When then Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls lost his House of Commons seat in the 2015 General Election, most thought the man regularly described as the most unpopular politician in Britain would soon fade from the public memory. Instead, Balls has reinvented himself with his ongoing stint on Strictly Come Dancing, and his appearance earlier in the year on a special edition of The Great British Bake Off.
These endeavours have seemingly rehabilitated his image with the public to such a great extent that many have talked about a return to frontline politics for him (something which most though impossible after his general election loss), perhaps even as Leader of the Labour Party following the inevitable crashing and burning of Jeremy Corbyn at the next general election.
The huge change that Balls’ public image has undergone by appearing on perhaps the two most popular television programmes in the UK has underlined a different side to the politician who was once perceived simply to be Gordon Brown’s ‘henchman’ and typically took the public flack for government mistakes. Instead, by showcasing his terrible dancing and actually quite impressive baking, Ed Balls has managed to show a whole different side of his personality to the public, and one which politicians typically struggle with — he has shown that he is actually human too.
In an age when public dissatisfaction with machine-washed career politicians has reached a new peak, underlined by June’s vote to leave the European Union and Donald Trump’s ascension to the Presidency in the United States, Balls has been able to paint himself in a different light to the legions of career politicians to whom the public seem to be taking such a dislike.
In addition, the publicity that can be gained from appearing on these programmes far outweighs the publicity that politicians can gain by appearing on traditional political television programmes. Strictly Come Dancing ordinarily gets around eleven million viewers every week, whilst The Great British Bake Off viewer count was also always well into the millions. Compare this with the number of people who tune into traditional political programme such as Question Time and Newsnight. The publicity Balls receives nowadays far dwarfs what his compatriots who retained their seats will receive on a daily basis. Plus, he has the bonus of being able to sit out this Parliament and avoid any real association with the abortive party leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. All in all, a pretty big bonus.
I am pretty sure, that were Ed Balls keen to return to frontline politics and stand for Parliament again in the near future, there wouldn’t be many who would stand in the way. With his time spent making a fool of himself on television having ingratiated himself with the general public, one would except that many would be far more receptive to his candidacy.
Who knows, this stint on television could be first step on the way to Number 10? After all, they just elected a reality-television star in America…
At the weekend Nigel Farage and his group of hangers-on travelled to New York to visit President-elect Donald Trump. Among the group was millionaire UKIP and Leave.EU donor Arron Banks. Clearly the visit had some effect upon him because he has since announced his plans to launch a new political party solely dedicated to ‘draining the swamp’ of Westminster.
Banks has suggested that he will be funding a new movement which will look to stand candidates against 200 MPs deemed to be the “worst, most corrupt MPs”. His aim is to harness the ‘anti-establishment sentiment’ which he believes is sweeping through world politics, and which has led to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.
The idea is modelled somewhat upon the candidacy of Martin Bell, a BBC journalist who stood against disgraced Conservative MP Neil Hamilton in the 1997 General Election, ultimately winning his seat of Tatton. Incidentally Hamilton is now, like Banks, a member of UKIP.
Banks has suggested that the targets will be chosen by some form of direct democracy, however he does seem to have some ideas about who he would like to get rid of. He has said that he would rate MPs by undesirability with “Keith Vaz at number one”, whilst a picture released on the Leave.EU twitter page also suggests prominent Remain campaigners Nick Clegg, Anna Soubry, and David Lammy as targets. One would assume that UKIP’s only MP, Douglas Carswell, for whom Banks doesn’t conceal his contempt, would also be a target for the new party.
Banks’ new party won’t take party positions in the traditional sense, however he has suggested some causes that they would likely support, including: “forcing through a change of the rules so that MPs can only hold office for two terms, abolition of the House of Lords and pushing for an elected senate, and insisting on a lower age limit of 40 for MPs to stop career politicians.”
Now I get that Banks wants to harness some of the hateful rhetoric that came from the Trump campaign for the Presidency, and bring it into UK politics. However, I have some questions about how he thinks he can achieve this.
Firstly, Banks’ attempt to unseat MPs is modelled somewhat on the one-term independent candidacy of Martin Bell, and its success in unseating Neil Hamilton in 1997. Whilst Bell was successful in unseating Hamilton and won the seat with a majority of 11,077, this was in part because of a plan masterminded by Alastair Campbell where he arranged for both Labour and the Liberal Democrats to withdraw their candidates for Tatton so as not to split the anti-Hamilton vote. Banks wouldn’t have this advantage. In most seats he’d face the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Green Party, and UKIP; whilst in some he may also face the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru — therefore splitting the vote even further. Therefore, the likelihood of one of his candidates being successful in gaining election is very, very low.
Secondly, Banks suggests he wants to field, “a great candidate, a military guy, doctor, someone who has done something with their life.” However, the chances of him finding 200 candidates that fit this description, and who are also willing to stand on a platform created by someone like Banks (who was a key part of the racist Leave.EU campaign), seem very slim to me. What’s more, Bank’s suggests an upper age limit of forty for MPs. Therefore, quite how he expects to find 200 candidates with amazing life experience, who are also under forty, and are also willing to stand on a platform created by him, is beyond me. Overall, the likelihood of him finding the personnel to complete this ridiculous pet project seems to be very slim indeed.
Thirdly, this project by Banks is an attempt to ride the populist wave from Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. However, Theresa May still insists that the next general election won’t be until 2020, by which time Brexit will be four years in the past and Donald Trump will be struggling to be re-elected. Populism in politics seems to be something which moves extremely quickly, and who knows what its status will be in four years time. My guess is that voters will have long grown tired of the non-solutions offered by populist politicians.
Finally, some of the suggestions which Banks has put forward as issues which his new party might support just don’t seem workable to me. In the previous paragraph I mentioned the proposal of an upper age limit of forty for MPs, but there is also the insistence that each MP should be limited to just two terms in the House of Commons. Although this might sound good when he says it too himself, it just wouldn’t work. With Parliamentary terms being a maximum of five years long, we would never have a Prime Minister with more than ten years experience as an MP — this would not be good for governance in this country. Our last Prime Minister, David Cameron, took office as PM after serving as an MP for nine years. Most of his predecessors had served for much longer: Gordon Brown for twenty-four years, Tony Blair for fourteen years, John Major for twenty-one years, and Margaret Thatcher for twenty years; and the list goes on. I am confident that none of these people could have done the job of Prime Minister after less than two terms as an MP, and I don’t think that the British public would have let them do the job of Prime Minister without this experience. What’s more, I think that it is extremely unlikely that someone could come in with no experience of the workings of Parliament and simply become Prime Minister. For all the talk of Donald Trump’s lack of political experience being a virtue, there have been reports that President Obama is having to spend extra sessions with Trump before the inauguration because his knowledge of government is so lacking. Realistically, to ask someone with no knowledge to do the job of Prime Minister straightaway seems a non-starter to me.
Ultimately, this is pretty typical from Banks, a ridiculous idea attempting to get some publicity and massage his ego — all whilst bringing the likes of Nigel Farage and himself further into the limelight than anyone wants them to be. In an entertaining article from earlier today, Iain Martin describes Banks’ new party as, “The Stupid Party”. That seems like a pretty good name to me.
Examining the similarities between the rise of Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn.
On Wednesday, Jeremy Corbyn gave his keynote address at the 2016 Labour Party Conference. Generally it was quite well received, the consensus being that it was a stark improvement on the speech he gave this time last year. However, what struck me most was the similarities between Corbyn’s speech on Wednesday, and the speech given by Donald Trump after his acceptance of the Republican nomination at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July.
Given that Corbyn is ostensibly left-wing, and Trump ostensibly right-wing, this is rather weird. But, oddly it does seem to be the case, and just adds to the list of similarities between the two.
Take these two passages for example:
“…a conviction that the old way of running the economy and the country, isn’t delivering for more and more people.
It’s not about me of course, or unique to Britain but across Europe, North America and elsewhere, people are fed up with a so-called free market system, that has produced grotesque inequality stagnating living standards for the many calamitous foreign wars without end and a political stitch-up which leaves the vast majority of people shut out of power.”
“I have visited the laid-off factory workers, and the communities crushed by our horrible and unfair trade deals. These are the forgotten men and women of our country. People who work hard but no longer have a voice.
I AM YOUR VOICE.
I have embraced crying mothers who have lost their children because our politicians put their personal agendas before the national good. I have no patience for injustice, no tolerance for government incompetence, no sympathy for leaders who fail their citizens.”
Effectively, these two passages are pushing the same message: that the old way of doing things is no longer working for the common man, with the current system involving the privileged few making all the decisions and then sharing out the wealth between them. In short, the central message running through both extracts is something along the line of: “the world is broken”. This is how both Corbyn and Trump have gained most of their support, by using people’s mistrust of the political elite and capitalising on it, by putting themselves forward as a voice of those who are ignored by the political elite. Both push the message of inequality caused by the perceived inequities of the free-market economic system.
As well as this speech, there are a great many more shared characteristics between the pair.
Both rose to the helm of their respective parties against the wishes of most of the party grandees, doing so after their parties had electorally imploded.
Both have built their success upon a group of supporters which are more of a social movement than a political party.
Both rely upon populist sentiment.
Perhaps most similar, is the tendency of both to diagnose the problems faced by their respective nations, but to not put forward any real solutions.
Trump did this throughout his first presidential debate with Hillary Clinton on Monday, constantly talking about what was wrong with the economy, trade deals, and foreign policy; but not really putting forward any realistic policies with which to solve these problems. Despite this, Trump continues to garner huge support. His supporters don’t seem to care whether he offers any realistic policy.
The same is true of Corbyn and his supporters. Corbyn regularly talks about the problems with the policy of the current government, the previous Cameron government, and the policy of the Blair and Brown governments; but, he never really puts forward real solutions to the problems which he has identified. Despite this his supporters continue to support him, seemingly caring little about the electability (or lack of electability) of their party leader.
These similarities between Corbyn and Trump are evidence of a growing trend in politics all around the world, the trend for populist candidates who are seen to be speaking for the common man. We saw this properly begin with the election of Syriza in Greece, whilst the trend continued to manifest itself with many other events: Trump, Corbyn, Brexit, UKIP, Le Pen, Sanders, and many more. Whether on the left or the right, there is a trend for populist leaders who are seen to speak for the common man rather than corporate interests.
Ultimately, it is difficult to see many of these populist leaders winning elections outright. However, whether they win or lose, what is clear is that they are changing world politics exponentially. With the vote for Brexit we have already seen that these populist forces can shock the political establishment, and we may yet see it again with Trump, and with Corbyn (although this seems very unlikely to me).
Whatever the results in their respective elections, the similarities between Corbyn and Trump show just how much politics has changed in the years since the banking crisis, particularly in the last couple of years. With populism bedding itself in on both the left and right of the political spectrum, it seems unlikely to go away any time soon.