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#ProgressiveMajority – the popular vote!

by Hobhouse     May 7, 2010 at 10:35 am

We can’t let the story of a Tory mandate take hold in the tabloids or Sky News.

For every two people who voted Conservative, THREE people voted progressive.

Right now Labour and the Lib Dems together have over 52% of the popular vote. Add in Greens, the Irish SDLP and Alliance and the Progressive Majority has nearer 54% of the vote. That’s without even counting nationalists!

Only 36% of people voted for the Tories. Just two-thirds of the progressive vote.

There is a progressive majority in this country today.

Our collapsing electoral system may have failed to fully reflect it. And that’s a crisis.

But for every two people who voted Tory, three of us voted progressive.

We have more of a mandate than them.

Let’s get building bridges.

UPDATE: A crestfallen Clegg is kicking it forward. This was never going to be easy.

Now it’s up to us to hit refresh, get together and take our country back. #ProgressiveMajority

Majority Government – or tabloid rule?

by Hobhouse     May 6, 2010 at 3:20 pm

A hush is spreading. The sun is bright and hopeful, there’s smiling on the streets. One in seven of us, even more, could vote today.

And perhaps, just perhaps, we’re electing a Majority Government.

What does it mean? When the dust settles, in a week or three, we could have a new government, elected by a strong majority of voters, ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work — for all of us.

A National Government? A Reform Parliament? Maybe even a good one.

This couldn’t be a government of one party alone. Nor could it be a Conservative one. Even if the Tories win a majority in Parliament, they’ll have little more than a third of the vote. And they’ve made it clear that if they fall short, they’ll try to govern alone.

The Tories have turned their faces away from a deal with the voting majority. They’ll only go into coalition with the tabloids.

So our hopes for Majority Government hang between Liberal Democrats — and Labour. And either side could screw that up.

It’s a new and delicate dance, demanding courage and humility. For not a few politicians, this is quite a stretch. But here’s how it could go:

Gordon Brown’s time is done. But only he is prime minister. Only he can bless a Majority Government out of the gate. But he can never lead it.

Brown must say that Labour wants a Majority Government with the Lib Dems, while acknowledging that the coalition will choose its own leader and that this may not be him. Then he has to step back as caretaker, and let others negotiate for him. Labour will have to go beyond its comfort zone and genuinely share power.

This can’t be a Labour Government, but a government for all. Who knows, perhaps Greens, Scots, Welsh or Irish will be welcome too?

The Lib Dems must say that this is a vote for change and reform, and that they’re ready for a coalition built on fairness. Forget first chances — most people haven’t voted for any one of the three: the next government needs a mandate from the majority.

The Lib Dems will be right to make genuine partnership and fixing the broken electoral system red lines. But they must not overreach.

And no-one can leak, or they’ll lose the public’s trust.

Our next prime minister could be Alan Johnson, Nick Clegg or Jack Straw for all I care. They must be brave, smart and modest: leader, listener, and bridge-builder. Rebuilding a sustainable economy and the public finances and reforming our politics is hard and responsible work, and we need everyone involved.

In the background, as Sunny says, Labour needs a months-long conversation, a real contest, and new foundations. Go back to the roots with humility, listen, and think again.

But we need a responsible Majority Government fast. Otherwise the tabloid story – of Tory triumph – will grip us. And that would be the most lethal and corrupt of lies – making minorities of majorities and majorities of minorities, and leaving us saddled with a weak and nasty Tabloid Government. Shiver.

Either way we’re making history. Let’s do all we can to get it right.

And if the majority needs to take to the streets to be heard, that Parliament Square flashmob was a start, and this Demo for Democracy looks like a good idea.

Indy tweaks ‘Truth’ vid after Murdoch blitzkrieg

by Hobhouse     April 23, 2010 at 10:50 am

What is it about this election? It’s shining a light on more and more of the Powers-That-Be and their magic circle.

The media are abuzz with the story of how James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks/Wade stormed The Independent‘s offices uninvited after a meeting at the Daily Mail, berating editor Simon Kelner for taking on the Murdoch empire’s unaccountable political influence.

Today the Indy blares of its own new proprietor, “Lebedev won’t decide these elections. You will”. And without announcing it, they’ve also changed their relaunch video – “The truth about the general election” – in one very significant way since the Murdoch-Kelner showdown. Here’s the new version:

Spot the difference?

That’s right – they’ve added a criticism of the Liberal Democrats (for taking money from an arms dealer) to their earlier challenges to Murdoch, Ashcroft, Unite and the City.

(UPDATE: Looking at the vids side by side, it’s clear they’ve also changed the default image, funnily enough to highlight the phrase “Rupert Murdoch controls 40% of the press in Britain”.)

What’s it all about? Like anyone smart, the Indy are thinking on the hop as the wave of change grows right now. People have been speculating about where precisely their aggressive relaunch fits into the landscape of the Citizens’ Campaign stirring in the country. Some thought they would openly endorse the Lib Dems. Perhaps the odds on that weakened after Murdoch’s henchmen stormed Indy HQ.

But they’re not laying down their own arms in surrender to the establishment. Today the Indy calls out The Sun for suppressing its own poll showing more public support for the Lib Dems in government.

I predict more fireworks in the normally-cosy Fleet Street. The proprietors’ non-aggression pact has concealed their murky influence for too long.

Could The Independent tap the mood of the country, challenge the Tory tabloid press and endorse a reforming parliament with no overall majority? If so, that and their free paper strategy could catapault them into a newly interesting – and influential – position.

In any event, their focus on the unaccountable Powers-that-Be, rather than simply on the parties, is fresh, clarifying and important.

I for one am delighted about these shenanigans. Which doesn’t mean we should give Lebedev and Kelner a free pass. From now on, accountability for all.

(Here is the old version of the Indy video, sans Lib Dem arms dealer:)

The Citizens’ Campaign: Time for Change

by Hobhouse     April 21, 2010 at 11:00 am

As the United Kingdom’s political laws dissolve into a volcanic sunrise, how do we start to make sense of this moment? Some may blame it on the ash-cloud, others on reality television. But the truth is that the history of the present is being written today: not by the politicians on our television screens, nor yet by shadowy forces, but by us, the British people. This chance doesn’t come along too often.

As Hobhouse for the next few weeks, I can call it as I see it. Anyone who swims around the delta of politics has loyalties; assumptions; even vows of omerta. This baggage has its place. But in moments of real change it can stop us from seeing or voting straight. So let’s ditch the baggage, and connect a few dots: from Cleggmania to the skin-shedders of the two-party system, from TV to a deeper electronic democracy — and the growing Citizens’ Campaign.

Conventional wisdom doesn’t take long to solidify. This is the TV election, it says. The leaders’ debates introduced Nick Clegg to the nation, and granted him the same podium as the big boys. 90 minutes of X-Factor reality TV changed everything and gave birth to Cleggmania.

I’m not so sure. Firstly, this election is about much more than the Liberal Democrats (of which more later.) And their big poll surge began before Nick Clegg won the first leaders’ debate on ITV (the ICM poll showing the Lib Dems on 27% was all but complete by then).

How do you make sense of that?

The only explanation I’ve come up with is this. We the people had been going through the motions, tuning out politics as usual for quite awhile – but early last week, the election broke through our jamming fields and got us thinking.

And many of us found that when we thought about it just a bit, we were far from thrilled by the choices on offer. A pair of parties who had both let us down before. Churning out hackneyed spin and untrustworthy homilies. Led, to be unkind, by an obsessive, violent hermit and an airbrushed Etonian car salesman.

Perhaps that’s when the buried dissatisfaction, from expenses to Iraq, started to rise. The finest blog comment of the election so far nails it (from Liberal Conspirator John Q Publican): this has been a long time coming. We started to cast around a little more, beyond our grudging habits of allegiance, abstention and see-saw swinging – and the Lib Dems jumped into contention before the debate.

Then the TV cameras came on in Manchester, where Nick’s low profile may ironically have proved an asset. Suddenly here was a new character on the stage – but more than that, the right new character, an X Factor that pre-dates Cowell. He robustly personified the longed-for change which felt out of reach, but at the same time his “transparency”, his negative capability, his intelligent and passionate ordinariness, opened up the space for people to follow their hearts and hopes for change.

The debate affected the 9.4 million who watched, of course. But its greatest effect was in the nationwide echo chamber of the media — and the millions of chance conversations this sparked, falling on fertile ears, just as the pre-debate ICM poll was released. This is when the Lib Dems started to go viral. There is something a little hysterical about it — the Princess Diana analogies are not all wrong. It’s the state we’re in. But the speed with which Nick Clegg’s win flipped the narrative of this election is testament to how weak and vulnerable the “Cameron coronation” story was. The real Great Ignored — the turbulent undercurrents of public dissatisfaction with politics as usual — proved stronger than anyone thought.

Now, turning to the skin-shedders of the two parties: Nick Clegg’s debate win was so clear partly because it was immediately recognised as such by the Labour spin operation – from Mandelson to Campbell and the rest.

That recognition was dramatic, however tactical it was. It might not have been offered so generously after the ICM results had been released. And it marked a wider trend. Some of the sharpest organisers, ideologues and innovators from Labour and the Conservatives alike have scented the winds of change blowing through the system, and they seem to like what they smell. This is true of the cunning and unscrupulous, but also of the principled (the line between the two is not always clear…).

It’s tragic watching Labour big beasts contort themselves into new shapes for a hung parliament and a progressive coalition while hacking away at the Lib Dems, stretching vainly for a Labour majority and sliding in the polls. Particularly so if you hold a membership card. Some of them have known they needed to make this shift for years, some have even chafed for it, but few seem to know how to do it. You can see how Ed Balls hates it.

Labour, Labour, Labour… they’re not finding the best notes to play so far, and they’re sliding painfully. The need for renewal has never looked clearer or more urgent. Whatever the final result, the Blair/Brown era is over.

By contrast, the Obama-inspired tribunes of the Labour blogosphere, Anthony Painter and Alex Smith of LabourList, have both written important, honest paeans of praise to Cleggmania. They like these winds of change: they’ve felt them before. This is particularly courageous from Alex, who’s up against Lib Dems in the Islington council elections. But Anthony asks the real question for Labour. “This is a change election. There doesn’t seem to be any way of re-framing that. So what’s the change narrative?” Even Alastair Campbell’s post-debate musings had a touch of this honesty, before he took fright at the polls and re-discovered his baying partisan.

On the other side of the aisle, it only took populist-libertarian Tory cheerleader Guido Fawkes a day or two longer to start publicly revelling in the rise of Clegg and fantasising about a Liberal-Tory coalition.

True, the party faithful of ConservativeHome take the opposite view, as do many party spokespeople; and the camp of the nasty hit-men seems to be strengthening.

But David Cameron’s hastily re-arranged party political broadcast on Monday sent another skin-shedding message. As he doubled down on his “Big Society” story and did his best to ape Clegg, it felt like he was struggling to ride the same transforming and clarifying wave the Lib Dems have caught. You glimpse what the Tory party might start to look like if they had to forge a broader coalition — as they will if the voting system changes. This isn’t an inept campaign. It’s an existential crisis.

Still, Cameron’s offer to “join the government of Britain” and his claim to “blow apart the old way of doing things” are mostly spin. His localism, direct democracy and enthusiasm for civic services are real; but at root he wants a loyal supporters’ club, and a band of volunteers to do everything from coaching the kids to cleaning the toilets.

The British people don’t want to join in politics as usual. We don’t aspire to be ants rebuilding our country in the Cameroonian vision.

We want to change the government of Britain to its core.

That’s why a third factor — the growing tide of non-party campaigns around this election — is so fascinating and extraordinary.

Relatively speaking, the remarkable Lib Dem surge (which may yet recede) and Labour-Conservative skin-shedding are familiar ground.

But there’s a new Citizens’ Campaign out there in the country, and it’s bigger than anyone. Day after day in the polls, more people want to elect a parliament with no overall majority than support solo government by either of the main parties. Part of this is a hanging instinct, part is more deliberate and positive. By my count, well over two-thirds of a million citizens will be directly connected to this election through non-party internet movements pressing for a balanced outcome and a reforming parliament, and casting their votes for that. Vote for a Change are 50,000-strong, POWER2010 around the same – and the Rage Against the Machine Facebook campaign to vote Lib Dem is passing 120,000 members. This is far from the X Factor’s manufactured pap.

Now the heavyweights are limbering up: according to my inbox this week, the MoveOn-inspired 38 Degrees (125,000-strong) and Avaaz (380,000!) are both polling their UK members on such a direction. More on all of these another day, as their strategies coalesce. The “Hang ’em” New Statesman article and subsequent campaign aggressively opened the space, with support from commentators like Timothy Garton-Ash (a centrist voice that swing seats will listen to, and no stranger to velvet revolutions).

Hundreds of thousands more are reading the progressive blogs, where this debate is taking off, and using Twitter — where instant reaction for everyone has broken some of the media’s lock on the narrative. This internet wave may feel chaotic, but in an election where 100,000 votes can determine the outcome, it could have a huge impact. Let’s see if the media start paying attention.

Arguably, the Lib Dem surge is part of the Citizens’ Campaign and not vice versa. This Campaign is only starting to go viral. But it taps the public energy perhaps more directly than any of the parties can. And all this provides a powerful counterforce to the tabloid barons who are pouring poison and fear in the ears of the electorate in an attempt to stop this wave. They know how much this transformation threatens the strange and deformed vision of Britain which they’ve been carving out for decades, and they’re playing dirty – but they don’t own this country, and it’s time they found that out.

It’s anyone’s guess where all this goes next. It depends on what we all do — from party campaigners to bloggers, from journalists to citizens. The second TV debate, on foreign policy, could break or re-energise the Clegg momentum. (His policies on Iraq, Afghanistan and yesterday, his frank talk on the end of the special relationship will resonate from the inner cities to the shires –the toxin of Europe runs deep, but is not yet impervious to refreshing common sense).

But just for a moment, let’s raise our sights and see what this election is really about: a cleansing surge of energy to change the way we run this country.

Let’s make sure we tell that story of hope positively, with passion and open hearts and ideas for what to change on the other side of this decisive vote.

And above all, let’s not bottle it. We won’t get a better chance to forge a twenty-first century democracy and a twenty-first century Britain — or to cast off the undead millstone of our imperial past.

Speak again soon.

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