Saturday, March 31, 2007

Britannia Ruled the Waves

A reader emails me THIS link to an article in the New York Post headlined HOSTAGE SAILORS - BRITAIN'S IMPOTENCE. It says that the current crisis in Iran demonstrates how weak the British Navy has become and that HMS Cornwall should have blasted the Iranian abductors out of the water.

Whatever sympathy I might have for gunboat diplomacy is somewhat diminished by thinking that had they done just that it might well have triggered something far more dangerous. Remember August 1914, anyone?

From West Ham to Worricker

Oh what fun it is to see, West Ham win away... or indeed at home. And this afternoon Dizzy, my 18 Doughty Street colleague Mike Rouse and I did just that. Oh and Home Office Minister Tony McNulty did too - he even waved at me (with all five fingers) from the Director's Box.

My match report can be read HERE on my West Ham Blog for those who are interested - Dizzy has his take on the afternoon HERE - and I deny absolutely all his allegations about my accent. Mike Rouse had never been to a football match before and he has written it up on his blog HERE. He seemed surprised that I became boisterous. Funny, I always thought I was like that at work...

After the match I went for a meal at an excellent Mexican Restaurant in Islington called Desperado's (a reader informs me this used to be Granita!) with my fellow Hammer Jo Phillips. Jo used to be my broadcasting agent and was the producer of 5 Live's much missed Sunday Service, which I occasionally used to co-present with Fi Glover and Charlie Whelan. She's a good mate and it was good to catch up on her news. She now works for Bob Geldof's Ten Alps Broadcasting.

FYI: I'm doing the papers on News 24 at 11.45pm tonight, and I'll be on Radio 5's Worricker Programme from 10am till 1pm tomorrow.

Am I a Biased Hypocrite?

Several people have tried to goad me into commenting on Sir Philip Mawer's report which rapped David Cameron over the knuckles for using his office for party political fundraising. I suppose by even writing that sentence they have succeeded. But it does raise a wider question about the role of blogs like this. The fact that I didn't write a post on the subject seemed to some to question my 'independence'. To others it rendered me a hypocrite as I am only too keen to point our the errors of politicians outside my own Party. I'd like to make a couple of observations.

Firstly, I am not, and have never pretended to be, an 'independent' observer of news events. I have always made my political allegiances quite clear and anyone reads this blog reads it through the prism of me being an active Conservative supporter. That does not blind me to the failings of my party, but it does mean that I don't feel it necessary to always highlight them. There are plenty of other people on left of centre blogs that do that. Regular readers will know, however, that I do not hesitate to criticise on issues I feel strongly about (c.f Quentin Davies on the Incumbency allowance).

Secondly, I am not a news journalist and this is not a News Blog. It is primarily a vehicle for me to comment and spark a debate. I do not write about every development that takes place in politics, or every issue that comes up. I do not spend every waking hour writing this blog. I spent less than an hour a day on it, generally. I write about things which are of interest to me and on which I have something to say.

Thirdly, several people have said it was hypocritical of me to criticise Stephen Timms HERE while not criticising David Cameron. Of course, if you read the story you will see that I wasn't having a go at Stephen Timms at all - I was questioning why London for Business were not more upfront that they were a 'front organisation' for the Labour Party.

Readers may like to note this comment from Rob Fenwick, the editor of LibDem Voice HERE where he says...
I have to say (I also said this on Norfolk Blogger’s blog this
morning) I agree with Iain on this. We’re party political bloggers, not
impartial news agencies.

Finally, I did actually comment on the Cameron issue in a Comment thread. I said that I deplore anything which has the slightest hint of cash for access and I was glad that David Cameron had issued an immediate apology - something which several Labour MPs have failed to do in similar circumstances.

Brown's Reputation is Unravelling

It's not been a good couple of weeks for the Great Clunking Fist. First there was his budget, and now comes the revelation that he was warned by Treasury officials of the consequences of the cost of his pensions raids in 1997. Ed Balls appeared on the Today Programme this morning and gave another supercilously arrogant performance in which he denied having received such advice.

This single decision, the ultimate stealth tax, turned Britain's pensions system from being oneof the best in the world to one of the worst. It also hit the poorest in society the most - as Brown was warned at the time it would. What kind of Chancellor ignores that kind of advice?

Margaret Beckett gives David 'Milibland' some advice today. She says he would be offering himself up as a human sacrifice if he stood against Gordon Brown. Rather like herself when she stood against Tony Blair in 1994 then.

As he reads the papers over his Weetabix this morning Miliband could be forgiven if he felt that Gordon Brown's reputation was unravelling before his very eyes.

Something for the Weekend...

In case you have a quiet weekend ahead and have nothing better to do, here are links to some of the best programmes we've done on 18 Doughty Street this week. Can I recommend the two interviews with John Nott to you?

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Shadow Cabinet Media Tarts List

Stephen Tall has compiled a ranking of all LibDem MPs based on the number of press mentions over the last three months on Lexis Nexis. It's quite a useful way of measuring the impact a politician has, particularly those on the front bench. So, ever one to nick a good idea, I thought I'd look at the Conservative Shadow Cabinet's mentions on the Press Association Newswire service during March. Obviously you can't just judge someone's performance by the number of times someone appears in the press, but it's interesting anyway.

1. Andrew Lansley 47
2. David Davis 45
3. George Osborne 41
4. William Hague 31
5. Theresa May 28
6. Liam Fox 25
7. David Mundell 17
8. David Willetts 16
9. Cheryl Gillan 15
10. Francis Maude 14
11. Oliver Heald 12
12. Alan Duncan 12
13. Oliver Letwin 11
14. Caroline Spelman 10
15. Hugo Swire 10
16. Theresa Villiers 8
17. David Lidington 8
18. Lord Strathclyde 7
19. Peter Ainsworth 6
20. Chris Grayling 6
21. Andrew Mitchell 5
22. Philip Hammond 4

Bearing in mind the profile on environmental issues and pensions Peter Ainsworth and Philip Hammond ought to be far higher.

Anyone know how much a Lexis Nexis subscription costs?

UPDATE: A reader has done a similar job with Lexis Nexis for mentions over the last three months to reflect the method used by Stephen Tall.

1. David Davis 1197
2. George Osborne 853
3. William Hague 562
4. Liam Fox 378
5. Chris Grayling 311
6. Andrew Lansley 269
7. Hugo Swire 206
8. Caroline Spelman 178
9. Peter Ainsworth 171
10. David Willetts 154
11. Philip Hammond 139
12. Cheryl Gillan 139
13. Theresa May 133
14. David Mundell 129
15. Alan Duncan 128
16. Francis Maude 124
17. Oliver Heald 105
18. Oliver Letwin 94
19. Lord Strathclyde 65
20. Andrew Mitchell 57
21. David Lidington 53
22. Theresa Villiers 28

Bush at White House Correspondents Dinner

Every year the White House Press Corps holds a dinner where they invite politicians to make fools of themselves make a funny speech or do a comedy routine. The President is always expected to take part. Here's his effort this week...



And if you want to see Karl Rove rapping... click HERE.

Bye Bye Lord Falconer

The Sun speculates that Gordon Brown will make Geoff Hoon the new Secretary of State for Justice if he becomes PM. John Reid made clear yesterday that the holder of the office would need to come from the House of Commons, so it's bye bye Charlie Falconer. The gossip around the House of Commons yesterday was that Jack Straw would be favourite for the job.

Of course the big question is how long John Reid will stay in his job. He thinks he's going to be the long term National Security supremo. My prediction is that his tenure in the job will last a matter of weeks.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Careless Talk Costs Defections

I have another column in the Telegraph today, which you can read in full HERE. This is an excerpt...

Two years ago, Mark Oaten - then a rising star in the Liberal Democrats - told a leading Conservative that his party's generation was hungry for power and would go out and seek it. He had just published The Orange Book with his political soulmate David Laws, and was taken aback by the opprobrium from Left-of-centre Liberal Democrats. It was at that point that some of the Orange Bookers started to think long term; several found the prospect of 20 years on the Lib Dem benches a pretty soul-destroying prospect and their policy positions on many issues - tax, welfare reform and public services - were not poles apart from those adopted by liberal Conservatives.

Oaten came very close to defecting to the Conservatives in the autumn of 2005. As Lib Dem home affairs spokesman he was frustrated by the party's opposition to his tougher approach on crime, and, in particular, terrorism: but the Tories were choosing a leader and Oaten's bargaining position was weak, so he stayed put. David Cameron nearly claimed his first scalp two months into his leadership. Rumours had been swirling around Westminster of an imminent Lib Dem defection. I wrote on my blog that David Laws was about to jump ship. It was then that I received a phone call from someone close to the Cameron set who asked if I could tone it down a little as things were "at a delicate stage".

If Laws is to be believed, George Osborne's attempt to lure him across - then, or later - was less a political seduction than a "wham bam, thank you ma'am". Laws has been telling Tory MPs this week that Osborne asked abruptly, without any political foreplay, whether he wanted to defect or not. He was so taken aback that he spluttered "not".

In a GMTV interview at the weekend, Osborne confirmed that he had held discussions with Laws and was also talking to Labour MPs. The first rule of political defections is that you not only keep any discussions secret from your own side, you don't talk about them on television either. Afterwards, Osborne knew he had made a mistake, but the damage had been done.

The Tories and Lib Dems are becoming allies of convenience on issues where they have common ground. Nick Clegg, the Lib Dems Home Affairs Spokesman and leader-in-waiting, has been astonished at how similar his views are to those of David Davis, whom he had previously regarded as a hardline Right-winger. Cameron confidante Ed Vaizey has been deputed to cosy up to the Lib Dems. His recent trip to the Arctic Circle with Nick Clegg may not have resulted in a defection, but eight hours a night in an igloo can hardly have failed to bring them closer.

The Cameron inner circle ought to remember the Second World War maxim: careless Talk Costs Lives," except they should replace the "lives" with "defections".

UPDATE: More councillors defect to Tories HERE.

Political Betting for Dummies

This afternoon I interviewed Mike Smithson, the creater of Political Betting.com, about his website and his new book The Political Punter, which comes out shortly. I know very little about political betting so anything which helps me understand it is very welcome. Mike's a lovely man and it was a fascinating 30 minutes. The show can be viewed HERE and you can pre-order his book HERE..

Gordon Brown Meets the Ten Year Olds

In 1973 or thereabouts Margaret Thatcher appeared on a programme with lots of children, who put questions to her. Gordon Brown has repeated the experience in a programme which will be shown tomorrow night on Channel 5 at 7.15pm. Sky has just broadcast an excerpt. He admitted he has cried over the health of his son Fraser, his favourite singer is Leona, that Churchill and Lloyd George are Britain's two greatest Prime Ministers and that he will talk to the FA about girls being allowed to play football with boys.

Actually, from the excerpt that was shown he put in a rather good performance. Doing a programme like that is full of risks with few rewards. To come out of it unscathed is a major victory. I suppose my only questions is: why on earth did he do it in the first place? Are is advisers really so desparate to show his human side that they put him in situations where he could easily fail? Whatever the reason, it's to his credit that he didn't.

And I think that is the first time I have said anything nice about Gordon Brown on this blog!

'I Can' is Miliband's Leadership Pitch

Now if THIS article by David Miliband in the Daily Telegraph isn't a leadership pitch, then I'm a Dutchman. It's just the sort of article which people write when they are sussing out whether they have the support and the ideas to attract support. He's using the slogan of 'I Can' to map out his ideas. The reply from Gordon Brown may well be along the lines of 'You Can't' - or a similar word...

Comment Moderation

I've spent most of this morning writing my Telegraph article for tomorrow and have only just got around to reading the Comments people have posted since last night. Can we please keep the temperature down? I am putting comment moderation back on for the moment.

Guido's Other Interview

Well, Mr Fawkes may have needed a few wee drams after his Newsnight experience, but THIS interview he has just done with the Noodlepie blog is most excellent.

Shame on Quentin Davies MP

This is Quentin Davies, Conservative MP for Stamford & Grantham. He was the only Conservative to vote for the Government's Incumbency Communications Allowance. Shame on him. All the other Conservative MPs who voted, voted against it. The LibDems split roughly evenly as far as I can see.

CORRECTION: Castle Point Tory MP Bob Spink also voted for the Allowance.

This vote showed Labour MPs at their worst, but all credit to the two Labour MPs who voted against - Kelvin Hopkins & Lynne Jones.



It may seem like cutting off their noses to spite their faces but I hope those Tory MPs who voted against this outrageous abuse of taxpayers' money will refuse to take their allowance. It would send a real signal that things will be different under a Cameron government. A further signal would be for David Cameron to announce that this decision will be reversed as soon as we come to power.

Read the full debate HERE.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Cameron Biography Launched Tonight

I'm having a night off tonight and I have just been to the launch of the new biography of David Cameron by Francis Elliott and James Hanning at Westminster School. Buy it HERE.

It was interesting to see Home Office Minister Tony McNulty there. We had a chat about our mutual love ... for West Ham and I ribbed him about sitting 30 feet above me in the Directors' Box. He assured me he has a season ticket.

I asked him what on earth he was doing at the event and he said he was representing the family firm as his brother is fitting the roof to David Cameron's new house. And there was me mulling over a defection...

Fancy Forking Out £80 for Breakfast with Stephen Timms?

An organisation called 'London in Business' is currently inviting business representatives to a cash for access business brunch with Treasury Chief Secretary Stephen Timms next Tuesday morning for £80 a head. Nothing suspicious about that you might think, until you look at the small print and discover that 'London in Business' is run out of 39 Victoria Street - the same address as Labour Party HQ - and is chaired by Kevin McGrath, a property developer who stood as Labour candidate for North East Hampshire in 2005.

Event details:
Business Brunch with Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP, Chief Secretary to the Treasury
Tuesday 3 April 10-11.30am
Olswang London, 90 High Holborn, London WC1V 6XX


Shouldn't organisations like 'London in Business' have to be more upfront about their political connections? And if Olswang are hosting the event, why is the Labour Party 'London in Business' charging £80? I think we know the answer.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Paxman Says 'Bollocks' to Guido Fawkes

Newsnight have given six minutes of airtime tonight for Guido Fawkes to make a film on the relationship between journalists and politicians. You can preview the film HERE. I suspect Nick Robinson will be none too pleased with the outcome as Guido gets him to admit that he is careful with some stories because he doesn't want to upset his relationship with leading politicians for fear of them not giving him stories. The film ends with Guido interviewing Paxman about empty chairing politicians who fail to agree to be interviewed. Paxman accuses Guido of talking "bollocks" and indulging in "pathetic conspiracy theories". Surely not.

All in all, it's quite a thought-provoking piece, which will not go down well with the political lobby, but he does make an important point about their sometimes incestuous relationships with politicians.

There is, however, a BUT. Guido writes what he likes and is beholden to no one apart from himself. Most political bloggers do not fall into that category. Most of us have some degree of party affiliation or party allegiance which inevitably makes us more prone to expose shenanigans in parties other than our own.

I make no bones about the fact that I am highly unlikely to turn over one of my friends on this blog, but, having said that, I have certainly been known to be critical of people I count as friends. The Patrick Mercer episode is a recent example. So while political journalists certainly pull their punches to avoid being blacklisted by the likes of Mandelson and Campbell, it would be wrong to say that bloggers don't act in a similar manner from time to time. The difference is that for most bloggers it's down to personal friendships rather than a 'you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours' relationship which exists between a lobby hack and a politician.

MPs Should Bin Extra "Communications" Allowance

Today our wondrous elected representatives will be debating whether to award themselves another £10,000 "communications expenses" so they can increase yet further the power of incumbency spend more taxpayers money on felling rainforests to communicate their glorified achievements to their electorate. This is an outrage. I very much hope all Conservative MPs will vote against this proposal - last time it was debated several voted in favour, some not even realising what they were voting for. Theresa May puts it well...

Theresa May, the Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, today called on MPs to reject a proposed £10,000 “communications allowance”.
“Of course MPs have a duty to communicate with their constituents. But we
also have a duty to spend our constituents’ taxes wisely. With modern means
of communication, we can communicate with our constituents without spending
great sums of taxpayers’ money. These days, MPs don’t just rely on post
and the press, but on websites, email, blogs, text messages, and social
networking services like Facebook. The real risk of these proposals is that the money will be used for political marketing, and therefore give an
unfair advantage to incumbent MPs. I’m sure the sceptical public don’t
want more of their taxes spent on MPs’ spin funds.”

I shall be examining the voting lists on this measure very carefully.

Hazel Can't Find Room for Tony

In the glossy brochure Hazel Blears is sending out to people to encourage them to vote for her she's seen grinning alongside the Chancellor, but sadly nowhere could she find space for a picture with the man who created her, our beloved Dear Leader, Mr Blair. Wonder why that is, then.

Whipping The Sun's Whip Column

It's always been a mystery to me why The Sun actually pays anyone for writing their pisspoor Whip column. The whole column is usually lifted from other sources, often blogs, and today's is a good example.

The first 'story' is about Health Secretary Patrica Hewitt forgetting Jack McConnell's name. This appeared on this blog on Monday. The second 'story' says that 7,000 people have watched Guido's video of Gordon Brown picking his nose. They couldn't even get the decimal point right - it's actually 70,000. The fourth 'story' concerns Hazel Blears' email mistakes - nothing new, just a rehash of what has appeared on several blogs. So, three stories out of five which could have been written in about ten minutes flat. FACT: The Whip employs two people who cost The Sun well north of £100,000 a year in salaries. Couldn't they just use a blog aggregator and get an intern to write it?

Memories of the Falklands

Most days on 18 Doughty Street we send someone out on the streets of Bloomsbury to record some Vox Pops with local people on a political issue of the day. Invariably we get some hilarious responses. Yesterday, we asked people for their memories of the Falklands War. Our interviewees did not let us down. This really is worth watching...

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What if Mandy Offered to Defect?

Apropos defections, I can't remember how we got onto the subject, but on 18 Doughty Street last night I asked the panel what they would say if they were David Cameron and he was called by Peter Mandelson offering to defect to the Conservatives...
"David, you're the only one who can be trusted to be the heir to my beloved
Tony. Only you will see through his marvellous works. If I can be of any help,
any help whatsoever, you know you can count on me..."


My panel was split on what David Cameron's response should be. Mine consisted of two words, the second one of which was 'off'.

Is an MP About to Defect?

This particular hare has been running before and come to nothing, but I've had several people ask me today if I have heard about an imminent defection to the Conservatives. The honest answer is that I haven't, but nor would I expect to have. Defection negotiations are best conducted very much in private. The fewer people know about them the better.

I'm told that one possible defector last year was put off by the ham-fisted approach of his interlocutor, which far from being a slow, gently seduction took the form of a blunt question: "Well, are you going to defect?" Needless to say, the answer was negative. Unbelievable.

UPDATE: LibDem Voice is getting very excited about a Tory defection to the LibDems in Tunbridge Wells. No, it's not the Tory MP Greg Clark - it's a.... wait for it .... a parish councillor. See HERE.

Running a Labour Deputy Leadership Campaign: Lesson 94

Do not send personal letters to the office staff of Conservative MPs...

You'd have thought this might be self evident, but not content with sending personal letters and glossy brochures to House of Commons researchers and secretaries of Labour MPs, my little Chipmunk is now sending them to Tories as well. Two people in Keith Simpson's office have received them today together with this heartwarming message from Hazel...
"I know from experience how important you are. You are the unsung heros of our
movement and I want to thank you for the work you do... Now, give me your vote and make sure your bloody boss votes for me too..."

OK, OK, I made the last sentence up.

I Had That Ken Clarke in the Back of My Cab Once...

Ken Clarke's Democracy Task Force has issued its interim report today. It's not the most exciting report I have ever seen but it does set out the parameters for a return to proper Cabinet government and a respect for Parliament. He wants to strengthen the Ministerial Code and also ensure that Parliament would always vote before the armed forces were ordered into action. Crucially he also wants to see the number of Special Advirsors halved, something we should all welcome. Here's his chat with WebCameron from the back of a cab...



The report makes the following recommendations...

* A system to entrench a process of collective Cabinet government. This will require a new and strengthened Ministerial Code, covering the required procedures for approval of policies by Cabinet
* To give the new Ministerial Code authority it must be approved by a Parliamentary resolution
* The responsibility for monitoring the Code should be taken out of the hands of the Prime Minister and placed in the hands of a body with powers comparable to those of the National Audit Office, reporting to a Parliamentary Committee
* The Committee on Standards in Public Life to establish a code of conduct for government publications and advertising campaigns
* Decisions to go to war or to commit troops to areas of conflict should require Parliamentary approval. Decisions on war making should no longer rest solely on the unfettered use of the Royal Prerogative by the Prime Minister
* Treaties with financial, legal or territorial implications for the United Kingdom or its citizens should require Parliamentary approval before ratification and should no longer involve the use of the Royal Prerogative

Be Optimistic For Northern Ireland

I have just been listening to a ten minute discussion on the Jeremy Vine Show between a Sinn Fein politician called Caitriona Ruane and a DUP politician Arleen Foster. I have never heard anything like it and I hope it is a sign of things to come. Both women were friendly, polite and engaging - free of the old hostilties and displaying a real willingness to work together for the betterment of their country. It's time to be truly optimistic about Northern Ireland's future if these two women are anything to go by.

TV Review: Tory Toff by Peter Hitchens

As I type this I am watching a recording of last night's Channel 4 'documentary' on David Cameron called TORY TOFF. Of course, having been written and presented by the polemicist Peter Hitchens it is not a documentary, it is a polemic. Some months ago I was approached to be a consultant on the programme. Having toyed with the idea of writing a biography of Cameron last year I was quite interested in co-operating. I thought a balanced profile of Cameron would be a good idea.

What we got last night was what I expected, and the reason why I decided not to play any part in it. It is was unbalanced, at times hysterical and at others verging on the ridiculous. If you were already predisposed to disliking Cameron you would have loved it, as it confirmed your worst prejudices. If you are a Cameron supporter you would have hated it. If you were an undecided voter it would have left you feeling cheated, not having been told much that would have helped you enhance your understanding of the man who wants to be our Prime Minister.

The basic attack on Cameron centred around his alleged 'toffness' and that there are 13 Old Etonians on the Tory front bench. He was also attacked for having changed his mind on some issues and his change of language. Big deal. I suspect everyone has changed their minds on several political issues over the last ten years. I know I have. That's politics. Time moves on, the country moves on and politicians must move on. Those that don't move on with the country are destined never to run it. But moving on does not mean abandoning your basic core principles, and Hitchens' biggest failure in the programme was his inability to prove that Cameron had done any such thing.

Hitchens reckoned that having a windmill on your house and speaking out against a windfarm in your constituency were incompatible and proved Cameron doesn't believe anything at all. The two stances are perfectly compatible and Hitchens knows it. There were plenty of other similar examples.

Cameron's success is that he understands that the country is a different place to the one Peter Hitchens thinks it is. Hitchens harks after a moalistic, socially conservative country which Britain ceased to be in about 1965. Cameron wants to build on Britain as it is today.

As a polemic programme this was well put together, well written and presented in an engaging manner. But for all that it was profoundly unconvincing.

UPDATE: Further reviews of the programme from SKIPPER and ANDREW IAN DODGE.

ALERT: 9pm on Channel 4 on Thursday - MUMMY'S WAR, a programme by Carol Thatcher on her visit to Argentina and the Falklands.

Dizzy Thinks Hotline Figures

Dizzy has a story in which he says the benefit fraud hotline figures he obtained under an FOI do not match those given in a parliamentary answer - and are way over budget. How strange. See HERE.

Blears Poaches Harman's PPS

Hazel Blears is a woman who, when she makes you an offer, you don't refuse it. She's angered Harriet Harman, her rival for the Deputy paperclip collector Leadership, Harriet Harman by headhunting her PPS. The unbelievably named Robert Flello has jumped ship to become PPS to the little chipmunk, leaving Harman PPS-less. Quite what it says about Harman's qualities are probably best left to you to imagine, dear reader. What it says to me is that Mr Flello doesn't want to work for a woman who thinks the only reason she should become Deputy Leader is that she can put the letters 'f' and 'e' in front of the word male.

However, I'm sad to report that all is not trundling totally according to plan for the chipmunk. More and more Labour members are reported to be bemused by how Hazel Blears has managed to get their email addresses. Kerron Cross blogged about this yesterday and LabourHome is also covering the subject. People are putting two and two together and assuming that she must be getting the lists through her role as Labour chairman, something she has consistently denied she would do. I suspect the answer is that she has some very ingenious staffers who are compiling email addresses from many sources and spamming them. There's no law against it, but it may make as many enemies as it does friends.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Jack McConnell

Oh dear, poor Patricia Hewitt. It could happen to anyone I suppose. In an interview with Scottish TV this evening she contrived to get First Minister Jack McConnell's name wrong, not once but twice. He is said to be less than impressed. Never mind Jack, none of us are very impressed with Nanny Hewitt either. Just be grateful she's not in charge of the Scottish NHS...

UPDATE: SNP Angus Robertson tells me: "Jack McConnell is the invisible man of Scottish politics, hiding away from debating with Alex Salmond. And nobody knows who he is at Westminster either. The fact that Labour Ministers in London don’t even know the First Minister’s name makes a mockery of his partnership claims. The reality is that London Labour says jump, and Mr McConnell asks how high."

Game over... except for THIS interview with McConnell where he admits the SNP may win the May election. Not a good day for him really, is it?

Is the British Taxpayer Paying for Mugabe's Daughter

Conservative MP James Duddridge has discovered that Robert Mugabe's daughter Bona is studying at the LSE. He asked Ian McCartney about it in the House of Commons earlier having alerted him to the issue this morning. Bearing in mind McCartney had several hours to look into the issue, his responses were less than illuminating. When asked if the British taxpayer was paying any of the cost of her education he said "I don't know". James Duddridge has now written to McCartney asking five key questions...

1) Who authorised Bona Mugabe’s visa?
2) Who pays Bona’s tuition fees?
3) What liaison has there been with the UK authorities in relation to Bona’s personal safety and protection?
4) Has any taxpayers’ money been spent?
5) What consideration has the Government given to extending the travel ban to include all members of Robert Mugabe’s family?

We look forward to some quick answers.

Brown Scandal Returns to Haunt LibDems

If the LibDems thought that the Michael Brown scandal had gone away this morning's Times will have given them a jolt. A pensioner is claiming that the £155,000 he gave to Michael Brown to invest for him, actually ended up in LibDem coffers. It has also emerged that the LibDems' second biggest donor, Paul Strasburger, is funding Michael Brown's legal fees. The stories are HERE and HERE. Meanwhile the Electoral Commission investigation into the admissability of Brown's loan awaits the verdict of the City of London Police.

Not, of course, that this has anything to do with the LibDems at all. No, Sirree. Never let it be said. Whiter than white. Yellower than yellow [enough - ed].

Tim Yeo Cruel Victim of Green Practical Joke

As you know, I think Tim Yeo has been, how shall we put it, a tad hypocritical about his views on global warming and how we should now all wear hairshirts. See HERE and HERE. This snippet from the Sunday Times Atticus column yesterday added fuel to the already blazing fire...
Tory MP Tim Yeo has surely been the victim of a cruel practical joke. Yeo, a
former environment minister, is well known for his campaign against climate
change. He wants domestic flights to be scrapped and his website boasts of his
commitment to the planet. Yet what do we find in the latest Bentley magazine?
Somebody calling themselves Tim Yeo, MP for South Suffolk, has been test driving
the Bentley Continental Flying Spur. He sinks into the warm embrace of its
leather seats and takes it on a golfing jolly. The Bentley does about 16mpg and
has carbon emissions that rival those of a jumbo jet. Surely the real Tim Yeo
would have mentioned this?

I assume Mr Yeo will be donating his fat fee from Bentley to erasing his carbon footprint. What gets me though is why Bentley think that getting Tim Yeo to test drivce one of their cars would encoruage anyone to buy one!

Well Done to Everyone in Northern Ireland

No matter what my thoughts are on Gerry Adams - and believe me, they're not for repeating on this blog - we must all be happy at today's outcome in Belfast. Let's just hope that this time the power-sharing administration will be more enduring. Congratulations must go to Ian Paisley for acting in a responsible and statesmanlike manner throughout this process. It's something many of us didn't think he had in him.

And while I'm at it, I'll pay tribute to John Major for starting the whole process and also Tony Blair for seeing it through. Blair has done many things throughout the last few years in Northern Ireland which not only stuck in my throat, but I suspect his too. But there is little doubt that we wouldn't have got to where we are today if he hadn't done them.

Book Review: Charles Kennedy: A Fatal Flaw

Greg Hurst's book on Charles Kennedy is one I highly recommend. Before I started reading it I had heard it was a little plodding and not very exciting. I have to say I didn't find it so at all. Let me start by declaring an interest. One of my last acts before I left Politico's Publishing was to commission this book, albeit by a different author, Duncan Brack. Duncan comes from the left of the LibDems and would have written a very different book to Greg Hurst. I suspect he would have been far more critical of his political decisions but would have wrestled with the personal elements. Due to work commitments Duncan had to pull out of writing the book and Greg took it over.

Hurst begins the book by relating the 'events of last January' as we shall call them. He does it in a non-judgemental way and an air of inevitability permeates every page. He asserts that Kennedy took a long time to realise the game was up, much longer than his advisers. There was an air of the Fuehrerbunker about Cowley Street, where few people could bring themselves to tell the leader the awful truth - that his days were numbered.

Hurst makes Kennedy's early parliamentary career sound a greal more interesting that it actually was - I say that as a compliment. He's also quite stark in his analysis of his character traits and flaws during that period, which gives a sense of a gradual car crash which is takes quite a few years to happen.

The one thing which Greg Hurst possibly fails to do is to apportion blame for the fact that Kennedy's drink problem was allowed to go on for so long with no one at the top of the party prepared to address it. Perhaps this is understandable in that Kennedy was genuinely liked, even by his political opponents in the LibDems. Telling someone they have an alcohol problem is akin to telling them that their wife is cheating on them - not something one does with alacrity.

All in all, this is one of the better written and stylish biographies I have read in recent years. It treats the reader like an adult and avoids hyperbole. I have no hesitation in recommending you to buy the book HERE.

I'd Rather Fight Brown Than Miliband

Jackie Ashley writes in The Guardian today that Conservatives are pushing the cause of David Miliband because we would rather face him in a General Election than Gordon Brown. Again, darling Jackie lets political prejudice get the better of her increasingly weak political judgement. Can I make clear that given the choice I'd far rather have Gordon Brown as an opponent than Miliband. People have looked at Gordon Brown and they have made their minds up about him - and they don't like what they see. In Miliband's case they still have an open mind. His opinion poll ratings are slightly worse than Brown's because people don't know much about him. He also appears too much like David Cameron to give voters a real choice. In reality the differences are huge but perceptually that's not the case.

So, Jackie, give us Gordon any day. Any man who has the bad sense to make Geoff Hoon one of his campaign cheerleaders has to be good news for the Tories.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Blair IS a Suspect in Cash for Honours

I know I am a bit late with this, but the Sunday Telegraph's main front page article this morning was astonishing. HONOURS POLICE TOLD BLAIR WOULD RESIGN IF CAUTIONED screamed the headline. The Sunday Telegraph has a record of exclusives on the Cash for Honours inquiry and the story certainly has the ring of truth about it.

If it is indeed true that the Prime Minister effectively threatened to blackmail the Police - for that's what it amounts to - he has scarred his office. The Police, of course, should have called his bluff.

But beyond the political theatrics here, we mustn't miss the point - and the point is that the Police are clearly treating Tony Blair as a suspect in the inquiry. Downing Street keep briefing that he is being interviewed as a witness rather than a suspectm but this blows that statement apart.

What does it all mean? I suspect it means that no charges will be laid until the PM has departed ths scene. Perhaps he might now try to elongate his departure! A couple of days ago I watched Alastair Beaton's THE TRIAL OF TONY BLAIR. It no longer seems so fanciful, all of a sudden.

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