The Known Unknowns

There was some speculation in the last couple of days about whether the Queen’s Speech will shift the political terrain. We won’t know until the next round of polls arrive, but I would be very surprised if they were the beginning of any significant change for the reasons Danny Finkelstein set out this morning: the Queen’s speech and the government’s legislative plans for the coming months will have completely passed by the vast majority of the electorate.

As the months go by we keep seeing things that might have potentially changed the situation slipping past without any obvious change in the big picture: one was the party conference season, then the Conservative response to the ratification of Lisbon. I’m doubting the Queen’s Speech will be the one either. Looking at what’s left before the campaign itself, I think there are only about four “known unknowns” left in the months ahead that might be noticed by enough people to make a significant change to the political terrain (though of course, there could be any number of unknown unknowns that we can’t predict).

1) The budget
Not many events in the political calendar really get noticed by by the wider public. The exceptions are probably the conference season (most people don’t watch the actual conferences of course, but some of the saturation coverages gets through), and the budget, which people pay attention to it because it directly affects their wallet. Certainly before elections governments use them to curry public favour with good news stories and tax cuts, but they are not an automatic positive if they are perceived as dishonest, unfair or incompetent, nor if the government is forced to hike taxes or deliver bad news. In the present situtation, Alistair Darling is likely to have very limited room for manoeuvre: he won’t have money for tax cuts, and if he does scrape something together it risks backfiring when questions about repairing the public finances are asked. Still, there is potential here, especially if Darling can deliver some good news. This brings us to…

2) The end of the recession
Economic optimism has already returned. There are several different trackers following people’s expectations on the economy, they have all come back strongly since 2008 and early 2009, with some in positive territory. However, it does not seem to have produced any meaningful recovery for Labour. However, I’m still not ready to conclude for certain that it’s not going to have an effect – if an improved economy is going to improve Labour’s position in the polls, I think the trigger may be when the recession formally comes to an end, when the good news will no doubt be plastered across the media and the government will be primed to capitalise. That was expected in the last lot of quarterly economic figures, but never arrived. With the rest of Europe emerging from recession it must be very likely that the next lot of figures will show the formal end of the recession.

3) The last chance for a Labour change of leadership
The endless media speculation of whether Brown will stay or go is gradually drawing to a close, we will get to a point where it is so close to an election that Labour really cannot change their leader. We’ve long since passed the point when there could be a formal challenge, we may be past the point where an open rebellion by MPs to oust Brown is feasible. It’s probably still just about possible that a cabinet delegation go to Brown at the start of January and quietly tell him that he no longer has the necessary support to continue and should stand down for the sake of the party. It is looking increasingly unlikely, but if it does happen it obviously has the potential to change everything.

4) The leaders’ debates
They’ve never happened before, and if they happen this time we can be fairly certain they will get huge attention and viewing figures. With the attention they receive they certainly have the potential to change things around. However, realistically the chances of them helping Labour must be very low. When it comes down to it polls constantly show that people like David Cameron and dislike Gordon Brown – increased focus on the choice between the two men will likely help the Conservatives. David Cameron is seen as charismatic, he is an interesting speaker with emotional intelligence and ability to connect with the public. These are not, to put it kindly, Gordon Brown’s strengths. One thing in Gordon Brown’s favour is expectations – polls show that people overwhelmingly expect David Cameron to win any debate, so the pressure will be on him to deliver, and Gordon Brown won’t have to do much to surpass expectations.

I think the one with the most potential to change things is a change of Labour leadership, but I think it is now very unlikely. I would be surprised if the budget made much difference, and the debates (if they happen) are more likely to help the Conservatives. From my four known unknowns I think the one with the most chance of changing things is when the end of the recession is announced. Who knows what effect any unknown unknowns might have, but the number of opportunities for Labour to turn things around are rapidly dwindling.


151 Responses to “The Known Unknowns”

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  1. @ Paul – it doesn’t matter what you think most people “expected”. The official Labour Party position was quite clear – that Blair would serve a full third term. This fact makes a nonsense of your claim that Brown somehow had more of a mandate than Major (who at least won a leadership contest).

    Any way you choose to cut it, the situation is that no one (not even Labour MPs or members) outside Brown’s own constituency has ever had a chance to vote for or against the man and yet here he is, holding the highest electoral office in the country. I appreciate that this is legal but that doesn’t make it meaningfully democratic.

    I had the sorry experience of trying to explain all this to a highly politicised, pro-democracy Nigerian chap a few months ago. He wasn’t at all impressed and my efforts to make it sound like a reasonable democratic circumstance (and I did try – I was feeling a bit defensive about dear old Blighty) met with incredulity.

    If I see him again, I think I’ll just pass him on to you :)

    But I do agree with you that Brown’s evasions both a leadership contest and then a general election – both of which he’d probably have won – transformed an otherwise acceptable process into something that looked like a bloodless, constitutional coup. But now this has happened, the loopholes that made it possible should be tightened. I can’t think of any good reason why a proper leadership contest should not be obligatory except in a time of national emergency.

  2. @ Cllr Peter – a premiership seems just a tad more significant than reneging the usual manifesto spiel. And I don’t recall saying that we should have had a referendum on Brown (fun though it would be to have one right now).

  3. James Ludlow

    Worth bearing in mind that many of us have been criticising the idea of Parliamentary Sovereignty (the origin of your PM problem and supported by all the UK parties) for a very long time.

    You guys are Johnny-come-latelys.

  4. Brown was nominated by 85% of MPs so no Election was necessary under the LP rules.
    As such he was Elected as he was the only candidate.
    Clarke, Byers et al were too risk averse to suffering the embarassment of failing to get enough nominations or if they scraped them getting trounced.

  5. JAMES LUDLOW,

    “a premiership seems just a tad more significant than reneging the usual manifesto spiel.”

    Only if you believe that the leader should decide everything and all the rest should just be yes people who do as they are told.

    I for one like cabinet government and the more talent and debate within it the better.

    Peter.

  6. Danny Finkelstein’s article was a particularly good one.

    I am currently attending a course for the long-term unemployed (most of who do not have the financial capital I do, it’s a real eye opener), a number of whose delegates come from Labour marginals, including one Labour ought to aspire to keep even if the most marginal seats are beyond hope next year. Danny Finkelstein is right. There is no discussion about politics. Certainly nobody noticed the Queens’s Speech. One exception to the political apathy, a reference to discrimination against the English (everybody there is “white”).

    One thing Labour could therefore do to minimise their losses. No more All Women Shortlists before the next election. And come to that no “positive discrimination” by the Tories. I say this simply as a psephological observation.

    With respect to the economy. “Quantitative easing” has consisted of money going to the banks, and in turn into investments. The stock market has gone up 25% since the crisis a year ago. And it yo-yos so that “insiders” (did anybody else listen to the recent Radio 4 programme about automatic dealing by computers by which shares are bought and sold again in tiny fractions of a second? – it was horrifying) make money at the expense of small and traditional investors. On the other hand, unemployment has gone up and there has been little investment to diversify the UK from its dependence on London, and particularly Edinburgh, banks and finance (the two clearing banks are the two with Edinburgh roots. I don’t think, though, that the bailout totally represents favouritism by the Edinburgh MP Chancellor, the sums are too large for cynical calculations like enabling he Scottish Parliament to have enough money to pay students’ fees). Initiatives to support manufacturing industry have been at best token. Few people have had a pay rise, interest rates for ordinary investors are negligible and pensions schemes are still being closed.

    In short, economic recovery is not reaching ordinary people. So it won’t help Labour. Except that people in Scotland clearly benefit from better policies, funded by Westminster Labour if agreed by Edinburgh, than people in England and Wales. It is no surprise that the clear swing against Labour in England and Wales does not extend to Scotland.

    Labour cannot do anything through a budget. They haven’t the money. They are already incurring huge debts to postpone financial pain until after the election.

    Finally, people have at last tumbled to the difficulties Brown has because of his long-standing visual problems. It is an incorrigible statement, but from my Psychology education I have thought for years that Brown has had problems from this, both physically and very possibly emotionally. And, unfairly for Brown, I suspect one problem is that his eyesight interferes with his non-verbal communication, including television presentation. In a way, Blunkett’s presentation problems being blind (but remember the difficulties he used to have controlling his eye movements – I don’t know what he has done about this, but he has done something) were less of a political handicap because we all realise them. We do criticise Brown’s presentation, of course, but I suspect we largely fail to realise why. All this is sad and unfair to Brown, but it does help explain why one suspects that Cameron will, has some huge gaffe, “win” televised debates. Of course Brown is so far behind that he needs to hope that Cameron will slip up.

    It would be fascinating to be a “fly on the wall” when any debates between Brown and Cameron are organised to know what stipulations the campaign managers place as to where Brown in particular is positioned and what camera shots will be used. With one good and one blind eye, the angles used will be particularly critical for Brown, and could make a big difference to subsequent voting.

    Finally, I suspect Thatcher’s death, and I hope it doesn’t happen before May, would be a political standoff. it might encourage some people to vote Conservative, but on the other hand plenty of people remember the unemployment and economic gloom of the 1980s, and Thatcher’s death might concentrate their minds on Tory past enough to return them to Labour (or at least a minor party). Incidentally, what would happen about Mark Thatcher in relation to the funeral, given that he is at present keeping out of the United Kingdom?

  7. @ Peter,

    If we had elections or referendum every time a Party did something it hadn’t promised or broke a promise it had made…. they would be weekly…..

    That is a very suprising attitude, essentially saying that politicians can lie as par for the course just to get elected.

    The current government had no mandate to sign the EU constitution without referendum, nor build up an almost unfundable £200bn deficit for no better reason than to try and get elected again. No mandate for the scorched earth policy they are operating that my generation (I’m 28) and the next generation will have to pay for their whole lives. No; they have their own wealth and pensions and will be perfectly okay.

    Clearly we need a constitution where mandate must be followed or a politician has to face a challenge and re-election.

  8. ‘Clearly we need a constitution where mandate must be followed or a politician has to face a challenge and re-election.’

    A constitution would be nice in any form. Mind you, the only one that offers us any hope against the police state both parties want is that offered by the EU.

    ‘The current government had no mandate to sign the EU constitution without referendum’ Farcical comment–does a party have to mention things in its mandate for everything which will happen in its future term of power? NO.

    Parties are also elected to lead. Who cares about Lisbon? Only petty right wing tories / UKIP / BNP members–is there a difference between these groups? Well, no– they all think in a world of global capitalism / global terrorism / global environment issues / global justice issues etc that solely national government is the answer. Oh grow up–the empire is dead. There is a place for National / regional and international laws.

  9. Brown being “unelected” is a non-issue constitutionally, but I don’t think its entirely reasonable to compare it to Major’s succession from Thatcher. Major was a loyal footsoldier to Thatch, and was in no way agitating for her removal. He took his opportunity when it arose; with dignity and character (but perhaps without charisma).

    Brown always wanted to replace Blair. He agitated constantly, undermined and obstructed his old “friend” and then seized the throne with more gusto than MacBeth. He was perfectly constitutionally entitled to do that. It doesn’t mean that the electorate have to like it.

  10. Mike R,

    “The current government had no mandate to sign the EU constitution without referendum, nor build up an almost unfundable £200bn deficit for no better reason than to try and get elected again. No mandate for the scorched earth policy they are operating that my generation (I’m 28) and the next generation will have to pay for their whole lives. ”

    Actually I think you’ll find they do.

    What they legally signed within their powers is not the original EU constitution and even if it was as the democratically elected government having debated it in parliament with due regard o the law they were perfectly entitled too.

    You may not like that and you might dislike politicians who ignore or even reverse what was in their election manifestos, but governments aren’t bound by party policy or election manifestos.

    There is nothing to say that a government that decides to drop or amend a party policy can’t do so. If the public don’t like it they get to vote them out at the next election.

    As to miss managing the economy or playing politics with the economy, well all governments do it.

    Unless you are proposing some kind of electoeconomic golden rule where the government has to call a general election if the deficit rises above 50% I am afraid all you can do is rant about it.

    I don’t particularly like this government or Browns economic performance but I don’t see it as a basis for rewriting the constitution.

    Peter.

    Peter.

  11. Peter:

    Do you need reminding of what happened in 1920/30’s Germany? Although most voters of the relevant elections will have now passed on, I doubt many would have been in favour of the events that followed the elections of the time. Would an equivalent of this argument really wash…

    “What they legally signed within their powers is not the original EU constitution and even if it was as the democratically elected government having debated it in parliament with due regard o the law they were perfectly entitled too.” I changed no words, as it may have seemed offensive. I simply want to make a point about ‘legality’ of elected officials and what they can do.

    Before immediately jumping on this comment, I do vote ‘Tory’, however many of my views are quite liberal – “help those who require it and let everyone else live free, with respect for others” would (roughly) sum my view up.

  12. Jack,

    “Only petty right wing tories / UKIP / BNP members–is there a difference between these groups?”

    Seriously; grow up.

  13. Mike R

    I’m not sure what you want to happen with the uncodified UK constitution. As it stands, the UK Parliament can do whatever it likes (by rescinding any previous legislation that pretends to constrict it).

    That situation would allow a Nazi style government to take legal control (which obviously neither of us would want to allow).

    What are you proposing?

  14. Old Nat,

    I’m afraid I am ignorant in ‘how’, though perhaps an elected upper house, done correctly, might be the answer. I would want strong government ‘within boundaries’. A constitution that is put to the vote and can only be changed by a majority in referendum??

    I just can’t, and would never, accept “they were elected, so whatever they do is okay” as ethical. That was the reason for my ‘rant’. Democracy is to valuable to lose.

  15. Mike R

    I can understand that the constitution has never been an issue in English politics before – all of your parties believe that sovereignty lies in Parliament as opposed to the people. I agree that democracy is too important to lose, but in many respects the UK doesn’t have it.

    I understand the rant – what I don’t understand is how you (not you personally!) haven’t challenged the politicians usurpation of your rights before!

    The constitution matters! It’s what protects the citizens from the politicians.

  16. Fascinating thread (presumably AW has given up policing this one) although nothing to do with polls.

    @Oldnat – “As it stands, the UK Parliament can do whatever it likes..” I think you will find it can’t – the European legal system would overule illegal acts of Parliament. This is a central complaint of anti EU campaigners, but although it might mean we have to accept interference in areas we don’t like, it also gives us a strong measure of protection, and not just within our own borders. With 27 nations now covered, it would be much harder for Facism or similarly nasty ideologies to take hold in Europe. Pro or anti EU, we have to accept that in historical terms this is a real achievement, and along with the longest unbroken period of peace in European history and the complete end of the historic UK/French and French/German emnities is something we should all be grateful for.

    Another interesting angle on the constitutional debate is the role of direct action. No constitutional settlement can give 100% guaranteed protection against governments determined to subvert legality. The UK has a long and proud tradition of resistance – historically we have been some of the best demonstrators and rioters in the world. There comes a point when you have to leave constitutional niceties behind and hit the streets. The trouble is, that point, and the issues behind it, are different for different people, which is why we have constitutions…..

  17. @Cllr Peter – “Only if you believe that the leader should decide everything and all the rest should just be yes people who do as they are told.”

    What an odd comment. It’s not a matter of what one “believes”. The fact is that the premier has powers over and above those of other MPS, including ministers (who he of course can appoint or sack as he sees fit, thereby shaping the entire government and exerting considerable power over it). This reality doesn’t magically disappear if one refuses to “believe” in it.

  18. Just a recap on the political fallout should Baroness Thatcher
    depart this mortal coil before the GE. I think if she thought her passing would produce one additional Labour vote, she just would’nt go. When David Cameron is inside number 10, she will “simply fly away”.

    On a different tack, judging by the photograph of Cameron and Brown taken at the Queens speech, Brown is looking pretty damned ill himself.

  19. MIKE R,

    “Do you need reminding of what happened in 1920/30’s Germany? ”

    Are you really suggesting that 80 years on we should bring in legislation on the succession of PM’s because of what happened in another country in another century.

    I suspect if you selectively trawl through history you can find a case to challenge the legitimacy of pretty much any political system.

    Oh look Hitler got elected, we must put an end to those dangerous democratic mandates……

    As to your comments to oldnat, what about a single chamber elected by PR, it works well up here.

    Its odd that as a Tory you don’t like how Brown got his job and how he is using his power and want change to deal with it, but the potential solution;

    An elected House of Lords,
    a PR parliament,
    and the EU challenging a UK government

    are all things the Tories aren’t that keen on.

    Maybe you should nudge left a bit and join the LibDems.

    JAMES LUDLOW,

    “The fact is that the premier has powers over and above those of other MPS.”

    If that was really true Maggie would have gone on and on…

    She could just have fired them all and got a dozen new stooges.

    But of course in the real world a PM can only rule with the support of their cabinet and only then if they and that cabinet have the support of the Party.

    Beyond that i think you could also argue that at another level the government and the Labour party have become limited in what they can attempt or achieve as they have lost the confidence of the people.

    As their popularity has declined so has their authority and they are now in government but not in power.

    In that respect I think it is to an extent about what we “believe”.

    In part this general discussion has been about rules to curtail the powers of a PM or government but for me the real limits are less about the letter of the law and more about the heart.

    Ultimately what determines things in system like ours is as much what the public and the body politic think of an action as to the actual legalities of it.

    The 10p income tax change was perfectly legal but politically untenable, as was Thatcher’s position after she won the leadership contest and made her famous doorstep speech to continue.

    Peter.

  20. The formal end to the recession will -barring some dramatic changes next week to the figures from the last quarter- almost certainly occur in mid January. Not even Alec would dispute that.
    What impact will they have if the opposition parties and the media hammer home the fact that the UK was the last major economy to register growth? Not much I suspect. Only when the feelgood factor starts to return will antipathy towards the government begin to slacken off.
    Surely only getting rid of Brown will significantly improve Labour’s prospects. To my mind this needs to be done by Christmas and is still possible if 2 or 3 cabinet big guns get their act together behind a leading player but where is Brutus? Who will wield the knife?

  21. Frederic Stansfields post displays a similar experience to my own when listening to the non chattering class’es. The common thread is immigration,(against) often from British born people of African stock as well as whites.
    The general tone re our recent leaders is as follows;
    Thatcher, tough bitch very strong for Britain.
    Major, nice but weak.
    Blair, a spiv but very clever, you knew he would not get outsmarted.
    Brown, hopeless lump.
    It is hardly scientific, but it is why I tend to believe the forecasts which denegrate Labours chances at the polls.

  22. With regards to the end of the recession being one of the known unknowns, i can’t see it making much difference.
    The vast majority of the electorate do not take the same level of interest in politics as the people who write on these pages and many of them take simplistic views on issues such as national and global financial slow-downs.
    A very large number of them see this government at least partly responsible for the recession. So expecting them to listen to Gordon Brown’s insistence that Labour are the party best placed to steer us out of the recession is a bit like asking the person who robbed your house to come back and fit your security locks.

  23. Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty and a friend of Ashton, said: “Cathy was vice-chair of CND. She was subject to intrusive surveillance by MI5 during the 1970s”.

    Combined with Brown’s decision to take the foreign minister role rather than a potentially more important economic policy role (at least for the UK).

    Wonder what impact this is going to have on the polls?

  24. @ Cllr Peter – I wonder if we live on the same planet. Did you perhaps miss how New Labour altered the processes by which it selects its leaders, with the result that today it’s substantially more difficult for the Labour Party to oust a leader than it is for the Tories? Google is your friend here – look it up. This situation also needs to be looked at – there seems no good reason why basic party structures and processes shouldn’t be subject to the same sets of rules.

    The premier has more powers than ordinary MPs and ministers. This is simply a fact. It’s not my opinion. Those powers include appointments to the Cabinet and dismissals from the Cabinet. These are simply facts. They are not opinions. A PM – like Thatcher – can be ousted, certainly, but only where they lose so much support that it is beyond the limits of their extra powers to overcome it.

  25. JAMES LUDLOW,

    ” New Labour altered the processes by which it selects its leaders, with the result that today it’s substantially more difficult for the Labour Party to oust a leader than it is for the Tories?”

    How a party chooses its leaders is an internal matter. If the public have a big enough issue with it they won’t vote for them.

    Your alternative seems to be that the next party in Government legislating on how other parties be allowed to choose their leaders.

    I’d love to see the posts we would get here if Brown had included legislation on how to pick the Tory leader in his Queens speech.

    ” A PM – like Thatcher – can be ousted, certainly, but only where they lose so much support that it is beyond the limits of their extra powers to overcome it.”

    Thats my point ,even if not formalised the system places limits on what a PM can do, so the issue of Browns poor performance and him becoming PM just isn’t a big issue.

    You need to seprate his performance from his position.

    If Brown had turned out to be a good PM no one would give a monkeys how he got there, except maybe die hard tories who wanted to throw any mud they could find.

    I seem to remember a certain Winston Churchill becoming PM in 1940 without an election, maybe that should never have been allowed.

    As i’ve said before i don’t support Labour and I don’t rate Brown, but neither makes me thing we should be altering the constitution because of them.

    Peter.

  26. CLLR CAIRNS
    I dont remember WLS Churchill becoming PM in May 1940. However, I am aware that it happened and happened as you say without an election. Further, he was not at that time even leader of the Conservative Party.

  27. @ Cllr Peter – you seem very resistant to any revisions being made to our political system. Rather odd for a representative of a party dedicated to Scottish independence.

    There are various ways in which such changes might be made, and while they would need to be instigated by the government of the day, they can be placed in the hands of a review body of some sort. The Electoral Commission, perhaps. And they don’t necessarily have to address how leaders are replaced when a party is not in government. It is, specifically, a change of PM that presents a particular issue. Clearly as the constitution currently exists, it leaves a gaping loophole that has allowed the Labour government to observe the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit of the law.

    btw, Brown’s “poor performance” is very much the issue. It’s precisely his unsuitedness for his job combined with his stubborn insistence on hanging on until the last moment which demonstrates why the current system can be very problematic. I really do not see why the public should have to endure two years of terrible governance by a man they did not elect to his office just so for want of some tightening up of the rules. It’s too late to alter the reality of Brown’s premiership but it might save us from some comparable future numpty governance.

    By then, of course, Scotland will be independent and this will be none of your business :)

  28. JAMES LUDLOW,

    My resistance to revising the political system is that I don’t see a good enough reason for it.

    For me the crux of this argument seems to be;

    We don’t like Brown or the way he became PM so the system should be changed.

    But as I’ve pointed out if he was a good PM no one would bother.

    I see nothing problematic with the system as it stands even if it sometimes results in a twit getting the top job.

    Indeed if you look over the last two decades successive attempts by both Labour and Tory party’s to alter the Leadership election rules, when they didn’t like the last result, have hardly lead to great results.

    I can’t say any reason to think that Browns performance over the last year would be any better than now if he had won a leadership contest in May and thena snap election in June.

    If your problem is with Brown its next May you should be talking about and the existing system is what will decide it.

    Peter.

  29. @ KingHarald – “I dont remember WLS Churchill becoming PM in May 1940. However, I am aware that it happened and happened as you say without an election. Further, he was not at that time even leader of the Conservative Party.”

    Oh indeed. And let’s hope it doesn’t happen against unless we are once more at war with Germany.

    And it’s 2009 now, for heaven’s sake. What next? A precedent from the 16th Century?

  30. @James Ludlow
    I mentioned this Churchillian fact since Cllr Cairns raised the matter of Churchills rise to power. I did not intend it to be a suggestion for future PM selection. However, I was taken to task yesterday on another site for mentioning Polands role in WW2.
    ” Its 2006 now for heavens sake” said the poster, along with derogatory remarks about Britain and Dads Army. I will tell you what I told him, I believe history teaches us a great deal and I will continue to study it and quote it.

  31. @James Ludlow
    Sorry about the typo its 2009.

  32. @ Peter – it’s highly unlikely that Brown would have been significantly better had he a mandate (though he may have been less defensive and more confident). But we the unsupportive public would not feel quite so strongly that this duffer had been foisted upon us without so much as a by-your-leave.

    As other’s have said above (I think?), fixed term parliaments would also be a good idea.

    So that’s at least two changes to the existing system I’d like to see. Just call me “Radical James”.

  33. Peter Cairns

    I wouldn’t myself describe Brown as a “twit”, but isn’t it often said that the electorate gets the government it deserves?

    King Harold’s summary of opinion of the non-chattering classes (Sun readers?) is worrying:

    Thatcher, tough bitch very strong for Britain.
    Major, nice but weak.
    Blair, a spiv but very clever, you knew he would not get outsmarted.
    Brown, hopeless lump.

    Notice that what is constant is not right/left or even pro/anti- foreigner (whether EU or non-white) but the desire for a Strong Leader. These are The Authoritarians, and they are in the majority in society as a whole and account for the behaviour of in at least the largest parties and those of the far left and right.

    http://members.shaw.ca/jeanaltemeyer/drbob/TheAuthoritarians.pdf

    Hitler would be admired if he wern’t a foreigner.

  34. Yes, Harold, you should be very sorry. Go stand in a corner!

    History does have a lot to teach us, I agree. But I don’t think the expediencies of a wartime Britain being pounded by the Luftwaffe in 1940 offer a very good parallel for Britain 2009. But you never know, things could change.

  35. @ James:-

    “By then, of course, Scotland will be independent and this will be none of your business”

    As to the former-make it soon Lord.
    As to the latter- I fear it won’t stop their blethers & girns.

  36. @COLIN
    AMEN to the Lord making it soon.
    @ James Ludlow
    Its just the sort of bloody nonsense they might quote to wheel Lord Rumba into office as PM. Especially in a crisis, and I dont mean Merkel entering the Sudetenland with 12 panzer divisions. It could be Brown having a major heart attack or whatever. They are capable of anything to cling on.

  37. @JOHN B DICK
    Yes, mostly Sun, some Mirror, some Mail. You are right, there is a lot of strength through joy about this.
    Thatcher as the Iron Lady, Blair as the world leader strideing the globe. This is champion. Major getting a bad time from underlings he is unable to control. Brown, biting his nails, unsure what to do next, a new u turn every day. This is pathetic.
    It takes quite a short time for these images to become folklore.

  38. Frederick Stansfield

    “It is no surprise that the clear swing against Labour in England and Wales does not extend to Scotland.”

    There is a clear swing against Labour in Scotland, but it is to the LibDems and SNP rather than the Cons. There is also a swing from the LibDems to the SNP because the two parties are competing with their rural policies in rural areas where Labour are irrelevant and the Conservatives marginalised.

    Labour in the West have a core vote which is a higher proportion of their total vote than is the case in England. That is also true of the Conservatives throughout Scottland because the rest have died, not as with Labour because it is a family/class/local/religious tradition.

    There will, despite that, be only a few seats change hands even if the SNP win a majority of the popular vote as they may well do. That’s because FPTP will protect Scottish Labour MP’s in the West. They would be wrong to take much comfort from that, for what may happen is that the SNP will move from third place into a position where they are the challengers in very many marginal seats.

    That would mean that a very small further increase in SNP support would result in FPTP working in their favour and the SNP rather than Labour being over represented.

    If the incoming Conservative PM thinks it would be advantageous to his party to have the the next election early election while Labour are demoralised, broke, and fighting among themselves then that could be in three years or even less.

    Supposing he does so “to get a working majority” and the Conservatives make modest further gains in England while most Labour MP’s from Scotland are defeated by the SNP, what would be the outcome? Would it be welcome to the English Conservatives on this site?

    The Conservative government would mistake a landslide win for popular support for their credo, and introduce unpopular, impractical doctrinaire policies. Labour would implode and lose its financial support as it no longer seemed a party either of government or the working man so the Trade Unions might find something else to do with their money and the LibDems as the second party would prepare for government (again) and be disappointed at least for a while.

    If however the SNP had a substantial majority of Scottish MP’s, on a bare majority of the popular vote, that would revive their pre-devolution objective of secession from Westminster and reconvening elsewhere.

    I understand that some committed Unionists in Scotland have seen the danger and suggested that even though they be lifetime Conservative supporters they would better defend the Union by voting Labour. I don’t think they need to do that this time, especially in Glasgow, but maybe next time they would.

    English Conservatives who do not question the superiority of FPTP might like to think about that.

  39. “The Conservative government would mistake a landslide win for popular support for their credo, and introduce unpopular, impractical doctrinaire policies”

    I just love this sort of stuff!!

    ” most Labour MP’s from Scotland are defeated by the SNP, what would be the outcome? Would it be welcome to the English Conservatives on this site?”

    Yes absolutely-one down & one to go ( one way or another)

  40. If you want historical parallels, here are a few.

    I don’t remember Churchill becoming PM the first time but I do remember people during the war saying of Mussolini that “at least he made the trains run on time.” A strong leader.

    Merkel won’t need Panzer divisions. You have seen the newsreels of the German Army marching into Austria?

    There are two ways to take over another country, you can invade it or you can buy it. Did you see the film of the security van taking the new DM’s to the DDR banks? The anthem was wrong. I should have been Deutchmark uber alles.

    When Scotland becomes independant and r-UK leaves the EU, Scotland will prosper with its renewable industry, quality non GM food production and plentiful water, space and respect for Education and free health care. We’ll have to rebuild Hadrian’s wall of course to keep the immigrants out.

    Cut off from their markets, with a failed economy and currency, a disasterous American adventure, huge differentials in income and social collapse the English will have to accept that their corrupt parliament is finished. With EU financial support, Scotland will annex England by bribing their leading politicians to quit (we’ll call it “The Equivalent” as compensation for loss of office).

    There won’t be any tanks from Germany, but there might be from Wales if the Welsh regiments fancied getting their tanks into Downing St to facilitate the changover.

  41. John B Dick

    Do Welsh tanks have leeks?

    (while we wait for the Observer MORI poll).

  42. It’s amazing how threads can mutate. Now we’re somehow in Robert Harris’s ‘Fatherland’ territory.

    @ John – all that goose-stepping in the Scottish Highlands will be rather tough on the men in kilts. Perhaps The Proclaimers will come to the rescue with a high-pitched acapella rendition of “Donald, Where’s Yer Troosers?”

  43. JOHN B DICK,

    “There is a clear swing against Labour in Scotland, but it is to the LibDems and SNP”.

    Sorry?

    The LibDems share of the vote has regularly been around half of their 2005 share in Scotland. If thats a swing to the Libdems I’d like to see a slump…. can you get a negative vote.

    In Glasgow NE they got less than half the BNP vote. That means they are less popular than the Nazi’s……

    Peter.

  44. If Scotland is such a Nirvana, why do its occupants eat, beat and drink themselves to death to such a greater extent than the rest of the UK (and indeed Europe)?

    Is this purely a result of despondency brought on by centuries of English imperialism? And if so, would independence revolutionise the habits of the Scots electorate?

  45. Colin,

    “I just love this sort of stuff!!”

    To true, there is a thin line between making a point and writing a Tom Clancey Novel…. The is a difference between recalling how strong governments have gone to far when they face a weak opposition and predicting it will happen.

    I think most politicians are aware that a huge majority can sometimes make a party over confident.

    I have said here before one of the biggest mistakes any party can make is to believe that those who voted for it are its supporters.

    If Cameron gets a huge majority it will be because as many people want rid of this Labour government as want his Tory one and he would do well to remember that.

    Peter.

  46. @ Peter – “If Cameron gets a huge majority it will be because as many people want rid of this Labour government as want his Tory one and he would do well to remember that.”

    Surely that’s always the same for any major party. A good part of their vote share is invariably people whose enthusiasm is limited to the sentiment “at least they’re not that other lot”. Only the small parties can really claim a high proportion of very keen voters – usually the nutjob contingent from across the political spectrum.

    Choosing who to vote for is a compromise for many people, IMO. It’s a matter of “I like Party X’s tax proposals but Party Y has a better policy on Europe …” or whatever. Ultimately, we usually just weigh things up and vote for the Lesser of Two Weevils.

  47. @ Peter Cairns

    “If Cameron gets a huge majority it will be because as many people want rid of this Labour government as want his Tory one and he would do well to remember that.”

    MORI must have heard your concerns Peter:-

    37/31/17 ……………..!

    Alec-your moment has come.

  48. Peter

    You wouldn’t disagree that what has happened in the past can happen in the future and you agree that a Conservative party with a large majority is at risk of over-confidence. Even being aware of a danger does not mean that you will necessarily avoid it.

    I agree that the Conservatives are not winning so much as Labour are losing. No election since the war has been “won”. The different situation in Scotland has no other explanation. It isn’t a sudden enthusiasm for independence. That’s why you know that people who vote for your party aren’t only its supporters isn’t it?

    I say that as one who expects to vote for your party’s candidates and for independence too when I get the chance.

    If B usually follows A, what do you normally expect when A happens? Sometimes it doesn’t of course. Time will tell.

    We have had over confident governments from both parties with strong leaders marginalising cabinet and in the case of TB and Clause 4, a PM going out of his way to pick a fight with his party’s most loyal supporters to show that he could take “tough decisions” and demonstrate that he was a strong leader.

    Nobody doubts that Labour is losing votes. Many former supporters will refrain from voting. Few in Scotland will go directly to the Conservatives and not simply because there is an extra choice. The few who might do so could change due to a single, possibly local, issue of exceptional importance to the voter.

    In many constituencies, the SNP are behind the LibDems. Do you suppose ALL the ex-Labour voters are turning towards the SNP?

    Will they want to do that in Argyll, or would they support the incumbent LibDem in case the Conservative got in? We will never know, for there are can’t be many soft Labour votes left in this constituency, and the flow of votes from LibDem to SNP and the Conservatives will be much greater. The outcome will depend on how this breaks and not on Ex-Labour voters.

    There will be constituencies too where local considerations of no relevance to the Westminster will Trump national trends.

  49. The idea that the least unpopular party will win has a lot of truth in it. This is what leads them all to try to grab what they think is the ‘middle-ground’, so that they will offend the least number of people. Unfortunately they seem to gauge where that ground lies by listening to the BBC and the rest of the chattering classes rather than real people.

    The result is that though there are big popular majorities for leaving the EU, Independence for Scotland, return of the death penalty, ban on immigration etc etc, none of the main parties represent these views. It is left to fringe parties to do that.

  50. Pete B,

    “This is what leads them all to try to grab what they think is the ‘middle-ground’, so that they will offend the least number of people.”

    I think that is a miss reading of what triangulation is all about. The middle ground is defined as the point where your support starts and the your principle opponents support begins.

    The focus is to find those policies where you can win over voters on the margins by appealing to their support without alienating your own.

    So new Labour u turned on right to by and disarmament because middle Englands Tory voters supported them and then emphasised Education and Health as areas to focus on because middle england couldn’t afford to go private so they would support bettter state provision.

    Its not rocket science, both Labour and Tory have done it and it works. A key to success is understanding the demograhics who will vote where and for what, and how salient different issues were to them.

    If you look at ICMs figutes for the late 90’s, the two biggest concerns of Middle England were schools and the NHS and er all know what Blair fought on, the two issues that the soft Tory vote in the marginals was most concerned about.

    Thats why Europe and immigration never get to the top of the pile.

    For the Tories most of the people who have a problem with it are Tory voters so pandering to your own support won’t get you many votes.

    The problem occurs when you get a UKIP which because of that one issue takes away some of your support.

    That effect is more pronounced when you are weak and people don’t think you can win, but next year there will be far more eurosceptics voting for a Tory government to replace Labour than for UKIP over Lisbon.

    In away the rise of the BNP is traditional Labour areas is the same. Even if the BNP do well they won’t win any seats and the can’t effect the outcome of an election so they and immigration can be ignored.

    Even if the BNP do have an effect in a seat it wonn’t be to weaken the vote to let the Tories inbecause in a Tory/Labour marginals there will be other more significant issues.

    I think it was Richthoven who said;

    ” Rove your airspace, find the enemy, shoot him down and anything else is rubbish”

    Only two parties can win a Uk election and to win they need to win over their opponents supportes in the key marginals or protect their vote in them.

    If you know what these people care about and what their concerns are and press the right butttons you can win.

    If in winning you have ignored a lot of other issues important to a lot of people, even a majority, you have still won.

    Peter.

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