The Fight Against and About Poverty

Glasgow East By-Election


Unusually, perhaps, this was a political week which revolved around the poor. Afghanistan rumbled in the background, but The Sun’s depressing campaign against Gordon Brown’s handwriting seems largely to have passed through without making much running.  Andreas Whittam Smith in The Independent tried to link Brown with another hapless Prime Minister, but his piece had an unsatisfying pithiness to it which suggested how tenuous was the link. Undoubtedly, Brown is like John Major a (publicly) undemonstrative politician, but his problems are otherwise very different; one of them does not appear to be the consequences of his handwriting on his profile in Tabloidland.

Indeed, this has been a halfway decent week for Labour – the victory in the Glasgow East by-election surprised many in its scale, if not in the win itself. No one really expected Labour to lose, but the share of the (admittedly low) vote, and the majority, was very healthy. Again in The Independent, John Curtice made a good argument that the victory in this most deprived of constituencies cannot easily be extrapolated – but this is the usual way for by-elections anywhere. Tuesday’s Populus poll, discussed by The Times’s Peter Riddell here, gave the Tories a majority of just two. In part, this is a reaction – from those working class voters again – against David Cameron’s reneging on the EU referendum pledge; but it also put Labour at the top of its recent range, too. Even the increasingly centre-right Politics Home’s panel aren’t making it so certain a thing anymore.

A turning of the tide? Obviously not. Peter Mandelson’s coming installation as ‘information minister’ is proof enough that the government still feels itself to be on the back foot. Rather, the closer Cameron gets to appearing a dead cert, the more scrutiny his thin proposals receive, and thus he slips back down again. Ben Brogan acted as mouthpiece for the Tory right when he wrote a sceptical piece about Cameron’s insufficiently Conservative policy platform, and his paper made it clear in a  leader of their own that Cameron needs to go further if he is to seal the deal even with his own supporters.

All this followed a widely reported Hugo Young lecture in which the Tory leader went on about the big idea which has always been at the heart of his leadership – empowering the voluntary sector as a way of reducing the role and size of the state. Predictably, Polly Toynbee wasn’t convinced, but nor was the centre-left but sympathetic and astute Steve Richards. With the left and the right both unhappy, it’s probably true that Cameron’s lecture was aimed precisely at not saying anything at all. Certainly his big talk has always been light on policy details – how can the state get smaller when it will need to supervise ever more disparate agents? Or is the idea that a Tory government will simply leave them to their own devices in a sort of enlightened laissez faire policy? No one knows, and that’s his problem. Johann Hari’s article from last week (worth linking to again) remains foremost in my mind.

The point of it all, as Alistair Campbell argued (before being distracted by a very clever diversionary personal attack from Michael Portillo) on This Week on Thursday, Cameron is winning by default. Labour attacks feel desperate and not a little pitiful, but it is easily within their grasp to prevent a thumping majority – or even a Tory win. After all, Labour politicians took both of the big prizes at the annual Spectator Awards – Politician and Parliamentarian of the year – which must mean they’re doing something right, surely?


3 thoughts on “The Fight Against and About Poverty

  1. catho says:

    Hey There Dan

    I hate to always be the sceptical one when I comment about the Labour party on this blog site. I guess I’m one of the people who annoy alastair campbell so much, what with my down talking of the Labour party. You’re right that Cameron hasn’t been doing as good so far this Political year but it was always going to be slightly harder for him Election year. As for Labours always expected by-election win, well I think the fact it was a majority of a low turn out can’t be ignored also the snp’s popularity appear to me (and I may be wrong about this as I am no expert on scottish political matters) to be waning. It does show that if the Labour party actually bother to fight an election properly it can still achieve.

    What relevence it holds for the General Election? very little I fear. I’ve seen little evidence of any, even small shift back to the labour party. Yes Cameron will move up and down slightly in popularity but it feels like the poll jumps of someone who is already in power. While maybe if Labour starts to get their act together (which unfortunately seems doubtful) they can stop Cameron from hop footing into downing street I stilll feel don’t feel like his going to find the walk there too tiring.

    I found Alastair Campbells interview on ‘this week’ interesting. I agree with most of what he said even if it was a little hypocritical. Portillos point while it may have been a ‘very clever diversionary personal attack’ was very true. Alastair Campbell’s claim that it was ‘balls’ wasn’t very covincing. Truth is Campbell didn’t care when when the shoe was on the other foot(nor should he) but he needs to careful not appear like someone who can’t take being on the losing team. I think his criticism of Diane Abbot was unfair and gave some insight into how modern politicions have become less principled and less willing to stand up for what they genuinly beleive in. All though as I said Campbell was absolutely correct, I feel in some of his observations( His diaries are very good too, just thought I’d promote him a little after slightly criticizing him).

    I’ve probably rambled a bit too much for a blog comment


  2. danhartland says:

    Hi, Catho – good to see you back!

    I think you have a very good point when you say that Cameron’s poll ratings feel like those of someone already in government. There is a sense, like I said last week, that this is how he is being thought of, or at least covered in the press. Yet I’d put it to you that they are the poll ratings of someone relatively unpopular in office, or at least someone who’s been in office for a good period: Labour were regularly scoring above 50% in 96/97; Cameron could do with a similar swing if he’s to make a good fist of government, and has trouble staying above 40%. That’s worth thinking on, for all the hype.

    On Campbell … I’m not sure I’d call what he was saying hypocritical. Deliberately partial, sure, but his point was that Tory policy is being dictated by media figures; Portillo’s bait-and-switch was so naughty because it turned from policy to personality: sure, Campbell swore at and bullied people; but if Cameron really has set media policy in order to curry favour with a particular media figure, then that is a serious political debate.

    • catho says:

      Hey Dan

      I think you’re absolutely right to point out that Cameron isn’t in quite the same position that Labour were in ’97. I don’t think a conservative ever will come to power with quite the same rock ‘n roll, brit pop love that Blair did. However I feel that this is because the public relationship with Conservatism is very deifferent than it is with the Labour party. I’ve said before that I think a lot of people who are planning to vote Torie aren’t about to admit that out loud. In fact even in Camerons first term of power I reckon that there will be protest over some of the tough love Ideas he wishes to implement and that it will probably become cool to ‘diss’ the Tories. They will still most likely get a second term in power though!Unless of course Cameron does turn out to be a flop, we’ll have to wait and see. To be honest I’ve never truly seen the parralells with ’97, I fear this has more in common with ’79.

      As for Campbell… I don’t know. I suspect Campbell has been particularly outspoken about the torie policy and who it may be influenced by because I think he knows a thing or two about such matters(this is of course speculation and not an accusation). I obviously don’t know how much truth there is in any of it. My main reason for Calling Campbell hypocritical was not based on his queiries about torie policy. He also commented on the way the media are portraying Gordon Brown (As he has many times before) and it was when he was speaking on that topic that I felt he became a little bit of a hypoctrite.


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