Friday, October 27, 2006

How to run an attack ad.

There's a category of advertising called the "side by side demo".

This ad takes it to a whole new leve. Devastating stuff and very effective.

One of my pet theories about future UK campaigning is that we'll see increased campaigning by "interested groups" like this, especially if there any kind of donation limits in the Hayden Philips final proposals.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

How to deal with a negative campaign...

So you're a former admiral running for Congress, and your opponent tries to take the issue away from you by saying you spent your time in luxury "being waited on by servants".

Do you ignore it like John Kerry did? Nope. You tear the guy a new one.

Brilliant ad this.

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MPs expenses out today…

Woo Hoo..

This one is the most frustrating stories in the political news cycle because hardworking MPs tend to have higher expenses in certain areas (postage, staff salaries, and so on) and these get lumped in with expenses like housing, travel and so on.

It’s really stupid to put the two together- after all should someone like Siobhan McDonagh or Ed Davey be castigated for spending lots on actually communicating with their constituents and responding to their letters? That’s just doing their job.

Even on the non-office expenses, there are some which are totally reasonable. It’s perfectly fair for MPs to get Parliament to pay interest/rent/expenses for their home in London if they live in the constituency, or if they live in London, to do the same for their constituency home/office.

It’s also totally fair for MPs to get travel expenses up to their constituency, which will obviously be higher for the Western Isles MP that they will be for the Kensington and Chelsea MP.

What’s not fair is when people use housing or office allowances money to increase the value of their homes, or staffing allowances to employ family members on sinecures while underpaying their real staff, or yes, abuse their travel vouchers.

sadly, claims on allowances can’t tell you who’s doing that. They just tell you how much MPs spend from their legitimate allowances. It would actually take research, effort and journalism to find out who was out of order, so I don’t expect much of that. (Though to be fair, the House authorities don’t make it that easy).

What I find frustrating about this story is that instead of the media showing up the very few MPs of all parties who take the piss, we’ll get headlines like “MPs claim 85 million in expenses”, Or “each MP costs you £120k in expenses” or “£350 a day in expenses for our MPs” which leads people to think their elected representatives head off to Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons each night, where they have the truffle stuffed foie gras, the ’84 Pol Roger (actually, that’s probably not all that) and then cavort with lapdancers for the rest of the night, when as we all know it’s only Anne Main who does that.*

* To my personal knowledge Anne Main MP does not cavort with lapdancers. Not that there’d be anything wrong with it if she did.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Possibly the scariest campaign ad ever.

I can imagine the creative meeting. "Well, we're twenty points down in the polls, what we need is a really angry man to shout at the pblic and kind of accuse them of being unamerican pussies".

"Yeah, I like it, but maybe he should be more mean and angry and pissed off. That's got to work for our guy"


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Michael J. Fox

This is number one of an occassional series of the best US campaign ads. Like most British political types, I don't want to see US style TV campaigning in the UK, but that doesn't stop me admiring some of the ads.

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Live-Blogging PMQs...

I'm here at my desk.. watching Nick Robinson rubbishing the Polls.

2 minutes to go. What will Cameron go on?

Iraq? Immigration- hard for him to go on this? Gag on Falconers flat, I suspect.

Update 1: BBC Panel say go on Iraq. I think Cameron will he have to, but I don't think it makes him look particularly good.

Update 2: We start with tributes. Stephen Crabb (con) leads on Burma. Serious, intelligent question. Odd sounds from Tory benches. TB bats away.

Update 3: Natascha Engel (lab) asks about Tax credits, allowing the PM to mention Tax cuts from the Tories.. Cameron comes in off the back.

Cameron leads on youth justice. Blair goes on fast tracked offenders, ASBOs, continued investment. Cameron responds with his technique of following up, then moving on in the same question to Adult prisons.

Blair hits back on tax cuts- says Cameron can't call for more spending and tax cuts, and that he voted against tougher sentences.

Cameron fluffs his soundbite on Brown/Blair, he seems a little flustered by Blairs response. mentions the NHS out of nowhere, losing the theme of his questions. claim's the country isn't safe under Blair or Brown.

Blair hits back pretty strongly. Points out tax cuts, risings crime under Tories, calls Camerons NHS claim a lie, and accusies him of "talking tough but voting soft". Cameron stops after 4, Labour MPs call for more. Best round for TB for a while.

Update 4: It's Ming time. Extradition and so forth. Dull.

Update 5: Cameron goes on Climate Change. Calls for a Bill. Laughter from Labour benches. They seem pretty upbeat, despite the poll.

Blair doesn't commit, but has a go at Cameron's policy making process, saying it's been totally inconsistent- Mentions Tax cuts, green taxes and Osborne- leading to hilarious shot of Letwin and Osborne, looking like overexcited schoolboys. Again Labour MPs seem pretty happy.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Ninety Nine Polls about Nothing.

I love polls.

I love reading them, I love getting a sense of the data, of interesting nuggets of information. I love, rather depressingly, being able to tell people what finding X actually means and why politician Y is worried about it. I love polls because they’re nerd-food.

I hate polls.

I hate polls because they’re the political equivalent of coke. They give you a rush, make you jabber incoherently about irrelevancies, and make you look like a total tool in front of your friends.

Polls don’t make you wipe your nose continually though. Otherwise Bob Worcester’s septum would have gone years ago.

So at the fascinating site I note that a commenter has observed that there have now been 99 polls since the general election. ICM tomorrow will bring the total up to a round hundred. Slightly more than one poll a week since the General election.

So let’s state the obvious. Polls are a great tool for understanding what the current state of play is. Even within that they need to be treated carefully and with respect. You need to understand the methodology, the filters, whether Party Id is mentioned. All these will affect how you view your poll.

Yes, headline figures matter, but even then, when you’re dealing with polls that claim to be a 95% confidence level of being right between 3% of theri stated figure, they’re less important that trends, than consistency, then what might be driving sustained polling changes.

The trouble is newspapers and politicians don’t want to use polls to understand why the public are choosing to think the way they do now. Instead, most of us want to use polls to predict the next general election- rather than as an approximation of the current political temperature, which can be changed in many, many ways in the intervening years.

As a result of the pressure to use polls to predict the distant future, we seem to have more questions being asked in polls that are not about the choices people actually have today, but the possible choices they might have in the future.

Personally, I mistrust polling questions that combine actual current existing fact and possible future facts.

For example ask me if I prefer Twix or Aero, and I’ll say Twix, quite definitely.

Ask me if I prefer the revised, all new Twix, which will be released next May, or the current Aero, and…. Well, things change.

I might reply “oooh Twix, definitely. I’d love a new twix”,

or I might think “Nooo! Don’t mess with my Twix, you conniving chocolate
conspirators, you’ve thrown my confectionary universe into chaos.
I don’t trust the new Twix” and switch to don’t know.

I may refuse to answer the question at all until I’ve tasted the all new Twix.

I might even say I prefer a Walnut Whip, but enough of the Mark Oaten gags.

Why do I labour the point?

Because in product marketing, if you wish to test the appeal of a new product against an existing marketplace, you have to walk a very fine line in describing what the new product will do and how it’s different from the old product, and seeming to sell the new product.

You might give them a sample of the new product. You might describe it to them an a tested methodology, you might even make “fake ads” and show it to unsuspecting consumers.

Trouble is you can’t do that in Politics. You can't say fairly that Politican X will do Y so will you be more likely to vote for him, because then the politician who says they'll make everything good, and nothing bad, and save puppies from certain death would win every time.

That brings us, rather neatly to David Cameron. Polls couldn’t predict accurately how The Tories would do under David Cameron because they couldn’t tell what David Cameron would do as leader.

Polls can’t predict how Gordon Brown because we don’t know yet what Gordon Brown would do as leader.

Without that knowledge, all those kinds of questions are so utterly meaningless as to be unusable.

Of course, Polls can tell us certain things- they can tell us whether Gordon Brown is seen as a sunny, friendly personality (err, not so much), as a serious and credible economic manager (yes, but with some strong critics) as a man you’d trust in a crisis (yes, generally) and whether the recent revolt has hurt his public image (yes, sadly).

All of these things are valuable knowledge points, but they wont tell you whether he’d be a popular Prime Minister, or party leader, because nothing except doing the job well gives you that.

Some people might say, ah, but wasn’t David Cameron clearly popular before his election? Well, no. The vast majority had no opinion of him. As late as the 29th September 2005, he was on an impressive 3% in a survey asking who the general public wanted as Tory leader. He then got sustained positive media coverage through an excellent campaign, which rocketed his support up to 18% by the 9th October. When Clarke went out, those who supported Clarke went over to Cameron en masse.

I suspect if you’d asked anyone before September 2005 whether David Cameron or Gordon Brown would be the best Prime Minister, your result would be invalidated by the question David who?

My point is simple. Skilled politicians don’t just accept polls. They use them as a tool to change perceptions. Cameron saw that he needed massive positive media coverage to secure the Conservative leadership. His team got that.

Brown’s challenge is different. He needs to secure the Labour leadership smoothly and confidently, with a positive agenda. After last month’s wobble he’s still well on the way to doing that. Then, as Prime Minister he needs to impress the British people. When you’re in Number 10, you suddenly have a whole box of tricks to play with to acheive that aim.

Do I think he can do it? Yes, which is one of the reasons why I want him to be the next leader, though I’m willing to hear why I’m wrong.

Do I think that the current polls actually reflect his chances of doing so? Not in the slightest.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Now this looks like a job for me...

Now this looks like a job for me;
So everybody, just follow me;
Cause we need a little, controversy;
Cause it feels so empty, without me.

OK, So the Blogosphere has filled up quite nicely without me.

A lot has changed since I last posted here.

Blogging has gone mainstream, with the likes of Mike Smithson, Guido, Iain dale and Tim Montgomerie building media reputations and huge audiences. Congratulations to them. I must be getting old; I think of these blogging megastars as newbies.

More importantly, we’re well into the last year of the Blair era.

David Cameron has lit up politics like a modern Alcibiades, shedding policies, gaining friends and mesmerising the audience.

I’m glad I wasn’t blogging when the Cameron honeymoon was in full swing. I wasn’t quite sure I could contain my ire and behave with due decorum. Now, as he begins to face some real challenges, we will really see how good he is.

In my last post, written immediately after the 2005 election, I said the Tories had a question to answer:

“The Conservatives have a big choice to make. In Labour terms, are they going to choose “New conservatism” or “one more heave”?...

…in eight years (they) have barely increased their popular support…
Conservative vote totals have barely risen...

The question any aspiring leader needs to answer is who are you going to
convert to conservatism, and how?”

David Cameron has supplied his answer. He’s weaving the two together;

Publicly, he focuses on heading to the middle ground. Internally, he signals that his agenda is still a traditionally conservative one.

The hope is that the public commitments will mollify enough centrist voters to bring them over to the Conservatives at the next election, while the private hints will secure the base. It worked for Bush, after all.

I don’t think it will work here.

This isn’t to say the Tories won’t make progress- they will.

The trouble is that until Cameron actually changes the Tories core taxation and spending policies, his moves to the centre will sound hollow and unconvincing.

Worse, that very hollowness plays up to his biggest personal weakness, that he is superficially attractive but politically meaningless- in Zac Goldsmiths phrase, “a political i-pod you can download what you want on to.”

For example, does anyone in politics really believe that Cameron’s lifelong political passion has been the NHS? Even if they do, will Cameron be able to promise to match Labour investment?

If he does, is he ruling out Tax cuts? Because at the same time he calls for more spending on defence and on Post Offices (just in the last week), he is signalling support for Tax cuts over a Parliament.

In his Conference speech David Cameron said :

“We must face up to the fact that progress towards our nation's priorities is never free. There's always a price to be paid.

Pretending that everything is simple and straightforward and can be sorted out with a wave of a minister's wand… Making out that anything is possible, everything is easy, it's all painless… That is spin.”

He was right. But that quote seems to sum up the entire Cameron political strategy.

Tony Blair’s best recent hit on Cameron has come when he focussed on this contradiction.

“ ….there is a limit to the amount of money that we can put in.

That is particularly so on a day when, apparently, the Shadow Chancellor is about to promise £4.7 billion worth of cuts in stamp duty on share dealing.

He cannot promise to spend more money on the health service, more money on defence, more money on post offices and more money on rural services, and then promise tax cuts that simply cannot be affordable.”

Last Month, David Cameron told the Conservative party that politics was about tough choices.

Isn’t it about time he started making some?

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