Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally


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Good things come to those who wait

David Cameron, seen here with his wife outside Number 10, is back as prime minister this time with a Conservative majority

David Cameron, seen here with his wife outside Number 10, is back as prime minister this time with a Conservative majority of 4

Today is one for the history books. The Conservative Party, beyond all expectations, has won its first General Election since 1992 when Sir John Major was prime minister. The Tories are back in power as a single majority party for the first time since 1997 with a working majority of four.

This is a truly momentous day.

I joined the Conservative Party during the dark days of Iain Duncan Smith’s tenure at the top of the Tory tree when there was of course no tree on the logo but the stern torch of Conservatism. Ironically, it is this hard but necessary approach to dealing with the economy after the mess (yet again) Labour left the country which has propelled David Cameron back into Downing Street. When it came down to it, the great British (well English) electorate decided to stick with a party who know how to run a successful economy. The Conservatives were also helped every time Nicola Sturgeon opened her mouth – the prospect of a Labour-SNP coalition saw thousands of disaffected Tories returning home.

The voters resoundingly rejected Miliband's socialist vision for Britain

The voters resoundingly rejected Miliband’s socialist vision for Britain

Socialism has well and truly been defeated in England – it had already been by 1992 and Tony Blair new this in 1997 but Ed Miliband thought he could turn back time. He was resoundingly proved wrong and rightly fell on his sword this morning. Can anyone hear Russell Brand today? No, me neither. Let’s hope this is permanent too.

In 2010 I was up all night at the Ipswich count, which culminated in the man I had selected when Chairman of the Ipswich constituency Conservative Party – Ben Gummer – being elected with just over 2000 votes. By 5am this morning his majority was increased by nearly 2000, which signalled the Conservatives were heading for outright majority at Westminster.

Nick Clegg realises catastrophic loses

Nick Clegg, seen here with his wife Miriam, realises catastrophic loses

Last night I spent the evening in London watching the results come in live in a bar in Westminster – a different but very exciting experience. History was being made in front of our very eyes. A highlight was seeing the big beasts of the Liberal Democrats topple like dominos: Hughes, Cable, Kennedy, Laws, Featherstone, Moore, Swinson, Alexander…the list goes on. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg hung on in his Sheffield Hallam seat but saw his majority slashed by 13,000. By the time the poll bloodbath was over, his party had seen their seat total reduce from 56 to eight – Clegg subsequently resigned as leader of his party a few hours later.

Labour were decimated in Scotland with many big names booted our by the public including Douglas Alexander and the Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy. Later, after dawn broke, former henchman to Gordon Brown, Ed Balls, lost his Morley and Outwood seat – this was justice for being on the bridge advising the Chancellor when he crashed the economy in 2010. Miliband then had no choice but to resign as well.

UKIP failed to break through, capturing just one seat – Clacton, won by Douglas Carswell in last year’s by-election – and unable to retake Rochester and Strood won by Mark Reckless in November. Nigel Farage didn’t win South Thanet either, losing to the Conservatives. As he had promised, Mr Farage resigned as his party’s leader (for now) and said he was off on an extended holiday over the summer before the leadership contest in the autumn.

And at that David Cameron had seen off three party leaders in a morning and was summoned by the Queen to form the next Government.

This has been a day I have waited a very long time to see – a day I thought may never come. A new dawn has broken, has it not (hat tip to a Mr. T. Blair)? Time to celebrate like it’s 1992 – and as the greatest Conservative Party leader since Churchill famously said: rejoice, rejoice, rejoice!

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If you don’t do politics, politics will do you

So said Rick Edwards on ITV’s #LeadersLive debate during his introduction to an online only Q&A programme with our political leaders targeted at the under 30s age group, which started yesterday. First up was Nigel Farage.

You can find the video below.

Today’s Autumn Statement proved the point young people need to engage with politics or the politicians will not listen to them. Politicians only listen to people who vote: it’s as simple as that.

The headline announcement was the reform of stamp duty. This is good – in the short term (more on that in a moment) – for house-buyers of today but a redundant announcement for the hundreds of thousands of young people who can’t even cobble a deposit together to get a mortgage never mind work out if they can afford the stamp duty on top. But by the time these young people – if they ever can – are able to pull the required deposit together the stamp duty reform will have helped to increase house prices as sellers will now accept bids above the old stamp duty thresholds because they will know buyers will have more money to play with because the artificial cliff-edge barrier which saw stamp duty rise by thousands of pounds (e.g. from 1% to 3 % when £250,000 was passed, as in the old system) will no longer be there.

Nearly all the announcements were aimed at middle income earners with families and older people: the two groups who vote the most. You always hear politicians talk about “hard working families” or pensioners who’ve “worked hard all their lives”. You will never hear George Osborne talk about the childless singletons who pay huge amounts of income tax and VAT but very rarely take from the public purse (they even have to pay for their bin collections – around £100 a month considering they don’t use any of the other council services).

The NHS will receive another splurge of tax (£2bn a year for the foreseeable future) but in my view this is just throwing good money after bad. The NHS is a highly inefficient organisation that is ripped off by drugs manufacturers because there is no competition to drive prices down with wasteful spending by doctors, nurses and managers from top to bottom, such as spending £80 million on paracetamol prescriptions which cost as little as 19p in supermarkets. This is allowed because there is no incentive to keep control of costs when the organisation is so sacred and revered by all political parties, even including UKIP! The taxpayer will just keep footing the bill, won’t they?

Weirdly, the general view amongst young people is the NHS is great, although I did hear a young man in his early 20s on the train a few months ago complaining to his mate about the woeful NHS care he had experienced and how he didn’t understand why people criticised an insurance based system like in the US – as the young man put it: “at least the care in the US is better and it’s not as if the NHS is “free” anyway, it’s paid out of of National Insurance.” I could not have put it better myself.

Back to our young people: what was the policy in today’s Autumn Statement aimed at those below 30? Oh yes, a personal debt. The chancellor announced Government-backed student loans of up to £10,000 are to be made available for postgraduates!

If you’re under 30, you’ve got to do politics and VOTE or politics will just keep doing you!


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The lack of political leadership is making our politics dull

Osborne doing Blair

Follower not leader: UK Chancellor George Osborne

Right, I’m going to start blogging regularly again without having to wait to write a New Year’s resolution to motivate me!

I think one of the reasons I am blogging less is because of the way all the mainstream parties have coalesced in the centre ground, which has resulted in a very dull political landscape in Britain. This has been ongoing since the early 1990s with the speed of dullness being turbo powered by Tony Blair’s Government and obsession with focus groups. It is only in the last five years the status quo is being punctured by UKIP and previously (albeit on a much lower scale) by George Galloway’s Respect party.

Melanie Phillips, the Times columnist, summed it up well on the BBC’s Question Time last night when she said the problem was a lack of leadership. So true – leadership is vitally important as it gets things done. This is the case everywhere not just in politics – look at how Tesco has fallen to its knees since Sir Terry Leahy stepped down as CEO to be replaced by the now defunct and hapless Philip Clarke. The difference between Nigel Farage, the Respect leader and Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Miliband is the UKIP and Respect leaders have a set of principles and they are not afraid people will disagree with them, as they believe they are right and want others to follow them.

Political leadership can move countries and the world: Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan undoubtedly had it. Many would say Tony Blair had it too – but did he? Mr Blair actually achieved very little himself as he admits in his autobiography, A Journey, – ironically, it was Gordon Brown who did the most change in implementing a client state paid off in benefits and tax credits and unleashing the banks to fund his spirally welfare coffers and public sector wages bill. Those were highly destructive actions but it required thousands of civil servants to implement them, which required leadership. Tony Blair may have had the brightest smile but it was Gordon Brown who was actually running the Government between 1997 – 2007, which made it even more ironic he failed so spectacularly in the most senior position when he became prime minister.

But where is the leadership now? A photo on a popular right-wing political blog (displayed above) struck me today as encapsulating the political class who follow rather than lead. One Gideon Osborne is doing his best to look like Tony Blair – not in any sense of mockery but because of admiration – even down to the thumb on top of hand gesticulation, which Blair mastered so not to be all ‘pointy’ in his speeches, which the professionally offended would find, well, so offensive.

And why has the Submarine Chancellor surfaced today: to announce a lack of leadership. The EU have sent us a bill for £1.7bn. Two weeks ago David Cameron went to Brussels and enacted a faux anger over the bill, prodding his finger on the lectern to make his point, almost knocking it off the stage into the press pack. The anger was not real – David Cameron is from aristocratic stock: the first thing mother says to you when you are born into the aristocracy is: “Never get angry”. Emotion is treated as wrong by the upper-class, which shows you what an actor David Cameron has become. Just like a Mr T. Blair. Leadership is not acting – that’s following someone else’s script, in this case UKIP’s.

Now Mr Osborne claims to have cut the ‘surprise’ bill in half. But has he? The small print tells us differently – the EU will use Britain’s rebate to pay off the rest. So the money we get back each year (although we still plough into Brussels £6bn more than we get out each year!) is being used to pay this new bill. So the Chancellor hasn’t reduced the bill at all.

And who secured the annual rebate: one Margaret Thatcher. It takes leadership to make a real difference.


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Who’s got the last laugh now?

Newly elected UKIP MP for Clacton, Douglas Carswell (l), with his party leader, Nigel Farage

Newly elected UKIP MP for Clacton, Douglas Carswell (l), with his party leader, Nigel Farage

UKIP have been dismissed as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists” by none other than our illustrious leader and prime minister, David Cameron.

Well, that tactic of insulting your electorate is now consigned to the dustbin of campaign tactics at Conservative HQ. Now the creepy line is “go to bed with Farage, wake up with Miliband”. But that doesn’t seem to be working either and someone is clearly not doing their job well in Tory high command.

Last night, former Tory Douglas Carswell romped to victory in Clacton-on-Sea with a thumping majority of 12,404 with almost 60% of the vote on a 50% turnout. Mr Carswell resigned as a Conservative MP in August and stood as the UKIP candidate in the subsequent by-election yesterday. I heard throughout the campaign from the editor of BBC Look East through to the more eccentric Tory activists that the Conservatives were going to win in Clacton. Well, anyone who has visited Clacton over the last few weeks, as I have, could tell you UKIP were storming home to victory, energised not just by an anti-politics sentiment amongst the voters but, of course, Douglas Carswell’s personal vote as well. Shock, horror, but a right-wing Tory MP was actually quite popular in his constituency!

Although the Clacton result broke all by-election records, the real fright of the night for the established parties was the other by-election in Heywood and Middleton – caused by the death of the sitting Labour MP Jim Dobbin – when a recount was ordered as the result between Labour and UKIP was so close. In the end, Labour only just pipped UKIP to the post with a majority of 617, down from almost 6000 when Labour held the seat at the 2010 General Election – a 17.65% swing from Labour to UKIP. Nigel Farage had not campaigned in the seat as his canvassers were telling him it was lost.

Next stop on the by-election campaign trail is Rochester and Strood where former Conservative Mark Reckless defected to UKIP on the eve of the Tory Conference earlier this month. The date for the poll is yet to be announced.


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Nigel Farage to stand in Thanet South

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UKIP Leader Nigel Farage set to fight Thanet South

Just as the news on Boris was no surpise, the UKIP leader is poised to seek to enter the House of Commons in May 2015 as the MP for Thanet South in Kent. Nigel Farage is on the party’s shortlist for the seat making it a near certainty he will be selected.

A poll financed by Lord Ashcroft last month for the constituency showed Ukip on 33%, the Conservatives on 29% and Labour on 29%.


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The aftermath of the political earthquake

Political earthquake: Nigel Farage and team

Political earthquake: Nigel Farage and team

Many predicted UKIP would do well but they couldn’t possibly win the UK European elections. Err, well, actually, they did, with even The Guardian reporting Nigel Farage’s party won the European elections with ease.

UKIP topped the poll with 27.5% of the vote translating into 23 MEPs, and even winning a seat in Scotland. It is the first time since the general election of 1906 that a party other than Labour or the Conservatives has won a national election.

This result came on the back of the local elections last week where UKIP took more than 150 council seats off the traditional parties. As Nigel Farage said, “The Ukip fox is in the Westminster hen house”. In my neck of the woods, UKIP surges saw the Tories lose control of councils in Brentwood, Southend-on-Sea, Basildon and Castle Point.

UKIP have capitalised on an anti-establishment sentiment in the UK where people feel they are governed by an out-of-touch metropolitan elite from London and Brussels – and they would be right, of course.  All three main parties suffered in both sets of elections as a result but the Lib Dems were all but annihilated, losing all their MEPs bar one.

The next stop is Newark where there is a parliamentary by-election on 5th June, which UKIP’s Roger Helmer hopes to snap from the Conservatives. This will be difficult – the Tories currently have a 16,000 majority – but not as hard as before the political earthquake Nigel Farage’s party unleashed over the last few days. I still wouldn’t bet money on a UKIP victory but it’s now 50:50 they will get their first MP.

The UKIP leader is looking further afield and is predicting a handful of his candidates being elected to Westminster in next year’s General Election. It is astonishing this is now being taken seriously by the mainstream media considering their contempt only a year or so ago and does go to show there are now millions of voters supporting UKIP.

A fair few Conservative ministers, in particular Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, are parroting the usual line that disaffected Tories who voted UKIP in the local and European elections will come back to the Tory-fold in 2015. I’m now not too sure. Now the UKIP electorate can see it is not the Tories they will be denying a majority in Westminster but Labour, the incentive to come back to David Cameron’s Conservatives is not so strong. And the Prime Minister’s guarantee of an in-out EU referendum in 2017 is not stacking up because a) he would actually have to win a general election and b) they don’t believe him.

I’m not sure David Cameron can do anything about the rise of UKIP except concentrate on the economic message and pray the growth rate trickles down to the provinces before 7th May 2015.


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One year to go: Latest polling and analysis on General Election

Four main party leaders in UK General Election 2015

Four main party leaders in UK General Election 2015

As promised, here’s my analysis of last night’s Weber Shandwick organised debate on the 2015 General Election, which contained in-person analysis from Sky News political correspondent Sophy Ridge.

The event was well attended with people from across the economic sectors and pressure groups, such as the TaxPayers’ Alliance. The debate was chaired by one of the bigwigs from Weber Shandwick with a panel made up of the polling firm ComRes, Lib Dem MP Tom Brake, Priti Patel for the Tories, Natascha Engel representing Labour and Tim Aker, UKIP’s head of policy, and Sophy Ridge from Sky News.

ComRes kicked off the discussion with a presentation on the latest polling figures. This was very interesting stuff with a number of figures jumping out to form a startling yet still very unclear view of the election result come May next year.  I was reminded the Tories actually did quite well in 2010, gaining 94 seats but with 36.1% of the vote – but still unable to win a majority. ComRes repeated their claim that 38% of the electorate who will vote in the European Elections will place their cross in the UKIP box. This would mean UKIP come first in the UK European Parliamentary Elections, triggering the “political earthquake” UKIP leader Nigel Farage has talked often about.

But, when it comes to the General Election, UKIP loses a quarter of this vote. Labour and the Tories will only see 5% of their European election vote switch next year. This gives fuel to Conservative Party Chairman Grant Shapps’ argument that UKIP voters in the European elections will come back to the Tory fold in time for the General Election. Well, less than a quarter will (once you strip out those who switch back to voting Labour or Lib Dem), which is better than nothing but not enough to risk splitting the Conservative vote. Labour also only need a swing of 2% to them to win an outright majority. As Priti Patel admitted later, her “party has a challenge on its hands”.

For the Lib Dems – they are sunk this year and next year having lost three quarters of their vote since 2010. Bye then.

“It’s the economy, stupid”, as Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist once famously said, still resonates today. And ComRes polling on how people feel about the economy does not look good for David Cameron and George Osborne: 51% say they do not see any improvement in their economic fortunes since 2010. Labour’s campaign on the “cost of living” is a shrewd move and it will pay dividends in May 2015.

When the debate switched to the politicians on the panel, we heard some interesting views from all three MPs. Priti Patel kicked off and she immediately proved once again why she has been dubbed the darling of the Right. To the extent Tim Aker later on (whilst Priti Patel was briefly away voting in the House of Commons) quipped he couldn’t speak for Priti but she certainly could speak for him! Mrs Patel lovebombed UKIP saying her party should not be attacking Nigel Farage’s party. The Witham MP also said the Conservative Party’s activist base was at its lowest it has ever been and the party in Government had alienated its members. It’s as if she was rehearsing her leadership speech for Party Conference in October 2015. She certainly ticked the right boxes for me.

Labour’s Natascha Engel was a perfectly nice lady but she really is a bit of a wet blanket. She didn’t say a lot about her party or their policies but did find time to say she doesn’t like asking electors for their voting intention on the doorstep. How on earth did she get elected?

It was then Tom Brake’s turn to say how wonderful the Lib Dems were in Government and that they were the ones who had done all the good things – £10,000 tax allowance was theirs of course –  and the Tories had insisted on all the nasty things. Oh and it was the Liberal Democrats who had secured 1.5 Million apprenticeships too. When questioned on why they were therefore doing so badly in the polls, Mr Brake said he found that concentrating on local issues in his constituency helped keep his base on side. Well that may be so in his seat but it won’t save his wider party from oblivion at the General Election.

And then UKIP’s head of policy – and fellow Essex resident (two on the same panel indeed along with Priti Patel) – Tim Aker launched his rhetoric. Straight off the bat he announced the “Lib Dems are history” (fair point) and that despite David Cameron’s promise to control immigration it was in fact back up to “Blair standards”. He even insisted that he HAD to wear his UKIP rosette whilst canvassing in his Thurrock prospective seat so he didn’t get verbally attacked! Strangely (or maybe not) Priti Patel was nodding along to Aker’s rhetorical beat. Mr Aker rounded off his commentary with “People are fed up of the three main Westminster parties. We are the alternative”.

Questions from the audience were then welcomed. Jonathan Isaby, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, asked a question which summed up how difficult it was to predict the General Election result when he said “What use is a national poll going to be in the General Election?”  ComRes’ head of political polling, Tom Mludzinski, said in reply it was too early to predict the result but they were currently drilling down even further by polling in the 40 most marginal seats. I wouldn’t be surprised if my former stomping ground,  Ipswich, was one of those marginal seats being polled.

Wrapping up the evening, Sophy Ridge provided her analysis and admitted she had been to a UKIP rally recently – for work purposes only of course, she cringed. Miss Ridge homed in on a point Priti Patel made earlier when she voiced deep concern about the direction the Scottish Referendum was taking and there was a serious risk of a Yes vote. As this was a polite gathering, no one pointed out that David Cameron may have made a stupid error in allowing Salmond his vote on independence. Sophy Ridge did point out there was a chance of some strange results whereby incumbent MPs go against their party’s swing and display “limpet-like” quality in hanging on to their seats. There’s hope for Ben Gummer yet! Finally, she identified three “curve balls”: the result of the Scottish Referendum could change everything; UKIP victory at the European Elections and how David Cameron reacts to this – does he take his party to the Right allowing Labour to occupy the centre ground?; the anti-establishment mood in the country: this is what Salmond and Farage have latched on to. Miss Ridge recounted her attendance at the UKIP rally where Mr Farage talked about Europe, immigration etc but it was when he urged the audience to give two fingers to the Westminster establishment he got the biggest cheer of the night.

Interesting indeed and even if I were a betting man, I wouldn’t waste my money – despite us only having one year to go.