Sunday, 1 January 2012

New Year Review

As is usual for this blog the annual round up of news from 2011. This piece will be on the overall commentary on the year with my 12 for 2012; a later post will discuss the major issues, scandals and controversies that arose month by month last year.

Locally, the year can effectively be broken into two halves. The January-May period which focused heavily on the local election and AV campaign and the May-December which should have focused on some of the failures of the local Conservatives but which were conveniently hidden pre-May. This includes significant number of budget overspends on major programmes and incompetence in the education department managed by Cllr Les Wicks.

Nationally, the year has also seen the rise in threat of an airport for the Hoo Peninsula, with all three MPs being caught looking like political pygmies over the shifting position of the government. The administration's belated and forced move in late December on the airport shows it is concerned about its survival.

In addition, you will note themes around the economy - it getting progressively worse over the course of the year, and the shifting position of the government which has clearly called the recovery utterly wrong.

Lastly on Europe - the right wing now have the ability to push Cameron. The move to appease is a major sign of weakness which could come back to haunt on future policy positions. The centrist leadership of Cameron is immesurably weakened despite and indeed highlighted by the fawning in the Express and Mail.

Party positions

Labour has maintained a consistent poll lead up until the populist EU veto and has taken hundreds of council seats in what is a slow march to gain back public confidence. A lot more to do but this year but the leadership took principled stances on the economy and on the press hacking scandal. Ed Miliband still has a lot more to do on burnishing his leadership credentials on a politically apathetic and angry public. It is clear that whilst the Labour Party brand is improving the leadership need to work this year to close the gap with Cameron. This is entirely possible but requires stability and focus; ignoring the Tory trap which is to move Labour to the left or wobble for a Labour leadership contest which will come from right wing surrogates everytime the Labour-lead in the polls close. I believe the membership are now very much aligned to the centre and wont be destablised; more efforts to present a centrist position; pro-business, pro-enterprise and pro-work need to be encapusulated.

The Liberal Democrats with Nick Clegg have had a terrible year with major losses on the AV referendum and implosion at the local elections to Labour. The shift in voting behaviour all but now confirms they are a spent force for at least the next five years in the urban centres. Nick is on the face of it being out-foxed by the Tories in government but may be playing a more astute political positioning trick. It has however been a truly terrible year; Clegg has now reinforced those who previously supported the Lib Dems in 2010 but briefly moved to Labour on rhe election of Ed Miliband. Labour have now banked the social democratic Lib Dem voter.

The good news for Labour and Lib Dems though is that by-elections show Liberals maintaining Council seats in the South and South West - which shows the 'Clegg' brand of Liberalism may be universally despised in urban centres but also appealing enough to brace against the Conservative onslaught in 2015. The hope for Labour is that the Liberals continue to loose urban Council seats en-masse in May whilst holding and taking shire Council wards. Tory strategists will be paying particular attention to by-election results in South / South West show if there is any slippage in Lib Dem support. Thus far they have done remarkably well where it matters so this blogger is willing to suspect the Liberal leadership is playing the only card it can; defence of its seats in the South.

David Cameron has maintained the love of the media classes but has got nearly everything wrong this year. Woefully mismanaging expectations on the economy, not having a clue about his policy on the Big Society, flip-flopping over NHS re-organisation, failing to get a grip on immigration, overseeing a drastic reduction in police numbers whilst the UK falls into mass strife and civil disorder - whilst he is on vacation, a cut in the defence budget and aircraft carrier capability just before Libya and a populist but unsustainable position on the European Union caused by his faustian bargin and weakness against the right wing in his own party, and a total lack of political respect and capability to impact internationally. He has fallen into the trap of gesture politics which sadly masks populism with political maturity.

Despite the back-slapping, the poll story in 2011 is a real, and only self-continuing decline, in the brand position of the Conservative Party which is now being held up by the personal ratings of Cameron. A dangerous position for any party when the judgement of the Prime Minister rarely, if ever, stand the test of time. Cameron has recently burnished his credentials by taking right wing and populist positions; the risk and upside for Labour is that he will seek solace by moving to a more Thatcherite position which is unsustainable for victory in the marginals currently held by Labour MPs in the midlands and urban centres (like Feltham & Heston) and also unappealing enough to centrist voters who supported popular and hard working Liberal Democrat MPs in the South / South West.

12 of 2012

This year will be interesting for Medway; my predictions below:

1) Boris Johnson will win the Mayoralty election and Labour will win the London Assemby elections. Labour will make gains against Liberal Democrats in urban centres in Council elections across the UK.
2) The government will announce a cross-party review on aviation and will formerly look into the possibility of an airport in North Kent - consulting with local authorities in the region. Medway Conservative MPs will not apologise for mis-representing the airport position to the public for 3 years
3) The Olympics will be a success and will mark the change in economic fortune for the UK. There will be recession - albeit a small one - in many industry sectors from January-July 2012
4) Rehman Chisthi will become a PPS
5) Medway will continue to have appalling KS2 and Primary school results. The 11+ fiasco will be hushed up with a move to primary-school based testing absolving the politicians of all responsibilty; there will be a further move to re-organise Primary Schools in Medway.
6) Councillor O'Brien will make an unsuccessful bid for the Police Commissioner role but will be outfoxed by a KCC-sponsored candidate with populist appeal.
7) Councillor Chambers will continue as leader of the Medway Conservative Group, ostensibly as a result of weak and incapable positioning of Conservative back-benchers in Rochester & Strood who will of course remain loyal to him to the press
8) The next Medway Conservative Council budget will be as balanced on paper but as usual unbalanced in outcome. This years budget, which is currently in deficit to the tune of £7.9m, will not be equalised. Money will be taken out of reserves to cover up shortfall.
9) The Better for Less programme will see massive, but covered-up, delays in rolling-out across the Council. It will not save £2.4m, but this will be deftly accounted for in overspends in other budgets to hide the delays that always happen with PwC projects.
10) Councillor Les Wicks will be re-shuffled in April/May 2012
11) Further Medway Liberal Democrat wobbles will continue to cause damage as the party squabbles about its future. The party will further retrench itself into defending urban seats rather than focusing on sub-urban areas it could win in 2019.
12) Train fares will go up by 5-7% and bus fares 6-10% at the end of 2012 despite Conservative pledges. IPSA rules will be changed so Tory MPs do not need to disclose transport as an item on Parliamentary expenses.

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