Can May last as PM?

 

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Theresa May faces hard questions. Source: Sky News

Incredible how one year makes a hell of a difference to a person, isn’t it? Theresa May’s sail to the Conservative leadership was on par with a luxury liner gliding the Greek coast. Less than 12 months later, her tenorship has a greater reminiscence of a tug boat in the stormy Irish sea.

When the former resident of 10 Downing Street (Mr Cameron) bailed out of the top job as a result of the EU Referendum, it was a certainty that Mrs May would win. Several years as the Home Secretary had given her good ground for understanding how top level government actually runs. Her supporters claimed she would be a strong leader with a different style to her predecessors – no backhand deals, no political favourites; instead a straight talking, no nonsense woman as leader of the United Kingdom government. She won by default; two candidates were eliminated in the leadership race and two others withdrew.

She boasted in parliament that the Conservative Party did a lot for women – ‘they just keep making us Prime Minister her words were’ to rapturous applause. At the time of her first PMQ’s session, there had been the turmoil in within the Labour Party surrounding Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership; Mrs May even ‘joked’ about Corbyn being an unscrupulous boss. The clearest of evidence of what would follow in the 2017 General Election campaign.

The latter half of 2016 was certainly strong for the ‘new iron lady’ – her posture, her body language, her speeches were all strong. The result? Her popularity soared. So what went wrong?

The first of the big U-turns was on the election itself. In the months before, she had continuously claimed an election was not needed. There would be no general election until the end of the parliament. 18th April 2017 – Mrs M stands outside 10 Downing Street and announces a snap general election to be held on June 8th. A clever decision at the time – Labour still in disarray, Theresa May’s popularity very high. It was hers to lose. And she did.

Calling the #GE2017 (at least the first of 2017) had critics frothing at the mouth, accusing her of backtracking and going against her previous promises. She had already vocally criticised the Scottish National Party (SNP) for seeking a second independence referendum, citing that it was not the right time given the brexit negotiations. Mrs May’s argument had weakened; yes, she was holding the election before June 19th when the talks formally begin, however, the SNP argued that the PM had insisted no talks on a new referendum for Scotland could begin until Britain had left the European Union. The air had already began to thicken with the smell of contradictions.

The biggest problem for the PM was the way she handled the campaign. Hers was a very personal affair – ‘me and my team’ was a frequent message. The snipes at Jeremy Corbyn and his team, as well as other political parties, showed how much she had misjudged the public mood to this election. The PM made it clear the election was about giving ‘her’  a mandate for the brexit talks and strengthening her hand by having a greater majority. All that despite already having a Conservative majority in the House of Commons. THere appeared to be a definite shift from the politics of bygone era which Theresa May was clinging on to; there was a feeling that political parties should work together on issues such as brexit, the health system, and infrastructure. Sadly for Mrs May she made the campaign about herself, badgering on about how strong a leader she is compared to others. She made the election result a judgement not on her party and government but on her personally. This clip from Channel 4 News gives a sense of the snipes made in the final week of #GE2017:

The facial expressions, the choice of language. It is all wrong. This is a Prime Minister acting like the school playground bully. The cavalry behind give her support with the boos and hisses.

The Labour Party campaign was far from perfect yet it was certainly more positive with lots of rallies and talk about their funded policies. Mr Corbyn turned the fortune of the party and the heads of his critics. He engaged voters, the young particularly. For the first time in many years, the Labour opposition seemed to be united behind a manifesto; yes, some of the things were eyebrow-raising such as the cost of scrapping tuition fees and funding the re-nationalisation of the railways. But was there slyness and witch-hunting that seemed to dominate the Conservative campaign?

Sure, there were other stumbles too. The U-turn on social care following a wild backlash. It’s claimed her two closest advisers took responsibility for the shambles. But there is only one person who gives the go ahead and chooses what words to speak – the PM. The responsibility falls with her.

She is not a naturally good speaker when it comes to interviews. Mrs May starts one sentence and usually ends with another, interluded by an awkward stumble of words.  When it became apparent that the PM isn’t as good as we may have thought when thrust in front of the cameras, many saw it as a weakness. ‘Ahh that’s the reason why she’s not doing the TV debates’ many will have thought. Coupled with the dredging out of tired soundbites such as “strong and stable”, certainly the attitude of simply repeating words without any real meaning or explanation grated on voters.

June 9th. Theresa May’s snap election goes against her. Rather than retain the majority she already had, she lost it. Where Labour were already written off, they gained seats. The PM stood outside Downing Street and did not acknowledge the very personal failure she had just endured. Sweeping the issue under the carpet. Voters don’t forget. #GE2017 was overshadowed by the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London. The mood turned from brexit to the home domestic issues such as security, policing, health services, and so on. Her time as Home Secretary led to the cuts in police forces we see today – Greater Manchester Police confirmed that they do need extra officers to keep the public safe. Voters don’t forget.

When Gordon Brown was PM in 2007, his popularity increased when he dealt with the terrorist attack on Glasgow Airport and the foiled attack in London. A matter of weeks in to the top job, there were calls for him to call a snap election and secure a Labour victory. The mood was different in this latest campaign. Three terrorist attacks in just a few months with Mrs May as leader and protector of British citizens. She came under fire for why these attacks could happen on her watch, and subsequently questions about whether her actions in the past had led to a less safe Britain. Voters do not forget.

The ‘coalition of chaos’ that May had warned about if SHE had lost her majority was now the problem on her plate. A strained Theresa May looked very different from the popular and powerful-looking leader who became PM in 2016. She gambled. She lost. Her calls of Corbyn being a puppet propped up by the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon had backfired. Her political attacks and misjudgment of the voter mood had backfired. Her credibility gone.

Within days, the terrible events of the Grenfell Tower fire has become her latest challenge. Forced to run to her car and avoiding questions from the crowd of residents of Kensington and Chelsea showed her weakness. The community affected by the fire, the charities, the victims, the families, the now homeless, they all needed their Prime Minister in a time of despair. Their Queen and Prince William spoke with those directly affected by the fire; the Prime Minister faced a backlash after meeting the emergency services. Only the day after meeting the emergency services did she visit the hospital where few of the victims were being treated.

In contrast, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan were on the scene, hugging victims and listening to what they had to say. This was about measuring the mood of an area that have had their voices unheard for too long. It is right that they want the questions of why this fire happened answered immediately. Their PM bundled away into a car, stern-faced and cold. Again, she misjudged the public mood and anger. They needed their PM to answer and assure them. She acted too late.

A Prime Minister who can misjudge the national feeling on several occasions is one in need of a dire cold shower. The landscape of politics has changed too. Voters are unengaged by political mud slinging and playground taunts. Theresa May had everything she needed on a plate – popularity, majority, credibility. Now, almost all of that had whimpered away. The scene is a Prime Minister who’s mistiming and irreversible mistakes have cost her big time. She could have gone down as one of the greatest PM’s in history if she had played her cards right. But ‘Play Your Cards Right’ is a gameshow and there is always a loser. Her political career will be tarnished by the events of 2017 and anything she does say and do will be judged and alluded to the mistakes she made.

 

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Ed Miliband in Warrington

Ed Miliband listens to the people of Warrington.

Ed Miliband listens to the people of Warrington.


Labour leader Ed Miliband began his shift from leader of opposition to his dreams of future Prime Minister with a visit to Warrington on Friday with promises to the town’s people.

Soon after what had been acclaimed an “impressive” party conference, in which Labour reaffirmed its supporting policies for the most vulnerable in society, the leader toured the North West promoting the party promise of freezing gas and electricity prices as energy firms continue to increase tariffs despite reporting huge profits. Miliband’s visit to Warrington was certainly made high profile by his arrival; a media scrum dashed any hopes of a quiet entrance yet the party leader certainly ensured the voters were at the heart of his campaign.

The little over an hour Mr Miliband was in the town’s Stockton Heath Morrisons store certainly made convincing reading for any political analyst. Concerned, sympathetic and humorous are some of the traits I identified in my first meeting with the politician. Noting the importance of Warrington in party politics, in-particular the Warrington South seat, Miliband began with pledges to abolish the controversial bedroom tax if his party is elected at the 2015 general election. Describing it as a “hateful tax”, so called ‘hedge cuts’ will be removed to fund for the abolition. The concern I see at present is that the abolishing of the tax seems like Labour’s one shot wonder; it takes pride of place in their manifesto and the leader’s emphasis on the decision makes it seem like there is little else to offer the ordinary voter. The abolishing of a divisive tax will impress many of those in Warrington who are ‘feeling the pinch’ as the cost of living keeps on rising, but there was little confirmation on how the party aims to crack down on those who actively cheat the benefit and taxation system.

From one controversy to another, I tackled Ed Miliband on the HS2 project which will introduce high speed rail between London, Manchester and Leeds. I questioned what many believe is a waste of government spending, worth the best part of £50bn, and whether more of that fund should be spent on existing overcrowded networks and improving the quality of services. Mr Miliband told me he “was in support of introducing high speed rail to this country” yet added “more investment” was needed for the current infrastructure, paving the way for more trains in and around Warrington, as well as more projects including electrification of more lines across the region. For Warrington, the building of the Omega business site has begun and promises to be a leading European hub. Yet it seems incredibly bewildering that the UK’s proposed high speed network will not serve the town. A “review” of HS2 has been promised by the Labour party which could see benefits to the growth of our local economy or the scrapping of the highly controversial project.

Economic growth is on all party manifestos and certainly both the Conservatives and Labour have helped many of Warrington’s unemployed get into or back into work. The Warrington South seat is a marginal and vital swing seat for the outcome of an election. I have been told by Labour Party sources that parliamentary candidate Nick Bent “will” win the seat. Mr Miliband’s visit to the town certainly won’t be the last and it certainly won’t be the end of high profile government figures visiting the town. But what about his pledges to the issues that have concerned Warrington residents?

High on the agenda of those who were at the meeting was social care. Many acknowledged that under the current coalition and previous Labour governments there had been not enough support and recognition for social workers who are on the frontline of protecting vulnerable residents of the town. Mr Miliband pledged that his party would “raise the status of the profession” and that there would be confident “defending” of the role of social workers. However, with even the Department of Health admitting it cannot afford a 1% pay rise for NHS staff in England, the future for all departments and local governments in raising the profile of such frontline work seems bleak.

Keeping children safe is key for any government and in his promises the leader said more must be done to allow parents to work and look after their children. The current 15 hours of free childcare will increase to 25, making it “better for parents” said Miliband. He questioned how any parent can look after children and work. Explaining that the levy on banks will increase, the party leader ensured that those who can afford to pay higher levy’s will. For those children already in education, Ed Miliband was confronted by a large group of young people from a mixture of Warrington’s Further Education and Sixth Form colleges. When told how students feel “stressed” at the thought of ‘end of year exams’, the leader turned to the crowd in a simple yet important show of hands. 100% of those at the event agreed that modular exams and coursework will benefit students and the leader certainly agreed, confirming he “would look to change” the decision made by Education Secretary Michael Gove whom Mr Miliband had described as a man believing “education is for a few people not everybody”. Miliband also added that politics needed to be added to the curriculum in a bid to engage more young people with local government how decisions made in Westminster affect everybody.

On the topic of employment, the ‘zero hour’ contracts in some work places were described as “wrong” by the Labour leader, before launching a rather child-like impression to declare that hosts Morrisons were “good employers”. Certainly true yet it felt rather cheesy and desperate from a man faring well in opinion polls. More would be done to ensure regular hours meant a regular contract for thousands of employees. When questioned as to how he would improve the so called “demoralising” experience of job centres, Ed Miliband began by suggesting that the Conservatives lead people to believe that those on the “dole” and in job centres are “scroungers”; he confirmed that under a Labour government, these people would have “support not criticism” when looking for jobs. A comment that was welcomed by the Labour grown crowd.

Many of the policies that Mr Miliband talks about are in touch with Warrington. The vast majority of those students and adults alike who attended gave rapturous applause to promises of raising the stigma of mental health and ensuring each individual family are given tax breaks. For me, as an aspiring journalist, his character was certainly warm and genuine; that was the feeling amongst many I spoke to after the event. Back in 2010 when he was first elected, much of the media was critical toward his stance and appeal, yet from beneath the shadows has grown a man who looks, acts and feels like a Prime Minister in waiting.

Certainly the visit of the Labour leader was exciting for an ordinary Friday morning. Recent weeks have seen Ed Miliband roll from beneath the carpet and into the front of political debate. The Labour party conference was a success by any means and the row between the leader and The Daily Mail took any hope of interest the Prime Minister had wished for away from his party meeting. The way in which Miliband has attacked the media has shown the growth from a timid character to a powerful opposition to David Cameron. His visit to Warrington was engaging and full of promises. Although, he was one of the first to pledge his support to the Warrington Wolves in their final over the weekend, Mr Miliband will be hoping his dreams of success do not go in the same sour direction.

Young politicians should be embraced not pushed out

Cllr Jake Morrison, 20

Cllr Jake Morrison, 20

The Labour Party’s youngest councillor, Jake Morrison, was suspended earlier this month by his own party for an alleged row between himself and a Liverpool MP. The allegations were made by Luciana Berger, MP for Liverpool Wavertree. She describes the twenty year old as having a “complete lack of teamwork”. He claims she has never given him a chance. But does the suspension of a young councillor do more harm than good? Does it prevent the next generation of politicians from following their dreams and goals?

I am a great believer in local politics and government. It can certainly do a lot of good. The opportunity to bring up local issues that matter within the community is something of great recognition for a councillor and MP, non-more so than a younger member. There does, however, appear to be a negative representation about local government when it comes to issues about expenses, education and decision-making. All influence and change voters’ minds throughout any political career. For a younger person it may be more difficult to handle, but it shouldn’t prevent people from joining politics, especially as the door opens to welcome more independent candidates.

Decisions and U-turns are crucial to a success of a government. Too many decisions that too many people dislike will turn voters against your party, whilst too many U-turns will suggest that your party is not competent enough of leading the country. The way in which a leader manages and presents himself is crucial when connecting to the ordinary voter. And with every term that passes, it appears that the “three main” parties that once stood for such different ideologies have become merged and there is no clear distinction as to where one party ends and another one begins. There is now more room than ever for independent candidates to stand up and be heard. There has been an overwhelming support to the UK Independence Party (UKIP) in light of political scandals and failures to serve by politicians. Seven out of ten people I have spoken to claim they will vote for UKIP or a candidate not from the main parties at the next general election. But back to the original question. If a young individual wants to join politics, then they should be embraced and welcomed for wanting to make a difference to social issues, including education, poverty and welfare. Whilst Cllr Morrison has stressed he has always and will continue to support the Labour Party, there is a big enough gap today for a young candidate to stand up and devise a campaign that they believe is right for their community. A stand-out candidate.

Whilst a stand-out candidate is needed to ensure a strong relationship begins, there does need to be a positive working environment. Cllr Morrison sticks out in my mind, not because of his politics, but because he is Liverpool’s youngest councillor. That goes a long way, especially in keeping young voters interested in politics. He is portrayed as a confident, young and positive individual. Even when he claimed that Luciana Berger MP had made “his life unbearable”, his attitude and presence was still largely positive and the determination to continue with his job came across very well. Luciana Berger MP has denied the allegations made by Mr Morrison, but despite that we must applaud the motivation and drive of the young councillor to continue despite these hiccups to his role.

Luciana Berger stated: “Of the 14 Labour councillors in the Wavertree Constituency you are the only one who chooses not to engage with my office, or get involved with our constituency activities.” Ofcourse it is impossible to determine what happened and whilst an internal party investigation is underway, we cannot be certain to make judgements.

What I do believe, however, is that we should welcome new and young life into politics. The next generation of councillors and MP’s are around and could be living next door to you. We must admire a young generation who are determined to make a stand, work for their communities and ensure their heart is where it needs to be.