Friday, October 31, 2008

Two Bits of Chipmunk News

Somehow one of my colleagues at Total Politics persuaded Hazel Blears to do the Daily Politico questionnaire while I was away. Nice of them to tell me! You can read it HERE. Highlights...

* Her favourite magazine is, ahem, Ride.
* She thinks it is a "shame LabourHome has never found its voice"
* She is a great fan of Barack Obama. Well, she doesn't quite say so, but it's easy to get her drift
* She has a bit of a crush on Gene Hunt

I'm rather looking forward to Tuesday morning when I shall have the pleasure of interviewing Hazel face to face for the next issue of the magazine. What do you think I should ask her?

The GQ Miliband Feature

Now that GQ has been out for four weeks*, I have posted the entire feature on the blog. It's a profile of both of the Miliband brothers which seeks to discover which one of them is most likely to get to the top. Dylan Jones, GQ's editor was kind enough to write this in his editor's letter...
Elsewhere in this issue you'll find Iain Dale's fascinating profile of Ed and David Miliband, the power duo at the heart of new New Labour (page 294). Dale researched his subjects for months before hitting his keyboard, and he's produced one of the most perceptive political profiles of the year.

If you would like to read the full article, click HERE.

* Reproduced with kind permission of GQ.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Israel Diary: Day 4 (Part 2)

As I was saying... We arrived at the United Nations refugee camp in Ramallah at around 11 and met the head of the camp, a very charming Palestinian who was born there and lived there all his life. We talked to him for 45 minutes about the camp and the problems he has. Six thousand people live there. It's certainly not got the worst conditions of the various camps but there's little doubt that housing issues are the main area of concern. He told us he had ten children, earns $800 a month (far higher than most of his compatriots) and they all live in three rooms - one for boys, one for girls and one for him and his wife. We kept asking him what measures could best improve the living conditions for him and the other 6,000 people who live in the camp, but he repeatedly told us that nothing could alter the fact that they are refugees and have been driven out of their homes. Even though he was born there, and his children are third generation, they all still class themselves as refugees even though they have never even seen the place they regard as home. And this is surely the nub of the whole refugee problem. Until there is an acceptance that there is no going back it is difficult to see how life in the West Bank can be normalised. We can throw as much money at the area as we like (and British aid alone is a massive $500 million over three years), it will never solve what the refugees believe to be the main issue.

We were then taken on a tour of the camp. Conditions were not as bad as I was expecting, to be honest and I suspect things are very different elsewhere. Everybody we met was keen to shake our hands - at no time did we feel under threat. Yesterday we were told we would have to stay in the bus as it was too dangerous, but that went by the board. Several passers by told us their stories. We then went to visit an elderly man and his wife in their own home. And as we walked in we could hardly fail to see the massive picture of Saddam Hussein on the wall! The couple had been driven out of their village on the coast in 1954 and had lived in the camp ever since. They have four children, the oldest one being in Gaza. They haven't seen him in ten years as they cannot travel there without a permit. As we left, Nick Boles pointed up to the picture of Saddam and did a throat slitting gesture. The woman found this very funny - luckily!

We then had a late lunch at the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem with the British Consul to the Palestinian Authority, before spending a couple of hours for briefings with two female diplomats from the Israeli foreign ministry.

This evening - the final evening of the trip - we went to a restaurant in Jaffa with two young journalists from Haaretz and another newspaper, the name of which temporarily escapes me.

So that's it. I have to get up at 5.30am to catch the 9.05 El Al flight in the morning. I hope you haven't been too bored by my travel diary. It's been a real eye opener of a trip. Tomorrow I will post something on the lessons I have learned during my trip, and then it will be back to normal blogging.

Israel Diary: Day 4 (Part 1)

Another early start, leaving the hotel at 7.45am for the 75 minute drive to Ramallah. For those who don't know, Ramallah is on the West Bank and houses the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority. In order to get into Ramallah we had to change buses as our Jewish driver is not allowed to cross into the West Bank. During the short drive to the PA HQ we drove through the streets of Ramallah, which is one of the more prosperous West Bank towns. Indeed, it looked little different to most Arab towns. We arrived a bit early and had to sit outside the PA Compound. Eventually we were allowed in and had the opportunity of viewing the morning marching by PA soldiers. Not sure their marching technique would quite make Sandhurst!

The security, it has to be said, was lax in the extreme. We were let into the building which houses President Abbas's office and we could have gone anywhere we wanted. We were shown into a waiting area before our meeting with Rafiq Husseini, Abbas's Chief of Staff. The waiting area was opposite Yassir Arafat's old office. Sorry, but I couldn't resist the pics...

We were with Mr Husseini for 45 minutes but left the meeting wishing it could have lasted the whole morning. What an impressive man. You got the feeling that if they were all like him, peace would break out in an instant. Calm, collected, authoritative and non-dogmatic - an ideal man to be one of the Palestinian Authority's chief negotiators. We had hoped to meet the Chief Negotiator for the Palestinian Authority Saeb Erekat, but unfortunately he proved to be otherwise engaged. Husseini made clear that little progress was likely to be made in the immediate future, due to the forthcoming Israeli elections, the change of US President and also the fact that there might well be Palestinian elections at the beginning of January. So while there is an Arab Peace plan up for discussion the week after next, it is not likely to get much traction. Olmert can't deliver the Israelis and it's doubtful whether Abbas could deliver wholesale support from the PA at this time, especially given the position of Hamas in Gaza. We asked him about Hamas and his hope is that they will lose electoral ground at the next elections after people have experienced the horrendous way they have governed Gaza over the last two years. He doesn't think they are getting much traction on the West Bank. He made the point that aid money can never replace the freedom to live in your homeland. He felt the economy of the West Bank was starting to revive after a very difficult few years, but poverty was still a real problem. Travel rights would remain a problem for families who have been split up. As we left, we visited the tomb of Yassir Arafat, which forms an impressive part of the PA compound. For some he remains a hero. For others, he was a man who led a completely corrupt regime.

So in the middle of the morning, we left the PA Compound to travel the short distance to the UNWRA Refugee Camp. More on this when I get back from dinner. And some pics!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Israel Diary: Day 3

I do not know what a Jew is, we only know what human beings are.
Pastor Andre Trocme, August 10 1942

It's been such a full day I am not quite sure where to start. We left the hotel in Tel Aviv to spend the whole day in Jerusalem. The traffic there has to be seen. The morning started with a briefing by one of President Peres's advisers. We talked about the history of Jerusalem and its very confusing geography. For those who haven't been here, it's almost impossible to explain without being on the ground. We were taken to a vantage point high up on a hillside overlooking the Mount of Olives and the old city. From there you can also see the security fence and the West Bank.

We then took a tour of the Old City with an absolutely superb tour. It was great walking through the Suq - row upon row of shops. The variety was astonishing. They don't do political correctness in Jerusalem. I nearly bought a supply of T Shirts with VISIT ISRAEL BEFORE ISRAEL VISITS YOU for some of the anti Jewish commenters who have infested this site of late. There were also T shirts of Yasser Arafat.

To stand where history was made - rather like when we went to the Sea of Galilee on Monday - was an absolute privilege. To trace the path to the crucifiction and see the spot where Jesus died was incredible. We then visited the holy wall just under the Mount of Olives. I have to say it was bizarre to hear the Muslim call to prayer while looking at the Mount of Olives, but people should realise that Jerusalem is a city which welcomes people of all religions. I suppose I had thought of it as primarily a Jewish place, but it is far from that, with peoples of all backgrounds and religions finding it a place of religious significance.

After that we headed of to Yad Vashem, the new Holocaust museum and memorial. It was only opened in 2005 and is a very impressive building. I have to say though, having been to a couple of concentration camps, I found it less emotional than I was expecting. On visits to Buchenwald and Dachau I found it incredibly harrowing, but here - perhaps because of the crowds - I didn't. Even typing that, I feel slightly guilty.

We then finished the day at the Knesset, where we were due to meet the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister, who is Druse, but he couldn't make it. Instead, we had an hour with a fascinating memebr of the Knesset, Binyamin Elon. He is the leader of the National Union party, which holds nine of the 120 seats in the Knesset and was Minister of Tourism under Ariel Sharon. His party is certainly right wing, but he holds some very unconventional views on the future of the West Bank. He is firmly against a two state solution and favours a confederation on the West Bank, with Jordan and Israel holding joint sovereignty of the area. He argues that there has never been such a thing as a Palestinian nation and that up until recently, the inhabitants of the West Bank have always been called Arabs.

We didn't get back to Tel Aviv until 8.30pm. I tried to find a bar showing the West Ham v Man U game but failed lamentably. Just as well considering the result.

Before I came here, several people told me that Israeli food was awful. They could not be more wrong. The breakfast in the Carlton Hotel has to be seen to be believed (the Carlton is highly recommended - one of the best hotels I have ever stayed in), and every single meal has been memorable. And for all the right reasons! Today in Jerusalem I had the best smoked salmon and cream cheese onion bagel I have ever had.

I'm very much looking forward to tomorrow, when we will be spending the day in Ramallah and Bethlehem. We're seeing Mahmoud Abbas's Chief of Staff, a representative of the UN and the British Consul to the Palestinian Authority during the course of the morning, as well as visiting a refugee camp.

James McGrath Bounces Back

It's always nice to see friends bouncing back. You may remember I was highly critical of Boris's decision to let James McGrath go earlier in the summer. Losing his job was a bitter blow to James, but being the guy he is, he's come up smelling of roses. I am sure other blogs have reported on this already, but he has played a leading role in advising the Maldive Islands opposition in their general election victory which has toppled a dictator of 30 years' standing.

James took a lot of crap from the Maldivian government which made the Boris business look like child's play - he even had to have his own bodyguards. They had three press conferences on him in one weekened, tried to deport him, said he was a Christian missionary poisoning the Muslim society, said that he was an inciter of violence and even that he had been promised his own island if they won!

I gather that the Conservative Party has done quite a lot to help the Maldivian Democratic Party, with several activists and politicians having been over there in high profile visits to show their support and give advice.

Now, James, if you are reading this, and you've signed the papers on the free island, I'm free at the end of November. Readers know how I like freebies.*

* For those with a sense of humour loss, that was a lame attempt at a joke. Some of you seem to have lost the understanding of that word lately.

Demo at the Knesset and Tomorrow in Ramallah

I'll be writing up the day's events in Jerusalem a bit later, but I thought I'd just post this. We have just spent an hour talking to the leaders of one of Israel's minor parties at the Knesset. We then went into the chamber, but as we made our way out of the building we saw arouind 100 people runniging towards us shouting and brandishing red flags, having breached the security barrier. The security people told us to run in the opposite direction. I have to say we ambled as we were more interested in getting pictures on our cameraphones (I will add one later). For a fleeting moment I must admit I wondered what might happen next, but everything was OK. They made their point and within a few minutes were making their way out again. I had a word with one of them and it turned out that it was a good old fashioned student protest about education cuts.

Those who seem to think I am on an indoctrination trip and that I can't possibly have a mind of my own (in which case why do they come back here?) will be delighted to know that tomorrow will be spent visiting Ramallah, going to a 'refugee camp' and talking to various representatives from the Palestinian Authority and the British Consul. Then we're going to Bethlehem. Unlike some of the people who have commented on previous threads I like to see both sides of the argument.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ten New Blogs VII

Join the Riad Revolution - a new LibDem blog
The Real Hansard
Young Unionists
Another Day - Centre right blog from an ex investment banker
Werner Patels - Canadian political pundit
Stories Behind the Stats - Welsh domestic violence blog set up by Nerys Evans AM
Whipped Senseless
Jimmy Lee Shreeve - Libertarian journalist
Bloggers 4 UKIP
Imtiaz Ameen - Tory activist in Dewsbury

Israel Diary: Day 2

The day started with breakfast at our hotel with the British Ambassador to Israel, Tom Phillips. It's his second tour of duty here and he gave us an overview of the situation as he saw it. I asked him about Tony Blair's role here, which I hadn't realised was purely related to economic development in Gaza and the West Bank. For some reason I had thought he had a role in the peace process.

We then spent the morning at the rather impressive University of Tel Aviv. The campus is incredibly well kept, possibly due to the fact that the students haven't returned yet.

Our first meeting of the day was with Professor Asher Susser, the former Director of the Dayan Centre for Middle Eastern Research. He taught me more about the Middle East in half an hour than I thought possible. He believes that for the first time since 1967 Israel now suffers from an existential threat. He said Egypt has declined in importance and influence, especially with regard to Gaza and the Sudan. He believes there are now only three important players in the Middle East peace process, none of which is an Arab state. Arabs are not calling the shots any longer, he maintained. The three states are Israel itself, Turkey and Iran. I questioned him about this and asked why he failed to mention Syria or Jordan. He said Syria was now just the front man for Iran and played second fiddle. Iran had replaced the Soviet Union as the main influence on the Syrian regime.

Professor Susser maintains that the future of Lebanon is up for grabs between the Sunnis and the Shias, but because the centre of gravity in middle east politics has shifted from Cairo to the Persian Gulf and Iran is now establishing a Mediterranean presence through Lebanon. There is a retreat of secular politics and that Islamists are shaping discourse and politics in the area.

He does, however, believe that Iranian expansion may well be contained in 2009 because of the dramatic fall in the price of oil. Every $ fall in the oil price means $1 billion fewer dollars in revenue for Iran. This may well provide the opportunity to open a proper dialogue with Iran. He says you cannot boycott Iran out of existence. Pressure must be ratcheted up on the Iranian regime as a precursor to negotiation. He says Israel should prepare for a US-Iranian dialogue because it is surely coming. The US should concede Iranian pre-eminence in the gulf in return for full western recognition - but that's where a line should be drawn. The US must make clear that the Iranians cannot be allowed to interfere in the Mediterranean.

He likened the Iranian nuclear situation to that of Japan, which has the capability to make a bomb, but hasn't actually done so. He said it was up to the four great powers, plus maybe Russia, to supervise and verify any Iranian nuclear programme.

Later in the morning we had an economic briefing from Professor Dan Ben-David from the university's Department of Public Policy. He is a leading Kadima supporter and had been set on a political career, but next week he is starting a new job as head of the Israeli equivalent of the Brookings Institution. He started off by giving us a set of very impressive figures about the Israeli economy. Foreign investment has gone up from $600 million in 1993 to $13,500 in 2006. He was keen to stress that Israelis are some of the most innovative people in the world, with patent applications on a level with those of America. But then the good news stopped. Living standards were not as high as other nations with equivalent economies, poverty was higher and so was inequality. All have been getting worse since the 1970s. Labour productivity is a quarter lower than in the USA, with only 71% of males in employment (UK figure is 81%). Professor Be-David clearly believes Israel has the potential to become a thriving market economy, but is not quite there yet.

Our third session of the morning was spent at the Aerodynamic Lab, where we received a talk about, well, aerodynamics. Quite honestly it might as well have been in Hebrew, as I didn't understand a word of it. I got ungraded Physics O Level, so I wasn't entirely surprised.

The last engagement of the morning was an hour long tour of the Israeli Diaspora Museum. The museum explains how Jews have come to move to various countries throughout the world.

We spent the afternoon at the Institute for Counter Terrorism. I'm going to come over all Jack Bauer now and say that I would love to tell you what we talked about, but then I would have to kill you. There were some fairly bleak messages about the rise of radical islamic terrorism and what the West, and mainstream muslims, will need to do to counter it.

Tonight we're off for dinner at a private house, and tomorrow we're spending the day in Jerusalem. Later.

UPDATE: Due to being extremely tired I wasn't particularly looking forward to going out tonight, but it really was an evening to remember. They say you can't really get to know a country until you get to know its people. Well tonight we were invited to dinner at a private house in Tel Aviv by a lovely lady called Evelyn. There were about 15 of us altogether, including a journalist from the Haaretz newspaper and a senior official from the Foreign Ministry. We talked about all sorts of things, but I was keen to learn what they all thought of Benjamin Netanyahu. He seems to me like a politician who talks tough in opposition but is then rather more liberal in power.

Don't Throw All the Blame at Ross & Brand

Russell Brand has only one redeeeming feature. He sits a couple of rows away from me at West Ham. I've frnakly never quite 'got' his appeal. Jonathan Ross, on the other hand, I rather like. But the fire being directed at them over Brand's phone call to Andrew Sachs is entirely misdirected.

As I understand it this was a pre recorded show. While the phone calls were distasteful and ill judged, Brand and Ross are not to blame for the fact that they were transmitted. The fault lies entirely with the programme's producer and editor. It is they who should be called to account for this debacle.

UPDATE: People seem to have got the wrong end of the stick here, possibly because I used the word 'entirely'. Of course Ross and Brand are to blame, but as the headline says, the blame needs to be shared around a bit. They were incredibly crass, insulting and stupid to do what they did, but anyone who knows anything about broadcasting will know that the decision to broadcast lies not with them but with the producer, editor and ultimately the station controller. I trust that is clearer.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Israel Diary: Day 1

I'm so tired I can hardly type, so we'll see how far I get with this. Today was spent travelling through northern Israel in a huge American nine seater 4x4. We set off from Tel Aviv just after 8am. The traffic congestion heading out of the city was New York-esque in proportion. We ended up making a detour to avoid a huge traffic jam not far from Nazareth, as we made our way up to the Golan Heights. The further north you head, the more spectacular the scenery becomes. We headed for a Kibbutz just over the fence from the South Lebanon border village of Addaisseh. If you look on the map (click to enlarge) it's right at the northern tip of Israel. Looking over into Lebanon I felt in a timewarp, as I remembered the first time I had been to the East/West German border 31 years ago. As our guide told us all about the history of the area, we suddenly heard distant gunfire. We were told it could be cross border gunfire or it might be a wedding. A few minutes later there was a huge bang not that far away. Our guide told of a cross border attack by Hizbollah terrorists who, one night, attacked the Kibbutz and kidnapped several children. A three month baby was shot in the head. The baby's twin brother is now a friend of our guide. It was from Addaisseh that many of the rockets were launched in 2006, which did so much damage to Israel.

From there we travelled across to the Syrian border (pic). The Golan Heights were annexed by Israel in 1967 and have remained a bone of contention ever since. There are very few settlements in the area as there is great uncertainty over its future. Rabin was apparently ready to hand the Heights back to Syria as part of a wider middle eastern peace deal, but he didn't live to take it further. Looking down over the border, there are many villages and towns visible in the valley below. Again, memories of East Germany came back to me.

From there we travelled south to the Sea of Galilee. It was this part of the day that told me what the expression 'Holy Land' means. All of us were truly humbled by what we saw and experienced this afternoon. We visited three holy sites, which figure prominently in the Bible - all of which were within a stone's throw of each other on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. First on the agenda was the site of the feeding of the five thousand - then to the point where Jesus is said to have walked on water and finally - and most memorably for all of us, the Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount. On the site of the feeding of the five thousand it almost appeared to us that there were five thousand German tourists there expecting a reprise.

We all know these stories from the bible, and I suppose I have always considered each of them a work of fiction. But when you actually stand on the very ground that Jesus was said to have stood on, it makes you reevaluate some very long held views. I have to say, though, that bearing in mind its historical significance, the Mount of Beatitudes is a rubbish dump. Literally. Look at the picture (right) of our guide, as he read from the Sermon on the Mount and you will see rubbish by his feet. It's astonishing that the Israeli government doesn't seem to worry about the upkeep of many of its historical gems.

This evening we went out for a meal on the beachfront in Tel Aviv. It was in a restaurant not far from Mike's Bar, which was the bar bombed by two Britons not long ago. Perhaps I should not have been hugely surprised to be security swept as I walked into the restaurant. But I was.

Tomorrow, the more political parts of our trip get underway. We're meeting the British Ambassador to Israel for breakfast, then going to Tel Aviv university for briefings on the peace process and counter terrorism policy. On Wednesday we are spending the day in Jerusalem, including a tour of the Holocaust museum and a meeting with the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister who is a Druse member of the Knesset. Then on Thursday we're travelling to the West Bank to meet the Chief Negotiator for the Palestinian Authority Saeb Erekat.

It really is true to say that the only way of properly understanding the problems of the Middle East is to visit it and hear first hand from those at the sharp end. We're not just hearing the Israeli side, we're meeting with Druse and Palestinian representatives too. It's a real education and a privilege.

Speaking at the Conservative 'Madrassa'

On Saturday morning I spent a very enjoyable two hours doing some TV training with the 75 twenty somethings who attended the Conservative Madrassa Young Britons' Foundation conference in Berkshire. Several things struck me. There were a considerable number of female participants (unlike the previous year) and the level of enthusiasm was fantastic. Many of the participants were not only new to the YBF but new to Conservative activism.

In many ways, this two day course is something the party ought to be doing, but perhaps it is best for it to be run by an independent body. There was a fantastic line-up of speakers including the likes of DD, IDS, Ed Vaizey, Douglas Murray, Eric Pickles, Matthew Elliott, John Whittingdale, Jonathan Isaby and Nigel Evans. There was a real showcase of a range of conservative viewpoints - from Ed Vaizey's uber-modernising views to Douglas Murray's hawkishness, from IDS' social conservatism to the freedom agenda of David Davis.

Since 2003 more than 900 youngsters have graduated YBF training courses, with many of the now standing for local councils, parliament and active in the media. Donal Blaney and Christian May deserve congratulations for these type of courses, which really do seek to engage young people with the political process and create a hub of the next generation of Conservatives. If anyone wishes to attend future courses they can contact the YBF through their WEBSITE.

When I speak at events like this I usually drive away thinking I could have done a lot better. I really don't consider myself God's gift to public speaking, but I was truly gratified when Donal told me the 75 delegates attending had rated me in the top three speakers of the weekend. I guess it also guarantees I will do it again next year!

New Issue of Total Politics Out Now

Feature interview with Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP
Ricky Gervais: If I Were PM
Interview with Green Party leader Caroline Lucas
Peter Riddell on how we treat our armed forces
Amber Elliott on the new young generation of politicos
Tim Shipman on how Obama could still lose
We help celebrate the tenth anniversary of BBC Parliament
David Seymour explains why we still need the House of Lords
Irwin Stelzer & Johann Hari debate whether Obama or McCain would be best for Britain
Peter Bruinvels features in our Where are They Now slot
Five new articles feature in our Total Campaigns section
Sir Alan Beith is interviewed about his memoirs

You can read the free of charge E-Zine HERE or the text versions of all the articles HERE.

A 12 issue subscription to Total Politics costs £35 (27% discount) and you can buy one HERE.

You can buy a print version of the magazine at any branch of W H Smith, or selected branches of Waterstone's and Borders.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Why Blog?

If you want to understand why I blog - or anyone else for that matter, read this article by Andrew Sullivan titled WHY I BLOG. Class.

Killing Time

I'm writing this somewhere over the Croatian coast, essentially because I have nothing better to do. I had forgotten how much I hate flying. There's always that sense of excited anticipation but the reality is usually a disappointment. A bit like a one night stand. I have a long memory...

I'm sat here in 28E, crammed in like a sardine. I've tried to sleep but can't. Even James Blunt on my iPod has failed to make the sandman come. I've been reading Frank Skinner's book, but I can't get into it. I like a knob joke as much as the next man but the book hasn't got the warmth of his autobiography, which was one of the best books I have read in years. And seeing as I don't like watching so-called in flight entertainment I am spending my time being transfixed by the screen at the front which charts our progress. We don't seem to be getting far. Still two and a half long hours to go. I think I shall spend the next few minutes making a voodoo curse on the man in front of me who insists on reclining his seat with the avowed purpose of crushing my legs. In a vain attempt to allow my left leg a little room, I edge it out into the aisle... only for it to be crushed by the food trolley.

The stewardess seems affronted that I decline the no doubt delicious meal she is offering to me. Like I care. She shouldn't have tried to crush my leg. She makes me feel guilty by asking the man in front to put his seat upright. Once she's out of sight he reclines again. Tosser. I now debate whether I should tap him on the shoulder and a) ask him politely to put his seat up as it is goimg to give me a blood clot or b) treat him to one of my special withering looks. Of course I do nothing. I'm British innit?

At the moment I'd happily storm the cockpit and ask the pilot to let me get off in Dubrovnik. Update: 1238 miles to go.

The fact that as I am typing this when I should be at Upton Park watching Craig Bellamy score a hattrick against Arsenal hardly improves my mood. When I planned this trip the match was being played yesterday. However, while I was at the airport someone left a comment on my West Ham blog from Israel to say he'd tell me a bar where I can watch the Hammers play Man U on Wednesday evening. I gently enquired with the lovely Nathalie, my CFI travelling companion, what our itinerary had in store for us and she thought Wednesday evening would be free. Result! I suspect it might also have something to do with the fact that her boss, Stuart Polak, will be keen to see his beloved Liverpool at the same time ... and presumably in a different bar.

I suppose we should be grateful we are even on the plane. El Al were kind enough to let us use their lounge at Terminal 1 (excellent smoked salmon bagels, by the way). We kept asking them if they would call our flight. Yes, they said. Don't worry. But they never did. By the time we went to the gate the flight was closing. That happened to me once before, in the USA and I did miss my flight and had to wait a day for another one - in Bangor, Maine. Don't ever do that. Bangor makes Tunbridge Wells look like a metropolis.

Update: 1112 miles to go. Just flying over Tirana. I always wanted to go to Albania when Enver Hoxha (sp?) ruled the roost. Never made it though, apart from a holiday in Corfu in 1985 when we looked at the Albanian coastline a few miles away and wondered about storming it. We decided against.

20 MINS LATER: Just as we sat in our seats, Nathalie asked if I had ever flown with El Al before. No, I replied. It's, er, different, she said. Wondering what she could mean, I tentatively asked how. It's quite noisy, she said. I now know she means. I have never been on a plane where as many people seem to delight in getting up and wandering around. Half of them seem to delight in bashing against my left shoulder as they do so. Charming.

Oh. My. God. The woman on the other side of the aisle is standing up and doing some sort of exercise routine. And at her age. Hmmm. Back to the knob jokes for a few minutes, I think.

60 MINUTES LATER (over the Sea of Crete): Personally, I have never had the pleasure of joining the mile high club. Indeed, I have never quite understood how two people can emerge from a plane loo unnoticed. But on this El Al plane there are four loos in a sort of two by two area in the middle of the plane (a 747-400) so anything would be possible. Mind you, looking round me, I doubt there will be much illicit activity on this particular flight. And being a married man now... Talking of scoring, my mind turns back to Craig Bellamy. I just know he scored today. Please let it be so. Assuming my Blackbury works in Israel I should find out in less than an hour. The excitement mounts...

By the way, thank you to Richard, who emailed me suggesting a visit in the Golan Heights to a cafe called Coffee Annan - get it? Kofi Annan! Honestly, this hebrew humour is side splitting isn't it? 340 miles to go.

TEN MINUTES TO LANDING: Reading this back I wonder whether to post it or not but I know I will. I suspect it will be some time before the call comes from the Sunday Times to be a travel writer...

Excited About Israel: Tel Aviv Here I Come

This afternoon I fly to Israel for a five day visit. It's being arranged by Conservative Friends of Israel ( who every year take several groups of MPs, candidates and journalists there to learn more about the country's culture, politics and economy. I am immensely looking forward to it and hope to see all aspects of Israeli society - the good and the bad. Of course you can't see everything in five days but if our itinerary is anything to go by we aren't getting much free time!

Over the next five days I guess this blog will take the form of a more conventional diary, as I doubt whether I will have a lot of time to keep up with UK politics, although I shall certainly try. I'll be using Twitter a lot rather than writing loads of posts a day I should think, so do keep an eye on the top of the screen, or simply sign up to my Twitter feed at

I thought my days of getting excited about a foreign trip were long gone, but I do feel a tremendous sense of anticipation as we drive towards Heathrow. My only trip to the Middle East was 17 years ago when I went to Beirut. I had the chance to join a two week trip to Arab countries last summer courtesy of the Conservative Middle East Council but work commitments prevented me going.

Finally, a plea. Whenever I write about Israel it provokes some vile comments, even if what I write is balanced. I am a critical friend of Israel. I'll write it as I see it - both the good and bad. Feel free to disagree with what I write, but please do it in a calm, rational manner. I am going to be very censorious over comments that are anonymous and vicious. You have been warned.

Declaration of interest: I am not a politician so there is no reason for me to have to do this, but I know what people can be like, so let me declare that this whole trip has been arranged by the CFI and they have paid for my flight and accomodation.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Daley Dozen: Saturday

1. Quaequam has had a design makeover.
2. The UKIP Blog has evidence that being in the EU shortens your life.
3. NHS Blog Doctor has returned to blogging. And not before time.
4. Justin Webb says McCain and Palin's body language towards each other is all wrong.
5. Tom Harris recommends ignoring Will Self. I agree.
6. Americano explains why McCain is losing.
7. Graeme Archer on the rejuvenation of Tower Hamlets Tories.
8. Tim Montgomerie on reasons for Tories to be cheerful.
9. Norfolk Blogger attacks the over 75s. He does have a point though.
10. Mark Pack on the impact of mobile phones on phone polling.
11. Neil Williams has more evidence of Labour photoshopping scams.
12. John Redwood reckons it's not all going to plan for Mr Darling.

News of the World: Mandelson to be Investigated

Jamie Lyons in tomorrow's News of the World has a huge exclusive on Peter Mandelson's activities in Brussels and his relationship with Oleg Deripaska. He alleges that Mandelson was due to meet him again in Moscow this week, but the meeting has been cancelled in the light of recent events. He also reveals that an investigation into his links to Deripaska is about to be launched by a top Brussels watchdog. Here's an extract from the News of the World story...

PETER Mandelson faces an investigation over his links with a super-rich French aristocrat, the News of the World can reveal. A top Brussels watchdog last week made an official complaint to the head of the European Commission that private equity tycoon Ernest-Antoine Seilliere had privileged access to Mandy when he was EU trade chief. It comes as Mandelson is already under pressure over claims he was too close to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska who may have benefited from his rulings as EU trade czar. The EU watchdog that made the fresh complaint says Seilliere was effectively allowed to write trade laws - benefiting his clients - during a string of meetings with Mandy. Now a top Euro MP is demanding a review of all the decisions made by Mandelson before he quit Brussels this month. In a letter to Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) says: “We would like to express our concern over the privileged access and undue influence.” It claims Mandelson broke EU codes on impartiality by getting so close to Seilliere...

CEO has put together a damning 6,700-word dossier - seen by the News of the World - blasting Mandelson’s links with the group. Mandelson was officially rebuked last year after the CEO complained he had refused to reveal details of meetings with industrial lobbyists. CEO now claim Seilliere’s group helped Mandelson write controversial new laws which benefited its members.
And it says Mandelson routinely shared valuable information on trade negotiations with it.
CEO says they were so close Mandelson has let the group use his official Brussels HQ - free of charge - for a conference where they will rub shoulders with some of the most powerful politicians in Europe...

At the same time Swedish Euro MP Jens Holm, a member of the European Parliament's trade committee, has written to Mandelson's replacement, Catherine Ashton, asking her to reverse several decisions Mandy took. He said: "It's well known here in Brussels that BusinessEurope and its top people have had an intimate relationship with Mr Mandelson. “They were always tipped off at an early stage whenever there was a new EU directive being written on competitiveness or trade or other issues.”...

Mandelson has cancelled a meeting with Deripaska next week. The Russia trip was originally planned for his predecessor as Business Secretary, John Hutton, before he changed jobs.
And the delegation was scheduled to meet the Russian oligarch. But it has now been called off.
A spokesman for the department said: “As is usual in the preparation for visits there are changes to the itinerary and meetings are regularly added to or drop off the agenda."

On the face of it there is no direct link between Business Europe and Mr Deripaska. Should one be uncovered, however, that would lead to a whole new ball game. Interesting how the focus has now shifted from George Osborne back to Peter Mandelson, isn't it? Not before time.

How Much Will Financial Services Contract?

2001: Financial services accounted for 5.5% of Britain's GDP
2007: Financial services accounted for 10.1% of Britain's GDP*

In London the proportion doubles to 20% of the capital's GDP If you include professional services linked to the financial services sector the proportion rises to 14%. In London the proportion rises to 33% (double that of New York).

I am not qualified to hazard a guess at how much the financial services sector will contract over the next two years, but would I be wrong in thinking that the 10.1% figure is likely to drop sharply?

Average Household debt in Britain is 173% of disposable income (compared to 106% in 1995)
Average Household debt in the USA is 139% of disposable income.*

Anyone know what the equivalent figure is in France and Germany, or the EU as a whole? The table below indicates it is much lower.

Household debt as a per centage of GDP*

France 56.2%
Germany 70.1%
OECD Average 79.5%
USA 98%
Britain 104.2%

* Source: TIME Magazine 20 October 2008

It's Not Money That Makes Right Wing Blogs Successful

Have a read of this letter from the New Statesman this week...
Ben Davies's "Top ten bloggers" ("Politics and the Internet Age" supplement, 20 October) was too kind to the right-wing blogosphere. At present there is a free market in blogging, so it is not surprising that moneyed, right-wing viewpoints are rising to the top. In the longer term, if the internet is to fulfil its possibilities of delivering a free and democratic media, it will be necessary for the state to intervene to support less moneyed viewpoints.

We have a so-called free press where you are free to open and run a mass-circulation newspaper - provided you are a multimillionaire. Hence the right-wing domination of the press. It's the same with the internet. The start-up cost of a blog may be low, but to run a highly influential, mass-circulation blog you need a lot of money.

Jeff Cumberland
Where do I start? Perhaps by looking at the facts, rather than the prejudice Mr Cumberland displays. Here are the Top 20 blogs in the Total Politics Directory.

Guido Fawkes - one man band
Iain Dale - one man band
ConservativeHome - financed by Stephan Shakespeare
Dizzy Thinks - one man band
Devil's Kitchen - one man band
Spectator Coffee House - MSM
Burning our Money - one man band
John Redwood - one man band
Ben Brogan - MSM
EU Referendum - two person band
Tim Worstall - one man band
Archbishop Cranmer - one man band
Mr Eugenides - one man band
Dan Hannan - one man band
Three Line Whip - MSM
Donal Blaney - one man band
Comment Central - MSM
Adam Smith Institute - think tank
Waendel Journal - one man band
Nadine Dorries - one woman band
So if you exclude the MSM blogs, ConservativeHome is the only one to receive financial support - just as LabourHome does. Blogging is not about money. It is about opinion and marketing. The truth is that right of centre people have traditionally been better at marketing their blogs throughout the internet. That is changing though, and not before time.

It is simply not true that "to run a highly influential, mass-circulation blog you need a lot of money." I am not pretending to be poor, but I certainly don't have a lot of money and I don't receive a penny from anyone (apart from a bit of advertising income from MessageSpace). Jeff Cumberland seems to know very little about blogs, but a lot about the politics of envy.

Obama's Defeat: It's All My Fault

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mandelson Must Make Full Disclosure

Much has been made of Sophie Raworth's interview with Peter Mandelson last Sunday. The bit that caught my eyes was this...

PETER MANDELSON: Well thank you very much. You've said I've done nothing wrong. Therefore what do I have to answer for?

SOPHIE RAWORTH: A lack of judgement. Appearing, socialising with somebody who could benefit from you and your position as European Trade Commissioner.

PETER MANDELSON: Sophie, Sophie, you cannot do business as a European Trade Commissioner in Russia, India, China, South Africa, Brazil, all the big emerging economies of the world without having contact with the big business and economic figures in those countries as well as the political figures.

I make a very clear distinction indeed. I do not allow any conflict of interest to arise between the contacts I have with these individuals and how I do my day job. I've now come back to British politics, I'm now a British minister, I'm governed by the ministerial code. I've signed up to the ministerial code and I will abide by the ministerial code...

As Nick Robinson made clear earlier in the week...

So far, no evidence has been produced that he broke any rules but there's little doubt that had he behaved this way as a cabinet minister he would have been in breach of the ministerial code which advises against perceived conflicts of interest.

But leaving that aside (and we shouldn't) just look again at the bit I have highlighted in bold above. This is the question Sophie Raworth should have followed up with...

SOPHIE RAWORTH: Yes, Mr Mandelson, but do you really need to stay on his yacht to "have contact" with a Russian businessman?

Robert Winnett now reveals on the Telegraph website that Mandelson had five separate meetings with Mr Deripaska. He has so far failed to give any details as to why, and what was discussed. Guido says there are rumours of tapes. Robert Winnett writes...

The Russian oligarch stands to benefit from three decisions made at the time Lord Mandelson was a European trade commissioner. Mr Deripaska also owns a British manufacturing company which could benefit from decisions taken by Lord Mandelson's new Whitehall department.

George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor, was forced to issue a detailed statement revealing his contacts with Mr Deripaska and Nat Rothschild, a financier who works with the billionaire, during a holiday in Corfu. Mr Osborne was accused of soliciting funds for the Conservative Party during the meetings.

However, attention is now turning to the closeness of the relationship between Lord Mandelson and Mr Deripaska. When it first emerged that the two men had been in Corfu, sources close to the new Business Secretary, insisted that he had simply seen Mr Deripaska at a cocktail party.

However, when it later emerged that Lord Mandelson had been staying on Mr Deripaska's £80 million yacht, it was then claimed that this was because he was unable to stay at the Rothschild's villa on the Greek Island.

However, according to an account given by Mr Osborne, Lord Mandelson was regularly present alongside Mr Deripaska. During the course of one weekend, the shadow Chancellor claims that he saw Mr Deripaska and Lord Mandelson together at a party, a dinner and a lunch.

Mr Osborne also says that when he first met the Russian businessman at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last January, Lord Mandelson was also present. It has also been alleged that Lord Mandelson and Mr Deripaska have enjoyed at least three dinners together in Moscow since October 2004.

The Russian appears to have benefited from decisions made during Lord Mandelson's tenure as European trade commissioner. Mr Deripaska runs Russia's biggest aluminium company, Rusal. In December 2005, Lord Mandelson signed off a decision to remove a tariff of 14.9 per cent which had been imposed on some aluminium products being imported into Europe by Rusal.

Mr Deripaska and Mr Rothschild are also investing large sums of money in Montenegro. Lord Mandelson has led EU support for the Adriatic nation to join global trade agreements.

The former European trade Commissioner has also been criticised for his role in a controversial dispute involving a Russian insurance company in which Mr Deripaska is a major shareholder. European shareholders claim they have lost out as a result of a restructuring of the firm ordered by Mr Deripaska. They appealed to Lord Mandelson for assistance. He raised the issue with the Russian Trade Minister but the European shareholders were disappointed he did not do more.

On Tuesday George Osborne made full disclosure of his meetings with Mr Deripaska. Many journalists now privately admit that they went totally OTT over the story. Perhaps now they may be turning their attention back to where it should have been in the first place - examining the links between the EU Trade Commissioner and the man who benefited from so many of his decisions. I am sure it is all complete coincidence, but should we not be holding Mr Mandelson to account for his actions in the same way that the media has held George Osborne to account?

The Daley Dozen: Friday

1. Matthew Taylor on what should really worry the Tories.
2. Tory Bear on a Tory PPC who's being stalked.
3. Two more LibDems defect to the Tories say ConservativeHome. Oh, and there's another one too.
4. The Conservative History Blog just loves maps, and doesn't care who knows.
5. Blogging is dead. Long live blogging, says Matt Wardman.
6. Iceland Reviews reports an embarrassing conversation between Alistair Darling and the Icelandic Minister of Finance.
7. Robert Peston tries his best to find some good news from the disasters of today, but can't.
8. Lord Norton on being tried by one's peers.
9. Conor Ryan says it is time to revisit state funding of political parties.
10. Mike Smithson explains the LibDem widely varying poll ratings. As if we care.
11. Richard Spring MP on why the A11 needs to have its final stretch dualled. Hear hear.
12. Iain Martin says that Alan Greenspan is still advising Gordon Brown. How very reassuring.

Why Sterling's Crash Cannot Be Blamed on Others by Brown

You see, this is why Fraser Nelson is rapidly becoming the best political writer on the right. He nails Gordon Brown. Straight through the forehead. In case you are too lazy to click on the link, here's his post in full. It's something I can only dream about writing.
The sterling crash has now begun in earnest. The pound has today (today!) fallen 9% against the Yen and is off 4% against the dollar to a lowly $1.56 with forecasts of $1.40 or lower next year. Against any other currency you may mention, it’s now plunging. The proximate cause is news that the UK economy is shrinking far faster than expected, and there's talk about a 0.75-point interest rate cut - sooner rather than later. But on a wider prospective, this is the markets commenting more articulately than the Tories on Gordon Brown’s “scorched earth” economic policy. It is becoming clearer that Britain is perhaps in the worst position of any developed economy in this crisis. Markets are not fooled by Brown’s mendacious claims to have reduced the national debt to 37% of GDP, and will be alarmed to see a Prime Minister use debt concealment methods that would shame the most spivvy merchant bank. Official national debt was 43% before the bank bailouts of two weeks ago, and will be well over 100% if one counts PFI, B&B and the pension liabilities.

Debt is how Brown governed. It was his dope. It’s the key to understanding the UK economy in the last decade and the reckless nature of Brown’s short-termist policies. Debts are steroids to unscrupulous policymakers as debt-fuelled asset bubbles give a fake feeling of prosperity, which usually translates into votes for the ruling party. That’s why Britain started this credit crunch with the largest household debt ever seen in any G7 country. Brown gambled the UK economy on a hunch that interest rates would stay low. It has failed, and now the UK public finances are going to hell in a handcart. We’re being led by a Prime Minister who ran up a 3% deficit in the boom years and we’re now looking a deficit hitting 7% by the 2010 general election – territory not seen since the IMF bailout. There is a serious prospect that Brown will try and inflate his way out of this debt problem, a prospect which terrifies currency dealers. I have heard serious people talking about parity with the dollar.

I would love to hear Brown explain why sterling’s crash is a problem that started in America. It’s a problem that started in 11 Downing Street – when he decided to conceal debt, leverage up the British economy and personally design a banking regulatory structure that allowed UK banks to be literally the most leveraged out of any outside Reykjavik. Britain is, in many ways, becoming the new Iceland. So the fall in the pound will have some time to run yet.

Terrified? You ought to be.

The Madcap Manchester Congestion Charge Scheme

Manchester City Council must want their collective heads read. They want to introduce a congestion charge into a city that compared to London is not congested at all. Indeed, over the last four years, congestion has fallen! It's clearly just a scam to fleece both individuals and businesses of yet more of their hard earned money. But they might not get their own way. A cross party anti congestion charge campaign was launched this morning, which will hopefully see this madcap scheme consigned to history. Just to show how madcap it actually is, if introduced it would cover an area of 80 square miles - London's scheme is only 8 square miles.

The Stop the Charge Coalition is a cross-party group of Greater Manchester MPs, council leaders and 256 businesses joining forces to campaign for a No Vote in the December referendum. The proposed scheme could cost people up to £1200 a year in a city where the average wage after tax is £14,000. On top of this it will saddle local councils with a debt of £1.2 billion to pay for the scheme - at a time when the local (Labour) councils are cutting services and staff.

MPs Graham Stringer, Graham Brady, Andrew Gwynne, Andrew Stunnel, Mark Hunter, Barbara Keeley and Jim Dobbin, together with the leaders of Stockport and Trafford Councils, have joined local businesses to form the Stop the Charge coalition.

Business members of the coalition include major employers and brand names such as: Kellogg’s, Makro, Harvey Nichols, United Biscuits, Speedy Hire Plc, Peel Holdings, Hydes Brewery, Unilever and partnerships and soles traders as well as the Federation of Small Business and shop stewards.

To say the current proposed scheme is deeply flawed is a gross understatement. Essentially, Manchester City Council have been bribed by the DfT into running with this scheme and acting as a guinea pig before forcing congestion schemes on other towns and cities. Included in the bid documents are no guarantees on charging times, pricing, revenue streams or zone boundaries. It really is back of the fag packet stuff.

Finally, the question has already been released and yes, you've guessed it - no mention of the congestion charge in the wording only of 'transport improvements'. Shocking stuff.

More Sarah Palin From Saturday Night Live

President Bush endorses Sarah Palin.

Does Twitter Signal the End of Blogging?

I've just listened to a rather chaotic discussion on yesterday's TODAY Programme on whether Twitter is the new blogging, and whether as a result, blogging is yesterday's medium. You can listen to it HERE - scroll down to 8.44. The Yorkshire Post has followed this up with a feature today on The End of Blogging.

I am a late convert (although still a tad sceptical if I am honest) to Twitter, but I just don't see it as a comparable medium to blogging. It is certainly more instantaneous but far less interactive. Some refer to it as 'microblogging' and that is quite a good description. To be honest, I probably wouldn't do it much unless I had the 'Twadget' gadget permanently on the right hand side of my computer screen. It makes instantaneous comment so easy - possibly a bit too easy sometimes.

Remarkably, more than 500 people are now 'following' me on Twitter. I recently added it at the top of the blog - previously it had been quite a way down the sidebar. I have had only positive reaction to it by email, but I wonder if that is the whole story. I haven't quite decided yet whether to continue with it being so prominent. All feedback welcome.

My Grandmother Was Right About Labour

So it is confirmed. We have negative growth of 0.5%, a much bigger figure than economic pundits had been predicting. To those who live in the real economy it will have not come as much of a surprise.

The government's response to the economic problems seem, typically for Labour, to throw money at them. More spending, more borrowing, with barely a thought for the long term picking up of bills. If only getting the economy out of a recession was that simple. One of my earliest political memories was my Grandmother telling me in my early teens: "Never trust Labour. They always spend more than they can afford." The next day Denis Healey went cap in hand to the IMF.

If we're not careful, history is about to repeat itself.

Simon Hoggart Sketches Chris Bryant

Simon Hoggart has a highly amusing sketch today, where he writes about Chris Bryant's performance, deputising for Harriet Harman at Business Questions yesterday.

Until last month Mr Bryant, Labour MP for Rhondda, was something of a parliamentary joke. A former vicar, he was best known for posing in his knickers on a gay website. Then he was made deputy leader of the house, which makes him Harriet Harman's understrapper. Yesterday she was off sick, or had been "struck down by the lurgy," as Mr Bryant put it. (The term comes from The Goon Show. A while ago we used it in our community panto. "Where's the fairy godmother?" one of the witches asked. "She's in bed with the dreaded lurgy," was the reply. "Oh, I don't know, I quite like Italian men myself," the witch said.)

Yesterday he was poised, calm and confident. He appeared to have a complete mastery not only of his own brief (no, not briefs, don't be stupid) but of everyone else's as well. Facts, judgments and statistics - some possibly true - poured out, and he didn't have a single note. Sometimes he was ferocious and party-political, sometimes ameliorative. He clearly loved being at the dispatch box, the centre of attention. I bet he did great sermons, even when fully clothed.

Read the full sketch HERE.

*Sorry about the pathetic headline for this piece. Every other one I thought of was a bit too risque.

Telegraph Column: Tories Should Release the Dogs of War

In my Telegraph column today I suggest that Tory backbenchers need to get more aggressive in atttacking the government. We need a new band of Eric Forths, harrying the government to distraction in the Commons and irritating the hell out of them.

Since the sad death of Eric Forth and the cuddlification of John Bercow - who both tormented the Labour benches in the late 1990s - the Tories have lacked backbenchers who will sink their teeth into the Labour Party when the occasion calls for it - and sometimes when it doesn't.

Tory MPs have avoided attack dog politics for fear of being painted as the "nasty party". The post-2005 decontamination strategy has been so successful that even those with aggressive tendencies appear to have been injected with liquid valium.

David Cameron's bipartisan approach over the economic crisis was laudable but never destined to last long, opposite a Prime Minister who is the most tribal political leader this country has had since Margaret Thatcher. The rehabilitation of Peter Mandelson should signal to every Tory that bipartisanship is at an end. The gloves must now come off. The PM wants a fight and the Conservatives should now get up off the ropes and hit back. Hard.

Read the whole column HERE.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Younger Papers Reveal Role in 1989 Leadership Election

There some very interesting papers from George Younger's archives which have just been uploaded onto the Margaret Thatcher website. They shed some light on his role in the 1989 leadership election. Essentially, they show how deeply she had already been damaged a year before the end, even in the eyes of strong supporters

The Daley Dozen: Thursday

1. The Daily Pundit speculates that Derek Draper is about to sue me.
2. Three Line Whip on the BBC's hounding of George Osborne.
3. Dave's Part thinks that Phil Woolas isn't a racist. But...
4. Trixy asks if the LibDems keep a bandwagon parked in their garage.
5. Paul Waugh reveals that George Osborne dissed DD too. And we should be surprised by this 'revelation'?
6. Matt Wardman on the Welsh blogging event.
7. Donal Blaney explains the dangers of Facebook.
8. Wilted Rose says it's time to get tough on road killers.
9. Tom Harris reckons Theresa Villiers cannot be serious on a third runway. He is not alone.
10. Danny Finkelstein defends the honour of his newspaper against Tim Montgomerie.
11. Man in a Shed has some questions for Robert Peston.
12. Next Left writes an obituary for David Evans.

The Joys of Modern Policing

Photo taken outside New Scotland Yard this afternoon at 3.30pm… What next? “You are being raped… ring 999 / You have been raped… ring 0300 123 1212”. I am sure there are very good reasons for this system, but if you're going to use a different number, how about using a memorable one?

Question Time Replaces Woolas With Tub of Lard

Remember yesterday's POST when I suggested Question Time should replace Phil Woolas with a tub of lard? Well, they've gone one better and booked Roy Hattersley. ROFL.*

I understand the Labour Party tried to replace Woolas with Tony McNulty, who Woolas replaced at the Home Office (with me so far?) but Question Time made clear that it would be them who decided who appears rather than the Labour Party.

*For those who wonder why this is so amusing, Roy Hattersley kept cancelling appearances on HAVE I GOT NEWS FOR YOU. After the third cancellation at the last minute, instead of booking a replacement, they placed a tub of lard on the desk next to Paul Merton. It proved to be one of the funniest ever episodes.

Violent Crime Up 22%

Sky News is reporting that official Home Office figures say violent crime is up 22%. But apparently it is all because it was being underreported before - so the Home Secretary tells us. That's all right then. Ergo, it must be falling! What was it Disraeli said about statistics?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Daley Dozen: Wednesday

1. Kerron Cross suggests a new role for Alan Duncan.
2. Donal Blaney praises Tim Montgomerie's Telegraph article which stands up for McCain.
3. Danny Finkelstein reveals his Top Ten Political Makeovers.
4. Jon Craig is in mischievous mood, suggesting a switch for Hague and a comeback for DD.
5. Betsan Powys reports on the Bevan Foundation Welsh blogging debate.
6. Sunny Hundal takes full credit for destroying Sarah Palin.
7. Andrew Mitchell on the Blue Blog looks back at his Rwandan trip.
8. Tom Harris goes into bat for Speaker Martin.
9. Tim Worstall on Austria's sexually ambiguous Nazi Party.
10. James Forsyth on the very odd behaviour of The Times.
11. Knowing me Iain Dale, Knowing you Norfolk Blogger. Aha.
12. Cranmer on abortion, darkness and devils. Happy boy. But I suppose he is dead, after all.

David Evans 1935-2008

I'm very sad to hear that former Tory MP David Evans has died. He was Tory MP for Welwyn & Hatfield between 1987 and 1997 and was, shall we say, a larger than life character. Possibly best known for his chairmanship of Luton Town FC, he was an uncompromising right winger who seemed to love Margaret Thatcher as much as his oft quoted wife Janice. A full obituary has appeared in The Times.

I have two memories of David. One revolves around one of the most hilarious dinners I have ever had in the Commons. It was in 1991 and I was lobbying on something or other and I met David along with his great chum Barry Field, the undertaker-turned-MP from the Isle of Wight. By the end of the dinner, my cheekbones were aching having laughed so much.

He was very taken with a female colleague of mine when I was working at Charles Barker and invited the two of us to a Luton Town match in 1990 - against Notts Forest and a 0-0 draw I seem to remember. He really was terrific company, even if he did have some fairly outlandish views.

Orwell Prize Announces New Blog Award

It was announced tonight that the much respected Orwell Prize will this year have a best blog category for the first time. Why should this matter? Because I think it is a real recognition that blogging has made a bit of a breakthrough and is being taken seriously not just in the political world, but the literary one too. If any bloggers would like to enter, or blog readers would like to nominate a blog, here's how to do it.

The Special Prize for blogs, like the Book Prize and Journalism Prize, will reward those who come closest to achieving George Orwell’s ambition ‘to make political writing into an art’. It is one of the first political blog prizes in the UK and Ireland, and the first to judge the quality of writing. Bloggers can enter 10 of their posts on the Orwell Prize website, Members of the public can suggest bloggers, and discuss blogging, in discussion forums on the site. Ian Jack (journalist, former editor of Granta and Independent on Sunday) and Ferdinand Mount (writer, novelist,former policy adviser to Margaret Thatcher) will form the Book Prize jury, with Jenny Abramsky (former Director of BBC Audio and Music, Chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund) and Geoffrey Wheatcroft (journalist, writer) judging the Journalism and Blog Prizes. Both juries will merge to choose the shortlists and winners of all three Prizes after selecting a longlist in each category. Director of the Orwell Prize, Professor Jean Seaton, said: ‘The global crisis we are in is not just one of markets, but one of understanding; a cognition crunch, not just a credit crunch. In such times the need for a prize that rewards clear writing and clear thinking about politics is more urgent than ever.’ On the Special Prize for Blogs, Professor Seaton commented: ‘This year, we started blogging Orwell’s diaries and it has ricocheted all over the world. So it’s only natural that we want to give a prize for the kind of blog writing that Orwell would have appreciated.’ Submissions will close on 14th January 2009. The longlists will be announced on 25th February 2009, the shortlists on 25th March 2009 and the winners on 22nd April 2009.

The thought of being nominated for an Orwell Prize has an ironic appeal for me, so I suppose I had better see if I can find ten blogposts worth submitting. Feel free to remind me of any you may remember!

Fayed Questioned Over Teen Sex Charge

Hate is an ugly emotion and one that I rarely yield to. But I like to make an exception for Mohammed Fayed. He has done more to damage public life in this country than anyone else I can think of. So the news that he has been questioned over the sexual assault of a fifteen year old girl came as little surprise to those of us who have had reason to follow his disgusting antics over the years.

Of course so far he has only been questioned, so we must not prejudge guilt. But again, I like to make an exeption for Fayed. There are few things I would like to see more than for Fayed finally to get his comeuppance after all these years.

He managed to temprarily ruin the lives of Neil and Christine Hamilton and tried it on with plenty of other politicians of all parties. He thought he could buy the British government. Thankfully the British government proved not to be for sale. He then launched his appalling campaign against the Duke of Edinburgh and promulgated the most outlandish conspiracy theories about the death of Princess Diana.

If Fayed is charged, found guilty and jailed, I will be doing the modern day equivalent of dancing in the streets of Auchtermuchty (copyright Sir John Junor 1973).

The Day Speaker Martin Lost His Job

This is the moment Speaker Michael Martin lost his job.

Tory MPs are incandescent that Martin called Dennis Skinner at the end of PMQs. He must have known what he would talk about. On many occasions he has refused to let Tory MPs make similar points, but he gave Skinner carte blanche. I've had various MPs fulminating to me this afternoon, including a couple who had always wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt in the past. One told me there was no way Tory MPs would stand for him remaining in post if they form a government after the next election.

And Brown may well come to rue his reply, where he said that the appropriate authorities should investigate. I suspect that there will be other calls for Mr Mandelson's relationships with Russian Oligarchs to receive further scrutiny. Expect some action in the European Parliament to that effect.

Question Time Should Empty Chair Labour Tomorrow

Phil Woolas is rapidly becoming the most unpopular Labour Minister in the government - or at the very least the one with the loosest lips. Having pulled him from opening a debate in the Commons on immigration, Labour media honchos have now withdrawn him from tomorrow evening's Question Time programme. Paul Waugh has the story. Perhaps Question Time should empty chair the Labour panellist in protest. Tub of lard, anyone?

Iceland: We Are Not Terrorists

I have just been sent details of an Icelandic inspired petition informing Gordon Brown that the people of Iceland are not terrorists and object to being classified as such. You may recall that Brown invoked the terms of the Terrorism Act to freeze Icelandic assets in this country. Here's the text of the petition.

On Wednesday October 8th, the British Government invoked anti-terrorist legislation, which was in effect aimed at the people of Iceland. This devastating attack on our society was received with disbelief here in Iceland, where it turned a grave economic situation into a national disaster. The people of Iceland have always considered themselves great friends of the United Kingdom. Our nations have a long history of mutually beneficial trade and have been close allies in NATO and Europe.

Hour by hour and day by day the actions of the British government are indiscriminately obliterating Icelandic interests all over the world and, in so doing, diminishing the assets that could be used to reimburse depositors with Icelandic banks in the United Kingdom and Iceland. The government's actions are also endangering the future of nearly all Icelandic companies and of the entire nation, in addition to over 100.000 employees of British companies with Icelandic connections. In this regard we would like to stress that the Icelandic authorities have always maintained their intention to honour their obligations in this matter, contrary to claims made by Chancellor Alistair Darling and Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

In these trying times, it is vital that we all work together to meet the troubles that lie ahead. We cannot let leaders, like Gordon Brown, destroy the long-term relations of our nations for their own short-term political gain. Mr. Brown would never have reacted to the collapse of a bank from a larger and more powerful nation by tarnishing its people as terrorists and criminals.

We, the people of Iceland, ask you, our British friends, to join us in the common cause of ending diplomatic hostilities between our governments. It is our hope that this will stop the unnecessary economic damage on both sides, so that we can start to rebuild and make amends.

To sign the petition click HERE and scroll down the page.

PMQs Review

At an angry PMQs David Cameron repeatedly asked the Prime Minister to admit that he hadn't abolished boom and bust, as he has so often claimed in the past. He was never going to get a straight answer and he knew it. Brown grew increasingly uncomfortable and truculent, trying to bring George Osborne into the argument. He accused the Conservatives of not having any solutions or any ideas and kept quoting Cameron (usually out of context). A lot of heat was generated but very little light.

Nick Clegg asked an extremely lengthy question on helping ordinary families and increasing liquidity which fell a bit flat. But he had a good line about the PM being all at sea "if not on a luxury yacht".

Gordon Brown 7
David Cameron 7
Nick Clegg 7

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Daley Dozen: Tuesday

1. Burning our Money on those lying government debt stats.
2. EU Referendum on lifestyle journalism.
3. Matt Wardman on why Slugger penetrates further than Guido. Excuse me while I am sick.
4. The Mandate blog warns the Tories: Don't mess with Mandy.
5. Quaequam asks if George Osborne is Cameron's Mandy.
6. Mark Prisks explains his Save our Shops strategy.
7. Daniel Korski speculates on an Obama Cabinet.
8. Dan Hannan on Baroness Ashton's most important feature.
9. Gypsy Rose Finkelstein foretells the arrival of Ambassador Winfrey.
10. Jeremy Hunt writes in praise of free votes.
11. Baroness D'Souza on why the Lords want a debate on the economic crisis.
12. J Arthur MacNumpty on a hung Parliament.

Why Conservatives Should Man the Barricades for Osborne

I haven't blogged about the George Osborne situation until now because I didn't feel I had anything to say which either hadn't been said before or which would add to the sum of human knowledge. Maybe I still haven't. Anyway, let's look at the facts, rather than some of the hyperbole and fiction which has been spouted during the course of the day.

This is how I read what has happened...

1. George gossiped to journalists about what Mandy said about Gordon. An understandable thing to do bearing in mind his return to government. Perhaps he should have kept it zipped, but we have all done it. Normally, embarrassment is the only consequence of being found out. Ahem.
2. Mandy was outraged and promised revenge. Nat Rothschild was none too impressed, and goaded by Mandy, decided to take things further.
3. It was a mistake to do the live TV press conference before issuing a detailed rebuttal statement.
4. The media hasn't yet asked itself what crime has been committed. Answer none. No money has been donated so there has been no wrongdoing.
5. If someone asks you, as a politician, or as a party employee about donating you have two choices. You either point them in the direction of someone else or you explain how the system works and what the legalities are. That is not a crime. It is not even a thought crime. Yet.
6. So what we are talking about here is an allegation that a conversation about a donation took place. As Stephen Tall says, this is a bit of a he said-she said-he said situation. Rothschild says he has a witness to the conversation. Why hasn't he produced the witness then?

It's clear that the root of this is that Rothschild is furious that Osborne has broken the unwritten rule that says 'what happens on tour, stays on tour'. And he has exacted his revenge in a particularly spiteful way.

The media is in full herd instinct mode without actually stopping to think: hang on a minute. What's he actually done wrong? What law has he broken? What rule has he transgressed? Perhaps they might like to concentrate a little more on this sentence from Nick Robinson's blog this morning.
Mandelson's first instinct was to refuse to answer questions about what he said was his private life. He knew all too well that the way the media can keep a story running is to publish a list of "unanswered questions". This approach did not, however, kill the story. Nor did the backing of the EU Commission which declared him not guilty of a breach of the rules. So far, no evidence has been produced that he broke any rules but there's little doubt that had he behaved this way as a cabinet minister he would have been in breach of the ministerial code which advises against perceived conflicts of interest.

Isn't that far more serious than anything George Osborne has been accused of? But I didn't comment on Mandelson's situation any more than I had intended to comment on George's. But it has now blown up into such a ridiculously big story that those of us who happen to think a lot of George Osborne need to stand up and say so. His detailed chronology of events is well worth reading in full. It is unprecedented in its detail. Its message to Mandelson is: I've shown you mine, now you show me yours.

ConservativeHome has published a superb piece on why George Osborne is indispensable and it reminds us why the barricades need to be manned in his support.

The lessons here are...

1. Politicians are never 'off duty'.
2. Choose your holiday companions more carefully.
3. What happens on tour rarely stays on tour.

And above all...

4. Peter Mandelson is back and making sure we all know it. And isn't Times Political Editor Phil Webster a happy man! As is Robert Peston.

Peston hasn't liked Osborne's comments about his role in last week's events and this has given him a reason to hit back. Mandy's briefing fingerprints were all over this particularly poisonous blogpost from Peston this afternoon. Quite what this has to do with the BBC's Business Editor is another question. Perhaps Nick Robinson should talk to him about tanks and lawns.

It's been a pretty torrid week for the Shadow Chancellor. But every politician has to go through character building experiences like this. Osborne should take heart from the way his leader performs in these circumstances. Cameron displays courage under fire which we must all hope George Osborne can emulate. He is as vital to the Cameron project as Tord Grip was to Sven. He must also trust his instincts. I do not believe he wanted to do that wretched press conference this afternoon and should not have allowed himself to be talked into it. He's got an instinctive political brain. Now is the time for him to engage it.

Politics has changed in the last few weeks and for once, I don't think Conservative High Command realised it quickly enough. Trench warfare lies ahead. Sod bipartisanship. Brown hasn't got a bipartisan bone in his body. He regards the very notion of it as a sign of weakness. Brown wants a fight. Let's give him one.