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:

http://blogs.independent.co.uk/openhouse/2008/08/making-mccain-y.html

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:

http://blogs.independent.co.uk/openhouse/2008/08/by-john-rento-1.html

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.

Unmasked

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:

http://www.e8voice.blogspot.com/

or

http://www.anthonypainter.co.uk

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.