Saturday, January 24, 2004

Why I want a Howard Dean comeback

Full Disclosure: I like Howard Dean's political style, although I'm not in full agreement with all his policies.

I want a Howard Dean comeback in New Hampshire for one simple reason: The media coverage of his Scream has been completely over the top, and has featured pundits, columnists and writers deciding on the basis of 15 seconds of a campaign rally that a serious politician is not fit to be President.

I find this kind of coverage distasteful, pointless and irrelevant. Howard Dean may be the wrong man to be President, but it's can't be for that reason. It's gotcha politics at it's lowest, and driven, not by outrage at his policies, beliefs or campaign strategy but on the media equivalent of schoolyard bullying.

I can think of several politicians who have exposed themselves to ridicule in this way, from John Prescott and Neil Kinnock in the UK to Ed Muskie and Nixon in the US. Why should these moments be seen to be definitive? Sure, they can be interesting, intriguing even, but they do nothing to aid political debate or understanding.

Howard Dean's speech after Iowa was embarrassing, but for it to be the biggest issue of the race for the Democratic nomination is simply insane. This type of coverage reduces politics to the level of the Michael Jackson courthouse appearance. It destroys debates on issues by focussing only on meaningless "character" speculation, often driven by the not so hidden political preference of the commentators.

Last night I caught Former Reagan Speechwriter Peggy Noonan on MSNBC's "Scarborough Country" show. She used the Dean speech to run through a history of such politically charged moments, where a speech or campaign stop descended into chaos. What struck me was the glee taken in the turning of small mistakes into "disasters".

Howard Dean has made a mistake. He hasn't run up a huge budget deficit. He hasn't released muderers on Furlough, He hasn't lied about his record or plagiarised speeches, taken bribes or been a hypocrite on family values. So why is he deemed to be unsuitable to be President?

Mark Shields, a CNN commentator (who I suspect is a Democrat), said last night that Howard Dean has been given a Media death Sentence for a parking offence. Exactly. For that reason alone, I want him to finish at least second in New Hampshire.

Oh.. and for those who say that a gaffe prone leader who lets his mouth get ahead of his brain is bound to be a disaster, try this. Which Presidential candidate said the following: that a single small volcano eruption was the cause of more polllution than all car driving in the USA, that the same was true for trees, and that he had doubts about the Theory of Evolution and felt Creationism should be taught in schools? Answers on a postcard to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, California.

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Friday, January 23, 2004

The stages of political disaster management.

Whether it's Nixon's checkers, Dean's scream, Clinton's sex, one thing's for sure. It's a F** up.

But as the first two have shown, and the latter may just re-affirm, you can bounce back. So here's Spin's cut out and keep guide to getting back on top of the game after slotting one into your own net.

1. The Flub. Hey, you might not know you've been caught out.. so then it's...

2. The dawning realisation. I did whaaaa? and people care?

3. Panic. This is when you sit in your hotel room and tremble. Agitated Friends and advisers work out how to move you without causing a riot.

4. The attempt to laugh it off and say it is typical media hype. "We'll just make sure our message is heard by the American people". Yeah right.....

5. The Polls. EEEeeeeek. You mean our message isn't being heard by the American people, who are busy giggling and making dirty jokes?

6. The prostration before Network news.
Preferably live. On all channels, With your wife. Crying. If you can do Puppy dog eyes, deploy now.

After apologising, you get a chance to use your screw up as an example of why you're suited to be top man. Take it with both hands.

Nixon. Didn't use campaign contributions for own purposes. Honest. = meant had no cash = was just like you = a decent, stand up guy= should be (vice) President.

Clinton. He shagged around = Didn't give up on marriage, kept working on it= Won't give up on America= Should be President

Dean. Screamed = Is passionate and gives it everything= Would be passionate about America and give everything for you= Should be President.

Follow this formula to the letter.

7. Bottoming out. This is when all the people who don't give a toss or haven't heard of the scandal are still behind you.

8. You mean you liked it? Some people who only ever watch hyped up news programmes on scandals decide they like you despite it all. Your polls stabilise.

10. Hacks realise you ain't dead. Sheesh He's still here? and his numbers are going up? Hmmm.. there's a story there.

11. The holy land of the "comeback narrative" Yee-ha. Home and dry, cowboy.

Oh, of course, there is a short cut. If someone F**ks up worse than you did, move to point 11 immediately. Do not do an interview with Dianne sawyer, Do not get crucified by the media. As Kipling nearly said, "If you can meet with triumph and disaster, and give disaster the directions to your opponents campaign events, you'll be a prohibitive favourite for the election."

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No Tongues

Lets talk about something else than gross stupidity by an obscure LibDem MP. It's so tiresome to get annoyed by issues when you can talk about the most important political issue of all.. who will win.

So. What will be the result of the Tuition Fees vote on Tuesday? My money is on a Government majority of 25. Why not tell me why I'm wrong?

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Wednesday, January 21, 2004

This is an odd one...

Fom the Gallery account of this afternoon's lobby briefing.

"Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokesman was asked if it was true that
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had told the Prime Minister he wanted to
live and work in America.

The spokesman said: "I don't recognise our description. I am not aware
of any conversation surrounding that."

I have no idea what this means, if anything, but it's a very odd question, and an only slightly less odd answer.

PS: Subscribe to the Gallery News service. It's free and it's like having the Lobby on your desktop.

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The Sheffield Rally did not cost Labour the 1992 election

If there's one thing that frustrates me about the media, it's the tendency it has to create myths. One of the most enduring political media-myths is that the Sheffield Rally cost Labour the 1992 election. Just google it, and you'll see that in story after story, the Sheffield rally is credited with the vital role in Labour's defeat. (The reason for this canard resurfacing? The Howard Dean speech. A commenter at Harry's place, amongst others mentions it)

Fact is it didn't, there's no evidence to say that it did, and can everyone please shut up, unless they have some evidence to the contrary.

Have a look at this Polling chart for proof.

The Sheffield rally was held on the evening of the 1st of April. As you can see, on that day and the day before, 3 polls were released showing Labour with a substantial lead of between 4-7 points. These three polls were a break from earlier polls that showed Labour and the Tories in a dead heat.

Then came the Sheffield rally. As others have said, Kinnock made a bit of a tit of himself.

The next day 2 more opinion polls were released that showed the race back in a tie. Labour's bubble burst. Problem is, these polls fieldwork was taken BEFORE the Sheffield rally. There's no way it could have influenced the result. After that, we see a whole series of polls that had Labour ahead of the Tories but within the statisical margin, with the Tories tightening the whole way, and then the Election, which showed the Polls were way out.

From this you can deduce the following.

1. The Polls were consistently wrong (and they were t least consistent). Labour were behind even at the peak of their support. Post Election analysis, says that Polling methodolgy accounted for an consistent overstatement of Labours lead by around 4 points Much of the rest was due to a last 48 hours swing to the Tories.

2. If Labour had surged around March 30th, their support fell back between 31st March and 1st April- before the Sheffield Rally.

3. You can identify no difference between Labour's polling 31-1st and 2nd onwards. It's consistently in the 39-41 range, falling back from the peak seen before.

4. This continues until Election day, when the polls are proved to be comprehensively wrong.

Now what might have caused a Labour spike just before the Sheffield rally? To be honest, I don't know. It's possible that these polls were just more rogue than others, but given there were three of them, I suspect, not.

The political debate at that time was on Jennifer's ear, and I wonder whether 10 days of constant focus on an NHS related issue actually worked for Labour.

Labour made some serious tactical and strategic mistakes in 1992. Most importantly, They spent the last 4 days talking about PR, while the Tories talked about tax and the threat of a Labour government. This caused a late swing (1-2%)to the Tories which was probably enough to avoid a hung parliament. This mistake was due to the fact, that Labour strategists worked from an incorrect assumption that the race was very, very close, when they were really 5 points down and needed to make their case for change.

Second, Labour never developed a coherent response to the Tory Tax Bombshell campaign. finally, they never were really able to erase the doubts some had about Neil Kinnock, doubts reinforced by months of Negative media. Sheffield may have had a small role in reinforcing the last, but the Sun was going to stick the knife in Rally or no rally, so it can hardly be claimed as conclusive.

The weakness of the "Rally wrecker" argument is made, for me by Butler and Kavanagh, who argue that Sheffield was bad because, combined with the good poll results, it woke people up to the possibility of a Labour election victory and made them re-evaluate. Aside from the fact we have a psychic electorate that managed to re-evaluate before the rally, this seems to fail the Occam's razor test.

It's just too complex. This theory requires TV viewers to look at a twenty second clip on the news, think, "Oh we might have a Labour government. I didn't mind yesterday, but now I've seen that man, I'm going to vote Cnservative, but I'm not going to tell anyone who asks about it"

No, what happened in 1992 was that Labour were 3-4 points down throughout, never made the case to get back into it on tax and economy and spent the last week on the wrong issues, leading to a final Tory surge.

Anyone got a better argument?

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Tuesday, January 20, 2004

The British Primary

So the Iowa caucuses are over. Personally I'm a bit dissappointed Kerry won, because I think Bush would walk all over him and Edwards in the general. I think only Clark and Dean would be able to hit back effectively, but what do I know?

Part of me would also like to see how the US right would deal with being attacked on the war on terror by a real general. (Update: they just edit his words and call him a hypocrite... smmooooth)

Anyway, back to Britain and Paul Richards wonders idly about a British Primary system.

My first thought is that we do have a primary system, at least in the Labour party. The effort it takes to register- joining the party-, is minimal. The barrier to participation is cultural, not actual. It's not so long ago that you had to be proposed and accepted as a member. Now you canjoin the Labour party in ten seconds online (and I encourage you to do so!)

This led me to think. Labour's leadership election is in fact a primary system. You have superdelegates and you have union endorsements. The candidates have to fight a three or four month campaign.

So why not turn it into a real leadership primary?

Say Candidates self nominate. Senior party figures endorse, campaign teams form. Then we have the "West Midlands primary". A big event where people turn up to vote across the region. (or vote by post). Then the same in Scotland, South-east.... Tom Watson's endorsement becomes a major boost in West Bromwich.

This would do three things. It would make the momentum about the members shoices, not about union exec recommendations or the votes of MP's. If a candidate was the overwhelming choice of the membership in the first two "primary days", MP's and Unions would have a strong incentive to reach their peace with that. They wouldn't be cut out of the process, as with the Tories, but they would be less important to it.

Second, The campaign would have drama, narrative, excitment.. and candidates would get a chance to change and develop.

Third, it would encourage campaigns to develop on the ground. Only a thrid of labour members voted last time. So there would be a huge imetus for candidates to bring members to the polls. They'd phone them, build relationships.. and those members might then want to campaign in elections.

Hmmm... Paul, aren't you close with top Labour people?

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The meme you've never seen.

Big media sleaze.

If power corrupts, then being a press baron corrupts preeetty sweetly, thank you. Robert Maxwell was a crook. Conrad Black *ahem* "borrowed" a few million dollars from his company, but forgot to tell anyone. Even Murdoch has secured his empire by grovelling to a totalitarian state and censoring criticism of it.

Yet Big Media never gets called on corruption. Sure, the stories get coverage, but just as stories, never as a narrative.

Imagine if out of the top 6 ministers of Tony Blair's Government, one was a thief, another had turned out to be corrupted by the Chinese communists and another had "borrowed" millions of dollars? Oh, and the other ones are respectively, an appeaser of Nazi Germany and a pornographer. Every Labour party member in the country would be asked to examine their conciences for supporting such swines. Everyone who had ever worked for these men would be ruined.

Yet I've yet to see a journalist, or editor who worked for one of these corrupt moguls being asked why they never asked the basic questions about their bosses. Come on. The editors of the Spectator, Telegraph and many other papers were working for a company which was being stolen from. Which brave journalist blew the whistle on the scam? Ummm. Same goes for the Mirror gang.

It's the story you never see. The men who control your newspapers are self interested, frequently corrupt and willing to sell out the truth for commercial favours. After all, who'd pay over the odds for a media company without an angle to work? Conspiracy theory? Unfortunately not, just the facts.

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