Attlee’s farewell was no less grand than Thatcher’s


Daniel Finkelstein

During the debate over Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, there was quite a bit said about the simplicity of Attlee’s.

The basic idea is that he had been given a 15-minute service in front of 150 people in contrast to the public ceremonials for Lady Thatcher. But this is a deeply misleading account.
Lady Thatcher had a public funeral followed by private interment. Earl Attlee had a private funeral but a public interment. He had 2,000 people at the burial service for his ashes in Westminster Abbey. The Queen (who later opened Attlee House in his honour) was represented. She didn’t come, perhaps because Attlee was not one of her prime ministers.
Anyone interested can watch the fascinating Pathe News footage here

  Pathe have collected together the funerals of prime ministers since the first one (Gladstone’s) was filmed. They show the many 20th-century precedents for this week’s ceremony.

 For instance, the military honours accorded to Lady Thatcher were also accorded to Andrew Bonar Law and Ramsay MacDonald, neither of whom had fought a war and the latter of whom was a pacifist objector in World War One.
 Some prime ministers wished to be buried elsewhere and so the arrangements were slightly different.

 Lloyd George, for instance, chose to be buried in Wales. But there was a service in the Abbey. Here is a picture of Winston Churchill leaving the service with Attlee

 So the idea that this week was a party political event without precedent is simply wrong. Every prime minister’s passing is marked with great ceremony and Lady Thatcher’s was perfectly normal.

Why the Republicans failed to beat Obama

Daniel Finkelstein
So what happened?
Barack Obama could have been defeated, but he wasn’t. When the campaign began, the President had dreadful approval numbers and the economy looked bad. In these circumstances an incumbent should lose. But the President was lucky, because the Republicans didn’t do what they had to do to win.
What they had to do was to recognise that the forces that elected Mr Obama four years ago were fundamental ones. America is changing and to capture the White House again requires change.
Here are three basic facts that denied Mitt Romney victory. First, ethnic. As the Huffington Post's Howard Fineman correctly noted this morning:

"U.S. Census numbers tell the story. In the first decade of the new millennium, the Asian-American population rose 43.3 per cent, the African-American population 12.3 per cent, the Latino community 43 per cent — and the white population just 5.7 per cent."

And Obama won heavily among both African Americans (which may have been hard to avoid) and Hispanics (which might have been avoided). 

Before 9/11 Karl Rove, George Bush’s strategist was very aware that if the Republicans didn’t move from their white base they would start to find winning the presidency very hard. But after 9/11 the Bush team became less interested in the problem. 

Second, women. Women outpolled men by 6 per cent, and they voted for Obama by a 12-point margin. The Republicans cannot allow this to persist. They have to think how to reconfigure their coalition so that it keeps its base but doesn’t adopt a social agenda that loses the support of educated young women.

And third - more broadly - moderates. A good deal was made of Romney’s lead among independent voters. But this may have been a misunderstanding of the category. These independent voters may have been Republicans who have moved off to the right and call themselves independent.

The evidence for this? That on the night Romney trailed Obama by 21 points among people seeing themselves as moderate. This was a disaster that can’t be overcome by anything other than a broad shift of position.

The shape of the race is quite instructive. Romney came quite close without ever being more than about 33 per cent likely to win. This is because he was a reasonable candidate defeated by structural problems in the Republican appeal.
To win next time, they have to look deep.

Plebgate: a storm in a Westminster teacup?

Daniel Finkelstein

Inside Westminster everyone agrees that the Andrew Mitchell issue is a nightmare for the Conservatives. Is this correct?

I do have my own views on this, but let me try instead just some cool voter analysis.

Well, it is certainly a nuisance. It is a distraction for the leadership, it depresses morale in the Commons, it undermines the whips’ office and, because the Westminster lobby (who own the story) regard it as a huge political issue, it makes the tone of coverage worse. It further damages an already bad relationship with the police.

And any story that makes the Prime Minister look as if he isn’t in control of the situation is a bad story.

But beyond that?

Well, first things first. Voters don’t know who Andrew Mitchell is. And they don’t know what a chief whip does.

They also don’t follow this sort of story. They may have noticed it (although my understanding is that recall in focus groups was almost zero) but they certainly won’t be wondering what happened.

There are three issues still running, so let’s look at each of them. Assuming that voters recall it, the use of the word “pleb” is only more of a problem than swearing if it is commonly understood to have class connotations. It is by no means certain that people have a clear understanding of the word pleb.

The second question is whether the police are being accused of lying. Voters do not unquestioningly believe the police.

And finally, while people don’t believe in swearing at the police, and always think politicians should resign, voters are strongly disinclined to believe in media storms (if you can believe in a storm, but you know what I mean). They will blame the media for the whole saga as much as Mitchell and the police and will regard the whole thing as a whole bunch of people in Westminster entertaining themselves on an irrelevant issue.

When looking at the issue purely in terms of public opinion, David Cameron can ride this one out.

Daniel Finkelstein is chief leader writer and a columnist for The Times. Read his latest column on Jimmy Savile and celebrity power and contact him on Twitter @Dannythefink

Classic was Jimmy Savile’s use of the cloak of authority and kindness. Savile’s celebrity allowed him to acquire this authority. As we consider the regulation of the media and the legal right to privacy it is worth reflecting on how the Savile scandal happened. It happened because the aura of Sir Jimmy’s celebrity protected him from scrutiny by the press.

Daniel Finkelstein on celeb power and the Jimmy Savile child abuse scandal. Read more

The main message of Bob Woodward’s new book, The Price of Politics, is not the incompleteness of Barack Obama. It is that cutting spending and long-term government borrowing is almost impossibly hard – even in America where there is strong political pressure to restrict the size of the State.

And this is why Britain should stick to its policy of deficit cutting despite foundering economic growth, says Daniel Finkelstein

Both Republicans and Democrats appear to have concluded that their best strategy is to make their supporters feel more intensely committed and thus more likely to vote. For Mr Obama that means women, the young and African-Americans, for Mr Romney it means white working men, evangelicals, talk radio listeners and the better-off.

This is a questionable strategy. Democrats and Republicans have become more polarised and there are fewer of either of them. There has, instead, been a rise in the people that the political scientist James Stimson calls the Scorekeepers: pragmatic, coolly non-ideological, perfectly willing to shift from one party’s candidate to another. Where is the appeal to these people?

Daniel Finkelstein feels that an audacious appeal to the centre could secure the US presidency for either candidate

This hunt in Whitehall might turn up no Libor witches | Daniel Finkelstein

Today, Conservative MPs will be hoping to discover the identities of the senior Whitehall figures who, according to Barclays, raised the issue of the bank’s Libor rate. Could it have been Ed Balls? Gordon Brown?

These MPs might be disappointed.

First, it is possible that Barclays weren’t told the identities. So we would have to wait for evidence from Paul Tucker, Deputy Governor at the Bank of England.

But second, there is a difference between being concerned at Barclays’ high Libor rate, and asking that Barclays manipulate that rate.

It is very important that press comment makes this distinction and doesn’t attempt to suggest that a senior Whitehall figure or Labour minister expressing concern about Barclays’s rate (which strikes me as rather impressive attention to detail) is embarrassing because it is in some way the same as urging manipulation.

Twitter: @Dannythefink

‘This disaster won’t go away until you face some hard truths.’ Read Daniel’s advice to bankers

Peter Oborne is wrong about Lord Ashcroft and Conservative Home | Daniel Finkelstein

Today’s Telegraph features an attack by Peter Oborne on Michael Ashcroft and Conservative Home. His theory, essentially, is that Lord Ashcroft took Con Home and transformed it into a critic of the leadership. The reason? Revenge and ideology.

Very interesting. All with the usual Oborne verve. Just a shame it is quite wrong.

First, I am confident that Michael Ashcroft does not interfere in the editorial policy of Conservative Home. Even indirectly. That is not his practice. I worked with him when he was Treasurer of the party and it wasn’t his practice then either.

Second, Ashcroft has always been a funder of modernising ideas and rigorous polling research. I doubt very much that Conservative Home’s position is his.

Third, Tim Montgomerie’s criticisms of David Cameron have a long history.  I disagree with Tim but I trust his independence.

Twitter: @Dannythefink

“Austerity could still be a vote-winner” – read Daniel’s latest column

The elderly aren’t feeling the pinch over benefit cuts | Daniel Finkelstein

In our own leader on the Prime Minister’s welfare reform speech we raise the question of whether the elderly should share in the task of reducing welfare bills (we say that they should). The Independent has today published research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies which adds to this argument. 

Time, I think, for anyone who hasn’t yet done so to read the brilliant book The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children’s Future – And How They Can Give it Back by David Willetts.

My column when the book was published in 2010 is here.

Twitter: @Dannythefink

Read more: Where should the limits of the State be on welfare?

Unite boss Len McCluskey misquotes Lenin | Daniel Finkelstein

Yesterday Len McCluskey, leader of the Unite union, decided to quote Lenin to advance his cause. Explaining the advantages of his new £25 million fighting fund to back strikes, he pointed out:

Lenin said finance is the sinews of war.

This seemed very odd, for three reasons.

The first is that Lenin was a murderous individual whose idea of war went further than shutting down the lost luggage desk in Luton airport. It seems extraordinary to quote from him. But there you go.

The second is that, while it is possible that Mr McCluskey was translating from the original Russian, the grammar of Lenin’s pearl of wisdom is not its greatest advertisement.

But the third, more important reason it struck as odd is that the quote was originally from Cicero, not Lenin.

Twitter: @Dannythefink

Read more: Union prepares for ‘trouble ahead’ with £25m strike fund

Obama’s chances of re-election | Daniel Finkelstein

During US elections I try not to let too long go by without consulting Nate Silver and his brilliant fivethirtyeight blog.

At the moment he gives Obama a 62.7 per cent chance of winning a second term. Which accords broadly with my intuition.

That figure, by the way, equates roughly to the chance that Bayern Munich had of winning the Champions League final.

Twitter: @Dannythefink

Consult the Fink Tank

The reason e-mail scams are so unconvincing | Daniel Finkelstein

Have you ever wondered why such a large proportion of scam e-mails are really bad?

So much of the time they are poorly written, with spelling errors and terrible English. And they ask the recipient to believe they are genuine, even though the structure and content of the request (“my dad was the head of the Nigerian secret service and I want to deposit his bequest in your bank account”) is both unbelievable and familiar.

Surely with a tiny bit of effort the scams could be improved and get a better response?

This link provides a plausible explanation for why this doesn’t happen.

The senders want to be sure those who respond are genuinely good targets. A really bad scam e-mail ensures a low level of false positives.

Quite convincing.

Twitter: @Dannythefink

Too smart to be stung by an e-mail scam? Read more

Jimmy Carr’s tax avoidance has uncovered an ideological split between Cameron and Miliband | Daniel Finkelstein

The gap between David Cameron and Ed Miliband on Jimmy Carr’s tax bill seems uninteresting at first. Miliband’s assertion that politicians shouldn’t lecture on morality but should change the law appears to be a bit of (understandable) Opposition distancing. Understandable because, naturally, he thinks it’s immoral. But he can see that the whole moral attack might go wrong for Cameron.

I think that this gap is more interesting than it seems.

Cameron believes that things that are legal can be immoral, and that a politician can say that. Miliband does not agree. He thinks if things are immoral they should be made illegal. And there is no role for a politician to take moral stands without outlawing the subject of their attack.

In other words, they are having an argument about a core proposition of Cameron’s Big Society.

Twitter: @Dannythefink

“Albert Einstein once said that filing a tax return was too difficult for a mathematician and so required a philosopher.” Read more

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