Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Bruce Kent Doesn't Know His Fridge From His Flag

This is our rather wonderful Smeg fridge at 18DoughtyStreet. Sadly, not all our guests seem to like it. We've currently got former CND head Monsigneur Bruce Kent in the building recording an episode of World View on Iran (being shown at 8.30pm tonight). Upon seeing this fridge he spluttered: "Is this the national front headquarters, or something?"

Nice to know his sense of patriotism hasn't changed since the 1980s when he seemed to spend most of his time defending the Soviet Union.

UPDATE: Tune in to 18DoughtyStreet from 9pm for three hours of live political discussion with, among others, SNP MP Angus Robertson, Greg Smith from Conservative Way Forward, Alex Sinbgleton from the Globalisation Institute, former Tory MP Nick Bennett and several others.

Slave Labour

LabourWatch has picked up on a Youtube video from Channel 4 News from late September. I remember covering it in a News 24 paper review at the time. Croydonian wrote about it too HERE. It's about a young film maker Danny Dewsbury who was exploited by the Labour Party. It's highly entertaining, especially the bits with Alan Johnson, Nanny Hewitt and my little Chipmunk pretending to stack supermarket shelves.

Alex Salmond Blows it on YouTube

Alex Salmond has just posted this YouTube video in which he says: "On Halloween the ghost of Iraq will return to haunt Tony Blair. The SNP and Plaid Cymru have put down a motion to impeach Blair and hold him to account.

Oh dear, and just when it was going so well. Trust the SNP to clutch defeat from the jaws of victory. It's just this kind of language that will drive potentially rebellious Labour MPs back to the fold.

Labour Whips Hit the Panic Button

Word on the street is that the Labour whips' office is in meltdown and they have recalled all Ministers to London for the vote this evening. Is Prescott back from his Asian jolly trip?

The BBC website reports... "Downing Street has warned of "very real consequences" for British troops in Iraq if MPs defeat the government over calls for an inquiry into the war." Get real. I'm sure most of them would welcome an Inquiry into just how they were put in this position in the first place.

Small Farmers Know What Stress Means

Up and down the country thousands of farmers have stared bankruptcy in the face due to the total meltdown of the Rural Payments Agency. Its chief executive, Johnston McNeill was suspended on full pay (natch) in March due to his dire performance.

Mr McNeill was due to give evidence to a parliamentary enquiry but has pulled out because he is suffering from "stress". He should try being a small farmer for a few months then he would know the true meaning of the word stress. Shadow Agriculture Spokesman Jim Paice has hit the nail on the head with this comment...

“In the first half of this year calls to the Farm Crisis Network Hotline were 50% higher than the same period last year – an increase driven by anxiety over single farm payments. Farmers know all about stress and not only want some answers from the former head of the RPA, but partial payments by Christmas.”

I am sure the Comments section will now be littered with comments about never seeing a farmer on a bike and why should they get these subsidies anyway? Regardless of one's views of subsidies farmers can only operate within the current system and plan their budgets according to it. It's hardly their fault if the CAP is a completely mad system which we have to implement.

(Not) Questions for Nigel Farage

Tonight at 9pm on 18DoughtyStreet I'll be interviewing UKIP leader Nigel Farage for an hour. If you'd like to suggest any questions please feel free to do so either here or on the Vox Politix blog on the 18DS website

Tomorrow the two guests are Ann Widdecombe and chairwoman on Women2Win, Anne Jenkin. On Thursday Shami Chakrabarti from Liberty is on the show followed by Mark Oaten on Monday. Get your questions ready!

UPDATE 10am: Nigel Farage has just pulled out of the interview but has promised to rearrange. So, ten hours to find some replacement guests. I love my job sometimes...

The Duty of a Loyal Opposition

The primary duty of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition is to hold the government of the day responsible for its conduct. So I am absolutely delighted that the Conservatives have tabled an amendment to the SNP-Plaid motion in the Commons this evening calling for an Inquiry into the conduct of the war in Iraq. This is exactly what a responsible Opposition should be doing.

Of course, the government spin machine has swung into action to the extent that if you were a Sun reader you could be forgiven for believing that David Cameron has turned into Lord Haw Haw. BLAIR FURY AT TORY TRAITORS - WAR PROBE VOTE IS BOOST FOR ENEMY screams their headline. It's rubbish of course, just like Andrew Porter's hyped up words which follow.

Surely even Tony Blair can't really think he can bring the troops home without agreeing to some sort of Inquiry into the war. Not even his hubris can stretch that far. Can it?

Monday, October 30, 2006

What France Needs

This is the cover of the European edition of The Economist this week. Thanks to the EURSOC blog for the tipoff. I wonder if the circulation of The Economist has gone up in Paris. J'espere que oui...

Do You Want Your Own Blog Bookshop?

As you know, I sold Politicos.co.uk to Harriman House in September.

Since then, they have expanded the Politico's range of books and they're offering much greater discounts than I ever did! Also, they're now giving every customer a free pack of Tony Blair playing cards. They are also building affiliate bookshops and have just done one for this Blog. Click HERE. Jonathan Sheppard at Tory Radio has also got one HERE.

If you have a blog with a reasonable amount of traffic and would like to earn commission from your own bookshop, do let me know and I will put you in touch with Harriman. It's not going to earn you a fortune, but I guess we all have an interest in promoting political literature.

Gordon Brown - You're No JFK!

Gordon Brown and JFK don't, on the surface of it, appear to have much in common. But the Dour One is aiming to emulate his hero by publishing a book in 2008 called Courage of Heroes. Kennedy published a book before he became President called Profiles in Courage, where he profiled eight US Senators (both Democrat and Republican) who had displayed bravery and courage. Brown's book was supposed to have come out this year, but instead he brought out a mind numbingly dull collection of his speeches instead.

The blurb on Brown's book (see Amazon) invites satire.

What makes some men and women take difficult decisions and do the right thing against the odds, when easier and far less dangerous alternatives are open to them?

Translation: Why didn't I challenge Tony Blair when it was easier not to?

Why do some people have what Dostoevsky calls the courage to dare, when most of us feel pretty sure we wouldn't be able to match their daring?.

Translation: You're not wrong there, Gordon. See above.

Gordon Brown has hardly taken a political risk in his life, so I'm not sure he's qualified to write the book. The reason why he hasn't copied Kennedy's book in profiling brave politicians is that he'd have to be non partisan - and Gordon Brown is the most partisan politician of modern times. He genuinely can see no good whatsoever in anyone who doesn't share his own political outlook. And that's one reason among many why he will be a truly terrible Prime Minister.

MediaGuardian Review 18DoughtyStreet

18DoughtyStreet gets its first review in this morning's Guardian, which you can read HERE. Very fair and balanced and written by novelist and blogger Dave Hill.

Tonight on my programme Vox Politix Zoe and I will be joined at 9pm by three bloggers: Philip Cowley from Revolts, Helen Szamuely from EU Referendum and LibDem blogger Will Howells from No Geek is an Island. Among other things we'll be talking about party whipping, the future for political mavericks and the Climate Change report.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

To What Question Have the Words 'Harriet' and 'Harman' Ever Been the Answer?

I have never understood Harriet Harman's popularity in the Labour Party. She was a completely useless Cabinet Minister - so useless in fact that Tony Blair sacked her within eighteen months of giving her the job. Now she wants to be Gordon Brown's deputy. Er, precisely why, exactly? She only seems to be able to come up with one reason: because it ought to be a woman. She fails to explain why it should be her, though. Labour blogger Antonia Bance, who ought to be a natual supporter of Harman, is equally mystified by her candidacy. Antonia explains...

I’ve heard Harriet speak a few times over the past few months, and her pitch is entirely designed to appeal to party members like me - women. Everytime I hear her say it, I think how much I’d like to see a woman in a leadership position in the party, and I’m all set to vote for her. And then I remember that it’s Harriet Harman, who cut lone parent benefit, sent her son to a grammar school, and has the political judgement of a sixth form council member. Yes, she’s been a great advocate for government action to end domestic violence, but as Dan points out, how could we trust her to stand up to Gordon when it matters?


UPDATE: I bring you exciting news. Luke Akehurst is breathlessly reporting that Hazel Blears (aka My Little Chipmunk) is going to throw her hat into the Deputy Leadership ring. My excitement can hardly be contained. I was going to throw my full weight behind Hilary Benn, but now, well I have a dilemma.

The Enterprise Economy Explained

Lords of the Blog

As far as I know there are only three Peers of the Realm who blog - Lord Hanningfield, Lord Lucas and Lord Soley. Does anyone know of any others?

I've created some new sections in my Blog Links down the left hand column - Blogging MPs, Blogging Peers and Blogging AMs/MSPs and MLAs.

If you know of any I haven't included please do let me know in the Comments Section. Normally I only include links to people who link to me, but in the case of our elected representatives I want to give them some added encouragement!

The Sun's Out & God is in Her Heaven

What a great day to be alive. I shoot my best ever round of golf this morning (93, since you ask, but of course it could/should have been 87) and West Ham break their losing streak with a 2-1 home win over Blackburn. They say these things come in threes. Looks like I'm in for a good evening then...

EXCLUSIVE: Al Gore Joins British Government

I understand that the big news tomorrow is that Gordon Brown will announce the appointment of a new Special Adviser on Climate Change.... Al Gore. You couldn't make it up.

PS And there might be a football related post coming soon...Can't think why.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

David Trimble on the West Lothian Question

One of the more popular posts this week was THIS one on an English Constitutional Convention. It attracted 84 comments. David Trimble also emailed me to point out the error of my ways. He said...

Last year I spoke to at the preconference dinner of the Scottish Conservatives, in the course of which I made the attached comments on the West Lothian question. You may feel that you avoid this arguement by having an English parliament but that would lead even more quickly to the end of the United Kingdom. I cannot understand why any Conservative follows such a course.

David is a man I have great respect for so I read his remarks with interest and have now got his permission to post them on here. But respect does not also mean that I have to agree with him.

...In such a situation, obviously a range of matters will be floated. One appeared the other day that bothers me. It is our old friend the West Lothian question. Some folk I think have a sentimental attachment to this. It must be nice to be told there is this important issue named after part of Scotland. Some are sentimental about Tam Dalyell. He is a fine man, virtually a Parliamentary institution. But that does not mean he is right. In fact in his splendid Parliamentary campaigns he is more often wrong than right. Superficially he appears right when he says that it is wrong that a Scots MP can vote on English matters but an English MP cannot vote on Scots matters. But if we look more closely it is a different matter. It is all a result of the rather curious way government is structured.

We have a government of the United Kingdom. It has Ministers who make policy who are each allocated a subject. It may be work and pensions, it may be trade and industry, it might be health. So far as the government is concerned each of those Ministers has the lead on that subject. But technically most of those subject ministries are so-called English ministries. And in addition to the subject Ministries there are the three territorial departments, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. While there may be junior ministers within them who appear to be responsible for certain policy matters so far as the government is concerned its policy is made in the subject ministry in Whitehall. So in Westminster, if a Scots Welsh or Ulster member wanted to get involved in a debate on government policy concerning pensions his only real chance is in debates created by the so-called English department.

Does devolution make a difference to this? Not really. Look at finance. The famous Barnett formula just said that the territorial departments would get additional sums pro rata increases in expenditure in England. The latter are based on the government’s policies in England. So the increases that come to the devolved region are to enable it to carry out the policies that apply to England. In theory there is the freedom to vary policies, but the financial considerations mean that variations are modest. So preventing a Scots member from voting on an “English” matter will mean he cannot have an input in the policy that will apply in Scotland, which the MSP will inevitably accept with minor changes, if any, because the overall policy was decided in London! The result will be undemocratic. And this leaves out arguments about two classes of MP and reference to the debates on the various Irish home rule Bills where this issue was debated ad nauseam and settled, except for those who have forgotten about them.

So let us have an end to Conservative spokesmen suggesting that our representatives are deprived of their vote. It is wrong in principle. It is not even good politics. Conservatives do not need to reinforce the impression that they are only an English party, and a party of only part of England at that. They need to show that they are a British party, a party for everyone in this United Kingdom. The new leadership has the opportunity to remodel the party in this direction also!


Five Bits of Political Trivia

* Former Australian PM Bob Hawke (pic) held the world record for downing a yeard of ale - in 12 seconds

* These women all dated one politician - Candice Bergen, Shirley Maclaine, Jill St John, Diane Sawyer and Liv Ullman......Henry Kissinger

* David Owen was the youngest Foreign Secretary since Pitt the Younger

* Tory MP Robin Maxwell Hyslop's speeches were said to be so boring that you fell asleep half way through his name

* Only one British prime Minister has played first class cricket.... Sir Alec Douglas Home

The New Underclass: Poor Whites

There's an eye-opening article in this week's Economist which says that we are developing a "forgotten underclass". The article says that while Muslims and blacks get more attention, poor whites are in a worse state. Here's an excerpt...

Apart from election campaigns, when rising support for far-right political parties in areas such as Dagenham causes alarm, the traditional working class is largely overlooked. When politicians say that some communities are failing to integrate with mainstream society, they mean Muslims from the Indian subcontinent. When campaigners complain that schools are failing some children, they often cite black boys. Yet the nation's most troubled group, in both absolute and relative terms, is poor, white and British-born. The troubles begin at school. Last year white teenagers entitled to free school meals—the poorest tenth—did worse in crucial GCSE examinations than equally poor members of any other ethnic or racial group (see chart). In the borough of Barking and Dagenham, the contrast is sharper still. Just 32% of all white children there got five “good” GCSEs last year, compared with 39% of blacks and 52% of Asians. In Leicester, just 24% of whites got five decent GCSEs.

By tracking tens of thousands of poor children, academics at Bristol University have pinpointed the problem. When poor whites are tested at the age of seven, they fare only slightly worse than poor blacks, and better than poor Pakistani and Bangladeshi children, many of whom are struggling with English. By 14, whites have overhauled blacks and continue to lead the other two groups. But at 16, when futures are decided in the national exams, the white children do worst of all. Poor Indian and Chinese pupils, who have been ahead all along, increase their lead dramatically.

Clearly something happens to white children between the ages of 14 and 16 that does not happen to others. That something is that they write off the value of education in doing well in life. At the same point in their lives, or even earlier, their parents and grandparents came to the same conclusion. John Simkin, who went to school in Dagenham in the 1950s, says the ready availability of factory work made for uninterested and rowdy classrooms. “We didn't believe there was any connection between our school work and what we would do as adults,” he says.

White youngsters who think they can leave school with few or no qualifications and walk into a job are not wholly deluded. Richard Berthoud, who studies the subject at Essex University, points out that whites at all levels of education (including the unskilled) are slightly less likely to be unemployed than are others. But poorly qualified whites face two problems. First, education trumps ethnicity. It takes only a dash of additional qualifications to enhance the job prospects and pay of a black or Asian person. And the competition is hungrier for qualifications: whites are less likely to stay at school beyond the age of 16 than any other group.

One reason poor British whites have escaped scrutiny is that they are less associated with serious criminality than other ethnic groups, particularly Afro-Caribbeans. British blacks are disproportionately young and tend to live in big cities, which are heavily policed. They may be more likely to commit the sort of extravagantly violent crimes that attract stiff sentences. It is this reason, rather than any racial bias in the criminal-justice system, that explains why they are over-represented in prison compared with whites.

But whites actually commit more crime. A large survey carried out by the Home Office in 2003 found that white men were more likely to admit to having broken the law in the past year than were blacks, Asians or people of mixed race. Fully 18% of whites aged 10 to 25 admitted to a violent crime, and 15% said they had committed a theft. Young whites are also most likely to take Class-A drugs (the most serious kind).

This article highlights why the BNP are doing well in areas like Dagenham. It's not because the people there are inherantly racist, it's more to do with the fact that they can capitalise on a feeling of social exclusion by the poorer elements of the white community. This is happening all over the country now, and yet none of the three main parties seem willing to accept what is happening under their very noses. Social Justice has to mean bringing opportunity and hope to ALL parts of the community, not just those which appear to be politically correct. The question is, is it too late? Are people in the poorer white communities so disconnected from the political process that they are out of reach of mainstream politicians? This is why it's so important that the Conservatives get back into the Cities for the long term. There aren't going to be any short term electoral benefits from doing so, but that can't be the only factor in a political strategy. It is up to government to find ways of reaching out to the 14-16 year old white kids referred to in the article, who seem to lose their connection with society around that age. While Cameron's 'hug a hoodie' approach was derided by many, perhaps he had cottoned on to (wittingly or not) the fact that it is this group of kids who are the ones in real need of attention.

PS I would love to provide a link to the whole article (which is HERE) but I think you need an Economist subscription to read it.

Enough to Make You Vote Democrat...

Hat-tip to Cassilis Blog for this appalling US Campaign Commercial from Republican Congressional hopeful Vernon Robinson.

Friday, October 27, 2006

What are the Best Scottish Blogs?

I've just added a few blogs to my links section - Blamerbell Briefs, David Jones MP, Lord Lucas, Liberal Democrat Voice, Cobbett Rides Again, Conservatives in Northern Ireland, Nick Robinson Ate My Hamster, Adrian Monck and Scottish Political News.

I've got sections for Irish and Welsh blogs but so far not one for Scottish blogs. So come on all you Scots. Tell me which Scottish blogs I should be linking to!

I have a simple links policy. I only link to blogs which link to me, so if you have a blog and want a reicprocal link, let me know in the Comments Section.

Proof That ITV Has Dumbed Down: No 94

There I was, having my dinner, watching David Platt try to intimidate Charlie on Coronation Street (I lead such an exciting life, you know) in the episode cliffhanging ending (not) and I certianly heard the continuity announcer say over the credits...

And stay tuned for Tonight with Trevor McDonald with a special report from Colleen McLoughlin...

I nearly fell off my chair. ITV's only prime time current affairs show hands itself over to Wayne Rooney's girlfriend. She's presenting a report on childrens' hospices as I type this. Let's just say she's not a TV natural. Most of the report involves her sister Rosie who uses the facilities of a hoispice in Liverpool and so far Colleen has spent most of her time interviewing her mother. The future of childrens' hospices is a really important issue and it's right that such a programme should look at issues like this. But do they think the only way they can attract viewers is to use Colleen McLoughlin as a presenter? Bring back Esther Rantzen!

UPDATE: 8.20 She's actually interviewing Tyrone's ex girlfriend from Corrie now for her views of childrens' hospices. It seems she's got the whole half an hour. Why on earth does Trevor McDonald allow his name to be associated with this rubbish?

LibDem Donation: Trouble Ahead?

The Electoral Commission has given its firmest indication yet that it may well try to retrive the £2.4 million donation from the LibDems due to its alleged impermissbaility. Click HERE to read the full story.

MPs Expenses Non Scandal Rears Its Ugly Head Again

People didn't take kindly to my post earlier this week on face transplants and Margaret Beckett. Bovvered? Do I look it? Well, for those who had a collective sense of humour failure over that, get your teeth stuck into this.

Recess Monkey reports HERE that Margaret Beckett, our beloved Foreign Secretary, comes top of the list for the amount of her Parliamentary Allowance she spends on her staff. What the rascally monkey fails to point out that her Chief of Staff is..... her husband Leo. Maybe he works for free for all I know, but if she's top of the list of 656 MPs, shouldn't we be told?

While openness is good and we deserve to know how much our parliamentary representatives cost us, I do get sick of the usual tabloid insinuation that MPs 'trouser' £180,000 each. The papers always try to make out that all MPs are on the make and keep most of the allowances for themselves. Are they saying that MPs shouldn't have any research or secretarial staff? For the record MPs get paid around £60,000 - the rest is spent on office support, staff, travel etc. There are legitimate debates about acoomodation and travel allowances, but let's not be defensive about the fact that parliamentarians need to run an office. Most MPs employ the equivalent of between two and three members of staff and have to rely on the voluntary efforts of parliamentary slaves interns. The level of their salaries are structured by House of Commons rules, not the MPs themselves. They do not have a free hand. If they employ more people they have to find the funding themselves. There are many imperfections in this system, but when I started working in the Commons in 1985 I was working a 60 hour week for £6,000 a year. The whole of the secretarial allowance in those days was £12,000. At least we've come a long way since then.

Should Newsnight Have Shown the Taleban Film?

Newsnight editor Peter Barron has just sent out an email defending his programme's transmission of an interview with The Taleban. The very fact he's seen fit to send the email might indicate to some people that he's under some pressure from above and from HGM. Here's what it says...

The Taleban are fighting to kill British soldiers in Afghanistan, they burn schools and support al-Qaeda. So is it right to talk to them? For Newsnight, David Loyn spent months trying to make contact with the Taleban leadership, and on Wednesday we showed his extraordinary film in which he travelled to Helmand province to interview their official spokesman for the first time (you can see it here). The Conservative defence spokesman Liam Fox called that "obscene", and the Daily Mail reported the views of the father of one British soldier who thought the BBC has acted irresponsibly, "undermining the war effort". Should the BBC report from the other side of the lines? We believe we should as long as we act with careful thought and do nothing to put the lives of British soldiers at risk. David Loyn's report showed how the Taleban operate in southern Afghanistan, how they view the British and Americans and how they plan to take their campaign forward through suicide bombings. He challenged their spokesman on the Taleban's campaign of violence against Nato's efforts at reconstruction, their burning of schools and rejection of democracy. Some believe it is disloyal to our armed forces to film the enemy. But if we agreed not to show them, isn't that just a small step away from censorship and pro-government propaganda? Peter Barron is editor of Newsnight.

Tim Montgomerie discussed this issue with former Tory Spin doctor Nick wood on his 18DoughtyStreet programme last night. Tim defended the BBC's transmission of this interview as he felt it important that people knew what the Taleban were like and saw the threat they posed. Nick Wood thought it was a disgraceful betrayal of our troops and agreed with Liam Fox that its transmission was a disgrace.

I am totally on the side of the BBC here. Surely this is what good journalism is all about? The film was a warning to us all and if anything should strengthen our resolve in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Why We Should Be Suspicious of Inspector Yates's "Temporary" Promotion

I love Friday mornings at home. It's when a whole stack of magazines arrive on my doormat. New Statesman, the Spectator, The Economist, Press Gazette and, ahem, LibDem News. The great things is that they all give me plenty to blog about. Take this, for example.

Adam Boulton has written the Politics column in the New Statesman this week, speculating that Tony Blair will be interviewed under caution by Inspector John Yates (better hide that article from Anji, Adam). Click HERE to read it in full. Hidden away in the article are these two sentences relating to Yates...

His Met bosses bolstered him this week with temporary promotion to acting deputy commissioner (from deputy assistant commissioner). There is a vacancy, and the post is expected to become permanent if all goes well.

I wonder if your 'cover-up' antennae have just twitched in the same way as mine did when I read that. Questions for Sir Ian Blair to answer...

1. Why promote Yates in the middle of the most sensitive Met inquiry for years?
2. Why make it temporary?
3. What does 'all go well' mean?

We all know that Sir Ian Blair's position is not exactly stable. He's become the maverick's maverick. I do hope that if either he or anone on the Met staff was playing games with Inspector Yates we would get to hear about it. Unlike most bloggers I don't generally believe in conspiracy theories, but in this case I smell a rat - and it's rapidly decomposing.

How Not to Be a Director of Communications

Rob McGibbon is a great interviewer. Sadly his interviews have a rather restricted audience as they only appear in the Press Gazette. This week's is with Sebastian Coe. It isn't on their website yet, but if you click HERE you can see his past interviews - well worth a look.

The Coe interview is a masterclass to any PR person in how not to handle an interview for your boss. Jackie Brock-Doyle is the London Olympic's bid director of communications. Perhaps we should be worried. She sat in on the interview and appeared to radiate hostility towards McGibbon throughout. She had clearly coached Coe to say absolutely nothing of interest, so McGibbon was able to lace his text with sarcastic comments.

I'm not quite sure Ms Brock-Doyle quite understands the meaning of the word 'communication'. Too often PR people think their job is to prevent any communication taking place at all. Well in this case the journalist was brave enough to give her her come-uppance. However, I am sure Jackie has her side to the story, so if she wants to give it I'd be only too happy to oblige.

UPDATE 8.27pm: Jackie has sent me an email explaining what happened from her own perspective. It's quite lengthy so I have posted it in the Comments Section.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Labour Climbs Down Over Faith Schools

So the Government has climbed down over its proposals to force faith schools to select 25% of their pupils from non believers or other faith backgrounds. That policy lasted, er, all of about a week. Surely some sort of record even for this lot?

UPDATE: Alan Johnson is losing a lot of credibility in his bid to become Leader Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. The Daily has more HERE.

John Denham Wants to Discriminate Against the Unemployed

I thought the BBC was winding me up when I read THIS. So John Denham - who, let us remember is the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee- thinks that unemployed people should be given longer sentences than those in work if they commit a crime.

Is this a knee-jerk reaction to a problem that should have been dealt with earlier or is it a sensible measure to punish those making no discernible contribution to society? John Denham was seen as a Blairite loyalist until his resignation over the Iraq war, but he has not been afraid of criticising the government as chairman of the Home Affairs committee.

Actually, this measure has a distinct “Hand of Reid” feel about it. Denham believes the measure will build public confidence in community sentences. It is not yet clear how the idea would be put into practice. How long would an offender be out of work before being subject to a longer sentence. Also, is John Denham saying that offending while out of work is worse than criminal behaviour and taking home a pay packet? Those that would be exempt under Denham’s idea would be those caring for a family member. Will we see hardened, jobless crims claiming in court that no matter how immoral they may be, they still love and care for their frail old mum? It’s obvious something urgently needs to be done to address our spiralling prison population, but does the answer lie in punishing one set of criminals differently to others? The answer is surely no.

New Job for Gillian Shephard

The Association of Conservative Peers has a new chairman. Peter Brooke decided to give up the post and has been replaced by my old friend Gillian Shephard. It's a tricky time for the Peers as a further bout of reform looms on the horizon. Knowing her qualities as I do they couldn't have got a more doughty representative. She's got just the right mix of charm and grit.

Prescott's Bag Over Head Job

It was revealed today that John Prescott spent taxpayers' money on branded carrier bags with the Deputy Minister's crest plastered all over them. This comes on top of money spent by him on pens and notepads advertising himself. In total £5,095 of taxpayers' money on branded goods. One wonders what the carrier bags were used for. Putting over his head at, ahem, certain times, perhaps?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

News Alert: Surgeon Seeks Face Transplant Candidates

In my never ending quest to help the world of medical science I am issuing a plea to you, my dear readers. Sky News is reporting that a British surgeon has got permission to perform the world's first full face transplant. He is drawing up a shortlist of possible candidates for the operation. Feel free to help him in the Comments...

What do Gordon Brown & John Reid Have in Common?

Is it...

A Neither of them will become leader of the Labour Party?
B Both have chips on each shoulder
C They can't stand each other
D They both display a contempt for their junior Ministers & the House of Commons

I'll leave you to speculate on A, B or C, but it is quite apparent that D is very true. Both Reid and Brown go out of their way to avoid answering any tricky parliamentary questions in their three weekly appearance at the dispatch box. Brown is a past master at it, but this week John Reid surpassed himself. He left all the difficult questions to his junior Ministers, only answering two questions himself. The first one was a patsy question on neighbourhood watch policy and the second one was this...

What action is being taken to reduce the antisocial riding of go-peds and other motorised two-wheel vehicles?

Dear oh dear. And yesterday when the Police & Criminal Justice Bill was debated again in the Commons Reid seemed only too happy to let his junior Minister make a complete fool of herself on extradition rather than speak on the subject himself

A leader and Prime Minister in waiting? I don't think so.

John Prescott Holds Nuke Talks with North Korea...

...And in other news today, Mr Bean persuades President Ahmendinijad to abandon his nuclear programme. Later in the programme we're given exclusive access to Jack and Jill as they go up the hill to fetch a pail of water.

UPDATE: And in a Sportsflash just reaching us, West Ham United manage to score a goal [sorry, too far fetched - ed].

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

English Constitutional Convention: A Letter to the Telegraph

I'm a co-signatory on a letter to the Daily Telegraph announcing the setting up of an English Constitutional Convention. As regular readers know, I favour an English Parliament to solve the democratic deficit now being experienced by the people of England. I don't want anything like the white elephant of the Scottish Parliament, but it's clear that the status quo is not enough. Sometime in the next next few years this is an issue which all parties have to take seriously. At the moment the Conservative position is that English votes on English measures will solve everything. It won't, and is merely a short term band-aid solution. Anyway, we'll be talking about this subject on tonight's Vox Politix, so hope you'll be watching!...

Sir – The current "post-devolution settlement" is iniquitous to England.Scotland and Wales have their own Parliament and Assembly, and yet are still over-represented in the House of Commons; the West Lothian Question has yet to be answered – why should Scottish and Welsh MPs preside over English matters when MPs representing English constituencies have no reciprocal right? And the long-discredited Barnett formula, the system by which regional funding is allocated, remains grossly unfair to the taxpayers of England.It has been nearly 10 years since the people of Scotland and Wales were consulted in a referendum prior to devolution. No such courtesy has been extended to the people of England, and our politicians seem reluctant even to allow open debate on the subject.Dividing England into "regions", while leaving Scotland and Wales as "nations", is rightly unpopular and undemocratic. Stopping Scottish and Welsh MPs voting on English issues will cause as many problems as it solves. The question of the establishment of an English parliament must be considered and the option placed in front of the electorate. At a meeting in the House of Commons today, the English Constitutional Convention will be formally established, with the aim of promoting debate and raising public awareness of England's democratic deficit. As patrons to the convention, we urge the Government, Opposition and all the people of the United Kingdom actively to participate in that debate. England will be heard. The time for silence is over.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley; Lord Stoddart of Swindon; John Horam MP; Professor Hugo De Burgh; Professor Jeremy Dibble; Prof Roger Scruton; Dr. Gerald Morgan Trinity Dublin; Jervis Kay QC; Garry Bushell Journalist; Iain Dale Conservative commentator; Neil Addison Barrister; Mike Knowles, Chairman, Campaign for an English Parliament; Robin Tilbrook, Chairman, English Democrats; Christine Constable, Chairman, English Lobby; Bishop Michael Reid; Rev Richard Martin; Richard Long, Solicitor; Andy Smith, Past President, Chartered Institute of Journalists; Simon Lee, Lecturer, Hull University; Prof Charles Greenawalt

UPDATE: Can I just clarify what I meant by the White Elephant of the Scottish Parliament, as it has caused some speculation in the Comments. I primarily meant the building, rather than the institution. Having said that I do believe that a vast bureaucracy has emerged surrounding the Parliament and would not wish to see a repetition in any English equivalent. My way round this is to abolish MSPs and AMs and have Westminster MPs sitting in Westminster for three weeks in every four and in their national Parliaments for the other week. That way you don't get an extra layer of politicians and much of the bureaucracy surrounding the various Parliaments is rendered redundant. However, this is NOT what the English Constitutional Convention is proposing. It is being set up to give people a chance to air their views and for the various alternatives to be put to the English people. Its remit does not extend beyond that, for the moment.

Monday, October 23, 2006

More Blogging Tory MPs

I want to highlight three Conservative MPs who have just started blogs - Ed Vaizey, Richard Spring and James Duddridge. They're all very different, but all three seem to 'get' what blogging is about. Ed's blog is, as you might expect, probably the most entertaining of the three, as he deploys his characteristic wit to good effect. Richard's is more cerebral, but no worse for it. He is a great ranter when he gets going, so let's hope he puts fingertip to keyboard when he's having nasty thoughts about the East of England Regional Assembly. James needs to update his blog more often and make it more prominent within his website. At the moment it's a little hidden. Stephen Crabb has also started blogging, but he purposely only updates it once a week. No Stephen, if you're going to do it, do it properly.

So that brings to six, the number of Tory MPs who blog. Boris Johnson and David Davies are the other two. Have I missed any? I predict that by the end of the year there will be another dozen.

Senator Edward Kennedy: Traitor

Dizzy has a story about Senator Edward Kennedy contacting the KGB in the early 1980s in order to help them prevent Ronald Reagan being re-elected. There's no other word for this than treason. I certainly hope he gets what's coming to him if this turns out to be true. Needless to say it's being ignored by the liberal media in the US. Kennedy represents all that is bad about American politics. He's never been on the right side of any meaningful argument and did more than most to help Noraid raise funds to buy arms for the IRA. His cowardliness over Chappiquidick barely raises an eyebrow nowadays. America can be relieved that the Democratic Party had the good sense to reject his candidature in 1980.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Thoughts on House of Lords Reform

House of Lords reform seems to be back on the agenda at long last. Labour has indulged in many acts of constitutional vandalism since 1997 but none has been as bungled as their efforts to reform our Second Chamber. The trouble was that they embarked on the reform process without any idea at all what they wanted to end up with. If you start on a reform purely based on class hatred you're bound to come a cropper. Anyway, the past is the past and we are where we are.

Reforming the Lords is a tricky one for the Conservatives too. I have no doubt that the leadership wants to go down the road of 80-100% elected Peers - and they are quite right. How anyone can support a wholly or majority appointed second chamber in this day and age is quite beyond me. Those who do, tend to trot out the old line about the House of Commons being undermined by a powerful second chamber. Rubbish. If the House of Commons lacks confidence in its pre-eminence, it says a lot about the quality of the people in it.

The Conservative dilemma is the reaction of its existing Peers, who will have no truck with an elected second chamber. David Cameron should be strong and tell them how it's going to be. Frankly, he's got little to lose. The Tory old guard in the Lords will never approve of what he's trying to do anyway, so if he has to upset them, so be it.

One idea I've been toying with is whether to formally suggest to Ken Clarke's Democracy Task Force that one Peer/Senator should be elected per County/Metropolitan area, rather like they do in the USA. I haven't researched how many there are or what the populations split is, but it would link Peers to an area and probably avoid a huge predominance by one particular party. It would also have the added bonus of entrenching the country structure within our system of government.

But one thing I am very clear on is that whatever system is chosen, the Second Chamber must be either wholly or mostly elected. I am quite happy for it to retain an appointed/crossbench element but any appointed Peers should be able to speak but not vote. Voting should be reserved for those who have a democratic mandate.

UPDATE: Having read the Comments section, let me make clear that I wouldn't have started from this point. The House of Lords was doing its job as a revising chamber under the old system, and for that reason alone it was dangerous to tamper with it. If it wasn't broke, why fix it, apart from pure class hatred? But we're not there anymore. The reform process has begun and needs now to come to a conclusion.

Kerron Cross Should Enjoy It While He Can!

This is Iain Dale reporting from behind enemy lines at White Hart Lane... To say that I am wet through would be an understatement. No jokes please. I'm just not in the mood for it. I've already had the Watford supporting Labour blogger email me to crow about being above the Hammers. West Ham had better win this afternoon otherwise he'll be unbearable tomorrow when he graces the Vox Politix studio... Anything can happen when we play Spurs and usually does. For some reason, despite being soaked I am quite optimistic. Let's get those bubbles blowing!

UPDATE 7.50pm Oh well. Terrible afternoon. Terrible weather, terrible performance. Kerron can crow to his heart's content tomorrow night. He has every right to. The reason I don't go to many away games was amply displayed this afternoon at White Hart Lane. I went with a Spurs supporting friend and it was quite clear that if I had let it be known that I supported West Ham I would have been lynched. The aggression around me was something I'd rather not witness again. Thank Christ the Hammers didn't score, because I doubt whether I'd have been able to remain silent. The guy behind me was screaming venom virtually every thirty seconds. Not a pleasant experience. Very different to where I sit at Upton Park, where we often get away supporters among us and enjoy friendly banter with them. I'm not pretending it's like that all over the ground though!

If Ever Anything Proved the Need for 18DoughtyStreet...

Simon Walters has a story in the Mail on Sunday which contains the writeup of the BBC summit on impartiality. I guess it's nothing we didn't suspect already, but when it's written up so starkly it comes as a bit of a shock. I think I might discuss this on my show tomorrow night!

It was the day that a host of BBC executives and star presenters admitted what critics have been telling them for years: the BBC is dominated by trendy, Left-leaning liberals who are biased against Christianity and in favour of multiculturalism. A leaked account of an 'impartiality summit' called by BBC chairman Michael Grade, is certain to lead to a new row about the BBC and its reporting on key issues, especially concerning Muslims and the war on terror.

It reveals that executives would let the Bible be thrown into a dustbin on a TV comedy show, but not the Koran, and that they would broadcast an interview with Osama Bin Laden if given the opportunity. Further, it discloses that the BBC's 'diversity tsar', wants Muslim women newsreaders to be allowed to wear veils when on air.

At the secret meeting in London last month, which was hosted by veteran broadcaster Sue Lawley, BBC executives admitted the corporation is dominated by homosexuals and people from ethnic minorities, deliberately promotes multiculturalism, is anti-American, anti-countryside and more sensitive to the feelings of Muslims than Christians. One veteran BBC executive said: 'There was widespread acknowledgement that we may have gone too far in the direction of political correctness.

'Unfortunately, much of it is so deeply embedded in the BBC's culture, that it is very hard to change it.' In one of a series of discussions, executives were asked to rule on how they would react if the controversial comedian Sacha Baron Cohen) known for his offensive characters Ali G and Borat - was a guest on the programme Room 101.

On the show, celebrities are invited to throw their pet hates into a dustbin and it was imagined that Baron Cohen chose some kosher food, the Archbishop of Canterbury, a Bible and the Koran. Nearly everyone at the summit, including the show's actual producer and the BBC's head of drama, Alan Yentob, agreed they could all be thrown into the bin, except the Koran for fear of offending Muslims.

In a debate on whether the BBC should interview Osama Bin Laden if he approached them, it was decided the Al Qaeda leader would be given a platform to explain his views. And the BBC's 'diversity tsar', Mary Fitzpatrick, said women newsreaders should be able to wear whatever they wanted while on TV, including veils. Ms Fitzpatrick spoke out after criticism was raised at the summit of TV newsreader Fiona Bruce, who recently wore on air a necklace with a cross.

The full account of the meeting shows how senior BBC figures queued up to lambast their employer. Political pundit Andrew Marr said: 'The BBC is not impartial or neutral. It's a publicly funded, urban organisation with an abnormally large number of young people, ethnic minorities and gay people. It has a liberal bias not so much a party-political bias. It is better expressed as a cultural liberal bias.'

Washington correspondent Justin Webb said that the BBC is so biased against America that deputy director general Mark Byford had secretly agreed to help him to 'correct', it in his reports. Webb added that the BBC treated America with scorn and derision and gave it 'no moral weight'. Former BBC business editor Jeff Randall said he complained to a 'very senior news executive', about the BBC's pro-multicultural stance but was given the reply: 'The BBC is not neutral in multiculturalism: it believes in it and it promotes it.'

Randall also told how he once wore Union Jack cufflinks to work but was rebuked with: 'You can't do that, that's like the National Front!'

Quoting a George Orwell observation, Randall said that the BBC was full of intellectuals who 'would rather steal from a poor box than stand to attention during God Save The King'. There was another heated debate when the summit discussed whether the BBC was too sensitive about criticising black families for failing to take responsibility for their children. Head of news Helen Boaden disclosed that a Radio 4 programme which blamed black youths at a young offenders', institution for bullying white inmates faced the axe until she stepped in.

But Ms Fitzpatrick, who has said that the BBC should not use white reporters in non-white countries, argued it had a duty to 'contextualise' why black youngsters behaved in such a way. Andrew Marr told The Mail on Sunday last night: 'The BBC must always try to reflect Britain, which is mostly a provincial, middle-of-the-road country. Britain is not a mirror image of the BBC or the people who work for it.'


Saturday, October 21, 2006

Fantasy Football Update: Spurs 0 West Ham 5

A hat-trick from Tevez... Tomorrow I shall be making my first ever visit to White Hart Lane. The way West Ham have been playing recently I can't say I am hoping for a thumping victory, but they just have to score soon, so it might as well be against Spurs. However, that's preceded by a swift 9 holes at Kings Hill. One of my blog readers has invited me to play at Royal Birkdale so I'd better get a bit of practice in. If there are any bloggers out there who are members at Augusta, I'm available at very short notice indeed. And that's Augusta, Georgia...

I realise I haven't updated you on the state of the Iain Dale's Diary Fantasy League lately. My teams are languising in 86th and 88th place. Not quite as bad as Richard Havers Berwick Wanderers who languish in 154th and last place with only 162 points.

1 sheva me timbers S R 467
2 FC Elskin David Preston 458
3 Come on You Horns!!! Kerron Cross 450
4 Netsters Robert Williams 441
5 Dynamo Bloomsbury Chris Cook 436
6 Up for Aliya Calev ben Dor 436
7 Absolutely Fàbregas Andy Redfern 435
8 Palace in the Prem Daniel Harvey 434
9 Stealth Cyclist Iain Lindley 432
10 Wandsworth Commoners Dylan Chadha 429

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Trevor Phillips Does an Enoch

I understand Trevor Phillips will be having his Enoch Powell moment in tomorrow's Sunday Times. But instead of seeing the Tiber foaming with blood, he predicts 'fires in the streets'. I really do think the debate on this issue is threatening to get out of control. Still, let's wait to see the full article. God, I'm being soooo responsible at the moment, aren't I? Don't worry, it can't last...

Hating Your Opponent Is Wasted Energy

Hats off to Nich Starling, a LibDem councillor in North Norfolk for THIS. Nich sums up what it's like being involved in the maelstrom of a campaign and only seeing the bad things in your opponents. Like him, in the past I have found it far easier to campaign if I actively dislike my opponents. But the older I get the more difficult I find it is to do this. I guess it's called political maturing. I have always got on with people in other parties and intend to continue doing so.

I remember several occasions when I encountered Nich at meetings in North Norfolk and could sense real hostility from him. His Blog post helps me understand why. I think we've both learned from the experience.

Living in the Constituency

Ellee Seymour has an interesting little titbit about York LibDems leafleting constituents alerting them that Conservative Parliamentary Candidate Julian Sturdy lives three miles outside the constituency and therefore cannot be considered to be a local candidate. Pathetic, but sadly too typical.

Hmmm. That brought back a few memories. I lived in North Norfolk but my LibDem opponent Norman Lamb lived 15 miles away in south Norwich. Without going all over it again, is this something that should matter? Is it possible for someone to represent an area without actually living there?

In my view anyone who is elected to Parliament to represent a seat should live there. It's the only way to keep your finger on the pulse of what local people are thinking. If you shop in the same supermarkets, go to the same doctor, go to the same cinema you're bound to get a different perspective. But what constitutues 'local'? I'd say living within a few miles is acceptable if you had lived there all your life or have kids at schools at a delicate age.

Many constituencies now expect that their candidates to move there lock stock and barrel as soon as they are selected - even if they are far from highly marginal. This is very difficult for people who aren't well off. But if you don't have a constituency base, it's something your opponents can use remorsely against you. Be warned.

Blogging Cymru Style

Blogging seems to be taking off among Conservatives in the Welsh Assembly. David Davies AM MP has had a blog for some time, but he's now been joined by Tory leader Nick Bourne AM, Glyn Davies AM, Alun Cairns AM and Welsh Tory Press Officer and Justin Hawkins lookalike Richard Hazlewood. Stephen Crabb MP has a blog, although shamefully he only posts weekly. Assembly candidates Emma Greenow and Dylan Jones-Evans have also taken up blogging.

Another Welsh blog of note is written by Tom Livingstone, political editor of the Western Mail - it's glorious title is 0725 to Paddington. Welsh PA Correspondent Daniel Davies has a well-read blog called Tyger Tales. BBC Political Editor David Cornock Blogs HERE and if you want to read a blog in Welsh, Vaughan Roderick of BBC Cymru allows you to do so HERE. North Wales journalists David Banks blogs HERE.

Plaid Cymru AM Leanne Wood's blog is HERE. Peter Black, whose blog is undoubtedly the best LibDem blog is Wales (5th in my Top 100 LibDem Blogs) is a must visit, as is Labour's Leighton Andrews AM's. Another Labour AM with a blog is Alun Pugh.

NatWatch ( a Labour inspired website to keep watch on the SNP's and Plaid's activities) is worth a visit.

Now, if all these blogs would like to add a link back to me, I'd be a happy boyo. I'll be adding a permanent Welsh Blogs section to my links in the left hand column shortly. Are there any others you think I've missed?

UPDATE: David Jones MP also has a blog HERE.

Mid Norfolk Select George Freeman

Mid Norfolk Conservatives have selected George Freeman as their candidate for the next election. He fought Stevenage last time and fought a very innovative campaign. I know him a little and I'm sure he'll do well in Norfolk. His mother was one of my members in North Norfolk, so he can truly claim to have local links! He won on the first ballot. One thing which slightly worried me though was that only about 90 people attended the final selection meeting. This is an appallingly low number for what is, after all, a Conservative seat. At my selection in North Norfolk I had 185 people, and I thought that was rather low at the time!

Molly Scotcher 1931-2006

Yesterday I went to a funeral near Bury St Edmunds to bury my Godmother, Molly Scotcher, who died last week. I’m not very good at funerals. No matter how much I tell myself I’m going to maintain a stiff upper lip, my eyes somehow turn into water fountains. It didn’t help today when I saw my Father and my Uncle acting as pall-bearers. They were carrying the coffin containing their sister. My mother (from whom I have inherited my moist eyes) was in bits. It was Molly who introduced her to my father fifty years ago. Indeed, had Molly and my mother not struck up a conversation on a train from Clare in Suffolk to Bartlow in Cambridgeshire, my parents would never have met and you wouldn’t be reading this blog.

Molly was a woman of her generation. She was born in 1931 and was educated in Ashdon, near Saffron Walden, at the same school I was to attend thirty years later. She worked as a railway clerk before marrying her husband Percy. She immediately gave up work and had twins, my cousins Susan and Heather. Percy died 17 years ago today and since then she has devoted herself to her grandchildren and caring for elderly people. She really was a woman who put others before herself. Six months ago Molly was diagnosed with three aneurisms, and it was from one of those she died. Susan, her daughter discovered her body. I can think of nothing worse than discovering a dead parent. My sister Sheena rang to tell me. Sheena doesn’t ring me that often and when she does, I often fear the worst.

Why am I telling you all this? No idea really. I suppose it was an odd day and I just wanted to get it off my chest. But I was reminded of an exchange I had with one of the journalism students in Cardiff yesterday who made a remark about all politicians being on the make and someone inhumane. I countered that people have a similar view of journalists and made the point that politicians and journalists all have feelings, they all laugh, they cry, they shop in the same places as other people, watch the same TV programmes, suffer from the same illnesses. And everyone gets sad at funerals.

Funerals often provoke odd emotions in me and this one has been no different. One thing it has done is to make me question why I only really see my extended family at funerals. And it’s made me determine to get my sister to ring me when she has good news – or even no news – so at least I don’t always fear the worst when I see her name come up on my phone screen. Yesterday, possibly for the first time, I felt my age.

Apologies for the self indulgence of this post. Normal service to be resumed!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Short Fuses

I'm not sure what to make of Clare Short's decision to resign the Labour whip today and continue as an independent MP. If I were a Labour supporter I would be furious at the kick in the teeth she has administered to the Party which made her. And she does it at the very time that Tony Blair is on his way out. I would have more respect for her if she had done it much earlier, but she was of course very happy to earn her Cabinet Minister's salary for six years and keep Blair's patronage.

I expect she will now be omnipresent on our TV screens as she seeks to carve out a post parliamentary media career a la Michael Portillo. What I look forward to now are the anonymous Labour briefings which will now be given by the "People who live in the dark". She will be traduced from all sides and be treated like a French Nazi collaborator. Expect some fireworks.

Angela Smith to Cut & Run?

It's not only Ed Balls who has a few problems with his seat. Labour MP Angela Smith currently sits for Basildon, but her boundaries are being redrawn to make it highly marginal. My sources tell me she wants to shift to the Thurrock seat, currently inhabited by the maverick thorn in Tony Blair's side, Andrew Mackinlay. Angela Smith's plans depend on Mackinlay retiring. I've no idea what his plans are but Angela Smith's acolytes are putting it around that he's had enough and will pack it in. Angela is a really nice woman and is one of the few Blair babes to have retained her sense of humour. Andrew Mackinlay is what I would describe as a proper parliamentarian - relentless in holding the government to account even if it is uncomfortable for his own Party. Obviously they are both political opponents, but that doesn't blind me to their qualities. Let's see who prevails.

Send the Bill to the Taxpayer...

Many moons ago I used to run quite a successful company which organised policy conferences. So I know a bit about what it costs to put on a conferenc for sixty people. So when I read this in Hansard, you can imagine my reaction...

Caroline Spelman: To ask the hon. Member for Gosport, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission (1) how much has been allocated for the Electoral Commission’s conference on the regulation of political party financing; (2) who has been invited to attend the Electoral Commission’s conference on the regulation of political party financing.
Peter Viggers: I assume that my hon. Friend is referring to the conference on the regulation of party finances held by the Electoral Commission in September for representatives of overseas regulatory organisations and academic specialists in this field. The commission informs me that the cost of the conference, which was attended by more than 60 delegates from 15 countries, was £45,000. The Commission also incurred travel and subsistence costs of £14,000 in relation to the attendance of certain key speakers. I have asked the chief executive of the Commission to write to my hon. Friend with details of those who were invited, and to place a copy of his letter in the Library.

Quite astonishing. Where did they hold it? The Maldives? I hope someone will pass me a copy of The Electoral Commission's letter, as I suspect it will mae very interesting reading.

I actually believe the Electoral Commission is a good thing and has an excellent chairman in Sam Younger. It is right that electoral issues are separated from government and overseen by an independent organisation. However, the Commission is becoming far too big and far too bloated. Discuss.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

From Cardiff to Widdyville

Just finished doing an hour with JOURNALISM studies postgrads in Cardiff and heading on to Edmonton to host an Evening with Ann Widdecommbe at the local theatre.

I owe my audience in Cardiff an apology. In my post this morning I described them as 'media studies' students rather than 'journalism' studies students. Talk about how to get on the wrong side of an audience! Anyway, they were in forgiving mood and we had a lively Q and A session. They seemed far more interested in 18DoughtyStreet than my blog, but asked far better and more searching questions than most of the mainstream media journos I have been interviewed by on the subject. Right, the M4 beckons... Contrary to popular rumour I do not post on.the blog while in the fast lane!

Tories, Tax and Today

I'm on my way to Cardiff to deliver a lecture on new media to media studies post graduate students and have been listening to Today on Radio 4. Their news headlines at 7pm illustrates why some on the Right feel that there is an underlying bias against the Conservatives. The headline on the Forsyth Tax Commission was...

"Ministers have reacted to the Conservative Tax Commission proposals, saying that..."

What sort of new judgement is that? Why put Labour's reaction to a report ahead of the contents of the report itself? I'd love the person who wrote that news report to justify it.

I have just been listening to George Osborne on the programme and he has made it clear he has no intention of cutting the overall tax burden. As Jim Naughtie said, he is determined to follow the path set out by Gordon Brown in opposition and repeatedly chant a mantra about stability and protecting mortgages. We can't just refight the battles of the 1990s - we've got to inspire. And as I have said before, merely saying you're going to mirror Labour's tax and spend levels isn't going to inspire anyone to get out of bed on a wet Thursday and go down to a polling station.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Tory Tax Proposals Published...by Ed Balls

The Conservative Tax Commission report appears to have been leaked early. I'm told that the Treasury are cock-a-hoop with delight as they can now start a traditional spat about unfunded tax cuts. Apparently Ed Balls discovered the report by surfing the internet and finding the Tory Tax Commission website.

I don't think a Labour attack will work in the same way that it did at the last two elections. People do genuinely feel they are overtaxed and if the Conservatives move from their current position of "sharing the proceeds of growth" to a position of offering costed, reasonable tax cuts which help real people (ie not just the better off), then I think people will welcome them. I have made no secret that I am a Tax Cutter. Always have been. Always will be. People know better how to spend their own money better than the government. I haven't yet had a chance to go through the Tax Commission proposals but from what I have heard, most of them are eminently sensible.

Naturally we'll be talking about this as the main subject of debate on Vox Politix tonight on 18DoughtyStreet. If you want to comment on the proposals click HERE for the programme blog. I'll be joined in the studio by Ashley Crossley, David Mills (from Tribune & GMTV) and James Fletcher. We're also discussing freedom of information, Iraq and THIS.

I Can't Lie to You (And That's the Truth)

I admit to having every record that Meatloaf has ever made, so as you can imagine I have been eagerly awaiting the release of Bat Out of Hell 3. Having just heard the title track on the radio I think I can safely say it won't be outselling the original. What a pile of ****.

I went to see the old rocker live at Blickling Hall in Norfolk last year. Frankly, his voice has all but gone. But Paradise by the Dashboard light remains one of my top ten songs of all time. A classic.

Yoko Oh No

Yoko Ono has been invited to edit the Today Programme (no, really, she has). Imagine all the people who won't be listening...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

David Davis Accuses Government of Being Economical With the Truth Over Control Orders

The Government has again played fast and loose with our security - and this time it's John Reid who's to blame. I'm not saying that he was responsible for the escape of the two terror suspects who are sibject to control orders, but he has been at the very least economical with the truth. David Davis has raised the subject as a Point of Order in the Commons this afternoon.

"You will have read in the newspapers that two terrorist suspects restrained under Control Orders have absconded, one some months ago. You will remember, Mr Speaker, that the Control Order legislation was only passed, after the longest ever sitting of the House of Lords, when the Home Secretary gave an undertaking to report back on the operation and effectiveness of the legislation. Accordingly statements are made to the House on a quarterly basis. When an Act of Parliament is passed on the basis of such undertakings, and when it effects matters as important as the liberty and safety of our citizens, it is incumbent on the government to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. On September 11th, the statement from the Minister for Security said, "There are fifteen control orders currently in force, six of which are in respect of British nationals." It then outlined details of applications to modify those orders. No mention of a breach of the orders. No mention of an escapee. No mention of the risk to the public. This statement may be true, Mr Speaker, but it is not the whole truth. I am sure that the Home Secretary would not wish it to be thought that he had in any way misled the House, and would seek to correct any misunderstanding immediately. Has he indicated to you, Mr Speaker that he intends to come to the House to correct this statement, and explain why this information was withheld? If not, what can you do, both as guardian of the public record and protector of the rights of this House, to put this right; to allow us, the Members of this House, to protect both the liberty and safety of our citizens?"

What an appalling state of affairs. John Reid makes great play of talking tough and helping people feel secure. This has blown that strategy to pieces.

Newsnight Editor Tonight on Vox Politix

Tonight on Vox Politix on 18DoughtyStreet I'm joined by the editor of BBC's Newsnight Peter Barron, Sunny Hundal from Pickled Politics and Dave Hill. Click on the Vox Politix Blog HERE to contribute questions to the programme and find out our topics for discussion. You can safely bet that we'll be mentioning the story below...

Is the EU About to Regulate 18DoughtyStreet Out of Existence?

Dizzy reports that the EU is intent on regulating internet TV. He cites an article on The Times this morning (HERE). This could spell big trouble for internet TV stations like 18DoughtyStreet. Shaun Woodward, the Broadcasting Minister says he will fight it, but he seems to be concentrating on preserving things like MySpace or YouTube. Whatever system the EU comes up with no doubt it will involve some sort of prohibitive licence fee which will have the effect of stopping new entrants from entering the market. Here's an excerpt from the Times article...

THE Government is seeking to prevent an EU directive that could extend broadcasting regulations to the internet, hitting popular video-sharing websites such as YouTube. The European Commission proposal would require websites and mobile phone services that feature video images to conform to standards laid down in Brussels... “The real risk is we drive out the next MySpace because of the cost of complying with unnecessary regulations,” Mr Woodward said. “These businesses can easily operate outside the EU.” Ofcom, the media regulator, is also opposing the proposed directive, which it believes could discourage new multimedia business in Europe... The House of Lords European Union Committee began an inquiry yesterday into the directive, which could also introduce paid-for product placement on UK television for the first time. Lord Woolmer, the committee chairman, said: “The proposals bring within the regulatory framework areas of the media previously untouched by broadcasting legislation. “Britain is at the cutting edge of new media and alternative broadcasters in Europe, and we are keen to ensure that the proposals will not damage this growing industry in seeking to incorporate them into EU regulation.”

Do read the whole article. This illustrates just what is wrong with the European Union. It is seeking to regulate where it doesn't need to. It wants to introduce rules where there is no need for any. No doubt what will emerge from this some sort of wishy washy compromise. God, it makes you sick. It's things like this which make me wonder whether, after all, we wouldn't be Better Off Out. [/rant]

It looks like I am going to have to dust down my lobbying skills...

UPDATE: Man in a Shed points me to THIS article in The Economist.

Monday, October 16, 2006

And Coming Up Tonight on Vox Politix...

Click HERE to find out what's on Vox Politix tonight at 9pm. In short, it's Bloggers' evening tonight, as I am joined by Alex Hilton of Recess Monkey & Labour Home fame, Stephen Tall from A Little Liberal Goes a Long Way and Phil Hendren from Dizzy Thinks.

At 10pm Tim Montgomerie is talking to Dr Liam Fox about the way our increasing energy consumption is helping to fund the military buildups of Russia and Iran, and what we should do about it.

At 10.45 Tim and I have a chat about Sir Richard Dannant, followed at 11pm by the End of the Day Show.

And it's at available live at 18DoughtyStreet.com...

Labour Curtails Your Right to Know

Labour has announced today a harsh restriction of the public's right to Freedom of Information.
Currently, no one is charged for any request which costs less than a notional £600 to process (£450 for local authorities).

According to a Conservative Press statement civil servants' and town hall officials’ “reading time, consideration time and consultation time” is to be included in the calculation of costs, meaning more requests will hit the notional £600 limit. As a result, the public will increasingly be asked to pay a fee to make a request to the government or their town hall.

I wonder why this could be...

Drayson Says Troops Must Wait Until May 2007 for More Chinooks

Did anyone hear Defence Procurement Minister Lord Drayson on Radio 4 yesterday evening? He was apparently asked about the Prime Minister's promise to give 'our boys' all the equipment they need to complete their missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Drayson was specificall asked about the extra Chinook helicopters requested by the Army. His response was less than illuminating. He said "it is our hope that they will have them by the next rotation of troops." He was then asked when that would be. "Er, next May." So our troops have to wait another 8 months to get the equipment they need now. Well done, Prime Minister!

Electoral Commission Confirms LibDems May Have to Repay £2.4 Million

Regular readers will know that I have long been speculating that the Liberal Democrats could be forced to pay back the £2.4 donation they received from convicted fraudster Michael Brown. Howls of derision greeted me from LibDem bloggers when I first floated the possibility, although these howls have become more like whimpers of late. Today, both the Times and Telegraph report that the Electoral Commission is now actively considering whether the donation was permissable. And in a rather strange intervention, Labour Minister Nigel Griffiths has called for the donation to be repaid. This is an excerpt from the Telegraph story...

A spokesman for the Electoral Commission said yesterday: "We will... be reviewing carefully the High Court judgment of Oct 11 and considering what bearing this may have on the permissibility of the donations made to the Liberal Democrats. To be a permissible donor under the Political, Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) a company must be registered under the Companies Act 1985, be incorporated in an EU member state, and be carrying on business in the UK. "If there is evidence that 5th Avenue Partners Ltd was not carrying on business in the UK, under PPERA the Commission could ask a court to order the party to forfeit the amount of the donations." Any repaid donation would go into a consolidated fund. The Lib Dems confirmed that the onus to repay the donation would technically fall on the Lib Dems' 77,000 members because the party is an unincorporated association. A spokesman said such a move would be unprecedented and insisted members could refuse if they wished. The spokesman said the repayment of the donation was not causing the party "one pennyworth of concern". A source close to the commission's inquiry into Brown's affairs told The Daily Telegraph that the Lib Dems could also be sued for recovery of the funds by some of Brown's wealthy victims.

So Good You Can Read it Twice!

Will Lewis's first day in his new job as Telegraph editor has not been an unmitigated success. While we were all of course delighted to read the story about MPs' expenses on page 12 I suspect we could have done without reading a longer version of it on page 13 too. Still, a great excuse to see another Telegraph head roll...

Labour Target Tory Seats for Hospital Closures

The front page of The Times sums up what a shower this New Labour Government is. Remember recently when Department of Health officials met with Labour Chairman Hazel Blears to discuss 'hotspots'? They denied at the time that these discussions were in any way improper. But it now emerges that virtually all community hospital closures are in Conservative or LibDem held constituencies.

I think this is just the tip of the iceberg. They haven't included ward or bed closures in their figures. If they did, it would probably be even more stark. In North Norfolk they cite Wells. Hospital as an example. They could equally cite Kelling, North Walsham, Benjamin Court and Cromer Hospital as community hospitals where wards have all been shut within the last two years. And that's just one constituency!

Do you know of ward closures of hospitals in Tory or LibDem seats within the last two years? Feel free to leave then in the Comments Section. I'm sure Sam Coates and David Rose of The Times will be grateful.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Government Should Not Interfere Unnecessarily in Faith Schools

ConservativeHome reports via the BBC... "All new religious schools could have to offer at least 25% of their classroom places to "non-believing" children, the BBC has learned. Education Secretary Alan Johnson believes the move could reduce religious and racial tension. His plans stipulate that where there is "strong local opposition" to the policy, councils would need government consent before implementing the quota. A Conservative Party spokesman said they welcomed the proposals."

I find this a terribly difficult issue. We talked about it with Ann Widdecombe on Vox Politix on Thursday. She and my co-presenter Zoe-Anne Phillips almost came to blows about it. I am not religious, but I do believe in religious freedom. Religious freedom of expression is coming under attack from all quarters at the moment, sometimes understandably, sometimes not. The case of the BA employee who was suspended for wearing a crucifix is especially worrying. Britain is still a Christian country, whether some like it or not. BA say they suspended the lady for wearing jewellery. For Christians, wearing a crucifix is just as important to them as wearing a turban is to Sikhs. I doubt very much whether BA would suspend a sikh for wearing a turban.

Faith schools are a good thing as long as they teach children that there are indeed other religions. Most faith schools accept children from denominations other than their own. They don't need to be required by Government to do so. School admissions should not be the concern of central government bureaucracy. I'm sorry my own Party seem to be welcoming this initiative. They shouldn't. I thought we were supposed to be trusting education professionals to do their jobs without goverment interference.

Hoby's Road to Nowhere: The Blogging Revolution

Courtesy of Hoby. Click on image to enlarge.

Is Lord Drayson a Liar, a Spinner or Just Plain Incompetent?

On Wednesday last week, Defence Minister Lord Drayson made a startling claim in the House of Lords. He asserted than on any given day there are an average of 50 British soldiers in hospital anywhere in the world. Given there are over 200,000 in the armed forces and there are two wars on, I find that completely implausible. The exchange is HERE. Lord Trefgarne is clearly bemused and asks Drayson to repeat the figure, which he duly does.

Apparently he can only get to that number by excluding field hospitals, ie nearly all the injured from Iraq etc. The Government is clearly desperate to suppress information about the wounded, which is one reason Sir Richard Dannat is so cross and has spoken out.

Why is no journalist or politician making more of this? Just how many injured servicemen do we have in Afghanistan and Iraq? I think we have a right to know. The trouble is, we may all be shocked by the answer.

Take the Political Junkie Test

Mars Hill has twenty questions to test your level of 'Political Junkiness' HERE.

UPDATE: Tygerland was the originator of this. Apologies to him (or is it her?) as I didn;t know that when I posted it.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Something to Warm the Cockles of a Thatcherite Heart...

Makes me remember why I got involved in politics...

PS I'll be on the News 24 paper review at 11.45pm with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown...

Cassilis Wants Your Help

The Cassilis Blog is being, as Sir Humphrey would say, 'courageous' in trying to compile a Conservative Thesaurus. After Ingigo Wilson's experience with his Leftie Lexicon I'd have thought this was something to steer clear of. Click HERE.

Fisking Alex Hilton

Alex Hilton (of Recess Monkey and LabourHome) wrote an article on CommentIsFree yesterday in which he tried to defend the indefensible - the effect? Within hours his Labour MP mates Sion Simon and Tom Watson had apologised and withdrawn their silly little video from YouTube. My comments are in bold...

"Sion Simon may well be nursing a sore head after the reaction to his David Cameron spoof YouTube effort. Yet the glee with which Tory MPs have lined up to criticise him illustrates one of the least attractive qualities in the modern politician, that of faux outrage.
Of which Alex, you are a past master. If you noticed, though, Conservative Central Office said that they were "entirely relaxed" about it. As well they might have been considering the increased traffic to Webcameron.
Various Conservative members of parliament have been spotted on television, radio and quoted in the press referring to Simon's "outrageous" video, which, if it really were outrageous, would be unplayable on television or on newspapers' websites.
Er, as well as a few Labour MPs. And Alex, you're seriously telling me that if two Tory MPs hadn't done this you wouldn't be slagging them off on Recess Monkey? Come come. Too much fauz outrage on your part methinks. Having said that, when asked to comment on it on TV I took the view that it was puerile but couldn't quite see why the media were giving it so much publicity.
As it is, the film is getting far more exposure than its maker would have hoped or guessed.
Yes, agreed. But it also made them both look prats. Fine by me.
The video itself is a David Brent-style piece to camera of a man in a baseball cap, called Dave, who's willing to do anything to get you to believe he's a normal guy. "Just like you" is the recurring theme of the piece - and to get you to believe it, Dave is willing to let you sleep with his wife, take one of his children and let you move into his house.
Yep, great taste there, guys. Rory Bremner without the humour. Apart from the fact that Sion Simon neither looked nor sounded like David Cameron. Apart from that, very accurate. Not.
Not by accident, this is an apt description of Cameron's activity on the web. He's having his team write blogs and make videos, all desperately trying to show that he's a normal guy but all his frantic Webcameronisation only serves to display his superficiality. The fact is that if you "engage" with Cameron via his websites, your comments will be moderated out unless couched in the most sycophantic of tones.
Now Alex, you really shouldn't tell lies. Because you always get found out in the end. You will see many negative comments on his blog. I decided to put your point to CCHQ and a spokesman came back with this. "There is plenty of criticism of David on Webcameron. One wonders if Alex Hilton has actually read any of the comments."
Go to Webcameron now and see if he answers any questions on tax policy for example. I got banned for doing so.
CCHQ's response to this allegation is: "This is 100% incorrect. NOBODY has been banned from Webcameron. (although the instruction 'go to Webcameron now' is something we have no problem with - Labour have been very helpful in boosting our traffic over the last couple of days) There have been plenty of questions about tax and David has stated that he wants to answer questions as time allows - the levels of feedback have been enormous and the team are working on a solution to automate this process and enhance interaction between David and Webcameron members. If people want to criticise the site that's fine - we welcome debate - but the allegations he makes are factually incorrect and totally misleading. This is an article high on personal invective but low on facts."
But the horde of "disgusted of Penge" Tory MPs doesn't seem to realise that silly jokes are what normal people do with each other every day at work, at home and in the pub and the affected outrage is so transparent that it stirs support from none but the most loyal followers. Where was their outrage last week when Francis Maude's business links to pornography were exposed or when Thatcher and Major presided over 3 million unemployed and 2 million children living in poverty?
God you're desperate aren't you? Have The Guardian demanded their £75n quid back yet?
This is the traditional Tory outrage hypocrisy. Poverty and social injustice are like water off a duck's back to them - but they will instantly become swivel-eyed and apoplectic at the hint of a breach of etiquette. As an aside, I should mention Labour MP Stephen Pound's criticisms of Sion Simon on the BBC.
Yes, you should.
Steve's a funny man but the last joke I heard him tell was about Harriet Harman naked and brandishing a whiplash in order to secure votes for the Labour deputy leadership - so he's hardly the locus of parliamentary good taste.
No, but he's a damn sight funnier than you, and he hasn't got his tongue so far up....well...
Sion Simon's web spoof has shown that he's an ordinary bloke with a regular sense of humour who happened to get elected to parliament.
No it hasn't actually. It's shown he's a prat who's made a fool of himself and now admitted it by apologising. perhaps you'd like to do the same.
David Cameron is an Eton toff, 38th or whatever in line to the throne, who is using the web to convince you that he's an ordinary bloke. So which one of them outrages you?
I think Sion Simon and Tom Watson have given you your answer to that one. Tell me, how many conversations did you have with either of them before writing that article? Do you regret it now? I think we should be told."