Archive for the 'Campaigning' Category


Looking at conference rhetoric – the politics of fear and the politics of hope

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

A guest slot by CycleFree

It has become a truism that political campaigns based on fear are doomed to fail. Positive visions, hope and excitement are what we want, apparently. And there is some evidence to support this: Corbyn’s genuinely inspiring campaigning for what he has said and believed these last four (five?) decades, the increasingly desperate Remain campaign and, of course, May’s abysmal GE campaign, which wholly failed to explain why Corbyn’s choices and what they say about his character, judgment and, therefore, how he would govern would affect voters and in ways which resonated with them.

But is this entirely true? Labour’s campaigns have always stoked fears that the NHS will be destroyed if the Tories are in power. Leave’s campaign last year was based in very large part on fear of foreigners, specifically fear of Turks and young male migrants/refugees from unsavoury parts of the world. Corbyn would likely never have won as many middle class/middle aged voters as he did were it not for the latter’s fear that the Tories would take their homes and savings in old age if they fell ill, a fear skilfully exploited by Labour with the “dementia tax label. In both the latter cases, the campaign which won (the referendum or argument) was the one which best exploited people’s fears as well as presenting an appealing vision of a better way (No University Fees! Keep Your Home! Freedom from the EU!) however unachievable, superficial or lacking in detail that vision may have been or, in the case of Brexit, is now being shown as being.

And so to this week’s Labour conference. Forget the now inevitable argument about whether Labour is tackling anti-Semitism within its ranks (it isn’t and it won’t). Forget the ignorant insults aimed at a 96 year old man and his grandson (take a bow Emma Dent-Coad, MP for Kensington. That’s just what your Grenfell Towers constituents elected you for). Forget Shami making a fool of herself yet again suggesting laws one doesn’t like can be ignored. After all she is only following an earlier Baroness and Attorney-General who thought laws were only for others. Forget even Corbyn’s speech: undoubtedly well received in the hall and elsewhere.

No. The most significant thing said this week was McDonnell’s statement that the next Labour government would not be a traditional” Labour one. We would be well advised to take this statement seriously. Traditionally, Labour governments have all sought to reassure as well as be radical: reassure voters that the economy would be safe, if more fairly run, that taxes would only be on the rich, that public services would be nurtured and valued, reassure business that Labour would invest, reassure the markets that Labour would be a sensible custodian of the nation’s finances.

McDonnell’s and Corbyn’s primary aim is not to reassure, other than as a tactic. It is to change very radically Britain’s economic and political settlement. And the “run on the pound” and “war gaming” remarks are not an error. They are an indication that they intend seeing their measures through and taking whatever steps may be necessary to do so. The fact that these may be unprecedented or harmful or have unintended consequences or hurt those who have voted for them may count for little or nothing. So what might these measures be if, say, money starts flowing out of Britain the day after McDonnell gets made Chancellor? Capital controls? Temporary bank closures? Limits on how much people are allowed to take out? A tax on all savings held in banks in the UK above a certain limit? Conversion of savings into bonds or shares? Seizure of savings above a certain limit?

Alarmist? Improbable? Why? All these things happened to ordinary people in Cyprus a mere 5 years ago. Sure they happened as part of a bank bailout and were blessed by the EU and there were special circumstances: the fact that so much Russian and other “dirty” money was in Cyprus made it easier for some to justify. Still, if it happened there, it could happen here and justifications would be easy for Labour to construct. No-one loves the rich or the markets or bankers, especially if they are seen as obstructing an elected government. For the past 30 years or so, the assumption everywhere has been that you can’t or shouldn’t even try to buck the markets. But bucking the markets is exactly what Corbyn and McDonnell want to do. The Tories would do well not to underestimate both the breadth of Corbyn and McDonnell’s vision nor their determination.

If those opposed to this want to make the case for why it will be harmful, they need to start some war gaming of their own. They need to explain how such measures will affect ordinary voters now, not by reference to the 1970’s: not “the markets won’t wear it” or “remember Callaghan and the IMF” but “you won’t be able to pay for that foreign holiday or buy stuff from Amazon in Luxembourg” or 20% of the money Mum had put by for her care has been taken or “the money saved/to be given to us as a deposit for a home will be in shares you won’t be able to sell for years” or “Dad has to pay a wealth tax on his house out of his pension and can’t”. They need to start demolishing, forensically, item by item, those Labour proposals which won’t work – and only those – and they need to start making the case now.

Fear of losing what you have is a powerful motivator, as the reaction to the dementia tax showed. Fear of being made worse off is equally powerful, as the reaction to university fees and interest rates on the loans also showed. It is a key part of any effective campaign. It is not the only one, of course. It won’t necessarily win on its own. So we will have to wait and see for the Tory Conference whether the Tories are capable of attacking Labour intelligently or only each other and, more critically, whether they have any positive story to tell the country.



Corbyn keeps his shirt on in Poldark country

Monday, September 11th, 2017

Video: Footage of Jeremy Corbyn campaigning in Redruth last month.

We all know that Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t need to take his shirt off to get people singing “Ooo”. So the Labour leader was fully clad when he fetched up in Poldark country for Labour campaign rally in high summer. If he’d shown any inclination to emulate Aidan Turner’s naked sea bathing and shirtless gardening  in the BBC period drama his minders would doubtless have warned him against validating Theresa May’s bizarre comment in the General Election about “Jeremy Corbyn going alone and naked” into Brexit negotiations.

I was in Camborne because the number 39A bus from Penzance went straight past the door of our B&B. So, while the rest of the family got on with swimming and surfing, I set off to check up on Jeremy Corbyn’s “summer-campaigning blitz” in scores of Tory-held marginals.

His events team had found him a dramatic backdrop which had links to Poldark. The chimney and winding gear of a former tin and copper mine is part of the Heartlands venue  which has Unesco World Heritage Site status because of the historical importance of Cornish mining and miners, as a museum displays explains. “At one time, when tin was the most wanted metal on Earth, Cornwall and its miners ruled the world …. they’ve taught many a miner how to drill miles underground and out to sea. In short, they changed the course of engineering and mining history.”

The two and a half thousand who turned up in the sunshine to the open air rally were told by the leader he wished he’d campaigned in Cornwall in the General Election. He’ll undoubtedly be back next time.  Even without a sprinkling of  the help of Corbyn charisma the Cornish Labour registered some striking advances.

In Camborne and Redruth they pushed their vote up by nearly 20 per cent, leapfrogging the Lib Dems, and coming within 1,600 votes of gaining the Tory seat. It’s in the top thirty Labour targets needing a swing of less than 2 per cent. In neighbouring Truro and Falmouth the Labour vote shot up by 12,000, a 22% increase, making the Tories vulnerable to a swing of around 4 %. At the Camborne rally, Corbyn flanked by Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth, laid in to Tory failures in the NHS. Earlier he’d visted a hospital that is struggling to recruit staff.

Back at Westminster after his summer on the road the Labour leader is committed to a broad programme of policy development. This week he will give his backing to a significant development which has been drawn up by the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and the chair of Labour Business, Hamish Sandison.

Corbyn will urge all CLPs to appoint Business Liaison Officers in parallel with existing Trade Union Liaison Officers. He is likely to recall the key statement in Labour’s manifesto: “Labour understands that wealth creation is a collective endeavour – between workers, entrepreneurs, investors, and government. Each contributes and each must share fairly in the rewards.”

The aim, in the words of Hamish Sandison, is to show that “Labour is the natural party of business”  Labour Business is affiliated to the party as a socialist society and in a Huffington Post article the chair argued: “We are the country’s largest political party, with more than half a million members, and we almost certainly have more business people in our ranks than any other political party in Britain. Our members own or run small businesses, work in medium and large sized companies, and hold senior management positions throughout the business community.”

I believe this is a significant initiative. Demonstrating that the Tories have failed on the economy is important but it’s not enough. Labour have to show they can make the country better off — and how. A strategic partnership with businesses of all sizes is a vital part of that.

Don Brind


The chart that shows general election campaigns don’t matter (usually)

Sunday, July 16th, 2017

One of the axioms of British politics is that general election campaigns don’t matter, and the stats in the above chart by Ben Page of Ipsos MORI does back that up, with sub margin of error changes during past campaigns but the 2017 general election campaign really didn’t stick to past conventions.

The question was 2017 an outlier or the beginning of a trend? My instinct is that at the next general election campaign the Tories couldn’t run a worse campaign than 2017 even if they tried, so 2017 was an outlier of a campaign in my view, though I’m assuming neither Theresa May nor the gruesome twosome Nick Timothy & Fiona Hill will be involved in the next Tory general election campaign.



One of the architects of the worst general election campaign in history gives his thoughts on the campaign

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

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It looks like it was Labour’s ground game was crucial

Sir Lynton Crosby has spoken about the general election campaign which saw Mrs May squander David Cameron’s majority, The Guardian report that

Crosby cautioned against a simplistic analysis of the result, saying commentary had exaggerated the significance of the youth vote.

He said the failure of older voters to turn out for the election was just as significant.

The pollster also warned that the rise of third-party campaigning for Corbyn had a “significant influence” on the campaign. He made specific reference to the Momentum grassroots group, describing the trend of growing third-party campaigns, particularly from the left, as a “warning sign” for politics in Australia and the business community.

“I think that was a very important influence on the campaign,” he said.

“You can have all of the money in the world, and you can have all of the techniques in the world, but at the end of the day … you’ve got to get people out to vote, which means having people out on the ground, knocking on doors.”

I find this analysis interesting because the trend in politics across the world, including in the UK, has been away from traditional knocking on doors towards data driven micro targeting of voters. If we are returning to the traditional ways of campaigning that might be a real problem for the Tories, as they have fewer members than Labour, and that Tory members are generally much older than their Labour counterparts, all things being equal, this gives Labour a real advantage at the next general election.

Sir Lynton also observes ‘against assuming May’s leadership was over, citing the example of long-serving conservative Australian prime minister, John Howard, who was once labelled “Mr 14%” for his poor performance in the polls. “I’m not in the business of writing anyone off,” Crosby said.’ But it is difficult to take that analysis seriously because Sir Lynton thinks Mrs May ‘got a record vote’, when the reality is she didn’t.



The Tories are on the run over the public sector pay cap. So why is Don Brind frustrated by Labour’s campaign?

Monday, July 10th, 2017

There was no doubting the passion and conviction that Jeremy Corbyn brought to the Commons as he challenged the Prime Minister  over the pay cap which, he said, “causes real shortages in nursing, teaching and many other professions, as well as real hardship.” He added, “this pay cap is recklessly exploiting the good will of public servants.”

Many Tories agree, including Dr Dan Poulter MP, who is a practising doctor.  He says claims of a huge extra cost ignore the soaring bill for paying agencies to plug the gaps left by shortages of permanent staff. He fears that doctors, nurses and other staff are “properly rewarded”, they will flee the NHS in growing numbers.

So Jeremy Corbyn is winning the argument but what worries me he is deploying only part of the case for scrapping the cap. Apart from the observation that “The low-pay epidemic is a threat to our economic stability,” the Corbyn challenge to Theresa was essentially a moral one, an assertion that what the Tories was doing was unfair.

What was missing was the positive argument that pay rises for public sector workers make sound economic sense; that what’s good for public servants is good for the country as a whole.

This matters for two reasons. Firstly, Labour’s approach is easily caricatured as not being interested in workers outside the public sector, as Shadow Justice secretary Richard Burgon found when he appeared on BBC Question Time. He was harangued by a small businessman for “living in a bubble”.

Secondly, it means that Labour are missing an opportunity to deal with a long standing problem – the persistent polling leads that the Tories enjoy on economic competence.

Labour List reported last week that Labour have moved into the lead in the polls and Jeremy Corbyn’s personal score had jumped  “But May and Hammond as a team are still more trusted on the economy than Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.” The deficit is around a third of what it was at the end of last year – but the party still have some way to go to establish economic credibility.

Labour need a two-pronged attack . First of all, The current Tory disarray offers the chance to show that the Conservative claim to have created a “strong economy” ia Big Lie. The reality is that after seven years with the Tories at the helm the British economy is weak and shaky.

In a strong economy living standards rise and there are high skilled well paid jobs. Today, living standards are falling and too many are in low paid and insecure work that makes it hard for families to make ends meet. In a strong economy the NHS and education get the funds needed to cover rising costs. In this shaky economy the NHS and schools are being squeezed.

The economy is shaky because there are fundamental weaknesses which the Conservatives have failed to fix. Top of the list is the productivity gap – we lag the Germans and American by 30% in what is produced by the average worker. And new figures the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show UK productivity is back below the level it was pre-crash. We’re heading for an entire decade of stalled growth.

On top of that we don’t pay our way in the world. We have a persistent deficit of around £100 billion a year with more money flowing out than we earn from our trade. Thirdly, the Bank of England is worried about the level of household debt.

During the election around a hundred economists wrote to the Guardian supporting Labour plans to strengthen and develop the economy and ensure that its benefits are more fairly shared and sustainable, as well as being fiscally responsible and based on sound estimations.”

One of the signatories Ann Pettifor argues that a modest 3% pay rise for five million workers is easily affordable, especially since around 40% of the money would eventually find its way back to the Treasury from the workers themselves and from the enterprises where they spend their extra cash.

Kam Gill of the TUC says suppressing public sector pay has already pulled £1.8bn of spending power out of the economy and this is driving the consumer debt bubble. “Allowing wages to fall in relation to the cost of living is becoming fiscally irresponsible.”

What Tory austerity has proved is that you can’t cut your way to prosperity. You have to build it through investment in infrastructure and skills which are where the jobs of the future come from. Not only is inequality the root of many social evils it is also the enemy of innovation and economic advance. Rising inequality has caused economic instability and hampered growth.

Scrapping the pay cap is both socially just and economically sound. Over to you Jeremy

Don Brind


Cost to tax-payers of TMay’s calamitous election decision and terrible campaign: £1bn

Monday, June 26th, 2017

This gives the Tories an effective majority of 15

A deal has been done. The Tories are to be propped up in Parliament by the 10 DUP MPs who have negotiated a £1bn deal for the province.

So TMay’s party will be able to struggle on although the parliamentary arithmetic still looks tight and is nothing like as comfortable as during the 2010-2015 CON-LD coalition. We are going to see some very tight Commons votes with the opposition parties seeking to ambush the government all the time. It is not going to be comfortable being an MP.

As well as the controversial cash payment Team May has had to cut some of the manifesto commitments such as abandoning the pensior trip lock, the move against the winter fuel payment and the social care plans.

In return the DUP will support the Tories over the Queen’s Speech, in confidence motions and on budgets. The combined CON+DUP contingent is 328. My calculation is that with Sinn Fein MPs continuing their refusal to take up their seats the Tories have an effective majority of 15 for the key votes.

This should create some stability though the SNP are going to put a lot of pressure on the Scottish Tory MPs who were elected two and a half weeks ago.

The deal makes an early election much less likely which has been reflected in the betting.

Whether it secures the future of the person who created this mess for the blue team, Mrs. May, is hard to say. It was her decision to go for an election three years early and her lack of campaigning skills that lost the party its working majority.

As for where the £1bn comes from – that’s likely to be a contentious issue whenever the Tories try to bring in any cuts.

Mike Smithson


Mrs May’s extraordinary ratings honeymoon ended with the manifesto launch

Friday, May 26th, 2017

New YouGov polling just published had her dipping into negative territory

One of the striking features of TMay’s period at Number 10 is how she has maintained positive leadership ratings throughput. Whether pollsters were asking about approval, favourability, satisfaction, or whether she was doing a good or bad job all the numbers were positive from the moment she became PM last July.

That run ended in the aftermath of the launch of the controversial General Election manifesto a week last Thursday. As can be seen from the YouGov chart her net favourability ratings went negative only to recover a touch in a survey that took place following the Manchester atrocity.

The latest had her at a net plus 1 compared with minus 8% before Manchester.

The question now is which direction things will go in the final 12 days that remain before polling day?

There’s no doubt that the manifesto launch was a pivotal event.

In the meantime we are seeing the rise and rise of Mr Corbyn in the “who’d make the Best PM” ratings when compared with Mrs May.

As can be seen the number of voters ready to say he’d make the best PM has doubled since before the election was called.

One thing’s for sure – this election which appeared so certain and boring is now looking exciting. If the latest YouGov voting intentions are correct then the Tories could end up losing seats on June 8th.

Hopefully we’ll see many more polls from different firms over the weekend.

Mike Smithson


The search for the answer to Labour’s woes

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

What happens when the focus is on “knocking on doors”

John Prescott’s view that Jeremy Corbyn and his top team are “not up to the f***ing job” which earned him a “potty mouth Prescott” headline  in the Mail on Sunday won’t have come as surprise to the Labour leader.

I understand that the former deputy Prime Minister has said as much to Corbyn’s face. “You’re not a leader and you never will be while you’ve got a hole in your backside” is the former deputy Prime Minister’s (slightly bowdlerised) comment to the leader. This is despite the fact Lord Prescott backed the Corbyn’s re-election last year because he didn’t think he’d been given enough time to prove himself and his journalist son, David, is Corbyn’s speech writer.

Prescott undoubtedly speaks for the vast majority of Labour MPs and peers. What’s interesting, though, is how few are speaking out. More than one MP has said to me “I’m biting my tongue”. The word has gone round that silence is a powerful weapon in undermining the under-performing leader. One of the lessons of the second leadership contest was that criticism by MPs was counter-productive, feeding Momentum efforts to depict Corbyn as a martyr.

It means that Corbynistas have been operating in a vacuum in seeking to excuse the leader for the Copeland disaster. One of the more plausible efforts has come from Kate Osamor, the shadow International Development Secretary in a Huffington Post Interview in which she highlights the “neglect” of many safe Labour seats by long-serving MPs.

Rather than blaming Corbyn, she says, MPs should follow his example and get out on to the doorstep of how to win. “All MPs have to be knocking on doors, at least once a week, for an hour … Jeremy is out in his own constituency. He still knocks on doors”

Incidentally, Theresa May is also a great canvasser according to David Runciman in his LRB review of Rosa Prince’s biography of the Prime Minister. “Canvassing – whether in local or national elections – remains her preferred way of doing politics. Given the chance, she will still knock on doors, even now she is prime minister.”

But there is a flaw in Osamor’s “get knocking” prescription as a remedy for Labour’s woes, says London Assembly member Tom Copley.

    Most MPs are out on the doorstep regularly, which is in part how they know Jeremy is so unpopular with voters.

The point is underlined by Professor Glen O’Hara of Oxford Brookes University. He calculates that on the day Corbyn relaunched his leadership early in the New Year the Tory poll lead “was 11.8% (six-poll average). It now stands at 16.5%.”

The label “bed blocker” has been pinned on the Labour leader by David Cowling, former head of research at the BBC. The subtle point is that people become bed blockers in the NHS through no fault of their own. They are in a place they don’t want to be — but they need help to get out of their predicament. The question is who will help Jeremy escape from a job he never wanted and which is causing misery for him and his Labour “family”? John Prescott has done his bit.

Don Brind