Monday, 20 December 2010

Labour Isn't Winning

A YouGov poll that showed -18% approval for the Government has sent many Labourites into rapture. Sure, it’s good that people are seemingly taking issue with the Government’s indiscriminate, ideology-inspired cuts. But we need to take this with a pinch of salt the size of which would ensure the whole of the M25 doesn’t freeze over ever again.

Read between the lines. In the same poll, YouGov showed that 40% still said they would vote Conservative, with 43% saying they’d vote Labour and 8%, apparently those living under rocks, still vouching for the LibDems. Does it really make sense that, despite a -18% Government approval rating, 40% would still vote for the main party in that Government?

Read a bit further. In an IPSOS poll this week, David Cameron received +4% approval to Nick Clegg’s -12%. Ed Miliband, Labour Party leader, received an approval of +4%; but a whopping 30% gave “Don’t Know” as an answer when asked if they were satisfied or dissatisfied with the way Ed was doing his job as leader of the party. To show how big that figure is, Cameron and Clegg received 8% and 11% "Don't Knows" respectively. ComRes showed a worse picture with Ed’s approval at a lowly -16%, very similar to aforementioned Government approval rating that Labourites have been gushing over. Even in that poll, a massive 50% said they “Don’t Know” if Ed is turning out to be a good leader of the Labour Party. Nick Clegg had a dire -23% approval rating in the ComRes poll, with the Prime Minister on just -2%.

We know that LibDem polling has plummeted. ComRes had them at 23% in the middle of June. Their drop to 8% in the latest YouGov poll shows, Keir thinks, that the Government approval rating of -18% is largely due to anti-LibDem sentiment; not anti-Tory sentiment.

Labour isn’t winning. The Tories are. Government approval may be sinking, but their polling is stable. And we also now have the reason why we do need to act fast, contrary to what many Labourites would argue. Though Keir doubts he would or could, if Uncle Vince pressed his big red nuclear button, we would not win a snap election. In all likelihood, the Tories would win a majority as Labour are yet to propose an alternative, and the leader’s ratings are not good enough to carry the party in that situation. Now Keir doesn't suddenly think Cable has developed some fortitude and would actually be able to do that, but the point here is that this Coalition is fragile and we need to be ready if they capitulate.

It's not all gloom though. The amount of “Don’t Knows” in the questions about Ed’s leadership shows there is a vacuum to exploit that would not only make that Government approval sink further, but would make Labour’s polling percentage grow at the expense of the Tories; the real enemy. Labour MPs have been doing a sterling job on certain issues. Stella Creasy's campaign against legal loan sharks is the Labour Party as it should be. Jim Murphy's excellent use of the internet and his sterling work with genuine new ideas on Defence is offering credible plans. Bob Ainsworth's call for a new way of looking at drugs policy is laudable if only for his suggestion that we have an intelligent debate. And Ed Balls and Andy Burnham continue to offer stern opposition to their two Cabinet rivals across the dispatch box. Both are expertly exposing two of the most ideologically-driven Tories in the business.

But, on the whole, people don't vote based on their impression of Shadow Cabinet members. They look to the Leader. So now, yes now, nearly 3 months after taking up the post of Leader, Ed Miliband must start converting the “Don’t Knows”.


Friday, 10 December 2010


Keir wouldn't have been able to stay controlled...

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Habits Die Hard As Left Continues To Lose Winnable Arguments

Keir's noticed something since the Coalition took control of the State. We on the Left cannot help sticking to habits, some older than others, and losing arguments that are entirely winnable.

I give you two very different cases:

Exhibit A: The recent protests against the increase in tuition fees.

Exhibit B: David Lammy's recent piece about Oxbridge elitism.

Keir has discussed Exhibit A before. The national day of demonstration, branded "DEMOlition" by the NUS, was a day of great potential. Here we had over 50,000 people on the streets of London protesting against one issue. And the argument was sound: by increasing tuition fees to £9,000 a year, the Government was ending aspiration for countless young people from poorer backgrounds up and down the country. It was also an argument which most people would sympathise with. Indeed, most people in parliament itself sympathised with it until May. Yet this day of demonstration turned into disorganised chaos as out-of-control protesters proceeded to storm and vandalise Conservative Party headquarters. From my point of view, the argument was lost that afternoon at Milbank. Effort has been made since then and peaceful occupations of University campuses combined with things like actions on NUS President Aaron Porter within those occupations have restored some order and reasonableness to the protest. But it was too late.

The fact that the vote was passed in parliament by just 21 votes shows that this was entirely winnable. Abstainers and a few backbench LibDem MPs could have beaten the fee increase. I don't buy the standard, "oh those politicians never listen" response. The fact is the protest, the movement, the lobbying... none of it was organised or powerful enough. The NUS, as Keir has argued, missed the opportunity to organise a truly meaningful and effective demonstration. There were methods it could have used but the Union was not organised adequately. This incoherent, disorganised, factional left-wing response is an old habit. It has lost this argument.

Exhibit B showed the how another, slightly more modern, habit can also lose us arguments. David Lammy's article, put simply, argued that Oxford is elitist. Very few people would dispute that. However, because of a sneaky piece of spin, Lammy's argument was forgotten within hours. It turns out Lammy had used what Keir would consider misleading language. The sub-heading of the article reads:

"One college has not let in a black student for five years"

On the day of the article's publication, Lammy tweeted a few stats relating to "black" students and teachers. Fine. But then within the article, Lammy says:

"The picture on race is no better. Just one British black Caribbean student was admitted to Oxford last year. That is not a misprint: one student."

Keir, like many others among the Twittosphere, was livid. One! But we had all been fooled. It was probably our own fault that we didn't think to question that "British black Caribbean" criteria and Keir certainly felt a fool when, just a few hours later, a fellow blog exposed the real stats about black entrants to Oxbridge. And it turns out Lammy had also misled when he said the Universities had been "obstructive" when responding to his inquiries about these stats: Oxford University had published the information on its website.

Here we see a newer, but still ingrained, habit: spin. And Lammy's point was lost as soon as it became clear he had spun and misled with his language. For the rest of the day, the debate among bloggers and Twitteratti was about the stat spinning and misleading language, not Oxbridge elitism.

Two completely winnable arguments, both lost.