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15 April 2015updated 26 Sep 2015 7:01am

In this week’s New Statesman | The Great British Vote Off

A first look at our election special.

By New Statesman

 

17-23 April 2015 issue

2015 General Election Special
Featuring Armando Iannucci, Mark Damazer, Laurie Penny,
Anthony Seldon, Chuka Umunna, the NS Bluffer’s Guide to the election and the latest election forecasts from our sister site May2015

 

An exclusive interview with the shadow business secretary, Chuka Umunna, by the NS political editor, George Eaton.

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Armando Iannucci writes that May’s election could be the start of a very British revolution.

Mark Damazer offers a defence of party politics.

Laurie Penny: There might not be much to vote for, but there’s plenty to vote against.

Anthony Seldon argues that Ed Miliband could shine as prime minister.

The Bluffer’s Guide to the Election, featuring predictions from May2015.

 

Chuka Umunna: Labour must make a more positive case for deficit reduction

In an exclusive interview with the NS political editor, George Eaton, the shadow business secretary, Chuka Umunna, argues that Labour needs to make a more positive and confident case for reducing the deficit in order to cope with the left-wing backlash it would encounter in office.

He deploys an argument more usually associated with the Conservatives.

“I don’t think there is anything progressive in spending more on your debt interest repayments every year than you do on housing, than you do on transport,” he says. “That is where there is an argument from a progressive position to be made for balancing the books.” He adds: “We need to make that argument and we need to make it more confidently. Because if we get elected . . . we’re going to have to make some really tough decisions. And we need to be clear why we’re doing this – we will be attacked from the left, not just by the Green Party but the Socialist Party and others, and we’ve got to have a confident, not a defensive position.” 

Umunna also addresses Labour’s tax policies. When asked whether he fears that the cumulative effect of reintroducing the 50p top income-tax rate, imposing a mansion tax and abolishing non-doms’ status will be to deter investment and entrepreneurs, he says:

“I’m very clear: I did not go into politics to tax people. We should be very clear about that as a party. Ed Balls and I say it all the time to business audiences because we believe it.” 

He tells me that he does not believe the 50p tax rate should be permanent. “I wouldn’t want to do it permanently because, as I said, I would like to see the tax burden as low as possible. I don’t believe that you tax for the sake of taxing, you tax to fund public services and, currently, to reduce our deficit and our debt.” His stance contrasts with that taken by Ed Miliband during his 2010 leadership campaign, when the latter said: “I would keep the 50p rate permanently. It’s not just about reducing the deficit, it’s about fairness in our society.”

On whether he would like to be Labour leader, Umunna says:

“I always listen to Tessa Jowell, who’s like my political mum, who says you’ve got to keep your feet firmly on the ground and for every person who writes up something like that there’ll be another slagging you off.

“So I think you’ve got to keep a sense of perspective and you’ve got to remember in politics that it isn’t about you, it’s actually about the ideas, the arguments and the party.”

 

The strangled bray of Rump Politics

Armando Iannucci, creator of The Thick of It and Veep and one of Britain’s finest political satirists, writes about how he hopes that the old order – “rump politics” – is dying:

The campaign to appeal to Middle England started off all those years ago as a cynical attempt to identify the core rump of voters who decided marginal seats, and woo them. Now it has become a terrified last stand to cling on to that rump. Meantime, those outside the target (Outer England? All of Scotland and Wales?) have been tempted to disengage from Westminster completely.

[. . .]

You can spot Rump Politics in play whenever a party does something that it knows others will hate, but which it also knows those same others will never come out to vote against. Labour’s campaign mug saying “Controls on immigration” is one (it knows that most first- and second-generation immigrants will probably vote for Labour anyway); Cameron ducking head-to-head debates with Ed Miliband is another (it annoys the media, might get a tabloid newspaper to follow him with a man in a chicken costume, but if it starves Miliband of a platform, who cares?). It’s a calculated contempt against openness and honesty. Rump Politics thrives on keeping silent, saying nothing, giving nothing away, above all not engaging with anyone who your algorithms tell you won’t vote.

But Iannucci argues that there is hope now that something is changing:

The safety-first strategy of Rump Politics is not winning. In the first few weeks of the campaign, what has dominated the agenda has been the very issues the party leaders have tried to hide. What we remember are Cameron’s unease and inarticulateness when asked questions about food banks and zero-hours contracts, Osborne’s obfuscation when asked about Tory plans for welfare cuts and Miliband’s rather unconvincing attempts to portray himself as tough on immigration. The agenda is not the one foisted on the electorate by the campaign managers: the alternative politics of the internet has become a useful adjunct to the conventional politics of the TV studio. The public has turned into Jeremy Paxman and is refusing to let these questions go away until fully answered. It is as if the possibility of alternative homes for our vote has reinvigorated us and encouraged us to persevere with our inquiries.

He adds that it appears Ukip has peaked:

Ukip has found its natural limit. Its poll numbers are simply not rising. Nigel Farage, the man obsessed with setting caps on numbers, has reached his own natural cap of support. Yes, some may find his arguments over immigration numbers and European bureaucracy appealing, but he also seems to have invigorated those who oppose his views.

 

 

Unleash the tribes

Mark Damazer, the former controller of Radio 4, now Master of St Peter’s College, Oxford, makes an unfashionable argument – in favour of politics.

Nobody is going to argue during this campaign that politics is noble and that the election is an edifying expression of civilisation. Rather, most will accept that it is a mess just about worth enduring. And politicians now mostly run against their own profession. If an MP wants to get a burst of enthusiastic applause from the audience of Question Time or Any Questions?, and not merely from natural supporters, he or she simply has to assert that a particular policy problem will be best tackled by taking the politics out of it; or, as a variant, that the time has come to stop playing political football with, say, the structure and funding of the health service or education or housing.

But, Damazer says, we need party politics because the alternative is far worse:

Parties are a necessity – ill-loved, ugly and sometimes viscerally tribal. They are for very many an embarrassment, but without them it is government by the clash of personalities with paltry mechanisms to decide between the claims of competing interest groups, and even more problems than we already have in defining which issues count and how to frame them. But there has been a collapse in our collective understanding of the nature and purpose of party political life – and that is something that really has become more pronounced. I would find very few students who would agree with my defence.

I cannot advance any prescription beyond a plea that journalists and commentators of all sorts allow complexity through the door.

[. . .]

Politics is civilisation – often inadequate, but totally necessary. We should all feel enfranchised not only to vote but to grumble about systems, structures and unfairnesses. Political satire should be celebrated, but so should the inability of politicians in the UK to duck out of demanding appearances on the many programmes where there is some form of challenge; imperfect challenge, but challenge nonetheless.

It won’t do to keep kicking out at everything associated with politics with almost equal intensity, the whole time. Politics can, and does, fail spectacularly but when it does we know the very unpleasant alternatives – and we should be sure not to declare that everything is smashed to bits. Because if politics were to break down completely we might by then not even notice.”

 

Laurie Penny: Choose your enemy wisely – there might not be much to vote for but there’s plenty to vote against

Laurie Penny writes that disillusionment in the political system is legitimate, but there is still reason to vote:

Not so long ago, some of us believed that change could come from within the system. We were wrong. I endorsed the Liberal Democrats in 2010, a fact that tops the long list of stupid things I did in my early twenties, but the feeling of hope was genuine and so was the pain of betrayal. Now, many people feel that the best way to deal with this depressing situation is not to vote at all. I don’t admire that choice but I respect it. Refusing to vote, after all, is not a sign of passivity. It is an act of passive aggression and passive aggression is something the British have a talent for. It’s an unlimited national resource, like rainy schooldays and former PR men with faces like boiled ham running for parliament on rafts of brittle promises.

But the thing about passive aggression is that it is effective only if the person it is directed at cares what you think. Anyone who has ever been in an abusive relationship knows that when someone only really cares about having power over you, they don’t care if you’re passive-aggressive, just as long as you’re mostly passive.

And that is what we’re dealing with in this election. The Tories, in particular, would prefer you not to vote, especially if you are young or poor or a welfare claimant. They would prefer not to have to count you among the people who matter.

[. . .]

Right now, there may not be much to vote for but there’s plenty to vote against. Go out and vote, if you can stand it, and I hope you can. Vote in disgust. Vote in despair. If I see you at the polling station with a grin on your face, I will worry, unless you have the good fortune to be Scottish. Vote against bigotry, hatred and fear. Vote today and change the world tomorrow. We are not as powerless as they would have us believe. Choose your enemy and choose wisely. Good luck.

 

Looking for a master plan

Reviewing a new biography of the Labour leader by Tim Bale, Anthony Seldon writes that Ed Miliband has produced mixed results in opposition – but he might still shine as prime minister:

[Bale’s] view, based on multiple interviews, is that Miliband would make a better prime minister than many believe. I tend to agree with him, especially as he would be supported by the Rolls-Royce civil service machine. Bale argues that Miliband suffered as leader of the opposition from constantly having to make trade-offs between clarity and unity – and the former lost out.

Seldon continues by examining Miliband’s successes as opposition leader:

Miliband is no fool and has some significant achievements to his name. He has held a divided party together, allowing it to go into the general election united, at least on the surface and at least until election night. He has made headlines on press regulation, bankers’ bonuses, gas and electricity pricing, the minimum wage and payday lending, and for deterring the Prime Minister from taking action against Syria.

He concludes:

Ed Miliband had the chance to go last autumn, when this magazine and some in his party questioned his position. He could have left with dignity, having brought Labour towards victory but recognising his limitations in carrying it over the line. He now runs the risk of being roundly excoriated if Labour is defeated. But this paradoxical figure could yet win in May and turn out to be a better prime minister than almost any expected. Could this be his master plan?

 

Bluffer’s Guide to the election

The NS‘s handy bluffer’s guide to the general election covers the all-important questions you need answers to before 7 May, including:

·         If no one wins, what happens?

·         Which are the ten seats to watch?

·         Who are the “lost voters”?

It also features the New Statesman‘s election prediction, created by our election site may2015.com, which shows that Labour is the party most likely to take power after 7 May. Although we predict it will win slightly fewer seats than the Tories, it is likely to have more options to form a majority.

Conservatives: 278 seats
Labour: 273
SNP: 48
Lib Dems: 26

Both parties are poised to fall 40-50 seats short of the 323 seats they need to secure a majority. As of 14 April, polls suggest that the Tories will fail to reach the magic number even if they make an unprecedented four-party deal with the Lib Dems, DUP and Ukip. But the polls predict that Labour and the SNP will have more than 323 seats between them; David Cameron would not be able to survive against this “anti-Tory” majority.

 

Plus

Rachel Cooke on not having kids.

Simon Wren-Lewis on the threat of Austerity Mark II.

Ryan Gilbey on David Mamet’s slide into right-wing politics.

General election clerihews by Craig Brown.

Will Self: At 30,000 feet there’s no privacy. Seat-back screens allow your fellow passengers to know everything you’re thinking.

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