Kitchen-gate

In truth, it wasn’t the magenta bus that bothered me. I might not have chosen to sally forth in an emblazoned, bright pink people carrier, but actually, Labour’s initiative to engage woman-o to woman-o in the general election isn’t the worst idea they’ve ever had. After all, they pinched it from Women for Independence.

Getting out and engaging women in spaces they feel comfortable in is something Women for Indy’s thousands of female supporters did to considerable effect during the referendum campaign. Here in Edinburgh, we did school gates, drop-ins in cafes, at homes, wee socials and my favourite, outside bingo halls (with Yes bingo dabbers, no less) because we went to where women were, rather than expect them to come to us.

My problem with the wheeze was it being styled as the “kitchen table” tour. Why? According to Lucy Powell, one of its shiny, bright young things in its election team, Labour was taking its message [to] women voters because “they wanted to have a conversation about the kitchen table, around the kitchen table” rather than “having an economy that just reaches the boardroom”. Shades of eat your cereal all round.

Suddenly, those shots of Ed and Justine in their kitchen make sense.

Ed and Justine in the “kitchen”

Except as we now know, it wasn’t their kitchen.  It was the second kitchen, the one off the living room where tea and snacks are prepared. But take a close look.  Does this look like any kitchen or even, snack-preparation-area you know?  Where’s the clutter?  The personality?  The photos of family, the letters from school, the fruit bowl?  There’s not even a half-full laundry basket, never mind an actual kitchen table.

As an attempt to portray Ed as just a regular family guy, it fails miserably. He looks like he’d rather be anywhere else. He looks like he never even knew the room existed (as it might not).  And who has two kitchens in their house anyway?

That’ll be a man who lives in a great big pile in a des res part of London, far from where his constituency is, incidentally, in scandal-laden Doncaster (one of the increasing number of longstanding Labour councils up north with serious issues in terms of its track record on protecting children).

I read the big, glossy interview with Ed in that week’s Guardian, where he was shadowed by a reporter around the country.  I read it twice, in fact, keen to glean details that might bring me to like the man.  I left disliking him more than ever.

And the only conclusion I can reach is that the man is a phoney.  A professional politician who has spent all his adult life in the Westminster bubble preparing for power. All that empathising with the audience, using first names?  A longstanding technique which can be learned. It’s well documented that his brother did so. He posited soundbites – I worry about not seeing my kids enough (who were otherwise largely absent from the piece); stamina being a challenge, but with twisted logic, relishing the 16 hour days – and if it was all to make him seem human, well, bits did, but the overall impression was of a team crafting a set piece for the delectation of the intellectual Left. I found it curious that the tour didn’t bother to call in on his constituency: does he go there at all, or is it just a place to weigh the votes?

But I got no sense of a man with a plan, other than to get to Number 10. He may be willing to stand up to vested interests. In fact, I applaud him for doing so, but will he as a Prime Minister un-vest them?  I think not.  The Milibands’ wee turn on the inheritance of the family home might not be tax avoidance on the scale that attracts headlines, but it still smacks of the entitled few entitling themselves in a way the rest of us can’t.

No, Ed Miliband is establishment Labour personified.  And if voters elsewhere aren’t turned off by the prospect of him and his party leading us, then here in Scotland, the electorate is making clear what it thinks.  They are turning away in their droves, because they have a better, more grounded, more real alternative to vote for.

Kitchen-gate speaks to all of this and exposes the “kitchen table” tour in all its condescending gory.  As our own First Minister is demonstrating, women are more than capable of dealing with the economy as an issue at boardroom level.  They are not just concerned with economics as they affect what they put on their kitchen table, but with how the state of our nation’s finances impact on everyone’s prospects, especially future generations.

What these gimmicks suggest is that Labour is the modern day equivalent of the Wizard of Oz.  For sure, there is a man behind the curtain, pulling levers, wowing the headline writers and the news makers – think Jim Murphy here – but take a peek and the charade is exposed.  There is no substance.  No one knows what Labour stands for, as I have written ad nauseum on this blog for years now.

The Labour President of COSLA, Councillor David O’Neill, tries to resurrect Johann Lamont’s “something for nothing” narrative which castigates universalism, only to be slapped down almost before he’s finished his speech by Jim Murphy, who restates Scottish Labour’s recent re-conversion to many of the policies it introduced while in government in the first place.

Rachel Reeves, Labour’s work and pensions spokesperson, gets herself in a total fankle trying to explain what Labour would do about the rise of foodbanks if in power. “Labour are a party of working people, formed by and for working people”. Helpfully, Kate Green MP took to Twitter to interpret her remarks, differently from how John McTernan, now installed in Jim Murphy’s team, did so.

If Labour doesn’t know what it stands for, how can the rest of us?  If Labour doesn’t say what it means clearly, or mean what it say, why should voters believe it and trust it with their votes? Meaningless gestures like “kitchen table” tours and toe-curling photo opps in empty, colourless rooms pretending to be the heart of the home expose all of Labour woes.

Whether it’s a kitchen, dining or coffee table, Labour has nothing to put on it but gloss.

 

 

Beware the snollygosters

It would appear there is an election in the offing. Voters might think it’s someway away, but not the parties.

Despite those astonishing Ashcroft and YouGov polls suggesting that it’s operation wipeout, Nicola Sturgeon hit the campaign trail in Glasgow yesterday, calling on her not insignificant pool of 93,000 potential activists, to chap every door between now and polling day. She’s right to take nothing for granted and her party would do well to heed the call: there might well be work to be done.

After all, there is truth in the cliché that the only poll that matters is the one on the day. And here’s Jim Murphy making a virtue out of hard work, cancelling any plans his MSPs might have had for a week half-term break, telling them all to get out and campaign like the election was a week to go. At least, he’s now admitting his party is in trouble, big trouble.

Both teams were out in my patch yesterday, but no sign of the Lib Dems in what is still a Liberal Democrat seat. That might be because they’re targeting a different demographic of voters in this constituency. With only 12 weeks to go, targeting resources, energy and time at the right groups of voters is key. Basically, Labour and the SNP are after the same ones.

I was surprised just how many times I was asked how I would appeal to this type of voter or that in my crash-and-burn attempt to become a candidate – it’s okay, there will be no gnashing and wailing, I’m nearly over myself.  To me, it’s self-evident where the SNP has to go to win seats all across the central belt. Indeed, the polls are like a great big X marking the spot: to the once staunch Labour vote must they go. Yes, the Lib Dem vote has collapsed in these same constituencies but think on this – it was never huge to begin with, except in one or two areas, nor is it so easy to track down in geographical or community terms.

Still not convinced? Well, why do you think Jim Murphy’s targeted campaign strategy is to prevent 190,000 Labour voters who voted Yes becoming SNP voters? This is the battleground where all those seats on those ginormous projected swings will stand or fall. And it’s vital that the SNP in its local domains gets this and focuses all its attention on those voters.

Because in those last few vital days of the independence referendum, whisper it, but the other lot had a better get out the vote strategy than we did. The No camp shifted to identified core vote and what’s known as knocking it up, far earlier than Yes did.  At the time, I thought this a weakness, a sign that undecideds who had been edging up the scale towards a Yes were now ours and that Better Together had given up on persuading them. Yet, the fact we were still out there trying to persuade them was the issue. The No camp had done enough to slow the snowball hurtling down the mountainside throughout September gathering momentum towards yes and actually halted it before it subsumed everything in its wake. As in all other referenda, a majority of those still umming and awing on the day broke for the status quo.

Here in Edinburgh, No’s get-out-the-vote activity was co-ordinated city-wide and run largely by Labour. It was organised, targeted and focused. And the fact that few of us noticed it at the time means it worked as the stealth operation it was designed to be. Anyone who thinks that it could not be replicated in Glasgow or in the towns all across the M8 corridor needs to think back to the 2012 local government elections. Despite what the polls were saying, Labour dug out a vote and I’m not sure we understand how yet.

Whether or not they will be able to snatch such victory from the jaws of defeat yet again is unclear. When the mood of a nation appears to have turned so decisively, the ability of a tribe – much depleted these days in any event – to descend onto streets en masse at 5pm on polling day and sweep every eligible adult along to vote is no longer a strength but a weakness. Adopting these tactics of old might just help deliver SNP MPs in their bucketload.

Conversely, does the SNP have to do anything other than surf the wave of public opinion? Does it need to know where its vote is going to come from at this election? I’ve often wondered what might happen in a control experiment of a local campaign staying at home – completely at home – to see if all those local leaflets, footslog, A boards and door chapping actually does make a difference, or if it really is all down to national campaigns, narratives, messaging and media dominance.

This though is not the campaign for the SNP to try such experiments. For, despite what the polls are saying, the difference between shaving Labour majorities wafer thin and actually winning the seat will come down to local candidates and campaigns: the SNP might have a shiny team of fantastic people lined up to fight this election, but Labour has its snollygosters.

Twitter introduced me to this new word this week. Apparently, a snollygoster is someone, especially a politician, who is guided by personal advantage rather than consistent, respectable principles. There are good people in the Labour movement – still.  Some of them are even MPs and they are now fighting for their political lives. And all the trappings that go with it. There are few career options out there for former politicians, not in Scotland; certainly, none so lucrative as the sinecure on the green benches. And that aside, what to do when your entire life has been politics, politics and more politics?

Some Scottish Labour MPs will have peered over the abyss and not liked what they see at the bottom. They will by snollygosting for all they are worth for the next twelve weeks and the SNP needs to match them if those poll numbers are to translate into wins.

Whose votes matter most to Labour? Clue: it’s not ours

In Scotland today, over 1 in 5 children are growing up poor. And over 1 in 10 adults are growing old poor. And one in five adults in work are poor.

That’s a lot of people.  That’s 250,000 children, over 100,000 pensioners and at least, an astonishing half a million people who go out to work everyday.  Here in Scotland. In the 21st Century.

If ever we needed a reason to get rid of the Tories – and indeed, the Lib Dems – they bring us one, on a platter, today.  Because today in the House of Commons, they are bringing forward proposals to potentially increase poverty and to make the lives of those of us who use public services – that’s us all then – worse.

The motion today on the Charter of Budget Responsibility will increase the ratio of cuts to tax rises from 4:1 to 9:1.  Which means more austerity, not less.  More attacks on people’s benefit entitlement.  Less for Scotland to spend on all its public services – education, health, transport, social care, children.

The Charter is a wheeze of this Tory-Lib Dem government designed, apparently, to introduce more transparency into how public finances are managed and also to govern how the Office of Budget Responsibility operates. It is a creature of statute and consequently, it is a powerful thing indeed.

One of its dual purposes is to set out the UK Government’s fiscal policy framework – how it will manage the debt, what it will do with our money in the annual budget and so on.

That fiscal policy contains a clear cut commitment to manage our national debt levels down to ensure “sustainable public finances”.  What this means is that they are going to cut, cut and cut again.  And just in case we were in any doubt about whether this was political pragmatism or because they actually believe in a smaller state, the Charter makes this a key objective:

” a target for public sector net debt as a percentage of GDP to be falling at a fixed date of 2015-16, ensuring the public finances are restored to a sustainable path”.

Which brings us to the motion before the House of Commons today, which proposes to accelerate the level of cuts.  Because despite four years of austerity, our debt levels are rising.  The Tory-Lib Dem coalition for cuts hasn’t worked. All those people – poor and vulnerable people – hammered by bedroom tax, by benefit sanctions, by frozen wages, by zero hour contracts – suffering and it ain’t working.

So they are turning the screws and they have legislation to help them do it.  And an ideological belief that this is what we need. Less for the likes of us, more for the likes of them.

Which would all be fine if we had voted for this in 2010.  Except here in Scotland, we didn’t.  We voted Labour, in big numbers.

And what are Labour going to do today?  They’re going to traipse into the government lobby to support more austerity.  Why?  Because the party – of the people, don’t forget – cannot be seen to be supporting what will be presented as economic profligacy by the right wing press.  Because in the marginal constituencies that count in this Westminster election – the ones down south – they like this sort of thing (or at least the voters they need to win over like this sort of thing).

If we had a direct say in today’s vote, would we opt for more cuts, for less spending on public services?  I think not.  So can we rely on our MPs to vote for what we want and what is in our best interests?  Will our lone Tory outrider and his 11-strong Liberal Democrat posse ride to our rescue?  That’s a rhetorical question by the way.

But what of the 40 Labour MPs?  Nearly all of them represent constituencies where public services matter – as employers too.  Where significant numbers of their voters are poor, or struggling under this relentless campaign of cut and counter-cut.

Can Scotland rely on its Labour MPs to protect its interests at Westminster today?  Will Scotland’s Labour MPs choose people or the potential of power? Whose votes matter most? The ones that put them in the palace or the ones they hope will keep them there?

What say ye, Jim Murphy?  And more importantly, how will you vote today?