Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year, New Leader

As we raise a glass to bid farewell to 2006 and welcome 2007, in common with every other blogger, I'm going to gaze into my crystal ball and predict some outcomes for the year to come.

Looking back at last year, I forecast the demise of Chuckles Kennedy - although I got his successor hugely wrong and predicted somebody called Oaten would be in charge. How wrong can you be? I predicted that Blair would hang on into 2007 and that Birmingham council wouldn't change hands in May. So, that's three out of four.

But first - what kind of year has it been?

For the Tories - not bad. They've sustained a decent lead in the polls - although not sufficient to be sure of getting a majority if an election were called tomorrow. Cameron's honeymoon continues as he holds back on policy. He's still facing whinging from inside the party that he's failing to reach out to the traditional right of the party - Iain Dale was on the radio this weekend calling again for a Tory manifesto to promise that by the end of an electoral cycle, tax bills will have dropped.

It seems clear that this will become the leading policy of the next election campaign and it will be dressed up as being in the interest of ordinary folk like you and me. Cameron is trying to play it that the Tories are the party of ordinary people.

Council tax and utility bills keep going up and it's becoming harder for families to make ends meet.
Now, I find it hard to take that seriously - not least because I can remember the 1980s when the Tories were the party of the unemployed. Nobody worked harder than them to create the millions of unemployed men and women, laying waste to vast swathes of this country's industry, so you will excuse me if I believe that any attempt by the Conservatives to grab that particular piecel of moral high ground is actually rather offensive. Kerron Cross reminds us of the Tory opposition to the minimum wage and the tax credit system, which has put more money into the pockets of some of the poorest in our society.

Then we come to Cameron himself, a man described by a Sun journalist as a 'poisonous, slippery individual'. Jeff Randall wrote that he wouldn't trust him

'with my daughter's pocket money... To describe Cameron's approach to corporate PR as unhelpful and evasive overstates by a widish margin the clarity and plain-speaking that he brought to the job of being Michael Green's mouthpiece... In my experience, Cameron never gave a straight answer when dissemblance was a plausible alternative, which probably makes him perfectly suited for the role he now seeks: the next Tony Blair.'
I'm not sure the country wants another Blair, to be honest. Cameron will keep playing the mood music that he thinks we want to hear, but could be caught on the hop by a potential snap election. People will want to see more than just spin, Dave.

Remember, whenever you hear him or his equally blithering idiot sidekick Gideon Osborne (I still have a screengrab of a (possibly) libellous post from Praguetory about the incompetent Osborne's university past) chuntering on about ordinary people, think about the thousand jobs lost at ITV when Cameron was on the board of Carlton overseeing the billion-pound loss that was ITV Digital. Or that 'man of the people' Dave is just an Old Etonian Oxbridge graduate married to an heiress. His economic genius extends to advising Norman 'Threshers' Lamont around the Black Wednesday disaster. You might also remember that whatever the spin at the top, there are still huge problems at lower levels in the Tory Party. The A List has served the purpose of highlighting the 'New Tory' party, but has failed in convincing the membership that the chosen ones are actually the best and the brightest in the party.

Now to the LibDems. Lord help us. What a year they've had. Stabbing Charlie in the back and front at once; running a leadership election campaign where my personal choice John Hemming fell by the wayside, Mark Oaten ended up in the shit, Simon Hughes was dragged out of the closet, Chris Huhne emerged as the boring choice and they ended up with the near death experience of Ming Campbell. They proved as effective as always when it comes to by-election campaigning - winning in Gordon Brown's back yard and pushing the Tories to the limit in Bromley. They've still got that dodgy £2 million donation hovering over their heads, you know...

And then there's Lembit. There's always Lembit. Loyal to the end, our Lembit - if something of a jinx on leaders. Opik the ogler, they call him now.

On to Labour. Hellfire. Despite a barely-disguised leadership campaign spooling up in the background, despite a disastrous and unneccessary war in Iraq, despite having to face up to allegations about the sale of honours and being £28 million in debt, we're still in there. The economy is holding up well and while the Tories are ahead in the polls, the overall situation seems sufficiently fluid to give some hope for the next election. Everything this year has been overshadowed by the leadership issue, as everyone counts down the days until Tony hands in his notice.

Locally, the May election results weren't too bad for Labour - the vote largely held up for Labour, although four seats were lost, two came home as well. Given the poor run up to the election and the much-forecasted meltdown, it wasn't a bad result overall. Sadly, as predicted, Labour failed to regain control of the council - that's still probably a few years away - and the result was a miraculous continuation of the Regressive Partnership between the Liberal Democrats and the Tories.

Over 2006, the city failed to move very far forwards as it missed out on the shortlisting for a supercasino licence, had the Power Report slam their housing policy, continued their incompetent management of the library project, maintained a leadership cabal entirely unrepresentative of the multi-ethnic makeup of our city (and saw another LibDem councillor resign and allege racism), failed to support a small project celebrating the Welsh valley communities sacrificed to ensure fresh water for Birmingham, took regular kickings from business luminaries like Digby Jones, breached the duty of care that they owe to their employees, failed to move the recycling agenda forward enough, increased the average waiting time for housing adaptations for the elderly and disabled to eighteen months, saw the social services department's progress marked down as 'uncertain' and ended up the year having a spat about how green they aren't (while finding the cash to buy a new car for Whitless and refurbish his office). To end the year, they put up some big screens in the chamber so the poor unfortunate public could see their elected representatives in all their glory.

And for the blog, the high point was unquestionably the frontpage splash in the Birmingham Post (thanks due really to The Daily) and the subsequent appearance on Midlands Today. Hell, it is nice to be recognised by the mainstream boys from time to time. I'm also a little proud about unearthing some of the nastier poison emanating from the brain of the former member of the BNP, Ms Sharon Ebanks, a search inspired by Unity. Along the way, I dug up some stuff on the Midlands Industrial Council and the close links with another Tory front organisation, the Taxpayers' Alliance.

Anyway, to the predictions.

Gordon to move into No 10 unopposed. I really can't see any likely opponents appearing on the horizon - I doubt that John McDonnell will get the 44 nominations required to stand and the only serious counter to Gordon would have to be a big-name cabinet minister, with only Dr John Reid looking a likely lad. Even he may have to bow to the Brown steamroller and accept that any challenge would be futile. Predictions for the deputy post are more fluid. I'm leaning towards Cruddas myself, but I suspect Alan Johnson will get it - but there will be a real contest. I'll also predict that the end of year opinion polls will show a slight Brown lead over Cameron - still making any election tight, but much more winnable.

Tony to resign sooner than we expect. Will he make it to the ten years? I'm not certain. Really - I think the party would like him gone before the May elections and he might just feel inclined to do them the service, but it has to be soon. Here's the radical prediction - no charges to follow from the investigation into party funding, although I expect rules to be tightened and new proposals for some state match-funding to follow.

While Ming the Useless will continue his leadership of the Liberal Democrats (health permitting) and they will continue to perform effectively in by-elections, like Guido, I suspect that a couple of LD MPs may decide to jump ship to the Tories. I'm also backing the idea that Lembit might yet give us some more mileage in terms of his private life and I think that it is unlikely he will end the year on the front bench. The LDs will come under increasing pressure in the polls as former Tory voters return to their natural home.

Cameron will gradually rack back on the A List and we'll see more of their desire to cut taxes and services - although never phrased in quite such a direct manner. He will find himself under pressure from the right of the party and will have to give them something to calm their nerves, but he's not going anywhere. The Tories think that he's the boy to lead them back to power and they'll stand by him through virtually anything if there remains a possibility of winning the next election.

Locally, the Regressive Partnership will boldly go nowhere as usual. Short of a miracle, Labour won't regain power in May, but I expect them to hold on to what they've got. I'm also predicting a drop in the Lib Dem vote as Tories return to the fold.

Any thoughts, folks?

Happy New Year to everyone, regardless of political persuasion. Except Littlejohn, obviously.


Penny said...

Nice article. So many people are "leaning towards Cruddas" that I think he's going to it. Everyone I speak to is supporting him so I don't know why people still think Johnson or Benn are going to win. If everyone's voting for Cruddas who's voting for them? This race is not going to be boring!

Simon said...

re the Birmingham council elections, I would expect Labour to lose Billesley, Erdington and Kings Norton at least and possibly also Bordesley Green and Oscott. On the other hand, I think they will win back Aston and Sparkbrook. So another OKish year for them with no effect on control of the council.

Anonymous said...

Simon said re the Birmingham council elections, I would expect Labour to lose Billesley, Erdington and Kings Norton at least and possibly also Bordesley Green and Oscott. On the other hand, I think they will win back Aston and Sparkbrook. So another OKish year for them with no effect on control of the council.

i think that you may have a point but what about the uintold story that history has a way of changing things around back to Labour surely anything is better than the tories & Lib dfem Pack in Birmingham