Think the Ukip threat is over? Think again

by Stephen Tall on May 5, 2015

It’s only a couple of months since Ukip were being heavily tipped to win up to a dozen seats on Thursday. Yet the Faragistas look doomed for disappointment.

Shouty Nigel was out-insurgented by Cool Nicola in the debates. The right-wing press has rallied behind their chap,  Cameron. Three MPs seems now to be the best they can hope for, with some runner up spots as solace.

All of which means some have hastily written Ukip off. That would be a mistake.

They look likely to rack up a double-digit vote share, an impressive achievement that would yield them at least 60 seats under a less crazy electoral system than ours, and a major advance on the 3% they scraped in 2010. More importantly they gave the potential to do better still next time.

Here’s how…

1) Get a new leader.
This will happen automatically if Farage losses in Thanet South – he’s said as much himself – but even if he sneaks in there, Ukip would be well shot of him. He is to Ukip what Alex Salmond has been to the SNP: am unstoppable force of nature who’s propelled them forward but who is now an impediment to their future success. Ukip needs a new figurehead: less toxic, less divisive, less laddish. Step forward Suzanne Evans, Ukip’s leader-in-waiting, who can develop more simpatico lines like, “Ukip doesn’t have a problem with immigrants – it’s the immigration system that’s broken. And only Ukip can fix it.”

2) Hope the Tories win
If Cameron does (as I suspect) pull off a 1992-style bounce-back on Thursday, Ukip will be in clover. Why? Because the next three years will be dominated by one subject: Europe. Cameron’s promise of an in/out referendum on the UK’s renegotiated membership bought off his troublesome right-wing backbenchers for a few weeks. But it will dominate what remains of his second premiership. That keeps Ukip relevant. More importantly, it makes them distinctive. They will be the only major party urging withdrawal from the EU. They’ll almost certainly lose the plebiscite – the British nearly always choose the status quo, especially if their leaders recommend it – but it will galvanise and grow them, just as the Scottish independence referendum has transformed SNP fortunes.

3) Get ready for 2020
With a plausible, more moderate, leader and with Europe constantly in the news, Ukip will continue to expand as a political force. Their local government base – the councillor foot-soldiers essential to winning the ground war – will give them the opportunity to build a professional field-force. This election campaign has exposed the frailty of their campaigning in their target seats, but they have five years (probably) to get ready for next time: ruthlessly target, select early, and maximise voter contact.

The Ukip threat isn’t over. If Cameron’s still Prime Minister after Thursday, it’s only just beginning.

LibDemVoice Fantasy Football League: how it stands after Week 34

by Stephen Tall on May 2, 2015

Congratulations to George Murray, whose Marauding Fullbacks (2,064 points) continue to top the LibDemVoice Fantasy Football League after Week 34, almost 100 points ahead of Jon Featonby’s What bitey racist (1,966)? They think it’s all over…

But let’s also hear it for three players outside the top 10: Robbie Cowbury’s Resplendent Quetzals had the best week’s performance, with 88 points. Honourable mentions go to Louis Urruty’s Louis’ XI and Henry Compson’s Status:Relegated, both with 86 points.


There are 163 players in total and you can still join the league by clicking here.

My must-reads this week May 1, 2015

by Stephen Tall on May 1, 2015

Here’s some of the articles that have caught my attention this week…

ICM: the ‘gold standard’ pollster?

by Stephen Tall on April 27, 2015

PrintIt’s not just the political leaders whose careers are on the line on 7th May – so are the pollsters’ reputations.

Never before in the UK has an election been as polled as this one — well over 2,000 in this parliament, not least as online firms have lowered the cost.

A few weeks ago, I said I was putting my trust in ICM.* The reason is simple: they’re the pollster with the best track record across the last four elections. That’s why ICM’s polls are commonly referred to as the ‘gold standard’.

However, each time someone (not always me) makes use of the term, ‘gold standard’, I find myself dragged into a Twitter debate about whether ICM have been consistently the most accurate.

So this post has one purpose only: to be able to link to whenever this discussion arises again.**

1997 election: ICM most accurate

icm 1997

2001 election: ICM most accurate

icm 2001

2005 election: NOP most accurate (but ICM still very close)

icm 2005

2010 election: ICM most accurate

icm 2010

* In that March post, I used ICM’s polls to justify my prediction the Lib Dems would get 12% of the vote next Thursday at a time when most polls were showing the party in the 6-8% range: “I reckon that, by polling day, YouGov (and the other pollsters) will have moved towards ICM’s current figure rather than the other way around.” Well I was half right, it seems. Since then, coincidentally I assume, ICM’s polls have shown the Lib Dems in the 8-10% range — which is also where YouGov now show the party.

** It is of course possible ICM will make a pig’s ear of this election. We’ll have to wait and see (past success is no guarantee of future performance etc.). If the facts change, I will change my mind. But til then I’m going to stick with ICM, the firm which currently (deservedly) holds the ‘gold standard’ title.

LibDemVoice Fantasy Football League: how it stands after Week 33

by Stephen Tall on April 25, 2015

It’s election time, so first here’s a bit of political commentary…

Now, back to business. Congratulations to George Murray, whose Marauding Fullbacks (1,985 points) continue to lead the LibDemVoice Fantasy Football League after Week 33, a little distance ahead of Jon Featonby (1,900). But the battle for that runners-up spot is a hot one: just 30 points separate second and fifth places.

But let’s also hear it for three players outside the top 10: Ed Stradling’s Unbelievable Jeff! had the best week’s performance, with 75 points. Honourable mentions go to George Crozier’s Honour Oak Hotspur* and Andrew Sherwood’s Puncheon A Pint FC, with 69 and 68 points respectively. (* A double celebration for George this week, as he also became a dad.)

ldv fantasy week 33

There are 163 players in total and you can still join the league by clicking here.

Happy birthday, Trollope!

by Stephen Tall on April 24, 2015

NPG D32583,Anthony Trollope,after Sir Leslie WardIt’s 200 years to the day since Anthony Trollope was born.

I was first introduced to Trollope — like any other, ordinary 13 year-old — in 1990, when BBC2 repeated The Barchester Chronicles, Alan Plater’s adaptation of the first two books (The Warden and Barchester Towers) in the six-volume series.

Unusually for costume dramas from that era, it holds up today. That it does is thank to the scintillating script and a cast to dream of: Donald Pleasance, Nigel Hawthorne, Clive Swift, Barbara Flynn, Geraldine McEwan, Susan Hampshire and of course Alan Rickman, as the definitive Obadiah Slope.

Here’s a clip of the latter two together, as the scandalous La Signora Madeline Vesey Neroni skewers Slope’s lusty flirting:

Trollope stood as a Liberal candidate in 1868. He succumbed to that dreaded disease, ‘candidate-itis’, the belief he could win. He later famously describing his (dismally failed) attempt to beat the Tories in Beverley, Yorkshire, as “the most wretched fortnight of my manhood”. Even great fiction has its limits.

The 8 seats where I’d consider voting tactically – Conservative or Labour – to keep out Ukip

by Stephen Tall on April 24, 2015

Polling_station_6_may_2010Tim Montgomerie has (apparently) risked expulsion from the Conservative party for declaring “If I lived in Sheffield Hallam I’d definitely vote for Nick Clegg” – quite a turnaround for a commentator who said last year “The Lib Dems must ditch Nick Clegg”. (Like I can talk…)

It’s one of the (many) oddities of party politics. All parties urge tactical voting to one degree or another — when it will benefit them.

Danny Alexander recently did so, urging pro-UK voters to block the SNP… by voting Lib Dem in his marginal seat. David Cameron urged Labour and Lib Dem voters to back the Tories at last November’s Rochester and Strood by-election to block Ukip.

When canvassing I’ve never been shy about asking supporters of a party which won’t win to consider ‘lending’ the Lib Dems their vote this time. Why not? At the very least voters should have the information about which parties are in contention — you’d be amazed how even very intelligent voters are often clueless about the situation in their own area — so they can make up their own minds.

But then the parties get precious when their own members start bandying round the notion they might follow this advice and opt for the lesser of two evils with their own ballot. As I wrote a few weeks ago for The Independent on Sunday:

In my ideal world, such Machiavellian strategising would be unnecessary. Instead, we’d be free to choose the party closest to our own values, whose policies we most wanted to see delivered in government. But to do so under our first past the post voting system is a luxury: better to find out what’s happening in your constituency, and use your vote intelligently.

That said, I’ve never voted tactically. I had one opportunity to do so, in 1997, when I lived in Oxford West and Abingdon as a student, and the Lib Dems’ Evan Harris was aiming to unseat the Tories’ John Patten. At the time, I was a loyal Labour member — so I decided to vote for my own party in my home constituency, rather than lend my vote to the Lib Dems. It was, I knew, a perverse decision — my vote merely added to the thousands of surplus Labour votes in Bootle, practically the safest Labour seat in the country — but it was my decision. And since then, I’ve lived in seats where the Lib Dems are the main challengers, so the dilemma has never re-occurred.

After 16 years as a Lib Dem member, I suspect if nothing else muscle memory would guide my hand towards my party’s logo, even in the privacy of the polling booth. But if anything could persuade me to don a tactical voting nose-peg it would be to stop Ukip — as Tim Montgomerie puts it, to quell Nigel Farage as a “rabble-rousing agent of division”.

So here are the 8 seats where I’d seriously consider voting tactically, either Labour or Conservative, because I think there’s a real danger Ukip might just win there:


Boston and Skegness
Great Yarmouth
Rochester and Strood
Sittingbourne and Sheppey
South Thanet


Dudley North
Great Grimsby

(In some of these seats, such as Thurrock, it’s possible Labour could win — but I think it makes more sense to back the incumbent party, rather than split the anti-Ukip vote.)

There’s one seat where Ukip are sure to win where I wouldn’t recommend an anti-Ukip vote: Douglas Carswell’s Clacton. Carswell isn’t quite the deep political thinker some people take him for — many of his ideas are quite conventionally right-wing, even superficial — but he is an interesting reproof to the two-dimensional Ukip caricature of saloon-bar xenophobe.

If he’s the sole Ukip MP after 7th May, by no means impossible, it will be interesting to see how his humane, classically liberal political approach — anti-EU but pro-immigrant — holds up as Ukip drifts towards big state populism.

My must-reads this week April 24, 2015

by Stephen Tall on April 24, 2015

Here’s some of the articles that have caught my attention this week…

Lib Dem manifesto 2015 – my takes for The Times and Total Politics

by Stephen Tall on April 19, 2015

Manifesto-Cover-2015This week was Manifesto Week — curb your excitement — and I offered my views on what the Lib Dems have to say to the electorate over at The Times’s Red Box blog

Commitments to balance the budget, cut taxes for the low-paid, invest in health and education, and protect the environment have long been trailed. This will disappoint some Lib Dem activists, who yearn for the party to trumpet its radicalism on issues like civil liberties and political reform. But Ryan Coetzee, the party’s chief strategist, knows what appeals to its target market – the “persuadables” who might vote Lib Dem – and is determined to stick relentlessly to the tried-and-tested “stronger economy, fairer society: opportunity for everyone” slogan.

“On message, in volume, over time” has long been Coetzee’s mantra. After all, it’s only when the political obsessives among us are bored with hearing a message that there’s a chance the voting public might have heard it even once.

And if the policies aren’t new, neither is Nick Clegg’s central campaigning message that the party will hold firm to the liberal centre: “The Liberal Democrats will add a heart to a Conservative government and we will add a brain to a Labour one.” What we used to call the Goldilocks strategy – not too hot, not too cold – has now morphed into the Wizard of Oz.

and for Total Politics magazine

This, then, is the new politics of realism. The manifesto is carefully calibrated not only to dodge the hostages to fortune of 2010, but also to offer plenty of scope for the Lib Dems to cut a deal with whichever party, Labour or Conservatives, are in a position to offer a second coalition. …

For some activists, the Lib Dems’ policy flexibility is a betrayal. What is the point, they ask, of a liberal party which dilutes its liberalism for the sake of power? Which would be fair enough comment but for the inverted question it begs: what is the point of a party which cleaves to pure liberalism at the cost of ever exercising any power?

As Tim Farron once put it to me when I asked how many of his ‘red lines’ had been crossed by the Coalition: “every one of my red-lines was crossed every day for 24 years when we were in opposition.”

The inescapable reality is that, for the forseeable future, there is only one way the Lib Dems will be able to put their policies into practice: in partnership with either the left-leaning Labour party, or the right-leaning Conservatives.

We are pinned in the liberal centre whether we like it or not. A radical manifesto — full of civil liberties and political reform and Trident cancellation — may sound nice in theory, but that’s all it would ever be.

LibDemVoice Fantasy Football League: how it stands after Week 32

by Stephen Tall on April 18, 2015

Congratulations to George Murray, whose Marauding Fullbacks again top the LibDemVoice Fantasy Football League after Week 32, with 1,925 points. Meanwhile, Jon Featonby (1,856), Mark Widdop (1,829), Sam Bowman (1,827) and Edward Douglas (1,826) vie for the number two slot.

But let’s also hear it for the two who achieved the best week’s performances: Kye Dorricott’s Chip Bang Utd (84 points) and Jamie Saddler’s Scotland In Disguise (81).

Here’s the top 10:

ldv fantasy week 31

There are 163 players in total and you can still join the league by clicking here.

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