The Thick of It


Monday, January 30, 2012

Ed Miliband gets it right again

Ed Miliband's lobbying for a parliamentary vote about the size of state owned RBS boss Stephen Hester's bonus led to the banker backing down and waiving his bonus. Even the BBC's Robert Peston admitted it was  Miliband's campaigning that forced the issue.

This is great news for Miliband and Labour as it shows that the he has again forced the political agenda and made the right call on a high profile issue. His response to phone hacking is another key example.

Unfortunately Miliband's right calls on the issues that matter have done nothing to boost his or Labour's opinion poll ratings, with the Tories on a poll high. What will it take for Miliband to cement himself as the man who calls it right in the mind of the voting masses?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Why I'm a progressive

Progress or stagnation? That is the sort of question politicians like to pose at election time. The one asking the question is usually the one who thinks they will provide progress, while tainting their opponents as the bastions of stagnation. That language framed the 2010 general election. David Cameron told us he offered change and progress, while the then incumbent, Gordon Brown and Labour, offered stagnation.

Nearly two years later, what have Cameron's Tories delivered?

Almost nothing. But stagnation. The economy was growing when they came to power. Now it is contracting. In total that has left Britain with a paltry 0.3% growth since George Osborne's spending review.

Disturbing. Pathetic. Very worrying.

Any fool knows you need people in work, paying taxes, spending their wages to guarantee growth and pay off government debts. Everyone except Cameron and Osborne that is.

There is an alternative. That is why I'm a progressive.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Ken V Boris: too close to call, dirty, exciting

After last week's YouGov poll put Ken Livingstone ahead of incumbent mayor Boris Johnson in the race to lead London, LBC and ComRes have released their own poll. This again gives the former mayor a slender lead of 51% to 49%.

This is remarkable for a candidate who lost the mayoralty in 2008 after looking tired, disinterested and didn't focus on the issues mattering most to voters, as his rival Johnson managed to. As the likes of Adam Bienkov point out, that position is now reversed. Johnson is the one talking about protecting bankers, while Livingstone is talking about the rising cost of living and transport fares.

Interestingly, Livingstone is under performing against Labour's expected polling in London, while Johnson is more popular than the Tories. Despite that, Labour's candidate will be far happier as we enter the last 100 days of the campaign.

The Back Boris campaign is in a bit of a mess. Complacency about victory must have evaporated, along with his poll lead. I quick scan of London news sites and blogs shows a campaign not in control, clutching at straws or making false claims.

  • Mayor Watch today reports that Back Boris is claiming Johnson began and implemented London Overground, when in fact, as the TfL website points out, Livingstone started it in 2007, a year before the buffoon took power
  • Left Foot Forward highlights that Johnson used his Telegraph column to blame young people and their lack of skills for sky high youth unemployment
  • Boris Watch notes that Johnson's primary vanity project, his new bus, is getting ever more expensive, with another prototype being ordered at a staggering £547,000
It is all getting very political. The first new bus for London is due on our streets in May 2012, election month. TfL are running an advertising campaign to highlight improvements over the last three years, which conveniently coincides with BJ's mayoral term. 

Our old pal and former Livingstone nemesis, Andrew Gilligan, now at the Telegraph, is at it again with a regular column of Livingstone-loathing. Fortunately fewer potential Labour voters read the Telegraph than the Evening Standard, his former home, so his distortive effect may be limited this time.  

What does this leave us with? A content that is too close to call, will inevitably turn dirty and one that will be great to watch.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Ken versus Boris: too close to call

I'd been intrigued to see what the latest opinion polling thought about the impending London mayoral election, incumbent Boris Johnson, versus former mayor Ken Livingstone, after last summer's polls suggested a commanding lead for BJ. Today's YouGov poll puts Ken 2% ahead, 51-49.

A surprisingly large number of Labour voters had previously said they'd vote Tory last June, though that has now fallen. That suggests that Livingstone's unpopularity among some after a long career has waned. That could be a result of his powerful campaign to cut transport fares. 

Conservative Home's Tim Montgomery recently warned Tories not to let their previous poll lead lure them into a false sense of security, dubbing it "dangerously complacent". That message will have come shattering home today. For the Tories, with BJ more popular than his party, the focus must be personality. Their man picks up votes because he is well known and seen as likeable. People seem to put to one side that they don't think he understands the issues. For example, only 13% see Boris as someone who is in touch with the concerns of ordinary people, compared to 40% for Ken. 

For Labour, the election has to be focused on the Tories. Boris is a Tory, not an independent. He is someone who makes the cost of living in London higher and isn't going to protect Londoners from the worst of a possible recession. 

Ken and his Labour team look like they will stick to that message. They should as it has worked so far. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ed Miliband and the unions

Ed Miliband today came in for criticism from trade union leaders for backing Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls who said Labour cannot promise to reverse all Tory cuts if it got in power again. This seem like such an obvious point from Balls and Miliband that I find it quite absurd that he has come in for today's flak.

It is in no way a betrayal of ordinary people or an acceptance that the Tories are right. It is just sensible real-politik.

The unions will simply alienate people from Labour by attempting to pull Miliband's puppet strings so publicly.

Of course, this is a problem for Miliband for he so openly used the unions to get the Labour leadership in the first place. What happens next will be interesting to see if Miliband has the balls to stand up to them or if the unions call in their favours.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Boris Johnson plans Thames tunnel after scrapping Thames Gateway Bridge

London Mayor Boris Johnson is going to announce plans to build a Thames tunnel linking Silvertown in East London and the Greenwich peninsula, somewhere on the map below:

 As useful as this link would undoubtedly prove this comes just a few years after the same mayor, Boris Johnson, scrapped plans by the previous mayor, Ken Livingstone, for a Thames Gateway Bridge, just a bit further east along the river.

Apparently there was no funding for that. Given that tunnels cost a great deal more than bridges, where is the money for the tunnel? I suspect that the bridge was scrapped simply because it was proposed by a Labour mayor.

In his early days, Boris didn't see much point in being mayor and did little to propose major projects to change the fabric of the city. After a few years in the throne he has changed his tune and is getting to quite like vanity projects:

  • There is his expensive new Routemaster, the world's most expensive bus at an eye-watering £1.6m each
  • A loss making cable car - it cost £60m to build and has attracted only £36m in sponsorship
  • And the popular but loss making cycle hire scheme. Over six years this cost TfL £140 to build but Barclays sponsorship only claws back about a quarter of that, while usage fees are estimated to bring in about £1m a year. Clearly not enough
The latter of course was a plan started by the previous mayor.

In 2008 Boris Johnson promised to give Londoners more bang for their buck. He has succeeded only in giving us more bang for more bucks. Not quite the same thing.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Will Ed Miliband make a difference?

Ed Miliband's speech today suggesting that Labour can't rely on splashing the cash if in government again picked up from recent articles and posts by the likes of Peter Watt and Gavin Kelly. The latter two were as criticising Miliband, despite his likely agreement with them.

Ed Balls and Miliband have been trying to get across the argument that growth should be used to cut the deficit. Today was the first time I've seen Miliband explain this in simple language, that you need people working and paying taxes to pay off the deficit, not claiming benefits. This is promising though the problem with Miliband's leadership has rarely been about what he has said, which is getting better all the time, more about two things:

  1. Perception
  2. Clear alternative
Miliband's perception problem hasn't gone away. His personal poll ratings are very bad at the moment though he is getting much more media coverage. Having a clear alternative set of policies to the government isn't easy but will become very necessary. There were a smattering of new proposals today though nothing fundamental. His theme of the "squeezed middle" has stuck with both Tories and Lib Dems trying to steal parts of his rhetoric. He proposes to promote changed business practice, like an end to quarterly reporting, to develop a long term investment based capitalism. 

Aside from his personal perception problems, Miliband faces difficulty in persuading voters that he understands the severity of the government deficit and knows how to get rid of it without unnecessarily and adversely affecting their way of life. He hasn't done that yet, people are just not believing Labour at the moment. 

Balls and Miliband have to convince people other than me that they should be taken seriously on the deficit and the economy. It hasn't worked so far, today's speech won't change it overnight either. At the moment it is all too esay to attack them for being involved in the last Labour government and to stop listening. There is some great stuff in the detail but most people don't bother with that. Not least when a hostile media doesn't tell them.  

Ken Livingstone dubs Borish Johnson a "pickpocket"

In the latest swipe of what is developing into a rather juicy personality clash, Ken Livingstone is today running advertising in the Evening Standard dubbing his rival Boris Johnson as a pickpocket:

This highlights the rising cost of using public transport in London since Boris came to power in 2008. This includes a single bus fare increasing by 50%.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Oh mayor, where art thou?

Given the volume of important and difficult events in London this week one would expect the mayor to be in-situ, in charge and on top of his brief. Unfortunately London has Boris Johnson as mayor. He is skiing in the Alps so hasn't been on hand to provide leadership for London through a difficult week.


The week he put transport fares up again, with the single bus fare now up 50% since he came to power in 2008, to pay for his lovely new bus. He was ignoring the fast shrinking pockets of ordinary Londoners by skiing. Mind you, his six figure "chicken feed" salary from the Daily Telegraph for his column must help, even just a bit.

Two people were finally sent down for the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993. He eventually put out a statement but was slow off the mark.

Many Londoners want to know whether Boris really cares about London. On this week's behaviour I can only conclude that he has other things  more important things on his mind.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Where has all the money gone Boris?

Thousands of London commuters were met on their way to work this morning by two things: another round of jaw-dropping fare increases from mayor Boris Johnson and an alternative offer from Labour's campaign team. According to the campaign and quoted by BBC, 500,000 leaflets were distributed.

Key to the campaign is that Boris as mayor is making life worse for Londoners in an already tough economic environment. Under Boris fares have gone up between 20% for a weekly zones 1-6 travelcard and 50% for a single Oyster bus fare.

Boris's riposte is that the extra fare revenue is there to pay for tube improvements. This isn't entirely true as Transport for London has built up hefty reserves in the last few years, £728m according to the Evening Standard.

So the key question must be why Boris wants to continue hitting Londoners in the pocket with a stealth tax rise when he doesn't have to?