Tuesday, July 31, 2007

End of a very long and tragic era at midnight tonight

At midnight tonight it is officially the end of Operation Banner.

...Doesn't sound earth-shattering until you realise that "Operation Banner" is the army's longest ever deployment - in Northern Ireland. It's gone on for 38 years!

But now it's over. Hallejujah!

"Headteacher ruins Harry Potter book for pupils by reading out last page"

This is fascinating. It's a Daily Mail story - so watch it! Political correctness alert. Or indeed, in this case, political incorrectness alert.

The headteacher of St John's Church of England primary school in Midsomer Norton, Somerset read out an excerpt from the last Harry Potter book to the children at the last assembly of term.

The Daily Mail say she read out the last page so that she gave away the ending.

Now you might think - what was she thinking about?

However, the school say that the excerpt was brief and chosen carefully by the staff to reflect the end of term situation - i.e. the theme of saying goodbye. They also insist that the passage didn't give away the ending.

The Mail then get some rent-an-expert to say that this "beggars belief"...huff...puff...etc...etc...continued on page 97.

Zane Lowe appearance on Today!

Hip and happening Radio One DJ Zane Lowe will be appearing on Today tomorrow morning. Weird or what? (It's the silly season - they had a piece on Country and Western music this morning.)

Any road up, I know this because this evening on his show Zane started to introduce the first remix that Bob Dylan has ever had done of any of his tracks and then said words to the effect of: "I am appearing tomorrow on Radio Four about this - on the show - is it called Today?"

Yes, Zane, dear. It is called "Today". I know that because it has been a celebrated radio programme on the BBC for nigh on fifty years. Books have been written about it.

Anyway, he seemed quite excited to be appearing on what he called his "first high brow show".

The remix is of "Blonde on blonde" and is by Mark Ronson. It sounds great.

Poll on key leadership attributes: Ming moves up in public perception

There are some extremely encouraging personal poll ratings for Ming Campbell in the Populus poll for the Times carried out between 27th and 29th July.

It seems that the recent few weeks have had a positive effect on the public's perception of Ming in key areas:

All figures in percentage points compared to last month's poll

Percentage of public thinking Ming Campbell is:







42% of the public think David Cameron is "all spin and no substance". Only 24% of people think that of Ming, and that's down 2 points.

And yes, I know the LibDems have gone down 3 points generally, and that Ming is behind on some criteria compared to Brown and/or Cameron, but give the man a break!

Who made the decision to put "David Cameron's Conservatives" on the Ealing Southall ballot paper? - The plot thickens

Radio Four's World at One interviewed one Mrs Gabrielle Joyce, Deputy Chairman of Ealing Southall Conservative Association. She said she had no involvement with the decision to put "David Cameron's Conservatives" on the Ealing Southall by-election ballot paper.

She also said she knew of no-one in the local association who was involved in the decision and said that this wasn't unusual in by-elections when the Tory HQ tend to takeover.

The Tory leader of the local council and several Tory councillors also denied to the BBC that they were involved in the decision.

So it seems that when David Cameron said on Today this morning that the decision to put his name on the ballot paper was "taken locally" what he actually means is that Grant Shapps took the decision while he was sitting in Ealing.

Cameron stirs up the Tory party even more

David Cameron's decision to "go negative" on his critics in the Tory party is relatively mad. He is stirring up the hornet's nest which is the Conservative party, even more than it was stirred up in the first place.

Virtually the whole of BBC Radio Four's World at One was devoted to chronicling the woes of the Mr Cameron's party.

A spokesman for David Cameron was reported as accusing Ali Miraj of "blackmail" in allegedly asking for a peerage in return for not criticising Cameron.

Miraj, in return, accused Cameron of conducting a "smear campaign" against him, rather than addressing the concerns he raised. He accused Cameron of a "lack of integrity" and "complete lack of judgment".

Francis Elliot in The Times comments that Ali Miraj is not a mirage:

The attempt to cast him as a nobody overlooks the fact that the City businessman sits on not one but two of the six policy groups that were set up by David Cameron to advise him on the next manifesto.

Love and Liberty back at full vintage Wilcockian length!

When someone is away for a while, and then they come back, you realise how brilliant they are!

Cameron's school discipline proposals are mostly empty gimmicks

David Cameron is launching a major initiative today "to increase discipline in schools".

All very laudable, except that he has chosen some strange ways of doing it.

-Expelled children's parents will no longer have the right of appeal to the LEA. But they will be able to appeal to a governors' panel. The difference is????? Well, Cameron says it will allow headteachers to be "captains of their ship" without being second-guessed by the LEA. So, they will be second-guessed by the governors' panels instead. Doh.

-Pupil referral units will be closed down because "they are too expensive and don't work". Instead the job of looking after expelled pupils will be given to voluntary bodies. Brilliant. I am sure voluntary bodies are really geared up and eager to look after steaming-mad pupils during the long daytime hours. Not.

-Home contracts will be enforced by, in Cameron's words, not admitting pupils to schools where the pupil's parents refuse to sign a home contract. Er? That's not enforcing the home contracts. Enforcing home contracts would require some penalty on the parents. All the parents have to do is sign the home contract and then ignore it - he doesn't seem to propose any enforcement method if that is done by parents.

-Special school closures will be stopped. Well, given that serious questions have been raised about the experience of closing special schools and integrating pupils in mainstream schools, this may well be a good idea.

Peerage claim overshadows Cameron's fight-back

David Cameron's use of his school's announcement today to start a fight-back has been over-shadowed by his claims that Ali Miraj, a recent critic of his, asked him (Cameron) for a peerage.

Cameron puts Graham Brady in the 'rebel' category

David Cameron is building up a formidable band of enemies in the Conservative party. When Sarah Montague on Today put to him his list of recent critics, Cameron gave the old "ad homines" response.

He discounted Lord Kalms because he said Kalms had not given money to the Conservatives during Cameron's leadership. (That seems a strange argument - sort of chicken and egg, I would have thought). He discounted Ali Miraj's criticism because he said the man had asked him for a peerage yesterday. And he discounted Graham Brady's criticism because he said that Brady "had to resign" from the shadow cabinet over Grammar Schools.

This seems a rather unwise strategy. By dismissing Brady in such a way it seems Cameron will fan the flames of rebellion in his party, while also creating a standard bearer for dissent in the shape of Mr Brady.

Cameron: It's social breakdown, stupid

Former Tory party chairman Lord Saatchi yesterday attacked David Cameron's leadership and 'warned that the party's fortunes were unlikely to improve "until the Conservative party has something compelling to say about the subject that matters - economics" '.

This point was put to David Cameron this morning on Today. It was a God-given opportunity for Cameron to set out his economic policy stall. But what did he do instead? Incredibly, he talked exclusively about social breakdown, without mentioning the economy at all!


Bill Clinton famously had the sign "It's the economy, stupid" displayed in his campaign HQ. It seems that David Cameron has a sign saying "It's social breakdown, stupid". Except in Cameron's case he really is stupid, it seems.

I find this utterly baffling. What has told David Cameron that people are more concerned about social breakdown than money in their pocket? Fighting social breakdown is a laudable endeavour, but giving it prominence above the economy seems to be political suicide.

Cameron: It was a local decision to put "David Cameron's Conservatives" on Ealing Southall ballot paper

On Today this morning, David Cameron said that it was a "local decision" to put "David Cameron's Conservatives" on the ballot paper in Ealing Southall. That is strange because I have read local Conservatives criticising that decision and it has been widely reported that Grant Shapps, hardly a local Ealing Southall man, pushed to have such nomclementure on the ballot paper.

David Cameron underpinned his statement by saying boldly that he "believed in localism" - that is why he allowed the local Ealing Southall Tories, he says, to put "David Cameron's Conservatives" on the ballot paper.

It is strange, then, that his "belief in localism" didn't go as far as letting the local party choose their own candidate!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Brown passes the "body language" test with Bush

The Bush and Brown Camp David "mood music" and/or "body language" is encouraging.

No silly aping the Bush ape walk from the British Prime Minister.

No silly jeans or bomber jackets.

No Colgate references.

Instead, sober suits and ties. Gordon Brown kept a stern face as Bush tried one of his "fratboy" tricks - doing a bit of a wheely in his golf buggy in front of the press. And no praise for Bush from Brown.

So far so good for Gordon Brown.

Now let's see some action.

Jaws comes to Cornwall! - if you believe the Sun

The "silly Season" has arrived! Official confirmation comes with this story in the Sun:

"I saw the fins just like Jaws" - HORRIFIED mum Catherine Price videoed a “harmless” shark off Cornwall — then discovered it was Britain’s JAWS.

Holidaymaker Catherine was on a boat trip with son Callum, seven, when they spotted the 12ft monster’s fin.

As it circled in the water, fellow tourists dismissed the creature as a docile basking shark.

But Catherine got the shock of her life yesterday — as experts confirmed it could well be the second sighting of a deadly GREAT WHITE prowling off St Ives.

Following this revelation, anyone at immediate risk of hyper-ventilation should carefully read these words from the Shark Trust:

Richard Peirce, Chairman of the Shark Trust, would like to make it absolutely clear that when he was shown footage of a shark partially breaching off St Ives at the end of June by The Sun, he did not confirm that this was a Great White Shark.
Richard's opinion was that it was impossible to make a conclusive identification, and that the shark could either have been a mako, a porbeagle, or, if one accepts that White Sharks are occasional vagrant visitors in UK waters, these animals could not be ruled out.

The beast in a second video produced today was quickly identified by Mr Peirce as a basking shark, which is, of course, deadly....to plankton. So, Don't panic Mr Mainwaring!

56 days dentention - Is Brown trying to out-Tory the Tories?

It is very welcome to read of the report from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, which says that there is no evidence to support an increase in the detention without charge period beyond 28 days.

Chairman Andrew Dismore MP 'said there was only one serious alleged plot where six people were held up to 28 days - three of whom were then released. "You could say, on the one hand, those three, there may have been evidence against them, but equally, were they simply being held in case something turned up?," he said.'

The committee observes that other countries facing a terrorist threat have much shorter detention periods.

It does seem remarkable that whereas throughout the Irish troubles, aside from reasonably limted periods of the enforcement of internment, the law change currently in place, let alone the suggested extension to 56 days, was not required, the Labour government think it is necessary now.

One wonders what Gordon Brown's motivation is in suggesting an extension to the 28 day period. The police aren't asking for it, say the committee. Even the 28 day period has not been used except in three cases. And the proposed allowance of interviews of suspects after charge dissolves one of the main arguments used for having the 28 day period in the first place.

So what exactly is Brown's motivation? Looking "statesmanlike"? Out-torying the Tories?

It's also worth noting that Liberty have suggested a number of measures which could be introduced instead of detention without charge, such as:

Remove the bar on the use of intercept (phone tap) evidence because its inadmissibility is a major factor in being unable to bring charges in terror cases. Liberty welcomes the Government’s proposed Privy Council review.

Hire more interpreters: Prioritise the hiring of more foreign language interpreters to expedite pre-charge questioning and other procedures.

Criminalising failure to disclose encryption keys: Begin to use existing powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) which enable a civil court to require an individual to hand over an encryption key (which unlocks data on seized computers). Anyone who fails to comply with such an order will be committing a serious criminal offence.

Add resources: More resources for police and intelligence services.

Emergency measures in the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 could be triggered in a genuine emergency in which the police are overwhelmed by multiple terror plots, allowing the Government to temporarily extend pre-charge detention subject to Parliamentary and judicial oversight.

Did Top Gear actually go to the North Pole? (2)

Dec's rambling makes a further comment here:

At the end of the show they show their coordinates as being 78° North. That is 12° and about 800 miles short of the true North Pole. Of course one could argue that they could had gone to Magnetic North, which moves and that is exactly where they did go. Unfortunately they did so 11 years late since they conveniently choose (sic) the position of Magnetic North from 1996, it is currently around 82° or 83° North. It was a bit disappointing, really all they did was go for a long drive in the snow to an almost random point 400 miles away.

Stinging criticism of Brown from Labour MP

Gisela Stuart MP is an unlikely "rebel". She's your archetypal "Blair babe". On election night in 1997, her successful result at Edgbaston came early on, and gave a clear signal that we were in for a Labour landslide.

Ms Stuart has been criticising Gordon Brown for not holding a referendum on the European Constitution/Treaty. She should know what she is talking about. She helped write the original "constitution".

Her article in the Sunday Telegraph is couched in extremely strong terms and entitled: "If Brown won't listen, how can we trust him?" She accuses Labour ministers of talking "rubbish" when they say the treaty is just a "tidying up" exercise. And she accuses them of being "disingenuous" or of not having read the treaty:

Trust the people" has been a clarion call down the ages. The results are sometimes unpredictable and sometimes even uncomfortable for politicians, but it is the ultimate bulwark of democracy.

"We the people agree to leave it to you the people who know more than the people" doesn't have quite the same ring; but that's what seems to be on offer with the new European Union treaty. The politicians claim that they know best, because it's all too difficult for voters to understand.

It's true, a majority of voters do not know the minutiae of the treaty - but then neither do most MPs and ministers. In the same way, not many voters read party manifestos at general elections, but by and large they have a pretty good idea of what's at stake.

...So the real issue has become one of trust. The Government undermined trust by its original handling of the EU constitution. It should never have pretended that it was just a "tidying up" exercise, and it has continued on a similar line with the new treaty. Well, it was rubbish then and it is rubbish now.

The only way to regain this trust is to return to the original promise: trust the people and let them decide.

The Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe have said there is no case for a referendum. Either they are being disingenuous or they have not read the treaty (perhaps because the only official version available so far is in French). I hope that both will use the opportunity for a bit of serious summer reading so that at least one of these alternative explanations for their current assessment can be eliminated by the time Parliament returns to the issue in the autumn.

Such sharp criticism from such an authoritative source is very powerful.

Did Top Gear actually go to the North Pole?

Thanks to an anonymous commenter on my previous post, who asked whether Top Gear actually went to the North Pole.

The co-ordinates shown on their SatNav when they were said to be at the North Pole were: N78˚35’7” W104˚11’9”. Steoroid.com states that, at this "finishing point", they were 792 miles from the North Pole or 307 miles from the magnetic North Pole:

The North Pole is at N90 latitude, of course, and all the Longitudes at once. What’s the difference? According to the Great Circle Mapper, the difference is 792 miles, or 1275 kilometers. You can see the positions on a map, here.

A-ha, I hear you saying: they must have gone to Magnetic North, then? Yes, I thought of that, but it still doesn’t add up: throughout the program, they always referred to the North Pole: no mention of the word “magnetic” that I can recall, though I could be wrong about that. There’s another problem: they didn’t actually go the North Magnetic Pole.
The latest coordinates I can find for the location of the North Magnetic Pole are those from 2005, which were estimated at 82.7°’N 114°4′W. This is quite a long way from the show’s “North Pole” location: 307 miles, to be exact, according to another Great Circle Map. To be fair, however, the North Magnetic Pole has been near the location they used in the show: in 1994, according to the this map and other historical figures I looked up.

How does that compare to how far they actually went? They started at Resolute, in Nunavut, which is at 74°41′40.27″N 94°50′23.64″W. I know they didn’t go in a straight line, but if they had, another Great Circle Map tells me how far the crow flew: 308 miles.

In other words: their trip to the North Pole took them almost exactly halfway to the North Magnetic Pole.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Bernard Manning presents his own obituary - dead body, underpants and all

I have just got round to finishing my viewing of "Bernard Manning - From Beyond the Grave". A bit late, I know. This was Manning's own televisual obituary - presented by him.

I started with a reasonable view of Manning based on testimonies from the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson. I ended with a poor view of the man. Yes, he worked a lot for and gave a lot to charity, we were told. Yes, it seemed he was cherished by his friends and family. The message he recorded to be shown to attendees at his funeral was eloquent and touching. But he was a racist and his language about other races was disgusting. He had a rant during the film about being British and that other races born in Britain aren't British, adding the charming adjoinder: "just because a dog is born in a stable does not make it a horse".

He was very successful, though (although his career plummeted in the nineties). You have to ask questions about audiences who supported him over the years. I am pleased to say I wasn't one of them. I turned the telly over as soon as he came on.

It is strange that when Billy Connolly effs and blinds it seems funny. When Manning did it, it just seemed coarse.

The film was remarkable. Unnerving, I would say. If anyone ever thinks again that it is a good idea to show on television the recently deceased body of a 77 year old man who had diabetes, angina and was recovering from a stroke then my advice to them would be: don't.

Manning had a propensity to sit around dressed only in his underpants. Fair enough. But his propensity to allow camera crews to film him in such a state was unedifying.

It is very unusual for someone to present their own obituary. I see that Manning also wrote obituaries of himself for the tabloids. Why? Noone else does it. Doesn't it speak volumes that he felt he had to present his own version of his life?

Wealthy constituent tells Cameron to "f*** off"

Martin Ivens accompanied David Cameron on a trip through the floods of his Witney constituency. Ivens' account in The Sunday Times includes this gem:

As we wade on Cameron sees a £60,000 BMW caught in the rising waters and instantly wants to offer help.

“Go on, let’s do something useful. Let’s help tow that car,” he says decisively. What better example of community spirit at work untrammelled by the ineffective, interfering state?

Alas, the object of his concern is no hobbit but a troll. “Why don’t you f*** off. You are just making political capital,” says the angry man wading towards us, as if he had long chewed over this sound-bite before spitting it out.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Cannabis: Time for some science

I've mentioned before that I like the cut of Ben Goldacre's jib. He is a medical doctor who writes the "Bad Science" column in the Guardian on Saturdays. He recently won the Royal Statistical Society's inaugural award for statistical excellence in journalism. He has a blog, also called "Bad Science".

Last time I sang his praises, it was for debunking the President of The Gambia's claims to cure Aids/HIV in a day. That was a bit of an open goal.

This week, Ben Goldacre takes aim at recent claims about cannabis:

1. The Daily Mail headline: "Smoking just one cannabis joint raises danger of mental illness by 40%". In fact, when you strip down this claim, as Ben Goldacre does, it boils down to: "about 800 yearly cases of schizophrenia are attributable to cannabis." A serious problem, but somewhat different from one joint causing an increase in mental illness of 40%.

2. The recent debate has tended to make the assumption "that reclassifying cannabis will stop six million people smoking it and eradicate these 800 extra cases of psychosis.":

If anything, for all drugs, increased prohibition may create market conditions where more concentrated and dangerous forms are more commercially viable. We're talking about communities, and markets, with people in them, after all: not molecules and neuroreceptors.

Ah nostalgia! That reminds me of a LibDem conference debate, several years ago, when we voted to have a Royal Commission on the topic, but were portrayed as wanting to force two week old babies to smoke cannabis (or something like that).

3. Modern cannabis "is 25 times stronger" than in the 70s. This was a claim started in the Independent on 18th March in an article entitled: "Cannabis - An Apology". Ben Goldacre's "Bad Science" article entitled "Reefer Badness" pulls this claim apart:

To get their scare figure, The Independent have compared the worst cannabis from the past with the best cannabis of today. But you could have cooked the books in exactly the same way 30 years ago if you’d wanted: in 1975 the weakest herbal cannabis analysed was 0.2%; in 1978 the strongest herbal cannabis was 12%. Oh my god: in just 3 years herbal cannabis has become 60 times stronger.

Do we need to see the moment an Alzheimer's sufferer dies?

Andrew Pierce in the Telegraph raises some searching questions about ITV's decision to broadcast the last moments of the husband of a lady called Barbara Pointon.

Like all these things, it depends how it is treated in the context of the broadcast programme. If it is done in such a way as to highlight the tragedy of Alzheimer's Disease, helping to raise funds for research into it, then it may well be a good thing.

But one can't help but wondering if this is bringing out the worst type of voyeurism in the viewing public.

Bush House - attempted suicide?

Yesterday, as our boat went past Bush House, on the embankment in London, I momentarily thought I saw someone attempting suicide on the top of the vast BBC World Service building.

That Anthony Gormley gets everywhere these days.

Bush House suicide attempt?

£1389 million later the 'Millennium Dome' is a great venue

Yesterday we went to see the Andrews Sisters at O2, the venue formerly known as the Millennium Dome.

Well, that's what I mischievously wished my wife had told her 83 year-old father. Sadly, she truthfully told him that we were going to the see the Scissor Sisters. They were mind-blowingly stunning.

The O2, as I think we now have to call it, has been turned into a superb venue. There are masses of bars, restaurants, things to do, in a wonderful setting. The arena is huge and then there are a few other venues and a cinema.

We arrived at the location via the "clipper" from the London Eye, which meant we had a couple of glorious trips up and down the Thames.

By the way, it has cost £600 million to create the O2 venue (money belonging to Anschutz Entertainment Group). That's after £603 million of public money (plus £186 million funded by ticket sales) was spent on the Millennium Dome in the first place.

Brown and Bush: Watch the walk

If and when Bush and Brown walk up to the cameras after their Camp David meeting, I, for one, will be focussing on small things.

Will Brown adopt that cowboy walk to mimic Bush, which Blair pathetically adopted?

Will Brown go for a leather bomber jacket?

The opportunities for a PTSA moment are endless. But I have a feeling that Brown will not embarrass himself as Blair, upon reflection, did.

*Pass the sickbag, Alice.

Snap election? - Forget it, unless someone gives Brown £40 million

The Independent repeats something I have read in several places recently. Although there is much talk of an early general election, it is estimated that Labour will not have enough cash to fight one until 2008, probably autumn of that year at that.

Labour spent £17.9 million on their 2005 general election campaign. They are currently around £20 million+ in the red. (It was £25 million at the end of last year but there have been reports of an improvement since then).

The Conservatives have cut their debt to £9 million.

So, it does not take a rocket scientist to work out that, unless someone gives Gordon Brown a sum of money somewhere north of £40 million, the chances of a "snap election" are slim. That calculation, of course, assumes a need for zero Labour party debt before going to the country, which is, of course, not absolute.

Happy Birthday to us - sort of

Today is the 19th anniversary of the election of Paddy Ashdown as the first leader of what was then called the Social and Liberal Democrat party.

19 years? It seems a long time since we were changing the name of the party, seemingly, every few months. ...And a very long time since when, at the 1989 European elections, we got 4% of the vote and came fourth behind the Greens.

But I think we can look back with pride on solid progress throughout those years.

Have US televised police car chases gone too far?

Two TV helicopters have collided in Arizona, USA, while covering a police chase.

It was a very tragic accident that involved the deaths of four people. I don't wish to make light of it.

But is there a lesson here? Five helicopters were videoing one pick-up truck which was being chased by police.

...All for the entertainment of television viewers, some of whom pay to be paged whenever a pursuit is being shown.

If you want an emblem to typify the insanity of American television, then this is it. I don't think there is any suggestion that the driver of the pick-up truck involved was the USA's Number Wanted Man. He was no O J Simpson.

So is it worth up to five helicopter crews covering such chases, risking, and in this case causing, deaths?

And does the televising of such chases actually encourage the exhibitionist tendencies of alleged criminals so that they drive just that little more recklessly for the cameras?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Portillo: Tories may never win a general election again

On last night's This Week on BBC1, Andrew Neil asked Michael Portillo if it is possible that the Conservatives will never win a general election again. Portillo's answer was "yes".

That is interesting and perhaps reflects Portillo's rather semi-detached relationship with the Tories at the moment. Even Diane Abbott disagreed with him.

Kelvin MacKenzie was also on the programme, ranting in the most loud-mouthed way about David Cameron. He wants him replaced as Tory leader by "anybody". The trouble is, the moment you
try to give that "anybody" a name (George Osbourne, David Davis, Liam Fox, William Hague...) the replacement argument instantly disintegrates.

LibDems up one point in You Gov poll - Tories nine points behind Labour

The LibDems are up one point to 16% in the YouGov poll for today's Daily Telegraph. Brown's Labour have shot into a nine point lead over the Tories.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Should a strippogram, kissogram and sex chat lady be approved as a candidate?

It is an interesting question. The lady in question on Bideford Town Council was reportedly not a party member when selected and, incredibly, still isn't:
Yesterday (Tuesday), it became clear that Mr and Mrs Bushell were not members of the Liberal Democrat party when they were selected to stand in the May elections.

Noel Thompson, chairman of Torridge and West Devon Liberal Democrats, said it appeared that procedures had broken down at local branch level.

"This is something we are looking into," he said. "People acted in good faith, and the Bushells might have intended to join the party, but they are still not paid-up members.

"We are examining the situation to make sure correct procedures are followed in future."
It appears that there is no case for reference to the standards board. But all party candidate vetting procedures that I know of (along the ALDC model) ask: "Is there anything about you which, if it came out, would embarrass the party?"

If someone answered: "I run a sex chatline where I 'talk dirty'" then it is hard to imagine the circumstances where such a person would be waved through enthusiastically with no further questions.

It is a moot point. However, one thing that is perfectly clear is that all LibDem councillors should be members of the party. I have come across the odd occasion when people have not been paid-up members at the time of submitting themselves for candidate approval, but any approval given has been formally (i.e written in a letter) conditional on their joining the party immediately.

Thanks to LibDem Voice.

Should Charlotte Church be treated at Chequers?

Well done to Norman Lamb for eliciting the information that Tony Blair's guests at Chequers, in his last few months as PM, included:

-Charlotte Church
-Gavin Henson
-Lorraine Kelly
-Richard Madeley
-Chris Evans
-Vernon Kaye

It speaks volumes about this government's lack of commitment to freedom of information that it took months of effort to extract this information, as Norman comments:

For reasons that defy rational explanation the government has been treating the fact that Tony Blair enjoyed drinks with Vernon Kay and Charlotte Church as a state secret.

Could the government's reluctance to publish this information be motivated by an attempt to avoid this question?:

Why is Charlotte Church being treated to a slap-up meal at Chequers at the taxpayers expense?

What possible advantage to the country can be gained by discourse between a departing Prime Minister, a singer and her Rugby playing partner? Even if such interaction were justified, does it have to be accompanied by luxury treatment at the taxpayers' expense?

And we hear today that Blair's farewell tour cost the taxpayer £1.7 million. Surely some of this should billed out to Blair's future publisher and agent? After all, much of it was an advance publicity tour for Blair's future lecture tours and publications.

"Outright derision" at Conservative HQ for Cameron's Rwandan trip timing

Rather like the shoe chauffeur, David Cameron now has another millstone around his neck: His trip to Rwanda while Britain was flooded.

Of course, it is right that politicians visit Africa. But the timing of his trip was bizarrely misjudged. Philip Webster in the The Times summarises the situation thus:

Why he had chosen to go there when the Commons was in its last week, and not during the summer when he could have grabbed the headlines for the right reasons, remains a mystery. At Conservative headquarters there was outright derision that the trip had been planned when the Rwandan parliament, which Mr Cameron addressed, was not officially sitting.

Bad end of a bad week for David Cameron

A bad week for David Cameron is topped off by a poll which finds that more than half of all voters think he is not in control of his party. Indeed, only 22% of those questioned thought he was in control of the Conservative party!

The weeklies are now putting the boot in. Bagehot in the Economist writes:

LIKE the rest of life, only more so, politics is not always fair. Not long ago, David Cameron's tail, and his poll numbers, were up, and expected to rise further after Gordon Brown's coronation. The ayatollahs of Blairism were fretting about how Mr Brown would hold up against the most talented Tory leader (as many Labour MPs, as well as Tories, then saw him) since Margaret Thatcher. A little month later, and the Tories are free-falling in the polls, having cocked up two by-elections. Mr Cameron this week found himself uncomfortably explaining why he was in Rwanda for a photo opportunity rather than at home, where his party was grumbling and his constituency flooded. His admirers protest that the reversal has been more the unfair result of bad luck than of poor leadership—and they are largely right.

And Martin Bright in the New Statesman asks: "Brown v Cameron: Game Over?"

Bush can do what he likes - his unpopularity can hardly get any worse

The Washington Post reports that George Bush's unpopularity rating stands at 65%. Since polling began, Presidents have only twice been more unpopular. Truman hit 67% during the Korean war and Nixon hit 66% four days before his resignation.

This plumbing of the heights of unpopularity has caused a very strange attitude in the White House:

Bush has been so down for so long that some advisers maintain it no longer bothers them much. It can even, they say, be liberating. Seeking the best interpretation for the president's predicament, they argue that Bush can do what he thinks is right without regard to political cost, pointing to decisions to send more U.S. troops to Iraq and to commute the sentence of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff.

In other words, it can't get any worse for Bush, so he just does what he wants, with no regard for what the American people think.

Democracy in action!

Top Gear North Pole race - sheer quality!

Last night's Top Gear Polar Special was a treat. If you missed it, it's repeated this Sunday on BBC2 at 8pm and there are clips here. If you have BBC iPlayer you can watch it there, this week.

Basically Clarkson and May raced to the North Pole in a Toyota 4x4, while the Hamster was pulled by a team of Huskies. The Hamster deserved to win. Unfortunately Clarkson and May got their first, but not before they had been through a gruelling couple of days struggling through an ice boulder field.

Highlights were: Clarkson's innovation of a "bumber dumper" toilet add-on on the back of the Toyota. And Clarkson getting a nut frozen to his lip - he screamed like a girl (sorry girls!) until May applied some boiling coffee to remove it. Very funny.

UPDATE: The question has been raised as to whether Top Gear actually went to the "North Pole", or, assuming they did, which "North Pole" they went to. See later postings on this subject here and here.
Last night's Top Gear Polar Challenge was a treat. If you missed it, it's repeated this Sunday on BBC2 at 8pm and there are clips here.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The beauty of Greenham Common

I don't think I can remember such a miserable late July!

On Sunday evening, however, there was a brief window, both in the weather and in my domestic timetable, to enjoy a fantastic walk on Greenham Common. We are very blessed to have this place within easy walking distance of our home.

Whatever you say about Greenham Common, it isn't particularly photogenic. It is very...er....flat. So whatever photos you take of it...whatever imagination you use with fancy angles and lenses...it still comes out in the photos looking very...um...er...flat.

Anyway, I played the role of the "happy snapper" on my walk on the Common. And the results here are reasonably nice. Or at least they provide some nostalgia for decent weather conditions!

LibDem policy-making culture - decisions made by those who turn up?

Jeremy Hargreaves has made some good points about the discussion on LibDem Voice about party policy-making.

I agree that Aaron and Dan have made some excellent points on LDV. One element that hasn't been mentioned is that I have found over the years that the collected brains of a LibDem conference normally contain people who know all the essential and many of the non-essential (!) points to be made in any debate. I would trust a LibDem conference to come to a sensible view on most subjects. It is, after all, over a thousand people from all over the country, many of whom have hands-on experience of any given subject.

I would also say that if someone is a particular subject-matter expert they can turn up for one day of the conference and are normally allowed to speak at the chair's discretion. Surely getting a day off work and making domestic arrangements for one day is not too much to ask if someone has something special to say on a particular topic, is it?

I would also say it can be a bit of a "cop-out" to say that the LibDems have an exclusive decision-making process. If someone has enough time to be an active member of a local kick-boxing club (no names, no pack drill) then surely they can give a few hours every so often to attend a local branch meeting? This especially applies because local LibDem parties are invariably crying out for new blood to be active. I know of no local branch chairman who doesn't allow someone to have their say on any given topic, especially under AOB at the end of a branch meeting.

A gentleman of my acquaintance always used to end our local branch meetings with the same homily about the evils of smoking. We used to laugh internally at this after the 97th repetition (mainly because we knew the speech off by heart), but, in the end, the gentleman initiated a debate on the subject at the regional conference and bent the ear of the leader (who was a smoker) on the topic.

The other thing is that one member is just one member. Just because a view just happens to be held by one member in isolation and isn't agreed with by anyone else, doesn't mean that the policy-making process is flawed.

Sometimes local parties vary. Some really involve their members in collecting views for the party conference. As Bridget Fox said, there may well be a culture of decisions being made by those who turn up, but those who do turn up universally wish that more people had turned up to make the decisions with them!

It would be delusional to imagine that any LibDems ever gather at a meeting and are pleased that not many other people turned up! (Well it doesn't happen much anyway!)

But it is down to us, the members, to speak up if such involvement is lacking and I congratulate Dan and Aaron on doing so on LDV.

As for on line involvement - yes - excellent. And look at the Trident debate. I made a point which was personally rebutted by Nick Harvey on the forum set up especially for that debate. He aslo individually addressed virtually every other point brought up on that forum. What other party can boast such engagement with its members?

Cameron, the sacred cow heads for slaughter

Excellent cartoon from Steve Bell in today's Guardian.

LibDems up 2 points to 20% in ICM poll

The LibDems are up 2 points in the ICM Guardian poll today. Cameron is losing grassroots support, the poll finds.

Update - I can't enter a comment at the moment. Anonymous commented:

"Hmm, 'You Gov', the most consistantly accurate pollsters, have us flat-lining at 15%."

"us"? Don't bother to put "us" like that if you don't give your name. I will assume you are Grant Shapps unless otherwise identified, especially when giving credence to the polling organisation co-founded by Jeffrey Archer's ex-spokesman and often referred to as "Anything you say gov"

The BBC's Six O'Clock News provides the Blue Peter guide for terrorists

Last night's BBC Six O'Clock news was a must-see for any potential terrorist. From just watching that one programme any aggrieved person learnt:

1. All the trains to the West Country from London have to go past Platform 4 at Reading Station.

2. The switching room Walham Electricity switching station in Gloucester is critical in supplying power to the GCHQ, 500,000 people in Gloucestershire and a "nuclear facility which the BBC is not allowed to name".

The location of the Walham switching station can be found on the internet fairly easily (see low resolution photo from Google Earth above for illustrative purposes only). The location of platform 4 at Reading station is even less of a challenge to find.

Need I say more?

The government is spending a vast amount of energy on the 28 days v 56 days debate about holding people without charge. I hope they are spending as much time on ensuring our essential infrastructure is protected.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Cameron's flood-hit constituents criticise his trip to Africa

David Cameron's flood-stricken constituents criticise his trip to Africa in the Daily Mail today:

Mr Cameron visited some inundated areas of his constituency on Sunday and urged the Government to take flood prevention more seriously.

But Stephen Gosling, 37, whose house was under 2ft of water at the weekend, said: "He came to visit but he just walked past me. He was just walking showing his face and that was it. Now he's off in Africa."

Shop manager Gary Kirk, 46, warned of a potential major problem over debris from the flooding. He said: "If there are no bin collections what are we supposed to do with all the rubbish.

"It's all right for David Cameron - he goes off on a jolly to Rwanda - but we are suffering.
"When he came here he just walked up and down the street talking to people outside. But they weren't the ones affected by the floods, they were here to look at the suffering.

"The people who are really hit were inside. We are the people who vote for him and he is patronising us. He is more concerned about how he looks and the publicity than our suffering."

Just for good measure, Cameron also gets fired at with both barrels by the paper's Richard Littlejohn:

...where the hell is the leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition? His constituents may be up to their knees in mud, but CMD is sitting in a mud hut in Rwanda.

Big Tory donor speaks of "Summer of discontent"

The Financial Times reports comments from Lord (Stanley) Kalms, the creator of Dixons and former Tory party treasurer, who:

...said he was "disillusioned to a substantial degree" with Mr Cameron. He warned that the leader "has not quite got the party behind him at the moment". "This is the summer of discontent," said Lord Kalms, life president of the electrical retailer DSG International. "We're having a very bad period. What we should do is pack up and come back in the autumn."

Monday, July 23, 2007

Noah-like rumours

As Will Howell highlights there have been some alarming rumours today. The whisper went round our office that a vast wave is forecast to come down the Thames and flood the environs of Wargrave, Caversham and Twyford in Berkshire at 2am tomorrow.

My father-in-law is in one of those areas, but he is fortunately on a hill.

There is an excellent facility on the Environment Agency website where you can put in your postcode and see on a map if you at risk from flooding.

Staggering mains water stoppage in Gloucestershire

I've just been watching the Chief Executive of Gloucestershire County Council on Channel Four news. The scale of the unfolding crisis there is staggering. It has gone from flooding which impacted a few thousand homes to a mains water stoppage which will impact 350,000 homes for seven days. That is half the population of Gloucestershire county, and about 80% of the economy!

Quaequam Ealing Southall

I am a bit late doing this, but I just wanted to heartily praise James Graham's post "Return to Ealing Southall" on Quaequam Blog!

It is a thoroughly absorbing commentary on the by-election.

Tory MP: Now it's okay for us to say to Cameron: "What the hell are you talking about?"

Thanks to Mark Pack on LibDem Voice for pointing out this absolute beaut of an article from the Telegraph.

Essentially, David Cameron is facing the prospect of a very rough ride when he faces his MPs on Wednesday. They now know that the Emperor has no clothes so they have a much freer rein to question and criticise him:

However Mr Cameron decides to proceed, he must first placate his MPs. As one of them said: "Suddenly it's okay for us to say to him, 'What the hell are you talking about?'" The Tory leader needs to provide a convincing answer.

Also, for those LibDems who haven't already overdosed on schadenfreude, there is a classic Gordon Brown comment about Grant Shapps, who has incidentally been unceremoniously dumped from his role of running Tory by-election campaigns:

Veteran Conservatives, however, say the real question is why Mr Cameron put the inexperienced Mr Shapps in charge of the battle in the first place.

It was a decision that delighted Labour. Watching television coverage of the by-election on Friday morning at No 10, Gordon Brown saw the youthful Mr Shapps, an MP of only three years, talking about the defeat, and said: "If I'd known he was running it, I wouldn't have worried.

Is the Number One acting as a rain dance?

Think about it. We've had two months of almost constant rain. And the Number One single has been

Is the Number One acting as a rain dance?

Think about it. We've had two months of rain. And "Umbrella" has been number One for two months. It doesn't take a genius to work out the connection. Stop buying the darned thing!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Welcome news - Bishop loses gay employment case

The BBC reports:

A gay man has won his case for unlawful discrimination after he was refused a youth official's job by a Church of England bishop.

The employment tribunal said John Reaney, 42, was discriminated against "on grounds of sexual orientation" by the Hereford diocesan board of finance.

I am a bit late with this, as the news came out last Wednesday. But it is very welcome news indeed. The treatment of John Reaney seemed to me to be outrageous and I am very glad that the employment tribunal has ruled against the Bishop.

Good heavens! Mick McManus is still alive!

This will mean nothing to anyone under about 45. But I was watching "I love television" or some such ITV confection last night and who should walk on but Mick McManus!

My wife and I said in unison: "I thought he was dead!"

But there he was, as alive as a live thing, as Baldrick would say.

I've just looked him up. He is 79 years old! He has outlived both Jackie Pallo and Giant Haystacks.

Note to anyone under 45: ITV used to run live wrestling (usually from Doncaster?) at 4pm on a Saturday. It was hugely popular. We had to watch it with my maternal grandparents in case one of them had a seizure during it, because they got excited about it. Mick McManus was the "Bête noire" of these largely staged pugilistic performances.

Cameron is not the transforming force he is cranked up to be - Sunday Times

Today's Sunday Times leader states:

The political map is becoming a little clearer. David Cameron is not the transforming political force that his supporters made him out to be, or even the Tories’ Tony Blair. Mr Blair enjoyed large opinion poll leads from the day he took over as Labour leader; leads which lasted until late in his premiership.

Is Cameron the Conservatives' Kinnock? - Rawnsley

In the Observer, Andrew Rawnsley writes:

Fearful Tories have more reason to worry this weekend that he might turn out to be their Neil Kinnock, a leader who does much to rescue and rehabilitate the party, but who can't deliver power. Might this be David Cameron's ultimate fate? Could he be a leader who looks electable, but is never actually elected?

Tory MPs want vote of no confidence in Cameron - "deep-seated dissatisfaction"

The Sunday Telegraph, under the headline "Tories call on David Cameron to quit" says that as many as six MPs have sent letters to the chairman of the party's 1922 Committee of backbenchers. The report runs:

David Cameron faces calls to resign from a handful of Conservative MPs who have lodged formal requests for a vote of no confidence in his leadership.

The bid to destabilise the Tory leader comes after months of dissent over his modernising strategy, including a revolt over grammar schools, and his party's humiliating third-place defeat in two by-elections last week.

...At least two MPs, and possibly as many as half a dozen, have written to Sir Michael Spicer, the chairman of the 1922 Committee, to call for a vote of no confidence, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal.

One of those who has written said: "I felt I had to register my deep-seated dissatisfaction. I am not the only one and I know there are a number of others who are thinking of writing."

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Those exciting Iain Dale poll results in full - Arslikkan is clear winner

Thank you very much to everyone who voted in my poll earlier today.

The question was:

When will Iain Dale finally take down the "Lit up Ealing Southall" box from his web site?

The poll has now closed because Iain Dale deleted the box when he arrived in his Rwandan hotel room earlier today.

The results of the voting were:

-When he returns from Rwanda - 16%

-When he returns from Arslikkan - 58%

-When hell freezes over - 16%

-In a few days time - 8%

So, there was a very clear winner in the shape of Arslikkan.

Exciting New poll: When will Iain Dale take down the "Lit up Ealing Southall" box from his web site?

It's still there. The screen grab on the left was taken at 12:15 today. And yes, I have deleted all my cookies and temp files, and pressed F5 to check I am not seeing an old version of the page.

So here's an exciting new poll: When will Iain Dale finally take down the "Lit up Ealing Southall" box from his web site? Vote on the right.

The options are:

-When he returns from Rwanda

-When he returns from Arslikkan

-When hell freezes over

-In a few days time

Please let me know if I have missed any options which ought to be added to the poll. And remember what they say: Vote early and often!

It's worth looking at James Graham's hilarious version of the Tory box here.

Cameron's woes: campaign director quits, clashes with party groups and senior MP asks "Is Emperor wearing any clothes?"

Hard on the heels of Mark Field MP's intervention, the Times reports other problems for Cameron:

There was talk of a “wobble”, the first under Mr Cameron, within the parliamentary party and it emerged that George Bridges, the campaign director, was quitting. His departure was agreed two weeks ago but the disclosure yesterday added to the sense of unease in Tory circles.

The Times report also says that "Tory campaign managers had known from the outset that, weeks before his selection, Mr Lit had attended an Asian community farewell dinner for Tony Blair and had had his photograph taken with the outgoing Prime Minister."

This is bound to lead to recriminations. Why on earth did they select the man as a candidate if they knew that?

Tory party "sources" have also been busy:

A leading moderniser said that Tory MPs were questioning Mr Cameron’s direction: “There is a lot of talk about style over substance. There is a lot of talk about it being a PR machine. The accusations that the Labour Party have been making are being regurgitated by Tory MPs. One senior back-bencher has been privately questioning whether the emperor is wearing any clothes.”

It also emerged that Mr Cameron had clashed with traditionalist MPs over his request that statements from party groups, such as the traditionalist Cornerstone, should be cleared through party headquarters. Party sources said there was a real desire to stop the party turning in on itself.

Prince Charles gives wife sheep for birthday

Is there a hidden message here?

Newsnight Brown film "doctored"

A little while ago I blogged about a film on Newsnight about Gordon Brown.

Interestingly, the assembly of that film has now been called into question. The sequence of a meeting between the filmmaker and a Treasury assistant was changed so it looked like one incident happened before another, when in fact it happened afterwards. (I would add that the BBC have also been criticised for not making clear that the security chief was not aware of being recorded when he accused Brown of being "shy and withdrawn". But as you can see from my blog posting, it was clear to me that the chief didn't know he was being recorded.)

It seems a relatively minor indiscretion but when you stack it up with the Queen film change, the Blue Peter faked quiz winner and the Quiz Show scandal it all mounts up to a major crisis for the BBC.

One can't help thinking that the culture of independent producers is to blame for much of the crisis.

Tory MP accuses Cameron of showing "contempt" towards Ealing Southall voters

Mark Field, Conservative MP for the Cities of London and Westminster has come out of the traps to criticise David Cameron's campaign at Ealing Southall.

Mr Field was on Radio Four's PM last night and is all over the press this morning. That coverage emanates from an article he wrote on Conservative Home. It is very strong stuff.

In the article, Field says that Cameron may have done "lasting damage" to the party's relations ethnic communities. He criticises the choice of Tony Lit as candidate, accuses Cameron of showing "contempt" towards local Tory supporters and "the local electorate at large". He accuses Cameron of "exploiting" racial divisions in a way that was seen as "blatant opportunism". Field says that the party's leadership "ignored" warnings about this.

He says the Tory vote "flatlined"at 22.5% and compares this to the 50 years before 1997 when the Conservative vote never went below 30% in Ealing Southall.

Field has made clear he sees the five councillors who came across to the Tories as a "dissident" group and not people with ideological differences with Labour, as their defection was presented.
Field says that Cameron's campaign has left a "divided and demoralised local Conservative force".

Field says that the Tories had a "wonderful opportunity" to demonstrate that the party embraces British Asian communities. He says local Conservatives worked "tirelessly" for many years to build up the Tories' relationships with Ealing Southall ethnic communities and says: "Much of this effort now lies in tatters."

After writing all this I notice that Liberal England pounced on this before me but I didn't initially find Jonathan's article when I did a quick search

Has Prince Charles' disapproval saved Nicholas Witchell's career?

Being Royal Correspondent for BBC television can be a bit of a poisoned chalice. Jennie Bond did it for 14 years and has since eaten rather strange bugs on "I'm a Celebrity get me out of here!"

If you aren't careful the Royal reporting role can leave you a little bit, well, compromised as a journalist.

Nicholas Witchell seems to have done very well though. I was very surprised to see him reporting from Baghdad yesterday. Good on him. He has managed to come back to serious reporting without bearing any scars from his time as Royal reporter. Some may object to me not including Royal reporting in the bracket of "serious reporting". Well, it's hardly reporting from Baghdad wearing a flak jacket is it?

One can't help thinking that there was one incident which did an enormous amount of good to Nicholas Witchell's reputation as a serious journalist. I refer, of course, to Prince Charles' famous sotto voce comments:

I can't bear that man. I mean, he's so awful, he really is.


I feel for those drivers stuck on the M5 in Gloucestershire since 8am yesterday. Apparently things are moving again now. Also, one feels for all the people who were badly impacted by the floods yesterday, and particularly the family and friends of the one fellow who is missing.

I usually work from home on a Friday so it was Murphy's Law that I went to work yesterday. Fortunately, due to some judicious use of the internet and my wife's map reading via mobile, I managed to come home on unflooded roads - but it took three times as long as usual and an unusually long incursion into Hampshire!

To see the skies yesterday morning was extraordinary. It looked like the middle of the night at 10am.

David Steel retraces his father's life on Channel 4

I was rather surprised to turn on Channel 4 earlier this week and see David Steel on a programme "Empire's Children":

Born in Scotland, David's life changed dramatically when he was 11 years old. His father, a Church of Scotland Minister, announced they were to move to Africa, to the British colony of Kenya. After four years, with the situation in Kenya becoming increasingly violent the family returned to Scotland.

However, David's father made the journey back to Kenya to continue his work. It was only after his father's death in 2002 that David discovered a briefcase full of documents belonging to the Reverend Steel. They revealed that he played a significant part in the political turmoil that accompanied the birth of the new Kenya.

You can watch the programme here.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Norfolk Blogger's son showing progress

The Norfolk Blogger has left a comment at my previous posting about his son. What he said was:

Thanks. He is now eleven days old and it looks as if he might be able to come and stay at home for good now. He's putting on weight and all the other tests are positive so I thank you all for your concern.

Great news! I am sure we all hope the progress continues and send our continued best wishes to Nich and his family.

It is wonderful that we can support a friend and fellow blogger in this little scion community of the blogosphere.

Well done Ruddles for the Rhubarb beer

Getting off the topic of politics for one moment, and onto beer...my wife bought me a few bottles of Ruddles Rhubarb, which I had never encountered before. It is probably one of the best two bottled beers I have ever tasted.

You tend to think...rhubarb in beer? Yuck! But in fact it is a match made in heaven....well worth a try.

Iain Dale's Diary still says "Lit up Ealing Southall"

The screen shot above was taken at 14:45 today, 20th July from Iain Dale's Diary. Presumably Iain Dale is still contending that in some way the Tories have "lit up Ealing Southall". Have they burnt David Cameron's effigy in the middle of Southall High Street perhaps?

Cash for honours - Is Inspector Knacker up to politics?

With all the drooling over the by-election results (in which I have indulged liberally) it is easy to overlook the extraordinary "end" to the cash for honours inquiry.

"A disaster for the police" is how the Guardian reports a senior Labour MP describing it. Lord Levy is beaming from ear to ear.

Without knowing some of the evidence unearthed, it is difficult to take a view. However, it is the Crown Prosecution Service who have taken the "no charges" decision, rather than the more politically controlled DPP/Attorney General's Office. So I think we have to respect that decision.

So, Inspector Knacker of the yard has a lot to answer for:

Cost: £800,000
Time: 16 months
People interviewed:136
People arrested: Four
Speculative Iain Dale posts on the subject: 1,450,237

The comments of Tony Wright on this have been interesting. On Radio Four's Today he said that those in politics could see the investigation would not come up with anything chargeable, but the police lacked sufficient political knowledge to realise this at the outset.

In summary, it appears that Inspector Knacker is not up to politics. Perhaps there ought to be more counsel sought before proceeding with this sort of charade in future?

At last, Iain Dale wakes up and smells the coffee

After spending the last three weeks in darkest Arslikkan, Iain Dale has woken up. After quoting a Grant Shapps press release which performs some remarkable limbo dancing with reality, Dale comments:

The words straws and clutching come to mind. I genuinely thought the Conservatives would come a good second here, but let's not pretend this was a satisfactory result. It patently was not. But Grant is also right to point out the LibDem failure to get their by election bandwagon rolling here.

Questions will and should be asked about various aspects of the campaign, not least the candidate, whether the tactics were local enough and if all the literature was appropriate. These are questions which should be asked after any election.

Although this is not natural Tory territory most observers would reckon that in the middle of the third term of a Labour government the party ought to be able to increase its vote share by more than 0.9 per cent. We need to understand why this didn't happen.

After all the 1234 business etc, the words "shreds", "credibility", "rescued", "from","the" and "ashes" spring to mind.

However, Tim Footman comments on Iain's site:

'Not natural Tory territory' is a cop-out. Why isn't it natural? Too many people from ethnic minorities? Too many poor people? If so, does this presume that people from these groups won't vote Tory? So much for Dave's big tent.

The rest of the comments are worth reading for a laugh.

PS. The LibDems did get a bandwagon rolling to the extent of getting a 5.4% swing to them. In just three weeks it is difficult to do more than that. Shapps quoted the year 1989 saying the LibDems have won from second place in every case since then - well I know in detail of two of the by-elections we won since then - Newbury and Christchurch - and we had far longer than three weeks for the campaign in both of those cases. For example, in Newbury, Judith Chaplin MP died in February, but the by-election wasn't held until May.

Tories rip themselves apart

It is worth reading Conservative Home this morning. Here's a gem from "Traditional Tory":

So...David Cameron's Conservatives - Labour donors one moment, 'Tories' the next - have been tried and found disastrously wanting.
Cameron's fingerprints were all over this total disaster. The naive triumphalist drivel that was written again and again on this blog by his servile supporters should be quoted against them every time they attempt to justify the debauching of our once-great party by the PC socialist Cameron and his sycophantic clones.

And they're still yapping on. I'm reminded of those severed heads that continue to talk after the body has been guillotined. I wish I had some of whatever it is that Tory T is on. Don't tell him the bad news anybody.
He's failed, and so has his ridiculous instant Tory protégé. It's time for the 'men in suits' to start sharpening their stilettos.
I'm looking forward to the end of the Cameron stunt and the return of our party to tried and tested ways of doing things.Does ConHome believe he would not win it as soundly if it were held again today?
No. He would be soundly thrashed, and Lit - exposed as a two-timing clown - has fought his last election.
This was one each-way bet - as Norman Tebbit felicitously put it - that didn't romp home.

"Edison Smith" says:

Cameron's going to take a massive slap in the cherubic chops over Ealing Southall.
Cameron visited the place FIVE times and there was talk of winning it. Lit even ran as 'David Cameron's Conservatives', so it's personal!
Not good at all.

And there is a particularly damning indictment of the Tory high command's campaign here from "Oh dear":

Seriously, having been to Southall a few times what struck me was how little those at the top seem to know about how to fight a by-election - glitz and glamour have their role, but there needs to be substance underneath all that and that seemed to be completely overlooked.
Poor. Tomorrow Labour will crow.

Ming on great form on Today

When Ming's interview with John Humphrys just finished on Today I let out a rejoicant "yes!"

He was interviewed about the cash for honours investigation (note: not a foreign affairs issue!). He quite rightly pointed out that the Michael Brown donation has never been linked to any possibility of preferment.

When asked about the by-elections he said, before Humphrys could finish his question: "Great candidates, great campaigns, great results".

It was great to hear him speaking with great authority on the cash for honours issue, and in buoyant mood about the by-election results.

There was no interview with David Cameron, I notice. He must be having a bit of a lie-in.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

By-election results: David Cameron's appalling judgment revealed for all to see

Let's take stock a bit from the Conservative viewpoint.

They were forced into a bad third place in Sedgefield by the LibDems. So, David Cameron's Tories did worse there than Michael Howard's Tories at the last election. That's worth repeating - the Tories did worse under Cameron than under Michael "Don't worry - I won't hurt you" Howard. It proves again that David Cameron's brand is a turn-off in the north.

On BBC1 Breakfast, the BBC's political correspondent Robin Brandt has just beautifully summed up the Ealing Southall result for the Tories. He reminded us that, for the first time, a Conservative candidate stood under the name on the ballot paper of "David Cameron's Conservatives". The Tory vote virtually stood still, he said, improving by barely one per cent. He said, tellingly:

The Tories didn't manage to get people to come across from Labour to them, in fact they managed to get people to move across from Labour to the LibDems instead.

Just remember that Cameron personally selected Tony Lit. The stupid man, Mr Cameron, thought he knew best, better than his local members. And he chose in his own image: a rich kid, rich not through being "self-made" but by being born to a "rich daddy". Tony Lit was someone who looked elegant on the surface but had nothing under the surface. David Cameron "to a T".

And the campaign which the Conservatives ran was a superficial campaign. I called it "all mouth and trousers". Huge posters with the beautiful Mr Lit, like a Bollywood star, on them. There was one staggeringly huge poster, as big as a house, in the High Street next to the cinema in Southall. And loads of loudspeaker vans shouting at people - most were recordings of a very white/Anglo-Saxon-sounding man, lecturing loudly to the good citizens of Southall, wearing their turbans and saris.

But the stupid Tories didn't actually get people to vote for them more on the ground. There's was an air war. A pathetically misjudged campaign.

And yet in the middle of it, we had Tory campaign chief Grant Shapps, or an "assistant" on his YouTube account, writing in the guise of a LibDem supporter:

Okay, realistically we’re not going to win though. Especially since the Tories have just received 5 defecting Councillors from Labour. Don’t quite know how they’ve done it, but the Tories have stolen a march on us this time.

And we had Iain Dale hyperventilating in the middle of the campaign thus:

George Bush Senior once said that to win an election you had to have the "Big Mo". It is far too early to say the Conservatives will win this by election but few observers would deny that it is they who have had the best start. Tom Watson's campaign is disintegrating by the day.

Ah yes! That little tiffette between Dale and Watson. It's easy to see who had the last laugh there isn't it?

Well done Ming, Nigel and team!

Well done to Ming, Nigel Bakhai and the team at Ealing Southall! To keep the Tories very firmly in third place is an excellent result given the ferocious Tory campaign starring their beautiful candidate.

Cameron made five visits to Ealing Southall during the campaign. Ming Campbell made eight visits!

LibDems beat Tories into third place at Sedgefield

Well done to the LibDems in Sedgefield for beating the Tories into third place!

Sedgefield results:

Phil Wilson (Lab) 12,528 (44.77%, -14.11%)
Greg Stone (LD) 5,572 (19.91%, +8.02%)
Graham Robb (C) 4,082 (14.59%, +0.19%)
Andrew Spence (BNP) 2,494 (8.91%)
Paul Gittins (Ind) 1,885 (6.74%)
Toby Horton (UKIP) 536 (1.92%, +0.36%)
Chris Haine (Green) 348 (1.24%)
Stephen Gash (Eng Dem) 177 (0.63%)
Tim Grainger (Ch P) 177 (0.63%)
Alan "Howling Laud" Hope (Loony) 147 (0.53%, +0.15%)
Norman Scarth (Anti-Crime) 34 (0.12%)
Lab maj 6,956 (24.86%)
11.06% swing Lab to Lib Dem