Lord Toby Harris Logo

Archive for the ‘Political campaigning’ Category

Saturday
Mar 6,2010

The Guardian this morning produces new evidence of the Conservative Party organisation using surrogates and deniability.  Apparently, a shadowy organisation, called the Young Britons’ Foundation has trained 2,500 Conservative activists including eleven Parliamentary candidates.  The “training” has involved exercises with assault rifles on a shooting range in Virginia and the organisation’s leader has called for the NHS to be scrapped, environmental protestors to be shot and for US-style laws on firearms.  He has also defended waterboarding techniques in interrogation.

Naturally, despite the group’s close links to leading Conservatives, like Daniel Hannan, Eric Pickles, Liam Fox, Michael Gove, Ed Vaizey, David Davis and John Redwood, Conservative Central Office denies that it has official links with the YBF, even though it strongly recommends activists attend Blaney’s courses.

There they go again …..

Sunday
Feb 28,2010

It looks as though a key element of the Conservative Party’s election strategy is going to be the deniable dog-whistle.

The Observer has revealed today that in a seemingly concerted initiative leaflets have been circulated by the Conservative Party in Andrew Rosindell’s constituency of Romford saying that immigration has caused a population control and that EU treaty obligations on free movement of labour would somehow be over-ridden by a Tory Government.

At the same time, Loanna Morrison, the Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate for Bermondsey and Old Southwark has endorsed the BNP writing on Conservativehome:  “Britain is full, declares Nick Griffin at every opportunity, and he is right.”

Officially, of course, the Tory Party denies that either reflects official Party policy and can distance the Party from such free-lance comments by “junior” politicians.  In reality, the comments come from an official candidate selected to be a Conservative MP and the other comes with the imprint of a sitting Conservative MP.

I expect we will get more of this.

Monday
Feb 22,2010

I listened to the Today programme’s coverage of the National Bullying Helpline allegations that they had received calls from people claiming to work at 10 Downing Street with mounting incredulity this morning.

First, the Chief Executive of the Helpline denied that Gordon Brown had been mentioned in any of the alleged calls, despite the impression she had deliberately created in earlier interviews.

Then, she admitted that she couldn’t say how many calls had purportedly been received and that she hadn’t spoken to any of her staff who had received the supposed calls.

Finally, she conceded that those calling the helpline were encouraged to use a commercial service run by her husband and herself, if they wanted to take their concerns about bullying any further.

It had always seemed bizarre that a serious charity should breach its own client confidentiality in this way – even Iain Dale had noticed this point.  And not surprisingly the patron of the charity has now resigned over this issue.

I have now read Adam Bienkov who raises a series of concerns about the National Bullying Helpline.  In particular, he highlights their links to the Conservative Party.  He also questions whether they are a functioning charity given that they are 206 days late in filing their latest accounts with the Charity Commission, that according to the last accounts they had filed they only had £852 of income, and that the people behind the charity run a “bullying business” that sells bullying investigations, that registered the charity’s website and that receives referrals from the charity.

The whole episode gets flakier and flakier.

It certainly reflects poorly on the BBC’s editorial judgement in not questioning the original story before running it so prominently.

But am I alone in suspecting that this smacks of a Conservative Party “black” operation.   I hope I am wrong.  Otherwise, we are in for a really nasty election campaign that will do nothing for the democratic process.

Thursday
Feb 11,2010

I am reading “A View from the Foothills” by Chris Mullin.  It is enormous fun, a good read, and entirely convincing about the misery of life as a Junior Minister.

There are also some fascinating asides.

Like this entry from 5th April 2000, recording an encounter in the tea room with Archie Norman, then an MP and Chairman of the Conservative Party, now of course not-an-MP and Chairman of ITV:

“Later, half an hour in the Tea Room with Archie Norman.  He said it costs about £9 million a year to run the Tory party and about another £10 million to run an election. ‘There won’t be any more big poster campaigns because we can’t afford them.’  He added quietly, ‘It is amazing what some people will do for a peerage.  I know stories I could never tell.'”

I wonder what it is he could never tell?

Of course, Cameron’s Conservative’s are spending big on posters at the moment ….

Meanwhile, ConservativeHome records the search for a hundred new Tory peers ….

Now is there a pattern here?

Monday
Dec 21,2009

The news that there are to be three live televised debates between the Party Leaders during the General Election campaign is both welcome and exciting (in that it will undoubtedly be a pivotal feature of the campaign).  It is also ground-breaking – similar debates will now be a key feature in all future General Elections.

But why has it been agreed that Nick Clegg has to be part of the line-up?

The public will want to see a debate between the two individuals who may emerge as Prime Minister.  They will want to hear exchanges between the two and get a clear understanding of what they would be like leading the nation.  What possible relevance will there be to have a man there who stands absolutely no chance of being Prime Minister once the votes are counted?

If the Liberal Democrat wet dream of a hung Parliament is achieved, even then, the most likely result will be a minority government led by one of the other two Party Leaders.

And if there was to be a coalition after the election (and we really are into teenage fantasy-land here), then the most he can hope for – given that the only viable choice for a Liberal Democrat in a Great Office of State would be Vince Cable at the Treasury – is an honorific title like Lord Privy Seal (cue picture of an ermine-clad toilet with an acquatic animal sitting on it).

So we are being offered a debate between the two people who may become Prime Minister and a third person who might just under very limited circumstances hold a minor cabinet office (albeit with a pompous title).

What’s it going to do to the debate?   Well, it can be guaranteed to hold up the flow, while he pretends to be Cameron-lite one moment and then a more radical voice than Labour the next.

The danger is that instead of  a moment when across the country millions of people will be glued to their TV sets, informing themselves prior to exercising their democratic choice, instead they’ll get this guy they’ve never heard of, posturing widely, desperately trying to differentiate himself from the two main Prime Ministerial contenders, …. and they’ll turn off.

So, if there’s a low turnout, I’ll know who to blame.

Saturday
Dec 12,2009

A local Liberal Democrat councillor sidled up to me while I was waiting for a bus in Crouch End earlier today (side note: the wait was another example of the stealthy degradation of the bus service since the election of Mayor Boris Johnson) to tell me that he thought the Greens were doing very well in Stroud Green.  He confirmed what I have been hearing from other sources that the Green Party with its radical edge and apparent principled approach to policy is beginning to make Liberal Democrats in London very jumpy that they are being outflanked.

Apparently, their fear is that the Cameron-lite approach being adopted by Nick Clegg is turning off many people who might otherwise be their supporters and that the voters they are losing are turning to the Greens (paticularly now that climate change is so topical and becoming a more significant political issue).  This is clearly bad news for sitting MPs like Lynne Featherstone and Sarah Teather …..

Monday
Oct 5,2009

The SNP are threatening legal action if they are not included in any Party Leader election debates.

The reality is that once it was proposed that the LibDems and Nick Clegg be included in any election debate this was inevitable.  Who else?  UKIP?  The BNP?  The Monster Raving Loonies?

Nick Clegg is a fantasist in believing that he has a serious prospect of being Prime Minister.  I know it.  You know it.  And the public knows it.

People are interested in seeing a debate between the two serious contenders for the job.  Anyone else there is an irrelevance.  What is more it will detract from the real debate that people want to see happen.

If the debates are to happen, the objective has got to be to enable the public to hear directly from the Leaders of the Labour and Conservative Parties – and nobody else.

Does this undermine the expectation of broadcasting impartiality?  No – because it gives people the opportunity to examine the stance of those who are in serious contention to be Prime Minister (and not the fantasists).

If there is any doubt on the matter, perhaps the two main Parties in Parliament should agree a simple piece of legislation that puts the issue beyond question.   Let’s have “The Party Leaders Election Debate Bill” and stop all this nonsense from the LibDems, the SNP and Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all.

Sunday
Oct 4,2009

The next week will present a crucial test to David Cameron and the Conservative Party.  The issue will be one that has bitterly divided the Tory Party for the last twenty years: Europe.

Now that the Irish have voted so clearly to ratify the Lisbon Treaty, the pressure will be on for the Tories to clarify their position.  As I understand it, this is their evolving position.  Two years ago, they were unequivocal: there would be a referendum and the Conservatives would campaign for a “No” vote.  Now, the position is more “nuanced”: if after the General Election (and if by some mischance they find themselves in Government) and if the Lisbon Treaty has not by then been ratified by all EU member states, then a Conservative Government would “suspend” the UK ratification, call a referendum and campaign for a “No” vote.

And if the Treaty has been ratified by every EU member state? Well that’s the nuanced bit.  Essentially it boils down to accepting the Lisbon Treaty as fact, but having a bit of a whinge about it.

Of course, even the “easy” bit is actually quite complicated.  Now that Ireland has voted.  There are only two member states that have not yet completed the ratification process.  In both of those instances, their Parliaments have voted to ratify.  The Tories seem to be pinning their hopes on the President of the Czech Republic stalling long enough to give them a chance to “suspend” the UK ratification.

But what does “suspend” mean?  UK ratification is a fact.  It is an Act of Parliament that has received the Royal Assent.  No Prime Minister has the power to “suspend” an Act of Parliament.  A new Act of Parliament would be required to undo the ratification.  More legislation would then be required to enable there to be a referendum.  It would all take at least a year – probably more.  And what’s going to happen while all of this is going on?  The rest of Europe is not going to sit still.  Even the President of the Czech Republic is not envisaging holding up ratification beyond next June (by which time even with a May General Election the British Parliament will only just be sworn in …).

So what are the options for David Cameron?  If he wants to show real leadership, he should stop nuancing.

He has two options: either he should tell his Party Conference this week that the Lisbon Treaty is now a fact (and will be past the point of no return by the time of a General Election) or he should admit that the Conservatives want to withdraw from the European Union (with all the dire economic consequences that that would bring) and that the Tory manifesto will commit to calling a referedum to do just that.

That’s why the poll of Conservative Party members in ConservativeHome is so significant.  Only 16% of Tory Party members are in favour of accepting ratification of the Lisbon Treaty as a fact.  (Iain Dale rather innocently seems to think that this finding is such dynamite that it should have been suppressed.)  The real reason this poll has been released now (and Tim Montgomerie has acknowledged in a comment to Iain Dale that it would have been suppressed nearer the time of a General Election) is to PREVENT David Cameron showing that leadership.  There was clearly a fear that he was going to tell the Party that it had to accept Lisbon and the publication of the poll was intended to preempt that.

The effect is to raise the stakes.  If David Cameron were to go ahead and say to his Party Conference, despite the ConservativeHome poll, that the Tories will now accept the Lisbon Treaty, he would be showing some real and genuine leadership.

So has he got the cojones?  We’ll see.  But don’t hold your breath.

Wednesday
Sep 30,2009

At last someone has made the point that I have been meaning to make for weeks: the alternative vote is even less proportional than first past the post.  If anything, an electoral system based on AV will produce bigger majorities for the leading political parties than FPTP and fringe parties – like the LibDems and the BNP – will find it even harder to make headway.

However, the principle of AV is important for anyone in a particular constituency who wants to express a preference for a particular party, but that particular party is not one of the leading contenders for the seat.  AV gives such people the chance also to influence the final outcome by expressing further preferences.  The winning candidate emerges who has the support of at least 50% of the electorate (assuming people use their preferences) and it retains – if not strengthens – the link between an MP and their constituency.  For more details see this.

Such a system is undeniably an improvement on a simple FPTP election and it is one I have long believed should be adopted in the UK.  It is successfully used to elect the Australian House of Representatives.

For those who want proportional representation it is an anathema: it does not deliver proportionality.  What it gives you instead is a genuinely-representative constituency-based system.  No requirement for multi-member seats and no creation of two-tier MPs.

Apparently, the Electoral Reform Society and Neal Lawson, Chair of Compass, are unhappy.  However, the Prime Minister’s proposal for a referendum early in a new Parliament is the sensible way forward.  It avoids the public debate on the issue being lost in the turmoil/excitement of a General Election campaign and, if there is really a popular groundswell for some different change in the electoral system, no doubt that would surface in the run up to a referendum.

Tuesday
Sep 29,2009

At a joint fringe organised by Progress and the Quilliam Foundation the question of engagement with British Muslims was debated in depth.  Four key messages emerged (articulated right at the beginning by Ed Husain, author of ‘The Islamist’):

  • you don’t engage with British Muslims as Muslims (every Muslim is like everyone else – an individual with their own interests and preoccupations);
  • don’t just go through mosques to engage (just as no-one would try and reach the white working class just through Church of England vicars);
  • don’t rely on self-appointed “community representatives”; and
  • don’t shy away from confronting “brown fascists”.

The central point for me – as someone who spent the best part of thirty years trying to build community cohesion in London – is that engagement with any community only flows from building a relationship with that community over a long period.  You cannot just be “fair weather friends”.

There is no point in a local councillor asking for people’s support at election time – he or she needs to be seen to working in their interests and listening to their concerns all the time and not just in the four weeks before a council election.

The same applies in building community cohesion: it is offensive (and certainly counter-productive) just to talk to a community when you are worried about violent extremism; you have to build a long-term relationship based on addressing the issues that matter to that community and then you are in a position to have a serious dialogue on more difficult issues.