Scottish Leader Could Be Kingmaker in Westminster

British prime minister David Cameron and Scotland's first minister Alex Salmond shakes hands in Edinburgh, October 15, 2012
British prime minister David Cameron and Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, shakes hands in Edinburgh, October 15, 2012 (Scottish Government)

Former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond announced on Sunday he would stand in next year’s general election in Aberdeenshire, an area his Scottish National Party is almost certain to win. He could emerge as kingmaker in Westminster.

Salmond resigned as Scottish leader last month after a referendum on independence showed a majority of Scots in favor of remaining in the United Kingdom. Salmond had campaigned for secession.

His Scottish National Party remains the ruling party in Scotland, however, and is expected to win up to forty seats in the national legislature in Westminster next year, against the six it holds now. That could potentially give it the balance of power if neither the Conservatives nor Labour wins an outright majority. Read more “Scottish Leader Could Be Kingmaker in Westminster”

British Budget Seen as Conservative Election Statement

George Osborne
British chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne in London, England, March 24, 2011 (HM Treasury)

In introducing his spending plans for the next half year on Wednesday, British chancellor George Osborne drew a contrast between his Conservative Party’s successful economic policy and the opposition Labour Party’s obsession with taxing the rich.

“From his first to his last sentence — from boasting about Britain’s growth to unveiling the coalition’s version of the mansion tax — Chancellor George Osborne delivered his Autumn Statement with not just one eye but both fixed firmly on polling day,” wrote the BBC’s political editor, Nick Robinson.

Osborne told lawmakers in London 3 percent economic growth was expected for this year, making Britain the fastest-growing Western economy. He also reported that half a million jobs had been added this year and unemployment was set to fall to 5.4 percent in 2015 which would be one of the lowest jobless rates in Europe. Read more “British Budget Seen as Conservative Election Statement”

Hysterical Conference Speech Shows Miliband Is Unfit to Lead

British Labour Party leader Ed Miliband in Glasgow, Scotland, August 8
British Labour Party leader Ed Miliband in Glasgow, Scotland, August 8 (Stephen Fyfe)

In a rambling conference speech on Tuesday, Labour Party leader Ed Miliband once more made clear why he’s unfit to lead Britain. The country of haves and have nots that he imagines simply does not exist, nor are voters prepared for the class warfare he propagates.

Speaking in Manchester, Miliband insisted most Britons “feel the country doesn’t work for them.” There is a “tiny majority at the top” that is doing well, he said; “the game is rigged in favor of those who have all the power” while the rest of the country is suffering “misery, hardship and injustice.”

The socialist leader excoriated Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives for supposedly looking out only for bankers, big business and millionaires. “A Tory economy is always an economy for the few,” he said. “Because that’s who they care about.”

These are not unfamiliar themes for Miliband. He year ago, he claimed from the same podium that the benefits of Britain’s recovery were being “scooped up by a privileged few.” The year before, he chastised “predatory” businesses and “wealth strippers” in his conference speech and said ordinary Britons were being “squeezed by runaway rewards at the top.”

The message isn’t resonating. Because except for diehard Labour supporters, the British people know Miliband’s is not the real world.

It were the diehard Labour supporters whom the speech was for, though, writes Dan Hodges, a former Labour Party and trade union official, in The Daily Telegraph.

“Ed Miliband didn’t even try to present himself as a prime minister,” he argues. “To do that necessitated him reaching out over the heads of the assembled delegates and into the country. He had no interest in reaching out beyond his delegates. Instead, he delivered a speech designed to move his party painlessly back into its comfort zone.”

Hodges remembers the promises from four years ago when Miliband was elected leader. “Lessons had to be learned. Pages turned. The status quo confronted. It would, he told us, be a whole new politics.”

“And think where it has ended,” writes Hodges. “With a Labour leader pledging to his audience he would raise taxes to boost public-sector spending. Vowing to break up the banks but veto reform in the NHS,” the National Health Service. “And saying nothing — literally nothing — on immigration, law and order, welfare reform, the deficit or the macroeconomy.”

Miliband warned in his speech that the Conservatives would like talk much about the past in the upcoming election campaign whereas he wanted to discuss the future. Which is unsurprising because Labour’s record is abysmal.

Before the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats came to power in 2010, Britain’s budget deficit equaled 12 percent of GDP, or £163 billion. The national debt had reached a record high of £857 billion.

During the preceding thirteen years of Labour rule, education and health spending had more than doubled while tax rates remained almost unchanged. More than 20 percent of the country’s workforce ended up employed by the government. Almost 30 percent of public spending went to an enormously complicated and complex welfare regime which still left many in financial despair. Nearly four of Britain’s twenty million households had no one who earned a wage.

The coalition set out to change those numbers — with some success. Borrowing in the fiscal year that ended in March was £108 billion, or 6.6 percent of economic output. The fiscal improvement was largely due to economic growth because public spending has continued to rise in real terms while some tax rates were cut.

Two million Britons have found employment in the private sector since the coalition came to power, more than making up for the 400,000 job losses in the public sector. There is even a record number of Britons in work.

For all Labour’s laments, welfare still makes up 30 percent of government spending. But there have been reforms. Various benefits for which unemployed Britons could apply have been combined into a single Universal Credit, making the system both more accessible and less vulnerable to fraud. A cap has also been introduced on the total amount of benefits working age Britons can receive so they cannot get more in welfare than the average worker takes home in wages.

If that’s the sort of policies Miliband intends to overturn, it’s no wonder even one in four Labour voters has more confidence in David Cameron to run their economy than in their own leader.

To Win, British Conservatives Need to Articulate Vision

British prime minister David Cameron attends a meeting of the European Council in Brussels, March 20
British prime minister David Cameron attends a meeting of the European Council in Brussels, March 20 (The Prime Minister’s Office)

With Britain’s economy doing better than most in the developed world and the opposition Labour Party seemingly trapped in the past, Prime Minister David Cameron should be sailing toward reelection. Yet, with a year to go before the next general election, his Conservative Party remains unpopular and chances are it will not win a plurality of the votes, let alone a majority. What gives?

One reason, writes The Telegraph‘s Janet Daley, is the Conservatives’ political pragmatism. “They offered competence and sensible management of debt and expenditure, combined with moderate social reform, and they can plausibly claim to be on the way to delivering both.” That makes them sound enough to reelect, she suggests, “but nothing much to get excited about.”

I feared as much two years ago when conservative and liberal parties had come to power across Europe without articulating a convincing vision for their economic and fiscal reforms. “When times are tough,” I wrote, people are inclined to vote for the party that seems to them best capable of managing the nation’s finances. “As soon as a crisis is averted, which many left-wing parties seem to believe is the case, the political managers lose their appeal. People don’t just care for policy. They crave for a politics of vision.”

Austerity is not an ideology. It is a means to an end but when the end is left unsaid, who but a masochist would vote for it?

Cameron did start talking about the end goal late last year when he said spending cuts represent “something more profound” than clearing up balance sheets. “It means building a leaner, more efficient state. We need to do more with less. Not just now but permanently.”

That was getting in the right direction but hardly an advertisement for “Morning in Britain.” A compelling political vision doesn’t just talk about the state but about the whole of society. What sort of a country does Cameron want to build?

Daley points out there are many contradictions in the government’s policies. On the one hand, it gives tax relief to the lowest paid, supports a minimum wage increase and boasts that the rich have never paid more in taxes. On the other, it pushes Britons out of welfare and claims to support those who better themselves.

Labour absurdly depicts the Conservatives as “callous, out-of-touch toffs who only want to help their rich friends,” as Daley puts it, but that is now how most voters see them. Rather, “they are seen as patronizing, out-of-touch opportunists who think that uttering liberal claptrap will make them popular.”

The average voter might not think through all the contradictions in their rhetoric but does get suspicious when Conservatives claim to be beating the left at their own game. As he should. By far most Conservatives believe free enterprise and competition create a fairer society than the redistributive and statist policies offered by Labour. Most believe it’s genuinely bad for people to be dependent on welfare for years or even decades and that a job, by contrast, gives them a sense of belonging and dignity. By far most Conservative believe it is more important that people have the freedom and ability to improve their own lot than is an equitable distribution of wealth — and that therefore opportunity and social mobility should be strengthened, not sacrificed in the name of fairness.

On these issues, Cameron and his party can draw a clear contrast between themselves and Labour. If they do, they will likely be rewarded at the polls next year. If they don’t, enough centrist voters might just opt for the real deal instead and deny the Conservatives a second term.