Saturday, July 31, 2010

Attending the Jacqui Smith Charm School

The Mail on Sunday have a front page story about Jacqui Smith applying to be Deputy Chair of the BBC Trust. I cannot understand why she has applied. The chairman, Sir Michael Lyons, is a former Labour councillor so there's no way you could have two Labour people in those positions. And in any case, Jeremy Hunt intends to abolish the Trust.

When asked about her application, Jacqui Smith replied...

"How did you know I had applied. Fuck off."


The Price of Slitting Ian Huntley's Throat

Compensation to the families of Holly & Jessica: £11,000

Amount claimed by Ian Huntley in compensation for injuries in prison: £100,000

British justice? Priceless.

If Ian Huntley succeeds in his claim for £100,000 as compensation for the fact that someone slit his throat in prison, we shall know for a fact that our criminal justice system has reached its nadir. He accuses the Prison Service of failing in its duty of care towards him. Hmmmm. I wonder if he thought about his duty of care towards Holly & Jessica when they were in his house. Perhaps their parents should sue him for compensation.

I suspect many people would award a medal to the man who slit Huntley's throat. Did prison officers turn a blind eye? Perhaps. If so, who would blame them? You'd have thought Huntley would be grateful. After all, he has twice tried to top himself. All the throat slitter was doing was trying to finish what Huntley himself had started but failed. Harsh, but true.

The law should be changed to ensure that the Huntleys of this world cannot bring such cases to court and cost the taxpayer thousands.

Parish Notice: Mobile Accessibility Update

A few days ago I added a new facility to enable mobile phone users to access this site more simply. Most of you have welcomed this. However, apparently it also affects iPads. I did add code so any mobile user would automatically connect to the new version, but after several requests I have removed it.

If you want to go back to the new version on mobile phones simply use the following link and then add that to your mobile bookmarks.


Don't Try This At Home

On Tuesday, I interviewed Matthew Parris. He lives in a riverside flat in Limehouse, so we sat outside on the balcony and chatted away for an hour and a half. As we sat down and I switched on my tape recorder he looked over to the other side of the river and said "Tomorrow night I'm going to swim across the Thames." I looked at him incredulously. "You're mad, I said." "People die doing that." "No, it'll be fine, I've worked it out. At 3am, there won't be any tide." "I really think you ought to think about that again," I urged. "No, it'll be fine. There will be someone here holding a flashlight so I can see where to swim to." I shook my head. "I'm afraid it doesn't work like that. You'll end up half way round the Isle of Dogs."

I emailed Matthew on Thursday to ask how it had gone. "Read my column on Saturday," he replied. Well at least he wasn't dead and I didn't have to torture myself with the thought that had I been more vehement in my warnings he might not have gone through with it!

His column today describes the experience. Now The Times is behind the paywall I am not sure how much of it I am allowed to quote, but here's a taster...

In a couple of weeks I shall turn 61. London has been hot. Online tide tables said that there would be high tides, midweek, in the small hours. My partner (fiercely opposed) was away.

“Come on,” I thought. “Do it.” I told Jonathan, an LSE student who’s working for me. “I’ll come too,” he said. High tide, 03.35 on Thursday morning. Tom would be there on balcony duty. Supper, a few hours’ sleep, then . . .

Astonishing, how fearful I then became. How had I got myself into this? Why hadn’t I kept my mouth shut? Now I understood the subliminal reason I’d never done it before. All that thinking about it and boasting about it had scared me. At midnight, as I lay my head on the pillow, at first sleep would not come.

It’s being woken in the dark that’s worst. I donned trunks and an old singlet to swim in, and some discardable flip-flops. We stood on the balcony. The river was very black. We called a minicab just after 3am to take us under the nearby Rotherhithe Tunnel to the other side. We crept down the Globe Stairs wordlessly, so as not to alert any flat-dwellers, and undressed. Each wondered if he’d be going ahead if it wasn’t for the other...

...The water was choppy but not too cold, and I could feel no current. We swam silently, breaststroke, surprised at the ease. Except that across the water, perspectives were altering unaccountably. Then I saw trees moving behind the buildings on the other side. Why? When I turned to look for Globe Stairs behind us, they were far over to our right. We were being carried upstream. Fast. The tide was still coming in. Fast.

We were breathless, and getting cold. We could see the stilts of a riverside boardwalk some way away, near the Prospect of Whitby pub in Wapping... We pulled our way round to a little creek, plunged across and climbed a high iron ladder on to a road. We had been in the water for perhaps half an hour.

It's a great article about a very daring deed. I've done a few stuid things in my time, but none of them matches that!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Sunday Times Political Editor Resigns

The Evening Standard Diary reports that Jonathan Oliver has handed in his notice as political editor of the Sunday Times and is following George Pascoe-Watson into the world of corporate PR. This is one of the most challenging and most coveted jobs in political journalism - challenging because you're expected to come up with a front page splash every week, and coveted because of its high profile and guaranteed access to those in power.

The Sunday Times will want to recruit weekly to ensure that a new person is in place in time for the party conference season. I'm hesitant to blight anyone's chances, but Isabel Oakshott, Oliver's deputy, ought to be in with a good shout. Other contenders could include Francis Elliott and Sam Coates from The Times, Tim Shipman, Deputy Pol Ed at the Mail (but a former Telegraph Sunday journalist) and Nick Watt, who enjoyed a very successful spell as the Observer's temporary Pol Ed when Gaby Hinsliff was on maternity leave.

There, I've ruined enough people's chances, so I'll stop there.

How Will History Judge John Prescott?

I didn't see all John Prescott's evidence to the Iraq Inquiry, but what I did see made me think that what he said would be of more interest to future historians of the Blair government than the Inquiry itself. He gave some withering insights into the way that government conducted its business. At times I wondered if he realised quite what he was saying. He seemed almost detached from the decision to go to war, almost as if he felt that he ought to leave it to his intellectual superiors - which was very unlike him.

I suspect history is going too be kinder to Prescott than his contemporaries have been. I must say, reading Alastair Campbell's diaries makes me seem him in a slightly different light. I shall be interested to see how Lord Mandelson evaluates him.

IDS: Rip It Up & Start Again

On Wednesday night on my LBC Show I did an hour long phone in on the revelation that last year the NAO said that more than £3.1 billion of the welfare budget was wasted due to fraudulent claims and overpayments. That's 0.5% of entire government spending! So I asked the question of LBC listeners: Is it time to rip up the welfare system and start again?

I wonder if Iain Duncan Smith was listening!

Reading reports of the leaked welfare white paper you could be forgiven for thinking so.

All out-of-work benefits and tax credits could be scrapped and replaced with a single payment as part of a "radical" shake-up of the welfare system. The idea is one of three options being considered by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith to make work pay.

He says the current system is "on the verge of breakdown". Labour have said the start-up costs of a new system could be as much as £7bn. Mr Duncan Smith has refused to be drawn on the cost, but argues that billions could be saved each year in bureaucracy and fraud with a much simpler system.

Since coming to office, Mr Duncan Smith has vowed to tackle what he says is a "culture of worklessness" and "entrenched" welfare dependency and poverty in parts of the country.

Full story HERE. It's certainly radical and will be fought tooth and nail by Labour and vested interests, but it's right that we have a debate. It's not about thinking the unthinkable, it's doing the doable. And IDS seems determined to go for real change.

Only 2 Days Left to Vote! Total Politics 2010 Blog Poll: Vote For Your Top Ten Favourite Blogs


Click here to vote in the Total Politics Best Blogs Poll 2010

It's that time of year again, when Total Politics asks you to vote for your Top 10 favourite blogs. This is the fifth year of the poll. The votes will be compiled and included in the forthcoming book, the Total Politics Guide to Blogging 2010-11, which will be published in September. For the second year running, the poll is being promoted/sponsored by LabourList and LibDemVoice as well as this blog, and that of our publisher, Iain Dale.

The rules are simple.

1. You must vote for your ten favourite blogs and ranks them from 1 (your favourite) to 10 (your tenth favourite).
2. Your votes must be ranked from 1 to 10. Any votes which do not have rankings will not be counted.
3. You MUST include at least FIVE blogs in your list, but please list ten if you can. If you include fewer than five, your vote will not count.
4. Email your vote to
5. Only vote once.
6. Only blogs based in the UK, run by UK residents or based on UK politics are eligible. No blog will be excluded from voting.
7. Anonymous votes left in the comments will not count. You must give a name
8. All votes must be received by midnight on 31 July 2010. Any votes received after that date will not count.

If you have your own blog, please do encourage your readers to take part. Last year, more than 90 blogs did so. We hope this year it will be far more than that. BUT, DO NOT list on your blog ten blogs you think your readers should vote for. Any duplicate voting of this nature will be disallowed. Here's the code to add to your blog sidebar or blogpost to feature the graphic above with an automatic clickthru to the instruction page...

There are many ways of measuring a blog's popularity. Wikio and Technorati have complicated logarithms which measure the importance of incoming links and traffic. Google Analytics does it by measuring how many people visit. But the TP poll gives blog readers the opportunity to vote for the ones they like and visit most often. It's not scientific. It's impossible to achieve 100% balance and no one pretends it's perfect.

The results of the poll will be published in the forthcoming book the TOTAL POLITICS GUIDE TO POLITICAL BLOGGING IN THE UK 2010-11 which will be published in mid September in association with APCO Worldwide.

So, go to it. Email your Top Ten Favourite Blogs to

If you have any queries about any aspect of this year's blog poll or book, please email

Thursday, July 29, 2010

I Want You to Humiliate Me

I've just read a post I wrote in April 2008, three months after I was diagnosed with diabetes. At the time I was really proud of myself for having changed my diet and lost a lot of weight.

Today I got the results of my six monthly blood tests and this time I feel ashamed of myself. I suppose I knew before I walked into the clinic what the nurse was going to tell me.

Willpower is a very odd thing. I know I can change my diet and lose weight, but it is so easy to relapse and think that the odd treat won't do much harm. Well this morning I was told in no uncertain terms that a treat is something you have once a week, not every day!

I know I've got to change my ways and what the consequences are if I don't.

So if you ever see me eating or drinking something you know I shouldn't, you have my full permission to remove the Mars Bar from my gob, or tip that Orange Fanta down the sink. Make me feel ashamed. Make me feel humiliated. It's the only option!

A Win for UKIP - Shame on the Electoral Commission

It's not often I reprint a UKIP press release, but there's a first time for everything.

The Supreme Court today ruled in favour of UKIP over a case of party donations.

Between December 2004 and February 2006, Alan Bown, a retired businessman had donated a total of £349,216 to the party. During that time, due to an oversight Mr Bown was not on the UK electoral register which, under the law suggested that he was not a British resident. This was obviously not the case.

UKIP had argued that the forfeit should amount to £14,481 donated after the party became aware of the oversight, as did the initial Court ruling. The Electoral Commission believed that the whole sum should be forfeit.

In a 4-3 judgement the Supreme Court found that the spirit of the law counted more than the letter.

Speaking after the judgement Alan Bown said,

"I am pleased and relieved that this is all over. I feel no animosity towards the Electoral Commission, we understand they have a job to do. I always had confidence that British Justice would play fair. Now I have evidence that this is the case. Now intend to launch a UKIP membership drive, through a concerted leafleting campaign".

Lord Pearson, the UKIP leader said,

"We are delighted with the result. We can now concentrate on our job... working towards Britain leaving the European Union".

The Judgement

The Supreme Court Press Summary

Alan Bown says he bears no ill will towards the Electoral Commission. He may not do, but this case raises some serious questions about their operations and how they reach their judgements. It will be interesting to see what they say in response to this judgement.

Just by way of background, Mr Bown donated a six figure some to UKIP. It was then found that his local authority had left him off the electoral register, despite the fact he had been on it in previous years. Technically, therefore the donation wasn't legal.

I have previosuly written about this case HERE and HERE.

Is Six Weeks Really the Right Sentence?

Twenty three year old Gavin Reid was today jailed for six weeks after pleading not guilty to throwing an egg at Sayeeda Warsi.

With the usual caveat of admitting I was not in court to hear the proceedings, on the face of it, this is exactly the kind of short prison sentence which shouldn't happen. It uses up another prison place for a comparatively harmless crime, when surely there could have been other ways of punishing Mr Reid. For all I know he may have 'previous' but if not he may well emerge from prison in six weeks (or even three) as a hardened criminal or with a drug habit.

Surely there are alternatives to a six week jail sentence in cases like this?

UPDATE: The original version of this post had the sentence at six months. Apologies for the error. The fact that the sentence is six weeks actually makes the wider point of this post even more relevant.

The Death of the ASBO?

I think Theresa May is second only to Eric Pickles in hitting the ground running. I can't say I agree with all the myriad of initiatives that have emerged from the Home Office, but the level of activity displayed by her and her team is impressive.

Yesterday she signalled the death knell for ASBOs by announcing a review into their operation and effectiveness. The fact that more than half of those who get an ASBO have then gone on to serve custodial sentences should tell us all we need to know. However, her speech was disappointing in one sense in that it seemed to say, well, they haven't worked, national government can't really do anything, it's for local communities to decide what measures are best for them. I can see the logic, but in practical terms whatever a local community or police force do together is inevitably going to cost money which won't be forthcoming.

I suppose it's the logical extension of a localism agenda, to devolve decisions on what to do about anti social behaviour to a local level, but there are resource consequences which have to be recognised.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Milibands Into The Sunset?

Last night I did a 10 minute interview with David Miliband on LBC. He was in good form and we had a good joust about the leadership contest. He admitted it hadn't been the "rumble in the jungle" some in the media had hoped for.

At the end I asked him this: "I warn you now, this is the most difficult question you will be asked this week. If Nick Clegg and David Cameron are Brokeback Mountain, which film are you and your brother, Ed?"

He roared with laughter. I suggested 'Last Man Standing' which he thought was "very cruel". He then said "Let's hope it's not Two Brothers Into the Sunset".

Incidentally, we had a cracking programme last night, with interviews with Kitty Ussher, Philip Blond, Nigel Farage and David Miliband. Perhaps the highlight was the medical hour when a GP comes into the studio to dispense medical advice to listeners. The first caller related his problem with anal fissures. You've got to admire someone who's willing to go on the radio to talk about that. We also had a guy who kept fainting in his sleep. My first though was: how would he know?

I'm back on LBC at 7.15 until 10pm this evening!

UPDATE: I love this comment from a reader called Fat Councillor...

I think I am going to have to listen tonight. What other program offers David Miliband and anal fissures in the same programme?

The Undiplomatic David Cameron

Having now read David Cameron's speech in Turkey yesterday, all I can say is the Foreign Office will be well pleased. It is the most anti Israeli speech ever made by a British Prime Minister and the most pro Arab. The fact that Cameron called Gaza a "prison camp" will have sent shock waves through the Israeli government, but it will have delighted the FCO Arabists (and they virtually all are). It was clearly drafted by the most pro Arab civil servant in the Foreign Office. The only pity was that David Cameron went along with it. Margaret Thatcher would have passed it to Charles Powell for a dramatic rewrite.

This was, in many ways, a very undiplomatic speech. As well as annoying the Israelis, Germany and France will be furious that Cameron implicitly had a go at them for blocking Turkish entry to the EU. He said it made him "angry" and that he will now be Turkey's voice in the negotiations. You can understand his reasons (closer economic ties, bridge between East and West, a bridge to Islam etc) but they are not particularly watertight. There's little doubt that if Turkey got full membership there would be a huge migration West and I totally understand Germany's fears in particular.

I rather like politicians who engage in undiplomatic language and this isn't the first time Cameron has gone down that path. But I prefer it when he does it on issues where I can agree with him!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Daley (Half Dozen): Tuesday

1. Blue Idea on the Coalition's first mistake.
2. Liberal Bureaucracy says at least Old Labour had some principles.
3. Though Cowards Flinch explains why Ed Balls should be leader.
4. England Expects gets a straight answer from David Davis. That's without an e.
5. Bagehot analyses David Cameron's Turkey speech.
6. Hopi Sen makes the case against Ed Miliband.

The Mugs of Greenpeace

I will resist the temptation to call the Greenpeace activists who have closed down BP petrol stations today the same thing that I called the Parliament Square squatters, but believe me I am tempted.

They clearly haven't done their research. BP petrol stations have very little to do with BP in that they are franchised out to independent small business people, many of whom can ill afford to lose a day's takings.

So well done Greenpeace. You haven't actually laid a finger on BP. What you have done is affect the profitablity of individuals who can least afford it.


Parish Notice: Mobile Accessibility

I've had a number of compalints from iPhone users that this blog is almost impossible to read on them. I have just signed up with ProHost and made the blog much more mobile friendly.

I have added code to the template so that if you use a mobile, it will automatically default to the new mobile format. It certainly works on my Blackberry, but I need to know that it works on iPhones and other variables.

It's going to cost me money to provide this service, so I need to know from those of you who read this blog on your mobiles if you want this. I have 14 days to decide whether to continue or not.

The domain is if you don't get taken there automatically.

The one drawback is that I don't think you can read or make comments using the feature.

Questions for Matthew Parris

This afternoon I shall be interviewing former Tory MP and Times columnist Matthew Parris for my next IN CONVERSATION interview for Total Politics magazine.

If you have ideas for questions you'd like me to ask him, please leave them in the comments.

The Afterglow of the Olympics

No matter your opinion on bidding and winning the Olympics, or the cost to taxpayers, the real concern is what we'll be left with once the party leaves town. It is certainly a great start to see the coalition delivering on its pledge to get competition back in and between schools via the Schools Olympics. The mind-boggling work at Stratford, meanwhile, is on budget and on time (at the moment). But then so was the Dome.

Buildings will help East London’s regeneration, but will not deliver 2012’s promised inspiration for society in general. That can only be achieved by engaging people throughout the UK and NI in something more than just buying a ticket, contributing time as a volunteer or just watching from the sofa, McDonalds in one hand, Coca-Cola in the other.

Britain promised to use these Games as a magical means of engaging communities through sport. Doing so would, after all, complete a circle that started in the community games of Much Wenlock, providing a certain M. De Coubertin with his own inspiration.

This public policy area, mass participation sports legacy, was rightly flagged up in opposition by both coalition parties as one where Labour's approach of targets and micro-management failed miserably. Labour's broken policies created a situation where, five years after winning the bid, more people in Britain are sedentary than ever before. The Times last week trailed an apparent and laudable end to the arbitrary targets.

Hugh Robertson, meanwhile, has already proved adept in implementing the common sense principle of value for money. Gone is the wasteful subsidy for across-the-board Free Swimming for certain age groups, regardless of the ability to pay.

What is to be the new approach? When cutting Free Swimming, the Minister said he would provide the answer by the end of July. And is Sport England, a quango with an established record of misspending and failure even fit to deliver? To make the challenge harder still, despite mitigation from an increased share of the lottery, as per the coalition agreement, grassroots sports funding will still have to be reined in.

There is some scope for optimism, however. The area seems ripe for the application of Big Society principles. The delivery of local sports is already a perfect exemple: clubs are usually social enterprises, run by volunteers to serve their communities, delivering health and social benefits for all at relatively low cost. Sport may yet inspire a better way for us to live. And the Olympic Games may yet prove to be the platform by which that lesson becomes evident.

And just as an afterthought it seems that things are coming together so that the Olympic Stadium will have a proper use after the Olympics. Negotiations between the Olympic authorities and West Ham United are now progressing apace and hopefully a deal will be done which is acceptable to all parties.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Daley (Half) Dozen: Monday

1. Mark Wallace exposes a train conductor. So to speak.
2. Tory Radio on why an MP's job description has little appeal.
3. Mark Reckons reviews So You Want to be a Politician.
4. Caroline Hunt on the CF election. She's supporting the Gerry Adams candidate.
5. Michael Crick brings the happy news that Gerry Adams may lose his parliamentary allowances.
6. LibDem Voice launches its blog of the year awards.

How to Spend Your Weekday Evenings For the Next Month!

Tonight I start a month long stint on LBC, presenting the weeknight programme from 7.15 to 10pm, sitting in for Petrie Hosken. I won't be banging on about the programme on the blog, except to say now that if you want to have a listen you'd be very welcome. You don't have to live in London to listen to LBC - it's available throughout most of the country on DAB or you can livestream via the website. You can also listen via channel 0124 on Sky or 973 on Virgin.

The programme is predominantly a three hour phone in, discussing issues of the day.

The number to call is 0845 60 60 973. You can text 84850 or email or tweet @iaindale.

The BrokeBack Club Should Be Strangled at Birth

It is reported that some recalcitrant Tory MPs are thinking of setting up a dining club called the Brokeback Club, with the aim of being a thorn in the side of the coalition. John Redwood has told them to think again. He's right.

I had thought people who are elected to Parliament might leave student politics behind them. They need to grow up.

All they are doing is playing into the media narrative that the coalition is already beset by split. The Tim Farron and David Davis incidents last week added more grist to their mill.

Of course there are differences between coalition parties. Otherwise the two parties would become one. So far any differences have been ironed out very quickly, and the fact that interpersonal relationships are good says a lot about the goodwill between the party leaderships. I actually think that goodwill is reflected in the vast majority of both parliamentary parties and their memberships. But MPs with a slightly more sceptical view must realise that anything they say which indicates dissatisfaction with the coalition will be exaggerated and often misreported if they are not careful.

Why Don't We Have a Trade Minister Yet?

It's great to see David Cameron leading such a massive trade mission to India this week. He will be accompanied by a team of business people, and Vince Cable and David Willetts.

But wouldn't it also be a good idea for the Trade Minister to go along too? The pity is that more than two months into the coalition government, we still don't have one. I find that incredible. Apparently several leading business figures have been approached and have all turned down the job.

It's time the position was filled, and filled quickly.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Podcast: The 7 Days Show Episode 33

The latest edition of the Seven Days Show is now online.

The Seven Days Show is back with a vengeance following my return from his holiday.

In the show this week (episode 33) we spoke about whether comedy classes are a good idea in prison; what the primary aim of prison actually is; whether tough choices have to be made in all areas from prisons to the NHS; why David Davis made his Brokeback mountain comment; whether a merger between the Tories and Lib Dems is likely; whether the Palace was right to rescind Nick Griffin's invite; whether we should be more ambitious in cutting the number of MPs, and if the MP for the Isle of Wight can represent over 100,000 constituents why can’t everyone; and finally whether Ed Balls should pull out of the leadership race.

To listen to the podcast click HERE, or you can also subscribe to the show in the Tory Radio section in the podcast area of Itunes.

Ending the War on the Motorist

The Sunday Times splash is that the government is to abolish all speed cameras. Hurrah, I thought. However, the story is, needless to say, a little more complex than that. It's not actually up to the government to do that. It's not within their power. What they can do is withdraw all funding from local authority 'speed partnerships'. It's an easy saving to make and a thoroughly justified one.

Introduced in 1992, there are about 6,000 speed cameras across Britain, generating an estimated £100m in fines each year. Oxfordshire’s raised more than £1m in 2009.

The government says it is “delivering on its pledge to end the war on the motorist”, but a prominent road safety campaigner said that the effects could be disastrous.

A 40% reduction in central government money for road safety has led Oxfordshire council officials to recommend a cut of £600,000 in funding to the Thames Valley Safer Roads Partnership.

The body, which operates the county’s fixed speed cameras, says it will no longer be able to afford them.

All will be switched off if, as expected, a meeting of the county council on Tuesday ratifies the cut in funding.

The camera networks in Devon and Cornwall, Somerset and Northamptonshire are also under review after the government’s decision to claw back £38m from English local authorities’ 2010-11 road safety budget of £95m, and to remove funding for new speed cameras.

The money raised in fines goes directly into Treasury coffers despite complaints by local authorities that they should be able to retain the proceeds for spending on road safety.

Mike Penning, the road safety minister, said: “In the coalition agreement the government made clear it would end central funding for fixed speed cameras.

“This is another example of this government delivering on its pledge to end the war on the motorist.

“Although I recognise that the reduction of the road safety grant means that difficult choices must be made, I would hope that councils will use the funds available to put in place new measures to tackle road safety problems.”

He had previously told local authorities that although evidence showed speed cameras were an “effective way of helping manage safety risks” in some places, there was overreliance on them.

Don't get me wrong, I am not against all speed cameras, but they have now profilerated out of control. We're told that they are only erected on accident blackspots. That is a patent lie. They are often located where revenue can be maximised.

I have nine points on my licence. Each of the three tickets was because I was driving over the limit in the early hours of the morning. A danger to no one - not a pedestrian or car in sight. I was doing 6, 8 and 13 mph over the limit. Yes, I broke the law, so yes I was quite entitled to be fined. One of the cameras (in Brixton) was probably justified in its placement. The other two (on a dual carriageway) were not. They were all got within a few months of each other. I now have two years of sweating over getting another one which would mean I would lose my automatically licence. All for straying lightly over the limit at 2am or 3am. That's not justice.

Last year Swindon removed all its speed cameras and according to reports accidents have not increased.

Last year, as a result of the ticket in Brixton, I went on a speed awareness course. (see HERE). They teach you all about the difference between driving at 30mph and 40mph if you hit a pedestrian. It had quite an impact on me and the other participants on the course.

It is actually far more dangerous to drive at 40 in a 30 limit than 80 in a 70 limit. For that reason I'd be quite happy to see cameras slowing people down in urban areas, but I see no reason to maintain the proliferation of cameras on faster roads.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

DD's Brokeback Moment

Clearly the silly season is upon us. When a jokey reference by David Davis to a group of former Tate & Lyle colleagues at the Boot & Flogger pub [you really couldn't make it up] to Clegg & Cameron as something akin to the two leading characters in Brokeback Mountain makes the front page of the FT, you know it's a light news day. It's hardly original, either. Several days ago I saw a TV montage showing Clegg and Cameron in a 'love story' type setting. My only comment would be that it is quite refreshing to have people making comments about the two people at the top of government getting on, rather than ranting at each other all the time, which is what Blair and Brown did. I can't imagine Cameron or Clegg taking umbrage at being likened to two handsome actors in one of the most successful films of all time. I'm surprised no one has photoshopped the movie poster yet... [Update: Pic courtesy of Lakelander]

David Davis also raised the possibility of a coupon election. Again, not news. This has been the subject of much discussion in Westminster for several weeks, as most of the journalists who leapt on these remarks today will know. The very fact that it is being discussed illustrates how happy many Conservatives are with the progress of the coalition. If they weren't there would be uproar at the mere suggestion.

Of course, David Davis has made clear his unhappiness with various coalition policies before - 55%, AV, Afghanistan, CGT etc. But those misgivings were all about policy rather than personality or process. It is quite revealing that the personality/process aspect of this gets higher billing that than his views on policy.

This is a Westminster Bubble story although I quite understand why it has hit the headlines. If I was the FT journalist, of course I'd have written it too. When a former political adversary makes any apparently negative comments about their former sparring partner, the reporting will be exaggerated beyond all reason in a bid to whip up a political storm. If David Davis didn't understand that before, he certainly will this morning!

Lesson from this story for budding politicians? Don't hold court in front of friends in a pub near a newspaper's head office. Book a private room!

UPDATE: Sunder Katwala writes a very interesting piece on this story HERE. His best line is this...

A Boot and Flogger Parliamentary Club would be an ideal name for a guerrilla "Real/Continuity 1922" backbench force.


UPDATE: A reader emails to remind me that it was Richard Littlejohn who first coined the Brokeback analogy back in May.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Daley (Half) Dozen: Friday

1. Capitalists@Work is enjoying the confusion about the GDP figures.
2. Max Atkinson Listens With Mandy.
3. Jonathan Sheppard disagrees with me n prisoner rehab.
4. Skipper thinks the LibDems are on a suicide mission.
5. Party Lines reports on Jackie Doyle-Price MPs' week.
6. The Staggers reports on Alex Hilton's libel victory.

How To Lose An Election In Two Easy Words

I tend to steer clear of youth politics, but I can't let this one go without mentioning it. At last night's ConservativeFuture hustings, the three candidates were asked...

Which politician from Northern Ireland do you admire most? Unfortunately, one of the candidates, Ben Howlett, uttered the words "Gerry" and "Adams".

One suspects his chances of winning the chairmanship of CF have not improved.

Full story from Tory Bear HERE.

The Eric Pickles Interview

This is an extract from my Total Politics interview with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles. As you will read, there are some typical 'Eric moments' and also one or two quite newsworthy ones too. Enjoy.

ID: You hit the ground running when you first got here. How long is it now? Six, seven weeks?

EP: Something like that, yeah. These are precious times. If you don't set things out now, it's just not going to happen. There's got to be a combination of stopping things - and there are some pretty obvious things that need to be stopped - but also you need to set in trend the things you're announcing. I've got a whole raft of announcements, right the way through virtually until Christmas Day. I've done nothing that hasn't been part of the plan of what I wanted to fit in.

Even my unfortunate remarks about the uselessness of chief executives have all been part of the process of trying to get authorities to move together and recognise that they needed to do something, other than an alternative source of power to the leader of council. I discovered a new word, which is my new favourite word on that, which is German. I hope I'm pronouncing this right: doppelsplit, like doppelgang, meaning to be competing. The idea that a chief executive in a small district has any real prospect in the modern world of surviving without merging with neighbouring authorities in terms of administration or being involved with other organisations is well over.

Where you given any hints that this was the job you'd be given after the election?

No, I read you tipped me for it, so I thought it was a done deal.

Unfortunately David Cameron didn't follow all my other recommendations.

Well, he can't look like your puppet, can he?

What happened when you walked through the door to No 10 after being given the job?

It was a nice moment. Andrew Griffiths, who's now the MP for Burton and Uttoxeter and my former chief of staff, came to sit with me, which I thought was quite sweet - waiting for the call or the non-call. We walked across to No 10 and it was like having my mum take me to the school gates. I'd not been to No 10 for 13 years and it had changed a bit so I couldn't work out how to get in at all. A very nice camera crew from Channel 4 showed me how to get in. I went in and got appointed. I worked with David closely for a year and a bit. I'd seen him walk out to the Palace and all of that kind of thing. It was quite emotional really in its own way. I'd seen various folks and asked, what happens now? "Someone will ring you."

I went to have some lunch and sat there waiting and the telephone rings. "It's Nick outside. Is that the secretary of state, Eric Pickles?" I thought, yes it is!

He said: "I'll meet you outside. The department would very much like to meet you." I thought, well that's very nice. I said: "It's at the end of Victoria Street. I'll wander down." He said: "Don't worry, we'll send a car for you. I'll meet you outside in ten minutes." I went outside into New Palace Yard, but I couldn't see anybody. So I thought, what if he meant St Stephen's? I went and had a look there and I couldn't see anything. By now I'd forgotten his name, so I had to ring Central Office, to ring his department and it turned out he was waiting for me in Downing Street. He comes round. I sit in the cab and off we go.

I arrive at this North Korean moment. The entire building is out there, right up into the atriums, politely applauding me. You can see them saying: "Is it the fat guy? Is it the fat guy that's been appointed?" I made a little speech saying I normally only get applauded when I go round Tesco in my constituency. Then I came up here and just started.

After that the various ministers arrived, we divvied up what we were going to do and tried to work out a protocol in terms of the coalition. It was massively important that nobody could ever play games inside here, playing both ends against the middle. We have a meeting at 8.30am on a Tuesday for 45 minutes then a political meeting for 15 minutes with my Liberal colleagues, which sets out the rhythm of the week. Andrew [Stunell, Lib Dem CLG parliamentary under-secretary] has just been saying that we have been keeping them informed.

It must be odd though sitting down at a political meeting with a Liberal Democrat there?

Funnily enough, the way in which I think Oliver [Letwin], George [Osborne] and William [Hague] did the negotiations was unusual. The way these things usually work is almost on issue by issue. But, by and large, they had spent some time on the four big issues. They'd put together a position paper and they'd worked out areas of dissent well in advance. So we're actually working on agreed policy more than we probably would've done had it just been us.

Do you find that because you've got a political opponent there, that actually policy is tested more than it might have been otherwise?

The last thing you want, the last thing you need, the last thing that would screw everybody up, is if you marched folk up the hill and somebody "coughs" and you have to march down again. I would lose authority, this place would lose authority and suddenly it would be absolute anarchy. It would be like it was under Labour, where you have competing ministers fighting each other for authority within this building. This building was the Balkans until I arrived. I don't say this with any disrespect for John Denham or to John Healey but they were two competing positions in the way that [Caroline] Flint and Hazel [Blears] were. Ruth [Kelly] never really had much authority anyway. I needed to be absolutely certain that when I said something, it was never going to be contradicted.

Effectively you've come in to be a "change agent" in management speak. Parts of the civil service are there to resist big change. Probably in this department, you've got to institute some of the biggest changes of all.

Yeah, you are acutely aware that you are saying to people, who spent most of their professional life building it up into a particular model: "Thank you very much for doing that. But I'm afraid it's got to be different and we don't want to do that."

I want to put this politely, but occasionally you do things that surprise them. For example when we got rid of the Comprehensive Area Assessment (CAA), we were just talking about it. They said: "You want to replace it with what?" Nothing. "Yes, okay. But what things do we want local authorities to be judged on? What's the regime?" Nothing. "So just to be clear secretary of state, when you say nothing, what do you mean?" Nothing. I mean nothing, absolutely nothing. It's pointless. It doesn't do anything. It doesn't get a bin emptied. No sure, of course we are going to inspect children's services but it's going to be in terms of life threatening right through to personal liberty. Those kinds of things are going to be dealt with. But some of the stuff was pointless. You just became quite good at filling the tick boxes. Nothing actually happened.

I've always thought "community" was an intrinsic left-wing word when used by government. Are you tempted to rename the department?

I'm not going to change the letterhead. I suppose I feel a little bit like Scrooge and Marley. Community is going to stay on. I do think it's about neighbourliness. I want to make neighbourhoods, long term, the residue of finance in local government, and short term, the residue of service delivery. You're not going to find anything restyled here. I don't know if they've cleaned the settees since John [Denham] left but he always looked to me like a pretty neat sort of guy. I can't imagine it was ever needed. The paintings... I've put my Che Guevara portrait up there.

I've noticed that. What is the point of that?

Che is there to remind me that if we let the system take over before we stop in any way, then the cigar-chomping Commies take over again. The cigar-chomping Commies are not going to take over on my watch.

There are a fair few of them in this department.

Bless their hearts. I don't mind what they do in their private lives. There is a default mechanism that exists and its intention which is big state, this is how we're going to do it. We've had quiet tussles. I've tried to do a number of things. Basically, I'm not mad keen on reports longer than two pages because after that most things are just word processing. I do think it helps to refine the argument and to try to get the argument out. We've done a number of things: going for shorter reports - I try to reply to letters on one side of A4, again because you just need to. We now have a terrific record of replying to MPs. You will find the odd one will sometimes drift on for about three or four weeks, but that's mostly because we don't like the draft. For most MPs, we get a turnaround well within a fortnight, which is quicker than most departments do.

Localism is a buzzword that everybody seems to subscribe to nowadays. You have, in the first few weeks of your tenure, made some decisions which people have criticised because you're issuing edicts to local authorities...

I've exalted. I've urged. We've asked them to do the transparency and, by and large, they've responded to that. But localism doesn't mean you go along and do what you like and never hear anything from me. I'm an opinionated so and so. Yes, folks have not been terribly happy with the things I've said about chief executives and pay. But it needed to be said. Have I introduced a pay scale for chief executives? No, that's none of my business. But that doesn't mean to say I don't have an opinion. Authorities need to know if they're talking about a lack of resources and they're a little district and paying £180k for their chief executive, or if they're a county with a chief exec on over £200k, I am not going to take them seriously. There's been a rush of increases in members' allowances. I'm not going to introduce a national scale. I'm not going to cap them. But I have to say to them, I don't take it terribly seriously at all. Don't tell me that some independent people agreed to this. You are the politicians. You've got to see the political climate is such where you've got set an example. You've got to be reducing what you do. You're going to be asking your staff to take a pay freeze. How can you look them in the eye when you've taken an increase?

What about local government structures? Labour wanted to have this regional agenda and elected mayors. Have you got any plans in that direction?

We want to see this in our larger cities. But, by and large, I'm not very interested in a restructure. Every single mistake people make is usually tied up with restructuring. I can't afford for local authorities to take two years out while someone decides who the new chief executive is, where they're going to have their headquarters, what does their paper look like, going back to the rebranding and all that kind of thing. I'm much more interested in the formal power structures. Now, I think it makes a lot of sense at a managerial level to merge functions at lower tier authorities.

Are you at all attracted by the idea of saving money by stopping annual elections in councils?

I've been thinking about that a lot. By and large, my stance is that people came to a decision when authorities were created. I am attracted to the idea of an all-out election because you can actually have real change created there. But it is something that might get wound up in the constitutional reform that the coalition is considering. But I don't think it's a bad idea.

The cabinet system in local authorities is very unpopular with a lot of people. If local authorities wanted to change that and go back to the committee system, what would your reaction be?

Fine. We will be putting something into the Local Government Bill to let them do that. I don't care how things are organised. They can have it on the basis of a committee system, on a cabinet basis, on the mayoral system. If they want to introduce it on a choral system with various members of the council singing sea shanties, I don't mind, providing it's accountable, transparent and open. That's all I need to know.

With regard to local government finance, successive governments have really ducked out of revaluations. Any views on entering that bear pit?

We are going to have a review of local government finance. We're not really ruling anything in or out. But, I have to say, revaluation in many ways is a red herring. What is immensely important in revaluation is keeping the property value between the north and south on roughly the same kilter. They are almost exactly what they were when they were first introduced. We certainly won't be getting in a spotter plane and saying: "I see No 27 has got themselves one more gnome than they are entitled to." We're not going to do any of that.

Have you made use of the relaxation room yet?

Harriet [Harman's] green monument to tranquility. I haven't. I just don't think I've got the karma to be there. I haven't even sat on those lovely couches. What are they called? Contemplation suites. It's funny, I was looking around the office on my first day. I saw these and asked how much they cost. Two grand a pop!

What's the most shocking thing you've discovered?

We've stopped a lot of things. There were all kinds of things that we were going to do in terms of meeting staff, costing hundreds of thousands of pounds when I could just walk around the office instead to meet them. Press cuttings were costing ten grand a month. My papers are the only papers now because I think I'm the only person that reads them. They come up and they're covered in ketchup and God knows what. There are other things but I really don't think I can go into that kind of detail here because we're in the process...

What do you think Lord Ashcroft is going to say about you in his book, which he is apparently writing?

I've got enormous respect for the good Lord. Bless his heart. I don't think I'd be sat here without him. But the guy is caustic and jolly and, whatever he has to say, I'm sure I'll enjoy it. We would not be here without him. I know he's very controversial. But ultimately we're here because of what he did.

Did you enjoy the election campaign?

Yes, I did. The ups and downs I did enjoy.

Do you think it was a problem though that there wasn't one person in charge. There wasn't a Lynton Crosby figure?

I thought George [Osborne] was very focused throughout the whole campaign. He knew exactly what he wanted to do, exactly the mountain we had to climb and he played a pretty good hand. He was the guy that was in charge. Right from the beginning people were saying: "Oh it's going to be dreadful with Ashcroft doing this and George doing that." But I always took the view that my role was to get the best out of them, to try to smooth any channels of communications, to be someone they could come to. I have to say it was a pleasure working with them all.

What was the worst moment of the campaign?

There is not a chance I'll answer that.

You clearly just thought of something.

I'm not going to lie, there were moments.

Are you happy with your public image? And what do you think it is?

Sort of fat, kind of... I think because of the job I did, being the party chairman, you cannot have a view other than the leader's view. You cannot see things in shades of grey. Labour is wrong, the Lib Dems are wrong, we are right. I've always been more consensual than my image has been - a kind of hard man that pushes things through. But that's largely because of the jobs I've had to do. I just had that thing on Radio 4, a profile, which I thought was pretty accurate. I don't think I know what my image is. Sometimes you see things on Twitter and you think, these people have no comprehension of what I'm actually like. But I don't care.

After Crewe and Nantwich, you supposedly got a lot of flack from people around Cameron. They were saying you had become too big for your boots. How did that affect you?

I didn't mind it. There might have been some truth in it. I don't think you could ever point to a single interview I did at Crewe and Nantwich where I didn't talk about the team and I didn't praise Stephen Gilbert [campaign director] and I didn't praise the people around us. I think I've consistently done that. You can never entirely predict how things... because I know who was responsible for the victory in Crewe and Nantwich, me or Stephen? Stephen by a mile. But I was working very closely with him. He asked me to take the weight of the press off and he asked me to be the campaign spokesman. Some people may have been unhappy that I did that very well but there was never any intention to be anything other than part of that team.

Doesn't it slightly irritate you when you see yourself written up as David Cameron's bit of Northern rough?

I see myself as a diamond geezer.

Was Question Time the worst experience of your political life?

No not by a mile, not by a country mile.

It's one of those occasions where you could see the shovel, but you couldn't quite resist picking it up.

We rehearsed what I was going to say as well, that was the worst thing. I was as out of touch as other MPs. I was so irritated by it, I didn't actually tell the audience that I stopped claiming some time ago before the controversy arrived. I was just as out of touch as anybody. I've still got the disc and if I do something really well I always make sure to play it late at night just to remind myself. I can virtually recite it. We had rehearsed it. It wasn't that I was caught unaware. But I was unaware in the sense that I was as unaware as most MPs. My claims were tiny but that didn't matter.

Do you think it's possible to make real friends in politics?

Yeah, you've got to understand that nothing is forever. If you sit at a table and plan out your career, a bit like telling God your plans, it's not going to work. Life is not a rehearsal for something else that's coming. I've seen too many people just eaten up by unfulfilled ambition that then destroyed their political career, their family life, without leaving any trace of a human being you'd like to have a drink or a chat with. So yes, it is possible to have people you can actually trust.

Tell me something that few people know about you.

I really like opera.

What would Mrs Pickles like to change about her man?

My weight, I'm sure.

One thing you wish you had known at 16?

That you aren't always going to be 16.

The worst gift you've ever given someone?
I was once given a musical farting Santa by my staff.

To read the full interview click HERE.

The Problem Facing Labour

I have just got arund to reading last week's Spectator. In it, Patrick Wintour has an insightful column on the problems facing Labour during its highly uninspiring leadership contest. I was particularly struck by this passage...

...This is Labour’s problem when opposing the cuts now. Their own policy, on which they fought an election, was to halve the deficit over four years. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies demonstrated, this would mean public spending cuts, for each department, in the region of 20 per cent. Nonetheless, Labour tried to fight an election on the investment vs cuts narrative. With no credibility on the deficit, it is hardly surprising their campaign was a disaster (as Mandelson freely admits in his book).

Now Labour’s leadership candidates find that the debate has moved on. The coalition government has persuaded the public that cuts are inevitable, that Labour was profligate and had turned public spending into a false idol. The Lib-Con government is thereby absolved of all responsibility for these cuts. So when the axe starts to fall in the autumn, with the 25 per cent cuts that the Chancellor warned about in the Budget, Labour will have difficulty complaining given that their own plan was for cuts of a similar magnitude.

Some of the leadership candidates believe they can argue that Labour’s cuts would have been more compassionate, in contrast to the ideologically driven and unfair cuts being planned by the government. Some candidates are striking out to the left. Ed Balls, for a few weeks now, has been saying he regarded the Brown–Darling deficit reduction plan as too aggressive. This frees him to oppose government cuts now.

Another leadership candidate (with a better chance of winning) is, I understand, developing a similar stance on the public finances. To the all-important question — where to find that clear, red water — he proposes a simple solution. First, he would declare that the public finances are better than Labour had thought when it drew up its own deficit reduction programme. So, it can be argued, Labour’s cuts would not have been so harsh as it had previously imagine. Next, propose higher taxes, thereby reducing the need for further cuts.

But whoever is elected Labour leader on 25 September will face a substantial logistical problem. By then, there will be just four weeks remaining until George Osborne announces his spending review. It is a tight deadline on which to forge an economic policy, especially if the new leader has to wait until the results of the shadow Cabinet elections to find out who the shadow chancellor will be.

Labour's leadership contest has been very uninspiring. None of the candidates has even tried to think the unthinkable or launch a real 'change' manifesto. It's 'same old same old' from all of the main four contenders. Most of them still act as if there in government and as if the deficit hardly exists, and if it does, it's not their fault.

Compare this with the Tory leadership contest in 2005. That contest captured the imagination and lots of new ideas were batted around. It showed a party wanting to learn from its past and move on to a new future. The 'change' message was one which the party responded to, even though it knew it could be an uncomfortable journey. Ed Miliband is possibly realising this at last and adopting the same message as the Cameron campaign in 2005 - Change to Win.

But is it too late? Will anyone notice if they have been switched off already?

UPDATE: Mehdi Hasan's NS column last week is probably the best analysis of the state of play in the leadeership contest so far.

In Defence of Crispin Blunt

I know I am going to get slagged off for what I am about to write, but here goes, anyway.

Crispin Blunt is right to have rescinded Jack Straw's order banning arts and comedy courses in prisons. I first wrote about this back in 2008...

So Jack Straw has banned prisoners at Whitemoor Prison from learning about how to write a comedy script or do stand up. They were taking part in an eight day course as part of an education programme. What harm can possibly be done by learning about comedy script writing and improvisation? I'd have thought learning how to diffuse potentially harmful situations by the use of humour was a good thing. Instead, Jack Straw has jerked his knee and responded to synthetic tabloid outrage. Not only that he's ordered an inquiry! you couldn't make it up.

Prison is a balance between punishment and rehabilitation. I don't believe in going soft on people in prison - but nor do I believe that activities which make them want to learn and develop should be discouraged.

And then last October I appeared in a cabaret at the Tory conference, the aim of which was to demonstrate how comedy can help in prisoner rehabilitation. I wrote...

Jack Straw cancelled all arts projects in HMP Whitemoor and issued a Prison Service Instruction to all Governors, telling them that, when making decisions about arts interventions, they must ensure projects “meet the public acceptability test” and consider how the activity might “be perceived if open to media scrutiny.”...

Surely if rehabilitation is to mean anything, the arts have a key role to play in helping prisoners discover some self esteem and maybe a talent they never thought they had. Our prison system is set up for punishment, but rehabilitation takes a back seat.

I hope under a Conservative government that will change. Being tough doesn't just mean locking people up and throwing away the key. A tough politician will take tough choices - and that means locking fewer people up and devoting more resources to preparing prisoners for life on the outside. Only in that way will reoffending rates drop.

The Daily Mail has predictably gone OTT and Downing Street are distancing themselves from Blunt, briefing that the speech wasn't properly cleared with them.

I wonder how many people who are slagging off Crispin Blunt today have read the actual text of his speech. Do youself a favour and click HERE to do so. The whole speech is a very good statement of aims for the new government with regard to the balance between rehab and punishment. But it is this para which has caused the uproar.

I want to mention one other proposal from Churchill that struck a chord with me. Churchill noted that
‘we have got a class of men in our prisons who need brain food of the most ordinary character.’

He notes that

‘There have from time to time been occasional lectures given in the prisons, and a few months ago the Somerset Light Infantry, quartered near, had their band in Dartmoor Prison and it played to the convicts. It was an amazing thing the effect which was produced on all these poor people, and their letters for a month after had been eloquent in recognition of the fact.’

I have to say that not all Members of the Commons were quite as enthusiastic about military music with one suggesting that:

‘The music will be an added punishment to some.’

But there is a serious point here. We recognise that arts activities can play a valuable role in helping offenders to address issues such as communication problems and low self-esteem and enabling them to engage in programmes that address their offending behaviour I confess before getting this job I was not aware of Prison Service Instruction number 50 of 2008, though was vaguely conscious of some row in the tabloids about offenders being recorded as enjoying themselves. As a measure it was typical of the last administration’s flakiness under pressure. At the slightest whiff of criticism from the popular press policy tended to get changed and the consequence of an absurd overreaction to offenders being exposed to comedy in prison was this deleterious, damaging and daft instruction. I’m pleased to have marked the actual day of the 100th anniversary of Churchill’s speech on Tuesday by rescinding it.

I'm glad he did that. It was the brave and the right thing to do.

So, go on, call me a woolly liberal, or a LibDem. It'll be water off a duck's back. We need to run our prisons policy very differently. It is not working, and we need to think more about the kind of person we put back into society at the end of their sentences. At the moment the majority can't read or write and they're hooked on drugs. Is it any surprise that they then reoffend? it's all very well saying that we should keep offenders in prison for longer, so they can't offend, but we will be heading for a situation where the prison population heads for 200,000. We simply cannot afford that, even if we thought it was a good idea. And it isn't. The key to lowering reoffending is to improve in-prison rehabilitation. And education via courses like arts and comedy courses is all part of it.

Are You Cameron in Disguise?

‘Change to win’, says an email today from Ed Milband, whose leadership campaign office is in Greycoat Place… Well, it worked for someone else…

David Cameron ran his leadership campaign from Greycoat Place and 'Change to Win' was the slogan he used to very good effect. Is Ed trying to emulate the Conservative Prime Minister? I am sure the Labour Party grassroots and his growing band of union backers will love that.

Why Alex Hilton Matters

At 2pm today, bloggers Alex Hilton (formerly of Recess Monkey and Labour Home) and John Gray (John's Labour Blog) will find out if they face imminent bankruptcy. The High Court will rule in the case brought against them by Johanna Kaschke. Jack of Kent sets out the case history HERE, so I won't repeat it all, but this is a case which is important for all bloggers. If Alex and John lose, and the case proceeds to trial in the autumn, it should give us all real cause for concern. What Alex and John and Dave Osler have faced could happen to any of us. There but for the grace of God, etc...

It is almost inconceivable that the case won't be thrown out, but we all know that the justice system is a very odd beast.

UPDATE 2.15pm: The court has ruled that the case should be struck out and no appeal should be allowed. Great stuff. I am delighted for Alex as I know what pressure this has put on him. And well done to Jack of Kent and Robert Dougans for providing the legal support pro bono.

IPSA Exposed

This is a video of Ken Olisa, a member of the IPSA Board, being grilled by Andrew Neil. What aa slippery character. If this man is the best they could get to be on the IPSA Board God alone knows what the quality of the rest of the applicants was like.

Why Dizzy Still Rules

THIS blogpost on the CPS decision not to prosecute in the Ian Tomlinson case demonstrates, in my humble opinion, why Dizzy remains one of the best bloggers around.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Daley (Half) Dozen: Thursday

1. Tory Radio thinks Clegg has shot himself in the foot.
2. Crash Bang Wallace on an unfortunate double entendre by the Deputy Speaker.
3. Mark Pack reviews Deborah Mattinson's book, TALKING TO A BRICK WALL.
4. Jon Craig wonders if Ed Miliband is Labour's Cameron.
5. Paul Waugh on the feuding Miliband brothers.
6. Lynne Featherstone goes in for a bit of oral.

Pickles To Allow Councils to Junk Cabinet System

One of the most unpopular local government reforms was the creation of the Cabinet system for local councils. But tonight many councillors up and down the country can jump for joy. In an interview with me for Total Politics - out tomorrow - Eric Pickles has said that he will allw councils to junk the system if they wish...

ID: The cabinet system in local authorities is very unpopular with a lot of people. If local authorities wanted to change that and go back to the committee system, what would your reaction be?

EP: Fine. We will be putting something into the local government bill to let them do that. I don’t care how things are organised. They can have it on the basis of a committee system, on a cabinet basis, on the mayoral system. If they want to introduce it on a choral system with various members of the council singing sea shanties I don’t mind, providing it’s accountable, transparent and open. That’s all I need to know.

Another sign that the coalition's localism agenda is being implemented.

The full interview will be published in the magazine tomorrow. I'll carry extracts next week on the blog.

What on Earth Has Norman Baker Been Up To?

Find out HERE...


A Reader Writes... Chinese Lady Carpenters Scuppered

A reader writes...

While shopping at my local Homebase today, I saw two young women, seemingly of south east Asian origin, attempting to buy a saw - the sort of all purpose one you might use for cutting shelves to size, or perhaps taking some branches off a tree. The assistant explained that 'Home Office rules' meant that they could not sell the saw without seeing proof of age, and indeed the counter was displaying a leaflet explaining that Homebase and the Home Office were working together to clamp down on knives sales to under-16s. Though as far as I know, blade-wielding hoodies don't tend to go in for wood saws.

Is there a hidden crime wave of saw-wielding twenty something Chinese lady carpenters, or has common sense gone completely out of the window?


Palace Was Right to Ban Griffin

When I first heard that Buckingham Palace had decided to ban Nick Griffin from attending the garden party this afternoon, I thought "hmmm, bad move". However, having seen their reasoning I think they've done the right thing. Griffin had stupidly milked the invitation for party political purposes. If he had said nothing, attended, and then crowed about it, the Palace could have done nothing.

It shows what an amateur he is, in so many ways and the internal pressure on him to quit will become a little stronger as a result.

Keith Simpson's Summer Reading List

Every Summer, Conservative MP Keith Simpson, who is PPS to William Hague, produces a recommended reading list for his Foreign Office colleagues and Tory MPs. I am sure it will also be of interest to readers...

Under the Coalition Government ministers and MPs face an “austerity summer recess” of five weeks which will limit the opportunities to read anything other than policy papers, emails and political blogs. Colleagues should be aware that for the Foreign Office the months of July, August and September have in the past been periods of crisis and conflict, including the outbreak of the two European wars, Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and the recent conflict between Russia and Georgia.

This Foreign Office Ministerial reading list consists of a selection of recently published books, some “golden oldies”, and a few that will be published over the next two months and which look promising. This is only a suggested reading list and it is not the case that the Foreign Secretary will be quizzing colleagues or officials on what they have read.

Reading a good book not only stretches the “little grey cells” but can be therapeutic as one diplomat noted when observing Harold Macmillan as Foreign Secretary at a Conference in Geneva in 1955.

“Macmillan had his own technique for surviving these brain-numbing sessions…. when it was not his turn to speak, he would encourage the time to pass more agreeably and more quickly by reading a book placed on his knees out of sight under the conference table. I remember being very shocked at first, thinking that our Foreign Secretary should be taking his work more seriously; but after a time, I realised how wise he was and only wished I could do the same”. Now ministers and officials text and tweet during meetings.


To put the coalition government into historical context colleagues should look at G R Searle Country Before Party Coalition and the Idea of “National Government” in Modern Britain 1885-1987 published in 1995. The former Liberal Democrat MP for Winchester, Mark Oaten, published in 2007 Coalition The policies and personalities of coalition government from 1850, which had a concluding chapter looking at possible options for the Lib Dems and at least one looked like a rough draft for their negotiating position this May.

For an overview of the history, culture and architecture of the Foreign Office Anthony Seldon’s coffee table book The Foreign Office is a good introduction. As a former Foreign Secretary and historian Douglas Hurd, with Ed Young, has written Choose Your Weapons The British Foreign Secretary: Two Centuries of Conflict and Personalities, which discusses the contrasting roles of a succession of foreign secretaries from Castlereagh and Canning.

Good history is a delight to read and Chris Skidmore, historian and author of Edward VI (2007) and now the MP for Kingswood, has written, a scholarly Tudor “who’s donnit,” Death and the Virgin about Amy Robsart the wife of Elizabeth’s favourite courtier, Robert Dudley.

Sir Robert Peel was never Foreign Secretary but held some of the greatest offices of state, including Home Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister. In an age of Coalition governments his reputation has suffered from the belief that he split the Tory Party. Douglas Hurd recently wrote a biography and now Richard Gaunt has written a revisionist account Sir Robert Peel The Life and Legacy.

As a Whig Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister, Palmerston knew all about Coalition government and was in his own way a “liberal interventionist” and D.A. Brown has written a new biography Palmerston published at the end of September.

Lloyd George led a Coalition government 1916-1922 and split the Liberal Party and gave Coalition governments a bad name. Now Roy Hattersley, the former Labour Cabinet minister with experience of coalition politics, has written David Lloyd George The Great Outsider, to be published in September.

Labour politicians, conscious of leaders and Prime Ministers who have tarnished reputations, from Ramsay Macdonald to Blair and Brown, cling to Clem Attlee and the 1945 Labour Government as a beacon of reform. Attlee A Life in Politics by Nicklaus Thomas – Symonds provides a fresh look at this Labour leader and Prime Minister.

Martin Pugh’s Speak for Britain! A New History of the Labour Party provides a scholarly but readable history which should be required reading for all the Labour leadership candidates.

Philip Ziegler, the doyen of authorised and official biographies has now written Edward Heath, a door stopper of a book which really does look at his subject warts and all.

D. R. Thorpe has many political histories and biographies to his credit including Eden, and in September his Supermac The Life of Harold Macmillan will be published. It is thought that Macmillan is admired by Prime Minister Cameron.

Dominic Sandbrook, historian and journalist, has already published Never Had It So Good 1956-1963 and White Heat 1964-70 which in each case brilliantly brought together political, social and cultural history. In September he publishes a third volume State of Emergency The Way We Were : Britain 1970-1974.

Hugh Trevor-Roper’s reputation never survived his authentification of the forged Hitler Diaries. A formidable historian, wartime intelligence officer and author of The Last Days of Hitler his academic and personality disputes with rivals were legendary. Adam Sisman’s biography Hugh Trevor-Roper is an excellent read.

Insider accounts of the Blair/Brown governments in the form of diaries and memoirs have been increasing over the past few months. Alastair Campbell has published a revised version of his diaries, which may mean they are unexpurgated. The Alastair Campbell Diaries Volume One, Prelude to Power, which should be read in conjunction with Peter Mandelson The Third Man Life at the Heart of New Labour. Gordon Brown’s pollster, Deborah Mattinson, has published Talking to a Brick Wall. We have to wait until September for Tony Blair’s A Journey and Anthony Seldon’s Brown at No10.

Contemporary political history is dominated by diaries and memoirs and the former junior foreign office minister Chris Mullin has already delighted us with his edited diaries A View from the Foothills. At the end of August he will publish another selection Decline and Fall Diaries 2005-2010.

As Balfour, former Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, has alleged to have said “History doesn’t repeat itself, historians repeat each other”. Nevertheless, an historical perspective is useful to current practitioners as we blindly grope our way through a dangerous world. Victor Hanson is a prolific writer on ancient history and has edited Makers of Ancient Strategy From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, which could well be on Mayor Boris Johnson’s Summer reading list.

Colin Gray established his reputation twenty years ago as the High Priest of nuclear deterrence during the Cold War. A useful read for Peter Ricketts and our National Security Council is his National Security Dilemmas Challenges and Opportunities published last year.

As we attempt to understand and harness new technologies William Rosen provides us with an historic example in The Most Powerful Idea in the World A Story of Steam, Industry and Invention.

Charles de Gaulle landed in Britain seventy years ago and became the legend of Free France. Jonathan Fenby’s The General Charles de Gaulle and the France He Saved, concentrates on his return to power in 1958, an account which is less familiar to British readers.

Moral equivalence in war is a theme taken up by many writers given the passions and violence aroused. Michael Burleigh, who has written extensively on Nazi Germany, does not believe there was moral equivalence between the USA and UK as against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan and he forcefully argues his case in Moral Combat A History of World War II.

Disappointingly, there are rarely good books analysing recent conflicts which draw together the political, diplomatic, intelligence, military and cultural aspects. Fortunately, Andrew M. Dorman did just that last year when he published Blair’s Successful War British Military Intervention in Sierra Leone, which should be a “must read” for ministers and officials, particularly those working on the Strategic Defence and Security Review.

The history of attempting to prepare for conflict prevention and then conflict resolution is not that good. As the late Michael Quinlan, formidable intellectual Whitehall Warrior and Permanent Secretary at the MOD in the 1980s observed,

“In matters of military contingency, the expected, precisely because it is expected, is not to be expected. Rationale: What we expect, we plan and provide for ; what we plan and provide for, we thereby deter; what we deter does not happen. What does happen is what we did not deter, because we did not plan and provide for it, because we did not expect it”. Exactly!

The role of intelligence in foreign, defence and security policy has suffered from the natural desire of government to be discreet and the publication of sensational accounts by outsiders. More open government and recent scholarship has at least provided us with an historically accurate basis for any assessment. Bletchley Park was the jewel in the crown of British signal and human intelligence during the Second World War. Sinclair McKay has published The Secret Life of Bletchley Park The History of the Wartime Code-breaking Centre by the Men and Women Who Were There, which rightly looks at the experiences of a few of the 10,000 people who worked there.

Bletchley Park’s successor, GCHQ, has had to reinvent itself after the Cold War and faces new challenges from global terrorism. Richard J Aldrich is an academic historian of intelligence, and using open sources, but with a little help from friends within the system has written GCHQ the Uncensored Story of Britain’s Most Secretary Intelligence Agency, which is less sensational than the sub title would have us believe.

Recently, Christopher Andrew published the authorised history of MI5 which was based on its archives and brought the history right up to date. In September Keith Jeffery, who has also had complete access to archives, publishes MI6 The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909-1949. Some people might speculate on why this history stops in 1949?

The doyen of Whitehall historians is the magnificent Peter Hennessy. He has now republished with new material his The Secret State Preparing for the Worst 1945-2010, which is based on official documents and interviews with ministers, officials and advisers who prepared for nuclear war and now global terrorism.

Sir David Omand, the Maurice Hankey of his generation has served in Whitehall, and has had real hands on experience as a manager and consumer of intelligence. In his Securing the State he examines in detail how secret intelligence helps governments to deliver security, but also risks raising public concerns over its methods.

Twenty years ago Army Staff Colleges still taught counter-insurgency based upon colonial experience and Northern Ireland. Then it went out of fashion until Iraq and Afghanistan concentrated minds. Countersurgency is back in fashion and understanding the relationship between the political, development aid, cultural, social and military as well as the time line is absolutely crucial for success. David Kilcullen, a retired Australian army officer with hands on experience and an adviser to General Petraeus had published The Accidental Guerrilla last year and has now published a useful succinct version Countersurgency.

The rise and rise of Barrack Obama from Senator and Presidential candidate to President continues to fascinate. A good background account is David Rennick The Bridge The Life and Rise of Barrack Obama, whilst for those interested in preparing for and winning elections Mark Halperin and John Heilemann Race of Lifetime How Obama Won the White House, provides a useful guide.

James Mather’s Pashas Traders and Travellers in the Islamic World is the first full length study since 1935 of the Levant Company, the organisation that oversaw both England’s trade and diplomacy with the Ottoman World. This is a wonderful account and a major contribution to our understanding of Britain’s relationship with the Mediterranean and the world of Islam.

Robert Hardy is a BBC Overseas Service Journalist who has worked on the Islamic World for more than thirty years. In The Muslim Revolt he ranges widely over the Islamic World and this is a valuable handbook. In a controversial book, the former UK diplomat Alastair Crooke has argued that the West has drawn the wrong dividing line between “moderate” Islam and the more extreme “Islamism”. In Resistance The Essence of the Islamist Revolution, he suggests that the real dividing line is between Islamism and al-Qua’eda.

For those seeking a quick, well written “Bluffer’s guide” to the current conflict in Afghanistan, then Victoria Schofield’s revised edition of her 2003 Afghan Frontier At the Crossroads of Conflict, is a good start.

Mullah Abdul Salaam Zaeef was a found of the Taliban in 1994, a Taliban minister and a former inmate of Guantanamo Bay, but who now lives “reconciled” in Kabul. Two researchers have edited Zaeef’s memoirs My Life With the Taliban. He remains a fervent believer in the Taliban cause and there is little optimism here for a negotiated peace.

Philip Barclay was a junior British diplomat in Harare in 2006-9 and has written an account based on his experiences Zimbabwe Years of Hope and Despair. Barclay writes in detail about the bloody 2008 election and suggests that most Zimbabweans are desperate for international intervention.

In War Games, the Dutch journalist Linda Colman who has considerable experience reporting from Africa’s war zones, has written a devastating account of the cynicism and corruption of the aid industry and many of the warlord recipients of aid.

Stefan Halper, a former foreign policy veteran of the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations, has written a provocative polemic in The Beijing Consensus How China’s Authoritarian Model Will Dominate the 21st Century. Halper challenges a western consensus that the developing world would prosper by adopting the model of liberal democracy and free markets. Not so he argues, and suggests that Beijing’s intention is to promote a brand of authoritarian capitalism that undermines the post-war settlement of the western dominated international infrastructure. Food for thought.

David Hart is a veteran Middle East correspondent based in Beirut. Previously he wrote The Gun and the Olive Branch The Roots of Violence in the Middle East, and now his Beware of Small States Lebanon, Battleground of the Middle East, is a good analysis.

In a rambling, anecdotal book ranging over history, economics and anthropology, the Columbian philosopher Oscar Guiardiola – Rivera predicts the imminent Hispanic takeover of the United States some time before 2050. His What If Latin America Ruled the World? How the South Will Take the North in the 22nd Century, is an interesting and stimulating book.

Benedict Rogers is a writer and human rights advocate specialising in Burma and has just published Than Shwe Unmasking Burma’s Tyrant. This book explains General Than Shwe’s rise to power from postal clerk to brutal dictator and life in Burma under his rule.

Attempting to understand the financial crash over the past two years and the political fallout is a priority for politicians and there has been a rich variety of books in this subject. Just reprinted is Adam Fergusson’s When Money Dies. The Nightmare of the Weimar Hyperinflation, originally published in 1975. Adam Fergusson later served as an adviser to Geoffrey Howe in the 1980s, and Warren Buffet, the World’s most successful investor has recommended it as a warning of the dangers posed by Europe’s current financial crisis.

Whoops! Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay, is written by John Lanchester a novelist and literary critic who began writing about global banking two years ago and the modern phenomenon of the transference of the power and wealth from sovereign countries to supernational financial institutions, selling products few can understand. This is a wonderful bluffer’s guide for dummies, especially economically illiterate politicians.

The economist and reviewer Michael Lewis has written two books which get to grips with financial institutions and the culture of risk and greed. His Liar’s Poker examined the world of investment banks and now The Big Short Inside the Doomsday Machine, he analyses the latest financial crash and whether it can happen again.

Stephen D King is the global economist at HSBC, and his Losing Control The Emerging Threats to Weaken Prosperity, benefits from his experience as an economist and the breadth and depth of his analysis. Put simply, his thesis is that globalisation, which the West thought would help make it rich, may well end up doing the opposite. But he is not all doom and gloom and he does have solutions, some of which will make uneasy reading for the coalition, such as the UK opening its borders to immigration rather than putting in place restrictions and quotas.

Finally, for colleagues desperate for some form of literary escapism from the serious volumes suggested above, two novels will provide entertainment and relaxation. Sandra Howard, wife of Michael Howard the former Conservative Party Leader, has written her third novel, A Matter of Loyalty, which is a romantic thriller and includes a female Home Secretary.

Louise Bagshawe is now MP for Corby and has written fourteen novels, many of which are murder mysteries. A genre known as “chick-lit” or in our grandfather’s days “bodice-rippers” but, we are told not quite “black lace”, her latest novel, Desire, is therefore quite suitable for any foreign office minister or official.

Keith Simpson MP
PPS to the Foreign Secretary