Go fourth the stickers proclaimed

Just what have the bloggers been saying in the week Gordon Brown pulled back from the brink...

Half Madchester

Labour had to call on previously untapped depths of optimism to get through conference – stretching the nation’s credulity in the process. “Go fourth” the stickers adorning the crowd proclaimed, as Brown appeared on stage to the strains of Jackie Wilson’s ‘Higher and Higher’ for his keynote speech. At a time when the party’s poll rating has plummeted to historic lows, it verged on the surreal. But the activists enjoyed it.

Alex Finnegan liked Brown’s address, but was ultimately left unsure whether it was enough to save his neck.

“He has won himself a stay of execution. But that is all. It will take more than a good speech to turn around Labour's fortunes,” he wrote.

Taking a break from complaining his mouldy hotel room mattress, Kerron Cross heaped praise on the PM’s speech, enthusing:

“Gordon played to his strengths. He has beliefs. He wants to do the right thing. And hey, if you don't like him, then fine - he will just get on with doing the right thing and take it on the chin. Because our party is not about personality, it is about doing what is right.”

Inexcusably, he used emotions twice in his post.

Paul Anderson directed his thoughts towards Miliband’s address, and concluded that:

“…while managing to steer the fine line he had to between expressing loyalty to Gordon Brown and placing himself as the front-runner to succeed Brown if and when Brown's position becomes utterly hopeless.”

This was prior to the revelation of Miliband’s ”Heseltine moment”.

Other Labour bloggers avoided obsessing about conference. My namesake on Never Trust a Hippy (I hope this clears up any confusion) was interested in the future of socialism. Identifying with the “new left,” he argued that collective action is best channelled through civil society:

“The beauty of this, of course, is that the left have always had this argument in their peripheral vision. We have won huge victories while no-one was looking - often with Tory governments in power.”

Sounds more like liberalism to me.

Elsewhere, Recess Monkey and Labour Home’s Alex Hilton, who watched Brown’s speech lurking at the back of a hotel bar, this week took a really rather cheap shot at the Tories on the grounds that its party website had a
black and white photo of Sayeeda Warsi. Come on Alex, you can do better than that.

What have we learned this week?

As the cabinet’s gender balance shifts in the wrong direction, it is a woman who takes the lead in the contest to decide the new Lib Dem president. Nomination forms were due in this week, and as predicted at NS online, Chandila Fernando joins Opik and Baroness Scott among the nominees. Scott blogged about her confidence in the race proper, in upbeat mood she wrote:

“We intend to be positive - I think I've got a good story to tell and I'm going to tell it loud and clear. We intend to be innovative - using new campaigning ideas and methods”.

A break from Focus leaflets? That’s what we want to hear!

Reform my kitchen

The conference season gives us the opportunity to amass piles of branded rubbish: mainly mugs, badges and tote bags. The Electoral Reform Society gave us fun fridge magnets. So far my flatmates have used them to spell out “it’s party time,” “strengthen my members” and “I make love with real MPs”. Callow, I know. The society’s excellent Make My Vote Count blog can be found here.

Across the Pond

Over at Shakesville, Melissa McEwan takes issue with Rush Limbaugh’s mendaciously motivated assertion that Barack Obama is not an African-American, but an Arab.

“Neither of Obama's parents were African-Americans, but the fact that his father was African and his mother was an American pretty much makes Obama about as literally African-American as it gets,” she quite reasonably asserted.

Limbaugh often refers to himself as a “harmless lovable little fuzz ball” – if only he were.

Videos of the Week

This week Chester Conservative Future uses T.Rex’s ‘Children of the Revolution’ to flog its fresher drive, Will Hutton talks at the Unions 21 fringe and Celia Barlow MP celebrates Labour’s clampdown on lapdancing.

Quote of the Week

“How fair is it that British workers still have the poorest employment rights of any industrialised countries? How fair is it to allow employers to sack staff by text message? How fair is it that cleaners pay a higher marginal rate of tax than hedge fund bosses?”

Dave Osler on Liberal Conspiracy questions Brown’s understanding of “fairness”.

Paul Evans is a freelance journalist, and formerly worked for an MP. He lives in London, but maintains his Somerset roots by drinking cider.
Photo: Getty
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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.