Tories must guard against complacency and splits


Having been pleasantly surprised at their ability to form a majority government following the General Election in May, the Conservative Party must have thought all their Christmases’ had come at once when the Labour Party, post-election, inexplicably elected a new leader who has as much chance of walking into Downing Street as Prime Minister as I have of scoring a cup winning goal for Everton.

However, from basking in the glory of their main opposition’s collective suicide mission, the Tories must guard against complacency, and returning to the deep party splits that, in significant part, led to its downfall in 1997.

Europe, the Osborne austerity agenda and politicians egos will be the challenges that will face the government in what is now likely to be a ten years stretch in power.

This week’s Tory conference was the first in what will be a series of beauty contests for the leading role, as David Cameron somewhat prematurely announced he would be stepping down following his second stint in number ten.

The main contenders are Boris, Teresa May and George Osborne. With what many would describe as an impressive handling of the economy; his Northern Powerhouse initiative; and the general acceptance that he ran the successful election campaign back in the spring, the chancellor is clearly seen as the favourite.

However, the one thing history does tell us about the Tories is that they don’t often do the obvious when it comes to electing leaders – and favourites are usually left shell shocked as party members look for something a little bit different.

Margaret Thatcher came from nowhere to succeed Edward Heath in the mid-seventies. Heseltine and Portillo were much more favoured than Major and Hague. Who would have thought Iain Duncan Smith could win a raffle, never mind the top job as leader of Her Majesty’s official opposition, and David Cameron was the outsider when he succeeded Michael Howard.

If I was a betting man I would still put my money on George. But don’t write off the chances of lesser known candidates in the field, and keep a particular eye on business minister and West Midlands MP Sajid Javid.

And they’re off….Tory leadership contest starts Monday

tory party

The party conference season comes to an end next week as the Tories visit Manchester, and they will be struggling to contain their joy following the gathering of a much depleted Liberal Democrat event; and a Labour conference that looked as if the party had somehow been transported back to the 1970s, not only in terms of what was being said, but also in how it looked.

Given that the Tories will now have to implode in spectacular fashion if they are to lose the next election, which is five years away, then they can get on with their own agenda in a relatively carefree fashion in the safe knowledge that Tim and Jerry (Farron and Corbyn) may be able to huff and puff – but they will fall a long way short of blowing the Conservative house down.

With this in mind, next week should see the phony war for the Conservative leadership begin in earnest, and the contenders will be looking to strike a smart balance between speaking to the country they govern, and to the party they want to lead.

For the chancellor, this will mean a further advancement of his devolution plans, described by Oldham council leader Jim McMahon at Labour’s bash this week as ‘a devolution of cuts’ – but still seen by most in local government as the best chance they have of maintaining at least some relevance in the twenty first century.

It remains to be seen if George, the favourite to succeed the alleged pig admirer David Cameron, will make firm announcements on the further city region deals that he will be supporting. More likely he will wait for his November budget to do that. However, it is no coincidence that the abandoned electrification of the Transpennine railway line has been reinstated before his party has landed in the heart of his much trumpeted ‘Northern Powerhouse.’

Expect to hear that phrase, and indeed the ‘West Midlands engine’ peppered throughout the Osborne speech. Cynicism from Labour leaders like McMahon aside, the chancellor has a genuine appetite to re-balance the UK economy; devolution is just one part of his strategy.

Of course, George being George, there is a political aspect to all of this Devo stuff too. He has long recognised the futility of the Conservatives, particularly when they control the levers of power on Westminster, attempting to win back control of Town Halls in our big northern cities and many other provincial cities this side of the Watford gap.

He hopes that the introduction of big powerful ‘metro mayors’ will see strong independents emerge as contenders in these Labour strongholds and eventually lead the electorate to conclude that councillors are a thing of the past.

Managing and re-balancing the economy is his day job, the bread and butter of our chancellor’s role. Shrinking the state, now that is his passion, and what gets him out of bed in the morning.

Politics just got Interesting

Politics Interesting

As the old saying goes a week is a long time in politics, but it will take longer than seven days for political pundits and commentators to get over the shock General Election result witnessed on May 7th – and it will take the Labour Party much, much longer than that.

It was a devastating result for Ed Miliband and his team, made worse by its unexpectedness, but had we all looked at the campaign less tribally and more objectively, then the Tory victory, actually, should not have come as that much of a surprise.

No party in modern times that has gone to the electorate offering tax increases has been successful at the polls; wheeling out a cross dressing celebrity to campaign in Glasgow and getting the leader to have a cup of coffee with an elitist hippy shouted ‘out of touch Londoners’ to even the most traditional of Labour supporters; and the less said about the ‘Ed Stone’ the better.

Labour must now get itself up and dust itself off as quickly as it can practically do – and if the party has any sense they will leave the Blair/Brown days behind, jump a generation and take a risk of one of its up and coming young guns to lead it into the 2020 General Election. Labour needs a leader that can beat Boris – not someone who can go head to head with Cameron.

Talking of the Prime Minister, there was probably nobody more surprised, and relieved, than him when the ballot papers had all been counted.

Only a fortnight ago I and many others were predicting an early demise for Dave, as predators such as BoJo and Theresa May eyed his job. The election victory has bought him some time, but he will be more aware than anyone that he has a difficult balancing act of chastising his swivel eyed backwoodsmen and keeping his modern Conservatism agenda on track.

The EU in/out referendum was a panic promise too far, as he must surely realise when now analysing the UKIP performance, but he must go ahead with this folly now, risking the ire of both business and his own Europhile MPs.

His majority is far from huge, and therefore the chances of him going through the lifetime of this parliament without experiencing his own ‘bastards’ moment is highly unlikely. However, he has two big advantages over John Major. First, he has already announced he will not be fighting the next election, so on a personal level he has nothing to lose. Second, the official opposition will take some time to recover from what was a massive and unexpected setback.

Devolution remains a big part of the chancellor’s agenda, so opportunities for the north will offer themselves; whilst the whole issue of the Union, in light of the SNP’s surge, will keep the new government busy on many a front – and give us all plenty to talk about, and keep us interested over the next five years.

As for Farage and Co, and the almost extinct Liberal Democrats, for me, they got what they deserved.

Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies


“The truth – you can’t handle the truth.” So responded Jack Nicholson to a question posed to him by Tom Cruise in the movie ‘A Few Good Men.’

It is a line that David Cameron and George Osborne would probably articulate to the great British public given half a chance, because it is the very fact that they have been telling ‘the truth’, as they see it at least, that they have not moved significantly ahead in the polls as they had anticipated by this stage of the General Election campaign.

The downbeat message of Osborne and the Prime Minister may paint an accurate picture of where the UK Plc’s finances are, but it is difficult to get anyone particularly enthused to support another five years of hard slog and austerity.

So, with this, the Tories, with almost gay abandon, decided to go on a bit of a spending spree this week, promising a host of positives including Rail fare freezes, £8 Billion extra for the NHS and a big announcement offering everyone in the public sector 3 days off to volunteer during the year, at a cost of – well who knows?

The Conservatives lead when it comes to ‘managing the economy’ is fairly healthy in all opinion polls; but even so these ‘bag of a fag packet’ commitments have allowed Labour to level the charge of a Tory Party scrabbling around for attractive goodies to hand out before the election, without having any clue as to how they will be paid for.

Labour itself is so paranoid about its reputation in managing the country’s finances, that they have put themselves into a ‘triple lock’ discipline over future fiscal policy that was spelt out on the first page of its Manifesto, launched in Manchester on Monday.

Other than protecting the NHS budget and overseas aid, you will go a long way to find any Labour spending commitment worth talking about.

Not quite ‘carry on regardless’ more ‘re -arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic’ would be a fairly accurate description of the oppositions approach to its economic policy offer to the electorate, with the usual rhetoric of hammering those with ‘the broadest shoulders’. An increasingly confident looking Ed Miliband and his would be Chancellor Ed Balls will be hoping that they don’t meet the same resistance to a very similar Labour message trotted out by Neil Kinnock and John Smith in 1992. History tells us that parties that promise tax rises have not fared particularly well in UK General Elections.

The lack of ambition contained within the Manifestos of the only two political parties who can form a government basically demonstrates a realistic view from them as to where we are in terms of public finances. But, it is not a particularly exciting message, and it is failing to turn the voters on.

Instead, for ‘vision’ and fantasy politics, those who have a wanton desire for radicalism over reality have opted to support fringe parties who, quite frankly, can say what they want and promise what you want with no fear of having to carry out their barmy policies. It was a trap the Liberal Democrats fell into five years ago but, unusually for them, it came back to bite them on the bum – no tuition fees anyone?

This time around it is the Greens offering billions of pounds of public spending; Farage’s mob promising to rid the country of pesky foreigners and the SNP building a whole nation’s economy on oil, despite the falling price of the black stuff in recent months.

Between them, the so-called minor parties are currently polling around 35% of the vote accumulatively, which tells me that a significant number of UK citizens do, indeed, prefer ‘sweet little lies’ to the brutal truth. Who would be a politician?

Single issue ‘Parties’ are bad for politics

Green UKIP

With the next General Election less than 100 days away, it seems highly likely that we are heading for another ‘hung parliament’ and coalition government. The big question is, how will that coalition be made up – and what impact will the so-called ‘fringe’ parties have on the result?

It seems to me that all manner of multi-party agreements could come into play post-election. Labour could sign up to a deal with the Greens and the SNP; the Tories could go with the Unionists of Ireland, the Lib Dems and maybe even UKIP; or we could end up with the largest party, probably the Conservatives, going it alone for a few months before calling another General Election to try and get a conclusive result.

The uncertainty surrounding May’s poll is due to several things, among them the less than inspirational leadership we are being offered by the leaders of the three mainstream parties; but largely it is because of the surge in support the minor political forces have enjoyed in recent months.

It sounds somewhat patronising, and perhaps even a little politically snobbish to say this, but those who are seriously thinking of putting their ‘X’ in the box marked Green, UKIP, Independent or, to a lesser extent, SNP, are clearly not too concerned about the detail and range of policies that are required for government.

These fringe parties are basically single issue campaigners who have decided that forming a ‘political party’ gives them more legitimacy and a bigger voice than by simply sticking to what they actually are – protest groups.

The Greens are anti-nuclear; anti-fracking and, apparently, anti-enterprise. They have no clue about economic policy, defence or indeed a whole manner of things that should concentrate the minds of any political party standing for election. Do those who are planning to vote Green really appreciate that they want to abolish the army in favour of ‘civil defence’ volunteers? Or that they wish to kick the Queen out of Buckingham Palace and stick her and the Corgi’s in a council house?

Outside of immigration and their anti-EU agenda, have UKIP got any policies that bear scrutiny? Certainly on both the NHS and economic policy they have been found desperately short of ideas and credibility.

And, outside of using the proceeds of North Sea oil to prop up some kind of Scottish Utopia, how are the SNP proposing to govern their nation if they do ever get full blown UDI? With oil prices now plummeting, you can only see their mismanagement of public services getting worse if they were to be given the powers they crave.

Single issue pressure groups should be just that – or we end up in the dangerous position that we now find ourselves, with a turned off electorate choosing to back parties with one idea rather than a Manifesto to govern.