Sunday, August 17, 2008

Taxi for Spelman!

The Torygraph applies another boot to the 'embattled' Tory chairman, Caroline Spelman, accusing her of snuffling ever deeper in the public trough.
Now it is claimed that Mrs Spelman also used taxpayers' cash to pay her chief of staff to work as her political advisor. Under Commons rules, staff employed using Parliamentary allowances are bared [sic] from carrying out party political work and must limit themselves to supporting their employers in their duties as an MP. Simon Cawte was paid £47,500 a year from Mrs Spelman's allowances for two years while she worked as the Tories' shadow local government spokesman
(Hat tip to Bob Piper)

This all stems from a story in the paper of record, the News of the World. Spelman's defence was that he did carry out his parliamentary duties - doubtless the political work was carried out in his spare time.

Meanwhile, Dave is preparing the ground to ease her out, for her own sake - 'cos he's a nice bloke, really, and always looking out for his people.
He is said to retain confidence that she will be cleared, but is concerned at the blow to her morale and would prefer a more active an [sic] enthusiastic person in such a crucial post in the run up to the election.

Not quite as upbeat as it could be. Not confidence that she is innocent, but that she will be cleared - and indicating that she might not be up to the job. She's hanging on longer than I thought, but will she 'decide' that she needs to stand down to let someone focus properly on the party? Will she make it through to the conference?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Why Obama is going to win


Take a look at this.

A 3 pointer on the first try. If he'd missed, that would have been on a constant loop on the news channels, but instead he's cheered by adoring men and women in the service of their country.

When things go your way, things REALLY go your way. And he's outscoring McCain by 6 to 1 on donations from the military - remarkable for any Democrat, let alone one with no foreign policy experience.

In comparison, McCain just looks stilted. In fairness, that is largely due to injuries sustained during his imprisonment by the North Vietnamese, but the effect is that it makes him look every one of his 70-odd years. Compare Obama's athleticism with this rather embarrassing photo-opportunity showing McCain helping someone with their shopping - an image ruined as tins fall around him.

But to conclude, I am indebted to the fine folk at B3TA for seeking out this little gem. Who would have thought that Obama could duet so well with Rick Astley.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The 80s are back! Fire up the Raleigh Grifter Dave!

Only a couple of months ago, Tim Montgomerie wrote a piece for Comment is Free, claiming that
it is Policy Exchange that wins the gold medal as the leading supplier of personnel to Project Cameron... PX's influence extends far beyond the drafting and promotion of policy blueprints. Remembering the old dictum that "staff is policy".... many of the individuals who are now leading members of Team Boris and of Team Cameron have passed through PX's care

So when Policy Exchange issues a report, people have a habit of taking note.

Even when David Cameron tells us that
Policy Exchange had "nothing to do with the Conservative party".
Particularly when it proposes scrapping regeneration budgets for northern cities and spending the money on new housing in Oxford, Cambridge and around London. How that would tie in with the NIMBYism of the Tories and their objections to building new homes for families isn't really explained. The report proposes that some of the regeneration budget should be spent on persuading the good folks of Sunderland, Liverpool or anywhere else north of Watford to get on their bikes and move to where the good times are. Truly Tebbit's spirit lives on in the modern Tory Party!

While the Tories have been swift to distance themselves from this nutty report - released on the same day that Cameron was dragging himself round marginal seats in the north in the vague hope of attracting a few more votes - there is a major warning sounded at the start for all those of us outside the blessed south east:

Nor is a change of government likely to continue supporting regeneration policy. Ministers in the current Labour Cabinet overwhelmingly represent inner city areas. A future Cabinet, perhaps more representative of suburbs and the wealthy South East, may not have the same commitment to high levels of regeneration funding,

It readily admits that for all the weasel words spoken, the Tories are the same as they ever were. They won't give a damn about the poorer slices of society or anywhere outside the leafy suburbs that doesn't have a good hunt. Their people didn't live in Manchester or Newcastle or Sunderland - and they don't live there now. If Cameron walks into Number 10, then it will be disastrous for the people who don't live in his charmed circle of privately-educated, monied residents of the South East.

You have been warned.

Sweet Home Alabama

If you can't tell the difference between these two pictures

Then you are either work for Birmingham City Council or you are a Tory MEP.

A leaflet from Birmingham City Council thanking residents for recycling actually carried a picture of Birmingham, Alabama - a fine city, no doubt, but not significantly responsible for recycling in Birmingham, UK. Rather than putting their hands up and admitting a schoolboy error, a council spokesman guffed that

The picture on the leaflet is meant to symbolically represent an urban area.

So there were no pictures of Birmingham to symbolically represent Birmingham, then? There's nothing in the stock photo section to stop a designer trawling the web instead?

Or are the Tories just ashamed of Birmingham?

By the way, Mike - our city is shown in the top picture, in case you'd forgot.

Does no-one remember David Davis? Did he die in vain?

Only a few short weeks ago, a Conservative MP bravely laid down his career in defence of liberty and against the
insidious, surreptitious and relentless erosion of fundamental British freedoms... The ever-intrusive power of the state on our lives, the loss of privacy...
More recently, Sir Simon Milton - the Tory leader of the Local Government Association - called on councils to stop use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to follow up public concern over minor problems like littering and dog fouling.

Somewhat peculiarly, the latest Tory policy to quietly surface is to release the police from the safeguards imposed by RIPA and allow them to use covert listening devices and cameras without having to fill in those pesky forms to justify their actions.

Cameron's Conservatives - never ones to stand on principles. Unless they make good headlines.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Healthcare Framework

Last week, I had the joy of driving into work along one of our finer motorways and listening to Andrew Lansley, the Tory health spokesman, being interviewed on the Today programme about their discovery that NHS trusts have had to call in pest control to deal with infestations of wasps, bugs and rats – amongst other things.

The joy came from hearing Ivan Lewis, the Labour health minister, laying into Lansley for the scaremongering that this ‘report’ really is. Anybody involved with site management will tell you that pest infestation is an ongoing problem and the NHS has a huge estate to manage. Even the survey is flawed, as it only covered specific call outs and therefore doesn’t include establishments that may have an ongoing contract.

Of course, the real aim of this isn't to highlight problems with the health service that the Tories want to resolve, but to build an image of an NHS awash with hospital infections or vermin. The same thing is happening with their front organisation, the Taxpayers Alliance, which is trying to impose a framework that shapes the public perception that all government spending is essentially wasteful.

The Tories have been really good at this lately, working to set the background music for the debates at the next election - drip feeding their point of view into the mix to ensure that the minds of the electorate are receptive to their arguments. This is where we need to challenge them. Historically, we've been poor about putting our achievements into context - we've never been good at placing them within the context of our principles and our history or putting the right emotional spin on the facts and figures. Cameron's switched on to this - policies matter less than the emotional reaction that the party generates.

Currently, the Tories are making the political weather - I couldn't believe it when yet another year's worth of crime reductions rolled out and there was no government presence on the PM Programme that evening, leaving it open for the Tory representative to frame the story. Hell, we'll be forced to take the blame when it all goes wrong, so let's grab the credit whenever we have the chance. Our media management has to sharpen up - let's rediscover the discipline and the planning that we had in the mid-90s. Perhaps the media don't want to be managed, but the Tories are doing a very effective job, keeping a stream of stories flowing and working hard to set the agenda against us.

We certainly need more performances like Ivan's this week - challenging the Tory world view and the agenda that they are trying to set. We're currently languishing in the polls, so thinking as an opposition won't hurt.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

More on Whitby

According to Paul Dale, Mike Whitless' self-aggrandising piece published in the Post last week was ghost-written by a freelance journalist (who should be ashamed of themself for producing that dross). Even more scary is the revelation that the original piece - before Whitless' PR people got their hands on it - was even more dramatic and overblown than that published
It was not a good idea to begin by comparing the collapse of MG Rover with the assassination of President Kennedy and the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington as “news so stunning that it brings our entire world to a halt”
Aside from the fact that the piece is so poorly written that I did briefly consider that Whitby may have written it himself, I wonder how much of Birmingham council taxpayers' money was wasted on this piece of PR puffery. Surely the combined brains of the PR team on the council could have written something suitable? Or is the story of Whitby too important to be entrusted to the council wage-slaves?

The Secret Life of Mike Whitby

Judging from Whitless' essay in the Birmingham Post - which reads more like a primary pupil's 'What I Did On My Holidays' work than something purporting to come from a leading politician - it is clear that Mike has single-handedly led the work to regenerate Longbridge.

You wouldn't have thought that the crisis brought the Prime Minister and the Chancellor to Birmingham the day after the company failed and an announcement of a £40 million aid package for suppliers, nor that redundancy payments were accelerated after government intervention. Let alone that regional, national and local resources were mobilised to respond - many of them outside the control of the city council.

Mike leapt into action. He knew that somebody had to jump into the limelight, so his first response was to dash to the BBC and beg someone to let him in so that he could be interviewed, then he rushed to Longbridge having picked up a passing TV crew. That's characterised much of his performance since - he's always been at the front of the queue when the media are around to film the Great Leader in action at one of the regular relaunches of car production at Longbridge.

Sadly, there are always those with more negative views. Take Richard Burden, MP for Northfield. He's less sympathetic to Whitless' self-penned hagiography, accusing him of a
triumph of ego over memory
and pointing out that

many people who were involved will not recognise Mike’s claim to have been the personal inspiration behind pretty well everything that was achieved in the hours, days and weeks which followed the collapse of the company.

Richard writes a much more thoughtful article, pointing out the effectiveness of the response and accepting that Whitless did have a part to play, but that many others were involved at a national and local level and for any one person to claim a leadership role is rather insulting to what was a team effort.

Whitless has the nerve to quote a genuinely inspirational leader in Churchill, perhaps imagining himself as the saviour of Birmingham. There are similarities - this article is certainly sticking two fingers up to the others involved with the disaster management of the Rover collapse.

Mind you, Mike was always closely involved with Rover. He even managed for a while to hang onto his £60,000 sports car loaned to him as an 'ambassador' (sic) for the company, as it suited the administrators. He was also involved in providing employment opportunities for some of the Rover people - in particular hiring Alastair Morton fresh from the wreckage of Rover as his PR supremo, who promptly returned the favour by penning a stream of pro-Whitby bilge that would shame even the most on-message Chinese journalist.

It might also be helpful if Whitless could break off from self-aggrandising his role in Anglo-Chinese relations to talk to the developers involved in regenerating the Longbridge site and to make sure that they are getting the level of support they need to make the project happen.