Sunday, 5 April 2015

The Liberal-Tories Problem After The Leaders Debate

Just to begin with, I thought that Miliband hit it out of the ball park in the ITV Leaders' Debate. I thought his performance was much better than in the Sky/Channel 4 event. Miliband looked relaxed, and to be enjoying himself, he was on top of all the material, and didn't get drawn into a slanging match with anyone. If anything, he looked like the elder statesmen standing above it all, which was the position Cameron had hoped to achieve, in insisting on this format. In fact, the general chaos that Cameron hoped for – rather like the mayhem that surrounds a normal Prime Minister's Question Time – didn't happen. But, the debate showed that the Liberal-Tories now have a real problem.

They have relied on being able to attack Ed Miliband, and the fact that he has polled significantly worse than the party for some time, mostly because the Tory media have carried out a character assassination programme against him ever since he became leader. But, now Miliband came out on top in the first event, and he at least matched Cameron, in the second. The early snap polls suggested that either Miliband had won, matched Cameron, or else that Nicola Sturgeon had won. Its this last that poses a further problem for the Liberal-Tories.

The other strand of the Tories attack against Labour is the suggestion that Labour would spend and borrow more, with the implication that this would be bad rather than good for the economy. In fact, the message seems to be getting out, from a number of sources, including within the ranks of sections of capital, and its ideologues, themselves that austerity has been a very bad and destructive idea, and that what is required, at the moment, is not austerity, but a fiscal stimulus.

The Liberal-Tory attack on Labour as spenders, therefore, looks increasingly shaky as a tactic, and the fact that on one poll Sturgeon, who was the most forthright, in advocating an end to austerity, and the introduction of such a fiscal stimulus, came out on top, seriously undermines the wisdom of the Liberal-Tories in continuing to defend and promote austerity. The Tories hoped to promote the idea that a minority Labour Government would have to rely on support from the SNP, and be hostage, therefore, to its policy of opposition to austerity, and an end to Trident. Now it appears, that the people of Britain, not just Scotland, are not at all put off by such a message!

Far from the Tory strategy of trying to scare the English voters with the idea of a UK government being led to have to implement more radical policies, the English voters themselves seem to like such an idea. There is a clear message for Labour there too, just as there is from the failure of a timid social democracy in France, compared with the advance of a more masculine social democracy in Greece and Spain, in the shape of Syriza and Podemos.

Nick Clegg, despite his early attempt to provide some artificial distance between himself and his associate Cameron, found himself trapped. Time and again, he was forced to try to defend the indefensible, in terms of the record of the Liberal-Tory government, and its failed economic policies, despite huge attacks on workers' living standards over the last five years. Time and again, the fact that we now have not a Liberal Democrat Party and a Tory Party, but essentially a Liberal-Tory Party, was shown by his suggestion that voters must vote to continue the policies adopted over the last five years. He sounded like many old, right-wing Labour councillors I heard, back in the 1980's, who pleaded, at selection meetings, to be allowed to finish the work they had started – even though many of them were in their late 70's or 80's, had been councillors for decades, and had achieved nothing good during all that time!

What Clegg was really calling for was a vote for a continuation of the Liberal-Tory government, and the reactionary policies it has pursued for the last five years. But, Clegg, clearly has a bigger problem than Cameron. Not only are the Liberals going to get wiped out at the election – I think the suggestion they might get 26 MP's is grossly optimistic – but Clegg's message is itself unbelievable. His message echoes that of the Tories that Labour are a party of borrowers and spenders, his sound bite is neither a lurch to the right under the Tories, nor a lurch to the left under Labour, so his call is really a pathetic plea for voters to allow him and his cohorts to continue propping up the Tories, in the hope that they can restrain the Tories from pursuing right-wing policies, in a way they have not been able to do over the last five years.

But, no one seriously believes that an Ed Miliband Labour government represents a lurch to the Left! In fact, the Leaders Debate that Cameron wanted, if he had to endure one at all, by bringing on to the stage, Plaid Cymru, the SNP, and the Greens illustrated that very point, as their leaders pointed out the rather timid proposals of Labour. What is worse, for Clegg, as for Cameron, is the fact that having heard the leaders of those parties put forward their arguments against austerity, and for a policy of fiscal stimulus to restore the economy that the Liberal-Tories have destroyed, over the last five years, the voters seem to have liked it!

In the next debate, the Liberal-Tories will be hoping that absent Cameron-Clegg, these other parties will gang up on Miliband as the only representative there of one of the main parties. That will only emphasise Miliband's position as being precisely that, the only candidate who has the potential to replace the Liberal-Tories. It strengthens his position as the main challenger. But, ahead of that debate, the results of the polling from the Leaders Debate, should also show Labour something else.

Miliband has felt for some time that, ever since the 2010 financial crisis, there has been a shift in sentiment of the UK population. The polling from the debate seems to confirm it. There appears to have been a shift to the Left, and so far, Labour is not properly reflecting it. There is considerable scope for Labour before the next debates, to shift its position further to the Left. That would seem to give it the potential both to pick up additional voters, attracted to a more robust position, as well as cutting off some of the line of attack of the SNP and Greens.

Labour should make no deals with these other parties, who will have to support a minority Labour government either way. Labour should simply suck the oxygen out of the space they occupy. But, if things continue on their current trajectory, the Liberal-Tories look like they are likely to go into further decline, leaving the potential for a majority Labour Government, on May 8th.

No comments: