Friday, 4 October 2013

Weekly Political Digest – 4 October 2013

In this week of the Conservatives Autumn Conference, much else has also been happening. I shall try to steer a sensible course through the muddied waters...

UKIPper Knocking

Well, it is thought by some (and with a degree of justification) that UKIP are still knocking at voters' doors and continuing to receive a lot of favourables responses.

Alex Wickham (the rapidly-matured 'WikiGuido' member of the Guido team) has here written at the recently-created Trending Central site how UKIP's potential success could let Ed[ward] Miliband into Downing Street undeservedly. There is also a goodly amount of other interesting material in the piece; but the bottom line issue remains the strongest: 'no need to vote Red to let in Ed'.

It's an old, old story; and it crops up on all sides of the political arena fairly regularly. Although the point being made is certainly valid, and people will kick themselves afterward if they end up throwing away their only hope for the future and end up with a totalitarian dictatorship (which is clearly the aim, as last week's Miliband conference speech again revealed), I have long accepted it as a part of having a reasonably open democracy.

UKIP is in reality a political irrelevance, as they themselves sometimes let slip, most recently in party leader Nigel Farage's admission that only at this year's conference did the party finally 'grow up'. There are numerous other indications, some of which I have mentioned before so don't need to revisit them now.

There is actually very good reason to proscribe all Left-wing parties and other such political movements, but I do not advocate that. Yes, the British electorate make mistakes, often in thinking that their little protest vote won't make any difference to who wins the seat in their constituency, just 'sends a message'.

It is a harsh lesson to be learnt – but it has to be learnt, so the mistake might well have to be made – or, ideally, almost made. The best result in 2015 would be a slim overall Conservative majority and the necessity for a second election later the same year. That should drive the necessary points home, when the voting public realise just how close they had come to having a neo-Communist dictatorship running their country...

Unhinged on the Left

It has been fairly common knowledge for some time just how unhinged James (a.k.a. 'Gordon') Brown was and how violent his temper tantrums could so easily (and often) be. With the publication of diaries and other written works by the likes of Damian McBride and 'Bad Al' Campbell, however much one is disinclined to take what they say at face value, there is more than enough insider detail to show that others were, as Rod Liddle puts it, 'mad as hatters'.

The mutual hatred within the Labour upper echelons during the Blair/Brown years are now spilling out into the public arena. No doubt today's version will appear in years to come – and make no mistake, it is very likely to be at least as much, as serious, as mad and as bad now as it was back then. We have been hearing of so much turmoil and mixed messages that it is all very reminiscent of those earlier times, in those and in other ways as well.

Meanwhile, the controversy over Ed-M's late father, the (very Red indeed) Ralph Miliband, rumbles on. Firstly, was the Mail right to make the remarks that it did? It's not the sort of journalism I usually go for or appreciate all that much, personally, but on balance it probably was better to have done than not to have bothered.

The primary reason for this is that Ed himself has repeatedly used references to his father's lead, guidance or whatever in speeches and the like, as Dan Hodges reminds us, so he brought up the whole business in the first place. The Mail certainly isn't apologizing for their original article, as this follow-up piece makes abundantly clear, and it looks like they have a good point (or several).

The question of whether Ralph M loved, hated or was indifferent to Britain is bound to be nuanced and I suspect is, in reality, impossible for anyone (including either of his sons) to pin down with certainty, despite any claims they might make. My own suspicion is that Ralph was grateful to this country for taking him in as a refugee, but hated it nonetheless for not being run as a Marxist state. Nuances, you see...

Interestingly, The Telegraph wrote a perhaps surprisingly kind obituary to Prof. Ralph Miliband back in 1994, long before the Barclay Brothers shifted that newspaper's political leanings and emphasis. On the other hand, The Commentator takes a more robust and uncompromising stance on this and the wider matter of Marxism and the like.

This is a better approach, as Ed Miliband and his supporters within our big media have diverted attention from the real issue and made it a 'personal attack/affront', thus making it easier to sweep the original subject-matter under the carpet again. We should never forget, though, the points raised in that (shortish) editorial.

Not that personal attacks and the like have ever been anathema to the Left anyway, as Carol and Mark Thatcher (for example), similarly bereaved and only this year, surely realise only too well...

Fake Protest?

Predictably, the Left arranged a demonstration outside the Conservative Autumn Conference in Manchester on its opening day. It was a modest size, well-behaved event on the (equally predictable) 'Save our NHS' theme.

Labour MP Andrew Gwynne, though, realised it wasn't very impressive, so tweeted this, along with a photo of the same location, but rather obviously a different demonstration altogether. There were lots of clues, especially in the banners held aloft – and it didn't take long for several people to independently reach just one conclusion: that it was the anti-Labour government demonstration there, opposing Britain's involvement in the Iraq war..

Oops! Big embarrassment for Andrew Gwynne, who obviously treated the British public as 'too ignorant' to realise his deception. He has deleted the tweet, but Politwoops has caught it on his page there – though there is no direct link to the tweet itself, only to the page from which it has been deleted.

At Peace With Itself

That is how James Forsyth describes the Conservative Party this week, after a workmanlike conference that was, in practice, a kind of 'extra' in the election cycle, which is usually a four-year term but this time round is for five years. This is the one-in-between, especially for the party running or leading the national government of the day.

The party is, James reports, more united now than it had been for a while, largely down to the antics, positioning and threats of and from Nigel Farage (and his UKIP chums) and Ed Miliband (and his Labour comrades). This fits in very neatly with what I have been saying for the past couple of years – some of it here, some in private conversations. It is why I have maintained a calm assurance during these turbulent times, which some might have misinterpreted as complacency. It was never that!

It takes an understanding of how people and societies act and react, to be able to work all this kind of stuff out in advance, and a few commentators have that ability, which can be valuable. In this case, there are other elements that no-one could predict specifically, but it was (for example) always likely that one of the top campaign strategists would be brought in around now, and that was always most likely to be Lynton Crosby.

Thus today's in-party scenario is a culmination of all that has been pointing toward this time for a long while now. From here on, it hots up all around the country. The likes of election agent Andrew Kennedy have been reporting all manner of perhaps surprisingly positive party and campaigning news, and it's not guff: I've been involved with Kennedy-manamged election campaigns and am well aware of how it all works; and the way he puts it on his 'blog and social media today remains entirely consistent with that methodology.

This is the point at which not only Britain as a nation turned a corner: it's where the Conservative Party did much the same...

At the conference itself, the set-piece speeches in the main hall (the televised part of the event) were good but not at the peak that some recent Conservative autumn conferences have produced.

They didn't need to be: they just needed to be truthful (which they seem to have been, though I am sure the odd hair could be split by someone trying desperately hard to find fault), carry the somewhat overworked conference slogan 'hard-working people', and send out all the right messages, attacking where necessary and praising where appropriate, including patting themselves and each other on the back. That's standard fare, of course.

It did the job; and both commentators and the public (when polled) have been clear that it was the best of the three main party events, and David Cameron still far and away the best – or in polls thus worded, the least bad – of those parties' leaders. The somewhat unscientific measure of Twitter mentions parallels this. The Express's Macer Hall even thinks of Cameron as the Man of Steel – a worthy successor to the Iron Lady.

Reasonably good news on the economy pointed to the way forward and took the wind out of other parties' sails, especially Labour who no longer avoidably even talk about the economy.

Although Ed Miliband's speech last week painted him as suddenly a strong leader, it was obvious to anyone with even a modicum of insight that he hadn't miraculously changed overnight: his is essentially Union-dictated policy, not his own.

It is axiomatic that if he couldn't come up with any firm and substantive policy after more than three years as party leader, it wasn't all just going magically appear more or less overnight. We are also acutely aware of how the unions (UNITE via its own leader in particular) are controlling Labour policy anyway.

The public seem to be broadly aware of this too, this year, as the expected post-conference 'bounce' for Labour in the polls was not only more modest than tends to happen at such times, it also took several days to take any real effect. Their conference closed on Wednesday, but it was the following weekend before this (almost certainly short-lived) polling boost came about.

Funnily enough, I expect a not dissimilar pattern to occur for the Conservatives, though for different reasons. Theirs was what has been termed a 'holding' conference (similar to my own description a couple of days ago) so wasn't anywhere near as geared up to securing immediate/short-term support 'blips'. It was aiming much more strategically toward May 2015; and I for one could perceive this during the event.

This was not the case with the Miliband speech or, indeed, any of Labour's conference: the aim there was very different, (a) to plug the policy vacuum and (b) to save Ed Miliband from ending up where he would be called upon to resign as weak and ineffective.

Their conference need was immediate and drastic: the Blues, on the other hand, were playing the long game coolly and calmly, regardless of what some have been trying to suggest – although no doubt a journo' can always find a few nervous MPs of any party in marginal seats!

Bad Reports? Burn 'Em, said Burnham

We already knew about the mid-Staffs hospital scandal, had heard that there were scores of bad reports coming in from here and there, and yet Andy Burnham – the then Health Secretary – has on several occasions been reported as having had all that bad news suppressed, hidden from the public eye.

The latest to hit the news has been Basildon University Hospital, as The Telegraph tells us, and in particular the apparent subversion of the official health watchdog (and its complicity) in providing what appears to be a false appraisal of the health service. Note that the 'Mike O'Brien' mentioned in that article is not the same Mike O'Brien who is a member of Medway Council's cabinet. Wrong party, for a start(!)

With a shadow cabinet re-shuffle thought to be imminent, this now looks like a suitable time for Burnham to be moved from the health remit; and Ed-M will have both immediate and (no doubt) further revelatory troubles later on if he doesn't move him. The additional revelations, if there are any, will still appear, but be less damaging to Labour if a new shadow health secretary has taken over at least several months before, and certainly well before the next General Election.

Guardian Loves Lenin

It seems to me that The Telegraph is going through a phase in which it is positioning itself as a kind of mediator between warring factions within our big media, and attempting redress and the highlighting of hypocrisy, presumably to take the sting out of the situation and smooth things over.

This week we have them dealing with the digging up of an ancient Mail item seemingly in praise of the now-infamous Blackshirts. The Telegraph's contributor for their counter, one Sean Thomas, points out that The Guardian has in its own past been similarly disposed toward the likes of Lenin, and in recent years Milosevic. The last two paragraphs are particularly worth reading. Yes, The Guardian has always liked and admired, and still likes, those Left-wing mass murderers and suchlike...

Party Membership

It is an open secret that all long-standing political parties in Great Britain (i.e. not necessarily in Northern Ireland, about which I know little in detail) has seen an ongoing decline in their membership levels for decades. Every now and again, something will happen to give one or another a short-term boost, often at another party's expense, but the overall trend is unmistakable.

Some though not all of this ongoing decline seems to have come about as a result of reduction in the benefits in being a member, and the subscriptions becoming a little too high for many people to justify on that basis.

The blogger known as Churchmouse has looked at the impact of a change in party rules and benefits for members that was brought in by the Conservatives for their membership back in 1998 – some fifteen years ago now. The post raises valid points; and it would be to David Cameron's great credit if he were to personally propose and successfully work toward reversing the damage and even improving on the original.

Although it is bound to take several years before enough potential members (including returning former members) .realise that there are by that time good reasons to sign up, a lot of good will have been done for the long-term future strength of the nationwide party.

...and on that potentially positive note, this ends the current week's digest.

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