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Leaked memo: Labour machine far from shipshape

One of the most interesting political stories this week has been about the leaking of an internal Labour Party document on countering the threat of UKIP.

The difficulties that followed appear a lot more serious than simply providing David Cameron with some good lines at this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions. The closer you look, the more you find suggestions that the Labour machine is far from shipshape.

First of all, the leak itself. The document was, according to the Telegraph, “distributed to dozens of MPs in danger of losing votes to Ukip”. Among this small group, someone was prepared to damage their own party in pursuit of securing internal advantage – presumably against recently-promoted Lucy Powell, who has been made vice chair for the general election campaign by leader Ed Miliband. The Mole tells us, “Powell certainly has made enemies in the Labour camp and one of them must have leaked the report knowing it would do her damage.” Loose lips sink ships. Some in the party must already believe they’re holed below the water line if they’re prepared to harm those close to the leader.

Second, the document itself. The best advice for Labour candidates when residents bring up immigration? ‘Try to move the conversation on’. It beats calling them a bigot, I suppose. In all seriousness, the advice to try and change the subject is an admission that Labour is still unable to deal with immigration as an issue. As Dan Hodges rightly said this week, Labour’s immigration policy is an incoherent shambles. Labour remains all at sea on an issue that will play a big part in how a lot of people vote.

Third, the process. It turns out that there’s an official UKIP Strategy Group in the Labour Party, none of whom were involved in writing the report, entitled “Labour: Campaigning against UKIP”.  Shambolic. No wonder everyone moved to disown the strategy document faster than rats leaving a sinking ship. The whole sorry episode is evidence once again that there are different Labour factions competing for control of running the general election campaign – Isabel Hardman has more details. The fault for this mess lies with the man at the helm; Miliband’s weak leadership means he lacks the authority to set a course and have others follow.

It all bodes ill for the upcoming campaign. Candidates will want their local efforts to fall in step with national ones. If rival camps are fighting to steer Labour’s strategy in different directions, the campaign will be far from plain sailing.


Five ways Coalition MPs might use the Autumn Statement for campaigning

While the national press pours over the detail of the Autumn Statement, Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs will set about making the most of the positive news in their constituencies.

I blogged on Wednesday about how what Chancellor George Osborne said on unemployment, growth, the deficit and the cost of living may well leave Labour needing a new attack line heading into the election. With just 16 weeks until the formal campaign starts, here’s a look five ways coalition MPs in important seats may be putting the Autumn Statement to good use.

Road building

The Spectator has an excellent summary of how, of the constituencies to benefit from the £15 billion allocated for 84 new roads, two-thirds of them are marginal constituencies. The first constituency mentioned in the article is Oxford West & Abingdon where Conservative MP Nicola Blackwood will welcome the £50 million for improvements to the A34. Despite the 0.3% majority, I understand the situation on the ground looks pretty rosy for the Conservatives and all the more so now given that the local MP now has a powerful success story to champion. All MPs will want be working hard to ensure residents know their part in securing investment.

Business rates

The CBI and FSB have given a very warm welcome to the announcement on business rates. Now, any MP can request free contact details for every VAT-registered business in their constituency from the House of Commons library. They’ll even give it to you in a jolly nice Excel spreadsheet ready for mail-merging. Given how vital it is for local businesses to know about business rate relief, a letter from their MP may well be on its way to them soon.

Air Passenger Duty

It would be easier to list those who haven’t run some kind of campaign against Air Passenger Duty. From Virgin Atlantic to Unite, APD is so annoying that it has been mandatory to get thousands of people to annoy their MPs about it. The result is that most MPs now have a ready-made list of constituents (and their email addresses) who would love to know that air passenger duty is to be scrapped for children under 12 from May 2015 and also scrapped for children under 16 the following year.

Stamp Duty

Paying stamp duty is bloody painful for too many reasons to list here, one of them being the outrageous way that homes sold for £250,000 incur duty of £2,500 but a home sold for £250,001 will a walloping £7,500. The outstanding TaxPayers’ Alliance ran a very successful campaign on this issue which allowed the rightly-furious to email their MP. Those MPs that keep good records can now write back.

Mansion Tax

One for Conservative MPs here. Osborne used his announcement on Stamp Duty reform to tear into Labour’s “Mansion Tax” policy. Using Zoopla or Right Move, homes that will fall foul of this extremely controversial idea (should Labour win power) can be easily identified. Matching voters to these properties via the electoral roll will give any Conservative candidate an important database for contacting people highly likely to have strong views on the matter. Despite Ed Balls’ efforts to clarify the complicated, Tory candidates may well write to electors in properties that will be dragged into the tax in years ahead and thus expand the number of people to write to.

All of this is effectively using the power of incumbency, which newly-elected MPs need to get right from day one if they want to make full use of it.