Saturday, 21 February 2015

Cometh the hour?

You may have noticed that I've gone off the blogging.

From May 2011 until Christmas past I wrote a blog pretty much every week and while initially I ranged over all sorts of political subjects, and occasionally even non political ones, for most of 2014 I devoted my efforts to the Scottish Constitutional question.

And to be honest that's the main reason I have stopped. It's over. There was a referendum, there was a decisive result and notwithstanding the desire of some, by no means exclusively on the separatist side, to re-fight old battles nobody is suggesting there is going to be another referendum any time soon. Even in the eventuality of a SNP landslide this May or even a return to majority government for the nationalists in 2016. For before they'd even attempt another go the Nationalist leadership, at least, appreciate that their prospects of success would have to be considerably better than a marginal opinion poll narrowing (if there is that) on a ten point defeat. The "45" can rant away all they like. The key to their problem is in the very name they've adopted.

But of course there is another big political event,  now just more than two months away; the General Election. 

You might think I'd have something to say about that.

The problem is that what happens at that General Election, in the UK but in Scotland as well, is not now a matter over which anybody now can have much influence excepting one man. Ed Miliband.

I thought this very brief blog from Mike Smithson had it well. The election is a choice between a relatively popular leader of a very unpopular Party and the very unpopular leader of what remains a relatively popular Party. Three of these things are unlikely to change in two months but one just might.

It should never be lost sight of that in 2010 the Tories, facing a clapped out Labour administration that had been in office (at least) during the worst recession in living memory and was engaged daily in internal warfare, still couldn't secure a Parliamentary majority. The demographics of the country were simply against them. And nothing they have done since then in their presentation of  themselves to key sections of the electorate (ethnic minorities; sexual minorities; anybody living more than 150  miles from London, most of the people actually living in London!) has changed that. At no point in the last 57 months has an incoming outright majority Tory administration looked remotely likely. 

Yet Labour hasn't closed the deal. Instead, if anything, the anti-Tory vote has fragmented in directions as diverse as UKIP and the Greens and, obviously, latterly, towards the Nationalists in Scotland.

But the Labour Party itself is not unpopular. Indeed, ironically, what many of these voters claim to want is a "real" Labour party. 

Yet what is a "real" Labour Party? Even the now sainted leadership of Attlee had its contemporary critics from the left. Herbert Morrison, Ernie Bevin, Stafford Cripps might have been great men in our history but revolutionaries they were not.

What I suspect these discontents really mean by a real Labour Party is a Labour Party that understands them and appears to have a clear idea of where the country should be going. That's what Wilson achieved in 64 and 66 at least, and it is, whether people want to acknowledge it or not, exactly what delivered Blair his 1997 landslide and his 2001 canter back into office.

That is Ed's challenge and it may just be that starting from where he personally is now might even prove a slight blessing in disguise. 

Outwith election times most voters get their impression of non governing politicians from only the most limited of exposure. And the "meejah" has an important interlocutory role which undoubtedly significantly disadvantages those faced with a hostile press. 

But at election times people are inclined to look for themselves. Frankly, as Labour in Scotland found out in 2011, that is a high risk game. But the very fact that Ed's current transitory perception is one of a hapless and hopeless klutz might just play to his advantage in that, once people take a better look, it would almost be impossible for him to fall below current expectation.

We can't avoid the fact that he is a professional politician in an age where professional politicians seem held in particular contempt but we might expect that his undoubted (and yet unappreciated) intelligence will come as a surprise to many, previously only casual, observers. On the really big card however, the ability to empathise, the abiilty to get across not just that you care but that you the end that will be down to Ed himself.  No blog advice can give that to him.

And in Scotland? 

My own hunch is that if there is an enthusiasm for a Labour Government in the rest of the country then there will, in the end, be that enthusiasm in Scotland. And if there is not? We'll get gubbed. Not much I can do about that either. 

Over to you Ed.

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