Wednesday, September 14, 2016

When David Cameron's luck finally ran out

Cameron arrived unknown at the top, he didn't "rise without trace" as someone once said about David Frost. He didn't rise at all. He parachuted in. After Hague (bad), IDS (terrible) and Howard (unelectable and very nasty) a neophyte was worth a try. He brought no experience, no discernible ideology and he had never had a proper job. (Carlton was a sinecure). He was young, a good fluent public speaker, academically sound, well connected, rich, had a nice wife (Tories like that) and marketable. But it was a veneer. A thin layer with only chipboard beneath. Before he became leader did he ever write or say anything that anybody noticed? He did not. He was in the right place at the right time and, until now, the luck he had then had held. But when they fall they really do fall - especially the Conservatives. Even the blessed Margaret.

It was the right time to be Leader of the Opposition post the 2005 General Election. It was clear that Blair would have to hand over to the much more vulnerable Brown soon. He did. And lucky Dave was in place as the Brown years became more difficult. Hindsight is already giving Brown credit for what he did as PM and as the most impressive and effective international crisis leader in those difficult times. But he was an easy target, could not rely on personal popularity and by 2010 he should have been slaughtered. But Dave botched it. The LibDem deal was clever and Cameron's luck kept running because Nick Clegg quite liked the idea of power. The Dave and Nick show was a fraud on the British public, but it had legs.

Cameron did nothing in his first term. All was about winning properly in 2015. The brilliant Lynton Crosby set it all up. Buy off the Tory Right with the Referendum pledge. Go hard on the LibDems. Get the media to rubbish Ed Miliband. Let Cameron appear sincere and authoritative. But first win the Scottish referendum of course. Lucky Dave had the rise of the SNP to thank for destroying Labour in Scotland. But on the other hand this rise oh so nearly delivered Scottish independence. Had this happened Cameron would have gone. But the Scots lost their nerve (just!) and lucky Dave won again. And in 2015 Crosby delivered the perfect outcome for the Tory Right. The Coalition gone and the Referendum planned to happen.

After the 2015 General Election Dave needed his luck to hold for one more push. To win the EU Ref should have been easy. The case for "Remain" was indisputable. But Dave couldn't sell it to his own troops let alone in the country. The Tory Right plotted and plotted. Labour imploded. "Leave" had the vile Farage/Banks campaign to appeal to the fearful and the ignorant. The Tory Right watched it all with glee. Unexpectedly their tactic of assuming power with Boris as their chosen leader looked achievable. Dave could be toast! And he was. The Tory Right stumbled and had to accept May not Boris - but they still won. The most brilliant coup in modern British politics succeeded and Cameron bit the dust. He's history. And that's the end of it. A victim in the end of his luck running out.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Will there be room on the Right for "UKIP Mark 2" ?

Corbyn has taken over the Labour Party as defined by its (substantially new) member base. Momentum has been part of the Deus ex machina  which has allowed this to happen. But "his" Members of Parliament do not support him (a few excepted) and nor do any but a minority of previous Labour voters. There is no credible scenario which could ever see Corbyn in 10 Downing Street. 

Meanwhile in the Conservative Party the Right has won. The EU Referendum and Brexit were never ends in themselves but means to the end of getting rid of Cameron/Osborne and launching a right wing "neo-liberal" agenda. The original plan was for Boris Johnson to be the Prime Minister. Read the Conservative Home website or The Spectator over the past few years if you doubt this. When Johnson stumbled the wholly unsuited Andrea  Leadsom was briefly drafted in. Johnson or Leadsom would have been puppets of the Right who would have called all the tunes. But Leadsom was clearly inadequate and so, in the end, the Right had to accept Theresa May. She is not "one of us" (in Thatcher's phrase) but she is not really one of anybody. No ideologue of Left or Right she. A pragmatist through and through.

The coming months will show whether the Right can tighten their grip on May. The Grammar School irrelevance is a sign they are succeeding. This is pure UKIP. A nostalgia for a past which pre-dates Thatcher. But it's Brexit which is the key. May has already tried to show that she is not for turning on the issue. (Her own support for "Remain" was lukewarm and self-interested - she clearly expected Cameron to win). However it is already clear that Brexit would be disastrous for Britain. The complexity and costs of withdrawal are mind-blowing and the distraction to normal governance extraordinary. The Right knows this and doesn't care. Their plans for Britain demand that the regulations and checks and balances provided by EU membership be removed. May will have either (1) Have to go along with this or (2) Fight to find a solution for Britain which keeps the status quo, whilst honouring the referendum result. Not easy!

If May, the ultimate pragmatist, does (1) then UKIP is dead in the water. She will have stolen all their clothes and the only room to the Conservatives' Right will be for some posturing. Arron Banks may seek to do this but he won't get anywhere. However if May chooses (2) then the cry will be "betrayal" and Banks/Farage (and Gove, Carswell, Hannan and Co.) will 
counter attack. It won't be pretty! 

Monday, September 05, 2016

Can Theresa May be a One Nation conservative PM ?

Macroeconomic management to be competent requires income and expenditure to be managed co-jointly. Statement of the obvious but how often do Chancellors single-mindedly look at only one side of the P&L ? Some Governments, usually Conservative  ones, focus on public sector spending. Some, usually Labour, focus on where (in their judgment) our money needs to be spent. Over all of this hovers politics. And elections. Politics is the Art of the Possible.  

The disintegration of Labour, the disappearance of UKIP post Farage, the fact that it will take the LibDems years to rebuild all give Theresa May a great chance to do what is right. To be a One Nation Conservative. That means ignoring the strident ideological pressure of the likes of the Tax Payers Alliance and their bedfellows. This is not a time for tax cuts and certainly not a time for cuts for the rich! Some tweaking maybe on the margins and hopefully some recognition that direct taxation can be progressive 
 whilst indirect taxation is regressive. But no major changes to the tax system and current levels are called for. 

At today's low interest rates borrowing to fund investment is prudent and necessary. Projects like HS2 and Heathrow expansion, Social Housing (huge need) etc. should be proceeded with. The collateral benefits in respect of employment and economic Growth are obvious.  

Every area of public spending should have Cost/Benefit Analysis applied to it. Our new place in the world post Brexit needs to be understood. Leave grandiose projects like Trident to the big boys of Europe and the US. We have chosen to disengage - that does not and cannot mean some return to the idea that we are a Great Power again. Our Defence expenditure must reflect this. Cut it further.  

The NHS is under pressure and as we all age and live longer it will be more do. Costs of healthcare per capita in the UK are not particularly high compared with other advanced countries. I have written here about how the NHS must be a public/private partnership. It already is and that is not going to change, nor should it. But we must avoid listening to the ideology driven claptrap of Right and Left. The NHS must not be a political football. We need an urgent recognition that a healthy nation is not just a moral responsibility for Gocernment but a pragmatic one. That means above all an efficient NHS. It's a huge task and maybe in future some new funding models are necessary. But we have long since chosen to have free healthcare at point of use - there must be no taxing of the sick. We need an agreement involving all stakeholders about the NHS. Not forgetting patients ! 

I fear that Mrs May's unassailable position will put her under pressure from the Right to cut public expenditure indiscriminately and to provide rewards for Business and High Earners. It's happened before! One Nation Conservatism is due a revival. But you've got to be clear about what that truly means. The Right has one cataclysmic victory to chalk up with Brexit. Mrs May must not give them any more.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

You've got to love the Greens - but they can be very silly at times!

I like the Green Party. I have voted Green once or twice and would do so again. They deserve many more members in our Parliament and I hope they get them. To me part of their appeal is that they can be charmingly bonkers at times. And their decision to job-share their leadership is an example of this !

The overlap between party and personality/character at the top of politics is obvious. The political brand is underpinned (or damaged) by the public perception of the leader. David Cameron was not a particularly popular figure at the time of the 2015 General Election but he didn't need to be. He just needed to be perceived as better than Ed Milliband by a sufficient number of people to win. He was. He won. He was hugely helped by a popular media which destroyed Milliband's campaign. In my view Ed was worth ten David Camerons but that's not how, on the margin, the floating voter saw it.

Strong, credible leaders are the vital asset that political parties strive for. In my lifetime, in their very different ways, Attlee, Churchill, Macmillan, Wilson, Thatcher and Blair were such leaders. They did not (as Cameron did) win by default. They won because of what they were perceived to be. They led their parties and added value to them. 

In modern times the phenomenon of the leader adding value to the party has also been seen with Nigel Farage and UKIP. The Farage story is a very uncomfortable one for those of us who despise all he stands for. But for UKIP to "win" the last EU Elections, secure 4m votes in 2015 and to be the crucial factor in the EU Referendum is almost entirely attributable to Farage. Without him UKIP will struggle to be anything like the force they have been.

Back to the Greens. They are analogous with UKIP as a small party trying to break through when the electoral system is stacked against them. Their only chance is to find a Farage. Not a dysfunctional, bigoted Nasty like him of course, but someone with his vote-gathering potential. The core proposition of the Greens is a marketable one - but it has to be sold. A charismatic, credible leader could do this. But there must be focus. The public must not be confused as to who is in charge. To have the party leader as a "job share" just cannot to that. Can you imagine the two creators of New Labour (Blair and Brown) sharing the leadership job? Of course not. 

As I said I like the Greens. But they do have a predisposition, at times, to silliness. To have their leadership as a job share is very silly indeed!