Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Ed in a spin

I recently revisited my blog about Europe and surprised myself by how close many of the predictions I made have actually come to fruition – don’t know why that surprised me given the amount of research I did before writing that, but there we are.

Things have moved on since then though and I believe we have now reached an interesting, and pivotal point, in the fight for 2015.

One thing that has, to my mind, marked the current coalition out is their wish to avoid spin. Now I know my Labour readers will be shouting at the screen now but just hang on. A function of this rather unusual government structure is that two parties who have, for years, hated each other’s guts and said it pretty loudly, find themselves in bed together. Both want to retain their credentials and that means public spats, necessary withdrawals of certain policies and a generally more honest way of doing business.

I was (still am if I’m honest) a Tony Blair supporter but I know that both he and Thatcher before him had moved British politics into a more Presidential style. Both were huge personalities who cowed the opposition through their strength of rhetoric and an absolute ability to get their message across in a way people understood and could relate to. Like them or loath them you have to accept that they both won a series of elections and dominated politics during their time in office.

But the coalition is very different. Cameron isn’t Mr Charisma but he is a tough guy and it is the influence of Clegg and his strong LibDem ministers who keep the rhetoric at bay. The effect is that much of what the coalition have done gets lost in a rather more complex explanation of the policies and the reasons behind them. Most senior politicians are intellectuals, always have been, but this time around they haven’t managed to get their message across in anything like the terms that Thatcher or Blair would have done. And maybe that’s a good thing.

Miliband knows this. He and his shadow cabinet, when pushed are forced to accept that they would have done much the same had they been in power. The cuts to public spending are necessary although the targets might be different under Labour. The need to break the benefits culture that had grown during the soft Blair years is also necessary if we are to compete globally. Labour accept this whilst still complaining at every initiative – this, of course, is the function of opposition.

But things are about to change I fancy. The recent attack by The Mail on Ed’s dad (designed to open up a debate about Ed himself) rattled Labour to the extent that they made way too much fuss about it. They also misread the way the rest of the press pack would react. Sure there was outrage from the Guardian and Independent but it didn’t last. With press regulation now back in the spotlight the newspapers regrouped and stand together against the kind of political interference Mr Miliband would love and the press will simply not countenance.

In a speech yesterday Ed Miliband warned his supporters to get ready for a press onslaught. Her has rightly seen that the press, when anybody tries to gag them, stand together. The press also know that the Tories don’t support the press regulation proposals and are playing lip service so as to kick it into the long grass – they’ve said as much without admitting it.

The danger for Labour is that their newest policies can (unfairly) be described as state price controls and land grabs. On top of this the energy price fix is now being looked upon (by the Guardian no less) as a possible precursor to nationalization and that begins to raise memories of the horrific mess the Trades Unions created in the 70’s. Couple that with the dreaded use of the term ‘Marxist’ – Ed’s dad was one so why not he, the press will scream – and Labour will find themselves kicked into the long grass alongside the press regulation.

Ironically the polls showing for Labour at the moment mask the right wing division (Tory/UKIP) which is the only thing giving them a fighting chance of winning in 2015. Worryingly, Cameron is starting to address that issue and I believe by the time of the GE they will have removed the threat. Tough words from Farage are simply posturing to strengthen their negotiating position, he doesn’t want Labour to win and he certainly doesn’t want the blame for that in right wing circles to be laid at his door.

If the papers shout ‘Marxist’ and lay down a smoke screen of nationalization and state price controls, Labour are done for. No matter what they say the middle class – who consistently decide who is in power – will walk away and we will see the Tories taking the result by a whisker. Confusion in the middle ranks led to the coalition but there is appetite there for more of the same, a feeling that the LibDems curb the excesses of Tory zeal, so we could see another coalition. What we won’t see, unless Miliband can calm press speculation, is a Labour win.

I think the press will, as they have so often before, determine who wins the next General Election. At the moment it’s not looking good for Mr Ed.