Saturday, May 31, 2008

Mum, I'm On t'Telly

I'll be doing the papers on the BBC News Channel (as we must now call it) tonight at 11.45, and on GMTV tomorrow morning (sometime between 6 and 7.25 - repeated on ITV 2 a bit later) with Steve Richards discussing the woes of the government with Alex Hilton. Alex is, how shall I put it, a tad controversial regarding Mr Brown's future, to the extent that I am now worried about Alex Hilton's future.

Ban Smoking or Leave Smokers Alone

I hate cigarettes. I loathe smoking. But if smoking is legal, then surely the consumer has the right to choose the brand of cigarette he or she wishes to smoke, and the cigarette companies have the right to design the packets in any way they want to, as long as they include the government health warning.

The proposal to ban any form of branding of cigarette packaging is a ridiculous overreaction by cowardly nanny staters. They also want to ban the public display of packets of cigarettes and for them to be sold from under the counter on the basis of what the eye doesn't see...

The real agenda of the people behind these authoritarian proposals is to ban smoking outright. At least that would be an intellectually honest position. As it is, the constant chipping away of the rights of smokers is typical of the authoritarian drift among so-called health professionals.

Either ban it outright or leave people to make their own decisions.

Pssst... Can You (or I) Keep a Total Secret?

Is it possible to keep a secret in politics? We all know that politicians and media people are terrible at keeping things to themselves (I am no exception) and that the collective catchphrase for the Westminster Village should be: "Not that I'm one to gossip, but...". The concept of keeping something to yourself is almost alien to the political being. Politicos are very sharing people, at least when it comes to gossip.

On Thursday two of my colleagues interviewed the Prime Minister in Number Ten for the launch issue of TOTAL POLITICS. As you can imagine, we were delighted to get the interview as it gets the magazine off to a flying start. Imagine my surprise then, to read this in the THREE LINE WHIP column of the Daily Telegraph this morning!
Total Politics, the new magazine brainchild of Tory blogger Iain Dale, has landed a Gordon Brown interview for its first edition, out at the end of June. Brown reveals that he is not a good dancer, he would rather watch the new Indiana Jones film than the upcoming Bond film Quantum of Solace, that his favourite programme from his youth was That Was The Week That Was, and the last film that made him cry was Hotel Rwanda.
Now, don't run away with the impression that this interview was full of personal interest pap - these were a few throwaway questions at the end. Anyway, we now have three choices. Do we...

a) launch a Yes Minister style leak inquiry?
b) think of a unique form of torture to make Jonathan Isaby reveal his source?
c) accept the suggestion you are about to make in the comments?

Now, I suppose you're all gagging to know what was in the rest of the interview? Well, I'd love to tell you, but I'd have to kill you. All will be revealed on June 23rd. See, I can keep a secret, after all.

Talking Politics

I forgot to alert you to this morning's edition of Radio 4's TALKING POLITICS (the last ever edition) in which the subject of voter disengagement was discussed. I love this sort of programme as it's rare that you ever get a twenty minute discussion on anything on the radio. Sheena McDonald interviewed Tony Benn and then there was a discussion between Anne McElvoy, Liam Fogarty and myself about why people feel so disconnected from Westminster politics.

Listen to it HERE and let me know what you thought of the points which were raised.

Friday, May 30, 2008

That's Rich of Geoff Hoon

When discussing MPs pay and expenses last night Geoff Hoon said on Question Time: “I am not rich…", which is interesting seeing as he earns more than £135,000 a year and was a barrister before entering Parliament. I have no problem with that at all, but to suggest that he wears a hairshirt, or ever did, is stretching it a bit.

This does beg a question: when do you become rich? Is it when your net assets are worth above a certain amount, or do people judge 'richness' on annual income?

Or have we reached a point where the concepts of richness and poverty have all become relative - a bit like left and right? Discuss.

Steve McCabe: Is He Serious?

Steve McCabe MP was Labour's campaig manager in Crewe & Nantwich. In an article in this week's Tribune, reported by The Guardian, he says this:

"There never was a toff strategy. There was an early caricature designed to help us emphasise the difference between the leading protagonists." The plan might have succeeded but for "some useful Tory spin and cowardly criticism from within Labour's own ranks", he added. He denied the tactic was a dress rehearsal for a general election campaign. "The Prime Minister was not involved in devising or sanctioning any aspect of the campaign and those who gossiped never once spoke to me.

Is he for real? The toff line was used in every campaign leaflet, and I learned today that one of the two guys who followed David Cameron around wearing top hats works ... wait for it ... in the Number Ten Downing Street political office!

Vote in the May 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 50 politicians in the country performed over the last month.
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 May.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

REMINDER: BBC Parliament Relives 1983 Election Night

If you're a Labour supporter, look away now. This morning at 9am BBC Parliament starts transmitting more than 11 hours of coverage of the 1983 election night.

David Dimbleby hosted the programme with results analysis by Peter Snow and Tony King, commentary from the BBC's Political Editor, John Cole, and interviews by Robin Day.

Live coverage of declarations and reaction to the results comes from across the country, including reports from Nicholas Witchell in Margaret Thatcher's Finchley constituency, Brian Hanrahan in Michael Foot's constituency of Blaenau Gwent, Kate Adie in David Owen's Plymouth Devonport constituency, Michael Cole with David Steel in Ettrick Bridge, Valerie Singleton in Torbay, Selina Scott in Guildford and Esther Rantzen with the crowds gathered at Downing Street.

In addition, Washington correspondent Martin Bell reports on the reaction to the UK election in the US, and the view from Moscow comes from Soviet press agency spokesman Gennady Gerasimov.

Cameron Gets Another Poll Boost

The Daily Telegraph has a YouGov poll tomorrow, with the Conservatives on 47%, Labour on 23% and the LibDems on 18%. Compared to last month's poll, the Tories are up three and Labour is down three. It's the highest ever Conservative showing in a YouGov poll and Labour's worst poll since, well, ever - ever since polling began.

Standpoint Gets Off to a Great Start

Last night I went to the magnificent launch of STANDPOINT magazine at the Wallace Collection in Manchester Square. It was a superb venue for a launch and did them proud. The magazine itself is beautifully produced, with a huge amount of content. It's certainly not a magazine you could read on the loo! I make no pretence of being an intellectual and in some ways a lot of the articles go completely over my head, and in that sense it is very much the right of centre equivalent of PROSPECT - and a long overdue one. Even many on the left accept that the right is where the intellectual action is at the moment, and I suspect the magazine will get quite a lot of subscribers from surprising quarters.

Interestingly, several people I spoke to last night asked me how TOTAL POLITICS will be different from STANDPOINT. Well, there are only 25 more days until you can find out. We go on sale on 23 June.

How to Get on in the World of Quangocracy

So Adair Turner is to be the new head of the Financial Services Authority. He is the man who was tasked with chairing a commission on the future of the pensions industry, you may recall. Gordon Brown then proceeded to ignore virtually all his conclusions and recommendations. And did the noble Lord utter any complaint? He did not. He's now got his reward with a further five year sinecure. That's how you get on in the world of quangocracy.

This comes hot on the heels of Chris Smith's appointment as head of the all powerful Environment Agency. I would love to know his qualifications for this post as I don't recall him being especially interested in or knowledgeable about environmental issues when he was MP for Islington. The only environmental issues there are how long their sun dried tomatoes and polenta take to prepare. Joke.

Kevin Maguire Thinks We Don't Like Him

James Silver has done a rather good interview with a very chippy Kevin Maguire for the Sky News website HERE. Mr Maguire seems to think we don't like him very much.
"I'm a hate-figure for certain Tories," he says. "That's just the way it is. But as long as they read my blog, I don't care."

Of course not. It's not that we don't like him, we just don't like the rubbish he writes most of the time. Mind you, our Kev has a bit of good news for those of us on the right.
"Brown's in a deep hole, things are incredibly bleak for him and Cameron's going to win the general election."

Indeed. See, he can write sensible stuff if he really really tries.

How to Feel Safe With Jacqui Smith

The Today Programme's paper review this morning started off with a reference to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith's interview with the Mirror which contains the following nugget...

"Asked if she finds any fellow MPs dishy, she replies with a hearty laugh, "Yes! Most of my cabinet colleagues, and especially the Prime Minister." So could she ever fancy a Tory? "No!"

If you wonder why Tory MPs are looking rather disconsolate this morning, now you know. Mind you, the backbench hecklers will no doubt have been given some further ammunition for schoolboy humour following this revelation...

"And there's another bugbear - criticism over her wardrobe and especially those low-cut tops. "Get over it, I say. Get. Over. It!" Counters Jacqui. "Apparently there's a running joke on TV's Headcases that the level of security threat in this country is determined by how high or low my top is. My husband has taken to looking at my chest every morning and saying, 'I feel safe today'. Or 'I feel less safe'.

Oh dear, why is it that I feel she may live to regret those words? Seriously, it is a sign of the times that these words were made during a full page interview about knife crime, which would have probably sunk without any comment had she not made these remarks. It's almost impossible for politicians to get noticed, or rather their views to get noticed, unless they lace an interview with comments like this. Her interview would certainly not have made the Today Programme paper review, I suspect.

There are double standards at play too. Imagine a male Tory Shadow Minister saying that he fancied most female Tory MPs. Then imagine the likes of Harriet Harman reacting to it. "Same, nasty sexist Tory Party," she'd no doubt say. Yet a female MP can say things like this and people are amused by it.

Double D 'T' shirt anyone?

This Government Suffers From "Like Me-itis"

Yesterday chaos ruled at the heart of government. This may not be unusual nowadays, but it was chaos which made political tealeaf reading even more difficult than usual. The issue was fuel and road tax rises. Several cabinet ministers went out of their way that the government might back down (again) with the Chancellor apparently abandoning the planned 2p fuel duty hike along with the new Vehicle Excise Duty rates - dubbed by many as the Government's "poll tax on wheels". John Hutton dropped the heaviest hints, which, as Business and Enterprise Secretary, well he might. But later in the day, he and his colleagues were slapped down by Number Ten who told reporters the planned changes would be staying. Period.

But then the Chancellor intervenes to drop a very strong hint in this morning's Sun that he will indeed bow to pressure and abandon the 2p rise in October, and might even go further.

This is very bad politics and is just the kind of 'reactive' government we saw from John Major in the 1990s. It's the kind of government which screams "like me, please like me, why won't you like me?!" Ministers think it demonstrates they are listening to people whereas the people see a government that bows to every prevailing political wind. And if there's one thing they don't like, it's weak government.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Quote of the Day

"Denis MacShane has suddenly let loose
his inner John Redwood and embraced
tax and spending cuts."

Anne McElvoy, London Evening Standard

Unfortunate Coincidences

1.15pm Sat next to Sian Lloyd in Crussh at 4 Millbank.

1.45pm Spotted Lembit Opik and his Cheeky Girl showing their engagement ring off to Stephen Pound in Portcullis House.

Small world.

European Parliament to Silence Eurosceptic MEPs

The Daily Telegraph reports this morning that Euro MPs are about to vote to strip Euro Sceptic MEPs of allowances and research funds, all in the name of 'streamlining' party groupings of course. At the moment you need 20 MEPs from one fifth of member countries to form a group and thereby gain the grants. Labour MEP Richard Corbett is proposing a change to increase the threshold to 30 MEPs from a quarter of Member States.

Needless to say the EPP think this is a thoroughly good idea and will no doubt be whipping Tory MEPs to vote for it when it comes before the Parliament on 9 July.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage believes this is the first move of a plan to eliminate all eurosceptic voices from positions of influence. He told the Telegraph: "Welcome to your future. This shows an EU mindset that is arrogant, anti-democratic and frankly scary."

To their credit, the LibDems and Greens are opposing the move. Wouldn't it be nice to think that British Conservative MEPs might also do the same?

UPDATE: More from Trixy and The Devil.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Labour MP Joins the Ranks of the Taxcutters

I know I am a bit slow off the mark with this, but I had to read Denis MacShane's article in the Telegraph today several times before believing what I was reading. In case you haven't seen it, he comes out as a tax cutter. Denis is a tribal Labour loyalist and to say my ghast was well and truly flabbered is an understatement. He makes one of the most eloquent cases for lower taxes I have seen in many a month, and apart from a bit of ritualistic Labour tub thumping at the end, it could have been written by most readers of this blog, I suspect. Read this...
Yes, a mistake was made with the abolition of the 10p tax band, but the worst of the 10p row was how it obscured the fact that Brown had lowered income tax from 22 to 20 per cent in his last budget. Can that tax-cutting Brown please re-emerge?

My friends on the Left will insist that the correct Labour response is to raise taxes and break away from what they call neo-liberal economic policies. But when the state Hoovers up nearly two thirds of a trillion pounds from national income, describing such economics as neo-liberal is to mock language.

When trade unions and the Fabians invented what became the 20th-century Labour Party, no working man or woman paid any tax. It was easy to call for higher taxes because only the Tory-voting bourgeoisie paid them. Now working people are faced with massive deductions from their pay. There is some compensation for those on low incomes with young children, but a third of the voters in the London mayoral elections were single or childless people. The tired references to "hard-working families" upset all the voters who live by themselves, do not have children at home and are denied tax credits.

Can the Left be tax-cutters? Why not?
Probably because there are few examples in living memory (with the possible exception of Australia and New Zealand). But then comes the MacShane piece de resistance...
And how can tax cuts be funded? By cutting spending.
Hallelujah! A sentence which few Conservatives are yet prepared to utter (present company excepted). Let's just repeat that again, for the benefit of my good friend Danny Finkelstein.

There, wasn't too painful, was it? And just in case you think it was, over to Denis to explain how it can be done...

Take Labour-run Bolton Council. It decided on a zero council tax rise this year and was rewarded, rightly so, at the ballot box. When Mrs Thatcher imposed rate capping and told town halls to curb spending, a new generation of Labour council leaders rolled up their sleeves and worked within cost-cutting rules. Unlike their tax-greedy comrades of the Left in London councils, the municipal socialists of Leeds and Manchester, of Birmingham and Salford created a new style of local government by making less money go farther and finding innovative partnerships with the private sector to begin the renaissance of the great cities of England.

I do not know of a single minister who privately does not despair at the waste of money on pointless projects, publications, or legions of press officers that add no value. The taxpayer has given more than £1 billion of aid to India, even though that great country has more billionaires and millionaires than Britain and runs its own well-financed development aid programme. I was baffled as Europe minister to be told I had to waste 90 minutes being quizzed by a consultant when the kindly but shrewd tea ladies in King Charles Street knew what needed to be done. How much was paid to the consultant? What happened to his report? No one in Whitehall knows or cares. When I suggested using easyJet to cut flying costs in Europe, fellow ministers and senior officials looked at me as if I had left a nasty mess on their doorstep.

Can I be the only MP outraged that town clerks - even dressed up with fancy titles such as chief executive - can now get paid £200,000?plus for running rubbish collection services in small towns?

No, Denis, you are not alone. Oh, and in the words of Jimmy Cricket, there's more...

All trade union leaders have had to impose spending cuts as income levels of unions ebb and flow. What makes sense to them should make sense to a secretary of state. The notion that cost-cutting is something the Right does is nonsense. The great firms of Britain, such as Marks and Spencer, BP, Corus and BA, have had their fortunes turned round by ruthless pruning of costs, thus forcing managers to think differently as they are told to cut budgets if they want to save their jobs. And in doing so they not only keep their jobs but find the companies they run are walking tall again.

A government should be no different.
So welcome Denis MacShane. Welcome to the ranks of the Thatcherites. Welcome to that small band who recognise that public spending can be cut. Welcome to that happy group of people who believe in the Laffer Curve.

PS One thing I do have to argue about though is this sentence from Denis's article: "Can that tax-cutting Brown please re-emerge?" To re-emerge he would have to have been a taxcutter at some point in the past. Gordon Brown has never knowingly cut a tax without increasing another one to more than compensate.

Why Companies Recruit Politicians to their Boards

City AM has an interesting article today asserting that a company's value rises if it has a politician on its board who is associated with the governing party. If they are right, expect to see a whole raft of ex Labour politicians lose some lucrative directorships and be replaced by people with good Tory connections.

Chris Mullin: A Very Publishing Coup

Chris Mullin, who announced a couple of weeks ago that he is standing down from Parliament at the next election, has just sold his diaries to Profile Books. The book will be published in March 2009.

Andrew Franklin, Profile's Managing Director, said: ‘”Alan Clark meets ‘Yes Minister’ . Few politicians can write and there are still fewer I would want to have dinner with, let alone publish, but this book is exceptional. Chris Mullin absolutely can write. He’s funny, honest and, rare for a politician, self-deprecating. Who else would admit to receiving an invitation scrawled with the words, “this is a very low priority. I suggest we pass it to Chris Mullin”? Whether he’s describing life at the Court of John Prescott, the countdown to the Iraq war or his battle with Number 10 over leylandii hedges his book is pure pleasure from beginning to end”.

Chris Mullin says: “I have wasted no time on feuds and vendettas. I cannot claim to have led a life as colourful as Alan Clark or to have been as well connected as Alastair Campbell. My only claim is to have provided a snapshot of political life in the first part of the twenty-first century. Not just who said what to whom, but what it felt like to be there.”

Of course the real question we all want to know is: when will there be a sequel to A VERY BRITISH COUP? I republished the original novel and then brought out the DVD and Chris always seemed open to writing a sequel. Let's hope he does so.

Seconds Out: Pickles v Rennard v Watson

Reports in the Daily Telegraph that Labour are drafting in your favourite Labour MP blogger and mine*, Tom Watson, to manage their campaign in the Henley by-election are surely wide of the mark. Three Line Whip reckons the West Bromwich bruiser will match Eric Pickles and Lord Rennard in a contest of the heavyweights. I'm not so sure. It's a lost cause for Labour and after all, Tom Watson is now a Minister of the Crown and presumably has important matters of State to attend to at the Cabinet Office. Also, he would surely be honour bound to forego his Ministerial salary for the period of the campaign. Wouldn't he?**

* Rapidly being overtaken by his colleague Tom Harris
** Tom, just trying to help save you from three weeks of purgatory

Quote of the Day

'If at first you don't succeed, maybe bomb disposal is not for you'.

From Patrick in the previous comment thread.

Can Darling Dodge Labour's 'Poll Tax on Wheels'?

As soon as Alistair Darling announced his planned rises in road tax my nostrils twitched, sniffing a political disaster in the making. It's all very well going after a few thousand rich people - they don't have the collective voice to do much about it, and they wouldn't get much public sympathy anyway. But when you hit people on average earnings with a 30 per cent hike, you're affecting several million people - people like a friend of mine who drives a six year old VW Passat Estate to ferry his wife and three children about in. His wife doesn't work, he earns around £30k a year and really struggles to make ends meet. His car tax is £210 this year and will rise to £300 next year. His car is only worth about five times that amount. He won't be voting Labour next time, that's for sure.

A Labour MP describes this increase as Labour's poll tax on wheels. He may well be right, but can Darling climb down on this too, without looking like a political eunuch? After the 10p tax climbdown, the postponement of the planned rise in fuel duty and the forced changes to CGT this Chancellor is looking more accident prone than Norman Lamont.#end

Whip Watch: No 94

Today's Whip Column column in The Sun surpasses itself with at least a third of its stories lifted directly from yesterday's Independent. That's how desperate it has become.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Knowing Abba, Knowing You, Aha

Like hundreds of thousands of others I have spent miuch of the day with Radio 2 on in the background, listening to the All Time Abba Chart. I don't know what the compilers of this chart were on when they put it together, but to put The Winner Takes it All at only number seven was a travesty!

Here's their Top Ten, which astonishingly doesn't include SOS, Chiquitita or Gimme, Gimme, Gimme...

10. I have a dream
9. Mamma Mia
8. Waterloo
7. Winner Takes it All
6. Take a Chance on Me
5. Super Trouper
4. Name of the Game
3. Fernando
2. Knowing me, Knowing you
1. Dancing Queen

And here's what my chart would look like...

10. Waterloo
9. My Love, My Life
8. The Day Before You Came
7. Chiquitita
6. Fernando
5. Gimme, Gimme, Gimme
4. Mamma Mia
3. SOS
2. Dancing Queen
1. Winner Takes it all

I'm sure you agree...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Daley Dozen: Sunday

1. Daily Referendum imagines Gordon Brown as a pilot, as described by John Prescott on Andrew Marr this morning.
2. Tameside Mafia asks what James Purnell said in French that he didn't say in English!
3. Evidently Chickentown examines why blogging in the US is streets ahead of blogging in Wales.
4. Chris Whiteside reflects on Crewe & Nantwich.
5. Bob Piper on 'lazy-arsed' journalism.
6. Nadine Dorries whips into Harriet Harman.
7. Fraser Nelson on the Taliban's changing tactics.
8. Iain Martin on why Gordon Brown needs a proper holiday.
9. Red Box on MPs' expenses.
10. Stephen Tall asks what Tony Blair would do.
11. Quaequam becomes Mark Twain for the day.
12. John Redwood says, it's the economy, stupid.

The House of Commons Fees Office Needs Complete Reform

Imagine you are an MP and your spouse is also an MP. Imagine you get a life insurance policy worth a potential £430,000, which costs £867 per month. Each. Is your first thought...

a) to get a direct debit from your own bank account like any normal person
b) to bill the taxpayer

Alan Keen and his wife Ann took option B. The real scandal is that the House of Commons Fees Office approved this transaction. Mr & Mrs Keen will no doubt defend themselves robustly, but whatever their defence is, I suspect it won't wash with their respective electorates.

The full story is in the Sunday Times. I'm not actually seeking to make a party political point out of this as I am sure there are some odd expenses which have come to light for Conservative MPs too. What this episode means is that the whole system needs a complete overhaul and it should be conducted by professional auditors from outside the Parliamentary Estate. The Fees Office has proved itself incapable of running its own affairs.

What Can Labour Learn from Harold MacMillan?

At lunch today the conversation turned to Gordon Brown's woes, as I am sure it did around most lunch tables in the country. Not. Someone raised an intriguing question. They asked how on earth the Conservatives managed to turn around their perilous political situation after the humiliation of Suez in 1956. Just over two years later they won a General Election with an increased majority.

On the face of it, it was simple: they changed their leader. But was that really the main reason? I'm not well versed enough in the history of that period to judge, but I am sure that out there, among my legion of readers, someone is. Feel free to enlighten us.

Sunday Papers Open Thread

I'm out for most of the day so please use this thread to discuss what is in the Sunday papers or anything else you like. I will approve comments as quickly as I can.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Are We Heading for a Constitutional First?

With all this talk of a second successive unelected Prime Minister, I wondered to myself When was the last occurrence in peacetime that a Prime Minister was replaced twice between elections?

I think that the only time was way back in 1742 when Spencer Compton took over from Walpole before dying the next year, but that doesn't really count as it couldn't be avoided. Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill is another example, but that doesn't count as it was in wartime.

Does anyone have any other examples? If not, we could be heading for a unique situation in modern day politics. Although, I still think Labour would be mad to do it.

The Delights of Eurovision

Am liking the Finnish Eurovision entry. Nothing like a bit of Heavy Metal to get the thing going. The songs so far have been awful. The UK entry was truly excrebale. It was ten years ago tonight that I actually attended the Eurovision Song Contest when it was held in Birmingham. I was sitting next to Stephen Twigg, who nearly exploded when the Israeli transsexual singer, Dana International (pic), won. Hilarious.

Anyway, Donal Blaney is live blogging the contest HERE.

I was going to do a CoverItLive blog tonight on this, but I forgot I am going to the BBC in a minute to do the late night paper review. I suppose I shall have to listen to it on Radio 2 on the way seeing as Five Live is covering boxing.

Filth, Filth and more Filth from the BBC

There, that headline got your attention, didn't it?

On Bank Holiday Monday, BBC Parliament is broadcasting a "Permissive Night" hosted by Joan Bakewell. She will lead a discussion on the impact of all the social legislation of the mid sixties which legalized abortion, consenting homosexual relations for men over 21 and freed up the divorce laws. Permissive Night will start at 6pm on BBC Parliament and run through to midnight, and will include many memorable programmes from the BBC archives

Leading up to an edition of Late Night Line Up, Joan will introduce original editions of Panorama-(presented by Richard Dimbleby) first shown on the evening when the Commons was debating the abolition of hanging ( it was successfully abolished for an initial trial period of five years), Man Alive documentaries from 1967 on male and female homosexuality ( the one on lesbians presented by Angela Huth), A Whickers World on divorce illustrating the case of author Elizabeth Jane Howard and naturalist Peter Scott. There will also be original editions of Late Night Line Up, and other original programmes dealing with issues like abortion, race relations and theatre liberalisation.

There's also an original edition of the BBC's Talkback programme presented by David Coleman ( later rather better known for his football commentaries) where a panel of viewers question David Dimbleby on his Panorama programme on censorship. Watch out for one young member of the panel, appearing long before we all got to know him, a young clerk from (in his words) "swinging Sheffield"….one David Blunkett.

I can't wait.

Hoby: Return of the Class War

click on image to enlarge. By Hoby.

The Best Book on the Market

Eamonn Butler of the Adam Smith Institute has a really good book out at the moment, modestly called THE BEST BOOK ON THE MARKET. The emphasis is on the last three words, as it is a book which extolls the merits of a free market. It's accessibly written and quite entertaining. The blurb says...
The free market makes the world go around. Maybe it's time we all tried to understand it a little better. Luckily Eamonn Butler is the ideal teacher to get us all up to speed. Markets are everywhere. But how many of us understand how they work, and why? What does a 'free market' really mean? Do free markets actually exist? Should we have more or less of them? Most of all - do we really need to know all this? The answer is: Yes we do. This book makes economics simple so that even politicians can understand it. If any mention of free markets sends your mind screaming back to your musty old school economics textbook, think again. "The Best Book on the Market" will keep you gripped, intrigued and well informed. Abandoning complicated mumbo-jumbo, Eamonn Butler, Director of the UK's leading free market think-tank, demystifies the world of markets, competition, monopolies and cartels, prices and overspills.Using examples from our everyday lives, Dr Butler explains how the markets we have, and the many more we need, can work to create a richer, freer and more peaceful world. This book shows readers how to stop worrying and love the free economy.

In a way it's amazing he got it published as publishers generally turn their noses up at anything which faintly reeks of being right wing, so well done to Capstone. You can buy it HERE.

Why Labour Are Stuck with Gordon

Normally, I agree with Matthew Parris's view of the world, but his article in this morning's Times is, I believe, off beam. He argues that Labour's only hope of winning the next election is for Gordon Brown to either step aside voluntarily or be ditched. If he voluntarily stepped aside in the next few weeks and a new leader had time to establish themselves, you can make a coherent argument for them being able to turn around Labour fortunes, except for one thing. It is inconceivable that the British public, let alone the press, would accept a second unelected Prime Minister within a year.

There is also no clear frontrunner to take over. The only two people I can see actually having a chance of success would either not run or not win - and I'm talking about Alan Johnson and Hilary Benn.

In the second scenario, where Gordon Brown is ditched, the mess which would be created along the way would render the party unelectable afterwards - no matter who emerged. And with the same electoral college system which allowed Harriet Harman to win the Deputy Leadership, you have to wonder just who might emerge from that process.

Labour's best chance is to stick with Brown in the hope that he will be able to pull a rabbit out of the bag. But with his luck, any such rabbit would probably be struck down with myxomatosis.

Graphic by Theo Spark.

For Addicts of STRAIGHT TALK

Fans of Andrew Neil's STRAIGHT TALK programme will be delighted to learn that the programme has a new website with loads of the best interviews now available for download on the BBC iPlayer. This is now about the only proper interview programme on TV now and it deserves a wider audience. Go HERE.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Oil Price: Damned Lies and Government Predictions

Take a look at THIS. It's the offical government predictions for the level of oil prices in the years to come. Essentially, it boils down to this...

Central scenario - 2010 – $65/bbl – 2030 - $75/bbl

Low scenario -2010 - $45/bbl – 2030 - $45/bbl

High scenario – 2010 - $85/bbl – 2030 - $105/bbl

High high scenario – 2010 - $107/bbl – 2030 - $150/bbl

It appears to defy all logic. Obviously the impact on government forecasting, pricing for major projects, traffic projections (and road building) etc etc is significant to say the least. With oil at $135 a barrel today, you'd think this document needs radical updating.

Chicken Labour

Isn't it incredible that the Labour spokesman on the BBC by election programme was Chris Bryant and on Any Questions tonight we are treated to the elegant (but bakbench) tones of Dr Tony Wright MP. The BBC will have wanted a Cabinet Minister and been told that none was available. I wonder why that would be, then. I hear the sounds of chickens, not only coming home to roost, but afraid to grace the nation's airwaves to defend their Prime Minister.

Who Should Replace Jenny Scott?

I think today was Jenny Scott's last day on the Politics Show. She's off for a new career as Head of Communications for the Bank of England. The BBC is still considering who to replace her with and, I understand, will be "trying out" various female presenters alongside Andrew Neil over the next few weeks. Jo Cockburn has already had a runout and I understand Five Live's Anita Anand is also in the frame. Shelagh Fogarty, who presented the weekend breakfast show on 5 Live alongside Andrew Neil many moons ago, would also be worth a try, as her sense of humour complements his rather well.

Which other female broadcasters (and they will definitely go for a female) would you like to see given a trial run?

A New Job for Digby Jones: Selling Birmingham

When I was driving to Birmingham last night I realised it was only the sixth time I had ever been to Britain's second city - two of those visits were to Villa Park, one to the Eurovision Song Contest, one was to attend an interview at Aston University and another with David Davis during the Tory leadership contest.

Birmingham just doesn't come across as Britain's second city. It has none of the self confidence of Manchester or Liverpool, and no one singing its praises. I asked a few friends to name me one famous person from Birmingham. Jasper Carrot was the name most mentioned, Deadly Doug Ellis came second, and Meg Mortimer from the late lamented Crossroads Motel even got a mention. Not exactly top notch names.

The event I was speaking at was organised by Harvey Ingram, a Leicester based law firm which has recently opened a new office in Birmingham. They've built up a thriving practice in a very short time and obviously see Birmingham as the place to be. For those of us who live and work in London we just don't notice what is going on in Birmingham in the way that we seem to know what's happening in other cities around Britain. I'm sure I am not alone in thinking that.

I suggested to the audience that they needed a high profile champion to shout about Birmingham's achievements and oppotunities from the rooftops. Maybe they need a proper mayor. Much of the audience (made up of lawyers and business people) seemed to agree. And the name they suggested was Digby Jones.

Lord Jones may well be looking for a new job soon. Birmingham could certainly do worse than invite him to become Birmingham's ambassador to the rest of the country and the world.

Footnote: When I arrived last night I was horrified to discover the dinner was a black tie event. No one had told me. Cue a quick jaunt to the local House of Fraser. Thank God for late night opening!

An Interview with Simon Mayo

I've written before on the blog about the brilliance of Simon Mayo as a broadcaster and interviewer. He won Sony Broadcaster of the Year recently and there's an interview with him in today's Telegraph. Well worth a read, HERE.

This is an Ex By Election Candidate. She Has Ceased to be...

They used to say there is nothing so 'ex' than an 'ex' MP, but that goes doubly for ex by election candidates. Click HERE to see how LibDem candidate Elizabeth Shenton's Wikipedia entry is already 'marked for deletion'. Bless.

Kudos to Liam Fox

I didn't get home last night until about 1.45am so I missed the first hour of the by election programme, but one thing struck me was the performance of Liam Fox. He was superb. This follows another word-perfect interview he did with Andrew Marr a couple of weeks ago. One of my commenters, Trev, puts it like this...
I am no great fan of Liam Fox but he has done well when I have seen him over the last few weeks. Indeed this culminated in an explosion of disgust with the unhappy Labour spokesman on BBC TV last night. He was trying to explain away the pathetic leaflet that Fox had produced and I think Fox threw out something like 'oh shut up' in exasperation. (maybe you can find the clip - about 1.30am).

I found it hilarious that Labour put up Chris Bryant on the BBC programme. Admittedly, he didn't do badly, but it comes to something when they put up a lowly PPS rather than a senior Minister. The MacAvity syndrome strikes again. I felt very sorry for Lynne Featherstone who made the best out of a bad job for the LibDems - I suppose you could say that about their candidate, Elizabeth Shenton too.

Crewe: What the Blogs are Saying

This image says it all, courtesy of ConservativeHome. Click on it to enlarge.

ADAM Boulton will be hosting a CoverItLive blog discussion at 12.30pm on the
fallout from Crewe & Nantwich

1. Guido agrees with me about the disastrous Kevin Maguire strategy.
2. Michael White says it's all over for Brown - without actually saying it.
3. James Forsyth on whether Brown will be dumped.
4. Iain Martin says the result gets Cameron a step closer to Number Ten.
5. LibDem Voice has, er, the result and that's it. But do read the comments...
6. calls the next election for the Conservatives.
7. Red Box on Labour's new low.
8. Andrew Porter reckons it was Lord Ashcroft wot won it.
9. LabourHome asks: Where do we go from here? I respond: Is it down to the lake I fear...
10. Nick Robinson believes Crewe may be a tipping point.
11. James Graham tries to find some comfort in the result for the LibDems. He struggles.
12. And Kevin Maguire says, well, nothing. Nada. Not a jot. Wonder why. UPDATE: He's now written a blogpost on Brown's Crewe Cut.

Telegraph Column: Hanging on to the C2 Vote

My Telegraph column today looks at how the C2 vote is turning to the Conservatives and why. Here's how it starts...

"I've always voted Labour, but..." is a phrase I hadn't heard from voters on the doorstep for more than 20 years. But these words have been heard increasingly in recent weeks, especially on the doorsteps of Crewe and Nantwich.

When I lost my political virginity as a canvasser in the early 1980s, I heard it a lot, mostly from those living in council houses which Margaret Thatcher had enabled them to buy. Lifelong Labour supporters were realising that the Tories were giving them a chance to fulfil their aspirations.

Come 1997, Tony Blair appeared to be doing the same and so the same large group of voters - often referred to as C2s by sociologists - transferred their affections to him.

The fact that the Tories are now enjoying a 15 to 20 point lead in the opinion polls suggests that the C2s are returning to them in droves. If they weren't, it would be more or less impossible for David Cameron to attain the 43-45 per cent support that he now enjoys.

That's the good news. But where there is good news, a few clouds of bad are never far away.

The reasons for the shift of so-called Essex Man's and Worcester Woman's affections seem to reflect a growing anti-Labour feeling rather than a positive enthusiasm for the Tories. Does this matter? Well, yes: this support can evaporate just as soon as it arrived. The electorate is volatile and less tribal - and will transfer its affections at the drop of a hat.

The lesson for the Tories is that once you have attracted extra support, you must fight hard to retain it.

The boost in party fortunes is at least 80 per cent due to the lamentable performance of the Prime Minister and his government. What Mr Cameron needs to do over the next six months is fight to the political death to entrench the support of the C2s.

His speech earlier this week on "good housekeeping" and lower taxes sounded like a first salvo in the ground war.

His words reflected the anger out there over the rising cost of living, rising taxation and government waste. He used pseudo-Thatcherite language about "living within your means" to address voters directly who didn't realise he spoke their kind of language.

Read the rest of the article HERE.

It Was Maguire Wot Won It

Kevin Maguire's Mirror column is full of references to Tory Toffs. His blogposts rarely get posted without a dig at David Cameron's education or background. It was this kind of class war campaign which Labour adopted in Crewe & Nantwich and led them to a stunning defeat. It was entirely based on Maguire's schoolboy class based attacks. Well done, Kevin. We salute you.

Congratulations to Edward Timpson MP

All I can say is, wow. A majority of 7,860 on a 17.6% swing is an astonishing result, far ahead of what Edward Timpson or his campaign team could have dreamt of. Well done to all those who went to Crewe & Nantwich and gave him such tremendous support. Well done to the CCHQ campaign team who ran such a fantastic campaign too.

A new dawn has broken, has it not?

Your Crewe & Nantwich Predictions

Just got back from Birmingham. Anyway, here is how 750 of you predict the Crewe & Nantwich result

LibDem win 1.1%
Labour majority < 1000 4.4%
Labour majority of 1001-2000 1.3%
Labour majority of 2001-3000 0.1%
Labour majority of 3001-4000 0.1%
Labour majority of 4001-5000 0.4%
Conservative majority < 1000 8.8%
Conservative majority of 1001-2000 20.6%
Conservative majority of 2001-3000 21.9%
Conservative majority of 3001-4000 15.9%
Conservative majority of 4001-5000 8.4%
Conservative majority of > 50000 17.5%

Not long to go now.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Off to Birmingham - Open Thread

I'm about to drive to Birmingham to give a speech this evening so I am afraid I shall be 'off air' until after midnight. Please use this as an Open Thread to discuss what the reverberations will be for all three parties from Crewe & Nantwich.

* What would a heavy defeat mean for Gordon Brown?
* What would a vote of under 18% mean for the LibDems?
* Is a victory by one vote enough for David Cameron?
* Will there be any lasting effects for Labour of the 'Toff@ campaign?

See you later.

Your Predictions for Crewe & Nantwich

I'll give a prize of £100 of books and DVDs to anyone who correctly guesses the size (in actual votes - and to the right party!) of the majority in Crewe & Nantwich. Leave your predictions in the comments.

Also, click HERE to take part in the poll to predict the result. We'll see if readers of this blog are better predictors than those who take part in the PoliticsHome daily poll of Westminster villagers.

PMQs Review with James Duddridge & Mark Seddon

A five minute chat from Friction TV with Tory MP James Duddridge and Mark Seddon, former editor of Tribune, and now diplomatic correspondent for Al Jazeera. We talk about yesterday's PMQs and the likely after effects of the Crewe & Nantwich by election.

Gordon Brown is no Margaret Thatcher

I'm writing my Telegraph column, watching the Dalai Lama give evidence in Parliament to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. What an inspirational man. What a pity it is that our Prime Minister doesn't see fit to invite him to Downing Street. Mr Brown likes to compare himself to Margaret Thatcher and calls himself a conviction politician. Does her seriously think she would have met him anywhere else than Number Ten?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Dizzy Goes Mainstream

Eleven days ago I asked a question about Phil Hendren, aka Dizzy Thinks. I said "Why hasn't a newspaper signed him up yet?" Less than a fortnight later, Phil makes his debut in The Times comment section tomorrow with an excellent piece on the government's latest big brother plans. Dear oh dear, another blogger signed up by the MSM. Will it ever end?

Dale's Tours: Crewe & Nantwich

This is the first episode of DALE'S TOURS, my new weekly slot for TELEGRAPH TV, in which I go round the country talking to Tory activists, councillors and candidates. It's part of the RIGHT ON programme. This week I talked to Donald Potter, chairman of Crewe & Nantwich Conservatives.

While in Crewe I also talked to people in the Market Place about Labour's scurrilous campaign. The reactions explain why the Tories ought to win.

And for good measure, I also had a chat with Eric Pickles, who is characteristically blunt. (I'm the one on the left).

Jacqui Smith Reaps What She Sowed

Delicious. It's hard to imagine Jacqui Smith had endured a more uncomfortable hour in her political career. Watch her squirm.

Eric Pickles Unleashed

There's a really good interview on Tory Radio with Eric Pickles talking about the Crewe & Nantwich by election. Quotes include:-

"We need switchers from the Labour party. We're getting some, but the question is are there enough."

"It would be a very significant win for us. We are by no means predicting we are going to take this seat".

"We've gone about it by not following Labours tactics of personal attacks. Not following Labours tactics of straightforward racist pandering."

"The problem Labours got is they've got a PM who can tell you the price of a barrel of oil, but cant tell you the price of a litre of petrol at the pumps."

On Labour campaign materials
"I haven't seen anything quite so blatant and unpleasant or as threatening since early Chinese communist posters or posters during the Bolshevik revolution."

"In fairness to these good folks there's no dog whistle abut this. It's abusive nasty in your face racism of the most despicable kind."

The Unembarrassable LibDem Peers Embarrass Nick Clegg

Last night in the House of Lords, Liberal Democrat peers ABSTAINED on the very subject that Nick Clegg ordered his people to storm out of the Commons on! UKIP had put down an amendment to the Lisbon Treaty legislation calling for an In/Out referendum.

Whether this shows the weakness of Clegg in trying to hold to what he said, for all its fatuity, was a key party policy, i.e. an In-Out referendum, or the ludicrous nature of the Liberal Democrat party, I'll let you judge - but you might want to look at col.1438-9 of Lords Hansard yesterday to see the pathetic explanation of the "unembarrassable" Liberal Deputy Leader in the Lords for not supporting Clegg's policy.

The laughable fiasco of Liberal Democrat policy continues to unfold in the Lords - the tragedy is that Clegg, who sacked Commons Front benchers who did not abstain on the referendum vote, now looks on course to buckle weakly, and let his peers in the Lords do what David Heath was sacked for - buck the party line to abstain on a vote on the referendum Treaty. Surely Lord Wallace of Saltaire should now be given his P45?

If he lets that happen, then there is one person, in addition to Blair and Brown, who will be personally responsible for denying the British people the referendum all parties promised, it will - unless he whips his peers into line - be Nick Clegg.

UKIP: Going Nowhere in Crewe?

This picture rather sums up the UKIP campaign in Crewe & Nantwich, from what I'm told.


As you may see, I have buggered up the code for my normal design, so have had to revert to the old design until the proper template can be restored. That won't happen until this evening, I'm afraid. All my fault. I copied some video embed code into the wrong place. Who's a stupid old Hector, then?

Adrian Yalland's Crewe & Nantwich Report

Adrian Yalland is a regular commenter on the blog and he has sent in this report from Crewe & Nantwich.
After a long drive from Hampshire, I arrived late this afternoon, I headed for Edward Timpson’s campaign HQ, in an industrial unit near the railway station.

The place was heaving - and I suspect that a controversial free vote in Westminster might have explained the rather large number of MPs floating around. Tobias Elwood was busy making A frame posters, Michael Fabricant (and his famous blonde locks) darted from room to room, and the dashing Adam Afriyie turned heads all over the place – to name a few. However, they did all seem to leave at the same time, so they might well have been heading back to Westminster by train to get the 10pm vote.

Upon my arrival, I was registered by a fierce and efficient looking women, and then immediately put to task - given a map, a handful of leaflets – and duly dispatched to a fairly new housing estate near the Nantwich part of the constituency. I went with three others, including two members of the national convention – one of whom has been putting in 18 hour days since the campaign began. Where would the party be without the dedication of people like him?

This is without doubt the best organized campaign I have ever seen. The organization seems to be water tight, and the level of motivation and commitment is just palpable. There are some very switched-on people running this campaign.

Outside, on the streets, what struck me was not the impressive number of ‘Vote Timpson’ posters (of which there are well over 1,000 displayed in windows all over Crewe), but the lack of any posters from either of the other two parties. Obviously, in the rural the rural areas you expect to see Conservative posters (and you do – lots of them), and in the more urban, terraced houses of central Crewe, you expect to see lots of Labour or Liberal Democrat posters. Except you don’t! Even having Frank Field in the constituency today (doubtless doing penance) doesn’t seem to have made any difference – I counted less than five ‘Vote Dunwoody – she’s one of us’ posters! I counted just two Lib Dem posters – it is as if they are ‘The Invisibles’! It makes you wonder if the other two parties are merely going through the motions, knowing they have lost the game.

Of course, I don’t think Labour are going through the motions - they are actually fighting tooth and claw to hang onto this seat – knowing that to lose it would be a desperate crushing blow to Gordon Brown. So much so that every cabinet minister has been ordered to visit the constituency between now and Thursday! I am reliably informed that even senior district councilors are under pressure to get up here and ‘do something’! But, on the streets, Labour seem to be having little effect. Wandering around sporting my rosette, I got a satisfying number of ‘thumbs up’ and friendly toots from passing motorists – and not just in the nice areas either. All over the constituency, there seems to be a feeling that it is time to ‘send Gordon Brown a message’, and I suspect that this is reflected in the very low profile that Mrs. Dunwoody enjoys.

The reason for the failure of Labour in this rock-solid Labour seat? Well, there is also a strong suspicion that, on top of the worsening economy and general distrust of Gordon Brown, Labour’s incredibly negative and seedy campaign is turning off people who might otherwise be persuaded to vote for them. On the streets, people are stating that they see through Labour’s tactics, and the attempt to paint Dunwoody as a ‘local’ candidate is simply not taking root. They know she is not local, they know she lives in Wales, and they know she is much wealthier then the average Crew resident – and they seem to resent Labour trying to pull the wool over their eyes. They seem to resent the patronizing and hectoring tone of the Labour Party’s campaign. As dislike the fact that the only reason they are being given for voting Labour is because Dunwoody is ‘one of us (which they know she isn’t), and that the Tory is a toff (and they see through that too). As a response, they seem to be more receptive to the Conservative campaign, which is positive, and has resisted the temptation to stoop to the gutter. There seems to be a grudging respect from the population because of it. If Labour don’t get their core pledges out on Thursday, there will be blood in the carpet for sure!

According to journalists who spoke to us today, so worried are Labour about the backlash from losing Crewe, that they are now briefing that if the Tories win by anything less than 3,000 votes, then it is a ‘disaster for Cameron’! If the Tories win by just one vote, and that was transferred into a general election, that would mean a Parliamentary Majority of over 130 seats for David Cameron. Only the Labour party can see a 130 seat Tory majority as ‘a disaster for the Conservatives’! No wonder people say they are out of touch! They are not even on the same planet.

The other news is that police arrested two men late last night, and have charged them with criminal damage. They were reported to the police for removing ‘Vote Timpson’ posters, and when challenged, stated they were part of Timpson’s campaign, and had been instructed by him to remove the posters because they were placed illegally on public land. Sadly, they were not on public land – but were in fact on land belonging to a relative of the Association chairman! Oooops!

The Fall-Out From the Abortion Debate

I don't mind admitting to being astounded at the size of the majorities against a reduction in the abortion term limit last night. I think even those who favoured the status quo were equally surprised. Suspicions remain that there was an unofficial Labour whipping operation, but even if there was, the votes for 20 weeks just weren't there. I haven't looked at the division lists yet, but I suspect a decent number of 2005 intake MPs on the Tory side may have voted for 24 weeks. It certainly didn't help when the Tory frontbench sent confusing signals by tabling a 22 week amendment either.

Has this issue been permanently put to bed? No. And nor should it be. It deserves periodic debate and review and I fully expect it to be revisited after a change of government. I'm not sure the outcome will be any different, though, as I suspect the 2010 intake of Tory MPs will have more so-called 'progressive' views than their predecessors.

In some ways, the only winner to emerge from last night was Parliament as an institution. It was a good debate full of powerful speeches. And because of that it got reported in full by the media. Government business managers should learn a lesson from that. The way to revive imterest in parliamentary debates is to have more free voutes and more set piece debates on issues people really care about.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Politicians & Their Cars

Does anyone know any politicians (national or local) who are car nuts, or drive unusual cars? If so, please email me privately using the CONTACT link below the blog banner. I'm helping with a feature on the driving habits of politicians.

Tonight the Carlton Must Do Its Duty

Louise Bagshawe has stirred up a bit of a hornet's nest on Centre Right by castigating the Carlton Club for its policy of not allowing women to be full members. She is, of course, totally right. The Carlton is, of course, good enough to allow women into the place, for which I am sure the ladies are very grateful indeed. Some argue that as a private club they should have whatever policy they like. On the face of it, this is an attractive argument. It is also simplistic. But imagine if they had a policy of not allowing jews to be full members - or gays, or, Asians. There would be a public outcry, and rightly so. As Louise argues.
The Carlton Club's raison d'etre is Conservatism, not masculinity. I trust it will take this new chance to put the situation right.
And tonight's the night. Apparently there will be a vote of the members, and hopefully this time they will get the necessary two thirds majority.

Fink 'n' Dale: Seconds Out Round Four

Danny Finkelstein has responded to my response. Here we go for round four. I shall limit myself to reponding to this comment...

I spoke of putting spending on a new path. And this leads Iain to explode:

Put state spending on a new path? Do me a favour. Translated, that ought to mean 'cut public spending'.

Again, I am afraid that won't do. Iain is normally admirably precise, but not here. No Government is going to cut public spending. And, Iain, you aren't actually in favour of them doing so. Trust me.

No, Danny, trust me, I really am in favour of cutting public spending - not necessarily slashing, but cutting. It may not be in fashion to say this but it's not something I feel any hesitation in proclaiming. The main function of government is to decide what it wants to do and how it is going to pay for it - i.e. how much tax to raise and how much to borrow.

The trouble with too many modern day politicians (and commentators) is that they look at government as it is, not how they think it should be. It has become so bloated and thirsty for taxpayers' money that it seems almost impossible to reverse the trend of public spending growth. There are, of course, areas where Conservatives would indeed continue the growth of spending, but equally, there are areas where that savings can be made - either through efficiency savings or outright abolition of wasteful government programmes. In a budget of £617 billion no one could possibly assert that that there are no savings to be made or priorities to be altered.

The political situation is different now. People know that spending, borrowing, debt and taxation are all either out of control or at the limits of public acceptability. This is what David Cameron was pointing out in his speech yesterday. He was right to acknowledge the fact and should now do so over and over again.

What he needs to do now is commission a new James Report and examine every piece of government expenditure for efficiency savings and to determine whether it is actually necessary in the first place.

Do You Really Want to Make Gordon Cry?

The first song played by BBC Radio Stoke in the hour long Gordon Brown phone-in (still going on) was 'Do you really want to hurt to hurt me, do you really want to make me cry...' by Culture Club.

An amusing coincidence or a deliberate invitiation to voters ahead of polling day on Thursday? Or perhaps a message from Brown to Alan Milburn...

UPDATE: They also played: The Animals - Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood
The Beautiful South - Everybody's Talkin' (at me, I don't hear a word they're saying)

Definitely some kind of message there...

Is Alan Milburn Thinking the Unthinkable?

When Mike Smithson posts a political rumour, I sit up and take notice. This may sound odd, but Mike is not a man to take a punt without having reason to believe a rumour has some truth in it. This morning he has written THIS piece suggesting that Alan Milburn will mount a leadership challenge to Gordn Brown in the aftermath of the Crewe & Nantwich by-election.

Would he be credible? To those of us outside the Parliamentary Labour Party, perhaps not, but there are many many Labour MPs who face losing their seats and may just be tempted to think the unthinkable if the Crewe result is as bad as the latest poll suggests (a 13 point Tory lead).

Milburn's detractors will point to the fact that he resigned from the Cabinet once, at least in part because he couldn't hack the pressure. He has been out of the frontline for so long that he might also be considered to be a little out of touch.

The other thing Labour MPs will be thinking about is this: Will the British public stomach two successive Prime Ministers who have taken office without the inconvenience of an election?

The Difference Between Finkonomics and Daleonomics

Danny Finkelstein disputes my interpretation of David Cameron's speech today. Read his full piece HERE. What sparked him off was my assertion that "He [Cameron] doesn't actually abandon George Osborne's pledge to match Labour spending for two years, but he might just as well have done." Danny begs to differ.
Well, no. He doesn't remotely do that. Quite apart from anything else this pledge was produced for an early election that didn't happen and has been rendered irrelevant by the fact that there won't be a Tory Government during the period in question.

Er, come again? The pledge was made way in advance of last year's phantom election and so far as I know was meant to relate to the first two years of a Conservative government whenever it is elected. If Danny is saying that pledge is now irrelevant, I say hear hear. Towards the end of his piece Danny argues...
Now, the purpose of reform and reducing demand for government services is not tax reduction - that is a (welcome and necessary) by product. The purpose is to change the relationship between citizens and the state, to build a stronger society and to improve the quality of things like health and education.

An interesting, if flawed assertion, straight out of the Social Democratic Hymnbook. The purpose of reform and reducing the demand for government services is to shrink the state, make it more efficient and cut the amount of money the State takes off its citizens. It is the stronger society and improved quality of public services which are the by-product. These may seem like semantic differences, but they are important. Danny continues...
It is important that, while the need to put state spending on a new path is not forgotten, the desire for swift tax cuts does not distort the entire programme or the way it is explained. Tax reductions are not the only thing, in fact not even the most important thing, a Tory Government will wish to achieve.

Put state spending on a new path? Do me a favour. Translated, that ought to mean 'cut public spending'. David Cameron says public spending has reached the limits of acceptibility and he is right. No one is saying that tax cuts should 'distort the entire programme', least of all me. Any tax custs must be affordable and funded and they will only be achieved through increased growth, reduced spending and reduced borrowing. Even my Grade E 'A' Level economics tells me that.

Of course tax cuts are not the only thing a Tory government wishes to achieve, but if a Tory government cannot achieve a lower level of taxation after a five year term, then one has to ask what it is there for? If we wanted to continue with high public spending, high borrowing and high taxes we'd vote Labour. Over to you, Mr F.

Monday, May 19, 2008

When is a Free Vote Not a Free Vote?

As we know, Gordon Brown conceded that free votes would be granted on some of the sensitive issues – hybrid embryos, saviour siblings and the role of the father in IVF treatment – contained in the Human Embryo & Fertilisation Bill.

With all votes in the House of Commons, both sides to any division provide two tellers to count MPs as they go through the Lobbies. Normally, these roles are performed by whips but not on free votes. However, on this ‘free vote’ this evening on amendments to the Bill on hybrid embryos, the tellers for the ‘Noes’ were Labour whips and a Labour whip was in the No Lobby advising on the timing of the future votes. In contrast, the tellers for the ‘Ayes’ were backbench MPs.

If it was a genuine free vote, why were Government whips acting as tellers? Some Labour MPs did, of course, support the amendments but the role of the Labour whips made it clear which way Labour MPs were expected to vote. Has Gordon Brown changed his mind again? OK, you can argue that it was Government legislation so why shouldn't whips be involved, but it does go against the grain of a genuine free vote. And furthermore...

A Conservative MP of my acquaintance has just told me that a Labour whip has just shown him the Labour whipping for tomorrow. They have been put on a Three Line Whip to attend - a Three Line free vote!

It means those who would have abstained will be herded through the 24 lobby to save Brown's face and keep the status quo. That's how scared they are of the 20 week option winning.

UPDATE 00.42: Labour Minister (and excellent blogger) Tom Harris has just posted this in the comments...
Iain, I'm sorry but you're wrong. Government whips were involved because it was government business. I decided to abstain on saviour siblings tonight. Not one whip approached me in advance to ask my intention or to strong arm me. Similarly, although I have publicly stated I will support moves to lower the abortion time limit, I have received absolutely no pressure from any whip to do otherwise. I'm afraid that on this occasion there is no evidence at all to sustain a conspiracy theory that there is control freakery at work. Quite the opposite, I can assure you.

UPDATE: 9.06: Nadine Dorries hits back...
Nice try Tom! We both know that two thirds of Labour MPs never vote on this issue. A three line whip to 'attend' the chamber means that the same two thirds will wander in, ask the whips which way to go and be sent into the 24 week lobby. This is about Gordon Brown looking at potential wipe out in Crewe and Nantwich making sure he isn't humiliated twice in one week.

He stuck his neck out for 24, why? He didn't need to, why do it? Having done so, if MPs don't vote for 24 it will demonstrate that he has no leadership. I hope that the two thirds who don't normally vote will have the moral courage to do the right thing today.

Mr Speaker Launches New Court Bid in EU Case

Press release just received from Stuart Wheeler...

This evening Stuart Wheeler has been notified that the Speaker intends to intervene in the case in which he has been granted a judicial review over the Government's refusal to hold a referendum on the EU Treaty. The Attorney General will represent the Speaker.
Mr Wheeler responds 'I am surprised that the Speaker wishes to intervene. At no stage have I sought in any way to impinge on Parliamentary privilege.
"My case is based solely on the Government's refusal to hold a referendum on the EU Treaty."

Er, on what grounds has The Speaker intervened?!!!

How Would You Cast Your Vote on the Embryology Bill?

Today and tomorrow the House of Commons is considering the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Bill. The controversy surrounding the 20 week abortion issue has tended to obscure debate on the other important clauses of the bill - notably sibling saviours and human-animal hybrid embryos. All three issues are, to me, of equal importance. This isn't going to be a long post on the whys and wherefores - you can get that elsewhere, but I think anyone who writes on a public platform should say how they would vote on these issues if they had the chance.

On human-animal hybrid embryos I have absolutely no hesitation in saying that I would vote against them. The whole concept fills me with a slight sense of horror. I always thought the concept of 'saviour siblings' must be something which involved a mutual support pact involving Wendy and Douglas Alexander, but it appears not. I have slightly more sympathy and understanding of this, but there is something about it which makes me profoundly uncomfortable. I accept that medical advances have brought untold joy to parents who might otherwise never have conceived, and further medical advances have saved untold hundreds of thousands of lives. And yet, I can't reconcile and inner belief I have that tampering with natural human science in this way is wrong. I don't have religious beliefs, but there's still part of me which agrees with religious teachings on this issue.

The 20/24 week abortion debate has illustrated all that is wrong with political debate in this country. Pro-Choice supporters have railed against the 20 weekers, accusing them of being totally anti-abortion, which in some cases may be right, but certainly not all. And some of the 20 weekers have failed to recognise that there are actually arguments on the other side which need addressing.

What I do not understand is that the Conservative front bench has now put down an amendment on 22 weeks, for reasons no one has quite been able to explain. Frankly, it's a fudge. Either you believe in the status quo, or you think the limit should be much lower. This amendment smacks too much of the lowest common denominator.

I unreservedly back 20 weeks and I make no bones about the fact that I would like to see it lower than that. Virtually every other European country has a limit of between 12 and 14 weeks. Their abortion rates are much lower, so is the level of sexual activity among under age teenagers. It is a proven fact that foetuses can survive at 20 weeks - not all, but some do. If you live in an area with a hospital with superb neo-natal facilities the survival rates are obviously much higher than if you live in a catchment area without one.

It's on occasions like this that Parliament should come into its own. Although I have reasonably unchangeable views on the abortion limit, I would genuinely like to have listened to the full debate on the other two areas before finally making up my mind. I suspect many MPs are doing just that.

Sky Host Online Crewe & Nantwich Debate

Earlier today, Sky News Online hosted a debate between the main Crewe & Nantwich By-Election Candidates. The following extracts have been taken from the full transcript of the debate and are not necessarily in chronological order. (I have not edited this - Sky has). The full posting of the debate can be found HERE.

Fighting talk

9:30 [Comment From Stephen]
Tamsin, how exactly is Edward a 'con man' as your website states? Does he have a criminal record?
9:31 Tamsin Dunwoody - Hi Stephen, he ran on the 10p issue being the only issue in the campaign. Actually it is all about the local people and local issues. Cameron refused to say he would reverse the 10p change.

9:13 Edward Timpson - Mark - We have offered a number of things to help first time buyers, including reducing stamp duty for first time buyers and shared equity schemes. The problem with Labour's top down approach is local people have a disincentive for new housing because they are built without the necessary infrastructure, roads, hospitals and services.
9:14 Tamsin Dunwoody - Hi Edward. Are you actually writing this or one of your spin doctors...sounds like it LOL

Tamsin Dunwoody answering candidacy question

9:18 [Comment From Tim]
Tamsin - if your surname was not Dunwoody would you be Labour's candidate?
9:19 Tamsin Dunwoody - Hi Tim, I was selected on ability, experience and my fundamental political beliefs.

On the ‘Toff’ issue

9:19 Martin Stanford -
and for Edward - wot do you make of the "Toff" label?
Questions we have extracted from the Boulton & Co blog...
9:21 Edward Timpson - I have spoken to people across the whole of Crewe and Nantwich over many months and not once has it been raised as an issue. Local people are not interested in cheap attacks on class. What they want to know is how we are going to reduce crime, imporve local services and bring down the cost of living.

9:34 [Comment From Nick]
Tamsin, On the Politics Show yesterday Harriet Harman was clearly uncomfortable with the negative tone of the Labour campaign in Crewe & Nantwich. Do you support the "toff" attack angle or has it been thrust upon you by Labour high command?
9:39 Tamsin Dunwoody - Hi Nick, this is a by-election campaign and I do believe it is vital that voters know what they are getting. I am a single parent of five kids fighting to get a job. I have no family fortune to fall back on. The Tories have criticised Labour candidates in other by-elections. Its your choice. You know what you are getting with me.

On the environment/future energy supply

9:23 [Comment From john]
tamsin + edward what are your positions regarding our future energy supply and not just your party policy where should our future lie PRECISE PLEASE
9:25 Tamsin Dunwoody - Hi John. easier planning laws to allow householders to install renewable energy, get away from oil/gas dependancy, help those in fuel poverty (£1.2bn invested so far) keep working with business to reduce consumption, stop manufacturers making stuff that stays on standby all the time.
9:25 Edward Timpson - John - What we need is sustainable energy policy which is not over reliant on one form. it has to be a combnation of wind, oil coal, nuclear, solar. Additionally we need to be conscious about reducing our carbon footprint and to move sensibly towards Kyoto targets
9:25 Elizabeth Shenton - John - securing future energy supplies is a hugely important issue facing this country. With the abundance of offshore expertise in the North Sea oil industry, combined with its endless supply of wind - I don't see why we can't combine these two factors to make the world's largest offshore windfarm.

On going against their own parties if they thought it was for the greater good

9:26 [Comment From Rich T]
if needs be, would you be prepared to go against your respetive party lines if you felt it could be for a greater good
9:27 Tamsin Dunwoody - Hi Rich. Yes.
9:28 Edward Timpson - Rich T - I reserve the right to vote against my Party if it was in the best interests of my constituents or my country to do so
9:28 Elizabeth Shenton - Hello Rich. I have always advocated that I will be a strong independent voice for the people of Crewe and Nantwich, fighting for the issues that effect them. But that doesn’t mean I have to be a rebel – there is a world of difference between a rebel and a strong independent voice.

On 42 day detention issue

9:28 Martin Stanford -
and for all the candidates - a question that has come up a lot before today...

How will you vote on 42 days detention?
9:29 Edward Timpson - I will vote against 42 days. The Government has not made the case for this. We have proposed the introduction of intercept evidence into trials and detention post charge.
9:29 Elizabeth Shenton - In answer to how I'd vote on 42 days detention, I'd vote strongly against it. The Liberal Democrats have always been consistent on this. Not a single terrorist prosecution in this country has required someone being questioned for longer than the current 28 days - it's that simple.
9:30 Tamsin Dunwoody - The balance between human rights and national security is an important one. The current proposal is only intended to be used in the case of multiple terrorist incidents and cannot be invoked without parliament and the judiciarys approval. It is also not renewable. However, my concern would always be for the people of Crewe and Nantwichs safety.
9:32 [Comment From Craig]
Tamsin, at 9:30, you didn't actually state whether you would be voting for or against the 42 days detention?
9:34 Tamsin Dunwoody -
I would support it with the five safeguards built into it and that it is not renewable. Parliament has the ability to vote against any rare usage of this and it prevents the country having to be put into a State of Emergency which the Civil Contingencies Act would currently do.

Make of all that what you will! Congratulations to Sky for hosting this. Their online presence really is becoming excellent.