The Futility Monster

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

Posts Tagged ‘electoral strategies’

Cameron Senses The Danger

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 27, 2010 @ 09:00

I've always been a bit suspicious about those wet liberals, to be honest. Now I know why.

Isn’t it funny how the Conservatives have been put on the run by the Lib Dems, of all people…

The Lib Dems, their most hated enemy. And yet, there was Cameron all those years ago calling himself a liberal Conservative. Oh no, that was the other day. And then there was the guff of which soon got forgotten and turned into a link to their normal website.

All it took was just one little debate.

But the Tories aren’t stupid. They hastily rewrote and re-shot last week’s Party Election Broadcast. Then there was the second debate, in which all of his fire was largely directed at the Lib Dems (not Nick in particular though, and why would you attack someone with a net +50% approval rating?). And now a whole day of coverage about how the choice is between a Tory majority and a hung parliament.

Cameron’s argument that we should choose a majority for him because “the pound will fall” is hardly going to set the world alight. Apart from it being economically illiterate (the pound has already fallen, providing a huge boost to UK exports) it is utterly tedious and seems to imply that our votes should only be motivated by utterly dry numbers that are meaningless to the everyday lives of the electorate.

He’s also, if the polls are to be believed, fighting a losing battle. Not that people can actually vote for a hung parliament, but there is mounting evidence to suggest that people like the idea. Whether it’s Lib Dems who have dreamed of nothing other than it, or Labour voters sensing their only chance of rescuing this one out of the fire, or other and nonpartisan voters who just want to see something different, there is a genuine desire to see a new political culture after the 2010 election.

And again, that’s why Cameron senses the danger. If the unthinkable happens, and the Lib Dems do manage to exact major political reform (electoral and other constitutional changes) it will permanently change British politics. Never again will a party enjoy untrammelled power, courtesy of landslide results on small proportions of voters.

The Tories would miss that dearly. Cameron and Osborne want that all to themselves. They would dearly love a 40% vote that gives them 100% of the power. That’s what Thatcher and Blair got. Why not them?

The irony of all this is that in the meantime, there is actually still a sitting Prime Minister and a Labour party that still could do serious damage if it’s ignored. You’d be forgiven for thinking that they don’t exist, but they still do…

Can Cameron battle effectively on two fronts? Clegg/Cable on one, Mandelson on the other…

I’ll bet that was never part of their electoral strategy.


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Brown Bottles It. Again.

Posted by The Futility Monster on March 10, 2010 @ 10:58

The first botched election created opportunities like this which have never went away since.

In the latest in a series of Labour own goals, Brown’s announcement this morning that the Budget will be in two weeks, meaning an almost certain May 6 election, is yet another missed opportunity.

The polls have been narrowing. Labour have had almost wall to wall coverage. Economic figures have been revised in their favour. The momentum is going their way. The media is bigging up the prospects of an extremely close battle.

And still Brown declines to “go early”.

An April 8 election would have been perfect. No need for a pre-election Budget. The country will manage without one. It would be easy to say that it is unwise to have a Budget at this delicate stage of recovery, and until we get a clearer grasp on whether the recession is over.

It would also have been before the release of the Q1 2010 GDP figure. That little moment has the potential to ruin even the best, most disciplined Labour election campaign in history.

But the big advantage would have been to shock the country and seize the initiative. A bold move, designed to put the Tories on the back foot, and take advantage of the turning of the tide. A sign that he is confident that the tightening of the polls will continue and perhaps even result in Labour leads.

It might also stop the country getting too bored of the endless electioneering we’re currently suffering. Patience for politicians is at an all time low anyway. Too much petty politicking will make it certain that we’re all going to switch off and give up. And a low turnout at such a critical election would do serious damage to the legitimacy of the resulting Parliament, at a time when a stonking mandate for government is needed.

But we should expect no less from Gordon Brown. Far from being a bully and too aggressive, his record has shown time and time again that he is weak, timid, bruised by battle scars and clearly just one defeat from being at the end of his political career. In Britain anyway.

Having said that, he is a survivor. And survivors know how to dodge the bullet.

Maybe Gordon likes the sound of a June election after all…

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What Do Panicked Tories Do?

Posted by The Futility Monster on March 1, 2010 @ 21:22

Not sure about the quasi "Neighbours" font...

They lurch to the right.

Oh, those halcyon days when David Cameron was a “liberal conservative”.

We got treated to the delights of the “Vote Blue, Go Green” campaign.

Yes, remember when everyone thought climate change was the big bad wolf that needed ousting. And Cameron cycled to work, and got wind turbines installed on his wisteria-pruned roof to show off his credentials.

What happened to it all? What happened to talking about justice and rehabilitation? What happened to the rhetoric of centre ground social justice as fairness? What happened to the charity husky-dog sleigh rides to the North Pole?

It disappeared when the Tories polled a stonkingly small 37%. A clearly rogue poll that has set the pulses quickening, largely because the media wants nothing better than a proper fight, despite having done their best to batter Brown into the dust.

Now it’s all about debt, discipline and taxes. Solid right wing stuff.

Curiously, Liam Fox defended this new strategy by insisting that they just couldn’t squeeze in all the pledges they wanted, but they still want to do them all. Hmm. They’ve already got six, clearly to differentiate themselves from the unbelievably New Labour strategy of “five pledges”. Why not go the whole hog!

But there’s no need for any of this. Like I’ve said before, if the Tories get lower than 40% of the GB vote at the General Election, I’ll eat my already-gnawed hat. The poll is not showing that Labour are hoovering up Tory votes. They’re stealing soft votes of Lib Dems and other floaters, most of whom will probably not bother voting anyway. Meanwhile, the Tory absolutes are still there. They will be ready whenever Gordon calls the election.

The rumours are that it this is not Cameron’s strategy. He wanted to stay firmly on the centre. But the recession forced his hand, and turned the game in the direction of how George Osborne wanted to play it. Brutal, sharp-elbowed, and undeniably Conservative. And, make no mistake about it, when else will you get a better chance to slash the size of the state – something all Conservatives truly want to do at heart – when there is the perfect excuse of a recession and a debt mountain?

And yet… it’s clear they’re over-reacting. Falling right into a Gordon Brown laid trap, of all things.

Stay calm, Conservatives. You’ve got this far on image alone. Why not complete the job?

UPDATE 22:10 – see what I mean? Nothing to worry about.

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Labour: Looking To The Future

Posted by The Futility Monster on February 20, 2010 @ 10:23

It just doesn't work, does it...

The one thing that caught my eye this morning was a story in The Telegraph regarding how Labour intends to campaign for the next election. It is clearly written in a very scathing tone:

At a pre-election rally in the West Midlands, Mr Brown will warn his party to frame the election not as a chance to pass judgement on the Labour Government.

Most readers would think that that was some kind of crime, as if all elections are always a judgement on past performance.

I’m not so sure they are.

Elections are very rarely about the past. What’s done is done. They are more often a chance for the electorate to proclaim what they want to see different in the years to come. Even more than that, they are a verdict on the present state of the parties and their leaders: which one would be appropriate right now.

In 1983, the choice was a stark difference between Thatcher, emboldened by her Falklands adventure, and Foot, looking like he wanted to send Britain back to a renewed age of 40s and 50s state control. The dark, satanic mills of England’s past.

In 1992, the country thought they’d give the more calm, sober John Major another turn at the wheel, though they didn’t want him to get too carried away with his mandate, hence a small majority.

1997 – little needs to be said. 2001 was a case of Britain saying, “Let’s have more!” to dear Tony. 2005: we still like you Tony, but not a lot, and so we’ll clip your wings a little.

2010: the message will ring out clear: time for change. Again. We’ve heard that message before, of course, but it resonates with electorates throughout the centuries.

Labour would have to be utter fools to not appreciate the mood of the electorate. Rash, feeling angry, wanting to see a completely different style of government in the years ahead. They are verdicts on the past to some degree, but they are still more about wanting something different in future.

As such, Labour should not campaign on their record. Their finest achievements, e.g. the minimum wage, are so long ago now that to talk about them would be in danger of saying “Well, the best we did was in the previous millennium”. Very risky.

Their focus must be full-square on telling the country what life will be like under a fourth Labour term. How they will keep reforming Britain. How they will change the way we are governed. How they will protect our public services from harm in the worrying years of austerity ahead. How they will get the country growing again.

Dangerous, yes. It may mean they are admitting to mistakes. But maybe the voters will appreciate a little honesty in the face of a slippery David Cameron, promising all things to all people.

Renewed Labour, here we come…

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Wooing Mr Clegg

Posted by The Futility Monster on January 5, 2010 @ 09:28

Let's see more of these! We love bar charts...

This morning Nick Clegg is having a moan about other parties suddenly reaching out to him, and trying to convince the electorate that, really, we’re all best friends and you couldn’t get a cigarette paper between everyone.

He’s right to point out that this is cynical behaviour on the part of the other parties, but he’d better get used to it.

Latest polling, as pointed out by Mike Smithson, is once again showing that the Tories are rock solid on 40%, with Labout and the Lib Dems fighting over the scraps. When one party gains, the other loses. It would seem, therefore, that as far as Labour are concerned, the Lib Dems are fighting on the same ground. It’d be hard to think of two more different parties: one statist, authoritarian and centrist, the other decentralising, liberal and genuinely progressive.

But it seems old traditions die hard. Voters are still thinking of these two parties as very close to one another. They were at one point, but times have changed significantly as the New Labour project has matured.

Of course, the point of this exercise is not to discuss potential coalition partners. It’s actually to make sure that there never has to be a coalition discussion at all. It’s a very underhanded way of stealing voters from the other side in the hope that you don’t actually have to work with them in any way. So much for friendship.

But what do the Tories have to gain from it? If they get 40%, they’re likely to be in power, but it will be a fairly tight Parliament. Every seat is vital, and it just so happens that there are quite a few Tory-Lib Dem marginals that could just tip the balance…

What’s the best Lib Dem fightback from this position, being ambushed from both sides by two parties whose only interest is in maintaining the status quo in the British political system?

If I were in Clegg’s shoes I would be looking to go on the offensive. It looks like he’s going to do that, but the best way would be to bear in mind the polling evidence showing that Labour are the biggest danger to his vote share.

Yet this strategy, gloriously for a third-party, has two-fronts, going opposite ways. First, emphasise to old centre-left voters that Labour is not the party of the working class. That Labour has sold its soul for 13 years in power. That while they have brought some support, like the minimum wage, they have been more interested in being in-hock to bankers and big business.

Meanwhile, an attack on the Tories should not be out of the question. Clegg needs to provide a narrative in those Lib Dem-Tory marginals to keep the activists fired up. But in doing so he will also convince those soft Labour voters that the Lib Dems aren’t the Tories in disguise. Win-win, some might say.

Either way, we need to be in the news a lot during this pre-election period, as it will be far too easy for the media to ignore us and concentrate on the same old duopoly. We’ll only do so by staying resolutely on the front foot.

Hope the Lib Dem media machine is going to be on top form this election…

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Beaten By Mugabe? Oxford East Lib Dems Celebrate!

Posted by The Futility Monster on December 17, 2009 @ 09:57

Peter Tatchell after Mugabe's thugs had their say...

Now that’s such a mean title…

But the last part is definitely true.

The news yesterday that Peter Tatchell will not be standing for the Greens at the next election in the seat of Oxford East will, I’m sure, have raised a wee cheer at Lib Dem Towers in Cowley Street.

Tatchell says his reasons for not standing are related to a beating he was given by Mugabe’s thugs several years ago, which has left him with long-term effects. That is very sad, of course, and I wish him all the best.

But, wearing my partisan hat, I believe this is good news for the Lib Dems. Oxford East is a squeaky Labour-Lib Dem marginal, which Labour just about kept hold of last time with a majority of of just 963. Boundary changes since then have, according to Anthony Wells of UK Polling Report, made this even more favourable to the Yellow Peril.

There is, in my mind, no doubt that a strong Green campaign in this seat would have affected the result next time. After all, in 2005 the Green candidate got 1,813 votes – twice the majority. It’s not a huge leap of imagination to suggest that if those 1,813 people were asked to recast their ballot in mind of what the result was going to be that many of them may have shifted over to the Lib Dems, particularly given the position of the parties on Iraq and top-up fees, which were massive issues in seats like this one.

Next time, Peter Tatchell’s mere presence, never mind his formidable campaigning skills, would have given the Greens a bigger profile. Maybe he was even standing as a spoiler to the Lib Dems chances. After all, he’ll probably never forget that by-election in a hurry.

But now he’s gone. And this, if you’ll pardon the historical pun, will be yet another straight choice for the people of Oxford East.

In the balance of things, it is a seat that the Lib Dems should obviously win against a failing Labour government. Nick Clegg will surely visit the constituency. He probably hopes all of the marginal battles were like this one. And it should be enough. If they cannot win a seat like this, then it will be an extremely bad night: and a seat total of 30-40 would be expected.

Winning this seat, and seats like it, are part of the calculation for the Lib Dems to make up the ground that may well be lost in LD-Con marginals, where the temptation of voting for David Cameron will just be too great for the locals, fools that they are.

The only unknown. Will Labour take my advice and try to rally the core vote?

If they did, this is the kind of seat (believe it or not) where it might just work…

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Going For The Core Vote

Posted by The Futility Monster on December 12, 2009 @ 10:52

Core vote strategies, the Old School way...

Following on from yesterday’s examination of the polls, I said that the Tory vote is going to be about 40% come hell or high water.

In those circumstances, there is no way Labour can win. But there still remains three possibilities.

  1. A Labour disaster, scoring around 20% in the polls
  2. A slightly smaller disaster, getting around 25% in the polls
  3. A reasonable result, achieving 30% or so…

At this stage, the polls are pointing to either 1 or 2. That would be catastrophic for Labour, obviously, and would consign them to at least two elections in the wilderness. And with party warfare to follow a massive defeat, expect there to be a lot of blood spilled.

Clearly, then, number 3 would be preferable. But can they do it?

I genuinely believe they can. They’ll need more than a little luck, and no more back-biting, but if they hammer positively on the core Labour messages, and rally the core vote, they will at least get more than their current poll ratings suggest.

The hardest part of it is to sound convincing. If they are going to go on a message of equality, fairness, social justice… the classic creed of the centre-left, they unfortunately have to answer to their 13 year record. There are some successes, like the minimum wage and various other working rights, but broadly the statistics on lack of social mobility are hard to run away from.

It would have made more sense, then, for a new leader to have been elected on this kind of message. A John Cruddas figure, perhaps. But since that was never going to happen while they are in power, it doesn’t matter to them now.

The good thing, however, is that Brown is amazingly adept at ignoring the facts and ploughing on with his own reality. We see it every week at PMQs, to varying degrees of success. However, his excellent PMQs performance against a petulant Cameron on December 2, 2009 was a sign that he can make the strategy work.

The key to winning an election, though, is to tell a new story. That is why Labour cannot win. But they can lose less badly by telling all those who will listen, probably about 50% of the electorate, about the things they have done, and that their achievements will be put in serious jeopardy.

They are already doing that to a limited extent, but I strongly believe they need to be more selective, talk more about the things that get Labour sympathisers fired up.

Gordon Brown has to be bold, confident and aggressive. Go harder on the banks. Go harder on MPs expenses. Talk about the various Labour nationalisations of recent years as a sign the government is not going to let the private sector get away with the mess it’s put this country in any more. With that in mind, he should keep Northern Rock in the public sector, as an honest competitor for the banks. And, even better, keep the recently nationalised East Coast railway company in public hands.

Talk up the successes of the public sector, because there are some. There have been improvements in the NHS, without a doubt. And the crime statistics and surveys show that crime has fallen. Talk about how Labour will be a renewed, reinvigorated force after the election. A Labour “victory” next time could conceivably do that, due to the fact that huge numbers of their MPs are retiring, and there would be an infusion of new talent.

There is a credible message that could be told that could deliver them, say, 32%. That would be enough to deliver a very tight Parliament, and give Labour a path back after a period in opposition.

The key to achieving it is all about the above message and to look reinvigorated.

In other words, no Mandelsons. No Campbells. No Straws, Hoons or Darlings. And definitely no Lord Foulkes.

How to do this, you might ask? Well, a major pre-election reshuffle oughta do the trick…

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Cameron’s Health Budget Gamble

Posted by The Futility Monster on December 5, 2009 @ 10:10

Insert generic hospital related image here. Though I'm pretty sure this one isn't British...

Back when the economy was doing well, Cameron made a pledge. It was sensible at the time as a way of nullifying the issue of whether the Tories could be trusted with the NHS.

Cameron said that an incoming Tory government would match Labour spending plans. The implicit expectation behind that was that Labour would be continuing to increase NHS spending in real terms, and so the Tories would do the same. The consequence of that would be to tell people that the days of nasty Conservatives and budget cuts for the sake of it were over. Reinforcing the message was Cameron’s professed ‘love’ for the NHS.

The pledge to match Labour’s spending plans on the NHS has now been quietly forgotten, replaced instead with a promise to “ringfence” the NHS budget. An idea that Labour have interestingly not backed, while blustering about how much they are going to continue investing in the future.

Of course, none of it is possible. To ringfence the NHS budget in a time of major spending cuts would mean that other departments have to take a much greater share of the pain.

But more spending on the NHS is somewhat inevitable. The population is ageing, and health cost inflation is notoriously high, due to the expensive nature of new patented drugs entering the market. Match that with rising obesity, and a rising population, and the combination is deadly.

We’ll get more idea next week what Labour’s plans are in the pre-Budget report. And I fully expect Alistair Darling to be fairly specific. After all, it makes no sense to be about to legislate for a halving of the deficit if you have no real plans to save money. If they don’t, it’s tantamout to sticking yet another “Kick Me” post-it note on the back of Gordon Brown’s head.

But the other reason to be specific is as a way to back the Tories into a corner, to say that they are not ready for government; that they aren’t prepared to take the big decisions that a sensible government will have to take in this economic climate. And yes, we’ll hear a lot more about Tory inheritance tax policy, but that’s incidental.

But at the same time, Labour are hardly likely to unveil their own huge spending cuts either. Those will be saved till after the election when it’s too late for the voters to complain. And that will be the same whoever wins the election. Such is the nature of democracy.

I think, however, that Cameron will live to regret the many soundbites he’s made about the NHS budgets. After all, there is just as much scope for saving money there as there is in any other department. He will either have to reverse his position – potentially embarrassing – or have to put his words into action, which may be needlessly damaging to other departments that will bear the brunt of the maintained spending levels on health.

How are all these competing demands going to be resolved?

An honest politician might tell you that they’re not.

But there are no honest politicians…

Nevertheless, it’s going to be fascinating to see how the two major parties explain the situation and their plans to deal with it over the coming year.

And if they go in too harshly? Well, there’s that old W shaped recession on the horizon.

Bizarrely, maybe maintaining spending on the NHS will help to avoid that.

It would be richly ironic if a Tory government, spending more on a major area of public spending, stopped us going into another recession as a consequence.

We live in rather strange times…

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Could 2010 Get Even Better?

Posted by The Futility Monster on December 1, 2009 @ 08:30

"And not a lot of people know that" said Mr Rudd

Psephologically speaking, I mean.

Apparently, yes.

The Australian Liberal Party – who aren’t very liberal – have just elected a new leader. A new fall guy, perhaps, but certainly someone who thinks he can take the fight to the governing Labor Party.

And the key issue?

What other than that thing that gets conservatives across the globe hot under the collar: climate change.

The issue of whether to back Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s plans for an emissions trading scheme has split the Liberal Party right down the middle. Previous leader Malcolm Turnbull had insisted his party supports the scheme, but the consequence of that is now plain for all to see. The final round of voting in the leadership election ended with Turnbull getting 41 votes, and new leader Tony Abbott getting a superb 42.

(Incidentally, it’s good to see the return of the smoke-filled room electing a party leader; clearly there wasn’t a vote of the membership, unless they really have just 83 members…)

So the Liberal Party is in complete turmoil. Meanwhile, the climate change legislation is popular, the government has excellent opinion poll ratings, Kevin Rudd is still the preferred Prime Minister and the Australian Constitution has a get out clause enabling a mega election – called a double dissolution – in which both Houses of the Australian Parliament are dissolved completely, rather than the usual whole lower House and half the upper House.

Is Rudd bold enough to take on the gamble? He has not been known for such an aggressive strategy in the past, but it would be foolish to rule out the threat of an early election as that is one way you keep both your party in line and place the opposition under further pressure.

There is also the unknown of whether the new Liberal leader will manage to unite his party and turn them into a credible electoral force. Rudd is very likely to wait until he gets the answer to that question before taking any decision.

However, if I was in Rudd’s position, I would ensure that the climate change legislation is once more put before the Senate and rejected, which then gives the government the double dissolution option. It also puts the incoming leader under tremendous pressure in the first few days of his new job. That will answer a lot of questions about him.

Then, consider the options in the New Year. Indeed, consider the option of not only making climate change the major issue, but opening up the possibility of much stronger legislation because – assuming electoral victory – he will no longer be forced to make concessions to an opposition controlled Senate.

Thus giving Australia a chance to position itself as the leader of the world in the fight against climate change.

Sure, that’s bound to piss off the sceptics and big business. But the world really cannot afford to continue this pretence of tackling the issue while doing absolutely nothing about it any longer.

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Pollwatching: The Del Amitri Way

Posted by The Futility Monster on November 16, 2009 @ 10:24

Del Amitri

Were they Tory voters too?

Nearly two weeks after our last look at the polls, in which nothing happened, it may surprise you to learn that…

  • Conservatives: 40% (N/C)
  • Labour: 23% (N/C)
  • Lib Dems: 23% (N/C)

Nothing has happened. Nothing ever happens. Nothing happens at all.

I would continue now to assert that the needle does return to the start of the song, but I think that would be too obvious.

Instead, I would merely remind you that the election clock continues to tick against Labour, and these continued anaemic ratings are just a sign of how impossible the task is for them.

And yet… the most frustrating part about any of this is that we will soon be living under a Conservative government that haven’t had to do anything. OK, Cameron has cleaned up the image of the party, detoxified the brand, as the marketing consultants have told us.

But what will be the actual difference his government will make? We don’t really know, as Labour’s complete implosion has meant Cameron hasn’t had to tell us. The people are so fed up with Labour that any old alternative would do. Except maybe Iain Duncan Smith. That would be pushing it.

It would be nice to think that Cameron might soon deem us worthy of hearing what his big plans are for Britain. You know, the specifics. How many schools, hospitals, etc will have to close. How much will be cut from the budgets. Including the defence one. How many public sector workers will inevitably lose their jobs.

Not that I’m disagreeing about the need for cuts; I’ve made that case myself before. But at least the Lib Dems have made some headway in describing where the axe will fall, though, naturally, even our plans are way short of what’s necessary.

But the fact is that Cameron has been obfuscating since December 2005. Four years of practice makes him an expert at dodging the issues. Why break the habit of a lifetime, when that habit has brought you a solid 40% median poll rating for almost the whole year pre-election?

In truth, what the public are probably missing is that such behaviour makes Cameron a politician. A politician just like the many others British political life has always produced.

He won’t be anything special. He won’t change all that much.

But he’s not Labour. And he certainly isn’t Gordon Brown.

And, apparently, that’s what the British public want.

Here’s to many more wasted years.

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