Tuesday, March 30, 2010

It must be true - it was in the Daily Mail.


A little music for Tuesday. Hat tip to Popbitch.

The unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable


Thus we may describe the Tories as they pursue the errant votes.

This morning, we were told that the Countryside Alliance have thousands of shock troops ready to saddle up and drive their Range Rovers into the cities to campaign for the Tories as soon as the election is called.

It says a lot to me that one of the few commitments to policy that Cameron - a hunter himself, although he's airbrushed that out recently - has made is to offer a free vote on repealing the ban on hunting. He's offering that in the knowledge that it will be covertly whipped to ensure repeal, to pacify his rural friends. Also of concern is that he's only offering time for a repeal, thus ensuring the return of other cruel sports like hare coursing and hunting deer with dogs.

Hostage to misfortune

I'm not sure that calling up the Saatchi attack dogs has really helped relaunch the Tory poster campaign. I wondered how long it would take for spoofs to appear and the answer was minutes (kudos to alienfromzog and RobinKRS)...








It appears that some people have access to outsize printers and are pasting the following small print over the bottom of some Tory posters. Naughty. Very very naughty.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Three Chancellors

Interesting debate on C4 tonight - a full hour without adverts of questions to three men who would be Chancellor after May 6. Vince Cable was extremely good, although he could do with looking a little less self-satisfied that he was the lone sage who spotted the imminent collapse of the system - that act is starting to wear a little thin. Alistair Darling had a very slow start, but I think he picked up towards the end and gained confidence. Osborne exceeded expectations, but as I expected him to curl up into a ball and hide behind the podium if the big boys had a go at him, he only had to stay vertical to achieve success. To start with, Osborne looked like a petulant new entrant to the undertaking profession and the petulometer peaked when Cable skewered him over the inheritance tax changes.

There was a lesson here - Osborne was very much at home when he was allowed to spout his inconsistencies and prepared phrases. He should have been challenged more, because there is a fundamental inconsistency with the current approach. I have a suspicion that today's offer to dodge the bullet over the 1% increase in National Insurance may not be the vote-winner that the Conservatives expect. For weeks, they have been moping around the TV studios telling us that all is gloom and doom and that the most important thing is to cut the deficit hard and fast. To then add a further £5.6 billion to the amount that has to be cut seems seriously inconsistent and I wonder if the tax break will be seen by the public as an obvious election bribe.

I'd give tonight's debate as a points victory to Cable, but Darling could have overhauled him if he'd had a better start. Osborne was, in comparison, all adrift and remains the least convincing option as Chancellor.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Gay rights are optional

The fuss around the budget distracted from CallMeDave's utter carcrash interview with Gay Times about the Conservative journey on the thorny issue of equality. Their history has been less than glittering, with the Section 28 debate being the particular low of recent history. Certainly, there has been a shift in the image of the Conservative party, as this particular piece of nasty history has been gradually airbrushed out. And then Dave, to secure votes to elect him as leader, promised to withdraw from their European group and form a new group with a bunch of more extreme partners, whose views on issues like homosexuality are rather less advanced.

This has created something of a Tory dichotomy, as the Cameroon surface skim is liberal, but the political application in the European parliament is rather less so. So, when Cameron was questioned over Conservative abstention over a motion on a homophobic law change in Lithuania, he floundered. Clearly, he had no idea what the MEPs had done, no interest in what they do and it seems that his liberal attitude isn't shared by other elements of the leadership. After he crashed and burned over that question - quite spectacularly - and then attempts to buy time by going off at a tangent over the style of interview.


Video flaky - link here.

He starts off with a statement - rightly - that gay rights are human rights, but then suggests that these are moral issues that should be subject to free votes, which is an interesting attitude towards a basic human right. I don't think everyone expects that everybody in the Tory party is signed up to the new liberal agenda, but some consistency amongst the leadership would be good. Otherwise it is just electioneering, posturing and airbrushing and Dave would never stoop to that. Would he?

He ends by claiming that the reason that the Conservative Euro MPs abstained was because they have a policy of not involving themselves in the internal affairs of other countries - a theory blown out of the water when the C4 reporter explains that Tory MEPs had raised their own motion about press freedom in Italy within a few weeks of the Lithuania affair.

The other interesting thing was to see how badly CallMeDave performed when he was sent off-piste by the line of questions. Cameron is at his most effective and assured when he's able to rely on the prepared soundbites and arguments (George W Bush was a fan of those), but if he is dragged onto a subject where he has not had the advantage of a prepared script, then things get a little more flaky. I fear that the debates planned for the next few weeks may be so well regulated that diversions are unlikely, but if he is distracted, expect the carefully-crafted image to take another tarnishing.

Sending a boy....


Really looking forward to Channel 4's Chancellor's Debate tomorrow evening - 8pm. This is probably the only chance we'll have to see Osborne in action and we'll see if he can shake off the petulant schoolboy act that he has portrayed for the past few months.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Robin Hood - est 1997


Very quietly, Labour has spent the past thirteen years redistributing money without shocking anyone, according to a study from the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies , which formed part of their post-Budget brief . Those in the lowest percentiles of income have seen their income increase, while those at the top of the pile have seen a slight drop in their wealth. Making Britain more equitable is a huge challenge and one where Labour have yet to demonstrate major impacts.

Incidentally, when the Tories scream that the middle class suffer under the new tax arrangements, the IFS view is that the change is marginal.

This wasn't a typical pre-election budget - there were no huge giveaway offers. Perhaps it was closest to Roy Jenkins' statesmanlike 1970 budget, of which he commented that to stuff it with giveaways would be
a vulgar piece of economic management below the level of political sophistication of the British electorate
Although that didn't stop Geoffrey Howe tax cutting ahead of the 1983 election, Nigel Lawson's boom-boosting 1987 budget and Lamont's 1992 budget with tax cuts funded by increased borrowing. All I'll say is that Cameron used to work for that particular economic genius, although he doesn't like to talk about that, given that Lamont is usually regarded as a contender for the most economically incompetent Chancellor - although if Osborne ends up in the job, then we could have a new winner. More recent 'steady as she goes' budgets have included Ken Clarke's in 1997, which isn't a great augury for Labour's chances in the election in May, and Gordon Brown's in 2005.

I think the budget did exactly the right job. It has laid down some dividing lines - Labour will part-finance the costs of the stamp duty tax holiday by increasing the tax on very high value properties, but it has not terrified the City. Despite the doomsaying of the Tory sages, there is no significant chance of the AAA rating being reduced by the agencies.

Cameron gave a good, spirited response, but I think the budget has played reasonably well. Osborne remains under pressure - his performance on the Today programme on Thursday was exceptionally weak as Evan Davis ran rings around him, which is no great surprise, to be honest. As it goes, I thought that his budget response that evening was one of his better performances, although that bar is set particularly low and this is a set-piece, controlled environment. I continue to maintain that Osborne is a major risk to the chances of a Conservative victory and the bravest and best move that Cameron could make now would be to sack him and replace him with Ken Clarke, who has a gravitas and visible competence so clearly lacking in Osborne. As that would require foresight and courage on Cameron's part, then that seems rather unlikely. Channel 4's Chancellor's debate on Monday could prove very interesting, particularly if both Cable and Darling decide to turn on Osborne and he is prevented from reverting to speaking in slogans and remembered soundbites. Get him off the script and he flounders.
To demonstrate that weakness, a poll by ComRes for the Daily Politics shows that Brown and Darling have regained their status as the most trusted pair to see the country through the recovery, with 33% of voters preferring Labour and 27% choosing the Tory boy blunders - an almost exact reversal of the results of the last comparable poll. The YouGov trackers aren't shifting a lot - really moving a little within the margin of error to put the Conservatives up by one point to 37%, Labour down one to 33% and the Liberals marooned on 18%. An Ipsos MORI poll of the middling marginals - the ones that the Tories HAVE to win to get a majority indicates that the Conservative swing is only slightly better than the national figures - typically around 1% - than Labour. There are still a high number of undecideds and combined with the Liberal Democrat voters, they are likely to decide the next government.
Despite a consistent Conservative lead in the polls - although that lead has been trending down slightly over the past few weeks - we are certainly in a place where a hung parliament looks a very likely option and it is looking an increasingly realistic possibility that Labour could be the largest party in that parliament. Given where we have been in recent months, the fact that commentators are genuinely discussing that a Labour victory may even be a possibility is truly remarkable.
Now there's a prize worth having.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Lib Dem Let Down Pt III


The scrapping of the city council conservation team looks to be the end of plans to bring a conservation area to Acocks Green. Last year, the Liberal councillors there bowed to public pressure and reached an agreement with Neville Summerfield, the titular head of regeneration in Birmingham (although he only gets to play with the small projects, with Whitless leading on the important stuff). Work was promised to start within six months, but back at the start of this year, it became apparent that no work was being carried out and it was revealed that the Acocks Green conservation area wasn't even in the departmental workplan for the next eighteen months. The departmental head is retiring in March without replacement and job cuts were already on the agenda at this point.

This caused some consternation amongst the Liberals and it was quickly reported that Cllr Summerfield had put the Acocks Green conservation area back on the agenda 'when resources allow' - which could mean anything, but is unlikely to mean that the process will be started within the next two years.

Then came the City Council budget and with typical Liberal consistency, all three councillors in Acocks Green voted to abolish the conservation team completely. The experienced officers will be located in the planning department - assuming that they don't choose to take their expertise off to a local authority that genuinely gives a damn about historic buildings and preserving the distinctive character of the urban environment.
Yet another promise compromised.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Cameron - making it up as he goes along.

I'm a supporter of the idea of making banks pay a bit towards the government protection that they have inevitably received - although I'm concerned that this might be seen as a licence to take risks. I'd like to see a Tobin tax on transactions, but that can't happen without international agreement as a unilateral decision by the UK would be the death of the British financial sector.

Gordon Brown has been at the forefront of trying to establish a global agreement on bank levies, which is the only way that I can see this ever working. The Swiss are actively trying to encourage the finance sector to shift to Geneva and Zurich, while the Dubai government has expressed serious interest in becoming a global powerhouse and there's always the temptations of Hong Kong and Shanghai, which are likely to become even bigger centres with the continued rise of China as a global power.

Cameron's proposal is potentially destructive to the banking sector in the UK - a major contributor in happier times to the national income. His accusation that Gordon has failed to stand up to the City doesn't hold water - the IMF are expected to back a global tax proposal in April. Even the suggestion of a unilateral policy to be imposed by a party widely expected to win power in May could cost British jobs now, if banks decide to start the relocation process now rather than risk waiting for the policy to be enacted. Cameron may already be costing people their livelihoods.

One known hard-left agitator spoke out this weekend, criticising Cameron's proposals
Nick Anstee, the Lord Mayor of London, said at the weekend that the City would lose out unless the levy was applied globally: "It would be bonkers to do this alone".

Another un-named industry source added
There are two things we find uncomfortable. Firstly we are worried that the impact of an additional tax on top of much higher capital requirements will make it impossible for us to maintain lending at its current level. Secondly, we are concerned at the idea of the UK going it alone on this. There is a genuine feeling at the bank that if you punish the industry too much it will damage London as a financial centre and will force us to look at moving business elsewhere.

In the FT, another banker commented
The idea of moving unilaterally is just nuts. How is that consistent with maintaining London as a major financial centre?

And then Philip Hammond was left to row back a little and far from it being Cameron against the world, it was confirmed that this policy has only been launched because of the Conservative confidence that this will be agreed internationally.
Philip Hammond, shadow Treasury chief secretary, explained on Sunday that Mr Cameron toughened up the Tory policy only because he was confident that there would be a global agreement in any case. “It has become clear that this is now going to happen,” Mr Hammond said. “The US is introducing a banking levy, Sweden has already done so. The consensus is growing.”

Not quite such a courageous move on the part of the Tories, then - just picking up on the hard work already done by Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling.

Graphically Challenged


We're all familiar with the Liberal Democrat standard graph - Conservative/Labour can't win here (delete as appropriate)....

The Tories in Yardley have gone better than that. To justify their claim that they CAN win in Yardley, they've taken a more historical perspective, going back to 1918 to show that the Conservatives are actually in second place in Yardley.
On that basis, we should be expecting a Liberal government after May 6th. With a possibility of a return to direct rule by the monarch. Which will be nice.
Still, it is nice to see that the Tories are visible in Yardley, making a change from their previously subterranean profile over the past few years. Their PPC, Meirion Jenkins, has even been appearing at constituency committee meetings, although he has remained rather silent.

Mike Nangle


Sad news reaches me of the death of Mike Nangle, formerly a Labour councillor in Hodge Hill and Acocks Green, a stalwart of the Irish community in Birmingham and instrumental in reinstating the annual St Patrick's Day parade. He was respected by all those who met him as a honourable man and a gentleman, serving as a councillor for 23 years until he was defeated in 2007, after becoming our first Irish Lord Mayor in 2005.

Not bad for a lad who came from Portadown to work on Birmingham's buses.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Lib Dem Let Down (the story continues)

Liberal promises have a use-by date - 12 months at the outside.

Another matter raised at last week's Ward Committee meeting was the future of Acocks Green Library - a very busy library that is at the heart of the local community. Last March, the serving Liberal Democrat councillor promised those who attended the Constituency Committee meeting that money to be spent on that library would be spent on library facilities. No equivocation. It was rumoured at the time that the Neighbourhood Office was to be relocated within the library, but this was denied.

Last week, it was confirmed that the Neighbourhood Office is to be relocated from the current site in Botteville Road and into the library. At least six desks are to be sited in the library - probably in what is currently the children's section. Clearly, this will mean additional noise, a need for privacy for the users of the neighbourhood office function and will also place additional security considerations on the rest of the library, quite apart from the disruption caused by the required modifications.

Needless to say, the opposition has already kicked off - there's even a Facebook group dedicated to the campaign with well over 100 members. That's not bad for a community in just a few days and shows the depth of anger at the decision and the feelings that they have been let down.

Offending the neighbours

We know that George Osborne is unfit to be Chancellor, but now he's exposed himself as being unfit to be Foreign Secretary either by offending the French Prime Minister.
George Osborne provoked laughter at a conference hosted by The Spectator when he ostentatiously removed a stool from behind the lectern at which he was about to speak and joked that it was "the Sarkozy box". Sadly, Nicolas Sarkozy did not see the funny side when he read about the shadow chancellor's quip in September and it is now understood that a formal complaint was made to the British Government on behalf of the diminutive French president

The Nasty Party still trading

Dave has supposedly decontaminated the Tory brand, but Friday saw the Tories revert to type.

A swift bill, with much cross-party support, has been pushed through parliament to outlaw 'vulture' funds. These are international financial companies that buy up national debt from the poorest countries for a fraction of the original value and then pursue those countries through the courts to obtain a return. Some of these debts have even been promised relief in earlier bids to cut third world debt.

Three Conservatives - Andrew Robotham, Christopher Chope and Simon Burns - were conspiring in the chamber as the item was raised and one of them shouted 'Object.' This has stopped the bill passing.

The odd thing is that this bill apparently had the support of the Conservative front bench and two of the three are opposition whips.

So, thanks to one lone Conservative, some of the poorest countries on the planet can look forward to British financiers continuing to chase them for debts that they thought had been written off.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Lib Dem Let Down (a continuing series)

Last Wednesday's ward committee meeting in Acocks Green was slated as a brief affair - only a single, substantive item on the agenda to pass the Community Chest funding for the year. I was running a little late and fully expected to find the meeting on the verge of breaking up when I arrived around ten past seven.

I was amazed to find that there was only one spare seat - a contingent of ladies who all attend the Fox Hollies Leisure Centre to use the pool had turned up to hector the three Liberal councillors about the closure of the small cafe at the centre. They were angry and had even provided a petition, but this was to no avail - the decision to close was already made.

The claim is that the cafe is losing £50,000 a year, but this has to be set against the fact that a number of groups and clubs that currently use the centre's facilities may decide to relocate somewhere with more attractive facilities. It was pointed out that this has already happened in at least one case. The cafe is also a community facility in its own right - providing a place for these ladies to meet after their swimming session and have a quick, warming cuppa. My comrade, Stewart Stacey, pointed out that this was rather similar to the status of the buffet cars on British Rail. The management in that industry wanted to get rid of them, because they consistently lost money, but when the cars were removed, they found that this cost more in lost ticket sales than it cost to maintain the service. It is a loss leader to encourage use of the centre - all the more important now that Sparkhill Baths are closed for the next two to three years and Fox Hollies should be well-placed to take advantage of that business.

Cllr Harmer said that there was no alternative - that the money had to be saved to allow the setting of a balanced budget (quite how the constituency will achieve that this year, given that they are well over £600,000 over budget at the end of the third quarter of 09/10, isn't clear). Perhaps if some £90,000 wasn't being spent on a former Sun hack to spin for the discredited management of the Children's department, there might be more cash to be spent. Or perhaps some of the millions spent on consultants by Birmingham City Council might have been better spent on services.

I fear that this will be death by a thousand cuts - that gradually, other items of the centre might be closed because of falling attendance, rather than attempts be made to run it properly, to advertise it and to generate business.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Liberal Democrat Lie



Accusing a party of telling a direct lie is not something I do easily or happily, but the Liberal Democrats in Yardley are distributing a full colour, A3 leaflet that includes a direct and demonstrable lie.

It may not mean much to them, but it is an absolute untruth to accuse the Labour Party of not campaigning in Acocks Green - for that is where this leaflet is being distributed, although I have no reason to believe that it is not being distributed elsewhere in the constituency.

We have campaigned since 2005 - I've run three campaigns myself since then. The councillor retiring in Acocks Green this year, Cllr Iain Bowen, will certainly recall the 2006 campaign when a small team helped me halve his majority. Much as I like Iain personally, we're putting up a fight to unseat him this year. We campaigned again in 2007 and 2008, campaigning also on behalf of Labour's team in the European parliament. A very successful campaign has been run to save the libraries in Yardley Constituency and we also fought to preserve the 41 bus route (John Hemming has copies of our leaflet, since he posted them on the Stirrer some weeks ago).

Sadly, we don't have the benefit of the £250k coming into the pockets of councillors, cabinet members and an MP, let alone Hemming's millions, so we have to find the money to fund our own campaigns and can't run to paid deliveries.

Perhaps the Liberal Democrats have spent too much time with their Conservative mates and are learning how to airbrush history, rather than just photographs.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Is that a large majority in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?

Personally, I don't know how she can cope with the shame and the public embarrassment. I mean, it is one thing to direct porn movies, but to admit to being a politician? And a Liberal Democrat? That's just unnatural.

But while the Limp Dems think that they are breaking new ground by selecting a porn director as a parliamentary candidate - stretching their Liberalism further - the Australians go one step further.

They have the Australian Sex Party - a genuine, registered political party.

I kid you not. And unlike the Conservative Party, they actually have policies.

Rumour has it that they might benefit from a large swing in a well-hung parliament.

Cut and shut case

And so Honest Nick's car sales offers you this nice little runner of a slogan, one careful lady owner, only used it on Sundays to take her mum to church.
"Change that works for you. Building a fairer Britain."

This isn't even a good job by a professional tradesman. This is a political vehicle glued together from the offcuts of the the major parties - who should sue for breach of copyright. This is one motor too dodgy to be risked on the road even for a test drive, Mr Clegg. If I were you, I'd trade it in for a new one under the slogan scrappage scheme.

Go home to your constituencies and prepare for coalition!

Monday, March 08, 2010

Cameron cobblers

The answers over Lord Cashpoint's generous funding of the Conservative Party have been dragged out of them by a Freedom of Information request, not as a result of Call Me Dave's desire to be more open. Forced honesty is no honesty at all.
The fact is some time before the election has answered the questions. It has been done. And it was done by me - right?

If that was genuinely the case, why did he wait until the last few days before the information was going to be released in any case before putting it out in the public domain? These questions have been around for years and apparently the Tory leadership did not think to ask Milord Cashcroft about whether he had actually kept his promises.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

BNP Photo Fail


Not even able to take a simple publicity photo...
Good to see the nutty Rev West is still around. He used to run the Christian Council of Britain, which he denied was a BNP front organisation.

Papering over Osborne.

Welcome to the new faces of Conservatism - five white blokes in suits. The usual suspects. Cameron and Hague, Cuddly Ken Clarke, Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt (another of the former PR-merchants in the Tory party). All Oxbridge, all with no significant life experience outside politics.

But wait - no room for the man who would be our next Chancellor? The man who should be front and centre, explaining how the Tories will take us out of recession and into depression? The man before whom conventional economists cower in fear of his intellect? George Osborne has been sidelined.
The Tories deny that Mr Osborne or Mr Grayling have been snubbed. They say Mr Osborne will concentrate on his behind-the-scenes role as the Tories’ Election mastermind and will make occasional public appearances.
Oh good. Can't wait for those carefully stage-managed events where Osborne isn't allowed to answer questions or stray from a carefully-prepared script.

No room either for Caroline Spelman - perhaps she can't find a nanny - or Teresa May, let alone anyone from any other minority background.

But more importantly, we want George, front and centre. Never mind that
privately, they admit that Mr Osborne gets low ratings in confidential Conservative polls and was damaged by reports of how he was entertained on Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska’s yacht in Corfu

He wants a top job - put him to the test.

Countdown and out

Those who can do, those who can't, teach and those who can't teach become Tory education ministers. Question Time this week saw a car crash of a performance from Carol Vorderman, when she was thoroughly outclassed by those around her and her 'independent' voice was exposed as a sham. Unqualified to serve as a teacher under a Tory government, she relied on reading her crib notes - wonder who briefed her? - and independently took shots only at Labour throughout the show.

Gaby Hinsliff watched the show as well
Chatty Carol, the lovable whizz with a whiteboard, metamorphasised before the Question Time audience into a malfunctioning robot apparently programmed by a shock jock. Smoke billowed from her wiring as she veered between shrill (on the public's apparent right to hunt down Jon Venables) and hesitant (whenever she lost her place in her cribnotes). By the time they got on to Iraq, the whiff of melting circuitry filled the studio.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Tower Block of Expenses

Nadine Dorries has a story - Mark Oaten apparently trousered £3600 for his appearance on Tower Block of Commons, staying in a council flat of someone on benefits worth a twentieth of that. Liberal Democrats winning here, certainly.

Shameless.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Stolen words

Shamelessly stealing Michael Foot's words from Bob Piper, who himself stole them:
We are not here in this world to find elegant solutions, pregnant with initiative, or to serve the ways and modes of profitable progress. No, we are here to provide for all those who are weaker and hungrier, more battered and crippled than ourselves. That is our only certain good and great purpose on earth, and if you ask me about those insoluble economic problems that may arise if the top is deprived of their initiative, I would answer ‘To hell with them.’ The top is greedy and mean and will always find a way to take care of themselves. They always do.

Remember also Harold Wilson's dictum
The Labour Party is a moral crusade or it is nothing.

Cashcroft - the albatross hanging around Dave's neck

So, William Hague knew some months ago that Milord Ashcroft had not stuck to the spirit of his assurances, but only let Dave know about it within the last month. Lord Ashcroft has misled at least two Tory leaders - Iain Duncan Smith wasn't there long enough to matter - about his tax status. He promised to become a permanent resident - which should have been enough in the eyes of the Revenue for him to be domiciled in the UK for tax purposes - but didn't.

Hague and Brown don't come out of this well. Either neither felt brave enough to challenge Lord Cashpoint over his tax status or they knew the truth - even in a plausibly deniable way - and chose to ignore it.

Ashcroft has to go, despite his status as a foul-weather friend who has now magnetically attracted fresh storms to the party. His continued presence at the heart of the party is hamstringing the campaign - Conservatives have made themselves unavailable to discuss the matter and this prevents them from making key statements on policy, as they are bound to be asked about Ashcroft. They are hoping that this will all blow over, but I'm not so sure that it is done. Both the Liberal Democrats and Labour have an interest in prolonging this row and they are milking it for all they can, as it really speaks to the heart of the Conservative party and how much they really represent change.

It was very interesting and perhaps a signal of a battle yet to come that tonight's Question Time saw the blonde bombshell, Boris Johnson, distancing himself from Lord Cashcroft - perhaps positioning himself ready to replace Dave.

Remember, unlike other non-dom donors, Ashcroft has a central role in the party, directing strategy in the marginal seats. Ashcroft is the only non-dom who made a promise to their party leader to take up permanent residence and has failed to do so. Ashcroft only 'spoke out' about his tax status when he was forced to by the imminent release of information under the Freedom of Information Act.

Meanwhile, a very important poll in the key marginal seats - the ones that would deliver a Tory majority - showed that their lead had dwindled over 18 months from a 13 point lead to just 6.5% this month, running some two points ahead of the national swing. This leaves the Tories the largest party, but 11 short of a majority. It seems that the Ashcroft money isn't buying the votes as easily as you would think.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Michael Foot - 1913-2010


Michael Foot was perhaps the last of the great radical, idealists in a tradition dating back to the formation of the Labour Party. His was a magnificent oratorical style, suited to the campaigning format of an earlier age, where public meetings were the main format of communication with the electorate. The modern media machine has encouraged the destruction of this content-heavy, sometimes ponderous style in favour of communications-lite demand for the soundbite. If you get the chance, listen to Foot's Commons good-humoured, but devastating, assault on Keith Joseph and Conservative economic policy in 1980, which has all the timing and delivery of a top-line comic and clearly had the audience held rapt for the duration, as Joseph was compared to a magician who had forgotten how to complete a difficult trick and was left with the shattered watch of an important member of the audience. That wouldn't have a chance of being featured in a news programme today, if Cameron or Brown were to use it. But times were different then. Back in the 1930s, when Foot first stood for parliament, he did so by the simple expedient of walking into Labour's headquarters, asking where they were short of candidates and then being selected to fight the safe Conservative seat of Monmouth the next day - a process that makes the current short-form selection look ponderous. Back in the 1950s, social networking was carried out through the medium of a loudspeaker and a soapbox and Foot was a master of it.

This is the man who gave us the memorable description of Norman Tebbit as a

semi-housetrained polecat
or nailed Margaret Thatcher

she has no imagination and that means no compassion.

Many workers today owe him a debt, for it was Foot who navigated the Health and Safety at Work Act through Parliament, which created a modern structure for protecting the workforce. Perhaps it was fitting that it fell to him to up date legislation first started in the Victorian age and it can be said that this Act has genuinely saved lives and prevented injury.

Leadership came to him late in life and he was not suited to it, but he probably provided his greatest service to his beloved Labour Party - taking the weight of the 1983 defeat and handing the reins over to the new generation who were ready to take the party through a decade of hard graft and pain to make it electable.
He was, by every account, a man with an enormous hinterland. Politics was key to his life, but was not his only interest. You suspect that some of his greatest pleasure came from watching and hoping against all hope - and the evidence of previous performances - that Plymouth Argyle would make their way to the top to British football. As the former vice-chairman of the club wrote in the Guardian today
Michael supported Plymouth Argyle for about 90 years, through thin and thin. He was completely mad about them. I ran into him when he had just stood down as Labour leader, around 1984. I was milling around outside the ground and Michael came stomping over and said: "You're Argyle fans – where do we stand?" We stood on the terraces together and as we left he said, "well, you must ring", as he didn't have any chums to go to Argyle with. So I rang. From then we went to loads of games.When he was 90, in 2003, I thought, what can you give a man like Michael Foot? We registered him as a player with the Football League, the oldest ever. We gave him a squad number, 90, so he appeared in the programmes for the whole season. In a speech I announced he was being hired as a left-winger, with strict instructions from the manager never to stray anywhere near the centre and certainly nowhere near the right.
And from Neil Kinnock, his successor as leader and a man with a talent for oratory himself
(Michael) was a resolute humanist with profound faith in the ability of "free men and women using free institutions" to secure irreversible advances in standards of living and liberty for every country and community. He was a friend to all who strove against want and injustice, an inveterate enemy of exploitation and greed. He was ferocious and funny, principled but never precious, courteous but never deferential, provocative but never vindictive, creative but never abstract. "Describe the challenges by all means," he said, "but don't confuse analysis with action. The one must lead to the other if it is to be useful to people."

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Curious

On Sunday, Mike Smithson over at Political Betting reported that the Sunday Times had altered the figures reported on the YouGov survey to reduce the Tory lead from 6% to 2%. At the time, I commented that this poll seemed like an outlier and further confirmation was required. Today's poll from YouGov, published in the Sun, extends the Tory lead back to 7%, ascribing the 5% shift to Cameron's speechifying in Brighton.

This seems like a big leap based upon one speech which was generally received with mixed results. I would posit two alternative theories.

One, that Sunday's poll was an outlier and gave a freak result just outside the margin of error.

Two, that the Sunday Times took the worst possible outcome from the poll as the headline figure to try to create a Tory bounce.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Ashcroft exposed

For a decade, the Conservatives have skirted round the issue of Lord Ashcroft's tax status. They have never corrected reports that he had committed to being a permanent resident in the UK for tax purposes and when directly asked, there was an agreed turn of phrase about having no reason to believe that he was not complying with his commitments, to the point where the Information Commissioner criticised them for their "evasive and obfuscatory" comments on Ashcroft's status.

And yet, when fellow Conservative George Young lets the cat out of the bag,
He is in the same position as a number of Labour peers who are non-domiciled and who fund the Labour party
the Tory machine goes into overdrive, forcing him into a humiliating climbdown by claiming that he had 'misspoken' by telling the truth.

David Cameron professed delight that Ashcroft has come out and admitted his status, spinning it as some sort of openness on his lordship's part, rather than a result of enforcement by the Information Commissioner - ironically against the government's own Cabinet Office which had refused to disclose the information.

And before the Tories kick off about the Labour non-doms, remember that Lord Ashcroft is a bit different. Not only have the Conservatives obfuscated when presented with any direct questions about his tax status, but Lord Ashcroft has given - directly or indirectly - £6.7 million since 2001 and we have no idea what he gave before that. Rumours suggest that he effectively sustained the party through the painful years between 1997 and 2001 and it is known that he personally guaranteed a £3 million loan to the party. He has flown Tory shadow cabinet members around the globe, sitting in on key meetings between William Hague and representatives of other governments. Lord Ashcroft is a deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, with a desk at the heart of their headquarters and a key role in funding campaigns in the vital marginal seats.

Cuts in secret?

Birmingham councillors are elected as councillors for all of the city, although they obviously represent particular wards. They take decisions affecting the whole of the city, yet councillors are being denied access to full information.

Labour councillors, curious to understand the level of cuts imposed by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat administration, have asked to see the same level of detail that they get for their own constituency committees for others, where there is no Labour representation. This has been denied.

This can only be for political reasons and you have to ask - what are they trying to hide?