Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Skipper Away for a Spell in Cork this Time

Skipper is away for a few days in Cork, southern Ireland attending a mate's(Noel) wedding. [The picture actually is of Kinsale, on the coast to the south of the city, but it's a much nicer image than I could find of the city itself.]

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


'They Are Just Like Us'

We're all familiar with John Prescott, with his mangled syntax and his chewing a wasp expression, but few of us could have imagined the revelations offered up in his memoirs. Having read Prezza on the Couch yesterday by Decca Aitkenhead and heard him interviewed by John Humphrys on On the Ropes this morning I have concluded that, as he claims, he has been badly treated in the press. I know he was a fool over Tracy Temple, I know he had difficulty with clarity and the English language and I know he has told us about a mass of insecurities in his memoirs which we do not normally expect Cabinet ministers to confess. But I do believe Prezza is unfairly maligned in the press and the pub.

1. On the language question, while he can make some awful muddles, he usually manages to make his meaning clear as during his impressive defence of Brown on Andrew Marr yesterday. We have to remember his disdvantaged education and the fact that Ernest Bevin, possibly Labour's greatest working class politician and a successful Foreeign Secretary, was also a poor speaker who made frequent mistakes.

2. On the fidelity front, well, he is not the first senior politician to be caught with his pants down and at least he took responsibility, came clean and admitted to his idiocy. His worst reprisals probably came from within his own household.

3. He admits to: feelings of great inferiority regarding New Labour's Beautiful People, to bulimia, even to a phobia about entering places like restaurants on his own, while he could happily address audiences of thousands. But Harold Macmillan, the suavest, calmest and most eloquent of Tory politicians confessed that speaking in the House was an ordeal for him which sometimes made him vomit and PMQs was like 'going over the top' in World War One; in his eighties he said he worried for months ahead when he had to make any speech at all.

The problem with Prezza was that he was an easy target for both the rightwing press and the (by no means small) supercilious section of the leftwing variety. I think his revelations have been brave and interesting, proving once again for me, the veracity of Estelle Morris's report on what members of the Cabinet were like: 'The good news is, they're just like us and the bad news is, they're just like us.'

Monday, May 26, 2008


How Will Labour Find its Saviour?

The columnist most closely associated with Labour's inner circles is often reckoned to be Jackie Ashley and so her column today makes interesting reading. Leading figures have leapt to Gordon's defence, including John Prescott(surprisingly articulate on Andrew Marr), David 'Gordon's the best man' Miliband(and p.s. 'I'm not standing') plus Alan Johnson 'oh no, I wouldn't stand- not yet anyway' Johnson. But Jack Straw has been very silent recently and so have the ladies in the Cabinet. Ashley tells us that:

Behind the scenes, on both sides of the party, there are serious discussions going on about how to remove the prime minister. If the tumbrels are not actually rolling, then the wheels are being greased and the details of political assassination are being knowledgably discussed.

Both wings of New Labour- the Progress and Compass factions- have been negotiating a new 'policy agenda' plus a candidate to take over from Brown 'later this year'. It seems the former has been agreed- always the easy part given New Labour's lightness on ideoloogy- but the latter creates problems. Ashley expects a swift turn back to 'core Labour values' but is less helpful on who is likely to emerge as Labour's putative Saviour. She mentions Cruddas and Clarke as people who might be given more prominence to speak for the party on the Today programme but as part of a reshuffle, not a contest.

The key options still lie with the incumbent Labour leader. He can buy off potential rivals with rewards and scare the party with the horrors of firstly removing him and secondly selecting his successor. Ashley wonders if Gordon can find within and project the relaxed, witty, urbane version of himself his friends know so well. She concludes, drawing on the example of Boris Johnson- she underestimated 'the importance of style and swagger, certainly hunmour'. Finally she reckons front-runner David Miliband should 'set out his stall, along with Straw, Johnson and Balls, Brown's favoured successor'. Of these, I fear that on the style/swagger/humour criteria, Miliband, Balls and Straw score poorly(with Balls scoring zero) leaving Johnson as our best bet. I suspect this frothy talk will eventually fade away and doubt any change of helmsman will happen in the end.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


Who will lead Birnam Wood to Dunsinane?

Poor Gordon looks as exhausted and miserable as Macbeth rubbing his eyes as 'Great Birnam Wood' appears to march to 'high Dunsinane Hill'. Problem is for the metaphor to acquire a proper fit, there has to be a Macduff, or, to employ a closer one, like Martin Kettle, a 'Geoffrey Howe'. As he points out, getting rid of Gordon via the established machinery would be protracted and so bloody as to be counter-productive. Better by far would be for him to stand down by consent. To effect this it would be necessary for senior colleagues, i.e. members of his Cabinet to do the deed:

The key ministers in any such process are those in the middle who have managed to steer clear of the Blair-Brown polarisation. If some or all of Alistair Darling, Jack Straw, Alan Johnson, Des Browne and Geoff Hoon were to call on him to step down, it would be hard for Brown to resist. It would be harder still if these ministers made clear they would resign if he did not. But who is going to be Labour's Geoffrey Howe?

The most credible assassins- Miliband, Johnson- may decide they can survive a spell in Opposition and still have a crack at the top job. Hmmm. Depends on how long Labour is likely to be in the wilderness. The likes of poor old Gerald Kaufman saw their chances of senior office wither on the vine during 18 years. My feeling is an older, maybe 'greybeard' figure might step up to the plate and seek a short spell in the top job to turn things around. Straw? Ambitious enough but would he shaft Gordon? My pick would be that tough old warhorse who has always heartily disliked Brown, Charles Clarke. I just wonder if the next thing we see is a reshuffle giving office to every conceivable rival to draw their potential sting. Don't rule it out.

Friday, May 23, 2008


Crewe Voters Call Time on Gordon

Returning from a rather damp visit to the centre of Western European culture, I find Crewe, which is anything but, at the centre of political interest. Yet another disaster for Labour, but in what particular ways?

1. The massive swing will increase pressure on Brown to go before the election. I note that Jenni Russell, a perfectly sensible Guardian journalist, was calling for him to go as soon as posible only yesterday. Expect the chorus to rise in intensity.

2. More old friends will fall by the wayside. I note that Charlie Falconer, admittedly in outer darkness since last June, shafted the Constitutional Renewal Bill and other of Gordon's works yesterday in the FT. I also note blogger Mike Ion, suggested Alan Milburn might be prepared to run against Gordon before the next election. Expect much more of same.

3. More pressure will focus on Labour's preparedness for an election. I note today that Labour is very heavily in debt, compared to the Tories' buoyant finances, and that the workers party will have to rely on those politically embarrassing unions to fund them for the next election.

4. The 'toff-attack' ploy used by Labour in the by-election bombed pathetically. I suspect it was not the reason why the vote was lost but it certainly did not help. If, as we are told, it was a dry run for how to take on Cameron in the election, Labour planners will be gloomily contemplating their drawing boards this morning.

5. The reason why Labour lost, I fear to say, is that voters have now had enough. We have been inching our way towards the Major analogy for months now: Crewe indicates that it has at last fully arrived. Once this stage has been reached, I suspect it means the end of Brown's hopes for a second term. Nick Robinson this morning noted that no prime minister has ever come back to win after suffering such a sustained collapse in personal standing.

Does this mean Labour will ose the next election? One would be a fool to say that it looks like anything else at the present stage. Gordon's role is akin to a Shakespearean tragedy. All that ambition, all that plotting, all that desperate, angry energy to displace Blair and seize the crown, and he's ended up with a fag-end premiership, apparently ending in tired failure after less than a year. All the doors have been closing; I think he has only until the autumn conference to turn it around.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Skipper Away in Florence for Few Days

I'm away for a few days in Florence so no blogging for a spell. I'll be ruminating, the while, on the claim by Cherie Blair that not only is she a socialist- which I can believe- but that Tony is too.

Friday, May 16, 2008


Brown's Authority Takes Another Hit over 42 Days

I remember interviewing Joe Haines, Wilson's fiercely partisan former press secretary in April 1986. Thatcher had just announced she would not be going ahead with the Shops Bill, allowing shops to open on a Sunday; there had been a huge groundswell of opposition from her own party on the grounds that it would diminish family life and reduce church congregations. Haines curled his lip in contempt and said 'This government is so weak, it's running up the white flag even before the battle has started.'

Well, Thatcher was there another four years and it took until 1994 before shops could open on Sundays. But his phrase occurred to me when I read today's headlines regarding the 42 Day Detention issue. Just as every day right now, seems to deliver something bad, this registers yet another new low in Brown's brief premiership. We learn that Geoff Hoon, by trade a lawyer, is putting together a package whereby the bill can be passed in an emasculated form. It could be that thre provision will only be activated in 'exceptional' circumstances, defined in terms so wide that any rebel would accept them.

So we are left with the most absurd of farces. Despite the disaster of the 90 Day Detention attempt in 2005, this 42 Day ruse was also designed to bolster a struggling government through appearing tough on terrorism. After arousing the fury of the civil liberties lobby his own backbench rebels and those who wish to keep on good terms with the British Muslim community, Brown insisted he would press ahead as sometimes it is the correct thing 'to lose and be right'. After caving in to his critics on the 10p tax band, he is now caving in on his 42 Days proposal. Maggie quickly reasserterd her authority after the Shops Bill debacle and ruled until November 1990; I don't see Gordon surviving anywhere near the same length of time. Frank Field might even be right regarding Brown not being leader come the 2010 election.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Don't Worry Gordon, New Labour has won the Crucial Battles

Jonathan Freedland yesterday expressed astonishment at how Labour spinners are seeking to interpret defeat as victory; for example claiming Boris's win as the expression of New Labour's success in reducing class resntment. But likely to bring more comfort to Gordon's beleagured psyche, is the piece by Bagehot in the Economist(yes, I know, I 've nicked their picture). He argues:

1. Wheras Tories in the 80s merely dismissed poverty as the fault of the poor and the price society paid for overall economic success, Cameron has focused on the 10p tax issue in the Crewe byelection. It is New Labour's success in changing the political weather which has caused this.

2. On the NHS Labour has 'entrenched a consensus in favour of a universal, taxpayer funded heatlh service.'

3. On diversity and tolerance Labour has hauled the Conservatives into the 21st century on matters such a homosexuality and the promotion of female and ethnic candidates.

4. Like his political hero, Tony Blair, Cameron has learned to 'emote, to act, to do politics in his shirtsleeves'. [he columnist adds 'One of Mr Brown's problems is he can't, not really'.]

Bagehot quotes a senior Tory who says 'The next election will be won by whoever is most New Labour' So, that settles it, Labour have won hands down over the last decade. The problem is, why doesn't it feel at all like it as the next decade of their rule gets under way. Oh, perhaps I shouldn't mention it, but Freedland also suggested in the article linked above, that it would be better for Labour to lose in 2010, than win another term and then be wiped out for a generation in 2014-5.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Guido and the Commentariat

As a political blogger for the past three years, I am, unsurprisingly, a warm advocate of the political blogospere. I'm aware that some newspaper columnists might find this a bit threatening also, but the assault recently mounted by the leading blogger Guido Fawkes(in reality Paul Staines)seems way over the top:

When the great and the good assembled at the RSA last Wednesday... to bemoan their diminished status, they drew the battle-lines for a battle that should be joined and won for the blogosphere. The Commentariat desperately want to maintain their monopoly role as media gate-keepers, as the sub-edited filters of democracy and the monopoly producers of public commentary. Guido has said this before; in an age of near costless technological disintermediation "the news" is no longer what they say it is, we can make the news ourselves, unfiltered by the metropolitan media elite.

He went on to suggest Polly Toynbee was too vain or sensitive to read the critical online comments on her articles, even though many only read her to see her 'torn to shreds' by these very comments. Janet Daley was also singled out as the first member of this dated phalanx for critical attention. He promises to make a regular feature of taking columnists to task, revealing, with the help of other bloggers, he hopes, the triviality of the Commentariat's contributions to the political debate. Mmmm.

I'd make a number of observations on this:

1. We all have our own opinions on columnists. For example, I don't like Janet Daley or Simon Heffer much because they write for the rightwing press and I tend to dislike their views. Not so much their fault-they are not 'useless'- as a simple difference of opinion. I happen to like Polly Toynbee as someone who writes the the best researched articles on the left of centre and who is genuinely insightful of society and politics. It might be significant that even David Cameron thinks highly of her.

2. The best members of the commentariat study the political game very closely and can tell us a great deal about it. The likes of Andrew Rawnsley and Patrick Wintour move constantly in political circles and are very well informed as to what is happening behind the scenes, as the former's publications prove. Without their input we would lose a great deal and be much more ignorant of what is going on. They write foir the big papers and receive big salaries because they are mostly really good at their jobs.

3. Some columnists seem to be upset by critical comments. Maybe they shouldn't be, but I can understand their feelings. There is no real excuse for gratuitous rudeness or ad hominem attacks which ignore the argument. And we do have perhaps a little too much of that in the blogospere.

4. Does the political blogospere offer an adequate replacement for the commentariat? I doubt it very much. People like Guido often deal in superficial gossip, seldom offering real insights into the political scene. Furthermore, we bloggers are essentially one man bands, we lack the resources of the press or broadcasting or even most academic research programmes into our politics. Certainly the top bloggers-Dale, Guido, Montgomerie- are widely read but I suspect more for the jokes and the the personal attacks than the scant news or revealing apercus contained in their online columns. I should say that I read them regularly too, but for entertainment rather than illumination.

5. I often read the comments on these top blogs and find them often to be mindless cheerleading stuff, left by rightwing hooray henrys when they are not cliquey exchanges between people who seem to be old and rivalrous mates.

So, I'm sorry, I think much of the commentariat comprises good writing by seasoned obervers who help educate us after the manner of a mature democracy. Blogging has added a new dimension to political communication but it is still embryonic and nowhere near a substitute for what Guido attacks. People like the late Louis Heron, Peter Jenkins and Hugo Young made substantial contributions to the national debate and the likes of Rawnsley, Parris, Aaronovitch, Riddell, Simon Jenkins and Anatole Kaletsky to mention only a few, do something similar in the present day. Guido might have been annoyed at being attacked at that meeting but, I fear, it is he who takes himself too seriously and has come up with an over-reaction.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Should we Blame Blair for Labour's Crisis?

Author Robert Harris(pictured right) seems to bear the same sort of grudge against Blair as Falstaff did against Prince Hal and Lord Levy clearly does against his former patron and tennis partner. His is an odd article but intriguing. He blames Labour's spectacular implosion not on Gordon, but on Tony. Not because he has kept quiet and out of the way- he approves of all that, in the spirit of Baldwin who told his successor Chamberlain that he would neither 'spit on the deck or speak to the man at the wheel'.

He believes Blair never really took to the Commons as so many of his predecesors did; rather, he saw it as merely a means to an end in pursuit of his soaring career. Hence his decision to leave the Commons the day he left number 10. I tend to disagree with this. No-one who saw Blair at his dominant best could deny he was loving every minute of it. I tend to think he is genuinely trying to move on and genuinely not to 'spit on the deck'.

But Harris's main point may well have something in it: that with Blair gone, ('New') Labour seems to lack any purpose or raison d'etre. He's saying that the whole refashioning of the party was so much about finding the frontman and moulding the party around him, that now he has gone, Brown, together with his party, has collapsed into the resultant void. Why Brown has not been able to prevent this collapse is vividly, if partially explained, by these two quotations from Levy's memoirs:

1. I vividly recall an early Labour strategy meeting at which I first grasped the depth of Gordon Brown's anger and resentment towards Blair ... A hunched and dishevelled figure walked in, unceremoniously plopped himself down in a chair and, without so much as looking up, took out a pen and began scribbling notes. At the end, still having spoken not a word ... he rose and left"

2. Blair felt "Gordon was much better suited to waging a guerrilla war against him from No 11 than running the country once he moved into No 10"

Monday, May 12, 2008


Voter Volatility Gordon's Last Hope?

And still the bad news rolls in. Just when poor old Gordon is reeling on the ropes and praying for the bell, another volley of punches comes raining in. Yesterday was a perfect storm of reverses.

1. Prezza's Memoirs: John Prescott was the ultimate insider to the rivalry between Blair and Brown and we got some of the dirt in the first serialisation of his book:

Brown was “frustrating, annoying, bewildering and prickly”. He sulked so often during meetings that they had to be abandoned. On other occasions he could “go off like a bloody volcano”.

However, Prescott did Brown a favour in confirming that Blair did promise to stand aside, initially halfway through the second term, then subsequently at other times, especially in 2004, when he did in fact, nearly stand down. Prescott concludes the feud was 'Tony's fault', though he also urged Blair at one time, to sack his turbulent Chancedllor.

2. Levy's Memoirs: Lord Levy cannot believe that Brown knew nothing about the cash for honours practice of raising loans to finance the 2005 election. The implication is that Brown, who used the police investigation as a stick to beat Blair as he sought to hound him out of office 2006-7, was as complicit as anyone.

3. Cherie's Memoirs: Brown must have been relieved Cherie did not twist the knife. She claimed her differences with Gordon were 'nothing personal'(but can you believe that?) and reckoned Tony would have gone in 2004 had Gordon not appeared to be intent on frustrating Blair's policy for public services.

4. Possibly worst of all was the Politics Home authoritative survey of a massive 5000 strong panel which: revealed only one in five voters thinks he is doing a good job while three quarters think he is doing a bad job and half a 'very bad job'. Even worse, he falls behind Cameron on just about every leadership quality. The commentariat sharpened their knives before plunging them yesterday into the already well bloodied body of the beleagured PM.

5. Finally, an ICM poll of voters in Crewe, due to vote on 22nd May in the byelection revealed a 10% swing to the Conservatives(43%-39%) which would remove Labour's 7000 majority.

Is there any ray of hope for Gordon? Not the way he is going right now, but he does have two years to turn things around- mind you, so did Major in 1995 but he just twisted in the wind. Maybe his best consolation is that voter opinions are so volatile right now. Back in the sixties when voters were closely attached emotionally to their parties, movement was gradual and polls slow to shift. But now, cast adrift from old allegiances, they are like spinnakers, filling up with any passing breeze and haring off in different directions. So we saw Brown's healthy lead in August 2007 dissolve within a few days after Osborne's speech on inheritance tax. The current crush voters have on Dave could end almost as easily in my view; all it needs is a thoroughly negative story or a policy slip up by him, or, more likely his close supporters, for example Boris in City Hall.

PS Oh Lor! Frank Field has just said he doesn't think Gordon will be leader of the party at the time of the next election!

Sunday, May 11, 2008


An End to Chewing Gum Misery?

Back in 2004 Tony Blair signalled that the nation's 28m. chewing gum addicts would be targetted to stop casting their spent gum on pavements and the like. Readers of this blog will be aware of my obsession with litter and, if I could be bothered to type it out, I'd be one of the half million people who each year write to their local authority complaining about these noxious and apparently irremovable substances.

It has always been the greatest mystery to me why we can perform the most delicate brain operations and plan to land a spacecraft on an asteroid, but cannot find a way to clean gum splattered on the pavements- and that's every pavement in the country- in a cost effective way. High pressure cleaners have to be used and it's expensive, too expensive for most local authorities, let alone that in charge of the dirtiest town in the UK, Stockport. All we need is a substance which dissolves the sodding stuff so that it can be washed away.

But now a possible solution appears on the horizon. We learn the Revolymer, a spin-off from Bristol University, will be awarded £10m to develop a new gum which will dissolve in water and disappear from pavements within 24 hours. If this brand replaces all the others, then some respite for litter haters might be at hand. But there still remains the problem of removing the stuff accumulated over the past few decades. I note Venice bans the stuff from being brought in by any visor and that in Singapore, they have the good sense to punish people who use it by making them walk naked down Orchard St with gum affixed to they genitals.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


Why Won't Hillary Throw in the Towel?

With Obama on 1,840 delegates to Clinton's 1,684 and leading in Oregon (but trailing in Kentucky), not to mention the near universal commentariat consensus that Obama has won it, it seems Hillary's determination to continue the contest is quixotic in the extreme. Why is she doing it? An admixture of reasons I think:

1. She is no quitter. Like her husband she believes in fighting to the last gasp and is ever optimistic that victory will reward her efforts. Once the 'Comeback Kid' always the same kid.

2. She's hoping that maybe Barrack's campaign might get suddenly derailed and that she'll be the deserving beneficiary- though I doubt if her own campaign will be quite so ad hominem from now on. Maybe she's accepted the chances are that Obama will win it.

3. She wants to extract something from this extended Sisyphian struggle and playing the game to the end will maximize her chances. Quite possibly now she's after the Vice Presidency; Obama has actually accepted in public that she would be well qualified for such a position.

4. Being the VP would be a terrible comedown but it would at least entrench the Clintons back in the White House. Who knows, she may hope that Chelsea might opt for a career in politics after being so active and effective in Mom's campaign.

5. This last reason should not really be articulated but it already has by some. Obama might win his way into power, but given the redneck, cracker, plain crazy nature of many marginal American social sub-sets, the chances of him being assassinated by one of their number must be high enough for some bookies to have already stopped taking bets.

Friday, May 09, 2008


Referendum Plot Thickens

I thought it would get worse and it has. Labour Blogger Bob Piper, in his comment on my post of yesterday, thought Wendy's scheme a good one; and so it is, in theory, but it appears as a challenge when Gordon certainly doesn't need his authority bashed any more, leastways not by previously loyal friends.

It seems Brown is furious with Alexander for bouncing him with her 'bring it on' exhortation. The Guardian today quotes a 'senior Labour figure in London' as saying:

"Is Wendy Alexander damaged? Yes. Is Gordon Brown damaged? Yes. Is the Labour party damaged? Yes. Is Alex Salmond strengthened? Yes. Wendy did not tell Gordon about her announcement ... This is Wendy Alexander incorporated."

Meanwhile a Yougov poll shows Labour on a meagre 23% and Conservatives on whopping 49%. All the appearances are that Labour is still digging when it desperately needs a period of calm to retrench and settle itself. But one thought was thrown into the mix this morning by Andrew Neill talking to Jim Naughtie, when he suggested the referendum ought to be a national one as Scotland leaving the union has implications for all of us. He's got a point.

Thursday, May 08, 2008


Salmond likely to be only Beneficiary of Wendy's Plan

Wendy Alexander's attempt to 'call the SNP bluff' over an independence referendum, seems about as sensible as her brother's(Cabinet minister Douglas and onetime close Gordon adviser) fevered advocacy of the 'election that never was' last autumn. It seems illadvised for the following reasons:

1. Given that Brown opposes such a move, it further challenges Gordon's tattered authority in the wake of those grisly election results and this from someone hitherto regarded as an uber loyalist to the leader of the clan. Gordon looked all over the shop at PMQs when he denied the Scottish Labour leader had ever made such a suggestion. An own goal offered to Cameron with no effort onh his part.

2. As the SNP is in power such a call is fruitless as it is only the SNP which can make this decision anyway. It may be the case that such a vote now, according to the polls, would not produce the result Salmond thinks he might get through waiting until 2010. His plan is to continue his so far highly successful period in government until the Scottish public, made receptive by his ardent wooing, feel ready to go the whole way. But the decision is his and not Ms Alexander's.

3. Faced with a referendum right now, who is to say voters north of the border might not, in a mood of cocking a snook at London, vote for it and defy the polls?

4. By causing such confusion Wendy has handed the SNP leader a huge propaganda victory by appearing to support his policy and yet contradicting her leader at the same time.

5. ..and this is the big one... should the Scots vote for independence and sheer away into the North Sea, Labour would lose the value of Scottish Labour MPs-currently 40 strong- and maybe never lead a largely English government again.

It would seem this is too great a risk to take, a futile attempt to win political advantage and evidence that big sister Wend is no better at political strategy than her wee brother Douggie. By exposing her party leader like this Ms Alexander might have to pay with her resignation some way down the line.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


Times Poll Overflows Gordon's Cup of Woe

Oh dear! Just when we thought, after uber Labour supporter Polly Toynbee's blast yesterday, that it couldn't get any worse for Gordon, the The Times reveals that, oh yes, it can. And it has. Its Populus poll today has 55% of Labour voters, wanting Brown to stand down in favour of a more electable alternative. After riding so high in last summer's polls, this must be the prime example of a prime minister crashing and burning in record time. I once interviewed Cecil Parkinson and he essayed his own 'Parkinson's Law' that voters will let you succeed but they will usually prevent you getting what you most want. Accordingly, Brown wanted to be a great prime minister; he has been denied. But, ultimately, he has only himself to blame. On political strategy(the election that never was), competence(the missing data disks, etc, etc) and poverty policy(the 10p tax band) his judgements and presentational skills have been lamentable.

Riddell notes that Brown and Darling have slumped in poll ratings of economic competence from 61% in September last year, to 30% now. On the brighter side- and God knows Gordon needs one- the surge for the Lib Dems means Cameron has to fight battles on two fronts with Vince Cable biting chunks out of his economic policies as well as the party competing for the same marginals ihn the south. Secondly, while Cameron and Osborne have progressed from 27% 'most trusted on the economy' last September to 40% now, Riddell argues much remains to be done:

The Tories need a firmer base if they are to win outright rather than merely deny Labour an absolute majority. As the Cameron camp accepts, the Tories have to do much more to give the public a reason to vote for them rather than against Labour.

As long as this continues to be the case, Gordon still has a chance to earn redemption. But time, and opportunities are fast running out.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


Don't Rule out a Leadership Callenge Completely

My picture shows Gordon nearly a year ago accepting the leadership of his party. As we know, a year is an eternity in politics and much has happened since the fulfilllment of Gordon's life-long dream on that day in June 2007. In accepting his new office he said:

I will endeavour to justify every day and in every act the trust you have placed in me. Leadership is an awesome responsibility.

Few in the Labour Party would now agree that the responsibility to which Brown refers, has been successfully carried out. Scores of Labour backbenchers in marginal seats will be waking up in the small hours worrying about how they will survive in the unforgiving world of employment outside Westminister. More than one or two will be wondering if a leadership challenge, even at this late stage, might, if not win the next election, then at least help them protect their seats. The received wisdom is that no challenge will be forthcoming, but, with the Crewe byelection and the 42 day vote looming, Jackie Ashley yesterday added this qualification:

if things are still looking bleak by autumn conference, there could be a revolt. (Ignore that stuff about Labour's rules making it too difficult. Believe me, if there's a will, they'll find a way.)

Our knowledge of politicians suggest Ashley is not too wide of the mark. She is right that few potential challengers would wish to lead their party into opposition, the fate that currently would seem to await them. One can imagine that the likes of David Miliband- who has eschewed any challenge himself- would be included in such a category, but can we wholly exclude the possibility that such a temporary role- being prime minister for a year or more- might appeal to some of the older warhorses among Labour's leadership cadres?

I have in mind the likes of Charles Clarke, never a friend of Gordon, and Jack Straw, always more ambitious than he seems, who might like to round off distinguished political careers with a spot in the top job. And I wouldn't rule out of the equation the likes of Geoff Hoon, Alan Johnson or even John Hutton. OK, it's unlikely to happen but who would have imagined John Major as PM in the summer of 1990?

Sunday, May 04, 2008


Ray of Hope for Labour?

Deep in the catacombs of defeat and despair, I read the piece by Mathew Taylor today in the Observer and a flicker of optimism stirred somewhere in my slumped breast. The son of Laurie, reflects on how being a Tory has now traversed the territory from alien pariah to acceptable element of the mainstream over these past few years, especially since Cameron became leader. I have a deep suspicion that once in power a very different animal, blue in tooth and Thatcherite claw will emerge and that it is this hope which sustains those millions of suburban voters who have resolved to vote Tory next election. Of course it's also been a lot to do with Gordon, whatever Ken might have said in his speech on Friday.

So what of us in the Labour Party? Should we give up the ghost and accept we're done for? Taylor suggests this is the surest way for 'a slump to turn into a rout'; the Major experience suggests he's right. Instead, he says if he were still in Number 10 workihng on political strategy for the PM, he'd advise a big interview in which:

he should announce that he will dedicate his efforts to delivering a very short list of very important outcomes by the spring of 2010.

This list should comprise:

1. Family prosperity and economic stability;

2. Reducing poverty;

3 and 4 Improvements in key public service indicators.

Maybe this would not work- the rot may have set in too far, but at least it would be positive, would be in line with Brown's oft stated goals, and would appear decisive, optimistic and allow Labour to 'define the battlefield'.

It is a strategy which requires clarity, risk-taking, consistency and discipline. Not so far characteristics that have been overly in evidence. But it is in adversity that we really learn what our leaders are made of.

Saturday, May 03, 2008


The Real Test is Just Beginning for Boris and the Tories

As expected from the national trend, Boris won and is now mayor of London. After second preferences had been distributed Boris garnered 53.18% and Ken 46.82%. It was a good contest, won fair and square and Boris's support in the outer London boroughs revealed that the Tory south has probably now ended its love affair with New Labour. But, once they have enjoyed the 'drink' to which Boris referred in his gracious acceptance speech, he and his colleagues will face a severe test.

The media love Boris- his clownish personna, his habitual gaffes and his taste for Hampstead middle class promiscuity at the office. He is a popular figure-even I like Boris; but celebrity politicians face special hazards. The media will be all over him for months- and the rightwing press as much as the left as readers will buy any paper detailing mistakes by the famous former Bullingdonite. 'Events' might well keep him awake at night as things he cannot control begin to create problems as they always do in politics. My bet would be that the first cock-up will have arrived by September this year and that, in all probability they'll keep on coming. Dave himself might find sleep a bit hard to sustain during these first few dangerous months.

Friday, May 02, 2008


How Worse Can it Get?

Doing his best to sound gracious, Gordon Brown concedes it was a bad night for Labour. The figures speak for themselves: Conservatives 364 gains translating into 9 councils won, a 4% increase in vote nationwide plus 44% of the national vote; Labour: 243 seats lost, 8 councils lost, including some heartland ones in South Wales and the North, including Hartlepool and only 24% of the national vote; Lib Dems 15 seats gained, three councils won and 25% of the national vote representing an excellent night for them when they pushed Labour into third place.

The BBC website notes that Labour has not done this badly since the late sixties. If these shares of the vote were replicated at a general election Labour would be reduced to 169 MPs and the Tories would have a thumping majority of 138. Pessimists were saying we might do as badly as in 2004, when these seats were last contested: we did 2% worse. We lost Reading, Bury and a clutch of Welsh councils plus leaving the Lib Dems, condemned by the Audit Commission are still in charge of Liverpool.

To say this was a bad night is an understatement; it is profoundly depressing. Being a little more philosophical, Labour has had eleven years in power and such things have to be expected. But watching Gordon talk of another 'relaunch' as Major did so impotently in the mid nineties, is even more depressing, as is the thought that he is, by no small means, one of the agencies for Labour's sad decline. I was delighted, I have to say, that my own councillor, Colin Foster in Stockport, Heatons South, won by a clear margin from the Tory, bucking the national trend yet again. But I have to add, even more gloomily(pass the bottle), that I don't expect Ken to beat Boris when the result of the iconic London mayoral contest is announced this evening.

Thursday, May 01, 2008


The Limits of Party Activist Consultation

According to Patrick Wintour, said to be close to Labour's inner counsels, local parties will be canvassed on future policy directions following what will probably be something of a disastrous set of local election results. It seems six draft policy documents will be despatched to constituency parties 24 hours after the elections with rights of amendement given to the local cadres. Will this so much good? I doubt it. How many 'Big Conversation' type consultations have there been under both Blair and Brown? And how many have actually happened?

In my experience local activists have few ideas on policy- they rather think such matters should be the responsibility of the experts at the top of the party, buttressed, when in power, by the deep expertise of government departments. Local activists are better at saying 'we don't like this idea' rather than saying 'we think we should be doing A,B or C...' It was different in the old days when members were infused with the spirit of socialist conviction. It was firmly believed that collective ownership- in the UK that meant by the state- would make the economy both fairer and more efficient. Well, experience proved that wrong by some measure and few activists now still retain that socialist soapbox based on Old Labour ideas.

That is not to say activists do not have something useful to contibute. For example, I'd say we in the Labour party favour: avoidance of foreign military excursions unless absolutely necessary and 'doable'; well funded public services which do not involve too much private sector input; steady democratic reform; redistributive fiscal policies in favour of the lower paid; and, perhaps most important, efficient gaffe-free government. As long as these conditions are met, most activists would prefer to leave the detail of policy to the specialists.

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