Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Last Post on This Blog...Happy New Year!

This is the last post on this blog ever..... in 2006! We're off to Brighton to have dinner with a friend and see in the New Year. Hope you all have a great evening and an even better 2007.

Lord Lambton Dies

Lord Lambton, a former Conservative defence minister who resigned after he was photographed smoking cannabis in bed with two prostitutes, has died at the age of 84. Anthony Lambton was one of two ministers who resigned from Ted Heath's government as a result of sex scandals involving prostitutes. The other was the Leader of the House of Lords Lord Jellicoe. He was forced to resign after pictures of him in bed with the call girls were published in the News of the World. Following an investigation by the security services, he was denied access to secret material because of fears that he was vulnerable to blackmail.

In an interview with Sir Robin Day after he was exposed he was was asked why he used call girls. He said: "I think that people sometimes like variety. I think it's as simple as that and I think that impulse is probably understood by almost everybody. Don't you?"

After his resignation Lambton moved to Italy where he has lived ever since. He was married to Belinda Blew Jones, who died three years ago. They are survived by five children.

Coming in 2007: Battle of the Dave Books

Earlier this year I toyed with the idea of writing a book about David Cameron. In the end I decided to do other things, but in 2007 there will be three books published about the Tory leader. Already there's a little battle developing between the authors of two of them to see who can hit the bookshelves first. Francis Elliott and James Hanning of the Independent on Sunday will probably write the better book, with some interesting new perspectives, but according to their publishers CAMERON: THE RISE OF THE NEW CONSERVATIVE won't appear until the beginning of April, a month after Bruce Anderson's DAVID CAMERON. However, Anderson's book was supposed to have appeared in October so I wouldn't bet my house on it appearing in March. Jo-Anne Nadler is also writing a follow up to TOO NICE TO BE A TORY called THE REGENERATION GAME: CAN DAVID CAMERON REVIVE THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY? but it won't be out until July.

To Those Who BlogScratched Me in 2006, I Salute You!

When I restarted this blog a year ago, I never dreamed it would attract so many readers. So this is to say thank you to everyone who has read the blog and left comments over the last twelve months. The blog has had an unbelievable 2.2 million visits and 1.28 million unique visitors in 2006. And an especially big thank you to all the blogs who link to me - not just in their blogrolls but when they pick up my comments or stories. There's never been a better time to indulge in a bit of blogscratching! These are the blogs who have blogscratched me more than 1,000 times during 2006. I salute them!

UPDATE: As Dizzy points out in the Comments what I really mean is that more than 1,000 people have come to this blog via those listed here. Clear? Thought not.

1. Guido Fawkes 54,880
5. Nick Robinson 3,960
6. Biased BBC 3,955
8. Paul Linford 2,740
10. Arseblog 2,307
11. Liberal England 2,081
13. Witanagemot 1,909
14. EU Referendum 1,849
15. Rightlinks 1,837
16. Recess Monkey 1,768
17. Croydonian 1,763
20. WebCameron 1,483
21. Stephen Pollard 1,316
22. Public Interest 1,274
23. Bob Piper 1,211
25. Prague Tory 1,116
26. Clive Davis 1,037

Top Ten Most Unlikely Predictions for 2007

1. Ming Campbell leaves Lady Elspeth for a Cheeky Boy
2. John McDonnell gets 44 nominations to enable him to run against Gordon Brown
3. The SNP win the Sedgefield By Election
4. Arise Sir John Yates
5. Cherie Blair turns down free holiday to Mustique courtesy of Richard Branson
6. George Pascoe-Watson or Kevin Maguire write a story slagging off Gordon Brown
7. In Shadow Cabinet reshuffle Lord Lawson is appointed Shadow Environment Minister
8. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown concedes that the British Empire might not have been all bad
9. Saddam Hussein spotted at lunch with Elvis and Princess Diana in Little Chef on the A1
10. Bruce Anderson writes column criticising David Cameron

Feel free to add more. You know you want to...

My Top Ten Predictions for 2007

1. More than one person will face charges in the Cash for Peerages Inquiry
2. Sir Ming Campbell will not be leader of the LibDems by the end of the year
3. Ed Vaizey, Jeremy Hunt and Nick Herbert will be promoted to the Shadow Cabinet
4. The Conservative Party 'A' List will be junked, having served its purpose
5. The SNP become the largest Party in Scotland after the May elections but cannot form a coalition
6. A Labour MP and a LibDem MP defect to the Conservatives
7. John Hutton challenges Gordon Brown for the Labour leadership after John Reid wimps out
8. In one of his first acts as PM Brown announces timetable for troop withdrawal from Iraq
9. Depending on the opinion poll bounce from that decision and his honeymoon period, Brown will consider calling a General Election within six months of becoming Prime Minister
10. West Ham will not get relegated

Other bloggers with 2007 predictions include Guido, Dizzy, Jeremy Jacobs.

Can Rudi Giuliani Attract the Big Bucks to Run?

Expect to read a lot about the US Presidential process on this blog in 2007. The 2008 primaries promise to be the most exciting in years. Let me nail my colours to the mast now. I want Rudi Giuliani to be the Republican candidate. I say this because I think he is possibly the only Republican who can restore the party's reputation and drag it back from some of the more extreme elements who control it at the moment. He's a man of vision and courage whose leadership skills have been tried and tested in the most difficult circumstances imaginable.

Yes, he has personal weaknesses and some decidedly liberal views on social issues which will be anathema to Christian fundamentalists, but hopefully even they will be able to see the wider picture.

But there is a view among Republican commentators that is worrying me. Friends of mine in Washington seem unanimous in their view that Giuliani won't get very far because he won't be able to raise the necessary cash to fund his campaign. The big bucks are already going to John McCain, which bearing in mind his own liberal views on social issues, is odd. Surely if McCain can attract the money, Giuliani ought to be able to as well? What am I missing?

Good Year Bad Year

So how was 2006 for you? Good or bad? YouGov has an interesting survey today in the Sunday Times which reports that 40% of people in this country say they have had a good year, 24% bad, with the remainder saying it has been neither good nor bad. However, when asked if 2006 had been a good year for Britain or not, only 7% said it had been a good year, while 55% thought it had been a bad one. The article can be readh HERE.

These statistics reflect my own position. 2006 has been a good year for me (after 2005, it could hardly have been worse!) but I do think it has been a bad year for the country. If I were a Labour strategist I'd be deeply concerned by this poll, as it seems to reflect the findings of Philip Gould's leaked memo last week. Traditionally people turn against a government because of economic circumstances which affect them badly. If the findings of this poll are anything to go by it is social issues which may be the trigger in 2007. Anti social behaviour and the level of immigration now outrank financial considerations as the issues which concern people most on a day to day basis. Only 24% have an optimistic outlook about Britain's prospects for 2007. 58% are pessimistic.

Still, that eternal optimist Gordon Brown will know how to shake us out of our gloom, won't he?!

Saddam: Should the Pictures Have Been Shown?

All the newspapers have one story today - unsurprisingly it is the hanging of Saddam Hussein. On the News 24 paper review last night I had a disagreement with my fellow studio guest Kate Bevan (from the FT) who clearly thought the media shouldn't have shown the pictures. My view is that it is important to show them, particualrly in Iraq, where some people won't actually believe he is dead until they see physical evidence of it. Remember the Ceaucescus? Their execution was filmed for one reason - to convince Romanians that he had gone.

We also had a debate about whether it was right for him to be given the death penalty. Kate naturally thought it was barbaric. My view is that it frankly hasn't got anything to do with us. He was sentenced to death under the Iraqi legal system without, so far as anyone can tell, outside interference. My only slight discomfort at the fact that he has been hanged came when I was listening to a Radio 5 Live discussion. They had a Kurdish lady on, who said that she and her people felt cheated. While he had been hanged for his role in killing 182 people following a failed assassination attempt, he had not yet been put on trial for his role in killing hundreds of thousands of Kurds. Now he never would be. I must admit that she has a very good point. The end result would have been the same, but the Kurdish people would have felt that their own case had been heard properly. Now, it may never be.

COMING LATER: My predictions for 2007.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ivan Lewis MP: Hypocrite of the Year

Until his morning I had never heard of junior Labour Health Minister Ivan Lewis and the MP for the highly marginal seat of Bury South. But not only has he emulated his Party Chairman in protesting against his own government's health service cuts, he's gone one stage further in the race among Labour MPs to be crowned 'Hypocrite of the Year'.

Not only is Ivan Lewis a junior minister at the Department of Health, he is listed on the Department of Health Website as being responsible for 'maternity services'. So the very policy he himself has drafted and is implementing is the one which he is protesting against in his own constituency. You really couldn't make this up, could you? Joined up government? Don't make me laugh.

According to the newspapers this morning, seven Labour Ministers have protested publicly about government policy affecting their own constituency. In days gone by they would have found it proper and necessary to resign. And we wonder why voters think politicians are hypocrites. Ivan Lewis is a prime example.

On the Media Today

11am Radio 4, TALKING POLITICS with Peter Hitchens, Joan Smith & Simon Heffer
11pm Radio 5 Live discussing sentencing policy
11.45pm BBC News 24 newspaper review

Friday, December 29, 2006

End of the Year Awards - The Political Results

1. David Davis 25%
2. William Hague 20%
3. George Osborne 10%
4. Theresa Villers 7%
5. Alan Duncan 7%
1. Hilary Benn 23%
2. John Prescott 19%
3. John Reid 15%
4. Jack Straw 8%
5. John Hutton 4%
= Hazel Blears 4%
1. Iain Duncan Smith 22%
3. Jeremy Hunt 13%
4. Michael Gove 9%
5. Sir Peter Tapsell 7%
1. Lembit Opik 28%
2. Mark Oaten 17%
3. Nick Clegg 14%
4. Chris Huhne 11%
5. Vince Cable 4%

Quotes of the Day

"These teams of ours do not come from a self-confident, buoyant nation-state. They come from a rottenly-led, degenerate, devolved regional province of the Brussels-based EU" - Author Frederick Forsyth, on our failures at rugby, football and cricket.
"Peers of the realm face a shaky future which, as reform of the House of Lords plods on, will get shakier still" - Tory peer Lord Deedes.
"Why bother voting? What is the point of placing your cross next to the name of this or that candidate when four out of every five laws adopted by Britain are proposed, not just by people that you didn't vote for, but by EU officials whom nobody voted for?" - Tory MEP Daniel Hannan.
"People ask me what I will be remembered for. I will be remembered for my trees. My arboretum will be my legacy" - Lord Heseltine, former Tory deputy Prime Minister.
"If telly vice in your room not perform, do not investigate with screw pusher, you may get shocking electrics. Instead attack hotel electric man" - Warning notice in Tokyo hotel.

Labour Supporters Call on Hazel Blears to Resign

Hazel Blears is not the first Cabinet Minister to appear at a protest against their own Government's policies. John Reid and Jacqui Smith beat her to it. But it does take some brass face to appear on a picket line at a hospital you are at least in part responsible for closing. She protests that she is doing it in her role as a constituency MP, but that argument just doesn't wash. Many believe that if she felt so strongly, rather than just having private little chats with Patricia Hewitt about 'heat maps' concerning hospital closures in marginal seats, she should resign.

Paul Linford disagrees. He writes: I have always regarded Hazel Blears as a just another shameless New Labour careerist, but perhaps there is more to her after all. She has certainly gone up in my estimation this week, and more importantly, I suspect she will also have gone up in the estimation of thousands of Labour members with votes in the party's deputy leadership election.

And there we have it. Could this be the real reason for Ms Blears putting her nose above the parapet? Well, if so, she need only look at THIS thread on LabourHome to see the reaction of some Labour members. They are not impressed. Not impressed at all.

I suspect that Ms Blears is rather more worried about her political future closer to home than the Deputy leadership. She's taken a calculated gamble, and the gamble is that local Labour Party members will view her move positively and help her be selected for her much redrawn seat. Hmmm. Not so sure.

For Us Tommies, Ze War Iz Over

Liberal Burblings alerts me to THIS story in The Guardian today, which reports that today we have repaid the final installment of the loans taken out by the Attlee government just after the war. By 1950 our national debt amounted to 200% of our GDP, compared to 36% today. The Guardian reports...

In 1945 Britain borrowed $4.34bn from the US consisting of a
$3.75bn line of credit and a "lend-lease" loan facility of $586m. The following
year the government agreed a $1.185bn line of credit loan from Canada. The money
was primarily designed to assist in the post-war reconstruction of Britain's
exhausted economy and shattered infrastructure. But the lend-lease loan related
to wartime supplies already in transit from the US under President Franklin D
Roosevelt's programme of the same name which began in 1941 and which ended
abruptly shortly after VJ Day in 1945. Roosevelt famously said the scheme was
like lending a neighbour a hosepipe to put out a fire. It marked a significant
step away from America's post-first world war isolationism.

The final payments today to the United States and Canada, are $83.25m and $22.7m respectively. Part of me thinks these loans should have been reassigned to Germany as soon as the Witschaftswunder was underway...

Polls, Two Party Politics & Why the LibDems Have a Problem

Several readers have asked me why I haven't mentioned a couple of opinion polls. One being the poll in today's Independent which shows the LibDems down at 14% and a Labour lead of 1%. Last month the reported lead was 2%. To be honest I tend to look for trends in polls, while I also obviously take delight in polls which show large Tory leads.

YouGov and ICM have consistently shown the Tories at 36-41%, while Populus show smaller leads and MORI have been inconsistent. The trend in all polls show the LibDems declining in support, although I don't believe the 14% figure for a moment. As we look forward to 2007 it seems to be that the true level of Tory support is around 37-38%, Labour are on 32-33% and the LibDems are on 18-19%.

It seems to me that by the middle of the year the Tories should be polling 38-42% to be confident that they are on course. If that is to happen I expect LibDem support to decline a per centage point or two. I do not expect Labour to go down much more than 31-32%.

Of course the big question is this: what will happen when Gordon Brown takes over? My instinct is that he may well get a honeymoon bounce of a few per centage points, but this may well come at the expense of the LibDems. At the moment the LibDems have managed to end a difficult year in better fettle than they could reasonably have expected. But this is largely because they have replaced their exiting Tory supporters with disaffected Labour voters. Picture a turnstile with Labour voters entering the LibDem turnstile and Tories exiting. That steady flow of disaffected Labour supporters may well dry up once Brown becomes Labour leader.

If I'm right we could expect to see a gradual return to two party politics. Or not. The fact is that it can never quite happen like that as long as the fringe parties continue to grow in support. In the 1970s and 1980s voters mainly had a choice of two parties, or possibly the Liberals. Now there are UKIP, the Greens, the BNP, the nationalist parties in Wales and Scotland to whom devolution has given an unexpected boost.

And that explains why it will be difficult for any Party to ever poll more than the low forties. This means that one of the key Tory strategies over the two years before the election must be to convince people of this self evident fact:

The only way to get rid of Gordon Brown is to vote for David Cameron

Expect to hear a lot of that in the run-up to the election.

Three More LibDem Candidates Join Conservatives

It's not a good day for the LibDems. They are at their lowest poll ratings in months - 14% with Communicate Research today - and it's just been announved that three Liberal Democrats who stood in the 2005 General Election as parliamentary candidates have today joined the Conservative Party. This makes a total of six former Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidates to join the Conservatives in the last 12 months.

Richard Porter stood in Camberwell and Peckham in 2005 and wrote the Liberal Democrat manifesto for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community in the 2005 general election. Richard said: “Ming Campbell is a ‘has-been’ and since he has been in control of the party, they have been stuck firmly in reverse gear. After the election, I took time out to reflect on my own personal beliefs and values. Previously I thought that these values were best represented by the Liberal Democrats but I now believe that the principles of freedom from state interference, personal freedom, the environment and civil liberties are all areas where the Conservative Party leads the way.

John Barstow, a shop steward for USDAW and Liberal Democrat PPC in Tonbridge and Malling in 2005 said: "I have joined the Conservative Party because I sincerely believe David Cameron is the right person to be Prime Minister. And that I am a natural Conservative in the great One Nation tradition, proudly conserving what is best and well tried and taking decisive action to eradicate black spots of despair and unemployment within the United Kingdom. The Liberal Democrats are bland, formulaic and out of touch with real life."

Dr Tariq Mahmood, a physician, consultant gastroenterologist and honorary senior lecturer at the University of London, stood in Uxbridge as the Liberal Democrat candidate in 2005. He also works as a TV presenter on the ARY Digital channel. Tariq said: “Under the leadership of David Cameron I have seen that the Party is moving forward. There is now a real possibility for the Conservative Party.

During the course of 2006 three former Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidates have joined the Conservatives. Today’s recruits make seven in all, joining Adrian Childs, former Liberal Democrat candidate for West Suffolk, Jeff Clarke, former Liberal Democrat candidate for West Wirral, Rene Kinsett, former Liberal Democrat candidate for Swansea West and Tim Perkins, Salford Councillor and former LibDem Candidate for Bolton West.

UPDATE: It's 7.50pm and not a single LibDem blog has commented on this story yet. Strange, eh? Can you imagine the crowing there would be if it had been three Tory candidates going the other way?!

Tories Hail Green Hero Al Gore...And Arnie S

I know it's a light news week, but after the release of a list of Great Britons which included Aneurin Bevan but not Winston Churchill, you might have thought that a lesson would have been learned. Oh no. Hot off the press is the Conservative Party's Envorinmental Heroes and Zeros of 2006. Among the heroes of Keely Hazell, a page 3 girl "for going Green in 2006 and for offering helpful tips (that's TIPS...) on how to help fight global warming".

Another Conservative hero is Al Gore "for his film An Inconvenient Truth, which brought home the threat of climate change to millions of people". He is joined on the list by Sir Nicholas Stern "for authoritatively placing an economic cost on the threat of climate change and for asserting the need for action in the clearest terms". Arnold Schwarzenegger is a hero "for making California the first US State to put greenhouse gas reductions into State law". And just for good measure they thrown in Labour MP Colin Challen "for his energetic work as Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group". That should do him a lot of good in his reselection battle with Ed Balls...

Anti heroes in the list include Exxon "for continuing to fund 'think tanks' which deny that human activity is contributing to climate change", Ryan Air's Michael O'Leary, the Competitive Enterprise Institute "for responding to Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" with an ad campaign with the strap-line " Carbon Dioxide: they call it pollution. We call it Life"". They are joined by Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander "for an aviation policy that is totally inconsistent with the Government’s supposed attempts to tackle climate change".

This, of course, begs the question: how would a Conservative Aviation policy be different? The implication is that aircraft will be taxed out of the skies as cheap fares are consigned to the dustbin of history. I hope when the Quality of Life policy commission reports later in 2007 that it will look at green incentives rather than a whole plethora of green taxes, as Dizzy suggests HERE and HERE...

"There is no incentive present when you use tax to punish people into changing their ways. Genuine incentives do not use negativity (in this case financial pain) as a means to an end. Attempting to draw a distinction between increased tax and incentives is like arguing in favour of torture because it provides an incentive to talk. Incentives are positive benefits that are acheived from a neutral status-quo position. You do not move the goalposts then ask for money as an incentive to move them back, there is only one name for that, and it's blackmail. To argue as Miliband does is at best disingenuous, and at worst intellectually fatuous."

Shadow Environment Secretary Peter Ainsworth comments on the list:

“2006 was the year when the environment took its rightful place at the centre of British
politics. It became a fact not worth disputing that climate change is an enormous issue requiring urgent action if we are to prevent an ecological, economic and social catastrophe, and if the UK is to reap the potential rewards of green growth. This list is by no means comprehensive, but takes a look at some of those who have been a part of the solution in 2006, and some who are still part of the problem – in the hope that they will do better next

Let me make it clear. Al Gore is no hero of mine. Never was. Never will be. Arnie, on the other hand...

PM's Political Secretary Interviewed by Police

Inspector Yates's Cash for Peerages Inquiry shows no sign of slowing down. I hear that the Prime Minister's Political Secretary John McTernan was interviewed yesterday over gaps in an email chain. He was, unlike the Prime Minister, interviewed under caution.

New Book of Political Quotations

Over the next few days I will be compiling a book of Political Quotations, which will be published in the Spring by Harriman House. It will be a collection of 500 of my favourite quotations and I'll be dividing it up into sections like Prime Ministers, Conservatives, Socialists, Liberals, Insults & Put Downs, Witty, Inspirational etc. If there are any quotations you would like to contribute to the book, which you find particularly incisive, please do leave them in the Comments. I'm especially interested in quotations made in the last ten years. Is it just me, or has political rhetoric become less memorable recently?!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Blair Reneges on Promise to Ban Extremist Group

Hizb ut-Tahrir is an extremist group which the Pakistani government saw fit to ban three years ago. It is also banned in Canada. As recently as three months ago Tony Blair made a promise to President Musharraf that he would ban the group in Britain too. But, surprise, surprise, it has been decided not to ban them after all. According to the EU Referendum blog, which is usually well informed in these matters...

Despite public concerns about Hizb ut-Tahrir's perceived extremism, Home
Office lawyers, the Foreign Office and representatives of the Association of
Chief Police Officers have quietly lobbied against outlawing the group and have,
for now, won the argument."If there was evidence for proscribing Hizb ut-Tahrir,
we would support a move to proscribe it," said Rob Beckley, Acpo lead for
communities and counter-terrorism. "But we think such a move would be
counter-productive and not in the spirit of the government's [anti-terrorism]
legislation. It is not an offence to hold extreme views."

No, indeed not. But why then did Tony Blair promise to ban them in the first place? Another case of talking tough and acting weak? Surely not.

Quotes of the Day

"I was intrigued to read the headline that 'Panel of ordinary people to have a say on policy'. Who else can sit on panels?" - Roger Sansom, of Hainault, Essex, in a letter to The Times.
"Not suitable for children aged 36 months or less" - Advice notice on a birthday card for a one-year-old.
"It is time someone had the guts to say No to Nintendo. It is time to Garotte the Game Boy and Paralyse the PlayStation, and it is about time we admitted the catastrophic effect these blasted gizmos are having on the literacy and the prospects of young males" - Tory MP Boris Johnson.
"Truth is the glue that holds governments together. Compromise is the oil that makes governments go" - The late US President Gerald Ford had a message for today's politicians.
"No matter how funky, sexy and innovative a musician James Brown may have been, he was undoubtedly as mad as a bag of snakes" - Writer Will Self on the soul singer who died over Christmas.

End of the Year Awards - The Media Results

Over the past few weeks you have been voting in your thousands in my End of Year Political & Media Polls. The media ones are listed below and the political ones will be posted tomorrow.

1. Matthew Parris 19%
2. Boris Johnson 15%
3. Peter Hitchens 7%
4. Michael Portillo 7%
5. Matthew D'Ancona 6%
= Peter Oborne 6%
1. Politics Show 23%
2. This Week 21%
3. Newsnight 16%
4. Daily Politics 13%
5. Question Time 10%
1. Andrew Neil 20%
2. Nick Robinson 19%
3. Martha Kearney 7%
4. Michael Crick 7%
5. Andrew Marr 7%
1. Patrick Hennessy 16%
2. Julia Hartley-Brewer 14%
3. Gaby Hinsliff 11%
= Melissa Kite 11%
5. Simon Walters 10%
1. George Jones 28%
2. Michael White 20%
3. Andrew Pierce 10%
4. Sam Coates 8%
5. Patrick Wintour 5%

Prove You Are a Political Anorak

Have you taken the Guardian End of Year QUIZ? I scored 22 out of 25 and am feeling smug. And while I did it I was watching Multi Coloured Swap Shop on BBC2. Memories! I appeared on it at the age of 15 with a photo of a toilet sign in Cambridge which said SHORT STAY TOILETS - P (ie the P for Parking sign). Trust me, the photo was funnier...

Former Tory Minister Dies

Former Tory Minister John Butcher has died suddenly at the age of 60. He sat for Coventry South West between 1979 and 1997 and served as a Minister under Margaret Thatcher at the Departments of Education and Industry. He had a heart attack while out walking in the Lake District with his family over Christmas. After standing down from Parliament in 1997 Butcher built up a number of business interests and worked Institute of Directors. He was an active member of the Midlands Industrial Council and lived in Solihull. He leaves a wife, two daughters and a son.

EXCLUSIVE: Airlines Want Passengers to Complain About Brown's Ultra Vires Airport Tax Hike

A week ago I wrote THIS story about a cock up by Gordon Brown and the Treasury about their failure to legislate for the new rise in Airport taxes. In theory this means that airlines have no duty to levy the tax and passengers do not have to pay it until Parliament approves the necessary legislation. During a quiet news period I had hoped that this would be picked up by the national press, but in fact only the Daily Telegraph reported it the next day.

I now understand that the airlines were expecting the whole media to be up in arms about it too and that they would get huge numbers of complaints from the public, but so far there has been a whimper. I'm told they are looking for an excuse not to levy the charge and would positively welcome lots of complaints to give them the pretext. So unless there's a media backlash in the next few days it will be too late, as I am sure the Treasury are already drafting the legislation which they will push through as soon as the Commons returns in the New Year. Interestingly, there are also rumours that it may be possible for any passenger who has already been charged with this levy to reclaim it. If this is so the government's only way of closing this loophole would be to intriduce retrospective legislation, something which always causes a huge parliamentary rumpus.

Talking Politics with Heffer and Hitchens

I've just got back from taking part in a Radio 4 programme called TALKING POLITICS, which will be transmitted on Saturday at 11am. My fellow panelists were Joan Smith from the Independent, Simon Heffer and Peter Hitchens. I don't know if I was imagining it or not, but I got the distinct impression that both Heffer and Hitchens were starting to mellow a bit in their anti-Cameron criticism. I think there is a fine line between criticising everything for the sake of it and being constructive. I detected a willingness to be more constructive from both of them. I hope 2007 will prove me right!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Blair in Holidays for Honours

Could it soon be Arise Sir Robin Gibb? Tony Blair is continuing his habit of blagging freebie holidays from those who are either celebrities or those with honours, or preferably both. This New Year he's in Florida with Bee Gee Robin Gibb CBE. He's obviously gone downmarket this year, normally preferring to stay with the beknighted Sir Clifford Richard of this parish. It's reasonable to assume that Blair won't be serenaded with the 1987 Bee Gees Hit 'You Win Again'. More likely their 1981 song 'He's a Liar'.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Labour MP a Year Behind the Times

Constituents of Luton Labour MP Margaret Moran will no doubt have been delighted to receive Christmas cards from her, albeit they all had a 2006 calendar on the back of them, which had been struck through with a felt pen. I wonder who paid for these cards - Margaret Moran or you, the poor bloody taxpayer. Whoever it was should be demanding their money back.

UPDATE: A correspondent writes: From in 2004-5 Margaret Moran had the 2nd highest expenses of any MP (£168,567)(despite having a constituency local to London and therefore low travel). Her postal expenses that year were £35,347, the 4th highest of all MPs".

Wonder why that could be then.

Christmas Quote of the Day

From my Godmother...

"Your Christmas tree doesn't look as pretty as it did when I had cateracts..."

Monday, December 25, 2006

A Christmas Without Nick

I wasn't going to post anything today, but I have just read an article by Nick Clarke's wife Barbara Want in the Sunday Times News Review about Christmas without him, and how her two children are coping. You can read the whole thing HERE. Prepare to have a tissue to hand. Here's how it ends.

Christmas Day, though, has to be the exception. Perfection will be the order of the day. I will smile on Christmas Day — for the boys. I will not let them see my tears. I will sing and dance, pull crackers and tear wrapping paper. And I will do it well. They will never know how hard it will have been, and why should they? Christmas is for children and these two fatherless four-year-olds deserve to have a good one. At the end of the day, though, there will be nobody to congratulate me on what I’ll have done. Nick won’t be there with a hug and an indulgent smile of congratulation. So I shall go to bed, our bed, on my own, and bury my face in the jumper he wore when he died and sob. And sob. But I’ll try to remember that there are tens of thousands of others who will also be facing their first Christmas without their loved one, and who will be feeling the same. I share with them the words of comfort I heard from my bereavement counsellor: you really will feel stronger by the time you get to Christmas next year.

Those of us who have reached our forties without ever experiencing the pain of losing a partner, parent or sibling cannot begin to understand what Barbara is going through today. Her kids are so very lucky to have such a mother.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Happy Christmas To You All

I'm spending Christmas at my parents near Saffron Walden in Essex. Today I went into the town to do a bit of last minute shopping. It was a bit like the movie Back to the Future. I went into a menswear shop which I used to get my school uniform from to find that the three staff there were the same people that were there thiry years ago - they just looked rather older, as do I! Indeed, one of them was at school with me and we had one of those awkward moments when neither of us wanted to acknowledge the fact. Anyway, I bought several very colourful ties - made a change from school uniform. This evening has been spent wrapping up presents, something I hate doing it, largely because I am totally useless at it. Never was so much paper wasted...

Anyway, this will probably be the last blog post until Wednesday. Even I am not sad enough to blog much on Christmas Day, and Boxing Day will be spent largely at West Ham and visiting friends in East Sussex.

A very merry Christmas to everyone who has been a loyal reader of this blog during 2006. It's been quite a year, hasn't it?

The Top Ten Nicest MPs

Kerron Cross is an all round good guy. He's so nice in fact that he's just compiled his list of his Top Ten Nicest MPs and has emailed to ask if I fancy doing the same. Well for lack of anything better to do on a very tedious Christmas Eve in the wilds of Essex (more of which later), here goes. Naturally I am more predisposed to doing my Top Ten Nastiest MPs, but that will have to wait for another day... Anyway, these ten are in no particular order...

Dominic Grieve (Con)
Shadow Attorney General, a more honest and fastidious MP you could not hope to come across. He was an absolute pleasure to work with when I was working for David Davis.

Nick Clegg (LibDem)
Maybe disproving the theory that nice guys never make it to the top. Great sense of humour

Martin Horwood (LibDem)
First met him when he worked for the Alzheimers Society - quiet, a bit studious and gives me the impression of can't quite believing his luck that he has made it to the green benches. Not a bad attitdue to have.

Andrew MacKinlay (Lab)
A genuine Parliamentarian. I have known him for 15 years and have a huge respect for him.

James Brokenshire (Con)
Newly elected MP for Hornchurch, a real family man who is liked by all that come into contact with him. Deservedly promoted in front bench reshuffle.

Angus MacNeil (SNP)
Wicked sense of humour and fun to be with. His work on Cash for Peerages has upped his profile but he remains loyal to his crofting roots.

Greg Clark (Con)
My local MP in Tunbridge Wells, until his Toynbee remarks didn't have an enemy in the world! Genuinely caring and deserves to reach the top.

David Lidington (Con)
Seems to smile permanently and has an infectious laugh. Has done a great job as Northern Ireland spokesman.

Angela Smith (Lab)
I knew her a bit when I ran Politico's and she was first elected for Basildon in 1997. Great sense of humour and fun to be with.

Hilary Benn (Lab)
If Labour had any sense, he'd be their next leader rather than the Dour One. The perfect antidote to New Labour spin, he's a genuinely nice guy.

Naturally I'm sure you will want to leave your own nominations in the Comments...

UPDATE: And for those of you devoid of the Christmas spirit, vote in the Wonko's World T**t of the Year poll HERE.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

It Shouldn't Happen to an ITV Celebrity

Tonight's ITV schedule...

6.40 Celebrity Family Fortunes
7.30 Downfall of a Celebrity: Gareth Gates
8.30 Celebrity Who Wants to be a Millionaire
9.30 Celebrity Stars in Their Eyes
10.30 Michael Parkinson talking to, er, celebrities

Whoever ITV's scheduler is, they should be fired. Is it any surprise they are in trouble if this is the best they can come up with on the night before Christmas Eve?

The Fred Elliott Guide to Political Speak

I say, it's the Fred Elliott guide... (courtesy of Jimbo Jones).

Person 1: I hear you like it rough?
Person 2: What?"!
Person 1: I said that was a great speech by Peter Luff.

Person 2: What? How dare you???
Person 1: What.... I just said that I would love to work for Crispin Blunt.

Jowell Plays Politics With English Heritage

It should come as no surprise that Tessa Jowell has vetoed both Jonathan Marland and Penny Cobham for the top job at English Heritage. After all, it was only a couple of weeks she announced the makeup of the Big Lottery Board, which contained six card carrying Labour members and not a single Tory or LibDem in sight. I have no idea what Marland's or Cobham's qualifications were for the job but they had gone through an independent selection process and were both recommended to Jowell to choose between.

Having said all that, the fact that Penny Cobham chooses to live with that old relic David Mellor indicates that she might have an edge over Marland, I suppose. She's obvious a lover of ugly ancient monuments which are decaying round the edges. Saucer of milk, anyone?

Sir Ian Blair's Scare Tactics Must Not Be Allowed to Work

In their latest attempt to scare the living daylights out of the British people John Reid and Sir Ian Blair tell us that the prospect of an attempted terrorist attack is "ever present, of an unparalleld nature and growing." Sir Ian adds for good measure "it is a far graver threat in terms of civilians than either the Cold War or the Second World War." Come again? The entire civilian population was at risk from nuclear attack in the Cold War and civilian casualties in London during World War II amounted to tens of thousands. Sir Ian should know that careless talk costs lives. Language like this is pathetic and smacks of crying wolf.

The government operates a system of alerts on terrorist threats and it has been set at SEVERE since July 2005. I am beginning to question why this is. It is appalling to accuse the government of trying to scare the population into accepting yet more draconian anti-terror legislation, but that's what appears to be happening. We mustn't let them succeed.

Gordon Brown's Record Tax Burden

Figures from the Office of National Statistics prove what most of us have known for some time, we're paying higher taxes than at any time in living memory. In 1997 we paid 18.7%, yet in 2006 a record 23.6p of every £1 earned is taken - and that's before Council tax, VAT, car and petrol tax etc. Last year the tax burden rose by 6.7%, outstripping wage increases of 4.6%.
And yet we are being told that our economy is performing brilliantly, that everything in the garden is rosy. If that were so, taxes would be coming down, not going up.

This is a major opportunity for the Conservatives to exploit in 2007. Let's hope they grab it.

Friday, December 22, 2006

18 Doughty Street 24 Hour Christmas Schedule

18 Doughty Street will be on air 24 hours a day between now and January 8th when our live schedule resumes. Just click HERE to view now. This is our 24 hour programme schedule for the next few days… You can also access most of our other programmes though the new Doughty on Demand facility.

0.00 One to One with Iain Duncan Smith
0.30 One to One with Gillian Shephard
01.30 Up Front: Europe & Business with Tim Montgomerie
02.00 Your Money: Green Tax & Public Sector Rich List
02.25 Vox Politix: Douglas Carswell MP & David Torrance
03.25 One to One with Don Brash
03.55 Conservatism in America
04.50 Culture Clash: Borat, The Archers & TV Talent Shows
05.20 Vox Politix with Ann Widdecombe
06.20 Vox Politix: The A List debate with Ann Widdecombe v Bernard Jenkin
06.50 David Cameron: Year 2 - A discussion
07.45 Vox Politix with Chris Mullin MP
08.45 Vox Politix with Francis Maude MP
09.45 One to One with Australian Prime Minister John Howard
10.45 One to One with Professor Peter Hennessy
11.45 One to One with Stephen Twigg
12.45 Vox Politix Scottish Evening with David Mundell MP and Jo Swinson MP
13.50 One to One with SNP MP Angus MacNeil
14.20 Leftfield with Rena Valeh
14.50 Vox Politix with UKIP leader Nigel Farage
15.50 One to One with Ian Bremmer, author of the J Curve
16.21 Vox Politix, including an interview with David Davis
18.25 One to One with Lord Pearson of Rannoch
18.55 One to One with Professor Peter Hennessy
19.55 One to One with Nigel Cameron
20.25 World View: Russia, Friend or Foe
20.50 Brought to Book with Michael Dobbs
21.20 Up Front
21.50 Brought to Book with Michael Ashcroft
22.15 Vox Politix with Andrew MacKinlay MP and John Redwood MP
23.20 World View: Iran - Sleepwalking to disaster?

A Short History of Religion in 90 Seconds

Remember that History of the Middle East map thingy I pointed you too the other day? Well, HERE's something similar - a 5,000 year history of religion in 90 seconds.

Poll: Best Weekday Political Print Journalist

Another day, another poll, this time for your best weekday newspaper journalist of the year. Vote in the left hand column. The poll result will be published next week.

The Seven Best Things You Did This Year

I have been tagged by Rachel North and James Higham to do this new blog meme...

1. Go to Cardiff to the FA Cup Final and witness one of the greatest football matches of all time
2. Meet Cliff Richard
3. Resume blogging and make many new friends through it
4. Lose two stone in weight
5. Rediscover the delights of playing golf
6. Celebrate eleven years with my partner
7. 18 Doughty Street

Now I shall tag Rob McGibbon, Bryan Appleyard, Trevor Ivory, Ellee Seymour, West Brom, Dizzy, Antony Little.

The Web We Love 2006

The Times News Blog has done a Best of the Web 2006 - and not just covering politics. It's worth a skaz HERE.

EXCLUSIVE: Gordon Brown In Tax Cock Up

The Air Passenger Duty increases that were announced in the Pre-Budget Report are due to come into effect from 1 February and airlines are now collecting the increased rate of duty. The airlines are also asking passengers who have bought tickets before the pre-budget report but for travel after 1 February to pay the extra duty now. The problem is that, at the moment neither the airlines nor the government have the legal right to collect the increased duty.

The problem has arisen because the duty increase was announced in the Pre Budget Report and not the Budget but is intended to come into effect before the 2007 Budget. It is not unusual for changes in rates and allowances to be announced at the time of the Pre Budget Report. What is different this year is that the changes are intended to come into effect before the next Budget, and therein lies a problem. There is a general principle established in the Bill of Rights of 1689 that the government cannot raise taxes without enacting legislation. This would give the government a problem every year when they raise the rate of duty on alcohol, cigarettes and petrol with effect from the Budget Day, because they would not be able collect the higher rate of duty until the Finance Act had been passed many months later. To get around this problem there is an Act of Parliament called the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act which allows the government to collect taxes provisionally on the assumption that the announced changes will be enacted, provided that the House of Commons passes a specific resolution in favour of the changes. The resolution is made immediately after the Budget Speech, and that is the resolution that is voted at the end of the subsequent debate. For example after the 2006 Budget, the resolutions looked like THIS.

The trouble for Mr Brown is that there was no such resolution after this month’s Pre Budget Report. Now that Parliament has risen, there is no opportunity to pass such a resolution until January. To be fair to the Chancellor, there isn’t normally any need for a resolution, because changes announced at the time of the Pre Budget Report do not usually need to come into effect until after the Budget.

Without the passing of the resolution, there is no legal obligation on the airlines to collect the higher rate of duty, and it is hard to see how the airlines could force their customers to pay the higher rate before the airlines themselves are required to collect it. One might imagine that the Chancellor would have understood the parliamentary procedures, particularly because he has been the proposer of all the Budget resolutions since May 1997, but apparently not, because on 13 December he told the Treasury Select Committee that he thought he already had the powers to collect the increased duty:

Col 315 - 482

Q344 Chairman: I will write to you then, Chancellor, because I think there is a case here for them. Do you expect airlines then to pay that before it is authorised by the House of Commons and, if so, do you have the legal sanction to do that?

Mr Brown: I believe we do.”

Oh dear, the Dour One seems to have got it wrong, doesn't he? Very unlike him to pay no attention to detail. I wonder if the likes of Ryan Air will now see this as payback time...

UPDATE: I particualrly like this comment from one of my readers... "If people really cared, they would send in tax payments for all their past flights."

John O'Sullivan on Frank Johnson

John O'Sullivan has written the most fantastic tribute to Frank Johnson on ConservativeHome HERE.

Poll: Conservative MP of the Year

I've selected twenty Conservative MPs who have impressed one way or another this year for the Conservative MP of the Year poll - all outside the Shadow Cabinet. I should make clear they are not all friends of mine! No doubt there will be howls of protest from readers who disagree with the shortlist, but the software only allows me to include twenty names. The results of all these polls will be published during the week after Christmas.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

And in the Blue Corner...

Every now and then I appear on a Radio 4 programme called TALKING POLITICS. The next edition will be on Saturday 30 December at 11am. The guests will be Joan Smith, Peter Hitchens, Simon Heffer and me. I suspect it could be quite interesting. Gulp. The phrase 'on a hiding to nothing' comes to mind.

Poll: Who is Your Cabinet Minister of the Year?

Which Cabinet Minister has impressed you most this year? OK, I know it's a difficult one, but do your best... Vote in the box on the left. The result will be announced after Christmas.

The Hazel Blears Motorbike Gallery

Chris P has dedicated THIS page to me. He really is too kind.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Top Ten Political Chat Up Lines

1 Would you like to see the contents of my despatch box?
2 Have you ever had a whip?
3 Hello, I’m David Mellor
4 I’ve asked Angie to join us, you don’t mind do you?
5 I’ve asked Bobby to join us, you don’t mind do you?
6 I’m so depressed about the world crisis I really don’t think I should spend tonight alone
7 In your honour I’m naming 2007 the International Year of the Babe
8 Hello, I'm Lembit Opik
9 Ever done it in the lobby?
10 You know what they say about Black Rod?

Coming soon to this blog: Top Ten Labour, LibDem and Tory chat up lines. Feel free to offer suggestions in the Comments... I may live to regret this...

UPDATE: Dave's Part blog had the Top Ten Trotskist Chat Up Lines HERE. The final four are...

4. That secondhand donkey jacket of yours would look great on my bedroom floor.

3. What's a nice girl like you doing in a lousy union fraction like this?

2. Do you sell papers here often?

1. So, babe ... just how degenerate would your ideal workers' state be?

Welsh Assembly Speaker Backs English Parliament

The Speaker of the Welsh Assembly Lord Elis-Thomas has backed calls for an English parliament HERE. Frank Field has also warned Labour not to appear anti English. Lord Elis-Thomas said...

"In England I detect there is a strong feeling that the consequences of devolution for England must now be addressed. I think it is important for those of us who campaigned for devolution in Scotland and Wales to support that. There should be a proper English Parliament, and that could be arranged very easily if the Commons sat on a Tuesday or Wednesday as an English parliament."

Frank Field said: "I think the danger is that the English voters will see that we are against the English, and as they make up the vast majority of voters and return the vast majority of MPs, it's not a position to get into if you're only worried about the politics of it." He said English voters had to see Labour represented their views adding: "There's going to be another big sweeping issue that the electorate in England has got a clear view on, and the Labour Party is opposed to it."

Nick Robinson Blasts Indy Journalists

Steve Richards & John Rentoul v Nick Robinson on Cash for Peerages. Handbags at dawn. HERE.

Gordon Brown: Miserabilist of the Year

Spiked Online has named our dour PM-in-waiting Gordon Brown as the Miserabilist of the Year. Over the past month, spiked has been asking readers and writers to nominate the man, woman or organisation who has done most to spread doom and gloom in 2006. Gordon Brown won the stiff competition of stiffs, and was crowned King of the Killjoys today. Brendan O'Neill, deputy editor of spiked, said: 'Brown has been honoured for services to miserabilism. With his dour personality, dour politics and dour outlook on life, he is a more than deserving winner of our inaugural Miserabilist of the Year Award. 'If you thought Blair was bad, then Things Can Only Get Worse under Brown. He will be more terror-obsessed, more illiberal and more narrow-minded even than Blair has been.'

2007 looks like a fun year then...

How They Are Stealing the Spirit of Christmas

The recently passed Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act makes it a crime for adults who have not been vetted to work or volunteer with children. The Manifesto Club, a group which purports to aims to challenge the cultural trends that restrain and stifle people’s aspirations and initiative, is publishing a report today called 'How the Child Protection Industry Stole Christmas'. It shows that many schools and churches are already vetting Santas and other Christmas volunteers.

Recent examples of political correctness gone mad include Shadow Minister for Children, Tim Loughton, being prevented from acting as a Christmas elf because he had not had a criminal records check. At one children's Christmas party in Bristol, non-vetted volunteers had to wear different coloured t-shirts. Many schools and charities now ask for volunteer Santas to be CRB checked. Churches require all adults in mixed-age choirs to be vetted. Bell ringing towers must have two CRB checked 'designated people'. (Did you know I used to be a camponologist?!).

The report argues that this suspicious climate is killing the spirit of Christmas - and doing little to protect children. Some schools have banned parents taking photos at nativity plays - but officials could not cite a single case of a paedophile found with nativity photos. Expert on child sex offenders, Ray Wyre, argues: 'We cannot allow our society to descend to the lowest common denominator, where we think of everything in terms of how a child molester might see it.'

You can download the Christmas report HERE.

Francis Maude Tonight on 18 Doughty Street

Tonight on 18 Doughty Street I am interviewing Conservative Party Chairman Francis Maude from 9pm to 10pm. If there are any questions you'd like me to put to him, please use the Comments section.

A History of the Middle East in 90 Seconds

This is quite extraordinary - a graphic illustration of 5,000 years of Middle East history in 90 seconds. Click HERE.

Poll: Right Wing Blogger of the Year

You can now vote for your Right Wing blogger of the year. On the assumption you would have all voted for this blog out of politeness, I haven't included it in the list! These are the blogs I look at most.

Poll Boost for Cameron

There's an ICM poll in today's Guardian which is a very nice Christmas present indeed for David Cameron. Indeed, there's hardly anything in it which is discouraging. It is the best showing in 14 years in an ICM poll and shows the Conservatives eight points ahead of Labour on 40%. Even more pleasingly, the LibDems are down to 18%. Full details HERE.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Unfunny Joke No 94

A Brummie goes for a job interview wearing a polyester shirt, bright flares and big boots.The interviewer says "All you need now is a kipper tie."The Brummie replies, "That would be love-lay, two sugars, ploise.”

Report Reveals Irish PM Took Bribes

Former Irish Taoiseach Charles Haughey took bribes throughout much of his political career a REPORT reveals today.

And in other news, bears were seen s***ing in the woods.

Politicians in Wife Swapping Shocker!

There, now that the headline has got your attention... Channel 4 have asked me to invite suggestions from my blogreaders for a family to take part in their next series of WIFE SWAP. They want a family where the mother has firm political beliefs (whatever they may be) and this informs the way she lives her life, and runs her household. They want a normal family - this is not the celebrity series. If you have a suggestion perhaps you can email it to me and I will pass it on.

I'll Have a 'P', Please Michael

Hat-tip Beau Bo D'Or

Martin Bright is the political editor of the New Statesman and has been one of the journalists who has been pushing the barriers of the Cash for Peerages issue. On his BLOG he has just posted this...

I was very interested to read in the The Telegraph that the bio-tech entrepreneur Sir Christopher Evans was alleged to have been offered "a K or a Big P" by Lord Levy. This is not the first time I have heard about this very idiosyncratic use of code by Lord Levy to describe knighthoods and peerages. A prominent Labour peer with impeccable media contacts once told me that he had heard that Levy used the letter "K" to mean a knighthood. I have also spoken to one of his tennis partners who told me that he once heard Levy tell a potential Labour donor that a substantial gift "had to be worth a K" (although, of course, that doesn't mean Levy was offering him one!). Unfortunately, when ths individual was interviewed for the Channel 4 documentary I presented on the subject he had a momentary memory lapse. Levy provokes fierce loyalty in his friends, who tell me he is incapable of doing anything illegal. I do hope they are right.

I am sure Mr Bright will be passing on the details to Inspector Knacker.

Denis MacShane Falls Foul of Mr Speaker

Last week Denis MacShane gave a speech saying that the conduct of politicians was turning the electorate off politicians. So anxious was he to prove the point that he indulged in this childish display of petulence int he Commons yesterday. Mr Speaker wasn't willing to play ball.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Next year, Britain will celebrate two great acts of union—that with Scotland and that within the European Union. May I invite my right hon. Friend to take off her sober Foreign Secretary garb and, now and then, return to Margaret the great campaigner and campaign against some of the rancid rabble on the Opposition Benches who reject both the EU and the Act of Union with Scotland?

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman makes a habit of this. He did it the last time that I called him. I did him a favour this time and called him thinking that he had learned the lesson. He is running the risk of not being called.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): May I ask the Foreign Secretary whether in the margins of the Council— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I heard the remark made by the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane). He has been long enough in the House. Of course, he can raise political matters, but he is questioning a Minister on her responsibility. If he cannot learn that, I will not be long in teaching him.

I half expected a ruler to be whipped out...

Poll: Shadow Cabinet Minister of the Year

I've just posted a new poll to enable you to vote for your Shadow Cabinet Minister of the Year. I haven't included David Cameron (he'll be included in a later poll) and unfortunately the software only allows a maximum of 20 choices so I have not included David Lidington, Cheryl Gillan or David Mundel (responsible for Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland respectively). No offence intended! The results will be published during the week after Christmas. If you'd still like to vote in other End of Year polls, here are the links...

LibDem MP of the Year
Sunday Political Journalist
Political Broadcast Journalist
Conservative Commentator

John Redwood Has a Blog

Delighted to read on John Redwood's new blog HERE that he is fully signed up to my views on an English Parliament. He writes...

My view is that all of us elected to the Westminster Parliament for English constituencies should perform a dual role. We should work with colleagues from Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland on Union matters for part of the week, and for the rest of the week, the Westminster Parliament itself should be the English Parliament, where we, English representatives, settle all the matters that are devolved Scotland ourselves at Westminster, without the help or interference of our colleagues from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. The English Parliament at Westminster would therefore create a much more fair and balanced United Kingdom.

Quite right. Now all we have to do is convince the rest of the Tory Party...

Monday, December 18, 2006

End of the Year Review Tonight on 18DS

At 9pm tonight we have an End of the Year Review show with newly promoted LibDem MP Lynne Featherstone, Peter Riddell and Daniel Finkelstein from The Times and Tory Foreign Affairs Spokesman, Keith Simpson. Coming later in the week is an hour long interview with Chris Huhne at 9pm tomorrow and on Wednesday at 9pm I'll be talking to Tory Party Chairman Francis Maude. On Thursday at 9pm we have a programme called Prime Minister Portillo & President Gore. It's a 90 minute discussion on counterfactual history with four experts in the field.

Hold the Front Page: LibDems Reshuffle Team for 'Snap Election'

The LibDems believe that Gordon Brown might call a snap election in October. Ming Campbell has therefore reshuffled his team. It's interesting that Steve Webb has been appointed to write the manifesto. Webb is one of the more left wing and cerebral LibDem MPs. Ed Davey swaps positions with Norman Lamb, who becomes Health Spokesman, while Davey becomes Ming's Chief of Staff. Susan Kramer moved to becomes DTI spokesman, while Lynne Featherstone joins the front bench top team at International Affairs.

Tony Blair: Not a SHRED of Evidence...

Thanks to TheoSpark

The Question Tony Blair Must Answer

As the Cash for Peerages Inquiry becomes murkier by the day it is bceoming clear that Tony Blair's LINE OF DEFENCE that the Peerages were awarded for services to the Labour Party rather than for Public Service is becoming very shaky indeed. I have only just got around to reading yesterday's Independent on Sunday properly, but it will have made for very worrying reading indeed for Number Ten.

Mr Blair's evidence has baffled the donors, who believe they were nominated for the contribution they made to British society, not to the party. The curry magnate Sir Gulam Noon, who lent £250,000 to Labour, told the IoS he had been nominated for a peerage "for my charitable work [and] my building of the business".

A spokesman for the other businessmen at the centre of the cash-for-honours affair, Sir David Garrard and Barry Townsley, said: "My recollection was they were told it was for services to education." Earlier this year, Dr Chai Patel gave a BBC interview in which he outlined the achievements that had led to him being nominated - including founding the Priory Group of clinics. His office refused to comment on his nomination, but a friend said: "When he was nominated he thought it was for public service."

Last night, opposition politicians queried the nature of the "party service" provided by the millionaires, as none has a clear track record of Labour Party activism. It is not clear whether Sir David Garrard is even a Labour Party member, while Sir Gulam Noon has also given cash to the Liberal Democrats.

Downing Street said the "party service" referred to their willingness to serve as working Labour Party peers. A party spokesman said: "I am not going to get into how many leaflets they have delivered."

Dr Chai Patel's official citation lists his contribution to mental health services as well as his advisory positions. The citation for Sir David Garrard notes his £2.4m contribution to the Business Academy in Bexley, and other work. Barry Townsley's citation says he "is involved with numerous charitable organisations and good causes". It concludes: "He would be [sic] active contributor to the Lords speaking on education and business matters." Sir Gulam Noon's citation says "he would be an active member of the Lords bringing wide ranging business experience".

And while we are on the subject, Nick Robinson and others were quick to mention on 'Bur Bad News Thursday' that the PM was in the clear because he hadn't been arrested under caution. May I point out, as several people in the Comments have done so, that the man just arrested in Ipswich had been questioned by the Police four times in the last week without being under caution. That didn't stop him being arrested a few days later. It now seems that Jonathan Powell will be the next one to be questioned under caution.

So, to go back to the original title of this post, here's the question: Did Tony Blair award these peerages for public service or services to the Labour Party?

Second Edition of Labour Sleaze Book to be Published

Following the success of the LITTLE RED BOOK OF NEW LABOUR SLEAZE compiled by 50 UK bloggers in May 2006, a new edition of the book, called the BIG BOOK OF NEW LABOUR SLEAZE will be published this Spring by Harriman House publishers, the new owners of Guido Fawkes and I will edit the new edition, which will have all the entries from the old edition plus all new material collected since May. Any blogger who wishes to write a new piece for the book should email me as soon as possible as we want to have it ready by the end of January.

Jack Dromey: Lest We Forget

This is Jack Dromey (nee Harman). He's the man who started off the Cash for Peerages saga when he blew a gasket after discovering that Lord Levy had been arranging secret loans to the Labour Party behind his back. Dromey is, after all, only Treasurer of the Labour Party. However, he's remained silent since then. Whatever other charges are laid at the end of this, isn't Levy (and whoever else who knew about the loans) guilty of hiding these loans from the officially appointed Treasurer of the Labour Party? This may be raking over old ground, and may not be considered to be as serious as procuring loans for honours, but it shouldn't be forgotten.

A Perfect Cliffmas Present

The perfect Christmas present for all the family to enjoy, and just think how happy you would make Sir Cliff if his single got to Number 1 this week? He's had a Number 1 in each decade since the 1950s, but hasn't had one this decade yet. Twenty First Century Christmas entered the Singles Chart at Number 2 yesterday. Go on, do your duty and buy it HERE. You know you want to.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Poll: LibDem MP of the Year

So who is your LibDem MP of the Year? I've included twenty of the most high profile or influential LibDem MPs in the poll. I guess we'll all have our criteria for voting in this award (he says coyly!), but I'll tell you that my vote will be going to either Nick Clegg or Chris Huhne - for whcih neither will thank me! Vote in the column on the left. The result will be announced in the week after Christmas.

Blair: What a Difference 23 Years Makes

Goldsmith's Precedent is Deeply Worrying

On 'Bury Bad News' Thursday last week I wrote THIS brief post about the decision by Lord Goldsmith to discontinue the inquiry into alleged corruption within BAe. I've just been browsing through ConservativeHome and have come across THIS excellent piece by Tim Montgomerie who shares my view on this disgraceful decision. The precedents it sets are truly appalling. Effectively it gives the government the right to ignore the rule of law whenever it wishes using the pretext of it 'being in the national interest'. Anyone would think we lived in a benign dictatorship.

THIS comment on Danny Finkelstein's blog sums it up...

"The rule of law having been dismissed, and the public interest having been equated with the Government's interests (for which Blair takes "full reponsibility"), the Attorney General can now step in to halt the cash for honours enquiry. Not in the public interest, you see. While we're at it, why not arrest DC Yates for conduct prejudicial to national security?"

There's Only Two Alan Pardishleys...

I'm sitting in the Dr Martens Stand at Upton Park wondering the ghost of Alan Pardew which seems to be pervading Upton Park today. He gave a very gracious interview to Sky earlier in which he said he hoped one day to be able to manage the Hammers again.

Anyway, it' Alan Curbishley's time now. He has hardly changed the team but has dropped Carlos Tevez for Harewood. Mascherano doesn't get a look in again.

Most people don't give us a chance this afternoon against Man U, who are at full strength. Even a point would be a result for us - and a goal would nice!

I expect to be chanting in a few minutes "One Alan Pardew, there's only one Alan Pardew..." followed immediately by "Alan Curbishley's claret and blue army!" Fickle? Moi?

UPDATE: Oh joy, oh happy day. We haven't beaten Manchester United ever in the Premiership. It was a fantastic game today. Not a single player put in a weak performance. If only they had done the same for Alan Pardew. Lee Bowyer was particularly outstanding, as were all four defenders.

Who Wrote the 'Shambles' Memo?

I just love New Labour denials. They're almost convincing, but you always have to read between the lines. A spokesman for the Prime Minister said last night:

"This is not a Downing Street memo, it was not written by any of the Prime Minister's staff and it most certainly does not reflect his views." Downing Street sources also insisted the memo had not been prepared by any of Mr Blair's special advisers or other Labour Party-funded staff in his personal office."

So it's Philip Gould then.

Hazel Blears: Say it Ain't So!

Just got back from the News 24 studios to read the truly appling news on Iain Lindley's BLOG that Hazel Blears, also known affectionately on this blog as 'my little chipmunk', is facing difficulty getting reselected. Her Salford seat disappears in the boundary changes so she has to go for a neighbouring one. Iain Lindley says...
A short while ago I commented on the local Labour Party selection
scrap between sitting MPs Hazel Blears, Barbara Keeley and Ian Stewart. I’ve
just read on
a comment on LabourHome that Barbara Keeley has
received the Labour nomination for the new
Worsley and
Eccles South
seat. This leaves Eccles MP Stewart to
battle it out with Blairite bigwig Blears for the Salford & Eccles
nomination - a contest she has an excellent chance of losing. Is this the end of
the road for another Blairite minister?

I am not sure I will be getting much sleep tonight.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Downing Street: We're Shit and We Know We Are

This is Simon Walters' Exclusive story in tomorrow's Mail on Sunday. It's a leaked Downing Street Memo which shows just how bad the inflighting within New Labour is. It ends with the words "This is really s*** or bust time".

"LABOUR has no chance of winning the next Election because voters think the Government is a shambles – and there is little Gordon Brown can do to stop David Cameron becoming Prime Minister. That is the devastating verdict of a secret Downing Street memo drawn up for Tony Blair by his senior advisers and obtained by the Mail on Sunday. The confidential document states:

*Labour’s standing is so low that the party’s only hope of recovering may be to abandon Mr Brown and ‘move to a new generation’ by picking a much younger new leader – though it warns of the perils of being ‘disloyal’ to the ‘greatly respected’ Chancellor.
*The public believes the party is riven by ‘internal conflicts’ and shows a ‘lack of grip and competence on key issues’ such as Iraq, the NHS and immigration.
*People who voted Labour at the last Election ‘are moving across’ to the Conservatives and Labour is floundering ‘on every major issue’.
*Mr Blair faces a ‘s*** or bust’ decision on how to stop the rot.

The leak came as a vicious new war of words flared between the rival Blair and Brown camps over where blame for the cash-for-peerages scandal lies. Mr Brown angrily accused Mr Blair’s chief fundraiser Lord Levy of trying to ‘smear’ him over claims the Chancellor did not tell the truth about nominating two of his cronies for peerages. And Mr Blair’s allies responded by claiming the Prime Minister believed Mr Brown had ‘fanned the flames’ of the row over party funding to bring down his Downing Street neighbour. ‘It is outrageous for Brown to play the innocent,’ said one. ‘No one demanded more money than him – and he knew where it was coming from.’

The Mail on Sunday has also learned that Mr Blair has held secret talks with his chief of staff Jonathan Powell, at which they agreed that the Prime Minister’s final six months in office must create a ‘leadership legacy’ which sets him apart from Mr Brown. The Prime Minister has privately mocked Mr Brown’s prospects as Prime Minister, saying: ‘The trouble with many of Gordon’s ideas is that they butter no parsnips.’

The memo, written in the past few weeks, is the most damaging Government leak in years. It was written by one of the Prime Minister’s closest advisers and seen by a handful of senior figures, including Mr Blair. It makes a nonsense of public claims by Labour that Mr Blair is planning a smooth transition to Mr Brown next June or July as part of a carefully co-ordinated strategy to secure a fourth successive Election victory.

It also flatly contradicts Mr Blair’s public statements dismissing Mr Cameron as a lightweight with no chance of winning power. In private, Mr Blair’s inner circle is in a blind panic over the march of Mr Cameron’s Conservatives, and they don’t think Mr Brown is any match for him. The memo freely acknowledges Tory gains in the polls since Mr Cameron replaced Michael Howard, with big leads on tax, crime and immigration.

‘Labour no longer has a measurable lead on any major issue,’ it states. And it confirms Opposition claims that the Government has failed to live up to its promises and that it is haemorrhaging support as a result of the Iraq War. ‘The Government is seen as a shambles. It is not just Labour internal conflicts but a lack of grip and competence on key issues. Iraq is a potent and raw issue, so is the NHS, immigration and crime. We have lost control of the big issues and are not delivering,’ the memo states.

Nor is the trend likely to change. ‘This view is deeply held and entering the bones of the electorate. The public are clearly preparing to shift to the Conservatives if they prove themselves credible and likable. It would be totally wrong to assume this is some kind of mid-term setback. It is not. It is a long-term cyclical shift towards an increasingly acceptable Opposition. People who voted Labour in 2005 are on their way across.’

Mr Blair’s advisers believe Mr Brown’s position as Labour heir apparent is making things worse. ‘Compounding this is an erosion in Gordon Brown’s position against David Cameron,’ the memo says. Extraordinarily, the document reveals that No10 actively contemplated dumping Mr Brown in favour of a younger successor. ‘We can rally round...or we can go for total renewal, moving to a new generation, effectively forming a new government while still in power.’ It does not name the potential alternative successors, but it is no secret that Mr Blair once hoped Environment Secretary David Miliband would mount a challenge against Mr Brown. Similarly, despite being slightly older than Mr Brown, Education Secretary Alan Johnson, a relative Cabinet newcomer, was also seen as a way of providing a ‘break with the past’.

But the memo warns this tactic could backfire: ‘Trying to completely renew in office may look as if we are trying to cheat time. And worse – that we are disavowing our record in government. Gordon Brown is part of our record. If we disown him, we run the risk of disowning our record. The public will recoil from evidence of disloyalty towards Gordon. ‘Whatever people think of him as a [potential] Prime Minister, they still greatly respect him as a Chancellor.’

But it shows Mr Blair has serious doubts about allowing Mr Brown to take over without a leadership contest. The public are ‘not stupid’, says the memo. ‘They will not forgive us if we foist an unpopular leader on them without a proper democratic process. They just won’t accept it.’

It finishes on a note of desperation. ‘We have to focus. We can’t sort out everything. The NHS is probably the best place to start. If we can make sense of one or two areas of policy the rest might fall into place. This is really s*** or bust time.’"

Well if that doesn't lead this evening's news bulletins, I'm a Dutchman. "In ander nieuws vanavond.."

I'll be doing the paper review at 11.45pm on News 24. Glad there'll be something to talk about!

Lembit Grope-It Is a Cheeky Boy

Rumour has it that Lembit Opik has ditched his fiancee, weathergirl Sian Lloyd for one of the Cheeky Girls. The full story's in tomorrow's Mail on Sunday. There may well be a good reason for him being fancied by a Cheeky Girl. According to an MP of my acquaintance, he is, er, how shall I put this... Well, he's at the opposite end of the scale to John Prescott in a particular area. I'll leave you to guess the rest.

Shaun Conquers His Nerves

Ok, I'm watching the X Factor final. Go on, slate me. You know you want to. There's a young guy called Shaun singing at the moment. He's singing RIGHT HERE WAITING FOR YOU. Earlier in the series he was shown shaking with fear at the prospect of singing. He wasn't put through by Messers Cowell, Walsh and Osborne. For him to conquer his nerves and sing live on this programme tonight was a phenomenal feat. I haven't really watched much of this series but it is quite clear that Leona is a real star in the making. But I won't be wasting 35p on voting!


LibDems: Admit it, You Want to Privatise the Post Office!

Wouldn't you have thought that Liberal Democrats would want to aim their fire on post office closures at the Government? After all, it is Labour who want to shut them. But the campaigning document sent out to LibDem constituency parties, which has mysteriously fallen into my hands, seems to spend equal time attacking the Conservatives. Indeed, they include templated press releases aimed at constituencies with Conservative MPs which almost give the impression that the Tory MP him/herself is personally responsible for the closures. They begin...

Conservatives - no answer to Post Office crisis

Liberal Democrats in [YOUR AREA] are challenging [NAME OF CONSERVATIVE MP],
Conservative MP for [NAME OF CONSTITUENCY] to back Liberal Democrat plans
to save Post Offices and invest in them.

You can read the full briefing document HERE. It seeks to explain how they want to split Post Offices Limited away from Royal Mail, but does so without actually ever using the dreaded 'P' word (and I don't mean 'peerage'). The LibDems want to privatise Royal Mail so why don't they just come out and say it? Some of us think it is rather a good idea.

In The Words of Frank Johnson

I've been reading Frank Johnson's obituaries today (TELEGRAPH and TIMES, INDEPENDENT, GUARDIAN) also found his two books on my bookshelves. Frank Johnson's Election Year and Out of Order are books that should be on any self respecting lover of political humour's bookshelf - they're both available at Abebooks. These selections are from the above obituaries...

Johnson’s wit was particularly scintillating in his parliamentary sketches, where he displayed a wonderful lightness of touch. Anthony Crosland, the Labour Foreign Secretary, was “one of the cleverest men in the Commons, as he himself would concede”.

At a Conservative party conference, Johnson reported: “Mr Heath arrived in the hall and advanced menacingly on the platform… neatly dressed as ever, facially impassive, arms thrust straight down his sides. It was as if he had stepped out of the window of a nearby branch of Burton’s. He was warmly applauded and seated himself one place away from Mrs Thatcher. They gave each other a welcoming stare.”

Of Michael Heseltine, the darling of Tory party conferences, Johnson observed: “One arrived to find Mr Heseltine engulfed in his own peroration. A huge audience was enthralled. He bellowed at them from beneath that blond mane which causes him so often to be mistaken from behind for Mrs Sally Oppenheim. He was thundering along the lines of: one nation, one Reich, one Heseltine.”

Roy Jenkins was a favourite and fruitful subject. In the Labour leadership election following Harold Wilson’s resignation in 1976, Jenkins was “expected to sweep Belgravia and the offices of The Times”. And noting that Jenkins was described in a by-election campaign leaflet as “a miner’s son”, Johnson mused: “True, certainly; but only in the way that it is true to describe Mrs Jacqueline Onassis as the widow of a Greek merchant seaman. It simply does not do justice to Mr Jenkins’ position in cafĂ© society.”

On Shirley Williams, he wrote: “Mrs Shirley Williams, who is regarded by some of the more primitive followers of the SDP as possessing divine status and miraculous powers, unsuccessfully applied to the Speaker for an emergency debate on the water dispute. At first, one assumed this was because the dispute was beginning to threaten supplies of the only water used by the SDP: Perrier water.”

"In the house, Mr Callaghan as prime minister is proving to be many of the things which his predecessor, Sir Harold, was widely said to be, but really was not... Mr Callaghan is genuinely cunning. Such is his deviousness that he always knows the right moment at which to be straightforward. He also gives the impression that he is seriously engaged in the activity of politics, something which Sir Harold could never bring off."

“The sketch,” he once said, “is a verbal cartoon. I don’t like to be rude and I have no anger. I believe in the system: I’m part of it, like Black Rod or Madam Speaker.”