Monday, October 29, 2012


Prisoner's Voting Rights Sets Tricky Problem for Cameron

 Chinese prisoners exercise the right to vote                 

Prisoners do not have the right to vote yet according to a ruling of the the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) they should be given such a right. If prisoners do not receive the vote by 22nd November UK will be in breach of the Convention which British lawyers effectively drafted way back in 1950. Several prisoners have begun proceedings against the government and they stand to win substantial sums of money. What to do?

Dave has decided no government he is in charge of will ever introduce such a measure- it is alleged to make him feel 'physically sick', which, surely, is taking things just a little too far. Am I in favour of letting them vote? On balance I think I am. This government has gone on about rehabilitation, closing the revolving door that makes it likely criminals offend soon after they have been let out of the nick. Seems to me one way of encouraging them to rejoin society is to enable them to exercise some of its important functions of which voting is or should be, one. Dave thinks they have forfeited their right to vote by breaking the law. Hmm.

The Attorney General has been frightfully unhelpful in suggesting his colleagues should acceded to the courts ruling. Lib Dems tend to agree. What will happen? Not sure but I can't see Dave backing down when he has stated his position so clearly. It would be so lovely if Grieve would resign over the issue but while he's old school enough to think principle matters, I don't think he's really THAT old school.  But this is what he thinks about the idea that we should withdraw from the ECHR:

"Some have also argued that the solution for the UK in view of these problems is to withdraw from the convention altogether on the grounds that it is an undesirable and unnecessary fetter of national sovereignty in decision-making. I disagree. Withdrawal would result in reputational damage."

Good for you Dom. Seems to me a compromise whereby offenders on short sentences get to vote would be better than old lags picking up spiffingly big payouts for successfully suiing the government. This one will be interesting to watch as it happens.

Saturday, October 27, 2012


Why oh Why do we Keep Putting the Clocks Back?

[Last year, about this time, and all the years before that since 2005, I expressed my indignation at the absurd putting back of clocks every year by that precious hour. I have not heard one single person in favour of this measure which continues to shroud in gloom a period of the year which does not need any more more gloom than it already has. So I'm republishing my post of last October and intend to do so until this ridiculous outdated practice is done away with(I know, I know).]

No doubt most people in this country have felt the first chill of autumn as recent unseasonably warm temperatures begin to give way. This reminder that winter is at hand is bad enough but what astonishes me is our government's insistence on putting the clocks back by an hour; this year it's today 27th October.

The case against this joyless annual donning of a temporal hair shirt is as follows:

i) studies show that while there might be more accidents in the mornings these would be more than compensated for by fewer in the evenings; The Guardian some time ago, quoted studies predicting a net saving of 140 lives.

ii) 80 per cent of the population want to keep summer time throughout the year.

iii) Many influential pressure groups favour it, including the CBI, the Police and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.

iv) the experiment of maintaining BST through the winter 1968-71 was, as far as I recall, a substantial success.

v) It would extend the tourist season, the sporting season and..., perhaps most important of all it would make us all feel a damn sight better about the miserable imminence of winter.

The case against reversing the measure is summed up in the two words: Scottish farmers. They would face much darker mornings as the sun would not rise until 10.0am. However, against this it can be adduced:

i) The rate of decline in accidents would actually be greater in Central Scotland(5.5%) than in the south of England(2.5%).

ii)When I used to visit Northern Sweden regularly, farmers up there did not see daylight until much later than 10.0am and accepted it as part of their cost for living in that latitude.

iii) Now Scotland has its own parliament, why doesn't it set its own regional time and do us all a big favour?

iv) is it fair that a nation of 60 million should suffer merely because a few hundred farmers should be able to see their cows more clearly on a winter's morning?

In the war we had a clocks turned forward two hours- Double Summer Time!- why not return to those good old days? Brown might even find his recently flagging popularity recovering immensely if he introduced this simple yet highly popular measure.

I know this is a futile gesture as it will make no difference but it's become a matter of principle with me so I'm going to carry on until someone sees sense. It's also a measure of how much I really do hate the darker nights.

One way of looking at it is that if Scotland gets its independence we can happily stop worrying about their sodding farmers and introduce a time regime which conforms with the wishes of the majority of those living south of the Scottish border. Never thought I'd offer any word of support for Alex Salmond!

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Gategate Exposes Deeper Problems for Cameron

We knew he should go- if anyone ever walking that plank of ministerial vulnerability deserved to be poked off the end it was this guy- but Cameron had made it a matter of honour and his own authority to stand by his Chief Whip for the past error strewn month. But walking around the Tea Rooms Wednesday and Thursday, Mitchell was shocked at how little support he had, especially from the crucial 2010 intake, allegedly miffed because so few of their number were preferred in the September reshuffle.The worst of all outcomes has descended upon Dave: after staking his authority upon his man he has had to stand by and watch Mitchell himself- a stone lighter and clearly suffering from stress- throw in the towel.

To cap it all a silly story, which continued the 'out of touch' narrative, suddenly arrived- the wonderfully tabloid entitled 'Great Train Snobbery' where George Osborne seemingly tried to travel first class on a standard class ticket on the train to London. The broadside in The Daily Telegraph by the Thatcherite former Cabinet minister minces no words. Forget about the 'toff' thing, he insists, its about competence

"This dog of a coalition government has let itself be given a bad name and now anybody can beat it. It has let itself be called a government of unfeeling toffs. Past governments have had far more real Tory toffs: prime ministers Alec Douglas-Home and Harold Macmillan, or even in Thatcher's day, Whitelaw, Soames, Hailsham, Carrington, Gowrie, Joseph, Avon, Trenchard and plenty more, without incurring similar abuse."

It came down essentially to whether you believed Andrew Mitchell, the high and mighty Chief Whip or the humble No 10 bobby. Seems nobody believed his protestations of innocence, despite the oddness of the word 'pleb'; I wouldn't have expected someone like Mitchell to have used the word. Add to that the Police Federation's determination to wrong foot the government and you have a possible exaggeration of what actually happened. 

But swearing obscenely at policemen- though he had both admitted and denied that charge- is sufficient reason for him to stand down in my view. It also seems the man was so disliked by his fellow MPs that he was an unsuitable appointment in the first place. Dave must have thought a tough disciplinarian was the best way to bring unruly MPs back into line. Oh boy, did he make a big mistake.
Once his spat was publicised there was no way he could realistically rein in recalcitrant MPs. That Cameron failed to realise this when everyone else had, is evidence that he has almost totally lost his grip on this faltering government.

But Tebbitt's main thrust inn his piece today in The Observer, is the lack of competence of this government. The astonishing initiative tken by Cameron over energy costs when he announced all energy companies will have to charge consumers the lowest rate, flummoxed energy ministers who had nothing about it. Former Tory MP Michael Brown must have spoken for a big raft of his former colleagues when he wrote:

 ."It is utterly hopeless," he said. "The prime minister goes to the dispatch box on Wednesday and says we are all going to get the cheapest tariff for gas and electricity. So, great. But the next day the energy minister appears and he doesn't know anything about the announcement because he is only the energy minister. It is make it up as you go along time."

Monday, October 15, 2012


Pray Clegg Has Backbone over 'Proposed Cash for Seats' Deal

It's hard to know how much the Lib Dems have moderated the desire of the Tory right to shrink the state and generally slash and burn in accordance with their basic ideas, if not nature. It often seems he has just been Dave's fall-guy, happy to soak up the flak for Cameron's more unpopular policies. You kind of get the feeling sometimes that, like Blair, Nick is much more a Tory than a real Liberal. But at least he had his mission to democratise the ramshackle British constitution- that, at least was on all fours with the likes of Gladstone, Lloyd George and the rest .

So how did that one go? Well, David kind of made a deal to let him have the referendum on reforming the voting system- not PR of course, but an enfeebled, miserable half measure: the Alternative Vote. Dave indicated he would not campaign up front against a measure he naturally opposed. But his right-wing got te wind up at what they feared would be a thin end of the wedge which would allow in PR and lock out Conservatives for the foreseeable future.

Dave then came out with all guns blazing against AV and poor old Nick was left with nothing but a humiliating 2-1 drubbing. Nick then picked himself up and focused his attentions on reforming the Lords- now that would be a legacy to stand alongside those of LG and the crowd. Just think, Nick Clegg brought democracy to Britain's ancient, cobwebbed upper chamber; that's more than a mere footnote in the history books. Well it would have been if things had gone as planned. Dave promised to carry his party with him but his recalcitrant right wingers, so emboldened by their gains in 2010, and angry at Dave for not winning that election as they felt they deserved, effectively destroyed Clegg's shining new vision of a reformed Lords. I wondered if Nick would shrug, smile his 'I'm going to be sick' smile and find reasons why he had to go along with his senior partner. But he showed bottle and told the Tories that in response he would deny them their plans to reduce seats in the Commons and  redraw boundaries likely to deliver them 20 crucial seats in 2015.

The right wing hated this and the wailing was loud and intense. But then some clever clog right-wingers came up with a cunning plan, as explained in the FT: why not offer the hapless Cleggster some state funding for his bankrupt party? And in exchange Nick would sign up to the boundary changes as originally planned. These are times when we need Clegg to stand up for what he is alleged to believe. So far the omens are good, according to the article:

" Mr Clegg’s aides said the deputy prime minister would not change his mind and back the boundary review, not least because his veto proved extremely popular in the party and among his own MPs.
“This is completely for the birds and shows an element of desperation if they think they can buy us off,” one aide said. “The Tories are just realising what a mistake they made in blocking Lords reform.”
Sir Menzies Campbell, a former Lib Dem leader, said: “Nick Clegg has made the Liberal Democrat position quite clear. I can’t conceive of any circumstances in which he would change his mind.”

I do so hope Ming is right in his forecast.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


'Borismania' is Just Froth- He'll Never be PM

My last post was on Bojo and, following the conference, I'm offering another. The reactions to Boris are fascinating. A rock star welcome at the conference- they just so lo9ved him to bits. But Decca Aitkenhead in The Guardian today says everyone she asked would he be prime minister, said no chance. Even more interesting is the venomous hate this jovial old comedian provokes. In the Daily Mail yesterday the brilliant military historian and sometime boss to Boris when editor of the Telegraph, vent his spleen over the most popiular politician in the country.

Writing in the Daily Mail Boris Johnson’s former editor, Max Hastings claims to like the man and admires his journalistic ability as well as recognising his crowd pleasing gifts-‘He is an authentic star who lights up every room he enters’-but he also expresses grave doubts about both his character suitability for high office.

‘If the day ever comes that Boris becomes tenant of Te Downing St, I shall be among those packing my bags for a new life in Buenos Aires or suchlike, because it means that Britain has abandoned its last pretensions to be a serious country.’

‘Most politicians are ambitious and ruthless, but Boris is a gold medal egomaniac. I would not trust him with my wife- nor- painful experience- my wallet. It is unnecessary to take any moral view about his almost crazed infidelities but it is hard to believe that any man so conspicuously incapable of controlling his own libido is fir to be trusted wit controlling the country.’

‘His chaotic public persona is not an act-he is indeed maniacally disorganised about everything except his own image management. He is also a far more ruthless ands frankly nastier figure than the public appreciates.’

‘Forget all the denials, Boris yearns wit a mad hunger to become prime minister.’.

‘The reason so many young people are potty about Boris is precisely because he is not serious, because he treats the whole business of politics as a bit of a lark.’

Boris Johnson was at the conference for one purpose only-the exaltation of himself…. He is not a man to believe in, to trust or respect save as a superlative exhibitionist. He is bereft of judgment, loyalty or discretion. Only in the star=crazed frivolous Britain of the 21st century could such a man have risen so high- and he is utterly unfit  to go higher still.’

Finally, what does the daily bible of the true blues think of BoJo?

 The Daily Mail editorial hammers more nails into the coffin of Johnson’s ambitions.
 ‘At City Hall Mr Johnson’s main role is to act as a cheer-leader  for the capital; while his administrative duties are relatively light. There is plenty o scope to indulge in good humoured buffoonery while the odd clanger carries no grave consequences..
In contrast the PM must display relentless focus application and judgement –qualities for which Boris has never been famous in public or private life.’

Monday, October 08, 2012


Cameron's many Conference Problems

I tend to agree with the argument that of the three conferences, the current one is the most important for its party leadership. Cameron is facing a host of problems: plunging ratings; economic sclerosis, a emerging public perception that his is is an incompetent government and the circling of rivals for his throne.

This quotation by the nation's top psephologist puts the conference in context "People used to think Cameron was charismatic. But he is proving to be a kind of average prime minister. His ratings are not terrible, but he's not Thatcher, he's not Blair. He is not a dominant figure. Nobody loves him. That is why the Boris story is taking off." Professor John Curtice, University Strathclyde, 8th October 2012
This quotation from the Sunday Times, a Tory supporting organ, is quite damning: "Instead of clarity and decisiveness’, concludes the paper, ‘we have dithering and fudge. It will take more than a good speech from Mr Cameron to change that.’ In consequence of all this the polls are reflecting a popularity which has fallen off a cliff:

a)The Sunday Times' Yougov poll 7th October, detailed the degree of Cameron’s unpopularity. This showed Conservatives on 31%, Labour soaring on 45% and Lib Dems on a horrifying 8%. Asked whether the government is ‘competent’ the response was 35% ‘yes’ and 58% ‘no’. [Out of interest, the figures for Brown’s government were 24-69% and for Blair’s 45-48%] b)The Observer spread on the Tories 7th October showed Cameron’s rated as ‘favourable by 29% but unfavourable by 50%- a fairly disastrous result even for mid-term. c) to win an overall majority Tories need a 6-10% lead on election day but currently trail by 10-14 points.

Various rivals have been identified by the media but Liam Fox is too peripheral, Michael Gove a possible runner after defeat in 2015 and Osborne's ambition has always been in question. No the only really dangerous rival is the irrepressible Boris. The polls on this question make awful reading for Dave:
A poll in the Observer, 7th October, showed Boris with 21% viewing him ‘unfavourably’ and 51% ‘favourably’ When Conservative supporters were asked which of Cameron, Osborne or Johnson has they thought able to attract votes from those who might not normally support Tories the response was: Cameron 16%, Osborne 2% and Johnson 62%. Other questions posed by pollsters can hardly make Cameron sleep any more soundly:

a) Are you likely to consider voting Conservative in 2015: if Cameron remains leader- 29% but the figure unlikely to consider voting Conservative would be-56%

b) If David Cameron is replaced by an unspecified leader? 26% b ut 50% would not consider voting.

c) if Cameron replaced by Johnson: 32% would likely consider voting Conservative but 48% would not.
Who would you like to replace Cameron:

Boris 35%, Hague 20%, Theresa May, 5%, Michael Gove, 4%, Osborne, 3%, Other, 4%, DK 30%.

What is most striking about Boris is his ability to excite the Conservative Party, his ability, Like Michael Heseltine in his pomp, to reach parts of the party not accessible to other politicians, For Tories, he is a bit like Winston Churchill, a charismatic but volatile maverick who, they suspect, might achieve great things. Alternatively, despairing of Cameron, they might see a Tory Tony Blair, a magician who can win three successive elections.

Thursday, October 04, 2012


'Red Tory' Guru Accuses Cameron of Betrayal

Back in the good old days Philip Blond produced the curiously titled approach to politics, Red Toryism; 'Eh?' you could almost hear balding old buffers in The Athenaeum exclaiming. But now they no longer need worry as it's all fallen apart and Blondie's furiously attacked Dave for betraying his dream of a Red Tory future.

Blond plaintively explains,
'In 2009 I argued for a new one-nation approach to Britain's problems, and Cameron appeared to agree. The principles of re-localising the economy, re-capitalising the poor and re-moralising the market were echoed in Cameron's speeches and policy ideas. I did and still do believe in all this. I advocated a bottom-up civic renewal of our society; plus I wanted to recover social conservatism not as a reactionary war on single mothers or gay people, but as a conserving force to restore the family and loving human relationships as the primary agent of renewal, and the first front in the war on poverty, human neglect and social dysfunction. Crucially I argued conservative economics were not delivering on conservative principles and that current versions of free-market economics were re-inscribing class and caste.

"Cameron to his great credit spoke to all of this and offered as its realisation 'the big society' – a whole package of measures to add to community empowerment, civic life and community businesses. It was unfortunately designed to work alongside rather than convert a dysfunctional economic model. But despite appalling communication and a belief it was just about volunteering, it gave a sense of social rejuvenation and structural shift. Big society was Cameron's unfulfilled promise to do and be something different. I have to say I thought the Big Society was Steve Hilton's 'Big' idea, not Blond's but gurus flock around opposition leaders, as we've seen from Miliband's progress and who knows who influenced whom. Whatever the provenance of the Big Society, what does Philip Blond think of where we are now?

what a disappointment and what a tragedy this promised renewal of one-nation conservatism has become. Make no mistake: a radical Toryism has been abandoned, the once-in-a-generation chance to redefine conservatism on something other than a reductive market liberalism has been lost.

Blond argues Cameron has surrendered to the dead hand of the ('smug and indifferent') Treasury and allowed his shining new brand to be 'retoxified'. Yes, the deficit has to be dealt with but the means employed are 'defunct and outdated'. He concludes: "Rather like some ghastly ghost story, the various shades of the conservative past have returned and overwhelmed the good that Cameron originally represented."

'One Nation' is the common ground of British politics now, insists Blond, mindful, no doubt of Miliband's successful encroachment yesterday, and he hopes, I guess, Cameron has not totally lost his memory of all those cosy chats before he became PM. Oh dear! I fear he is mostly right but as balm to his wounded psyche suggest he form a support group with Lord Glasman and other rejected gurus.

Monday, October 01, 2012


Ed's Getting There....I Think

It's two years now since Ed Miliband won the Labour leadership in competition with his brother and he has had to survive a fairly horrific drubbing from the right-wing press not to mention doubts from within, including, it has to be said, my own. I thought David lacking in political courage- he should have used his power to bring down the disastrous Brown-so I opted for Ed in the vote. But his mawkish early efforts to communicate made me doubt my judgement I have to confess. So now we see him with his third conference as leader. According to yesterday's papers he thinks the expected personal attacks on him from the Tories, as 'weird,weak, callow and much too red' is a 'sure sign I'm succeeding'. Is the government rattled by him? Hmmmm.

It's true Ed is now better placed than previous years in that: the party is (still) relatively united; he has a ten point lead in the polls; and has had a few notable 'wins' over leading the attack on Murdoch over phone hacking and establishing an influential distinction between 'predator and producer'(responsible and irresponsible) forms of capitalism. His failure to 'break through' in way Blair and Cameron managed tends to encourage comparisons with failed Tory leaders like Hague and IDS, both of whom were replaced after losing elections rather badly. Are we witnessing the early stages of a Labour IDS? This is the question party members almost dare not ask.

Some suggest- mostly the right-wing columns- that his relations with colleagues could be better. It's true that his shadow chancellor, Ed Balls is still loathed by many as a thuggish clone of Gordon Brown-the Lib Dems suggest he would have to go in a Lib-Lab coalition- but he dismisses this as rubbish, pointing out that they have worked happily together for the past two decades. It might be significant however that it is Miliband who is leading on the possible statutory separation of retail and investment banking as recommended by the Vickers Report.

But does he appear as credible prime minister in waiting? Well, the polls say not, by 63 to 28%, a major headache for him and his aides. He is also
perceived less able than Cameron to take 'tough decisions'- a crucial requirement in popular attitudes towards a potential prime minister. But he is seen as more in touch than Cameron with 'ordinary people' and in 'caring for every sector of of society'. Most important of all, his Yougov approval rating since January has improved by 31 points while Cameron's has declined by 25. Ed seems to be slowly winning the battle for acceptance and approval but much still remains to be done before he can realistically think about adding the keys to Number Ten to his keyring. Yesterday on Andrew Marr, Mathew Parris admired Ed's calm serious dignity. Today Jackie Ashley suggests we accept that this man is a serious 'north London intellectual' who is genuinely interested in ideas rather than a grandstanding PR obsessed celebrity politician. I tend to agree.

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