that they repeat particular events endlessly until they are 'things'. At the same time, they quietly ignore other events, so as to ensure they don't become 'things'. One example of this is the Miliband bacon sandwich incident, which is still repreatedly referred to. Another is Miliband forgetting to mention the deficit in his confernece speech.

The thing that's remarkable, though, is the opposite. The stories which are brushed under the carpet, ignored. Let me just piece a few bits and pieces together.

Yesterday, at the Labour manifesto launch, there were Tory party activists outside, with Salmond and Sturgeon masks. Michael Gove was with them. The Telegraph has a sketch by Michael Deacon, where he discusses this. The piece itself is perfectly reasonable, surprisingly nice about Miliband.

But now, remember this. On the evening after the not-quite leaders' debate, Ed Miliband was assaulted by a group of people who were, strangely enough, also wearing Alex Salmond masks. According to the Daily Mirror, they punched and shoved him. These are masks often used by the Tories for stunts.

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Were the people who assaulted the leader of the opposition Tory party activists? I don't know. But I do know this. The Telegraph ran a long article a few days ago about how SNP supporters in the East End of Glasgow can sometimes be rough. The article includes allegations of some genuinely nasty behaviour. But unlike the mysterious Salmond-masked man who punched Ed Miliband, there is no allegation of violence.

Here's my question. If Cameron had been assaulted by someone wearing a hard-to-get prop often used in Labour stunts, or SNP stunts, and if those props showed up again outside a Labour event, would the Telegraph simply ignore the previous assault in its sketch? Or would this incident be dragged out and hinted at at every possible opportunity, to imply that Labour activists, or SNP activists, are violent, rough.

Of course, the idea that Tory activists might be the only ones to have actually commited an act of vilolence against a prominent opponent is something the media is much less likely to believe or report or repeat. Not only does that damage the Tories, it doesn't fit with their understanding of the world.

The week before Scotland's referendum, I was stood outside the Scottish Parliament, by chance next to a prominent British broadcaster and a journalist for a major broadsheet. Britain First, the largest fascist party in the UK, were passing as a part of the much larger Orange march calling for a no vote. The broadcaster lent over to the journalist and, overheard by the friend I was with, said something along the lines of the following "I get the impression that the yes campaign is getting increasingly rough, you know, working class, violent".

If that's an attitude seen as acceptable by any major journalist, it's no wonder the Telegraph treats Glaswegians being nasty as thugs, while possible-Tories being actually violent are largely ignored.


April 14th: On bumping into (and singing for) the Prime Minister

OK, I (Adam) have a bit of a late night exclusive for you. My friend Robin Grey ran into David Cameron today. Being an enterprising sort of chap, he pulled out a musical instrument and sang a rude song at the Prime Minister, suggesting he return to his old school. The footage made it onto the BBC and ITV.

Here's what Robin has to say for himself.

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Robin, covered on the BBC

It is way past my bed time; I am wired on adrenaline right now. The day did not turn out quite as planned when I sat down to eat my oats at a friends mum's house near Thropton, mid Northumberland this morning...

I love cycling and had strapped all my things onto the back of my trusty old bicycle with the goal of getting to my Nana's place for late afternoon tea. It is her 90th birthday soon and I was looking forward to seeing her as it had been ages since I'd been up this way.

The computer said Seahouses was 36 miles and involved a 840ft peak... Hmmmm...

I realised that I need to work out where to eat lunch and Alnwick looked like a nice quiet half way place to get refuelled.

The route peaked a few miles before Alnwick and it was a welcome downward decent into the town when I was rudely cut up by a big blue bus. I wondered what sort of bus would drive like that, whilst at the same time noticing a big green tree and.... Oh, the Tories... Ha.

Immediately after pulling out of a side road infront of me (it was clearly my right of way as I was on the main road), the bus pulled over to the side of the road and parked up. There was a flash of blue balloons and suddenly a media circus descended upon a rather 2D looking David Cameron.

It was staggering how staged the whole thing was. Literally there were people dotted around who had obviously been hand picked to 'bump' into him. There was also so few of them... If you got rid of the press and people who came off the bus you could probably count the supporters on your hands and feet.

I stood in utter disbelief as he walked by me. You can see me in one of the ITN videos taking a photo of him just after he got off the bus. I retired to the other side of the road to consider my options.

Pre first thought... I really want to make Adam Ramsay's election hero of the day tweet... #confession #inspiration

First thought... The egg... Pros... He gets egged... Cons... I have no eggs and don't want to get arrested as I will be late for my Nana.

Second thought... Shouting loudly... Pros... Few... Cons... Boring

Third thought... Ah, I have been touring/performing the show 'Three Acres And A Cow, A History Of Land Rights And Protest In Folk Song And Story' this week... That means I have my guitar and my UKULELE #awesome #plantastic

Right... What song to sing...

So even as I started to improv the refrain 'f@&k off back to Eton', I thought... Could do much better... but it was from the heart and they didn't give me much time to work on my lyrical content...

But before I knew it... He is crossing the road and walking towards me! WTF?

To be clear, I had stood on the opposite side of the road and was merely intending a medium distance heckle song... Perhaps a safe bit of middle class protest... But when they crossed the road... Well there were lots of cameras and that nice security man who asked me to change the lyrics as there were children present, which seemed a good point and I did. The lyrics relaxed to a more polite 'please go back to Eton' which luckily enabled the BBC to broadcast a little.

I decided I had had more than enough fun and sought peace sat a few mins walk away at an outside table belonging to a lovely little cafe in the cute cobbled town square near a lovely bunch of pensioners. After ordering soup and a cheese toasty I was bemused to see Tory party organisers apologise to the pensioners that David was not coming to talk with them now as he had a change of plan #whoops #mybad #sorry #ruiningthedaybyaccident

Then other things happened but I am sure that is enough from me for today. Thanks for reading and you might like this video of the song with extra verses and my Nana doing dance moves(ish) for your viewing entertainment... http://youtu.be/iNDAbjU5UCs

You can here the full song (which he wrote in retrospect) here and find out more about Robin's escapades singing about British political history at: http://threeacresandacow.co.uk/ and http://pedalfolk.co.uk/

April 13th: Who are the conservatives now?

I have just read the Labour Party’s Manifesto and Ed Miliband’s speech launching the same. Picking up from Adam’s terrific article on how the UK is not a naturally neo-liberal, right-wing assortment of nations, but rather our media is dominated by a neo-liberal, right-wing assortment of newspapers, I am struck by the conservative nature of Labour’s offering. Not Tory, but one-nation conservatism: fiscal responsibility, belief in the natural greatness of the country, desire to reach out and include all working people, determination to be better with no profound sense of anything fundamental being wrong that needs correction.

It’s well and professionally done. And if Cameron really is the caring, Macmillan style conservative he originally positioned himself to be then he’ll be eating the carpet with jealousy!

An inclusive wealth-creating economy works when there is a shared sense of responsibility, so we will be a government that is both pro business and pro-worker (p17)

Opportunity must belong to everyone and not just a few. We will lend a helping hand to all those who need it, but we will also ask more of individuals and communities. We can only rebuild our country if everyone plays their part and feels they have a stake in society. (p 12)

There is a neat analysis by the Independent’s Jon Stone on how Labour’s Manifesto pledges may not mean what they seem. But let's leave playing with the Devil to later blog entries. It's not the details but the approach, the body language and the type of confidence the Manifesto communicates, that is now the opposition’s strategy for power.

As we are discussing how distorting media coverage is, please note that Labour’s approach is rooted in its past, stretching back to the end of the last century.

In the first Labour leadership husting sponsored by the New Statesman, there was a telling exchange between Ed Balls and Ed Miliband. With five candidates having to answer all the questions, each was given two minutes per question. When Stagger’s Editor Jason Cowley put the economic one he started with Balls, who went over time. Only after multiple requests did he stop, Cowley then went to Ed who, looking down on his former and senior colleague, joked, “It’s like being back at the Treasury”. Balls shook with indignation the lèse-majesté of having his leg pulled by a former intern! 

What was striking was that it was the kind of joke you’d once have expected only Tories to have made, with all the presumption and familiarity of office that went with their being the one-time 'natural party of government'.

The Labour slogan is for a better country, but what they are really saying is that they will better at running the country. If only because this is a pretty low hurdle we can confidently say they they would be. Provided nothing untoward happens. But if Adam is right about England being on the centre-left, then could Cameron and Osborne emerge as the winners as they throw an extra £8 billion at the NHS. (Anthony Barnett)

April 13th: You'd never guess the country was facing a prolonged housing crisis from reading the Mail. On page 28 it runs a piece overflowing with excitement that buy to let has created "2m private landlords" with returns on investment since 1996 of "1,400%". There is only a fleeting mention of the recent news that many young people have now entirely given up hope of ever owning a home - something the buy to let boom has been a primary driver of. But for the Mail, landlords, estate agents and the banks, it's trebles all round.(OH)

April 9th: The right wing press have struggled with Labour's non-dom policy. Aware that it plays well with the public and keen to avoid the appearance of sticking up for the ultra wealthy in the era of food banks, the right wing press have adopted a tone of 'it's not so much the policy that's wrong, it's the way they've done it'. Though warnings of 'wealth creators'/tax avoiders 'fleeing the country' are of course commonplace, most absurdly expressed in the Mail on the 9th: Labour's non-dom plans "would devastate the broader economy". Ironically, the very same sentence brands the plans 'financially illiterate'. And which sources has the Mail spoken to for these pearls? "Business leaders". For more "ultra wealthy oppose higher taxes" scoops, pick up your copy of the Mail today. And tomorrow. And the next day. (OH )

April 9 

The Daily Telegraph and the accurate naming of women

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Leanne Wood, one of many women wrongly called "Mrs" by the Daily Telegraph

Over the weekend, I wrote about how the right wing press is stuck in the past. One obvious detail of this is how they fail in one really basic detail of election coverage: getting people's names right. Specifically, getting women's names right.

On the 2nd of April, under the headline "the most dangerous woman in British politics", the Telegraph ran a comment piece by a fellow Scot-in-England Graeme Archer. It attempted to inform the English electorate of the terror they ought to feel at the prospect of a certain female politician having influence over the election. Her name? Mrs Sturgeon. I would suggest to the Telegraph that if they are going to pay someone to tell their readers about a person, then they at least get that person's name right. Nicola Sturgeon is famously married to prominent SNP organiser Peter Murrell. She is Ms Sturgeon.

On the front page of the same paper the following day, Michael Deacon wrote a sketch about the election debate. He managed in the paper version to get the Scottish First Minister's name right (though not in the online version). He did, however, succeed in Mrs-ing both Leanne Wood and Natalie Bennett, both of whom are "Ms". 

To cap it all, yesterday, in the paper version of the Telegraph (strangely I can't find it online) they ran a piece about the wives of the leaders of Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories. In two cases, though, they fell at the first hurdle. Ed Miliband's wife is called Justine Thornton. Nick Clegg's wife is called Miriam González Durántez. In each case, for some bizarre reason, they insisted on giving each their husband's surnames. You would have thought that if you were going to profile someone, you would at least get their name right.

Of course, the paper doesn't seem to have any similar problems with the accurate naming of men. (AR)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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