Thursday, May 31, 2012


Skipper On Holiday in Italy Till Mid-June

After a fairly tough year's work Skipper is treating himself and his partner Carolyn to a week and a bit in Rome, Abruzzi and Frascati.

I sincerely hope, though not really expect, Jeremy Hunt to have left his post by the time I return.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


A Comeback- Could it Happen?

I couldn't believe it when I first read it. Ten years as prime minister during which he transcended anything ever achieved by Labour before and then proceeded to plumb depths they had never before plumbed. One version is that he thinks enough time has elapsed since Iraq for him to re-enter the fray. Anyone watching him at Leveson would agree that 'ol blue eyes' is still a wonderful communicator. I also note that while he rates below Tony Benn in Yougov's 'Britain's favourite Britons, he's level pegging with Cameron and in the top 15

However, my words of caution to him would make the following points:

1. The gentleman who gatecrashed your Leveson appearance is not the only person for whom Iraq still occupies a prominent role in their pantheon's of shame with you right alongside it.

2. Ed Miliband has just began to achieve credibility- indeed you can chart the Coalition's decline from the time, last July, when Ed had the courage to cast the first stone at Murdoch. He is not going to want any old ghosts of New Labour Past, floating around.

3. Since leaving office Blair has done nothing to reassure those of us who doubt his sincerity and suitability as a Labour politician by chasing as much money as he, and I suspect, Cherie, can get their hands on, all wrapped up in a complex company structure designed to obscure tax liability. Polly Toynbee regrets this fall from grace.

4. 3 above is bad enough but Blair's recent pursuit of lucre from Kazakstan's rulers, people who do not come far behind Saddam Hussein and Bashar al Assad in terms of human rights violations.

My advice to Tony is: 'try to find a worthwhile charitable cause to champion for a few years and abandon your attempts to join the mega rich whom you've always seemed to admire so much'. Then you might just have a chance of making it as a 'born again' representative of the people. But if you want to keep earning megabucks and helping to sanitize the images of dictators, forget it.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


Why IS Hunt Still In Office?

It is just astonihing to me that Jeremy Hunt is still in office-the man clearly has no sense of honour.

1. He allowed his aide, Adam Smith, to keep the Murdoch camp fully informed of developments regarding the BSkyB bid when supposedly in a 'quasi-judicial role judging whether Murdoch should be able to acquire full control of this hugely profitable comapny. His protestations that he 'did not know' this was going on are clearly self serving and specious.

2. He sent a memo to Cameron pressing him to over-rule Cable's known opposition to the takeover, indicating that, far from being neutral in the case, he was effectively a cheer-leader for the Murdoch cause.

3. He lied to the Commons about never having 'tervened' in the case before being put in charge of it. The 'smoking gun' memo revealed to Leveson yesterday now proves it beyond doubt

Any politician with a true sense of honour would have fallen on his sword by now yet apparently he still enjoys the 'full confidence' of his boss. Maybe this reluuctance by Dave helps to explain things a little. Cameron is the person who knowingly appointed a heavily biased person to undertake a task where scrupulous neutrality was needed. Cameron knows that, apart from te damage his beleagured government would suffer if Hunt went, the question which would ascend to the top of the political agenda would be 'has this man the quality of politixcal judgement to remain prime minister?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Nasty Party's leader is Definitely Losing it

PMQs is often dismissed as no more than an oportunity for both sides to raise the morale of their troops. And of course, it is but it's also offers an interesting insight into the minds of its chief protagonists. Miliband to me seems much more confident now that he has Cameron 'on the run' (to use Dave's his own phrase). Personal ratings of Dave have plummeted while Ed's have risen dramatically; even Labour ratings of the economy have shifted hugely in Labour's favour. The key issue today was Christine Lagarde's report on the UK economy.

Back in 2010 the IMF echoed the enthusiastic buzz created by the Rose Garden euphoria, hailing the basis for a 'sustainable recovery. Two yewars later there is no euphoria- the recovery has not arrived,nor is it even idenitifiable as a speck on the horizon. 'Risks are large and clearly tilted on the downside' says this serious minded institution. It calls for a whole range of 'policies to bolster demand'. Labour has leapt on this claiming vindication for its critique and prescriptions for action. Cameron has alternatively seized on the few words of support offered by fluent and charming Lagarde; however, she is nothing if not a superb diplomat, who is inevitably not going to embarass her hosts with swingeing criticisms in public. Inevitably Osborne and Cameron are hugging to themselves those predicatably soothing words of approbation but as they are so predictable the words of criticism must be regarded asmuch more significant.

And where does this leave Dave? With the economy tanking, his Coalition creaking, Jeremy Hunt walking on ice and opinion polls tolling out a message of possible defeat, Cameron's famously short temper is beginning to evince,for his supporters, a worrying volatility. His MPs cheered when he waspishly called Ed Balls a 'muttering idiot' but even they must know their boss is rattled.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


Football Can Be So Exciting

I never thought I'd post on the subject of football. Any post at all recently, has been ruled out by the depredations on avaialble time inflicted by the loft conversion me and my partner Carolyn are having constructed in her Leeds home, but recent events have made such a break with tradition mandatory.

Why am I so hostile to Football? My answer could cover the whole of cyberspace but the short answer is that: I was appalled by the Heysel Stadium happening in 1985; I hate the hegemony of cash in the game which has made cheating and boorish behaviour acceptably routine and sportsmanship a sign of assumed weakness; and the erosion of character quality in profressional football players which sees them behaving like spoilt s children and even sees a convicted criminal, Joey Barton, captaining QPR and appearing as pundit on Newsnight. That will do for now but few would question why I see cricket as a last bastion of sporting goodwill and civilised bahaviour.

So why am I devoting a post to such a barbarian activity? Well, once a sports fan, always one, is part of the answer. I've always followed it 'below the radar' in a sense and have been moved, on occasions by heroic displays whether home or abroad. And I still have my loyalties. Three events have given me great satisfaction at the close of this season.
,br /> 1. Shrewbury Town

I have followed 'The Towm' ever since I used to go and watch them (invariably disappoint) at The Gay Meadow when living in Shropshire. They survived a couple of seasons in the old Second Division but then plummeted down into the Conference a few seasons ago before arising into, trhe equivalent of the old Division Four: 'Division Two'. After two or three seasons knocking on the door of promotion, they finally made it this year. And all the club's long suffering fans are so pleased.

2. Manchester City

When first arriving to work at Manchester University, I used to live in Fallowfield, close to Maine Road, which I visted regularly. I continued my support for the club throughout its roller coaster ride of failures followed by disasters. This season, after the most remarkable consistency, admittedly 'bought', essentially, by the evil lucre that so plagues the game, they squeaked home, breaking the dominance of United in my adopted city of Manchester. City fans at my my local pub, The Nursery, kept me awake into the small hours braying their delight

3 Chelsea

Again,I've never been a real fan of the London club, only British ones in European finals, but even though its side contains few genuine Brits, I was enthralled by the match last night. The Blues were almost played off the pitch by the German side which should have converted at least three or four of the dozen plus chances it created. But doggedly, and veery heroically, Chelsea held on, substantially through the stalwart efforts of Ashley Cole, a love rat off the pitch, the tabloids delight in telling us, but a hero on it last night. It's a shame so many of these big matches go to penalities but, lets face it, they are agonisingly exciting. When Mata missed that first attempt, I was once again convinced that was it but when Cole equalised, I felt hope spring forth again and, sure enough, the Gods (must have been extra-terrestial or something) were with the Oligarch's side. The next penalty by the unlucky Germans was saved and then the astonishing Didier Drogba won a truly amazing victory for the british club. Thank you football for these three gifts at the close of the 2011-12 season.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


Ed Edges Ahead

Interviewed last week on Radio Merseyside, I opined that the Coalition was beginning to crack. The presenter challenged me by pointing out Cameron's rating was higher than Miliband's. I replied I thought Ed's rating would soon climb to equal that of Dave. I don't claim clairvoyance powers, just using common sense but today the ST reports Cameron's personal rating is now at-29% while Ed's is at -23%. Both negative readings but the general direction is clear. Clegg's rating? a disastrous -54%.

The Yougov poll offers more bad news for the Colaition with only 39% of Tory votrs think he'll win in 2015 compared with 67% of labour supporters who expext a Lab our victory. Nedless to say the poll is awful nws for Lib Dems with a third of members expecting the party yo lose most if not all their present MPs.

This is only on poll and it follows a series of cock-up and incompetences by the government. The Coalition's attempt at relaunch lies in tatters; of that there can be no doubt. It needs a long period of calm effective government to eradicate negative images. The danger is trhat it has already entered the 'dog-days' period when nothing goes right and mistake pils on mistake, bad news on bad news. And Jeremy Hunt is stillto appear before Leveson not to mention Dave and a clutch ofother dodgy Tories who were in on the cabal to assist the Murdoch empire.

Friday, May 11, 2012


Elected Mayors: the Lowdown

This post is a guest one from Imogen Gray, a person with eclectic interests who I have invited to share her thoughts on what, sadly, seems to be a idea of only limited interest - Elected Mayors.

Mayors Need Money to Be Meaningful

With the London Mayoral poll, and a number of referenda to determine if elected mayors are desireable elsewhere having taken place, the issue of directly elected mayors has once again become a topic for discussion. Some countries, such as the US have a long history of directly electing Mayors. Most of their major cities, as well as and many smaller municipalities, have chosen this method of separating the executive from the legislative functions, in a reflection of America’s state and federal structures. Like the President or the Governor of a sate, the Mayor in these instances combines a political role with a ceremonial one, and many such as Mayors Bloomberg, Giuliani and Koch of New York, and both Daley senior and junior in Chicago, have had wide name recognition, with both a national and international profile.


Political ideas do not have to rely on a worldwide parcel service to find their way to other parts of the globe. Politicians in all countries are always looking at what’s happening elsewhere, and what ideas they think they can borrow and make work within their own system. Traditionally in Europe the model has been to have mayors drawn from the council members rather than directly elected, and although in countries such as France and Italy the mayor has also held both political and ceremonial responsibilities, in many parts of the UK the mayor has become a purely titular figure, with administrative matters in the hands of a separate leader of the council. However, over the past thirty years things in Europe have slowly begun to change.

It was not until 1977 that Paris re-established the office of mayor, having done without one for more than a hundred years, and in Rome direct election only began in 1993. In Germany, the number of elected mayors has grown a pace since re-unification, and recent legislative changes mean that all Italian mayors are now directly elected.

Change in Britain

The UK has perhaps been slower than many to embrace the concept. In 1991, Michael Heseltine, the then Environment Minister put forward the idea of directly elected mayors as a means of giving a strong voice and strong leadership to Britain’s cities, but many other Conservative MP’s opposed the idea, fearing that it would see a re-emergence of the political strife that had existed in the eighties between the Thatcher Government and powerful figures such as Ken Livingstone at the former GLC, Derek Hatton in Liverpool, and David Blunkett in Sheffield.

It was left to the Blair Government to take the first steps with the Greater London Authority Act of 1999, which once again gave London a city wide Assembly, but also provided for an Directly elected mayor. Ken Livingstone became the first Mayor of London in the following year, which also saw the Local Government Act made provision for other Local Authorities to have referenda on the issue. Although some high profile mayors were elected, such as Ray Mallon in Middlesbrough, they were few in number. Of the thirty eight referenda up until Election Day in May 2010, only thirteen favoured a change to a Mayoral structure. The Coalition Government’s Localism Act in 2011 gave fresh impetus to the idea, with referenda in ten new cities on the issue taking place alongside local elections in May. Only Bristol voted in favour, although some cities, with Liverpool amongst them, had already agreed to the change without a referendum taking place.

Leaders or Cheerleaders?

David Cameron has given strong support to the idea, arguing that it would give greater accountability to local government, and that directly elected mayors would be in a better position to “galvanise action” on matters important to their communities. However, it is perhaps this attitude that provides the greatest obstacle to the success of Mayoral systems. Despite apparent enthusiasm, especially in opposition, from Cameron and many other senior politicians for Britain’s cities to have high profile cheerleaders, that it seems is all they want mayors to be, as in power they have generally have proven reluctant to give them meaningful power.

In 2011, the cities minister Greg Clark said that, “Our greatest cities can benefit from strong, visible leadership and international standing that a mayor, elected with a clear mandate, can bring. Around the world, including in London, a mayor has become a vital part in ensuring that a great city has a strong voice and can attract investment from home and aboard”, and that, “Britain's success depends on the success of our great cities and I am convinced that an elected mayor, taking powers previously confined to ministers, can help realise their potential.” However, in the government’s consultation document on the issue of mayoral powers, there was no commitment to giving the newly elected mayors any specific powers, arguing that, “Whilst we are clear about the potential of mayors to drive a city's economic growth and prosperity we believe that each of the cities should consider the specific powers that should be exercised by individual city mayors. We are thus proposing to look to the cities themselves to come forward with their own proposals. Where a mayor is, or in the case of Leicester has been, elected we expect that mayor to put to us any proposals he or she has for decentralising services and powers to that city mayor.” In this way, this government, much like its predecessor, is probably hoping to limit the powers it gives away, by granting only a nominal input to elected mayors across a range of policy issues such as health, transport, planning and others, whilst retaining real decision making power in their own hands.

Where the Real Power Lies

The one thing that would make the Mayoral system truly effective is financial independence, and yet it is control of the purse strings that government has always been most reluctant to relinquish. However, even Boris Johnson, recently re-elected Conservative Mayor of London, has come to recognise how key this is to success, and has pointed to the fact that whilst world cities such as Tokyo and New York derive less than 10% of their income from central government, London relies on them for 95% of their spending. In an open letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne he has said that, "Fiscal devolution would create a stronger link between taxation and democratic representation, enable greater scrutiny, and would enable London to pay more of its own way in an era of financial constraint,", and no doubt many of the newly elected provincial mayors would say the same of their own cities. Acting together, maybe they will be able to strengthen their offices and become more akin to their counterparts across the pond.

Sunday, May 06, 2012


Elections Signal Beginning of End for Coalition

Writing in The Guardian on Saturday, Jonathan Freedland cautioned Labour that, successful as the local elections had been, at under 40% of the poll, the party was still a substantial distance from defeating the Colaition governnment and regaining power.
Of course this is true, but it might be worth contrasting the good signals for the elections with the bad and seeking to judge their significance.
Good Signals
1. Labour gained 39% of the poll, just one point shy of the magic 40% and six points ahead of the Tories. If reflected in the Commons would deliver 363 seats to labour compared with 225 for teh Tories and a mere 37 for the lib Dems
2. In England Labour gained 823 seats and took control of 32 councils including wins in the south like Reading, Plymouth, Norwich, Great Yarmouth, Thurrock and Harlow. It also crucially regained control of Birmingham city council
3. In Wales Labnour had a brilliant series of successes, winning Cardiff from the Lib Dems and taking back control of a clutch of town halls.
4.In Scotland Labour's expected kicking from the SNP failed to materialise, with Glasgow remaining in Labour hands.
5.In London Labour swept through northwetern and central London, removing Conservatives as the bniggest party in the Assembly. In doing so it removed the deputy leader of the Tories and the chair of the London Fire Authority.
Bad Signals
Against all this bounty there is a single drawback, albeit a major one: the defeat of Ken Livingstone by Boris Johnson. Clearly Ken was well past his sell-buy date and could not compete against the vivid persoanlity of Bojo in what has become a presidential contest. But this victory was much closer than the Tories confidently expected and Johsnon is now clearly seen by many Tory MPs as the leader in waiting for the beleaguered Cameron's job
Ed Miliband, surely secure now as leader until at least 2015 is right to caution restraint and no trriumphalism to his Shadow cabinet but the fact is the Coalition seems to be coming apart: Clegg has been a lughing stock for some time; Cameron seems to have lost his temper and political touch totally, his goverbnment seems to have entered that accident prone state which characterisies a government in its last stages. Any Tory supporter wishing to dispute this judgement, I refer to the ST's editorial today:
'People now regard this government that fails on the three 'i's: it is incoherent, incompetent and has run out of ideas.' They see it collapsing under the weight of its own contraditions: two parties with very little in common trying in vain to run along together in government.'
I rest my case.

Friday, May 04, 2012


Brave new World of Elected Mayors

So Joe Anderson istrhe newly elected mayor of Liverpool. Having met Joe and liked him as a genuine supporter of his city and its people, I'm delighted. But last night's developments do raise a few questions.
1. What will Joe's role be? Well, he is now the executive head of the city council, able to act with its full executive authority.
2. What about ordinary councillors? They will have seen their power diminished to mere 'apprentices' for higher office, hoping to get noticed and given a 'Cabinet' job by the mayor. The title of 'leader of the council' will survive for the leader of the largest party but without the power vested in themayor
3. Can the council over-rule the mayor? Yes but the mayor can carry the day unless one third of the council vote against him/her. This gives a huge advantage to the new first citizen of the city/town
4. Will all cities and big towns now elecxt theirmayors? No. Manchester, Bradford, Coventy and Nottingham have voted against such a move and probably Birmingham and Leeds will do the same. The Conservatives have lost out in these elections but on the elected mayor front, the conservatives have held the line.
5. Have the Coalition been dealt a heavy blow? Yes, it has but the up to 1000 council seats losses will be compensated to a substantial extent by Boris's expected victory in London. And the Coalition expects to lose at the local level mid-term; it can still recover before the general election, as Blair did in 1999, and go on to win. Mind you, after such a sweeping night of success Ed Miliband's position as leader seems assured now until 2015.

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