General election 2015

Labour’s England problem

In the window of a council house on a working-class estate in Exeter was a sticker bearing the cross of St George and a simple warning: ‘If this flag offends you, why not consider moving to another country?’ For some canvassers working on Labour MP Ben Bradshaw’s 2015 campaign, such a symbol naturally meant the dreaded ‘A’ on the canvas sheet: ‘Against Labour’. In fact, it was a household of solid Labour voters — supporting a party far too often offended by the flag. The truth is that the Labour party has an English problem. While members might just about embrace Britishness, too many feel queasy about Englishness — with

What fun it will be if Trump becomes president

I suppose spite and schadenfreude are thinnish reasons, intellectually, for wishing Donald Trump to become the next American president (and preferably with Sarah Palin, or someone similarly doolally, as veep). But they are also atavistically compelling reasons nonetheless. Think of the awful, awful people who would be outraged and offended. If you recall, 8 May last year was awash with the bitter tears of lefties who couldn’t believe the British people had been so stupid as to elect a Conservative government. There were the usual hilarious temper tantrums and hissy fits. Typical of these was an idiotic college lecturer called Rebecca Roache who loftily announced that she had gone through

Cameron’s great escape

The last time David Cameron sat down with The Spectator for an interview, he was on a train and looking rather worried. There were just weeks to go until the general election and the polls were not moving. At the time, almost no one — and certainly not him — imagined that he was on the cusp of a historic election victory that would not just sweep the Tories to power but send Labour into an abyss. This time, we meet on another train. But he’s far more relaxed, reflecting on winning The Spectator Parliamentarian of the Year award and recalling how election night brought him some of the ‘happiest

Labour’s lost thinker

Shortly before the last election a group of Labour MPs approached Ed Miliband to ask him what he would do if he lost. They suggested he could provide stability by staying on as leader for a while, as Michael Howard had done, and that his last duty should be to oversee an inquiry into what went wrong at the general election. Miliband, still convinced he would win, did not entertain the idea, to the dismay of his policy chief, Jon Cruddas. After the election, Cruddas decided to go ahead and do an inquiry anyway. The results will infuriate the Labour left. The inquiry found that Labour’s anti-austerity message put voters

Time is running out for Labour

[audioplayer src=”″ title=”Isabel Hardman and Rowenna Davis discuss Labour’s lost voters” startat=622] Listen [/audioplayer] The Labour leadership contest was supposed to be a debate about the party’s future. Instead it has oscillated between petty personality politics and bickering. Nobody is addressing the question of how to win back lost voters. The four candidates have barely mentioned the fact that Labour is not winning seats in the south of England, nor the huge challenge from Ukip in its heartlands in the north. Given that the party failed to win its majority in England, it is staggering that more attention hasn’t been paid to this at hustings and in speeches. The candidates

Why I voted for Jeremy Corbyn

Is the ‘Tories for Corbyn’ campaign politics at its most infantile? As one of the few conservative commentators willing to defend it in the media, I’ve been doing my best to rebut that charge. The most frequent line of attack is that there’s something dishonest about it. The Labour leadership election isn’t an open primary. It’s restricted to members, registered supporters and affiliated supporters. OK, you can register as a supporter for £3 — a change brought in by Ed Miliband to reduce union influence — but only if you pretend to be a Labour sympathiser. And that’s just wrong. The short answer to this is that no such pretence

Where Ukip went wrong

[audioplayer src=”″ title=”Freddy Gray, Sebastian Payne and Owen Bennett discuss where Ukip went wrong” startat=685] Listen [/audioplayer]What’s happened to poor Ukip? Not so long ago, they seemed unstoppable. They were revolting on the right, terrifying the left and shaking up Westminster. The established parties tried sneering at them, smearing them, even copying them. Nothing worked. Then came the general election, the centre held, and Ukip seemed to fall apart. Farage failed to win his target seat in South Thanet, the focus of his whole campaign. He resigned, then farcically unresigned, three days later. The ‘Ukip wars’ followed: after an unseemly row over ‘Short money’ — the funding provided by the

Cameron’s dark evening of the soul

At 6.30 p.m. on 7 May, the Camerons invited guests at their home in Oxfordshire into the garden for a drink. Everyone stood on the patio, wrapped up in coats and shawls and drinking wine. They were understandably nervous. The Prime Minister had prepared a resignation statement and read it out to the assembled gathering. The group that huddled together on the patio that day tells us a lot about the qualities which Cameron values in people. Most of them were close to him long before he entered No. 10. Ed Llewellyn, his chief of staff, worked with him at the Conservative Research Department more than 30 years ago. Kate Fall,

Matthew Parris

Ed’s campaign was fine. The problem is his party

Patrick Wintour is one of the best political editors around. For the Guardian he’s been for decades a cool and well-sourced voice: even-handed, informed, interesting but in the best sense dry. So when I heard he’d written the most comprehensive behind-the-scenes account yet of Labour’s failed general election campaign I hurried to read it. I was not disappointed. ‘The undoing of Ed Miliband, and how Labour lost the election’ is an insider account of a chapter of accidents, starting with Mr Miliband’s memory lapse about the deficit during Labour’s last party conference. Apparently he shut himself in his hotel room afterwards and wouldn’t come out. The story takes us through to

Highland star

[audioplayer src=”″ title=”James Forsyth and Isabel Hardman discuss Charles Kennedy’s career” startat=1211] Listen [/audioplayer]Charles Kennedy’s eloquence, intelligence and humour were famous in the Highlands long before his election to the Commons at the age of 23. When I started at Lochaber High School, the prizes he had won as a school debater adorned the walls; as pupils knew, at university he had gone on to win the national championship for Glasgow. It was clear that he was a phenomenon. Charles knew, perhaps better than anyone in British politics today, that how you say something is critical to being understood. Politics is the art of making and winning arguments. He was

Claret and blues

There is a dive near St James’s which could claim to be the epicentre of international reaction. It is also a temple of pseudo–anti-intellectuality: the only club in London where chaps pretend not to have read books. Always a cheerful place, that is especially true at the moment. Its members still find it hard to believe that they survived 13 years of Labour government and had no wish to push their luck with another instalment. The late Frank Johnson once said that although the Labour party had given up on nationalising the economy, it was still determined to nationalise people. Once inside this delightful refuge from the 20th century, let

Rory Sutherland

In praise of the ‘Don’t know’ voter

I am scraping the edges of my memory here, but I am fairly sure that opinion polls in my childhood (for the elections of 1970, 1974 and 1979) quoted four percentages: Conservative, Labour, Liberal and ‘Undecided’. Nowadays no figure is quoted for ‘Don’t knows’, and party support is contrived to add up to 100 per cent. Undecided respondents are variously treated according to each polling company’s methodology: a few ignore them completely; others apply a supplementary question such as ‘Which way would you vote if voting were compulsory?’ Their answer to this may be statistically downweighted, but it will still be added to the total for one party or another,

Barometer | 28 May 2015

Steam privatisation Cunard celebrated its 175th birthday by sailing three liners down the Mersey. The formation of the Cunard Line was an early triumph of privatisation. — The Post Office had been operating a monthly service to New York with sailing brigs since 1756. In 1836 a parliamentary committee decided that a steamship service should replace it, and that it would be more efficient for the Admiralty to put it out to tender to private operators. — Samuel Cunard defeated the Great Western Steamship Company and the St George Steam Packet Company by offering a fortnightly service from Liverpool for an annual subsidy of £55,000. The service, which at first only

Letters | 14 May 2015

Scotland’s silent majority Sir: Hugo Rifkind’s article (‘Scotland’s nasty party’, 9 May) is a first for the media. It expresses the dismay, disbelief and incomprehension felt at the rise of the SNP by least one — and I suspect many — of the silent majority in Scotland. When will the media confront Nicola Sturgeon’s claim to speak for Scotland, as opposed to allowing her to deliver an unchallenged party political broadcast? She can only speak for the SNP, who at best can speak for half of Scottish voters. Not in my name. I want no part of her strident, demanding, aggressive brand. The article did omit one issue. Thousands of young

Tanya Gold

Goulash and whiplash

Ed is a plank. He was always a plank — and now he is in Ibiza being a plank. Plankety–plankety-plank: goodbye to our most recent terrible leader — and who will be the next? I, meanwhile, am in the Gay Hussar, choking on my own grief, hearing ‘Crying in the Rain’, weirdly, in my head, trying to forget the images that flicker mercilessly across my eyes, disrupting my view of a book that says, in capital letters, for emphasis — tony blair (now that’s a leader, eh!) — Clegg, dry-eyed with realisation at the breadth of his failure, Ed Balls hauled down like an -Easter Island statue, Samantha Cameron’s victory

Diary – 14 May 2015

For the 2005 general election, I had a party featuring a gigantic cheesecake with differentiated segments by allegiance. It contained no purple, which you could call leftie bias, but it genuinely didn’t seem necessary. It certainly wasn’t because I couldn’t think of a purple fruit. The Lib Dems did badly out of that, but mainly because you should never put banana on a cheesecake; they did fine in 2010, when I represented them with lemon macaroons. No colourful theming for 2015; the stakes were too high, and I decided that it was a waste of soft fruit. Just booze and crisps and, by 10.15, depressed people; exactly like 1992, in

Martin Vander Weyer

Full employment, Prime Minister? What exactly do you mean by that?

‘Two million jobs have been created since 2010 — but there will not be a moment of rest until we have reached our goal,’ said David Cameron in a Telegraph article a fortnight before the election: ‘Two million more jobs; or full employment in Britain.’ It was a bold statement. Indeed you might think, given unemployment at 1.84 million in the winter quarter, that the target for new jobs was actually an error on the part of who-ever drafts the Prime Minister’s prose. Either way, it drew little attention amid the smoke of battle. But now the air has cleared it merits revisiting, because it connects all the key themes

James Forsyth

Making Labour work

[audioplayer src=”″ title=”Dan Hodges and Andrew Harrop discuss the final days of Miliband” startat=34] Listen [/audioplayer]The Labour party is in a worse position today than after its defeat in 1992. Then, the electorate sent Labour a clear and simple message: move to the centre, don’t say you’ll put taxes up and select a more prime ministerial leader. This time, the voters have sent the party a series of messages, several of which are contradictory. The reasons Labour failed to win Swindon South are very different from why it lost Morley and Outwood and the reasons for that defeat are different again in Scotland, where almost all seats fell to the

How the polls got it so wrong

Not all the pollsters got it wrong. On the morning of the election, a set of strikingly accurate predictions was slapped on David Cameron’s desk. They had been compiled by Jim Messina and Lynton Crosby, the strategists who had been running a campaign derided as dull and repetitive. But, as their research showed, it was also effective. Messina is now back in his office in Washington DC. ‘We predicted 312 seats that morning to Lynton,’ he says. This was in line with the exit poll (316 Tory seats) that shocked Westminster. Yet, every day of the campaign, the polls had the Tories and Labour neck and neck. Did he ever