The Tea Party movement: five highlights

We pick out the movement's controversies, following Sarah Palin's keynote speech to the first nation

Sarah Palin said last night that the US is "ready for another revolution" and condemned Barack Obama's budget as "immoral" in her keynote speech to the first national Tea Party Convention in Nashville, Tennessee.

The Tea Party movement is a grass-roots network of conservatives, a protest movement that sprang up in early 2009. But while they are united in their opposition to Obama's health-care programme, public spending and the growth of government, the 600 delegates who gathered at the Gaylord Hotel (I know . . .) are a rather disparate group of angry right-wingers.

So, as Palin calls for a revolution and taunts Obama ("How's that hopey, changey stuff workin' out for ya?" -- a direct quotation), I thought it was about time to pick five highlights from the Tea Party movement's short history.

1. Palin's notes

The more observant among you might have noticed some scribbles on Sarah Palin's palm, in photos of her giving her speech, in which she mocked Obama's use of a teleprompter.

Oh, irony is a beautiful thing. It appears that Palin, while eschewing a teleprompter, has written herself some helpful notes on her hand.

Stefan Sirucek at the Huffington Post provides this blown-up image:

Tea Party Palin 

It's arguable how useful these notes will have been, but then, Palin works in mysterious ways. Ben Smith at Politico translates it thus:

It appears to be an outline:

Energy
Budget Tax Cuts
Lift American Spirits

Fiscal hawks will note that the difference between budget cuts and tax cuts is pretty much the core of the criticism of Republican economics.

2. Opening-night bigotry

This one's not so funny. The convention's opening speech by Tom Tancredo, a former Republican congressman from Denver, focused primarily on illegal immigration. Amid the standard bigotry about "Islamification" and the "cult of multiculturalism" was an even more worrying historical reference to racial segregation.

He said that Obama had been elected only because "we do not have a civics literacy test before people can vote in this country". This refers to the practice -- banned by the 1964 civil rights legislation -- of setting prohibitively difficult tests to prevent black people from getting the vote in segregated Southern states.

Tancredo received a standing ovation for his speech.

3. Money-making

There was controversy around the convention before it even began. It emerged at the end of last month that Palin's fee was in the region of $100,000, while tickets to the weekend were $550 a head.

If that doesn't seem like it's in keeping with the whole "grass-roots" thing, that's probably because it isn't -- the event was also sponsored by corporations, making the whole convention look like a nice little money-spinner.

Palin said she won't benefit from the fee, and told the adoring crowds last night that "This isn't about money", although that's easy to say when you've just been paid more than $1,000 a minute to make a speech.

4. Questionable placards

Tea Party rallies attract a broad range of reactionaries, and the movement has become notorious for the offensive signs displayed. The Huffington Post has photos of some choice highlights, including:

"Obama's plan: white slavery"

"The American taxpayers are the Jews for Obama's ovens"

"Barack Hussein Obama: the new face of Hitler"

5. Tea Party: the Movie

 

Everything about this documentary looks brilliant. What more can I say?

 

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.