Why Guido was wrong about Gordon

Today, I am mostly blogging elsewhere – at the wonderful Bella Caledonia actually. It’s a big, thoughtful (well I think so!) piece on how twelve years of devolution have failed children but that by investing in early years, we can create a better future for them. 

Feel free to take your coffee and wander over there for a read.  And have a good look at everything else on offer:  these folks are the kind of thinkers and articulates I want to be when I grow up.

So over there you get meaty, here you get gossipy….

Forgive me, for inflicting Guido Fawkes on you, but this has annoyed me for a week.  He dropped one of his little bombs that Gordon Brown’s resignation as an MP was imminent – posted on 4 April, later that week apparently – and that he would be going to the Lords, which would allow the by-election to be held on 5 May.  McTwitter rebounded the rumour, prompting the haloed Sarah to tweet furiously that it was rot.

As anyone with an inkling of knowledge about Scottish politics would know.  Guido might know his Westminster onions, but this was mince.

Why won’t it happen this side of 5 May?

  • because Gordon wouldn’t do anything to derail Scottish Labour’s campaign, or draw publicity and attention from it
  • because Labour has no reason to want to bury such a by-election – it would be a shoo-in for Labour surely, allowing Ed a big campaign to cut his teeth on
  • who runs campaigns in Scotland?  John Park.  And where is he right now?  Running the Scottish election campaign.
  • and it is he who is widely rumoured to be Gordon Brown’s handpicked successor – not much chance of him being a by-election candidate at the moment really

It doesn’t matter how disengaged Gordon is from humdrum politics these days, nor even if he and Iain Gray have so much as exchanged Christmas cards in recent months:  the ties that bind are the strongest.  Not just in Labour but the other parties too – would any of the SNP MPs choose this moment to resign their seats, even if the need was urgent?  No.

Gordon won’t resign before 5 May because he cares about Labour, and Scottish Labour, too much.   And he wants to see them back in power at Holyrood. 

Though that begs the question, why haven’t we seen him on the campaign trail yet?  Surely, Labour is going to bring its big guns into play at some point?

Call them what you will, but Scotland’s election is all about the squeezed middle

If you’re a five-a-side-dad or a schoolgate mum, be afraid.  Especially if you live in Kilmarnock, Dumfries, Livingston, Alloa or Glenrothes. 

For you are about to become Scottish Labour’s favourite voter.  The interview in today’s Scotsman with John Park provided insight into Labour’s campaign strategy for the election in May. But to some extent, it’s froth, for the polls have been telling us for months who Labour’s key voter groups are, and canvass data will no doubt be telling a similar story. 

If Labour wasn’t targeting its resources at 35 -44 C1/C2 parents, then John Park wouldn’t be doing his job.

However, the burd has some issues with the definitions and the approach.  For one thing, five-a-side dads and schoolgate mums are not necessarily two halves of the same couple.  The former group is much broader, encompassing practically every breathing Scottish male between the ages of 18 and 50 and in every conceivable income bracket and job type.  Are there any blokes who don’t like football and social drinking?!  Apart from the ones who like rugby and/or golf instead, of course. 

Some of these, in fact a sizeable number, are pretty solid SNP voters, and have been for some years.  They are not floating as the Scotsman’s analysis suggests, but while they might previously have seen themselves as aspirational and looking forward to a bright future, in which independence holds no fears, the reality of life and responsibilities as a late 30 something partner and father, with the backdrop of economic and financial uncertainty, might just have dampened their mood.  Labour is right to put them in the mix, but would be foolish to rely on them switching. 

The problem with targeting schoolgate mums is that they constitute different demographics in different seats and while they are engaged and interested, avid news readers in fact, they don’t always vote.  In fact, the ones Labour needs, often don’t bother: persuading them to turn out on 5 May will expend considerable effort and resources.

Labour’s campaign strategy might be better focusing on the squeezed middle, for this is more amorphous and really a state of mind, allowing a much wider net to be cast in the hunt for five-a-side dads and schoolgate mums.  All families in middle income territory – which is anything from £18,ooo single to £70,000 joint income – are going to be hit hard by UK government measures. 

Add in that they worry about higher council tax, pressures on schools, the loss of local leisure facilities, and crucially, what the future holds for their children, and you can see why they might be preparing to “come home” to Labour.  Rightly or wrongly, the SNP has a record to defend as the incumbent government in Scotland;  and even though these are aspirational voters, security is likely to be a dominant emotion.  It’s where a steady Eddie in charge like Iain Gray becomes a more attractive prospect than the expansive, ambitious statesman of Alex Salmond. 

What might give the SNP hope is that on the big, bad “state we are in” issue underpinning the entire election narrative, people do still blame the previous UK Labour Government.  That might hit home a whole lot more when Scottish voters, public sector ones in particular, who have been largely protected from the pain being inflicted down south, open their pay packets in April.

Labour’s key difficulty is that these parents are not totally distinguishable from groups much more likely to vote SNP.  Polls suggest the race is much tighter in the 44 – 59 age group, and with many more don’t knows.  The same applies in AB socio-economic territory. 

In very basic geographical terms, these voters live cheek by jowl with their younger, perhaps less well educated, but no less well paid counterparts.  It remains to be seen how Labour will reach its target group without inadvertently noising up the SNP’s.  And vice versa of course.  But crucially, this older age group votes and can be relied upon to turn out in much larger numbers at all elections. 

Finally, Labour has to be mindful that it’s not only them trying to woo Liberal Democrat voters.  Attempts to persuade voters of how far the Liberal Democrats have travelled politically in recent months, will also remind them that there is a perfectly valid left-of-centre alternative to Labour in the SNP.  Who these disaffected voters pitch for will depend on whose narrative has the greatest appeal.  Not sure being tough on criminals, against minimum alcohol pricing, pro big retailers and possibly pro a student contribution to higher education will cut it with liberal minded voters frankly.

It’s clear that Scottish Labour has learned from previous mistakes and is joining the SNP in thinking hard about how to pitch its campaign.  Does this mean we might get a more thoughtful election as a result?   The burd hopes so.  If only for the sake of all those poor five-a-side dads and schoolgate mums about to be leafleted and canvassed within an inch of their lives.