The Futility Monster

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

Posts Tagged ‘political narrative’

The Importance Of Being Mandated

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 7, 2010 @ 17:57

This particular mandate caused a lot more problems though...

A post on this morning by the always excellent David Herdson about the tedium of the Labour leadership contest got me thinking.

David’s point was that the contenders just aren’t really talking about anything. They can all do platitude, but none of them is seriously raising a genuine policy agenda for what they would advance as an alternative during their opposition wilderness. It’s a fair point, but Tory observers need to recall that about the only substantive thing David Cameron said in his campaign was to bring the Conservative Party out of the EPP grouping in the EU Parliament…

But there is a serious downside to not saying anything during a campaign. And I mean any campaign. It is the question of mandates.

Mention “mandate” to Joe and Joetta Public and I suspect the eyes would glaze over. But mandates have a crucial place in the centre of a democratic system; one of these things that we acknowledge and accept without ever truly appreciating what they’re all about.

By talking about an issue, talking about it openly, publicly, and engaging in serious debate in the subject, you get a grudging appreciation from people that “x” is what you want to do about the issue. And then, if you happen to win said election, all of a sudden you have a mandate for that topic. Regardless of whether or not people were really voting for you with that particular issue in mind.

The voters have spoken, you can say. I have legitimacy to carry out my agenda. I have the endorsement of the public/my organisation/my trade union, whatever, to carry out these changes.

Mandates are an essential part of democracy. They are accepted by people without truly realising the underlying process. The present coalition government sort of has a mandate to carry out their rather radical agenda (though how radical it is remains to be seen over what the result of various reviews are) because the partners achieved a very significant backing at the polls compared to all previous governments.

The winner of the Labour leadership race will have authority as the winner of the contest. They will have authority to lead the party in whatever direction they wish.

But, because no one is really prepared to put their neck on the line, they’re not going to have a proper mandate for any of the pet projects they wanted to pursue. While it’s a useful strategy if you don’t want to frighten the horses, if you want to make a major change, by silencing critics with the weight of your ringing democratic endorsement, you really do need a thumping great mandate.

Sometimes politicians have to take risks with these things. The risk is they’ll lose the election by standing out. The reward, however, is that if you can win, and have your prior agenda in place, you’re going to get a lot more acceptance for whatever it is you want to do.

That’s supposed to be what elections are all about.


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A Budget With Balls

Posted by The Futility Monster on June 25, 2010 @ 09:32

The battered old Budget box keeps on going...

No, not the Ed kind of Balls – though more on him tomorrow – but the other kind.

Though the Budget has annoyed me in more ways than one, it has been very interesting, and very good, for another reason.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote this post imploring the government to just get on with it as far as cuts are concerned. At the time, I was fed up with the pussy-footing around, the idea that maybe cuts were going to be quick, or slow, and might exclude certain things too politically sensitive.

In the end, I got exactly what I wished for, and for that I am actually quite pleased.

The reason I am happy about this is simple. Politics doesn’t seem to be about anything these days; the three parties are increasingly close to each other. But this Budget really will set the cat amongst the pigeons. Labour, whoever their new leader is, are drawing a very clear line in the sand. They are, naturally, going to stand up for their record in power, and are going to snipe from the sidelines, but will be ready to say, “I told you so” if the worst predictions for this Budget do happen.

That is good. It feels like there is a real division between the coalition government and the Opposition, and that’s because, at last, there actually is. So many times politics is all about an imaginary distance between the two parties. So many times we have to suffer the tedium of centrist politicians fighting between themselves to out manoeuvre each other.

Naturally, I am under no illusion that Labour would also have been making cuts. But there is a stark difference between the parties. One is for cutting all the deficit within the next five years. The other had made half of that ambition. One is taking its ideological belief in a small state right to its logical conclusion. The other would have reluctantly made cuts, but only out of fiscal necessity, on a small and slower time scale in order to protect the state apparatus they genuine believe in.

OK, maybe when it’s put like that I might be exaggerating just how exciting this apparently yawning gap between the parties is. But in today’s catch-all politics, we have to be grateful for small mercies.

The coalition will either live by the cuts, or it’ll die by the cuts. Its whole reputation has been staked on this gamble.

As a person, I am deeply worried that we’re heading down the wrong path.

But as a political observer, the coalition government is the gift that keeps on giving.

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Budget Cuts: Get On With It

Posted by The Futility Monster on June 7, 2010 @ 09:55

This is what LabourList secretly hopes will be in the Emergency Budget so they can say "I told you so"

The tedium of politics in the last year or more has been the fact that everyone has been going round saying cuts are inevitable and yet nothing has actually happened.

Well, it sort of has with the £6.2bn cuts this year that the Coalition outlined, though we won’t know till afterwards if the targets for the efficiency savings will be met. In any event, they are a drop in the ocean for what’s required.

So seeing today that David Cameron is once again going to tell us that “painful” cuts are necessary, I had reason to have a little yawn.

Clearly the pols think the softening up process needs to continue in advance of this autumn’s Comprehensive Spending Review. That is going to be when the huge cuts will be unveiled, probably around 15-20% across the board, because of the protection to the NHS budget.

Before then though, there is this small matter of an “emergency” Budget.

The bizarre thing is that the Budget will probably not reveal anything more than we already know. It will be another step in the gradual narrative leading up to this autumn. It will be a one hour lecture from George Osborne detailing Labour’s profligacy, and taking some joy in reversing some of their recent decisions.

But we all know this by now. We all know what’s round the corner. We all know the Coalition is hell bent on cuts the likes of which the country hasn’t seen for decades. We expect that from Tories. It is their ideological dream, and to have the cover of a stonking great deficit for it is of supreme excitement to them.

We shall see what effect they have. There will be services curtailed and dropped altogether. Many of them will be used by only a minority of the population. The major things will survive and be reformed, making a lot of middle England wonder what all the fuss was about.

But if a double dip recession really is just peeping over the horizon, the Coalition better choose its medicine appropriately. Wouldn’t want to get lumbered with the epitaph of killing off the British economy, would they? That would look pretty damn stupid after the stick they gave the last lot…

Seems to me, then, that we’re stuck in a holding pattern, waiting to see how the Tories are going to spend their election/coalition mandate.

I just wish they’d get on with it. After all, if it really is an “emergency”…

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Time For A Reshuffle, Harriet

Posted by The Futility Monster on May 19, 2010 @ 11:41

The Next British Prime Minister

With the number of contenders for the Labour leadership about to reach four (if John McDonnell can get the signatures) it may well be a good moment for Labour to take a leaf out of Michael Howard’s book.

Bizarre as that may sound, he did have one good idea. In the aftermath of his election defeat in May 2005, he took it on the chin and stood down. Though not straight away. He decided to give the Conservative Party all the time it needed to really think about what the future of the party should be.

Eventually, David Cameron was elected Tory leader in December 2005. A whole seven month interregnum, despite Howard still getting very badly beaten (in majority terms) in the election.

Yesterday, Labour announced they were also going to take their time. It sort of makes sense, because Labour haven’t had a period of introspection for a long while. They are taking a risk in the sense that the coalition might suddenly collapse with Labour rudderless, but it’s worth it.

But what Harriet needs to do is showcase the Labour “talent”. As Anne Robinson says, “ditch the deadwood!”. Get rid of Alan Johnson and give it to Ed Miliband. Put Ed Balls in as Shadow Chancellor. Even John McDonnell should be asked if he wants a portfolio if he gets the necessary nominations. He’ll probably refuse, but he deserves a platform too.

The goal has to be to give due prominence to those who hope to lead the party. Get them right in the limelight. Give them a chance to shine and show the country what they’re made of. It will give Labour members and affiliated trade unionists the opportunity to see a few months of real experience under pressure.

Even better, the associated free publicity for the Labour Party will be plain for all to see. The broadcasters and journalists will give extra prominence to every appearance of Ed, Ed, David and John (and anyone else for that matter) because they know they could be looking at the next Labour Party leader. And if they play their cards right, the next Prime Minister…

So don’t miss this opportunity, Harriet. The media loves a good story. A well-timed reshuffle will get some good publicity. And then, once the right faces are in the right places, it could continue to reap dividends…

UPDATE – 16:30 – and since Andy Burnham is also going to throw his hat into the ring, let’s make it five. At least it’s going to be a proper contest. No women though?

UPDATE 2 – 20/5 – 10:05 – I guess Diane Abbott read my comment above. A Labour leader, perhaps? How fantastic would that be.

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Who Will Inspire Us?

Posted by The Futility Monster on October 7, 2009 @ 07:49

Osborne attending the wake for British electoral politics.

Osborne attending the wake for British electoral politics.

The next election is increasingly going to be one for the the manic depressives of this country.

George Osborne’s speech yesterday was a mixture of the glum, the moody and the foreboding sacrifices ahead for this country. The man struggled to break into a smile throughout the whole event, and if his whole demeanour is carried forward to the campaign, it’s going to make things rather difficult.

Where’s the hope? Where’s the optimism? American political speeches always have one key theme: we are American, and we will beat this. No matter what the topic, there is always a rallying cry towards the end which always says “we’ve come through worse times; our great American nature is what will make us get through this one”.

Perhaps I’ve got so used to the way Obama does it that no one comes close any more. Everyone is always a disappointment by comparison. Especially George Osborne, whose general behaviour and mannerisms seem extraordinarily wooden and aloof to me.

That’s not to say Osborne didn’t try. There was a vain attempt to set out what he would like his future Britain to be like for his children. But, as always from him, it felt contrived and lifeless. Dull, dull, dull.

Meanwhile, on the other side – who are now also talking about cuts – who are the leading protaganists? Alistair Darling. Gordon Brown. Harriet Harman. Alan Johnson. Not a dose of oratorical inspiration between them. Each have their own style, but none of them have the ability to get an electorate truly motivated about the choice that lies ahead. Especially if they’re all talking about cuts too.

The next election is, sadly, going to be all too real. There will be no grand visions of a transformed society with a new government. Instead, the economic situation necessitates a terribly dry election about numbers and what each party are going to do with them. The Germans have just went through exactly the same thing: in what most observers have called the most boring election ever. All parties wanted similar things. There were no huge issues. No scandals. No conflict.

At least there will be some conflict here to quicken that moribund pulse. Even if it is borne of the fake Mandelson-Osborne rivalry, purely for the TV cameras, it might get people listening. But otherwise, it’s going to be funereal: somber and composed.

There is scope for some party, or party figure, to drive a very compelling narrative here. One about “British values” of fairness and freedom; of stiff-upper-lipness in the face of a dual enemy: the economy and the environment. These are challenging times: but we can meet them by invoking the war-time spirit of community and togetherness in the face of a common threat to our existence.

See how easy it is?

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Is Cameron Brave/Stupid Enough?

Posted by The Futility Monster on October 5, 2009 @ 08:11

The steely glare of Britain's future PM. The last part of that makes sense, but the first part doesn't.

The steely glare of Britain's future PM. The last part of that makes sense, but the first part doesn't.

Everyone likes to talk in terms of what will Cameron’s “Clause IV” moment be. (For the uninitiated, “Clause IV” is a reference to Tony Blair’s removal of clause 4 of the Labour constitution, which committed the party to nationalised industry)

Of course, there is no reason why Cameron has to have such a moment at all. A moment when he takes on his own party and wins in a symbolic demonstration of his leadership.

I mean, why should he? He is, after all, extremely solid in his position. His party are happy with him. He has stonking great opinion poll leads. Why rock the boat?

But most people seem to think the Clause IV moment will come via taking on his party over Europe. By finally demonstrating to those eurosceptic dinosaurs that they are not going to split the party asunder any more.

There’s only one problem with this analysis: there are no Europhiles left in the Tory party. I know a couple who defected to the Lib Dems. Others have softened their stance for the sake of convenience. While others have learned to accept that they are in the minority, have learned the lesson of the Major years, and are going to leave well alone.

So if there are no Europhiles, the party cannot be split. And even if there are enough to cause some noise, their rump-like status is not going to be a problem. At all. They are easily dismissed.

Cameron is a staunch Eurosceptic. That much we know. It was his only policy during the Conservative leadership campaign… one that he even carried out eventually by pulling out of the major party grouping in the European Parliament. Quite a principled stance too, as it has doubtless severely reduced their influence in the EU.

But not only that, Cameron is surrounded by a team of strident Europhobes too. William Hague, Liam Fox, Oliver Letwin, Nick Herbert, Mark Francois, Grant Shapps… the list goes on. Indeed, it’s about as Eurosceptic now as it was when Iain Duncan Smith appointed his shadow cabinet stuffed to the brim with ’em.

In other words, there is no danger of there being a high-level, high-profile split within the shadow Cabinet over Europe. Nevertheless, there remains the thorny issue of what to do over the Lisbon Treaty.

Just like children, political parties like to test their betters. They will push the line as hard as they can to see what they can get away with. They will test, prod and poke… even a little movement in their direction is good…

And that’s what we’re seeing this week: an attempt to get Cameron to commit to a referendum under any circumstances.

I’m certain Cameron wants to agree with them. Such a move would be in tune with his beliefs, and would resonate extremely well with the public.

But at the same time, he would be stupid to cultivate an impression of giving and giving to the Eurosceptics, who have, unfortunately, been allowed to set the media agenda on this issue. It doesn’t have the look of a leader. It undermines his authority to keep allowing himself to be distracted from much more pressing issues. You know, like winning an election, and then governing the country.

So is he brave enough instead to re-seize the media narrative?

Yes he is.

And he will do it in a way that shows his party are not going to be allowed to dictate to him – to demonstrate that he is in control and will do things his way, on his terms.

That’s what’s worked up till now. He would be foolish to abandon it.

And this is how. Same subject: different, stronger, emphasis. A stamp of authority. And just as Eurosceptic as ever.

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Coming Up – Leader’s Speech Liveblog

Posted by The Futility Monster on September 23, 2009 @ 06:22

The floor is yours, Mr Clegg...

The floor is yours, Mr Clegg...

Just a quick one this morning to say that – assuming my schedule works out right for today – I will be in a position this afternoon to liveblog Nick Clegg’s conference speech at around 2:30pm.

“How exciting!” is the cry of joy I hear in response. Yes, it will be unmissable.

What I’m looking for today is a credible narrative to join together all the threads of the past few days. There’s no time like the present: the election is looming, and Nick Clegg will not get a better opportunity to frame the big issues ahead in our terms.

I’m not looking for an attack on David Cameron. It’s too late for that. The public have already decided they kinda like him. What I am looking for is a cogent and incisive case against the politics of the Conservative Party.

Meanwhile, there’s no need to go to town on Gordon Brown either – but the message needs to be clear: Labour are finished, and your best chance of achieving a genuinely progressive centre-left agenda after the election will be by voting Liberal Democrat.

This is an election address and must be treated as such. And so, above all, at the end of it, its key themes must shine out. We must be able to boil it down to a handful of choice phrases and pledges that are going to resonate on the doorstep.

There is no need to bother with rallying cries, or calls for party unity, as that is a given in the run up to an election. Everyone is prepared to give Nick the backing he needs to run a good campaign.

Today, it’s all about the substance of the message. I’m hoping he won’t disappoint.

I hope you’ll join me at 2:30pm for the fun and games.

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