Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Sarko-Mania Hits London

Last night Nicholas Sarkozy gave a speech in London. It follows the publication of his book TESTIMONY (buy HERE) in English this week. The language is very different from that which we are used to from domestic politicians. I'm not sure I am a huge fan of Sarkozy. There's something quite demagogic about him that makes me feel he's not the full shilling. Segolene Royal has had her fair share of gaffes over the last two or three weeks, but I wouldn't mind betting that Sarkozy will be making a fair few over the next few months. Here's an extract if his speech...

"I want to tell you first of all how happy I am to meet you here in London; in this town that seems more and more prosperous and dynamic every time I come here. I can't help thinking that this energy, this creative power, this life that bursts out everywhere - London, which has become one of the great French cities, owes quite a lot to you. You have brought with you so much intelligence, imagination, enthusiasm for work, and desire to succeed that you have helped give back to London the vitality that Paris needs so much.

I want to teach young French people to live with the world and not to reject it. I want to give every child the taste of adventure and the vast horizons, behind which hides unknown worlds. I want to give to everyone the desire to go and see how people study, how people think, how they work in other places. I want studies abroad, and professional experience abroad to be made easier, encouraged and appreciated. I know that we will not protect the "French exception" by staying apart from the changes in the world but rather we will maintain our identity by committing ourselves to the world. It is very rare that people choose to leave their country without reasons that are good enough to justify the wrench that they feel on leaving the land of their birth.

When Professor Montangier, who discovered the AIDS virus, leaves for America, it is not because he does not like France. It is because the rules of the civil service stopped him from continuing his research which is his whole life. When Debreu leaves for America to win a Nobel prize in economic, it is not because he does not like France. it is because in France there is no place for him in a university because he does not have a professorship. When Mandelbrot leaves for America to invent fractal geometry, it is not because he doesn't like France. It is because at present there is no place in this type of mathematics in universities that are locked into their limited way of thinking.

When a young researcher does not find work in a laboratory, he is forced to go to where they give him the means to carry on with his job and to fulfil his ambitions. When the young businessmen with his head full of ideas finds himself being refused everything he needs to realise them, of course he goes to find them elsewhere. When a youngster without qualifications gives up hope of finding work to earn his living, of course he goes to a country where young people without qualification find jobs and where it is possible to learn a job whilst working. When the retired person sees the savings of a life's work confiscated, of course he is tempted to go to a country where taxes are less swingeing.

To those who have left France because it has lost the taste for risk and success, I want to say that together we can bring them back. To those that have left because they think it is no longer possible to do anything in France, I want to say that nothing is lost if that's what we all want. To all those who have gone abroad and are unhappy about the situation in France and having left it, I want to say "Come back!". Come back and you will see that with a little energy, courage and will, our old country can again do great things.

The France that I want to build with you is open, and once more believes in the value of effort, success, work and merit. It is a France which has broken with the ideology of May 1968 - this ideology which established an inversion of values and political correctness in politics, education and society; political correctness from which young French people today are the principal victims. At the heart of this political correctness that I want to denounce here, there is "youthism" - an ideology which says to young people that they only have rights and everything is owed to them. It is false and it also contains the devaluing of work and contempt for workers. I dare to use the word "work", because it does not burn my mouth. I have always made work one of the principal values of my life.

Whilst the world is changing faster than ever before, whilst everywhere immense creative forces are at work and men are struggling to invent, to create, to raise themselves from poverty and to create themselves a new world, France cannot remain stationary - replying to the world that invites it to join in the hectic race for change, "what's the point?" She cannot tell humanity that invites her to join in building a better future together, that France wants to build her own future alone.

If work is once again to seem a means to freedom, it must allow a family to live decently and educate its children. We must encourage work, instead of discouraging it. We must stop downgrading work and overvaluing money. We must stop making the worker the only method of adjustment in the economy. I propose that an increase in purchasing power should become the priority of economic policy after 25 years of sacrifice, stagnation of the purchasing power of salaries, and lowering of living standards for the young generations - a situation that the 35 hour week has made worse. I propose suppressing deductions and taxes on overtime, so that those who want to work to earn more are encouraged to do it, but without them being obliged to do so.

I want to reform the system by lowering social security deductions and increasing the purchasing power of salaries. I want to have done with a confiscatory tax system that discourages success and causes capital and business people to leave and create employment elsewhere. I want all economic policy to have a single objective; restoring the work ethic. I propose a growth policy to achieve full employment. I want a salary protection scheme for the lowest wage earners when they are unemployed, because beneath a certain minimum, the means to live like a free man no longer exists.

If I want an end to income support without community work in exchange, it's because I want those that are helped to rediscover self esteem through the recognition of being socially useful. If I want all young people to do six months compulsory civic service, it is because they ought to learn to give and not just to receive. If I want the dishonest boss who robs his business to be punished like the corrupt politician, and the adolescent who extorts from his schoolfellows, it's because we cannot ask people to assume their responsibilities if criminals big or small and remain unpunished. If I want the President of the Republic to accept full responsibility for his actions in the conduct of public affairs, it is because I am convinced that the example must be set at the top!

How can we talk of the Republic, when where he is born or the colour of his skin so affects the prospects of a child? In life, there are spectators and there are those that do things. There are those who watch and those that act, those that want things and those that get them.

France needs the French to dream. She need your dreams, your courage, your imagination. France will be roused by those that get up early in the morning, by those that roll up their sleeves to achieve their dreams. Yes it is possible to build the France that you dream about, the France that will blend good living and efficiency, the France that will once again become an ideal for youth of the whole world, the France that will create wealth before distributing it rather than distributing before creating. I want to build this France with you. We will build it together. I have come to ask you to be at the heart of change. If we are together, united, determined - everything is possible."

Party Animals Tonight

For those who want some political entertainment tonight and don't fancy political comedy hour on 18 Doughty Street, there's a new political drama/soap on BBC2 at 9pm called PARTY ANIMALS. It's about Commons researchers and MPs who share, ahem, some intimate relations. And I don't mean their Aunties. Anyway, I shall be watching quite closely as I supplied some of the props!

Knock, Knock...

Tonight on 18 Doughty Street at 9pm we've got a new programme which we're calling The End of the World Show. Why? Because we're sticking a jewish comedian and muslim comedienne in the studio and locking the door. Ayesha Hazirika used to work in Downing Street and was Patricia Hewitt's spin doctor, but now earns a crust as a stand-up. Ian Stone is quite famous on the comedy circuit too. Anyway, they'll be giving their unique perspectives on the day's news.

At 10pm I'll be joined on Vox Politix by Priti Patel, James Fletcher and Charles Miller.

The Perils of a Live Two-Way

Jeremy Vine, on Radio 2, just asked Reeta Chakrabarti: "Could the Prime Minister end up in jail?" You could have heard a pin drop. It's the sort of nightmare question a political correspondent dreads because you have to give a "well on the one hand this and on the other hand that" answer. She got out of it well, but imagine if she had just said "yes". Well done Reeta for avoiding an 'Andrew Gilligan' moment!

Yesterday Birmingham, Today Manchester

Yesterday I reported HERE that the 2008 Tory Conference will be in Birmingham. I'm told the Party has also signed a deal to go to Manchester for two conferences, one of them a Spring conference and one an autumn conference. A very good decision. Last year's Spring Conference there was excellent so I look forward to a return visit.

And the Pot, Kettle, Black Award Goes to...

In his morning briefing today, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman complained about the briefing by the Police on Cash for Honours. Never sow unless you are also prepared to reap.

The Case for a Homeland Security Minister Becomes Stronger

Congratulations to the West Midlands Police on foiling a terror plot. It's truly horrifying to think that British citizens were apparently preparing to kidnap a soldier and film his beheading.

It is becomiong increasingly clear that the number of these plot is increasing. It is impossible to imagine that the authorities will be able to prevent all of them. But I do think the case for having a single Cabinet minister heading up a Department of Homeland Security (although I don't like the phrase - anyone think of anything better?) is getting stronger all the time. We need to be assured that all the different agencies are cooperating and getting the resources they need.

You Say it Best When You Say Nothing At All

So says Ronan Keating. You may recall the wonderful response from Rab Butler to the question: Is Sir Anthony Eden the Prime Minister we've got? He said 'yes'. This answer said so little but also so much. It became known as a Butlerism. Gordon Brown has today uttered his own Butlerism... On Ceefax he is quoted on the Cash for Peerages Inquiry...

"I believe that when people see the full facts, then they will be satisfied."

Which presupposes that Brown knows the full facts. And who will be satisfied? The country, or Gordon Brown himself?

There's No F in Liberalism

A great POST by Stephen Tall on the LibDem knee jerk reaction to the Casino announcement. Here's the concluding paragraph. Pay particular attention to the last sentence. Classic.
Liberals are rarely full-blown libertarians: we accept the individual’s
freedom has, of necessity, occasionally to be curbed by government for the
greater good of society. But our pre-disposition must always be to allow
individuals freedom of choice over their own lives; including, crucially, the
freedom to make mistakes. Yet, too often, the Lib Dems appear to be the party of
party-poopers, reluctant to relinquish state power to the individual for fear
they will mis-use it. Last year, we (take another bow, Don [Foster]) carped about liberalising the alcohol licensing laws. Now, apparently, we are against super-casinos even when they are wanted by local communities.The Lib Dems often invoke the two Fs as a slogan: freedom and fairness. Perhaps we should toss another F into the mix: fun. (Steady now, Lembit.) Because, on the basis of today’s statement, there’s no F in liberalism.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Questions the Smith Institute Should Answer

I've made a 12 minute film on the Smith Institute for 18DoughtyStreet tonight. Michael Crick I ain't, but the film is designed to show the political partisanship of the Smith Institute and to highlight the fact that a formal complaint is being made to the Charity Commission. See the film HERE.

Lord Levy Arrested (Again)

...On suspicion of perverting course of justice...

Off to Sunny Birmingham

It seems as if we'll be off to Birmingham for the 2008 Conservative Conference. After last year's fiasco in Bournemouth no one should be surprised. And we all know about the legendary efficiency of the West Midlands Police, so nothing can go wrong can it? Mike Flowers has more HERE. This is from tonight's Birmingham Mail...

BIRMINGHAM has hit a £25 million jackpot by being chosen to host the annual Tory conference in 2008. Conservative Party leaders are expected to make the formal announcement in the next few days. The conference costs are to be underwritten by a £2 million subsidy from the city's council tax payers in what has turned out to be the winning part of the bid. The subsidy will underwrite the hire
of one of the city's major conference facilities - either the International
Convention Centre, National Indoor Arena or National Exhibition Centre.
It will also help to fund transport for hundreds of delegates staying at the city's
hotels. City leaders believe this £2 million is a sound investment, as their
economic experts have forecast that the Tory conference will generate a £25
million-plus boost to the Birmingham economy. As well as helping hotels,
restaurants and night clubs, daily TV coverage will establish the city's name as
a major venue for high profile national conferences as well as showing off its
facilities and attractions. A private tip-off that lobbyists had succeeded
in luring next year's conference to Birmingham led to the setting up of the
multi-million pound war chest earlier this month. The city's Cabinet gave
the money to Marketing Birmingham, the local quango that has headed the city's
negotiations with the Tories. Their chief, Neil Rami, has been running an
all-out campaign to woo high profile conferences, major cultural events and big
name televised sports. Council leaders, delighted at the Tory conference
booking, are hoping that it will help Birmingham win government and other
political gatherings. But other parties are booked years ahead and can't be
wooed from the seaside until 2011 at the earliest. No-one at Birmingham
City Council or Marketing Birmingham would confirm the deal. But a Tory insider
today said: "It's becoming our worst kept secret that we're coming to Birmingham
in 2008."

Tax Attack Ad Launched by 18DoughtyStreet

Tim Montgomerie has written in today's TIMES on the launch of the 18DoughtyStreet Attack ads. More HERE. Watch our first advert on tax HERE. Next week's ad will be attacking more State Funding of political parties.

It's Manchester! The Hat Eating Begins...

In common with 59 million other people I assumed that this sleazy government would award the Super Casino licence to John Prescott's friends at the Anschutz Entertainment Group. I now realise I was completely wrong and would like to make clear that this government is a 'pretty straight kinda government' and is 'whiter than white'. I think it is amazing that they have awarded the contract to Manchester, New Hampshire and it's an indication of the continuing 'special relationship' and the strength of the trans-atlantic alliance. [er, you sure? ed]. I should like to lead the way in doing this...

Tim Montgomerie is 94.

More Woes for Dr Reid

Just when the Home Office had stayed out of the headlines for 24 hours they announce that police numbers have fallen for the first time in seven years. If John Reid had any hair he'd be tearing it out...

If It's Not Greenwich I'll...

So there's less than an hour to go until John Prescott's bezzie mate Philip Anschutz is awarded the Super Casion licence for the Dome. If that doesn't happen, then I'm a Dutchman. Still, another chapter for the ever expanding Encyclopedia of New Labour Sleaze... What a truly wretched government this is. Will I be eating my words at 11am?

Monday, January 29, 2007

18 Doughty Street on Newsnight Tonight

If you don't happen to be watching 18 Doughty Street tonight at 10.30 you may want to tune in to Newsnight. Tim Montgomerie will be joining Mr Paxman for a gentle discussion and they will be showing our first campaign commercial on tax. They're trailing their programme thus...
"18 Doughty Street is the internet TV channel dedicated to all things
political. The creators say that the mainstream political process is ignoring
huge swathes of public opinion - a niche they propose to fill by running attack
adverts sponsoring arguments on both sides of the political debate (or so they
say). Is this the start of a new Americanisation of British politics or have the
authors misjudged our political culture?"

At 9pm on Blogger TV I'll be talking to Dizzy Thinks, Croydonian, Devil's Kitchen, Mars Hill and Recess Monkey. Well, that is if I can get a word in edgeways...

In The Words of Number Ten...

Very interesting transcript of this morning's Downing Street Briefing.
Asked by the BBC's Political Editor about the Sunday Telegraph story and
the ITV denial from No10 and what was it Downing Street was denying, the PMOS
said that the journalist had to put to him what it was that he wanted the PMOS
to deny. The journalist said that Downing Street had appeared to deny
handwritten notes by the Prime Minister in relation to honours. The PMOS asked
who had said that there were and what were they about. The journalist said he
had. The PMOS said that what we had responded to were specific allegations put
to us by ITN and the Sunday Telegraph. The PMOS went on to say that if people
had a further specific allegation, then they had to tell him what it was and who
had made it. The journalist continued that the Sunday Telegraph had made an
allegation that there were written notes by the Prime Minister in relation to
honours. The PMOS said that it was for him to respond to the Sunday Telegraph,
and if people had a specific allegation, they had to make it, and tell him who
the source was.

Channel Four's Political Editor said that he had picked up from the PMOS an
"angry" tone, and did we feel that the police were putting things into the
public domain without reporting directly to Downing Street, the PMOS asked the
journalist if he was really telling him that police involved in an ongoing
investigation were leaking details to the press, because if he was, it was a
very serious allegation. Asked if that could be the only way in which some of
the information could have got into the public domain, the PMOS said "you tell
me". We believed that any conversations between the parties involved should be

Put that we had "rubbished" any idea of alternative computer networks, but
the Mail on Saturday and "Guido Fawkes" website had both claimed that they had
evidence of alternative email networks in No10 that linked up to the Labour
Party, the PMOS said that we stood by what we said to ITN. There was only one
email system at No10. Asked if it would be possible for someone to "hop on"
using a No10 computer onto the Labour Party network, the PMOS said again that
there was only one email system at No10.

Asked further questions about the possibility of an external server, or
the possibilities of sending Labour Party emails, and did only one system allow
for more than one email address, the PMOS repeated that there was only one email
system in No10. As the PMOS said on Friday, people in No10 could not access
hotmail, gmail etc because of security reasons, and he was not aware of anyone
who had more than one email address.

Asked if people could send political emails from the No10 account, the
PMOS replied that he was not going to get into the details of the system. The
claim that was put to us was that there was more than one system, and there is
not. There is only one, and the police have had access to everything that went
through the system.

We'll see.

Quotes of the Day

Surely the minister must give us a guarantee that there will be no further Olympic smash and grab raid on Lottery funds" - Liberal Democrat spokesman Paul Holmes warns that increasing costs of the 2012 Olympics could lead to drastic cuts in lottery funding for charities.
Why won't the Government act on this abuse of the bodies of young men and women? - Lord Carlile of Berriew condemns enforced strip-searching of inmates in youth custody.
Will you join me in congratulating Shilpa Shetty on winning Big Brother and the good sense of the British people? - Labour MP Keith Vaz, (Leicester E).
This really would be visiting the sins of the fathers on innocent children. - Liberal Democrat Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay says plans to cut housing benefit for tenants evicted for anti-social behaviour will unfairly punish children.
It's our friends in the north in Scotland and the Borders who are the first ones to receive this help. Perhaps the Government deems them to be more switched on to these technology issues, they have after all invented a whole range of advances in technology in the last 200 years - shadow culture minister Ed Vaizey on digital switchover.
It took the manhole cover off the subterranean current of British racism - Jonathan Miller, the so-called polymath, on Celebrity Big Brother.
When you're attacked you have to deck your opponents - Hillary Clinton, would-be Democrat President of the US.
I'm trying. I take the train to my constituency, the Eurostar to Brussels, but I'm not a saint - Environment Secretary David Miliband, questioned about his green credentials.
Massive Shoe Sale: Buy One, Get One Free - Notice in a south London shop window.
John Reid seems to have held, at least fleetingly, most of the jobs in the Cabinet and been an absolute disaster in each one. Maybe it is John Reid who is not fit for purpose - Noel Aspill, of Stamford, Lincs, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.
There is a certain confidence about anyone who's been to Eton - or to Borstal - George Passmore, the "George" of the artistic duo Gilbert & George.

Former Transport Minister Dies

Paul Channon, who was a Cabinet Minister in the Thatcher Government has died. He was Conservative MP for Southend West from 1959 to 1997 and entered the Thatcher Cabinet in 1986 as Trade Secretary. He later became Secretary of State for Transport in 1987 before leaving the Cabinet in 1989. In 1997 he was made a Life Peer as Lord Kelvedon of Ongar.

Yasmin Falls in Love With Dave...Almost

Be worried. Very worried. The Cameron big tent has now embraced my friend Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. She has written today about David Cameron's 'Britishness' speech and said some very nice things about it. Read the article HERE.
I never thought I would say this but I have not heard another British
politician make such a sophisticated and vital intervention at a time when so
many across the parties seem to have lost a sense of proportion, political sense
and the instincts of true leadership...

Brown will not be able glibly to face down the words of Cameron today, who
says: "It is no use behaving like the proverbial English tourist abroad,
shouting ever more at the hapless foreigner who doesn't understand what is being
said. We can't bully people into feeling British - we have to inspire them."
Tick. He wants calmness of debate and an end to the "hectoring of Muslims". Yet
he is brave enough to condemn the oppression of females within some Muslim
enclaves. Tick, tick. He dismisses the "clunking" government initiatives which
attempt to get citizens to be more vainly British. Three more ticks.

Cameron seems instinctively to understand how un-British and coercive
such social engineering would be. He goes further, takes risks, provokes Middle
England's disapproval as he damns the demonisation of Muslims and their faith,
reminding Britons that the challenges of cohesion are not the same as the threat
of terrorism. The two are dumped together by those in government who use
immigration policies, anti-terrorism legislation and other means to terrorise
incomers and their children into accepting a curtailment of fundamental rights
and definitions of Britishness that are questionable at best.

I am British; I have never had any other nationality; I would not leave
this country to live abroad even when things get really tough and escape
beckons; I love London and would go to war if it was threatened. British
institutions, freedoms, the struggles and bloodshed that went into the making of
this layered country and democracy itself, the beautifully expressive language,
thegreat writers, scientists, thinkers, engineers, the cultural promiscuity of
England, all these have captured my heart and head.

But you knew it couldn't last...
I am swooning now, helplessly as if in front of a charismatic
churchman about to newly baptise me into a wonderful new world. Just in time,
scepticism flies in to deliver me from this dubious saviour. As I come to my
senses I realise I have no evidence that Cameron really means to deliver this
new agenda. If facing a WI meeting in Henley on Wednesday, will he say what he
did in Birmingham on Monday? And if some High Tory donor or xenophobic
commentator has a stern word or two, will he produce an equally brilliant speech
on Friday notifying Muslims and other immigrants of the integration duties they
owe this always great and tolerant country? He has been on both sides on the
Iraq war, on immigration too, and his two faces shine brightly when responding
to anti-terrorism legislation. The man is slick and unreliable, but his thoughts
and ideas on Britishness today are so remarkable, Labour would be foolish not to
steal them. Gordon Brown, a substantial and visionary politician, needs to
acknowledge Cameron's profundity on Britishness and then seize the initiative.
Otherwise many black and Asian Britons will rush to the Tories only to be
betrayed by them, as has happened throughout history.

The Independent: You Couldn't Make it Up

The Independent has a feature each Monday headlined YOU ASK THE QUESTIONS, where they invite their readers to put questions to the rich and famous. Today it was David Miliband's turn. As Dizzy points out, it makes for hilarious reading. I guess it says more about Independent readers than it does about Miliband. Take these...

Q I have a 20 month old son and climate change keeps me awake at night...

Q I can't wait to get my individual carbon allowance. When are we going to have rationing?

Q Please could we legislate that all items must have a 'power off' switch?
A The EU is leading the way on this - one reason you cannot protect the environment if you are a Eurospectic.

You really think I have made that last one up, don't you? Click HERE for proof that I haven't.

Answer the Question, Dr Reid...

Has Gordon offered you the post of Home Secretary in his government?
Were you warned that the Home Office had lost track of some paedophiles?
Are you a man who likes headlines rather than details?
Are you completely useless?

Blair to Resign This Week?

A friend of mine had a phone call from BBC News 24 a couple of days ago wanting Charlie Whelan's number. "It's for a piece we're doing to show on the day Blair resigns," said the caller. "So when do you reckon that's going to be then," asked my friend. "Next week," came the instant response.

No, I don't believe it either, but if he did resign this week and I hadn't posted it, I'd never be able to live with myself.

Thank you and good night!

The Transparency of John Reid

Today's front page report in the Sunday Times is another piece of headline grabbing from John Reid. He's supposedly going to use lie detectors on paedophiles to check that they aren't reoffending. A bit after the event, I'd say, but it enables him to free up some much needed prison cells.

However, in typical New Labour style, this story isn't quite what it seems or as fresh as it looks. It is yet another 'reannouncement'. It was floated in August 2004 in the Solicitor's Journal and indeed the Sunday Times itself has run the story at least twice before.

Last week we had John Reid splitting up the Home Office, this week lie detectors for paedophiles. What will it be next week? Compulsory jail sentences for bloggers who can see through his headline grabbing initiatives?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Shilpa Proves Light Can Triumph Over Darkness

Shilpa Shetty has won Big Brother. Why am I even bothering to comment on that, you might well ask. Because she's one of the most beautiful women I have ever laid eyes on, and because it proves that light can triumph over darkness. Her grace, sense of decorum and eloquence have triumphed over the vulgarity, grossness and ignorance of Jade Goody, Jo thingy from S Club 7 and Teddy Sheringham's ex. And well done to the British public for voting her the winner. It's the only good thing to have come out of this wretched series.

Balls to Number Eleven

John Rentoul thinks Gordon Brown should make Ed Balls his Chancellor. He comes up with all sorts of historical justifications for it, all sorts of quotes praising Mr B and meets all the objections to him head on, bar one. And that is that Ed Balls is, well, a bit rubbish.

He may have the intellect of an Oxford don and he may well be the only person in Britain who can explain neo-endogynous growth theories (or indeed spell the word), but the fact is he cannot communicate. Whenever I have heard him on the media he is hesitant, almost mono-syllabic and at times incoherant. It says a lot about Gordon Brown if he is seriously thinking about promoting Balls into the Cabinet and giving him the Chancellorship. As a partisan Conservative I'd be very happy for him to do so.

Read John Rentoul's article HERE.

Conservative Leader To Step Down

If you think leadership fights in this country are vicious, try taking a look at the way German politicians fight things out. Edmund Stoiber is the leader of the CSU in Bavaria and has been Bavarian Minister President since 1993. Stoiber has indicated he would stay in post until 2012, but this caused such a row that last week he announced he would stand down from both positions when his current term of office comes to an end in September. Der Spiegel says...
In late autumn, CSU party functionary Gabriele Pauli began publicly
questioning whether Stoiber should continue at the head of the party. Stoiber's chief of staff then began making inquiries into Pauli's personal life,
apparently looking for a scandal which could be used to silence her. Pauli
caught wind of the "spying" and it exploded into a full-fledged affair soon
after she went public. Stoiber's poll ratings began dropping soon thereafter --
so low in fact that had a vote been held last Sunday, the Social Democrats (SPD)
might even have won in the state. The CSU has governed Bavaria virtually
unchallenged since 1946.

I lived in Germany for a couple of years. Bavaria is definitely its Yorkshire or Texas. Bavarians like to think they are still an independent state. Economically it is a powerhouse and has a standard of living most of the rest of the country can only dream about. The leadership contest which is about to take place is important as the CSU leader is invariably the second most important person in Conservative politics in Germany. If Angela Merkel fails, the CSU leader will be among the candidates to replace her as the CDU/CSU Chancellor candidate.

More background on the Stoiber crisis HERE and HERE.

High Ranking Home Secretaries

Someone suggested I ought to do a list of Home Secretaries since 1970, which could then be debated in the comments. I freely admit to not knowing a lot about the Home Secretaries of the 1970s (I was at school!) so I may have made the odd misjudgement here... I am, however, quite sure about the position of number 15...

1. Michael Howard
2. Douglas Hurd
3. William Whitelaw
4. Roy Jenkins
5. Ken Clarke
6. Leon Brittan
7. David Blunkett
8. Kenneth Baker
9. Merlyn Rees
10. Robert Carr
11. David Waddington
12. Jack Straw
13. Charles Clarke
14. Reginald Maudling
15. John Reid

Let's Keep it Within the Family

On the front page of the Sunday Telegraph today, Tombstone Cornerstone Chairman John Hayes MP declares: "I oppose gay adoption on the grounds that a family consists of a man and a woman and children."

I shall now obey Ronald Reagan's eleventh commandment - thou shalt never speak ill of a fellow Tory. And believe me, I'm tempted not to - obey it, that is.

Having said that, he does raise an interesting question: what is a family nowadays? The Oxford English Dictionary confirms John Hayes's view. It defines a family as "a group consisting of two parents and their children living together as a unit." It also gives an alternate definition: "a group united by a significant shared characteristic". Families nowadays come in all shapes and sizes. Yes, the norm is a married couple with children - and that remains the bedrock of our society - but if the Conservative Party is to relate to Britain as it is today it needs to embrace all types of families, not just "the norm". We're not some quasi-religious sect, we're a political party. Indeed, we're a political family. It is such a shame that in our particular family one particular naughty boy deserves a good spanking today. Matron!

UPDATE: Steve Norris weighed into the debate on the GMTV Sunday programme this morning by saying: "This would be just as much an issue if the Conservative Government were in office and my advice to David Cameron would be exactly the same. You know the business of treating every person in our society as deserving of equal merit and having equal responsibility is something that’s absolutely fundamental to a decent liberal society and frankly I don’t think this case is any different from those many others where people no doubt very sincerely believe that they’re entitled to discriminate, I don’t think they are."

Tories Obey Electoral Law Shocker

Is it any wonder people think all politicians are crooks and thieves when they read drivel like THIS over their Sunday morning cornflakes?

According to Robert Winnett and Holly Watt of the Sunday Times the Conservatives are deliberately flouting electoral law by raising more money in their election fighting funds than the legal expenses limit. Except that's not the case at all. If the limit is £5,000 and you spend £5,000 you have obeyed the law. If the limit is £5,000 and you raise £15,000 but still only spend £5,000 you have also obeyed the law. All political parties (at national and local level) use their election fighting funds to raise as much money as possible. Fundraising in the year after an election is very difficult so any surplus left over in the fighting fund is used for campaigning over the next year, or to run the local Party. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that at all.

I used to think the Sunday Times had an editor who would fillet out ridiculous stories like this. It appears he was off last night.

Ranking the Prime Ministers

The Daily Politics is conducting a poll to find out who their viewers think is the best Prime Minister since World War II. They seem to have forgotten that Winston Churchill was Prime Minister from 1951-55 and have eliminated him from the poll! Astonishing. Paul Linford gave his views HERE and ranked them all. I feel duty bound to <>plagiarise follow him. Like Paul, my judgement is partly based on whether they left the country in a better state than they found it. Unlike Paul, I think more than two PMs achieved that. Indeed, I would submit that John Major did, although for a variety of other reasons I have ranked him below average. Let me point out immediately that I have judged Winston Churchill only on his 1951-55 period in office, before anyone starts screaming in the Comments!

1. Margaret Thatcher
Leading the BBC poll with 66%. Her conviction dragged the country out of the mire of strikes and malaise which afflicted it in 1979. She truly turned the country round and despite some of the painful episodes along the way, even her opponents now admit her remedies were necessary. Without her, Tony Blair may never have existed. Now there's a thought...
2. Clement Attlee
I disagree with a lot of what he did, but he changed the industrial and social face of the country. He was a PM who left an indelible stamp on the nation. The NHS was a truly great achievement. Our failure since then has been to adapt it to our age.
3. Harold Macmillan
Led the country through an unprecendented period of affluence and managed the transition from Empire in a quiet and calm way. His weakness was his failure to reform the economy and embed Butskellism.
4. Winston Churchill
Was PM for four years in the early 1950s but was ill for much of it, leaving the government rudderless. However, he set the course and let his Ministers get on with it and concentrated on international affairs. Obviously if this was a list of Greatest PMs of the century he would be Number 1. Without him, none of the post war PMs would have held office, hence his high ranking in this list.
5. Tony Blair
His greatest achievement has been to win three elections and make Labour electable. He has provided clear leadership on several issues, albeit flawed leadership. He will go down in history for Iraq and sleaze and deserves criticism for his failure to reform public services and grossly boosting public spending, but there are achievements to his name (if only I could remember what they are!).
6. Harold Wilson
Mired in industrial troubles and at the beck and call of powerful union leaders, Wilson's greatest achievements were to win four elections and stay out of the Vietnam war.
7. John Major
A weak Prime Minister bedevilled by internal party strife. Clung to office for six and a half years and embedded privatisation and competition in the economy, but his European policy was a failure. His 'put up or shut up' resignation in 1995 did little to quell the discontent.
8. Edward Heath
Will be remembered for taking Britain into the EEC but should be equally remembered for his disastrous economic and industrial policy.
9. James Callaghan
I have never quite understood those who rank Callaghan as a good PM. His period in office was distinguished by the worst industrial discord in our history, the Chancellor going cap in hand to the IMF and a weak foreign policy.
10. Alec Douglas Home
His lack of tenure makes it impossible to rank him more highly, but we should not forget he united the Conservative Party after Macmillan's departure and came within a whisker of winning the 1964 election.
11. Sir Antony Eden
Perhaps it is unfair, but Sir Anthony Eden will only be remembered for Suez. But this disastrous adventure affected Britain's standing in the world for 25 years.

Blair Losing the Plot: No 94

I'm just watching Tony Blair being interviewed by Jon Sopel on the Politics Show. Is he pissed? A quite astonishing performance by the PM. Either he just doesn't give a damn anymore or he's been on the Davos gluehwein...

You can see what I mean by watching the programme HERE. Blair starts, about eight minutes in.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

News 24 Tonight

I'm doing the paper review on News 24 tonight at 11.45pm if you're at all interested. Forgive the new short haircut. My regular hairdresser is away, and as I was starting to look like a shaggy dog I thought I'd better do something about it. Oh dear.

It Don't Matter if You're Black or You're White...

Well, that's the lyric from the Michael Jackson song anyway. But it DOES matter if you're writing a BBC online news story. THIS story from BBC Wiltshire tells the terrible story of a white youth who was beaten up by eight youths. It doesn't mention their ethnicity.

THIS story from BBC West Yorkshire tells the story of an Asian youth who was beaten up by four youths. It tells us the four were all white.

If it was necessary to mention the offenders' ethnicity in the second story, why did the first story not mention that the eight attackers were of Asian descent. I don't think it is too much to ask for a bit of consistency here. The BBC has a multi volume editorial policy document. I would have thought it would cover such an instance.

Blogwars - As Seen by Hoby

Click on image to enlarge. Cartoon by Hoby.

Blair Reneges on Suffolk Police Funding Promise

It appears that our whiter than white PM has reneged on yet another promise. At the start of the Suffolk Police inquiry into the murder of the five Ipswich prostitutes Tony Blair told the local force "we will do everything that we can to support the police in the difficult and challenging work that they do". He's now refusing to help meet the £19 million cost of the Inquiry.More in the EADT HERE and on Ben Redsell's blog.

I Spy With My Little Eye...

... A Home Office Minister, thirty feet above me in the Directors Box at West Ham. Wouldn't you have thought Tony McNulty would be following John Reid's example and working '18 hours a day to sort out the Home Office? No, me neither.

The Specific Should Win Over the General

I've been listening to ANY QUESTIONS on my drive to Upton Park. Lynne Featherstone said something quite profound. On the question of gay adoption she urged people not to think about the generality of the issue but to concentrate on individual gay people you know and think about whether they would, as individuals, make good parents.

You can draw other parallels here. As a country, British people tend to dislike the French, yet individually we find them charming.

People think that politicians as a group are liars and untrustworthy, yet I've lost count of the times I have heard people say that their own MP is fantastic.

West Ham fans are reputedly all skinhead thugs, yet individually people rather like us (or have I just defeated my own argument?!).

So perhaps we should be more mindful of individuals when talking and writing about large groups of people. I am sure I am just as guilty as anyone in making sweeping generalisations, so do feel free to take me to task when I commit the sin in future.

John Reid's Revolving Prison Door Policy

Released: Dawn Benson. Guilty of distributing child porn. "Having regard to recent events the court has to consider whether this defendant should go to custody." (Judge John Evans, Newcastle Crown Court)

Released: Cannabis Smuggler. Normal sentence three years. "I would rather violent and sex offenders remain in prison and not worry too much about a man who brings in a Class C drug." (Judge Nigel van der Bijl, Canterbury Crown Court)

Released on bail: Keith Morris. Pleaded guilty to four sexual activity with under age children. "There are difficulties remanding people in custody at the moment and the only reason I am having any discussion about this is because of those difficulties. If this case had been here last week it would have been over by now and he would be in prison." (Judge Graham Cottle), Exeter Crown Court)

Dogging in the Wilds of North Kent

Tonight I went to speak to Chatham & Aylesford Conservatives Annual Dinner. Before the dinner I gave a talk to their councillors and council candidates on blogging. It's great that each of their wards now has its own blog which they're using to communicate with their local communities. It's something all council candidates and councillors should be doing.

We then moved on to a pub/restaurant, which appeared to be in the middle of a wood (the relevance of this will become clear), for their annual dinner, at which I was singing for my supper. Tracey Crouch (who was my predecessor as David Davis's Chief of Staff) has recently been selected as the PPC for the constituency and it was her first major social 'do'.

I must admit I have rarely received such an introduction as I got from the constituency chairman, Alan Sullivan. He said some nice things about Tracey and then blurted out: "And Tracey will then introduce Iain Dale who will be telling us about his experiences of 'dogging'..." Cue raucous (but slightly nervous) laughter. I think he must have either mistaken me for Stan Collymore or become disoriented in the woods. But thankfully Alan recovered himself and admitted I would be talking about the marginally less exciting subject of 'blogging'. I couldn't help but notice the disappointment on several faces...

PS For the uninitiated who don't know what 'dogging' is, I am sure a Google search will enlighten...

Andrew Pierce Defends Ruth Kelly

My friend Andrew Pierce has written a most powerful ARTICLE in today's TELEGRAPH on the gay adoption issue. Andrew, who's gay, was adopted and for the first three years of his life was looked after by Catholic nuns. His message is that others should not be denied the start in life he had. He concludes the article...

Yes, the Church stance is a slight on gay couples – but, for heaven's sake, use your brain. Gays would not have gone to Catholic adoption agencies in the first place. While important principles are at stake, there is something far more important here. Decades of experience will be lost if the agencies are squeezed out by the conflicting forces of Church and State. It may be the last thing you would expect from a gay man, but for once, and probably the only time, I am with Ruth Kelly; however, she is far too damaged as a politician to make the argument for an exemption for the Catholic Church. But there should be one. The Catholic adoption agencies looked after me until I was placed into the arms of adoptive parents who loved me from the moment they first took me home. It is appalling even to contemplate taking that privilege away from hundreds of other kids just because they cannot be placed with gay parents.

An Example of Fine Blogging from Wife in the North

Read THIS. Then THIS. Prepare to be moved. Why can't all bloggers write this well?

Friday, January 26, 2007

Andy Coulson Resigns

Andy Coulson has resigned as editor of the News of the World. This news comes a few hours after the NOTW royal editor Clive Goodman was jailed for intercepting phone calls from the Royal Family.

I have no idea if Coulson knew what was happening or not, but in a refreshing contrast to Government Ministers, Coulson has accepted responsibility for what Goodman did in his name. It happened on Coulson's watch, and he has taken the rap.

Maybe John Reid would like to take note. In this government everything is someone else's fault, as we all know. They operate by the lyrics to that most excellent Howard Jones song NO ONE EVER IS TO BLAME.

How to Live With a Politician

I've just helped Damian Green's wife Alicia Collinson publish a book called POLITICS FOR PARTNERS: HOW TO LIVE WITH A POLITICIAN. It's a book about the pitfalls of living with a politician and what to do about it. I guess it's aim is to warn political spouses what they may be letting themselves in for. There are some cracking anecdotes and illustrations. Anyway, if you're in politics and you want to frighten the living daylights out of your partner, this book's for you. Buy it HERE!

UPDATE: Mary Ann Sieghart wrote about it in T2 yesterday HERE. She writes: "It has section headings such as “Don’t suffer in silence on your own” and “Suspend your own ego?” Ego-suspension, in fact, is the theme of the book. No one is interested in your opinion unless it is controversially different from your partner’s, in which case you’re both in trouble. As Collinson writes: “It can be extremely difficult to tread the line between being controversial and being entertaining. When meeting someone for the first time, err on the side of caution.” Edna Healey, wife of Denis, told me some years ago that politicians’ wives can’t win: “If you say ‘This is what I believe’, people either say ‘She only thinks that because Denis does’ or ‘Fancy Denis Healey’s wife thinking something like that!’

Are You Against Taxpayer Funding of Political Parties?

Next week 18 Doughty Street is going to make a one minute political commercial to fight the State Funding taxpayer funding of political parties. We've got three options to choose from. Click HERE to vote which one you think we should make...

Uncle Albert Calls for Blair to Go - And Go Now

Frank Dobson has always reminded me of Uncle Albert from Only Fools and Horses - a figure of complete ridicule, yet rather respected by his nearest and dearest. We Tories may poke fun at him but in the Labour Party people still have a sneaking admiration for him. On GMTV on Sunday morning Dobbo will be calling for Tony Blair to quit - and quit now. Here's what he will say.

Frank Dobson: Two years ago I said that I thought he would hang on for about two years after the general election and I don’t see him hanging on for very much longer and I think quite a lot of people would believe that it would probably be best if he stayed until after the local elections in England and the elections in Scotland and he could take responsibility for whatever happened then and it would probably be better if his successor, most likely to be Gordon Brown, could sort of pick up the pieces afterwards rather than be blamed in any way for however badly we did, but I do get the impression, again since I’ve come back, that quite a few people who held that view are now thinking that things are getting into such a mess that it would be better if Tony Blair went now even if it meant that Gordon Brown did have to take some responsibility for our electoral performance in May.
Steve Richards: Is that increased in your view?
Frank Dobson: Yes it is in that I think I’m along with the others. I thought well probably best for him to be around till May/June and then go, but things do seem to be rather falling apart. And I think that one of the biggest problems that John Major’s government faced in the end was that it looked as though it was not really in charge of things and there is an air arising in the government at the moment that people are not quite in charge of their departments and I think that whatever else British people like or don’t like, they don’t like the idea of the government not being in charge.
Steve Richards: So you’re coming more to the view of sooner the better?
Frank Dobson:Yes.
Steve Richards: What would that mean in effect then? He would go quickly and Gordon Brown would be in place before the May local elections?
Frank Dobson: Yes, I expect that he would, and it would mean presumably that Tony Blair, I think the procedure would be he would resign as leader of the Labour party, the Labour party would then elect a new leader and that new leader would then become the Prime Minister.
Steve Richards: Well it will be interesting to see how it all develops over the next few months. If that doesn’t happen and this extraordinary period continues for another 5 or 6 months, what do you worry will be the impact on your party and the government?
Frank Dobson:Well I don’t think it is just an impact on the party, I think it would be an impact on the country – I’ve been predicting that the Prime Ministers authority would go down and it wouldn’t go down in a steady slope, there’d be the odd cliff and then a plateau and then another cliff and I think we are going down a pretty steep slope at the moment and it is likely to get worse and I think it also means foreign affairs as well, if Tony Blair is going to international meetings people are thinking well there’s not much point in talking to this man because he’s not going to be around – it’s this other man Brown that we need to be talking to.

The Consequences of Talking Tough

I don't think it is too much of an exaggeration to say that our prison and courts system is close to breaking point. Yesterday a judge freed a paedophile because the Home Secretary has told him to. This man had faced a five year jail term for downloading 200 kiddie porn images. He's now out in the community. To be fair to the man, even he admitted he deserved to be in jail. Today comes news that a dangerous paedophile who is facing a custodial sentence for serious sex offences against a teenager has been released on bail by a judge who said last week he would have been in prison.

The first duty of a government - any government - is to protect its citizens against people who wish to harm them, whether from abroad at home. This government is demonstrating every day that it is, as someone once said, not fit for purpose. John Reid can't blame this one on his hapless predecessors. He knew what the problem was when he took over and did absolutely nothing about it. He talked tough, so the courts took him at his word. The consequence was the highest prison population ever, without the buildings to house the prisoners. If this came as a surprise to Reid he quite clearly, as The Sun, alleges, without a brain.

Today we saw the resignation of the Youth Justice Board. Tomorrow we ought to have the resignation of the Director General of the Prison Service. I'll leave it to you to judge when Dr Reid should walk the plank too.

A Frustrated Stand-Up Comedian?

Tonight I am off the speak to Chatham & Aylesford Conservatives. First of all they are holding a 'blogging seminar' and then I have to perform at their annual dinner. I was invited to do this before they selected their new candidate, Tracey Crouch, who's also a good friend of mine. I have to say I never look forward to 'performing' in front of friends. Somehow you're under more pressure to do well. Still, it's her first big moment with her Association since her selection so I imagine we'll be indulging in a bit of mutual heckling.

Public speaking is a really odd thing. Few people will ever have the guts to tell you that you've made a bad speech, so when people tell you you've made a really good one, you tend to automatically disbelieve them. I never look forward to making speeches but once I'm in the swing of it and I get some laughs I am in my element. Laughs are the key to my speeches. If I don't make them laugh three times in the first two minutes I then feel as if I am sinking quickly and scrabbling for a lifejacket. Maybe I am just a frustrated stand-up comedian. Perhaps best not to delve into that one too much!

So, share your best and worst public speaking moments in the Comments...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

All the Prime Minister's Men

The Cash for Peerages Inquiry keeps reminding me of Watergate. The news tonight that Downing Street officials are alleged to gave deleted e-mails on a hidden computer network in efforts to destroy evidence is very reminiscent of Nixon's Watergate tapes. The existence of these tapes was denied at the time. Coincidentally, Downing Street is denying the existence of a hidden computer network. Pure coincidence, I assure you. More HERE from the BBC (which has this as its third ranked news story).


Gay Adoption and the Catholic Church

Several people have queried why I haven't commented on the row over gay adoption and the Catholic Church. I suppose it's because I haven't got anything terribly original to say on it. The government seems to have painted itself into a corner with threats of resignation if Tony Blair backs down. However, Blair has said today that he is working on a compromise. This is from PA...
He [Blair] said he will work to find a solution that ends
discrimination against gays and also ensures the protection of vulnerable
children receiving help with adoption and after-care from Catholic agencies. Mr
Blair said: "There is one last aspect within the new regulations to resolve and
it concerns adoption. I have always personally been in favour of the right of
gay couples to adopt. Our priority will always be the welfare of the child." He
added: "Both gay couples and the Catholic agencies have a high level of success
in adopting hard-to-place children. It is for that reason we have taken time to
ensure we get these regulations right. How do we protect the principle of ending
discrimination against gay people and at the same time protect those vulnerable
children who at the present time are being placed through, and after-care
provided by, Catholic agencies, who everyone accepts do a great job with some of
the most disturbed youngsters. We will announce a decision next week and then
vote, probably next month. I am committed to finding a way through this
sensitive and difficult decision."

I wish him well in finding a way through this minefield because I am not sure there is one. I've discussed it often on 18 Doughty Street over the last few days and the level of vitriol it has engendered is deeply worrying. The very fact that I even dare to discuss it seems to offend some people. I think I can guess why. A glance at many of the 250 comments on THIS thread on ConservativeHome is also not particularly edifying. Indeed, it's prompted a piece in PINK NEWS. I saw a woman from the Catholic Church on Sky News earlier this week trying her best not to appear homophobic but she couldn't carry it off. What a sad state of affairs.

The problem with this legislation is that the Government does not appear to have thought it through properly, with the consequence that the PM is now having to make policy on the hoof. It is complicated by its sponsoring Minister Ruth Kelly being a devout Catholic and a member of Opus Dei. Her position looks increasingly untenable. As someone wrote this morning, she is a Catholic who happens to be a politician, not the other way around.

Out of 3,700 adoptions last year (in itself an incredibly low number), only 185 involved gay couples. My argument has always been that in an ideal world all children would be brought up by two loving parents. The norm is that they are brought up by parents of the opposite sex. the fact that the State endorses the adoption of children by gay parents is urely a crcucial factor in this debate. I understand that there are 60,900 children in care in this country. These kids need love and stability, whether it is in the home of a straight couple or a gay couple. A stable home environment with loving, responsible parents should be the priority for all of us - whether we are Catholic, Muslim, Anglican or of no religion at all. Each of these children would benefit from this environment rather than being in a care home.

I find it deeply offensive if anyone should suggest that gay couples are not capable of providing that love and stability. The underlying insinuation behind some of what the churches are saying on this issue is that kids who are adopted by gay parents are more likely to be led astray morally or even abused. they'll never say that outrightm but that's what some people still think. A very small minority of deeply religious - and otherwise totally compassionate - people still hold on to the view that homosexuality is a moral equivalent of paedophilia. A friend of mine rather cruelly said he's have more sympathy with that argument if the Catholic church got its own house in order on that subject.

I do not like compulsion, especially on moral issues. However, in this case I do not believe that you can say to one religious group: "It's OK, you don't have to obey the same law as everyone else". Perhaps to put it in perspective we should delete the word 'catholic' and insert the word 'muslim'. I suspect in that scenario we'd find that the very same people who are shouting loudest now, would be saying how outrageous it was for muslims to be granted an opt-out.

PS I realise this issue provokes strong reactions in people. Not everyone will agree with what I have written here. I switched off Comment Moderation on Sunday and so far I haven't had to delete any comments at all, so well done to everyone! Please be moderate in your language in this thread and let's have a proper debate without being too emotive.

Paddy Ashdown Thinks Ming Is Wrong

Paddy Ashdown rescued the Liberal Democrats from potential political oblivion. Whatever his shortcomings he was always a staunch supporter of the armed forces. His article in The Independent today shows why he is twice the leader Ming Campbell will ever be. Since he resigned as LibDem leader in 1999 he has been very quiet and hasn' really got involved in domestic politics. But in the Indy article today he has a direct dig at Ming Campbell's stance on Iraq...
When our politicians plunge us into these interventions they nearly always
say: "Troops home by Christmas", metaphorically speaking. We know this is driven
by the electoral cycle, but the fact is you must be prepared to commit over a
long period probably as much or more resources as you committed during the war.
In the days and weeks after the conflict probably more troops are necessary than
were needed during it; Iraq is a classic example of this...

He goes on to pose a fascinating question on the future of military interventionism, to which I suspect, none of us has the answer...
Two things can happen. Perhaps we are going to burn our fingers one last
time in Iraq and then never do this again. That would be a tragedy in an
interdependent world. I do not believe we have reached the end of the era of
large-scale wars and that we will only be left with small intra-state wars. I
think a perfect storm is gathering out there and that large-scale war will
return unless we are very careful. I also think there are times when you have to
intervene because of the effect on world peace. Either we will say "never again"
after Iraq and, particularly, Afghanistan or we will learn how to do it properly
and people will understand that intervention is not a rare phenomenon but part
of the bloodstream of modern international diplomacy.

You can read the full article HERE.

TIME Magazine on David Cameron

TIME Magazine has an extended feature of David Cameron in this week's issue featuring a couple of quotes from, ahem, yours truly. Read it HERE. I'm afraid one or two of you might need to have a sick bucket by your side when you read the first quote, which I have to say I don't remember saying, but anything's possible.

Pascoe-Watson Does Gordon's Bidding as The Sun Turns on Reid

The Sun made very interesting reading this morning with their hatchet job on John Reid. Their front page headline depicted Reid with his brain missing alongside the headline JOHN REID'S BRAIN IS MISSING. Inside there was a two page demolition job on Reid by George Pascoe-Watson, who has become as close to Gordon Brown as Tom Baldwin was to Alastair Campbell. The Dour One will have jad a wry smile on his face this morning. That's not to say Reid doesn't deserve a good kicking for his total and utter failure to address the prisons crisis.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Cherie Blair's 'Super Tanker' Sweep

Rumours that a scouse speaking Prime Minister's consort was seen scavenging on the pebbles on Branscombe beach this afternoon have been hotly denied by the PM's Official Spokesman. "If Mrs Blair wants free bottles of perfume and a motorcycle, she knows exactly where to get them," he insisted.

The Two Faces of Douglas Alexander

From yesterday's GLASGOW HERALD...

"Transport Minister Douglas Alexander said: "Research shows that talking on a mobile phone while driving affects your concentration and ability to react to dangerous situations. It's impossible to do two things at once and do them well."

How could one possibly disagree with Douglas Alexander, Secretary of State for Transport, Secretary of State for Scotland, Chief organiser of Labour Party elections in Scotland...

How Very Unprofessional...

There comes a moment when you're broadcasting live when you have to maintain your composure. Here's one of those moments when I totally lose it. And all because Simon Clark of FOREST quoted Dizzy's blog and called Transport Minister Stephen Ladyman, Stephen Ladyboy. From such small things come three minutes of classic 'corpsing'.

Click on this link

PS Apologies for the lack of formatting, pictures and links. Blogger still won't let me do anything apart from posting text.

The Two Faces of Law Enforcement

In many ways what follows is a case study in what many feel to be the somewhat distorted priorities of current law enforcement. Those who are trying their best to uphold the law and make a small error get clobbered, while those who seem more intent on crime and commit far worse offences seem to emerge from the system relatively unscathed. This is an extract from a letter to John Reid from the Managing Director of McMullens Breweries...

"The first incident I refer to is the ‘sting’ operation at the Lord Kitchener in Barnet, a well run pub with a good reputation locally. Last summer it was deemed to be a law enforcement priority of resources to send into this pub two young persons who appeared to be over 21 but were in fact only 17 to see whether or not they could succeed in being served an alcoholic drink. Our barman thought that one of them was underage and refused to serve him. The other he decreed to be of legal age. An error of judgement in a pub which generally caters for middle aged customers. Clearly I cannot defend serving alcohol to 17 year olds, even if they do look much older but the consequence of this charade was an £80 ‘on the spot’ fine for a decent young man - the sort of person who we should all be encouraging to make his career in this industry. In addition we as the premises licence holder along with the Designated Premises Licence holder were taken to court and prosecuted at great cost to both the tax payer and to my company. I am glad to say that we were both acquitted.

"The second incident occurred on Friday 9th December, 2006 at the Fishery, Elstree a destination food pub in the country. A middle aged male customer who appeared to be drunk was refused service as were his friends in the same party who tried to buy drinks for him. The response from this group was terrifying for both our team and our other customers. They were not only abusive to, but assaulted three of our staff, two of whom were young waitresses. They proceeded to throw brass bar trays across the bar smashing glassware and bottles of wine on the back bar and badly bruising two members of my team. When they heard that the police were being called they fled. This group were known to the manager as they are employed by a local company. In response to our manager advising a director of the company that the matter was being dealt with by the police two of this group volunteered themselves at the local police station. Staggeringly the punishment for their crime was a caution! One can only speculate on the action the police would have taken against my team if they had discovered that these people had been served more alcohol – almost certainly not a caution!

"I hope these two recent examples of incidents which are far from ‘one offs’ help to highlight how far we have gone in this country to redefine the principles of justice let alone advertise our law enforcement priorities. I find it incredible that you encourage your police force to commit resources to entrapping, and fining honest hard working pub employees who make an error of judgement but take no action against a person who admits to assault and criminal damage. Interestingly you will also know that underage persons who actually manage to con their way into purchasing alcohol are rarely if ever fined or prosecuted!

"I am sure your opinion polls are beginning to tell you that honest hard working people are increasingly concerned by our political elite as more and more examples of this sort of ludicrous behaviour by the state comes to light.

"I feel bound to write to someone and have chosen you, not because I think it will result in any change to your political priorities, although I hope it will, but I have a duty to my team to ‘do something’.

"How do you expect this industry to attract and keep the quality people we need when on the one hand we are constantly undermined by both our politicians and their law enforcement agencies and on the other hand we are not supported when assaulted by the scum in our society?"

Quotes of the Day

"As for talking on a mobile phone, I could no more do this while driving than I could split the atom while changing a nappy" - Tory MP Michael Gove.

"The river of lies" - What staff call the water feature in the reception area of the Home Office.

"I can't imagine being addicted to a noise - except, obviously, the sound of my voice" - TV political pundit Andrew Marr.

"The scavengers of Branscombe beach reminded me of those in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam, and my reaction was just the same - disgust" - Alan Cox, of Swanage, Dorset, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

"The Government has now become like the ship stranded off the Devon coast - it's washed up, it's broken up and they are just scrabbling over the wreckage" - Tory leader David Cameron during Commons exchanges with the Prime Minister.

"For us to set an arbitrary timetable ... simply saying we will pull British troops out in October come what may, would send the most disastrous signal to the people we are fighting in Iraq" - Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"It is sad that he prefers the mentality of the bunker to the open thinking of debate." - shadow foreign secretary William Hague criticises Mr Blair for not attending the Iraq debate.

"What could be more important than that the Prime Minister should be here to debate the issue of Iraq at a time when British forces are at risk every day in respect of their lives. Isn't that the kind of leadership we are entitled to?" - Sir Menzies Campbell.

How Many Civil Servants Does it Take to Write a Blog?

It seems there is costs the taxpayer even more than David Miliband's. Ladies and Gentleman I give you Mr Jim Murphy, Minister at the Department of Social Security. Here's a very revealing PQ from David Ruffley.

David Ruffley: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how much the Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform's blog has cost to administer in each month since its inception; what the budget for the blog is for 2007-08; and how many unique visitors to the blog there have been since May. [102066]

Jim Murphy: The Welfare Reform and Child Poverty blog was launched on the DWP internet site on 16 October 2006. Costs to develop and administer the blog were met from existing resources, and current staffing levels. Ongoing maintenance equates to half the time of one member of staff. From October to date this has cost £1,487 per month.At present no funding decisions have been made about the financial year 2007-08. Since it was launched it has attracted 1,987 unique visitors resulting in 4,731 visits

Now, if this blog has been up for three months, and is costing £1,487 per month, this means that the blog is costing over £2 per visitor. And the subject of the blog… Child Poverty! As Mr Littlejohn would say, 'you couldn't make it up'. If you look at the blog, in the last month, there have been just 4 posts (which read like press releases...). And they are paying half a member of staff to maintain it ?

If I tell you that I post on average between five and eight times a day and it takes me less than an hour a day, you will see why I'm bloody good value for money and the DWP is not!

Ming Campbell's Direct Hit at PMQs But His Policy on Iraq is Deeply Irresponsible

While I deeply deprecate the LibDem policy, announced this morning, of withdrawing all British troops from Iraq by the end of October, Ming Campbell scored a direct hit at PMQs with his follow up question. He almost spat it out...

"If he feels so strongly why doesn't the Prime Minister stay and debate the subject"

Or words to that effect. Blair replied rather lamely that he was debating it now. It really is a disgrace that Tony Blair hasn't taken part in a debate on Iraq in the Commons for years.

But back to the LibDem policy of withdrawing all British troops from Iraq by October, I have to say this is one of the most irresponsible policy announcements I have heard from them for a long time - and that's saying something. It sends all the wrong signals to those in Iraq who rely on British troops to keep the peace and undermines their authority. Naturally we shold be arguing for a phased withdrawal when the job is complete, but it is impossible to argue that our mission in Iraq has been completed - or is anywhere near being completed. Now is not the time to make publicity seeking gestures.

UPDATE: 2.25pm. A lot of people have left comments accusing me of this, that and the other, so let me address the various points raised here, just to make my position clear. If we pull out now we will exacerbate the danger of a full scale civil war. If that cannot be described as 'irresponsible' I don't know what would. The 'mission' I refer to above is to gradually restore order and bring about a situation where people can safely go about their business and the Iraqi Police and security forces are capable of keeping the peace. That point has not arrived. When it does, no one will be happier than me. To say we should pull out in a matter of months leaving the Iraqis to their own devices is the equivalent of moral cowardice. Whatever one thought of the reasons for invading the country in the first place, we are where we are. Wishful thinking and hindsight are wonderful things, but are not what I am seeking to debate in this post. INAMICUS asks what the Tory strategy is in the debate today. I suggest he watches the debate. ANYONEBUTBLAIR asks what is the exit strategy for our troops. He says: "If Shias want to kill Sunnis and Sunnis want to kill Shias then let them get on with it and not stand impotently in the middle dodging the bullets. I am utterly ashamed to be English and to have Blair as PM." Let's bear in mind that none of this would be happening if we hadn't invaded in the first place. We are there now and have to live with the situation as it is rather than what we would like it to be. What about all the Iraqis who are't shooting each other and just want to live in peace. Do we not have a responsibility to them? Blair and Bush did this in our name. Many of you may not have agreed with it at the time and still don't now. But to bring our troops home now would just be to abandon these people to a situation of absolute carnage. LEON thinks I am a Neo Con. Not true, but a debate for another occasion. Sorry to have gone on in some detail on this, but it is so important and I wanted to make my position clear.

We Must Keep the Politicians in Politics

I think I need to lie down. I have just read David Blunkett's column in The Sun and to my utter horror agreed with him - not once but twice. He believes Hilary Benn is the best candidate for the Labour Deputy leadership, as do I, but his second point is rather more profound.

In a rambling piece about how John Reid is wrong to want to break up the Home Office Blunkett makes a wider point...

"...The alternative to politics is officialdom. And there is a trend in all three major political parties to believe that if difficult questions of reform need to be answered without damagaing the credibility of politicians, they should be taken out of their hands. Trouble is, you simply can't. Just because someone has been appointed to some agency to make decisions doesn't mean they don't have political views. It means they have kept their head down or - even more damagingly - they have never had to make a decision in their lives. It also means that when they get it wrong they can't be punished by the voters, like politicians are...What we need is quite the opposite - a transparent, open political debate, with decisions taken by politicans who respond to voters' concerns, knowing that if they don't their careers can be ended with the stroke of a pen at election time."

Blunkett is absolutely right. Whenever I hear a politician saying "we need to take the politics out of [insert subject] I reach for the sick bucket. All they are doing is abrogating responsibility for clearing up a mess. And surely that is what politicians are there for. It's something that the Conservatives are just as guilty of as Labour and the LibDems. Liam Fox made an announcement along the lines of "let's take the politics out of the NHS" a few years ago. Just the sort of language that may appeal to the centre voter. But it's wong-headed. We cannot leave NHS reform to bureaucrats. It's for politicians to lead the debate on big issues like the NHS. If they can't do that then they shouldn't be 'in the arena' at all. Politicians must lead the debate and lead public opinion. Delegating responsibility to unelected officials is an easy way out in the short terms, but all it does in the long term is store up problems.

Blogger, Are You Listening? I Say, Are You Listening??

[tears what's remaining of his hair out in frustration] Those nice people at Blogger have suddenly removed the facility on my blog to add pictures or links. Anyone else having the same problem? Naturally people will say I should have moved to Beta, but again, those nice people at Blogger won't let me as my blog is too big and I am at the end of the queue. Aaaaaaaagh [/tears what etc etc]

UPDATE: Fantastic! It's snowing in Tunbridge Wells. Loving it.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery...Or Perhaps Not

Do you think I should sue?

More Changes to Candidate Selection Rules on the Way

As Sir John Junor used to say, 'there will be dancing on the streets of Auchtermuchty' this evening, as the Conservatives announce the apparent demise of the 'A' List. It appears that all members of the Approved Candidates List will be able to apply for seats in future, (albeit in their own region), although constituencies must ensure that at each stage of the selection process, half of the candidates chosen are female. So instead of all women shortlists we're getting half women shortlists. I am not against this on principle but the onus on the Party must now be to increase the proportion of women on the approved list, which is barely more than 30 per cent.

John Maples, Deputy Chairman for Candidates said: "The 'A' List has helped us to make significant progress, and so far nearly 40 per cent of selected candidates are women. The new option toughens up rules on women and allows more candidates to apply for seats in their region."

I assume that this means there will be regional lists drawn up and that non 'A' Listers will only be able to apply for seats in their own area. Hopefully this will be clarified shortly.

The proposals, according to PA, are being put to the Party Board next week.

Nanny State Latest: Conversation to be Banned in Cars?

The latest manifestation of the Nanny State is that soon we will be banned from using Hands Free mobile phones in cars because "the act of holding a conversation is distracting" to the driver. So the logic of that is that no one should be able to talk in a car and the Police should be able to arrest people for opening their mouths in cars. I suppose one could pretend to be a mime artist!

The use of a Hands Free mobile phone will enable the Police to give an on the spot £60 fine and the driver will get 3 points on their licence if the Police feel the driver isn't in control of the car properly.

Why don't they go the whole hog? They could ban smoking while driving too while they are at it. I would have thought having only one hand on the wheel was far more dangerous than talking while driving. they could ban me from listening to Meat Loaf in my car too. Or from looking out of the window. Surely being distracted by the view is just as bad as being distracted by a conversation?

In fact, let's ban cars. Because that's the agenda of these 'safety fascists', whether they admit it or not.

Monday, January 22, 2007

On Blogger TV Tonight...

Joining me at 9pm on Blogger TV on 18 Doughty Street tonight for a discussion on why so few women blog are Rachel North, Ellee Seymour, Caroline Hunt, Andy Mayer and Kerron Cross. We'll also me discussing the trustworthiness of blogs and my guests will give their best blogs of the week.

The new 18 Doughty Street website should have been launched last Monday today. The website company guaranteed it for 7am this morning. They're now guaranteeing it for tomorrow morning. Sigh.

UPDATE: Blogger TV is available HERE on the Watch Again facility.

Tom Watson's BitchBlog

Tom Watson's blog is becoming bitchier by the day. Today's 'bitchblog' reads...
David Blunkett opposes John Reid’s arguments to restructure the Home Office. He says that breaking the department up will create a “Balkanisation” of government. Now I know I was right to support John yesterday.
Saucer of milk, anyone? Mind you, as I'm reading Blunkett's diaries (review to follow when I have finally finished the wretched book...) I have to say he's got a point.

Has UKIP Changed Tack on Standing Against EuroSceptic Tories?

If Guido Fawkes is right, then Malcolm Pearson's price for defecting to UKIP was a high one. See HERE. I'm not sure I believe it, as it would be a complete U-turn on behalf of the UKIP leadership who have always said they wouldn't stand against MP supports of Better Off Out, but non-MP EuroSceptic Better Off Out supporters could basically 'go swing'. If Nigel Farage has changed tack then he can prepare for some fierce rows within his own Party. But as I said, I'm not sure the story is actually right. ConservativeHome has some further analysis HERE.

Let's Get our Streets 'Naked'

If you think the Tories never come up with interesting ideas on transport, think again. The Times reports HERE that the Conservatives want 'naked streets'. Ooh er, missus. This means that many traffic lights, road signs and white lines would be removed from many high streets with the aim of improving road safety and reduce congestion.
Road humps, chicanes and other physical measures designed to reduce
the speed of vehicles would be removed and the question of who had priority
would be left open deliberately, making drivers more cautious... In the town of
Drachten, the removal of traffic lights at one major junction has resulted in
accidents falling from thirty-six in the four years before the scheme was
introduced to two in the next two years. The average time for each vehicle to
cross the junction fell from 50 seconds to 30 seconds, despite a rise in the
volume of traffic... The idea of removing traffic lights was supported in a
report published last month by the Institute of Economic Affairs. Martin
Cassini, the report’s author, said: “Removing lights removes barriers to traffic
flow and improves behaviour. If you observe a junction where the lights are out
of action, there is rarely congestion. People approach slowly, wave each other
on and filter in turn. Lights and other controls hamper instead of harness human
nature, causing untold delay and harm.”

I think this is really interesting thinking. For too long in this country we have been taken in by transport planners, who seem to be judged on the number of new traffic lights they can erect. It's crazy to have so many traffic lights on roundabouts, for example. This also highlights the amount of redundant 'street furniture' there is. I was driving up the A2 through Bexley last night and there seems to ba some sort of road sign every ten yards along a half mile stretch. Several of them tell the driver that they are driving on the, er, A2. Really useful that. I have no doubt at all that we could remove half the road signs in Britain with no trouble at all. They're an eyesore and an intrusive form of visual pollution. I almost wonder whether they shouldn't have planning permission, but I would never want to hand more power to the planners. They're dictatorial enough as it it.

Widdecombe Family Hounded Out of Their Home

You may have seen Ann Widdecombe on the Tonight with Trevor McDonald programme recently, where she ventured onto sink estates to talk to hoodies. It appears that the family she stayed with overnight have been hounded out of their home after having had their front door set on fire. I hope that the TV company have ensured they have been properly rehoused. What a society we live in.

The Westminster Hour: A Review

Anyone that knows me will know that I am usually a few minutes late for appointments - not in the Boris Johnson class, but late nevertheless. So to have arrived at my speaking engagement this morning 15 minutes early is a proud achievement indeed. Anyway it gives me time to praise a BBC political programme - no, don't fall off your chair in amazement.

Last night I listened to the Westminster Hour for the first time in a very long time. Sundays at 10pm is not a time I am normally listening to the radio, but I stayed overnight at Doughty Street last night. Carolyn Quinn has taken over from Andrew Rawnsley as the presenter. Her first interview was with Hazel Blears. She seemed more relaxed than usual and actually addressed Quinn's questions rather than come out with the expected New Labour line to take. Unlike her TV colleague Andrew Marr, Carolyn Quinn was determined to get some answers out of Blears on Cash for Peerages and to an extent she succeeded, without getting anything hugely newsworthy. She then had two MPs to preview the week ahead, followed by a couple of other features including a ten minute piece by Dennis Sewell on localism.

All in all I found the Westminster Hour a breath of fresh air. It has a presenter who knows her political onions, asks good questions but remains pleasant and more importantly supports West Ham. It covers issues which are of equal interest to the Westminster village and the world outside but more importantly is a political programme without a political agenda.

If they're not careful I will become a regular listener.

PS This positive review has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that they mentioned this blog three times. No, Siree. Do you think I'm bought that easily?!

Cassilis Gives Up Blogging

A few weeks ago I added the Cassilis blog to my daily reads. It had become an increasingly unmissable blog and was well written, to the point and entertaining. So it was a bit of a shock to discover this morning that its author has decided to give up blogging. He says...
Looking back over what I've written is a depressing experience
- there's a few half decent posts and I know I can pull a half-decent paragraph
or two together but by the standards I set myself (however ludicrously high they
may have been) I haven't succeeded. What's more the medium itself isn't what I
envisaged it to be - the hype surrounding blogs is all about an alternative
media, the democratisation of journalism and the 'voice' of the ordinary people.
But bloggers aren't ordinary people - most of them, like me, are political nerds
or obsessives who get off on the idea of interacting with like-minded people.
Looking back over the six months or so I've been doing this the posts that have
generated the most comments are those that deal directly with blogging itself
(or comments from mainstream pundits on blogging). I've already acknowledged
that my writing isn't a fraction of what I wanted it to be but there's no reason
to think it's any better or worse when I write about blogging. So the fact that
the topic that generates most interaction is blogging itself tells you something
about the medium - most of us read blogs to see if anyone has read our blogs,
given us a link or has any interesting widget in their sidebar that we could
pinch. Comments are used rarely to advance genuine debate or discussion - simply
to say ' hey, here's what I think and I have a blog too'. It's all about the
traffic no matter what anyone tells you.

You can read Cassilis's full explanation for giving up blogging HERE. Each to his own, and all that, but is he right? Has blogging failed to live up to its potential in this country? Are we all self obsessed and unwilling to'advance genuine debate'? Answers on a postcard please. Meanwhile, I'm off to give a little talk to business people over breakfast on the issue of 'trust'. The things I do to earn a crust...