29 October 2012

Future plans

Hello again, and apologies for the recent dearth of posts. In part this is because I've been very busy, and in part because I simply haven't had that much of interest to stay. My Twitter feed provides a lot of day-to-day engagement with issues, if only at a rather superficial level.

I will be providing a few in-depth posts over the next couple of weeks - probably one on the forthcoming US presidential election, one on the EU crisis, and one on the continuing festering sore that is the Labour hard right. But in general I anticipate doing more posts through the Brother Typewriter blog - inactive since about 2010 - as I'm finding music a damn sight more interesting than politics at the moment. This happens from time to time - there are only so many ways to say (for example) "John Rentoul is an idiot", and while an honest takedown of the Labour right is a worthy endeavour and a necessary one, it becomes a hard slog when you are doing it every month. So hence a temporary shift to music, with occasional political interjections. I expect to pick up the pace on politics sometime in 2014 as we move towards the election, which is always a more exciting time for me.

Van Patten will have to brief you on his plans himself - I know he's busy of late having just started a new job, but beyond that, nothing is clear.

06 October 2012

The Boris Factor

Unusually, this year's Tory Conference contains the only speech I want to watch. And it will be by Boris Johnson (or in fact they will be by Boris, as I think he's speaking twice).

Could Boris Johnson be the next Tory leader? It seems rather unlikely, but not impossible. I'd suggest that yes it could happen, but only under rather specific circumstances.

I think what would have to happen for Boris to be leader is that the Tories would have to lose heavily in 2015. It wouldn't have to be quite 1997 proportions but I think Ed would have to be in Downing Street with a majority of maybe 70 or more, and a substantial vote lead over the Tories - maybe  5 or 6 percent at least.

The more the Tories lose by, the more damaged are the inner circle of Cameron confidantes who would be the favoured successors if Cameron were to win, and step down (say) halfway through a second term. Osborne, Gove and Hunt are probably the most obvious future leadership contenders on the "inside". And I think if there is a controlled handover on Cameron's own terms (i.e. after a win), Boris wouldn't have much of a chance. If Cameron loses narrowly - perhaps a hung parliament followed by a Lab-Lib coalition or a small Labour majority as occurred in 1964 or 1974 - one of the 'inner circle' could still take over as they could argue the defeat was a matter of nuance or circumstance rather than fundamental strategic errors.

But if the Tories went down by a big margin, I think the 'inner circle' would fall down with Cameron - because there would a mood for change. I could be wrong about that... there's a possibility that Mickey Gove, in particular, might be a slippery enough character to come out of the whole episode smelling of roses. But in any case, a big Tory defeat would give Boris an opportunity  to take over, on the assumption he gets into a safe Tory seat in the 2015 election - although he'd still have to muster enough votes among Tory MPs to come no lower than second out of three, thus going forward to the decisive ballot of party members. As I have no idea what the "lay of the land" is with regards to Boris's popularity with Tory party members, I won't speculate on this issue.

There is always the possibility that one of the new 2010 hard-right intake - e.g. Dominic Raab, or the appalling Priti Patel - could mount a 2015 leadership challenge, but I think they'd struggle to match Boris's exposure or charisma. On the other hand the Tory leadership contest has a habit of favouring the outside runners. Few people would have said after the February 1974 election that Margaret Thatcher would be the next Tory leader; likewise after the 2005 election few would have said Dave Cameron was next for the hot seat. It's a funny thing.

You also can't rule out Liam Fox, who would probably stand on a hard-right ticket, but I sort of feel that if Fox was going to make his mark, 2005 was the time to do it, and he's rather old hat now. Likewise David Davis (any of you kids remember "Modern Conservatives?" Ho ho.

So that's the most hopeful scenario for Boris Johnson: that the party turns to him as the new messiah after the failure of Cameron. And it could happen; but I don't see it as a certainty, or even the most probable outcome.

The other scenario that is cooked up (largely by the media) is that Boris will somehow be drafted into Parliament before 2015, challenge Cameron for the leadership and defeat him, and then lead the Tories into the 2015 election as PM. If this could happen it represents (in my view) the Tories' only serious chance of winning with Boris at the helm; I don't think he would have the application to graft away as opposition leader for 5 years were he to get the job after the election, and I think the Tories would perform badly in 2020 with him as leader (unless Labour were so catastrophically bad that any idiot could win against them),  regardless of his personal popularity. But if he took over 6 months away from an election he might be able to win via the honeymoon effect, a media frenzy, and his natural talent for comedy.

I do think this is staggeringly unlikely, though. At the moment, rumblings of discontent against Cameron seem to be confined to malcontents such as Nadine Dorries. Looking at the polls, Cameron is still an asset to the Tories - albeit not such a huge one anymore; he's been increasingly rumbled a proportion of the electorate as a bullshitter, a bully and a liar but can still do the Tony Blair smoothie thing well enough to get by - for now. Dave would have to be significantly less popular than the Tory party to trigger a leadership election; he'd actually have to be perceived as a significant drag on their electability (remember Mrs T in 1990, or IDS in 2003). And that seems vanishingly unlikely. Nope, I reckon Dave's safe until the election. In fact I think all three main parties will go into the election with current leadership. In any case, the mechanics of installing Boris into the House of Commons with a substantial proportion of his London mayoral term still left would look extremely dodgy. Boris getting a seat in the 2015 election - with one year of his term still to go - is probably just about OK. But before that? It would look preposterous.

So, I think there is a lot of hype and not so much substance behind the idea of the "Boris Factor" - although it is not a complete fiction. That said, I will still be intrigued to see just how Boris plays Tory conference; he will probably want to make Dave look a bit small and insignificant without appearing openly disloyal. and his speech(es) will probably be comedy classic(s).

Ed Miliband rediscovers what was always there

You lucky kids have not just one but two posts from me this morning, as I'm trying to avoid doing some rather boring work.

Amazing how one speech can turn round perceptions of Ed Miliband. Before Tuesday's Labour leader speech (incidentally why is the Labour leader speech halfway through Conference whereas the other two main parties put their speeches at the end? Is it just so there is a graveyard slot on Thursday morning to bury Steve Twigg?) people were seeing the conference as an awkward potential car crash - the general feeling was that Ed would have done well just to get through it without inviting the oppobrium that got heaped on him after his 2011 speech. (I actually thought the content of the 2011 speech was pretty good, but delivery was awful).

I haven't watched most of the speech this year - last year was just too painful - but I have seen Ed speak without notes, strolling round the stage, before, and he is remarkably effective doing that. In fact it was at the 2008 Compass conference that I first thought "maybe this guy could be the next Labour leader". His speech at the Fabian post-election conference in 2010, where he announced his  candidacy, was another good effort. By comparison, speaking from a lectern Ed just looks stilted and awkward.

This year's big idea - "One Nation Labour" - is designed to underline the fact that the Tories are a party of sectional interest who care only about a small minority of very powerful, privileged people. But this was the case from 1979 onwards anyway. What Dave Cameron and the ConDems are doing is just an extension of Thatcherism. Saying to working people, "you've had too big a share of the cake for far too long and now it's time to put you back in your place."

If the truth be told, Labour was always a One Nation party - it just almost never used the rhetoric (mainly because it was copyrighted to the Tories). But if you look at (for example) the 1974 Labour election manifesto - "a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of working power in favour of working people and their families". Given that "working people and their families" covered the vast majority of people in the UK (and still would do, if we didn't have such high unemployment), this was always a One Nation idea. The Tories, too, were One Nation from 1951 up until the Heath era, as party policy was mainly dominated by centre-left social democrats pretty much interchangeable with the right-wing of the Labour party.

Of course, the right wing tries to paint Labour as a party only interested in promoting the interests of public sector workers. But this simply reflects the fact that conditions in the private sector have deteriorated so badly over the last 35 years that it is now able to play 'divide and rule' in the Thatcherite tradition, playing one group of working class people off against another group of working class people. Fortunately, the 2008 crisis has, to a large extent, blown the gaffe on this fiction; there is now increasing understanding that Capitalism Is The Problem. If not (yet) a clearly articulated alternative (the sterling efforts of Occupy aside).

So "One Nation Labour" - a clever rhetorical move. But the facts on the ground were there all along.