Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Bye for now

Thanks for visiting the Paul Linford blog. This blog is now on hold for the time being for reasons I explain below.

1. The blog was originally spawned in a somewhat transitional period of my career between stepping down as political editor of The Journal, Newcastle, in August 2004 and becoming editor of HoldtheFrontPage in June 2008. During this period I was learning a lot about the internet but doing very little actual journalism, and I found the blog a useful outlet for my creative energies. Nowadays, all of these quite rightly go into my day job.

2. As I always suspected would happen, political blogging has fragmented into a small number of mega-blogs which have effectively become part of the mainstream media, and a much larger number of small blogs which receive very little traffic, interaction or attention from the political establishment. This is often no reflection on their quality, but it does have a fairly dispiriting effect as other political bloggers besides me have found.

The blog will remain online as an archive and - who knows? - may yet be resurrected in the future. But for now, it's goodbye.


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Logic says he's bound to be the next PM - but there'll be no complacency from Ed

There are, broadly speaking, two schools of thought about what the Labour Party needs to do to win the next general election.

One is that it has to do relatively little to get back into government other than rely on the growing unpopularity of the Tories, while the other is that that it won’t regain the trust of the people unless it demonstrates that it has radically changed

The two points of view roughly correspond to the positions adopted in the period after 1992 when the “one more heave” approach personified by John Smith contended with the “modernising” tendency represented by Tony Blair.

Mr Smith’s sudden death and Mr Blair’s subsequent elevation to the leadership settled that one, but, two decades on and with the party once more seeking a way back into power, the issue has recurred.

The first point of view was forcefully expressed in a Daily Telegraph article this week by Stefan Stern, a management writer and visiting professor at Cass Business School, who exhorted readers to “do the maths.”

“Labour won 258 seats at the last general election with 29pc of the vote, which was their second worst result in 70 years. They should do better next time. Governing parties, on the other hand, rarely get more votes at the election following a term (or terms) of office,” he wrote.

“So here’s the thing: it is actually going to be quite hard for Labour not to be the largest party after the next election.

“If Labour is the largest party after the election, perhaps comfortably so, we can expect the Lib Dems to enter coalition talks with them. That was the principle that lay behind the Lib Dems’ approach three years ago. “

Stern’s logic seems impeccable. But the opposing point of view was just as cogently expressed by the YouGov pollster Peter Kellner in a recent article in Prospect magazine.

“Labour’s real challenge is to reassemble the Blairite coalition that swept the party to power in 1997. That coalition included people from across Britain’s economic and social spectrum. The party reached parts of the electorate that had seemed out of bounds,” he wrote.

“To reassemble an election-winning coalition of voters next time, these are the people Labour must win back. This means rejecting the language of ideology, class and social division, and reviving the appeal of national purpose.”

As I noted in this column following May’s local election results, Labour has by no means succeeded in doing this, with the South in particular remaining stubbornly resistant to the party’s message.

It is partly for this reason, I suspect, that within Labour leader Ed Miliband’s inner circle, Mr Kellner’s point of view currently holds more sway than that of Mr Stern.

As has been fairly clear from the recent carefully co-ordinated statements by Mr Miliband and Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, the party leadership is well aware of the fact that it has a credibility problem with certain types of voters, and is working hard to persuade them it has genuinely changed.

Mr Balls’ announcement earlier this month that Labour would keep within George Osborne’s spending limits for its first year in office if it wins in 2015 echoed a similar pledge made by Mr Blair ahead of the 1997 election.

And Mr Miliband’s subsequent speech signalling new limits on longer-term welfare payments was designed to show the party is prepared to get tough on benefit claimants.

Will it work in persuading the public that the Labour of 2013 is essentially a different party from the one which, in many voters’ estimations, allowed public spending to get out of control in the Blair-Brown years?

Well, it’s a start, but Mr Miliband knows there is still much to do, and won’t be hoodwinked by Daily Telegraph columns telling him he is almost certain to be the next Prime Minister, however impeccable their logic.

In the run-up to polling day in 1997, Mr Blair continually warned his party against complacency, even when the whole world could see he was heading for a landslide.

In that respect, at least, Mr Miliband will be no different.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Why the Coalition won't last the course

IF a week is a long time in politics, then two weeks is twice as long – and the fortnight since this column last appeared seems to have been a particularly lengthy one for Prime Minister David Cameron.

A collective madness has descended upon his party, with rows about Europe and gay marriage punctuated by Cabinet ministers positioning themselves for what many now see as the inevitable post-Cameron succession battle.

Much of this is what Alastair Campbell used to call ‘froth.’ Whatever Michael Gove and Philip Hammond might dream about in bed at night, Mr Cameron is not going to be overthrown as Tory leader before the next election, and if he wins it, this bout of internal rancour will be long forgotten.

And if he loses, or fails again to win an outright majority, he’ll be overthrown anyway – but that’s par for the course for Tory leaders who fail to win elections and nothing that has happened over the past two weeks has altered that underlying reality.

What it may have done, however, is made it rather less likely that he will win in 2015.

Mr Cameron’s once-stated intention to stop his party “banging on about Europe” now seems laughable, while his attempts to detoxify the Tory brand by embracing liberal causes such as same-sex marriage seem only to have alienated his core supporters.

As I wrote in the context of the local election results, the only silver lining for the Prime Minister is that the country still seems less than overwhelmed by the idea of Ed Miliband as his successor.

So long as that remains the case, Mr Cameron may well be able to squeeze the UKIP vote by presenting the 2015 contest as a presidential battle between himself and a man who few voters of a right-wing disposition want to see in 10 Downing Street.

But for me, the most interesting political story of the past fortnight concerned not the fate of Mr Cameron, but the future of the Coalition government which he leads.

It appeared on the front page of The Times a week ago yesterday, and revealed that the Tories are now planning how they would govern without the Liberal Democrats for the last six to ten months of the Parliament.

“We need to have an idea of what we are going to do if at different points it does break up,” a source said.

The paper also quoted a senior Lib Dem as saying that Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg needed to act to prevent them “drifting into a four party situation with us as the fourth party.”

For me, this is a story which has been crying out to be written ever since the Coalition was first formed.

As regular readers of this column will know, I have argued from the outset that the political dynamics are such that it will be impossible for the Coalition to survive a full five-year parliamentary term.

It has long been clear that, in order to avoid humiliation in 2015, the Lib Dems will need to start differentiating themselves from the Conservatives long before polling day.

However it is now becoming increasingly clear that if they are to win back some of their lost core supporters from the arms of UKIP, the Tories will also need to start differentiating themselves from the Liberal Democrats.

Here, for what it’s worth, is how I see it panning out. Next June’s European elections turn into a disaster for both governing parties, with Labour and UKIP forcing them into third and fourth place in the popular vote.

Both Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg will then have to face their party conferences in September 2014 with activists demanding how they are going to recover in time for an election that will then be less than eight months away.

If they try to stay together for the sake of the kids, it will almost certainly put Ed Miliband in Number Ten, in that the Lib Dems will find it impossible to woo back their disenchanted supporters from Labour while the Tories will struggle to win back theirs from UKIP.

The alternative – an amicable divorce with Mr Cameron leading a minority government for the final few months of the parliament - really is the only conceivable outcome.