Thursday, June 25, 2009
Skipper in Dubrovnik for Few Days
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
BNP Ruled Offside By Membership Discrimination?
There always seemed a contradiction about that, I have always thought. The simplistic version of democracy enjoins us to allow everyone to have their say and be elected if they can accumulate enough votes. But the inclusivity precept has been enshrined in law for some years now via the Race Relations Act and the BNP is allegedly in breach of three of its provisions. Given that the BNP would like to send immigrants back to where they come from, it is hardly surprising they discriminate against ethnic minorities by specifying their membership open to those who according to its constitution, are of
"'indigenous Caucasian' and defined 'ethnic groups' emanating from that race".
It's hard not to agree with Peter Tatchell who says:
"I am astonished that successive governments have allowed the BNP to get away with the exclusion of non-white people, many people who voted for them as a protest may not have done so if they had known."
Final thought: why do all the BNP supporters in the picture look like air stewardesses?
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Speaker Issue only Half Resolved after Vote
Rumours abound that a group of Tories are planning to remove him once they are in office after next May. It would be a pity if this plan materialised but I doubt if it will. After a few months such ideas will seem absurdly petty and if and when they win, removing Bercow will appear the least of Tory priorities. But emotions are running high because, as Dorries suggested, the Conservatives feel Labour imposed the hated Bercow on them as a last act of spite before they lose the next election.
Why do they hate him so? Firstly because thery think he has curried favour with New Labour, moving swiftly from far right to the cusp of defection, probably encouraged by his Labour activist wife; illwishers suggest he 'discovered sex and the Labour party at the same time'. 'Turncoats' are pretty always close to the bottom of popularity polls in most organisations and Bercow was seen as someone virtually in Labour's ranks already. Secondly he is seen as extraordinarily bumptious and arrogant: not pretty character traits and ones which will prove major handicaps if the perception persists in office.
Thirdly, he is known for disrespecting colleagues, for example, correcting their grammar under his breath; now that would irritate even the most equable of colleagues. I just wonder though, if there is not a fourth reason. I recall a very senior adviser to a former Tory PM telling me he was sure Leon Brittan had his career derailed partly because of residual anti-semitism in the senior ranks of the Conservative Party. Bercow, as we know, is the son of a humble Jewish taxi-driver.
But all this can disappear. All Bercow needs to do is to make a big success of his new job and this gossip will become the merest historical froth. He will have to demonstrate he is totally committed to his stated rerform agenda and deploy industrial quantities more of the charm which his hustings speech and acceptance remarks suggests he has.
Monday, June 22, 2009
It's Widdy for Me for Speaker
And what about the others? I do hope Margaret Beckett doesn't get it. She'd be competent and worthy but, after a long period of Labour Speakers it must be fair for a Conservative to get the job for a spell. More importantly, Margaret would be so boring! Sir George Young is also mentioned as a strong runner. He seems OK, but there were a few expenses questions about him weren't there? and maybe we have enough old Etonians knocking around the centres of power right now.
As for John Bercow, he may have changed his spots from when he was the last hope of stern and unbending Thatcherism but, I can well recall disliking him then quite a bit and his candidacy smacks a bit too much of 'last gasp' careerism to me.
No, Widdy ticks all the boxes for me, though a decade ago I would not have backed her conduct a bus let alone the Commons. I have respected the way she has taken much criticism for being a fusty old rightwing spinster but has remained unashamedly true to who she is. And she has bottle, something you need from time to time as Speaker. She says she's standing down next election, so only a stop-gap Speaker? I reckon she'd stay on if she got the gig.
Friday, June 19, 2009
Wonderful Hypocrisy Recorded for Posterity
I do hope this footage is still available to historians when they come to write this one up in years to come. Thank you Alan Duncan, we are forever in your debt, also Gavin Trait's to whom the hat-tip.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Memo to Future Speaker: Don't Get Rid of PMQs
But I for one would be sad to see it go. Politics can be boring and inaccessible to the electorate; it is by nature complex and difficult. But PMQs
is an interlude in the week when a dash of colour,understandable to all, is added to the grey and sepia of public life. The gladiatorial aspect of the encounter can cause the baying and the pathetic attempts at soundbites, but at least we see our two major national leaders, facing up to each other in the theatre of the House of Commons. And wit and quickness of repartee is an indication of an important quality in my book.
How well the leaders perform is not of great moment to voters- Hague's brilliant showings against Blair, didn't help his poll ratings- but PMQs provides an opportunity for party leaders to rally their troops and inspire them for what should be a nationally important national debate on different ways to solve our problems. Other legislatures-I'm thinking of the Scandinavian ones especially- are incredibly dull and uninspiring. It is interesting also that PMQs is regularly watched in the USA on CSpan; across the Atlantic the president is never interrogated, challenged or even spoken to roughly by members of the legislature. Future Speakers, please don't deny our system one of its few unique and genuinely entertaining features.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
How Gordon has Been Weakened and Mandy Enthroned
Time perhaps to reflect a little on the hectic political events of the last week or so. Where has it left us, and more especially Gordon Brown? He is still there, the apparent essence of his strategy, but clearly much weakened politically.
1. Darling: His pre-reshuffled Cabinet was clearly not reliable. Darling had offered resistance to the Supreme Leader, as the Eye satirically dubs him, so he was marked down for the chop. Purnell's brave sacrifice however(who knows, it might serve him in good stead later?) prevented Brown from applying the final thrust. Darling remains and, I'd guess with enhanced power over his PM.
2. Miliband: We understand Miliband was seriously considering whether to join Purnell, but then pulled back. Not much of a vote of confidence in the boss was it? Brown has to realise his Foreign Secretary will not now be dependable and firm ally. But he did agree to have his loyalty 'bought' by staying on in the office he enjoys.
3. Alan Johnson: For those of us who admire thee former postman his performance has been a little mystifying. It seems like he has opted to accept promotion in exchange for ostensible loyalty. Maybe he is playing a longer game, but even now he carries a veto over his boss should he wish to use it.
4. Labour Party: Having to face a virtual 'trial' by PLP last Monday evening must have been humiliating to a proud man. Never mind that his shadowy myrmidons had worked the crowd beforehand and that whips were recording the names of those who spoke against him, he must have hated having to appear so vulnerable in front of a group he had so easily dominated hitherto. And have to promise so vehemently to improve his performance must have stuck in his throat as well. He must know he is only there on sufferance and because there is nobody with the bottle to stand against him. He will have to offer concessions to bolster his support. I reckon ID cards might still be one such a sop, just as the inquiry into the Iraq war has.
5.Mandelson: This is the politician who has emerged with the most enhanced power and prestige from the crisis. And his performance deserves it. He it has been who has stitched up support and facilitated the re-eshuffle when it was going pearshaped. He it was who remained ice cool when everyone else was panicking. He has won, through his feats, a super department and a bigger ofice even than Heseltine's when he was deputy to Major. He is so strong that he can rewrite Brownite policy at will, stating confidently that we were 'obviously' heading for entry into the single currency.
The irony of the ultimate Blairite propping up his bitterest enemy is just too delicious. He could have despatched him, one supposes but chose to allow him to live. I tend to agree with The Economist when it suggests the Hannibal Lector of our politics must derive pleasure from keeping on his former mortal foe at his pleasure:
Lord Mandelson could easily have destroyed his erstwhile foe. Yet to a refined palate, the one-off rush of bringing down an old adversary might seem a crass and unsatisfying triumph. How much more gratifying to hold his fate in your hands every day—and he knowing you own it? It is a turn of events that, before he became prime minister, Mr Brown cannot have anticipated in his worst, wildest dreams.
Monday, June 15, 2009
Iran Situation Hard to Read
President Ahmadinejad has been a worrying factor in Middle East and world politics, with his fishing in murky Iraqi waters; his determination to acquire nuclear weapons; and his rabid anti-semitism including his astonishing denial that the Holocaust ever happened(I always find this last opinion amazing to encounter). We have read many recent reports of Iranians, especially younger women and men, smarting under absurd civil rights curbs, often relating to sharia law. Homosexuals and aldulterers can be punished, sometimes with death by public hanging.
In the build up to the election the campaign was very lively with extraordinary televised debates witnessing Ahmadinejehad casting slurs on the wife of his main rival Mousavi. Opinion polls are notoriously unreliable in Iran but most commentators predicted a win for the challenger. Was this just wishful thinking? We are so used to experts predicting our elections that it's hard to digest, in the light of such analyses, the eventual 'outcome' of a 63% win for the incumbent.
I'm sure left of centre liberals like me were not alone in greeting the result with dismay and disbelief. 'Irregularities' were cited by Mousavi who has officialy challenged the result. But I have not seen any firm evidence in the press or elsewhere, of any vote rigging. I can well believe it happened- I feel sure the Iranian president's fanaticism and that of his supporters would quell any concerns they might have about violating their theocratic democratic procedures. It certainly seems odd that turnout was so amazingly high and that Mousavi almost failed to win his own area where his support is by all accounts solid. If there has been a rigging, it has been on a mega scale. But without firm evidence, all we have is this suspicion a fiddle has been perpetrated.
I see however that the resistance on the streets has not ceased and John Lines, on Radio Four's news this morning, reported a mood of defiant resistance among the nation's youth, including cries of 'death to the dictatorship'. Iraq might not prove trhe only country in this area to experience a tragic degree of blood-letting.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Poll Shows Brown is on very Thin Ice
Respondents' answers showed: 74% thought Brown was 'doing badly as prime minister; 51% thought his presence 'damaging to the country'; 49% thought a general election should be held immediately and 49% thought the Sir Alan Sugar appointment a 'silly gimmick'.
However, Cameron's joy will not have been unconfined as they also revealed that: 44% did not believe Cameron had the right 'team and policies to tackle Britain's policies'; a similar number expressed doubts over Cameron's team as a whole.
But with 40 points in the poll to Labour's 24, it's clear where the direction is leading at present with 33% saying Cameron and Osborne were most trusted to raise living standards compared with only 22% for Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. On top of this we learn today that Labour's major donors are deserting the ship as they have no confidence in the captain.
As we enter into the final year of Labour's reign, Gordon and his supporters must be praying Mr Macawber's optimism was well founded. Finally, I note Margaret Becket has given up any hopes of winning next May and predicts a hung parliament. Right now, I'd settle for that.
Friday, June 12, 2009
Are Cameron and Lansley the Only Mr 10 Per Cents?
Jon Snow made the same case on his bulletin and Peter Hain on Question Time, tried to offer a rebuttal, based, I think upon the assumption the economy will revive, but he was unconvincing. Ruth Lea, a right leaning economist, but a former Treasury official was quite convincing in her explanation that the Lansley figures were correct.
Now I am very used to disbelieving Tory attacks on Labour, but I do think,in these times of opacity and spin, one should make every effort to be even handed and truthful. So far I haven't read or heard a convincing explanation that Lansley was basing his claim on Labour's own planned spending figures. Chris Huhne suggested the government, of whatever stripe in the future should level with voters, come clean and admit spending cuts are inevitable. I think I'd prefer that personally.
Tuesday, June 09, 2009
Brown's Survival Helps Nobody Much-Byers Sums it Up
Andrew Rawnsley's Despatches last night revealed how Gordon probably saved our banking system and provided a remedial template for the rest of the world seeking salvation from the credit crisis. History might well allow him a special place for this, and the impeturbable Darling too. The problem is the mass of voters were unaware of this at the time and Brown did not receive any proper credit. More attention was given to the McBride revelations: evidence of Brown's ruthless and thuggish political style which has alienated so many in the PLP.
I was taken to task by my old sparring partner Bob Piper yesterday for apparently contradicting my Saturday post- which he took to be pro Brown- with yesterday's, which was not. I was clearly failing in my own attempts to communicate as I intended in the former to guess how things were going to turn out; in the latter I was doing the same but indicating what my feelings were about that outcome. I think Stephen Byers summed it up well for me with his comment last night:
"We all knew that under Michael Foot we were heading for defeat but we did nothing about it, Labour loyalty blinded us from the harsh electoral reality of certain defeat. After the 1983 election we had a further 14 years of Tory rule with devastating consequences for millions of citizens. We must not repeat this mistake again."
Monday, June 08, 2009
Labour's Future in the Balance
a) Conservatives push Labour into second place in Wales- the worst result for 90 years.
b) Ukip force Labour into third place behind them and in some regions they come fifth after the Greens.
c) The egregious BNP get two MEPs elected for the first time because the low poll and disgust at politicians has opened the door to them.
d) Labour lost every council it contolled in the Thursday local elections.
e) Purnell, Blears, Hutton and Smith resign from Cabinet plus some junior ministers.
f) Brown unable to move Darling from Treasury or Miliband from Foreign Office because he was too weak to risk any retialiatory action after Purnell's bombshell resignation.
g) Labour mustered only 15.3% in Euro-poll and are 20 points adrift of the Tories in some polls.
h) Labour has a prime minister who is a decent and able man but lacks some of the most vital qualities required of a national leader: communication skills, ability to relate to the voter, the ability to win the trust of his colleagues. However bad Balir was at some aspects of his job he never received th criticism Brown has after only two years in office.
Labour and its hapless prime minister could not be in a more enfeebled state but the fact is, by my reckoning, he is likely to stay. The PLP will be meeting in 30 minutes or so but my expectation is that Gordon will receive a grudging green light to stay in power. Why?
a) He has fixed the Cabinet by getting his potential rivals to accpet jobs under him. Johnson even says he couldn't do better than Brown. With nobody around whom they can coalesce, the rebels cannot go far. If Purnell, Blears and Smith had coordinated their resignations they could have brought him down. The rest, Johnson and Miliband included, lacked the bottle to do what they must know needs doing.
b) The PLP meet to dicuss whether to string Gordon up, but they are not organised and have no strategy; they are more like a directionless rabble.
c) Labour MPs know that a new leader by the end of July would mean pressure for an election they probably could not resist. So they would be put to the electoral sword just as they were in the local and euro-elections. Staying on will be excruciating, awful, but it will keep the mortgage paid-don't laugh- until 10th May 2009. I suspect this is what a majority of Labour MPs will be thinking.
Of course if they were thinking of the party and the country instead of their own circumstances, they might well think a new leader is depserately needed to provide vision, leadership, inspiration, none of them things likely to be forthcoming from Grodon Brown. I might be suprised by MPs' selflessness and concern for the body politic, but I don't think I will however much I'd like to see it.
Chatting to a US journalist today she asked why, given he was such a masterful political operater, Peter Mandelson had not ben considered? What a brilliant fulfillment of the House of Cards plt with Mandy as Francis Urquart! I had to explain he was too widely hated in the PLP to stand an earthly but reckoned he'd probably navigate Labour more skilfully through its dying months then Gordon will. How depressing is this- but maybe ther PLP meeting will surprise us all. I doubt it.
Saturday, June 06, 2009
Labour MPs Best Chances still lie with Keeping Gordon as PM
The Euro results will be a further body blow and Labour MPs meet tomorrow to discuss the crisis. Many think they will turn on Brown and turf him out, good riddance. They may well do so but I tend to agree with Mandy that this would be unwise. An election process will probably not play well with voters and it will be very hard to resist calls for an early election.
If that comes, Labour will be out for a generation. If they are wise Labour MPs will stick with Gordon- the devil they know- as that way at least they will survive until may 2010. But disillusion with Brown may cloud their judgemment and, as turkeys they may vote for Christmas.
Friday, June 05, 2009
Purnell Deals Possibly Fatal Blow But Darling Holds Trump Card
I cannot think of a time in our politics when things are so much in flux, the tmosphere so febrile, apart from late November 1990 when Thatcher was toppled. Purnell's 'strike' was perfectly timed to exact maximum damage just after Blears, before the reshuffle and before the local government and euro election results.
As I've said before, Gordon will be limpet-like in his determination to stay but the chances now must be that he'll have to go after the weekend. Miliband, Denham and Byrne have all spoken up for their beleaguered boss, so the ranks have closed to a degree but whether Gordon can survive much more of this battering, is an open question.
What is surprising and hugely ironic is that his once sworn enemy, Peter Mandelson, is able to stand in front of the cameras and make such an apparently sincere case for keeping Gordon on. With the Prince of Darkness in your corner, despite his own enemies in the PLP, it would be a rash punter who bet the mortgage on Brown stepping down anytime soon.
I tend to think Brown's problem today is to sort out the reshuffle to any degree of acceptability. Just keeping his Cabinet in post, let alone reshuffling the jobs, seems to be his immediate problem. If he can remove Darling and install Balls, he will have gone quite a way towards survival, showing the party he can still govern, still retain authority. If Darling refuses to be shifted, Brown will be so exposed it is unlikely he can survive the awful poll results.
Thursday, June 04, 2009
Gordon Secure Short-term but his Long-term Still in Doubt
Following a tense day yesterday in the Commons, I'd guess Gordon is going to hang on, proving once again the considerable power of incumbency: getting rid is much harder than leaving him there. He knows all about this, of course, from his battles with Blair He reacted cleverly to the Blears threat by praising her so generously. She was forced in the end to tread a lonely course back to Salford rather than be mobbed by fellow anti-Gordon rebels. Number Ten's briefings that she still has more guilty expenses secrets further isolated her. Then Alan Johnson once again denied any interest in the top job; Jackie Ashley says he's definitely up for it and will come round once Gordon is clearly going. Maybe.
Patrick Wintour's fascinating article today suggests a laberynthine backbench conspiracy. Hugely entertaining stuff, but can it lead to anything? In the past such movements have fizzled out but this could gather more momentum depending on how bad the election results prove to be.
Finally economic experts today on Radio 4 this morning suggested the recession may well be about to end if genuine glimmerings of recovery are sustained. Gordon has invested so much in solving this crisis for us and the world, he's not going to go if there is even an outside chance of his ministrations proving successful.
But the reshuffle will be extremely significant. Darling doesn't want to go and his supporters point to his unrivalled knowledge after two years in post. If Gordon feels strong enough he'll replace him with his loyal old mate, Ed Balls. Problem is nobody- apart from Yvette Cooper, one supposes- can stand the member for Normanton. Apart from his own expeneses questioons, he appears as superior, patronising and has no gift for explanation or communication. If Balls is appointed it could mean Gordon has won his battle to stay. But the full extent of the electoral debacle- not available until Sunday- might ratchet up the pressure still higher. We may in the lull before the real storm breaks.
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
Will Gordon Really Go This Time?
Prediction time: I think we are in the last month of Brown's glorious reign. He will be forced out after Thursday's certain disaster. Labour will be forced to go to the country with a new leader. And they will lose heavily.
Having read The Guardian's grim editorial today; the fact that Hazel Blears has also scurried back to her constituency; and that Betfair punters think we're heading for an early election, I think my commenter might be at least partly right. The Guardian allows for not a sliver of possibility that Brown can carry on:
This week Mr Brown announced a national democratic council that might (to see it in a generous light) form the basis of the sort of constitutional convention that led to Scotland's modern parliament. But it is too late. The chance for him has passed...The truth is that there is no vision from him, no plan, no argument for the future and no support. The public see it. His party sees it. The cabinet must see it too, although they are not yet bold enough to say so...Labour has a year left before an election; its current leader would waste it. It is time to cut him loose.
The problem with this scenario is that it cannot be clear an angry electorate will passively accept a second unelected prime minister on the trot. The editorial suggests the replacement- it clearly seems to envisage PR favouring Alan Johnson- could argue Labour needs a little more time to fix things in the short time before an election is going to happen anyway.
Such a story might work or might easily not. More problematic it seems to me are the following questions:
1. Will Gordon go voluntarily? Going down in history as a 'failed prime minister' who only lasted two years is something Brown would hate to do and the alternative will have to appear much worse for him to take it.
2.If he won't go quietly- and my feeling is he won't- will the Cabinet and/or the PLP have the bottle to confront him with the whisky bottle and the revolver as the Tory Cabinet did Thatcher in November 1990?
3. Will the Lib Dems- and this could be crucial- support another year of Labour in power? Yes, they will if Labour promises to introduce fair voting.
The pressure has been building for weeks now- triggered by the expenses scandal and the obvious collapse in any remaining voter trust in our present political system. The next few days could produce as big a change in our politics as we've seen since that fraught week in autumn 1990 when Thatcher reluctantly allowed her fingers to be prized from Number 10's door. We do, at least, live in interesting times.
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
Labour's Big Guns Suggest Government is Crumbling
Oh Lor! Just when we thought it couldn't get any worse, it has and will do still more I suspect. Patricia Hewitt is leaving, in the old euphemism, to 'spend more time with her family' and Jacqui Smith is going to leave Cabinet, presumably because she recognises she has been badly damaged by the expenses scandal. But she intends to stand again in the next e2lection, so is she avoiding the forthcoming electoral debacle to appear unsullied when returned in a year's time? Could be.
Who's next? Well Alistair Darling is currently twisting in the wind after admitting fault by repaying monies for which he claimed illegitimately. Geoff Hoon is another who must be feeling the point of Damocles' sword pressing on his neck. And there could be others if the3 Telegraph has its way. Where does this leave Gordon? Deep within the toilet I fear. His anticpated reshuffle now looks destabilised before he has even begun and moving Ed Balls in for Darling won't fix anything; he must be among the least popular ministers in the government.
Will a disaster on Thursday- say coming third or fourth behind UKIP in the euro-elections- precipitate: a delegation from the Cabinet asking Brown to resign; a backbench uprising to get rid of him; or a combination of both? According to the The Guardian today Brown is hoping trhat after 'seven days of torture' he can settle down with a new Cabinet and hope to rebuild. Clearly he hopes that the tiny signs that the recession has bottomed out and that maybe growth is around the corner makes him think he can survive.
I'd say the odds are well against that. Even a tribal Labour member like me, for the first time since 1983, is not voting for the party on Thursday. Enough is enough I fear.