Monday, June 30, 2008

Cameron's monkish silence on civil liberties

Ben Brogan notes that Gordon Brown has bitten back at last, specifically concerning David Davis:

Turns out the hero of H&H wrote to the Prime Minister last week, as well as every Cabinet minister and even Keith Vaz, to challenge them to a debate on 42 days and the state of freedom in Britain. He suggested Labour MPs have been gagged on the PM's orders, to stop them engaging with DD. Somewhat suprisingly, Mr Brown has written back with his own challenge to David Cameron:

"Dear David
As you know, Prime Ministers are available once a week at Question Time to debate all the issues of the day, and I was disappointed that you chose to step down as a Member of Parliament in advance of Question Time on Wednesday, 11 June rather than coming to the House to debate with me the issues around the use of CCTV and DNA evidence, and the measures we have taken to protect our national security.
Nevertheless, the leader of your party has the opportunity each week to ask six questions on those issues that caused you to leave his Shadow Cabinet. He has had two such opportunities to date, but he has yet to ask any such question. He has two further opportunities to raise these issues before the 'by-election' on July 10th, and I am sure that if he shares your strong feelings about them, he will not duck those opportunities.
Gordon Brown"

600,000+ people have watched the Heinz Deli Mayo ad on You Tube - is this what Heinz wanted all along?

There are some interesting comments on the Heinz Deli Mayo saga from advertising professionals in the Guardian. One I liked was this one from Marco Rimini of Mindshare:

Of course the ad shouldn't have been pulled. The point of the ad is to use shock to communicate. It's bang on strategy. If it's going to succeed in its objective then why withdraw it? The real issue is, is it a good strategy or a desperate one and should the ad have been approved in the first place?
Is anyone really surprised that there are enough homophobes to generate more than 200 complaints for an advertisement showing two men kissing? If they are, it's doubtful they should be in marketing. This type of communication relies on shock - it's the shock that sells. Withdrawing the ad makes me think that it's just another example of the use of mainstream TV to generate publicity for an ad so it has a healthy afterlife on YouTube. It's not really an ad targeting the mainstream through TV, but a viral ad using TV as a launch platform.

At a rough tot-up of the four versions of the ad which I can find on You Tube, well in excess of 600,000 people have watched the ad so far, so Rimini could well be right.

How to become a Tory MP: "Lick up" to Central Office and "hold your nose"

Conservative Home have published a fascinating guide on how to become a Conservative MP, garnered from submissions from 126 adopted candidates.

Some of the advice can be considered common to people aiming to be MPs from all parties, for example "Don't leave first base without your family's support".

But some of the guidance has a distinctly Conservative flavour.

For example, "Prepare to lose a lot of money". One adopted candidate writes:

Over the last ten years I've spent at least £100,000 getting to this point and I feel lucky. I will be an MP in the first Conservative government of the 21st century but many others have spent tens of thousands and have got nowhere.

Indeed, Conservative Home estimates that the average cost of becoming a Tory MP is £41,500. It seems that part of this money needs to be spent on buying vintage champagne for Conservative Central Office list-wallahs at conference - one candidate wrote:

I was told by a CCHQ employee that if I applied for the seat they would ensure I got an interview. We'll manage the sift for you. It was a person I'd bought champagne at the last Party Conference. It was the best £35 I ever spent in my time in the party.

Also, forget working hard - it's who you know that counts. One candidate says:

Seriously - do some homework - and be seen in the right places - by elections, various events that the area CCHQ staff are at...and the like...don't bother doing 10,15, 20 years working your way up through the ranks gaining experience.

There are some other gems on this same subject:

Lick up to everyone in CCHQ who matters to get on the A list - get the fix in your favour and make sure you're good on the night too.

Hold your nose while you're on your way up. Say nice things to the CCO staff who will lose your CV or put it on the top of the pile. It's nauseating but these people have so much power.Too much power.

Cameron the Trojan horse - by the editor of Esquire

This article by Jeremy Langmead (the editor of Esquire magazine) in this week's Observer is worth a read. It is rather frivolous and anecdotal, but enjoyable none the less. He uses the phrase "Trojan horse" to describe David Cameron, which seems rather apposite.

Thoughts on the Scots

I don't often comment on Scots affairs, even though, as a Celt, I do feel a certain amount of affinity for those north of the border.

Bernard Salmon wrote an excellent post on the demise of "Bendy Wendy" and I also recommend this article by the BBC Scotland's veteran political editor.

But the one opinion I wanted to express is this. Stuff those English numpties who are criticising Andy Murray. If he wins anything in tennis it will because he has real grit and isn't a home counties nice boy. I am delighted that Andy Murray has failed to set alight those home counties twits who inhabited Henman Hill. The reason they are not delirious with hero worship is the very reason he has have a chance of succeeding in tennis.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Heinz: remember salad cream

In 2000 Heinz announced they were withdrawing their Salad Cream from sale due to lack of interest. There was a huge outcry amid vast free publicity for Heinz.

Then, a few months later, they changed their mind (surprise, surprise) and said they would be re-starting their Salad Cream range, albeit rebranded and with a slight change of recipe. Their rethink got gussed it...vast free publicity.

These guys don't do things lightly and they know how to manage a story.

So when they commissioned the advert with a New York deli chef standing in as a "mum", they won't have done it lightly. The advert (below) would have gone through all sorts of checks and approvals.

It's actually very funny, in my view. They've had 200 complaints against it. I suspect they will receive more about the withdrawal of the advert and that we haven't heard the last of this one. Heinz may still emerge "apparently" smelling of roses having made sure that their new Deli Mayo is a sure-fire winner - thanks to loads of free advertising.

To complain about the withdrawal, here are the relevant contact details courtesy of LibDem Voice:

Nigel Dickie, Director of UK Corporate and Government AffairsTelephone: 020 8848 2726
Heinz’s free phone number: 0800 528 5757

I have just emailed Mr Dickie.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Visit to the Guardian - photos

I'll let you into a little secret. I get all weak at the knees at the thought of newspapers. Particularly newspaper offices and printing presses. At an early age, I showed an interest in newspapers. I was particularly fascinated by the Plymouth Evening Herald arriving hot off the presses at 5pm and being chucked onto the hot pavement of the Strand, Bude in front of Tremeers newsagents. The "Stop Press" column used to fascinate me. How did they do it? What is in it today? Oh, it's the "Closing Prices". Never mind. I did have a collection of pristine newspapers somewhere including the Daily Sketch (remember that?), the last issue of broadsheet Sun (yes, it was, sort of, a broadsheet once!), the first issue of the tabloid Sun and copious newspapers covering the first man on the moon.

I was fortunate to have parents who encouraged my interest. They bought me a wonderful book called "Discovering Newspapers" about the adventures of a boy working on a local newspaper in the summer holidays. I still revere it. When I was about 12, my dad took to the offices and press of the Cornish and Devon in Launceston to be personally shown round by the Editor, Mr Arthur Venning. My goodness me. Thrills on sticks. I still treasure the memory. The man who was making up the "hot metal" for the presses made up a little block with my name on it. I still have it somewhere.

I also have a picture of me and my family visiting Fleet Street when they actually produced newspapers there (it was when you could walk up to the door of Number 10, Downing Street -which we did). Later, my brother managed to blag me into Financial Times presses which was great.

So, the invitation recently to attend a meeting at the "Guardian newsroom" was received with quivering hands by yours truly. Thank you Sunny Hundal of Liberal Conspiracy.

It turned out that it was an invitation to the Guardian's "Newsroom", which isn't, funnily enough, a newsroom. Darn it. Never mind. It is actually a exhibition centre just opposite the Guardian main offices in Farringdon Road, London EC1.

Still, I entered into the whole thing with boyish enthusiasm. To prove it here are a series of photos I took of the Guardian, the meeting arranged by Liberal Conspiracy and its surroundings.

In passing, I would very much recommend the exhibition of photographs by the late Don McPhee, which is currently showing at the Guardian's "Newsroom". He was an extraordinarily talented photographer. He could capture a geometrically perfect photo of a split second event. His collection is quite wonderful and includes many memorable photographs, including one of Jeremy Thorpe being interviewed in the Lotus position and Cyril Smith conducting do-it-yourself brain surgery on himself through his eye. (Well, he was just rubbing his eye actually, but it looked as though his finger was going so deep that it was actually entering his brain).

The main Guardian building in Farringdon Road.

The front of the main Guardian building

The reception entrance to the main Guardian building

The Guardian "Newsroom" exhibition centre

The pub just opposite the Guardian - the "Betsey Trotwood". Perhaps the scene of many a post-deadline sup of Brown ale by Guardian journos? Probably not, it is far too obvious to go to the pub opposite for Guardian types. They've probably found somewhere much better nearby.

Some of the LibDem bloggers at the meeting. From left, Mary Reid, Gavin Whenman and Chris Richards.

Exmouth Market, a superb place, just near the Guardian.

Mount Pleasant, the main London Post Office sorting office. At 6pm I saw a queue of people waiting to post letters. A bit weird in a way. A scene you see in towns all over the country, but, in the case of this Post Office, it covers acres and sorts millions of letters and parcels a day.

The Liberal Conspiracy meeting in the theatre of the "Newsroom". Or, more precisely, the rather stern-faced wait for everyone to arrive.

The discussion on Women bloggers, or more accurately, feminist bloggers

Davis to face 25 other opponents including former Conservative MP

The Haltemrpice and Howden by-election really is going to be a unique exercise in the field of circus acts democracy. One of the candidates is Walter Sweeney, former Conservative MP for the Vale of Glamorgan, who intends to take Davis head on concerning 42 days dentention.

Full list of Davis rivals
Grace Astley - Independent
David Bishop - Church of the Militant Elvis Party
Ronnie Carroll - Make Politicians History
Mad Cow-GIRL - The Official Monster Raving Loony Party
David Craig - Independent
Herbert Crossman - Independent
Tess Culnane - National Front Britain for the British
Thomas Darwood - Independent
David Davis - Conservative
Tony Farnon - Independent
Eamonn "Fitzy" Fitzpatrick - Independent
Christopher Foren - Independent
Gemma Garrett - Miss Great Britain Party
George Hargreaves - Christian Party
Hamish Howitt - Freedom 4 Choice
David Icke - No party listed
John NICHOLSOn - Independent
Shan Oakes - Green Party
David Pinder - The New Party
Joanne Robinson - English Democrats: Putting England First
Jill Saward - Independent
Norman Scarth - Independent
Walter Sweeney - Independent
Christopher Talbot - Socialist Equality Party
John Upex - Independent
Greg Wood - Independent

It's time to dump some sacred cows

There have been some interesting blog posts and LDV comments about Henley. Darrell on the LDV thread mentioned doing away with "Winning here". Agreed. It is nauseating.

Tabman asked: “How much time and activists is “enough”? ”

Well, there were 400 activists at the last weekend. I seem to remember nearly 1,000 at the last weekend of the Newbury by-election. I apologise if my memory is playing tricks on me. If it is true that activist turnout was down - why was this?

I am not sure how “hands on” Chris Rennard’s role was at Henley. But any Chief Executive should take a fairly back seat role in such a situation.

We need to consider that Chris Rennard’s old 15 seconds “doormat to dustbin” no longer applies, perhaps. It’s more like 0.5 seconds from doormat pile to recycling bin in some cases. I saw a bloke in Henley-on-Thames come home from work, stand at his door and literally throw thirty pieces of paper straight from picking them up on his doormat into the recycling bin. Not much chance of getting the message through there! People often have their recycling bin on their doorstep now - so there is no time for them to glance at the leaflet while they walk through to the kitchen to put it into the bin. So does one of the fundamental building-blocks of "Rennardism" now no longer apply? As Liberty Alone says, around the year a Focus is likely to be read. But in the heat of a campaign, maybe we need to have less quantity? (Gosh - did I say that? Crikey - I never thought I would).

It is worth considering the comparative turn outs for us in the various areas in Henley constituency. I hear Thame was not good, and we were relying on it. Henley-on-Thames - itself - we were not expecting much of but in the event our turnout was good there. Why was that? Could it be - perish the thought - that our message about Townlands hospital in Henley-on-Thames got through locally there, whereas there was no equivalent "ginger message" in Thame to send people beetling off to the polling booths?

And are we putting enough focus and resource into getting our postal vote proportions up? The Tories consistently beat us here. Why is that - and what can we do to correct it?

I agree with Andy M on the LDV comments thread that we need to place less reliance on by-elections and concentrate on success elsewhere.

We first started inventing ourselves as the little tiddler fish of the parties which won by-elections in the sixties. For a while that's all we did in the public eye - win by-elections. We’re bigger now. It’s time to change our attitude to by-elections so that they are not such an important part of our game plan and such a huge chunk of our self-perception of our party's strength.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Tory MPs call for Spelman to be sacked amid new revelations

Michael Portillo (cue: Knives in back) has called for Caroline Spelman to be sacked as Tory chairman, according to be BBC News 24 (or is it called something else these days?).

Michael Crick says that "a number of Conservative MPs" have approached the 1922 committee with similar requests. (That could mean two MPs, by the way).

Newsnight has now reported further revelations based around Sally Hammond, who, as Spelman's secretary, "shopped" her to the Chief Whip in 1999 about secretarial expenses:

Mrs Hammond could not understand why the MP had so little money available for office expenditure. She was shocked to find that much of the annual Commons allowance was being paid to Mrs Spelman's nanny, Tina Haynes.

As far as she knew, Ms Haynes did little or no secretarial work to justify this.

Mrs Hammond took her complaint to Peter Ainsworth - then, as now, a member of the Conservative shadow cabinet, and for whom Mrs Hammond had once worked.

Sally Hammond is the wife of Tory front-bencher Stephen Hammond which makes this even more embarrassing for Cameron.

Spelman and Conservative Central Office's account of where her (Spelman's) constituency office was in the late 1990s has also started to unravel:

Mrs Spelman's claim that there was no other constituency office was challenged, since documentation shows that her current constituency office over the border in Solihull has always been listed as her office in official directories.

Separately, Janet Parry told Newsnight that when she did a stint of work experience over the summer of 1997, administration work was already being handled by the Solihull office at 2 Manor Road in Solihull.

The Telegraph today headline this story: Caroline Spelman: 'Nannygate' scandal threatens Conservative rift

What I find extraordinary is the defence, laid out by Pauline Neville-Jones on Question Time last night that the money involved is "quite a small amount". You'd think that Conservative politicians would have a little alarm going off in their head when their mouths start forming those sorts of words. "Reality warning" ought to be the message from the brain.

£25,000. A Tory front-bencher calls this "quite a small amount".

Perhaps as well as the price of milk, petrol, bread etc, future Tory spokespeople ought to have something else written down in front of them when they speak publicly. I would suggest:

"£25,000 = a ****ing huge amount of money = winning the lottery for most people"

Luke Akehurst blog comments cause a storm in Hackney

I just happened to spot the front page of the Hackney Gazette the other day. Their lead story is this:


A Hackney councillor has provoked outrage after suggesting a victim of a terrorist attack should support the Counter Terrorism Bill. Chatham ward Labour councillor, Luke Akehurst, wrote the comment on his blog after Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, resigned as an MP over government plans to extend the time suspects can be held in custody from 28 to 42 days.

...Cllr Akehurst suggests that the Labour party should "Find a Martin Bell type candidate - preferably a recently retired senior police officer, or a survivor or relative of a victim of a terrorist attack, to run under the candidate description: 'Independent - for detaining terrorism suspects'". Hackney Conservatives branded Mr Akehurst as "sick" in his "wish to exploit victims of the 2005 terrorist bombing in London." One of the survivors of the attack, Rachel North of Finsbury Park, responded to Mr Akehurst's blog, saying the suggestions had upset her.

Cameron's "worst yet" PMQs performance

I don't watch Prime Minister's Questions. I've got a life and all that. So many thanks to Stephen Tall on LibDem Voice for supplying this little nugget from this week's PMQs:

...the last couple of weeks have seen surprisingly weak performances from David Cameron, who has perhaps been more discomfited by David Davis’s resignation than he would care to admit. Tories may claim this is some cunning attempt to keep Gordon Brown in Number 10: they wish. He seems to have been knocked off his stride, and it’s not gone unnoticed.

Politics Home is a new one on me - run by Shakepeare's sister apparently. They described this week's Cameron PMQ performance as his "worst...yet" and say that Brown has entered a "purple patch" fo PMQ-ery. Clegg did better than Cameron this week, according to their panel.

Henley - a retrospective - Labour come fifth behind the BNP!

Labour come fifth and lose their deposit. Martin Salter is on hand to comment. A bit like the spectre at the feast.

I can't be bothered to give (many) excuses or try to explain things away (much) or blame anyone. These things happen at this point in the electoral cycle and in Henley. We went up 1.7% on 2005.

In many ways "Henley" is a misnomer, as is often the case with constituency names. Henley-on-Thames and Goring, two of the larger towns in the south of the constituency, tend to look to towns in Berkshire as their natural centres, just across the river. Then you have a huge swathe of Oxfordshire north of them with the biggest town, Thame, 35 miles away from Henley-on-Thames itself. All a bit strange. But a lovely part of the world. Rolling countryside and lovely villages. In many places, the peace is uninterrupted by the sort of fast traffic you see in many villages elsewhere.

I was very heartened by a superbly run LibDem campaign. A bit disappointing on posters in the south and 400 volunteers to the last weekend was great - but we got a thousand at Newbury for the last weekend (or is that my memory playing tricks?). And if there were more blogs saying "I've been to Henley" rather than quite a few saying "I can't get to Henley but...", it might have helped.

It was wonderful to see so many keen young people in the LibDem campaign plus lots of familiar faces. Candy Piercey was running the Henley-on-Thames committee room yesterday with her usual precision and cheerfulness. I went to the campaign a dozen times, mostly at the Goring "sub-office".

I don't think the campaign could have done anything more. We had a superb candidate and I feel very sad for those young people who are now knackered and down-hearted. Peckers up chaps! Thanks for your help. Well done team!

Martin Salter accuses LibDems of a "dirty and unpleasant" campaign. Pot. Kettle. He's laying down smoke (or is that B/S?) to evade the huge Labour defeat. Fifth. Behind the BNP! And the Green party! On Gordon Brown's first anniversary!

Politics does involve a bit of free speech and pointing out the weaknesses of your opponent. The Townlands hospital leaflet was true and meticulously well-founded. The Tory legal threat will melt away. It was pathetic anyway.

We move on. But thanks to everyone who helped for a hugely enjoyable campaign.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Mrs Mertonisation of planning debate

Caroline Aherne as Mrs Merton: "Let's have a heated debate"
The Ginger Chipmunk, one Hazel Blears, graced the GMTV sofa this morning. She was talking about her bill to speed up large planning decisions.

There was no pretence. It is quite clear from her remarks that the government will be making a presumption that large projects will go ahead. She talked about cutting down the time for investigating complaints so that it takes less time for the process "to be gone through". "Let's have a proper debate" she said, à la Mrs Merton. But the whole weight of implication of her remarks is that the projects will go through.

That is what is fundamentally wrong about whole conception behind the government's bill. It really does leave us in Douglas Adams "Beware the leopard" territory.

Well done to Ben Shephard for at least challenging Blears, although his interviewing skills are hardly forensic. No questions about her laptop I notice. All Dame Fiona Phillips could come up with was a childish, jokey question about siestas.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Race remarks - another Tory bites the dust

...or at least, has been suspended as a candidate:

(The Conservative candidate) in North Ayrshire and Arran, Philip Lardner, has been suspended after describing Ian Smith, former leader of Rhodesia, as a "British hero who came from the Empire and fought for his country". He added: "I am confident Ian Smith was a good man."

He also said that Enoch Powell's predictions about immigration had "in a small way come true".

This is getting quite repetitive. We had Boris' adviser sacked yesterday for a race remark. Now this fellow. It seems that even mentioning Enoch Powell or Ian Smith, if you a Conservative politician, is an occupational hazard which tends to be (rightly) terminal (see Nigel Hastilow, who had to step down as a candidate after remarks about Powell and Reading Councillor Richard Willis who faced pressure to resigning after commenting about Ian Smith).

But all this has come about because of the inherent contradiction of David Cameron's Conservative party. It's OK to think that Ian Smith or Enoch Powell are your heroes but not OK to say it publicly. Complete hypocrisy. As a result, David Cameron is going around furiously playing a marathon game of "splat the rat" - bashing one race remarker and then another one pops up two days later somewhere else.

John McCain can't use a computer

It appears that John McCain doesn't know how to use a computer (or at least doesn't use one).

Should the US President know how to use a computer?

Well, there have been at least 40 US Presidents who haven't been able to use a computer. So the answer has got to be "no". They have enough staff to avoid it.

But in 2009, one would expect the US President to be fairly computer literate. I would expect the US public to expect their President to at least be able to tap out the odd email and Google something.

As Taegan Goddard observes:

The admission that McCain doesn't use a computer is startling. In 1992, President George H.W. Bush took a beating for not knowing the price of milk as the country slipped into a recession. It's hard to imagine anyone in 2008 electing a president who doesn't know much about a fundamental building block of the modern economy.

If Cameron was PM, would he be in any less brown stuff than Brown?

One wonders whether, if there were a Conservative government, they would be in any less trouble than this Labour government. Yes, there would be a honeymoon period, but if Cameron was now a post-honeymoon Prime Minister, the press would be all over him like a rash with headlines about disaster, gaffes and sleaze just from the stuff that has happened in or to the Conservative party recently (but which has received sotto voce press coverage because they are not in government). I am talking about:

-Serial sleaze stories with five shadow cabinet members and three Conservative MEPs facing allegations

-Cameron's complete cock-up in announcing legal action over Boris' photo at 8am, only for the threat to be withdrawn 8 hours later. A major error of judgment, I'd say.

-Conservative politician race remarks issues - with the rate of these now increasing from one a week to two a week, with Boris' adviser sacked yesterday and Philip Lardner suspended as a candidate today.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Are Tory bloggers embarrassed by Cameron's Henley legal spasms ?

I only ask because, while there was a robust response from LibDem bloggers decrying the stupidity of Camerons legal shenanigans last Friday, the Tory blogosphere has been remarkably silent. I can only find two right-wing blogs making any comment about it on

1. A view from Middle England by Arden Forester says that it was an "own goal with golden boots on".

2. While there was the usual blue-rinsed shrieking on Conservative Home, The Spectator's Coffee House blog was the only blog voice with any sympathy for Cameron's tactics. They seemed to swallow the whole thing hook, line and sinker. They made this interesting observation:

One thing to look out for is whether this damages Tory-Lib Dem relations in the House. That largely depends on whether Nick Clegg distances himself from the Henley campaign. If he does - and I suspect he will - then don't expect too much fall-out.

Ah yes, Nick Clegg is really distancing himself from the campaign isn't he? The BBC reports today that "Mr on his seventh visit to the constituency". Some distance.

Nick Clegg is a chihuahua

...according to a poll, that's how he's most commonly seen.

And that's good:

According to the British Chihuahua Club website the breed generally pays scant regard to a lack of size and "are ready to stand up for themselves even if the opposition is far bigger".

Boris aide forced to quit amidst race remarks row

The Times reports:

One of Boris Johnson’s most senior advisers was forced to resign last night after he plunged the Mayor of London into another racial controversy, saying that immigrant blacks could leave if they did not like the Tory administration.

The remarks were reported by Marc Wadsworth on The

McGrath was far from politically correct, David-Cameron-new- cuddly-Conservative Party, when I pointed out to him a critical comment of Voice columnist Darcus Howe that the election of “Boris Johnson, a right-wing Conservative, might just trigger off a mass exodus of older Caribbean migrants back to our homelands”.

He retorted: “Well, let them go if they don’t like it here.” McGrath dismissed influential race commentator Howe as ‘shrill’.

The "sacking" of McGrath has stirred up a hornet's nest in Toryland, with Iain Dale issuing a very strong condemnation of Boris:

Boris has hung James McGrath out to dry - apparently either with the connivance of or at the behest of the Party leadership - in the most despicable and and cowardly manner possible.

We have the formulaic defence that McGrath, of course, is not a racist and that his remarks were taken out of context. Of course. That is what we are always told in these sorts of circumstances.

Quite frankly, we see these sorts of incidents and comments from the real Tory party every week. They will continue because there is an inherent contradiction between Cameron's attempt to portray the Tories as the new nicey-nicey party and the views of some members of the Conservative party. Cameron is basically trying to wrestle with a tectonic plate which he is trying to get moving in the opposite direction of the way it is going. It is not going to happen in a hurry.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Henley campaign - full steam ahead

...Just back from my tenth visit to the campaign in Henley constituency. I am pleased to say that I received a very warm reception from residents as I went round. We are now going full steam ahead with a new tabloid.

Thanks to everyone who has helped. Please help between now and polling day. Details are here.

How to waste time in an election campaign - BIG TIME

How to waste time in an election campaign, brought to us by your ever-resourceful Conservative party:

1. Spend an awful lot of time huffing and puffing, phoning round, sending letters, getting lawyers involved and generally getting out of your tree about opposition leaflets. Get your leader to go on the radio in the neighbouring county (why bother with the actual radio station which covers the constituency ?- that would be far too targetted a use of resources) announcing legal action, set deadlines for high noon writs etc etc

2. Then spend an awful lot of time rowing back after realising that you haven't got a leg to stand on.

3. To save face, keep one of the legal actions live with the lawyers.

4. Hey - why send out volunteers delivering leaflets? That's a stupid waste of time. Send your volunteers out to photograph members of the opposition party delivering leaflets. That's a much better use of their time.

5. Suddenly realise you could be accused of hypocrisy and spend an awful lot of money doing an emergency print run of green stickers and then get all your volunteers staying up all night sticking them on thousands of leaflets.


Conservative candidate names Ian Smith as his hero

Echoes of Nigel Hastilow from the Sunday Herald:

DAVID CAMERON has been called on to condemn a Scottish Conservative candidate who praised the racist former leader of Rhodesia and defended Enoch Powell.

Philip Lardner, the party's Westminster candidate in North Ayrshire and Arran, named Ian
Smith, who was regarded a white supremacist, as his political hero. He also said that Powell's far-right warnings about immigration had "in a small way come true".

Sunday papers: 1-2-3-4 - yes, four sleaze allegations for the Tories and Aunty Val isn't a lesbian

The Sunday Telegraph reports more sleaze allegations for the Tories, this time centred around Liam Fox:

David Cameron has become embroiled in a new funding row after the Conservatives admitted they had failed to register large donations properly.

The admission came after the Electoral Commission confirmed that for the second time this year it was investigating the failure of the party to provide a full record of money donated to run a shadow minister's office.

The latest failure involves donations to Liam Fox, the shadow defence secretary, and comes five months after the Tories were censured for failing properly to declare money given to the office of George Osborne, the shadow chancellor.

Peter Oborne makes allegations concerning Alan Duncan and the alleged matter of whether or not he declared a directorship and alleged business connections with Serbia. This was mentioned on Sunday AM when Alan Duncan dismissed and denied both allegations. If you can find Oborne's article on the internet, you're a better man/woman than me, Gunga Din (I just did such a deep drill for it - without sucess - that I almost struck oil).

In the Mail, there is a report about Jacqui Lait and some remarkable expenses gymnastics:

A leading Tory MP has claimed more than £100,000 in ‘second home allowances’ – despite representing a seat just 35 minutes’ drive from Westminster.

Jacqui Lait, Shadow Planning Minister, represents Beckenham, Kent, just nine miles from Parliament.

But by nominating a £1.5million Sussex farmhouse as her main home she has been able to claim up to £19,000 under MPs’ Additional Costs Allowance.

Also in the Mail there is yet another story about those Wintertons:

Husband and wife Tory MPs Nicholas and Ann Winterton faced fresh controversy last night after it was revealed that they have received thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money to run the burglar alarm at their luxury farmhouse home in Cheshire.

Sir Nicholas and his wife were given security protection 20 years ago when some

Conservative MPs were considered to be at risk from the IRA.

But they have carried on claiming the cash – even for part of their electricity bill to run the alarm – despite attempts by security chiefs to withdraw such assistance on the grounds that it is no longer justified.

Oh, and the other highlight of today's press is the confirmation from Aunty Val herself that she is NOT a lesbian. All this stuff about her and Joan Armatrading is a "lie" and originated from her going to bed with a male member of Joan Armatrading's backing band. It's all in the Mail on Sunday.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Obama's VP choice: Step forward Al Gore - the man of the hour!?

Thanks to On Liberty Now I have now, perhaps obsessively, topped up my betting on the Democratic Vice-Presidential choice. I had already bet, albeit modestly, on Sam Nunn and Bill Richardson.

But On Liberty Now highlighted the possibility of Al Gore, which sent me running to Paddy Power, tenner in hand:

The CNN Political ticker is reporting that a member of the Democratic Congressional Black Caucus offered the names of John Edwards and Sam Nunn as her preference for Obama’s Vice Presidential candidate and was told that they were both already on the list. This is interesting because as I previously blogged, Edwards had ruled himself out of running again.

Perhaps even more surprisingly (and here I have to apologise to a commenter on my previous entry). When the same Congresswoman – Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, mentioned Al Gore as a preference the two members of Obama’s Vice Presidential screening team ‘smiled’.

A smile eh? Of such things vast betting spikes are made... It all fell into place. He's got the gravitas, the huge experience, the vast popularity, the Southern Drawl! He's oldish. A VP choice made in heaven! I had never considered that he could be "arsed" to do it. But I can see it now. With a bit of persuasion and positive stroking....

Obama - Gore

Cor blimey what a ticket! Just imagining it is the the most fun a political anorak gets without taking his or her clothes off.

Henley legal threats - Tories chicken out

I notice that there have been some fascinating updates on the BBC story about the Tory panicky "legal action" threats in Henley.

Basically, they have dropped the one about Boris' photo in the magazine. Thames confirms this. Perhaps someone in the Tory party retinue actually looked at the magazine in question!

And they have chickened out of issuing a writ, which they said they would issue at noon yesterday, if we didn't withdraw the Townlands Hospital leaflet, which we said we wouldn't. But they still seem to be thinking about that one. The BBC says: "The party has instructed its solicitors to "pursue the matter legally" but a writ has yet to be issued." ("Pursue the matter legally" could mean looking it up on the internet...or having a little lawyerly huddle over some cups of tea and mentioning it (and then having a good laugh about it in this case)...anything).

They can think on. I don't think I have seen such a textbook example of a "bomb proof" leaflet as the Townlands hospital one. The quotes from the former and current chair of the hospital campaign were obtained in writing with documented permission to use. And the whole thing was meticulously backed up with direct and exact quotes from Tory leaflets.

The Tories really are barking up the most ridiculous tree.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Secret Conservative election strategy document found

Henley deliveries - we're 10 grams ahead of the Tories!

This reflective Henley constituency resident has carefully described all the election literature she has so far received:

The 13 publications which I have received from the Liberal Democrats weighs a total of 118 grams, the Conservatives have sent 10 which weigh in at 108 grams.


Cameron: We will sue LibDems over Henley magazine

It promises to be a fascinating court case. The Conservative case will rest on an interpretation of the magazine's back page which any reasonable person would not agree with.

The Conservative case seems to be that the magazine is implying that Boris endorses the LibDem candidate. Strange. Indeed, Boris' letter to Chris Rennard says:

I ask that you immediately withdraw it since on the back page you have what purports to be a picture by-line opinion piece from me giving my assessment of the candidates in the Henley by-election.

Well let's see. (The page is here on Conservative Home). We have a picture of Boris beside a quote with his name as an attribution for the quote. Below that we have an introduction to the article below it which says:

With election day in Henley drawing closer The View (the name of the magazine) runs the rule over the two main challengers.

There is then a write-up for each of the two main candidates with "OUR VERDICT" at the end of each. (It features the Tory candidate first and the LibDem candidate second - below it and furthest from Boris' photo).

Precisely what part of this lay-out is meant to imply that Boris endorses the LibDem candidate?

Any ideas? Answers on a postcard please..........

It is quite clear from the introduction to the article that it is written by "The View" - i.e the magazine itself and not Boris.

It appears that the Conservative party has excess funds to spray about on lawyers.....

Some commenters on Con Home say that no permission was given for the photo of Boris to be used. Hello? You only need permission from the owner of the photo to use it - not the person in the photo unless they are a minor in which case you need their parent's permission. If publications needed the permission of people in photos then there would be thousands of people employed by the press to phone up celebrities to get their permission to use photos. There aren't.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Memories of May 1993 - Newbury by-election

Lanson boy is showing some excellent photos of the Henley by-election campaign.

One series in particular, of the latest magazine being off-loaded from a van into the HQ, brought back memories of the Newbury by-election campaign in 1993 (and I note in passing that Newbury constituency abuts the Henley constituency via the Thames). Indeed, the BBC captured such a sequence for their "On the Record" montage of the campaign. The sequence features a particularly keen and fresh-faced volunteer taking a bundle of newspapers off the van, timelined at 8am on Saturday 1st May (1993). (The by-election was on the following Thursday, 6th May).

Oh look, a rather naff screenshot of this just happens to be below.

Poll archive

Henley: Tory candidate's claims to have supported local hospital campaign are refuted by independent campaigners

Full story here.

Claims by the (Henley) Conservative campaign that their candidate assisted in the campaign to save Henley's Townlands Hospital are in tatters having been refuted by independent Townlands Campaigners. BOTH the current and former Chairs of the Townlands Hospital Steering Group have issued statements denying any contribution into the campaign by John Howell, despite Conservative leaflets claiming otherwise.

Joan Rivers swears live on daytime TV

On yesterday's BBC Radio Berkshire "Morality Panel" my wife and I did a split shift. I was involved in the discussion about swearing. This followed Joan Rivers being chucked off "Loose Women" for calling Russell Crowe "a piece of ******* ****". My view was that it's all right having swearing at 11pm on Jonathan Ross, but at 1pm on ITV there are children under 5 watching - so it's not OK. Mind you, inviting Joan Rivers on is a bit of a liability in itself.

I have now watched the actual clip (below) and it is hilarious, especially as Joan Rivers says "Get ready to bleep this" before she says the offending words. Then, once she has said the words, there is consternation because they don't have a delay or a bleep machine - it really is live, going out at lunchtime when there are little children watching. Oh dear. Ms Rivers was unceremoniously removed from the set during the next commercial break. Funnily enough, I'd love to see the clip of her being asked to leave. That would be entertaining.

Joan Rivers is 75.

WARNING: Clip contains swearing.

It wasn't 42 days that did for David, but 42 Old Etonians

Fraser Nelson in the Spectator gives some interesting insight on the full extent of David Davis' disenchantment with David Cameron:

At a dinner party in central London a few months ago, David Davis made an extraordinary confession. He had become disenchanted with David Cameron, he said, and was considering quitting politics. ‘I believe in certain things,’ he said, ‘and I do not believe the next Conservative government will implement them'...

So many theories abound about Mr Davis’s ‘real’ intentions that the most damaging possible explanation — a loss of faith in Mr Cameron — has hardly been mentioned. Their differences over issues such as tax, grammar schools and defence spending are hardly a secret, having been extensively aired during the leadership contest. They were also said to disagree over Mr Cameron’s plans for locally elected police chiefs — Mr Davis asking what a home secretary would have left to do if policing was devolved. Mr Davis ferociously denies any such splits, but anecdotal evidence to the contrary has been accumulating for some time.

....One of his friends says that, ‘It wasn’t 42 days that did for David, but 42 Old Etonians.’ This is an exaggeration — there are no more than a dozen Old Etonians working for Mr Cameron and George Osborne went to St Paul’s. But it is true that Mr Davis operated in his own centre of gravity. use one of the military analogies of which Mr Davis is so fond, this was not his SAS Iranian embassy rescue mission but a one-man Charge of the Light Brigade. Westminster’s reaction is the same as General Bosquet’s at Balaclava: C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre. For a political warrior like Mr Davis it is certainly a romantic way to leave the battlefield. But Mr Cameron is now determined that there should be no route back.

Hat-tip: Conservative Home

That David Davis book pre-launch in full

In typical swash-buckling style, Kelvin MacKenzie confirms in the Sun today that he is not standing at the Haltemprice and Howden by-election. Jonathan Calder carries a quote from the Birmingham Post which lists a number of minor candidates who are likely to be stand:

Eamonn Fitzpatrick, Northampton stall holder endorsed by Kelvin MacKenzie.
Miss Great Britain Gemma Garrett
Neil Glass political writer
Hamish Howitt, Blackpool pub landlord and anti-smoking ban campaigner
George Georgiou from the Generalist Party
Mad Cow-girl from The Official Monster Raving Loony Party

I come back to the point I made an hour after Davis announced he was resigining. He should be invoiced by the Speaker for publicity generated by this by-election. It is clearly the first stage of the publicity campaign for the launch of his memoirs.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

"Powerful message" to hit Henley tomorrow

...Just back from visit Number nine to the Henley campaign. Things are in an impressive high gear in the LibDem organisation. Canvassing is showing a definite swing to us. Please help if you can. See details here.

The agent, Miranda Roberts has emailed me with some exciting news and a good reason to visit the campaign tomorrow:

But Thursday this week - that's tomorrow! - is going to be crucial too.
We're just putting the finishing touches to our next by-election leaflet, which we're rushing out for tomorrow.
Its contents are being kept under strict embargo until it hits letterboxes , but I can tell you it's got a fantastically powerful message based on some very interesting information we've just found out!

Paddy Ashdown reflects on his visit to the campaign this week on You Tube.

Do the Wintertons owe the taxpayer £40,000?

There seems to be a revolving tombola of Tory sleaze at the moment - one day it's Spelman, then it's Dover...Chichester....Conway...and today, the Wintertons.

In February the story broke about them claiming £21K a year on parliamentary expenses to pay rent to a family trust of which they are the trustees and their children are the beneficiaries. This was after they had paid the mortgage from parliamentary expenses in the first place!

Sir John Lyons, the Parliamentary standards commissioner has now spoken:

Sir Nicholas and Ann Winterton unwittingly broke MPs' expenses rules when claiming for a second home, the Parliamentary standards watchdog said.

Commissioner John Lyon criticised the husband and wife Tory MPs for not keeping up with rule changes in 2006.

The Wintertons say they did nothing wrong by using expenses for a flat, even though they had paid the mortgage.

But the Standards and Privileges Committee says the arrangement should not have continued as long as it did.

So, the Wintertons have been claiming rent for just short of two years too long. So I reckon they owe the taxpayer something in the order of £40,000.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Parliamentary watchdog to investigate Spelman

The BBC reports that Conservative Party chairman Caroline Spelman will, after all, be investigated over her use of parliamentary expenses to pay the woman who was acting as her family's nanny. It states that Parliamentary Standards Commissioner John Lyon:

...recommended that "exceptionally" he should begin an inquiry into whether Mrs Spelman had broken Commons rules "in force at the time" - the committee had accepted his recommendation.

Sam Nunn shoots up the VP nominee odds

I see that since I placed a bet on him at 25-1 yesterday, Sam Nunn's odds (to be Democratic VP nominee) on Paddy Power have shortened to 14-1.

Ahead of him with shorter odds are eight people, two of whom have said formally that they will not accept such a nomination (Mark Warner and Ted Strickland).

John Edwards also said he wouldn't accept but then appeared luke warm on the idea - but in any case, after being a damp squib in 2004, I doubt he is a runner.

Jim Webb is 4-1, and would be the other person I'd bet on if I believed in betting on two candidates. He served for four years in the Reagan administration including as Navy secretary. Nunn has a longer track record but not in government.

Although Joe Biden has great foreign affairs experience he tends to be a rent-a -gaffe candidate.

Bill Richardson has great foreign affairs and government experience and would boost the Espanic vote, which Obama needs help with.

Maybe I'm not so sure now........I think it's going to be Nunn or Webb. Richardson as a long shot.

Iain Dale's sister is a Lib Dem

Just thought I'd mention it. Iain has kindly shared photos and a post of his wedding. I see that even Home Office Minister Tony McNulty has wished them well in the comments.

Is George Bush the world's most despised person?

I only ask because of this interesting letter to the Guardian's Weekend magazine last Saturday:

In view of the repetitive response to the Q&A's "Which living person do you most despise and why?", should this be rephrased to: "Other than George Bush, which living person..."?

Anthony Pozniak
Uxbridge, Middlesex

Interesting omissions on David Davis' new "Freedom" web site

Is it just me or, judging by the masthead of his new web site, is David Davis' "Freedom" campaign targeted at a relatively narrow section of the population ? Where is anyone over 30? Why is it that, shall I say, certain sections of the population appear to be unrepresented?
Also, there appears to be very little mention of the Conservative party on the site. Is this website mostly about a bid by Davis for freedom from the Conservative party?
In the original version of this posting, I very stupidly used a term I shouldn't have. I am very sorry for the offence caused by this.
Is it just me or, judging by the masthead, is David Davis' "Freedom" campaign mainly targetted

The key question about Caroline Spelman

Michael Crick presented another piece about Caroline Spelman on Newsnight last night.

The key question is:

Was the nanny paid the full market rate for the hours she did as the family's nanny ?

If the answer to that question is "yes" then there is not a matter of impropriety here.

There may be a matter of incompetent management in that the nanny was not fully tasked for the 30 hours she did of "secretarial work" per week. There may be some issue about Ms Spelman being potentially misleading in that she said she employed the nanny for secretarial duties for a "short term period" between 1997 and 1998, whereas it transpires that this may have been a longer period between 1997 and 1999.

Crick made a great fuss of the fact that the secretarial work is supposed to have taken place in Kent, whereas Spelman's constituency is in the Midlands. Crick helpfully showed us a little map, several times, to point this out.

Well actually, you can do secretarial work in Kent for a constituency in the Midlands if you are regularly receiving the mail, much of which, for an MP, gets sent to the House of Commons anyway.

But, overall, if the nanny was paid for 30 hours secretarial work per week and also paid the market rate for x hours of nanny work, then bully for her. She may have been knackered at the end of week, or she may have been under-worked as a secretary - in which case that is a case of weak management - not impropriety. Mrs Spelman would not have gained in anyway.

If, on the other hand, the nanny was being paid under the market rate for her child supervision work, or doing unpaid hours as a nanny, then that is another matter and would, of course, mean that there is cause for complaint.

And I note that Newsnight have written: "The Conservative Party says she did the childcare for no pay but received free accommodation, use of a car and meals. "

This does suggest that there is a case to be investigated and that the argument could pivot on a reasonable interpretation of "market rate" for childcare services. A nanny would normally have free accommodation and meals on top of their wages. And "use of a car" could conceivably be worth very little.

The going rate these days for a nanny is £300-400 net a week.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Sam Nunn looking favourable for the Democratic VP slot

Fresh from my success of winning a bet on Obama to be Democratic Presidential candidate (placed 14th February 2007 at 13/5) I have now bet on Sam Nunn to be his running mate. The odds of 25/1 on Paddy Power were somewhat of a persuader.

My thinking goes like this. Obama has got to choose someone with sound national security credentials and long experience (to match his somewhat short experience). Step forward Mr Nunn, a US Senator for 24 years, who served on the Senate Armed Services committee and founded the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs. 24 carat national security credentials, in other words. Nunn is also very well known across the States.

It is also essential, as always, to balance the Democratic ticket geographically. We have Barack Obama from Illinois. The ticket must have some sort of southern or mid-western presence. Nunn is from Georgia.

The Boston Globe, for good measure, says that Obama and Nunn have found that they have an affinity for each other:

The liberal freshman from Illinois and the national security specialist from rural Georgia immediately hit it off, according to interviews with confidants of the two men.

Nunn, whose somewhat colorless demeanor hides a passion for defense policy, was clearly impressed with Obama's command of the subject, and Obama has called on Nunn since to discuss arms control legislation and other matters, the confidants said.

For two decades, Nunn has been floated as a potential vice presidential candidate by virtue of his national security credentials and conservative southern roots. And each time he has dis missed such talk out of hand, while the party's nominees opted for more liberal choices from states more likely to go Democratic in November.

But this year, the personal and intellectual affinity between the presumptive Democratic nominee and the 69-year-old elder statesman - who abandoned a policy of not backing candidates in Democratic primaries when he endorsed Obama in April - makes him a real possibility as Obama's running mate, according to interviews with current and former government officials who know both men.


And, of course, to get to my conclusion I have discounted Hillary (don't even think about it) and I note that Gov Strickland and Mark Warner (two other key contenders in my view) have discounted themselves.

Why has Cameron chosen Alan Duncan as the man to prove the Tories are green ?

If David Cameron wanted to show us that he might be serious on green issues, perhaps it would have been a good idea not to do it standing next to Alan "Mr Oil" Duncan.

Mr Duncan's register of interests shows him as "Owner of Harcourt Consultants advisers on oil and gas matters" and as a guest of the Sultan of Oman. Also, he owes his considerable wealth to a career in the oil industry starting with Royal Dutch Shell.

If Cameron wants to show us how green/blue/torquoise he is, I can think of hundreds of other people who would be better to have sitting next to him at the press conference. Mr Cameron is asking Duncan to call the government to account on Marine Renewables. A strange choice.

I am willing to give the guy a break and see how he does. But it is not an auspicious start for Cameron's green re-launch.

Simon Hoggart declared wrong on wind turbines by his own newspaper

The other day, the Guardian's Simon Hoggart had a rant against wind turbines which included this line:

...since they have to be turning all the time to prevent seizing up, they have to draw on the grid, so much of the time they are actually wasting power

I am pleased to say that the official voice of Simon's own newspaper, through its Corrections and Clarifications column, has now confirmed that this is a complete myth:

Wind turbines do not have to draw from the power grid to keep from seizing up when there is no wind (Wedding bells and marriage hell, page 22, May 17).
Those of us who regularly drive past the UK's most visible wind turbine at junction 11 on the M4 (above), already knew this. Occasionally (not very often) it is static.
I note in passing that occasionally the Junction 11 turbine is referred to as "Windy Miller's".

Two BMWs on expenses for Tory MEP Den Dover


Davis: "Libertarianism" that is extremely narrow

Stephen Tall pointed out yesterday that David Davis has been an enthusiastic supporter of the death penalty. Jo Anglezarke reminds us that he opposed the Human Rights Act. I also note that his solution to the Burma-cyclone crisis was:

Invade the country, shoot the generals, feed the people

Today, Ben Bradshaw points out Davis' far from libertarian approach to equal rights:

The notion that David Davis is a libertarian will provoke hollow laughter from Britain's gays and lesbians. Davis has opposed every freedom extended to gay and lesbian people, from the freedom to register one's partnership to the freedom to serve one's country. He has one of the worst voting records in the Commons on such matters. Like most Conservatives, Davis is very selective about whose liberties are worthy of support. He supports greater rights for suspected terrorists but not extending basic freedoms to peaceful and law-abiding gay and lesbian people.

Why no garter for Michael Hastings ?

Prince William is to be made a Royal Knight of the Garter today. Can I just say that this is an example of an entirely pointless waste of time, energy and money? The only point of it, if there is one, is to enshrine the idea that a highly questionable line of sucession actually means something. Oh, and a few extra visitors to Windsor are very welcome.

Next time my units calculator allows me, I will raise a toast to Michael Hastings, who it seems to me, really should be receiving the accolades.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Fight hard at Henley and forget Haltemprice and Howden

I have just paid my 8th visit to Henley and I am pleased to say we are going great guns on the literature front. There is a new Blue leaflet asking who electors would prefer to look after the beautiful local countryside. After last week's revelation, I think we know the answer.

Please help the Henley team if you can - details are here.

Andrew Rawnsley writes very well about David Davis here. I don't doubt that, whatever you think about Davis' personality, he has genuinely strong views on civil liberties, although he is not a liberal - as Stephen Tall points out very well.

He is standing as what could be described as an independent Conservative, or at least as a candidate for Haltemprice and Howden Conservatives, as opposed to the national Conservative party, who are not funding him.

His standing shows up the vacuity of Cameron's nice and caring Conservative party. As Rawnsley points out, Davis is instinctively liberatarian, while Cameron and his shadow cabinet colleagues tend towards the authoritarian, despite what they say.

So the reason we shouldn't stand in Haltemprice and Howden (because we agree with Davis' stated, albeit narrow, civil liberties agenda) is the very reason we should fight damned hard at Henley (because we want to highlight the vacuum within Cameron's Conservative party which Davis' resignation has underlined).

I note, by the way, that according to the paper review on News24 this morning, Rupert Murdoch says he will not be backing Kelvin MacKenzie as a candidate at H&H.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Extraordinary snatches of "Do it again" on Doctor Who

Click here

and here for The primeval urge to smash crockery

Slight fly in the ointment on Rupert Murdoch's pledge to fund Kelvin MacKenzie...

Michael Crick highlights a potential fly in the ointment concerning Rupert Murdoch's pledge to put the Sun's money behind Kelvin MacKanezie at Haltemprice and Howden:

Former editor of the Sun newspaper Kelvin Mackenzie has indicated that he's 90% certain to stand as a pro 42 days candidate in the Haltemprice and Howden by-election; caused by the resignation of David Davis.

And on the BBC's This Week programme he revealed that his old boss Rupert Murdoch had offered to back his campaign financially:

"Rupert suggested to me that if Labour didn't put anyone up, that I would run against David Davis, if that's the case - and Rupert says he's good for the money... I might well do it," Mr Mackenzie said.

But there is one problem with that.

Mr Murdoch is an American citizen and so under British law is not allowed to contribute funds to any UK election campaign.

Perhaps Mr Murdoch will try to channel his funds through his business - NewsCorp - but that would also be illegal since NewsCorp is also American I suppose Murdoch and Mackenzie could try and fund the campaign through one of Murdoch's British subsidiary companies. But that surely would make a mockery of our laws for foreign funding of British elections.

Leading Welsh Tory's derogatory remark about Italians

There hardly seems to be a week going by without some member of the Conservative party letting slip the real Tory party behind the Cameron spin. This week it is the turn of Alun Cairns, a leading Tory member of the Welsh Assembly:

A leading Conservative Welsh assembly member has resigned as the party's education spokesman after likening Italians to "greasy wops".
Alun Cairns apologised immediately for the "inappropriate" comments made during a weekly political discussion programme on BBC Radio Cymru.
Contributors had been asked to say who they would be supporting during the Euro 2008 tournament.
Mr Cairns also stepped down as chair of the assembly's finance committee.
During the programme, Dau o'r Bae (or Two From The Bay), on Friday one contributor mentioned she had written a note saying "boring" next to Sweden, and "nice flag" next to Portugal on a list of teams.
When she added that she had written "nice food" next to Italy in the list, Mr Cairns said: "I've written greasy wops."

Have you caught Veep madness yet?

It's worth having a go with this....

Keir Hardie revolves as Ulster unionists prop up a Labour government

I can't let the week go by without commenting on the manner of the vote on 42 day detention without charge.

I think Keir Hardie would be turning in his grave. Did he found the Labour party for it to impose internment and abolish the lower rate of tax? Gordon Brown is trying to out-Tory the Tories and will go down in history as a complete failure for doing so.

If there had been a free vote on the 42 day issue, then perhaps the Ulster unionists would have still voted with Brown, but about another 50 or 100 Labour MPs would have voted against.

Thank God for the House of Lords, albeit wrongly constituted, which will surely kick out the measure.

Regarding the Ulster unionist dimension, that was deja vu all over again. I have seen Ulster unionists propping up dying governments before. As Shirley Williams brilliantly describes them, they are: “The Undertakers of Parliament. They only show their faces when a government is about to die”.

Indeed, the irony is that they propped up John Major's dying government. But my goodness, to be saving the skin of a Labour PM, that is something else.

Friday, June 13, 2008

David Davis: The Don Quixote of British politics

12/6/08 22:15
Well, I have to say it's been quite a day. Bizarre. I have just seen Iain Dale wetting himself on Newsnight about "if David sparks a real national debate" on freedom then it'll be worth it. As if.

I still see no other real interpretation of this Davis implosion other than that it is an act of pique and ego. I'm sorry. I am far too cynical, I know. But I think Davis is being pathetic.

I think the LibDem party has taken absolutely the right course of action in not standing a candidate in this sort of Don Quixote exercise by Davis.

I note from Simon Hughes' email that the local party chair, regional chair and Simon himself were all party to the decision with Nick Clegg. That's right and I am glad we took a quick decision.

As I note in an update to my original post on this, Davis is likely to be opposed only by the Monster Raving Loony Party. How appropriate.

BREAKING NEWS UPDATE 13/6/08 09:05: The Official Monster Raving Loony Party has announced that "MadCow" (pictured above) will challenge David Davis at the forthcoming by-election. She's already got her campaign site up and running here. Roy Greenslade comments interestingly on Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Wade's decision to enlist Kelvin MacKenzie as a Sun candidate: Kelvin will fight and Kelvin will be Right. There is no news yet from the Miss Great Britain Party.

MORE BREAKING NEWS: 14/06/08 07:45: It seems Kelvin MacKenzie may be having second thoughts about standing at the "Mad Cow" by-election in Haltemprice and Howden. There is not a word about his candidacy in today's Sun, where you would expect an all-guns-blazing campaign launch. Former colleague Phil Hall suggests that he is getting "cold feet" at the prospect of possibly spending years in Parliament. Yesterday MacKenzie said it was "90%" likely he would stand, so maybe the 10% prospect is winning. A symptom of MacKenzie's half-heartedness may be his remarks about nearby Hull yesterday:

Have you ever been to Hull? It's a shocker, an absolute shocker

...How not to win friends and influence people in nearby Haltemprice and Howden.

So, without MacKenzie, Davis will, at the current count, be facing a grand total of one opposing candidate at the by-election - that is, the Official Monster Raving Loony Party's MadCow (above).

Nick Clegg's leadership self-implodes amidst wailing and gnashing of teeth.......not

So the good folk of Sligo, Waterford et al have voted "no" to the EU revising treaty, known as the Lisbon Treaty.

So, this might mean that the changes in the document do not go ahead.

How awful! I am dumbstruck!

This really is the end of civilisation as we know it.

Maggie, Denis and Ted - the prequel

Amongst the hubbub of the Davis implosion, I managed last night to watch "Margaret Thatcher: The Long Walk to Finchley" on BBC4.

It was a beautiful production and I recommend watching it when it is repeated tonight at 10pm on BBC4 or here on iPlayer.

The play centres on Thatcher's personal life and early political career, especially her many attempts to become a Conservative candidate in a winnable seat in Kent. It gives a fascinating perspective on her relationship with Denis and Ted Heath. It ends when she enters Parliament.

So, it is possible to suspend one's political faculties and enjoy this portrait of Thatcher before she turned into the Milk Snatcher (About which there was a reference "When I am elected every child will have milk at school") etc etc. (There was also a little reference to Africa. The boy Mark, aged about six, asks his mother "Will I go to Africa?" to which she replies "Yes, I expect so"..."Where is it?"..."You'll find out")

Margaret Thatcher was charmingly (if a little over the top) played by Andrea Riseborough (above in character) . There's a wonderful cast of actors involved (listed below).

To see "Margaret Thatcher" administering a "handbagging" to her predecessor as MP for Finchley, Sir John Crowder (played by Geoffrey Palmer), was pure joy.

There's a review of the programme here in the Independent.

Margaret Thatcher ...... Andrea Riseborough
Ted Heath ...... Samuel West
Denis Thatcher ...... Rory Kinnear
Sir John Crowder ...... Geoffrey Palmer
Sir Donald Kaberry ...... Oliver Ford Davies
Alfred Roberts ...... Philip Jackson
Sir Waldron Smithers ...... Michael Cochrane
Patricia Hornsby-Smith ...... Sylvestra Le Touzel
John Miller ...... Michael Gould
Stanley Soward ...... Jonathan Aris

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Davis: A prima donna act & a pointless by-election

I am glad Nick Clegg is having nothing whatsoever to do with the by-election in David Davis' seat. This is high camp politics.

David Davis wants to show everyone what a hero he is and what wonderfully liberal people those modern, caring, cuddly Tories are, so he is using taxpayers' money and the goodwill of the people in Haltemprice and Howden to do it. It's a disgrace. The Speaker of the House of Commons should send him an invoice for the publicity he will enjoy during the by-election campaign.

It's throwing the toys out of the pram to get the attention of nanny.

Yes, David has been vocal in his opposition to 42 days. But I have never sensed from him and the Tories that their approach to the threat of terror would be fundamentally different from that of Labour. Perhaps the fact that this has not been clear is the very reason why he has resigned in order to cause a "comic opera" by-election.

This is an act of petulance aimed less at Labour's terror laws and more at his party colleagues Osbourne and Gove, who opposed his anti-42 days stance until they were quelled (perhaps by the threat of smoke and grenades appropriate to Mr Davis' background).

Davis is now, I presume, duly appointed as Crown Steward and High Bailliff of the Chiltern Hundreds. How appropriately melodramatic. I'd like to see him wearing the bicorn hat and robe appropriate both to that role and the shallowness of this ludicrous act.


UPDATE 15:39: Is Davis standing as an independent in the forthcoming by-election? I haven't seen confirmation of this. I have seen some comments assuming that he must have pledged to do so, in return for Nick Clegg agreeing not to stand a LibDem candidate against him. I believe that the only logical and honourable course for Davis is to stand as an independent. Otherwise his stance makes no sense at all. The whole thing is obviously the result of deep splits in the Tory party.

UPDATE 16:12 A commenter has confirmed that Davis is standing as an independent (although I can find no confirmation elsewhere, including in the text of Davis' speech) - in which case, if true, this amounts to a major explosion in the Tory party ranks and a huge indictment of Cameron's sham attempts to promote the Tories as united, "liberal" and "modernised"...and (again, if true) I take back my derogatory remarks about Davis - but I would welcome someone pointing me to confirmation - I have not seen any yet on a media source.

Update 18:45: Over on The Spectator's Coffee House blog, David Cameron is described as "furious" about Davis' actions.
On Radio 4's PM, Dominic Grieve (the new Conservative Shadow Home Secretary) confirmed that David Davis would stand as a Conservative candidate at the forthcoming Haltemprice and Howden by-election. However, he was equivocal about the national Conservative party's backing. Responding, Eddie Mair, the interviewer, described the position of Davis as a "semi-detached" candidate for the Conservatives. Grieve said that Davis would run his own campaign and not receive national Conservative party financial backing. Grieve said that he (Grieve) and Cameron would attend the campaign to support Davis.

Update 22:47: Newsnight report the current SP for the Haltemprice and Howden by-election:
Conservatives: David Davis
LibDems: No candidate
Labour: Likely to be no candidate
BNP: Agree with Davis, so no candidate
UKIP: Won't stand if Labour won't stand
The Sun newspaper: Rumoured to be considering standing a candidate, but have said they won't
Monster Raving Loony Party: Eager and ready to stand
So, that's £80,000 of public money being spent to show how brilliant David Davis is when compared to the candidate from the Monster Raving Loony Party. You couldn't make it up.