Monday, September 25, 2006

Brown jailed for two years

No, not the next leader of the Labour Party.

THIS one.

The generous donor to the Liberal Democrats - the one who lent his private plane to Charlie Kennedy (clearly before Limpid Optic opened his own airline) - has been convicted of perjury and making a false declaration. He was sent down for two years for what the judge described as 'very deliberate and pointed' dishonesty.

Which sums up the Liberal Democrats quite nicely.

The BBC story trots out the LD line that it has nothing to do with the party and does not affect the legality of his donation - £2 million that the party can't afford to return without scrapping Vince Cable's proposed charisma transplant or delaying the repayments on Mark Oaten's laundry bill - and that the investigation is apparently over.

Except that it isn't. The Electoral Commission reopened the investigation to see if the assorted legal actions against Mr Brown might yet throw up some interesting evidence. There's still some mileage in this story yet.

Is that really the best you can do?

The Mail on Sunday has managed to dredge up some allegations of sleaze involving a Labour minister on the eve of the conference. Apparently, Liam Byrne - the Home Office Minister - owns some shares in a firm which has successfully bid for a number of contracts with police forces. The story made the front page of the paper, but has since slid well down the running order online.
If the company continued to grow and was floated on the Stock Exchange, their value could soar to millions of pounds

Ah, so the company isn't quoted yet, so these shares don't actually have a value. Sure, IF the company ever floats, then Liam would be in line to make some serious money. But then, in the first six months of the year, the company turned over £1.4 million - which sounds a lot, but as a half-yearly figure is a drop in the corporate ocean. Turnover is not the same as profit. In any case, he declares his consultancy fees and share ownership in the Commons Register, so he's not making any attempt to hide his involvement.

At worst, he was unwise not to divest himself of the interest when he was appointed to ministerial office, but this isn't a serious story. Liam's a rare breed - a competent and respected minister and also a top-notch constituency MP, which is partly why he boosted his majority at the last General Election.

To show that Bonking Boris isn't the only friend of Cameron who can play away from home, Zac Goldsmith has apparently been a naughty boy - he's been discussing poker and energy conservation by a 22-year old Rothschild heiress rather than his impressively named wife Sheherezade. Elsewhere, the Tory MP James Gray has admitted having an affair while his wife was ill with breast cancer. He's now left his wife and has received a broadside from the husband of his mistress who comments that:
'he pompously says that 'some political opponents may call on me to resign but that is to seek to take party political advantage out of somebody else's private life'. In 18 years at the criminal Bar, I have never read such sanctimonious, self-serving drivel. To call it spin is to insult even Peter Mandelson. Given Mr Gray's treatment of his own locally-popular wife (let alone my family) there must be a large body of staunch Conservative voters who would love to be able to vote for a decent and faithful candidate, rather than the one they have got. In other words, many calls for him to resign may well emanate from his own party and not from political opponents.'

The local party are reported to be considering their options.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Spitting Image

For those of us old enough to remember, 10pm on Sunday night meant only one thing - prising the TV from the fingers of the parents to switch channels away from the comedy vegetables on That's Life to catch Spitting Image. Like most shows dependent on up to the minute comedy writing, the quality was variable, but when the boys from Central were on form, they could hit the highs.

Phil Pope (one of the Channel Four Who Dares Wins comedy team as well) was the main songwriter on the show and he is a genius when it comes to parodies of well-known music. One of the best examples was created for an end of season show (I think the first or second, but I'm not certain) and was brilliant satire. It is also unique in that it is the only Spitting Image parody to be voiced by the original artist, Sting.

It isn't funny, but by God it is biting and has stayed with me for twenty years. Read the credits as well and you will see a roll call of the great and the good of British comedy. Watch the reworded version of Every Breath You Take here.

It is a show due for revival - if any channel has the guts to make it these days.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Brighton rocks

So, have the LDs had a good conference?

Well, there was a dearth of the traditional fringe sandalista element that ends up with the party being mandated to allow 16 year olds to appear and buy pornography - which is a shame for us Labour campaigners, because you used to be able to rely on the nutcase wing of the party to give us some good stuff.

Ming gave a reasonable speech and won the day on his tax plans, so he seems to have secured his leadership for the time being - at least until the next time he cocks up. While Lembit approved, Simon Hughes gave it a resounding 7/10 - somewhat less than the fulsome support a leader normally expects from his senior colleagues (at least in public). The emnity between Campbell and Kennedy continues, with the latter refusing a public handshake with the new leader and the former not mentioning his predecessor in the speech at all - odd, given that even Gordon and Tony have worked together to try and generate a united image for public consumption.

The problem remains that the press view of Ming is that he is too old and merely the caretaker minding the store until the young prince is ready to take charge. That is colouring all the coverage of the conference - even the photocall with the more photogenic women candidates only highlighted the yawning age gap, while also pointing out how unrepresentative of the population the parliamentary Liberal Democrat party currently is. The tax plans intrigue me - not least the fact that as the function of green taxes is to change people's behaviour, the outcome should be a fall in overall taxation revenue. Instead, the Liberal Democrats promise a frankly unbelievable package that will deliver a revenue neutral return, change behaviour and benefit 90% of the population, with just 10% paying more. They promised something similar for their local income tax proposals, but it transpired that average income couples would find that tax bill jumping significantly.

Like Yellow Peril, I draw your attention to the views of Alan Rusbridger in the Guardian,
Not every party conference speech needs to fly high to be counted a success, which is fortunate for Sir Menzies since his performance, which improved as he went on, was only a little better than routine. A self-assembly kit of useable themes and stock phrases, the text did the job without touching on anything that might be considered particularly brave or original. Much of it could have been cobbled together from the leftovers of past speeches from past leaders, all promising to take "the tough decisions that really make a difference to people's lives". There is nothing distinctive about that. His claim to address "the politics of substance" ran little further than a summary of tax policy that has already been much discussed.
Even more surprising was the assault launched on Cameron by Campbell, who

portrayed his Tory rival as an unprincipled, policy-free man whose reshaping of his party was worthy of a former PR man... 'Political parties shouldn't be glorified advertising agencies'... 'And while you are at it, Mr Cameron, you should apologise for the last Tory manifesto which you wrote — one of the most reactionary, unpleasant, Right-wing manifestos of modern times.'

Simon Hoggart reckons that the party has changed and become as middle management as the rest of us, except..

One thing that hasn't changed is the sense that, with the Lib Dems, we are dealing with a rather lonely boy in his bedroom. Some such have model railways, some invent new planets and go on to become bestselling science fiction writers. Others, like the Lib Dems, create masterplans for the management of an entire society and nation.
Elsewhere, even the mild-mannered Greens are riled. This is party that has no leader, just 'principle speakers', so to get them het up is quite an achievement, but the Liberal Democrats have managed it, just as they have wound up other political groups with their inconsistency and Keith Taylor spoke for all of us

When people vote Green, they get Green. When they vote Liberal Democrat, they are crossing their fingers and hoping. If the Liberal Democrats were consistent, we could have some respect for them, but look across the country, where Lib Dem councillors are supporting airport expansion and road-building, and Sir Menzies' views count for nothing.
Ain't that the truth. Harry's Place fingers an example of this - it is fine for the Lib Dems to demand that the NHS funds a treatment as yet unassessed by NICE, but wrong for the MoD to allow combat surgeons to take clinical decisions to use a life-saving drug similarly untested. Consistency? Not a hope.

A few words from that political sage and permanent fiancee Sian Lloyd seems to have generated more interest than most of the real politics from Brighton this week. From Guido:
Lembit Opik has just told Victoria Derbyshire on Five Live that he has a big secret that some people would consider to be in the same league as Charles Kennedy and Mark Oaten...
Whatever could it be?

The rumour mill has been working extra shifts on this one and some of the thoughts veer from the mildly odd to the downright freaky.

Leather? Dogging? Swinging? Liberalism?

Don't speculate too much, it could be bad for your eyesight. Speaking of Liberal Democrat scandals - what on earth persuaded Mark Oaten to take his wife off to Bangkok for a holiday, with his reputation? She'll keep him on a very short leash - except he might enjoy that.

And now, Hurricane Gordon hits Manchester.

Even though I got it wrong on Clare Short, who miraculously survived expulsion this week - probably because she hasn't actually campaigned against the party (yet) - there's part of me that wonders if this week might be the last straw for Tony. Just think - a resignation announcement at the end of the conference would drown out any publicity that the Tory conference might generate the following week as the leadership campaign spooled up to take-off power.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Liberal Democrat Values

A little while ago, I wrote about the eagerness with which the Liberal Democrats have taken the Tesco dollar in return for flogging off council-owned land. Even while they protest gently about the black arts used by the big supermarkets to build up land banks and to deny access to local markets to their competitors, they are cosying up to the self-same practitioners.

And now, we find that a reception for parliamentary candidates is being sponsored by....

Guess who?

Who is teaching who about dark arts?

Incidentally, I can't help linking to this on Yellow Peril from the Times. I heard Graham Watson being interviewed and was stunned to hear him admit that the party needs to grow up and to stop the age old trick of telling people only what they want to hear:
'It will no longer be credible for Liberal Democrats to appeal for votes, as so often we do, on the basis that we would be better managers,” he said. “It will no longer be credible to campaign, as sometimes we do, on a disparate series of populist gimmicks. Our party has been guilty of such populism at all levels of government. Other parties can repair cracked paving stones or improve local eyesores as well as we can, and campaign on a platform of doing so just as effectively.'

Monday, September 18, 2006

How to waste £1000 a day.

Birmingham runs a big arts festival, Artsfest - awash with music, dance and the creative arts. It is certainly something worth shouting about, so the City Council advertise it. Nothing wrong with that.
Hey - we're all allowed mistakes. I thought the council were still running it and paying the £1000 a day. I was wrong:
UPDATE: Clifford (not bad for a big red dog) advises thus:
I have checked with BCC and they say that the last Artsfest advert was scheduled to appear on September 2. The Guardian has acknowledged that continuing to run the adverts after that date was an error on their part and they are not charging BCC for the adverts.
So there we go - never afraid to correct a mistake. For once, this ISN'T a fault I can lay at the door of the council.
Now, if you will excuse me, I need to go and wipe the egg from my face.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


Rumours reach me that Clare Short is likely to find herself excommunicated from the Labour Party as soon as Wednesday this week. (pic from Random Perspective)

If anyone has any doubts about the likely outcome - given that Clare has advocated a hung parliament as the best future option, something that could only occur with Labour-held seats changing hands - here's the relevant section of the rulebook (2A4b, if you really care):

A member of the party who joins and/or supports a political organisation other than an official Labour group or other unit of the party, or supports any candidate who stands against an official Labour candidate, or publicly declares their intent to stand against a Labour candidate, shall automatically be ineligible to be or remain a party member
And here's the outcome, from the procedural guidelines:
Where a panel has found a charge under 2A.4 of the conditions of membership proved, expulsion is required by the terms of that rule.
Here's an extract from her article in the Independent this week:
The Chief Whip has warned me that I cannot recommend a hung parliament because it would mean Labour MPs losing their seats
Sorry, Clare. You walked into this one.

I have no problem with debating policy, even with arguing about who should be our leader - those are all decent reasons for internal dissent and are signs of a healthy and active party. However, when it comes to election campaigns, then members have a duty to stand by their party - political parties would descend into anarchy without that public unity. Those are the rules by which ordinary members like me have to live - I expect the same from my elected representatives. Even though I want Tony Blair to resign sooner rather than later, I would have no qualms about getting out and campaigning for Labour to win another election under his premiership, because I still believe in the Labour agenda and the broad sweep of policy.

Interestingly, I understand that Unison have been supporting Clare with a £1500 per annum campaign development donation - many MPs get similar support from a union. Now, everyone thinks that Labour party coffers are awash with dodgy donations from equally dodgy millionaires, but I can confirm that this isn't the case for constituency parties that I know. Ladywood is no different - they still have bills to pay and have to scrape together the cash to do it, as well as funding the local election campaigns each year. Some help from a development fund would be useful - indeed it has been requested on a number of occasions, but the money is held in an account whose signatory, Clare's political agent, is no longer even a party member and there seems a certain reluctance to dole out any cash.

The union donors might also question how much 'development' has actually been done. Apparently, when Ms Short last spoke to her constituency party AGM - way back in 2000 - she claimed that there was no need to campaign on the ground between elections because everyone knows her. That might go some way towards explaining the growth of the Liberal Democrat vote in her constituency in recent years - although that tide has been rolled back a little in the Aston wards. There are MPs who understand that a key part of their role is maintaining the bedrock of their constituency support and there are those MPs who don't. Ultimately, of course, keeping the grassroots well-fertilised ensures the longevity of the MP themselves, so any other course of action is counter-productive.

Still, if Clare can hang on until 2008, she'll get her pension for 25 years' service as an MP.
No chance of a by-election, then.

Welcome, blogpickers

In like a bullet at, er, number 29. I have asked for a recount.

Still, could be worse. I could be David Milliband. Curiously, Jonathan Roberts doesn't even figure, despite being the official Labour conference blogger (no, I didn't apply).

Thanks to Antonia for a rather more userfriendly listing than Iain Dale's PDF file. He has managed to miss the Ministry of Truth off his list, a blogger who certainly qualifies as a leftie and has also excluded Recessmonkey - an error he has since admitted and which would actually push me down to number 30.

Kerron at the top? Civilisation is in decline.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Veterans rally to Brighton

At long last, the Menzies Campbell battleomnibus has chugged slowly into Brighton and parked beside the rest of the Liberal Democrat's bandwagons, as Campbell prepares for another relaunch of his leadership. That vessel has been launched more times than the Brighton lifeboat.

Cameron's facing his first conference as leader and Blair heads toward his last, Campbell has the distinction of possibly managing both simultaneously. Kennedy - despite the drubbing from the recent book - is expected to make a decent speech, while Campbell is having problems with his maths. When asked if he could see a space for Charlie on the front bench, Campbell replied grouchily that:

'I've known Charles since he was twenty - you can work out how long that is'
As his mind clearly isn't up to the basic maths of working out that he's known Chatshow for about twenty-five years, one wonders if he's up to the job of persuading conference to abandon their long-held promise to tax the rich.

In return, we get green taxes. Now these WILL be vote winners.

For example, the proposal to hike the road tax for the middle-range family saloons like the Vectra and the Mondeo from £150 a year to the belt-tightening £850 a year is tough enough. If you get an Audi A4 or a BMW 5 series, your £190 bill pumps up to an eye-watering £1500, but if you own a top end car - including some of the Espace range and the Land-Rover - you can expect to find your wallet raided to the tune of £2000 per annum. No wonder Ming sold his Jaguar. How can a pensioner afford to run a car like that?

As I have noted before, Cllr Hemming has an awful lot of Land-Rover employees living in Yardley. I'm not sure that they will really want to see their jobs sacrificed in this way, because that tax hike prices the best 4x4 out of existence for all but the insanely rich - millionaire country landlords with 400 acre properties in the south-west, for example.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Caught short

Wackiest theory of the week goes to today's front page story from the Post, alleging that Clare Short might be jumping ship to the Liberal Democrats. There's a clue to the source
Westminster insiders believe the natural course for Ms Short would be to join the Liberal Democrats.

Really... Perhaps Cllr Hemming should take more water with it. Actually, if a newspaper has a headline which poses a question, the answer is usually NO - refer to the Daily Mail for examples.

Why would she want to jump from a Labour Party that has drifted to the right to a Liberal Democrat party that's running even further that way?

Bob Piper is quite right to point out the problems posed by Clare's aim of producing a hung parliament.
As a Birmingham MP she only has to look at the state of almost total inertia in the City since the pathetic and clueless Tory administration, propped up by Lib Dems who would sell their grannies for a foot under the Cabinet table, took control of the Council three years ago. Think again, Clare. By all means campaign for a more progressive Labour Leadership, but not for a coalition of orange book yellow Tories and Cameroon chameleons.

And then tonight, we learn that she's going to face disciplinary action. No surprise there. Dissent over policy is one thing, actually arguing that your party should lose enough seats to lose power is stepping well over that line. Blair has made mistakes in his leadership of the party, no question, but for a former key member of the government to argue that the whole thing has been a failure is insulting and factually wrong. A very interesting theory suggests that she had hopes of regaining the position of Secretary of State for International Development under a Brown premiership and her decision to stand down has been partly fuelled by discovering that Gordon had someone else in mind. UPDATE: The Daily has picked up on a post from Hull University Labour Club, reporting that Ian Reilly, the Regional Director for Labour in the West Midlands, has started to push for her expulsion from the party. That would not be a surprise - campaigning against the party is grounds for that sort of sanction and members in Blaenau Gwent felt the force of that after they were strongarmed into a all-woman shortlist.

As the Liberal Democrats rear their ugly little heads again, I happened to hear part of Belinda Oaten's interview on Radio Five this morning, when she attributed her husband's behaviour in part to having to prop up a leader with a severe drink problem. Is there nothing for which poor old Chuckles can't take the rap?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


It seems I've managed to get the frontpage of the Birmingham Post today with my story on Clare Short standing down. Thanks to Paul Dale for the credit, although I must tip my hat in the direction of The Daily, the original source of the story.

I may need my tin hat when I next speak to our regional office.
The claim she would stand down last night stunned Birmingham and West Midlands Labour officials who had no inkling of her decision. Labour was last night desperately trying to contact Ms Short, who is at the TUC conference in Brighton. She was not answering her mobile phone and her partner, Jon Norton, said he could not comment. A West Midlands Labour spokeswoman said: 'The only information we have is what is on the website.'

Anyway, for our new readers, you can find criticism of Mike Whitless, the leader of the City Council and his merry band of fools that are ruining our city. I was the first to support John 'Superstud MP' Hemming's bid for the leadership - chiefly because I like a good laugh. On the way, I've had a go at the BNP, John Hemming, the Cornerstone bunch of right-wing nuts masquerading as Tory MPs, John Hemming, Liberal Democrats, John Hemming and a whole range of other things - the wacky Tory plans for the Birmingham underground , John Hemming's inability to fill in a form or the cock-up over the library - over the past couple of years since I started blogging in June 2004. I also occasionally write about John Hemming.

Feel free to add comments - I only delete libellous stuff and spam, send me gossip (confidentiality assured) or just explore what I've written. I'd also recommend the sites in the sidebar.

BBC Midlands Today this lunchtime carried the story as well. A big hi to Patrick Burns who said that the post on a website belonging to a 'self-professed party hack' had "the ring of truth." I can't link to that, but I can put in a link to the report on the 6:30 bulletin which didn't mention either The Daily or myself by name, but did refer to 'a respected political website.' Well, that can't possibly be me, so it has to be my friend over the way. And now, the Guardian mention us both.

Sorry for the navel-gazing, but it is interesting to watch a story develop and to see who credits who for what. Plus, it is good for the ego to be massaged by the mainstreamers.

Is that the best you've got?

Yet again, the Tories and the Lib Dems have cocked up. The campaign is supposed to encourage Brummies to get out and be tourists in Birmingham - a laudable aim.

Somebody thought that this was a good idea. Somebody was paid good money to dream up this moronic and insulting caricature - from a country that provides a fair chunk of tourist income to the UK. I know that popular wisdom says that it is OK to insult the Americans, but is is appropriate for the second city (twinned with Chicago).

Perhaps we should have one of our Afro-Caribbean visitors for next year? Jim Davidson is a little short of cash at the moment, maybe he could revive his charming character 'Chalky' White.

Yet again, this brings into question the role of Alistair Morton. If you recall, he was appointed last year after being part of the team that drove Rover off the road and he went through an exhaustive recruitment process for a job that was never advertised and for which he appears to have been the sole candidate. If he knew about this, he deserves the sack for incompetence. If he didn't, then he damn well should have known. Any barely competent PR person should have spotted this for the disaster-in-waiting that has been.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Diggers on my wavelength

I wasn't able to get along to Monday's Birmingham Post Big Debate, but it seems that Digby Jones picked up on a line close to my heart - the failure of leadership by those running Birmingham.

We are not getting the civic leadership we deserve, not just the politicians but the other strata of society.

Can you hear him Whitless and Tilsley? Do you understand this? You are failing Birmingham with your incompetent leadership. It is a measure of Cameron's lack of understanding that he keeps coming back to Birmingham and holding it up as an example of what a Tory council can do. Lord knows why - the city has been stuck in stasis since 2004. Our motto - Forward - sounds increasingly desperate. Yet still, Whitless and his crew rearrange the deckchairs.

He criticised the ludicrous name dreamt up for the city region as a 'cowardly, political fudge.' We are to be called Birmingham, Coventry and the Black Country. Catchy. Look - it may offend our friends in the rest of the West Midlands and those in our more rural areas, but Birmingham is the nearest we have to an internationally-recognisable brand. Diluting that is short-sighted and, frankly, stupid. Like Digby, I'm not sure that we'll get any benefit from the city region other than another talking shop for local politicians. What is certain is that any benefit would filter out to places beyond Birmingham. Calling the city region 'Greater Birmingham' makes most sense. It is simple and recognisable to most people. Nobody will use the proposed term - it just sounds like a provincial building society. Focussing on getting your part of the area into the name is an example of the pariochialism that will doom the whole project.

For all that, the biggest issue is the pisspoor quality of our civic leadership. I still can't believe that Whitless is the best that the Birmingham Tories can offer. And then, perhaps he is.

Oh Tony. Why now?

For all my criticism of our current Prime Minister, his performance at the TUC conference was vintage Blair and an illustration of what we're going to miss when he finally goes. I had the privilege of seeing him at work during the 2005 election campaign and he's almost of the calibre of Clinton - which is high praise indeed. Whether you agree with everything or not, you have to admire his abilities. I only heard today's speech on the radio - noting that it is a mark of the shifting priorities that the PM's speech was interrupted for live coverage of the announcement of the Ashes squad.

'I'm not saying that everything's been great, because it hasn't. And incidentally, for those of you who think that you'll ever get a government where everything is fine - that doesn't happen. But what does happen is progress, if we have the courage and the determination to remain in government. And the most important thing to remember of all of this - just reflect on it for a moment - is that we did for years and years pass our resolutions, have our debates, but it never made the blindest bit of difference because we could never do anything about it.

I want to see a Labour Party continue in government. And it will only ever continue in government if it focuses on policy for the future but accepts that government is a hard, difficult business. But it is a darn sight better than wasting our time in opposition, passing resolutions no-one ever listens to and can do anything about. That is the brutal truth - and the brutal truth about all politicians and all political leaders is that you have your difficult times and have your better times. And the decisions you take are often very, very hard to take. But actually it's a privilege to take them. And the reason for that is that just occasionally you meet people - and I do in different parts of the country - whose lives we've changed.

I meet people teaching in inner city schools that for the first time have got the equipment they need. I meet people who have been treated by the health service and had their lives saved. I meet people - who for the first time - have been able to afford a holiday abroad because of the changes we've made and the extra money
we've given. And I meet above all else people who recognise that for all the faults, progress there has been in these ten years.

And if we ever forget it, we'll repeat the lessons of the past.'

Comrades - he's right.

I do think that he should resign sooner rather than later - solely in the interests of the party - but I have never wavered in the certainty that if an election were called tomorrow, I'd be out there arguing for Labour to win and for Tony as PM. Little Davey Cameron isn't up to it. People describe him as the Tory Blair, but this is simply wrong. Cameron isn't in the same league as Blair. Tony is Premier, Cameron is still struggling in the Conference.

Gone quiet.

Praguetory (and others) have commented that I've gone a little quiet of late. There's no reason for that - no desire on my part to keep silent, no pressure from the Party to shut up - just the boring reality that real life gets in the way. I have a day job, a house, a family and I even manage to find time to do some real political stuff. Along the way, there are times when I don't get the chance to blog. Sometimes, I don't even have anything to say.

Even the recent upheavals in national Labour politics have been covered to death on the national media. I've said my piece and I don't see the point in repeating my views until you and I get bored and stop reading. I dare say I'll have a lot more to write when the leadership campaign kicks off and there are a couple of stories that I'm trying to chase down (aided by a few anonymous sources).

That's the end of the public disservice announcement. Normal service has now been resumed.

Short tempered

Clare Short is throwing in the towel and turning her back on the party that has given her a career and a job for a good few years to allow her to advocate a hung parliament.

Shame on you Clare. Shame. That's disloyalty for you. Whatever you think of the government and the PM, stabbing the whole party in the back and endangering what HAS been achieved over the past nine years is a let down to those party members who spent their free time campaigning for you.

The Daily discusses some of the options in Birmingham, where boundaries in the south of the city have been redrawn to remove one of Birmingham's constituencies (Sparkbrook and Small Heath, to be precise). Currently, that is held by Roger Godsiff, Lynne Jones holds Selly Oak and Steve McCabe holds Hall Green. Three into two won't go, so someone gets the bullet.

Roger Godsiff is likely to take the Hall Green seat by membership numbers, as the revised boundaries include an awful lot of his current patch (the rest goes to Yardley) and should hold it for Labour. The fight will be between Lynne Jones and Steve McCabe for the new Selly Oak seat, which is much closer in terms of membership and will probably go to a close vote. In that case, I expect Steve McCabe to get it, as Lynne has offended some locals with her independent mind/disloyalty (delete as appropriate) and made precious few friends within the regional party structure. Clare Short's decision could offer a way out for Lynne, as Ladywood should be an all-woman shortlist - NEC policy is for the seats of retiring MPs to be so designated (unless there is a good reason not to - usually this means that No 10 want to parachute a favoured male candidate in).

But we'll see - you'd never bet your mortgage on an accurate reading of the runes in local party politics. It can get all too personal.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Not enough.

Well, he's said it. Tony will have retired by the time the 2007 TUC conference comes around - and realistically by summer 2007.

Will that bland statement this afternoon be enough to quell the ranks of former friends and allies massing against him?

Tony's apparently off to the Middle East this weekend, allowing plenty of time for plotting and discussion by the Brownites. Even if Gordon decides to wait a while longer, the story will continue to be all about when Blair is going to resign. Government will end up becalmed by inaction and indecision.

I don't think that this is over - this won't silence the opponents. I suspect that the Blair years will be over at the latest by early in the New Year and in all probability rather sooner.

I know that all this furore is destructive to the party and I hate that it has to be this way, but I fear even greater destruction unless the problem is resolved and Blair goes. If party members and elected members are silent about this, are they serving the party by faking unity, or are they just serving the leadership?

The power to resolve this is entirely within the control of the Prime Minister. I hope he uses it.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

May be not

The Sun this morning proclaimed that Tony will step down on 31 May 2007.

Frankly, if he makes it to the end of this month, it will be a miracle.

The resignation of a junior minister and 10% of the Parliamentary Private Secretaries is damaging enough. The uber-loyalists like Sion Simon and Khalid Mahmood have turned their coats and joined the rebel alliance and even David Milliband - once touted as Blair's own Mini-Me has come out with a fawning tribute to Gordon Brown. Ministers and senior politicians are going radio-silent, there are rumours flying around of plotting and secret meetings, furious rows and even that Jack Straw is considering resigning. That would be the final blow for Blair - a senior minister standing down. Those tectonic plates are shifting at an unprecedented speed.

If Blair is able to ride this storm out - and that is a huge if, even though Tony is a political survivor - he is dead in the water as Prime Minister. Everybody will know that he's going sometime in the next twelve months. The political agenda will be irrelevant and government will stultify - why try anything new when the next leader might have an entirely different view? We can expect months of the Tories counting down until Tony leaves. His power will drain away swiftly. As Paul Linford points out, there are still so many shoals ahead, any of which could finally sink the Blair premiership.

So much hangs on the next few hours and on Tony's statement tomorrow.

To beat my metaphor to death, the high-BMI index lady is front and central on stage, bathing in the welcoming applause of the audience. She is poised and about to let rip.

Is it the swansong or have we another act to follow?

(As an aside, my readership stats have gone through the roof again - just like they did during the Liberal Democrat leadership election. Hi to all those readers from the parliamentary servers. Feel free to add your comments or send some decent gossip to those of us in the provinces. )

Amid all this excitement, it would be easy to miss a good news story. The OECD has revised its forecasts for UK economic growth this year - upwards.
The OECD's chief economist, Jean-Philippe Cotis, said the Goldilocks situation - where a country combines strong economic growth with low inflation and is neither too hot nor too cold - had traditionally been applied to the US in the late 1990s. "But in fact, without any fanfare, the UK has achieved this. It is a Goldilocks economy. It is in fact surprising how stable the UK economy has been. It is doing very well."

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

In the name of God, go.

The fat lady is certainly practising her scales in the wings.

When arch-loyalists like Tony's-best-mate Sion Simon and Khalid Mahmood turn on him, aided and abetted by Gordon's outriders like Tom Watson (a junior minister who has yet to resign, despite calling for his leader to stand down), you know that things are not going well. It shows just how much Blair's power has melted away that Tom is still hunkered down inside the MoD.

And THAT email. Hellfire. If that is genuinely the view held by those inside Downing Street, then the bunker mentality has taken over completely. The latest story is that Tony will resign on May 31 next year and we'll have a new leader in place for the next conference. Come on - it has to be before that. We have Welsh and Scottish Assembly elections at the start of that month, not to mention the council elections. If Tony considers himself to be an electoral liability, then he should go well before the beginning of May - if he still thinks he's an asset, then he should go now on grounds of incapacity. To hang on until the end of May to spite Gordon or just to pass the decade in power - while watching the last dregs of that authority and power drain away as he becomes a laughing stock - would be fatal for the party. His legacy is already tarnished by the disastrous Iraqi adventure, a tragedy for that country and a black mark against a government that has revived public services, managed a growing economy and continued the reduction in crime. Don't forget the good stuff as we throw the rotten vegetables at the Prime Minister. We'd be in a far worse position if we'd had any of the several Tory leaders as PM and let's not even consider the possibility of a Lib Dem government. I know there are members and MPs out there using this to settle old scores, but I'm not in that business. I hope I have the interests of my party, my city, my country and my family at heart.

I don't want you to set a date, Tony. I don't want the embarrassment of Tory adverts counting down the days to your resignation. I'm not asking for a planned 'smooth transition.' I want all of this to be over so we can get on with governing the country and winning a fourth term. I just want you to do a last service to your party.

Do the decent thing.

Go now.


Same old Tory

The Tory party has changed.


Now, those former Conservative students have hidden away their 'Hang Mandela' badges and profess to love the public services really and even to consider increasing spending on them.

On Radio Four this morning, Cameron (against background noise from India, straight out of the BBC Sound FX Collection, if I'm any judge) said that Britain need a reformed tax system to allow it to compete with China and India. Yes - that's right Dave. Businesses go to those countries because of the tax system, not because human life is cheaply available. They like the capital gains system, not the bargain basement labour prices and relaxed environmental laws. But then, Cameron's a big fan of multinationals, as this follow-up posting from The Daily reveals.

He needs to be a bit more careful, as it is isn't only those of us on the left who are critical of Cameron's policy-lite style of Toryism. While the old-Tory dinosaurs like Tebbit and Bernard Ingham can be relied upon to trot out their knee-jerk reactions to the latest New Tory pronouncement from the Cameroonies, the Telegraph is calling for Cameron to put some flesh on the bones of this Tory beast.

Shame that the JCB factory he opened was in Pune, rather than in JCB's native Staffordshire. Still, he has to keep his donors happy, doesn't he?