Saturday, September 29, 2007

Betting frenzy

Ladbrokes have apparently suspended betting on the date of the next election.

Betfair are less squeamish and are keeping going.

Some little while ago, the US government had to suspend a betting market on international events, which was running as an experiment to distill received wisdom into a usable intelligence product. In the same way, reading the runes from those betting in the online market, an election is forecast in the next quarter. Labour will win and both Cameron and Campbell will be gone from their leaderships by Christmas. Gordon isn't expected to resign until some time after 2011.

I'm increasingly of the view that we are on for Nov 1 unless something happens to stop it.

Meeting The Boss

This conference was all about The Boss. I'm fully expecting Gordon - The Movie as one of the Party Election Broadcasts, mimicking the famous 1987 PEB featuring Neil Kinnock. Gordon was desperate to show that he had a sense of humour, so regularly recycled his carefully scripted stories. These included a story of Mark Twain visiting a frontier town and saying that it was no place for a Puritan and 'I did not long remain one' - used to describe his experience of attending Edinburgh University at the age of just 16 and discovering a haven for gambling and drinking.

Mandy welcomes Gordon to the conference

'Demon Eyes' Mandy at a fringe meeting on the EU and Billy Bragg greets visitors to the blog.

It seems to be a universal truth that the quality of the food and drink at fringe meetings is directly related to how left-wing the meeting is. The pro-smoking people, FOREST, were offering champagne, while the Cuban solidarity campaign offered no nibbles and a small amount of rum. The level of socialist fraternal solidarity decreased noticeably as the rum ran out.

Some imaginative soul sketched the slogan shown left on the beach, demanding that Labour keeps the promise of a referendum on the EU constitution.

Paxo stuffing

Paxo gets delegates and visitors to predict the date of the next election. Martin Salter MP has a go sticking a pin into the board. I did overhear the Great Man (Jezza, not Martin) suggesting that an election might be an 'inconvenience.'

Snippets 1

Down on the cliffside amongst the meejah.
Conference attracts more journalists and media hangers-on than I thought possible.

Spreading the love with Jacqui Smith

One of the best sessions at conference was the Justice and Crime seminar, with virtually the entire Justice and Home Office ministerial teams present. In response to a comment from the Prisons Minister, who explained that the chances of reoffending were reduced if the prisoners had decent housing and the love of their families.

The Home Secretary has promised to see what she can do to spread more love around the country.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Defcon One

Sorry for the lack of posts over the past couple of days, but it has been rather hectic. What with the galactico range of main meetings and fringe events, it has been a packed time.

I have managed to meet the PM three times over the past four days (and I may even post some pictures). Actually, that's one of the freaky things about a party conference. It is a heaven for political geeks like me. There you are, walking down a corridor and suddenly Andrew Marr or John Pienaar appear or you trip over Tony Benn smoking a pipe or Andrew Rawnsley grabbing a quiet five minutes with someone. Ministers and other MPs are really happy to chat about things - I managed to talk at some length with Meg Hillier about ID cards and also had a few words with the Des Browne from Defence, Ed Balls from education and Yvette Cooper about housing.

Over the past week, I have heard Gordon use the following phrase at least twice in my hearing.

'I don't know when the Prime Minister is going to call an election.'

Blair used that exact phrase in the run-up to 2005.

Frankly, I think the party is transitioning with all speed to a state of readiness. We know that organisers are being employed and that everything is spooling up. I said from the start that my belief was that the name of the game was to be ready to give the PM the option to go when he wanted. At the start of the week, I was firmly of the view that it would be May 2008, but I'm now waiting, because I think it will probably be Nov 1.

Curiously, the Tories can probably decide this for themselves by having a really good, united conference next week. As the odds are that they won't and will continue their infighting and disunity, my forecast is that Gordon will hold a cabinet meeting on Thursday, quietly slip off and have a word at the Palace and then announce on the afternoon. If he's feeling really nasty, he might do the deed on the Wednesday and drown out Cameron's speech that afternoon. If he's feeling plain evil, he presses the button on Monday and slams the brakes on the Tory conference altogether.

You know something? If and when he does give the word, we'll be ready. As Lord Kinnock said on Monday night, we've got a job to do on the Tories and that's
'to grind the bastards into the dust.'

Monday, September 24, 2007

The helping hand, not the clunking fist

That clunking fist reappeared today in a different guise, as Gordon's speech was preceded by a party video focussing on him shaking hands with a backing track of 'Put Your Hands On.'

The little sign on the front of the podium and screens throughout the centre displayed the words 'Strength to change Britain' and three of those words cropped up regularly, with Britain appearing repeatedly throughout the speech, as Gordon worked to stress that he's not a Scottish PM, but a British PM. He entered the hall to rapturous applause, after the MPs finally stopped behaving like a class of primary kids and sat down. Sitting in the hall, I had a view of what must have hit Gordon as he walked into the room through one of the foyer entrances. I don't know what effect it had on him, but it scared me - the sheer volume of the applause and the cheers has to be heard to be believed.

The whole speech was filled with personal insights into his upbringing and the principles that gave him. Without mentioning Cameron once, Brown set himself and our party apart from the Tories and set out a clear direction for the next few years - the next decade, if he is to be believed.

Stories are always powerful tools in a speech and he used them liberally - talking about vets and farmers, firefighters and bomb disposal officers and a certain baggage handler from Glasgow and his own personal war on terror. John Smeaton was in the hall and received a standing ovation from the assembled masses.

The speech was strong on allowing talent to flourish and helping those who need it. We can't afford to let people slip through the net because of poverty, so this aspirational and inspirational speech promised some hard help.

One to one tuition for 300,000 primary pupils in maths and English, small group tuition for 600,000 secondary pupils and personal tutors, a guarantee of education from 3-18 - from nursery through to A Levels or skills training. In a move guaranteed to annoy Cameron, Gordon has promised national youth community service, stealing a policy idea outright. More students than ever will receive grants and for the poorest in society, there is a guarantee of funding for education until they are 21.

His personal crusade to abolish child poverty goes on - 90% of mothers now take up the extended maternity leave, but it will now run to 9 months, with a plan to take it to 12 months paid leave. With money for housing, news of ten new 'eco towns' rather than the planned five and continued work to maintain the economy, there's much detail to chew over here.

Crime wasn't left out - the police will be allowed new stop and search powers in areas of high gun crime and will be provided with 10,000 hand held computers to reduce time spent filling out paperwork in the station. £670 million will be targetted on youth centres and the young people themselves will get a say in how it is spent.

In terms of foreign policy, he wants to remain close to the US and stay pro-European with work to do on Darfur. At this point, he paused to acknowledge the debts that we owe to Tony Blair and to Neil Kinnock - the latter in the audience.

Then he turned to the NHS and promised a future accessible to all and personal to you - a big challenge to achieve that. Wards will be deep cleaned, more matrons appointed and cleaning contractors will be given the choice of keeping the wards clean to a high standard or losing their contracts. Breast cancer treatment will be fast-tracked and health checks will be available to more.

His hour on the stage ended with another standing ovation and I can tell you that the delegates seemed impressed by what he had to say.

Fade to Blue.

Interesting colour choices here. We started the conference with a backdrop in an eye-watering shade of red. Monday morning saw a pinkish shade and buy the afternoon, it had become a solid Tory blue. There's a message there, I'm sure.

Trophy Cabinet

Quentin Davies turned up to his first conference as a Labour MP and carried on where he had left off in his resignation letter to David Cameron. No clunking fist here, but rather the thorough
application of a well-polished boot. He told us that the two PR guys who work for Cameron cost about £500,000 a year, but reminded Dave that 'you can't buy convictions from a spin-doctor.'

He praised Labour as the real One-Nation party and issued a clarion call to the 'decent Tories who care about the future of this country - take the plunge, come and join the Labour party!'

Cynics may question the time it took for Quentin to recognise the error of his ways and come into the light, but I welcome any sinner that repenteth.

It was a cracking performance and fully deserved the standing ovation.

Invasion of the bodysnatcher

We've been busy stealing the Tories clothes and with the visit of Baroness Thatcher to No 10, we're stealing their relics too.

The Sun currently have an open-topped bus and poster van tootling up and down in front of the conference centre demanding a referendum on the EU Treaty. Two things here. Firstly, the front of the centre is blocked off, so precisely no delegates will see it. Secondly, the bus is plastered with a huge picture of Gordon Brown's head superimposed on Churchill's body.

If I were Gordon, I'd probably be quite pleased with that image.

Very strong and impassioned speech from Gary Titley, criticising those who are demanding a referendum on the EU Treaty as being driven by a more general anti-Europeanism than any real challenge to the proposals. He also warned those on the left who have made common cause with the neo-cons that they faced being consumed by their natural enemies.

James Purnell started a little slowly, but got into his stride over the importance of culture and sport as an indicator of a healthy society and was quite visionary over proposing a massive expansion of sports coaching across the country in advance of the 2012 Olympics.

Morning all

It's morning in Bournemouth.

The sun is shining again, doubtless in recognition of the day ahead.

Debate rattles on about the election, with gossip reporting that at least one senior Cabinet Minister has the staff on standby for an Octoberfest. We'll see.

A good breakfast fringe meeting with Ruth Kelly and others about cities and transport, which certainly suggested that the CrossRail project in London, first mooted at the start of the last century, may be closer than ever - an announcement could be pencilled in for sometime over the next twelve months for the start of the 'biggest construction project in the Northern hemisphere.'

Today offers a smorgasbord of excitement, kicking off with Gary Titley, the leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party. He was at a meeting late last night sponsored by the EU and he became almost angry about the lack of support from key stakeholders for the European Treaty, which he argues is about the management of the EU, not a constitutional issue. He certainly feels that the unions, for example, have benefitted from EU innovations over things like working regulations, but have been less than vocal in their support. Mandy was also there, praising the Germans, but being diplomatically cooler about the French. He did say that we had a great chance to influence the future path of Europe, as Merkel and Sarkozy are far more open to listening to the British than Schroder and (particularly) Chirac ever were.

Also last night, I ran into Tom Watson and introduced myself. He told me that he had met Hamer Shawcross (now in recess), but was tight-lipped on Hamer's identity, beyond saying that it was the person you'd least expect it to be.

Also, I'm a little disappointed - only scraping into the top 50 of Labour bloggers after making the top 30 last year. Bob Piper is still there, but they've been grossly unfair on the Ministry of Truth - Unity deserves a top 10 spot for his vituperative, well-researched arguments.

Flash Gordon

Our PM turned up to a conference event this evening and was really impressive. I've often thought that he's never seemed happy speaking in public when he has to work to the approved script and deliver his required jokes - essential, lest anyone think that he is the dour Scotsman. For a little while, though, he was speaking with passion about poverty and injustice and every word came from the heart, because these are things that have driven him in politics for thirty years and more.

Damn, but the man's good.

Gordon - let's see more of you like that.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

EXCLUSIVE (Probably) - Hemming to quit

Even in Bournemouth, the rumour mill never stops grinding and I've learnt that John Hemming will be standing down as a councillor when his term ends next May.

All we need him to do now is to pack in the parliamentary stuff and that's a real result.

Oh Darling

Not a barnstormer of a speech from our new Chancellor, but I don't think that the Silver Fox does rabble-rousing. He did get his standing ovation at the end, but that seemed more out of courtesy and production planning than a genuine admiration for his delivery. Still, I want a calm hand on the economic tiller, not tub-thumping, so I'll settle for that.

A couple of good lines from one of the delegates (Darren Clifford, if memory serves). He was clearly nervous, but one guaranteed way to get a response from a Labour audience is to batter the opposition, so he got in a couple of good digs.

'There's a skills gap in Britain - at the top of the Liberal Democrat Party'
'Brown versus Cameron is experience against work experience, public service against public relations.'

I may steal those.

Lucy Seymour Smith also returned with a confidence that belies her years to update the party on the progress of Longbridge since she last stormed the conference.

Dave Milliband took on a controversial set of rule changes to the policy-making process and the rules of conference with a good speech, drawing on his own father's speech to conference some fifty years ago and reminding us that we
are not just a government but a cause
The speakers were broadly supportive, although Michael Meacher flashed his awkward squad credentials and opposed the changes. I'm not overly concerned about them - I back involving members more thoroughly in policy-making and giving them a vote in our policies. I'm also not sure that smoke-filled rooms spending hours boilerplating motions together to try and devise a composite compromise that suits everyone is the best way for the conference to take on important current issues. I think that the changes will pass, but the results aren't in yet.

Right, I'm off to raid the exhibitors' stands for pens and other freebies. The Top Trumps Politics card set looks likely to be a favourite and top marks for Crossrail for providing us with keyrings attached to a bottle-opener.

Fever Pitch

I think that the atmosphere can best be described as febrile here in (rainy) Bournemouth. The air is thick with rumour and counter-rumour about a possible snap election. Election fever is certainly in the air - fed by thinking doing the rounds that the polls are now so positive, we can't be sure when the runes will ever look so good.

I'm still doubtful that this will come to pass, but perhaps I've slid across to the 'don't know' area of the argument.

More as I get it.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Something different

This year, the Hack is off to Conference in (occasionally) sunny Bournemouth, unlike Tony.

Expect gossip, opinion and unsubstantiated rumour. Business as usual, then.

Updates as and when I can escape the fringe and find somewhere to login.

Three victories in one night.

'David Davis, George Osborne, Iain Dale, John Redwood, David Cameron - can you hear me David Cameron? Your boys took one hell of a beating... one hell of a beating...'

Defeat for the Tories in council by-elections in Worcester and right here in Birmingham, plus a Lib Dem loss in Nuneaton as well. Oh happy day.

I'm always reluctant to put too much onto any one by-election victory, as these campaigns can turn on peculiar local issues and are always affected by low turnouts. This time round, the Labour vote held up remarkably well, losing just 400 votes on the May elections, while the Tories haemorrhaged 1000 votes in a few months. It might indicate a dissatisfaction in the Tory ranks for Cameron - or just a poor ground campaign by Whitless' boys. It could also indicate that Ken Hardeman's personal vote - which can come from non-traditional supporters - was stronger than thought.

Distressingly for the local Lib Dems, who did campaign a little - just enough to keep the flag flying and honour satisfied, but not enough to affect their best mates in the Tory party - their vote collapsed by around two thirds and they dropped into third place behind the BNP, whose own vote had halved. All that in the week of the Lib Dem conference can't really give them much cheer at all.

Blogs and the law

Some people reckon that the blogosphere is a wild, unregulated place beyond the reach of libel lawyers.

That ain't so and Bob Piper and Boris Johnson have both been collateral victims of a rich Russian's legal shenanigans.

Chicken Yoghurt keeps the story live.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Last of the Summer Whine

With Foggy having completed his leadership speech, a young Lib Dem MP stepped up to defend his leader:
There are plenty of people outside the party who are having a pop at Ming; some, Bill, wittingly or otherwise, do so from within the party," he said. Specifically mentioning Lord (Bill) Rodgers, one of the party's "grand old men" who had expressed disappointment in Sir Menzies' stewardship, he warned against "doing the spadework of our opponents"
In May 2006 Kevin Maguire of the Mirror overheard a Liberal Democrat MP talking to a journalist and describing Ming as
'hesitant and disorganised, commits avoidable errors and lacks momentum'

Could these two MPs be one and the same? Possibly.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Iron Lady v the Iron Chancellor

What a magnificent piece of political theatre - pure genius on the part of Gordon.

Just as we head into the party conference season and the Tories launch another of their interminable documents on policies they might think about considering introducing, Gordon pulls off a masterstroke. He invites Thatcher back into her old lair for a look around. He's not just stealing the Tory clothes, now he's nicking their antiques as well (and their old retainers).

Naturally, this infuriates the unions and the left, who have inadvertently sent out the message to Middle England - that semi-mythical sea of floating voters - that Gordon is not a man of the divisive left. It infuriates the Tories, as it reminds them of a time when they had a real leader and could dream of being in government. A stroke of absolute genius for the message that it sends.

As for the Tory pillock who claims that Gordon was exploiting a frail old lady - grow up.
Baroness Thatcher is 81, she is elderly, she is lonely, she is frail and she has difficulty with her memory. Those closest to her say that her grasp on daily life is “some days better than others"
If I was being unkind, I'd merely say that enough pensioners suffered during her years in office, so that if her turning up on Gordon's doorstep helps to prolong Labour's spell in goverment, then that's a little payback for the wrongs of the 80s.

Rob Wilson (who?) accused Gordon of exploiting her - as if he'd sent the ring and ride to bring her down to the bank so she could hand over her life savings, rather than an old warhorse (with a shrewd advisor) revisiting the scene of her crime/triumph (delete as appropriate). Thatcher may be less with it than she used to be, but she's a tough cookie and not one to be 'used.' Indeed, many of the commenters on Conservative Home thought that Mr Wilson had himself overstepped the mark in his description of the Great Leader as someone virtually gaga. Perhaps she felt that she could send a message to the modern Tory party, reminding them of how far they have fallen that she feels happy to tour No 10 (quite possibly for the last time) as a guest of a successful Chancellor (what would she have given for the solidity and prudence of Chancellor Brown, eh?) and a very promising PM.

Iain Dale adds a very different perspective to the unknown Mr Wilson

There's been an awful lot of guff written this afternoon about Thatcher and Brown and Thatcher and Cameron. Lady T and Gordon Brown have known each other for 25 years. I'm told that they had regular conversations during the 1980s when
Lady Thatcher spotted him as a coming talent. Their meeting today ought not to have surprised many, although the public greeting might have had the more traditional Labour (and Conservative) supporters reaching for their smelling salts.

Was the whole thing political? You bet. There's no shame in being political - that's the game we're in here. Thing is, Gordon wasn't the only player yesterday.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Missing out

I meant to write a piece on Respect and Salma Yaqoob tonight, as I thought I'd run a story I've had for a while, but The Stirrer beat me to it. I'd been reminded of it by the ructions developing within Respect over an impending split between the Muslim side and the SWP groupings that formed that particular peculiar alliance. Specifically, Gorgeous George Galloway's eight page indictment of the current poor health of the party, which includes this paragraph.
There is a custom of anathematisation in the organisation which is deeply unhealthy and has been the ruin of many a left-wing group before us. This began
with Salma Yaqoob, once one of our star turns, promoted on virtually every platform, and who is responsible for some of the greatest election victories (and near misses) during our era... Now she has been airbrushed from our history at just the time when she is becoming a regular feature on the national media and her impact on the politics of Britain’s second city has never been higher.

I actually think that Salma is a particularly strong political performer and is one of the few assets in Respect. The Stirrer claimed that Salma had been courted by all three major parties. I doubt that the Tories thought for a second she'd come over to them and the behaviour of the Lib Dems towards her suggested that perhaps she had spurned their advances, but I did have it on good authority that Salma had been approached by Labour (a story broken by The Stirrer).

According to the Stirrer, she immediately rejected their proposals. My understanding is that this was a solid offer of the Ladywood seat vacated by Clare Short, which is almost certain to be an all-woman shortlist. The Stirrer reckons that Short's departure makes the seat more vulnerable, but given her near-invisibility in the seat and her unpopularity amongst even loyal party members, that seems to be wide of the mark.

A Respect split has been likely for a long time. Initially, the two disparate groups that comprise the party (the SWP and members of the Muslim community) were united in their opposition to the Iraq war in particular. As our involvement in that particular debacle starts to wind down, public opposition will decline and the SWP need to find their next campaign organisation to infiltrate. Stripping away dissatisfaction over Iraq also reveals greater divides within Respect - there is huge division over social issues, which have so far been papered over in the name of party unity.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Conservatism - an evolutionary throwback

It appears that conservatives and liberals (in which I'd include the Labour Party) have brains that work in different ways. The first shock of the report from New York University is that conservatives have brains in the first place, but it seems that there are other differences.

Electroencepholographs of parts of the brain associated with conflict resolution have shown that we actually think differently:
respondents who had described themselves as liberals showed "significantly greater conflict-related neural activity" when the hypothetical situation called for an unscheduled break in routine. However, conservatives were less flexible, refusing to deviate from old habits "despite signals that this ... should be changed".
Ain't that the truth....

Friday, September 07, 2007

Back to the Conservative Future

It isn't only the Russians that are seeking to restart the Cold War, Cameron seems stuck in the early 80s himself. In that Sun comment piece quoted by Iain Dale, Dave unwisely laid into Gordon's dubious admiration of the Blessed Margaret with one of the daftest statements to come from a Tory leader since their last manifesto:
If we had listened to Gordon Brown no one would have been able to buy their own council house, unions would run the country and we'd probably be speaking Russian. [Emphasis added]
Yes Dave. Because Gordon was a secret agent for the KGB and wanted to see us run from Moscow Centre.

I don't know what Cameron was taking in the 80s, but Eton and Oxford must have been force-feeding him industrial-strength hallucinogens if he seriously believes that. That was the kind of insulting rubbish spouted by Young Conservatives at the time (and Michael Foot won damages after he was accused of being a Soviet agent-of-influence). It also mimics the attacks from the neo-cons in the US - accusing anyone who questions the President's policies of being unpatriotic.

The Boy is a fool and the sooner he runs off back to a nice safe job doing PR in the City, the better for us all.

Welcome to Gordon Brown's Big Tent

Only a few days ago, the Tories were frantically spinning the line that Johan Eliasch was standing down from a (merely honorary) post as party deputy treasurer and would remain a member of the party, despite his views that Cameron's recent leap to the right was a huge mistake.
A party spokesman said: "Johann [sic] Eliasch has stood down as a deputy treasurer to focus on climate change issues, however, his full and financial support for David Cameron's leadership continues
Some of that spin that he was only a bit-part player is given the lie by this interview in the Guardian from last year

He has always been Conservative - from 1979-82 he was chairman of the Young Conservatives in the only constituency in Sweden that had a Conservative majority; he started donating to the Conservative party in Britain in the early 1990s and increased his involvement after Labour came to power. He was a principal backer of Michael Howard, supporting his bid to replace Iain Duncan Smith as leader; Howard then brought him in as the party's deputy treasurer.

Mr Eliasch has been closely involved in recent Tory politics and served on the advisory board of the Centre for Social Justice, Iain Duncan Smith’s think-tank

Now it seems that Johan has decided that Brown's Big Tent is the place to be and will join as a special advisor on climate change and the Amazonian rainforest. Coming after a week that has seen two Tory MPs and a Lib Dem also agree to serve their country aside from their political affiliations, this is another kick in the teeth for the Cameron Project. As there are rumours that Frank Field has been involved in this conversion to agnosticism, if not actual faith in Labour, then that should also put paid to suggestions that Frank, despite his antipathy to all things Gordon, is thinking of jumping the other way to join the Boy David. The wheels may not yet have come off the NuTory Project, but it is looking more unstable by the day. Gordon was flexing his political muscles while Ravey Davey C was smashing up restaurants in Oxford and other things that he'd rather not talk about these days. Dave, you are playing in the major leagues now and Gordon's miles better at this game than you are.

Oh - and Mr Eliasch would like his £2.6 million loan back as well.

This may be a bit of political circus entertainment, but Johan has decided that the future no longer lies with the clowns, but with working for the ringmaster.
While we're at it, Johan isn't the only one who thinks that David has made some errors in recent weeks as he desperately lunges for the reassuringly right-wing ground. Michael Portillo, once a bright star of the right himself, is now a pro-centrist Cameroonie, but he thinks that Dave has slipped up in recent weeks.

Michael Portillo, the former Conservative minister-turned-TV-personality, has accused Tory leader David Cameron of "losing his nerve" over the rebranding of the party after it faltered in opinion polls... He added that Cameron knows that he needs to change the party from the inside but that he had not "succeeded sufficiently". He said that Cameron is trying to attract a more diverse range of candidates to the party by introducing quotas: "To change, you need to change the people at the heart of the party. He is trying but it has not been as successful as he hoped."

Further doubts were expressed by Kulveer Ranger, a Conservative Party vice-chairman, who urged Mr Cameron to shake off his image as a modern-day toff. He said: "He must battle to establish who he is and what he is. A toff with a conscience? A modern day social/eco warrior?"
What with Ancram sniping from the right and this lot grumbling on the not-so-right, Dave must be looking forward to the conference season.
As one of the comments on the Cameron love-in that is Iain Dale's Diary noted, Dave must also be regretting his Boris-unleashing comment at last year's conference
'This is the Conservative Party. We are not New Labour, we don't mind if people go off message. we love it actually - just don't do it all the time'
William Hague said
'There is room for a maverick or an eccentric in politics and he is a maverick and he is an eccentric.... let's allow the odd eccentric to be in politics, let's not drive them all out of politics... it does not have to be a monolithic organisation.'
That was 2006. In 2007, the mood has shifted somewhat - according to the Sun yesterday (via Iain Dale).

I want all Conservatives to think carefully before they open their mouths. When you make changes you get blasts from the past who signify nothing. Political leadership is about taking a long-term approach. It's about ignoring voices off-stage...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Cats in a sack

So here we are, ten years and counting into a Labour government.

The prison officers were on strike (briefly) last week, the police have been reported as thinking the same way, most of the London Underground system is closed because of another strike and what do the Tories decide to attack?

Each other.

Sheer, unadulterated brilliance on their part.

If there is any demonstration of their lack of fitness to govern, this has to be it. If it isn't Ancram kicking out at Cameron - and apparently now feeling rather sheepish about the furore that his little pamphlet has created, although as he had a media advisor to organise the launch, I suspect that it has achieved exactly what he wanted - he's not some novice in the game.

Iain Dale - mooted as a potential successor to Widders in Kent - is (hopefully tongue-in-cheek) promoting the execution by firing squad of poor old Michael Ancram.

Is that any way to treat one of the few surviving Tory dinosaurs?

The thing is, there's still an awful lot of Tory members who find Ancram's certainties quite appealing and cling to them for security - just read some of the comments on Guido, Iain Dale or Conservative Home and see for yourself. Cameron claims to represent a modernising wing of the party, certainly - but like a dinosaur, the brain at the top is tiny compared to the great lumbering mass beneath. I'm not going to forecast their demise, but the Tory revival is predicated on unity. Unless they act together - even if it means shutting up about policies with which they don't agree - they have no chance of forming a government.

Naturally, from my point of view, this is all to the good, but I happen to believe that a healthy opposition is essential for British politics.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Lurch harder!

Cameron's been accused of pulling to the right, but now Michael Ancram has joined in, claiming that he isn't doing enough. He's launched his own plan to revive the Tory Party by exposing its soul. Are we ready for anything that black?
'Change for change's sake is a vacuous process, swiftly seen through by the electorate... We should beware of over-reliance on opinion surveys and focus groups. They may help to sell products. They rarely assist in selling principles. And they can seriously mislead.'
As the BBC article, trailing a piece in the Telegraph, helpfully reports, Michael Ancram stood down from the Tory front bench following the election of David Cameron to the leadership.

Bercow & Mercer

John Bercow has been semi-detached from even the current incarnation of the touchy-feely, NuTory Party for a while, so his involvement in a government forum is no great surprise - rumours of his imminent defection to our side circulate with alarming frequency. The same can't be said of Patrick Mercer, who resigned/was pushed from the Tory front bench only a few months ago.

I actually think that bringing Mercer on board is a mistake. Granted, security is an area where he has some expertise, but his error of judgement earlier in the year when he accused ethnic minority soldiers of hiding behind racial discrimination as a defence against poor performance doesn't sit well with me.

Needless to say, his former friends over at Iain Dale's Diary aren't quite so supportive today....

David Laws is an ass

I find David Laws insufferable - the Lib Dem MP for Yeovil always strikes me as smug and self-satisfied, a world away from his predecessor in that seat, Paddy Ashdown. Sadly, David has smeared himself over the media today, crowing that the school meals system is in meltdown because of the government's policies to try and improve the quality on offer to pupils.
'Instead of boosting the number of children taking up healthy school meals, government policy has contributed to an implosion of the service. There is no point serving healthy meals if pupils aren’t eating them. The new standards for healthier school meals have been introduced too quickly, too inflexibly, and with too little education of pupils and parents.'

Curious, because when the proposals surfaced in February 2005, the Liberal Democrat Phil Willis said
I'm delighted that at long last the government is taking steps to address the nutritional value of food in schools.

Later that year, another Lib Dem, Annette Brooke added that
The Liberal Democrats welcome a great many of the government's recent initiatives...Responsibility for the healthy diet of children, both in and out of school has to lie with parents and children themselves, with a significant dose of support and policy input from schools and government directly.

Sarah Teather thought that not enough had been done
The Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman, Sarah Teather, said Labour had wasted eight years failing to tackle childhood obesity. "Nine years and a celebrity chef later we have a junk food ban. This government has a lot to be modest about"

So, a couple of years ago, the Lib Dems leapt aboard the Jamie Oliver bandwagon, claiming that it was too late anyway, but they've now decided that the policy that they supported (and one they support in Scotland and Wales) hasn't worked because it was introduced too quickly. In typical Lib Dem style, they love to find a problem, but don't offer solutions.

Of course, they have their own skeleton in the cupboard regarding school meals. In Hull, the former Labour administration launched an experiment to provide all children, regardless of need, with free, good quality school meals. 65% of children had a hot lunch - almost twice the national figure. After just a year, teachers were reporting that children were more attentive in class and that discipline had improved, claims borne out by a study from Hull University
The University of Hull’s evaluation of the Council’s school meals project, which offers free healthy breakfasts, dinners and after school snacks to all primary school children in Hull, showed that classrooms are calmer now compared to three years ago when charges for school meals were scrapped. The study suggests free meals are benefiting all primary school children, not just the ones who eat them by creating calmer classroom environments that are more conducive to learning. Those who eat a hot lunch at school also perform better in the afternoon in concentration-type tests.
Then the political complexion of the city changed and the Liberal Democrats took over and immediately decided to scrap the experiment. Public outcry held them back for eighteen months, but the trial has been allowed to end and parents in Hull once again face paying for meals.

Will he or won't he?

Speculation is running wild that Gordon is about to go to the country and ask for a personal mandate.

It is possible that the next few weeks could see the starting gun being fired on an autumn election - late October is probably as far as he'd want to go in terms of an actual date, so the last probable date for announcement is going to be during the Labour conference at the end of this month.

There's no doubt that moves are afoot to put the party on an election footing and that the polls are apparently positive, although recent soundings suggest a cooling of the Labour lead, but we're dealing with probabilities here. I think that an autumn election is a possibility, but only just. The name of the game is to get the party ready to hit the campaign trail whenever the PM decides that the time is right. My money is on a spring campaign to coincide with the 2008 local elections, but nonetheless, the current furore has a purpose in drawing out the Tories. The more that the potential policies from their research groups are exposed, the longer Labour has to attack them, or if they are good ones, lift and implement them. The overall impact of the Tory thought process (such as it is) is reduced if it has to be revealed in a flurry, rather than in a more carefully-managed way.

Actually, the polls are solid enough for Labour and the Tories, but the real losers could be the Liberal Democrats. As always at this point, I have to remind the readers that the LDs traditionally gain support as campaigns remind the electorate that they exist. Dropping to the mid-teens hasn't been a massive problem when it comes to turning the vote out in recent parliamentary elections. The figures currently rattling around - Tory/Lab in the mid-30s and the third party marooned on 15-16% - forecast a yellow massacre come the next election, with only 6-10 MPs surviving the onslaught from the Tories. Naturally, this is, as Peter Snow was wont to say, just a bit of fun, as it takes a stretch of imagination to see the eternally smug David Laws losing his Yeovil seat as the Tories conquer the LD West Country strongholds, but I think that their home counties and London seats are vulnerable to the Tory revival. Locally, the polls predict another narrow win for Gisela Stuart in Edgbaston and a defeat for John Hemming in Yardley as normal service is restored.

This election might be different though, as the choice will be squarely between the Tories and Labour as to who is to govern the country, with little room for the luxury of protest voting. Whether tactical voting will continue in an attempt to keep one or other out of a particular seat is harder to judge - we can expect that the Tories will do the usual reciprocal deal whereby the LDs will run only the thinnest of paper candidates in Edgbaston and the Tories will similarly oblige in Yardley, but I do think that the fair-weather Lib Dems who have defected from the Tories and Labour will feel duty-bound to cast their votes in line with their natural loyalties.

The other LD question is whether Ming the Invisible will continue as party leader. Many more polls like this, despite this being a resumption of normal mid-term trends, and the modernisers like Nick Clegg will feel the chill wind of defeat around their seats and the demand for change could become irresistible. Mind you, if these worst-case scenarios do come to pass, then Ming is guaranteed a front-bench post in the new Liberal Democrat party, possibly under a new Lembit leadership.

Still, all good fun and games in advance of the party conference season.