Talking Politics
  • Midway through the general election campaign, both Labour and the Conservatives are changing their tactics – and it’s a triumph for voters.

    “I’m not going to talk about anything other than winning an overall majority,” David Cameron rather steadfastly insisted on BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show this morning. His actions - and those of Labour this week - suggest the alternative is exactly what both the Conservatives and Labour are focusing on.

    Back in 2010 the British electorate delivered an equivocal verdict on David Cameron and Gordon Brown’s parties. Neither were really trusted enough to rule by themselves. Voters set up a scenario where both would have to act more cautiously and carefully. Whichever ended up in power, the Tories or Labour would have to behave differently.

    In the event, not that much did change. Thanks to the Liberal Democrats’ staunch embrace of power the resulting coalition felt more like business as usual than anyone could have anticipated. That experience has defined

    Read More »from The 2015 campaign has reached its watershed moment
  • In ordinary circumstances votes, like wives, are not casually swapped around. But that appears to be changing in 2015, as a group of determinedly anti-Tory activists encourage left-leaning types to switch sides.

    The basic idea behind VoteSwap relies on the old principle of tactical voting: that voters could be persuaded to choose a party other than the one they support in order to stop their political enemy from winning.

    Normally this is a straightforward, somewhat grubby process. It is not especially healthy. It is a perversion of the democratic system. But it has the promise of being effective in preventing the hated alternative from triumphing. In Scotland, such is the enmity provoked by the SNP surge that unionists are fostering a frenzy of tactical voting ahead of May 7th.

    The prospects in England are more limited. But on the left of British politics the enemy is clear enough.

    Stopping David Cameron from spending the coming years in No 10 via tactical voting is a tough ask, though. As

    Read More »from Vote-swapping: A new way to kick the Tories out of power
  • By Professor John Street

    As with shopping malls, so it is with election campaigns. Somewhere in the background, there is a soundtrack, sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle - but always designed to programme the listener’s responses or heighten the emotion.

    Nigel Farage strode on stage early in the campaign to the sound of the Monkees’ I’m A Believer (for some reason he eschewed the opportunity to reprise Mike Read’s Ukip calypso). An example of the not-so-subtle approach, there.

    Most of the other parties have been a bit more restrained. Perhaps they’re fearful of the time, back in 2010, when the pop group Keane took umbrage at their song Everybody’s Changing being used by the Conservative party. Ukip were unlikely to get grief from the Monkees, and indeed Keane had no grounds for complaint: the song had been legally licensed (unlike the British National Party’s use of a song by the Manic Street Preachers).

    But the Tories have not always been very wise in their choice of music. They

    Read More »from This year's election soundtracks won't win many votes
  • BBC debate: Sturgeon spoke up for Scotland

    By David Torrance

    It didn’t really matter how well Nicola Sturgeon performed in last night’s opposition leaders’ debate. The Scottish first minister could have said nothing at all for an hour-and-a-half and some poll somewhere would still have shown that a majority of Scots thought she’d walked it. For the SNP leader is well liked by most voters in Scotland, and therefore she gets the benefit of the doubt.

    That said, in the splendid surroundings of the Methodist Central Hall a stone’s throw from the ‘Westminster system’ nationalists once derided and now want to play a fuller part in, the SNP leader did not need the benefit of the doubt. Sturgeon did extremely well; indeed, probably better than she had performed in the initial seven-way leaders’ debate two weeks ago.

    There had been speculation Sturgeon would get a tougher ride, Labour having learnt its lessons from two lively Scottish leaders’ debates in which the first minister was treated more like an incumbent than an insurgent. That,

    Read More »from BBC debate: Sturgeon spoke up for Scotland
  • The conventional wisdom in politics is almost always wrong and so it proved last night. Most commentators predicted that the BBC leaders’ debate would be a disaster for Miliband and an open goal for Nigel Farage. The opposite turned out to be the case.

    As the only candidate with any chance of becoming prime minister, Miliband inevitably came under fire from all sides. But rather than crumbling as many predicted, Miliband remained calm, reasoned and persuasive throughout.

    Farage’s performance on the other hand was all over the place. It started off well enough as he played the candidate “saying what you’re all thinking at home”.

    But rather than bank this camaraderie with the audience, Farage instead decided to turn on them, accusing them of “bias” against him. The huge jeers and boos that followed destroyed any good feeling that Farage might otherwise have received.

    As the debate went on, things only got worse for Farage and better for Miliband. While Farage ranted about an EU army,

    Read More »from BBC Debate: Miliband scores and Farage misses
  • ‘Believe in Britain’ states the front page of Ukip’s manifesto. Yet the truth is that Ukip do not really believe in Britain. In fact they don’t even seem to like it very much.

    At best Ukip believes in a Britain which never really existed. A Britain of bland food and pale faces. A Britain where the roads are all empty, and the voices are all English.

    Most of all they believe in a Britain where people like Nigel Farage are in control. When the Ukip leader declared that “we want our country back” he meant it quite literally.

    Ukip’s version of Britain is a mean-spirited and selfish place. It’s a country where the sick are turned away from hospitals and the world’s most destitute people are left to fend for themselves.

    At their manifesto launch yesterday, Farage was asked by a Telegraph journalist why the only black face in the document was in the section on overseas aid. The question was met with shouts of “shame” from Ukip supporters with senior figures later complaining about the

    Read More »from Nigel Farage believes in a Britain which doesn't exist
  • By Frances Brill

    Yesterday David Cameron announced an expansion of The Right to Buy. This expansion means the policy now includes housing associations. Some 1.3 million more people will be entitled to buy their social housing.

    Right to Buy was one of the most successful political strategies of the twentieth century. Granting long term council house tenants the right to buy their homes effectively converted lifelong Labour supporters to vote for Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives in the 1980s. The policy cashed in on the British homeownership fetish and meant the working classes of Britain could get on the property ladder. It forever changed the British political landscape, as Thatcher boasted to her Labour rivals. Thousands of Labour supporters would now vote for the new party of the working family: the Conservatives.

    Yesterday’s expansion builds on this. The Conservative manifesto and the speeches which accompanied it emphasised the ‘working’, the 'British’ and the 'family’. It

    Read More »from Right to Buy might win votes – but it will make the housing crisis worse
  • On the face of it, there is much for liberals to admire in the Liberal Democrat manifesto. They want to introduce a time limit for immigration detention. They want smaller, local prisons; a digital bill of rights to protect internet users against security agencies; a second freedom bill to counteract heavy-handed policing of protests and protect free speech.

    The cynical response is to ask whether they will do any of these things and it must be said that the cynical response is the most sensible one.

    For a start, these liberal issues appear almost as a footnote. Nick Clegg didn’t even mention them during his speech. He focused almost exclusive on education and mental health – both fine causes, but not specifically liberal ones. Once you access the manifesto online, the order of priorities is quite clear. Most prominent is the economy, then health, education, tax, climate change, the environment, jobs and welfare, young people, pensions and then, finally, at the end, the issues liberals

    Read More »from This manifesto shows the Lib Dems have given up on liberalism
  • The policies contained within the Green party’s manifesto are a mixture of the good, the well-intentioned, the woolly and the illiberal.

    First the popular bits. Among many other things, the Greens promise to scrap tuition fees, cancel all student debt, end all foreign wars, end NHS privatisation, nationalise rail, build 500,000 council houses, control rents, increase pensions and reverse public sector cuts.

    They also promise to do some fairly liberal and sensible things on immigration and the criminal justice system, with pledges to dramatically reduce the prison population, relax migration and refugee restrictions, and decriminalise drug use.

    But there are also some rather illiberal and paternalistic policies in there. Among other things the Greens would look at restricting horse and dog racing, impose “a complete ban on cages for hens and rabbits” in farms, a ban on all circus animals and all hunting for sport. This attraction to banning extends to culture, with a pledge to prevent the

    Read More »from Green manifesto: A mixture of the good, the well intentioned and the illiberal
  • Finally the Tories have done the right thing and targeted the aspirations of the working class. But because it is the modern Tory party, they have done so in a way which worsens the situation for everyone but a tiny group of targeted voters.

    Today’s Right to Buy proposal comes with a promise that housing associations will build to replace the homes sold off, although housing associations themselves aren’t fans and are unlikely to do as they’re told. This is a quite mad solution. It is a response to a crisis of supply which further limits supply. It is like throwing food in the bin because your child is hungry. It just doesn’t make sense, apart from in the most limited, cynical, electioneering manner.

    There are plenty of ways of targeting aspirational working class voters without worsening the situation for everyone. The most obvious is to cut their taxes. People on lower incomes are very useful recipients for tax cuts because they tend to spend money and circulate it around the system.

    Read More »from Right to Buy is a short-term solution for a short-term Tory party

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