What does the Conservative Party have to do to win the next election?

By Matt Beebee

The 2010 General Election should have been a clear Conservative victory. It wasn’t. 64% of those that voted backed other parties. This was a perplexing outcome given the Tories were facing a tired and battered Labour Party, trudging through a global financial crisis with rising public debt. Under the leadership of the young David Cameron, who had shifted the party towards the centre ground, victory looked all but certain. Yet failure to win outright forced the Conservatives’ hand into a coalition with the Liberal Democrats; a relationship that has been tetchy to say the least.

The relatively poor show was always going to give the Conservatives, who were polling 20 points ahead of Labour before the 2010 election, an uphill struggle in the 2015 general election given the tough decisions they would have to make in government – on the economy in particular. Former Cabinet minister Michael Portillo has blunted declared “the Conservatives appear to be doomed” at the next general election. He could be right; no party has ever increased its share of votes at a subsequent general election since 1955.

With such pessimistic inevitability, should the Tories concede themselves to losing the election? No. Much could change during the remaining two years of government, but the Tories have three big obstacles they must – and more importantly can – overcome to win the next election.

First, there is the matter of the Labour Party. Despite Labour consistently polling around 10 points better than the Tories, they come out worse in two important polls: preferred leader and economic competence. Although it iz grossly unfair to dismiss Ed Miliband as a leader based on his physical appearance, the electorate do seem to lean favourably towards David Cameron’s style and aptitude as an orator. Labour’s continual dithering over turning ideas into policy, if left too late, could play into the Tories hands. To their credit, they have a plan and are sticking to it. Likewise, Ed Balls, Labour’s shadow chancellor, is considered a prime target to personify Labour’s ineptitude with his rowdy, firebrand style of politics. The Conservatives will seek to push this idea; Labour has no strategy for taking tough decisions in government and opposes with little in the way of alternative policy.

Then there is Europe; the Conservative Party’s ‘elephant in the room’. Cameron has already committed himself to an in/out referendum in 2017 if he is Prime Minister. The paradox is that Cameron does not wish to leave the EU; he wishes to reform it politically while retaining the economically vital single market. He has felt the urge to accommodate the Eurosceptic crowd given the surge of UKIP and the perceived natural Euroscepticism because of Britain’s island culture. This pandering should be avoided. A YouGov poll from January stated 34% would vote to leave the EU while 40% would vote to remain. Cameron should instead be pushing for a reformed EU treaty – something he is confident of doing – that reclaims parliamentary sovereignty and supports economic liberalism, demonstrating that he does worry about European encroachment while emphasising that leaving the EU single market is to the detriment of the UK’s private sector. This should win back the Eurosceptic defectors and render a dangerous referendum unnecessary. Despite its many troubles, voters must remember the EU is still the world’s largest market and the UK’s major trading partner.

However, it is the economy that wins elections. Although ComRes, a polling consultancy, found the electorate are more likely to trust ‘Team Cameron & Osborne’ over ‘Team Miliband & Balls’ on the economy, this should not cause complacency. The deficit may have fallen year-on-year since 2010, but only minimally; public spending is continually higher than it should be, largely due to automatic stabiliser payments and continual ringfencing of certain government departments – international aid is a particular bitter pill for a domestic electorate facing squeezes. Removing ringfencing will allow for efficiency within departments, further reduce departmental spending on waste, while also freeing up money for capital spending projects, generating multiplier effects on job creation and consumer demand.

Unemployment continues to creep above 2.5million, too. More should be done to cut unnecessary red tape that hampers job creation. Pressing ahead with radical reform to the welfare system, although painful, seems to strike a chord with the electorate. If people can be pushed back into work through welfare and regulatory reform, job creation and growth will soon pick up. If growth, rising employment and greater deficit reduction can be achieved the Tories can at last claim to have moved the economy out of the doldrums, significantly boosting their electoral hopes.

Securing an outright majority in 2015 will be a tough ask for the Conservatives given the precarious position they defend and the fragility of the economy is by no means bound to change, despite recent upturns. With a clear focus on the right policy choices over the next two year,, so to outmanoeuvre their main rivals, the Conservatives stand a better chance of re-entering government in 2015.


Time to turn off the TV: Why Italians should once and for all break up the ties between television and politics

By Andrea Masini

The word “clowns” has been used by influential analysts (such as “The Economist” and Peer Steinbrueck, Chancellor candidate in Germany) to describe Silvio Berlusconi and Beppe Grillo, the real winners of the Italian general elections of 24th and 25th February.  As a matter of fact, both political leaders share outstanding entertainment skills, combined with a certain lack of institutional stature. As usual, Mr Berlusconi, whose right-of-centre coalition surprisingly obtained around 29,5% of the vote, has been conducting a flamboyant election campaign. He has been fighting on TV against journalists and has sent a letter to 9 million families, promising to refund an unpopular property tax introduced by the last government. On the other hand, Beppe Grillo, whose “5 Stars Movement” has gained almost 25% of the vote, has been travelling all over Italy in a so-called “Tsunami Tour”, drawing huge crowds. Grillo´s rallies were one-man shows, with the leader performing at the centre of a stage.

“Clown” might indeed be the right word to define the two politicians. However, it is far more useful to focus on the reasons why two “clowns” are actually taken seriously by the electors, and are eventually able to gain such impressive results in democratic elections. I argue that the main reasons why this happened lies in the deep connections between politics and television. The latter has been playing a key role in altering the good functioning of the Italian democratic sphere, eventually allowing two entertainers to run for office. It should not happen anymore.

A special relationship with TV

First of all, both Berlusconi and Grillo owe their popularity to television. A lot has been written on the media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi, who has built his career as entrepreneur within the TV industry, creating a private broadcaster model based on entertainment and financed by commercials. That’s exactly the same context in which Mr Grillo became popular in Italy. In fact, during the 80s, he was taking part as a comedian in a number of successful TV shows, and was the face of a well-known brand of yoghurt.

Concerning this point, one might argue that the success of Grillo’s “5 Stars Movement” has been mainly based on the Internet, and doesn’t have anything to do with television. The candidates have been chosen through the Web, and Beppe Grillo is using a Weblog to communicate with his followers. Actually, this is just the outward appearance of the movement’s dynamics. As noted by Evgeny Morozov (author of “The Net Delusion”), Grillo has been clever in using the “rhetoric of the Web”, conveying the idea that the rise of the “5 Stars Movement” was an Internet-driven, popular revolution. De facto, the political patterns used by Grillo still belong to traditional politics. Firstly, the turnout of the primaries held by the “5 Stars Movement” on the Internet has been rather low (around 20,000 voters out of 230,000 registered members). Secondly, although he mainly communicates through a Weblog, Beppe Grillo still uses a vertical downwards model of communication with his followers, which does not leave great space for interaction.

On top of that, Grillo’s supporters argue that there is a substantial difference between the election campaign of Silvio Berlusconi and the one conducted by their leader. In fact, while Berlusconi has literally invaded the television arena, participating to almost a TV program per day, Mr Grillo has refused to show up on that medium. Nevertheless, I argue that he has made an indirect use of television. Continuously launching attacks against it, Beppe Grillo has put the TV system at the centre of his political discourse. Also, with his absence from the TV screens, he has performed a sort of “empty chair politics”, forcing the television news channels to focus the attention on him and his movement.

The influence of TV on the electoral choice

Furthermore, in the last twenty years television has been playing a key role in influencing the dynamics of electoral choice in Italy. The nature of politics has ultimately been distorted by the TV: it has become a show, with information and opinions losing out to exteriority, sensationalism and infotainment. In other words, the primacy of the television format has relegated the complexity of the political reasoning to a secondary role.  According to the political scientist Giovanni Sartori, the development of TV, especially in Italy, has been the underlying reason of the involution of the human kind from homo sapiens to homo videns (literally: man who watches), whose political judgment is based on the candidates’ stage performance.
In this sense, it is not surprising that the candidates who perform better on TV are the ones who have run a more successful campaign. Berlusconi and Grillo have mastered the communication modes typical of television, and can therefore communicate better to the electors, who are more prone to receive a message shaped for TV.

 Please, turn off the TV

To sum it up, the main reasons why two “clowns” have been able to gain political consensus during the last general election in Italy lie within the broad spectrum of the ties between television and the political sphere. Firstly, both Berlusconi and Grillo belong to the world of TV, and know therefore very well how to communicate on TV. Secondly, because of the influence of television on people’s judgment of an election campaign , electors are more likely to vote for “clowns”, who can run a  campaign as if it were a TV show.

Ultimately, if he wins the elections, the clown has to rule the country. Unlike campaigning, this involves more than entertainer skills. When people realise he is unfit to do that, they won’t like the show anymore. Perhaps, in the next elections, they might consider turning off the TV and choosing a more competent candidate.

Racism and you: Cameron’s easy EU scapegoat

By Patrick Lee

There’s a book by Andrew Gamble called The Conservative Nation. Gamble suggests that despite all attempts to modernise, the Tory party will never be able to reconcile its nationalistic ideology. Glory to England. God Save The Queen. No surrender. That type of thing. Cameron won leadership of the Tory party by promising its hardcore Eurosceptic members, the nationalists, that he would provide a referendum on EU membership. He will now have to hold this referendum in his second term, if he wins the election outright, which he didn’t manage last time.

In making a pledge to hold this referendum Cameron has put all potential investors into Great Britain in a state of gross uncertainty. 57% of our trade is with Europe, where there are no cost trade restrictions and free goods flow. Isolationist policies have not worked, anywhere, (for the most obvious example, read up on N Korea’s latest famine). Austerity, also, has not worked in clawing any country out of the recession anywhere, and yet we continue to pursue austerity measures. Spending in the EU did not get us into this position. Nor, for that matter, did spending on welfare. What got us into this position was unregulated banking investments and out of control corporate tax laws. Cameron will look to blame the EU to fit his own political ambitions.

It is widely believed Cameron has accepted a deal with UKIP and Nigel Farage, the terms of which are basically that a referendum will be held on EU membership in return for UKIP not standing against Tory candidates in key seats.

Ignoring how strikingly evil and murky this deal is, let’s just focus on its consequences: prepare to hear, especially in the build up to the next election, arguments about immigration. We will be told that The European Union, and the amount of money we put into it, and the weaker state of other economies dragging us down, and the movement between Europe and the huge increase in workers in the UK this has brought, is fundamentally damaging to the UK. This is designed to distract from the real story: the woeful state of our economy and our lost generation of workers. If there is any doubt as to the significance of the EU, read this footnote from The Guardian[1].

Jack Buckby is a perfect example of how our conceptions of race, immigration and equality will be challenged in the up-coming election. He has aimed to change the language used when framing anti-immigration policy, rather than adding anything new to the debate. He has put a new mask on the same face. The point is that immigration is not to blame for the fact that this government is the first ever to preside over a triple dip recession, or the widening gap between rich and poor. The EU is not to blame for the continued failure of austerity measures in every country that tries them. All Cameron is doing by making this deal with UKIP and offering a referendum on Europe is to inappropriately introduce the topic of race back into the debate. Don’t be fooled.

[1] What did the EEC/EU ever do for us? Not much, apart from: providing 57% of our trade; structural funding to areas hit by industrial decline; clean beaches and rivers; cleaner air; lead free petrol; restrictions on landfill dumping; a recycling culture; cheaper mobile charges; cheaper air travel; improved consumer protection and food labelling; a ban on growth hormones and other harmful food additives; better product safety; single market competition bringing quality improvements and better industrial performance; break up of monopolies; Europe-wide patent and copyright protection; no paperwork or customs for exports throughout the single market; price transparency and removal of commission on currency exchanges across the eurozone; freedom to travel, live and work across Europe; funded opportunities for young people to undertake study or work placements abroad; access to European health services; labour protection and enhanced social welfare; smoke-free workplaces; equal pay legislation; holiday entitlement; the right not to work more than a 48-hour week without overtime; strongest wildlife protection in the world;

It will be difficult for the Tories to win in 2015 without UKIP; with them, it would be impossible

The rise of UKIP has mean talk of a pact with the Conservatives has increased, but who would it be beneficial for? (C) Euro Realist Newsletter

By Alex Bryan

Ever since UKIP emerged as a credible political party under the tutelage of Nigel Farage, talk of some kind of agreement or pact with the Conservative party has never been far from the lips of columnists. It is only recently however that both sides have begun to speak of such a possibility in a serious way. Michael Fabricant MP, Conservative vice-chair for Parliamentary Campaigning said this week that he would like to have a ‘discussion’ with UKIP. The most popular suggestion for an arrangement between the parties appears to be an agreement that UKIP will not run in the 2015 election, and that in exchange there will be an in-out referendum on the EU.

Nigel Farage has immediately distanced himself from such talk, saying that ‘it’s war’ between the two parties. However, considering the current popularity of UKIP (specifically amongst disillusioned Conservative voters), Farage has no need currently to publically say that such an option is on the table.

As the election draws closer though, it would be no surprise if UKIP hands begin to twitch. For all the talk of the rise of UKIP from laughing stock to serious party, they are still polling in single figures. The chance of them gaining a significant number of seats is small. They are also dependent upon the continuation of the Eurozone crisis in order to maintain their popularity; while Greece will not be stable by 2015, it may well be by 2020. The perfect storm has been raging for 5 years, yet UKIP are still a minor party. It will not rage much longer, and the party must face reality. An alliance of some kind with the Conservative party is their best chance of achieving their central policy.

So what of the Conservatives? As polls show Labour 11 points ahead, as the economy continues to flag, as the boundary review is thrown into the long grass and as ‘omnishambles’ is named word of the year, an increasing number of commentators are beginning to wonder whether the Conservatives can hope to beat Labour without UKIP. Indeed, the combined total of Conservative and UKIP polling figures suggests an alliance would significantly narrow the difference of popularity between the two parties.

Despite this, it would be a grave mistake for the Conservative party to make an alliance with UKIP in the next election. Though the polling gap between Labour and the Conservatives becomes tantalisingly close once the UKIP vote is added to the existing Tory total, this does not mirror reality. There are a significant number of Conservative voters who used to vote for Labour when Tony Blair was leader, and this demographic would be immediately turned off by a pact. UKIP’s Euro-scepticism may be a policy which many agree with, but it must be remembered how radically right-wing many of their domestic and social policies are, particularly on law and order and defence.

By agreeing to any pact with UKIP, the Conservatives would immediately be seen as endorsing some of the same domestic policies as UKIP. It has become fashionable for some conservative commentators to suggest that the way for the Conservatives to win the next election is to emphasise traditionally conservative policies – in effect, to more to the right. However, to do this would be to make the same mistake that the Republicans made in the U.S. elections. The Conservative party must remember why they do not have the same policies as UKIP – because the British public at large is no longer supportive of such policies.

As a political entity, the Conservative party is the most enduring force in Britain. Part of the reason for this is that it has shifted as popular opinion has. To attempt to gain a parliamentary majority by making a pact with UKIP would not only be unsuccessful, but would also show a highly inaccurate analysis of the political climate. The best chance the party has of winning in 2015 is by concentrating on discrediting Ed Miliband and Ed Balls and on the economy. The more the Conservative party flirts with UKIP, the further it gets from a majority.

The one issue with Mitt Romney’s campaign – Mitt Romney

(C) Gage Skidmore

By Devon-Jane Airey

With the Democratic and Republican National Conventions quickly approaching and ‘across the pond’ news reports of America’s preparations for the most expensive presidential election in history beginning to flood the headlines, it is perhaps reasonable to take a look at Obama’s Republican rival, Mitt Romney and his chances of electoral success in November.

Way back, before the invisible primary had raised its ugly head, Romney proclaimed his campaign would only focus on one thing: the economy. Not gun rights. Not gay marriage. Not abortion. Not immigration. Purely the economy, and how President Obama was handling it. And yet, in focusing on the economy Romney has forgotten to define the most important focal point: himself.

Indeed, the House Speaker’s (John Boehner) comments on Romney are all too telling:

‘The American people probably aren’t going to fall in love with Mitt Romney. I’ll tell you this: 95 percent of the people that show up to vote in November … are going to vote for or against Barack Obama. … Mitt Romney has some friends, relatives and fellow Mormons … some people that are going to vote for him…’

It is perhaps, then, his lack of ‘narrative’ to which Boehner is referring. The ‘narrative’ in recent years has become a huge part of American politics (and, some would argue, is increasingly prevalent in Britain too.) The candidate’s background (or what they project as their background) is something that has continually proven to influence American voters – increasingly taking precedence over policy details. Indeed, beyond ideology, candidates seek to craft a narrative that makes them seem ‘real’ to the nation.

However, unlike George W. Bush’s tale of absolution and Obama’s inspiring of insolent hope, little is known of Romney’s ‘narrative’. And, what’s more, this is believed to be deterring the ‘average American’ voter – something, surely, the Romney campaign must fear.

So let me help put this into a little more context. This is, largely, what is known about Romney:

▪He’s the son of a wealthy businessman and statesman who attended elite universities before founding a Wall Street firm that made millions for shareholders while sending thousands of American jobs overseas.

▪He’s an influential member of the Mormons, a group most Americans do not fully understand.

▪ His father, George Romney, was the head of the innovative car company (AMC), a firm that made things, as opposed to a private-equity firm like Mitt’s Bain Capital that makes nothing. He was also a progressive Republican who fought for civil rights and even contravened his own party to achieve equal opportunity while Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Nixon.

▪ And Romney the son is the former (centrist) governor of the only state to initiate universal health care. That would be something to crow loudly about if Romney were a Democrat or if this were 2008. But in 2012, the Republicans’ conservative faction has disqualified the fact that he set the example for the biggest domestic policy program of 21st-century America.

So this much is clear: Romney likes to keep himself to himself. And surprisingly little is known of a man who has spent the past 4 years (and, if we include his run in 2008 probably more than that) on the electoral frontline. But if he hasn’t created a sufficient persona for America to regard him, three guesses (and I bet you you won’t need all of them) as to who will. Obama.

In what can only be described as ‘negative campaigning’ (something increasingly prevalent in American politics) the Obama campaign have done much to damage Romney: presenting him as a corporate businessman who destabilises companies and sends all forms of employment to Mexico and China. Obama’s slandering has been dubbed by some American journals as being ‘Karl Rove Mark II’ – adopting the techniques of America’s ‘dark lord’, if it were, who was acting as George W. Bush’s campaign director and responsible for ‘swiftboarding’ Vietnam War hero John Kerry. Though, Lou Dubose of the Washington Spectator has suggested there is a significant difference: where Karl Rove was infamous for grounding his campaign on speculation, lies and the odd bit of conspiracy, Obama’s is based, rather nobly it would seem, on fact.

So, with the Obama team working overtime to slate Mitt and little being done in way of response, Romney, clearly, has one main problem: himself. His failure to build a sufficient narrative may well be his undoing. But, there’s still time… Some commentators have suggested that all Romney need do is convince the public the election is a referendum on Obama’s first term and, if successful, he may be on to a marginal victory. And regardless of Romney’s individual success as a politician, they may be right. Indeed, this is where one can perhaps find Boehner’s comments particularly telling: ’95 percent of the people that show up to vote in November … are going to vote for or against Barack Obama.’ November, then, will be Obama’s victory or defeat and, perhaps, very little to do with his opponent.

Sovereignty takes centre stage in Taiwan’s presidential campaign

By Anna Costa

What would IR scholar Stephen Krasner say if asked to comment on the electoral battle taking place in Taiwan in view of the mid-January presidential elections? Brought to international fame by his provocative Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy, Krasner would have a hard time explaining why sovereignty, if it really is more a fiction than a political reality, is playing such a crucial role in the electoral contest currently taking place in Taiwan. Read more of this post