Monday, May 31, 2010

Hard knock life

Within a day of the resignation of the last Financial Secretary to the Treasury, the current incumbent (at time of writing) is facing pressure from the enforcement department of public opinion (formerly known as the Daily Telegraph).

To be fair to Mr Alexander - previously only thought to be a trainee Liberal Democrat funded by the Future Jobs Fund - this front page attack would seem to be more noise than genuine light. The London property that he sold may well have been a previous main residence prior to his 2005 election and thus the sale in 2007 would have fallen within a three year grace period allowed by HMRC for properties that were previously main homes, but are no longer. This was actually intended to assist those who have 'hard to sell' properties and were forced to move for work reasons, rather than MPs on expenses, and the policy did come under attack from the Liberal Democrats, who proposed reducing the period to six months, but we don't expect consistency from Liberal Democrats. In essence, what he did was legal tax avoidance, not evasion and wasn't specifically related to his status as an MP either. It is in a different category to David Laws' expenses claims.

However, there is a fair amount of bleating around the blogosphere about how unfair all this media coverage is - largely coming from the Liberal Democrat end of the market. To this, I simply say - tough.

There were no complaints when the media was roughing up the Labour or Conservative Party over the past couple of years over expenses. Back then, there was inadequate scrutiny of Liberal Democrat expenses because nobody thought it mattered - they had no reasonable chance of being in government, so the expenses of their MPs went largely without comment. One thing Cameron did do prior to the election was embark on a process of cleaning his own house out at ministerial-grade level, with potential post-holders being vetted to ensure that the risk of embarrassing financial skeletons appearing was minimised. This was clearly not done by Clegg and the Cowley Street team - probably because they didn't think that they would be in power either.

The fall from grace is all the more precipitous because Nick Clegg used every opportunity to raise Liberal Democrat parliamentarians to the status of saints in terms of their expenses. He held the party up as an example of probity when compared to the other two parties and he should not be surprised that this risky strategy is backfiring as the media start digging. Even one Danny Alexander was moved to write a piece in his local paper
We must urgently take MPs out of the property speculation game. MPs must no longer be able to 'flip’ their homes for personal gain or make big profits at the expense of the taxpayer

This isn't local government, where there is precious little scrutiny of what councillors actually do and where overworked local journalists fall like hungry jackals on any scraps pushed out by press officers across the country - with a few honourable exceptions, the art of local government reporting is dying. The Liberal Democrats are playing in the Premier League now and while they may face relegation at the end of the season, they can only expect more scrutiny of their behaviour and performance over coming months and years. If they think this is hot, just wait until they have been in government for a while and the media sharks start circling. It will only get worse, particularly once they actually start taking decisions and upsetting people.

Stop whinging and get on with it.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

I fought the Laws

I have tremendous sympathy for the pain that David Laws is going through at the moment and there is no excuse for using his sexuality to attack him - it is irrelevant, although I can't help but suspect that the Telegraph salivated unpleasantly at the thought of outing him. As a country, we have come a long way in terms of gay rights over the past few years, but the fact that he felt he had to live a lie about an important part of his emotional life for fear of upsetting family and friends shows that for all the changes in society and the law, there is still a long way to go in changing individual prejudices. In that personal matter, I wish him well and I suspect and hope that his friends and family will prove more accepting and supportive than he might expect.

However, there is still the matter of the thousands of pounds claimed as expenses that should not have been claimed under the post-2006 rules and we do have to consider the job that he now holds as the keeper of the national purse strings and axe man in chief to the government.

Rather as forecast, the Laws defence is on the attack, arguing that this is motivated by homophobia, a blatant attempt to shut down the discussion. It certainly shouldn't be - the questions that need answering do not relate to his sexuality in any way and portraying the debate as such is spin of the first order.

While he has promised to repay the money, he has maintained a defence that he did nothing wrong as he was not technically partnered in terms that the rules allowed. Not only is this insulting to the person with whom he has had a nine year relationship, it takes the public for fools. One of the key tests for public behaviour devised by Lord Nolan was to ask what an ordinary person would think of a particular event and I don't think that there is anyone who would not consider that by 2006, the pair of them were living together in some form of unofficial partnership. As I point out below, they pass tests laid down in other areas of government and if it was a benefit claim, then Mr Laws would now be facing an interview under caution and I fail to see why different tests should apply in his case. Jail terms have been handed

Jeremy Browne and others have also been touring the media arguing that Laws could have claimed lots more, so his behaviour has actually saved money. This is analogous to the bank robber trying to mitigate his offence by asking the judge to look at the amount he didn't steal. It perhaps makes it worse that, by all opinion, Laws is one of the richest men in parliament (the Liberal Democrats do like their millionaires in parliament - Hemming, Featherstone, Huhne, Laws) so had no need of the money- it didn't matter to him. But, they say, he was entitled to have lots more - no, he was able to claim more, he was not entitled to it. I note also that his utility costs dropped precipitously once receipts were required in support. Perhaps even worse, he behaved hypocritically in trumpeting his clean bill of health from the expenses investigation, in the knowledge that he had not behaved with the utmost probity.

If he had admitted his error, explained his personal circumstances and repaid the overclaimed money, then there would have been an argument in defence, but to argue that he has done nothing wrong is ridiculous and unsustainable.

He might yet survive. The government could afford to expend the political capital and ride out this storm or Cameron could decide to flex his muscles in the name of the new politics and axe the axe man.

I think we'll know by Tuesday at the latest. If the story dies, then Laws survives.

But do remember, that if the story fails to find fresh legs, then it is the old politics of spin and media control that will have triumphed.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Breaking the Laws

The Telegraph has dropped an expenses bomb on David Laws in the first scandal of the Cameron years.
The Daily Telegraph’s Expenses Files show that between 2004 and 2007, Mr Laws claimed between £700 and £950 a month to sub-let a room in a flat in Kennington, south London. This flat was owned by the MP’s partner who was also registered as living at the property. The partner sold the flat for a profit of £193,000 in 2007.... Mr Laws’s partner then bought another house nearby for £510,000. The MP then began claiming to rent the “second bedroom” in this property. His claims increased to £920 a month. The partner also lived at the property. Mr Laws’s main home is in his Yeovil constituency. The arrangement continued until September 2009, when parliamentary records show that Mr Laws switched his designated second home and began renting another flat at taxpayers’ expense. His partner remained at the Kennington house.
Since 2006, the rules prohibited renting rooms from partners, but David has a defence to that - his partner wasn't his partner as defined by the rules.
At no point did I consider myself to be in breach of the rules which in 2009 defined partner as ‘one of a couple … who although not married to each-other or civil partners are living together and treat each-other as spouses’. Although we were living together we did not treat each other as spouses. For example we do not share bank accounts and indeed have separate social lives. However, I now accept that this was open to interpretation and will immediately pay back the costs of the rent and other housing costs I claimed from the time the rules changed until August 2009
This is splitting hairs. If Laws was claiming benefits, then he would have faced action to recover the money and potential charges for fraud. Let's look at the definitions used by HMRC, which ally closely to those used by the Benefits Agency
Membership of the same household - A couple are unlikely to live together as husband and wife unless they live in the same household. But absences caused by work, visits to relatives and the like do not mean they are not living together as husband and wife.
Stability of relationship - A couple are not living together as husband and wife if they have a very brief or occasional relationship... Life time bond is not essential.... It is enough if they intend to stay together for the foreseeable future

Financial support - In a marriage we normally find that one partner supports the other, or there is a sharing of household expenses. Where an unmarried couple also do this they are more likely to be living together as husband and wife. But the absence of these features does not prove the couple are not living together as husband and wife. After all, even a married couple can keep their financial affairs quite separate.
Sexual relationship - The couple's sexual relationship is of little help in deciding whether they live together as husband and wife. There are two reasons for this. First, there may be no sexual relations in a marriage; for example, where elderly persons marry for mutual comfort and support. Second, sexual relations occur outside marriage and outside any intention to live together as husband and wife. So their presence or absence proves little.
His defence is that
I have been involved in a relationship with James Lundie since around 2001 - about two years after first moving in with him. Our relationship has been unknown to both family and friends throughout that time.... My motivation throughout has not been to maximise profit but to simply protect our privacy and my wish not to reveal my sexuality
While it is sad that Laws has been outed in this way - and his sexuality is in no way relevant to this - this defence simply does not wash. He has gained a significant sum from the public purse and this is not acceptable. By any accepted standards, he was living with a partner and should not have claimed as he has done. If he had ceased to claim, would anyone have noticed? Would anyone have asked questions? Of course not, because who would have known and put two and two together?

So what next? There's been a very lukewarm holding statement from Downing Street:
The prime minister has been made aware of this situation and he agrees with David Laws' decision to self-refer to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner.
Hardly a ringing declaration of support - I would deduce that Downing Street will see which way the media coverage goes on this story over the weekend and unless the arc of the story can be changed, David Laws needs to spend tomorrow crafting a letter of resignation. If Laws wants to save his career, he needs to sacrifice the privacy that we have paid for and start spinning, take control of the story to turn it to being about his sexuality - get an interview in a tame Sunday broadsheet about the emotional torment of concealing the reality of his feelings. That may be a step too far, a compromise too cynical for him. Scrapping the pot plants in the Treasury won't save him - his credibility in financial decision making is in tatters following this revelation and we can forgive Liam Byrne a wry smile tonight as the man who decided to make political capital from a personal letter is ho

During the election campaign, Nick Clegg painted the Liberal Democrats as whiter than white in regard to the expenses scandal, while Chris Huhne said that
"There clearly are instances where MPs have lost contact with the difference between right and wrong."
Paul Burstow, the Chief Whip commented in the past that
"The MPs’ expenses scandal is a symptom of our failed politics. Only the Liberal Democrats offer a real alternative to our failed politics."

Indeed, it is Liberal Democrat policy that MPs should work within the spirit, not just the letter of the policy and it is self-evident that this has not been the case with David Laws.

What we can be sure of is that if this had been a Labour minister, then the Tories and the Liberals would have been in full pursuit of the scalp.

Own goal

If the Tories hadn't started a turf war with the BBC over Question Time, then there wouldn't have been the fuss or the story. This is a mess of their own making and an entirely avoidable one. Alistair Campbell blamed an inexperienced media team at Downing Street, but you have to wonder about their political direction from above. It was a daft fight to pick and has further undermined the claims of an end to spin and the birth of a new politics.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Big Al Scares No 10

The BBC have confirmed that Downing Street tried to have Alistair Campbell removed from the panel on tonight's Question Time and withdrew the scheduled senior ministerial panellist (David Laws) when the corporation refused to comply with this unwarranted interference. Yet another example of how the New Politics is just the same old politics and proof that spin is alive and well in Downing Street, despite the fine words from Cameron.

It strikes me as very odd that the Conservatives will willingly debate with Nick Griffin - sending Baroness Warsi, who now attends Cabinet - but refuse to share a platform with Campbell. Naturally, the government are not required to attend Question Time, but to demand that they get to pick the panel is a gross interference in the editorial independence of the BBC. This isn't Sky News, you know.

Something good to say

Much as it pains me to say it, but top marks to the Birmingham trading standards department and the Chair of the Public Protection Committee, Cllr Neil Eustace. They have really taken the fight to the car clampers over recent years, making imaginative use of legislation to tackle a nasty little scam that has spread across the centre of our city and is used to extort money from motorists.

Now, one of those clampers will face time behind bars. Good.

Excellent work!

Education? Education? Education?

I really don't buy the big society idea. Sure, there will be the smokescreen of a handful of parents' groups who will establish their own schools - there's one in London, conveniently sited close to the media outlets, that is used as an example of who will be empowered by Michael Gove's proposals. Thing is though, running a school - or any major public service - isn't a hobby. It is a full time job for professionals. We already involve parents in running schools - we call them governors and they can be very hard to find and retain.

This seems to go against the other agenda of freeing up local councils - who are to get control back over housing and planning, but will now lose control over many of their local schools. Instead, control will shift to central government as the source of all funding and to the school operators, who may not even be in this country.

But there are other problems. Planning provision for schooling will be more difficult without control over which schools go where. Cllr Tim raises a key question - are parents always best placed to decide on education or are they too close to the matter?
Now, don't get me wrong, as a governor I really appreciate the role of the parent governor. They give an insight and an enthusiasm that adds a much needed element to a school governing body. But, just as staff governors shouldn't make decisions about pay or staffing levels or recruitment etc. there are areas where parents are NOT the best people to consider elements of how a school operates.
Areas which may specifically affect (positively or negatively) on their own children for example. I often have to deal with groups of parents who get very animated about some decisions taken with a strategic view of education, for the benefit of the school, or the community, which they perceive to be not in their own interests. They become, understandably, very emotional (as do I) when things impact on their own children. This does not make for good decision making. The notion that such a group could, in response to such an emotional attachment, decide to set up their own school or take over an existing school is not an idea I am at all comfortable with. And it is precisely such a circumstance which is likely to lead to the demand for a 'free school'.

And then we know that these schools will be directly funded by government, but that the enhanced funding will come out of the total school spend with no new money attached. This will create a two tier system even worse than the grammar school system.

But the real driver isn't to let parents get involved, it is to open the school system up to private suppliers. Mike Ion looks at the experience in the US, where profit-making companies run schools and finds that they cost the same, offer poorer quality education and are clearly focussed on driving profit, not education quality. Truly, this is a disturbing look at what may be our future.

Cllr Tim reminds us that Sarah Teather was attacking the Tory policy as a 'shambles,' adding
Unless you give local authorities that power to plan and unless you actually make sure that there is money available... it's just a gimmick
Sarah Teather is now schools minister and will be introducing this shambolic gimmickry into law.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Back on election night, the received wisdom was that we could expect to be back in the NIA sometime in the autumn for a second round of elections, but now, I'm not so sure. I don't think that this coalition will run until the planned date in May 2015, but I also don't think we yet can know the reason that it will collapse. My view is that it will last two to three years before events overwhelm it and drive divisions between the two partners, raising the prospect of a Tory minority government staggering on until 2015 or having to beg the opposition to put it out of our misery prior to that date.

It is possible that this might be a new start in British politics, but I can't help but feel that we will revert to type before long. It may be that we will get to 2015 and Labour will face a coalition attempting to harness the 'anti-Labour' vote to support coalition candidates in each constituency, which is a worrying prospect, but this is rather more challenging at a national level than it is at local.

It is true that all government is about the art of the practical and that compromise is and always has been a key skill for an effective government manager. I've long maintained that Labour members struggle with their party in government because it will - without exception - fail to deliver the level of perfect social justice for which we yearn in our utopian idealism. I suspect that this applies to all parties to a greater or lesser extent and the coalition will be judged by members of two parties as time goes on. The key question is how much compromise we are prepared to accept - is something better than nothing, or do we hold out for the impossible dream of getting everything on our agenda? If you long to have the mechanisms of production returned to the hands of the workers, will a better system of tax credits and the minimum wage be an acceptable enough compromise? The past thirteen years haven't been everything that I would wish from a Labour government, but I'd certainly take them as a damn good start (and I'm not going to re-run the credits reel again, just go and check Gordon's speech for the highlights).

I'm not sure who got the better deal out of this little stitch-up. Certainly, the Liberal Democrats played the negotiating game extremely well and seem to have learnt from their experience in Birmingham, where the best they could do was to get some council cabinet and scrutiny chair positions, but have enacted very little of their 2004 local manifesto. Given the size of the Liberal parliamentary contingent, getting a formal post as deputy Prime Minister and a raft of other ministerial positions - I think that about a third of the parliamentary party is now tied in on the payroll vote - is a very solid achievement and demonstrates Cameron's determination to get to Number 10. It was clearly the case that if Cameron had failed to become Prime Minister, then he would have been brutally and rapidly defenestrated by his party for his failures.

However, that isn't to denigrate that deal that Cameron has emerged with - it suits him very well. With their spread of ministers, the Liberal Democrats are firmly tied to the mast of the coalition and will either survive the oncoming storm or founder with all hands. In particular, the eminently-slappable David Laws at the Treasury will have his hands dipped deep in the blood as he is tasked to wield the axe across Whitehall and beyond, as a willing henchman of Osborne.
With the Liberal Democrat parliamentary party on board, the votes necessary to ensure the passage of legislation are pretty much ensured - the new bugs on the Tory benches will broadly vote loyally with their leader and the Conservative backbench 'headbangers' (as described by Lynne Featherstone at the Liberal special conference last week) will be unable to halt the policy agenda on their own. Cameron has also taken advantage of his honeymoon position of power to try to neuter the 1922 Committee by ensuring that ministers are now able to attend the meetings of the Tory backbenchers and thus positioned to prevent mutiny in the ranks. This does not bear the perfume of the New Political era, but reeks of the 1990s Old Politics, as recommended by John Major, who was personally only too well aware of the damage that the 'bastards' can do to a government agenda if they allowed to roll around the gun decks uncontrolled. I note that tonight, Cameron has backed away from the plans, clearly not wanting to rile his colleagues too much.

To be fair to them, they have produced a detailed plan for government and although there are rumblings of backbench discontent - chiefly from the Tories - I suspect that the Conservative MPs will be sufficiently grateful in the short term to be in power to not to wish to disrupt the honeymoon too much. While this is a new diversion, it is not quite as clear cut as the spin suggests. Many of the elements of the programme - even in the detailed plan - are still vague to allow further political wiggle room and over thirty measures will be kicked into commissions or consultations before a final decision on legislative action is taken. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but does suggest that it may be an expedient rather than principled diversion.

There are key policy divides - Europe being one. The Liberal Democrats are as fanatically pro-European as the Conservatives are viscerally opposed - the pro-European faction being largely reduced to Ken Clarke. With Europe focussed more on preserving the Eurozone and tackling the economic disaster areas of Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Greece rather than trying to achieve ever closer union, there is probably little expected to be coming down the track with the potential to derail the coalition, but events may prove differently. For example, although the Liberal Democrats remain in favour of joining the Eurozone, they have ruled out joining in this parliament - I can't imagine a situation at any time in the medium-term future when it is likely to be in our interest so to do.

Some divides are just fudged. In particular, the issue over nuclear power, where the Liberal Democrats have a 'red-line' opposition to new nuclear power stations, but the Conservatives are in favour. On this occasion, while the Liberal Democrats will speak against the proposal, they will abstain when it comes to a vote. For me, this is less of a convenient political accommodation and more of a derogation of responsibility by the Liberal Democrats. If nuclear power stations are such a key issue that the coalition cannot find agreement, to refuse to vote against is a betrayal of principle. Incidentally, can anyone explain to me the inconsistency of thinking where the Liberal Democrats can continue to support the military applications of nuclear technology, but deny that to peaceful civilian use, because I can't figure it out.

However, the programme of cuts is perhaps the most interesting Liberal Democrat concession. Remember that only a few weeks ago, Messrs Cable and Clegg were agreeing with Gordon and Alistair that cutting now would put the fragile recovery at excessive risk. Now, apparently, Clegg has seen the books and decided that the Tory programme - prepared in opposition with the same access to the financial data as the Liberal Democrat treasury team - is right after all. I'm not quite sure what could have convinced him - perhaps it was the offer of the deputy premiership that convinced him.

You have to feel for Vince Cable as well - a couple of weeks back, he was defending the pass against the Conservative slash and burn merchants, now he is Osborne's bitch and no sooner has Vince been given a department to play with, than he is forced to impose thumping cuts. For years, the students have been courted by the Liberal Democrats, with a promise (now on hold) to remove fees. Now, 10,000 of them won't get into university next year, fuelling the unemployment queues beside the 25,000 or so who won't get jobs in the civil service.

This isn't all Tory policy, though - don't forget that scrapping the Child Trust Fund was a Liberal Democrat proposal, while the Conservatives just wanted to limit it. Quite why it is a good thing to abandon a scheme designed to encourage saving amongst a group historically averse to putting much aside for a rainy day, while still maintaining other tax perks isn't clear. Similarly, abolishing the Future Jobs Fund, a way of providing direct assistance to employers seeking to take on workers, doesn't seem to be the brightest of moves from a party that raved on about the 'jobs tax.'

This is but a trial for the axe that we expect to see wielded later on in the year. Of all the issues that will cause division, this could be problematic in the short term, but I don't think we'll see mass defections in either the parliamentary Liberal Democrat party or the membership - at least not yet. If things go badly or the media starts to exploit the chinks in the armour, then that is when the splits will occur, as the party which is strong at local levels finds itself under the same pressure that affects all governing parties. The survey in the Guardian which reveals that there has been no great haemorrhage in support from the Liberal Democrats is no shock - the honeymoon is in full swing and much of the programme announced so far demonstrates the commonality of policy between the two parties. Indeed, there's much that I can support in headline form - reform of the Lords, scrapping ID cards, electoral reform - but I await the details. These policies don't challenge the Liberal Democrats very much, but this may well shift as time goes by.

I think that this depth of coalition is a great risk for the Liberal Democrats, as if all goes well, the temptation will be for the Tories to grab the limelight and push for an outright majority, perhaps taking some of the more right-wing Liberals with them. If it goes badly - and there will certainly be things that go badly, for that is the nature of the beast - then the Liberals are going to be blamed. Clearly, attempts will be made to shift all the blame onto Labour - the Regressive Partnership in Birmingham have been sustaining that argument since 2004, but it remains to be seen if that survives media focus on a national level. I think that the Liberals will also struggle with coalition consistency. On the other hand, a looser 'supply and confidence' arrangement which would have protected the Conservatives from losing finance or confidence motions probably wouldn't have cut the mustard.

In the end, I suspect that whatever causes this coalition to collapse, the Liberal Democrats will come out of this in a poorer position. One Liberal Democrat MP was heard to remark today that it felt more like a merger than a coalition and these are the feelings that are likely to lead to a split. The Liberal Democrats will find themselves squeezed in the Labour marginals and may well lose out to the Tories where they are in a close second place - why vote Lib Dem and get Tory, when you can vote Conservative in the first place? It may even be that two or three years down the line, with support dropping - as it does for all governments - the Lib Dems decide that they can survive better outside the coalition and decide to leave the Conservatives in a minority.

Only time will tell, but this is certainly interesting.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Paul Tilsley on Politics Show

He's claiming that the Lib Dems have been running Birmingham with the support of the Tories. Errm, not quite, Paul. You remain the junior partners and the third party in the Chamber. The Tories are very much in charge.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Undemocratic and illogical

Can you imagine the attack that Labour would have faced if it had tried to introduce this new rule to prevent dissolution of parliament without the support of 55% of the House?

This raises the spectre of a government losing a finance bill or other confidence motion or even being entirely unable to push legislation through the House, but being able to cling on to an illusion of government.

If it was applied to an MP or a councillor, they would be overjoyed at being secured against all but an overwhelming defeat. This is actually an abuse of the constitution for a shamelessly party political motive on the part of the Liberal Democrats, as they want to prevent the Tories from choosing the right moment to abandon the coalition, drop their mates and run to the polls.

It is wrong and should not be allowed to pass. There already seems to be a groundswell of opposition on the government back benches, so I'm going to put my faith in the Tory traditionalists actually doing the right thing and stopping this legislation before it gets going. I doubt Cameron wants it, which is why he's made sure that Clegg gets to front this up to the House when it reconvenes next week.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

End of an era

And with that moving speech from a great man, thirteen years of progressive government in the UK has come to an end. No, not an end, just a pause, for this is not 1997 and we have not been beaten like the Tories were and we have not been reduced to a rump of infighting MPs. Even as I write, the Labour party membership website has crashed, after new members were signing up at the rate of one every 3 seconds. This party will be back. We will revive, select our new leader and return, stronger, fitter and ready to win another term in government. It has been an imperfect 13 years, but there is much of which we can be proud. We have changed Britain for the better and I hope that those changes survive the new administration.

As I noted above, this is not 1997. The sense of joy, hope and change that infused the country following that victory simply isn't present today. Sure, the Tories are happy and the Liberal Democrats shell-shocked, but this is a private party. There were no cheering crowds welcoming Cameron as he walked up Downing Street, just demonstrators getting an early start on their 'Tories Out' chants outside the Cabinet Office.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I shed a few tears tonight, watching that intensely dignified speech, spoken in a voice struggling not to crack with emotion. I'm not ashamed at all, because if anyone says that politics doesn't matter, then they are simply wrong. If you are reading this and want to ridicule me, know that this was repeated in thousands of houses across the country tonight. This matters and it hurts.

For all that, I echo Hopi Sen's words. I wish David Cameron luck in Number 10. I happen to believe that Cameron's policies are wrong and may make things worse for very many people in this country, but I want to be proved wrong, because I don't want my countrymen and women to suffer.

But we will be back. There are people across the nation angered at the shabby deal done by the Liberal Democrats today and they will be watching this duo very closely - the Liberal Democrats have tied themselves firmly to the mast of the Tory ship and will take their punishment for what follows, they will be held to account. Those in the party who think that evicting the coalition partners will be straightforward need to remember our experience in Birmingham - six years and counting of a Tory/Liberal coalition. Although local government is not comparable to national, we have to take note that it will take work to recover, to convince the people that we are electable again. We need a new leader, but we must have unity and a common purpose based upon our principles.

So, farewell Gordon. Thanks for what you gave and for taking the punishment that you did from a vengeful media. I believed in you and I still do.

But now for the future.

What's next?

Monday, May 10, 2010

And so it came to pass

As forecast, when pushed into the corner, the Tories have offered a referendum on AV to secure LD support.

This ain't over yet.


They think it's all over, it isn't now

With a stroke of political genius, Gordon has struck a final blow for progressive government. Just as the Liberal/Tory coalition deal runs into some sand - not finished, but certainly delayed, he throws a giant Scottish spanner into the works.

With an existing promise of electoral reform - quite different from the lukewarm political reform being talked of by Liberal spokesmen - already on the table, Gordon has now removed a roadblock to a deal with the Liberals. Himself.

This has given the Liberals a stark choice - either leap into bed with a party that is, by nature and name not progressive, or ally with Labour for the good of the country and the political system.

If Clegg continues on the path of striking a deal with the Tories - which seemed a certainty this morning, but which has drifted over the course of the day - he will be making a choice about the future of the LibDems and there are some, perhaps many, Liberals who would find that outcome unpalatable. If the deal is done, the Liberals face a pincer movement at the polls, as their Labour tactical voters switch back or just stay at home. I guarantee that Lorely Burt would lose Solihull in an election fought under those conditions. Tory voters might also feel more inclined to follow their natural allegiance, so putting John Hemming at risk as his parliamentary vote is unquestionably blue Liberal.

And what of Dave? He is cornered. Either he has to offer quick concessions to secure Liberal support or face the ignominy of not securing the top job. If he fails, his party will replace him brutally for spending vast sums of money, exhausting media support and squandering perhaps the last chance for a solely Conservative government. If he does give in on electoral reform, will his party follow him?

And those who doubt whether a minority Liberal/Labour government could survive need to remember that the Tories would still need to assemble a coalition to defeat then. Not impossible, but it would require the SNP and Plaid to vote beside their enemies or for the various flavour of Unionists to come to the Tory party.

But what of Labour? Perhaps a period out of office readying ourselves for the next election - surely not that far off - might be healthy? Will the country thank us if we are able to throw together a new coalition and roll out a new PM?

Questions are all around us, but answers few amongst us. Truly, we live in interesting times.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Go home to your constituencies and prepare for disappointment

All the signs are that over the next day or so, David Cameron will be able to declare that he has the support of the Liberal Democrats to allow him a shot at forming a government. Gordon Brown will then resign as Prime Minister - and probably as party leader as well.

It remains to be seen whether Clegg will go for a full coalition or a 'supply and confidence' path, with an assurance that the Liberals will support the Tories in key financial bills and on matters of confidence, but will reserve the right to vote on party lines on other issues. Full coalition may be an unwise political move, as it would tie the Liberals in to whatever the Conservative party does and it may also require concessions beyond that which the Tory party will support and there are suggestions that the more tepid option may be taken - engagement rather than full consummation. It will, I expect, also carry a promise that the deal will survive for a number of years - I would guess that it will last for the next four - rather like the concordat agreed between the Tories and the Liberals in Birmingham.

What has become clear over the past couple of days is that whatever the deal eventually turns out to be, it will not include a commitment to PR, a totemic policy since the formation of the party, but anathema to the Conservatives, who seem happy to continue with a faulty electoral system. Whether this will satisfy the Liberal party members, many of whom hold this as an absolute deal-breaker, is also up for question. Many Liberal voters, who thought that they were voting for a progressive party, may also have cause to feel disappointed, but those of us who live with the Liberal/Conservative coalition in Birmingham know that these two parties can work closely together. Or rather, the Liberals quickly get to like the trappings of office and sell out their principles faster than you can say ministerial car.

Another major problem for the parties is Europe. The Conservatives have shifted firmly to the Eurosceptics, with Ken Clarke the leader of a declining pro-European faction in the party, while the Liberals remain the most Europhiliac of any of the parties. At the moment, there seems to be little appetite for a fight over European issues, but if the Tories try to make good on their fanciful proposals to return to the European negotiating table over a number of issues, will the Liberals stand loyally by and let them do it? Or will this be one of those things that Cameron will be pragmatically able to let slide and return to should there be another term of Conservative government? I'm not aware of any major EU issues coming down the track and the Eurozone is currently focussed on keeping itself solvent rather than causing any new problems.

I hold little hope for Clegg coming to talk seriously to Gordon about coalition. The maths just about allows it as a parliamentary possibility, but it would force the involvement of the nationalist parties and those from Northern Ireland as well, creating a coalition that can govern until the first by-election. We don't want to struggle on as the Tories did after 1992, where each by-election heralded defeat and another chip away from the tiny majority. That is not a recipe for good governance, rather a signpost towards the wilderness. We have a chance to go away, lick our wounds and regroup, coming back - possibly as soon as the autumn - with a progressive agenda ready to put to the country.

For Labour, the need will be to get the blood-letting over and done with quickly. Gordon will almost certainly decide to resign and we will have to select a replacement. I'm hopeful that it will be a quick contest - 12 weeks is what the rulebook says - and that we'll get a chance to vote on the contenders rather than a single candidate emerging. One or both of the Millibands should be in there with Ed Balls and possibly Alan Johnson or even Alistair Darling in the running. It needs to be quick so that we can get back on to a war footing in double quick time, for if parliamentary history teaches us anything, it is that coalition agreements have a habit of falling apart fairly quickly. What we can't afford is a long-drawn out battle between left, right and centre and we need to learn from the Tories in 1997 and ourselves in 1979, the mistakes that we must avoid.

When the time comes - and come it will - we need to be ready to take on the Conservatives and their new chums, the Liberals. Fighting amongst ourselves will render us unelectable and that is something that is inconceivable.

Scalps wanted - Osborne will do for a start

The Tories are revolting. Hell, we knew that, but the anger at Dave's failure to translate millions of Cashcroft's pounds, a government that has had 13 years to make enemies, a thundering global recession and a prime minister who lacks PR slickness into a thumping majority in favour of rolling back government is starting to surface in unattributable briefings.

There is the style of Cameron's campaign management
"He ran his campaign from the back of his Jaguar with a smug, smarmy little clique – people like Osborne, Letwin and Michael Gove. He should get rid of all of them. The party will settle for nothing less."

There is the grand strategy of the Big Society, which was pithily described by one Tory MP as
"Complete crap.... We couldn't sell that stuff on the doorstep. It was pathetic. All we needed was a simple message on policy. We could have won a majority if we had not had to try to sell this nonsense"

It is even reported that Lord Cashpoint himself is displeased with Dave - not least for his agreement to take part in the three debates that created the short-lived Cleggmania. Lord Tebbit can be dismissed as the ravings of a nutter, but these other criticisms are from people currently involved and they are being voiced in the darker corners of the Westminster village.

There is also the issue of the minor celebrities, selected as A-listers to demonstrate the diversity and decontamination of the brand. A number of these, selected in winnable seats, crashed and burned spectacularly, including Annuziata Rees-Mogg, Shaun Bailey, Joanne Cash and Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, who all failed to win their target seats.

Dave has been slavishly following the Blair blueprint to power, but has clearly pushed the accelerator to the floor, so with cracks appearing in the facade within 48 hours of the election, I fully expect calls for Cameron to resign by the end of the week, with Osborne demanding his turn as Prime Minister before May is out.

Grab the popcorn and a deck-chair, folks. This could be a fascinating summer if the Tories decide that now is the right time to start their blood-letting.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Here come the Tory recriminations

If only Cameron had been more Conservative, says James Delingpole in the Telegraph.
Britain did not want another Heir to Blair. The Mk I version was quite bad enough. Britain did not want a faux Conservative whose role models were grim lefty termagant Polly Toynbee and Satan-worshipping leftist agitator Saul Alinsky. Britain found itself – quelle surprise – oddly reluctant to get in any way enthused by Dave’s bouncy new “Big Society” plan for teenagers and grandmothers to be compelled every other week to whitewash their local community centre.
That’s because what Britain really wanted – and definitely needed – was a charismatic leader more akin to Margaret Thatcher. Someone capable of restoring Britain’s economic efficiency and rolling back the state; someone who, instead of wittering on about how much they cared about the NHS, might understand the needs and aspirations (which Cameron doesn’t and never has) of the hard-working middle classes; someone who valued the principle of liberty and realised just how much of it we’ve lost in the last 13 years; someone unafraid to address issues of concern to so many people such as immigration and the growing power of the European Socialist Superstate.

He's not a happy bunny.
Cameron would have been quite capable of doing all this. But because he has no real personal ideology – as is the way with rich toffs in Conservative safe seats

Oof. Steve Hilton gets it in the neck and the only true believer worthy of praise is the scary Michael Gove.

So, who's next to take pot shots at Cameron?

If he can't do a deal with the Liberal Democrats, then this will only get worse and he will be gone within weeks.

A great night for Birmingham.

Some of my predictions went awry.

Magnificently, Labour's Fortress Edgbaston did not fall to the onward march of Deirdre Alden - and boy, was she unhappy this morning. The count was scheduled to complete by 0045 - there was great drama of the ballot boxes being run into the building in the glare of TV lights and the counters were working flat out. The initial rumour was that Deirdre had it by 2000 votes, but then it went into recount and it became clear that Gisela was actually ahead by almost 1300. What followed appear to have been an increasingly desperate series of counts in the vain hope that a bundle of Conservative votes would miraculously appear out of thin air to save Deirdre's embarrassment at not achieving her promised aim of being the next MP for Edgbaston. Eventually, she accepted that no matter how many recounts were carried out, 1300 votes weren't hiding anywhere and the result was declared. This was Tory target 39 and had received visits from the party leader, massive amounts of funding and had been worked solidly by Deirdre for years, but even that wasn't enough to sell Deirdre and Dave to the good folk of Edgbaston. Gisela has actually been working that seat exceptionally hard, connecting with her constituents and doing a cracking local job and deserves full praise for hanging on in there against the full force of Team Alden.

Gisela should have been despatched with the Labour/Tory swing, but her limpet-like attraction to Edgbaston is remarkable. Everyone thought that she was going to lose - possibly even she did, given her unalloyed glee at winning again, but I have said privately that while I expected her to go with the swing, I would not be surprised if she hung on. Next time, I'll put some money on that one. I'm really delighted that she's still there - she does outclass Deirdre by some distance, to be fair.

I thought we'd lose Hall Green, but Roger held on - despite some questionable leaflets - and was returned with a good majority of around 3k. It was being talked about that Respect had been pushed back heavily and that Jerry Evans could take it for the Liberals. Indeed, he ran a leaflet declaring that he was 'Almost There' - only to find out that 'almost' isn't enough. In fact, he slipped back on vote share from 2005 and into third place behind Respect, which made a decent showing, but still split the anti-Labour vote, allowing Roger Godsiff to cruise through to an easier victory than had been originally thought. Voting in some parts of the constituency was described by an observer as 'mental,' with queues down the street waiting to vote into the late evening.

Curiously, both the Liberals and the Tories were talking up Ladywood, with the chairman of the Ladywood Conservative Party claiming that Ayoub Khan, the Liberal candidate, was in a fight for second place. It now appears that Ayoub was fighting the Conservative candidate for that second spot and he lost ground on the 2005 election as Shabana Mahmood jogged through to an easy Labour win with a thumping 10,000 majority and a 55% vote share - up on 2005.

Selly Oak, despite Nationalising Nigel Dawkins' best attempts, stayed with Labour's Steve McCabe, Richard Burden is still with us in Northfield, Khalid Mahmood held on to Perry Barr quite easily, Liam Byrne is safe in Hodge Hill and Jack Dromey retained Erdington without any major drama - humanely despatching another Alden candidacy, although Bobby was promising that he would be back to take the seat at the next election. Well, you gotta have a dream.

My other outlying forecast of an against the odds hold was Solihull, where my initial view was that Lorely Burt would be evicted in favour of a well-backed Tory candidate with very deep pockets (some £100k over the past year has been spent on thousand upon thousand of glossy, colour leaflets delivered as a stream onto doormats across the constituency). Late on in the campaign, I changed my view and I reckoned that she would hold on - which she duly did, but only by the narrowest of margins, just 175 votes.

And my home ground of Yardley? Well, against a multi-millionaire, with an income of £200k from his extra-parliamentary work, a dozen tame councillors and five years to run up support, John Hemming was restricted to just another couple of hundred votes on his majority. I was expecting, given the climate, an increase to around 5-6000, but that wasn't the case. A resurgent Tory campaign and a shoestring Labour one, run by Lynette Kelly and Stewart Stacey, did a fine job of holding him down. Yes, we lost, but the seat is not out of reach, so I'm as happy as I can be with the result.

In short, with the exception of the semi-detached Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham yesterday rejected the new Cameroon form of Conservatism and largely rejected the advance of Cleggmania. Instead, Birmingham opted for a future for the many, not the few.

And now, off to see how the council count fares.

Update

Labour hold Ladywood - Lib Dem Ayoub Khan doesn't bother to attend declaration.

Edgbaston in another recount as Deirdre can't accept defeat. The Tories have failed to take their 39th target seat.



Thursday, May 06, 2010

Predictions

I'm writing this late on Wednesday night for publication just after the polls close on Thursday. Throughout this campaign, I've been cautious about making forecasts about outcomes, because I was not going to even risk being responsible for a Manish Sood moment, where some inconsequential chatter gets blown out of all proportion by an exceptionally biased media, working to a particular agenda - however lowly my position in the party (and believe me, it is lowly).

This hasn't been an election where we are looking to make gains - the wagons have been circled around what we have and we've been fighting a rearguard action to defend the sustainable majorities. So, here are my predictions for the outcome in Birmingham and Solihull

Birmingham Edgbaston - Conservative GAIN
A must win for the Tories. There's been a whole pile of money and effort expended here, so they expect to win - if they don't, then they aren't going to form a majority government. Gisela is a survivor and I would not be surprised if she managed to hold on, but I'm not being hopeful.

Birmingham Hall Green - Liberal Democrat GAIN
A brutal, three-cornered fight here, with the sitting Labour MP, Roger Godsiff, fighting on redrawn boundaries. Last time out, the Labour vote in my home ward of Fox Hollies delivered him his majority, but we're not there this time. Salma Yacoob for RESPECT is reputed to be in with a chance, but I can't see that she'll get any serious vote share from the Hall Green/Moseley end of the constituency. Cllr Jerry Evans is running for the Liberal Democrats and Roger's success depends upon the anti-Labour vote dividing neatly between RESPECT and the Liberals. This could be close. If Evans doesn't win, I'd also predict that this one will end up in the courts. Post-election, this has continued potential as a very interesting seat to watch.

Birmingham Selly Oak - Labour HOLD
Nigel Dawkins is fighting this one for the Tories and has put out the usual range of nice, colour glossy leaflets - as is the way for the Conservatives these days. He's up against Steve McCabe who is a doughty campaigner. Tough one to call, but I think Steve will just about scrape through.

Birmingham Northfield - Labour HOLD
Young new Tory candidate backed by a full slate of Tory councillors, but I suspect that Richard Burden will hold on here. He's well-liked locally, so this should carry him into another term as MP.

Birmingham Erdington - Labour HOLD
In my view, the biggest majority in Birmingham was under threat until Sion Simon stood down and Jack Dromey was nominated in his place. With the extra punch of the union behind him, Jack should have been able to mobilise sufficient support and should retain the seat, but I'd expect a reduced majority.

Birmingham Ladywood - Labour HOLD
Ayoub Khan is fighting this one hard for the Liberal Democrats, but I can't see him overturning the Labour majority and we'll send a fine young Muslim woman MP to parliament to represent the people of Ladywood.

Birmingham Perry Barr - Labour HOLD
No change, Khalid should be returned as an MP.

Birmingham Hodge Hill - Labour HOLD
Liam has been an excellent local constituency MP as well as doing his ministerial work, so that should pay off as he holds back the yellow peril.

Sutton Coldfield - Conservative HOLD
Much as Rob Pocock tries, this one isn't going to shift in a hurry. Sutton is almost irredeemably Conservative. Still, at least it means we know where they all are.

Birmingham Yardley - Liberal Democrat HOLD
Painful, but I don't think we've got the message out well enough to counter the influence of a multi-millionaire MP and a dozen loyal councillors. Sorry. We have a good candidate in the shape of Lynette Kelly, but I can't see this one coming home.

Solihull - Liberal Democrat HOLD
Bit of a surprise this one - for months, I thought that this was a dead cert for a Tory win. Technically, it has been regraded as a Conservative seat as the boundary changes instil a notional majority, but rumours indicate that the Liberals think that they may have held it. Betting against an incumbent Liberal is always a dangerous prospect and I'm tipping Lorely Burt to hold it against the onslaught of a very well-funded Tory campaign - I've heard figures of over £70,000 spent on the campaign, with dozens of glossy, colour leaflets hitting doormats across the constituency on a weekly basis. Perhaps the influence of Lord Cashcroft has actually had a negative effect on the electorate.

Meriden - Conservative HOLD
Nannygate Spelman should hang on in here, weighing her majority, but there are a couple of flies in the ointment. Nikki Sinclaire, formerly of UKIP, is running here on an independent ticket and has gained a good deal of support over the issue of the travellers and their attempts to build their own campsite by the A45, which has been seized upon by her and the local independents. The Tories have missed a trick here and while it won't cost Spelman her seat, her majority may well take a hit.

For months, my private view is that this election would result in a joyless transition to a Conservative government with a small majority under 30. The campaign has made a hung parliament much more likely, although I'd still expect the Tories to be the largest party and to want to try to govern solo as a minority government. I can't see the Liberal Democrats joining in coalition with them unless some serious concessions are made on the prospect for voting reform, but neither can I see the Liberals propping up a Labour government that had failed to win a larger share of seats in the House. I suspect that the Tories will collect around 300 seats, just short of an overall majority and I would also suggest that this means we will be back here either in the autumn or early next year for another election, almost certainly with a new leader of the Labour party.

Of course, this is all up for grabs. I've never come across so many people who really aren't sure how they are going to cast their vote. This could go one of several ways - they may just be so indecisive that they end up not voting at all, they might go into the polling booth and choose the 'change' option - regardless of how vague that premise actually is - or they might decide to stick with the devil that they know rather than picking an unknown incarnation. Frankly, if anyone tells you that they know how this is going to pan out, they are lying to you. This will be a fascinating election - certainly the most interesting since 1992 and probably since the early 1970s.

As the ancient Chinese curse is reputed to go - may you live in interesting times.

Chancellor Osborne


No, don't laugh. Just vote.

If you value it, vote for it


What are they really thinking? Do you know?

Priorities, Dave, priorities. Yah?


No, not the economy or education, but Dave has promised a free vote on repealing the ban on hunting and hare coursing. The polls are open until 10pm tonight. You know what you have to do to stop him.

You're no Barack Obama


All style, no substance. Look in the Mirror for the real David Cameron.

Reasons to vote Labour

Don't ever let someone tell you that politics doesn't change things. It is the only way to effect lasting change. Thirteen years of majority Labour government may end today - it may be up to you. Watch this and understand the changes that have come to this brilliant, unbroken Britain.

And as Gordon - a fighter reborn in the darkest hour - goes through the list of achievements, remember - the Conservatives and Liberals opposed many of these ideas, from the minimum wage to tough action on anti-social behaviour. It isn't just on the economy that they've been on the wrong side of the argument.

The audacity of dopes



This is the Sun frontpage for Thursday.


Guys, Cameron is not Obama. Really - he isn't. Obama is an inspirational leader. Cameron is a slick salesman.


The Mirror changed their front page and moved up a gear. At least somebody stands by us.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Telling it like it is

Language warnings apply, but Malcolm is on fire. Pick up any weapon and set about those robots, comrades.

Nightmarish visions

Eric Pickles told us that

our Conservative councils will demonstrate how we will run the country

Johann Hari thought that this was worth a look, so he had a look at Hammersmith and Fulham, a council that makes Cameron proud to be Tory leader. This is a council packed with compassionate Conservatives, who have cut services - leaving a heavily pregnant woman to sleep rough in the park rather than find her temporary accommodation, as required by law. They hiked the prices of meals on wheels, so the users chose to cut themselves off from contact and one guaranteed hot meal a day. They promised not to charge for in-home care and promptly introduced charges that have left disabled service users facing debt collection agencies for non-payment. They are looking to sell off council estates with minimal protection for the poorest residents and they have ripped up the local running track so a private company can run a polo tournament for the wealthy. Rather than retain and develop a youth club to support the young people of the borough, they have closed it and tried to sell it off, with only the collapse in the property market stopping them. It is a bleak future that Johann Hari describes, but one that may become familiar if David Cameron wins tomorrow.

The council here told people that if they took away services like this, there would be volunteers; if the state withered away, people would start to provide the services for each other. But nobody opened their home to Jane, or volunteered to feed Debbie, or started a new youth club on their own time and with their own money. The state retreated and the service collapsed. It's a rebranding trick. The Conservatives know that shutting down public services sounds cruel, while calling for volunteerism sounds kind – but the effect is exactly the same. It's as if Marie Antoinette called in Max Clifford, and he told her to stop saying "Let them eat cake" and start saying: "Let them form a workers' co-operative to distribute cake on a voluntary basis."


We've seen some of these in Birmingham, too - Meals on Wheels is to be scrapped and the users signposted to more expensive, privately-run options. Service charges for everything from funerals to golf have been hiked upwards as the council tries to milk the residents for every last penny, while trumpeting that they have kept rises in council tax down. The council is busy flogging off every bit of land that it can possibly offload - although it too has been hamstrung by the downturn in the property market.

Make no mistake, the Big Society is just a myth to cover the withdrawal of the state from provision of key services and to allow business to run those which can generate a profit while volunteers - from this non-existent pool of willing citizens - will do the dirty, unpopular, unprofitable jobs.


As one of his interviewees puts it,

People should look at what they have done to us in Hammersmith. This is what Cameron and Osborne want to do to Britain. They say so. Remember, the people running this council said before they were elected that they were compassionate Conservatives. I can see the Conservatism. Where's the compassion?

In hiding

Continuing on the thread from earlier, Cameron has also ducked an interview on BBC Five Live.

What with his sudden refusal to do anything that is not closely controlled - in contrast to Gordon, who is taking calls on Five Live as I write and a sudden interest in using the force of the law to suppress scrutiny, should we be worried about this shower who are already measuring the Downing Street curtains? It seems that in recent weeks, a Panorama report on Lord Ashcroft of Belize has been spiked following legal threats and both the BBC and Channel Four have been warned off by the lawyers over the Phillipa Stroud 'gay exorcism' story.

Yet when one no-hoper Labour candidate throws his toys out of the pram, the monstrous regiments of the national media hang on his every word with a reverence usually reserved for elder statesmen.

So we aren't allowed to hear about the business dealings of a major Tory donor and member of the legislature or about the superstitions driving a woman who is likely to be a Tory MP by the end of Thursday, but nutty views of a candidate who can't even count on support from his mother get full spectrum coverage.

Bullingdon values


Tom O'Bedlam @ b3ta

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Still scared

Further to my previous post about camera-shy Tories, it appears that George Osborne has not been interviewed by Sky's Adam Boulton during the campaign.

Frit.

Gordon will face interrogation on Wednesday evening at 7:30pm. With his current mood running riot - another barnstormer of a speech tonight - it could be good.



US imports

The Tories have attempted to use a variation on the Reaganism "There you go again" on a few occasions lately. Michael Gove tried it on Ed Balls yesterday on the Daily Politics education debate, but it had no effect. Reagan used it effectively in the debates with Jimmy Carter in the run up to the 1980 election, but Michael Gove is no Ronald Reagan.
This evening, Cameron has used another Republican campaign line, "Read my lips..." which was heard from the mouth of George Bush snr in 1988 when he was facing the might of Michael Dukakis. Cameron used it to make a promise about caring for the elderly and the sick. The only problem with the presidential precedent is that Bush used it to promise no new taxes - a promise he promptly broke while in office.

Safety first

It would seem that Cameron has learnt from the mistake of allowing Nick Clegg equal billing in the series of Leaders' Debates. He's not going to take the risk of detailing the tiny lead that they have - a vote share that is actually comparable to their performance in 2005. So, last week, Boy George Osborne was axed from Question Time and this week, Dave has finally cancelled a planned appearance on Channel 4 News that has been postponed for almost and fortnight and was pencilled in for tonight.

Wuss.

Pots and kettles

It is a bit rich for the Liberals to claim that Labour hints for tactical voting to keep out the Tories are a sign of desperation, given that this has formed the main plank of Liberal election campaigning since the dawn of time.



May the 4th be with you




Chocolateer @b3ta

Gordon - where the hell have you been?

Damn, I knew you could do it - but why did you have to wait until now? Cameron, Clegg - this is genuine passion, not gimmick-laden spin. This is Gordon unbound and unspun. Just watch this.

Gordon - more of this, please. Every chance you get, speak like this, let that word go out across the country.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Nasty party? What nasty party?

Last week, we had Philip Lardner dropped as a candidate by the Conservatives for stating his belief that it was wrong to teach

that homosexuality is 'normal' behaviour or an equal lifestyle choice to traditional marriage

which was the whole cause of the infamous section 28 - a law created to prevent an offence that never took place. He was treated far more harshly than Chris Grayling, who believes that it is reasonable to discriminate against gay people, but who survives on the Tory front bench, where he revels in spreading fear through misleading crime statistics. This week, we have Philippa Stroud, Conservative PPC for Sutton and Cheam, who apparently believes that the power of prayer can drive out the demons of gayness and make the gay straight. As an aside, she also belongs to a church that holds to patriarchal values, instructing that wives should be submissive to their husbands (raising the question of who will REALLY be voting when Ms Stroud passes through the lobby as a Tory MP). Indeed, a Tory councillor Denis Knowles on the Wirral, was suspended for posting on Facebook about 'limp-wristed campaigners.'


This may explain why Tory support by the readers of Gay News has dropped from 39% ten months ago to just 9% now.


Then we have the two Tory candidates suspended for a fracas at a John Prescott campaign stop in Poplar

The former Deputy Prime Minister was due to meet voters in Chrisp Street market, with local parliamentary candidate Jim Fitzpatrick when hecklers appeared, wearing face masks. Supporters kept them away from Prescott. One 46-year-old Labour member, also a council candidate, was punched in the stomach and a 61-year-old woman was knocked to the ground.According to police, one man was arrested at the scene and another a short time later. Both were questioned on suspicion of assault.

And in West Worcestershire, a royal visit by Nick Clegg was disrupted by local Conservatives, when the Liberal leader was

confronted by an angry chairman of West Worcestershire Conservatives, Dr Ken Pollock.... who is also a county councillor, was said to have “lunged” at the Liberal Democrat leader in a bid to confront him about the content of an election leaflet distributed locally.

And then today, we have two Conservatives suspended for a racist joke that Bernard Manning would have rejected. Oh, the hilarity.

The Big Con Society

Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you have to do for your country. Fancy a shift at A&E?

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Reasons

From Twitter, via @hopisen from @soho_politico

Labour doesn't give me all I want. It's a political party, not a magic wish machine. But it delivers on issues I care about.

Normblog

(2)As the Guardian says, even in announcing its own support for them, 'The Liberal Democrats are a very large party now, with support across the spectrum. But they remain in some respects a party of the middle and lower middle classes. Labour's record on poverty remains unmatched, and its link to the poor remains umbilical.'

(3) See above at 2, Labour's record on poverty unmatched - and social justice trumps other considerations unless these are of an exceptional and urgent kind