30 January 2012

I shall have more to say on this matter in February...

...and so it turned out, that just after I'd dismissed the anti-Ed Miliband faction as a "bantam menace", Ed started to get into real trouble when he was (to quote the old Magazine song) "Shot By Both Sides" - getting it from the left as well as the right.

Fortunately, the Stephen Hester bonus fiasco seems to have saved Ed for now, at least - but this one will run and run. I've been too busy to post during the second half of January, but will hope to get back to regular posts in February. Keep it real people.

15 January 2012

Ed Miliband Episode 1: The Bantam Menace

(episode 1 in a series of "Star Warped" Ed Miliband posts)

Part of the fun with the recent gaggle of "Ed Miliband is under attack" media stories is how lame the hacks writing this shit are. If you have a look at them, what have you got?

  • Dan Hodges: ex-New Statesman blogger, dropped by that august outlet for repeated hysterical and incoherent attacks on Ed during Labour Party Conference. Now part of the gang of right-wing payroll bloggers at the Daily Telegraph.
  • John Rentoul: Independent columnist, Blairite among Blairites. One of these guys who think you can stick a red rosette on any Tory nonsense and it suddenly becomes a sensible Labour position.
  • Wintour and Watt: the Guardian's "dynamic duo" of political lobbyists. Specialise in lazy rewrites of any statement made by anyone you've ever heard of in the Labour Party (and many you haven't) so that they look like attacks on Ed.
  • The brain-dead politics hacks at the BBC (particularly Nick Robinson) who take orders from Tory HQ, on pain of the BBC losing even more funding than the 16% it's already being cut (in nominal terms) over the next 5 years.
  • whoever it was at the Sunday Times who thought it would be a good to run a poll on whether Ed Miliband is too ugly to be PM.
It's a good job for Ed that the people writing his political obituary week after week are so lightweight.

What's more, the potential challengers in the Labour party for the leadership are chicken. If no-one was prepared to get rid of Gordon Brown when Labour were 15 points behind the Tories, what's the betting that anyone will get rid of Ed Miliband when Labour is ahead, or at least level pegging, in most polls? As has often been pointed out, historically Labour is much more crap at getting rid of leaders in mid-term than the Tories are. Even poor old Michael Foot was allowed to soldier on until the 1983 election.

That's why I call the plotters against Ed The Bantam Menace.

Stay tuned for more in this ongoing series.

09 January 2012

Cameron's playing it clumsy in Scotland (possibly deliberately?)

Dave Cameron has chosen an interesting tactic in response to the Scottish National Party's plans for a referendum on Scottish independence. He has said that the Westminster Coalition government supports the idea of a legally binding referendum - on two conditions:

  1. that the referendum is held by summer 2013;
  2. that the question format is a straight Yes/No choice on full independence for Scotland versus staying in the UK, with no third option of "devolution max" (whereby Scotland would still formally remain in the UK, but with pretty much all domestic policy - including taxation - delegated to Scotland).
Both these conditions run counter to Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond's preference, which is for a referendum in 2014 or 2015, with "devolution max" as an option on the ballot. Having said that, the restriction to a two-question referendum without devolution max will probably be more of an issue for Salmond than the timing issue. After all, if Scotland were likely to vote for independence in 2014, it'd probably be pretty much as likely to vote for it in 2013. Polls at the moment show a slight shift in favour of independence but in a two-choice referendum, "Yes" is still only running at around 32 percent or so. That isn't necessarily a guarantee that a two-choice referendum would produce a "No" vote but Salmond must know the odds are against it - unless there is some kind of game-changer between now and the referendum. Oddly enough, that game changer could be Dave Cameron.

As an English "Tory Toff", quite why Cameron would think that clumsy top-down intervention in the referendum process would make people in Scotland more willing to listen to him and less willing to listen to the SNP - who have a far stronger mandate in Scotland than the Tories do at Westminster - is hard to fathom. Given that Dave is no imbecile, my guess is that he knows the intervention will piss Scotland off, and is actually hoping to get shot of them somehow. After all, Scotland is pretty much a Tory-free zone and getting rid of it from the UK would make it easier for the Tories to win outright majorities on a relatively low vote share. It can't be said often enough: breaking up the Union is a good deal for the Tories. Of course they are the "Conservative and Unionist Party" and a few Tory peers and grandees would be slightly miffed were Cameron to preside over the break up of the Union: but so what? A few Tory peers and grandees are miffed about going into Coalition with the Lib Dems, but from Dave's point of view it was a masterstroke. If he loses Scotland but wins 3 general elections in a row and secures Tory hegemony, who on earth is going to care?

From Alex Salmond's point of view, my advice would be: just carry on doing what you were going to do anyway, and use Cameron's intervention to promote support for full independence. Cameron is trying to argue that any referendum later than 2013 would only be advisory, but if Scotland does hold a vote in 2014 or 2015 and the result is Yes to independence, I'd advise Salmond to make a Unilateral Declaration of Independence. If support is that strong then there would be nothing the Westminster government could do about it, short of sending in the army, arresting the Holyrood parliament, and declaring direct rule from Westminster. And who the hell thinks that is going to endear the Tories to the Scottish people? In short, I think there is a good chance Scotland will have gone fully independent by 2020, however this pans out. And although it's a shame for the people left in England who are more likely to suffer the Tories as a result, I have to say good luck to the Scots really. At least they don't elect insufferable ConDems like Dave Cameron, George Osborne and Danny Alexander... oh, wait.

05 January 2012

Ed Miliband: skating away on the thin ice of the new year?

(with apologies to Jethro Tull)...

news is rather thin this new year, so it must be time to put the boot into Ed Miliband. The usual suspects have been at it of course: for example the celebrated 'false flag' blogger Dan Hodges is barely able to write about anything else (although he did produce an excellent blog on the Lawrence killer sentences this week).But the new specialists in anti-Ed propaganda is the Guardian, which has been orchestrating a series of attacks on Ed that are as blatant as they are clumsy in their distortion of what political commentators are saying about the poor guy. Two obvious examples of this tendency, just so you don't think I'm making it up:

  1. a Policy Network report by centre-left academic Ben Jackson and Labour pensions spokeman Gregg McClymont which presented the evidence from previous Labour election defeats in the 1930s, 1950s and 1970s as a cautionary tale for Labour today was spun by the Guardian as an attack on Ed's leadership.
  2. an article yesterday in the New Statesman by Labour peer and Ed 'guru' Maurice Glasman which, if anything, was criticising Ed Balls rather than Miliband, and not very coherently at that, was, similarly, spun by the Guardian as an attack on Ed (Miliband)'s leadership.
Crappy journalism like this lowers the Guardian to the 'broadsheet gutter' zone of journalism occupied by the Times, and maybe below that, to the mid-range gutter of the Mail and Express. I was naive enough to believe that the departure of arch-Tory Julian Glover from the Guardian to Cameron's speech-writing team earlier this year would mean a significant reduction in the amount of pro-ConDem, anti-Ed bias in the paper's editorial line, but sadly the opposite seems to have been the case.

Although well known ConDem sympathiser Martin Kettle may have some role in this, I think the main instigators of the Guardian's anti-Ed vendetta are Chief Political Editor Nicholas Watt and Political Editor Patrick Wintour. This "dynamic duo" have recently embarked on a mission to oust Ed Miliband at any cost. It may be that they have been against Ed from the beginning; they may be on the payroll of the very well-funded LINO pressure group Progress; or David Miliband may have promised them advisory jobs in his private office after he replaces Ed (in his dreams!) Their precise motivations are (for the moment) a mystery, although I am working with contacts at the paper to find out what I can.

So is Ed Miliband on thin ice? I honestly don't think so. Labour's poll ratings have been improving (albeit slowly) over the last month as the Cameron "veto bounce" fades. I can't remember a single instance of a leader getting the boot if their party was in front in the polls. Certainly when IDS was forced out in the autumn of 2003, the Tories were miles behind Labour. The normal rule of thumb is that, to be replaced mid-term as an opposition leader before even getting the chance to fight an election, you've got to be doing really badly. And Ed is doing just... so-so. In fact, on some measures he's actually doing rather well; Labour is currently running at about 12 percentage points above its share of the vote at the previous election. 18 months into a parliament, I can't remember a Labour opposition leader ever doing as well as that; not Foot in 1980, nor Kinnock in 1984, nor John Smith in 1993.

What's more, the "critiques" of Ed are either not really critiques at all (e.g. the McClymont/Jackson Policy Network report, which is actually quite supportive of what Ed is doing), or they're critiques of Ed Balls rather than Miliband (to the extent that I can make coherent sense of it, the Glasman article falls into this camp), or they're right-wing LINO or ConDem hackery with no real traction in the Labour Party (Hodges, Rentoul, Kettle). There has not been any mainstream Labour voice saying Ed is crap. As Eoin Clarke of the excellent Green Benches website points out, Ed has probably lost some grassroots support by not delivering on to the (slightly) radical stance of his leadership election campaign. And my belief is that if he were more radical he would do himself a big favour. But none of that has any bearing on whether he survives in the job or not.

For better or worse (I think overall for the better), Ed Miliband is safe in the job. Ignore any hack who tries to tell you otherwise.

01 January 2012

And so to the US 2012 Presidential Election: initial predictions

Yes it's that time again, as thoughts turn to the 2012 elections in the US. I covered the Republican primaries in quite a lot of detail in 2008, which turned out to be not quite as exciting as Mike Huckabee's win in Iowa portended; in the end, John McCain came out as a clear winner.

This time round there has already been an excellent analysis of most of the candidates by Van Patten a few months back. What's happened since then has been described by the FT's Gideon Rachman as a "circular firing squad" on the right of the party; a minibus-load of right wing candidates including Gingrich, Perry, Bachman, Cain, Paul and Santorum have been jostling for position in rotation, with a frontrunner emerging periodically only to be mown down by a combination of negative campaigning by the other candidates and their own obvious inadequacies. A month ago it looked like Gingrich was out in front on the right. Now it looks like Rick Santorum is surging. And Ron Paul has been steadily gaining support in Iowa with an uncompromising libertarian message seriously at odds with anything else on offer in the GOP.

However, given that the majority of primaries are winner-takes-all first past the post, it seems to me that the fragmentation of the right will be its undoing. They simply can't agree to unite behind a single candidate to defeat Mitt Romney on the left (this is a very relative "left" - Romney would be extreme right in most other countries). And so, despite the fact that Romney is few people's idea of a great candidate, and mistrusted by huge swathes of Republican voters, I would at this point put money on him to win the nomination, although if one of the first few primaries throws up a clear right-wing winner who then goes on to organise and win a few more of the early-to-mid primaries then an upset is wholly possible.

Paradoxically, in many ways a strong performance by Ron Paul in Iowa would probably damage the right as he is unlikely to gain traction with the wider GOP voter base and could probably not win any more primaries after that, leaving the field open for Romney to dominate. On the other hand, if Santorum wins in Iowa then the outlook for the right is a bit better although he has very little organisation or money at present - however, there are some very loaded people out there on the right who can bankroll an 'astroturf' operation at short notice, so nothing is ruled out at present. My prediction for Iowa, for now, is for a narrow Ron Paul win which goes on to mean sweet FA in the ensuing weeks as Romney builds an unassailable delegate lead despite never looking totally convincing.

Assuming Romney does get the nomination, I would say that the November election is too close to call at present. In the end I would back Romney to win - narrowly - more due to voter fraud and deregistration shenanigans by Republican state legislatures in key swing states than for any other reason. We are entering the early stages of Banana Republic America, and the consequences for the USA - and therefore the world - may be pretty dire. If anyone except Romney gets the GOP nomination then I think Obama will win on a similar vote share to last time. Another scenario where Obama could win it would be if a well-funded Tea Party wingnut ran a 3rd party campaign - a long shot, but not impossible, given the level of mistrust of Romney as RINO (Republican In Name Only). Lastly, a Tea Party 3rd party candidate plus a far-left 4th party candidate (please stand up Bernie Sanders!) begins to make for something interesting due to the ludicrous First Past the Post winner-takes-all state-by-state electoral college system. You could conceivably end up with Ron Paul as President under that scenario... at least life wouldn't be dull. But I don't think the Left will run its own candidate this time round following the Ralph Nader/Al Gore debacle of 2000.

Lastly, the Senate and House battles are arguably more important than the Presidential race this time round. On the Senate, given that the Democrats are defending gains from 2006 which was a very strong year for them, and the current voting strength is 53-47 in favour of the Dems, they will do well to hold it at 50-50. As for the House, I don't know enough to make an estimate of that yet: I will have to bite the bullet and buy a New York Times subscription to get full access to fivethirtyeight, a free access site last time round but now part of the NYT stable.

Anyway, fun times ahead for political junkies - "Let's Rock".