Thursday, December 30, 2010


By Election and AV Challenges Pose Threats to Coalition in 2011

A comment on my last post suggested that, for all my moaning about the coalition, I surely would not wish to see the owner of the 'clunking fist' back in Number 10. It's a fair point, but I'd answer it by saying that whilst I'd prefer almost anyone to Cameron and Clegg, I'd not want Gordon Brown back in charge. Labour yes, but Gordon no, thank you. Lets see what the younger Miliband can do wih the job of leading the Opposition.

Having said that, I think the Coalition faces some genuine tests in the near future and not from a position of special strength either, as Seamus Milne points out:

Support for the coalition has now collapsed from 59% to 43%, backing for the Lib Dems from 23% at the general election to 8% in some polls, and Nick Clegg has become one of the most hated men in Britain as his party prepares to pay a savage political price in next May's elections – and quite possibly in his lifeline electoral reform referendum as well.

Those May elections will loom menacingly over everything the Lib Dems do over the next few months but before that we have the Oldham East by-election on 13th January where it seems pretty clear the Tories are soft-pedaling their campaign so that the Lib Dems can have a better chance to surmount the 103 vote majority over Labour's recalcitrant Phil Woolas lst May. However, the national mood, coloured to a degree by the student demonstrations, might work, as it so often does in such contests, to deliver a huge and painful black eye to Clegg and his pals.

As for the May referendum, things do not look too good either. According to Nicholas Watt, the arithmetic looks dire for the pro AV cause, with 114 Labour MPs likely to vote against the proposal. This grieves me as, along with Ed Miliband, Alan Johnson, Mandelson, Tony Benn and the wonderful Chris Mullin, I'm in favour of it. I lament the fact that the likes of Blunkett, Prescott, John Reid, Charlie Falconer and Margaret Becket are helping to lead Labour's 'No' campaign. However, a disenchanted electorate might well be inclined to deliver another bloody nose to the hated Clegg. If they do I reckon the odds will be against the Coalition making it to the 2015 finishing line intact.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Now Coalition Doesn't Seem Such a Good Idea

In May this year the notion of coalition commanded quite a degree of support. A political culture in which narrow partisanship seemed to be central to the anti-politics mood, apparently welcomed a situation in which parties cooperated for the national good. However, that mood seems to have changed. Back then nearly 60% supported the coalition while 32% did not. According to the latest Guardian poll, the figures now have slumped to 43% in support with 47% opposing.

Moreover, Labour support has hit 39%, the highest for three years- with Ed Miliband scarcely wowing the voters just yet. Conservative ratings have increased too but only by 1% from November up to 37%. The poor old Liberal Democrats bump along at 13%, 11 points below their general election showing. While a solid majority of Tory voters from May support the coalition, Lib Dem voters offer only a sliver compared with those who now oppose. Poor Nick Clegg has been demonized for leading his party into its great leap in the dark and there is little sign of things improving yet awhile.

Indeed, Clegg has taken advice from foreign politicians familiar with coalition government. Lousewies van der Laan has proffered useful advice in a recent seminar he organised to improve his party's understanding of this new coalition beast. Here is a sample of the advice given.

Do keep the party on board. (Regularly give the party line to take to the party faithful, who always get the microphones.)

"Do exude self confidence, stay in your strength, make it clear that you have nothing to hide.

"Do listen to constructive advice, but tell complainers to come up with alternatives. Stay relaxed with bad polls – it is all par for the course.

"Do keep focusing on the common goals; remember why you got in in the first place.

In her final rule she states: "Atmospherics count both internally and externally: make sure personal relations are good and reliable."

The party is doing what it can to calm down the party in the country by stressing how successful it has been in achieving 67 May manifesto commitments. But more important will be the May local elections, the occasion when the Lib Dem future will be put searchingly to the test with 1.830 seats to defend, compared with Labour's 1,600 and the Tories 5000. By then we'll see if this coalition government really can stay the course or if it will fizzle out en route to its favoured 2015 destination

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Vince Cable's Nightmare Day

One can only imagine how Vince is feeling right now. First his indiscretions to a couple of undercover Telegraph reporters pretending to be constituents, reveal he thinks the Coalition has Maoist tendencies and does not think things through and that he could bring the government down with his 'nuclear' threat to resign. Cameron could smilingly forgive that at his press conference today but the second indiscretion was more problematic. By making it clear he is totally opposed to Murdoch's proposed purchase of the majority stake in BSkyB, he destroyed his required objectivity over the pending Ofcom inquiry.

Oh dear! and all this from an ostensibly hugely experienced, senior politician whose unspoken superior attitude has tended to be 'I know the answers- nobody else does'. Cameron has condemned the second set of remarks, perhaps venting thereby some of the irritation he felt at the first. Actually I reckon his first remarks were quite useful politically. The Lib Dems are suffering from the perception that they are very junior partners in government who do not carry much clout. Reminding the Tories that the stick they carry is really quite substantial is no bad thing. Pity he ruined it by this careless remarks on BSkyB. The Telegraph, as an avowed opponent of Murdoch did not want to release the second recordings but a whistle-blower sent them to Robert Peston at the BBC.

He will keep his Cabinet post as his resignation would genuinely threaten the Coalition's viability. But he'll have made his position very vulnerable and will have to fight to retain it in the New year. Why did he do it? My theory is that the two Torygraph hackettes were quite young and pretty and old Vince, b it of a show-off, could not resists bigging himself up to two giggling female 'constituents'. Yuletide anxiety will be the price Vince will have to pay for his showing off.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Is This Man a Rapist?

Like anyone with an obsessive interest in politics, I'm intrigued by the Assange case with its accusations of rape and their possible political motivation. In Sweden they discern three levels of rape in terms of the law: severe, normal and minor. Assange faces the third category of charge. According to him the recent Guardian article by Nick Davies is an 'attack' upon him presumably because it publishes a fuller version of the accusations against him to whit that he 'unlawfully coerced' Woman A to have sex without a condom and took advantage of Woman W while she was half asleep and, again, did not use a condom.

That Assange is unusually interested in sex seems not to be in doubt and clearly this provides a weakness to those who would wish to prevent him from doing his online whistle-blowing work. His defence team maintain the following:

"We understand that both complainants admit to having initiated consensual sexual relations with Mr Assange. They do not complain of any physical injury. The first complainant did not make a complaint for six days (in which she hosted the respondent in her flat [actually her bed] and spoke in the warmest terms about him to her friends) until she discovered he had spent the night with the other complainant.

"The second complainant, too, failed to complain for several days until she found out about the first complainant: she claimed that after several acts of consensual sexual intercourse, she fell half asleep and thinks that he ejaculated without using a condom – a possibility about which she says they joked afterwards.

My friend Christine, no mean judge of the female psyche, being one herself, thinks this suggests two 'women scorned' venting their fury on someone who had refused to make their respective relationships exclusive. My Swedish friend, however, suggested to me in a phone conversation, that Swedish law now recognizes the right of a woman to call halt to a sexual act even after it has been initiated, should she wish to. She also suggests the two ladies concerned only went to the police after they had met up and were able to gain strength from each other to take their complaint forward. My guess is as good as yours but these arguments will no doubt be tested in court.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Latest Poll Grim for Lib Dems and Labour

Everyone has been saying Nick Clegg and his party will pay a huge political price for its support for the Tories and we now begin to see its extent. The latest Ipsos Mori poll, published in The Guardian yesterday showed Labour on 39%(no change), Conservatives on 38% (up 2) and the Lib Dems on 11% (three down). Some polls have placed the junior coalition partner even lower, but 11% is bad enough, when it is remembered their election share was more than twice that figure. Significant too that the Tories seem to have gained what their partners have lost since the last poll was taken.

Energy Secretary Chris Huhne comments on sinking ratings as follows:

"I've always thought we would have two years of immense unpopularity. I don't know any government anywhere in the world that is cutting the deficit without becoming more unpopular."

So all this was expected? I doubt it and suspect the party leaders are getting really worried. Along with Labour's leading lights too as Ed Miliband seems not to be cutting it just yet. His approval rating is a miserly +1: only Foot, Hague and Clegg have done as badly after their first three months; even Duncan Smith and Michael Howard did better. Worse,only 26% thought Ed a 'capable leader'; 64% thought him 'inexperienced'; and 35% thought him 'out of touch' with ordinary people. It won't be long at this rate until the old familiar plots are formulated to find someone else. As the only likely usurper is Ede's brother David, I suspect he's safe until the summer at least.

Moreover, we are still in early days- the next election, if things run according to the coalition plan is over four years away and reputations, both party and individual, can soar and plummet a great deal by then. But it's ironic that the party which failed to deliver its expected easy victory and was consequently forced into a coalition, is almost doing as well as if they had achieved that easy, predicted victory.

Monday, December 13, 2010


Tories Don't Care who They Shaft

Isn't this, despite its cruel depiction of Clegg, a wonderfully witty cartoon? Chris Riddell is far and away the best political cartoonist in the country. It also sums up the awful predicament in which the Lib Dems find themselves. Last Sunday John Major even suggested to Andrew Marr that Tories should not stand against those 'loyal' Coalition Liberal Democrats at the next election. I can't see this happening- the Tories are too ruthless to care much about who they have shafted. [Incidentally I agreed with the current Eye point that David Two Brains Willets, the universities' minister, wrote a praised book called ^The Pinch which argues the baby boomer generation has robbed its progeny of much of its future. And then he goes and hits them with the biggest 'pinch' of the lot: a tripling of tuition fees.]

Rawnsley points out that 27 out of the 34 Lib Dem backbenchers refused to follow Clegg's command, either abstaining or voting against the increases. If this rebellion is repeated on other 'red-line' issues this government will not make it through to next Easter. Rawnsley gets to the nub it of here:

An idea about the coalition is beginning to take hold. This idea will eat away at Nick Clegg's authority over his party and ultimately prove fatal for the coalition if it hardens into a fixed view of how this government works. The idea is that the Lib Dems have become the coalition's fall guys, the hapless human shields for David Cameron and George Osborne, the useful idiots of the Tories.

Poor old Nick has had to be the front man over the toxic fees issue; Cameron has been astonishingly silent while Clegg has twisted in the wind. Few can doubt that so far the Tories have done so much better out of the coalition arrangement then the Liberal Democrats. Conservative poll ratings are bobbing up to an over the 40 mark- several points better than last May- while Clegg's party have had to watch their ratings plunge down to a third of their May level to a mere 8%. And they may slide even lower. Meanwhile Clegg has become prime hate figure for students everywhere. I note one demo placard said of Nick Clegg that he 'puts the 'c' in cuts.' Ouch.

Thursday, December 09, 2010


Was Julian Assange Guilty only of Sexual Promiscuity?

I'm a bit baffled by the wikileaks-Julian Assange-sex allegations-extradition possibility thing. Let me list my confusions; I'd not be surprised if they coincided with most people concerned with this issue.

1. I don't automatically assume Wikileaks' revelations are justified as many of the left have done so in a knee jerk reaction. It's good to know what is happening- and a news junkie I've loved the revelations- but you must be a fool to think that diplomacy can be conducted within the full light of publicity. Diplomats it seems to me must be allowed confidentiality when about their business and those who confer with them must have it too. Anyone who has been involved in delicate negotiations of a legal or emotional nature must know privacy is an essential prerequisite. So my personal jury is still out on what Assange is doing; not so The Economist which thinks wikileaks' actions deserve punishment. However, I would wholly oppose any victimisation of the guy who I think operates on the basis of seeking to do good.

2. I'm not clear at all regarding the accusations of rape against the guy made in Sweden. This article yesterday suggested Assange was invited to give a talk to a group in Enkoping in Sweden and then was invited to stay the previous night in the flat of the woman (A) who had fixed up the talk. They ended up sleeping together though had to endure a split condom. (So far, so typical of leftwing gatherings I would say.) The next day the talk duly took place but another woman(W) then met Assange over lunch before going to the cinema where she gave him a blow job. (Things hotting up here)

They then slept together that night and did not use a condom. Following this both ladies became acquainted and both went to a police station to to 'seek advice' on making a complaint against Assange. Woman A claimed he had deliberately ripped the condom whilst W said unprotected sex had been without her consent.

3. I may be chauvinistically naive or blind but I fail to see that consent was denied in either case and view the accusation that he split the condom on purpose to be incomprehensible. Were the ladies maybe annoyed he slept with both of them in succession? It looks a bit like it and indeed, it would seem from the second article linked that Julian is a tad incontinent when it comes to indulging the opportunities with which his celebrity has provided him.

4. But another version of events is given by the lawyer representing the two ladies. Yet my hazy understanding after reading this article suggests Sweden has very eccentric laws on the subject of rape.

5. Indeed, yet another article reports that an activist for Women Against Rape, Katrin Axellson suggests it is indeed a put up political job:

"Many women in both Sweden and Britain will wonder at the unusual zeal with which Julian Assange is being pursued for rape allegations … There is a long tradition of the use of rape and sexual assault for political agendas that have nothing to do with women's safety."

So there we are. A fascinating but opaquely confusing story which maybe time will clarify. But it does seem as if, contrary to their(no doubt undeserved) national reputation, Swedish women circumscribe sexual encounters with a series of unwritten rules alien to sexually active males in Australia, or, indeed the UK.

Sunday, December 05, 2010


Lib Dems Face Realities of Power

According to the ST 63% of voters think it would be wrong for the Lib Dems to break their election pledge and vote for tuition fees to rise; only 26% think it would be right. 45% in the same poll, think Vince cable should vote against it too. Problem is he is the architect of the hike in fees and as a Cabinet minister he ius also obliged to support his own government or resign. When he said he was thinking of abstaining I thought this one of the most bizarre possibilities in recent political history.

It6 seems clear that the smaller Coalition partner is totally bemused by the fix they have got themselves into. Cable has now said he'll vote for his own policy which is reneging on the pre-election pledge but at least is consistent with the coalition agreement. When they accepted the deal they thought they had covered bases on tuition fees by winning the right to abstain but Andrew Rawnsley makes a good point in his article today:

At the time they struck their deal with the Tories, the Lib Dem negotiators thought they had got themselves a "get out of jail free" card. But it was pretty much bound to become an unsustainable position in government and it became completely unfeasible from the moment that Vince Cable was appointed business secretary and the cabinet minister responsible for higher education.

This is painful for the Lib Dems as they have pushed the Tories to make a more generous offer on the new fees system than otherwise would have been the case. But it seems the party will split three ways, though no-one yet knows the numbers: one sliver for the increase; one against and another abstaining. The third option, favoured by Simon Hughes, is pretty much a cop-out and is redolent of the traditional criticism of the Lib Dems: that they prefer to sit out difficult decisions, retaining moral purity but failing to engage with political realities.

Thursday, December 02, 2010


My God! World Cup and England Don't Go Together

I don't know why I always get sucked in but each time I do. Just like those poor buggers who posted St Georges' flags on their cars for the South Africa effort, I had invested some hope in the World Cup bid voted on in Zurich today. I thought the English bid- delivered by the inevitably hyped up team of Davids Beckham and Cameron plus a royal prince- was excellent, especially the contribution of the Manchester City guy from Moss Side.

Like a sap I waited along with crowds in the freezing cold in Manchester, Milton Keynes and London while various luminaries and interviewees breathed bogus life into the chance that our bid might succeed despite the facts: it had been sullied by eare ly infighting, 'handbagate', Lord Treisman's resignation, ill-timed Sunday Times and Panorama reports, not to mention some extra time hooliganism on the terraces.

Mathew Amroliwallah, onsite in Switzerland for the BBC, almost ran out of people to tell us we were set to win as the tension racked up. I almost believed they were right. Then whispers entered the discourse that we had not got it. But then... well, it was just like the tournament for real. After all the hype and ballyhoo we were knocked out in the first round! How many of the 22 countries voted for us? Two! I don't think I'll get excited when the location of the 2030 tournament is decided, But we'll probably put in a bid, we'll probably mess it up but still think we're going to win. And then, in the best tradition of England and the World Cup ever since 1966, get stuffed again.

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