Is Sarah Palin's tea party over?

It will be if nobody turns up

Reports in the New York Times and on the Think Progress blog suggest that next month's National Tea Party Convention in Nashville is unravelling due to infighting among grass-roots groups. A number of activists are accusing the corporate Tea Party Nation of trying to profit from the convention -- and are particularly exercised over the $549-a-ticket cost of attending. (Check out the Tea Party Nation website: TICKETS TO THE BANQUET WITH GOV PALIN ARE STILL AVAILABLE!!!!! These guys are selling, hard.)

But now groups are actually pulling out. Philip Glass, national director of the National Precinct Alliance, issued a statement as he withdrew from the jamboree:

We are very concerned about the appearance of TPN profiteering and exploitation of the grass-roots movement. We were under the impression that TPN was a non-profit organisation like NPA, interested only in uniting and educating Tea Party activists on how to make a real difference in the political arena.

One of the possible reasons for the exorbitant cost of attending the convention is Sarah Palin's reported speaking fee of $100,000. This is yet to be confirmed, but if it's true it places her not that far off Tony Blair in the unbelievably-overpaid-speakers-who-really-know-the-meaning-of-personal-profit category. (Maybe Blair and Palin should team up -- as a sort of political double act -- where gullible audience members turn up and stuff their pockets with hard cash as they pirouette to the tune of "Money Money Money" on a vast golden stage.)

According to Think Progress, however, the Tea Party rebels are not going to let the so-called exploitation continue without a fight, and demonstrations are being planned outside the convention. It wouldn't exactly be a sign of great unity in the grass-roots movement:

"It would really look bad for tea parties to be out there protesting the Tea Party," said former Tea Party Nation member Anthony Shreeve.

And that's where you get to the beauty of the tea party situation, with official Tea Parties versus independent tea parties and the overriding sense that this is one elaborate tea party spinning wildly out of control. As for a tea party protest -- it sounds so genteel, so very decorous. Of course, it will be anything but . . . Beware the fury of a Tea Party scorned.

 

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Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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

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