Thursday, December 28, 2006

So.....No Change After Christmas

Christmas has come and gone and left barely a trace of its spiritual impact upon our politicians who have been anxious to get back to normal. Tony Blair is off to the home of yet another celeb for his Christmas holiday (Robin Gibb, ex-Bee Gee this time), while his party chairman, the diminutive motorcycling enthusiast Hazel Blears, has joined a protest against the government of which she is a member.

Now we know that the idea of individual ministerial responsibility lost any basis in reality some years ago, but there was hope that the collective responsibility ideal - all members of the government support the decisions of government, or else resign in order to oppose them - might have continued to have force. Apparenrtly not. Ms. Blears has been demonstrating against the closure of a local hospital A and E department. Very noble, and very local. And very un-collective. And it wouldn't, I suppose, have anything to do with the fact that her seat disappears under new boundary arrangements, and she is in a tough battle to win re-selection in the one seat still left that is due to select a candidate shortly? Never mind collective security....just stick to what plays well locally!

Have a good new year, and I wil start blogging again in earnest on our return. Meanwhile, I'll just go and catch up on all those 'Lembit Opik is a twat' articles that seemed to festoon the holiday press!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Lembit: An Apology

I may have occasionally given the impression over the course of the past couple of weeks that I thought Lembit Opik was a lightweight politician of no fixed principles, whose support for successive candidates in Liberal leadership elections was like sounding a death knell, and whose conviction, expressed at a recent conference, that Liberals were flawed but moral was simply laughable.

Clearly, in the light of revelations about his adultery with a Cheeky Girl whilst engaged to a Weather Girl, I owe you and him an apology..........for having been right.

What a twit!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Like Spooks? Here come ‘Rogue Spooks’!


The BBC’s spy drama Spooks is commonly considered to be excellent – right up there with top American series like 24, but inevitably a little lower than West Wing. Well the BBC is keen to maintain the Spooks audience reach and attach it to BBC 3, so it is commissioning a spin-off series, ‘Rogue Spooks’. According to BBC Online,

'Rogue Spooks', the drama's working title, will follow young MI5 recruits who "follow a different rule book".

Can’t wait, although it would be nice to think the BBC could commission completely new drama as well. I have an idea for a series that follows the political career of a dynamic school teacher, clearly headed for the top but for the actions of a few disenchanted voters in the West Midlands. It’s got real potential I think.

Ministerial Responsibility


The doctrine of ministerial responsibility states that ministers are ultimately responsible for the actions of their departments, even if they themselves are not directly involved. It is a doctrine that has been battered out of recognition in recent years – it is rare to find ministers resigning as a result of ministerial decision making, never mind that of anyone more junior. It may just, however, be re-emerging in a different form.

Geoff Hoon was the Defence Secretary who helped take us in to the Iraq war. He was also the minister responsible for all aspects of the armed forces, including their equipping. The British army, notoriously, was thoroughly ill-equipped when it was sent out on yet another dangerous foreign mission by this government. Now, Hoon may be called to give evidence at the inquest into the death of British tank commander Sgt. Steve Roberts. Roberts was killed shortly after being asked to give up his body armour because of shortages. Hoon apparently took eight weeks to authorize the issuing of body armour. The coronor in charge of the inquest has hinted that he may call Mr. Hoon to give evidence.

This is, of course, a long way from the traditional acceptance of ministerial responsibility, where the course of action should be for ministers to accept responsibility while still in office, and either resign or do something to improve matters. Hoon has a particularly wretched record, including his role in the David Kelly affair, but it would be satisfying, if ultimately unproductive, to see him squirming on the inquest stand as he tries to explain away at least one aspect of his incompetent performance as Defence Secretary.

Girls Aloud to Spread the Word


Tony Blair may now be feeling the firm hand of the law on his sweaty collar, the Stevens Report may be telling us what everyone except Mohammed Al-Fayed has always known about the Diana Crash, but the big news today is in fact the foray into politics by the ladies' popular music combo Girls Aloud!

They've told politicians to stop 'trying to be cool'; Ms. Cole has said she doesn't fancy David Cameron (he said he fancied her the most when asked in a recent interview); and they have exclusively revealed they once met Gordon Brown.....but it might, on reflection, have been John Reid, they're not sure.

They are anti-war, pro-grammar school and pro-high taxation. And they think politicians should stick to trying to run the country while bands like, well, themselves, go into schools to spread the word. That way, politics need never be boring. As band member Nicola Roberts said, watching politicians can be dull - "It's boring. No 18-year-old wants to watch Gordon Brown doing his whole speech - turn it over!" Whereas listening to the masterminds behind that complex musical composition 'Love Machine' talk politics will enlighten us all. Genius.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Daly Planet [sigh!]

Mr. Daly is a regular poster of comments on these pages, so it is good to see that he has finally decided the comment box is too small for all he has to say, and has established his own blog. With a parody blog having been established almost instantaneously, Mr. Daly is learning the truth of the fact that those who stick their heads above the parapet are immediately susceptible to the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism - and Mr. Daly doesn't just stick his head above the parapet, he veritably strolls along its battlements. Ah well, we need opinion and argument, far better than apathetic acknowledgement that nothing will change, so good luck to him. His blog is listed in the links at the side.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Does Cameron Need Policies?


Have just finished watching a Newsnight interview where some right-wing loon called Jon Gaunt, who presents a radio show and writes for, erm, the Sun, has been given plenty of air time to attack a Cameroonie about the Tories' lack of policies. Paxman, having earlier demolished the Labour minister Phil Woolas, was particularly ineffective in this exchange, but so too was the Cameroonie - MP Ed Vaizey. Gaunt ranted on for a while about the lack of clear policies coming from Cameron, but in fact it turned out that what he really meant was the lack of good old fashioned right-wing moral and social fascism that served the Conservatives so well in the last two elections.

Surprisingly, Vaizey took him at face value - allowing him to confuse his right-wing urges for some principled stand about having actual policies. Instead, Vaizey should have taken him to task for sheer humbug. The absence of policies charge is wearing thin. Cameron is staking out a range of positions but, sensibly for an opposition leader, refusing to elaborate the policy detail without considerable debate. Ths was David Willett's point a couple of weeks ago. Having spent a year identifying the key problems, it seems appropriate to spend time developing rigorous and well thought through policies rather than a series of quick knee jerk reactions.

The Gaunt-Vaizey interchange came about because of a Newsnight report that Cameron has failed to shift the public image of the Conservative Party very significantly, and that he may now be relying too much on the bogey figure of Gordon Brown to help him out. BBC Online's Nick Assinder reaches much the same conclusion in his report here. Whatever the truth of the latter charge, it is certainly the case that, for all his advances, Cameron cannot afford complacency one year on as leader. But then, in all fairness, he never looked as if he would.

Gordon's Snap Election?


One of the controversial powers of a prime minister is the ability to call an election whenever they want. We may think we're electing five year parliaments, but not if the premier of the day prefers to go earlier. The usual reason for this - as exercised by Thatcher and Blair - is to assure a victory while polls are high, instead of waiting for the unpredictability of another year.

There is another reason, and it's being discussed at the moment. All three parties are preparing for a possible snap election as early as next year on the grounds that Gordon Brown, if elected as new Labour leader, might want to capitalise on the novelty and not wait for disillusionment to set in. He would also be keen to get his own mandate.

It's an odd call this, as on the one hand it seems the very essence of democracy that a leader elected by a party should then seek a wider mandate. Our parliamentary system, however, doesn't operate like this. We don't elect prime minsisters, we elect representatives for a period of five years. We do not ask for, and certainly don't get, a guarantee that the party will keep the same leader for the 5 year duration; we do ask that representatives continue to exercise their judgement about the laws they pass, and stick to the broad manifesto they offered at the general election. A change of leader doesn't necessarily mean a change of political direction. Perhaps we also ask that they don't subject us to an abuse of their power to call elections when it suits them?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Fraudulence and Insight

I hope to put a longer piece here about today's conference in time, but for the moment a few quick summary thoughts.
1. The brains are in the media rather than parliament - the most interesting analyses came from Andrew Neil and Matthew D'Ancona (despte D'Ancona's initial shakiness when confronted with an audience of young people!), while the parliamentary representatives, Opik and Johnson, were weak and superficial.
2. Boris Johnson is no longer funny. His routine today was tragic - no other word for it. This man has forsaken any interest in a serious political career because he is obsessed by his own celebrity, and that requires him to do the bumbling Boris act more or less continuously!
3. Lembit Opik is still a crowd pleaser. He showed this weakness at Bristol, where he and I were on opposite sides of a freedom of speech issue (he as union president, me as vice-chairman of the Tories) - he hasn't changed.
4. Good old tub thumping politics is a joy - the Respect chap was great; a typical argumentative socialist, and the crowning triumph of his session was the mutual abuse between him and Simon O'Donnell's new friend. A brilliant session - politics in the raw. Take note, Monday debaters!
5. Crowds are as fickle as ever - they booed and cheered Mr. Respect within the space of a minute. "For he is an honourable man" - just read your Mark Anthony in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar Act 3 Scene 2; a masterclass in crowd manipulation.
6. Shami Chakrabarti is really worthy, over intense and actualy rather dull. And I don't think freedom is as doomed as she is suggesting.
7. Some lecturers can be funny; others use sex as a way of getting self-conscious teenagers to laugh along with them. You decide about Philip Cowley! That said, his session was extremely valuable, and you can read his basic thesis in the current 'Politics Review' Vol.16 No. 2, p.20. Also check out his website, Revolts - linked at the right of this blog. And his sex graph was all wrong.....
8. Simon O'Donnell is prepared to put his money where his mouth his - one of the most loquacious of the politics set at least had the courage to go and ask a couple of questions in fromt of 2,000 people. His first question went well and got the wretched Opik to describe his friend Mark Oaten as having 'exotic' taste; the second question was ceded to someone bigger than him.

More thoughts to follow, especially on Gordon Brown, the phantom presence at today's conference - but after the weekend.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Eco-Fundamentalism!


With nearly everyone accepting the arguments of climate change, and the green agenda being taken up by every and any politician like there's no tomorrow - which, I guess, there isn't really, if they're right! - it is refreshing to hear a leading politician lambast the 'green alarmists'. If only for a change of tune. And yes, he's really an ex-politician, since we're talking about Nigel Lawson, the good lord who was once Margaret Thatcher's reforming Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Early in November, in a speech to the Centre for Policy Studies, Lawson attacked many of the green scientists as 'eco-fundamentalists', said warmer climates would in any case be good for some countries and that we can surely all cope with a little bit of rising ocean level. He's weighed in again this evening, in an interview on the web channel 18 doughtystreet.com, describing the Stern Report as 'fraudulent', and a new 'dodgy dossier' for Blair to wield in our faces.

It's certainly a different view. Previous criticisms of the Stern Report complained that it was the only report to make the cataclysm of climate change sound positively boring. And it is not, perhaps, surprising that any report endorsed by Blair would now be seen in a negative light - weapons of mass destruction in Iraq anyone? That said, it would be bad news for a liberal democracy if the debate on climate change was all one way, so we should welcome Lord Lawson's comments for that reason alone. On the whole, I think it is getting hotter...but I'm no scientist.

Good, Bad or Indifferent....Which is Cameron?

The consensus view amongst the commentators - who, of course, bear little if any relation to, you know, actual people who vote - is that Cameron has worked wonders in changing the image of the Tory Party, but has of course got nowhere with policy. You can almost hear the snigger. Image is easy - especially with a highly paid PR man, who just happens to be an old Eton mate, at your side (step forward Steve Hilton). But policy....well, that's a whole new ball game.

In fact, it isn't true that Mr. Cameron has been entirely policy lite. He couldn't change the image of the Tory party without dealing with its recent ideological heritage, much of which he has felt compelled to dump. BBC Online's Nick Assinder admitted as much in his article:

" So he is for the environment, bicycles, windmills and internet blogs. He supports the NHS, the poorest in society, minorities of all sorts and even misunderstood hoodies.
He is not any longer for tax cuts before public spending, "privatisation" of the health service, or offering vouchers for education, for example.
And he is a liberal, not neo-Conservative who may look as much to the Guardian's Polly Toynbee for advice on welfare as to Winston Churchill."


Although to be fair on that last point, Cameron did distance himself from la Toynbee in his Sunday Telegraph interview at the weekend. He's just interested in her one interesting metaphor, he suggested.

The real problem for the Tory leader lies in the polls. After an initial surge when he first became leader, his poll ratings have been frustratingly static. He has yet, it seems, to make a big impression on the public in terms of their determination to vote for him. I suspect the polls tell only part of the story. It has been enough so far for Cameron not, at any rate, to be hated, and to change the impression everyone has of Tories. Armed with the clear, 'gritty' policies he says he will have (see this BBC article) and put him up against the dour Scot, and he starts to look much more electable. And it may be anecdotal, but I'm losing count of the number of apolitical acquaintances who say they will probably vote Tory next time....after three elections at the shrine of Mr. Blair!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Iain Dale's Diary: Quotes of the Day

Iain Dale's Diary: Quotes of the Day

Iain Dale's is another of the plethora of Tory/right-wing blogs out there (I really must start reading a few of the leftie ones); he has cobbled together a number of entertaining quotes here though. Click on the link and see whether any are wall-worthy - we need some more!

Cameron Watch - more revealing interviews

As David Cameron approaches his first anniversary as leader, his interview quotient is increasing, and we can expect lots of "Cameron - A Year On" analyses from overpaid political hacks desperate to fill their columns. The Conservative Home website carries lengthy comment on a couple of recent profiles (from the Telegraph today, and the Guardian yesterday) which are worth reading here. That particular website is very tuned in to Conservative opinion, and does not give a particularly favourable overview of Cameron's performance. Read it and see.