Monthly Archives: April 2010

What Gillian Duffy Exposed About Brown

I have friends who are still staunch Labour supporters.  Even when they agree with Tory policy it comes down to them just not trusting Cameron.  Sure, he seems a nice guy on the telly but they’re convinced that behind closed doors he reverts to some landed-gentry Harry-Enfield-Tory-stereotype who thinks himself way above ‘all the dreadful little hoi polloi people’.  They don’t believe he’s the same man behind the camera that he is in front of it.  The persistence of  that view has always bothered me.  On the occasions I’ve observed him in the flesh it seems to me miles from the mark.

Today, thanks to the wonders of the radio mic, we found there is indeed truth in the caricature of the politician who smiles while shaking hands then bitches about the “dreadful people” once out of sight.  Only, it turns out that the real two-face party leader is actually the Prime Minister.   It isn’t only the way Brown described this core Labour voter – a ‘bigot’  – but also by his thundering “Who put her in front of me?” – with that one line we get an insight into his self-justification in feeling angry with other people that he had to even speak to a genuine ‘common’ voter.

Cameron has never put himself above mixing with ‘real’ voters.  Quite the opposite.  Cameron does very real walkabouts with very real ‘un-vetted’ people.  Having been involved with one of his Cameron Direct events I can vouch that, save their living in the relevant constituency, there is no effort to control who turns up or what questions they ask.  Already in this campaign he has been confronted with people giving him a piece of their mind (or an egg).  He’s dealt with them genuinely and humanly.   See here and here for two very recent examples of his bare-knuckle campaigning.  That’s what great politicians do.  He’s never run from these confrontations – if anything he seeks them out!  My one great hope from today is that those who had faith in Gordon as a ‘man of the people’ now realise their judgement was faulty and so  themselves begin to question if their remaining prejudice about Cameron may also need revising.

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Labour: Substance on Cuts?

If, like me, you are starting to tire with Labour’s repeated claim that they are the “party of substance over soundbite” in this election then you will probably appreciate this interview for exposing how shallow that claim really is when they are pressed on the detail.   I am sure those who have stained-rose-tinted specs will be unable to see anything other than the Good Lord adeptly handling an awkward question – however, for everyone with an open mind the following doesn’t need me to say anything else to expand on it….

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Backstage at the Leaders Debate (Part 2)

As you will have read HERE I went to the Leaders debate in Bristol on Thursday and got sucked into the crazy world of the national media.  The Guy News crew have put together a video of the evening which neatly captures what I was writing about (it skips over to Bristol after about a minute)…

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Backstage at the Leaders Debate

It’s not often you get to elbow the Secretary of State for Defence. OK, it was an accident, but let me revel in the glory anyway… Bob Ainsworth was behind me worming his way towards Kay Burley to demand an interview, my mobile was glued-to-ear, I turned round quickly and my elbow clipped him. “Sorry”, I said, as recognition instantly made it a polite lie. Disappointingly, he brushed on past leaving my minor assault wholly unacknowledged – he was so desperate to get on the goggle box it left him oblivious to pain. The media circus was in town and nothing was going to stop Ainsworth playing his role as a clown. For Bristol yesterday this circus was the only show in town.

I was on a blag as a guest of Sky TV with a ring-side seat to the razzmatazz. A picture-postcard sunny day saw the troupe rock up, pitch their tents and bring the place to a standstill. The venue was amongst Bristol’s newish waterfront development and so the whole area was ringed by shirt-sleeved machine-gun-toting policemen, grubby looking students with obligatory anti-war placards, fancy-dressed attention-seekers and stressed looking TV crews rigging up kit. Pubs opposite the venue were packed to the rafters, the lager taps flowing which added to an atmosphere seeped in anticipation. Bristol was buzzing. By the time the Prime Minister arrived the mob was well oiled and it was briefly more pantomime than circus as they made their feelings about him known.

I’ll not dwell on the debate itself – every utterance and mannerism has already been scrutinized to the nth degree by every journalist and blogger in Britain. I’ll just share my general impression that all three raised their game from the first debate, it was more compelling to watch and I would ‘score’ it in terms of public perception roughly the same: Clegg first. Cameron second. Brown third. Albeit I’d have Clegg not as far ahead and Brown not as far behind as last time. Brown wins the sound-bite of the night for his ‘Big Society – Little Britain’ jibe. Despite a good performance I’m not sure the debate has helped bolster David Cameron. The Conservatives should be able to put the Lib Dem surge to bed on a Foreign Policy centred debate but it didn’t happen. I know there are a multitude of instant exit polls which will either contradict or support that view but I can only call it as I saw it and I trust my gut-instinct on these things more than I trust any paid-for poll.

For me though the real education of the evening was watching up-close the dance between the media and the politicians. When you first arrive at the media centre the scale of the operation seems huge. Banks of desks, loaded with wi-fi laptops showing the journo’s twitter accounts, big screen monitors showing various feeds from around the building. Camera men. Sound men. Print men. News Anchors. Everyone looking earnest and busy. At the side of the room the politicians and their minders wait. The politico’s blackberries purr right through the debate with every statement by the opposition instantly fact-checked, whenever the opposition scored a perceived hit the blackberries again buzzed with quickly crafted rebuttal phrases to get out to the press later. And then the debate ended and the madness began…

All parties know that the immediate spin after the debate can define public perception as much as the debate itself. Getting to the big hitter media straight away is everything. Suddenly, as you watch you realise that what seemed such a huge operation and a mass of media is really quite a small cliquey affair. Fundamentally, on camera we have BBC, SKY and to a lesser extent ITV. That’s it. The print journos that matter are the Times, Telegraph, Guardian, Sun and Mirror (to a lesser extent the Independent) and that’s it. Get to those people and every other commentator simply feeds off their output. In a nod to the blogosphere Will Straw (from Left Foot Forward) and Tim Montgomerie (from Conservative Home) were both afforded the same access as the key newspapermen. So really even the blogs have gone mainstream! There used to be an expectation that the blogosphere would mean that these few key news organisations would lose their prominence and importance. Not a bit of it – the blogosphere feeds off their output – true there is wider comment nowadays and the relationship is symbiotic – but it’s the old media who are still the daddy. The politicians worked the room on their unspoken rota, mentally ensuring they got to each of that hit-list of folk to talk to. The traditional image of the journo chasing the interviewee and begging for them to be granted the great favour of a quick line is turned on its head here. Instead, the key journos stay in place and the politicos come to them and beg for the interview. It was a sight to behold. We had Ashdown, Milliband (Snr), May, Ainsworth (oblivious to his new bruise), Campbell, Huhne and Gove to name-drop just a fraction of those in the room fighting to get on camera. Brown, Clegg and Cameron would by now be on the way home but make no mistake that round two was continuing with brutality in the Media Centre. And so it went on….

I went back up to the Sky Party and watched the last of the interviews in the bar. There was a healthy mix of people with different voting intentions discussing it. Of those who would confess to a clear party allegiance unsurprisingly everyone (except me) saw their man as the clear winner. The interesting thing was the undecided lot – none of them would pin their flag to a clear winner. Perhaps then it wasn’t as bad as I feared.

For a party activist these debates are nerve-wracking. You know that all those thousands of leaflets you stuff through letter boxes, all the door knocking, and all the other local campaign stuff is only ever really worth, at most, about three percent of your local vote. It’s the national stuff that counts most and we’re helpless to control that. Here in one hour your leader can wipe out all that good work with one poor phrase. Cameron did not do that. But he didn’t land any huge punches either. Am I nervous? A little. Am I losing any faith that he is the right man for the job or he has the right vision for Britain? Not a bit of it. Do I wish we didn’t have the debates? The pragmatic campaigner in me says yes – they haven’t helped us and have risked damaging us – but the democrat in me over-rides that. These debates have helped re-engage the public after a full-on collapse of trust in politics. The debates are healthy for our democracy and frankly that’s more important.  Roll on the next one.

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Conservative Party Political Broadcast: 19th April 2010

It’s been a tough week with since the TV debate with the Lib Dems making full capital out of Clegg’s performance. In repsonse David Cameron has pulled the original scheduled broadcast and put this one out instead. The hackles about ‘image over substance’ are getting irritating so it is useful to remind people that he does have his own clear vision and show there is real daylight between Conservative and Labour Policy…..

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Conservatives in Birmingham Ladywood

Last night I attended an election event hosted by the Conservatives for its members in Birmingham Ladywood.   Nusrat Ghani, the Parliamentary Candidate,  had been rendered voiceless by tonsillitis and was under strict orders to stay away and recover*.  I’m her Agent s0 was asked to stand-in and say a few words on her behalf.  I’m a great believer in honesty, so decided to talk frankly about the challenges we face in the seat.

Ladywood is as tough a gig as it comes for a Conservative candidate.   It is possibly the most diverse constituency in the UK –  that’s both in terms of diversity of income and in terms of ethnic diversity.  Yes, there is a slowly changing demographic – the glut of swanky new-build flats in the City Centre has attracted more professionals from a traditional Conservative background.   However, you can’t escape the reality that much of the electorate live amongst some of the highest unemployment and poverty in the UK with all the associated social problems that go in tandem.   Until recently the Conservative message has been hard to land in those wards.  We’re setting about turning that around.

Ladywood is viewed by the anoraks as a rock solid Labour Seat.  Clare Short became an ‘independent’ MP  a couple of years ago but her retirement last week gifted the new Labour candidate the  inheritance of her nominal support.   The Conservative Party centrally takes a tactical look at its resources and makes pragmatic choices on where to deploy them.  With the election predicted to be close it is only sensible that Birmingham’s share of national campaign spend is directed into ‘battleground’ seats such as Edgbaston rather than the likes of Ladywood- after all you don’t get in government for getting the most votes, you get in government for winning the most seats.  I always fear this brutal pragmatism may leave locals to conclude the party is somehow neglecting them or doesn’t care.  This could not be further from the truth.  The Political reality simply means that the challenge is thrown directly to the local association – “it’s your job to get the Conservative message out there in your patch”.   From everything I saw last night my sense is that the Ladywood Association understands and is rising to that challenge – by example:

  • We mustn’t forget that May 6th is also local elections.  The Tories are fielding locally well-known, hard-working, credible candidates for each of the four council wards in the constituency.   These candidates have been laying the ground work for some  months with their leaflet deliveries and their pounding of the doorsteps.   A Conservative break-through in the council elections here is a real possibility.
  • The appointment of Nusrat as the PPC has added extra energy to the campaign.  She’s a cracking candidate.  Nusrat’s enthusiasm and drive is infectious to everyone who meets her.  Her family is well known and respected locally and she has been able to use this to open doors to people who had not previously given consideration to the Conservatives before.  Historically, high flying candidates asked to stand in tough seats often become ‘paper candidates’ not really trying and just cynically getting the ‘I stood before’ line on their CV to help them in their hunt for an easier seat next time around.  This is a charge nobody will ever be able to level at Nusrat Ghani.  Her canditature in Ladywood is something she takes exceptionally seriously – her commitment would be obvious to you within moments of meeting her.

And here’s the thing:  when the local community meet ‘real’ modern Conservatives like the candidates mentioned above the wall of prejudice about us being just a party of ‘rich toffs’ is torn down.   Once that prejudice is removed people become far more open to listening to the Conservative message.  With these prejudices dropped they then realise that we all have a lot in common – we all want to ‘get on’, we want better for our kids, we all want greater control of our own lives.  When people accept these are shared goals you have to ask which party has the best approach to delivering them? – one party is asking you to trust it to solve your problems despite the evidence of the last thirteen years – one party is saying it trusts you and your community solve your problems and will empower you and your community to do so.   It’s Cameron’s big idea:  “Not a big state – a big society”.

It”s working.  The message is spreading.  The momentum is building.   There were around 60 people joined us in Ladywood last night – I understand that only a couple of years ago the expected turnout at the annual constituency event may only be half-a-dozen.  Yet last night we were joined by people who are new to the party, curious about how it is changing and keen to support and help us.  Re-establishing then sustaining a Conservative ‘force’ in Ladywood (once seat to Conservative Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain) is going to be a long project, it’s not worth pretending otherwise.  But that project is at least now under-way.  The ‘Cameron’ vision of Conservatism brings a message which is compelling and needs to be heard by everyone including, or rather ‘especially’, by the poorest in our society – the greatest barrier to that message being heard remains the deep-seated prejudice about the ‘Tories’.   If we can keep chipping away at the empty tory stereotype then we will make giant strides.

* I please to say that the antibiotics seem to be doing their magic and we expect to have Nusrat back on her metaphorical (or possibly literal) soapbox at the weekend…..


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Labour All Over: The Letter of Not the Spirit of the Rules

We’re now into week 2 of the election campaign and today Labour launched their manifesto.   They were doing the launch here in Birmingham and I decided to go along and give Brown an old-fashioned democratic heckle.  The plan was scuppered when it turns out they had chosen the new, not quite open,  Queen Elizabeth Hospital as the venue.  Although it’s just down the road from me it’s closed off to the public.  Even if I went there was no way I would get anywhere near to the action.

My protest denial aside (a trivial thing and one-nil to them),  the bigger issue is how on earth can it be right for Labour to use a Hospital for a manifesto launch?  There are all sorts of rules about use of public buildings for party political purposes.  To be specific, according the  Cabinet Office General Election Guidance 2010 on p.38:

‘1. Neither Ministers, nor any other Parliamentary candidates, should involve Government establishments or offices (such as Jobcentres) in the General Election campaign by visiting them for electioneering purposes.

‘2. In the case of NHS property, decisions are for the relevant NHS Trust but should visits be permitted to, for example, hospitals, the Department of Health and the Scottish Executive advise that there should be no disruption to services and the same facilities should be available to other candidates. In any case, it is advised that Election meetings should not be permitted on NHS premises’.

It seems that Brown’s camp are feeling smugly clever that because the hospital is not technically open for another two weeks and because it was part-funded by PFI money they can disregard this advice (let’s be clear this wasn’t a ‘hospital visit’ it was a straightforward ‘election meeting’.)

This gives an insight to the attitude of Labour MPs to rules that are there to govern their conduct.   It is the same behaviour we saw time and again in the expenses scandal.  The instinct was always to follow the letter of the rules rather than the spirit of them – just as they do here.  It seems Labour have learned nothing.   As Labour piss-takes to rules go this is just one small example, and compared with other infringements not earth-shattering – but it’s yet another example of the moral bankruptcy of leadership we’re enduring in this country.

Three more weeks.   Then, please God, it’s time for change.

UPDATE:  The fair point has just been made to me that Cameron went the QE last week – so what is the difference?  The difference may seem subtle – but it is important – hospital visits where those wishing to be elected meet real patients/voters with full permission of the Trust and in a way that all other parties can are expressly allowed.   ‘Election Meetings’ (e.g. rallies, or manifesto launches) are not.  Or at least they’re not supposed to be….

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