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And now, the end is near…


May 6, 2010 by Dan Sacker  | Category Conservative, General, Hung Parliament, Labour, Liberal Democrat, TV Debates  |  0 Comments »

After a mamouth general election campaign and one of the closest political battles in years, we have finally arrived. Get your stats, maps, constituency guides and popcorn, settle down and enjoy a night of television made for the political junkies!

So what have been some of the highlights?

Undoubtedly the leaders debates have proved a hit with the voting electorate and will almost certainly be around for many general election campaigns to come.

The meteoric rise of Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats is another of the major stories of the election. For the first time in a long time we have a genuine 3-horse race, and but for a cock-eyed electoral system the Liberal Democrats may well have been in a better position still.

The leaders personalities have been at the heart of this campaign. Is Cameron too policy light? Is Brown to heavy handed? Is Clegg the happy medium? Never before has an election campaign been so reliant on the man at the top.

And of course we have had the odd gaffe here and there. How much do you think Brown regrets his momentary lapse of concentration where he called a Rochdale grandma a ‘bigoted woman’ in the back of his car?

As we head into election night, the 2010 election will certainly be remembered. The polls seem to point towards a hung parliament, but with reported large turnout will we see a Conservative majority? Are the Liberal Democrats’ polling numbers holding firm? Or has there been a traditional swingback to the governing Labour party?

So many questions. Now it is time for the answers.

Sit back and enjoy!

The final countdown begins… D-Day for Brown


April 29, 2010 by Dan Sacker  | Category Conservative, Economy, Labour, Liberal Democrat, TV Debates  |  0 Comments »

Tonight sees the final leaders’ debate of this historic General Election campaign, and for each of the three main party leaders, this debate presents a different challenge.

Arguably the person with the most at stake is the PM Gordon Brown. Following his disastrous day yesterday where he was caught off camera but still with his microphone on calling a Rochdale granny “bigoted”, tonight possibly represents his final chance to turn his flagging campaign around ahead of polling day. This debate – which is focused on the economy – was originally meant to be the moment when the election finally turned in Brown’s favour. However his comments yesterday mean that the whole focus of the debate has changed. Having spent a great deal of time trying to persuade us that this election was one which would be defined by character, Brown’s momentary lapse of concentration which (rightly or wrongly) called his very character into question has meant that this debate has become even more critical for the PM. One might even question if his campaign is so ‘dead and buried’ that there is little if anything Brown can do tonight to turn it around.

For David Cameron, this debate is a prime opportunity to convince floating voters that the Conservatives can once again be trusted with the UK economy. If he is elected PM on 6th May, Cameron will be faced with the daunting and unenviable task of having to make some of the toughest economic decision any PM has faced in recent times. Having pledged to start cutting ‘waste’ immediately, Cameron will have to be on his best form to repel a double attack from the Lib Dems and Labour on this policy. Look out for Brown mentioning the £6billion cuts and 40,000 public sector job losses which will result from the Conservatives plans – I bet you he mentions it once or twice…!

Nick Clegg has undoubtedly been the major benefactor from the television debates so far. He grabbed the television spotlight and his assured performances catapulted the Lib Dem campaign into orbit. Though he continues to ride high in the polls, there remains a question over whether his party will be able to translate the poll numbers into actual votes. The Lib Dems arguably have the most widely respected economist in their ranks in the form of Vince Cable and I would expect Nick Clegg to look to drop his name into conversation as often as possible tonight. We already know this election is a three-horse race but another solid performance from Clegg and things really will begin to get interesting.

In my opinion, the debates have stoked up a type of interest in the election not seen in previous races. Though some argue that they have increasingly pushed us towards a more presidential system, I would argue that we are more or less already there. Yes, the system may be parliamentary, but it is the man (or woman) at the top who is becoming increasingly powerful. I am in no doubt that there are lots of people across the UK who base their vote not on their individual MP but on who they want to be prime minister and lead the country. Surely this is a presidential system when it comes to elections in all but name?

Anyway, despite the lower number of viewers who watched the second debate (4m as opposed to the 10m who tuned into the first debate), I suspect these numbers may rise again following Brown’s gaffe yesterday. I for one am certainly looking forward to seeing what happens.

Brown and Cameron improve, Clegg still nicks it


April 23, 2010 by Dan Sacker  | Category Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, TV Debates  |  0 Comments »

There were a number of questions heading into last night’s second leader’s debate. Could Nick Clegg score another resounding victory? Could David Cameron put his obvious presentation skills to better use? Would Gordon Brown be able to demonstrate he was not just about substance, but he had some style as well?

In my opinion, I thought Nick Clegg was again the best performer of the night. Not as much of a resounding victory as we had seen in the opening round, but a victory nonetheless. Following his meteoric rise in the polls this week, the media spotlight had been turned on the Liberal Democrats. With Mr Clegg’s own expenses dominating the front page of the Daily Telegraph yesterday, there was a very real danger that the bubble could burst and the hopes of Liberal Democrat supporters could come crashing down around him. But crash he did not, and whilst he may not see the same boost in the polls numbers he received this time last week, he remained solid in his performance and – though he wobbled a bit on the issue of the Trident renewal – avoid making any major mistakes. His tactic of continuing to group the Conservatives and Labour as “the old parties” will strike a resonance with the electorate, and his willingness to engage with them in argument and debate will further reinforce the fact that this is election is now most definitely a three-horse race.

David Cameron badly needed to have a good night after last week. Though clearly much improved, for me he is still struggling somewhat. His answers remain too staged and he seems to lack a certain authenticity in his demeanour. Cameron has a bit of a problem. Though he continued (and will no doubt continue) to insert the word ‘change’ into every other sentence he utters, it seems as though he is rapidly losing his position as the standard-bearer of the change camp to a certain Mr Clegg. Perhaps this is why he looked to insert the phrase “If I was your Prime Minister” into as many of his answers as possible to reinforce the message that real change and a clean break on 7th May means you need a Conservative government. Cameron did win the award for one of the stand-out lines of the night, actually uttering the words “I agree with Gordon” during the discussion about the renewal of Trident, and certainly did OK on issues like immigration (he is the Conservative leader after all). But for me the bar was set so high ahead of the first debate in terms of his expected performance that it will take a massive effort for him to exceed people’s expectations. Overall better, but still lots of work still to do.

The most improved performance of the evening, however, goes to Gordon Brown. I thought he was more passionate, more articulate, and had better stage presence in terms of his interaction with the watching television audience than he did in the first debate. When he spoke about his values and his ideas for society, particularly during his closing statement, he looked and sounded prime ministerial (undoubtedly made easier by the fact he actually is the Prime Minister!), and he certainly seemed more comfortable in his surroundings. Whereas last week, Brown’s strategy was to demonstrate the closeness of himself and Clegg, this week given the movement in the polls the strategy was clearly aimed at showing the dividing lines between the parties. Hence the strong attacks on both Clegg (“Get real Nick” when attacking the Liberal Democrat’s policy on Trident) and Cameron (“Big Society at home, Little Britain abroad” when attacking the Conservative’s domestic plans), plus his repeated highlighting of what life is actually like as the Prime Minister. Definitely a marked improvement.

So there you go. Some of my initial thoughts. Though less historic than last week, this debate was more combative, more enjoyable, and actually more interesting in terms of strategic insight than the first. Final scoreboard: (1) Clegg, (2) Brown and (3) Cameron.

Two round down. Bring on round three!

Is Labour already in a hung parliament mindset?


April 21, 2010 by Dan Sacker  | Category General, Hung Parliament, Labour, Liberal Democrat  |  0 Comments »

A couple of interesting interviews in the press this morning worth noting. The first is with Gordon Brown in The Independent in which he appeals for a “progressive alliance” of natural Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters to join forces to keep the Conservatives out of power. In the interview Brown says he wants a “new politics” and argued that the Conservatives offered merely “a change of personnel and a return to the old politics”, while Labour was “serious” about revamping the UK’s electoral system.

As an aside, the idea of a “progressive alliance” was something on the minds of some in the Labour Party before the election was called. Writing in The Guardian back in February of this year, Peter Hain called for such a progressive alliance of Liberal and Labour voters. He urged those individuals who found themselves in marginal constituencies to vote Labour – even if in their hearts they were Liberal Democrats – in order to defeat the Conservatives. Whilst Hain said that “I am not asking them to sign up to Labour’s entire record” he argued that if this did not happen, then “there is a real danger of letting the Tories in through the back door.” Strangely enough, the conclusion Hain reached was that if this new “progressive alliance” was formed then “Britain’s natural anti-Tory majority can take charge.” An anti-Tory majority, not a Labour one. Interesting.

Anyway, back to today. The placement of the interview in The Independent and this type of rhetoric is a clear strategic move designed to target Liberal Democrat voters and the often more liberal-thinking readership of the paper. Some might call it desperate; others may see this as the clearest indication yet that Gordon Brown has come to some inner peace and realised that the unpredicted rise of Nick Clegg in the polls following the first debate may mean that his best chance of holding onto power is by being the largest party in a hung parliament.

But this may have been Brown’s position for some time now. In the run up to this election, Brown has been asked on numerous occasions what he thought the result would be. Many times his answer has not been an outright declaration of victory, but rather a more cautious approach along the lines of “the people will decide the outcome of this election.” Brown has undoubted political ability and has long been seen as one of the most strategically minded politicians in the Labour Party – he did after all run a number of past election campaigns for Labour. Do you think it is possible that he foresaw this situation even before he called the election, realising that his best hope of keeping hold of the keys to Number 10 was the fortunes of the Liberal Democrats?

The second interesting interview is with Nick Clegg in The Daily Telegraph where he has labelled Gordon Brown as “a desperate politician” and indicated that he might find it difficult to do a deal with Brown in the event of a hung parliament. He also delivered a rebuttal to those arguing that there is little difference between the Liberal Democrats and Labour: “Do I think Labour delivered fairness? No. They are clutching at straws.”

Clegg’s comments serve a number of strategic purposes. Firstly, he needs to find a way to distance himself from Gordon Brown ahead of the second debate. The number of times during the first debate that Brown sought to say in one way or another that he agreed with Clegg was a clear strategic move by Brown to align himself with the Liberal Democrats and peel away some of their potential support. If Clegg is to build on the momentum he developed coming out of a successful first debate and grow his party’s support base then he needs to demonstrate a clear dividing line (or lines) between the two parties.

The second strategic aspect to his comments could be Nick Clegg taking a more long-term approach. Only the most eternally optimistic Liberal Democrat supporter must think that Clegg has a chance of becoming the next Prime Minister. Let’s be very clear: he doesn’t and Clegg knows this. The best hope for the Liberal Democrats is that they do well enough in order to be the kingmakers in the next Parliament. Should they find themselves in this situation, then surely the Liberal Democrats will want to be in the strongest negotiating position possible. In order to do this all the soundings Nick Clegg makes between now and the election must be about how difficult his party would find it to align itself with either the Conservative or, more likely, with Labour. Make the parties desperate for the Liberal Democrats support. And then you are in much better position to place certain conditions on your support.

At the start of the election many political commentators were sceptical of the impact of the leaders’ debates. The first one blew the race wide open and re-framed the entire election campaign forcing all the parties to re-evaluate their strategic approaches. We wait what the second debate has in store!

Decisive Dave?


April 19, 2010 by Dan Sacker  | Category Conservative, Ethnic Communities, General, Hung Parliament  |  0 Comments »
I attended an event in Oval this morning which though originally billed as one talking about the role of small businesses, ended up being an opportunity for David Cameron to set out his idea of a ‘Big Society’ – a society based on responsibility and respect as opposed to Labour’s ‘Big State’ built on paternalism and waste. All very well. Lovely to hear about how we are going to be taking care of each other and all, but I am still going to take a bit of convincing before I jump on board the Cameron bandwagon (if at all). As an aside, upon arrival at the event this morning I was asked if I wanted to be one of the people standing behind Cameron as he was speaking. I guess I should have known; I am after all (relatively) young, but most importantly of all, a visually modern orthodox Jew. I politely refused, and judging by the other individuals who ended up standing there like leading party activists, I made the right decision. Nothing like a bit of racial and ethnic profiling on a Monday morning!
Anyway, what I found very interesting about the event was a clear change in the Conservative leader’s rhetoric. In the past few weeks the challenge has appeared to be how many times Cameron has used the word CHANGE in his sentences, statements and pamphlets. This morning, the buzzword was most definitely DECISIVE. If Cameron said it once, he said it a thousand times. Decisive leadership. Decisive change (maybe change hasn’t made its final appearance just yet). Decisive this, decisive that. Apparently – according to Cameron (and he may be right) – the only way Britain can achieve the change it needs is a (most likely decisive) vote for the Conservatives on 6th May. Any other vote, and you will wake up on 7th May with exactly the same thing you went to bed with on the 6th May – my wife may, or may not, be pleased. An indecisive (nice mixing up of words there, Dave) government, constant haggling and negotiations, and a bleak future for the British (presumably Small) society.
I got the distinct feeling from the event of a Conservative Party who is a little bit scared. Leading in the polls for so many months, one could ask if a bit of complacency had set in. The strategy of making this election a choice between David Cameron (change and the future) versus Gordon Brown (status quo and the past), is all of a sudden looking a bit naive. Neglecting Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats may have seemed like a smart move when the election first kicked off, but after Clegg’s performance in the first debate last Thursday and the resulting boost his party has seen in the polls (can you believe the YouGov/Sun poll today: LD – 33%, Cons – 32%, Lab – 26%) one can afford to ignore the Liberal Democrats no more.
I highly doubt that these will be the final polling figures we see on 6th May, but the race is certainly more interesting – and involves more players – now than it has been to date. The Conservatives have realised that all it takes is for the Liberal Democrats to increase their share of the vote by a couple of percent in order to deny the Tories the outright majority they so desperately crave. The decisive shift in Conservative strategy is palpable; whether it produces the decisive results the Tories would like remains open to question. The ‘Big Society’ may still be some way off.

A good night for Clegg…


April 15, 2010 by Dan Sacker  | Category Conservative, Crime, Economy, Education, General, Labour, Liberal Democrat, NHS  |  0 Comments »

I watched the first leaders debate this evening. And whilst politcal junkies like myself found it to be an interesting 90 minutes, my wife actually admitted that her levels of boredom were significantly higher than when I watch games of football. I will remind her of this during the World Cup in a few months time…

So who won? Well I always thought that providing he didn’t make any gaffs and no one else landed any knock out punches (and neither happened) then Nick Clegg was always going to be the man with the most to win from this first debate. And I think I was right. After all, he finally had a level playing field with the two main parties – something the Liberal Democrats don’t usually get during a normal General Election campaign. That was a clear victory in itself.

Clegg had one mission throughout the whole debate – demonstrate to watching voters that there was a third party involved in this election. That they had a choice, and he continuously sought to reinforce an ‘us versus them’ mentality throughout the debate. Clegg played the role of the outsider, the person and party seemingly prepared to stand up for the genuine concerns of the public. He even wore a light colour suit as opposed to the more traditional dark colour suits worn by his opponents to emphasise this change. (Obviously it was my wife who noticed that!) For the most part, I think he did quite well.

For David Cameron, expectation was sky high heading into the contest. An undoubtedly highly effective communicator, his answers were the slickest of the three, though often at times a bit too slick as has been a recurring criticism. Though he answered effectively, he did appear to have one default position for whenever he found himself on uncomfotable ground. For example, when attacked by Gordon Brown over his lack of a firm commitment to increase spending on the police, Cameron sought to reverse the attack on the Government, asking why they had not done anything in the past 13 years to sort out the problems the country faces. An effective rebuttal which served to reinforce his party’s overall message of change versus more of the same, and one which was used a number of times throughout the debate.

Another tactic effectively deployed by Cameron was his personalisation of issues in order to relate to his audience. He had an emotive story or anecdote for every issue, and you could tell he had been coached for the debate by American political consultants. One particular story caught my eye. When talking about crime, he told a story of one convict who had been released early from prison and proceeded to burgle and set fire to a house. A child died as a result of the fumes produced by the fire. This highly emotive story reminded me of a similar story used as part of a political advert during the 1988 US presidential campaign in support of George H. W. Bush when he was running against the Democratic nominee, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. The story involved a man called Willie Horton who had been released early from prison by Dukakis but who had gone on to re-offend and commit rape. Worth reading up on if you have a spare couple of minutes. It became a defining moment in the campaign that year.

So what of Gordon Brown? Well, though often too wordy in his responses for the most part he did ok. No major gaffs; no knock out punches. However he did manage to land a couple of good shots. His attack on Conservative plans to remove £6 billion from the economy this coming year, together with the way he explained Labour’s plans to cut the budget deficit, were for the most part effective. Brown also managed to put Cameron on the spot when it came to the issue of secure police funding in particular. And though dial-test polling during the debates noted a more muted response to him overall, he clearly scored a couple of good hits here.

But he also needs to control himself a bit more. You have to remember that the cameras are always trained on you (whether you are the one answering the question or not) and the clock is always ticking. Too often he found himself running out of time to give a full answer or being cut off by the excellent moderator Alastair Stewart. Too often he allowed himself to give a little smirk at a Cameron or Clegg response. There have been times – for example in the recent Obama – McCain presidential debates – when such reactions have been picked up by the media and run as news stories within themselves.

And he also needs to work on his jokes. Using humour in a debate situation is a difficult judgement call to make. Succeed – as Regan did when he highlighted his opponent Walter Mondale’s youth and inexperience during the 1984 presidential debate – and it can work enormously in your favour. Fall flat and you look silly and at times unstatesman-like. There were a couple of occasions when Brown sought to use amusing lines to attack Cameron (“You can’t airbrush your policies like you can airbrush your posters”, “This is not Question Time David, its Answer Time”, or the reference to the X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent in his closing remarks) sometimes with more success than others. It is just something to be wary of. Gordon Brown is undoubtedly a serious, weighty, highly intelligent politician. We are in serious times and the country is looking for a serious politician. So unless you have an absolutely cracking joke, Gordon Brown should stick to what he does best – debating  the facts and policies not attempting forced humour.

Overall then, good night for Clegg, solid night for Cameron and Brown.