Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The President Brown Forgot to Name

Speaking at the UN today, Gordon Brown said this...
So when the need is pressing, when it is our generation that has made historic commitments, when the time to meet them is now short, the simple questions that - to paraphrase the words of an American President - we must ask are:

If not now, when?
If not us, who?
If not together, how?

Whoever thought Gordon Brown would quote Ronald Reagan... Is there no end to his triangulation?

Tuesday Open Thread

As I am going into hospital today for a minor op, I'm afraid we will have to have another Open Thread Day (I'll be back tomorrow). So, topics for discussion...

David Cameron steadying the ship on the Today Programme
Should unmarried people who live together have the same rights as married people?
The Gordon Brown and George Bush show...

And if you'd like to see an hour long discussion about my trip to Rwanda on 18 Doughty Street, click HERE.

UPDATE 11pm: Thanks to everyone for their good wishes and emails. I'm back home now and it all went well. I'm off work for two weeks, so expect some obsessive blogging!

Monday, July 30, 2007

More Tory Conference Pass Chaos Looms?

I simply cannot believe that there can be as much confusion as last year surrounding Tory conference passes, but my faith is misplaced, it seems. This year, for the first time, you can apply online for your pass, but even though you send it in online, it seems you also have to print it out and send it in because the Police require signatures. This is not really made very clear on the site, and early online applicants are being phoned by the organisers and asked to send in a form, which they didn't realise they had to do. I know three people this has happened to, including one MP. It could be avoided purely by having an introductory page explaining the process in detail.

The new conference company, Fingerprint Events, also require new pictures because their predecessors, CCO Conferences, refused to hand over the picture database, no doubt citing some spurious data protection reason.

I have just applied for a pass, so we'll see what happens now. I'll keep you posted.

PS If you are a Conservative Party member and wish to attend the conference click HERE to go through the process.

Ainsworth & Grayling Lead the Summer Heat Campaign

Having taken Peter Ainsworth to task for his relative anonymity in his Shadow Environment brief HERE, I was delighted to see the front page of this morning's Telegraph, where he is calling on Environment Agency bosses to pay back their bonuses, which were slipped out in a parliamentary answer last week.

This is two days in a row that Tory spokesmen have driven the debate on the front page of the country's most important Tory newspaper - yesterday it was Chris Grayling on the cuts in the drugs budget. The summer heat campaign on Brown has got off to a good start.

An Olive Branch from Janet Daley

An olive branch to David Cameron by Janet Daley in the Daily Telegraph this morning. She says he should harness the spirit displayed by ordinary British people during the terror attacks and the floods. Well worth a read.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Does David Cameron Need a Willie?

For the uninitiated, Margaret Thatcher once said that "every Prime Minister needs a Willie". She was, of course, referring to Willie Whitelaw, her trusted deputy. Matthew D'Ancona, writing on the Spectator Coffee House blog, hints that David Davis is beginning to fulfill the role for David Cameron...
David Davis's warning to his party to show discipline and stick to the centre ground in today's Sunday Telegraph is the best news for the other David in a while. Davis is scarcely a woolly liberal, a Soho brand manager or a tree hugger. His voice reaches parts of the party Cameron cannot reach. Well-read and supremely intelligent, Davis is in a different league to John Prescott: Davis would make a fine party leader,
which is something that could never have been said of Prescott. But Cameron should be using Davis much, much more as a public guarantor of his party reforms, just as John Smith and Tony Blair used Prescott. It is often said that the Cameroons are obsessed with aping New Labour. It is just as arguable that they are not obsessed enough. Blair understood that assembling a tiny clique to drive through his Project was not enough. He needed to build a coalition inside the party to ensure majority tolerance of changes that many Labour members, by definition, would find objectionable. Dave needs a similar range of allies. In this respect at least he needs to be more like Blair rather than less so.


Boffing Boris

Andrew Boff is one of the three other contestants fighting Boris for the Conservative London mayoral nomination. Read a very lengthy interview with him HERE in PinkNews.

Gordon Brown - The Opposite of Ronseal

Today's lead story on the front page of the Sunday Telegraph should give heart to all Conservatives who want to see a lot of Summer Heat on Gordon Brown. We need more of it. The story's headline screams 'HYPOCRITE' BROWN CUTS £50 MILLION FROM DRUG WORK. Less than a fortnight after Gordon Brown announced he wanted to reclassify Cannabis from Class C to B, it is revealed that he is cutting £50 million from the drug rehabiliation budget.

This is exactly the sort of thing the Conservatives should be attacking on, and it's good to see Chris Grayling doing so. I suspect he was behind the Sunday Telegraph story. Brown needs to be constantly challenged when he makes grand promises which bear no relation to what's actually going on on the ground. We always had to read the small print in his budgets to get the real story, and his prime ministerial announcements are no different. Gordon Brown is the very opposite of a Ronseal prime minister. You really do have to check that it does what it says on the Brown tin.
What we could do with now, is a document from CCHQ that details all Brown's announcements in his first month, and an analysis of how they meet the Ronseal test.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Donors Should Be Seen & Not Heard

Eighteen months ago I wrote about Stuart Wheeler after he had launched a broadside against David Cameron. In tomorrow's News of the World he is at it again. This is what I wrote in February 2006...
The Guardian is just reporting that Tory donor Stuart Wheeler has just been on 5 Live denouncing David Cameron. I didn't hear the interview myself so I will restrict myself to saying this in as kindly a manner as possible. Shouldn't political donors be seen and not heard? If they are donating money for philanthropic reasons - which the overwhelming majority are - then they normally neither expect or want anything in return. But occasionally there are those that donate money and expect the Party to then follow their policy agenda. And if the Party doesn't do so, there is a very willing media who are happy to report signs of division and disagreement. If we Tories haven't learn by now that signs of division are anathema to the electorate and will be leapt upon by our opponents, then where have we been for the last decade?

Tomorrow, Wheeler writes in the NOTW...
David Cameron needs to be tougher on Europe and give a clearer commitment to tax cuts, one of the Tory Party's leading donors said tonight. Spread betting magnate Stuart Wheeler said he still believed Mr Cameron was the one leader who could take the party to victory in the next general election. But, writing in tomorrow's edition of the News of the World, he said Mr Cameron needed to clarify the party's policies - including its commitment to a referendum on the new European Union treaty which, critics say, restores the abandoned EU constitution. "The Conservatives are right to say we must have a referendum, but it is absolutely essential that they make it clear beyond any doubt that they will call a referendum when they come to power, if this Government has ridden roughshod over the British people and ratified the treaty," he said. At the same time, he said the party needed to start talking more about tax cuts. "The Tories must make it much clearer that, though they cannot make promises, they want to cut taxes, and they must resist the false argument that that means cutting public services," he said. He also urged the Conservatives to "speak out loudly" against the US administration of President George Bush over what he said was its use of torture at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.

This is the second time a so-called 'Tory Donor' has spoken out to criticise the direction of the party. The only trouble is - and I stand to be corrected - according to the Electoral Commission website neither Stuart Wheeler nor Lord Kalms have given money to the party for more than two and a half years. So why do the media describe them as Tory donors?

I yield to no one in my admiration for Stanley Kalms - I got to know him well in the Tory leadership contest - and he has a great knack of creating great media soundbites, so I can hardly blame journalists for reporting them, but we should not ignore the fact that whenever a former donor speaks out on policy it gives the impression that when they were donating they did indeed try to exert influence on policy.

During the Tory leadership contest Stuart Wheeler held a succession of lunches for all the contenders to parade their wares in front of him and a range of invited think tank wonks and journalists. To his credit, Kenneth Clarke was the only candidate to refuse the invitation. Most of the others attended through gritted teeth rather than with any degree of enthusiasm. Why is it, that just because someone has a lot of money - which they may or may not decide to donate - they should have any greater access to party leaders than anyone else?

About the only consolation from state funding - and I remain bitterly opposed to it - would be the fact that these sort of gut-wrenching beauty parades would be a thing of the past.

Imagine if Alan Duncan Had Been...

You may remember that earlier this month I advocated replacing Shadow Environment Secretary Peter Ainsworth with Alan Duncan, on the basis that the job required someone who knew how to get on the media. Yesterday, I started writing a piece questioning why I couldn't find hardly a mention of Peter Ainsworth in last week's newspapers. I abandonded it on the basis that as I wasn't here, I might have missed his appearances on radio and TV. However, having spoken to a few people over the last 48 hours, none of them had seen him on the media either.

So I have to ask the question: does anyone seriously think that if Alan Duncan had had this job over the last week we wouldn't be sick to the back teeth of seeing him on our TV screens splashing around in his green wellies? I do not pretend that an ability to get on the media is the only pre-requisite for being in a senior shadow cabinet position, but it is surely one of them. Andrew Pierce, in this morning's Telegraph, agrees...
Peter Ainsworth is a name few of you will be familiar with. He is, for what it's
worth, the Tories' capable environment spokesman. He should have enjoyed
wall-to-wall coverage leading the response to the flooding, bearing in mind our
new Prime Minister cut the money for river defences when he was Chancellor. But
the only reference this week I can recall to the capable Mr Ainsworth was about
his bouffant hairdo which is, admittedly, a cross between Ivana Trump's barnet
and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Now does that say more about the media or the
parlous state of the Conservative Opposition?
When I was in Rwanda I did a live News 24 interview in which I said that the fact that David Cameron was in Rwanda did not mean the Conservative Party was saying nothing about the floods. He had a shadow cabinet and a shadow environment secretary who would be handling it all while he was away. I am sure he and they were. But from reading the newspapers you'd be forgiven for not knowing that.

It is simply not good enough for them to say that they pumped out press releases bemoaning the government's lack of preparedness. It's symptomatic of a failing media approach to complain about lack of coverage. In today's media environment you have to earn that coverage, and simply sending out a five line quote from Peter Ainsworth in response to the latest government failing won't do that.

This is yet another example of the task that faces Andy Coulson in reshaping the Party's media strategy. But it is also further proof that the Shadow Cabinet needs to up its game.

Top Ten Things I Learnt in Rwanda

1. Never break out in a chorus of the 80s' hit 'Don't Mess With my Hutu'
2. You're damned if you do, and damned if you don't
3. David Mundell's taste in shirts is similar to my taste in ties
4. I can exist without email on my Blackberry
5. Rwandan women are the best dressed in the world
6. France has a lot to answer for over the genocide
7. It feels safer in Kigali than in parts of London
8. No one in Britain understands the meaning of the word 'poverty'
9. It is possible for one person to make a difference
10. We should not try to impose our way of life on others

Friday, July 27, 2007

Dame Pauline Needs a History Lesson

This is on page 163 of Dame Pauline Neville-Jones's report 'Unquiet World', issued yesterday...
While over the very long haul, the Middle East’s and North Africa’s contribution to supplying the European energy market is projected to increase while that of Russia declines, Russia looms very large for at least the next two to three decades. Currently, 20 per cent of Russian gas comes across Belarus, mainly to Germany, Lithuania and Poland and 80 per cent across Ukraine. Austria, Hungary and Poland - two of them FSU countries - are very highly dependent on Russian gas. Germany is 45 per cent dependent on Russian gas, France 37 per cent and Italy 26 per cent. Much attention has been paid to the observed use by Russia of energy as a political weapon and this is a source of anxiety in relation especially to those longstanding FSU customers still without alternative suppliers and/or supplied at below market rates.

You'd have thought that she, of all people, given her previous employment, would have known that Hungary and Poland were never part of the Former Soviet Union... sigh. Careless talk, and all that.

I Swear this is True...

I just popped into Tunbridge Wells to pay some cheques into the bank. As it's a nice, sunny day I thought I would wear one of the shirts I bought in Rwanda. I was about to walk out the door when my partner said: "You're not actually going out in that, are you?" Indeed I was. Anyway, I parked the car, went to the bank and was walking along Mount Pleasant when a woman approached me and the following exchange occurred...

Woman: Excuse me, but I hope you don't mind me asking, where did you get that shirt? I'd like to get one for my husband.
Me: I got it in Rwanda.
Woman: Oh, I don't know them. Have they got a branch in Tunbridge Wells?
Me: Er...

I'd like to post a photo of the offending shirt, but my partner refuses to take a picture of me in it. Apparently I have embarrassed myself enough already.

Boris is Replaced

Boris Johnson's replacement as Shadow Higher Education Minister is being formally announced today. It is Reading East MP, Rob Wilson, who has specialised in education matters since his election in 2005.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Mail Staff to Rebel Against Pro-Brown Stance?

There is a growing sense of concern among some Daily Mail writers and editorial executives about their newspaper's devotion to Gordon Brown. "Some of us are starting to feel we're writing for a Labour paper like the Mirror," says one. "The Mail's coverage of David Cameron's trip to Rwanda was mad. There was no attempt to give him any benefit of the doubt. The attacks were amazingly skewed."

Columnist Richard Littlejohn has noticeably distanced himself from the Brown worship of the leader columns and the news pages. And Mail sketchwriter Quentin Letts all but disowned the paper's anti-Cameron coverage of the Rwanda trip on Sky News on Wednesday afternoon, so I am told, saying that he was "freelance" and had nothing to do with the stuff.

With Mail editor Paul Dacre currently away sick, how much longer can Brown rely on such a free ride from this supposedly conservative paper? Graphic Hat-tip Theo Spark

Could the Scientists Tell Us If Floods Are Caused by Climate Change Please?

Isn't it nice when two people on the same side of the argument put forward entirely contradictory viewpoints on climate change. These two quotes are from columnists for the same national newspaper. Could anyone prove to us what the science REALLY says, please? Isn;t it strange, I thought the scientists were all agreed. At least, so we were told...
Most of the scientific evidence suggests these summer rains are highly
likely to be a consequence of global warming
; at the very least, global warming science predicts more turbulent weather, including more heavy downpours
- just what has happened.”
Jackie Ashley - Monday July 23, 2007, The Guardian
“It wasn't meant to happen like this. The climate scientists told us that our winters would become wetter and our summers drier. So I can't claim that these floods were caused by climate change, or are even consistent with the models. But, like the ghost of Christmas yet to come, they offer us a glimpse of the possible winter world that we will inhabit if we don't sort ourselves out.”
George Monbiot - Tuesday July 24, 2007, The Guardian

The trouble is that nowadays it is tempting to attribute any freakish weather event to climate change. If the 1987 storms happened again, or the 1976 hot summer, both would now be attributed to climate change. These events have always happened, as has climate change. What we need to work out is this: are they occuring more frequently than in the past and are they all attributable to man-made climate change. George Monbiot apparently thinks not.

It's Not Cameron Who Needs to Up His Game - It's The Shadow Cabinet

I have just read Fraser Nelson's amusing - if at times bizarre - article on what would happen if David Cameron was run over by the Number 137 bus. For the Spectator - a sometimes enthusiastic support of David Cameron - to put such an article on its cover is revealing indeed. Fraser is careful to use the Number 137 as the only scenario, mainly because that is actually the only way David Cameron will not lead the Conservatives into the next election. As David Davis said yesterday...
My argument to my own party is that David Cameron has passed his first
test, it's now time to show a bit of discipline and pass yours...

All of us - in all parties - like to gossip and speculate on who the next party leader will be from time to time - but that's all it is, idle gossip. No one seriously believes that David Cameron's position is under threat despite the difficulties of the last few weeks - and nor should it be. His 67% vote in the leadership contest gave him the mandate to lead the Party into the next election. Anyone who launches a leadership bid against Cameron would be deservedly crushed.

Matthew D'Ancona, in a piece on the Spectator Coffee House blog, says the real conclusion of Fraser's article is not that he's trying to cause mischief but...

What Fraser's piece shows is that there is no clear post-Cameron Plan B and no obvious dauphin waiting in the wings with a plan. No wonder Tory MPs are so
rattled and were so supportive of their embattled leader at the 1922 meeting yesterday evening. But, as today's poll in the Daily Telegraph shows, the voters have already formed the impression that Dave is not in charge of his party. I am told that his performance before his MPs last night was very impressive: he will need to make many more such speeches after the recess. The Conservative Party is dicing with death.

Overly dramatic maybe, but one lesson I learned from reading Alastair Campbell's Diaries was that Tony Blair would often have periods when he became run down, disengaged and demotivated. So did Campbell, for that matter. It has occured to me that David Cameron cannot possibly be expected to function on all cylinders 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. He needs more support from his Shadow Cabinet colleagues.

It is not Cameron who needs to up his game, it is them. Ben Brogan's story on his blog about the number of outside interests some of them have has to be part of the reason why some - and I emphasis, some - of them are virtually anonymous from a media profile viewpoint. They should all read Campbell's diaries and if they are not able to give the same level of commitment that most of the Labour Shadow Cabinet did between 1994 and 1997 then they shouldn't be in their positions.

But it's not just about having outside interests. No matter what their qualities are, some of them are just useless at getting media coverage - and in Opposition, that's what it is all about. And you do not get media coverage by bombarding the Westminster lobby with emailed press releases. Yesterday I got four press releases in ten minutes from CCHQ. The temptation is to ignore them when they come flying at you so quickly. Andy Coulson's challenge is to educate Shadow Ministers and CCHQ on ways to get press coverage over and above the normal press release. Some Shadow Ministers will find this an easier process than others to adapt to. If you've been doing it in the same way for ten years change is not an easy process.

Jeremy Hunt Questions Future of BBC Licence Fee

In an interview with the GMTV Sunday Programme the new Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt openly questions the future of the BBC licence fee. Good for him.
Gloria de Piero: Does what has happened over the last couple of months make it harder for the BBC to justify the licence fee?

Jeremy Hunt: I think if they don’t sort this out very very quickly then yes, we will in the next few years be going back into the debate about whether the licence fee can be justified. There are voices that say in a multi-platform, multi-channel age the BBC should be a subscription service that you should be able to opt-in to, not be forced to pay the licence fee for and the justification of the licence fee is that the BBC does things that the market alone won’t provide. So I think the lesson from this is the BBC has got to be behaving like a commercial viewer, a commercial channel and it’s got to start behaving like the gold-standard that we all want to BBC to be.

Gloria de Piero: So the BBC should realise the future of the license fee as far as you’re concerned is at stake over all this?

Jeremy Hunt: Well I think it will affect the debate over the licence fee if there are not able to restore trust very quickly.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Tune Into the Daily Politics but Wear Your Sunglasses

I'm at Nairobi Airport waiting to fly back. Just thought I'd warn you not to watch the Daily Politics tomorrow - I shall be talking about which books politicians might be reading over the summer. But I should warn you that I might be wearing a particularly memorable shirt which I bought in Rwanda. Nelson Mandela would be proud of me. And there's a sentence I never thought I'd write.

UPDATE: 11.21am I've beendumped stood down from the Daily Politics as they are going to do a feature on Dame Pauline Neville Jones's report instead. That's TV for you!

Wednesday Open Thread

I think today's PMQs will be the final one this session so David Cameron and Gordon Brown will both be aiming to go out on a high. Cameron is bound to raise the issue of the floods and the government's inadequate response.

Feel free to discuss anything on this open thread today. I arrive back at Heathrow at 7am tomorrow morning, so normal service will hopefully be resumed.

It may interest you to know that since I have been in Rwanda I have lost nearly a third of my daily readers. Gulp. Double gulp. Hopefully they will all come flocking back tomorrow. Hopefully!

Rwandan Diary: Day 5

This was our final full day in Rwanda. It started with David Cameron addressing the Rwandan Parliament. Apparently ITV News said that there was hardly anyone there. Not true. I counted around 40 MPs, including the heads of all the leading committees, and there were a lot of press and NGO representatives present too. The speech didn't get off to a good start when all the lights went out for twenty seconds. Cameron made a good joke about it and moved on. It was a strong speech, launching the Globalisation Commission Report.

Next stop was the Presidential compound where David Cameron spent an hour with President Kagame, who has led Rwanda since the 1994 genocide. Apparently they agreed that Kagame would address the Tory Party Conference in October. So with Governor Schwarzenegger there too, Blackpool will resonate to the Arnie & Kagame roadshow.

This afternoon it was back to the Girubunto orphanage project which we visited on Day One. They've certainly made a lot of progress on building a new classroom and renovating the rest of the buildings. Andrew Mitchell is shown helping build a climbing frame, while Vicky Ford (below) shows off the classroom she has renovated. David Cameron was shown round and then did a round of media interviews including one for our film on the trip for 18 Doughty Street. We have nine hours of footage so far, so it's going to be quite a task to edit it down.

In the late afternoon Alice, my trusty camerawoman, and I hired a taxi to go out to a couple of villages to see what life is like outside the capital. At the first one I'm not sure that everyone was pleased to see us so we made a bit of a hasty getaway, but at the second one we were mobbed by both children and adults. Our taxi driver spoke excellent English. Both his parents were killed in the genocide and he is the head of the family, supporting his two younger sisters. He exists on $300 a month. He can't afford to buy a car (a Toyota Corolla costs $80,000 here!) so he rents one every day. But by comparison, he's well off. He said he was totally committed to rebuilding his country and was proud that everyone was pulling together.

One thing you notice here is that there is a total absence of litter in the streets. The government has banned plastic bags and on the fourth Saturday in the month everyone turns out to clear up their local neighbourhoods.

After returning to Kigali we found a local crafts centre, where I spent rather a lot of money on what I can only describe as shirts that Nelson Mandela would be proud to wear. I thought they'd go well with my Duchamp ties!

In the evening we all went out for a Chinese. Bearing in mind that most of us have got some sort of stomach upset (or worse) I wasn't sure that was a very good idea - especially as I don't like Chinese! The bill for eight of us came to $54. We tend to tip rather heavily here. Later on we met David Mundell MP and some of the volunteers at the Republika nightclub

I had to get back to the hotel for midnight to do a Radio 5 Live interview on Gordon Brown's first month. It seems very strange to do interviews from Rwanda, but I think it went OK. I'll leave the last word on this blogpost to the Guardian's Will Woodward...

Mr Cameron's 32 hours in Rwanda may have looked bad at home; here, however,
it has felt more positive.

Too right it has.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Brown's Spin & The Small Print

'I've said politicians have got to be more humble and they have got to be strong
when it comes to seeing something through… I hope people will judge us by what
actually happens' (Gordon Brown, The Guardian, 30 May 2007).
During his first month as Prime Minister, Gordon Brown made a series of grand statements and promises. But just like with his stealth taxes and pensions raid, you have to check the small print to discover what he’s really up to. New research by the Conservatives reveals that behind the good headlines, the truth is very different.

Flood Defences
Brown’s Spin
In July, the Government announced new funding for flood defences. Gordon Brown said that the budget for flood defences ‘will now rise [from £600 million] to £800 million and every major project that was being moved forward by the Environment Agency, indeed every infrastructure, or what you might call capital project, is moving ahead as planned and there has been no disruption in it whatsoever. So the investment in flood defences is moving up and it will continue to move up in the future’ (Downing Street Press Conference, 23 July 2007).
The Small Print
In fact, the small print of the statement given to Parliament revealed that the additional £200 million funding would not be introduced for four years, until 2011 (Hansard, 2 July 2007, Col. 690).
It also emerged that Gordon Brown had actually frozen the Environment Agency’s budget just weeks before the floods (Freedom of Information Act Request, Environment Agency). Last year’s flood defence bill was cut by £15 million in order to make cost savings after chaos at the Rural Payments Agency left DEFRA £200 million in the red.
Gordon Brown deliberately referred only to ‘capital projects’ because in fact he’d cut spending on non-capital items like flood defence planning and essential staff.

Support for Flood Hit Areas
Brown’s Spin
On a visit to flood-hit areas, Gordon Brown announced that local authorities would get 100 per cent compensation for the damage caused by the floods. He said: ‘We will provide 100% for local authorities for the emergency work they are doing’ (Press Association, 23 July 2007).
The Small Print
In fact, the small print of government’s Bellwin Scheme revealed that they would only provide this relief above a certain threshold – meaning that many councils would have to fund millions of pounds worth of relief themselves. For example, in Gloucester, the local council will have to find an extra £1.2 million.
The Government’s scheme would also only fund uninsurable revenue costs, not expenditure such as repairing assets (such as roads). A council such as Gloucester will have to find some £24 million to repair roads alone – equivalent to their entire roads budgets for the year.

Border Police
Brown’s Spin
In his security statement, Gordon Brown announced – after years of Conservative pressure – that he would introduce a new Border Police. He said: ‘To strengthen the powers and surveillance capability of our border guards and security officers, we will now integrate the vital work of the Border and Immigration Agency, Customs and UK visas overseas and at the main points of entry to the UK, and we will establish a unified border force’ (Hansard, 25 July 2007, Column 842).
Gordon Brown said the proposal would be ‘implemented very quickly’ (Hansard, 25 July 2007, Col. 848).
The Small Print
It then emerged that Gordon Brown’s proposals were not for a new agency, but for new uniforms – and the plan did not even include the police or British Transport Police.
When questioned about the cost, staffing and resources of the force, the government admitted that these details had not even been decided (Press Briefing from Prime Minister’s Spokesman, 25 July 2007).

‘New’ Legislative Programme
Brown’s Spin
On 11 July, Gordon Brown outlined his ‘new’ legislative programme to Parliament. In the fourteen paragraphs, he used the expression ‘new’ a total of eighteen times to describe the Bills and announcements (Legislative Programme Statement, 11 July 2007).
The Small Print
A detailed examination of the ‘new’ Bills revealed that every single one had been announced already. Six had already been published as White Papers; two had already been published in Green Papers; five had already been published as Draft Bills; 4 had already been announced in Statements; five had already been launched in consultations; and one had already been published as a full Bill. Gordon Brown was merely continuing work that had been started under Tony Blair.

Aircraft Carriers
Brown’s Spin
In July, Gordon Brown announced that the government would build two new aircraft carriers. Defence Secretary Des Browne announced: ‘The carriers represent a step change in our capability, enabling us to deliver increased strategic effect and influence around the world at a time and place of our choosing’ (Hansard, 25 July 2007; Col. 865)
The Small Print
In fact, the detail of the announcement revealed that the two aircraft carriers had actually been delayed from the 2012 and 2015 dates as originally promised, and would not in fact be in service until 2014 and 2016 respectively.
It also emerged, in a document buried in the library of the House of Commons, that the final cost for contract had not even been agreed.

Drug Strategy Consultation
Brown’s Spin
In July, the Government launched what it described as the ‘largest ever’ consultation on tackling drug use. The document said that drug treatment must continue to be the ‘cornerstone’ of the Government’s drug strategy (HM Government, Drugs: Our Community, Your Say, A Consultation Paper, 25 July 2007, p.15).
The Small Print
A footnote to the document revealed that the Government’s aim was ‘to reduce overall costs whilst improving effectiveness’ of drug treatment (HM Government, Drugs: Our Community, Your Say, A Consultation Paper, 25 July 2007, p.15).
Days later emerged that Gordon Brown intended to cut £50m from the Government’s drug treatment budget over the next three years (The Daily Telegraph, 30 July 2007).

Limiting the Prime Minister’s Power
Brown’s Spin
Gordon Brown claimed he would reduce his powers as Prime Minister: ‘I now propose that in 12 important areas of our national life the Prime Minister and the Executive should surrender or limit their powers… I now propose to surrender or limit these powers to make for a more open 21st-century British democracy which better serves the British people’ (Hansard, 3 July 2007, Col. 815-6)
The Small Print
On the very same day as he made this promise, Gordon Brown slipped out a new version of the Ministerial Code on an obscure government website. This gave him increased powers to block investigations into Ministers and decide for the first time – inserting a key phrase that ‘If there is an allegation about a breach of the Code, and the Prime Minister…. feels that it warrants further investigation, he will refer the matter to the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests’ (Paragraph 1.3, Ministerial Code, Cabinet Office, July 2007).
For the first time, Gordon Brown also lifted the ban on civil servants attending party political events, such as Labour Party conferences – raising new questions about the politicisation of the civil service.

Supporting Sport
Brown’s Spin
On 13 July, Gordon Brown new funding for sport in schools and said the government would 'raise the number of hours that kids in school can do sport, to increase the number of competitions that are possible and have a national sports week' (Gordon Brown, GMTV, 13 July 2007)
The Small Print
In fact, it emerged that the new funding that he had announced for sports represents less than 10 per cent of the amount he cut from grassroots sports as a result of his raid on lottery funds. It was also revealed that of the £750 million promised for school sports seven years ago, just half had so far been spent by the government.

Cuts in the NHS
Brown’s Spin
Gordon Brown told Parliament that a review of the NHS in London was ‘not proposing the closure of existing hospitals’ (Hansard, 11 July 2007; Col. 1440)
The Small Print
Buried in the detail of the Government review that was published on the same day, Gordon Brown’s new Health Minister announced that ‘the days of the district general hospital...are over’ (Healthcare from London; A Framework for Action, page71, paragraph 186).
Lord Darzi also stated that there was a need for ‘fewer, more advanced hospitals’ in London (Health Care for London: A Framework for Action, 11 July 2007, p.10).

Servants of the People
Brown’s Spin
Gordon Brown also promised to ‘forge a stronger shared national purpose—only by building a new relationship between citizens and Government that ensures that Government are a better servant of the people’ (Hansard, 3 July 2007, Col. 815)
The Small Print
On the same day, buried in the small print of his proposals on Constitutional Reform were new plans to allow charities to campaign politically. This meant that the Smith Institute - Gordon Brown’s favourite think tank that is currently under investigation by the Charity Commission over its political links to him – would have a wider political remit. The small print read: ‘Charities should be free to participate in appropriate ways in political activities. There are clear benefits to society from allowing charities to do so’ (Governance of Britain, Ministry of Justice, 3 July 2007).

Welfare Reforms
Brown’s Spin
A week before he became Prime Minister, Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton reassured the public that Gordon Brown would continue with planned welfare reforms.
He said: 'I know there are some who hope the coming political transition will mean the Government goes cool on the prospect of further radical welfare reform to benefit the hardest to help. They will be disappointed’(Welfare to Work Convention 2007, Birmingham, Wednesday 20th June 2007).
When the Freud Report on welfare reform was launched, Gordon Brown went out of his way to endorse it, saying: ‘This starts a new phase of welfare reform which I will champion’ (The Guardian, 6 March 2007)
The Small Print
On Tuesday, Gordon Brown's new Work and Pensions Secretary, Peter Hain, announced to a newspaper that the government wanted to roll back plans for large scale private sector involvement in providing welfare services as outlined in Freud. He said that offering large regional contracts to private companies ‘is not my preferred option’ (Financial Times, 31 July 2007).
When David Freud was summoned to the Treasury to present his findings: 'He said hello, got a 45-minute rant from Gordon then said goodbye...Then he was marched into a room full of advisers who shredded him' (The Daily Telegraph, 12 June 2007).

New Crime Strategy
Brown’s Spin
On 19 July, the Government launched a new crime strategy for 2008-11. It was based on the premise that there had been ‘Ten years of cutting crime’ (Home Office, Cutting Crime: A New partnership 2008-11, 19 July 2007).
The Home Secretary said: ‘we have revolutionised the crime fighting landscape… This formidable combination has seen crime fall by around a third since 1997’ (Hansard, 19 July 2007, Col. 463).
The Small Print
In fact, on the same day new recorded crime statistics showed that in 2006-07, 300,000 more offences were committed in England and Wales compared to 1998-99, and violent crime has doubled (Crime in England and Wales 2006-07, Home Office, July 2007).

Building Homes; Protecting the Green Belt
Brown’s Spin
Gordon Brown promised to put ‘affordable housing within the reach not just of the few but the many’ and said that ‘I assure the House that we will continue robustly to protect the land designated as Green Belt’ (Hansard, 11 July 2007, col. 1450).
The Government also said: “Green Belt land will stay as Green Belt land. Yes, we can give you an assurance that we will not build on Green Belt land. We are not proposing any changes to our very robust protection of the Green Belt” (10 Downing Street spokesman, PM Lobby Briefing, 10 July 2007).
The Small Print
In fact, it emerged that a report commissioned by Labour Ministers warned that Gordon Brown’s building plans would have ‘a negative effect on the character of the countryside’. Planning experts, Roger Tym & Partners, warned the government in the report that housing plans would ‘increase pressure to develop in the Green Belt’; have a ‘significant negative impact on the Green Belt’; ‘increase the risk of flash flooding’; and ‘increase pressure to develop in these areas of flood risk’ (Augmenting the Evidence Base for the Examination in Public of the South East Plan, May 2006).
Gordon Brown also failed raise the thresholds for the 3 per cent or 4 per cent stamp duty bands since their introduction, meaning more and more homes are being dragged into the higher stamp duty brackets every year. The average first time buyer thus pays £1,500 in stamp duty (Hansard, 18 April 2006, col. 121WA), compared to nothing in 1997, since stamp duty thresholds have not kept pace with house price inflation.

Reforms in the NHS
Brown’s Spin
Before he became Prime Minister, Gordon Brown said the NHS would be his ‘immediate priority' (Gordon Brown, Leadership Acceptance Speech, 24 June 2007) and said: ‘I do say to colleagues in the Trade Union movement that reform will continue, it has to continue. In some cases it has to intensify quickly, because our duty to the country is to ensure that we have the best standard of healthcare in the modern world’ (Gordon Brown, Sunday AM, 10 September 2006).
The Small Print
In fact, Alan Johnson revealed on 25 July that the government was actually beginning a process of limiting private sector involvement in the NHS – rolling back the reforms introduced by Tony Blair. Mr Johnson told the Health Select Committee ‘I don't believe there is the need for another independent sector treatment centre [ISTC] procurement and there won't be a third wave’ (Daily Telegraph, 26 July 2007).

Ending Spin; Restoring Power to Parliament
Brown’s Spin
When he became Prime Minister, Gordon Brown promised the British people he would restore power to Parliament, end spin and focus on delivery:
· ‘All the people of this country have a shared interest in building trust in our democracy, and it is my hope that, by working together for change in a spirit that takes us beyond parties and beyond partisanship, we can agree a new British constitutional settlement that entrusts more power to Parliament and the British people’ (Hansard, 3 July 2007, Col. 815)
· ‘One of my first acts as Prime Minister would be to restore power to Parliament in order to build the trust of the British people in our democracy’ (Leadership Acceptance Speech, 11 May 2007).
· 'I've said politicians have got to be more humble and they have got to be strong when it comes to seeing something through… I hope people will judge us by what actually happens' (Gordon Brown, The Guardian, 30 May 2007).
· The Deputy Leader of the Labour Party has promised: ‘In future, under a Gordon Brown regime, we need to have no spin, no briefing, no secrets, and respect for Parliament’ (Harriet Harman, Leader of the House of Commons and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, BBC Newsnight, 29 May 2007).
The Small Print
In fact:
Burying Bad News. On the day Gordon Brown became Prime Minister he buried details of a further 100,000 of political donations from rich businessmen, trustees of the controversial think tank, the Smith Institute, and extra cash from Trade Unions in an obscure file with the Electoral Commission
Spinning the Cabinet. He announced plans for his new ‘Business Council for Britain’ in a newspaper before it was formally announced (Financial Times, 27 June 2007) and key names in his Cabinet and Junior Ministers – like Digby Jones – were also announced in a newspaper (The Times, 29 June 2007)
Admitting he’ll carry on spinning. In a little noticed interview published on the day he moved into No 10, Gordon Brown said he intended to continue briefing newspapers to spin his stories before Parliament. He was asked “Why are so many of your policies trailed in the newspapers before the Cabinet or MPs get to hear about them?”. He replied: ‘…It's inevitable that there will be some kind of public discussion about policy issues before anyone stands up and makes a statement to Parliament. Frankly, I think that's a good thing’ (The Independent, Gordon Brown Answers Your Questions, 27 June 2007).
Announcing policy in newspapers. The day before he told Parliament he wanted ‘open and good government’, he briefed his legislative programme to newspapers, including revealing plans for fixed-rate mortgages lasting 25 years in one newspaper (Daily Telegraph, 11 July 2007) and housing plans were announced in another (Daily Mirror, 11 July 2007). Welfare Reforms to encourage lone parents back to work were announced in a newspaper before Parliament was told (Daily Mirror, 18 July 2007).
Publishing 100 statements as MPs leave. Brown was slammed by opposition MPs after publishing 100 statements to Parliament on the eve of it rising for summer recess. New revelations buried in the Commons library late in the afternoon after many MPs had left included: a new Government appointment for Gordon Brown’s personal donor, Paul Myners; details of the £1.66 million ‘farewell tour’ by Tony Blair; and a new list of ‘celebrities’ entertained at Chequers at taxpayers’ expense.

Tuesday Open Thread

So, what's it to be today, floods? Review of 24 hour drinking? West Ham signing Freddie Ljungberg? The Tories' Globalisation Commission Report?

I am looking forward to being back in harness properly on Thursday. Just so you know!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Rwandan Diary: Day 4

David Cameron arrived this morning and within half an hour of his getting here he held a briefing on the Globalisation Commission Report which is being published tomorrow. He then left for a visit to a local textile factory. Prior to the genocide it had a turnover of £80 million. A few uyears later it was down to £3 million but it has built itself back up now. It's going to move into making mosquito nets. Amazingly very few Rwandans have these nets which explains why more people die from malaria than from Aids. At the moment only 900,000 nets are produced in Rwanda every year, but this factory aims to up that figure to five million - probably the best healthcare investment that could be made.

From there we accompanied David Cameron to the National Genocide Memorial in Kigali, where more than 250,000 are buried. They have an amazingly moving exhibition centre, which really brings home to you the horrors that people went though only thirteen years ago. Cameron was clearly moved by the experience. He then placed a wreath on one of the graves.

Tonight we all attended a barbeue organised by the SURF charity, where all the twenty different project managers explained what they had been doing. The great thins is that all the lobby journalists on the trip have lost their initial cynicism about the trip and clearly understand the good works which are being done here. Will Woodward from the Guardian has written a blog on the visit today which ends with these words...

Occasions like this make the two-day visit seem less of a stunt and more of a
necessary rite of passage for any aspiring British leader.
David Wooding of The Sun describes the 44 people here working on Project Umubano as "the real face of the modern Conservative Party". And he's right.

Monday Open Thread

Use this thread to talk about anything you want. How is the government handling the floods crisis? Several people have complained on the Sunday thread that the Conservatives are saying nothing. Complete crap. If I can find out what they are saying in Rwanda people aren't listening very hard. David Cameron has been quite specific in his criticism and hasn't pulled his punches. Just look at the BBC website if you don't believe me.

Just to remind you, I have switched off the ability comment anonymously. I have to say that the threads have been much more readable since I did that. If you wish to comment you now have to set up a Google account at the time of posting, if you don't already have one. You do not have to give your real name, but you do get your own unique identity.

Rwandan Diary: Day 3

Another very early start to head back down south to the village of Marambi, the site of one of the worst episodes of the 1994 genocide. It's also the site of a National Genocide Memorial. We were going at the invitation of Mary Blewitt, who lost 60 family members in the genocide. Since then she has started an excellent charity called SURF - the Rwandan Genocide Survivors Fund. Andrew Mitchell is on its board and she had done brilliant work in raising the profile of Rwanda and its problems throughout the political spectrum in Britain. She's also raised more than £7 million to help survivors of the genocide.

The day did not start well, when after only an hour into the journey I started getting stomach cramps. Knowing that there were two more hours to go until we reached our destination I was facing the embarrassment of having to ask the coach to stop for, er, well, shall we call it a pit stop. Luckily the cramps gradually went away!

It took more than three hours to get to Marambi. None of us knew what to expect. What we experienced will affect every one of us for a very long time indeed.

As well as the mass grave, in which 50,000 Tutsis are buried, there are at least a dozen rooms with dead bodies laid out, all cased in lime. The smell was something which will stay with me for a very long time indeed. One room was full of bodies of children and babies. It was at that point I lost it. Alice, my cameralady, was extremely upset and tears were rolling down her face as she filmed. I did a piece to camera which was, shall we say, highly emotional. We were then shown a site where French soldiers built a basketball court on top of a mass grave. I cannot tell you how hated the French are in Rwanda. Their soldiers were sent to Marambi and actually protected the killers, who had hacked to death 50,000 Tutsis in 48 hours. I'll be writing more about France and its role in Rwanda tomorrow.

We then met one of only six surviors of the genocide at Marambi. Take a close look at the photo and you can see the bullethole in the man's head. Because he had a bullethole the Hutu militias left him for dead. He escaped by walking through the hills to the border with Congo.

I then interviewed Mary Blewitt. She is such an inspirational figure. Her brother was one of the first to be killed in the genocide. She recently received a letter from the government asking her to exhume his body as they wanted to build on his burial site. So yesterday, thirteen years after his death she had to rebury him. She agreed to talk about it in the interview, and as you can imagine it was fairly emotional.

Just to say, the reason I am in Rwanda is to make three documentaries for 18 Doughty Street - one on the Conservatives and Project Umubano, the second on the genocide and the third on life in Rwanda today. So far we must have filmed about five hours of footage in two days.

When we got back to Kigali Alice and I had no way of getting back to our hotel so we decided to take our lives in our hands and hail two cabs. Why two, you may ask. Well, Rwandan cabs are motorbikes, not cars. So we were whisked through the streets of Kigali on the back of a couple of bikes. I can't pretend it wasn't slightly exhilarating, because it was. Alistair Burt MP (pictured above with the genocide survivor) has also taken to them apparently.

Tonight I had the somewhat odd experience of doing a live interview on News 24, from our hotel balcony in Kigali, but not on Rwanda, on David Cameron's apparent popularity problems. I don't know what it looked like on the TV, but it did feel as if I should have signed off by saying "John Simpson, Baghdad" as the setting was very similar to that which the BBC use in Iraq!

Tomorrow, David Cameron arrives, so until then, hope you've enjoyed my accounts so far. More blogs from Rwanda from Vicky Ford and David Mundell MP.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Rwandan Diary: Day 2

Another early start for a three hour drive to the southern Rwandan town of Butare. Our first stop was at an orphanage school. We were treated to very enthusiastic singing by the 107 children. Their classroom was the size of one which we would put 15 kids in, rather than 107.

The school is clearly struggling to exist despite its excellent teachers endeavours. They have started making Christmas cards and clothes to create an income stream. Because the school only takes orphans (of the 107 kids, 35 have HIV and 15 are heads of family) there are many local children who don't get the schooling these kids get. It was quite heart rending to see the other kids looking at us through the school fence.

Next stop was a nearby village which Project Umubano is helping by providing English teaching and helping with the re-roofing of a rabbit breeding enterprise. I have to admit I thought this was the poorest place I had ever seen in my life, yet one of the lobby journalists reckons there are far worse off places than this. There are very few roads in Rwanda. Virtually every village is reached by treacherous dirt tracks in a sturdy 4x4. The picture to the left shows the main street and the houses, which are made of local peat. As you can see, 18 Doughty Street's Alice became the village pied piper as all the local kids wanted to be captured on film. The look on their faces when she shows them the film and they can see themselves is a sight to behold. Just off to the right of this photo a man beckoned me over. He was holding a large jug, which contained the local beer, and invited me into his home. His house consisted of two rooms, one with a table and one chair and two posters on the walls and nothing else. No carpet, no other furniture, nothing. But I have rarely met a happier man. And that's the common theme. The people we meet are unfailingly happy despite the abject poverty they live in and their country's troubled recent past. Everywhere you go you meet happy, smiling people. They may be hiding deep sadness underneath, but they hide it very well indeed. None of the houses in this village have toilets, but several outside latrines are being built at the moment.

Each one is shared by five families at a cost of £170 each. I was given the honour of christening one of them. One of the journalists asked if I had brought a plaque. Ha ha. The rabbit breeding project is one which the Tory team in helping develop. The rabbits are meant to provide an income for the village. At first the villagers just treated the rabbits as food, but they are now trying to make it into a proper business. The roof needed to be replaced because the rabbits were getting too hot and not eating.

The picture on the right shows a couple of workers tending to their allotment. Even though Rwanda is incredibly hilly, virtually every acre has some sort of crop planted in it. Even so, in the rural areas there is still a degree of malnutrition.

We then drove for an hour on an incredibly bumpy dirt track to a village which doesn't even feature on a map. It's where two British GPs (one of whom is Andrew Mitchell's wife Sharon) are spending two weeks treating local people. We were warned that we would be crossing the 'Bridge of Death', which was a very rickety bridge with wooden slats. As we were in a Toyota 4x4 I didn't give much for our chances of getting across and wanted to get out and walk across. The driver wasn't having any of it and put his foot down. Well, we made it, although I am sure we dislodged a few slats while we were at it. The medical centre in the village is run by a group of nuns, but none of them have medical training. If I tell you there are only 400 doctors in Rwanda which equates to one doctor per 200,000 people. In Britain we have one GP per 2000 people. The task of the two British GPs is to train some local nurses and while they are there treat as many people as possible. In the first 5 days they treated more than 500 people. Word soon spread that they were there and they had to turn people away. Most people could be treated easily but there were at least three cases where I am sure they saved the people's lives. The nearest hospital is a four hour walk away. There is no other way of getting there. If anyone breaks their leg or physically cannot walk, they are reliant on neighbours to carry them there on a stretcher. And when they get there they have to provide their own bed linen and food. Makes you think, doesn't it? At the medical centre there are a number of inpatient wards including ones for TB sufferers, a maternity ward and one for those suffering from malnutrition.

It is this project which has affected me most so far. The sheer hopelessness of the situation is appalling. Sharon and David, the two GPs, will leave at the end of next week knowing that they have probably saved lives. But if they were there for the next two weeks they would be able to do the same. But they will leave a lasting legacy in the training they will have supplied to the nuns and other nursing staff. And they should be bloody proud of what they have done.

The running theme of the day was me thinking 'what can I, as an individual, do to make these people's lives better'? Now that probably sounds as if I have suddenly become a woolly liberal. Not a bit of it. But it is amazing how much very little money will buy here. And at the end of it, it is well directed money which these communities need - money which if it comes through government agencies might never get to where it is most needed.

When I was at the first orphanage I did something which later I thought was incredibly crass. I gave the head teacher $50 to spend on provisions for the school. I just felt it was the only way I could show him that I was so impressed by what he was doing. I refuse to give money to charities who spend a vast proportion of it on admin. I want to give money directly, to an organisation I care about and where I know the money won't be wasted.

Anyway, that was day 2.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Sunday Open Thread

I gather the Sunday papers will be carrying a YouGov poll showing Labour seven points ahead on 40% and the Sunday Telegraph is alleging that up to six Tory MPs have written to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee calling for a vote of no confidence in David Cameron. What a bunch of self-centered, idiotic, brain dead idiots. Naturally, they are all unnamed as they have the courage of a three day old custard.


I am spending today helping commemorate the tenth anniversary of the end of the Rwandan genocide, so I won't be posting again until Sunday evening.

Rwandan Diary: Day 1

The flight from Nairobi yesterday to Kigali took an uneventful hour and a quarter. I expected to be hit by a massive heat wave as I got off the plain, but far from it. The heat has been pleasant and dry with no humidity whatsoever. We were met in the terminal and whisked off to our hotel in the centre of Kigali. Only an hour later, having had no sleep for a day we started our tour of the Project Umbano projects. We met up with Andrew Mitchell and his team who gave us a rundown of wat we were about to face. There aren't exactly many spare hours.

We were then driven to an orphanage clled Giribuntu, where Tobias Ellwood MP was leading a team of volunteers (including Brooks Newmark MP and blogger Vicky Ford) to build a new classroom and renovate the existing buildings. It was a hive of activity. During our tour of the project more than forty locals turned up to join in. Word had travelled that white British MPs were building toilets - something guaranteed to attract people's interest.

I spent some time talking to a journalist from the only English language newspaper in Rwanda, the New Times. English has just been made an official language in Rwanda but literacy rates are very low and it doesn't have a huge circulations. This chap told me that it was quite difficult being a journalist in Rwanda. It's not a dictatorship but it's not easy to write articles criticising the government. His family were originally from Rwanda but left for Uganda in the 1950s. He had returned about a year ago as he wanted to help his country rise from the ashes.

And that's the thing you notice here. There is a tremendous commitment from everybody to rebuild and renew. In only ten years since the genocide a proper public administrative infrastructure has emerged. While there is still abject poverty people can see with their own eyes what progress is being made. There is a law that on the fourth Saturday in every month everyone has to help on a community project.

We then went to visit the Rwandan Minister of Finance to discuss how international aid agencies were helping his country's development. The good thing is that everyone I have talked to says that there is very little sign of corruption in Rwanda and where they find it they deal with it quickly. This is good news as Britain is Rwanda's biggest giver of development aid, at £46 million last year. Germany only gives £1 million.

At 7pm we all met up for dinner at the apartments where most of the volunteers are staying. Everyone had a story to tell and you could tell there was a real buzz about what was going on.

If you want other takes on the project visit the blogs of Vicky Ford and David Mundell MP. When we left David last night he was wearing a shirt which I can only describe as competing with my ties for colour. Apparently he was being taken to some of local Kigali fleshpots. Sadly I havenlt run into him today to see what transpired!

Friday, July 20, 2007

No More Anonymous Comments Until I Get Back

It is impossible for me to police comments properly during my stay in Rwanda, so I am stopping anonymous comments for the time being. I've just had to delete about half a dozen from the thread on the Ealing by election and if I had more time I'd have deleted a whole lot more.

No one should be put off commenting. Just create a Google account and you're away.

Telegraph Column: Cameron's Travels

My latest Telegraph article is online HERE. It looks at how Cameron's trips shape his world view and criticises those who believe politicians should stay inside the Westminster bubble.

Tories Fail to Meet Ealing Expectations

I have just seen the two by election results. This is what Tory by election manager Grant Shapps had to say about the Ealing result...

"It is usual for the party that starts in third place to end up being squeezed out of contention but in Ealing Southall, not only did Tony Lit maintain our proportion of the vote, he increased it too. During the campaign, five Labour Councillors recognised that the Conservative Party is the Party that represents modern Britain and opted to join us, meaning we now have a solid base in Southall for the first time since the 1920s. Labour's majority in Ealing Southall has been cut in half and this is the first time the Liberal Democrats have failed to win at a Parliamentary by-election from starting in second place since 1989."

The words straws and clutching come to mind. I genuinely thought the Conservatives would come a good second here, but let's not pretend this was a satisfactory result. It patently was not. But Grant is also right to point out the LibDem failure to get their by election bandwagon rolling here.

Questions will and should be asked about various aspects of the campaign, not least the candidate, whether the tactics were local enough and if all the literature was appropriate. These are questions which should be asked after any election.

Although this is not natural Tory territory most observers would reckon that in the middle of the third term of a Labour government the party ought to be able to increase its vote share by more than 0.9 per cent. We need to understand why this didn't happen.

Rwandan Diary: Into Africa

Well, it's 7.30am and we are on a two hour layover at Nairobi airport before getting a flight to Kigale. There's a group of lobby journos with us too, so Alice (Head of Production and ace camerawoman at 18 Doughty Street) and I are not alone.

Having been told just before we got on the flight that Kenyan Airways have the second worst safety record of any world airline, I have to say it was an excellent flight. I still don't know if my leg was being pulled. I spent much of the flight reading more of Alastair Campbell's diaries but despite that didn't get a wink of sleep.

The guy in front of me kept reclining his seat, which was a bit annoying. Each time he got up to go to the loo I reached round and put the seat back up, which horrified Alice. Sadly he then reclined it again after a few minutes when he got back.

Nairobi airport is like something out of a 1950s film set - lots of shouting, rather hot even at this time of day and dodgy decor. We just queued up at the transfer desk behind a man in a robe and the hairiest back you've ever seen. Alice nearly barfed her breakfast.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Drug Taking Witchhunt Must Stop

While I've been packing my case this morning I have had Sky News on in the background. Their coverage of the admission by Jacqui Smith that she tried cannabis 25 years ago has been so over the top that I have had to switch over. They also collared Tony McNulty who admitted he had had the odd puff at university.

I don't exactly have a liberal view on drug taking but even I have to give a massive shrug of the shoulders at this so-called revelation. Sky have had a series of interviews with various political commentators about whether politicians should resign if they admit to breaking the law by having taken drugs at university.

The only relevant question here is this. Does having smoked a joint at university impair a politician's judgement 25 years later. Of course not. Tony McNulty's abilities as Police Minister can be judged on his performance today - not by what he may have done 25 years ago.

No politician should feel compelled to answer the cannabis question. If they want to, then fine, but the sort of witchhunt which is underway this morning is unedifying in the extreme.

Footnote: Just for the record, I have never taken an illegal drug for fear that I might actually enjoy it if I did. What you have never had, you don't miss. Indeed, I can honestly say I have never been offered a drug and if I was, I wouldn't have a clue what to do with it.

Proud to be an American...

The YBF blog has a good post with examples of the campaign songs of some of the US Presidential candidates. Cover your ears...

Off to Rwanda This Evening

I've just finished packing for my trip to Rwanda. We leave at 8pm tonight from Heathrow for an overnight flight to Nairobi and then an onward flight to Kigali.

I'm going to Rwanda to make three films for 18 Doughty Street - one on the genocide, one on life in Rwanda today and the third will be a film about the acitivites of the 40 Tory MPs and volunteers who are spending two weeks there doing good works. We'll be there for six days along with various broadcast and national newspaper journalists. David Cameron will be there for two days next week to launch the Globalisation Commission report.

It's not often I get that tingling feeling of excitement before a foreign trip, but I have never been to Africa before. Vicky Ford is already there and blogging about it and she has certainly whetted my appetite. I just hope my trip out there is not as traumatic as hers was.

I'm told the place we are staying has internet access so hopefully I will be blogging the trip at regular intervals. I'll also try to blog about things other than my trip, but it depends how reliable and easy the internet access actually is.

I'm back next Thursday. In case you cared!

When Gove Leads, Balls Shall Follow

One of the greatest political spectacles of the next few months will be the Despatch Box spats between Ed Balls and Michael Gove. Poor old Ed Balls, it's not really a fair fight is it.

I was interested to read his comments a couple of days ago in the Daily Telegraph where he reckoned children shouldn't be "wrapped in cotton wool" and "allowed to have snowball fights in winter and play conkers in the autumn". He urged schools and parents to take a more balanced approach to risk. Well good for him.

But I reckoned I had heard all about this before. Indeed, I wrote about it HERE at the beginning of June, as did Alice Thomson. But we weren't the first to pontificate ont he subject. Indeed no. In 2005 a certain Michael Gove made a film for Channel 5 called Bubblewrap Britain. The BFI blurb says...
Conservative MP Michael Gove gives a personal view and examination of an increasing risk-avoidance culture in Britain, which is stifling activities and becoming absurd. Looks at how conkers have been deemed dangerous and children banned from playing them, how some hospitals ban home-made food, and how "Health and Safety" issues and fear of litigation have led to teachers restricting sports and playground games and not doing school trips. Also looks at the effect of compensation culture and at how taking away all elements of risk or pushing at boundaries is actually bad for children.

Good to see Ed Balls taking his lead from The Gover. I wonder what will be next - a neocon book from Ed Balls called Fahrenheit 8/8?

The BBC Must Take Full Responsibility

The rest of the media and blogosphere is doing enough BBC bashing without me adding my two cents worth, but I do just want to say one thing.

This morning I read that RDF, the company who made the film about the Queen supposedly stomping out of a photo shoot, has been banned from making any more programmes for the BBC.

This again shows how the BBC seems unwilling to take final responsibility for what it transmits. Yes, RDF cocked up, but the BBC checking procedures failed lamentably. Having been involved in making a few programmes with Channel. 4 I really don't think it would have happened with them. In my experience they check every second of footage they put out.

The BBC needs to take responsibility for its failures and not seek to put all the blame on RDF. It should also not victimise RDF, which has in the past made hours of excellent TV for the BBC. What the BBC is subliminally trying to do is create the impression that if they weren't forced to use independent production companies and could do everything in house, it would all be OK.

Of course the phone line scams have proved that not to be the case.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

It's Not The Winning...

I'm just off to the House Magazine/Sky News political awards dinner in Whitehall. I've never been up for an award at an event like this before, but I am shortlisted for Political Commentator of the Year. I'm up against Nick Robinson, Matthew D'Ancona and Jackie Ashley so I am not expecting to win, I can assure you. As it is all being filmed I am practising a sickly grin for when the winner is announced. In the unlikely event I win I shall of course emulate Ms Paltrow...

UPDATE: Nick Robinson won the award and made a very funny and gracious speech. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Jackie Ashley at the dinner and trying to convince her that not all blogs are bad. She loathes the commenters on CommentIsFree. I promised to send her some proper blogs to look at which might encourage her to change her mind.

Relive Margaret Thatcher's Final Days . . . Got Your Hankie Ready?

A new DVD has just been released called THATCHER: THE FINAL DAYS. As I recall, it was broadcast by ITV within weeks of Margaret Thatcher's overthrow. It stars Sylvia Syms as Lady T. Amazon have it on special offer at £7.49 HERE. Naturally, I hardly dare watch it for fear of an emotional breakdown...

Gordon Brown's Record on Gay Rights

Gordon Brown has got a nerve. In the Daily Mail today he is putting himself up as some sort of gay rights activist and supporter. But if you actually look at his voting record on gay rights issues he has carefully absented himself on each occasion the issue has been debated. More than a coincidence, I would say. Matt Wardman has helpfully provided a list of the fourteen votes Brown has missed, such is his total commitment to an equality agenda.

22 Jun 1998
Crime and Disorder Bill [Lords] — Reduction in age at which certain sexual acts are lawful
1 Mar 1999
Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill - Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill
10 Feb 2000
Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill
5 Jul 2000
Local Government Bill [Lords] - Prohibition on promotion of homosexuality: bullying
24 Oct 2001
Relationships (Civil Registration)
29 Oct 2001
Adoption and Children Bill (Programme) — Consideration and Third Reading
16 May 2002
Adoption and Children Bill — [2nd Allotted Day] — Applications for adoption
20 May 2002
Adoption and Children Bill — [3rd Allotted Day] — Clause 131 — General interpretation, etc.
4 Nov 2002
Adoption and Children Bill — Suitability Of Adopters
10 March 2003
Local Government Bill — [2nd Allotted Day] — New Clause 11 — Repeal of Section 2A of Local Government Act 1986
10 Mar 2003
Local Government Bill — [2nd Allotted Day] — New Clause 11 — Repeal of Section 2A of Local Government Act 1986
12 Oct 2004
Civil Partnership Bill [Lords]
9 Nov 2004
Categories of civil partners other than same sex couples
9 Nov 2004
Civil Partnerships Bill [Lords] — Schedule 28 — Consequential amendments: Scotland

Matt did manage to find one vote where Gordon voted in favour, and that was the Sexual Orientation Regulations on March 19 2007. So that's alright then.

Data quoted from They Work for You.

The Sad Little Life of Thomas Watson MP Aged 39 3/4

Tom Watson becomes more of a laughing stock by the day. This morning he tantalised us with some huge story someone had phoned him about... but which he couldn't actually tell us anything about. This afternoon he posted THIS cock and bull story about David Cameron making a "secret" visit to Ealing yesterday. I've had to put him out of his misery and tell him that Cameron attended a fundraiser for local parliamentary candidate Angie Bray - a date that had been in his diary months before the by election was even called. Back to the drawing board Tom.

PS The good news is that the fundraiser was a huge success and Angie Bray's campaign can move forward with great confidence!

Tories Offer Olive Branch to MP Retreads

It appears that ex Conservative MPs who were unceremoniously chucked off the Tory Candidates List by Bernard Jenkin have had a reprieve. I'm told that they have all received a letter from CCHQ telling them that if they wish to reapply to join the list they may do so. It's not clear whether they will automatically get back on it or whether they will have to pay £250 to take the day long candidates course again.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Forgotten By Election in Sedgefield

Few people south of Watford (including your humble servant) have paid much attention to the other by election that is taking place on Thursday - the one in Sedgefield. The Tory candidate is Graham Robb, who's quite a well known radio personality in the North East. He is, well, up against it, it has to be said and I don't think anyone is expecting an upset in Sedgefield. I wonder if it might have been different if Ealing Southall hadn't been taking place on the same day.

Anyone got any feedback from Sedgefield?

Bob Marshall-Andrews to Retire

Labour MP Bob Marshall-Andrews has announced this afternoon that he is standing down at the next election. He's someone I have always admired for his willingness to speak his mind, even if I haven't always agreed with him. His constituency of Medway is an ultra marginal, which Bob actually announced he had lost last election night, when in fact he had held on by a couple of hundred votes. I imagine the local Labour Party will be gutted, as his departure makes it all the more winnable for the Conservatives next time around.

Just to show that even a blogger can keep a confidence, I saw Bob at the Spectator party a couple of weeks ago and he told me then he wouldn't be fighting the next election. I debated whether to blog it at the time but decided not to on the basis that it was a private conversation. Memo to self: must be more ruthless...

Survey Results: Who Are You?


Under 16 0.4%
16-25 18%
25-35 25%
35-45 22%
45-55 17%
55-65 14%
65-75 4%
Over 75 0.3%


Students 9%
Parliamentary researcher 5%
Lobbying/PR 6%
Retired 10%
IT 10%
Full time elected politician 1.4%
Small Business 8%
Print/Broadcast Media 5%


London 32.2%
East Anglia 6.9%
South East 17.7%
South 3.7%
South West 7.1%
West Midlands 5.5%
East Midlands 3.3%
North 3.6%
North West 6.6%
North East 4.0%
Scotland 5.3%
Wales 3.3%
Northern Ireland 0.9%

93% of you are in the UK. Leading other countries are USA, Ireland and France.

Survey Results: Who Do You Vote For?

2,100 of you took the survey. Here's who you vote for and where you rate yourself philosophically...

Conservative 57%
Labour 12%
LibDem 7%
SNP 2%
Green 2%
Don't Know 9%
Won't Vote 4%
Others 3%

Libertarian 47%
Authoritarian 4%
Socially Liberal 45%
Socially Conservative 26%
Old Labour 5%
New Labour 9%
Thatcherite 34%
Cameroon 20%
Tory Wet 4%
Anarchist 3%
Laissez Faire Liberal 21%

Polling Day in Paradise

For those of us who live in London or the South East THIS looks like bliss. It's from a blogger in the Outer Hebrides and tells the story of polling day in May in words and pictures. It reminds me of the film LOCAL HERO.

The Male Dominated Blogosphere: Was Melissa Kite Right?

Some time ago, you may recall, Sunday Telegraph journalist Melissa Kite wrote a piece alleging that the right wing blogosphere was full of chauvinists and misogynists. In particular, she targeted people who posted comments on right wing blogs like this one, Guido Fawkes and ConservativeHome.

Some 2,100 of my blog readers have now filled in my survey and I'll be publishing some of the results over the next couple of days.

The first one - and I hope you are sitting down for this - is that according to the survey, 86% of the people who read my blog are male and only 14% are female. Of course, just being male does not make them misogynists, but I did find this quite a shocking statistic. I don't think I write an overly macho blog which would necessarily attract a 'certain kind' of readership. I think the truth is that the world of blogs - and indeed politics for that matter - does attract more males than females. The trouble the political parties have in finding women candidates is testament to that.

I don't mind admitting that I am slightly appalled to find that only 14% of my blog readers are female. I hardly dare ask what I might do to address this issue for fear of the response.

UPDATE: A female correspondent emails me to say that the reason the figure is so low for women is that they don't have time to fill in surveys!

Steve Norris Will Not be a Candidate

I'm afraid we are to be denied the spectacle of a Norris v Boris race for the Conservative mayoral nomination. I am reliably informed that Steve Norris decided not to hand in his forms to CCHQ today and will therefore not be a candidate. Personally, I think that's a shame but I can understand why he's reached that decision.