Thursday, May 31, 2007

Correcting Adam Boulton

Can I be allowed to correct something Adam Boulton has written in this week's Press Gazette HERE?

After a quarter of a century as a member, I’m this year’s chairman of the Parliamentary Lobby. In spite of its sinister reputation, the Lobby is not an old boys’ network in which politicians and hacks conspire to “keep it under their hats”. We rarely hear secrets and, if we do, the public is informed pretty soon afterwards. In practice, it is the main interface between political journalists, the Government and parliamentary institutions. Our privileges are granted by the Speaker and the Serjeant at Arms, not 10 Downing Street – an important safeguard during the bumpy Blair decade. Blair and Alastair Campbell unilaterally trashed the way Government had interacted with political journalists. Brown is bound to have ideas of his own.

We also have to deal with the rise of the blogger. Iain Dale, Guido Fawkes et al want Lobby passes. But do they want to operate as journalists or gossip columnists? It’s up to the Serjeant at Arms whether to let them in.

Can I make it clear that I do not want a lobby pass. It is true that 18 Doughty Street has applied for one, but I have made clear that it is not for me. I am not a lobby journalist and I do not wish to become one.

On 18 Doughty Street Tonight...

I reckon tonight is the best night of shows we have had on 18 Doughty Street since we launched in October.

7.30pm One to One with Sir John Nott
8.00pm Cross Talk: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown & Nick Cohen
8.30pm World View: Energy security
9.00pm Live at Nine with Mike Read
10pm Vox Politix with Lynne Featherstone MP, Steve Richards (Chief Political Commentator, The Independent), Julian Glover (Chief Leader Writer, The Guardian) and Phil Hendren (Dizzy Thinks)

Gordon (Re)Names His New Spin Doctor

With the news today focussing on Andy Coulson, not many people seem to have noticed that Gordon Brown has appointed his own Heir to Alastair Campbell Director of Communications today, Michael Ellams - or at least reannounced his appointment.

Gordon Brown's much trumpeted retreat from spin will be nothing of the sort and this is perfectly illustrated by the appointment of Michael Ellam. Also at the same time while there WILL be a reduction of special advisers these will just be replaced by politicised civil servants who are special advisers in everything but name.

More than a few journalists have been on the receiving end of a threatening e-mail from Ellam who, although, he is officially a Civil Servant, has, it appears, gone fully native under Brown. I understand that The Times Lobby team wrote a piece about the politicisation of the civil service a number of months ago based on activities originating from within the Treasury, including off-the-record briefings and emails from civil servants within HM Treasury who were doing party political work NOT Treasury work. Sadly, this piece was pulled at the last minute by the editor.

Perhaps this story will resurrected in the next couple of days - or perhaps not. Lobby journalists will be keen not to upset the man who will be leaking stories to them over the next few years. They well remember how off the record chats with Alastair Campbell would suddenly dry up if they wrote anything negative about him.

EXCLUSIVE: Tories Appoint Andy Coulson New Director of Communications

I understand there will be a major announcement from CCHQ this afternoon. Andy Coulson, the ex-editor of the News of the World, is expected to be appointed Director of Communications for the Conservative Party.

Analysis from Michael White, ConservativeHome, Guido Fawkes.

Sorry for lack of posts today. Have been recording all afternoon with Yasmin A-B. If you think the Nick Cohen interview was tetchy just wait till you see the one we've just done on Israel with the Daily Mail's John Torode.

Ben Stewart: An Apology

Sometimes when you write instanteanous responses to things you go over the top - it doesn't matter whether it's on an email or a blog. It happens. I did this on Tuesday in my Greenpeace post HERE. While I don't retract the thrust of the post (that Greenpeace are acting outrageously in seeking to close down the climate change debate) I did indeed use inappropriate and intemperate language regarding Ben Stewart and I'd like to apologise to him for that. He hasn't asked for an apology, but on reflection he deserves one.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Lefties at War

We've justed started a new show on 18 Doughty Street called CROSSTALK. Each week Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and I grill one person - me from the right, she from the left. The clip above is from the programme we will be showing tomorrow (Thursday) evening at 8pm. We had Nick Cohen on, who has written a book attacking the left for failing to stand up for freedom. As you'll see in this clip, I didn't need to say much! Yasmin's firey attacks on Nick were repelled with equal vigour. Believe me, it's worth tuning in for tomorrow.

Thinking Local...

Readers of the Daily Telegraph may already be aware of the THINK LOCAL series the paper is running together with DIRECT DEMOCRACY and the CENTRE FOR POLICY STUDIES. Their latest paper is on localising education and can be viewed HERE.

Osborne: Tories Will Prevent New Grammar Schools From Opening

I was under the mistaken illusion that the grammar school issue had been put to bed and that the party leadership wanted to close down the debatre. The Press Association has just disabused me of that notion...
Shadow Chancellor George Osborne risked stoking the bitter education row further
today by indicating that a Tory government would actively prevent new grammar
schools being opened. Mr Osborne insisted that countries in the "mainstream" of thinking on education - such as America - would not allow selective schools to appear. Pressed by a Conservative activist from Buckinghamshire on whether the party would permit them to open new grammars which had local support, Mr Osborne said: "We don't believe in schools choosing pupils. We believe in pupils choosing schools. "That is where the mainstream of the education debate is all around the world. You go to the United States, you go to other countries in Europe, that's what they are talking about. They wouldn't allow schools to emerge and take funding that had academic selection as a criterion for entry. That is the mainstream education debate in the rest of the world and we're suggesting that Britain and the Conservative party joins that mainstream debate. His comments were immediately attacked by former shadow Europe minister Graham Brady, who resigned yesterday in protest at the policy. Mr Brady - the first front-bencher to quit under David Cameron's leadership - said the Conservative position of keeping the 164 existing grammar schools but ruling out creating any more was "illogical". "This question highlights the illogicality of supporting popular selective systems but preventing them from expanding when parents want them to," the MP for Altrincham and West Sale said. "If population is growing in a selective Local Education Authority area, whether it's Buckinghamshire or Trafford, surely new grammar schools should be available.

Unless they have completely changed their secondary schooling system Germany operates an entirely academically based selection procedure to decide which pupils should go to a Gymnasium (Grammar School), Realschule or Hauptschule.

What on earth was George Osborne thinking of by giving this answer? I thought Conservatives believed in the freedom of parents to start new schools. We criticise Labour for having a £2 million barrier to entry, and yet we are seriously suggesting that we should prevent people opening schools in a format which has a fantastic record of academic excellence and promoting social mobility.

Fisking the Chipmunk

My little chipmunk has certainly been busy of late. This morning I received this gushing message on Facebook from Lynne Wells of the Hazel Blears Campaign. I thought it worthy of a light fisk... Mind you, after the last time I fisked, I'm a little hesitant!

Hey all!
Oh dear, not a good start.

There's only a week or so until we'll all be receiving our ballot papers!
I can barely contain myself.

Remember if you're a member of a Trade Union or any other socialist society - you can vote for Hazel more than once!
Whatever happened to that old fashioned concept of one man one vote. Oh, sorry, I forgot. This is the Labour Party we're talking about.

A list of affiliated socialist societies can be found here.
How helpful. Move along now.

I thought you might be interested in this Times article which details Hazel's route to the Cabinet Table. As I am sure you are all aware, Hazel Blears has placed her working-class origins at the heart of her campaign.
Er, yes. Since she waxes lyrical about her bus driver brother at every opportunity...

Hazel was also on Newsnight last night debating alongside the other Deputy Leadership candidates.
Damn, missed it.

It was a very heated debate and Hazel gave a strong performance as usual.
Natch. But not as strong as Alan Johnson from what I hear...

She stressed her belief that the Deputy leader should be a campaigner in chief for the party, as well as a voice for the grassroots at cabinet level.
But not Deputy Prime Minister, eh?

View the debate here Don't forget to vote for Hazel in the online poll!!!
How could we?!

Best wishes,Lynne
I feel positively tired after that. Well done Lynne!
Photo courtesy of James Cridland

In Praise of Al Jazeera

I hope you're sitting down, because I am going to do something very unexpected. On Monday I was flicking through the channels on SKY and got to Al Jazeera. I had assumed it was just Arab propaganda, but boy was I wrong. I sat transfixed for an hour as I watched story after story about world affairs without a hint of any kind of bias. This wasn't your typical soundbite reporting, it was indepth stuff from around the world. Several of the reporters were recognisable from Sky or the BBC and seemed to have been given a new lease of life. I guess it is the sort of thing BBC World might do, but as you can't get BBC World in this country I wouldn't know. I'll be tuning into Al Jazeera regularly from now on.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Brady Resigns on 'Point of Principle

Thirty seconds before I got on my flight to Dublin I got a text to say Graham Brady had resigned. Before I go on I should say that I know Graham well. He was a colleague in the early 1990s at the lobbying firm I co-founded. He has been an excellent Shadow Schools and latterly Europe Minister.

I indicated in my post yesterday that by making public the Chief Whip's 'severe reprimand' the party hierarchy was almost inviting Graham to resign. Today's newspapers made even sorrier reading with anonymous sources making clear that he woulld be sacked in the forthcoming reshuffle. anyway. What a pathetic way to behave. These anonymous briefings are cowardly and demean the very people they are no doubt intended to protect. This is no way to treat people. Whatever Graham's mistakes may have been, he did not deserve that. He was minded to resign yesterday but was talked out of it by one senior Shadow Cabinet Minister. The same effort was not expended today. It's not difficult to see why, after this morning's headlines.

Graham was educated in a grammar school and his entire constituency is dominated by grammar school education. That he should want to defend the excllent education provided by schools in Altrincham and Sale should surprise no one. I would hope most MPs would have taken the same line.

Resigning on a point of principle is a rare thing in politics no matter what one's party. While it is no doubt painful in the short term I suspect Graham will not regret it in the long term.

By provoking a resignation in this way, the Party hierarchy has shown it will brook no dissent from its MPs (and candidates, I guess) even when the Party hasn't got an established policy. From that point of view it may be viewed as 'mission accomplished', but the fact remains that the Party has lost a good media performer and someone with a lot of potential.

There is quite an irony in this situation. Guess who was Graham's boss at the CPS in the early 1990s. Yup, one D Willetts.

How the Enviro-Fascists Are Trying to Close Down the Climate Change Debate

A few days ago I emailed Ben Stewart, one of head honchos at GREENPEACE, asking if he would like to come onto 18 Doughty Street and debate Dominic Lawson on the subject of climate change. I have to admit to being totally unprepared for his response...


We have a policy at Greenpeace that we no longer debate people who don’t accept the scientific reality of anthropogenic climate change. It’s similar to the policy undertaken by cancer specialists who used to debate the tobacco industry but discontinued doing so. To paraphrase Richard Dawkins, if we debated Dominic Lawson on climate change it would look great on his CV, not so good on ours.

I would make clear that that doesn’t mean I don’t think there should be freedom of speech for people with DL’s view, there should be. He is welcome to write about it and speak on it all he wishes, even though I disagree. But by debating him and his fellow-travelers we perpetuate the myth that this is a ‘he said/she said’ issue, a 50/50 where there is still a debate.

I’d debate Bjorn Lomborg, who accepts the science but disagrees vehemently on the need to take action on climate change. But not Dominic Lawson.

All the best

That really tells me all I need to know. Anyone who seeks to constrain debate on this hugely important issue is adopting the tactics of crypto-fascists. They act as if scientists are in one hundred per cent agreement. They are not. The hubris and condescension in this email is almost beyond parody.

My intention was to have two 'political' figures and two scientists taking part. Let's hope the Green Party or Friends of the Earth have a more open and democratic approach than GREENPEACE.

UPDATE: There's an interesting article HERE on the subject of closing down the debate.

UPDATE 12.30am: I accept the original language in this post was slightly OTT and have edited it accordingly. Ben Stewart and I have spoken this evening. I wouldn't say we have had a meeting of minds, but that was probably asking too much.

UPDATE: Thursday (this is posted above in a separate post, but needs to be copied here too)

Ben Stewart: An Apology

Sometimes when you write instanteanous responses to things you go over the top - it doesn't matter whether it's on an email or a blog. It happens. I did this on Tuesday in my Greenpeace post HERE. While I don't retract the thrust of the post (that Greenpeace are acting outrageously in seeking to close down the climate change debate) I did indeed use inappropriate and intemperate language regarding Ben Stewart and I'd like to apologise to him for that. He hasn't asked for an apology, but on reflection he deserves one.

Paxman: How the Political Animal Has Changed

I'm reading Jeremy Paxman's POLITICAL ANIMAL at the moment, albeit three years late. I'll do a full review when I have finished it, but I was very struck by this passage...
Being loved is what so much of contemporary politics is about. In a post-ideological age, the Labour Party has built its success upon seeming safe and appealing to people who might never otherwise have voted for it. Yet you cannot achieve radical change without being willing to confront those who might be disadvantaged by it. The difficulty is that the great battles which divided the parties after the Second World War - on nationalisation or nuclear weapons, for example - are finished. The Welfare State brought the state into everyone's lives, but the consequence has been that it turned ministers from lawmakers to managers. And managers of a system which is bound to fail, at least part of the time. Where, once upon a time, governments impinged very little upon people's lives, there is now scarcely an area of human behaviour which is not touched by the law. Yet, while government is all pervasive, it is not, by its nature, particularly effective: the public knows from its own experience that ministerial boasts about the superiority of British health services, education or transport systems, are empty. So the opportunity which the politician thought he had to make an impact on the lives of the entire population is just as easily an opportunity for the citizenry to blame him for the failures they see all around.

In an age when politics was driven by profoundly differing convictions about how the world ought to be organised, enemies were the price of progress. But when all that is being argued about is the mechanisms by which services are delivered to the general public, there is nothing to stiffen the backbone. Politicians have to become evangelists for a system which is intrinsically incapable of delivering what is asked of it: the greatest credibility problem of modern politics is that the political process cannot answer adequately for the performance of the public sector. It follows that the wisest ministers are those who realise soonest how very little power they really have. The number of politicians who can look back on their ministerial careers and feel that they really made a significant difference to their country is small. Roy Jenkins could honestly recall his time as Home Secretary and say that he had achieved something, in endorsing the reforms to the laws on abortion and homosexuality. Margaret Thatcher emasculated the trades unions. Tony Blair gave Wales an assembly and Scotland a Parliament. But quite what the Secretary for Culture, the three junior ministers and their aides write in their diaries each night is
something of a mystery.
And that just about sums up the dilemma of a modern politician or someone who is thinking about going to politics. Paxman has picked up on the Nixonian idea of 'making a difference'. The problems of modern Britain are very different to those of thirty years ago, and as Paxman says, they are more managerial. Not a very exciting reason to enter the political arena is it? Most politicians have great ideas of changing things, whereas in actual fact they are managing things - usually very badly. Food for thought. Discuss.

Don't Complain...

For obvious reasons I have been looking at some Irish blogs this morning and came across THIS wonderful blog post on a blog called Twenty Major. I can even forgive him the use of the C-Word. He reflects a bemusement in the Irish blogosphere about how the Irish people could actually re-elect Ahern's government...

So it looks like Bertie’s back for a third term. Brilliant, just f*****g brilliant. Let me just say that if you voted for him and his shower of crooks then you may not open your mouth for the next five years. Seriously.

Don’t complain when violent crime increases and more innocent people get killed in the crossfire. Don’t complain when the culture of passing the buck and not taking any responsibility for your actions results in you or a friend or a loved one being stabbed in the neck in Temple Bar for no reason at all. Don’t complain when more jobs are lost as the Celtic Tiger becomes the Celtic Ancient Old Lion that’s Been In the Zoo For Years. Don’t complain when the fucking shambles of a health service we have lets you down, leaves you waiting, misdiagnoses you and costs you a fortune paying for consultants and administrators. That’s if you get the chance before you die in a corridor. Don’t complain when they sell off our national resources to greedy multinationals. Don’t complain when more Garda corruption is uncovered and travesties of justice occur. Don’t complain about the leader of the country, whose shifty, half-arsed explanations about his finances don’t fool anyone with half a f*****g brain. Don’t complain about the state of transport in this country, both public and private. Don’t complain when you’re stuck on the M50 for hours or trying to commute to work every day from your home 50 or 60 or 70 miles away meaning you hardly get to see your kids. Don’t complain about the price of a house and don’t complain when the whole stamp duty thing gets brushed under the carpet. Don’t complain about the prehistoric communications systems we have which don’t allow you to get broadband and will never allow you to get broadband, and even if you have broadband it is a Ford Cortina to other countries Ferraris. Don’t complain when you can’t walk down Grafton Street without some gypsy shoving a baby under your nose and begging for money while another one picks your fucking pocket. Don’t complain when the drinking water in whatever part of Ireland you live in becomes poisonous and gives you the raging scuts or the black death. Don’t complain when the mythical Metro to the airport, which was supposed to be in place this year as per their manifesto in 2002, isn’t completed until 2023 and costs 5 times as much as they said it would. Don’t complain about this government in five years time when they haven’t kept their promises because they did that last time and you let them away with it.

Why would they think they had to do anything different this time around? Just don’t complain. You have no f*****g right to. Ireland needed a change from the shifty, crooked, back scratching, self-serving, arrogant, deceitful and downright avaricious adminsistration we’ve had for the last 10 years. Everybody complains all the time about Bertie and every other fucking little thing his government does or fails to do - but when the time comes to put their money where their mouth is they’re just as happy to bend over, get fucked up the arse by Fianna Fail and keep the status quo. People might say the majority have spoken but all this does is prove that the majority of people in this country are stupid c***s.

The comments make Guido's look timid...

Off to Dublin to Be Humiliated

I am just off to Dublin to appear in a TV programme called THE PANEL on RTE. From what I can make out it's an Irish version of HAVE I GOT NEWS FOR YOU, albeit with a different and more spontaneous format. There is a host (Colin Murphy) and four comedians, and in each half of the programme they have a different guest. This programme will look back on the Irish elections. One recent guest said this about the show...

It’s a pretty funny show, I sat in the green room being fed peeled fruit by
naked groupies wondering what it would be like to be the least funny person in
the room. Luckily we joined forces and devised an innovative public health
promotion strategy.
Why do I have this feeling of impending doom? If anyone's interested, we record it tonight (for two hours!) and the best 45 minutes are shown at 10.30pm on Wednesday on RTE2.
Have a look at the video of the most recent programme HERE. Pick the 16 May programme as it previewed their elections. They had a real go at Sinn Fein in a way which if a UK broadcaster had done it, they would have been taken to OfCom! Lots of gangster and kneecapping jokes!

UPDATE 12.40am: Well, I survived. Sort of. It will be interesting to see how it's edited, let's put it that way!

Ashcroft Steps Up Fight For VC Hero

Michael Ashcroft has added his weight to the calls for VC hero Tul Bahadur Pun to be given residence in the UK HERE. In an article in the Daily Mail he is typically forthright...
"Irrespective of anything else, this was a man who earned the Victoria
Cross in the service of the British," he said. "On compassionate and any other
grounds, this is somebody that the population of this country would be delighted
to have admitted to the UK. To tell him, at the age of 84, to 'bugger off' is
despicable." Lord Ashcroft, deputy chairman of the Conservative Party and author
of the book Victoria Cross Heroes, has arranged a meeting between his
advisgratefulers and Mr Pun's London solicitor to try to overturn the decision
banning him from the UK. Mr Pun's Ealing-based solicitor was grateful for Lord
Ashcroft's support. Martin Howe said: "I am delighted that a person who is
so knowledgeable about the Victoria Cross, and the owner of the world's largest
collection, is putting his full weight behind honourable men who are full of
integrity. "Mr Pun is being made aware of it and I know he will be delighted."

Monday, May 28, 2007

Esther is Smitten by Barack Obama

Esther McVey is smitten by Barack Obama HERE.

Lessons from the Demise of LibDem Voice

The imminent demise of LibDem Voice raises a number of issues - not least for the LibDems, but also for the wider blogosphere. Rob Fenwick has run it from its inception and although it has never really caught on in the way ConservativeHome did, it has served as a valuable and sometimes controversial resource for LibDems to discuss matters of interest to them. There's nothing remotely similar which can carry on its work.
I suppose many will expect to me rejoice at LibDem Voice's demise, but I don't. Any forum which provides a place for likeminded people to discuss politics has to be a good thing, but it just shows that it's impossible to make it work unless, like Tim Montgomerie on ConservativeHome, you can devote yourself to it full time. I don't think Tim would disagree that in the six months he was working at 18 Doughty Street ConservativeHome suffered a little and that since he and Sam Coates have gone back to it more or less full time it has gone up another level.
In my own case, this blog only took off in the first half of 2006 because I had taken a six month sabbatical from work and was able to devote the hours necessary to develop it.
So I suppose the lesson from this is that it's not easy to make a blog work for a mass, participatory audience, unless you have the resources to devote huge amounts of time and effort to getting it off the ground in the first place and then maintaining it.
And finally, a word of thanks to Rob Fenwick and Mark Pack, the two key movers behind LibDem Voice. T'was a good thing you did.

Graham Brady & Grammar Schools: Time for Cool Heads

It is being reported that Graham Brady, the Shadow Minister for Europe and former Shadow Schools Minister, has been "severely reprimanded" by the Chief Whip for making comments on grammar schools, outside his brief. A party spokeswoman said: "Graham has been severely reprimanded by the Chief Whip and told to stick to his brief."

Graham was quoted in The Times this morning saying...

"I accept the party's policy on grammar schools. But it is vitally important that policy should be developed with a full understanding of all of these facts, which might lead to the introduction of selection in other ways, including partial selection in academies and other schools."

Brady, a former grammar school pupil, has been a staunch defender of grammar schools in his constituency and was among the first Tories to challenge the party leadership's decision to drop a commitment to bring back the system, under which pupils were selected by ability.

I am not surprised that the Chief Whip should have had 'a word' with Graham but for an anonymous party press spokeswoman to make this public is intolerable. It's tantamount to encouraging him to fall on his sword.
Graham Brady has been an excellent Shadow Minister, both at education and now with the European portfolio. The Party would take leave of its collective senses if it allowed this to escalate any further.

Support for VC Hero Grows: Time for Liam Byrne to Act

On Thursday I highlighted HERE the fate of a VC winning Gurkha who has been denied the right to live in this country because he couldn;t demonstrate close ties with the UK. Since then the publicity surrounding the case of Tul Bahadur Pun has been extraordinary.

In particular I want to pay tribute to the BBC for their role in bringing this to the attention of the nation. On Radio 5 Live's Stephen Nolan Show they devoted their Friday night call in to the subject,m and because of the response repeated the exercise on Saturday. BBC News 24 were also spotlighting the story on Saturday night too. 5 Live's switchboard was jammed and they say they didn't receive a single call on the government's side. Every call seemed to blame the politicians for the fact that Mr Pun is not being allowed into the country. In actual fact it will have been a bureaucrat's stroke of the pen which did that. But it is now up to Immigration Minister Liam Byrne to intervene to allow this hero into the country to get the medical treatment he needs. He knows it's within his power to do so.

I was pleased to learn this morning that Michael Ashcroft, who has a collection of 142 VCs and has written a book about them, has added his voice to the growing calls for Mr Pun to be given residence in this country. It seems politicians from all parties are united in this.
To register your support go the VCHero website. There's more on the British Army Rumour Service (ARRSE) site HERE. If you haven't already written to or emailed your MP about it, please do so. You can also join the FACEBOOK support group HERE. You can email words of support to: . All your emails will be put before the Immigration Judge considering Mr Pun VC's appeal.
St Cripsin's Day Blog speaks for many when he says: Apparently being a rapist or potential mass murderer gives you a greater chance of staying in this country than the following actions.
“The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the VICTORIA CROSS to :- No. 10119 Rifleman Tullbahadur (sic) Pun, 6th Gurkha Rifles, Indian Army. In Burma on June 23rd, 1944, a Battalion of the 6th Gurkha Rifles was ordered to attack the Railway Bridge at Mogaung. Immediately the attack developed the enemy opened concentrated and sustained cross fire at close range from a position known as the Red House and from a strong bunker position two hundred yards to the left of it. So intense was this cross fire that both the leading platoons of ‘B’ Company, one of which was Rifleman Tulbahadur (sic) Pun’s, were pinned to the ground and the whole of his Section was wiped out with the exception of himself, the Section commander and one other man. The Section commander immediately led the remaining two men in a charge on the Red House but was at once badly wounded. Rifleman Tulbahadur (sic) Pun and his remaining companion continued the charge, but the latter too was immediately wounded. Rifleman Tulbahadur (sic) Pun then seized the Bren Gun, and firing from the hip as he went, continued the charge on this heavily bunkered position alone, in the face of the most shattering concentration of automatic fire, directed straight at him. With the dawn coming up behind him, he presented a perfect target to the Japanese. He had to move for thirty yards over open ground, ankle deep in mud, through shell holes and over fallen trees. Despite these overwhelming odds, he reached the Red House and closed with the Japanese occupations. He killed three and put five more to flight and captured two light machine guns and much ammunition. He then gave accurate supporting fire from the bunker to the remainder of his platoon which enabled them to reach their objective. His outstanding courage and superb gallantry in the face of odds which meant almost certain death were most inspiring to all ranks and beyond praise.”

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Cruddas Targeted in Labour Dirty Tricks

The Mail on Sunday today contains a puff piece on Hazel Blears and a piece on Jon Cruddas which he will find very embarrassing. I am sure there is no link between the two!

The Cruddas story accuses him of buying a second home in Notting Hill to enable his child to be educated there. It was clearly leaked by one of the rival deputy leadership camps. I have no idea which campaign is responsible, but the man with most to gain from damaging Cruddas is Peter Hain, who has lost no time in slagging off Alan Johnson and repudiating much of the government policy he has got collective responsibility for. Cruddas has sewn up a lot of the left of centre vote which Hain is targeting. Hain knows he cannot win unless much of Cruddas's support transfers to him, and he's willing to do what it takes.

It's turning nasty.

PS Nice to see the Mail on Sunday take my Clive Betts McJobs story a little further HERE.

Grammar Streaming is Part of the Answer

David Cameron's ARTICLE in the Mail on Sunday is a timely reminder of the fact that there is more to Tory education policy than grammar schools. But on that subject, I was delighted to see he is totally committed to encouraging so-called 'grammar setting'.
My loathing of experimental teaching methods that failed generations of children, my fear of disruptive children wrecking the education of those who want to get on and learn, my contempt for the 'all must win prizes' mentality - whether in sporting or academic endeavour - is not just political, it's personal. And that leads me to the first group of critics, who want to hear positive, constructive policies from my party. They will not be disappointed.

When I say I want 'zero tolerance of disruptive pupils', it is not some sound- bite - it is a call to action backed by specific measures. We will legislate to give head teachers the clear right to exclude disruptive pupils from school, without the fear of being overruled. We will enable heads to draw up binding home-school contracts setting out how children - and parents - should expect to behave when in school. They would be binding because if the parent won't sign, the child cannot attend.

Vitally, we will shake up the system for turning around disruptive and excluded children so that they are not just put in taxis to expensive and often poorly performing pupil referral units, or left on the streets to turn to crime. We will set out how social enterprises, such as the Amelia Farm Trust in Wales, or the Lighthouse Group in Bradford, both of which I visited recently, can access state funding to do the job properly. When I say I oppose nationwide selection by 11 between schools, that does not mean I oppose selection by academic ability altogether. Quite the reverse. I am passionate about the importance of setting by ability within schools, so that we stretch the brightest kids and help those in danger of being left behind.

With a Conservative Government this would be a motor of aspiration for the brightest kids from the poorest homes - effectively a 'grammar stream' in every subject in every school. Setting would be a focus for Ofsted and a priority for all new academies.

This is the one thing which will really help bright kids succeed in particular subjects. I remember at my school our year group was divided into three streams, but we remained in the same class for every subject. I was rubbish at all science subjects yet was still in the top stream for them. Only in Maths were we split up in the third year (13-14 yrs). I was moved down a group in Maths and it helped be hugely. Instead of being one of the worst in the class, I became one of the best in the new class which helped my confidence no end. I doubt I would have got my O Level without it.

Read the rest of David Cameron's article HERE.

In Praise of Alan Duncan

I've just watched Alan Duncan give a 20 minute interview to Steve Richards on GMTV's Sunday Programme. It struck me while I was watching it that he has developed into a really serious politician and is one of the Conservative Party's best communicators. He sounds calm, measured and normal - something many politicians have difficulty with. When the reshuffle comes Alan should be given a post where he is in the front line in media terms. His current job doesn't give him the exposure he should have.

John Reid Threatens Our Civil Liberties

This morning's Sunday Times carries a vcery worrying story which indicates that in his last four weeks at the Home Office John Reid intends to introduce so-called 'wartime powers' giving Police the ability to stop people and ask them about their movements even when they are not under any suspicion of committing a crime.

Let's ignore the desirability or not of this further move to an authoritarian State for a moment and look at the motivation for it. John Reid intends to push this huge measure through in four weeks and if the LibDems and Conservatives don't play ball (which they won't) he will accuse them of playing politics with terrorism.

David Davis is quite right in his comments (just released) when he says this:
The driving imperative of these draconian announcements appears to be more of a
wish to project the reputation of Mr Reid and Mr Blair in their last weeks in
office, than a need to protect the British public. The Government should
understand that no amount of new draconian laws will make up for incompetent
implementation. We will consider carefully every proposal the Government comes
up with and support those we judge to be effective, reasonable, and will not act
as a recruiting sergeant for terrorism. This cannot, and will not, be concluded
in four weeks.

Surely in this so-called war on terror we show weakness if we introduce the very kind of measures the terrorists will view as a small victory. Anyone who is concerned about our civil liberties should be very worried indeed by these developments. If a Conservative government had proposed these measures it would be accused of being on the road to a semi-fascist state.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Vorsprung Durch Technik Strikes for the Tenth Time

The new Audi A5 Coupe. Want one. In fact, I want one so much that I went down to Maidstone Audi this afternoon (which almost burnt down on Thursday) and ordered one. It's not out till August but they have a left hand drive version in the showroom. I was hooked immediately. It will be my tenth Audi. I cannot imagine why anyone would ever buy a BMW. And before anyone says anything, it is 34 g/km greener than my current car! Sorry, but I wouldn't be seen dead in a Prius.

Tory Radio with Francis Maude and Mark Field

The ever excellent Tory Radio has two more podcast interviews with Francis Maude and Mark Field.

West Ham Supporters in Politics & the Media

In next season's West Ham matchday programme I hope to be writing a series of profiles and interviews with people in politics and the media who support the Hammers. I already have quite a long list, but if you know any MPs, Peers, AMs, MLAs, MSPs or media hacks who support the Hammers do let me know in the Comments. And no, they don't get free tickets for taking part!

If You See This Woman Call the Police

Rachel from North London knows what it is like to be stalked. She needs your help. Find out why HERE.

Poll: Most Incompetent Labour Minister Since 1997

About a week ago I asked you for your nominations for the most incompetent Labour Minister of the last ten years. You duly obliged and here is the poll I promised. Please vote for the THREE Ministers you consider to have been the most incompetent.

Who is the Most Incompetent Labour Minister Since 1997
Stephen Byers
John Prescott
Patricia Hewitt
Dawn Primarolo
Frank Dobson
Des Browne
Harriet Harman
Nick Brown
Ruth Kelly
Gordon Brown
Charles Clarke
John Reid
Margaret Beckett
Estelle Morris
Geoff Hoon
Peter Mandelson
Lord Falconer
Alun Michael
David Lammy
Free polls from

Quote of the Day

In a couple of weeks there are two new biographies of Hillary Clinton being published. The press are trying to hype them up but when asked for a reaction, Clinton's press spokesman Philippe Reines came out with a classic.

Is is possible to be quoted yawning?

Respect. I shall keep that one up my sleeve for use in future!

Return of the Flapping White Coats

ConservativeHome reports that four ex Conservative MPs have written to the Daily Telegraph in support of grammar schools. What they don't say is that the four are now prominent UKIP supporters. They are Piers Merchant, Sir Richard Body, Christopher Gill and Roger Knapman. John Major once said that when he saw Sir Richard Body approaching he could hear the sound of flapping white coats. That could equally apply to the other three, and it's the reason why UKIP will always be a fringe party.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Poll Boost for Cameron But Ming Is In Trouble

This has just appeared on the Press Association Newswire...
Fresh pressure was put on Sir Menzies Campbell tonight as a new poll showed just 41% of Liberal Democrat supporters believed he was doing a good job as party leader. The YouGov survey for the Daily Telegraph also saw his party's score drop three points to 15% while the Tories gained two to 39% and Labour went up one to 33%. Sir Menzies was forced to shrug off reports of unrest among party members last week in the wake of a poll showing most wanted someone else to fight the next general election. He had already helped fuel speculation by declaring repeatedly that he would not quit after conceding disappointing election results in Scotland, Wales and England were a "mixed bag".

The new poll shows a third do not believe he is doing a good job and more than a quarter (26%) are undecided, well into Sir Menzies's second year in charge after succeeding the deposed Charles Kennedy. And when it comes to leading the country, just 6% of all voters think he would be the best option. His spokeswoman told the newspaper: "Polls go up and down; what this sort of thing shows is that people do not yet know Ming."The spokeswoman said: "Last year was about stabilising things and making sure everything got into gear. "Now it's about us making sure he gets out there as much as possible so people get to know him." She said Sir Menzies would be making major policy announcements in the near future on poverty and inequality and pointed out that preparations for a possible snap general election - including the writing of a manifesto - were already well under way. The poll contained some good news though for the man who is set to be the next Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who has narrowed the gap between his rating and Tory leader David Cameron's from 10 points in April to just three (41% to 38%).

Labour MP in McDonald's Hospitality Riddle

Clive Betts is one of the more on message Labour MPs I have encountered. He hasn't got much of an independent mind - he's the one they wheel out to parrot the party line when there's a crisis and no one else is available. Tonight, I leave you to judge whether he has brought Parliament into disrepute or not. And what over? McJobs. Not the jobs themselves, you understand, just the word.

Clive Betts, it seems, has become McDonald's favourite MP. Dave's Part blog reports that my second favourite Burger company has launched a campaign to persuade the Oxford English Dictionary to change the definition of the word McJobs in their new edition. The BBC has more HERE. Of course, Bett's decision to table this EDM...

Mr Clive Betts [R]
Mr John Leech [R]
Andrew Rosindell
Mr Greg Hands
Mr Sadiq Khan
Alan Keen

That this House recognises the valuable contribution the 1.9 million people in the UK's hospitality and catering industry make to the UK's economy; regrets the use of derogatory phrases attached to these jobs such as `McJob' which write them off as unstimulating, low-paid jobs with few prospects; further recognises that because of this namesake for this derogatory term, this prejudice is felt most sharply by the people who pursue careers and jobs at McDonald's in the UK; and calls for a wider recognition of the value and importance to the UK of the service sector and the people who work within it.
[R] Relevant interest declared
... would of course have nothing to do with this entry for him in the Register of Members Interests...

BETTS, Clive (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
6. Overseas visits
8-11 June 2006,
to Germany as a member of the UK Parliamentary Football Club, to attend the World Cup and play football matches for charity. I received match ticket, hospitality and coach transport from McDonald's, and hospitality and coach transport from National Grid. (Registered 29 August 2006)

So, McDonald's give him World Cup tickets, and he puts down an EDM and tours the Westminster broadcasting studios on their behalf. If he had been a Tory in 1996 that would be headlined SLEAZE with a capital S. Just as well he didn't ask a Parliamentary Question, isn't it?! The interest is declared so he has broken no rule. So that's alright then.

Of course Mr Betts is no stranger to putting down ridiculous EDMs. Labour Watch reports that Clive Betts has attempted to generate some local publicity amongst his Sheffield United supporting constituents by tabling an EDM calling for West Ham to be deducted points over the Tevez affair. Not that this has anything to with why I am posting this, you understand! This EDM was met with some frosty words by Martin Samuel of The Times...

Sheffield United deserve our sympathy. Yet the righteous anger that was so appealing a few weeks ago has metamorphosed into the sort of wrongheaded feeding
frenzy that keeps Chris Morris, the media satirist, in pay cheques. Latest to join the mob is Clive Betts, Labour MP for Sheffield Attercliffe, who tabled an early day motion yesterday calling for West Ham to be docked points.Betts would, of course, know much about false paperwork, having been suspended from the House of Commons for seven days in September 2003 for copying a doctored document so
that his Brazilian rent-boy boyfriend, José Gasparo, could stay in Britain. Betts also provided Gasparo with a Commons pass, as his “researcher”. Still, it is good that someone is willing to pull up his trousers and take a stand for morality.

PS Cue in the comments the Labour anonymous trolls crying "oh this is really weak Iain"...
UPDATE: It seems LibDem John Leech, a sponsor of the EDM, also received hospitality from McDonald's. His entry in the Register of Members' Interests reads: 8-11 June 2006, to Germany as a member of the UK Parliamentary Football Club, to play football matches for charity. I received coach transport and hospitality from McDonald's Restaurants Ltd

Bertie's Eyes Are Smiling

I don't pretend to know much about Irish politics, but I am finding the Irish election night coverage on BBC Parliament fascinating. I have been watching it for 75 minutes now and there hasn't been a single woman in the studio either as a presenter, politician or pundit. There is no air of excitement at all either in the studio or at any of the counts. See how boring PR and STV can be!

Interestingly even the programme pundits and presenters are calling the Taoiseach by his christian name. I noticed this when we had an Irish Election Special on 18 Doughty Street this week. I asked Jarleth Burke, the Fine Gael representative, why he kept calling his opponent 'Bertie'. He said it was because everyone else did!

Fianna Fail seem to be heading for an absolute majority will remain in government, but probably with new coalition partners, despite the reemergence of the main opposition party, Fine Gael. It's a cracking achievement for third term Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Sinn Fein have thankfully not done as well as predicted, but I am disappointed that that right of centre Progressive Democrats look like being wiped out. Indeed, all the smaller parties and Independents seem to be doing badly as the two party system reasserts itself. Where Ireland leads, may Britain follow!

UPDATE: Dan Hannan on why they decided to stick with Ahern HERE.

How to Score a Direct Hit

At the BBC, THIS is what we do poo...

Blair Car Sells for £4,150 on Ebay

Tony Blair's eBay legacy started today as a car that once belonged to the Blairs sold on for £4,150 (not much higher than the normal second hand price) … but he still trails Thatcher and Churchill in the eBay popularity stakes.

Prompted by the sale, conducted comprehensive research to draw up a league of Prime Ministerial popularity since the Second World War according to the volume and type of memorabilia available on the site.

Blair’s 1997 Chrysler Grand Voyager (with a log book registering it to 10 Downing Street) sold after 11 bids had been placed on the site. The car, advertised as having two drop-down TV screens, a video player, a Nintendo games machine and a fridge, has completed 87,500 miles. It looks like the buyers have picked up a bargain with the purchase.

Richard Kanareck, spokesperson for said: "Compared to other prime ministerial memorabilia, this buyer has picked up a bargain. When you think that Margaret Thatcher's eBay legacy is a handbag selling for over £100,000, the legacies of Tony Blair's premiership are looking like a good deal at this stage."

Judging by quantity of available products alone, Winston Churchill flies into first place with more than twice as many than the next contender Margaret Thatcher. John Major limps into fourth place, just in front of Harold Wilson, with a mere 45 items currently listed.

The "Most Valuable" round saw some extraordinary figures. A set of signed, first edition "The Second World War" books, by Churchill is currently listed at £10,000. A hard back copy of John Major’s autobiography recently sold for £3.19 but Margaret Thatcher proves unbeatable as the record holder for the most expensive item sold for charity on In July 2000, her handbag was bought for £103,000 with proceeds going to Breast Cancer Care.

The eBay Prime Ministerial League of Popularity:

1. Winston Churchill
2. Margaret Thatcher
3. Tony Blair
4. John Major
5. Harold Wilson

'Ere Sonny, Take Your Hands Out of Your Pockets

Earlier this week David Cameron did another one of his days 'spending time in the real world' and headed off to Welsh Wales to kick some Welsh LibDem ass experience life on the beat with the Heddlu. He was in Newtown with a police sergeant finding out exactly how stretched rural police can be. Vast areas are patrolled by one or two officers who only have capacity to respond to one emergency at a time. They are short of cells, meaning endless long drives to bigger towns when they are, all too frequently, full. David Cameron went out on patrol in a pursuit car, heard about planning for a VIP visit, witnessed the endless paperwork, spent a morning visiting a rural outpost as well as seeing the daily operations of a town-centre police station. More on his blog HERE.
This visit followed his day in Birmingham with a muslim family and a day in Hull as a teaching assistant. No doubt the comments will be full of people with negative comments about this kind of thing, but I think it's fantastic he's out on the road doing it. Too many politicians get wedded to the Westminster village and lose touch with the real world. None of these visits are pre-publicised and no press is present, so far as I know. He takes his own cameraman to record small parts of each day and then writes it himself up on the WebCameron Blog. It's not written by one of his gofers - he does it himself. Mock all you like, but in my book this is one of the best things he has done as leader.

Labour Minister in Porky Telling Shocker

Dizzy reckons a Minister might have been telling a porky or two about 0870 numbers. This is exactly the kind of story he excels at - in a kind of runner-up kind of way! Click HERE.

Is Mr Speaker Losing It?

We all have an off day at work, but they seem to be besetting Speaker Michael Martin with increasing regularity. Yesterday, John Reid had just reached the end of a PNQ on the Control Orders row when the Speaker jumped up and started yelling at Heathcoat-Amory. Today Hansard records what he said but it does not catch the vicious nature of his remarks nor the fact that he jabbed his finger repeatedly at Heathcoat-Amory and turned bright red in the face.

Heathcoat-Amory's "sin" was to have wandered up to the Speaker's clerk and gently express disappointment that he had not been called in the Control Orders debate or in the previous deay's discussion about nuclear power (Heathcoat-Amory, as a former Energy Minister, would have been a voice worth hearing on that). MPs often wander up to speak to the Speaker's secretary in that manner. Michael Martin's furious reaction was embarrassing. Heathcoat-Amory may be the sort of upper-class Tory Martin hates but he is an intelligent, authoritative man. He is also, after the tragic death of a son, regarded with wide sympathy on all sides of the Commons. What on earth is wrong with Michael Martin at the moment? This is what Hansard recorded...
Mr. Speaker: Order. Leave the Secretary alone. The right hon. Member for
Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) was not pleased about not being called. There is
other business, including Back-Bench business. Do not complain if you do not get
called, because you do well.

And this is how Quentin Letts reported the incident in the Mail's Parliamentary Sketch today...

The statement ended with a few MPs still trying to intervene. Among them was
David Heathcoat-Amory (Con, Wells), a Privy Counsellor. It would have been good
to have heard from Mr Heathcoat-Amory because he is an expert on, among other
things, European human rights law. Mr Heathcoat-Amory wandered over to the
Speaker's clerk, a tailcoated figure who stands beside Gorbals. I could not hear
exactly what he was saying but it looked, from 20ft almost directly above, to be
a polite expression of sorrow that he had not been called to speak. Amory,
a former energy minister, was also ignored by the Chair during a debate on
nuclear energy on Wednesday. Maybe Gorbals can't bear the fact that he is an
English aristocrat. The old fool saw Mr Heathcoat-Amory's conversation with his
clerk as a challenge to his authority (such as it is). He leapt up and
shouted: "Order! Order!" He now started to jab his left index finger repeatedly
at Mr Heathcoat-Amory, shrieking: "Do not complain if yer doon't get called! Cos
you do well!" The Chamber fell silent, embarrassed. Mr Heathcoat-Amory, who
has friends on all sides of Westminster, quietly withdrew from the Chamber,
bewildered and hurt. I hear that Sir Ming Campbell, the LibDem leader, is being
urged to make a formal complaint about the Chair's recent handling of some
debates. This Speaker now has many enemies. Perhaps it would be a good idea for
everyone concerned if Ming was simply given the Speakership.

When Humanity Shines Through...

Charles Moore records in this week's Spectator's Notes how he lost his contacts book during a walk through St James's Park...
Last week, I obtained proof that some people do possess a moral compass.
Somewhere between Clifford Street, W1, and St James’s Park, I dropped my black
book containing many, many years of telephone numbers, but no information about
whom to contact when you find it. In the park, I realised I had lost it, and
retraced my steps, to no avail. I went to Savile Row police station, but the
queue was so long that I lost heart and left. A call to the police, which took a
day to get through, revealed that you have to put your report of lost property
in writing before they can attend to it. Then I got a call from my
brother-in-law. A man had found his number in my book and had rung him,
searching for the owner. I rang the man. His wife had found the book in the
street, he told me, and he had started to work through the numbers (my
brother-in-law’s name begins with B) to find the owner. I asked if I could give
the couple a present in thanks, but they said please could I contribute to a
charity run by their synagogue instead, which I did. One takes too little
trouble to record such acts of kindness, which is strange, because they are

This morning Radio 5 Live did a feature on these random acts of kindness and amazingly featured a call from a friend of mine to whom I gave my Cup Final ticket last year (all was well in the end as I got another ticket later).

So this set me thinking. What's the nicest thing anyone has ever done for you that has restored your faith in humanity - or what have you done for someone else that made you proud to be a member of the human race?

Schools, Schools and More Schools

Just got back to Kent after doing a short discussion interview for GMTV's Sunday programme with Fraser Nelson on the fallout from the grammar school debate. Apart from an interview with my little Chipmunk (who I sadly missed in the lift) the whole programme seemed to be concentrating on this with interviews with Alan Duncan and John Bercow. Bercow was fairly trenchant in his language on the core vote, as this excerpt shows.
I think we shouldn’t be overly preoccupied with what particular view the core
Conservative Supporters take. I’ve been saying for years and I reiterate that I
think what we’ve got to do is show a great deal more interest in what is thought
and wanted by people who are not currently voting Conservative than what is
thought and wanted by those who are currently voting Conservative because with
that core vote we didn’t win last time, or the time before, or the time before
that so frankly I don’t have much patience with those who simply say, ‘ooh! You
can’t upset the base! You mustn’t say anything that will offend the traditional
Conservative supporter.’ We know from the experience of Tony Blair taking Labour
from impotence to government that the challenge in British politics is to reach
out way beyond your base and to attract a whole new generation of voters to
rally to your standard. And it’s because David Cameron recognises that and is
determined to pursue a modernising approach appealing to the centre ground that
I believe he deserves support and will succeed.

Fraser Nelson has written a good piece on education policy in the Spectator this week. I especially liked this idea about vouchers and the creation of new schools...
Mr Cameron appears inclined toward a version of the voucher system that
transformed Swedish education when it was introduced in 1992. The dynamics are
as simple as they are powerful. Any qualified teachers can set up a school, as
long as they prove there is a demand and meet minimum standards. The state pays
them a fixed amount per pupil: about £5,000 per year. State education would be
open to any school, or community, that wanted to participate. And that’s

It didn’t sound like much of a policy when introduced in Sweden. Even the
ministers who proposed it expected little uptake. But to their astonishment,
they were inundated with school proposals by church groups, Montessori
organisations and villages tired of having to bus children miles to the nearest
school. New schools now comprise seven per cent of the total: a tipping point.
Once existing schools realised they would lose pupils if they did not shape up,
the entire system was galvanised.

This fits perfectly within Mr Cameron’s philosophical framework. The state
pays the fees, but organises nothing. Civil society is invited to step in, run
schools and take over in areas where the state fails appallingly. Nor is this an
obscure Scandinavian theory. School choice is being used in the Netherlands,
Chile, Canada and charter schools in the United States. Reams of data have now
been assembled, proving that the choice works for the taxpayer, and promotes
equality and social mobility.

THE GMTV Sunday programme is broadcast on ITV between 6am and 7.30am on Sunday.

FOI Bill Goes to the Lords

It's not always that I agree with Anne Perkins (who wrote a brilliant biography of Barbara Castle), but her piece on CommentisFree today on David Maclean's FOI Bill is spot on. And I am appalled that Lord Tregarne is taking up the Bill in the Lords. Let's hope Peers of all parties unite to throw it out.

For Election Anoraks Everywhere

For those of you who love watching election night programmes, BBC Parliament will be showing RTE's live coverage of the Irish election results from 7pm tonight.

Telegraph Column: Grammar Lessons for Cameron

This is my column in the Telegraph today...
Successful politicians can not only make a silk purse out of a pig's ear but can also take advantage of any unexpected opportunities which come their way. And so it has proved with the Great Grammar School Farrago, which has dominated the past week of Tory politics. The original handling of the David Willetts speech was a disaster, but better for it to happen now, at the beginning of the policy formation process, than near an election. Lessons need to be learnt to improve the media and party management of the controversial policies which will be announced over the rest of the year.

In these circumstances, political leaders usually deploy diversionary tactics to take the issue out of the headlines. Revealingly, David Cameron did the opposite. He has kept the story going for a week. By doing so he regained control of the agenda. It was an adept piece of political footwork.

The long-term effects of this row are few. David Cameron has pushed many Tories to the edge of withdrawing their support, but by doing so he has underlined his mission to modernise all aspects of Tory policy. The party grassroots know, and he knows, that it will be done his way or not at all.
The real lesson from the grammar schools issue is that it has given David Cameron yet another opportunity to emphasise the changing nature of the Tory party. I believe this will be the running theme of any policy announcements which emerge after the various policy commissions report their findings later in the year. In each policy area, Cameron will want to pick out one aspect that will reinforce his message of change. It was described to me as the "mouthwash" approach - a change in each area to eliminate the bad taste of the past.
We already know that on the economy the old Tory shibboleth of cutting taxes has been ruled out in favour of my most hated political mantra, "sharing the proceeds of growth". On the environment we're being encouraged to "Vote Blue Go Green" and will be taxed more on frequent flying. In foreign affairs there has been subtle distancing of the party from the special relationship with the US. Social mobility and social justice have overtaken economic reform in Conservative priorities.
In transport, Chris Grayling has already hinted at the joining together of the running of the tracks and trains. What better sign of change than a repudiation of this key aspect of rail privatisation?
Incredible though it may seem, health policy is an area in which the Conservatives are ahead in the polls for the first time since 1948, without actually having the benefit of any real policy. The last thing David Cameron should do is saddle himself with detailed policy in this area, two years in advance of an election. The antipathy towards Patricia Hewitt and the way the Conservative Party has supported the junior doctors recently has given Andrew Lansley a real chance to build support. For the first time in decades, many in the NHS truly believe that it can be safe in Conservative hands - a considerable achievement. This may be an area where no "mouthwash" is needed.
The only areas apparently impervious to Cameronisation - home affairs and defence - are coincidentally handled by the two most high-profile Right-wingers in the Shadow Cabinet:David Davis and Liam Fox. Davis has been given more or less a free hand to develop policy and so far Cameron's kids have kept their scooters off his lawn but, even so, he has written a pamphlet with his immigration spokesman Damian Green on the economic benefits of migration.
It is in defence where David Cameron could re-engage the supporters he has alienated in other areas. Clear commitments to increase the defence budget, to supply our troops with the equipment they need to do their jobs, to halt the decline of the Navy, Army and Air Force and to improve the quality of life of service personnel are eminently achievable. Liam Fox has already made a start with his work on the quality of housing - or lack of it - for our armed forces.
Pensions, local government and the machinery of government all provide excellent opportunities for David Cameron to demonstrate how the party has changed. But they are all equally opportunities for a row with the grassroots. The tremendous work being done by the policy commissions will present David Cameron with all sorts of policy nuggets to choose from; the lesson from the grammar schools speech is that their work must not be pre-empted.
There is no Clause 4 moment for David Cameron, but there are plenty of "mini clause 4s" which, added together, achieve the same thing.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

VC Hero Denied Permission to Live In Britain

THIS is truly shaming. A Victoria Cross hero Gurkha has been banned from living in Britain 'because he has no strong ties with UK' according to the Daily Mail.

Tul Bahadur Pun's extraordinary act of valour while fighting the Japanese during
World War Two even won him royal admirers. He was invited to the Queen's
Coronation and had tea with the Queen Mother. Yet despite his illustrious
service record, when the ailing 84-year-old former Gurkha soldier applied for
permission to live in Britain he was refused by government officials. Amazingly,
British officials in Nepal told the wizened old warrior who put his life on the
line for King and country: "You have failed to demonstrate that you have strong
ties with the UK." Explaining his reasons for the application, he said: "I take
a substantial amount of medication daily, without which I would die. There is
not always a constant supply. When it runs out I feel vulnerable. "There are no
doctors or nurses, no medical outposts. I wish to settle in the UK to have
better access to medication, care and support from doctors and nurses." The old
soldier has to travel from his remote home to the Gurkha camp at Pokhara once a
month to collect his pension - which pays for his medication. It involves a
day's walk - and as he is unable to walk that far, he has to be carried in a
basket by several men. Mr Pun's act of heroism in Burma which earned him the VC
has gone down in military history. On 23 June 1944 almost all his comrades were
wiped out by heavy enemy fire. He seized a Bren Gun and, firing from the hip
while running through ankle deep mud, he ignored Japanese fire to singlehandedly
storm enemy machine gun positions. His official citation read: "His outstanding
courage and superb gallantry in the face of odds which meant almost certain
death were most inspiring to all ranks and beyond praise."

But if you have a failed asylum application you stand little chance of being expelled. What kind of country have we become?

If you are an MP and you are reading this, solving cases like this is what you are all about. Go to it!

Guardian Poll Shows Narrowing Tory Lead

The Guardian/ICM poll in The Guardian is, on the face of it not good news for the Conservative. Their lead over Labour has narrowed to only two points. In March the Tories were polling 40%, whereas they now score 34% compared to Labour's 32%. The LibDems have stayed static at 21%, which is a higher rating than they receive in YouGov or Populus polls.

So what has changed since May 3rd when the Conservatives were polling 40%? The poll was taken from May 18-20th when the Willetts grammar school debacle was at its worst and the Labour Party was getting non-controversial free publicity in the aftermath of the Blair resignation.

However, that cannot on its own account for a 6% drop. The only thing I can put some of it down to is a kind of post coital afterglow, in which the public wish to show their appreciation for Tony Blair. This is norne out by the fact that 55% of people do not want him to go immediately and want him to stay until June 27th. As the Guardian says: "This may reflect a growing tolerance of Mr Blair's position now that he has confirmed details of his departure."

However, as usual when Gordon Brown is introduced into the equation the picture becomes better for the Conservatives and they open up an eight point lead of 38-30. Interestingly, virtuall all Tory voters stick with their Party when David Cameron is introduced into the question, but 15% of Labour voters move awat when Gordon Brown is named as leader. For the LibDems the figure is 21% when Sir Menzies Campbell is mentioned. I draw comfort from those figures, at least!

I expect all opinion polls to swing all over the place over the next few months. Indeed I wonder whether any of them are really worth looking at until Gordon Brown has bedded down.

So I do not pretend that this poll is good for the Conservatives, but I don't find it particularly surprising.

Once Upon a Time in Wales...

Glyn Davies lost his seat in the Welsh Assembly on May 3. While I felt very sorry for him at the time, the Assembly's loss was the Blogosphere's gain... Here is his take on the LibDems' decision (or is it a decision?!) to withdraw from coalition talks with Plaid and the Conservatives. Pure brilliance...

Once upon a time, in the ancient kingdom of Cymru, three cute little bears lived in a big glass palace in the City of Cardiff. They were bullied for many years by a big grizzly bear called Rhodri, who lived with his gang in posh offices on the top floor, and ruled the whole kingdom. The cute little bears were called Green Bear, Blue Bear and Yellow Bear.Then one day, Yellow Bear said "I've got an idea. I'm fed up of being ruled by the Grizzly Bear Gang. Why don't we gang up together and take over from them". Blue Bear said "What an absolutely spiffing idea. I'd been thinking along those lines myself". Little Yellow Bear chipped in, saying "Don't forget little me. I want to join in too". So the three cute little bears celebrated with a pot of honey, and out of the empty pot there rose a lovely 'rainbow'. The three said "Let this be a sign". And when they had worked out the details of their plan, they told the world what they were going to do. The boss of the Grizzly Bears, named Rhodri was very sad.But then Little Yellow Bear went with his glad tidings to his National Executive meeting at Llandrindod Wells, where there were only 18 bears from across the land. Lo and behold, 9 of them said that Little Yellow Bear was clever and agreed with the plan - but 9 said that Little Yellow Bear was stupid and disagreed. Unfortunately the Yellow Bears didn't have any way of coming to a decision when the vote was level. (Yes really - I'm told this is true) So Little Yellow Bear started to cry and had to tell nasty Guto and Betsan from the Bears Broadcasting Corporation, who were waiting to pounce outside the door. "Our plan is now ' totally stuffed'. But I am still boss of the yellow bears".Next day, Blue Bear and Green Bear were very angry - and stood on the great steps of the glass palace and 'rubbished' the Yellow Bears unmercifully. The rainbow disappeared, and the 'crock of gold' rolled down the great steps and sunk without trace into the Bay. But wait, some more yellow bears said "We must have a Conference in Aberystwyth to reconsider this, all over again". (The yellow bears have always had problems about deciding things). But old Grizzly Bear heard about this cunning plan, and arranged to have a 'coronation' tomorrow, before the Yellow Bear's conference on Saturday. Tonight, the Grizzly Bear gang are having 10 jars of honey to celebrate - and have sent out the sweetest little grizzly, called Jane Hutt to be humble and say that old grizzly is a 'statesman' who likes nothing more than to chat and frolic with all of the bears - except Blue Bear. At this point Hans Christian Andersen abandoned this fairy story as being so utterly preposterous and unbelievable that no-one would ever believe it or read it. So it was never published until today.

If proof were ever needed that the LibDems are unfit for office, click HERE and read the sorry tale of their Llandindrod Wells meeting.

Sexism in the Blogosphere

My colleague Shane Greer (aka Mini Me!) has written a piece on the 18 Doughty Street blog about sexism in the blogosphere HERE. I think he has a point when he says that men leave comments on blogs which they would never say to a woman's face. What should we do about it, if anything? Should all such comments never get through moderation, or if they do be deleted afterwards? In a sense, this is part of what Melissa Kite was complaining about last week. Some of the comments left on ConservativeHome - and indeed here - were more to do with her as a woman, rather than her journalistic abilities. Her mistake was to confuse the writer of the original blogpost with the people who were commenting on it.

It is indeed true that the blogosphere does seem to be a male dominated place, both in terms of the ratio of female bloggers to male and in terms of those who comment. I'd estimate that only abour 10-15% of my commenters are female. That may have more to do with the fact that politics attracts men in a disproportionate number or for other reasons. Discuss.

Willetts Puts the Boot Into Alan Johnson

Reports seem to indicate that David Willetts scored a bit of a hit against Alan Johnson at Education Questions. Admittedly, I didn't see it personally, but if this report from PA is true then well done to The Speaker! And that's not something I often say...
Education Secretary Alan Johnson today denied "taking his foot off the
accelerator" over expanding the city academy programme. Mr Johnson, a Labour
deputy leadership contender, was responding to Tory charges that he was "going
cool" on them. But he insisted the Government wanted to build 400 of the
independent publicly-funded schools, although that would take "many years" of a
Labour administration. There are presently 47. He also sought at Commons
question time to highlight Tory divisions on academic selection before being cut
off by Speaker Michael Martin. Academies are non-fee paying, non-selective state
schools which operate outside the control of local education authorities and
have private sponsors. Mr Johnson has reportedly said he wants to "limit" the
number to 400. In a speech this month shadow education secretary David Willetts
rejected the view - for years a strongly-held Tory belief - that academic
selection was the best way to raise school standards. And he claimed the Tories
would build more of Tony Blair's favoured city academies than will be opened
under a Gordon Brown government. Tory leader David Cameron has said dropping the commitment to create more selective schools was essential if the party wanted to be a "serious force for government and change". At question time today Mr
Willetts said: "Why is it that when the Prime Minister is leaving office, the
Secretary of State is taking his foot off the accelerator, going cool on academies when we on this side of the House strongly support academies and do not see why their should be any limit to the number of them?" Mr Johnson replied: "This is hardly taking our foot off the accelerator. There are 47 academies now. We have a manifesto commitment to 200 academies by 2010 and we have just announced we are going to go on to build 400 academies." He said given that the "specific intention" of the academies was that they were built predominantly in areas "where education has failed generations of children" and in areas of deprivation, the 400 number "fits that bill". Mr Johnson went on to raise the recent comments by Mr Willetts and Mr Cameron, before being cut off by Mr Martin.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Forced Marriage Highlighted at Tory Women's Meeting

I've just had this from a friend who last night attended the first Conservative Women's Organisation Muslim Group meeting at the House of Commons.
The topic for debate was arranged and forced marriage, highlighted by Lord Lester's Bill on forced marriage, which is currently making its way through both chambers and has bi-partisan support.The room was stacked to the rafters with women and a few men, of all ethnic backgrounds and age groups. Author and co-founder of the refuge, Karma Nirvana, Jasvinder Sanghera, kicked off the evening speaking of her personal experience of being forced into a marrige when she was just fourteen. She did not accept her parents choice and ran away from home. More than twenty years ago, she has not had any significant contact with her family since. They do not speak to her or acknowledge her work. Needless to say it was very powerful and questions from the floor demonstrated that forced marriage has great relevance among female British Asian communities today. Perhaps the most significant points were raised by Caroline Spelman and Sayeeda Warsi. Caroline rightly, pointed out that whilst legislation is a strong deterrent it cannot work alone. The cultural shift must also be made to make it socially unacceptable as well as illegal. This means the communities involved, government, statuatory groups and media all have to work together to get the message across that forced marriage endangers an individual's basic human right. Sayeeda echoed this when she said that if ethnic communities are going to talk about religious and cultural freedom then they must also fully accept gender equality. She added that ethnic communities must take ownership of this issue and move it forward. It was a good start for the new Muslim Group and I hope the first of many such events.