Monday, February 27, 2006

More guff from Galloway

Does the publication of a few offensive cartoons actually ping higher on the scale than the July 7 bombings or the September 11 hijackings? Does the death of thousands matter less?

Not to any sensible human being, but then when has George Galloway ever been sensible?
TEXT DELETED AS GEORGE IS APPARENTLY CHALLENGING THE TRANSLATION ON LEGAL GROUNDS. I'VE NOT GOT THE MONEY TO DEFEND IT...
(Link Removed)

Further proof of how far he has drifted from reality is the follow-up statement,
JUST IN CASE, I'VE REMOVED THIS INNOCUOUS QUOTE AS WELL.

The Liberal Democrat Way

With only a couple of days left in the Liberal Democrat leadership campaign, bitter trench warfare has broken out as the candidates fight hand to hand for every last vote. The result will be announced Thursday at 3pm - don't miss it.

The week before last, we had Huhne painted as abusing his European Parliament expenses. Last week, he was exposed as owning nine properties and now it appears that an unnamed group was circulating a leaflet at the hustings detailing his 'dodgy dossier' of investments:
"Chris Huhne is campaigning for the Lib Dem leadership on a green, carbon neutral platform, and further advocates increasing tax for the wealthy, which would include himself," it reads."However, his registrable shareholdings include, or have included, mining companies, oil companies, and tax shelters."
The document lists three mining firms, one arms company, and seven tax avoidance schemes to which Huhne has subscribed. It also alleges the MP deleted a page from his internet site listing the interests. Huhne's camp last night stressed he's now disposed of holdings in all but one of the "unethical" firms, a mining outfit called Centamin Egypt.

Perhaps it is churlish to point out that he only disposed of the 'unethical' holdings once they were able to become a problem, but then that is becoming a trait of the leadership candidates. Even Ming has admitted that he will have to dispose of his beloved Jag. Ming was rather bitchy at the London hustings - declaring that he'd learnt from Simon Hughes how not to answer the question. Don't know why he's trying to alienate the Hughesites - they are going to be crucial in deciding the outcome.

I'm holding to my theory that this will be VERY close. The polling information seems to cast more shadows than light, but it does seem that Campbell might just edge out Huhne with a greater slice of the Hughes' second preference.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Labour party seem to be waking up to the LibDems, with the first minister demanding that
'We must hold the other parties to account. They are all at it - and I mean all. Promising one thing to one part of the country, and another thing to another part; promising to spend taxpayers' money like they don't need to raise it.'

Like the rest of us don't know.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Sub-standards

There's cross-party support on this one.

Iain Dale, Bob Piper, John Hemming and little old me - all on the same wavelength (which has to be a first).

You may like or loathe Ken Livingstone - he's someone who tends to generate strong responses one way or the other. I think he's a shameless self-publicist, but he's also someone who genuinely has a passion for his city and I respect him for that. He also has a long record of standing up for minority groups and not always taking the path of least resistance.

What he said to the Evening Standard journalist was unwise and insulting, but it was him being doorstepped after a rather boozy evening party and he certainly has a history with the DMGT group of papers. The irony of the Daily Mail being one of the main cheerleaders for British Fascists back in the '30s can't be lost on people - hat tip to Yellow Peril for this little reminder about how pro-Europe the Mail used to be. Also worth a read is Recess Monkey, who has dragged up a little story about the Standard's reporting that led to the villification of an innocent man and death threats to his daughter. Power without responsibility...

If you don't like what he said, then he can be removed by the electorate. That's how you deal with politicians, not by using a committee of three unelected appointees. This isn't about cleaning up sleaze, it is about making sure that politicians toe a particular line. Genuine sleaze and financial impropriety should be dealt with through the courts. Stuff like this is best left to the political process.

Corporate responsibility

The Birmingham Post reports today that business leaders have demanded equal representation with elected councillors on a proposed regional body - which would assume the functions of existing quangos like Advantage West Midlands (the regional development agency).

I'm not opposed to the creation of an effective regional operation to manage issues that affect the whole area - public transport should be managed on a broader basis than just that in Birmingham. Joined-up thinking demands an integrated policy involving all the local councils. It would also be of value to have all the councils pulling together when it comes to attracting businesses and tourists, so to have a common pot of money for investment and development makes absolute sense.

I'd also support the involvement in this body of other key stakeholders - like businesses, but also including educationalists, trade unions, health workers and others with specialist knowledge.

What does bother me is the notion that business people are the equal of elected members when it comes to doling out public money. I've said before that my experience within the private sector doesn't suggest to me that management and financial responsibility is any better than that within the public sector, no matter how much we lionise successful businessmen and idolise privatisation as the solution to all our woes. My chief concern is that non-elected members have no wider responsibility - businesses in particular are responsible solely to their shareholders. Whatever we may think of the calibre of people like Mike Whitless, they are elected and have a responsibility to their electorate. We have a choice about that and we can remove them from office if we so wish.

By all means, let's follow the example of the Ward Advisory Boards operating in parts of Birmingham, which draw together talents from a range of interest groups and can work well to identify problems and solutions. Ultimately, though, the responsibility for the distribution of public money must rest with those responsible to the public - the elected members. I think that's a fair cornerstone for democracy, don't you?

Friday, February 24, 2006

Power to the People

Anne Power, Professor of Public Policy at the LSE, wrote a short piece for the Guardian yesterday, reminding us of yet another failure of the Liberal Democrat/Tory 'progressive partnership' (sic) since 2004.

As she points out, Birmingham tried to hive off the council housing in 2002 in an attempt to generate additional funding for a run-down service operation. As the plan wasn't well thought out, the tenants overwhelmingly rejected and the council returned to the drawing board. What they devised - with the help of Prof Power - was a plan to devolve housing down to district (constituency) level and to create smaller neighbourhood management organisations. These would still have the ability to generate external funding, but would provide much greater tenant influence and a more responsive service operating at a genuinely local level.
But in 2004 the political control of the city changed. The Conservatives, in a compact with Liberal Democrats, took over all executive positions. They decided to "defend council housing" and put all devolution on ice. They slowed to a snail's pace any progress on community options, and rejected the government's funding routes for needy estates, all of which require new arm's-length management. So town-hall management, no extra cash, and a hiatus in community and neighbourhood initiatives form the basis of the current housing agenda.
The full report from the LSE is pretty damning of the lack of progress in housing made since 2004. Despite the Housing Department managing to achieve a star rating, the LSE team don't believe that the current Council plans are viable. Not surprisingly, the cabinet member in charge doesn't think that a report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and backed by the LSE is balanced. Well, John Lines should know a lot about being unbalanced.

The Council believes that it has sufficient funding to work towards the 'Decent Homes' Standard - so has slammed the door shut on any further funding. Failure to create localised management groups prevents additional funding being leveraged in, so while the council MIGHT be able to achieve the absolute basic requirements, further environmental improvements and upgrading are unlikely to be affordable.
It seems highly unlikely that sufficient funds can be raised to cover those costs by Birmingham City Council selling its assets and diverting its scarce resources.

Oh yes - the Tories and Liberal Democrats are conspiring to flog off the family silver by 'rationalising' the council estate. This is largely to try to cover the funding hole left by a cockup from last year. You see, the council received additional funding from the government in 2005/06 - thanks to lobbying from the Labour group the previous year - and this was promptly ploughed into service improvements (helping to produce the performance improvements in social care and housing). The only problem with that was that the funding boost was a one-off, so the council faces a tough choice - either raise the council tax or cut services.

I leave it to your imagination which route the Tories will choose. It is certain that their Liberal Democrat lackies will loyally vote with them.

All the current administration are doing is papering over the cracks of a centralised housing organisation, rather than looking to create a structure that can obtain funding to deliver good quality housing that responds to the needs of local people. Nothing new there then.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

..and as they enter the final furlong...

With a few days left for the thousands of Liberal Democrat members to cast their votes, the contest still looks neck and neck. Campbell and Huhne are going to slug it out to the last vote and I still think that it is too close to call. My guess is that Huhne will just about slip past the Minger, with the Hughes second preference votes just pushing him into a majority, but it will be close.

Last week saw a hatchet job on Huhne by Michael Crick - a journalist who has made a career out of savaging politicians. Crick's persistent assaults on Jeffery Archer were a sight to behold and made Lord Archer lose his cool in front of a camera in a most impressive way, so once the news got out that Crick was going to monster Huhne, then Newsnight was going to be a must-see for us political geeks. Sadly, it was a bit of a non-event. To summarise, the worst scandal to be found was that Huhne used some of his EU money to fund pre-election newsletters in Eastleigh. Yawn. Crick also failed to get Huhne to admit how rich he really is - Huhne doesn't seem to know if he qualifies as a multi-millionaire (hey - John H and Lynne Featherstone both are, so there's no shame in being a rich kid playing at politics in the Lib Dems). In terms of damage, this was nothing more than a slight dent in the Huhne campaign - hardly a Hughesian/Oaten implosion - and the 'revelation' about Huhne's student radicalism will probably add to his kudos with the sandalistas rather than cause damage.

There's still a persistent rumour that there may be mud to be slung at Campbell, but it would seem to be too late for that to have any effect on the campaign. If there is anything to come out, it is probably on hold for maximum impact.

Campbell is continuing to proceed serenely along - despite the kiss of death that is an endorsement from Hemming. Not as bad as having Lemsip Obit on your side, but hardly a triumph.

Shot across the bows

The NeoToryism from Dishy Davey Cameron (who has taken advantage of the Labour government's paternity leave - just the sort of social change that was opposed by the Tories in years gone by) has generated a little criticism from within his party.

Nothing to panic about, but a couple of their major donors have sounded warning bells - Stuart Wheeler, the betting magnate, has criticised the move away from selection, although he did add that he thought that Cameron would be an excellent leader. Lord Kalms, the founder of Dixons, was similarly loyal, but wanted promises of tax cuts to come and there are other rumblings from the right of the party.

Cameron can't afford to offend the moneymen and the news that a pledge of £250,000 has been withdrawn in response to Cameron's centrism isn't good, but perhaps he wants to spark a fight with the rightwing of the party - people like the Cornerstone Group. This could be the Militant movement of the Tory Party and firm action against this bunch (who even claim to have their own whip) would demonstrate the control that Cameron needs to have over the party. Blair has always gained brownie points from the electorate by standing up to his own party and this could be a path for Cameron to follow.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Bit late to plead poverty, isn't it?

The 'You Can't Make It Up' Files are always a fertile source for stories, so I'm indebted to a sharp-eyed friend for spotting this little gem.

While removing VAT from condoms seems a reasonable idea (although I'm not convinced that the cost is stopping people from using them), was John 'Superstud' Hemming the best person to sign the motion? Actually, he might be, although I'm not sure that a multimillionaire can claim poverty when it comes to contraception.

Fagged out

For some reason, John Hemming has been bleating on his blog that pubs should be allowed to have smoking rooms (he's one of those liberals who reckon that exposing badly-paid staff to tobacco smoke is better than stopping people smoking around them). I've always thought this was cobblers and I'm delighted to provide evidence to the contrary from the Welsh Assembly member, Peter Black. Sadly, he's a Liberal Democrat, but nobody's perfect.

It throws up some interesting facts - that the Welsh ban was forecast to save 400-600 lives a year, but the most important factoid is the following statement:
'The British Medical Association (BMA) claimed that ventilation cannot protect against the health risk of passive smoking. They advised the Committee that ventilation does not remove the fine particulate matter that is breathed most deeply into the lungs and into the thorax and that filtered tobacco smoke has the same potential to ncause cancer in a cell system as unfiltered tobacco smoke. Their view was supported by, among others, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, the Public HealthAssociation Cymru and Ash Wales. Ash Wales and Professor Gerard Hastings contended that it would take an air flow comparable to a wind tunnel or tornado to be in any way effective.' [emphasis added]

Which kinda puts the mockers on John's ill-conceived plan. Remember also that any toxic particulates removed by extraction will be dragged over the heads of the assembled drinkers in any case. Further damage to the concept comes from a comment on another blog, which put the cost of the extraction systems at somewhere north of £20,000 apiece - hardly worthwhile for most pubs or restaurants (and taking no account of the design of the existing buildings, some of which are listed buildings).

Back to the drawing board, John. Again.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

That pain in your back, Chris? That's a knife.

I guess that Chris' former mates on the Orange Book side of the party are throwing everything into the campaign to elect Ming, 'cos today's article in the Times brings up some embarrassing matters - Chris' university article in defence of drug use and the rampaging cost of his tax proposal, some £21 billion. PoliticalBetting's market analysis gives Huhne the edge at the moment, but not by much over Ming. Hughes seems to be dead in the water, despite his poll showing that he had the most support amongst the LD electorate, forgetting that only actual members get to vote.

There's also an interesting article from the Scotsman about the Dunfermline by-election, which just goes to show that the Liberal Democrat by-election machine is the slickest in the business and the envy of the Tories and Labour. They know that by-elections are weird creatures, particularly in government-held seats. Turnout will be typically hugely lower, so turning out your own vote is crucial, but also key is remembering a political mantra that should be framed over the desk of every politician - 'all politics is local.' They will fight the campaign on local issues and always fight it as the opposition - even when they are in power locally, or in partnership in the Scottish Executive.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

What are they hiding?

The Post this morning headlined a story that Sir Albert Bore might be reported to the Standards Board of England by a Liberal Democrat councillor for attempting to intimidate and bully the acting chief executive of Birmingham City Council.

He allegedly did this by writing a letter. If that intimidates Stephen Hughes, then he ought to spend a few hours with some of the frontline staff who face real intimidation on a regular basis. Actually, if he thinks that's bullying, then he's in the wrong job.

All this stems from last year's Aston by-election, caused by allegations of electoral fraud surrounding the 2004 local elections. Six Labour councillors - three in Bordesley and three in Aston - were disqualified as a result, with one later winning an appeal against the decision.

A couple of things disturb me about the letter, as reported:
He warned that public confidence in the electoral system in Birmingham would be damaged if the High Court ruled the election court to reconsider the case against the five former councillors. There would also be costs to the council of at least £100,000 in organising fresh election court hearings.

Is the chief exec really suggesting that an appeal be dismissed because it is embarassing or too expensive? Nice to see that justice has a price in Birmingham.

Aside from that, this seems irrelevant to the new case, which is about allegations of fraud around the 2005 by-election in Aston. I'm aware of some of the evidence around the case and there is definitely cause for further investigation.

Finally, there's the misuse of the Standards Board for England as a threat in an attempt to silence a senior councillor. Perhaps John Hemming might have a comment - he's been vocal about the abuse of that process for political purposes and was the leading light in the 2004 electoral petition. But then, that was about the Labour party, not his own. Of course, if Ayoub Khan reckons that this threat will silence Sir Albert, then he's a bigger fool than Mike Whitless (which is a pretty high standard to start with).

I agree that repeated claims of fraud do nothing for public faith in our electoral system, but if we allow allegations to be swept under the carpet on the grounds of inconvenience, then we risk allowing rot to eat away at the entire democratic system.

If there is nothing to hide, then let the matter be tried through the proper process and let people see that justice be done.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Where did that one come from?

Apparently, the Lib Dems have managed to win another by-election.

Not good news for Cameron as the Tory vote collapsed, despite some effort from the party and a high-profile visit by the leader to show that there were no 'no-go areas' for the New Tories. They were never likely to get close to winning, but that isn't a great result - their vote share dropped by 2%, which actually equates to a swing away of about a quarter. The SNP did a good job in getting their vote out, but made no ground on the May election. Labour just didn't get their vote out and suffered accordingly.In most of these things, turnout's the thing. Another one to retake when the general election rolls around again.

[FRIDAY am EDIT] Not being an expert on Scottish local politics (and everything IS local in politics), I'm indebted to Aiden Brack for pointing out that there are local issues aside from pure turnout and third-term anti-government blues that may have affected the Labour vote and given the LDs the seat. Add in the usual LibDem by-election concentration and you see why they won.

From the Scotsman:
However, Labour's campaign started badly and went downhill rapidly. The party's launch was overshadowed just 24 hours later by the loss of 700 jobs at Lexmark, an inkjet cartridge manufacturer in Rosyth. Then the party became embroiled in a series of controversies over the Forth Road Bridge, with Mr Brown appearing to dictate devolved policy to the Scottish Executive. The Chancellor, who is in Moscow at a meeting of finance ministers today, was criticised for trying to interfere in Executive business, and Labour appeared divided and fractious from the start.

And John? Not Brent, but Leicester East, which your lot gained at the same time we held Birmingham Hodge Hill and which returned to Labour last May. I agree that there is a long time to wait for the next parliamentary, which will give the LDs an advantage in the seat, but the natural Labour vote should be sufficient to return the seat to Labour under a higher turnout. Funny thing is that you whinge about low overall percentage votes when Labour win, but not when you do... Just 17% of the constituency voted for the winning candidate, but that's FPTP for you.

What about the wider impact? Difficult to calculate, but I'm not certain that it will affect Gordon's chances of winning the leadership when Tony throws in the towel. It may remind him that he isn't invulnerable, but he's still the front runner by a country mile and one election result does not make for a Liberal Democrat landslide in 2009. Tony's still got an interesting few weeks ahead with the ID cards bill coming back for a second bite and the education bill returning as well. The recent changes may make both a little more palatable, but I don't think either will have an easy ride.

For Cameron, this is a minor embarrassment. Nothing huge - it is only a by-election in a no-hope Tory seat - but despite throwing some resources into it, the Tories slumped further. They need to work on their activist base to support by-election campaigns, but this also indicates the problems that they continue to have in Scotland. His big test will be on May 4 when the local elections roll around again - will the core Tory vote revive then?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Question Time

An interesting Question Time tonight - setting a trend for broadcasting hustings that Labour will have to match if there is a similar contest in the near future.

Iain Dale live-blogged it.

Hughes seemed to me to be struggling and trying to make up the ground - he's behaving as though he is trailing in the polls (whatever the truth of the various polls of which have heard tell in recent days) and there was a whiff of desperation tonight. He didn't handle comments about his slagging off the other candidates well and denied that this was the case - only for Dimbles to come back and point out that the words are on his website. Hughes seems to me to be out of it. He was going over the traditional muesli-eating LibDem ground - seemingly unconcerned that the YouGov poll points towards an increasing conservatism in the LibDems. Note the small 'c' there. There are a lot of small 'c's in the Lib Dems, but that's not important at the moment.

Campbell struck me as holding on and no more than that. He looked statesmanlike and did a reasonable job. He's never going to excite the electorate or inspire them - he defines 'a safe pair of hands.' He will be a holding candidate for the Orangistas, no more.

Huhne wasn't outstanding, but he did appear reasonably fresh and animated. He had a good grasp of the agenda and looked confident. He looked like a leader and got a decent amount of supportive applause - I'd estimate that around a third of the audience backed him. Given that he's come from nowhere, that's not bad at all.

I still think that this is too close to call, but I'd reckon that Hughes will go out in the first round and leave Campbell and Huhne to divide the spoils. Whatever happens, Huhne will come out of this in a strong position. He'll probably get a decent front bench post and will be able to position himself for a takeover when Campbell stands down in a few years. The rest of the Orange Bookers now have masses of ground to make up and Clegg must be kicking himself every day for not running.

And there's always the possibility of a Huhne win. Guido's called it for Ming, so to be contrary, I'm going to give it narrowly to Huhne.

Mr Flippy

Painting John Kerry as a 'flip-flopper' didn't do him any good, so Tony and the gang are trying the same trick with Dishy Dave. They are getting some help from the Tories, to be honest.

Firstly, there's been the wholesale running away from the last election manifesto, which has been conveniently brushed under the carpet. Things like the proposals to offer private patients public funding have been abandoned by Cameron - forgetting that he's the one who took a year to write the bloody manifesto.

Yesterday, Cameron laid claim to being a 'liberal Conservative' and told voters in Dunfermline that the Tories were anti-war (bit late to jump aboard the bandwagon, Dave - at least Chuckles had the decency to be on that from the start, even if Ming didn't get on until a couple of stops down the road).

Today, the shadow-chancellor, Gideon Osborne tells us that they've realised that Prescott is right and we actually need to build on the green belt. Naturally, this is driven by a change in philosophy and nothing to do with the fact that first-time buyers know how the market works - increase supply and prices usually drop.

Cameron has clearly learnt from the LibDems - tell the audience what they want to hear and set the right mood. Worry about the policies later.

Huhne Wins! (Possibly)

Simon got his knuckle-dusters on yesterday to lay into Huhne and Campbell. In particular, he went for Huhne's throat, describing him as a new boy 'who only arrived in parliamentary politics eight months ago' and even seemed to criticise him for having the temerity to stand -
'The party members expected me and Menzies Campbell to contest it and they wanted to have that choice.'
Rightly, he pointed out that Huhne has a wafer-thin majority between him and the Tories, so a Huhne leadership would require committing massive resources to defending the leader, rather than fighting to gain seats. Even Huhne's focus on the environment came in for criticism, as Hughes asserted two decades of campaiging on the issue and described Huhne's green taxation proposals as 'callous.'

Ming didn't escape though - Hughes asked if the members wanted 'a leader for this parliament and this generation or a caretaker.'

It has to be said, Hughes is starting to look desperate and today's YouGov poll shows why. The race appears to be too close to call, with a sample of 401 LDs reporting that 32% back Huhne, 29% want Campbell and 23% are in favour of Hughes. The decision looks likely to be taken by the 16% undecided (excluding them, the figures are 38/34/27 respectively) and there is a tendency for undecided electors to break for the challenger, which might enhance Huhne's chances. The health warning on this poll is the margin of error, which effectively makes Huhne and Campbell level pegging - but however you slice this, it doesn't look good for Simon Hughes. Judging by the poll, attacking Huhne on his inexperience and green taxation policies and Campbell on his age won't curry much favour, as half the membership didn't regard age and inexperience as a problem for the candidates and three-quarters back increased taxation on petrol and airline flights.

Campbell can take some hope from the poll - the members see him as looking like a leader (always an important issue), as almost half the membership see him as having the experience necessary to do the job and qualified to be a government minister. He falls down on appealing to young voters and to women, but his age isn't a significant issue. Meanwhile, Hughes was seen as the least honest and the least effective potential minister, with a fairly even split on whether he is too unreliable to lead the party.

Looking at the second preference votes, if Huhne goes out in the first round, his votes seem to return to Ming, but the Hughes votes seem to be more evenly split, with Campbell having a slight edge over Huhne.

Rarely has so much depended on a Question Time performance. Tonight could be VERY interesting.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Hughes out of the race?

Guido has obtained some interesting poll data in advance of C4 News tonight - although some of the comments suggest that it originates from Chris Huhne's site.

This polling data puts Campbell on 44%, Huhne on 34% and Hughes languishing on just 14% - which means that the destination of those 8% undecided and the Hughes second votes crucial. I'd posit that Huhne could benefit the most from the don't knows - he's the least known of the candidates and my theory is that if you are an LD member, you'll know already if you are in the Campbell or Hughes camp. Both of these have enough profile for people to know who they are and what they stand for. If you haven't already decided for one of them, you might well be holding out to see what the other candidate has to offer.

I'm not entirely convinced by those figures - that seems to be awfully low for Hughes - but there is a paucity of good polling information coming out of the LDs at the moment (and there are the usual questions about sample size and polling methods to be asked, but let's stick with the headline data).

The real ballot papers went out today, but I suspect that many of the membership will hang on until Thursday's Question Time to see the performance of the three candidates.

Campbell was on the Politics Show yesterday and it wasn't a massively effective performance - hampered by dodgy audio feeds from the satellite. The awkward questions about precisely what discussions he had with Huhne and others about the Kennedy succession before Christmas (i.e. BEFORE there was a vacancy) were blocked by a mantra of maintaining the confidentiality of discussions with colleagues. He seems to be in the box seats at the moment, but things can change very quickly in this contest.

Whether Campbell or Huhne wins, it seems likely that there will be a rightward drift in the Liberal Democrat economic policy as the Orange Book proposals are developed into policy. I'm not buying into the idea that this is the end of the Liberal Democrats - there's too much invested in them for the party to implode at the moment. I do think that they are going to face a period of rebuilding and regeneration. Increasingly, they are going to be pressured by a resurgent Tory party and a Labour party revitalised by a new leader - both recovering their soft vote lost to the third party in recent years.

Here's a scenario, though. Imagine the potential of a Campbell leadership...

Three years down the line, Campbell is forced to stand down due to ill health and Kennedy - still a youngish man - returns to the fray. He's popular in the party (remember that 40% of a recent LD poll wanted him back) and now, hopefully, still sober. Could he make a comeback?

Friday, February 03, 2006

The only thing coming out this week is the knife.

It has been a remarkably scandal-free week for the Liberal Democrats, but as PoliticalBetting reports, this weekend's YouGov survey of Liberal Democrat members is likely to be the most reliable indicator of where support is flowing within the party. Those who still believe that this will be a Minging landslide should take pause and see how nasty the campaign is getting - the knives are out all round. (Incidentally, has Chris Huhne borrowed one of Hemming's cats for that photo?)

Hughes is touring the media outlets reminding everybody that Campbell declared his candidacy within minutes of Kennedy falling on his sword

'Clearly there was a campaign ready to take off,' Hughes told the London Evening Standard.'
and that Ming is a bit, well, old-fashioned

'Members have a clear choice. Do they have a more pro-active campaigning leadership that involves the whole party... or do you have the more traditional approach that Ming has represented?'
Campbell has also taken a swipe at Huhne's call for British troops to leave Iraq, calling it 'naive populism' (like that's ever stopped the LDs in the past).

Huhne's hit back by confirming Hughes' comments over Ming..

'What I did do however is formally offer my support to Ming before Christmas'
Before Christmas? But Charlie didn't resign until January. Huhne was at least honest with his own decapitation strategy - he's the only candidate who signed both letters suggesting that Chuckles should consider his position.

Huhne's new environmental credentials - a revelation to his colleagues, according to the Times - haven't stopped him risking all by letting Lembit 'Kiss of Death' Opik fly him back from last night's Question Time recording in Aberystwyth to make his formal campaign launch today.

And to complete the circuit, Huhne also threw a right at Simon Hughes, calling to mind the usual Lib Dem graph familiar to all campaigners, showing that the LDs are ALWAYS the only party that can win in this area against the Tories/Labour (delete as appropriate). Following the revelations about Hughes' sexuality, Huhne told the other Dimbleby that

'It's a fact that in terms of the perceptions of both journalism and the bookies it is now effectively a fairly close race between me and Ming. So to that extent that it is a consequence.'
Simon is still trying to convince us that he didn't mean to lie about his sexuality - repeating the claim on the Today programme this morning in a vain attempt to suffocate Huhne's campaign launch today. Both Hughes and Huhne are bitchslapping Campbell over his belated conversion to the anti-war movement, highlighting their credentials in this matter.

This race remains more open than people think and everything will hinge on how those second votes fall and who is dumped out of the race first.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Mrs Whippy

For god's sake, woman - if you are going to lose a vote, don't make the boss the fall guy.

Actually, I think that this improves the bill. I don't doubt that Muslims need the protection that falls to other, ethnically-distinct, religious groups like Jews and Sikhs. The rabble-rousers in the BNP know that they can't attack certain groups because they will come up against laws against racist activities, so they've turned to attacking Muslims. There won't be many prosecutions under the law, but it does send a message that we won't tolerate discrimination.

The problem with the original phrasing of the act would have prohibited insulting a religion, which always struck me as an unreasonable restriction on free speech. I've probably insulted the small-minded nutters at Christian Voice on more than one occasion and will happily take on any bigot who hides behind the veneer of any faith, but I respect those who choose to follow their religious beliefs.

While there are specific issues affecting this vote - there were a number of MPs out of the building for various reasons and thus unable to vote, this wasn't as controversial a division as the ones expected over the forthcoming education bill. Tony could be in for an interesting few months.

Ignored...

I have to admit to feeling disappointed that the Hack didn't receive an invite to John Hemming's celebration of his leadership bid. This was the first site to back John's campaign - way back at the time of the 2005 conference - largely on the basis that his leadership would be good news for the Labour Party.



Nice to see that he is upholding the hard-drinking tradition of LibDem leaders, though.

You're no Charles Kennedy, though John.