Friday, March 31, 2006

Blair's Dentistry Policy Starts to Bite

LibDem activist Susanne Lamido has a heartfelt post on her blog about Blair's policy on NHS dentistry, which is well worth a read. I remember last year my friend Mark Fox, who stood in Great Yarmouth, found that there was not a single NHS dentist in the constituency. Looks like the same will go for the rest of the country soon.

Another Senior Tory MP to Stand Down

Tim Boswell, MP for Daventry, tonight announced he would not be standing again. He is the third senior Conservative to announce their retirement in as many weeks, following in the footsteps of Michael Howard and Sir Michael Spicer. Tim said that the boundary changes affecting his seat were a major reason for his decision, and if they did not go through he would change his mind. Ann Widdecombe has also talked of retiring but hasn't formally announced her decision yet. Full story HERE.

EXCLUSIVE: LibDem Seeks New Job: Proven Fundraising Skills

The Liberal Democrats have tried to paint themselves as whiter than white over the recent political funding saga. But some of us remember how they were slapped over the knuckles by the Electoral Commission for the way they handled the £2 million donation from the bizarre character Michael Brown. It's interesting to note that Charles Kennedy's former Head of Office, the redoubtable Anna Werrin, is making great play of her political fundraising skills in the CV she is circulating to would-be employers, now that Kennedy no longer has a job for her.

Among the many skills she displays is "playing a leading role in the fundraising activities of the Party". And it seems she played a very leading role indeed. She goes on to boast that one of her key functions was "representing the Leader at all fundraising functions and acting as the link with key donors (e,g, personal responsibility for “pitching” at major donors and securing donations to the Party of £3,000,000 plus in the last five years)". Quite a boast.

Now I have never worked in a Leader's Office, but if I had, and I was Head of the Office, I'd make damned sure I steered clear of "pitching", as she puts it, to major donors. Surely that is not the job of an apparatchik, let alone the apparatchik who was regarded by everyone as Charles Kennedy's representative on earth. But more to the point, what a stupid thing to put on your CV at the moment.

Another key skill Ms Werrin is keen for a future employer to be aware of is "managing the Leader’s relationship with key party management committees to include assisting with the election of individuals to key posts". Now what on earth can she mean by that? Particularly the last bit.

We should not forget, however, that Charles Kennedy thought extremely highly of Ms Werrin. In his resignation statement he thanked friends and colleagues, saying: "They are far too numerous to mention individually, save one - and that person is Anna Werrin. A finer friend and colleague you could not wish for - throughout my first 23 years in politics! High praise indeed.

Read Francis Maude's Statement in Full

For anyone who doubts how open the Tory Party has been on donations and loans, I would urge them to read Francis Maude's statement in full by clicking HERE. No political party in Britain has ever bared its financial soul in such a transparent way. So I say again, let the media spotlight return from whence it came!

On Radio 5 Live at 11pm Tonight

I'm on the Brian Hayes Show on Radio 5 Live tonight from 11pm talking about State funding for political parties. I'm up against some policy wonk from the IPPR. My basic line is that as a Conservative I'm not philosophically in favour of it but I think some form of State funding is now probably inevitable. Unlike me to be pragmatic rather than dogmatic, but there you go! Please do take part in the poll in the left hand column on State funding. It's 77-23 against at the moment.

Who Carved an Anti-Blair Slogan into the House of Commons Woodwork?

I've just discovered a very gossipy website called HolyMoly. This particular item caught my eye...

"In the House of Commons chamber, the table in the centre - given by the people of Canada - has a stack of books laid out directly in front of Tony Blair. The books weren't there a few years ago... Around the time of Otis Ferry's invasion, someone - and no-one knows (or is any closer to discovering) who - carved on it the legend: 'Tony Blair Is A C**t!' Because it's carved into wood and leather, it's a bit tricky to patch up: hence the stash of books."

A challenge to any MP reading this blog - take a peek under the books and tell us how true this is.

Apparently I'm Running a Tory Slush Fund!

A friend of mine has just taken a call from a tabloid journalist who asked him if I was running some kind of Tory slush fund! This is the extent to which this story is becoming fucking pathetic somewhat ridiculous. If any other journalist would like to contact me with any information as to how this is doing the rounds and where it's come from I'd love to hear from you! I suspect my lawyers (if I had any...) would be interested too...

Tory Lenders: Big Deal About Nothing

These are the people who have lent the Conservative Party money. Big deal. To my knowledge not a single one of these has been nominated for an honour since they loaned the money. And that's the difference between this list and Labour's.

Henry Angest £550,000
Lord Ashcroft £3.6m
Dame Vivien Duffield £250,000
Johan Eliasch £2.6m
Alan Lewis £100,000
Cringle Corporation Ltd £450,000
Graham Facks-Martin £50,000
Michael Hintze £2.5m
Lord Laidlaw £3.5m
Victoria, Lady de Rothschild £1m
Raymond Richards (deceased) £1m
Lord Steinberg £250,000
Charles Wigoder £100,000

I hope that the media will now understand that there are differences between these loans and those made to Labour. I list the reasons in an earlier post today.

Goldsworthy & Mandelson: Spot the Difference

In my never-ending quest to boost the career of LibDem MP Julia Goldsworthy I feel duty bound to report what Kevin Maguire says in this week's New Statesman diary. He says that fellow female MPs think she'd do rather well in a Peter Mandelson look-a-like contest. I can think of few worse insults. If I were Mandy I'd be consulting my lawyers.

Loans Spotlight Should Switch Back to Labour

A senior lobby journalist told me yesterday afternoon that the Conservatives would today announce the names of those who have lent the Party money in recent years. I contemplated posting this news but couldn't get it verified. Now I wish I had! The media have already identified the sources of loans worth £12 million, but the rest will be made public in a statement in a few hours time. Is this a good thing? Undoubtedly yes. I have said all along that transparency is the best form of defence and if the rest of the donor/lendors have been persuaded to go public, so much the better. Things have got so ridiculous on this that I had a call from Newsnight's Michael Crick yesterday asking if the David Davis campaign was lent any money. My first reaction was to roar with laughter. Just for the record, it didn't. The attempt by Labour to switch the spotlight onto the Conservatives was made even more obvious yesterday by the complaint by a hitherto unheard of Labour MP to the Metropolitan Police about Tory donations. It's just a shame that some journalists have fallen for it so easily. But perhaps with the announcement this afternoon, the media spotlight will return to where it ought to be aimed at - the Labour Party.

AFTERTHOUGHT: Several people in the Comments section (Labour/LibDem supporters, natch) have questioned why Tory loand are any different to Labour ones. For a start, the Labour Party Treasurer clearly thought something was awry as he didn't even know about them. They had been hidden from him and others. That was not the case with Tory loans, the existence of which was already public knowledge. Indeed, there had been newspaper articles about the Party having loans some time ago. Secondly, no one has established a link between Tory loans and honours. We must await for the full list this afternoon, but I will be astonished if they mirror the Labour situation, where four of their Peerage nominees had been lendors to the Labour Party. As Guido helpfully points out "No. 10 civil servants assisting in the procuring of honours for "loans" on behalf of Blair without going through the Labour party machine is very different from Tory treasurers raising money as per normal either by donation or loan."

What Does Being a 'Change Agent' Mean?

The term 'Change Agent' is one which is increasingly used in US government circles. My co-podcaster Daniel Forrester has written a paper on the term and has even started a Blog. He has just published an interview with me on his Blog on what being an agent of change entails. Click HERE to read it.

Tony Blair: It's Nearly All Over

I'm nailing my colours to the mast. I think Tony Blair will step down as Prime Minister at the Labour Party Conference, and may well announce it much earlier to allow a leadership contest to take place over the Summer. Prescott's remark at PMQs this week has re-enforced my view. Hague asked him when Blair would go and he replied "that's for me to know and you to guess". Would he have said that if he really had no clue? The papers today are also full of stories that Brown knows the date and is annoyed the PM hasn't made it public yet. I think there is a strong chance his departure could come even earlier than the Summer. The fact that Labour MPs and even MPs on the government payroll, like Ashok Kumar, haven't been disciplined for calling on him to go and the fact that he has also not held his long awaited reshuffle all point to an early departure. Unless, as Esther Rantzen used to say, you know different...

EXCLUSIVE: Alastair Campbell's Diaries May be Banned

The Times reported yesterday that civil servants will in future be banned from writing their memoirs, and if they do manage to publish a book, the government would seize all profits form royalties or newspaper serialisations. But in the same breath as announcing this, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that he fully intended to write his own memoirs. Breathtaking. Speaking before the Public Administration Committee, he said "memoirs serve a very important purpose - as long as they are written by ministers, not unelected officials." He is so wrong. Surely it is just as important for us to understand the inner workings of government from the civil service perspective, as it is from a Minister's? I published a civil service memoir a few years ago called A Mandarin's Tale by Sir Roy Denman. It failed to trouble the bookshop tills very much but I felt it was an important book. Is Jack Straw really saying that Sir Nicholas Henderson's diaries Mandarin should never have appeared? Or that he should never have written his book called The Private Office? This is above all a question of free speech. We do not live in a Soviet State where secrecy is the watchword. At least, I thought we didn't. In my view civil servants should be just as free as Ministers to publish their recollections of their working lives. But I guess we now have to ask ourselves if Jack Straw's ban will apply to Alastair Campbell, who was, of course, a civil servant (technically, anyway). Could he now lose out on his multi-million pound nest-egg under these draconian new rules? The thought is almost too joyful to contemplate. I think my colleagues in Her Majesty's Press Corps should push for a clear answer to this most important question.

Harriet Harman Speaks on Debt Management!

You know how sometimes events throw up some strange coincidences? Like two football teams draw each other in the FA Cup but then play each other in the League the next Saturday? Well guess who got to speak in the Commons yesterday on "Debt management". Yep, none other than Harriet Harman, wife of the man who raised the Loans for Peerages scandal in the first place. You really couldn't make it up. During the Westminster Hall debate she said this - and kept a straight face...

"First of all, a person receives a wrong; then, they make the effort to go to court; and then the person who did the wrong cocks a snoop at the whole system and refuses to pay. That is a major problem. We ought to recognise that the problem is that many people think that they just do not have to pay. Many agencies and organisations have to spend time chasing people who think that even though they owe somebody something—because they owe them a debt or have done them a wrong—they can just walk away from it. We should all condemn those people who do a wrong to someone and think that they do not have to provide recompense."

As Ken Dodd might put it, it's "Hatti-filarious"!

Which Journalist Will Have Egg on His Face?

Two contrasting headline's from today's newspapers. First from the Indy...

by Colin Brown

Well first of all, the sub who wrote that should be fired. The Tories have named all donors who "GAVE" them money. And from today's Times...

By Andrew Pierce

They can't both be right, can they?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Poll Result: If Gordon Brown Didn't Exist...

Over the last week we've been running a poll with the question: If Gordon Brown didn't exist, who do you think should be the next leader of the Labour Party? 270 people voted and Hilary Benn won by a country mile with 35%. David Miliband was second with 13% and John Reid came third with 11%. The readers of this blog are obviously people of taste. They put Patricia Hewitt bottom with 3% - I'd love to know the identity of the nine people who voted for her. I assume they must have all been Conservatives with a masochism complex. So it's down to the betting shop tomorrow to put some crispy oncers on Hilary.

Check out the new poll: Do you think that some sort of State Funding for political parties should be introduced?

And don't forget to listen to my latest podcast (click the icon on the left) with Cheryl Gillan.

LibDems: Free Cod Liver Oil for All

Recess Monkey has an entertaining post on the ageing LibDem leadership team. He speculates that...

"Unconfirmed reports from Cowley Street indicate that new Lib Dem policies will include "cod liver oil for all", "a pacemaker in every community" and "bringing back that nice Mr Gladstone".

Mr Monkey is a far-sighted primate. He obviously didn't realise that one of the LibDems' vote-catching policies at the last election was indeed to provide Cod Liver Oil on the NHS, if I recall it correctly. It proved extremely popular in North Norfolk!

Check Out this Aussie Political Blog

I've just discovered an excellent Australian political Blog called OzPolitics. It is non-partisan and traces the latest developments in Aussie politics. It also has the best Political Test I have yet seen on the internet. It got me down to a tee. Click HERE to take the test and click HERE to see my results. Tim Montgomerie will be very worried by my score on traditional values!

Teddy Kennedy's Terrorist Loophole

Is there a more loathsome and sleazy politician in America than Senator Edward Kennedy? Read THIS from The Washington Times. It seems he has more than Irish lives on his conscience.

Conservative History Group Launches new Blog

One of the lesser known hats that I wear is the Director of the Conservative History Group. The Group was set up in 2002 by myself and Keith Simpson MP to promote the discussion of the history of the Tory Party. The latest news is that the Group has just started a new Blog, which you can visit HERE. It's run by the editor of the bi-annual Conservative History Journal, Helen Szamuely but we want lots of people to contribute to it. There will also be a new Conservative History Group website soon. The first meeting of the year will be held at 6.30pm on 25 April in the House of Commons. Peter Mangold will speak on his new book, Macmillan & De Gaulle: Impossible Allies. If you'd like to attend, send me an email. Membership of the CHG, which includes a susbcription to the Journal and invitations to all events, costs £15 per annum and you can join HERE.

Ellee Seymour Has a Blog

There's a new Conservative Blogger on the block. Ellee Seymour was the Conservative Party's Eastern Regional Press Officer at the last election. Visit her blog HERE.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Ever Wondered What It's Like to Win the Lottery?

LibDems Elect 'Grumpy Old Men' as Dream Team

The LibDem Parliamentary Party tonight narrowly elected Vince Cable, 62, as Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats. He beat off a strong challenge from Matthew Taylor to win by 31 votes to 29 after David Heath had been eliminated from the first round after scoring only 17 votes. Taylor had been ahead on the first round by 25 to 21. You have to hand it to the LibDems. Only they could think that the best response to a new revilatised Tory Party, lead by a 39 year old, would be to elect two pseudo-geriatrics who are indistinguishable from each other. They're bound to be dubbed the Grumpy Old Men as neither is exactly over-endowed with a rib-tickling sense of humour.

So Peter Mandelson is the 'Right man in the Right Place'!

I've just been catching up with last week's Spectator, which contains a very interesting interview with Peter Mandelson by David Rennie. David Rennie is the Telegraph's Brussels correspondent, the job from which Boris first made his name. Rennie is a very readable guy and also has his own Blog. Two things stood out from that interview. The first was Mandelson referring to EU countries as "My Member States". I wasn't aware he was a Head of State - typical Mandelsonian arrogance. And the second was this quote from Alan Duncan, Conservative Trade Spokesman. "I actually think he's doing rather a good job given the pressures he's under. I hate to admit it, since he has been a considerable foe to the interests of the Conservative Party, but I think he's the right man in the right place." He's then asked if a David Cameron lead government would reappoint Mandelson for a second term. Hunky Dunky replies... "His (Mandelson's) commitment is to fair trade. I wouldn't say there is any great clamour among Conservatives to hang him and bury him, not a hint of it." My gob is well and truly smacked. I think I will leave it at that!

Caspar Weinberger: Defender of Freedom

I just wanted to add my thoughts to the many in today's newspapers about the sad death of Caspar Weinberger. He was a complete Anglogphile and I suspect we still don't know the exact role he played in helping us during the Falklands War. Mrs T maintains to this day that without him we would have been scuppered. He was a staunch Reaganite and wrote a highly entertaining memoir about his time in business and politics. He wrote me a letter once. I have never seen such spidery handwriting, except on a doctor's prescription! I think his main political legacy will be his role in defending freedom during the Cold War years of the early 1980s.

EXCLUSIVE: UNISON Seeks to Blackmail Labour MPs

Yesterday I wrote a story (click HERE) about how UNISON is withdrawing financial support from various Constituency Labour Parties in the North West due to Labour's attack (as they see it) on public sector pensions. I mentioned South Ribble as one constituency whose local Labour Party will have to hold a few more jumble sales. I am now able to reveal that the full list of North West constituencies whose funding from UNISON has been cut off contains Leigh (Andy Burnham MP - Home Office Minister), Liverpool Wavertree (Jane Kennedy MP - Health Minister), Oldham West & Royton (Michael Meacher), South Ribble (David Borrow) and Wallasey (Angela Eagle). Money is channelled to these (and other) CLPs through UNISON Labour Link. Its own website admits that...

Some have contended that the Labour Link structures lack democracy and accountability to the wider union and membership. The consultation has shown that there is certainly a lack of knowledge and involvement in Labour Link structures in some branches and more widely in the union.

No money is given directly to Labour MPs. It is all filtered through sao-called Constituency Development Plans (CDPs) to build organisation and for joint campaigns. There are 53 of these agreements across the country with constituencies – several of which do not have Labour MPs. I do not know if funding has been cut off for all 53, but I suspect that is the case. The scale of the funding is also unclear, although a post on the Labour Watch blog says that Wallasey gets £1500. I haven't had time to check with the Electoral Commission website for the details.

As I said yesterday, UNISON obviously believe that if they cut off funding the Labour Party will see the error of its ways and reverse the policy. It's blackmail and it stinks. Perhaps Inspector Knacker should look at this too. The rate we're going, he'll have to create a full time political corruption investigation. And to think we used to piously think this sort of thing only happened in Italy.

Prescott Comes out Fighting in Hague Duel

I defy anyone to say they didn't enjoy the Punch and Judy PMQs this morning with Hague & Prescott. I'm not sure I have ever bought the line that people want concensus to break out and for politicians to constantly agree with each other. Judging from the emails to the Daily Politics and to Simon Mayo that is far from the case. Prescott actually did really well and if I was scoring it I would just shade it to him. Although I think the person who enjoyed it most was Andrew Mitchell, who was sitting next to Hague. He spent the whole time almost wetting himself. And he wasn't alone. The whole thing was quite hilarious. And now we have to wait three weeks until His Tonyness and DC appear again. It'll be difficult. I think.

By the way, I am now back from the USA. Not that you're interested!

Deepcut: The Questions Still Remain

I remain profundly uneasy about the deaths at Deepcut. No one commenting can know the full story, but if I were a parent of one of those who died I would certainly be pushing for a full public inquiry. Something very bad happened there and we need to know exactly what. Even a public inquiry might not provide the answers, but justice would be seen to be done.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Who Will Succeed George W Bush?

I'll be posting quite a bit on the next US presidential election. Although it's some time away, the contenders are already jockeying for position. So first up, I thought I'd trawl through the possible and probably candidates for the Republican nomination. The favourites at this stage in the process inevitably tend to be those with the highest name recognition. So Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Condoleeza Rice are those mentioned most often. I suspect that Vice President Dick Cheney hasn't ruled out a run, but his health would almost certainly rule him out. Others being mentioned include Senator Bill Frist, Colorado Governor Bill Owens, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, George Pataki, Newt Gingrich. The list could go on and on. If I had a vote I would probably cast it for Giuliani or Condoleeza Rice. However, whoever I have talked to about this in Washington rules both of them out without a second thought. Giuliani is considered to be too liberal on social issues (ie pro choice, pro gay, anti gun) and as someone said to me yesterday, "the South would never vote for someone with a name like that". There are also rumours of financial scandal that continue to dog him. The fact that he oversaw the regeneration of New York City and played a blinder in the aftermath of September 11th seems not matter a jot. As far as Condi Rice is concerned she's ruled out because she's a) single (obviously a lesbian then...) and b) no one knows what she stands for and c) she's black so she must be liberal. I may be wrong but I have a gut feeling that she will get quite a fair wind with the media, who would nothing better than to see a catfight between her and Hillary. I can hardly believe that Newt Gingrich thinks it worth running but I'm told he genuinely believes he can win. He's certainly a man full of ideas although I think that he has too much of a past for his run to be taken seriously by either the media or people within his own Party. The name of Florida Governor Jeb Bush continues to be mentioned but I think three Bush's in a row would smack of the creation of a monarchy. It is an intriguing thought thought that after Reagan it is possible for the next 5 Presidents to have been called either Bush or Clinton. Or even six, if the First lady Laura Bush fancied a tilt at it. And there are a few people in Washington who wouldn't rule that out (I would though). In the end I suspect it will come down to to one established name and a hitherto unknown who comes through the middle. Who will that be? No idea!

Jodie Marsh Eats Phil Willis MP for Breakfast

It's amazing what you discover from the world of blogdom. Take this, for example. Did you know Jodie Marsh has a blog? Who's Jodie Marsh, you ask. Go to the bottom of the class. You'll never make the 'A' List if you can't answer questions like that! Jodie is best known for her, er, well, large chest appendages. There, you thought I was going to say 'knockers' didn't you? just because I come from Essex... Anyway, Jodie was on Celebrity Big Brother and took against George Galloway. She was rather ahead of her fellow housemates in that respect. She's now taken against LibDem MP Phil Willis who's been saying unkind things about her. Phil, Phil, what were you thinking of? Anyway, Jodie's hit back at some length. Should you wish to read her rantings in full, do visit her Blog HERE - it's well worth it. You do have to register though. I mean, who ever has heard of a blog you have to register for to look at? If you don't want to grace Jodie's Blog with your presence, Recess Monkey has reprinted the whole transcript HERE. I promise you it's worth it.

EXCLUSIVE: Gordon Brown Tours the Tearoom - What Can it All Mean?

As I sit here in the Virgin lounge at Washington Dulles Airport I am delighted to receive a call from a Labour MP friend of mine with some hot gossip. Apparently an hour ago Gordon Brown toured the House of Commons tea-room, grinning from ear to ear and hugging various MPs. I already feel rather queasy. So what's remarkable about that, you ask? Well, it's the first time in many years that Labour MPs can recall seeing GB in the tea-room. His regal procession through the vast ranks of Labour MPs was described to me as being like "Robert Maxwell, but without the charm." Harold Macmillan once said that when you see the Prime Minister in the tea-room it's a sign of panic. I think we all know what it means when Gordon is seen there. If I were Tony Blair I'd be afraid. Very afraid.

Julia Goldsworthy MP is the Abi Titmuss of Westminster Says Constituent

"Julia is the Abi Titmuss of Westminster. She has shown that despite ample opportunities for her to raise the profile of local issues from a national platform, the only profile she seeks to raise is her own. Roll on the general election." So says Loic Rich, a constituent of Falmouth & Camborne MP Julia Goldsworthy on the First Post website. Loic has written a diary of La Julia's appearance on the Channel 4 The Games programme and says it showed how out of touch she is. You can read the whole thing HERE.

Tony Digs In as Gordon Meets Bill

"This is not a time to walk away but to have the courage to see it through." So said our bealeagured PM in his address to the Australian Parliament. I guess he was talking about Iraq, but I think we can be forgiven for seeing a double meaning in this plea. And while Tony's away, Gordon will play - this time with Bubba Bill Clinton. The fact that Bill Clinton visits Gordon Brown while Tony Blair is away demonstrates perhaps more than anything else how the political sands are shifting and Tony Blair's authority is gradually ebbing away. When George W does the same, we'll really know the game is up for the Dear Leader.

Labour Marginals Fear Union Funding Backlash

Imagine the outcry there would be if a businessman admitted funding individual election campaigns as long as the Tory Party played ball on promoting private pensions. Today UNISON announced it was withdrawing funding from Labour MPs in marginal seats in the North West unless Labour reversed its policy on public sector pensions. Most affected will be Labour MP David Borrows whose South Ribble constituency has a wafer thin majority. Borrows now faces a dilemma. Does he tell UNISON to sod off and risk having no funds available to fight the already very active Tory candidate Lorraine Fulbrook, or will he speak up for his union paymasters? We'll be watching with interest.

Brian Hayes to Leave Radio 5 Live

I'm sad. I've just learnt that one of Britain's greatest radio broadcasters has been given the heave-ho from his show on Radio 5 Live. Brian Hayes, who has been with the station since its launch, has been sacked from his Friday late night slot and will be replaced by Northern Irish talk show host Stephen Nolan. Five Live say that the reason for the change is that the show ill now be broadcast from Manchester. Well if this really is the reason then they will be losing a lot of listeners. I used to be a regular on Brian's show before I became a parliamentary candidate and it was probably the show I most enjoyed. He's challenging and nobody's fool and I always felt I had to be really on my mettle with him. I hope another station picks him up because it would be a tragedy if he were lost to the nation's airwaves.

Monday, March 27, 2006

EXCLUSIVE: Simon Hoggart Has a Snooze

Simon Hoggart is a very great man, and I count him as a friend, so what follows is written with great affection! Sketch writers take great pleasure in pointing out MPs who take the opportunity of a post prandial snooze on the green benches, but today during Defence Questions it was poacher turned game keeper. Tory MPs were much amused to observe The Guardian's sketchwriter extraordinaire catch a few zzzzs during Dr John Reid's tour de force. "Simon looked like a benign toby jug," said my MP snout. "We love him to bits but it did destroy our concentration a little." I wonder if he'll mention it in his sketch tomorrow!
Let your email find you with BlackBerry from Vodafone

Margaret Beckett: You are a Hypocrite

Guido has scored another exclusive with his letter to Margaret Beckett. Visit his site for the full details, but essentially he is asking her to make the donors to her Blind Trust, which she ran in the 1990s, public. He is saying that her failure to do so will raise questions of hypocrisy after her letter to David Cameron asking him to make public the names of the Tory supporters who have lent the Party money. Let me make my position clear on all this. I believe it would be best if the names were indeed made public. I have always thought transparency is best in all aspects of politics, but there is a problem here. If you have entered into what is effectively a commercial agreement with someone and part of that agreement is a confidentiality clause then you have every right to insist that the agreement remains confidential. No laws have been broken. No regulation has been ignored. If not, what you are asking the leader of the Conservative Party to do is to breach a confidence. Understandably David Cameron has not done this, and no amount of pressure should force him to do so. We all know the Labour Party is trying to deflect the fire away from itself onto the Conservatives, but apart from The Guardian and The Times, few in the media seem to be falling for it. I am quite sure that Jonathan Marland (the Tory Party treasurer) will have been trying to persuade the lenders to go public, but they are quite within their rights not to do so. Again, this whole episode moves us an inch closer to state funding. It will soon be totally inevitable because people will just stop donating money or lending it to political parties if this is the kind of flack they can expect. In only nine years New Labour has corrupted the political process to such an extent that anyone who donates money to a political party is accused of wanting something in return. You look at the New Labour peerages and the people who have lent them money and you can see why that is. For them to say the Conservatives are at it too is stretching things too far. The Conservatives have nothing they can give to donors even if they wanted it. They're not in power. They don't have control over the awarding of government contracts. They don't control the honours system. Indeed, part of the reason why Conservative lenders may not want to go public is that they fear this sleaze ridden government might exact revenge and not award their companies contracts if they donate to the Opposition. Yes, that's how low things have got. And there's only one person to blame for this. Our 'white than white' Prime Minister- you remember, the one who tells us he's a pretty straight kinda guy'. The fact that he ever felt the need to say that should have told us all we needed to know. The sooner the Labour Party get rid of him the better.

My Weekend in Washington DC

Well I never did get to the Holocaust Museum on Saturday. I didn't get out of the hotel until mid afternoon due to the Michael Hintze exclusive, which most (but naturally, not all) of the papers were good enough to credit me with. So by the time I drove down there it was impossible to find anywhere to park. So I ended up going for a drink with a friend, Mark Milosch, who I hadn't seen for 14 years. The Willard Hotel, where we went, is famous as it was the watering hole which President Ulysses Grant used. In fact it's claim to fame is that it is the home of the word 'lobbyist'. Apparently businessmen would fill the lobby of the hotel waiting for Grant to emerge from one of the bars so they could talk to him. Hence the word 'lobbyist'. You learn something new every day. Yesterday I recorded a couple of PodCasts with Mark, one of which was certainly different - he is a great Sinatra fan and we talked for 10 minutes about Sinatra's influence on American politics. It was spiced up with a recording of Sinatra singing a JFK campaign song in 1960! In the evening I did a tour of some of the most spectacular monuments in DC - The Lincoln, Jefferson, FDR Monuments and the new World War II Memorial (pic above right). I hadn't been to the FDR or Jefferson ones before and have to say I found the FDR Monument particularly hideous and inappropriate - full of waterfalls without a real centrepiece. The Jefferson Monument, on the other hand is magnificent. The four quotations used around the circular hall, which houses his statue, were awe-inspiring. Take this one...

I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.

A good definition for modern conservatism? The World War II Memorial reminded me of one I visited in Normandy. It's not grandiose, but it is very moving. Even at 10pm there were many people there, some deep in thought. It contains a pillar for every State of the Union, commemorating those who died to protect our freedoms.

Today I'm off to Georgetown and then I'm going to try to get to the Holocaust Museum this afternoon. And for those who are interested - I'm back in England on Wednesday, so normal service will be resumed!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

PodCast 3: Interview with Cheryl Gillan MP

My latest PodCast can now be downloaded by clicking the icon at the top of the left hand column or you can subscribe by going to PoliticsOnDemand at iTunes. It's a 13 minute chat with Shadow Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan, one of Parliament's nicest MPs. Hope you enjoy it.

Podcasts coming up in the next few weeks: John O'Sullivan on the Anglosphere, Daniel Forrester on the power of blogs, Mark Milosch on Franz Josef Strauss and a special on Frank Sinatra and politics. Now that's what I call an eclectic lineup!

Tony Blair Visits His New Zealand Soul/SleazeMate

This week Tony Blair will be visiting one of his best political friends, New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark. They have a lot in common. They're both in their third terms and they're both mired in sleaze. Helen Clark spent NZ$440,000 from her Leader's Office budget on Pledge Cards, which she denied were anything to do with election campaigning. Inspector Knacker was called in to investigate, but surprise, surprise, didn't prosecute. A foretaste of the Police invesigation into Loans for Lordships methinks. For any other result would have to result in Tony Blair's resignation. Anyway, I digress. Kiwiblog (the best NZ political blog) points me to an editorial in this morning's New Zealand Sunday Star Times, which is well worth a read. It's headlined SLEAZY STRIFE FOR TWO MATES and contrasts the position of the two leaders.

Prescott Demands (and gets) BBC Right of Reply

The Deputy Prime Minister is not a happy bunny. He rang up the BBC this morning ranting and raving about the coverage of his, er, coverage in today's Sunday papers and demanded the right of reply. He is apparently accused of waving through planning permission on a controversial project in the City of London and in Croydon which were the brainchild of two Labour donors/lendees. So he rang the editor of the Politics Show and demanded to go on live. And you know what? The BBC naturally said 'yes'. I guess you can't really blame them, as we all know what can happen when Prezza gets a little narked.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Conventional Wisdom Index Week 1

So who's had a good week? Are their fortunes on the up or on the wane? My Conventional Wisdom Index seeks to track the fortunes of the major players in British politics. Next installment next Saturday...

Tony Blair
Loans for lordships. Need we say more? Authority continues to ebb away.

David Cameron
Strong budget speech offset by negative publicity on failure to disclose donors

Ming Campbell
Ming who? anonymous week for the new LibDem leader

Gordon Brown
Standstill budget fails to inspire but GB manages to stay out of loans scandal

Labour Party
Headlines dominated by loans scandal. More Labour MPs call for Blair to go

Conservative Party
MPs buoyed by Cameron budget response but ICM poll still puts Tories in mid 30s

Liberal Democrats
Exclipsed by other stories but manage to remain out of the loans story

George W Bush
Finally starts to 'sell' the war on terror round the country but loses battle over Dubai Ports

The Reputation of Politics
'nuf said


Note to journalists: If you use any quote from this story I'd be grateful if you'd source/credit it properly!

The man behind the £2.5 million Tory loan "revealed" in The Times today will come as a big disappointment to anyone looking for a Tory-troubles story. I can exclusively reveal that the man behind the loan is Michael Hintze, an Australian, who lives with his family in London, where he votes, and the loan to the Tory Party is only a very small proportion of his financial support of worthy causes in his adopted country.

Mr Hintze, who is already a declared donor to the Conservative Party, has given multiple millions to a large number of British charities in recent years. Together with his wife, he is behind the new sculpture gallery at The V & A, which opens in the next few weeks and is named as The Dorothy & Michael Hintze Gallery, and has been made possible by a £1.5 million donation from their charitable trust. Mr Hintze turns out to be a major financial donor to a wide range of admirable causes, none of which have been widely publicised, with the exception of the V & A Dorothy & Michael Hintze Gallery. His philanthropy has seen him supporting a vast number of causes, including his local Trinity Hospice, to which he is the biggest donor. The Evelina Charity at St Thomas's Hospital, where all four of his children were born, has also been a benefactor of his generosity. In the area of the arts he has given significant sums to: The Old Vic Theatre, The Donmar Theatre, The National Theatre and The Cartoon Arts Trust. In addition, he supports The Water Meadow Trust in Salisbury, the local churches where he and his family live and is a major donor to The Princes Trust and The Princes Foundation.

Next week, my sources inform me, Mr Hintze will be in Sydney, where he is funding a Chair in International Security at Sydney University. He is also behind the restoration of Michael Angelo's famous fresco in The Pauline Chapel in The Vatican, which has cost over £1 million.

When I contacted Mr Hintze, who I met at a recent Conservative Party dinner, he was totally up-front about his support for the Conservative Party saying: "I am very proud of this country and acknowledge the debt I owe to it. I am very fortunate to be in the position which allows me to put something back to many charities and causes in this country and have been keen to do so by supporting some of Britain's great institutions". He continued: "My support for the Conservative Party is something I am immensely proud of and I am pleased to be able to help, both with the declared donations I have made and through the loan from the UK based trading company, Morain UK, of which I am an ultimate beneficiary and which responded to the Party's need for support by agreeing to a secured loan on commercial terms last year".

He ended his comment by telling me: "I have supported the Conservative Party because I can and the law allows me to do so. I truly believe this country needs a strong opposition."

Out and About in Washington DC

Over the years I've been to Washington DC more than a dozen times, but I've never really done the 'tourist' bit. Over the next few days I'm going to put that right and visit some of the sights. Today I'm going to the Holocaust Museum, which I'm told will mean that by the end of the day I'll be an emotional wreck. I cannot imagine it will be as bad as visiting Buchenwald or Dachau, which I have done, but who knows? I also want to visit the new World War II Memorial (pic), which is truly stunning in its grandeur. It reminds me of one of the memorials I have visited on the Normandy coast. Yesterday I went to the Spy Museum, but rather wish I hadn't. It seems entirely aimed at 15 year olds, and sure enough the place was full of them. Most of the exhibits were replicas and although huge amounts of money had obviously been spent on presenting I didn't feel that it was really an authentic museum - more like a series of exhibition stands.

My Interview on US Shock Jock Radio

Yesterday I did a few media puffs for my Thatcher book here in Washington. One was with a Conservative Talk Radio Station in St Louis, Missouri. The show is called NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH and is hosted by a young 'shock jock' called Crane Durham (pic left). Apart from talking about Thatcher and Reagan we discussed the war on terror and Britain's attitude to a military strike against Iran and North Korea. As you can imagine he took a rather more 'gung ho' attitude to that than I did. It was certainly a different kind of conversation to any radio interview I've ever taken part in in the UK but it was hugely enjoyable. Anyway, I stayed on the show for nearly an hour in the end and I'm now going to do a regular monthly slot for them to give a UK perspective on Conservative issues. I'd absolutely love to host a show similar to Craig's but due to our radio licensing system I doubt it would ever be possible on mainstream radio. So for the moment podcasting will have to suffice!

Italian Election: Silvio Berlusconi Comes From Behind

Click HERE to see Silvio Berlusconi display a new form of electioneering...

Friday, March 24, 2006

I'm Reading Chris Patten's Book...

I'm sitting in the Center Cafe at Union Station reading Chris Patten' book, Not Quite the Diplomat. The first few pages were quite entertaining but I'm now finding my eyelids drooping. Is it worth persevering with? Guidance is welcome!

Hammers Get Good Semi Final Draw

I was sitting here in my hotel room listening to the FA Cup Semi Final Draw on 5 Live (the wonders of internet streaming), praying we would avoid Liverpool or Chelsea. Hurrah!!!!

Labour's Spectacular Council Poll Failure

Yesterday there was a local council by-election in the knife-edge marginal Ewhurst ward at Surrey's Waverley Borough Council. An independent candidate shocked all three major parties by pulling off a shock win to take the seat by 12 votes from the Conservatives. But what was equally shocking was that Labour scored just 6 votes (out of nearly 1,000 cast!). This means that the four of the people who nominated the Labour candidate didn't even vote for him! After the last few days I suppose this shouldn't come as much of a surprise!

Is Google Having a Larf?

It's always interesting to see how people get to this Blog. Here are just a selection of the Google searches that led people here yesterday...

1. Google: gossip, jack, straw, beverley, hughes
2. Yahoo: why, garth, crooks, irritating
3. Google: nude, shots, kirstie, location, location, location
4. Google: ann, widdecombe, gay, rights
5. Google: soames, wardrobe, key
6. Google: jenny, scott, daily, politics, naked pics

I can't think what number 1 can be alluding to. I wasn't aware either of them had been holding talks in Uganda lately. Number two is presumably rhetorical. Number 3 leads me to ask why Google chose this site to direct them to. The first two words in number 4 are mutually exclusive to the second two. Number 5 hardly bears thinking about. For number 6 see number 3. Hilarious.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Lax Security on Capitol Hill

This morning I went to see a friend who I haven't seen for 14 years. He works for the US Government in a building on Capitol Hill. I expected the security to be extremely tight. I walked into the building, placed my bag on the X ray machine and then asked the female security attendant if she could ring through to tell him I had arrived. "Oh no," she replied. "I don't have a staff directory. Just go on up." So up I went. Not that I had a clue which room he was in. The Department of Homeland Security could start by making its own government buildings a little more secure!

Profumo 'Memoir' to be Published in September

It has long been rumoured that John Profumo had written a memoir which would appear after his death. However, the book which will appear in September, is actually written by John Profumo's son David. He has spent hours talking to his mother and father about the events of 1963, when he was only 8 years old. I suspect this could be one of the year's bestsellers. It's going to be called Bringing the House Down.

Jeremy Vine: You're No Jeremy Paxman

My partner, who is a Jeremy Vine addict, tells me that Vine reverted to his mini-Paxman mode when he interviewed George Osborne this lunchtime, whereas Gordon Brown was given the "and what would you like to tell us today, your Prudence-ness" treatment. Good old BBC. Nice to know nothing changes.

Tories: To Move or Not to Move?

The Daily Telegraph Spy Column reports today (courtesy of ConservativeHome) that the Conservative Party is now in a position to sell 32 Smith Square, having tied up the freehold. I'm not sure that's the whole story. The lease on the Victoria Street building is up in March next year and from what I understand the landlord will only renew it if the Partry commits to taking the entire space it originally rented. Since the election one floor (the 4th, I think) has been closed down but the Party has been unable to sublet it. Bearing in mind the rent is £1 million a year, it's quite a drain on resources. The problem is that it is now too late to refurbish 32 Smith Square in time for the end of the lease on 25 Victoria Street. Someone has got a rather tricky decision to make, and quite quickly. Not a decision I envy, because whatever the decision is, a sizeable number of people will think it wrong.

Gordon Brown Would Frown

M Street in Georgetown is one of my favourite places in the world. Sad to say though that since my last visit they have installed parking metres right along the length of it. I've rented one of those Chrysler retro cars - it's not quite an SUV but I am sure Gordon Brown would not approve. As if I care... I've just had a very enjoyable dinner with John O'Sullivan at a French Bistro on M Street. John edited National Review Magazine for 9 years and was in Mrs T's policy unit in the 1980s for a time. He's a very big cheese in Conservative politics in the US and we recorded a 15 minute Podcast which I hope you will find interesting when I upload it in a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Book Review: Frank Lampard: The Biography

I made the mistake of buying two books at Heathrow to read on the plane. Chris Patten's Not Quite the Diplomat and a biography of Frank Lampard. Naturally I decided to read the Lampard book first (!) but I have to say it's truly the worst football biography I have ever read. It's a shame because I have been a great fan of Lamps ever since I saw him play at the age of 17 in the FA Youth Cup Final at Upton Park in 1996. Some West Ham fans couldn;t get over the fact he was his father's son and felt he was helped by nepotism but it was clear he was a huge talent right from the day he made his debut. I cannot understand the poeple who boo him whenever he returns to Upton Park. We should be proud that he has gone on to be one of the best players in the world. But back to the book. It seems to be a collection of randomly put together paragraphs which bear little relevance to each other. The typeface is so large and the line-spacing so huge that the editor clearly struggled to get the book over 200 pages. So should you be tempted to buy Mr Douglas Thompson's fucking awful mediocre attempt at a football biography I'd advise you to spend your £17.99 on something else. I wonder if Chris Patten's tome will be any better...

A Change of Spin tactics by Gordon Brown's Little Helpers

You'll all no doubt be releived to hear that I am safely ensconced in the Watergate. I haven't caught up on the budget details yet, but one little snippet I thought I'd share with you is this. I'm told that immediately after each of Gordon Brown's previous budgets his little helpers would scurry round the Press Gallery spinning away like mad. But they didn't do that this year. Instead they waited until David Cameron had finished in the hope that he would have made some kind of giant cock up which they could take political advantage of. I have no idea yet what happened but one Tory MP has told me that Cameron was like an Apache helicopter bombing a second world war tank.

Post Your Comment on the Budget Here!

As I won't get details of the budget and PMQs until I get to my hotel at about 11pm tonight (UK time) feel free to post comments about what you thought. I'm staying at The Watergate so I'm sure you might have thoughts on that too! Better go now as we are about to take off!
Let your email find you with BlackBerry from Vodafone

Off to Washington DC

I'm sitting in the Virgin lounge at Heathrow waiting to board the 12 noon flight to Washington, so no PMQs or Budget for me, I'm afraid. Very bad organisation to be flying out on budget day. Just think of the fun I could have had later. It seems the Dour One will be taking his lead from the Chinese government, who are also clamping down on ShangHai Tractors. Of course, this will also be the first time David Cameron has clashed with Gordon Brown across the Despatch Box, so there will be a lot of interest in that, no doubt. Bugger, my flight has just been called.

Fear not, though, I shall be blogging regularly from Washington and also recording the odd Podcast or three. Tonight I'm having dinner with John O'Sullivan, who many of you will know as a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher and editor of National Review. And tomorrow I'm seeing Iain Murray who got me into blogging in the first place. I'll try to persuade him to resurrect his excellent Blog, the now defunct Edge of England's Sword!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Why Did Labour's National Executive Meet in the Commons?

Can someone explain why the Labour Party National Executive is allowed to hold its meetings in the House of Commons? Isn't that what they have a mortgaged-up-to-the-hilt Party headquarters for? I feel a strong letter to the Serjeant at Arms coming on...

New Poll: If Gordon Brown Didn't Exist...

...we'd all be paying a lot less tax. Well that's stating the obvious I suppose. But just think about it, if the Dour One was ruled out of the Labour Party leadership in the post Blair era, who would they go for? There's not exactly a rich vein of talent to choose from, is there? Anyway, take part in the new poll in the left hand column. Just so you know, I voted for Hilary Benn.

The result of the last poll was that 72% thought Tessa Jowell should resign. More than 320 people took part.

Why Jenny Tonge Should be Abolished

George Monbiot and I don't agree on an awful lot, but his column today in the Guardian was spot on. He cites the presense of Jenny Tonge in the House of Lords as a very good reason to reform it. Well, to be truthful, he says it should be closed down, but let's not go down that road. Jenny Tonge is one politician who I truly detest. Her appearances on Question Time are guaranteed to set my blood pressure racing. Her views are often repugnant (this week she insulted the tribesmen of Botswana) and she still hasn't renounced her views on suicide bombers. The fact that she ever became an MP was bad enough, but for Charles Kennedy to put her into the Lords was unforgiveable and incomprehensible given her views of him. So let's abolish Jenny Tonge, not the House of Lords. Hattip to Bob Piper

Check out Guido Fawkes...

If you haven't already done so today, check out Guido's Blog. He has some very interesting investigative pieces on the Loans for Lordships affair. It's days like these when Blogs like his come into their own. The BBC and Sky reported that Scotland Yard are investigating the Labour Party a mere 5 hours after Guido broke the news on his blog.

Tory Conference Date Change

Back in the halcyon days the Tory Conference used to run from Monday lunchtime through till Friday afternoon. It was then changed from Tuesday to Friday and under Hague (I think) to Monday until Thursday. One of the more popular ideas I persuaded David Davis to adopt during the leadership campaign was to say that there would be two conferences a year, each running from Thursday to Sunday, to enable more women and people of working age to attend. Francis Maude has partially adopted this idea and this year's Tory conference will run from Sunday until Wednesday. I understand that they did some market testing on dates and found this option to be the most popular. So this year's sojourn in sunny Bournemouth will begin on Sunday 1 October and end on Wednesday 4 October. I guess the only people who won't be pleased will be Her Majesty's Press corps, for whom it will be giving up a weekend. Well if it's good enough for us...

Charles Clarke in a Glass House

Charles Clarke should learn not to throw stones in glass houses. He launched an extraordinary tirade against Jack Dromey this lunchtime, saying that a decent Treasurer would know what was going on in Labour Party finances. However true that may be, he might also consider that a decent Home Secretary might well also institute financial controls within the Home Office enabling the auditors to sign off the Home office accounts for the first time in several years.

UPDATE: 5.30pm I'm told my my House of Commons snout that Charles Clarke was speaking at a lunch of female journalists - he shiould have known better. Nothing good ever comes from these lunches, known by their male colleagues as "Virago feasts" and several leading politicians have lived to regret accepting the invitation. Apparently Clarke caused further consternation by predicting that Tony Blair would stand down in the summer of 2008. By my reckoning he'll be two years out. But what on earth would possess him to start speculating? In one good lunch he's taken two opportunities to stick needles in Gordon's eyes. No doubt Gordon will excact his revenge in the way only he knows how. This has all the hallmarks of the dying days of the Thatcher government. And we all know how that ended.

Mogadon Ming Strikes Again

Ming Campbell has just admitted on 5 Live that John Major tried to get him to defect in the mid 1990s. If I were him I'd save that kind of info for his memoirs. He also rather disingenuously said "Remember what the Tories did to William Hague at the first opportunity". Is the old boy's memory going? The Party didn't ditch William Hague, he resigned on the day after the 2001 election. What a boring interviewee Ming is. I almost nodded offzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Matthew Parris and the Confidence Trickster Called Blair

Some years ago I had the idea of writing a novel in which a Prime Minister becomes self delusional and goes mad. Well, truth is often stranger than fiction, and Matthew Parris believes my novel is turning into reality. I've just been listening to him on Jeremy Vine talk about his Times article on Saturday. If you want to read the whole thing - and you should - click HERE. Here are some highlights...

What now for Blair? On this question I sense that from contrasting corners of the political spectrum, opinions are now converging upon the next step. My ancient doubts are less important than new doubts among new Labour’s friends, but let me put my own opinion delicately. I believe Tony Blair is an out-and-out rascal, terminally untrustworthy and close to being unhinged. I said from the start that there was something wrong in his head, and each passing year convinces me more strongly that this man is a pathological confidence-trickster. To the extent that he ever believes what he says, he is delusional. To the extent that he does not, he is an actor whose first invention — himself — has been his only interesting role. Books could be written on which of Mr Blair’s assertions were ever wholly sincere, which of his claimed philosophies are genuine, and how far he temporarily persuades himself that each passing passion is real. But deconstructing Mr Blair’s mind is hopeless. Suffice it to say that I used to believe that, at the moment of saying anything, our Prime Minister probably thought that what he said was true — that there was no secret, internal wink. Today I have lost confidence even in that. Small things as much as large have formed my view. What kind of a man would walk out of the Chamber as his former ally, Frank Field, rose to offer a patently heartfelt explanation of his reasons for standing down? Knowing what we do today about Mr Blair, would he still get the benefit of our doubt over the Bernie Ecclestone affair? What kind of a man would employ Alastair Campbell as his mouthpiece to history? What kind of a man would have given journalists on a plane to China the clear and false impression that he had had nothing to do with the outing of Dr David Kelly? What kind of a man makes Silvio Berlusconi his friend and incurs a personal debt of gratitude to that bad, bad man? What kind of a Prime Minister neglects the courtesy and gratitude owed to his man in Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer, quitting early after heart trouble? What kind of a man leaves friends as different as the late Roy Jenkins, Paddy Ashdown, and his own Chancellor privately despairing that they can ever rely on the Prime Minister’s word again? And what kind of a man dispatches his “personal envoy to the Middle East”, Lord Levy, to drill vast sums of money from little-known tycoons with hopes of taking life peerages, and hushes it up? We may never discover what so discreet an operator as Lord Levy has said to these people but we know something they wanted from Tony Blair, and we know something Tony Blair wanted from them. Did more need to be said? Another thing we know is that the Prime Minister recognised that if a gift were declared then the chain of events would be judged disgraceful. So the money was hidden: hidden even from his own party treasurer. Now his treasurer has blown the whistle, and his treasurer’s wife, the Solicitor-General, has arranged a separation not from her husband, but from much of her ministerial portfolio. Love, then, is not dead; but if Ms Harman’s Chinese wall is appropriate now, why not when the PM appointed her? And if Mr Blair believes now that the funding of parties needs reform, why not earlier — in his recent manifesto, for instance? You know why. He never meant to put matters right. He has been caught out. The genius Mr Blair showed this week in extricating himself from this latest corner was breathtaking. If a burglar, caught red-handed, should by effrontery and oratory make from the dock so stirring a call for the fundamental reform of the Theft Acts that the whole court were distracted from the charge and persuaded to “move on” . . . then the tour de force would hardly be more impressive. Our PM has the magician’s knack of drawing the eye away from the trick. Should a fraction of his talent for getting himself out of trouble be deployed in some wider national purpose, Britain would probably have conquered the universe by now. He reminds me of those schoolboys whose form masters report that if they devoted to their homework half the dedication they devote to getting out of doing it, they would be the envy of the school. But he already is. Tony Blair has lived before. Dickens has recorded the life in David Copperfield. The character is Copperfield’s one-time school-friend and (until he betrays him) hero: the engaging, handsome and popular James Steerforth. Read the book. It is occasionally reported that some poor woman falls in love with a professional fraud and remains his wife for years without realising what she has married. The British electorate are such a woman. Mr Blair’s misdeeds are persistently overlooked, and his excuses credited. By the time we wake up he may have torn his party and its programme apart. Close colleagues and Labour MPs mostly know already what he is. Forget the bleatings of the hard Left, the Tories and the likes of me: it is Tony Blair’s political allies who should now act. They must accept that he is no longer an asset to the new Labour cause and that, if they do not cut him loose soon, he may drag a whole brave political project down with him. There is not much time to lose.

Launch of The Conventional Wisdom Index

I'm going to introduce a new occasional feature (probably weekly) on this Blog called The Conventional Wisdom Index. Newsweek magazine did this during the presidential primaries in 1987 (or was it 1991?) where they would indicate if, in their view, a particular candidate had had a good week or a bad week. I'm going to be as objective as I can about it and avoid partisan politics and endeavour to reflect just what the conventional wisdom is. I intend to track the fortunes of the following each week (usually at the weekend).

Tony Blair
David Cameron
Ming Campbell
Gordon Brown
Labour Party
Conservative Party
Liberal Democrats
George W Bush
The Reputation of Politics
Parliamentary Democracy
The European Union

I you think I should track any other individuals, institutions or concepts, feeel free to suggest some.

Computer Help

Does anyone know which keys I press on a normal laptop keyboard to get an upward arrow and a downward arrow?!

Francis Elliott Wins Political Journalist of the Year

Congratulations to my friend Francis Elliott, the Deputy Political Editor of the Independent on Sunday, who has just won the Political Journalist of the Year at the Press Gazette annual awards. He won it for his expose of David Blunkett, which led to his resignation.

Monday, March 20, 2006

My Top Ten Political SitComs

These are sitcoms, so I haven't included Have I Got News for You or Rory Bremner. I've also only managed to think up 8, so can you think of any political sitcoms I have missed!

1. Yes Minister /Yes Prime Minister
Unrivalled comedy expose of the civil service at its finest. I often think they should do a remake, but the trouble is they could never improve on the original.

2. New Statesman
Rik Mayall's charcterisation of an on the make Tory MP was excruciatingly brilliant. His humiliation of Piers Fletcher Dervish a joy to behold.

3. Spitting Image
Possibly outstayed its welcome in the end but could be stinging in its satirical wit when it was on form. The voices were often more hideous than the dummies.

4. The Thick of it
A stunningly accurate satire of New Labour's style of government, but then I would say that, wouldn't I?!

5. No Job for a Lady
Penelope Keith starred as MP Jean Price. Slightly predictable sitcome about the trials of being a female MP. Provokes smiles rather than outright laughs. Never been out on DVD.

6. Citizen Smith
The Tooting revolutionary was played by a young Robert Lindsay, whose landlady was Nanna Moon, who always called him Foxie.

7. My Dad's the Prime Minister
Although this started out as a kids' sitcom it developed into quite a funny take on life in Blairite Downing Street.

8. Absolute Power
More about the world of PR than politics perhaps, but a very good satire on the world of spin and manipulation.

9. Annie's Bar
Shortlived Channel 4 sitcom about the goings on in Annie's Bar in the House of Commons.

10. Spin City
American political sitcom which originally starred Michael J Fox.

Que Sera Sera...

...whatever will be will be, we're going to Wemberlee... well, we would be if they had finished the stadium. But Cardiff will do very nicely thank you! What a match! James Collins. Awesome. Man of the Match. Apart from Dean Ashton. Well worth £7 million of anyone's money in my book! I am sooooooooooooooooo happy! Yes!

Forgive me if I Lose Control...

Blogging may become highly emotional over the next two hours. Viewers of BBC1 will know why.

UPDATE: 8.48 I just became highly emotional. Dean Ashton I love you. Up the Hammers!
UPDATE: 9.23 What a ridiculous sending off. I have sympathy for Man C. But only fleetingly.
UPDATE: 9.35 Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees!
UPDATE: 9.59 Bloody BBC commentator is willing City to score. Tosser.

Tony Blair to Star in New Hollywood Movie

I know it's puerile and schoolboy humour and I shouldn't find this funny.

But I do. It's a free country. Sort of.

Hat-tip to Theo Spark

Praise for This Blog from The Independent

Walking through Portcullis House this lunchtime I was accosted by Colin Brown of The Independent who asked me if I had seen what his illustrious organ had written about my Blog this morning. I do actually take The Independent on Mondays, despite its irritating front pages, because it has an excellent media section, but I hadn't got around to reading it yet. He assured me it was complimentary, and indeed it is! They have done a feature on their Top 15 blogs, not all of which are political. So to be mentioned in the same breath as Arianna Huffington and Andrew Sullivan is praise indeed. I'll scate over their mention of They describe my CV as 'eclectic' and say that...

..."it makes for a fun, politically oriented blog that's as happy to tackle the inconsistencies of the Blair government as it is the recklessness of a Marlon harewood tackle. Dale's also no stranger to a podcast, making him something of a favourite among fellow iPod addicts."

So it's been a good few days for this Blog. Last week I got the highest number of hits ever in one week (amazing, considering there were no LibDem scandals!) and I learnt that my Podcast gets more downloads than Ed Vaizey's or Jo Swinson. So I can swan off to the States on Wednesday feeling happy. Ain't life great?

The feature can be read HERE - but you'd better be quick before they put it on subscription.

Ming Campbell Blog Vanishes

What are we to make of the fact that the Ming Dynasty Blog has disappeared? Has the Imperial One already wrought his dastardly revenge on those who seek to poke fun at him? I think we should be told. And soon.

Come in Alan Rusbridger - Your Time is Up

Alan Rusbridger is editor of The Guardian. Today his newspaper calls for Tony Blair to step down. Rusbridger declares: "Nine years is long enough". Hear, hear, we all chorus. But hang on a cotton pickin' minute. How long has Rusbridger been sitting in The Guardian's editor's chair? A stonking 11 years! The words kettle, pot and black come to mind but not necessarily in that order.

Hattip Londoner's Diary

Labour MP Almost Self Combusts in Chamber

Andrew MacKinlay is a Labour MP who speaks his mind. He just lost his temper in Home Office Questions and there seemed to be a possibility of him self combusting. He was having a go at the Government over a lack of coherance between government departments and almost screamed "why can they not sing from the same hymnsheet, as they expect me to do?" A question many of us ask from time to time. He seemed quite willing to continue the rant but was brought to heel by the Deputy Speaker Sir Alan Haselhurst. Killjoy.

Another Senior Tory to Step Down at Next Election

I understand that the chairman of the 1922 Committee Sir Michael Spicer has announced that he will be standing down from Parliament at the next election. Sir Michael was first elected in February 1974 and sits for Worcestershire West.

Who Killed Cherie Blair's Pussy?

Traumatic news in this morning's newspapers. Apparently Humphrey, the Downing Street cat has died at the ripe old age of 19. Older readers will recall that Cherie did her best to banish Humphrey from Downing Street as soon as she moved in. I've tried to find a copy of the picture of her holding Humphrey who she described as 'flea ridden' and 'smelly', but I've failed miserably. In the end Humphrey was rehoused with a Downing Street civil servant and had a very happy retirement. Contrary to popular rumour, Cherie didn't take out a contract on the ageing pussy - he died of natural causes. At least, that's the story being put out by Downing Street. So it must be true then.

LibDem Elections are Like Buses

Three LibDem elections in one month is too much for anyone to endure, but following hot on the heels of the leadership election, this week the 63 MPs will choose between Paul Burstow and Richard Younger-Ross for their new Chief Whip. Sadly I will be somewhere over the Atlantic when the result is announced. I shall try to contain my disappointment. Next Wednesday sees the election for Deputy Imperial Leader. Vince Cable, Matthew Taylor and David Heath are fighting it out. I suppose Cable is the favourite but you'd have thought being Treasury spokesman would keep him busy enough.
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Definitely more 'Andrew' than 'Adonis'

I'm told Labour MPs were spluttering into their porridge this morning after hearing Lord Adonis say on the Today Programme that Tony Blair is "a servant of the Labour Party". As someone once said of the spindly noble Lord,"he's definitely more Andrew than Adonis". Can you think of other politicians who fail to live up to their names?

Rik Mayall to Make Comeback?

I have just seen Rik Mayall in the Atrium about to do some New Statesman filming - well that's what it looked like. He was with his screen wife and lots of girls wearing B'stard red rosettes. Maybe he's defected to New Labour! Can anyone shed any light?

Mrs Henderson Presents...A Triumph

I've just finished watching Mrs Henderson Presents on DVD. What a superb film. I didn't really want to see it but was dragooned into it. I'm now rather glad I was. Judi Dench was, as ever, superb, although she did remind of me of Queen. Thelma Barlow (more famous as Mavis from Coronation Street) was brilliant, although I kept expecting to hear her say "well I don't really know, Rita"! In fact, I thought she was the best performer in the whole film. I'm not a great fan of Bob Hoskyns, but even he was good, although the shock of seing him naked nearly brought my dinner back. Will Young was also good (my friend Mrs S would no doubt agree!). A real feel-good movie. All in all, a very pleasant 90 minutes.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Tony Blair Resigns

OK, I've got the old Dale crystal ball out - and very painful it was too (!) - but I reckon Blair will go this year. The political commentariat seems to think it will be 2007 before we see the back of him, but with every week that passes his authority is gradually slipping away. The continual delay over the long awaited reshuffle is evidence of a Prime Minister who is unable to wield the power he once had. I suspect that he will resign when we all least expect it. My money, if I had any, would be on a summer announcement that he will step down at the Labour Party Conference. This would then mean a two to three month leadership campaign. But then again, I could be barking up the wrong tree completely. Or maybe just barking.

Harriet Harman to run for Brown's Deputy Leader?

I can't really believe this is true, but the Independent on Sunday reports that Harriet Harman wants to be Deputy Leader of the Labour Party when the Dour One takes over. The conspiracy theorists point to her husband's antics this week as evidence. Don't make me laugh. Still, I suppose she takes heart from the fact that someone as thick as Prescott managed it. Sorry, I'm still laughing.

Mark Oaten and the Jar of Honey

There's a very strange diary column in The Independent on Sunday today by Mark Oaten. It's his first public utterance since he resigned. Unfortunately I can't link to it because The Indy is a subscription only site. Oaten says he's very happy not to be Home Affairs spokesman any longer and that he was always uncomfortable with the LibDem position on terrorism. He alaso spneds £15 on a jar of honey. The overhwlming impression was of a man trying to create subliminal messages. These were "please like me, please accept me, I'm a normal kinda guy who made a mistake - please don't hold it against me". Time will tell how successful he will be in carrying on as normal. On a personal level, I wish him luck. He's not a wicked man.

TV Review: Fantabulosa & The Harold Wilson Plot

Thank God we won't have to put up with those neverending trailers for Fantabulosa anymore. I watched it a couple of nights ago, expecting to be bowled over. In fact, just the opposite happened. I've always been a Kenneth Williams fan, and while I know he lead a very sad life, I think this drama did his memory an injustice. It concentrated on his own introverted sadness without giving any insight at all into his comedy. To those too young to remember Kenneth Williams in his heyday it will not have encouraged them to find out more. I thought Michael Sheen's portrayal of Williams was generally over the top, although there were moments when he captured the essence of one of Britain's greatest ever comedic figures. And did we have to be shown him "pleasuring himself", as the tabloids would say? Not once, but three or four time. After half an hour I was willing the programme to end.

Quite the reverse was true for The Plot Against Harold Wilson. It's not easy to make a drama/documentary a success, but this one certainly worked. James Bolam was very convincing as Harold Wilson, although his hair was a little odd. I have always been sceptical about the idea of a plot which was supposed to have lead to a coup, but parts of this programme did make me wonder. I don't think that Harold Wilson resigned because of this, but there are questions which still remain unanswered. BBC4 have made some very good documentaries recently. It's a pity they are raraely shown on BBCs 1 % 2.

Labour Has Doubled Income Tax Since 1997

Since 1997 the government's take from income tax has risen by 109%. This year we will pay £145 billion in income tax. In 1996-97 we paid £69 billion, according to Grant Thornton. We also pay 125% more Inheritance Tax than in 1997. The number of higher rate tax payers has risen by 62% because thresholds have not risen quickly enough. So let no one tell me we shouldn't be making the case for lower taxes. All power to the elbow of the Taxpayers' Alliance.

Shock: Bob Piper & Iain Dale Agree on Something

Labour Councillor Bob Piper has quite an entertaining blog. He and I agree on virtually nothing. Until now. He writes today...

Is there a more boring 'sport' on the face of the earth than Formula 1 motor racing? Well, maybe. I mean, horse racing must be worth a shout. 20 minutes of watching the horses troop around the parade ground, 3 minutes of watching them sprint down the straight. In reality though, horse racing isn't a sport, it's just an excuse for people to gamble. For me, Formula 1 gets the vote by a very long street.

Too right, Bob. Mind you, watching West Bromwich Albion would be up there with them. There I go again. Have to shatter this sweet moment of unity, don't I? Must be something in the water.

Party Funding Reform Is Now a Certainty

So what are we to make of the latest revelations in the Loans for Peerage affair. I must admit to being a tad disappointed that the combined talents of Her Majesty's Press have failed to identify the other people who make up the £14 million donated to the Labour Party. Perhaps they are relying on Mr Harriet Harman to their dirty work for them on Tuesday. Now, you ask, why should the Labour Party make their names public? There's no law requiring them to do so, and neither the Conservatives nor the LibDems have offered to do so. Correct. But neither of those Parties stand accused of hiding the existence of the loans from senior party officials, and neither stand accused of taking loans for honours. I don't think this issue will go away until we know who the other loanees are. The Independent reports today that Sir Gunaan Noon is another one, and his name has also been removed from the Honours List. The tragedy now is that any political donation of a loan of a substantial amount will be seen as tainted. There's absolutely nothing wrong with either donating or loaning money to a political party, but if you had the money to do it now I suspect you would run a mile. And that's why the bandwagon for state funding continues to roll. Ken Clarke and Digby Jones on Sky this morning both advocated it. In Ken Clarke's case this is particularly noteworthy as he is heading up David Cameron's Democracy Commission. Tomorrow the Conservatives will outline plans to 'clean up' the system. One proposal will be to limit donations to a figure probably under £100,000. I look forward to hearing where they think they money will come from to make up the shortfall. I certainly wouldn't want to be in Jonathan Marland's position - he's the Conservative Party treasurer. I suppose symbolically it would be quite appealing for David Cameron to stand up and say "I am announcing today that the Conservative Party will no longer accept any donation of more than £100,000." He would be cheered by the electorate and it would reinforce his 'change' agenda. The challenge would then be to Labour to do the same. They can't, of course, because of the dominance of the trade unions in their funding. But on the other hand, think of the message this sends to those donors who have kept the Party afloat in the past through their generosity. If Michael Ashcroft had not been around during the Hague years the Party would have gone under. It's as simple as that. But whatever is announced by David Cameron tomorrow, one thing is clear. Funding reform is coming and we'd all better get used to it.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

3-0 Down at Half Time

Oh dear.

Another 90 Minutes of Fun

I'm sitting in Row K of the Dr Martens Stand at West Ham freezing my nads off once again, about to watch a second string Hammers team play Harry Redknapp's Portsmouth. Stuck on the back of every seat is a poster which reads "Injury compensation - can you claim? Find out before it's too late!" I don't think this is aimed at Michael Owen but you never know. People love to hate lawyers anyway, but I think anyone can be forgiven for having a special amount of contempt for ambulance chasing compensation lawyers. Even journos and politicians come above them in the Most Hated Professions league table. I think.

Have you downloaded my second podcast yet? Come on you Irons!

New Book on Charles Kennedy

A few years ago I commissioned a biography of LibDem leader Charles Kennedy, which former LibDem head of policy and all-round good guy Duncan Brack was going to write. It was agreed on the basis that it would be published before the last election, partly because I had heard the rumours and wondered how long he could survive, but also because I felt he may well have stepped down anyway. To cut a long story short, Duncan decided not to proceed with the book and I had assumed the whole project had bitten the dust. However, it transpires that Times journalist Greg Hurst has picked up the cudjels and the book is slated to appear this August. It's called Charles Kennedy: The Tragic Flaw. I'm tempted to ask, why bother? Hasn't everything been said that could be said? Would anyone really want to spend twenty quid on reading about him now? But then again, given the choice of spending £20 on that or £20 reading about Mogadon Ming, what would you do?

On News 24 Tonight

I'll be reviewing the Sunday papers tonight on BBC News 24 at 11.45pm. Do join me!

Friday, March 17, 2006

New PodCast Available for Download

My second Podcast is ready for download. Either click the button at the top of the left hand column or you can also do it through iTunes. This podcast features a 10 minute discussion on George W Bush with American Republican commentator Daniel Forrester. He's not a great fan of Dubya. Let me know what you think of it.

Michael Howard to Step Down

I understand from friends in Folkestone that Michael Howard will announce this evening at a meeting in his constituency that he is to stand down from the House of Commons at the next election. In many ways I think this a shame, as we could do with some wise old owls on the Tory benches after the next election. After all, David Davis is the oldest member of the Shadow Cabinet at the ripe old age of 56. I expect therefore that Folkestone will become one of the first constituencies to select a new candidate from the A List.

Tales of Elspeth Campbell No 1

Lady Elspeth Campbell is threatening to become a national treasure. So in her honour I am starting an occasional series which will consist of anecdotes about the Grand Dame of the Liberal Democrats. This is from today's Press Gazette diary...

Simon Carr (Independent sketch writer: Are you going to have a baby to keep up with the other party leaders' wives?
Lady C: Are you calling me fat? (cue coquettish laughter)
Simon C then presses her further
Lady C: If I were to, it would have to be through IVF.
Simon C: Not while there's breath in my body, it wouldn't

And so say all of us. Should you have any amusing anecdote of my new favourite political lady (Hazel Blears, you have been replaced in my affections...sob) then please do email me and I will share them with a joyful nation.

Tory Radio Launched

Jonathan Sheppard has launched his first PodCast on Tory Radio, which you can access on iTunes or through his BLOG. He interviews Grant Shapps MP, Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party for campaigning.

I'll be uploading my second Podcast later on today for your delight and delectation. More on that later. I also recorded one with Cherly Gillan MP yesterday when I was in London, which will appear in a couple of weeks.

An Opportunity to Join the Ming Dynasty

Flicking through my copy of the Press Gazette I was delighted to read an advert for the job as Press Secretary to Ming Campbell. I qualify for the job on every count. Even the bullet point in the advert which reads...

Good understanding of and sympathy with the Liberal Democrats

Yep, I understand them only too well, and I have a great deal of sympathy for them after their recent traumas. Wouldn't anyone? Even better, if I got the job I would be reporting to Ming's Chief of Staff, someone called Norman Lamb! Excuse me while I update my CV...

Seriously (sort of), I wonder if this is a job for my estemmed blogging colleague Paul Linford?!

Layout Problems?

I've had a couple of emails from people saying they are having difficulty viewing the site. Apparently the main text appears in the left hand column below the No to ID logo. If this applies to you could you email me and tell me what type of browser you are using and what screen size you have? We can then see if there is a common theme.