Saturday, January 06, 2007

My New West Ham Blog

I can already hear you groaning. Stop it. I had thought there must be dozens of West Ham blogs out there, but astonishingly there don't seem to be any at all. Well there are now because I have started one HERE. I'm sure you'll all be regular visitors...Not. If any of you support the Happy Hammers (well, we're happy today, anyway) please do link to it. I doubt whether it'll ever get the traffic this blog does, but you never know...

Phillipa Stroud Selected for Sutton & Cheam

Phillipa Stroud has been selected for Sutton & Cheam tonight. Phillipa is a leading light in the Centre for Social Justice and is a very worthy successor to the exellent Richard Willis, who decided not to fight the seat again. I'm told Helen Grant came second, ahead of Tariq Ahmed and Lynn Hack.

Top Ten Tory Chat Up Lines

Here's the latest in my SERIES of political chat-up lines - it's the Conservatives' turn...

1. Yo Blair! Bend over you're gonna love this...
2. Can I share the proceeds of this growth with you?
3. I've got a unique way of protecting the vulnerable
4. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?
5. How would you like to shadow my portfolio?
6. Is your name Tamzin Lightwater?
7. I’m so depressed about the A List I really don’t think I should spend tonight alone
8. I'm really not gay, no really, no, no... oh go on then...
9. Francis is always urging us to increase our members
10. Would you like to come up and watch the Parliamentary Channel with me some time?

Can you do better? The Comments Section awaits...

No Need to Know Prison Escape Numbers Says Prison Service DG

The Director of the Prison Service Phil Wheatley has just appeared on BBC News saying "We don't need to have a central record of people who abscond from category D prisons". Breathtaking, and a clear example of the all atmosphere of apathy that appears to pervade the entire Home Office. The full story is on the BBC website HERE. Surely the reason for collecting such numbers centrally is to detect trends and then do something about any worrying trends. But then, what do I know?

Strange that the Home Secretary hasn't been heard to comment on this yet. He's such a shy and retiring chappy isn't he?

UKIP Faces Electoral Commission Fine

The Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act 2000 requires that parties with a gross income or expenditure of £250,000 or less (and their accounting units with a gross income or expenditure in excess of £25,000 and below 250,000) submit an annual statement of accounts to The Electoral Commission by 31 March and for more than that sum by 7 July.

The deadline for submitting audited accounts was 7 July 2006. UKIP failed to meet it and were given an extension.

According to the West Brom Blog "As of Friday 5th January 2007 the accounts have not been published to the Electoral Commission. Failure to submit accounts within 1 year can result in a £5,000 fine and is a criminal offence under UK electoral law (Political Parties Elections & Referendums Act 2000)"."

If this is true, we might well ask when UKIP do intend to submit accounts and what deadline have they been given by the Electoral Commission. Anyone care to enlighten us?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Maybe I Should Grow Man Boobs...

I support the aims of Women2Win, but if they think they are going to gain any sympathy through THIS initiative they must be having a laugh. The BBC reports...

They (women) were reluctant to "spend their family's money" on travel, childcare and other costs associated with finding a seat, said spokesman Katie Perrior. Men, on the other hand, were "often the main breadwinners and didn't feel so guilty about spending their money."

So no sexual steroetyping there then.

Mrs Perrior said her organisation wants to set up a bursary to help women with such costs, arguing women tend to be more financially cautious than men. "The money does discourage people, especially women," she told the BBC News website.

As ConservativeHome reported recently, it costs an average £40,000 to stand as a candidate in a marginal seat. Believe me, I know. I was one of them and the experience nearly bankrupted me. Would it have been any cheaper or expensive had I been female? Of course not.

Jonathan Shephard from Tory Radio calls it right when he says: If the party is going to go down the route of bursaries (which I wrote about in January HERE) then why should they be just for women? Surely they should be for those candidates irrespective of what sex they are who may well be precluded from following a career in politics due to financial constraints.

I know now why Tony Blair is growing Man Boobs. Perhaps I should follow suit...

LibDem Candidates System in Meltdown?

Following THIS story a couple of days ago, the comments section was heated to say the least. When that happens a blogger normally knows he is on to something. A reader has alerted me to an editorial in a recent issue of LIBERATOR magazine. It's all about LibDem candidate selection...

The session for key seats representatives at September’s Liberal Democrat conference was proceeding uneventfully until the party’s campaigns director Paul Rainger told them that, to retain this status, a constituency must have a candidate in place by December. Angry protests followed, to the effect that constituencies would be happy to select a candidate were the English Candidates Committee to make this possible (it seems a lesser issue in Scotland and Wales).

Hardly anyone agrees on what has caused the inordinate delay in selections. It is perhaps just as well that the idea of a snap general election appears to be a figment of party fundraisers’ imagination. From the campaigns side, and from approved candidates, come complaints that the candidates committee sees the approval and selection bureaucracy as an end in itself. There are also complaints that, on top of the long-standing and tortuous complications involved, rules aimed at securing diversity have served only to ensure that no-one, of any colour or gender, has been selected for most seats. Tales abound of constituencies that have received only one application but have been barred from adopting the candidate concerned, of regions with too few returning officers having to borrow them from elsewhere in a beggar-my-neighbour process, and of too few selection committee members having completed the obligatory training because there is no-one to train them.

From the candidates committee side comes the response that conference told it to rewrite the rules and it had to wait until after the general election to do that, and that if the party wants greater diversity in its candidates the processes must be in place. Its members also dispute claims that returning officers and trainers are thin on the ground, and are confident that candidates will be in place in good time.

The Parliamentary Candidates Association, which represents approved candidates, thinks it has a solution to this impasse, but it is one likely to infuriate most party members. Its chair Gary Lawson wrote in July to Menzies Campbell to say that only 18 English PPCs had at that point been selected (a number which has since presumably risen) and that the average selection was taking 88 days. The PCA’s solution was to suggest that Campbell should “personally appoint a small central team to identify out 40 to 60 most winnable constituencies and manage the selection process in these seats”. In those seats, the normal selection process would be set aside and replaced by the method used for parliamentary by-elections, where a very short list is approved centrally for local members’ decision. The central team would ‘resolve’ any appeals, while Campbell himself would have the pleasure of writing to all party members to explain the reason for ditching the normal process.

PCA executive members “debated the pros and cons” of identifying a top tier of candidates, similar to the Tories so-called A list, but decided that “the appointment of a central team to manage selections in these winnable seats, as with by-elections, will allow both highly qualified local candidates to apply and enable shortlists to be drafted that clearly demonstrate the party’s commitment to candidate diversity”. How that might be done solely from among candidates already approved was unclear. The ‘accelerated’ process has caused rows in local parties at by-elections, where candidates with strong local support have been excluded.

The application of this process to all winnable seats would be certain to cause uproar among aggrieved applicants and their supporters, particularly if local party members were effectively presented with only one option. Even more startlingly, the PCA believes “in the longer term… there is a case for ‘headhunting’ of suitable candidates within and outside the party, e.g. among students at universities and colleges.” Yes, you read that right. The body that represents the party’s parliamentary candidates believes that people who do not belong to the party should be approached to stand as candidates for it in general elections. The PCA said it looked forward to Campbell’s comments. But, since no change has been made to the selection rules, they were presumably unfavourable. Perhaps Campbell feels that people who wish to be Lib Dem candidates should at least first take the trouble to join the party.

Makes the Conservative 'A' List dilemmas look rather pedestrian, doesn't it? Do check back later. I've just been emailed some very interesting information related to this story, which I want to share with you but it needs careful wording...

Falconer Endorses Brown...Sort Of

From this Sunday's GMTV Sunday Programme...


Tony Blair is going this year. You’ve been one of those who’ve yet to endorse Gordon Brown formally, are you willing to say formally that you want him to be the next leader?


He is an absolutely towering figure in the Labour party, he is the person, along with Tony Blair who has most contributed to what the Labour Government has done over the last nine and a half years. He is head and shoulders in achievement, above anyone else within the Labour Party. He is without doubt the strongest candidate to be leader.


So is that Lord Falconer endorsing Gordon Brown to be the next leader? Has he got your backing? It sounds as if he has.


Once he became the Prime Minister, or leader of the Party, of course he would have my backing. I don’t know what’s going to happen between now and the time that he actually takes over, which I think is probably the most likely course, he is an absolutely towering figure.


So that's a no then.

Court Ruling Could Mean an End to 'Kiss & Tells'

A Court of Appeal Ruling this week could change the nature of our Sunday red tops forever and achieve what the advocates or a Privacy Law never dreamed of. No more exposes about the Beckhams' nanny, no more kiss and tell by the gay boyfriends of MPs. This is from today's Press Gazette...

The Court of Appeal has upheld the right of Canadian singer Loreena
McKennitt to ban publication of certain passages in a book entitled Travels with
Loreena McKennitt: My Life as a Friend by Niema Ash. The passages covered
personal and sexual relationships, McKennitt’s feelings about her fianc窠who
drowned in 1998, as well as details of her health and diet. Crucially, the
author was not an employee — or someone else bound by a formal confidentiality
agreement — but a former friend of the singer. Author Ash denied she was bound
by any duty of confidence. But Lord Justice Buxton said he backed Mr Justice
Eady’s earlier High Court conclusion that the “confidence” between the two women
was “shared” only in the sense that McKennitt had admitted Ash to her
confidence, which Ash knew should be respected. Explaining the significance of
the ruling, media lawyer Mark Stephens said: “Tabloids are going to have to
reinvent the staple of the Sunday morning and I think we are going to be down to
vicars and choirboys again. “Celebrities who can afford expensive lawyers and
QCs are going to be shielded from rigorous examination whereas Joe Public, who
can’t afford lawyers, is going to be the new victim of the Sunday morning

This really does seem like a landmark judgement, but one which disciminates unafairly in favour of the rich and famous.

Lord Levy: Blair's Envoy to the World

My colleague Donal Blaney has reactivated his ENOUGH IS ENOUGH Blog and has a very good story on Lord Levy HERE. Apparently Blair's Middle Eastern Envoy has been travelling to Latin America and the USA courtesy of the PBT. That's the Poor Bloody Taxypayer...

Jeremy Bowen Wants a Blog

BBC Middle East Correspondent Jeremy Bowen has been musing about his future. He says...

"I have strong views about everything I do and I would sometimes like the chance to let off steam. I'd do a blog, but no-one's ever asked me...Maybe someone should make me an offer?

Jeremy, dear, you don't really get blogging do you?

Vote Thatcher!

The BBC Politics Show is running a political heroes poll. Quite how Clare Short or Alex Salmond are included on it is beyond me. Anyway, the point of this post is to point out the left have swung heavily behind Tony Benn (no change there, then) and he is currently outranking the Blessed Margaret.

So, time for all Conservatives to do their duty and click HERE to vote for Margaret! Voting closes next Thursday.

EU Constitution to be Reintroduced

Thursday, January 04, 2007

EXCLUSIVE: LibDems in Turmoil over Minority Candidates

At their last conference the LibDems passed a motion setting up a 'diversity fund'. Its aim is similar to the Conservative A list, but rather than having a list there's a fund which gives money to seats selecting women and ethnic minority candidates. Steve Hitchens (former leader of Islington council who lost his seat) has been given the task of administering it. It was her public criticism of him which got Susanne Lamido of Suz Blog expelled from the LibDems a few weeks ago. The fund is obviously very controversial as it means less able minority candidates are being selected in order for local LibDem constituency parties to get the extra money.

This letter from Penny Wilkins (Regional Candidates Chair, East Midlands & Vice Chair English Candidates Committee) was submitted to LibDem News for publication, but for some strange Stalinist reason it wasn't printed. I'm happy to oblige...

Sir, I took on the job of RCC (Regional Candidates Chair) for the East Midlands in September 2000, because no-one else was prepared to do it. I quickly found myself feeling 'at home' in the English Candidates Committee ethos of transparency and fairness in the Approval and Selection of Parliamentary Candidates. Over recent years I have become more and more concerned at the interference (and attempted interference) of the 'great and the good' and now to cap it all we are hearing stories that Steve Hitchins is, allegedly, offering local parties money as long as they pick the 'right' candidate. With my health failing I am unable to continue to fight against those who want to make our party less fair. I am finding it increasingly difficult to administer a system which is continually being interfered with by people who are prepared to compromise our Party's principles in a dash for power. For that reason I am going to stand down from active politics for the next year to see if our party comes back to its senses, values its principles and allows its members to select the most able person for the job without interference.
Yours, Penny Wilkins

Mr Hitchens and the LibDem Candidates Committee clearly have some explaining to do. However, what I am more interested in is the fact that of 69 seats which have selected candidates in the LibDems, only 15 of them are women - a miniscule 21.7%. Compare this with the Conservative equivalent of 38% and you can see which Party is doing better in selecting women candidates. I have no information as to how many ethnic minority candidates the LibDems have selected.

Quotes of the Day

"This wasn't justice. This was a sectarian lynch mob. This was a snuff movie. How dare the Prime Minister pretend that it is somehow nothing to do with him" - Tory MP Boris Johnson on the execution of Saddam Hussein.
"To compensate for my fare going up, the train company has decided to give me more value for money. The journey now takes longer" - Richard Cutler, of Newbury, Berkshire, in a letter to the Daily Telegraph.
"It's very nice but what I see is a silver-haired guy with piggy eyes and not looking quite his best" - Ex-President Bill Clinton, on being described as a sex symbol.
"Ladies! Have a fit upstairs" - Sign on a tailor's shop in Hong Kong.
"Both politicians are gifted in the art of delivering the banal and the obvious as if they have just discovered something really important on our behalf" - Commentator Janet Street-Porter on David Cameron and Environment Secretary David Miliband.

Bankruptcy Should Never be the Easy Way Out

The level of personal debt in this country will become a huge political issue over the next few years. In the end, individuals have to take responsibility for their own actions. Everyone knows what their income is and what level of debt they can service and they should act accordingly. But the Government has made it so easy to go bankrupt it has taken away bankruptcy’s social stigma. Amazingly, thanks to Labour’s 2003 Insolvency Act you can now emerge from bankruptcy after a mere nine months. Unsurprisingly, the number of annual bankruptcies has now exceeded 100,000 for the first time ever. Just think what the number will rocket to when there’s a recession.

Bankruptcy should never be seen as'the easy way out'. There are even stories of students of are encouraged to go bankrupt as the best way of avoiding paying back loans - they then go travelling the world for a year and by the time they return they are out of bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy leaves a trail of destruction among the debtors. I know few people will have any sympathy for credit card companies or banks who are left being owed thousands, but there are many small companies and individuals who are affected. Bankruptcy should always be a last resort, not a first.

The Demise of the Little Chef

Should we bemoan the imminent demise of the Little Chef chain or treat it with supreme indifference? Some say that it has failed to move with the times and therefore deserves to be consigned to the dustbin of fast food history. I disagree. I’m not a frequent customer but I do like to visit a restaurant where I know exactly what I’m going to get – simple food and reasonably priced. Of course the décor could have been improved, but its 1970s look was part of the Little Chef appeal for me.

Desperate Housewife Says No To...

One of the more bizarre evenings of the 2005 Tory leadership contest was when the two Davids presented an award at the ITV TV awards at the Albert Hall... and were booed. On the way out I heard the two of them discussing Desperate Housewives and which character they both liked the best. At that point I hadn't ever seen an episode, so when they both agreed it was Bree Van de Kamp I didn't bat an eyelid. I was then given the first series on DVD and have been hooked ever since.

So when I watched the first episode of the the third series tonight I laughed out loud at this fantastic line from Bree... and then thought of the two Davids...

Picture the scene, Bree is about to have sex for the first time with her newly acquired fiance, Orson (who also happens to be a murderer, but I digress). They rush upstairs into Bree's bedroom and both fall on the bed. Bree takes her blouse off and Orson moves slowly down her body towards... well, you can guess. Bree looks mystified and then horrified as Orson's 'cunning' plan makes itself apparent. She blurts out: 'Orson, I don't do that!' Orson says: 'why not?' Bree, still shocked, replies: 'I'm a Republican!'.

Well, it made me laugh out loud, anyway. I suspect Messers Davis and Cameron did likewise.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Five Things

I've been tagged me with the five things meme, which should be things you probably don't know about me, and probably didn't want to know :-)...

1. I have horrible feet
2. I used to be a nurse ... and a teacher
3. At the age of 15 I was a member of the Liberal Party... for six months
4. If I had been a girl, my mother intended to call me Emma .... Emma Dale.... Hmmm. Lucky escape, eh?
5. In 1976, on a school visit to Moscow I actually **** my pants in the Kremlin. Long story. I got food poisoning for six months afterwards - we called it Brehznev's revenge.

I now inflict this on tag Norfolk Blogger, Dizzy, Prague Tory, Kerron Cross and Blamerbell.

What do Ming Campbell & Iain Duncan Smith Have in Common?

Further to my story about Ming below I have now read the BBC report of Ming's Today interview HERE. The interesting bit is the last sentence...

"I will lead the party through this parliament, through the next general election and beyond, and no-one should be in any doubt about that."

Does it not remind you of the time in 2003 when Iain Duncan Smith bounded out of Central Office to tell the waiting media: "I'm in charge"?

It was at that point that we all knew he was not. And so it goes for Ming.

Prescott to Publish Memoirs But Who Will Ghost Them?

The Daily Mail is speculating that John Prescott is saddling up to flog his memoirs to some poor publisher. My advice to any publisher considering offering the old philanderer a huge advance, is this. Save your money. I cannot see what possible market there is for a Prescott retrospective, even if one can conceivably imagine he is capable of writing the book himself.

There's no way he will spill the beans on anything sensational and he would view such a book as the best way of ensuring his legacy. I'm in the middle of reading David Blunkett's diaries (a full review will follow when I am finished). Blunkett was paid £400,000 by his publishers and the book has sold fewer than 2,000 copies so far. Work the maths out for yourself.

But I am sure Prescott will persuade some hapless idiot publisher to fork out a six figure sum. I wonder who he will get to ghost it. Having been leaked a few paragraphs from the first draft I think I can safely say he will need one...

"Those f**king bloggers can f**k right off the b****ds I mean what's this bloody internet thingy anyway if it hadn't been for that f**king Simon f**cking Walters in the f**king Mail on f**cking Sunday I'd still be in f**king Dorneyf**kingwood and that's another thing who says I shouldn't play Crockett is that how you spell it I'll spell it how I f**king want to b*****d Tory w*****s..."

Continued on Page 94...

The Danger of Blowing Ming's House Down

My prediction that Ming Campbell will not be leader of the year looks an increasingly good one. Look at the evidence. The PEOPLE ran a story at the weekend headlined NO MERCY FOR MING, three LibDem Candidates have DEFECTED to the Conservatives citing no confidence in Ming - one of them said “Ming Campbell is a ‘has-been’ and since he has been in control of the party, they have been stuck firmly in reverse gear". On BROADCASTING HOUSE on Christmas Eve a number of LibDem councillors expressed their dissatisfaction with their leader. This morning on the Today Programme Ming was forced to DEFEND his leadership, while William Hill are quoting him at 5-1 to fulfill my prediction of a departure by the end of the year. On top of this, the normally uberloyal LibDem Voice, according to Dizzy, is also having an oblique pop at Ming...

"In what seems a rather rose-tinted review of 2006 here, it bemoans the recent downturn in the polls for the party and appears to blame Ming Campbell. It suggests he has failed to "seize the political agenda" and his team needs to find an "issue" in 2007 to get back on track."

Now, far be it from to suggest that this amounts to anything more than a row of beans. But even the most diehard LibDem would surely admit this is not an ideal way to start a new year. OK, I suppose it';s a slightly better way than they started 2006, but that is scant consolation.

But before any Conservatives start salivating at the thought of Ming Campbell's departure, let's just contemplate his likely successors. They are Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne. Either of them would be a far more formidable opponent for the Tories than Ming. So let's not do anything which might tip Ming over the edge. The LibDems will indulge in a lot of huffing and puffing over the next few months - especially when they have a dismal result in the May elections - but it may not be in Conservative interests for them to have enough wind to blow Ming's house down.

PS Having said that, you know I won't be able to resist having the occasional puff...

This Life - Outstanding!

I've just finished watching the THIS LIFE reunion. Having seen it poo-poohed in various reviews I wasn't expecting much of it... that is until I saw NEWSNIGHT REVIEW a few weeks ago and saw it being slagged off by Germaine Greer, Paul Morley and someone else equally pretentious (Tony Parsons?).

When I heard they hated it I knew it would be great. And it was. It recreated the mood of the original series superbly. Anna was just as screwed up, Warren was still neurotic, Egg was still self obsessed and Milly was such a control freak. And Myles was.... well Myles. Of course we were all waiting to see whether Myles and Anna would finally get it together. And in true THIS LIFE style, they did... but they didn't. A friend of mine emailed me just now and described the THIS LIFE reunion as "just enough punch and not too much cheese." Quite.

PS A special moment for anyone who 'gets' the headline...

Tuesday, January 02, 2007 Predictions for 2007

Political is asking for forecasts. I thought I'd share mine with you...

On Christmas Day 2007 who will be…?

David Cameron, in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, after Gordon Brown calls an early election.
Gordon Brown
If prediction 1 comes true, Ming Campbell, if there is no election, Nick Clegg
Hillary Benn
William Hague
Segolene Royal
Alex Salmond (is he standing?!)
Barack Obama
Rudi Giuliani

For how many days during 2007 will…?


Conservatives Appoint New Conference Company

The Daily Telegraph has followed up ConservativeHome's story about the new company the Conservatives have appointed to run their conferences. It is called Fingerprint Conferences and was only set up in November. One of its principals is Azahar Hussein, who was also a key staff member of CCO Conferences and has effectively run the commercial exhibition at the conference for the last three years. A likeable and cheerful chap, Azahar will bring a great degree of enthusiasm to the task ahead, but one can't help wondering if this is a change of name rather than a change of personnel. Tim Montgomerie is asking questions to CCHQ about how this potentially lucrative contract was awarded, but has so far received no answers.

UPDATE: CCHQ have just made this statement... The tendering of the contract to manage Spring Forum and Annual Party Conferences has been handled by a procurement company which advertised the contract in the events industry magazine 'Event' during September. The tendering process involved face to face interviews with a number of companies, and after discussions to see which model met the Party’s conference needs best, Fingerprint Events Ltd were awarded the contract by the Party Board. Commercial Confidentiality Agreements signed with all companies restrict us from releasing further details other than contained in the original press release. Fingerprint Events were judged to have the most suitable model especially in terms of CCHQ control and the financial return to the Party.

Prescott Loses it on TODAY

If you weren't listening to John Prescott on the Today programme this morning at 8.10. it was a vintage Two Jags performance. He just stopped himself saying "for christ's sake" at one point and spent the whole interview attacking Ed Stourton. It will be on the Today WEBSITE Listen Again facility.

Dizzy, meanwhile, has a good STORY of a Gordon Brown 'don't do as I do, do as I say', variety.

Monday, January 01, 2007

December Figures for Iain Dale's Diary

December traffic was marginally down on November October at 130,872 unique visitors and 228,952 page downloads. Bearing in mind that traffic collapses over Christmas, the trend is actually up (good bit of New Labour type spin there!)! Here are my top 28 linking sites (ie incoming hits) for December. All these sites referred at least 100 people here. The arrows denote whether a site has moved up or down or stayed static since November. Interestingly ConservativeHome has overtaken Guido for the first time...

1. ConservativeHome 14.06% ↑ 2. Guido Fawkes 12.56% ↓ 3. PoliticalBetting 6.88% ↔ 4. National Review Corner 3.42% NEW 5. Croydonian ↑ 6. Blairwatch ↑ 7. Prague Tory ↔ 8. Andrew Sullivan NEW 9. An Englishman's Castle ↓ 10. Devil's Kitchen ↑ 11. Witanagemot ↔ 12. Biased BBC ↓ 13. Daniel Finkelstein ↓ 14. Adam Smith Institute ↑ 15. Paul Linford ↓ 16. Archbishop Cranmer ↑ 17. Daily Pundit ↑ 18. W4MP ↓ 19. Dizzy Thinks ↑ 20. Web Cameron ↓ 21. Coming Out From Under NEW 22. Tim Blair NEW 23. Cally’s Kitchen ↓ 24. Campaign for an English Parliament NEW 25. Tory Radio NEW 26. Public Interest NEW 27. Norfolk Blogger NEW 28. Ellee Seymour

Dropping out of the Top linkers are Tim Worstall, EU Referendum, Ginger & Dynamite, Mars Hill, Mikey's Tent of Reality, Looking for a Voice,, Clive Davis, Kerron Cross, Drinking from Home, The Spine, Rightlinks, Hoby Cartoons, Liberal England, A Conservative's Blog

Curbishley Out!

West Ham are 4-0 down to Reading after 36 minutes. Does it get any worse than that? I may have to revise me prediction HERE that relegation will be avoided. Alan Pardew, please come back... Of course the players are to blame, but Curbishley has to answer the question on every West Ham fan's lips: Why on earth won't you start with Carlos Tevez? In each game I've seen him play he has looked the most likely to score. Mascherano hasn't been given a look in and yet he's supposed to be the best player in South America. And he dropped the fantastic Mark Noble (our next big home grown player) and brought in Shaun Newton, a journeyman player well past his best who has just finished a ban for cocaine use. In addition Jonathan Spector, our best defendere this season, has been dropped in favour of the ageing Christian Dailly. Admittedly Dailly played well against Man City, but it's a strange thing to do to drop your best player. I know you shouldn't judge a manager on just a few games, but I am pretty sure this would not have happened under Pardew. Happy New Year!

UPDATE: I am embarrased to report that the final score was 6-0.

Tory 'A' Lister in 24 Hour Orgy Shame

I am ashamed of myself. I have indulged in a 24 hour orgy - and not for the first time. In fact, it's the fifth year in a row I have done it over Christmas. I don't know what comes over me.

Yes folks, I've just finished watching Season 5 of '24' on DVD (hah, gotcha!). Normally, programmes like this never live up to the first series but not this one. It has it all - political intrigue of the first order, heroes and villans, a bit of love interest and the brilliant Kiefer Sutherland. However, the best performance of the series must go to Glenn Morshower who plays President Logan's security agent Aaron Pierce. Totally believeable. The only bit of nitpicking I can come up with is the character of President Charles Logan, who seemed to morph into Richard Nixon as the series progressed. Typical of those Hollywood lefties! The whole thing, like Spooks, rests on the fact that the fate of the whole country seems to rest on the heroism of one person or one group of people. Totally unbelievable, of course, but who cares. '24' is all about escapism and however it may test the viewer's patience from time to time, it leaves you wanting more. Whenever I get to the end of a series of '24', having watched all 24 episodes over three days I get the same sort of withdrawal symptoms I get after returning from an enjoyable holiday.

If you have never watched '24' I highly recommend you get the Series 1 Box Set. I guarantee you will be hooked.

Warning: Am About to Change to Beta Blogger

I am going to attempt to move this blog to Beta Blogger today which may result in a permanent temporary interruption of service. Bear with me.

UPDATE: Panic over. Blogger won't let me do it. They say "While the new version of Blogger is still in beta, some users with certain types of blogs will not be able to switch to it. We will be adding support for these blogs as soon as possible, so everyone can join in the fun. But for now, if you have any of the following on your account, you will need to hold off for a bit:
A very large blog. (More than a couple thousand posts + comments."

Well thanks, guys, that more or less makes up my mind for me. Wordpress here I come.

EXCLUSIVE: Brown Costs Tour Operators £47 Million in Illegal Tax Hike

You will recall the two stories HERE and HERE that I have written in the past week on Gordon Brown's ultra vires airport duty hike. Well here's another one.

It appears that the Treasury's failure to anticipate the need for parliamentary legislation for the rise in airport passenger duty has meant that tour operators are facing a £47 million bill for money they cannot claim back from passengers. The industry is expected to pay the duty for passengers who have already booked their flights way in advance.

Regulation 11 of the Package Travel Regs means that tour operators are unable to surcharge passengers who have already booked, unless the amount of the surcharge exceeds 2% of the holiday price, and only then for the amount by which it exceeds 2%. This means that tour operators will have to absorb the full amount of the cost for the bookings already taken. Taking A C Neilsen data, and interpolating this for the entire industry, it is estimated that approximately 4 million holidays have been sold for departures after 1st February. Accordingly, the tour operator industry is being asked to pay a sum that it cannot recover from customers of £47 million, before any sales directly by airlines is taken into account (according to figured calculated by the Federation of Tour Operators). One you include airlines in the figure it could well top £100 million.

Apparently the airlines and tour operators told the Treasury they would consider refusing to pay the money if they couldn't collect it from their passengers, but the Treasury's typically brutal response was to say that if they refused the legislation would be made retrospective anyway.

The tour operators have pointed out that all previous changes to APD have been undertaken with several months notice. This one has been introduced on 7 weeks notice, which also includes Christmas. Their evidence to the Treasury (which I have seen) says:

"The changes need primary legislation, and we need to understand the timescale for introducing that legislation. It will be challenging to make the necessary changes to the law by 1st February, and we would be extremely concerned if any change was effectively retrospective. Time is required to change systems and prices, and technically, it is questionable whether prices appearing in brochures can be changed at all without committing a criminal offence. Trading standards are inconsistent in their interpretation of this rule, but there are certainly some who would regard any price increase from that advertised in a brochure as constituting an offence."

So a measure proposed by Gordon Brown as a "green tax" is nothing of the sort. It's a classic stealth tax on business and one which could send a couple of tour operators over the edge. Well done Gordon!

UPDATE 2 JAN: The Daily Mail has picked up the story on Page 28. Can't find it on their website though...

Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Last Post on This Blog...Happy New Year!

This is the last post on this blog ever..... in 2006! We're off to Brighton to have dinner with a friend and see in the New Year. Hope you all have a great evening and an even better 2007.

Lord Lambton Dies

Lord Lambton, a former Conservative defence minister who resigned after he was photographed smoking cannabis in bed with two prostitutes, has died at the age of 84. Anthony Lambton was one of two ministers who resigned from Ted Heath's government as a result of sex scandals involving prostitutes. The other was the Leader of the House of Lords Lord Jellicoe. He was forced to resign after pictures of him in bed with the call girls were published in the News of the World. Following an investigation by the security services, he was denied access to secret material because of fears that he was vulnerable to blackmail.

In an interview with Sir Robin Day after he was exposed he was was asked why he used call girls. He said: "I think that people sometimes like variety. I think it's as simple as that and I think that impulse is probably understood by almost everybody. Don't you?"

After his resignation Lambton moved to Italy where he has lived ever since. He was married to Belinda Blew Jones, who died three years ago. They are survived by five children.

Coming in 2007: Battle of the Dave Books

Earlier this year I toyed with the idea of writing a book about David Cameron. In the end I decided to do other things, but in 2007 there will be three books published about the Tory leader. Already there's a little battle developing between the authors of two of them to see who can hit the bookshelves first. Francis Elliott and James Hanning of the Independent on Sunday will probably write the better book, with some interesting new perspectives, but according to their publishers CAMERON: THE RISE OF THE NEW CONSERVATIVE won't appear until the beginning of April, a month after Bruce Anderson's DAVID CAMERON. However, Anderson's book was supposed to have appeared in October so I wouldn't bet my house on it appearing in March. Jo-Anne Nadler is also writing a follow up to TOO NICE TO BE A TORY called THE REGENERATION GAME: CAN DAVID CAMERON REVIVE THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY? but it won't be out until July.

To Those Who BlogScratched Me in 2006, I Salute You!

When I restarted this blog a year ago, I never dreamed it would attract so many readers. So this is to say thank you to everyone who has read the blog and left comments over the last twelve months. The blog has had an unbelievable 2.2 million visits and 1.28 million unique visitors in 2006. And an especially big thank you to all the blogs who link to me - not just in their blogrolls but when they pick up my comments or stories. There's never been a better time to indulge in a bit of blogscratching! These are the blogs who have blogscratched me more than 1,000 times during 2006. I salute them!

UPDATE: As Dizzy points out in the Comments what I really mean is that more than 1,000 people have come to this blog via those listed here. Clear? Thought not.

1. Guido Fawkes 54,880
5. Nick Robinson 3,960
6. Biased BBC 3,955
8. Paul Linford 2,740
10. Arseblog 2,307
11. Liberal England 2,081
13. Witanagemot 1,909
14. EU Referendum 1,849
15. Rightlinks 1,837
16. Recess Monkey 1,768
17. Croydonian 1,763
20. WebCameron 1,483
21. Stephen Pollard 1,316
22. Public Interest 1,274
23. Bob Piper 1,211
25. Prague Tory 1,116
26. Clive Davis 1,037

Top Ten Most Unlikely Predictions for 2007

1. Ming Campbell leaves Lady Elspeth for a Cheeky Boy
2. John McDonnell gets 44 nominations to enable him to run against Gordon Brown
3. The SNP win the Sedgefield By Election
4. Arise Sir John Yates
5. Cherie Blair turns down free holiday to Mustique courtesy of Richard Branson
6. George Pascoe-Watson or Kevin Maguire write a story slagging off Gordon Brown
7. In Shadow Cabinet reshuffle Lord Lawson is appointed Shadow Environment Minister
8. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown concedes that the British Empire might not have been all bad
9. Saddam Hussein spotted at lunch with Elvis and Princess Diana in Little Chef on the A1
10. Bruce Anderson writes column criticising David Cameron

Feel free to add more. You know you want to...

My Top Ten Predictions for 2007

1. More than one person will face charges in the Cash for Peerages Inquiry
2. Sir Ming Campbell will not be leader of the LibDems by the end of the year
3. Ed Vaizey, Jeremy Hunt and Nick Herbert will be promoted to the Shadow Cabinet
4. The Conservative Party 'A' List will be junked, having served its purpose
5. The SNP become the largest Party in Scotland after the May elections but cannot form a coalition
6. A Labour MP and a LibDem MP defect to the Conservatives
7. John Hutton challenges Gordon Brown for the Labour leadership after John Reid wimps out
8. In one of his first acts as PM Brown announces timetable for troop withdrawal from Iraq
9. Depending on the opinion poll bounce from that decision and his honeymoon period, Brown will consider calling a General Election within six months of becoming Prime Minister
10. West Ham will not get relegated

Other bloggers with 2007 predictions include Guido, Dizzy, Jeremy Jacobs.

Can Rudi Giuliani Attract the Big Bucks to Run?

Expect to read a lot about the US Presidential process on this blog in 2007. The 2008 primaries promise to be the most exciting in years. Let me nail my colours to the mast now. I want Rudi Giuliani to be the Republican candidate. I say this because I think he is possibly the only Republican who can restore the party's reputation and drag it back from some of the more extreme elements who control it at the moment. He's a man of vision and courage whose leadership skills have been tried and tested in the most difficult circumstances imaginable.

Yes, he has personal weaknesses and some decidedly liberal views on social issues which will be anathema to Christian fundamentalists, but hopefully even they will be able to see the wider picture.

But there is a view among Republican commentators that is worrying me. Friends of mine in Washington seem unanimous in their view that Giuliani won't get very far because he won't be able to raise the necessary cash to fund his campaign. The big bucks are already going to John McCain, which bearing in mind his own liberal views on social issues, is odd. Surely if McCain can attract the money, Giuliani ought to be able to as well? What am I missing?

Good Year Bad Year

So how was 2006 for you? Good or bad? YouGov has an interesting survey today in the Sunday Times which reports that 40% of people in this country say they have had a good year, 24% bad, with the remainder saying it has been neither good nor bad. However, when asked if 2006 had been a good year for Britain or not, only 7% said it had been a good year, while 55% thought it had been a bad one. The article can be readh HERE.

These statistics reflect my own position. 2006 has been a good year for me (after 2005, it could hardly have been worse!) but I do think it has been a bad year for the country. If I were a Labour strategist I'd be deeply concerned by this poll, as it seems to reflect the findings of Philip Gould's leaked memo last week. Traditionally people turn against a government because of economic circumstances which affect them badly. If the findings of this poll are anything to go by it is social issues which may be the trigger in 2007. Anti social behaviour and the level of immigration now outrank financial considerations as the issues which concern people most on a day to day basis. Only 24% have an optimistic outlook about Britain's prospects for 2007. 58% are pessimistic.

Still, that eternal optimist Gordon Brown will know how to shake us out of our gloom, won't he?!

Saddam: Should the Pictures Have Been Shown?

All the newspapers have one story today - unsurprisingly it is the hanging of Saddam Hussein. On the News 24 paper review last night I had a disagreement with my fellow studio guest Kate Bevan (from the FT) who clearly thought the media shouldn't have shown the pictures. My view is that it is important to show them, particualrly in Iraq, where some people won't actually believe he is dead until they see physical evidence of it. Remember the Ceaucescus? Their execution was filmed for one reason - to convince Romanians that he had gone.

We also had a debate about whether it was right for him to be given the death penalty. Kate naturally thought it was barbaric. My view is that it frankly hasn't got anything to do with us. He was sentenced to death under the Iraqi legal system without, so far as anyone can tell, outside interference. My only slight discomfort at the fact that he has been hanged came when I was listening to a Radio 5 Live discussion. They had a Kurdish lady on, who said that she and her people felt cheated. While he had been hanged for his role in killing 182 people following a failed assassination attempt, he had not yet been put on trial for his role in killing hundreds of thousands of Kurds. Now he never would be. I must admit that she has a very good point. The end result would have been the same, but the Kurdish people would have felt that their own case had been heard properly. Now, it may never be.

COMING LATER: My predictions for 2007.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ivan Lewis MP: Hypocrite of the Year

Until his morning I had never heard of junior Labour Health Minister Ivan Lewis and the MP for the highly marginal seat of Bury South. But not only has he emulated his Party Chairman in protesting against his own government's health service cuts, he's gone one stage further in the race among Labour MPs to be crowned 'Hypocrite of the Year'.

Not only is Ivan Lewis a junior minister at the Department of Health, he is listed on the Department of Health Website as being responsible for 'maternity services'. So the very policy he himself has drafted and is implementing is the one which he is protesting against in his own constituency. You really couldn't make this up, could you? Joined up government? Don't make me laugh.

According to the newspapers this morning, seven Labour Ministers have protested publicly about government policy affecting their own constituency. In days gone by they would have found it proper and necessary to resign. And we wonder why voters think politicians are hypocrites. Ivan Lewis is a prime example.

On the Media Today

11am Radio 4, TALKING POLITICS with Peter Hitchens, Joan Smith & Simon Heffer
11pm Radio 5 Live discussing sentencing policy
11.45pm BBC News 24 newspaper review

Friday, December 29, 2006

End of the Year Awards - The Political Results

1. David Davis 25%
2. William Hague 20%
3. George Osborne 10%
4. Theresa Villers 7%
5. Alan Duncan 7%
1. Hilary Benn 23%
2. John Prescott 19%
3. John Reid 15%
4. Jack Straw 8%
5. John Hutton 4%
= Hazel Blears 4%
1. Iain Duncan Smith 22%
3. Jeremy Hunt 13%
4. Michael Gove 9%
5. Sir Peter Tapsell 7%
1. Lembit Opik 28%
2. Mark Oaten 17%
3. Nick Clegg 14%
4. Chris Huhne 11%
5. Vince Cable 4%

Quotes of the Day

"These teams of ours do not come from a self-confident, buoyant nation-state. They come from a rottenly-led, degenerate, devolved regional province of the Brussels-based EU" - Author Frederick Forsyth, on our failures at rugby, football and cricket.
"Peers of the realm face a shaky future which, as reform of the House of Lords plods on, will get shakier still" - Tory peer Lord Deedes.
"Why bother voting? What is the point of placing your cross next to the name of this or that candidate when four out of every five laws adopted by Britain are proposed, not just by people that you didn't vote for, but by EU officials whom nobody voted for?" - Tory MEP Daniel Hannan.
"People ask me what I will be remembered for. I will be remembered for my trees. My arboretum will be my legacy" - Lord Heseltine, former Tory deputy Prime Minister.
"If telly vice in your room not perform, do not investigate with screw pusher, you may get shocking electrics. Instead attack hotel electric man" - Warning notice in Tokyo hotel.

Labour Supporters Call on Hazel Blears to Resign

Hazel Blears is not the first Cabinet Minister to appear at a protest against their own Government's policies. John Reid and Jacqui Smith beat her to it. But it does take some brass face to appear on a picket line at a hospital you are at least in part responsible for closing. She protests that she is doing it in her role as a constituency MP, but that argument just doesn't wash. Many believe that if she felt so strongly, rather than just having private little chats with Patricia Hewitt about 'heat maps' concerning hospital closures in marginal seats, she should resign.

Paul Linford disagrees. He writes: I have always regarded Hazel Blears as a just another shameless New Labour careerist, but perhaps there is more to her after all. She has certainly gone up in my estimation this week, and more importantly, I suspect she will also have gone up in the estimation of thousands of Labour members with votes in the party's deputy leadership election.

And there we have it. Could this be the real reason for Ms Blears putting her nose above the parapet? Well, if so, she need only look at THIS thread on LabourHome to see the reaction of some Labour members. They are not impressed. Not impressed at all.

I suspect that Ms Blears is rather more worried about her political future closer to home than the Deputy leadership. She's taken a calculated gamble, and the gamble is that local Labour Party members will view her move positively and help her be selected for her much redrawn seat. Hmmm. Not so sure.

For Us Tommies, Ze War Iz Over

Liberal Burblings alerts me to THIS story in The Guardian today, which reports that today we have repaid the final installment of the loans taken out by the Attlee government just after the war. By 1950 our national debt amounted to 200% of our GDP, compared to 36% today. The Guardian reports...

In 1945 Britain borrowed $4.34bn from the US consisting of a
$3.75bn line of credit and a "lend-lease" loan facility of $586m. The following
year the government agreed a $1.185bn line of credit loan from Canada. The money
was primarily designed to assist in the post-war reconstruction of Britain's
exhausted economy and shattered infrastructure. But the lend-lease loan related
to wartime supplies already in transit from the US under President Franklin D
Roosevelt's programme of the same name which began in 1941 and which ended
abruptly shortly after VJ Day in 1945. Roosevelt famously said the scheme was
like lending a neighbour a hosepipe to put out a fire. It marked a significant
step away from America's post-first world war isolationism.

The final payments today to the United States and Canada, are $83.25m and $22.7m respectively. Part of me thinks these loans should have been reassigned to Germany as soon as the Witschaftswunder was underway...

Polls, Two Party Politics & Why the LibDems Have a Problem

Several readers have asked me why I haven't mentioned a couple of opinion polls. One being the poll in today's Independent which shows the LibDems down at 14% and a Labour lead of 1%. Last month the reported lead was 2%. To be honest I tend to look for trends in polls, while I also obviously take delight in polls which show large Tory leads.

YouGov and ICM have consistently shown the Tories at 36-41%, while Populus show smaller leads and MORI have been inconsistent. The trend in all polls show the LibDems declining in support, although I don't believe the 14% figure for a moment. As we look forward to 2007 it seems to be that the true level of Tory support is around 37-38%, Labour are on 32-33% and the LibDems are on 18-19%.

It seems to me that by the middle of the year the Tories should be polling 38-42% to be confident that they are on course. If that is to happen I expect LibDem support to decline a per centage point or two. I do not expect Labour to go down much more than 31-32%.

Of course the big question is this: what will happen when Gordon Brown takes over? My instinct is that he may well get a honeymoon bounce of a few per centage points, but this may well come at the expense of the LibDems. At the moment the LibDems have managed to end a difficult year in better fettle than they could reasonably have expected. But this is largely because they have replaced their exiting Tory supporters with disaffected Labour voters. Picture a turnstile with Labour voters entering the LibDem turnstile and Tories exiting. That steady flow of disaffected Labour supporters may well dry up once Brown becomes Labour leader.

If I'm right we could expect to see a gradual return to two party politics. Or not. The fact is that it can never quite happen like that as long as the fringe parties continue to grow in support. In the 1970s and 1980s voters mainly had a choice of two parties, or possibly the Liberals. Now there are UKIP, the Greens, the BNP, the nationalist parties in Wales and Scotland to whom devolution has given an unexpected boost.

And that explains why it will be difficult for any Party to ever poll more than the low forties. This means that one of the key Tory strategies over the two years before the election must be to convince people of this self evident fact:

The only way to get rid of Gordon Brown is to vote for David Cameron

Expect to hear a lot of that in the run-up to the election.

Three More LibDem Candidates Join Conservatives

It's not a good day for the LibDems. They are at their lowest poll ratings in months - 14% with Communicate Research today - and it's just been announved that three Liberal Democrats who stood in the 2005 General Election as parliamentary candidates have today joined the Conservative Party. This makes a total of six former Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidates to join the Conservatives in the last 12 months.

Richard Porter stood in Camberwell and Peckham in 2005 and wrote the Liberal Democrat manifesto for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community in the 2005 general election. Richard said: “Ming Campbell is a ‘has-been’ and since he has been in control of the party, they have been stuck firmly in reverse gear. After the election, I took time out to reflect on my own personal beliefs and values. Previously I thought that these values were best represented by the Liberal Democrats but I now believe that the principles of freedom from state interference, personal freedom, the environment and civil liberties are all areas where the Conservative Party leads the way.

John Barstow, a shop steward for USDAW and Liberal Democrat PPC in Tonbridge and Malling in 2005 said: "I have joined the Conservative Party because I sincerely believe David Cameron is the right person to be Prime Minister. And that I am a natural Conservative in the great One Nation tradition, proudly conserving what is best and well tried and taking decisive action to eradicate black spots of despair and unemployment within the United Kingdom. The Liberal Democrats are bland, formulaic and out of touch with real life."

Dr Tariq Mahmood, a physician, consultant gastroenterologist and honorary senior lecturer at the University of London, stood in Uxbridge as the Liberal Democrat candidate in 2005. He also works as a TV presenter on the ARY Digital channel. Tariq said: “Under the leadership of David Cameron I have seen that the Party is moving forward. There is now a real possibility for the Conservative Party.

During the course of 2006 three former Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidates have joined the Conservatives. Today’s recruits make seven in all, joining Adrian Childs, former Liberal Democrat candidate for West Suffolk, Jeff Clarke, former Liberal Democrat candidate for West Wirral, Rene Kinsett, former Liberal Democrat candidate for Swansea West and Tim Perkins, Salford Councillor and former LibDem Candidate for Bolton West.

UPDATE: It's 7.50pm and not a single LibDem blog has commented on this story yet. Strange, eh? Can you imagine the crowing there would be if it had been three Tory candidates going the other way?!

Tories Hail Green Hero Al Gore...And Arnie S

I know it's a light news week, but after the release of a list of Great Britons which included Aneurin Bevan but not Winston Churchill, you might have thought that a lesson would have been learned. Oh no. Hot off the press is the Conservative Party's Envorinmental Heroes and Zeros of 2006. Among the heroes of Keely Hazell, a page 3 girl "for going Green in 2006 and for offering helpful tips (that's TIPS...) on how to help fight global warming".

Another Conservative hero is Al Gore "for his film An Inconvenient Truth, which brought home the threat of climate change to millions of people". He is joined on the list by Sir Nicholas Stern "for authoritatively placing an economic cost on the threat of climate change and for asserting the need for action in the clearest terms". Arnold Schwarzenegger is a hero "for making California the first US State to put greenhouse gas reductions into State law". And just for good measure they thrown in Labour MP Colin Challen "for his energetic work as Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group". That should do him a lot of good in his reselection battle with Ed Balls...

Anti heroes in the list include Exxon "for continuing to fund 'think tanks' which deny that human activity is contributing to climate change", Ryan Air's Michael O'Leary, the Competitive Enterprise Institute "for responding to Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" with an ad campaign with the strap-line " Carbon Dioxide: they call it pollution. We call it Life"". They are joined by Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander "for an aviation policy that is totally inconsistent with the Government’s supposed attempts to tackle climate change".

This, of course, begs the question: how would a Conservative Aviation policy be different? The implication is that aircraft will be taxed out of the skies as cheap fares are consigned to the dustbin of history. I hope when the Quality of Life policy commission reports later in 2007 that it will look at green incentives rather than a whole plethora of green taxes, as Dizzy suggests HERE and HERE...

"There is no incentive present when you use tax to punish people into changing their ways. Genuine incentives do not use negativity (in this case financial pain) as a means to an end. Attempting to draw a distinction between increased tax and incentives is like arguing in favour of torture because it provides an incentive to talk. Incentives are positive benefits that are acheived from a neutral status-quo position. You do not move the goalposts then ask for money as an incentive to move them back, there is only one name for that, and it's blackmail. To argue as Miliband does is at best disingenuous, and at worst intellectually fatuous."

Shadow Environment Secretary Peter Ainsworth comments on the list:

“2006 was the year when the environment took its rightful place at the centre of British
politics. It became a fact not worth disputing that climate change is an enormous issue requiring urgent action if we are to prevent an ecological, economic and social catastrophe, and if the UK is to reap the potential rewards of green growth. This list is by no means comprehensive, but takes a look at some of those who have been a part of the solution in 2006, and some who are still part of the problem – in the hope that they will do better next

Let me make it clear. Al Gore is no hero of mine. Never was. Never will be. Arnie, on the other hand...

PM's Political Secretary Interviewed by Police

Inspector Yates's Cash for Peerages Inquiry shows no sign of slowing down. I hear that the Prime Minister's Political Secretary John McTernan was interviewed yesterday over gaps in an email chain. He was, unlike the Prime Minister, interviewed under caution.

New Book of Political Quotations

Over the next few days I will be compiling a book of Political Quotations, which will be published in the Spring by Harriman House. It will be a collection of 500 of my favourite quotations and I'll be dividing it up into sections like Prime Ministers, Conservatives, Socialists, Liberals, Insults & Put Downs, Witty, Inspirational etc. If there are any quotations you would like to contribute to the book, which you find particularly incisive, please do leave them in the Comments. I'm especially interested in quotations made in the last ten years. Is it just me, or has political rhetoric become less memorable recently?!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Blair Reneges on Promise to Ban Extremist Group

Hizb ut-Tahrir is an extremist group which the Pakistani government saw fit to ban three years ago. It is also banned in Canada. As recently as three months ago Tony Blair made a promise to President Musharraf that he would ban the group in Britain too. But, surprise, surprise, it has been decided not to ban them after all. According to the EU Referendum blog, which is usually well informed in these matters...

Despite public concerns about Hizb ut-Tahrir's perceived extremism, Home
Office lawyers, the Foreign Office and representatives of the Association of
Chief Police Officers have quietly lobbied against outlawing the group and have,
for now, won the argument."If there was evidence for proscribing Hizb ut-Tahrir,
we would support a move to proscribe it," said Rob Beckley, Acpo lead for
communities and counter-terrorism. "But we think such a move would be
counter-productive and not in the spirit of the government's [anti-terrorism]
legislation. It is not an offence to hold extreme views."

No, indeed not. But why then did Tony Blair promise to ban them in the first place? Another case of talking tough and acting weak? Surely not.

Quotes of the Day

"I was intrigued to read the headline that 'Panel of ordinary people to have a say on policy'. Who else can sit on panels?" - Roger Sansom, of Hainault, Essex, in a letter to The Times.
"Not suitable for children aged 36 months or less" - Advice notice on a birthday card for a one-year-old.
"It is time someone had the guts to say No to Nintendo. It is time to Garotte the Game Boy and Paralyse the PlayStation, and it is about time we admitted the catastrophic effect these blasted gizmos are having on the literacy and the prospects of young males" - Tory MP Boris Johnson.
"Truth is the glue that holds governments together. Compromise is the oil that makes governments go" - The late US President Gerald Ford had a message for today's politicians.
"No matter how funky, sexy and innovative a musician James Brown may have been, he was undoubtedly as mad as a bag of snakes" - Writer Will Self on the soul singer who died over Christmas.

End of the Year Awards - The Media Results

Over the past few weeks you have been voting in your thousands in my End of Year Political & Media Polls. The media ones are listed below and the political ones will be posted tomorrow.

1. Matthew Parris 19%
2. Boris Johnson 15%
3. Peter Hitchens 7%
4. Michael Portillo 7%
5. Matthew D'Ancona 6%
= Peter Oborne 6%
1. Politics Show 23%
2. This Week 21%
3. Newsnight 16%
4. Daily Politics 13%
5. Question Time 10%
1. Andrew Neil 20%
2. Nick Robinson 19%
3. Martha Kearney 7%
4. Michael Crick 7%
5. Andrew Marr 7%
1. Patrick Hennessy 16%
2. Julia Hartley-Brewer 14%
3. Gaby Hinsliff 11%
= Melissa Kite 11%
5. Simon Walters 10%
1. George Jones 28%
2. Michael White 20%
3. Andrew Pierce 10%
4. Sam Coates 8%
5. Patrick Wintour 5%

Prove You Are a Political Anorak

Have you taken the Guardian End of Year QUIZ? I scored 22 out of 25 and am feeling smug. And while I did it I was watching Multi Coloured Swap Shop on BBC2. Memories! I appeared on it at the age of 15 with a photo of a toilet sign in Cambridge which said SHORT STAY TOILETS - P (ie the P for Parking sign). Trust me, the photo was funnier...

Former Tory Minister Dies

Former Tory Minister John Butcher has died suddenly at the age of 60. He sat for Coventry South West between 1979 and 1997 and served as a Minister under Margaret Thatcher at the Departments of Education and Industry. He had a heart attack while out walking in the Lake District with his family over Christmas. After standing down from Parliament in 1997 Butcher built up a number of business interests and worked Institute of Directors. He was an active member of the Midlands Industrial Council and lived in Solihull. He leaves a wife, two daughters and a son.

EXCLUSIVE: Airlines Want Passengers to Complain About Brown's Ultra Vires Airport Tax Hike

A week ago I wrote THIS story about a cock up by Gordon Brown and the Treasury about their failure to legislate for the new rise in Airport taxes. In theory this means that airlines have no duty to levy the tax and passengers do not have to pay it until Parliament approves the necessary legislation. During a quiet news period I had hoped that this would be picked up by the national press, but in fact only the Daily Telegraph reported it the next day.

I now understand that the airlines were expecting the whole media to be up in arms about it too and that they would get huge numbers of complaints from the public, but so far there has been a whimper. I'm told they are looking for an excuse not to levy the charge and would positively welcome lots of complaints to give them the pretext. So unless there's a media backlash in the next few days it will be too late, as I am sure the Treasury are already drafting the legislation which they will push through as soon as the Commons returns in the New Year. Interestingly, there are also rumours that it may be possible for any passenger who has already been charged with this levy to reclaim it. If this is so the government's only way of closing this loophole would be to intriduce retrospective legislation, something which always causes a huge parliamentary rumpus.

Talking Politics with Heffer and Hitchens

I've just got back from taking part in a Radio 4 programme called TALKING POLITICS, which will be transmitted on Saturday at 11am. My fellow panelists were Joan Smith from the Independent, Simon Heffer and Peter Hitchens. I don't know if I was imagining it or not, but I got the distinct impression that both Heffer and Hitchens were starting to mellow a bit in their anti-Cameron criticism. I think there is a fine line between criticising everything for the sake of it and being constructive. I detected a willingness to be more constructive from both of them. I hope 2007 will prove me right!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Blair in Holidays for Honours

Could it soon be Arise Sir Robin Gibb? Tony Blair is continuing his habit of blagging freebie holidays from those who are either celebrities or those with honours, or preferably both. This New Year he's in Florida with Bee Gee Robin Gibb CBE. He's obviously gone downmarket this year, normally preferring to stay with the beknighted Sir Clifford Richard of this parish. It's reasonable to assume that Blair won't be serenaded with the 1987 Bee Gees Hit 'You Win Again'. More likely their 1981 song 'He's a Liar'.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Labour MP a Year Behind the Times

Constituents of Luton Labour MP Margaret Moran will no doubt have been delighted to receive Christmas cards from her, albeit they all had a 2006 calendar on the back of them, which had been struck through with a felt pen. I wonder who paid for these cards - Margaret Moran or you, the poor bloody taxpayer. Whoever it was should be demanding their money back.

UPDATE: A correspondent writes: From in 2004-5 Margaret Moran had the 2nd highest expenses of any MP (£168,567)(despite having a constituency local to London and therefore low travel). Her postal expenses that year were £35,347, the 4th highest of all MPs".

Wonder why that could be then.

Christmas Quote of the Day

From my Godmother...

"Your Christmas tree doesn't look as pretty as it did when I had cateracts..."

Monday, December 25, 2006

A Christmas Without Nick

I wasn't going to post anything today, but I have just read an article by Nick Clarke's wife Barbara Want in the Sunday Times News Review about Christmas without him, and how her two children are coping. You can read the whole thing HERE. Prepare to have a tissue to hand. Here's how it ends.

Christmas Day, though, has to be the exception. Perfection will be the order of the day. I will smile on Christmas Day — for the boys. I will not let them see my tears. I will sing and dance, pull crackers and tear wrapping paper. And I will do it well. They will never know how hard it will have been, and why should they? Christmas is for children and these two fatherless four-year-olds deserve to have a good one. At the end of the day, though, there will be nobody to congratulate me on what I’ll have done. Nick won’t be there with a hug and an indulgent smile of congratulation. So I shall go to bed, our bed, on my own, and bury my face in the jumper he wore when he died and sob. And sob. But I’ll try to remember that there are tens of thousands of others who will also be facing their first Christmas without their loved one, and who will be feeling the same. I share with them the words of comfort I heard from my bereavement counsellor: you really will feel stronger by the time you get to Christmas next year.

Those of us who have reached our forties without ever experiencing the pain of losing a partner, parent or sibling cannot begin to understand what Barbara is going through today. Her kids are so very lucky to have such a mother.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Happy Christmas To You All

I'm spending Christmas at my parents near Saffron Walden in Essex. Today I went into the town to do a bit of last minute shopping. It was a bit like the movie Back to the Future. I went into a menswear shop which I used to get my school uniform from to find that the three staff there were the same people that were there thiry years ago - they just looked rather older, as do I! Indeed, one of them was at school with me and we had one of those awkward moments when neither of us wanted to acknowledge the fact. Anyway, I bought several very colourful ties - made a change from school uniform. This evening has been spent wrapping up presents, something I hate doing it, largely because I am totally useless at it. Never was so much paper wasted...

Anyway, this will probably be the last blog post until Wednesday. Even I am not sad enough to blog much on Christmas Day, and Boxing Day will be spent largely at West Ham and visiting friends in East Sussex.

A very merry Christmas to everyone who has been a loyal reader of this blog during 2006. It's been quite a year, hasn't it?

The Top Ten Nicest MPs

Kerron Cross is an all round good guy. He's so nice in fact that he's just compiled his list of his Top Ten Nicest MPs and has emailed to ask if I fancy doing the same. Well for lack of anything better to do on a very tedious Christmas Eve in the wilds of Essex (more of which later), here goes. Naturally I am more predisposed to doing my Top Ten Nastiest MPs, but that will have to wait for another day... Anyway, these ten are in no particular order...

Dominic Grieve (Con)
Shadow Attorney General, a more honest and fastidious MP you could not hope to come across. He was an absolute pleasure to work with when I was working for David Davis.

Nick Clegg (LibDem)
Maybe disproving the theory that nice guys never make it to the top. Great sense of humour

Martin Horwood (LibDem)
First met him when he worked for the Alzheimers Society - quiet, a bit studious and gives me the impression of can't quite believing his luck that he has made it to the green benches. Not a bad attitdue to have.

Andrew MacKinlay (Lab)
A genuine Parliamentarian. I have known him for 15 years and have a huge respect for him.

James Brokenshire (Con)
Newly elected MP for Hornchurch, a real family man who is liked by all that come into contact with him. Deservedly promoted in front bench reshuffle.

Angus MacNeil (SNP)
Wicked sense of humour and fun to be with. His work on Cash for Peerages has upped his profile but he remains loyal to his crofting roots.

Greg Clark (Con)
My local MP in Tunbridge Wells, until his Toynbee remarks didn't have an enemy in the world! Genuinely caring and deserves to reach the top.

David Lidington (Con)
Seems to smile permanently and has an infectious laugh. Has done a great job as Northern Ireland spokesman.

Angela Smith (Lab)
I knew her a bit when I ran Politico's and she was first elected for Basildon in 1997. Great sense of humour and fun to be with.

Hilary Benn (Lab)
If Labour had any sense, he'd be their next leader rather than the Dour One. The perfect antidote to New Labour spin, he's a genuinely nice guy.

Naturally I'm sure you will want to leave your own nominations in the Comments...

UPDATE: And for those of you devoid of the Christmas spirit, vote in the Wonko's World T**t of the Year poll HERE.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

It Shouldn't Happen to an ITV Celebrity

Tonight's ITV schedule...

6.40 Celebrity Family Fortunes
7.30 Downfall of a Celebrity: Gareth Gates
8.30 Celebrity Who Wants to be a Millionaire
9.30 Celebrity Stars in Their Eyes
10.30 Michael Parkinson talking to, er, celebrities

Whoever ITV's scheduler is, they should be fired. Is it any surprise they are in trouble if this is the best they can come up with on the night before Christmas Eve?

The Fred Elliott Guide to Political Speak

I say, it's the Fred Elliott guide... (courtesy of Jimbo Jones).

Person 1: I hear you like it rough?
Person 2: What?"!
Person 1: I said that was a great speech by Peter Luff.

Person 2: What? How dare you???
Person 1: What.... I just said that I would love to work for Crispin Blunt.

Jowell Plays Politics With English Heritage

It should come as no surprise that Tessa Jowell has vetoed both Jonathan Marland and Penny Cobham for the top job at English Heritage. After all, it was only a couple of weeks she announced the makeup of the Big Lottery Board, which contained six card carrying Labour members and not a single Tory or LibDem in sight. I have no idea what Marland's or Cobham's qualifications were for the job but they had gone through an independent selection process and were both recommended to Jowell to choose between.

Having said all that, the fact that Penny Cobham chooses to live with that old relic David Mellor indicates that she might have an edge over Marland, I suppose. She's obvious a lover of ugly ancient monuments which are decaying round the edges. Saucer of milk, anyone?

Sir Ian Blair's Scare Tactics Must Not Be Allowed to Work

In their latest attempt to scare the living daylights out of the British people John Reid and Sir Ian Blair tell us that the prospect of an attempted terrorist attack is "ever present, of an unparalleld nature and growing." Sir Ian adds for good measure "it is a far graver threat in terms of civilians than either the Cold War or the Second World War." Come again? The entire civilian population was at risk from nuclear attack in the Cold War and civilian casualties in London during World War II amounted to tens of thousands. Sir Ian should know that careless talk costs lives. Language like this is pathetic and smacks of crying wolf.

The government operates a system of alerts on terrorist threats and it has been set at SEVERE since July 2005. I am beginning to question why this is. It is appalling to accuse the government of trying to scare the population into accepting yet more draconian anti-terror legislation, but that's what appears to be happening. We mustn't let them succeed.

Gordon Brown's Record Tax Burden

Figures from the Office of National Statistics prove what most of us have known for some time, we're paying higher taxes than at any time in living memory. In 1997 we paid 18.7%, yet in 2006 a record 23.6p of every £1 earned is taken - and that's before Council tax, VAT, car and petrol tax etc. Last year the tax burden rose by 6.7%, outstripping wage increases of 4.6%.
And yet we are being told that our economy is performing brilliantly, that everything in the garden is rosy. If that were so, taxes would be coming down, not going up.

This is a major opportunity for the Conservatives to exploit in 2007. Let's hope they grab it.

Friday, December 22, 2006

18 Doughty Street 24 Hour Christmas Schedule

18 Doughty Street will be on air 24 hours a day between now and January 8th when our live schedule resumes. Just click HERE to view now. This is our 24 hour programme schedule for the next few days… You can also access most of our other programmes though the new Doughty on Demand facility.

0.00 One to One with Iain Duncan Smith
0.30 One to One with Gillian Shephard
01.30 Up Front: Europe & Business with Tim Montgomerie
02.00 Your Money: Green Tax & Public Sector Rich List
02.25 Vox Politix: Douglas Carswell MP & David Torrance
03.25 One to One with Don Brash
03.55 Conservatism in America
04.50 Culture Clash: Borat, The Archers & TV Talent Shows
05.20 Vox Politix with Ann Widdecombe
06.20 Vox Politix: The A List debate with Ann Widdecombe v Bernard Jenkin
06.50 David Cameron: Year 2 - A discussion
07.45 Vox Politix with Chris Mullin MP
08.45 Vox Politix with Francis Maude MP
09.45 One to One with Australian Prime Minister John Howard
10.45 One to One with Professor Peter Hennessy
11.45 One to One with Stephen Twigg
12.45 Vox Politix Scottish Evening with David Mundell MP and Jo Swinson MP
13.50 One to One with SNP MP Angus MacNeil
14.20 Leftfield with Rena Valeh
14.50 Vox Politix with UKIP leader Nigel Farage
15.50 One to One with Ian Bremmer, author of the J Curve
16.21 Vox Politix, including an interview with David Davis
18.25 One to One with Lord Pearson of Rannoch
18.55 One to One with Professor Peter Hennessy
19.55 One to One with Nigel Cameron
20.25 World View: Russia, Friend or Foe
20.50 Brought to Book with Michael Dobbs
21.20 Up Front
21.50 Brought to Book with Michael Ashcroft
22.15 Vox Politix with Andrew MacKinlay MP and John Redwood MP
23.20 World View: Iran - Sleepwalking to disaster?