Showing posts from April, 2010

The Veil of Spin - Final Debates Verdict

The debate was a curiously uninteresting affair. Actually, all three have been, with the exception of realising, in the first one, that there was a third contender. None of the candidates has bombed, even Gordon Brown has performed pretty well to expectations. They have all managed to say remarkably little, but finesse it as if they are giving us reams of detailed wisdom. They have rehearsed extraordinarily well and shown us that they can make ponderous statements, use the names of audience questioners, and help their policy defences along with a few homely anecdotes. They have neither made any serious gaffes (as ever, the campaign trail itself has provided the opportunity for that) nor shown any sparkling charisma. I watched last night's debate at the Tory Chairman's 'Watch Party' at Conservative HQ, which at least managed to give it a slightly pantomime atmosphere (Come on everyone, boo when Brown speaks, or jeer when Clegg does his 'there you go again' stunt…

Sky News' Role in Bigot Gate

Apparently it was Sky News who released the 'bigot' tapes. Now remind me, isn't Sky owned by that chap who is desperate for the Tories to win.....?

UPDATE: Bruiser Prescott's in no doubt that this is all part of a Murdoch conspiracy - his blogpost is published in the Guardian, where he condemns Sky News for broadcasting Gordon Brown's comments in the first place. Fraser Nelson of the Spectator meanwhile give s ten reasons why this is bad news for Brown - just ten?!

Brown and the Bigot

If Obama is the real-life continuation of the West Wing, Gordon Brown is determined to be the same for The Thick of It! You couldn't make it up, and Armando Ianucci must be gnashing his teeth that he didn't think of a scene like this for his notorious sitcom, but Gordon Brown, who has been kept safely away from voters as much as possible, has just had a nightmare afternoon following a meeting with a Labour voting pensioner who wanted to raise issues with him. With his radio mike still attached, he gets into his car after the encounter and describes the meeting as a 'disaster', going on to say that the voter - Mrs. Gillian Duffy - was a 'bigoted' woman. The BBC website carries the video footage of his initial encounter with her, where he was polite and interested, then the footage and sound of him letting off steam in the car, then there is him being confronted with the replaying of his comments on the Jeremy Vine Show. He is having a thoroughly wretched time, a…

AS Mock Test Assistance

For the L6th students at SGS doing a mock test on Unit 2 this afternoon, some useful quick revision links:

On the judiciary, go to this piece on tutor2u; it references an excellent article on the judicial changes in the Guardian here.

On the executive, a reminder that Andrew Rawnsley's recent revelations give a good insight into the way the executive works, its problems, and Gordon Brown's specific approach to governing. A collection of the tutor2u articles on the executive, with some excellent links to wider reading keeping students right up to date, is here.

PR, Changing Governments and Hung Parliaments

With the debate over PR gaining added immediacy given the strong likelihood of a hung parliament, there has been more thorough coverage of this issue in the media and on the blogs than ever before. The Fabian society's Next Left blog has a detailed examination of David Cameron's claim that PR will make it more difficult for governments to be thrown out by the public. Some excellent material for AS students to use in exams as well, although be wary of too many non-British comparative samples.

Over on the Spectator blog, meanwhile, Alex Massie considers the Conservative hysteria about hung parliaments, and suggests that to say that are a disaster is poppycock. He concludes:

But the Tories' arguments - or at least the ones they are choosing to deploy - suggest that calamity is the inevitable consequence of a hung parliament and/or proportional representation. This, unfortunately, is poppycock.I'd like David Cameron to be the next Prime Minister but I'd prefer it if h…

A Conservative-Lib Dem Coalition Will Never Happen

Nick Clegg's comments to Andrew Marr referred to the impossibility of a party that garnered only third place in vote terms being able to hold on to No.10. In effect, they could be in a coalition, but not holding the lead position. This, of course, leaves the door open to a Lib-Lab coalition in which Clegg will be Prime Minister, with Labour, perhaps under a hastily elected new leader, having the subordinate role. What is extremely unlikely is the chance of a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition. Neither party leader could deliver their parties, whose respective grassroots, supported by significant numbers of their elected representatives, viscerally loathe each other. The Tory Party actually thinks Cameron is already too liberal - put him with a genuine liberal, and they would probably stage a coup to oust him.

Will Straw, on Left Foot Forward, in a post that is pretty on the nail about this, considers Nick Clegg as a Ramsay Macdonald, but his analogy is flawed. It is Cameron who…


If the economy is without question the biggest substantive issue of this election, then electoral reform could be the biggest strategic issue. It is the present system that is still delivering significant numbers of seats to the third placed party, and which threatens to deprive either possible winner (Conservatives, still the favourite, or the resurgent but stabilising Lib Dems) of a governing majority. And Nick Clegg has managed to set the PR hare running with his comments that he wouldn't deal with a third-placed Gordon Brown, whatever the number of his seats. These comments have set David Cameron and the Conservatives spinning furiously about PR - no, they absolutely wouldn't accept it, says Cameron, but maybe a referendum is not out of the question? Iain Duncan Smith on the Today programme has already indicated the sort of pressures Cameron will be under if he even looks at the possibility of a deal with the Lib Dems, where PR would be the first issue on the table. Camer…

Sun Fury At Lib Dem Porn Policy

The Sun, in its usual breathless fashion, has reported the concern of the posters on the website 'mumsnet' about Lib Dem plans to lower the age at which people can watch or star in porn films from 18 to 16. It's always great when the Sun gets one of its bouts of morality - what's the betting that the age of their already teenage page 3 models goes down a bit further as soon as this legislation is through the gate?! Mumsnet, incidentally, is beginning to be the online version of the 'Daily Mail', or the 'Jeremy Vine Show'.......

A Historian's Tragedy

There is a self-destructiveness at the heart of man which is evidenced in both large ways and small, individual actions. Historians should be better than most in capturing this blackness at the heart of our existence, but for all that they are hardly immune from it themselves. I was, to be honest, gutted to hear of the extraordinary online and legal shenanigans of one of my favourite historians, Orlando Figes. Figes has managed to shed more light on the hidden world of communist Russia than most others writing today, and in a compelling, literary fashion that compels admiration. His unfolding of the Russian Revolution, in his book "A People's Tragedy" is as gripping as history can be, illuminated by extraordinarily detailed insights into the lives of all sorts of people who lived through those murderous times. Nearly any other history of that event seems, by comparison, rather grey and uninteresting, and often superficial. Then there's "The Whisperers", his…

The Newspapers' Own Goal?

The Thursday print media saw a variety of extraordinary headlines about insignificant events concerning Nick Clegg. It is not only unlikely that these 'stories' will have had any impact on people's voting intentions, but they may in fact back-fire on the newspapers themselves. After all, should Nick Clegg gain a position of power in the next administration, the print media will find itself on the outside, and even more alarmingly for them the real powerlessness of the newspapers will have been starkly revealed.

The Guardian carries two columns of interest in this regard - Alexander Chancellor condemns yesterday's stories, and former Sun editor David Yelland considers the impact on a locked-out media elite, notably Rupert Murdoch.

Debate Verdict

More substance, more fluid dynamics but no game-changer, is the overall verdict. Clegg and Cameron came out evens on the whole, with Brown once again proving that debating is clearly not his medium. It looks as if it was the all important first debate that effectively 'loaded' the election, and so long as none of the leaders make major slips (which, last night, they didn't) it will be the momentum from last week that is most likely to inform the election result.

It is interesting that despite the more 'substantial' nature of the debate, much media commentary remains focused on style, and one of the impacts of the debate has been to skew the election period away from policy issues. The daily 'policy debate', that used to be announced at the news conferences, has been rather swamped by a persistent going over of the television debate analysis.

Media Attack Clegg Shock

The right-wing media have been so successful in undermining David Cameron's new, modernising conservatism that they are now confronting the possibility of a Liberal Democrat power bid. So the likes of the Mail, the Sun and the Torygraph have rapidly rediscovered their Conservative roots, and are doing what they know best - smearing the opponents. And the man in their sights is, of course, the new challenger for the 'change' mantle, Nick Clegg. Politics Home collates today's various front page attacks here, together with blogger comments - conservative blogger Iain Dale, for example, condemns the strategy. All of the stories seem to be pretty thin, and may well backfire on the papers and the Tory party that they are now desperate to support. Best story is the Daily Mail's - the paper that was not noted in the 1930s for its strenuous anti-Nazi stance, are accusing Clegg of a "Nazi Slur" on the distinctly lame evidence of a speech he made while an MEP…

"Gay Sex Is As Dangerous As joining the Army" - Tory Frontbencher

There is an almost religious determination at Conservative HQ to focus the election firmly on David Cameron, and if anyone wants to question that strategy they need only refer to the activities and comments of Mr. Cameron's putative future ministers amongst the Conservative ranks. Take Dr. Julian Lewis, the New Forest MP, for example.

In an observation to sixth formers, made at a local college in his constituency, Dr. Lewis made a comparison about gay activity that remains a little, shall we say, opaque. When the comments were first reported, I must have mis-heard, for I thought he had said something along the lines of "dead military personnel can't contract AIDS" which, whilst somewhat gratuitous, is undeniably true. Turns out that what Dr. Lewis was actually saying was that gay sex and frontline militray activity were equally dangerous activities, and that is why he didn't vote for the reduction of the age of gay consent to 16. Not quite sure how our men on the …

Clegg's Brown Aversion

I wonder if this morning's Telegraph interview with Nick Clegg will change the dynamics of tomorrow evening's debate?

Labour have spent much time since last Thursday trying to explain how little distance there is between them and the Liberal Democrats, in the hope of squeezing out the Conservatives. There was nothing more embarrassing from last week's debate than Gordon Brown's own, regular, plaintive cries of "I agree with Nick" (a slogan that has been quickly printed on stickers and T-shirts by the Lib Dem high command). But, of course, the more Gordon Brown 'agrees' with Nick, the less chance there is of Mr. Clegg looking like a genuine change candidate. If the effect of voting for him is simply going to give Mr. Brown another five years in power, well then even the British electorate might start to ask whether that would be such a great reward for putting a tick next to Mr. Clegg's candidates on May 6th.

The Telegraph interview suggests that …

More on the Sutton Race

Courtesy of Iain Dale's blog listings, I see that someone called "Anna Raccoon" has been investigating the way the local Sutton Guardian has been reporting the local election race, particularly a rather racy - and, it turns out, inaccurate - description of the Libertarian candidate in Sutton and Cheam.

The Boris View

I'm late with this, but for those who like the Boris Johnson approach to politics, here is his column from last week on the Clegg Effect. Best quote is this, concerning his view of Clegg's performance in the debate:

He [Clegg] was by far the worst, with many of his answers seeming to be semi-masticated versions of something Cameron had already said. And so you can imagine my amazement when those polls started to come in, and the news that the punters overwhelmingly scored it for Cleggie. It was one of those times when there seems to be only one solution to the problems of British politics, and that is to dissolve the electorate and summon a new one.

The Yellow Peril Creeps On!

David Cameron ditched his original Party Political Broadcast to do a straight-to-camera piece, with appropriate flashbacks. It is clear that the Tories are developing a Cameron strategy to try and outflank 'Cleggmania', still believing - probably correctly - that he remains the strongest part of the Conservative brand. Four polls tonight put Labour in third place; three of them have the Conservatives ahead of the Lib Dems and one has the Lib Dems ahead - the highest margin for the Tories is 4%, so they're all very tight.
The Evening Standard has some specific London polling evidence here, suggesting amongst other things that Zac Goldsmith, the high profile Richmond candidate, will fail to take the seat from LibDem MP Susan Kramer. Conservative Home meanwhile has a piece on the Sutton election, from a local Tory councillor; plenty of anti-Lib Dem Council material, but relatively little substantive evidence to suggest whether or not the Conservatives really do have a chan…

Locking Murdoch Out

One positive spin on the present polling - from former Sun editor David Yelland, as reported by the BBC:
"If Clegg's Lib Dems held the balance of power it would be the first time in Rupert Murdoch's life that he was locked out of British politics." So says former Sun editor David Yelland of his old boss, in the Guardian.

A Warped Electoral System

UPDATE: OK, I meant to say that the Liberals were of course in SECOND place in the post below. As has also been pointed out in the comments, a new YouGov poll for, ahem, the Sun, now puts the Liberals in first place (33%), 1 point ahead of the Tories (32% for those who are mathematically challenged). It may be too close to call at the top of the poll, but nothing is disguising Labour's third place showing (26%). Mind you, that's still probably enough to give them victory. Who needs a proper functioning democracy after all?

There has been no greater illustration of the inadequacies of the present electoral system than the projections resulting from Nick Clegg's new found fame and fortune.
As the Independent reports, a ComRes poll puts the Liberal Democrats in third place, on 29%, behind the Tories on 31% but ahead of the third-placed Labour Party on 27%. But these figures would actually make Labour the largest party in Westminster (273 seats) with the Lib Dems on only 1…

The Clegg Effect

With little further development of the election campaign since Thursday, the blogosphere and the media have been able to focus on the so-called "Clegg Effect" for two days now. The general consensus is that this hurts the Tories more than Labour (as also suggested in my post below). Amongst the plethora of commentary you could look at, there is Charles Moore in the Telegraph, explaining why the Liberal surge will let Labour in again; Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian examining the effects on Labour spin-doctors of a poll that showed them coming third in the aftermath of the debate; the New Statesman's blog considers the impact of Clegg in the 'twittersphere', but suggests it is having onlya limited impact on the party as a whole; and Lib Dem blogger Mark Pack examines how the usually Tory tabloids are coping with the Liberal resurgence.

All very entertaining of course, but the fact remains that with 2 more debates and 3 weeks of campaigning still to go, anythin…

Twits on ITV

Hilarious video excerpt from ITV's debate coverage on the Media Blog, ample evidence of the dangers of screening uncensored tweets etc.

Why Does Labour Want to Boost The Lib Dems?

One of the key Labour lines to take after last night's debate has been to agree that Nick Clegg did really well, and that Cameron did 'surprisingly' poorly. This is partly because it is virtually impossible to defend Brown's performance (although listen out for stuff like "he showed he's got substance", which is a euphemism for the fact that he is hopelessly unable to communicate with ordinary voters). It is also part of a natural Labour desire to do down their most serious rival. But could there be more to it? Could there be a good strategic reason for boosting the Lib Dems?

There is an understandable strategic explanation behind the Labour love-in with Clegg. The first one is election based, the second is a post-election assumption of a hung parliament. As regards the election, the Lib Dems actually pose a minimal threat to the Labour party. In 1997, when the Lib Dems received the parliamentary boost that they have more or less maintained in the …

The Great Debate Verdict

The instant post-debate polls have Nick Clegg as the winner, and I surprised myself by agreeing. What has been quite interesting since the debate ended has been the Labour spin operation. Alastair Campbell on Sky was saying, with the blokey, "look I'm telling it like it is" attitude that he has tried to perfect, that Nick Clegg won the debate and that, seriously, he was surprised Cameron didn't do better. Along comes chirpy Alan Johnson on the BBC with an almost identical line - you know, Nick Clegg won, but I'm really surprised that Cameron didn't do better. Really Alan? Are you? You seriously expected David Cameron to win? And were ready to call it if he did?

Conventional wisdom beforehand had it that Clegg would benefit from these debates and that Cameron should do well in a format he often excels at. I thought Clegg would be unimpressive - his public performances to date have been wooden and unconvincing - but I have to say he got this one right. …

The Great Debate - Number 1

Well I realise it's the most important event ever to happen in any British General Election across the whole of history, but we might want to tone down our expectations of the Great Election Debate (Part 1) just a little. The much touted template for why it is so important - the inaugural US presidential tv debate between Messrs. Nixon and Kennedy - seemed to come down to the fact that Nixon wore a grey suit and sweated more than JFK. Oh, and his 5 o'clock shadow looked shifty compared to the sun-tanned Kennedy. But then, Tricky Dick Nixon looked shifty compared to a thrice-charged, money-laundering second hand car salesman who worked part-time for the mafia, so that was hardly a PR triumph.

I'm not convinced that the debate will be watched in huge numbers by a British public which simply spouts the mantra that all politicians are worthless at the moment. There will be some desperate media spinning by all three parties, to say nothing of the media's own ability to s…

Back in Westmoreland....

Where we lead, it seems, the Guardian follows! They have an entertaining report on the battle between Tim Farron (the incumbent Liberal) and Gareth McKeever (Tory challenger) in that northern English haven, Westmoreland and Lonsdale. To be fair, the Guardian reporter does appear to have made more of an effort in interviewing a wider range of people than I managed, but I'm disappointed she left Dentdale alone.

Manifesto Wars

With the Lib Dem manifesto launch this morning, all of the biggies are now out in the public domain. There is some ideological differentiation there after all - the Tories have enshrined antipathy to government expansion, and a belief in individual action, over the more centralised approach favoured by the other two parties. That apparent differentiation, however, is not quite as substantial as it may seem at first glance. Gordon Brown's manifesto included such commitments as giving parents the right to sack their headteachers (a truly terrible idea, but it's there) for instance. The Liberal Democrats are making it one of their major pledges to redistribute power "fairly among people". From the Lib Dem manifesto launch this morning, New Statesman political editor Martin Bright tweeted "So all three parties are saying: We are crap, it's over to you", which sums up the sense in which the parties are now trying to move the impetus for solutions back to &qu…

Tory Launch

The Tories have a dramatic venue, but I'm not sure of their wisdom in giving so many shadow cabinet members the chance to repeat each other in very slightly different ways just prior to Cameron's main speech. I mean, did Theresa May really offer us a distincively and excitingly new dimension to the Tory manifesto? I suppose this is all in the interest of showing us that a Tory Party that has been slammed for superficiality is really a potential government of depth, but there's an element of barrel scraping too.

Manifesto Launch Venues

Both Labour and the Conservatives have chosen dramatic venues for their manifesto launches, but I wonder if we should make anything of the fact that the hospital where Gordon Brown spoke was not a hospital, and Battersea Power Station, the venue for David Cameron, is not, of course, a power station. Are these parties telling us that neither of them are what they seem??

The Liberals, meanwhile, really do have to try and get away from that awful yellow backdrop they are imposing on their daily news conferences, while dear old UKIP looked, at their manifesto launch this morning, as if they'd crammed everyone together in an upstairs pub room.

Labour's Pennines Ad and Doctor Who

I hadn't realised, when we were doing our own week-long Pennines trek, that Sean Pertwee must have been there as well, using the Dales landscape to reflect on why Labour were such a good bet for the next five years. We clearly weren't as far from the election as I thought.

Sean, of course, is the son of the late Doctor Who actor Jon Pertwee (one of the great Doctors), and the Gallifrey vote is clearly headed Labour-wards. The voice-over at the end was provided by recently retired Doctor David Tenannt, resorting to his natural Scottish. Meanwhile, the most recent episode of the seminal sci-fi series portrayed elections as a choice between protesting or forgetting. In the episode everyone chose to forget, which is presumably what Gordon Brown is hoping will happen on May 6th as well. Anyway, here's Sean, in the deep Pennines.....

A Distant Election

It's been a joy to be away in the Yorkshire Dales over the past week, with a group of sterling, genuinely good-humoured and excellent cadets. But even up there, where you could easily think the world had stopped for you, as the sun trickled across the mellow moorland in a don't care-ish sort of way, the newly declared election managed to throw its elongated, if rather lackadaisical, tentacles. The actual announcement of the election had all the surprise value of someone declaring that they could walk by placing one foot in front of another. We didn't really notice it. Later, however, rustic signs of an election began appearing, particularly the large orange triangular signs that declare the Liberals are "winning here". A subjective rather than objective assessment, I assumed.

However, as we arrived at the village of Dent, the only village in the whole of Dentdale (the Norse invaders preferred solitary homesteads you see), a lone Tory invader came daringly up to th…