It’s here, the much-anticipated second leader’s debate. What will happen? Will Clegg triumph again? Will Brown again posture towards the Lib-Dems or will he try to go it alone? Will Cameron finally bring up his Big Society policy, even though it has nothing to do with foreign affairs, the topic for the second debate?
Below is a brief synopsis of how I think it will go for each leader.
His star is shining bright, so there will be sky high expectations of him. Unfortunately, foreign affairs is probably the Lib-Dems worst subject. Clegg has flip-flopped on the Euro issue and now says taking on the Euro would be a mistake, but at the same time, it is there in black and white in the Lib-Dem manifesto that one day the UK should accept the Euro. Essentially, the Lib-Dems love Europe, especially Clegg. This isn’t necessarily going to go down well with some swing voters, but the question is, how many of these people are actually going to vote for the Lib-Dems anyway?
Clegg is also in an interesting position as expectations are high. Brown and especially Cameron are going to try to ground him. But all Clegg has to do is misquote Reagan again and again - “There they go again” in response to the two bigger parties’ attacks. He probably doesn’t need to answer a question other than make everyone feel sorry for the little guy. I feel this is the best option, because going on the attack and trying to be equal to Labour and the Tories on foreign policy is a mistake - because he’d lose.
If Clegg is under pressure, Cameron is under just as much if not more. He has to up his game significantly from the first debate, where he forgot to mention his key domestic policies. Problem is, foreign affairs isn’t the Tories strongest subject and they have been out of power for 13 years, so their international reputation may not be as strong as they’d like it to be.
Cameron will be hit on his ‘iron clad guarantee’ for a referendum on Europe. It obviously isn’t going to happen and there are a lot of conservatives, not party members, just conservatives, who don’t trust his Europe policies. Likewise, Brown and Clegg are both going to hammer him on the Conservative’s relationships within Europe, including his Polish partners.
His promise to keep an independent DFID and legislate a 0.7% aid budget will also come under fire from ultra-conservative voters. I know many aid groups are pleasantly surprised by this, but when you can’t secure your base, it’s not the best strategy to try to out flank your opposition from the left.
Cameron is also going to mention the Iran question, but his intervention during the green revolution was reported by some as a gaffe. The UK and the USA statements focused on a “we’re watching with interest”, because they knew public support of the protestors would enable the Iranian officials to claim the unrest was caused by UK and USA intervention. However, Cameron came out and decried the lack of support from Brown to the protestors and publically stated that the protestors had the support of the UK people. This was naive foreign policy.
Gordon Brown has relationships overseas, in fact believe it or not, he is very well-respected internationally, in 2009 he was voted world statesmen of the year and is respected overseas more than in the UK. This is his biggest trump card and needs to play it. This is hugely beneficial for issues such as the Tobin Tax, Iran, Afghanistan and the Middle East in general. Afghanistan funding will again be a weak spot due to issues such as the numbers of helicopters etc.
He also needs to be more forceful I feel. Although he performed above expectations in the last debate, I think the Iron Chancellor needs to be on the stage. Due to the lack of audience interaction, jokes don’t necessarily play well on TV due to the silence in the studio - it makes it sound like the joke has fallen flat. Brown did well confronting Cameron on the police issues in the first debate and I thought the “it’s answer time not question time”, was effective. He needs to do it again, especially on Europe.
Brown is less pro-EU that Clegg, he keeps Europe at an arm’s length, but with an open palm, not a clenched fist. This will make voters feel more comfortable.
But he still has the image problem and that will be his biggest weakness.
All-in-all, it will be a fascinating evening and I’m looking forward to seeing the polls the next day.
Recently, the Tories have been highlighting Labour’s links with the Unions, in particular Unite in a clear response to Labour’s Lord Ashcroft attacks. Without question Labour is closely connected with Unite, whose political director, Charlie Whelan happens to be a former advisor to Number 10 and was allegedly one of those who unleashed the forces of hell on Alistair Darling.
But, are the Conservatives asking for trouble by going down this road?
The Conservatives seem to think that voters will be astonished that Labour has links with the Unions. Umm, that is just the way it is and the way it has always been, it isn’t going to change and it isn’t a surprise to the public. Issue over.
The Conservatives also seem to be under the impression that this connection will outrage voters. Well, again, everyone knows Labour and the Unions are one and the same, so no outrage. However, instead of leaking a great secret, they are running a dangerous gauntlet. Sure, union power and membership is at a historic low, but there are still a lot of people who are union members and a lot still who have sympathy for them. The Conservatives have to be very, very careful that they don’t threaten these voters.
Unlike previous points in history, many of these members or sympathisers could have voted Conservative at this election, because of the uncertainty over Brown and the desire for change and the fact people realised they can think for themselves. However, how will these voters react to Cameron trashing the Unions and at the same time talking about public spending cuts and an age of austerity? People will add this up to mean Cameron will come down hard on the unions if he won, leading to less protection to workers, especially in the public sector, when the inevitable time for job cuts arrive. The threat to worker protection will make union voters run away from the Conservatives and back into the waiting arms of the Labour Party, who will always protect the unions.
Cameron today in PMQs spoke about breaking the picket line. Whether you are a member of a union or not, many many people feel uncomfortable with crossing a picket line. I do and I’m not a member of a union. It’s a call to action for the Tory base, but it will not necessarily grab the swing votes.
Ashcroft is also an issue in this. Why is this being raised? Because the Tories want to fight back against the Ashcroft scandal. By attacking Labour funding, they just allow Labour to bring back the Ashcroft issue again and again and again. The Tories think attack is the best form of defence and sometimes it is, but other times well should be left alone.
Finally, the Tories are obviously trying to hark back to the bad old days of the Winter of Discontent. But Labour supporters and the Unions haven’t forgotten what came after that Winter, their mortal enemy Margaret Thatcher. When Cameron talks about crossing picket lines, removing union power and significant cuts to public spending people’s minds will start reaching some uncomfortable connections.
Brown is suggesting that Cameron is trying to fuel the strike, rather than help it come to a resolution, this too is going to scare people, because it suggests to them, Cameron is for divisive politics, while Brown is trying to create himself as the great unifier. Will it work? Possibly not, but Brown suggests if there is a strike, it will be more the fault of the Tories than Labour. This of course is a tad ridiculous considering the Conservatives are in Opposition, but if sold well, it could stick in the minds of the public.
But how will this resolve itself? If the BA concerns are solved and the strike averted, then Brown will appear to be the great saviour. If there is still a strike, Labour will blame the Tories and maybe get away with it. It is an interesting situation and I think the Conservatives may have fallen into a trap. It will be interesting to see if they get out of it, but this is election politics for you.
I’m sure anyone who follows politics through social media may have seen or heard about the interview with David Cameron on Absolute Radio this morning, essentially making a jibe at twitter and having a good joke with Chris O’Connell on the breakfast show.
Essentially Mr Cameron was asked if he used twitter and his reply was “politicians have to think about what we say” and the instantaneous nature of twitter can lead to a problem of keeping on message and not being able to get a message across in 140 characters. This is a reasonable and legitimate argument against the use of twitter as a political engagement tool, albeit one I disagree with.
But these perfectly reasonable points led to a bit of a gaffe when Mr Cameron said “too many twits might make a twat.” Oh dear.
Funny at the time maybe and I’m sure absolutely no offence intended -he clearly didn’t call people who use twitter twats, but in the blogosphere and twitterverse, eyebrows have been raised. If you search for Cameron on the Twitter search engine today, most of the tweets are focusing on this. I personally feel it shows a lack of awarness of the medium by the Tory Leader. The fact that this message has spread well-past normal Absolute FM listeners shows the power of social media. Even if you aren’t on twitter yourself, the message is still instantaneously released as Mr Cameron found out. He has since apologised for his slip up.
It also shows an inherent lack of understanding of the medium by UK politicians generally. Tools like twitter should be used to create calls-to-action for public engagement. Examples include asking followers to come to rallies or events, calling for support on specific issues, making people aware of campaigns.
Twitter, politically speaking, isn’t just for stating what you are having for breakfast or with marked frustration, tweeting how many letters you have opened today, as one MP did I noticed, although tweets like these do personalise the user, so they should be interspersed with the calls to action.
David Cameron has announced a mid-term reshuffle that seems likely to take the Conservative Party into the next General Election.
How important will the reshuffle be to the fortunes of the Conservative Party and what is the point of them?
Reshuffles are seen by many Prime Ministers as a necessary evil and by the public as a total irrelevance.
Although this is a big issue for Westminster and the party involved, it will have little impact on a public whose knowledge of the members of the Shadow Cabinet and their positions is next to nothing and whose interest is even less.
If pressed, most people will be able to name two maybe three members of the Shadow Cabinet but beyond that they would struggle. The enlightened age, the age of online Parliament, of 24 hour news channels, of immediate news and information gathering appears to do little to improve political recognition.
Polls have shown (and let’s be kind and listen to them this one time) that reshuffles are unlikely to change the public’s views of a political party whether they are in power or not. Not really surprising when the public have little or no interest in the changes.
If the public have problems, reshuffles can cause untold damage to the parties themselves.
History is rife with resentment from those who have been dropped or those who have been overlooked and the media is always quick to rub the Prime Ministerial nose in it when yet another disaffected ex-Minister votes against the Government on a key issue.
In 1962, towards the end of his ministry Harold MacMillan felt challenged enough by the Porfumo affair to cull seven Cabinet Ministers in an attempt to freshen up his Government, in what was dubbed the night of the long knives.
Whether this would have made any difference to the result of the general election if MacMillan had stayed in charge it’s impossible to say but Prime Ministers in this situation run the risk of being accused of making the mistake of appointing the wrong people to the Cabinet in the first place.
Jeremy Thorpe, the Liberal leader said of MacMillan:
“Greater love hath no man than this, that he should lay down his friends for his life”
So, Cameron brings Ken Clarke back into front line politics.
At least the public will remember him but what effect will he have on Tory fortunes?
Clarke is 68 years old and in his own words, is “still ambitious” and that is the real test for the Conservatives - where does Clarke’s ambition place him and the party?
Clarke is certainly a heavyweight politician and a very effective performer but how much is this simply a response to the return of another political heavyweight in Peter Mandelson?
Some may see this as a panic measure - even the present economy is not bringing Gordon Brown down and how will his appointment affect Cameron’s position on Europe?
We know that Clarke will not budge on a referendum on the Lisbon treaty and that he remains implacably opposed to it but with no position needed to be taken on this by any party until after the next general election, Cameron can afford to take that chance in the short term.
He states that there are no issues likely to arise between him and Cameron this side of the election.
Well, that’s all right then.
Or is it?
The thing is, many other issues on Europe are now likely to arise, not because the Government has any desire to debate them before the election but because they wish to drive division within the Tory ranks ahead of the election to reopen old wounds and demonstrate that a divided Tory party is unfit to govern.
Will the reshuffle work? Who knows, only time will tell if it is a masterstroke or doomed by its own ambition.
So, Gordon Brown and Labour are apparently rising from the dead after the Glenrothes by-election. Pre-election favourites, the SNP, failed to pick up another seat in a Scottish constituency Labour used to think of as safe.
However, it was only a couple of months ago that we were all discussing when Gordon Brown would be replaced rather than if. After taking hit after hit in the polls, the loss of the Crew and Nantwich by-election in May and the disastrous defeat in Glasgow East, one of the safest Labour seats in Britain, Brown’s days seemed numbered.
Then came his speech at the Labour Party Conference, then the spectre of a global meltdown loomed heavily over Wall St and the City.
Without doubt, the financial crisis, has taken its toll on some members of the British Parliament. However, it has been David Cameron’s Conservatives that are on the backfoot. Brown however, seems invigorated and has even been seen to crack a smile.
Brown and Chancellor Darling’s bail out of the British Banks have been credited as the most decisive move by any Government globally and the results are beginning to show judging by the by-election result and Labour’s forward momentum in the polls.
Cameron however, has been left in Brown’s wake, is grasping at policy straws and was left seemingly helpless in the wake of the Shadow Chancellor George Osborne‘s misguided attempts to attack Lord Mandelson in what has now become the infamous Yachtgate Scandal.
Now, if I was Gordon Brown and if I was a betting man, I would be seriously thinking about calling a snap election in the spring of 2009. His poll numbers are firming, gone is Mr Bean and his Iron Chancellor persona is slowly peeking out from behind the curtain in the face of a looming recession. Most importantly, his own party appear to be no longer waiting in the shadows for the next slip-up. Nevertheless, this can only last so long.
No matter how strong Brown appears, there is a looming spectre of increased unemployment, upwards inflation, higher bills and nation wide budget cuts – not issues that make for a happy constituency and incumbent governments should be wary.
Should the election be called in 2010, Britain may only just be coming out of a recession that would have taken its toll on the voting public. If Brown calls the election soon, there may not be such a huge backlash and he may be able to benefit from his current momentum.
This is all very clearly hypothetical and as shown the dilly-dallying around the prospect of an early election in late 2007, Brown plays it safe, maybe too safe when it comes to his own fortunes.
Thankfully, I’m not a gambling man because neither is Brown.