Archive for category Parties

Elections 101

3d36f095-c244-4701-9235-6f99c2129911There has been some very optimistic chatter about Green collaboration with RISE recently. I understand why, superficially, given there will be some things we’ll definitely agree on with them (ending the monarchy, opposition to Trident etc).

If another referendum takes place we would of course be on the same side again. On other issues, though, we don’t know whether RISE will follow the SSP line, so it’s too early to tell whether we’ll disagree with the platform they’ll offer in May.

Despite the high number of lower-income Edinburgh households that don’t have access to a car, Colin Fox lined up with the Tories to oppose a congestion charge for Edinburgh that would have funded public transport. Is that still RISE policy? Do they still want to replace a flawed wealth tax (i.e. council tax) with another tax on salaries, even though it’d let share income and other wealth go untaxed? Will they support decriminalisation of sex work, as Greens do? Or will they, like the SSP, keep pushing the failed Nordic model, which exposes sex workers to more violence? Are they still for an impractical free public transport policy, which we wisely voted down last year?

Anyway, Adam Ramsay wrote an optimistic (to be generous) piece about cooperation with RISE yesterday, setting out a list of options from full merger (heaven help us) through to dividing up the list and constituencies between us. If this were a preferential election system, like STV, then we could consider a mutual recommendation for second preferences, although it’d be more beneficial to talk to the SNP about that first.

Until that point, we have only ever won list seats for Holyrood, and the only way RISE can win any seats is by competing with us for votes and slots on the list. Like all other parties in Scotland, we’re in competition with them. Like all other parties in Scotland, we’ll work with them if they win seats and where we agree (for example, even the Tories used to be reliably against ID cards, so we voted with them on that). The fact that there will be many policies we share doesn’t make them a major opportunity, it makes them a threat, albeit a minor one.

But don’t take my word for it, it’s time to listen to Colin Fox instead. He understands how the electoral system works, and that parties have to compete for votes. We’re not just a target for him, we’re his number one target.

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That’s their right, much as his baseless nonsense about independence irritates me. It’s called democracy. But we need to point out that we have first class MSPs and excellent prospects of electing more, unlike RISE, and we need to illustrate why the Green vision for Scotland is so important and worth voting for. Let’s not kid ourselves that we can do that by promoting a rival party. Of course, though, as Adam says, let’s not spend our time attacking them – the people worth critiquing are the SNP for their failure to redistribute downwards, the Tories for their war on the poor, Labour for their inability to oppose, and all three for their lamentable positions on climate change and the rest.

Ball and chain: Labour and the union link

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 13.58.33I’ve got a little more unsolicited advice for Labour today. *booing* Actually, I’ve got one more piece after this as well, but then I’ll try to leave it for a while. *sustained booing, attempted egging*

The formal link between Labour and the trade unions is totemic both for the left and right of the party. On the Corbynite left, it proves Labour is somehow still what it was 100 years ago – a party rooted in the activism and life experience of working people. On the right, it proves Labour is somehow still what it was 40 years ago – a party held back by dinosaurs and hard left dogma. Is the link essential and umbilical, or is it a ball and chain?

Both of these positions are pure ideological fantasy, though. From a well-intentioned outsider perspective, here’s a left argument for the disaffiliation of the unions, based on the interests of trade union membership and even of the Labour Party.

What are the actual relationships between Labour and the unions? The formal voting bloc that was provided by union leadership and latterly by individual trade union members is being weakened or removed across Labour. What remains is substantial funding from the trade unions to Labour, plus a informal cultural requirement to engage with each other as allies – a Labour leader cannot refuse a call from Unison or Unite. This means the pronouncements of one half are discussed by the media in the context of the other, especially when they’re hostile (as here: Murphy v McCluskey in the Daily Mail). Another minor element is more direct patronage. General Secretaries still end up in the Lords from time to time, and ex-Labour MPs and MSPs still get jobs with the unions.

But in policy and political terms, the relationship is hardly fruitful. Sure, even Blair and Brown did some good things for working people – notably the minimum wage and tax credits, limited as both were – but the unions failed to get a single public service renationalised over thirteen years, and inequality continued to rise. Crucially, industrial action was effectively hamstrung. As the late 1970s showed, strikes under a Labour government, especially in the public sector, damage both sides, largely because of the link. They’re seen, rightly, as one half of a “movement” fighting the other half. Who wants to vote for that? Or join that? Equally, when there’s a Tory government, strikes are used by Ministers as a weapon against Labour, and additional venom is deployed in the effort to crush them (which would be doubled again if Corbyn is elected). The rhetoric of conservatism writes itself here, exploiting the link to the fullest. Without the link, union members would be more able to take industrial action, where appropriate, under a future Labour government.

Above all, ending the formal link would primarily benefit the members of trade unions. Currently they pay subs, get demonised by the Labour right, and get warm words but no policy wins from the Labour left. Why should working people continue to fund a party which is even considering electing Cooper or Burnham, let alone Liz Kendall? The Labour establishment wants to reach right and win back defectors to the Tories and UKIP. That inevitably leaves a substantial gap between the party’s policies and any positions which might be designed benefit working people. The rise of Corbynism not withstanding, why have union members spent twenty years funding a party that doesn’t represent their interests? Or, where individual members do support Labour still, as the voting numbers show they do, why isn’t just joining the party the right course of action? Labour could even offer trade unionists a discount membership on an individual basis to encourage them to take part, so local branches get the benefit of their direct experience.

The original merit of trade unions was in collective bargaining, in directly representing the interests of their members. Of course it was advantageous for there to be socialists in Parliament who would fight alongside them. But, as the wrangle about getting Corbyn onto the ballot paper shows, how many actual socialist MPs are there on Labour benches? And collective bargaining, plus the ability to withdraw your labour without it being directly party political, would be really damn useful about now.

It’d also reflect the fact that, in addition to the working class Tories which have long been part of the trade union movement, many trade union members are now supporters of other parties to Labour’s left: the SNP, Plaid, the Greens, or the various minor left unity projects. Unions are stronger with those non-Labour-supporting members, but they’re less attractive to them because joining is still seen as supporting Labour. The idea that declining union memberships are a cause of declining Labour support might be looking through the wrong end of the telescope. Might unions be declining in part because would-be members have been put off by the association with a Blairite party?

Independent unions would be free again to be independent champions of their members, beholden to no-one else, able to bargain on their behalf with employers in the public and private sectors without fear, without coming under pressure from Labour politicians to back off for fear of damaging the party. They could focus on their real priorities, and sure, find ways for members to channel their money towards candidates who they support, whether in Labour or elsewhere.

And the Labour Party would be free to have an honest debate about policy and positioning, not one where union leaders are seen as saints or devils, with their thumbs on the scales. If Labour candidates wanted the money and support of working people, they’d have to demonstrate they were worth it. If they’d rather try to win with big business money, let them. If they’d rather win with grass-roots donations, let them. And when working people acted together to defend their interests, Labour wouldn’t have to cringe in fear of a Daily Mail headline tying them to the unions in quite the same way. It’s not kow-towing to the media pack – it’s neutering them.

Breaking the link in its current form looks even more like the correct decision for a Corbyn Labour Party, which already knows what to expect from opponents, both within and without, but it still makes sense if one of the former Ministers under Blair wins. And it looks essential if unions are to deliver more for their members. The only people who would really lose from this disaffiliation are old-style union bosses, who might see their peerages slip away. And lazy Labour hacks who like unaccountable money to blow on carving stone epitaphs. Ending the link would liberate both unions and Labour, and might improve the lives of those who need better politics and better labour representation.

An appealing alternative?

A guest post today from Stuart MacLennan on the Labour Party: leadership and policy. Thanks Stu!

2ldg9znIn the couple of months that have passed since the election, I find myself increasingly despondent with our hopes for the future. It seems I’m not alone in this. I started writing this post over a month ago, but buried it for fear of seemingly like a stereotypical lefty crank. But even the noble and learned Lord Mandelson seems to share my despondency, so I felt, perhaps, it was worth commenting further upon the Leadership election presently underway within the party.

We are repeatedly told that the Labour Party has failed to “learn the lessons of the past” – which is true. Unfortunately for us, far too many people who are keen to learn those lessons have been going to the wrong classes altogether.

In the 2015 General Election, Labour suffered a double whammy, losing support on our right – to the Tories and UKIP – and on our left – primarily to the SNP, but also to other parties too. This poses a dilemma to the party. In the past we’ve suffered losses at either end, but never before in recent memory have we suffered both at the same time. How do we address this? The fact that losses to our right occurred primarily in England, and losses to our left occurred primarily in Scotland has led people to the obvious, but incorrect, answer that we need to move to the right in England, and to the left in Scotland – and that only a total separation between Scotland and England enables this.

Chasing voters is the most cynical – and usually least effective – way of doing politics. “People voted for X, so if we’re more like X then they’ll vote for us instead.” This is utter nonsense, and Scottish politics illustrates this. In response to a sizeable number of former Labour voters voting for Scottish independence, Jim Murphy sought to woo them back by being more “patriotic”. But if you vote for the SNP because you’re an existential nationalist, why on earth would you vote for Labour because they’re a bit nationalistic, but nothing like as much as the SNP? The answer is, of course, that you wouldn’t.

Nonetheless, this is the exact same approach that is advocated by fellow vote-chasing cynical Blairite, Liz Kendall. Kendall’s answer to Labour’s lack of electoral appeal is, as Yvette Cooper put it, to swallow the Tory manifesto. Think about this from the same perspective as above: if you support the Conservative position on most things, why would you vote for a party that’s basically the same, just a bit less so? The answer, again, is that you wouldn’t.

The need for an alternative

Opposition parties are at an incredible disadvantage. Not just in terms of resource (although having the machinery of the civil service to work out your policies for you is an undoubted advantage over reliance upon Short Money staffers) but because Britain is an inherently conservative country. That is not to say that the majority of Britons are ideologically right-wing, but that we are inherently suspicious of change. That suspicion can be overcome, but the strong presumption in the minds of British electors is that the devil you know is always preferable.

So the first task in winning elections from opposition is persuading voters to defy their conservative tendencies and agree that an alternative to the present government is desirable. Sometimes you can get lucky – as Tony Blair did – and find yourself up against a government of whom the electorate have grown so tired that you barely have to make this argument. David Cameron arguably benefitted from such a sentiment, as did Wilson in 1964; but this alone is not enough to propel you to Number 10. Labour undoubtedly made this case well in the late 80s, which spurred the Conservative Party – and subsequently the electorate – to agree that a change was needed (which, unfortunately for Neil Kinnock, was not him). Similar observations could be made of Tony Blair’s Government in 2005. On both occasions incumbent governments of whom the electorate had grown tired were not challenged by opposition alternatives that the electorate found remotely attractive.

In 2015, contrary to the “Red Ed” dogma that appears to permeate the Blairite right since the election, Labour’s economic message was, in fact, a conservative one. There can be little doubting that we accepted the premise of the Conservatives’ economic message. Our own economic position was “we’ll be basically like the Tories, but shitter at it”. For this reason, we fundamentally failed the first test for winning elections from opposition – that we need an alternative. If you believe that the Tories’ approach to the economy is the right one, then why on earth would you vote for Tory-lite? Why have the shandy when you can have Special Brew? On this basis, Labour fundamentally failed to persuade the electorate that an alternative to the present government’s approach was either needed, nor desirable.

Therefore, once you have achieved the difficult task of persuading the electorate that an alternative to the present government is required, you then have to persuade them that you are an appealing alternative. The prerequisite of this step is that you actually have to be an alternative.

The need for an appealing alternative

Having made it through stage one – either by accident or by design – it then follows that you have to adequately meet the second test. That is to say, that the electorate, now convinced of the need for an alternative to the present officeholders, have to believe that you are the alternative that they crave. Failing this second test will result in people either plumping for what they know, or those who crave a change looking elsewhere. So it’s not simply enough to be an alternative, you have to be an appealing alternative.

In 2015, Labour suffered the catastrophic double-whammy of failing both tests.

As I detailed above, by the mid-90s Labour did not have to do very much to persuade voters that an alternative was required. However, for all he was painted as a centrist, Tony Blair’s Labour was distinctive to an extent. In the same way that Wilson focused on technology and modernisation, New Labour – at the very least – embodied an energetic renewal of Britain’s stuffy politics. It wasn’t radical, though it was distinctive; and, crucially, New Labour smacked of managerial competence and personal appeal – which by this stage was the exact antithesis of John Major’s government.

It is not necessary to stray particularly far onto your opponents’ political turn in order to win office. For all his critics on his own side might have decried him for being the “Heir to Blair”, there has never been much doubt that David Cameron is planted firmly on the political right. Certainly, Margaret Thatcher never felt it necessary to embrace any part of the Labour platform in order to win office, and comfortably retain it.

But I do not advocate that was is needed is an alternative that is necessarily radical, but rather, an alternative that has mass appeal. Our platform in 2015 was anything but appealing. Our offering to the public was composed of a handful of minor platitudes to the left and right. The gist of the 2015 manifesto was:

• “Banning zero-hours contracts” – except that hardly anyone is actually on a zero-hours contract and a lot of the people who are, it turns out, actually quite like them;
• “Ending the bedroom tax” – a noble pursuit, except, again, it’s something that hardly anyone has actually been affected by;
• “Cutting tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000?” – we’re going to cripple students with *slightly* less debt;
• “NHS” – Britain’s answer to motherhood and apple pie.

Where is the appeal to the masses? Where is the distinctive position? It’s certainly a long way from the radical platforms upon which the governments of 1945 and 1979 were elected.

Is all lost for the Kendallites?

Those adherents to the Kendall-cause aren’t entirely without hope. It might well be that – for reasons unrelated to policy – the present conservative government might become so unpopular that the electorate seeks out another conservative government – just one that isn’t run by the Tories. But unless it transpires that David Cameron and George Osborne are manifestly corrupt and/or incompetent (which they’re not) then the Liz Kendall approach to leadership – which is, ostensibly, following voters – is doomed to failure.

We cannot win elections by chasing voters and, worse still, following our opponents. It may be an article of faith to the Blairites in England, and the Trots in Scotland, but the mountain cannot come to Mohammed. To win again, we need first to convince electors that an alternative to the approach of this Conservative government is required – something you cannot do by emulation. We then need to persuade voters that we are the alternative that they crave, and we cannot do that with insipid, piecemeal policies aimed at a fraction of a percent of voters at a time.

In 1945, we fought an election ostensibly on the issue of housing. Its mass appeal is that everyone needs a house and we didn’t have enough of them. The same could be said for today. Similarly, as a population we are more mobile than ever, and evidence appears to suggest that the public are open to radical ideas with respect to transport. These are just two areas in which the potential exists for alternative approaches that appeal to the masses, and not just the fringes.

What we need is an appealing alternative. Is that too much to ask?

Labour in Scotland: past, present and future

A long read today on the history and future of the Labour Party by Tommy Kane. Thanks Tommy!

left_turn_only_by_awetumjoygasmEarlier this month the well known political commentator Peter Kellner contentiously challenged the Labour Party to ask itself ‘why it would be invented if it did not exist’. There were no such doubts about the purpose of the Labour Party when it was formed in 1900. The 129 delegates there passed Keir Hardie’s motion to establish ‘a distinct Labour group in Parliament’ and did so with the full intention of ‘promoting legislation in the direct interests of labour’.  The rationale behind the creation of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), that 6 years later would become the Labour Party, was clear. They were determined that the LRC would provide political representation to working people and to fight for them within – and against – a political and economic system that hitherto had exploited them and continuously wrought misery and poverty to them, their families and their communities.

As alluded to by Kellner, 115 years later that clarity of purpose is lacking, the Labour Party is facing an identity crisis and in Scotland (arguably also in England) it is facing an existential crisis. These are integrally linked challenges. Labour’s fight for survival is undoubtedly related to the aforementioned identity crisis and a vagueness and confusion over its purpose. Complicating matters further is the divergence of worldviews and ideological terms of reference that currently co-exist within the Labour Party. From Progress and Movement for Change in one corner to the Campaign for Socialism (In Scotland) and its sister organisation, the LRC (in England and Wales), on the other it often appears the much-heralded Labour broad church is stretching the metaphor way beyond its original meaning.

May’s General Election result has understandably provoked a period of introspection in the Labour Party. In Scotland the unprecedented result, which saw all but one of Labour’s MPs lose their seats and the leadership of  the divisive Blairite Jim Murphy come to a shuddering halt after only 6 months, the Labour Party appears unsure how to stop the (apparent) SNP juggernaut.  In England Ed Miliband, despite a decently progressive prospectus which proposed limited state intervention in the energy and housing market as well as challenging the use of zero hour contracts (though still nowhere near clear enough on Labour’s purpose, not least in the confused message over austerity) has carried the can for Labour’s electoral defeat.

The unexpected but disastrous reality of five years of a destructive and cruel Tory Government has, in apportioning blame almost exclusively in the direction of Miliband, exposed the ideological divide in the Labour Party. Centrist policies that accept austerity, and based on a discourse the Tories would be proud of, have been voiced by most Labour leadership hopefuls, while New Labour apparatchiks have emerged from under their stones with attacks on Ed Miliband for being too ‘left-wing’ (if only) (a simplistic analysis without evidence, obviously based on their own biased ideological worldview and found to be flawed by pollsters such as John Curtice). All appear to be falling over themselves to centre their vision on ‘aspiration’ – code for acceptance of inequality, individualism and greed – with recipients of social security and immigrants seen as fair game and who, following the New Labour logic, seemingly don’t aspire towards enjoying a better and more prosperous life.

Some leadership hopefuls retort ‘this is what we heard on the doorstep and we must respond to it’. This type of response since the election exposes the lack of purpose and ideological incoherence by some who reside within the 2015 Labour Party. Politics is about leadership as well as listening. It is also about having an understanding of and explaining the fundamental failings (not least the growing inequality) in and of the system and its exploitative character, for example its dependence on cheap labour enabled by the (EU) free movement of Labour and its need for a pool of unemployed.

Labour should also be about offering a vision of a fairer society which would allay the genuine concerns and fears that people have. This must include a policy programme, paid for by economic policies of redistribution that invests in housing and public services, encourages and facilitates public ownership, creates jobs and makes work fairer and better paid. Labour should also be articulating a vision that sees workers and communities empowered and given control of their lives via decision-making influence over their workplaces and in their communities. Taking such an approach would also necessitate an explanation of how recipients of benefits and immigrants are victims of the system, not the cause of problems within it. Labour should be confident enough to build a narrative around a positive vision of how they want society to be and how they will achieve it: rather than the ideologically and morally timid reaction to immigration and welfare that it peddled before, during and since the General Election.

What of ‘labour’ itself? We are told by Kellner and his ilk in the political class and commentariat that the Trade Union movement is a busted flush. If that were so, why do the right wing media and Tories spend so much time attacking them? The reason, of course, is that organised labour remains the biggest threat to the system that they benefit from, defend and propagate. But the tension between the Trade Unions and some within the Labour Party is palpable. Too many, like Murphy in Scotland, appear to see the unions as a bigger enemy than the tax avoiders and tax evaders, the market rigging spivs and wide boys of the City of London. This tension is seeing that relationship almost reach tipping point; a point that is increasingly topical in Scotland. The link must be defended and sustained if Labour is to have any chance of recovery, if broken then the Labour Party, as we know it, will also be broken.

How does Labour recover from here?

So where else does Labour go from here? Nationally, Jeremy Corbyn, the first properly socialist candidate since 1988, with a clear anti-austerity and redistributive message, has got on the ballot paper for the leadership with an agenda that is clearly about challenging, not safely managing, capitalism and neo-liberal orthodoxy and for the benefit of ordinary people, both those in work and others dependent on social insurance. Corbyn offers a politics that recognises the fundamental inequality in our society, and that accepting it should never be the purpose of the Labour Party. If Labour does accept this brand of politics and austerity then Kellner is right. After all why would you need to create another party to manage the system, and oversee its reconstruction in favour of the wealth and powerful as is happening at the moment, when there is a political party already in existence that has proven fairly adept at it over the past century or two?

Nevertheless, whether he wins or not (and OMOV makes it less predictable than some are suggesting) Corbyn’s candidature illustrates, just as Neil Findlay’s leadership bid did in Scotland, the enduring strength and ideas of the left in the Labour Party, despite proclamations otherwise by the various left factions currently doing the rounds in Scotland. Albeit, it also exposes the tensions and differences that co-exist within the Party. If Jeremy Corbyn was to win (despite being a non-believer I’m almost seeking divine intervention to help make it happen) one can only imagine how the Progress wing will react? Conversely, if some of the others win, particularly Liz Kendall with her strong Blairite message, it’s safe to assume that a significant proportion of the membership and affiliates will feel doomsday has finally happened.

In Scotland the SNP finds itself in an unprecedented position of power and Labour is unsure how to react. Agreed amongst all is the need for a root and branch review of internal organisation, campaigning, policy and politics. Only with such a review, intent on clarifying Labour’s purpose can there be a base for recovery. Unfortunately, many are focused on debates over internal structures, most prominently the outgoing leader Jim Murphy who had the temerity to think he could direct the future rules of the party despite knowing he was soon to depart as leader. A ridiculous situation, akin to a football manager sacked after relegation deciding what new players the new manager would buy for the following season.

A structure that Labour in Scotland must change is its relationship with the wider UK party. Scottish Labour must, for practical as well as political reasons, make its own policies and take its own positions, perhaps a federal structure in an increasingly federal UK? New powers coming to Holyrood necessitate an autonomous Scottish Labour in some shape or form. Similarly, if Labour takes a rightward drift down south, then Labour in Scotland must be able to distance itself from that agenda. Only then can Scottish Labour take on the opportunist SNP who give an appearance of progressiveness but in essence are no such thing. That said, measures towards autonomy will only be as politically effective as Scottish Labour’s willingness to break with small c-conservativism and  make distinct Scottish Labour arguments that clearly challenge the SNP’s claims to represent a unified set of interests, between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the disempowered, in Scotland.

How Labour takes on the SNP and reacts to them is one strategic decision that Labour and its new leadership team must make immediately. It is right that where appropriate Labour should confront the SNP’s phoney socialism/social democracy (which is just another vehicle for them to achieve their ‘raison d’être’) and their regular construction of contrived grievance based on nation not class, and the division and the divisiveness that it brings. Labour should also hold the SNP Scottish Government to account, something which of course is the opposition’s job to do so, and which it’s compelled to do given the 8 years of failure in various policy areas that the SNP have presided over.

However, while the current nationalist dominance has resulted in a nasty and intolerant strain of nationalist sentiment the reality, which many in Labour must start to acknowledge, is that most SNP supporters are not part of that particular strain.  They are voters who instead have ran out of patience with a Labour Party that has, over time, disappointed and failed to inspire them. The more Scottish Labour bases its activity almost solely on having a go at the SNP and, by extension, the voters who voted for them, the more damaging it will be for the Labour Party.

To restore trust and to renew itself Labour in Scotland must also clarify its purpose with a positive vision of transformative change based on genuinely socialist policies. Labour must understand both the current and forthcoming powers coming to the Scottish Parliament and work out how best to use them to tackle the scandal that is health and wealth inequality that continues to shame Scotland. They could/should introduce emblematic policies rejecting Trident, rejecting austerity, promoting redistribution through progressive taxation, building social housing to solve the housing crisis, keeping public services public and buying back the highly questionable PFI schemes, as well as offering a vision for local government that strengthens and re-democratises it while reforming its funding arrangements. Labour must also become again a campaigning party that works hard and remains rooted in the communities it serves.

If all of this is informed and inspired by a broad understanding of the need to challenge inequality in power and wealth Labour will signal that it intends to sort itself out rather than focus on what the SNP are doing or not doing. This will send a message to the Scottish people that the Labour Party is again the party of working people as intended by Keir Hardie and his 128 comrades back in 1900. By situating itself in that historic corner, Labour will not only survive: there is no reason for it not to once again thrive in Scotland. If it doesn’t……..

 

Apex predator

trexSay what you like about the Tories from a policy perspective – like, they exist to protect the interests of the powerful, to redistribute wealth to the rich, etc – but their strategic prowess is frankly extraordinary.

Throughout the 20th century they were renowned as the “best election-winning machine in Western Europe”, and indeed after the Attlee government they were only ejected from office three times by Labour: 64, 74 & 97.

Blair’s three wins led to smug conclusions from the centre and left that the Tories had lost their magic touch. But everyone has an off decade from time to time, and besides (again, say what you like about him in policy terms) Blair was the master of his medium.

The Tories are back, though, and they appear to have developed a new art, or refined an old one: a trick which should give any party considering working with them good reason to think twice about it. They have become very adept at destroying their partners, and it is no mere coincidence. They know exactly what they’re doing as they do it.

First, the Lib Dems. It’s reported that, just after the coalition deal was inked, William Hague said “I think I’ve killed the Liberal Democrats“, and history has proved him right. Clegg’s spectacularly inept approach to the 2010 hung Parliament – and, prior to that, the supremacy within the party of the Orange Book brigade – meant they gleefully signed up to a Tory programme of government where very little was moderated and which John Major or even early Maggie might have regarded as too extreme.

In fact, sometimes I wondered whether the Tories pushed the Coalition’s agenda even to the right of where they wanted to be, primarily to destroy the Lib Dems. That’s a long-term aim I know many in other parties have had vaguely in mind. But no-one else could have carried it out so expertly.

What I hadn’t seen, which was hiding in plain sight, was the way in which this project would be used to deliver a Tory majority. My bet on them to win overall was a mere hunch, based on a lack of faith in the electoral system, not on good analysis of what they were up to. What the Tories worked out (and handed to Crosby to deliver) was that if they could hold Labour to a draw in England and crush the Lib Dems across the south, especially in the south-west, they could potentially convert a comfortable combined majority into a narrow one-party majority.

It’s a moment of strategic genius, and it worked perfectly. To sit chummily with the Lib Dems for five years, to let them hand you power, and all along to plan to take their seats off them by way of a thank-you: it’s cold, brutal, impressive. Last time, with the National Liberal Party, the Liberals would eventually come back. It’s unclear whether the Lib Dems will.

But to pull off two such manoeuvres in one electoral cycle is truly extraordinary, and that’s what they’ve done. The other victims were Labour, both in England and in Scotland. Scotland wasn’t designed as direct help, i.e. to provide any more Tory wins, more as a way of making Labour’s life more difficult in the event of an anti-Tory majority. But it was done the same way. Like a mafia don at the height of his powers, they kept their enemies closer.

In the case of Labour, the independence referendum was the perfect opportunity to do just that. It couldn’t have been a closer embrace: they effectively subsumed all three unionist parties into Better Together, and killed Labour with apparent affection. The Tories know how the left two thirds of Scotland see them, and they saw the opportunity to let that rub off on Labour. In fact, the aim was not just to drag Labour down with them, but in fact make Labour more hated in Scotland than the Tories. It worked a treat: remember the surprise when polls showed Cameron was less unpopular in Scotland than Miliband.

It’s the same trick as with the Lib Dems. Tory voters got mostly what they wanted out of coalition – and no-one else was surprised, that’s just how Tories are. Ditto with the independence referendum. Everyone expects the Tories to be in favour of the status quo, so they didn’t lose any credibility – in fact Ruth Davidson accrued more through a matey profile – but the way Labour worked hand-in-glove with the Tories immediately put the former people’s party squarely in the role of Betrayers of Scotland.

And again, they knew what they were doing: I bumped into a Tory MSP of my acquaintance as the post-indyref surge in SNP membership was underway after Johann Lamont’s resignation. I’ve never seen him so cheery, and he declared: “we’ve managed to make Labour look like the party of Scotland in England, and to look like the party of Westminster in Scotland”. It’s a brutal vice to squeeze them in, and I admit I only really thought about the implications for Scotland, i.e. the likelihood that Labour would take a drubbing in the election just past. I’ve been sceptical of the impact the “fear of Scotland/the SNP” message had on English votes, especially given how popular Nicola was in England after the first debate, but this fits alongside it nicely. The Tories clearly had a plan. And again, Labour helped them by endlessly trying to demonise a party which broadly occupies the same space as them on the spectrum. Every time Ed tried even more desperately to distance himself from the SNP it just helped the Tories… and the SNP. It’s the old LBJ anecdote: “I wanna hear him deny it.. on TV!”

To dip back to the Lib Dem example, the poor fools thought they could “take credit” for some of the coalition’s changes in this election, such as the surprisingly regressive personal allowance changes, and for even more absurd wins, such as things that might hypothetically have happened without them restraining the evil Tories. This too has a parallel. Scottish Labour really thought they were using Tory money to support Labour when in fact they were digging their own political graves through Better Together.

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Obviously, in Scotland the Tories’ objectives were shared with the single-minded SNP, who squeezed both Labour and the Lib Dems almost off the board. None of this is to deny the skill with which the SNP have parlayed a programme quite similar to Labour’s into a generational shift in their own favour. But this stunning SNP success was essentially a full-frontal assault, aided by Labour’s indyref mistakes, and feels like a blunt instrument compared to the Tory moves.

I’m not sure what the Tories are up to with UKIP, but it seems certain it involves looking Eurosceptic and staying in the EU, possibly even getting pro-business concessions that will make the left very uncomfortable about being on the Stay In side alongside him. Alternatively (unless Farage completes their self-destruction in time) Cameron might come back from Brussels, declare he didn’t get quite enough concessions, and end up on the same (presumably losing) side as UKIP, making them seem doubly irrelevant but uniting his party in the process. “Losing” gracefully would shut up the “bastards” and UKIP and make the Tories even safer for business. To be honest, I don’t see the threats to him either way, and whatever they’re up to I wouldn’t bet against them.

This return to strategic form by the Tories is sadly not just of academic interest. Anyone who wants to beat them needs to outsmart them (which is not the same as tacking right to meet them). And anyone considering working with them should take a quick step backwards, too, so long as they’re sure they know which direction the cliff is in.