Saturday, June 30, 2007

Bush's surge strategy - are its days numbered?

Richard Lugar has been US Senator for Indiana for 31 years and is a former Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This week he created a major stir by being the first leading Republican to break ranks on Iraq. He warned that he might not support Bush's funding request for Iraq in September. His words were strong:

In my judgment, the costs and risks of continuing down the current path outweigh the potential benefits that might be achieved. Persisting indefinitely with the surge strategy will delay policy adjustments that have a better chance of protecting our vital interests over the long term.

US TV newscaster rips up lead story about Paris Hilton

This is worth watching. The newscaster on MSNBC, Mika Brzezinski (daughter of Zbigniew - for political anoraks), refuses to read the lead story about Paris Hilton. She tries to burn the script on air, before ripping it up and then shredding a second copy given to her.

It looks a bit staged to me. If it is real, you can understand the lady's feelings. The "second" story, which had been demoted in favour of Paris Hilton, was the news that leading Republican Senator Richard Lugar said he might not support Bush's Iraq policy when it comes up for its next funding vote in September.

Worrying Turkish "plans" to invade Iraq

Turkey is warning of plans to invade northern Iraq.

This is a worrying escalation of international military action. Goodness knows what impact it will have on Turkey's application to join the EU.

An EU member country, the United Kingdom, has already invaded Iraq, with highly questionable justification.

So criticism of the Turkish stance would seem rather hypocritical, particularly if it comes from the UK or the USA.

Ealing Conservative Councillor: Tory by-election candidate: "controversial and high risk"

Ealing Conservative councillor Phil Taylor admits he has never met Tony Lit, the Conservative candidate at the forthcoming Ealing Southall by-election. He also describes the candidate as "controversial and high risk".

Hat-tip to Tom Watson

What the Sam Hill is going on?

Balderdash and Piffle, BBC2's word origins programme is going from strength to strength.

It never ceases to amaze me how we use phrases without even thinking for a second what they mean or how they originate.

Last night's edition about people's names, which have become well-used terms, was fascinating.

Gordon Bennett. He was a famous media magnate, sportsman, and playboy in the early 1900s.

Bloody Mary. Although this is usually thought to be named after Queen Mary I, there is a school of thought that it was named after a girl at the Bucket of Blood Club in Chicago, where Fernand Petiot, the inventer of the cocktail had once worked.

Take the mickey. Thought to be connected to Mickey Bliss, whoever he was.

The programme didn't feature Sam in "What the Sam Hill is going on?" (A particular favourite of mine, by the way). The expression is thought to be connected to Colonel Samuel Hill of Connecticutt. It's not clear why.

Where are all the Conservative expert peers advising Gordon Brown?

When the issue of Shirley Williams' offered advisory role on nuclear proliferation came up, Menzies Campbell issued this statement:

There will be no Liberal Democrats in Brown’s Government. I have no objection to and indeed welcome an initiative which results in Liberal Democrats acting in an independent advisory capacity or participating in an independent commission or investigations which make independent recommendations on policy to the Government. The conditions for taking part which must be satisfied are that participation is not token, there is a proper remit which allows for independent analysis and conclusions, and that there is a reasonable prospect of their advice being accepted and their conclusions being implemented.

I am perfectly happy with that. So, I look forward to confirmation that the roles offered to Lord Lester and Baroness Neuberger comply with those conditions. I am surprised that I can find no statement from the party on those two latter names.

The Norfolk Blogger asks: "Does anyone in their right mind believe that Baroness Neuberger or Lord Lester will hold sway or influence Gordon Brown in their advisory capacity?"

If we assume that the answer to that question is "No", then that means that they or the LibDems cannot be held responsible for Gordon Brown's governmental actions, doesn't it? So that confirms their position as "independent" advisers, doesn't it? Pointless advisers, yes, but also very independent advisers. There is nothing more independent than an adviser who is obviously ignored.

The fields of nuclear proliferation (Williams) and volunteering (Neuberger) are so narrow as to be microscopic in the overall scheme of government.

What I am concerned about is Lord Lester's advisory brief on the constitution. This needs urgent clarification. The Independent says he "is expected to play a leading role in all-party talks on the constitution." If that is the case, I am reasonably comfortable with it, but why isn't there a Conservative adviser in a similar position?

I am very nervous that the LibDems could be blamed for Brown's wilder constitutional reform botch-ups. Even if he makes a good job of constitutional reform, the kudos for the LibDems would be drowned out by the brickbats aimed at us for other Brown mistakes, with which we would also be seen as complicit (even if they have nothing to do with us).

I am concerned that I see no Conservative names on the list of government non-Labour advisers. Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington is a crossbencher. Digby-Jones will take the Labour whip. I look in vain for Conservative advisers to balance off the LibDem ones.

That makes me feel very nervous.

Having said that, the public will be heartily sick if political parties refuse to co-operate where they have experts in specific fields. Williams, Lester and Neuberger are universally acknowledged experts in specific fields. It would be wrong to prevent their advice being given for tribal reasons, but the LibDems and Labour do not have a monopoly on experts. Believe it or not, there are some experts in the Conservative party.

Groundsman's nightmare at Worcester

Earlier this week I enjoyed an excellent game of Twenty20 cricket at the Rose Bowl near Southampton. It was great to see newcomer Adam Voges score a brilliant 66 not out. Also, Hampshire's Chris Tremlett clean bowled (one of the stumps flew out of the ground) Murray Goodwin for a duck in the first over.

But whereas Hampshire had an average of seven runs an over, Sussex had a ten run average from early on. Hampshire's wicket keeper missed a catch and it was all down hill from there.

But it was great to go to the Rose Bowl for the first time and also witness the Twenty20 format, which is an excellent way to attract good crowds to cricket.

The announcements at the interval (almost typed "half time" but that wouldn't do) included the news that there would be no game at Worcester due to the ground being under several feet of water (left).

You have to feel for the ground staff. They spend their lives meticulously caring for the pitch. They spends months getting the square ready and in tip-top condition. To see it under several feet of what must break their hearts. But, as the Chief Executive of Worcestershire County Cricket Club writes:

I have repeatedly said to the media over the last few days that what we are suffering is nothing compared to the family of Eric Dickinson who recently died when his car was swept away near Pershore (Eric was a Club Member) or those who lose their homes in the floods.

UKIP leader's campaign car in losing Strasbourg case

Two British drivers have lost a test case at the European court of human rights in Strasbourg. Their case was supported by Liberty:

Liberty's legal director James Welch said vehicle owners had two choices when presented with a speeding notice - to name the driver, or to refuse to provide information - both of which carried similar penalties.

"This offends against a very important principle - namely that you should not have to incriminate yourself," he said.

"You should not be made subject to a criminal penalty in order to make you provide information that then forms part of the prosecution case against you."

The thing that caught my eye about this case is that the alleged offence was carried out in a 1938 Alvis.

Now that is what I call style!

My photograph is of the Alvis in question which is owned by UKIP member Idris Francis, and was used by UKIP leader Nigel Farage as a campaign car at the Bromley by-election. It has also featured in a string of TV programmes and films.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Wozza is a total smoking numpty

"Wozza" is celebrity chef Antony Worrall-Thompson,whose full name is Henry Antony Cardew Worrall Thompson. He once said that he wanted to be a Conservative MP. More than that, he said that he quite fancied succeeding Michael Heseltine as MP for Henley.

So, the British public could have been treated to "Wozza" as the MP for Henley, instead of that apology itinerist, Bozza.

Are we better off, as things turned out? You decide.

Any road up, because of his credentials above, you would be right in thinking that my opinion of "Wozza" is that he is a complete....well "Wozza" really.

All this is leading to his appearance on GMTV, that TV station have to watch as part of my matrimonial contract. It was this morning.

He was "up against" Dr Hilary Jones, GMTV's doctor.

I don't mind telling you that I quite like the cut of Hilary Jones' jib. He is an all-round good egg, particularly as he regularly warns about the symptoms of meningitis, a disease which killed son. I am also mesmerised by his hair. I have seen him "in the flesh" and it is extraordinary how he looks, on screen, as though he has a full head of hair. But that doesn't diminish his all-round good eggness. He is a TV performer, after all.

Any road up (2), Wozza is a total numpty. He is campaigning against the smoking ban. He appeared in a smoking jacket at the Savoy to make the point. It was in Telegraph today. He had a barney with Hilary Jones on GMTV. Wozza was saying that the smoking ban is disgusting and that it will make people smoke at home where they will cause more harm to their family. When pressed by Jones, who cited a hero of mine, Roy Castle (who died of lung cancer despite never having smoked due, probably, to his playing the trumpet in smoke-filled working mens' clubs), Wozza said that there is "no evidence that passive smoking harms anyone".

What a complete Wozza.

The gist of this rambling post is that dear old Hilary Jones, bless him, gave Wozza "what for" and gently and smilingly pointed out that there is "unequivocal" evidence that passive smoking is harmful.

What beats me is that Wozza (who you will notice has now escaped his inverted commas) spends his life making fine things for people to put in their mouth, then defends people who stick poisonous tobacco sticks in their mouth. I would have thought he would have realised by now that his involvement with the smoking lobby is all a bit counter-productive when you take his life in the round.

'Government of all the talents' - as long as they join the Labour party

The BBC reports:

...former CBI head Sir Digby Jones is to be made minister for trade promotion...Sir Digby is to be given a peerage and will have to join the Labour Party in order to serve as a minister.

So, you have to join the Labour party in order to join the "government of all the talents".


This is just a week after Brown offered Ashdown a cabinet post - presumably Labour membership wasn't a condition in that case...or was it? Was the offer to Lord Stevens conditional on that crusty old conservative (or Conservative?) joining the Labour party?

I am confused. We appear to have witnessed a U-turn.

The "government of all the talents" appears to be a recruiting scheme for the Labour party , under a different name. I knew that Labour had haemorrhaged members by the thousand, but this is ridiculous.

And has Sir Digby Jones previously expressed any Labour-leaning sentiments? Not according to fellow Midlander John Hemming MP.

The complete nonsense about Miliband and Iraq

The spin is that David Miliband was against the Iraq war so we should all be cheering in the streets now that he has been appointed Foreign Secretary.

Today's Guardian puts it this way:

(Miliband) is not publicly associated with the decision to invade Iraq and is said to have been privately sceptical about it.

Oh really? At the time, he may have been safely in a "home" department, approving massive expenditure on civil servants to write his "blog". But his public parliamentary voting record shows that he has been up to his neck in support for the war and in rejecting an investigation.

There is an excellent website called Public Whip. If you put an MP's name and a subject into its search engine, it will tell, quite scientifically, what that MP's record has been on the issue.

For example, a search for David Miliband MP and the Iraq war comes up with the interesting observation that, based on his parliamentary record, D. Miliband was 0.8% against the invasion. Not a lot against the invasion, in other words. The 0.8% is due to him being absent from one vote:

David Miliband MP, South Shields agrees 0.8% (explain...) with the policy, Iraq 2003 - Against the invasion.
Commons24 Sep 200221:45Iraq — Weapons of Mass Destruction absent
Commons25 Nov 200221:34Iraq — UN Security Council Resolution 1441 disagree
Commons26 Feb 200318:45Iraq — The Case for War — As yet unproven disagree
Commons26 Feb 200319:13Iraq — The Case for War disagree
Commons18 Mar 200321:15Iraq — Declaration of War — Case not yet established disagree
Commons18 Mar 200322:00Iraq — Declaration of War disagree

On the subject of whether a Iraq investigation is necessary, D.Miliband is only 6.3% in agreement. The 6.3% is due to him being absent from five votes on the issue:

David Miliband MP, South Shields agrees 6.3% (explain...) with the policy, Iraq Investigation - Necessary.
Commons4 Jun 200316:31Iraq — Weapons of Mass Destruction Inquiry disagree
Commons16 Jul 200315:53Iraq — Foreign Affairs Committee Report disagree
Commons10 Sep 200318:44Iraq — Role of the United Nations disagree
Commons22 Oct 200318:40Iraq — Judicial Inquiry — Setting up absent
Commons22 Oct 200318:59Iraq — Judicial Inquiry — Not necessary absent
Commons13 Jan 200415:42Iraq — National Audit Office Report on Operation Telic disagree
Commons9 Mar 200417:19Iraq — Attorney-General's Advice disagree
Commons17 May 200418:45Iraq — Security Situation absent

Commons31 Oct 200618:53Iraq — Select committee inquiry — to be set up disagree
Commons31 Oct 200618:53Iraq — Select committee inquiry — rejected disagree
Commons11 Jun 200719:45Opposition Day — Iraq Inquiry absent
Commons11 Jun 200719:45Opposition Day — Iraq Inquiry absent

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Williams and Carlile

Iain Dale is getting remarkably steamed up about Shirley Williams. The very helpful holding statement from the party makes it clear that Williams was not offered, and would not have accepted, a government post. The offer Brown made, which has not yet been responded to, is to advise the government on nuclear proliferation, a narrow remit based on Williams' previous experience with the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

Presumably, Iain Dale got equally steamed up about Chris Patten advising the government on Ulster Policing - did he? Williams was asked on Question Time whether she would accept the offer of a government (i.e ministerial) post. She said she thought that there was no chance she would be offered one. She has not been offered such a post, as the holding statement makes clear. So, she was right.

As "expriest" pointed out on LibDem Voice, Paddy Ashdown has served on the Parades Commission, Alex Carlile has advised on terrorism and Roy "the boy" advised on electoral reform.

This Williams offer seems no different to those roles or the Patten role. There are no red boxes or salaries or government departments involved.

Iain Dale also reports speculation from Adam Boulton that Lord Carlile will be the new Attorney General. I will comment on that if and when it is confirmed. In the meantime I won't hold my breath or explode prematurely.

Update: Baroness Scotland is the new attorney general.

Foreign affairs advisory role for Shirl the Whirl?

The Times reports that Gordon Brown is discussing a "foreign affairs advisory" role with Shirley Williams. I seem to remember some Liberal Democrats acting as advisors to Labour office holders before - for example, Susan Kramer on the Transport for London board. Lord Carlile's "independent" advisory role on terrorism, although somewhat controversial, is another example. There are great risks involved with this sort of thing, however.

I am sure Shirley can add a great deal of sense to Brown's foreign policy.

The greatest risk of this would be for her to become attached to an ill-founded foreign policy. Indeed, until Brown makes it very clear that he recognises the mistakes of the Iraq invasion, for which he shares personal responsibility, I don't see how Shirley Williams can associate herself with the man. I don't see Brown taking that step in a hurry - not properly anyway. I don't think we should be seduced by the all the glitz and "shiny new" froth of the Brown entrance into Number 10 Downing Street - remember he's actually lived there for years! (There is no change in the occupant actually living/sleeping in Number 10 - that's ironic and emblematic isn't it?)

Having said that, I think we need to be careful not to reject this proposal out of hand, as we will begin to look very uncooperative in the public's eyes, especially after the Paddyjob farrago.

It would be reassuring if we could know that Brown is also talking to other parties about such advisory roles. I think it is very dangerous indeed for us to the only party to have people in advisory roles such as this.

I think this offer should be left well alone. I don't see Shirley disobeying the party leadership on this, by the way. She is just not that sort of person.

Update: The role which was offered (not yet responded to) was as an adviser on nuclear proliferation. I am more relaxed about that. It does not imply endorsement of Brown's foreign policy, which the initial reports suggested.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Brown: 'Shy and withdrawn' - says his security head

Michael Crick played the part of the "cheeky monkey" on BBC2 Newsnight for years. This is the rather ham-acted role of an errant reporter who skirts the fringes of politicians' entourages with a microphone shouting questions.

The point of the exercise seems to be to demonstrate that the questions aren't being answered, rather than get some answers.

Michael Crick became inseparable from this role for years. It was impossible to tell where Michael Crick ended and the "cheeky monkey" role started. They were one.

Now Mr Crick has been elevated to the heights of political editor of Newsnight, it is very difficult to imagine that anyone else could perform the "cheeky monkey" role.

But they have found someone in the admirable shape of filmmaker Jamie Campbell. He had some success asking questions of David Cameron until he (Campbell) annoyed him (Cameron).

Now Campbell has followed Gordon Brown for months trying to question him from the sidelines of the Broon's exits and entrances from buildings. He hasn't received a single answer bar: "I am very well thank you, good to see you".

After that fulsome answer. Campbell has been artfully fended off the trail of Broon by a mixture of press office folk, security officials and police.

So, the Broon seems to be inaccessible, a fact explained with great delight by his ex-spinmeister, Charlie Wheelan, who added: "I used to pull the plugs out of cameras to avoid filmed questions." It's part the game, he seemed to be saying.

One little shaft of light emerged from that almost pointless exercise in Broon chasing. Outside the Oval cricket ground, Brown's head of security approached Campbell. The two had got to know each other well over the months. Seemingly unaware of being recorded, the security chappie offered this confidence:

Look, you are trying to talk to him (Brown). But we (Brown's staff) don't even talk to him much ourselves. He is a shy and withdrawn sort of chap.

After that, said security chappie offered to go for a drink some time with Campbell. "I think you owe me one now", said security chappie.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Davies defection reveals Cameron's real Conservative party

David Cameron ascended to the leadership of the Conservative party promising an end to "Punch and Judy politics".

Anyone wondering if this was a sincere promise need only to have watched Newsnight tonight. Alan Duncan was up against Quentin Davies.

Duncan was laughing hysterically when the studio came into shot after a filmed segment. He continued to punctuate his appearance with laughter to himself.

He wasn't kidding anyone. You could see the fear in his eyes.

He suggested Quentin Davies had joined the Labour party to get a peerage. Davies disposed of that one by reminding Duncan that he (Davies) has always voted for a 100% elected Second Chamber. He accused Davies of being "old fashioned". So what?

While Davies came across as considered and genuine, Duncan came across as snobbish, childish and ever-so slightly unhinged.

Paxman called the discussion a "cat fight" but that is cats.

Blair to stand down as MP

I agree with Clare Short (interviewed on Radio Four's PM) that it is not entirely necessary for Blair to stand down as an MP purely because of his Middle East envoy role, which is not full time. It doesn't involve chairing standing talks, for example. It will probably involve just the odd trip, which Blair has managed to fit in with two other roles for years, so fitting it in with one role wouldn't have been a problem.

He just hasn't got the patience to carry on has he?

I am sure Brown will welcome it, because it means there is no chance of sulking on the back benches. It is traditional that retiring PMs (e.g Major, Heath, Churchill) stay on until at least the next election (Heath went on far longer). But Blair is no normal human being, of course. He has millions (mainly dollars) to earn.

In reply to Newbury Blogwatcher and others who have suggested that this will overstretch the LibDem by-election machine...Sedgefield and Ealing are so far apart that this hardly arises as a problem. In the main, people who are likely to travel to Sedgefield to help are not the same people who are likely to travel to Ealing to help.

Hillary takes risks with nauseating video

The Hillary Clinton campaign has taken a bit of a risk with a video which parodies The Sopranos (see below and here on the Hillary campaign site). I say "risk" because I find the thing so schmaltzy it is enough to make me mildly ill. I don't watch the Sopranos, so if you do, you probably "get" it.

The video basically shows Hillary walking into what I believe is called a "diner", sitting down at the table, then being joined by Bill. They have a short discussion about Hillary's choice of campaign song, involving some business with a juke box menu which shows the songs which were in contention.

In fact, there are some subliminal messages in the video, which has received quite a bit of coverage. Those messages seem to be: family, supportive husband, Hillary doing wifely things for her husband (like ordering for the table and stopping him from eating onion rings), doing normal American things like wondering into "diners" etc etc. All intelligent campaign messages to get across.

The bit I find particularly nauseating is when Bill Clinton asks Hillary: "How's the campaign going?" (as if he didn't know), to which Hillary replies: "It's like you always say - focus on the good times". After that, there is a reaction shot (left) from Bill Clinton which makes your toes curl. It's a sort of wistful, sugary, proud-as-punch smile. Yuk.

Celine Dion's "You and I" has been picked as the campaign song. Pass the sickbag Alice.

The other choices considered included:

"Superstar" - Carpenters
"Rock this country" - Shania Twain
"Get ready" - Temptations
"I'm a believer" - Smash Mouth (from the soundtrack of "Shrek")

I am delighted to say that Bill's favourite was the Smash Mouth track. That would have been a bit of a coup for Britain, given that "I'm a believer" was written by John Peel's old friend and former drummer of the "Soft Machine", Robert Wyatt. The Smash Mouth version is a fair attempt at the song, but seems to genuflect more towards the Monkees' version than Wyatt's own versions, which are superb (he recently did a remix which is brilliant).

Here is the video in its full glory:

James Blunt's "You're beautiful" voted most irritating song

James Blunt's "You're beautiful" has been voted the most irritating song of all time. It was closely followed by the "Crazy Frog".

So, just think on James Blunt. You are more irritating than the Crazy Frog. That is some accolade.

"Shout" by Lulu and "Grace Kelly" by Mika also featured in the poll, by market researchers OnePoll.

It is a matter of great personal disappointment that "Lady in Red" doesn't seem to have features in the voting.

The full Top Ten (or should that be "bottom ten"?) most irritating songs ever was:

1. You're Beautiful - James Blunt
2. Axel F - Crazy Frog
3. Mmm Bop - Hanson
4. Mr Blobby - Mr Blobby
5. Birdie Song - The Tweets
6. Shout - Lulu
7. Agadoo - Black Lace
8. Grace Kelly - Mika
9. My Heart Will Go On - Celine Dion
10. La Macarena - Los Del Rio

'You are superficial, unreliable and unfit to lead' - Defecting Conservative MP to David Cameron

This is like landing in ice cream. The Guardian have posted more comments from defecting Conservative MP Quentin Davies. This is more of what he wrote to David Cameron:

Although you have many positive qualities you have three, superficiality, unreliability and an apparent lack of any clear convictions, which in my view ought to exclude you from the position of national leadership to which you aspire and which it is the presumed purpose of the Conservative party to achieve.

And this is what he told the Press Association:

The Conservatives are either wrong - on the NHS, on nuclear power, on Europe, on many things - or they simply do not know what they want or what they believe.

Crikey! My cup runneth over! Meanwhile Iain Dale and Conservative Home are going into Bitchfest mode. The claws are out. Here's Mr Dale:

Tory turncoat joins Labour - Oh dear, oh dear. Quentin Davies has defected to the Labour Party. He has certainly been semi-detached from the Party for some time and is someone who has always thought that his talents have never been recognised by the Conservative leadership. Despite being thought to be on the left of the Party he supported Iain Duncan Smith in 2001 and flirted very much with David Davis in 2005. IDS made him Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, but David Trimble thought he was bonkers and refused to have meetings with him. I guess that like Peter Temple-Morris, he views this as his only way into the House of Lords. What a disloyal s***.

"Tory party has ceased to believe in anything" - Senior Tory MP defecting

Under your leadership the Conservative Party appears to me to have ceased collectively to believe in anything, or to stand for anything. It has no bedrock. It exists on shifting sands. A sense of mission has been replaced by a PR agenda.

Those are the words of long-standing senior "One Nation" Conservative MP, Quentin Davies, as he defects to Labour in a letter to David Cameron.

At last, someone of authority in the Conservative party has said what many of us having been saying for months.

Every so often in politics, a bolt from the blue comes from left field, if I may mix my metaphors. Davies is a very well established and respected MP. He is precisely the sort of Tory that Cameron must have been trying to woo and keep. This is breathtaking news - a major body-blow for Cameron, especially after his acolytes were telling us all to expect defections to the Tory party - not from it.

Way to go, Ming!

With great delight, I have read the comments this morning from Menzies Campbell. This is precisely the sort of fighting talk we need. I commend the admirable "filleting" of LibDem Voice's resident fishmonger, Stephen Tall.

Blair the Middle East "peace envoy" - like pouring petrol onto a fire

Lindyloo's Muze hits the nail on the head, and then some:

The news that the man who was prepared to collude, lie and condemn hundreds of thousands to death in Iraq is now likely to be appointed an envoy to the Middle East beggars belief. I remember the contempt with which Blair was regarded by Palestinians when I was there a couple of months after the Iraq invasion. The idea that Blair will do anything other than collude with US and Israeli objectives to weaken the Palestinian cause and ensure the Palestinian state remains untenable, seems to me Alice in Wonderland politics. No, the most appropriate job for Blair would be to go and work with an NGO working in Iraq with the victims of that illegal, immoral and disastrous war - maybe that will at least go some way towards his own much needed rehabilitation.

Way to go, Linda! I imagine Blair on his hands and knees, scrubbing floors in Iraq, while wearing a hair shirt and periodically flagellating himself with stinging nettles. That's the only suitable role for him!

Independent poll puts LibDems at 18%

The Independent reports a Communicate Research poll which puts the LibDems on 18%, down one point from their last poll. Interviews were conducted between Friday 22nd and Sunday 24th June. So no "bounce" from the Paddyjob farrago, but a lot more sanguine than the last Ipsos MORI poll (with interviews conducted before last Wednesday) which put us on 15%.

The Communicate Research poll puts the Tories ahead of Labour by five points. The Independent interpret this as the "Brown bounce failing to materialise", but I would have thought it is early days to be taking that for granted.

You could interpret the Independent poll to mean that the Paddyjob business hurt Brown by quite a bit and hurt us by just a little bit, but I think that would be going too far and mixing results from different polling organisations, which would never do.

Sleeping Today listeners

Professor Jim Horne of the Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University has found that 2% of Radio 4 Today listeners don't wake up until the programme is over.

That says it all, doesn't it?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Cameron accepts Conservatives reduced social mobility

Cameron accepts damning indictment of last Conservative government

David Cameron has welcomed a report which presents a damning indictment of the Conservative government from 1979 to 1997. The report by the Sutton Trust compared those born in 1958 with those born in 1970, and concluded that the latter had less chance of escaping poverty.

Work it out:

Born 1958. Aged five in 1963 starting primary education. Starting secondary education in 1969. At university-going age 1975. Apart from five years (64-65 and 70-74), that person was educated under a Labour government.

Born 1970. Aged five in 1975 starting primary school. Starting secondary school in 1981. University age in 1987. Apart from four years (75-79), that person was educated under a Conservative government.

Cameron describes the research as "staggering" and "something we have really go to get to grips with".

Too right.


Couldn't they have found a larger flag?
(Photo:Getty Images)

Might tuition fees have something to do with the decrease in "social mobility"?

John Humphrys is beginning to annoy me. He's started a major production number on the decrease in social mobility. Of course, we get all the Statler and Waldorf stuff about "things ain't what they used to be" and JH returning to his haunts in Cardiff. On top of this there was an interview with Cameron, when Humphrys seemed to think the answer was to introduce a lottery for schools admissions. Brilliant.

Well done Humphrys/BBC, though, for at least mentioning in passing two crucial facts from the Sutton Trust report, on which all these shenanigans were based. One, the conclusion was founded on measuring university admissions across "classes". Two, the report said that if you were born in 1958 you had the best chance of being socially mobile.

Ahem. Excuse me. I was born in 1959 and was lucky enough to gain admittance to university. Would it perhaps be worth mentioning that in the seventies you simply sent all your university bills to your county council and they took care of them? I know this isn't a golden bullet, but it ought perhaps to be mentioned. Tuition fees have a lot to answer for. What a shame that old pro Humphrys didn't challenge Cameron on this point. After all, I think you'll find David Cameron supports tuition fees.

Cameron revisits his own disgorgement

I managed to listen to David Cameron on Today this morning. That is quite a feat for me, because I usually switch over to Chris Moyles the moment he is introduced (I do the same for "from our Oxford studio, writer and broadcaster, A.."). Now Cameron is behind in the polls I can just about stand him, because I know I am not alone in seeing right through him.

Cameron was on about non-selection in schools. You have to hand it to him. Doglike, he is not afraid to revisit his own disgorgement. He emphasised that 'figures show that non-selective schools play a significant role in increasing social mobility'. I agree. But I think it will kick off the Grammarsgate rumpus in the Tory party ranks again.

I also note that Cameron said that "fundamentally" the way to increase social mobility is through strong families and therefore encouraging marriage is the answer. Oh crikey. That fragile old chestnut, from the patronising Tories, already torn apart by Polly Toynbee and others the last time they tried it.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Nick-nack Paddy whack give the bloke a job

Brilliant title. Five days late, I am afraid. Sorry. Potential Glee Club material though perhaps? I know, someone has already thought of it (surely?)

Is it too pathetic to hope that we could get a little poll bounce from JobforPaddygate?

I blogged late last night about the Ipsos MORI poll in The Observer. At the time I couldn't find the dates of the interviews for this poll, on either the Observer or the Ipsos MORI sites.

Now (having in the meantime made a trip to Weymouth to see my precious child running in the rain and swimming in the cold sea, and myself conducting an impromptu Buster Keaton-style trick with a plank of wood (you know the one - step on one end, other end comes up and hilariously hits subject in face), escaping anything more serious than the recurrence of an old "war wound") I have found the dates in italicised fine print at the bottom of Page 9 of the Observer.

The poll was conducted on "14-20 June". So the last day of polling was the very day of the Guardian article about "JobsforLords", before the story had a chance to enter most of the public's consciousness (unless Ipsos MORI randomly chose hundresds of avid Grauniadistas to interview on that day). This is a bit of a relief, although I know I am clutching at straws. The three point drop can't be seen as a reaction to "JobsforLords" or even "JobforPaddygate" and those of us who are ridiculous "glass half full" merchants still hold out hope that the farrago might have given us a tiny little bounce. Forthcoming polls might tell us. It's pathetic, I know, but some of us are ever hopeful.

"Citizens' Juries"...."Focus Groups" by another name?

The Observer shows a photo of Gordon and Sarah Brown outside Number Ten, with the caption: "..will finally move into their new home later this week."

That would be Number Eleven Downing Street would it? Or are they staying in Number Ten (flat over), where they have lived for years?

The Observer covers the likely options for Brown during his first month in office, eager to impress with a "fresh start".

One of the most concrete suggestions which the article throws up is that of "Citizens' Juries" to advise the government on policies.

That would be "Focus Groups" then would it?

I suppose if there is a more formal structure around them, these juries might be useful. But it is hard not to be cynical about them.

Harriet Harman, weatherer of storms

It would be churlish not to congratulate Harriet Harman upon her election as Deputy Leader of the Labour party. The final round of voting was a knife-edge contest between her and Alan Johnson. Harman has a very long record of political experience and has weathered a number of storms, not least being married to the Treasurer of the Labour Party during the recent financial controversies. So, it would be patronising to welcome her election solely on the grounds of her gender. The Labour party have chosen well from the available candidates.

Harman was, I recall, one of those deputy leadership candidates who said they didn't want to combine being Deputy Prime Minister with the Deputy Leader role. She is to be Party chair. The BBC report that there is unlikely to be a Deputy Prime Minister. No doubt this is one of the ways Brown wants to show he is a "new Broon" (last time I bother with that one) during the available one month window to impress voters which he seems to have, once in Number Ten.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Blair planned to sack Brown

The Independent reveals government papers which show that Blair planned, in detail, to sack Brown and break up the Treasury, after the last election.

One warning though: the plan seem to have involved John Birt - so no wonder it didn't go ahead.

But seriously, the detail of this planning - including draft speaking notes for the announcement and a profile of qualities the new chancellor should have - demonstrates a remarkable degree of distrust between Blair and Brown, to an extent which hasn't previously been clear in such a concrete fashion:

The paper provides the first concrete proof that the speculation was true, including draft speaking notes for the Prime Minister, a briefing for the " new Chancellor", as well as a list of personal qualities Mr Brown's successor should have.

Marked "Copy No 1 - Prime Minister Confidential Policy", the paper says the new Chancellor's qualities must include "lack of personal investment in previous policies". It adds that "teamwork" is a key asset, something that arch-Blairites have accused Mr Brown of being incapable of.

The document adds that on the first day in office Mr Blair should " convey to the new Chancellor" his plans to split the Treasury and hand many of its key roles, including responsibility for tax credits, to other ministries.

Labour go three points ahead of Tories - Observer poll

Iain Dale reveals that an Observer poll tomorrow will show Labour up to 39%, Conservatives down to 36 % and LibDems down to 15%.

I suppose it was inevitable that the "New Broon" effect would put Labour ahead eventually, especially after the Tories Grammarsgate debacle.

It will be interesting to find out when the interviews for this poll were conducted, especially in relation to the "JobsforLords" farrago this week. That at least gave the LibDems some publicity, which can often be the main dynamic behind our rating.

Kinnock: "What the hell is a Labour Prime Minister doing with George Bush?"

I have just been watching the first part "The Rise and Fall of Tony Blair" on Channel 4.

It was a remarkably clear summary of Tony Blair's period in office up to 2004. There was an exceptionally qualified cast of interviewees including Condeleeza Rice, Andrew Card, Stephen Wall, Sir David Manning etc as well Labour figures including Jack Straw, Neil Kinnock and David Blunkett. There was also 'Bazza' or Barry Cox, a family friend, who was very frank.

So it was a very authoritative account, also bearing in mind that it was narrated by Andrew Rawnsley, who has a reknowned knowledge of "New Labour".

A few things stood out for me.

It was made clear, in a way that I had never appreciated before, how Blair's success in getting the US on board to win a victory in Kosovo gave him confidence and a belief that he could sweep all before him in international affairs. That confidence was later to lead to over-confidence in relation to Iraq.

Watching the clip of Blair in the Commons mentioning the "45 minutes" made me realise that this clip will be Blair's epitaph. It really encapsulates the shattering of the trust in which people held him.

It was telling to hear Stephen Wall describing a conversation with Jacques Chirac about the proposed Iraq invasion. Chriac said that he had been a soldier in Algeria and knew the horror of war at first hand. He said that if Blair/Bush invaded Iraq they wouldn't be welcomed and they would start a civil war. He added that they shouldn't mistake the Shia majority for democracy.

Wall said that Blair came out of the meeting with Chirac saying "Poor old Jacques doesn't get it, does he?" As Wall commented, events proved that, in fact, Jacques "got it" and Blair didn't.

Neil Kinniock talked with considerable passion when he described the incredulity of Labour stalwarts that Blair got so close with "above all people - George Bush". In the trailer for the next programme, this sentiment is expressed with even more exasperation by Kinnock with these words, presumably describing the views expressed by Labourites:

What the hell is a Labour Prime Minister doing with George Bush?

BBC criticised over Richard Hammond crash

Before the Richard Hammond crash, Jeremy Clarkson often bleated on about having to fill out Health and safety" forms for BBC's Top Gear.

Interestingly, despite all these forms, the BBC is criticised, by the Health and Safety Exceutive, on several grounds regarding the Richard Hammond accident. In fairness, the Executive also point to several precautions which saved Hammond's life. The Guardian reports:

The BBC's safety guidelines were criticised today by an investigation into the high-speed crash that nearly killed Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond.

A report by the Health and Safety Executive identified failings in the BBC's "safety management systems" but ruled that no one should be prosecuted over the incident.

Today's HSE report pointed to failings in the BBC's risk assessment of Hammond's daredevil stunt in September last year, in which he drove a jet-powered dragster at speeds of up to 288mph.

The BBC was also criticised for the way in which it procured services from the company that owned the car and trained Hammond for his stunt.

Identifying eight key faults, the HSE said the BBC had failed to allow sufficient time for the planning, preparation and consultation for the shoot at Elvington airfield, near York.

The BBC did not make "full and appropriate use" of in-house support and external technical resources, the watchdog added.

Lembit Opik song by Mervyn Stutter

Every month we have a little family evening out. My wife works behind the bar at the "Blue Hour" at New Greenham Arts. I go up by taxi to join her.

Barb Jungr hosts the Blue Hour very wittily and skilfully. She is a fantastic "chantreuse" and I have learnt a great deal about the songs of Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and many others, by attending her sets.

It was the end of the season last night. As a treat, she introduced Mervyn Stutter, who is a "comedian, actor, scriptwriter and satirical songwriter". He was a member of the "Flying Pickets", has had shows on Radios Two and Four and is a regular of the Edinburgh Fringe.

He was absolutely hilarious. Really funny, and a great performer. His targets were across the spectrum of life and politics. The LibDems got quite a lot of attention from him. Needless to say he had a song founded on the Mark Oaten and Simon Hughes stories from last year. But he also sang a song devoted to Lembit Opik. It was to the tune of "Bend it" by Dave, Dee, Dozy, Mick and Titch. The song basically drew on Lembit's asteroid predictions and his affairs with Sian Lloyd and the Cheeky Girl. It wasn't cruel towards Lembit, but it was quite lewd and hilarious.

Needless to say we were in stitches, and fortunately I did not have a sign above my head saying "LibDem activist", so there was no need to go red with embarrassment.

Memories of Harold Wilson

I met Harold Wilson on August 17th 1990 at a musical review production on the Isles of Scilly. My wife and I were going to watch the gig racing that evening but it was chucking it down. So the only entertainment we could find was this review. There were only two tickets left, because it was only a few minutes before the production, and I was separated from my wife. The booking lady gave me a seat right down the front at the side, which had been marked with an "X" as if no one should sit in it.

I was rather surprised to find myself sitting next to Lord Wilson. I sat next to him during the production and chatted to him before it started and in the interval. He struck me as being a lovable old grandpa, and I wouldn't have guessed that he was ill. He did actually remember several things in detail. Here are some of notes I wrote the same day of the meeting:

Pointing to the 'No Smoking' sign Harold Wilson said: "I haven't brought my pipes of course, but there used to be a thing called "Nosmo King" - I'm surprised Her Majesty's Inspectors didn't crack down on it because they were normally quite tough on that sort of thing."

After most of the musical pieces, he turned to me and said "That's very good". He laughed at the comic pieces and after one hilarious tableau involving "lifeboat men" in huge sea wellies "rescuing" (carrying off) women to an accompaniment of buckets of "sea" (water) being thrown over them, he turned to me and said: "I think this will go down as the best they've ever done."

He asked me where I came from and whether I was busy. He said he came from "'Uddersfield" but when he was quite small his father got told to move to Lancashire so they had to move - but it was alright in the end. He said his father was a top industrial man and he (Harold) went to college then to Oxford for three years on a scholarship, then he was a lecturer for a few years, then he went "down South". He said he lived very near the House of Lords and when he wasn't there he did a lot of walking.

He said the Lords were very gentlemanly and after the debates they talked to each other and said things like "Why did you say that?" in the bar.

He said that he started his parliamentary career in the House of Lords because the House of Commons had been bombed. "Not a lot of people know that", he said. He said that when he was Prime Minister the Isles of Scilly nearly ran out of money. So he gave an order for them to be given more money - "I got a man in and gave him the order". "After all", he said "they give a lot of money to the Scottish Isles, so why not the Scillies?". Anyway, he said, he was going there in three weeks time so it would have been rather embarrassing if the islands had been closed when he got there!

He said his son was a top Maths person and had been to the States about 12 times.

During the concert we all sang "Happy Birthday" for one of the cast. At the end, noting that I had a low singing voice like him, he said to me "We're both stuck with bass, I'm afraid."

From my memory, he said that he had "been Prime Minister for three terms" (I think it was three that he said - I didn't make a note of that sentence) and when I said I had been out fishing and saw the Trinity House surveying ship, he mentioned that he was an Elder Brother of Trinity House.

I mention all this because it is often thought that Wilson spent his whole life in a dark cloud from 1980. But, as Lady Wilson confirms, he was "very calm". He was ill, but my conversation shows that even in that illness he had patches of what I would describe, for his age at the time, as perfectly normal behaviour.

There is an excellent and rare interview with Mary Wilson, widow of Harold Wilson, in the Daily Mail today. It was conducted by Roy Hattersley. It is worth a read.

It is a timely reminder of the last Labour Prime Minister who stood down voluntarily. Mary Wilson says of the 1976 resignation:

As she charts his decline, she gives the lie to the persistent rumour that there was something deeply mysterious about his surprise resignation. Among the more sinister whispers was that MI5 had been about to expose him as a KGB agent.

At the time, Harold Wilson was a fixture in everyone's lives: the pipe-smoking PM who had devalued "the pound in your pocket", confirmed our membership of the Common Market and predicted the "white heat" of the coming technological revolution.

There seemed no reason for him to step down - and no convincing explanation was put forward. But the truth, Mary says, is simple. After his unexpected election victory in 1974, "Harold always meant to go quite quickly".

So why did he choose to make his announcement in the spring of 1976?

"He'd had enough. There was a seamen's strike, which he had just dealt with. He told me that he could not deal with it with the same level of energy, the same zest . . . and, possibly, he began to feel that his memory was going."

The article also reminds us that the Wilsons did not move into Downing Street after Labour's 1974 election victory, but stayed in their flat in Lord North Street. That, in itself, retrospectively, perhaps, confirms that Wilson didn't intend to stay long in office when he won in 1974.

However, it is strange to see Hattersley writing: "There seemed no reason for him to step down" because on Question Time, a few weeks ago, Hattersley inferred that Wilson was forced to step down. Perhaps we can put it down to Roy H being in a pressurised situation on the programme - he was on the ropes a bit on the question he was answering at the time.

The perils of blogging

I have discovered a hazard of blogging I did not previously anticipate. Yesterday, I blogged about Eric Faulkner's appearance, prior to Tony Benn, at Glastonbury. I embedded a YouTube video of Mr Faulner's former group, The Bay City Rollers, singing "Summer Love Sensation".

As I made clear, I hated the Rollers' music. However, I checked the video by watching it. Lo and behold, nearly a day later, I still have the damned tune going round in my head! I just can't get it out of my mind.

Well, it could have been worse. It could have been the cerebral "Shang-a-lang":

...well we sang shang-a-lang as we ran with the gang
doin doo wop be dooby do ay
we were all in the news
with our blue suede shoes
and our dancin the night away.

shang-a-lang, shang-a-lang, shang-a-lang

written by P Coulter and B Martin.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Tony Benn to be introduced by a Bay City Roller at Glastonbury on Sunday

On Sunday at 3pm at Glastonbury, Eric Faulkner will be playing live. He was one of the Bay City Rollers (left as he was then - right as he is now). At Glastonbury he will be singing and playing workers' protest songs, mostly old ones, at least one written by himself. Apparently his father used to play these types of songs. His set will be an introduction, bizarrely, to Tony Benn.

Radio Four's Today aired some samples from Faulkner's songs earlier this week. He's got a fine voice and plays the guitar very well. The songs sound great. Here's his MySpace page. He's had a very active musical life since the Bay City Rollers broke up.

"Who are the Bay City Rollers?" I hear some youngsters cry. There's a clip below. They were highly successful in the 1970s. They were the sort of Westlife of their day. They sold 70 million records according to the BBC. In my humble opinion, their music was utter rubbish. In fact, worse than rubbish. Johnnie Walker described their music as "musical garbage" and left the BBC when they were at their height, saying he wanted to play more album tracks. I think the Rollers hastened his departure. I don't blame him.

But, they were very successful. There were always rumours that their musical abilities So the reason for this post is to express delighted amazement that one of the Rollers is playing excellent music some 30 years after the height of the Rollers' fame.

Bernard Manning v Charlie Williams - you pays your money and you makes your choice

Even people with the most awful reputations are often as nice as pie in their private lives.

Apparently, butter wouldn't melt in the mouth of Ian Paisley once he closes the door to the microphones and cameras.

On his death earlier this week, Bernard Manning received some glowing tributes from Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Cyril Smith, particularly for his charity work. It should also be remembered that he ran his own successful nightclub for many years.

But I didn't like his jokes or warm to him as a personality. (Then again, I don't like some other comedians, like Jim Davidson, for example.) And I will find it difficult to erase the memory of Manning being interviewed in his underwear.

Bernard Manning came to national fame in "The Comedians" which was produced by Granada Television in the 1970s. One of the other comedians on that programme was Charlie Williams. Now there was a comedian who made me laugh and had the ability to be universally loved by the public. He died last September.

It is fascinating that the same programme produced comedians at the opposite end of the scale, as far as many people are concerned. There was much debate about Manning on Question Time last night. But, you pays your money and you makes your choice.

Goodness, it's nice to blog about something other than JobsforLordsgate!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

A Hitchensfest on Question Time

Christopher and Peter Hitchens on Question Time. Our cup runneth over.

..and Boris Johnson!

The asylum door is left swinging open...

Celebrity advertising slogan-writing

Novelist Fay Weldon was on Today on Monday. She spotted the "Go to work on an egg" slogan when she was a copy writing head and put it on a poster. She was talking about the advert's 50th anniversary.

There was a "flashback" advert planned which would show the Tony Hancock original ad. However, it was banned for failing to promote a balanced diet!

It all got me thinking of other famous people who spawned advertising slogans before they became famous. Murray Walker came up with "A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play".

Dorothy Sayers is credited with coming up with "Guinness is good for you".

So that's another Trivial Pursuit triplet question completed. My other one is now bulging: Name three famous celebrities who went to jail:

David Dickinson (for fraud) , Johnny Vaughan (drugs), Leslie Grantham (for murder - he played Dirty Den in Eastenders)

...used to be my answer but now it's over-flowing with Paris Hilton, Christian Slater etc. Going back a bit, there was also Robert Mitchum, Hollywood star, (drugs again).

Those great Counterfeit Stones

We went to see the Counterfeit Stones at Newbury Corn Exchange last weekend. They really are a superb tribute band. Between us we've seen them five times now. They show some very funny videos when they are changing, and the lead singer is also very funny.

Little one was picked out as their "youngest fan". Luckily, she had her "mouth with tongue hanging out" T-shirt on.

Five blogs that make me think

The Norfolk Blogger has "tagged me" (well, it is better than being "poked" on Facebook, I suppose) to do "my five blogs that make me think":

1. The Norfolk Blogger. I never cease to be amazed at how this chap can "shot from the hip" and produce entertaining and impeccably well informed political blogs. He also blogs across a whole range of subjects such as football and TV.

2. Liberty Alone. Tristan is a remarkable fellow. For "Liberals" like myself I would describe him as our "conscience pricker". He rarely says anything boring or predictable, making a unqiue contribution to LibDem debates. He is also very knowledgeable and authoritative on US politics.

3. The site where i prove the 'right' are wrong. I just love this blog. It is rough and raw, put together by a young Labour activist in Cumbria. It is essentially anti-racist and anti-right-wing. It is inspiring.

4. Iain Dale's Diary makes me think "I know why I am a LibDem now after all".

5. Tom Papworth on Liberal Polemic is another "conscience pricker" for me. Thank goodness for him. I think I have to do something....ah yes...

The participation rules are simple:
1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,
3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn't fit your blog).

A great day for Wittgenstein - Evening media round-up

I have been able to listen and view this evening's main news programmes regarding the Brown/Ashdown etc story:

PM Radio Four - Top story - Olly Grender was remarkably clear and informative in explaining the background. She said that Gordon Brown had promised "Big Tent" politics but all he offered the LibDems was a "squalid sleeping bag".

BBC1 Six O'Clock News - Top story - the video clip of Ming made him look good and sound firm. Nick Robinson left the story on a sour note saying, in my view wrongly, that LibDems will blame Ming for "hesitating".

ITV News (6.30pm) - Fifth story - main pictures were of Paddy quoting Wittgenstein. Bless him, you can always rely on Paddy to pull a quote for the occasion out of the most dark recess. Again, the video clip of Ming looking statesmanlike.

Channel Four News - Top story complete with "Love Triangle" Ming/Paddy/Gordie (with heart) graphics. Vince Cable did a great interview. Longer video clip of Ming sitting in same chair as BBC and ITV. Jon Snow describes Paddy Ashdown as "the only person to turn down a job quoting Wittgenstein".

What Wittgenstein said was: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." I think Paddy got it word perfect.

Ming and Paddy come out of all this very well

The Telegraph reports some comments from Paddy Ashdown on the BBC which are impressive:
In a statement to the BBC, Lord Ashdown said: "I told him that I could not conceivably consider such a position unless my leader told me that he thought it was a good idea and even if he did, I didn't."..."You do not build partnership government by seeking to add the Liberal Democrats as a bungalow annexe to a Labour Government."

I know the first sentence has been quoted a lot, but the Telegraph was the first place where I saw the bungalow quote reported. I think it sums up the situation brilliantly and shows that Paddy was remarkably loyal and clear headed during this episode (but see note below).

Nick Robinson has an excellent timeline of the whole thing and I like the way he reports that Ashdown told Brown "that as an old soldier he always follows the orders of his commanding officer".

So, I think Paddy and Ming have both behaved faultlessly and honourably in this whole episode.

Footnote: The only puzzling thing is whether or not Paddy told Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor, about the offer on Tuesday evening as reported by Iain Dale. If he did do this, I would put it down to the old Nancy Seear adage of "cock-up rather than conspiracy". In other words, I would tend to label it as good-natured bumbling rather than as a conspiratorial or ego-driven act.

"Dirty and underhand politics" - Ming comes out fighting on Brown government jobs nonsense

The last 24 hours was crying out for Ming to come out and do a major interview. Lo and behold, on the news at one o'clock on BBC News24 there he was. Hurrah! Quite rightly Ming is capitalising on this to boost his profile and particularly emphasise that the LibDems are an independent party with things like principles.

The headline announcement was "LibDems calls Brown behaviour 'dirty and underhand politics'"

Ming said that at the meeting with Brown he made clear that the LibDems have "fundamental differences" with Labour and that there was "no prospect of any LibDem joining the government".

Jobs-for-Lordsgate - two whopping great positives for us

There are two whopping great big positives to be taken from the last 24 hours of Jobs-for-Lordsgate:

1. Unity of the party - despite the odd quibble in more rarefied sections of the media and the net, the party has been absolutely unified in rejecting Brown's ludicrous approach. There may have been the odd hesitant "err" in reply to Brown from Entertaining Archie and co. But basically we can be very proud that the party as one rejected Brown's cynical and ludicrous offer.

2. Principles - we have, for many years, been accused of "doing anything for power". Well, we were offered a cabinet seat and several government ministerial posts, and we turned these down because the Labour government is not in accordance with our principles. This is a huge plus-point and we should trumpet it to the world. It is vital we get across why we rejected the government seats.

Hat-tip to Mboy in comments on Political Betting for the second point.

Northern Ireland Secretary offer to Ashdown - Only a cretin would take this seriously

He's having a laugh.

Ricky Gervais' catchphrase has its day at last.

The biggest laugh was when Nick Robinson, on Today, revealed the job which Brown offered Ashdown yesterday. Northern Ireland Secretary.

Northern Ireland Secretary? Don't make me laugh. That is a non-job. With devolved government, it involves little more than arranging the nameplates for an occasional light discussion with Paisley and McGuinness.

The other offers? These were members of the House of Lords, such as Baroness Neuberger and Lord Lester, to have junior jobs in the government. Entertaining Archie was the point man for discussions on this, apparently.

So, the LibDems would be seen as co-responsible for the Brown government's actions without the slightest bit of power to change them, aside from tortuous wrangles and, ultimately, resignations, I have no doubt.

This has all been a publicity stunt. Brown will not change his spots and start acting liberally. He knows what he needs to do to run a properly inclusive government: the odd policy change would be good. He could read Ming's conference speech from last Autumn and act on that. He could start with stopping the talk of extending the 14 days imprisonment without charge provision to 90 days.

Only someone with the political nous of a cretin would see these Brown offers as evidence of a "more inclusive government".

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Tory public schoolboys snigger at Prescott, but he has the last laugh

I caught a glimpse of the exchange between William Hague and John Prescott in the Commons today.

First of all, it was good to see John Prescott looking strong, after what must have been a fairly devastating bout of pneumonia.

Bizarrely the exchange got on to the classics. Prescott said:

"It seems that while I was away the Leader of the Opposition had something to say about me too."

"He described me as a cross between Ernie Bevin and Demosthenes."

To roars of laughter from the Tory benches, he added. "When I read classics and Greek mythology at the Ellesmere Port Secondary Modern School we learnt about Narcissus.

"He died because he could only love his own image. He was all image and no substance."

Mr Hague said: "I'm sure 'Dame Osthenes' will be very flattered that he has singled her out for praise today."

Cue: Self-satisfied and snobbish laughter all round from the former public school and Grammar school boys on the Tory benches.

But the last laugh is on Prescott. He has had this public schoolboy snickering at his syntax and language throughout his career. But he was grafted his way up from waiting on tables in the merchant navy, via Ruskin college to being Deputy Prime Minister for ten years. It is a major achievement. While I feel no empathy towards Blair, I do feel some warmth towards Prescott. With all his bumbling marginal competence, his gaffes and his right cuts, and while not minimising his adultery on government property, he is a real "man's man" in the old fashioned sense of the phrase. Despite his and the government's errors, the Labour government has been fortunate to have him as a stable backbone over the last ten years.

Brown and Miliband get the GMTV soft sofa treatment

If I manage to get to the switch first, we watch BBC Breakfast as we get dressed in the morning. Most of the time I don't get there first and we have GMTV on, courtesy of her nibs.

It gives me a fascinating glimpse actually.

There's Fiona simpering away and Andrew trying to look authoritative.

There seems to have been a government schmooze offensive this week. Gordon Brown was on the sofa on Monday morning. He was actually quite good. He didn't try to put on his manufactured smile but managed to be relaxed as well as serious, when needed.

Then this morning we had David Miliband telling us about the government carbon footprint calculator site (which takes an age to load). The interview started with a classic GMTV softball exchange, almost of a parody of such, in fact:

Andrew Castle (to Miliband): Can I put my cynical head on?

David Miliband: No

Andrew Castle: Oh alright then...isn't this carbon calculator a great idea?

Liberals resist headless chicken hysteria at "bums on seats" story

Nick Clegg was very robust on Radio Four's PM concerning the possibility of LibDems in a Brown cabinet - "It's not going to happen" is what he and Ming said. It is very difficult to think of any greater level of denial. This is confirmed by the Guardian story of this afternoon:

Sir Menzies Campbell today confirmed that he had had private discussions with Gordon Brown, but ruled out the prospect of any Liberal Democrats serving in the new prime minister's first cabinet.

The Telegraph confirms this with a quote:

Sir Menzies sought to scotch that rumour today by saying: "There is no prospect of any Liberal Democrat joining the Government."

Labour's defence is that co-operation was discussed on Monday between Campbell and Brown. But This is London sums up the long and the short of it:

A senior foreign policy role for Lord Ashdown was discussed, but the proposal stalled when Sir Menzies said he could not allow anyone in his party to formally take jobs in a Labour administration.

But Sir Menzies did agree that the two parties could work on an all-party convention to discuss Britain's constitution.

So, big deal. Nick Robinson made a good point:

It's always worth asking in whose interests this story was? The answer's clear, I think - Gordon Brown's. He wants to signal "a new politics" and what better way for this most tribal of Labour figures than to invite his political opponents into the Brown-ite version of the Big Tent.

The other thing is: if you want to send us good old Liberals into a fit of discombobulated headless-chicken-like mouth-foaming membership-card tearing-up-threatening hysteria; start talking about a LibLab pact and "Bums on seats". Fortunately, this time we seem to have kept our heads on. Well done, Team!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Cameron's Conservatives "get" the modern world, apparently

"We get the modern world" says David Cameron.

This is from the party that wants to venerate, keep and expand grammar schools.

This is from the party that wants, until it was sat on, to allow charging for museums.

...from the party where 54 per cent of MPs surveyed disagree that gay couples should have the same rights as heterosexual couples.

...from the party where 48 per cent of MPs surveyed disagreed that the diverse races of Britain had improved society.