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20 May 2015

In this week’s New Statesman | The real opposition

A first look at this week's magazine.

By New Statesman

Cover story: The real opposition
22-28 May 2015 issue


Exclusive: In his first major statement since the election, Vince Cable reflects on the Lib Dem defeat.

Exclusive: Michael Ashcroft on why polls failed to predict the election result and on Tories behaving badly.

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George Eaton speaks to the favourite for Labour deputy leader, Tom Watson.

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Simon Heffer on why David Cameron won’t have long to savour his success.

George Eaton: Both Labour and the Tories are battling for control of the centre, but will this moment last?


Vince Cable: Why the politics of fear ensured the collapse of the Lib Dems – and Labour

In an exclusive piece for the New Statesman, Vince Cable makes his first major statement on the Lib Dem defeat. He argues that while the rise of the SNP can be attributed to a politics of hope and optimism in Scotland, in England the election was dominated by fear:

Fear triumphed over hope: fear of “chaos”; fear of Ed Miliband’s socialism; fear of being held to ransom by the Scots. This fear was carefully – brilliantly – mobilised by the Conservatives and used to devastating effect in a targeted campaign that included 23 Tory-facing Lib Dem seats (all lost).

I know; I was a victim of it. My comfortable majority disappeared as thousands of suburban Londoners quietly feared for their (generally prosperous) existence. Fear is not anger. I have never been through an election (my ninth) and been greeted with, and misled by, so much personal goodwill and affection on the doorstep.

Cable seeks to explain where and when “these powerful emotional currents, fear and hope”, emerged in our political landscape. He writes that the general response is to blame Ed Miliband, who “was successfully caricatured as someone trying to turn our country into an Anglo-Saxon version of East Germany”, and also notes the “fear and loathing of Scottish nationalism”, adding that “Scotland could become like Ireland a century ago but without the bombs”.

What makes this scenario worryingly unpredictable, however, is that any new constitutional arrangements will no longer be the preserve of clever anoraks and bloodless public servants. Fear and resentment now lie not far below the surface. The politics of identity rests on raw emotion, not reason. Scotland could become like Ireland a century ago but without the bombs (hopefully). And what complicates the relationship further is that another issue of identity has to be tackled at the same time: Europe and the overlapping question of immigration.

[. . .]

The fear of a weak, Labour-led UK government being held to ransom by the SNP was just too much for a lot of my voters.

As I warned them, unsuccessfully, on the doorstep: be careful what you wish for. A Conservative UK government with minimal legitimacy in Scotland is just what the Nationalists want. Every failure and hardship north of the border will be explained away as the fault of the Tory Toffs in London. Attention can be deflected from those overdue, awkward questions about the chummy relationships with right-wing billionaires such as the Souters and Murdochs, or breathtakingly cynical policies such as paying for free university tuition by raiding the funds of further education colleges and schools (as well as English taxpayers).

Writing that “the politics of fear may come back to haunt the Tories”, Cable concludes that is now up to the Lib Dems and Labour to “offer plausible alternatives” to a Tory majority government:

My own party, I hope, will progress soon from shock and gallows humour to rebuilding from the rubble. Our stock price is so low that it offers a buying opportunity and we have had a flood of 10,000 enthusiastic new members within days of defeat. My own team is back on the doorstep recruiting and is finding it difficult to find anyone who will own up to voting Conservative, though many claim to agree with us while looking at the floor. We already know that many of those who were frightened into voting Conservative are suffering buyers’ remorse, or soon will be, and will be less easily intimidated next time. We know that many of our basic values and messages have enduring value.

<p style="margin-top:0cm;margin-right:0cm;margin-bottom:0cm;margin-left:36.0pt;
margin-bottom:.0001pt”>It is just possible that disillusionment with the Tories and with the nationalists in England and Scotland will set in so fast and go so deep that, as in the mid-1990s, there could be a pincer movement from the centre and centre left under plausible new leaders. Merely to state the hypothesis suggests, however, how far away it is. But to make it even possible, a lot has to happen, including our two parties deciding whether they are for ever locked in mortal tribal combat or, more sensibly, whether they are potential allies in a wider, progressive purpose of constitutional reform; a liberal approach to civil liberties; anti-nationalist and internationalist; and with a modern fusion of social democracy and market economics.



Michael Ashcroft on the failure of the election polls and Tories behaving badly

The life peer Michael Ashcroft weighs the aftermath of the general election, what the pollsters got wrong, and Tory smears:

By and large, on balance, we can all agree that it has not been a great election for the pollsters. But there is (or so we read) one notable exception. The private polls commissioned from the Tory bunker by the campaign chief Lynton Crosby and the US guru Jim Messina got the result absolutely right, at least according to, well, Lynton Crosby and Jim Messina. If they say so, I’m sure it must be true. But why leave any room for scepticism? Come on, chaps: now it’s all over, show us the numbers so we can all see how you did it. (Perhaps I shouldn’t hold my breath.)

[. . .]

Meanwhile, work continues on Call Me Dave, the very much unauthorised biography of the PM coming out in the autumn. [. . .] Downing Street seems apprehensive about the book – I have even been tipped off that the party machine is planning a pre-emptive strike in the form of an anti-Ashcroft media barrage. In fact, there is some evidence that this has already begun, in the form of slurs briefed against my old colleague Tim Montgomerie and a straightforward lie that I embarrassingly predicted a Tory “annihilation” moments before the exit poll showed the opposite. But perhaps I am doing CCHQ a disservice. Surely they would not behave in such a way?


The favourite for Labour deputy leader, Tom Watson, on immigration and open borders, defence spending and making peace with the press

George Eaton speaks to the MP for West Bromwich East and Labour deputy leadership front-runner, Tom Watson, about the future of the party.

On standing for deputy leader:

“When I started trying to think about what we need to do at the next general election, I thought, ‘This needs a campaigner, we need to pick ourselves up, we need someone who’s going to mobilise the party . . .’ Frankly, I looked around and thought that might be me. That’s why I’m doing it,” he says. Watson tells me that he does not intend to endorse a leadership candidate and that he could “work with all of them”.

On immigration:

He calls on the party to “look at the worst and the best” of the free movement of labour, describing the open borders policy as “the biggest issue that undermines the authority and legitimacy of the European Union in the minds of voters”.

On defence spending:

Watson, a more heterodox figure than many assume, also urges Labour to adopt a sterner stance on defence. “The expansionist aims of Vladimir Putin are a big threat to European stability,” he warns, calling on the party to back the Nato target of spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence. “I think it’s inevitable that we will need a larger infantry and more naval capacity in years to come.”

On Labour’s relationship with the press:

“We do need better relations with the press. The press need to conduct themselves in an ethical way. We saw some terrible transgressions of what is reasonable during the general election . . . We need a Labour leader to adhere to the principles of Leveson and push for that. If they choose to editorialise on the back of that or conduct themselves in their news coverage as a reaction to that, there’s not a lot Labour can do.” 

Simon Heffer: Inside the Tory victory

Simon Heffer argues that David Cameron and the Conservatives may not have long to savour their success. Looking back to John Major’s 1992 government, Heffer writes:

The Tories who witnessed the Major years still bear some scar tissue and David Cameron is no exception. The absence of triumphalism with which he greeted his and his party’s victory this month (and that has been sedulously maintained since) was conditioned by memories of 1992: another result that almost no one, apart from some who were fighting for it, expected. That victory turned to disaster in five months with the debacle of Black Wednesday. The ensuing battles over Britain’s place in Europe paved the way for the Blair landslide of 1997.

The great challenge for Cameron is to manage a majority even smaller than John Major’s – this year’s 12 against 21 in 1992 – while delivering a promised, inevitably divisive referendum over Britain’s membership of the EU.

He writes that as well as the EU referendum, constitutional issues and the SNP will all prove difficult obstacles for this new government:

Cameron and Nicola Sturgeon may have had civilised discussions in Edinburgh on 15 May but Alex Salmond stated the obvious when he spoke on election night of the lack of legitimacy of a party of government that holds only one seat in a country where, of the 59 MPs, the separatists now have 56. [. . .] Cameron needs to be alert to a movement for a second referendum – which the SNP landslide seems to make inevitable – and be sensitive to it.

Heffer concludes:

If the Tories really have made a difference by the end of the summer holidays – if they have managed a constitutional settlement acceptable to all reasonable people, and with democratic legitimacy, and if they have brought Merkel to the negotiating table – Cameron will have more than shown his good faith to those who elected him. If not, what promises to be the victory parade at his party conference in October could also usher in a period of more testing realities.


George Eaton: Both Labour and the Tories are battling for control of the centre, but will this moment last?

In the Politics Column, George Eaton turns towards the Labour leadership race.

If the Labour leadership candidates have found it easy to distance themselves from Ed Miliband’s approach, it is partly because they never believed in it from the start. None of the contenders (Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Mary Creagh and Liz Kendall) endorsed him in 2010 and three preferred his brother. They always doubted that his left-aligned strategy would succeed in a quietly conservative England. The election result confirmed their view.

 [. . .]

Their positions reflect a shared analysis of the party’s worst election defeat since 1987. Labour is judged to have lost because it was not trusted to manage the public finances, it should have cared more about wealth creation (rather than merely wealth distribution) and it failed to appeal to Conservative voters.

Despite this, Eaton writes, Labour and the Tories have begun the new term fighting for ownership of the same political territory:

David Cameron’s decision to devote his first speech since the election to the NHS was designed to underline his “One Nation” intent. George Osborne’s rhetorical focus is no longer the deficit but the “northern powerhouse”. Yet once the post-election euphoria fades, and with the alibi of coalition government no longer available, they will struggle to resist demands for more red-blooded conservatism.

He concludes:

With their opponents divided and ruled, however, the Tories can savour this Elysian moment. “In opposition, you move to the centre. In government, you move the centre,” runs one of Osborne’s favourite aphorisms. As he prepares to deliver yet another austerity Budget, it is a lesson that the Labour leadership candidates should heed.


Ryan Gattis on race problems in US policing: then and now.

John Gray on a great philosophical love affair.

Will Self: The changing fortunes of my family can be measured in our use of the humble spoon.

Sally Vickers on J M Coetzee.

Jenny Kleeman on women and Wikipedia.