Wednesday, May 31, 2006

New Poll: Who Should Replace Two Shags?

Who would you like to see replace John Prescott as Deputy Dawg Leader of the Labour Party. It's quite clear he's on his way out - maybe soon, maybe when Blair goes.

If I were a Labour supporter I'd be going for Hilary Benn or Alan Johnson. But Johnson may have his eye on the top job. As a Conservative I'd love it to be Ms Harman. Vote now in the new poll in the left hand column!

Iain Dale's One Minute Guide to Today's Blogs

Paul Linford has an excellent post on why the merger of Police forces must be stopped. Ultra Leftie Bob Piper has responded to my bookshop posting by suggesting that they should all be nationalised - along with all other posts. Right on Bob! Guido doesn't approve of Nigel Evans's world travels. Forceful & Moderate muses on Prescott's troubles. Dr Crippen is not pleased about the NHS computer overspend. The Ministry of Truth doesn't like Trevor Phillips very much. Nick Robinson questions the need for a Willie. Skipper asks if the internet will destroy Fleet Street (answer is no, not yet). Spinblog has a bone to pick with Glenda Jackson. Rachel from North London has been nominated for an award (so have I!). Jonathan Calder on Lord Razzall: did he jump or was he pushed? Do we care? Ellee Seymour's been to Naarfuk.

Prescott to Give up Dorneywood

Just heard Prescott is giving up Dorneywood. I suspect it'll be the first of many things he'll be giving up. Loved the letter in the Telegraph this morning musing about Peter Hain becoming Deputy Leader and inheriting Dorneywood. The letter writer wondered who would be the first to dig up the lawns!

LibDems Select Bromley By-Election Candidate

As they ditch their Campaigns & Communications Director Lord Razzall (see Guido) the LibDems have selected their candidate for the Bromley & Chislehurst by-election. He's thirty year old political lobbyist Ben Abbotts, who fought Michael Fallon in Sevenoaks at the 2005 election. Fallon boosted his majority and there was a 1.1% swing from the LibDems to the Conservatives. His campaign website is still live, where we learn on the front page that he must be the only LibDem in existence who spells 'environmentally' with one L. I'm sure the press will want to find out more about his directorship of the lobbying consultancy LLM. LLM feature in the Little Red Book of New Labour Sleaze. I think I will leave Guido to furnish you with more about them. Ben's wife Zara is Head of Religious Education at a local Grammar School (don't the LibDems want to abolish grammar schools?) and the couple have a three year-old daughter, Tallulah, and a one year old baby called Sienna. I leave you with one question. Would you entrust your vote to someone who calls their daughter Tallulah?

UPDATE Thur 10pm: Ben Abbotts (who is a reader of this blog) says the info on the Sevenoaks LibDem website about his wife teaching at a grammar school is wrong. I thought about editing it out of the original text, but then the comments would appear rather non sensical. Hope that clears it up, anyway!

A Thought on the Tax Credit Scandal

During the last two years the Government has 'mispaid' four billion pounds of your money to people who had no entitlement to it. That's two pence of the standard rate of income tax. Gordon Brown will no doubt be proud of this and claim to be a latter day Robin Hood. And as for getting the money back, why is it that I suspect the Inland Revenue will be adopting a less than rigorous approach? Surely not because a majority of the six million people affected are Labour voters! Perish the thought, and wash my mouth out with soap. Another triumph for 'Red' Dawn Primarolo. And this woman is tipped to be in Gordon Brown's cabinet. You really couldn't make it up.

The End of British Bookselling is Nigh

Waterstone's is about to take over Ottakars in a deal which is bound to see the closure of a number of 'doubled up' stores in market towns throughout Britain. Despite the fact that the deal puts Waterstone's in a highly dominant market position the competition authorities have waved the deal through. There are now six main players in the bookselling market - Waterstone's, W H Smith, Borders/Books etc, Amazon, the supermarkets and Independent booksellers. The common thread through the first five is the huge level of discount they demand from suppliers, which is then passed on to the consumer. So all's well then. Well, not quite.

The only way publishers can give this discount is to concentrate their efforts on bestsellers and to put all their marketing resources behind comparatively few books. The publishing sector has reflected its bookselling counterpart and seen many smaller publishing houses gobbled up by the bigger ones, as they struggle to compete. In turn this has meant fewer books being publishing and a contraction in range. So although the consumer wins on cover price, it loses out on choice. Some independent booksellers don't even bother to sell Harry Potter books because Tesco is selling it more cheaply than the bookseller can buy it from the publisher. It's not uncommon to see small independent booksellers piling up their supermarket trollies down at Asda, looking slightly sheepish as they do so. This is because the publisher gives Asda a 60-65% discount, while the small bookseller will get 40% if he's lucky. And on top of that Asda is likely to sell the book as a loss leader.

Amazon offers a standard 30-40% discount on most non-academic titles, so it has been able to establish a dominant market position in online bookselling. It has been so successful that 80% of people who buy anything online, buy from Amazon at some point. So there's the background - now for the prediction. I foresee that within ten years the independent bookshop will have disappeared from our town centres, all bar a few retired individuals who have got money to throw down the drain. Even second hand bookshops are disappearing at a fair old rate, as most people now buy their used books through Abebooks. There's still nothing like rooting round a second hand bookstore and finding that book you've been looking for for years, but the internet has made it so much easier.

The joy of wandering round Waterstone's used to be that each one was different - the local manager was able to decide on buying. Now everything is decided by the centre and the local managers have little power to go their own way. Each store looks at the same and stocks the same books. And as we have read in the weekend press, to get a book displayed in a prominent position throughout their chain can cost a publisher upwards of £20,000. So the bestseller charts are entirely skewed by money changing hands between publisher and bookseller. W H Smith do the same. It is rare indeed for a book to break through that market barrier on its own merits. It can happen - East Shoots and Leaves by Lynn truss is the exception that proves the rule. Profile Books, Truss's publisher, would never have been able to fund a marketing campaign which a bestseller would normally require. But as I say, it's a great rarity for this to happen.

So will the consumer win in the long run? If you're a buyer of trade fiction, sports books or general literature then probably. Prices will remain low and the contraction in range won't affect you. But if you're into more esoteric, specialist books expect to find your choice diminished and the price to rise. And if you're someone who just likes to browse, you're likely to find your browsing range restricted to a choice of Waterstone's, Borders or W H Smith. A truly terrifying thought.

One Blood by Terence Jay

Some time ago I raved about the movie Green Street, which stars Elijah Wood and revolves around hooliganism at West Ham. In my Desert Island Discs posting a few days ago I chose a song from the soundtrack by Terence Jay called One Blood. I've just found the song on Youtube. Have a listen. I warn you now that the movie excerpt is very very violent - so violent in fact that I couldn't watch some of it. What a wuss. But the song is amazing. A bit like Mark Knopfler. Anyway, listen, rather than watch!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

David Burrowes' Guide to How to Win a Marginal Seat

David Burrowes won back Enfield Southgate for us at the last election with the biggest pro-Conservative swing in the country. So it is a very good thing that he has published a paper on how he achieved his stunning success. You can download a 5 page summary of it HERE. It's provoked quite a debate today on ConservativeHome. I wholeheartedly endorse what David says and hope that many of those who are about to be selected will take his words to heart. Tim Montgomerie says that the pamphlet, Pick 'em Local, Pick 'em Early, is a direct challenge to the 'A' List. Well, up to a point, your honour. The whole concept of the 'A' List seemed to mitigate against local candidates when it was first announced, but CCHQ has now made clear that it will not be a bar to local candidates being considered. The creation has delayed some selections, but only by a few months. Apart from that I cannot see anything in the pamphlet which is a direct attack. However, it is published under the Cornerstone imprint, and sadly the Cornerstone chairman John Hayes MP has let his mouth run ahead of his brain and castigated the whole concept of the 'A' List. As regular readers know, I have little reason to speak out in its favour (!), but surely it is right that the Party should indeed promote its best and brightest? Naturally people will differ on the identity of who those people are, but we all know that an unofficial 'A' List operated before the last election, but few people ever talked about it. So to bring it out into the open is a welcome development in some ways, but of course having decided to do that the Party grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory and tried to keep the identity of the 104 'A' Listers secret. As if that were ever likely to be possible with Tim Montgomerie's network available to find out the gory details! But let's go back to John Hayes. In amongst otherwise sensible and thought provoking comments, John said this: “The idea that we can parachute insubstantial and untested candidates with little knowledge of the local scene into key seats to win the confidence of people they seek to represent is the bizarre theory of people who spend too much time with the pseuds and posers of London’s chichi set and not enough time in normal Britain." This sort of comment is self indulgent and uncalled for. As an ex senior whip and a shadow education minister, surely John is appraised of the virtues of collective responsibility? Many people in the Party have reservations about aspects of the 'A' List process but most have managed to zip it, or express those reservations in a constructive, rather than destructive manner. I suspect that there will be more than a few Cornerstone MPs who will have made just those views known to John Hayes today. Hopefully fairly vociferously. But this should not detract from David Burrowes' central message - where possible pick local candidates in marginal seats and pick them as early as possible. This is especially important in what I call 'development seats'. These are seats which we may not win next time but we must target for the time after that, or even the time after that. We must shamelessly copy what the LibDems do. In my old seat in North Norfolk, Norman Lamb had fought it twice before we won it. In 1992 there was a Tory majority of 15,000, which in 1997 was whittled down to 1200. Lamb won it in 2001 with a majority of 500, which he then turned into a massive majority in 2005. If you look at the graphic above my campaign ticked most of those boxes - except for a very important one - Early Selection. I was selected only 18 months before the election, yet I had to compete with a man who had been there for 15 years and developed a very good local reputation. I do not offer that as an excuse for the result, but it was certainly a major part of the explanation. So in seats like Lewes (which we used to hold) it is vital to pick a local candidate who can nurse it and fight it two or three times. It's frankly the only way to win back seats like that. There are many Northern seats which fall into the same category. I don't know what strategy there is in CCHQ for seats which are not classified as target seats at the next election. We have got to look to the long term and not just concentrate on those 120 seats we need to win next time. Hat-tip to ConservativeHome for the graphic

Sven Goes Barmy

It appears that Sven has finally lost his marbles. In tonight's friendly with Hungary he is going to play Jamie Carragher in midfield in a holding role, despite the fact he's never played there for Liverpool. Quite what Michael Carrick has done to deserve being edged out of the role is a complete mystery. With Peter Crouch playing up front on his own I have a great feeling of foreboding. Mind you, as the only non 17 year old fit striker, I suppose there's not a lot of choice. With the players we have at our disposal we ought to be one of the favourites for the World Cup, but I fear that Sven's lack of leadership and bizarre choice of teams will mean we won't past the quarter finals. I'm reading Robbie Fowler's autobiography at the moment and his experience of Sven is almost as bad as his time with Houllier. Great book, though.

Prescott Under Renewed Pressure Over Breaking ODPM Rules

The long-running farce of the Deputy Prime Minister took a new twist today after the Government was forced to publish the staff handbook of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. The 1,000 page document, encompassing two weighty volumes, was obtained by Conservatives through Parliamentary Questions. It advises ODPM staff and senior managers:

· Not to make ‘improper use’ of ODPM accommodation, furniture and workspace, especially during ‘official time’.
· Innuendo, leering, lewd comments, touching or deliberate brushing up against others is discouraged as it could lead to harassment claims.
· Alcohol is not permitted in many areas, and senior managers must ensure that office parties do not cause disruption.
· Not to allow staff, in their official capacity, to attend events organised by a political party.
· “It’s all about protecting people’s dignity at work”.

The Ministerial Code warns ministers that they must not seek to make their civil servants breach these terms and conditions of employment, and ministers must observe all the obligations of a ‘good employer’. Caroline Spelman MP, Shadow Minister for Communities & Local Government, said: “It comes as no surprise that a man who couldn’t even pay his own council tax bill can’t be bothered to read his own official handbook. This just shows that there seems to be one rule for Labour ministers living it up at taxpayers’ expense, and another for everyone else. Perhaps if John Prescott had read the rulebook, he wouldn’t be where he is now.”

“Ministers have a duty to... not to ask civil servants to act in any way which would conflict with the Civil Service Code... and a duty to observe the obligations of a good employer with regard to terms and conditions of those who serve them.”


What was reported: “He would usually be going through his ministerial box. Things always started with us touching. It might have been me touching his arm, or him patting me on the back. We would kiss and things would go on from there. Sometimes it was behind the desk, but mainly we stood behind the open door. We were very lucky we were never caught as we never shut the door. I knew what we were doing was risky but we both got carried away” (Tracey Temple, cited in Daily Mail, 1 May 2006).

“Miss Temple also claimed in her diary that their mutual admiration steamed over in another historic setting, the Admiralty Board Room, which the DPM uses as a conference room... It has always been a room occupied by substantial men: the great table in its middle has a semi-circle cut out at one end, traditionally said to have been done to accommodate the girth of a particularly substantial First Lord of the Victorian era, George Ward Hunt” (Daily Telegraph, 1 May 2006).

Staff Handbook:
“You must not make inappropriate use of official time, information and resources of the Office… Inappropriate use means any use of official times, information and resources which: (a) is illegal, improper and/or unethical, (b) impedes the business of the Office…. (c) in any way contravenes the Office’s equal opportunities policy… (e) deliberately causes harm to ODPM information and resources” (Part A, Personal Conduct, p.6-7).

“Official time, information and resources means all official time, services, materials and equipment provided for use on or relating to the official business of the Office and/or the Crown and (by way of illustration only) includes: … (k) accommodation, furniture and workspace, (l) public funds, (m) official time” (Part A, Personal Conduct, p.6-7).

“Where a civil servant believes he or she is being required to act in a way which is illegal, improper or unethical… he or she should report the matter in accordance with procedures” (Part A, Personal Conduct, p.45).


What was reported: “New extracts from diaries kept by Tracey Temple disclose how Mr Prescott repeatedly made advances towards her, despite her attempts to rebuff him, and how he even flirted with her in front of Ministerial colleagues. She describes in detail how the Deputy Prime Minister was ‘eyeing her up’ when they met for the first time the day after Labour’s 2001 General Election victory. And just five days later she confessed she felt uncomfortable about the way Mr Prescott continually looked at her. The diary entries, published today in The Mail on Sunday, reveal how, after months of ogling, Mr Prescott attempted to force her on to the bed of his luxurious grace-and-favour London flat. She had gone there along with Joe Irvin, Mr Prescott’s then special adviser, as Mr Prescott was supposed to be working on a crucial speech to be delivered at the Labour Party conference. But as soon as Mr Irvin left, the Deputy Prime Minister made his move. The diaries detail how Mr Prescott intimately touched his £26,000 a-year secretary as they sat in the back of his chauffeur-driven Government Jaguar and how he enjoyed ‘dirty’ conversations while she sat at her Whitehall desk” (Mail on Sunday, 7 May 2006).

“Their affection shocked staff. One woman colleague said she had seen Tracey nuzzle Mr Prescott’s neck in the lift. She said she thought it was ‘inappropriate’. Mr Prescott later laughed off the incident as a bit of messing about. But three days later he was absolutely livid to find that office gossip claimed they were having an affair. He told people it was ‘none of their business’. And in the week afterwards he would regularly make a joke of who he got into a lift with at work in case he was accused of having an affair with them. Eleven days after the party Mr Prescott was still at odds with one aide because he was aware they had been discussing his relationship with Tracey and ‘causing him problems’.” (The Mirror, 27 April 2006).

Staff Handbook: “Sexual and racial harassment or abuse arises when someone is subjected against their will to unwanted verbal or sexual advances; made the target of embarrassing remarks jokes or names; confronted with offensive material or ostracised because of his or her race, sexuality or disability. Conduct failing within the category of ‘intentional harassment, alarm or distress’ as defined in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act will give rise to the commencement or internal disciplinary procedures and in serious cases could lead to criminal proceedings… Employer liability – in law an employer is responsible for the actions of all employees which occur in the course of their employment” (Part B, Working in the Office, p.25-26).

“Harassment can be a serious, traumatic and humiliating experience. It is particularly important to ensure that harassment does not occur in the workplace where the effects are likely to cause low morale, lack of confidence, anxiety and serious problems for individuals and teams. The Department for Transport and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister are equal opportunity employers. They aim to ensure that all their staff are treated fairly and have equality of opportunity to develop their skills. Basically, it’s all about protecting people’s dignity at work… If our policy is to be more than just words, all staff need to acknowledge our responsibilities for preventing harassment, discriminations and victimisation within ODPM” (Part B, Harassment and discrimination in the workplace, p.1, emphasis added).

“Examples of cases upheld in the courts, and types of harassment defined in legislation include: … Innuendo… Mockery or lewd comments… Leering, lewd gestures… Offensive mannerism or style of communication… Touching or deliberate brushing up against others.” (Part B, Harassment and discrimination in the workplace, p.2).


What was reported: “John Prescott’s office sounded like a great place to work. Sometimes some of the staff would stay up drinking until 5.30am during the week then crash out at hotels” (Tracey Temple’s fiance, Barrie Williams, quoted in The Mirror, 27 April 2006).

“Her diaries give the impression that it was nothing unusual for Mr Prescott’s staff to get drunk at office parties, some attended by Mr Prescott himself, and turn up for work with raging hangovers” (Mail on Sunday, 30 April 2006).

Staff Handbook: “Alcohol is prohibited in some of the Office’s premises (see local instructions) and where there is no formal ban, line managers are expected to ensure that office parties do not cause disruption to the work of the office” (Part B, Office Policy on Alcohol, p.2).


What was reported: “Miss Temple spent much of last year’s 2005 General Election campaign on Mr Prescott’s battle bus as he toured marginal seats” (Daily Mail, 27 April 2006).

Staff Handbook: “You must not attend in your official capacity a conference, seminar or other event convened by, or under the aegis of, a United Kingdom party political organisation” (Part B, Security & Confidentiality, p.17)

ONGOING FARCE… THE pantomime horse

Civil servants and local government officials described Prescott’s Department as unfocused, lacking leadership and comparable to a ‘pantomime horse’. The scathing verdict on the ODPM was revealed in a leaked MORI opinion poll of government officials and stakeholders. It depicted a department that is poorly managed, ‘out-gunned’ by other departments and suffering from ‘re-organisation fatigue’ (Sunday Times, 8 January 2006).

You Don't Have to Be Drunk to Write a Blog...

Bloody cheek. Just got this from Theospark, who obviously doesn't realise I don't drink...although you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise sometimes...

Julia Hartley Brewer & The Prime Minister's Willie

The delightfully gossipy Julia Hartley Brewer will be presenting a timely programme on the history of Deputy Prime Ministers at 9pm on BBC4 tonight called Every Prime Minister Needs a Willie. Having just announced she's pregant, Julia should know! I am assuming that a planned 'one on one' interview with Prescott didn't happen - just as well. Rumours would have started!

The Crab Gets Its Own Back

Remember this charming picture? Our beloved Deputy Prime Minister infuriated the Prince of Darkness by calling the crac Peter. Well yesterday the crab bit back. Mandelson's endorsement of Prescott on the radio was the most lukewarm endorsement since Michael Heseltine gave Margaret Thatcher his full backing. You could almost hear Mandy saying: "I cannot imagine the circumstances in which..." It is of course a right bloody cheek for Mandelson to even comment on the issue. But then again, he is of course the world expert on Cabinet resignations (having made two of them), and an even bigger expert at fleecing the taxpayer while doing a non-job.

COMING LATER: Has Cornerstone gone to far in its criticism of the 'A' List?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Do the LibDems Still Believe in a Tourist Tax or Not?


A review of local government funding should not give councils the power to levy a hotel 'bed tax', the Liberal Democrats have said. The option is reported to be under consideration by Sir Michael Lyons, who is reviewing the future of local government finance. But the Lib Dems warned that such a move could be "disastrous" for the UK tourism sector. "We have got a problem and anything like a bed tax that would put people off from coming to this country would be a real disaster," culture spokesman Don Foster told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "In the UK, tourism is already the most heavily taxed, with the exception of Denmark, in Europe. "Tourists contribute £12bn to the UK economy. "When you think that VAT on tourist-related activities in this country is 17.5 per cent, whereas in the rest of Europe it is 8.5 per cent and in countries like France 5.5 per cent, these tourists use services, but they are certainly already paying for them."

Well, I agree with every word of that. The only trouble is that in 2002 the FibDems adopted the policy of imposing a hotel bed tax at their autumn conference. In fact, I believe it is still listed on their national website. At the time it was reported that "Liberal Democrats want to introduce a new charge on hotel bills to pay for their numerous rural spending commitments. They note that ‘the state of Florida has a strong state tourism association funded by a small sales tax on accommodation bills’ hence they would ‘help the local rural environment via a small levy added to accommodation bills’ (Liberal Democrats, Rural Futures, Policy Paper 52, August 2002, p. 29-30, ratified as Official Policy at Liberal Democrat Conference, September 2002).I remember raising this when I was candidate in North Norfolk. The response was: "Ah yes, it may be on our website but that doesn't mean we would do it." Plus ca change.

PodCast 8: Iain Meets Neil & Christine Hamilton

Some time ago I used to present a weekly programme on a digital station Oneword. The programmes mainly consisted of half hour interviews with various political figures. I thought I'd make some of them available as Podcasts. The first one is an interview I did with Neil & Christine Hamilton a couple of years ago, just after their infamous arrest over false rape allegations. In the 30 minute interview I talk to them about the brown envelopes episode, the Ilford 'rape', their celebrity life and their books. You can access the Podcast by clicking on the icon on the left or at PoliticsOnDemand or at iTunes. Coming soon, Tony Benn, Peter Mandelson and Edwina Currie (though not together!).

A Message to Cherie Blair

Just in case Cherie thinks we have forgotten that she hasn't apologised yet for signing the Hutton Report. We haven't.

How Conservative or Liberal Are You?

Your Political Profile:
Overall: 75% Conservative, 25% Liberal
Social Issues: 75% Conservative, 25% Liberal
Personal Responsibility: 50% Conservative, 50% Liberal
Fiscal Issues: 100% Conservative, 0% Liberal
Ethics: 50% Conservative, 50% Liberal
Defense and Crime: 100% Conservative, 0% Liberal

This what a bit of a relief! Mind you, it is an American test so bear in mind their understanding of the term 'liberal' is a little different to ours.

What Ming Said, And What Ming Meant

From the Scotsman last Wednesday...

Sir Menzies paid tribute to him, telling journalists: "Eric Forth was a friend of mine. He was born within a mile of where I was born. I deprecate any effort to begin electioneering under any circumstances in any by-election until the writ has been moved by the party with responsibility for doing so. If that were done, I disapprove, and I will make sure my disapproval is known."

Strange then, that the LibDem HQ in Bromley opened for business three days ago. The writ won't be moved until next week. To be fair to Ming, he probably meant until the funeral had been held. And as you know, I do like to be fair to Ming.

More Labour MPs call for Prescott to Quit

I have just listened to yet another Labour MP call for Prescott to go. But this time it was a member of the Government! Unless I am very much mistaken Stephen Pound is still a PPS. On Jeremy Vine's show he follwed Derek Wyatt and Christine McCafferty in calling on the DPM to go. He said: "People question why he's paid 130 grand to play croquet." I suspect Mr P will be getting a call from the Chief Whip. If not, why not?
From Iain Dale's Blackberry

Great Quotes of Our Time: No 94

On my way to play golf-classic radio phone in moment from an ex teacher. She said: "I joined the police when I realised I would rather arrest children than trach them."
From Iain Dale's Blackberry

The Guardian Turns on Ming Campbell

The Guardian's leader column today carries a fairly devastating attack on Ming Campbell's leadership of the libDems. It also speculates on whether the LibDems might be morally (rather than legally) obliged to pay back the £2.4 million donation from Michael Brown. Here's the editorial in full...

Labour is bankrupt, barren and banal," said Sir Menzies Campbell on Friday - bold words from a man who was himself in the middle of delivering one of the more platitudinous political speeches of recent months. Billed as Sir Menzies' first major foray into domestic policy since the local elections, it spluttered on to the news on the back of a promise to cut parole for serious criminals and some cod-rightwingery about denying sex offenders the vote, but it delivered neither a coherent picture of the sort of liberalism Sir Menzies wants to develop, nor much new thinking. As piece of political positioning it was justifiable, responding to the (unfair) charge that the party cares more about the interests of those who commit crime than the people who suffer from it. But it was much too defensive as an opening foray, retreating from distinctive positions Liberal Democrats have taken in the past. One passage ran close to endorsing the government's policy of control orders. This lack of anything much to say, rather than his cheek-reddening performances at prime minister's questions, which he will surely overcome, is Sir Menzies' problem at the moment. Inside the party, he is turning out to be a good caretaker, tidying up the campaigns department, building links between the leader's office and MPs, and bringing on a new generation of able frontbench MPs. But he is proving much weaker as the public face of liberalism. His team point out, fairly enough, that Sir Menzies is still new to the job, establishing his team of advisers and waiting for policy commissions to report. They say that his slow start can be put down in part to his tricky inheritance from Charles Kennedy and they promise more action before the summer, including a new look at taxation and a personal manifesto, leading up to a bigger debate at the party's autumn conference. This will involve an assertion of social as well as economic liberalism. But neither was much on show in Friday's speech.
Liberal Democrats are not a carnivorous bunch and do not like chewing up their leaders. The rebellion against Charles Kennedy was an exception. But Sir Menzies does not look like a man who is enjoying his job, which is both difficult and (unlike David Cameron's) unpaid. The belief is growing that he will not want to stay on until the next election. His allies deny this absolutely, pointing to the temptation of office in a possible hung parliament, but even the suspicion that Sir Menzies is not in the game for the long term will damage him.
There will be no moment of crisis, unless Mr Kennedy's ill-advised decision to take a £2.4m donation during the last election, comes to haunt his successor. Liberal Democrats insist that proper checks were made and that the money was taken fairly. But the donor, Michael Brown, now faces serious claims from his bankers, HSBC, and a police investigation. Spanish authorities have chased his assets in Majorca. A point may come where the party faces a moral, if not a legal, obligation to return the money. But Sir Menzies' more imminent political problem is the sense that the game is running away from him, as the nation shapes up to make a straight choice between Gordon Brown and David Cameron. This is the moment for him to intrude. The four-point drop in Lib-Dem support in the latest Guardian poll may be just typical political turbulence: the local elections were not quite as bad as painted and the party's win in the Fife byelection may be a sign of success to come in next year's Scottish and Welsh elections. But Labour's troubles seem to be sending support sliding into Tory laps. A declining Liberal Democrat party is just what Mr Cameron needs: he cannot win a majority without it. The fightback requires originality, intelligence and a degree of bravery. None of these were prominent in Sir Menzies' speech on home affairs. It is to be hoped that he knows it.

Click HERE to see the comments of Guardian readers on this. They make for some interesting reading!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Choice Facing Bromley & Chislehurst Conservatives

Selecting a candidate is a nightmare for any Association, especially for a by-election. Bromley & Chislehurst are not to be envied. In the coming few days they will have to make their choice. Do they pick a local candidate? Do they pick a high flier? Do they pick someone very much in the image of Eric Forth? How much notice do they take of guidance from CCHQ? I am not seeking to either guide or influence their choice, but I can, for what it's worth, offer my advice. And my advice is what it would be for any high profile by-election - and that is to play safe. If there is a good local candidate who can handle the media exposure of a by-election campaign then that's probably the safest bet - but I am not sure that person exists. Bob Neill has been touted, along with Nicholas Bennett. But Nick Bennett (as a former MP) was removed from the Candidates List last year and Bob Neill may be too committed to the GLA Group. There is a very good female local candidate called Jill Andrews but I don't know whether she is either still on the official list or would be interested. I have looked through the names on the 'A' List on ConservativeHome and I keep coming back to two names. Tim Collins and Laura Sandys. In this kind of situation I think Tim could be a good bet. He will be able to deal with the media, is combative as well as being tenacious. Laura is also media savvy, has a sunny personality and would be able to withstand the pressures of a by-election. No Conservative should be complacent about this by-election. It's not only the LibDems who will be soliciting Conservative votes. There will be a strong UKIP presence, no doubt the BNP will stand, the English Democrats will be fielding a candidate and there is likely to be a ridiculous egomaniac standing as an independent Conservative. I only live 15 miles away so I'm intending to spend as much time as possible on the streets of Bromley & Chislehurst. I hope any Conservative reading this will be joining me!

UPDATE: When I talked about "a ridiculous egomaniac standing as an independent Conservative" I wasn't talking about THIS man, believe it or not!

DEFRA Bureaucracy is Out of Control

If my parents' experience is anything to go by, it's not just the Home Office which is in administrative chaos. This week they received a letter from Defra's Rural Payments Agency (something which always strikes fear into the hearts of small farmers) informing them that a mistake had been made in calculating the area of two of their fields. The letter included an elaborate map together with the news of the miscalculation. It declared:

Old Field Area 3.58 hectares New Field Area 3.58 hectares
Old Field Area 1.09 hectares New Field Area 1.09 hectares

So that's clear then and well worth sending a letter out. This comes on top of another letter received a few weeks ago telling them that they would be receiving 80% of their Single Payment Scheme payment. And the next day they received one telling them they had sent it out. This is bureaucracy gone mad. No wonder the cost of government has doubled since 1997. DEFRA is completely out of control and is serving only the interests of the incompetents who work within in it. It is a self generating bureaucracy, which needs to be curbed. It is simply astonishing that there are more DEFRA civil servants regulators than there are farms in the country. If that doesn't tell you all you need to know, nothing will.

PS Brace yourself for a dramatic rise in Foreign Office cockups now Ma Beckett is in the hotseat. I wonder what she's doing this bank holiday. Parking her caravan on the front lawn at Chevening I should imagine!

Bloody Sunday for John Prescott

As a German soldier might have said to a captured John Prescott in 1943, "For you, Herr Prescott, ze war is over." Rarely have I seen a set of Sunday papers so unanimous in their view that Prescott is finished. Finito. Finis. Beendet. Vorbei. Full scale speculation is underway about hte identity of his most likely successor as Labour Party Deputy leader. Labour MPs are already lining up behind the various candidates. It almost makes you feel sorry for the old brute. Almost. Until you remember what a disaster he has been in every job he has had. Until you remember that he is a serial groper. Until you remember what an embarrassment the man has become. But there is one issue which I find odd about today's papers. The Mail on Sunday have a big front page story picturing working class hero Johnny P playing croquet (I know, I know) at Dorneywood at 4.15 on Thursday afternoon, while he was supposed to be running the country in the Dear Leader's absence. The story says that Pauline Prescott was inside the mansion and goes on to say that she loves the place and couldn't bear to be parted from it. Indeed, a separate story in the Mail on Sunday alleges that Prescott begged Tony Blair to let him keep Dorneywood for fear of Pauline using it as an excuse to end their marriage if she had to give it up. Yet the Sunday Express says she hates the place and after hearing of her husbands antics with Tracey Temple at Dorneywood she has vowed never to set foot in the place again. Well they can't both be right! Hat-tip for graphic to Anonyeuouse

The Difference Between Conservatives & Liberals

While this little story emanates from Canada, I'm sure its main thrust can be applied here too!

History began some 12,000 years ago... Humans existed as members of small bands of nomadic hunter/gatherers. They lived on deer in the mountains during the summer & would go to the coast & live on fish & lobster in winter. The two most important events in all of history were the invention of beer & the invention of the wheel. The wheel was invented to get man to the beer. These were the foundation of modern civilization & together were the catalyst for the splitting of humanity into 2 distinct subgroups: Liberals & Conservatives. Once beer was discovered it required grain & that was the beginning of agriculture. Neither the glass bottle nor aluminum can were invented yet, so while our early human ancestors were sitting around waiting for them to be invented, they just stayed close to the brewery. That's how villages were formed. Some men spent their days tracking & killing animals to B-B-Q at night while they were drinking beer. This was the beginning of what is known as "the Conservative movement." Other men who were weaker & less skilled at hunting learned to live off the conservatives by showing up for the nightly B-B-Q's & doing the sewing, fetching & hair dressing. This was the beginning of the Liberal movement. Some of these liberal men eventually evolved into women. The rest became known as 'girleymen.' Some noteworthy liberal achievements include the domestication of cats, the invention of group therapy & group hugs & the concept of Democratic voting to decide how to divide the meat & beer that conservatives provided. Over the years conservatives came to be symbolized by the largest, most powerful land animal on earth, the elephant. Liberals are symbolized by the jackass. Modern liberals like imported beer (with lime added), but most prefer white wine or imported bottled water. They eat raw fish but like their beef well done. Sushi, tofu, & French food are standard liberal fare. Another interesting revolutionary side note: most of their women have higher testosterone levels than their men. Most social workers, personal injury attorneys, journalists, dreamers in Hollywood & group therapists are liberals. Liberals invented the designated hitter rule because it wasn't "fair" to make the pitcher also bat. Conservatives drink domestic beer. They eat red meat & still provide for their women. Conservatives are big-game hunters, rodeo cowboys, lumberjacks, construction workers, firemen, medical doctors, police officers, corporate executives, military men, athletes & generally anyone who works productively outside government. Conservatives who own companies hire other conservatives who want to work for a living. Liberals produce little or nothing. They like to "govern" the producers & decide what to do with the production. Liberals believe Europeans are more enlightened than Americans. That is why most of the liberals remained in Europe when conservatives were coming to America. They crept in after the Wild West was tame & created a business of trying to get MORE for nothing. Here ends today's lesson in world history. It should be noted that a Liberal will have an uncontrollable urge to respond to the above instead of simply laughing and forwarding it.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

If You're Colour Blind...

...THIS is what the Little Red Book's website looks like... Or THIS... or THIS. Just thought you'd like to know. But if you ARE actually colour blind, I guess you knew that anyway... Just a rambling thought before I head up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire...

Bromley By Election: LibDem HQ Opens

This is the new LibDem By Election HQ in Bromley. Thanks to Rob Fenwick for permission to use the photo. Read more by following this LINK. Let this be a warning to the Conservatives. Let no one take this by election for granted. I hope we have our HQ up and running too. But if we have, I haven't heard about it.

The Rise of the Right Wing Blogs

Tim Montgomerie has written an article for tomorrow's Business newspaper on the rise and influence of the right wing blogs. Click HERE.

Iain Dale's One Minute Guide to Today's Blogs

Paul Linford chooses his Desert Island Discs (copycat!). ConservativeHome interviews a not very forthcoming Dr Fox. Guido reveals the South Northamptonshire applicants. Bob Piper has an unusually thoughtful piece on the deindustrialisation of Britain. Dizzy thinks Blair wants the UN job. Ellee Seymour asky why rubbish collected only once a week from her local hospital. Recess Monkey has sone West Wing nostalgia. The Darbyshires are in Singapore and have re-enabled comments! FibDems looks at the small print on LibDem press releases. EU Serf wants to upset Jacques Chirac. Yellow Peril has more on Ming's woes.

Meteorite Fell on the Dale Homestead in 1923

I've just found a story from The Times from 7 June 1923 which relates the tale of a meteorite falling on my father's farm in Ashdon, near Saffron Walden in Essex. According to the website there have only been twelve such instances in the last 100 years.

The Natural History Museum at South Kensington has just received a very rare and interesting gift in the shape of a meteorite which fell just before 1 p.m. on March 9 between Saffron Walden and Ashdon, in Essex, on the border of Cambridgeshire. The actual spot is in the parish of Ashdon. The man who saw the meteorite fall was a labourer who states that he heard a loud "sissing" noise and supposed that an aeroplane was overhead. Looking up a second or two after he saw what he thought was a projectile fall about ten to fifteen yards from him, causing the earth to spout up like water. He was much alarmed, because he considered that something had been discharged from a gun. Three days later, in the company with another man, he took the meteorite up from where it had fallen. He says that there was a small hole where it had entered the ground, and this hole increased in width as he dug deeper. The stone was found at a depth of two feet. It often happens that in these cases detonations are heard, but so far as can be ascertained at present, the fall of this meteor was not accompanied by any such explosive noises. The specimen weight about 3lb., and is what is known as a white chrondrite meteoric stone. It is about 5in. long by 4in. wide, and has a thickness of about 3in. in its thickest part. The mass of the stone is composed of minerals belonging to the olivene and pyroxene groups, through which are distributed small particles of nickeliferous iron. The surface of the stone shows with remarkable distinctness the lines of flow of fused material radiated from the centre of the surface, and proves that it was partially fused owing to the high velocity at which it entered the earth's atmosphere. The rarity of the occurrence of a meteor seen to be falling is evident by the fact that only about fifteen falls have been recorded in the British Islands. The museum is indebted for this specimen to the Rev. F. W. Berry, of Wendens Ambo vicarage, near Saffron Walden.

The Min. Mag., 20, p131 (my summary of) Fall 1pm 9 March 1923 observed by Frederich Pratt--thatcher. Location 1/3 mile due S. of All Saints Church Ashdon in 52° 2' 40" N.LAT 0° 18' 20" E. Long. Direction from SW to NE and passed over Saffron Walden. Stone:Reg No 1923,484 wt 1270g original wt. aprox 1300g. dim. 12x9x6cm Composition aprox. 10% magnetic material. F. Pratt working on Ashdon Hall Farm, Ashdon a few feet from the farm road. Author visited on 8th June 1923, depth aprox. 2 feet.

To read more about Ashdon, the idyllic Essex village where I lived for the first 18 years if my life, and where my parents still live, click HERE.

Camden Council Bans Garry Bushell

Garry Bushell, it has to be said, is not everyone's cup of tea. The English Democrats have made a promotional video with him - click HERE - which is one of the more bizarre things I have seen recently. If I were them I would have chosen someone with slightly more universal appeal, but there you go. It seems that while Camden libraries will allow you to download the video, their political correctness Gruppenfuehrers have banned access to his website. Nice to know that freedom of thought is well and truly under threat in the people's republic of Camden. Perhaps the new council may change things.

Whatever Happened to LibDem Watch?

Tim Roll-Pickering raises a very good point in the Nick Clegg Story comments. He asks whatever happened to LibDemWatch? It's certainly time for it to be brought back to life. I have no idea who was actually behind it, but if they'd like to get in touch with me by email (see the link on the left) I'd be grateful.

UPDATE 5.53pm: It was remiss of me not to point out that there are two very good anti LibDem sites at Yellow Peril and Fibdems.

The Blair Sleazeometer is Already Out of Date

If you've bought the Little Red Book of New Labour Sleaze, you'll have seen this Sleazeometer already. But it's already out of date. Since it was designed 10 days ago, another 5 scandals could have been added. Fellow bloggers should feel free to copy and paste it into their own blogs!

LibDem Photoshop Trick Comes Back to Haunt Them

This charming picture of a small demonstration was used during the local elections by Conservative Candidate Jill Houlbrook (left) in the Upton Grange Ward of Chester. It was considered so good it was put on Chester Conservatives website. It was with some consternation that Chester Conservatives found the photo below adorning a LibDem Focus leafelt...

The rather portly man on the right in both pictures was unknown to the Conservatives when the picture was taken but he turned out to be none other than Jill Houlbrook's LibDem opponent, posing as a local resident. Strange that the photo on the LibDem website cropped out Jill Houlbrook. The LibDem candidate not only stole the photo but then claimed it was he who had organised the demonstration! Remember the advice to LibDem candidates from their election handbook? "Act wickedly, stir shamelessly"! Chester Conservatives have accused the LibDems of stealing the photo from their website and then photoshopping it. In fact, they're so angry they're taking the matter to the County Court. First of all the LibDems said they "did it for a laugh" but they have now admitted their crime and offered £50 compensation. It doesn't sound much, but when you face having to hand back £2.4 million I suppose the coffers aren't exactly full...

But all's well that ends well. The Conservatives won the election with a 10% swing. It was the first time the Conservatives had won a seat from the LibDems in Chester, having lost fifteen to them over the last two decades. Let's hope it's the first of many.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Nick Clegg Sticks the Knife In Ming's Back

As if today couldn't get any worse for Ming Campbell, I've just had this week's New Statesman delivered, in which my friend Kevin Maguire alleges that aspirant leader Nick Clegg has been briefing against the merciless one. Here's what Mr Maguire writes...

That thrusting young Minger Nick Clegg should learn to swivel his head to spy who is sitting within earshot before shouting into a mobile phone about an aged Olympic sprinter off to a poor start. While waiting on Bournemouth station for the London train, it was impossible for your columnist not to overhear the Lib Dems' home affairs chap itemising, between sips of Red Bull, his leader Sir Ming Campbell's political crimes. Ming the Mediocre, according to Clegg, is hesitant and disorganised, commits avoidable errors and lacks momentum but - this was the loyal bit - is capable of recovering. With friends like Clegg, who needs Simon Hughes?

Having torn Simon Hughes off a strip, Old Ming will now have to issue a bit of discipline to the young whippersnapper Clegg. Altogether now...There may be trouble ahead...

UPDATE 5.55pm: Predictably several LibDem supporters are rubbishing this story in the Comments section. I have just called Kevin Maguire to get the story from the horse's mouth. He stands by every word. Clegg had been on the phone talking to a journalist 'off the record'. Unfortunately for him he didn't realise the bloke standing next to him was the Man from the Mirror, Mr Maguire. Sadly for us all the Virgin train arrived early so Kevin didn't get quite as much as he might have done. Clegg has NOT issued a denial - instead he has accused Kevin Maguire of 'distorting' his remarks. Frankly, all he has done is to say what every other LibDem MP knows to be true. And to those in the Comments section who have accused Kevin of making the whole thing up, first of all look at Clegg's non-denial. Then consider the fact that I have known Kevin for nearly twenty years - he's not my politics - he's Old Labour. But there's one thing he doesn't do, and that's make stories up.

Guido's 'A' List Application's In the Post

...and after THIS piece of crawling, who's to say he won't be successful? I'm beginning to understand where I went wrong...

Another LibDem Cock-Up: Ming Can't Reverse Prisoner Vote Decision

Credit where credit is due. Ming Campbell today reversed his Party's position on giving prisoners the right to vote. But in case anyone is under the illusion that this single act of political opportunism common sense will demonstrate that the LimpLibDems have suddenly become the Party of Law and Order, they should study the LibDem constitution. Sadly Ming doesn't have the power to reverse this policy - only the Party Conference does (Article 5.8 says '…all Federal policy papers and motions approved by the Federal Conference shall…become the policy of the Federal Policy'). And having been to several LibDem Conferences (in a purely professional capacity, I hasten to add) I can assure you that the sandal wearers will prevail on this one. But just in case they don't, you might like to be reminded of some other LibDem tough law and order policies... (reaching for the CCHQ Campaign Guide...)

The Lib Dems would scrap mandatory life sentences for murder and for a second serious sexual or violent crime. Lib Dems voted against the legislation introducing anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs) and dispersal orders. They would send offenders on go-karting trips because it would ‘disincentivise’ crime (Mark Oaten, Q&A session at Lib Dem Conference, Bournemouth, 22 September 2004). Repeat offenders should not go to prison, but remain in the community ‘by imposing a curfew requirement or tagging them’ (Lib Dem Press Release, Liberal Democrat proposals for tough community sentences, 17 November 2003). Simon Hughes has said ‘I am clear…as Liberal Democrats have always been clear, that there should never be mandatory sentences. We have argued against such sentences for murder and in respect of lesser crimes...I think they are wrong in all circumstances’ (Hansard, 13 January 2003, Cols. 433 and 437).

And believe me, there's a lot more where that came from.

Another Headache for John Reid - Ford Prison Governor Facing the Sack

Conservative MP and Home Affairs Spokesman Nick Herbert has uncovered yet another astonishing case of Home Office incompetence - and overt lying. This time it's the Governor of Ford Open Prison who has some serious explaning to do, as he lied directly to Nick Herbert during a visit to the prison (which is in his Arundel & South Downs constituency) last week. I won't repeat the astoinishing information which is contained Nick Herbert's letter, just sent to Dr John Reid, as it speaks for himself. But it is clear to me that the Governor of Ford Open Prison has told a direct lie to his constituency MP. Reid should demand his resignation immediately. Reid should also demand serious answers from whichever lunatic in HM Prison Service decided that foreign prisoners should be put in an Open Prison. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that people facing deportation might just abscond from an open prison. And that's exactly what they did. A lot of them. Including some fairly serious criminals.

Here's the text of Nick's letter...

I am writing about the serious situation in Ford Prison, which is an open prison in my constituency. I understand that a number of foreign nationals who are either being considered for deportation or are scheduled for deportation were, until this morning, being held in the Prison. One foreign national, who was sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment for supplying Class A drugs and was awaiting deportation, absconded from the prison last month. On Wednesday the BBC reported that five foreign nationals have absconded from the prison since the weekend. This morning the Argus revealed that 11 prisoners have absconded from Ford in the past two weeks. I understand that the Home Office has now confirmed this figure and that an operation to remove 141 foreign nationals held in the prison into what Phil Wheatley, the Director General of the Prison Service, has called “proper closed prisons” is being undertaken this morning. It appears that at least some of these prisoners were awaiting deportation or being considered for deportation. I am concerned that the Prison Service attempted to cover up the situation when questioned about it by me and by the media. I raised concerns about the issue when I visited the Prison on Friday, and again pressed the Governor about the matter on Wednesday when I received information that prisoners had absconded. On both occasions I was told that there was no abnormal situation and that foreign national prisoners were at low risk of absconding. I was also told that only one foreign national prisoner had absconded within the past 24 hours. Clearly the information I was given was partial and misleading. On Monday Damian Green tabled questions for written answer (numbers 232, 233 and 234) relating to prisoners awaiting deportation being held in open prisons. To date no reply has been received. I tabled further written questions yesterday. However the House has now risen and this information will not be provided until we return on 5 June at the earliest. It is bad enough that around 100 prisoners abscond from the Prison each year. However it seems extraordinary that prisoners awaiting deportation, or who are likely to be deported, should be held in an open prison at all when they have little incentive to remain in custody. Public confidence in the penal system is severely undermined by this kind of mismanagement. It is further undermined when the Home Office and the Prison Service are not open when information is requested. Could you please tell me, as a matter of urgency:

1. How many foreign national prisoners absconded from Ford prison in the past two weeks, and if any or all of them were either awaiting deportation or being considered for deportation.

2. How many prisoners held in Ford Prison while awaiting deportation or being considered for deportation absconded this year and in each of the last five years.

3. What is the justification for holding prisoners who are awaiting deportation or being considered for deportation in open prisons, when many, if not all, of them clearly have an incentive to abscond.

4. How many foreign national prisoners in Ford Prison have now been transferred to closed prisons.

5. Whether you intend to review the risk assessment procedures for prisoners who are awaiting deportation, or being considered for deportation, before they are accepted to open prisons.

On Wednesday you conceded that the immigration system needs a “fundamental overhaul”. I would suggest that this overhaul should extend to the practice of deportations from open prisons. I would also suggest that public confidence will not be restored until the Home Office and the Prison Service operate in a more transparent manner and provide information which is timely and accurate. I would therefore be grateful if the information which both Damian Green and I have requested could be provided without delay.

Liam Fox Dodges the Roger Helmer Question

ConservativeHome has an interview with Liam Fox. The questions came from ConservativeHome readers, and there was one in particualr which caught my eye

Andrew Woodman: Do you believe the withdrawing of the Conservative whip in the European parliament from Roger Helmer was unfair and unjust, and was there any more you could have done as Shadow Foreign Secretary to stop and reverse the decision?

Liam Fox: The question of the Whip in the European Parliament is not a matter for the Party in Westminster.

What a cop-out. I'd have expected better from Dr Fox. Surely by that logic, our membership or not of the EPP is also not a matter for the Party in Westminster? Let's at least have a bit of consistency.

It's Not Just Cherie Who Should Apologise

Alastair Campbell's partner Fiona Millar, who used to work as Cherie Blair's PA, has been all over the media urging her former employer to apologise for signing the autioned copy of the Hutton Report. But amazingly no journalist has asked her whether her partner should also do the same. He has been uncharacteristically silent on the matter, yet it was he more than anyone, who was to blame for the circumstances which led Dr Kelly to take his life. And he signed more than one copy, so you can hardly put it down to a rush of blood. Cherie Blair's actions are ill-judged, but Alastair Campbell's are downright disgusting and reprehensible. I suppose we shouldn't really be surprised. My only consolation is that the value of his diaries is diminshing with every day that Tony Blair stays in power.

Menzies Campbell's Black Friday

Sometimes you've just got to realise it's going to be one of those days. I would not have liked to been in Lady Elspeth's dressing gown this morning as she prepared Ming's egg and soldiers. She must have tired of the old boy spluttering over his copy of the Daily Telegraph, as he inwardly digested the awfulness of the YouGov poll. It showed the LibDems on 16% and told their leader that only 8% of people thought he would make the best Prime Minister, the lowest score for any LibDem leader since the Party was formed. Contrast that with the ratings for the man a quarter of a century younger who leads the Conservatives and it is easy to see why Ming was not in the best of moods as his car carried him to visit Charing Cross Police Station this morning. It was the first part of a day in which the Party hopes to show that it is not soft on law and order. My spy at Charing Cross tells me that things did not get off to a good start. Only one camera and two photojournalists showed up, and the first thing they filmed was the LibDem leader getting out of his car and immediately stumbling. Luckily he quickly regained his composure. Apparently one of the journalists present found it deeply ironic that the LibDems were having a law and order day on the day after it was revealed they might have to repay a £2.4 million donation from a man who faces a very long stretch in prison. Happy days. I recall something Iain Duncan Smith said, which will be very worrying for Ming. He reckoned a new leader had 100 days to imprint themsleves on the public psyche. Whatever the public thought of the leader after 100 days would remain with them for the rest of their tenure - and IDS should now. I'm afraid the prognosis for Ming doesn't look good. His first 100 days are up in mid June. So he's got around a fortnight to dispel the image of an ageing, bumbling, tired man who is rapidly losing his grip. I have to say I would never have believed it. Hat-tip for cartoon to Steve Bell

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Perils of Desert Island Discs

Whenever politicians go on Desert Island Discs you can be sure they will face accusations that their spin doctors have chosen the songs, rather than them. Having heard that David Cameron has chosen Ernie - the Fastest Milkman in the West as one of his songs I think you can safely say he will be safe from such accusations. I remember the ridicule Margaret Thatcher suffered when she chose Two Little Boys Had Two Little Toys. Listening to her justify the selection by entering into a lengthy discourse on the benefits of sharing was painful indeed. Now as I'm never likely to appear on Desert Island Discs (unless there's a new B List version being planned (!)) I thought I'd appall you with what my choices would be...

1. Forever Young by Alphaville
One of my favourite songs of all time

2. Paradise by the Dashboard Light by Meatloaf
A mini rock opera whose words I know off by heart

3. Pachelbel's Canon
The most relaxing piece of music I know

4. Search for the Hero Inside Yourself by M People
A song with a message to those of us who may appear super-confident, but often aren't

5. One Blood by Terence Jay
From the movie Green Street - an ode to loyalty and fraternity

6. Jersusalem
A reminder of my green and pleasant land

7. Margaret Thatcher Speeches CD
To inspire and remember

8. Miss You Nights by Cliff Richard
To remind me of the people I love

Luxury item - My own pillow
Book - Animal Farm by George Orwell - to remind me of what my one man dictatorship desert island could become if I'm not careful!

I'm bracing myself for the onslaught of abuse...

Iain Dale's One Minute Guide to Today's Blogs

I've done a blog trawl tonight and recommend these links to you...

Stalin's Gran has some interesting views on Dr John Reid (for it is he) HERE. Paul Linford analyses the implications of a Hung Parliament HERE. Niles has a problem with his pussy HERE. Jonathan Calder's fed up with Mark Oaten HERE. Kiwiblog provides proof that New Zealand Labour language is identical to our own HERE. Stephen Pollard rages against the BBC's anti Israeli stance HERE. Guido's on the pull HERE. Not. Malcolm Rifkind's in trouble HERE on ConservativeHome. Ellee Seymour invites us into her gorgeous garden HERE. Boycie from Only Fools & Horses is a Tory says Recess Monkey HERE. Dizzy thinks Fiona Millar doth protest too much HERE. Backing Blair has a new fundraising idea for Labour HERE. Conservative History Journal looks at the life of Lord Acton HERE. Tax Freedom Day is celebrated by the Adam Smith Institute Blog HERE. SpinBlog has more questions for Cherie HERE. Antony Little tries not to discuss Big Brother but fails HERE. James Cleverly asks if PMQs matter HERE.

Justice for England

As many will know from previous postings, I am in favour of an English Parliament. It is now Conservative Party policy to "make devolution work". The only way of doing that in the long term is for the English to be given the same constitutional rights as the Scots and the Welsh (whose Assembly should now become a Parliament). There is a new campaign called Justice For England, which has some rather nice merchandise. The objective of Justice for England is to try and get as many people as possible to purchase a ribbon or badge and wear it with pride, to demonstrate support for ending the discrimination that England faces. Click HERE to learn more.

LibDems May Have to Repay £2.4 Million Donation

The Electoral Commission has just released the following statement, which will send a shudder down the backs of many a Liberal Democrat...

25 May 2006 - For immediate use
Statement about donations to Liberal Democrats from 5th Avenue Partners Ltd

Following discussions with the City of London Police, the Electoral Commission has decided to await the outcome of the police investigation of the financial affairs of 5th Avenue Partners Limited and its director before considering further whether 5th Avenue Partners Limited’s donations to the Liberal Democrats last year met the tests for donations to political parties by companies. Between February and May 2005, 5th Avenue Partners Limited made donations totalling around £2.4million to the Liberal Democrats. In October 2005 the Commission took the view that, based on all the evidence which the party had, and subject to any further information becoming available, it was reasonable for the party to regard the donations as having been permissible (See Note 2). There is currently an investigation by the City of London Police and separate legal proceedings concerning the financial affairs of 5th Avenue Partners Ltd and its director. It is possible that further information will become available that may be relevant to the issue of whether these donations were permissible. The Commission has therefore decided to await the outcome of the police investigation before considering this matter further, and will be liaising closely with the City of London Police over the coming weeks.

As I understand it, legally, the LibDem members are jointly and severally responsible for paying the money back - which would cost them about £35 each. If I were them I'd be investing in a few begging bowls just in case...

Now, to all those LibDems who accused me of hyping this up and thought it was a 'non story' when I first raised it back in January and February (see HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE) I think you'll have the good grace to accept that this is a serious matter which the Party must now address. Of course, if proper due diligance had been carried out by Lord Razzall on Michael Brown (pic), this sorry state of affairs might have been avoided.

Sign the Petition to Force Cherie to Apologise

Click HERE to sign the following petition

To: Number 10 Downing Street
We believe that raising funds for the Labour Party by auctioning copies of the Hutton Report signed by Mrs Cherie Booth QC is an act of appalling bad taste and is disrespectful to the family of the late Dr David Kelly. We further demand that: • Mrs Cherie Booth QC publicly apologises for her conduct on this matter • The Prime Minister apologises for the misconduct of the Labour Party in this matter. • That the Labour Party donates any funds raised from the auction of this item to an appropriate charity, matched by a similar donation from Mrs Cherie Booth QC

The First Review of the Little Red Book

There's a very amusing review of The Little Red Book of New Labour Sleaze at Blairwatch. A touching highlight...

I'll delegate the review to my son, aged two and currently potty training.
*points at book cover*

The Strange Case of 'Dr' John Reid's PhD

John Reid loves to be called 'Dr Reid'. Call him Mister and his eyes seem to twitch. He has, after all, got a doctorate so has every right to be called 'Dr'. However, no one ever seems to have traced a copy of his PhD thesis, which I am told was on the economy of a Nigerian warrior king. I always thought PhDs were publicly available for others to use as reference sources, but it seems that Reid's work of wisdom has been classified as 'closed'. I wonder why this would be. In the words of the late Sir John Junor, 'shouldn't we be told?' All information to the usual email address please!

UPDATE: It's interesting to note that Dr Gordon Brown is also entitled to be called Dr, having also got a PhD (I don't know what in), but he positively doesn't like being called Dr Brown. Man of the people, you see.

UPDATE 10.37 My correspondent Jeremy Brier reveals from a trawl through Stirling University's website that Reid's doctorate is titled Warrior aristocrats in crisis: the political effects of the transition from the slave trade to palm oil commerce in the nineteenth century Kingdom of Dahomey. Blimey, he really does deserve it then! Now, has anybody actually seen a copy or can anybody procure it? I think it deserves a review...

UPDATE 11.03 I'm not sure what I have started here! A correspondent tells me that Gordon Brown used his 'Dr' title when he first stood for Parliament in 1983, signing his election address 'Dr Gordon Brown'.

UPDATE: 11.34 David Taylor in the Comments denies Dr John likes being called Doctor. Another eminent correspondent points me to Page 2 of The Times T2 this morning. I quote: "He likes to be called Dr Reid and is senstitive to any hint of snobbery or being patronised by metrpolitan media types for his Glaswegian accent".

Tomorrow's Headline?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

All in the Line of Beauty

On Sunday morning I was delighted to see my old friend Alan Duncan sharing Adam Boulton's SKY sofa with the star of Line of Beauty Dan Stevens. For some reason Alan seemed a little star-struck as he harked back to distant memories of the Thatcher golden years. My spies tell me that Alan was seen this evening entertaining Dan to drinks in the House of Commons. I wonder if they looked in on Baroness T so life really could imitate art. All in the Line of duty Beauty I suppose. Sadly I missed tonight's episode as it was, by a bizarre twist, my turn to grace Adam Boulton's programme. Hopefully the video worked!

I Was So Impressed I Bought the Book

Earlier this evening I toddled off to the V & A in South Kensington to attend the opening of the Dorothy and Michael Hintze gallery. You may recall Michael outing himself as a Conservative Party 'lender' on this blog in March. The reception was packed - I even spotted Jack Straw and Anneke Rice! Michael Hintze's philanthropy knows no bounds and he is so impressed with the Little Red Book that he has offered to pay for copies to be sent to all Tory 'A' List and Fast Track candidates. So that's another 125 copies spoken for. Unbelievably we've now got fewer than 500 left - so get your order in quickly!

Eric Forth RIP

This afternoon Eric Forth was buried. Unfortunately events conspired to prevent me from going. Carroll asked all male guests not to wear a black tie but to wear the most garish tie they owned. I was half expecting David Davis to ring me to ask to borrow one of my more lurid ties, of which I have many. So here's one of the ties I would have worn. Eric would have liked them. Even if you wouldn't!

Tune in to Sky News Tonight at 9.30

Tune in to Sky News PMQs programme at 9.30pm tonight (if you can drag yourself away from Line of Beauty) when I will be discussing blogging and the Little Red Book of New Labour Sleaze with Adam Boulton and Labour Peer and blogger Clive Soley.

The Dwindling Responsibilities of the Home Secretary

I have long thought that all this rubbish about the Home Office being far too big and needed splitting up was, as Bernard Ingham might have said, bunkum and balderdash, and was merely a figlead of an excuse to cover Charles Clarke's huge embarrassments. Expect it to be revived by the good Doctor John over the next few weeks. So it was with great interest that I saw this Written Question from Conservative MP David Lidington on 17 May. He asked the Home Office to list those responsibilities transferred from it to other Departments and vice versa since 1997. The Answer shows 24 functions transferred out of the Home Office and only 3 new responsibilities travelling the other way, of which two are of trivial importance. The functions leaving the Home included: human rights, freedom of information and data protection, gambling, liquor licensing, election law and the fire service - all weighty matters. Ministers should therefore have had a lot more time to focus on the remaining core responsibilities of the Department. It reinforces the view that it's is not so much that the Home Office being too big and unwieldy, but the incompetence or idleness of Ministers that is the real problem.

Written Answers 17 May col. 1038W
Home Office Responsibilities
Mr. Lidington: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will list areas of policy responsibility which have been transferred (a) from the Home Office to other departments and (b) to the Home Office from other departments since 1997. [68904]
Mr. Byrne[holding answer 8 May 2006]: The information requested is as follows.
A. Areas of policy responsibility transferred from the Home Office since 1997: 1. Transfer from the Home Secretary to the Lord Chancellor: (a) the Monarchy (b) titles (c) ceremonial matters (d) the relationship between the administration of any of the Channel Islands or of the Isle of Man and the Crown or a Minister of the Crown (e) human rights (f) bodies or organisations established or incorporated by Royal Charter (g) appointments (h) ecclesiastical matters (i) marriage (j) access to information (including, in particular, the subject matter of the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Freedom of Information Act 2000), and
(k) buildings and structures in London 2. Functions passing from the Home Secretary to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport: (a) gambling (b) horse-racing (c) liquor licensing, (d) late night refreshment (e) public entertainments (f) video recording (including, in particular, the subject matter of the Video Recordings Act 1984), and (g) films (including, in particular, the subject matter of the Cinemas Act 1985). 3. Functions passing from the Home Secretary to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry: (a) street trading and pedlars, and (b) fairs 4. Functions passing from the Home Secretary to the (then) Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions: (a) fire services and fire precautions (including, in particular, the subject matter of the Fire Services Act 1947 and the Fire Precautions Act 1971 and any provision which relates, or in so far as it relates, to a fire authority) (b) elections, and (c) bye-laws 5. Functions passing from the Home Secretary to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: (a) animals

17 May 2006 : Column 1039W
B. Areas of policy responsibility transferred to the Home Office since 1997 1. Functions passing from the (then) Secretary of State for Education and Employment to the Home Secretary: (a) work permit functions. 2. Functions passing from the Secretary of State for Scotland to the Home Secretary (a) appointing a member of the Poisons Board under Schedule one to the Poisons Act 1972. 3. Functions passing from the Lord Chancellor to the Home Secretary (a) appointing a Conservator under section 12 of the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Act 1871.

Is Mr Speaker's Health Up to the Job?

Many MPS - and not just Conservatives - came out of PMQs today chuntering about the performance of the Speaker. At one stage he threatened to suspend proceedings if Tory MPs didn't stop hissing. The only trouble was, they weren't hissing at all - they were trying to shoosh so they could hear what the Prime Minister was saying, as he was attempting to dig himself out of his latest hole. Michael Martin is clearly not a well man - that was even evident from listening to it on the radio. He had a serious operation recently and his faltering performances - not just today - might well see his friends try to persuade him that he should step down sooner rather than later.

Did Cherie Pay for the Hutton Report She Donated?

Cheriegate (that's the 2006 version - nothing to do with Peter Foster) took a new twist today when Telegraph journo Alice Thomson alleged in her column that not only did Cherie sign a copy of the Hutton Report for auction, she actually donated it to. If that is the case, who paid for it? Cherie - or us, the poor bloody taxpayer?

Labour MP Calls on Labour Party to Hand Over Tainted Hutton Money

Giselaa Staurt, Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston and a member of the Committee which quizzed Dr David Kelly, has just called on the Labour Party to give the £400 raised from auctioning the copy of the Hutton Report signed by Cherie Blair to charity. She was speaking on Radio 5 Live.

Blair on Cherie: No Offence Intended

Robert Goodwill MP has just asked the Prime Minister about Cherie signing the Hutton Report. Tony Blair replied: "I do not think any offence was intended". So that's alright then.

I didn't see the earlier part of PMQs as I was doing a local radio piece with Radio Nottingham on the Little Red Book. Was I right in hearing on the radio that Ming had a bit of an IDS moment with a frog in his throat? His first question was a good one but it was a little odd that he followed it up with an almost identical question to the one which David Cameron has asked. I thought barristers were able to think on their feet?

UPDATE: Just in case my LibDem readers think I have launched another gratuitous attack on the old boy, John Pienaar has just slated his performance on 5 Live.

Latest from the Reinstate Roger Helmer Campaign

A press release just received from the campaign to reinstate the Conservative whip to Riger Helmer MEP.

Today (May 25th) marks the first anniversary of Roger Helmer MEP’s suspension of the Conservative whip in the European Parliament. On March 3rd 2006 three young Conservative Party members established, a web based campaign to have the Conservative whip restored to Roger. Since its launch the campaign has attracted a huge amount of support and press coverage, both at a local and a national level. Recent supporters to the campaign include Ann Widdecombe MP (Maidstone & The Weald), John Redwood MP (Wokingham) and the Right Honourable Lord Tebbit CH. The campaign is also supported by over 500 parliamentarians, councillors, party officials and party members. Richard Hyslop, co founder of the campaign said, “Over the last year Roger has remained a loyal member of the Conservative Party and has worked tirelessly for his East Midlands constituents, a point reflected in the huge amount of regional support he has received. While Roger has remained a loyal and has supported David Cameron other Conservative MEPs have not.” Richard went on “We urge those who have it within their power to reinstate Roger to the Conservative whip in the European Parliament, not only to reward his loyalty and tireless work but also to address the wrong of his suspension in the first place – after all, by highlighting possible corruption in the European Commission, all Roger was doing was standing by a manifesto commitment.”

Why the Home Office Will Leak Like a Sieve

I expect David Davis's fax machine and email to be particularly busy over the next few weeks, as the Home Office turns into the leakiest department in government (as well as the most incompetent). Why do I say this? Because there's nothing civil servants in a department resent more than being accused on incompetence in public by their Secretary of State. So for John Reid to say before a Commons Committee that the Home Office was not "fit for purpose" will have hardly endeared him to his new workforce. There will be much searching through old emails for things which will embarrass the government I suspect. Now, what was that email again? davisd AT parliament dot uk, I seem to remember.

Tony McNulty is Being Watched

As soon as I heard of Tony McNulty's sideways move I thought to myself that he'd have been better off resigning. So I was interested to note a grim presence in Westminster Hall yesterday. Patrick McLoughlin had a one and a half hour debate on policing in Derbyshire and McNulty was making his first appearance as Police Minister. But there, sitting in the public gallery through the whole 90 minutes was the senior Labour whip Tommy McAvoy, glowering over proceedings like the ghost of Christmas past. It was as if Sir Alex Ferguson had punished a youth team player for missing training one day and decided to sit in the stands at the next youth team game. What can it all mean?