Monday, March 31, 2008

The Daley Dozen: Monday

1. LibDem Voice is twittering with excitement about Brian Paddick.
2. Ben Brogan is back, reporting on DD's allegation of Labour using Home Office advertising for party political purposes. Dizzy was on the case first though. And talking of...
3. Dizzy on the BNP, Tim Hames, the media and the local elections. Phew!
4. Spectator Coffee House licks its lips at Harman v Hague & Cable. Shame though that it will be Harman v Theresa May...
5. Red Box has a mad idea about Boris doing PMQs. Is he on something? Red Box, I mean. It's going to be Theresa, I tell ye. UPDATE: It isn't. Red face for moi.
6. Sleazebuster Cllr Paul Osborn strikes again in Harrow says Donal Blaney.
7. Shane Greer relishes the end of the BBC Licence Fee.
8. Rosa Prince on tonight's CPS/DTel event on new media addressed by George Osborne. Yours truly was there.
9. James Kirkup on the Labour MPs who should be injected with rabies.
10. If only Gordon Brown had heeded Jon Craig's ever wise advice.
11. EU Referendum on how we're dying for Europe.
12. Tony Sharp will say zis only once.

LibDems: Tory Coalition No Longer Unthinkable

CentreForum, a LibDem inclined think tank has today published a paper arguing that LibDem-Conservative could collaborate in a future government. Even five years ago such thoughts would have been considered heresy by the majority of LibDems. How times have changed. The document begins...
By challenging the Conservatives to become more socially liberal, David Cameron has made his party less objectionable to Liberal Democrats. By challenging the Liberal Democrats to become more economically liberal, Nick Clegg has made his party less objectionable to Conservatives. And by developing a similar liberal critique of the current government – as too centralised, too big and too interfering – Cameron and Clegg have committed their parties to the same over-arching political challenge: to break decisively from New Labour’s top down, centrally planned approach to governance and put real power back in the hands of the British people.

And it concludes...
The election of a self styled ‘liberal Conservative’ as Tory leader should have increased the likelihood of meaningful co-operation between the two parties. So far, such co-operation has been conspicuous only by its absence. There are several reasons for this.

First, the parties have spent most of the last century and a half eyeing each other suspiciously over the progressive-conservative divide. This mutual suspicion runs deep and will not be quickly or easily overcome. Policy positions may be ever changing, but the culture of a party, and the core instincts of its members, are not.

Second, there are good reasons to believe that the Conservative party is not engaged in as fundamental a re-invention as David Cameron would like the electorate to believe. At its 2007 conference, the party committed to reducing significantly the number of foreigners entering the UK, increasing the number of people in prison, and introducing a £3 billion tax cut for the wealthiest families in the country. Meanwhile, its hostility towards the European Union remains undiminished. Such an agenda can be justified, but not by reference to liberalism.

Third, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives remain in direct opposition in much of the country, particularly in suburban and rural England where Labour has little or no real presence. As long as the success of each party depends on the failure of the other, co-operation will prove difficult, if not impossible.

However, none of these factors obscures the central point: that the Liberal Democrats are today closer to the Conservative Party than they have been for many years. By attacking the government from the left, Charles Kennedy, an instinctive social democrat, managed to distance his party from Labour without ever bringing it closer to the Conservatives (a policy continued by Menzies Campbell). The same cannot be said of Nick Clegg, an instinctive liberal with no interest in leading Britain’s most left wing party. Under his leadership, the Liberal Democrats have resumed a position of ‘equidistance’ between the other two parties – a position they will attempt to hold until the next general election. If that election proves inconclusive, no one can predict with certainty which way Clegg and his colleagues might jump – something that could not have been said of the Liberal Democrats under Paddy Ashdown, Charles Kennedy or Sir Menzies Campbell.

CentreForum is very influential in LibDem circles. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that the party leadership "encouraged" them to write this paper as a kite flying exercise to gauge the party reaction. No mention of it on any of the LibDem blogs I regularly look at. Perhaps I can spur them into reaction! Anyway, read the whole document HERE and tell me what you make of it.

Great PR Disasters of Our Time: No 94

On my American Express bill that arrived today is the less than tempting invitation to...

Upgrade the way you travel at Heathrow Terminal 5

The world can be be a busy, stressful place. Especially when you are tryng to get somewhere. But at Terminal 5 its a different world. Whether you're flying from, into or simply transfering through London Heathrow, with Terminal 5 you'll find it effortless,exciting and enjoyable.

Indeed so. Indeed so.

Oops: Why the Banner Has Disappeared

Just found out why the banners and buttons have disappeared. I had in my naivety assumed that Webfusion would take my monthly hosting payment automatically. Well they haven't and have therefore suspended the service. No email warning me. Nothing. They will have a very displeased customer in the morning.

What Next for the New Statesman?

Several blogs, led by Red Box, reported last week that Steve Richards had been offered the post of New Statesman editor. I'm told an announcement is imminent. Steve's current perch is chief political commentator for The Independent, a post I imagine he could cheerfully combine with the 'Staggers' editorship. He is one of the nicest political pundits you could hope to meet, and if he does take the post I know he will inspire a great deal of loyalty from those who will be working for him. But he will not be walking into an easy job.

The New Statesman has never quite worked out whether it should be a cheerleader for the Labour Party, a critical friend or a downright enemy. At times it has tried to be all three, and it hasn't really worked. I thought John Kampfner did a terrific job in making it more readable and appealing to people who maybe weren't its natural readers (ie. me!). The redesign was a great success, but despite circulation rising in 2006, it plummeted again in 2007. A lot of money was invested in marketing initiatives, but they failed to reap the long term readership loyalty which had been hoped for. Despite all other current affairs publications putting on circulation last year, the New Statesman experience a downturn.

There was talk of Neal Lawson of Compass being recruited by NS owner Geoffrey Robinson. It would have been a brave decision to recruit a non journalist and someone who is considered highly partisan. Steve Richards would bring professionalism and guile to the job, but one has to ask the question how long Geoffrey Robinson will continue to fund the loss making publication. We keep reading hints that he has lost a lot of money in recent times, presumably linked to his departure from the chairmanship of Coventry City FC. Could a sale of the NS be in the offing?

But what do its readers want from the NS in future? A bit more humour of the non 'right on' variety wouldn't go amiss. Anyone who thinks Mark Thomas is either funny or interesting anymore needs a doctor's note. I asked a friend on the left what he wanted from it. "More fun – which means changing the cast of characters, and getting the best writers from Westminster and beyond to write for it, not the dreary list of leftish/post-modern ‘rainbow coalition’ contributors they have now," he said.

I think Steve Richard's sense of the absurd, his recent conversion to the ways of new media and his ability to attract top class writers will mean he stands a high chance of succeeding. But having written all this, I've probably now put the black spot on him and they'll announce Polly Toynbee as the new editor in five minutes time!

Great Graphs of Our Time: No 94

Vote in the March Political Performance Index

Each month I invite you to take part in compiling the Political Performance Index, which gives you the chance to rate how the top 45 politicians in the country performed over the last month. This month I have added Yvette Cooper and Caroline Flint to the list.

Please don't just automatically give high marks to the politicians from the party you support - try to be as dispassionate as possible. Obviously I don't pretend that the readership of this blog is representative of the country as a whole - 55% of you vote Tory, after all! So if you are from another party and have a blog, please do link to this survey and encourage your readers to take part. I'd like to get at least 2,000 people taking part each month. You should give marks from 1 to 10 (1 being the worst) for how you rate each politician's performance during the month of March.


The Real Cost of Wind Power

I've just caught up with Christopher Booker's Sunday Telegraph column from a week ago - yes, I know I'm a bit slow - but it demonstrates what I have always thought about wind power. It's a complete waste of money. It may make environmentalists all warm inside but it's costing the rest of us a pretty packet in subsidies, to say nothing of the visual pollution the giant wind turbines cause. Here's Booker's piece in full...
A further huge question mark has been raised over the Government's plan to build 7,000 offshore wind turbines round Britain's coasts, to help meet its EU target of 15 percent of our electricity from รข renewables' by 2020. The director of renewable generation for Centrica, our largest windfarm developer, last week revealed that the cost of this plan to create 33,000 megawatts (MW) of capacity has doubled in three years, from £40 billion to £80 billion. But since, thanks to fluctuations in the wind, offshore turbines generate on average only 27.5 per cent of capacity, the actual power produced by these turbines would be only 9,000MW, putting its price at £8.8 million per MW. The latest nuclear power station being built in Finland at a cost of £2.7 billion will produce 1600MW, 24 hours a day, representing £1.7 million per MW. In other words, six nuclear power stations could produce more electricity than all those windfarms for only a fifth of the price. If Centrica really wants to help Britain keep its lights on, it could, for £80 billion, build 30 "carbon-free" nuclear power stations to generate 48,000MW of electricity, more than the average 47,000MW now produced by all Britain's power plants. But since this would not count towards meeting our EU renewables target, to do anything so sensible would put us in serious breach of EU law.

Zimbabwe: China and South Africa are the Keys

Whatever one's politics I think most of us will share the same fears about what is about to happen in Zimbabwe. It is almost inconceivable that Robert Mugabe will retire gracefully and release the levers of power which he has held for more than a quarter of a century. But the truth is that it matters not a jot what we in this country think. It will make no difference to the situation. The only two countries which can really affect the long term future of Zimbabwe are China and South Africa.

Of course Britain, the USA, Europe and every one else should make their views known if indeed the election results are shown to have been rigged, but they all need to put pressure on South Africa and China to tell Mugabe that his time is up. Whatever diplomatic pressure that can be applied, should be applied. China has been a strong supporter of Mugabe for decades and Zimbabwe has in some ways been a Chinese client state. South Africa, also, has a particularly shameful role in ignoring the plight of the people of one of its neighbours, and shoring up the Mugabe regime. It's time that stopped

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Daley Dozen: Sunday

1. Diary of Chris K on why LibDems don't blog more.
2. H H Asquith on binge drinking (and Brendan O'Neill).
3. NHS Blog Doctor launches a coruscating attack on the Taxpayers' Alliance and issues them with a challenge.
4. Donal Blaney says it's time to rein in the fat cats in both the public and private sectors.
5. Dizzy is spending the evening watching homo-erotic porn.
6. Wee Dougie Alexander is out of favour at Number Ten according to James Forsyth.
7. Cranmer on the rise of anti Anglicanism.
8. John Redwood tells councillors what they should do.
9. Liberal England on the VW Polo dog advert.
10. Taking Liberties on Brian Monteith railing against David Cameron.
11. Tory Radio on great political campaigning.
12. Tracey Crouch is shocked by her crime survey in Chatham & Aylesford.

Brilliant Blogging by Fraser Nelson

THIS post by The Spectator's Fraser Nelson is far too good to be lost in the middle of a Daley Dozen. He decodes Health Minister Ivan Lewis's article in the most brilliant way. READ and enjoy. Blogging at its best.

Britain: Again the 'Sick Man of Europe'

It hasn't been a good week for the reputation of UK plc. The combined efforts of BAA, British Airways followed by TIME Magazine have seen Britain's stock plummet. I remember when I first went to Germany in the 1970s and hearing Britain referred to as the 'sick man of Europe' . It's happening again.

I'm not going to add to what's already been said about the debacle of T5, but I do want to say something about Catherine Mayer's article in TIME this week, which is headlined BRITAIN'S MEAN STREETS. This article is featured on the cover of the Europe and Pacific editions of TIME and has created a real stir all over the world, such is the power of TIME.

This article should have caused a huge debate on UK blogs and in the mainstream newspapers but apart from a mention on the BBC Ten O'Clock News and a piece on Our Kingdom (to which I will return in a moment) it has been ignored. Mayer's piece begins...
An epidemic of violent crime, teen pregnancy, heavy drinking and drug abuse fuels fears that British youth is in crisis.
She tells us that...

* 27% of UK 15 year olds have been drunk 20 or more times compared to 12% in Germany, 6% in Holland and 3% in France
* 44% of UK teenagers are frequently involved in fights compared to 28% in Germany.
* 35% of UK 15 year olds have used Cannabis in the last 12 months, compared to 27% in France, 22% in Holland and 18% in Germany.
* 40% of English fifteen year old girls have had sexual intercourse, compared to 29% in Sweden, 24% in Canada, 20% in Holland, 18% in France and 14% on Spain.
* 15% of English girls fail to use contraception.
* A 2007 UNICEF child welfare study placed Britain bottom of a league table of 21 industrialised countries.
* Between 2003 and 2006 violent crime committed by UK under 18s rose 37%
* Marriage rates in Britain are at a 146 year low.
* Class sizes in Britain are among the highest of 20 Western countries.
* British children start school earlier and take more exams than other European countries.

What a very gloomy picture this paints. How on earth did we get here? Our Kingdom's Anthony Barnett, who is normally rather sensible, seeks to pin the blame on the bosom of Margaret Thatcher...
Has anyone pointed out that today's teenagers are Thatcher’s generation, born after the Falklands war introduced the celebration of gratuitous violence as the route to success? Hooliganism starts, as they say, from the head down. Doesn’t it?
I'm pleased to say that most of the people who have commented on his piece have castigated him, and rightly so. Hooliganism was around way before Margaret Thatcher's day - remember football hooliganism, or the hooliganism of the picket line? What we have now is a society in which permissiveness and a lack of willingness on the part of society in general to impose discipline on impressionable minds have caused a fissure between those who obey the norms of society and those who, despite having gone to school, haven't got a clue what those norms are. They don't conform because many of them don't know what they are supposed to confirm to.

Yes, some of the fault lies with politicians - of all parties - but in the end you have to apportion the blame here to parents and the complete failure of our liberal education system. I think 40% of children in Britain are born to single parents, many at a very young age. Many single parents to a brilliant job with their children, but others do not - can not. The lack of any form of male role model is to the detriment of any child's upbringing. The inability of parents to say 'no' nowadays is just as bad. None of this is Margaret Thatcher's fault. None of this is Tony Blair's fault. The roots of this failure of society go back far beyond their periods in power. The trouble is that the current government has done nothing to address these problems, but has done a lot to make things worse.

Take under age drinking, for example. Last week I heard Ed Balls say (and he said it with a straight face) that teenage drinking is declining and is lower than in other European countries. He was either deliberately lying or he genuinely thought what he was saying was true. He should get out of his ministerial car one night in Tunbridge Wells and then then the next night he should go to the equivalent town in France and compare the two. His government has made it easier, not harder, for teenagers to procure alcohol.

Why are our teenage abortion figures by far and away the worst in Europe? Why are our promiscuity figures the worst in Europe? It's difficult to pin the blame on Margaret Thatcher for either of those, Mr Barnett. Is it parents who are to blame or our woeful sex education in schools? Probably a combination of both, together with the glorification of all forms of sex in the media and the sexualisation of children from a ridiculously early age.

I really am not intending to get into 'old git' mode, but the point of this post was to take issue with Anthony Barnett's caricature of Margaret Thatcher. According to many on the left, everything that's wrong in this country can be traced back to the reign of Mrs T. It is lazy thinking and indicates a barrenness of ideas simply to hark back to a Prime Minister who left office eighteen years ago. The root causes of today's problems are far more complicated than that. As Camila Batmanghelidjh says in the TIME article...
If I was sitting in government, I'd be really worried - not about terrorist bombs but about this.

Media Coverage of the Biggin Hill Air Crash

Just a word of congratulations to Sky News for their coverage of the air crash near Biggin Hill this afternoon. As usual in these circumstances they have abandoned coverage of all other news, but they have had a string of eyewitnesses who have all been coherent and have had something to say. Within minutes of the crash happening viewers were emailing Sky with pictures and then videos of the scene. The two presenters, Andrew Wilson and Samantha Simmonds maintained an air of calmness and asked good, non repetitive questions of the eyewitnesses. Often in these circumstances there's a lot of flannelling and time-filling. that didn't happen here.

It seems that the occupants of the two houses which were hit by the plane were thankfully on holiday, but it is a real tragedy for the families of the five people on board the Cessna plane, who lost their lives this afternoon.

Sunday Paper Review

What a shame it is to see HM The Queen bowing to political correctness and abandoning her plans for a Diamond Wedding anniversary Party at The Ritz in the Mail on Sunday. If anyone deserves one, she does. She feared the negative headlines. Michael Portillo in the Sunday Times argues that MPs will have to give up some of their perks and voters will see to it that they do. Jonathan Dimbleby speaks in the Sunday Telegraph of being a "walking wreck" after the death of his opera singer lover from cancer, only seven months after they met. Tim Shipman in the Sunday Telegraph discusses the chances of Al Gore winning the Democratic nomination is Obama and Clinton end in deadlock. McCain must be chortling. In The Observer Max Hastings thinks Boris is ready to be Mayor.

A Week in the Life of Owen Paterson

The Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary has written a fascinating account of a week in his life for ConservativeHome HERE. Owen brought a great deal of tenacity to his previous job as Fisheries spokesman and he is clearly bringing the same approach to his current post.

Diaries like this shed a little light on what a politician actually does. I hope there are more of them on ConservativeHome. Indeed, if any MP reading this would like to write one for this blog, just get in touch - and I extend the invitation to MPs of all parties

Ann Widdecombe Loses It

I have never seen Ann Widdecombe completely lose her temper in an interview before, but in this week's RIGHT ON on Telegraph TV she absolutely shrieks at Andrew Pierce when he continually interrupts her on the issue of MPs' second homes. Watch it in the video box or HERE.

RIGHT ON also includes this week's HEFFER CONFRONTED where Simon Heffer and I discuss Nicolas Sarkozy.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Coming on Sunday...

* What future for the New Statesman?
* Why Our Kingdom is Wrong About Margaret Thatcher's Inheritance
* Sunday newspaper review

The Daley Dozen: Saturday

1. Letters From a Tory writes to Mr Speaker and admits to being a clairvoyant.
2. Little Man in a Toque has news of a MORI poll on what we think of Scottish MPs.
3. Graham Jones on a load of Ed Balls.
4. Mars Hill reviews the Harold Macmillan play.
5. Glyn Davies has a Charlotte Green moment.
6. Sunny Hundal on why ethnic shortlists should be dropped.
7. Donal Blaney asks what the Daily Mail is playing at.
8. Kerron Cross asks if face fluff is on the rise.
9. Antony Little has a warning for his stalker.
10. Paul Flynn MP explains how he closed the M4.
11. Toby Harnden on angry white males for Hillary.
12. Dizzy on the weirdness of Gordon Brown.

The Top Ten Tory Unsung Heroes

A junior front bench role in Opposition is about the most thankless task in British politics. You slave away doing all the donkey work and then if you have a really good policy idea or photo op your Shadow Secretary of State usually intercedes and nicks it for him or herself on the basis that you won't generate the media coverage. And if it's a really, really good idea in will step David Cameron and take it over. You sit on the side of the stage clapping like a seal thinking to yourself 'what more do I have to do to replace those dunderheads in the Shadow Cabinet?' I jest and exaggerate, but you get the picture. In this post I want to pay tribute to the unsung heroes of the Tory front bench - the worker bees who bring honey to the 'Queen' but don't necessarily get the thanks or recognition they deserve. In no particular order...

Richard Spring
Has worked like a beaver behind the scenes to improve the standing of the Conservative Party in the City - and he writes an excellent blog too.

John Randall
Been in the whips office for years and has the rare distinction of being liked by everyone. Enjoys good relations with Labour MPs and whips and is vital in making the 'usual channels work.

Mark Prisk
Covers the small business portfolio. Is working wonders developing a business friendly platform for the party and building bridges with the small business community.

Hugh Robertson
Covers sport and the olympics. Quiet in approach but highly effective. Seen by some as a future chief whip.

Charles Hendry
Has beavered away as number two to various Shadow Secretaries for some years. Was superb in the equalities portfolio and has made his mark in the business area, especially on post office closures.

Simon Burns
After a long spell at Health, were he was jokingly known as the Shadow Minister for Sex, Burns has moved back to the whips office. An obsessive Hillary Clinton supporter, but we must forgive him that one defect.

James Paice
Has been the party's agriculture spokesman for more years than he may care to remember. Trusted by the farming community he would make a superb Agriculture Minister.

Alistair Burt
Recently moved back to the whips office to take on a much needed developmental role. Has a wicked sense of humour and served the party well as local government spokesman.

Edward Garnier
Spent several years covering Home affairs issues under David Davis and is now responsible for prisons policy. One of politics' genuine nice guys who throws himself totally in whatever portfolio he covers.

Eleanor Laing
Covers womens' issues but IMHO she is wasted in that job. She's a talented communicator and ought to be fronting a serious policy portfolio. She was an excellent SPAD to John MacGregor when he was Transport Secretary.

Sham Consultations Fuel Voter Disconnect

We hear a lot about growing public disillusion with politics and politicians. Those of us who believe most politicians go into politics for the right reasons are growing tired of fighting a rearguard action, constantly trying to persuade voters that the system works. Why am I growing tired of defending the political classes? Because even I am now beginning to feel let down by them. Some might say this is odd for someone who used to belong to them, or in the eyes of some still does. “We can’t believe a word any of you say” is something all politicians are sick of hearing on the doorstep. “Why should we vote for you when you’re all the same?” is another constant refrain. Why indeed.

Two stories from yesterday’s Eastern Daily Press illustrate perfectly the disconnect between government and the people. And in some ways, as well as illustrating the problems which politicians face, they both go to show how powerful our unelected quangocracy and bureaucracy have become. The two stories I have in mind are the sketchy plans to allow parts of the North Norfolk Broads to be flooded, with several villages disappearing under the water, and the government’s apparent willingness to keep the villages around RAF Coltishall in the dark about their real plans for the former air base. As the former Conservative Candidate for the area of the broads concerned, and a former resident of the picturesque village of Swanton Abbott, next to RAF Coltishall, I have a real interest in what happens to both.

The fact of the matter is that the government continues to go through sham consultations. They spend huge amounts of money in a vain attempt to convince people that they are being listened to, and then they blithely go ahead with the plans they had already developed anyway. This is exactly my experience on hospital closures in North Norfolk when I was the candidate there from 2003 to 2005, and it seems history is repeating itself on the Broads and at Coltishall. No amount of lobbying from the local politicians seems to do any good. No amount of press publicity on behalf of campaigners seems enough to divert the bureaucrats from their chosen path. No wonder people feel impotent.

They feel powerless to protect the properties they have invested blood, sweat, tears and money in over decades – and all because of a stroke of a Labour minister’s pen. They see their property values plummeting, all because of something few of them could have foreseen when they or their ancestors bought their houses.

It’s no good for local politicians to promise to “write to the Minister”, hold a public meeting or any of the usual failed tactics. A new approach must be found. It’s a heavy burden for local politicians to bear, and they will come in for a rough ride, but the ground rules have changed. It’s time for a bit of anger.

* From my Eastern Daily Press column today.

Why is the Church of England Silent (Again)?

The Catholic Church has made all the running on the opposition to the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Bill. I may have missed it, but so far I have heard barely a squeak from the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Church of England on it. Do they not have a strong and trenchant view on one of the great moral dilemmas of our age?

The Archbishop is all too keen to share with us his bizarrely favourable views on Sharia Law, which most people regard as at best an irrelevance and at worst as (fill in the blank), yet he chooses to keep his own counsel on the rights and wrongs of embryo research. A Google search shows that the last time Rowan Williams said anything meaningful on the issue was two months ago, and that was a four paragraph statement. Perhaps he has said more and it hasn't been reported, but if that's the case, doesn't it tell you all you need to know about the Church of England in that it has ceded this issue to the Catholics and let them run with it?

The Church of England, like Sharia Law, is becoming an irrelevance to many people in this country.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Daley Dozen: Friday

1. Little Bulldogs says Ken has admitted he has let Londoners down.
2. GegeLovesPolitics is perplexed by the activities of the ex Nigerian President.
3. City Unslicker thinks Sarkozy wants Britain to pick up his nuclear decommissioning tab.
4. The First Post reckons Gordon is in panic mode and is about to contradict his new CoS on attacking Dave.
5. Cranmer exposes the unwritten law of blasphemy.
6. Patrick Hennessy on John Major's strange syntax.
7. Kevin Maguire is impressed by Brown speaking without notes. Funny he castigated Dave for doing the same thing.
8. Bob Piper and Kevin Maguire fall out over declining Labour Party membership figures.
9. Paul Walter thinks Nick Clegg hasn't put a foot wrong in his first 100 days. Oh, did I mention he was writing on LibDem Voice?
10. Paul Waugh on Ken and the "bleedin' media".
11. Anthony Barnett asks if the web is like a bad pub?
12. Party Political Animal on why Gordon deliver sweet F A.

Wendy Gives Herself a Perfect 10

She's a perfect 10, but she wears a 12
Baby keep a little 2 for me
She could be sweet 16, bustin' out at the seams
It's still love in the first degree

THIS is very funny. Or perhaps tragic. Wendy Alexander has awarded herself ten out of ten for her performance as Scottish Labour leader.

"The creatures outside looked from pig to man,
and from man to pig,
and from pig to man again;
but already it was impossible to say which was which.

Poll Results: Second Preference Votes

A couple of days ago I asked you all to take part in a poll to determiner who you would give your second preference to in an Alternative Vote electoral system at a general election. I don't for one minute pretend that the 1,300 of you who have taken part are in any way a scientific cross section of the electorate, but the trend is clear.

If an election were held tomorrow, which party is most likely to get your support? (under First past the post)

Conservative 63.6%
Labour 9.7%
LibDem 10.7%
UKIP 5.6%
Green 2.1%
BNP 1.7%
SNP 1.6%
Plaid Cymru 0.7%
UUP 0.1%
DUP 0.2%
Sinn Fein 0.0%
SDLP 0.2%
English Democrats 0.8%
Don't Know 1.2%
Won't Vote 1.5%

Conservative Voters' Second Preferences

UKIP 41.4%
LibDem 12.3%
Labour 3.8%
Green 6.8%
BNP 5.4%
English Democrats 8.1%
SNP 3.8%
Plaid Cymru 0.8%
Don't Know 17%

Labour Voters' Second Preferences
LibDem 36.6%
Conservative 15.4%
Green 22.8%
UKIP 1.6%
BNP 6.5%
English Democrats 1.8%
SNP 0.8%
Plaid Cymru 1.6%
Don't Know 13.8%

LibDem Voters' Second Preferences
Conservative 39.4%
Labour 14.2%
Green 22.8%
UKIP 0.8%
SNP 1.6%
Plaid Cymru 0.8%
BNP 4.7%
English Democrats 0.0%
Don't Know 15.7%

UKIP Voters' Second Preferences

Conservative 50.0%
Labour (missed out in error)
LibDem 1.5%
BNP 15.6%
Green 4.5%
SNP 0.0%
Plaid Cymru 0.0%
English Democrats 13.6%
Don't Know 15.2%

I hope one of the main polling firms takes up this idea. From my poll, the Alternative Vote systems would seem to benefit the Conservatives and LibDems rather than Labour, but as I say, I don't pretend it is anything other than just a bit of fun.

Poll Result: Where the BNP Picks Up Its Votes From

I'll be posting the full results of the Second Preference poll a bit later, but these figures are interesting. More than 15% of UKIP voters would give their second preference to the BNP, along with an astonishing 6.5% of Labour voters. Admittedly, this is a self selecting poll (1,300 took part), and I do not pretend it is representative, but nevertheless...

UKIP 15.2%
Labour 6.5%
Conservatives 5.4%
LibDems 4.7%

DVD Review: Mussolini

Over the last few days I have been watching a five hour long made for TV drama starring George C Scott about Mussolini. I have to say I found it quite gripping.

Based on the diaries of his son Vittorio, it portrayed the Fascist dictator in a rather benevolent light, concentrating on his personal life rather than his political extravagences, but it reawakened my interest in Mussolini (don't read anything into that!) and I am now going to read up about him. I know I have a couple of biographies stashed away somewhere. Perhaps the worst aspect about the drama was the actor who played Hitler - again portrayed in a rather too sympathetic light - almost comically so. Anyway, the DVD only costs around a fiver and you can buy it HERE.

An Entente Formidable?

The Lycee Francais Charles de Gaulle in London is the biggest French school in the world, comprising various "important" people's offspring - funnily enough even Madonna's daughter.

It is formed of both a French section and British section. The former focusses on the French baccalaureate, whilst the concentrates on GCSEs and A-levels. One automatically starts in the French section before deciding at the age of 14 whether or not to switch to the British section.

Though one "united" institution, it appears the British Section staff and pupils were excluded and not invited to attend a gathering hosted by President Sarkozy yesterday. French section staff and pupils were welcomed, the British section was not. One can imagine the displeasure caused.

So much for the new 'entente formidable'!

Telegraph Column: Brown, The Tories & Electoral Reform

In my Telegraph column today I have returned to the subject of electoral reform, and ask whether Brown's plans are just a way of trying to keep the Tories out of power forever. Check out the latest HEFFER CONFRONTED video (click on the video box over to the right) where Simon and I discuss the merits or otherwise of President Sarkozy.

Coming later today...

* The results of the Second preference poll
* A review of the Mussolini DVD
* What happened at the London Lycee yesterday

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Another Double Digit Tory lead

The Daily Telegraph has a YouGov poll tomorrow with the Tories on 43% (+3) and Labour on 29 (-4). Not sure of the LibDem figure yet. This represents a doubling of the Tory lead from last month. So the last four polls have shown Tory leads of 16%, 9%, 13% and now 14%.

Boris will be a happy candidate tonight.

LibDem Candidate: Why I Joined the Tories

Andy Sloan was LibDem candidate in Hull East at the last election. In an article for the Yorkshire Post yesterday, he explained why he has defected to the Conservatives. It makes very unhappy reading if you are a LibDem.

The Daley Dozen: Thursday

1. Our Kingdom explains why Alex Salmond should encourage devolution of the armed forces.
2. Global Warming Project praises the Tory MP who said emission targets are "absurd".
3. Norfolk Blogger on the differences between the Greens and Labour.
4. Liberal England suffers from an overload of Boris trivia.
5. Our Kingdom views Scotland from Kings Cross.
6. NHS Blog Doctor on misleading BBC headlines.
7. Dave's Part wonders why the left is so bad at being populist.
8. Cornerstone on why the Tories must make the moral case for lower taxes.
9. Tory MP Richard Spring on his time with the BNP. May noit be quite what you think!
10. Tory Diary predicts George Osborne will scrap the Barnett forumla.
11. Toby Harnden on how John McCain can win.
12. Dizzy thinks the anti-war lobby is immoral.

The Cleggies are Back at Henley

Remember THIS post last week about the relationship between the LibDems and Henley Management Centre? Well, my spies tell me that Mr Clegg and his core team are back there this evening for an intensive 48 hour long 'away day' session.

What on earth can they be planning, which entails spending so long at Henley every few months? They certainly must have come into some money to pay for it, as Henley revealed to me last week that the LibDems are paying higher than the average daily delegate rate. Expect some questions to be asked about this at their next Finance Committee meeting.

EXCLUSIVE: Leaked Email Shows BNP London Mayor Desperation

In a desperate attempt to boost their ailing London mayoral and London assembly campaign, the British National Party has been reduced to pleading with English Democrat mayoral candidate Matt O'Connor (famous from Fathers for Justice) to defect to them and abandon his campaign. In a email, leaked to me earlier this evening, the BNP London organiser Nick Eriksen tries to paint the BNP as the most "'father-friendly' party in Britain". He says "the modern BNP is a sensible, democratic and non-racist party". And Nick Griffin no doubt loves small children and furry animals. Here's the full text of the BNP missive. It is almost beyond parody...

Dear Matt,

I am surprised, and disappointed, to see that you are considering standing as London Mayoral candidate for the English Democrats. In view of your concern for justice for fathers when it comes to family separation and the custody of children, you must surely be aware that the British National Party is the ONLY party to clearly state, in its national manifesto, that "Divorce and family laws and maintenance arrangements discriminate against men" and to have the policy pledge to "make joint custody of children the norm in divorce cases"...

...The BNP is the most 'father-friendly' party in Britain. Of course I know that there are loads of lies and smears directed towards us, but if you read our manifesto you will see that the modern BNP is a sensible, democratic and non-racist party and one which I am sure you could support.

The English Democrats are, frankly, a miniscule fringe group who are using you. You will know that last year they received fewer votes in a parliamentary by-election that the Official Monster Raving Loony Party, and the other week in a by-election in Lambeth the EDs received a mere 8 votes - less than the number of people required to fill in the nomination form!

If you are genuinely concerned about England's representation within the Union, then you will see from our manifesto that it is the BNP's policy to "introduce an English parliament within the United Kingdom". As you can see the BNP is the party which best represents the views you are seeking to promote. Instead of allowing yourself to be used by the English Democrats for their own ends you should come over to the party which genuinely cares about families, fathers and children. The BNP is growing at a tremendous rate. While the EDs were obtaining a mere 8 votes in Lambeth the BNP won a council seat in Havering. People are realising that the BNP is not as it has been misrepresented by our opponents in other parties and in the media. We are a friendly party with the best interests of the British people at heart. Our policies are based on traditional values and commonsense.

Please do contact me if you would like to discuss this or if you have any questions.

Kind regards,

Nick Eriksen
BNP London Organiser

I trust Matt O'Connor is sensible enough to tell the BNP precisely where they can stick their email.

Diane's Desert Island Delay

The Londoner's Diary reports that Diane Abbott's appearance on Desert Island Discs has had to be shelved until after the London elections for electoral law reasons. Not that I am being unchivalrous, but I do have to ask why she was asked on in the first place. Sure, she was the first black woman to be elected to Parliament but that was more than twenty years ago. I always thought Desert Island Discs specialised in inviting people of real achievement onto the programme. It is hard to pinpoint much she has achieved in her political career since then besides chortling alongside Michael Portillo every Thursday night and gleefully sticking the knife into the Party without which she wouldn't be where she is today.

One of the first books I publsihed at Politico's was a book of arty photos of the 121 female MPs elected in 1997. It was published in aid of a breast cancer charity. Diane Abbott was the only one of the 121 to refuse to be photographed by the photographer Victoria Carew Hunt. Many of her female colleagues begged her to but she wasn't having any of it. So much for the sisterhood.

Has Wendy Alexander Revealed the Date of the Next Election?

The hapless Wendy Alexander, labour's Scottish leader, may have let the cat out of the bag about the date of the next election, according to today's Glasgow Herald...
Labour is planning to delay the Westminster election to the last possible months, according to its leader at Holyrood. Wendy Alexander has let slip that the party machine is gearing up to fight the election in 2010, when the five-year maximum term is up. As Prime Minister and with the choice of timing, Gordon Brown has not been clear when he wants to call the next General Election, having been badly burned by his close aides talking up a snap election last autumn.He has refused to say if the ballot would take place in 2009, four years since the last national ballot, and following a pattern of four-year elections established by Tony Blair. But as one of those close to the Prime Minister, whose brother Douglas is Labour's campaign manager, Ms Alexander said in an interview with Holyrood magazine this week that Labour is planning on 2010. Talking about the reforms of the Scottish Labour campaigning machine, she said: "We're now in a continuous campaigning environment where we look forward to European elections next year, the General Election the year after that, the Scottish Parliament election the year after that and the council elections the year after, and really transforming our organisation for that environment." While Gordon Brown can call the election any time before June 2010, his Holyrood colleague's comments do not come as a surprise. Uncertainty in the economy and poor poll ratings make it unlikely he would risk going a year earlier than he has to by law. Election timing has proven to be a major problem for Mr Brown. His team's planning for a snap election last autumn was suddenly thrown into reverse when the Tories received a polling boost from their conference.

Is it possible that Wendy's brother, wee Dougie Alexander, has let a state secret slip?

Lunch With Ed "Me Myself I" Balls

I've just comeback from a lobby lunch with Piers Fletcher-Dervish Ed Balls. The lovely, nay vivacious, Julia Hartley-Brewer invited me to listen to the great man and I must admit I came away rather more impressed with him than I have been in the past - mind you, he was starting from quite a low base. He was quite funny and self deprecating and even told a couple of jokes at the expense of Gordon Brown, which in a room full of wizened old hacks (plus Julia :) was quite foolhardy brave.

His biggest laugh came at the end of this anecdote. Gordon Brown rang him one morning and said: "Ed, you may like to know that you are Number 2 in the Economist Top 100 Policymakers". "Great", said Ed, obviously preening himself. "It's a bit odd, though that I've been placed at Number 19," continued the then Chancellor. "I can see why Tony Blair is above me, but it's even odder that Margaret Beckett is above him." Balls then proceeded to get a copy of The Economist, found the article and rang Gordon Brown back. "Gordon, the reason Margaret Beckett is above you and Tony is that the list is in alphabetical order!" Maybe you had to be there but I can assure you it was funny when he told it!

Mr Balls really must stop making speeches most of which revolve around "I", "me" and "myself". He even said at one stage: "And this week I gave xxxxxx £750,000..." What he meant was that his department, or the government, or the taxpayer "gave" the money, but it was all about him. I suppose this should come as no surprise. It's what politicians do. I dare say I have been guilty of it myself (surely not, I hear you all cry in unison).... Did you see what I did there? Two mentions of "I" and one "myself" all in the same sentence. Ed Balls must be a fellow fan of Joan Armatrading. It was she who sang "Me, Myself, I".

Do Journalists Generally Swing to the Left?

Kiwiblog reports on the political leanings of American journalists.

The Pew State of the Media annual report has an interesting section on how journalists descibe their political leanings compared to the population.

  • Conservatives - 8% of journalists vs 36% of US population
  • Liberals - 32% of journalists vs 19% of US population

This explains the New York Times et al.

I wonder what a similar survey would show in Britain. A couple of years ago the Political Studies Association did a survey of the political leanings of their members. I think only 15% admitted to being Conservatives. I'll put my head on the block now and guess that if you did a survey of all political journalists in the UK you'd find about a quarter to a third would say they were on the right.

David Cameron Has a Nice Bum says a Daily Mirror hackette. Firm thighs too, apparently. Anyway, must get back to my Telegraph column...

More on the Parliament (Abolition of) Act

Further to the post below, the Ministry of Truth has recalled a letter to The Times, the last time the government tried this one on....
Sir, Clause one of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (Comment, Feb 15) provides that: "A Minister of the Crown may by order make provision for either or both of the following purposes — a) reforming legislation; b) implementing recommendations of any one or more of the United Kingdom Law Commissions, with or without changes."

This has been presented as a simple measure "streamlining" the Regulatory Reform Act 2001, by which, to help industry, the Government can reduce red tape by amending the Acts of Parliament that wove it. But it goes much further: if passed, the Government could rewrite almost any Act and, in some cases, enact new laws that at present only Parliament can make.

The Bill subjects this drastic power to limits, but these are few and weak. If enacted as it stands, we believe the Bill would make it possible for the Government, by delegated legislation, to do (inter alia) the following:

# create a new offence of incitement to religious hatred, punishable with two years' imprisonment;

# curtail or abolish jury trial;

# permit the Home Secretary to place citizens under house arrest;

# allow the Prime Minister to sack judges;

# rewrite the law on nationality and immigration;

# "reform" Magna Carta (or what remains of it).

It would, in short, create a major shift of power within the state, which in other countries would require an amendment to the constitution; and one in which the winner would be the executive, and the loser Parliament.

David Howarth, MP for Cambridge, made this point at the Second Reading of the Bill last week. We hope that other MPs, on all sides of the House, will recognise the dangers of what is being proposed before it is too late.

Law Faculty,
University of Cambridge

UPDATE 4pm: David Howarth just got in touch to tell me he has written to Jack Straw on this issue. He has read the comments on this thread and is seeking clarification about the intention of this clause.

Dear Jack,

Constitutional Renewal Bill Clause 43

You may have seen the reports, largely on the internet, that express concern about clause 43 of the Constitutional Renewal Bill. The concern centres on the point that the clause allows ministers to alter primary legislation by statutory instrument. Comparisons are being made to the original version of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act, which granted ministers sweeping legislative powers.

My own reading of the clause is that it could only be used for matters that are consequential on the other provisions of the Bill, and that the issue of what counts as consequential will be for the courts, not ministers, to decide, and so the potential of the clause to be used in a constitutionally abusive way will be limited. If that is your interpretation too, it might be useful for you to put that point on the public record.

I dislike Henry VIII clauses on principle, and would much prefer ministerial powers to be confined to altering secondary legislation, especially in bills about constitutional matters, but I am sure that in this particular case, much anxiety would be allayed if you could confirm the limited scope of the clause.

Yours sincerely,

David Howarth MP

Just When You Thought it Was Safe...

Remember the Legislative & Regulatory Reform Act 2006? That was the one where the Government unsuccessfully tried to slip through a measure effectively designed for Ministers to bypass Parliament whenever they felt like it.

Well, it's back in the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill. Spyblog has the story HERE. What it means is that we could soon be ruled by Ministerial Decree. Time for all good men (and bloggers) and true to come to aid of democracy, methinks. Here's what the draft Bill says...

Part 6
43 Power to make consequential provision

(1) A Minister o the Crown, or two or more Ministers of the Crown acting jointly, may by order make such provision as the Minister or Ministers consider appropriate in consequence of this Act.

(2) An order under subsection (1) may --

    (a) amend, repeal or revoke any provision made by or an Act;

    (b) include transitional or saving provision.

(3) An order under subsection (1) is to be made by statutory instrument.

(4) A statutory instrument containing an order under subsection (1) which amends or repeals a provision of an Act may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.

(5) A statutory instrument containing an order under subsection (1) which does not amend or repeal a provision of an Act is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Who Would You Give Your Second Preference To?

This week the government floated the possibility of introducing the alternative vote system of PR into UK general elections. In addition to their normal vote, electors would also be given a second preference. Imagine you had to do that at the next election. Which party would you give your second preference to? Take part in my completely unscientific poll...

Why Mr Speaker Was Wrong to Silence David Winnick

Further to my post earlier about the Speaker and his ruling on MPs' expenses and it being sub judice do have a look at this. It is Appendix 1, page 163 of Standing Orders of the House of Commons (or page 182 on THIS link). It demonstrates beyond all doubt that the Speaker has complete discretion to allow discussion of this matter in the House. See the bold text in the first line.

Sub judice Resolution, 2001

Resolved, That, subject to the discretion of the Chair, and to the right of the House to legislate on any matter or to discuss any delegated legislation, the House in all its proceedings (including proceedings of committees of the House) shall apply the following rules on matters sub judice:

(1) Cases in which proceedings are active in United Kingdom courts shall not be referred to in any motion, debate or question.

(a)(i) Criminal proceedings are active when a charge has been made or a summons to appear has been issued, or, in Scotland, a warrant to cite has been granted.

(ii) Criminal proceedings cease to be active when they are concluded by verdict and sentence or discontinuance, or, in cases dealt with by courts martial, after the conclusion of the mandatory post-trial review.

(b)(i) Civil proceedings are active when arrangements for the hearing, such as setting down a case for trial, have been made, until the proceedings are ended by judgment or discontinuance.

(ii) Any application made in or for the purposes of any civil proceedings shall be treated as a distinct proceeding.

(c) Appellate proceedings, whether criminal or civil, are active from the time when they are commenced by application for leave to appeal or by notice of appeal until ended by judgment or discontinuance.

But where a ministerial decision is in question, or in the opinion of the Chair a case concerns issues of national importance such as the economy, public order or the essential services, reference to the issues or the case may be made in motions, debates or questions.

(2) Specific matters which the House has expressly referred to any judicial body for decision and report shall not be referred to in any motion, debate or question, from the time when the Resolution of the House is passed until the report is laid before the House.

(3) For the purposes of this Resolution— (a) Matters before Coroners Courts or Fatal Accident Inquiries shall be treated as matters within paragraph (1)(a);

(b) 'Motion' includes a motion for leave to bring in a bill; and

(c) 'Question' includes a supplementary question.

15 November 2001

Over to you Mr Speaker.

The Daley Dozen: Wednesday

1. Paul Waugh on why Ken Livingstone's campaign may implode on 20 April.
2. Fraser Nelson on why Gordon Brown's pants were on fire at PMQs.
3. Norfolk Blogger explains the difference between Labour in opposition and in government.
4. Le troisieme linie Whip a explique qui comprenais le President de la republique. Je crois.
5. LibDem Voice on a poll showing the gayers coming out for Paddick. Not this one.
6. Red Box on an imminent Tory breakthrough Up North and in Welsh Wales.
7. Cranmer on Brown giving into Catholics.
8. Nick Robinson predicts the end of the Barnett Formula. Good.
9. Burning our Money on the real cost of GPs' pay.
10. EU Referendum on the failure of the tri-partite system.
11. John Redwood on why we are all worse off.
12. Liberal England says the FSA is not to blame for Northern Rock.

Paddick Appoints US Internet Consulting Company

Mark Hanson's new PR/Media blog breaks the news that the Brian Paddick Mayoral campaign has appointed an American political consulting company to run its web operations. I think I am right in saying this is the first time a US consulting firm has been used in this manner in the UK, but I stand to be corrected. The company concerned is run by Democrat blogger Jerome Armstrong who is behind the MyDD blog (there's a joke there somewhere). He rose to fame, according to Mark Hanson, by playing a big part in the Howard Dean campaign in 2004. I spoke to Mark Pack, the LibDems Head of Innovations and he was duly fizzing with excitement about the appointment. If I were him, I would be too. However ... and you knew this was coming, didn't you?

I hadn't visited Brian Paddick's website until today and was rather underwhelmed with what I found. Go see for yourself. Paddick is a strong, potentially charismatic candidate. But his website is grey, weak and impersonal. It does nothing to promote Paddick as a unique personality. Ok, so you might argue, they have realised this and done something about it. True. But isn't it too late? There are only five weeks to go before polling day. Remember what Lynton Crosby once memorably said - you can't fatten a pig on market day.

But what does this development say about the future of internet campaigning? Well firstly it exposes the lack of any British political consulting firms specialising in internet politics. Yes, there are a few web design companies, but no one who will grab a campaign by the scruff of a keyboard. This is not surprising. We don't have either the number of campaigns or the budgets of American politics to finance expensive consultants. If you look at the website of US internet campaign consultants you can see literally dozens of campaigns they have worked on. That just couldn't happen here.

I think the appointment of Jerome Armstrong may be a little bit too late to have a huge impact on the Paddick campaign, but I suspect it will lead to many more such arrangements between UK political parties and US political internet consulting firms.

Where Should the Armed Forces Register to Vote?

I just received this email from a member of the armed forces. I'm not sure how to advise him. Can anyone help? I don't think he's right about registering in any constituency he wishes. Surely he has to register where he last lived in the UK?

Dear Iain,

Firstly can I say how much I enjoy your blog. I must admit to haven pretty much given up on following politics until I discovered the political blogosphere - I often find MSM quite nauseating.

Although I was a 'conscientious objector' to voting in the last two elections I now believe that the Conservatives have a real chance. I'm a member of the forces serving overseas and I believe that I can register to vote by post in any constituency I wish. So my question to you is where should I register? I've spent the greater part of my 14 years service abroad and can't remember one occasion where 'we' were specifically targeted by a political party - a bit strange when there are several thousand of votes at stake which could potentially be directed to key constituencies.

The Incompetence of Mr Speaker Knows No Bounds

Labour MP David Winnick was pulled up by Mr Speaker ealier today when he tried, on a point of order to raise the question of the appeal to the High Court to prevent details of MPs' expenses being published. Michael Martin informed him that for the House of Commons the matter was sub judice. Here's the exchange...

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it be possible to know whether the appeal by the House of Commons Commission to the Appeal Court is limited to the question of addresses, or extends to the wider question of second homes? If it is the former, that would be perfectly understandable on grounds of security. If, however, the appeal against the information tribunal is on the wider question of expenditure on what are described as second homes, it should be noted that some Members, certainly myself, are very much opposed to the appeal being lodged. In my view, it is unfortunate that no way of voting—

Mr. Speaker: Order. This matter is before the court, and while I know that the media can talk about it, the rules are clear that it is sub judice for the House of Commons, and I cannot discuss it. In relation to many of the questions that the hon. Gentleman raises, there is nothing to stop him going to the court and finding out the grounds for the appeal.

What an arse. The House of Commons can discuss anything it likes. And if it can't talk about the propriety of MPs' expenses, what on earth can it discuss?! Rosa Prince on Three Line Whip says...

Now, I’m no expert but even I know there are no laws which permit newspapers to report matters that MPs are banned from discussing.

In fact, the opposite is true – Parliamentary debates enjoy privilege, allowing MPs and peers to raise topics without risk of libel or other legal action.

The Head of Legal explains the law of sub judice, as it relates to the House of Commons...

Sub judice isn't a rule of law; legally, Parliament can discuss whatever it likes. Unlike the media, it need not fear that the Attorney General will try to injunct it to prevent contempt of court; nor can anyone else take action against it for what member say, whether under libel laws or any other cause of action.

This whole sorry episode gives further fuel to those of us who believe Michael Martin is not up to the job.And before the lefties start bleating in the comments about snobbery, it's got nothing to do with it. Accusations of snobbery with regard to Michael Martin are the last refuge of the desperate.

UPDATE: Loved this from Macchiavelli in the comment thread...

Nobody thinks higher of Mr Speaker than I do... and I think the man's a bloody idiot.

Pathetic Brown at PMQs

What a truly pathetic performance from Brown at PMQs today. Pathetic. So he thinks the tripartite regulatory system has worked. He thinks there is nothing wrong with the FSA. The man is delusional.

The Pros & Cons of the Alternative Vote

Gordon has had a cracking idea of how to win an election, and the detail on LibDem Voice makes horrifying reading for any Conservative - or perhaps I should say horrifying reading for anyone who hates the idea of electoral gerrymandering. If LibDem Voice is right - and I have some doubts which I will explain in a moment - the result of the last election under the Alternative Vote system would have been...

Labour 365 (+16 on FPTP); Conservatives 172 (-38 on FPTP); Liberal Democrats 89 (+27 on FPTP); Plaid Cymru 5 (+2 on FPTP); Scottish National Party 7 (+1 on FPTP).

This is predicated on most Labour voters transferring their second preferences to the LibDems and vice versa. Of course, in reality it wouldn't be like that. Many Labour voters hate the LibDems more than they hate the Conservatives. Many LibDems would rather support a Conservative than a Labour candidate.

I don't pretend that our current electoral system is totally fair, but it's the best one anyone has come up with. On the face of it the AV system maintains the constituency link, which very few other forms of PR do, but do we really want to be governed by a whole raft of politicians who are the second choice of most but the first choice of few?

I am not philosophically opposed to electoral reform. I can certainly support it in local government, and probably for a reformed House of Lords. But I have yet to be convinced that any of the proposed systems for the House of Commons would either be fair or work. Convince me.

Will Sarko and Gordo Make the French Connection?

I'm just watching Nicolas Sarkozy arrive in Britain to be greeted by the Prince of Wales. I smiled as he walked down the stairs of his aircraft, carefully making sure he walked one step behind Carla Bruni. By doing that he appeared taller than her as he descended the stairway.

Simon Heffer's column
is all about Sarkozy today, and it's the subject of this week's HEFFER CONFRONTED which will be posted here tomorrow. Heffer reckons Sarkozy has more riding on the visit than our own dear Prime Minister and they have more in common than people think.

...The two leaders do have something in common. A few months ago, Mr Brown was viewed as a competent Prime Minister who had, if not the affection of the nation, certainly its respect. But then things went wrong.

Losing his nerve - bottling out of calling an election he would have won - Mr Brown invited instead the contempt of his people. He now lurches between attempts at authoritarianism (note his now-abandoned proposal to whip his own MPs on a matter of conscience such as the embryo experimentation Bill) and playing the same old records over and over again.

Similarly, a few months ago Mr Sarkozy was viewed as a competent President who had, if not the affection of his nation, certainly its respect. But then things went wrong. Losing his nerve - bottling out of a big reform programme that had been the main reason for his being elected only 11 months ago - Mr Sarkozy invited instead the contempt of his people.

He compounded it in ways Mr Brown would never dream of doing, such as in a positively teenage approach to his quagmire-like private life and engaging in slanging matches with members of the public at set-piece events. He also, incidentally, made a serious enemy of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

And so it is that these two rather damaged men have a chance to prop each other up, during today's and tomorrow's state visit. A mutual appreciation society, however insincere certain aspects of it might be, would be in the best diplomatic traditions.

The Sun's Whip column today has a great quote from Angela Merkel. She emerged from a dinner with Sarkozy - the two are said not to get on - and commented: "He has everything I don't have. But he has too much of it."

Unlike Simon Heffer, I am not a fan of M. Sarkozy. In his eye he has the glint of a demagogue. As Angela Merkel hints, he loves himself just that little bit too much. While he appeared to have clear plans for France, he has allowed himself to be distracted from the main task of reforming France's stagnant and centralised economy. Although he made an impact on the world stage at the outset of his presidency, he has not kept up the momentum. And along the way his dilettantish behaviour has brought the presidency into disrepute. The French are not forgiving people if they feel their leaders are making fools of them. M. Sarkozy now needs to knuckle down to the task in hand and ditch the gimmicks.