Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Carswell. Clacton. Cameron. Car-crash.

Time for one of my periodic pieces on reasons to be cheerful:

1. Alan Milburn. Julia Gillard used to joke with me that we were the two remaining Milburnites left in the world. It wasn’t entirely accurate, but perhaps at the time we were the only two ‘out’ Milburnites. There were and there are others, but don’t worry Paul and Simon, I won’t name you.

But over the past week we have seen the Master in action. First the Times column on the state of modern British politics. It’s an acute diagnosis of where the main parties stand and is worth the price of the Times subscription. (For those of you who get the Labour party morning media brief it was quoted virtually verbatim on Monday.)

The key is the four Ps. On personality, Cameron beats Ed – as he himself admitted. On purpose, Cameron loses – he has no purpose apart from power. On policy, Ed wins again but is brought down, as is Cameron, by positioning. On mainstream voter positioning, Alan sees both of them distanced from the mainstream voter. It’s getting late, he argues, but it’s not too late for Ed to win and win well the way New Labour did.

Then, as if to disorient the left who would accuse him of being a typical running-dog rightist the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission published a devastating analysis of class-based inequality in Britain. The whole report, Elitist Britain?, is worth a read in full. But among many striking facts these two got me. One in seven judges attended only seven private schools. Elevation solely on merit, as with current profession. No, not ‘recovering political adviser’, but newspaper columnist. Apparently 47 per cent went to Oxford or Cambridge – which is attended by only one per cent of students. Who knew that those august institutions were so good at recruiting writers. (Declaration: I went to a dodgy Scottish place – Edinburgh).

Read the report and weep. Then organise.

2. Carswell. Clacton. Cameron. Clacton. Cameron. Carswell. It sounds so beautiful however you say it. It spells car-crash.

There has been much speculation in the press about the exact meaning of this. I, myself, am a ‘personal vote’ sceptic – I simply know too many MPs and too many voters to believe it.

Whatever happens, it’s a Labour win. Carswell keeps his seat – and the Ukip question is kept on the boil till 2015. Tory conference is dominated by the by-election, and the Tories are dragged to the right. Richard Nixon always said that you had to run to the right to get the nomination and the run as fast as you could back to the centre to win the general election. Cameron has just run out of road.

Or, say, the Tories win it. With or without Boris as deus ex machina. They will have had to turn hard right to do it. See Nixon above.

Or, they split the Tory vote between them and tactical voting to stop Ukip unites the 40 per cent plus who voted Labour, Green or Lib Dem in 2010. (Worth Labour doing a deal, I’d have thought.) And Labour, in Blair pre-97 style, wins a famous victory.

So say after me: Carswell. Clacton. Cameron. Conservative. Car-crash. Chuckle.

3. We’re going to win the referendum. One by one the SNP excuses are falling by the wayside. The ‘late swing’ argument is gone – by this stage in 2011 they were 6-11 points in the lead.

4. The evasions on the currency get no more persuasive – and sneery, smeary, oleaginously fear-mongering Alex Salmond is back. The man his advisers would rather was ‘Eck in a box’ is back – with a vengeance. Asked perfectly reasonable questions by Sky’s political editor Faisal Islam Salmond chose to attack a reputable, independent journalist as a supporter of the No campaign. Done in Westminster he would have been toast – in Scotland that bullying is par for the course and widely accepted as normal. It isn’t, but the SNP have spent a lot of time grooming journalists.

And the cybernats have surfaced blinking from their mums’ basements. They have hounded Jim Murphy round the country. One calling himself ‘William Wallace’ just stood on Jim’s Irn-Bru crates (the patriotic soapbox) and chanted ‘Traitor! Traitor! Traitor!’ in his ear. Another – a ‘seagull whisperer’ – guided all the seagulls in Oban to shit on Jim’s head. It goes on, and will go on as Jim completes his 100-town tour. But take heart – remember how badly beaten we’d have to think we were to even contemplate unleashing our supporters this way. The rage, anger and insults are a barometer of precisely how badly Yes are doing – #yesperate as the hash-tag has it.

5. As if that wasn’t enough good news for one week – the Labour party’s thinking about the future goes on. Chuka Umunna has edited a great collection for Policy Network, Owning the Future, a great compendium of ideas on industry, growth and innovation.

The irrepressible Maria Fyfe, former Glasgow MP and always ‘agitante’, has edited ‘Women Saying No’, a cracking set of essays by Scottish women on why they are voting No. It’s one of the best and most positive things yet to come out of the referendum campaign on the Labour side. Simply inspirational.

And finally, following Andrew Adonis’ lead, the battle for the Labour nomination for mayor is turning into a contest of ideas. Sadiq Khan and Tessa Jowell are playing catch up with Andrew – but it’s all to the good. The more ideas the better. We’ll need them all when we run London.


John McTernan is former political secretary at 10 Downing Street and was director of communications for former prime minister of Australia Julia Gillard. He writes The Last Word column on Progress and tweets @johnmcternan


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John McTernan

is former chief of staff to the leader of the Scottish Labour party. He is former political secretary at 10 Downing Street and was director of communications for former prime minister of Australia Julia Gillard. He tweets @johnmcternan

1 comment

  • I support the Yes campaign in Scotland and am disappointed about the gang attacks on Jim Murphy and the depths that Alex Salmond believes he has to go to when asked about the £ Sterling. As an Irishman, I know what being tied to England is all about, despite living here for over 50 years. Can any socialist want to live under the likes of Cameron or Thatcher and say he would not vote to end such a possibility if they had the chance. Well, the Scots have the chance on 18th September. And Scotland can simply issue a Scottish Pound and shadow the £ Sterling as many non-Euro countries with the Euro in Europe and many Latin American countries do with the Us Dollar. As an economist he apparently does not want to prejudice any negotiations after the referendum by offering an acceptable alternative.

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