Monthly Archives: November 2012

If political parties were people….

Funnily enough this sort of thinking is used all the time in business and to a lesser extent in political circles as core voters are analysed and deciphered.

It set me to thinking after reading a blog post on Labour hame, of which I am an intermittent visitor. http://www.labourhame.com/archives/3316#more-3316

Where a musing was made about the new tory logo and whether Scottish Labour needed a makeover of its symbol.  I’m not convinced it does but it did set me off on a musing of my own.  If we are asked to imagine the parties as people how would they look.  I am as always prepared to be wrong.

So here goes….

Scottish Labour – A middle years woman with a grown up (and growing up) family.  A bit frumpy at times.  Sensible and weighed down by responsibility to family.  Steady and at the centre of her family.  Good sense though not particularly over educated.

SNP – A sharp businessman, with a drive to get what he wants. Competent and professional.  Cold and wanting control.  Thinks he knows best.

Scottish conservatives – Older, well-to-do, sensible man who exudes calm and resists change, paternal and condescending.  Grey and a bit round the middle.

Scottish Liberal Democrats – A middle years teacher who’s involved with local fetes and the like, a bit grey and a bit well-meaning.  Very earnest and middle class.  Well thought off in general.  Not too dynamic.  Probably a bloke (not quite in a tank top).

Now if these are people as brands then we can see why the SNP have managed a good fit to theirs.  Emphasis on competence and drive, pugnacious and control focussed.  One issue and driving for it.

It seems to have worked when we consider that polling data suggests they do well among men of 25-45.  They are honed in on many of their frustrations about lack of control of their lives.  Their ‘take control’, ‘poor downtrodden us’ ‘all their fault’ mantra resonates with this group across all economic sections (or decile if you will).

Scottish Labour on the other hand are attractive to women with families and those of a sensible, more cautious vent.  Older people poll better for anti-independence, as do women with families.  Labour it seems has become like its supporters and has focussed much of its attacks on the SNP Government on uncertainty, dishonesty and trust.  Going further to ensure arrogance and sharp, smug FMQ responses allow Alex Salmond to keep turning off these groups.  It is working.

The Scottish Conservatives are struggling in the hangover of Toxic Thatcher brand.  They have found it difficult to move on from this as few will give them a fair hearing.  This has been ingrained as an Anti-English / Tory message from the SNP and to a lesser extent Labour.  The current Tory PM, stinks of privilege and is a reinforcer of this viewpoint.  Etonians telling us poor wee scots whats good for us.  Even with a new badge and a female leader, it’s a long, long road back to influence let alone power.

Scotland is conservative with a small ‘c’ and currently rejects the Conservatives with a large ‘C’.

As for the Libdems, the coalition with the Tories at westminster has blotted their copybook and exposed their compromising (over principle) as a weakness not a pragmatic virtue.  It has exposed them to ‘yellow Tories’ tags and ‘untrustworthy collaborators’ as labels.  Both are unfair but mud most certainly sticks leaving the Scottish Libdems in a mess.  Unsure of how to retain their core voters after own goals (VAT, tuition fees, coalition, cuts, welfare reform) and a relentless assault from the Scottish press.  Now viewed as worse than Tories by some.  As for fit with their brand person the teacher is falling out of popularity with his groups and while he can attempt to justify his positions, he’s less well-respected at the moment.

Do the leaders reflect their Brands?

Johann Lamont – fairly well reflects the brand person (she is an education professional however).

Alex Salmond – For the last 25 years the face of the SNP – the brand person and he are almost inseparable, but he is getting on a bit looking bloated and tiring (lots of younger MSP’s to fill the brand mould however).  Nicola Sturgeon is a good female fit for the brand too.

Ruth Davidson – doesn’t fit well at all (although Annabel Goldie did).  She is struggling to change the brand and will not make it fit better in the short to medium term.

Willie Rennie – Pretty much reflecting the brand person.  Sensible contributions but not dynamic nor able to shake off the ‘Coalition damage’.

Now I wholly appreciate that some of the language used above reflects my inner dislike of the SNP, the Tories and, to a lesser extent, the Libdems.  I am biassed, as are we all, but I think I have captured the essence of the brands.

Sadly, I think that Scottish Labour have a bigger problem in attracting other groups of voters (seen as a little old-fashioned) especially the young.

Whatever happened to the red flag singing socialists?  Well they grew up, had families and bills to pay.  Responsible adults can still be radicals, a message that has been lost in the (Scottish Labour) brand.  If Labour is a middle-aged woman then its time to tell the youngsters about the demonstrations, placard wielding, CND supporting, bra-burning protesting times of our youth and be a newly discovered cool, role model to emulate.

Brands are more than a symbol, they add value.  It’s time Scottish Labour started to use it.

 

 

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Who I think will be in the whitehouse.

Finally, polling day in USA.

Polls by the gallon and mixed readings and analysis.

Personally I want Obama to win, Romney will be a disaster.

However, I am sitting here watching newsnight and I have the pre-match nerves.

My worry is this.

Obama won last time with a massive swing in states that were traditionally Republican, and a positive message of  ‘Yes we can’ and ‘Change’.

This time it has been much less positive and a republican ‘change’ type campaign has begun to work.

I will be up most of the night and I am not too convinced that the battle will be decided by Ohio.  Polls have been close on too many states to gain any certainty about where the chips will fall.

Ohio provisional ballots may hold up the whole thing for 10 days but I doubt that this will be needed.

Colorado, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and virginia are all ex-republican states and if these go to romney it will be very, very close.

Pollsters and commentators are talking about Obama ahead but don’t be surprised if disillusionment and Mitt’s polling day campaigning tip the final scales and Romney squeaks over the line.

Watching through my fingers.

Prediction

287-251 Romney.

God I’m scared.

How would you reform benefits then?

Today, on twitter, a local Conservative councillor asked me if I was against reform of the welfare state and if I wasn’t what would I do?

The context was my ranting about IDS and his reform agenda, as espoused on Andrew Marr’s love in this morning.

We had a debate in full council about welfare reform that was more heat than light and didn’t really add much to the debate on a larger scale.  It highlighted some areas where local council can offset central impacts.

However, the question was to me, given that I believe that welfare reform is necessary what would I do….here goes.

Caveat number 1 – this is my view not anyone else’s – neither Party nor guru and a statement of policy it most certainly is not.

Caveat number 2 – I am willing to accept that I might be wrong or that what I think may be unworkable.

So

Firstly, the benefits and welfare system does not work as we want it to.  It creates perverse outcomes on occasion and sometimes fails to support those who need while supporting those who don’t need the money.  What we need to remember is that our system (if we call it that – and systems theorists wouldn’t call it functional) has evolved to meet a changing situation and at best can be said to be failing to keep up.

When the welfare state was conceived and delivered the situation was not as  it is now.  Strong bodies could pretty much find work and most unemployment was frictional rather than structural.  Today (after decades of change) unemployment is more structural and this has shaped the way benefit calculation and transfers have been manipulated.

Unemployment is a function of changed work environment (death of manual and heavy industry, reduced need for labour as automation increased) and as such has meant that the ‘dole’ initially designed to support in the short-term has become a long-term situation for many.

This worklessness hasn’t led to generations of feckless, lazy worthless undeserving poor as IDS would have us believe.  Although some would argue for their existence.

Welfare is a safety net for our society that allows it to function in this era of reducing employment (full-time and skilled)  and movement to more flexible employment lives of low paid/ lower skill and transient nature.

Welfare is also there to support those who will need support (whether disabled physically or mentally or caring for those who are) and ensure their dignity and quality of life is protected.

Welfare is also there to support those who are being exploited in the race to the bottom in terms of wage rates.  Minimum wage is too low and the living wage is a poor attempt to address the feeble attempt of statute to ensure a fair pay for work.  This support can be in tax credits, housing benefit  or benefits for their families – whatever form that is needed to ensure work pays.

Key phrase work should pay.  However, the system is so perverse at times that a disincentive to employment can occur.  When work is seen to be not worthwhile economically we have a problem.  For me work is always worthwhile in terms of self-esteem but I can understand that self-esteem wont feed the kids.

So, where was I….

IDS wants to simplify the system – agree entirely (£5bn+ goes unclaimed every year purely down to complexity and ignorance).

IDS goal is to cut the size of the budget for welfare and benefits.  Disagree with starting point.  The size of the benefit budget is based on need.  Let me say that again, ON NEED.  If welfare is to maintain our poorest then the price is the price.  It cannot ethically be otherwise.  To do so is to punish the needy for the failure of our economic policy over the last 40 years.

Hair splitting time.  How do we define and agree need?  IDS says that those who don’t work should have a lower standard of living than those who do.  sounds fine doesn’t it? Really?  So if you live in a region blighted by unemployment because successive governments have skewed (and screwed the economy) you are somehow responsible and therefore should be punished economically.

We should define an acceptable standard of living and say that no one should be below this point.  whether you are disabled, old, unable to find work or working in a low paid job.

People should not be looking at those on benefits with envy.  If it was so great we’d all do it.  Fact is, that it isn’t and we don’t.  Daily Mail readers go and froth elsewhere.

So my start point is different.  I want to meet needs, IDS wants to shrink the bill.

Where then, is the most pressing area to focus?  Fraud?  Less than half of 1% is lost in terms of fraud and almost 3 times more is paid out in error by those who design and work the system.  So not fraud then (although not to be ignored – tax avoiders/evaders another day).

Johann Lamont tried to start a debate about universal benefits and their affordability (on which I can see where she’s coming from) but this again starts from a different viewpoint than I would (will do this another day too).

Some examples (which I am sure you want to know – but remember the starting point is entirely different)

  1. Housing benefit is a monster and is the result of failed housing policy (from flogging off council houses to not building sufficient replacements) causing a shortage of supply that is being met by inflated private sector profiteers (invisible hands stuffing pockets).  This needs addressed urgently but can only work if the structure of the rental market is altered (build capacity in public control and drive rents down hard – sadly a slow fix).  Housing benefit needs work but needs to reflect the situation on the ground not be a punishment for being overhoused or used as a tool to cleanse the cities of the poorest.
  2. Winter fuel allowance. small cost at the start and now rapidly out of hand.  Costs a fortune and many do not need it.  Paid to those living abroad in spain too.  Perverse isn’t it.  However, try cutting it and see the backlash.  Hobson’s choice if ever there was one.  It needs to be targeted not universal.  If anyone howls means testing costs a fortune! it shows the lack of thought that is common.  Perhaps linking Winter Fuel allowance to capping energy bills would be more effective.  It is not only the old who struggle to choose between heating and eating.  In Fife 1 in 4 suffer fuel poverty with 40% in poorer areas.  They aren’t all old you know.
  3. Child benefit.  Again this has changed in focus.  What is it for?  To pay for your holidays? (just for daily mail readers who are still frothing).  It is to ensure that children are provided for.  Hmm, High earners, do they need help in providing for their offspring?  Not usually.  However, the universality element is to let all of us tax payers feel we are getting something out for our contributions.  We should be able to think of a solution that effectively gets money to children that need.  I am prepared to accept that this is a very unpopular one to address.
  4. Working tax credits.  These are a response to low pay, a subsidy for firms who pay less and enjoy the low tax regime and readily available loopholes.  This needs to be driven back onto the employer.  Needs to stop being a government subsidy to business and reflected in wages properly.  Structural reform of Labour markets and business taxation.  But we’ll be less competitive and will have a jobs flight to low wage economies in the developing world (howl away), like I said at the start these may be unworkable.

Every current benefit needs to be examined to see if it actually does what it should do and tested to see that it helps those it is meant to.  We should not be afraid of removing benefits that are poorly targeted as long as the right support goes to the people who need, which might mean new benefits being introduced (is this the antithesis of simplification? if screwed up it could be).

As I write this I realise that there is no way to encapsulate my feelings effectively without going on and on.  Considering that the request was on twitter  with 140 characters at my disposal, it was obviously unanswerable.

So I’ll be brief then.  Welfare (benefits & pensions) are a means to ensure dignity and well-being in our society.  The complex mess we have doesn’t work but the wrong-headed reforms by IDS are about punishment of the poor to pay for the systematic failures in other areas.   The starting point is everything.

Better to review the way each benefit works and systematise the actual outcome you need than take a blunt instrument (like IDS’ Brain obviously).

Sadly we are looking for simplicity to meet the needs of the most complex set of needs and lives we have ever encountered.  Simple(tons) just don’t cut it.  They just cut.

(sorry Dave this isn’t the answer you are looking for).