Can Ed Balls waltz his way back into frontline politics?

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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…

Arron Banks attempts to become the UK’s Donald Trump.

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Arron Banks (left) with Nigel Farage. 

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.

Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to the Labour Party Conference was oddly similar to the speech Donald Trump gave at the Republican National Convention.

Examining the similarities between the rise of Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn.

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Jeremy Corbyn at the Labour Party Conference. Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention. 

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.

Theresa May should call an early election, but she won’t.

As soon as Theresa May became the last person standing in the Conservative leadership race and therefore the Prime Minister, the calls for her to call an early election began in earnest from opposition parties. The Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, and Ukip all suggested that she had no real mandate and should therefore call an election in order to resolve this. However, May held firm and stated that with her as Prime Minister, there would not be an election until 2020. However, given the current circumstances, this would be misguided.

Currently the Conservative Party have a working majority of just seventeen in the House of Commons. However, in opinion polling they are far further ahead than this. In recent polling by YouGov, the Conservative Party held a lead of eleven percent over the Labour Party in terms of voting intention. When you factor in that Ukip are still polling at thirteen percent, and many Labour constituencies voted Leave in the EU Referendum, then the current situation looks perfectly poised for Theresa May to hugely increase her majority if an election was held in the near future.

In addition, polling has shown that the public do not believe that Jeremy Corbyn would be a viable Prime Minister. The recent Traingate fiasco has eroded public support for Corbyn even further, with polling showing that the public doubt Corbyn’s story regarding him being forced to sit on the floor by a margin of almost three-to-one. This incident has greatly damaged Corbyn’s desired image of authenticity. Proving that he likes to ‘spin’ just as much as any other politician, but he just happens to be rubbish at it. With the main opposition party being led by a leader who it can surely be agreed is unelectable, then it makes sense for Theresa May to attempt to increase her majority as soon as possible.

May should also attempt to hold an early election in order to gain a personal mandate to serve as Prime Minister. Technically, given that the UK has a Parliamentary system, there is no obligation upon May to hold a general election in order to gain a personal mandate. There have been five occasions since the Second World War where the Head of Government has changed mid-way through a Parliament. In 1957, Harold Macmillan succeeded Anthony Eden, and was then succeeded by Alec Douglas-Home in 1963. James Callaghan succeeded Harold Wilson in 1975; John Major succeeded Margaret Thatcher in 1990; and Gordon Brown succeeded Tony Blair in 2007. In none of these five cases was a general election held in order for the new Prime Minister to gain a fresh mandate. This is because in the UK we elect a Parliament and then the Government is formed from this Parliament, rather than the Prime Minister being directly elected.

However the increasing personalisation of politics, in part through the increased media coverage which comes with the 24-hour news cycle and the internet, means that although it is not constitutionally necessary to call an election, it may still be deemed necessary in the eyes of the public. In 2007, there were strong calls for Gordon Brown to call an election, with many people stating that he needed to gain a personal mandate. Interestingly, one such person was Theresa May who stated that Brown was, ‘running scared of the people’s verdict’. Ultimately, Brown chose not to call an election and served as an unelected Prime Minister until 2010. Although this was constitutionally allowed, the decision dogged him during the 2010 General Election campaign with continued assertions that he had served as Prime Minister against the will of the British people, having failed to seek their approval through the holding of an election.

Therefore, if May has any sense, she will attempt to call an early election soon in order to secure her personal mandate. This is the sensible option given the state of the opposition parties. The ongoing soap-opera in the Labour Party means that they will surely struggle to run an effective election campaign, and although Jeremy Corbyn is certain to defeat Owen Smith in September, who knows who will be leading the Labour Party come 2020. May should strike now, whilst she knows that she is guaranteed victory and an increased majority.

However, there are several difficulties inherent in the calling of an election at this time that mean May might decide against it.

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 means that the Prime Minister can no longer just dissolve Parliament when he or she chooses. The act set the date for the 2015 General Election as 7 May 2015, and then set an election every five years after. There are however, two ways to get around the act.

If two-thirds of the House of Commons vote for an early election to be held, then the Fixed-term Parliaments Act can be bypassed. Now, this may seem easy given that the leadership of most of the opposition parties sitting in the House of Commons have called for an early election. However, those calling for an early election in the Labour Party are those who still hold the misguided view that it is possible for Corbyn to win an election and become Prime Minister. The moderates who don’t support Corbyn will surely be loath to vote for an early general election as they will be worried about losing their seats due to the unpopularity of the party’s leadership. Similarly, although Nigel Farage called for an early general election, he has since resigned as the leader of Ukip. With Ukip poised to elect someone who nobody has ever heard of as leader, they may not be too keen on an early election either. At least until their new leader has settled in. The Green Party are in a similar situation of leadership flux, whilst the Liberal Democrat brand is surely not yet strong enough to fight another election. Seemingly, the only party who would be organised enough to fight an early general election would be the SNP. Therefore, it is difficult to see opposition parties voting in the House of Commons for an early general election to be held. It seems likely that the opposition leaders calling for an early general election after May succeeded David Cameron, were simply trying the give the new government a bit of a bloody nose.

The second way in which the Fixed-term Parliaments Act can be bypassed is through a vote of no-confidence in the government. This requires only a simple majority vote. Following a vote of no-confidence, there would then be a period of fourteen days where new governments MPs could attempt to form new governments and try to command the support of the House of Commons. May’s supporters would have to vote these proposals down in order to secure an early election. The danger of his option is firstly that the Prime Minister appears incompetent as a result of seemingly not being able to command the support of her own party following a vote of no-confidence. This would hardly be good for her electoral prospects. Secondly, in creating the situation for a vote of no-confidence, there would be the danger that Theresa May comes out of the process looking slightly Machiavellian. The public popularity of politicians and the Westminster elite remains very low, and therefore it would be hard to get them to buy into a scheme like this. Witness the unpopularity of Michael Gove after he stabbed Boris Johnson in the back in the race for the Conservative Leadership, as an example of the public’s dislike of Machiavellian politics. Therefore, a scheme like this wouldn’t do much for May’s popularity.

Therefore, there are serious difficulties inherent in the calling of an early general election, that make it somewhat unlikely that we will have an election before 2020. In addition to the constitutional difficulties, May’s original decision to say that she was ruling out an early election was likely to give the economy some sort of certainty following the repercussions which came as a result of the Brexit vote. It seems unlikely that May will want to increase this uncertainty.

Overall, it seems unlikely that an early election will be called. May seems content with the mandate earned by the Conservative Party in the 2015 General Election, whilst the constitutional requirements for calling an early election make it a very difficult task.

However, by not calling an early election, May is throwing away a golden opportunity. An opportunity to increase her Parliamentary majority hugely, and therefore guarantee the passing of her legislative agenda; whilst also potentially gaining a majority large enough to keep the Conservatives in power for many years.

But, although Theresa May should attempt to call an early general election, she probably won’t.