Bloody Awful Political Corner

Yaaaawwwn! I can imagine readers thinking, 'not another Aunt Sally taking up their soapbox and giving wild, inaccurate and opinionated advice'. I'm afraid it's true, having studied politics at university and worked in the industry I feel now qualified to throw my penny's worth into the arena. 

Of course, all views are my own and mostly written from a Conservative perspective. I cannot promise I will always be fair but I will try my best... Of course, all comments are appreciated (please try and refrain from abuse). 


Winging it - a bloody awful performance by the Lib Dems

Having once been to the Liberal Democrat party conference - in the capacity of an events organiser for a political magazine - I can attest to its eccentricities. The beards, the white socks and sandals, ill-fitting worsted jackets, severe fringes and coke-bottle glasses are all there in some shape or form. I was manning a stand on the exhibition floor so I got to see it all, as well as a refreshing level of activism not seen at either of the other two parties. Here it seemed that visitors were genuinely interested in debating policy and would  even engage a two-bit salesman like me in political discussion given half the chance. It was an interesting and quite enjoyable experience, not quite dominated by unions (Labour) and public affairs officers (Conservatives). 

That was only two years ago, but I have been careful to follow all the party conferences on thegogglebox and monitor the development of the respective parties in a turbulent time. As king makers the liberal democrats find themselves, mid-term in a very difficult position with two options: to sink into obscurity (the polls predict they will loose at least half their seats) or enter into another coalition government (another hung parliament looks increasingly likely). 

For party senior management the former is, quite obviously, unthinkable; The latter opens up a deep divide within the party distinctly separating the liberals wing from the SDP - the question of who to go into coalition with has real potential to destabilise the Liberal Democrats be it the Conservatives or Labour. For the meantime, like it or not they are mid-term through a coalition with the blues and it was in this setting that the party found itself on the banks of the Clyde.

Eyes were on Nick today. Vince ‘Jeremiah’ Cable (delusional egoist), Danny ‘Osborne’ Alexander (pragmatic) et al gave it their all in Glasgow to the assembled masses. The platform was there for some credible policy, some great speech full of gravitas and yet... yet it all descended into an exercise of back slapping and point scoring (not, I’m sure that the other two won’t have their fair share). 

Don’t get me wrong, I personally like having the Liberal Democrats around, they metre the loony fringes of my party (The Conservatives) with some loony fringes of their own creating a balance that was decidedly lacking in the Conservative governments of old. However, this union is one of convenience for most and a constant source of policy tension as much as it is one of policy agreement... deeply unpopular with some, lauded by others. 

I quite understand each side trying to snatch as much credit they can from any success from this partnership but listening to Nick Clegg this afternoon trot out his list of thwarted policy decisions at the Conservative’s expense took the biscuit, how easily he forgets his days as Leon Brittan’s advisor. The most galling moment was when he decided to bask in the glory of his disastrous decision to destroy the boundary review which will cause the demise of his own party and potentially let the ‘Reds under the bed’ back into power. Bravo Nick!

Having made a strong speech in comparison to his fellow senior colleagues, Nick can bask in some temporary glory. As he stood on that platform and made a wholly negative speech in which he deluded himself and delegates that his party were the only ones who came up with good policies he struck me as being wholly disingenuous. His lack of willingness to take responsibility for  the unpopular policies goes to show why he is just Deputy Prime Minister. 

What did that matter today? Gone for the moment is that moping, front bench pout from a man who cannot appreciate his good fortune. The Liberal Democrats might now be applauding his tough stance but it won’t change the fact that he has allowed his parliamentary party to both seriously hinder growth and stifle some very important policies. We shall wait and see what happens at the ballot box but I don’t reckon he’ll be quite so cocky as he was today!


Headless Chickens and Convictionless Wonders: looking at the Conservatives - Published 7th September 2013

I have supported the Conservative Party ever since I can remember, perhaps that was a curse of coming from a family and dynasty of staunch supporters, I don’t know. I clearly remember aged 10 campaigning in my school playground for the party in that doomed year of 1997. Whilst the nation decidedly – to their detriment as we now see – voted Labour, my efforts in the school election as a plucky, youthful candidate paid off as, exercise book in hand, I lobbied the voted of the school populous presenting a winning case – it was a surrey prep school – to all and sundry that I convinced to listen to what political views a ten year old could give on such matters.

No matter, from this early age Conservative politics has been a key interest and one which has coursed through my veins and, over my short existence I have taken every opportunity through either active or perceived means to push a brand of the party message to anyone who has asked – I don’t enforce opinion if possible – and hoped that they at least can respect it, if indeed they cannot find any areas of support within it. Without sounding like a know-all I have studied politics throughout A Levels, degrees, working for the Conservative Party and a political magazine. You might say I was steeped in the political scene, and at such a young age tssch!

That’s as maybe, but it gives me some political grounding to write what I am about to write, and I hope that present and future friends, associates and colleagues might take what I write as merely the view of a supporter and observer expressing real concern and, as such, wanting to offer some serious advice.

I was motivated to write this piece, as was Peter Oborne from a recent article by Lord Tebbit which effectively gave free rein for Conservative Party supporters to turn to UKIP. One can see why Lord Tebbit came to the conclusion that he did and I don’t deny he had some credibility in his argument, but what made it galling is someone who had such a profound presence, and still commands an almost demagogic respect in the Party, gave no suggestions or solutions to the current crisis in support that is faced. Media comments, polling figures and results give clear indication that the party rank and file are disaffected or apathetic, giving clear indication that something needs to be done soon to re-engage the voter’s imagination and goodwill to stand a chance of winning a clear majority in 2015.

I only started to feel the cold hand of public distaste for the Conservative Party recently, when working for Total Politics magazine and attending Conference 2011 I saw swathes of empty seat and an exhibition floor where you were lucky to get a visitor who wasn’t a public affairs executive. It makes you think as former colleagues – from party days – come up to you and give you a greeting and the line of the day, that everything okay on the HMS Tory. I have left that world for now (never discount a return at some point), but having done so, I look at policy far more from the outsider’s perspective and I worry about what I see.

Working on an election campaign – if any of my readers have – it is easy to be beguiled, wrapped up in the surrounding euphoria and overlook a number of policies that might be rather against your thinking. When you are there, in central office, it is more a case of us or them, there’s a job to be done, you get on with it and the results will speak for themselves. In 2010 they didn’t. Already disaffected Conservative voters had decided that the Party was beyond redemption and that was that, they had either already started to vote UKIP or had given up altogether and accepted an inevitable cycle of high tax, big spend and few results.

So many pundits, commentators and historians have analysed both correctly and incorrectly where the Conservatives have lost ground and influence and I don’t need to summarise their arguments for most readers who are probably perfectly aware of how they have been failed, but for stating the lack of conviction that seems to lie behind so many of the policies that have been put forward from the right side of this coalition government – but I come to this later in this piece.

First and foremost I want to address the appalling lack of faith and will in the party. Lord Ashcroft, recently voiced his frustrations about the direction the Party was headed, declaring that he was damned if he was going to donate a penny more to an organisation that seemed to him and many to have, although he put it in a more eloquent and ambiguous fashion, to have lost its core direction. He was quite right, no point in throwing money at a lame horse, he had given enough, the key implication he raised indirectly was that the supporter and more importantly, wavering supporters need to be re-motivated if we are going to get reelected especially with a majority.


David Cameron has done many things for the party but engaging with his core voter has not been one of them. A very left-leaning media has been quick to pick up on this, playing to all those small but divisive issues that seem to plague the Conservative support base: House of Lords reform, green belt development, gay marriage and more. I couldn’t give much of a monkeys about any of these issues – in fact I am very much pro the former and the latter and against the middle but that’s a personal opinion more than anything else and there should be more a focus on the issues that really matter – especially where the Conservatives are concerned - not that the papers, television and radio would have us believe so.

Let’s not blame Joe Bloggs MP too much, on either side, when they take a vote, whatever way he chooses to approach the lobby, he should keep the minds of all constituents in mind – not just his electors – in mind, as well as going with his conscience (we hope!) and the outcome should be respected as long as he has made the decision according to those he serves rather than caving to a popular zeitgeist dictated by outlets like Channel 4.

The Government is a different story; they are not subject to the whim of the voter, appointed by the Prime Minister following a General Election they set the agenda to which the wider party bark accordingly – or so they hope – In Cameron’s case this has been less than successful, his poor party leadership and the election of reckless firebrands (both young and old), a collection of has-been ‘Men from the shires’ and a near useless collection of whips has sent the parliamentary core into a tail-spin. Everyday you read of fresh Tory rebels, plots, off-record comments and the like, almost as bad if not worse than in John Major’s time. Something has to give.

Examples innumerable abound about the corridors of power, with MPs answering back to the whips, disobedience and the like before votes. I have heard a now legendary story, recounted in Total Politics about my cousin, the outrageous and rather fiery Walter Sweeney MP, a right wing (sadly now UKIP) Conservative who was once wrestled to the floor by a whip on his way out of the loo trying to vote against the Maastricht Treaty! Where are these great whips now? Discipline seems to be a very casual word now in the backbench ranks who now feel that anything goes, Cameron must get a grip and get these faction-hungry politicians into line, especially those who feel they are above the organisation that gave them the opportunity, this they choose to forget…

I am sure if Francis Urquhart had been around in these troubled times as Chief Whip, he would have ‘put some stick about’ but that probably is not meant to be – there needs to be some old school discipline metered to some of the Icarus-like characters who flutter so close to the sun yet never burn their wings. Every leader needs sycophants but not ones who praise them one minute and stab them in the back the next – ‘Big Dave’ is seemingly a poor judge of character because he has surrounded himself with the opportunistic and the vain.

Successive votes have shown the Conservatives to be riven by internal bickering on almost as a pathetic level as when John Major was trying to push through important reform policies across departments.  This current mix of old duffers and ‘clever’ young ‘Pitts’ think they are doing the country and Party a great service when they block legislation with an irritating reference to ‘principle’ (which mean when it suits them) or trying to claim a stake on the ‘Party’s core principles’ (meaning that they have no credible argument).

This all needs to stop! Sadly, I cannot change the MPs we have in at present, nor can I influence whom we get in the future. I can merely offer advice to our leader and his entourage. Here are my bitter pills:
  • Hardline Whips are essential to restore discipline to MPs, real threats should be metered with a greater sense of what the party is fighting for and what the party is looking to strive for.
  • Affability is key, Nigel Farage (UKIP) has gained so much ground through his perception as the ‘boor at the bar’, the best Conservatives can certainly take a few drinks at ‘The Stranger’s Bar’ but they need to be seen to have some sort of common touch outside the mere publicity shots.
  • Core party messages, which everyone adheres to is crucial. Too many MPs are currently fighting their own personal crusades, they are not there to enact their personal campaigns unless they can back them up with evidence of constituency-wide support. 
  • Sense of humour a real killer with MPs these days is their inability to enjoy a joke against themselves, high time they learnt!

The Public Supporter

There can be many gripes levelled by the nation – or lack of - that vote a government into power, but the most prevalent seems to be a case of being ‘unrepresentative’…. I am afraid that’s going to be the case whoever you vote in at an election, you had a choice after all!

I remember knocking down doors in Burton, a blue rosette and barber jacket as my only companions, it wasn’t a good look so I worked tooth and nail to push the message through my only defence, my gab. So few rate the doorstep rhetoric these days but the constituents, indeed the public have a voice, especially the Conservative supporters, they wanted you to know their concerns and that they were active in the local councils, cabinets and associations. They were paying their taxes and had done all their lives, and now they were due their worth, what a very sad culture….

So many Conservative supporters take a very negative view of society, perhaps fostered by Margaret Thatcher’s often misquoted and misrepresented ‘there’s no such thing as a society speech…’ they seem to think that they are somehow owed something. The cold truth is that society is a man-made construct and you’ll never get back the same level that you put in, but you get more back under a Conservative Government across the board. Remember that the Labour Party is built on pipe dreams, good intentions and most importantly unachievable objectives. It may sound cynical but the Conservative Party I know is (was) grounded in a real sense of reality – but it is nothing without its supporters.

The recent success of UKIP has sent the Party as a whole into some sort of turmoil and people seem to be running around like headless chickens, taking any opportunity to jump ship with melodramatic reasoning. Lord Tebbit’s recent comments as mentioned above are of the most craven kind and, whilst I agree the higher eschalons of the Tory Party should have kept their respective traps shut regarding their opinions of UKIP, his words are those so locked into a version of the past he has created in his mind and a version of the party that would now sit extremely uncomfortably with the majority of the public.

Supporters need to realise that the Conservative Party more than any other is a pragmatic organisation that exists to ‘change in order to conserve’. Unfortunately society and the state have been chopped and changed so much over the years, to deliver the sort of nation that some supporters want would require the whole system to be uprooted and re-built from scratch, precisely the thing that the grandfather of modern Conservative thought, Edmund Burke feared the most. The Conservative faction of this government needs to make some very difficult decisions and some necessary changes to antiquated constructs which are distinctly rotten. From central office this message needs better communication and tough love needs to be metered to some of the more disgruntled parts of the party.

We are fast becoming like the Labour Party, a collection of whinger and whiners, prone to hysterical fits of NIMBY-ism. It is at tough times like this that supporters need to start rallying around and putting forward a convincing message to the undecided, not scuttle the ship or harp back to the rose-tinted days of Margaret Thatcher. The last few lines of A E Houseman’s brilliant ‘Blue remembered hills…’ are fast becoming an unofficial motto for party waiverers:

‘Those happy highways where I roamed,
And cannot come again’

A dangerous sentiment of self-pity and one which must be stamped out in the Party if we are to have any hope of winning the next election.


High Noon for Ed Miliband - Published Thursday 23rd August 2013

Something of John Major circa 1995 is called to mind when I read of the Labour grandees and yesterday's men opening fire on the beleaguered leader. They were all at it from Prescott to Glasman taking potshots from their Blairite book depository. So much does the leader differ from his Cheshire cat grinning predecessor that those who remember and hark for the 'good old days' of 'Cool Britannia' are now poised with their knives drawn to unleash on young Miliband come conference season.

There is something so similar to the background of John Major's forced leadership election in 1995 that history could be repeating itself and it might be time for Ed to challenge his party to 'put up or shut up', ironically the calibre of the current 'pretenders to the throne' is vaguely similar to that of those that Major faced.

In some respects I do feel sorry for Miliband minor, he's a man who would have done very well in the 60s and 70s. a political player of the old school, there is something about him that's reminiscent of Jim Callaghan, the vaulting ambition, the union man the 'crisis, what crisis?' attitude. He is not the Labour of the mind but the wreckless, outdated labour of the heart, full of emotion but little substance. This does not carry in some lobbies!

But Miliband should not be too worried by this sniping. He has one thing on his side that Major didn't: the bizarre leadership electoral system that indefinitely condemns the party to a flagging leader through its sheer complexity of threshold requirements. Mili Vanilla (for that is the flavour of ice cream he best personifies, miming the tune of the unions) can sleep safe for now knowing that his rebellious colleagues and party critics won't be able to muster the credible support needed to mount a challenge - it looks like the party will be stuck with him for the meantime.

It makes me laugh that the characters who have piped up with their tuppence worth are hardly the shining lights of the Labour Party policy process. Brian Wilson and Prezza are so craven in their attacks, they should look to their own records when speaking about competence and credible policies - if I was Ed the advice of these two coves would be the last thing I'd follow.

Furthermore it comes down to a matter of courage. The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) are too scared to really stick the knife in, the young courtiers who skulk in the corridors of power have none of the flair, pantomime or style of a Michael Heseltine nor the brazen guts and single-mindlessness of a Tony Benn - coupled with that ruthless will that characterises both gentlemen. That is not to say that such a fellow won't arise one day...

For now, Ed Miliband should ignore his detractors until they come up with some credible policy - he know's the barrel is empty. It very much suits to stay quiet and buy your time, for, as I am sure Ed knows full well, better to be thought the fool than to open your mouth and confirm it.

My advice? A bold, daring conference speech, a clear vision (if not policy) and a thorough purge of the party are needed in order to guarantee the strong opposition which this parliament so desperately needs.

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