The Thick of It


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Will 2015 follow 2010 and be a loser's election?

As we head towards the mid point of the current parliament no party looks like being the next victor. On current form a 2015 general election will bring results much like 2010l, where there was no clear winner.

In 2010 Gordon Brown had failed to convince the country he deserved to win. David Cameron assumed his Tories would waltz to power by default, yet they didn't. The Lib Dems lost numerous seats as they failed to take advantage of Nick Clegg's popularity bounce following the TV debates.

In 2012 we've got a Labour leader in Ed Miliband who is growing into his role but hasn't convinced yet. Depending on who you ask, his leadership is either a work in progress or ineffective. The Tories are struggling to get their programme through parliament, such as NHS reforms, in the face of huge public and professional opposition. While  many voters buy their line that the economy is "Labour's mess" they are not convinced that the Tories are the best for the country. The Lib Dems are paying the price for fronting up several of the Tories unpopular policies, such as the trebling of tuition fees.

How does that project the three parties forward to 2015?

Labour need to continue to build on successes, such as forging the political agenda, as they did over phone hacking and bankers' bonuses, but through to actual cut through with voters. This has so far failed to materialise. The Telegraph's Benedict Brogan is right when he says "Labour would be foolish to think an absence of enthusiasm for the Tories can get it out of its strategic hole". It can't win by default, just as it failed to do in the 1980s. 

The Tories need voters to start thanking them for taking tough but correct action to improve the economy. They also need to look more like a government in control of events and the political agenda than they currently do. They need to look like they are most fit to govern of the three parties.

The Lib Dems need people to forget about their sins, such as trebling tuition fees and hope to recover local support where their pockets of seats exist. I have no idea whether this will happen.

Nobody looks like doing what they need to forge ahead in the polls. That means it is all up for grabs and the political landscape is likely to continue to shift according to external events and how each of the main players react to this.

Monday, February 20, 2012

NHS reform re-toxifies the Tory brand

I can't understand why the Tories are so hell-bent on reforming the NHS. This unpopular change is dragging their brand through the mud when the party has traditionally struggled to get people to believe they will not destroy the NHS. Why do it when you don't have to? Just leave it alone. At least wait for people to trust you first before meddling.

David Cameron and Andrew Lansley are hell-bent on NHS reform precisely because it is such a political body. The NHS symbolises the Labour Party and therefore the Tories have always been suspicious of it. I can understand but not excuse that. What many Tories are now refusing to forgive is Cameron's picking of an unnecessary and un-winnable fight when the  economic climate makes governing hard enough.

Cameron is trying to plough the changes through whatever the opposition in the hope that people will have forgotten about it by 2015 at the next general election. I doubt voters will forget.

Cameron and  Lansley contradict themselves when they claim the reason for the NSH changes, like GP fundholding in the early 1990s, is to take power away from bureaucrats and give it to highly trusted doctors. That might be fine. Except that falls down when the Tories ignore these trusted experts, doctors and nurses, to ignore their advice about the bill.

If we trust doctors, as Cameron says we do. Trust their judgement and drop the bill or watch the Tory brand disappear again.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Boris Johnson has some nerve

Reading mayor Boris Johnson's quotes in tonight's Evening Standard that "for too long our transport network suffered from waste and neglect" make sm y blood boil. How he has the nerve to make such claims I don't know. When we talk mayors the previous Labour mayor delivered an unprecedented expansion of our transport infrastructure. 

This mayor, Boris himself, stagnated it by cutting future projects such as the Cross River Tram. Crossrail and the London Overground were nothing to do with him. He has a tough fight on his hands if he thinks he can fight Ken Livingstone on transport. He is better off sticking to other topics where his Labour challenger is weaker, such as personality.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Boris burns your cash and ignores the future

The London Mayor has a good amount of power to change the city through a range of management, financial and infrastructure levers. The big three issues for Londoners often focus on crime, transport and housing. Wit the latter two the mayor has to plan for the future because what happens in their four year terms often doesn't bear to fruition until much later.

Just look at current mayor Boris Johnson's introduction of a new "Routemaster" style bus. His four years are almost up and we haven't yet seen any on the road, though craftily we will just in time for the forthcoming election. Taking a deeper look at Boris' mayoralty and his claimed transport achievements and we see a celebration of many projects that he had very little to do with.

The expansion of London Overground was set in motion by Ken Livingstone as was the major East London regeneration resulting from the Olympics. That happened because Livingstone planned ahead. Unlike the current mayor. Boris has left us with very little to help sate the demands of a growing city in the future. A loss making cycle scheme and loss making cable car, together with the world's most expensive bus.

That brings us to Crossrail. Boris and his Tory pals confirmed it when in office, but the project was planned and budgeted for by both a Labour mayor and government. When Ken says he will plan for Crossrail 2 and a Crossrail 3, I believe him because he has delivered in the past. All we are likely to get from Boris is a "yeah me too" or "how about we introduce a sponsored air balloon system that won't cost taxpayers any money."

Whoever wins in May has to think beyond the next election and be adult enough to think beyond politics. Otherwise their role as mayor is to tinker around the edges and leave London ill-prepared for the future.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Ken Livingstone versus Boris Johnson in social media

An analysis of social media conversations mentioning London mayoral candidates Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone shows the Labour man catching up on his Tory rival, much as he has done in the opinion polls recently, overtaking Boris by 2%, after trailing by 8% last summer.

The chart above shows the number of times each was mentioned across blogs, Twitter, forums, Facebook, YouTube and in news blogs and comments since September 2011.

You can see that Boris generally leads his Labour rival, with a remarkable peak in early October when he addressed Tory party conference and failed to say anything of significance about his plans for London.

Livingstone picked up in the last few days after a widely hyped interview with the New Statesman, after which Tory MPs demanded an apology after the mayoral hopeful stated that their party was "riddled with gays."

Looking beyond conversation volumes towards the sentiment of what is being said about the two men, is it a positive, neutral or negative comment, also shows the race, in social media, to be neck and neck.

Boris Johnson gains slightly more positive (green) than negative (red) comments, by a margin of +7%:

Ken Livingstone has more fans in social media than Boris in the last few months, according to our analysis:

Of course, the only statistic that matters is the election in May. What this shows is that this will be the close fight we all expect it to be and that despite Boris' celebrity status, Ken's attraction has far from wilted.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Racist Tory MP in more Nazi shame

This morning I picked up from Twitter rumours that Tory Cannock Chase MP Aidan Burley was seen texting and dozing while at a talk given by a Holocaust survivor. If true, that is disgusting and disrespectful in the extreme. When will these people learn?

This is the same Tory MP that was sacked from his junior minister role at the Department for Transport only two months ago after taking part in a Nazi themed stag do where he was responsible for hiring replica Nazi uniforms and toasting the Third Reich.

Attending a talk by a Holocaust survivor might have been an opportunity to redeem himself. I'm shocked and saddened by Burley's contempt.

UPDATE: we know that Burley didn't ask his allotted question at PMQs yesterday and wasn't in Parliament. Was he in Poland?

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Boris Johnson finally works out what being a mayor is all about

The first phase of Boris Johnson's mayoralty was characterised by him doing very little. He wanted the mayor to spend less and do less. He cancelled many of previous mayor Ken Livingstone's planned transport projects and drastically cut the London Development Agency. This was all part of his plan to give Londoners "more bang for their buck."

The second half of Boris' reign has been characterised by a series of expensive, loss making projects, such as the cycle hire and cable car. Now it looks like he is starting to panic by claiming he will take over the running of train services in London.

I actually think that would be a good idea as the benefits of Transport for London management of the London Overground lines in north and east London have seen huge service improvements and growth in usage. I wonder whether Boris would be any good at it though when not long ago he claimed the whole concept unworkable.

I also struggle to believe Boris would do it if he won again. Not only did he scrap some of Livingstone's projects when he got in, such as the Cross River Tram, but he also failed to implement many of his own, such as a tram for Oxford Street. The latter was perhaps a daft idea anyway given the disruption that Crossrail construction has brought the area.

This also shows that Boris is running a reactive campaign. He is responding to the Livingstone proposals to cut fares by trying to offer his version of the same pledge. He is trying to fight Livingstone on his home turf. Boris has woken up to the responsibility of the mayoralty but rather too late.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

David versus Ed Miliband in social media

I wanted to see if David Miliband's New Statesman article and widespread news coverage of it had led to much social media commentary.

It clearly has, shown in the chart below detailing the number of mentions for each of the Miliband brothers over the last month:

This shows how mainstream news agenda is still driving social media and political commentary. Obviously. I'll keep an eye on how long the David bubble continues to fly.

David, Ed and the media

David Miliband's New Statesman article has garnered a great deal of media attention today. Everyone is either looking for, finding or creating signs of disagreement and tension between the elder Miliband and his brother, Ed, who beat him to the Labour leadership.

David's article is thoughtful and written with an academic style. The sentiment of this morning's media splashes has been wildly different. They have predictably focused on the fireworks rather than the proactive suggestions he makes because it makes for a much better story.

Is David really calling for a total re-think of his brother's stewardship of Labour? Does it matter? What does this tell us about Labour at the moment and the media's response to it?

David actually says what a host of Labour people said in the Purple Book recently, that the party needs to be state reformers and look beyond a big state as the answer to problems. He also stresses the need to balance internationalism, growth, investment and equal opportunities to help create an improving and thriving economy. It is hard to argue with any of this.

The perception gap with his brother isn't there in his words.

The perception gap between David and Ed's vision is in the words of the journalists who have reported on this. I don't see a great deal of difference between what the two brothers are either saying or putting into Labour policy. His key statement isn't all that different from what the Eds have been trying to get across to a sceptical media and voters:

"Our attacks on the Tories will not work if we are not clear about what we did. We should say loud and clear where we made mistakes, but we should also insist that the list of gains far outstripped the mistakes. After all, even David Cameron said on coming to office that Britain was better in 2010 than 1997."

He goes on:

"Principle without power is the stuff of a debating society, not a political party. "

The problem is that many commentators long ago decided that Ed's solutions are of the former, not the latter and haven't bothered to look at the detail because it gets in the way of a good story. David's ideas should be a hand up not a slap in the face for his brother. I think most within the Labour Party will see it that way, but that won't make a good story.