Friday, September 26, 2008

Are rumours of a media ‘ambush’ at the Tory conference true?

There is a growing feeling afoot that some in the media are winding themselves up to give Cameron a bit more of a hard time at conference this year, and I am bracing myself for some less than flattering conference coverage.

Labour managed to screw up what was beginning to look like relatively promising coverage with the Ruth Kelly affair unravelling on the last day; but even still they came out of last week looking stronger and marginally nearer making a convincing fight back.

On the other hand the Conservatives have been getting a lot of warm coverage during the summer and still remain an awfully long way ahead in the polls, even if not quite as unstoppable as some people have imagined. My gut feeling is that we will be ‘punished’ as a result.

Basically the media need a story, and ‘Tories wow at Conference’ is so 2007.

And we may have partly ourselves to blame, as a friend pointed out to me having read this blog recently there is a very fine line between being proud of our progress after all these years in the doldrums and becoming irritatingly triumphant before we actually have very much to triumph about; (looking back over the last few posts I think he probably has a point) and recent glossy profiles of candidates in magazines have run the risk of crossing that line – it’s an easy trap to fall into but a real danger for a political opposition.

So perhaps a bit of a slap down by the media pack could actually be no bad thing in the long run.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

More of the same from Gordon the Timid....

I am still eagerly anticipating the 'raft of initiatives' designed to relaunch Gordons premiership once again, so far I am underwhelmed.

Free internet for kids and free theatre tickets for teenagers - all very nice but like free bus travel for pensioners it is a pathetic 'fiddle while Rome burns' type initiative.

And anyway, some kids; some teenagers and lots of pensioners don't need anything free from the Government being wealthy or living in wealthy homes.

Wouldn't it make more sense - especially when the Government itself is short of a bob or two - to give those in need some proper help - especially those seriously poor children, single parents and old people in the bottom 10% of income brackets whose real living standards have fallen drastically in recent months, and leave the better off to look after themselves?

Like many people fortunate enough to still be able to make ends meet I'd far rather pay my taxes to help those genuinely in need of a helping hand rather than finance silly universal freebies and pointless political gestures.

As the Government money runs out it's interesting to learn how just much Labour have had off us all recently where it's all gone. Fun to play with the Gordon Calculater supplied by the Taxpayers Alliance, click on the picture if you fancy trying to make Gordons sums add up!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Tories are set to win Torbay, say YouGov.
Another big independent poll of Torbay voters puts it well within our reach.

There has been a very great deal of huffing and puffing from various quarters about the liklihood of Torbay falling to the Conservatives at the next election.

For two years now national polling data has pointed to a large slump in Lib Dem support from 22.65% of the vote in 2005 to an average of 17.65% (based on opinion polls from 25 Jul 08 to 21 Aug 08, sampling 5,768 people) meaning that over one in five of their last election voters have abandoned them whereas for the Conservatives the same average puts us on 45.18% against 33.24% last time, meaning for every three voters we had in 2005, four now intend to support us.

On the basis of that ' national swing' the next election here in Torbay would give us around 22.600 votes and the Lib Dems 15,200; a pretty drastic turnaround but one that was supported by the council election results last year; which we won with a 13% swing.

'Oh but that's not going to happen because Lib Dem MP's have a strong personal vote' say some opponents. Although, so far, there has been no actual evidence to support this most observers agree that there is a higher 'incumbency' factor in Lib Dem seats than others, but how much? And is it enough?

A recent report prepared by Lib Dems for the Lib Dem conference earlier this month concluded that Torbay was still at 'high risk' in spite of the tactical vote question and now there comes a much more comprehensive study by YouGov of specific target seats (including Torbay) where this very issue was dealt with head-on.

According to the authors of the report:

"Until now it has been impossible to make any truly informed projections about whether the Conservative swing really is weaker in the North, whether individual MPs will be saved by personal votes, whether the national changes in vote mask different changes in the Conservative vs Labour, Conservative vs Liberal Democrat or Labour vs Liberal Democrat battlegrounds or how tactical voting may be at play. Using an unprecendented sample of almost 35,000 people over 238 marginal constituencies, with fieldwork carried out by YouGov PLC, the PoliticsHome Electoral Index allows us for the first time to look at small groups of key marginals, to compare how people are reacting in the London commuter belt, or South Western LD/Con marginals,
seaside towns or the urban West Midlands. It also allows us to single out the specific demographics that will decide the election – people voting Conservative who might change their mind or people wavering between Labour and the Liberal Democrats in Lib Dem target seats.
It is, quite simply, the most detailed snapshot to date of British political public opinion in the marginal seats that will decide the election."

And they broke the result down into clusters of seats with similar political issues, Torbay was grouped with the other Lib dem held seats in the South West and specifically studied for evidence of 'extra' Lib Dem loyalty and resilient anti Conservative tactical voting.

The results speak for themselves:

The report authors concluded:

"Tactical voting and the personal vote for Liberal Democrat candidates has a drastic effect here. The standard voting intention question in these seats shows a 13.5 point swing from the Liberal Democrats to the Conservatives, a swing that would result in the Liberal Democrats losing not only all the seats polled, but being totally wiped out in their strongest area.

Only when asked specifically about how they will vote in their own constituencies are the tactical considerations and personal vote of MPs brought into play, suggesting that most Liberal Democrat MPs will owe their jobs to their personal popularity and hard work and the continuing desire of Labour voters to keep the Tories out."

The research was conducted during July this year, before the conferences (which distort polls for weeks either side of them) and before the recent furore over the Banking system.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Has Cleggs’ Tax Cutting strategy bombed?

Earlier this month Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg shocked the political world by declaring that he intended the make the Lib Dems into a ‘tax cutting’ party.

In a carefully orchestrated series of public announcements leading up to his conference speech yesterday Mr Clegg has sought to abandon the Lib dems ‘more left than Labour’ position.

For years his party has made great store by being the only party to claim that the only way to get top class public services is to cough up lots more money in taxes; a penny on tax for education, a 50p top rate for those on £100,000 and a 4p in income tax to replace the hated council tax are three such policies.

At a stroke Clegg has U turned his party and is now saying the same thing we Tories said at the last election – that the public services are bloated and wasteful. His claim is that what the country needs is £20bn in tax cuts and he can find this in efficiency savings is almost exactly what we said in 2005 – a claim that was comprehensively rubbished by his party at the time, and also by the electorate who clearly decided that substantial cost savings are easy to talk about but impossible for any politician to actually deliver.

Unfortunately for Clegg his road to Damascus conversion coincided with reports that he is to abandon most of his Southern seats and to instead try and win Labour seats in the North; and of course to do this you need Conservative-minded voters to vote tactically in places where “only the Lib Dems can beat Labour”.

So it was no more than a wafer thin attempt to say anything necessary to win votes where Lib dems think they need them.

Most political parties expect a ‘conference bounce’ – but for the Lib dems their average poll rating – already a fifth down on their 2005 level of support- dropped from 17% before the conference to just 12% yesterday, according to the latest one from MORI.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

These are indeed dangerous times....

The media is awash with one shocking story today that is serving to remind us all of the perils of our modern lifestyles. The prevously unimaginable has happened and people are seeing and learning things they once would have deemed impossible.


As a personnel and recruitment management consultant I regularly have to offer advice to manegers who may see that the organisation that they have worked for for years collapsing around them and whose staff simply cannot cope with the strain.

As the shocking figures pour in and the true scale of the crisis dawns across the country it's easy to think only of the familiar personalities acting out the drama on our TV screens and in the newspapers and forget the thousands of hard pressed workers, strategists and advisors behind the headlines who are suffering now and will suffer more as the situation worsens; bad enough that many will lose their jobs, but some have to suffer the anger and pent up rage of their superiors.

The talk of 'meltdown' and 'obliteration' is taking a heavy toll on those 'senior people' whose jobs are in the front line and the pressure is clearly beginning to tell.

Bullying in the workplace, even under the most intense pressure, can never be tolerated and if powerful senior members of the 'team' strike out against their younger, smaller colleagues ( especially when their only crime has been to speak the perhaps unpalatable truth) then someone has to take matters on before things get out of control.


Whenever any violent outburst happens in the workplace it is a warning signal to senior managers that personnel are on, or even already past, their breaking strain and that something needs to be done. The pressure cooker environment and the stress and worry of whether they will hang on to their job or not has become too much to bear. Perhaps the senior personnel involved needs an extra-long break but if that has already been tried then often a complete career change is the only answer.


Faced with signs of such behaviour the natural course of events would be a meeting amongst the managers of the staff member concerned and in all probability the outcome would be a redundancy package of some kind; a generous pension perhaps would soften the blow and usually some alternative post at a lower level might be suggested.

Of course in the case of some unlucky people events overtake them and the entire organisation they represent ceases to exist, sometimes overnight, in which case the best answer is usually a complete lifestyle change; starting a small business or doing charity work are both popular choices for many affected in his way.


Many people feel that the those involved in this latest crisis have enjoyed a long run of easy pickings - many years 'on the gravy train' in some cases making millions from doing not very much - often by simply promising anything to everyone in a largely successful effort to keep their backing, year in and year out.

Those days are now coming to an end, and for those on the wrong end of this seismic shift the fear of loss should not be under estimated, for many there is little else that they know other than earning their living from the 'business' -in some sad cases entire families have earned their living in this way for decades and adjusting to life 'on the outside' will be tough.


I will not be commenting further on reports of Adrian Sanders' apparent attack on a young researcher at the Lib Dem conference in Bournemouth.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Threat level high? You bet.

A very intersting document has been fired round the internet in record time over the weekend - it is a very carefully researched discussion document from a group called 'Liberal Vision' taking a dispassionate look at the Lib Dems chances seat-by-seat in England at the next election.

The piece was written by a group of Lib Dems keen to see their party invade traditional Tory territory (tax cuts, efficiency savings etc) in an attempt to stall what they call the 'Cameron Effect' which will otherwise, they claim, decimate their current representation in Westminster, knocking them down to a rump of 20 or 30 seats from their current 63.

Where I think they have got it spot-on is the threat level represented by a resurgent Conservative party. For the first time I can remember a group of Lib Dems are prepared to admit that the 'great leap forward' by their party from all Lib Dem MP's being able to fit into a small minibus in 1997 to their 60+ number today was largely a result of deep unhappiness with the Tory regime of 1992-1997 and not some sea change in British politics. They extrapolate quite correctly that as this situation unwinds these gains from 1997 and 2001 will be lost and the Lib Dems risk going right back to square one.

And of course to rank Torbay as one of the most threatened seats was also spot on. The 13% swing against the Lib Dems in the local elections was the highest of any of the Lib Dem seats surveyed and caps the 4.9% swing against them in 2005; itself amongst the biggest in any Lib Dem constituency.

Where I completely disagree with the report is the suggestion that the answer to this is to become Tory Lite (actually Tory Heavy, we have avoided any pledges to cut taxes early fearing that the public finances may be in too much of a mess by the time we get control) and hoping that in doing so they can snaffle enough Conservative voters to keep us out.

If you study the history of Lib Dem gains a lot more closely you can see that in order to hold on to any of these once Conservative strongholds the LD's need Labour defectors - they depend on thousands of Labour tactical votes to hold the seats, and presumably those voters aren't going to support an MP who is backing Tory calls for lower tax and less public spending.

The front cover of the report is particularly appropriate, the 'Liberal Vision' is the sun setting...

Friday, September 12, 2008

Comrades in conflict .

It's not just the Local Conservatives who are changing their leader apparently....

News reports have begun to appear that a junior Government minister Siobhain McDonagh (who IS she?) has apparently requested a leadership nomination form from party officers ahead of Labours conference next week.

Sky News reports:

"Ms Donagh is one of several Labour MPs who have requested leadership nomination papers ahead of the party's conference.

The form, which Labour say has not been routinely issued since they were in opposition, is a necessary step in forcing a leadership challenge.

A potential leadership candidate would need the support of 71 MPs in order to trigger such a contest"

From where I sit in the opposing camp Labour are getting into the same terrible place that we Conservatives were in during the last years of John Majors time; and potentially could have ended up here in Torbay, had our local Tory leadership not come to an abrupt conclusion this week.

If Labour don't have a leadership election and prove that Brown is wanted by the majority of his MP's the endless speculation will just go on eroding their ( and his) credibility, and if they do have a leadership election he will lose it and there will be an early General Election.

Of course the reality is that this is a false choice.

When a leadership gets into this situation deep down everyone knows that for whatever reason the leaders reign is already over; leaders need enthusiastic support to have any chance of doing a decent job - anything less than that and they are a lame duck who will probably be powerless anyway. So its not a case of if Gordon Brown goes, more a question of when. Can he hold out to 2010? I think he probably can - but the damage could put Labour out of action for a generation.

UPDATE Saturday : a second MP has also called for a leadership contest today. Is this part of a structured plot? Are we going to see a drip-drip every day of more and more MP's and ex ministers demanding a chance to challenge?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Conservative Group Leader going.

I am receiving news that Kevin Carroll has stood down as leader and the Conservative Group on Torbay Council will soon elect a replacement .

I am not sure and cannot find out whether Kevin stood down of his own accord (as I know he planned to do quite soon) or whether there was a coup at the Palace but no doubt all will become clear in due course. (updated - I have found out that having been challenged for the leadership I understand Kevin himself asked for a vote of confidence which he then lost by one vote)

I am hoping that Kevin, who is at an age when most people would rather be enjoying retirement than working 60 hours a week at the Town Hall, may quietly be a bit relieved that the task of marshalling the disparate group of personalities that is the Conservative Group will no longer be his problem, especially if the mayor chooses to keep him involved in other ways.

Kevin is one of the most dedicated and hard-working people I have ever had the pleasure of working with and I think he is a huge asset to Torbay and to the Conservative Party and whoever gets the job will find he is a very hard act to follow; in fact I think being group leader is a very difficult job when you have a powerful directly elected mayor and I think there are very few who could have managed the last two years with as much aplomb and determination as he has.

Politics can be a tough business.

Friday, September 05, 2008

I'm bored already

The BBC have overloaded the news with endless coverage of the US election and I frankly couldn't care less who wins there anymore.

And I am becoming irritated that the coverage that we do get is no more than salacious gossip about the various candidates private lives.

Since there isn't much difference between them on the areas where we have an interest (Iraq and Afghanistan) we are left with nothing other than to pick over their personalities, foibles, their choice of running mate and - oh yes, obsess over the fact that Obama is a black man, McCain is a pensioner and running mate Palin is a woman who also has a 'teen pregancy' in the family.

Now this may fascinate the political correct obsessed BBC journo's but for the rest of us is completely irrellevant. The undercurrent of the media coverage is the assumption that the average American is at heart racist, sexist and ageist (otherwise why would it matter so much?) .
America has many faults but predjudice is not one of them. No doubt some Americans are but in all honesty I have never met one - even when I was doing business a few years ago in the Missisippi Delta.

We forget in England, where our immigrant communities are a mostly post-war phenomenon, that America has been a multi cultural society for it's modern existance. Although they have a history of race riots and segregation it is to most Americans just that - history.

In fact one of the most striking things about spending time in the States is just how unjudgemental they are about everyone - or at least they judge everyone on only one criteria - how much money you have (or don't, as the case may be).

So posh restuarants will happily welcome leather-clad Hells Angels provided their gold card has enough room for the bill, while you will regularly get served in McDonalds by well educated middle class men in their seventies forced to carry on working because American healthcare is virtually non existent, to pick just two examples.

So I am not at all surprised that this election has an old man, a young woman and a black man in it and nor are most Americans - and I guarantee that these issues will affect hardly anyones vote, either. They will be worried about the economy, law and order and all the countless other issues affecting their daily lives - and they will vote for whoever has the answers they want to hear, whoever has the slickest advertising and whoever manages to make the mud stick to the other guy.

Does this fascination in Europe with the narrow issues of the race, age and gender of the candidates tell us more about ourselves than it does about Americans?

I think it probably does.