Talking Politics
  • At this stage in the general election, arguments are dual-use. Of course, they aim to maximise votes for a party and fire-up supporters, but they also serve a second function: to manipulate public perceptions of what happens on May 8th.

    The Tories and Tory-supporting press have been on legitimacy duty for some time now. They want a pre-emptive victory. If, as expected, they are the party with the largest number of seats, they want any other party in government to be seen as illegitimate.

    Polling suggests the public is open to this message. That’s unsurprising. It seems intuitive. The party with the most seats should surely be the one which forms a government.

    But it’s false. The parliamentary system does not grant government to the party with the most seats, it grants it to the party which can command a majority in the Commons. That is not a constitutional technicality or a trick: it is a true expression of political will. If the polls stay as they are, Labour have the best case for

    Read More »from Even with fewer seats, Labour makes the best case for legitimate government
  • Our media are to blame for our boring leaders

    By Nick Smallman

    The media are making it impossible for politicians in this general election campaign. Our leaders are rushing towards mediocrity - and it’s as much the journalists’ fault as the men and women they’re reporting on.

    Our party leaders are not, by and large, a very impressive bunch. They are participating in a rush to mediocrity born of fear of journalists operating in today’s 24-hour news culture. Social media only makes it worse by creating a mob mentality. And because news is now merged with entertainment, the gaffe becomes golden.

    Parties have tried to combat this by imposing extremely tight controls on what those speaking on their behalf are allowed to say. It’s only added to the problem, though, because people are very good at detecting pre-prepared statements.

    Think of that sinking feeling when you realise the call centre guy who’s called you up is reading from a script. Viewers feel the same instinctive alienation with politicians. Voters hearing pre-prepared

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  • Nick Clegg was the unlikely winner of last night’s sort-of-but-not-really TV debate. It won’t make a blind bit of difference to his prospects, but for what it’s worth: he performed best.

    Unlike David Cameron and Ed Miliband, Clegg didn’t talk down to his audience. He didn’t try Miliband’s excruciating ‘what’s your name’ tactic, and didn’t descend to Cameron’s utterly false impersonation of what a normal person might behave like. He acted very much as one might expect him to behind closed doors. He took on the audience, sometimes really quite roughly. He wasn’t all that much easier on them than he used to be with MPs at deputy prime minister’s questions in the Commons. It was refreshing to see a political leader talk clearly, outline his arguments and actually debate the audience, rather than trot out slogans and evasions.

    There is a simple reason why Clegg is so much more adept at handling a hostile audience: he still remembers what they look like. He faces unprecedented levels of

    Read More »from Clegg was the surprise winner of the Question Time debate
  • Is it time to dump opinion polls?

    By Mark Earls

    These are busy times for opinion pollsters: elections are always the ultimate test of their ability to read the tea-leaves and - for good or ill - the pollsters love putting themselves to the test. Of course, in the past, they have sometimes got their predictions spectacularly wrong. Many old hands refer back to the 1992 election and all those ‘shy Tories’ who didn’t tell the truth about their voting intentions (or, as seems more likely, who changed their minds at the last minute). I once wrote an article whose title got me into trouble with a polling bigwig: 'Were you still up when X called it for Kerry?’ It pointed out the dangers of being approximately right and precisely wrong in predicting US elections.

    Every day it seems we get another set of poll scores from each of the big players and a feeding frenzy as pollsters, commentators, journals and spin doctors all try to pick the bones out of very small changes in the numbers they have to report to us. Indeed, what

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  • Can't buy immigrants love

    By Dr Alexandria Innes

    Even before the most recent Mediterranean migrant boat tragedies, the immigration debate has been on voters’ minds, ranking third (after the NHS and the UK economy) in a list of the most important election issues according to a recent BBC poll.

    But most of us only think of immigration in a one-sided way: the ‘us’, an uncomplicated homogenous 'British’ population; and the 'them’,  the immigrants and potential immigrants that are coming to 'steal our benefits’ / 'use our NHS’ / 'take our jobs’ / 'contribute diversity and multiculturalism’ (delete as appropriate).

    In reality, Britain is the biggest exporter of people in the European Union, according to The Guardian. Even the cost of immigrants to the NHS is vastly lower than the costs UK citizens levy on European national healthcare systems – so who are the 'health tourists’ now?

    Ah, but what about those eastern Europeans, coming here to take our jobs and scrounge off our generous benefits? That assumption ignore the

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  • When Jim Murphy became the Scottish Labour leader last year he suggested the party could hold on to every one of their seats north of the border.

    Yesterday’s Ipsos-MORI poll suggests he is on course to lose every single one.

    Later Murphy insisted he was “astonished” at how easy it was to take on the SNP. Yesterday’s poll suggests Nicola Sturgeon’s party are on course to win every single Scottish seat.

    It’s usually best to wait until a victim is declared dead before beginning the autopsy. However when it comes to the Scottish Labour party, it seems wise to get our latex gloves on now.

    The campaign run by Murphy has been complacent, uninspiring and counter-productive. Murphy’s central message - that a vote for the SNP is a vote for the Conservatives - is purely negative and gives voters zero reasons to actively back the Labour party. This strategy may have once seemed like Labour’s best chance of hanging on in Scotland, but the unavoidable fact is that it has not worked. Yet even now Murphy

    Read More »from Has any Labour leader ever run a worse campaign than Jim Murphy?
  • Ed Miliband’s decision to talk to Russell Brand is the riskiest thing anyone’s done during this election campaign. It’s the latest unpredictable event to come out of an election which started deathly dull and has become progressively more gripping with each passing day.

    David Cameron, who, like Miliband, has made the election a series of carefully stage-managed public events barred to the public he supposedly represents, called the Labour leader “a joke” for doing it. The Sun said he now led the “Monster Raving Labour Party” and the Mail ran with: “Do you really want this clown ruling us? (And, no, we don’t mean the one on the left)”.

    Miliband would surely have known that abuse was coming. And for all we know, there may be more. Labour has been noticeably wary of discussing the interview, which will be released later today on Brand’s YouTube channel. That suggests it may not have been an entirely beneficial experience for the opposition leader.

    But his decision to go speak to Brand

    Read More »from Why Miliband was right to talk to Russell Brand
  • By staff

    A crisis of legitimacy over the make-up of the next government appears to be looming as a new poll reveals half of the public don’t understand how the constitution works.

    A survey of 1,003 British adults by ComRes for Newsnight has found a majority think the next prime minister should be determined, in the event of a hung parliament, by whichever controls the largest party in the Commons.

    Only 34% agreed with the statement that the next PM should be the leader “who can form a partnership of the largest number of MPs including those from smaller parties”, compared to 55% who believe it should be the leader of the party with the most MPs.

    The latter view is at odds with the UK constitution, which determines that the prime minister is the man or woman who can command a majority in the Commons – regardless of whether or not theirs is the largest party in parliament.

    Given the widening expectation that the Tories could emerge as the largest party, but could be denied

    Read More »from Legitimacy crisis looms as public swallow Tory rhetoric
  • Today’s confirmation that Labour will end the indefinite detention of asylum seekers means the Conservatives are the only major party still supporting the policy.

    Labour first suggested it would back the campaign for a time limit on detention last month but the party’s immigration initiative today – which otherwise is full of ‘tough on immigration’ policies – confirms how the party will approach the issue.

    A Labour government would launch a consultation on the appropriate limits of detention and safeguards for detention decision-making, looking at international best practice and alternatives to detention. Probably the party will increase the requirements for asylum seekers to check in with authorities in the community in order to placate concerns about the effect of the policy.

    The recent parliamentary detention inquiry recommended that MPs implement a 28-day limit. The inquiry didn’t get a lot of press but it appears to have had a real effect. Since it reported, Labour and the Liberal

    Read More »from Two down, one to go: Tories isolated on indefinite detention of asylum seekers
  • Questioning the legitimacy of a Labour-SNP government and sketching out the draft of a Tory Queen’s Speech: it feels a lot like we’re picking up the first clues about what will happen in the critical days after May 7th. And all the indications are it won’t be very pretty.

    It’s not supposed to be like this. Election campaigns are meant to build up to the messy climax of election night, when voters set the country on a decisive course by clearly indicating their will to politicians.

    It wasn’t like that in 2010 and it’s almost certainly not going to be like that in 2015, either. Instead the real politics of deciding who gets to run the country will take place over the course of the rest of the month. The politicians have seen it coming – and today the Conservative leader is putting down a marker about what he might do if/when he falls short of winning outright control of the Commons.

    Cameron makes very clear that’s not what he’s talking about, of course. Writing for the Telegraph, he

    Read More »from Two clues to the Tories' post-election plans


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