The Thick of It


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Attack, attack,attack,attack, attack!

Alan Johnson's fall was anticipated by many for some time though it is always disappointing to lose someone of such obvious talent. Every cloud though and the silver lining is that as Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls is going to be a high profile attack dog for Labour.

I've found it difficult to see the Tory government making their most aggressive cuts while Labour and Ed Miliband get their own house in order. Balls is likely to be aggressive and abrasive and will ensure Labour gets heard. This is vital, for there needs to be an alternative narrative to that emanating from the Tories. If not, the Tory narrative could be the one upon which the next election id fought on, and that would be bad for Labour.

It helps of course, that there was a second silver lining for Labour on Friday with Tory media chief Andy Coulson resigning. That makes it just a bit more difficult for the Tories to spin that narrative.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A new airport for London, are you serious Boris?

I underestimated Boris Johnson. I didn't think he was that serious in pursuing plans for a new London airport in the Thames Estuary. I'm sorry for underestimating Johnson and not anticipating the all of the bad ideas he throws his considerable weight behind.

After suggesting that Heathrow cannot meet London's needs into the future he proposes to undertake yet another study into the viability of a new airport somewhere else. Not so long ago he was espousing the virtues of a new airport in the Thames Estuary, Boris Island. This idea was widely panned, by airlines and locals alike for cutting off access to large parts of the UK and for cutting off the jobs supply to west London.

If airlines don't want to move and the government doesn't want to provide any money for a new airport our mayor would be better of spending time and scarce money improving London's current transport headaches. He could negotiate with the tube unions and put a stop to strikes, like he promised, or he could accept that he needs the money from the Western Congestion Charge zone and bring it back, he could introduce a higher charge for gas guzzlers, he could investigate options for future London transport links, like cross-river tram, that he cancelled.

While Heathrow really matters to London, Boris has wasted most of his mayoralty investigating plans for an alternative and has delivered nothing. He has also delivered only one major change to London's transport - higher costs and lower revenues. I really should have anticipated that.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Does anyone actually read election leaflets?

There was a minor media furore when Phil Woolas was booted out of parliament for telling lies on his election leaflets. Last night Labour won Oldham East and Saddleworth and increased a slender majority of the shameless Lib Dems. What particularly struck me is that almost none of the reporting or TV  interviews with voters mentioned the Woolas "scandal". People weren't interested it seems. This suggests that nobody really cares about political leaflets, other than for the nuisance they cause to porches and doormats. If they really mattered there would have been a backlash against Labour, but there wasn't.

The media have also reported the drop in support for the Lib Dems and Tories as "expected" and typical for a government at this stage. When Labour lost by elections it was always magnified to be a huge setback for Brown. The real test, for the media and Miliband's Labour, will come when there is a by election in a Tory-Labour marginal. The result and how that is reported will then give a good indication of both the political and media mood.

Despite everything, Labour expected to win Oldham East and the only "disastrous" result for any party would have been for Labour to lose. Miliband has passed his first test with this by election a good demonstration of the enthusiasm that seems to be back within the Labour Party. Victor Debbie Abrahams reported that there were over 1400 Labour volunteers helping her campaign. That is phenomenal. Onwards to the next one. More of that sort of turnout from the Labour ranks and a win over the deeply unpopular Tories in a future by election is a real possibility.

UPDATE: just to be clear, this isn't a defence of Woolas' actions, merely me noting that despite the gravity of his expulsion this wasn't that important in the campaign.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

A year of pain

It was fashionable in the 1980s for our high streets to have closed down shops, for people to be out of work, for there to be regular protests against the government and for each new year to be welcomed with huge increases to the cost of commuting. After the years of plenty in the noughties it appears that we are headed for a 1980s re-run.

Both the Tories and Lib Dems promised us all at the election that they wouldn't put up VAT. The sales tax is commonly regarded as regressive, hitting the poorest hardest.

Instead of a new politics of trust 2011 is already showing to be a year of expensive broken promises. Expect the resentment to continue, the cost of living to rise and the shops to start closing.

Happy New Year.