Shorten As Bad As “A Steaming Pile Of Fudge:” Costa

THE FALLOUT from Labor “leader” Bill Shorten’s vapid budget reply last week goes on, with ALP identity and former NSW Treasurer Michael Costa declaring Shorten’s “leadership” finished and unflatteringly comparing him to beaten British Labour leader Ed Miliband, whose policies were likened by a Blair-era Labour strategist to “a steaming pile of fudge.” No more than an evasive union puppet, Shorten has become the Liberal Party’s star asset.

In the aftermath of the Abbott government’s second budget — light on economic virtue, perhaps, but far better received politically than its disastrous first effort, and calibrated at least to stimulate economic activity without the incursion of tens of billions of extra debt, a la Wayne Swan — the best critique to date of opposition “leader” Bill Shorten’s contribution to the budget debate has come from perhaps an unlikely (if prescient) quarter, and remarks by former NSW Treasurer Michael Costa bring that missive to the attention of this column this morning.

We spoke last week about Shorten’s reply to that budget, which left him exposed as nothing more than an economic Neanderthal, wrecker, and political thug who — just like his party — cares solely for power, not people, and it seems that just like his trendy Lefty deputy Tanya Plibersek, others in Labor’s ranks are realising and/or declaring publicly that not only can Shorten not lead the ALP back to office, but that the party’s offering to the public under his vacuous stewardship heralds little appeal to the cynical voters Shorten nevertheless expects to propel him into The Lodge.

This morning’s article is intended only as a discussion point, for I will — other commitments permitting — be back tonight to talk about other aspects of Australia’s political Left, and the Labor approach as it stands to attempting to reclaim government whenever the next federal election is held.

But the intervention of former NSW Treasurer and ALP strongman Michael Costa is a telling one, for Costa is not known for any penchant for gifting the Liberals a free kick; Costa’s message — that Shorten has presided over the hijacking and control of the Labor Party by unions that have pushed the party dangerously to the Left, and that the ALP’s message to the public is now an uninviting one indeed — is not only accurate, but reflects intensifying scrutiny within Labor ranks of a “leadership” that seems increasingly likely to guide the party to a second consecutive shattering defeat.

His declaration that Shorten’s “failure” to respond appropriately to Australia’s debt and deficits problem (a direct creation of the last Labor government) has shattered the party’s economic credibility is highly damaging to Shorten, and his description of his “leader” as an advocate of “kindergarten Keynesianism” — whilst amusing if you sit on the same side of the political fence as I do — is a viciously correct assessment of precisely what Labor stands for under the redoubtable Shorten.

Yet it is his comparison of Shorten to Ed Miliband — the leader of British Labour who this month led that party to its worst election result since 1987, when it suffered the second of two near-wipeout losses against former PM Margaret Thatcher — that is most telling.

About a year ago, an adviser to former British Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown rounded on Miliband (known colloquially in England as “Red Ed”), declaring the now-former leader’s policies to be tantamount to “a steaming pile of fudge;” his argument, which will seem all too familiar to those who keep a weather eye on Shorten, was that Miliband’s leadership of Labour was “dysfunctional” and had given the British public no reason to vote for it.

I’d encourage readers to take the time to read that last article I’ve linked, detailing as it does former Labour adviser Damien McBride’s critique of Miliband; it was a warning summarily dismissed by the British Labour leader’s cabal of insiders, but as the general election result three weeks ago proved, it was unerringly astute.

It might as well have been written to describe Shorten. The parallels between both the two leaders and the situations they face/d against relatively unpopular first-term conservative governments elected in part to fix the damage caused by their own parties are striking.

None of this will trouble Shorten, of course, who it seems has responded to Costa by noting the latter provided support for Shorten’s tilt at the Labor leadership after the 2013 election loss.

Support and loyalty in Shorten’s view, it seems, is a one-way street, for whilst it is clear he apparently expects an initial declaration of loyalty to remain beyond review where his own tenure is concerned — and the response to Costa clearly shows it — his own record of disloyalty to and sabotage of his colleagues (including the serial knifing of two Labor Prime Ministers) shows he labours under no perceived obligation to return the favour in like kind.

It is the gradual realisation that Shorten is unelectable and the withdrawal of support for his leadership that will eventually salvage the ALP’s prospects, if it is backed by reasoned, realistic policy positions that appeal to the majority of voters, and to that end Shorten Labor can and should be viewed as the provision of a one-way ticket to nowhere for his beleaguered party.

In the meantime, chalk Costa’s intervention up as simply the latest senior ALP figure to (rightly) withdraw their support for Shorten. Many more will follow.

The comparison to Miliband is both accurate and devastating, but it won’t register one jot with Shorten, who remains committed to peddling his very own “steaming pile of fudge.”

In Miliband’s case, that particular endeavour ended in tears, humiliating defeat, and bitter recriminations.

Shorten’s own date with a similar destiny draws closer by the day.


UK: Narrow Tory Win A Victory For Common Sense And Right

DAVID CAMERON defied polls, pundits, and the predictions of many — including, to a slight degree, myself — to pull off a clear but narrow outright victory in Thursday’s British election; the result is a reward for five years of sound stewardship and represents the logical outcome of good governance but poses risks for the Tories: even so, the Left has been divided, the Liberal Democrats annihilated, and Tories must be favoured to win again in 2020.

I had intended to posit on the excellent outcome of Thursday’s election in the UK on Friday night, Melbourne time, but time — as readers know too well — has been in short supply of late; this is a situation that will continue for the foreseeable future, and with other issues backing up and more (like the budget) looming, we’ll talk briefly on this tonight and keep moving.

But as was the case recently in New Zealand, the stunning majority win by Britain’s Conservative Party has provided proof — were more required — that enough voters in enough seats are open to embracing a reasonably authentic conservative agenda of smaller government, lower taxes, incentives for families and business, strong national defences, and limited and far more tightly targeted welfare programs that serve as a genuine safety net and not as some divine right of entitlement: and, when coupled with economic growth (in Britain’s case, the fastest of any developed economy, including Australia’s) all of this adds up to a powerful case for election provided that case is adequately and competently made and prosecuted.

In this sense, the Tory win in the UK carries lessons for conservatives in the US, Canada, and especially here in Australia, as a hapless and trouble-prone Liberal government prepares to deliver a make-or-break second budget next week (to remedy the politically apocalyptic mess it made of its first) and which approaches the two-third waypoint of its first term with re-election far from a certainty.

I must confess that I thought a majority was beyond the reach of the Conservative Party; not just on account of the closeness of the polls, or the relatively low share of the vote they projected for the Tories, but because — on an orthodox reading of the British political landscape — the Conservatives simply didn’t seem able to establish the sort of simple plurality over Labour required to come in with half the seats.

I thought the Tories would win about 290 seats with a floor at the 280 mark, and with the possibility of a “surge” that might get them close at 310-315 seats, but not quite close enough.

But this was no orthodox election in the UK, as we’ll see shortly, and whilst I note the outraged blather emanating from the Greens, UKIP (and to a lesser extent Labour and the Liberal Democrats) over the Tories winning a majority on 37.1% of the votes cast, I also note there was no such outrage emanating from any of those quarters in 2005 when Labour under Tony Blair scored a 66-seat majority on 36% (and the Tories finishing that election on 32% — almost two points better than Labour managed this time — with 35 seats fewer than Labour won on Thursday).

So first things first: the outraged hypocrisy of the also-rans should be ignored; it is typical of the Greens especially that having won fewer than one vote in 25 cast they nonetheless now bang the table demanding seats in Parliament as a reward for the pathetic and unattractive platform offered to and rejected by the overwhelming majority of British electors.

The Tory Party has finished with 331 seats (+25 from 2010) to 232 for Labour (-26), 8 (-49) for the Lib-Dems, 56 (+50) for the Scottish Nationalist Party, and 23 “Others” (including one for the United Kingdom Independence Party): it adds up to a slim but serviceable majority of 12 for the Conservatives over all other parties, and in the circumstances is a triumph.

The simple truth of a first past the post electoral system is that whoever puts together the most votes in a given constituency wins that seat — which is how it should be — and in the UK, any change to that arrangement was emphatically rejected at a referendum just a few years ago. Britons voted decisively against an Australian-style preferential voting system, and that was absolutely the correct result, and here in Australia any attempt to move away from preferential voting and back toward the FPTP system the system was created with in the first place should be welcomed, encouraged, and implemented as quickly as it can be legislated.

But for all of that, Conservatives now face a further five years in office, barring defections, by-election losses or a split in the Tory Party bringing David Cameron’s government down; it is important to note however that whilst the result of the election was clear, it was by no means a landslide or otherwise a thumping win, and this reality should stay very much top of mind as the Tories go about the business of their second term in office.

To illustrate the point, I note the win on Thursday was weaker (in both seats won, the resulting majority, and the proportion of the vote secured) than all four election wins achieved by the Conservative Party under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, including the surprise come-from-behind victory recorded by Major in April 1992.

Even so, Cameron is now able to get on with the business of implementing Conservative policies in full control of the House of Commons, and unencumbered by the retarding influence of the Lib-Dem partners whose party has now been comprehensively trounced and virtually wiped out.

There are a lot of lessons here for the Abbott government, which has laboured under the dead weight of poor advice and strategic and tactical ineptitude, to say nothing of the morally criminal antics of a bitterly hostile Senate; Australia’s Liberals might not be able to do anything about the state of the Senate without an election, but Cameron’s Tories have at least demonstrated there is a way to build sufficient public support to carry an electoral mandate when the opportunity eventuates.

In many respects, the Cameroon agenda is little different to that of the Liberal Party here: structural repair of a gaping budget deficit, starting work on repaying state sector debt that in Britain ballooned to £1.5tn under Labour; tightening and restricting welfare payments to the genuinely disadvantaged, and capping the amount of benefits paid per household; cutting taxes on personal and business incomes; providing incentives for enterprise, home ownership and working families; securing Britain’s defences through the renewal of the Trident nuclear missile deterrent; and so forth.

It’s an agenda that has seen Britain — unique among a sea of basket cases and stagnant neighbours in Europe — begin to boom; and it’s an agenda that has been astutely packaged, explained and sold by a slick and brutally effective Tory communications unit that makes anything Australia’s Liberals are currently capable of appear pedestrian at best by comparison.

Unlike the Liberal Party, the Conservatives have been merciless (some might say ruthless) in exposing the dangers of a return to office by their Labour opponents’ a telling example lies in the fact the shadow Chancellor (read: shadow Treasurer) Ed Balls was coerced into suggesting the British government did not spend enough money during its last period of government between 1997 and 2010; the Tories leapt on this gleefully in the final weeks of the election campaign — pointing at the horrific national debt pile and a budget deficit running at more than £100bn when they took office — and crucified Balls and Labour over such a ridiculous (and dangerous) official position.

Balls was one of the Labour MPs who lost his seat on Saturday. It is difficult to imagine the Liberals’ present line-up engineering such a viciously effective strike on the Shorten-led ALP.

Much credit must be given to Lynton Crosby — the Australian political strategist who emerged from the Liberal Party in the 1990s, who steered the Tory election effort — for despite Thursday’s triumph, the plain fact is that for much of its first term in office, Cameron’s government looked imperilled (to say the least) ahead of its next date with the British public at the ballot box.

It is Crosby who deserves full credit for getting the Tories focused, on message, and disciplined enough to stick to a plan, and anyone who doubts Crosby’s abilities ought to sit up and take notice.

I wrote in this column last week that if the Conservatives won — faced with bad polls (that proved wrong) and confronted by a difficult election — then Crosby would be entitled to be regarded as one of the best political strategists, anywhere, ever: and so it has come to pass. He deserves the kudos he is now rightly being given. And in the way such matters are managed in Britain, talk that his efforts merit a knighthood express a sentiment with which I have no objection whatsoever.

The one blot on an otherwise excellent result is Scotland, where 56 of 59 seats were won by the Scottish Nationalist Party; I tend to think that if Cameron proceeds to govern as a “One Nation” Conservative — a term carrying a rather different meaning than it does in Australia — then the SNP, when its MPs front up for re-election in five years’ time able to boast of achieving next to nothing, this aberration will begin to fade away as sharply as it has appeared now.

The SNP’s only real objectives were to block a Tory government at any cost, and to use the balance of power (if it secured it) to manipulate a Labour government into helping engineer the dissolution of the United Kingdom.

As a third generation descendant from two Scottish families I have no interest in, or time for, either the SNP or their “visions” of “independence:” having followed the referendum campaign last year and witnessed the blatant lies passed off by the SNP as a “case” for independence, I find it incomprehensible anyone would trust an SNP MP or candidate, much less believe anything they had to say.

The SNP might hate the Conservative Party — good for it — but it also hates the English, and when an outfit like the SNP that masquerades as a sober and responsible voice for its people advocates for outcomes that would plunge an independent Scotland into economic depression, it should be dismissed with the contempt it deserves: and Cameron, and his Tories, find a big opportunity to rebuild their party’s stocks in the North by exposing the SNP for what it is, and by delivering for all constituent countries in the Union as they have promised to do.

For as long as it continues to load, post-election, readers can glean an idea of the extent of the movement recorded on Thursday from the interactive graph and tables published with the UK edition of The Guardian online; the stark extent of the SNP’s domination in Scotland — taking 56 of the 59 seats there — is obvious, whilst readers will see that in the southern third of the UK, the Lib-Dems have been reduced to a single seat (Carshalton and Wallington on London’s southern outskirts) and in their traditional strongholds in Devon and Cornwall have been obliterated.

Labour has been reduced, effectively, to seats around traditional coal mining areas it has dominated since capturing them from the old Liberal Party in the early 1900s, plus mostly less well-to-do parts of London; it is difficult to see how the party can come back in any less than two additional terms, for this is the third consecutive election at which the Tories have strengthened their position in England, and Labour’s Scottish bedrock has been reduced to a single seat.

That task will become harder after 2018, when new boundaries cutting 50 MPs from the House of Commons and introducing equal-sized constituencies — slashing Scotland’s over-bloated representation relative to the other component countries in the UK — take effect.

But for all the Labor blather of “gerrymander” that was intermittently heard early in the last term of Parliament, I challenge anyone to justify why places like Scotland should be shown the kind of heavy weightage that now stands to be abolished: and in the ultimate irony, whilst the SNP probably would have swept Scotland irrespective of the boundaries that applied this time around, the redistributed boundaries that would have applied to this election (until they were deferred, at least in part on account of Labour opposition) would have made Labour’s path to a majority that little bit easier after the shellacking it copped this week.

For the Lib-Dems, it’s hard to conclude the party is anything other than all but over; reduced to just 8 seats (from 650), they have recorded the lowest haul of Lib-Dem seats in the 30-odd years since they were founded, and the lowest haul of seats in the name of the old Liberal Party in many decades.

I think there’s an opportunity there, if they want to take it: to seize the mantle of Britain’s pre-eminent social democratic party, developing mainstream policies of the Centre-Left with broad appeal to the British middle class, workers, intellectuals and minorities, and set about reversing the political execution inflicted on the old Liberal Party 100 years ago by the emergence of the Labour Party, the Liberals’ inability to respond or react, and the split in their party that occurred in the aftermath of the first world war.

The opportunity is there if they want to take it, and to build on the lessons from their recent stint sharing government to “mainstream-ise” their centrist-slightly leftist party.

But they won’t. The Lib-Dems will retreat to their preferred mode of eternal opposition and carping.

UKIP will probably wither on the vine if Cameron delivers both the renegotiation of relations with Europe he has promised and the so-called in-out referendum to follow it; should both Tory initiatives materialise, the primary purpose of UKIP will have ceased to exist: this election was UKIP’s one shot in the locker to transform a party of protest and wins in lesser forums into success where it actually matters — Westminster. It didn’t. Its leader failed to win a well-chosen Tory seat and it returned a single MP.

UKIP will blather about proportional representation, but all such an electoral system would do now is to reward losers whose support is drawn from the fringes only. Its time has gone.

As for the Greens, with their pathetic 3.6% of the vote, who gives a shit.

In the end, however, the British election has provided a win for common sense, good governance, a bustling, growing Britain, and for what is right.

I wish to personally extend my congratulations to the team at CCHQ on a job well done, as well as to all the footsoldiers for Conservatism whose ranks I do hope at some point to join, and acknowledge again the brilliant leadership of Lynton Crosby in achieving the desired result. We’ll come back to Lynton in a minute.

But if the Conservatives avoid divisive splits, continue to focus on the long-term objectives that have shaped the Coalition administration they headed for five years, and continue to notch up the kind of results in Britain that are increasingly the envy of the rest of the free world, there is no reason to think they cannot triumph again in five years’ time (or whenever an election might occur in the interim).

In a final word on Lynton Crosby, it is reassuring to note the Liberal Party has finally (and belatedly) re-engaged his firm, Crosby Textor, to advise in the lead-up to next year’s election, after a ridiculous period in the wilderness at the apparent behest of elements in and/or close to the Prime Minister’s Office.

One hopes it isn’t too late for it to make the required degree of difference to the Liberals’ prospects.

But if I were Bill Shorten or, more to the point, any of the number of faceless, brainless, cardboard cut-out henchmen populating the backroom of the ALP, the prospect of Lynton Crosby running my opponent’s election campaign would send a little thrill of terror down my spine.

Once and for all, Lynton Crosby has proven that even the most difficult of circumstances in seemingly irretrievable situations are not beyond his capabilities to turn around.

There are 232 excruciatingly sore backsides left on the British Labour benches that now comprehend all too well precisely the kind of carnage Crosby, the master strategist and tactician, is capable of inflicting on his enemies.

Australian Labor should be afraid. Happily, by the time the ALP comprehends that Crosby has stepped into the ring, it will probably be too late to run, or to hide.

UK: Election Anyone’s Guess, But Cameron Likeliest PM

VOTING IS UNDERWAY tonight (Melbourne time) in the closest, least predictable election in the United Kingdom since 1974; deadlocked polls and a near-certain hung Parliament belie the fact this election actually matters, with the future of the Union hanging on the result despite a recent failed referendum on Scottish independence. It is likely David Cameron will remain Prime Minister, but in what shape — and at what cost — remains to be seen.

I must apologise most profusely to those readers based in Australia who have been waiting for some kind of snapshot of what’s happening in the UK; rest assured that today’s General Election — like British politics generally, which is a passion — is one I have watched unfold intimately, over both the campaign period and the months that preceded it, and whilst I haven’t published on the topic at all I’m across the lay of the land: and frustrated and worried by it at that.

It has been one of those unfortunate coincidences that the campaign has coincided with a period of extreme activity as a “media type” away from this column, and as readers know, there has been a dearth of articles altogether instead of the five to six I try to publish as a weekly minimum, and even then too much time has been taken up on outrages like Belle Gibson and the obscene deification of the executed drug smuggling scum that was Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

Yet in some respects, it wouldn’t have mattered a great deal whether we spoke about today’s British election this week, last month or even last year; the trends picked up in the country’s reputable opinion polls have been maddeningly consistent for almost a year: narrow Labour lead, narrow Conservative lead, tie. Repeat. Ad infinitum it seems. And after five weeks of “official” campaigning, Britons are going to the polls today in what in many respects presents as a dead heat.

I’m not going to post any links tonight — you will just have to trust me as I write off the cuff — for I would rather present a shorter digest quickly than take until midnight on a more detailed effort that most Australian readers won’t see before breakfast, when the polling stations close and the results begin to come in.

But in a “poll of polls” — an aggregated reading of the likes of YouGov, ICM, Opinium, Populus, Ipsos Mori, ComRes, and Lord Ashcroft’s independent research — it appears David Cameron’s Conservative Party is set to win 34-35% of the vote, and Labour — led by Ed Miliband — 33-34%; the final round of polls published over the past 48 hours all show either a tie between the two major parties or a slender Tory lead of 1-2%, and none suggest Labour is ahead.

But it isn’t quite so simple, with the separatist Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) apparently on track to win 50% of the vote in Scotland and with it, as many as all of the 59 Scottish seats in the House of Commons under the UK’s first past the post electoral system, up from six of them five years ago; such a gain — at Labour’s almost exclusive expense, defending as that party is 40 seats there coming into today’s election — would rob Labour of any prospect of an outright win across Britain, and would force it into some kind of arrangement with the SNP to govern if it can win enough seats in England and Wales to get it mathematically close enough to assemble a majority coalition.

On the other hand, the main reason David Cameron isn’t cruising to a thumping victory today lies the shape of UKIP — the United Kingdom Independence Party — with its anti-immigration, anti-EU message that appeals to many Britons fed up with government by decree from the continent and resentful of the hundreds of thousands of Eastern European immigrants the UK has been obliged to accept as the EU has expanded eastwards in the past decade, and waves of newcomers enjoy an entitlement the British government has no control or veto over.

These immigrants arrive with entitlements to jobs and welfare at the expense of the British taxpayer, which is hardly conducive to them finding a rousing reception awaiting them.

But Cameron has been reluctant to fashion hardline policies around the EU, immigration, and the ancillary issues associated with them; his failure to do so five years ago is widely regarded as the reason the Tories did not win a majority at that time.

Now, with polls almost unanimously finding UKIP set to snare 12% of the vote across Britain today (at least two-thirds of which has been lifted directly from the Conservative base), it’s not difficult to see where Cameron’s “majority” has gone this time around.

Now, however, the miscalculation (and that is what it is) could cost the Conservative Party government altogether.

UKIP, in the past week, seems to have recognised the danger, albeit too late; the tepid Cameron stand of “renegotiating” Britain’s membership of the EU, followed by a so-called “in-out referendum” in 2017, is preferable to its adherents than the stolidly pro-Europe attitudes of Labour, the Lib-Dems, and the SNP for that matter: and recognising that its votes may help defeat Tory MPs in marginal constituencies, UKIP has been recommending “tactical voting” for the Conservatives in seats it stands no chance of winning itself. Whether this is enough to make any difference remains to be seen.

Complicating matters is the Liberal Democrats, who are defending 57 seats (from 2010) today, and who stand to lose roughly half of them to Labour and the Conservatives in fairly equal measure; the Lib-Dems complete five years in coalition with the Tories with their poll numbers running at about 10% — also virtually halved — and no obvious expression of their preferred post-election Coalition partner if the Parliament, once again, is hung.

Their leader, deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, is at grave risk of losing his seat in Sheffield to Labour, just as senior Lib-Dem Treasury minister (and heir apparent to Clegg) Danny Alexander is exposed to the gathering SNP avalanche in Scotland. Tactical voting by Tory voters might save either, or both. Then again, it may not.

But if ever there was an opportunity for a last-minute circuit breaker for the Conservative Party to turn the election in its favour, it came on Monday, when Labour staged an election rally at which participants were segregated by gender in an apparent sop to the Muslim community; the incident rightly provoked a storm of fury on Twitter (and if anyone wants to know what I was doing on Monday night, it involved talking to a lot of angry Tories online on Twitter).

LABOUR’S DISGUSTING ELECTION STUNT…to curry favour with Muslims, the Tories’ failure to crucify the Opposition over such an appalling piece of token appeasement risks driving even more Conservative voters to UKIP. (Picture: The Express)


Yet how much — if any — effort to capitalise on such a disgusting and tokenistic appeasement of one minority community was made by the Conservatives is unclear.

And Labour has rightly attracted ridicule on account of the so-called “Milistone” it saw fit to place around its neck at the weekend, with leader “Red” Ed Miliband announcing a short list of vague, vacuous and populist pledges would be cast in stone and a monument erected in the gardens of 10 Downing Street “to remind (Miliband) of his pledge to the British people every time he looks out the window.”

It sounds like the sort of crap Bill Shorten would come up with, and should accordingly be dismissed with contempt.

I could run through dozens of variables, scenarios, and potential outcomes (and we’ll come to the outcomes in a second) but it’s safe to say that the one of the two issues that could win the Tories votes — Immigration and Europe — has not been adequately exploited, whilst the other — Britain’s booming, growing economy — appears to be carrying little weight with undecided voters.

And that, frankly, ought to terrify Conservative head office: as its social media boffins have been proclaiming as loudly and as widely as they can, Britain’s economy is growing faster and more strongly than that of any developed nation in the world — including Australia’s. Yet faced by basket cases and carnage to varying degrees across the Channel, this stunning achievement seems to be a political re-run of the country’s booming mid-late 1990s, which ushered in unprecedented prosperity across the board but failed to save Tory Prime Minister John Major from a smashing defeat at the hands of Blair Labour.

This election is likely to prove one thing, however: Australian political strategist and former Liberal Party director Lynton Crosby months ago assumed control of the Conservatives’ central office, and this campaign has been very much executed in strict accordance with his advice and directions; if Cameron and the Tories somehow prevail — especially in securing a surprise majority, or something close to it — the result will more or less immortalise Crosby as one of the best political strategists in the world, anywhere, ever.

Lose, however — especially if badly, and if the Tories fall steeply short of the 280 or so seats pundits concur they are likely to win — and the result, whilst sweeping Cameron from office, will also probably put one hell of a dent in Crosby’s reputation as a strategist: especially in tight and difficult elections where the result hangs in the balance.

I don’t think it will come to that, however.

Polls close in Britain at 7am, our time (10pm, GMT) and the results will start to follow shortly afterwards; in the 650-seat House of Commons — in which four Sinn Fein MPs from Northern Ireland routinely and flatly refuse to take their seats, and a fifth electorate (occupied by the Speaker) is uncontested — 323 seats are required to secure an outright majority.

If the Tories (who will win seats from the Lib-Dems, particularly in south-west England, whilst losing seats to Labour) can contain these losses to about 20-25 seats, emerging with 280+ — and the Lib-Dems can both record 30-ish seats and opt to remain in Coalition with the Tories through a second term — then that, along with support from 8 or 9 Democratic Unionists from Northern Ireland who would never put Labour into power, ought to be enough for Cameron to continue as Prime Minister in at least the short term.

I don’t rule out a surge for the Conservatives, as (especially) UKIP-inclined voters switch back to the Tories in the confines of the ballot box at the last minute: and similarly, the carnage the SNP seems certain to inflict on Labour in Scotland could see the Conservatives pick up three or four seats by virtual default, as their vote count simply proves adequate atop decimated Labour tallies that remain too high for the SNP to hurdle.

(The Scottish Tory scenario is a remote one, however).

Of course, Labour could be the recipient of a huge swing in England and Wales that puts government beyond reach of the Conservatives under any permutation, or even win a majority: I doubt this will happen, and if Labour loses, I would be surprised if Miliband survives as leader beyond the end of the year.

Assuming, of course, that 2015 — like 1974 and 1910 before it — doesn’t shape as a year in which a second general election quickly follows the first.

I think the likeliest outcome is a Cameron win off the back of a messy Coalition with the Lib-Dems, the DUP, and possibly someone (or two) from UKIP, and whilst I might be wrong, I think this far more probable than either a Tory majority or any kind of win featuring Labour.

Indeed, should Labour take office in any kind of accommodation with the SNP, it would likely see a second referendum on Scottish independence, perhaps as soon as late this year: and the belligerent, bellicose monster from Scotland that is no laughing matter runs the very real risk of engineering the break-up of the United Kingdom if fed on the real power that derives from Westminster.

And should Labour take office at all, it is more or less pledged to resume the same tax-and-spend approach that proved ruinous under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and left the UK with £1.5tn in public sector debt (about 80% of GDP) and a gaping structural budget deficit — both problems the Conservatives have only just been able to bring under control, and start to repair.

On any analysis, this election is far from meaningless.

But even if Cameron survives — as I expect him to — it isn’t likely to be in any kind of robust shape; another election and the fraught pursuit of an outright majority will prove exponentially trickier if thrust upon the Tory Party later this year, but such are the potential costs of a lacklustre election campaign that has failed to hit the right notes — when a landslide win, on any impartial measure, was always well within its grasp to achieve.


Labour Politics In Britain: Sex (And Kids) With Aliens?

GIVEN THINGS have been full-on in the world of Australian politics of late, I thought I might share something a bit lighter from the UK tonight from that salubrious publication, The Sun; the sad thing is that this story is no beat-up: its subject may be delusional, but he stands by his story. Truly.

I saw this late last night, and simply had to shake my head and laugh.

My first thought was that The Sun seems, increasingly, to be stepping into the breach left by the now-defunct News Of The World; yet the guy at the centre of this — Simon Parkes, a Labour Party councillor in Whitby, in the north of England — is deadly serious.

Readers can access this piece here; I am aware that since it was published, the story has appeared on other news sites around the Murdoch media network across the world.

Clearly, this is a departure from the cut and thrust of Australian politics, although God knows there’s a big week coming up on that front, and there will be plenty to chew over.

In the meantime, life — even political life — has its lighter moments and figures of fun; I leave you with the article from The Sun, and I hope all are able to have a decent belly laugh at Parkes and his story.

(It sounds like a convenient excuse, doesn’t it? And what would his wife say?)


Why UK Labour MP David Miliband’s Resignation Should Alarm The ALP

BRITISH Labour lost one of its brightest MPs yesterday, with David Miliband — brother of Labour leader Ed Miliband — quitting the House of Commons to take up a post running a charity in New York. For the ALP, soon to return to opposition, it carries a message that should ring alarm bells.

It’s a salutary lesson in why elected MPs should elect their own parliamentary leader.

In 2010 — after 13 years in office, its reputation for economic management in ruins, and saddled with a deeply unpopular Prime Minister in Gordon Brown — the British Labour Party lost an election for the first time since 1992.

The Conservative Party didn’t win, mind; a poor campaign by its leader, David Cameron, saw it finish with 306 of the 650 seats* in the House of Commons, and 18 seats short of a majority was forced into coalition with the centrist Liberal Democrats.

But whilst the Tories didn’t win outright, Labour certainly lost; down almost 100 seats on its 2005 result, it returned to opposition: and the first item of business was a new leader.

The Labour Party in Britain, since the contest in 1994 that made Tony Blair opposition leader after the death of John Smith, has used an electoral college in determining its leadership: the parliamentary Labour Party, the rank-and-file membership, and the affiliated trade unions are all entitled to vote, and each of these three blocs are weighted so the votes from each are worth exactly a third of the total.

In 2010, five candidates stood for the Labour leadership to replace the outgoing Brown, and the two leading contenders throughout the four-ballot process were David Miliband, who was Foreign minister in the previous government, and his younger brother, Ed.

Whilst Labour conducts its leadership ballots using preferential voting (the “alternative vote,” as it is known in the UK), David Miliband was the preferred choice of both the parliamentary party and the membership throughout the process, whilst his younger brother — from the Labour Left — was the clear choice of the affiliated unions.

And so it came to pass: in the final round — head to head — the combined votes of the parliamentary party and the membership saw David leading Ed, 37% to 30%, but the left-wing Ed was the unions’ candidate, and an emphatic showing there pushed Ed over the line — narrowly — to become Labour leader.

In the three years since, Ed Miliband has rated very poorly with the British public; and despite the fact Labour leads the Conservatives in voting intention, the lead is soft: generally less than ten points ahead in Britain’s first past the post voting system, the Labour lead is nothing like the 20 and 30-point mid-term leads that have generally pointed toward a change of government in the UK in recent times.

And there is a further consideration here; the broad Left-Right split in voting intention, as measured by reputable polls, is no better for Labour than at the 2010 election; indeed, were the Tories not losing support to the anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), it is dubious as to whether Labour would even have a lead at all.

(As an aside, a firm change in Conservative Party policy or a change in its leadership could well knock UKIP on the head, but that is a discussion for another time).

The point is that Labour is saddled with an unpopular leader, who is arguably not the best prospect to lead the Party, and the defeated David Miliband is now leaving the Parliament, in part to help give his younger brother clear air and to ensure his leadership isn’t subjected to destabilising speculation, innuendo or undue plotting.

Is this starting to sound familiar?

The Conservative Party, too, moved to a system where the rank and file are the final arbiters in deciding the leadership of its parliamentary wing about ten years ago; theoretically, MPs go through however many rounds of balloting needed to produce two final candidates who are then voted upon by the membership.

The requirement for a ballot of the membership was circumvented in 2005, when the Conservative Party — trailing desperately in the polls, and likely to go backward under then-leader Iain Duncan Smith — closed ranks around a single candidate, former Home Secretary Michael Howard, who was declared to be unanimously elected.

But at the other two ballots that have occurred under these rules (and had the matter been decided purely by MPs), it is arguable that IDS would not/should not have become Tory leader in 2001, and with the benefit of hindsight, David Cameron was probably the wrong choice in 2005 as well.

The point is that by opening decisions on the parliamentary leadership to the membership, or to a bloc of trade unions, or other affiliated blocs, there is great potential for parties to find themselves led by individuals that may enjoy popularity in sections of the party, or are beholden to a particular faction, but are the wrong footsoldiers to send out to the electorate from a purely political standpoint.

And it’s directly relevant to the ALP — especially in the current climate.

In the wake of the nonsense Labor got up to last week, culminating in an uncontested leadership ballot and a great deal of egg on the party’s collective face, some elements in the ALP have openly pondered reforming its leadership ballots to move to an electoral college system.

It’s unclear as to precisely what form such a change would take, whether an electoral college along the lines of British Labour, or a membership vote on final candidates as the Conservative Party does, or whether the matter would be determined by the membership altogether.

But I contend that whichever way you look at these options, they are all vastly inferior to allowing MPs to decide among themselves who should lead them.

Certainly, party room decisions on both sides of the spectrum have produced some truly shocking leadership figures in recent times.

But there are Australian precedents too; the Australian Democrats (remember them?) used to determine their leadership by a vote of the membership; the process threw up some reasonably good people, like Janine Haines and Meg Lees, but it also produced some absolute shockers (John Coulter and Janet Powell, take a bow).

It also produced a leader in the form of Natasha Stott Despoya: popular with the rank and file, telegenic and articulate, she was nonetheless far too left-wing for the wider body of Democrats support in the electorate to stomach, and led the party into virtual oblivion at the 2004 election.

Would Paul Keating, reviled but respected, have ever become Prime Minister if an electoral college was used by the ALP in the 1990s? Could John Howard have ever become Liberal leader a second time, after earning the moniker “Mr 18%” during the first? Would Tony Abbott be nearing a thumping election win at all if forced to face the highly popular but politically less-adept Malcolm Turnbull in a membership vote?

The position of leader within a political party is precisely that: a political one; and with no disrespect to the rank and file membership of any party, the decision on who should lead ought to be made by the elected parliamentary representatives that the rank and file have endorsed in the first place.

And whilst it is arguable the rank and file would have supported Kevin Rudd had last week’s mischief included them, the reality is that the unions, given a bloc vote, would have fallen in solidly behind Gillard anyway, buttressed in their support by that of a majority of Labor’s MPs.

Rudd would have been beaten anyway.

And changing the mechanisms by which leaders are elected (usually to support a given agenda at a given time, rather than as the result of any long-term strategic, political or positively reformist notions) offers even greater potential to throw up “leaders” who might tick the boxes for those who install them, but who singularly and utterly fail to connect to the intended audience: the wider electorate.

In British politics, the Conservative Party is a leadership change away from fixing its politics, reclaiming most of the votes it has lost to UKIP, and eliminating Labour’s lead in the polls.

Labour, meantime, is stuck with an unpopular leader who may be incapable of sealing the deal at an election, and this week has seen its best long-term prospect simply walk away.

The Conservative Party may or may not find the cojones to replace David Cameron, but if it does — and if that change is managed prudently — then British Labour may yet find that the 2015 election is no foregone conclusion.

Here in Australia, Labor types would be well-served in observing the situation and heeding its import: after this year’s election, the likely candidates for its leadership are Bill Shorten and Greg Combet; neither passes muster on an objective analysis of their broad appeal electorally, but if the matter is opened up to the membership and (especially) the unions, Combet will prevail by a mile.

Under such a scenario, Labor really would dwell in the worst of all worlds; a parliamentary rump led by an inoffensive but unappealing trade unionist, and little prospect of redeeming itself from such a self-inflicted would in the short to medium term.

The ALP is going to have a tough enough time over the next five to ten years without indulging in jingoistic, trendy “reforms” to justify such an injurious course of action.

If the ALP wants to engage in meaningful reform, it should be looking at ways to slash the internal influence of its union allies, or to cut formal ties with them altogether — not instituting additional methods of further entrenching their reach.

But screwing around with discredited mechanisms for conducting leadership ballots will only be of interest to its insiders, vested interests, and the faceless hacks who already control Labor, and who would view such a change as a simple way to exert even more control — even if it further alienated the party as a whole from the general public.

*In practice, the total is 646 seats; four Sinn Fein MPs from Northern Ireland invariably refuse to take up their seats at Westminster, making “a majority” 324 seats, not 326.

Liberal Democrats Win Eastleigh By-Election; Tories Finish Third

ELECTORS in the Hampshire constituency of Eastleigh voted in a by-election overnight (AEDT); the Lib-Dem marginal has been retained by that party by 1,771 votes, after the resignation of disgraced MP Chris Huhne and amid a sex scandal. The result is a slap to British Prime Minister David Cameron.

This is a short post for those who (like me) are interested in developments abroad; Eastleigh certainly held particular significance, both as a Lib-Dem/Conservative marginal (of the type the Tories must win to obtain an outright majority at the next general election) and as a referendum on the electoral health of the Lib-Dems in their own right.

On turnout of 52.8%, the Lib-Dems have retained the seat, winning 13,342 votes to UKIP’s 11,571. The Conservative candidate finished third with 10,559 votes, and Labour — as expected in this seat — finishing a distant fourth.

The result will cheer the Lib-Dems and their leader Nick Clegg in particular, who have been perceived as too close to the Conservative Party by their supporters as a consequence of the governing coalition they share with the Tories.

All established polls in Britain show the Lib-Dems have dropped more than half the support they recorded at the election in 2010 — a result which, if replicated in 2015, would see that party all but wiped out from the House of Commons.

This result — coming off the resignation of a disgraced MP, and with a sexual harassment scandal enveloping key Lib-Dem figures during the campaign — provides the third-party a much-needed fillip.

For the Conservatives to finish third, however, in a seat like Eastleigh, will place enormous pressure on PM David Cameron and his leadership, as debate rages within the governing party over the direction it should pursue on a raft of issues including deficit reduction, immigration, and the position of the UK in relation to the European Union.

To be pushed into third place — even narrowly — by the anti-Brussels, Eurosceptic United Kingdom Independence Party is an embarrassment to the Tories, pure and simple; proud of its tradition as defender of the Union and increasingly hostile toward the EU in its own right, the pressure on David Cameron to offer the British public a so-called “in-out” referendum in tandem with the general election due in early 2015 will become stifling.

This column has, previously, been an ardent supporter of David Cameron; increasingly, however, we believe he is not suited to lead the United Kingdom at a difficult time and — whilst resolutely supportive of the Conservative Party — believe the time may be approaching at which the merits of other candidates for leadership can and should be evaluated by that party’s MPs, its executive and its membership.

Britain can ill-afford a return to Labour at its next election, just as our own country cannot afford a continuation of the present Labor regime in office in Canberra.

Even so, the result in Eastleigh is a wake-up call to the Conservatives, and an ominous illustration of the difficulty the party must overcome if it is to stand any realistic chance of victory in Westminster under its present leadership arrangements.

The Problem With Labour

One thing I’ve never understood is why the Australian “Labor” Party is spelt thus, when every other Labour party in the world is presented as a “Labour Party.” Still, despite the iffy spelling, Australian “Labor” shares some less-than-flattering characteristics with its cousins abroad.

Tonight I want to do things a little differently; I ask my readers to read an excellent opinion piece from Britain’s Telegraph, which in itself is an analysis of the problems within the British Labour Party.

It won’t matter if the names of British public figures are unfamiliar; it doesn’t matter if the place names are unfamiliar to those who have not visited the UK. The upshot of the article will be abundantly clear, and the reason why I think it relevant in terms of a discussion of our own polity will become immediately clear.

Please read this and then we’ll talk about it…

Far, far removed from the now-daily leadership squabbles between Julia Gillard and all other comers, far away from carbon taxes and other similar red herrings, the ALP has changed, and in so doing has become a shell of its former self.

For starters, substitute “Ed Miliband” — leader of the British Labour Party — for “Julia Gillard” and the parallels begin to become apparent.

And for an Australian equivalent of “activists, super-organisation and hard-core adherents,” read the NSW Right, the Sussex Street tactics of the NSW ALP specifically and the infection they have spread across the ALP nationally, and the trenchant union apparatchik base that now constitutes so much of Labor’s parliamentary presence.

To say nothing of its political agenda.

This post tonight is more to stimulate discussion than it is to lead it; my view is that “labour” parties the Western world over are all traversing the same, introspective, self-obsessed and insiderish slippery slope that is completely disconnected from their constituents, the wider electorates in which they stand, or from reality in general.

Let’s be frank: the type of governments we have in Australia — in tandem with our electoral systems — generally only lose government when they have committed some fatal cardinal sin.

Even the Howard government is not immune from this analysis; had “WorkChoices” been a little less doctrinaire, and had the Liberal leadership passed to Peter Costello in good time prior to the 2007 election, the Liberal Party would probably still be in office today.

But as it stands, the ALP is now falling out of government everywhere there is an election: it almost happened federally last year and will certainly happen when next there is a federal election.

It has already happened at state level in NSW and Victoria; in Queensland and WA and the NT in 2012, it’s simply a question of how much Labor loses by, and not whether it loses or not.

Yet this is not a phenomenon unique to Australian Labor.

In Canada this year, the parties of the mainstream Left was decimated; to be fair, the so-called New Democratic Party recorded huge gains at the expense of the traditional party of Canada’s Left — the Liberals — yet the Left overall lost a lot of ground, and a two-term minority Conservative government was re-elected with a healthy majority.

In Britain, Labour was ejected from office on its lowest vote in 25 years last year; yes, it has periodically led British opinion polls in the months since, but for no other reason than a short-term response to the Conservative Party undertaking the painful but crucial process of undoing 13 years of Blair/Brown mismanagement and waste.

Across Europe, left-wing parties have fared badly at elections in the past few years; even in France and Germany, where centre-right governments are currently experiencing mid-term unpopularity in the face of continuing economic tumult, there is no guarantee (or even a likelihood) that the Left — again, the local Labour parties — stand any chance of winning.

And in the USA, the Democratic Party (read, Labour Party) and its once-shiny pin-up boy, Barack Obama — stare down the barrel of ignominious defeat and the humiliation of a one-term Presidency barely three years after the historic triumph of 2008.

In all of these cases, the same insiderish, apparatchik-driven machine mentality exists.

These parties — with occasional historical exceptions — were once a by-word for unprofessionalism, dogma, lack of intellectual rigour, policy sloppiness, and, by and large, unreconstructed socialism.

Everyone knows the lesson was learned; names such as Jean Chretien, Gerhardt Schroeder, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and even Bob Hawke and Paul Keating are illustration enough that the mainstream Left learnt its lessons and became professional political outfits across the world.

But the circle has now completed. It’s possible to be too professional in politics. The mainstream Left does not need a steady feed of unionists, academics, political staffers and classroom teachers to fill its ranks — such a base is too narrow, and leads to the insiderish, us-and-them mentality I’m talking about.

Still, that’s how the land lies these days. I think the Left across the democratic world is paying the price. But rather than recognise the problem and broaden its bases, the insiders will move further inside, and the barrier between those who are one with them and those who aren’t will be continue to be elevated ever, ever so much higher.

As I said at the outset, this post was intended more to stimulate discussion than to lead it, so it’s over to those who want to put their opinions to their keyboards.

What do you think?