Following the news that Britain has entered the dreaded double-dip recession, those who support the coalition’s austerity policy say that this is just a “technical” recession, as growth is bound to happen in the next quarter.
However, even if does – which is by no means certain – we are still faced with the grim fact that this current recovery is proving to be the slowest in history – slower even than the one that followed the 1929 Great Depression.
The main reason is, simply put, that Britain’s economic model – based on an inflated housing market, ever rising consumer debts and freewheeling financial services – is broken. It is unable to re-generate growth even four years after the financial crash, and is unlikely to do so for at least another couple of years.
The bankruptcy of the existing model has prompted talk of “rebalancing” the economy through the revival of the manufacturing sector. Even the chancellor, George Osborne – not known for his love of industry – talks of the need for a “march of the makers”. Unfortunately, after three decades of relentless de-industrialisation, Britain’s manufacturing base is hopelessly weakened, and its revival is going to be a long, hard slog.
Some people have found solace in the fact – brought to attention by Peter Mandelson – that Britain is still the sixth largest manufacturer in the world. But this is essentially on account of Britain having one of the largest populations among the rich countries. In terms of per capita manufacturing output, a more accurate indicator of a country’s prowess, Britain ranks only about 20th – behind even Luxembourg and Iceland, not to mention South Korea and Taiwan.
The weakness of British manufacturing is most clearly illustrated by the inability of the country to generate trade surplus despite the large devaluation of sterling since the 2008 crisis. Compared to the peak in 2007, the pound has lost 15% against the euro, 20% against the US dollar, and a whopping 40% against the Japanese yen. In other countries, devaluation of this magnitude would have generated a massive manufacturing export boom; but in Britain there simply isn’t a big enough manufacturing base that can take advantage.
Despite all this, the government’s approach to renewing the sector is to repeat the same old, failed strategy of cutting (personal and corporate) taxes and “red tape”. The theory behind it is that wealthy people and corporations need to be given more incentives to invest and create jobs by making it easier for them to do business (deregulation) and to keep more of the income they generate through their businesses (tax cuts). If only it were that simple.
Those who think taxes are hindrances to business do not realise that taxes do not just take but also give resources to the potential investors. With taxes, the government can (and does) provide benefits that all businesses need but are unable to provide individually, except at prohibitive costs – infrastructure, skilled workers, basic research and development, export marketing (for smaller firms) and so on. The fact that “wealth creators” do not rush to open business in Jamaica, with its 5% top personal income tax rate, or Albania, with a 10% corporate tax rate, shows that the crucial question is how a government spends its taxes, not how much it taxes.
Would-be red tape cutters believe that the more regulations there are, the less investment there will be. However, regulation is only a minor factor in investment decisions. Things like growth prospects, technological progress, quality of labour force and infrastructure are far more important. The truth is that, if there is money to be made, businessmen will invest regardless of the level of regulations. This is why the 299 permits that were needed to open a factory in South Korea in the early 1990s did not prevent the country from investing 35% of its income and growing at 10% per year at the time.
More importantly, many regulations are there to help business as a whole by restricting what individual firms can do. For example, in the 19th century regulation on child labour may have harmed those firms that used it, but benefited British business as a whole by ultimately making the labour force healthier and more educated. Likewise, regulations on environmental pollution or on excessive bank lending have long-term collective benefits, even if they may hurt individual firms or banks in the short run.
Instead of cutting taxes and regulation and hoping for the best, Britain needs a coherent industrial strategy, covering areas such as infrastructural development, support for research and development, skills and training, government procurement, and help for small- and medium-sized enterprises. In the British context, the strategy also has to involve reform of the City of London. Ways have to be found to reduce the short-termism prevalent in the City and enable more investments oriented to the long term, vital for the revival of manufacturing. Pay restraint in the City is also necessary, not simply for the sake of equality but also to prevent the financial sector from depriving the manufacturing sector of talented scientists and engineers.
Without completely rebuilding its economic model, the future of the British economy is bleak. The coalition government has to face up to that fact.
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The British National party’s candidate for mayor of Liverpool has been arrested on suspicion of faking signatures on his nomination papers.
Mike Whitby, who is on Thursday’s ballot paper for the directly-elected post, was held by police at his home in north Wales.
Detectives arrived at the house at 7.30am but the candidate refused to co-operate and officer were unable to detain him until around six hours later.
Merseyside police were questioning him over alleged electoral fraud by making false statements and faking signatures on nomination election papers.
A complaint was made to police following an investigation by the Liverpool Echo newspaper, which reported alleged irregularities in his nomination papers.
A BNP spokesman said Whitby denies the allegations and stands by the names on his nomination form.
He added: “Mike and his wife went to every single one of those people and explained who he was and what he stands for. What we have here is a newspaper trying to scupper an election campaign.”
A total of 12 candidates are standing for mayor in Liverpool this Thursday, including Labour leader Joe Anderson and Lib Dem Richard Kemp.
Tony Caldeira is the Conservative candidate. Steve Radford from the Liberal party and John Coyne for the Green party are also standing.
The London mayor, Boris Johnson, has marked the last week of election campaigning with an expletive-laden tirade, accusing a senior BBC journalist of talking “fucking bollocks” on a lunchtime TV bulletin.
His outburst took place as the latest YouGov poll showed he remains ahead of his Labour rival, Ken Livingstone, by four percentage points, up from a narrow margin of two in a survey published by the same pollster a week ago.
Johnson, who was campaigning on Monday morning ahead of the final husting of the campaign held later in the day, went on the offensive after being questioned over his attempts to secure commercial deals with News International while the Metropolitan police were investigating the company over phone hacking.
The outburst came less than a month after the Conservative candidate came under fire for calling Livingstone a “fucking liar” in a lift after a row over their respective tax arrangements.
Tim Donovan, the BBC London political editor, has been investigating attempts by Johnson – who was chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority when Scotland Yard was looking into News International – to get NI to sponsor the cable car in east London and a school academy. No deal was eventually done.
After being pressed about it on Monday, Johnson told the BBC: “I don’t know of any discussions going on about that but what I can tell you is that I think it’s right to work with the private sector to get contributions that will be for the benefit of London.
“I’m very proud that over the last four years we’ve got more than £100m in sponsorship that I’ve raised for this city: £50m for the bikes, £36m for the cable car. You’ve got to get this on the air! Come on, this is the most important thing. Stuff Donovan and his fucking bollocks.”
Johnson’s decision to swear in public seems at odds with his insistence that swearing at a police officer should be a criminal offence. His office did not return calls when asked if he was planning to apologise.
Johnson sent his deputy mayor, Kit Malthouse, to take questions from Donovan on the Sunday Politics show. It was claimed that Johnson could not take part because it clashed with a pre-arranged private event. However, the mayor was seen campaigning in Wimbledon and Kingston at the time the TV interview was on air.
The former journalist, who has been criticised for ditching a weekly mayoral press conference begun under Livingstone’s tenure, has said he will instead introduce a monthly “Twitter mayor” question and answer session with Londoners to increase his accountability and to ensure “Londoners can trust their mayor”.
Johnson will unveil the final sections of his manifesto on Tuesday with just two polling days to go. He sent an open letter outlining his plans for the capital to Londoners on Monday evening, the same day he received the endorsement of the London Evening Standard. In a swipe at Livingstone, he wrote: “I want to take London forwards – not back to the 1970s”.
The latest YouGov poll for the London Evening Standard puts Johnson on 44% support, Livingstone on 41% and Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick on 6% on first preference votes in an election conducted under the supplementary vote system. The Conservative candidate’s lead over Livingstone widens slightly (52% – 48%) when other candidates are stripped out in the second round. Johnson is outpolling the Conservative party in London, which in turn is trailing 16 percentage points behind Labour. Livingstone has consistently trailed behind his party over the past few weeks.
The Labour candidate, who has pledged to cut fares by 7% later this year if elected, was campaigning in South London on Monday with party leader, Ed Miliband. It was the second time in three days they had sought to get out the Labour vote in a race they have cast as a choice between “Labour and Tory values”.
Tony Travers, director of the Greater London Group at the London School of Economics, said the latest YouGov findings were ideal for both sides so close to polling day.
“For both Ken and for Boris the poll sends a very powerful message to Londoners to come out and vote because for Ken there is still an opportunity to win and for Boris it says it is not in the bag. There is still every reason to fight for the last vote because it may in the end come down to a win by a tiny margin.”
In the final 48 hours of campaigning, Livingstone will demand that Johnson set out how much Londoners will pay in fares if he retains the mayoralty.
While campaigning in north London on Tuesday, he will say: “For months the Conservative candidate has dodged answering questions on the cost of fares under the Tories if he won. Today I’m calling on him to publish his secret fares plan.
“There are just two days before the mayoral election. Londoners have a right to know how much the Tory mayor intends to increase their bus, tube, tram and train fares. We need answers now.”
The home secretary is under fire for failing to comply with a high court order to bring an asylum seeker who is in hiding in Azerbaijan back to Britain.
The Border Agency forcibly removed the man, a Turkish national, from the UK in March despite a court order being issued before he boarded the plane preventing officials from deporting him. His lawyers had argued he should not be removed because he wanted to claim asylum but had not been allowed to do so.
After the order was breached, Mr Justice Singh issued a second order to Theresa May to “use her best endeavours” to find the man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, and bring him back to the UK.
However, the home secretary has returned to the high court and asked Mr Justice Lloyd Jones to set aside the order. The request was rejected and May now has to ensure the man is brought back to the UK. It is rare for orders to be granted by the court calling for people who have been forcibly removed from the UK to be returned and even rarer for the home secretary not to comply with them.
Mr Justice Singh stated that he was “very concerned” the government had failed to comply with his order.
In the court documents a senior UK Border Agency official admitted: “It is regrettable that the claimant was removed in spite of a court order preventing removal.”
The 37-year-old Turkish asylum seeker arrived in the UK on 13 March and claimed asylum, complaining of persecution in Turkey. He said he was a human rights activist and had been jailed and tortured in Turkey because of his activities. After he was forcibly removed from the UK back to Turkey he claims he was arrested, detained for three days and mistreated by the Turkish authorities. After his release he fled to Azerbaijan where he is in hiding and is said to be in fear for his life if he is returned to Turkey.
In a statement, his solicitor, James Packer of Duncan Lewis, said his client was threatened and blackmailed and subjected to psychological pressure to withdraw his asylum claim soon after he lodged it on arrival at Stansted airport. He was asked to sign a document withdrawing his asylum claim. He did so but then said he was confused about what he had been told to sign and tried to lodge his asylum claim once more.
“He signed this document under pressure of threat of detention,” said Packer. “I made it quite clear to UKBA that my client did want to claim asylum. They were at best obstructive and refused to listen. They seemed determined to remove him in any event.”
Mr Justice Lloyd Jones said: “Serious allegations have been made about the conduct of officers of the Border Agency which to my mind require investigation by the court.”
A UK Border Agency spokesperson said: “We are disappointed that this man has won the right to have his asylum claim heard in the UK, despite choosing to leave the country voluntarily. We will now consider his claim carefully before making a decision as to whether he requires international protection.”
An incandescent David Cameron was forced by the Speaker, John Bercow, to come to the Commons to explain why he was not launching an immediate inquiry into allegations that his culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, breached the ministerial code over his handling of the News Corp bid for BSkyB.
It was the first time in 10 years that the Speaker has ordered a prime minister to come to the Commons, and Cameron had to cut short a local election campaign trip in Buckinghamshire to make a statement he believed was largely unnecessary.
Sources close to Hunt accused Bercow of being “rotten with bias”, adding that he “should not be Speaker”.
As tempers frayed Cameron rounded on the Labour leader, Ed Miliband. “Endlessly questioning the integrity of someone when you do not have the evidence is bad judgment, rotten politics and plain wrong. We have learned something about the Labour leader today and I think it is something he will regret,” Cameron said.
At another point he advised 81-year-old Dennis Skinner to get his pension.
Miliband said: “The prime minister is defending the indefensible, and he knows it. He is protecting the culture secretary’s job while up and down the country hundreds of thousands are losing theirs.”
Cameron again insisted it was better for Hunt’s handling of the BSkyB bid to be examined under oath in public by the Leveson inquiry, rather than by the independent adviser on the ministerial code, Sir Alex Allan. It was being suggested by government sources that Allan privately agrees with Cameron’s judgment, but the Cabinet Office refused to let Allan speak to the media.
By the end of a one-hour statement that generated more heat than light, it did emerge that Cameron came to his current view that Hunt had not breached the ministerial code on the basis of the culture secretary’s verbal assurances, and without seeing any written evidence.
At a private meeting last Tuesday, Hunt assured Cameron and the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, that he had not been aware that his special adviser, Adam Smith, was systematically leaking information and advice to News Corp about its bid for BSkyB.
There is also doubt that the culture department centrally retains any correspondence between Hunt and Smith, who was forced to resign. That could mean any exchange between the two will have to be found on Hunt’s private email.
No 10 confirmed that the prime minister is not entitled to see any of the evidence submitted to the Leveson inquiry by Hunt as Cameron is also a witness to the inquiry.
Downing Street conceded that Cameron has now invested personal political credibility in Hunt’s innocence and that he would feel let down if evidence emerged to contradict Hunt’s account.
In the Commons, Cameron, angry both at the Speaker John Bercow for calling him to the Commons and with Miliband for challenging his political integrity, accused Labour of self-serving double standards
What a strange, almost hallucinatory time it has been. At home, we have been coping with the death of my father, Jack Ashley, while watching the extraordinary turmoil at the Leveson inquiry. Amid the blur of kind letters and emails, not to mention 9,000 sympathetic messages on Twitter, I’ve been thinking hard about one political life, and what it meant; and I hope readers will forgive me if I try to use it as a prism through which to analyse the current political crisis.
In a few short months, Lord Justice Leveson has moved on from phone hacking to the wider story of relations between the Tory-led government and the Murdoch empire; and the wider-still issues of the proper, or improper, relationship between the media in general and the political class. David Cameron denies a grand deal or bargain – media support from Murdoch in return for business favours – but polling strongly suggests the public have decided that this lot, at least, are no longer on their side.
My father’s career as a Labour MP, and then a peer, will always be intertwined with how he coped with sudden total deafness when newly elected, in 1967. But his campaigning for more than four decades was full of more general, and urgent, lessons for today’s politicians. And one of them was the right way to deal with journalists.
For it was, after all, a sometime Murdoch newspaper editor with whom he formed a crucial alliance in his most famous campaign, to win compensation for Thalidomide-damaged children from the Distillers Company. In the early 1970s, my father and Harry Evans of the Sunday Times worked together, using parliament, the courts and public opinion to win a long and bitter battle. He would always tell us the real heroes were the families themselves – and remind us that the battle to support the nearly 500 people born with horrific disabilities isn’t over yet.
Yet this remains a classic example of what can happen when politicians and journalists work together. Evans is still one of the best examples of an old-fashioned campaigning journalist who turned his paper into a prime forum for harassing the smug and powerful, and trying to right wrongs on behalf of the relatively powerless. And what happened when his paper, and its sister, were taken over by a certain Rupert Murdoch? Soon afterwards, Evans was pushed out of the Times’s editorial chair in a row over proprietorial interference; Evans demolished Murdoch’s account of this in the Guardian last week.
My father worked with a lot of journalists, along with pressure groups and charities, on a lot of campaigns – to change the laws on disability, the treatment of rape victims, to help vaccine-damaged children, victims of army bullying and of domestic abuse, and many more. He was a charismatic man, and found good reporters and editors to work with in many different organisations. But the problem is that once proprietors are dealing in a regular, close way with prime ministers, their papers are inherently less likely to challenge power, to rage and fight, and therefore to stand up for those who need them most.
It has only recently been revealed that Murdoch held a secret meeting with Margaret Thatcher ahead of his 1981 takeover of the Times and the Sunday Times. That set a powerful precedent: to be a successful leader in this country, you had to do your deal with the greatest media boss of all. Following Thatcher, Blair, Brown and Cameron all did the same; and what we are seeing at Leveson is the unwinding of the consequences of all this.
We should never forget that without the Milly Dowler phone-hacking story, and the relentless pursuit by a Guardian journalist – ridiculed and vilified at the time – all this subterranean dealing would have remained hidden, and I bet that the Murdoch family would have got everything they’d wanted.
But my larger worry, going back to my father’s career, is that it’s almost impossible to have effective parliamentary politics – that is, challenging, probing, campaigning politics – on behalf of outsiders, if the media is a smug insiders’ club. We need a vigorous, plural, independent media or our politics dies too.
And one reason for public suspicion is that, as compared to the Britain of the 70s where Dad fought his key early campaigns, today’s Britain seems much more of a stitched-up country, where the wealthiest and most powerful are in perpetual collusion. This is, unavoidably, about class as well as character. Why did Dad connect so readily to people at the bottom of the heap, in desperate trouble, and why was he so contemptuous of the business bosses and judges he thought stopped them getting justice? It is, of course, a result of the long years he spent as an unskilled labourer working in chemical and copper factories, and before that his childhood in a tiny, leaking house, with no hot water or inside toilet.
He got his break through a trade union scholarship to Ruskin College, Oxford, even though he had left school at 14. Now we’re told that Labour’s union link is outrageous and corrupt; but what other organisations help get working-class people into parliament? We need a Commons that reflects the country, with a far greater range of backgrounds than today’s – as Neil O’Brien argues on the opposite page – just as we need a genuinely independent media. With strong journalism and MPs who understand what it’s like to struggle, backbenchers really can change people’s lives for the better. Without them, parliament starts to feel like a fig leaf for things-as-they-are – and if that seems too alarmist, look at the polling right now.
It isn’t all bleak, of course. Parliament may have far too few working-class members, but for now it does have a strong group of independent-minded backbenchers, across all parties. And there must be a chance that online journalists and campaigners will fill the gap left by newspapers in thrall to commercial interests, and the terrible cull of local journalism. That, of course, would require more than a day of Twitter trending, or flash-mob enthusiasm: good campaigning means digging, patience, and consistency.
My father’s life showed that MPs do not operate in a parliamentary vacuum. They need to work with networks outside – and this includes good journalists, who don’t have to look over their shoulders at proprietors, or worry about their editors’ chummy chats with ministers. The Leveson inquiry isn’t about criminality, or one minister, or even one proprietor: it’s really about what kind of democracy we still have.
Boris Johnson turned down an invitation to be interviewed yesterday by the London section of the BBC’s flagship Sunday Politics show, despite his only serious rival for the mayoralty Ken Livingstone appearing last week and Brian Paddick and Jenny Jones previously. Why? According to Kit Malthouse, Boris’s deputy for policing, who substituted for the mayor, Boris couldn’t make it because of a “long-standing engagement that he had to do this morning.” Malthouse claimed that BBC London had been told this in March.
Malthouse also described it as, “a private engagement this morning,” but didn’t say what time in the morning. However, Twitter has enabled us to learn what Boris was doing during the period when the Sunday Politics show was broadcast.
Boriswatch has pulled together links from a series of tweets posted by people relaying sightings of Boris on the streets of south west London campaigning. The first of these tweets was launched at 11:42 a.m. and the last at 1:27 p.m. The Sunday Politics began at noon and the London section containing the live interview with Malthouse at 12:30 pm – slap bang in the middle of the time range in which the tweets occurred.
Here are the tweets in chronological order of posting, complete with links.
11:42 a.m.: “Boris Johnson campaigning outside Wimbledon station with his entourage,” wrote @paulwildthing.
11:50 a.m.: “Boris Johnson is in wimbledon having Maccy D’s. Classy guy,” wrote @hairymonkeyboy.
11:52 a.m.: “Boris Johnson just shook my hand whilst I was eating chicken curry in Wimbledon,” wrote @Awkward_Ostrich. This tweet his a photo of Boris too.
11:52 a.m.: “Boris fucking Johnson is following me around Wimbledon,” reported @angrypickin.
12:06 p.m.: @DarkBeige posts a photo of Boris with the message: “Boris Johnson, Wimbledon shopping centre.”
So that’s five sightings in Wimbledon. By the time the last of these was posted, The Sunday Politics national show had begun. What did Boris do next? Well, just as his deputy Malthouse was getting settled in the studio to take questions from BBC London’s political editor Tim Donovan on his boss’s behalf from 12.30, Boris appears to have been making his way from Wimbledon to the Bentall shopping centre in nearby Kingston.
1.16 p.m.: “Boris stops traffic in Kingston’s Bentalls Centre!,” cried @CharlotteV, with photograph to prove it.
1:21 p.m.: “Just spotted Boris Johnson while shopping (obviously!) in Kingston,” reported @DebbieDresses
1.25 p.m.: Another photograph of Boris is accompanied by the words, “Boris Johnson is here in Bentalls Kingston,” from @najeebster
1:27 p.m.: “Just walked past boris Johnson in Kingston,” revealed @Redkez.
1:33 p.m.: “Just bumped into Boris Johnson in Kingston,” tweeted @caroline_evans
Malthouse, remember, spoke of Boris having a “private engagement” during the morning. Boris’s activities in Wimbledon and then Kingston were plainly anything but private. It seems fair to assume, therefore, that said “private engagement” finished early enough for Boris to have been at Wimbledon station at or before the time of his first tweet mentioning him being there, which was made at 11:42.
So what was stopping Boris from being at Millbank, Westminster, where the Sunday Politics interview took place in time for a 12:30 start if he’d really wanted to be? Even if his “private engagement” had been completed as late as, say, 11:30 somewhere very adjacent to Wimbledon station he could probably still have made it. Any earlier or nearer and it would have been easy.
It seems from those tweets that the reported “private engagement” almost certainly did not clash with the Sunday Politics interview slot. If so, what is the real reason Boris did not do it?
I think it perfectly reasonable for prominent politicians to have private engagements and wrong of journalists to believe such politicians should be always at their beck and call. But to decline to accept scrutiny of your record in office by the most authoritative programme on London politics on television four days before seeking re-election when it appears that your schedule could have allowed it, strikes me as deeply unsatisfactory.
Yes, I’m minding my language here.
You can watch Boris’s deputy defending Boris’s record here, from 30 minutes in.
The real political changes of the past 25 years or so have not taken place at general elections, but within the political parties.
First, there was the destruction of â€˜Old Labourâ€™ in the early 1980s by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and the Labour Co-ordinating Committee. These bodies, using such tactics as mandatory reselection, got rid of or drove into the SDP many Labour MPs who were morally and socially conservative. At national level, left-wing factions in the big trades unions, marshalled by the Communist partyâ€™s skilled and well-connected industrial organisation, won victories on policy (particularly defence and foreign policy) out of all proportion to the number of Communists and Communist sympathisers in the union movement.
So, in the years following Jim Callaghanâ€™s general election defeat in 1979, the Labour Party was transformed, permanently, from top to bottom. Much of this was the work of Communist sympathisers, who had since the days of Lenin supported Labour â€˜as the rope supports the hanged manâ€™, and encouraged sympathisers to join Labour and stay out of the CP, the better to penetrate the Labour Party at the highest and lowest levels. Much less was the work of various kinds of Trotyskyists, but the media were obsessed with the insignificant role of the â€˜Militant Tendencyâ€™ a front organisation and code name for tiny Trotskyist sect called the Revolutionary Socialist League, mainly concentrated in Liverpool. A major Communist Party, of the kind which operated in France and Italy, was not what Lenin and the Comintern wanted. They had long sought to take over the Labour Party instead.
Old labour knew all about this, and the partyâ€™s organisation until the 1970s was well-trained in detecting and frustrating Communist party infiltration. William Rodgersâ€™s Campaign for Democratic Socialism successfully defeated attempts to win Labour for the (pro-Soviet) cause of unilateral nuclear disarmamament. Ex-Communists, such as the Electriciansâ€™ Union leader Frank Chapple (he left over the crushing of the Hungarian uprising in 1956) had no illusions at all about the CPâ€™s methods and fought them without mercy (the CP never forgave him for exposing pro-Communist ballot-rigging in the union).
But these forces were weakening by the early 1980s, and the New Left of the CLPD and the LCC bypassed the old defences. There were also the new â€˜Euro-Communistsâ€™, of â€˜Marxism Todayâ€™, Communist Party members who had forsaken the rigid Stalinism of the old party and argued instead for a flexible, post Soviet, Gramscian approach â€“ cultural and social revolution, not Bolshevism. Some of the cleverer Trotskyists had found their way to the same place. These became the nucleus of Blairism, which was never â€˜Right-Wingâ€™ at all. Labourâ€™s Right Wing was by then completely dead. The New Left were bitterly hostile to the noisier, less subtle Trotskyists (such as Militant) and were happy to see Militant crushed by Neil Kinnock, a victory for the classical, subtle left over the radical, honest left. Fleet Street, in its usual idiotic way, portrayed Neil Kinnockâ€™s crushing of Militant as the end of the Left in the Labour Party. This ludicrous myth, the opposite of the truth, is still widely believed. Ha ha. Actually, the whole of British politics would as a result shift decisively to the Left as a result.
The transformation of the Tory Party was less intentional. By bypassing the party organisation, wooing big donors and using the Murdoch Press and Saatchis to appeal directly to the electorate, and by creating a â€˜leaderâ€™ who was a national semi-Presidential figure, Mrs Thatcher and her allies created a vacuum where traditional Toryism had been. The party machine atrophied. The power and significance of the leader hugely increased. But if the leader was weak, he was vulnerable. John Major became the prisoner of Michael Heseltine because of his weakness.
As for the even weaker Iain Duncan Smith, it was astonishingly easy for the media to ally with Michael Howard to overthrow IDS . Mr Howard then began a process of centralising the party, and delayed the election of his success for long enough to give David Cameron the edge over David Davis, which he would never have done in a quick contest, and – as exemplified by his action against Howard Flight for remarks made at a private meeting â€“ sought to end the control which local associations had over candidate selection.
Now we see (as reported in â€˜The Guardianâ€™ on Monday 30th April) that a group of Tory MPs have magically teamed up to remove old-fashioned, traditional Tory MPs, such as Christopher Chope and Peter Bone, from the leadership of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers.
As the Guardianâ€™s Nicholas Watt puts it: â€˜A conversation among a couple of colleagues mushroomed into the 301 Group â€“ the number of parliamentary seats needed to secure a majority in the next parliament â€“ which attracted 135 Tory MPs to a meeting in January.
â€˜The group will on Monday show it is reshaping the Conservative parliamentary party when it takes the distinctly un-Tory step of publishing a slate of candidates for the elections to the executive of the 1922 committee. Candidates of all ages and intakes will be put forward to modernise the “antique” backbench committee, which has a hierarchical structure whereby new MPs have to defer to longer-serving colleagues in the weekly meetings.
â€˜ “Quite often, certainly senior members of the 1922 have seen the prime minister and the government as the opposition,” says Hopkins, who is driving the changes but is not standing for election. “That is not the way to go about it. They should be challenged.â€™
Or, as I might put it, the remaining conservatives in the Conservative Party are to be marginalised.
Will the voters notice? Some will, but millions, I fear, will continue to vote for a party that hates them, just as millions of Labour voters have been doing since the 1980s. And the enxt general election like the last four, will be a non-contest among parties which have no serious differences among them.
DUE TO TECHNICAL ERROR, FIRST THOUGHTS WAS LATE PUBLISHING.
The bin Laden killing, one year later – how quickly things change … Republicans cry foul that Obama campaign is using the death as a reelection weapon … Foreign policy vs. the economy (it’s still the economy) … Is Obama the Warrior in Chief? … Another veep tryout – this time it’s Romney with New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte. … Gingrich to drop out Wednesday.
Believe it or not, tomorrow marks a year since Osama bin Laden was killed. We wrote then: “While it’s doubtful that Osama bin Laden’s death will have as long of a political impact [as 9/11] — especially in this fast-changing, short-term memory media landscape — it will surely shape the contours of next year’s presidential race. … Last night changes everything (for now), but we also know how quickly it can dissipate.” And dissipate it did. The president’s bump – for something that was as big a singular accomplishment that any president could have — was short-lived, because of the economy and the debt-ceiling fight. It’s a reminder of just how important the economy is that the bump was never as big as it would have been under normal circumstances. (By the way, NBC’s Rock Center went inside the decision making of the killing of bin Laden. Brian Williams previewed his interview with the president on Meet the Press. The full show, with interviews of others that were in the room) airs Wednesday at 9:00 pm ET.
Caption: NBC’s Domenico Montanaro discusses the politics of the one year anniversary of the Osama Bin Laden raid, and New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte gets a look as a possible vice president for Mitt Romney.
*** Playing politics: Republicans are crying foul at the Obama campaign’s touting of the killing (and using it in a campaign video charging that Mitt Romney might not have made the same call. There are two lines of attack: (1) Republicans are trying to minimize the accomplishment, saying anyone would have done it; and (2) They say he’s politicizing everything, including foreign policy. Ed Gillespie, an adviser to the Romney campaign and former Bush adviser said on Meet the Press: “This is one of the reasons President Obama has become one of the most divisive presidents in American history. He took something that was a unifying event … and he’s managed to turn it into a divisive, partisan, political attack. … I think most Americans will see it as a sign of a desperate campaign.” It’s fascinating to watch Democrats try to demagogue foreign policy, the way Republicans do and have done over the years (see Cheney, Dick in 2004). Republicans usually find themselves almost overreacting when Democrats go over the top in their foreign policy attacks. Count on some REALLY heated cable and Twitter rhetoric this week on this topic as the run-up to the bin Laden anniversary kicks in.
Saul Loeb / AFP – Getty Images
President Barack Obama speaks to troops at Third Infantry Division Headquarters at Fort Stewart in Hinesville, Georgia, on April 27, 2012, prior to Obama signing an Executive Order to protect them from deceptive targeting by educational institutions.
*** Warrior in Chief? The Romney campaign has pushed the issue of foreign policy, trying to paint Obama as weak and appeasing (especially when it comes to Iran). The GOP would have liked to paint the picture of Obama as a feckless, weak president, lacking strength. But despite the rhetoric, Obama’s foreign policy has been incredibly muscular. In fact, Peter Bergen of the New America Foundation in the New York Times Sunday Review provocatively casts President Obama as the “Warrior in chief,” ticking off several of Obama’s foreign-policy raids, killings, and use of drones. The death of bin Laden undercut any hopes Republicans had of being able to paint Obama as Jimmy Carter. And he makes the point of this disconnect: “Despite countervailing evidence, most conservatives view the president as some kind of peacenik. From both the right and left, there has been a continuing, dramatic cognitive disconnect between Mr. Obama’s record and the public perception of his leadership….” Make no mistake, had it failed, that’s exactly how he would have been portrayed. Bergen writes that if Romney runs a risk when criticizing Obama on foreign policy. If he tries to portray him as “a typical, weak-on-national-security Democrat,” then “he will very likely trap himself into calling for a war with Iran, which many Americans oppose.”
*** McCain as top foreign-policy attack dog: Taking the lead on the attack, though, is Sen. John McCain, Obama’s 2008 opponent (who also believes Obama hasn’t had courage to act in Syria). McCain, now a Romney surrogate, said Obama’s “diminishing the memory of September 11th,” and accused him of “doing a shameless end-zone dance.” It’s a fine line. McCain clearly doesn’t mind playing this role. He says things Romney couldn’t get away with and it’s something that’s quite beneficial to Romney. If Romney said what McCain did, Romney might get ridiculed. It’s an interesting role that McCain is willing to play. It could be a preview of the role McCain might play going forward in the campaign — traditional role of VP, but on foreign policy. McCain doesn’t mind going personal with Obama, as he’s demonstrated since 2008. You can try to explain away McCain’s motives all you want, but it could be oddly effective for Romney.
USA Today’s Susan Page, The Washington Post’s Dan Balz, and The Chicago Tribune’s Clarence Page discuss the Romney campaign’s accusation that President Obama is politicizing the death of Osama Bin Laden.
*** STILL THE ECONOMY: But for all the talk of foreign policy and how much credit Obama deserves or whether or how he should be touting it, the most important issue this election – as it was a year ago — remains the economy. It should be like a flashing red sign – IT’S THE ECONOMY, IT’S THE ECONOMY. Jobs will get a fresh look Friday when the latest report comes out. The unemployment rate has been essentially flat for three months. Even though the rate has come down from a high of 10.0%, if the rate continues to appear not to drop very much or the trajectory seems flat, that is going to be a problem for the incumbent president. Watch the trajectory; it will tell you the whole ballgame.
*** Another veep tryout: Today’s another veep tryout with Romney and New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte at 10:50 am ET. Though she’s been a senator for just two years, Ayotte served as New Hampshire’s attorney general (she was appointed by Republican Craig Benson in 2003 and RE-appointed by a Democratic governor). The Republican Party’s problems with women have been well documented over the last few months. If Romney is going to pick a woman, the most serious candidate is likely Ayotte. That is, aside from Condoleezza Rice if she wants it, and there’s no indication she does. But the shadow of Palin still looms large over the GOP pick, and the Romney team may be more risk averse because of it. But as GOP 12’s Heinze wrote last week: “Sarah Palin didn’t prove that picking a woman doesn’t help with women. Palin was simply the wrong woman.” (By the way, over the weekend, NBC’s Alex Moe reported that Newt Gingrich would officially drop out Wednesday.)
*** Obama fundraises with Clinton: There were a couple striking things at the fundraiser with President Clinton this weekend at the home of Terry McAuliffe: (1) How little Romney was mentioned. After a weekend and week of going after Romney personally, last night was more in line with where the Obama campaign was when this campaign first started — go after the entire GOP. It was more the theme of — they want to take you back, it’s their failed economic policies on steroids, not the party of Abe Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt; it’s not their Republican Party. (2) This was not an ordinary Obama fundraiser speech. Here, he was trying to follow one of the Democratic Party’s best economic communicators. Obama knew he was on friendly turf, but not the friendliest turf, as he was trying to appeal to Clinton people. One Democratic source who is more of a member of Team Clinton than Team Obama described last night as kind of like a “first date” between Clinton and Obama; For the first time, this person could actually see the two of them starting to bond; It took a while for Clinton to get over 2008 but so far, things have gone well in this courtship. Two more Obama-Clinton fundraisers to go; New York and PROBABLY Hollywood.
*** A way to bring up Seamus: Don’t overlook the fact that the White House used the opportunity of the White House Correspondents Dinner — when they knew they’d get lighter coverage for what they did – put a story that they’ve struggled to put into the mainstream, quietly trying to do for months, the Seamus story. It was frankly a way to get Seamus out there. Yes, Obama made fun of himself and eating dog, but they’ll take that to get the Seamus story mainlined; They’ve been trying for months.
** Waiting on Lugar’s fate: There are just eight days until the Indiana Senate primary that could see the ouster of the most senior Republican in the Senate. AP today wonders whether Richard Lugar waited too long to brand his opponent. On Friday, the 2008 GOP presidential ticket split its endorsement – John McCain endorsed Lugar; Sarah Palin endorsed his challenger and Tea Party favorite, state Treasurer Richard Mourdock. Mitt Romney said he was staying out of it. A poll aligned with Mourdock showed him up 44-39% Thursday. The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette headline: “Hundreds cheer Mourdock at city rally.” The rally was organized by Tea Party Express, which has played a big role in this race.
Countdown to Indiana Senate/Wisconsin recall primaries: 8
Countdown to Wisconsin recall election: 36
Countdown to Election Day: 190 days