The Thick of It

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tory lead cut after Brown's speech

According to YouGov the Tory lead over Labour has been cut to 7% following Brown's speech. As I stated to LBC's Nick Ferrari this morning, the real test is whether Labour can keep this level after Cameron's speech to the Tory conference last week.

The Tories will get widespread positive press from a friendly media, so I'm more interested in seeing the polls next week. Nevertheless, some mildly good news.

Does The Sun lead or follow?

Last night The Sun announced that they will back the Conservatives at the next general election, 12 years after backing New Labour, with today’s front page announcing that: “Labour’s lost it.” In 1992 the newspaper’s election day headline “If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights?, leading to the later claim “It was The Sun wot won it”. Can we judge the shift to Cameron with the same weight?

I was part of a panel discussing this last night on BBC Radio 5Live’s Richard Bacon show, with commentator Shane Greer and a host of senior media and political heavyweights calling in. It was no surprise that Labour politicians such as Ed Milliband thought the decision lacked the significance of the past, while it was welcomed by Conservative Chairman Eric Pickles.

Tony Blair’s former spokesman Alistair Campbell played down the significance, writing today that “Sun switches ain’t what they used to be.” He suggested: “It is a big media story, and the media love nothing more than a big media story,” adding that with a fragmented media very different from 1997, consumers are also savvier. “While the public may know the politicians spin them a line from time to time, they sure as hell know the papers do too.”

Roy Greenslade also took part in last night’s debate, confirming today his view that The Sun is “placing itself as a central actor in a political drama. It is saying that what it thinks really counts. But there's precious little proof of that any longer.” The Sun’s circulation today is 35% lower today than it’s mid 1990s peak. Greenslade, like Steve Hewlett, thought the newspaper a follower of public opinion, not a leader.

The Sun may not be as significant as it once was. Nevertheless, last night’s announcement hijacked the headlines and to that extent was successful for the paper’s new editor Dominic Mohan. Otherwise it wouldn’t have led last night’s debate on Five Live, or been talked about across the media today. Can a mainstream media title, like The Sun, be as influential as it once was? Does the fragmentation of readership habits mean that no single title will ever again be able to claim an election as its own?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Gordon Brown sets out voters' choice

Gordon Brown today set out his terms for the choice voters face at the next general election. He began strongly by ringing out Labour's achievements, the minimum wage, an end to NHS waiting lists and every school rebuilt. He stated clearly that the Tories would put this all at threat.

There were some new policy announcements such as the National Care Service, something that will extend the helping hand of the NHS to those needing full time care. Talk of tackling anti social behaviour was Brown attempting to talk to the mainstream.

What is clear is that there is a choice at the next election. A choice between a Tory party that would not have invested in public services, improving the NHS, education and regenerated our cities - and a Labour government that did. A choice between a Tory party that would have let the recession run its course and a Labour government that led the way in global action to re-energise our economies.

The Tories had no answers at the depth of the recession, a situation that has enabled them to bang their favourite drum - public service cuts. Brown made it clear today that this is the Tory ideology, it is in their DNA. Labour will ensure the market isn't left to itself and that those in most need will not be left to fend for themselves by an indifferent government. The Tories stand for change, but that is a change back to the 1980s.

Was today's speech the game changer that many commentators suggested it needed to be? Probably not. It was good enough. No general election has been won or lost on a conference speech. The real test of Brown's speech is whether voters will start listening to him again. Will Labour get a boost in the opinion polls? Crucially, will they be able to hold it after next week's Tory conference?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Gordon Brown and Andrew Marr

Gordon Brown today looked astonished as Andrew Marr asked him twice if he was using "prescription painkillers and pills to help them get through." Was this a valid question? Brown certainly thought not.

Marr's raising of this unsubstantiated rumour gives it, perhaps incorrectly, credibility. True or not, asking something like this invades the personal privacy that even the prime minister has a right to.

It will fuel reporting in Monday's press about whether Brown is losing control of his health together with the country. I'm sure may will speculate about whether there really is credence in the rumours by analysing every Brown mannerism for signs of weakness. Judging by the serious comments at The Times most agree that with this line of questioning Marr was overstepping the mark.

Friday, September 25, 2009

I also blog elsewhere...

I also contribute to my company's blog, Measurement Matters. My latest blog post suggests that Google are attempting to take ownership of more web content to take even more revenue from advertising with the launch of the Sidewiki...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Nick Clegg for PM?

Nick Clegg this week declared his ambition to be prime minister. Every year Lib Dem leaders make their claim to become number one and every year (after the annual leadership change) the idea becomes more fanciful.

As our third party there is no chance of Clegg leading the country. Even with electoral reform Clegg would stand no chance of leading the country. Why Kennedy, Campbell and Clegg feel the need to pretend nobody will notice their fantasy and claim that they will become PM seems preposterous. The Lib Dem members in the conference hall this week applauded Clegg's delusional claims. Surely they cannot all be that stupid?

After discussing the 'point' of the Lib Dems on Five Live on Monday, it became clear that the Lib Dems felt they were not taken seriously enough. If their leaders make such preposterous claims is it any wonder?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lib Dems identity crisis

The row following Vince Cable's proposed property tax for homes valued over £1m has shown the confused identity of the Lib Dems. Cable looks left, Clegg looks right and everybody else gets dizzy.

Last night's Five Live debate didn't throw up any answers for the Lib Dems. Only questions. Voters don't seem to really understand what the party stands for. This is no surprise when the public face of the party nationally is multi-faceted and when many peoples' local experience of them varies so greatly. Social democrats in South West London where they profit from the anti-Tory vote and soft conservatives in the South West of England where they fight the Tories on their own platform.

There is a role for a third party in British politics, though Clegg's Lib Dems are yet to fill that and don't look likely to.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What is the point of the Lib Dems

This week's Lib Dem conference really kicks off the run in to next Spring's general election. Lib Dems will be hoping that this week can be the spur to a resurgence for our third party against an untrusted Tory party and tired Labour government. For a third party to survive in a two party electoral system requires them to have clear goals and radical ideas.

The Lib Dems have always struggled to define a single, clear purpose. Are they the party of opposition - to both left and right? Are they the party of radical ideas? Are they the party of social democracy or the libertarianism?

Today's policy announcement that Lib Dems would tax properties valued over £1m, to take the poor out of income tax, is both radical and socialist. Nick Clegg's constant assertions that "savage" cuts are needed to the public sector is lthat expected of a traditional liberal - today mostly found in the Tory party.

Within the last 24 hours these two events have shown that the Lib Dems are still facing in two directions. Which one the public gets to hear from depends on which Lib Dem voice is speaking. Former Labour Party adviser Vince Cable or the remarkably Tory sounding Nick Clegg. The Lib Dems are still in the shadow of their late 1980s formation from two very different political parites - the SDP and the Liberal Party. Cable and Clegg are each from these different arms.

Until the Lib Dems work out who they are and what they stand for they will struggle to define clear ground for themselves. Without this and a clear identity it will be difficult for them to attract votes on a national basis. Without that, they will always struggle to compete effectively with Labour and the Tories.

Clegg's savage calls strike of a desperate swipte at headlines without really thinking about the effects on economic confidence. Creating a vision of an aggressive and painful future isn't attractive. One criticism that certainly can't be levelled at Gordon Brown is rash decision making. His often well deliberated solutions to problems often get lost in the mire of news headlines, while sometimes managing a little praise for quantitative easing and stabilising the banking system.

More discussion follows tonight on Five Live's Richard Bacon show. Me, Bacon and Mark Oaten...at 11.