Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Living by the Sword

I have to admit that I am not a fan of Heather Mills-McCartney. As Kelvin Mackenzie has just said on 5 Live, she is utterly devoid of charm and a sense of humour. Her media appearances today have done her no favours at all. She strikes me as being on the verge of a breakdown. And lashing out at the press will do her no good at all. All it will achieve is a tabloid backlash. She will no doubt say that it will prove her point. I think she protests a little too much. She used the media when it suited her. Indeed, she used to write the very kind of tabloid column about which she now complains so vociferously. There are several words for people like her. I'll leave you to imagine what they might be.

No Election (And No Blogging Today!)

I'll be on Radio 5 Live tonight with Rochard Bacon from 11.30pm until 1am. Busy day. Sorry for lack of blogging.
COMING TOMORROW: Election 2007: The Day After - A Counterfactual

Nadine Dorries Accuses Select Committee

Tory MP Nadine Dorries has accused the Science & Technology Select Committee of being "hijacked" by "powerful vested interests" in the abortion 'industry'. She has released a minority report which can be read HERE. She concludes her statement...
MPs have not been given the opportunity to consider all the evidence that could
have been made available. The facts have been shadowed and the report has been
hijacked by those with powerful vested financial interests in the abortion

This is controversial stuff. More on Nadine's blog HERE.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Gordon Brown's Trick or Treat

Tomorrow, Halloween, would have been the eve of Election Day if Gordon Brown had had the guts to call one. On Halloween the Conservatives are launching this poster, which they're putting in regional newspapers and on ad-vans.

Nick Clegg Support(ed) an EU Constitution Referendum

Nick Clegg is against a referendum on the EU Reform Treaty. How does he square that stance with this unequivocal backing for a referendum on the Constitution, written for Guardian Online in October 2003. He knows the Reform Treaty and the Constitution are more or less the same thing, as Giscard D'Estaing has reaffirmed in a French newspaper today. This is what Clegg wrote four years ago...

The real reason, of course, why the government does not want to hold a referendum is the fear that it may lose. It is the same fear that has paralysed Blair on the euro for six long years. It is the same fear that led Peter Hain to camouflage the constitution with comic inaccuracy as nothing more than a "tidying up exercise". It is the same fear which has long restrained New Labour from expressing the courage of its meagre convictions on Europe. And it won't do.

The alternative, now unfolding before us, is infinitely worse: a false assumption that anti-Europeans are democrats, and pro-Europeans are not. By shilly shallying with semantic half-truths about the content of the constitution, and now haughtily dismissing all calls for a referendum, it is New Labour which is, to cite my friend, "playing straight into the hands of the Eurosceptics". By providing the hapless Iain Duncan Smith with a pretext to champion people's democracy, Blair is unwittingly doing more to reinvigorate Euroscepticism than John Redwood could manage in his wildest fantasies. Nothing will do more damage to the pro-European movement than giving room to the suspicion that we have something to hide, that we do not have the "cojones" to carry our argument to the people.

And our argument is strong. The constitution, assuming it emerges roughly in its present draft form, provides ideal ammunition to call the Europhobes' bluff. While it is no mere "tidying up exercise", it is galaxies away from the "blueprint for tyranny" laughably paraded by the Daily Mail...

...The measured modesty of the constitution is precisely what is being obscured by the government's refusal to hold a referendum. In doing so, it has allowed the phobes to shift the argument away from the constitution itself and onto shriller claims about the democratic legitimacy of the whole EU. By forcing the phobes to argue on the substance of the text, a referendum would expose the hollow hysteria of their polemic.

Naive? Perhaps, a little. Inevitably, any referendum campaign is unlikely to be a scholarly examination of the legal content of a complex constitutional tome. It is possible that it will soon escalate into an unconstrained debate about the very place of Britain in the EU - in or out. So be it.

Read the full article HERE. Hattip to LibDem Voice. They know not what they do.

How to Earn £139,000 a Month

Ever wondered what a Premiership player's payslip looks like? Well here's the payslip of a Liverpool player (not one of their top stars) for April this year. Net pay of £82,413.67, which equates to a gross monthly wage of more than £139,000. Nice work if you can get it. (Click on the image to enlarge it).
UPDATE: I got it wrong. It's £83,000 a week, not a month!!! Having done a Google search, it seems this is doing the rounds on football related websites. I haven't identified the player, but others haven't been so reluctant.

Gove on Gordon

Michael Gove's speech today to Policy Exchange was brilliant. It's the best dissection of Gordon Brown's record, his character and his future I've yet seen. Read it HERE.

Labour Refuses to Back Cut in Trade Union Donations

Our friends at the First Post need to get a new "Westminster insider", who seems to believe that Lord Ashcroft is actually Lord Ashdown. However, let's move on to the substance of their story, which is that with the party funding talks having broken down, Gordon Brown will now move to restrict the ability of parties to spend money in target seats between elections. They reckon he will introduce a short Bill, no doubt called the "How to stuff the Tories (Amendment) Bill.
Let us remember though, how we got here. The only reason the talks over party funding broke down was because the Labour Party refused to agree that the Trade Unions should, like individuals and businesses, be subject to the same £50,000 donation limit. It really is quite that simple. Jack Straw has bleated this evening:
We greatly regret that these talks have been suspended as a result of the
Conservative Party's unwillingness to negotiate on a draft agreement. We had
understood that all parties had thought in good faith that this draft agreement
was the basis of a comprehensive settlement. We will now take time to reflect on
next steps.
The Conservative Party rightly said that unless the government was willing to discuss trade union donations there would be no point in discussing anything further. Francis Maude said:
We are disappointed that the trade unions still hold Labour over a barrel. The
unions are running the Labour party from the back seat, giving them control over
Government policy. Labour has rejected a comprehensive cap on donations and
clearly do not want to end the big donor culture which has caused the 'cash for
honours' scandal. Labour just want a backroom deal that gives them taxpayers'
cash without proper reform. This would do nothing to restore public trust in our
Quite. I am an opponent of any further expansion of taxpayer funding for political parties. Politicians should get the message that the public just will not put up with them sticking their mits further into our pockets.

Why the Milibands Had to Go to America to Adopt

Good luck to the Milibands with the adoption of their second son. However, we really need to ask why they had to go to America to adopt both their children. The reason is simple. If you are over 35 years of age in this country it is difficult in the extreme to adopt a child. Such parents are considered unsuitable. Excuse me? My sister had her only daughter at the ripe old age of 38. Is it really suggested that she is an unsuitable parent because she left it late in life to have a child? If her biological clock hadn't been in such good nick and she couldn't have had a child naturally, she would have found it almost impossible to adopt in this country. Unlike the Milibands she could not have gone to the US to adopt because she wouldn't have been able to afford it.

We really need to revisit this issue, and David Miliband ought to take a leading part in the discussions.

Three Climbdowns in a Row?

Yesterday we had a climbdown by Peter Hain over the number of immigrants holding jobs in this country. He apologised for saying it was only 800,000, when the truth 1.1 million. Today Education Minister Jim Knight announced that the government wouldn't after all go ahead it its plans to seize 5% of school surpluses.

So a little competition for you. What will tomorrow's embarrassing climbdown be?

UPDATE: Well it's happened today. The government now admits the true figure of immigrants holding down jobs in the UK is actually 1.5 million, nearly double their original figure. It makes you wonder what it will be by the end of next month!

The MPs' Communications Allowance: Trouble Ahead

I was delighted to read last week that David Cameron has promised to scrap the £10,000 a year allowance MPs now receive as a how can I make myself look better Communications Allowance. I think this allowance is going to spell big trouble for MPs who use it, even if they completely obey the rules. There will always be a suspicion that it is being used for subliminal political advertising purposes, even if it isn't. Let's take one example.

Labour MP Chris Bryant and I have crossed swords before, but I want to write this as dispassionately as possible as I think a campaign he is running raises some very interesting issues about the new Communications Allowance. He has written a paper on the future of Broadcasting in Wales, and rather innovatively (for an MP) has created a website (HERE) to explain his arguments. He is also using MessageSpace to virally market a video he has made to publicise the debate he wants to promote. So far so good, and an entirely laudable thing to do. However, the cost of the advertising campaign (which I believe I am benefitting from, although only readers in Wales see the ad on my blog, he tells me) is being met by the House of Commons Fees Office through either the Incidental Expenses Allowance or the Communications Allowance. Let me be clear. I am not accusing Chris Bryant of doing anything wrong. I have spoken to him this morning and talked it over in a very friendly manner. I congratulated him on being innovative but I did ask him if he felt it was right that this sort of thing was funded by the taxpayer. He admitted it raised some very interesting questions but made very clear that he has put it to the House of Commons Fees Office and they have authorised it. Case closed. Sort of.

The interesting point here is that this campaign is not designed to attract voters in his constituency. Why would he need to do that? He has one of the biggest majorities in Wales. But if, for example, a similar campaign were run by his colleague Phil Hope in the marginal seat of Corby, his Conservative opponent Louise Bagshaw could be forgiven for wondering why the taxpayer should be funding something designed - albeit subliminally - to benefit an incumbent.

I don't think even Chris Bryant would pretend that his campaign won't raise his profile both in Wales and more widely. And why not? He's discussing an issue of importance to Wales, but where does it end? He's not being party political in what he says (althought the website design looks very Labour!), but just by existing, the website and video campaign do benefit him, and through him his Party.

My advice to Conservative MPs, for what it is worth, is that they should avoid using the Communications Allowance, and make a positive out of not using it. If one minute David Cameron advocates its abolition, but his MPs then make full use of it, we all know what follows. And if the opposition find that a single Conservative MP voted against it but then takes it up, we'll never hear the end of it. I have to say I wouldn't be too impressed by that, either.

Does anyone else have concrete examples of how the Communications Allowance is being used?
UPDATE: I have just received this clarification from a Tory MP. Very interesting.
I was one of those who voted against the Communications Allowance
because it marked a big increase on the overall level of parliamentary
allowances. It was not accompanied, for example, by any decrease in the IEP. It
is fair for people to debate whether or not MPs should be allowed to fund web
sites and newsletters from allowances at all. But so long as such expenditure is
within the rules, a change in the regulations applied by the House Authorities
that means that probably most MPs will use the Communications Allowance.
Before the Communications Allowance was introduced, MPs could and did fund such
expenditure out of the IEP, but of course that spending had to be balanced
within an MP's IEP budget against all the other costs of running an office. When
the Communications Allowance came in, we were told by the Department of
Finance and Administration that we must from then on allot any spending on web
sites or newsletters to that allowance and not to the IEP. So any MP who
used to pay for communications from the IEP must now pay those sums out of the
Communications Allowance.

So it's actually very difficult to see what extra expenditure is being spent on these publicity projects. Perhaps that's the intention. Perish the thought.

Parliament Loses Power

Most of the Parliamentary Estate suffered a power cut this morning for a few seconds. It is said that produtivity rose massively... Sadly, access to Parliamentary TV channels has still not been restored, so in the absence of MPs to entertain them, the staff are actually putting their noses to the grindstone rather than watching Jeremy Kyle (or reading blogs). What a novelty!

Cue outraged howls from secretaries and researchers who now vow never to read this blog again...

UPDATE: I have been upbraided by a researcher who says I have omitted Facebook from the list of diversions used by him and his colleagues to avoid doing their masters' and mistresses' bidding. Indeed, he sent the message on Facebook, so I rest my case, your Honour!

Alex Deane: Report from the Aussie Election Days 15 & 16

It has emerged over the weekend that, shortly before the campaign began, there was disagreement in the Cabinet about whether or not Australia should ratify the Kyoto protocols. Malcolm Turnbull, the Environment Minister, supported ratification. Others, including the Prime Minister, did not. The latter view prevailed. The Prime Minister has attempted to support Mr Turnbull. In turn, Mr Turnbull has declined to comment on the issue in public.

Recently, British researchers offered support for Australia’s position on Kyoto. However, it is my view that this debate is no longer about the facts – it is about whether or not one passes the “decency test” on the environmental question, and Kyoto is the leitmotif of that question. From that perspective, ratification – regardless of factual truth or untruth – might be worthwhile, given the potential political gain.

Moreover, the fact that the disagreement has been made public despite a pretty well known principle might be considered by observers to be a sign that, in the face of unpleasant polls, there are some within the Coalition more interested in their own positions than the fortunes of the Party as a whole.

And finally, for my persistent and constructive critic “Howard” – yes, I am biased. I support the Liberal Party. If you want to convey an alternative POV boosting Labor, write it yourself.

Treasurer Peter Costello debated Shadow Treasurer Wayne Swan this afternoon. There had been some to-ing and fro-ing between them before the debate over Swan’s supposed economic conservatism (a claim made echoing that frequently made by his leader, which I’ve ridiculed elsewhere). However, on the day itself things were pretty civilized. There was no killer punch. I’d say that Costello won, but as Mandy Rice-Davies would say, I would say that, wouldn’t I? As I’ve mentioned previously, I think that – barring disasters for one side or another – these debates are pretty much for insiders.

New Newspoll results are in: we’re up 4 points (I say this to satisfy the constant requests for references to polls) – not enough yet, but good.

People fairly ask, why does Labor consent to fight on the Coalition’s strong suit – the economy? Why not fight on health and education, as – for example – Blair did in 1997, areas in which the Coalition is far less dominant or on the back foot in polls?

My answer would be that Labor dominance of the State governments – which (despite the occasional federal foray) run both health and education – makes that problematic. In particular, Labor needs a swag of seats in New South Wales to form government. Polling would suggest that those seats are poachable. But the New South Wales Health system is in a parlous state. NSW Minister of Health, Reba Meagher, is in some trouble. So Labor avoids the debate, for fear of contamination from the State brand.

Plenty of people have challenged my assertion that the Australian media is biased leftwards (or alternatively, simply dislikes this government and wants a change). Well, let’s see what happens: when it was revealed that there had, some time in the past, been abortive cabinet discussion of a policy change on Kyoto, the story ran widely for three days. Today, Kevin Rudd has thoroughly u-turned on Kyoto. It is obviously a bigger story. Coverage thus far is along the lines of “the Coalition says…” rather than the actual “U-turn” story it should be. Let’s see how long it runs.

The Imminent Take-off of Video Blogging

Video blogging is going to be big. Soon. It won't just be bloggers posting videos of themselves on TV like I've just done above. It won't even be films made by bloggers wearing their pajamas in their bedrooms. At least I hope it won't be. It'll be videos that sometimes make or break the news. With the advent of things like Blip and Mogulus, video blogging is about to take off. One of the big decisions I have to make is how to utilise this new facility on my blog. Ideas anyone?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Who's the Best Paid PM or President?

Robin Lustig, the excellent presenter of Radio 4's THE WORLD TONIGHT, has started a blog HERE. He's discovered that the highest paid Prime Minister or President in the industrialised world is none other than the Irish Taesoiach Bertie Ahern, who trousers a whopping £250,000 a year. And he's just been awarded a 14% pay rise, to be sure. Click HERE to discover how much other world leaders earn.

Chris Huhne and the Other Iain Dale

Several people have emailed to query why I am listed as a registered supporter on Chris Huhne's (terribly designed) campaign website. To put your minds at rest, there is, believe it or not, a LibDem blogger called Iain Dale. My namesake comes from exactly the same part of Scotland which my own family hails from. Spooky.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Saying Goodbye

Over the past week my beloved Godmother, Eleanor Daniels, has been slipping away. Tomorrow I am going to Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge to say goodbye to her. She's dying of cancer. Sadly, she has given up the fight and just wants to let go.

Eleanor has been more than a godmother to me and my two sisters. She was such an integral part of our childhood that we can all say she has played a major part in making us all what we are today. I remember all the wonderful daytrips we went on as children. Off we'd troop in her Morris Minor - I still remember the numberplate 00 2163. Hunstanton, Walton on the Naze, Wicksteed Park, Wells-next-the-sea, Gosfield - the memories come flooding back. She never had her own children and has been like a sister to my mother. A kinder, more giving and caring person you could not hope to meet.

To be honest I am dreading seeing her in this state. I've never had to say 'good-bye' to anyone in this way before. The three of us will go together. I suspect a lot of tears will be shed. If you're religious, say a prayer for Eleanor tonight. If anyone deserves to go to heaven, she does.

UPDATE Mon 10pm: Many thanks for all the wonderful messages in the comments. It has been a very traumatic day. I won't labour the details but Eleanor was very peaceful, recognised us all and we were all able to say our thank yous to her and tell her we loved her. Saying goodbye was awful, but I am so glad I went.

Training Conservative Leaders of the Future

This weekend I did some media training in Berkshire for an organisation called The Young Britons' Foundation. I like to call it a ‘Conservative Madrassa’, as it seeks to radicalise young Conservatives to become more political, and not treat their membership of the Conservative Party as some sort of social deal. It’s interesting that Conservative Future now has far more members than the Labour and LibDem youth organisations put together. This sort of training course teaches them debating skills, media skills and how to campaign. It may sound dull to those not involved in the political process, but this sort of thing is vital for young people from all parties if they are to acquire the skillset to become our politicians of the future. Some people believe we’d be better off without political parties at all, but whenever I speak at these sort of events I leave feeling very optimistic about our political future.

The YBF is run by my two colleagues at 18 Doughty Street, Donal Blaney and Shane Greer. They put on a terrific conference with a lineup of speakers the like I have never seen before. The seventy-odd under 30s who attended can count themselves very lucky indeed.

Donal’s work with the YBF is vital in building a wider conservative movement in the UK and has now decided that’s where he wants to concentrate his efforts. He’s leaving 18Ds at the end of the month to concentrate more on expanding the YBF and I really wish him well in his efforts. If this weekend’s conference is anything to go by, he’ll be amply rewarded by the future political success of YBF graduates.

An English Grand Committee: I Hope It's True

The Observer will report tomorrow that David Cameron is being urged to support far reaching plans to strip Scottish MPs of the the right to vote on English matters at Westminster. The proposal, drafted by Sir Malcolm Rifkind has been put forward to the Democracy Task Force led by Ken Clarke. According to PA...
Under the plan, a new English Grand Committee - open only to English MPs - would be established to deal with matters, such as schools and hospitals, relating solely to England. MPs from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would continue to sit together in the Commons to vote on UK wide matters such as taxation, foreign policy and defence. A Conservative Party spokesman confirmed that the plan was being considered, but said that no decision had yet been taken on whether it would be adopted as party policy. "Ken Clarke's democracy taskforce is looking at the issue and will report back on it, but nothing has been decided yet," the spokesman said... Sir Malcolm told The Observer: "Since devolution there has been a growing English consciousness and that has given credence to the unfinished business of devolution. The issue is not an English Parliament. It is how you reform the way in which the House of Commons operates so that on purely English business, as opposed to United Kingdom business, the wishes of English members cannot be denied." However the plan was denounced as "utterly unworkable" by Scotland Office Minister David Cairns. "Once you breach the principle that all MPs should vote on matters before them in Westminster you get constitutional anarchy," he told the paper.

I'm very excited by this. It's radical thinking and deserves full consideration. It's not quite an English Parliament but it's as close as we're going to get. So I hope those who believe in an English Parliament will back it, at least as an interim measure.

UPDATE: read The Observer story HERE.

The Duke of Edinburgh in Fine Form

A great anecdote from a speech by Gerald Howarth MP to the Young Britons' Foundation dinner. He was waiting in line to be received by the Duke of Edinburgh at a defence related event and was rather surprised when the Duke looked him up and down and said to him "What does your party stand for nowadays then?" Unabashed Gerald looked the Duke in the eye and said: "For the defence of the Kingdom, sir". The Duke of Edinburgh, looking doubtful, hit straight back with a single word. "Bollocks". There's no answer to that really.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

You Couldn't Make it Up: No 94

Two facts about the United Nations which demonstrate what a joke it has become...

1. The Head of the UN's economic development commission comes from .... Zimbabwe.

2. The next Head of the United Nations Human Rights Commission comes from .... Saudi Arabia. Cuba and China are also leading members.

Coming soon: Iran to head up the Nuclear Non Proliferation Commission!

Why Did the BBC Not Name the Shamed Labour MP?

On Thursday evening a reader sent me a link to THIS BBC story, about an unnamed MP who has been reprimanded by the House of Commons Standards & Privileges Committee - see the report HERE. A bit odd, I thought, not to name her. It seems I am not alone. Liberal England and Andy Mayer have had the same thoughts. Jonathan Calder of Liberal England has done a quick Google search and found that the MP the BBC feared to name is in fact Emily Thornberry, Labour MP for Islington South. One wonders whether the BBC would have been quite so reluctant to name the MP if she had been a Conservative. I'll leave that question hanging in the air as I direct you towards THIS story on ConservativeHome and the Daily Mail that 80% of BBC staff of Facebook describe themselves as "liberal" rather than "conservatives". And in other news today, the Pope reveals he is a Catholic.

I'm on a panel tomorrow morning with BBC Head of News Peter Horrocks. I'll let you know what he has to say on the subject.

Alex Deane: Report from the Aussie Election Day 14


Veteran Aboriginal rights campaigner Galarrwuy Yunupingu backed John Howard’s pledge to recognise Aboriginal rights yesterday. In his speech at the University of Melbourne, he spoke of this being “the most serious business we have faced as a nation” and as an issue on which the Prime Minister “trying, on behalf of the nation… to get it right”.

This area has always been problematic for John Howard. As his biographers have stated, he has always believed in integration rather than multiculturalism. At the time that the policy was announced, he talked about how this has been an area with which he has long struggled; it is one in which his background has shaped his views. It is easy to mock his position as electoral jockeying. It will certainly have surprised many amongst both admirers and detractors. Personally, I really do think that it’s the result of a process, a long journey on which his opinions have changed over time.

In any case, if Yunupingu’s speech had been made in praise of Rudd, it would have received widespread coverage – even though it would have been less newsworthy, given the long and understandable affinity between such campaigners and the left. Instead, when an Aboriginal rights campaigner has endorsed the position of one of the most conservative figures in politics, it has been received in all but silence from the media, with only the Australian giving it an outing (apart from The Age, a remarkable home of leftism, which managed to covered the story and reprint the speech without discussing any of the positivity towards the PM). Such is life.

Ashcroft Accuses Labour Minister of Being "Cowardly"

Earlier this week, Labour Minister Bill Rammell wrote an ARTICLE in The Guardian attacking the Conservatives' target seats campaign chaired by Michael Ashcroft. Rammell is in the fight of his political life with Conservative Rob Halfon and has a majority of fewer than one hundred votes. Today, Ashcroft hits back with THIS letter to The Guardian and says: "It is cowardly for sitting MPs to seek to restrict the campaigning capacity of their opponents while protecting their own sources of support and exploiting the advantages of incumbency".

I really do find it strange that no one mentions the fact that Lord Sainsbury has given far more money to the Labour Party than Michael Ashcroft has ever given to the Tories. And where does most of Sainsbury's money end up? Funding Labour's target seat campaigns. The hypocrisy is breathtaking. I will be writing more on this in the next few days as a very interesting document has come into my possession.

Brown to Spotlight Immigration in Bid to Woo Back Middle England

A reader tips me off that according to a government minister he spoke to tonight, Gordon Brown sees immigration as the issue which will set him back on the straight and narrow. He will be making a big speech on it in the next couple of weeks. Apparently he's been on the phone to Michael Howard tonight asking to borrow his dog whistle.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Friday Night Joke

A Conservative and a Socialist are walking down the street. They come across a homeless man. The Conservative reaches into his pocket and gives him his business card and tells him to turn up at nine o'clock on Monday morning for a job. He then gives him two crisp ten pound notes to tide him over the weekend. A few yards later they come across another homeless man. The Socialist, having been impressed with the actions of his Conservative friend, gives the homeless man directions to the local benefits office then reaches into the Conservative's wallet, takes out two ten pound notes and keeps one of them as an administration fee.

And that, Ladies and Gentlemen is the difference between a Conservative and a Socialist. Maybe it was better done verbally...

Eustice to Build a Conservative Coalition

In a recent Telegraph column I wrote this...
In the Bush White House, there is a director of coalition relations called Tim Goeglein. His job is to keep the Republican Party and the wider conservative
movement sweet. Cameron could do worse than appoint his own version of Goeglein, whose job would be to liaise directly with the party and hoover up good ideas and suggestions.

To be fair, I shamelessly nicked the idea from Donal Blaney's column on ConservativeHome...

As the conservative movement in Britain grows at an impressive rate, Team Cameron likewise need to ensure that the members of the conservative movement, and in particular its leaders, are kept in the loop and feel they have a channel of communication to the Party leadership. The appointment of someone with a role similar to Tim Goeglein at the White House (who is in charge of White House relations with the conservative coalition) will help ensure the broader conservative movement remains if not wholly on side then at least broadly on side, thereby avoiding future misunderstandings and rows.

I'm pleased to learn therefore from ConservativeHome that David Cameron is about to appoint George Eustice to this role. George has been Cameron's loyal and very hard working press secretary for the last thirty months. He has now decided he wants to stand for Parliament and cannot do so from the vantage point of press secretary. George has a fine record in campaigning, having been the driver of the 'No' Campaign and Business for Sterling.

George was a pleasure to deal with during the leadership campaign and has been unfailingly polite and helpful ever since. I really wish him well in this new and much needed role.

The Scottish Question on Newsnight Tonight

I have spent most of today parked on the M25 on my to and back from the Newsnight studio. They are doing a feature on Alex Salmond's astonishing assertion that Scotland doesn't get enough taxpayers' money spent on it! Last time I looked each person in Scotland gets an extra £1,000 spent on them compared to the English. Newsnight will be playing an extraxct from Justice for England's Part of the Union video which I posted earlier this week (to much joy and horror in equal measure!). I made the point that the Barnett formula needs revisiting, as well as the question of an English Parliament or Grand Committee.

I was told today - and if someone can provide the evidence I'd be grateful - that under the Barnett formula Scotland will actually benefit from the Crossrail project. Bear with me. If the Government commits £5 billion to an infrastructure project in England, it has to whip eleven eighty-fifths of the cost up to Edinburgh pretty damn quick. Seems lunatic and improbable to me, but nothing would surprise me. Can anyone shed any light on it?

Peter Oborne & The Triumph Of The Political Class

Earlier this week I interviewed Peter Oborne about his book THE TRIUMPH OF THE POLITICAL CLASS. This short excerpt (above)looks at the relationship between the media and politicians. In the excerpt below we discuss the rise of the professional politican who has never held a job outside politics.

I must say, this was one of the most enjoyable interviews I have done. Do watch the full interview HERE.

A Tribute to 'Jack' Weatherill

David Hunt's son Tom has sent me this tribute to Lord Weatherill, who died earlier this year. His Memorial Service was held this week.

When any astute political observer of the last 25 years hears the name Jack they will undoubtedly remember one of the greatest ever speakers of the House of Commons (1983-1992). Jack was the first speaker the nation observed presiding over the tumult of the House of Commons for he oversaw and fully supported the introduction of television cameras. His was the commanding voice people would have seen and heard for the first time calling “Order Order”.

He was proud of his achievement of coming from humble origins often recounting that when he first entered parliament and was sitting in a small room! he heard someone he knew saying – “God I don’t know what this place is coming to Tom, even my tailors here now”. Tailoring was his trade and he always carried around a silver thimble that his mother had given to him to remind him of his background.

On Tuesday, I sat in Westminster Abbey to remember a great family friend. It was a service of thanksgiving for the life and work of ‘The Right Honourable The Lord Weatherill DL 25th November 1920 – 6 May 2007’. Jack was my father’s political mentor. In the Abbey he paid tribute to his great friend remembering his life as a soldier, an MP, Whip, Speaker and later his life as convenor of the cross benches in the House of Lords.

In wartime Jack served in King George V’s own 19th Lancers (an amalgam of three of the original Bengal Lancer Calvary regiments) and as my father said, ‘like all gentle and peaceable men he was the very model of a perfect soldier.”

From war to tailoring and into parliament in 1964 he became the Conservative MP for Croydon. He rose through the ranks of the whips office and when he was deputy chief whip under Ted Heath we heard how the Queen especially looked forward to reading his rather humorous and cheeky takes on what was going on at Westminster. Her Majesty adored him. We also heard how the collapse of the Labour Government in 1979 would not have happened if Jack’s honourable gesture as deputy Chief Whip had been accepted by Walter Harrison (the Government deputy Chief Whip) – he offered to pair with a dying Labour MP even though he was in the best of health - the government fell by one vote. Like Walter he put honour before party.

And that was Jack. He was respected and loved by all sides of the House because of is honour and faithfulness. It was no surprise that he was elected as Speaker in 1983. It was quite a send off for Jack in Westminster Abbey. As his sons Bernard and Bruce said he would not have believed how many people were at the service. Representatives of Her Majesty the Queen, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and too many charities too mention. Mrs. Thatcher was there, John Major too and even Douglas Hurd dressed in his robes of clerical office! Tony Benn was there and listened as his great speech on the Zircon affair was recounted. Jack said that it was the best parliamentary speech he had ever heard. Not many people disagree.

More importantly his many grand-children were present. For they were his bliss and rapture unconfined. His entry in ‘Who’s Who’ sets out that one of his hobbies was playing with his grand children. He was a true family man and with his wife Lynn made the Speakers residence an exemplar of family life - welcoming, warm and unpretentious.

Jack told his closest friends that if he was to be remembered it was that his word was his bond. As my father said in the Abbey, “Jack it always was,and that is why we will remember you here, today and always as one of thegreatest parliamentarians of this, or any time”.

Tim Worstall has a nice anecdote about Lord Weatherill HERE.

A Good Day to be a Conservative

With a poll showing the Tories on 43% in the Telegraph this morning (highest rating for 15 years) and local government by election victories in Sefton and Harlow, it is a good time to be a Conservative.

UPDATE: Actually, it's 41%. That's he last time I believe Michael Portillo, who announced it on THIS WEEK!

Later this morning I will be driving to a secret location in Berkshire where I will be speaking at a Conservative Madrassa Young Britons Foundation training weekend. And by way of a contrast, on Sunday morning I'll be addressing the Institute of Ideas 'Battle of Ideas' conference on the dumbing down of British TV, alongside Peter Horrocks, Guy Rundle, Ray Snoddy and Minette Marrin.

Telegraph Column: Cameron Should Ignore the LibDems

My column in today's Telegraph looks at the challenge Nick Clegg or Chris Huhne will provide for David Cameron.

Earlier this year, I spent a very enjoyable 60 minutes interviewing Nick
Clegg. As we walked out of the studio, I said to him: "You realise you and I
haven't disagreed on anything this evening, don't you?" Quick as a flash, he
replied: "I don't know who should be most worried by that – you or me!" I also
had a similar experience interviewing Chris Huhne. Have no fear, I'm not about
to defect to the Liberal Democrats, but I recount this anecdote to illustrate
that, for the first time in decades, they are about to elect a leader who is
quite prepared to do business with the Conservatives. Indeed, some of us feel
that Nick Clegg is actually in the wrong party.

Read more HERE.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Perils of a Misplaced Exhaust Pipe

Hampshire police thought it would be a good idea to advertise on the rear of a bus... although their planning did not take into account the position of the bus's exhaust pipe... It gives a new meaning to the phrase "would you blow into this, sir"!

An Interview with the Creator of Sir Humphrey Appleby

This afternoon I had the pleasure of interviewing Sir Antony Jay, the co-creator of Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister. Here's a five minute clip. For the full interview, click HERE. The rest is mainly about his views on the future of the BBC.

Stop Press: Labour Peer Accused of Cash for Access

I've been leaked a copy of the Guardian's explosive front page story tomorrow. And boy is it explosive. It accuses Labour Peer Lord Hoyle (former Warrington MP Doug Hoyle) of taking money to intriduce arms dealers to the Defence Procurement Minister Lord Drayson. Here are the opening paras of David Leigh's story...

A Labour peer has admitted taking money to introduce an arms company lobbyist to the government minister in charge of weapons purchases. The case of 'cash for access' in the House of Lords is likely to ignite fresh concern about ethical standards in parliament. The lobbyist paid cash for an introduction to Lord Drayson, the defence minister in charge of billions of pounds of military procurement, according to evidence obtained by the Guardian. Money changed hands with former Labour frontbencher Lord Hoyle, previously Doug Hoyle, an ex-government whip and former MP for Warrington.

The lobbyist, Michael Wood, who trades as Whitehall Advisers, agreed to pay Lord Hoyle an undisclosed sum in June 2005. MoD documents released to the Guardian show that Lord Hoyle then engineered a private meeting between Mr Wood and the newly appointed defence minister. Mr Wood is a former RAF officer who works for BAE and other smaller arms companies to help get them contracts. He has free run of the Palace of Westminster because he has a security pass as a research assistant to another MP. He operates his company from his nearby flat.

Paying cash for ministerial introductions is a practice frowned on at the House of Lords, but not specifically outlawed. 'Cash for introductions' is forbidden by the main lobbyists' trade body, the Association of Professional Political Consultants, but Mr Wood is not a member.

There's a lot more. Read the full story HERE.

Labour Blogger in Denial Over Gay 'Paedo' Smear

LibDem blogger Andy Mayer has the latest in the Miranda Grell saga. Grell a Waltham Forest Labour councillor and blogger was recently found guilty of smearing her LibDem opponent, inferring that he had a unhealthy interest in young men decades younger than himself. As a result he has been forced to move away from the area despite the allegations being totally untrue. However, despite being banged to rights Grell has decided to launch a fund so she can appeal. Andy Mayer concludes...
The continued mealy-mouthed defence of her by some Labour commentators like Paul Burgin, and Chris Paul is disgraceful and frankly does their party a disservice. There are plenty of Labour campaigners who do not exploit hate to get elected, and instead like many Liberal Democrats and Conservatives, simply work hard in their communities, criticise their opponents for what they do, not who they are, and
get on with what should be the decent public service commitment inherent in the
profession of politics.The Labour party needs to get on with expelling Grell,
something that should not depend on the outcome of her PR-driven appeal
campaign, remind some of their bloggers that the party does not endorse the use
of homophobia or other forms of hate in their campaigning, and restate their
commitment to eradicating prejudice.

Why Gordon Brown Is So Crap At PMQs

I have an article on CommentIsFree which was originally titled WHY GORDON BROWN IS SO CRAP AT PMQs. However, I see they have retitled it to THE FINE ART OF PMQs. Read it HERE.

Press Banned from LibDem Hustings Q&A

It seems it's not only Gordon Brown who's good at making enemies of the ladies and gentlemen of the press. At the LibDem hustings between TweedleClegg and TweedleHuhne, journalists are only allowed in to hear their ten minute speeches. They're then gently ushered out of the room before Mr Beard and Mrs Sandals ask questions. As a consequence, many journalists are threatening to boycott the events.

At the twelve Conservative leadership hustings in 2005 the press were allowed in to the whole event. Who's the liberal party now then?!

Who Will Pull the Aussie Strings?

This is another Australian Liberal Party election commercial. It strikes me as a tad desperate.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I Don't Feel Guilty for Driving a Car

The 'Nanny Staters' are at it again. According to THIS story on Guardian Online, car manufacturers will now have to devote 20% of the space of their adverts (or time) to explaining how much pollution they cause. You know, if people want to know about that it's perfectly easy to read in the car's manual. It's stated very prominently in most of them.

Anybody with half a brain knows that cars cause pollution. And anyone who is concerned about that will ensure that they buy a car which they're happy with. When I ordered my new car I made sure I knew what the emissions were before I placed the order. The salesman told me that most people now ask the same question and that it wouldn't be long before Audi were forced, by customer demand, to produce their own version of the Prius. They needn't bother on my account, but it proves that customers are, as ever in a free economy, making their own informed choices. What we do not need are do-gooders telling us that we should feel guilty for driving cars. For many people cars are a necessity, not a luxury.

Brown: Labour Not to Blame for Scottish Elections Scandal

I don't know how other people saw it, but I thought David Cameron absolutely hammered Gordon Brown in the second half of PMQs today, when he questioned him about the conduct of the Scottish elections and Wee Dougie Alexander's part in it. The PM had already stuttered his way through the first half of his weekly ordeal, but to pretend that it was the Opposition parties who were to blame for the Scottish election disaster was beyond belief. He even accused Cameron of "misleading" the House by quoting from the Gould Report, which caused the Speaker to consult his Clerk. The Speaker also - for the second week running - had to rebuke Gordon Brown's PPS Ian Austin for screaming abuse at David Cameron throughout his questioning of Brown. Not very edifying. Brown really is on the ropes in these PMQ sessions nowadays. For three weeks in a row Cameron has had a clear win.

UPDATE: Brownite cheerleader-in-chief and all round man of the people Kevin Maguire blogs about PMQs in a post rather grandly titled MY VIEWS ON TODAY'S PMQS. He can't quite bring himself to say it, but the message was clear: Cameron won

How to Kill the Blogosphere in One Easy Lesson

Romano Prodi's Cabinet has just proved a law designed to kill the Italian blogopshere stone dead. According to Italian blogger Beppe Grillo...
Ricardo Franco Levi, Prodi’s right hand man , undersecretary to the President of the Council, has written the text to put a stopper in the mouth of the Internet. The draft law was approved by the Council of Ministers on 12 October. No Minister dissociated themselves from it. On gagging information, very quietly, these are all in agreement. The Levi-Prodi law lays out that anyone with a blog or a website has to register it with the ROC, a register of the Communications Authority, produce certificates, pay a tax, even if they provide information without any intention to make money. Blogs are being born every second, anyone can start one without a problem and they can write their thoughts, publish photos and videos. In fact, the route proposed by Levi limits access to the Internet. What young person is going to submit to all these hoops to do a blog? the Levi-Prodi law obliges anyone who has a website or a blog to get a publishing company and to have a journalist who is on the register of professionals as the responsible director. 99% would close down. The lucky 1% still surviving on the Internet according to the Levi-Prodi law would have to respond in the case of the lack of control on defamatory content in accordance with articles 57 and 57 bis of the penal code. Basically almost sure to be in prison. If the law gets passed, it’ll be the end of the Internet in Italy. My blog won’t close. If I have to, I’ll transfer lock stock, barrel and server to a democratic State. PS. Anyone wishing to express their opinion to Ricardo Franco Levi can send an email to:

What's the betting that having passed through the Italian Parliament it will then emerge as a Draft Directive in Brussels?

Why a Shadow Cabinet Reshuffle Would be Wrong

ConservativeHome is running a series of ideas on what David Cameron should do next. Today's is to reshuffle his Shadow Cabinet with the key being to move George Osborne to being Party Chairman and for William Hague to replace him as Shadow Chancellor and David Lidington to be promoted to Shadow Foreign Secretary (not gonna happen). The logic behind this suggestion is that reporting lines at CCHQ are blurred with effectively three Party Chairman - Caroline Spelman (the actual chairman), Michael Ashcroft (in charge of target seats) and George Osborne (General Election coordinator).

There are several flaws in this argument, the main one being that William Hague has made it abundantly clear to anyone who will listen that he would rather go back to writing books than be Shadow Chancellor. He's quite happy where he is and intends to stay there.

Speculating about a Shadow Cabinet reshuffle only a matter of weeks after the last one isn't particularly helpful. It would be seen as a pretty desperate step, although I suppose the fact that we are in a post 'non-election' situation could be used to justify it. David Cameron is known to intensely dislike reshuffles and he seems to be happy with his team, which has performed well after a dodgy start. To tinker with it so soon would be wrong.

How to Make a Scary Political Ad

It's not rocket science, as George Bush once said on a visit to Cape Canaveral...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Top Ten Political Misjudgements

If you like counterfactuals, you'll love Paul Linford's Top Ten Political Misjudgements HERE.

Where's Wee Dougie Alexander?

On the day he is accused of making decisions for "partisan political interests" in the conduct of the Scottish elections earlier this year, Wee Dougie Alexander is nowhere to be seen. It seems he has learnt at the feet of MacAvity Brown and done a runner. And yet this is the man in charge of Labour's general election campaign. In any normal political circumstances, where politicians are held accountable for their actions, he'd be collecting his P45 tonight. What a shower this government is. And some people were naive enough to think they would be different to Blair's administration. Some hope.

The Good and Bad Sides of Commons Modernisation

The House of Commons Modernisation Committee has made three recommendations today, one of which I fully support, one of which I fully oppose and one of which I am indifferent to. They are...
  • Allowing MPs to check emails while in the chamber as long as it doesn't interfere with the business of the Commons
  • The final 10 minutes of departmental question times each day will be set aside for "open questions". This will be like prime minister's questions, where no notice is given of what is to be asked.
  • There will be a three week gap between a general election and Parliament re-starting, to allow new MPs time to learn the ropes

Now, your task over the next hour is to decide which I agree with, which I don't and which I'm indifferent to. And let me have your views too, as they say in Radioland. At least here you don't have to text!

UPDATE: I am totally against allowing MPs to check emails in the chamber, totally in favour of open questions and indifferent to the three week gap for inducting new MPs. But then, most of you guessed that. In the words of Elaine Paige, you know me so well!

Is the Abortion Industry Manipulating a Select Committee?

There are three subjects guaranteed to attract comments from the blog equivalent of the 'green ink' brigade - Israel, Climate Change and abortion. The last time I wrote about abortion (HERE) the post got 162 comments. I am going to write this blogpost in the calmest way I can, and I would ask that the ensuing debate in the Comments reflects that. In June I wrote...

In an ideal world there would be no abortion, but we do not live in that world and never will. Those of us who adopt a pro-life attitude must recognise that we cannot roll back the clock and shouldn't try to. We have to be pragmatic, but that does not stop us trying to understand why the abortion rate in this country is so much higher than in most others, and then doing something about it. The question is, what. The Select Committee of Science & Technology is holding an inquiry into the subject at the moment. Health Minister Dawn Primarolo appears before it tomorrow.

Nadine Dorries, a member of the Committee, has written a blogpost today which is quite explosive. In it, she accuses the vested interests on the 'abortion industry' of manipulating a Select Committee inquiry for their own ends. In particular she highlights the role of the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG). Nadine writes...

The RCOG Committee which drew up the guidelines, that regulate the abortion
industry is made up mainly of abortion providers, both on a large and small
scale. For example both the BPAS and Marie Stopes who carry out the lions share
of 200,000 abortions per year are advisors to the Committee. Dr Kate Guthrie, is
an advisor – it was she, who when giving evidence to the Science &
Technology Select Committee, said speaking with her RCOG hat on, that she saw no
evidence to change from 24 weeks – and then said on national TV the following
night via the Dispatches programme, that she wouldn’t abort a baby over 20
weeks. When asked was this because it was too much like a baby, she said “I
suppose so.” Militant, pro-abortion groups are also advisors, but in the name of
balance, no pro-life groups. Almost every person on the committee has a vested
financial interest in ensuring that the number of abortions which take place in
the UK remains amongst the highest in Europe.

I believe that the RCOG may have deliberately attempted to mislead the
Science & Technology Committee in its submission. It failed to mention the
Hoekstra study which demonstrates how with good neonatal ntervention, 66% of all babies (that is babies born naturally because there may have been medical
complications not healthy babies aborted) at 23 weeks live. It failed to mention
how in the UK at good neonatal units such as UCH London and Hope hospital in
Salford, 43% of 23 weekers live. Instead it chose to quote a study which
averages out births at all hospitals across the UK, which puts the figure at 10
-15%. The RCOG also failed to quote any papers linking abortion to pre-term
delivery which had been published after 2003 and completely ignored the recent
peer reviewed acclaimed study into foetal pain produced by Dr Anand. The RCOG
also went foolishly further than this and have in a very childish way claimed
they are not aware of Dr Anand on their web page. Dr Anand is the world's authority on foetal pain - it was his work at Oxford in the 1980’s which resulted in all neonates being given anaesthesia for general surgery today. Until he produced his work it was thought that neonates could not feel pain, by measuring stress hormones he proved otherwise. Dr Anand has been published world wide. The RCOG web site stating that they are unaware of Dr Anand is the equivalent of a group of mathematicians asking “who is Einstein?”

She then goes on to question the role of the BMA, which "voted at its conference to support the move to require only one doctor's signature for an abortion to be performed, not two".

Nadine is accusing Dawn Primarolo of coming to the Committee tomorrow having already publicised her evidence in advance. Primarolo is a known advocate of the liberalisation of abortion laws, so I am not sure that this should come as a great surprise to anyone, but if she really has made up her mind on the 20 versus 24 week term limit argument, Nadine has a point in asking why the Select Committee has bothered to have an inquiry.

On the argument in question, my own view is that the law should indeed be changed to reduce the limit to 20 weeks. Medical science has moved on in light years and it is now possible for a 24 week old foetus to be kept alive. We know this because it regularly happens. It also feels pain, as Dr Anand has proven. Those who argue against this and accuse us of having a wider agenda of banning abortion (not true in my case) need to think again and accept the fact that by arguing for an outdated 24 week limit they are arguing for the continuation of licensed murder. Even Sir David Steel, who introduced the 1967 Act agrees.

Dirty Hospitals Are a Result of False Priorities

Following the Maidstone & Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust debacle last week, it seems there is a bad situation developing in Wales, according to THIS BBC report. People need to be careful not to tar all hospitals with the same brush, but one thing is becoming clear, and that's that NHS management is failing. If managers are not able to implement proper cleaning procedures it is only right to ask what else they are getting wrong. The NHS is one of the world's largest employers - second only to the Indian army, I read somewhere. Reforming it is like turning round an oil tanker. Successive governments have tried and failed, partly because few politicians have the courage to admit what we all know - that it's a 1940s national structure, trying and failing to meet the demands of twenty first century healthcare. It seems to me that there should be national centres for some treatments, but apart from that, the NHS needs to be broken down into much smaller units. You cannot run an organisation employing more than a million people centrally. At the moment you have the worst of all worlds, with national, regional and local administrations burdening people at the coalface with daily demands, targets and bureaucracy.

The other reason the NHS creaks is because no one will own up to the fact that it cannot meet every demand placed on it. When it was created it was meant to provide a comprehensive system of healthcare. No one envisioned to the medical advances that would be made. No one predicted that we would need a body like NICE to ration the provision of drugs. Certainly no one would ever have predicted that the NHS would take up around a sixth of government expenditure.

But it's this expenditure that has proved to be the essence of many of the NHS's problems. Since 1997 expenditure on the NHS has more than doubled, yet the outcomes are nowhere near what one might have predicted with such a rise in funding. Ok, much of it was spent in salary rises for nurses and doctors, but one might have expected at least a 25% increase in productivity. Instead, what we have seen is a target culture which has led to a huge increase in false prioritisation within the NHS. Everything is about patient throughput, rather than patient care. And, I am afraid this brings us back to where we started. Dirty hospitals are a direct result of these false priorities.

Lunch with Theresa

I'm having lunch with Theresa May today. I shall be wearing my best shoes. Someone said to be recently, "you are to ties, what Theresa May is to shoes". I think they meant it kindly...

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Case for More Than 28 Days Detentions Died Today

Jacqui Smith appeared before the Home Affairs Select Committee today and completely destroyed her own government's case for increasing the number of days terrorist suspects can be held from 28 days. She revealed that there hasn't been a single occasion when there has been a need to do so so far. She then said that the need for an extension is 'precautionary', and that it is the police who feel it's necessary, due to the nature of the threat we face.

Jonathan Levy on the Boulton & Co blog says...
It seems to me that the job of government is not just to grant police powers,
but also to curtail them where they would be disproportionately draconian.

That's probably the most telling sentence I have read on a blog for a long time.

Part of the Union?

UPDATE Tue 11am: I cannot believe some of the ridiculous comments people have made about this video. Funny that no one has disputed any of the facts in it. It's not being anti Scottish, it's about being pro English and alerting people to the disgraceful amount of money being filtered out of England and given to Scotland. This is a legitimate political debate and the reaction in the comments demonstrate that there are many people afraid of having it. I wonder why that would be then?

Three More Election Battleground Programmes

I've recorded another three Election Battleground programmes today, all of which are alredy on the 18 Doughty Street archive. For the uninitiated they are 30 minute programmes with psephologist Robert Waller, who talks about the marginal seats in a different region of the country in each programme. Click on the links below for the latest three programmes and the the previous ones are listed too.

South London
North London

And from the archives, South West, South East, West Midlands, Wales, North of England, East Anglia, North West. We'll be doing Yorkshire, East Midlands and the South next.

Advert: Jonny Wilkinson Limited Edition Signed Caricature

Now you know that I am not a rugby fan, but even I watched the game on Saturday night - ok, ok, it was on in the background over dinner. Anyway, Jonny and the England rugby team certainly did the country proud at the weekend. Although it may be early to think of Xmas pressies just now, England rugby fans could do worse than visit where personally signed Jonny Wilkinson limited edition prints are still available. The images are by the caricaturist John Ireland and all the official prints come with a photo of Jonny signing his prints. HERE'S a direct link to the Jonny print.

You May Think You're Anonymous...

Just a warning to those 'anonymous' commenters who think they can say anything they like on a blog and get away with it. Well you can't. I've always maintained that anyone on the internet is subject to exactly the same laws as anyone else, and just because you post anonymously, that doesn't mean that you can't be traced.

The Guardian carried a very revealing report today about a case involving a football website where fans of Sheffield Wednesday expressed their views on the owners of the club in a libellous fashion. The Chairman, Chief Executive and five directors of the club have won a High Court ruling forcing the owner of the Owlstalk website to reveal the identity of those accused of libelling them. It's worth reading the whole article HERE but here's an extract...

The club's lawyers asked the judge, Richard Parkes QC, to order disclosure about the identity of 11 fans. But the judge decided some fans, whose postings were merely "abusive" or likely to be understood as jokes, should keep their anonymity. The judge ordered that three fans whose postings might "reasonably be understood to allege greed, selfishness, untrustworthiness and dishonest behaviour", should be unmasked. Their right to maintain their anonymity and express themselves freely was outweighed by the directors' entitlement to take action to protect their reputation, he said. Court orders obliging websites to disclose the identity of users posting anonymous defamatory remarks began in 2001.

Dominic Bray, of K&L Gates, Sheffield Wednesday's solicitors, said: "There seem to be quite a lot of websites that are using their anonymity to make comments about people and think that there shouldn't be any liability for it. But the internet is no different to any other place of publication, and if somebody is making defamatory comments about people then they should be held responsible for it. What these cases do is just confirm that's the law - the law applies to the internet as much as it does to anything else."

This ruling has huge implications for blogs and websites and may well force us all to introduce full registration. If there are any libel lawyers reading this, do give us your take on this ruling and how it may affect blogs like mine!

The EU Reform Treaty: The View from Spain

A friend of mine just emailed this.

Here's the view on the Treaty from Spain. In an editorial in El Mundo of Saturday it was stated "....The new Treaty conserves the core of the Constitutional Treaty......In reality, the Treaty rejected in 2005 by the French and Dutch has hardly been changed..." Couldn't be any clearer! I'm a simple sort of guy. So, in order to clear this up, can someone please set out in simple language the differences (if there are any) between the Constitution and the Reform Treaty so the public can decide. We can't trust the politicos to do this but there must be an independent body who can.

Indeed. Anyone like to help?

David Cameron made a pretty good first of it in the House of Commons in response to the Prime Minister's statement this afternoon.

The Irish Prime Minister says it’s 90 per cent the same. The Spanish Foreign Minister says it’s 98 per cent the same. The German Chancellor says “The substance of the Constitution is preserved. That is a fact”. Why does he think all of them are wrong and he is right? What’s more, isn’t it the case that even his own colleagues don’t believe him. His new Trade Minister, Lord Jones of Birmingham, days before his appointment, said: “This is a con to call this a treaty – it’s not. It’s exactly the same – it’s a Constitution”. His colleagues on the Labour-dominated European Scrutiny Committee say the EU Treaty is “substantially equivalent” to the constitution - even for Britain. They say that pretending otherwise, as the Prime Minister keeps doing, is “likely to be misleading”. Next the Prime Minister says even if it’s a constitution for other countries it isn’t for Britain because of our opt outs and our red lines. Will he confirm the red lines don’t include the EU President, the single legal personality, the vetoes or the ratchet clause? That’s why his Hon Friend who helped to draft the Constitution described the red lines as “red herrings”.

Labour Peer to Apologise for Misleading the House?

Last week I accused Labour Finance Spokesman in the Lords, Lord Davies of misleading the House. See HERE. I suggested he might like to make a Personal Statement to apologise. It seems that he is making a personal statement this afternoon. It may be nothing at all to do with what I wrote about last week, but we shall see.

UPDATE: His statement was very short containing the required apology to the House and then maintaining that what he had meant to say was that UK corporation tax was one of the lowest amongst the G7 rather than the OECD!?! Yes ... well - not the sort of 'mistake' that one would expect a Minister on top of his brief to make.

Successful Schools Penalised by Labour

A few years ago I calculated that fewer than ten Labour MPs, out of a (then) total of 416 had ever run a business. THIS story in today's Telegraph exemplifies the effects of what happens when politicians have no idea how businesses work. Ok, a school is not a business, but in this case acts like one. It builds up a capital sum over a number of years to spend on an expensive project - maybe a refurbishment, or a new classroom. Now the government comes along and says that it must hand over 5% of any end of year surplus to the local authority in some sort of new tithe system. All this does is penalise good schools who manage their assets properly, and encourage all schools to spend every single penny of their budget for fear of being penalised for not doing so. Typical socialist economics of the mad house.

Guido on The Independent

Guido's thoughtful (yes, he can be) piece on the conduct of The Independent over its EU story deserves wider publicity. Read it HERE. (And a follow-up HERE) I don't think this over yet. Not by a long way.

Will Huhne Drugs Story Prove Toxic?

The revelation, if it can be called that, that LibDem leadership frontrunner once penned an article for a student magazine running through the risks of taking different kinds of drugs, doesn't seem to be catching hold. It is actually an old story which has been re-run to cause him damage. He managed to laugh it off in the Andrew Marr interview yesterday. Perhaps people expect this sort of thing from Liberal Democrats and they are taken less seriously than if it were a Conservative politician. That may or may not be right, but anyone who thinks Chris Huhne should be disaqualified from standing because of an article like this is basically saying that anyone who did anything slightly wrong in their youth should never enter politics or aspire to positions of responsibility. The House of Commons would be a very empty place.

Alex Deane: Report from the Aussie Election Day 8


Last night’s tight debate between the Prime Minister and Kevin Rudd, and critiques thereof, dominate today’s media.

John Howard announced a new policy – a climate fund built with the funds gained from the auction of carbon permits, which will subsidise electricity bills for low income citizens. His essential message, that there is a cost to dealing with climate change and that people need to be helped to deal with those costs, is related to the fact that the best way to get people to engage with climate change is to help them to do so more easily, rather than lecturing them – an argument I’ve previously heard expressed well by Conservative blogger James Cleverly and is put really well by Crikey here.

That policy aside, the debate was a recital of a number of lines we’ve already heard – or at least, those of us who watched have heard. Debates such as these, IMHO, are watched almost solely by people who’ve made up their minds already. Certainly, most people will at least read a headline about who won or not (and, like most leaders’ debates in the modern era, this didn’t feature any knockout blows and is being spun both ways) but they don’t commit to sitting down and watching the 90 minutes of to-and-fro. I know that the heritage of such debates is very different in the USA of course, where great things supposedly turn on a candidate’s appearance, or whether he sighed or looked at his watch, but here it doesn’t receive the same focus.

There's a good poll for the Liberals in Western Australia HERE.


There is a meta-debate being conducted at the moment which threatens to drown out the debate proper. More precisely, the debate is about the “worm”, a fluctuating line appearing at the bottom of the screen that allegedly shows how the leaders are performing in the debate, based on the view of a group of people chosen by a TV station.

By agreement, the worm was not to be used in last night’s debate. Channel 9 chose to do it anyway. Their feed was briefly interrupted.

The response? Pandemonium. Accusations that the Liberal Party has been shutting down debate, free speech etc (Tim Blair gives a list of links to all the relevant coverage here). Kevin Rudd drew a parallel with the Soviet Union.

Putting aside the fact that the feed was interrupted by the National Press Club and not the government, the comparison is remarkably dumb, isn’t it? As I’ve said elsewhere, I don’t know why people think that it’s ok to make references to the USSR when they wouldn’t do so about Nazi Germany. Stalin was a tyrant just as evil as Hitler – indeed, in terms of the sheer number of people he murdered, even worse.

But Rudd must have a point in the end, no? I mean, of course dissent’s being crushed in Australia – I know, because I read it in the newspapers. Of course dissent’s being crushed – the momentary interruption of transmission of a debate between the Prime Minister and his opponent on one of the TV stations showing it displays that, doesn’t it?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sunday Observations

* What on earth was Gordon Brown doing alongside Heads of State on the Rugby World Cup platform? I was outraged of Tunbridge Wells! Why are you not surprised by that? The sight of Johnny Wilkinson pushing past Gordon Brown and ignoring him was a joy, though.

* It was inevitable I suppose that Lewis Hamilton would fail too.

* Still, at least the Happy Hammers won! Albeit somewhat fortunately...

* Chris Huhne seems to have made the more impressive start in the LibDem leadership stakes.

* Antony Seldon's new book on the Blair/Brown feud looks to be a cracker if the Mail on Sunday extracts are anything to go by. Our Prime Minister is psychotic.

* Looking forward to watching Episode 1 of new series of Spooks later. Love it.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Saturday Night Open Thread

We're off out to dinner this evening with my friend Simon Jones, who's the Tory candidate in Dagenham & Rainham, so I thought I would, by popular demand, create another open thread, where you can discuss what you like. Well, when I say "what you like", just remember I will have my Blackberry with me. I will be very annoyed if I have to use it, so behave!

Over to you!

My Next Book: 100 People Who Are Screwing Up Britain

I'm delighted to tell you about my next book - and believe it or not, I'm going to write it all on my own! More than a year ago I wrote THIS blogpost about an American book called THE 100 PEOPLE WHO ARE SCREWING UP AMERICA - (AND AL FRANKEN IS #37). Well, I'm going to write the British equivalent for Harriman House. It'll be called THE 100 PEOPLE WHO ARE SCREWING UP BRITAIN - AND.... and, well, this is where you come in. I want you to tell me who you think should be #37, and therefore on the book jacket. Actually, it needn't be #37. Polly Toynbee would of course deserve a much higher ranking.

Also, who do you think I should include in the book? Essentially, I'll be writing 100 polemical rants essays which will be provocative to anyone left of Nick Clegg. Mind you, by the time the book comes out, he may be included too.

The book will be published next September. I hope then to do a follow up in 2009 called 100 PEOPLE WHO ARE PUTTING BRITAIN BACK TOGETHER AGAIN. Or something like that.

Where are they Now? Arthur Scargill

Not that I much care, you understand. It's just that he hasn't reared his ugly head in years. Maybe he's retired to Walton on the Naze. Maybe he's plotting another socialist revolution. Anyone know the truth of his activities and wheareabouts? A nation demands to know!

The Trouble With Surveys

James Forsyth has stirred up a hornets nest with his post on the Coffee House blog that elder children are smarter than their younger siblings. He refers to the TIME story on the subject.
In June, for example, a group of Norwegian researchers released a study showing
that firstborns are generally smarter than any siblings who come along later,
enjoying on average a three-point IQ advantage over the next eldest—probably a
result of the intellectual boost that comes from mentoring younger siblings and
helping them in day-to-day tasks. The second child, in turn, is a point ahead of
the third.

I usually look at surveys and reports like these and look at them from a personal perspective. With respect, I think this one is rubbish. I have two sisters and I readily admit that one of them (I'm not saying which one!) probably has a far higher IQ than me. Indeed, when I think of my friends and relations it is often the second child who is cleverer. Maybe things are different in Norway!

Is Nick Clegg a Man of the Right?

Olly Kendall, Charles Kennedy's former press officer, has written another thoughtful ARTICLE for CiF on why Nick Clegg is the chosen one. He denies that Clegg is a man of the right in a way that doth protest a little too much, I feel. I remember doing an hour long interview with Nick Clegg and at the end of it said to him: "We've spent an hour talking and I can't think of hardly anything we've disagreed about. I'm not sure who should be more worried - me or you!"

There's no doubt that on economic issues he's a free marketeer. He's a libertarian on social and civil liberties issues. The only two areas I can think of where he's not on the right are immigration and Europe. He missed a major opportunity to differentiate himself from Chris Huhne yesterday by ruling out support for a referendum on the EU Reform Treaty. Bad move. I wonder if he still supports Ming's In or Out referendum.
I wonder if Chris Huhne will now grab the initiative and promise a referendum on the Treaty. Peter Spencer writes on the Boulton & Co blog...
Nick Clegg speaks very highly of Chris Huhne. And he means it. Chris Huhne speaks very highly of Nick Clegg. And he means it too. That'll be sexy then. Two deadly foes swopping lethal blows till it's the last man standing. Not. More like two girlies swopping Barbie accessories. And this saccharinathon will drag on for weeks. Not exactly a ratings challenge to the rugby.
Each candidate must take every opportunity to differentiate themselves. How about a referendum then, Chris?

This Week We Shall Mostly be Interviewing Actors

I've just watched THIS WEEK on the BBC's play again facility. They had some foppy haired actor called Julian Rhind-Tutt doing a film on why we should all be pro-european. It was a classic example of why THIS WEEK should steer clear of this sort of film. He came out with a series of cliches and platitudes - was quite eloquent, but had nothing very original to say.

But the telling point came when he was live in the studio and was found out. He couldn't string two words together. It indicated that for the film he had clearly learned a script - either his own or one that was written for him. In a ten minute discussion he hadn't a clue. He couldn't answer a single question put to him. What is the point of that? Wouldn't it have been better to have had a pro-european guest ... (whisper it, possibly even a politician?) who could actually articulate an argument?

It is true to say that every programme gets a dud guest from time to time. It even happens on 18 Doughty Street (!), but on a political programme like THIS WEEK surely we deserve better than a bit part actor who's got absolutely bugger all to say?!

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Myth of MPs' Holidays

There's been lots in the papers today about how MPs "have awarded themselves an extra ten days holiday" next year. Apparently there isn't enough legislation for them to pass. Well, yippedy do! I'd have thought that would have been a relief for most people. Unfortunately, the reason is more to do with the amount of legislation now emanating from Brussels than anything else. However, this also gives our MPs an opportunity. Why not increase the amount of time spent debating the great issues of the day? Parliament is not there just to legislate. We could allocate days of debate to the most popular Early Day Motions, for example, or say that the most popular Number Ten Petition ever month would get a debate. At least that would mean there was some point to them.

But perhaps we can destroy the tabloid myth that MPs get three months holiday. They don't. Most MPs I know - from all parties - take very little holiday. The majority actually work their constituencies when they are not in Parliament. And perhaps they ought to shout about that a little more!

Norfolk Blogger has more HERE.

Alex Deane: Report from the Aussie Election Day 5


Labor’s tax plans have been announced. Conventional opinion suggested that it would have to be out before Sunday, when (disagreements about arrangements notwithstanding) the debate between the leaders will take place. The Treasurer has given our response – it’s “me-tooism” – as 91.5% of it is taken from our previously announced plan. Heavy betting on the cartoons in tomorrow’s papers being of two schoolboys, Rudd and Costello, writing away – with Rudd peeking over and copying Costello.

The closing poll figures and a good week in the media have buoyed us. The widespread e-mailing of a particularly unpleasant bit of old footage of Rudd provides a reminder of the need for attention to, um, not eating earwax in public, if such a reminder were needed.

Ethan Eilon, the Executive Director of the College Republicans in the USA, has been with us today and will be with us for the next few weeks. We are very aware that people throughout the Anglosphere are watching this election – not only because of an interest in Australia’s future, but also for a sense of the direction of Conservatism.

What is the Point of the Greens?

Jeremy Paxman wonders what the point is of the LibDems. I would ask the same question of the Green Party nowadays. All three parties have largely adopted much of their agenda. The Greens are no more a political party than Friends of the Earth. They ought to join forces. This week I interviewed Rupert Read, who writes (like me) a column for the Eastern Daily Press and is leader of the eleven strong Green group on Norwich City Council. We covered a lot of ground but ended up talking about the Green Party itself and in particular the argument which is going on at the moment about whether they should ditch their co-speaker strategy and elect a leader instead. (Interview is HERE).

Most of the sensible people in the Green Party favour the latter strategy as they believe it will get them more coverage and make some political headway. There's no doubt that the Greens have some people at the top of their Party who don't frighten the electoral horses in the way that some of their activists do. I'm thinking about Caroline Lucas, Sian Berry, Darren Johnson etc. Later this year there will be a vote among the Party's 8,000 members. In large part, this will determine whether they deserve to be taken seriously in the future. A 'no' vote will consign them to oblivion as the sensible elements may well walk away and find something more rewarding to do with their lives. As someone said on the New Statesman website...
If the Greens can't trust one of their own to lead without forming a
dictatorship, how can they expect anyone to vote for them?

Quite. I have been remiss in not posting the Top Twenty Green Blogs, so I will put that right now. It was compiled by Jim Jepps, who writes the excellent Daily (Maybe) Blog

1. Alice in blogland
2. Sian Berry
3. Tom Acrewoods
4. Transition culture
5. Derek Wall
6. Jenny Jones
7. Gaian Economics
8. Know your place
9. Peter Tatchell
10. The Ecologist
11. Green Girls Global
12. Earthquake Cove
13. Philobiblon
14. The Void
15. Green Ladywell
16. Barkingside 21
17. Green Jelly Bean
18. Coventry Green Party
19. Conserve England
20. Greenmans Occasional Organ