Thursday, August 31, 2006

Debt of dishonour

Rumours reach me that the fragrant Sharon Ebanks has had some problems with paying her legal bills following the BNP's disastrous legal advice that she should fight the election petition seeking to overturn her erroneous election in Birmingham.

I have been told that the promised cheque from the BNP to cover her expenses - understood to be in the region of £5000 and raised from supporters with the specific intention of helping her - has yet to land on her doormat.

It must be lost in the post.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

'You're my besshht mates..'

'Senior Liberal Democrats quite properly and loyally sought to maintain Charles Kennedy's right to privacy and confidentiality while he was seeking to cope with his problem, for which he was receiving treatment. The party is now united under Ming Campbell's leadership.'
Maintaining this 'right to confidentiality' involved some heavy-handed legal threats against journalists who threatened to reveal the truth - much the same sort of pressure that was brought to bear on those who felt that Simon Hughes' sexuality was a matter of public interest. Radders accuses the media of being hypocritical in ignoring their own role in keeping the secret - which is true, but I don't know why he thinks that they are more guilty than the inner circle of Kennedy's friends and colleagues who developed plans to minimise the impact of Charles' lapses. They were all in the game of spin and counter-spin, offering exclusive stories, interviews and dirt to push particular points of view, discredit others and conceal unfortunate truths.

As I've mentioned before, his heavy drinking had been a poorly kept secret amongst the political classes - even I'd heard rumours, for God's sake - for a number of years. His closest ally, the long-serving and honorably loyal Anna Werrin notes that he'd had a history of student drinking that continued once he was elected as an MP and that his drinking actually reduced once he became leader, although his central status meant that any lapse was elevated to an event of huge significance.

The Liberal Democrats were expert at protecting him - even trying to persuade him to seek professional help abroad (rather than the local clinic that has seen a few senior Scottish politicians with similar problems). The new book by Greg Hurst replays the public laundering of dirty washing that affected the Lib Dems at the beginning of the year, an upheaval that had much more to do with the upwardly mobile aims of a group of younger, right-wing MPs who saw the chance to exploit Kennedy's weakness to advance their own cause. The reports in the Times this week covered the increasing disaffection in the ranks of the parliamentary party, including the crocodile tears of the ambitious Sarah Teather, regretfully telling her beloved leader that he had to go.

What is immediately apparent is that the lovely fluffy Liberal Democrats are every bit as vicious and prone to bouts of bloody civil war as every other party. The picture of the Orangistas drawing up their battle lines with their secret meetings plotting with powerful donors and scheming to ensure Chatshow's inevitable downfall, culminating in one of them getting ITN's Daisy McAndrew to spill the beans on her former boss - how's that for loyalty?

The fact is that the Liberal Democrats were happy enough to conceal Kennedy's alcoholism when it suited, but were prepared to turn it into a weapon when it suited the political careerism of a few. In an insanely short-termist act, they've dumped one of their strongest performers - one not without his problems, to be fair, but still a popular and recognisable national figure. And they've replaced him with what? Ming the Useless. For all their protestations of loyalty and swearing undying allegiance to the current dynasty, they know that he is only a caretaker leader, the Regent until one of the youngsters attains political maturity and is able to depose him.

On his day, Charlie was a huge asset to the party. The best the Minger can do is keep the party in a holding pattern - and in the face of a Tory Party looking more determined to make a go of opposition, that looks like a forlorn hope. Chuckles' defenestration was not the result of discontent with his performance, but a nakedly political act of self-interest by a few Liberal Democrats.

If nothing else, this book will provide a welcome distraction from the trials and tribulations of the Minger as the party conference draws closer and help to dispel the nostalgia for the halcyon days of the Kennedy era amongst the members.

One of Iain Dale's anonymous comments notes a song sung at Lib Dem conferences

Over the Sea to Skye(Words: Stuart Callison)
Speed bonnie boat,
Like a hack on the make;
Back to his seat on Skye.
Carry the lad that was born to be King,
Back to the seat on Skye
Where is the man?
Down in the bar,
Loudly the Whips pro-clai-aim
Out on the town,
Out of his head,
Charlie is pissed again

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Never post under the influence of alcohol


Is John Hemming regretting his blog posting criticising the changes in the rules over child car seats? John deleted his own comment on his blog pointing out that blogs don't come with a breathalyser as an excuse for a spelling error. So, have the cats allowed you back into the cocktail cabinet? (pic from John Hemming) We often regret things that we do while under the influence...

The changes in the legislation actually do no more than put into law what most parents do anyway. Legally, your child only has to be restrained by a seatbelt - although you do have to use a car seat if you have one. From next month, essentially the only difference will be that you must use a child seat of some sort until the child is tall enough to use a seatbelt safely.

John's shifted the argument now to whether the evidence supports the claim that a booster seat helps a child - I think he's regretting starting this argument. There are times when you have to trust the judgement of the professionals in the field and if the legislative change has support from as broad a cross-section of the motoring fraternity as it does - from motorists' groups to road safety groups and insurers (who have an interest in reducing the cost of claims due to personal injury) - then I'd trust that. I'd trust the views of people like TRL - unless somebody can raise evidence to the contrary. The legislation may come from the Department for Transport, but there has been a full consultation process including input from a Parliamentary Advisory Council. If John had been so bothered, then he could have had his concerns raised then and joined the handful of objectors to a policy change designed to improve safety for our children.

I tried a simple experiment this afternoon. I took one of my children and placed them in the back of our car without their car seat - the adult seat belt naturally ran across their neck and the side of their face. Refitting the car seat saw the belt passing properly across the shoulder and the body. Now, it is very common in accidents that seat belt wearers suffer bruising as they are restrained by the belt and more serious injury is prevented. This is painful for an adult, but there is a significant risk that those same injuries would be much more serious for a child. I'm happy with the evidence that my child is safer in a booster seat on the basis of my observation and common sense.That's why most parents care enough about their children to fit proper car seats. Extending the legislation will hopefully stop those parents who don't provide adequate protection for their children.

John wants evidence - as if the support of most of the industry isn't enough. Well, here's an idea - we could run a large-scale trial to test the effects of enforcing the use of car seats and see if injuries are reduced. It could start on September 18. We know what the figures are now - we'll look at what the figures are in a year.

Will that be enough evidence for you to justify the theories put forward by the DfT? Or are the Liberal Democrats soft on child safety in the name of some libertarian ideal?

Friday, August 25, 2006

Liberal Democrats - soft on road safety now?

Hemmingwatch has been a consistent theme of this blog, but I've not been following his chequered career too closely lately. But just when you think he might have settled down, he says something so dumb that I again wonder out loud what the good people of Yardley were thinking when they sent him to Parliament. I suppose it keeps him off the streets and provides us with entertainment. Now he's speaking his brains on the subject of car seats for children and revealing just how little he knows.

You may not be aware that the rules on child car seats change next month. It hasn't been as well advertised as it could be - that much is fair comment. I've seen more about the changes to the Royal Mail's pricing structure than about this change in the regulations.

The seatbelt laws have tightened gradually over the years. Older cars from the 60s and before often don't have them - they were only mandated in the 1970s. Then came a campaign fronted by Jimmy Savile to encourage people to wear them, which was backed up with legislation in the 1980s for front seat passengers and finally for back seat passengers as well after rear seat belts became a legal reqirement in the 1990s.

The law currently requires that all adults must wear seatbelts (if fitted) in the front or back seats. An appropriate child seat is only legally required if the child is under three and riding in the front seat. In the back seat, the same child does not need to be restrained at all, as the wearing of an adult seatbelt could be lethal in an accident. Older children are only required to use a child seat or other restraint if it is available, but if it is available, it should be used up to the age of 11 or 1.5m in height.

The new regulations state that a child restraint must be used for children up to 3, whether in the front or back seats, with the only exception being for journeys in taxis, where the child may travel unrestrained. Children between 3 and 11 and under 1.35m tall (about 4'5") must also use a child seat - although there are a couple of exceptions for short and occasional trips; taxis; or if two occupied seats prevent the use of a third. Children older than 11 or taller than 1.35m must use an adult seat belt if one is fitted. Proper car seats provide much better protection for the child than simply wearing a seatbelt designed for a much larger adult.

my 13 and 16 year old children are both over 5 foot 10. With a bit of luck they will not have to sit in booster seats
A bit of maths would tell Cllr Hemming that as 135cm is only 4'5", both his older children can travel safely using adult seat belts. I wouldn't have thought that the calculation was beyond a scientist of his calibre.

'My 6 year old is not small, but may have to have one of these booster seats. No-one has actually given a good reason for one'
Some of us reckon that saving 22 children of around that age from serious injury might be a good reason, but perhaps I'm just an old softie at heart. These figures come from TRL - an internationally respected research organisation and once better known as the Transport and Road Research Laboratory, someone infinitely more experienced and trustworthy in these matters than a backbench MP. These changes could also save two or three lives and prevent thousands of minor injuries. Compared to this pain and suffering, the financial impact is as nothing, but everything has a value and this legislation could save between £36 and £44 million annually.

He wants a good reason? Watch the AA videos, then tell me that there isn't a good reason.

But these changes weren't introduced without some consultation last year. The proposals get widespread support from groups as diverse as the RAC Foundation, the Federation of British Historical Vehicles Clubs, Brake, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, the AA Motoring Trust, RoSPA, the Amateur Boxing Association, RBS Insurance, Scottish Accident, GEM Motoring Assist and the Hindu Forum - amongst 54 groups and individuals who responded. Only 3 of those respondents opposed the broad thrust of the changes and in a number of cases, it was felt that specific changes didn't go far enough.

Perhaps if Hemming did a little research before opening his mouth, he might actually learn something. His lack of knowledge doesn't prevent this kind of inanity, though:

To me it just shows me how dishonest a lot of public lobbying is. Clearly the claims of the Department of Transport are complete rubbish.
Not that he has any argument to back this up. But then why should a mind as great as his have to bother with facts or evidence when he has knee-jerk reactions to fall back on - and I stress the jerk there.

Anyone, whatever seat they are in, even if they are wearing a seatbelt, is likely to be deemed "slightly injured" in a crash.
Yes, that might be the case. My wife suffered whiplash when we were hit by another car some years ago - but that painful injury was better than having her face smashed against the dashboard of the car (incidentally, her comments on Cllr One-Term's 'thoughts' aren't printable in a family blog). Seatbelts, airbags, child-seats and all the protective technological armour that surrounds our cars these days help to reduce the risks and prevent more serious injuries. An adult seatbelt is often better than nothing for stopping a small child from being thrown around in the back of the car, but a proper child seat is far better.

What does he do all day?

Furthermore I did not spot this law going through. I would think as an MP who reads the main issues that I should have spotted it. I wonder which loophole it creeped through.
It crept through the Seat Belt Wearing Regulations 1993 - legislation drafted by your Tory mates a while ago and it also aims to implement a European Directive, while following similar legislation in Canada and across half the USA.

By the way, this isn't all of it. In 2008, older child seats (largely predating 1996) will be outlawed and in 2009, it will be illegal to carry more people than you have seatbelts to protect them.

Perhaps John should start a campaign about that now. Lib Dems say no to protecting children?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

This could be the future.


If we don't sort our problems out and get on with the job in hand, this man could win the next election.

A nine-point lead? 40% would prefer this policy-vacuum, Old Etonian who helped guide Norman Lamont to Black Wednesday as our PM? 24% would prefer the near-death experience of Ming Campbell, for God's sake.

Cameron's promised to sell off more social housing and revive fox-hunting - although he has reneged on his only achievable campaign promise to date. Other than that, he's policy-lite and desperate to be all things to all men (and women).

For the sake of the party and of Britain, will someone please wake up and do what needs to be done and let Labour get on with the job of government. We need a fresh approach at the top, but I'd rather it wasn't the Tories or the Liberal Democrats.

Stephen Byers is a nutter

What a load of rubbish from Byers. If he'd care to hand in his membership card on the way out, I'm sure Davey Cameron could find a place for him on the A List - although Gideon Osborne on the Today Programme was none too sure about committing the Tories to scrapping inheritance tax. Feeding this sort of dross to the house magazine of the High Tories, the Telegraph, is even worse.

Remember that this tax will only affect those whose estates exceed £285,000 - well above the UK average house price and actually only a problem for around 6% of the population. Even then, it only kicks in at the 40% rate on the value of the estate above that.

Byers reckons that it is a 'penalty on hard work, thrift and enterprise.' Nonsense - I defy anyone to show me someone who held back on their innate work ethic or their imaginative entrepreneurialism for fear of a tax that will affect their heirs and successors. It doesn't happen. Obviously, with Tony's new multi-million pound London house and a planned career in after-dinner speaking while his wife takes her seat on the High Court bench, IHT will bother the Dear Leader, but it isn't a vote-winner for most of the population outside the Notting Hill set - and certainly not on Tyneside, where Stephen currently has a constituency.

The Telegraph rumbles on - 'thousands of hard-working families face huge bills just to keep the family home after a relative has died.' Eh? Transfers between civil partners or married couples are free of IHT. These 'hard-working families' (an over-worked term, if ever there was one) presumably have a home of their own, so are merely going to inherit the family home of one of their own parents. Even if we assume that there are a few of them still living at home with mum and dad, they will be mortgage-free on a property worth over £285,000 and probably able to mortgage the house to cover the tax bill. There really can't be many who would find that a problem and I struggle to find sympathy for the tiny number who would be left struggling to find a new home with only a third of a million quid or so to their name. I refer you to Fisking Central for some sound observations and there's also a decent post on Forceful and Moderate about the issue.

Ultimately, IHT is a fair tax - it doesn't genuinely tax income that has already had tax paid, as the income is a gain to somebody who never earned it - the heir. In any case, as a number of commentators have pointed out, we already pay many repeat taxes - VAT is a classic one. Scrapping it would be a sop to the very rich in society and would remove £3 billion from the tax system that could only be replaced by taxing the rest of us even more.

Gordon isn't taking it lightly and he responded

'A source close to Gordon Brown added: "I don't think Stephen Byers actually believes a word of this nonsense. He never said anything of the sort when he was in Government.'

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Acorny


The Tories are apparently about to launch a new logo.

It seemed familiar to me....

Like their political strategy, it has been nicked wholesale, but the original is a far more concise critique of their electoral chances.

The cost of free speech

Right wing and libertarian bloggers are out in force in defence of Inigo Wilson, the author of a nasty little piece on Conservative Home.

His 'hilarious' lexicon of lefty terms included such comic gems as
'Islamophobic - anyone who objects to having their transport blown up on the way to work.'
Jim Davidson and Bernard Manning must be taking notes and it is good to see that the nasty party is alive and well, still happy to lash out at minority groups.

The problem is that Inigo has a day job. He 'manages community affairs for a large telecoms company.' (Regular readers will remember that we've heard this one before) Thanks to the power of the internet, a quick Google search rapidly revealed that Inigo works for Orange and his 'community affairs brief' is to counter the objections of local residents to having telephone masts planted on their property and to spin for the telecoms company. Here he is in Bracknell.. and Leicester... and Cambridge... and Sefton... and Dorset singing the praises of Orange. For all his criticism of government and his feelings about 'green issues,' he was only too happy to accept a salary from the Environment Agency a few years ago.

Perhaps we should remember his definition of consultation - a key part of his role, one would think.
Consultation - a formal system for ignoring public views while patronising
them at the same time. London's Congestion Charge for instance.
Or planning applications from mobile phone companies, perhaps?

Anyway, the Muslim Public Affairs Committee - a dubious entity at the best of times - did the same search and lodged a complaint with Orange about their employee publishing such comments. Orange subsequently suspended Mr Wilson pending further investigation. This has caused a storm within the blogging community, with Guido and Iain Dale leading the charge to defend Wilson and attacking Orange for this assault on free speech.

Nonsense.

An employee can be suspended to allow things to cool down pending an investigation - I've had to do this on a few occasions myself and have later reinstated the employee. Here, Wilson would clearly be unable to do his job with this media storm raging around him. In terms of disciplinary issues, Wilson is a public face of Orange - not just a salesman or an engineer, but someone who has to represent the company. It is entirely proper for his employers to decide whether they consider these public comments appropriate when the author is so easily identifiable as an Orange employee and chose to publically criticise his own company. He may have made the comments on his own time and in a personal capacity, but it is accepted in employment law that an employee's personal actions may still bring a company into disrepute, even if they occur outside working hours. From my experience, his career with Orange is hanging by a very thin thread, but the damage is all of his own making.

I find my sympathy in short supply for someone so supposedly well-tuned to spin and PR who makes such intemperate comments and then complains about the inevitable consequences.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

'Your message could be here'

Hat tip to Bob P for spotting a couple of stories that tell you a lot about the New Shiny Tories under Davey C. Firstly, Nick Cohen picks up a trail of product placement within the New Torydom as the Osbornes and the Camerons plug the family businesses, then the revolutionary marxists of the FT expose Cameron's attempts to plug the good names of multinational companies that coincidentally employed his strategist until a few months ago. Or is it just that both he and Steve Hilton lack the imagination to do more than regurgitate old press clippings?

A Tory spokesman added
'It is ludicrous to suggest there is any conflict of interest. In fact he goes out of his way to avoid mentioning clients of Good Business although sometimes it would be absurd not to in the context of commenting on ethical practices.'

So, BP, Coca-Cola, ASDA, BT, Boots, Nike, Sky and B&Q all just slipped through the net, did they?

Go on, Davey - get that snout into the corporate trough. You'll need those friends when the political career goes down the toilet. Sponsored by Andrex, of course.

Looks like we picked the wrong week to give up taxing the rich

For years, the Liberal Democrats have had a totemic policy to impose a 50p tax rate on the highest earners. Strictly speaking, that remains their policy until their conference agrees the new proposals, which isn't quite the certainty that some think it is. You may have missed the policy launch because it was slightly overshadowed by other events.

Truth to tell, it isn't really exciting anyway - we've had the meatier facts trailed for months whenever Ming needed to relaunch his leadership (currently a weekly event). The biggest problem for me is the shift to environmental taxes to raise revenue. The thing about this kind of tax is that it if it works, the tax take will decrease over time - the idea is to change behaviour by making something into a luxury item though the tax system. Hence, smokers face a huge tax bill whenever they buy a pack of twenty. On the other hand, the LDs are offering an £18 billion tax cut - removing a whole swathe of people from the tax system and even assisting the middle earners facing the 40% tax rate. As they admit that enough money is now being raised for the Treasury, although they may disagree over the spending methodology, they need to raise a similar amount through their own stealth taxes on the top earners' pension funds and business-class passengers on airlines.

Here's the problem with taxing the very rich. They are the ones who can most afford the flashy lawyers and accountants whose sole job it is to find legal loopholes in tax structures and pump as much money from their rich employers through those gaps before the Treasury gets wise and outlaws their latest scheme. When you add in the impact that the green taxes are supposed to have, the likelihood is that the Liberal Democrats won't be able to replace their tax giveaway with other sources of income. The local income tax remains a policy - despite attempts to remove it - and this will drive many Lib Dem voters away, as it promises higher local taxation for many middle-income earners - the very ones supposedly hit hardest by the rise in council tax. I'm also not sure how easy the package is to sell to the voter. Worthy it may be, but the 50p tax rate on the highest earners was a simple flagship policy and I'm not sure that replacing it with a promise to cut taxes for those at the bottom of the pile will be an equally effective rallying cry.

The deeper problem for the Liberal Democrats is that this is yet another attempt to plant their flag on the over-populated centre ground and compete with the big boys - just as we've seen a rightward shift over crime. All this fatally damages the unique selling point of the Liberal Democrats - their individuality and their difference from the other two parties.

Increasingly, the Liberals seem to be pursuing the Tory vote, but the danger of that policy is that they become indistinguishable from the True Blues and that their electorate decides to vote for the real thing, rather than the conscience-salving Tory Lite future that Ming is espousing at the behest of his new, young friends.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Do as I say, not as I do


Now, I'm sure we all remember that Ming had to be surgically removed from his beloved, gas-guzzling Jaguar when it was pointed out that everybody has to make sacrifices for the future of the planet and that leadership involves taking a lead. It did take the best part of five months for him to do it, though - after he thought that we'd all forget about his pledge during the leadership campaign. Now he's been talked into an interview with Radio One, where he pushed his green credentials,
'We've all got responsibility... even to use those light bulbs which are more energy efficient.'
Yup. That's entirely fair. Most of the bulbs in my house are energy efficient types - I've gradually replaced them as the old ones fail. They've been around for a while, so how many has the green-minded Ming got?
'I don't have any. None of the light bulbs in my house have gone out for a while, but I will be making sure when we replace them, we replace them with energy saving bulbs. But I tell you what I do, I make sure there are no unnecessary lights on in my house.'
The lights may be on, but I'm not sure that anyone's home. Time to sack those media advisors, Ming.

Speaking of Liberal Democrat hypocrites, one of my favourite LibDems, the human anagram that is Lembit Opik has taken the advice of his leader to heart when it comes to the environment. Ming said,
'At the moment aviation is one of the fastest growing sources of damage to the environment and there is no realistic tax regime to discourage those who operate aircraft from behaving in an environmentally friendly fashion.'
So Lembit's launched an airline. But of course. (Hat tip to Peter Black and Guido).

Cellulite is a political issue

Unusually, the Daily Express took a step away from their usual diet of blaming immigrants for the murder of Princess Diana with an vitriolic attack on Cherie Blair for the crime of wearing a swimsuit while on a beach holiday. The Daily Mail carried the pics as well.

Some harridan from the Express then turned up on Radio Five Live in an attempt to justify this unneccesary personal attack. I made a point of glancing at the article and the general gist seemed to be that while there was nothing wrong with Cherie being over fifty and having the body of a mother, she should at least keep it under wraps and away from public eyes.

Of course, nobody pointed out that Cherie was hardly parading her beswimsuited body down Whitehall - she was on a beach holiday with her family. The only reason she was 'inflicted' upon us was that the press chose to print the photographs. The photographers could have spared us that suffering caused by seeing pictures of a woman without having them Photoshopped to ensure that blemishes do not scar our unrealistic expectations of women. Nobody asked whether we would wish to see other middle-aged, senior QCs making like swimsuit models - probably because they knew the answer.

Equally, nobody made the point that the proprietor of the Express stable of newspapers - and believe me, these papers are full of what you usually find in stables - made rather a good living out of magazines that supported the more specialist end of the pornographic market, magazines like Readers' Wives and 40 Plus. Tony, of course, has famously never heard of any of these.

But lo - not to be outdone by the Blairs, Dishy Dave is also getting his body out for public inspection and raising questions as to whether he's had his chest waxed. Given that he's shorn the Tory party of any policies, nothing would surprise me.

Welcome to the silly season.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Emperor has some new clothes

From the 'grasping at straws' section of the political communications handbook, Ming is apparently going to use Take That's tailor to knock out some new suits in an attempt to capture the youth vote. According to the tailor, the special suit is 'mid to deep blue' - which will go nicely with the shifting shades of Liberal Democrat policies.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Greasy polls

Anthony Wells has cast his experienced eye over the recent spate of political polls - from ICM, MORI, YouGov and Populous and sees no real change in the parties' standings overall. The end of month polls all seem to show something like a 4/5% lead for the Tories over Labour. Given that we've had the scandals over party funding (see here for an interesting view on the whole 'cash for peerages' thing from Marcel Berlins) and everything else that has been thrown at the party over the past few weeks, for the apparently resurgent Tories to only be able to scrape together that kind of lead isn't outstanding. It isn't enough for an overall majority in a general election, although it would leave Labour as the largest party (so watch out for that Liberal Democrat/Tory coalition).

There's bad news for the LibDems too - despite John Hemming's belief that three of the four published polls are 'just plain wrong' while the one that conveniently gives the LDs a unusually large vote share must therefore be right. YouGov, ICM and Populous put the LDs on a spread of 17-19%, but MORI manages to give them 24%. Unless I see some other evidence, I'm going to put that MORI figure down as an error. Fieldwork for that poll was done at the same time as the ICM and YouGov ones, so such a variation seems a little peculiar, to say the least. Still, if John wants to believe his spin rather than the evidence, then that's up to him.

While we're on the subject of the Liberal Democrats - a quick glance at MORI's leadership approval ratings does not make good reading for followers of his evil empire. Ming is flatlining with just 22% support. Kennedy wasn't a lot better in the immediate post-Ashdown era - starting off with 21% support, but rapidly gaining and climbing towards and beyond 30% support - something that Ming hasn't managed to do in the past six months. What's worse is that Ming's net rating is negative - more people are dissatisfied with him than satisfied. Kennedy's low rating at the start of his leadership was more a factor of him being an unknown quantity than anything else - dissatisfaction rattled around between 11% and 19%, giving him a positive net rating of 11% or more. Ming on the other hand, has had a net rating of -9% to -6% since May - people don't like what they see. This may just be a blip, but no Liberal Democrat leader has been in that position since Ashdown in 1990. When YouGov ask who would make the best Prime Minister, Ming is well down the list - only gaining around 8% support, well below Kennedy's average performance over the past three years. It cannot be a good sign for Ming's future. At least Kennedy has denied that he intends to challenge Ming for the leadership - although he has refused to rule out running again if Ming were to fall under the proverbial bus. Remember the Newsnight/ICM poll? Over half of the respondents preferred Chatshow as Lib Dem leader and for all the claims that Ming is seen as a natural leader in the patrician model, only 24% see him as a potential Prime Minister.

As I have noted before, smaller parties rely on their leaders as their public face - the media doesn't give space to the rest of the front-bench team - and Ming will be a liability. The Liberal Democrat conference could be a trial in more ways than one - his policy proposals on things like taxation will have to be passed and he will have to make a barn-storming speech to fend off the assassin Kennedy.

Curiously, despite all the spin about the Cameron revolution, he's not got the electorate dancing in the aisles in support either - somewhere around 30% of those surveyed think he's doing a good job, with the nay-sayers not that far behind. In fact, it is fair to say that he's regarded as about as effective as Howard and Hague, but he's still well behind the upward curve of Tony Blair's popularity back in 1994 when he took over the leadership. Again, though, according to YouGov, upwards of a third of those polled are reserving judgement on Ravey Davey C. Intriguingly, looking at the YouGov figures, Cameron's leadership is remaining popular with 35%-39% of the eleectorate, but the 'don't knows' are increasingly breaking against him - January this year had 17% thinking he was doing a bad job and 44% 'don't know', but by July, that had shifted to 33% and 32%.

The Prime Minister has nothing to celebrate, though, although he appears to be slightly better off than John Major was at the same point, but he's still facing a yawning gap of around 30 points between those who are unhappy and those who are satisfied with his performance. But that's not a surprise, is it? In any case, the focus is increasingly shifting away from Blair to whoever will succeed him - we just want to know when so we can get on with winning that fourth term.