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Archives for May 2010

Did London deny Cameron his majority?

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Tim Donovan | 17:12 UK time, Saturday, 8 May 2010

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And so.

Voters have announced they want a separation from Labour but, they say no other party is involved.

It's not quite like that picture of a disintegrating marriage.

In fact, the Conservative suitor has made genuine headway, taking back seats like Hendon and Enfield North which were lost in 1997.

Nick Clegg, David Cameron and Gordon Brown on Saturday 8 May, 2010. Getty Images

But it's only a return to a position pre-Blair in outer London and not a sign that the Tories have found the formula to govern post-Blair for the whole capital.

Despite (or is it because of?) a Conservative mayor.

Given all the money and time invested in seats like Hammersmith, Westminster North, Eltham and Tooting, failing to win them was a serious set-back. If not now, when?

These were the seats which effectively signalled that David Cameron would have no majority.

In the urban setting of inner London, their opponents argue, the Conservatives do not yet convince that they can be trusted. The post-mortems should make interesting viewing.

And so - in a sense - London has effectively helped rescue Gordon Brown, albeit temporarily. And it has denied David Cameron, perhaps indefinitely.

Now the numbers are in, will the vast majority of members of the commentariat from print and broadcast admit how badly they have called this wrong since Christmas and recognise how far the voters have ignored them?

Er, doubt it.

How will they be able too to blame the TV debates for 'throwing open' the race and preventing the Conservatives when the Liberal Democrats' day did NOT in the end dawn?

No matter that nearly every newspaper was against him.

No matter too that broadcasters had long been speaking of him in the past tense.

No matter that bombardments came day-after-day, the impression created of a society rapidly descending into decay.

No matter that David Cameron"s campaign was smooth, and the media uncritical.

Gordon Brown and Labour hung on in there.

The voters, quite simply, didn't believe it in sufficient numbers and certainly not in the way most others had deemed the narrative was meant to be written.

Of course, now they have been denied the clear result they wanted, we should anticipate a relentless assault by the same media voices on the prospect of a hung parliament and the forces of hell about to be released by coalition government.

And the voters will, no doubt, take these warnings with a pinch of salt too and, instead give it a chance and consider the evidence.

Anyway, it's the end of the campaign and farewell. We may, of course, be back sooner rather than later.

Unearthing the council leader's hedge fund link

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Tim Donovan | 16:58 UK time, Tuesday, 4 May 2010

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We talked in passing - just a couple of posts ago - about the strong relationship between prominent London hedge fund players and the Conservatives.

We mentioned Kit Malthouse - who's deputy mayor of London and at the same time the finance director of Alpha Strategic, a company which invests the profits of hedge fund operators.

Alpha Strategic was set up by Colin Barrow, Conservative leader of Westminster Council.

A little eerily, one of my colleagues has dug up this story about him today. Read the story here.

All eyes on Westminster North

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Tim Donovan | 10:40 UK time, Tuesday, 4 May 2010

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It is one of the closest constituencies to parliament and, for us, it provides a perfect microcosm of the choices on offer on Thursday.

Westminster North is a place of contrasting extremes of poverty and wealth.

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It is also a Labour-Conservative marginal which could prove one of the tightest contests this week.

And what we found - spending a couple of days there - was that there were very different promises, and competing visions, for the capital from which we might draw wider lessons for the future.

Would a hung parliament bring about unity?

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Tim Donovan | 22:03 UK time, Sunday, 2 May 2010

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Houses of Parliament. Getty Images
Sunday before the election and thoughts turn, as they do, to a roast dinner and a hung parliament.

The potatoes are peeled but what could come next in parliamentary terms is more difficult to unravel.

One lesson from the last hung parliament in 1974 may be important to remember in terms of the formalities.

Ted Heath and the Conservatives, although they had lost their majority (winning more votes than Labour but gaining fewer seats) constitutionally had the right to try to form a government with support from the Liberals. They couldn't so Harold Wilson stepped up to the plate.

But 1974 is less useful as a guide to 2010 because the prevalent factors are so different.

Conditions today are unique. Who could ever have predicted that one of the worst recessionary crises in modern times would combine with an expenses scandal which shook the foundations of representative government?

As a result many voters go to the polls with not only their bank balance and pay slip in mind, but faith in the process itself and what's in it for them.

This could be potent, though no-one's quite sure how it will reveal itself.

Tired but unavoidable is the mantra of 'time for a change'.

But you increasingly hear at the moment the argument that now is not the time for a change from one set of rulers to another so much as the time for a change in how we're governed.

This may be the real significance of current polls and should naturally be of deep concern to Labour, but surely more so to the Conservatives who - it's so far indicated - have patently not yet won people over and capitalised on what has been a gift of an opportunity.

One argument then gains strength. If the economic prognosis is so grim, and confidence in the body politic so weak, how do people bring about a situation where new approaches are tried?

In short, and putting it at its most dramatic, do emergency conditions demand and require emergency responses? Does a national crisis warrant a government of national unity, of sorts?

The question is whether a coalition government could supply that if the voters could only lay their hands on the magic formula for a hung parliament?

It would be a good time to take stock for a few months, runs the argument. Let's see if it works and sensible tough approaches can be adopted consensually to cut public spending AND raise taxes. And then, of course if necessary, let's have another election.

The Conservatives issue dire warnings about the perils of a hung parliament, the danger of shady deals done behind closed doors, a further disempowerment of the people.

Others say the outcome could be the opposite, not least in this 24-hour news era, where every deal and quid pro quo would be analysed to death before the cameras on the green in front of Parliament.

But would government grind to a halt? Or would less hasty, more focused government ensue?

The Conservatives have also warned of the effect of a hung parliament on the financial markets and the likely pressure on the pound?

Others ask whether our brilliant City brains might not take a more profound and textured view of what constitutes firm government.

Incidentally, interesting questions arise about the hedge fund backgrounds of many important Conservative donors and key political figures running things in London now.

What could and would the Conservatives do, for instance, to rein in the speculators at a time of any further financial meltdown?

The links are close, the world small.

The Conservatives' treasurer is Stanley Fink. He's given them tens of thousands of pounds and is the ex-head of one of the world's biggest hedge funds, the Man group.

His predecessor at the Man group is Harvey McGrath who is currently chairman of the London Development Agency, the mayor's economic arm, which has already made hundreds of thousands of pounds of savings and efficiencies and has recently, for instance, signalled a reduction in the programme which supports childcare subsidies for poorer families in work.

Kit Malthouse, deputy mayor of London, is the finance director of a company that invests the profits made by hedge fund managers.

And one of the firm Alpha's founding shareholders is David Harding - another Tory donor - whose hedge fund Winton Capital recently, according to the Financial Times, made colossal amounts from 'betting' on a fall in the pound.

There will certainly be a lot of 'advice' available to David Cameron and his chancellor George Osborne from the pre-eminent financial players who have made the Conservatives their party of choice.

For lessons in coalitions there's Germany. And much closer to home. As the Politics Show reported today, eight local authorities in London are currently run as coalitions. Those who crave this kind of administration say the world doesn't appear to have caved in.

The question is whether such times - of economic uncertainty and voter disillusionment - require conventional certainty and the unadulterated programme of one party in government.

On present indicators, both Labour and the Conservatives could have the whip-hand on the basis of a mandate as small as 35 percent of, say, the 70 percent (optimistic) of people who vote.

Mind you, on how to get a hung parliament, we can't help.

You're on your own on that one.

Don't you care about London, Prime Minister?

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Tim Donovan | 15:41 UK time, Saturday, 1 May 2010

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Hello! Helloooo! Gordon, where are you...?

Can anyone help with this?

Has anyone anywhere seen the Prime Minister on the campaign trail in the capital?

We ask simply so that we can double and triple-check that we have got this right.

Does Gordon Brown see London as important?

It may be only a small oversight, of course? Just a teeny-weeny 13-year blip?

Perhaps someone in Labour HQ mistakenly excised the letter L from the leader's electoral grid. And no-one noticed.

'L' for London?

For there's certainly a pattern.

Gordon Brown in Loughborough not London. Getty Images

Take an example. We accept we are bit-part players in the schedules of a global statesman, and we put it no more strongly than that it may be but one minor indicator of the priorities competing for Mr Brown's attention.

But during the long,long tenure of a Labour government Gordon Brown has never done a formal sit-down interview with the BBC's London News programme.

In other words, we've never heard or been able to test his vision for the capital.

There've been fleeting glimpses. A couple of snatched questions to him during a 'reconciliation' with Ken Livingstone during the local elections in London in 2006.

A handful more when he joined Livingstone for an event at Canary Wharf during his failed 2008 mayoral campaign.

But in effect - from this one vantage point at least - Mr Brown has been an enigma.

For more than a decade - as Chancellor and then Prime Minister - he's been at one and the same time the single-most visible and invisible influence on the capital.

Working in mysterious ways, you could argue. God-like even?

Talking of which. In the Middle Ages there was a heretical sect which briefly held a foothold in southern Europe.

(Not unlike, you might say, UKIP winning two seats on the London Assembly in 2004).

The sect's core belief was in a dualist God, a deity capable of good and evil.

Such may be the forces and tensions at work in Gordon Brown's relationship with London.

Everywhere, Labour supporters argue, is the evidence of his good works: Sure Start centres; nursery places; schools with much better GCSE results; improved life chances; hospitals and walk-in clinics; more police officers tied to specific local communities. It was Gordon Brown too who put the final signature to the Crossrail deal.

But everywhere and everyday too is the evidence, his critics say, of where Gordon Brown has let down the capital.

He was the architect of the PPP programme to upgrade the Tube. First Metronet collapsed. Then Tubelines and Boris Johnson fell into a terrible state of acrimony.
And now there's a £500 million funding gap to fill, while Mr Brown appears to have snuck away from the scene of the crime.

In the City, wasn't there a failure to regulate to a degree that would have prevented the recklessness of banker? Their vast salaries,yes, brought considerable tax receipts to the Exchequer but their excesses may have brought the capital to the brink of one of its most dangerous, challenging eras

And then there's the question of whether London has been getting its fair share of those revenues. London and Londoners earn an estimated £15 billion pounds more for goverment coffers each year than is ploughed back into public spending in the capital.

And what about housing? Long-term owners may have been re-assured by seeing the value of their homes rocket.

But prices are now potentially life-changingly daunting for first-time buyers.

And for those for whom ownership may never be an option? Well, the consequence of a failure to build and provide comes in the shape of three letters in parts of east London: BNP.

So, Gordon, there's lots to discuss.

Please come and talk to us. Just in case - or even if - it's just to say goodbye.

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