In All Out War, the excellent account of the EU referendum campaign by Tim Shipman, there are several occasions where Tim relays the idea that the Leave campaign were happy to see their £350m figure discussed on TV. The argument goes that every time it was discussed, even if the discussion was simply about how false the figure was, it reminded people of one of their key messages and, given they won, it is hard to disagree with their logic.Read More
Political campaigns are a dirty business. People will often stoop very low to win, and when the stakes are as high as becoming President of the United States the lengths people will go to are pretty extreme.Read More
There is a whole host of political analysis around at the moment, and I must admit that even as someone who lives and breathes politics I haven't been able to keep up. However, great events often lead to greater coverage and analysis and that is definitely the case here.
So if you're looking for some reading material this Sunday to try and make sense of everything that has happened, I'd suggest you start with the following:
- Tim Shipman for the Sunday Times on the Week of the Long Knives in the Tory Party.
- Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian reminds us we shouldn't forget what Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have done to the country.
- James Lyons, again for the Sunday Times, has the inside track on Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour coup.
- Stephen Bush in the New Statesman talks about how all of the above is providing a nice distraction for people who can't bear to think about how damaging Brexit will actually be.
I could have included a dozen other pieces in here, as there has been a plethora of superb analysis done in the last week.
Have a favourite piece that I missed? Add it in the comments below!
Over the last few weeks, many a column inch has been dedicated to the EU referendum. You won't win any prizes for predicting that many more quills will be blunted over the next 8 weeks as we get closer to referendum on June 23rd.Read More
When I was about 8, my younger brother and I were playing football in our lounge at the family home. In our youthful enthusiasm, and general disregard for the fact a room full of electronics and furniture is not appropriate for a game of footy, the ball hit one of my mum's ornaments, a figurine of a little girl, and sent it crashing to the floor.Read More
The Panama Papers have caused quite a stir over the last few days. Before I continue, I'm going to reassure you I'm not going to try and explain what they are, what they mean or why they are important. There are actual economists who will do that. I also don't really understand alot of it.
I'm here to talk about the mess Downing Street are in in terms of dealing with the story.
The last 24 hours have seen Number 10 in a bit of a tailspin trying to explain how the Prime Minister is implicated, or not, in the publication of the leaked tax documents. They've issued several statements since yesterday, explaining initially the PM didn't benefit at all from offshore accounts, then having to extend that to his wife or children, then again having clarify that he wouldn't benefit in the future and finally that neither would his wife and children.
Four positions in 24 hours. Headline writers everywhere are rejoicing.
And you know what, I have the utmost sympathy for them. Why? Because I've seen how this can happen for myself.
When I was in the press office in 2014, the Liberal Democrats held our party conference in York. As is traditional, the party leader's speech was pre-briefed to the journalists present who were given the opportunity to ask questions, clarify points and generally probe Nick's spokesman for information that would be helpful to them writing up the stories afterwards.
It was all going fine initially. And then it came. Sam Coates, Deputy Political Editor of The Times and baby-faced political assassin, asked the question that would torment the next 6 hours of our lives:
And that was it. The floodgates opened. The Lobby decided to pick away at this answer like a child at a scab.
Would he serve the full five years? Would he only serve it if the party were in Government? If he stepped down halfway through a coalition, how would transition work? If we weren't in Government, would he step down? Did he have a successor in mind? If he did step down, would he remain in Parliament or resign his seat as well? Had he consulted Miriam about these plans?
We ended up clarifying the position four times over the course of the afternoon, going from 'He wants to lead the party beyond beyond 2015' to 'He wants to lead the party into 2015 and beyond, regardless of the result' via 'He wants to remain leader if we return to Government.'
I can't even remember what the fourth one was, but there definitely was one.
The position changed so many times, and with such speed, that Tim Shipman began to speculate that Sam would have us saying he planned on being leader for the rest of his life if he just kept asking the question. He probably wasn't wrong.
It was chaos.
And this is the situation that David Cameron and his Downing Street spinners find themselves in.
It'll pass, but they just need to be prepared to swallow their pride and commit to clarifying the statement again and again until the questions stop coming. Because they will. Eventually.
Big data is changing everything about our lives.
There is stuff you notice, like how looking at one Amazon product once will lead you to be bombarded with adverts for similar products on every site you visit. And there are slightly creepier things you will never see, like a complex Target data algorithm discovered one girl's teenage pregnancy before her father did.
Elections are no different, and how political parties use data in order to better target voters will be a defining feature in how election battles are won and lost in the future. The 2015 General Election was arguably the first that saw the use of big data in any meaningful way, with the Conservatives demonstrating that they were far better skilled at identifying and utilising that data than other parties. The big challenge for all political parties will be staying ahead in the age of digital campaigning. Political battles in the future will be decided less and less by who delivers the greater number of leaflets and more and more by who utilising data better to effectively target voters.
But how did we get to this point?
I'm glad you asked, because the point of this post isn't for me to prattle on, but instead to direct you to FiveThirtyEight.com, who have produced two excellent podcast episodes on data in elections. They're focussed on American politics, but data is data, so everything they talk about is equally applicable to our elections. They're a fascinating listen for anyone interested in elections, big data or, ideally, both.
Since his decision to back 'Brexit', the Westminster machine has become obsessed over the future direction on Boris Johnson's career, and how each move plays into his grand plan. However much he denies it, it is an open secret that BoJo covets the top prize and I am firmly of the belief that he'll now attain it.
Regardless of the way the referendum goes, I don't believe David Cameron will be a position to lead his party for a great deal of time afterwards (or any time at all, if the UK votes to leave). Let's look at the two possible outcomes:
If the UK votes to leave, Cameron will be totally humiliated. It would be impossible for him to continue as PM, having fought so strongly for a remain vote. He will resign swiftly afterwards and trigger a leadership contest, the rules of which I'll come to in a second.
Now let's imagine the UK votes to stay. In order for the Prime Minister to survive the referendum, the result needs to be a significant victory for his side. However, all signs are that it will be a close vote rather than a landslide victory. Much more akin to the Scottish Referendum than the one conducted on the voting system in 2011.
And now look where we are already. Cabinet Ministers are openly attacking the Prime Minister, one of his closest allies is now heading up the rival campaign and there are more still than three months to go until election day.
Having just been through a coalition and a General Election as a Liberal Democrat, I am more than familiar with the fire and brimstone that Conservatives can unleash when anyone gets in the way of their goals. If you think the campaign is bitter and divisive for the Tory party now, imagine what it'll look like ten days before polling day when a new poll puts the sides anywhere near close to each other. It will be blue on blue with smatterings of red.
Even if David Cameron eventually wins that fight, it will prove to be a Pyrrhic victory for him personally. His party will be so divided by the campaign that any hope of uniting them and continuing with business as usual will be lost. YouGov figures out this week show that 69% of people believe the Conservative party are divided already, which is higher than Labour's 65%. Does anyone really believe that the next three months of bitter infighting and negative campaigning is going to make that figure get any better?
The Prime Minister will survive for longer than if the result goes badly for him, but the overall result will eventually be the same.
Enter Boris, with his blonde barnet and love of whiff whaff.
It's worth remembering at this point that the route to being the next Prime Minister is not through the country, but through the Tory leadership process. And it is through understanding this process that Boris' decision to back Brexit makes perfect sense.
Any replacement for Cameron has to pass two hurdles; the first is to get selected as one of two candidates by Conservative MPs; the second is to be elected in the subsequent head to head by Conservative party members.
Conservative MPs are divided currently on the EU (in other news, bears defecate in wooded areas and Pope is religious). Upwards of 140 Tory MPs are backing Brexit, and given this contest will be fought in the shadow of the referendum, it is very likely that they would want a eurosceptic on the ballot paper.
The best case scenario is that Boris is the figurehead of a victorious leave campaign. The worst is that he is the only leadership candidate who was willing to face down the PM and stand with his eurosceptic colleagues.
Either way, Boris has now ingratiated himself with a group of MPs large enough to ensure that he is likely to end up on the ballot paper. This is especially true when you remember that his primary leadership rivals, Theresa May and George Osborne, are both backing the PM, as are other outside contenders such as Sajid Javid and Nicky Morgan.
So that's how Boris gets on the ballot paper. And once he's done that, he simply has to win a vote with members of the Conservative Party.
Boris is one of the rarest beasts in the world. He is a popular politician. He is popular among the wider electorate but, crucially for this scenario, he is very popular with Conservative party members. Indeed, he is already ahead of many of his rivals when members are asked who they want to be the next leader of the party. The latest ConservativeHome Survey shows a clear lead for Boris among Tory party members, while a YouGov poll showed 43% of them would vote for Boris. He also comfortable wins a hypothetical battle with George Osborne, the most likely other candidate on the ballot paper at this stage.
It is also worth remembering that Conservative Party members are more eurosceptic that the MPs who will have nominated Boris, so the fact this election battle will happen in the shadows of an EU referendum, Boris' popularity among the grassroots will be buoyed by his stance.
Even if you don't believe the EU referendum will result in the PM losing his job, he has already made it clear that he plans to stand down before 2020 anyway, and therefore the Tory leadership process will be the route for the next Prime Minister, whether that be this year or slightly further down the line and all of the support Boris has garnered through his actions will not magically disappear.
If you believe that there is going to shortly be an opening for the role of Prime Minister, which I do, then it is not difficult to paint a picture where Johnson rides his Boris Bike through the gates of Number 10 before the year is out.
All hail King Boris.
When you tell people you work in politics, the conversation will, eventually, come to the point where someone asks:
Is your life ever like The Thick Of It?
I've always answered by telling people that my friends at University nicknamed me Ollie because I, apparently, share the mannerisms of Chris Addison's character from the TV show and leave it at that. But as it's my first proper post on this blog, I thought I'd tell a story that could have come out of the show itself.
It was the Liberal Democrat Conference 2013, and my role back then was planning all of the visits that Nick Clegg was doing over the course of the 5 days in Glasgow. This included finding somewhere suitable to announce a new 5p charge on plastic bags, which had the unusual honour of being a policy liked by both Liberal Democrat members and The Daily Mail.
I picked out a lovely nature reserve just south of Glasgow called Cathkin Marsh*, which allowed us to tell the story of how discarded carrier bags murder cute, furry animals, damage the environment and ruin picturesque landscapes.
Now, as part of arranging any visit for Nick, who at that time was obviously DPM, you had to recce the site with his Metropolitan Police protection team. As we were in Scotland, we were also accompanied by some officers from Police Scotland, who opened my eyes to a startling fact.
'Interesting place for a visit' said one officer after the recce, which had mainly involved walking around a marshland on a wooden boardwalk.
I, thinking he meant they usually take politicians to schools, factories or nursing homes, launched into an explanation about why we'd chosen this location, the environmental impact discarded bags can have etc etc. I was swiftly cut off.
'No, I mean because of what the locals use it for' he said.
Now, 'what the locals use it for' is never a good sentence to hear, because usually 'the locals' are never using 'it' for anything good. I didn't want to ask what he meant, mainly because I knew what he was going to say if I did, but felt that I had to.
So I did.
And then came the reply I had both expected and dreaded.
'Oh, it's a dogging site.'
A dogging site. I'd arranged for the Deputy Prime Minister to visit a dogging site. Armando himself couldn't have written this script.
Thinking that the police might be playing a cruel joke on me, I raced to my hotel room and promptly searched for any links relating to Cathkin Marsh and dogging. In hindsight, searching for local dogging sites on a work computer probably wasn't a smart move, but I wasn't thinking clearly.
And what did I find? I found this Daily Record story about the 'dogging hotspot', as well as a number of links that I simply can't post on a family friendly blog.
That's right. Just 4 weeks before our conference, two pensioners had been caught doing what The Daily Record chose to describe as 'unsavoury' things to one another in the very bird hut I'd walked past that afternoon and signed off as a suitable location to announce brand new Government policy.
And now I faced a choice. It was Friday night and the visit was scheduled for Sunday morning. There was enough time to plan a brand new visit in a brand new location, just. But that would require me to admit to my error, open myself to ridicule and highlight my own incompetence in what was my first major role in Nick's team. On top of that, we'd already starting briefing the visit, so a sudden change of location would cause intrigue and potentially lead people to discovering the information themselves.
Or I could take the highly risky strategy and tell nobody, hope that no one noticed, and potentially ruin a significant Government policy announcement, as well as my career, if they did.
I'd just about accepted that I had to come clean when my phone rang and James Holt**, a then Number 10 Special Adviser and current Lib Dem Director of Communications, told me that the policy had been leaked and would be on the front page of the Daily Mail on Saturday and that we'd need to bring the visit forward to the next morning.
Decision made then. There was no way we could find an alternate location in that time, and the announcement needed a visit for the pictures. So I made the very brave (or very stupid) decision and told James that would be fine.
So the next morning came, and off went the Deputy Prime Minister and Lord President of the Council on his morning visit. To a dogging site.
The visit itself went off without a hitch, we got the pictures and coverage we wanted, and then I waited.
And nothing came. Not a single one of Her Majesty's loyal press corp, a group of people able to send even the most seasoned politician into a tail spin, had stumbled across my faux pas. I had, somehow, gotten away with it.
Nick Clegg, checking for doggers
I recounted this story to a lobby journalist recently who politely described me as 'f**king lucky', which is not only totally fair but also a gross understatement.
So the answer is yes. Sometimes, life in politics really is like The Thick Of It.
* - Cathkin Marsh is a genuinely beautiful nature reserve, so if you ever get the chance then you should definitely visit. Just not for dogging.
** - While I've recounted this story enough times over the years for it to become well known in Lib Dem circles, there may well be people reading this who haven't heard it before and are therefore totally unaware that I completely misled them. To those people, I am sorry.