Thursday, November 30, 2006

Quotes of the Day

"It is unusual to get something useful" - The Duke of Edinburgh on being presented with a silver tankard at the Caledonian Club in London's Belgravia.
"Personally, I would introduce a shoot-to-kill policy" - Best-selling author Bill Bryson on his war against litter louts.
"The press provide the only curb on Government excesses. Democracy does not work with an opposition that rolls over or nowadays seems to agree with everything" - Actress Sheila Hancock, who also praises broadcast inquisitors with the "killer punch".
"If you're alive, you've got to flap your arms and legs, you've got to jump around a lot. For life is the very opposite of death and you must at the very least think noisily and colourfully, or you're not alive" - Mel Brooks.
"My sense is that the real David Cameron has not stood up, that the real David Cameron is a hardline Thatcherite" - Health Minister Andy Burnham.
"Please do not bathe outside the bathtub" - Notice spotted in a hotel in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
"Don't take life too seriously because nobody gets out of it alive" - Entertainer Joe Pasquale.
"Nigella Lawson dresses in gorgeous scarlet for her Christmas Kitchen on BBC2, surely knowing that not one viewer in a million will bother to cook anything she enthuses about" - Commentator Janet Street-Porter.
"It is unusual to meet a working-class Liverpudlian who dresses for dinner, other than in the sense of putting on a shirt" - Academic Professor Terry Eagleton, of the University of Manchester.
"Britain is going through a bit of a panic about the role of God in society" - Tory MP Boris Johnson.

Public Service Broadcasting At Its Best

I've just been listening to Jeremy Vine on Radio 2 talking about cystic fibrosis. He took a call from a lady called Jane whose ten year old daughter has just been diagnosed with the disease. The poor woman was in tears and totally distraught. Vine then brought a lady called Lesley into the conversation. Lesley has CF and is 36 and was at least able to offer Jane some words of comfort. Jeremy Vine handled a very difficult broadcasting situation brilliantly.

Earlier in the piece Nick Robinson recalled Gordon Brown holding a CF fundraiser at No 11 two years ago. A video was shown demonstrating the effects of the disease and the Chancellor was in tears. Robinson asked his film crew to stop their cameras.

This half hour piece on the Jeremy Vine show was a brilliant example of public service broadcasting at its very best. Credit where credit's due.

Channel 4 News Top of the Blogs Podcast: Regulating Blogs?

My Channel 4 Morning Reports Podcast can be heard HERE, talking about blogging regulation and Matthew Taylor's remarks. Blogs mentioned include Guido, Dizzy, Stephen Tall, Devil's Kitchen and Ellee Seymour.

Best Wishes to the Browns

I was doing my show on 18DoughtyStreet last night when I saw on my laptop that news had emerged that Gordon & Sarah Brown's new baby had been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. I wasn't sure whether to ask my guests about it and have a short discussion on it, but I decided against on the basis that if I didn't know what to say (and I didn't) then I suspected all we would come out with was the usual expressions of sympathy.

The Browns must be shattered, particularly after the death of their daughter. Things like this bring politics into perspective and make some of the silly political games we all indulge in look absolutely pathetic. I am sure every single reader of this blog would want to put political differences aside and express their good wishes to the Brown family.

Kirkhope Re-elected Leader of Tory MEPs

According to Timothy Kirkhope has been re-elected as leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament. See HERE. Sir Robert Atkins was elected his deputy. Anyone got the voting figures? And did they face opposition?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Blair Says the English Want Their Own Parliament

This is rather interesting from today's Yorkshire Post.

Mr Blair also turned to recent grassroots pressure on the subject of an English Parliament by saying he would be "surprised" if people really did want to break up the Union of England and Scotland: "I think just to break the Union would be completely regressive step, totally wrong and totally contrary to where the modern world is living, which is countries moving closer together," he said. Mr Blair acknowledged that if people in England were asked if they wanted a Parliament like Scotland's they would overwhelmingly agree. But he added: "I think to then take it a step further and say, 'Actually we want to bust up the UK'... no, I don't think people want to bust up the UK."

So the PM agrees that the people of England want a Parliament. In 1997 he said it was what the people of Scotland wanted and so he granted them a referendum. Why won't he grant the same courtesy to the English?

Crime Wave Hits Doughty Street

On Sunday night we had a break in at 18 Doughty Street. Last night I was broadcasting live and was told that my car had been broken into, as had those of YouGov's Stephan Shakespeare and MORI's Bob Worcester and two others cars. Makes you wonder what the MDs of ICM or NOP were doing, doesn't it?! Naturally we rang the Police, but unsurprisingly they didn't want to know. This is a summary of the exchange...

18DS: "So you're not going to come out then."
Police: "No sir, we don't come out for car break ins."
18DS: "Not even when there are 5 cars damaged?"
Police: "No, but you are very welcome to visit any police station and report the crime, sir"
18DS: "How kind."

And there you have it. A prime example of why many people have little confidence in the Metropolitan Police. If they're not willing to investigate 5 car break ins, just what are they willing to do? Needless to say we just haven't bothered reporting it now, because there's nothing they will do about it anyway. And there's a prime example of why the crime figures aren't worth the paper they are written on.

UPDATE: I am kicking myself for omitting to mention that Tim Montgomerie's bicycle was stolen yesterday from outside the office too. Maybe it was used as a getway vehicle...

Alastair Campbell Doesn't Like Blogs Shock

Anyone would think New Labour didn't like blogs. Last week Downing Street Policy Wonk Matthew Taylor launched an attack on blogs, blaming them for the disconnect between politicians and voters. Yesterday Alastair Campbell was at it, supporting calls for a code of conduct for blogs. You can see the details HERE. It may comes as news to Lord Burnley that most bloggers do have their own codes of conduct. It's just that they don't include the phrase: "We promise to praise the Prime Minister at every opportunity". Dizzy puts it a little, er, more directly HERE.

Huge Shock: Downing Street Website Overtakes This Blog

Adrian McMenamin is just the sort of cocky New Labour apparatchik I can't stand. I've never met him, and I'm sure he's really a very nice guy, but he gives the impression of being an irritating little - well, I'm sure you can complete the sentence. He used to run a tawdry little website called HateMyTory until, realising that no one ever read it, transformed it into something called Transpero. No, I don't know what it means. And judging from the number of comments on his blog no one reads Tempero either.

His latest entry HERE is crowing over the fact that the 10 Downing Street website (he used to work there, you know) gets more hits that Guido, me or ConservativeHome. God, that's a shock, isn;t it? Well, it is actually because until Downing Street launched its petitions gimmick, my blog had a bigger reach than the Downing Street website - as did Guido and ConservativeHome.

Surely it ought to give McMenamin pause for thought that three blogs run by three individuals at no cost get more traffic than the Downing Street website which costs hundreds of thousands per year to run - well, they did until last week anyway.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Conservatives Sweep the Board at PSA Awards

There has been a very welcome trend this year of Conservatives winning all sorts of political awards. This hasn't happened for years and is hopefully a further sign of a revival in Conservative fortunes.

This lunchtime the Political Studies Association (the trade association for political academics, since you ask) is holding its annual awards and I can tell you that the right has swept the board. Tory MP Richard Bacon continues his world domination of awards ceremonies as he collects Parliamentarian of the Year, while David Cameron wins the Politician of the Year. Matthew D'Ancona deservedly collects Journalist of the Year. David Trimble shares the Lifetime Achievement Award with John Hume (the only leftish award winner).

I am delighted that ConservativeHome is the winner of Publication of the Year. Richly deserved. I do hope Mr Montgomerie has an emotional acceptance speech prepared. My Kleenex will be at the ready.

UPDATE: I originally posted this yesterday lunchtime as I was told it had a Monday noon embargo. However, it transpired that I was given the wrong info and the emargo was this lunchtime. I therefore took the post down in the interim.

Who Will Follow Michael Grade?

The news that Michael Grade is defecting to ITV is one of those things that is quite a shock but when you think about it you wonder why no one predicted it. It is all rather obvious really in retrospect. But all those learned people who write for The Guardian's media pages didn't see it coming. I suppose if he can't turn ITV round no one can, but my gut feeling is that ITV is a sinking ship and it's unsalvageable.

I've been trying to think who the frontrunners to succeed him as Chairman of the BBC might be. David Dimbleby has fancied the job in the past, but I am rather stuck for any more obvious names. Suggestions in Comments please!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Charles Clarke to Stand Again

I understand from "Norfolk sources" that Charles Clarke will definitely be standing again at the next election. Norwich LibDems had apparently been putting it around that he would be standing down. They only need a 4% swing to unseat him.

UKIP Uses EU Email to Tout for Tory Councillors

UKIP appears to be using European Parliament email facilities to persuade Conservative councillors to defect to them. Oh the deep irony. Nigel Farage is emailing Tory Councillors via Jeffrey Titford MEP's European Parliament email with these words of wisdom...

Dear Councillor,

There does not seem to be very much difference between our three main parties these days. This is hardly surprising as 75% of our laws are now made by the EU with little or no input from Westminster. As you must realise local government is in a poor state too with a new unelected layer of Regional Assemblies and voter disenchantment. In UKIP we believe that it is essential for the UK to become self-governing again and for voters to want to participate. We are developing as a broadly based real party of opposition, the only one saying what most people think. With the local elections in May we intend to build up on local government representation and would welcome a conversation with anyone that might consider working with us or joining us. It is time to stand up and be counted.

We give you an absolute assurance that you can contact us on a completely confidential basis.

Yours sincerely,
N. Farage
Leader of UKIP

I'm told there hasn't exactly been a rush of replies... Well, not ones that I could print.

BBC News Online Reviews 18DoughtyStreet

BBC Online has a review of 18DoughtyStreet HERE. Brian Wheeler, their political correspondent spent an evening flipping between 18DoughtyStreet and BBC1. I must admit I rather gulped when I heard that was what he was doing but overall I think we emerge quite well from it. Cue sigh of relief.

Open Primary Campaigning Gains Momentum

The Open Primary system for selecting Conservative candidates has not been universally popular, but it has changed the way potential candidates have to operate. In days gone by it was seen as a little 'off colour' for a candidate to canvass support during the selection process. Nowadays it seems to be de rigueur in Open Primaries.

Recently I saw a leaflet by Alan Mendoza who had applied for Harrow East, which was delivered to 15,000 houses in the constituency urging Conservatives and non Conservatives alike to attend the final Open Primary meeting. 'A' Lister Vicky Ford has gone one step further and launched a blog to support her candidacy for Basildon & East Thurrock. The final is on Thursday. You can see her blog HERE. It's a very good site but it's a risk for her. It should be seen as 'a good thing' and indicate how she will campaign as a candidate, but she will know that such overt campaigning could count against her with the more traditional elements in the local Party.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

If Diana Had Died Today: What Would Have Been Different?

Today's papers report that Princes Harry and William are planning a pop concert to mark the tenth anniversary of their mother's death next year. Stephen Tall has an interesting post HERE on what the reaction would have been if she had died now, rather than ten years ago. He believes that the presence of blogs and internet forums might have given a voice to the 44% of the population who did not react with mass emotional hysteria (as he sees it).

I guess I am one of the people Stephen refers to in his article. I remember reacting with complete disbelief when I heard of her death. I happened to be watching Sky News at the time and being stunned. I remember walking from Politico's on the Sunday afternoon to lay some flowers outside Buckingham Palace. People were wandering around in a complete daze. I remember watching her funeral in my flat on the Isle of Dogs almost howling. Even now when I think of her I find it difficult to comprehend what happened. So I guess in Stephen's eyes that makes me some kind of weirdo - an emotional retard. I've been called worse, I suppose.

I never met Diana so why on earth would I and millions of others react in this way? I think it was because she reached out to people in a way few people in public life ever have. She championed causes in a way which people saw as empathetic rather than condescending. Her very public personal problems merely emphasised her vulnerability and struck a chord with millions. Her work on AIDS and landmines were causes she clearly believed in. The world has been a worse place for her passing. One of the great WHAT IFS of her time is what would have happened to her had she lived. Would she have remarried? What effect would she have had on the royal family. Would Charles and Camilla still have got married? One thing is sure. We will never know.

Going back to Stephen Tall's post, would the public reaction today have been different? Again, we will never know because we don't know what her current reputation would have been like. I am not sure that much would have been different. Stephen is right that those who felt the public reaction was out of all proportion would have had more of a voice nowadays, but I doubt whether that would have had much of an effect on the mainstream media coverage.

End of the Road for Press Gazette

A few months ago I took out a subscription to the Press Gazette. It's basically the trade mags for newspaper and broadcast journalists. It was always good for a story for the blog and it was a magazine I always looked forward to reading. Sadly it went out of business on Friday after a long struggle against going into liquidation.

Rob McGibbon has an emotional post on his BLOG about the effect this will have on people like him - freelancers. Rob wrote a weekly interview with a major media personality each week. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that his interviews were the best thing about Press Gazette, as I wrote HERE in October. Read a few of them HERE and you'll see what I mean. If I were features editor on a Sunday newspaper I know whose phone I would be pestering tomorrow. And it ain't mine.

* Rob McGibbon will be appearing on my bloggers panel on 18 DoughtyStreet tomorrow at 9pm alongside Cicero's Songs Brian Micklethwait and Chicken Yoghurt.

Election Double Dutch

There's a very good piece on the Dutch election stalemate HERE on ConservativeHome. What a shambles. It's a very good illustration of why we shouldn't have any truck with PR at general elections. In all likelihood the Dutch will still be horsetrading for another three months before a Cabinet can be formed.

Lord Drayson Needs to Get Out More

EU Referendum Blog highlights the issue of equipment shortages in Iraq and Afghanistan HERE. They quote a footnote to a story in The Times yesterday.
Lord Drayson, the Defence Procurement Minister, said that he was unaware of ammunition shortages or equipment problems in Afghanistan after claims by a Royal Marines sergeant that troops in Helmand province did not have enough grenades, night-vision equipment or armoured vehicles.

I alluded to this recently HERE, but the examples of armed services personnel claiming that they have to beg or borrow equipment from the Americans because theirs is defective, promised but never delivered, or never promised in the first place are too numerous to all be coincidences. I do hope Lord Drayson soon leaves his MoD ivory tower and pays a visit to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan so he can learn the truth of the situation. Does anyone know if he has ever been?

More Blog Links Added

I've just updated my blogroll links and added links to the following blogs who have kindly linked to me. Esther McVey, Brandon Lewis, Paul Bristow, Nicolas Webb, Paul Hayes, Mid & West Wales CF, Birmingham University CF, Tapestry Talks, Out from Under, Cllr Eve Collishaw, Tartan Hero, Appalling Strangeness & Kristofer Wilson.

If you have a link to me on your blog but I don't have one to you, let me know and I'll gladly add one.

UPDATE: To all those people in the Comments section askling for links, you know, it'd be really helpful if you'd actually give your blog address! Doh!

68% Want an English Parliament But Cameron Says No

Today's Telegraph poll on Scottish and English devolution makes very interesting reading indeed. Read the full details HERE.

Sixty eight per cent of English voters are now in favour of a Parliament for England. This is up from 41% only a few months ago. Fifty two per cent of Scottish voters want full independence and 59% of English voters want them to have it. As we build up to the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union there's going to be a lot more debate on this issue.

I found Gordon Brown's remarks yesterday bizarre. He and Blair seem to be building up the SNP rather than ignoring them. If people believe they are a serious alternative administration to Labour and have a chance of ousting Jack McConnell then they could well get more votes than they might otherwise have had.

I find it odd - and very disappointing - that when David Cameron says he wants to make devolution work, he immediately rules out an English Parliament even before Ken Clarke's Democracy Task Force has reported. At least let us have the debate. Cameron told the Telegraph: "The union between England, Scotland and Wales is good for us all and we are stronger together than we are apart. The last thing we need is yet another parliament with separate elections and more politicians spending more money."

This betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the democratic deficit that England is now experiencing. I agree with Cameron that we don't want more bureaucracy, more politicians and more spending but an English Parliament would cause none of those to happen if it is planned and implemented correctly.

It comes to something when SNP leader Alex Salmond sums it up best... "In England, people quite rightly resent Scottish Labour MPs bossing them about on English domestic legislation. England has as much right to self government as Scotland does." Hat-tip to Dizzy for graphic from the Telegraph

UPDATE: Man in a Shed has noticed that the BBC haven't covered thos story ont her politics page. What he hasn't noticed is that they haven't even reported it on ther ENGLAND Page.

How to Destroy Jobs in 35 Hour Easy Lessons

Words fail me. Almost. Read THIS and you'll see why. Apparently John Gummer's Quality of Life Working Group is considering whether the Conservatives should emulate French Socialists and ruin the country's competitiveness by adopting a 35 hour working week. Gummer says: "We have to look at it. This is an issue that we have got to raise." Er, no it isn't actually. If employers wish to introduce a 35 hour week that is up to them . This is not a matter which the State should be intervening on. It would destroy jobs and reduce our competitiveness. I can hardly believe a Conservative could entertain such a proposal.

Stripping Off to Save Danish Bacon

Click HERE to see a Danish Road Safety film. No, really. You'll want to. Well, most of you will.

"This movie was made by the Danish Road Safety Council and aims to draw attention to speed signs and speed limits in Denmark. Despite a decrease in speed violations, 7 out of 10 Danes still exceed the speed limit on a regular basis. Respecting the speed limits is the simplest way to save lives." So says the blurb at

I can't put my finger on why I think this, but I doubt whether our road traffic minister Stephen Ladyman will approve a similar initiative here... What a shame Steve Norris is no longer in charge of such issues...

PS I promise you this is an official Danish Government road safety film. It is not a YouTube spoof.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Considerably More Professional Than YOW

Click on the image to enlarge. This is a sure sign that the Conservative Party is taking its campaigning resources much more seriously. I have never seen a job recruitment advert done so professionally, and to recruit three people to campaign in the West Midlands shows what an important region that is for the Party. It's good that they are looking to recruit locals.

If you don't 'get' the headline, you obviously didn't see Harry Enfield's black country nouveau riche character who was always 'considerably richer than yow'...

New Poll: Cameron v Brown v Campbell

Tomorrow's ITV Sunday Edition programme will reveal a new NOP poll showing that David Cameron beats Gordon Brown and Ming Campbell hands down when they're put head to head. Asked who would make best Prime Minister Cameron scores 29%, Brown 19% and Ming Campbell a mere 5%.

Interestingly 39% said he had the "freshest ideas" compared to Gordon Brown's 10%. 33% said Cameron was in touch with modern Britain compared to only 17% for Brown. However, worryingly for the Conservatives, Brown outscores Cameron on national security, albeit only by 1% (22-21%)

LibDem voters would rather have Charles Kennedy back as leader by a factor of 40% to only 15% for Sir Ming. Nick Clegg is already more popular than his party leader.

I don't think this poll tells us a lot we didn't already know from other polls, to be honest.

Power of the Meme

Prague Tory needs to get out more. Click HERE to see why.

Stormont Attack is no Surprise

In 1989 loyalist terrorist Michael Stone was sentenced to 684 years in jail. A mere 11 years later he was freed under the Good Friday Agreement along with hundreds of other dangerous terrorist from both sides of the sectarian divide. People are expressing surprise at yesterday's successfully foiled attack on Stormont. The only surprise is that it hasn't happened before now.

Quotes of the Day

"It is about time those greedy, grasping MPs who, racking up their own salaries, expenses and pensions, never cease whingeing about Prince Charles put a sock in it. In his quiet way he achieves more than the lot of them put together" - Best-selling author Frederick Forsyth.

"There is nothing wrong with having a big bum and wodgy arms - and I would defend to the death anyone's right to be fat" - Victoria Wood.

"John Prescott is a fat git who has done nothing for this country" - TV's Noel Edmonds.

"Football's a difficult business and aren't they prima donnas" - The Queen.

"Dear Dave, Your recruitment efforts for Ukip have been truly exceptional. People are now flocking to join us. Please accept this token of our profound appreciation" - Message on a bouquet sent by Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, to David Cameron over the view expressed that the Tories should ditch the views of Winston Churchill for those of left-wing writer Polly Toynbee.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Something for the Weekend...

Just endured a nightmare journey round the M25 and up the M11 to speak at a dinner in Andrew Lansley's South Cambridgeshire constituency. I thought they'd sell about 5 tickets, but amazingly more than 50 people have forked out twenty quid to hear my words of wisdom about how the Tories should approach the media.

Tomorrow I'm doing a media training session for Conservative women at Conservative Central Office alongside Esther McVey. Should be fun. And then it's on to Upton Park to see West Ham play Sheffield United and a late night newspaper review on News 24. No rest for the virtuous...

Tory MP to Stand Down

I'm told that Michael Mates is announcing this evening that he will stand down at the next election.

Michael Ashcroft Speaks Out on Party Funding

Michael Ashcroft created a bit of stir yesterday when he made a SPEECH in the House of Lords on party funding. His three messages were that political parties should be made to fund themselves (and that they should not be able to dip their fingers into the taxpayers' pocket for State funding), they should be able to accept donations from wider sources and that there should be no cap on political donations. In this he disagrees with David Cameron who is proposing a £50,000 cap on donations. The BBC reports HERE that CCHQ immediately went into panic mode and distanced themselves from Ashcroft's remarks.

I don't normally quote long chunks of speeches on this blog, but having read the entire speech it is the most corruscating attack on our system of political funding I have read - and you don't often get a major party donor making these sort of points. You can read the whole speech HERE, but here are some thought-provoking excerpts...

I am not a professional politician and perhaps that is why I find the whole debate about the funding of parties depressing. I cannot discern any enthusiasm for the rebuilding of political involvement and engagement in Britain. I observe no passion to encourage the young to take an interest in politics. Instead, there appears to be a wish merely to “tighten” the existing rule on donations and then burden the taxpayer...

...My opposition to substantial state funding does not mean, however, that I take the view that political parties should forever be funded largely by a handful of donors, whether they be individuals or trade unions—I do not. Political parties should strive to broaden their donor base and a sign of failure is a dependence on a few big donors. Political parties must then bear the consequent but inevitable criticisms. It seems to me that those arguing in favour of state funding have been driven to this position by a combination of defeatism about the difficulties of funding a modern political party and dismay at the attitude of the media to anyone who has had the courage to make a major political donation. But the dead hand of the state is no answer; it is entirely unsuited to act as the paymaster of politics. State funding will ossify our parties. The need constantly to refresh support through the financial and membership base is the best possible stimulus to the vitality of any party. How else can one hope for efficiency in one’s operations and accountability to one’s supporters?

Once the requirement to raise funds disappears, so will the need to nurture the membership base and to embrace new ideas and new people. That base will inevitably decline, perhaps terminally, leaving behind it a self-perpetuating oligarchy of career politicians, answerable only to themselves and the National Audit Office. Heaven help us all.

The Conservatives themselves are not without blame. We should have had the courage to resist many of the barmy restrictions on political giving that were introduced following the Neill report. As a party, we were afraid to be seen as standing out against legislation which was presented to the public as part of the battle against sleaze. That was an error. Although the new legislation brought a welcome approach to transparency, it also introduced a ragbag of anomalies and contradictions which are patently absurd, yet which no politician felt able to challenge and which Sir Hayden Phillips does not address.

As is well known, the main prerequisite for permissible giving to a political party is, in the case of an individual, that he or she is registered or entitled to register to vote in the UK and in the case of a company, that it is incorporated in the EU and does business in the UK—whatever that means, and I suspect it will be tested soon at taxpayers’ expense. This means that Canadians who live in Britain are able to donate by virtue of their Commonwealth citizenship. US citizens, however, cannot. As EU citizens living in the UK, Swedes can but Norwegians cannot. Greeks can but Turks cannot. Slovenians can, but Croatians cannot. Even the Swiss, surrounded on all sides by the EU, cannot. A businessman from Mozambique, however, as a member of the Commonwealth if residing in Britain can, yet a Briton posted abroad for over 15 years by his UK employer, even if he intends to retire to the UK, cannot unless he is a diplomat for whom, not surprisingly, an exception is made.

There are more anomalies. Citizens of Gibraltar, whatever their ethnic or cultural background, all get lumped, willy-nilly, into the UK’s south-west region for the purposes of European elections. A special exemption for these people makes them permissible donors to UK political parties for the four months preceding a European election. But there are no restrictions on those parties as to the use of, or the timing of the use of, funds received from Gibraltarians, whoever they might be. Yet British citizens from the Channel Islands never have such a window of opportunity. Northern Ireland’s political parties are exempted entirely, meaning that Sinn Fein, for example, is free to continue to receive moneys raised by NORAID in the United States without restriction.

At the corporate level, a British public company has to have shareholder approval to be able to donate, but a company from elsewhere in the EU which—to use that euphemistic phrase—does business in the UK does not. And what about the 100 per cent foreign-owned but UK-incorporated holding company which has only foreign directors, none of whom has ever been to Britain, let alone speaks English and because it is a holding company is therefore deemed to be doing business in the UK? What about those guys? No problem—it is perfectly permissible.

It is even possible to be British, tax resident and domiciled in the UK, yet unable to donate to a political party as under certain, but unusual, conditions, it is not possible to get on to the electoral register if someone lives in Britain for fewer than six months of the year. On the other hand, a Member of Parliament may have a consultancy with any foreign person, company or Government, yet their party cannot receive donations from the same source. Clearly they have confidence in their own judgment but doubt that of their party bosses. That is an interesting thought.

In our desire to draw a line between Brits and foreigners, in the misguided belief that foreign money is bad and UK money is good, we have devised a scheme which is patently absurd and achieves no logical purpose. We should dump restrictive regulations and replace them with requirements only of openness and transparency. We should instead allow political parties to accept financial support, cash benefits in kind and credit from whomever they chose and without a cap. We should require them only to make public the identity of the donor and full details of the donation. We should also, unlike the current reporting timetable, require prompt notification, especially of bigger donations, of within, say, seven days.

Political parties would then have to make decisions based not on the legal definition of permissibility but on the common sense interpretation of what would be considered acceptable to those whom they expect to vote them into office as Members of Parliament currently have to do with regard to their sources of income. Columbian drugs barons, triads, porn kings and the mob would, I hope, be considered unacceptable donors or benefactors, but if party treasurers and Members of Parliament decided otherwise let us allow the media, their own supporters and the public to judge. They would be speedier, more effective and much more telling arbiters than the courts.

In future, therefore, we should allow parties to take money from any quarter, the only requirement being that they should be entirely open about all support above a certain level. That would place the onus on parties to act reasonably and to exercise sound judgment. It would place an equal duty on the media to report donations responsibly; but in the end it would be down to Mr and Mrs Joe Public to judge. We should trust them—they usually get it right."

And this is me (as Mike Yarwood used to say). Many of us believe that the two big parties are about to cook up a cosy little deal on State funding. I have written elsewhere on this blog that I think that's the inevitable direction we are heading in. I don't like it, but I see the writing on the wall. The only thing which will stop it is a concerted campaign to do two things: to explain why we should emulate the United States and widen the base of political parties' financial support, and secondly to build a cross-party vocal coalition against State funding.

Declaration of interest: My campaign in North Norfolk received financial support from Lord Ashcroft and I have advised him on his books.

Hoby's Road to Nowhere: The Toynbee Ruse

Click on the image to enlarge. Courtesy of Hoby.

Tebbit Weighs into Tosser Debate

On the use of the word 'Tosser' in the Sort-it campaign by the Conservatives Lord Tebbit said today: "I suppose this is a mark of the permissive society which has been lauded by the Labour Party over many years. There is no foul language nor physical or moral degradation which is not now embraced by the current orthodoxy. Unfortunately, the orthodoxy has reached the Conservative Party."

Lord Tebbit added: "It is not a word I would even use about Polly Toynbee."

Now there's an image best not contemplated...

The Curse of 18 Doughty Street

You know the urban myth that any celebrity who appears in Hello Magazine showing off their gorgeous homes is almost certain to end up divorced within months? Well, it seems 18 Doughty Street has developed a similar curse. Appear on our channel and you end up losing your job, it seems. It happened to Bernard Jenkin and now it's happened to Don Brash, the leader of the National Party in New Zealand - until yesterday, anyway.

If I were Nick Clegg, Francis Maude or Damian Green, I'd be worried, as they're due on soon! I'd be glad to know that appearances on 18 Doughty Street for previous guests have opened new doors and allowed them to go on to conquer entirely new challenges. [is that enough spin?] With thanks to raincoaster

Coming to Terms With Your Inner Tosser

The new Conservative campaign aimed at young people's debt problems has certainly generated some heat on the net and in today's papers. The LibDems seems particularly upset about it. I suppose they feel they should have a monopoly on the word 'tosser'. Norfolk Blogger and Jonathan Wallace have all suddenly become a little holier than thou.

I looked at the Sort It website yesterday and at first found it all rather bemusing. I took the Tosser Test (I'll leave you to guess the result...) but couldn't quite work out why they had Alan Duncan on the front page!(just my little joke, Alan!). Some of the language baffled me, but then I am not 'down wiv da kids'. I wasn't too sure of the wisdom of insinuating that potential voters are tossers, but what do I know? This is the Press Association report...

David Cameron says the "Sort-It" campaign is an important step forward in tackling the subject of debt and said he hoped young people would see the controversial video that forms part of the initiative. The website contains advice on how to plan, budget and manage your finances. But a short film accompanying the website, entitled The Tosser Inside, has led to criticism from political rivals. The film shows a young man overwhelmed by his "inner tosser" into spending way beyond his means. Mr Cameron told BBC Breakfast the video was made by an advertising company which had "expertise" in reaching young people, and was only available on the internet. "The very fact we are talking about it now shows that it has had an impact. Yes, it is provocative, but don't we need to do something in our society about the problems of debt? Young people, I hope, will watch it and I hope it will make them think about debt." A Conservative Party spokesman said: "Personal debt is a significant problem in the UK and recent figures show that we have higher personal debt levels than any other Western European country. "As well as proposing policies to address this issue, we wanted to encourage British people to take control of their finances and not spend recklessly or beyond their means." LibDem Vince Cable said: "This is the kind of insensitive crass nonsense one might expect from a party led by rich young men, who have never had to balance a budget in their lives." David Buonaguidi, creative director of Karmarama - the advertising agency which created the film - said: "Every Christmas we toss away millions of pounds on things we don't really want or need. We wanted to confront people with this behaviour and help them realise that this kind of spending just isn't very smart. "The Tosser Inside is a wake-up call designed to appeal to an audience that usually screens out this sort of message."

What those of us over thirty have to remember is that this is not aimed at us. It's aimed at what David Davis last year called the iPod Generatioon - Insecure, Pressured, Overtaxed and Debt-ridden. So before we have a knee jerk reaction against the words used in this innovative campaign let's just remember who its target is.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Quotes of the Day

"He is not good-looking but he is quite young. He will look terrible in eight years" - Polly Toynbee on David Cameron.
"Why are straight men such poofs?" - Matthew Parris
"Newspapers are to be snoozed beneath or as a basis for cat litter" - Gyles Brandreth, saying he would approve of a society devoted to "People Who Never Read Newspapers Online".
"An airline that spends millions of pounds on improving its corporate image seems intent at the same time on kicking its good name to pieces for the sake of a tiny fragment of metal no larger than a thumbnail" - Michael Dobbs on British Airways' decision to ban staff wearing the Cross.
"Watching Britney Spears and Kevin Federline trying to outsmart each other is like observing monkeys trying to play chess" - TV comic Jay Leno.
"If you were a conspiracy theorist, you might think the Government was hoping to pass on to its successors a humungous millstone of a white elephant that positively dwarfs the Tories' piddling little Millennium Dome" - Will Self on the 2012 Olympics.

Crossing British Airways

There's a new website encouraging people to boycott British Airways over the crucifix issue HERE.

Tory MPs Top Private Members Bill Ballot

Conservative MPs secured all the top four places in the ballot for Private Members Bills, which has just taken place. Top of the pile was newcomer Nick Hurd, followed by Tim Yeo, Caroline Spelman and Gary Streeter. No Liberal Democrats were successful, nor were any members of the other minor parties. The list comprises 11 Tories and nine Labour MPs.

The successful 20 are:
Nick Hurd (C Ruislip-Northwood), Tim Yeo (C Suffolk South), Caroline Spelman (C Meriden), Gary Streeter (C Devon South-West), Graham Stringer (Lab Manchester, Blackley), Robert Walter (C Dorset North), Sir John Butterfill (C Bournemouth West), Paul Farrelly (Lab Newcastle-under-Lyme), Martin Caton (Lab Gower), Richard Ottaway (C Croydon South). Roger Godsiff (Lab Birmingham Sparkbrook and Small Heath), Shailesh Vara (C Cambridgeshire North West), Alan Duncan (C Rutland and Melton), John Hayes (C South Holland and The Deepings), Barry Sheerman (Lab Huddersfield), John McDonnell (Lab Hayes and Harlington), Sarah McCarthy-Fry (Lab Portsmouth North), Michael Meacher (Lab Oldham West and Royton), Emily Thornberry (Lab Islington South and Finsbury), and Francis Maude (C Horsham).

Nick Hurd has already announced he will be backing a Bill - which has been published by Tory leader David Cameron - designed to transfer power from central government to local communities.

The Top 100 Green Blogs

Remember my Top 100 Bloggers lists? Well, I got taken to task for not including any Green blogs. The Daily (Maybe) blog has now completed the task and created a list of the Top 100 Green Blogs, which you will find HERE.

Hung Like a Cigarette

I have just been listening to a discussion on Jeremy Vine's show on the sexual bullying of teachers by secondary school pupils. It was actually quite worrying and made me very glad that at the age of 22 I reconsidered my original plans to be a German teacher. But one anecdote from the programme did make me laugh.

A 14 year old boy in a class put something down his trousers and thrust his crotch at his female teacher. She looked up and said: "No thanks, I'll have a cigarette later."

That's the way to deal with it - ridicule. Show any sign of weakness and you're finished.

Nick Clarke Has Died

After a long, and very public, battle with cancer, Radio 4's Nick Clarke died this morning. He really was one of Britain's greatest radio broadcasters. I met him a few times and was always struck by his transparent niceness. There was none of the media bravado so prevalent in many of his colleagues - and he treated his interviewees as people who should be listened to and given an opportunity to speak.

He wrote several excellent books and I well remember him being so thankful to me for stocking them at Politico's. He really was a true gentleman and I shall miss him.

Relative Poverty Isn't An Absolute

The fuss over Greg Clark's invocation of Polly Toynbee's name is a typical example of a media firestorm on an extremely slow news day. As I listened to various news bulletins I could scarcely believe my ears. You could be forgiven for thinking that Greg Clark was suggesting slaughtering the first-born from the reaction of some people, and this is reflected in some of the comments on the previous post and on Conservative Home. It makes me wonder if people ever actually bother to read what he said before they are ready to denounce him. Well, here's a short YouTube video Greg recorded yesterday evening for 18DoughtyStreet. I would have thought his views would resonate with most thinking Conservatives. The only bone of contention in what he says is how you define poverty, so, as Connie would say, let's start from the very beginning...

Poverty is defined in an Online Dictionary thus: the condition of being extremely poor. If you are in poverty, you are probably unable to pay your bills, are struggling to have a roof over your head and are finding it difficult to feed yourself and your family. Indeed, that is how I have always thought of it. However, lingua-fascists have now redefined the word to include anyone who is earning less that 60% of the median wage. Quite when this happened, no one's quite sure, but I trace it back to the 1980s when the Child Poverty Action Group tried to tell us that three million children in this country were living in poverty. It was rubbish then, and it's rubbish now.

Of course there are children, and indeed many adults, who are impoverished. No one denies that, and everyone would agree that it is a prime duty of the State to lift those people out of poverty, but to pretend that someone who is earning between £12,000 and £15,000 a year is living in poverty is a joke.

So the argument has moved on to a debate about whether we should be talking about absolute poverty (as per Churchill) or relative poverty (as per Polly Toynbee). The answer is that they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In Churchill's day there was a huge amount of absolute poverty in the country but this has almost totally gone. Sure, there are still pockets of poverty, especially in big cities and certain rural areas (this reminds me of a great quote from John Gummer - "poverty is consdidered quaint in rural areas, because it comes thatched") and the State has by and large failed to lift people in those areas out of poverty. The task is now falling to social entrepreneurs, outside the State machinery, to do this. So as the level of absolute poverty has declined to a small fraction of what it was half a century ago, it is only natural that politicians from all sides start to examine relative inequalities - note that I decline to use the phrase 'relative poverty'.

Polly Toynbee's analogy of a long train of caravans trekking through a desert, one behind the other is a good one. She is worried about what happens if the caravans at the back become detached from the rest of the group - for 'group', read 'society'.

I am not someone who believes that everybody must be equal. Like Boris Johnson in today's Telegraph, I believe that society needs winners and losers. Winners must be rewarded, but society cannot function properly if we forget about the losers. But I actually regard it as a triumph of our society that we can even talk in terms of losers being people who earn 40% of the media wage.

As Pascal says in the comments to the previous post... "Maybe I am confused, but doesn't the concept of relative poverty means that there ALWAYS will be poverty, no matter how much you raise the lower incomes? At least not until everybody earns the same amount."

I don't think even Polly Toynbee is suggesting the latter, but Pascal's point is a valid one, and perhaps one which Greg Clark ought to address. I don't know what the media wage is in Liechtenstein, but I suspect that under the current definition of 'relative poverty' a large number of very wealthy people would be caught in the poverty trap there. We Conservatives must not be defined by the language of the left and if Greg Clark made an error, it was possibly falling into that trap.

I have absolutely no problem at all in agreeing with the Polly Toynbee Caravan anecdote, and I totally agree with Greg Clark that the concept of 'no one left behind' is something that all Tories should adhere to. After all, Greg and I both supported a leadership candidate last year who said this...

The just society, for Conservatives, is one in which no one is deprived of opportunity, and no one is excluded. It is, indeed, the fulfilment of Churchill's dream of a Britain, in which "there is a limit beneath which no man may fall, but no limit to which any man might rise"... Tories in recent years have become too timid about saying how we want to improve society. We sometimes behave as if the Left, with their vocabulary and their policies, had acquired a freehold on social policy... The test of any Conservative policy is how it affects the poorest in society.

Amen to that. Perhaps we now need a real debate on what poverty actually means in the 21st century. Can we really equate poverty in this country with poverty in places like Darfur or Rwanda? Perhaps someone needs to invent a new word. Best that we do it before Polly Toynbee does.

What Greg Clark Actually Said

If you want to know what Greg Clark really said about Polly Toynbee read THIS. I'll have more to say about this when I am awakzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Happy Birthday To Women2Win

Today is the first birthday of Women2Win. It's undeniable that they have made quite an impact on Conservative selections.

At the last General Election just 19% of target and Conservative held seats (where the former MP was retiring) had women candidates. Just 11% of the 2005 intake were women.

Proportion of women selected of all candidates (29 of 80): 36.25%
Proportion of women selected since A-list (24 of 58): 41.4%
Proportion of women selected before A-list (7 of 22): 31.8%

And finally..... 11 out of 20 in Tory held or notionally Tory (post boundary changes) have selected women. I'll be interviewing Anne Jenkin from Women2Win and two selected female PPCs, along with Pam Giddy of the Power Commission on 18DoughtyStreet tonight at 9pm.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Top Ten Things I Would Never Do...

The Telegraph has had a lot of letters lately suggesting clubs its readers would never join. Today they even have a page 3 feature on it. So I thought I'd compile my Top Ten Things I Would Never Do...

10. Join the Carlton Club until they admit full women members
9. Take advice on social policy from Polly Toynbee (gasp...)
8. Take any notice of anonymous blog posters
7. Ever go to White Hart Lane again
6. Grow a beard (I tried once. Too ginger...)
5. Get a tattoo or a metal 'appendage' of any description
4. Vote to join the Euro
3. Take any soft or hard drug
2. Shout 'Pardew Out'
1. Run for Mayor of London

And to start a Blog Meme, I'm now going to tag the following 10 bloggers to repeat the exercise! Rachel North, Dave Hill, Paul Linford, Tim Worstall, Kerron Cross, Stephen Tall, Jonathan Calder, Nich Starling, Dizzy, Danny Finkelstein.

Why the Tories Need to Find the Common Ground

I've written an article for COMMENT IS FREE on Lord Saatchi's lecture titled IN PRAISE OF IDEOLOGY. In the lecture he asserts that you don't win elections from the centre ground - you only do so if you have a core ideology, which you stick to.

Lord Saatchi is without doubt a man with an enormous creative mind. His pamphlets for the Centre for Policy Studies are invariably well-written, entertaining and provocative. The latest one, published this week, asserts that a political party needs to retain a sense of ideology if it is to prevail in the polls. This is a self-evident truth. Any party needs to remain true to its core roots and traditions, but that in itself does not mean that it should not embrace modernity and move with the times. Reading Lord Saatchi's lecture one gets the impression that life stopped in 1979, that no political advertising since then has been quite so on the metal.

In his lecture, Saatchi challenges what he call's today's "new myth" that "you can only win elections from the centre ground". He might want to challenge this so-called myth, but I can think of few elections that were won from anywhere else. Margaret Thatcher won the 1979 election from the centre ground, not from the hard right. Anyone who thinks otherwise is deluding themselves and has never read the 1979 Conservative manifesto.

I suspect that Lord Saatchi is playing fast and loose with semantics and has created an entirely new definition of the centre ground. In his world, the centre ground is anywhere to the left of where he finds himself on the political spectrum. He is mistaken. In reality the centre ground is the common ground - the place where the majority of the British people find themselves at any particular time. It's not a fixed position and can change with the political seasons.

But wherever that common ground is, David Cameron is right to pitch his tent on it. And as I have written before, he needs to build his tent into a huge, billowing marquee. Without big tents, as Bill Clinton was keen to demonstrate, elections cannot be won. You cannot win purely with the support of your own core voters. Instead you have to appeal to a wider body. This is the lesson of the last 10 years in which the Conservatives have languished in opposition. Continually banging on about the same old message in the same old way is not going to appeal to those who find themselves disillusioned with politics and politicians.

To break out of the stranglehold of opposition the Conservatives have had to start not just a rebranding exercise, but a root and branch process of redefining Conservatism for the modern age. Labour took 15 years to realise they had to do this in the 1980s and early 1990s. I suppose we can be thankful the Conservatives have taken just over half that time.

Lord Saatchi says in his pamphlet: "Without a vision, the people perish". He concludes: "People in politics should stand for something greater than the desire to be in power." Never a truer word spoken, but to get power and achieve great things, you have to be in touch with the common ground. And judging from his pamphlet, Lord Saatchi isn't.

EXCLUSIVE: Sandi Toksvig to Stand in Meon Valley?

The LibDems have been courting comedian Sandi Toksvig to stand for Parliament for ages. I now understand that they might have been successful. If what I hear is right she is considering taking a tilt at the Meon Vally constituency, where the Conservatives have just selected George Hollingbery. Meon Valley has a very small notional Tory majority and much of the constituency is made up of Mark Oaten's current seat. The LibDems seem to have made a calculation that the only way they can win it is with a star name like Sandi Toksvig. There's no doubt she would be quite a catch for them. Her LibDem roots go back some way and she can certainly be considered to be on the left of the Party - not an Orange Booker by any means! She also lives close to the constituency in Guildford.

I got to know Sandi quite well when I used to be a regular on her LBC lunchtime radio talk show. I can't remember a single thing that we agreed on apart from a mutual love of radio. If she did enter full time politics she would certainly make it more entertaining and interesting. However, I still think she'd hate it. And in the end that may be what holds her back.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Sayeeda Warsi Has a New Website

Sayeeda Warsi has a new website HERE. She's a Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party and is on the A List. She was Conservative Candidate in Dewsbury at the last election.

It's a well designed site with lots of photos (even more than mine!) as well as a whole host of YouTube style videos of Sayeeda in action. Pity there isn't a proper blog on it, but I'm sure that will come in time.

Labour Is Right: The BBC Is Wrong

Labour has every right to complain to the BBC tonight. I can hardly believe that the BBC would offer its journalists a bonus of £100 if they got a fresh angle on the Cash for Peerages scandal, but it seems it's true. Remember, £100 is two thirds of a BBC licence fee. This is the Press Association report...

The [Labour] Party's general secretary, Peter Watt, wrote to BBC director general Mark Thompson warning that the offer could distort reporters' news judgments and called into question the impartiality of the corporation's coverage. The scheme was withdrawn by the BBC soon after its existence was reported in London's Evening Standard today. A spokeswoman tonight said no bounty payments had been made. An email to BBC political staff and producers from the head of the BBC's political news operation, Gary Smith, promised £100 for a fresh angle on the cash-for-honours affair, the Standard reported.

Can you imagine the outcry within the BBC if Sky News had been caught doing such a thing?

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid

The most popular name in Nigeria for a baby boy is Osama. Be afraid.

*According to In Praise of Ideology by Lord Saatchi, published by the CPS

UPDATE: This post has caused a number of outraged comments accusing me of all sorts of things, not least making it up and of being a bigot. Click HERE and make up your own minds if I have made it up.

How to Label a Goat

Last night I attended the launch of a new book called HOW TO LABEL A GOAT. It's by Spectator columnist Ross Clark and it's a marvellous compendium of silly rules and regulations that are, as he puts it, strangling Britain. You can buy it HERE.

In this new book, Ross Clark exposes some of the most petty and bizarre rules and regulations which are blighting the lives of Britons today. From the 45 pages of instructions on how to correctly label a goat (or sheep) to the impact that being a deep-sea diver might have on your tax return. Among his other discoveries are:

- That there are 279 different tax forms for businesses alone, asking a total of 6,614 questions.
- The notes explaining the Treasury's 'simplified' pensions' regime ran to 1,369 pages.
- The law allows you to kill or give away a bullfinch - but not to sell or barter it.
- A woman from Kilbride was given an ASBO forbidding her from answering the door in her underwear.
- A council spent £5,000 planting yew trees to screen a new children's play area. It then dug them up again after health and safety experts advised children could fall ill if they gobbled 'several handfuls' of leaves.

The Bloated Cost of John Prescott's 'Vanity Politics'

No one really knows what John Prescott does anymore. He may be called the Deputy Prime Minister, but it's difficult to see what he's actually for. However, despite that, figures out today reveal that he's costing you, the British taxpayer close on £2 million a year. It funds the worst kind of 'vanity politics'. Why do I call it 'vanity politics'? Well, if you pay for a book to be published yourself it's called vanity publishing. Creating your own government department merely to cling on to the last remnants of an abused patronage is its political equivalent. The tyragedy is, that Prescott should have been remaindered months ago.

A Priti Picture


By the way, I look forward to the long pieces on Sky, the BBC and ITN today hailing Priti Patel's selection. After all, they devoted hours of broadcasting to Ali Miraj's comments about Witham being not likely to select an Asian candidate. It would only be fair to redress the balance, wouldn't it? Indeed, I just took a call for Sky News asking me to go on to comment on.... Prince Charles's equivalent of Webcameron (I declined). I'm sure the call will come to talk about Priti Patel. Not.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Watching France 24, en Anglais, naturellement

Well, who'd jhave thought it, a French TV channel in, er, English. France 24 (pronounced France vingt-quatre, natch) will be launching in December giving a French pespective on news, culture and sport. Click HERE to watch its very unFrench trailer. I assumed it would be a French language channel, mais non. Ils parlent la language de notre Reine. Ausgezeichnet.

STOP PRESS: Witham Candidate Chosen

Priti Patel has just been selected as Conservative Candidate for Witham. This seat has a notional majority of more than 7,000 and 250 people attended the selection meeting tonight. Her opponents were Charles Elphicke, James Brokenshire MP and Geoffrey van Orden MEP. Elphicke went out in the first ballot. Brokenshire and van Orden tied for second place n the second ballot so there was a runoff. But the good thing for Pritti Patel was that she was ahead on every single round of voting.

Perhaps this will finally put to rest the myth that Conservative selection committees in safe Tory seats won't select women or ethnic minority candidates. Four of the 18 shortlisted candidates for this seat (of which I was one) were from ethnic minorities. Five were women. I kept being told that Essex Man and Essex Woman would not choose a woman let alone an ethnic minority. How wrong those people were. The very best of luck to Priti Patel.

Another Day, Another Talk

This morning I gave a talk to 30 journalsim students at West Kent College, which is near where I live in Tonbridge. To be honest I often don't look forward to these sort of things amd do them because I think I ought to rather than because I want to. However, I really enjoyed this morning, mainly because the questioning was intelligent, entertaining and plentiful. There was much scepticism about the future of blogs but quite a bit of interest in internet TV. In fact I'm hoping a couple of students there will appear on my show before too long. Most of the students there hope for a career in the local and regional media. If their enthusiasm is anything to go by, they should have great success.

Maybe We Should Boycott British Airways

The news that British Airways check-in worker Nadia Eweida has lost her appeal against her employer who banned her from wearing a crucifix the size of a five pence piece may well rebound on them. Peter Hain has described BA's stance as 'loopy' and Ann Widdecombe has already said she will no longer fly with British Airways. I know a number of Christian groups in the States who have said the same thing. In the end the only way to persuade big companies like this that they are wrong is to hit them where it hurts and withdraw custom from them.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Remembering Milton Friedman

Iain Murray has a superb tribute to the late great Milton Friedman HERE.

Hoby's Road to Nowhere: BlogDog Gets Above Himself

Click on image to enlarge. Courtesy of Hoby.

Universities Seek to Ban Christian Unions

I am not a religious person, but I like to think my beliefs are broadly Christian. This is, after all, still a predominantly Christian country. But I find it appalling that Christians are starting to be persecuted like some weired religious sect, while other religions are deemed to be 'untouchable' both in law and satire. The latest manifestation of this worrying trend is that some universities are, unbelievably, starting to ban Christian Unions. These small minded universities are supporting a politically-correct agenda where 'equality and inclusion' must mean that Christians are viewed as bigots. Christian Union meetings are banned, bank accounts frozen, and their advocacy of Christian orthodox belief is considered too offensive for expression on university premises. Funny, I always thought universities were places of freedom of expression and free speech. I wonder if the same thing is happening to Islamic Societies. Somehow, I doubt it. They just wouldn't dare.

Cranmer has more HERE.

Victoria Cross Heroes on Channel 5 at 8pm Tonight

If you're at home this evening at 8pm you might want to tune into the first episode in a new three part series on Channel 5 looking at the history of the Victoria Cross. It accompanies the BOOK by Michael Ashcroft which was published a couple of weeks ago, which I had a small hand in helping with.

Chirac Wants to Run Again Says Telegraph

It seems scarcely believeable but the Sunday Telegraph carries a report today suggesting that Jacques Chirac is considering running for a third term as President de la Republique. He's 73 but seriously believes that his country still needs him. I am by no means an expert on French politics but I find it hard to think of a single thing he could rightly call an achievement during his tenure.

The press is getting carried away by Sego-mania following the selection of Segolene Royal as the Socialist Party candidate. Most commentators are relishing a Sego-Sarko contest on the assumption that Nicolas Sarkozy becomes the UMP candidate. Indeed, it is the antipathy towards Sarkozy by many centrists within the UMP that is the main driving force behind a further Chirac candidacy. None of the other putative candidates (de Villepinnor Michele Alliot-Marie) are strong enough to beat Sarkozy.

Royal and Sarkozy are each at 50% in the polls, so this could be one of the most gripping Presidential elections in any country for years.

Who's the Chopper on the Left?

If it's possible to have an enjoyable afternoon watching your team lose, I suppose I did today. Michael Hintze invited me to join him and his family to watch Chelsea v West Ham in his box at Stamford Bridge. The last time I went to Chelsea was about 8 or 9 years ago and the Hammers won 2-1. I must admit I did not expect a similar result this afternoon, but in the end West Ham put in a very good performance and were possibly unlucky not to get a draw. Etherington and Spector were outstanding.

Before the match started two ex Chelsea players came into the box, Kerry Dixon and Ron 'Chper' Harris, pictured above. Chopper was probably the dirtiest hardest player of his generation, while Kerry Dixon very nearly joined West Ham in the 1980s. Instead, he opted to go to Arsenal. Unfathomable. The atmosphere at Stamford Bridge was weird. A bit like watching a football match in the States - lots of polite clapping. At one point the noisy stand at one end got so frustrated that the rest of the ground refused to join in their singing that they started singing "Only one stand's singing". It kept them amused, I suppose.

I had to make a quick getaway to get to Bishop's Stortford to host another Evening with Ann Widdecombe and just about got there on time. It was held at the Rhodes Arts Centre, a truly fabulous new building, which houses the Cecil Rhodes Museum. Apparently he was born on the site.

Public Humiliation Should Not be Part of Our Legal Process

From my Eastern Daily Press column...

Anyone who knows David Prior (former Tory MP for North Norfolk) will testify to the decency of the man. His former constituents in North Norfolk and the staff at the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital will have been shocked at his very public arrest this week. But let us remember that arrest does not imply anything. What should shock us more is the very public way this was done. Someone somewhere wanted it to be in the public domain, and I don’t think we have too far to look to know where the news was leaked from. Whoever it was had an agenda.

This is not the first time it has happened. I well remember the case of Neil and Christine Hamilton being arrested on suspicion of rape and being put through months of hell before they were completely exonerated. But in those few months the ‘no smoke without fire’ brigade had a field day. The Metropolitan Police had tipped off the press that they had been arrested and a phalanx of cameras was waiting to greet them at Ilford Police Station.

The same thing happened more recently to Lord Levy, when he was arrested in the Cash for Peerages inquiry. Whatever happened to the concept of ‘innocent until proven guilty’? It seems if you a public figure you have to put up with this sort of thing nowadays.

I don’t blame the EDP for splashing the Prior case as a big story. It is. But perhaps someone in Norfolk Police, or maybe the Norfolk Health Service, should be hanging their head in shame this weekend for putting a transparently decent man and his family through hell. And perhaps the rest of us should be asking ourselves what their agenda is.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Questions Gordon Should Be Asked in Iraq

As the Chancellor Gordon Brown arrives in Iraq, I wonder which of our brave servicemen will have the courage - on camera - to ask him these two questions...

How many British soldiers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan because your government won't provide the equipment the armed services have said they need? How much of this is down to you and the Treasury refusing to authorise the MoD to buy the equipment?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Come Back Sue Cook

[curmudgeon rant] I used to rather enjoy Children in Need. The banter between Terry Wogan and the rather bashful Sue Cook (pic right) was always enjoyable. The entertainment was sometimes cringemaking but generally quite watchable. Nowadays Sue Cook has been replaced by Natasha Kaplinsky and the quite dreadful Fern Cotton (who I always thought played rugby for England) ,whose exhuberance becomes rather wearing after about three minutes. The entertainment is a mixture of second rate soap stars (Bad Girls) attempting to sing, newsreaders making arses of themselves (too many to mention) and the odd has-been celebrity putting in an appearance to resurrect their flagging career (David Cassidy, Emma Bunton etc). Oh my God, the next act is the cast of Two Pints of Lager singing a tribute to WHAM and then we have CARRY ON HOLBY. And there's not even Cliff Richard to look forward to. I was in the middle of a four hour stint of watching LOST earlier on until my other half came home and made me switch over. The question is, how long can I stand it before I disappear into the other room? I'll just get my coat... [/curmudgeon rant]

Libertarian, Shrill and Proud Of It

Apparently it's all our fault. Voter disconnection. Voter apathy. We're to blame. We bloggers are shrill and impolite. So says Blair lackey Matthew Taylor HERE and President George Bush Senior HERE.

Matthew Taylor reckons that part of the problem is the "net-head" culture itself, which is rooted in libertarianism and "anti-establishment" attitudes, according to the BBC report. No Matthew, people like YOU are the problem. You sit there in Downing Street, in your little ivory tower and think that you know best and that we, the little people, will meekly go along with whatever authoritarian and anti-democratic measure you dream up next. Wrong. It's because of people like you that the blogosphere is growing and feels the need to rail against establishment thinking. But you are right, whether on the left or the right, we are rooted in libertarianism. And most of us are proud of it. Get used to it.

Another Sign of Blair's Disappearing Authority

How on earth does this woman keep her job? Margaret Hodge was, until the last election the Minister for Children. This, despite her having run a Labour Council at the centre of child abuse allegations. Today she has laid into Tony Blair for Iraq, despite being a senior Minister of State in his government. She equated his foreign policy to "moral imperialism". We should remember this isn't the first time she has shot her mouth off and yet she still hasn't been sacked. This is not a sign of magnanimity on Tony Blair's part - it's a sign of his disappearing authority that Ministers seem now to believe that they can ignore the Ministerial Code almost at will.

Exclusive Pictures Inside the New Wembley Stadium

Thursday, November 16, 2006

LibDem MP Announces Retirement

LibDem Voice (God, their second name-check today) is reporting that LibDem MP Paul Keetch is to stand down at the next election. He has a majority of 982 over the Conservatives. Virginia Taylor has fought the seat twice before and the Conservatives are currently selecting their candidate for next time. This news will certainly make the selection a tad more interesting.

A Quick Change of Underpants Reported at Number Ten

In a letter to the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee Acting Assistant Commissioner John Yates says his investigation into cash-for-honours has turned up "significant and valuable material" and that "considerable progress continues to be made".

Mr Yates told MPs he hoped to be able to send a file of evidence to the CPS in January.

There were reports this afternoon of dry cleaners being called to Number Ten.

UPDATE: Guido has the full text of the letter.


Shamelessly stolen from LibDem Voice...

There has been a successful campaign in Lewisham to save the Ladywell swimming pool. The (Labour) Mayor, Steve Bullock, had these lovely words to say about the campaigners:

“I feel the passionate and enthusiastic campaign by Save Ladywell Pool, although challenging at times, is a great example of how local people can get their views heard. Their work is an example to all communities and shows how people can get together and make a real difference.”

What a shame then that on the same day as these words were uttered, the latest edition of Time Out appeared, with these words from the very same Mayor Steve Bullock about the very same campaign:

“The campaign is pathetic. It is led by a very small group of backward-looking people.”

I must apologise for thinking that the Liberal Democrats were the only ones to indulge in this sort of behaviour. Clearly I was wrong. Let that be a lesson to me.

An Unremarkable Queen's Speech

This Queen's Speech had all the stench of a government in decay and on the way out. Listening to the stream of ministers talking it up on Five Live, you would think the government was still hugely popular, the prime minister is at the peak of his powers and that the bills in the Queen's Speech were spectacular in their audacity. None of these three descriptions is remotely true. They know it, we know it, and - more to the point - so do the voters.

Two themes dominated this Queen's Speech. The first is "talking tough". John Reid and Gordon Brown have been trying to "out-tough" each other over recent days. Older readers will remember the nouveau riche Brummie personified by Harry Enfield as "considerably richer than YOW". His modern-day equivalent is an aspirant Labour leadership candidate whose constant refrain is: "I'm considerably tougher than YOW". The Home Office bills being put forward in this parliament certainly give John Reid an opportunity to perform and reinforce his authoritarian reputation. But, as we saw from the last session, he will not have an easy task in taking the House of Commons with him.

The Conservatives have proved to be unlikely allies for Shami Chakrabarti and Liberty, but they have successfully stolen Labour's civil liberties clothes. John Reid believes he is in tune with the mood of our times. He believes Labour's message of "Security in a Changing World" is one that resonates with voters, who will understand if sometimes their individual rights are infringed. But the Conservative retort may well prove to be an enduring one. They accuse Reid of talking tough but never following through on the headline-grabbing initiatives he announces on a seemingly daily basis.

The 11th criminal justice bill in nine years will give him further opportunities to "mug a hoodie". He will contrast his tough stance with the apparently soppy line put forward by David Cameron. As David Davis' ex-chief of staff, I think I am in a position to make clear that Davis won't let him get away with it. The immigration paper published by Davis and his immigration spokesman, Damian Green, last week was a masterful way of putting forward a policy based on softer rhetoric but tougher policy. Reid was caught unawares and rushed round the TV studios to denounce it, yet in the Queen's Speech he is putting forward measures which he denounced only a few days ago.

The climate change bill is perhaps the most interesting of the 29 contained in the speech. The Conservatives and Lib Dems have allied themselves with the green lobby and are calling for annual targets. David Miliband sticks to his 60% reduction by 2050. All parties conveniently ignore the fact that these targets are completely meaningless unless India and China address the issue of climate change. By 2050, their economies will be emitting more greenhouse gases than the US does now.

Bearing in mind that pensions is a subject which instantly sends most people to sleep, I wonder if this might be the area of most controversy over the coming year. I detect little sign of a cross-party consensus on the way ahead and the government's proposals are bound to provoke reactions, not just from the opposition, but from their own supporters. The pensions bill will also give John Hutton a chance to shine. If, as is rumoured, he is considering a tilt at Gordon Brown, here's the perfect platform from which to do it.

And that brings me on to the second theme which dominated the Queen's Speech - well perhaps not a theme, more of a cloud.This is a nothing Queen's Speech. It is a safety-first speech dominated by the desire of an outgoing prime minister to appear as if he's still in charge, and the intention of an incoming prime minister to ensure that people think he is.

And in that short sentence, one can see how the next year will pan out in politics. Everything will be seen through the prism of Tony Blair's departure and Gordon Brown's arrival. And for those of us who continue to be fascinated with the political process, it's going to be quite a year.

This article was written for CommentisFree yesterday.

Channel 4 News Top of the Blogs Podcast

In my Channel 4 News Podcast this morning I talk about triangulation and the Queen's Speech. Click HERE listen to it. Listen for the Queen soundalike! And it ain't me. Blogs mentioned in the Podcast include Cicero's Songs, Dave's Part, Mikey's Tent of Reality and Disillusioned & Bored.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

German MEP in Conflict of Interest?

Readers will recall I have been quite excitable about the fact that Christopher Beazley MEP has voted in favour of the regulation of internet TV. On Monday the Culutr and Media Committee voted in favour of the Draft Audio Visual Services Directive which seeks to regulate internet TV in the same way as terrestrial broadcasters. When committees vote in this way you have to delve behind the obvious and ask: who's going to benefit by such a Directive? The answer in this case is clear - mainstream terrestrial broadcasters.

So it was with some astonishment that I learned from one of my correspondents that the Chief Rapporteur of the Culture Committee on this Directive is German MEP Ruth Hieronymi. The reason I'm surprised? Since 1991 she has sat of the Board of WDR (West Deutsche Rundfunk), one of the most powerful terrestrial broadcasters in Germany. In this country that sort of thing would be called a Conflict of Interest. After all, who stands to gain from the regulation of internet TV? Why, powerful terrestrial broadcasters like WDR, naturally! I'm sure Frau Hieronymi declared her interest (for which, according to Eurpopean Parliament records she does not get paid) but she should not be the Chief Rapporteur in an area where such a clear conflict of interest can be alleged.

Sister Sledging

Cherie Blair seems to be almost unembarrassable, but even she must cringe at the antics of her half sister Lauren Booth. Miss Booth sees the sunsetting on her career as a media pundit, for after Cherie dances off into the sunset, Lauren's unique selling point disappears. No longer is she the sister-in-law of the British Prime Minister. Hence her appearance on I'm a Celebrity, Get me Out of Here. It's a last desperate throw of the dice designed to keep her in the media spotlight.

Yesterday she appeared to let slip that Tony Blair was intending to depart the scene in January. She then paused, and said 'oh, February, or March, or it might be April'. The intention was to make us all think that she is 'in the know'. The fact of the matter is that Cherie and Blair are more likely to confide in David Cameron than they are to talk to Lauren Booth about this or anything else. So if you become an addict to I'm a Celbrity and Lauren mentions anything to do with her famous relatives dip your fingers into the salt bowl and take a massive pinch.

Cash for Peerages: Blair Pleads Abu Hamza Defence

Until today, if I'm honest, I wasn't too sure that the Cash for Peerages inquiry would result in any formal charges. But reading a story in Her Majesty's Daily Telegraph over my cornflakes has convinced me that it's only a matter of time before charges are laid against at least one leading member of the New Labour ruling elite.

It seems that Downing Street is hiring lawyers (at our expense?) to question whether there could possibly be a fair trial after all the negative publicity. This is the Abu Hamza defence and shows that things are getting pretty desperate. Downing Street is trying to put the line out that the Police are leaking like a sieve and this is soooooo very unfair. Come again? Who is it who keeps encouraging journalists to write that the Police have found nothing and the Inquiry is going nowhere? We've already had various kites flown by Downing Street, all of which have failed to fly. Believe me, this one won't either.

John Yates does not strike me as the sort of policeman who is likely to be easily deflected from the task in hand. The Inquiry has taken so long because there have been so many people to interview and I suspect that after each interview further lines of inquiry are developed. My suspicion is that this will run way into next year and while the Prime Minister will be interviewed by Yates while he is still office, the interesting bit will come after he departs. According to Lauren Booth, on I'm a Celebrity this could be in January. Although as Blair and his wife never speak to her I'm not sure how she would know.

Climate Change: Missing the Point

For those who think, like Ken Livingstone, that slapping a £25 congestion onto Ford Mondeos is a good thing and will save the planet, I have news for them. Frankly, it doesn't really matter what we do in this country on global emissions if we can't persuade India and China to follow suit. Take this piece from The Economist...

Over the next few decades, one of the main determinants of increased oil demand will be higher car ownership in emerging economies. At present there are only two cars for every 100 people in China, against 50 in America. Goldman Sachs forecasts that China's car ownership will rise to 29 per 100 by 2040. The total number of cars in China and India combined could rise from around 30m today to 750m by 2040 (see chart 10)—more than all the cars on the world's roads today. Even so, car-ownership rates in those two countries would still be only half those in America today.

Many people worry more about the environmental damage resulting from emerging countries' rising energy demand than they do about rising prices. Rapid industrialisation has already caused an alarming increase in emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollution. China has 16 of the world's 20 most air-polluted cities. America is still the world's largest spewer of carbon emissions, but China is expected to overtake it within a decade or so. A report by Zmarak Shalizi, an economist at the World Bank, forecasts that on current policies carbon emissions in China and India will more than double by 2020—though that would still leave China's carbon emissions per person at only one-third of the current level in America.

So our efforts on climate change are misdirected. What we should be doing is convincing India and China that they will be the main part of the problem within half a generation, and then persuade (or even help) them to take the requisite action. We can all have windmills on our roofs and install solar panels, but if Indians and the Chinese do not cut their emissions too we might as well save ourselves the bother.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Half a Pound of Half Baked Policy, Half a Pound of Treacle

It is not April 1st. I wish to make that clear, because after reading this story from the Daily Mail, you will be looking at your diaries and thinking I am wrong...

"Parents could be forced to go to special classes to learn to sing their children nursery rhymes, a minister said. Those who fail to read stories or sing to their youngsters threaten their children's future and the state must put them right, Children's Minister Beverley Hughes said. Their children's well-being is at risk 'unless we act', she declared. And Mrs Hughes said the state would train a new 'parenting workforce' to ensure parents who fail to do their duty with nursery rhymes are found and 'supported'."

Perhaps the Children's Minister would do better to address the real problems facing children in this country like family breakdown, fatherless families or the fact that we have the highest abortion rate in Europe. But no, Beverley Hughes is more concerned by nursery rhymes.

How Did Christopher Beazley Vote?

Yesterday a committee of the European Parliament voted on the Audiovisual Media Services Directive. This is the Directive which threatens the future of internet TV stations like 18DoughtyStreet - obviously a subject close to my heart. Tory MEP Christopher Beazley sits on this committee. See HERE. When he last corresponded with me he indicated that he would be voting with the EPP line and supporting the Directive, with all its unnecessary regulation.

I have been trying to find out today whether he did vote in favour of it or not. Astonishingly, votes in these Committees are not recorded. I have emailed him, but last time it took three weeks to get a reply, so I am not holding my breath.

I know I have a number of readers in the European Parliament. Would anyone know the answer to my question?

UPDATE: I have just received this email from Christopher Beazley. Words fail me. His last paragraph is just plain deluded.


The Committee voted unanimously (with the exception of one, believed to be UKIP) after a marathon session to accept the Rapporteur's compromise proposals which incorporated as much as possible of the Industry, Internal Market and associated Committee's proposals.

As I outlined to you in our previous correspondence my amendment to safeguard OFCOM's continuing responsibility in the UK and the 30 minute rule pertaining to advertising slots of Independent TV have been approved.

Blogs, private websites, internet applications whose primary purpose is not audiovisual are all excluded from the Daft Directive.

Internet based TV (non linear services), as anticipated will fall under the scope of the Directive which guarantees to the public the same level of consumer and legal protection as they currently expect from linear TV services. Your individual concerns for the future of your internet based service would appear to be allayed as the Draft Directive, as it stands, in no way threatens its future success.


If They Look Like Terrorists, Act Like Terrorists, Talk Like Terrorists...

...according to the BBC they are 'militants'. Today 100 people were kidknapped in Baghdad. I am pretty sure they felt terrorised. So why does the BBC insist on calling terrorists 'militants'? I can see no reason for it at all. But feel free to enlighten me. I am sure there is some politically correct reason for it.