The Thick of It


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ministers take the train while their papers take the car

David Cameron's edict that ministers should travel on public transport might be a well intentioned move to save public money but it won't do that. It won't save any money.

Just as he used to cycle to work from Notting Hill while a car followed with his papers, ministers will be expected to take the train, without their confidential papers, which will be taken by car to their homes. So the car travels anyway. Worse still, ministers won't be able to do any work while travelling as their papers will be elsewhere and ministers are not allowed to accompany them. You couldn't make it up!

I know that ministers have found the time spent in their ministerial cars travelling between meetings as valuable time in which to get through their red boxes. Now this time has been taken away to provide cheap publicity will Cameron expect his ministers to stop sleeping every night or will they just do less work?

This will cost more money, lead to less effective government and will not do what is purports to. Just bonkers.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Labour for London Mayor, but who?

Alan Johnson isn't running for London mayor, therefore it looks like a battle between Oona King and Ken Livingstone to be Labour's candidate. If King is to prevent Livingstone winning she will need to show she has the ideas and vision to change London. I'm convinced that Labour needs a new candidate to stand a chance of winning.

Comment among friends and colleagues in the Labour Party tallies with my feeling that it is time for Livingstone to move on. Labour needs a new candidate to convince the electorate that Labour is forward looking and has new people and ideas for London, and the country. A Livingstone - BJ fight would risk a re-hash of 2008.

King's pitch is focused on community engagement and young people. I agree with her that Boris Johnson has done very little with his role. It is still too early to compare King's plans for London with Livingstone's as neither has set these out in detail yet.

I don't think there is a danger of Livingstone running as an independent should he lose the selection. Nothing is ever certain with him but in 2000 he was prevented from standing as Labour's candidate. Losing a fair and open selection would be different. It would also be wrong of Livingstone to hold the threat of running as an independent over the Labour Party to force a result in the selection. There is no evidence this is the case, though scarred by the split in 2000, many in the London Labour Party fear a repeat.

King's appeal, as detailed by Dave Hill, is toward the younger members in the Labour Party. It is unclear as yet whether this enthusiasm is shared by Londoners in general and, importantly, those living in outer London boroughs.

There isn't too long to go and this race will run parallel to that for Labour leader, though the winner is (perhaps) likely to taste power sooner than the victor of the leadership election if the hype of the Con-Dem coalition can carry it through for a full five years.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Oona King for Mayor?

With Oona King joining the list of potential candidates for Labour's London mayoral candidate this particular race could be deemed more interesting than that for the Labour leadership. Alan Johnson is rumoured to be standing and previous mayor Ken Livingstone also plans to run. Is this race looking to be more heavyweight than the race to be Labour leader?

I've not yet decided who I will support for leader as I don't feel there is much choice - perhaps this is because I wanted Johnson. If Johnson runs for mayor, together with a female candidate in King, does Livingstone stand a chance? I feel that any of these three candidates gives Labour a good chance of beating incumbent Tory Boris Johnson. If Labour wins the mayoral election that will give the party a springboard for the next general election. Victory will mean that Labour is a credible option for power nationally.

Having been mayor for eight years, having made many major improvements to London but also looking to have run out of steam I don't think Ken Livingstone would be the best candidate. He would risk focusing the campaign on the past when what Labour needs is fresh ideas and a fresh candidate. I'm a big fan of (Alan) Johnson, but King could provide the freshness Labour in London needs.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Did social media revolutionise the UK's general election campaign?

This post first appeared on Metrica's blog, Measurement Matters

I have been looking at what other commentators have had to say on whether we had an internet election. Did social media revolutionise our election campaign or merely show an evolution towards digital media?

There were victims who committed their “crimes” in social media, though very few. The spoofing of election posters at MyDavidCameron were the most memorable social media aspect of the campaign. Tech Radar argues that social media has “diluted the power of political posters…and it’s done the same with newspapers”. This is certainly true. Was this a revolution? Not really. This election will be remembered as the television election. It was the first in the UK with televised debates between the main party leaders. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown will likely also be remembered for criticising a voter when he thought his TV microphone had been turned off.

In a detailed account of the internet election Mark Pack points out that internet polling was widely used for the first time. This enabled polling companies to deliver almost real time poll results after the leaders’ debates. The internet has certainly fed mainstream media outlets with faster access to voters’ views, either through polling or raw comments on Twitter. Social media and the internet has helped parties and candidates organise their campaigns and volunteers. Whether it really changed how anyone voted is unclear. The resources available online make it easier for voters to find out about their candidates, as Left Foot Forward suggested. 

Echoing the findings of Metrica and Fishburn Hedges’ Mood-O-Meter, Tweetminster concluded that “there is a strong correlation between online buzz and party performance.” Our Mood-0-Meter showed positive buzz for the party leaders in line with party performance at the polls. Whilst it wouldn’t be right to say that social media provides an online opinion poll, people talk about what matters. The huge increase in buzz for Nick Clegg after the first leaders’ debate reflected public opinion and polling surveys.  

The BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones asked if politicians and voters are likely to be more inclined to use social media in the future. I think so, with many new MPs elected, many of them much younger than those they replaced, the appetite for social media will grow and is likely to become an integral part of future elections.  

The revolution hasn’t happened yet though. So far social media has played a role without taking centre stage, far more evolution than revolution.

Friday, May 21, 2010

House of Comments podcast

On Tuesday I took part in my first House of Comments podcast. This is a weekly political podcast run by Lib Dem blogger Mark Thompson of Mark Reckons and Stuart Sharpe of Sharpe's Opinion. Alongside me the final guest was Allen Green, Jack of Kent. You can listen to it free through iTunes. I recommend that you don't just listen but in fact subscribe. Each week a different group of bloggers from across the political spectrum discuss the issues of the day. I hope to be back on there again soon.

We discussed the ongoing Labour leadership election, the Con-Dem coalition and its prospects and the libel trial of left wing blogger Dave Osler.

Taking each issue in turn. I'm undecided about who to support for the Labour leadership. I would have supported Alan Johnson, but he isn't standing. Interestingly both Mark and Stuart thought he would be Labour's best choice. He has a great Labour story of a working class upbringing. He is from the south and Labour needs to win seats in the south if it is to regain power. He comes across naturally on TV. Without him in the race I am waiting for the other candidates to convince me that they are worthy of my vote. Though I've not decided if I'll vote for him yet I'll include a picture of one of my election campaign highlights: straightening David Milliband's tie at a fund-raiser for Edmonton MP Andy Love.

The Con-Dem coalition deal has now been set out in more detail. I think this could well last the distance though I expect there to be casualties. In the short term Vince Cable looks like a strong contender for early victim having been given little real power as Business Secretary and the responsibility for privatising Royal Mail. John Major's Tories failed to do it. Gordon Brown's Labour failed to do it. Now it looks like it is the Lib Dem's turn to get embroiled in an unpopular mess. It couldn't happen to nicer people. In the longer term the Lib Dems may well suffer electorally as a result of working with the Tories. Their seats in Scotland where the Tories are widely despised look increasingly vulnerable.

Finally, Dave Osler's libel case. He was sued for libel after linking to someone else's blog post. After two years the case was thrown out of court. Jack of Kent gives a far better account than I ever could so I suggest you read that. There In closing I'd like to congratulate Jack of Kent for being short-listed for the Orwell Prize, a great honour for some great blogging.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Johnson versus Johnson for Mayor?

Last week The Guardian's Dave Hill speculated that Alan Johnson may have withdrawn from the Labour leadership race to instead focus his attention on fighting Boris Johnson for London mayor in 2012. The Evening Standard and New Statesman has now picked up on this.

I would have voted for him in a leadership contest and would certainly back him for Mayor. He is a person first and a politician second, someone who comes across as having humility and the style to work on TV - while coming across as genuine.

I think Johnson versus Johnson would be a great fight.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The two-headed beast

After spending an intense month campaigning to turn Islington Labour again I can now turn my thoughts back to blogging. Politics is interesting again. Everyone is talking about it. Nick Clegg is talking to everyone.

My expectation was that the election would produce a narrow Tory victory. It has produced a hung parliament which has left Nick Clegg as king-maker despite his party's own disappointing election results. I have commented on the World Service twice since the election that this was the election that everybody lost. Labour lost being in charge. The Tories had expected to win a majority and failed after the electorate who might have been ready for a change were not convinced by David Cameron. The Lib Dems failed to capitalise on Clegg's short-lived popularity after the leader debates.

Which way should the Lib Dems face? I have said before that until they decide whether they are predominately a classical liberal party or a social democratic party the Lib Dems will not be able to progress. Having to choose between a coalition with the Tories or Labour might force the issue. It could end up breaking the Lib Dems as members and voters might punish them for picking the "wrong" side in a coalition deal.

The evidence from local government suggest that the Lib Dems are happier bedfellows of the Tories than with Labour. This counters the commonly held view that the Lib Dems are quite left wing. They are not. Their party has typically sided with the Tories in local government when given the option to keep Labour out. See examples in Birmingham and Southwark. Now that they can smell power they are doing whatever they can to get their hands on it and I expect the Lib Dems to do whatever they can to get what they want. They want power and the want electoral reform.

Positions in cabinet could do for the Lib Dems what the second world war did for Labour. It will give them experience and credibility in government that they currently lack. Electoral reform is the important second stage because it then gives them a chance of an electoral breakthrough, impossible for a third party under first past the post.

Getting a referendum on electoral reform might get the Lib Dems a temporary seat at the cabinet table but it might not deliver the full scale reform the party wants. If the country votes against reform or if it seriously wounds the party by angering those against a Tory/Labour/any coalition then the Lib Dems might go from king-maker to dodo.