The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Posts Tagged ‘Conservatives’

The Strains Of Coalition

Posted by The Futility Monster on June 19, 2010 @ 09:43

Stolen from, but drawn in 2007! Prophetic...

In recent days I’ve been troubled by the cover the Lib Dems are being forced to give to the Tories for the “cuts now” agenda. In truth, I’m probably deeply unsure myself, having argued in the past that we do need to make mega cuts in budgets all over the place, before then saying that those very cuts would do serious damage.

But now I feel quite certain. The economy is still in the tank. Cuts now are definitely going to create the W shaped recession we were all afraid of. The private sector is not sitting on its hands, waiting for the moment 20% is cut off all government department budgets to spring into action. The concept is laughable.

The consequence is that inbetween the cutting and the beginnings of genuine recovery in the private sector, there simply is going to be more of an economic decline.

The seriously worrying part of this, as a Liberal Democrat, is that the party is backing it 100%, and is completely tied into it with its Man in the Treasury, and coalition agreement pledging to be pretty radical with the scissors.

Last night, a Liberal Democrat MP, never mind a Cabinet minister, wouldn’t even appear on Newsnight to defend the agenda. Instead, it was left to former MP Susan Kramer, who was tied up in knots by Gavin Esler and even Ed Miliband over the pre-election opposition to “cuts now” compared with our new position of “why haven’t we started cutting yet?”.

There are some mutterings of discontent on the Lib Dem backbenches, but that’s no surprise. And though there’s still five years till the next election (apparently) early Lib Dem poll ratings are very poor indeed relative to our election performance, and considering all the pollsters massively overstated us in the run up to May 6.

If I’m wrong, and the government is right, and it manages to cut carefully without stoking another recession, and without punishing the poorest in society, then I’ll hold my hands up and admit it.

But right now, with the ideological love of a smaller state on the Tory benches, combining with the libertarian economist streak that is emerging from the Orange Bookers in the Lib Dems, it seems to be creating the perfect storm for a groupthink mentality, coalescing around a slash-and-burn programme.

And that may be exactly like standing on the grasping fingers of a man clinging for dear life on the cliff precipice.

Oh, the next 12 months will be worth watching…


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Whither Question Time?

Posted by The Futility Monster on May 28, 2010 @ 12:08

I wonder how many more years our David has left in him...

In the latest in my Bill Withers instalments, today I turn my attention to that venerable institution, BBC One’s Question Time.

I’m not particularly interested in whether the coalition refuses to debate alongside Alistair Campbell, for the simple reason that the answer is obvious: the BBC is right, and the coalition are extremely stupid to think they can dictate the terms of engagement. If it is true that David Laws refused to appear because of Campbell, then I’m embarrassed for my government.

But the real reason that made me want to write this post is that something is seriously amiss about the programme in these days of coalition.

I enjoyed last night’s show because of the interplay between Campbell, Piers Morgan and Max Hastings. They had a great deal of banter, and some fantastical allegations were launched at each other. A real dogfight. Campbell and Morgan on the Iraq War also made for good television.

Meanwhile, John Redwood and Susan Kramer, for the Conservatives and the Lib Dems, had a love-in.

That’s not right. Not right at all.

Throughout the programme, it was hard to differentiate between the two. They were both extremely loyal, and you could barely slide a cigarette paper between their answers.

Who’d’ve thought that, eh? One of the Conservatives most uppity backbenchers, combining forces with someone who isn’t even an MP any more, and therefore is free of the party whip. And they agreed with each other continuously.

I know the coalition is in early days, and power is the glue holding everyone together, but it seems right now it’s hard to get an independent thought out of anyone. Unfortunately, turning everyone into robotic drones parroting the party line is not remotely “new politics”. It’s the same old New Labour spin machine, prepped with pre-packaged soundbites and talking points, only now expanded across two parties.

I quipped to one of my friends the other day that I guess I must have missed the party merger…

Question Time is going to have to decide. If the Tory and Lib Dem representatives are going to continue having a love-in, neither wanting to say something different because they could jeopardise the coalition, then there is no point having both of them on there. That would then reduce the panel to four. No doubt they could then squeeze on an extra celebrity. They seem to love doing that these days.

People may pretend they want their politicians to agree (just so long as those pols agree with what “the people” apparently think), but agreement makes for a boring 60 minutes of television.

During this government, which will be the most centrist in British history, it’s going to be important for Question Time, and other political TV/radio shows, to highlight that other opinions really do exist, and are just as legitimate as the hegemonic Lib-Con coalition.

Otherwise, people might resume wondering whether politics is worth bothering with…

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The Jury Is Still Out

Posted by The Futility Monster on May 20, 2010 @ 07:28

The bromance continues...

Coming from a very Labour family, one that suffered serious hardship under the Thatcher era, being a Lib Dem black sheep is not easy.

Since the rise of the Tories to power, buttressed by a Lib Dem flank that couldn’t wait to get its hands on the tiller, I have been questioned on a regular basis by Labour people on “what d’ya think of that, then?!” – in that sneering way that only Labour people do best.

The problem to me was that most Labour members always assumed the Lib Dems would fall into bed with them in their hour of need. It is this rejection, combined with propping up Teh Evul Tories!!!!1 that has caused them such pain. Sadly for them, just like everything to do with Labour, their party leadership has not reflected their values for more than a decade.

What amuses me most about it is every time a new Tory minister, or David Cameron, says or does something, I am quizzed as if I am guilty of a crime. How dare you put them in power? They’re going to shit on the poor all over again, etc, etc.

I would like to dismiss these concerns as the usual partisan baiting. After all, as I wrote a few days ago, this could be Labour’s best opportunity since the death of John Smith. And yes, it’s callous to write that, but given it led to Tony Blair, three huge election wins and 13 years of power, it has to be true…

But a little bit of me is with them. A little bit of me dies inside when I see William Hague, handsomely rejected in 2001 for being so out of touch with the electorate, preening on the world stage with Hilary Clinton, embarrassing us all by talking about a non-existent “special relationship”.

My approach to the coalition is this. I am not at all apologetic for what my party has done. I share some of the concerns ably expressed by Rob Fenwick and Nich Starling. This coalition is going to put the Liberal Democrats under the most extreme stress. It might well be the end of the party. It might lead to it splitting back in two, especially if a form of PR is ever agreed upon.

But I’m not prepared to turn my back on the party. Not yet. It would have been easy to stick it out in opposition once more. That’s where we’re comfortable. We don’t deserve power, but neither should we refuse to take what may be the only opportunity in our party’s history to implement at least some of our policies because we’re afraid of the bogeymen that still lurk in the Tory cupboards from the Thatcher era.

The alternative? Labour did not want a coalition. The Tories could have governed on their own, but in return we would have extracted almost nothing, and worse, faced another election in a year’s time, when Labour are likely to be unprepared for an election, and a Tory landslide could ensue.

Don’t tell me that wouldn’t be worse for the country.

So when people ask me what I think of what’s happening in British politics, and whether I’m comfortable with what’s happening, I simply say: “I really don’t know yet”.

And none of us do. It’s way, way too early to guess what the outcome of this coalition will be. Nothing has really happened yet. When legislation starts, and we truly get a handle on the way Tory and LD Secretaries of State are going to govern, that’s when the evidence will roll in. Until then, we lie in wait like wolves. Waiting. Interminably waiting.

I freely admit though. If it’s a disaster, I will live forever with the shame.

But a part of me thinks it genuinely can work.

And that’s worth fighting for.

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A Coalition For Calamity Clegg

Posted by The Futility Monster on May 10, 2010 @ 09:30

This should be being played 24/7 in Cowley Street at the moment...

OK, I’m being mean as usual. Clegg is no calamity. At least, not yet.

If the unthinkable happens, and there is a coalition, what will it all mean?

In January, I wrote this post. Apart from a slight factual inaccuracy about the Lib Dems “triple lock” process it now looks eerily prophetic. Little did I know at the time that what I was writing could possibly come to pass. I thought I was dreaming…

I suggested that the Lib Dems might get the Home Office, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and one other. Apparently, the Lib Dems are currently being offered exactly that, with the third one being transport. I would like to crow about my extraordinarily prescient analysis, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

My real point however is this.

British political culture is used to yearly reshuffles. Mostly its a show of authority on a Prime Minister’s part. It reminds everyone who’s boss, and who has the power of patronage. It rewards loyalty and talent (ostensibly) and punishes dissent and failure.

If the Lib Dems take a coalition, and portfolios, it will make things very interesting. This yearly dose of fun becomes no longer do-able. If Cameron gives the Home Office to Nick Clegg, he can’t just sack him when he’s had enough. Nick Clegg has to stay there. He can’t exactly move him around to reassert his authority.

In truth, this is probably a positive development. British politics is too often like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. Year after year of shuffling the same old faces into different holes. It’s supposed to re-invigorate the government, but all it really does is ensure an astonishing lack of continuity, and a guarantee that once in a while – and usually way more often – each department will get a stunningly talent-free Secretary of State.

But this has its own risks.

The Home Office is the biggest graveyard in politics.

Currently the Tories have Chris Grayling as the shadow for this department, but there’s no way he’s getting it, coalition or no coalition. If there’s a coalition though, it’s the perfect excuse to demote him. No need for delicate discussions about how he just wouldn’t be right for one of the three Great Offices of State. Win-win for Cameron.

But lose-lose for Clegg.

There is no way in hell that anyone can have success at Home. It is a fire-fighting department, lurching from one disaster to another. The incumbent gets run ragged and loses all credibility.

That will happen to Nick Clegg too.

And he won’t be able to be re-shuffled.

It will be the albatross around his, and the government’s, neck.

All this is going to be a big shake up for the British political culture. How will the media adapt? How will the public adapt?

Still, we might not get a coalition anyway…

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Pollwatch: T-Minus 2 Days

Posted by The Futility Monster on May 4, 2010 @ 22:39


LIB DEMS: 28% (-1%)

LABOUR: 28% (N/C)

Changes based upon last time (yesterday). Sample consists of all polls with mid-point fieldwork dates within the last 10 days, including today (n=29). Includes all British Polling Council registered pollsters. The results above are the median figure for each party.

This election has been like a rollercoaster. One day up, one day down.

The problem is that rollercoasters are under the influence of gravity. And, in the end, it returns to the Earth.

Just like the Lib Dems. Tonight’s polls continue to show their steady decline back to the norm. Bear in mind that good old Charles Kennedy notched up some 23% in very favourable circumstances last time. Now that expectations have been raised immeasurably, anything in this region would be very disappointing for Nick Clegg.

So what are we to make of tonight’s YouGov putting them on 24%. It feels like an outlier. We might find out tomorrow. But what if it’s not? Oh, I can’t take the stress any more.

This is what makes this election so cruel to us poor downtrodden Lib Dems. We thought we might be in with a shot. The polls were even mean enough to confirm our gut feeling that something special had happened on the night of that first debate.

And then it gets snatched away from us.

I’m trying to stay positive though, especially as it would be fickle of me to change my mind again after my post yesterday, in which I tried to cheer myself up.

The election, however, is even more wide open than before. If YouGov is right, and Labour get 30%, that will definitely be enough to ensure a hung parliament. I’m confident of that, because it will mean Labour don’t lose too many Lab-Con marginals; and if the LDs outperform their rating in the LD-Con marginals, it will make for one hell of scrap for power on May 7th.

The final polls tomorrow will be the ones to watch out for. Will there be the usual convergence? Even if there is, will it even mean anything, because 1% here and there when the polls are this tight, and in our electoral system, can be the difference between hung parliament and majority?

I love elections.

There will be no Pollwatch instalment at this time tomorrow, as it will be shifted forward into Thursday instead to make sure I don’t miss any of them being released on Wednesday night.

Be lucky.

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Pollwatch: T-Minus 3 Days

Posted by The Futility Monster on May 3, 2010 @ 23:59


LIB DEMS: 29% (N/C)

LABOUR: 28% (N/C)

Changes based upon last time (yesterday). Sample consists of all polls with mid-point fieldwork dates within the last 10 days, including today (n=31). Includes all British Polling Council registered pollsters. The results above are the median figure for each party.

Still, very little change. Tonight’s polls suggest the Lib Dem bounce has indeed run its course though, with two of them putting the LDs back in third place, and ComRes have a tie. That might be reflected in the coming days calculations. But stranger things have happened. Every time it seems someone is pulling away, the following days polls bring it back again.

But I’m going back out on a limb.

This election only has two questions for us now:

Are the Tories going to get a majority?

Will the Lib Dems pip Labour to second place?

I suspect yes and no, respectively. I have that depressing, sinking feeling.

Same as it ever was.

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Pollwatch: T-Minus 5 Days

Posted by The Futility Monster on May 1, 2010 @ 23:59


LIB DEMS: 29% (N/C)

LABOUR: 27% (N/C)

Changes based upon last time (yesterday). Sample consists of all polls with mid-point fieldwork dates within the last 10 days, including today (n=28). Includes all British Polling Council registered pollsters. The results above are the median figure for each party.

Still nothing happens. And there were four new polls today, as well… all of them suggesting that the Lib Dems are slipping and the Tories are gaining.

It’s an old cliché, but it’s beginning to come true. The more likely a hung parliament seems, the less likely it really is.

As the election draws nearer, and it seems like it’s going to be an inconclusive result, opinion starts to harden one way or the other. In this case, the country seems to be deciding, after it’s brief flirtation with the third party, to come home. Perhaps we just wanted to keep Cameron on his toes, make him prove that he is worthy of being PM.

Or maybe it’s just the fickle electorate once again.

Having said that, it’s probably too early to conclude just yet. The medians above haven’t moved, after all. And so they shouldn’t. More evidence is needed first, and there’s going to be plenty of that next week.

These shares, despite what UNS might say, are not far off a majority. Labour meltdown, plus more “wasted” votes going to the Lib Dems, and a disproportionate pro-Tory swing in the marginals, will ensure they get the seats they need.

It’s not over, but the writing is starting to appear on the wall.

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The Third Election Debate: Wordled And Numbered

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 30, 2010 @ 10:25

Time for our final instalment of fun – with the third debate transcript this time. Before I begin, if you’re really into this stuff, you might want to look at my equivalent post from the first debate, and the second debate, for comparative purposes.

After calling this debate for Cameron last night, that impression has only been confirmed by the little exercise that follows. Executive summary: Cameron was less verbose, and hence had to be slower, more dignified… more prime ministerial.

Here go the Wordles…

Gordon Brown

Nick Clegg

David Cameron

I’ve been doing this long enough now to know that these guys are pretty robotic when it comes to the language they use. Cameron’s message is all about “people” – and it has featured prominently in all three of his Wordles. His other favourite word appears to be “need” – in the sense that “we need” to do X, or we need noun. It’s typical opposition talk: highlighting what he would do differently.

He also continues his trend for the word “actually” – an everyday word we all use – and in this final debate took the time to hammer on the word “government”, something he hadn’t previously done to this extent. Getting home his message about the end of this government and its failure, I suspect.

Nick Clegg’s Wordles, unlike David Cameron’s however, show more of an evolution across the series. Nick’s favourite word across the three was “think”, which seemed to work well in the first debate, but perhaps it got tired in the subsequent two. But in this debate, his “think” was outshone by “people”. Not good at all, especially as it’s clearly what Cameron was already doing. In fact, as the debates have progressed, Nick’s use of “think” declined as his use of “people” increased. It meant he lost his distinctiveness.

Nick’s keenness for talking about tax in this debate cannot have been an accident. While the questions gave him the opportunity, and there was much talk about “tax credits”, it was clearly designed to get the message through on the £10,000 personal allowance. That is sensible, as it is a well received policy, and if it has stuck in some viewers minds, perhaps it may be his saving grace from a disappointing performance.

Nick has also let himself down by getting too stuck in. It was illustrated in his “yes or no?” exchange with David Cameron on immigration. The electorate don’t like it. It smacked of more of the same. I highlighted this last time:

  • Debate 1 : “David” – 5 times; “Gordon” – 5 times
  • Debate 2: “David” – 14 times; “Gordon” – 18 times
  • Debate 3: “David” – 16 times; “Gordon” –  14 times

His excuse may be that he was largely ignored in the first debate. But most of it is in his hands. He actively chose to challenge the others. Time and time again, those wiggly lines show it invariably reflects badly on the attacker.

As for Gordon Brown, his decision to attack David Cameron is reflected in the Wordle by the prominence of it. He referred to “David” 31 times and “Nick” just 11. A remarkable reversal from the first debate, where he referred to them equally (11 times), and, as we all know, most of those referrals to Nick were positive. Again, this must be deliberate.

Gordon Brown went negative on everyone yesterday. “risk” “recovery” “inheritance” “cut”… the messaging was clear and coherent. Either his training worked, or the distraction of yesterday led to a slightly less well-prepared Gordon Brown, who went back to good old Labour instincts: attack the Tories for being the party of the rich. He was on message, but it just doesn’t seem to capture the electorate’s imagination. Like I said, negativity doesn’t really work. Or in this case, maybe it’s because of the messenger…

Moving on…

Third Debate: Vital Statistics
Gordon Brown David Cameron Nick Clegg
Words 5216 5087 5350
Sentences 256 295 283
Words per sentence 20.3 17.2 18.9
Flesch Reading Ease 60.8 68.7 67.5
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 9.8 7.9 8.5

Out of the three debate’s statistics, this one is the most interesting. The main reason is that Nick Clegg showed that old habits die hard. Too many words. Too much waffle. When you consider that they all must have roughly got the same time to speak, to chuck in an extra 300 words over Cameron must mean Nick Clegg spoke faster.

And yet, if you put it into the context of the other two debates, this was the least Nick Clegg spoke (1: 5476; 2: 5940). The problem is that it doesn’t matter in absolute terms. It’s only the comparison on the night between the three. And I did get the impression that Nick wasn’t as disciplined, and as focused as he had been in the previous two. That is borne out by the numbers.

David Cameron, instead, shows how he has steadily grasped the debate format. Shorter sentences – the shortest by far out of all nine transcripts (3 each per debate, of course) – and always speaking at an easier to understand level.

Especially in contrast to Gordon Brown. His longer sentences and penchant for multi-syllabic words like “inheritance”, “Conservatives” and “manufacturing” are responsible for nearly getting a 10 in the grade level, by far the highest out of all the nine transcripts, and a big rise on last week. Maybe that’s why despite his punchier performance, he lost people in the detail. But that’s Gordon Brown all over: a details man in a big picture world.

There’s so much more that could be done with these numbers, but that’s me for the day. I could draw some graphs comparing all these numbers side by side across the three debates, but why bother? No one’s reading anyway.

Instead, as per tradition, we finish with the moderator’s Wordle. Mr David Dimbleby:

David Dimbleby

Just look at that supreme example of BBC impartiality. Almost every name identical size. Perfect.


Please note my transcripts for each individual are cleaned up, no paragraphs, no line breaks, and no markers for where one part of the debate conversation began or ended. That’s the most useful form for textual analysis, and I share them with you above.

If you do anything else funky with this stuff, please place a link to it in the comments. I’d love to read it.

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Pollwatch: T-Minus 7 Days

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 29, 2010 @ 23:59


LIB DEMS: 29% (N/C)

LABOUR: 27% (N/C)

Changes based upon last time (yesterday). Sample consists of all polls with mid-point fieldwork dates within the last 10 days, including today (n=29). Includes all British Polling Council registered pollsters. The results above are the median figure for each party.

All very stable, but we’re in a holding pattern. The first, and only, post-bigotgate poll puts Labour on absolutely no change at all. But I told you that yesterday, so regular visitors (all two of you) should not be surprised!

The holding pattern is, of course, because of tonight’s debate. What will the impact of David Cameron’s “win” be? We won’t find out for sure tomorrow… for the full reality, we may have to wait till the opinion polls in the Sunday papers.

But so far, it’s a slight nudging forward for the Tories. And that’s all we will ever really see in these smoothing median samples. The direction of travel, then, is most important. Maybe we’ll see another point to them tomorrow… and that will definitely be a worrying sign for those of us hoping for a hung parliament.

Oh well…

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The Third Debate Post-Mortem

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 29, 2010 @ 23:08

Cameron holding court...

The news is in, and it’s not good.

I thought Nick Clegg had a very strong first third of the debate. He got stuck in, he stood ahead of the other two, and didn’t get bogged down in the partisan bickering. He addressed the questioner. He looked at the camera too. A perfect balance.

Then it all seemed to go wrong.

Make no mistake, Clegg did not slip up during this debate. He was fairly strong, and especially so when the second question about direct taxes was such a gift to him. And I absolutely admire his bold, principled, and utterly correct, stance on the immigrant amnesty.

After that though, it didn’t work so well. His closing statement in particular was very poor. Filled with waffle and an incoherent narrative. And why so many glances at notes during it? He didn’t do that in previous debates. Nerves, perhaps?

Meanwhile, I have to give it Cameron. I disagree with him in a lot of places. And I think he really is a Conservative in every fibre of his being. His is an agenda of extreme individualisation, the continuation of the Thatcher legacy that was only perpetuated by Blair.

But his poise, his political antennae, his soundbites and his narrative were mostly correct tonight. He was shameless in shoe-horning in the Euro in a perfect stroke of attacking his rivals. He bashed Gordon Brown to hell. He patronised Nick Clegg like he didn’t deserve to be playing with the grown-ups. Clegg reacted well, but the damage was already done.

And then his closing statement was much the stronger. Authoritative, stern, clear. He lost points for being caught out frowning too often, but it doesn’t seem to matter any more. He looked a bit greasy too, sometimes a bit too smooth with the way he tried to charm the questioner. I didn’t like it, but it doesn’t wash with me. I think the electorate will.

Gordon Brown, I thought, actually had a decent debate. He was his usual self, bashing through the numbers, playing the experience card time and time again. He should have said “this is no time for a novice” because it would have been appropriate. But he didn’t. He looked very edgy at the beginning, but warmed up, and delivered his worst to Nick Clegg largely by ignoring him.

Brown’s focus was broadly on David Cameron and the “same old Tories”. It, and the inheritance tax line, is his strongest suit. He did his damn hardest to play it. He made the point time and time again, even if it was totally tangential to the question. He’s certainly been trained well.

But it’s too late for him. The electorate has no empathy for him. The few left that do are all Labour supporters anyway.

Overall though, it was quite a boring debate, despite it being the most lively of them all in terms of attack. But maybe that’s what made it boring. It was all too much like the same old politics. Not like the first one, when Clegg looked fresh, new and took the other two apart for being stuck in the past.

Should it be repeated at the next election? Most definitely. It was long overdue, and has reinvigorated political debate in this country. It was filled with substance and character. It needs a little revision, and I just wish the media would reflect the actual content of the debate as well as who “won” it, but it has, broadly, given the politicians a more direct chance to engage with the electorate.

For today though, there was only one winner, and that was David Cameron. A Tory majority is now very much back on the cards.

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