Wednesday, October 26, 2005


The Terror Bill

Having just done a short briefing on the Terror Bill- see companion site Politics Considered for full text- I feel able to say I'm not supportive of the Terror Bill. And I'm not alone. The Conservatives support it- scared of seeing Blair entrench himself even more securely in the once Tory owned centre ground- but the Lib Dems do not, Cherie Blair, by all acouints does not, Lords lloyd and Steyn, not to mention scores of thinking Labour MPs all oppose it as well. Why do they oppose a measure designed to make us safe from terrorists?

1) All the measures needed to fight terrorism, as Lord Lester impressed upon Charles Clarke yesterday to a committee of both houses, are already on the statute book.

2) Labour seems to react to crises by legislating for want- one supposes- of something better to do. So we find clauses, on the 'glorifying' of terrorism which cannot be defined for legal purposes as Lord Lloyd complained on Panorama, 9th October 2005.

3. The measures proposed, as the former MI5 operative David Bickford, complained on the same programme will alientate the source of intelligence on terrorists: the Muslim community in Britain.

4. The proposed 3 month detention without trial clause threatens the very basis of civil liberties in this country, laid by the Magna Carta. No other European country is proposing or has in law, similarily draconian measures.

The Terror Bill, in other words threatens to be counter productive while unacceptably eroding the very bases upon which democracy is based. No point in fighting terror if we first feebly surrender what we are defending.

Saturday, October 22, 2005


Can Blunkett Survive?

I saw the drama on Blunkett on Thursday- 'A Very Social Secretary'- and have just read the Economist's speculation that such a degree of ridicule makes it hard for him to continue as a minister, especially one seeking to do such major things as reform pensions and Invalidity Benefit. I'm not sure the journal's arguments are valid however. The drama, for me only increased my sympathy for the guy. His rise to prominence from the most inauspicious of beginnings-impverished working class and blind; his loneliness since his divorce combined with his dedication to his ministerial work; and his apalling luck and judgement to imagine Kimberley Quinn actually loved him, make his plight exceptionally poingnant.

I thought he came out of the drama stronger in a way: one could understand his desperation to believe she loved him and wanted a new life with him plus a family. I sincerely hope he can survive the ridicule and continue doing his job. It's true he has a track record of achievement and also a direct line to working class supporters of Labour.

Maybe the Economist was correct though in suggesting Blair should not have brought him back so quickly; the fuss had not died down and the idea of making fun of his blindness, apalling as it is, has not been seen to be right out of order. Mandelson too. was brought back after only 10 months and that made him vulnrable to another set of accusations- even though the second lot were not justified. Blair seems always to misjudge timing. Wilson once famously said 'Most of politics is presentation, and what isn't is timing'. Blair has maybe got the former cracked but is strangely fallible on the latter.

Thursday, October 20, 2005


'Dave' dashes through to win

Maybe all that stuff about possible drug taking worked to his benefit after all. It put him at the centre of the spotlight; it showed him to be resolute in sticking to his guns; and it showed it didn't really matter anyway as he is such a charming kind of guy. I hesitate to say that, if the accusation had not come up, he would have asked someone to make it but you see my point. The size of his final vote was about as expected; also the vote for the rightwingers but it's interesting that the combined total of the latters' votes exceeded that of the modernizer winner. The Tories still have a way to go to catch up with Labour and make the necessary changes to their party.

What next? Anything could happen of course. Davis will possibly do better as the underdog and Cameron cannot have too many slip-ups or even embarrassing revelations. Davis's rightwing message might begin to make more headway once he is out there campaiging-they all agree with him after all- but I would expect 'Dave', now exalted by televisual fame, to maintain a goodish lead until he wins in December. But Davis is right to keep going: it's by no means over yet. Liam Fox did reasonably well though-even though he is touted a 'kingmaker' I don't see how a Westminster based MP can influence the rank and file all that much.



I'm getting a bit bored of blogging on the Conservatives but they are having an election and us political junkies love nothing better. I've just read Timothy Garton Ash in The Guardian today and think he's managed to put into words what so many have been thinking and tacitly concluding-the mark of a top class columnist in my book. He deals with the closeness between Blair and Cameron, calling it 'Camerair'- his version of the word 'Butskellism' invented by the Economist in 1951 to express the closeness of thinking between RA Butler, the Tory Chancellor and Gaitskell, Labour's shadow.
He lists the obvious similarities- public school, Oxford, upper-middle class background - but goes on to spot others: the same verbless sentences('To give choice to parents. Freedom to schools'), the ready emoting, the 'ordinary bloke' self deprecation, the sentence which sounds good but means nothing. He also points out that both men offer the dire promise of a future elite rule by public school Oxbridge types as most of the aides to both men share similar backgrounds. TGA suggests Modern Compassionate Conservatism(MCC) will rival Blair's New Labour New Britain (NLNB).

A glimpse into the future which does not exactly inspire confidence but does provide evidence that Blair has changed our political culture as dramatically as Thatcher did before him. The one good thing, for me, which this represents is that the Thatcherite beast in the Tory psyche has been finally cornered and exorcised by the(allegedly)'coke' snorting Tory tyro.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


More on the Tories

The second ballot for the Tory leadership is intriguing mainly now for whether the second place candidate stands down to allow Cameron to enjoy a 'coronation'. That this seems possible is quite a 'revolution'for the Tories. The second place man is bound to be a rightwinger: Fox or Davis. harking back to 2001, when IDS beat Clarke 2-1, the Etonian would have needed to win by a mile and a half to deter either Fox or Davis appealing to a membership who would respond to their rightwing stances on tax, crime and Europe.

Now, however, it seems attitudes in the party have changed. Despite their rightwing headbanging views Tories have realised they can't win without a 'winner' even if they disagree with his views. Some 60% of party members now support Cameron and only 15% Davis. So it could well be a 'coronation' but Davis, is such an ambitious sort of guy I wouldn't be surprised if he insists on hanging in and going the full course.

Having said all that, it is significant that Cameron has been clever to toughen up his position on Europe, promising to remove Conservative MEPs from their present rightwing grouping even though it includes the CDU, the party of Angela Merkel, the new German Chancellor.But the 'Blairite' bandwagon of the MP for Witney seems unstoppable now.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


what now then?

So it's farewell Ken. It's odd how the frontrunner in Conservative leadership elections always seem to fade away-Clarke, Portillo and this time Davis and lose while the favourites always win in the Labour Party: Kinnock, Smith, Blair. Maybe it's a bit soon to declare Davis a loser but he was the only candidate whose vote did not increase beyond his stated support- in fact he went down from 67 declared to 62 on the night.

But, after his lack lustre conference performance and the growing profile of 'Dave' Cameron, I think many of his votes will splinter Thursday night to Fox and Cameron, leaving him high and dry. And rightly so: he does not have the qualities needed of a leader of the party at the present time. I think it'll be between Fox and Cameron and that the old Etonian will win despite the drawback of a posh background.


Ken Clarke's Kamikaze style

Ken Clarke's performance yesterday to the cameras was scarcely likely to win over the friends he needs among MPs to make the cut in tonight's vote. Saying that the membership will not be happy if he and Cameron are not offered to them to vote on sounded:
a) like the sort of threat it is suicidal to make in a democratic election, or
b) a throwaway bit of arrogance, or
c) a sign of desperation suggesting he knows he's down to prop up the poll.

Simon Hoggart writes in his column today that Clarke is still behaving as if he 'doesn't give a fuck'. It shows Ken, and you'll pay for it with the destruction of your last chance to make it to the top spot in your party. Stick to flogging fags is my recommendation.

Saturday, October 15, 2005


Freedom of Information and Block Grants to the Regions

This posting is purely to record my frustrating experience with the government machine in attempting to elicit some very simple facts, all of which incidentally, are already in the public domain. I write textbooks on British politics and have been updating my chapters in Politics UK, the big book I do for Pearson Education and first up was the one on devolution. Not too much to do apart from Prescott's disastrous attempt in November last year to interest Geordies in an elected assembly but the figures on block grants to Scotland Wales and Ireland for 1999 were a bit too much out of date. So I rang the Scottish Office. The young lady who answered took my query surprisingly seriously-I had assumed such data would be easy to hand within the nerve centre of Scotland's London HQ. It seemed it was too serious for her so I was passed onto a series of other phone voices, none of which could help me. First blank drawn.
So I tried the Welsh Office in London where I spoke to a nice sounding young, this time with a pleasant Welsh accent. 'Is that the Welsh Office?' I asked. 'No, it's the Wales Office', she rather peevishly replied. She again seemed surprised I should be seeking such arcane information-'It's only the grant made by British taxpayers to keep all the services in Wales running' I explained. But this simple, supposedly lapidary fact was unavailable and I was advised to try the Treasury. Second blank drawn.
'What's this block grant thing then?' asked another female voice at HM Treasury. Surprising lack of familiarity given that she was employed by the source of such grants but she at least helped me to navigate the baffling Treasury website-shouldn't it be easier for taxpayers to find how their money is spent?- through several sections and subsections until I found the relevant list of grants to the regions. However they were also outdated- 2000-2001. So third blank, though maybe this time semi drawn.
So, in a mood approaching despair, and nom little irritation, I rang the Northern Ireland press office who promptly passed me on to the Minister's office. 'I'm afraid you'll have to apply for that information in writing' said the Belfast accented aide. 'But this is information in the public domain' I insisted, 'I'm a taxpayer helping to pay that block grant and there is such a thing as the Freedom of Information Act which your website says you are governed by'. But I might as well have been an IRA suicide bomber planning to blow up Belfast for all the help I received. Fourth blank drawn. I was ready to give up.
What have I done? I've had no alternative but to leave the figures for 1999 in place until I can find a government servant brave enough to tell me what is supposed to be a foundation fact of their devolved government operation.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


television political communication

Political speaking styles vary a great deal but the reecent 'beauty contest' between the five candidates for leadership of the Tories showed some interesting variations. We all know communication has changed in the television age. Gladstone used to harangue thousands for an hour or more at his meetings but now the attention span is lower and the style has to be intimate: one to one, to transmit effectively over the distance between the politician in the corner of the room and the owner of the television. Michael Foot, famously used to address television audiences as if they were public meetings and failed miserably to move the nation. Thatcher learnt the basics of how to perform the trick through her guru Gordon Reece. Others- Blair springs to mind-have the ability apparently woven onto their political dna.

But the test at Blackpool was slightly different. Candidates had to address a live audience of activists- some of them quite desperate to be out of power, these last eight years or so-with a television audience hovering somewhere in the background. In consequence the best performers were those who best blended the public platform with the television style. Davis failed to connect, Clarke was too concerned to play himself, Rifkind did creditably but seemed a bit past it. Only the young Cameron hit the right blend with his eschewal of notes and ability to deliver his speech while on the move. It was the perfect blend of both genres and tuned into the wavelengths of both audiences. It's all about Cameron now and just because he had mastered the medium of the contest. I suspect he'll go on doing so.

Saturday, October 08, 2005


More Thoughts on the Tory Leadership

Since my last post on the Tory conference things have certainly shifted forward a little. The quote below shows how one seasoned commentator sees a sea change in Consrvative self perception.

‘This year’s third election defeat has had an effect among thinking Tories that the first two failed to trigger. The big thing about the Tories this week is that a lot of them have got it.-got it about the fact that the party fails to connect with the voters, got it that they are too far to the right, got it that they appear out of touch with the real world and most of all, got it that Labour dominated the last decade not through political black arts but through changing.’ Martin Kettle on the Tory conference, Guardian, 8th October, 2005

All this is as maybe but all three last leaders started off trying to shift the party to the centre left to advance on that lost centre ground, but failed in the end and took fatal resort in the safe haven of protecting the core vote. So we'll see what happens after the new leader is elected on 6th December. And who might that be? Since my last post the conference has made a huge difference to the chances of the main contenders. Clarke spoke well, but, as a poling expert pointed out on the BBC this morning, it was all about himself in a rather vain fashion. Cameron chose to speak about the future and the role of the party in making it. This pollster's focus group all seemed to prefer the Blairlike 'Dave' to the more old fashioned cigar smoking ex Chancellor. David Davis is the biggest loser from the conference. I didn't think his speech was so bad actually- more or less what I expected and perhaps a bit better. But the thing is, the other speeches were so good Davis's affort was overshadowed. Part of the reason for this is that Blair has raised the bar so high for set piece speeches. He is just so bloody good, everyone now has to aspire to equal his standard, one which Gordon, I fear, has still to achieve.

So DD seems on the wane, Ken is old school and too fat, Dave is the flavour Tories most like and have faith in for the future. What about Liam? He is still the dark horse and may yet have a few strokes to play. It's some time till the show is over and Fox has shown he has the spirit and the talent to win the prize. Remember women always adore doctors and Dave's old Etonian background doesn't play well with voters. That jibe of being a 'toff' did for Douglas Hurd in 1990 and it might yet do for the precocious Cameron too. Whether the opportunity arises for the soon to be wed Liam is the matter we have to contemplate while the party's unusual selection wheels grind through their passage. It was so much easier when a 'magic circle' selected new leaders don't you think?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


Tories in Blackpool

'The Tories in Blackpool are funny. Can't see vey far- as usual. Go on blundering along, apparently unable to see that they must change if they are going to prosper again. Like putting life into a dead body now.' A recent comment in a media outlet? No. It's from a wonderful book by Simon Garfield based on Mass Observation diaries written by ordinary people during and after the war. The above entry was by Edie Rutherford, a middle-aged housewife, written on 4th October, 1946. Ironic the comment should still be so apposite but of course the party did recover and did prosper to the extent of dominating the rest of the century after Attlee's exhausted government exited the stage in 1951. Will the Tories recover again? It seems much more dificult this time.
In 1946 the party still had leading able politicians to drive the party forward, including the venerable, canonised but still determined Churchill. Now the Tories have no real obvious heavyweights. Interestingly the biggest ovation of the day today was given to a failed leader, William Hague. John Pienaar on the BBC said that had he decided to stand for the leadership he would have been elected there and then by acclaim.
The real contest however, is now between the five candidates- David Davis,(council house, single mother, ex SAS and successful businesman but with tendency to alienate people. Speech today judged 'workmanlike' at best) 'Dave' Cameron(Etonian, 38 yearold, married with disabled child for whose cause he has worked admirably but with no experience and a habit of trying to appear too much like Tony Blair), Kenneth Clarke( 65 yearold veteran of Thatcher and Major Cabinets who is hugely popular but too Eurosceptic for the rank and file- also works for a tobacco company), Liam Fox) youngish former doctor who looks good and appeals to the rightwing traditionalists- did well in his speech today)and Malcolm Rifkind, former cabinet minister who is younger than Clarke but seems older- not regarded as a serious candidate). Who will win?
There is quite a lot of time before the MP's vote takes place to find the two on whom the membership will vote, sometime in December. But, emerging from the conference, David Davis has probably found his bandwagon has slowed down appreciably, Cameron's has advanced after a fine presentation but so too did Clarke's who basically appeals to the same constituency of Tory supporters as the younger man. Rifkind, who was never rated as a realistic player, is also a One Nation Tory is virtually out of the race, despite a spirited address to the conference. My guesss is that it will come down to Davis and Clarke with a possibility that Fox will come through amongst MPs. In such a run-off the rightwinger will win and the party will have wasted another chance to move into the centre ground and really threaten Blair's hegemony there. Seems Edie Robertson's comment is still relevant nearly sixty years on but the body is now even closer to terminal coldness.

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