Thursday, July 31, 2008

Miliband grows some gonads

On Saturday I mused that there was no obvious challenger to Brown who was "hard enough" to take him on.

Well crikey oh riley, knock me down with a feather and consider my gast well and truly flabbered.

Five days is a long time in politics. During that time, Miliband has grown the gonads, no doubt from a petri dish culture, which he hitherto lacked. Bambi has bounced onto the scene. Step forward Blair mark two. A man who has the testosterone to challenge Brown and the skill to articulate a vision - indeed, simply someone able to lead - a skill Brown demonstrably lacks in, make that shovels.

I formally decorate David Miliband with the Liberal Burblings "Gonads of the week" award.

All this might be Silly Season fizz, of course. But I have just gone through the recent political blogs and there are some fairly stunning news snippets floating around (of course, their veracity may be limited, if non-existent):

-Miliband has cancelled a major tour of India in September and held a little conflab with close Foreign Office officials which had the tenor of a 'goodbye talk'. This has led to speculation that is planning to resign to mount a challenge to Brown.

-In today's Jeremy Vine show, Miliband made some platidunous noises to support Brown. But he was then drowned in laudatory calls and emails from the public saying he should "go for it" and that Brown was a shower. Miliband, rather than repeating his support for Brown, said things like "How very kind"...."You really shouldn't"...."Did my mother pay you to say that?" He, he, he. Blushes all round.

-There has been a deafening silence from anyone supporting Brown in the wake of Miliband's foray into all-but challenging the not-so-Great Gordo.

All this leads me to a point of almost uncontrollable and hysterical excitement. I must calm down a bit. I would have thought that it is fairly probable that Brown will get challenged by Miliband and I cannot see Brown winning, unless the Labour party have collectively lost the plot.

This, I would have thought, will change the landscape of British politics.

Now, where is that darkened room? I need a lie-down.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Knife crimewave hits Westminster

An unnamed ally of the Prime Minister has described the Foreign Secretary as having a "surprising lack of judgement and maturity". This has left lobby hacks struggling unsuccessfully to recall precedents for similar public backstabbings at such a senior level.

All this nonsense cannot go on. Something's got to give sooner or later in Labour land.

To misquote Star Trek's Scotty: "She canna take anymore Cap'n, she's gonna blow!"

Shock! Horror! Cameron talks sense!

Cameron blunder on children drinking safely ran the headline for a Melissa Kite-flying exercise in the Telegraph. I would normally pounce, vulture-like, on such a juicy morsel. Much as it grieves me, I have to duly declare that I agree with the Camshaft on this occasion.

Accustomising youngsters to thimblefuls of weak alcohol in a responsible, adult setting can help to foster a mature approach to alcohol in later life. Then again, if it's decreed in someone's DNA that they're going to head for the bottle/gutter, then it could just grease the slippery slope for them (or at least be blamed for their subsequent demise - something's got to be blamed, hasn't it?). There are no absolutes in life are there?

What is it about Melissa Kite anyway? Is she on official Telegraph silly season patrol? Employed to make the season even sillier? Yesterday she wrote an article about Brown's jacket which I thought was a spoof until I realised she was deadly serious. The spirit of Polly Filla lives on.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Nick Clegg's exciting message

It is great to hear from Nick Clegg that he is upping the ante on Labour target seats by giving the LibDems extra hard cash to fight them. Labour are really vulnerable and this is an historic chance for us:

This is a huge opportunity for us. We've got to seize it. So I'm shifting our resources to put more campaigners and moreeffort into those seats where we're taking on Labour. I've instructedour campaigns chief Chris Rennard to step up our campaigns in the 50seats where we're best placed to beat Labour. We'll be launching aspecial fundraising drive for those constituencies in the autumn, and I hope you'll help.

See Nick's message on YouTube below or here:

Brown's Walberswick breather

The Guardian's Michael White says that the Get Gordon campaign has faltered amidst the buckets and spades, mainly due to the lack of a "route map" to depose him unwillingly (see Martin Kettle's analysis of the Labour constitutional options here):

Brown's problems are daunting but the post-Glasgow phase of the Get Gordon drive faltered yesterday, leaving only disgruntled backbenchers and ex-spin doctors to capture BBC bulletins. The arrival of August will give No 10 its respite. As with past plots, not even the plotters know what, if anything, will happen next.

(By the way, It's actually Walberswick (above), or near Walberswick, to which Brown has gone on holiday - just next to Southwold).

Telegraph: It's the jacket, stupid

I thought Gordon Brown looked quite nice in his casual jacket yesterday on holiday. But - oh no - the Telegraph reckons the jacket was a major strategic blunder, from which Gordon Brown will never recover. Forget the credit crunch, rocketing fuel prices and rising food bills. The Telegraph pinpoints Brown's jacket as Brown's big problem:

Truly, the Prime Minister could have pulled back from the brink of electoral disaster if he had gone on holiday in a pair of shorts and a slightly faded polo shirt.

Yes, "Truly". Of course. Nurse the screens.

Dear me. The Silly Season has arrived.

To help you judge for yourself on the question of political vacational couture, the Mail has published comparative photos of the Browns and the Camerons on holiday, with the price and origin of their clothes helpfully annotated:

Well done Daily Mail! Serious campaigning journalism as usual.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Labour - Clutching at nothing

Stephen Tall writes about the options facing Labour on Liberal Democrat Voice - Is this the beginning of the end for Brown?

I am not entirely sure that a different leader would change things much for Labour - perhaps it would give them a little honeymoon bounce which would reduce the degree of their trouncing at the next General Election.

The whole thing is hugely ironic, given that Brown was pestering Blair to handover power to him for years and that one of the main causes of Labour’s unpopularity is Brown’s abolition of the 10p tax rate, which all but negated his considerable achievements as Chancellor.

Martin Kettle has some interesting reflections in a well-titled article called: Clutching at Straw, including some detailed prognostications on the Labour party constitutional routes for removing a leader.

I was also taken by Andrew Rawnsley's article in the Observer on Sunday. My oh my, he didn't half ram home the fact that the Labour loss at Glasgow East was momentously dire for them:

Were the stunning anti-Labour swing to be repeated across the country, Gordon Brown would become the first sitting Prime Minister since Ramsay MacDonald to lose his seat in the Commons. Gone, too, would be all the cabinet ministers who are usually canvassed as possibilities to replace him. Goodbye David Miliband. Adios Alan Johnson. Do svidaniya Jack Straw. It would also be bye-bye Ed Balls, nice knowing you Jacqui Smith and thank you and goodnight to Alistair Darling. Virtually the whole of the government would be handed their P45s by the electorate. One projection suggests that only two members of the cabinet would survive the cull. Lucky old Andy Burnham and Harriet Harman would have to toss a coin to decide which of them got to lead what was left of the Labour party.

Such meltdowns can happen in democracies. It happened in Canada. Overnight, the Progressive Conservatives went from being the government to a party with just two - yes, two - members of parliament. It is hard to find anyone who seriously expects a collapse on quite that apocalyptic scale in Britain. But gone is the comfort for Labour MPs that at least 200 or so of them would survive even a big defeat at the next general election. That is one significant psychological effect of this calamity. No Labour MP, however massive his or her parliamentary majority, can now feel entirely safe from the electoral scythe. We are entering territory where none of the old certainties about politics necessarily applies.

Mars pull Mr T ad after "anti-gay" complaints

Another perplexing advert "pull".

Mars has canned a TV ad featuring A-Team star Mr T harassing a speed walker for being a "disgrace to the man race", after complaints in the US that it is offensive to gay people.

You can see the advert below. I laughed at the Heinz Deli Mayo "Gay kiss" ad and I laughed at this one.

Are US companies becoming a little over-senstive?

Russell Johnston

I was very sorry to hear of the death of Russell Johnston, latterly Lord Russell-Johnston. The Liberal Party and the Liberal Democrats were most fortunate to have such a sensible and dignified Liberal, who was a steadying influence in the transition between the two parties.
Let's also not forget that Russell Johnston helped the Liberal Party increase its seats in Parliament from 6 to 9 in the 1964 general election. (He took his seat in full Highland dress). So, we owe him a debt of gratitude for helping to keep the Liberal flame burning at several crucial points in our history.
At the time I remember being reassured by Johnston who just seemed instinctly Liberal on all things, as well as being hugely sensible, dignified and good-humoured.
He is a great loss to our party.
Liberal Democrat Voice has a collection of moving tributes to Russell Johnston from senior LibDem figures here.

Clegg highlights scandal of energy price rises

Nick Clegg is quite right to point out the scandal of EDF energy price rises and their impact on the elderly and vulnerable:

When one company raises its prices the others soon follow suit. At a time when energy companies are enjoying a £9bn windfall, it is unacceptable that they can continue to squeeze more profits out of people who are already struggling.

With rises of the order of 22% and 17%, many people will be left between a rock and a hard place.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Cameron gets bike and humble pie

David Cameron's bike has been returned to him minus a wheel (the one on eBay must have been a fake - shock! horror!).

The Mirror has a photo of Cameron when he realised his bike had gone.

The irony of the recovery is that it was found after just an hour's searching by a couple of local community types called Ernest Theophile, a strong Labour supporter, and his Rasta friend "KJ".

Ernest said:

I’m delighted that it’s a happy ending. After a chat with some of the kids, I got their trust and respect and they told me where the bike was. It just shows that the kids want to do good. It’s just about the right communication with them.

I don't think there is much love lost between the Mirror and Cameron (he once had an acrimonious lunch with the editor of the Daily Mirror).

So the fact that the Mirror found the bike and even bought him a new wheel, must require a bit of humble pie consumption by Cameron.

Speaker's hissy fit over his portrait

The Speaker ordered a portrait of himself to be re-painted because he thought the nose was too big.

GĂ©rard Depardieu is 59.

Hoon to be "appropriately rewarded"

It seems that any visitation by the "persons in flat caps" to Brown may be stymied by the "buying off" of the Chief Whip, Geoff Hoon. It seems he is lined up to be a EU Comissioner upon the departure of Peter Mandelson. This may cool his adour in leading any Palace coup against Brown.

Presumably Hoon has either been told or assumes that his loyalty "will be appropriately rewarded."

Labour appears to be descending into a mutual back-scratchers' society.

Two-thirds of Tory shadow cabinet are millionaires

19 out of 29 Conservative Shadow Cabinet ministers are millionaires.

Just thought you'd like to know.

Does it matter? It shouldn't. I would have thought it was more important that they are Tories and Tories behave like Tories, in the end, no matter what spin they manage to contrive to get people to vote for them.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Well done LibDem Blog aggregator

Well done to Ryan Cullen for continuing to be the pro-creator of LibDem Blogs and, in particular, it's latest good-looking update.

I have often said that LibDem Blogs is one of those unsung miracles of the modern age - like the chunky Kit-Kat or squirty cream.

Getting over-excited at Crystal Palace

Click here

Labour - fresh out of Bambis

Nick Robinson notes that Jack Straw's support for Gordon Brown is notable by its absence from his "keep calm" pronouncements.

If there was a young Bambi - a young Tony Blair Mark 2 - waiting in the wings, then this would be a simple situation. But there isn't. Harriett Harman is no Harriett Jones. James Purnell is a photo-shop job. David Miliband lacks sufficient gonads. So who the heck is left?

Berkshire - teeming with Barack Obama connections

My adopted county of Berkshire (or should that be my county of exile?) seems to be positively teeming with connections to Barack Obama. First we had the night Obama sensibly excused himself from a stag night do in Wokingham when a stripper arrived. That was for the wedding of his half-sister who lived in Reading.

No another Berkshire town of my intensive acquaintance, Bracknell, is at the centre of attention. Obama's half-brother has been "revealed" as staying there currently to visit his mother Kezia (a good biblical name). He is Bernard Obama. I do hope that the fact that he is a Muslim is not used somehow in the forthcoming US election campaign.

Resisting Coldplay

Click here

Sarkozy's poisoned chalice for Obama

Barack Obama needs to be very careful. I see that ABC News reports that he has now received an "all but" endorsement from President Sarkozy of France.

This is the last thing Obama needs. I suspect there are still people in backwoods America talking about "cheese eating surrender monkeys" even now.

"Obviously one is interested in a candidate looking towards the future rather than the past" - was one of Sarkozy's statements. The rest are here.

As I mentioned yesterday, all this Euro-adoration could backfire on Obama. The people of Middle America don't take kindly to Europeans telling them what to do, however elliptically, and tend to get the hump and do exactly the opposite of what they are being advised to do by Europeans.

It is very dodgy for Sarkozy to express, more or less, a preference. He could end up having to do a lot of back-peddling if (hopefully a big "if") McCain wins.

Friday, July 25, 2008

David Cameron's bike on eBay

See screenshot above - click to enlarge or click here to go directly to the entry on eBay.
£1020 is the highest bid so far. It's all totally genuine and kosher, of course. Comes complete with "The idiot's guide to bike security". Unfortunately there are no policies in the pannier.

Cameron needs bike security lesson

Some time ago the police suggested that David Cameron needed some tips on riding a bike legally. Now it seems he needs some tips in bike security, if not common sense.

I learn via Terry Wogan and the Independent that the fellow chained his bike (outside Tesco) to a metre high bollard. So all the thief had to do was lift up the bike and walk off with it.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Why Euro-Obamania may not be a good thing for him...

He's a supremely clever political operator, so Barack Obama obviously realises that his German "Obamamania" pictures are a mixed blessing.

Yes, they neutralise any thoughts that he might not be able to hack it on the world stage, if elected President.

But it has to be asked: how do pictures of adoring Germans go down in Clark County, Ohio?

Not well I suspect. Headlines such as: Der Spiegel calls election for Obama are unlikely to go down well there.

At the behest of the Guardian, I wrote a letter to some poor fellow in Clark County, imploring him not to vote for Bush at the last election. (Other readers wrote to other voters in this key "swing" county.) In all probability my letter persuaded him to vote for Bush (the county, as a whole swung, to Bush at that election). What does a spineless Limey know, after all?

And this could well be the impact of Obama's German adoration on much of America. It might actually turn them against him. Americans don't like being told what to do by Europeans.

So Obama needs to follow up his world tour with some fairly grounded campaigning in Middle America - double quick.

Brown: This horse is dead

A swing of 22.54% from Labour to SNP in Glasgow East. Not good news for Mr Brown, made the more humiliating by an expectation that his party might just win the by-election.

The voters of Glasgow East may well have done Labour and Gordon Brown a favour. When a horse is irrevocably injured, someone has to humanely put it out of its misery.

Tories: The rats are fighting in the sack!

Oh dear. I shouldn't enjoy this, but I do.

Naughty but nice - Salman Rushdie c1980

The bit I enjoyed the most is this outburst of pomposity from old Winters:

Sir Nicholas told the Macclesfield Express yesterday that he was the victim of an "illegal ageist campaign" by unelected advisors who he described as "peddlers of lies".

Stand well back - the man's going to explode at any moment!

It's worth enjoying every morsel in the Macclesfield Express:

SIR NICHOLAS Winterton believes a "mafia" of young Tories who support David Cameron are pursuing a campaign against him.

The Macclesfield MP insists he will stand at the next election despite comments that were leaked at the weekend suggesting that Conservative party leader Mr Cameron wants him sacked.

A defiant Sir Nick told the Express: "In some quarters there is a group of people who want to see the back of me and Ann (his wife, the MP for Congleton). They may well be David Cameron’s sort of mafia that you get around a leader."

In an exclusive interview, he described the onslaught as an "illegal ageist campaign".

"If David Cameron hasn’t got the courage to speak to me personally then I don’t think that reflects very well on him," Sir Nick said. "If I hadn’t got his backing, I’d have thought he would have said so to me directly."

Later, he said the suggestions were an "insult" to Mr Cameron, with whom he retained a "totally agreeable relationship".

He suspects young unelected advisors – who he called "peddlers of lies" – of leaking the latest embarrassing comments to the Mail on Sunday.

The paper quoted an unnamed official who said Mr Cameron wanted the Wintertons out because they were a link to the "sleaze" Tory past – from which the young leader is determined to break free.

But Sir Nick, who was found to have unwittingly broken Parliamentary expenses rules by a standards committee last month, said: "This campaign makes me all the more determined and many of my constituents said to me just at the weekend that I must tough this out and stand again.

"I have been reselected by the local association to be Conservative candidate at the next election and that is my intention."

He would not be seeking a clear-the-air meeting with Mr Cameron, he said.

"We had a very agreeable meeting in February where I said I would have to await the outcome of this report (from the Parliamentary standards committee). As far as I am concerned the matter is now behind us. I spoke to him in the last week and he came into the House and nodded to me agreeing with the question I put. I can assure you there has been no approach, no comment and nothing said to me about being asked not to stand."

He said he had been re-elected to a number of House of Commons committees in recent weeks and remained one of the most active members of Parliament.

Madge Slater, chairwoman of Macclesfield Conservative Association, said: "There is no movement whatsoever from the grass roots here to usurp Sir Nicholas Winterton.
"We want him to be our MP into the next Parliament."

A spokesman for Conservative Central Office said: "It isn’t something we get involved in. They are on the approved candidates list and put themselves forward and the local association will chose their candidate."

No one from David Cameron’s office was available for comment as the Express went to press.

Will this lady set alight John McCain's ticket?

It's a fun question attached to fairly long odds. But if John McCain wanted to add a bit of pizazz to his ticket, he might just set it alight with the choice of Carly Fiorina.

She has a very distinguished business career behind her, culminating as CEO of HP. She's been working for McCain's campaign more recently.

She's a tough cookie, having seen through a gruelling challenge to her proposal to takeover Compaq, while at HP. In fact, after seeing her tenacity during that struggle, I believe that she's the sort of person I'd like alongside me during a war.

She's a highly accomplished presenter and speaker. The word "sassy" springs to mind to describe her.
And, unlike McCain, she can use a computer. She knows her bits from her bytes. After all, she ran the second largest computer company in the world.
What might let her down, should she be chosen, is obviously a lack of political experience outside business (although she is an expert in medieval history and is very familiar with the thoughts of that ultimate political power-broker, Machiavelli). And I have always regarded her as somewhat disinterested in fine, grinding detail - she's good at vision but not so hot on day-to-day execution. She's made a couple of light gaffettes in the political environment. And she would emphasise McCain's "fuddy-duddiness".
But the choice of Carly Fiorina as McCain's running mate would certainly add some extra spice to the US Presidential contest.

A little victory for privacy

I very much doubt if I can be classed as a fan of Max Mosley, but his victory over the News of the World is to be welcomed. The NotW described his activities as "truly grotesque and depraved". That quote ought to be used in dictionaries to define the meaning of "disingenuous".

The News of the World's primary purpose was once described as giving Joe Bloggs the chance of a quiet Sunday afternoon "J Arthur".

So, for them to try to justify themselves as exposing "depraved" behaviour is laughable.

The one justification that might - possibly - have held for their Mosley expose, was that it allegedly had "Nazi" overtones. Unfortunately, it didn't. Oh dear.

So I feel that the truth and the rights of citizens to a private life have had a little victory today.

McCain's Veep choice to be announced today?

Well, that's the speculation - he could try to spike Obama's "Ich bin ein Berliner" revival with such an anouncement. But as for who it will be, it's very much - "Pick a Veep - any Veep...."

I would have thought Mitt "Satan" Romney was a good bet. But Pawlenty has been mentioned, Portman, Kasich, Bobby Jindal...Carly Fiorina. It could be anyone.

I think he's onto a loser to try to buck Obama's German appearance headlines with his Veep announcement. Unless he has someone very special and surprising up his sleeve....
It is interesting that Conservative councillor, Robert Benson, has been suspended from teh Conservative party.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

David Cameron's interesting choice of factories to visit....

The Evening Standard reports that there appears to be a remarkable co-relation between David Cameron's visits to factories and donors to the Conservative party:

David Cameron is being accused of rewarding Tory donors with free publicity.
The charge came after he went to the training centre for trucking firm Scania to publicise an announcement on new apprenticeships.
Scania's UK distributor is businessman Chris Kelly, the deputy chairman of a donors group called the Midlands Industrial Council, which has given £561,780 to the Conservatives since MrCameron became leader. It is not the first time Mr Cameron has staged photo-opportunities at factories run by donors. On a trip to Sweden last year he visited a Scania factory.
In May 2006 he opened a new distribution centre in Basingstoke for Midland Chilled Foods, which is owned by Peter Shirley, another senior member of Midlands Industrial Council. In September 2006 he opened a new JCB plant in India and in November 2007 visited the firm's Staffordshire HQ.
JCB Chairman Sir Anthony Bamford is president of the MIC and gave £ 1million to the Conservatives before the last election. Mr Cameron also declares being given "helicopter and private plane travel" by JCB.
And in March 2007 he opened a new factory for electric vehicle manufacturer Modec in Coventry. Founder Jamie Borwick has donated £33,500 to the Conservative Party and gave £5,000 to Mr Cameron's leadership campaign.

Brown, the school swot

The morbid interest in the short-comings of Gordon Brown continues. Andrew Gimson in the Telegraph writes:

No one was unkind enough to remind Mr Brown of the picture of him on his latest trip to Iraq appearing to grin while manning a gun on a helicopter, but that too epitomises the poor man's ability to get things wrong on his public appearances.

When Mr Brown is forced to mingle with his fellow men, he stumbles like a swot who has spent too many hours at his books, and too few learning how to get on with other people over a game or a drink. It is hard to think of a single occasion since becoming Prime Minister when he has saved the day by telling a joke.

The official cost of Blair's farewell/vanity tour

There's all sorts of official information coming out of the woodwork at the moment. At last we have found out the full cost of Tony Blair's farewell tour:


Remember that this included his visit to the Pope with family and friends. Blair joined the Catholic Church a few months afterwards. Is it right that the British taxpayer funded what appears to be, overwhelmingly, a private visit to the Pope.

Is there any previous precedent for a UK Prime Minister to make a bee-line for the Pope a few days before he or she left office? Of course not.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

LibDem questioning reveals pathetically weak sentences on knife sales

No one was jailed for selling a knife to a child in England and Wales in the five years up to 2006, it has emerged.

Most of the 71 people convicted of selling knives to under 16-year-olds were fined, but mostly less than £500, despite the maximum fine being £5,000.

Only one person was given a community sentence, despite the maximum sentence being six months in prison.

The figures, up to the end of 2006, were revealed following parliamentary questions by the Liberal Democrats.

After all the recent hoo-ha about knife crime, the report above from the BBC is staggering. We're seeing a definite increase in knife crimes amongst teenagers. And yet, the sentences, doled out to those selling youngsters knives, are pathetically weak.

Well done to the Liberal Democrats for wheedling this information out of the government.

Obama will walk it (probably) - Time

I'm always furious when commentators say that England are about to win a sporting event. You know that defeat will inevitably be snatched from the jaws of victory a few seconds after their pronouncement.

Michael Grunwald's article in Time about Obama v McCain falls into that category. He's basically saying that Obama is going to win, stupid. Saying it invites fate to rain down. But it's fun to wallow in, nonetheless:

The media will try to preserve the illusion of a toss-up; you'll keep seeing 'Obama Leads, But Voters Have Concerns' headlines. But when Democrats are winning blood-red congressional districts in Mississippi and Louisiana, when the Republican president is down to 28 percent, when the economy is tanking and world affairs keep breaking Obama's way, it shouldn't be heresy to recognize that McCain needs an improbable series of breaks. Analysts get paid to analyze, and cable news has airtime to fill, so pundits have an incentive to make politics seem complicated. In the end, though, it's usually pretty simple.

Phrases you never thought you'd read #997

There is a definite Brown bounce going on

William Hill bookmakers

Brown's big problem

Sky News reports that Gordon Brown won't delegate his authority to anyone during his holiday.

It's not a case of "won't". Brown's problem is that he can't delegate.

David Hencke's article at the time of Brown's first anniversary described his ridiculous pursuit of minutiae, harrying minions at 6am. We have seen his hurried and chaotic appearance at PMQs.

And now he can't delegate any power/authority while on his hols.

It really is a classic case of a manager who doesn't know how to delegate. It's the type of case study you get to examine when you are on a business studies course.

There is a phrase "stick to the knitting", which refers to managers/companies needing to stick to what they are good at.

But "sticking to the knitting" can easily go over the line into managers concentrating too much on the fine crochet work of their business, looking at the quality of the weave through a microscope, while they lose sight of the essential big picture. They lose the "helicopter view".

That is where we are with Brown. Frankly, he couldn't manage a large organisation to save his life. It is debatable as to whether he will make a decent manager while he still has a ....hole in his mouth.

Mayor of London trashes holidays in Cornwall, Skegness, Scotland, Bognor, Eastbourne, Norfolk Broads, Southwold etc etc

So, let's just check Boris Johnson's "global itinerary of apology" so far:

Papua New Guinea

...and now with one single article in the Telegraph he has more than doubled that list with:

The Norfolk Broads

Many of those places were insulted in this single paragraph:

So let me lay it on the line. Some time before the end of August, I will grab a week's leave, like a half-starved sealion snatching an airborne mackerel, and whatever happens that leave will not be taken in some boarding-house in Eastbourne. It will not take place in Cornwall or Scotland or the Norfolk Broads. I say stuff Skegness. I say bugger Bognor.

I am going to take a holiday abroad, and in my view it would be absurd, hypocritical and frankly inhumane...

I have nothing against foreign holidays in the sun. Indeed, I had one a few months ago. However, it really is objectionable to write off the joys of holidaying in Britain. Scotland in the summer is an absolute joy. So are the other places listed. And it is ridiculous that many people automatically head south without considering the UK for their holidays. I tend to alternate. I am not prescribing that for others. I just wish Johnson would not so high-handedly trash British locations. Just take the example of the Norfolk Broads - when the weather is nice it is heavenly. Ditto Cornwall, Skegness etc etc. Johnson criticises Gordon Brown for holidaying in Southwold but that town really is a magical place for a holiday.

No doubt Johnson has frazzled himself recently, particularly given his second job, writing a column for Telegraph, which he does at the weekend. So good luck to him. But once again, the stupidity of his continuing Telegraph column is highlighted. It really is ludicrous that he continues this nonsense now that he is Mayor. It is entirely incompatible with his position. Do the towns of Skegness, Bognor and the counties and nation he insulted really deserve to have the Mayor of London trashing them?

A glorious day

They say good news comes in threes. I was waxing lyrically about two bits of good news yesterday and, late last night, came the third bit with the capture of Radovan Karadzic.

I am most pleased for the Serbian people. It became obvious that the only way Karadzic would come to justice would be if the Serbian people "turned him in" - which is more or less what happened. With the election of President Tadic (above), a corner appears to have been turned in Serbia, and we can only rejoice and look forward to them joining the EU.

Cycling is a right-wing activity...

Ed Vaizey said on Today this morning that cycling is a "right wing" and "Conservative" activity, quoting John Major's "old maids cycling to communion" statement as evidence:

...actually it's both a Conservative and a right-wing pastime, if I can draw that distinction.
Remember John Major's famous speech about 'old maids cycling to church'? And I think that brings up the point about the heritage of cycling - it's very much woven into the British character. It's a Conservative issue in terms of nostalgia, but it's also a right-wing issue because its about the freedom of the individual. It's about taking ones own action against an over-bearing stage.

Coming soon:

-Walking and chewing gum at the same time is a right wing activity - after all, Boris Johnson can just about manage it

-Breathing is a right wing activity - after all, Margaret Thatcher does it.

Monday, July 21, 2008

A couple shafts of light

Every so often there are events which give one a little hope.

Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai shaking hands, having signed an agreement brokered by the SADC, the UN and African Union, is one such event. The fact that it comes on the day the Zimbabwe issued a new 100billion dollar banknote, perhaps might give a clue as to what motivated it. There must be a limit to the amount of time an economy can exist with 2.2 Million per cent inflation without self-combusting. Perhaps it is now apparent that even R Mugabe realises.

I am also encouraged by the fact that the Portuguese police have closed the Maddie McCann "investigation". That might sound peculiar, but here's the logic. Without wishing to lapse too much into blogger's rant-mode, one has to say that the Portuguese police "investigation" of the child's disappearance hasn't exactly been productive. They named as sole suspects three people who are now not suspects and that seems to be sum total of their output. The legendary Oozlum bird achieved more (you know the one - the bird that flew round and round and then eventually flew up its own orifice).

So, one has to hope that now the Portuguese police are not "investigating" the disappearance, there might actually be some progress. This is not as mad as it sounds. Now they have closed the case they will at last do something which, so far they have not (much), due to Portuguese law. They will release all the details of their investigations to the McCanns. The Maddie McCann appeal has reportedly raised well over £1 million. That is sufficient, I would have thought, to fund an extensive investigation (note - no inverted commas for that one) by private investigators, who will now have the benefit of the case notes of the Portuguese police.

We can only hope that something positive comes out of this.

Advice for Gordon Brown in Southwold

BBC Online asked last week for advice for Gordon Brown as to what to do when he is on holiday in Southwold, Suffolk (above).

You could actually do a fifties or sixties version of "Life on Mars" or "Ashes to Ashes" (the TV programmes with Gene Hunt, that is) in Southwold. Perhaps a series involving a flashback to 1967 called "The Laughing Gnome"? It still had a haberdashery when I went there a few years ago.

Anyway, I submitted some Southwold-type advice for our PM to the BBC, but it appears to have been lost in the ether. So, to save my advice from evaporation, here's what I said:

"Gordon Brown should visit Adnam's brewery in Southwold and enjoy a pint of Broadside in the brewery tap. Mine was served by the head brewer when I visited. It was memorably refreshing. I left the bar with the floors beautifully swaying, to make my way to my train back to London."

There you are. Quite magnanimous and fair-spirited, I thought. No barbed remarks about shoving his head in the vat or anything like that....

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Young black men have had a bad press this week, mostly because of David Cameron's patronising intervention. Pathetic. It wasn't even original.

Simon Heffer deserves some sort of award for the headline to his article today:

Why doesn't Balls

Friday, July 18, 2008

British secrets? Take one please

I am having to contain myself here. Someone who I respect very much works at the Ministry of Defence, and I am sure it is made up of very earnest and hard-working people.

So I separate the people at the Ministry of Defence from the corporate body which is "The Ministry of Defence" - if that makes any sense (probably not, in which case go swiftly onto another blog, please).

Suffice it to say that I had some experience of observing "The Ministry of Defence" during the denouement of the Greenham Common saga (said Common being about a mile from my home - or 300 yards if you count a bit of green which is historically part of it).

Getting information or concessions out of "The Ministry of Defence" during that saga was a bit like trying to extract a digested three-penny bit from the wrong end of a duck. Difficult.

In fact, I dined out several times on my little aphorism about the MOD. It was: If you ask the Ministry of Defence what date Christmas Day is on this year they will tell you that they can't release that information in the interests of national defence.

Nuff said.

So, I am very sorry. I am very very sorry. It may be unpatriotic of me but I allowed myself several guffaws this evening when I read this story. It is beyond a joke and leaps into the realms of complete farce. I think it is British to laugh at these things.

I mean, for goodness sake. You could get enough secrets onto a memory stick to overturn the entire balance of power of the World. The Ministry of Defence have lost 100 of the things. And they have lost 650 laptops in the last four years. 20,000 laptops have been recalled because they forgot to encrypt them properly. Derrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

I mean come on! Iran? Korea? Syria? Just come along and take our secrets. The Ministry of Defence are too busy turning down requests for legitimate information from British citizens to worry about real security.

With repeated apologies to those who work at the Ministry of Defence.

Understated sotto voce subtlety of the week

From Lindylooz Muze A Topsy Turvy World - Cameron or Clegg on tax? :


High praise for Nick Clegg from Iain Dale

There is high praise for Nick Clegg's tax plans from Iain Dale in today's Telegraph:

I hate to say it, but if they truly mean what they say on tax, the Lib Dems are in danger of being in touch with the overwhelming majority of the British people, who are now feeling overtaxed, over-regulated and over-governed. Clegg has tapped into the Zeitgeist and may reap the electoral rewards. His political opponents, within and without his party, will pour scorn on him and accuse him of populism and worse. The truth is somewhat different. He hasn't just pledged a reduction in taxes; he has promised a cut in public spending, too. Admittedly, it is only £20 billion, a mere three per cent of total government spending, but it's a start. And it's a damn sight more than any other politician has had the guts to do.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

It's official: Davis campaign was a total failure

Politics Home, via their panel of 5000 voters, has found that, since he resigned and was re-elected, David Davis is more unpopular and oppostion to 42 days detention has actually decreased. The only good news for Davis is that more people know who he is, so the prospects of excellent sales for his (no doubt) forthcoming memoirs have been boosted by the use of £180,000 of taxpayers money to hold the Haltemprice & Howden by-election.

Impressive Clegg launch of "Make it happen"

The normal LibDem web site has been "fronted" by a glossy promo (above) for "Make it happen". This, I presume, is another title for the "Vision and Values" policy document heralded in the Independent this morning.
I would call this a "pre-manifesto" and it is impressive. I particularly like the way it starts with the emphasis on the fact that ordinary people are struggling to make ends meet, with policies to help them:

If there’s money to spare, we won’t simply spend it. We’re looking for ways to cut Britain’s overall tax burden, so ordinary families have more of their money to help themselves. Our tax cuts will be fair. We’ll change the tax and benefits system to make sure it helps ordinary people - not the rich. We’ll increase the state pension in line with earnings and give women pensioners a fair deal. We’ll simplify benefits to make it easier for everyone to get out to work. We’ll be tough on tax avoidance. We’ll help ordinary families struggling to pay for gas and electricity by forcing energy companies to invest windfall profits to cut bills so everyone can afford to stay warm this winter. We’ll help families facing repossession by forcing banks to offer financial help and advice first. And we’ll replace the unfair council tax. We will be frank about how we pay for this - by closing the loopholes that favour the rich, diverting unnecessary Government spending, and by taxing pollution.

The document is brilliantly put together. In particular, it clearly makes the starting point for each area is the British people. For example, the passage on foreign policy:

People in Britain are caring and compassionate about people’s suffering around the world. We donate vast amounts of our money to charities and campaign groups that help people trapped in poverty, stand up for human rights, and speak out against dictators and oppressive regimes.

But the government doesn’t follow through on these basic British values.

They invaded Iraq even though a million people marched to stop it. They export arms to countries with shocking records of torture and abuse. And they even tolerate corruption in international business. Governments of both big parties have propped up dodgy regimes when it suited them, and undermined international law for short-term gain. It’s time to base our foreign policy on our values - our belief in fairness, the value of human life, and the importance of democracy and civil rights.

We need a separate Department of Energy

Full marks to Alexis Rowell on the Belsize LibDem blog, who deserves a pat on the back for his excellent post entitled: The rising cost of food and energy. It has set me thinking quite deeply.

But one thing the article has jolted me to ponder on is the need for a separate Department of Energy in government, with its own Secretary of State. Wikipedia tells the history of the Department of Energy here. It was set up during the 1970s oil crisis and then wound down in the 90s with its energy efficiency brief going to what is now DEFRA and energy policy going to BERR, where it has its own page on its web site.

The US has it own Department of Energy with its Cabinet secretary. It is blindingly obvious that, with the huge, multi-generational challenge to wean ourselves off oil and onto renewables with reduced use of energy, we need a government, cabinet level ministry to decide the strategy and drive it.

I note that Nick Clegg's new policy document Vision and Values, includes plans, or at least suggestions, to scrap the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. I hope that energy policy is retrieved from this "scarpping" and recycled with energy efficiency into its own department.

"Clegg shines at PMQs" - Spectator

Fraser Nelson on the Spectator Coffee House blog has highly complimented Nick Clegg for his performance at this week's PMQs:

...I’d give Nick Clegg the best attack line. He went on the economy, and raised the prospect of a Winter of Discontent. One of the Treasury bench smiled here, which gave Clegg a great chance to say “I don’t know why he’s smiling when unemployment today is up for its highest rate for 16 years” – but I rather doubt whether one can spy a smile from that far across the chamber.
Brown was, as always, caught between his two responses on the economy. Response A is “it’s bad out there, your Great Helmsman will guide you through the storms.” And then there’s Response B, “I’m a great Prime Minister, things are really good here, record employment, lower inflation than anywhere in the world.”
Unwisely, he chose Response B claiming that British inflation was the lowest in Europe (it’s not) and that employment is at a new high (a crude function of record immigration and naturally rising population). Seduced by his ability to produce Brownies like this, Brown is tiptoeing closer and closer to Callaghan “crisis? What crisis?” territory. No one reading any newspaper today, or buying anything in the supermarket, will believe inflation is lower. And no one cares about the price of sauerkraut in Germany. Clegg’s response “he’s so out of touch he doesn’t know how bad things are” was precisely the right one – even if he then veered off into fuel poverty.

Clegg's bold tax cutting plans

The Independent gives about as much detail as if available so far on Nick Clegg's bold tax cutting plans, which are being announced today. A policy document called "Vision and Values" (which sounds like a pre-manifesto to me) is mentioned and it all sounds very exciting. Spending cuts, tax cuts. A bit like the Conservative manifesto - only joking.

This is some of what the Indie says:

Nick Clegg will today commit the Liberal Democrats to cutting the overall tax burden as he relaunches his party as one committed to fairness for people on low and middle incomes.
He will attempt to undercut Labour and the Conservatives by pledging to slash Whitehall spending to pay for tax reductions, and will reaffirm his commitment to lowering the standard rate of income tax to 16p in the pound. The Liberal Democrat leader will say: "We will get wasteful government spending under control and give the economy a boost by cutting taxes from the bottom for those who need the most help. If there is money to spare, we won't simply spend it. We are looking for ways to cut the overall tax burden."
Mr Clegg will try to cut through the increasingly dominant battle between Labour and the Tories by launching a statement of values designed to outline the big ideas he believes will help double the number of Liberal Democrat MPs within two general elections. He will argue that his party can deliver in a way the main parties cannot, saying: "If you want Britain to be fairer, you know who will make it happen – we will. Labour can't, the Tories won't."

Most of this is a "sexy" re-announcement of our 4p<->green tax plans from last year. Thank goodness they are getting a bit of publicity. I have often said that they are our best kept secret.

What is new (as far as I can make out) is the aspiration to cut the overall tax burden and this is underpinned, if such a substantive phrase can be used for it, by a proposal of £20 billion worth of spending cuts which are to be defined.

Obviously, the nub or rub of the whole scheme are these cuts. Nick Clegg obviously needs to set out what areas these cuts will be impact. It seems he has laid out some broad direction for Jeremy Browne, who has the task to go away and detail where the cuts will be. Broad areas which have been suggested by Clegg include:

....scrapping the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and moving parts of the Civil Service to cheaper locations outside London.

Fairly non-controversial stuff on the face of it. HOWEVER - whatever happened to the Department of Energy? In the challenging times ahead I think we need a separate energy department in government as there was after the 1970s oil crisis. As far as I can make it out it was subsumed into the BERR so I think it needs to be pulled out of any "scrapping" of this department.

I look forward to seeing the policy document, overall it is welcome that some existing policies (including some constitutional policies such as reducing the number of MPs) are being relaunched and that Clegg is giving a high visibility relaunch to them - with a bit of a twist.

The LibDems do get drowned out by the other parties, so it is very welcome that Nick Clegg is making a decent attempt to be heard above the general hubbub.

Clegg's bold tax cutting plans

The Independent gives about as much detail as if available so far on Nick Clegg's bold tax cutting plans, which are being announced today. A policy document is mentioned and it all sounds very exciting. Spending cuts, tax cuts. A bit like the Conservative manifesto only joking.

Clegg's bold tax cutting plans

The Independent gives about as much detail as if available so far on Nick Clegg's bold tax cutting plans, which are being announced today. A policy document is mentioned and it all sounds very exciting. Spending cuts, tax cuts. A bit like the Conservative manifesto only joking.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Fascinating tax switch

There appears to have been a bit of a flip in the traditional political scene on tax:

Conservative leader David Cameron has admitted taxes may have to rise if he becomes prime minister.

Nick Clegg told a Journalists lunch today that he'd fight the next election on a "radical tax cutting programme for people on low and modest incomes"

Fascinating. On reading of Nick Clegg's remarks I think I can be forgiven for programming a celebatory treble into my alcohol consumption spreadsheet....

LibDem proposals for youth crime

Thanks to Aberavon and Neath LibDems for flagging up Chris Huhne's launch of the LibDem proposals to tackle youth crime.

The main proposals contained in the paper A Life Away From Crime include:

The creation of a Youth Volunteer Force, to engage with young people, involve them in community projects and give them skills to benefit them in later life

Establish Community Justice Panels across the country, where offenders admit their guilt to the community and agree on a Positive Behaviour Order as a course of action

Create a dedicated PCSO youth officer within every Safer Neighbourhood Team to identify and work with teenagers most at risk of offending

10,000 more police on the streets by scrapping the ID cards scheme

Intelligence-led stop and search and ‘hot spot policing’ targeted at gun and knife crime

Restorative justice programs to be run in every community, specifically targeted at early intervention with widespread use in schools and care homes

The full document can be downloaded here.

Anti-speed camera council leader was banned

Swindon Borough Council have been all over the news like a rash today. They have been making rumblings about getting rid of speed cameras - the final decision is to be taken in September.

The BBC pointed out that the fact that the council no longer receives revenues from the cameras (such funds have recently been re-directed to Westminster) appears to be a motivation behind the considered move.

Now the Press Association reports that the council's leader was once banned from driving for speeding:

Roderick Bluh, the leader of the Conservative-controlled council, was banned for three months after he collected 12 penalty points on his licence for speeding.

Mr Bluh said the ban, which was imposed before he became Swindon Council leader in 2006, had changed his behaviour but said there were other ways to improve people's driving.

"I was banned for three months. It has affected my behaviour," he said.

"But all cameras do is catch you when you have speeded."

I am finding that last sentence difficult to assimilate. "All cameras do is catch you when you have speeded." But if they are not there, they don't catch you - do they? Is Mr Bluh saying that is good?

He appears to be arguing that speed cameras are not a deterrent. Well, in his case, it seems to be true. To rack up 12 points takes some doing.

Is he in the right job? He's in charge of a council, part of whose remit is to improve road safety. It seems fair to ask whether he actually has a clue about road safety. Indeed, based his record, one might ask if he has an appropriate respect for road safety.

Monday, July 14, 2008

It is actually Lembit's fault that his private life gets more coverage than his spokesman role

Yes, Stephen Tall is right that it is utterly scandalous that Lembit Opik's revelation about the government keeping nearly £200m of council tenants' rent this year has received hardly any media coverage, while his break-up with the Cheeky Girl has received blanket coverage.

But let's not blame the media.

Who was it that splashed his private life all over Hello! ?

Who was it who brazenly made tacky jokes about it in the Commons and paraded arm-in-arm down the high street, with the press in tow?

Yes, Lembit himself.

Let's face it. Quietly going about his business is not in Lembit's nature. And thank goodness that - and for the colour he brings to British politics. But let's not kid ourselves that the above is the media's fault. That would be silly.

Knife crime - time for cool heads

The BBC's News at Six tonight added a very welcome sense of proportion to the knife crime debate. The programme is available until Tuesday 15th July at 18:29 here on the BBC's iPlayer and the report in question starts at 4.30 in the video file. Here's a summary:

The report featured three reporters from around the country in Glasgow, Bolton and Bristol. Taking the last first, the reporter said that yes, knife crime continued strongly in urban Bristol, but it has actually dropped across the Clifton suspension bridge in the rural areas and in the South West (only 12 youngsters taken to hospital with knife wounds there in the last year)

The reporter from Bolton, Manchester said, basically, that gun crime was more of a problem than knife crime there. There are some isolated high incidence areas in Moss side or in the city centre of Manchester.

The reporter from Scotland said that hospital admissions suggest that the number of knife assaults has gone down by third in recent years, but that stabbing remains by far the most common method of killing. The Scottish parliament is considering a mandatory jail sentence for carrying a knife.

Mark Easton, home affairs editor, summed up by saying that the number of deaths caused by stabbing has remained relatively static at around 300-350 per year which means about one case per day. Tragic and awful, but those are the figures and have been for some time. So, we've heard reports that there have been five killings by stabbing over the weekend, but that doesn't necessarily indicate an epidemic or a unusual increase across the country, but that there is a very specific problem in some localised areas. The age of the victims is going down and there are some obvious "hot spots" such as in London.

Slightly digressing for a moment, but nevertheless adding some general perspective, Mark Easton writes about the subject of youth on his blog:

Reading the great British press, one might be forgiven for thinking that all our teenagers are binge-drinking, drug-addled, knife-wielding thugs ready to leap out and stab a granny for a fiver.There is a real problem with knife-crime in some parts of the UK, let's not pretend otherwise. And there are many other problems concerning young people in this country.But I thought it might be timely to remind ourselves that youth doesn't necessarily mean yob.

He then goes on to list ten reasons to be optimistic about the "yoof", concluding:

This list doesn't mean teenagers are all little angels. They aren't and they never have been. But it would be a shame to demonise a social group that is actually happier, achieving at a higher level, with better health and more opportunity for travel, sport and cultural activities than any previous generation in our history.

Going back to the specific issue of knife crime, The Mail on Sunday yesterday quoted some scary figures. But when you look at their table (below - click to enlarge) it shows half of the reported police areas going up (in terms of knife crime incidents) and half the areas going down.

I notice that one of the areas that has gone down (albeit very slightly) is Nottinghamshire, where they are conducting what is described as:

...the first early intervention measures designed to build the social and emotional development of not only babies, toddlers and primary school children but also to help young mothers and to ensure that children grow up to take full advantage of the educational opportunities available to them, rather than becoming a burden on society and alienated and prone to disruptive behaviour, educational underachievement and in many cases criminality.

Ah. Excellent. At last a sign of some intelligent action in this area.

Chris Summers has an excellent analysis of knife crime on BBC Online. His report includes, again, some very welcome intelligence on the subject from Richard Garside, the director of the Centre of Crime and Justice Studies at Kings College London, who said:

If you look at the figures for the last 10 years the number of knife victims has remained relatively stable - although there have been spikes - at 200 to 220 a year. But there is some evidence the demographic has changed. The average age of homicide victims overall has been going down, with younger and younger victims. Those living in poorer parts of town are inevitably most at risk. For many years the murder capital for knife crime has been Glasgow, but now we are seeing it as a major problem in Manchester and London and other cities.

(In passing I note that the report quoted one Scottish police officer as saying: "If you think you've got it bad down in London, you should take a look at Glasgow." )

That comment from Mr Garside chimes in with a report on the underlying causes of knife crime issued by the Centre for Crime and Justice studies at King's College, London last December. The report can be read in full here. The college's press release summarised it thus:

A coherent evidence based strategy that recognises the deeper structural causes of inequality, poverty and social disaffection is needed to address knife related offending according to a report published today by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King's College, London.

The report argues that enforcement and punitive action to tackle knife carrying and knife use, such as harsher sentences, fail to take account of the fact that it is `merely one expression of interpersonal violence'. Success in tackling knife crime will only come with success in dealing with the underlying causes of violence, fear and insecurity.

The comprehensive review of evidence and policy states that:

-Knife carrying, especially amongst young men, is not unusual but there is insufficient evidence on the extent, nature, motivation, frequency and possible growth of knife carrying. Without further research, designing and implementing programmes to reduce the incidence of knife carrying will be difficult.

-According to official statistics the number of violent crimes involving knives in England and Wales has remained stable in recent years and it is impossible to establish either an upward or down ward trend in the number of actual incidents. Within particular offence categories there is no substantial evidence of a significant change in the proportions of knife use.

-Sharp instruments, which includes knives, are the most common weapon in a homicide. But as a proportion of all homicides the use of sharp instruments has fallen over the past decade, accounting for less than thirty per cent of homicides in 2005/2006 compared to nearly forty percent in 1995.

-There is limited research on the motivations for knife carrying but children who have been a victim of crime are more likely to carry knives. There appears to be a link between knife carrying and whether or not young people feel safe from crime and victimisation.

-The available research shows that children, young people, those living in poor areas and members of black and minority ethnic communities are more likely to be the victims of knife offences.

What is clear is that (a) the panicky hoopla surrounding this issue over the last few weeks is going to get us nowhere fast and that (b) some specific targeted studies and programmes are required to target the causes of knife crime particularly among young teenagers in poor areas.

Tying poor old Jacqui Smith in knots is going to get us nowhere. And David Cameron slicking back his hair and saying "What needs to be made clear is that carrying a knife is wrong" is also going to get us nowhere fast - although it might get Cameron lots of votes among the middle classes, who do not generally have a problem with knife crime. It appears that young people in some areas may be more frightened of being stabbed (thereby motivating them to carrying a knife to protect themselves) than being arrested for carrying it.

The political equivalent of the Flat Earth Society

McCain's computer use: When in hole....

Stop digging. This latest great excavation work from the Arizonan Senator is from the New York Times:

I am learning to get online myself, and I will have that down fairly soon, getting on myself. I don't expect to be a great communicator, I don't expect to set up my own blog, but I am becoming computer literate to the point where I can get the information that I need... I don't e-mail, I've never felt the particular need to e-mail.

Well, we can only hope that McCain will feel the need to e-mail if, heaven forbid, he becomes US President and receives millions of the pesky things each year.

Uncle Sam helps out Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae

....Brings back memories of "Buddy, can you spare a dime?"

Don't panic!

Risky strategy

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Cameron shows his true colours with his "fat speech"

....Well, apparently Cameron has confided to intimates: "I suppose it will always be known as the "fat speech" now" - so who am I to disappoint him?

The Sunday Times sees the speech as the "third great moment" of his leadership of the Conservative party.

On the other hand, Jon Cruddas has an article in the Sunday Mirror entitled: "Cam shows his true colours":

I give him credit for saying what he really thinks. The point, however, is that this week the veil slipped - the real David Cameron stepped up. To me it undermined a lot of the positive work he had been doing over the last year or so.

Part of my anger is undoubtedly because of his background.

David Cameron went to a school where the fee alone is more than double what someone on the minimum wage gets for a year of graft.

It's a lot easier to stay healthy and in work when you're born into that kind of money, so he should be a bit careful lecturing the rest of us. He has no real knowledge of generational poverty or poor public services that you have to rely on... on the numbing effects of a chronic lack of social mobility and real opportunity... nor the day-to-day grind and struggle to make ends meet But it isn't about Cameron himself.

The big problem with Cameron's views isn't that they stick in the throat coming from him. It's that they are plain wrong.

I don't buy the idea that people living on the minimum wage or less are there because they deserve it, while people like Cameron are rich because they tried harder. It seems that he's going back to Thatcher's idea that "there's no such thing as society". The Tory view is that you fend for yourself, and if you fall down, well, it's sad, but it's your own fault.

I take the opposite view - we're stronger when we work together than we are on our own. That's why I have always been in a trade union, but it's also the principle behind local community groups, and ultimately it's what government is for too. And it is no surprise that David Cameron wants to cut back on the role of the government in terms of health, education, tax credits and other benefits.

Take family values for example.

Cameron says he's for them. But if you're a mum working 40-odd hours in a shop, you need the flexibility to take a few days off if your kid has stressful exams or is ill. A good parent wants to help their kid revise or get well again - but at the moment only parents with decent jobs and good wages can afford to take the time off. Cameron's Tories would scream blue murder about red tape, but to me that's what real family values are about.

Inequality is the fundamental issue. The richer someone is, the longer they are likely to live - it's poverty that's the real killer.

Behind Cameron's repackaging of the Tories is the same old brutal right-wing dogma.

The penny dropped for me this week.

Scandal of four MPs' second homes

The Sunday Telegraph has listed four MPs who have homes in their constituencies which are within reasonable travelling distance to Westminster.

However, these four MPs have used their ACA (Additional Cost Allowance) within the "letter" (if not the spirit) of the House of Commons expense rules, to use taxpayers' money to fund second homes in places further away from Westminster and nowhere near their constituency. It's incredible!

MP: Bob Neill
Party: Conservative
Constituency home: Bromley and Chiselhurst
Distance from Westminster: 12 miles
Second home funded by taxpayer: Southend-on-Sea, Essex (where else? It's lovely at this time of year and has the longest pier in the world)
Distance from Westminster: 44 miles

MP: Harry Cohen
Party: Labour
Constituency home: Leyton and Wanstead
Distance from Westminster: 10 miles
Second home funded by taxpayer: Colchester, Essex
Distance from Westminster: 70 miles

MP: Jacqui Lait
Party: Conservative
Constituency home: Beckenham
Distance from Westminster: 10
Second home funded by taxpayer: Rye, Sussex
Distance from Westminster: 76

MP: Anne Main
Constituency home: St Albans
Distance from Westminster: 26
Second home funded by taxpayer: Beaconsfield
Distance from Westminster: 31

Ed Davey, Liberal Democrat MP for Kingston and Surbiton lives in his constituency and commutes to Westminster. He is entitled to use the same "letter" of the rules to claim the ACA but does not, despite also bearing the cost of a second home in Dorset with his wife. He said:

To use the ACA in this way is incredible. It may be within the law, but it's like people doing dodgy tax deals which are just about legal but go against the spirit of the tax legislation. MPs should not just play within the letter of the law but also within the spirit of the law. The people opposing reform of this system are bringing democracy and Parliament into disrepute.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

"Childish" political restriction on Clegg's intended visit to care centre

A political party leader wants to meet disabled service users and their carers at a care centre which is under threat of closure.


One would have thought not. Happens all the time.

But not according to Conservative controlled Worcestershire County Council.

They have banned the meeting with Nick Clegg at the care centre in Pershore, quoting the issue of "political neutrality".

So it will go ahead anyway at one of the parent's homes.

Parent Judy Hall said: "We wanted Nick Clegg to have a better idea of what the centre did day to day for our children. We will still get together to discuss the state of provision for profoundly disabled people in Worcestershire. I am told that Mr Clegg is a disability rights campaigner and is very interested in this sort of thing. We are determined to keep our fight to save the centre alive and kicking."

Judy's husband Tony added: "The council has taken a childish attitude."

The untidy and expensive message from Haltemprice and Howden

I don't think you can ever discount or ignore people getting off their bottoms and walking to the polling station (or posting their ballot). So 17,113 people voting for David Davis is a fairly powerful message. Having said that, the turnout was 34.5% (Yorkshire Post) which looks fairly ropey when compared to the 50.32 turnout at the Henley by-election just 14 days earlier and the 58.2% turnout at the Crewe & Nantwich by-election in May.

I make it £11.02 per vote. Quite an expensive demonstration.

That's based on the Telegraph's estimate of £200,000 for the cost of the by-election to taxpayers, minus £11,500 being 23 lost deposits (I make it that only the Greens and the English Democrats managed to keep their deposits at over 5% of the vote - the threshold being 1,187 based on a total vote of 23,749). So a net cost of £188,500 divided by 17,113 votes for Davis=£11.02 or £7.94 if you count all the votes. (I am sure I have made a mistake, which will be pointed out to me, somewhere in those calculations!)

Was it worth it? Well, I suppose you have to say yes when there are people denied the vote elsewhere. But it is a fairly untidy message to Gordon Brown. People don't like 42 days detention without trial but do like 28 days in Holtemprice and Howden - is that it? Or do they like Davis and 42 days? Or do they not like CCTV? (In which case why did they vote for Davis when he has presided, as front-bench spokesman, over Conservative councils installing thousands of them?)

Political author David Craig, campaigning against Parliamentary waste and greed, said: "It is completely clear - this was a waste of a huge amount of taxpayers' money which has proved nothing at all."

....Shan Oakes, the Green candidate, said "...the fact this is a Tory stronghold has meant that a lot of people are voting for David Davis even if they don't agree with his views on civil liberties."

Is it worth £22 of taxpayers money per vote to return Davis to parliament ?

Stephen Tall on LibDem Voice speculates on tonight's result at the Haltemprice and Howden by-election.

Goodness knows what will happen. I hope the people of H&H will show some good judgment and watch the telly instead of voting for Davis.

I would have thought that all the 25 candidates aside from Davis will get tiddler votes and Davis will get a disappointing vote for him - but way ahead of everyone else.

Of all the exercises of “democracy” in this country in the last forty years this is the one which brings me nearest to nauseation. It is a completely pointless exercise and Davis should be invoiced for this publicity exercise, which will no doubt boost the deal he gets for his memoirs.

If Davis had been against anything over 2 days (detention without charge) it might be different, but the fact that he was in favour of 28 days, but draws a huge line at 42 days, is ridiculous.

Here’s one little mathematics exercise for the wee small hours:

The Telegraph reports:

According to one estimate, the by-election process has cost taxpayers more than £200,000.
“Free mailing provided to each of the candidates will cost Royal Mail a total of £112,600. And East Riding Council which will administer the election and the counting of ballots tomorrow, is expected to spend at least £95,000. ”

So, when the result is announced, divide £200,000 by the number of votes cast for Davis and then ask: Was the exercise worth that much taxpayers money for each vote?

My estimate is that he will get about 9,000 votes, so each vote cast for him will have cost the taxpayer £22. A very expensive form of "democracy" when all it is doing is re-sending someone back to Parliament on a freshly inflated cloud of his own ego.