Friday, September 28, 2007

Tory Defection Rumours

The blogosphere has been alive with rumours that Tory MP John Bercow might defect to Labour, nowehere more so than on the new Sky News blog by Adam Boulton (or, at any rate, by lots of other people writing on Boulton's blog). Conservative Home reports this morning, however, that Bercow has just been readopted by his local Conservative Association. Seems unlikely that that would happen if Mr. Bercow ere thinking of defecting. In fact, Bercow is a committed and free-thinking Tory, and I guess the result of his independent approach is sometimes to tar him as a possible defector.

Election Summit's Pause for Thought?

As Gordon Brown decamps to Chequers this weekend with his inner cabinet, to consider the pros and cons of holding a snap election, he may be reviewing the local by-election results from yesterday (and yes, this time I'm indebted to U6th politics student and fellow blogger C.H.Daly!). The Conservatives made some useful inroads in the vote in places as diverse as Sunderland and Kent (see the BBC story here). So perhaps the notoriously cautious Brown will indeed wait for a new spring before contemplating his election prospects?

Nick Robinson recorded a short piece for the 'Today' programme (7.15 spot on Listen Again) repeating the view he has been expressing in his blog, that Brown is currently much nearer to calling an election than he has been since taking office. For robinson, the turning point was the Northern Rock crisis, and its failure to impede the government's poll advantage. But, of course, actual polls - like yesterday's by-elections - can tell a different story.

Clearly, much now depends on the performance Cameron gives this week at his party conference. Until we see that, election fever will remain in the air.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Too Young for Parliament?

In deference to eagle-eyed AS level student, Ollie Holland, who spotted this story, I should comment on the news that Tony Benn's grand-daughter is standing for Parliament. It's obviously good news to see people committed enough to offer their experience for public service, but Ms. Benn is merely 18! It seems unlikely that she was chosen for the depth of her political experience, or the breadth of her world knowledge, so it's great to see that the egalitarian Labour Party still loves dynasties. Emily's uncle, of course, is former deputy leadership contender Hilary Benn.

If you want to see what some people Emily's age, or slightly older, can experience, thanks to the government she wants to join, try this report on the Newsnight site. As I watched the television report of these events, I was reminded of some of the hairy experiences recounted by a not long left SGS history student, out there with the marines. That's experience.

At Least We're Free

We may bemoan the state of British politics, and politicians; we may wonder at our leaders' feet of clay, and concern ourselves with the wretched state of parts of our land; but at least we are free. The protestors of Burma, of course, have no such luxury. They may have a leader of genuine heroism and stature, on the scale of the once long-imprisoned Nelson Mandela, but that leader's thoughts, hopes and inspiration are locked behind, so it seems, prison walls.

We who treat democracy in such a cavalier fashion should look humbly and admiringly at the Burmese protestors. Every day they make their stand brings the likelihood of violent oppression ever closer, yet they carry on. The first protestors have been killed, but that tragedy hasn't intimidated others off the streets. In Britain, Gordon Brown worries that a November election is bad news because bad weather and dark nights will keep voters away from polling booths. Bad weather! Dark nights! We are a spoilt country indeed.

Burma is a famously closed country, but the 21st. century seems truly a people's century, a world without communications borders. The BBC has published several emailed and blogged accounts of events inside Burma on their news pages, while the excellent Reporters without Borders site gives a comprehensive account of the repression experienced by those who would report Burma's fate from within.

Gordon Brown and David Miliband's 'New Wave' foreign policy, meanwhile, struggles to cope with much more than verbal condemnations; yet British firms still invest in Burma, and France hinders the EU's approach because of its oil interests there. The UN, of course, exhibits its own particular uselessness in such a situation. Confronted with the heroism of ordinary and oppressed people in an oft ignored country, western leaders seem both irrelevant and banal.

10.45pm: On Newsnight, the ever watchable Paxman has just challenged French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner with this very point - your position would be more tenable if you weren't the biggest western investor in Burma! He seems to have got Kouchner to promise an embargo on investment.

Who are Cameron's Friends....?

Increasingly, people whose number can be counted on the fingers of one hand, it would appear. Cameron may not be losing much sleep over the latest broadside from vampire look-a-like Norman Tebbit, on day release from his coffin. But he might be a bit more concerned about the seeming distance being placed by right-hand man and shadow chancellor George Osborne in a 'Spectator' interview due out tomorrow.

Tebbit has used the light of the full moon to enter the fray by commending Gordon Brown for inviting Margaret Thatcher round for tea, and generally praising the Labour prime minister for having pretty well all those qualities so sadly lacking in David Cameron. You know. Gravitas, courtesy (to old right-wingers), power, humourlessness, lack of an Eton education and being generally kind to former female Tory prime ministers. Tebbit condemned Cameron for not knowing what the world outside politics is like, in a devastating comment that might rebound with many disillusioned Tories, to say nothing of others tiring of the Cameron glamour:

"He has spent much of his time in the Conservative Party and as a public relations guy. Well it's not the experience of most people in the streets."

Meanwhile, in the 'Spectator' tomorrow, meanwhile, George Osborne appears to be trying to distance himself from Tory modernisers (leader: D. Cameron), with such easily non-misunderstood comments as:

"I don’t take the kind of ├╝ber-modernising view that some have had, that you can’t talk about crime or immigration or lower taxes."

Hmmm. You might dismiss Tebbit as a cantankerous old rightist made ever more grumpy by being left out in the cold, but Osborne's meant to be at the heart of the Tory modernising project. Of all the party leaders, it is certainly Cameron who appears to have most at stake during his party conference. Will Blair Mk. 2 recover his poise to be a real challenger for Brown?

UPDATE: The Spectator's political editor, Fraser Nelson, who interviewed Osborne, claims on the Spectator blog that this is not a story about a possible rift.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Paxman v. Miliband

Newsnight featured a report from Burma (or Myanmar as its rulers prefer it to be known) tonight. That the situation there is desperate is not in doubt, and the monks provide a remarkable example of courage and resilience in the face of potential violence from the military dictatorship towards them. Also, still under house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader, represents extraordinary dignity under pressure, and a continued hope for her people. The Newsnight report suggested that the British government was less than energetic in its pursuit of policies that might help to bring freedom to Myanmar.

In the interview between Jeremy Paxman and David Miliband afterwards, there was a noticeable edginess, with Miliband curling his lip at most of Paxo's questions, and Paxo at one point curtly telling Miliband not to patronise him! Pressed by Paxman on the level of British support for Burma, Miliband kept saying "I don't have any statistics for that". They ended courteously enough, but it is not often that I've seen such apparent antagonism flow over so consistently into an interview, even a Paxman one.

In his blog post before the interview, Paxman describes Miliband's speech as delivering "his first Foreign Secretary's speech to conference as if he was the school swot being asked to talk at Speech Day"! Paxman's comments in full are here.

Not Flash, Just Gordon........really!

The Saatchis have outdone themselves with that brilliant ad campaign about Gordon Brown - 'Not Flash, Just Gordon'. Genius. Wit worthy of the great Wodehouse. But William Langley argues in the First Post today that, actually, Gordon is, in fact.....flash. His article is here.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Could the Sun be setting on Brown?

The Sun has launched a new political campaign. It wants a referendum on the EU Treaty. It has invoked Churchillian headlining to get its cheeky, heartwarming message across - yesterday's 'Never have so few decided so much for so many', and today's verdict on Brown's speech: 'Not His Finest Hour'. So is its all too powerful owner, the non-UK domiciled, non-UK taxpaying Rupert Murdoch, cooling on Labour's new leader?

Murdoch hates the EU because it is big enough to regulate him and stop him in his tracks. But his top-selling red-top successfully masquerades as a patriotic defender of British interests, and often makes the claim that it can get leaders elected. It would be nice to see politicians of all colours racing full pelt away from the super soaraway Sun, but sadly, if there is a chance that it is moving away from Brown, we can guarantee that the Euro-sceptic Cameron (and his former Murdoch employee appointment as Communications Director, Andy Coulson) will be leaping through any hoop necessary to win its support back to his party.

Meanwhile, in other news from the politically savvy Sun:
- Meet some of Paris Hilton's hot loves;
- X-rated chocs made me rich, says the man behind Britain's first range of premium saucy chocs;
- Jade Goody's slimming pill hell;
- and Sun Woman offers advice on how to school yourself to a brand new hot bod, with their Back to School fitness and health regime!

How other countries must envy our newspapers!

Brown Punishes and Prevents, and doesn't predict a riot.

Gordon Brown carefully avoided excitement or humour in his workmanlike speech to the Labour conference today. He told us, in a brilliant turn of phrase, that he 'won't let you down', although the 'you' in question was the gathered Labour Party members rather than the wider nation. He predictably avoided any mention of the election that he has no intention of calling this year. And he made clear he disliked binge-drinking, and under-age drinking - well, anyone who's been to a formal dinner and watched teenagers over-indulge can testify to that!

The speech as a whole, with its morality (nice little use of a famous biblical quote about suffer the little children), its proud to be British line, and its straightforward injunctions, was almost redolent of another era. One friend of mine, a former SGS teacher and sound Labour man, texted me to say that he'd "just seen Maggie Brown's speech". Quite.

On crime, he followed the usual line of Labour governments by producing a new slogan to deal with increasing disorder - 'punish and prevent'. That should send the criminals running, and cause large numbers of illegally held guns to be handed in. And if it doesn't work, well, we can always produce a new slogan next year. Obviously, after giving his speech, he returned to his prime ministerial car, so that he didn't have to expose himself to the possible sight of citizens behaving badly. After all, he might have mused to himself:
Watching the people get lairy
Is not very pretty I tell thee
Walking through town is quite scary
And not very sensible

Corrupt? Or doing a good job under pressure?

I'm in danger of becoming an Oborne bore, having referenced his book twice already, but his Channel 4 Dispatches programme this evening was a pretty watchable attack on the generous allowance treatment handed out to MP's. As well as exposing some of the profitable housing payments that MP's can claim (and outing senior figures such as Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper), Oborne also turned his attention to the extraordinary passage of David MacLean's privacy Bill (designed to benefit MP's only), and the regular undermining of the independent Commissioner for parliamentary standards. It was mildly scandalous stuff, although Oborne gave it all the outrage he could muster, and there is no doubt that the parliamentary system as it currently operates encourages a sense of immunity and separation amongst MP's from the society they are meant to represent. But, to be fair, he was not revealing major league corruption; his issue was that the MP's allow themselves the luxury of passing legislation that protects them all too well. Outside influences are not allowed too near to the comfortable club!

One encouraging thing was that amongst our representatives there are still unsung mavericks like Richard Shepherd (Con.), David Winnick (Lab) or the indefatigable Norman Baker (LD) who will investigate with a verve bordering on obsession the potential infringements of public probity that might exist, no matter how much enmity they incur from fellow members of the club!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Angry Mob

"We are the Angry Mob, we read the papers every day;
we like who we like, we hate who we hate
But we're oh so easily swayed."

Take Robert Murat. A few weeks ago he was the tabloids' enemy no. 1 as the only suspect in the Madeleine McCann case. His life was ripped apart in huge, headline spanning, multi page character assassinations. He was super-bad. No paper was more vigorous - because it was one of their journalists, after all, who reported Murat to the Portuguese police - than the Mirror. Matthew Paris pointed out on today's Andrew Marr programme a tiny story in the Sunday Mirror buried well inside the paper. It's substance? That Robert Murat had effectively been cleared of all suspicion. Another triumph for the tabloid task of life-ruining.

UPDATE: Of course, on a purely parochial note, we do have our own tabloid sensationalism - how many times, for instance, does the little sports rag WTSSG seek to demean worthy, hard-working members of staff over such things as the selling of their car? Ridiculous! And as for the call for more disicpline....

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Twentieth Century Prime Ministers

They’ve been a pretty diverse bunch, with just a few superstars – and some of those were a bit ropey – these leaders of the nation in our last century. I’m not quite sure why now is the appropriate time, but BBC4 came up with a dream of a parlour game for political anoraks, the judging of the group of charlatans, power-seekers, visionaries, public servants and one or two straightforward weirdos who became British PM. Andrew Marr, a commentator who has lost a position and is still searching for a role, was chairing the debate with such usual suspects as Polly Toynbee, Andrew Roberts, Simon Jenkins, and that old political name dropper Anthony Howard. There were some interesting presentations.

I often don’t know what to make of Tony Benn. Utterly useless minister when given the chance to wield a bit of power; destroyed the Labour Party in the 80s; clearly mad; capable of utter incoherence when giving big political speeches; and yet actually he has passion, a sincere vision and a individual form of honesty. His take on Attlee was a relatively conventional one, but he was on the button when he pointed out that Attlee was not interested in his own image, but in how his policies could affect people, unlike his modern day successors.

When discussion came round to two arch-Tory pessimists, MacMillan and the Last Lord, Salisbury, there was a fascinating little interchange on Tory ideology. Andrew Roberts rightly observed that Toryism was about pessimism towards human nature, with a consequent political drive to contain humanity’s worst elements; Toynbee then piped up with some anti-conservative jibe to which the eloquent Simon Jenkins then responded of socialism, that you could say it saw humanity as evil and needing wholesale, state imposed change. Well, he was right about the practice, if not the ideology!

I knew the bit about Blair would annoy me, and Baroness Amos gave a ludicrously weak and laboured defence – typical of a New Labour groupie of no known distinction. Extraordinarily, she used his response to the July 2005 tube bombings as evidence of his greatness. Actually, his response, from an international gathering at Gleneagles, was of the same hammy level as all of his other hand of history speeches. What was missing, from Amos and Blair, was any recognition that the only reason the tube bombings occurred at all was the Iraq war that this PM so disastrously let us in for. Never has a leader so wilfully undermined the security of his own nation. Anyway, the discussion afterwards, however, was relatively favourable, even from Tory historian Roberts, who could usefully have been more scathing.

The final outcome of what was at times a genuinely interesting discussion, in the sort of civilised non-confrontational way that this type of programme has a habit of producing, was, inevitably, a reaffirmation of the history-making and history-writing Churchill as greatest PM of the 20th. Century. Thatcher had to make do with equality alongside Attlee and Lloyd George as the second-ranked PM. Not sure that was right though – I think she deserves to hold that position on her own.
[Churchill, still Britain's greatest PM of the 20th. century, speaks in front of one of the US's greatest ever presidents, and no mean turner of a fine phrase himself - Lincoln]

Brown at Conference

Well ok, it's not the biggest news around but, yes, PM Gordon Brown has indeed arrived at his party's yearly jamboree. This, at least, is a leader in no danger from restless party hacks (unlike his two rivals) and who is still playing the 'will he won't he' guessing game about whether to hold an election. Two of his female cabinet members - Harriet Harman and Yvette Cooper - showed all of the political acumen that their sex is derided for when, interviewed by the BBC on this ever-interesting topic, they managed to tell us that 'Gordon Brown will call an election when he's ready and given it proper thought'. No, really? So we can call Sherlock off the 'Case of the Missing Election' now, then?

Meanwhile, for those staying in on Saturday night (this might include those still suffering the after-effects of the OSA dinner on Friday), Andrew Marr's run through of the twentieth century's prime ministers might be worth a watch, on BBC 4. Gordon, of course, is firmly twenty-first century.

The Triumph of the Political Class

A bit of polemical political reading is in store for those who want to be challenged about the state of the nation's political health. I mentioned in the previous post the right-wing journalist Peter Oborne's Spectator article about the rise of a professional, self-absorbed and narcissistic political class, which he believes has been poisoning British political discourse. Well, his thesis is elaborated in a new book, 'The Triumph of the Political Class', reviewed favourably (here) by the Sunday Times' Simon Jenkins, and clearly well worth a look for anyone who wants a blast of controversial fresh air to blow through their notions of how the British state is working.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Gordon Resurfaces; A Political Class is Exposed

Gordon Brown, for all his admirable qualities, does have a tendency to flit under the radar when the going gets tough. He's been virtually invisible over the last few days as the Northern Rock crisis hit - well - rock bottom. Instead, his Chancellor, the hitherto virtually invisible and inaudible Alastair Darling, has suddenly been given a chance to improve his public profile. Not, mind you, that he has proved particularly adept of course. This evening, however, the crisis appeared to be receding, and Gordon felt safe enough to re-emerge and give us some comments from above.

Iconoclastic right-wing commentator Peter Oborne, meanwhile, has uncovered what he believes to be the current incarnation of the Ruling Class, or what was once known as the Establishment. Enter, stage left, the Political Class. Oborne's Spectator article on the subject is here, and whilst only convincing in parts, and largely dependent on passionate polemic, it is worth a read. With care.

Cheeky News for Ming

Sir Menzies Campbell, trying to focus on worthy policies rather than media trivia, would not be human if he hadn't groaned inwardly at the latest bit of publicity garnered by his party clown, Lembit Opik. Opik's holiday snaps of himself and his Romanian girlfriend are currently appearing in 'Hello' magazine, that well known repository of political insights. Lembit's girl, famously one half of the one-hit-wonders the Cheeky Girls, was in Romania for breast enlargement and eye-bag removal treatment, preparatory to relaunching her 'musical career'. Lembit was doubtless hoping to relaunch his political career, but no such luck.

However, Ming can take some comfort from a poll in today's Guardian. It places David Cameron as the least liked of the party leaders, nicely behind Ming himself and the Great Gordo. Good leadership news at last!

Boris in Sutton!

"I'm delighted to be in one of the few parts of the country that I haven't yet insulted."

And so began the inimitable Boris Johnson's patter as he disembarked briefly from his battlebus to address the denizens of Sutton High Street. I'm not sure what sort of audience he was expecting during his mid-morning stopover, but at least he can say he's been here; and, a point he made clearly, his opponent rarely bothers to concern himself with London's outer boroughs. This blog's exclusive video capture of Boris' Sutton foray is courtesy of senior prefects Matthew Hurst-Smith and James Miller, who had somehow evaded the top-range, tri-gates security system that now encircles the school to grab a brief, illicit moment of freedom in Sutton. On their way to their reserved table in Starbucks, they saw the Tories' most noted celebrity, and quickly captured his doubtless oft-repeated stump speech. Alas for SGS, Boris was too busy to come and visit us personally, so the video has to do.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Northern Rock's Labour Heritage

Having been a bit dismissive about the Northern Rock affair in the previous post, I see that blogger 'Guido Fawkes', in one of his rare serious posts, casts suspicion on the reasons for the government's bail out of Northern Rock, and likens the whole sorry business to a commentary on Brown's handling of the economy in microcosm. The post is here. And some of the comments following provide an interesting dialogue, some challenging and some endorsing the Fawkes view.

Thatcher in Red Dress Shame

Gordon Brown clearly thoroughly enjoys being prime minister, and particularly likes the bit where he gets to keep winding up the Tory party. This week's game was called 'Invite a Former Tory PM to No.10', and the obliging guest star was, of course, Lady Thatcher. Quite why it matters to the Tories that she has gone to visit Brown, or whether it really matters to anyone outside the Westminster village, remains a moot point. Perhaps it is the suspicion that Gordon Brown resembles the Iron Lady far more closely than her most recent successor as Tory Party leader that is giving the Cameron High Command the heebie jeebies. And they are rattled. Malcolm Rifkind even resorted to criticising the baroness's choice of a red dress for the meeting.

But Cameron has rallied today, and resorted to traditional opposition politics by roundly blaming the problems of Northern Rock on Gordon Brown. That's better. We know where we are with those more sweeping condemnations. Now if only Margaret Thatcher had joined the board of Northern Rock as one of her retirement posts, Cameron would be laughing. Because, as the former adviser to Norman Lamont on Black Wednesday, his judgment in matters economic has always been most sound!

Ming Still Leader Shock

The Liberals begin their conference with the future of Ming the Merciless as the main news item. That Sir Menzies is hardly an inspiring leader is not news, but in the absence of a history of drunkenness, or cavorting with rentboys, or phoning gay chatlines, I guess the fact that Ming is, well, old, is the best our hard working political reporters can come up with at the moment. He is stubbornly refusing to provide any other scandals. Yes, he's a tad boring, and no, he's not good at soundbites, but are those really now good enough reasons to write him off? I have to say that tactically he sometimes seems to be a little inept, but given some of Team Cameron's errors that is not a monopoly position.

One journalist, actually, who was prepared in today's papers to provide more of a fair hearing for Ming, is the Observer's Andrew Rawnsley, whose view is that no leader (not even a mix of Caesar, Churchill and Mandela) would currently be able to do much about the historic Liberal position of being, er, third. But perhaps this week will raise the profile of the third party so much that we start to see it as a potential government. And perhaps Lady Thatcher will be nice about David Cameron.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Memories of a Dingo

I will forebear to recount the tasteless car joke texted me by a friend (it involves a play on words to do with a particular model of Renault) and instead note that the McCann tragedy bears comparison with the famous Australian dingo baby case more than twenty years ago. Online paper "The First Post" carries an article recalling the earlier incident, and commenting on the comparisons.

The Chancellor's Cat, and other stories

You know it's a quiet time on the domestic political front when you find news about a cat in Downing Street creeping up the story table. Apparently, there is a new cat around at 10 Downing Street. Fascinatingly, it's called Sybil, and belongs to a chap called Alastair Darling. As such, it is getting more publicity than its owner has managed in several months. As most members of the new L6 politics set revealed all too shamefully, the identity of Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer is a well kept secret. His cat, however, can apparently garner acres of publicity...

Less significant news might encompass the growing call for a referendum on the EU Reform Treaty. It is not entirely surprising that David Cameron is clutching at this one in the same way that one might seize anxiously on the one edible item on display in the school canteen, but to Gordon Brown's dismay, the TUC today also voted in favour of holding a referendum. Europe, designed to reduce even the fastest pulse to a crawl, still manages to wind the political classes into a lather. As for Cameron, like his predecessors, he clearly sees a healthy dose of Euro referendum calling as a catch all cure for party division.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Can Green Politics Rescue the Tories?

"It hasn't been a good week for David Cameron" has become, over the summer, an increasingly common statement. And last week, alas, wasn't one to break the mould. Not only did he have to put a brave face on the appointment of two of his MPs as 'advisers' to Gordon Brown, but one of his former party Vice-Treasurers has now joined them. Brown is nothing if not thorough in his determination to denude the Tories of supporters. Johann Eliasch was a significant backer for the Tories, but the promise of more direct involvement in the formulation of environmental policies proved too tempting. After all, if you want to change things, government is the place to be.

Today, however, has seen a bit of a green surge on the part of the Tories. One of his many policy groups has reported back, recommending a range of tax incentives to go green. This is a difficult tight-rope walk for Mr. Cameron. On the one hand, his green credentials are at the heart of his attempt to modernise the Tory party and make it electable again. On the other, one of the Tories' most clearly defined policy positions is against high taxation. How he balances these two, and whether he can start to produce an upswing against Mr. Brown, still remains to be seen.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Newsnight and Gordon Brown

Newsnight had a bit of fun at Gordon Brown's expense today. David Cameron has called for a debate, Brown has refused. So far, so predictable. Cue the Newsnight report which retrieved a 20 year old bit of television featuring a young MP called Gordon Brown, busy attacking then PM Margaret Thatcher for her refusal to hold a debate with opposition leader Neil Kinnock. 'So what's changed in those twenty years?' asked the Newsnight man at Brown's press conference today, to general laughter. Oh, and another fascinating feature of the archival tv segment was the big haired young presenter - one J. Paxman esquire.

Cameron attacked by a shadow

Michael Ancram has never been one of the better known Tory MPs. He's fought for the leadership, coming bottom of the poll, and as Shadow Foreign Secretary, such was his low profile that he became known as the man who put the 'shadow' into shadow foreign secretary. Admittedly, those were quiet times, as then PM Tony Blair determined on an invasion of Iraq, presented dodgy dossiers etc. But it is this same Ancram who has suddenly decided to present a 30 page pamphlet attacking Cameron for failing to adopt a more Thatcherite legacy, and generally proving to be another unhelpful news item for Mr. Cameron. Ancram's motives are obscure, but his quick dash into the limelight is unlikely to have any more impact than his longer stint as shadow foreign secretary.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Boris' Election

The Tories may be being rattled by thoughts of a general election, but one election they are probably looking forward to, if only because it promises humour, colour and a clash of titanic egos, is the London mayoral election. Boris launched his campaign today in front of a fairly modest looking audience, comprised largely of people who have signed up to his facebook campaign. His promotional video started in mute fashion as well - there was Boris talking, but no actual sound was coming out his mouth (a situation some Conservative strategists might prefer to maintain). Nonetheless, the Tories' most recognisable public figure is now in the running - even if, at present, it is simply for the actual party nomination.

Should he get his party's call he will, of course, be up against the arch manipulator himself, Ken Livingstone, with likely third candidate interest being provided for the Lib Dems' by SGS's very own ex-pupil, former police chief Brian Paddick.

Anyway, the Boris campaign website is here, and it includes the promotional video - with sound fully active. Watch it and see if you can listen without wanting to laugh; then ask whether you see Boris as a politician or a comedian.

Are the Tories rattled by Election Fever?

What a difference a leader makes! Just over two months ago the Tories, under their bright, newish young leader, still seemed a strong prospect. Yes, they'd had a wobble over grammar schools, but they were in better fettle than Labour and David Cameron seemed a far more positive bet than tarnished war leader Tony Blair. Even better, Blair's inevitable successor was an unsmiling Scot who seemed utterly ill suited to modern media politics. Well, I guess everyone gets to be wrong a few times, but there was hardly a single Tory adviser who could have predicted the Brown 'bounce' that has so wrong-footed them over the summer.

Gordon Brown is undoubtedly enjoying bating the Tories with that potent power of an incumbent Prime Minister - the power to hold an election when he chooses. The enjoyment will only be the greater for the remarkable reputation Brown has managed to acquire as PM. Simply by a skilfull performance as the anti-Blair, he has won plaudits and popularity that have made David Cameron look, well, rather last year. Then there's today's news about Brown's acquisition of a couple of Tory backbenchers, and one Lib Dem, as government advisers. He really does look like the experienced leader of a bipartisan government of all the talents.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have both sought to put the best possible gloss on their MPs' new roles, but it sounds a bit like justifying a decision the individuals concerned had already determined to make. Patrick Mercer is a distinctly odd choice for Brown as security adviser, and it must be a sign of his annoyance with Dave that he bothered to take the role at all. John Bercow is an altogether more thoughtful MP, and, given his own political journey from right-wing student gauleiter to left-ish Tory guru, it is less surprising that he has accepted Brown's blandishments. But the overall effect is what matters for the cunning PM - he has once again set the cat among the Tory pigeons - adding a quick kick at some Lib Dem ones for good measure - and shown that he remains in full command of the political agenda.

So what are Cameron's chances? I can't see much money being laid on him becoming Prime Minister next year at present, but politics is nothing if not fickle. Gordon Brown, for all his current mischief making, is unlikely to forego his famed caution for a snap election this year, and the longer he remains in office the less entrenched his poll lead is likely to become. David Cameron, meanwhile, is starting to firm up his political message. Having significantly altered the perception of the Tory party over the past year or two, he has now started looking towards distinctive Tory policies on tax and law and order to put distance between himself and Brown. His policy building needs to be carefully undertaken, however, given that his predecessors are haunted by the fact that they too tried to take the Tory party back to the centre before surrendering it to its right-wing. Cameron hasn't done that yet, but one of Brown's calculations must be that he might be able to panic Cameron back into the thrice-losing Tory right-wing laager.

And so, as a new academic year dawns, with Parliament still a month away from its return, the political agenda is already hotting up and proving, as ever, that politics is the most unpredictable of activities.