Copeland reaction reveals Labour in cloud cuckoo land

“The decline in Labour support in these areas did not start when Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader; it started when a New Labour project took hold of our party and decided to ignore working class communities across the country. The fragility of Labour’s core vote in Scotland and the North was an issue long before Corbyn arrived as an easy scapegoat for the existential crisis that we face as a party. It would also be wrong to deny the impact of a concerted effort by members of the Parliamentary Labour Party to undermine Jeremy Corbyn since the day he was elected. Indeed Peter Mandelson proudly admitted recently that he works ‘every day to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’.”

That’s Liam Young writing in the Independent. He’s right, of course, the fragility in Labour’s support among the working classes was started under the middle class privately educated Oxford graduate, Blair, and continued under the middle class Edinburgh graduate Brown. It got worse under the middle class Oxford graduate Miliband, and the entire POINT of Corbyn was that he would appeal to the masses, supposedly. Quite how a middle class, privately educated professional objector and demonstrator was supposed to be the “champion of the workers” has always mystified me, and instead he has continued to allow the Labour support to decline to just those foolish enough to believe in policies that the majority of the public – 74% at the latest polling – do not support. You cannot win a general election when 3 in 4 people believe you to be wrong.

Ludicrously, Ian Lavery maintains today that Jeremy Corbyn is the most popular politician in the country.

These people need to wake up to reality, because while they are arguing over whether someone who left professional politics 10 years ago is still relevant now, the Tories are getting on with winning by-elections and running the country. And Labour’s positions, bonkers as they may be considered by most, are entirely irrelevant when they are not seen as a credible threat by the Government.

Labour’s Long Denial

David-Ellesmere-with-Ed-Miliband

Since the election there have been thousands of words written about why Labour lost the election, many by very senior national Labour figures. Lord Mandelson stuck the knife into Ed Miliband, and Lord Prescott also announced his contempt for a campaign that offered nothing to Middle England. Tony Blair offered his advice, which was promptly condemned by anyone wanting to become Labour’s new leader. Even David Miliband weighed in, blaming his brother and taking the chance to knife him back.

Labour’s campaign message was relentlessly negative, amateurish and at times appeared to be contradictory, angry and negative. Fundamentally though, Labour were unable to persuade the public they were trustworthy with the economy.

In the final weeks of the campaign Labour were hit time and again by the relentless messaging of Lynton Crosby, who focussed on the SNP/Labour message that broke through with the public. But Crosby would not have been able to use that message if Labour had been substantially ahead in the polls – if they had a message that was appealing to the public. Essentially he pushed on an open door.

Last night I was talking to someone who should be a Labour voter. Why, I asked, didn’t they vote Labour. The answer boiled down to trust, and that Labour didn’t offer policies that appealed to people who wanted to make their lives better.

One prominent Labour campaigner has described this as voter’s self-interest. I think to some extent he is right – but having identified many of the flaws in Labour’s campaign he then comes to the wrong conclusions.

The Tories offered policies which appealed to aspirant families who want their children to have an easier time than they did. Policies like Help to Buy – proposed but then abandoned by Labour run Ipswich Borough Council – persuaded thousands of voters in marginal seats to stick with the Tories.

But ultimately it comes down to trust. Labour were not trusted to run the economy. In part this was because the Tories successfully placed the blame for the worldwide economic crash on the last Labour Government, on Gordon Brown personally, and by extension on his two key advisors, Ed Miliband and Ed Balls.

Ed Miliband told a BBC Question Time audience just a couple of weeks before the election that he didn’t believe that Labour overspent – yet they were borrowing money at the peak of the boom. Economic policy now is that we should run surpluses in the good years to pay down debt, but Labour never properly made the argument that this was not a policy followed by previous Governments – Tory or Labour. Labour were unable to shake that reputation for economic incompetence, in part because it fed on preconceived ideas about the Labour Party, but also because every single measure the coalition had taken to deal with the deficit had been opposed by Labour in Parliament.

Labour struggled because they offered a negative view of Britain, with very little offer to aspirant families and they had neither a reputation for economic competence or a personable leader.

Here in Ipswich you could argue that it was a microcosm of the national picture. Ben Gummer offered a 6 point vision for Ipswich. David Ellesmere campaigned on his record as IBC leader and on national issues. Ultimately offered a positive local campaign or a negative national one, voters chose Mr Gummer.

I’ve written in recent days that David Ellesmere is not the man to take Ipswich forward. Ipswich Labour Party clearly disagree with me – that’s not really a surprise but I still think it’s a mistake. David will have to show he can work with Colin Noble and Ben Gummer to stop Ipswich Borough Council being isolated in a sea of blue. The future of our town depends on it. Unfortunately evidence of the last four years shows that David will instead spend the next five years creating dividing lines to exploit at the 2020 General Election. That isn’t in the best interests of Ipswich.

But David is perfectly capable of beating Ben Gummer in five years’ time and realising his long held ambition to become an MP. All he has to do is make himself Mr Ipswich. He has to show that he is happy to work with anyone if it is in the best interests of Ipswich voters – all of them not just the Labour ones. He has to show that he wants the council to do all it can to give people a leg up rather than getting in the way.

David needs to show to voters who didn’t support Labour that “a Labour Government does not just mean higher taxes, people having an easy life on benefits and money being wasted on stupid projects.” To do this he will need to rapidly extricate himself from the Sproughton Road sugar beet factory, which has been seen as a spectacularly bad piece of real estate investment by many in the business community in Ipswich. He will need to show that he accepts that higher taxes hurt everyone, by making efficiency savings at IBC and freezing council tax. And he will need to show that he wants everyone who is currently on benefits to have the opportunity to get a job; he can show that he is compassionate by reminding voters that people would rather work than claim, but that this doesn’t mean we should treat those who have to claim as though they are a drain on our society.

Ultimately Labour will not win elections while they consider that they ran a good campaign locally. They offered a negative view, attacking the Tories rather than telling us what they would do for Ipswich. While Labour nationally will now spend some time considering who is better to lead them – be it Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall or Chuka Umunna – they need to consider locally what they did wrong. Obviously I don’t expect them to do this in public, or to acknowledge that anything went wrong in public, but if they want to win they really do need to stop being in denial.

What is it with politicians becoming unlikely sex symbols?

Milifans-hit-IpswichEd Miliband visited Ipswich earlier today, as his unexpected cool status suddenly became mainstream.

Mr Miliband was in town as part of a regional tour including Cambridge, supporting his Labour candidate David Ellesmere, and dozens of students jostled with Labour Party activists to get selfies with him – many more than when David Cameron last visited the UCS Waterfront campus.

Mr Miliband has suddenly found that he has thousands of fans who think he’s cool and sexy, and he isn’t the only politician to find himself the target of fans from an unexpected direction.

Ben Gummer, Tory Candidate for Ipswich, photoshopped by the "Ipswich MP Fan Club" Facebook Page.

Ben Gummer, Tory Candidate for Ipswich, photoshopped by the “Ipswich MP Fan Club” Facebook Page.

Tory candidate for Ipswich, Ben Gummer, also has a Facebook page dedicated to photographs of him “looking sexy” called “Ipswich MP Fan Club” – describing Mr Gummer as “bringing sexy back” to politics.

Joking aside, the campaign is closer than ever. Voters on the streets of Ipswich seem genuinely split 50/50 between Labour and Tory – though Ben Gummer has slightly higher name recognition, probably because he’s spent five years as the town’s Member of Parliament. If it keeps going down to the wire, it could be the ground war that decides it – which side has more activists getting their vote out on polling day. With postal votes already hitting doorsteps, hundreds, if not thousands, of Ipswich voters will already have voted. The Press Association expect a result in Ipswich by 4am on 8th May. That’s looking increasingly optimistic.

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 shows NO history of standing up to power; he bends the knee

The national media appears to be obsessed with Ed Miliband in a way that they haven’t been with previous opposition leaders – red or blue.

Miliband is a busted flush, they say, the public mistrust him. He’s a joke, or he’s the man who stabbed his brother in the back. Most damningly, he’s the Tories secret weapon.

All of this is utter rot, of course. He’s a decent guy who has an ability to connect with voters in a very direct way – face to face. It is hardly surprising Labour want to hold 4 million conversations with voters; if Miliband was involved in all of them, they’d be a lot further ahead in the polls.

But Labour have GOT to get a better answer when the national media come calling and question his leadership qualities.

Labour candidate for Ipswich, David Ellesmere, told Channel 4 News a fortnight ago that people recognise Ed Miliband “stood up to power” because he took on Rupert Murdoch. Last night he was at it again, claiming on BBC Newsnight that:

“When people think about the way he stands up to powerful interests, when he stood up to Rupert Murdoch over phone hacking, when he stood up to the energy companies when David Cameron didn’t, and in particular when he stopped the headlong rush to war in Syria, I think people do actually like those qualities.”

Labour campaigners are not going to like me saying this, and they’ll accuse me of the same bias they’re currently accusing the BBC and every other national news organisation bar the Mirror, the People and the Guardian, but what absolute rubbish.

Standing up to power? Let’s take the briefest look at the facts shall we?

On phone hacking, Ed Miliband and Labour got most upset because Labour MPs and peers, like Lord Prescott, had their mobile phones hacked. Despite the fact that interfering with a mobile telephone is already a criminal offence, Labour used the scandal to push for laws that would allow Government’s to regulate the content of our “free” press.

As for standing up to Rupert Murdoch, if only he had! Just last week Rupert Murdoch told the world how Ed Miliband fawned over him so much at their meeting it was embarrassing. But even if he had stood up to Murdoch, it is easy to attack your enemies in the media, but much more impressive to stand up to your friends. So while Labour MPs were berating Ed Miliband for posing with a copy of the Sun, which he weakly apologised for, there has been total silence from Ed Miliband about the revelations that journalists at the Mirror operated an industrial scale phone hacking that pushed celebrities like Paul Gascoigne into the alcoholic gutter.

David Ellesmere with a block of iceOn standing up to the energy companies, I am astonished that any Labour candidate, anywhere in the country, wants to remind the voters of this flawed policy. What happened? Oh that’s right, Ed Miliband announced a price freeze on energy companies after the election. But it turned out that prices were right at their peak; had the legislation that Labour tried to introduce in the Commons been enacted we’d all be stuck paying much more for our energy than we are now. Since Ed Miliband announced a price freeze, prices have fallen considerably. Suddenly this “freeze” was a cap. Which presumably explains why Labour candidates were queuing up at the Labour Party Conference to have their photo taken with a giant block of ice; ice being related to caps after all. Indeed, now we don’t know if it is a cap (some Labour people say so) or a freeze (some Labour leaflets still claim this). Chaos.

But, I hear you say, surely where David Ellesmere is spot on is when he argues that Ed Miliband stopped the headlong rush to war in Syria. Sadly this too is a re-writing of history. Dan Hodges eviscerates Mr Miliband in a piece for the Telegraph here, making it quite clear that Miliband was initially quite happy to vote for military action after Bashar Al Assad had used chemical weapons on a civilian population – only the second dictator to do so in fifty years – until his backbenchers started organising against him. He then introduced amendment after amendment to his conditions for supporting military action, all of which were accepted by the Government, whose own backbenchers were also organising against. Ed Miliband showed the type of leader he was by doing a reverse ferret and following his rebelling backbenchers into the no lobby in a show of party unity.

So when David Ellesmere says that Ed Miliband stands up to people in power I don’t really know what he means. The only time Ed has shown any backbone at all is when he stood against his brother for the party leadership. It seems he only stands up when he wants to seize power.

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.