Tory dodgy economic message won’t last forever

2015-Budget-Announcement

Three weeks ago the Tories got themselves re-elected, this time as a majority Government, in large part based on a misrepresentation of a very dodgy economic record. In 2010 George Osborne promised to eliminate the structural deficit by 2015, and to protect the UK’s triple A credit rating. He failed on both counts, yet somehow the Tories got elected on the basis of a record for economic competence.

That says an awful lot about the team Labour were offering: Ed Miliband and Ed Balls were Gordon Brown’s advisors in the Treasury when key decisions were taken, and the Tories ruthlessly exploited that. Labour should remember that when considering making Andy Burnham, who was in charge of public spending control in the run up to the world financial crash, their next leader.

One of the big problems the Tories seem to have is in confusing debt and deficit. The Prime Minister has done it a number of times. They had to be rebuked by the National Statistics office. Yet yesterday they were at it again.

You would, however, rather hope that Her Majesty’s Treasury would understand the difference between debt and deficit. Yet yesterday the Treasury Press Office issued a press release claiming that the Chancellor’s statement in the House of Commons had “announced £4½ billion of new measures which will bring down public debt this year.”

Yet it won’t. The public debt this year will grow. By more than £70 billion. Yes, the sale of the Government’s remaining stake in Royal Mail will raise cash which the Government can use to pay off some public sector debt. Other asset sales will also reduce debt. But the majority of the £4½ billion will come from savings cuts this year – some £3 billion. That merely reduces the deficit, which will have a negligible effect on the debt (a lower deficit does mean that the debt goes up more slowly).

On Wednesday the Prime Minister patronised a newly elected Labour MP who asked the question Labour should have been asking for the last five years – when will the UK regain its triple A credit rating? Cat Smith MP (Lancaster & Fleetwood) didn’t get an answer to her question – the PM said: “I welcome the hon. Lady to her place and congratulate her on her election success. The first question she asks is about fiscal responsibility and sustainability. I take that as a sign of progress. I would say to her: there is a leadership election on, throw your hat in the ring. In that one question she has made more sense than all the rest of them put together—go for it!”

Cameron has been accused of patronising her as part of his “women problem” but the real reason he chose to patronise her was part of his “economic problem”. He has no idea when – or if – the UK will ever get that credit rating back, and he only has a rough idea when the deficit will be “eliminated”.

Thousands converge on Downing Street to protest Tory victory

Fuck Tory Scum

Protestors took to the streets today outside Downing Street, to protest against the outcome of the General Election, and against austerity.

In an act of irony, they took to twitter using the hashtag #occupydemocracy. They clearly have no understanding of what democracy means.

Yes, it is outrageous that our electoral system allows a party that gets 37% of the vote to form a majority Government. But I don’t think that’s what has upset them – instead it is that the TORIES form the Government.

Why do I say this? Well apart from Laurie Penny defending the vandalism of a memorial to the Women of World War Two – on the very day we celebrate Victory in Europe – it is because these protestors didn’t take to the streets in 2005 when Labour won a majority of 66 seats on just 35.2% of the vote.

Cull the ToriesIf your objection is the first past the post system – which was confirmed as the country’s preferred electoral system just four years ago in a referendum when 67.9% of the voters decided not to change – then go and protest First Past the Post. But when you’re carrying “Cull The Tories” signs and scrawling “Fuck Tory Scum” on war memorials I don’t think your objection is first past the post – it is that your preferred party wasn’t preferred by the other voters.

As for austerity, both UKIP and the Tories pledged to stick to Treasury deficit reduction targets. Between them they got more than half of the votes cast in this election. Given Labour also pledged to reduce the deficit, as did the Northern Irish Unionist parties, and at least one Independent, you’ve lost that argument too.

So to those on the streets screaming “fascist pig filth” at the police, and their supporters on twitter, tucked up quietly in their middle class homes away from the reality of the demonstration, I really have nothing to say.

Unpredictable? Anyone who says they know what’s happening is lying.

Less than three weeks to go until polling day and this is still one of the most unpredictable elections anyone can remember. Indeed Ed Balls quipped, on a visit to Ipswich yesterday, that even when people were wrong in the past, they were collectively wrong. Wilson was incorrectly expected to win in 1970. Kinnock likewise in 1992. Cameron was expected to get a majority in 2010.

Anyone who tells you they know what will happen in this election is lying. But what we can do is start to predict individual seats. There are some really exciting changes happening, which will make election night one of tears of joy and anguish.

Here are my tips for seats that will – or won’t – change hands unexpectedly.

Castle Point – The Tories have held Castle Point for every election since 1983, with the exception of 1997 when Labour took the seat for four short years. Bob Spink quit the Tories in 2008 and briefly joined UKIP, before resigning the whip and sitting as an independent MP. He lost to Tory Rebecca Harris in 2010. Yet UKIP’s Jamie Huntman might well be on course to become a UKIP MP, in what has suddenly become a close fight between the Tories and UKIP. UKIP gain.

Harlow – This seat is a classic bell weather seat. Labour hold it when they are in Government, the Tories when they’re in power. In 2010 Robert Halfon won the seat from Bill Rammell and many expected it to go back to Labour in this election. But Mr Halfon has been an outspoken and populist MP and privately some Labour officials have conceded that they’ve lost Harlow. Tory hold.

Norwich South – In 2010 the Liberal Democrats narrowly beat sitting Labour MP Charles Clarke, leaving Norwich unrepresented by a Labour MP for the first time in decades. However in a defining example of the dangers of coalition for the junior partner, the Liberal Democrat candidate Simon Wright is likely to come third – or even fourth – in his defence of his seat. This seat is a competitive race between former BBC journalist Clive Lewis for Labour and the Green Party’s Lesley Grahame. It’s apparently very tight, but I suspect that Labour will have done enough here. Labour gain.

Clacton – There is a rule in politics that personal votes are rarely worth more than a handful of votes. Clacton is the seat that proves that every rule has an exception. Douglas Carswell won this seat with 53% of the vote as a Tory in 2010. He then won the seat in a by-election he caused to become UKIP’s first elected MP – with 59% of the vote. Everyone else has given up on this seat, and it would be a massive shock for Mr Carswell not to be returned as the next MP for Clacton – a shock akin to David Cameron losing his Witney seat to the National Health Alliance party. UKIP hold.

Rochester – I’ve heard rumours that there are Tories at Conservative Campaign Headquarters who are so angry with Mark Reckless that they’d be happy to have lost the General Election to a Labour majority, so long as Mark Reckless lost his seat. The Tories have flung everything they have at this seat, and with UKIP unable to maintain the by-election atmosphere they had six months ago, Rochester Castle is likely to be breached. Tory gain.

Finchley & Golders Green – Most of this seat is an approximate successor to the seat that Baroness Thatcher represented for 33 years – yet in 1997 it went red. Labour’s Rudi Vis held the seat from 1997 to 2010, when Mike Freer won with a healthy majority. Yet a shock poll by Lord Ashcroft this week puts Mr Freer 2% behind his Labour opponent Sarah Sackman. Since the poll was carried out over Passover, it is likely flawed, and it would be a huge shock for Labour to have overturned a 12% majority. Because of this poll, and because it was Maggie Thatcher’s seat, expect the media to be shocked that Mike Freer holds on. Tory hold.

7 Leaders Debate will make no difference in the end

So David Cameron’s chicken run – insisting on 7 participants in the Leader’s Debate – has been proven to be sound and sensible tactics for the Tory leader.

What do you do if you are stuck facing a debate you cannot win but you cannot get out of? You engineer it so that so many people are taking part, your opponent can’t win either. Then you refuse to engage and allow the smaller parties to beat your opponent up because he can’t avoid taking on every question.

So it proved last night, as David Cameron faced six other party leaders but no actual scrutiny. Ed Miliband again exceeded expectations by failing to fall flat on his face, and was only trounced on the exceeding expectations front by Natalie Bennett; after her interview last month she pretty much just had to prove she could remember her name.

Yet it was Nigel Farage and Nicola Sturgeon who were proclaimed the winners of the debate. I’m not so sure. Nicola Sturgeon undoubtedly won the Scottish election and has put serious pressure on both Jim Murphy and Ed Miliband – without Scotland, Mr Miliband stands little chance of entering Downing Street on his own, and if Labour are nearly wiped out there, Jim Murphy will struggle to survive as Scottish Labour leader, despite the fact he has only just taken over and cannot really be blamed for failing to prevent the catastrophe of someone else’s making.

But Nigel Farage was borderline racist, and made some truly vile statements. It may be true that two thirds of patients who happen to be HIV positive are immigrants. So what. The UK has a history of tolerance and fairness, a cultural desire to stick up for the underdog. There won’t be many voters who want to see people who are HIV positive sent back to countries where anti-retroviral drugs are simply not available. That’s a death sentence.

Mr Farage no doubt solidified his base support – around 12% of the electorate – but I doubt he made the real breakthrough he needed to make to get above 15-20% and win more than five or six seats. Indeed, for me, he has gone from a right wing Tory to someone who has seriously flawed ideas who should never be allowed to represent this country. The country I love does not turn its back on the sick just because of an accident of their birth.

All seven of the politicians were full of hypocrisy – Miliband attacked Cameron for failing to take enough measures against tax avoidance, and for representing millionaires, despite his own election as leader being funded by a hedge fund millionaire and despite having helped his Mum avoid inheritance tax. Farage hilariously attacked people who went to private schools for dominating politics. That would be Nigel Farage, alumni of Dulwich College.

Nick Clegg attacked the Tories as though he hadn’t just spent five years in Government with them, and the Green Party’s Australian leader Natalie Bennett attacked all the main parties over their stance on immigration – it is wrong to keep people out, she says. I don’t know enough about Scottish or Welsh politics to immediately identify the porkers that Sturgeon and Leanne Wood made, though I am sure they existed. Leanne Wood, leader of Plaid Cymru, the Party of Wales, said she spoke for the Welsh people, yet Plaid Cymru is the fourth most popular political party in Wales…

In short, Cameron avoided a stumble, Miliband avoided a stumble and Clegg got out almost unscathed. As expected (and as in 2010) the higher TV profile helped the smaller parties – Leanne Wood was unlikely to be a household name even in the kitchens of political nerds – but in the end I doubt the debate will have changed many votes. Polling suggests many people are still yet to make up their minds, so this morning it will be back to the campaign trail for the various political candidates.

Miliband turns out not to be such a millstone for Labour

So last night we had the first election “debate” between David Cameron and Ed Miliband. Miliband won the toss and decided to go second, meaning Cameron faced Jeremy Paxman, then a town hall style debate compered by Kay Burley. Then Miliband faced the town hall, followed by his own interview with Paxo.

My instinctive reaction afterwards was that Ed Miliband had won. While Cameron hadn’t put a foot wrong, and provided a polished and smooth performance, it came across as a little too polished and smooth. Where was the passion? Where was the man who felt he was fighting an election he could win?

The contrast with Miliband was stark. He came out of the blocks swinging, and knocked down a number of highly personal questions – such as whether his brother should have been the leader. As much as many socialists on Twitter felt that his filial relations are irrelevant, they have become so ingrained with his public profile that the reaction to Ed on the doorstep has been an issue for Labour; Ed? Oh yes, he’s the one who stabbed his brother in the back. That isn’t a public profile that persuades people to vote for him.

ICM’s flash poll for the Guardian indicates that I was wrong, and that the senior Tory who text me suggesting that Miliband was showing why he was a Mili-stone around the Labour neck was actually right. I really don’t think it was a car crash for Miliband; I expect that the fact the broadcasters are choosing to focus on his answer to the toughness question will help to bear that out in the coming days and weeks.

It was ironic that Paxman chose to use the example of a man he met on the tube. Mr Miliband was much mocked for choosing to introduce a series of men he’d met in public parks to illustrate his conference speech. But when asked if he was tough enough to go toe to toe with President Putin, he claimed “hell yeah I’m tough enough.”

The clearly rehearsed line plays well for TV, despite the fact he managed to trip over his own tongue in delivering it. Whether it will continue to play well once the comedians start to mock him for it – and absolutely they will – only time will tell.

Cameron acknowledged that he couldn’t live on a zero-hours contract, but highlighted that the Government had banned the exclusivity element, though Labour claim this doesn’t go far enough. He acknowledged that food bank use had grown enormously, but stuck to his risible claim that this was because more people are aware of the existence of them; people do not want to use food banks and they would only use them because they had to.

Cameron also admitted that he’d missed his targets on immigration and eliminating the deficit. This is important and he will have to address both of those missed targets again in the coming weeks. He will also need a better answer on VAT than the one he gave – the last election he ruled out raising it, and then put it up. His argument – that by being the Government he now knows what the state of the public finances are so knows he doesn’t need to raise VAT – doesn’t address why he made a pledge that he broke in the first place.

Did we learn anything new from last night’s non-debate debate? Well I didn’t, but I suspect some of those who watched will have been more surprised by Miliband than the Tories would have hoped. Having seen him on his sole visit to Ipswich, I was less surprised. He connects with people on an individual basis and I recall saying back then that if Labour could put him on every doorstep they would win.

While ICM say that Cameron won 54/46, the more important figure is in the detail of the poll. It says that of those voters who identified themselves as floating, 56% said that they now will vote Labour, while 30% will now definitely vote Conservative.

Round 1 to Labour, but there is a long way to go in this election.