Tag Archives: opinion polls

taking stock of Corbyn’s heroic election campaign — what’s the opposite to a Pyrrhic victory?

A screenshot of the wikipedia page on ‘moral victory’

The image above is a screenshot of the wikipedia entry for “moral victory” as it appears at present. As you can see, presented as examples of “the opposite of a Pyrrhic victory” it lists just three: The Alamo, the Battle of Thermopylae and the United Kingdom 2017 General Election!

Jeremy Corbyn speaking at the #ToriesOut post-election rally organised by the People’s Assembly:

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Before reading on, I encourage readers to reflect on a short but detailed article by independent journalist Jonathan Cook entitled “The facts proving Corbyn’s election triumph” in which he scrutinises Corbyn’s results compared with those of his predecessors. Based on the evidence, he writes:

He won many more votes than Ed Miliband, Gordon Brown and Neil Kinnock, who were among those that, sometimes noisily, opposed his leadership of the party. They lost their elections. […]

In short, Corbyn has proved himself the most popular Labour leader with the electorate in more than 40 years, apart from Blair’s landslide victory in 1997.

And concludes:

Here is a graph that offers another measure of the extent of Corbyn’s achievement last night.

It shows that he has just won the largest increase in the share of the Labour vote over the party’s previous general election performance since Clement Attlee in 1945. In short, he’s turned around the electoral fortunes of the Labour party more than any other party leader in 70 years.

And unlike Blair, he’s done it without making back-room deals with big business to eviscerate his party’s economic and social programmes.

Click here to read Jonathan Cook’s full article.

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A tale of two leaders

When May called the snap General Election on April 18th, she and her Conservative Party were riding high in the polls with a twenty point lead. In office for just nine months, she had been hastily crowned Prime Minister after Cameron fell on his sword in the wake of his own humiliating EU referendum defeat, but quite wisely afterwards had kept a mostly low profile. In this way, and with her oft-repeated pledge to honour the pro-Brexit result, May cultivated the appearance of reliability and toughness – she was Thatcher 2.0 but with a more daring wardrobe.

“Brexit means Brexit” is almost as nebulous as it is defiant, but the Tory’s tiresome mantra was also serving May’s purposes well. Her image as a “bloody difficult woman” given an extra boost thanks to Jean-Claude Junker’s odd cameo at Downing Street right on cue as the campaign got underway: their reportedly “frosty dinner” doing little to dent the popular belief that May was a safe pair of hands.

In short, the Tories were bound to win last month’s General Election and everyone was simply waiting to find out how historic their historic landslide would finally be. Indeed, given the dire circumstances, some on the left openly expressed the opinion that Corbyn ought to have blocked her opportunistic move by rallying support against the Commons’ vote, even if this meant giving the Tories a free pass until 2020. (The horns of Corbyn’s dilemma clearly point to inherent shortcomings in our new Fixed-Term Parliaments Act – five-year terms that are prescheduled up until the moment any government decrees otherwise.)

On the other hand, May’s call for a needless election did open up a small chink in her otherwise shining armour. For having repeatedly assured the nation she would do no such thing, this act was literally the only moment she’d dropped her guard since becoming PM.

Her campaign underway, May now resolved to basically disappear from sight. Shirking the TV debates, placing unprecedented restraints on press access, and avoiding all but the most fleeting encounters with the hoi polloi, her strategy was one of total control. Although this quiet contempt for democracy was not going to pass unnoticed.

By contrast, the Labour Party was forced into the campaign when already in complete disarray. Seldom mentioned, the polls had in fact narrowed considerably twelve months earlier during the run up to the referendum vote, and also immediately after Cameron’s defeat (see above), yet the Blairites wasted no time undermining Corbyn on the grounds of his lacklustre performance stumping for the “remain” campaign. Since it suited their purpose, they simply ignored what the polls were actually telling them, and seized on this flimsiest of excuses to stir the pot a whole lot more in the hope of finally deposing the leadership.

Former leader Neil Kinnock was perhaps first up, delivering what the Guardian soon afterwards reported as “a remarkable speech” to the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP).

(Strictly in private) Kinnock said this:

I quote one person, just one, out of hundreds in Cardiff three weeks ago. Well, he complained about Jeremy and I said, ‘Honestly, his heart’s in the right place, he wants to help people, he wants to help people like you.’ He’s a working-class guy, a fitter on what remains of the docks. And he said: ‘I know he’s saying it, because he thinks we’re easy. We’re not bloody easy. We’re not listening, especially since he’s weird.’

Now that is unfortunate. But you know. Everybody in this room knows, canvassing in the Welsh elections, in the Scottish elections, in the local elections, in the referendum – you know that is what you’re getting from people who yearn to vote Labour but are inhibited by the fact that Jeremy is still our leader.

Reprinted in full, Kinnock’s “remarkable speech” is really just a tub-thumping (quite literally) rant. But then Kinnock didn’t need to try too hard because he was preaching to the converted, one of whom evidently saw fit to leak the recording of this beer hall putsch to the press:

PLP meetings are private, but Kinnock’s speech was recorded by someone in the room and it was passed to Ben Ferguson, a freelance filmmaker who recently made a fly-on-the-wall documentary about Corbyn for Vice News 1

Neil Kinnock is famously unelectable, of course, so I suppose we ought to marvel at the sheer brass neck of the man. His “we’re all right” Sheffield debacle was the single most excruciating misjudgement made by any Labour leader since Jim Callaghan’s “Waiting at the Church” moment of hubris.

However, Lord Kinnock has certainly done all right – at least for himself – since those formative hiccoughs: appointed to the European Commission in 1995, then rapidly promoted to Vice-President in 1999, and awarded a life peerage in 2005. Wife Glenys ploughed a similar furrow, becoming an MEP in 1994 and receiving her own life peerage in 2009, whilst son, Stephen, a current Labour MP and another uninhibited Corbyn critic, is married to Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a former MEP herself before becoming Danish PM. The Kinnocks have built a tidy little empire for themselves.

Although a year ago, the self-serving Kinnocks took time off from feathering their own nests to help spearhead the growing PLP demands for Corbyn’s resignation. Popularity within the rank and file of the membership (who have twice elected Corbyn leader of course) must not be put ahead of party unity, “electability” and that kind of thing – to paraphrase his Lordship, this time speaking to Andrew Marr on the BBC:

Meanwhile, in light of the PLP’s motion of no confidence in Corbyn (more below), son Stephen penned the following rationalisation for the relentless backstabbing and published it as an opinion piece also in the Guardian:

The referendum campaign was a sorry affair and it’s clear that it was not the Labour party’s finest hour. Every pro-Remain member will be feeling the same deep sense of disappointment and regret that I am feeling this weekend, as we have failed, collectively, to save the UK from a reckless leap into the unknown, and we fear it is the people we came into politics to represent who will be hurt first and worst.

Looking back, it’s clear that once the Scottish, Welsh and local elections were out of the way on 6 May [2016], then we should have treated the period through to 23 June as if it were the short campaign period leading up to a general election. Judged against that benchmark, it is equally clear that our leader fought a lacklustre and half-hearted campaign. He spoke at a total of 10 rallies between 6 May and polling day, whereas the party leader would normally expect to achieve that level of activity in a week, when in full campaigning mode.

We must, therefore, have a full and frank discussion when the parliamentary Labour party meets on Monday, to look at what went wrong, and what we should learn. Our leader must be held accountable for the failure of the “Labour In For Britain” campaign, as must we all.

Following which, Kinnock Jr. takes aim at Corbyn’s purported lack of skill as a future Brexit negotiator, which is curious given that no members of the opposition have ever been invited to the talks:

There is no doubt that Jeremy is a great campaigner, but this is not a time for campaigners. This is a time for hard-headed negotiators. And it is also a time for people who have more than a passing knowledge of, and interest in, the EU. […]

We may have no say over who the Tories send to the negotiating table, but we do have a say about who Labour sends. Jeremy Corbyn is a seasoned and highly effective campaigner, and he was elected to lead our party on the basis of a thumping mandate. But that was then and this is now.

Now should not be about the past. The British people have spoken, the decision is made, and we must look forward. British politics is going to be dominated by these Brexit negotiations for the foreseeable future. It is vital that Labour has a seat at the top table, and critical that we have a leader who has the right experience and skills for the task at hand.

And it is for that reason that I am supporting this motion of no confidence. 2

Titled “Jeremy Corbyn is a great campaigner – but we need a hard-headed negotiator”, Kinnock might have borrowed ammunition for his snide hit piece directly from the arsenals of Tory HQ. He’s just not “strong and stable enough”… a claim that belies the truth if we listen to the judgement instead of Conservative MP and current Brexit Secretary David Davis. Together with Corbyn, Davis had negotiated the release of the last British prisoner, Shaker Aamer, from Guantánamo, and shortly after Corbyn was voted party leader, Davis was interviewed on Sky News. This is what he said:

“I think that the odds of our winning the next election after yesterday are higher, but I don’t think it’s an open and shut case by any means. I think complacency would be absolutely the daftest thing to go in for now…

You’ve just had Frank Field on, talking about how Jeremy in other circumstances is able to work with other people… he is very polite, very courteous, listens to arguments. So we want to be a bit careful. We certainly don’t want to go in for ad hominem attacks – that would be a disaster.”

But the Tory attacks could wait. During the notorious post-referendum ‘chicken coup’, no less than 44 frontbench Labour MPs resigned their positions in as many hours.3 Alongside Stephen Kinnock, leading lights of this suicidal insurrection included Deputy Leader Tom Watson, Angela Eagle, about-to-be leadership challenger Owen Smith, and then-Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn – reluctantly sacked by Corbyn before he had chance to resign. Each of the above publicly declared their loss of confidence in the leadership: a transparently lame excuse given how the self-same “rebels” had shown no loyalty whatsoever during any earlier stage of Corbyn’s brief tenure.

When the PLP balloted for a vote of no confidence a few hours later, it was passed by a truly astounding 172–40: but it remained a vote which as Corbyn correctly asserted had “no constitutional legitimacy”. Nevertheless, the stage was set, and for the next three months the party tore into itself as it entered the throes of a hugely divisive and unwarranted leadership election.

Inevitably, this infighting took its toll. Labour support tumbled in the polls, as did support for Corbyn’s leadership. Unsurprisingly, salt was liberally rubbed into these same gaping and self-inflicted wounds by both the Tories and the media alike, who cultivated the opinion already expressed by 80% of Labour MPs, that Corbyn – freshly re-elected as party leader – was in fact “unelectable”.

Ken Loach interviewed on BBC Radio 5 shortly after the General Election: “Just think, if the MPs had been arguing for those policies for two years, if they hadn’t been feeding stories to the press, if you hadn’t had Peter Mandelson being quoted saying ‘I get up every morning to undermine him,’ and interviewed on that agenda on a number of occasions. Just think if he’d had that support – I think he would have won.”

Click here to watch a montage put together by Channel 4 News featuring senior Labour MPs (including Stephen Kinnock again) who publicly excoriated Jeremy Corbyn as party leader.

Even with the general election campaign underway, prominent Blairites and faux progressive commentators continued to put the knife into Corbyn. On May 5th, on the back of disappointing local and mayoral election results, Jonathan Freedland wrote this:

What more evidence do they need? What more proof do the Labour leadership and its supporters require? This was not an opinion poll. This was not a judgment delivered by the hated mainstream media. This was the verdict of the electorate, expressed through the ballot box, and it could scarcely have been clearer – or more damning.

The headline figure is a projected national share of 27%, the worst recorded by an opposition since the BBC started making such calculations in 1981. The Tory lead of 11 percentage points is larger than the one Margaret Thatcher enjoyed as she headed into the elections of 1983 or 1987, when she won triple-figure landslides.

“Why has this happened?” barked a furious Freedland, answering to his own smug satisfaction:

The good news for Labour is that what I saw in the focus groups were people unimpressed by the Tories, desperate for an opposition and itching to vote Labour again if only Corbyn would get out of the way. It suggests a new leader could take the fight to Theresa May very rapidly. The bad news is that once people have broken a lifelong Labour habit – and shattered a taboo by voting Tory – they may never come back.

According to Freedland, it was just wrongheaded of “the Corbynistas” to try to blame disloyal MPs or, heaven forfend, the “metropolitan pundits who [they] can slam as red Tories” for what he described hyperbolically as “the disaster” and “this meltdown”:

Blaming others won’t do. Instead, how refreshing it would be, just this once, if Corbyn and McDonnell put their hands up and took even a small measure of responsibility for this calamitous result. 4

And a month on, after it transpires that news of the Labour Party meltdown was exaggerated, has Freedland eaten his words? Well, here’s what he wrote on June 10th:

[P]oliticians and pollsters alike did not see this coming. But nor did most pundits – including me. I opposed Jeremy Corbyn when he first stood for the Labour leadership in 2015, and thereafter, and I did so on two grounds. First, on principle: I was troubled by his foreign policy worldview, with its indulgence of assorted authoritarian regimes, and by what I perceived as his willingness to look past antisemitism on the left. But more immediate was an assessment of his basic electability. I wanted the Tories gone, and simply did not believe Labour could pose a serious electoral threat under Corbyn.

My principled objections have not faded, but Thursday’s results make clear that on the electability issue, I was wrong. 5

Freedland’s “principled objections” are in fact bogus (read earlier posts here and here) and his apology is long overdue. Surely the big question, however, is why anyone still takes the opinions of liberal gatekeepers like Freedland at all seriously. In the space of a month he had managed to eloquently flip-flop from “Jeremy Corbyn is to blame for this meltdown” to “Corbyn successfully framed voting Labour as the only way to say enough is enough” and “He’s rewritten the rules.” Hallelujah! (I suppose.)

So please allow me to briefly digress, because today’s media, so narcissistically in love with its own reflection, has become the very definition of an echo chamber: newspaper headlines are a mainstay of TV debate and what is broadcast on TV and radio then siphons back into the newspapers. Additionally, there is increasing reliance on so-called vox pops: phoney snapshots of public opinion, meticulously edited into tidy bundles of required thought. Cheap to produce, they maintain the delusion that media is representative of what people like you and me actually think. In reality, of course, ordinary Joes and Joannas are commandeered to provide off-beam refractions simply to bolster a prefabricated message: Obama is cool; May is serious; Trump is an idiot; and Corbyn is hopeless.

For months on end, the mention of Corbyn elicited titters from the commentariat alongside the required level of derision from the (assiduously selected) ‘man on the street’. Likewise, without fail, each week an audience member on the BBC Question Time would prime the panel with one of those tired old questions about his “unelectability” or the purported “lack of any effective opposition”. Thus, Corbyn was roasted on all sides: by media hacks and politicians from every camp, including nominally his own colleagues.

But then, with the election called, this changed. Legal requirements would ensure some better measure of balance in the debate. Thus, with the playing field abruptly if only partially levelled (our right-wing newspapers are free from such constraints), Corbyn got the chance he’d been waiting for: able at last to make the case for a fairer and more caring society and not to be instantly drowned out by the clamour of critics.

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Project Fear

“Hope always wins over fear” – John McDonnell (post-election interview 6)

“I am a treat” my friend said as I pointed out the large black billboard ahead. His unconscious was momentarily getting the better of him and suggestively reworking the slogan to ensure it was functioning as ads generally do: as promotions for a product. But instead, this image, one I had walked past daily for almost a week, with its Big Sister portrait of May – former Home Secretary behind the Snooper’s Charter – sternly peering out like a stony-hearted headmistress, was issuing the country an exceedingly stark but fair warning.

Put together by anti-austerity campaign group the People’s Assembly, its message was bleak yet factual and accurate. It branded May a threat to our hospitals, our schools, our job security, our pensions and our peace and security. And who could deny any of it?

Sam Fairbairn, People’s Assembly National Secretary described the poster as a response to the Tories’ “manifesto of misery”, adding “she is a threat to everything we rely on from cradle to grave”:

“The crisis in the NHS was created by the Conservative government and they’re doing nothing to address it. She’s snatching free school lunches off infants while her plans to restructure our education system will leave schools without proper funding. University students are being strapped with lifelong debt.” 7

In fact this portent of doom had only recently replaced another. The face of Donald Trump and around it the words “Advertising works… look what it did for me”, but now with a toothbrush moustache inked above those all-too familiar pouting, foul-mouthed lips. Soon afterwards the same billboard had been further subverted when someone had the wherewithal to scrub over ‘advertising’ and substitute a far more appropriate four-lettered word: ‘HATE’ in block capitals. Yes, I mused philosophically, as I passed under it each day… hate does indeed ‘work’ in a political sense.

In our own election hate had mostly remained on the backburner. Instead, the campaign was framed about Brexit, and with emphasis not on immigration this time around. Instead it was supposedly all about leadership. About “strong and stable” government. The hate could wait…

The Sun has since issued a statement to the effect that this headline was not released immediately after the Manchester atrocity but shortly before it occurred. Evidently its editor did not, however, find the conscience to remove it or issue an apology for it remaining published online. Nor did The Sun and other press outlets refrain from issuing follow-up smears against Corbyn, McDonnell and Diane Abbott in the wake of the London Bridge attacks. In fact, on the eve of the vote, The Sun ran with the absolutely disgusting headline “Jezza’s Jihadi Comrades” while the Daily Mail devoted no less than 13 pages to pillorying those same “Apologists for Terror”:

Did the hate work? Below is a screenshot of The Independent on the morning after the London Bridge attacks – the polls were again narrowing and rather rapidly:

Also take a close look at the graph above and see how the convergence between the Labour and Conservative polling slows directly after the Manchester atrocity on May 22nd. Given that campaigning was suspended this is hardly surprising. Nor is it surprising that in a state of shock and heightened anxiety, voters will tend to be more inclined to support an incumbent government or, still more, to turn toward the party most traditionally trusted on law and order. Yet the surge for Labour was only partially held back, and the pollsters were found wanting all over again – except for the exit poll, that is.

There was also the honourable exception of polling company Survation who had bravely forecast a hung parliament and were ridiculed for sticking to their guns…

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The real unelectables

The night before the election, with the polls which had certainly tightened still remaining wildly divergent, I decided to check out the odds at the bookies, given how bookies obviously have a vested interest in getting their numbers right. And a Tory majority then remained odds on, with many punters betting on who might be the next Labour leader. Although May’s position had become shaky too, the smart money was very much backing an increased Tory majority with gains of up to a hundred seats. My heart sank, just as it did immediately upon hearing May’s election announcement. Like many Labour supporters, I was still braced for a trouncing.

Most polls are unreliable, but exit polls are different. They have a special legitimacy and have in some cases been applied as a standard of verification for elections across the world.

Two years ago the exit poll had been a shattering blow. In the weeks leading up to the vote the opinion polls consistently pointed to a hung parliament, whereas the exit poll had quite correctly forecast a Tory majority. On this occasion I was anticipating the worst. Given the unbridgeable six point gap (and an enormous spread of polls between 1% and 15%) combined with the traditional last minute shift in favour of the Conservatives (the shy Tories emerging from their closets), damage limitation was all any Labour supporter could conceivably wish for.

“And what we’re saying is, the Conservatives are the largest party”, David Dimbleby announced to the nation shortly after the polls closed at ten, continuing “but note they don’t have an overall majority at this stage…” soon afterwards conceding, “we’ll be hung, drawn and quartered” if our exit polls are wrong. Although defeated, Corbyn’s many supporters, myself included, were tasting something closer to victory:

Not only the Tories, but every other mainland political party were about to be humiliated in their own special way. Ukip were rather predictably annihilated. Yet to think how a mere four months earlier, so many pundits had been licking their lips at the prospect of leader Paul Nuttall stealing Stoke-on-Trent Central in a by-election, and running Labour and Corbyn out of town. Now Nuttall was ruined instead.

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems whose entire campaign was devoted to their bizarre since unrealisable promise of an EU referendum rerun, gained a measly four seats to prop up the meagre eight they already held. Former leader Nick Clegg who had helped the Tories remain in power during the miserable days of the Con-Dem Coalition lost his seat just up the road from me in Sheffield Hallam; like many across the country, I cheered his just demise. A few hours later, hopeless leader Tim Farron did the honourable thing.

In my own constituency of Sheffield Central, former leader of the Greens, Natalie Bennett, came to contest what is a comparatively safe Labour seat, rather than more profitably fighting her corner in a Conservative marginal – so much for forming a “progressive alliance” against the government. Once again, justice was served and Bennett lost, finishing an embarrassing third behind the Tories, with incumbent Paul Blomfield swept back into parliament with a hugely increased majority now approaching 28,000.

North of the border, the political landscape was being even more dramatically reshaped. After the Brexit vote, the SNP had been calling for a new independence referendum – a replay of that “once in a lifetime decision” barely more than two years on. But this divisive move soon became an albatross, and as the SNP tried to backslide on their promises and downplay calls for Indyref2, the Scottish Conservatives no less opportunistically cranked up the pro-unionist rhetoric (a flavour of things to come). It proved a winning tactic with many disaffected Scottish voters.

Even so, not all the angry Scots were turning back to the Conservative and Unionist Party. Studiously under-reported in the media, a great many were evidently returning to Corbyn’s Labour too – Labour regaining six of the seats lost during their humiliating wipe-out in 2015. Either way, the outcome had been a disastrous one for the SNP, losing more than a third of their seats as the vote collapsed by over 13%. By the end of the night, the SNP’s leader in Westminster Angus Robertson lost his seat in Moray, and, most memorably, Scotland’s former First Minister and long-time talismanic party leader Alex Salmond was defeated in Banff & Buchan. More cheers! (I speak for myself obviously.)

Then we must come to the forlorn figure of Theresa May. Has any winner of any general election ever appeared so dejected? She would try to paint some gloss on it later, naturally enough, but there is simply no convincing way to disguise the fact that her anticipated triumph had crumbled to unmitigated disaster. Indeed, only one leader would be able to claim any sort of victory on the night: the “unelectable” Jeremy Corbyn. The rest of the field, slipping backwards in their different manners, were evidently just too electable by far! Astonishingly, May and her Conservative government were left clinging to power only by the tassels of an orange sash. 8

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 ‘Theresa May and the Holy Grail’: having lost her majority, and with complicated Brexit negotiations and fields of wheat on her doorstep, Theresa May is determined to ‘get on with the job of government’ (and to seek the Holy Grail). Click here to watch the original upload at Australia’s ABC.

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A moral victory

A week prior to the general election I had a dream and woke with a vision of Jeremy Corbyn walking into Downing Street as Prime Minister. The dream genuinely happened, but then dreams are rarely prognostic. Instead, the Tories clung on as the main party of government, which is the very best they can say for themselves. May’s re-election was the very epitome of a Pyrrhic victory.

Instead of the envisaged landslide, her government is suddenly in retreat, and clinging to power by its political fingertips, made all the grubbier by that desperate £1.5 billion deal with the political arm of Ulster’s loyalist paramilitaries. How long this weak and wobbly ‘coalition of chaos’ can hobble along together is anyone’s guess.

Regarding my dream again, it obviously owed much to my own psychological investment in the election. Like many thousands of others who had never before been actively involved in campaigning, for six weeks I was out and about leafleting, running street stalls, and door-to-door canvassing. I remain very much committed to the cause. Although the Tories won the battle, suddenly they are losing the war: Corbyn may yet walk into Downing Street…

More speculatively then, the dream seems to me prophetic in a truer sense of the word: that intuitively I was picking up on quite seismic upheavals that were very hard to comprehend, or even to register, during my various interactions on the doorstep. Thus, routinely faced with antipathy and aversion toward Corbyn’s leadership, a common reaction coming from many one-time Labour voters, it became easy to overlook the surge in Labour support from less expected quarters.

This groundswell, as we now know, involved more than just an increased turnout of first-time voters, since it mostly comprised disaffected Lib Dems, wavering Greens, and, more interestingly, some half of former Ukip supporters, plus thousands returning from the SNP, and most surprising of all, a significant proportion of affluent middle-class who are traditionally Conservative supporters. In short, my dream had detected a sea change taking place in our society; shifts in outlook that Corbyn and others in the Labour leadership were directly responding to.

Very skilfully, they had steered the whole debate away from Brexit (May’s original pretext for calling the election) and away from personality too (May’s team had embarked on a presidential-style campaign) by redirecting attention firmly back on to policy instead. In the manner of a musical maestro who responds to applause from his audience by holding up the score, Corbyn consistently drew the public gaze back to Labour’s bold and very thoughtfully composed manifesto: “For the many, not the few”. A manifesto launched not once but twice – funny that! Fully-costed, anti-austerity populism; this was certainly a masterstroke.

Corbyn and McDonnell survived the election against all the odds, and having thus achieved a result beyond common expectation, they have managed to reunite the party behind a commitment to democratic socialist policies. These policies have become Labour’s main strength again. So although Corbyn didn’t win the vote, the Labour manifesto actually did, and as a direct consequence, temporarily at least, it has produced a measureable shift leftwards in the mythical ‘centre ground’ of politics. Those of us determined to say “enough is enough” now have a place to turn and a leader they can get behind.

Jeremy Corbyn gives an impromptu but impassioned speech to the ‘Left Field’ fringe event at this year’s Glastonbury Festival:

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Update:

The latest poll of polls (Friday 7th) now puts Labour eight points ahead of the Tories with a record high of 46%. Meanwhile in Scotland, the poll puts Labour ahead of the SNP by 36% to 31%:

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1 From an article entitled “Secret recording of Kinnock’s anti-Corbyn speech to MPs – in full” written by Andrew Sparrow and Harrison Jones, published in the Guardian on July 8, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jul/08/secret-recording-neil-kinnock-jeremy-corbyn-step-down-speech-to-mps-in-full

2 From an article entitled “Jeremy Corbyn is a great campaigner – but we need a hard-headed negotiator” written by Stephen Kinnock, published in the Guardian on June 25, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/25/jeremy-corbyn-leadership-challenge-no-confidence-motion

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Remember those few days in June when Labour MPs couldn’t stop resigning? That long Sunday after the country had voted for Brexit, when every time you turned on the radio another shadow cabinet minister had stood down, calling for Jeremy Corbyn to do likewise? Or the next day, when the only thing you wanted to quit was the non-stop news, just for a few hours, but there was Angela Eagle in tears at her own resignation? Before June, the mass resignation of 44 frontbench politicians in as many hours, all citing a loss of confidence in their leader, would have led to said leader being turfed out of office. But we didn’t count on Corbyn.

From an article entitled “The fate of the MPs who plotted a coup against Corbyn” written by Jane Merrick, published in the Guardian on December 20, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/dec/20/mps-plotted-coup-jeremy-corbyn-coup-where-are-they-now

4 From an article entitled “No more excuses: Jeremy Corbyn is to blame for this meltdown” written by Jonathan Freedland, published in the Guardian on May 5, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/may/05/jeremy-corbyn-blame-meltdown-labour-leader

5 From an article entitled “Jeremy Corbyn didn’t win – but he has rewritten all the rules” written by Jonathan Freedland, published in the Guardian on June 10, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/10/jeremy-corbyn-general-election–labour-rewrites-rules

6 Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and financial journalist Paul Mason discuss the election result with the Artist Taxi Driver (viewer discretion advised):

7 From an article entitled “Theresa May branded a ‘threat’ to peace, hospitals and schools in nationwide billboard campaign” written by Dan Bloom, published in the Daily Mirror on May 22, 2017. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/theresa-branded-threat-peace-hospitals-10474044

8 Quip stolen from George Galloway.

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain

thought(s) for the day: eleventh hour musings on Election 2015

A few hours ago I picked up a somewhat blunt pencil at a polling station in the constituency of Sheffield Central and cast my vote. Around the country an estimated 30 million other people will have done likewise by the time the polling stations close at 10 pm. Following which, we must wait, expectantly.

It is too late for persuasion and so this article is purely for the record – I meant to post sooner but simply couldn’t finish it (not satisfactorily — and though it needs further polishing I’m out of time, sorry). Yet the message I have been wishing to convey is a comparatively simple one. That whatever else happens, the Tories and their Lib Dem lackeys must be defeated.

This atrocious Con-Dem Coalition government has failed our nation in every conceivable way, and even if we choose to judge only by economic performance (I have included something on this as an addendum). Indeed, were it not for Rupert Murdoch and his central role in a far dirtier campaign than any since the 70/80s, both government parties would surely have been routed in this election. Shockingly, the Tories may yet hold on to power:

It’s forty years since anybody has won power in a UK general election without the backing of Rupert Murdoch. He’s not happy about the prospect. That’s the explanation for the surreal juxtaposition of the Sun covers from England and Scotland: 1

Image and text taken from one of a sequence of excellent articles written by John Lanchester and published by the London Review of Books.

Under other circumstances, I would have voted for a genuine anti-austerity alternative, either TUSC or Left Unity, however, given the nature of our “first past the post” (FPTP) electoral system, I have opted instead for Labour. The rest is (just) details…

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Five years ago, as the last dregs of the constituency results trickled in at about 4 o’clock, it became clear that there would be no overall victory in the General Election. Instead we had drifted to a stalemate: a hung parliament. And given how our peculiar (and extremely unfair) FPTP system habitually returns majority governments, this state of post-electoral limbo was difficult to grasp, especially as we crawled off late to bed. Next day there was an almost palpable sense that something important had been left undone. Electorus interuptus.

Many of us felt relieved nonetheless, that the Tories had not prevailed with an outright majority, given how the polls had been consistently forecasting a Tory win. At least they had until about a fortnight prior to polling day, when this happened:

Get used to it. The whole 2010 general election changed on the night of Thursday 15 April. It may now stay changed until polling day. Our ICM poll today maps the key elements of this new emerging electoral landscape. The Conservatives, until recently the likely winners on 6 May, now only have 33% support, ensuring a struggle to win enough votes or seats for victory. Labour, previously battling to get on terms with the Tories, have now slumped to 28%, third in votes for the first time since 1983, though strong in seats, courtesy of the first-past-the-post system. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats, given and seizing their chance at last, have surged 10 points into second place. It is possible that what Lord Tebbit yesterday dubbed “the Clegg bubble” may burst between now and 6 May, of course. But don’t rely on that. It is just as possible that another strong performance in this week’s debate will give the Lib Dem wagon another hearty push, send their rivals into tailspins and have Whitehall mandarins scrabbling for Lib Dem telephone numbers. Either way, politics has changed. There is a new electoral reality. And about time too. And doesn’t it actually feel rather good? 2

So began an effusive Guardian editorial, and not since David Steele instructed his party members to “go back to your constituencies and prepare for government”, had centrist hyperbole touched such feverish levels. That in-your-face mantra “get used to it” repeated maniacally at the beginning of every paragraph, and all under a banner that read like a flaccid, if truculent, Lib Dem cry for electoral justice: “Labour would come third by popular vote yet still have the most seats – such a result would plunge British democracy into crisis”. As it transpired, of course, the Tories ultimately prevailed instead, limping into office on the arm of Nick Clegg’s hasty acquiescence, and in spite of the fact that the Lib Dems had actually polled rather disappointingly – as usual.

You may recall too that five years ago the party still had their unique selling point – that long-held and dependable commitment to overhaul our unfair FPTP system and replace it with PR (much more to their own liking). But this didn’t happen. Even as the Lib Dems hitched their own ride into office on the back of the Tory’s miserable failure (a decade in opposition, yet unable to defeat one of the least popular governments in modern history), the Lib Dem leadership still didn’t manage to negotiate a referendum on PR… let alone actually get PR!

Nothing monumental occurred in Election 2010. Labour didn’t come third whether by number of seats or in proportion of outright votes. Quite contrary to the Guardian’s excitable speculation, our democracy was no more “in crisis” post-election than before.

*

Election 2015 is different. This time around a hung parliament is anticipated and there has been almost non-stop speculation on the eventual makeup of our next coalition. In fact, since the campaign proper started, the media have been collectively hung up on hung parliament. So can we trace the roots of this monomania?

We have the polls, of course. And the polls have been quite consistently indicating two outcomes for this election, certainly since the turn of the year. Firstly, north of the border, the forecast has been that Labour will be mauled by the Scottish Nationalists (SNP) – and the size of that mauling seemingly gets bigger every time they run the latest poll (a daily occurrence for some reason) – and secondly, south of the border, the polls suggest Labour are unable to take the lead over the Tories. But then why should we trust the opinion polls? History testifies to their unreliability – as when the Lib Dem share was blown up out of all proportion in 2010:

In the run-up to the UK general election few people would have predicted a Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition goverment – and fewer still that the Lib Dems would actually lose seats despite their popularity in the polls. […]

A record total of nine polls based wholly or mostly on interviewing conducted in the final few days of the campaign were published during its final hours. Their success at anticipating the eventual outcome can only be regarded as ‘mixed’. […]

The exit poll caused such surprise because its projection for the Liberal Democrats was at variance with the predictions of the final polls, which had suggested that the much-vaunted surge in favour of Nick Clegg’s party had carried through to polling day. It was on this point that the polls were wrong, significantly overestimating Liberal Democrat support for the first time in recent polling history. 3

The reliability of polls obviously depends upon people telling complete strangers how they intend to behave at a moment in the future. But then, the only thing at stake when you are cornered by a pollster is your street cred. As a consequence, it turns out, that those polled are inclined to say they will vote for the more exotic alternatives, but then, when it comes to making any real commitment, people tend to revert to habit. Their final X put beside the devil they already knew:

Twenty-seven per cent. That’s the number of people who told ICM/Guardian this January that they intend to vote for what we used to call ‘another’ party. It’s probably not news to anyone that UKIP, the SNP and the Greens are all making the kind of in-roads into traditional voting patterns that many commentators think could result in a complete overhaul of the political map. […]

Will all these people who tell pollsters that their cross will go against an emerging party actually turn out and vote for them? Here are a few examples of when the answer was ‘no’. Most will remember Cleggmania in 2010. Some final polls had the Liberal Democrats on 29% and the average was more than 27%, but the Lib Dems ended up with roughly the same 23% they achieved five years earlier. […]

I’ll leave you with a couple of stats. ICM re-interviewed UKIP and Green intenders after the 2010 election to understand what they ended up doing: only 60% of UKIP intenders voted for them, only 42% of Green intenders voted for their own pre-election choice. 4

Trust in polls also depends upon having trust in the independence of the polling agencies themselves, so what are we to make of fact that this time around many of the polls are sponsored by former Conservative Party Deputy-Chairman, Lord Ashcroft – a man with such a unenviable record for dodgy dealing that he is better known to many as “Lord Sleaze from Belize” (Belize being the tax haven he calls home):

[But] by and large, Lord Aschcroft’s increasing influence over British politics has passed unchallenged. And that’s strange, for a number of reasons.

Firstly it’s strange because there are legitimate questions to be asked about the accuracy and reliability of what have euphemistically become termed “The Ashcroft Polls”. As I say, there was a lot of comment over the weekend about the new Sheffield Hallam poll. But it wasn’t new. It was first published back in November, and at that time showed Nick Clegg 3 points ahead. That week, Antony Wells of Yougov identified errors in the published data, leading Lord Ashcroft to revise Clegg’s lead down to three points behind. Lord Ashcroft then reviewed two other polls, one for Thanet South and another for Doncaster North. A published lead of 5 points for the Conservatives in Thanet should in fact have been 1 point. A published 29 point lead for Labour in Doncaster should in fact have been 30 points.

Nor was this the first time mistakes like this had been indentified [sic]. The Doncaster poll was also first published back in November. It generated a lot of excitement at the time, because it showed Ed Miliband only a relatively slender 12 points ahead of UKIP in his seat. But again, Anthony Wells identified an error in the data. And once it had been corrected, it showed Ed Miliband 29 points ahead, not 12. [that’s quite a discrepancy!]

So writes Dan Hodges in an article published in The Telegraph (traditionally the most rightwing broadsheet of our Tory-centric press). Hodges wonders if Ashcroft, a Conservative peer, might have an agenda of any kind…

What does Lord Ashcroft want? Not a quiet life, certainly. Last week saw him again setting the political agenda, with a raft of constituency polling in Scotland showing Labour heading for electoral annihilation and the SNP poised to emerge as kingmakers after the poll.

And what possible interest could a former Conservative Party Deputy-Chairman and a Tory peer have for providing evidence that “Labour is heading for electoral annihilation”? None at all that I can think of… although as Hodges points out:

Yet just because he has no clear agenda, it doesn’t mean he has no agenda. While donating to the Tory party, he tried to focus his efforts on specific candidates and constituencies. As he said back in 2005: “I much prefer to be involved, to make sure that my investment is wisely placed.”

Lord Ashcroft wants something. It may be an improvement in the nature of our national political discourse. It may be a more informed electorate. It may just be a ring-side seat for the greatest political show in town. 5

Or maybe this “something” Ashcroft wants is connected to his longstanding association with the Conservative Party… who knows, hey?

*

Let us cast our minds back again, to recall how a majority of voices in the media had been quite insistent that the country was heading for ‘another’ Tory victory – I put ‘another’ in inverted commas because although it was routinely presented as something of a repeat performance, little mention was made of the rather awkward fact that the Tories don’t in fact enjoy a majority, having failed to hold one since the heady days of John Major’s government.

Nevertheless, twelve months ago the mainstream was chock-full with opinion that the Tories were all-but home and dry in the forthcoming General Election, until that is, out of a less than clear blue sky, there were UKIP successes first in the council elections and then more spectacularly in the Euro-elections. This dent to Tory morale was swiftly followed up with the Tory to UKIP defections of Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless, and consequently, an already precarious Tory minority was suddenly a lot more wobbly.

Like an oil tanker changing course, the media apparatus corrected its position, a little. Given that a Tory majority was no longer such a nailed-on certainty, they concluded in unison, we could, in all likelihood, expect a hung parliament. It is this prospect of another hung parliament that the media has latched on to ever since, as if majority governments per se have become an endangered species.

Indeed, “rainbow coalition” has since become the media’s main infatuation, endlessly touted, not merely as inevitable, but as vital to ensuring some renewed vigour in our clapped-out political system. Politics, the media commentators have been routinely informing us, is so completely transformed from five years ago, that (to steal from the Guardian editorial again) we’d better get used to it. To a political landscape that is more “diffuse”, more dynamic, and just more damned interesting (apparently)! We have seldom witnessed such certainty about uncertainty.

Since the election officially kicked off (what feels like a lifetime ago) all of our TV channels have thus been emblazoned with multicoloured logos. Of course, the media enjoys offering its audience the perception of a broader variety of choices. Variety generates interest, which in turn sells election coverage.

In our deeply consumerist society, in which political alternatives are sold to us as party brands, any perception of broader variety actually suits politicians too. As in other branches of sales, greater choice translates into increased customer demand, which means our faltering interest in party politics gets a shot in the arm. The rainbow graphics serve this end: portraying a more multifaceted election. It’s a win-win for both politicians and the media alike, helping each to flog more of the other…

But could the news media be subliminally urging us to vote for a coalition government? I’ve put a question mark there, but only because there is no recognised punctuation mark to more perfectly convey a raised eyebrow. Certainly there are agendas lurking extremely close to the surface. (In fact, long before I finished writing this, one in particular had erupted through that surface altogether!)

*

Tory strategy has been to hurt Labour on two interconnected fronts. Firstly, they aim to weaken them in England scaring voters with the spectre of a Nationalist threat having influence at Westminster. Secondly, they talk up the SNP in Scotland to further undermine Labour. Both increase the prospect of Cameron remaining in Downing Street after the election. This is smart short-term electoral tactics, but one far removed from the pro-union message in the indyref. 6

So writes Gerry Hassan, Research Fellow in cultural policy at the University of the West of Scotland – but I’ll come back his article later.

Now, when I came across this many weeks ago, I thought it sounded far-fetched enough to need supporting. So I had intended to frame it in such a way as to gently convince the skeptical reader. For instance, I had decided to refer back to BBC’s weekly political panel show, Question Time, when on April 2nd, journalist Peter Hitchens raised the issue of what he saw as “an unholy alliance” forming between Conservatives and SNP. Hitchens was the first political commentator to draw mainstream attention to the strategy.

And why, I then wondered, was Chief Tory Whip, Michael Gove (on the same outing of QT) also gushing with enthusiasm and praise for SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon’s performance during that same night’s “seven leaders debate” (on ITV immediately prior to QT). What had brought the Tory bigwig Gove to be waxing altogether lyrical about the remarkable talents of (presuming we accept the hype) such a progressive radical as Sturgeon?

Furthermore, it wasn’t just Gove who had been wooed over by SNP leader Sturgeon. A fortnight later, on the QT broadcast immediately following the five leaders debate on BBC1 (a debate which both Cameron and Clegg declined invitations to join, preferring to keep their heads down), it was Conservative Party Chairman, Grant Shapps, who was overeager in his praise Sturgeon’s follow-up performance, saying he thought “frankly she ran rings around Ed Miliband”.

So in short, I had noted this canoodling long ago (about the time I first began drafting the post), but then, all of a sudden, what was merely alternative speculation had breached its allotted confinement and the mainstream were pumping for all it was worth, while every man and his dog jumped in to offer their two pennies (Tory old guard being particular keen to chip in). Soon we had John Major, Michael Forsyth, Malcolm Rifkind and even Norman Tebbit all at it. For instance, Tebbit, who is highly critical of this no longer covert Tory strategy said on April 21st:

“What I find puzzling now is the prime minister’s position that the SNP is far worse than Labour because, if so, as there are not many seats in Scotland where the Conservative Party has a chance to win, the logic would seem to be that Conservatives should vote tactically for Labour as the lesser of two evils.

“I think it’s a huge scare tactic against Labour and whether the particular seat in the House of Commons is occupied by a Labour member or an SNP member perhaps it’s not a great difference.

“Having bungled the Scottish referendum it seems pointless to just irritate Scots by shouting at them from Westminster – the English are irritated into voting for UKIP, by being shouted at from Westminster – and the Scots are irritated similarly.’ He said, “the risk to the union comes from the SNP, not from anyone else.” 7

*

Although we can actually trace a love-in between influential figures from the centre-right (Tory right, if you prefer) and leading lights of the SNP much further back again. The love that dare not speak its name is not the novelty it might first appear:

Murdoch and [former SNP leader] Salmond, the Scottish first minister have always had a friendly relationship. In February 2012 Murdoch tweeted: “Alex Salmond clearly most brilliant politician in UK. Gave Cameron back of his hand this week. Loved by Scots.”

In notable contrast to the aloofness which characterises how Westminster MP’s now deal with Murdoch and News UK, Salmond is still (even in this post-Leveson and phone-hacking environment) ready to admit to affection for the media magnate – who had a Scottish grandfather.

Asked by Alistair Campbell in April’s GQ if he liked Murdoch, he stated: “I do. He is a remarkable man. What is wrong with this relationship? Why shouldn’t politicians engage with people in the media?”

And, let’s remember too, that it was Murdoch’s Sunday Times which on September 7th published the famous YouGov opinion poll which put the “Yes” vote two points ahead in the independence referendum – the only poll during the referendum to put “Yes” ahead, and coming at such a critical moment in the immediate run-up to the vote itself. Not that polls can ever be rigged, of course, how dare anyone suggest such a thing…

Whilst on the evening before that rather remarkable poll, Rupert Murdoch had tweeted: “London Times will shock Britain and more with reliable new poll on Scottish independence. If right on 18th vote everything up for grabs.”

And then the next day followed up with: “Salmond’s private polls predict 54-46 Yes. Desperate last ten days ahead for both sides. Most powerful media, BBC, totally biased for No.”

But on this occasion, it was the polls that were wrong (yet again), rather than the BBC. So, aside from the fact that he’s a politician, why exactly has Alex Salmond been kissing up to Murdoch? (Or is it the other way around?) John Jewell, who is Director of Media Studies at Cardiff University, makes the following observations in a fascinating article (from which the quotes above are also drawn) entitled “How Rupert Murdoch is sticking his oar into Scotland’s independence referendum”:

We know from the Leveson Inquiry and subsequent admissions that Salmond planned to lobby the UK government on Murdoch’s behalf in News Corporation’s bid to take over BskyB completely in 2010.

We know, too, that Murdoch and Salmond met in Edinburgh 2012, in a meeting described by the first minister’s office as “very constructive”. Under discussion was: “News Corporation’s substantial economic footprint in Scotland … and the potential for further investment within the country.”

Rumour had it at the time, in speculation fuelled by former Murdoch acolytes Andrew Neil and Kelvin Mackenzie, that Murdoch was prepared to move BskyB to Scotland in the event of independence.

Jewell adds:

Tittle tattle maybe, but there is no denying that the proposal to cut corporation tax in an independent Scotland to 3p below the UK rate would prove attractive to any multinational company. 8

Click here to read the full article at The Conversation.

I do agree with Murdoch on one point here – perhaps the only point we could ever possibly agree on – which is how the BBC is “totally biased”. But then, no matter how hard ‘Aunty’ tries to pretend otherwise, she is, and always has been, a willing arm of the British establishment. Come the independence referendum, and given the first B in BBC, it would be astonishing if they had been otherwise; any break-up of the Union immediately prompting the likely break-up of the corporation itself. Turkeys and Christmas, anyone?

So doubtless the BBC were one-sided during the referendum, although I would say that their coverage since has been more than favourable to the SNP. By contrast, of course, Rupert Murdoch’s own considerable media empire operates as the very epitome of impartiality, as everyone knows…

No, sorry, I meant this one:

Strange hey. How The Scottish Sun is backing “the Nats” as the gallant underdogs, whilst simultaneously The Sun (its sister tabloid in England) talks up our wonderful Tory government and frets about how it might be “brought down by the few dozen MPs of the left-wing [a swearword in The Sun] Scottish Nationalists” who will usher into power their “puppet” Ed Miliband. Now this really is balance – isn’t it?

This pincer attack is the same Tory strategy again, of course. The singular intention to reduce the Labour share of the vote with both editorials effectively saying (in differing ways) that SNP stand on the verge of a landslide victory. North of the border this message continues: “Get used to it” (where have we heard that before?); whereas the southern edition scaremongers that “If the Tories cannot get the votes to stop them [meaning SNP] ruling the roost down here, we are in for five years of mayhem and misery”.

Yet the oddest part of this now wide open agenda is what Peter Hitchens, speaking on BBC’s weekly political panel show, Question Time, on April 2nd, described as “an unholy alliance” between Conservatives and SNP. According to Hitchens, himself a dyed-in-the-wool, old-style Tory (a firebrand reactionary and someone I try not to agree with), there is an unmistakable and curiously overt New Tory attempt to bolster SNP support with the deliberate intention of breaking the Union – the very thing the old party (formally known as the Conservative and Unionist Party) served to protect. A week earlier, writing in his Daily Mail blog, Hitchens even had this to say:

Which UK party do the Scottish Nationalists most want to do well in the coming election? Might they prefer the Tories? And might the Tories, deep down, also prefer a Scottish exit from the UK to the continuing Union they claim to support? Is this the love that dare not speak its name?

The reason, Hitchens claims, is that otherwise there will never be a future Conservative government in Britain ever again (and here’s hoping):

The Tory party’s best hope of a getting a Westminster majority again is to get rid of Scotland.  A UK shorn of Scotland would produce a Tory majority Parliament and so at least temporarily halt the slow but accelerating death of the Tory Party.  But time is short. The core Tory vote is (literally) dying in droves as it is composed almost entirely of older voters. It is not being replaced. And as the new mass migrants become UK citizens, they are unlikely to become Tory voters.  The break must happen soon if the Tory party is to regain its lost ability to govern with an absolute majority, and all the fundraising and other advantages that come with that status.

He concludes:

What if the Tories and the SNP both ended up helping each other to get what they wanted – a Tory majority government at Westminster, and Scotland gone from the UK? A phrase from my childhood – ‘accidentally on purpose’ – springs to mind. 9

*

It is curious that, for different but clearly interconnected reasons, there has been a surge in the support of not one, but two nationalist parties. Nationalists with diametrically opposing outlooks. Yes, UKIP and the SNP are exceedingly strange adversaries. So let us briefly turn from the SNP to consider their grotesque ugly sister nemesis, UKIP.

UKIP and their leader Nigel Farage are hard to separate – impossible, in fact. He dominates his motley UKIP crew more than any British political leader since the days of Margaret Thatcher – and comparison with Thatcherism does not end there. Like Mrs T, Mr F somehow manages to blame the EU for most of our society’s many ills, but then placing blame on an outside menace is a tried and tested demagogic strategy. And as it goes, the EU presents him with a perfect target. Its unelected commissioners are indeed in the pockets of multinationals, while the ECB operates as an unprincipled organ of the financial oligarchs. The people of Greece or Spain or Portugal are in the best position to judge the works of the EU Commission or the ECB – two-thirds of “The Troika” – and a majority would agree that the agencies are not only incompetent and heavy-handed, but callous, corrupt and parasitical. And in Greece, Spain, and Portugal, it is better if you don’t mention the role of the Germans…

One protester recently took her complaint directly to former Vice Chairman of Goldman Sachs and current President of the ECB, Mario Draghi. Interestingly, Forbes magazine last year nominated Draghi as 8th most powerful person in the world, but they had yet to see him cowering beneath his table when confronted by a smallish woman throwing confetti and demanding that he “end ECB dictatorship”:

A very reasonable demand.

Even Farage’s poisonous alarmism about an insidious invasion by Bulgarian migrants is rooted in a more justifiable concern. For why have consecutive British governments dropped our nation’s border controls with countries significantly more economically deprived than we are? This policy was bound to lead to increased downward pressure on pay and conditions for workers at home, whilst boosting the profits of the exploitative bosses and gangmasters. But none of this is anywhere near to the top of UKIP’s true concerns. Immigrants are the scapegoats, and this anti-Europe line is UKIP’s preferred wrapper, just as the Union Jack is its other wrapper. No amount of make-up can disguise UKIP’s frothing at the mouth.

On the one hand, Ukippers claim to be libertarians, which in Britain translates more than loosely as Thatcherite – free market and pro-austerity – whilst, on the other, they feign to be radicals when are very evidently reactionaries, and thus more Thatcherite still – a mix of Alf Garnetts and Colonel Blimps (more often Major Blimps and Captain Blimps). Little Englanders who simply can’t abide Johnny Foreigner. Which is why UKIP appeals mainly to those who would love to be able to vote for Thatcher, if only she wasn’t quite so dead… and why they offer very little in the way of true opposition to Labour. Instead, the serious threat to Labour’s vote is decidedly north of the border. UKIP, meantime, pose a genuine threat to the Tory’s share of the vote – and in splitting the traditional Tory vote, I personally wish them every success!

The big thing that connects the rise of UKIP with the rise of the SNP is that many who have traditionally voted either Labour or Conservative are likewise desperate for real change. In offering themselves up as alternatives, UKIP and SNP are trying to pool support from disaffected voters with drastically alternative outlooks. But beware: all nationalism feeds upon division.

There was a time, not so long ago, when SNP were shunned by those on the left (as nationalists customarily are) and disparaged for being “Tories in tartan”. But the great wonder of nationalism is that by tying oneself to a flag rather than being anchored to a secure political creed, one is able to flutter freely and change direction at a whim. A quick overhaul of political livery and the flag is still billowing beautifully. Thus the SNP, on seeing how the wind had turned, adroitly put on the guise of an anti-austerity party. Tartan Tories no longer, but relaunched as McSyriza.

Likewise, UKIP, once just a sad and lonely hangout for embittered True Blue Tories, have recently been trying quite hard to reposition themselves within the main current of our times. After all, given how the European Commission and the ECB are two of the worst pro-austerity bullies – this is irrefutable – then anyone who opposes them must be anti-austerity almost by exclusion, or something. But as a tactic, this has its limits, especially when the leader of your party, the son of a stockbroker, is himself an unrepentant City of London commodity trader. Never mind though, the austerity card can still be played, occasionally and with extreme caution. Meanwhile, to get around the background checks, Farage prefers to highlight how he actually held down a “real job” unlike all those Oxbridge pretenders from the other parties – which they are, every other one (approximately) holding a degree in PPE from Oxford University (a degree that puts strong emphasis on that E and with neo-liberal silently prefixed). So no wonder our choice of political alternatives has become dreary, and so narrowly defined. Such a shame our nation is no longer led by real men who drink pints and smoke fags and do “real jobs” like former City of London trader Farage…

As an illustration of this tightening political convergence, just think about TTIP for a moment. Here’s a quick reminder of what we know about TTIP:

Now, if we ask Nicola Sturgeon whether she and her party are in favour of the so-called “free trade agreement” she will reply that she is, although with reservations. She will point out the need for ‘robust’ negotiations ensuring exclusions for the NHS. Ed Miliband will say almost precisely the same thing, if similarly pressed. Alternatively, if you ask Nigel Farage this question, keeping in mind that we are talking about a clandestine EU treaty that will effectively mark the beginning of the end to the very existence of the nation state, rather than challenging it, he instead recommends the UK negotiate our own (secret) free trade deals with America, but in half the time it takes to cut through all of the red tape from Brussels.

In short, there are no mainstream parties large or small that are not captured and beholden to the corporatocracy. All five are sold out to differing degrees (to be fair, the Greens are officially opposed to TTIP but their limited record in power in Brighton is extremely poor and the “Green surge” is, in any case, a will-o-the-wisp). So voting in this election can only be a damage limitation exercise at best. Which brings me to ask simply this: which of the parties is the lesser of these evils? In England the answer is rather obvious, but in Scotland… back to Gerry Hassan:

Beneath this the differences between Labour and SNP are less than first appear, but magnified by language, tribalism and intense electoral competition.

A British Election Survey at the end of last year showed that SNP voters thought they were the most left-wing of Scotland’s mainstream parties and their party the most left-wing with Labour as significantly to their right; while Labour voters thought the same of themselves and their party, and placed the SNP to their right. 10

So, when it comes to which of the two is the more radical (a tallest dwarf contest if ever there was one) it is all in the eye of the beholder, whilst what actually encourages some Scottish voters to discriminate for and against goes back to the positions each assumed during the independence referendum: Labour penalised for its partnership with the Tories (as if it really had a choice given the circumstances) in the “Better Together” campaign.

*

A friend said to me recently, that if we don’t trust the polls, then what do we have to go on? Not much. Mostly, we have those election results in the European, council and bi-elections, all of which came as bad news for anyone hoping to see the return of a Tory government (coalition or otherwise). So the post-referendum rise of the SNP has been a tremendous boon to flagging Tory morale. But what are we to make of the media’s role in other ways?

The media has been hypercritical of Ed Miliband from the very beginning. But given that so much of the media (especially the press) is Tory supporting (much of it overtly so), this ought to come as little surprise. Nor should it have come as any surprise that the same media once gave Tony Blair the thumbs up. Murdoch’s press, in particular, praising him to the rafters. But then, Blair was not merely an establishment favourite, he also managed to ingratiate himself into the Murdoch household to such a degree that he was honoured as godfather to Rupert’s daughter, Grace:

Is any of this reminiscent of another of today’s leading political figures?

In contrast to Blair, Ed Miliband has been dismissed as a nerd who looks like Wallace and worse, he struggles to eat a bacon sandwich with the least bit of conviction (incidentally, he should have sacked his own advisors for that preposterous stunt). He’s just too weak, they tell us, to lead the country. But worse, apparently he quite literally “stabbed his own brother in the back.”

Understood properly, what the media are reminding us here is how the New Labour baton was supposed to have been passed to elder brother David, the designated and rightful heir to the kingdom of Tony Blair. However, Ed somehow got in the way… whatever happened to primogeniture? Neither the establishment, nor the media that speaks for it, have forgiven such impropriety.

Leading the charge against the usurper has been a familiar face. The boss of News Corp who recently tweeted: “Cameron’s Tories bash vulnerable Miliband for months with no effect on polls. Need new aspirational policies to have any hope of winning.”

And according to an article in The Independent, Murdoch may be out to get Ed for reasons other than mere party politics:

It is understood that Mr Murdoch reminded executives that Labour would try to break up News UK, which owns The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times. The party has suggested that no owner should be allowed to control more than 34 per cent of the UK media, a cap which would force News UK to sell one of the titles.

It has also pledged to implement recommendations in the Leveson report for an independent press regulator backed by statute, bitterly opposed by Murdoch. Mr Miliband has made “standing up” to Mr Murdoch over the phone-hacking affair a central plank in his attempts to persuade voters that he is a strong leader. A source said: “Rupert made it very clear he was unhappy with The Sun’s coverage of the election. He basically said the future of the company was at stake and they need to get their act together.” 11

Miliband is weak? Well, not if he really does stand up to Murdoch and News Corp. In any case, as Murdoch unhappily concedes, the Tory strategy of playing the man instead of the ball has largely failed.

Two and a half years ago I personally heckled Ed Miliband during a speech he made at a rally in London. I make no apologies. After all, how dare anyone climb onto the stage of an anti-austerity protest and call for cuts. So it pains me to say that we must hope Miliband is our next PM.

But Ed Miliband is not Tony Blair, and he has already shown backbone when it matters. When he held his ground and – along with the support of a number of Tory defectors (I like to give credit wherever it is due…), though no support from Lib Dems (…but not to forgive easily) – was able to defeat the government on a vote for war, something unheard of. The Nato attack against Syria was thwarted largely thanks to Miliband; winning a Commons’ vote that spared countless lives. Of course, having opposed not only Obama, but the entire Anglo-American war party, he immediately took more flak. The “special relationship” was supposedly damaged beyond repair, the media bleated in unison in the weeks that followed. Warmongering gibberish peddled by a news media drunk on decades of senseless bloodletting.

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Our public services are close to breaking point (some will say already past it), so what if anything will survive another five years of Tory cuts? And harsher, deeper cuts, as they have kept on promising us. Meanwhile, how divided will the nation be once more wealth has been transferred from the destitute to the superrich, even as the national debt continues rising because of “austerity”. New Labour are very much responsible for this trend too, but in fairness to Ed Miliband, he was hardly central to their neo-liberal programme. I believe we should at least give him a chance (I never said the same for Tony Blair).

My expectations of Labour remain low, but a change of political direction is as desperately as it is urgently required – and what begins as a small change might be accelerated as other nations such as Greece push the same demands. In the longer term, we can obviously do much better than New Labour, but just how “New” Labour is Ed Miliband? When asked why he voted against brother David, he replied that his own political outlook is radically different. I hope there is truth to this – although if Ed Miliband is elected into office, then we must be ready to hold his feet to the fire.

I try to steer clear of making predictions on this blog (for obvious reasons) but I am about to make a slight exception… I believe that Labour can win this election, and that even an outright majority should not be ruled out of hand. After all, prior to the last election our FPTP system delivered majority governments time and again. Has politics really changed so much in just five years? Of course, it could be that the Tories get a majority instead, however, there are other reasons to believe that Labour are more likely to win. Threefold reasons and ones that have next to nothing to do with Ed Miliband himself.

Firstly, the collapse in the Lib Dem share will most likely return to Labour. Secondly, UKIP have wounded the Conservatives – a right-wing split that is reminiscent of the SDP splitting the left in the 1980s. Although I seriously doubt UKIP will gain many, if any, seats (I certainly hope they don’t, but neither did the SDP), even without taking seats they may undermine the Tories who hold marginal seats. Thirdly, one victory which the Lib Dems did achieve during their miserable stint in government was to block Conservative attempts to redraw constituency boundaries. This was in tit-for-tat retaliation after the Tories reneged on their Coalition commitment to House of Lords reform. 12 However, the consequence of this is very much to Labour’s advantage:

Labour can reach a Commons majority with a smaller lead in the vote than the Conservatives can, all else being equal. The past two elections illustrate this: in 2005, Tony Blair turned less than three percentage points into a Commons majority of more than 50, while five years later David Cameron fell nearly 20 seats short of a majority despite a seven-point vote lead. This advantage to Labour has several sources – Labour constituencies tend to have fewer people, turnout is lower in Labour-held seats, and Labour has traditionally lost fewer seats to third parties. The Labour vote is also more “efficient”. The ideal in our system is “win small, lose big” – the fewer votes spent on crushing victories or narrow defeats, the better the return of seats to votes. Labour’s vote is closer to this ideal – fewer mega-majorities, and a better record of wins in tight races. 13

Thus the stage is set. UKIP poised to steal votes away from the Conservatives and hopefully to finally break the party in two. But, and this is the real sticking point, the SNP will undoubtedly grab votes from Labour. So the outcome is actually dependent upon the results of these two lesser battles: Conservative v. UKIP and Labour v. SNP.

I appreciate that many in Scotland will be encouraged to vote SNP either to punish Labour or else in the hope of landing a better deal for Scotland – and why not be self-interested. But let’s face facts, SNP are not Syriza, nothing like them – and perhaps, as I suspect, more closely akin to the Lib Dems of five years ago. As one who fell for the Lib Dem scam, I feel obliged to (rather belatedly) caution you.

Should the vote in Scotland go solidly the way of the SNP then it may pave the way for an unthinkable outcome – Conservatives failing to win a majority (as they likely will) yet winning most seats overall and somehow thereafter cobbling together a second Tory coalition. Can we even begin to imagine how ruined our nation (Scotland very much included) will be if there are five more years of rule by the Tories? I sincerely hope we are not about find out.

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Addendum:

The national debt figures are out – £1.2 trillion and rising – and although I hate to say it, the Labour Party has a valid point to make. If you don’t adjust for inflation, Osborne has borrowed more in under four years than the Labour Party borrowed over 13 years.

So wrote Fraser Nelson, editor of Conservative mouthpiece The Spectator magazine in an article published in November 2013. To back his claim, the same article featured this graph captioned “Osborne borrows more in 5 years than Labour did in 13”:

Nelson concludes:

Is this recovery real, or another debt-fuelled illusion? The annoying truth is that we just don’t know. 14

For a multitude of reasons we really do know… Indeed, many of the reasons are outlined in an article published almost a year later, as the general election campaigns were just beginning to limber up, by Telegraph (another Conservative mouthpiece obviously) finance correspondent Liam Halligan. He begins with some basic bean-counting:

When the Tories took office, total government debt was £811bn. On last week’s figures, it’s now £1,451bn – an 80pc rise in just five years, with a lot more to come. This national debt matters. It must be serviced with regular interest payments, diverting money from front-line public services. Even at rock-bottom interest rates, the Government spends as much on debt interest annually as on defence. As the national debt escalates, courtesy of £100bn-plus annual deficits, and as interest rates inevitably rise, we’ll soon be spending more on government debt service than on state education.

Halligan then gets stuck into the meat of his own worries (of which I am only providing a taster):

I remain deeply concerned about our national debt, not only because of the absurdity of vast debt service payments, the damage to coming generations and the incentive politicians have to “inflate the debt away”. I also worry that our vast liabilities could ultimately spark another systemic meltdown, not least because such a high share of UK government debt is now owned by foreign creditors. And that makes our public finances extremely vulnerable if there’s a considerable weakening of the pound.

This issue has been on my mind for a while, but recently crystallised while talking to friends at the Social Market Foundation (SMF) think-tank, where I’ve long served on the advisory board. As a result of quantitative easing, around a third of the UK’s gilt stock is owned by the Bank of England. That’s right, 32pc of our government bonds have been bought by our central bank, using virtually printed money. That’s helped to rig the market, keeping interest rates artificially low.

All of which sounds like a “debt-fuelled illusion” to me, and Halligan is justifiably concerned that “such a high share of UK government debt is now owned by foreign creditors”. He continues:

The UK recently chalked up the largest external trade shortfall in our history, with our so-called current account deficit registering well over 5pc of GDP. While our imports have long outweighed our exports, our net income on overseas government investment and assets has recently swung from a surplus of 3pc of GDP to a deficit of over 2pc.

A lot of the explanation for that is the vast interest payments the Government now makes to the raft of foreign creditors propping up our public finances. 15

The systemic failures which led to the banking crisis of 2008 have never been remedied and instead the can was kicked down the road. What Gordon Brown started, the Con-Dem coalition have simply continued, and as a consequence of complete lack of reregulation of the financial markets, we can expect that the next crisis, whenever it comes (and the can might yet be kicked a lot further) will be far bigger than the first. Meanwhile, as the debt burden mounts, there can be no significant economic recovery so long as further money is simply wasted on banker bailouts and debt repayments instead of being invested in infrastructure and services. “Austerity”, meaning cuts to all government spending aside from its debt repayments, is a form of wealth transfer from the poor to the rich.

This is why the Con-Dem government have failed by every single count including their own narrowly determined neo-liberal measures. So that not only do we have a million people who have been so impoverished over the last five years that they are now dependent upon food banks; and a workforce so blighted and demoralized by the insecurity and unreliability of zero hour contracts; and even our mediocre GDP figures bolstered on account of drug use and prostitution (two commodities set to grow as the depression deepens); but worst of all, the imposed “austerity” hasn’t diminished the deficit, let alone the debt. In fact, the only real growth this country has seen has been in the wealth gap:

The UK is the only G7 country to record rising wealth inequality in 2000-14. Wealth inequality has risen four times faster in the seven years after the crash compared with the seven years before. The rich in the UK are becoming richer faster than ever. Wealth inequality rose under Labour; it rose faster under the coalition. 16

Under the circumstances, I find it hard to comprehend how either the Tories or their lickspittle accomplices, the Lib Dems, could possibly be re-elected, even with the might of Murdoch’s media empire behind them. Certainly bribery may help and Cameron has been offering temptations like there’s no tomorrow: “right to buy” houses, free childcare and even a quick bonanza from the sale of shares in Lloyds. Fiscal responsibility? For the price of re-election, “austerity” be damned! Hopefully there really will be no tomorrow for this atrocious Tory government, but if they do somehow manage to limp across the line and survive for another term in office then here’s the genius who will be back in charge of rescuing broke(n) Britain:

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Update:

The punch in stomach surprise of a Tory majority shocked and sickened many of us, and not only those on the left. Right-wing commentator, Peter Hitchens, was also called to account over his prediction (referred to and reprinted in the piece above) that the Tories would probably never be able to achieve such a result. In an extended reply to his critics entitled “Groundhog Day Comes Round Again” [published Friday 8th – the day after the election] he wrote:

I never for a moment imagined that Big Money and Big Lies could so successfully scare, cajole and diddle the electorate of this country. I grew up in a Britain both better-educated and more honest than the one we have today. Perhaps that is why I could not see this possibility. I have not seen, in my lifetime, a campaign so dishonest, so crude, so based in fear and so redolent of third-world and banana republic political tactics.

On which, I entirely concur. Indeed, I find that Hitchens, whose political perspective differs from mine by very nearly 180 degrees, frequently offers a more perceptive and interesting take than other mainstream commentators when surveying the bigger picture. Looking beyond his old school, reactionary opinions, which leave an altogether bitter taste in the mouth, his broader analysis of the wretched state of contemporary politics too often strikes a major chord – as here:

The truth is that both major parties are now just commercial organisations, who raise money wherever they can get it to buy their way into office through unscrupulous election campaigns. They then presumably reward their donors once they are in office. The electorate are a constitutional necessity for this process, but otherwise their fears, hopes and desires are largely irrelevant. They are to be fooled and distracted with scares (‘The other lot will privatise the NHS!’ ‘The other lot will nationalise your children’s toys and then wreck the economy!’ ) or with loss-leader cut-rate offers, like supermarkets (‘Vote for us and get a cheap mortgage!!’ ‘Vote for us and have your rent frozen!’) . Even if these wild pledges are implemented, the customer will pay for them through higher taxes elsewhere, just as with supermarket loss-leaders.

By playing our part in this ludicrous pantomime, we license it to continue forever. I have thought for years that the key to ending it was simple and obvious. We could revenge ourselves on these fakes by refusing to vote for them. The arrival of new parties, UKIP on one side, the Greens on the other, made such a revolt and redemption even easier.

But I must now admit that the people of this country actually seem to prefer to live the same experience over and over again, and seem astonishingly ready to believe the crudest propaganda. I seethe with frustrated amazement at the Tory claim to have fixed the economy, so blazingly untrue that in commercial advertising it would get them into serious trouble with the authorities.

Ailing GDP figures just before the election were barely mentioned in the media, but easily-obtained statistics on productivity, trade, manufacturing and construction, are all bad and the Tories have missed their own target (whether wise or not) on deficit reduction. In any case, the Tory record on the economy is dreadful.

Likewise, Hitchens is quite correct in his assessment of the Tory’s (not so) secret romancing of the SNP:

A Tory Party really concerned about the loss of Scotland would have done as Norman Tebbit suggested, and urged its supporters to vote Labour to stop the SNP. Instead, to the dismay of elder statesmen and experts such as Michael Forsyth, it talked up the SNP, paying elaborate compliments to Nicola Sturgeon after the leaders’ debate (George Osborne and Michael Gove were observed doing this). To claim, while behaving in this fashion, that the Tory Party is a bulwark against the SNP and Labour is in their clutches is absurd. The SNP are delighted by the Tory victory, which makes it all but certain that they will get a repeat landslide in next year’s Scottish general election, with a manifesto commitment to a second referendum, which I think they will then win. Let us see how Mr Cameron now copes with the SNP’s sweeping victory, for which he must take so much of the blame.

At least the Sun newspaper was brazenly open about its ludicrous inconsistency, campaigning for a Tory (and supposedly Unionist) victory south of the border, and for the unquestionably separatist SNP north of it.

Click here to read Peter Hitchens’ full post-election article.

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1 From an article entitled “Episode 18: Panic Stations”, written by John Lanchester, published by the London Review of Books on May 5, 2015. http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2015/05/05/john-lanchester/episode-18-panic-stations/ 

2 From an editorial entitled “General election 2010: All change for new politics”, published by the Guardian on April 20, 2010. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/apr/20/general-election-2010-poll-editorial

3 From an article entitled “General Elecion 2010: Did the opinion polls flatter to deceive?” written by Martin Boon & John Curtice, published by Research magazine on July 6, 2010. http://www.research-live.com/opinion/general-election-2010-did-the-opinion-polls-flatter-to-deceive?/4003088.article

4 From an article entitled “Bursting the polling bubble” written by Martin Boon, published in Research magazine on February 12, 2015. http://www.research-live.com/blogs/election-blog-bursting-the-polling-bubble/4012895.article

5 From an article entitled “Lord Ashcroft’s polls are not what they seem” written by Dan Hodges, published by The Telegraph on February 9, 2015. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/general-election-2015/11401622/Lord-Ashcrofts-polls-are-not-what-they-seem.html

6 From an article entitled “The tartan tsunami and how It will change Scotland and the UK for good” written by Gerry Hassan, published March 20, 2015 on the OpenDemocracy website. https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/gerry-hassan/tartan-tsunami-and-how-it-will-change-scotland-and-uk-for-good

7 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/election-2015-32394920

8 From an article entitled “How Rupert Murdoch is sticking his oar into Scotland’s independence referendum” written by John Jewell, published in The Conversation on September 10, 2014. http://theconversation.com/how-rupert-murdoch-is-sticking-his-oar-into-scotlands-independence-referendum-31531

9 From an article entitled “The SNP and the Tories – is This the Love that Dare not Speak its Name?” written by Peter Hitchens, published in The Mail on March 23, 2015. http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2015/03/the-snp-and-the-tories-is-this-the-love-that-dare-not-speak-its-name.html

10 From an article entitled “The tartan tsunami and how It will change Scotland and the UK for good” written by Gerry Hassan, published March 20, 2015 on the OpenDemocracy website. https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/gerry-hassan/tartan-tsunami-and-how-it-will-change-scotland-and-uk-for-good

11 From an article entitled “Rupert Murdoch berated Sun journalists for not doing enough to attack Ed Miliband and stop him winning the general election” written by Adam Sherwin and Oliver Wright, published in The Independent on April 21, 2015. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/rupert-murdoch-berated-sun-journalists-for-not-doing-enough-to-attack-ed-miliband-10191005.html

12

Plans to redraw constituency boundaries before 2015, backed by the Tories, have been defeated in the House of Commons.

MPs voted by 334 to 292 to accept changes made by peers, meaning the planned constituency shake-up will be postponed until 2018 at the earliest.

It was the first time Lib Dem ministers have voted against their Conservative coalition colleagues in the Commons.

The two parties have been in dispute since proposed elections to the House of Lords were dropped last year.

From an article entitled “Conservatives lose boundary review vote” published by BBC news on January 29, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-21235169

13 From an article entitled “Election 2015: how Labour gains from UK electoral system in a tight race” written by Robert Ford, published in the Guardian on March 15, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/mar/15/election-2015-hung-parliament-majority-coalition-labour

14 From an article entitled “Osborne increases debt more than Labour did over 13 years” written by Fraser Nelson, published in The Spectator on November 21, 2013. http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2013/11/the-tories-have-piled-on-more-debt-than-labour/

15 From an article entitled “It’s time to come clean about our national debt”, written by Liam Halligan, published in The Telegraph on October 25, 2014. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/11187727/Its-time-to-come-clean-about-our-national-debt.html

16 From an article entitled “Growing wealth inequality in the UK is a ticking timebomb” written by Danny Dorling, published in the Guardian on October 15, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/15/wealth-inequality-uk-ticking-timebomb-credit-suisse-crash

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