Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Israel, Hamas, there is another way

Israel has the right to exist. Israel has the right to defend itself.

And yet, there is no defence for its brutal attack on Gaza over the last few days which has left hundreds dead and thousands mutilated. Both Hamas and the Israeli Government are engaged in a hectic and callously self-serving conflict with Gazan Palestinians and border Israelis as cannon fodder and pawns. The notion though that Israel's attacks are likely to achieve its security and crush extremism is not only dangerous but highly flawed.

As Tom Segev (author of the excellent 1967) argues in Haaretz, there is a historical continuum to Israel's actions and the result is a progressively less secure and more hostile environment for Israel itself. And thousands of Palestinians and Lebanese and others lose their lives as a consequence of this myopic reflex. Israel continues to play up the threat- both to its security and its existence- and inevitably lurches toward further militarism. Whether the impulse is the election, a need to re-assert its authority following the disastrous 2006 Lebanese conflict, or it is a nation that is now purely driven by impulse, the result is the same: more tragic loss of life and the destruction of lives.

Don't think that this is in any way about exonerating Hamas. It is not. But to compare Israel's military might with that of Hamas is, I'm afraid, laughable. The same can be said of the continual argument that Israel's existence, bound as it is in a region with a number of hostile powers, is somehow under threat. Israel is by far the most powerful military presence in the region and the only nuclear power. Its de facto alliance with the United States provides an emergency protective canopy should it be needed. There is no realistic threat to its existence, not external anyhow. Rather like the outrage at Channel 4 broadcasting President Ahmadinejad's alternative Christmas message, it has a bogus feel about it (as did the message itself.)

Muscular militarism Israel style has resulted in over forty years of mutual fear and periodic, bloody conflict. And Israel, far from an oasis of freedom in an authoritarian region, has become a security state. It is frightened for its own safety, security, and well-being and in such a state people are never really free. Surely there has to be another way?

So now is the time to draw a line and show real leadership. While Israel bombs its neighbours and treats Arabs as if they are somehow inferior there will never be the trust that is needed to engender real progress. And Israel's friends, including the UK and, yes, the United States should be firmer. They should stop taking Israel's own assessment of its self-interest at face value because look where that has got Israel and the Middle East. We should condemn Israel's actions more forcibly because that is in the interests of the Israeli people, who have suffered so much. Israel is a vital nation that is let down continually by its leaders; just as the poor wretched residents of the Gaza Strip have been woefully let down by Hamas in whom they placed their trust.

The 1982 war (see Waltz with Bashir for a revisionist and potent Israeli viewpoint) with Lebanon defeated the PLO and saw its replacement with the clerically austere and aggressive Hezbollah. Israel's failure to deal constructively with Fatah begot Hamas. Even if Hamas is defeated what will replace them? If history is a guide, and it is in this context, then Pyrrhic victory is stacked upon human misery. In the end, there is always something worse around the corner.

So for the sake your people Israel, for the sake of yours Hamas, there has to be another way. For while Israelis rage at Hamas, Palestinians rage at Israel. That outrage is the most powerful weapon of all. It is weapon that will be used to kill any hope of peace.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Making Britain the inspiration nation

An article I have in Tribune this week (yes, on Barack Obama.....) is available on the Compass website:


Sunday, 14 December 2008

Desperate times call for desperate measures?

This is precisely the question that David Cameron must be pondering as his poll lead has significantly evaporated. It has not disintegrated by chance. The strategic decision taken to adopt economic orthodoxy rather than pursue a more aggressive economic approach would be exceedingly damaging economically. People realise this so support for the Conservatives is eroding slowly but very surely.

There is a lot of hardship ahead so the political outlook may change and change quickly. For now, Labour is winning the economic argument and so people are taking a look at the party again.

Luckily, David Cameron has no shortage of advice. Take Michael Portillo in the Sunday Times this morning who alerts Cameron to his secret weapon: Kenneth Clarke. It is indicative of the wretched state of the modern Conservative party that this is not an option that he is likely to pursue. Why? Two reasons: Kenneth Clarke is pro-European and false loyalty for his friend, George Osborne.

The most revealing line in the piece is: "Nobody has changed the Conservative party as much and as fast as he [Cameron] has, yet he will seek office on much the same economic ground as William Hague and Michael Howard." The quote kind of contradicts itself. Nonetheless, the conclusion is devastating. David Cameron has followed the trajectory of all recent Conservative leaders. He will fight the next election on a Thatcherite platform.

Maybe the same trick will work eventually but it is most definitely not the direction that David Cameron wanted to take his party in. He has lost a grip on his political strategy and is now prey to, admittedly highly unpredictable, events.

Post script: Sunder Katwala has also written on this today though he discusses Chris Patten alongside Kenneth Clarke.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Labour and sterling

What a ridiculous argument by James Bartholomew in the Daily Express today about Labour governments and the pound. He conveniently ignores that the last major devaluation, following the pound's ejection from the ERM, was under a Conservative government. Technically, the 1931 devaluation was under the National Government but who is splitting hairs? Why let the facts get in the way of a neat and partisan-laden account of the history of sterling?

The notion that the pound could have avoided devaluation throughout the twentieth century is preposterous given that Britain lost an empire, there were massive shifts in economic and political power, there were two costly and devastating world wars that Britain paid an enormous cost for, and a collective failure to maintain Britain's position as a manufacturing force.

So devaluations had to happen despite the desperate attempts of successive governments to avoid them. Unsurprisingly, despite trying to avoid a devaluation of sterling in 1947, it inevitably happened given a war ravaged economy and onerous debt repayments (thank you America.) The post-war economic model was unravelling by the end of the 1960s and would continue to do so until the IMF stepped in and monetarism was adopted in 1976.

There were 'devaluations' in the 1980s under Thatcher too but the reality is that they are not noticed when currency is free floating as opposed to when a currency is linked to gold, the dollar, or a basket of currencies as in the ERM. It makes for dramatic television when sterling is ejected from a pegged or managed exchange rate system as David Cameron discovered when he was stood behind Norman Lamont as the then Chancellor announced the pound's removal from the ERM in 1992. But it only happens under Labour Governments remember......

Where there were economic failures, and there were, by and large they were shared by both parties. The recent decline in sterling is completely to be expected given that our economy is exposed to the type of financial crisis that we are facing- a legacy of the economic structure of the last thirty years not just the last ten. Differential interest rates- lower in the UK than the euro-zone- and the movement of the euro towards reserve currency status further fuel the change in the exchange rate.

Interestingly, the movement of sterling did not commence at the time of the Chancellor's statement when the level of borrowing was announced- in fact sterling rose in value for a few days. It was certainly impacted, however, by the change in interest rates on December 4th as would be expected. That is not to argue against that reduction of interest rates; it just explains much of the recent movement of the currency. Public borrowing impacts the exchange rate if it is seen as inflationary. That is not the overriding concern with the UK economy currently.

James Bartholomew's argument that currency falls are because 'Labour Governments spend too much' comes nowhere near explaining the historical movements of sterling. Any cursory and non-tendentious reading of economic history shows that.

Friday, 12 December 2008

The real Chicago and Obama

Take a look at a piece I had on Comment is Free yesterday which delves a little deeper into Chicago's politics as opposed to the same brush tarring exercise that is going on in some quarters:


Peter Tatchell's article on the recent newsletter on homosexuality from the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales is worth a glance too.

Monday, 8 December 2008

A global New Deal

It is striking in watching the Brown, Barroso, Sarkozy press conference today that a number of similarities are emerging with the new US Administration. It has the feel of a global New Deal that will not just help respond to the current economic downturn but build the infrastructure on which future growth will rely.

In his modern equivalent of Franklin D Roosevelt's fire-side chats, Barack Obama announced the shape of his economic stimulus package in his YouTube weekly address on Saturday. It includes investment to make public buildings more energy efficient, investment in roads and bridges, modernisation of schools, upgrading of the nation's digital infrastructure, and investment in IT for healthcare. The address can be seen below:

Then today, from Barroso, Sarkozy, and the Prime Minister we had a commitment to invest in digital technology, training and skills, and green industries. There are many similarities between the two approaches and it is a very positive response to both short and medium term challenges. It will create jobs, boost investment, and impact carbon emissions.

EU coordination (assuming Germany comes on board which may be an assumption too far....) and Obama's stimulus package mark a clear path to future growth. FDR and Keynes would afford themselves a wry and self-satisfied smile.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

David Cameron's movement for change?

All is not well at CCHQ. The Guardian reported the other day that financial pressures will result in the closure of the Tories' Coleshill campaign factory. Today, ConservativeHome outlines a party gleefully burning cash but on the basis of rapidly deteriorating finances. If party membership and fundraising are any test of the strength and depth of a party's support then David Cameron is in deep trouble. His fate is dependent on the swing of the electoral pendulum and his project is simply failing to take root.

Of course, David Cameron has modeled himself on Tony Blair's New Labour project. If that project had one weakness it was that it failed to create an enduring movement for change. This Tory party's weaknesses are being exposed before it is even in office. Blair's personal charisma allied with a desperate desire for change massively boosted Labour's membership. There is no sign of a similar effect with Cameron's Tories.

It is salutary to consider that the Obama campaign, having raising around three-quarters of a billion dollars is now considering what to do with the $30million he has remaining. Also, Obama is already trying to develop his movement for change into a civic activist network. See the emailbelow that the campaign sent out a couple of days ago.

Cameron is falling way short.

Anthony --

Sign up for a house meeting Exactly one month ago, you made history by giving all Americans a real opportunity for change.

Now it's time to start preparing and working for change in our communities.

On December 13th and 14th, supporters are coming together in every part of the country to reflect on what we've accomplished and plan the future of this movement. Your ideas and feedback will be collected and used to guide this movement in the months and years ahead.

Join your friends and neighbors -- sign up to host or attend a Change is Coming house meeting near you.

Since the election, the challenges we face -- and our responsibility to take action -- have only gotten more urgent.

You can connect with fellow supporters, make progress on the issues you care about, and help shape the future of your community and our country.

Learn what you can do now to support President-elect Obama's agenda for change and continue to make a difference in your community.

Take the first important step by hosting or attending a Change is Coming house meeting. Sign up right now:


To get our country back on track, it will take all of us working together.

Barack and Joe have a clear agenda and an unprecedented opportunity for change. But they can't do it alone.

Will you join us at a house meeting and help plan the next steps for this movement?



David Plouffe
Campaign Manager
Obama for America

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Bush on ABC

I have always said it and I'll say it again, there is something remarkably endearing about President George W Bush. This came across in 'W', a film that has had a lukewarm reception from the critics but I thought painted a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of the President's personality. In Europe, we have grown so used to dismissing him as an ignoramus and raging against his foreign policy that we overlook what it was that appealed to the American people. This comes through in his interview with Charlie Gibson on ABC News.

There is just something engaging about his childlike way of referring to Marine One, the presidential helicopter, as the 'magic carpet.' Or the thought of Laura Bush reprimanding him for putting his feet on the Jefferson table. His ability to remain 'joyful' in spite of it all has a boyish quality also. His comments about President-elect Obama's campaign are remarkably and genuinely admiring and magnanimous.

What is President Bush going to do with himself once he has left office? Well, you get the distinct impression that he is just going to have the time of his life. There is something refreshingly unegotistical about that. Pity about the mess both domestically and internationally that he leaves behind.

Sunday, 30 November 2008


It was a youthful habit that some said went to far. It did a lot for me but in the end I had to give it up and get my life straight. It got me through tough times but when things got better I didn't need the fix anymore. Now, things have got worse again I've taken up the habit once again. I know I'm weak. I know I'm letting down my friends and family. But it makes sense to me and I will need all your help to get through. Yes, I've started reading Will Hutton once again. There I've admitted it to myself and all of you. I hope you'll be there for me.

Actually, I'm rather enjoying reading Will Hutton. He's saying the sorts of things I need. Today he borrows an idea from the economist Robert Shiller to vary mortgage repayments in accordance with changes in income. This is the pure stuff. It really is. Amazing that not one of the brilliant creatives in our breathtakingly innovative financial markets thought up an idea such as that. They could protect their investment and keep people in their homes. That's way too clever. You see how I'm adopting a slightly sarcastic edge to my prose? This is one of the side effects....

But perhaps I should have become an occasional taker in social settings once I'd cracked the addiction. Maybe Will could have warned me of the trouble ahead if I'd only taken the time to scan the odd article? Perhaps in future I need to control my habit rather than going cold turkey once the LIBOR rate declines again and the world is fixed?

I have an even bigger confession. I dusted down my copy of The Great Crash by J.K.Galbraith last weekend too. I re-read it. Keynes is staring alluringly at me on the shelf. Don't worry friends, I have not yet felt the urge to pull down Das Capital. There will need to be hunger marches and civil unrest before I go there. For now Hutton, Galbraith, and Keynes will be enough. Just leave me be.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

The scale of Obama's victory

An interesting analysis has been done by www.fivethirtyeight.com on the scale of President-elect Obama's victory. It is the second largest of all time in terms of popular vote as a percentage of population. Obama's 68.7 million votes (the largest ever) represented 22.62% of the population; only Ronald Reagan's landslide 1984 victory represented a higher amount.

In terms of percentage of the vote, Obama's 53% share is comparable to that of George H W Bush but greater than any freshman presidential candidate since Eisenhower in 1952. Only Reagan in 1984 and Lyndon Baines Johnson have won a greater share of the vote. By historical standards this victory was huge. It was not a wipe-out but it was a landslide.

Post script: An interesting perspective on Obama's foreign policy by E.J.Dionne where he makes a useful comparision with the policies pursued by George H W Bush is worth a read. Robert Gates was a senior figure in that administration.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

June 2009 election now a remote possibility

The one clear consequence of yesterday's Chancellor's Statement is that the possibility of a June 2009 election has receded massively. Essentially, the wrangle over yesterday's fiscal package will only be resolved by its ultimate impact on the economy. In the short term, watch what happens to sterling. In the longer term, will the economy follow the growth path forecast by the Chancellor? Should it do so then the Government will be able to make a strong case that its intervention was effective.

Unless the economy rapidly and unexpectedly out-performs the Chancellor's forecast, this means that it will not be until the end of 2009/ beginning of 2010 that we can make that assessment. It is difficult to foresee an election in 2009 on that basis.

Will it work? There's not an economist in the land who can make that prediction. Astrologers are likely to be as useful in making that forecast. A fiscal stimulus is the right thing to do in this situation with the banking system as weak as it is. That does not mean it will work however as we are in incredibly uncertain economic times. It is little over two months, yes TWO MONTHS, since Lehman Brothers went to the wall. It is notable that President-elect Obama's economic team is willing to be even more aggressive than our Chancellor should it be necessary. It is worth holding that thought.

As for the Tories, they are on completely the wrong side of the economic argument. They have got themselves into the preposterous situation of arguing that a fiscal contraction in the early 1980s was the cause of the economic recovery in the 1980s. It is half right. Monetary stimulus did work. The recovery was made far more painful by a masochistic fiscal contraction and that left a lasting scar on the nation; one that is still felt today.

It may not matter that they are wrong in political terms. If this stimulus package is not seen to have worked they may reap a political dividend anyway. In terms of their ability to make the right decisions in office it doesn't create much confidence at all.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Lord Lawson's contradiction

Lord Lawson makes a point that monetary policy is the effective club for these times in an article in the FT this morning. On reading the piece, it was striking that he went on to state that monetary policy is problematic due to 'the continuing weakness of the banking system.' He goes on to suggest further capitalisation and de-toxification of banking balance sheets: a similar-ish broad approach to that adopted by David Cameron who would use state guarantees to underwrite lending.

The problem with the argument is that while this approach, which may be of no less risk to the tax payers than a fiscal stimulus, is taking time to have an effect, the economy is still tanking. The government's chosen method of stimulus is, in addition to a monetary loosening, a VAT reduction with some additional public works and an extension of tax cuts announced earlier in the year. In an environment where the banking system is weak, perhaps weaker than at any point since the 1930s, this fiscal intervention becomes necessary.

To say that we should rely on monetary expansion solely while it is ineffective as a policy is a strange and contradictory perspective and this seems to be the position that Lord Lawson has manoeuvred himself into.

The effectiveness of the Chancellor's Report, political as well as economic, will be determined in major part by the reaction of the capital markets- watch sterling with an eagle eye over the next few days. Will they buy the argument that this is a stimulus that will work? If they do, then the economic and political dividend could be significant. If they do not, then this gamble, and it is an enormous but necessary gamble, then things become very difficult indeed.

Over to the Chancellor.....

Obama's Treasury Secretary

Tim Geithner is an Obama man through and through. In temperament that is. Calm, razor sharp, diplomatic, consensual, the qualities that lend themselves to working with the President-elect. The announcement to be made today that Geithner will be Treasury Secretary with his former mentor, Larry Summers working alongside him as Chairman of the National Economic Council marks a heavyweight economic team to deal with heavy economic times. The National Review had a good biographical piece on him a couple of weeks ago.

People will know Larry Summers as former Treasury Secretary under President Clinton and Deputy Treasury Secretary in the Robert Rubin years (and current FT columnist.) Does this mean a return to the fiscal and economic conservatism of those years? No, the Rubinites are not quite so Rubinite anymore (see James Crabtree in the latest edition of Prospect.) In fairness, Rubin never had to contend with anything of the magnitude of the current economic crisis so quite how he would have responded is not clear. Just look at the change in posture of our own Prime Minister which will be confirmed in a breathtaking Pre-Budget Report today; a moment that could define the next election.

Actually, that Rubin instinct will become invaluable further down the line. These times, given the rapid and bold response that we've seen both sides of the Atlantic, should not continue indefinitely. While a new regulatory impulse will be needed to help to avoid or diminish the impact of future crises of this nature, a more fiscally conservative approach will become inevitable, even critical, as the economy recovers.

Geithner's regulatory experience as President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, his experience in the Clinton/ Bush I Administrations and his sharp end focus on the current financial crisis in both the Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers emergencies should be invaluable.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Obama's movement for change

E.J.Dionne poses one of the fundamental questions for Obama in the Houston Chronicle: what should he do with the movement that he has created?

What he absolutely should not do is try to merge it with the Democratic Party. It can exist and coordinate with the official party structure, and indeed needs to, but its attractiveness to so many was that it didn't resemble a traditional party. At a basic level, this involved moving power away from traditional party elites.

One of the errors made by new Labour in the UK was that it worked exclusively through the Labour party. That was not attractive to so many people who joined the new Labour cause and so organisationally new Labour collapsed over time. What is left is the traditional party structures.

Obama won't make that mistake. Equally, his movement can not simply be the Obama party. When his personal popularity wanes as it will inevitably do over time and when his presidential term is over, the movement will be absent of meaning if it is solely owned by him.

Instead, he has to capture the upsurge essence of the movement for change. Its strength will be as a group of people collectively committed to civic engagement and change. It is not ideologically driven other than in the belief that citizen action can improve neighbourhoods, communities, and the nation. It will be there for him when his bid for reelection comes. It will be useful to him is pressurising Congress to support his policies. It will work to get Democrats elected both locally and in Congress.

The movement nature of Obama '08 can't be lost. If that spirit is retained then it becomes something broader and more enduring than a machine behind a single man. It becomes a popular force for change that will last beyond a single generation.

Post Script: The blog entries have been sparse for the last few months. The reason being that I have been writing a book, Barack Obama: The Movement for Change, which is published in a few weeks by Arcadia Books. More will follow nearer the time- please check back for details.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

BNP poison named and shamed

Data protection! Human rights! Tough! If you are a member of the fascist, holocaust denying BNP, if you are willing to pour pure poison on society then prepare to have your veil of anonymity removed. Whoever put the BNP membership list online you are a hero. Simply search for it on google and confront anyone who you may know on it.

Monday, 17 November 2008

David Cameron's Sarah Palin problem

It was obvious long before his issues with Oleg Deripaska and his habit of putting foot in economic mouth that George Osborne is an incredibly weak link at the top of the Cameron shadow team. At every single point of the current economic travails Osborne has been behind the curve. He has made no intervention of any significance and has shown a chronic absence of intellectual ballast.

The real problem for David Cameron now is that Osborne is trapped in a net, unable to move in any direction without losing his feet. The pound has fallen considerably but Osborne was utterly incapable of credibly providing a narrative about that without tripping himself up.

Just as every move of John McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, ended up in a PR disaster other than in the eyes of the Republican ultras, George Osborne has become a severe liability for the Conservative Party. The question now is what David Cameron can do about it. John McCain, having made the error of selecting Sarah Palin, was completely caught. Is David Cameron in the same boat?

It is screamingly obvious that George Osborne is not capable of being Chancellor of the Exchequer. It has been revealed since the US election that McCain's campaign team knew that Sarah Palin was in no way ready to assume high office. It is to John McCain's discredit that despite his 'country first' message he was willing to jeopardise American well-being and national security by potentially allowing Sarah Palin to be elected Vice President. The situation with Osborne is not as severe as the Palin case but it's a similar issue.

Britain will still face significant economic challenges come the next election whether it is next year or 2010. Can David Cameron seriously think that based on his performance over the last twelve months that George Osborne is in any way capable of responding appropriately to those challenges? Of course not.

So whether he opts for Kenneth Clarke, which lets face it has a certain strategic intrigue, or someone else, David Cameron has a tough choice to make. He has to ditch his friend and co-conspirator, or foist him on the nation despite his obvious deficiencies.

It can't be 'country first' and Osborne in No.11. Osborne has not passed the threshold, David Cameron now has to show some degree of leadership. If he does not, then it is only a matter of time before people start to ask whether David Cameron is capable of making the tough calls that a leader has to.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

First US election results in.....

It's very good news for Obama. He was won 15-6 in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire. Turnout was down but it seems that is because of a very depressed Republican vote. Bush won here by 19-7 in 2004.

This is going to get silly but quite fun.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

American stories....

I don't know what to say about this as it speaks for itself.....watch it.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Starbucks to Walmart Ratio

I'm not really blogging at the moment as you can tell. I'm in the throws of finishing off a book but I can't resist this one: the Starbucks to Walmart ratio as an electoral predictor. This was devised (I think) by the very clever Nate Silver and the guys at fivethirtyeight.com.

Take Louisiana which has one Starbucks for every two Walmarts: dead cert McCain. Now take Oregon which has EIGHT Starbucks for every Walmart: Obama's. Florida has a ratio of 2.09: too close to call. Just look at the 'Road to 270' articles on each state to see all the stats.

It's the only stat you'll need come November 4th!

What would the UK equivalent be? Greggs to Waitrose ratio?

Thursday, 11 September 2008

The tactician versus the strategist

Every political battle has its strategists and its tacticians. One of the more intriguing aspects of the current US presidential election is that it is one campaign that is strategically driven versus one that is almost entirely driven by tactics. Who wins?

Obama's campaign is the strategic one. As long as your strategy is right then the strategist should theoretically be in the stronger position. They have appraised the context and devised a battle plan that can deliver victory. McCain is Bush Mark II, America is in economic crisis at home and floundering abroad, Washington needs change. Alongside that it has the most sophisticated movement-based national campaign ever constructed and a candidate who communicates like no political figure since Bill Clinton.

All the factors for victory are there. And yet, as things stand, the campaign has been struggling for a few days now. Why is the strategy stuttering?

When a cool strategist is faced with a wily tactician, what happens? McCain's campaigns has become a daily tactical play. Today's feint was to accuse Obama of a sexist attack on McCain's running mate when he dismissed McCain's economic plan with the colourful phrase, "You can put lipstick on a pig but it will still be a pig." (I guess that rather depends on how imaginative you are- I was always with Kermit on that one but I guess some others might have fallen for Miss Piggy's yanking and swinging charm. Maybe frogs and pigs can never be compatible. I don't know.)

It turns out that McCain had used the same colloquialism in dismissing Hillary Clinton's healthcare plan. Is it sexist or not?

The question is irrelevant. By stoking up the fire of a media row, McCain's campaign has managed to deflect attention from the issues. Here is the tactical concern. By a margin of 48% to 37% voters say that the issues matter more than the personalities. Amongst that 48% Obama has a lead of 56% to 37% so McCain's campaign has to desperately keep the daily news coverage away from the issues.

Once the issues rise to the fore, Sarah Palin starts to look weaker, the McCain campaign becomes less solid, and McCain starts to drift back towards Bush. As Obama pleads, the shift to change message by McCain/ Palin is 'phoney.' Tactical plays can be phoney in a way that strategic judgements can't (you lose very easily if they are.)

So the tactician wins by keeping the strategist on the back foot. Whether that can go on for another 55 days is a moot point. One place that McCain/ Palin won't be able to evade the issues is during the debates. Obama will need a hell of a confident performance that pins McCain back on economic issues as much as it is humanly possible to do. He has had a habit in previous debates to drift in the direction of the question and debate, wanting to give a whole and intellectually robust answer. This time, Obama will need to throw a few punches of his own to gain the initiative.

He will be having lunch with Bill Clinton tomorrow. If I was Barack Obama I'd listen intently and maybe ask for James Carville's number at the end of the conversation. To regain the upper hand the strategist needs some shrewd tactical plays of his own.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Biden on abortion

Joe Biden, a Catholic, articulated an argument on abortion that I thought was astute when asked the Rick Warren 'when does life begin?' question. He said that his personal faith was that life begins at conception. Though that is his belief, he declined that legislation should be enacted to impose his faith on others.

It struck as an utterly pragmatic and sensible way to rationalise his faith with his politics. He also acknowledged that there has been a discussion within the Catholic church over the centuries. Thomas Aquinas believed, along with many others, that life begins at 'the quickening', i.e. when the foetus first shows signs of life.

Barack Obama has his own conciliatory position. He defines his outlook as being pro-choice but not pro-abortion.

Democrats are looking for ways to smooth the sharp edges of the culture wars. It has only taken them over three decades. At least, they are now looking anew at these questions.

Jury still out on Palin

I described the choice of Sarah Palin as VP nominee as capping a good week for Obama last weekend. Despite her over-rated speech and the performance of the media/ bloggers who played right into the Republicans' hands in exactly the way I suggested that the Democrats had to avoid (and they did at least), on balance I still feel that Sarah Palin is a choice that will benefit the Obama/Biden ticket.

The reporting here has focused on the method of the choice and there is little doubt that it was an impulsive choice. By adopting an outsider candidate, McCain has been able to seize the reform mantle. His grip on it is slight. There is still a couple of months to go in the campaign so there is only so much longer that asserting McCain as a 'maverick' and Sarah Palin as the outsider who is coming to shake up Washington can last. There is a strong sense of tactics driving strategy in the McCain campaign. They couldn't concede the change argument in a year of change so they tried to seize the argument themselves.

While necessity may be the mother of all invention, the invention is incomplete in this case. McCain's platform is woefully thin. Its depth is simply the biography of the man at the head of the ticket with a bit of pizazz added by his running mate.

The polling responses to the Palin selection are instructive. By a margin of 2 to 1 voters 'approve' of McCain's selection of Palin and there is a plus 6% likelihood of voting McCain as a result of the pick according to an ABC News poll. By contrast, Biden has a +12% impact on the likelihood of voting Obama. Underlying these data Palin has a -8% score on the experience question while Biden has a whopping +45% score on this measure!

So McCain/ Palin still have a huge job to do to build confidence in Palin. As her novelty wears off, these underlying issues will start to rise to the surface. Unless McCain/ Palin can substantiate their change argument and unless Palin can render her lack of experience irrelevant through strong performances in TV interviews and the Vice Presidential debate on October 2nd, eventually the ticket will start to look brittle. Both these challenges are considerable but any sort of slip up or evasion will have a damaging impact on the ticket. The riskiness of allowing tactics to drive strategy remains. It may come off but there are a series of tests that have to be passed.

The Democrats, rather than those who purport to speak for them, have been playing the Palin challenge well. Joe Biden stuck strictly to the issues this morning on Meet the Press. That is exactly the right approach as it will keep pressure on Palin. At some point she is going to have to move off script and that is where, unless she's very good, things could start to get interesting.

Of course, all these issues are far less important than the men at the top of the ticket and their policies. Palin is an issue in that regard. If she continues her good start then that will say something substantive and beneficial about John McCain's judgement. If she falters, it will have the opposite impact.

Friday, 5 September 2008

A powerful riposte from John McCain

For the first third of the speech, it seemed like McCain was allowing his opportunity to drift. It was just generic Republican ideology in non too poetic language. He declared at one point, "We need to get this country moving again." George W Bush was there in title but not in name and it was as if John McCain wasn't and never had been a Republican.

Then he started to get onto the issues. On education, energy, foreign policy, work and welfare he put something concrete out there. Now he was starting to get into the swing of things as the issues were starting to bite somewhat even if they were off-the-shelf conservatism. He was now taking on Washington though and that worked if you can suspend disbelief for a moment. His party may have been in control for eight years but now he was taking back the corrupt and bloated Washington that has captured his party nonetheless.

And finally, having earned the right to move onto biographical territory, he told the story of his incarceration from his own perspective. It was touching and in many ways profound. With that, he moved onto a rousing conclusion.

To uproarious cheers, he implored America to 'fight with me, fight for what's right....stand up to defeat, stand up, stand up, stand up and fight...we are Americans, we never give up....we don't hide from history, we make history.....'

Obama's poll bounce is almost certain to deflate and there are some signs that it is doing so already. The media reaction to Sarah Palin's speech has been almost universally warm and excitable. It's slightly over the top given that it was actually a very thin speech and snide in parts. Her attack on Barack Obama's community organisation work is unforgivable. I've spoken with a lot of people who worked with Barack and knew him. His work in the 1980s still has a legacy today. His experiences will have shaped him and given him a deep understanding of the significant issues that America faces.

That aside, she is a new story and she can deliver a speech and that is enough for the media (which ironically is being criticised for being too hard on Sarah Palin!) It will not be enough as time goes on. I'm starting to feel a degree of empathy (as much as a British guy can do!) with your typical American mom who is expected to fall for Sarah Palin because she is a mom too. I can't imagine any more condescending notion.

Tonight's John McCain speech was infinitely better though. Formidable, patriotic, powerful, reformist, outreaching, there was no particular vision for the future but he asked for the people's forbearance based on his character and record. The question is whether the nation is willing to accept John McCain the anti-Republican. Barack Obama will need to fight for his life to ensure that, in his words, the Republicans 'own their own failure.'

Don't think that this is anything other than close. Has the game changed this week? Yes, to a degree the McCain campaign has repositioned its message to one focused on reform. Does he have the answers for a nation that is staggereing abroad and stumbling at home? Will the repositioning acquire credibility? The next few weeks will be the test of that.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Obama's Convention poll bounce

Obama is starting to bounce following a highly successful Democratic Convention. DailyKos reports a USA Today/Gallup poll that shows significant movement in the Senator's underlying ratings:

- A lead on the "strong and decisive leader" measure over McCain by 46%-44%.
- A 19% lead on handling the economy, slight lead on handling Iraq, narrowing of his deficit on combating terrorism.
- The 'experience' concern about Obama has narrowed by 7%.

Most polls are now showing that Obama's lead over McCain is widening again following a tough August. Meanwhile, the Republicans are having a hard time competing with Hurricane Gustav. There are two more hurricanes on the way for later in the week, likely to hit the key battleground state of Florida, where Obama recorded a poll lead a couple of days ago. 40million or so watched Obama's speech last Thursday. It will be difficult for McCain to attract the same interest if he is competing with extreme weather events.

Every storm cloud has a silver lining. At least it has kept George W Bush and Dick Cheney away from the Convention.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Change we can believe in

Or as a homeless person said to me in Denver:

"I believe in change. Can you spare some?"

The myth of McCain the maverick

As is constantly pointed out, people are not electing a Vice President this November. They are electing a President. In the case of John McCain that truism may be slightly less applicable than is normally the case. Putting morbid analysis to one side, what does the choice of Sarah Palin suggest about John McCain?

There is little doubt that the choice underscores his maverick status in the media but it does so in a rather superficial way. Sarah Palin is an outsider just as 'straight talk' McCain has positioned himself as a politician independent of his party.

Sarah Palin has indeed gone against her party machine, become a staggeringly popular Governor in Alaska, and shown herself capable of making strong decisions. Her outsider status is undeniable. John McCain's is laughable. He has voted with George W Bush over 90% of the time, he is a Senator of 22 years standing, 26 years in Congress in total. A military veteran of distinction, he now has adopted almost all of his party's orthodoxy across the gamut of social values, economic policy, foreign policy and everything in between and beyond with the one and slightly debatable exception of environmental policy. It is very difficult to imagine a more establishment figure.

Somehow, despite of all this, he still manages to maintain a maverick reputation. The selection of Sarah Palin indicates why. He gambles and the media love a gambler. There is no richer media content than an all-in poker play. That is exactly what this choice is.

The reality is that McCain is not a maverick at all. He is impulsive and there is a huge difference. This choice smacks of impulsiveness. It has superficial attractions that do not seem to hold water on closer inspection.

She is a woman so she will appeal to Hillary supporters is the basic and misguided underlying tactic behind this selection. She does but only if you ignore what she actually believes. Make no mistake, Sarah Palin is an attractive personality with a Hollywood-esque biography (if she doesn't become VP, I can see a movie of her story being made very soon but with her becoming President following a mishap to the President and going on to save the world from environmentalists or pro-choicers or some such.) The reality is though, her beliefs directly conflict with the vast bulk of Hillary supporters. She believes in placing creationism alongside evolution in schools (this should be enough to disqualify anyone from holding high office) and she is pro-life. As James Carville put it last night, there aren't many Pat Buchanan Hillary supporters.

Michael Murphy, the engaging and astute Republican strategist who worked for McCain in 2000 put it eloquently on Meet the Press this morning. His basic argument was that he would rather have more people loving McCain less, than fewer people loving him more. His fear is that Palin merely shores up the core vote. Those (few) Hillary supporters, male and female, who are more motivated by social conservatism than other issues, were likely to vote McCain anyway so there is no additional boost from Palin. Why they were voting Hillary in the first place, God only knows. Murphy feels that if the Obama campaign can get Palin on the issues rather than her biography and record, then it could actually swing other Hillary supporters to Obama.

So this impulsive choice, while seizing the news agenda spectacularly from Obama's incredible speech on Thursday evening, is likely to start to unravel unless Palin can produce some truly remarkable performances. The national gaze will be particularly on her performance in the field of foreign affairs and security.

The broader point is of greater concern, however. This impulsive side of John McCain's character is a highly unsuitable characteristic for a potential Commander-in-Chief. What if Kennedy had responded impulsively to the Cuban missile crisis? Or Carter/ Reagan to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan? McCain had only met Sarah Palin twice when he made his decision. The Obama campaign has begun to draw attention to McCain's 'temperament.' This decision is one more question mark over that temperament. Even if it ends up working out for him (and it could despite the likely outcome), the very process by which he made the decision suggests why it is not the greatest idea to have him in charge of the world's most powerful military.

We've just had one shoot from the hip President with disastrous consequences. The last thing we need is another. McCain the maverick is a mythical beast. McCain the impetuous is very real and in our midst.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

On the road from Denver

OK, not quite on the road. More like in Denver International waiting for a flight to Chicago. Hardly Jack Kerouac but never mind.

Politically, culturally, economically, Denver is a city that is confident in its place in the world. I was truly amazed to find, in the midst of a Convention, a city that has a laid back atmosphere, is one of the most welcoming places I've been, and a feel that suggests a self confidence to look forward and seize the new economy. Perhaps the Denver Art Museum, a Daniel Libeskind design reminiscent of an imperial battle ship in Star Wars, is the most potent symbol of the city's often understated but resolute confidence. Denver, Colorado gets it and this is in no small part due to the Governor, Bill Ritter Jr. See Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker this week on how Democrats have won this Western State.

In the upcoming Senate race, Democrat Mark Udall has an average seven point lead on his neo-liberal rival, Bob Shaffer in the seat vacated by Republican, Wayne Allard. More gains are therefore expected here come November. And, Obama has a full throttle campaign in Colorado that has him a squeak ahead of McCain but it's far too close to call. The West is a new battleground with its growing Latino population, latte drinking professional communities, and environmental concern. My, how the West can be won....

What is striking, watching TV ads for the various political races that are going on in Colorado currently is the degree to which the environmental agenda has taken hold. For both Republicans and Democrats environmental issues fuse economic progress, job creation, national security, and facing climate change. On the way to the relatively new Denver International Airport, you see fields of solar panels that power its operations. Bill Ritter Jr has been masterful in bringing environmental politics in from the green fringes to the definitive issue of the mainstream.

So now on to Chicago for me and some very interesting people to meet. I've already had a masterclass in Chicago politics while in Denver and now I'm going to see and hear things first hand.

I leave Denver with a sense of having been in this mile high city at one of its most historic times. Barack Obama leaves with his party largely in tact, his poll lead starting to bounce, and the near universal acclaim of the political and media classes. Ready? You bet. Fired up and ready to go.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Palin VP choice caps good week for Obama

I have no doubt that Sarah Palin, the Governor of Alaska and John McCain's choice for Vice President, has been under-estimated many more times than she cares to mention. By all accounts she is a strong Governor and very much an archetypal conservative in both her values and her economic approach.

The normal sort of superficial analysis about her being a woman so she'll appeal to women will abound. By adding her to his ticket, John McCain has undoubtedly given some of those wavering Hillary voters a reason to back him.

The real issue with some of these voters, men as well as women, is that they still harbour a resentment that their candidate, who they consider to have been the stronger candidate, was denied by inherent sexism in the primary process (both in the media and the Democratic party itself.) As if to confirm their indignation, already the US TV networks are reporting that there will be concerns that, having had a Down's Syndrome child just four months ago, is it wise for Sarah Palin to devote so much of her time to such a high profile position? Would a similar question be asked of a male candidate? Of course not, it is raw sexism, as simple as that.

So there is a tactical element to McCain's choice and it is a tactic that will reap some rewards. In my piece on The Indy website on Wednesday, I described the 'pragmatic unity' that has descended on the Democrats in Denver this week. Palin could well provide a reason for that unity to remain qualified and incomplete. The reality is though that the Hillary supporters who find a reason to vote McCain because Palin is on his ticket were probably already leaning strongly in that direction already. We may not be talking about many actual votes.

That there is little upside is part of the reason why the Obama campaign is very happy with the choice of Sarah Palin for VP. The major reason for their glee is that it actually looks like a spectacular own goal by McCain: it emphasises one of his own weaknesses while diminishing one of Barack Obama's weaknesses.

Like it or not, and this is where ageism comes into the equation, the VP choice of John McCain who is 72 today (Happy Birthday John!) assumes great significance. Whatever her personal qualities, Palin will be judged through the prism of what type of President would she make? The undercurrent to this, to put it bluntly, is McCain is old, what would his replacement be like if the worst were to happen? There's just no getting away from this.

The likely conclusion is that Palin is someone with exceedingly limited experience on the national and international stage. In one fell swoop, one of Obama's supposed weaknesses is diminished. Conversely, his choice of Joe Biden, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, reduced an Obama negative- the way it should work.

That is why Obama's campaign is saying that experience is now off the table. If McCain is saying that Sarah Palin is capable of being President and ready for the job, then on what basis can the Republicans question Obama's experience? She is younger, less experienced, and has not demonstrated any particular perspective on foreign or security issues. Her experience simply does not even begin to compare with Senator Obama's who has been an active legislator, national voice and strategic thinker on these issues since he emerged on the national stage.

Nowhere will her lack of experience be more exposed than in the Vice Presidential debates against the formidable Joe Biden. She will perform better than expectations because Republicans will try manage expectations down just as Democrats try to massage them upwards. The fact that they will have to do that further emphasises the weakness of this choice. As long as Biden doesn't fall into the trap of condescending her, he should easily get the better of the debates.

There is a need for exceptional discipline amongst Democrats on this but as long as they stick to the issues then the focus will now shift to McCain and his running mate- no throwing the first punch in other words. There are already reports of an investigation into an 'abuse of power' by Palin's office in Alaska which is a diversion but could gather force. More fundamentally, Palin affords McCain few benefits but comes at a potentially high cost.

Post Script: The concerns about Obama's rally last night becoming a 'Sheffield Rally' moment have been comprehensively allayed. The event, which I was fortunately able to attend (thanks to Linda Randall who is 'Linda' in Obama's book, Dreams from my Father) was magnificent and not only because it was the first time that I have seen Stevie Wonder live. Across the political spectrum, the event at Mile High Stadium seems to have been regarded a success. After a slow start, the Democratic Convention has built to a powerful crescendo.

Post script 2: David Gergen, a Republican who advised Bill Clinton, has just described the Democrats as having come out of their Convention with a 'roar.' On Palin, he said that the first rule of selecting a Vice President is to do no harm. He left the question hanging as to whether the choice of Palin constitutes a negative for McCain so initial reaction to this selction is muted at very best.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Politics Chicago style

I had the opportunity to catch up with some of Chicago's top political operators this morning. We were chatting about politics and the fact that all political careers end in failure. 'Not in Chicago they don't,' one replied. 'In Chicago, all political careers end in prison.'

Looking forward to catching up with a few more of Chicago's political elite next week.

Making McCain yesterday's man

An article I had on the Indy website today:


Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Englewood, Denver, Colorado

Having just arrived in Denver, I literally had a chance to check into my room before Michelle Obama's speech started. It was a quite incredible performance drawing on her South Chicago heritage, the determination of her family to strive and succeed, and emphasising the motivational force of her family in her life.

Modern US presidential elections are a family affair nowadays and have been so since Kennedy's time. Already, the pundits are comparing Michelle Obama's performance to Nancy Reagan's in 1980. Gosh, if his wife is going to produce such a brilliantly pitched and performed speech then Barack Obama is going to have to go off the scale on Thursday.

There will be a huge volume of blogging from a variety of UK bloggers in Denver over the next few days. I'll try to add what I can if it's of interest. I'm over in the States for a few weeks and I'll see how it goes blogging wise. All will become clear.....

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Is George Osborne having a laugh? Revisited

The figures that he used to claim that Britain was more unequal now than in Victorian times are utter nonsense apparently:


At least that is in keeping with the vacuous argument of the rest of the article. Oh dear.

England and GB's sporting prowess

The Guardian headlines, 'John Terry fits Fabio Capello's bill to lead a side that plays with fearless spirit and big personality.' And ends up on its backside presumably....

But no, the days of self-deprecation and cynicism are behind us. There shall be no negativity as the British cycling team, I mean Team GB, sweeps all before it in Beijing.

If all our sporting teams are not a national joke, then what could possibly take their place? We don't watch sport to win. We watch it to complain.

Seriously, thrilled about the Olympics performance. Not convinced about Capello's England which for some inexplicable reason still contains David Beckham.

Is George Osborne having a laugh?

It is genuinely intriguing to see George Osborne argue that the Tories are now the real 'progressives' as he does in an article in the The Guardian today. If the Tories want to seize the 'progressive' mantle (whatever that may mean) let them stake their claim.

I can only imagine that George Osborne decided to take the michael out the The Guardian in the article he has actually written. Perhaps he agreed to do something on being a 'progressive' then realised he had no argument so just thought he would throw down whatever came into his head at the time onto a piece of paper. The article is as thin as tracing paper and just as transparent.

Without conducting a line by line analysis because it really is not worth the time and effort, a couple of gems stick out:

- 'The free market economy is the fairest way of rewarding people for their efforts.' Really? Then why, as he states elsewhere in his article, do we have the widest income inequality since Victorian times (in fact, we don't. See here)? Or is that fair? If so, how exactly is that 'progressive'?
- 'The target driven, top-down, statist approach pioneered by David Miliband.' Now, now George, you know full well that this is in no way, shape or form a description of Labour's economic policy.

The really fascinating thing about this article is that, for all the talk of freedom and fairness, absolutely nowhere does Mr Osborne spell out how this would be reflected in a Conservative programme. Taxing nondoms and (the right to request) flexible working for both parents hardly constitute earth moving philosophical manoeuvres no matter how desirable they are as policies. How are we to come to any other conclusion than this is just thinly veiled political positioning?

Rather shamelessly, George Osborne also writes the Thatcher/Major years out of history. They were hardly defined by their 'fairness'. That is, unless we are defining fairness as whatever the free market throws out. In which case you can define anything as anything. A dog becomes a giraffe, defeat becomes triumph, rain becomes sunshine.

What this article underlines is that the Conservatives are getting away with mind-blowing superficiality. Rather like George Bush's 'compassionate conservatism', these ideas would be blown away in the first gust that comes along should they be in Government.

If I was George Osborne, I would be worrying myself about the fact that I had completely dropped the ball on Northern Rock and the fact that I was leaving my party woefully exposed by failing to develop a credible alternative economic strategy. It can only be a mark of his closeness to David Cameron that he hasn't been moved off the economic brief. If the alternative is to make him Chairman of the Conservative party, then this article demonstrates his limitations as a political attack dog also.

McCain ahead for the first time

The Real Clear Politics electoral vote projection (top left) is showing a 274-264 lead for McCain. With a couple of exceptions, the electoral map now bears a striking similarity to Kerry/Edwards result in 2004 (and Gore/Lieberman in 2000.) For all the talk of a fifty state strategy, a 270 electoral vote strategy is the bottom line.

There are strong rumours swirling around that Obama will announce his running mate today. I have signed up for the mobile alert so I'll definitely be the first to know along with millions of others and the entire media and blogosphere. I'll post it when I have it unless loads of other people have posted it already in which case what's the point?

The state by state narrowing of the polls must be of grave concern. One state where McCain has flipped into a lead is Ohio. Which of the potential running mates could bring more of the middle class white vote to Obama in states like Ohio?

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

The race narrows

McCain has had a good August. He's managed to keep the campaign dynamic tilted towards his issues (energy and security), he had a good showing at Saddleback Church (in front of a friendly audience it has to be said, particularly on the issue of abortion), and he seems to have landed a couple of punches on Obama. In other words, the Democratic Convention in Denver is massively significant for Obama's campaign.

David Gergen
, a Republican who worked as an advisor to Bill Clinton, also notes the narrowing of the national gap and a few key states moving into McCain's column. Colorado, Virginia, and Ohio are all headed in that direction.

Often, insurgent candidates face the same issue, they tear ahead in the early stages but then get ground down in a long marathon fight. Obama has to recall the insurgency spirit that he kindled early in this year. He is unlikely to grind out a victory. He has to seize one. The next weeks are critical.

The Real Clear Politics election counter (top left) has narrowed to a 275-263 Obama victory.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Policy Exchange insults our intelligence

It seems that we have got Policy Exchange's argument all wrong. Actually the report is a complete damp squib as explained by the report's Editor on Conservativehome.

All they were saying is that Oxford, Cambridge and London are more wealthy than some northern towns. It's amazing what the nation's best and brightest can come up with when they really put their minds to it.

This demonstrates that regeneration policy has failed. OK, there is the small fact that many of the towns they discuss have actually improved immeasurably. But unless they catch up with the nation's wealthiest that's irrelevant they are saying. They deny that they are recommending that people should desert the north for the south. It's not about north and south you understand, the examples they gave of relative decline just happened to be in the north and the examples they gave of success just happened to be southern.

It just won't wash. Let's not ignore the fact that one of the report's authors was on television all day on Wednesday telling people that if they wanted to get rich they should leave Liverpool for London. Moreover, it may be that Oliver Marc Hartwich hasn't read the report he edited, but it states quite clearly in the executive summary (p5):

"There is no realistic prospect that our regeneration towns and cities can converge with London and the South East. There is, however, a very real prospect of encouraging significant numbers of people to move from those towns to London and the South East."

Mr Hartwich, I'm going to assume that you have read you report that names you as the Editor. On the basis of that assumption, I am going to request that you stop digging and stop insulting our intelligence.

This Policy Exchange report is insane (David Cameron's word), utterly vacuous, and deliberately offensive. The organisation has an incredible amount of work to do to regain any sort of reputation. If I was them, I would look to understand why they are receiving all these angry emails and issue an apology for a completely ridiculous argument that was designed to provoke. Provoke and anger it did and if Policy Exchange can't understand why then they really do not have a hope.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Liverpool 2 Cameron 0

I just enjoyed Jimmy Corkhill, aka Dean Sullivan, give an absolute thrashing to the author of a rather silly report by Cameron's favourite think tank, Policy Exchange on Sky News. On the ridiculously thin premise that you will not become as wealthy in Liverpool as you will in London, it recommends moving south. Well, they've got the headlines that they crave. Enjoy the whirlwind.

Mr Sullivan pointed out in glorious Liverpool sunshine (it's miserable here in London) that the city is regenerating and has a very rosy future. It's a fantastic place to live and there's more to life than City of London style incomes. All sensible stuff that your average economist would miss. And all absolutely true.

Perhaps it's time for a Boris Johnson style mea culpa from Cameron? I'm sure Radio City would give him all the air time he needs.

Vince Cable's perverse economics...revisited

I got into a discussion last week about the housing market in a post entitled 'Vince Cable's perverse economics.' There are two different strategies that can be pursued towards the housing market at this stage. You can kick start mortgage lending and promote house building, which is broadly the Government's approach. Or you can go the way of Vince Cable and insist on a return to the mortgage market of twenty plus years ago, lending no more than three times annual income in order to deliberately engineer a collapse in house prices.

Vince Cable's approach is recklessly masochistic. The collapse in house prices that would be necessary to make housing affordable for first time buyers on a three times income basis would push 100,000s into negative equity, repossession and back into the private rental market having lost their deposit. This is regardless of the fact that multiples greater than three times annual income can be afforded (if they can't be afforded then the mortgage shouldn't be agreed.) How do I know it can be afforded? Because people, particularly in the South East and London, are already paying rent that is higher than a three times annual income mortgage!

Luckily the Government is going a different way. They are looking at further measures to rebuild liquidity of wholesale capital markets to ensure that good and affordable mortgages remain available according to The Times this morning. It is the wide availability of affordable mortgages and an increase in housing supply with a range of shared ownership options that gives more first time buyers the opportunity to get on the housing ladder.

Lib Dems complain that they can't get their message across in the media. On this issue it is a blessing rather than a curse.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Hillary Clinton- the fall of a dead cert

It still seems incredible that Hillary Clinton lost the race for the Democratic nomination when she was a dead cert. Memos leaked to The Atlantic magazine show why. It shows a campaign bedevilled by infighting, strategically confused and inept, bleeding cash like a sub-prime mortgage lender, and, quite incredibly, lacking any sort of ground game to put even this spectacularly weak campaign into play.

On every level, the Clinton campaign was a monumental failure. Interestingly, the candidate herself comes out of it slightly (very slightly) better than her campaign team. Mark Penn improves his performance but his first moves are so flawed- targeting her 'base' only, running HRC as an inevitable candidate- that it is impossible to exonerate him.

The most incredible document in the batch is Geoff Garin's rebuke to a senior staffer for failing to follow the basic line of command. This was not an early shot across the bows. It was a reassertion of the campaign organisation that was necessary as late as April of this year. At every level in the campaign's Centcom were personalities who were incapable of uniting for a higher cause. Despite the candidate sounding like the voice of reason from time to time, this was her team and her leadership at stake. Ultimately, she bore the consequences but she also has to shoulder responsibility for the shambles.

How on earth did Obama beat the Clinton machine? Well, it wasn't so much of a machine after all. It was a legacy with no engine.

Windfall tax to fight fuel poverty

I have signed up to support the Compass statement on levying a windfall tax on energy and oil companies. Have a read of the statement to see whether you can support it too.

There are practical issues that are still being looked at: how do you ensure that the windfall doesn't feed straight into further price increases? What impact will such a windfall tax have on investment (most particularly in grid upgrades and renewable energy)?

However, the idea of creaming off excess and supernormal profits and using them to help families afford increases in fuel bills as well as improving the environmental efficiency of their homes is one that I support in principle.


A few people have been moaning at me for calling my blog e8voice. From now on, I am shedding my Prince-esque pseudo-anonymity. I'm not even going to bother with a 'blog formerly known as e8voice' phase. I'm going straight to the 'Anthony Painter' era. I may even put up a picture soon. The blog can be seen at both of the following addresses:




John McCain, the new Barry Goldwater?

Perhaps the only time that the Democrats have managed to turn national security on the Republicans since the Second World War has been in the 1964 election. Lyndon B Johnson, perhaps a more interesting President than any other in modern history, ruthlessly exploited comments made by his Republican opponent, the unapologetically right-wing, Barry Goldwater, about the virtue of extremism (in the defence of liberty.) Here are Goldwater's comments at the 1964 Republican National Convention that created the opening:

Johnson, in one of the most famous election ads of all time, responded with the daisy girl ad:

Johnson, despite his formidable domestic record, in the same league as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was ultimately responsible for the disastrous escalation of the Vietnam War. That was a war in a far off land that only gradually came home, hooked to the body bags and the trauma of returning US troops. Tony Judt advances a forceful argument that differences in European and American attitudes to war can be explained in part by the cultural difference of having experienced war in your own land.

The daisy girl ad brought war home. In a way, it was an omen of what was to follow in Vietnam; a symbol of the coming loss of innocence. In 1964 though, it warned Americans of the consequences of a bellicose approach to the Cold War and placed those consequences in their very own back yard. It brought foreign policy home and that is the root of its effectiveness.

So could the Obama campaign do a daisy girl on McCain rather like the following clip has done?

There is no doubt that John McCain has said some pretty silly things. Equally, there is no doubt that on foreign policy, John McCain occupies the same space as George W Bush. If anything, there are greater concerns over McCain. However, there is one major difference between then and now.

In the video clip above, Scott Ritter tries to warn us that an attack on Iran would result in some undefined retaliation on a US city. It is unconvincing. If America was still facing the Soviet Union then that risk would be ever present. America is in grave danger of making the world more hostile to it rather than less under McCain but annihilation is not the risk that is faced. In the early 1960s, particularly after the drama and trepidation of the Cuban missile crisis, nuclear war was a real and ever present danger. Goldwater's rhetoric was easily turned back on him.

The same tactic wouldn't work with McCain and would be seen as the politics of desperation. The above video shows why. Its point is an absolutely genuine one but it all feels a bit contrived (stop with the Star Wars music, please!) What's more, to launch such a Johnson-esque attack could undermine Obama's message of change. You can get away with this sort of thing sometimes if you are President but not if you are a challenger candidate such as Obama.

There's no short cut here. Barack Obama is just going to have to demonstrate his knowledge, judgement and temperament to be Commander-in-Chief painstakingly over the next few months. McCain may provide him with more gifts such as '100 years in Iraq' or maybe he will even have a Goldwater moment. If that happens, the media will do the job for him. He should argue, rebut, explain, but above all else keep a cool head and show that he is a leader. That way he will not play into his opponent's hands.

David Davis, where are you?

He's been quiet but we know he's there. After his alter-ego, David Davis, barnstormingly defended each and every person's liberty in the revolution of Haltemprice and Howden, the swashbuckling skills of Libertyman have finally been called upon once again. The notorious villain, Grieve Goblin, has proposed removing checks and balances from police surveillance operations. He has got hold of the most destructive weapon known to man: 'common sense.' With 'common sense' in his possession, can the world possible fight to see another day?

Surely with the help of Libertyman, the Grieve Goblin can be defeated. Where is he? He promised us that he would never desert us. Surely he won't let us down in our hour of need?

Greive Goblin reassures us that 'most of the surveillance operations that would be affected by the rule change could not "reasonably" be seen as interfering with people's privacy.' Phew, glad that's cleared that one up then. 'Most' is good enough for me, I'm a 'common sense' kind of guy.

You see, the Grieve Goblin's powers of persuasion backed up by his 'common sense' arsenal are already having an effect. Libertyman, your hour has come.

Post script: Bob Piper has just posted the same thing (without the silly super hero references.)

Monday, 11 August 2008

Be the first to know....

Amaze your friends, demonstrate your alpha status, be the coolest thing since when we had an Arctic Circle, be the first with the news about who Barack Obama's VP nominee is. Sign up here.

I know already of course. It's Evan Bayh. I mean Tim Kaine. I mean John Edwards. Er, maybe not...

But forget the VP nomination. Who on earth is Angelina going to back? Forget Bill's strops Obama, get on the Jolie case. 9 out of 10 Brads can't be wrong.

Post script: Can't resist linking to Hopi Sen's foray into the world of vlogging and You Tube. Someone give this guy a book deal. And a TV series.

Friday, 8 August 2008

The Obama-McCain battleground

Remember them: Colorado, Virginia, Ohio, and New Hampshire. They are the 'pure toss-up' states. According to MSNBC's Chuck Todd, Obama just needs one of Virginia, Ohio and Indiana to win as things stand.

It is also worth bearing in mind that while the national polls vacillate between a very narrow lead of a point for McCain and five to six points for Obama, state by state the polls are showing more stability. That's why The Real Clear Politics election counter (which allocates all states and you can see at the top left of this blog) has been steady for a few weeks now. Good news for Obama is the avalanche of new voter registrations in Ohio and Virginia.

How does this play into Obama's VP choice? Well, Virginia is a pure toss-up state and Tim Kaine, its Governor, should he be VP nominee could tip it for Obama. Then there's Indiana, which should be a slam-dunk for McCain, but is only leaning in his direction. Could Evan Bayh be the man to tip it in the opposite direction? In other words, the electoral map gives us no clue as to which way Senator Obama may go. Sorry.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Tory confusion on family policy

I was reading a rather confused and defensive article on Conservativehome this morning (yes, I am a voyeur) about the clash at the top of the Tory party between David Cameron and George Osborne about 'family policy.'

Once or twice the article flips between family and marriage as if they were inter-changeable terms. In fact, the entire article seems to be talking about marriage but keeps referring to 'family' instead. No-one, left, right or otherwise believes that the tax and benefits system should not recognise family. It does and in a major way. Labour has expanded support for families through tax credits and child benefits. This is a very good thing.

It seems to me that Conservatives are not engaged in a row about 'family' at all. They are engaged in a row about marriage and whether that should be recognised in the tax system. There are many families, many very successful families that do not have a married couple at their core. Does this mean that marriage is irrelevant? No, we should support marriage as it does provide a wider base of support to children.

Should the tax system recognise marriage? No actually for two reasons. Why should the children who are in non married families be penalised just because of their circumstances? That is wrong. Just as importantly, other than through enormous levels of compensation, it is unlikely that the tax system will have anything other than a negligible effect on whether people get married and even less an effect on whether they can stay together. These are personal and emotional issues.

There is a case for looking at the impact that marriage has on the taxes that people pay and benefits they are able to claim. If there is a negative impact of marriage or even cohabitation on the income that people are able to secure then that needs to be looked at. While the tax system won't promote marriage in any meaningful way, nor should it penalise it.

I'm afraid I agree with George Osborne (and the Labour Government!) not David Cameron: marriage is good, we should celebrate it, but we can't promote it through the tax system, certainly not without penalising children who happen not to have married parents. That is unjust.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Latinos go for Obama

Back in February I wrote a piece for Tribune about the trouble that Barack Obama was having with the Latino vote. It seems that Latino voters are now strongly headed in his direction. A survey by Pew Hispanic Center shows that Latino voters are now favour Barack Obama by 66% to 23%. Of the two thirds of Latino voters who were backing Hillary in the primaries, 75% have already switched to Barack Obama.

Inevitably, the issue of immigration comes to the fore when discussing the Latino vote. I had the opportunity when I was in the states to speak to Latino voters, community organisers and political campaigners. It was clear from them that immigration is a very simplistic prism through which to view these communities (we are not talking a socio-demographic monolith here) who have the normal complex array of concerns and issues.

Actually, immigration is partly a subset of wider economic concerns. The reason these communities tended to back Hillary was that they saw the Clinton years as economically prosperous. These communities have a strong political solidarity and loyalty so they stuck with Senator Clinton in the primaries. However, McCain's tack right on immigration reform from his earlier more liberal stance, has harmed him in this group.

Why does the Hispanic vote matter? They are now the largest ethnic minority voting group (see an excellent report from New Democratic Network to see the significance.) They are concentrated in electorally interesting ways. For example, they are relatively large numbers of Latino voters in states such as Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada, all states that the Republicans would be expected to win. Explosively, all three of these states are now 'toss up' states.

So it would appear that John McCain is trapped in a classic pincer movement. His white, conservative vote wants to see a tougher line on immigration, but this is repellent to the Latino vote. This is a terrible situation for McCain. It is also one that could cost him electoral votes come November. The Democrats have already started to win Governorships in surprising places. That could be followed by electoral votes in states in which they haven't been competitive since the civil rights movement.