Monday, June 30, 2008

A Total Politics Update

Sarah Mackinlay, the editor of TOTAL POLITICS, and I have just been giggling like a couple of schoolkids. On our way home (she lives in Kent too) we stopped off in W H Smith at Charing Cross to see how many copies of the magazine they had sold. As we approached the shelf someone in front of us picked up a copy and started flicking through it. We dissolved into fits of giggles with me muttering under my breath, "go on, buy it then, you bugger!" Needless to say he didn't. Sarah then proceeded to 'tidy' the shelf and count how many copies were left. Rather pleasingly they had sold half of their copies in the first week.

I keep getting emails from people saying "Smiths in Liverpool Street haven't got it in stock" followed a day later by someone else saying "glad to see such a prominent display in Smiths in Liverpool Street!"

Feedback from the launch issue is generally quite positive, but we have tried to take all constructive criticism on board. I think looking back, fewer but longer articles is the one lesson I would take, together with the need for a leader column. All other feedback gratefully received.

You can now read the whole magazine online as an E-Zine HERE. Also, enjoy the Daily Politico feature, which is a 50 question lighthearted questionnaire answered each day by a different political figure. So far we've had Tom Harris MP, Mark Seddon, Mark Oaten, Robert Halfon, Jonathan Sheppard and tomorrow it's Peter Tatchell's turn. The Blog Directory now contains more than 1350 blogs, with a lot of new additions from overseas. Thanks to all who have submitted new blogs for inclusion. If your own should be listed in a different category, do let me know.

Anyway, Issue 2 is well underway. Hopefully, I secured the cover story today. If it comes off it should be a belter.

So You Want to be an MP?

ConservativeHome has a brilliant post full of advice for people considering a career in Parliament. It's advice which is relevant to people in all parties. Read it HERE.

The Men in Sharp Suits

Much as I think Labour would be mad to get rid of Gordon Brown, it is becoming clearer how it might happen. It won't be the men in grey suits who do for him, it will be the men in sharp suits - the money men. Donations have all but dried up. The Labour Party is on its financial uppers. No one liked backing someone perceived as a loser. At some point soon the Labour Party financial people will have to tell the PM the game is up. A host of minor donors queued up over the weekend to stick the knife in. Remember who in the case of IDS his position frantically weakened when Tory Party donors withdrew their favours? Well the same thing is happening to Gordon Brown now. Stuart Wheeler has been reincarnated as Bill Kenwright.

The sound of the trade unions licking their lips is already much in evidence, witness today's Guardian front page. They will ride to the Labour Party's rescue, but at a price.

The other trigger for Brown's ignominious departure could be the Glasgow East by election. If the SNP won it (and they have won by elections in working class Glasgow seats before) it would surely spark the death throes of a Gordon Brown premiership in the same way that the Eastbourne by election lit the torch paper of Margaret Thatcher's departure in 1990.

Bulldoze the BBC!

Readers of my blog who work at the BBC Wood Lane HQ will be choking over their morning conflakes when they read that English Heritage plans to make TV Centre a listed building. This may well scupper the BBC's plans to sell off the site for £300 million.

The whole building is a fifties monolith. A carbuncle. A tribute to hideousness. Most who work there would cheerfully see it bulldozed. English Heritage have taken leave of their senses.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Who Should David Cameron Promote?

ConservativeHome has an interesting piece on the Big Beasts of the Tory Party not in the Shadow Cabinet. They include IDS, DD, Ken Clarke, Malcolm Rifkind and John Redwood. They speculate about which of these might be included in a Cameron Cabinet. My bet is none of them will.

But this does raise the question of David Cameron's priorities as PM. Does he want a Cabinet of the biggest beasts possible, or does he want to shape a Cabinet in his own fashion, full of fresh talent and young faces? A wise PM will somehow want to mix the two, which is why I hope he does include at least two of the names above.

But just how deep is the talent in the ranks of junior shadow spokespeople outside the Shadow Cabinet? Gordon Brown's problem is that there is a dearth of talent at Minister of State level, so if he holds a Cabinet reshuffle, it would only have any impact if he brought back some of the Blairites who have fallen by the wayside over the years.

Looking through the middle ranks of the Conservative front bench I wondered how many of them could genuinely be described as definite Cabinet material. I've created a poll for you to have your say, in which I ask which five of the current front bench are definite Cabinet material.... My five votes go to Greg Clark, Damian Green, Ed Vaizey, Maria Miller and David Burrowes.

Vote HERE.

Vote in the June 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 June.


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Maidstone Hospital Hasn't Learned Its Lesson

My partner John has just been to Maidstone Hospital to visit his mother. It was Maidstone Hospital, you may remember, where the chief executive was fired over its dreadful record on outbreaks of MRSA.

It seems Maidstone Hosptial still has a lot to learn about cleanliness, especially at weekends. John had to try eight different hand gel dispensers before he found one with any gel in it. People often maintain that it's not a good idea to be in hospital at weekends. I can now see why.

Book Review: Cherie Blair's Autobiography

Cherie Blair is a woman who people have very strong feelings about. She attracts adoration and loathing in equal measure. She was widely seen as something of an embarrassment for some of her antics (supermarket sweep, singing in China etc) and yet there was always a feeling, even among her detractors, that behind the sometimes vulgar veneer, there was a deeply intelligent, talented and determined woman.

Her career in the legal profession is testament to her undoubted talent. Reading her book, one is left with the impression that whatever career path she had chosen she would have reached the top on merit.

I'll be honest and say I wasn't particularly looking forward to reading this book. It was a toss-up as to whether I read this or the Prescott book first. I am glad I made the choice I did.

I hope you are sitting down for this, but I cannot remember the last time I enjoyed a book so much. It is well written, pacy, informal, gossipy, full of wonderful anecdotes and, contrary to what I expected, did actually tell the reader a lot of new information. It is not a book which seeks to skate over some awkward truths. Cherie Blair seems to be a woman who is fully aware of her own weaknesses and penchant for embarrassing moments. She must be as she gleefully recounts them all, sometimes in a little too much detail, but she does it in an engaging and almost endearing manner.

At times she struggles with her almost hard-wired desire to stand by her man (and hang the consequences) and her obvious potential to get to the top of the legal profession. She doesn't exactly resent the sacrifices she has had to make, but she obviously wonders how far she might have got without her notoriety.

Cherie Blair (or Mrs B, as she was known in Number 10) has been attacked for giving us too uch information in the book about her sexual proclivities. Admittedly, I too winced on occasion and wondered if I really needed to know some of the details she outlines. But then it hit home. She has been seeringly open about that part of her life and much more besides. She's given us the detail and left us, the readers, to judge her on it. In a way, she has done what I tend to do on this blog from time to time - give perhaps too much information about my personal life. I do it because I feel it's part of what the blog is all about. She's done it because she has written an autobiography which she intended to be warts and all.

I am well aware that the majority of the readers of this blog will have an instinctively negative reaction to Cherie Blair. Most of you wouldn't dream of buying the book let alone reading it. All I can say is that you are missing a cracking good read. If you need a book to read on the beach, or by the pool on your summer hols, I can't think of one I would recommend more than this.

Oh dear, that's two Labour women whose hearts I have failed to drive a stake through today. Must be going soft in my old age.

Buy the book HERE.

Why I Don't Crow Over Wendy Alexander

So Wendy Alexander is going to fall on her sword and step down as leader of the Scottish Labour Party this morning. She is also, if rumour is true, going to step down as MSP for Paisley North, causing yet another by-election headache for her party. I'm not going to join the cheering throngs.

What we are seeing is yet another politician deciding that political life is just not worth the candle any longer. Yet again the system of registration of campaign donations has brought a political career to an end in an inglorious manner. Surely the whole system needs to be looked at to ensure that essentially honest politicians cannot misunderstand it, or receive wrong advice from officials (as in Alexander's case). If you create an unnecessarily complicated system no one should be surprised if people are tripped up by it. The donations in Wendy Alexander's case were of around £1,000 each and had been declared to one register but not another. There should be one system for declaring donations and interests, not two. If there had been, at least half the cases of so-called mis-declarations would not have happened - and Wendy Alexander would probably still have a political career.

Wendy Alexander was a politician clearly out of her depth as Labour leader in Scotland. But she was not on the take. And for that reason alone, I take no joy in seeing that her career in politics has been brought to a premature end.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Gordon's Black Friday Just Got a Whole Lot Worse

As if Gordon's first anniversary couldn't get any worse, Tartan Hero reports that Gordon Brown will face another by election on Monday when Glasgow East MP David Marshall will resign his seat on the grounds of ill health. The SNP would require a 22% swing to take the seat, but in these days anything is possible. If they did that, I fear it would be the end for GB.

Actually, it gets even worse than that, with ComRes reporting a stonking 21 point lead for the Tories over Labour (46-25). Labour is down five points on last month.

UPDATE: The Telegraph has more.

Was Gordon in the Library?

Quote from Stephen Pound MP on hearing the Henley by-election result, with Labour at 3%, behind the BNP...
"My first reaction [to the Henley by-election] was to head to the library with the glass of whisky and a revolver."

LibDem Reaction to Henley

Two stories on LibDem Voice on the aftermath of Henley are worth linking to from Stephen Tall and then a somewhat defensive Lord Rennard. Draw your own conclusions, but it seems to me that more than a few knives are being sharpened...

The Total Politics Political Blog Directory

Some of you may have already visited the TOTAL POLITICS BLOG DIRECTORY, which now contains more than 1230 blogs. Now that the CMS is working properly I have added about 100 blogs since last week and cut out some dead links. However, there is still a long way to go and I would welcome any suggestions of blogs to add, dead links or recategorisation.

As you will see, the sections on foreign political blogs is gradually expanding. Do let me know of any blogs you regualrly visit from other countries which you think would be worth including.

The design of the page is still not right, but this is being worked on over the weekend. A search box has now been added, and we are now working on putting some Top 20 lists of various categories on too.

Please leave any suggestions in the comments.

Austrian PM Promises EU Referendum

There's an interesting development this morning on the future of the Lisbon Treaty. The Austrian Prime Minister Alfred Gusenbauer has written a letter to an Austrian newspaper, Die Presse, guaranteeing a referendum on any future EU Treaty. They say the Irish decision must be respected. The full letter (auf Deutsch) is HERE. This is the key part...

Auf der Basis einer kontinuierlichen Information und einer offenen Diskussion sind wir der Meinung, dass zukünftige Vertragsänderungen, die die österreichischen Interessen berühren, durch eine Volksabstimmung in Österreich entschieden werden sollen.

Sollte also ein geänderter Reformvertrag neuerlich von Österreich ratifiziert werden müssen, so wollen wir den Koalitionspartner von dieser Vorgangsweise überzeugen. Dies gilt auch für einen möglichen Beitritt der Türkei, der unserer Ansicht nach die derzeitigen Strukturen der EU überfordern würde. Wir wollen an einem Europa arbeiten, das sich an den Bedürfnissen und Wünschen der Menschen auf diesem Kontinent orientiert, und damit das Vertrauen in dieses große Einigungswerk wiederherstellen.

Effectively they are ditching their previous Pro EU line and rowing back as fast as they can. They even say there will be a referendum on the accession of Turkey, which they are against. But most importantly, they say that if there is to be a new, changed version of the Lisbon Treaty, that too will be subject to a referendum.

I wonder if Herr Gusenbauer's Socialist counterpart in Britain might consider offering the British people the same thing? Is that a pig I see on the horizon?

Happy Birthday Mr Brown

John Howell (Cons) 19,796
Stephen Kearney's (Lib Dem) 9,680
Mark Stevenson (Green) 1,321
Timothy Rait (BNP) 1,243
Richard McKenzie (Lab) 1,066
Chris Adams (UKIP) 843

It's difficult to think how much more humiliating this result could be for Labour. Their vote dropped by 11% to a mere 3%. They came fifth and lost their deposit. Only 16% of those who voted Labour in 2005 did so this time. Ok, its Henley, a seat they were never going to do well in, but even so.

Despite the concerns of quite a few Tories, the Tory vote share increased to 57% and despite a lower turnout, the majority was easily into five figures. The threatened LibDem breakthrough never came despite quite a vigorous campaign from them. They will be sorely disappointed not to have done better. Their vote share went up too, but not nearly by as much as they had either hoped or expected.

On top of this, yet another opinion poll shows a huge Tory lead - 18%. In this poll Labour is up 5 to 28% but perhaps of more interest is that the LibDems are down three at 15.

Happy birthday, Gordon!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

How Labour Tried to Smear John Major over Mugabe

An interesting insight into the Labour spin operation. Yesterday, when Labour's three favoured newspapers were being briefed about the Queen stripping Mugabe of his honorary knighthood, the Labour spin team gently dropped into the conversations that John Major (who was Prime Minister at the time of the knighthood) was making an attempt to block the move. The assertion was, of course, completely without foundation and Sir John (as we must learn to call him) issued a furious denial when he was questioned later.

What is it about these Labour spinners that they feel they have to make a party political point - even when it has no substance whatsoever - on an issue which unites all politicians in Britain?

LibDems in Henley: Off the Wall

Oh dear. Remember the story from yesterday (Scroll down)? Whittalls seem to be gradually getting their way...

Mandela: Right Sentiments, Wrong Country

I know Nelson Mandela has the status of a living saint, but I find it gut wrenching how the media has fallen over itself to praise his remarks about Zimbabwe last night. Having, like his successor as South African President, stayed silent and done nothing when he could have intervened, his remarks have to come under heading of 'better late than never'.

All Mandela actually said was that "there has been a traguc failure of political leadership" in Zimbabwe. And that was it. Nothing about torture, violent beatings or murders. Nothing about intimidation at the ballot box or vote rigging.

There has indeed been a tragic failure of political leadership - not just in Zimbabwe, but by Mandela, Mbeki and countless other South African politicians.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

We Should Look to the Germans on Party Membership

It seems Britain is not the only country where party membership figures are plummeting. German party membership has fallen by about 50% since 1990, which is perhaps not such a steep fall as in Britain. Compare the UK figures with those in the graph above (from Der Spiegel).

Conservative 240,000
Labour 190,000
LibDems 75,000*

If you include parties like UKIP, BNP and the Greens I reckon the total membership of political parties in the UK is around 500,000**. This is a million fewer than in Germany. In Britain about 1 in 120 people is likely to be a member of a political party. In Germany the figure is 1 in 59.

Interestingly it is the centre right parties in both countries which have managed to hold onto most of their members, while those on the left have been in sharp decline. Perhaps some of the academics out there could give us some figures for other countries. Is Britain the country with the fewest party members pro rata in the EU? It wouldn't surprise me at all.

Perhaps UK political parties could learn a few lessons from their German counterparts.

* These figures are approximate. If anyone has accurate figures, do let me know.
** Figure updated

Brown Appears in the Tea Rooms

If you see a Labour MP suffering from indigestion this afternoon it's probably because he has just encountered Gordon Brown in the tearoom in the House of Commons. Brown, I am told, hasn't toured the tearooms since he became PM. As Harold Macmillan once said: "It's a sign of desperation to appear in the tearoom". What can have prompted him to break the habit of a lifetime this lunchtime?

Admittedly, he probably came off slightly the better in PMQs this week, but I am not sure that is something he should gloat too much about. The last thing the Conservatives want is for Gordon Brown to be replaced. I suspect David Cameron will not bew firing all his guns at PMQs over the next few weeks.

The Perils of Speaking Your Mind

Sometimes I think it was probably a good thing I never became an MP. The discipline of keeping my gob shut would probably have been too much. Last week Labour Minister Tom Harris got into trouble for speaking his mind when he asked in a very thoughtful blogpost why people were so 'bloody miserable'. Today it is the turn of Shadow Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt (who's recently started a blog). He had the temerity to say what most of us probably think...
Sometimes graffiti - however objectionable and anti-social it is in principle - can be very thought provoking. There's a wonderful slogan daubed on a fence alongside the M40 coming into London that says, 'Why do I do this every day?'

The Sun have headlined this TOP TORY: GRAFFITI IS SO GREAT. Other papers have done him over too. What a pity it is that it is now virtually impossible for a politician to give their true views on something without the nation's media descending on them like a ton of bricks. All they achieve is to put other politicians off saying anything remotely interesting at all.

FWIW I agree with Jeremy. Although I strongly object to most graffiti - sometimes it is highly artistic and often very amusing. However, if it is your building thatr has been sprayed on, i's clear you won't find it amusing. At all.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

ICM Poll: Record Lead for Cameron

An ICM poll for tomorrow's Guardian puts the Conservatives at 45%, twenty points ahead of Labour, six points up on last month. Labour is down to 25%, only five points ahead of the LibDems. Nearly a quarter of respondents gave the Prime Minister only one out of ten for his performance in the job in his first year.

It Shouldn't Happen in a By Election...

Imagine if you were a shop owner and found this poster suddenly appearing above your door...

You'd probably be none too pleased. Sadly for the shop, the Lib Dem deputy Mayor of Thame lives in the flat above. Since the poster has been put up, Whittals have experienced a rather dramatic dop off in trade, hence this rather strongly worded disclaimer on their front door.

By-elections, eh!

Great Conspiracy Theories of Our Time: No 94: DD (Not) for Speaker

Now I really have heard it all. According to Ben Brogan, DD's resignation is because ... wait for it ... he wants to be Speaker of the House of Commons. RAOTFLOL* or whatever the phrase is.

Mind you, not such a bad idea, come to think of it...

*Roll all over the floor laughing out loud.

UPDATE: Diary columnists alert: I have just spoken to DD about the magnificent prospect of his taking over the Speakership. Once he had recovered from several minutes of laughter he declared: "I haven't got the legs for it and I doubt whether I'd look good in tights." Which begs so many questions...

John Simpson's Strange View of Mugabe

What on earth is John Simpson on? Danny Finkelstein diagnoses a case of foot-in-mouth disease HERE. The BBC's World Affairs Editor seems to have taken leave of his senses in his analysis of what is going on in Zimbabwe.

Cherie Is Mopping My Fevered Brow

If I said reading Cherie Blair's autobiography was helping me through my snot-ridden and sneeze-ridden day, would you think I was

a) going mad
b) hallucinating
c) using it to sneeze over
d) enjoying one of the best books I have read in months (see (b))?

Time to Put Pressure on Mbeki

There's a very good op-ed in today's New York Times which castigates South African president Thabo Mbeki for his weakness in the face of Mugabe's bloody reign of tyranny. The author, Peter Godwin, reckons the best way to put pressure on Mbeki is for the international community to threaten to take away the 2010 World Cup from South Africa unless things change in South Africa's attitude to Zimbabwe.
South Africa could use its economic power to draw Mr. Mugabe’s rule to an end in weeks rather than months. Yet Mr. Mbeki has steadfastly refused to act, providing a protective cloak for Mr. Mugabe’s repression. And just a few weeks ago, even as opposition members were being tortured, Mr. Mbeki visited Zimbabwe, allowing himself to be garlanded at the airport and displayed on state-run TV with a broadly grinning Mr. Mugabe. In the United Nations Security Council, where South Africa currently has a seat, Mr. Mbeki has opposed attempts to put the political situation in Zimbabwe on the agenda.

If Mr. Mbeki’s cost-benefit calculus has been such that he hasn’t seen it necessary to take tougher action, perhaps it’s time to change that calculus. Perhaps, for example, now is not the time for you to book a safari to South Africa. Or for you, or any institution that manages your funds, to make new investments in the country.

Most important, there is the FIFA soccer World Cup, for which South Africa is to act as host in 2010. That may seem like a long way off, but South Africa is already investing huge amounts both financially and politically, for what is supposed to be its triumphal coming-out party. Maybe Zimbabwe should become to the South Africa-hosted World Cup what Tibet has been to the Beijing Olympics — the pungent albatross that spoils every press conference and mars every presentation with its insistent odor.
Perhaps it’s time to share the Zimbabweans’ pain, to help persuade Mr. Mbeki to bear down on its source by threatening to grab the world’s soccer ball and take our games elsewhere.

Mbeki even tried to stop the UN discussing Zimbabwe in the last two days. It has a seat on the Security Council at the moment yet seeks to appease an evil dictator at every turn. The one thing Mbeki cares about is the 2010 World Cup. I'm not suggesting a boycott, but the international community has leverage here.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Woe is Me

Apologies for no posting today. I have a streaming cold and feel as though death might be a more preferable option than addressing 300 people at the Total Politics launch party this evening.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Boris and His Absent Backbone

For those of a sensitive disposition, be warned. I am going to pour a bucket of the brown stuff over the Mayor of London. This evening Boris Johnson "let go" one of the most decent, loyal, honest members of staff a politician could ever hope to find. His Chief Political Advisor, James McGrath, has left his job this morning over an alleged remark he is supposed to have made to someone called Marc Wadsworth. Wadsworth details the exchange HERE. His article is headlined


The headline, however, does not match the quote in the article. Note the position of the quotation marks in the title and then contrast those words with those in the article. Read on...
McGrath was far from politically correct, David-Cameron-new- cuddly-Conservative Party, when I pointed out to him a critical comment of Voice columnist Darcus Howe that the election of “Boris Johnson, a right-wing Conservative, might just trigger off a mass exodus of older Caribbean migrants back to our homelands”. He retorted: “Well, let them go if they don’t like it here.” McGrath dismissed influential race commentator Howe as ‘shrill’.

James McGrath is a no-nonsense Aussie. He doesn't beat about the bush, but these remarks could have been made about any group who "don't like it here" - white, black, whatever.

I'm told that McGrath honourably fell on his sword. But I am not sure he was given any choice in the matter. All Boris has done is attempt to appease people who are quite frankly not capable of being appeased. What he should have done is stand by the man who has stood by him through thick and thin over the last eight months. Instead, Boris has hung James McGrath out to dry - apparently either with the connivance of or at the behest of the Party leadership - in the most despicable and and cowardly manner possible.

Boris needs people who are loyal to him in City Hall - there are precious few of them. Too many people have their own agendas. If those loyal to you make an error, you ball them out and move on and then defend them in public. You don't "let them go" at the first whiff of incoming. Livingstone loyalists will be crowing this evening.

Having defended Boris over his 'piccaninny' and 'watermelon' comments I am now wondering why we all bothered. What he has done today is create a rod for his own back. All anyone needs to do in future is for anyone to shout 'racist' for the most spurious reason and the subject of the accusation will be toast.

It may be a good thing that Boris has made a rod for his own back. It can go where his backbone should be.

Boris has just released a statement...

"It is with great regret this evening that I have accepted the resignation of my political adviser, James McGrath. James has been a loyal, committed and highly professional colleague. I will always be grateful to him for his skills, advice and support in helping elect me as Mayor of London. Unfortunately, his remarks in a conversation with an Internet journalist, published this weekend, made it impossible for him to continue in that role. James is not a racist. I know that. He shares my passionate belief that racism is vile, repulsive and has no place in modern Britain. But his response to a silly and hostile suggestion put to him by Marc Wadsworth, allowed doubts to be raised about that commitment. London is blessed with a rich ethnic and cultural diversity. It is one of the main reasons why I regard it as the greatest city on earth, and I am determined, as Mayor, to serve each and every community with equal passion and commitment. James's remark was taken out of context and distorted, but he recognises the need for crystal clarity on a vital issue like this. We both agree that he could not stay on as my political adviser without providing ammunition for those who wish to deliberately misrepresent our clear and unambiguous opposition to any racist tendencies. I wish James well in the future, thank him for his contribution and urge everyone not to misrepresent his view or misinterpret his intentions any further".

As I said, get a backbone, Boris. During the campaign, in an interview with me you said you "reserve the right to continue to make gaffes". What's good for the goose, is clearly not good enough for the gander, eh?

Total Politics Website Goes Live

Just to let you know that the new Total Politics website has just gone live. It's not quite the complete article yet, but we hope you'll find it a useful addition to the world of political websites. It will have most of the content of each issue of the magazine online, in both article format and also as part of an online E-Zine (not yet live). In addition, there are three political resources which will grow in size fairly rapidly...

Political Blog Directory

Political Quotations Database
Political Speeches Database

There are also three new group blogs on political campaigning, public affairs and local government.

We hope you'll also like the Daily Politico feature, in which we ask someone from the political world fifty serious and not so serious questions. Mark Oaten is the first victim. We intend this be RSS'd and available as a daily email shortly.

Please let me have your feedback on the site in general, and also feel free to point out any errors or suggestions for improvement.

And most important of all, you can subscribe online HERE. An annual 12 issue subscription costs £35, 27% off the newstand price of £3.99. The launch issue will be in WH Smith branches in stations and airports, Borders and Waterstone's as well as loads of independent newsagents next week.

And before anyone says anything, this blog is not about to become a PR arm of Total Politics. They are two very separate things. I will only mention something on here related to TP if I think it is truly something most of my readers will be interested in.

Anyway, as you can imagine, the last week has been fairly intense as the first issue was printed. We're delighted with it and hope you will all like it when you see it. It's meant that blogging was a bit intermittent last week. Normal service will now be resumed, I hope!

UPDATE Sunday: The Observer has a feature on Total Politics today.

The German Company with Zimbabwean Blood On Its Hands

A company with direct links to such household names as The Post Office and the Royal Bank of Scotland is propping up Robert Mugabe's despotic rule in Zimbabwe by printing its bank notes. In the past month, these increasingly worthless notes have been used to bribe officials in the public sector, army, and other public-security services to curry votes for the Mugabe regime, and to pay the security forces and thugs who are implementing Mugabe's reign of terror.

In the weeks prior to the first round of the Presidential election in March, with Zimbabwe's economy collapsing and inflation already running at 100,000 per cent, a German company called Giesecke & Devrient (G&D) ran its printing presses at maximum capacity, delivering 432,000 sheets of banknotes to Mugabe's government each week. The money, equivalent to nearly Z$173 trillion (U.S. $32 million), was then dispersed among targeted voters.

Mugabe has also used currency printed by G&D to pay the thugs who squat on some of the few white-owned farms remaining in the country, and who have undertaken the campaign of electoral cleansing that has seen Zimbabwe's election turn into a blood bath.

G&D has directly contributed to a meltdown in the country. According to the Sunday Times earlier this year, the company is receiving more than $750,000 a week from the Mugabe regime "for delivering notes at the astonishing rate of Z$170 trillion a week." Inflation caused by this reckless currency printing has destroyed once-sustainable food markets and stymied business investment, and has contributed to thousands of deaths a week from malnutrition and disease.

It is obvious that many in the international community would just like the issue to disappear. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has taken a rhetorically strong stance against the Mugabe regime, and has supported EU travel and banking sanctions against its cronies. But her government says that G&D's involvement in Zimbabwe is a private matter...

While the U.S. government has placed effective sanctions on the leaders of the regime in Harare, it is still contracting with G&D's American affiliate to provide security-card and banknote services. (The Treasury Department's latest contract with the company is worth $381,200). It appears that there is no official policy or position on G&D.

G&D could bring Mugabe's campaign of terror to a halt overnight, by turning off the currency flow. If G&D does not take action, both the British Government, the British people and the EU must. They should threaten to deny any future contracts to companies providing direct services to the Mugabe regime. It's appalling, as MDC Shadow Justice Minister David Coltart says, "that a German company is profiting out of Zimbabweans' despair," fueling inflation by printing dollars, "which are then used to fund Mugabe's campaign of repression."

I hope that the British companies that are doing business with G & D are doing so in ignorance. If not they are complicit in the genocide that Mugabe is imposing on his people. The main business partners of G&D according to their Annual Report are The Post Office, Halifax Bank of Scotland, Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC, Vodaphone and Group4Security. Perhaps you might like to write to them telling them what you think.

Mid Table Mediocrity In the Pink List

According to the Independent on Sunday's 2008 Pink List, I am the 49th most influential gay person in Britain. That's a bit like West Ham finishing in 10th place in the Premier league! Having compiled several of these Top 100 lists I know how difficult it can be. But if I am honest, am I really more influential than Angela Eagle (57), Rupert Everett (58), Peter Mandelson (64), Alan Cumming (70), Nick Herbert (76), Matthew Parris (78) and Andrew Pierce (80)? I could go on. I would rank all these people more highly than me, not to mention most of the others in the bottom half of the table. Brian Paddick onlyu scrapes in at 101, I ask you! If you extract the political people from the list, this is the Top 15...

1. Nicholas Boles (11)
2. Ben Bradshaw (24)
3. Margot James (27)
4. Greg Barker (29)
5. Sir Simon Milton (30)
6. Peter Tatchell (33)
7. Dan Ritterband (40)
8. Iain Dale (49)
9. Waheed Alli (54)
10. Angela Eagle (57)
11. Darren Johnson (59)
12. Peter Mandelson (64)
13. Nick Herbert (76)
14. Chris Bryant (84)
15. Brian Paddick (101)

There's a part of me that views a Pink List as slightly insulting. No one would ever compile a list of the Top 100 Most Influential Straight People, would they? But I suppose anything that marks you out from the norm is fair game for this sort of thing. They did ring me up and ask if I would allow my name to be included, so I can hardly complain.

Has Gordon Brown Reached a Tipping Point?

It really couldn't get much worse for Gordon Brown. Read THIS poll for the Mail on Sunday. The headline figures are bad enough - Labour on 26% and the Conservatives 23 points ahead on 49%. The LibDems have also collapsed to 14%, down five points on last month. But it is Brown's personal ratings which seem to be at an irrecoverable low. I have constantly maintained that it is possible for Brown to pull things round, but I'm now not so sure and wonder whether he hasn't reached a tipping point. A massive 85% of people (by definition including a majority of Labour voters) believe he has performed worse than they expected, compared to 55% who think David Cameron has performed better than they expected. Only 3% find Gordon Brown 'charismatic' compared to 50% who say the same about David Cameron.
Asked to say if they associated Mr Brown and Mr Cameron with a long list of positive characteristics, the Conservative leader won in every single category. They were ‘change’, ‘strong’, ‘honest’, ‘attractive’, ‘caring’ ‘optimistic’, ‘competent’, ‘patriotic’, ‘charismatic’, ‘intelligent’, ‘judgment’, ‘realistic’, ‘dignified’ and ‘modern’. Nearly one in two said Mr Brown is arrogant, compared to one in four for Mr Cameron. When the same questions were put last autumn, Mr Brown was well ahead.

It is very difficult to see how this constant stream of negatives can be turned into positives.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

There Is No Such Thing As Privacy

On Thursday night I took part in a Moral Maze type panel at the Royal Society of Arts in a session looking at privacy. Claire Fox, Matthew Taylor, Stephen Whittle and I were the judges and we heard submissions from five witnesses including a serial twitterer called Dominic Campbell, Professor Jean Seaton, Dr Tanya Byron, Popbitch's Camilla Wright and Tom Ilube from Garlik. I

t was a spiky debate and I came out genuinely believing that within a few short years any form of privacy will be virtually impossible in this country. Tom Ilube (who used to be CIO for Egg) gave a graphic account of how it is possible to find out anything about anyone if you really want to. He proved it by showing a series of slides about Claire Fox, including a picture of her house. Tanya Byron concentrated on the effect of all this on children and taked about the role of parents in educating their children about the online world.

Increasingly we choose to live our lives online and give out loads of personal information on blogs and social networking sites. But how many of us understand the consequences?

It is not just the well known and celebrities who live their lives in the glare of public scrutiny. Increasingly, you and I do too.

There is now no such thing as privacy. Discuss.

UPDATE: A full report of the RSA event HERE.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Advert WPP Must Hope You Will Never See

Today's FT has a story that I find shocking in the extreme. The Company working to keep Robert Mugabe in power in Zimbabwe is part of Martin Sorrell's WPP Group! At first I thought this must be a smear as the implications are so bad for his business. However, WPP have been forced to admit to the FT that it is true, and that the company behind Mugabe's adverts that have incited the murder of 80 opposition campaigners is indeed part of the Young and Rubicam Group that WPP owns.

In a clear attempt to head of a massive storm, Sorrell says that he will divest his company of their interests in Zimbabwe. This is rather too late for the 80 dead, and thousands who have been tortured by Mugabe's thugs.

Mr Sorrell says that he didn't know that his company was working for Mugabe. This leaves some very interesting questions that he will need to answer today. For a start, I have looked at the WPP Website. It lists the countries where they do business around the world - yet fails to mention Zimbabwe. If they didn't think they were doing anything wrong - why did they hide that they were there? I also see from statements in the Zimbabwe press that the lady who runs the company for Mr Sorrell is called Sharyn Mugabe. Mugabe is not exactly a common name, and yet it didn't seem to raise any alarm bells with WPP.

The most important question now is what will WPP do to put right this terrible wrong. If they genuinely are sorry, they will announce today that every penny they have received from their immoral business is to be donated to help the victims of Mugabe's reign of terror? WPP has blood on its hands - I just wonder how many other international companies have also been making money propping up this immoral regime.

Save the Chipmunk!

Danny Finkelstein has evidence of Labour in meltdown.

Politely talking to one Labour member, while in the presence of a member of the Shadow Cabinet, I asked him gently to what he thought we owed Labour's decline in the polls. Instead of giving an involved explanation he replied:

Oh that's easy to explain. Our Leader is utterly useless. If you asked him which of the two doors from this room he was going to exit from he would be incapable of choosing. And if someone else chose the door for him he wouldn't be able to make his way there.

Yesterday, chatting with one of his colleagues, I learned that Gordon Brown was not the only one to earn contempt:

The one good thing about global warming is that as the waters rise, Hazel Blears will drown first.

How very dare he!

Telegraph Column: Jack Straw is Like Caligula

My Telegraph column today looks at the White Paper on political party funding and in particular the proposal to prevent candidates spending money in advance of an election campaign. Here's an excerpt.
This week, Justice Secretary Jack Straw pledged to commit the biggest act of gerrymandering since Caligula made his horse a senator, yet it received scant attention. Straw wants to prevent prospective Conservative candidates in marginal seats from spending money in advance of an election campaign... Being a candidate in a marginal seat rates second only to being Boris Johnson's diary secretary as the most nightmarish job in politics. It has a potentially enormous long-term reward, but party workers have wild expectations: they demand you buy a house locally, that you generate acres of media coverage, that you spend every waking hour door-knocking and that you single-handedly raise all the money to finance your campaign - or pay for it yourself... Most candidates don't receive a penny from Central Office. If they want to tell the electorate their views or achievements, they have to pay for a leaflet. Even those receiving money through the target seat campaign, which Lord Ashcroft partially funds, have to find at least 90 per cent of the spending themselves...

Labour wishes to silence candidates in advance of an election, but if they are not allowed to spend money, how can they communicate with electors? Many local newspaper editors refuse to cover candidates before an election, partly because they don't wish to upset the MP, with whom they usually want to foster good relations. So without finance to pay for leaflets a candidate is rendered mute.

Incumbents will become ever more powerful. MPs have a "communications allowance" of £10,000 a year to tell the electorate how wonderful they are. Straw's plans would make it impossible for new candidates to compete. This will inhibit political dialogue.

If Jack Straw thinks that donations from one person skew that process, there is a simple remedy. He could take up David Cameron's proposal of capping individual donations at £50,000... He won't. His trade union paymasters won't let him: 92 per cent of Labour's funds are raised from trade unions. A cap of £50,000 on union donations would render the Labour Party virtually bankrupt. Without the good offices of Lord Levy, fund-raising among business has all but dried up. In politics, money follows success.

Read the full article HERE.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Advert Banned by Mugabe

THIS innocuous PPB for the MDC in Zimbabwe has been banned by Mugabe. It's only 33 seconds long but it takes three minutes to download. Do pass on the link.

The Party of the Hard-Working Class?

Tim Montgomerie's article in today's Telegraph suggests that the Conservative Party needs to become the party of the "hard-working" class.

Morality is the most under-used weapon in the armoury of a small-government Conservative. Economy-boosting tax relief doesn't have to be "tax cuts for the rich". The Tories' next moral target should be the taxation of low-income workers. Income tax is taken from many poor families, churned through an expensive bureaucracy and then returned in benefits.

It would cost £44 billion to take approximately 14,000,000 people out of the tax system altogether. The Conservative government doesn't have to set a timetable, but it would be the greatest of missions; as radical and just as Margaret Thatcher's sale of council homes. It would sow panic in Labour's heartlands.

The difference between freezing public spending and growing public spending at the same rate as Labour is £12 billion a year. Conservatives could complete the mission within one parliament if they froze spending - after inflation. They could hit the target within a decade if spending was simply put on a more sensible growth path and some of the savings also used to finance lower corporate taxation. Conservatives would be reducing bureaucracy, rewarding work and freeing millions from the complexity of the means-tested benefits jungle.

Labour's heartlands are already restless. The 10p tax fiasco showed that Brown was willing to put politics before the interests of his party's traditional voters. The Tories shouldn't assume he will continue to shoot himself in the foot. Conservatives should seize the moment and aim to become the party of the hard-working class.

I have a lot of sympathy with much of this, although I question the desirability of taking 14 million people out of the tax system. I certainly think that should happen to the poorest in society, but there is a good argument that says you don't appreciate what you don't pay for.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What's the Problem with Lapdancing Clubs?

You may think I have never been to a lap dancing club. Well, you'd be wrong. It was in 1987 and it was called the Landing Strip, located near Detroit Airport. I was on a stag night. Why this personal confession? Because some busybody government minister is trying to restrict them.

Culture Minister Gerry Sutcliffe wants to reclassify lapdancing clubs to put them on a par with sex shops or porno cinemas. OK, perhaps I may not be the best qualified person to make this comment, but I suspect it is one which will resonate with others, but lap dancing clubs have all the sex appeal of a bath of mushy peas. Most women do not view a performance by the Chippendales as a sexual experience at all. Lap dancing clubs or male strip joints are not, as the Minister alleges, "sexual encounter establishments". They are bars which happen to allow naked people to do a bit of gyrating.

Predictably, womens' rights groups have welcomed the move by Gerry Sutcliffe. They will no doubt welcome the fact that if these establishments were shut down, unemployment would rise by a further 5,000 people.

Donate to DD

You can now donate online via Paypal to the David Davis by election campaign by clicking HERE.

I understand that some people have had difficulty in accessing his site over the last 24 hours. This is because when you put a website live you don't just flick a switch. The DNS has to propagate all round the internet (at least, I think that is the phrase) and this can take up to 24 hours. It should be fully accessible now, so the web geeks tell me.

Guess We Picked the Wrong Week to Increase MPs' Pay

There's never a good time to increase MPs' pay, but in the current circumstances it would seem like a self induced wound to vote yourself a 16 per cent pay hike. But that is what is on offer to MPs on 3 July. They will vote on whether their pay should go up from £61,820 to more than £72,000.

I've said before that I believe MPs are underpaid for the job they do, but to vote yourself such a payrise when many of your constituents are finding life very tough indeed would be a further reinforcement of the negative view the public have of politicians. Both Gordon Brown and David Cameron have made clear that they oppose the suggested rise and foregone their own pay rises. Whether their colleagues will show similar restraint is open to question.

There's an opportunity here for the political party which comes up with a solution to MPs' pay and fights a general election with it included as a manifesto promise. Whatever the details of that solution it must include to pledge that MPs should never again debate or vote on their own pay.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

How to Help Zimbabwe

I'm sure you look at the Zimbabwean election and think, what on earth can be done? Well, it seems now that there IS something we can do. This site is an independent, non-partisan organisation whose sole purpose is to protect the voters of Zimbabwe on and around election day. They will be providing the transport, the food and the cameras that will make it as hard as humanly possible for Mugabe to steal the presidential run-off vote on 27 June.

I'm going to donate and I urge you - if you do nothing else altruistic this year - to give as much as you can to this wonderful cause. Thousands of people are being assaulted and driven from their homes in a dictator's death-throe desperation to cling to power. We MUST take this chance to stop him.

People are literally being murdered to stop them voting. Mugabe cannot be allowed to get away with it again. This is not an election campaign - it is a deliberate policy of Electoral Cleansing - The question is, what will Britain do to stop it?

If you have a blog would you be willing to promote the website on it, or promote it to everyone on your email list?

I reckon that many of the world's media, the UN and so many others are ignoring much what is going on there. There are 150 election observers currently in the country but there are 210 constituencies and thousands of polling places to monitor. The situation deteriorates daily as opposition supporters are threatened and attacked. Latest reports are that over 70 people are now dead, with hundreds missing, thousands injured and tens of thousands dispossessed. Mugabe's thugs must not be allowed to get away with this.

Inflation is 1,000,000%, unemployment is over 85% and food production in what was once the "bread basket of Africa" is almost non-existent. Please donate if you can and pass on to anyone who you think might help.

Also, for a bit of light relief on Zim (if that's possible!), see THIS utter, subversive genius.

UPDATE Wed 9.30am: I'm astonished at some of the comments. I wouldn't have posted this if I didn't KNOW it was a legitimate operation. Please bear in mind that I cannot tell you the names of the people behind this because they are in Zimbabwe at the moment and it might put their lives at risk. One of them is a name known to many readers of this blog. I can't say anymore, I'm afraid until ater the 27th.

DD Website is Now Live

For those who wish to help David Davis's campaign by making a donation or tootling up to Haltemprice & Howden, his campaign website is now live HERE. He will be resigning his seat tomorrow.

Just for the avoidance of doubt, as several journalists and MPs have asked, I am not his media spokesman. I have a magazine to launch! Weve just got the first copies into the office and they look fantastic.

Normal blogging will resume tomorrow.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Our Perfect Day

I promised to post a few pictures from the event at Wadhurst Castle yesterday, so here they are. Several of you have asked why I was in Peterborough today rather than on holiday. Er, the first issue of Total Politics is published next week. Not a good time to go away. That will have to wait until August.

I have to say that yesterday was a perfect day. Everything ran smoothly, everyone turned up and I think everyone who attended had a really good time. The day started at 1.30pm with drinks before the ceremony. One guest had left Norwich at 4am and had turned up at 10.30 just to make sure he was on time! Indeed, many people turned up very early, which was good as it meant there was a chance to speak to everyone properly.

The ceremony was due to start at 2.30 and rather worryingly there was the odd hint of rain in the air. We had decided to do the whole thing outside as it was such a nice day. Very Southfork! We had to actually sign the register inside the Castle, in the room licensed for such occasions. Luckily the rain held off. We had gone to some trouble to ensure the ceremony was as "yuck-free" as possible and asked three friends, Mark Fox, Rena Valeh (some of you may remember her from 18DS) and Alex Rosoman to do three readings. The setting was amazing with stupendous views out over the East Sussex downs.

Gyles Brandreth was one of the guests, and it was he who took the 1994 Marriage Act through Parliament which enabled places like Wadhurst Castle to hold marriage ceremonies. The ceremony itself was more moving that I had perhaps expected. Having never been to a civil partnership before I wasn't quite sure how it would be or how I would react. John is fairly inscrutable, but at one point I did feel I was about to 'lose it' and had to do some deep breathing to get back on track! There was a real sense of occasion about it all. Nadine captures it well...
We began with drinks on the terrace, which is where Iain and John exchanged vows - at which point everyone suddenly went quiet. Not quiet in the normal way - the fact that something special was taking place hung heavily in the air. It was very emotional.
We then seemed to spend an age taking photos of different groups of people - the one I particularly enjoyed was the West Ham fans group photo where we broke into a rendition of "I'm forever blowing bubbles". Classy, eh?

Then there was a picture with all the women wearing what they called 'fascinators'. Fascinating. For some reason, I wanted to call them 'fluffers', until I remembered what Emily Maitlis told me a 'fluffer' was.

Then it was time to sit down for an absolutely wonderful meal, prepared by a fantastic caterer called Amuse. I cannot recommend them highly enough. Because it was a Sunday we decided people wouldn't want to leave late, so instead of evening entertainment we had a six course meal!

Each course was interspersed with a reading or speech. Keith Simpson was Master of Ceremonies, my neice Issy read a poem my sister Tracey had composed for John and myself that morning...

We try to make our mark in this life
Scratch our names in the sand
Then watch, unprepared, as the real world

Washes up and fills the grooves

Where our dreams had been

If you find a love in this life

Where acceptance and truth

Are not fleeting or fickle

Then watch the waves break

Don't run from the shore

My other sister, Sheena, then proposed a toast to absent friends and paid a short tribute to my Godmother, who died last year, and John's brother Roger who was killed in a road accident in Thailand in 1994. There wasn't a dry eye in the house. Tracey then made the speech of the day, which even seasoned speechmakers like Gyles Brandreth and Christine Hamilton said was the best speech they had heard this year. Naturally I was the butt of most of her jokes. She also pointed out that it was thanks to Tony Blair we were there at all (She's a LibDem). I clapped. Here's an extract from Tracey's speech

It surely has to be a sign of advancing years when sentimentality for one’s own brother replaces the need to crack a bloody good joke about toilets and vicars in a fabulous Kenneth Williams accent! I mean I am talking about a man who has single-handedly kept my daughter’s school PTA raffle superbly stocked over the years with gifts I have passed on of such unbelievable bad taste they are almost kitsch collectors’ items! I am talking about a man...yes a grown man...who still wells up when he remembers Amy Turtle leaving Crossroads and Bennie’s unrequited love for Miss Diane. A man who who adores ‘Steps’ and ‘ABBA’ and for whom surely the song ‘Dancing Queen’ was written. Well on second thoughts the words – Disco Dancer, Rhythm, and Co-ordination – do not apply to my brother! Iain is so obsessed with this beloved pop-group that he became hugely upset when, having asked people to vote for their top 10 ABBA songs (I know...who would do that? ...and why?), their choices did not match his own. That reminds me of his mania for lists when we were growing up. He would categorise his impressively eclectic collection of 45’s so fastidiously it was bordering on an O.C.D.! He would continually be asking me and my sister Sheena infuriating questions during car journeys to Frinton like “Name your top 5 favourite TV programmes” or “Rank these in ascending order of educational value: Pogles Wood, Hector’s House, Trumpton or Hammy Hamster’s Tales From the Riverbank” and “Would you rather star on the Galloping Gourmet, Opportunity Knocks or Dallas?”. His hankering for TV fame began at a very early age!!

And surely Iain must be the only person ever to manage to get a dog run over whilst walking him on a lead! Ah Gio, Iain and John’s little barrel of a dog, fondly named after Iain’s favourite aftershave Aqua de Gio, or more commonly known in the Dale/Simmons household as Gio’s Piss. If Gio were a child, he would almost certainly be in a reform school for delinquents by now, but I guess his thieving and gluttonous behaviour can really only be blamed on the parents! And John...looking so dapper today (no hint of the used car salesman about him at all)...but I have to say I have my suspicions about his links with the dark side – his nocturnal habits and absolute fear of rising before noon surely point to something a little sinister (more garlic anyone..?). In fact I believe I am right in saying that he realised the life of a sales rep for a drugs company was not for him when his boss found him asleep, mid-morning, on the job.

Now after that massive digression, let’s get back to the wallowing in sentiment predicament I alluded to earlier... My brother is that he has grabbed the time he has been given so far, ignited it, turning the flicker into the brightest of flames. And a flame will keep burning safely if it has some protection around it and that is what John has provided for the last 13 years. Iain has pursued his dreams like a tenacious terrier, realised most of them, but not got overly depressed when the reality is maybe not living up to expectations. He moves on and is sanguine about the experience.

John has had to cope with a terrible tragedy. He has done this with a quiet, commendable dignity. And I, for one, am proud to now be able to call him my Brother-in-Law. (Not so sure how he feels about officially becoming part of the Dale Family...very scary business!). I am a hopeless internet-phobe, but finally, this weekend I actually looked at Iain’s website and his blog diary for the first time. I was suitably impressed and actually, though it pains me to say it, I was staggered when I read his biography page and was reminded of all that he has done. It is also simply quite amazing to see his picture, taken by David Bailey, in GQ Magazine alongside the great and the good. I was even tempted to post a comment on his blog along with the hundreds of other well-wishers...I particularly liked the comments about the Labour Government making this event possible...however I don’t want to make any new nerdy friends or start a bun fight today when we’re all behaving so well.

John and Iain have forged a partnership that works brilliantly on many different levels – they balance out each other: John with his impeccable taste, Iain with his...well...let’s just say individual taste. Iain with his fiery nature, John with his placid and calm temperament. Iain’s impulsiveness and John’s reticence to make hasty decisions. Iain’ s love of the limelight and fame (he was recently on two BBC channels simultaneously, I mean when is he not on the television or radio), John happier in the background. Iain with his work ethic, John with his “I’d rather be polishing my balls” ethic - oh you are a filthy audience...I’m referring to his glass collection of course! In fact John has spent years trying to educate Iain in all things Art Nouveau, but without success: Iain still thinks that Lalique is a French vegetable!

But joking aside, their partnership is one based on trust and companionship. One that has endured much already, not least the prejudice of people who should spend time judging their own lives before passing judgement on others. Jane and Garry, my Mum and Dad, and Enid and Roland, John’s parents would want me to say, I’m sure, how proud they are of their sons and all they have achieved in their lives so far. Ultimately, though, happiness, surely is what every parent wants for their offspring. And I too hope that Iain and John have many more happy years ahead of them together. Please join me in raising your glasses to love, to happiness, to Iain and John.

Donal Blaney relates the funniest moment...

In an innuendo-laden series of speeches, Iain's sister, Tracey (who delivered a truly Herculean speech for someone genuinely unaccustomed to public speaking) caused the greatest mirth of the day. She made some obtuse reference to masturbation - only for the throng to dissolve into giggles when an eight-year-old child asked, a little too loudly, "what's masturbation, Daddy?". Priceless.
Keith Simpson followed at the end of the meal with a host of hilarious imagined telegrams from guests who couldn't attend. And then it was my turn. My rhetoric certainly didn't match that of my sister. Here's an excerpt...
John and I have been blessed with many gifts in our lives, but the gift of loving parents is one that we will always cherish. So few children get to adulthood nowadays without some degree of family upheaval. We both can honestly say that we had more or less perfect childhoods – loving parents, a nice home, brought up in nice areas – in my case in an idyllic village in Essex – yes there are idyllic parts of Essex – and John a few miles away in Tunbridge Wells...

We could not have hoped for a better start in life. So what went wrong afterwards I hear you ask! But seriously, we know how lucky we have been – On behalf of John and myself I want to say a big public thank you for supporting us both in whatever we have done in our lives, and whatever we have become. I know we have both done our best to make you proud of us. I also know that at times we have both let you down. But even then you have been there for us and guided us. We both love you all very much, even if we might not say – or even show it - often enough...

Now, seeing as John really is unaccustomed to public speaking I can safely talk about him in the full knowledge that he won’t stand up and get his own back. John and I met way back in the summer of 1995. It was Princess Diana who brought John and I together. I mean, how gay is that? John was far more interested in the fact that I owned Princess Diana’s car than he was the fact that he was meeting the future ex Tory candidate for North Norfolk. Can’t think why...

I think our relationship is a perfect exemplification of the hackneyed old cliché of opposites attract. I love my football, John precedes every mention of the word football with the prefix ‘bloody’. I love my politics whereas John views it as a bit like tiddlywinks, a game played predominantly by little boys. He is incredibly tolerant of my never ceasing phone conversations with political friends, but less tolerant of my good friend David Davis. David’s timing is sometimes not all it might be. On Friday night I overheard John on the phone saying to my mother: “All I know is it’s bloody typical of David Davis to pick this weekend to do it...”

You may not believe this given what many of you know of my temperament and occasional volcanic temper, but in thirteen years we have never had a row. I have to admit we did come close to it over the seating plan here, but John did eventually agree to sit next to me... Let me finish by saying two things – first of all a quote from Robert Sexton…
In a time when nothing is more certain than change, the commitment of two people to one another has become difficult and rare. Yet, by its scarcity, the beauty and value of this exchange have only been enhanced.
We all live in uncertain worlds, none more so that the kind of life we lead. So to find someone who has felt able to stick with me for thirteen years, has made me feel very lucky indeed. John, today we have committed the rest of our lives to each other. I’m sure there will be some turbulent times ahead, but today, to misquote Winston Churchill, I feel I have won first prize in the lottery of life.
And that was it. A remarkable day, spent with family and friends, enjoying a spectacular setting and wonderful food. Neither of us could have asked for more. I apologise for the length of this post, but so many people have been so kind in their good wishes that I wanted to share our day with you.

David Davis and Gay Rights

I wasn't going to post anything until tomorrow, but I am so angry at an attempt by the Gay rights group Stonewall (aided by their puppet, little Ben Bradshaw) to paint David Davis as some sort of anti-gay bigot, that I feel I have to respond. Stonewall are sending round an email slagging off David to various of the well known people who have publicly supported his stand on 42 days in an attempt to try to paint him in an unflattering light.**

As you all know by now, yesterday I entered into a civil partnership. We invited a number of friends and family to attend, one of whom was David Davis. It would have been totally understandable if David had pulled out as he has rather a lot of things on his mind at the moment. But not a bit of it. He rang me at mid-day to say he was on his way but he was worried he would be late and didn't want to arrive in the middle of ceremony and upstage it.

David also played a part in the proceedings, and I have been told by several people that he was seen to 'well up' a bit during the ceremony. Having spent the last few days broadcasting to the nation that David "doesn't do emotion" one can only assume he had a bit of grit in his eye!

I could give you countless examples of proof of David's support over the years for gay people, starting from when he was at school where he protected a gay pupil from the local bully to helping Michael Brown when he had troubles with the News of the World. He also proposed my application to get on the candidates list in 2003 and appointed me his chief of staff.

Stonewall reckon he has an anti-gay voting record. They are judging individual votes without looking at the context. He and I have had disagreements about some of these votes, but they do not make him anti-gay. He hasn't got an anti-gay bone in his body, and if he had, I wouldn't have supported him for the leadership.

Ben Bradshaw slags David off for voting against civil partnerships (I am not able to check this out at the moment) but I am as certain as I can be that having attended two civil partnerships (one more than me!) and been so obviously moved at mine yesterday, that if he had to vote on it again, he might vote in a different way.

**UPDATE: Stonewall have been in touch to say an email was sent out to one prominent person who requested information on DD's voting record on this, but as far as they are aware, not to others. However, I am aware of several other high profile people who have received emails along these lines too, albeit not directly from Stonewall. It is clear that there is some sort of briefing operation going on here, as I doubt Ben Bradshaw's letter to The Guardian was done off his own bat.

UPDATE:Two other things related to this have just come to mind. When Ashley Crossley was in trouble in Falmouth and Camborne after a bitterly homophobic campaign, David not went down to support him, he then appointed him to a Head of Research post on his leadership campaign.

Perhaps more tellingly, David appointed Alan Duncan to speak for the Conservatives on the Civil Partnerships Bill in 2004 thereby giving it his seal of approval. His recollection is that he was away the evening of the vote though.

Thank You

Thank you to all those who have left such kind comments on the blog over the last couple of days and to those who have emailed me privately. John and I really appreciate your good wishes. We had a fantastic day yesterday and I'll post a few pics of the occasion later this evening. At the moment I am at Warners Printers in Peterborough watching the first issue of TOTAL POLITICS coming off the presses. Three of my colleagues are with me and we all agree it is as if we are collectively having a baby! We're abosolutely thrilled with how it looks.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Civil Partnership = No Blogging

Blogging will be light to non existent over the weekend. I hope you think my reason is a worthy one.

On Sunday, I am getting "civil partnered" to my partner of thirteen years, John Simmons. Even though it's not exactly on the Colleen McLoughlin-Wayne Rooney scale there's quite a bit of preparation to do.

I'll be back on Monday or Tuesday.

PS Where has that damned helicopter got to? Portofino awaits...

Kelvin MacKenzie Gaffe: "Hull is an Absolute Shocker"

After doing a recording at the BBC this morning, Kelvin MacKenzie told a BBC producer, off camera but unaware he was being recorded:

"Have you ever been to Hull? It's a shocker, an absolute shocker."
I'm told the BBC are going through some editorial policy hoops before deciding if they can broadcast it.

What a great way to get votes - insult the people of the area you wish to represent. Kelvin's got a lot to learn.

UPDATE: A commenter has just seen the report broadcast on the BBC News Channel.

Carlile or Carlisle: The Sun Can't Tell the Difference

The Sun carries a whinging article today by LibDem Peer Lord Carlile slagging off David Davis today. The Sun can't even put the right picture on the article. Instead they have a picture of former Tory Education Secretary Mark Carlisle - who died in 2005. Great work by Britain's "super soaraway Sun".

And then on page 15 we are treated to this wonderful piece of prose...
Gordon Brown yesterday broke off from the oil crisis and 42-day detention row to speak on Britain's most hotly debated issue - should Lee McQueen have really won the Apprentice? He took a pause from international politics to share his thoughts on the show...

Er, no he didn't. He was asked a question by the Sun's political editor at his monthly press conference.

BREAKING NEWS: No Campaign Wins in Ireland

I understand all the indications are that the No Campaign has won the referendum vote in Ireland over the Lisbon Treaty. Now let's what the EU head honchos do to worm their way out of this one and tell us that the Irish didn't really mean it.

UPDATE 10.44: A source from inside the count confirms that both the Yes and No campaigns are saying the No campaign have won. Middle class areas are voting 50-50 and working class areas are 70% for a No vote.

Get the champagne on ice.

Westminster Village v The Real World

One thing in particular has struck me over the last 15 hours or so - the vast gulf between the Westminster village bubble and the real world. While political pundits and politicians have spent the time searching for weird motives behind DD's decision, the rest of the country has given a different verdict. Let's ignore the reaction on political blogs for the moment (even though it has been far more positive than from the mainstream media commentators) and look at what's been said by BBC Viewers on the Have Your Say website, or the Telegraph website, or the Mail, or the Guardian, or the Independent. Reaction on most of those sites is running 80-20 in favour of David Davis. Why? Because they see someone standing up for what he believes - a refreshing change from what they see as the political norm.

This by election could mark a watershed in British politics. It could be the first by election in living memory run outside the wet blanket of party politics. I hope all the fundraising will be done on the internet, with a maximum campaign contribution of £100 - contrast that approach with Kelvin MacKenzie's campaign which will be funded by Rupert Murdoch. A by election campaign like this doesn't need to cost huge amounts of money.

From the reaction here and from the number of emails I have had asking how people (often not Conservatives) can contribute to David's campaign I know he won't have any difficulty in raising what is needed.

So perhaps the media pundits who are perplexed this morning might like to get out of Westminster for a change and talk to some real people. But I am not holding my breath.

Thank God for Kelvin MacKenzie

Well thank God Kelvin MacKenzie has the courage of Gordon Brown's convictions. After Labour has wimped out of fielding a candidate against David Davis, MacKenzie has confirmed that he will stand in the Haltemprice & Howden by election. It will now be a real fight and is guaranteed to capture the imagination of the media. When I was doing interviews yesterday the only question I had to worm my way out of deflect was what David would do, or how would he look, if he had no opponent. That question has been well and truly answered now.

LibDems 4 Davis

Jonathan Isaby writes on Three Line Whip that LibDem MPs have been told that they will not be allowed to campaign for David Davis. How very strange that I should receive an email yesterday evening from a LibDem MP offering to do just that.

And to all of you who have emailed asking how you can help David's by election campaign, the honest answer is that I have absolutely no idea. I'm sure things will become clearer over the next few days.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Double Portion on the BBC Tonight

I hope you will all have your video recorders available tonight. I will be on DINNER WITH PORTILLO on BBC 4 at 10.20, immediately following MARGARET THATCHER: THE LONG WALK TO FINCHLEY. It's a thirty minute discussion on the previous programme and Margaret Thatcher's reputation. Also around the dinner table are Shirley Williams, William Rees Mogg, Mary Riddell, Lionel Shriver and John Campbell.

But if that's doesn't take your fancy, I'll also be on Newsnight talking about guess what...


David Davis's Walk Into the Unknown

So, now that the dust has settled, what are to make of it all? The news media is in meltdown mode as they struggle to come to terms with the enormity of what David Davis has done. Instant conclusions are naturally being drawn, but many of them are very detached from reality.

I should perhaps make clear that I did not know about this decision until this morning. I am glad I didn't for several reasons. I still haven't spoken to him so what I am about to write is my take on the situation and my take only.

During my six months working for DD in 2005 Tony Blair's 90 day detention proposals I saw first hand how passionately he feels about this issue. It's not a matter of political conviction, it's almost as if it is in his DNA. He genuinely thinks that extending pre charge detention to 42 days will make the country less safe. It will give the terrorists a propaganda victory.

Up until the weekend he believed the 42 day proposal would be defeated. He hadn't reckoned on the duplicity of the DUP or the fact that so many Labour MPs would be bought off by offers of goodies for their constituency or the chairmanship of this or that committee.

Labour is spinning away that David's decision is a kind of emotional reaction to the loss. They could not be more wrong. David Davis doesn't make emotional decisions. He makes them with a military precision. He won't have done this on the spur of the moment, he will have thought about it deeply and played some war game scenarios. In the end he will have come to the conclusion that the only way to defeat the 42 day agenda is to start a massive public debate. And that's what a by election will do.

This isn't about one man's vanity. It is about the ability to sacrifice personal and public advantage for a greater cause. As he said in his statement, Sunday is the anniversary of Magna Carta. Over the last 800 years people have fought and died to protect our civil liberties. If it falls to one man to sacrifice political advantage to try to make a stand against their further erosion, then so be it.

David would have been Home Secretary in the next Conservative government. He has consistently been the party's best media performer over the last two years. He has played a major part in the revival of Conservative fortunes, and while many people have tried to drive wedges between him and David Cameron they have failed to manage it. Quite obviously, they come from a different background and have certain different priorities - so do any two politicians. But during the leadership contest they grew to respect one another greatly and a good working relationship was established. For David to sacrifice his political future in this way, effectively to be a single issue campaigner, says a lot about his moral compass.

I don't pretend that David Cameron will be pleased at today's turn of events. He would obviously have wanted to keep David on board. But he is where he is. We are where we are. How's that for being profound!? He's made an excellent appointment in Dominic Grieve, someone who regular readers know I believe should have been in the Shadow Cabinet ages ago.

The LibDems are to be commended for deciding not to stand in the by election. Labour is showing all the signs of following suit. If they do, they will be treating the issue (and voters) with contempt. The 42 day issue can now be debated fully during the by election campaign. Sure, there are 69% of people opposed to David's stance, but they oppose it with their hearts not their heads. Most of us can have sympathy with banging terrorists up for as long as it takes, but when you think about the actual consequences of doing so without charge, you slowly begin to think with your head, not your heart.

I see that well know by election Labour campaigner, Stephen McCabe MP, thinks that David is "treating Parliament and the voters with contempt". They really don't get it, do they? They don't get the fact that our there, voters are crying out for politicians who take moral stands and stand up for what they believe in, even if it is temporarily unpopular. They are fed up with politicians who are on the take, or can be corralled into a voting lobby by a government whip offering them sweeties for their pet cause. Ann Widdecombe made a courageous stand when she made her something of the night speech. She did so in the full knowledge that it could be the ruination of her political career. She did what she thought was right. And that's what David Davis is doing.

So what now? I have been inundated with emails from people offering David help for the by election, and also money. Facebook groups have already been formed in his support.

As many of you will have seen, I have been on various media outlets during the afternoon giving my views. It's been like flying blind to be honest. Dangerous but fun!

More later...