Thursday, September 30, 2010


Is Ed the Best?

Being away for a week makes you realise how long a time it is in politics. I deliberately avoided any UK papers so as not to sully my holiday with any residue of the UK. However I finally got to read about the Labour leadership last Monday in the Daily Mail(cost, £3.50). This newspaper roundly condemned the new man as too leftwing, too naive and too much in the pockets of the unions. Also I read much about 'poor' David, the vanquished brother, with a suggestion Ed had been far too unfraternal in standing against his big brother as if the very contest somehow disqualified him from being taken seriously.

Personally I voted for Ed. This was not because I thought David incompetent, an untalented politician or too Blairite. My view of him has evolved over a number of years, ever since he was a junior schools minister when I began to listen carefully to the man Alastair Campbell called 'Brains'. He is certainly clever and was evidently a good Cabinet minister. I was impressed by his Guardian article in July 2008 which was widely seen as a sign he was 'available' as a replacement for the disastrous Gordon. However, he made a poor speech at the conference and his possible candidacy soon sunk from view. It was not forgotten however and he was soon seen as the next in line to someone who seemed incapable of making a correct political decision.

My real disappointmernt however arrived 4th June 2009 when Juames Purnell resigned and hoped other Cabinet members might follow suit to oust Brown. Miliband sat on his hands and displayed what I regarded as a hugely disappointing lack of political courage. By standing against his brother, Ed showed that crucial bit of bottle and maybe some of the ruthlessness a leader needs.

Now Ed is leader I tend to agree with Jonathan Freedland who argues that David allowed himself to be stereotyped as a kind of reviled 'Blairite' while Ed was able to pose as something of a left of centre visionary.
Maybe, also, he was too 'decent' to descend to Charlie Whelan's level but if so he proved he is maybe a little too politically inept to make it at the highest level.

Regarding Ed I'm a little worried that, in pursuit of union votes he has allowed himself to be too closely identified with their cause. David, who won electoral college majorities in both the MP and party members categories would have avoided the work his brother now has to undertake to neutralize an allegation which the rightwing have sought to assert as gospel. By Christmas we should be able to see if Ed truly has the stuff of which future prime ministers are made.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Skipper Away for a Week

Skipper is trying to compensate for such little sun during July and August, with a week in Santorini, Greece. Sod's law says I'll miss amazingly exciting political events while I'm away but can't do much about that.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Two (Important) Points re Lib Dem Conference

Firstly I don't buy the narrative given by Clegg and others including Paddy Ashdown on Today this morning, that the Liberal Democrats had no choice but to join the Coalition last May. Had they not, runs the argument, their passing up of the chance of real power when the country was in dire need of leadership, would have made them a 'joke' from whom voters would have recoiled. I think this is nonsense.

Had the party opted for a 'support and supply' approach, offering support on key policy areas only and keeping out of the executive itself, I think they could have retained real influence as to what Cameron wished to do as well as their independence and hope of a future. As it is they are engaged on a huge gamble-that the Tory savage cuts route will prove successful- which might well destroy the party if it fails to come off.

Second, I don't believe, as The Guardian suggests today, that there is no 'anger' among Liberal Democrat supporters. My friend Christine is one of the 1.5m voters who deserted Labour for a party which she thought was more radical and to the left of her former party. She is genuinely outraged that her vote helped to put into government the very party she has detested all her life. Maybe the problem is that delegates to the present conference represent the established Lib Dem party and not any of the 'converts' who supported them in May.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Taking the Coalition's Temperature on Eve of Lib dem Conference

With the conference season upon us, it might be an idea to assess how the Coalition is getting on. Hmmm. Mixed bag of signals. One Guardian columnist is not so sanguine:

Barely four months into the coalition, the political landscape has already been transformed, and the honeyed days of May are a fading memory. What should have been a triumphant party conference season for the Tories and their Liberal Democrat allies now looks more like a trial to be endured.

Well, yes, he would say that wouldn't he? But there are genuine grounds for pessimism. The Times Populus survey in The Times last week revealed that as they loom nearer two thirds of voters oppose the speed and depth of the cuts (hate to say 'I told you so' after all those polls showing earlier support for the cuts). The IMF and OECD have both warned against precipitate cuts and the dangers of a double dip recession which would widen the deficit.

Simon Jenkins is by no means a leftwinger, despite his weekly Guardian slot, but has nothing but woe to predict for Nick Clegg. He starts of amusingly by describing Clegg as being 'in love' with Cameron:

You scurry early to the office, practising the phrase that will please him, the gesture he will notice. When you first see him in the corridor … you can't help it. The knees go. He is adorable

Unfortunately there is an angry family at home waiting to call you to account for your philandering behaviour. Jenkins praises the coalition as a 'coup' by Cameron 'worthy of Walpole': inventing a majority via a party which would die in consequence. The key question is:

'How can the Lib Dems fight the Tories at the next election when they will be defending a joint record?

The question is rhetorical of course. Clegg will have to forestall this fear at his conference... but how? Merger of the two parties looms as lip-smackingly anticipated in an article yesterday. Jenkins suggests the coalition was a step too far. He should have agreed to stay indpendent and support what measures his party thought fit; that way he would have kept the party's integrity pure. Instead, he chose the big offfice, the car, the red boxes, the intoxication of power. He'd better enjoy it as it won't last for ever; as Jenkins grimly notes:

As leader of the Liberal Democrats, he has booked a ticket to oblivion.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Sarkozy Fury Over Roma Doesn't Convince

At the EU summit for leaders today Sarkozy erupted into a furious attack on Vivienne Reding, the Luxembourg EU Commissioner for Justice over her fierce condemnation of France's ejection of their 15000 Roma from various camps in France. She called it a 'disgrace'. He complained it was outrageous to make comparisons with world war 2 and treatment of the Jews.

I think the Commissioner was wholly justified in her attack, and brave too. Taking on a founder member of the EU from such a minor position took courage. He did not like it because it was true. We have all seen the evictions, the wide-eyed dismay of the children as they are uprooted and also read the analyses which insist Sarko is only doing it because it chimes in with populist racist sentiment about the Roma in order to raise his flagging poll ratings.

The Roma are the largest minority in Europe and reviled thoughout as a rce of theives and neer do wells. And yet we see Roma interviewed who are articulate and educated. France should address the problem of these peripatetic East Europeans properly and not engage in a this shameful thinly disguised racist pogrom.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


2000 Fuel Crisis, Public Protests and the Cuts

Strange to think that ten years ago to the day, the country was nervously recovering from the Fuel Crisis, the first real test of the Blair government regarding law and order. Will the cuts provoke a similar reaction?

It was essentially two consumer groups- Lorry drivers and Farmers- behind those protests against 80% fuel taxes; reactions to the cuts are likely to be far more widely based. Some might say that militancy has been low since those awkward petrol starved few days a decade ago, and this is true. We have had a few indistrial disputes- postmen, firemen, BA Cabin Crew and the like but nothing like the mass actions of the 1980s.

This might have been partly because the Fuel crisis caused such a shock- the good times were rolling and such militancy seemed wholly inappropriate, an echo of a bygone age. Certainly there were big demonstrations from time to time, most notably the million strong one 15th February 2003 over Iraq, but Blair chose to ignore it totally. His policy survived but he lost his reputation anhd politcal power base thereby: quite a price to pay.

I think the cuts will provoke widespread protest, in all our big cities. They might get violent too and no doubt government is already making contingency plans about how to handle likely situations. If the economy avoids another recession they might get off lightly, but if we do slide into recession the government will be blamed. Labour and elements of the Lib Dems will support union action and the government might well fall. The British tradition of peaceful protest- which occasionally overspills into violence as in the Poll tax riots 1990- is still alive and well. The fact that these proposed cuts could have been phased in much more gradually could easily fuel a sense that this government has chosen un unnnecessary and brutal path. I think it will make trhe Fuel Crisis seem like the Teddy Bears Picnic.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Net tightens around Coulson

Those who thought this was a 'warmed up' case with little merit must be rethinking right now as the Coulson case generates yet more momentum. New evidence is now coming forward in the form of witnesses claiming Coulson knew most things about illegal phone hacking, rather than the 'nada' he told the Select committee. Former deputy editor Paul Mullan, is explicit regarding the regular contact he had with Steve Whittamore, a Hamphshire private investigator who specialised in phone hacking:

"I would speak to Steve nearly every day when I was deputy features editor, and we'd chat about what he'd done and if his bill was too big. Getting information from confidential records, we did that regularly, time and time again. I always hid behind the journalist's fundamental get-out clause that, if it's in the public interest, you can do what you like. Some of what Steve did was legal, like using the electoral register, but if he went a step further, I would not have given a second thought to whether that was illegal, because that's part of your job,"

Parliament also, far from dismissing this as a non story have referred it to the Standards and Privileges committee(which, unlike other such committes can force witnesses to appear before it) and the Home Affairs Committee. Moreover there are signs that support for Coulson within the Conservative Party is far from solid, as Nicholas Watt, writes today:

There appears to be scant support for Coulson on the Tory benches. Other than ministers who dutifully trot out the standard Downing Street defence – that no new cast-iron evidence linking Coulson to the phone hacking has emerged – hardly any Tories have rallied to his defence.

I stand by my prediction that sooner or later the PM's director of communications- who should never have been appointed in the first place, is 'toast'.

Thursday, September 09, 2010


Warning Voices on Coalition's Future Prospects

We are all told Boris Johnson is fiercely ambitious and would like one day to take a shot at the Tory leadership. If this is true, and I think it may well be so, then Cameron should worry that he recently said:

'The question is how far and how fast the deficit can be cut without provoking a double-dip recession. The risk is that if there is a serious downturn at the end of the year, it is the coalition that will cop the blame.' [Yesterday's Guardian- can't manage a link]

Precisely Boris. And if it does I guess you'll be one of the guys hanging around seeking to pick up some of the pieces. Where would this leave the Lib Dems? In very serious trouble no doubt. Michael White warns that this party will face a stern challenge next year:

Even if George Osborne's judgment that deeper, faster cuts will be better for the economy in the long run proves correct, no one expects it to be obvious by 5 May 2011. That is election day for the Welsh and Scottish devolved legislatures and for almost every council in England: 10,000 seats in total. The Lib Dems have plenty to lose – 2,337 seats to be precise, 112 more than Labour. Most of the seats up in 2011 will again be in "all-out" council elections where the stakes can be very high.

Monday, September 06, 2010


Sooner or Later Coulson is 'Toast'

I heard John Whittingdale MP, Tory member of the Media and Culture Select Committee shamefully fending off questions about the need to reopen the investigation into Andy Coulson's alleged practice, when editor News of the World of encouraging journalists to make illegal phone taps. Before May 2010 when the new government came to power, this MP was as gung ho as anyone to probe Coulson's claim that he knew nothing about the practice. Now Coulson serves his party leader, he has come over all shy and unwilling to advance an investigation. Funny that.

For me the basic story was enough to convince me Coulson knew all about the phone hacking. Clive Goodman, NoW royal editor was convicted in 2007 for hacking into voicemail for aides to royalty; Glen Mulcaire a much used private investigator, got six months for the same charge. That the editor was in the dark about such widely usedpractices, I thought virtually impossible yet this was Coulson's claim, which he repeated in public to the M and C committee, to the disbelief of some of its members. Cameron either believed him or didn't care as he was happy to employ the ex editor as his Press Secretary. Now Blair felt he needed a red top man to do the same job but Campbell, whilst a colourful and slightly notorious figure, had no posible illegality hanging over his head.

And so it remained for some years, with Cameron the beneficiary of Murdoch's gratitude in autumn 2009 when The Sun came out for the Tories. The story was revived in 2010 when the New York Times sent a team of investigative reporters over here to dig out more dirt, apparently to damage its rival, Murdoch's Wall Street Journal. This report unearthed more journalists declaring Coulson knew all about the hacking, though the most outspoken one, Sean Hoare, had been dismissed for drink and drugs excesses and his credibility is consequently reduced. The Observer article, giving background to the story, suggested Coulson not only exercises key influence within the new government, but has provided Cameron with crucial social links to the likes of top Murdoch executive, Rebekah Brooks plus Elizabeth and James Murdoch.

Coulson enjoys total support at present from Cameron but the NYT investigation has set a lot of windows rattling, with people like John Prescott- himself a victim of the hacking- making legal moves to re-open the case. While the Times and The Sun have told their readers nothing about the case, with The Telegraph likewise, I think the story now has legs once again and the non credible story that Coulson never knew of what was clearly widespread within his newspaper, will crack under the pressure.

Thursday, September 02, 2010


History, the Present and Tony Blair,

My close friend Chris said to me of Blair:

'I feel angry with him because he robbed me of my party, my sense of hope; he disnfranchised me in a way. I used to be a committed Labour Party member but after Iraq, I ceased to be active at all.'

I'm sure she speaks for thousands of the 200,000 or so who drifted out of the party between 1997 and 2007. So does his book, A Journey offer any contrition? any answers? Not many I fear. Though it is a good read, from extracts I've read and already it's a best seller. Reading the press today the dominant view seems negative and Iraq still looms large. His interview with Andrew Marr last night also failed to enlighten, though it did remind us how persuasive this master communicator can still be. Though I'm sure that his credibility with British voters is such that he'll never get elected to any further major office and faces, I suspect, something of an isolated future.

On Iraq he seems to want us to separate the decision(justified) from the implemtation(mistakes). I suspect history might well address the distinction. It is possible to argue that Saddam's excesses plus widespread international intelligence sustained a view at the time that the Iraqi leader was someone who was both daily visiting slaughter on his own people and likely to do the same on neighbours in the Middle East plus maybe further afield. Removing him was an act defensible on the grounds of human rights and the maintenance of peace. The implementationn of the decision however was clearly botched- the chief villains being Rumsfeld, Bush and Cheney. Insufficent troops and the removal of any internal security to establish law and order ensured that the dogs of civil, not to mention criminal strife, were unleashed with disastrous effect.

But blaming the US doesn't acquit Blair of blame. Rawnsley's well researched analysis, The End of the Party, does not reveal a single occasion when, despite his qualms, Blair intervened to check the Americans by threatening to withdraw his support. It seems he really did prostrate himself to the superpower's leaders and we, who voted him in, paid the price. Why did he not listen to the million or so people- most of them Labour supporters I guess, who marched against the war in February 2003?

On a different tack, I was amused by his observations on sex and politics, writing(badly) on how he ravished Cherie like an 'animal' once he had decided to stand for the leadership in 1994 and, also referring to his relationship with Gordon, as recounted by Helen Pidd today in the following almost homo-erotic terms:

But Cherie wasn't the only object of Blair's fervour. At one point, back in 1994, the former PM insists he and Gordon Brown had eyes only for each other. "Our minds moved fast and at that point in sync. When others were present, we felt the pace and power diminish, until, a bit like lovers desperate to get to love-making but disturbed by old friends dropping round, we would try to bustle them out, steering them doorwards with a hearty slap on the back."

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