Swedish Tories struggling to be cuddly

August 31, 2006

An interesting Swedish election story via Eric Sundstrom (third story down) reaches the newsroom.  A candidate for the Moderate Party (the Swedish version of those Tories) has been caught out in a news management incident – a little like the one we had here last year, when a Tory in Dorset changed a slogan from a cuddly pro-immigrant one, to a nasty dog whistle, kick them out message. 

It was not so much tampering with a photo in Sweden. The candidate in question, Agneta Östman-Wenger, fired off a stroppy email to her local paper to complain that the photo they had printed showed her surrounded by kids with dark hair.  She demanded that in future they show her surrounded by blonde, “true Swedish” kids.

Are UK Tories thinking what their Swedish friend was thinking?


The Fox effect in decline

August 31, 2006

The way in which the right in the USA have managed to hook the support of working class voters has been impressive. Rather than focusing on winning battles over issues, they have promoted their values, trying to make Americans think about the issues in their way. Fox news has been very important in that ideological battle, but as the right start to look vulnerable in the States, so Fox News has started to slide.

KingOneEye over on Kos, has the latest viewing figures. They show a huge percentage decline for Fox, while the other two major networks are growing:

Primetime – Persons 2+:

August ’06: 902 1511 371
August ’05: 748 2093 349
% change: +21% -28% +6%

Primetime – 25-54:

August ’06: 294 432 157
August ’05: 236 541 145
% change: +25% -20% +8%

The decline is part of a month-on-month slide that has lasted 8 months. Bill O’Reilly, has seen a 15% decline.

This isn’t just the fortunes of some TV station on the other side of the world. Fox is a part of the coalition of ideas that makes Rove’s election winning machine possible, and its decline is, perhaps, a part of the decline of that whole coalition. This may be too early to say, but if the ideological cement that ties together disparate strands of white working class social conservatives, corporate freemarketeers, neo-cons and the rest of them, it would be better for politics around the whole world.

Its not tax cuts stupid, its value for money

August 30, 2006

The Taxpayers Alliance, an up and coming right-wing pressure group, caused a minor flurry in Tory world at the weekend, with a poll suggesting that cuddly Cameron is wrong to rule out tax cuts under a possible Tory government.  A PDF presentation of the results is here, via ConHome.

The Taxpayers Alliance are a serious bunch.  They are American in style and outlook. They get advice from the Heritage Foundation and Americans for Tax Reform in DC – both groups being ultra-serious players, but most in the UK, especially on the left, don’t take them seriously yet.  The TPA campaign director is James Frayne – he probably did most of this polling – who ran the No Campaign against devolution in the north-east. 

The main message of the poll, according to the TPA, is that the Tories can win the election if they offer tax cuts and tough policies on immigrants – but that this isn’t the only answer.  They also argue that in fact it is as much about how you sell the policies, as the policies themselves.  They call for a clear right-wing populist agenda, sold in a media friendly, but grassroots led, way.  Interesting for us lefties, but not more than oppo research so far.

What really interests us in the poll comes out under two headlines:

First – people vs the politicians can be a winning strategy for the left, or for the right. 

The TPA work illustrates something that is widespread knowledge now – people don’t like politicians.  As the focus groups say: “They’ve been letting us down for years”.  But what the poll also shows is that people don’t simply blame the Labour government for the problems they see in Britain, it’s a plague on all their houses.  This gives Labour the chance to emerge from the ruins of current politics intact, because the reality is people don’t think the Tories would really do better. It is actually the system itself that is broken.  If Labour puts itself at the head of a constitutional reform movement, we can break down some of the dislike of politicians, and stunt the Tory reform attack.  The TPA pushes executive government (where ministers aren’t always MPs – as the Nordics have it) and directly elected mayors. Brown is doing some thinking ahead like this as well, and he is expected to come forward with ideas soon.  Johnson and Hain should do so too. 

Also of interest is that voters trust business even less, especially when it comes to public services.  One set of interesting quotes from TPA focus groups runs: “Services go down so profit can go up… Quick bit of cash for a few… The mess with the trains… All it actually did was create greed and profit for a few”. Privatisation – handing public services over to big businesses is seen as a failure.  So, for example, new models of community ownership can be a succesful vote winner, and an alternative to the tempting “get the politicians out of managing our hospitals” right-wing message.

The bottom line to the TPA’s promotion of anti-politician populism is that it can cut either way.  The Tories are politicians too, and populism traditionally has always worked better for the left when economic conditions have generated the sort power and wealth imbalances globalisation has brought us.

Second – its not paying tax that upsets people, it is waste and incompetence that angers voters. 

One message the TPA aren’t pushing from their poll is that people don’t mind paying tax in principle.  (To be fair to the TPA, this isn’t something they are hiding either).  One member of a focus group even says of paying tax “God knows what it would be like if they hadn’t put it [spending on the NHS] in”. What people seem to be saying is that they are happy to pay tax, as long as it isn’t wasted – and at the moment, they think it is being wasted.

The left has always, in this writer’s humble opinion, been too soft on public sector waste when in government.  For example, why is it that the right leads the way in hammering consultants fat cat pay? It’s no good us defending the indefensible – we have to be the ones putting ourselves on the side of ordinary people against bureaucrats.  This poll shows that if we do that, the public will trust us with their money, and worryingly, if we don’t do that, they will vote to give their money to someone else.

What is to be spun?

The disconnection between what we often do in Westminster and what people in the country want – often Labour core supporters – is something the left in Britain has to take seriously.  The populism of voters, and the willingness of voters to switch over certain key issues, and switch either leftwards or rightwards, is a opportunity as well as a threat.

In their press release, the TPA argue that, “The Conservative Party’s unwillingness to try to sell lower taxes has left an open goal for centre-left parties to steal popular messages.”  Stephen Byers has seen this too, hence his push for the scrapping of inheritance tax (although he picked the wrong target, as we suggested here).  But there is no reason why tax cuts have to cut the level of tax across the board.  It is possible to target cuts to deserving groups while continuing to find the money for investment from less deserving groups.

I hate to say it, but the Lib Dems proposals to cut personal tax and shift them across to environmental taxation – while being uncosted and ill-thought through – were interesting thinking all the same.  And would it not be wise for a serious Labour MP to float the idea of aggressively cutting tax on people with the lowest incomes, while making up that money with a Land Value Tax on business (a tax recently backed by the IPPR?  These are just thoughts, but it is obvious there is room here for us to pounce while the Tories focus on changing their policy on wind-farms.

Groups like the TPA are springing up in response to the failure of the Tory party to promote aggressive policies for the populist right.  They may take some wrong conclusions from their poll, but they are force to be reckoned with and shouldn’t be dismissed as loons or as a Tory front group.  With an electorate as stroppy as they are now, it will need careful thinking on the left to ensure that voters come to us, rather than the populist right.

Other interesting results from the poll:

– 46% of voters don’t identify with any party at all

– over 20% over voters “knows somebody whose job has been affected by jobs moving abroad”.

– voters think that poverty, bad edcucation and poor rehabilitation are bigger causes of crime than immigration

– The Tories are the biggest party amongst over 65s only

– Voters who don’t identify with a party prefer Brown over Cameron

Labour gets tough with uppity lefties

August 30, 2006

Us part-timers at The Daily also have proper jobs to go to rather than sitting around blogging all day, and it was with amazement that this writer received a breathless call from an advert selling cokehead (allegedly – ed.) this morning. 

Labour’s conference advert selling is £25k short of target after the powers that be vetoed a trade union for “over the top” advertising and “pointless” use of campaign slogans.  Amazingly, they are so keen to bin the union that the price for everyone else has dropped from £25k to £5k – they really are desperate not to give the unions a voice aren’t they?

But which union campaign could it be that was so tough that the party turned down much needed (clean) cash?

Venezuelan big business forced out of the bunker

August 30, 2006

It is probably fair to say that there is a consensus in favour of acts of left-wing populism within the Daily office.

In that spirit, we’re all in favour of Caracas Mayor, Juan Barreto’s decision to remove the city’s golf courses from the Venezuelan elite and hand them over for social housing for the millions of people living in shanty towns in and around the capital. Golf courses are notorious for being the playground of big businessmen (in every sense) and for guzzling up huge amounts of water, in some countries, such as Spain, they are unpopular for depriving local communities of the vital resource just to help some fatcat’s handicap.

Of course, the suspicion here is that it will be seen in a very negative light by the World Bank and IMF, whose mandarins will now have to find something else to do with their spare time.

Lieberman’s new friends

August 30, 2006

Joe Lieberman seems to have confirmed suspicions that he was not all Democrat since losing the Connecticut primary.

Not only has he broken his promise to endorse Democratic candidates standing for Congress in Connecticut by declaring himself a “non-combatant” but he has started campaigning with Republicans and has hired Republican pollster Neil “Democrat Slayer” Newshouse who is also working for Republican Congressional candidates. It is assumed that they will be sharing data.

Polls show that most of Lieberman’s support is from Republican voters, so he seems to have decided to try to beat Democratic nominee Ned Lamont by maximising Republican turnout.

In doing so, he will threaten the Democrats’ chances of taking the House – they need to gain 16 seats, and 3 of the most vulnerable Republicans are in Connecticut. A high Republican turnout for Lieberman could tip the balance in those districts.

Lieberman’s latest tactic is to deploy supporters dressed as Arabs to stand by roads with signs backing Lamont – a new low even by the dubious standards of Republican (sorry, independent!) campaigning.

And speaking of focus leaflets

August 29, 2006

Good spot by Guido