Friday, June 30, 2006

The PR Disasters of Ming's New Spin Doctor

As regular readers know, His Mingness has appointed a new spin doctor. His name is Gavin Grant. His first act was to spin that Ming's a fish and chip loving viewer of Strictly Come Dancing. This rather backfired on him. What I hadn't realised at the time was that Mr Grant was the mastermind behind Mark Oaten's leadership campaign (but who am I to talk?!). Grant continues to advise Oaten on his current rehabilitation campaign (hence the embarrassing Sunday Times piece and Newsnight film in May). Grant has also worked in a professional capacity as a PR consultant to the Iraqi National Congress and (unusually for a LibDem) holds very strong pro-Iraq war views. Has anyone told Ming? The headline "Ming shares PR adviser with Mark Oaten and Ahmed Chalabi" will not do his image much good. Shame that.

Hat-tip to my anonymous correspondent for this very helpful info. Should anyone else have info on further PR disasters Mr Grant has masterminded, do get in touch.

Is it Time to Play the LibDems at Their Own Game?

In my piece on the Bromley by-election I asserted that negative campaigning in Cheadle had not made a difference and it didn't help us beat the LibDems. A correspondent has emailed me some research which calls that assertion into question. Have a look at these statistics which compare the Cheadle result with other recent by-elections including Bromley & Chislehurst...

Con to Lib Dem Swing

Brent East 15.4%
Hartlepool 15.2%
Birmingham Hodge Hill 14.6%
Bromley & Chislehurst 14.32%
Leicester South 10.5%
Ipswich 4.9%
Cheadle 0.6%

% Con Share of the Vote

Cheadle 42.4%
Bromley & Chislehurst 39.9%
Ipswich 28.4%
Leicester South 19.7%
Birmingham Hodge Hill 17.3%
Brent East 16.2%
Hartlepool 9.7%

Con Share of the Vote

Cheadle +2.0%
Brent East -2.1%
Ipswich -2.5%
Birmingham Hodge Hill -3.3%
Leicester South -3.3%
Bromley & Chislehurst -11.1%
Hartlepool -11.1%

Lib Dem Share of the Vote

Brent East +28.6%
Birmingham Hodge Hill +25.8%
Hartlepool +19.2%
Leicester South +17.7%
Bromley & Chislehurst +17.5%
Ipswich +7.2%
Cheadle +3.3%

The Cheadle result in comparison to Bromley & Chislehurst

The Conservative share of the vote went down 11.11% in B&C. The Conservative share of the vote went up 2.01% in Cheadle. The winning Conservative vote in B&C was 11,621. The losing Conservative vote in Cheadle was 15,936. The swing from Conservative to Lib Dems in B&C was 14.32%. The swing from Conservative to Lib Dems in Cheadle was 0.63%

So, the question we have to ask ourselves, is this: Has British politics really got to the point where the only way to do well in a by-election is to trash the other side? From the above statistics the answer would seem clear. Perhaps it's time to take the gloves off. Francis Maude, writing on ConservativeHome this afternoon says: "Should we keep strictly to only positive campaigning, in the face of this kind of LibDem campaign? (I'll need a lot of persuading that we shouldn't!)." We'll have to wait until the next by-election to see how Mr Maude's question is answered.

Troubled Times Ahead for Shaun Woodward?

Kerron Cross has an interesting post today saying that there might be troubled time ahead for Shaun Woodward. Now Kerron works in Parlament for a Labour MP and is a former candidate, so he has good contacts.

"I'm not one for media gossip and personal speculation, but can I ask: Has anyone seen Shaun Woodward? My understanding is that Shaun has cancelled a series of important meetings next week in his role as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Department of Culture Media & Sport. In fact, my source says that Shaun has been told to "lie low" by the Whips for a few days pending possible media revelations. Only time will tell if that's true. Since looking into this matter I have heard rumours about what the media stories may say, but I am not about to reiterate any unsubstantiated comments here. I simply want to know if you have seen him recently and whether anyone is still planning to meet with him over the next week or so.There are many reasons to take a dislike to the MP for St Helens South - being a politically defecting turncoat, having a butler, knowing nothing about the local rugby team and moving constituencies allowing Dave Cameron to take the vacant Whitney constituency - being just 4 to mention. But I hope that people will be able to give him some space - if indeed it proves that he needs it. None of us like media intrusion."

A few mixed messages, there Kerron methinks. I am probably in a minority of one in the Conservative Party but I have always liked Shaun Woodward. He and I have had some robust exchanges following his defection and I genuinely don't wish him ill. But he was a fool to defect and totally led up the garden path by Blair. If he had stayed in the Tory Party he would have no doubt been in the Shadow Cabinet by now, although I somewhat doubt he would have emulated his successor as MP for Witney and become leader. It's fascinating to speculate how Tory history would have been different had David Cameron not had the chance to be MP for Witney. It's also rather futile!

Will Peter Hain be the Next One to Betray Blair?

Fraser Nelson in this week's Spectator believes Peter Hain will be the next Cabinet Minister to betray Tony Blair. He quotes an exchange between the two of them at the time of the last reshuffle, when Blair told Hain he couldn't promote him, despite having promised to do so before.

BLAIR: You'll get your move next time.
HAIN: There won't be a next time under you.

And doesn't that sum up how the PM has lost his authority? Hain would never have said that if he hadn't known Blair was on the way out.

Bromley Analysis from Former MP Nicholas Bennett

Nick bennett was MP for Pembroke from 1987 to 1992. He now lives in Bromley and is a Borough Councillor there. He just posted this in the Comments Section but I thought i deserved a wider airing...

Well said Iain, I don't disagree with any of your analysis.This is the first time in my 40 years in politics that I've lived in a constituency with a Parliamentary By-election. A fascinating experience! Never have so many trees died in the cause of the democracy. My neighbours have been a way on holiday for 12 days, how they will get their door open when they return I dread to think.

1. Selection of candidate.
Bob was and is a good choice; however a number of assumptions were made.
• Because he was the local GLA member he would be well known. Bob has been a first rate member, assiduously taking up local issues, attending Resident Association AGMs and campaigns in every local election, however as most MPs cannot be named by the majority of their constituents, the same is true of other local politicians.
• Whilst I have no argument with his decision to stay on the GLA until 2008, he should have made it clear that he wouldn’t take a salary.
• He should have resigned the Health Authority and other posts immediately.
• As a non-lawyer I am aware of all the posts which disqualify one from election including offices of profit under the crown. A silly mistake not to deal with this; however I understand Bob resigned from the Health Authority last week I don’t think any judge would overturn the result of the technicality of the form, it is disqualification at election which counts.

2 Dealing with the negatives
• The LD campaign followed the usual path - identify any weakness in your opponent and ruthlessly exploit it. Do CCHQ not learn from previous by-elections? In the days when I was on the list we were always asked if there were any skeletons in our cupboard (Alan Clark at K&C in 1996 – “A whole graveyard full”). Similarly we have to look at things like where the candidate lives, has he/she lost before (‘Failed MP, Failed wannabe MP’) etc. None of this bars a candidate – most have to fight hopeless seats but we need to be ready with the rebuttal.
• As the old saying has it "truth is getting its boots on when lie has gone half way around the world'.
• The LD campaign from the outset went for Bob and they spent the whole campaign issuing variations on the same theme. Our rebuttal leaflet was on the eve of poll!

3. Literature and Campaigning
• I showed some of the LD literature to an experienced agent and he said: "That's the sort of thing they always issue!' And? Why weren’t we ready with our own ‘Hello’ style 8 page colour glossy?
• Given that the LD candidate fought Sevenoaks last year, moved to Beckenham in 2004 and had only been on the council six weeks why did we not point these things out?Abbots and the LDs were vulnerable on a key Bromley issue, Prescott’s dictat that Bromley will increase housing densities. That should have been one of our causes and the LDs support (including Abbot’s silence and abstention in the council on the issue) should have been hammered. It illustrates the best sort of issue – positive for you and negative for your opponent.
• Both UKIP and LDs campaigned on the same simple issues from start to finish. UKIP – ‘cut taxes; get out of Europe, control immigration’. LDs – Local MP, 3 jobs Bob, I’ve got a wife and kids and live in the borough’.
• There was no such theme in our campaign. One week it was crime (Here again no use made of pictures of Bob campaigning in 2003 for more police in Bromley!), last week MPs wife supports Bob (there’s a surprise) and this week Human Rights Act (not yet the talk of Bromley’s pubs!). Law and Order is a Tory theme and the local increases are horrific – four fold increase in robberies, 60% increase in violence, burglary up.
• As a result our literature had no theme. Some simple rules for leaflets  You have no more than 8 seconds to get your message across from the letterbox to the waste bin. A picture is worth 1000 words A headline is worth 1000 words More people read the Sun than all the quality papers combined
• Our leaflets were wordy – a letter from the local councillor was two pages of small, cramped handwriting. One paragraph with printed stylised writing would have been read.
• Bob’s picture was dreadful - the one they used made him look smug and complacent when those of us who know him, know that he is a decent hardworking chap. Thus the picture reinforced the LD smears.
• Fewer leaflets. I had 8 or 9 from the Conservatives and LDs and at least 7 from UKIP. Many were wasted as there was no attempt not to deliver to postal voters who had cast their vote already.We need to go back to the basics of running and election. B&C has 7 wards and 39 polling stations. The polls are open from 7am to 10pm. 585 telling slots before people start doing more than an hour. It was only 6 weeks since the borough elections which had been run by the individual wards. What should have happened is that the wards prepare as far as possible from their own resources the telling, with CCHQ agent helping to fill in any gaps from additional volunteers. Instead, experienced ward chairman, like my wife got their committee room boxes late on Wednesday evening and had to drop rosettes, tellers’ pads round at 6am on polling day. An hour’s planning saves a lot of wasted time.Despite using computerised knocking up slips I found myself knocking up members at 6pm who had voted early in the day and found that they had also had 2 phone calls. Better use of manpower would help. Fit and active campaigners tied up on polling stations telling at 7pm when they could be knocking up. Centralised use of volunteers from outside the constituency so they could be sent to areas with large numbers of pledges but few knocker uppers. Let’s treat volunteers with some consideration. I dolled out tea to a number of friends who had come considerable distances to canvass. They all commented that, after driving miles to get to Bromley the sector offices hadn’t offered a cup of tea or even a loo. Don’t let’s forget how we turned the press against us at one party conference by putting them in a windowless car park basement! We need a dedicated CCHQ campaign team but one which can take advice from the best of the voluntary party.

Bromley: Francis Maude Wants Your Comments

ConservativeHome has an article from Francis Maude with his take on Bromley HERE. He's asking for your views. I'll be posting something a bit later on some interesting statistics from recent by-elections, which contain and unfortunate lessons. Check back later.

Also, I'll be on More4 News tonight at 8pm pontificating should you not want to watch Italy v Ukraine!

Yet Another Article on Women Bloggers

Yet another article on the lack of women in the blogosphere inspired by yours truly, this time in The Grauiad's G2 Section. Even I'm becoming a bit bored with the subject now... You can read it HERE if you really must.

Rosie Winterton Reaps Her Reward

I was delighted to see this week the John Prescott's best friend Rosie Winteron has been made a Privy Councillor. What can she have done to merit such a reward after only 9 short years as an MP? For services to the Prime Minister? For her sterling work as a Health Minister? For services to the Deputy Prime Minister? Why does the expression 'hush money' keep coming into my head? Well done Rosie. Entirely deserved. Yes, indeedy.

The Bromley By Election: Lessons to be Learned

I am afraid this has the makings of a rather long post, so bear with me. On 10 February, following the Dunfermline by-election, I wrote this...

"The LibDems are past masters at persuading all those who don't like Labour that they are the only ones who can defeat them and I suspect that this accounts for part of the reduction in the Tory vote. But let's not kid ourselves. The Conservatives need to think about what will happen if there's a by-election in a Labour marginal in a rural area. Just how do they convince the electorate that it is they who are best placed to oust Labour, rather than the LibDems? To be frank, we haven't fought a good by-election campaign since, well, I honestly can't remember. I understand a special by-election unit was set up recently. I hope it is going to be given the campaigning resources it will need, because although we all say by-elections don't matter, the way they are fought sends out important signals to party workers about how the Party is geared up to fight a national election. It's important that when the next by-election occurs in an English seat with a good Conservative vote, the Party is fully prepared to fight it."

So what happened in Bromley & Chislehurst? What lessons should the Party take from the result and what should happen now?


Firstly let's look at the result. The BBC is spinning for all it's worth that the Conservatives lost 11,000 votes, only mentioning as an afterthought that the turnout was a mere 40%. If there had been a 40% turnout in the General Election the majority would have been about 6,500. The Conservative vote went down from 50% to 40%. The LibDem vote actually only went up by 1,620 although their percentage rose from 20% to 37% - whatever way you spin it, that's a real achievement. However, the Labour vote collapsed from more than 10,000 to a mere 1,925. They went down from 22% to 6% - from second place to fourth. There will be several Labour MPs in South London who look at that result with absolute horror. UKIP overtook Labour to grab third place and increased their vote from 3% to 8%. I have to say that while I never thought we would lose this seat, I never thought we would get a bigger per centage than in 2005. LibDems were constantly saying that if we didn't get 60% (or even 70% in one case!) it would be a disaster for Cameron. In my view it was always inevitable that our vote share would decrease. The Labour vote was always going to go to the LibDems (and, as it turns out, UKIP), and any right wing dissatisfaction with the Conservatives would transfer to UKIP. However, none of this can explain why 11,000 Conservatives just didn't bother to turn out and vote - or why our campaign machine failed to get them out.


The LibDems fought a viciously negative campaign against Bob Neill personally. It worked. The 'Three Jobs Bob' line stuck. A the time of the selection I thought that if there was a good local candidate, the local association would be well advised to play safe and pick him or her. When Carroll Forth announced she would stand I thought she'd get it. On the face of it Bob Neill fitted the bill, being the local GLA Member. But the LibDems were able to exploit the fact that he didn't live in the constituency - neither did Ben Abbotts, but we were too polite to point that out. Well, when I say "we", you know what I mean. Bob also appeared like a Tory candidate of yesteryear - he didn't look like the new model Tory candidate. In some ways that may have been a blessing, but he didn't fit the brand with the consequence that the campaign team found it difficult to market him as part of the 'change' message. However, all that said, I still believe they were right to pick him. If an identikit 'A' Lister had been picked the result could have been worse and instead of this morning raking over the bones of a narrow victory I can easily see the circumstances in which the Party would have been in meltdown and blaming the whole 'A' List strategy and modernisation approach for the defeat.


It's clear that the Conservatives fought a campaign based on issues and did not campaign negatively. There was not a single mention of the LibDem candidate in any of their literature. By contrast, the LibDem literature devoted huge amounts of space to slagging off 'three jobs Bob'. They also built their candidate up to be a local campaigner who lived locally, married with two children - well, you know the rest. They lied, they cheated, they exaggerated, they misled. And they nearly won. What does that tell us? As Bob Neill said in his victory speech "If you [Lib Dems] sometimes wonder why it is that people in this country are turned off by politics, get a mirror and look at yourselves". He's right, but did we drop the ball by not hitting back? Should we get more negative in future? I'm not very familiar with our campaign in Cheadle but it appears that we adopted a much more negative approach there and it just didn't work. So that's not much help. But LibDem by-election successes are not rocket science. They follow a set format, both in strategy and literature. We should have woken up to that long ago and developed a strategy to counter it. The campaign in Bromley was a mirror image of that in Dunfermline. It should therefore come as no surprise to us. The challenge now for the Party is to develop a strategy for the next one. We might not be lucky enough to be defending a 13,000 majority in future.


Francis Maude had appeared on the media this morning describing the call as "a bit of a wake-up call for us - that we've got a long way further to go". He told the Today programme: "David's been rightly, driving a process of change in the party - and the simple truth from this election result is that we have to drive that change faster, wider and deeper, because we have to supply more and more positive reasons for people to vote for us. And I'm sure we will do so." Is he right? I didn't see all the literature at the by-election but the pieces that I did see seemed to be too reminiscent of the literature we used to use under Michael Howard's leadership. David Cameron is our main electoral asset, yet we didn't make the most of him in the literature. There were rumours that the local Party had too great an influence on the campaign literature. If true, that was a mistake. We didn't stick to the CHANGE brand. When I was delivering letters on Saturday I was rather appalled to read the text. It was straight 'dog whistle' appeal stuff. This needs to change and change fast. Those in charge of campaigning at CCHQ need to ensure that in future, it is they who control by-election campaigns and control the message. You can't have two masters. Either CCHQ are in charge or either the local Party are. This campaign bore all the hallmarks of neither being the case. So going back to my original question, is Francis Maude right to say we need to drive change faster, harder and deeper? If by that he means changing the perception of the Party he is 100% right. It is clear that it is the Conservative label or brand that is damaged. If you asked people Do You Agree with David Cameron on X? And then asked the question Do You Agree with the Conservatives on X? I suspect the percentage saying Yes to the first question would be markedly higher than the second. And that's the challenge - to get those Yes figures identical. And that means proving to people that change is not just superficial, but it's deep. This is not something that can be achieved overnight, or within six months. It will take time, and results like this must not deflect the overall strategy. It must also not provoke a knee jerk reaction to do something drastic like impose all women shortlists, which is something I suspect is gaining currency among certain people.


Chris Rennard is the LibDems' campaigning guru. He has total control of all by-election campaigns. What he says goes. He has the total respect of every LibDem (and many Conservatives!). Astonishingly, following Gavin Barwell's departure from CCHQ there is now now "in-house" Director of Campaigning. This situation must be rectified. Lynton Crosby was the nearest we have had in recent years to a Director of Campaigning, and in a very short time he built up a tremendous respect both in CCHQ and throughout the Party. We need someone like him to take on the role again now. Not in two years time, but now. I do not have any name in mind, but if I were to send one message to Francis Maude and David Cameron it would be to impress on them that the recruitment of a new Campaigning Director should be something very high on their agenda.


None. Well, that's not quite true. While this by-election will have no bearing on a general election, there is one consequence which will be to the benefit of the Conservatives. It entrenches Ming Campbell in his position. In the long term - and in a general election - Ming Campbell is not a vote winner for the LibDems. No matter how they spin it, not a single person who switched to the LibDems in Bromley did it because they were so impressed by Ming. But the overall result does mean that those in his Party who have become exasperated by his leadership will find it more difficult to shift him. And that's good news for the Conservatives. No Conservative should panic over this result. The YouGov poll in today's Telegraph shows the real national position. We're on 39%, 6 ahead of Labour. And that's something few of us would have imagined possible only six short months ago.

Perhaps the best summing up of the situation comes from John, someone who has posted on the ConservativeHome Bromley thread this morning. He takes these lessons from the result...

1. Never ever complain about the other party's tactics, blame yourself for not anticipating them and knowing how to counter them.
2. Don't take anything for granted, thank your lucky stars that the LD's don't have a more marketable leader.
3. UKIP may not have had a particularly good night, but between now and the GE they could improve. UKIP has the potential to cause considerable damage to the Conservative Party in some seats.
4. Don't be misled by opinion polls, they are very reliable as far as it goes. Remember they are snapshots of opinion at the time they are taken, things can change!!
5. Some of us remember, when at byelections when it was guaranteed that the main opposition party would benefit from swings of 20% or more. The B&C result shows just how different British politics are becoming.

I wish Bob Neill all the best. I suspect he hasn't enjoyed the last few weeks very much, but now he can get on with being a worthy successor to Eric Forth and look forward to a huge majority at the next General Election. And what now for Ben Abbotts? Frankly, my dears, I don't give a damn. He should be ashamed of himself for both his campaign tactics and his behaviour at the count. Click HERE to watch the video of Bob Neill's victory speech to see what I mean.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Pricks on the Today Programme

A very strange moment on the Today programme this morning. Having got to bed at 4am after my journey back from North Yorkshire I was still in bed, but I'm told there was a discussion about dog names, and one of the guests was Lucinda Lambton. It appears that she was heard shouting "My prick, my prick" in the background. Rumours that Jim Naughtie was emulating Jonathan Ross's interviewing style were hotly denied by the Today production team. Amazing what a glass of cooking sherry before breakfast can do.

Mary Mary Quite Contrary

Oh dear. I'm beginning to feel guilty. And it's Stephen Pollard's fault. He's accused me of "fisking" Mary Dejevsky HERE. First of all I thought I had been indulgings in some peculiar sexual fantasy, but I gather it's got something to with Robert Fisk, although I'm not quite sure what. Perhaps, dear readers, you could enlighten me.

Anyway, Mary has been in touch. I didn't expect such a lofty columnist to bother with a mere blogger, but she's been rather sweet. She says in her email...

my abject apologies. you can see i'm not a lobby correspondent. i was seduced by your self-description as right of centre MP. oh dear...

But Mary, you're at it again. Nowhere have I ever described myself as an MP! And now I'm told by Ellee Seymour that on the basis of my Channel 4 Podcastpiece this morning, the Guardian are doing a piece in G2 tomorrow on women and blogging. Mary, you see, this blog has more influence that you thought. Anyway, I trust we've all learned from today.

UPDATE: 10pm Jesus, there's even a Fisking Blog. HERE.

UPDATE: 10.30pm I have been remiss is not giving a hat-tip to Clive Davis who alerted me to the Dejevensky column this morning. Without him my day would have been so much less interesting! His blog is one that I look at most days - he's very good on transatlantic issues.

How to Stop Candidates Going Bust

Rory Knight Bruce has written an article for this week's Spectator proposing that candidates should be paid. Click HERE. I don't agree with some of the specifics in Rory's piece, but I do agree with the general thrust. And the points he makes apply to candidates of all parties, not just mine.

Robert Halfon, our candidate in Harlow, has already written on this subject HERE. It's something I talked to David Davis about last year and we floated along with several other Party reforms. Sadly this got eclipsed by the wish to hold the Party conference at weekends and in towns other than Blackpool or Bournemouth.

Until you've been a candidate, you have no idea what you are letting your bank balance in for. If you're well off, all well and good, but if you're not it's very very easy to let things run away with you. Naively I had reckoned it would cost me £10,000 to be the candidate in North Norfolk. In the end I reckon it was closer to £40-50,000. If the election had been delayed beyond May last year I couldn't have continued. And those candidates being selected for seats now face three years of commitment to their seat. Many will be able to afford it, but some won't. Those who can't afford it won't be applying but some will ignore the sioght doubt in the back of their minds and will apply anyway. But once the realisation dawns on them what they have done, they may face no option but to stand down, as Rory Knight Bruce did in North Devon in 2003.

Robert Halfon is right. The Party should be looking at providing bursaries so that no one is put off becoming a candidate because it's beyond their financial reach. Rory Knight Bruce is wrong to say that Party funds should be used to pay EACH candidate an annual allowance of £40,000. That's simply mad. But for those in need, there should be a fund - perhaps run separately from the Party - for them to access. Over to you, Bernard!

Who's the Guilty High-"Ranking" Labour Backbencher

Can anyone shed any light on the identity of the senior Labour backbencher who was spotted making a 'Jonathan Ross' like gesture at David Cameron during his second two questions at PMQs yesterday?

Should Bloggers Get Their Snouts in The Trough?

There's a very interesting article by Howard Kurtz HERE on the American bloggers joining the Democrats' payroll. Hillary Clinton has hired a professional blogger for her forthcoming presidential senatorial campaign. Now there's a thought. Blogger in Chief to David Cameron. Hmmm. Could be an interesting career move. Mary Dejevsky would approve. But better not. Jonathan Ross might make too much of it.

Is Ming Out of Touch on Judges?

Ming Campbell has given an interview to Steve Richards for GMTV's Sunday Programme. It centres around control orders. During the interview Ming comes out with this classic...

It’s one of the great tabloid myths of the United Kingdom that judges are out of touch with public opinion

Would every LibDem supporter who agrees with this comment kindly register the fact in the Comments Section?

Today's Pot & Kettle Award Goes to David Mellor

If there's one person in this country who I don't want to hear from on football related matters it's David Mellor. Today he enlightens Sun readers with his take on the news that Sven is about to pen his memoirs. "It's a disgrace. He's a mercenary," trolls the Mellorphant. This would be the same David Mellor who trousered a six figure advance for his memoirs from Penguin a few years ago, and then had to pay it all back when he failed to deliver a manuscript. As David Blunkett might say, "a period of silence" might be welcome on this and many other matters from Mr M.

Ben Abbotts' Bit of Spin Backfires

Click on Guido HERE and Jaj HERE to see why Ben Abbotts isn't worth a vote in Bromley & Chislehurst. Sickening stuff.

A Response to Mary Dejevsky

Last week I wrote a PIECE asking for your views on Why Don't Women Blog?. Mary Dejevsky, a columnist who up to now has fallen way below my radar screen, seems to have taken great exception to it - and indeed to my blog as a whole. She has written a column in The Independent today headlined THERE'S A GOOD REASON WHY WOMEN DON'T WRITE BLOGS followed by the subtitle MEN SEEM TO TAKE IT FOR GRANTED THAT THEY'VE SOMETHING TO SAY AND THAT THE REST OF US WANT TO HEAR IT. Typical feminist claptrap. I've asked The Independent to allow me to write a follow-up column, but I doubt they will, so let me give my response here. Her words are in normal type, my comments are in italics

Iain Dale is a Conservative pro-Cameron MP.
It really must break some sort of record to make two factual innaccuracies within the first six words of a supposedly well-informed column. Just for the record, I am not an MP and having been David Davis's Chief of Staff it is slightly inaccurate to make me out to be a Cameroon henchman. But we'll see if things improve...
I do not know him, and I am just as certain that he does not know me. He does, though, put himself about. He writes one of the more prolific blogs to come out of this Parliament, purveying commentary, analysis, gossip and the like via his website, with what seems like hour-to-hour, if not minute-by-minute, frequency.
Ignoring the fact that my Blog does not "come out of this Parliament" - it "comes out" of Tunbridge Wells, yup, guilty as charged.
Iain - as I am sure he would like me (and you) - to call him...
Is this an insult or a compliment? I suspect it's a calculated sneer...
... recently made an observation that simply leapt out of his stream of consciousness. "It doesn't matter whether you're talking about Conservative, Labour or Lib Dem bloggers," he wrote, "you won't find many written by women." He went on to observe, admitting the sexist stereotype, that women, "being much better gossips than men ought to be ideally suited to the world of blogging". I curtail his prolixity, but he concludes: "There must be some reason why women don't blog as much as men in the political sector."
Now now Mary, we all know what out of context quotes are like. Do you by any chance assist the LibDems in writing their Focus leaflets? This is what I actually wrote: "Now of course if you were indulging in stereotypes you'd be making cheeky comments about women being much better gossips than men, so they ought to be ideally suited to the world of blogging. But perhaps the fact that 90% of bloggers are male shows that men are the best gossips after all. Tell us something we didn't know, I hear the females amongst you cry. Obviously blogging is not just about gossip but there must be some reason why women don't blog as much as men in the political sector. Do let me have your thoughts!"
Well, Iain, I venture to correct you on one point. It is not just in the political sector, as you call it, that fewer women blog. Except in areas such as childcare and gynaecology, it is across the board that women bloggers are few and far between. And it does not take a huge of the imagination to suggest at least two reasons why. The first is that, for all the efforts to educate men and women equally, to encourage them to compete for honours, even to feminise the examination system by introducing coursework, women (still) tend to be more bashful than men about what they think. It is not that, as veteran male gender-warriors might growl, we have much to be bashful about. It is rather that we tend to be less confident than men that the rest of the world wants the benefit of our opinion.
Mary, I don't detect any sign of a lack of confidence in what you write...
Men seem to take it for granted not only that they have something to say, but that the rest of us should find it worth hearing - or, in the case of the blogosphere, reading.

And you don't Mary? Why else would you write a column for a national newspaper if you, as a woman, didn't think you had something to say or that the rest of the world would want to hear?
Iain Dale is not the only verbal incontinent who ploughs on, apparently regardless of who might be listening or reading. Alas, his confidence is repaid by the dozens who seem to respond to every post. The cacophony of so many (mostly male) opinions is deafening.
Oh dear. You seem to have defeated your own argument without any help from me. If no one wanted to read my blog, they wouldn't visit it. It wouldn't be among the top three most read political blogs in the country. If people didn't think what I wrote was worth commenting on, they wouldn't leave comments would they? And it's not "verbal" incontinence, I write a blog. I don't speak it. Do be more careful in your use of language. After all, you as a columnist are paid several hundred pounds a column. The least you could do is write proper English.
Our female bashfulness, I submit, may be gradually being drummed out of us by a combination of good teaching, co-ed schools and colleges, and the example of opinionated women expressing forthright views in other parts of politics and the media. The second reason why women don't blog, however, is more serious, because it is more intractable: women simply do not have the time.

Indulging in pre-feminist stereo-types again, perhaps?
Earlier this week, I heard Finland's minister for foreign trade and development, speaking in London to celebrate the centenary of women's suffrage in Finland.
Now I'm sorry, but if you imply that I'm a 'saddo' for writing a 'prolific' blog, please don't try and pretend that going along to hear Finland's Minister for Trade is anything but equivalently sad.
They were the first women in Europe to gain the vote. And the record of women's participation in Finnish life is as laudable as one would expect from Scandinavia. Yet, as Ms Paula Lehtomaki noted, without the diffidence that might attend the same observation in this country, the next frontier had to be the home. Women had come a long way: safeguards against discrimination, for equal pay and opportunities were all in place and largely observed. But the fact was that in joining the workforce on equal terms, women were all too often tied to two jobs: equality, even in enlightened Scandinavia, all too often stops at the front door. How many homes are there - here, or in tech-savvy Finland - where the man will think it quite excusable to shuffle in late for dinner because he has been reading or writing his online diary, but would greet with ridicule or fury the prospect of dinner being late (or non-existent) because his partner had been delayed in the blogosphere?
I am almost lost for words. The ridiculousness of the analogy will not be lost on most people. I have to say that blogging has not made me late for anything. Ever. Let alone dinner. A reminder dear readers - she's getting paid to write this drivel!
And for dinner, we can substitute baby's bathtime, the children's high-tea, the regular taxi-service families run between sports and after-school clubs, the elderly parents that need looking after. It is this old-fashioned, and persistent, division of responsibilities that frees men to indulge in the time-consuming fashion of the day; and the gadetry and self-aggrandisement involved in blogging only make it that much more attractive.
OK stop right there. Me writing a blog is no different from Mary Dejevsky writing her column. It's how she earns her keep. It's starting to be part of how I earn mine. So let's not let her get away with her continual inference that blogging is merely an activity for people with no friends and a good supply of gannex raincoats. If my blog were of no importance she and her journalistic colleagues wouldn't read it every day.

Iain Dale calls his blog "Iain Dale's diary". Those of us of a certain age - I can faintly recall the signature tune - know this to be an allusion to the fictitious radio diary of a GP's wife and receptionist which was broadcast on weekday afternoons. It was a soap opera for its day, very BBC Home Service. More tied to the Fifties way of life than The Archers, it did not survive into this more hurried, less homely age. But there is a point here.
I was beginning to wonder...
In the days of Fifties-style, essentially segregated working, Mrs Dale had the time to keep a diary. Today's Mrs Dale would be the doctor herself, rushing in to the surgery from the school run and organised enough to assemble dinner at the end of the day. She would be too tired at the end of it all, or have more pressing things to do, to advertise her thoughts in the blogosphere. Diary-keeping, unlike family responsibility, has entered the public sphere and crossed the gender-divide.
Do let me know if that makes more sense to you than it does to me. Surely the last sentence argues against the previous two?!

Wow. You really do have to laugh, don't you? I see this as yet another sign that the so-called 'dead tree' media don't quite know what to make of blogging. They use every opportunity to decry it, yet they are strangely fascinated by it. So much so, in fact, that some of them have started their own blogs. I would almost bet money that within twelve months we'll be seeing the launch of the Dejevsky Blog. I'll even link to it!

Lady T Steals the Show at IEA Lecture

I'm reliably informed that Lady Thatcher stole the show yesterday evening at the Institute of Economic Affairs 15th memorial Hayek Lecture in London. The event was sponsored by philanthropist and IEA Trustee Michael Hintze, and saw two of the world's most powerful women hold court. The speaker was the Hon Gale Norton, Secretary of the Interior 2001 - 2006 in President Bush's Cabinet - a very impressive speaker who is both right wing and a committed defender of the environment.

Anyone who reads this blog knows that two of my favourite subjects are Lady T and US politics - I'm told that whilst I was on stage with Ann Widdecombe, Lady T was holding forth for over an hour at the reception at 1 Great George Street that followed the lecture. Not bad for someone her opponents keep writing off. My picture shows Lady T talking to Gale Norton and Michael Hintze.

Who is Mary Dejevsky?

Looks like I'd better go out and buy The Indy today... More later, I suspect!

Channel 4 Podcast: Why Don't More Women Blog?

My weekly blogs feature in the Channel 4 Morning Reports Podcast can be downloaded HERE. It's about 80% of the way through. It discusses why women don't do political blogs, including a brief contribution from La Widdecombe and features my Blog of the Week, Ellee Seymour.

Ed Vaizey & the LibDems: Episode No 94

You may remember a few weeks ago Ed Vaizey floated the idea of a Con-LibDem coaltion after the next election. Click HERE to read his mea culpa. It turns out he can't stand them any more than the rest of us.

Labour MPs Stand Accused of Hypocrisy After Northern lreland Vote

Yesterday there was a two and a half hour Committee debate on the Northern Ireland Education order. I can hear you yawning already, but stick with it. That's an order! At the end of the debate, thirteen Labour MPs plus Lembit Opik and the SDLP voted for the Education Order to prohibit academic selection in Northern Ireland. The Conservatives, DUP and UUP voted against. Kate Hoey, though not selected by her Party's whips as a Committee member, attended and spoke against the Order. Frank Field, originally named as a Committee member, was replaced at short notice after telling his whips that he would not support the Government.

Of the 13 Labour Members, 10 had voted on 24 May (Hansard volume 446, number 157, cols. 1575-1579) against a Labour backbench amendment to the Education and Inspections Bill to end all academic selection in English schools. Hypocrisy rules, eh?

The 10 guilty of double standards were: Mike Foster (Worcester) Bruce George (Walsall South) Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) David Hanson (Delyn) Jane Kennedy (Liverpool Wavertree Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) Sandra Osborne (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) Mark Todd (South Derbyshire) Linda Waltho (Stourbridge) and Alan Whitehead (Southampton Test). Two MPs, (Ronnie Campbell and Helen Southworth) had not voted on 24 May. One, David Drew, was consistent and voted against selection on both occasions.

Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary David Lidington then invited all ten to intervene to explain the justification for their double standards or to admit that on 24 May that had not realised what they were voting for. Do you know what? None of the blighters accepted his invitation. Nothing like a bit of courage under fire, is there?

Are You Marching on the Home Office This Afternoon?

Are you protesting about the US Extradition Treaty this afternoon? See HERE for more.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Charles Clarke's Collars Select Committee Chairman

A correspondent emails me to report that Charles Clarke was just seen in Portcullis House grabbing Home Affairs Select Committee Chairman John Denham by the elbow and leading him behind a pillar for a furtive conversation. What CAN they have been discussing?

Meanwhile Miss Widdecombe and I continue our voyage north. Still another hour or so to go. We have recorded a very entertaining podcast on the way - Andrew Woodman will enjoy the answer to his question on Michael Portillo! And in case you're wondering, I'm not driving while typing this!

Apologies that I can't authorise your Comments at the moment. For some reason my Blackberry won't do it. It will have to wait until I get back at 3am.

Blunkett, Pots and Kettles

David Blunkett writes what is laughably called a column in the super soaraway Sun each week and trousers two grand a time from his friend Rebekah. Today he uses it to attack Charles Clarke. The Sun headlines the page one news story SHUT UP BIG EARS, ORDERS BLUNKETT. Blunkett tells Clarke:"A period of silence on your part would be welcome." How he keeps a straight face when writing such hypocrytical rubbish is anyone's guess. Blunkett has lost no opportunity to have a go at his Home Office successor and stir the pot. Go on Charles, hit back - you know you want to! Of courseall this infighting is a carbon copy of the internecine warfare that bedevilled John Major in his last months in office. There is only one way to stop it and we all know what that. is.

Geoff Hoon's Busy Afternoon

Fun and games at Foreign Office Questions yesterday when Geoff Hoon seemed determined to act as if he were Foreign Secretary rather than Ma Beckett. Regular Parliament watchers will know that if several questions are asked on the same subject they are normally grouped together, but not yesterday. Margaret Beckett answered a question on the European Constitution and then Hoon answered an almost identical one. Indeed, so busy was Mr Hoon that he lost his place in his briefing notes at one stage. "I'll get there in the end," he blustered. "What, back in the Cabinet?" shouted Tory Foreign Affairs Spokesman Keith Simpson. Cue collapse of House. Interestingly, despite not being in the Cabinet Geoff Hoon does actually attend every single Cabinet Meeting. At the time of his humiliating demotion Donwing Street said he "would attend when necessary". It seems he's become like the unwanted releative that turns up at every family occasion whether invited or not. Poor man.

Daventry Candidate Selected

'A' Lister and current East Midlands MEP Chris Heaton-Harris was selected as candidate for the new seat of Daventry last night. He was also on the Folkestone & Hythe shortlist, so that is now reduced to five, with Harriett Baldwin and Laura Sandys seen as the front runners.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Eight Hours on the M1 With Ann Widdecombe

A couple of days ago I told you I was travelling to Grassington in North Yorkshire tomorrow with Ann Widdecombe to do onme of our theatre shows - it's a sellout apprently. I said I would be in the car with her for ten hours - I was wrong. I'm told it is four hours each way. You've sent me some questions to ask her in the Podcast I'll be recording during the journey, but what should we do for the other seven hours 45 minutes? If I fall asleep, I'll snore. As I'm not driving she can't berate me for driving with my knees (which did actually happen once, believe it or not - albeit for a nanosecond). Should we admire the scenery of the M1? Count motorway bridges? Develop a new policy on abortion for DC to consider? What do you think? All suggestions will be read out to Ann during the course of the journey. Well, when I say 'all', I probably mean 'some'. Ok then, I mean 'very few'. Or possibly even 'none'. Go to it.

Join the March on the Home Office

You may well be aware that there is currently an unfair and aggressively policed extradition treaty with the US which has resulted in the dubious imprisonment in the US of one British businessman and the potential imprisonment of several more. Karl Watkin isn't just talking about it, he's organising a dignified demonstration of businesses' concern (that's a march to you and me) this THURSDAY 29th JUNE AT 5pm from the Institute of Directors in Pall Mall to the Home Office in Marsham Street, a short distance away.

A letter, addressed to the Home Secretary, will be delivered that expresses the extreme unease among the business community at the UK's extradition arrangements with the US. This concern has been highlighted in particular by the case of Ian Norris, the former chief executive of Morgan Crucible plc and the possible imminent extradition of “The NatWest 3” all of which is thrown into even sharper relief by the current OFT/Department of Justice probe into alleged price fixing at BA.

The Daily Telegraph has been running a vociferous campaign highlighting the dangers for UK business people; it carries the support of the CBI, the Institute of Directors and human rights organisations, Liberty and Justice. Regrettably, the Government is currently adamant that there is no problem that needs to be addressed and is consequently refusing to make the changes to the extradition procedures they introduced. Amendments to the Extradition Act 2003 have been tabled by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Peers during the passage of the Police & Justice Bill. These would address many of the business community’s concerns. The amendments are currently opposed by the Government.

The demonstration, which will last for no more than 30-45 mins in total will take the form of a short walk from the Institute of Directors in Pall Mall through St James’s Park to the Home Office in Marsham Street SW1. The demonstration is designed to be dignified and silent. In my view it ought to be taking a detour past the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square. Mind you, I suppose that's not allowed nowadays.

Spread the word...

Where's Bruce Willis When You Need Him?

Japanese animation showing what would happen if a giant meteor hit the Earth.

PS The Bruce Willis reference in the headline is a reference to his starring role saving the plant in the movie Armageddon.

Kerron Cross & I Have a Lot in Common

It is very spooky and very weird, but I seem to have got a Labour twin. Kerron Cross's blog is developing into a mirror image of this one, it seems to me. And good on him! I particularly enjoyed this part of his interview with Paul Burgin who runs the Mars Hill Blog. Can't think why...

Paul Burgin: Why do you take such a dislike of the Lib Dems?
Kerron Cross: I thought you may ask something along these lines, it’s something I’ve become almost famous for. The truth is that I find the Lib Dems campaigning style deeply disingenuous, nasty, deliberately misleading, personal and venal. Having been on the receiving end of it, I thought it was a one-off, but then you realise that not only is the behaviour widespread it’s actually condoned and sent out as standard practise by the party. Every election is a “two-horse race” where “only we can win here”. The ubiquitous bar chart, which is not to scale. Where if no statistics actually support that “only a Lib Dem can win here” so “don’t waste your vote on the Labour/Conservative candidate” then their “private poll shows” that “only we can win here”. They say anything to anyone on the doorstep – whatever you want to hear. Different policies for different parts of the country – even though any policies they do have are kept deliberately low-key or vague. But the most annoying thing is the piety of their spokespeople saying that they “hate ya boo politics”, and “mudslinging” and the behaviour of the other 2 parties. My problem is not so much their negative campaigning, it’s then that they pretend that they do not negatively campaign. The Lib Dem strategy seems to play well with voters in by-elections when voters are looking for a protest vote, but it is also why are they are thoroughly hated by the other 2 parties – more than the Tories and Labour probably hate each other. I mean for me, I can disagree with a Tory fundamentally on everything but still respect them as a person and as a politician, but I can’t say the same for most Lib Dems I know. Which reminds me of one of my favourite Lib Dem lines: “Don’t vote for a politician, vote for a Lib Dem” – what does that mean? Thoroughly horrible and nasty party that deserves to be revealed to the public for what it is.

Charles Clarke's Real Agenda

Now Here's An Interesting Idea...

Ellee Seymour reports HERE on the concept of Neighbourhood Courts. Great idea, as long as I can be the judge (and perferably the jury too!). Seriously, if we are to go down the 'localism' route, this is just the sort of innovation we should be looking at. I would have thought there ought to be a cross-party consensus that this would be a 'good thing'. I suppose the only worry is that we develop a Swiss-like set of rules and regulations which neighbours transgress at their peril and that it becomes a charter for the sad and the bad to impose their will on people who're just trying to live their lives. What do y'all reckon?

The 100 People Who are Putting Britain Back Together Again

My old friend Tim Montgomerie has slightly pre-empted me in THIS post! A few hours ago I asked you for your nominations for the 100 PEOPLE WHO HAVE SCREWED UP BRITAIN. They're flowing in thick and fast, so thanks very much! However, what I want to do is write a book which is both negative AND positive. So on the front of the book you'd have the 'Screw Up' cover but flip it over and turn it upside down and you'd have the 'Put Back Together' cover. There was a similar book a few years ago on the Euro called Both Sides of the Coin.

Anyway, I'm now going to ask you for your nominations for your 100 PEOPLE WHO ARE PUTTING BRITAIN BACK TOGETHER AGAIN.

Are the LibDems Reaping What They Have Sown in Bromley?

I wonder if the LibDems personal attacks on Bromley Tory Candidate Bob Neill are beginning to backfire. Campaign insiders tell me thet are finding increasing evidence that the Liberals’ negative and personalised attack on Bob are paying dividends for the Conservatives. Not only are MPs and other canvassers coming back from the doorstep to report that former LibDems are openly criticizing their campaign and coming over to us, but it's also easy to detect a defensive tone in recent LibDem literature. “Please remember that my fight is not against the other parties…..”. Virtually all LibDem literature has been highly personalised against Bob Neill. By contrast not a single Tory leaflet has mentioned Ben Abbotts once.

I won't make too much of this as it's purely anecdotal - but a cascade of anecdotes usually implies something more meaningful. We'll soon know.

The 100 People Who are Screwing Up Britain

When I was in Washington in March I bought a book called the 100 PEOPLE WHO ARE SCREWING UP AMERICA (AND AL FRANKEN IS NUMBER 37). I got around to skim-reading it the other day. It's very Fox News in tone, but it does make you think. And what it made me think was this: should I look at writing a British equivalent? - the 100 PEOPLE WHO ARE SCREWING UP BRITAIN (AND POLLY TOYNBEE IS NUMBER 54).

People profiled in the American book included Kittey Kelly, Norman Mailer, Phil Donahue, , Jimmy Swaggart, Oliver Stone, Howard Stern, Eminem, Barbara Walters, Bob Schrum, George Soros, Al Gore, Jesse Jackson, Dan Rather, Noam Chomsky, Jimmy Carter, Ted Kennedy, David Duke and Michael Moore.

So who would you nominate for either category in a British version? Tracey Emin? Peter Mandelson? Trisha Goddard? Polly Toynbee? Will Self? Jack McConnell? Lord Falconer? The only qualification is that they have to be alive and have some relevance to Britain today - I'm not looking for historical nominations. They can be from any part of British society, media, industry, culture and politics.

So who would you nominate?

Brown Eats Cake as Troops Are Put in Danger

As Gordon Brown sups his cuppa and eats cake with Veterans at the Cabinet War Rooms today he might reflect that his efforts might be better spent ensuring that our troops in Afghanistan get the resources they need to do their job safely. In Defence Questions yesterday David Ruffley MP raised the question of our armed forces in Afghanistan using so-called "Snatch" Land Rovers to get around. These are vehicles which are completey unarmed and without protection, not exactly the sort of thing you want to be seen in in downtown Kabul of a night. Des Browne, a man so overpromoted he makes Ian McCartney look statesmanlike, replied that the armed forces didn't want to use armed vehicles because it "gave the wrong impression". Bollocks. They would dearly love to use vehicles which are equipped to protect their men properly, but they can't do so because they aren't available. Why aren't they available? My armed forces contacts tell me it's because the "Soldier's friend" at the Treasury won't give the armed forces they need to do their jobs. Let's hope Gordon Brown enjoys his cake today and that the veterans he meets tell him exactly what he can do with it.

UPDATE: 9.52. The influence of this blog is deeply worrying. A mere half an hour after writing this post I switch on Sky News to be told that Des Browne is launching a review of the use of these Snatch Land Rovers. Either I'm ahead of my time or this story has been running all night and my post was completely coincidental. I suspect it's the latter!

When Will Blair Go (.com)?

With superb timing, the ever industrious Tim Montgomerie has followed up his website with a new venture today. He's launching, which you can visit HERE. He's inviting people to predict the exact time and date of Blair's departure from Downing Street, and whoever gets it spot on will win £500. A gimmick? Yes. But it all adds to the sense that Blair's finished and it's just a matter of time before he goes. Sadly Tim has failed in one respect. He's failed to get Charles Clarke to be the first person to text a prediction. This is just the sort of thing the Blogosphere ought to be doing and is illustrative of the sort of political campaigning Tim learnt about from his trip to the USA earlier this year. I wonder what he's got up his sleave next! He's got a few predictions on his front page, of which mine is one. I've said...

The Dear Leader will announce in his conference speech on 26 September 2006 that he intends to stand down at the end of the year, thereby giving the Labour Party three months to elect a successor. His premiership will therefore end at one minute to midnight on December 31 2006.

Obviously quite barkingly wrong, but you never know.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Most Bloated Quango in the Quangosphere

Regular readers will know that've had the odd pop at the Electoral Commission, one of the most bloated establishments in that growth industry of all growth industries, the quangosphere. So it was with a wry smile that I learned today that the Electoral Commission are focusing on the important things that matter to restore confidence in British’s electoral system - the creation of their own trade union! They held a ballot to decide what to do and managed a turnout of 74% of their 136 staff. Yes, you read that correctly, 136 staff. I suppose it's ironic that in the very organisation which is trying to increase electoral turnout 1 in 4 didn't vote, but maybe that was because the ballot was organised not by the Electoral Commission staff, but its management. And true to form, there is an internecine battle going on within the trade unions to see who should be the 'lead' union. THIS page from the PCSU website leaves us in no doubt what their view is. I do hope it will be part of Ken Clarke's Democracy Commission remit to re-examine the role and operation of the Electoral Commission.

I've Seen the Future, And it's Conservative

In a moment of uncharacteristic weakness today, I was bamboozled into accepting an invitation to be the after dinner speaker at Conservative Future's Annual Conference at the beginning of August. Is there NOTHING he won't do to get on the 'A' List, I can hear various correspondents muttering...

Why I Don't go to Wimbledon Anymore

I love playing tennis. I once rented an apartment in docklands purely because it had access to a communal tennis court. I shared with an American friend for six months and we got seriously good. So good in fact that we occasionally used to emulate Mr McEnroe's tantrums. I also used to go to Wimbledon every year, but I haven't been since about 1994. Maybe I'm just getting old, but there just aren't the characters around the world of tennis compared to the 1970s and 1980s. And I'm just bored with the continual baseline whacking, rather than the more adventurous serve and volley game exemplified by the tennis giants of years gone by. God, I sound like an old git! One other thing that is bugging me is this ridiculous argument about equal prize money for women tennis players at Wimbledon. The womens' champion gets £625,000 and the male champion gets £655,000. I'm all in favour of equal pay and reward for women, and I'm happy to speak out in favour of it at Wimbledon as soon as the women agree to play best of five sets rather than the best of three. Sounds fair, doesn't it? New balls please...

David Davis Scents Dr Reid's Blood...

There's nothing quite like seeing David Davis in action as he scents blood. He'll be interviewed on Newsnight tonight following Charles Clarke's barnstorming interview in which he sticks the odd knife or two into Dr Reid's back. Having already secured the scalps of one Immigration Minister and Two Home Secretaries, you wouldn't bet against him hgetting a third, would you? Other members of the Shadow Cabinet may care to watch how it's done.

EXCLUSIVE: Charles Clarke Says John Reid is Not Fit For Purpose

I've just been leaked the full transcript of tonight's Newsnight interview with Charles Clarke. I tell you now - it'll be worth watching. It's one of the most explosive interviews you're likely to see. He's quite open and direct in his criticism of John Reid. I wouldn't like to be in Reid's company this evening when he watches this... Here are some selective quotes...

CC I have some regrets about what I did or didn’t do in those circumstances but it was a sad thing, and I regret it very much, but at heart, the key issue for me as Home Secretary, as I discussed with the Prime Minister when I was appointed in 2005, was to really carry through the massive reforms which are necessary, and I think I set out on that path with some success.

CC When we met and he asked me to continue in that office after the 2005 general election, I said to him, and he agreed, that it would take, in my opinion, certainly 2 or 3, possibly 4 years to make the changes which were necessary...He said he didn’t want me to continue as Home Secretary, so I said well I’m not ready to take another job. He did offer me other jobs, I’m not going to go into the detail but he did, and I felt I shouldn't accept them because I had pledged myself to myself first of all, but also to the Parliament and to the country that I would resolve this problem. But also, Mark, because I felt frankly that the reform agenda on which I was engaged was a long and profound agenda and I wanted the opportunity to carry that through.
INT Looking at your political career, at all your efforts, and indeed what you felt had been an undertaking from the Prime Minister to give you the time to make those reforms work, there must have been a deep frustration the way things have turned out.
CC I was very frustrated. I regarded…
INT Were you angry with him?
CC Angry is a funny word. I felt angry with the situation, I didn’t feel particularly angry with him as such, even though I thought he took a wrong decision. I was angry and frustrated, as you say, because I felt that this massive task.. an enormous task, a great privilege to be asked to be Home Secretary at the general election, needed to be carried through over, as I say, a 3-4 year period, and I believed I could do that, I believe I should do that and I wanted the chance and opportunity to do that. And so yes I was angry and frustrated when that chance was removed.

CC If you're going to reform the Home Office over a three or four year period, there are going to be a large number of issues which are controversial and difficult … But we have to carry through that reform programme. If we simply say there’s a media campaign, we just cave into it whenever it comes along, that’s a very, very bad state of affairs for our democracy.

INT Are you saying that the Prime Minister caved in to a media campaign?
CC No, I don’t think that was it. What I think he did was look at the issues in the round, the local government elections and the general pressure there was and come to the view that he thought it would be difficult for me to continue carrying through my programme of reform.
INT But it was political expediency rather than long-term reform, wasn’t it.
CC That’s a criticism I would make. I think there is some truth in that.
INT When you left the Home Office, when you cleared your desk, did you think you were leaving a department that was unfit for purpose?
CC No I didn’t. I thought that was absolutely not the case.
INT John Reid was absolutely clear, wasn’t he, that this was a department that was unfit for purpose, your leadership was incoherent and there was a failure to ensure accountability. He was talking about what you'd done.
CC Er…. Let’s… I think John was wrong to say that.
INT Do you feel hurt about the way John Reid described the Department personally?
CC No, I don’t feel that. I think he came in as every incoming Secretary of State is entitled to do and said it as he saw it. It’s just that I don’t agree with his analysis of what he saw. It is a department which had a fresh official leadership, a new Permanent Secretary, new senior officials, which had a very clear reform strategy in place in each of its key areas. It was a department which had its problems. But I think the a department whose problems were being addressed, and could easily have been solved over the kind of couple of year timeframe that I described. The overall picture of a department not fit for purpose in any of the respects he described I think is and was fundamentally wrong, and I think John was wrong to use those descriptions as I told him before he gave evidence to the select committee.
INT The criticism is that you were unwilling to carry out that wholesale transformation.
CC Well if that was his criticism, and by the way I’m not sure that’s what he meant by it, but let’s assume it was, it certainly is not true. … I think most people would say, and I certainly feel myself, that I was a reforming Home Secretary committed to making the reforms that were necessary... I don’t think that’s a correct belief, this idea of some kind of woolly lack of substance in the immigration nationality directorate. These are some of most hard-headed people you can imagine. They’re dealing with very difficult cases. I understand that complexity, but just to confuse that with woolly liberalism or with a lack of determination to carry through what’s necessary in my opinion is wrong.
INT: In terms of style it would appear that there is a big difference between the way that you conducted yourself as Home Secretary and the way that Doctor Reid conducts himself.
CC I used to describe myself as tough but populist…. I beg your pardon, tough but not populist. Each Home Secretary has to decide their own style.
INT Do you think that John Reid is perhaps tough and populist?
CC I don’t know. You'd have to put that question to him.
INT He upset some members of the judiciary when he questioned the sentence of a paedophile by a judge. Is that something that you would have done?
CC Decisions are taken by parts of the Criminal Justice System which the Home Secretary of the day is routinely asked to comment on and either criticise or support. I made it my practice not to do that.
INT So he was wrong to intervene at that stage?
CC I’m not going to make it a specific criticism, I don’t know to what extent he looked at the case in detail and how he carried it forward, and it’s certainly perfectly appropriate for a Home Secretary to comment on the overall sentencing position or an overall police policy of those areas, and I believe…
INT But you wouldn't have done it on a specific case?
CC I wouldn't comment on a specific case but I just think you have to be careful in making the point you're trying to make here Mark, because I’m not clear myself what John actually said on this particular case.
INT Having ruffled the feathers of the judiciary, Dr Reid then found himself criticised by the police - this time for appearing to respond to a News of the World campaign by asking for a new assessment of the law the tabloid demanded. The paper wanted legislation allowing public information on where convicted paedophiles live.
CC I don’t know if his timing was influenced by the News of the World campaign or not. I haven’t spoken to him about it so I can’t tell you. If it was then I would criticise it. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do.
INT There’s always a pressure, isn’t there, from the media, the media will always be on the Home Secretary’s back.
CC Always they will be and that’s right, and I think it’s important to resist that pressure a lot of the time, but I don’t want it to be confusing here. Some, maybe most, of the media criticism is justified and fair. I think they often are speaking to people's genuine concerns, but I agree with the implication of your question, that the Home Secretary of the day should not simply be running on the band wagon of some particular media campaign... It’s very important that the Home Secretary does his very best to give the confidence to the country that the Criminal Justice System is working properly and effectively and well. I very much hope that John and the way that he does it will stand up for ah… creating a system in which people can have confidence right across the range rather than simply responding to a campaign.
INT Last week, John Reid announced that his predecessor’s carefully negotiated plans to restructure the police in England were being put on hold.
CC I regret that John has decided not to proceed with the orders before Parliament for four of the regions of the country forces that we propose. I understand the need for time, there’s always a need for time. He has, however, been very, very clear that he agrees with the policy I set out on the basis of the advice from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary
INT He may agree but he’s kicked it into the long grass, hasn’t he?
CC I don’t know how far the long grass is. Of course I think it’s wrong to delay it. I think we’ve got a timetable which was the right thing to do and I don’t agree with his decision in that area. I’m not going to take responsibility for all the crises after I left. Some of them are as a result of decisions, as we’ve discussed in this interview, made by the current Home Secretary. I do believe that there are major issues which need to be resolved in certain areas and John is going about that, I’m sure, very well. But I also believe that the foundations are very much in place.
INT You’ve made your criticism of John Reid clear in what you've just said, at a time when the government is trying very hard to convince the public that things are now back under control. I mean what you've said today is not going to please Downing Street, is it.
CC I don’t know. What I decided to do, Mark, after I’d been moved from the government was to reflect on the position. I then decided to give a couple of interviews of which this is one, dealing with the history, and then simply put that to bed. You wont find me after the World Cup is finished, talking about Home Office matters again. I won’t be discussing those things.
INT Can you come back from this politically?
CC I don’t know what you mean by “come back”. Certainly…
INT Well, do you want a front line job?
CC Not specifically. What I want is to contribute to making the process of change in the country and the party which has been what I’ve been involved in for the last 25 years. I believe that…
INT Would it matter to you if you never had a seat at the cabinet table again? You feel that might have gone now.
CC It may well have done and no it wouldn't matter to me. I mean what matters to me is to have a government, a Labour government which makes change and carries things through in the interest of the country. It is not a condition of my life that I should serve in a government again in any form.”

Cameron Media Coverage on HRA

David Cameron is getting excellent coverage this morning for his Human Rights Act policy. I just heard Baroness Helena Kennedy saying positive things, which is deeply ironic considering she was one of the prime movers behind the original legislation.

Adam Boulton has an excellent post HERE on the whole issue. Here's an excerpt...

So why is 'Dave' bothering at all. Well in politics timing matters an awful not. The Labour Attorney General may describe Cameron's ideas as "muddled, misconceived and dangerous" but the fact of the matter is that Cameron is coming forward with his own relatively clear proposal at a timed when his opponents in the government are in a muddle of their own over the criminal justice system. (A predicament which will only be worsened this week as the bitter, sacked, ex Home Secretary, Charles Clarke launches his campaign of self-justification.) It was this government which put the Human Rights Act on the statute book, yet it is the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary who have railed against the way it has been interpreted - in the case, for example, of the courts ruling against the deportation of nine Afghan Hi-jackers. And it is Tony Blair who only last week was calling for a "re-balancing of the criminal justice system" - the British Bill of Rights is Cameron's response to this. Cameron wants his bill to deal with the failings of the HRA. On crime he points to how it resulted in the early release from Prison of Anthony Rice who went on to murder again and how organised crime has employed it to prevent assets being confiscated. On terror, his main concern is the employment of the HRA to prevent or delay deportation. In fact we don't know what the Bill of Rights would look like, and we won't until and unless 'the panel of distinguished jurists', Cameron is proposing reports back. Yet another example of Cameron putting his policy out to consultation. Traditionally Bills of Rights assert the fundamental rights of the individual over the political power structures of the time. This is one reason why some Libertarians have cautiously welcomed Cameron's idea while more traditional Conservatives have expressed their doubts. (The Liberal Democrat's are in favour of Cameron's suggestion provided it is part of a "comprehensive package of constitutional reform" - do we see there the first hint of a deal under which the Lib Dems would support a minority Tory Government in a hung parliament after the next election?). Progressives point out that the Bill could enshrine the right to trial by jury and forbid the government from using the Parliament Act to override it. This would strengthen the power of the Courts and lawyers at the very time when Tony Blair is claiming politicians and not the legal establishment are more in touch with public opinion. As Cameron himself put it today striking the right balance between civil liberties and public security is never easy. Tony Blair thought his Labour government was getting it right with the HRA. Now even Mr Blair is admitting his disappointment and the leader of the opposition is coming up with his proposals. In doing so he's using the word "British" a rallying call for Euro-sceptics and a word Mr Cameron is clearly not going to leave for Gordon Brown to make his own.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Have You Completed the Survey Yet?

If you haven't filled out the survey down the left hand column I'd be really grateful if you'd take a couple of minutes to do so.

Ian Hislop Buys Ann Widdecombe for a Grand

A friend of mine was at a fundraising dinner last night at which Ian Hislop bid £1000 for tea at the House of Commons with Ann Widdecombe. Now there's a wall I'd like to be a fly on.

Talking of Widders, I shall be spending ten hours in a car with her on Wednesday as we take our little theatre show up to Grassington in North Yorkshire. I thought I'd record a podcast with her in the car (not for the whole ten hours!) so do let me have any questions you would like me to ask her.

The picture above was from An Evening with Ann Widdecombe, hosted by yours truly, at the Little Theatre n Sheringham.

Norman Tebbit Should Calm Down - Dave Got it Right

The Mail on Sunday has gone into overedrive today calling for the BBC to sack Jonathan Ross over his interview with David Cameron. Norman Tebbit has rather predictably called for heads to roll too. People should calm down. David Cameron knew precisely what he was doing by going on the programme and will have expected some fairly near the knuckle questions, although not THAT 'one off the knuckle' question, perhaps. (sorry, couldn't resist).

The whole interview lasted 40 minutes and it was edited down to 10. I do think the BBC should have edited THAT remark out, but apart from that I have no complaint. There's no conspiracy here and those who decry both the BBC and David Cameron should read this comment, which has been left of a previous thread.

Posters should ask non politicos they know (age 18 - 30) what they thought of Cameron. I did this yesterday at a Charity BBQ and all thought Cameron "got it right".What's more surely the most significant thing is Ross saying "I haven't had politicians on before - but you are interesting" - Anyone think Brown would be getting this - The Cameron Steam roller rolls on.

I have to say this has been my experience so far too. I've heard one or two died in the wool Tories spluttering about it but everyone else from the real world thought Cameron came out of it very well indeed. Surely people realise that if we're to build the big tent we need our leaders - not just DC - to appear on programmes Tories would normally not have been seen dead on. It's not fumbing down, it's not debasing ourselves, it's appearing on programmes that normal people watch. Five million people watch Jonathan Ross every week. I'm one of them. We can't all be wrong.

News from the Tory Interweb Thingy

Chester Conservatives have become the first Tory Association to launch a monthly Podcast. Click HERE. Tory Radio has a four part Podcast with Shadow Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan HERE. Jonathan Sheppard, editor of Tory Radio has also launched a weekly 5 minute review of the week Podcast HERE.

Is Labour Fearing the Worst in Blaenau Gwent?

There's growing evidence that Labour is becoming nervous about the result of the coming by-election in Blaenau Gwent. Daily Mail sketchwriter Quentin Letts rang the party managers running the campaign down there to see if he could watch their man on the stump, only to be told that the national press are not being given any more access to their candidate and that his movements around the constituency are now a top secret. So much for open democracy! Letts, who managed to sniff down the ultra-reclusive John Prescott during the general election (just followed the smell of chips!) is understood to be undeterred by Labour's ruling and is heading down to Blaenau Gwent in his smoky old Land Rover, undeterred.

Tony Carr: Hero of the Nation (and Upton Park)

This is the man who should be the proudest man in England tonight. You probably won't have heard of him. His name is Tony Carr. He is the man who has brought you Joe Cole, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand and Michael Carrick - all of whom played for England today. He's head of the West Ham Youth Academy. And if the England manager had had any sense at all another Tony Carr graduate, Jermain Defoe, would have been in the team today too. And coming up for the next World Cup, we'll have Anton Ferdinand and Mark Noble for you.

Michael Carrick was a star today - good tackles, spraying the ball around. God how I wish we could have kept him at Upton Park. Rooney was also outstanding, particularly in the second half. And Aaron Lennon looked frightening when he came on for the last few minutes. For the next match I would like to see the same team, with the same formation but with Beckham playing right back and Lennon replacing him wide on the right.

Folkestone & Hythe to Pick 'A' Lister

Folkestone & Hythe Conservatives have whittled down their shortlist of 17 to the final 6, who are all apparently 'A' Listers. The Executive meets on Friday to reduce the 6 to 3, with the final scheduled for 13 July. I do not know who the final six are, but I am sure Conservative Home will englighten us shortly!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

EXCLUSIVE: Nick Clarke to Return to WATO in Six Weeks

I can exclusively reveal that Nick Clarke will return to the presenter's chair in the World at One studio on August 14th, only eight months since he had a leg amputated. I'm sure that all those who heard his audio diary on Friday on Radio 4 will be very happy to hear this news. He's also chairing Any Questions for the next three weeks. Nick is one of the few broadcasters who has no enemies and I'm delighted for him and his family that his recovery has proceeded so well.

My Most Popular Incoming Links

Lord Goldsmith on World This Weekend

The World This Weekend on Radio 4 might be worth a listen tomorrow. They've got the first interview with the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, since he let it be known that he was unhappy with the Home Secretary's intervention in the Sweeney case.

Sadly I won't be listening to it as I shall be out on the golf course as a warmup for the England game!

Stirring Up Apathy in Bromley

I spent a few hours today delivering leaflets to the voters of Bromley. The one thing that struck me is that you'd never know there was a by-election happening if you weren't allied to one of the parties. In the time I was there I spotted two LibDem posters, one Tory and one Labour. I had expected them to be all over the place. I suspect the turnout will be very low, which may well favour Bob Neill. I certainly don't detect any LibDem surge but with the yellow peril you never know. Our campaign is taking it all very seriously and I was pleased to see two of our MPs out on the stump.

David Cameron Proves a Match for Jonathan Ross

So how many of you saw Dave on Jonathan Ross last night? In my view it was a spotless performance. Anyone who's a regular viewer of the show will have had a slight feeling of trepidation at him appearing on it, but he didn't put a foot wrong. He was witty, charming, intelligent and entertaining - and even managed to make a few political points without appearing to. If you didn't see it, put yourself in his place and imagine what your response would be to the question: so did you have a w**k over Margaret Thatcher? Somehow he managed to brush it aside without appearing to squirm unduly. It's the first time Jonathan Ross has had a politician on, and you can bet that Blair and Brown will now be clamouring to appear. The one politician I'd love to see on Jonathan Ross is Ming Campbell. A competition for you now, to predict what questions Jonathan would ask him.

PS please don't bother to leave comments which a) accuse me of arse-licking or b) sneer at DC for appearing on the programme. You're just jealous!

EXCLUSIVE: Ming's Spin is Strictly Fishy

Oh dear. Ming's image is apparently about to undergo a much needed overhaul, but it's already suffered a blow. The man deputed with Mission Impossible 4 is former LibDem Candidate and current MD of Burson Marstellar Gavin Grant. His solution is to turn Ming 'common'. An anonymous LibDem MP (surely not his chief of staff) tells today's Daily Telegraph...

"During our conference Gavin Grant went up to see the leader in his hotel room, where he was preparing for a speech, and found him with a plate of fish and chips on his lap watching Strictly Come Dancing. This is the side people never see."

Indeed it is the side people never see. And neither did Gavin Grant - mainly because Strictly Come Dancing wasn't on television at the time. And neither was Strictly Dance Fever. I've checked the schedules. I suspect the fact of the matter was that he was listening to the Home Service on the Wireless sipping a glass of malt and eating a smoked salmon and cucumber sandwich with the crust cut off. The truth of the matter is that you can't make a silk purse out a sow's ear. They should play to Ming's strengths and not try to turn him into something he clearly isn't. It won't work and people will see through it.

The Australian Message to Supporters of Sharia Law

Well the Australians always did call a spade a spade. Imagine the outcry from the likes of La Toynbee if a British politicians uttered these words...

Muslims who want to live under Islamic Sharia law were told on Wednesday to get out of Australia, as the government targeted radicals in a bid to head off potential terror attacks. A day after a group of mainstream Muslim leaders pledged loyalty to Australia at a special meeting with Prime Minister John Howard, he and his ministers made it clear that extremists would face a crackdown.

Treasurer Peter Costello hinted that some radical clerics could be asked to leave the country if they did not accept that Australia was a secular state and its laws were made by parliament. "If those are not your values, if you want a country which has Sharia law or a theocratic state, then Australia is not for you," he said on national television. "I'd be saying to clerics who are teaching that there are two laws governing people in Australia, one the Australian law and another, the Islamic law, that this is false. If you can't agree wit h parliamentary law, independent courts, democracy, and would prefer Sharia law, and have the opportunity to go to another country which practices it, perhaps, then, that's a better option," Costello said.

Asked whether he meant radical clerics would be forced to leave, he said those with dual citizenship could possibly be asked move to the other country. Education Minister Brendan Nelson later told reporters that Muslims who did not want to accept local values should "clear off". "Basically, people who don't want to be Australians, and they don't want to live by Australian values and understand them, well then they can basically clear off," he said. Separately, Howard angered some Australian Muslims on Wednesday by saying he supported spies monitoring the nation's mosques.

Friday, June 23, 2006

EXCLUSIVE: Ben Abbotts' Little Embellishment

Now in case you can't read the article from Ben Abbotts' HELLO MAGAZINE style gorgeous little newsletter, currently being distributed to the good burghers of Bromley & Chislehurst, let me repeat it for you.

I took a gap year after school and travelled around India, Bangladesh and Malaysia. I spent some time working at an orphanage in Madras and my experiences there have really stayed with me. the poverty and illness suffered by the children I worked with has really made me appreciate the education and health services that we have here in Britain.

Heartwarming stuff, isn't it? Well, it would be if it had been like that. Reading the above text you'd think that Ben spent most of his gap year working at the Madras orphanage, wouldn't you? A year working with poor little starving children. Well, nine months at least. Ok then, six. No?

Well according to someone who was very close to young Ben at the time, it was considerably shorter than that. And I mean much shorter. As in hours rather than days. Perhaps not time enough to appreciate the poverty and illness of children, but certainly enough for a budding career politician to get a good photo op!

So when Ben says "I spent some time working at an orphanage in Madras" could he clarify exactly what "some time" means? And is it true that he merely stopped over in Madras before spending the rest of his trip playing polo at the Malaysian equivalent of Dorneywood?

I am looking forward to doing a bit of canvassing tomorrow in Bromley. If I see Ben, I'll be sure to say hi.