Friday, June 30, 2006

You're not singing any more

First, to Wales.

The expected result was that Labour would win back the Westminster seat of Blaenau Gwent, but that the widow of the former MP would hold the Assembly seat, but that proved far from the mark as placed by opinion polls. Although the Independent/Labour gap was closed significantly on the 2005 result, there was still a solid majority of 2500. This was despite a forceful campaign from the Labour party aimed at winning back what should be a rock-solidly safe seat - even Dennis Skinner was prevailed upon to sign an email sent to the party faithful across the country begging for help and Peter Hain had to apologise for the political error that caused the schism in the first place. Not a good result in our heartland and unquestionably yet another clear signal that the current Labour course is set for the rocks of opposition - unless the crew can persuade the skipper to change the heading.

And similarly, there are problems in the sunny Tory safe seats like Bromley and Chislehurst - target number 324 on the Liberal Democrat list and the 17th safest seat in Torydom. Until yesterday, when a 13,000 Conservative majority was slashed to just 633 in a less than resounding vote of confidence in the Brave New World of Cameron.

However, these are just by-elections and they are peculiar beasts at the best of times. Before the Lib Dems get too happy about their performance, you need to remember one key fact about the LD vote - it tends to hold up well. Both Labour and Conservative are vulnerable to their electors staying at home, particularly in by-elections - turnout was down to 50% in Wales and 40% in Bromley from 66% and 65% respectively last year. I have said this before, but the Lib Dems like low turnout - their vote will survive it. If you look at the results in both seats, you'll see that while both Labour and the Independent candidate both lose out in votes cast in Blaenau - 1325 and 7962 respectively), the Liberal Democrat vote slides by just 4. Similarly in Bromley, the Tory vote slides by just over half - down almost 12,000 votes - and Labour haemorrhages 8316 votes, but the Lib Dem vote holds up and actually gains 1620. As Kerron Cross points out though, for all the Liberal Democrat crowing about a stupendous result, that means that 20,000 mainstream votes went begging yesterday, but the Liberal Democrats only picked up 1620 of them. That is a lot less to do with Ming's inspiring leadership and more to do with the peculiarity of by-elections and the effectiveness of Chris Rennard's operation. A stronger leader would only enhance that, so let's hope Ming stays at the top for a while yet.

By-elections are strange things - local issues play a huge part in the outcome, as does the fact that the party can devote huge resource to just one constituency, something that always works in the favour of the Liberal Democrats, who have the best by-election winning machine in the business. Unfortunately, this seems to be devoted to flinging mud at the opposition, as Bob Neill (MP for the time being) said - to a background of LD jeers:
A minority of candidates, principally the Liberal Democrats, have chosen to fight this campaign with the most vigorous and underhand example of cynical personal abuse that I have encountered in 30 years of politics. If you [the Lib Dems] sometimes wonder why it is that people in this country are turned off by politics, get a mirror and look at yourselves.
I'm not allowed to agree with the Tories. I'm sure it says that somewhere in the Labour Party rulebook, but he's right - and not just about the fact that Liberal Democrats indulge in widespread personal abuse. Kerron has already made similar comments - views in accord with anybody who has to deal with the slippery Lib Dems.

The Times has a quick run down on the LD tactics. Firstly, they devise a message and then they hammer that home throughout the campaign. Bob Neill was tagged as a professional politician -'Three Jobs Bob' - and exposed as that most heinous of offenders - somebody who doesn't live locally. The fact that the LD candidate was a lobbyist, PR merchant and not really that much more local isn't relevant - the anti-Bob story was hammered home as voters reported receiving up to three leaflets some days from the LDs. All were cleverly designed to grab your attention for a few seconds and to push the message home. The message became the truth and that's all that matters if you're a Liberal Democrat. Some sensible points are also made by Iain Dale on the matter from a Tory point of view.

Tactical voting also comes into play - it certainly seems that in Bromley, there was a concerted anti-Tory vote as the Labour vote almost vanished as they slid down to fourth place, while the Labour electors who did turn out seem to have switched to the Liberal Democrats. I doubt that this was a concerted action between the Liberals and Labour, more a smart move on the part of Labour to try to derail the Cameron revival by holding back on the campaign in the constituency. I'd fully expect Bromley to pick up a much enhanced majority come the next general election - much as Birmingham Hodge Hill did after the bruising by-election in 2004.

I did note that one of the independent candidates in Bromley was a John Hemming who had been falsely accused of appearing in a porn film. Thankfully, it was a John Hemming-Clark and not our own resident Superstud MP. The mere thought of him in a porn film caused me to revisit my breakfast. Still, at least he lost his bet with Guido.

Top marks go to the local blogger in Bromley who spotted the Liberal Democrats latest dodgy leaflet - their candidate is shown vigorously wiping away some graffiti conveniently close to campaign HQ, but a later photo shows the graffiti still in place. Not really a surprise as you can't shift that stuff easily - it usually takes some nasty chemicals and/or a high-pressure jet to blast it off. We won't go into Ben's 'experience' working in a Madras orphanage - which appears to amount to enough time to grab a quick photo, rather than any meaningful attempt to deal with grinding poverty. More interestingly for students of arcane elements of electoral law, it seems that Bob Neill, the victorious candidate in Bromley, may face a challenge over his eligibility, if any party fancies (or can afford) an electoral petition. Should a rerun be caused by this oversight, it is possible that the Tories could end up liable for the costs.

The Lib Dems did well and battered the Tories, but this was only a by-election. Don't read too much into it for either party - although neither was a good result for Labour.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Banking on the library?

It's summer and the time is right for dancing in the streets as the annual debate over the Birmingham Library comes round again.

Just when you thought it had all been sorted out, the arch-ditherers at Birmingham City Council have found another way to pull defeat from the jaws of incompetence. To recap - last summer, Whitless caused a storm over a daft decision to split the Birmingham Central Library into two sites - with a lending section on Centenary Square and the archives in a container down on Eastside. You will remember that this stemmed from their hatred of anything hanging over from the Labour administration in 2004, so a well-advanced plan was scrapped in favour of this half-baked, back-of-an-envelope scheme, which inexplicably failed to win PFI credits in the 2005 round. You may also recall that Alistair Dow, one of the spineless LibDems, demonstrated the lack of vision that typifies this admininstration by adding that
'We should not be interested in prestige. We don't want iconic buildings.'

Paul Dale writes that the council couldn't afford the original, Richard Rogers design and this conclusion was reached 'after an exhaustive assessment process.' Actually the truth is that the first consultants' report argued that the Rogers library was the most likely to get PFI funding and offered the best opportunity for regeneration in Eastside, but that wasn't palatable to the Tories and the Lickspittle Democrats, so they had another report produced and more or less forced the consultants to reach the approved answer. There was even a scrutiny committe report which was damning in its criticism of the project management, planning and overall decision-making around the whole thing. But at least there was a plan.

But the leadership have never had an idea that they can't make worse and somebody gave Whitless a new envelope, so he's written out the first things to spill forth from his addled mind and the latest plan is to put the archives into a Grade II listed building on Broad Street - currently on the site of the proposed Arena Central development. If the Scrutiny Committee thought Whitless' first plan was half-baked, this one hasn't even been shown the oven. This new idea has the feel of the Tories grasping at straws - they know that they can't afford the new build for the archive centre and still come in under the cost of the original plan, so they've dreamed up this latest plot.

All of this is adding to the delay - we've had two more years of dithering and we're no nearer getting a library fit to replace the current building. Meanwhile, those valuable archives remain at risk of being flooded by sewage. Another normal day in the World of Whitless.

Will no-one rid us of this truculent pillock?

If anyone sees a policy, please let me know.

David Cameron was trying to spin his current interest in the Human Rights Act as a policy, but he's not eager to give any details of rights that might be removed or added. Funny that, but also typical of the cheap populism and shallow thinking that marks the new Tories in their desperation to look electable. If that means selling out your basic human rights, then that's a sacrifice he's prepared to make. I'm not sure why the French or Germans deserve greater protection for their rights than we do, but I'm sure Dave will let us all know.

On the Today programme, he discussed the issue whereby people cannot be deported, regardless of their danger to the UK, if to send them to their destination would put them at risk, although the legal case that established that went to the European Court of Human Rights back in 1996 - well before Labour brought the HRA in and thus unaffected by either the Act or this proposed change. Cameron has also cited the case of a prisoner demanding hard-core pornography under his rights to freedom of expression, although that case was thrown out - but why let the facts get in the way of a sound-bite, eh?

Cameron is trying to paint this as a European Union problem - that root of all evil in the minds of UKIP and most of the Tories - exploiting the lack of knowledge about European institutions. This is an entirely separate issue, as it relates to the Council of Europe, a grouping of some 46 states. As Cameron has said that he doesn't wish to withdraw from the European Convention of Human Rights, which governs all of this, the only effect of this revision would be to increase the number of cases referred to the European Court of Human Rights for judgement, rather than being decided in the UK courts as they are at present, under the HRA. He wants it to reflect British values - but it already does, as the original ECHR was heavily influenced by the British team that helped draft it (and Winston Churchill was the driving force behind the Council of Europe anyway).

Ravey Davey is also a fan of simplicity (look at his shadow cabinet for a grand collection of simple folk). Ahh, simplicity. Even the simplest terms can keep lawyers gainfully employed for centuries. Witness the first amendment to the US Constitution, the start of their own Bill of Rights:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
That paragraph continues to exercise lawyers today - does it cover the display of the Ten Commandments in federal buildings or not? Law isn't simple, no matter how hard we try to make it so, but I find it hard to find fault with the HRA. All it really does is require public bodies to behave in accordance with the ECHR, for the courts to apply laws laid down by parliament in terms of the convention and it allows redress for those whose rights have or might be affected by legislation or the acts of public bodies.

Of course, this isn't new. David Davis promised a review of the HRA back in 2004, before the last election and that formed part of a manifesto commitment. As Bob points out, SheWhoMustBeObeyed also promised a Bill of Rights prior to the 1979 election, something that was conveniently forgotten afterwards.

The HRA will lead to bad cases and dodgy decisions, as all law does, but replacing it for the sake of a few headlines will not improve things one iota and we're fools if we believe it. Human rights legislation only works if it is allowed to protect everybody - it isn't absolute, but breaches of basic rights have to be justified. For example, imprisoning somebody is a breach of their human rights, but not if due process of law has been followed. Surrendering those rights to please the baying tabloid media and leveraging a few extra votes is wrong.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Only good news on TV?

You remember that interview that showed Cllr Paul Tilsley's lack of historical knowledge and a distinct lack of due care when it came to facts over the Elan Valley heritage centre? You remember - the one where he thought that the nineteenth-century tenant farmers were really quite grateful to Birmingham Council for throwing them off their farms without a penny and then flooding the land? The one where he said that he had pointed the Welsh group towards Severn Trent as a source of funding, despite the fact that they had already been approached?

Yes, THAT interview. How soon we forget.

Apparently, it wasn't scrapped because Tilsley didn't like how he was portrayed, nor because the interviewer apparently lacked knowledge about council processes, but because the editor of the channel thought that it
'did not reflect positive business news stories.'
This marks a striking departure for newsgathering everywhere. I look forward to TV crews being withdrawn from Iraq to cover the birth of fluffy kittens in Surrey. At least we can look forward to an end to the bad news emanating from the Home Office for a while - perhaps they can fill the time with a recipe slot or more local weddings. Maybe they can find a talking dog to do something funny. That is possibly the worst excuse for poor journalism. If all they are doing is producing puff-pieces for industry, that's fine, just don't call it news - because it isn't.

If that IS the case, why did the Post report that Tilsley had asked BizTV not to broadcast the interview?

Cameron 0, Gordon 1

David Cameron is on his way to Germany for the match. According to his spokesman, Dave will be watching the match from the stands, "like everybody else." Gordon Brown, who will also be there, is expected to watch it from the box.
So says Hugo Rifkind in the Times.

What he doesn't say is that Gordon is there as a guest of the German government (see, Whitless, some people have a little respect for their hosts) and CallMeDave has leant on his old mates in ITV to give him a corporate freebie - one of the 2% of tickets allocated to broadcasters and something not available to the hundreds of school-kids who were ripped off by conmen, nor to the thousands of fans who weren't lucky enough to get one of the 8% of tickets allocated to the FA. Needless to say, the Tory auto-reply bots that are taking over the comment section on Iain Dale's site are full of indignation directed at the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but gloss over Cameron's blatant political opportunism. Dave, you aren't a 'man of the people' and you never will be, so stop trying so hard.

EDIT: I'm far more cheered by the news that the kids WILL get to see a match after all. For once, top marks to the government (Richard Caborn in particular), FIFA and British Airways (who have agreed to fly the children back to Germany). It is nice to have a good news story.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Meeja matters

As Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Home Affairs prefers to take his political guidance from the tabloid press, it is good to see a copper prepared to speak out.

The Chief Constable of Dyfed Powys and the ACPO spokesman on child protection has criticised the goverment for surrendering power to the News of the World. He said that the minister was
'slowly but surely acceding to its requests, and it is wrong to do so... The last three years has been a litany of abandonment of any real strategic design in the Home Office in the management of sex offenders, in favour of trying to find out what one particular tabloid newspaper wants and then complying with their wishes.'
He also told us that five people have been murdered in the US as a result of their details being available on a public register.

In the West Midlands, there's been a response to the earlier decision to remove sex offenders from a number of named hostels close to schools, with residents' groups up in arms about other hostels not similarly restricted but still close to parks and schools - as most buildings in urban areas are. All this is going to lead to released offenders being concentrated in fewer and fewer locations.

There was no need to start this hare running - the problem last week was with the sentencing formula, which clearly needs revising to allow judges to move away from the guidelines in particular cases. Chiefly, the rule allowing a third of the sentence to be deducted for a guilty plea should only be applied where the accused has genuinely saved time, money and above all, the witnesses from an ordeal in the court. When somebody is caught in the act, the judge should be free to disregard the discount.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Let's just hand power over to the tabloids, shall we?

The Home Office hasn't had a good press lately - what with absconding prisoners, failed anti-terror raids, an amnesty being misconstrued as evidence of soaring knife crime, immigration not doing its job and judges sentencing leniently - so you can hardly be surprised when the new Home Secretary seizes on anything positive to try and get some good PR.

The current story of the week seems to be about introducing 'Megan's Law' and allowing us to know when paedophiles are living in our area. This has the feel of a Blairite tradition in government - knock up some policy on the back of an envelope and announce it, in the manner of the politician's syllogism from Yes Minister:
We must do something
This is something
Therefore we must do this
Paedophiles are amongst the toughest groups of offenders that the system has to handle. They have a very high level of reoffending and while some respond to treatment programmes, there are a number that are entirely untreatable. While it seems to makes sense not to house released offenders in close proximity to schools, bear in mind that schools are scattered across urban areas - I live around ten minutes' walk away from around five primaries and two secondary schools - and children live and play everywhere. In any case, the general secretary of the probation officers' union says that there is no evidence to suggest that offenders have preyed on nearby schools - it isn't the way they offend. He added
'Many of them would have been in the middle of various treatment programmes that will be disrupted. I've spoken to staff who are trying to find alternative accommodation for them and ... they are all going to other hostels that are less than a few hundred metres away from schools.'

Ray Wyre, a man who has spent a career working with paedophiles, adds that the whole idea of notifying local residents of a sex offender in their neighbourhood is ineffective because 80% of offenders abuse children in their own families and these criminals cannot be identified because that will identify the children as well - something already prohibited by law.

There's also the concern about the accuracy of the data - almost 200 people were wrongly labelled as offenders by the Criminal Records Bureau checks. The US equivalent of the sex offenders register is also less accurate because the criminals supply false information to protect themselves.

While long jail - possibly full term life - sentences will protect the public against the most dangerous offenders, most will have to be released back into the community at some point. Continued supervision and treatment seems to be the most effective answer, as exposing them to public attention will drive them further underground and possibly back into the cycle of offending. That sort of work is expensive and time consuming, but it offers the best chance of protecting our children. One of the most interesting is the Circles of Support concept, where a released offender is befriended by a small group, who will meet as a group on a weekly basis, but will have daily contact with the 'core member' and hold them accountable for their behaviour, while offering encouragement and advice on avoiding reoffending. It is never going to make the headlines, nor will the hang 'em and flog 'em columnists ever approve, but that sort of programme has proved effective.

As Mr Eugenides points out, there's a child molestor in your area now. Without knowing precisely who that is, that information is useless to you and will merely lead to everybody bolting themselves in behind their front doors. This is just a licence for the local thugs to go round after a few drinks and administer a punishment beating as some sort of unofficial service to the community. This is a media-driven publicity stunt by a Home Secretary looking for a break from the bad news, it isn't a strategy to protect our children.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The undead Kennedy

It may be that Cleggy might not be alone on the campaign trail when the Minger heads off to the retirement home/House of Lords. A certain young Scottish MP called Kennedy seems to have unfinished business with his party. Now wouldn't THAT be a turn up for the books?

Apparently Kennedy offers Ming face-to-face advice. Well, if you turn your back on Campbell, you are liable to find a knife between your shoulder blades, so that's a wise move, young Charlie.


And it was all so much different then.

I'm sitting here watching 'The Summer of... 1997' on BBC Two and the pictures of the Peter Snow swingometer on election night as the screen washes red has the same effect on me as watching footage of last year's Ashes victory. I can feel the hairs on the back of my neck rising (no doubt in the same way that Iain Dale's hackles rise at the thought) at the sight of Neil Hamilton getting his marching orders or Michael Portillo being unceremoniously ejected by Stephen Twigg.
Nostalgia is a wonderful thing. Can Labour rediscover that passion in time for the next election? The recent YouGov survey suggests that we need something to help us find our way out of the current doldrums. I took part in that survey and I can say that my responses seem to mirror the majority of current members - and this is the core membership who have stuck with us despite the travails of Iraq. These are the people who believe in the party and what it stands for, the members who will be involved in repairing the damage caused by the government's mistakes. They deserve to be heard and two thirds of them want Blair gone by the 2007 conference, but they don't want a nasty internal fight either. The message to the leadership and those who would be king is that there does need to be 'an orderly transition' and all sides owe it to the party to ensure that happens. By all means, let's have a contest, not a coronation, but let's not have Tony dragged kicking and screaming from Downing Street. We gave him his third victory, so he owes us that.

The poll also raises issues about internal party democracy, something that has bothered me in recent years. We need to find a happy medium between the control freakery and the unfettered membership control of policy. At worst, the controlling nature of the party machine has led to a number of activist members leaving the party - Blaenau Gwent being merely the most high-profile example. The alternative can be seen with the Liberal Democrat conferences of old, which saw some of the wackier sandalista ideas becoming party policy, sometimes to the dismay of the party leadership. We need to let our political leaders develop policy, especially in government, but we also need a genuinely influential role for the membership in both policy development and aspects of the running of their party. Ironically, this might come as a necessity. With all parties in financial difficulties and forty-six party staffers leaving this summer, the membership might be able to achieve some control.

All aboard!

The Liberal Democrats have never met a bandwagon they didn't like, so it is no surprise to find 'Nick Nick' Clegg aiming a kick at the award of a CBE to Asst Commissioner Andy Hayman.

Yes, the timing could have been better, but as everyone else knows, these awards aren't actually knocked out the night before they are announced, they are decided months in advance so that the recipients can be sounded out to avoid embarrassments. It would have looked just as bad if they had pulled the award at short notice, because that would have leaked out and it would seem as though AC Hayman was being blamed for the Forest Gate affair rather than praised for his and his department's sterling work over the past year in combatting terrorism in London and elsewhere. Scarily, I find myself lining up alongside Iain Dale against a rather puerile attack from Cleggy, who is clearly desperate to raise his profile ahead of a possible leadership campaign.

I find myself in great sympathy with the police position. We're heading towards the first anniversary of last year's attacks on the tube network, so tensions are bound to be running higher than usual. Intelligence sources had clearly developed some information that they considered merited raiding the property - although there has been some suggestion that the police didn't agree and that the final arbiter on the intelligence data was the Cabinet Office. Bear in mind that hindsight is always in glorious 20/20, so you must always ask yourself how it looked to the decision-makers at the time. Remember also the criticism levelled at the police and security services last year when those bombs exploded in London - would you want to take the risk of a repeat?

While I'm also sympathetic towards the targets of this raid and I'm critical of the police attempts to spin the facts after the shooting - accusing one of the suspects of shooting the other or of struggling with police, what I have heard so far only says that the core intelligence was wrong, not the decision-making itself. We may never know why the wrong information was received - whether it was intentionally wrong, for the sources' own reasons, whether the source was fed false data to expose them or whether it was just a case of mistaken identity.

Intelligence analysis is a little like assembling a jigsaw, but you don't know what the final picture will look like. Additionally, many of the pieces will fit together to make more than one picture, some key parts will be missing and there will be other pieces in the box from other jigsaws. It is clear that we have had to make up a lot of ground in this particular field.

For decades, our intelligence services focussed on the Soviet threat and on a domestic Irish terrorist threat. Many shady Islamic groups were tolerated in London, with an unspoken agreement that they would be allowed to oppose Israel or their own governments with a degree of impunity, providing that they didn't engage in illegal acts on British soil. Now, the ground rules have changed and we've been caught unawares. It takes years to build up the experience and the contacts in a new environment, particularly one so unfamiliar to the security and police services. More should have been done at that stage to develop an overall strategy, but I'm loathe to criticise this particular tactical decision.

UPDATE: Can I recommend Stephen Pollard's view on Cleggy's future as leader?

Bloody rulebook

As predicted, the Minger's back-of-an-envelope policy making on tax has run into difficulties - first up was an article in Lib Dem News, which pointed out that the policy hadn't even been agreed by the Tax Commission, let alone ratified by conference, now it seems that they will face a battle to get it past conference and may even have to give in and retain the 50p rate on top of the heavy green taxes.

Is the future still Orange?

Muzzling the media

Paul Tilsley has leant on a local TV station to stop the broadcast of a rather embarrassing interview where he gets historical fact wrong and misleads the interviewer.

This was an interview in the series 'Now You're Talking' on Biz-TV, where he was questioned about the City Council's refusal to support a heritage centre in the Elan Valley in Wales. This has been the source of Birmingham's fresh water for over a century after the Birmingham Corporation purchased the land and built the dams at the end of the nineteenth century to supply the city. Tenant farmers were moved from the land and the landowners compensated for their loss - the farmers were turned out with nothing. Tilsley seems to believe that they should be grateful to Birmingham for flooding their valley, whereas the truth is that we owe a debt to them.

He apparently even suggests that it was down to him that the community group CARAD obtained £50,000 from Severn Trent towards their planned half million pound target. Sadly, CARAD had already approached the water company before speaking to the Council and were offered £10,000.

If anyone has a copy of the interview, I'd be delighted to give it the audience it deserves. That's the sort of thing YouTube was made for.

Paul was apparently concerned about the lack of knowledge about local government on the part of the interviewer. I'd be concerned by his lack of knowledge of our history and his willingness to lean on the press to stop personal embarrassment. And the Welshmen currently urinating in our reservoir.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Whither Labour blogs

My first (and probably last) mention in Tribune and it comes at the hands of a Tory. How shameful is that? A couple of weeks ago, Iain Dale asked for comments from his regular readers about the left/right split in the blogosphere and I sent a brief email, which I've expanded on a little.

I suspect that there are a lot of reasons for LD/Tory bloggers outnumbering leftwingers - although there is a sizeable leftist community and Tom Watson was the first MP to blog that I know of.

There may be an argument that Tory/LD supporters tend to be wealthier and have the time to blog and the technological knowhow to do it, but I'm as unconvinced by that as I am by the suggestion that we're too busy governing to bother with blogging.

I suspect that the real issue is a simple accident of history - that Labour is currently the party in power. Blogging has only really taken off over the past few years and I think it is natural for the polemicists and commentators who inhabit the blogosphere to want to oppose whoever is in power at the time. Opposition is always more fun than the hard graft of government, as you can let your ideals run away with you, whereas government is about practical solutions. I've always held the view that Labour members are bound to be disappointed by their government, as the essential idealism that powers us can never be fulfilled by the pragmatism that bedevils any administration. If we'd had the blogging revolution starting during the 1980s, I don't doubt that you would have seen a huge number of anti-Tory blogs. If you look at the US, I would posit that the situation is reversed, so that most bloggers are anti-Bush, although there is a substantial and developing community of conservative commentators over there as well.

Not only is the focus on you if you are in government, but you are also going to make mistakes and offend people - that's simply something that comes with the job. Those you offend will be only too glad to leak any of your problems to the media - just look at how the government has been affected by the problems of the Home Office in the past months. There's always criticism to be made against any government.

There's also the issue of age. The political leaders and thinkers currently running the country tend to come from the last generation to regard computer illiteracy as a badge of honour, so they aren't attuned to the growing importance of the internet. As the political wheel turns and the next generation of MPs comes to office, I'd expect them to be more comfortable with the power of the net and the blog for direct communication with voters without the media-imposed filter.
The only other thing I would say is that the medium is still young - there aren't that many top-line bloggers out there with any significant audience. Guido and Iain Dale are probably the two best-known and most-visited blog sites, with a fair chunk for RecessMonkey and the crossover journalists like Adam Boulton, who blog as an adjunct to their main media output. The rest of us just compete for the crumbs from the table and tend to be pathetically grateful for a mention from one of the topline operators.

Incidentally, should I be flattered or insulted by Iain's inclusion of my link under 'Media' rather than 'Labour Blogs' on his sidebar?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Why change the habits of a lifetime?

As the Bromley & Chislehurst by-election hots up, all the good old Liberal Democrat tricks are being wheeled out.

They hit the ground running - sadly before the previous MP was in it, even earning a gentle slap from Ming. I heard that they were working in Dunfermline just after Rachel Squire died, so that they could get a head start on the campaign.

Of course, Bromley is just a two horse race and the bookmakers are sure that only the Lib Dems can challenge the Tories to win. Is there anywhere that they don't use this old tactic?

Then they attack the opposition candidate - pointing out that the Tory candidate lives a whopping ten miles from the seat (although a fifteen mile journey wasn't a problem for the Lib Dem candidate when he stood in Beckenham last year). Then they criticise the Tory candidate for having too many jobs, while our own John Hemming held down at least five by Iain Dale's calculations (he was also Deputy Leader of the Council, nominally a full-time job, when elected as well).

They manage to gloss over their candidate's own employment as a lobbyist for LLM. Guido handily reminds us of some of their clients - like Orange. Not another mobile phone mast lobbyist. This is starting to look like a pattern. Anyone else remember the lovely Nokia Davies and her disastrous fight for Hodge Hill?

Liberal Democrats and by-elections. They go together like a horse and carriage.

And leave the same trail behind them.

Following the master

I've been inspired by Unity to do a little digging myself. I keep a weather eye on the Stormfront website - a home for racists, anti-semites and other charming manifestations of hatred and there used to be a high-profile member of this discussion board calling herself 'Odins-Eye' and apparently hailing from Birmingham. She disappeared shortly after the local elections in May in an attempt to hide her identity, but she seems to be better known as Sharon Ebanks, the current councillor for Kingstanding (until July 3, when the court-ordered recount takes place) - at least that seems to be the common view amongst the feuding Nazis of the National Front. There's even a comment on the Stormfront board that 'Odins-Eye' is too busy to post at the moment, for reasons that should be obvious to those who read the news. She's also a key member of that nasty nest of vipers, as she contributes funds to keep the site functioning and providing an outlet for racist bile on the internet.

Like 'Steve Freedom,' Sharon has some interesting views and was only too happy to broadcast them before her temporary elevation to the council chamber. As before, all errors are from the original - thanks to the Google cache, which reveals the truths that some are trying to conceal.

On Jordan and her son, Harvey
That picture is truly disgusting, a fine display of the cancer eating away at this country, and why the hell this whore is so important, is beyond me. Who gives a stuff that her mouth is bleeding, we have OAP's dying from neglect and a country drowning in filth like the object she gave birth to
The Sunday Mercury's revelation that Sharon's own father was black, like Harvey's, puts a whole new spin on that comment. There is also an irony in the personal ad she ran for her son, who is
'Looking for a female who is racially aware, if you've ever been out with an ethnic, please dont respond'

Whither the BNP?
'The point of our existence is to save the White British race, the BNP are the only ones capable of doing so, unless of course the nationalist opposition all get brain transplants. Pigs might fly, preferably over a mosque'

On the 2004 local elections
'I intend to take photos this year of my polling station, complete with paki candidates hassling the electorate'

On birth control
'And then the jewish bastards gave us the pill, and abortion...'

On Islam and crime
'Islam, the convicts choice'
On Islam
'Muslims are filthy disgusting animals that should be cleansed from the face of the earth'
On Spielberg
'he is a good director when kept away from all things oven'
On the England football team

[In response to this from another poster: It's still not that unusual for black players to have to suffer abuse such as monkey noises and having bananas thrown at them, so we aren't all beaten down and brainwashed yet.]

Yeah, but there should be no need for nanas and noises. They shouldn't be here full stop, and the more Whites that support it, the more we will have of them, lets face it, these blacks can earn millions and they dont even have a brain cell between them. Same goes for crap artists, they spout aload of monkey noises down the mic and hey presto they're living in a mansion and teaching White kids to do drugs, shoot guns and treat White women like whores

And on watching football rather than distributing BNP leaflets
neglecting your country in favour of a freakin shirt that changes each season to give more and more negros, more dosh. Do you ever stop to think about the amount of money you put into foreigners pockets every time you go to a match?
On Israel (and the former Spanish PM, Jose Maria Aznar)
Jewish terrorism. It established their country. It keeps it afloat. And now it gets the stupid goyim to fight their wars for themDid you know, Aznar is a jew?
On rap music
Rap is a jewish plot to put negros in the high earning bracket, and to actually make them feel like they make some kind of artistic difference to peoples lives. They may gain more credibility if the jew wasn't pulling their strings, but yet again, someone else, even the jew has to give them a foot up. Send em back to the jungle where they belong.
On Solihull

We all have our smart areas, but the rest of Solihull is a paki infested dump

Good neighbours.

Just occasionally, you hear a story that reminds you that human society, even in a big city like London, can work. It is all the sweeter when it comes from a cynic whose trade exposes him to the sum of human misery in all its messy, blood-soaked horror - Reynolds from the London Ambulance Service on Random Acts of Reality.
This is what I see – I see communities working together and looking after each other, not because of government sponsored ‘multi-racial community days’ but because, quite simply, we all live together. The only thing is that you don’t hear about these small acts of humanity when so-called ‘community leaders’ are shouting about perceived unfairness.

And there's a message to those 'community leaders' - whatever their colour or ethnic origin. We're in this together, like it or not and you owe it to those you lead to try and find ways to make the best of it for the whole community.

Whitless strikes again

One step forward and two steps back.

Cllr Mike Whitby, allegedly the leader of Birmingham City Council, but currently doing a passable impression of a circus clown, continues to show the way when it comes to sensitive issues.

He's finally apologised - sort of - to Cllr Salma Yaqoob, for his intemperate outburst in the council chamber last week. Well, it is almost an apology, because if she took offence, it was her fault anyway, probably because she's a woman, or something.

Dear Councillor Yaqoob,

Thank you for your letter of 9th June and the comments you raise. I am sorry that you have chosen to wrongly interpret my response to your oral question made at last Tuesday's Council Meeting. You asked me about diversity in Birmingham, and I was pleased to highlight the Government's praise of the excellent work being done to maintain and improve community relations in the light of past difficulties. This contrasts with the failings and problems experienced in other parts of the country.

You must be aware that the city council you are now a member of has been rightly commended for the way it handles relations with all of its diverse communities. I feel aggrieved this good work was put at risk by your attack on the composition of the Cabinet and Scrutiny portfolio holders. Such divisive political tactics do not have a place here, especially when we are working so hard to bring people together.

If you want to understand the Progressive Partnership's approach to Equality and Diversity in our City then we are very happy to meet with you and outline what we are doing and why the Government have praised our approach. I have copied this to my colleague, Cllr Alan Rudge, who has taken the lead in this matter. You will no doubt be aware that the Partnership will be nominating at the July Council meeting Cllr Ayoub Khan as lead member on the Police Authority and Cllr Tanveer Choudhry as Chairman of the Task and Finish Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Local Area Agreements. We will always continue to strive towards inclusivity. On a personal basis, I am sorry if you have been offended by my remarks, something which was never my intention. It is sad if people have interpreted what I said in a way which was not meant. We celebrate our cultural diversity in Birmingham and as Leader of the City I constantly do all I can to promote it. I hope I can count on your support to build on our success in the future.

He had to turn up on BBC local radio as well and one of my correspondents provides the edited highlights (sadly I was out of the area at the time, so didn't here Whitless' mumblings)

Whitby gave a typical performance on the Doolan Show yesterday, flapping around all over the place. He must have been asked three or more times to read a transcript of what he said.When he finally did, the words 'If the Councillor wants to represent Burnley or Oldham she can do.' apparently didn't mean 'why don't you go to Burnley or Oldham'.Disingenuous or stupid? You decide.Lamely, Salma Yacoob accepted an apology that would have done a 10 year old proud:
1. You chose to misunderstand me.
2. I was right.
3. If by misunderstanding what I was saying you have got upset then I am sorry you have got upset.
4. By the way I have got my fingers crossed, so it doesn't count.
OK, I made the last bit up. In other parties or on other Councils, Whitby wouldn't still be in the leaders office.
But Iron Mike Whitby hasn't finished yet. As you note, he is putting Ayoub Khan into place on the WM Police Authority, replacing the Labour councillor Yvonne Mosquito. Brilliant. Replace the only Afro-Caribbean woman on the authority with an Asian man. Diversity in action, there Mike. Needless to say, Albert Bore is kicking off about this one, questioning Whitless' authority to do this. [UPDATE - According to the Birmingham Post, Whitless has managed to lever an extra spot on the police authority for a Birmingham councillor, so Yvonne is safe in her place. Why this wasn't made clear from the start is unclear.]

Andrew Sparrow, a persistent thorn in Whitless' side over recent months and recently deposed from Birmingham Forward, threw in his fourpennorth in a letter to the Birmingham Post yesterday, in which he wrote:
Coun Whitby holds a key office. He leads Birmingham and by a host of political actions carries the ambitions of a community. However, for the city to achieve economic vantage and social cohesion requires more than a personal ambition which outstrips ability.

Dave Radcliffe reckons I've had a go at him for being white, male and middle-class. I didn't - I come from the same demographic. I was merely pointing out that another senior LD post had gone to a white man. I don't want quotas or positive discrimination (an oxymoron, if ever I heard one), just a reasonable representation of all our residents on the council. He points out that Labour has had a run of white, middle-class deputy leaders and I'd ask him to note that Labour also had a record of appointing black and Asian councillors to leadership roles within the city council, a record that outstrips the combined efforts of the current 'Progressive Partnership' by a country mile.

Incidentally, I apologise for my error in calculating the number of black LD councillors - entirely my fault, but it doesn't make it look any better for the LDs, as not one of their ethnic minority group is good enough to make it to a leadership position on the council.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Marketing the Tories.

B3ta, home to some of the best and most twisted imaginations on the net has a weekly picture competition and this week is about marketing the Tories. Some favourites and their authors, who deserve all the credit.

The Great Architect (above)

Milt (right)

Mushroom (bottom)

Aerixis (below)

The competition is in the early stages, so more will undoubtedly appear.

Leadership race

Someone hit a raw nerve in the council chamber on Tuesday.

Salma Yaqoob, the new RESPECT councillor for Sparkbrook, questioned the Dear Leader himself as to why the council's political leadership is largely male and exclusively white. Now, Whitless has an excuse - that's the makeup of the Tory party on the council to a man (funny how none of their hard-working Asian members have ever been successful in selection for a winnable seat, isn't it?), but as the Post pointed out a while ago, 7 of the 33 Liberal Democrat councillors are Asian and one is black (although the LDs have a habit of glossing over those facts when it suits - just ask the residents of Moseley). Not one of those councillors is apparently capable of taking a Cabinet chair or even that of a scrutiny committee. Until May, the Deputy Leadership of the LD group was held by an Asian councillor, but even that has now gone to a relative newbie - who also ticks the white, middle class boxes.

Whitby's response - nastily telling Cllr Yaqoob to go off to Burnley or Oldham - doesn't befit a senior councillor and has some unpleasant overtones. She was asking a reasonable question and deserved a reasonable answer, not to be slapped down for getting a bit uppity.

But there is good news, Whitless told the press that
'he hoped the absence of ethnic minority representation at scrutiny committee chairmen level would be resolved soon.'
Given that these posts have just been decided by the LD AGM, someone is going to have to give way and it won't look at all like tokenism. Honest.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

How the media works, pt 598

Perspective on the 'knife crime epidemic' (as heard of in all papers) from a letter to the Guardian.
Two hundred and thirty-six homicides due to sharp instruments is the headline number in your article on the "stabbing epidemic" (Report, June 3). Actually, the number of murders caused by sharp instruments in the years before were 261 (2001-02), 266 (2002-03) and 234 (2003-04) - indeed in 1995 there were 243. However reprehensible knife crime is, this hardly constitutes an epidemic; you could possibly talk of a slight decline. What is of greater interest is how such moral panics are constituted and their basis in flimsy facts and sensationalist journalism.

Prof Jock Young
University of Kent

Professor Young is professor of sociology, with a specialism in criminology. He knows of what he speaks.

I don't want to underplay the need to tackle the issue, but I'm always aware that the fear of crime is often worse than the reality.

Everythings coming up Tory

Summer's here and the Tories are on the rebound, with a spring in their step following decent council election returns in May.

Of course, opposition is easy - not that I can explain why the Tories haven't been doing it for the past nine years, to be honest - as you are never required to deliver on your promises and can let your principles run free. That's why I've always thought that Labour supporters are naturally happier in opposition, as government requires awkward, pragmatic compromises which may not always match up with their ideals.

The 10% came from a MORI poll in the Sun on Monday - CON 41%, LAB 31% and and a second tranche of polls today reduces the gap significantly - CON 37%, LAB 34% and LD 18% - suggesting that the MORI version could be a little bit of a rogue result. Cameron certainly appears to have done something - but his success is founded upon novelty - he's offering a real alternative to Labour for the first time in almost a decade and those dissatisfied with Tony and Labour are happy to join Team Cameron, so the gains are in part happenstance on the part of the Tories.

Things aren't perfect - Tory Central Office has been spinning like mad to roll back on the importance of the A List, especially as the candidate selected for Bromley and Chislehurst wasn't an A Lister. However, two of the three on the shortlist were from the A List and it seems as though the winner has some local profile. I keep saying that the primary purpose of the A List isn't really to get the candidates on it into safe seats, but to demonstrate to voters that the Tory Party has changed and that these people are the public face - the vanguard of the New Tories. As part of that, the much maligned Tory candidate for Wetherfield East, Adam Rickitt, takes a break from smearing sun tan oil over his nether regions to outline his Tory beliefs in the Telegraph today. He describes himself as the 'Tory whipping boy' - something that must make old Harvey Procter wish he'd never packed the job in. I can't help but suspect that Mr Rickitt may have had another hand guiding his crayon as he wrote this paean to all things Cameroonie. Maybe I'm just too cynical, but the whole piece has a ghostly quality to it, entirely absent from his Question Time run-out.

He misses the point about why he has become the lightning rod for the attacks on the A List. I don't think we can deny that his youth is an issue, which will offend some of the more elderly candidates not on the list, but he claims that attracting young voters will be more difficult
if they see a member of their own generation immediately dismissed just for wanting to get involved.
I don't dismiss him just for wanting to get involved - that's commendable in anyone - but rather for his lack of experience, although he claims to have campaigned at the grassroots level (details, anyone?). What knowledge or experience could he bring to the job of an MP? He is only on the list because of his looks and his celebrity status, so to try and claim that he is the voice of youth in the party is frankly laughable.

Given that the Tories have had a good six months of reinvention, it is all the more shame, really, that their chosen candidate in Bromley ticks so many traditional Tory boxes: middle-aged, white, male, Freemason, professional... There was a golden chance there for Ravey Davey to stamp his imprint firmly on the Tory Party, but it is an indication that his writ within the party structure doesn't run as far as his media managers suggest.

There are a couple of other positive signs for the Tory party as well. Firstly, that bane of any political party, money. Recent figures from the Electoral Commission show that the Tories gained £9 million in donations in the first quarter of 2006 - three times that donated to Labour and a dozen times more than the amount given to the Liberal Democrats. It is worthwhile noting that £2.1 million of that came from a single donor in the form of a pre-election loan now converted to a donation, so the amount of new money is more limited and the Tories are hardly flush with cash, but the news should cheer them a little. Campaigning takes time and a professionally run organisation, which means it needs money, so the party with the largest war chest has a strong start to any campaign.

The second point is about the print media. The Tories have a number of cheerleaders in the broadsheets, but the most astute observer of the political wind is the Murdoch stable and the Sun in particular, which has been shifting to take a more pro-Cameron line - similar to the pro-Labour shift when Blair took over the Labour Party. Partly, of course, the media are bored with Blair - they know he's becoming a lame duck and are hungry for the new story, which seems to be coming out of Tory Central Office at the moment.

The Tories are using Labour's internal disarray as an opportunity to steal our policy clothing. We've had Gideon Osborne hinting that tax cuts might not be the first thing on the agenda for an incoming Tory administration, although those big business donors might be relieved to hear that he still wants to cut tax on their corporate earnings. This is another headline policy being dumped by the party. Just over a year ago, Gideon promised £4 billion worth of cuts to our tax bill financed by savings on government waste - a prospect he now finds 'unconvincing.' Now, in an echo of the pre-97 Gordon Brown promise to keep to Tory spending plans and thus not increase direct taxation, the Conservatives are sending out signals that they don't currently plan to slash public services. Similarly, Dishy Dave is coming out as a defender of public service and against those critics who hold the private sector up as shining examples of management. Not only does this reinforce the changing image of the Tory party to the electorate in general, it also appeals directly to the millions of public sector workers, who tend to vote Labour in the hope of securing their own jobs.

So, all in all, a good first six months for Cameron and the Conservatives, but the progress is still fragile. Much of this is driven by Cameron's image and that is still vulnerable to potential reverses - a poor run of by-elections or a bad showing in the 2007 local elections could make a difference. Cameron is still looking for that defining Clause IV moment - the point where he can show the voters that he is prepared to stand up to his own party. I'm not sure he'll find it - the Tories seem so desperate for power that they are prepared to go along with virtually anything as long as the forward motion is maintained. It might have come over Europe, but he's still pressing on with taking the Conservative MEPs out of the European Peoples' Party grouping in the European Parliament and forming a new alliance with some of the nuttier European parties - despite suggestions that he plans to renege on an agreement made during his leadership campaign. Whichever way he jumps on that decision, he looks likely to split the Tory group in Brussels.

As for Labour, things are decidedly less rosy. The stream of negative headlines seems impossible to stop - although the furore over Prescott has drawn fire from the Home Secretary and the PM. With any number of candidates being put forward to replace Prezza as the deputy leader of the party, you have to remind yourself that there is, as yet, no vacancy - although I suspect that might change. Prescott has become an object of ridicule and that's a difficult tag to shift. The real story behind all of this is the leadership itself and MPs are well aware that Blair has eighteen months in office at the outside, so the manoeuvring for position after the regime change comes has begun. Everyone assumes that Brown will get the job, but I'm not convinced. If you're a betting person, then put your money on Brown, but also a side bet on the least high-profile name on the ballot. There is a real danger that, for all his careful economic management, Gordon might not look fresh enough to provide a real challenge to Cameron. Brown has been careful to avoid most of the fall out from the problems affecting the government, but he might still be too closely associated with the Blair years. Alan Johnson or Hilary Benn might yet prove worthy opponents.

In the YouGov poll, the Tories are starting to develop decent figures on key issues - they are regarded as being better than Labour on taxation, immigration and crime and most remarkably on education. They run Labour a close second on the NHS and economic growth, but still trail significantly on other economic indicators like unemployment, inflation and interest rates. These indicators are reinforced by the ICM poll for the Guardian a couple of weeks ago. None of the polling results looks good for Blair - he's clearly become a liability for the party, with Cameron running only a single percentage point behind Blair on YouGov and Brown outshining Blair on all the positive indicators in the ICM poll. Tony is in deep trouble - and there's difficult waters still ahead with assorted items of legislation still to come.

The news isn't too bright for the Liberal Democrats either. They typically face problems with profile in the inter-election period, as they are really unable to lead on any policies and are limited to the tailend of most stories to provide a quick comment following on from the government and opposition. This has been heightened by the Tory revival, which offers the potential of a real choice for government, rather than just a protest vote - as nobody seriously believes that the Lib Dems are about to storm the gates of Downing Street - so the soft Tory vote that has gone Lib Dem for a number of years has returned to its natural home. While the polls seem undecided on the precise gap between the Tories and Labour, they agree that the LD vote share has declined since May. The distinctly lacklustre performance of the Minger also has a lot to do with it - whatever people may think of Chuckles, he was well liked by voters. Campbell could only attract 8% support as a potential PM in the YouGov poll, less than half of Kennedy's usual score. The only carrot still being dangled before them is the prospect of forming a coalition with the Tories in the event of a hung parliament - something that only 15% of Tory members can regard with any sense of pleasure. I can understand that feeling.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Whitless shoots - and misses...

So why did the free ticket to the opening England game of the World Cup come to Mike Whitby? He's merely the political leader of the council. The representative of the City of Birmingham should surely be the Lord Mayor. You would think that somebody managing the despatch of the tickets would drop a quick email to Birmingham City Council to see to whom the ticket should be addressed and then somebody could check the diaries to ensure that a representative goes along. I'm not saying that Whitby should miss a family wedding, but somebody should have gone as a courtesy - there would be a long queue to get that golden ticket, I don't doubt. Even without that check, once the ticket arrived, couldn't somebody have sorted it?

So, did the ticket really arrive 'out of the blue' or has Whitby cocked up yet again and managed to offend one of our European partner cities, while managing to put a positive spin on it?

Local difficulties

It seems that the defeated Labour candidate in Foleshill, Coventry, is seeking to have the local election result last month overturned, as he claims that at least ten votes cast for his Tory opponent were apparently from people out of the country on election day. The Tory candidate won by six votes and now forms half of the two seat Tory majority on Coventry council. Plod are looking into the matter.

Meanwhile, back in Brum, the reverberations of the council cock-up at the Kingstanding count rumble on, with the council employees responsible for the error facing an inquiry, even as the BNP claim that some of their voters were not recorded as having cast their vote.
We have spoken to people who we know would have voted for us and they have confirmed that they did indeed do so. Yet on the register they are shown as having not voted.

Anyone who has ever done voter ID knows that electors can lie through their teeth - they will tell you that they always vote in elections, but you know for a fact that they haven't voted since 1992. The BNP aren't going to be robbed of this seat, they won it by mistake and the error will be corrected - just as will happen in Barking, where one of their candidates was the victim of a similar mistake. Not that they will shout about that one.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Woah - hang on a sec.

I love a convert to the cause.

When the various bills went through parliament to set up Anti Social Behaviour Orders, the Liberal Democrats in parliament opposed them.

When those bills passed into law and the powers within were found to be rather useful and indeed popular with residents, (one survey reported that they were opposed by just 4% of the public) Liberal Democrats in local councils across the country discovered that they quite liked them. Their members on the GLA backed giving Transport for London the power to obtain ASBOs against those causing trouble on the trains or buses and LibDem peer Lord Dholakia suggested that they might be used to curb footballers' on-field excesses.

Even John Hemming admits that he likes them.

He accuses the government of having
no real idea of how to achieve things.
But fear not, John has the answer. In a moment of clarity not given to us lesser mortals, he tells us that
if we want to reduce crime we need to deal with criminals.
But that's not the best thing. John tells us that
In Birmingham when we took over (with the Conservatives) from Labour we substantially increased the number of ASBOs. However, that is as a tool to reduce anti-social behaviour rather than as an end in itself.
On the other hand, that increase fuels Nick Clegg's anger..
These figures hide the fact that in many cases ASBOs are breached, raising questions about their use as a one-size fits all solution.

John also reveals that he's been tackling crime by gating off alleyways and schemes to reduce repeat burglaries. No mention that this has been funded by the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund - which is, of course, a Labour government initiative. Not even a word of thanks.

Mind you, he's got other things on his mind, now he's expanded his pension fund into 300 acres of Devonshire farmland - although in 2003, the Liberal Democrats were concerned about city-folk like Farmer John buying up agricultural land to buy their own private green belt.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Worse than I thought

We all know that the Minger is in deep trouble and there are those in the party ticking off the days until he can be shunted off to some distant siding and left alone.

I hadn't realised quite how deep the hole was until I read the Birmingham Post on Thursday, for there is a whole page devoted to the man, with a long article of effusive support by John 'GissaFrontBenchJob' Hemming. If you need advice from John, then all is lost. Flee, Ming, flee while you still can. They'll be outside your house with burning torches by the weekend.

I managed to stay awake during Hemming's meanderings, but his advice is summarised as
'Ming needs to get used to being shouted at.'
Is he going deaf, perhaps? Wise words indeed. After almost twenty years in the House and almost forty as a lawyer, that must come as a surprise to Campbell and I'm sure he'll welcome the advice from newbie Hemming.

Now, there's also an interesting rewrite to history
'I supported Ming Campbell when he stood for election'
Apart from the time you ran against him? Remember, Campbell declared within moments of Kennedy falling on his sword and Hemming started frantically trying to find enough fellow MPs with a deathwish to nominate him. Of course, Hemming did eventually support Campbell - he does have an eye on his career, to be fair. But John has more for us
My experience of him as a leader is that he is substantially better than Charles Kennedy.
Well, he is sober, so that's a start, but otherwise, your judgement seems slightly awry there John and at odds with pretty much every other political observer. John also seems a little confused about how policy is decided in the Lib Dem party:
Whereas the party used to manage to fall into policy elephant traps from time to time, Ming Campbell's leadership will ensure that we have the right answers to deal with issues such as anti-social behaviour, the NHS and the economy.

Errrm... doesn't the membership still decide policy? Or has Ming already rewritten that part of the book?

He points out that the LDs ruin local authorities such as Newcastle, Liverpool and Burnley.

Ah, Burnley. Yes, the one where the Liberal Democrats used the support of the BNP councillors to bring down the sitting Labour administration and throw the council into weeks of strife. Or Liverpool - ask my mate Elephunt about them.

Ten out of ten for loyalty, John, but the analysis is some way off the mark.

BNP racist outed

No surprise there.

Following on from Bob Piper's discovery of a blog belonging to another Sandwell councillor, which revealed him to be something of a conspiracy wingnut and a loon to boot.

Top marks to Unity at the Ministry of Truth for unearthing some nasty little facts about Simon Smith and his Amazing Dancing Barefaced Lies.

The really scary thing - apart from the fact that this man is an elected member of a local authority - is that he used to be a teacher. I worry for the standards in our teacher training establishments if he qualified, but then Nick Griffin has a degree from one of our finest universities. Needless to say, all errors in grammar, spelling, fact and principle belong to the original author.

Firstly, there's history and the Holocaust:
The "Holocaust" is the biggest lie of all time….
Then, his views on race.

99 times out of a 100 when talking about Negroes or people from Pakistan , I’m quite happy to speak of them as "Negroes" or "Pakistanis". For the common or garden nigger or paki I think that’s fine…. But for people like this, they are Niggers and Pakis with a capital N and P. There are two women friends of mine who keep getting hassled by Blacks because they have blonde hair all the f****** time. For any Blacks reading this stick to your own bloody women, as ugly as they are !
and more...

The reason why Blacks disproportionately don’t vote is that the frontal part of the brain associated with postponing immediate gratification is not so well developed as in other races. I mean having to go all the way down the street and marking cross on a piece of paper doesn’t bring sex, drugs or the latest pair of trainers.
still more

Creativity AND engineering are what differentiate Whites from every other races
In a turn of phrase calculated to appeal to the many football fans out there

Football is a religion supported by people who are brainwashed idiots

There are obviously more important things than football, but having five Blacks playing for England was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me…
And what about the ordinary electors? Does he show respect for them? Does he cobblers.

I’d certainly agree with the notion that "holocaust denial" as you put it, should be avoided amongst Joseph and Josephine Public.. but then again anything that challenges the average attention span should be as well…One idea forming in my mind lately is think and study deeply but communicate superficially, touching on what sales people call the "hot spots"
Don't forget Hitler, Simon doesn't

Many perhap will look up to a certain mid twentieth century military philospher and statesman and hail him as a sort of saint - fair enough -I will not argue
He goes further

In my mind a very courageous and truthful man. I suppose there may be a great fear about identifying with anything Hitler said, the argument being that it could set the movement backwards – perhaps the only thing that will push the “Movement” forward in the long run is the Truth – unpalatable and uncomfortable as it maybe
And here's a really disturbing phrase

There are only two parties of principle in Britain. The BNP and the Lib Dems [Respeck](Yes I know at the highest level the LDs are part of the three headed hydra monopoly capitalist system, but lower down, there are people of principle in it)
That's how much trouble the LDs are in these days. Even the BNP approve.

And if anyone ever doubted that the BNP remain racist to the core and are hiding their true views in order to get power and influence:
What i mean is,the people who say we (the bnp ) are watering our views down and selling out,don’t understand the need for this slight manoeuvre from our goals and public mindset. When they do,they will understand. You will never convince the public six million did’nt perish untill we are in power. Our people need to be steered back with a sensible and carefull approach,one devoid of hate.If the public hated like we do,Black and Asian ghettos would not exist
Anti-semitism, racism, Holocaust denial and a smug superiority to mere mortals like you and me. Cllr Smith has the complete set of BNP traits. (All credit to Unity for his excellent investigative work).

The truth is certainly out there.

Every little helps

A few weeks ago, Cllr Paul Tilsley announced an inquiry into the land holdings of the big three supermarkets, accusing them of using 'black arts' to secure their positions. I do hope that the inquiry doesn't just cover the land holdings of the supermarkets, but also what land their favoured developers are sitting on as well, as the OFT inquiry will do. He's not been very forthcoming about what this means, but the sudden realisation that big companies don't play fair (where has Cllr Tilsley been all these years, eh?) hasn't stopped the council selling off land. You see, principles come a poor second to the need to flog off the family silver to fund the plans for council housing and the supermarkets offer rather more than the traditional thirty pieces of silver.

So, when Tesco put cold hard cash on the table for the old Swan Centre and some playing fields in Yardley, Cllr Tilsley bit their hand off - just after the council had agreed the sale of playing fields in Hodge Hill to the same chain, although local support seems a little light on the ground. Liam Byrne, the local MP, found 80% opposition to the scheme when he polled 2000 houses.

Now, it appears that a planning application by the Co-op in Stirchley has been allowed to sit in a filing cabinet while yet another application from Tesco (them again) has been expressed through the system.

Not only will the council benefit from the sale of land, worth millions of pounds, but they will also be able to salve their consciences with healthy s106 agreements, whereby the developers will have to invest in the local community. With the council desperate for cash, you can understand why the lure of the Tesco lucre is so strong and why planning applications just fly through the system - although there are suggestions that Tesco aren't offering a huge sum in Hodge Hill, as they feel that they are already paying enough for the site.

Whether local residents and local businesses will feel as happy as the council about the outcome remains to be seen, but it strikes me as deeply hypocritical to slam Tesco's behaviour at the same time as you are pocketing their money. At the very least, it is rude.

Liberal Democrats - cracking up?

As the Minger is apparently on the verge of relaunching his leadership again (how many times has he done that in just three months), news reaches us that the Macchiavelli of the Liberal Democrats, Lord Tim Razzall has been forced out of his post as head of campaigns and communications after a very poor performance in the local elections (a net gain of two councillors across the country). This is another mistake by the floundering Liberal Democrats - they are getting rid of a very effective operator, although as he was close to Chuckles, he'd probably had enough of the creeping incompetence starting to affect the previously slick machine. It will get even worse when the demand to repay the £2.4 million from their dodgy donor lands on the doormat of whoever is in charge at the time.

And with the Bromley and Chislehurst and Blaenau Gwent byelections only a few weeks away, they can ill-afford this change. As Yellow Peril (first with this story) notes, can Chris Rennard survive?

Ah, diddums

Now, I have a little bit of respect for Iain Dale. He may be a running dog Tory lickspittle, but he's always struck me as being a decent bloke, despite those minor failings. I was amazed that his wasn't one of the names towards the top of the pile of the A List of Tory candidates, especially when the bar was set so low as to allow Adam Rickitt onto the list. (Funny how his official website remains silent on his political ambitions.)

Adam is one of the chosen few, those who are supposed to be first call for any vacant seats. Curiously, only one or two from this list have put themselves forward for Telford (Lab majority just 5,406) or Oxford West & Abingdon (LD maj 7,683 and home to a fellow Labour blogger, Antonia). When it comes to succeeding the retiring member for Folkestone and Hythe, however, 45 have apparently put their names forward to follow in Michael Howard's footsteps, doubtless attracted by the opportunity to serve their party and not the 11,680 Tory majority.

I expected Iain to defend Adam - he's a loyal member and that's fair enough (he also has an eye on making the second tranche of candidates as well, I suspect). He makes a fair point about a party official from Folkestone and Hythe speaking out of turn and discussing the candidates in the selection process - that's out of order in any party. I have no problem with young people taking an interest in politics - I wish more of them did, because sometimes I despair for the future of all parties, looking at the rapidly ageing membership. There is also another, nastily personal agenda running about Adam, summed up by the comments about 'mincing metrosexuals' from a certain Francis Maude the other day.

Politics can be a nastily personal business - ask the Tories if they will be making anything of Mark Oaten's trials and tribulations come the next election in Winchester. If young Adam can't take the heat, he shouldn't be looking through the door of the political kitchen. He got onto Question Time, still a BBC current affairs flagship programme, and gave a distinctly poor showing - hardly a political wunderkind in the Hague mould. He's not been blooded in any campaign, nor is there any report of him doing the footwork required to win seats. Yet still, he's one of the Chosen Few - regarded as more suitable than the loyalist Iain. The reality is that he is only where he is because of his limited acting and singing career. Don't kid yourself that if Adam Rickitt had suddenly turned up on the doorstep of Tory Central Office demanding to be a candidate, that he'd have been welcomed aboard the Good Ship Cameron.

I still hold to my view that this is a put up job. Rickett's role isn't necessarily to be selected for a winnable seat. He is there to draw attention to the Cameron brand of New Improved Conservatism - if he makes people sit up and say to themselves that the Tory Party has changed, then he's done his job and can be discarded like last year's manifesto. The Tories have already admitted that the A List can't be forced upon the constituencies, so it is increasingly being exposed as the publicity stunt that it is, although at least one constituency claims that it has only been given the A List from which to choose. Apparently, Bernard Jenkin claims that it was always meant as a trial run and it will be improved in the autumn - once the publicity has served its purpose, then normal service can be resumed.

Politics, as anyone who has spent time around politicians will assert, isn't a beauty parade and nor should it be. It is a damned sight more serious - political decisions will affect lives. If the Tories choose candidates on the basis of a superficial appeal, then they have no right to complain when they are attacked on that level.

Hard Labour

..and is it ever.

After recovering from an exhausting campaign enlivened by the contributions of Prescott, Hewitt, Clarke and Blair, I'd hoped that things might calm down a little.

Not a bit of it. When Prescott isn't showing us his left hook, he's showing us his balls. He should have given up some of the perks when he left the ministerial department behind, whatever his wife may have wanted, not have waited until the media started tearing chunks off him. I'm not sure that this surrender will sate their appetites, to be honest - and Austin Mitchell and Ken Clarke seem to hold the same opinion (which has to be a first). If the pack moves on to fresh meat - as they have done in recent weeks over other five minute wonders - then he'll be OK, but if the Labour backbenches continue to stir the pot, then more trouble could be round the corner.

This latest scandal (has anyone adequately explained why a press photographer happened to have his long lens trained on the lawn at Dorneywood) has certainly taken the heat off Blair himself - although he's certainly damaged by association the longer the media pack howls at Prescott's heels. And howl they will, until the story rolls over or Prescott finally throws in the towel. If he does, what happens to Blair then? What if the Brownite wing puts up a candidate who gets a thumping majority? Is that going to further destabilise the PM? The current received wisdom is that Blair will go in summer 2007, allowing the party to choose a replacement prior to the autumn conference.

There's always the possibility that Tony could decide to leave when the media hit a quiet patch, rather than letting the pressure build and other problems emerge (which they will, for that is the curse of government) until his departure becomes a certainty next summer. As I've noted before, I have an appalling track record in trying to predict the PM's retirement date, so I'm not going to tempt fate by saying that it will be this summer, but it wouldn't surprise me one little bit.

With the Tories rediscovering their bloodlust and now shamelessly stealing our clothes, we need to reinvent our party.

Before the '97 election, Gordon Brown nailed the lid down on the Tory government by promising to adhere to their spending plans for a couple of years - thus establishing a reputation for prudence and allowing time to build a war chest for investment in public services. It removed one of the big doubts in the public's mind about the ability of Labour to keep taxes manageable. Now, Gideon Osborne is hitting us with the same policy in reverse. Apparently, in 2009/10 (or whenever) you will be able to vote without worrying about whether the health service or education will face huge cuts to repay tax giveaways. The election will be fought on other issues and with our current performance, that isn't good news.

The current party disunity - largely over the Blair issue - is immensely damaging. Unless it is resolved quickly and we can direct our energies towards attacking the real enemies, we are in real danger of squandering the achievements of the past decade. If we waste this, we'll let the Tories back in - probably with the Limp Dims in coalition.

For once, I'm genuinely nervous.