Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A Niche for Nietzsche

There is much to write about today's excellent U6th session on Nietzsche, given by Mr. Gibson. Presented in his usual passionate fashion, there is no doubt that he was able to give a fascinating, if very personal, perspective. We have the Nazification of Nietzsche on Thursday, and sadly I suspect there will be no time for me to comment and summarise what we've heard until after Easter (ski trip and Pennines call after all!). So I suggest you email for those notes, and we can generate a discussion on our return!

Boring But Important

Ken Clarke was asked by David Cameron to chair his Democracy task force, and this has now reported. Clarke makes much of returning to a more Cabinet based government, which he wants entrenched, and of a need to increase the respect for and role of parliament. These are, of course, aimed firmly at the widely held perception that both cabinet and parliament have been forced to take a back seat under Blair. Iain Dale summarises the main points of the report thus:

* A system to entrench a process of collective Cabinet government. This will require a new and strengthened Ministerial Code, covering the required procedures for approval of policies by Cabinet

* To give the new Ministerial Code authority it must be approved by a Parliamentary resolution

* The responsibility for monitoring the Code should be taken out of the hands of the Prime Minister and placed in the hands of a body with powers comparable to those of the National Audit Office, reporting to a Parliamentary Committee

* The Committee on Standards in Public Life to establish a code of conduct for government publications and advertising campaigns

* Decisions to go to war or to commit troops to areas of conflict should require Parliamentary approval. Decisions on war making should no longer rest solely on the unfettered use of the Royal Prerogative by the Prime Minister

* Treaties with financial, legal or territorial implications for the United Kingdom or its citizens should require Parliamentary approval before ratification and should no longer involve the use of the Royal Prerogative.

There are some interesting recommendations that should strike a chord with every politics student who sometimes wonders whether the theoretical stuff we study ever has an impact on living, breathing politicians.

Clarke's own assessment of his report can be seen on the webcameron here.

The Tory Toff

There has been a modest amount of excitement among the blogs about the Peter Hitchens hatchet job on Cameron for the Channel 4 series 'Dispatches'. The Cameron haters from both left and right inevitably loved the programme, while the Cameroonies have plenty of issues with it. You can get our very own Conor Daly's triumphant views about how the programme exposes Cameron for the fraud he is on his blog here; the [right-wing] Tory commentator Iain Dale, meanwhile, takes a predictably more wary view of the programme he was asked to help with, on his blog here. Left-of-centre politics lecturer Bill Jones also comments here.

So no shortage of views on the man still most likely to be the prime minister after Gordon Brown. No-one doubts Cameron's appetite for power - there was a time when that was all that was considered necessary for a successful Tory leader. And opportunists have always had a role in politics - there was no greater opportunist than Lenin, who would have been a footnoted failure if he had not been able to seize and use opportunities and cut his political cloth accordingly (New Economic Policy anyone?). Then there is Tony Blair himself - the man who dropped all of his bona fide left-wing causes in the race to make Labour electable again. So why is Cameron, the leader of a party which once prided itself on a lack of ideology, getting it in the neck all of a sudden?

First, there is the envy factor. In a society where egalitarianism has become a holy grail, and elitism one of the worst of sins, a man who went to Eton can hardly expect to have a decent press. When another Old Etonian, Douglas Hurd, ran for the leadership of the Tory Party in 1990, this decent man was hindered from the start by the simple fact of his schooling. We loathe Eton because we can't all go there, and we would much rather force everyone to come up from the mediocratic institutions of the state - preferably an anonymous comprehensive.

The second reason, however, is to do with the feeling of betrayal of many hard-line Tories. Hitchens is an example of this, as is Robin Harris, Margaret Thatcher's former Policy Unit head, who was also interviewed in the programme. Men like these, and the countless comment makers on 'Conservative Home', hate the fact that Cameron has been quietly jettisoning the worst aspects of the Tories' ideological baggage, and hate even more the fact that it has proved popular amongst voters, if polling is to be believed. In much the same way as Labour true believers would have preferred to keep their unelectable policies intact than pander to the frailties of electability, so too the Thatcherite rightists loathe any thought that their party might become sullied by appealing beyond its core. Both groups would much rather party politics remained a private affair, confined to the true believers. The crime of Cameron now - and Blair over the course of a decade or more - has been to by-pass the immovable core of their parties and successfully appeal for support from the uncommitted mainstream.

Of course Hitchens hates Cameron. He has recognised the reality of modern electoral politics and moved the Tory party accordingly. It's how you get elected and if, as Cameron is and Hitchens isn 't, you are interested in the pragmatic pursuit of power in order to achieve some of your political aims, then that's what you have to do. It isn't betrayal. It's democracy in action.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Team Cameron

Much blood has been spilled over the reputation of Gordon Brown.....did I say blood? That damn Stalin analogy - gets everywhere. Of course I meant much ink. Regardless, Brown is just one of the two likely principal protagonists at the next election, so what about Cameron. I am indebted to the ever eagle eyed Conor Daly for drawing my attention to a major Guardian feature on 'Team Cameron' - the people surrounding the Tory leader. One got the impression that this was meant to be a pretty devastating expose of an extraordinary and mysterious clique. Understand it, was the implication, and you'll never look at Cameron in the same way again. Alas, no such luck! Over four pages of G2, this was pretty thin stuff.

The main conclusions were that Cameron is surrounded by a young-ish team; they all went to Eton; they are polite to journalists; they may be young but they're not novices and...er...that's about it. The Guardian's real gripe, I think, is the Eton one. How dare the aspiring leader of a modern egalitarian democracy come from an elitist school and then use his school-mates as advisers! Eton's always been divisive, but it's hardly a killer point!

More significant, I think, is the political pedigree of these advisers. For all the veneer of Tory progressiveness that provides the nice sheen on the surface of Project Cameron, his closest supporters hail from a right-wing, euro-sceptic past that has no more relationship with traditional Tory One Nation-ism than Blair does with working class socialism. They understand modernisation in terms of public perception and high-profile political campaigning on 'triangulation' issues. But there is no heart or passion to what they are doing. The Guardian reporter got that bit right - they want power, but to what end?

Tomorrow a film called 'Amazing Grace' is released. It follows the extraordinary political crusade of eighteenth century Tory MP William Wilberforce as he fought to abolish slavery. Of course, Wilberforce was inspired by his Christian faith to pursue his noble campaign against often enormous odds. The film's title is taken from the hymn by former slave trader turned Christian minister, John Newton, who inspired Wilberforce. But whatever the personal inspiration, such a film might prompt us to ask the question today, 'where are the men of principle and idealism'? In a world of spin, are we no longer capable of producing the Wilberforces and Shaftesburys? Compared to such giants, David Cameron looks small indeed.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Slippery Hain

Commons seating is a wonderful thing. It was a joy to behold the slippery and unloved Labour deputy leadership candidate Peter Hain squeeze himself next to current Deputy Leader John Prescott on the front bench - which also made sure that he was the only other person in shot, alongside the PM, Chancellor and Deputy PM! Nice move!

Nietzsche on Thursday

And a quick reminder to any U6 students who may have accidentally ventured onto this blog - gird up your intellects, as Mr. Gibson is talking Nietzsche in tomorrow morning's session! L6 students with free periods also welcome to attend by the way - you won't get the chance to hear this again!

Brown's Budget

Plenty of electronic text will be clogging up the web in analyzing Gordon Brown's last budget. You can tell he's got his eyes set on being prime minister, and has taken all that 'dour old Chancellor' stuff to heart, as he even started us off with a couple of light-hearted jokes. Well, I say jokes - judge for yourselves. First off, he announced that in the last two centuries, only one other chancellor had delivered 11 budgets, and then went on to deliver a 12th., when he served as both chancellor and prime minister - that was William Gladstone. Gordon laughed as he said this, but did we detect a certain wistfulness? And how modest he was to compare himself with one of the giants of 19th. century politics.

The comparison might be better than anyone thinks - Gladstone was a serious minded, immensely weighty politician who took himself very seriously and was a man of considerable inner faith - Queen Victoria didn't get on with him because, she claimed, he would preach at her all the time. His best known Tory opponent was the debonair, witty, amusing, modernising Tory politician Benjamin Disraeli, the man who introduced the phrase 'One Nation' into the political lexicon, but was also regarded as being, perhaps, a little superficial; a little committed to style over substance?

His other joke was to call the civil servants 'comrades' - a reference to Lord Turnbull's criticism yesterday of Brown's 'Stalinist' approach. Gordon laughed again - but apparently was 'incandescant' yesterday!

So - two historical comparisons to muse - which will it be???

Oh, and as to the budget - that 2p off income tax was a nice touch, and theatrically delivered, almost catching David Cameron off guard - but a pity it had all been reclaimed earlier in the budget. The BBC's Nick Robinson described this as a 'revenue neutral' budget!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Men Under Siege?

Feminism is modern, dynamic, and has had a huge impact on society. Too much of an impact? I came across this video, a 2005 report on CBS about how fathers are demeaned in American popular culture, which was referenced in the blog of one Glenn Sacks, a wait for it, 'fathers and men's issues commentator'. It's an entertaining report, if you have the time, and includes the comment:

"Feminism has created a wonderful gift for us....the gift of empowered women but the shadow side of feminism is that it has demonized men as if we had to find an enemy to women's empowerment".

That Brown Leadership Debate - again!

Guardian online today carries another poll report showing a substantial gap between Gordon Brown and David Cameron, with the Tory leader enjoying a 15 point lead over his likely Labour opponent at the next election. All Labour MP's can do is look and groan as they fail to find a credible challenger to the brooding chancellor. Meanwhile, Tory blogger Iain Dale writes, on the Guardian's 'Comment is Free' pages here, that there is still time for David Miliband to launch a potentially successful challenge to Brown for the Labour leadership and thus remove, in one fell swoop, the gap that has opened up between the two parties. Miliband, argues Dale, can go head to head with Cameron on all of the personal areas that are currently perceived as advantages for Cameron over Brown. All that is wanting, says Dale, is a bit of good old fashioned courage on the part of Labour's young pretender.

A message of doom indeed. In fact, things are not nearly so bleak as they might seem for the chancellor, and the Tories know it. The Tory lead is weak and metropolitan, and for all that Brown may not seem to have a huge amount of warmth he is a chancellor continuing to preside over a long period of prosperity and who just seems, well, much more experienced - in a positive way - than his Tory challenger. Andrew Rawnsley, in yesterday's 'Observer', put the case for Brown and noted, furthermore, that here was someone who knew where all the levers of power were, and wouldn't hesitate to use them to his advantage in an electoral fight. The Tories that he spoke to, said Rawnsley, were by no means over-optimistic about Brown as an electoral 'gift'.

Iain Dale, meanwhile, is surely engaging in a bit of sublime Tory mischief. Nothing could be better for the Tories than a nice old ding-dong within the Labour party, exposing Brown to all sorts of attacks whilst also, usefully, dragging bright new-seeming Mr. Miliband down as well. Miliband's lack of desire for a fight is not for want of courage - it is clear, cold, calculation. He is either figuring a Labour defeat at the next election, after which he would indeed be well placed to emerge as a much stronger leadership candidate. Or, more likely, he is conscious of the Hague precedent - a young, bright seeming new leader crashing before his time.

Labour MP's may be wanting enthusiasm for Brown, but they know they are not going to stop his accession, and some of the brighter ones may even see in it the potential for a surprising rejuvenation that the poker-faced chancellor wouldn't dream of revealing before the time is ripe. Let the Tories enjoy their brief flirtation with poll leads, he seems to be saying - I'll be back!!

[Oh, and if you like the accompaying picture, try the blog from which it comes - the spine - for much more of the same!!]

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Sunday Round-Up

Quick reference again to the 'First Post's' online round-up of the Sunday papers, which is here.

David Cameron has also moved to his other big issue, by once again asserting the Tory commitment to the NHS (BBC report is here). Whether this strategy works - big speeches and policy announcements on Green issues and the NHS, designed to create the perception of a more modern, caring Tory Party - still remains to be seen. One of the Sunday stories on the round-up suggests that the green taxes idea may have backfired.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Feminism in a Modern World

In its original form, feminism was a movement to gain political, legal and civil rights for women - effectively to apply the liberal doctrine of individual freedom to women as well as men. With that aim largely achieved by the mid-twentieth century, in the 1960s a so-called 'second wave' of feminism emerged, more radical and also more disparate in its aims. At the heart of feminist ideology is the concept of patriarchy (male supremacy), and the belief of modern feminists is that it is so deep rooted that it requires more than simply extending voting rights to women in order to remove it.

Well, possibly - there is certainly a debate to be had here. Many might argue that in the modern world the place of women is far less inferior than feminists might suppose, and that modern women hardly represent a great example of female liberation. The story of modern woman Toni Comer, last week, was not exactly edifying. This was the woman who launched a legal attack on police for the way they arrested her after a typical night out. The blogger Frank Chalk writes about it as follows:

"Poor Toni Comer, whilst taking a break from looking after her two year old, accidently got howling drunk, was thrown out of a nightclub, vandalised someone's car, then punched, bit and spat at the poor copper unlucky enough to have to arrest her. Obviously she is a victim who needs urgent compensation."

Then, of course, there are the many social reports bemoaning the lack of male role models for boys growing up on hard-nosed urban estates, and the generally poor advance made by boys academically when compared with their more motivated female peers. Feminism, in the modern age, mnay have had its chips - it's time for the boys to reassert their rights and develop an ideology!!

More Parliamentary Rebellions

The Trident issue is the latest one to cause headaches for the government, although one is bound to ask how much, in the twilight of his premiership, Tony Blair really cares. Wednesday sees the vote in the Commons about the proposal to renew the Trident programme, and so far a low ranking minister (Nigel Griffiths, Deputy Leader of the House of Commons) and a couple of PPS's have resigned over the issue. The government faces around 100 rebels on its own benches, but, as on Education, the Tories are ready to ride to the rescue and vote for the Trident renewal. There must be times when Tony Blair feels a kinship with his famous predecessor, the first Labour Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald, who eventually survived in office thanks to the Tories. It's unlikely to be a great feeling - Macdonald was expelled from the party, despite his achievement in having been their first ever Prime Minister. What price the future of a mere three-termer?

The BBC story on the Griffiths resignation is here, and worth noting for material on ministerial resignations (the inability to maintain collective responsibility in this case).

UPDATE: Philip Cowley was on Newsnight tonight to comment on the prospective rebellion. It must be serious!

CORRECTION (13/03/07): There is only 1 PPS who has so far declared he is resigning - Jim Devine - not two as stated above!

Who's Winning The Green War?

Well, they've gone head to head. Cameron and Brown have both unveiled 'green' policies today which means, in theory, that the green lobby is in a win-win position at any rate.

David Cameron revealed a well trailed policy to use taxes on domestic airline flights as a way of reducing our national 'carbon footprint', and encouraging us all to think about our travel habits. Gordon Brown, meanwhile, proposed a less high profile set of measures, including the need to make homes better insulated and the phasing out of 'standby' buttons on electronic goods. Fascinatingly, it is Cameron who has risked voter wrath by going for an unpopular tax option, while Brown has opted for a more voter friendly option. This may have something to do with recent polling evidence, for instance by yougov, showing that Brown is still perceived as being on the left wing on his party and so cannot afford to generate the wrong image re. taxation, while the Tory Party is still seen as being very right-wing, with a more moderate Cameron doing all he can to challenge the perception of an 'uncaring' party. So there are good polling reasons for the respective standpoints, but hopefully some principles as well.

In Cameron's case, the initial reaction to his proposals has been far from warm. He has achieved the unheard of feat of uniting Virgin Atlantic and British Airways in opposition to his proposals, while Murdoch's continuing love-in with New Labour was seen in the 'Sun's' negative reaction. In his own party, too, Cameron faces the anger of the not inconsiderable number of low-taxers, so perhaps, after all, he is following principle more than expediency in his now relatively long-lived green agenda.

BBC Report on the Brown policies, and comparison with Tory ones, is here.
Peter Kellner in First Post writes about Cameron's gamble here.
The website Conservative Home shows some of the diehard Tory reaction here, particularly with regard to the tax agenda.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Is Fascism Boring?

Fascism, and its sister variant Nazism, dominated the middle years of the 20th. century. It was responsible for millions of deaths, often systematically carried out. It took over the leadership of two democratic European countries, and inspired and enthused millions of their citizens. It provided two of the most significant hate figures of history, was directly responsible for the cataclysmic watershed of the Second World War and still exists in neo-fascist and neo-nazi groups on the fringes of politics in several European countries today. So boring?

I only ask, because the study of fascism has reduced my U6th to torpor and disinterest. When one student, the DHB no less, initiates a class verdict on learning the subject with the phrase, "Does anyone else find this boring?", and gets a positive response - well, we're in trouble. Before I hang up my metaphorical gown and go and work in a bookshop somewhere, I thought I would make one last effort to point you to the enduring fascination of this extraordinary, if perplexing, ideology.

In the somewhat laclustre presentations we had in class, one group was asked to look at the internal coherence of nazism, and another at whether fascism even deserved to be called an ideology. Here is one contemporary European writer, Jose Ortega y Gasset, in 'Sobre el Fascismo' (1927), quoted by Kevin Passmore in his 'Very Short Introduction to Fascism' (OUP):

'Fascism has an enigmatic countenance because in it appears the most counterpoised contents. It asserts authoritarianism and organises rebellion. It fights against contemporary democracy and, on the other hand, does not believe in the restoration of any past rule. It seems to pose itself as the forge of a strong State, and uses means most conducive to its dissolution, as if it were a destructive faction or secret society. Whichever way we approach fascism we find that it is simultaneously one thing and the contrary....'

And fascism brought us the concept of totalitarianism, a word invented by the Italian fascists to encapsulate, as Passmore puts it, their drive to 'nationalise' the Italian masses.

An ideology that appealed to streetfighters and intellectuals, which glorified a mythic national past and yet was obsessed with the dynamism and technology of the future. The only ideological term to have made its way fully into modern vocabulary as a term of abuse. It is certainly many things, but boring? Please!

Portillo on Lords Reform

"Cowardly politicians make bad decisions." So begins Michael Portillo in an excellent article for the Sunday Times on the subject of Lords Reform. Articulating a passionate defence of the Lords as it stands, en route he takes a swipe at the system of closed list voting (entirely beneficial to party leaders he says), and the Scottish problem that will exist for a Gordon Brown who might want to avoid too many overt comments on electoral 'legitimacy' while he uses Scottish votes for English measures.

New Labour Hates Christians

Tony Blair's Christianity is well trumpeted by the many allies asked to talk about him to commentators and others. So I wonder how happy he is about this little exchange between one of his ministers and a christian lobbyist. Meeting the minister to discuss the religious hatred bill, the christian preacher said that, under the bill, if he preached about Jesus Christ as written in the Bible, then he would be liable for a prison sentence. The government minister's response? "I hope so. We despise you and everything you stand for." So at least we're clear then.....

Sunday Round-Up

The First Post has an excellent digest of the Sunday Papers here.

Of note are the following stories:

The Tories have announced a proposal for 'green' taxes on domestic flights, thus seeking to reinforce their environmental credentials. They've even invited Al Gore to address the shadow cabinet on Thursday! Particularly useful for A2 students working out how to answer the question about what conservatism stands for today! (Sunday Telegraph here, and pretty well every other news outlet including BBC here).

The Observer publishes a major story concerning the dismal treatment being meted out to soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. It seems that the government is happy to send them to fight, but not so happy to deal with the collateral damage when they returned in less than full fighting health. It is a grotesque story, and worth reading here. (What with this story, and the Levy exclusive last week, the Guardian titles are rapidly becoming my favourite papers!)

No worries on the health front for Gordon Brown though. The man who would like to abolish private health care has just been in for some private dental treatment! They'll be telling us next that Labour ministers send their children to grammar and independent schools.....ah...but of course they do!
Lord Levy could face a prison sentence, according to the Sunday Times, which claims he asked Downing Street advisers to lie to police about his involvement with honours.

Prince Charles understands that, as a constitutional monarch, he cannot meddle in political affairs, reports the Sunday Express today, in another world beating exclusive.

And for all you unreconstructed homophobes out there, I'm sure you'll love the story that, since the abolition of Section 28, some local authorities are about to try out new, gay-friendly reading books in primary schools. Titles include 'King and King', about a prince whose mother introduces him to lots of princesses only to have him fall in love with one of their brothers; and 'Tango makes three', a story about two male penguins who acquire a baby penguin in the zoo. Hmmm. Frankly any story with talking animals is nauseous whatever the story premise!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Tory Racism Gets Swift Retribution

Well, well. Just as David Cameron is getting along well, portraying the Tories as the new nice party, kind to all, jettisoning its bigoted past, along comes a front bench spokesman to throw it all away with a few ill judged comments.

Patrick Mercer spoke for the Tories on homeland security, and seemed to have a good career ahead of him. Then, he gave an interview in which he spoke of his experiences as an army officer who came across racism in the forces. The full story from the 'Times', to whom he gave the interview, is here. Among the points he was making was to describe the need for an anti-racism union of servicemen from former colonial countries as 'utter rot', and to claim that many ethnic servicemen used racism as a useful way to excuse 'idleness'.

Read the interview in full, and you find a fascinating glimpse into the psychology of the modern army, and the atmosphere that, it seems, allows an incipient racism to permeate much thinking. There is, of course, a danger of rushing to judgement to condemn Mercer's comments without considering some of the serious, and widely held, points that he makes. And it is important to note that he is not condoning racism in any of what he says. But the nature of his comments, and that he made them at all, speaks volumes for his political judgement in the media age of short soundbites that carry all before them.

Cameron has acted fast. Mercer has been forced to resign pretty well instantly, and the Tory leader can now concentrate on dealing with the damage which, he can reasonably hope, will be short term. His action here is in stark contrast to the racism row that dogged William Hague as leader, when he failed to deal with a backbench Tory MP who made far more overtly racist comments than the ones uttered by Mercer, and which blossomed into a full blown row over racism in the Tory Party (excuse the indulgent link!). What Cameron must hope he has ensured is that the errant comments of a single MP cannot be taken to represent the views of a whole party, and that his sharp reaction has nipped this potential row in the bud. Nick Assinder's article on BBC online makes a useful analysis of Cameron's reaction here.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Tangled Webs and Turkeys

So much to talk about, so little time.....

The big story at the beginning of the week, of course, was the Lord Levy revelation. Well, not so much a revelation as a tiny shard of light on an ever murkier business. There is an old adage that says "Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive", and it is now this, rather than the original sin of selling honours for cash, that seems to be permeating No. 10 Downing Street. Whether or not Lord Levy did seek to pressure No. 10 aide Ruth Turner into altering her recollections remains to be seen, although the Guardian report that sparked the latest series of revelations certainly seemed to think so. One is reminded of the Watergate scandal, which started to mushroom in a similarly innocuous way, and ultimately became a scandal as much about the cover-up as anything else. Hardly a happy precedent for Tony Blair as he prepares for his last few months in office. Across the pond, of course, Blair's friend Bush is in similarly dire straits, with the ruling against the Vice-President's former aide Lewis Libby (read about it here) giving the distinct impression of two decaying, fin de siecle regimes.

Meanwhile, the House of Lords Reform debate received a boost with this evening's vote in the House of Commons overwhelmingly backing an elected chamber. There were plenty of high sounding comments from dull politicians about how good all this is for democracy, but whether another democratic chamber is really the solution to Britain's political ills remains to be seen. The Lords, to date, has proved a most effective revising and checking chamber, challenging the Commons on many occasions and offering more cogent scrutiny in many cases than the often superficial and whip dominated elected chamber. And one wonders how keen MP's really are on sharing their power with another elected chamber. One peeress used the old comparison of 'turkeys voting for an early Christmas' to describe today's vote. A second elected chamber really will be an alternative source of authority. A final thought on the proposed reform is that if it ain't broke don't fix it, and there is little evidence that the Lords is broke. Those ambitious, high sounding comments are already echoing rather shallowly.
Following TM's comment, there will hopefully be some more U6th - friendly posts coming soon. Fascism is being debated tomorrow, and that must be good for a rant or two.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Questions on Parliament

If you're up this late, and checking the blog, you deserve a little guidance. Powers of the Lords, the extent of parliament's representativeness, and an anlysis of the scrutiny and accountability functions of parliament wouldn't be far off the mark for revision topics!

A World Without America

This is one of the video ads being put out by the internet politics tv station 18doughty street. It has caused quite a stir on youtube, where it has received over 250,000 hits and over 4,000 comments. The station is a right-wing venture, funded by Lord Archer's former aide Stephan Shakespeare, using the fortune he has made from polling organisation YouGov. Their avowed aim is to use new media to bypass what they see as the hidebound and biased attitudes of old media, and these political ads are part of that process. BBC online reports on what it sees as the coming of age of internet politics here, but not everyone shares their view that the web is the place where it's at! After all, 18 doughty street, with its evening chat programmes, will struggle for some time to get audiences anything like the size of Question Time or Newsnight, and it is noticeable that new media still uses old media to trumpet their successes. Nonetheless, politicians of all parties are leaping into the web-o-sphere - Clarke and Milburn's venture being merely the latest. And don't forget, across the pond, that Hillary Clinton launched her presidential bid on the internet, that here in the UK David Cameron has seen fit to establish his webcameron, that all bar one of the Labour Deputy Leadership candidates have set up websites, and that most newspaper and media outlets now have a whole host of blogs to accompany their more traditional output. New media may not yet be setting the agenda, but it is a given part of the news gathering process now.

To finish, here is another of the doughty street videos, this one emulating the US attack ad format against Ken Livingstone.

Parliamentary Rebellion

The BBC news story about the rebellion over the probation service is here. You should also check out the information on the Revolts website set up by Philip Cowley here. On the issue of parliamentary scrutiny, Jack Straw, Commons Leader, appeared before the House of Commons Procedural Committee and has made some interesting comments reported here, about the volume of MPs' questions and the increasing level of scrutiny being uncertaken by the Commons. All useful stuff in view of tomorrow's test.