Saturday, October 27, 2007

Harlow by-election results

Two by-elections in Harlow on Thursday. A good gain for the Conservatives, but look at the Lib Dem vote share. The motives for Ming's knifing are quite apparent.

Little Parndon and Hare Street Turnout 28.4%. Conservative Gain

Change in Vote Share
Cons 598 39.63% 8.00%
Lab 794 52.62% 5.95%
Lib Dem 117 7.75% -13.94%

Toddbrook Turnout 30.53%. Labour Hold

Change in Vote Share
Cons 728 45.50% 7.36%
Lab 713 44.56% 3.76%
Lib Dem 57 3.56% -7.34%
Respect 102 6.38% -3.78%

9/11 "Truthers" told to "Get a Life"

Most people with lives don't realise that there is a strand of opinion that thinks the terrorist attacks on September 11th 2001 were actually organised by the US government. These people have built up an entire theology around the government conspiracy proposition, complete with factions and schisms. Some believe that aeroplanes didn't actually hit the towers, they were holograms apparently; some believe that the World Trade Centre was hit by rays from space, and there are those who merely believe that the entire complex was wired for demolition. Of course they have no evidence that stands up to a moment's scrutiny and the entire movement is a monument to logical fallacies, and failures in basic science education. In fact, the only reason this is at all important is that these people act as apologists and deniers to the very real threat of Islamic terrorism, preferring the comfort zone of believing in the supposed evils of the governments of the West instead of recognising that there are actually enemies from elsewhere who would kill them in an eyeblink if it served their purposes.

Having failed to make any impression on public opinion, the latest 'truther' tactic is to ambush live television programmes and public figures with moronic shouted slogans or crackpot questions, usually filming the results for YouTube. This has moved some commentator opinion from amused tolerance to irritation, as can be seen from this article in the Telegraph. It is also a worrying development. Having seen some of the other things these people also tend to believe, Jews Control the media, worldwide conspiracies etc., then the more active they get the more likely it is that their activism will not end well. There is a rich history of lunatic fringes escalating to violence from the Unabomber to Timothy McVeigh to more 'organised' groups such as the Weather Underground or the Baader Meinhof group in Germany. So, not only are they abetting the enemies of democracy through their propaganda, but they are on a dangerous and slippery slope to becoming agents of terror themselves. Let's hope that 'truth' movement gets off that train before it arrives at its ghastly destination.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Conservatives lead Labour in new poll

The latest YouGov poll in the Telegraph has the Conservatives three points ahead of Labour. This represents an almost unprecedented shift from Labour's 11 point lead of just one month ago, and it is that turnaround rather than the bald numbers that make the situation more interesting. The proximate cause of the shift in support was Brown's non-election fiasco, which in a few short days undid his reputation for decisiveness and leadership. He followed that with the Pre-Budget Report, where the student-politics trick of lifting Conservative policy did not go down well in the world of grown-ups. Of course, the Conservative Party reacted brilliantly to the developing government dither, but these were primarily Labour self-inflicted wounds. How serious they will be for the long term remains to be seen, but Labour needed a cushion of goodwill with the serious danger of an economic downturn in the near future, and it has been squandered in a staggering display of political incompetence. Over on the Labour blogs, there actually are a few, they are consoling themselves that a new Liberal Democrat leader will steal support from the Conservatives and so all will be well. For myself I hear the scraping at the bottom of the barrel on that one. What Labour needs to do is come with coherent policies for the good of our country. Instead we have Alan Johnson claiming that obesity is as bad a global warming. With that sense of perspective from one of their so-called 'stars' it is no wonder that the government appears increasingly shambolic.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Brown's economic miracle a sham according to a German team

Britain's economic performance is built on the twin pillars of personal debt that is based on inflated house prices and a fiscally irresponsible splurge in public spending. This is the view of a German-led team of economists writing for a think-tank. I have heard similar analysis before, that the difference between the trend growth in the British economy and the Brown boom has been funded through debt, both personal and governmental, and there is a ring of truth about it. Record government debt is a fact. Record personal debt is a fact. While there has also been a great deal of virtuous economic activity over the last ten years, the gloss has come from borrowing at levels not hitherto seen before. This is the point really as debt is not an absolute evil, and there are cases in business where a low level of debt is actually an inefficient use of assets. However, during periods of growth the government should be paying down the national debt, not ratcheting it up and the same is true of individuals, who should be saving. When there is a downturn, and there is a fair amount of evidence that we are heading into one now, then it is the savings from the good times that carry you through; but what if there are no savings? With growth slowing, real interest rates climbing and government spending being squeezed then there is a possibility that things might get a great deal worse for the economy. The political consequences that would follow are easy to predict. That at least is justice; the architects of this mess should be out on their ears.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Liberal Democrats next election prediction: zero seats

The Electoral Calculus website is a sort of guilty secret among politicos. It takes current opinion polling and overlays it on various parliamentary constituencies to determine a possible General Election result. The site is excellent in its layout and makes it easy to drill down to an individual constituency. Its current prediction is for Labour on 338, Conservatives on 271 and the Liberal Democrats on zero, nothing, nada, sod all. Of course this is an artefact of a uniform swing model, and the Electoral Calculus site has a detailed explanation of how it has come about. However, that cannot disguise the underlying fact that Liberal Democrat support has halved since the 2005 election. Even given more variable swings by constituency in a forthcoming election, it seems likely that a lot of the bright young things that came into parliament under the Liberal Democrat banner in 2005 will be going straight out again at the earliest opportunity. The reasons for the collapse in support are not hard to discern, with the Iraq War losing its electoral potency as an issue and the stuttering end of anti-Tory tactical voting. There was also Ming, whose failures as a leader led to a pretty brutal assassination.

Now the Liberal Democrat theory seems to be that all they have to do is elect a photogenic leader and their dire position will reverse itself. My observation is that nothing in politics is that simple, and that bouffant hair does not substitute for clarity of political vision and policy. This is a bit of a challenge for the Liberal Democrats as everyone knows that they won't be forming the next government and that their stated position is to prop up Labour given half the chance. So, if you want the current lot out, vote Conservative. Why do anything different? Well, the answer to that will come if the new Liberal Democrat leader can change the dynamic, especially in his party's relationship to the Conservatives and with one eye on what they would do in a hung parliament. This is not a trivial thing and would require a wholesale change of attitude, but, as the Electoral Calculus prediction shows, the alternative might be quite grisly. Ask the Liberal Democrats here in Basildon what happens when you prop up an unpopular Labour administration. They used to be the second largest party after Labour. Now they have three Councillors left; not quite zero, but getting there.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Brown on the wrong side of big issues

There is a rule in politics; try to avoid giving issues to your opponents. What this means is that significant matters of concern to key communities, keep on the right side of the argument, or at least make it hard for your opponents to get into a more popular position that you. Tony Blair was very good at this, on things like taxation or the future of the health service where he made it difficult for anyone to draw a sharp divide with Labour by allowing them to champion a more appealing way forward. Gordon Brown does not have this skill, and he has handed two big ones over to the Conservatives in his short stay in power. The first is Capital Gains Tax, where Labour's 'tax simplification' agenda has managed to array all four of the UK's main business organisations against them. It is a pretty difficult feat to get the representatives of business of every size, from window-cleaners to multinationals, up in arms on the same issue, but Labour has managed it. The Conservatives have come down for lower CGT and get an issue of huge importance to the nations business community. Smart politics from Labour it is not. Then there is the European Reform Treaty, or constitution by any other name. Here Labour's line that this is a new treaty that is unrelated to the old and that Britain's 'Red Lines' will be inviolate is bought by the Independent, who these days just print government press releases anyway, but by no-one else. Again the Conservatives get the issue and they are campaigning vigorously on a platform that has the support of most of the media and around 80% of the population. Brown should never have let it come to this and his microscopic political talents are in danger of leaving his party looking like it is being unpopular on purpose. This is not a wise strategy in any system that involves reasonably free and fair elections.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

LibDem Leadership race just a beauty contest?

Leadership races are seminal moments for a political party. This is when the policy alternatives that will set the party's direction for an electoral cycle can be debated, where established principles can be questioned, where the very meaning of an entire political movement can be redefined. Or not. Incredibly, in the Liberal Democrat leadership race the key issue has been identified as 'presentation'. So, instead of a battle of ideas it appears that LibDem members face a battle of hairdos. Instead of a showcase on what in means to be a Liberal Democrat, and I for one was quite interested in that cos I've never managed to figure it out, we will presumably see an argument regarding the finer points of conducting a press conference or which brand of face powder makes you look younger on TV. To say that this is astonishing is an understatement, and you have to wonder what they think they are playing at. Apparently, there has been some understanding between the two declared contestants, Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg, to keep the contest clean. Somehow this has translated into not talking about, well, politics, which is an absurdity for a political party leadership contest. It is also a huge missed opportunity. If they don't talk about policy than any value the contest may have had as a showcase for the LibDems will evaporate. This was hardly going to primetime viewing anyway, but now media obscurity beckons. Bluntly, if one of these two guys really wanted the leadership then he would fight an election campaign for it, not engage in farcical shadow-boxing. Otherwise both risk looking like fools.