Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Coming out fighting

David Cameron demonstrated that his days of Bullingdon Club destruction aren't that far behind him when he came out attacking those who have criticised him in recent days with the tried and tested method of playing the man and not the ball.

Ali Miraj, who has accused Cameron of 'gimmickry' and of being 'obsessed with PR' was viciously chopped down as Dave revealed that Ali had come to his office only yesterday to ask for a peerage - which had been denied him. The criticism was thus born of sour grapes, not a reasoned assessment of the past 19 months of Cameron's leadership. Ali used to be a friend during Dave's election campaign. I suspect that friendship is over - and people would be wise not to have private conversations with Cameron, as they clearly cannot rely on his discretion.

Dave was no less scathing of former Tory donor Lord Kalms, saying that he didn't know anything about the current state of the Conservative party, when the peer gave his leader some friendly advice. Even Graham Brady, the former front-bencher who resigned over the grammar schools issue, was accused of being wrong.

Then there's the Times poll showing that the Brown bounce is continuing. I did hear a Tory over the weekend claim that it wasn't so much a bounce as a recovery from the 'Blair blip' - which rather admits that normal service has been resumed at the poll-face, not that Brown is on a temporary high.

Today should have been all about schools policy, but it will be about the continuing woes of the leadership. I suspect that far from being a broadside designed to sink the critics, this will merely enrage them further and will distract from the policy announcements. Yet again, the PR-obsessed Tories have scored an own-goal by taking the focus off their own policies.

The Tories have been threatening a long hot summer, turning up the heat on Brown, but if this continues, the only one feeling a raised temperature could be the Boy David.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Talisman of victory or just another albatross?

I maintain my belief that David Cameron will never be Prime Minister. Events of the past week have simply confirmed that in my mind.

In one of those scary moments last night, I was watching This Week on BBC1 and the wife and I were just chatting about Cameron. I said that his greatest flaw was that he wasn't lucky and then up pops Kelvin 'Gotcha' McKenzie to say exactly the same thing - . I almost feel sorry for Davey - he's trying so hard and everyone seems to be against the poor little rich boy. The Sun and the Mail look to be opposed and, according to Kelvin, even the loyal old Telegraph is considering its position and could go against Cameron if his performance doesn't improve by conference time.

His decision to put a photo-opportunity in Rwanda ahead of his own, flooded constituency was a mistake. Not that foreign aid isn't important - it is vital in helping international stability, reducing the refugee problem and is part of our international duty - but in terms of impact, the shots of Cameron wandering around in the blazing sun when his own constituents were waist-deep in sewage were wasted. Even though he was only on the ground for a few hours (two days, I think) and an MPs role in cleaning up the flood mess is rather limited, he blew it. The image is that while his own electorate were underwater, Cameron considered a photo-opportunity on another continent more important. That sort of thing could cost an MP in a more marginal seat very dearly indeed. Meanwhile, Ming the Merciful and Gordon were showing their faces on the muddy ground and looking concerned - which is what we expect of our leaders at times of crisis. Being even more cynical, the news impact of the trip was completely silenced by matters at home.

Dave has set an example of absence from his post, one which was followed by the Tory leader of Oxfordshire council, who felt that he could best guide the rescue efforts from the vantage point of the Commons' public gallery.

Added to that is the failure to come second in either of last week's by-elections. According to Dominic Grieve (shadow attorney-general), David put his heart and soul into the Ealing campaign. As we know, he even put his own name front and centre in an attempt to reap more votes. The truth was that the Tory vote increased in Ealing - the focus of David's campaign - by as much as it increased in Sedgefield, where he didn't show his face as far as I know.

Then we have the polls. Of course, we all know that there is only one poll that counts and that's the general election (book your diaries for May 2008 if this carries on, folks), but the Guardian one earlier in the week and the Telegraph today don't make for pleasant reading - 6 points plus adrift of Labour after ten years of opposition isn't a good place to be, even after a change in Labour leadership.

While Cameron was sunbathing in deepest Africa, Gordon was stealing his clothes as the unified border force heads towards reality. The Tories can whinge that it was one of their policies enacted by the government, but that won't make a lot of difference - governments are the only ones likely to be able to do that kind of thing and voters will reward those who take action, not just those who demand it.

And then there's the party. I've always said that the Tory party have to be hungry for power and then they will follow their leader almost anywhere if it holds the hope of a return to government. Cameron is their only hope that I can see (unless Nick Clegg decides to cross the gangway) and I thought he could count on their broad support fairly solidly up until the next election. There have been many rattled by his newly-discovered social conscience, but the dissatisfaction is such that Stanley Kalms, a generous donor to the party and ennobled as a Tory peer, raised his head above the parapet and demands that the leadership listens to the membership. Dave was even forced to plead for unity and responded with an attack on the EU treaty in PMQs.

Mind you, Davey-boy hasn't had a glittering path so far - he was there beside Lamont when the pound fell out of the ERM, he was there when ITV Digital blew a hole in that company's accounts to the tune of around a billion pounds. And when a right-wing manifesto was needed to drag the party to a third consecutive defeat, Dave was there for that as well. So, the next time the Tories drag out their comparisons to Macavity, remember that Cameron's always there when things go pear-shaped.

The next election could define the future of the Tory Party. If he does well - if he pushes Labour all the way and slices the government majority or even, heaven forbid, wins, then he'll probably survive. If he loses badly - fails to make gains or even slides backwards, then he'll fall on his sword and may take the electoral chances of the Tory party with him for a generation as they lurch back to the right.

Cameron will probably lead the party into the next election, but the tell-tale signs of division are starting to show through his PR papering. He's proud of his shooting (not that he ever discusses it in public), but he has been winged himself over the past week.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Small victories

Nice work in Sedgefield and Ealing from the comrades.

By-elections are the strangest of beasts - entirely unpredictable and liable to swing on local issues that wouldn't register in a general election campaign. They are also reliably unreliable for governing parties - the Tories lost by-election after by-election during their eighteen years in power, but still managed to win parliamentary majorities on the big days. The LDs have done exceptionally well at this game because they know how to fight these short-term, locally-focussed campaigns, but their local successes don't tend to transfer to national returns.

By that measure, although the scale of the Tory defeat in Ealing is embarrassing, given the profile of the campaign in recent days and the amount invested in their candidate - a man who has yet to complete a month as a member of the party - it should be just a little local difficulty for Cameron. It is damaging, certainly, but despite the positive words from the campaign team and the blogosphere, neither seat was likely to go any other way than to Labour. Caroline Spelman was rather poor on the Today programme this morning, repeating the mantra that the defection of five councillors was a great victory for the party - a pattern adhered to by Grant Shapps on Iain Dale's site as well. Five councillors, each of whom threw their toys out of the pram when they didn't get what they wanted and each vulnerable to defeat the next time their seats come up is hardly a massive vote of confidence by the electorate. It again demonstrates that for all the pro-Cameron spin from Central Office, it isn't penetrating into the electorate to the depth that some claim.

The LDs did OK - there was some nervousness about their potential in Ealing, as they retained the same candidate from 2005 and with a by-election team could have fancied their chances, but they didn't end up challenging enough - they just couldn't find a local issue to chew over and spit out.

There is more comfort for Brown - what could have been a poor result has demonstrated that support has held up reasonably well. Given that turnouts are typically lower, that the Labour vote is fragile and that the opposition parties usually do quite well, I would say that even thought these are 'safe' seats, this was a pretty good result for Gordon.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

All hell is about to break loose

The CPS has decided that no charges are to be brought against those involved in the cash-for-honours investigation.

And so it came to pass that another of the year's predictions came true.

Will the story go quietly? Not a chance. Expect the Tory blogs to erupt with indignation. Especially as one of Guido's predictions falls flat (and not for the first time)...
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Levy's Next Visit to the Police
Sleazy Levy is due to visit a police station under the terms of his bail conditions shortly. He will be very nervous about this visit. There is a good chance that he will be charged on this next visit. Ruth Turner is also due to answer bail soon. Guido is looking to collect soon on some bets on Levy facing charges. Blair has kept an in with Levy, through having his foundation hiring his son (as well as hiring Ruth Turner). Probably shrewd to keep them both close in these perilous times...

..and they inhaled

So, Jacqui Smith isn't the only midnight toker in the government - Alastair Darling, Andy Burnham, Ruth Kelly (RUTH KELLY???), Hazel Blears have all joined the roll-up call with Vernon Coaker, Patsy Hewitt, Caroline Flint and Tony McNulty.

Does it matter? Nick Robinson's blog refers to a survey from earlier in the year which suggests that it doesn't - as over 80% of the electorate don't think that it matters if a politician smoked cannabis when young. I can't say I see it as a problem

David Cameron, of course, equivocated over allegations that he enjoyed the student life of the 80s to the full, saying only that:

'Everybody is entitled to a private history. I'm human enough to have done lots of things I shouldn't have ... I had a normal university experience, let's put it that way.'
That reticence didn't stop him trying to be embarrassingly 'down wit der kids' at a recent session in South London.
On a visit to a children's charity yesterday, the Tory leader was talking about skunk cannabis - and told how he had recently witnessed the arrest of youngsters
for drug possession while on a two-day patrol with police. Mr Cameron said:
"Before the bag was even open, the smell... unbelievably strong. Grown in greenhouses, this skunk is unbelievably powerful." Then hinting that he knows more about the subject than he should, he added: "And it is completely different to..." before pausing awkwardly and blustering: "I think I'll stop there." The teenagers roared with laughter as Mr Cameron tried to regain his composure to continue the session...

Ravey Davey isn't the only senior Tory born with a silver spoon up his nose in his mouth, but they all seem reticent about their youthful indiscretions....

For the record, although I was at university in the 80s, I never did anything so shameful as to join the Tory Party. Kids, remember that if some strange bloke approaches you on the street, just say no. Voting Tory can ruin your life.

Bore 8 - Whitby 12

Great minds think alike (or fools rarely differ)...

While these Power Lists are hardly scientifically constructed, Whitless can't be happy to be sunning himself on his Caribbean beach and to be told that he's less powerful than the leader of the Labour opposition group of Birmingham council - a whole four places lower. While Mickey's Tory Central Office minder, James North, the eminence cerise behind the throne, gets in at number 40, there's no sign of Tilsley (who is even less powerful than the late Ken Hardeman, who was originally planned into the mix prior to his untimely death), nor yet for the real power in the Yellow Tories, John Hemming.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Defending the Lib Dems

Now THIS hurts.

According to Iain Dale, the ubiquitous talking head on all things political blogospherical, the Tories are landing the Liberal Democrats in Ealing with a writ for using copyrighted pictures of the Tory candidate.

It appears that a Lib Dem leaflet carried a facsimile of a Tory leaflet which included Tony's mugshot. I rather suspect that future LD leaflets will carry an entirely different picture.

I really don't like politicians whose first recourse is to the law over matters that should be part of the cut and thrust of daily business (cf Archer, Aitken, Hamilton et al). I think that it is nasty, cheap and an attitude that speaks of someone who has something embarassing to bury and wants to intimidate the opposition and their shallower pockets. It is petty and desperate campaigning to have to resort to legal action over a matter like this - and it just sustains the story for longer than it would otherwise run. I do, of course, make an exception for genuine challenges to results or other breaches of electoral law, where a court is the proper forum for deciding those matters.

Naturally, the LDs have pointed out that the Tories aren't quite as innocent of such foul behaviour as they would have you believe, as their candidate in a council by-election is doing the same thing. Plus there was the alleged hacking of Grant Shapps' YouTube account when someone, obviously not Mr Shapps, posed as an LD supporter to do down their campaign. Apparently, the net-savvy Mr Shapps chose the numbers 1234 as his YouTube account password. Tell me he couldn't be that stupid. Please. This man's a bloody MP for heaven's sake.

Nope, I don't believe it either.

Here's a technical question to which I don't know the answer - would the legal costs of the injunction form part of the candidates' expenses? I assume that they would and could, depending on the outcome, affect the Lib Dem candidate or the Tory.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The road to Damascus runs through Ealing

We all know that Tony Lit was a recent convert to Conservatism - joining the party a few days before he coincidentally beat all other long-serving candidates to get the nod for the Ealing Southall by-election, where he will be standing as one of David Cameron's Conservatives.

Who would have thought that just a few short weeks before, he was cheerfully attending a Labour party dinner and agreeing to his company handing over a cheque for £4800? Tom Watson shows us the money and the fine picture of Tony and Tony.

Uniquely, we appear to have a candidate so rich that he can afford to pay for the campaign against him as well as his own.

And Tony - don't forget that you still owe us another £4000. Don't be late in paying up.

Oh - and read this. Unity applies a judicious boot to the omnipresent Praguetory. Don't ever take the man on over Data Protection issues - he knows the game better than most and demonstrates that fact with verve and swearing.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Cameron on the slide?

According to an interviewee on the Today programme this morning, when Cameron was elected, 75% of the Tory party thought he'd be their next Prime Minister. Now, only 50% do.

If even half your own party don't think you'll win, how much of a hole are you really in? But then if you can't find a decent candidate for a by-election from your loyal members, what does that say about those on the Tory parliamentary panel?

Not surprising that he's retreating to the Cornerstone approach of putting the (married) family first, with this misguided £20/week tax break.
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to join this man and this woman in a more tax efficient manner...

If you are getting married for those reasons, then perhaps you need to examine your motives a LITTLE more deeply.

What is the policy supposed to achieve? While the probable outcomes are significantly better for a child brought up by a married couple, that may not be a function of marriage, but of the commitment shared by that couple. Marriage makes that commitment harder to break, but it is not, of itself, the panacea for society's ills (something that the IDS policy forum doesn't claim, to be fair). Children raised by single-parents are more likely to have problems, but that is more likely to be connected to the economic issues surrounding most single parents. Directing funding towards the aim of supporting children and tackling child poverty is likely to prove more effective in the long term.

This is less an attempt to help families than a way to tempt middle-class voters with the promise of a barely-disguised tax cut. And I don't need to remind you that if taxes are cut somewhere, then services have to be cut somewhere else to make ends meet - especially as Cameron doesn't look likely to accept a proposed £400 million increase in taxes on alcohol (actually, if it does raise that much, it will have failed spectacularly).

The Times highlights another proposal
Charities and parents to be allowed to set up new “pioneer schools”, set up as charities, free of local authority control, and able to recruit staff and set pay levels

Hello. That's not hit the headlines. Kinda like private schools then? Or is this a plan to continue the academy programme under another name?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Ealing Sunset

There's a by-election on in Ealing - a pretty safe seat that Labour should hold, but in by-election territory, anything can happen. Today, we had a rash of defections, with five Labour councillors heading to the Tories with one independent returning to Labour (and a senior Tory defected to the Lib Dems earlier on, just to add to the fun). Praguetory had some fun with this, attempting to label the Stirrer as a Labour mouthpiece for having the temerity to carry information supplied by Tom Watson MP, who is running the Labour campaign on the ground.

Amazingly enough, although Praguetory has criticised Labour's selection process, the Tories selected Tony Lit, a director of Sunrise Radio and a man who has a long record of service to the Conservative Party been a member for a couple of weeks. Apparently, his directorship prevented his involvement earlier (that didn't stop his father in 2001), although nobody has yet found the part of the law that would have prevented membership. Unity gives it the once over and finds that not all the Tories are happy - particularly those long-serving activists who thought that they should have had a decent chance to run (it appears that this was a deal done very swiftly).

Tony is, of course, not his real name and there is nobody of that name registered to vote in Ealing or Chiswick (where Tony actually lives - despite one potential Tory candidate being told that an Ealing resident was being selected). Tom Watson notes
It appears that almost the only time that the Conservative candidate is Tony Lit is when he is campaigning in Ealing and Southall. In Chiswick, where he claims to live, as in Richmond, where he used to live, it appears that he is Surinderpal Singh Lit. In his business directorships, he is sometimes Tony Surinderpal Lit, usually Surinderpal Singh Lit, and only occasionally (when working with Himalaya Shows, Events and Exhibitions Ltd) is he Tony Lit.
It seems that the Tories have learnt from the Lib Dems, who ran Parmjit Singh Gill in the Asian areas of Leicester, but the slightly-less Asian Parmjit Gill in the white-majority wards. Back then, Iain Dale was highly critical, calling this tactic racist. Clearly, that's a different issue from calling Surinderpal Singh Lit, Tony Lit.

Liberal Democrat Voice joins in the festivities and Sunny over at Pickled Politics draws out some interesting comments, with comments like this about the new Tory councillors:
I know enough to know that Gurcharan is an opportunistic trouble making fool.
This really is not a terrible thing for local Labour people. The bullying from this Sikh old boy and his pals was very offensive indeed. If they start doing it to Cameron I’ll be very happy about that. While Piara Khabra stood for a secular and united constituency Gurcharan Singh appears to stand for a separatist Sikh state, for becoming a candidate with menaces, for turbans over politics, for men over women.

Gurcharan Singh will stand for anything, he just wants a position of power. At one time he was even supporting the congress party, he doesn’t really care about human rights violations. He will jump on any bandwagon to get votes….hmm the tories sound like his kind of party

Friday, July 06, 2007

'Time flies by when you're a policeman on a train...

...watching politicians lighting up again.'

Oh Charlie, Charlie, Charlie...

It's the lying that hurts.

It doesn't bode well - Charlie publicly backed the ban and has now broken it and refused to stop when asked by the train staff to the point where they felt that they had to call the police.

Bit early in the day for that, isn't it Chuckles?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

All (not) aboard

Normally, the Tories fall over themselves to worship at the altar of private enterprise. There has been one business that has felt deservedly hard done to by the current Regressive Partnership - bus operators.

One of the first acts of the Whitless crew was to suspend the bus lanes on the Tyburn Road (a suspension that has lasted three years and counting), which resulted in a drop in bus punctuality of 15% and a reduction in use of 11%.

Richard Bowker is the chief exec of National Express (and Travel West Midlands) and he's promised a coach station of which Birmingham can be proud, rather than the current monstrosity disfiguring Digbeth, illustrating the brutalist architecture of the 1960s, not the modernity of the new millennium. He's promised an investment in new buses and coaches to attract more passengers. More than that, he's promised a significant reduction in carbon emissions if roads can be redesigned to help buses travel a little faster:
'You can't get rid of half the cars and replace all the roads with bus lanes, but we do need more bus lanes as part of the solution. If we can have a practical decision about more bus lanes we will invest in more and better vehicles.... If we could increase the average speed of our buses by six kilometres per hour we can reduce the amount of carbon they emit by 20 per cent.'
So come on Len, sort it out! Let's see if 'vote blue, go green' really means anything or if it is just another example of Tory policy-free spin. Not only would our bus users be grateful, but so would the planet.

Sadly, I think I know the answer already.

Whitless off-message?

According to a contributor to The Stirrer's messageboard, Dave Cameron has returned to Birmingham yet again. Can't the man leave us alone? At least we knew that Howard could be kept away by a few strategically-placed crucifixes and a little garlic, but the Boy Wonder is harder to shift.

Apparently, he's addressed a meeting and promised that should he ever sit on the government side of the House of Commons, all major cities will be compelled to hold referenda on the issue of elected mayors.

As everyone is well aware, Whitless is fighting tooth and nail to prevent the people from having their say, despite some serious opposition from respected figures within the Birmingham Tory party, so I'm sure he didn't feel undermined by his leader at all. Not even slightly.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A little local business

I see that Peter Smallbone is no longer sharing the love of the Tory party for the people of Ladywood. Realising that his chances of ever getting elected in that ward are slightly less than the odds of Clare Short rejoining the Cabinet, he's moved on. Rather than be a minor irritation to Sir Albert & Co, he's now after Richard Bashford in Quinton.

Now, the lucky people of Quinton are the target of one of the new breed of Toryboys that seem to be infesting our city. Check out his blog for the latest news on Peter's whereabouts and also an interesting picture showing him doing some verge maintenance in Quinton. Good to see the Tories taking a practical approach to a photo opportunity, with Len Clark in particular dressed for gardening action in a suit and tie. It is also good to see that everything in Erdington is coming up roses, as Gareth, their newest councillor in that ward finds time to do some gardening on the other side of the city.