All 7 entries tagged Elections

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September 15, 2006

Alan Johnson's Big Dilemma

Alan Johnson faces a tough decision: run for the Labour leadership and probably lose to Gordon Brown, or run for the Deputy leadership and face a tough battle with big names like Jack Straw. But the real dilemma is: if not Johnson versus Brown, then who else?

According to The Guardian today, Alan Johnson is under pressure from Blairites in the Labour Party (those that remain!) to run for the leadership. But a ‘close friend’ says he’d rather be Deputy to someone else, like Gordon Brown.

You can see why when you examine the figures from the Electoral Reform Society, which puts John McDonnell ahead of Brown and Johnson in the minds of over 200 trade unionists at the TUC Conference. Johnson has a mountain to climb with the unions, a group both key to the election of the next leader – and deputy – but also wary of Johnson who in many ways should be a natural ally.

With Jack Straw expected to declare his intention to run for the Deputy Leadership at the weekend, Alan Johnson’s position is precarious. He would be in real danger of losing both elections (like Margaret Beckett) and facing a disappointing future career in the Cabinet (or even outside).

But the real question for Alan Johnson is: if he isn’t the quasi-Blairite to run for the leadership, who will be? Perhaps Charles Clarke. Maybe John Reid. But his head is probably telling him that neither would stand much of a chance against Brown.

With the pace of the leadership election quickening by the day (I’d be surprised if someone doesn’t declare something at the weekend), Johnson is going to have to make decisions quickly or he’ll be left behind with too much ground to make up.

September 14, 2006

Clare Short: Martyr or Traitor?

Clare Short, the former Secretary for International Development and controversial Labour backbench MP, has announced she’s to stand down at the next General Election. But comments made to the Independent newspaper have got her into hot water, with the possibility that she could have the Labour whip withdrawn in Parliament.

In a newspaper article this morning, Short said that she wanted to campaign for a hung parliament, which in essence means that she wants Labour MPs to lose their seats. Always an iconoclastic figure, Short’s declaration will split the party. Some will privately congratulate her for taking a stand, but the majority will probably find her a traitor.

Saying that she had “reached a stage where I am profoundly ashamed of the government”, Short blames the electoral system for the lack of policy debate in the Labour party, and Parliament generally. She hopes that a hung parliament will bring about Proportional Representation, which isn’t exactly a guaranteed piece of logic.

Does she have a point?
In many respects, yes. Policy within the Labour Party is decided inside Number 10, and as she notes, decisions like Trident are made within a sentence that a speech Gordon Brown gives to businessmen. The definition of democracy needs to be reset to its default, rather than the sham we have at the moment. Individuals need to be re-engaged in politics, and Westminster needs to be more open.

But to follow Clare Short’s logic to its natural conclusion, her proposal of a PR-based electoral system would not increase policy discussions within the Labour Party, but would simply force the Leader of the party to discuss policy with leaders of other parties, in order to form a consensus.

Essentially, Clare Short’s wishes look set to bring about policy-making by a slightly wider clique than at present. Secret meetings between Gordon Brown and David Cameron would take Britain to war, decide policy and set the budget. It would result in ineffective governments where mandates would mean very little and the permanent state of governance would be one of compromise.

So while she has a point about the failures of New Labour, her hopes for the future are dangerously misguided and will simply recreate the current faux-democracy under a different guise.

Traitor or Martyr?
Now Short has admitted that she would like to see a hung parliament (where no one party holds a majority) she could easily find the Labour whip withdrawn. This would effectively banish her from the Parliamentary Labour Party. But more damaging is the potential for her to be banished from the Party as an ordinary member, leaving her as an independent.

Given Short’s career trajectory, I wouldn’t be surprised if she wanted to be an independent. But she won’t want to make that decision on her own: she will want to go as a martyr, slain by Blair and Brown, and subsequently given sympathy by those on the Left of the Labour Party who’ve gritted their teeth through 12 years of New Labour.

The real danger for her is that members of the Labour Party could be less fickle than she imagines. It’s more than possible that they will consider a traitor, no longer welcome in the Party. This is not what she will want, but given her unpredictable behaviour and tendency to go against the grain, may be what happens.

July 27, 2006

Lib Dems' poll ratings take a battering

According to an ICM/Guardian poll out today:

The most obvious observation is that people who supported the Lib Dems over the Iraq War are drifting back to the two major parties again following what has been a disastrous year and quiet few months for Ming Campbell.

But here's some other thoughts:

  • Labour is clearly banking on their new leader (assume it to be Brown) to take the lead back from the Conservatives when they take power. I think this strategy's a bit risky and Brown ought to be setting out his stall already, even if he's not in Number 10. There's a danger that he won't have long enough to impress the public before he's forced to call an election. Plus, he's about as charasmatic as cabbage soup, so needs all the help he can get.

  • Labour's rise (up 3%) also suggests that voters are forgiving the government for the many problems they've got themselves into recently. This raises the question of whether people care about or understand the cash–for–honours scandal. Until it directly smacks Blair in the face, I'm not sure voters will fully associate it with the government.

  • The Conservatives are continuing to do well under Cameron, although he still hasn't had much to do so far. When he starts talking about substantive policy issues people might see him as a turn–off. So far they've only heard him talk about bicycles, underwear and solar power.

  • Ming is doomed. While extremely competent with the Lib Dems' foreign affairs brief, he's clearly not got the right skills to lead the party on other issues. If the Conservatives can do well while not talking about policy, how come the Lib Dems are finding the exact opposite happening to them?

  • The Conservatives think they need 40% of the vote in order to get a majority. With Labour likely to receive a boost under their new leader, Cameron will know he hasn't done enough yet to avoid the possibility of a hung parliament.

  • Overall, there's cause of optimism here for the Tories and Labour. But the Lib Dems have got a problem. If they lose seats at the next election, which looks likely given how close the other two parties are likely to be, then they could enter a decade of soul–searching which could cripple the party.

May 03, 2006

Dave: "this election's about local people!

Jimmy-The-B reckons I'm part of a Conservative conspiracy and so I hope this entry (which is incidentally about the Tories) will serve as a response to such nonsense!

Dave Cameron has just been on BBC News 24 saying:

'some' people have chosen to make this election about judging the government, but I don't want to do that… it's about local people…

Yes Dave, that's why your face is all over the Party Political Broadcast you put out this week and the local elections have been all about your pet topic, 'the environment' which is unlikely to be the main issue locally. And now you're going on about immigration. So stop telling me this is about 'local people' – you can't resist the chance to get your mug on the telly!

(that do it, Jimmy?)

April 17, 2006


Damien Green, the Conservative MP, is on BBC News 24 at the moment speaking about the apparent rise of the BNP in the local elections. But rather than take a united multilateral stance on the racist idiots, he seems to be using the story for personal gain.

He reckons that the BNP are doing well in Labour-dominated areas, because of the failings of local Labour-governed councils.

Wrong. The BNP are doing well in those constituencies because the Conservatives are so completely out of the electoral equation there that there is room for the BNP to compete! A BNP voter is much more likely to have something in common with traditional Conservatives than with the Labour councils which Green blames for the BNP's rise.

Regardless, he seemed very petty to be trying to make political capital out of the situation which is bad news for all parties.

March 29, 2006

If not loans, then what?

Predictably, the loans for lordships scandal rumbles on… The Electoral Commission says party activities may have been illegal and the police are investigating the matter.

This messy affair highlights the need for a new system of party funding, almost certainly funded by the state. Many argue that the taxpayer won't be willing to fund this sort of thing, but I'd ask two questions:

1) why?
2) couldn't elections become cheaper as a result?

The first one is pretty simple. The exchequer spends small (i.e. less than £20m) on loads of things that we never hear about. I'm sure grasshoppers and genital warts have both received more than that in government funding over the years. And surely a healthy democracy, freed from the over-representation of 'rich people' is worth paying for?

Secondly, if expenditure on elections (and most likely, party's running costs too) comes from the public purse, isn't it far easier to put a cap on spending? For instance, do political parties really require thousands of billboards up and down the country, which serve only to make Mr Saatchi richer? They may not be perfect, but at least Party Political Broadcasts are cheap. Couldn't they be increased and expanded into other media?

Similarly, if public service broadcasters are given more explicit roles in promoting the agendas of the main parties, wouldn't that have a far greater effect? By telling the BBC and ITV that they have to host x amount of debate/analysis on the election issues (i.e. not the personalities), wouldn't the public gain more?

It's possible to see this loans for lordships fiasco as an opportunity, not just for reforming the House of Lords, but also as a way of reforming democracy in this country. It's a shame that we can't adopt a laissez-faire approach to participation, but isn't a bit of activism on this front a good thing?

March 11, 2006

One Presidency, $100m starting price

Writing about web page

You wouldn't know it, but the 2008 US Presidential Race has already begun. True, it didn't have the same fanfare as the start of the F1 season, but at least it's set to be a 2005-style season with a wide open field, rather than a 2000-2004-style dead cert. Oh, and uncharismatic Europeans need not even apply. Sorry Arnie.

But is the race really a wide open field? Or are some of the competitors actually on a bit of a downward slope with the wind behind them?

The 2008 election will be one of the more interesting ones in the past twenty years. Firstly, there's no incumbent, and no wannabe-incumbent. Dick 'Shooter' Cheney is well out of the race – a more implausible candidate for Prez than Leo McGarry in the West Wing was for VP.

Dick Morris, Clinton's campaign strategist has already indicated (in a money-spinning book) that he thinks we'll see Clinton vs Condi, although Ms Rice has indicated she has no intention of running, probably because her domestic policy expertise is second only to Daffy Duck.

And Clinton herself is no certainty either – Southern America despises her for various reasons, almost all to do with her husband, making wins in California and Florida less likely – and Liberal America isn't enough to get her to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

But Clinton has one thing on her side which makes her candidacy far more likely: money.

Essentially, her campaign to get back into the Senate this year is more of a front for a national campaign next year. Her fundraising capability is second-to-none and she has many influential friends – not all of them Democrat. In the Senate she's backed a number of bills which have been proposed by Republicans, and she's positioned herself as a pragmatist rather than ideologically attached to everything her party dictates.

And now the Chairman of the Federal Election Commission has told candidates to fill their wallets: they'll need $100m just to get through the primaries. That's $100m simply to persuade their own supporters to vote for them.

The Republicans aren't too worried by this figure – they have a number of very rich supporters who Bush has gently caressed over the past six years with policies designed to keep them pretty happy. Senator John McCain would appear to be a frontrunner for the Republicans – considered to be more moderate than Bush, he and Clinton have co-operated on a number of policies while on Capitol Hill. And quietly, he and other potential candidates have been getting supporters on side, particularly those who demonstrated their fundraising abilities for Bush in 2004.

But what does this mean for American Democracy? It's easy to say that money can buy you power, but we need to remember that the Presidential candidates themselves aren't necessarily rich (although it helps). They just have rich friends.

One real criticism of the process is the way that such inflated prices for running enforce the two-party system in the US. A third party is almost certainly out of the running immediately, and an independent candidate would have to be someone with access to Bill Gates in order to stand a chance at gaining even a single state.

The two-party system hasn't done America many favours over the past decades, just as it hasn't been very beneficial to the UK. It encourages disputes to be based on historical arguments that the parties have always been divided on, rather than contemporary issues. It also stereotypes Republicans and Democrats alike. We know that Democrats like big government and high taxes, and that Republicans like the opposite. But this is a caricature of reality: George Bush has actually proven himself to be a 'big-government' guy, but because he's a Republican, no-one seems to mind.

The money issue also leads to charges of corruption. The system whereby the state funds election campaigns was brought in after Watergate to seperate big-business from high-politics. But this system is optional: getting government money places restrictions on how much candidates can spend, and in 2008 there's no sign that candidates will want to hold back.

The ever-present danger is that certain interests will gain more influence than others, and which interests gain influence depends on who is elected. Hollywood and Liberal New Yorkers are highly likely to support the Democrats, but the 2004 election proved that big-business is also likely to support the Democrats too. The Republicans' advantage comes from rich individuals, often tied to the oil industry, or simply friends of the candidate.

What's clear is that the 2008 election will see ridiculous sums of money being spent on a campaign where the two parties try as hard as possible to be seen as different, when sometimes they've got a fair amount in common. But what's less obvious is where the money's going to come from, and what strings will be attached to the winner.

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