George Osborne and David Cameron during the State Opening of Parliament at the Palace of Westminster. Photograph: Getty Images.
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How the Tories are trying to make it impossible for Labour to win again

Boundary changes, allowing expatriates to vote and changes to trade union funding will all hit the opposition. 

After achieving their first majority for 23 years, the Tories are determined to consolidate their advantage. The opening months of the new parliament, when the government's authority is at its greatest, provide crucial political space to do so. There are three notable ways in which the Tories are planning to tilt the system in their favour - and make it even harder for Labour to win next time.

Boundary changes

The Conservatives signalled immediately after their victory that they intended to pursue the boundary changes vetoed by the Lib Dems in 2013. Their plan to base the new constituencies on electoral registration, rather than population, means that Labour would be hit hardest. As the Electoral Reform Society has noted: "Under the current proposals urban and socially deprived areas where registration is low [and Labour usually wins] are likely to have fewer MPs per person than affluent areas where registration is high." Modelling suggests that the Tories' current majority of 12 would rise as high as 50 under the new boundaries.

Allowing expatriates to vote for life

A new Votes for Life Bill will abolish the current 15-year limit on UK expatriates voting in general elections. The Tories have presented the move as merely ending an "unfair" rule but there are political calculations at work. No age group is more likely to vote Conservative than the over-65s, who account for a disproportionate share of expatriates. The Tories finished 24 points ahead among pensioners at the election, 78 per cent of whom turned out. The extension of the franchise to the 3.3m expatriates who have lived outside of the UK for more than 15 years will give them an additional advantage over Labour. 

Forcing trade unionists to opt-in to the political levy

The Trade Unions Bill being piloted by Business Secretary Sajid Javid includes a measure consciously designed to hit funding for Labour. Under the legislation, union members will be required to opt-in to paying the political levy, rather than being automatically enrolled (and having the right to opt-out). The result, as when the change was last imposed in 1927 following the general strike, is likely to be a significant drop in subscriptions. In Northern Ireland,  where an opt-in system already exists, just 40 per cent of members contribute, compared to 8.8 per cent who opt-out in the rest of UK. 

By reducing the size of unions' political funds, which are used to support Labour among other activities, the reform will strengthen the Tories' already vast funding advantage. Labour currently receives nearly 70 per cent of its donations from the unions and the hope that its ground operation would counter the Tories' financial muscle was not borne out by the election. The unions are particularly aggrieved since political levies are already subject to 10-yearly ballots and that the Conservatives did not announce the proposal during the general election campaign. 

It took until 1946 and the Attlee government for the opt-in system to be scrapped after 1927 - the Tories' changes are designed to ensure that Labour has to wait as long this time. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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To beat the Trump hype, we need a return to old-fashioned political virtues

If we want to resist the Trumpification of politics, what we need is restraint, duty and incorruptibility.

After the 1992 US presidential election, Alistair Cooke’s celebrated BBC radio series Letter from America struck a poignant note. Cooke described Bill Clinton’s worn jeans and checked wool shirt, contrasting them with George H W Bush’s buttoned-up Wasp manners and buttoned-down Ivy League shirts. Clinton’s style, Cooke argued, was a rebuke to a tired social and political establishment. His casualness was the new America.

Cooke, then 83, was honest enough to admit unease about this departure from the old, patrician modes and manners. “Along with the passing of George Bush,” he said, “we shall see, I fear, the passing of the blue blazer.” Cooke seemed right at the time. But don’t write off the blue blazer just yet. As ruling elites change, so does the appropriate counterpoint. To topple Bush’s stuffy golf club elites, Clinton picked up his saxophone, took off his tie and felt everyone’s pain. And now? The subtext of these turbulent months (the inevitable second question, prompted by “How do you beat Donald Trump?”) is: “What should ­tomorrow’s leaders, the leaders we crave, look and sound like?”

My conjecture is that, to beat Trump and his type – bling, shiny suits, dodgy deals – we should push towards centre stage an underestimated set of political virtues: restraint, duty and incorruptibility. If it weren’t for the gender associations, I would be tempted to call this quality gentlemanliness. Aside from personal virtue – signally lacking in the Clinton camp – how might decency inform public debate as it comes under attack from maverick showmen trained in the media circus? How can the middle ground regain its confidence?

First, level with the public. Maybe liberalism hasn’t failed so much as its messaging has failed. Instead of smashing the electorate over the head with the idea that everything is just great, make the case that not everything can be for the best in all possible worlds. As populists reach for empty slogans, a new space has opened up. Accept and exploit those asymmetries: more people are ready to hear uncomfortable truths than politicians imagine.

Kingsley Amis once argued that a writer’s voice should stay close to his speaking voice: not the same, but close. Adapting that idea, if politicians stayed closer in public debate to the truths that they articulate in casual conversation – some things are impossible; almost every policy creates a losing as well as a winning side; there really isn’t any money – they would be surprised how many people are ready to hear that not all problems can be evaporated into thin air. Stray too far from awkward truths and elections become about simple lies v tricksy lies.

Second, centrists do more harm than good when they rush to categorise dissenting opinion as not only wrong, but unacceptable. “Any suggestion that liberal values are not humanly universal,” as John Gray wrote in a recent NS essay, “will provoke spasms of righteous indignation.” Instead, we need to be more tolerant in our tolerance.

Third, stop pretending that everything desirable can be shoehorned into the “progressive” agenda. “I really care passionately about persevering with the common-sense middle ground and doing it quite well” is a problematic political sales pitch, but not for the reasons that are usually given. The gravest difficulty may come at the beginning, with the faux passion, rather than with the substance – public service and competence – underneath.

It is revealing that those closest to David Cameron expended so much energy trying to persuade us that he was not an updated version of Harold Macmillan. That is why the gay marriage reforms, though admirable, were accorded too much significance. Ah, Cameron was a natural crusader! But he paid a price for dressing up as a “radical” when greater challenges arrived. It weakened some of his strongest cards – calmness, perspective, proportion – just as politics was coarsening. Aren’t Tories supposed to understand the virtues of yesterday? In other words, as an electoral strategy to beat Trump (or Nigel Farage), I’d put up a Macmillan type over a Clinton type every time.

Fourth, cut ties with “messaging experts”. It’s a fraud. They teach that everything must be asserted with powerful conviction. Yet ideas unworthy of powerful conviction are best left shorn of them. The electorate has endured a communications version of crying wolf. As a result of the messaging game, when something genuinely important crops up, it sounds simply like the same old shtick.

Fifth, ditch the bogus quantification. Few things signal untrustworthiness more reliably than fake precision. Something shifted in me when George Osborne argued that Brexit would leave households £4,300 worse off. What, no decimal point? Voters understand uncertainty better than politicians imagine. Precise quantification used to sound professional. Now it sounds suspicious.

Finally, think about tone. Conventional wisdom holds that the mainstream must fight the Trumpian revolution on its own terms: a simple solution, memorably expressed, a guiding vision for the country or the world. If anyone has a good one to hand, I’m all for it. But what if – after decades of ­sophisticated argument and counterargument, as politics has solved the easy problems while parking the difficult or insoluble ones – we have reached a state of such evolved equilibrium that no such easy answer can exist?

Pretending otherwise is no longer a point of difference. It takes you towards the lowest common denominator. As Trump has shown, that is well-occupied territory. Perhaps wooing the angry mob is not the solution. Instead, the admirable and successful politician of the future will have to win back the support of moderate, sensible but disillusioned voters. 

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage