David Miliband: Bring it on!

September 22, 2008

The Sunday Mail is reporting that David Miliband will force a referendum on Scottish Independence if he becomes Prime Minister.

In an echo of Wendy Alexander’s ‘Bring it on!’ policy, the Sunday Mail reports that:

“Miliband’s camp believe she was right to call for an early vote.”

This is in stark contrast to Gordon Brown’s approach of denying that Wendy Alexander said she wanted a referendum, and instead await the Calman Commission’s proposals.

As Gordon Brown’s leadership looks increasingly shaky, it looks like David Miliband is already positioning himself for the role.

The longevity of Gordon Brown’s premiership is – according to which Labour source interviewed – dependent on

1. His conference performance.
2. The Glenrothes by-election.
3. The 2009 European elections

Given that the Labour conference is now upon us, there does seem to be a will among the delegates to try and provide a united front behind the Prime Minister.

There have also been reports that Labour’s own canvassing puts them 5 000 votes behind the SNP in the upcoming Glenrothes by-election. Some pre-emptive commentators are already remarking that Labour shouldn’t ditch Gordon Brown if they lose.

So will the European elections be the final nail in Gordon Brown’s Prime Ministerial coffin?

Will the Labour MPs want to wait that long?

And if David Miliband does become Prime Minister this term will he withstand the pressure – as a 3rd leader between General Elections – not to call a General Election? As I have noted elsewhere, it won’t be the first time that Britain has had three Prime Ministers in one term.

And if he does call a General Election; the way the polls are looking it will be a Conservative victory.

So, on one hand David Miliband wants to hold a Scottish Independence referendum.

On the other, it looks likely he would lose an ensuing General Election.

His willingness for a quick Scottish Independence referendum must then lead to one likely conclusion: that David Miliband has no intention of calling a snap General Election. On taking over from Gordon Brown, David Miliband would wait until the term finished in the summer of 2010 before having a (mandatory) General election.

His strategy must then be to become Prime Minister, hope for a Miliband bounce – that may be likely given how unpopular Gordon Brown has been in recent polling, although Miliband’s own poll ratings suggests otherwise – and pursue a quick Scottish Independence referendum; as the Sunday Mail puts it:

“It would give Labour control of the timing and wording of the vote because the referendum bill would be passed in Westminster.”

The control of the question may be critical to the outcome. (Although since the question has never been asked of the Scottish electorate it remains to be seen; we have only opinion poll evidence for this.)

Miliband must then hope that his carefully worded referendum question pays off in his favour and the Scots back the Union. He must also hope that the margin is conclusive and so derails the SNP.

He could then turn his attention to the Conservatives before the mandatory election of 2010. At which time he may have done enough for Labour to be re-elected.

There are a lot of hopes, ifs, buts and maybes in that strategy. Labour need to decide if David Miliband is really a better option than Gordon Brown. Gordon Brown’s strategy seems to be ‘keep going and eventually we’ll turn our fortunes around’. If Gordon Brown leads Labour to disaster in 2010, would this speculative David Miliband strategy be any better?

2010. Given that it is the SNP’s intention to hold an independence referendum in that year, it means that David Miliband’s ‘bring it on’ position must mean that he would have to be Prime Minister in 2009, otherwise how could he implement such a proposal?

And one last thing. How will David Miliband’s Scottish Independence Referendum sit with the Calman Commission and Liberal Democrat and Conservative partners? They have already endured Labour’s disdain at the hands of Wendy Alexander. The new Scottish Labour MSP leader, Iain Gray, says he is in support of the Calman Commission.

All of this just emphasises how divided and forlorn the Labour Party currently is.

Brown or Miliband? Calman or Referendum?

Labour needs to decide soon.

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Sarah Palin and Obama fundraising

September 16, 2008

Its strange the effect your political opponents can have on your own team.

With the surprise choice of Sarah Palin, the Obama camp received more than $10 million in just 24 hours.

The money has flooded in throughout the month of August and beyond when reports of Palin’s attempts to ban books, her pro-creationism, her environmental record, her lack of experience, her ties with the Alaskan Independence Party and worries about her foreign policy attitude all made headlines.

It means the Democrats are seriously worried about the chances of a McCain – Palin victory, and given the age of McCain (as Frankie Boyle remarked he could be assassinated just by someone bursting a paper bag nearby!) it means a Palin Presidency would be likely.

A truly scary thought for Democrats!

This made August the best month for Barack Obama’s fundraising ever.

Back in Scotland, Iain Gray, the new Labour MSP leader has just picked his new shadow cabinet.

Its doubtful whether the SNP will be worried at all.

Outwith the coming Glenrothes by-election campaign, I don’t think the SNP coffers will similarly see a spectacular rise in donations.

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Tony Blair for Glenrothes?

September 14, 2008

It seems the Labour Party are beginning to self-destruct before our very eyes.

Now even those at LabourHome, the Labour Party’s blogging site, are calling for Tony Blair to be parachuted into Glenrothes and then taking over from Gordon Brown.

Its hardly a vote of confidence for the Prime Minister or for Labour’s candidate, Lindsay Roy, in the Glenrothes by-election.

Almost like David Miliband’s words have come back to haunt him: “People will be saying ‘wouldn’t it be great to have that Blair back because we can’t stand that Gordon Brown'”

And after fifth-columnist George Foulkes announced that the election of Iain Gray is similar to Tony Blair’s leadership victory, he could have hardly predicted Labour members calling for Tony Blair to be parachuted into Glenrothes for a real Scottish ‘Tony Blair moment’!

Was he doing it delibrately?

Meanwhile as Labour rebels line up to put the knife in Gordon Brown’s back, other Labour MPs have called them idiots.

Des Browne, the Scottish Secretary, has made the point that they have no candidate yet for a leadership election.

The Mail on Sunday has made the case for Jack Straw to be the stalking horse. A case also examined at SNP Tactical Voting.

What must be Iain Gray be thinking as he looks around the wreckage of the party?

Maybe they should take this advice and forget the navel gazing. From his acceptance speech:

“Labour is best when we look outwards and align our values with the people’s aspirations. Not just listening but hearing.”

That phrase struck me.

“Not just listening but hearing.”

Surely it should be the other way around? I would have thought that ‘listening’ implies a more attentive action than ‘hearing’:-

I heard a blackbird sing.

I listened for a blackbird’s song.

That sort of thing. Am I being too pedantic? I know Iain Gray was previously a teacher, surely not an English teacher!

It implies that all the times Labour have claimed to be ‘listening’ in the past they didn’t hear anything.

Then again, I doubt Gordon Brown will listen to his rebels either.

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Comings and Goings

September 13, 2008

Congratulations to Iain Gray and Johann Lamont who were elected Labour MSP leader and Labour MSP deputy leader respectively.

Both won their nominations with around a 60 – 40 split.

Iain Gray will be the third Labour MSP leader to take on Alex Salmond since the SNP leader became First Minister in May 2007.

Also today Gordon Brown is meeting Margaret Thatcher for lunch at Chequers. No doubt the beleaguered Prime Minister will be asking her advice on how best to stay in power leading a disaffected party and public.

Margaret Thatcher was unceremoniously kicked out of Downing St by her own party in 1990 when poll ratings began to slide.

I did think that that meeting at Chequers would overshadow the Scottish leadership contest of the Labour MSPs.

But the fact that several Labour MPs have now been writing to Downing St demanding a leadership contest at Westminster again putting Gordon Brown’s tenure as Prime Minister in doubt has stolen the spotlight.

Under Labour rules there needs to be 1/5th of the Labour MPs to call for a leadership election before it can automatically happen. Currently that means there needs to be 70 Labour MPs calling for a contest.

Downing St says that only a handful of Labour MPs have formally asked for a leadership contest.

Guido Fawkes has compiled a list of 39 Labour MPs – as it currently stands – that would be expected to demand a leadership contest.

Not the 70 yet but it may be the start of a bandwagon.

It will really depend on how Gordon Brown plays the situation, and also how he performs at the upcoming Labour conference.

Iain Gray and Johann Lamont must be very disappointed at the way the Westminster agenda has stolen what should have been a good news day for Labour.

With a Prime Minister again lunching with Margaret Thatcher and open speculation among Westminster Labour MPs about his future they must surely be thinking that a stand-alone Scottish Labour Party must be the way to go.

They can’t do anything about headlines from other parties.

The SNP have announced Sir Angus Grossart will run the Scottish Futures Trust.

The co-convenor of the Scottish Green Party, Robin Harper MSP, has decided to stand down. He is now backing the election of one single leader of the Scottish Green Party.

That leaves the Conservatives as the only party not to have changed their Scottish parliamentary leader under the SNP Government. Should Annabel Goldie be worried?

The Liberal Democrats are also today beginning their UK conference in Bournemouth. Plaid Cymru are also finishing their conference in Aberystwyth today.

Labour have just elected two new Scottish MSPs to lead the party but its Labour’s own desperate Westminster headlines that have swamped the media.

Not a great start for Iain Gray and Johann Lamont and its not even their fault!

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Iain Gray wants pact with Conservatives

August 18, 2008

According to The Scotsman, Scottish Labour MSP candidate Iain Gray wants Labour to ‘team up’ with Conservative at Holyrood to try and beat the SNP.

Iain Gray
Scottish Conservative logo

They already have joined forces in the Calman Commission at Holyrood.

Currently the favourite to take over as leader, Iain Gray is the right wing candidate of Labour and has a strong pro-Westminster affliation.

Yet it is Westminster that is probably most against the plan.

Can they afford to have a pact with the Conservatives in Scotland and try to attack them in Westminster?

Wouldn’t that be another case of double standards?

And how would the few remaining disillusioned socalists react to such a pact? Or the trade unions?

For all that, I think for Labour Iain Gray’s idea of a pact with the Conservatives is worth considering.

For one thing, it is difficult to put a cigarette paper between Conservative and Labour policy these days. James Purnell’s draconian green paper on Social Security reform came from a Conservative think tank and went even further right in ideology than the Conservatives, for instance. Gordon Brown inviting Margaret Thatcher for tea and biscuits in Number 10 shows the Labour mindset.

For another, a pact with the Conservatives might finally lead to a coherent Unionist position in an attempt to argue for the continued existence of the union between Scotland and England. As I have argued before in The Tipping Point the lack of a coherent message means that as everyday passes the case for the union collapses among the electorate.

A Labour – Conservative pact might be the only way to save the Treaty of Union.

Whether it can save Labour in Scotland remains to be seen.


Labour’s Glasgow East chaos

July 6, 2008

What is happening with the Labour candidate process for the Glasgow East By-election?

First of all we hear that Gordon Brown has phoned Stephen Purcell, the Glasgow City Council Labour leader, 4 times asking him to stand. Purcell has repeatedly turned the Prime Minister down.

Then, Gordon Brown phones Lesley Quinn, Labour’s former Scottish General Secretary, and asks her to stand. Again, Quinn declines the Prime Minister’s offer.

The Daily Mail reports that Gordon Brown phoned 4 party loyalists in total asking if they would stand.

These 6am calls have got to stop, Gordon! Caller ID boxes will be bought all over the Barras this weekend!

So Labour introduce their candidate shortlist on Friday:-

George Ryan
Irene Graham
Doug Maughan

with East end councillor George Ryan, the odds-on favourite to be nominated.

However, the councillor does not show up at the selection meeting for “family reasons” and pulls out of the running.

Labour then announce the selection process will now be postponed till Monday.

So that means a weekend of more phoning and pleading for Gordon Brown. Will he yet convince Purcell or Quinn? I very much doubt it.

John McTernan has been suggested by the Telegraph as a potential candidate. Probably his involvement with the cash-for-peerages row rules him out though.

And what does it mean about the calibre of the other two hopefuls on the shortlist? If Labour considered them serious challengers for the nomination then surely the selection meeting should have just continued on Friday choosing either of them.

Will they now stand again on Monday? If they’re deemed not good enough on Friday, why would they want to stand on Monday? That’s a terrible position to be in, and I think they would both be perfectly entitled to stand down from the selection process too.

And now stories are surfacing about the real reasons George Ryan quit the selection process:-

The internet is awash with rumours that some journalist or other has some dirt on Councillor Ryan.

Perhaps it is related to The Times story of housing benefit fraud claims.

Perhaps it may be the story surfacing on Guido Fawkes site about a run-in he had with a political editor after a Cathcart by-election where the police were nearly called.

Perhaps it may be the story that the councillor is none too impressed with the Union Flag – he deemed sectarian – or the National Anthem God Save the Queen – he deemed offensive. Instead, Ryan wanted the saltire and the Flower of Scotland to be used in their place. Could it be that the councillor is none too fond of the Union between Scotland and England? In which case his nomination would just play into the hands of the SNP anyway. The story is on the BBC and in The Times.

Perhaps it has to do with the GHA and funding. Residents of Glasgow East may not be too keen on the councillor if GHA take over their Local Housing Associations with compulsory purchase orders.

Perhaps it was the fact that Councillor Ryan and 10 other Labour Glasgow City Councillors – including Stephen Purcell, that also may explain his reluctance to stand – are being investigated by the Standards Commission over dodgy dealings in an attempt to obtain the land of Paddy’s Market in the East End.

Whatever the reason for his withdrawal, family reasons or not, Labour’s Glasgow East campaign is already in disarray.

Details of the real reason the sitting MP David Marshall resigned won’t help the perception that the Labour Party is mired in sleaze.

Now the BBC are saying that Margaret Curran, the Baillieston MSP, is intending to stand for Labour as a candidate! That would be unbelievably farcial given Labour’s griping about Alex Salmond holding a job in Holyrood and Westminster (though Alex is merely following convention set by Donald Dewar and Jim Wallace, and has announced that he intends not to fight his Westminster seat at next election).

Of course, due to boundary changes at the next Scottish General election, the Baillieston seat will disappear. Maybe this forced her hand.

Fair play to her for offering and trying to pull Labour out of their self-dug hole, but that would just leave Labour open to more ridicule.

What if she was to lose? She would still remain MSP for Baillieston but her leadership challenge would be crushed. She would be seen to no longer have the confidence of the people who elected her in 2007!

Perhaps she thinks that if she managed a good campaign in front of the media then her positioning as potential Scottish MSP leader would be improved. A sort of MSP leadership campaign head-start before the other rivals formally start their bids after the by-election. What does Cathy Jamieson, Iain Gray et al think of this move?

In the meantime, the Solidarity Party has named its candidate for Glasgow East. That honour goes to Tricia McLeish from Shettleston.

Tommy Sheridan had nominated her.

So Tommy Sheridan will not be standing for the Glasgow East constituency. That leaves the SSP and Solidarity splitting the socialist vote as expected, and the two main players, Labour and the SNP free to campaign without Tommy Sheridan’s profile stealing the election spotlight.

I’m sure Tricia will do a good job, but I imagine Tommy, as leader of the party, would have collected more votes.

It seems Solidarity would be happy with a SNP win in the election to try and force out Gordon Brown. Tommy Sheridan commented “We have got no problem with the SNP winning this election. Solidarity will be pleased to see the demise of Gordon Brown.”

Given the recent polls a lot of people will feel the same way.


Ferrets in a sack

June 30, 2008

No sooner has Wendy Alexander left her role as leader of Scottish Labour MSPs than a succession of candidates are being tipped to replace her.

Andy Kerr, Iain Gray, Cathy Jamieson, Margaret Curran, Charlie Gordon, Tom McCabe and Malcolm Chisholm have all been mentioned.

Under Labour election rules each candidate needs the backing of 12.5% of Labour MSPs to run. That’s 6 MSPs out of the 46 Labour MSPs.

Given that the seven pretenders wouldn’t back each other; each candidate would need 6 MSPs from the remaining 39 MSPs.

But 7 candidates with 6 nominations is 42 MSPs.

One candidate mentioned has to drop out.

So we could be facing six candidates vying for the leadership.

It just goes to show that there is no obvious successor to Wendy Alexander. She was seen as the most capable in the Scottish Labour MSPs in a limited talent pool.

Whats more, these seven leadership contenders mentioned do not show a strength in depth of Scottish Labour.

Any one of these, like Wendy Alexander, would be outclassed at FMQs by the First Minister, Alex Salmond. Indeed, they would struggle against any of the SNP cabinet.

But that is not the issue now. The new leader has to have a clear vision of where Scottish Labour is going:- is it to be London-led or will it have a more Scottish face and stand up to Westminster? Will Wendy’s policy of backing a referendum be maintained? Will Scottish Labour develop clear policies instead of nat-bashing?

In short, they need to become an effective opposition.

Many analysts consider that whoever the new leader is, they should be aiming for the 2015 election. I think that is pessimistic, though I do think the SNP will win the 2011 election.

A week is a long time in politics, and there is always a chance that events, dear boy, events! will derail the SNP bandwagon. If the new leader leads an effective Labour opposition perhaps events will conspire to give Scottish Labour a fighting hope in 2011.

Perhaps.

What is more likely to happen though, is that the new leader will be sanctioned from Westminster’s shortlist and Scottish Labour MSPs will still be in feu to Westminster.

And the leadership contest is more likely to amplify the divisions in the Labour Party. Divisions that are already apparent.

No wonder the SNP Finance Minister, John Swinney, said today: ‘We’re not really too worried about who the Labour leader is in Scotland. Labour have no idea where they are going.

‘They’re already fighting like ferrets in a sack, as they always do – which is at the root of the Wendy Alexander problem by the way – about the issue of the independence referendum, it’s all over the newspapers, they’re taking different views, they’re all bad-mouthing each other in the process.

‘That’s all part of the furniture of the Labour Party’s contribution to Scottish politics.’

They may be ferrets but they all want to lead the Scottish Labour MSPs? I wouldn’t be in their trousers!