Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Different Labour, no longer New Labour

A large amount of Ed Miliband's speech today could have been given by David Cameron, and even more of the speech could have been given by Nick Clegg. The new Labour leader wanted to show that he is very different to the past few leaders of his party.

The Iraq War, the removal of civil liberties, mass emigration, even how to combat the deficit, Ed Miliband said that the Labour government had been wrong. He was trying to show that under his leadership, Labour will be a very different party to the one that lost the election last May (even though it was Ed Miliband who wrote the 2010 Labour manifesto).

Although there was a lot of criticism of the Prime Minister, which was expected, there was nothing about the Deputy PM. Perhaps Ed Miliband is thinking of a future coalition government of his own - or maybe he'd like to gain the support of those Liberal Democratic voters who feel disillusioned with their party's union with the Conservatives. At the general election, the Conservatives received 36% of the vote, Labour had 29% and the Liberal Democrats 23%. The most recent poll showed the Conservatives at 39%, Labour in the lead at 40% and the Liberal Democrats down to just 12%. In order to become Prime Minister, Ed Miliband will have to keep those Liberal Democratic voters who have switched to Labour.

The speech itself was good, but Ed Miliband is not yet as good an orator as Tony Blair, President Obama or David Cameron. However, such skills often come with time. The wounds in the Miliband family, caused by the leadership election, will probably heal with time as well.

All the indications are that David Miliband will not seek election to the Shadow Cabinet, and thus leave frontline politics. So there will be no Miliband equivalent of the Blair-Brown rivalry on the Labour frontbench, and from now on when I say 'Mr. Miliband' I shall be refereeing to Ed.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

The Miliband age has begun

So, Ed Miliband, MP for Doncaster North, is the new Leader of the Labour party, beating his own brother by just 1.3% in the last round of voting. It will take some time to get used to Mr. Miliband and see how his leadership will affect the party.

One thing I noticed was David Miliband, who looked devastated. He led the vote in every round except the last when he was overtaken by his younger sibling. Speculation about a Ed-David split in the party has already begun, but Ed Miliband can take some comfort from a look at recent history. At the height of Gordon Brown's unpopularity, David Miliband was given the opportunity to challenge Mr. Brown for the leadership on three occasions, and he was never able to go through with it. On that record, it seems unlikely he'll find the courage to unseat his own brother.

So Ed Miliband is the Leader of the Labour party and the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, but is he also the next Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury?

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Which Mr. Miliband?

After a four month campaign, the Labour leadership election is over. As of 5pm today, the polls have closed. Of course, we won't know the actual result until 5pm on Saturday, but at least the candidates can now rest without worrying about missing a hustings or a canvassing opportunity.

So, who will win? Well, if Diane Abbott, Ed Balls or Andy Burnham wins it will be seen as a major upset. If Diane Abbott gets it there is a strong possibility of a civil war inside the Labour party between the left wing (which includes Ms. Abbott) and the right wing (which is the majority of Labour MPs). Ed Balls will be able to keep the party together (his somewhat stern reputation will see to that) but he has a similar problem to Brown in that the public don't warm to him.

Andy Burnham is an unknown. He will appeal in northern voters, but he looks young and innocent (although so did Tony Blair when he became Labour leader in 1994). David Cameron should fear Mr. Burnham as Labour leader. In politics, figures who come from nowhere tend to win elections (Barack Obama, Tony Blair, David Cameron are good examples of this).

Speculation about the hypothetical leaderships of Abbott, Balls and Burnham are interesting, but it would be extraordinary for the winner not to be called 'Mr. Miliband'. Which 'Mr. Miliband', of course, is a matter of debate.

This leadership election has been given a unique dynamic due to the fact that the two frontrunners are sibling. This dynamic is unlikely to end when the result is announced on Saturday, it will have a great influence on the leadership of the eventual winner. The loser will almost certainly stand for the Shadow Cabinet, which will be led by their brother. The Blair-Brown rivalry influenced the Labour party and the country for over a decade. I wonder what influence will a Miliband-Miliband rivalry have?

Monday, 20 September 2010

The fear of power

You may have thought that after 65 years out of power, the Liberal Democrats would be excited about having government ministers address their conference and putting Liberal Democrat policy into effect. However, the ordinary Liberal Democrat members are uneasy, and not just because they are in coalition with the Conservatives. After so long without it, power can be very frightening.

I should point out that to say the Liberal Democrats have been out of government since 1945 is somewhat inaccurate. The Liberal Democrats as a political party have only existed since 1988, before then they were two parties, the Liberal party (which used to formed governments in the 19th and early 20th centuries) and the Social Democratic party (which split from the Labour party in 1981). So, although the Liberals haven't been in government since the coalition during the Second World War, the Social Democrats were technically in power as part of Labour in the 1970s.

However, the membership of the Liberal Democrats is very different from the party itself. This is true of most political parties, but the Liberal Democrat members are a particularly interesting group. Unkindly described as "sandal-wearing" or "tree-huggers", in general they are dramatically to the left of their party leadership and the rest of the country. For most of them, being in power is a very strange experience, and in such a difficult time, with such a large deficit to deal with, many Liberal Democrat members are wondering if being in government is such a good thing.

Today Nick Clegg (David Cameron's Deputy Prime Minister) tried to convince his party membership that the coalition was a good thing. He was very careful not to sound triumphalism, but instead asked the party to trust that what he was doing is 'right for Britain'. Whether the Liberal Democrats will continue to follow their leader when the spending cuts begin will only be known at next year's conference.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Fun at the conference!

Conference season is here again, and there's always something of interest at this point in the political calendar, though normally it's one of the party leaders in some form of difficulty. However this year is interesting for very different reasons.

Next week is the Liberal Democrat conference which in previous years has been described as narcolepsy inducing, but this time the keynote speakers will be members of the government. Nick Clegg will give his traditional leader's speech as Deputy Prime Minister and Conservative MPs will be welcomed! Who would have predicted that a year ago?

Then, on Saturday 25th, the Labour party will begin by finally announcing the result of their leadership election. This is probably the most important moment of this year's conference season. The next leader of the Labour party will have an enormous influence on British politics in the next few years. The really exciting thing is, no one knows who the next leader will be!!

After the Labour conference, it's the Conservatives' turn with David Cameron's first conference speech as Prime Minister.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Beyond Blighty: Is a strong Tea party good for the Democrats?

The Democrats in the United States unveiled their new logo today, perhaps in a hope to reenergise the brand after being damaged from two years in power. It had looked like the midterms in November, which elect all of the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate, would be an unhappy time for the Democratic party, but recent primary results have given some hope to the party of President Obama.

Tea Party candidates have won the Republican nominations in several Senate and Congressional seats currently held by the Democrats which the Republicans had hoped to win this November. However, the Tea Party candidates, although able to galvanise the far-right, look unelectable when put before the general public (according to the polls).

In order to regain power, a party must move to the centre. This is true of parties, both left and right, in all countries of the world. However, the Republican voters (if not the Republican leadership) are moving to the right.

This trend can best be seen in the fortunes of Sarah Palin, the former Governor of Alaska and John McCain's 2008 running mate, who has come to personify the Tea Party movement. It's almost certain that she will announce her candidacy for President early next year and, if the strength of the Tea Party continues, she has a very good chance of getting the Republican nomination for the 2012 Presidential election. Governor Palin is extraordinarily popular with the right wing of American politics, but she is truly terrifying to Democrats, independents and even moderate Republicans.

The Tea Party came into being as the American right's response to President Obama's left wing policies. It would be ironic if the strength of the Tea Party led to President Obama securing a second term in the White House.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

PMQs and a correction

Back in July I said that Harriet Harman had appeared for the last time at PMQs as Leader of the Opposition. I must now correct that statement as she will appear two more times (next week and the week after). This is because Parliament is back early as the Coalition wants to get on with their legislative programme. However, Harriet Harman will not appear today, as the Prime Minister is in France with his Father, who is unwell.

This means that the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, will be answering questions for the government and Jack Strew will ask questions on behalf of the opposition.

I am guessing that Nick Clegg will be regretting the decision to call Parliament back three weeks early as I predict Labour will bring up the Andy Coulson affair a few thousand times. I think the next hours are going to be a bit tricky for Mr. Clegg.


Well, the Andy Coulson affair did come up, though the session was more sombre than normal due to the news of the PM's father.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

The start of a new term

During the summer holidays, as you might expect, not much was happening in the political world. It all changed this week though as the coming of September has brought with it about a month's worth of stories in a week.

Probably one of the biggest stories was the release of Tony Blair's memoirs. They were surprisingly frank, and showed that the rivalry between Blair and Brown (know by Downing Street civil servants as 'the TB-GBs') was a lot worse than most people thought. Also, Mr. Blair likes George W. Bush and still thinks the invasion of Iraq was right – what a shock!

Ballot papers for the leadership election started going out this week. What influence Blair's book and the memories of the Blair/Brown relationship will have on the leadership election will only be known with the result on 25th September.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Secretary commented on allegations on the internet that he was gay and in a relationship with an aid with whom he'd shared a hotel room during the election campaign. William Hague categorically denied ever having been in a relationship with any man and stated that he and his wife are happily married, despite having recently suffered the tragedy of a miscarriage. There have been rumours about Mr. Hague's sexuality for years, but only on the political blogs and he has never been talked about in the mainstream media before. It just goes to show, don't trust what you read on blogs!!

For the second time in 12 months, UKIP is electing a new leader. This week Nigel Farage announced his candidacy. Mr. Farage has been leader before, but he resigned last year in order to focus on fighting the constituency of Buckingham in the general election. Nigel Farage is the best known member of UKIP and the leadership election is his to lose.

The Communications Director at No. 10, Andy Coulson (David Cameron's Alastair Campbell) has been on the wrong side of the headlines in recent days. Before working for Mr. Cameron, Andy Coulson was editor of the News of the World during the phone hacking scandal when the newspaper logged into the private voicemail of politicians and celebrities. This week, John Prescott has been calling for a judicial review into the affair, and specifically Mr. Coulson's role in it. I wonder whether Lord Prescott would be doing this if Andy Coulson was working for Labour instead of the Coalition.

And finally, the Camerons have brought their new daughter to Downing Street for the first time. The only question the proud parents would answer was "Is she keeping you awake?" To which Mrs. Cameron replied "Oh yes". I'm not sure a sleep deprived Prime Minister is not the best thing for the country.

So much news in just seven days, and Parliament isn't even back yet!!