Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Well done Nick Clegg!

I do find the "candidate A good/candidate B bad" stuff really pathetic.

So, I'm going to break the mould and praise the candidate I am not backing!

Nick Clegg has done a brilliant thing with his pledge to lead a campaign of civil disobedience against ID cards. This is precisely the sort of principled and uncompromising stand which we need to highlight the true liberalism of our party to the general public.

Well done Nick!

Chris Huhne's "Liberal Revolution" manifesto

Chris Huhne has launched his manifesto here, entitled the "Liberal Revolution".

The connection between Spooks and Margaret Thatcher

It was far too easy for Will, as feared:

Is it Angela Thorne? She played Thatcher in a couple of TV things (including Anyone for Denis?), and her son is Rupert Penry-Jones what plays Adam.

Indeed it is.

Is there no end to the knowledge of the Willster?!

Political trivia question

What connects "Spooks" with Margaret Thatcher?

I'll give a clue if needed but Will will probably get it without one.

Answer in a bit.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

When is a "dog whistle" not a "dog whistle" ? (2)

Try this little comparison. Speech One, according to Tory Spin Central is a "dog whistle" speech. Speech Two, TSC says, is not a "dog whistle" speech.

Any help in understanding the distinction would be very gratefully received.

I have cut and pasted a couple of little quotes from each speech and a link to the full text in each case.

Speech One

Firm but fair immigration controls are essential for good community relations, national security and the effective management of public services.

Michael Howard January 24th 2005

Speech Two

It is time for change. We need policy to reduce the level of net immigration....So these are concrete steps that we will take to control immigration directly. An annual limit on non-EU economic migration, enforced by a new Border Police Force. Transitional controls for new EU entrants. And changes to the rules on marriages across national boundaries.

David Cameron October 29th 2007

Corker on Giscard d'Estaing

Alix on "The People's Republic of Mortimer" has played an absolute blinder with this post about Giscard d'Estaing's letter regarding the EU Treaty.

When is a "dog whistle" not a "dog whistle"?

Following my earlier post here:

Only on Saturday night, Iain Dale wrote:

"Brown to Spotlight Immigration in Bid to Woo Back Middle England

A reader tips me off that according to a government minister he spoke to tonight, Gordon Brown sees immigration as the issue which will set him back on the straight and narrow. He will be making a big speech on it in the next couple of weeks. Apparently he's been on the phone to Michael Howard tonight asking to borrow his dog whistle."

It seems that David Cameron beat him to the dog whistle.

...Iain has kindly read my post and replied saying:

Paul, have you actually read David Cameron's speech? If you had, you;d realise it was nothing of the sort. Indeed, I suspect you'd agree with about 98% of it.

To which I reply:

Iain, Thank you for reading my post and commenting on it. Did you read Gordon Brown's speech before you described it as a "dog whistle" speech? Unlikely - he hasn't made it yet. I have read Cameron's speech. But for the life of me I can't see any great difference in tone to Michael Howard's speech on immigration in 2005 (aside from mention by Howard of asylum seeker controls).So if you describe Howard's speech as a "dog whistle", why not Cameron's also?

Iain has further replied and I have replied to his reply and no doubt he will reply to that and I will.....

Iain Dale said...
You cannot be serious if you think that was a speech Howard could have given.
Tuesday, 30 October, 2007
Paul Walter said...
Did I say that? It is just that if you describe Howard's speech as "dog whistle" I don't see why you don't also describe Cameron's as that? Howard's speech was not racist but called for controls. Ditto Cameron's.
Tuesday, 30 October, 2007

We need a referendum on the whole sausage, not a slice of it

Stephen Tall asks the $64,000 question:

Would you be happy to see our MPs voting against the only EU referendum that’s on the table?

It's the sort of question which brings a thin film of sweat to one's brow. But I have to be honest.

Yes, I would be happy for our MPs voting against a referendum on a minor revising treaty. It’s nuts. But I agree, such a move would be the political equivalent of sticking one’s head in a gas oven - but sometimes you have to stand up for the truth.

The revising treaty being discussed would be utterly stupid to put to a referendum. It's not a big enough constitutional change. As far as needing a national referendum, it is only marginally more consequential than a routine amendment to the standing orders at Baingstoke and Deane Borough Council (all right - I'm being provocative - it is quite consequential - so let's compare it instead to an amendment to the tea rota at Yattendon Parish Council - no, I'm being even more provocative now).

The national debate which would follow the announcement of such a referendum would be all about whether we want to be in the EU or not, but if we then get a “no” vote to the treaty question we would inevitably have to have a second referendum anyway on whether to stay in or leave the EU.

We should have a referendum on the whole salami sausage, not just a slice of it.

Ed Davey put this all very well a few weeks ago (my how long ago that seems now) on LibDem Voice:

I’d like to set out the full argument, including why the *draft* Reform Treaty doesn’t appear to warrant a referendum - but also why Ming is right to call for the REAL referendum people want.

Although we haven’t seen a *final* draft treaty emerge yet, as matters stand, I don’t think we will need a referendum to ratify this Treaty. There have been significant safeguards and changes to the now-dead constitution put in place to satisfy me that it does not meet the constitutional test to require a referendum. Of course, if the final Treaty is genuinely constitutional then this issue can be revisited - but people should look at the draft, not at reports of the draft!!

This comes from someone who supported the need for the European Constitution. I felt that it would have been good for Europe and good for Britain. I supported a referendum on that for specific reasons, in particular the changes to the Justice and Home Affairs pillar and placing the Charter of Fundamental Rights at the centre of the Constitution. But this new Reform Treaty makes significant changes.

For example compared to the proposals in the European Constitution:

there are further safeguards on the impact of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which has been taken out of the treaties proper.

Britain can now choose whether it takes part in anti terrorism or cross border crime initiatives, they can’t be imposed on us.

There is no question of the UK giving up its seat on the UN Security Council and we retain control over our national defence and foreign affairs.

All references to a new Constitution have been dropped and the old treaty structure remains.

Other changes tend to be minor advances of the Nice Treaty of 2001.

But this European Union that now exists is a far cry from the European Community that the British people voted to join in 1975.

That is why I think we should have a referendum in Britain on the EU – and we should ask the people of Britain the big, crucial question that really matters – should we stay in the EU or withdraw.

A great European leap forward is not contained in this new reform treaty – this makes minor changes compared with the last treaty– the Single European Act of 1986, signed by Margaret Thatcher, made huge and substantial advances and extended QMV into many significant areas notably in the single market. The Conservatives didn’t call for a referendum then?

The last great leap forward for Europe took place in the Tory negotiated Maastricht Treaty of 1992.

That is when the European Union itself was created.

That is when the concept Monetary Union was formalised

That is when the concept of EU citizenship was created

That is when a formal Common Foreign and Security Policy was introduced

That is when the Justice and Home Affairs pillar was created

That’s when the European Council was formalised as an institution

That’s when the European Parliament gained the power of co-decision

That is when whole new areas of European policy were introduced such as on industrial policy, consumer protection, education and culture.

Maastricht was the critical treaty in constitutional terms – every treaty since has been in effect a minor reform of this Maastricht base.

Now I agree with the Maastricht Treaty, I am an ardent pro-European who believes that Britain can be more prosperous and more powerful as part of the European Union. We are far better able to tackle big issues like climate change and terrorism together than we are apart.

The single market is good for British jobs and helps British companies to compete and flourish.

When we pool our sovereignty like this, we gain far more power over the big issues that we can’t tackle alone. But when we pool sovereignty in such a large way as we did in the Single European Act and at Maastrict the British people ought to have the final say.

So we should have had a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty because it represented a big constitutional step forward. The British public should have had the right to decide whether it wanted to take that step, confidently, as a nation.

The Liberal Democrats called for a referendum then. But the Conservatives said no and denied Britain the choice on whether to take this huge constitutional step.

Well that decision has come and gone and Europe has moved on. But Britain hasn’t moved on.

Our debate on Europe is confused and muddled based on misunderstandings and spin.

Let’s face it, the argument the Tories are having in their party now aren’t about this new Reform Treaty. It is actually about the concepts in a treaty that they rammed through Parliament 15 years ago and that many of them still don’t accept.

So when William Hague complains about the concept of a European Foreign Policy we should remind him that it was his vote and the Conservative party that ratified the Treaty that set it up - and with no referendum.

The question of Britain’s place in the European Union has poisoned our national politics for decades. As a nation, we need to lance this boil and decide once and for all if we want to be a part of this European Union or not.

This is the big question, whether we like it ask it or not. This is the question that we should face.

My answer is would be an unequivocal yes. I would relish the opportunity to get out their and campaign – to take on those who would have us out – to banish the myths and have the argument on the big issues. And for me, as I’m sure it is for most people in this country, that question is not whether the Commission President should select Commissioners from a shortlist, or whether they should be voted in by QMV – or whether someone’s title should be High Representative on Foreign Affairs or Foreign Minister. If we are going to have a referendum it should be the big one.

That question is should Britain remain in this European Union?

So I say, let Parliament go about its normal business of ratifying this new treaty. In our representative democracy that is the correct way of going about things. Then when that is done we should ask the British people whether they wish to remain part of this European Union or not.

David Cameron wins the race to the dog whistle

Only on Saturday night, Iain Dale wrote:

Brown to Spotlight Immigration in Bid to Woo Back Middle England

A reader tips me off that according to a government minister he spoke to tonight, Gordon Brown sees immigration as the issue which will set him back on the straight and narrow. He will be making a big speech on it in the next couple of weeks. Apparently he's been on the phone to Michael Howard tonight asking to borrow his dog whistle.

It seems that David Cameron beat him to the dog whistle.

Lithuanian ambassador complains about Cameron gaffe

The Guardian:

David Cameron's alleged off-the-cuff remarks about "one-legged Lithuanian lesbians" at a recent arts funding lunch have caused outrage in Lithuania, and a complaint from the country's ambassador to the UK asking the Conservative leader to explain himself.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Can't Nick Robinson add up?

Thank you Will Howells for pointing this out. The BBC website says there are 286 English Labour MPs, plus 193 Tory, 47 LibDem and 2 other. That gives Labour a clear majority. That rather drives a coach and horses through Monsieur Robinson's posting today, which was based on this question:

Wouldn't (the English Grand Committee) proposal (if it were in operation now) mean that Gordon Brown had no Commons majority for Labour's key priorities "schoolsnhospitals"?

Tory English proposal poses more questions than it answers

Nick Robinson asks some very pithy questions about the Tory proposal for an English "Grand Committee" within the House of Commons:

Wouldn't this proposal (if it were in operation now) mean that Gordon Brown had no Commons majority for Labour's key priorities "schoolsnhospitals"?

• If I am right, would the new English “grand committee” with its Tory majority be able to impose Tory measures on Labour ministers?

• If so, wouldn't Labour ministers refuse to implement what was passed or, in practice, seek to bypass MPs and make more and more changes by administrative fiat (more possible than you might think)?

• Is Sir Malcolm foreseeing a culture change in British politics whereby a Labour government could only pass those measures for which they could get Tory consent or build a coalition a little as Alex Salmond now has to do at Holyrood?

In fact, these questions highlight the absurdity of the current situation and suggest, to me, that it may be worth putting forward, for consideration by the populace, the idea of a proper English Assembly or Parliament, or proper directly elected English regional assemblies, as desired by the voters.

Once again, this debate highlights the stupidity of piecemeal tinkering with constitutional arrangements (although I acknowledge that the Rifkind proposal is part of a larger package). The only answer is to have a proper constitutional convention to tie up all the loose ends of the British constitution, not least our ridiculous First Past the Post system for Westminster. (LibDem Fave Rave #1 still available on 45 rpm disc).

Calm down, dear

It's a leadership election...
(click big arrow twice if it doesn't work the first time)

Hopeless case of the boy from Hope?

Mike Huckabee
While it is enticing to imagine that the US Republicans will choose the boy from Hope, Mike Huckabee, as their candidate (as Today suggested this morning), he's going to need a great deal of hope to get him from 5 points (in the latest poll of Republican voters), to beat Guiliani who is currently on 31 points, 14 points ahead of his nearest challenger.
Today featured interviews from a Right-wing Evangelist conference which highlighted deep distrust of Guiliani (pro-choice, anti-gun, pro-Gay) and much cheering for Mike Huckabee (polar opposite on those issues).
From the point of view of having a hope of winning the Presidential Election, the Republicans would be insane not to choose Guiliani. Today say he is "faltering" because of the right-wingers lack of enthusiasm for him. That may be so, but it takes an awful lot of faltering to go from 31 per cent and be over-taken by someone currently on 5 points. (By the way, Fred Thompson, Guiliani's current nearest challenger, has a pro-choice voting past even though he is now "posturing to win the pro-life vote").
Stranger things have happened (and I still have a receipt from Stan James with a tenner on Huckabee in case it does!) but it is more likely that the Right-wing Evangelists will float off to an independent candidate. A sort of Pat Robertson character would be ideal for them. He or she would have no hope of getting elected, of course, and they would probably let in Hilary instead.
So, the poor old right-wing Evangelists are in a bit of a bind, bless them. They've had George W for eight years (although he, of course, is pro-choice) - so it looks as though they will go from feast to famine and have to hold their noses and vote for Rudy. That will certainly be entertaining. I suppose it is more likely that they will stay at home, possibly letting in Hilary. That would also be entertaining.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Bafflement over English committee proposals

One of Gordon Brown's proposals for constitutional reform set out on 2nd July this year was a "Commons committee for each English region". (Indeed, the Liberal Democrats have long proposed a constitutional convention to sort out the "West Lothian question" amongst other points). That is not a million miles from the proposal today from the Conservatives for an English Grand Committee.

So I am a little baffled that the Conservatives are suddenly credited with a bright idea on this issue.

I am even more baffled as to why the government is dismissing the Tory idea and saying it would "break up the UK".

Thank goodness - a difference on a policy that matters

Up until now the LibDem leadership contest could be called the "fag paper" election - it has been very difficult to put a fag paper between the two candidates on most issues and criteria.

Thank goodness we now have two major differences (one of emphasis) on matters of policy.

Duncan Borrowman points out that Chris Huhne (note please that I don't call him "Chris") has started putting real emphasis on the green agenda.

But the big difference which has emerged is on the totemic issue of Trident, as the Observer reports:

Liberal Democrat leadership contender Chris Huhne last night moved to seize the initiative from his front-running rival Nick Clegg by breaking with party policy on keeping Britain's Trident nuclear missiles.

Huhne told The Observer it would be 'ridiculous' to spend up to £15bn updating the ageing submarine-based nuclear arsenal, describing it as a Cold War relic. He also argued this would risk further tying Britain to American policies, something he suggested should be avoided in the wake of the Iraq war.

Cameron gaffe

The Mail on Sunday reports:

David Cameron was accused of a politically incorrect gaffe last night over a lighthearted remark he made about one-legged Lithuanians at a meeting with leading figures in the arts world.

Labour said the Tory leader was guilty of "crass insensitivity" after the comment, made at an Arts Council lunch on Tuesday, was leaked to The Mail on Sunday.

According to Arts Council sources, Mr Cameron told his hosts: "I hope you won't be giving grants to too many one-legged Lithuanian lesbians," prompting embarrassed looks all round.

It seems that Cameron may have borrowed Boris Johnson's joke book.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

BBC report Rugby hustings


Poor young Dougie to go?

Daily Referendum says:

The bookmakers are reporting a rush of bets on poor old Dougie to be axed as Brown's scapegoat. It seems Alexander is going to carry the can for both the general and Scottish election fiasco's.

I don't know. You carry Brown's bags for years and then the moment a scapegoat is needed you get the chop. Poor fellow. You could almost feel sorry for him.

Ludicrous treatment of man in private "having sex" with a bicycle

Thanks to An Englishman's Castle for highlighting this from the Telegraph:

A man has been placed on the sex offenders’ register after being caught trying to have sex with a bicycle.

Robert Stewart was discovered in his room by two cleaners at the Aberley House Hostel in Ayr, south west Scotland, in October last year.

On Wednesday Mr Stewart admitted to sexual breach of the peace in Ayr Sheriff Court, where depute fiscal Gail Davidson described how he had been found by the hostel workers.

She said: "They knocked on the door several times and there was no reply.

"They used a master key to unlock the door and they then observed the accused wearing only a white T-shirt, naked from the waist down

"The accused was holding the bike and moving his hips back and forth as if to simulate sex."

Both witnesses, who were extremely shocked, notified the hotel manager, who in turn alerted the police.

This man was doing what he was doing in private behind a locked door. Is it his fault if someone used a master key to come in and see what he was doing? And would he still have been charged and put on the sex offenders' register if he had been having sex with something other than a bicycle? If he had been having sex with another person, for example? Or himself? Or any number of inanimate objects? Or was it just the fact that it was a bicycle that "extremely shocked" the hotel workers and therefore led to the charge?

The Telegraph ends its report with this note:

Karl Watkins, an electrician, was jailed for having sex with pavements in Redditch, Worcs, in 1993.

Why on earth do they draw a parallel with that case? Unless Mr Watkins dragged a paving slab to his bedroom, I assume he did it in public in which case surely that is distinctly and vitally different from doing something in private behind a locked door.

Those welcomes to TeamClegg (now apolgised for)

James Graham asks where TeamClegg got the distribution list which they used to invite all and sundry to join their supporters list earlier this week. (Richard Allan has now apologised for this).

It is an excellent question and one which is answered in the script of the mail which I received:

"Welcome to
You are signed up using the email address
More information about this list is at
Printed (dispatched) by Haecceitas Limited, Golden Cross House, 8 Duncannon Street, London, WC2N 4JF. Published and promoted by and on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, 4 Cowley Street, London, SW1P 3NB. (020) 7222 7999."

So the email notification that I had been signed up to Team Clegg came from the Liberal Democrats at 4 Cowley Street and, indeed, the list system at

Could someone explain this to me please? I didn't realise that candidates' teams are allowed access and use of the list system. But then, hey, you learn something new everyday don't you?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Support for Chris Huhne

I have now decided to support Chris Huhne for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats. I'd be very happy with both candidates as leader, but I am much more comfortable with Chris Huhne. My reasons are several:

1. Experience. I believe Chris Huhne has more experience of politics and the world outside politics. It follows that he is a safer bet for leading the party.

2. Media handling. I believe that Chris Huhne is more skilled at handing the media than Nick Clegg. This may sound surprising but from all reports, Nick Clegg on the World at One last Friday gave an example of how his media handling skills are not completely perfected. Chris Huhne on the other hand has given flawless media appearances whenever I have seen them.

3. Passion for liberalism. I have heard and watched both candidates speaking. Huhne comes across as the more passionate liberal. I do not warm to Nick Clegg as much. Chris Huhne has an innate passion for liberalism which I don't see in Nick Clegg as much.

4. Style. I prefer Chris Huhne's style. I think Nick Clegg's style seems somewhat manufactured and skin deep. He comes across as a bit of a clone.

In essence, I feel that Chris Huhne is most suited to lead the Liberal Democrats.

A most perplexing matter

Richard Benyon MP (Conservative) made a statement in the House of Commons on 9th October regarding the leader of Newbury Town Council, Councillor Ian Grose (Liberal Democrat) and an invitation to a “welcome home” reception for returning troops. The speech is covered in Hansard here and on Newbury Today here, here and here.

In response to a question, Ian Grose made this statement at Newbury Town Council last week, which is recorded in full in the draft meeting minutes here:

Richard Benyon’s statement in the House of Commons about me and my supposed lack of support for the troops who have been on operations abroad is completely untrue. The record needs to be set straight.

I fully support our troops when they are deployed on any operation, at home or abroad, or on training or exercise anywhere in the world. He would have found this out very quickly if he had bothered to contact me, which he hasn’t. He has instead chosen to rely on an internal council e-mail from me to the Mayor’s office, on which he has put an entirely false interpretation.

Mr Benyon directly accuses me of not being prepared to recognise the efforts of our troops by providing public funding for a reception. He is completely wrong. Newbury Town Council has provided taxpayers’ funds through its civic budget for the Mayor to use for just such purposes. As I pointed out in my email, adequate funding for the reception already exists, and only awaits the Mayor’s say-so.

I worked for many years in direct support of military personnel and operations at home and abroad, and have the highest respect for serving and retired military personnel. There is a clear distinction between support for the failed war in Iraq (Britain's part in which, incidentally, would never have happened had it not been for the headlong Conservative enthusiasm for it in 2003) and supporting both our troops in the field, and their families left behind. I am just as able to draw that distinction as Mr Benyon is.

The Newbury Weekly News this week has a further report which is also on Newbury Today. It adds an intriguing twist to the matter. In answering questions about his role in forwarding to Richard Benyon MP an internal council email (which initiated the episode), the Mayor of Newbury, Councillor Adrian Edwards (Conservative) is recorded as saying, amongst other points, these three things:

1. That he (Adrian Edwards) didn’t speak to Richard Benyon about the email concerned prior to the 9th October Commons statement. “He (Edwards) said he received “no comment” from the MP either verbally or in written form”.

2. “Mr Edwards said that Mr Grose had made it “quite clear” that he supported the idea of a welcome reception."

3. “I was very surprised when he (Mr Benyon) made a comment like that”, Mr Edwards is recorded as saying.

It therefore appears that what has happened here is this. Richard Benyon received an internal council email. The email clearly gave the council leader’s backing for the reception for returning troops. It said, in terms, that the reception should be covered from the council's civic budget. This has always been the process since the council was established in 1997. There are sufficient funds in this budget for a sumptuous reception with wine, canapés, Town Crier in full ceremonial garb, use of the august surroundings of the Council Chamber etc etc. The wrong conclusion seems to have been drawn from an irrelevant personal side remark made later in the email.

If Mr Benyon had checked the situation with the council leader or the Mayor (it seems from the remarks in this week’s NWN), or indeed, anyone with a basic grasp of council finance, he would have been put straight. Instead, Mr Benyon went and made his statement to parliament.

It is very puzzling as to why he did this. I don’t think this matter should be left where it is at the moment. Given Adrian Edwards’ remarks in the “Newbury Weekly News” this week it would appear that the ball is now in Richard Benyon’s court. Even the Mayor of Newbury, a stalwart dyed-in-the-wool Tory, is saying that the council leader supported the reception, which implies that, therefore, Mr Benyon's statement to parliament was completely wrong. The time would appear to be ripe for Mr Benyon to acknowledge this and put the parliamentary record straight.

What did happen in that tent?

With his usual breathlessness, Iain Dale tells us today in the Telegraph:

Over the past year, the Conservatives have been discreetly "love-bombing" a group of about a dozen free-market-oriented Lib Dem MPs. It's been so discreet that, in some cases, the Lib Dems didn't even realise it was happening. Ed Vaizey, the clubbable Tory MP for Wantage and close Cameron acolyte, has been deputed to be in charge of Operation Lovebomb.

He even shared a tent with Nick Clegg on a week-long trip to the Arctic, such is his devotion to the task. No one should underestimate the importance of cross-party personal relationships when it comes to political negotiations.

Fascinating...except that Ed Vaizey's account of this inter-marquee love bombing attempt, via Tara Hamilton Miller in the New Statesman, suggests no consummation. Far from it:

One Tory more than familiar with Clog is the Conservative pin-up and shadow minister for culture, Ed Vaizey. He spent six gruelling days with the Liberal Democrat lovely, trekking to the Arctic with huskies (Tory canine of choice). The experience is clearly fresh in his mind.

"Nick's a lovely guy but he's terribly vain. For the entire trip he harped on about how he was number one in a Sky poll of 'Most Fanciable MPs' and that I was only number nine. We shared an igloo and the intimate, bonding evening chat was based on how good-looking he is. I was referred to only by my fanciability ranking of number nine," Vaizey says. "Oh, did I say he's a roaring Sloane and he talks in his sleep?"

Tories trying to have it both ways on the NHS

It was good to see Oliver Letwin in very rude health on BBC TV News last night. It would be going too far to describe his appearance as "florid" but it seemed to getting that way. He was captioned as the Conservative "head of policy" (I would be worried about that title if I were a Tory - it means he can prognosticate on anything and everything).

He was talking about the supposed "deep clean" of hospitals and complaining that the government will not be keeping a central record of the success or otherwise of the cleaning operations - they'll be leaving it up to the hospital trusts to manage the operations.

Hang on a minute. The Tories can't have it both ways. They are constantly telling us that there should be less centralised control of the NHS and more decisions taken at a local level, and then they complain about one of the few things that the government is leaving to local trusts to manage.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Guiliani the traitor

Let me know if I have missed any nuances here. I am more of a cricket fan (or at least I know where Silly Mid-on is).

I would have thought that the one thing Rudy Guiliani would do is stay true to New York. It's the city he walked around on 9-11, for goodness sake. But in order to try to be US President, he has, horror of horrors (apparently - so I'm told) said that he is rooting for the Boston Red Sox.

Cue: H.M.Bateman cartoon: The ex-New York Mayor who said he was rooting for the Boston Red Sox. I wish I could draw.

Ming's masterstroke

David Cameron has now hoisted himself by his own petard. He's had to admit that once Brown/Parliament have ratified the latest EU Treaty, it will be 'too difficult' to hold a retrospective referendum.

So, that's that issue neutralised, in that Cameron will be unable to use it as a campaigning issue in the run-up to the general election. Also he is now under fire from the Europhobes in his party for this latest admission. Marvellous! I love it when a plan falls apart.

So, the Liberal Democrats are now the only party proposing any form of referendum on the EU. That is on the whole issue of our membership of the EU - out or in. Yes or no.

By the way, I think this position is subject to ratification by the whole party. But certainly Ming, Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg have all rejected a referendum on the EU Treaty and proposed a referendum on membership. The latter two confirmed this on Sunday on The Andrew Marr Show thus:

ANDREW MARR: Would either of you give this country a referendum on the European Treaty?
CHRIS HUHNE: No, but I do think we need a referendum on the big issues.
NICK CLEGG: Absolutely.

So, perhaps Ming should be thanked for a masterstroke here, after all, bless him. It's turned out that (once the treaty is ratified) Cameron hasn't got anything to campaign on, and has been left with Europhobes in his party fuming at him, while the LibDems emerge as the only party, post ratification, proposing a referendum on the EU.

Oh, actually, perhaps Cameron has got something to campaign on. He could campaign as the leader of the party who refused Britain a referendum when it actually mattered (i.e on Common Market entry in the first place, on the Single European Act and on the Maastricht treaty) but instead promised us a faux-referendum on a revising treaty which was only significant when you add it as an increment to all the other treaties since Rome.

Dave becomes Bryllcreem Boy

Our Dave unveiled a new look at his press conference yesterday. Slicked back hair. As with everything to do with Cameron's presentation, there must be some sort of significance of this move, but currently the precise nature of it eludes me.

The new Northern Ireland?

In reaction to the killing of Paul Quinn by suspected former IRA members, the Unionist politicians in Northern Ireland have been fairly muted, talking about needing to wait for the investigation's results etc etc.

This is a welcome contrast to the pre-deal era when, by now, our blood would have been curdled by Ian Paisley in classic "IRA/Sinn Fein outrage" mode. I suppose this reveals the febrile and somewhat immature behaviour of some politicians pre-deal, while highlighting a welcome change in atmosphere post-deal.

Slugger O'Toole highlights an interesting article in the Irish Times (subscription required) by Gerry Moriarty which concludes about the killing:

This is a test of whether policing can work in the Borderlands. If it doesn’t then we could end up with a situation similar to that pertaining after the murder of Robert McCartney: then the so-called dogs in the street knew who was responsible but so far no one has been convicted of his murder.

Numerous people spoke to the PSNI in relation to McCartney but the necessary evidence to nail the killers was not forthcoming. If the same applies after Quinn’s death then notwithstanding the great political progress to date the question will be asked, does the writ of criminality run in south Armagh or do republicans have the influence to help bring killers to book?

Hurray for the new Poland!

Working with and liking numerous Poles, I am delighted that Poland has, in the words of the Guardian, rejected "populism and xenophobia in favour of pro-Europe liberal conservatives". Well, anyone except Kaczynski is great in my book.

I'm reminded of Duncan Borrowman's piece on the contribution made by Polish pilots in the Battle of Britain. We have a lot in common with the Poles. It's great they have rejected at least one half of the laughable Kaczynski twins, in favour of being part of the wider world.

Nick Clegg web site sorted

The emergency battleship grey background has gone. All the normal web site bits are now there. It's even got different pictures on the home page when you come back to it after going deeper into the menu! Oooooooo!

Well done Team Clegg!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Are the Tories cr***ing themselves about Clegg?

Well, I have already torn a strip off Team Clegg for their website today, so this will redress the balance.

I have a soft-spot for UK Daily Pundit. It's probably because he or she (any ideas anyone?) has the decency to read the occasional post on this blog and make the odd comment. Thank you UKDP. But he/she are also quite freewheeling. Iain Dale has him/her/them down in the Conservative Top 100, but the blog describes itself as a "centre-right blogger with no party affiliation".

Thanks to UKDP for alerting me to an article today by Tim Hames, chief leader writer of the Times.

Hames comments on the post-"Chicken Saturday" scenario thus:

It has led to the Prime Minister being so humiliated that he could be described as “a phoney” by David Cameron in the House of Commons, which is not unlike being condemned as ugly by a frog.

...The Conservative Party has convinced itself that it has recovered by returning to its traditional issues - crime, tax, Europe and immigration. ... This is the strategy with which Mr Cameron is now stuck for the next two or three years; the opposite in tone and content from what he had originally intended. Mr Cameron's future has been defined for him ...

Which is what makes the likely elevation of Nick Clegg to the leadership of the Liberal Democrats so dangerous for the Tories. He will combine a likeable personality and a moderate set of policies with the willingness to occupy the political space that Cameron Mk I aimed for but Cameron Mk II has vacated.

Leadership campaign websites: Huhne 1 Clegg 0

I am still undecided and trying to act dispassionately. But take a look at Chris Huhne's leadership campaign website, and then visit Nick Clegg's.

Chris' site is the full enchilada.
Nick's has the look of a temporary placeholder complete with "emergency" battleship grey background. And I thought he has Richard Allan helping him!

Come on Nick and Nick's team. Surely one of the issues of this campaign is who can make best use of modern campaigning techniques. You've had a week to put a decent website together and you have FAILED! Get your act together.

The myth of anonymity

Toby Philpott has flagged up a case where a court obliged a website to reveal the identities of some anonymous contributors. I have recently put a gentle warning on my sidebar to point out that "anonymous" contributors are not actually anonymous. Of course, I can see their IP address and, in extremis, Internet Service Providers have been known to be made to reveal the identity of IP addressees.

I think most people know that. But it has amazed me recently that some people don't. I have had comments made by people where I can see the name of their employers. For example, someone made a comment on a case which might come to court. Their IP address was registered under an international law firm. Did they really want me to know who they worked for?

Another example involved a political comment. The "anonymous" commenter made the comment from a computer belonging to a district council. I presume they didn't realise I would be able to see this.

When I warned one commenter about me seeing their IP address, they said it was a bit like saying "I know where you live". Well, of course, it isn't. But it does represent a little redressing of the balance. People sometimes come in, all bullish, and make comments thinking that no one will have a clue where they are coming from. If it is pointed out that this isn't the case, it is amazing how this injects a useful element of humility into the debate.

I had a classic example once. Someone swore at me repeatedly in some comments about religion. They repeatedly tore into me. However, they were then big enough to give me a little information about themselves. With this, their IP address details and a bit of googling I was able to find out who they were and also their taste in drink, music and nightclubs. I did not reveal their identity, but it is amazing how their remarks took on some welcome humility when they realised I knew who they were.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The food for thought continues...

I am still undecided on the leadership race. We have two excellent candidates declared at the moment. We really are fortunate. But making up my mind between them is difficult. You can't really put a fag paper between them on most criteria.

Thanks to the anonymous commenter who kindly pointed me in the direction of Nick Clegg's 2006 speech advocating a Great Repeal Act (Click below if you want to see it). I didn't originally see this speech, so it was rewarding to finally watch it. It is a superb speech, as many people have said. I notice that this is Clegg before he adopted the annoying lectern-free stalking and hand waving of David Cameron (which we saw in his Sheffield launch speech).

There is a fascinating video of the two candidates here on Newbury Today. It shows the two candidates talking directly to the camera outside the South Central regional conference last Saturday. They are remarkably direct performances with each candidate giving their "pitch". It's cut so you get bits of each candidate in turn to compare them. Nick Clegg speaks very passionately whereas Chris Huhne speaks quite softly and (almost) confidentially.

Chris Huhne is an excellent speaker and has a remarkably strong economics background. He also has considerable experience of business, journalism and parliaments. He does not have that same sharpness of communication skills which Clegg seems to have.

Nick Clegg also has experience of journalism and parliaments, but less of it. If I have one concern it is, Clegg's relative lack of experience in comparison to Huhne.

They are both undoubtedly innate liberals with lots of passion. The "Cameron copy" doesn't wash because Clegg is a liberal. Cameron isn't. If Clegg is a copy of anyone it is David Steel (leader at 38) or Jeremy Thorpe (leader at 38) or Charles Kennedy (leader at 40). All of those were youngish, with good communication skills when they became leaders.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A balanced couple of comments

I am still hoping they'll be more candidates, but I am carefully considering the ones declared so far. Here goes with two studiously balanced comments on the candidates so far in strict alphabetical order.

Nick Clegg - I am looking for his "Great Reform" speech on video. Does anyone know where I can find it? I have read and watched his launch speech in Sheffield. The words are good and I like the message to stretch out to new voters. The really big, big, big problem I have is with what the speech looks like. He is basically copying the mode of Cameron's speech to the Tory faithful at Blackpool. Glimpsing at notes on lectern, walking away from lectern, lots of hands...Nooooooooooooooooooo please! Not a Cameron copy! Nooooooooooooooooo!

Chris Huhne - I supported him for the last contest and have seen him speak passionately here in Newbury. He appeared on Daily Politics and I like his defence of the EU Treaty/referendum position. But those teeth?! Obviously a couple of grand's worth of whitening and other work. Nooooooooooooooooooo please! Not a US presidential style set of teeth type scenario! Nooooooooooooooooo!

PS. You'll notice I was careful to have the same number of "o"s for each candidate.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Clegg and Huhne speaking at South Central regional conference tomorrow

Both Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne (using strict alphabetical order, of course) will be speaking at the South Central regional Liberal Democrat conference tomorrow.

The conference (Theme: "Building Vibrant communities") starts at 9:45am (Registrations open from 9.00 am) and closes at 5pm. There are debates on"Affordable Housing", "Podiatry", "Flooding" and "Democratic Accountability in Regional Government" and keynote speeches from Andrew Stunell MP, Sandra Gidley MP and Baroness Scott, as well as lots of training sessions and fringe meetings.The venue is Park House School, Andover Road, Newbury, RG14 6NQ. It issituated on the A343 which runs to the South West out of Newbury.

Alan Coren 1938-2007

Stumbling about on the Radio Four website I saw the announcement of the death of writer and broadcaster, Alan Coren. That's very sad. He was an extremely witty man both on air and in his writings. He used to be able to conjure with words to brilliant effect. He also came across as genuinely affable.
Here are a few of his best quotes:
Democracy consists of choosing your dictators after they've told you what you think it is you want to hear
I wonder sometimes if manufacturers of foolproof items keep a fool or two on their payroll to test things.
Since both its national products, snow and chocolate, melt, the cuckoo clock was invented solely in order to give tourists something solid to remember it by.

Stop it being a Two horse race

There is a Facebook group, run by a LDYS member, called "I want more than a Two horse race". Paul Pettinger is organising a letter to all MPs (see text below). If you want to be a signatory on this letter, please contact Paul via the group (he is admin officer in the right hand column or his email address is just below the top text box) before 11am today. You don't have to be a LDYS member to do this, just a LibDem member.


Re: Liberal Democrat Party Leadership Election

Liberal Democrat Youth and Student members are excited by the forthcoming leadership election and many are already actively supporting Nick and Chris.We are however saddened that, so far, only two, fairly similar MPs have announced their candidature. As a party which celebrates diversity and plurality of choice, it seems incongruous with our values that we only have the choice between two candidates who are white, male and middle-aged. Both were educated at Oxbridge, Westminster school and both contributed to the Orange book. We implore you, as a parliamentary party member, to stand up for democracy and consider supporting a wider range of candidates.Our party needs healthy debates on a broad range of liberal issues to ensure we are able to choose a leader who we can be proud to support for many years to come. This should not be a two horse race.If you are already supporting one of the candidates, you have nothing to lose from widening the pool and supporting another: under our STV electoral system factional votes (i.e. the left wing, green or youth votes) can’t be split. We have nothing to fear from more candidates. We believe that both the mandate of the winning candidate and the party as a whole will be strengthened from a wider debate.Yesterday, we set up a Facebook group called “I want more than a 2 horse race”. Within 24 hours we had XXX members, all Liberal Democrats. Young members are the future of the party. We believe in democracy, plurality of choice and diversity. We believe that you do too.

Please support our campaign for a wider field of candidates in the Liberal Democrat leadership race.

Yours sincerely,

Thursday, October 18, 2007

One of the LibDems greatest strengths

It is a bit ironic, this one.

But we actually have, in my view, the most formidable array of ex-leaders available to any party in the country. (I know - ha ha).

Charlie-boy was particularly impressive on Question Time tonight. He gave a remarkably powerful and impassioned answer to the question: "What are the LibDems for?"

His stature grows the more he emphasises that he is not standing for the leadership and that he is settling into his role as a former leader.

Well done Charlie.

PS. Melanie Phillips.........................interesting...............a sort of "Talking Daily Mail".

Could you give us a little more time, Paddy?

While it is always good to read an article by the Padster, it would be nice to have a little more time for candidates to assemble themselves, and for a little quiet reflection, and a little more, perhaps, "brain in neutral" time before we start to get the great and good acting as railway guards to shepherd us down one particular railway line.

So the party's next leader needs not only to be a skilful communicator who can make the Liberal message relevant to the modern age, but also to possess the intellect and the vision needed to develop and define that message. They then need the skill, the energy and the burning ambition necessary to take the party, and the country, with them.

There is only one person, in my judgment, who displays all these qualities. That person is Nick Clegg. It is well known that he has an extraordinary ability to communicate. In an age of 24-hour media attention, that is obviously important. What is perhaps less well-known - for now - is that he is also a man of real substance and conviction.

Yes, all good stuff Paddy. But give us a chance for the dog to see the rabbit, mate!

Please give John Hemming a chance...and someone else!

With great dismay, I have viewed the disappearance from the field of many possible leadership candidates. I cannot think of anything more appalling than two middle-aged, middle class, public school-educated white men going around the country as apparent examples of the best the LibDems have to offer. (And before anyone complains, I was public school-educated so I think I am entitled to complain about over-representation of my consolidated alumnae).

It's a scandal. For goodness sake, wake up MPs and sign up at least one or two more candidates. It is dreadful that Susan Kramer didn't stand. She is such a great ambassador for the party - but then look at me, I didn't do anything to try to persuade her to stand, but then again there seemed to be a window of only some three nano-seconds between Ming's resignation and the whole thing closing down to two candidates. Blink and you missed it. (...and yes I know I talked about "a JFK or RFK" figure - I have should have added "or Hilary Clinton or Barack Obama figure" - many apologies).

I know he is another white, middle-aged etc etc, but can some MPs PLEASE PLEASE sign John Hemming's nomination?! The man has what is known as chutzpah or round spherical objects. (And he is a faithful blogger). Anyone who can include a plea for a proper debate on Deontology vs Consequentialism in his leadership positioning statement deserves a place on the hustings stand if only to keep up the good old liberal tradition of free thought.

Bloody, bitter battle or that Horlicks moment?

Nick Robinson asks if the LibDem leadership contest will be "A bloody and bitter battle?"

To be fair, this is how he is summarising the prediction of "leading LibDems". (Ah, those "leading LibDems" again, they get everywhere).

It is unclear to what extent the rest of Robinson's post is supposed to answer the title question. He goes on to describe how Chris Huhne said that Ming had fallen "victim of the Camelot obsession" and that this was a dig, Nick Robinson seems to be implying, at Nick Clegg.

If this is meant to be an indication of a "bloody and bitter battle" to come, then pull up your armchairs, put on your slippers and swig down a large mug of Horlicks.

It could be a long night.

My reply to Iain Dale

Iain Dale has commented good-naturedly on the posting I wrote yesterday entitled "EXCLUSIVE: Iain Dale will choose the next LibDem leader". It would be a shame for his comment to be buried in the comments field, so here it is:

Now now, I thought I had written quite a thoughtful piece! I meant that the new leader shouldn't try to copy Cameron in style. Whoever it is will need to develop their own narrative.

Fair enough Iain and thank you for reading my post and commenting on it. Yes, your posting was a thoughtful piece and I agree that the "distinctive narrative" of the next LibDem leader is key. But I think you underestimate the disgust with which many LibDems regard David Cameron's unctuous and contemptibly superficial "style". I have to turn the TV off every time he comes on, to avoid apoplexy. But of course, you think this "style" appeals to the masses - I disagree.

You say we shouldn't copy Cameron because: "No one does David Cameron better than David Cameron". (One might say more accurately that "no one tries to do a cheap copy of Tony Blair worse than David Cameron") The way many LibDems look at this is that no one comes across as a too-slick-by-half PR man as much as David Cameron, so why the heck would we want to copy him?

So, yes, it was a thoughtful piece, Iain, but the "send-up" nature of my post was born out of incredulity and astonishment at your assumptions. Quite frankly, many of us in the LibDems think David Cameron is an utter joke and we would run a thousand miles not to "copy" his "style". So, to be told not to copy it, by your good self, was something which seemed to merit an attempt at a humorous, if cutting, response.

Do I "protesteth too much"? Did your post actually hit a raw nerve, revealing a hidden sub-conscious primeval desire, buried deep within me, to have David Cameron as the leader of the Liberal Democrats?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Speaker Ming?

Nick Assinder raises the prospect of Ming as Speaker of the House of Commons. I can think of no finer person for the job. There is, I suspect, no more suitable role to utliise Ming's undoubted sound judgment, parliamentary experience and integrity.

There is a slight problem. The job is not currently vacant.

EXCLUSIVE: Iain Dale will choose the next LibDem leader

Fun and games over at Iain Dale's Diary. "The LibDems must not copy Cameron" he says.

There appears to be a tone of desperation in there. I can imagine dear Iain stamping his foot as he wrote the words "must not". Excuse me while I recover from the laughter..... This was the man who a few days ago was telling us to re-elect Charlie boy as leader. Such great advice.

By "must not copy Cameron", presumably Iain means that the new LibDem leader mustn't write the most right wing manifesto in modern British political history one year, then go all soft and wimpish the next year and then go back to being a "hit 'em hard" Tory right winger the year after that.

World thrown into crisis as Menzies Campbell resigns

Well it made me laugh.

Paxo stuffs himself

There was a priceless interview on Newsnight last night. Paxo got Jeremy Browne on with Steve Webb and seemed to be endeavouring to set up a sort of policy "rats in a sack" debate. You might call it an attempted "wonks in a sack" argument. So, Paxo raised about three points of policy and seemed to be expecting Jeremy and Steve to be at each other's throats and tearing each other's hair out within seconds.

Instead, there came wholehearted agreement from the two LibDems.

Oh dear.

Paxo's balloon was deflating by the second, accompanied by, to his credit, self-deprecating remarks about the wisdom of the "let's get them fighting" interview strategy.

What had me squealing with glee (I am sorry, I have to take my pleasures where I can) was when Paxo, being somewhat flummoxed as to how to continue the interview, allowed a pregnant pause which Jeremy Browne, with admirable bullishness, filled by saying something about another subject which he wanted to talk about. It was an initiative which Paxo gratefully allowed to continue, because he obviously didn't have a clue what else to say.

It was a remarkable example of a Paxo interview collapsing in a heap and control of the interview passing to one of the interviewees.

In the end, Paxo managed to tease out an admission of a "fag paper's" difference of approach from Webb and Browne on the arcane minutiae of some policy area which was so obscure that it has already escaped my memory.


A hole in the sock market

For those of you who were wondering, the Ming sock thing seems to have started in the Times and continued via Kevin Maguire in the News Statesman (unless you know of an earlier reference).

Strictly speaking, the articles centred not on Ming's socks but on whether he wore what I believe are called "sock garters". I think there are still a few tailors who will supply such articles.

Anyway, it is fascinating that Gordon Brown's socks have also been the subject of earnest political articles both in the Guardian newsblog and via a (nearly) full page spread, complete with large photo, in one of the Sunday tabloids. The Daily Mirror and the Independent also covered the Brown sock story. Sock aficionados may like to note that this particular story focused on the fact that Gordon Brown paid £14 a pair for a batch of socks. Many will no doubt be reassured to learn that these were of "the thick, ribbed, long, comfy type". Well worth the money, then.

But I detect a vast gaping hole in this apparently thriving sock journalism market.

No one has yet written anything about David Cameron's socks! Surely there must be a young, ambitious journalist who is researching this very topic as we speak.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Surprise? Really?

The BBC and others have described Ming's decision as a "surprise".

While I am gratified that the description "surprise" at least gives some leeway for Ming's decision to be regarded as his own in respect, at least, to its precise timing, I am surprised that the "media" are surprised.

In Brighton at the conference last month, Ming gave 70 media interviews and was asked about his age in every single one of those interviews. (I might add that when Ming was interviewed by the LibDem Blogger of the Year shortlisters, none of us asked him about his age - according to my notes and recollection).

So, why the "surprise"?

In their last 70 interviews with the press, have the media challenged Delia Smith, Dick Cheney, Nick Nolte or Bob Dylan about their age? They are, you guessed it, the same age as Ming.

Many individual members of the media are hugely intelligent and discerning. But, and I don't judge whether this is good or bad, there is a "pack behaviour" thing with the media these days related to the "narrative" which it collectively attaches to any given subject at any given time. This pack behaviour can be, at times, described as absolutely brainless.

If anything ended Ming's leadership career, it was the "narrative". Political death by narrative.

Thank you Ming

Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it - Shakespeare, Macbeth

Charles Anglin used this quote on the comments at LibDem Voice and I couldn't think of any quote more fitting (relating, of course, to political party leadership 'life') for Ming's departure.

Paddy put it most eloquently on Today this morning. This is Ming's day.

Amidst the bundle of emotions of the last few days (including, frankly, feeling a bit unworthy myself) my respect for Ming is overwhelming and increased by the courageous manner of his departure.

Of all the various political figures of whom I have knowledge, I know of no figure with such high integrity, unswerving decency and noble dignity.

He has been, and will no doubt continue to be, an outstanding and remarkably selfless servant of British Liberalism.

Monday, October 15, 2007

...As the burnished chariot of fate is wheel-clamped by the traffic warden of eternity....

(Humphrey Lyttelton, 26 Nov 1994 "I'm sorry I haven't a clue")

Today I have sent this open letter to Ming.

Dear Ming

Following my private note to you on Friday, I am writing this open letter to you, after much reflection and listening.

I believe it is time for you to stand down as Liberal Democrat leader and allow a calm handover to a new leader.

To explain this, it is best to borrow an athletic allegory with which you will be familiar. I remember seeing an old black and white film of you running in a relay race. The thing about relay races is that each runner has his or her own length to run, they are part of the team, they have to hand over the baton carefully to the next runner and all the runners get medals and share in the glory, if they win. Each runner is chosen to run each distance based on his or her particular abilities.

That’s where we are. We are at the time, I believe, where there needs to be a handover to the next leader. This is not, in my opinion, any reflection on how you have conducted yourself. I believe you have been superb leader. I am particularly appreciative of the way you have built up our policy platform. You have negotiated the development of our policies with remarkable skill. Today we have our best tax policies for several generations. It is just time for a change.

I make no criticism of your leadership. In fact, I have nothing but praise for you. Your two conference speeches have been electrifying. You have done very well on your public appearances. You have reminded us all of the importance of integrity, decency, dignity and honesty in British politics. For that I am most grateful to you.

With best wishes

Tories have to give back £8.3M

Oh dear. Poor Tories! They have to give back a £8.3M donation after a judge ruled that the donor would not have given the donation had he been "of sound mind".

I suppose it is not the first time that someone who gives money to the Conservative party has been accused of being "deluded and insane". Warf! Warf!

Blair: Statesman or Poodle?

Every so often a little voice emerges speaking what seems to be overwhelming common sense.

John Dugard, UN Human Rights envoy in the Palestinian territories, was on Today this morning. He was basically saying that the UN's independence is being compromised by its membership of the Middle East "Quartet". This is due, he says, to the Quartet not sufficiently condemning the building of the Israeli Wall and supporting Fatah at the expense of Hamas. He says the Quartet is "heavily influenced" by the US.

One wonders where this leaves Tony Blair. His retirement role as Middle East envoy for the Quartet was meant to restore any reputation he might have once had as an independent international statesman. These comments from Mr Dugard suggest that Blair's role is really an extension of his career as George Bush's pet poodle.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Wanted: Shining knight or knightess on white charger

Lord Falconer has called on Gordon Brown to outline his "vision for the future of the UK".

I am sure Gordie is poised with his notebook, at this moment, and dialling up George Osbourne to ask him what his (Gordon's) vision for the country should be.

I don't agree with William Hague. Well, then again, I would never take a blind bit of notice what that bleater says anyway. But when Hague says that the "tectonic plates" in politics have"shifted" in favour of the Conservatives, he really is talking the most unutterable balderdash.

The polls are going up and down with such volatility that British politics is currently more like a melting pot than a geological scenario. Currently, the melting pot is tinged blue but next week it could quite easily turn another colour.

Cameron's speech wasn't the Gettysburg address. I was impressed at how he memorised it and delivered it very smoothly. But that's the point. Smooth. Too smooth by half. I can't remember anything he said. There was nothing earth shattering in it. As a piece of rhetoric it was like bathing in warm blancmange.

And the Osbourne tax package was a fiscal back-scratching exercise. It "covered" less than 0.5% of government spending. It really was full of holes and was nothing fundamental. The fact that it has put the Tories ahead in the polls is more a reflection of the brittle state of the public mind at the moment, rather than any reflection of the greatness of little Georgie's brilliance.

The Brown honeymoon has ended with breathtaking suddenness. Even more breathtaking, he has ended it himself. It's like a classic tragedy. The fatal flaw of the hero has caused his downfall (perhaps - to be continued).

But a government isn't founded on a smooth speech, a fiscal 1/2 pound of pick n' mix and a pilgrimage to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But what is absolutely striking in the current political scene is the "cosy consensus". After apparently swallowing the inheritance tax and non-doms initiatives, it is astonishing that Brown is looking as though he will accept that there is a "moral case" (as outlined yesterday by Andy Burnham) for giving an advantage to married couples in the tax system. This really would be the white flag hoisted by Brown.

I am reminded of a short piece by Iain Dale recently when he quoted a priest who went to University with Gordon Brown. The quote included these words:

I think the media wildly overestimates his intellectual ability. Unlike genuinely brilliant political economists such as Peter Jay, Brown has always had difficulty in seeing the big picture. This has resulted in him constantly falling foul of the ‘law of unintended consequences’. He is also a classic bully and has tormented the underlings around him but is nowhere to be seen when courage is required. Will Brown take the big, tough decisions as Prime Minister? Don’t make me laugh!

Fascinating. I think we have all been taken in by Brown to a certain degree. I certainly have been. But it seems obvious that he is not as clever as I thought ( be continued).

But this raises the question: Who is going to challenge the "cosy consensus"?

Who indeed. See earlier post.

...and so, as the vanquished charwoman of time begins to Shake'N'Vac the shagpile of eternity...

Humphrey Lyttelton "I'm sorry I haven't a Clue", Chester, 10th December 1994.

Yes, I believe the time has come. I have been one of Ming's strongest supporters. I remain a great admirer of his. I think he is considering things this weekend. I believe now is the time for him to step down gracefully and hand on the baton to the next generation.

I say this not because of recent nonsense in the press, which has been relatively sporadic and muted. I say it having spoken to and corresponded with friends I respect in the party. Now is the time for renewal in preparation for a general election in 18 months time.

Now is the time that we (the country and the Liberal Democrat party) need a JFK or an RFK.

PS. I certainly don't mean a "CK" by the way.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Friday, October 12, 2007

Kelvin MacKenzie gets his comeuppance

The real Iain Dale raised the issue of Kelvin MacKenzie's attack on Scots entrepreneurship last night.

The BBC now reports that a considerable battery of fire is being aimed at Mr MacKenzie.

I am delighted. Kelvin MacK has been cruising for a bruising for a long time. He is ignorant. Pure and simple. He thinks that if he shouts it will make his words sound more intelligent and weighty than they actually are.

Telegraph rowlocks on the cowardly custard

It's pronounced "rollocks" - for non-maritime types.

If they can't even get the name of Liberal Democrat Voice right - they repeatedly call it "Liberal Voice" and they don't name the "senior frontbencher" or the "senior LibDem" quoted, and they don't quote many of the NAMED positive comments about Ming on LibDem blogs - only the unnamed or pseudonymous negative ones, why in the name of Sam Hill should anyone take a blind bit of notice of their article?

Look it's very simple. Whoever this "senior frontbencher" is should either have the guts to come out and be named criticising Ming or SHUT UP!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

This won't be quoted in the Independent

Stephen Tall on LibDem Voice has highlighted an article in today's Independent just above the motif saying "Now wash your hands". I don't blame journalists. They have editors on their back and they are lazy just like the rest of us. Why actually try to work out what is going on when you can just quote a blog which fits what your editor wants? Why try to get your head around policy? It's boring rubbish, isn't it?

Jo Hayes wrote a posting called Time to take stock. The salient passage, relative to Ming's skills, read:

The truth is that in the hard world of national politics Ming has had 18 months to gain acceptance as a potential Prime Minister by the general public, but he has not gained it. And I do not believe he is going to gain it by doing a bit of work on his approval ratings. We can argue until we are blue in the face that it is ageist to criticise Ming, but it is not a question of his age. It is a question of his energy levels, of his charisma or lack of it, of whether people are at ease with him, whether they feel he understands the country's problems and their own problems, above all whether he has the mix of qualities to run the country well, the toughness to withstand the sustained stress and pressure of the job, to be good in a crisis or in the series of crises that it is part of the job to cope with. It is a question of the whole man, the whole image, whole myth, even, of a human being considered by others as their potential leader.

I have to resort to that old quote which was, perhaps tentatively, attributed to Voltaire: "I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend, to the death, your right to say it".

In more normal language I think Jo is repeating what is always said about Ming and has always been said. I speak from a different viewpoint. I think he has shown great energy. He works 18 hour days some days. He is extremely sparky in interviews and on the telly, as anyone who has bothered to watch him recently will testify. He is a liberal through and through. A man of great integrity with a track record of leadership (he was a PPC and won in what was a no-hopish seat). He has actually shown great leadership skill in the last year in steering us through big debates such as green taxes and Trident. He has not made any significant mistakes. He has brought on a great team - which is a feat unheard of previously in LibDem leaders. He is well able to act in a crisis as several crises have shown.

He does have charisma and he is very authoritative. He doesn't talk cobblers and people respond to him well (see last week's Question Time). His opinion poll ratings have been increasingly good and at one time, when he had exposure, he was more popular than Cameron. He does have toughness and people are at ease with him. And the things that people complain about (not making a party political broadcast when he is asking Brown questions, for example) actually increase the respect the public have for him, because he is acting like a trustworthy human-being, rather than a slippery politician.

Give him a break! And for the sake of all that's sacred let's start talking about what matters - policy! Did I mention recently that the Liberal Democrats want to decrease the standard rate of income tax down to 16 pence in the pound? 16 pence!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That's the lowest rate since Lloyd George !!!!!!!!!!!!! and more !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Positive step for mental health

With Prozac now showing up in the nation's water supply, there has to be scope for further exploring avenues other than medication.

In many cases of anxiety and depression there is. It's called Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT).

After a remarkably authoritative report from Professor Richard Layard, the government is set to spend £170 million more on "talking treatments" for depression, allowing 900,000 more people to be treated using psychological therapies.

Bearing in mind that more than one million people are currently on incapacity benefit because of mental illness (although of course, not all these are suffering from depression and not all those who are depressed can be effectively treated with therapy), it is clear that this decision comes not a moment too soon - both for the sufferers and for the UK economy.

Cameron: That's the way to do it!

The extent of David Cameron's complete U turn on virtually everything, in the last few months, has been absolutely breathtaking. He has spent the last two months completely contradicting, reneging or soft-pedalling on virtually everything he said and did in the first year he was Tory leader. Just take three examples:

-Teenagers - he went from "we have to show (them) a lot more love" in July 2006 to "hit them where it hurts" in August 2007

-Green issues - he went from hug-a-husky in April 2006 to not even mentioning green issues in his list of priorities in October 2007.

-Politics - he went from promising an end to "Punch and Judy politics" in December 2005 to "That's the way to do it" in October 2007.

With many thanks to Alan Beddow for his PMQ post, which was spot on.

Whither Zac Goldsmith?

One of the most remarkable turn-arounds in the last year has been the dramatic dropping of the green agenda by David Cameron. Hot coals don't come into it.

Up until July this year, Cameron was majoring on green issues. We had the hug-a-husky carbon-fuelled photo op, the shoe chauffeur and the bike and "let sunshine win the day" etc. The bright young thing, Zac Goldsmith was given vast prominence in the Tory diaspora. Cameron's MPs were starting to talk the green talk, with Richard Benyon, for example, saying: "Climate Change is the defining issue of our age....This is our Dunkirk."

Now where are green issues in the Conservative party? They have been demoted to the second tier of policy matters. George Osbourne poured cold water on most of the proposals from the Gummer/Goldsmith commission. When Cameron talked at length about his priorities in Oxfordshire last Saturday, he didn't even mention green issues. He listed his priorities: fighting crime, improving housing, education and the health service, but we didn't get anything on green issues.


One wonders where this leaves Zac Goldsmith. No doubt he is most gratified to be a candidate in a Tory target seat where they are rumoured to spending around £300,000 to try to get him elected. But the recent relegation of green issues by the Camster must be rather concerning for him. After all, Goldsmith does not exactly have a Tory track record, while his green credentials are impeccable.

Today, I was trawling through some old BBC Politics web site pages, as you do (or indeed don't). I found this interview with Goldsmith when he was first appointed as the Tory green guru in January 2006. He did not describe his loyalty to the Tories as inbred or automatic - far from it:

Zac Goldsmith was once quoted as saying the only way he would vote Conservative was if you "drugged" him first. "I can't remember saying that," he protests when we meet at the Chelsea offices of The Ecologist, the magazine he edits, "but it is not a million miles from how I felt".

His "endorsement" (if that is what it was) of David Cameron is fascinating, mainly because it leaves lots of room for future manoevre, if you know what I mean:

I don't know David Cameron very well. I like him. I think you can judge a book by its cover - whoever said you can't is wrong - that's the whole point of nature giving us intuition, instinct and so on. I think the cover is pretty good. I think the people he has got around him, who are helping him to craft this new identity, are good people so I am genuinely enthusiastic about it.

So, there is an obvious question today for Monsieur Goldsmith. Now that you have read the book, do you regret buying it?

11th January 2006 - A tieless Zac Goldsmith outlines his green plans and says how wonderful David Cameron is.

3rd February 2006 - David Cameron is voted one of the world's 100 sexiest men - This is accompanied by a gut-wrenchingly smug picture of David Cameron (above).

6th February - Curb PM's war powers, says Cameron - Proposing to tamper with the Royal Prerogative no less. Accompanied by a tieless Cameron photo.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Comprehensive posterior covering review

Well I suppose it is called a "pre-budget statement" as well as a Comprehensive Spending Review, so Mr Darling can be forgiven for using the occasion to shoot as many of the Osbourne ducks as possible.

The controversial air passenger duty is being axed by 2009. Instead of being levied on individual customers, it will be charged on flights.

Copyright: Liberal Democrat party

I welcome the commitment to increase overseas aid, but it seems we will, on the basis of Darling's announcement on the subject, reach the UN's recommended level 0.7% of GDP in about 2012. How long is that since the UN first made that recommendation? It must be nearly 30 years.

Mr Darling has just announced changes to the inheritance tax system (where the Tories scored a major win last week with their plan to raise the threshold to £1m).
He's not going that far. Instead, the threshold is going up to £600,000 now, and £700,000 by 2010.

That's higher than we proposed (which was £500,000) but it effectively neutralises that whole debate. It is for couples.

The chancellor now moves to non-domiciled residents who avoid paying tax in the UK.
The Conservatives proposed a flat rate of £25,000 to get non-doms to pay tax. Mr Darling tells the Commons that George Osborne's numbers were wrong.
"Instead of raising £3.5bn, it would raise just £650m," he claims, adding that it would deter vital workers like doctors and nurses from moving to the UK.
Instead, he says he will consult on legislation to fix this problem, and may introduce a charge for non-doms who've lived here for seven years, with a higher rate coming in after they've been here 10 years.

Again, that neutralises that one. But he ought to get on with it. Labour have promised to do something about non-doms for years. He is right to slate Osbourne's plan, if perhaps a little too low in his estimate of how much the £25,000 levy will raise.

A doubling of financing for improving the rail network.

Hallejujah - but how much of this is a double, quadruple or quintuple announcement of what we've already been told about - I wonder?

Nothing about stamp duty or married couples, I notice, but Darling is quite right to emphasise that money should go into hospitals and schools rather than giving tax cuts to the already well-off. The question is how well is the money spent? - particularly in the NHS.