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.
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.
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%.
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.
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.
This time next year will be the eve of the General Election in the United Kingdom, when we voters will pass our verdict on the Coalition Government led by David Cameron of the Conservatives and his Deputy Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats.
Sky News political correspondent Sophy Ridge
Tonight I will be at a special debate in Westminster hosted by PR firm Weber Shandwick. All four main parties will represented on the panel with Priti Patel MP taking part the Tories, Natascha Engel MP for Labour, Tom Brake MP of the Lib Dems and Tim Aker, as Head of Policy for UKIP. Weber Shandwick have also teamed up with polling company ComRes, who during the evening will take a scientific look at what could be the outcome of the General Election poll in May 2015. Sky News’ political correspondent Sophy Ridge will conclude the discussion with her own analysis of how the political parties will fare once they face the judgement of the electorate.
Even if you can’t make tonight’s debate, you can follow and engage in the conversation online on Twitter using the hashtag #oneyeartogo.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage on European Elections campaign trail
Despite the best efforts of the mainstream media to derail UKIP’s European Elections campaign, the polls suggest otherwise. 38% say they will vote UKIP on 22nd May. The Newark by-election, caused by Tory MP Patrick Mercer being found guilty by the Commons standards committee for allegedly tabling questions in the House of Commons after signing a deal with a lobbying firm that paid him £4,000 for seeking the readmission of Fiji to the Commonwealth, required UKIP leader Nigel Farage to decide if he would stand in the election. He chose not to. The BBC screamed he bottled it on the Today programme yesterday. But did he?
If you look at the facts in the clear light of day, it could be argued he made the right decision:
(1) UKIP’s figurehead standing in a Westminster by-election either on the same day as the European Elections or shortly afterwards would have allowed a local election contest to overshadow a national election on 22nd May, where UKIP not only hope to do well, but win these elections in the UK by sending the most MEPs to Brussels.
(2) Newark is no where near Kent, Nigel Farage’s powerbase.
(3) Even if the UKIP leader stood and won the Newark seat he would have been either forced to fight it again in a year’s time at the General Election or walk away to stand where he really wants to: a parliamentary seat in Kent.
Today’s Times newspaper splashes with a ‘scandal’ story on Nigel Farage allegedly misuse of EU funds. Except the UKIP leader says he hasn’t, the allegation has been made by someone who is serving a suspended prison sentence for fraud and, by the way, the money are EU allowances and he can do what he likes with them – especially use them to fight against the EU.
And Mr Farage’s tactic of offense rather than defense (as they say in America) seems to be working. The Daily Telegraph, as blogger Guido Fawkes points out, is usually the first to attack when it smells expenses blood. But it has decided it’s far better (and funnier) to stick it to the Times with the added calculation that the public don’t care about Nigel Farage’s expenses/allowances/mistresses as what he stands for politically – i.e. anti-Establishment — trumps scandal and mud-slinging.
The UKIP leader is a canny operator. Mr Farage knows what he is doing. His identifying Russian President Vladimir Putin as a political operator he admires (even if he can’t stand his policies and wouldn’t want to live in Russia) was no slip of the tongue during the EU debate with Clegg. He knew perfectly well how Clegg and the Establishment would react, allowing him to lead them into the Syria trap of accusing the Establishment of warmongering when they were desperate to bomb Damascus after the chemical attacks last summer, only to be stopped by backbench MPs.
The public are behind UKIP and in all probability they will win the European Elections on 22nd May. As Nigel Farage has said, a “political earthquake” will then occur. If he is right, all bets on the General Election are off.
Nigel Farage vs Nick Clegg in LBC EU debate on Wednesday evening
On Wednesday, the leaders of UKIP and the Liberal Democrats debated with each other on whether Great Britain should stay in the European Union.
Hosted by commercial radio station LBC, once London focussed but now broadcasting nationally on DAB radio, and chaired by LBC presenter Nick Ferrari (he does not look very Italian!) the debate was a stark choice between In or Out of the EU.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage came straight from the pub to the central London venue, umbrella in hand and donning a fur collar three-quarter length coat on a cold March evening whilst Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg turned up – sans coat – with a Met Police detective (I presume he was guarding him) after being dropped off further up the street in a ministerial limo.
During the hour long programme, Chairman Nick Ferrari insisted on referring to Mr Clegg as Deputy Prime Minister despite the debate being a party political event between two political leaders. Nick Clegg was merely there as leader of the Liberal Democrats not as a government minister.
Sky News televised the debate and it was also broadcast from LBC’s website. It may have come as a surprise to see Sky and LBC so intertwined. It shouldn’t be as Sky produce LBC’s news slots and veteran Sky newsreader Kay Burley hosts a phone-in on LBC on Sunday morning. It’s a small world…
So on to the debate proper. There was nothing new to the arguments. For political geeks it was a case of ticking off the key points one by one as they were trotted out by Clegg and Farage. 77% of Britain’s laws are made in the EU, said Mr Farage. No, only 7% are according to Mr Clegg (which was even the BBC rubbished the next day). The Lib Dem leader mocked UKIP Nigel Farage for saying 29 million Bulgarians and Romanians would descend on the UK once the transition controls were dropped on 1st January. Mr Farage denied he said they would all turn up but then cleverly stated it wasn’t 29 million who have access to our jobs and houses, it was 450 million: the population of EU countries. And, of course, he’s right.
The cost to Britain of being in the EU “club” was raised by Mr Farage. It’s £55 million a day if you’re interested. The Lib Dem leader had to slip in that the NHS would collapse if we curbed immigration into the UK. *Yawn*. And, of course, Nick Clegg said we’d lose 3 million jobs if we left the EU. Mr Farage batted back that the 3 million figure comes from one academic report written in 1997 and there is no reliable evidence this is true.
You get the point.
It was political candy for political geeks like me but I doubt much of the electorate were watching or read and heard about the debate in the copious column inches, tweets and analysis written and verbalised by the hordes of journalists, bloggers, radio DJs and TV presenters gathered in the “spin room” next to the debating hall.
Emperor public gave Farage the thumbs up after EU debate when YouGov poll declared him the “winner”
Who won then? The mainstream media, as Peter Oborne in the Daily Telegraph, has pointed out today (in contrast to his colleague Fraser Nelson who’s gone all “wet” on the issue of an EU debate), wanted Nick Clegg to win as that was the consensus the London metropolitan journalist elite had decided before the debate had begun. As soon as the debate ended the ‘pundits’ were calling it for Clegg and calling Nigel Farage sweaty. Then once YouGov had crunched their instant poll numbers, they quickly U-turned once the emperor public had shown the thumbs up for Mr Farage by 57% to Nick Clegg’s 36%.
I think Nigel Farage spoke with passion and sincerity – you can see he really believes what he says. Whereas smarmy Clegg just parroted the Brussels line and showed faux shock at the Ukip leader’s views. It was interesting to hear why the Westminster journalists thought Clegg had won (especially as they go against public opinion): he spoke directly to the camera unlike Farage (except Farage did); unlike the UKIP leader, Mr Clegg called audience questioner’s by their names (except Mr Farage also did); Mr Clegg showed he’d done a few of these debates before (you mean he looked bored and drank too much water); and Mr Farage looked sweaty and shifty (errr, HD TV has been around for a while now and even this picture didn’t show a bead of sweat on Mr Farage’s brow).
In short, no one really won. The views of both contenders were not a surprise. However, most people in the country will have not heard the key points on either side of the argument before so – for the electors who tuned in – it was very worthwhile having the debate for that alone. I applaud LBC for organising this debate and for Sky News broadcasting it on a free national TV platform. Mr Clegg and Mr Farage now do it all again on the BBC next week, when audience numbers will be far higher.
This was Nigel Farage’s first national TV debate. David Cameron is still resisting sharing a platform with the UKIP leader in the 2015 General Election debates but he may have no choice if the public’s verdict on Mr Farage translates into real votes in the European Elections on 22nd May.