Sunday, February 28, 2010
The latest edition of the Seven Days Show is now online.
In this week's show we discussed further Brown bullying allegations; equality in the Labour Party, and in particular how All Women Shortlists don’t apply to everyone; Spring Conference; Likely Election Dates; and finally Nigel Farage and his supposed insults to the Belgians.
To listen to the podcast click HERE, or you can also subscribe to the show in the Tory Radio section in the podcast area of Itunes.
1. Max Atkinson says it is time the Tories learnt from Mrs T.
2. Graeme Archer on the politics of 'Only Connect'.
3. Spiderplant says politicians aren't all bad, you know.
4. Taking Liberties reminds me of some predictions I made in 2003.
5. Political Promise thinks Nigel Farage is a non politician.
6. Stephen Tall reviews Peters Watt's INSIDE OUT.
7. Tracey Crouch puts on her PPC wellies. Good job she wasn't in Brighton.
8. Paul Waugh on how Cameron reacts in a crisis.
9. Tim Worstall on what's wrong with Nick Clegg.
10. Luke Akehurst tells a fellow Labour blogger to zip it.
11. LibDem Voice on the wonders of Victorian contraception.
12. Ideas of Civilisation says it's impossible to predict the election result.
"Gutter journalism" was the abuse which spat from the mouth of John Prescott, a man whose infidelities include having sex with a junior civil servant in a hotel room while his long-suffering and oblivious wife, Pauline, waited downstairs to have dinner with the treacherous and hypocritical toad. Her recent memoir describes how he slunk back to their home in Hull to confess to his adultery before it became public. His security staff preceded him into the house to dump a bag of his dirty smalls for Pauline to wash.I know which of us is better acquainted with the gutter.
After the rumble with Prescott on Newsnight, I faced Roy Hattersley, a more sophisticated old bruiser who had also been brought to the studio to have a pop. Afterwards, Roy told me that he was going to give a bad review to The End of the Party. Roy and I have known each other for years and have generally got on very well. Indeed, he is one of the many Labour figures whom I interviewed for the book. I have always been an admirer of Roy's literary style, not least because he gave a highly flattering notice to my earlier work about New Labour, Servants of the People. Yet I have clearly underestimated him. I had not realised that Roy possesses such advanced critical faculties that he is able to decide that he will give a bad review to a book before he has actually read it.
In a section focusing on the Hayden Phillips review of party funding, Peter Watt notes:
Sometimes the discussions bordered on the absurd, such as when we managed to clinch a deal with the Lib Dems by promising that Menzies (Ming) Campbell would get a taxpayer-funded car and driver if the reforms went through. (p. 115)
Isn't it wonderful to know that Ming, despite his aura of high principle, is just the same as any other politician who enjoys the trappings of power. Or powerlessness in the case of the LibDems.
Obviously his fame didn't precede him! Or mine me!
UPDATE: For those who don't seem to get this, Michael meant it as a joke.
Anyway, onto matters of more importance. What do we need to hear from David Cameron in his speech today? We should remember that he will be speaking to two audiences - the party and the country. Let's take them in turn and identify what he needs to do to satisfy both audiences...
- Look and sound like a PM in waiting
- Rise above petty and spiteful personal attacks on Gordon Brown
- Give the country a clear sense of the direction of a Conservative Government along with some policy specifics
- Explain the depth of the clear blue water between Labour & Tories
- Reassurance that the strategy being followed is the right one
- Firm and strong denunciation of Labour's economic record
- Attack the opinion poll issue head on
- Attack Gordon Brown - not personally (avoid talking about bullying except for a joke or two)
- Deliver 5 easy to remember policy pledges for party workers to sell on the doorstep
One thing people need to remember about David Cameron. He's a weeble. He may wobble but won't fall down*. He's one of the most resilient politicians I have met. He's experienced several political and personal crises over the kast few years but has met each one head on, and bounced back stronger. My hope and expectation is that he will do the same this time.
I have no idea whether the Sunday Times poll showing a mere two point lead is accurate, but there is no point anyone pretending that the polls haven't narrowed. They clearly have. I am still rather at a loss to explain it to be honest, but I do believe it has something to do with a lack of clarity in the Tory message, which Labour has successfully attacked.
It is important to give a clear sense of direction. In 1979, people knew Margaret Thatcher would tame the unions, control inflation, stand up to the Russians and deal with Europe. The problem for Conservative activists here in Brighton is that they struggle to come up with four or five similar themes for the present day. If you say " Get the economy moving", "Stand up for the NHS", "Clean up Westminster," or "Get public borrowing under control", they are all worthy aspirations, but they are aspirations that both the other parties could equally claim as their own. So now may be the time to move from the general to the more specific, without actually announcing the whole election manifesto in advance.
It is untrue to say that the Conservatives are 'policy light'. There are plenty of individual, eye catching policies which resonate with the electorate. It's just that we seem to have lost sight of what they are. Here's a quick reminder of some of them...
- Introduction of border police and a cap on immigration
- A two year freeze on council tax
- Abolish ID cards and roll back the big brother state
- Reduce the number of MPs by 10% and cut the cost of politics
- Allow parents to create their own schools
- Restore the link between pensions and earnings
- Repatriate powers from Europe
- Stop Labour's NI rise which is a tax on jobs
- Cut business taxes to encourage new small business start-ups
- Gove householders more rights to defend themselves against burglars
- Abolition of Inheritance tax for everyone except millionaires
It would be ridiculous to pretend that a 2% poll lead is a good thing for the Conservatives, but it may well concentrate the minds of those who thought a Conservative victory was a dead cert. It will make it easier for the Tories to warn of what may happen if people don't use their vote to vote for change. One message which we may well hear more of over the next few weeks is that a stay at home vote is a vote for Gordon Brown. If you want change you have to vote for it.
ConservativeHome's Ten Point Plan is well worth reading.
* For those who are scratching their heads, this was a TV advert for a toy in the 1980s with the catchphrase "Weebles wobble but they won't fall down".
Saturday, February 27, 2010
Now this is delicious. The Mail on Sunday has a tape of Stewart Wood outlining just how abusive the Prime Minister can be.
In addition, I understand they have a fairly explosive story which might go some way to show why Geoff Hoon is standing down at the next election.
UPDATE 10.15pm: The full story is on the Mail website HERE. Here are the key extracts...
Listen to the tape recording HERE.
Gordon Brown was accused of lying about his bullying behaviour last night after one of his closest aides revealed in a sensational tape-recording how the Prime Minister shoved him on the stairs inside No10.
In the tape, obtained by The Mail on Sunday, the official describes how he exclaimed ‘Bloody hell!’ and was left ‘shocked and upset’ when Mr Brown pushed him aside with a raised arm.
The adviser says Mr Brown’s staff have made excuses for his bullying behaviour for years. And, damagingly, he questions whether they had been right to do so, arguing a ‘core part’ of being Prime Minister is to treat people properly.
The comments were made by Mr Brown’s senior foreign policy adviser, Dr Stewart Wood, one of the most powerful officials in Whitehall. They directly contradict Mr Brown’s repeated denials that he bullied staff, following claims in a new book by political journalist Andrew Rawnsley.
"When Gordon Brown took over, this, our great country, was the 4th largest economy in the world. Now it is falling behind and forecast within 5 years to be the 11th, behind not just growing giants like China, but behind our neighbours France and Italy. We were ranked 7th in the world for the competitiveness of our economy. Now we are 13th. We were 4th in the world for our tax and regulation. Now we are 84th and 86th. We are the last G20 country to emerge from recession. We are borrowing almost as much of our income as Greece, but the Greeks have more plans than Gordon Brown, like everyone else in the world, to do something about it. We are telling the British people the truth: we cannot go on like this. We say to them now: it is time, it is time to make the break. We cannot go on just borrowing money from China so that we can buy their goods and then borrow some more.
Gordon Brown is like a credit card company who will always send you another letter saying it would be so easy when in debt to borrow even more. Every family, every small business, everyone except this Government knows it is the road to ruin.
Last week Gordon Brown said the election should not be a verdict on the Government's past record. Let me tell him this: we will ensure that a country that wants to look to the future is fully aware of his record. He may not want to discuss his pension destroying, gold selling, golden rule-breaking, national debt-doubling, money wasting, tax raising, colleague rubbishing, pledge betraying, election bottling record but, oh boy, we do.
He says voters should give him a second chance. Look here Gordon, you've had 13 years now. You've had your second chance and your third. No one in Britain can afford to give you a fourth chance: no one in this country can afford another 5 years of Gordon Brown. So it is time for change. And if we do not take this opportunity, grasp this hour, to set a new direction for Britain, then I tell you in all frankness that it will be too late. It will be too late in 5 years' time to say we should have got rid of them, too late to reverse the decline: the debt will be too big, the bureaucracy too bloated, the small businesses too stifled, the slope Britain is sliding down will be too steep.
So to every voter listening to us now we say solemnly, if not now it will be too late. It is time, time to say we can rescue our country, time to refuse to get poorer and more indebted, time to say Britain is not doomed to decline, time to let the Labour party fight its squabbles out of power where it can do no harm, time to invite the forces of hell to get the hell out of Downing Street."
In its now seemingly neverending quest to irritate its Tory supporting readers, what does it decide to do on the day the Conservative Spring Conference opens? It goes and gives a simpering interview, not to the leader of the Tory Party, but to the Prime Minister. I ask you.
The interview was conducted by Mary Riddell and Andrew Porter, but the questions had clearly been provided by Piers Morgan.
On top of this, today's edition carries a vicious attack on George Osborne by Simon Heffer. This is, however, counterbalanced by the leader column which contrasts Brown's leadership style unfavourably with that of David Cameron.
As I blogged a few weeks ago, as we near an election, it would be nice to think that the Daily Telegraph might just want to turn its attack on Labour rather than provide Gordon Brown with two pages to tell us untruths which aren't challenged.
If they really want to make a charge, why not put it on the room rate? City Inn hotels provide free wifi access in all their hotels and it gets them a huge amount of goodwill. Why don't other hotels cotton on to this?
PS For those who have suggested it in the comments, I do have a Vodafone dongle built into my laptop. Unfortunatey, presumably because the hotel is right on the coast, the signal doesn't work in my room. Luckily it works in the bar, which is where I am now.
Friday, February 26, 2010
In the 7.15-8pm slot we'll be talking politics with Mehdi Hasan from the New Statesman, looking at the polls and asking whether Boris Johnson is right to say that this is the most boring pre-election period ever.
From 9pm-9m it's 'gadget hour' where we talk gadgets and technology and then after 9pm we'll be talking about the Binyam Mohammed case and asking what we expect of our security services.
And the final topic in the programme will be emotion and sport. Why does emotion dicate so many sporting decisions?
It really is primarily a phone in show so do feel free to dial in and take part in the discussion on 0845 60 60 973 or text 84850 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
And after 10pm I'm driving down to Brighton for the Tory Spring Forum. At least presenting this has got me out of singing karaoke tonight!
A nation holds its breath as it waits to see if Jack Dromey nee Harman is
I will try to bring you the news in my show on LBC!
UPDATE 6.30pm: Sources tell me that Jack Dromey has won the selection. The Unite donations to Labour should now be safe then.
David Dimbleby announced last night that on March 11th, Question Time will have an all female audience to mark International Women's Day. For some reason they have decided that they won't go the whole hog and have an all women panel too.
This creates an unfortunate precedent. Do they intend to have an all black audience, an all disabled one, an all gay one ... or even, heaven forfend, an all male one.
Question Time is a programme which has traditionally allowed any member of the public to apply for tickets. The idea of an all women's audience is nothing but a pathetic gimmick designed by the producers to show their bosses at the BBC that they are being "innovative". In the same way that inviting Emma Jones being a panelist was "innovative". And that didn't work very well, either.
Ladbroke's have suspended betting on a March 25th election. According to Guido, BBC political staff have been ordered to cancel leave this weekend. Holding a 25th March election means a budget would not have to be held. It would avoid the danger of GDP figures showing Britain has slid back into recession (which come out at the end of April) and also the new tax rises would not yet have kicked in.
But, would Gordon Brown really call an election on the weekend Cameron is making a big speech at the Tory Spring Conference in Brighton? Can the Labour Party really afford to fight two elections within six weeks? Isn't he worried that the polls in marginal seats still indicate a good Tory victory?
The danger for Brown in the next 48 hours is that he allows a repeat of the Election That Never Was to happen. Where speculation gets out of control, he marches his troops to the top of the hill, only then to march them down again.
If he allows that to happen he really will have lost the plot.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
1. Iain Martin on the Greatest Hits of the Forces of Hell.
2. Lobbydog on Edward Garnier's meeting with Tzipi Livni.
3. Ventnor Blog on how he was thrown out of court while a journalist was allowed to stay.
4. Wrinkled Weasel thinks Nigel Farage is a hero.
5. Donal Blaney on tea with Dan Hannan.
6. Cicero's Songs on what the LibDems should do in a Hung Parliament.
On March 22nd, Biteback is publishing FIGHTING BULL, the autobiography of Nigel Farage. As regular readers know, I've always got on rather well with Mr F so I was delighted he agreed to do the book. I read the manuscript a couple of weeks ago and I can promise those who buy the book an extremely entertaining read. It's painfully honest, at times quite moving (especially the story of him getting testicular cancer at the age of 22) but also riproaringly funny. Anyway, enough from me, here's what the Biteback marketing blurb says...
In an age of colourless bureaucrats, Nigel Farage is a politician you are unable to ignore. Farage, who recently resigned as leader of UKIP, divides the political establishment, causing controversy and admiration in equal measure. What cannot be denied is the effect he has had on British politics. A founder member of UKIP, he was elected to the European Parliament in 1999, and re-elected twice. Becoming party leader in 2006, much of the electoral success of UKIP – the party David Cameron famously described as “fruitcakes and loonies and closet racists” - can be put down to Mr Farage’s charismatic leadership, his robust appearances on TV and radio, and his tendency towards the limelight. Farage describes growing up in London, where, after a boisterous youth at Dulwich College, he become a City trader at the height of Thatcher’s yuppie paradise, becoming involved in politics only after John Major’s government signed the Maastricht treaty in 1992. He claims Enoch Powell as a hero and is an avowed fan of lapdancing.
However, Farage’s life and career has not been as smooth as his charming exterior, from a News of the World Sex Scandal in 2006 to the reporting by the Guardian in May 2009 that over ten years as a member of the European Parliament he received and spent nearly £2 million of taxpayers’ money in expenses and allowances, on top of his £64,000 a year salary. Fighting Bull also describes his near death in a car accident at twenty one, and his later diagnosis of testicular cancer.
Ironically, when the expenses scandal hit in UK politics, UKIP found itself ideally placed to take advantage. In September Farage announced he would stand against John Bercow, the newly elected Speaker of the House of Commons, in his Buckingham constituency in the next election, despite a convention that the speaker is not challenged for re-election - in protest at Westminster’s handling of the MPs’ expenses scandal. Fighting Bull is a candid, colourful life story by a fascinating and controversial character.
Should that have tickled your fancy, you can preorder the book HERE.
Oh, and he's on Question Time tonight...
I have to say I am not a fan of Mr Walden. Back in September 2006, I wrote on this blog...
Former Tory MP George Walden was one of Britain's worst ever High Education Ministers. Since leaving Parliament he has earned a living writing pseudo-intellectual drivel about politics and culture. It's usually unreadable. I attended a discussion evening with him and his wife a couple of years ago, organised by Living Marxism. He was insufferable and spent the whole evening putting down his wife. In the Independent on Sunday diary there is a piece on his book The New Elites in which he slags off David Cameron for "being a posh man pretending to be common". Utter rubbish. But even if it were true, it's better than a pub bore pretending to be an intellectual.
As The Slog says, I stayed on the fence on that one...
How on earth Mr Walden managed to produce the veritable beauty that is his daughter Celia, only God can know. His wife clearly not only has the patience of a saint, but the looks of Athena.
He chose his words very carefully. I think you'll find that civil service practice with KNOWN bullies is not to confront them but to use mediation and encouragement (e.g. how to get the best out of your staff) to get them to alter their behaviour. In other words O'Donnell has "outed" Brown as a bully by his wording.
I wonder if civil service Human Resources Departmental codes of practice would verify this. If I had the time today, I'd endeavour to find out. Perhaps my readers can enlighten us.
Yesterday I appeared for the first time on Radio 4's Moral Maze, which was discussing personality in politics, and whether it's a good thing or not. I took the view that we needed more personality in politics and part of the reason people have become disengaged with politics is that we lack politicians with the personality to explain or sell policies to them. Fellow witnesses were George Pascoe-Watson, Mehdi Hasan and Mark Vernon and we were interrogated by Michael Portillo, Melanie Phillips, Kenan Malik and Clifford Longley.
My eight minutes of fame start at about 19 minutes in. Click HERE to listen.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
1. Olly's Onions has news of an alternative election slogan for Labour.
2. Jeff Peel speculates about Lady Hermon's intentions.
3. Haveron On discusses the choice of a fairer Britain or the forces of hell.
4. Rory Stewart has a new blog. And it's very good indeed.
5. Blue Idea on the dishonesty of Watford LibDems.
6. Crossfire on his new invention called Boggle.
7. Freedom Central wonders what Question Time has got against the LibDems.
8. Guido on how Eric Pickles got Unite banned from the Commons.
9. Luke Akehurst says it is all about the marginals.
10. Party Lines interviews Sunder Katwala.
11. Dizzy on a new anti Labour website.
12. Capitalists@Work on why the IMF is wrong.
And as an extra special treat, if you'd like to listen to this week's House of Comments podcast, click HERE. It's a weekly podcast hosted by Mark Thompson of the Mark Reckons blog, and Stuart Sharpe. Guests this week were Tracey Cheetham from the View from the Public Gallery blog and myself. We cover bullying, Sir Nicholas Winterton and whether bloggers should have lobby passes.
David Cameron has recorded a video which will be shown in Port Meirion.
"I was waiting with a crowd of guests at the Pillars of Hercules pub in Soho for the start of a party being thrown by Kevin Maguire, the Mirror's amiable political editor, to celebrate his wife's launch of a chick-lit novel. Political journalists and rom-com novelists are not the most promising mixture for a convivial evening, but we were all rubbing along until for no reason Charlie Whelan, Brown's point man in the unions, turned to the journalists and started laying into the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As he was speaking in a public place and did not ask to go off the record, the etiquette of journalism allows me to say that I was astonished. Darling had been a loyal friend of Brown's, but that did not stop Whelan from denigrating him."
So, Mr Whelan, was this done at your master's bidding? And if so, which master? Brown or Balls?
"Mr McBride also told BBC Radio 5 Live the allegations were untrue, saying: "The idea of Gordon instructing us to brief against Alistair Darling is totally wrong. The idea of me briefing against Alistair Darling is totally wrong."
Amazing. What he has done I effectively call various lobby journalists liars. Is there any reason why journalists shouldn't now go on the record and open up their notebooks? If I were one of them I would want to defend my honour.
Interesting that Charlie Whelan has been silent on the subject....
Oh dear, there's only one other person it could have been. Step forward, Ed Balls, the man who was desperate to take on Darling's job.
Someone should ask him the question directly. If he denies it, we will know that either he or the Prime Minister is telling a Brownie, as Fraser Nelson would put it.
There is of course a third possibility - that Whelan and McBride did it off their own bats.
Nah, I don't think so either.
As luck would have it, I am publishing Peter Kilfoyle's new book in a couple of weeks. Timing, eh?
In the book he charts the rise and fall of New Labour. It's laced with juicy anecdote and analysis. And the last chapter. Well, suffice to say it is worth reading.
Preorder the book HERE.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Next week, Biteback is publishing a series of books under the banner WHY VOTE? Each book lays out the main reasons for voting for a particular party. In addition to the volumes covering the Conservatives, Labour and the LibDems there are also books for the SNP, Plaid and the Greens.
Also, David Seymour and Jo Phillips have written a book aimed at the politically apathetic called WHY VOTE: A Guide for Those Who Can't Be Bothered. Jo used to be the editor of Sunday Service on 5 Live and this book is written very much in the humorous vein of that much missed radio programme.
All the books are £6.99 and are around 128 pages long. They are aimed at floating voters and those who simply want to inform themselves better about the policy platforms of the various parties.
If any politics teachers are reading this, the books are ideal to give candidates in mock elections.
You can preorder copies HERE.
* For those sensing a conspiracy against UKIP, I should make it clear that we commissioned them to write a similar book, but they failed to deliver a publishable manuscript in time. And no, we didn't ask the BNP. Go figure.
Now that you have faced him down and in some respects called his bluff, has the Prime Minister stopped bullying you?
Well I don’t quite see it that way. I’ve always said that at the end of the day it is up to the Prime Minister who he wants as his Chancellor. Now all of us can have our good days and our bad days and of course Gordon and I have some very robust exchanges, as you’ve just said. I can’t imagine any healthy relationship between a Prime Minister and a Chancellor where they don’t have differences of opinion from time to time. What unites us though is we’re both committed to the same end goal, of getting ourselves through this recession, getting through to recovery and helping this country do the best it possibly can so of course people have their ups and downs and all of us can be guilty from time to time of saying things or doing things that perhaps in the cold light of day we shouldn’t.
I think we all understand robust dialogue and we would expect that but for instance, in the summer of 2008 when you gave that famous interview to a newspaper and you said this is going to be the worst recession for 60 years, weren’t you bullied by the Prime Minister to retract that? Didn’t he try to get you to go back and say it’s not going to be like that?
No, I remember the conversation with him very well and I was a bit annoyed because the story had sort of spun away from what I originally said and both of us agreed that what had not been got across is that I had said we were certainly in for a very profound and deep recession …
And you were right and he was wrong.
Yes, but I also said that other countries would be there as well. But look, every relationship between politicians, especially between number Ten and Eleven, of course there are going to be differences from time to time but I always take this view, of course there’s been some bad days but actually there have been rather more good days than there have been bad days and I’d say the two of us, there’s more than unites us than will ever divide us I think.
There are bad days and then there are dodgy days. After that famous interview the attack dogs were sent out against you, we all know who they are, Damien McBride, Charlie Wheelan and they had a right pop at you behind your back in the press. Are you saying that that wasn’t subtle bullying?
Look, nobody likes that sort of briefing that goes on but I’ve been around long enough, you pick these things out very quickly and the one thing you learn about briefing is that at least one other person knows you’ve done it so it soon enough gets out but frankly …
But you were being briefed against weren’t you? You admit that?
Of course there were people saying things but frankly my best answer for them is the fact that I’m still here, one of them is not.
Ain’t that the truth. Now just on a personal note really, that fruity comment attributed to the delightful Mrs Darling when she realised that you were being stitched up, true or false?
Well I haven’t heard Margaret using that sort of language but when you go through a thing like that, I remember the weekend after we came back and I’d done this interview and the forces of hell were unleashed …
By Number Ten?
Not just them, the Tories as well. The Tories jumped on to the bandwagon as ever and they all tried to join in and of course it’s difficult, especially for the Chancellor. If you’re in politics you have to be thick skinned I think to an extent. Of course you are not immune from the fact that you wish people hadn’t said things or you hadn’t done things but frankly, when I look back at the three years I’ve been Chancellor, okay it was a weekend you could have done without but there was far more important things …
But what a lot of people will not understand is this. Why would the Prime Minister and his henchmen brief against you, one, for telling the truth and two, for being right?
I do not know why the briefers if you like did what they did, one day maybe they’ll explain. What I do know is that yes, unfortunately, and it’s not a great source of pleasure, what I said did turn out to be true as we well know but what is important is yes, you have your ups and downs, yes you have your differences of opinion and a lot of people had different views right at the start of the recession as to exactly what we were going into. The important thing is did we get it right in sorting it out, are we getting it right now and making sure we have got through to recovery and are we making it clear that there is a choice that faces people – but we are going to come on to that no doubt in the rest of the interview – as to which of the two major political parties have got a clear view of what will be in the future.
2. Anna Raccoon on how John Bercow is raising money to fight Nigel Farage.
3. Ellee Seymour on MPs' expenses and family life.
4. Dizzy drops a very subtle hint that he would like a lobby pass, really.
5. Subrosa asks if the Electoral Commission is fit for purpose.
6. Stephen Glenn on the news that Peter Kilfoyle is to stand down.
7. Sean Gabb ponders whether Libertarians should vote Tory (and hold their noses).
8. Lobbydog on how Mandelson spun himself off a cliff today.
9. Crossfire reviews the Tower Block of Commons.
10. Graeme Archer welcomes a Labour defector to Tower Hamlets Tories.
11. Mark D'Arcy on how Barbara Follett was caught short. Again.
12. Prologue is suspicious about the Darling interview.
Most government agencies, such as the CSA for child support and HMRC for tax credits, have dedicated MPs’ hotlines. For those who know the system, going to see your MP has become a way of fast-tracking your case. As a result, a whole bureaucracy has emerged to service MPs servicing constituents.
And MPs encourage this. They know that the more direct the contact with constituents, the higher the chances of electoral success. This is good — it makes MPs work hard all year round; but the downside is having a huge, negative impact on our parliamentary democracy.
While our focus remains so resolutely in the constituency, we are spending less and less time in Westminster doing the scrutiny and the holding to account. Even when we are in London, we tend to be organising constituency campaigns and finding ways to raise parochial concerns.
We are leaving ourselves no time for ideas and thoughts. We are hollowing out our politics. Where is the ideology in getting the CSA to chase a non-resident parent for payments? We need to show people how to use agencies that are there to serve them. Not do it all for them.
But we are moving in totally the wrong direction. I don’t know how many times I hear people demanding a more consensual style of politics, asking us to put aside political affiliations and work for the good of the people that elected them. This is only making it worse.
After the expenses scandal, this view has become even more dominant. Yet the vast majority of us were elected only because we stood for a political party. In fact, Parliament is predicated on the very existence of political parties. It’s how we organise ourselves.
But our system breaks down when our political parties are not ideologically distinct. Today, we define our differences by dividing lines. We ask a small group of people — a focus group — what they care about, and then ask them what they want us to do about it. That’s not politics. That’s marketing. It’s turning us into admen and PR agents.
The politics of focus groups makes politicians reactive. We should lead, persuade and inspire. We should argue for what we think is right, even if popular opinion is against us. Leadership is about taking risks, even if that means losing our positions as a result.
Politics and politicians need to encourage big ideas and promote different ways of organising our society. Parliament should be a forum for clashing ideas again. And politicians need to rediscover that being an MP is about more than doing a job. It’s about being in a privileged position to put into practice deeply held beliefs and ideas.
When we debate parliamentary reform this week, we need to talk about getting back to first principles. Papering over the cracks won’t do any more. We need to tear down the flock wallpaper and fix the plasterwork underneath.
Great stuff. But I wonder how many other MPs will be brave enough to speak out in the same way. Engel has a fairly healthy majority so she feels she can speak out like this. MPs in more marginal constituencies feel constrained from saying some of the things in this article. The status quo is the safer option. But it is not an option for the long term if we want Parliament to prosper.
Earlier today I blogged about the Watford Labour MP Claire Ward and her disgraceful campaign to scare the voters of Watford into believing that the Conservatives would close the local hospital. Conservative Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has hit back hard with this letter.
When Labour comes under fire they normally try deflecting tactics, and this case is no different. LabourList have posted an article urging people to remember the terrible antics of the previous Tory candidate Ian Oakley. I condemned Oakley at the time. Perhaps LabourList would like to do the same to Claire Ward. I am not holding my breath.
I was also intrigued to see a blogpost from former Labour MP Jane Griffiths, who has some less than fond memories of Ms Ward.
Here is what Iain Dale has to say about Claire Ward, the Labour MP for Watford who featured in a steamy News of the World story a few years ago which related to some incidents which took place during a visit by members of the Parliamentary Armed Forces Scheme, including myself, to Kosovo. On that occasion she behaved like a slapper and lied about it afterwards. After the story appeared a Labour Party press officer rang me to say that she was suing the paper and could I confirm that it was all rubbish. No I could not, I said, and what was more if it came to court they had better not call me as a witness (which I was) because I wasn't going to lie under oath. Long silence on the other end of the phone. No libel action against the Screws. Anyway, here is Dale on Ward:
I do not think it is over the top to call Claire Ward a liar. Hopefully she will get her comeuppance in a few weeks and will lose her seat.
For him rather strong language.
She should have read the first draft.
UPDATE: A reader alerts me to the fact that Watford LibDems have today had to apologise for a misleading leaflet distributed in the town. More HERE.
Wait until 35 seconds in and you will see what a laughing stock Gordon Brown has become. Taiwanese TV has dramatised Gordon's temper tantrums.
Hattip Dizzy Thinks
Claire Ward has been Labour MP for Watford since 1997. She clearly thinks her position is in danger. Otherwise, why would she issue a leaflet designed to scare the voters of Watford into thinking that a Tory government would shut the local hospital. The only trouble is, it is complete and utter rubbish, as THIS story in the Watford local paper from last December makes clear.
And Sir David Nicholson, chief exec of the NHS said “This Government is committed to it and Andrew Lansley who visited the other week said a new Conservative government, if there is one, is committed to it as well.”
I used to think it was only the Liberal Democrats that indulged in disgusting campaigns like this - designed to frighten and scare. It now appears Labour MPs do too.
I do not think it is over the top to call Claire Ward a liar. Hopefully she will get her comeuppance in a few weeks and will lose her seat.
UPDATE: Former Labour MPJane Griffiths has a none too charitable view of Claire Ward, judging by THIS blogpost today.
This is from a Mary Ann Sieghart column in The Times. I think it is fair to say that John Prescott got more than he bargained for.
It's not every day that the Deputy Prime Minister announces himself to you as a buffoon. This was just weeks after the 7/7 terrorist attacks and John Prescott was - supposedly - running the country while Tony Blair was away. I had written a column headlined “Prezza the buffoon should simply not be left in charge”, which asked why we indulged him when he was so blisteringly incompetent.
The next day, my phone rang. “I have the Deputy Prime Minister for you,” said a female voice. “It's your buffoon here,” came a more familiar male one. He harangued me for half an hour, saying that what I'd written was “bloody disgraceful” and that I was just a snob. “I'm crap at syntax,” he conceded finally. “I don't even know what the word means.” Then he demanded that I come in and see him.
That turned into the encounter that Prescott referred to on Tuesday in his Radio 4 On the Ropes interview with John Humphrys. I haven't written about it before, because I respected Prescott's right to talk to me off the record. Now that he has brought it up himself, though, I can at last tell the tale.
Signing in at Admiralty House, I heard a click-clack on the marble floor behind me. It was Prescott. I turned round to greet him, but he sailed past, saying gruffly to the security man, “She's with me”. At the lift I caught up with him, smiled and put out my hand, as you do. He scowled and refused to shake it.
He took me up to his vast office and let me stew there for 15 minutes until he came back with a couple of lackeys and a briefing file on me an inch thick. I knew his people had been asking questions about me. In a voluntary capacity, I was then vice-chair of a local regeneration programme, North Fulham NDC, which came under his department. A very senior official had e-mailed the programme director asking how committed I was, what decisions I had taken, which projects I had opposed. Prescott was clearly looking for ammo.
He launched into a tirade. His face reddened, his finger jabbed, he held up dog-eared pamphlets that he had written in the 1980s which apparently proved that he had a good brain. He boasted about his achievements in transport and local government, some of which I disputed. Once he began on regeneration, I asked whether he had managed to dig any dirt up about me on the NDC. “I don't know what you're talking about,” he blustered.
“I think you do,” I retorted. “Your officials have been asking questions about me and you've got a chapter heading there on your briefing pack: ‘Mary Ann Sieghart's involvement with North Fulham NDC'.”
Luckily it was close enough for me to read upside down. Caught red-handed, he pretended not to be able to find the right page. More bragging followed, until he demanded: “So admit it. You were wrong about me.” Given his emotional state, I thought it wise to be diplomatic. I said I was glad to have had the chance to hear his side of the story. “Why don't we leave it at that?” I suggested.
“No,” he said. “I want you to admit that you're wrong.” He was determined to bully me, and I was determined to resist.
“I'm not prepared to,” I replied. “I'm afraid you haven't persuaded me.”
“Right then,” he shouted. “I want you to justify every single word you wrote.”
“Are you quite sure?” I checked. This was going to be embarrassing. So I took a deep breath and began. “Well, you punched a voter and you stuck two fingers up in Downing Street. That shows that you lose your rag too easily - as evidenced today, in fact.”
“AS EVIDENCED TODAY?” he bellowed, his face by now beetroot, his fists clenched.
“Yes, I've been talking perfectly calmly while you've been shouting and jabbing your finger at me. I don't think that's appropriate behaviour in a Deputy Prime Minister.”
My column had gone on to disparage his performance at Prime Minister's Questions. “I know PMQs are very hard,” I admitted. “I'd be useless at them. But then I'm not Deputy Prime Minister and you are.”
The final straw was his inability to string a sentence together. “I've not had the fine education you had,” was his justification. “You're just a snob.”
“I'm not,” I retorted. “I have no problem with Alan Johnson or John Reid or David Blunkett. They all come from disadvantaged backgrounds, they didn't go to private schools and they still manage to articulate what they want to say. It's nothing to do with snobbery and nothing to do with your education.” If a man couldn't speak clearly, I said, it was a sign that he couldn't think clearly either.
That was when he finally lost it. “So what you're saying is I'm too thick to be Deputy Prime Minister?” he yelled at me.
His two apparatchiks stiffened. “Well, yes, I guess I am,” I said in a small voice.
On the pavement outside, I found myself shaking. I couldn't believe what I had just said to Prescott, but nor could I believe how bullyingly he had behaved.
He, meanwhile, raced off to No 10 to see Blair. I later heard that he said, “I've just had that Mary Ann Sieghart in”, to which Blair replied, “That's nice”. “No it wasn't,” said Prescott, still furious. “She told me I was too thick to be Deputy Prime Minister.” Blair did the worst possible thing and laughed. “Well, she's not the only one who thinks that,” he chuckled.
Oh well, at least he didn't hit her. Or try to [that's enough - ed]
Monday, February 22, 2010
Tonight, Channel 4 broadcast the final of the four programmes. It was a revelation. It showed all four MPs as human beings, able to relate to the people they were staying with and all trying to help their new acquaintances live a better life.
Mark Oaten tried to galvanise a community in Dagenham into pressuring the council to improve their living conditions. Austin Mitchell tried to save a local youth centre and Tim Loughton brought together a local community in Birmingham in a way they had never experienced before. And Nadine Dorries made a real difference to the life of a 20 year old mixed race guy who admitted he had been lost to cannabis. There were some truly touching moments.
The test is whether these four MPs maintain contact with their new found friends. I have every confidence that three of them will. They really made a difference, and that is the true test of any politician's actions.
I never thought I would say this after watching the first three programmes, but I am proud of those MPs. They took a real risk in taking part in this programme, but by and large it paid off.
2. LibDem blogger Mark Reckons rushes to the defence of Andy Coulson.
3. Letters From a Tory discovers a strange disappearing act on the BIS website.
4. And Another Thing on the stages of Gordon Brown's bullying.
5. Liam Murray says it's not the anger that matters.
6. Tory Politico on 7 Tweeting sins for Mps and PPCs.
7. Party Lines interviews Sir Patrick Cormack about his imminent retirement.
8. Puffbox thinks the Labour Space relaunch is a waste of time.
9. Coffee House speculates on what a Tory-LibDem coalition would look like.
10. Tom Harris lists his Top 10 Twitter Tips.
11. Danny Finkelstein on Gordon Brown, bullying and him.
12. Norman Tebbit on why Heseltine is wrong.
And a couple of extras
13. SNP Tactical Voting on Labour patronage and SNP unity.
14. Biteback Publishing announces Paul Flynn's autobiography.
15. Dick Puddlecote on how Labour kill businesses.
Three days later, the BBC managed to catch up...
And a few hours later, Sky got around to it too...
Iain Dale's Diary: It's because of the unique way I'm funded. By myself.
All day yesterday and today, Peter Mandelson has toured the studios telling us all that Gordon Brown is sweet, innocent and wouldn't recognise the word bully if you spelled it out to him. This is the very same Peter Mandelson who, until he came back to the Cabinet, would ring up many of the parliamentary lobby and feed them multiple anecdotes about.... yes, you've guessed it, Gordon Brown's bullying and tantrums!
Yet lobby etiquette forbids these journalists from exposing Mandelson's rampant hypocrisy to public ridicule. Oh, they will do it at some point in the future after he has long disappeared from the political stage, but what a pity it is that not a single one of them has the bollocks to do it now.
And while we're at it, we already know that Alastair Campbell has excised any mention of Brown's tantrums from his diaries, and yet as soon as Brown leaves office he will dish the dirt. Nice of him to hoodwink the voters in this way.
Background HERE and HERE.
UPDATE: Apologies, I had a brainstorm earlier and said this was about Glenrothes. It's not, it's about Glasgow North East.
UPDATE: The Scotsman has the story HERE.
All are in Labour seats apart from the East of England one:
Leeds (UKTI, Press Release, 22 February 2010).
· Arla Foods (link), Leeds Central – Hilary Benn (Lab).
Newcastle (UKTI, Press Release, 22 February 2010).
· Tech Mahindra (link), Jarrow - Stephen Hepburn (Lab).
· Nissan – (link), Houghton & Washington East, Frank Kemp (Lab).
Warwick (UKTI, Press Release, 22 February 2010).
· PelicanCorp (link), Warwick and Leamington - James Plaskitt (Lab).
Edinburgh (UKTI, Press Release, 22 February 2010).
· ICON plc (link), Edinburgh South West, Rt. Hon. Alistair Darling (Lab).
So far as I am aware, there has been little pressure from bloggers for access to the Westminster lobby. I've repeatedly said that I don't want a lobby pass and I can't really see why most other bloggers would. Most of us comment rather than report. I can see why ConHome, LabourList or LibDem Voice might want one, but for individuals whose blogs centre around comment I just can't see what the advantage would be. I have absolutely no interest in attending lobby briefings.
The rules seem to be designed to prevent unaffiliated individuals from gaining a pass anyway. George Parker, the chairman of the press gallery told PR Week...
'The general criteria we would agree with is that the person applying for the pass should be a proper journalist with a track record of journalism; that they should be operating for a respectable news organisation or website with a reasonably large number of subscribers or viewers; and that they should be using the pass for the purposes of journalism, rather than coming in and commenting on stuff.'
That's fairly loose criteria. What constitutes 'respectable'? What constitutes a 'reasonably large number' of readers? It's interesting that Parker chooses to differentiate between reporting and comment. I wonder if an online sketchwriter would be eligible.
PRESCOTT: Yes, Brown has rages but that's all they are.
BROWN: And we all know what happens when you lose your temper, don't we?
PRESCOTT (fuming): Very clever remark from a smart arse journalist.
Lest we forget, here's an article from 2006 from the Mail on Sunday which shows Mr Prescott's unique way of bullying his staff. Still, at least he didn't throw any Nokias. Or keyboards.
JOHN PRESCOTT relentlessly pursued his Civil Service secretary from the very first day she began working for him, The Mail on Sunday can reveal. New extracts from diaries kept by Tracey Temple disclose how Mr Prescott repeatedly made advances towards her, despite her attempts to rebuff him, and how he even flirted with her in front of Ministerial colleagues. She describes in detail how the Deputy Prime Minister was 'eyeing her up' when they met for the first time the day after Labour's 2001 General Election victory.
And just five days later she confessed she felt uncomfortable about the way Mr Prescott continually looked at her. The diary entries, published today in The Mail on Sunday, reveal how, after months of ogling, Mr Prescott attempted to force her on to the bed of his luxurious grace-and-favour London flat.
She had gone there along with Joe Irvin, Mr Prescott's then special adviser, as Mr Prescott was supposed to be working on a crucial speech to be delivered at the Labour Party conference. But as soon as Mr Irvin left, the Deputy Prime Minister made his move.
The diaries detail how Mr Prescott intimately touched his £26,000 a-year secretary as they sat in the back of his chauffeur-driven Government Jaguar and how he enjoyed 'dirty' conversations while she sat at her Whitehall desk...
...Legal experts said last night that had Ms Temple chosen to make a formal complaint about the Deputy Prime Minister's approaches, they would have amounted to sexual harassment. This can constitute any form of unwelcome sexual advance in an office or workplace and includes unwelcome joking, leering and making inappropriate comments as well as physical advances.
Until 2001, the onus was upon individuals bringing actions to prove that they were harassed.
But then new regulations introduced by Labour shifted the burden of proof. Employers are now required to demonstrate that the actions did not constitute sexual harassment.
So, no more lectures on bullying please, Mr Prescott.
Am I being bullied?
* Bullies may use terror tactics, open aggression, threats, shouting, abuse, and obscenities towards their target
* Bullies may subject their target to constant humiliation or ridicule, belittling their efforts, often in front of others
* Bullies may subject their target to excessive supervision, monitoring everything they do and being excessively critical about minor things
* Bullies may take the credit for other people's work but never take the blame when things go wrong
* Bullies may constantly override the person's authority
* Bullies may remove whole areas of work responsibility from the person, reducing their job to routine tasks that are well below their skills and capabilities
* Bullies may set the person what they know to be impossible objectives, or constantly change the work remit without telling the person, and then criticise or reprimand the person for not meeting their demands
* Bullies may ostracise and marginalise their target, dealing with the person only through a third party, excluding the person from discussions, decisions etc
* Bullies may spread malicious rumours about the individual
Anyone would think this had been written by Spencer Livermore. And he should know.
An IT company was called into Downing Street one weekend to look at Gordon Brown's computer, which, they were told, had gone on the blink. The problem soon became clear. It turned out that someone had hurled the keyboard through the screen...
Now, if the IT repair man would like to get in touch...
The claim of routine bullying was today backed up a senior former adviser to Brown in No 10, who told the Guardian: "His intense bouts of anger are unremarkable to anyone who has worked closely with him. You just have to put up with this stuff. It is part of the daily experience, almost part of the furniture. He would behave in that way constantly. He suffers from a massive paranoia and an inability to accept blame, yet he runs a blame culture that allows him to blame others. He does not seek to win an argument, he just seeks to bully. If you have not worked closely with him before, it is truly shocking"
Which reminds me. What is Spencer Livermore up to these days? He was Brown's political secretary, who Brown reduced to tears after the election that never was. Shortly afterwards, Livermore quit for a quieter life. And who could blame him.
I invite them to consider their reaction to a FTSE 500 chief executive who had been accused of the same sort of bullying. Would they really attribute it to a ritual bout of grumpiness? I don't think so.
Scroll forward three years. Imagine the scenario. David Cameron is accused of bullying a typist in Number Ten. Does anyone really think left wing journalists wouldn't be in full cry, calling for his head on a platter? Me neither.
It is a matter for profound sadness that Gordon Brown has debased the office of Prime Minister in this way. He's in denial, but that just makes it worse. He may try to deflect the news agenda onto Mrs Pratt and her bullying helpline (as recommended by Lord Mandelson), as well as encouraging his aides to smear her as a Tory stooge but he cannot escape blame in this sorry saga.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
The latest edition of the Seven Days Show is now online.
In this weeks show we discuss “tweetgate” and using social media; Gordon Brown and bullying; Sir Nicholas Winterton and first class travel; and finally the closing of the polls – and what it means for the Conservative party.
To listen to the podcast click HERE, or you can also subscribe to the show in the Tory Radio section in the podcast area of Itunes.
2. Capitalists@Work thinks it's time for a second look and a fifth listen.
3. Winkled Weasel on IDS and the soul of the English.
4. Tom Harris has a flashback to 1983.
5. Paul Flynn is less than gruntled with the Mail on Sunday.
6. Tom Watson regrets James Purnell's departure.