Yes, I know I am very late to the party on the 'Snowstorm Plot' against Gordon Brown launched by Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon yesterday. But frankly, in my opinion there was never any chance of this plot resulting in a change of leader. Why? Well, firstly Gordon Brown had just had probably his best performance in PMQ's in a long time, effectively swatting away questions from both Tories and Lib Dems, and even getting in a few very good lines (Cameron did too, especially his line on the relationship between PM and Chancellor after Brown teased him on the Tory marriage policy "At least when I lean in and say 'I love you, darling', I really mean it!" Oh how they rolled in the aisles in the Commons!). After a performance like that, many Labour MP's might be forgiven for thinking that PM Brown will perform better on the hustings than some people believe - especially after a rash of op-ed articles wondering if people will prefer a disliked but 'tried and tested' option over Cameron. S o there was none of the immediacy for a change that there might have been if the PM had been destroyed by Cameron at the Dispatch Box. Secondly is the improvement in some economic figures, which Labour will be spinning for all they are worth as being a vindication of Labour policy. And finally there is still no-one in a position to take over the party without a divisive leadership contest. Alan Johnson perhaps could, although his credentials have been burned a little from his firing of a Government scientific advisor last year. One of the Milliband's could, but neither of them are really well known enough. But the most important fact that because there is not one clear challenger, none of the senior cabinet figures want to bring Brown down, based on the old proverb that 'he who wields the knife never wears the crown' - just ask Michael Hesseltine!
All the plotters have done is to undermine the good work the party has done putting the boot into the Tories since the Christmas break. Far from putting the issue to rest, the plotters have managed to make sure the leadership story continues for another week. Stupid.
Well, the new year has arrived, and with it has arrived a new resolution to dedicate myself a little more to updating this blog. Apologies for falling off the radar... winter does not agree with me!
Anyway, we are in the first week of the new year, and with it comes the usual 'predictions for a new year'. I've been cruising the blogosphere for predictions and some of them (especially from non-Tory bloggers) are often somewhat overly optimistic. For example, the prediction that the Scottish Nationalists will hold the balance of power in Westminster after the election are pretty unlikely.
So, the inevitable predictions for 2010:
1) David Cameron will be Prime Minister after the General Election
2) The election will see the North/South split continue, with Conservatives winning overwhelmingly in the South, London, and the Midlands, while failing to make a major breakthrough in the North (although winning more seats) or Scotland.
3) Gordon Brown will be Labour party leader until the General Election
4) The election will result in a Tory majority government
Moving to international affairs:
5) The Australian Liberal Party will defeat Kevin Rudd's emissions trading scheme bill a third time, which will result in Rudd calling a General Election - which will result in another Labor victory (although with a reduced majority)
6) The US healthcare bill will not pass before February, and the final bill will not contain a public insurance option
7) The Republicans will gain between 3 and 5 seats in the Senate
8) Republicans will take control of the House of Representatives
9) The Mexico City climate change meeting will still not result in binding commitments, mostly due to continued Chinese intransigence
10) The cap and trade bill will not pass the United States Senate
The Shadow Chancellor (George Osbourne) just sat down after giving his response to the Chancellor's budget. The highlights of Darling's budget: Economy has done significantly worse this year than expected - contracted by 4.75% rather than the 3.5% expected. A raft of tax changes - an increase in National Insurance tax by 0.5%, a 50% levy on bank bonuses over 25,000 pounds, threshold for high tax rate is frozen (rather than increasing due to inflation) at 43,000 pounds - meaning more people will be in the higher bracket. Public pay increases capped at 1% for two years Deferred the increase of corporation tax for small business Cutting the corporation tax to 10% for those companies who can prove they are using a British patent Increase in pension by 2.5% Child and disability benefit increased by 1.5% Inheritance tax allowance frozen (a big political move to hit the Conservative position on inheritance tax)
The Chancellor has identified approximately 5 billion pounds worth of savings in the economy. That is about a sixth of the savings that he claims will be made. There are obviously a lot of dreadful spending cuts still to be announced...
Although he is trying to ringfence money for hospitals, schools and police (although note that he is not ringfencing the money for Education, Health or the Home Office!), there will be savage cuts to many government departments (more so to those he isn't ringfencing). According to the BBC, the cuts that will be made will undo 3/4 of the increases in spending that has occurred since 1997.
George Obsourne came straight back on the attack in his speech, calling it a total failure and a political budget (who'd have thought?). A very good, robust speech.
At PMQ's last week (and subsequently on TV) we have seen some members of the Government (although some are reportedly very concerned about the strategy) using class warfare language to attack the Tories (particularly David Cameron). The Prime Minister, to laughter and applause from his own benches, hit Cameron with the line that the Conservative economic policy had been 'dreamed up on the playing fields of Eton', while another Labour MP described the Tory policy as 'an Eton Mess' (I admit, I find that one significantly more amusing).
However, what does this mean politically? Well, it appears to show that, consciously or not, Labour have written off this election. Why? Because class warfare, by definition, energises working class Labour stalwarts, while angering middle class southern and middle England. So by engaging in these kinds of attacks, Labour will probably energise their voters in the north and Scotland, and by bringing them out significantly reduce the losses in some of those areas (for example, we may well see far fewer seats north of the Watford Gap going blue than the nationwide swing ought to indicate). However, by doing so, they are turning off exactly the kind of middle class voters in the Midlands and South that they would need to win an election. If it is a conscious decision (and if it is, it is actually a very reasonable one), then Labour strategists have written off the election, and want to make sure their voters come out in the north in order to stop the kind of wipeout that happened to the Conservatives in 1997 - hopefully (in their minds) holding on to 250-odd seats, meaning that Labour can seriously challenge a Conservative Government in the following election.
Will it work? Who knows! In Scotland Labour has been beset by the Scottish Nationalists (although the SNP being in 'government' in Holyrood seems to have reduced their popularity), and the Liberal Democrats seem keen to try to pinch northern seats of Labour (which they will probably fail at). Also there have been comments from more than one commentator that it is a bit rich for Labour to drape itself in the mantle of the working class when they have been a middle class party for the last twelve years (not forgetting as well that conditions for working class Britain have declined and income inequality is worse today than since the 1960's). So whether low-income Britons will 'come home' to Labour on election day is yet to be seen.
One interesting little tit-bit on this point, is to look at polling on who minor party voters want to form the next government. BNP voters (who are predominantly disgruntled ex-Labour voters in safe Labour areas) overwhelmingly want David Cameron to form a government after the election.
Labour is unpopular. There is the obvious reason of why this is; that their policies have caused many of the problems in society - whether the lack of trust between citizens and the government, the enormous deficit and the deterioration of health, police and education services. But there is another reason - one that often plays worse with the public than the policy failures. Arrogance.
At Prime Ministers Questions yesterday, Gordon Brown had a very good day. He got a few good whacks on the Conservatives, disdainfully put down the Lib Dems, and cheered his own side considerably. Cameron also had a very poor day, which further helped. However, because of the arrogance of the government this has already been forgotten in yet another stupid own-goal. During an answer to David Cameron, Gordon Brown claimed Britain was not the only country in the G-20 to still be in recession - Spain was still in recession. The only problem is that Spain is not a direct member of the G-20. Now, in PMQ's a Prime Minister does not know what the Leader of the Opposition will ask him, so it is forgiveable that he might get one fact wrong sometimes. I mean, Spain is not a direct member of the G-20, but it IS a member of the EU (which is a member), and is also an observer. Gordon could be forgiven for getting that wrong in the middle of unscripted debate in the bearpit of the House of Commons. Most politics watchers (and members of the public) would willingly accept this explanation.
However, in an absolutely breath-taking display of hubris, the government has argued today that Brown was completely correct. There is no real justification for this claim. It is pretty obvious that any claim to the PM being correct is disingenuous. So now, after putting some runs on the board yesterday, the Government has stupidly hit its own wicket and now the story around the papers and the blogs isn't "Didn't Gordon do well yesterday", which played nicely into a general story of Labour recovery after a couple of improving polls. Nope, now that story is "Is Spain a member of the G-20, and was Gordon being disingenuous or just ignorant when he claimed they were?" For the love of anything, just suck it up, accept you made a mistake, and move on - it shouldn't be this big a deal!
I've said this before - I am not a scientist. When it comes to the science of climate change I am willing to be influenced by any scientist who puts up a robust and peer reviewed (for what that process is now worth) work on the subject. Some say it is (mostly) natural, some say it is (mostly) man made. I'd love to actually hear pro-climate change people contradict the sceptics with data, rather than waving their arms and yelling 'deniers!', but I guess I'll have to just muddle through.
However, I also know enough to see that there is a large chunk of scientific opinion, and an even larger chunk of public opinion, that either does not believe that climate change is predominantly man-made, or are not overly concerned with the consequences of it. And I know enough about politics to know that when that is the case it is unwise for Conservative Party MP's and supporters to publicly attack members of their own party who do not agree with their position on climate change. In a previous post I mentioned what has happened in Australia. Now, David Cameron is safe. But he would do well to remember that it is likely that, at best, he will have a narrow overall majority, and the last thing he needs is to have a major split inside his caucus room even before he gets into Downing Street! And his minions should remember something else. Much like people who have honest disagreements on immigration do not like to be called racists, people who have honest disagreements on climate change do not like being being referred to as 'the dying gasps of the deniers'. Not least, because if we hark back to the first time climate change scepticism was declared as being 'in its death gasps', we are witnessing a medical miracle!
Cameron does need to be very careful that he does not (between climate change and Europe) turn off his supporters - or send them to UKIP. Capturing the centre is important, but will count for nothing if he can't get the base out as well - especially when there is campaigning to be done!