Tea party victories provide hope for Democrats

The latest primary victories for anti-establishment and Tea Party candidates could give the Democrat

The electoral backlash from US conservatives has intensified, as Tea Party candidates once again confounded commentators by defeating mainstream Republican candidates in the latest round of congressional primaries.

Undoubtedly the biggest upset of the night came from the traditionally-Democrat state of Delaware, where Sarah Palin-endorsed Tea Party candidate Christine O'Donnell defeated long-serving Congressman and former governor Mike Castle to be the Republican candidate for Vice President Joe Biden's former Senate seat.

O'Donnell, who is pro-gun, anti-abortion, fiscally conservative and believes masturbation is a sin, defeated Castle with 53 per cent of the vote. Given that just a week ago O'Donnell was engaged in bitter in-fighting with some of Delaware's elected Republican officials and had been termed "unelectable" by some fellow Republicans, her victory in last night's primary is not only a blow to the GOP, which committed significant resources to the fight in Delaware in an attempt to prevent a repeat of the upset in Alaska, but also adds yet another dimension of unpredictability to the final outcome of November's midterm elections.

The majority of states have now held their primaries. Eight mainstream Republican candidates have been defeated by Tea Party or otherwise right-wing challengers, a number which could rise to nine pending the outcome of the recount in New Hampshire.

The consensus, especially from the left-leaning commentariat, seems to be that while these primary victories for anti-incumbent candidates demonstrate the power and reach of this new right-wing movement, it is very unlikely that any of these challengers will be victorious in the midterms themselves.

In an election season that had otherwise long been considered to be potentially disastrous for the Democrats, with the possibility that the Republicans could regain control of both the House and the Senate, these ultra-conservative candidates represent an opportunity to claw back some momentum in advance of polling day. For instance, Delaware, previously considered to be a serious prospect for the Republicans, is now much more likely to be a hold for the Democrats, especially if their candidate, Chris Coons, is able to capitalise on Christine O'Donnell's unpopularity with a significant faction of Delaware Republicans.

Just as a footnote, it's worth noting that the electoral fortunes of some of these insurgent candidates could have a knock-on effect for Sarah Palin's presidential hopes. Palin notably endorsed Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire and Carly Fiorina in California, as well as O'Donnell in Delaware. As she is apparently already moving into position for a 2012 campaign, embarrassing defeats for candidates Palin has personally endorsed and campaigned for could dent her appeal to Republicans beyond the confines of the Tea Party movement.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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Labour is launching a stealthy Scottish comeback - thanks to Jeremy Corbyn and the Daily Mail

The Scottish Labour strategy is paying off - and hard evidence that it works may be more plentiful come 8 June 2017

When I suggested to a senior Scottish Labour figure earlier this year that the party was a car crash, he rejected my assertion.

“We’re past that,” he said gloomily. “Now we’re the burnt-out wreck in a field that no-one even notices anymore.”

And yet, just as the election campaign has seen Jeremy Corbyn transformed from an outdated jalopy into Chitty Chitty Bang Bang magically soaring in the polls, Scottish Labour is beginning to look roadworthy again.

And it’s all down to two apparently contradictory forces – Corbyn and The Daily Mail.

Kezia Dugdale’s decision to hire Alan Roden, then the Scottish Daily Mail’s political editor, as her spin doctor in chief last summer was said to have lost her some party members. It may win her some new members of parliament just nine months later.

Roden’s undoubted nose for a story and nous in driving the news agenda, learned in his years at the Mail, has seen Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly forced to defend her government record on health and education in recent weeks, even though her Holyrood administration is not up for election next month.

On ITV’s leaders debate she confessed that, despite 10 years in power, the Scottish education system is in need of some attention. And a few days later she was taken to task during a BBC debate involving the Scottish leaders by a nurse who told her she had to visit a food bank to get by. The subsequent SNP attempt to smear that nurse was a pathetic mis-step by the party that suggested their media operation had gone awry.

It’s not the Tories putting Sturgeon on the defence. They, like the SNP, are happy to contend the general election on constitutional issues in the hope of corralling the unionist vote or even just the votes of those that don’t yet want a second independence referendum. It is Labour who are spotting the opportunities and maximising them.

However, that would not be enough alone. For although folk like Dugdale as a person – as evidenced in Lord Ashcroft’s latest polling - she lacks the policy chops to build on that. Witness her dopey proposal ahead of the last Holyrood election to raise income tax.

Dugdale may be a self-confessed Blairite but what’s powering Scottish Labour just now is Jeremy Corbyn’s more left-wing policy platform.

For as Brexit has dropped down the agenda at this election, and bread and butter stuff like health and education has moved centre stage, Scots are seeing that for all the SNP’s left wing rhetoric, after 10 years in power in Holyrood, there’s not a lot of progressive policy to show for it.

Corbyn’s manifesto, even though huge chunks of it won’t apply in Scotland, is progressive. The evidence is anecdotal at the moment, but it seems some Scots voters find it more attractive than the timid managerialism of the SNP. This is particularly the case with another independence referendum looking very unlikely before the 2020s, on either the nationalists' or the Conservatives' timetable.

Evidence that the Scottish Labour strategy has worked may be more plentiful come 8 June 2017. The polls, albeit with small sample sizes so best approached with caution, have Ian Murray streets ahead in the battle to defend Edinburgh South. There’s a lot of optimism in East Lothian where Labour won the council earlier in May and MSP Iain Gray increased his majority at the Scottish election last year. Labour have chosen their local candidate well in local teacher Martin Whitfield, and if the unionist vote swings behind him he could overhaul sitting MP George Kerevan’s 7,000 majority. (As we learned in 2015, apparently safe majorities mean nothing in the face of larger electoral forces). In East Renfrewshire, Labour's Blair McDougall, the man who led Better Together in 2014, can out-unionist the Tory candidate.

But, while in April, it was suggested that these three seats would be the sole focus of the Scottish Labour campaign, that attitude has changed after the local elections. Labour lost Glasgow but did not implode. In chunks of their former west of Scotland heartlands there was signs of life.

Mhairi Black’s a media darling, but her reputation as a local MP rather than a local celebrity is not great. Labour would love to unseat her, in what would be a huge upset, or perhaps more realistically go after Gavin Newlands in the neighbouring Paisley seat.

They are also sniffing Glasgow East. With Natalie McGarry’s stint as MP ending in tears – a police investigation, voting in her wedding dress and fainting in the chamber sums up her two years in Westminster – Labour ought to be in with a chance in the deprived neighbourhoods of Glasgow’s east end.

Labour in Scotland doesn’t feel like such a wreck anymore. Alan Roden’s Daily Mail-honed media nous has grabbed attention. Corbyn’s progressive policies have put fuel in the tank.

After polling day, the party will be able to fit all its Scottish MPs comfortably in a small hatchback, compared to the double decker bus necessary just a few years back.

But this general election could give the party the necessary shove to get on to the long road back.

James Millar is a political journalist and founder of the Political Yeti's Politics Podcast. He is co-author of The Gender Agenda, which will be published July 21 by Jessica Kingsley Publishing.

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