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This week I was kindly invited by the Cambridge Universities Labour Club for a talk on where Labour goes from here.
In the initial part I talk about the wrong assumptions I made in the run up to the election. I’ve written about that here too.
From 8m 15 seconds, I talk about the three big challenges the next Labour leader will have to grapple with.
From 19m 22 secs, I talk about the main leadership candidates (which included Chuka Umunna at the time).
(the sound quality improves after a minute)
Despite losing his seat in Westminster, Jim Murphy is trying to hang on as leader of Scottish Labour. I find this astonishing.
Late last year, when he became leader, he said they could hang on to most seats in Scotland.
He said he was “astonished” at how “easy it’s been to outwit the SNP“. Yup, the SNP look totally outwitted.
Since he became leader of Scottish Labour, the SNP increased their leader over Labour until the elections.
Plus, his own ratings took a sharp dive after being elected. At the end of January 33% of Scots said he was doing well, with 43% saying he was doing badly. By March, just 26% said he was doing well, 51% said he was doing badly.
Worse, Murphy couldn’t even convince Labour voters. Nicola Sturgeon’s approval rating amongst Labour voters was just -4. Jim Murphy’s net approval rating amongst SNP supporters was -54.
If Murphy can’t convince tempt back SNP voters, he has no chance of rejuvenating Scottish Labour. And in the last 6 months he has been leader, he made a bad situation worse.
His entire campaign utterly failed. As Adam Bienkov earlier pointed out:
The campaign run by Murphy has been complacent, uninspiring and counter-productive. Murphy’s central message – that a vote for the SNP is a vote for the Conservatives – is purely negative and gives voters zero reasons to actively back the Labour party. This strategy may have once seemed like Labour’s best chance of hanging on in Scotland, but the unavoidable fact is that it has not worked. Yet even today Murphy is still sticking to his script, telling reporters that the poll results are “good for the SNP and great for David Cameron.”
With Cameron victorious, Scottish voters are now more likely to think that only the SNP can stand up for them, especially since Labour in Westminster is talking about ‘moving to the centre ground‘.
So what is Jim Murphy’s case for staying on leader of Scottish Labour, since he has utterly failed over the last 6 months?
Tony Blair writes today: “the route to the summit lies through the centre ground”.
We expected this right? Tony Blair is becoming famous for repeating himself all the time.
There’s also one glaring problem with this cliche: Cameron didn’t win from the centre ground. In fact he moved further away from the electorate and voters rewarded him for it.
Britons saw Cameron as right-wing as Miliband was left-wing. They were both equally away from the centre.
In fact, Cameron was further away from the centre nearer to the election than he started off! And yet he increased his share of the vote and seats.
Furthermore, most of Miliband’s major policies: cracking down on tax avoidance, abolishing non-doms, raising the 50px tax, focusing on the NHS etc – were very popular with the public. His analysis of people not being served by capitalism was right – even Tories like Fraser Nelson and Charles Moore admitted it.
So if this was about moving left or right, and about offering policies that chime with the public, why didn’t Miliband win big?
Because people value authenticity, and they value competence. Labour gave them neither; Cameron at least offered latter. Miliband didn’t have clarity of message either. People frequently misunderstood his positions or didn’t believe in them. When it came to the crunch, they could not bring themselves to place their trust in the man (sadly). Miliband just wasn’t believed, whatever he promised and however popular that was.
There’s a lesson here for the left: popular policies don’t necessarily win you elections if the person offering them isn’t believable. Unless he or she is seen as authentic and competent enough to follow them through, you can offer free owls to everyone and people will still reject you.
There’s a lesson here for the Labour right too: elections aren’t always won from the ‘centre ground’. That era of triangulation is over. Obama won, twice, on quite a liberal platform, railing against inequality and the top 1%, because he was seen as competent and determined.
UPDATE: There are other inconvenient facts too. As Peter Oborne points out:
Their prescription is curious after a general election in which the three parties which rejected the centre ground — the SNP, UKIP and the Greens — made the biggest gains in the popular vote.
Meanwhile the party which made the greatest claim to the centre ground — the Liberal Democrats — was virtually annihilated.
But don’t let the facts get in your way, Mr Blair.
The Labour leadership have finally settled on a clear line on the SNP.
Assuming that Cameron cannot cobble together a majority on 8th May and has to resign, that gives Ed Miliband his turn at forming a government.
Miliband says he won’t do a formal coalition with the SNP (Nicola Sturgeon ruled that out ages ago anyway), nor will there be an informal ‘Confidence & Supply’ agreement with them. Instead, Labour either do a deal with the Lib Dems to get a working majority, or they work as a minority government.
The Labour leadership are confident they can work as a minority government because the SNP and other minor left parties won’t vote down their Queen’s Speech and trigger a second election. In effect they are calling Nicola Sturgeon’s bluff because she has already committed to voting down a Tory Queen’s Speech.
So the Labour leadership are pleased because they think Sturgeon has little leverage. But can this strategy be sustained for long?
Firstly, this is from last night:
This is going to hurt in Scotland. Don't believe Miliband would reject votes from SNP to let Tories in; bad phrasing pic.twitter.com/angXsrs55r
— Sunny Hundal (@sunny_hundal) April 30, 2015
The SNP are predictably spinning it as: Ed Miliband would rather let the Tories back in than work with the SNP. That is wrong. There is no conceivable prospect of Miliband resigning his government than having SNP on his side.
Caroline Flint later clarified it:
What [Miliband] ruled out was this idea that, somehow, to have a Labour government we’re prepared to do a coalition or some other kind of confidence and supply deal [with the SNP].
But, at the end of the day, whoever forms a government, parties will get a chance to vote for a Queen’s speech, vote for budgets, and vote for policies, that’s the same with any government.
In other words: Hey Nicola Sturgeon, you are still welcome to vote with us! Just don’t expect a quid-pro-quo arrangement of any sort.
OK. So that was a misstep but this strategy is still sound, right?
I’m not so sure.
Keep one important point in mind: a large proportion of Scots don’t view the SNP as negatively as the English do. In fact, a large proportion of them (many of whom are ex-Labour voters) think the SNP have their interests at heart more than Labour. This seems obvious but a lot of people seem to be ignoring this.
More importantly, Nicola Sturgeon isn’t going to let herself be outmaneuvered by Miliband so easily.
Since Labour still needs a majority of MPs for votes on legislation, Sturgeon will just make his life harder by getting SNP MPs to abstain or complain over small things. That would put Miliband in a difficult position: either negotiate with the SNP (and have the Right savage him for it) or appeal to Tory MPs (thus alienating the left and giving an electoral boon to Sturgeon).
In Scotland, Sturgeon will keep arguing that Miliband would rather do a deal with the Tories than the SNP. In England, the Tories will argue that Labour are breaking their promise and doing deals with the SNP. Either way Miliband will be constantly attacked on all sides.
This isn’t ideal. Miliband’s administration could soon become paralysed.
For Miliband to argue in Scotland that he’d rather have Tory MPs vote with him than negotiate with SNP MPs would further alienate SNP voters (many of whom Labour need back). In effect he will be giving up on Scottish Labour without much gain in return.
By saying Labour rejects any deal with the SNP, I think Miliband is making a mistake. I don’t think this strategy can be sustained.
Nick Clegg clearly wants another coalition with the Conservatives. And I’m fairly sure Cameron recognises the necessity of carrying on their tolerable relationship. And a lot of people in Westminster assume the two will be joined at the hip when negotiating post-election.
But I don’t think it will be that straightforward.
Firstly, it won’t be easy from the Conservative side. Theresa May and Boris Johnson want their shot at being leader of the party and neither have time to waste. Neither want to wait another five years either, when more of the recent crop of Tories will want their shot.
Tory leadership hopefuls could make the argument to colleagues that another coalition would undermine the Tory party and force them to break more promises. Besides, Cameron has shown himself incapable of winning elections outright, so why not get rid of him and get a proper leader who will win in 5 years time? – they will say.
Many Tories, who will not want the straightjacket of another coalition, will find that a seductive pitch and may reject another coalition.
Secondly, its not a done and dusted deal from the Lib Dem side either. For a start, Clegg has to get approval from his fellow MPs and party members, and that won’t be as straightforward this time.
There will be far more hostility from Lib Dems this time, for good reasons. These are some points made to me by Steffan John (@steffanjohn) over Twitter. I’m quoting him directly without embedding tweets to make it look cleaner:
1) Maths for majority isn’t there.
2) Even if a small majority was, no national interest in unstable government with 4yr leadership contest.
3) 2010 had financial crisis backdrop and 4) threat of swift re-election. Neither there this time, so less pressure on Lib Dems
5) 2010 had common ground on civil liberties, localisation, constitutional reform, environment, raising tax thresh. All gone.
6) Labour not hated as it was in 2010; Tories far more Right-wing now. LD won’t support again, esp. as Lab-LD-(SNP) is possible
Steffan John is a Lib Dem and makes some good points.
And here is Vince Cable’s former SpAd Giles Wilkes
So let the Tories, in minority, try to cut 12bn off welfare, 25bn off unprotected departments, w/o LibDems there to excuse it.
— Giles Wilkes (@Gilesyb) April 19, 2015
There is, I think, a real chance Lib Dems will reject a coalition with Cameron, especially if there are signs of hostility from Tory MPs (stirred up by May and Boris).
That clears the way for Miliband to be Prime Minister, with Lib Dems choosing to either work in a coalition or sit on the sidelines, while the Conservatives choose their next leader.
What would you rather have: 1) a party that tells you what you want to hear and does something different, or 2) one that tells you straight about what its going to do?
Most people, I suspect, would pick the latter option. Or at least, they would like to think they prefer the second option but they’re easily seduced by the first.
Many of my colleagues on the left have been raving about the SNP for months. Today, when they released their manifesto, it turned out their spending plans and commitments weren’t actually that different to that of Labour
— Jonathan Portes (@jdportes) April 20, 2015
I just feel sorry for those people who had raved about how SNP would challenge austerity, only to find their fiscal plans were largely the same as Labour’s plans.
The Guardian’s George Monbiot put the SNP in the same category as Syriza, Podemos, Sinn Féin, and the Greens. Follow your convictions, he extorted! Ignore those bloody bean-counters and accountants from the Labour party who offer nothing other than limp policies, he added.
Oh. Now it turns out the SNP nicked half their policies and ideas from Labour. As Stephen Bush points out, it feels as if it is the SNP being pulled leftward by Ed Miliband. Ouch!
My friends, this is what happens when you focus on empty rhetoric rather than actual policies and commitments. Monbiot and others had been saying for ages that Labour and Tory austerity was the same until it turned out… that wasn’t true.
THIS is why I keep saying, focus on the actual policies rather than the rhetoric, otherwise later you’ll be left asking why politicians don’t live up to expectations.
There are usually two kinds of people who like to commentate on foreign policy matters: those who oppose any military ‘intervention’ in the affairs of other countries; and those who have no problems advocating military intervention and will always defend such action.
I happen to be in a third, less media-friendly category of people who thinks military intervention in the affairs of other countries is a possible last resort providing:
– it is carefully judged and isn’t rushed into
– has a clear purpose and exit plan
– the public is adequately explained why such action is necessary and support it in significant numbers
– the plan isn’t to leave the country in a worse state than it was
I accept that this is too nuanced for many people, especially on Twitter… but ¯\_(?)_/¯
Anyway. I also believe it really helps foreign policy debates if politicians admitted when they fucked up. I’m actually still astounded that Tony Blair – and Nick Cohen, by the way – aren’t embarrassed to continue opining on foreign policy affairs and defending the invasion of Iraq. Living in a bubble makes you oblivious, clearly.
Like Iraq, we fucked up in Libya. We should say this so we can learn from it.
I mean, here we have Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s former chief of staff who was then appointed by Cameron as the UK envoy, saying: “Libya could, if it goes down this spiral, end up as a failed state.”
WTAF? There is no mention whatsoever of the UK’s hand in deposing Gaddafi (which I supported at the time), and yet doing nothing whatsoever to ensure a transition to democracy. We have screwed up and yet we’re pretending it’s the Libyan people’s fault their country has collapsed into violence. It beggars belief.
This has now become a pattern: we get involved in foreign conflicts and then we absolve ourselves of responsibility if the country collapses without proper institutions being put in place. Libya is in trouble because of us. We should have helped put institutions in place but we were too busy leaving to declare victory.
Aside from the lives lost in Libya, these kind of screw-ups also dampen public enthusiasm for genuinely necessary interventions in places like Syria*. Our own short-sightedness in foreign affairs is costing lives – of others and eventually ours, through blowback.
* PS – I don’t accept Cameron passed the above tests when rushing into Syria over chemical weapons, which is I supported Miliband’s brakes on the process.
If you watch ISIS’s videos you are complicit in its terrorism, says Nesrine Malik at the Guardian.
Sorry, but this is ludicrous for various reasons. I have watched a fair amount of ISIS videos, unapologetically, and here are several reasons to do so.
1) To study what ISIS are doing and understand symbolism of what they’re saying. ISIS videos are carefully constructed pieces of propaganda. If you want to defeat your enemy then you have to know them. This isn’t just a military war but one of ideology, which makes it even more important to understand that ideology and its weaknesses. It also helps when you’re debating with ‘at risk‘ people to counter ISIS propaganda.
2) For work. Someone has to accurately report this shit, no? Someone has to study the video to see what else it reveals, and whether its actually a fake or not. The fact that ISIS have burnt alive a Jordanian pilot is news, whether people like it or not. So someone has to accurately report it, and others will use to build a better picture of ISIS capabilities and people.
3) Most importantly, I don’t want sanitised and tightly controlled images from national news, I want to see gory details and make up my own mind. I want others to have that opportunity to do so too. War is awful and people need to know this.
For too long we’ve had coverage of news events and war from the perspective of news organisations that are are OK with showing sanitised videos released by governments, but don’t want to show pics or videos of atrocities from their own side. YouTube has changed all that and I welcome it. I don’t want to be told by others what I should or should not be watching re: war or conflict. And I certainly do not want the government stepping in and criminalising people for watching videos of external conflicts.
The New York Times has published an extraordinary account of how the two terrorists who burst into Charlie Hebdo’s office became radicalised.
Here are a few thoughts from the article, and more generally, that I think have the potential to change how western security services deal with al-Qaeda inspired terrorism.
1) Al-Qaeda’s methods have changed to Mumbai style attacks.
If more such attacks take place across Western Europe, which seems likely, then I suspect they will be more in the style of Paris and Mumbai than the 7/7 bombings. Smuggling, building and learning about detonating explosives takes time and effort. It can also be a hit and miss. But a terrorist attack using an assault rifle is easier for al-Qaeda inspired jihadists to put together. The weapons are easier to get hold off and the practice required is minimal. Seems obvious to say, but I suspect the security services are worrying less about guys carrying backpacks and more about guys looking at acquiring AK-47s.
2) The security services are over-whelmed
The French secret service have a pretty good reputation but even they didn’t see this coming, though the two perpetrators had previously been under surveillance.
After at least one of the Kouachis traveled to Yemen in 2011, the United States alerted French authorities. But three years of tailing the brothers yielded nothing, and an oversight commission ruled that the surveillance was no longer productive, said Louis Caprioli, the deputy head of France’s domestic antiterrorism unit from 1998 to 2004.
The brothers appeared so nonthreatening that surveillance was dropped in the middle of last year, he said, as hundreds of young Muslims cycled back and forth to Syria for jihad and French authorities shifted priorities.
In other words, the job of tracking Muslims thinking about joining ISIS, or those who already have, or have already returned from Syria (estimated at 250 by ICSR), is over-whelming western security services. That means they’re likely to demand more funding and more spying powers. It also means the rise of ISIS has created a lot more targets and problems.
3) Jailing jihadists doesn’t help
One of the Paris attackers was earlier jailed in 2005 to 20 months in prison for attempting an attack. He was just an inexperienced and scared boy then. But, like numerous other cases, it was in prison that he met his future mentor and one of al-Qaeda’s top operatives.
This presents a dilemma. We can’t lock people up in prison forever, and yet that may be the place they become even more radicalised. We can’t track them easily forever either, since it costs a lot of money and the rise of ISIS has made that much harder. So what do we do?
We need good de-radicalisation programmes, but there hasn’t been a serious push across Europe or the USA to embrace them either. That, I think, is short-sighted. Prisons aren’t helping.
Prison authorities quickly recruited a handful of Muslim chaplains, but jihadist hecklers disrupted their prayers.
“They would ask a religious question, and whatever answer he gave, they would contest it,” the Muslim activist said. They would mockingly toss out questions: What did the imam think about jihad? What about the situation in Palestine? Why wasn’t halal meat served in the prison?
These guys need aggressive de-radicalisation, not some half-hearted attempts.
4) More Muslims will be arrested merely for reading ‘extremist’ material
Also striking in the NYT report is that the French police had been tracking the terrorists, even to the point that they broke up another plot in 2010 involving one of the brothers. But it was thought there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him despite this:
Among the texts recovered on the laptop — which were included in the court documents — was one titled “Operation Sacrifice.” It described a plan of attack that eerily augured the actions he would later take.
“A mujahideen forces his way into the enemy’s base or else a zone where there is a group and fires at point-blank range without having prepared an escape plan,” it said. “The goal is to kill as many of the enemy as possible. The author will very likely die himself.”
And here is the security service chief’s nightmare – the guy they had been tracking and caught would later commit a major attack like the one he had read about. Fingers will be pointed at the French services, and I suspect MI5 here and the FBI will think its better to be safe than sorry from now on.
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