4 April 2009

Brown enjoys post-G20 bounce!

A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times newspaper showed Brown has cut the Conservative lead to seven points.

The Labour Party gained three points to stand at 34 percent. The Tories are unchanged at 41 percent. The Liberal Democrats were down one point to 16 percent.

An online poll of 2,000 voters also showed 53 percent thought the G20 summit to be a success and 44 percent saying the deal agreed by world leaders would help end the recession sooner.

There was also a five point increase in the number of people who thought Brown was doing a good job, to 41 percent, although 53 percent think he is not.

The number of respondents who were more optimistic about economic recovery rose by four points to 25 percent, with 44 percent negative, down from 51 percent when asked in December.

Is this the start of the third Brown bounce?

Source: Reuters
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It's now or never for Brown

It's been a good week for Gordon Brown. The G20 has given him a platform to speak as an international statesman and world economic leader. The scene of the most popular politician on the planet, President Obama, lavishing praise on him and a week of positive press headlines will have emboldened him for the months ahead. 

The Cabinet are leaving London this week for the Easter break with a single upbeat and unified message. Gordon Brown has long seen this week as an opportunity to begin his political fight back in the run up to planned May 2010 election. 

If the government can win the narrative battle over the coming weeks and offer a real sense that the global economy has turned a corner, Gordon Brown should go to the country on June 4th. 

The headlines for Labour are only going to get worse over the coming months. Unemployment will steadily rise, with some predictions suggesting we will see over 3 million people joining the dole queues by 2010. Officials this week have started briefing that Britain may be heading to the IMF for a bailout. The pre budget report in the Autumn is likely to see an increase in the rate of VAT to 18.5 pence in the pound, with potential rises in income tax. 

These unhappy developments will come straight after what is likely to be difficult, if not disasterous, local and European elections. The Labour vote is expected to collapse in key marginals as supporters register their disapproval of the state of the economy. In Labours northern strong holds we may see the first BNP MEPs elected; recovery from potentially the lowest national share of the vote Labour has ever seen would be nearly impossible.

It might seem contradictorary to urge the Prime Minister to call an election to avoid an electoral drubbing, but votes registered against a party in local and European elections do not always translate to a loss of support in a general election. If Labour can secure a high voter turnout as people head to the polls to vote in local, national and European polls it stands its best chance of winning an unprecedented fourth term. 

Party finances should also motivate the Prime Minister to consider fighting a general election in June. Labours bank balance is still heavily in the red and the party will struggle to adequately fight separate local, European and general election campaigns within eleven months of one another. 

David Cameron's reaction to the G20 agreement this week demonstrated the dividing line that Gordon Brown would like to demonstrate. The Conservative party leader, after welcoming the agreement called for an immediate return to tackling domestic economic issues. Gordon Brown wants to portray to voters Cameron's naivety in thinking that the issue of domestic and international economic recovery can be separated from one another. 

It is clear that the Conservatives have yet to convince the electorate that they would handle the economic crisis better than the current Government. Divisions in the shadow cabinet have emerged following Ken Clarkes announcement that raising the threshold of inhertiance tax wouldn't be a top prioirty for any incoming Conservative government. 

David Cameron's constant comments about the state of the economy, although largely accurate, risk painting him as a pessimist at a time when people are desperately seeking signs of the promised 'green shoots'. 

Unless Gordon Brown has reason to believe that the economy will begin to drastically improve as we head toward 2010 he should grasp at what will be his last opportunity to hold an election on his terms with a real chance to secure a fourth Labour term in government. 

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What if Britain has to go to the IMF?

An article published in the Telegraph this afternoon claims that senior officials have begun a massive spin operation to prepare the nation for Britain going hand in cap to the IMF for emergency funds.
Britain is heading for the IMF for funding, government ministers are admitting. They claim that there should be no stigma attached to the country making such a move, and have launched an extraordinary spin operation in preparation for it being needed.
The last time this that Britain required emergency funding from the IMF was back in 1976 and was widely seen as a national humilation. 

The IMF has been a constant headache for the Government since the financial crisis began. Back in October it has already warned that Britain would be hit hardest by the recession and faced an early 1990's style slump. The body then loudly criticised the governments flagship economic policy of cutting VAT in December 2008. 

But how would the public react to the nation requiring IMF funding today? 

Firstly, I highly doubt that Gordon Brown would make any move before a general election. The Conservatives have a potent attack in claiming that the government has bankrupt the nation, and a visit to the IMF cash machine would legitimise their claims and destroy and Labour claims to economic credibility. 

The image of the country going cap in hand to an institution typically associated with third world nation bailouts would be politically devastating. Of course we are in unique financial times, but the Conservative party have claimed for months that current levels of national debt are unsustainable. The Government have countered these suggestions by claiming the David Cameron is unwilling or uninterested in offering real help or solutions during the recession. 

In one move a trip to the IMF would destroy any image of Gordon Brown as being able to manage the economic crisis and wipe out any notion of Labour having competently managed the economy over the past twelve years. 

The publics concern for investment in public services would take a back seat to their desire for a return to economic prudence and a balanced book. This would give an incoming Conservative government cart blanche to cut funds from services 

Such a move would turn this from a centre left economic moment to a new era of right wing fiscal management. 

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"A £50,000 cap on donations would kill the Conservative Party"

Interesting prediction over at ConHome claiming that the Conservative Party would cease to exist if proposals to cap political donations ever become a reality.

The suggestions would limit each individual to an annual political donation of £50,000. I had alway assumed that the proposals obvious target would be trade unions - who, at one point last year, made up 90% of all donations to the Labour Party.
It was in March 2006 that David Cameron announced that the Conservative Party would seek to introduce a legal £50,000 cap on donations to political by individuals, trade unions, corporations and institutions.

That pledge was made in healthier economic times, and when donating money to political parties was - in the eyes of an increasingly sceptical and cynical public - marginally less tainted an act than it is today.

Yet three years later, the stark fact is that if such a curb on donations were in force, the Conservative Party would not have enough cash to function as an entity.

Apart from people being more nervous than ever about making political donations in the wake of all the "cash for honours" stories, they clearly have less money to spare for such causes in a recession.

And it is my understanding that the Party is very much feeling this as it seeks to keep the cogs turning at CCHQ, with generous individuals regularly being called upon to avert a financial crisis.

If the £50,000 cap were in place now, it is hard to see how the Conservative Party would be financially viable.

One measure which the party has proposed, with the aim of encouraging a wider donor base, is tax relief for donations up to £3,000 - and that is to be welcomed.

Yet there is also an invidious proposal to introduce state funding of parties on a per vote basis, which is the last way that taxpayers should be expecting their money to be spent right now.

As such, I remain of the view that political parties should expect to have to raise the vast majority of their funds through private donations - and that as long as there is transparency about the origin of considerable gifts, there should not be a limit on such donations.

And right now, that is necessary for the Conservative Party to survive.
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3 April 2009

I know I shouldn't laugh...

I really shouldn't find this quite as funny as I do...

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And in case you missed it...

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Gordon Browns post G20 press conference

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Where will the narrative go from here?

I think the big question over the next few days will be which narrative from the G20 triumphs in the media. Today's front pages have been almost unanimously positive, hailing the summit as a huge success. Brown will be reveling in a level of positive press that he hasn’t seen since summer 2007, if ever.

The Government needs to role out every minister and every MP on to every media outlet over the next few days. It needs to sell this as a genuine turning point in the international financial crisis that has been brought about by sustained and steadfast British leadership. I’m not opening up a commentary about whether this is true or not, but if the Government hopes to take some lasting credibility and much needed electoral support it must win the battle for the post-G20 narrative.

The right is already beginning to mobilize behind a narrative that the post-G20 press conference was nothing more than a clever repackage of already announced measures and stretched dodgy figures. Over at the Spectator blog they open their tirade

"Britain has as its Prime Minister a master of political illusion. He may not be much of an orator, but there is no one better at dressing up old money as new."
These comments are echoed by Iain Dale who argues that:

The G20 was supposed, according to our Prime Minister, to herald a new Bretton Woods and a new world stimulus package. It achieved neither.
We should all remember last years much hyped pre-budget report. The VAT cut and hosts of measures initially played well in the press and the public until the Conservatives wrestled control of the story away from the Government - making a whole raft of proposal look like a short term gimmick.

Watch this space, as they say.

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Brown gets his best headlines ever?

The coverage of the G20 today seems to be overwhelmingly positive, with Gordon Brown appearing to be the big winner from the Summit.

Sunder Katwala, over at Next Left offers a great summary of the main coverage:

The Times leader writers believe that the ability of world leaders to show they could act together was crucial.

"Divisions on how to deal with the financial crisis remain. Imbalances in the global economy lie uncorrected. But the G20 summit took important steps in improving the machinery for coping with the financial crisis. The mere fact of agreement will have expanded, in Gordon Brown's phrase, the oxygen of confidence in the global economy.
To judge a summit primarily by its contribution to psychology may appear to trivialise a crisis that is widely compared to the Great Depression. Yet confidence is the crucial missing ingredient".

The Financial Times takes a similar view of the progress made:

"The world is better for having held this summit. The possibility of dangerous contagion is lower and useful progress has been made across a range of issues, from the need to keep trade free to IMF quota reform. But leaders must remember that the crisis, which started in the banking system, will not be resolved until the banking system itself is fixed. That is where they must turn their attention now."

A good FT column from Philip Stephens focuses on how the summit reflects a changing global order:

"The London summit was not, after all, a flop. More than that, the gathering of 20-something world leaders was a substantial success. It is true that, for all his diligent diplomacy, Britain’s Gordon Brown could not claim to have saved the planet. Yet historians will record the summit as the moment when a world in the throes of economic and geopolitical upheaval took a first, hard look in the mirror."

The Telegraph editorial says that there were several sensible measures, but no grand recovery plan

"But if the jamboree has a legacy, it may be that the optimistic tenor of the leaders' exchanges goes some way to restoring battered global confidence. It is good to talk".

The Independent editorial makes several similar points, also noting that global trade imbalances were not addressed:

"The brinkmanship and hyperbole of recent days has, at times, made this week's G20 meeting seem like a "make or break" summit for the global economy. The reality was always rather more subtle and less dramatic. This meeting was a stop on a larger journey, not the final destination. After yesterday's result, there are grounds for hope that we are, at least, on the right road".

A second leading article on the G20 suggests that China's full participation in multilateral global fora may prove the most significant outcome.

The New York Times welcomes US multilateral engagement, but believes that President Obama may have to pick a fight soon if European resistance to a further fiscal stimulus is maintained:

Where they fell dangerously short was their refusal to commit to spend the hundreds of billions of dollars in additional fiscal stimulus that the world economy needs to pull out of its frighteningly steep dive ...President Obama has rightly warned the Europeans that they cannot count on American consumer spending alone to drive a global recovery. But he apparently decided that a battle would be too destructive. After years of watching former President George W. Bush hector and alienate this country’s closest friends, we were relieved to see Mr. Obama in full diplomatic mode. We fear, however, that this is not the time or the issue on which to hold back
The Guardian welcomes 'tough talk' on tax havens, as long as a 'great blast of daylight' turns this into action. Its main 'London calling' leader notes that the G20 is now the world's premier decision-making forum, and highlights those issues which need to be addressed in future.

"While the G20 was happy to give the IMF a fat chequebook, it was far too vague on reform of an institution that has rightly spent much of this decade in the doghouse. Most importantly of all, this economic crisis comes amid an even more important environmental one, and yet the communiqué treated the green agenda as if it was merely motherhood and apple pie, to be supplicated with a few mentions. This is not to dismiss the very real achievements of this week's meetings, but merely to point out ways the next summit must go further".
The political commentators focus on the domestic political impact. Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian notes that Gordon Brown's "international stock will never be higher" with the summit results reflecting the enormous amount of advance work put into it, but wonders whether the complexity of the issues will mean the political impact will be limited:

"Its benefits might not be felt for a year or two. That will be fine for historians - who may well look back on 2 April 2009 as a crucial landmark in the journey back to economic health, giving credit to Brown for showing the way. But for a prime minister desperate to overturn stubbornly bad poll numbers, and facing election in 2010, that would be too late."

Steve Richards in The Independent agrees that the summit may seem distant from voters' immediate concerns, but sees the summit as increasing the prime minister's authority and confidence by making substantive progress:
Given that leaders spend much of their time in Downing Street pulling levers which have nothing at the end of them (ask Blair) the last few breathless weeks were an example of Prime Ministerial time spent constructively. As a result Brown's authority is enhanced.
Peter Riddell in The Times does not "question either Mr Brown’s commitment and energy over the past few weeks or the substance of the pledges in yesterday’s communiqué", but notes that "for most British voters, the Budget in just under three weeks’ time on April 22 will be far more important".

There is broad agreement that the summit brought important progress, but no economic or political miracles. But not everybody agrees.

Daniel Hannan, despite the collapse of his Icelandic miracle model, remains an advocate of less regulation, not more, and so is sure that the G20 will make the global recession worse.

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Berlusconi annoys the Queen

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1 April 2009

New Tory webchat

New Tory webchat from those clever bods over at Labour HQ!

Click to enjoy:

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New Hampshire Explained

FIFTEEN months after New Hampshire voters (temporarily) saved Hillary Clinton's chances in the Democratic presidential primary, pollsters are finally explaining how they botched up their research. The American Association for Public Opinion Research has completed its study of primary and general election polling. The big takeaways:

New Hampshire was a "perfect storm". We knew this a year ago, but the extent to which bizarre accidents affected the Granite State's polls was incredible. They had only five days to work, two days of which were a Saturday and Sunday. Mrs Clinton's supporters were more likely to give a pollster a hard time; thus, many polls over-represented enthusiastic supporters of Barack Obama. Mrs Clinton's supporters included many low-income voters and union members who were absent from the polls. Thus, an average high-single-digit lead for Mr Obama turned into a 2-point win for Mrs Clinton.

There was no "Bradley Effect". The much-discussed theory that white voters lied about their willingness to vote for black candidates was bunk. There was, instead, a "social desirability effect" that occasionally biased the polls for Mr Obama—this occurred when people taking the poll decided to sound "progressive" by supporting him.

Some pollsters don't want to talk. Strategic Vision, a conservative-leaning poll that often projected headline-grabbing meltdowns for candidates who ended up winning—a four-point lead for Barack Obama in the Wisconsin primary, where he won by a landslide—did not take the chance to explain how it got its results wrong. The result? Expect more newsy SV polls in the 2011 Republican primary buildup, and many shocking Drudge Report teasers.

From The Economist

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PMQs in full

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Cameron meets President Obama

David Cameron has held talks with President Barack Obama as the US leader continues his series of pre-G20 meetings in London.

The meeting, in the US Ambassador's residence, was the second time the two have met after the then Senator Obama visited London last summer.

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Obama arrives at Downing Street!

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31 March 2009

Expenses need to be reformed now

I am loathed to jump on the ‘expenses-gate’ bandwagon, but following Iain Dale’s unfair accusation that LabourList was censoring debate about the issue I felt that I’d throw in my two-cents.

Firstly, I don’t believe that Jacqui Smith or her husband deliberately did anything wrong in making this £10 expense claim. They have both admitted that this was a simple mistake and have since taken prompt steps to rectify it. The punishment for this oversight has been excruciating embarrassment for them both. We don’t need a spurious witch hunt about the issue.

What we do need is a wider discussion about the damage done to the reputation of the political profession and how we address legitimate public anger about MPs expenses.

Most people accept that MPs will incur unavoidable costs as they carry out their responsibilities and that MPs with constituencies outside of London will need to be given an allowance to enable them to spend four days a week in the House of Commons. These are unavoidable facts of the profession. But according to the Daily Telegraph, 60 per cent of voters think worse of MPs on the whole because of what they have discovered about the allowances system.

How can we restore public faith in the system and in their elected representative’s financial integrity?

The first step is an immediate enquiry in to how the expenses system should be reformed. It is widely acknowledged that the rules governing the reimbursement of MPs' expenses are very unclear, and that they need to be drafted afresh.

The second step is the need for a pragmatic conversation about how much we should pay our Members of Parliament. This might mean more generous salaries in exchange for less unaccountable expenses.

Thirdly, and more controversially, those who have misused the expenses system should be named and shamed. We on the left all gloated as Derek Conway was exposed for paying his student son from parliamentary expenses, but are any of us honestly buying that Jacqui Smith’s main home is a spare room in her sister’s house?

What is more, if we are going to pay our politicians for their work let’s ensure we are getting value for money. Attendance in parliament is regularly an embarrassment to the democratic system.

On a larger scale we need to launch a wider debate about how we restore trust and, dare I say it, respect for those who choose to dedicate themselves to public service. We should encourage a culture that values public service for what it is, not for the financial rewards it can offer. Of course salaries must make it a feasible career prospect for those able and willing, but that should not be the primary motivation.

This debate can not wait until after the next election. If it is not addressed comprehensively and rapidly we risk losing a generation of talented and innovative public servants who feel that politics is where reputations and self respect go to die.

First posted on Labour List

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This is extraordinary...

From ConHome:

Caroline Flint, the Minister for Europe, made a stunning admission in the House of Commons yesterday - that she has not read the Lisbon Treaty. During a European Committee session, the following exchange (not yet online) took place between the Minister and Mark Francois, her shadow:

"Mr Francois: Given that the treaty is integral to the documents we are debating this afternoon, I am a little surprised at the continuing vagueness of the Minister's answer. This is a really simple question: has the Minister read the elements of the Lisbon treaty that relate to defence?

Caroline Flint: I have read some of it but not all of it.

Mr Francois: What!

Caroline Flint: I have been briefed on some of it.

Mr Francois: That is an extraordinary answer. The Minister for Europe has not read all of the Lisbon treaty. That is an absolutely extraordinary revelation. It is a bit like the Irish Prime Minister saying that he had not read it before the referendum. That is an incredible answer. If she is Minister for Europe, why has she not read the treaty?"

The Lisbon Treaty provides for: a new EU president; an EU foreign minister and EU diplomatic service; the European Court of Justice having jurisdiction over key elements of criminal legislation (including arrests and sentencing); more powers for Europol; the EU setting uniform standards for asylum seekers; legally binding status for the Charter of Fundamental Rights; the abolition of national vetoes and new areas where no veto will apply; and a ratchet clause allowing the EU to abolish any non-defence national veto without a new Treaty.

Caroline Flint may not have read the Treaty, but she has offered opinion on it readily:

"I believe that the Lisbon treaty is good for the United Kingdom and good for Europe."

"The Lisbon treaty provides a simpler, more streamlined EU." (Both House of Commons, 13 October 2008.)

When Ken Clarke admitted he hadn't read the Maastricht Treaty he got into a spot of bother. I wonder how this story will run.

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