Showing posts from 2008

Christmas Present

" A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more."

These words are from over two and a half thousand years ago, a Jewish prophet giving a stark warning to the doomed people of Judah. They are quoted by the gospeller Matthew in his account of the nativity. They could be the words used of any number of places in the world today. The lamentations of mothers weeping for their children in the Congo, in Zimbabwe, in the Gaza strip, in Iraq, in Afghanistan. Or what about the mothers of teenagers killed by knives in London, the mother of Rhys Jones, the mother of Rachel Davies, killed by an airgun shot to the eye? Matthew quoted those words after describing Herod's massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem aged two and under. The historical veracity of the story is awkward in fact, but the meaning is clear enough. The birth of the saviour - of God come to Earth - is placed firmly in a flawed…

The Clangers Explain Politics

This is an absolute gem. The legend who was Oliver Postgate died last week. He was the creator of brilliant children's programmes like Bagpuss, Ivor the Engine and the Clangers. Courtesy of the Political Betting blog, I came across this link to a Clangers episode in which the joys of democracy are explained to them. "Who's in charge of the Clangers planet?" asks Postgate, the narrator, and the Clangers shake their heads. "There you are then, that's the cause of all your troubles." Know just how they feel....

Flames and Facebook

And the big news from Surrey this rainy morning is that Waitrose in Banstead has been destroyed by a fire. Flames swept the building last night, and comments swept facebook almost as quickly, which happened to be where I first heard about it. This, of course, is because Waitrose is the hub of so much life in Banstead and the surrounding area, and SGS has its share of commitment to it, from sixth form workers arranging the now burnt out vegetable shelves, to members of staff doing their weekly shop. What will they all do with Christmas just around the corner? Facebook, meanwhile, proves its worth as a useful community news tool.

Leaking Like a Sieve

They may have been anxious to arrest Tory MP Damian Green, but the Met might find itself busy with more senior figures in Parliament and Westminster. Downing Street is already in trouble over the release of knife crime data that statisticians didn't want in the public domain as a result of its 'misleading' and 'selective' nature. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, meanwhile, found her comments to what she presumably thought was a secure meeting of the Cabinet doing the media rounds yesterday. She warned about possible cholera threats from incoming Zimbabwean refugees. The possible leaker? Step forward David Miliband, Foreign Secretary and one-time contender for the party leadership. The Foreign Office thinks the comments might help them in their campaign to tighten up on immigration.

Lembit's Column

OK, I missed this news earlier this week, but everyone's favourite funny man - and occasional Lib Dem MP - has strengthened his political credentials with a new political column - in the Daily Sport. Lembit is the paper's only political columnist, and for those who don't know the paper's usual ouevre, his Westminster wisdom will appear alongside such gems as "Sexy Photo Shoot and Porn Star Chris", "Sexy Santas Visit Daily Sport Office", and "Sport Babes Blag Free Sausages". He must be very proud.

Pressure Groups Strike Again

And, right on cue for a discussion of the impact of pressure groups in the UK, those lovely people from 'Plane Stupid' hit the headlines this morning with their tactic of annoying lots of Ryanair passengers and clearing the skies above Stansted of carbon monoxide for a few hours this morning. Read, mark and learn.

Brown and Sarkozy - the Lemmings

Gordon Brown, still acting out his role as the economic seer of the western world, is meeting French president Nikolas Sarkozy at Downing Street for a business summit to determine how to spend more taxpayer's money. Not invited is Angela Merkel, Germany's Chancellor, who has determined that Germany will not follow the lead of the "lemmings" and will instead seek to maintain a balanced budget. The BBC's Mark Mardell reports on this European difference of opinion on the 'Today' programme here (go to the 0723 piece). Amongst the points made are the reminder that Germany still harbours a fear of the impact of too much government fiscal irresponsibility leading to catastrophic inflation. A historical anomaly, or a good guide to government prudence? Merkel may not be as out of step with public opinion as her European fellows think.

Mardell's written piece is on his blog here.

Primary School Teaching

The report produced by Sir Jim Rose today has all the hallmarks of a real dog's dinner that could, if implemented, once again plunge primary teaching into a morass of modernist ideas that somehow fail to take account of the need for a systematic, knowledge based foundation to children's learning. The reason that we are failing to meet primary education targets may not be because the curriculum isn't wacky enough; it may be because the foundations of it require more rigorous teaching. That said, Sir Jim is anyway barking up the wrong tree. So all encompassing is the nanny state that even quite intelligent people apparently need step by step guidance on key issues of living. In my own school - a selective secondary for boys who have demonstrated some reasonable level of intellect - notices have been appearing in all the toilets with a 6-step guide to how to wash your hands properly. Thank goodness. I was wondering when this key issue would be properly addressed.

Soon t…

The Speaker's Fantasy World

Today sees a debate in the House of Commons on the Damian Green affair. Extraordinarily, the Speaker, Michael Martin, who has seen his already low stock fall through the floor over this affair, allowed his office to put out the suggestion at the weekend that he was ready to serve a third term as Speaker, through the next parliament. With even the Labour Leader of the House, Harriet Harman, refusing to give him her support, Martin must indeed be living in a pleasant fantasy world, far away from the need to understand his role as guaranteur of the Commons' liberties. The only Speaker to date to have allowed the police to search an MP's office, and then to try and pass the blame to another Commons official, to say nothing of his eccentric chairmanship of Commons debates, Martin has indeed been a prominent - if too often ridiculous - figure.

Desperate Labour figures are also trying to get him to stand down as an MP, suggesting that his son could take over the Glasgow seat he rep…

"All Political Careers End in Failure"

So said Enoch Powell, and few have disagreed with him. I went at the weekend to see a Vaclav Havel play on this theme, "Leaving", at the Orange Tree in Richmond. Havel was, for those who don't know, a dissident playwright and poet under the communist regime in Czechoslovakia. He was a key human rights activist, suffering prison terms for his pains, but when the 'Velvet Revolution' came along, Havel was one of the leading figures, and eventually became his country's first post-communist president. He stayed as president through the country's break-up into two republics, and was a much feted figure. He stood down in 2003, being succeeded by a man, Vaclav Klaus, who he did not have much regard for. His play was about the disappointment of life after office, and the emptiness of what passes for politics. Based around the departure from office of a European Chancellor (kept deliberately nationally vague), Havel managed to convey the impotence of would-b…

No Cheer for the Speaker

Have just been enjoying some seasonal music at the school concert. It was certainly brave of the orchestra to try Mozart's Figaro overture, and for the most part they appeared to be using most of the notes that he originally put into the piece, even if they weren't always in exactly the same order (As Eric Morecambe might have said). Nevertheless, Christmas cheer may have been present in the hallowed halls of the school concert, but there remains precious little in evidence in the House of Commons. The Speaker's inglorious defence of his position yesterday, where he sought to pass the buck firmly to the Serjeant at Arms and the police, appears to have won him few friends, as Leader of the House Harriet Harman rather unhelpfully failed to give him her full backing. The First Posts's Westminster 'Mole' has uncovered a tale of such duplicity that it is becoming difficult to pin down who is misleading whom!

The Feminine Touch in Parliament

Jill Pay is the first woman to hold the prestigious office of Serjeant at Arms in the House of Commons. The blame for the raid on MP Damian Green's office is also now being shifted over to her from the ever chivalrous office of the Speaker. Certainly it appears to have been Pay's office who allowed the police in, believing, apparently, that the raid had been authorised by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The office of Serjeant at Arms has hitherto been held by some high ranking former military man. The sort of person unlikely to allow himself to be intimidated by a mere police request. I wonder if the problem for Jill Pay is not that she has struck a blow for feminism in holding this office, but that she lacks the authority and sheer bloody mindedness that often comes with having held a high military position, and which would have served so well in this recent instance?

Police Politics

Paul Stephenson, acting Met. Commissioner, and Bob Quick, head of the anti-terrorist unit, have both put their names forward to be permanent heads of the Metropolitan Police in succession to the ill fated Ian Blair. Experienced, well qualified policemen, they have something else in common. Both played significant roles in authorising the arrest of Tory frontbench MP Damian Green, thus creating a storm around the Met yet again.

It is true that the head of the Met should be apolitical in terms of party or ideological adherence. But he cannot be apolitical in terms of appreciating the consequences of his actions, and those of the Met as a whole. The London police chief has to work with politicians of different stripes (just take the Home Secretary and Mayor of London as two of the most significant), to say nothing of a range of politically diverse community groups. He also has to be canny enough to appreciate the impact of media responses on public attitudes to police work. It seems…

Where were Jack and Harriet?

Jack Straw and Harriet Harman were originally advertised to speak at today's politics extravaganza, but sadly were unable to attend. Now it appears they may have spent the day much more profitably, setting up a meeting to discuss the Speaker's forthcoming statement to the House. Not that they wanted the Tories to know of course. Iain Dale produces the leaked email, and is presumably now waiting for the boys in blue to pop round.

Crowd Pleasing and Reminiscing - the Sixth Form Politics Conference.

The man who briefly held the title of Viscount Stansgate, before resorting to the much plainer and more socialist sounding Tony Benn, has been a fixture at these sixth form politics conferences in Westminster Central Hall for a few years now. In fact, though, he has been an occasional fixture at this magnificent building - established to praise a deity Benn respects in the abstract but doesn't believe in - for nearly half a century, as he was keen to remind us. He was there in 1945 when Clement Attlee won the General Election - Labour's first majority win. He remembers the first meeting of the UN General Assembly in those hallowed portals. And so began a day when some of the speakers seemed keener to repeat each other's significant historical memories than to pester us with new and original political thinking.

Rabble Rousing George Galloway wanted to remind us that it was 50 years to the day that Rosa Parks refused to sit at the back of the bus - the bit where black peo…

The Home Secretary's Inadequacy

Jacqui Smith has been underwhelming as Home Secretary ever since her appointment to the emasculated post (not that the inheritor of the other half of the former Home Office's remit, Jack Straw, has done much more to increase his visibility). Her inadequacy is once again to the fore in the Case of the Arrested MP. The arrest of Damian Green represents a serious misjudgment on the part of the police, and given its sensitivity it is difficult to believe the Home Secretary had no inkling of what was going to happen. Her embarrassing performance on the Marr show this morning has given plenty of ammunition to her opponents, as she failed to deflect the accusation of prior knowledge. If she did approve the arrest, it has in any case been a political own goal I nmore ways than one - before he hit the headlines from his temporary detention, Green was toiling away on the immigration issue to little, if any, public fanfare. He may have been irritated by his arrest, but he has certainly benef…

ADMIN: London Conference - Monday

AS-level students attending the conference on Monday should click here for the details letter. However, please note that there is an error in the online version of this letter - one of the instructions refers to 'Tuesday' instead of Monday, so just to clarify - the conference is indeed on Monday!

Buy Now Pay Later

It remains to be seen whether Alistair Darling's VAT cut really will encourage spending over Christmas, and whether his proposed increase in the income tax personal allowance will persuade more of our fellow citizens to splash out on a few essential retail luxuries. Certainly one can't accuse the chancellor and his boss at No. 10 of doing nothing. They have been little whirlwinds of activity, often seeming to simply dizzy the Tories into bewilderment and inaction. But the Tories are starting to find their voice, and it is not an unreasonable or unconvincing one. I'm no economist, unlike the legions of bankers and financiers who presided over the, erm, banking crisis, but I am beginning to doubt the long-term wisdom of increasing the country's debt mountain when the origin of this very financial hurricane stems from bad debt arrangements. For years, conventional wisdom - including that of Gordon Brown - had it that fiscal prudence meant keeping borrowing down. Now,…

Change or Clinton?

I cannot quite fathom why Barack Obama has offered the post of Secretary of State to Hillary Clinton. After a campaign, and, until recently, a transition period that has been nearly pitch perfect, it seems an extraordinary aberration. That is, of course, if the rumours are true. The Obama machine is famously tightly controlled and doesn't leak - the leaks have all come from the media hungry Clinton machine.

Obama certainly doesn't need Clinton. Her supporters voted for him on election day, he has a first class team of intelligent foreign policy experts, and she brings little actual foreign policy experience to the job. What makes the appointment more inexplicable is that Hillary Clinton will clearly want considerable independence in the Sec. State job, at a time when the real change would come from Obama imposing his agenda and controlling foreign policy tightly from the White House. Clinton voted for the war, remember. She has not offered a single opinion, or ventured a…

A Tory Argument and an issue of Class

Actually, these are two separate items worth a brief note. The Evening Standard's Paul Waugh carries a short post about an argument that was apparently witnessed between George Osborne and Oliver Letwin. Letwin is, of course, the powerhouse behind the Tory Party's extensive policy review, currently in progress, and feels that Osborne - who is meant to be sharing the burden - may have been doing less than his fair share in recent weeks while he firefights his own problems.

Bill Jones, meanwhile, on his blog, carries a comment about the representativeness of parliament - specifically the House of Commons - which should be useful reading for AS students in particular, as they consider the representative nature of the Commons in all its aspects. Jones links to a longer article in the Guardian, also linked opposite.

Osborne's Bad Time

After a pretty torrid couple of weeks, the tide is once again turning George Osborne's way, as both the tory website Conservative Home and a raft of the quality press start to defend him. ConHome ran an article yesterday defending the shadow Chancellor, while amongst other papers, the Times today has an article explaining the attacks on Osborne as part of a broader right-wing offensive against the Cameron leadership. It may be part of the explanation, although I also think there has been a belief on the part of New Labour that Osborne represents a weak link in the Tory grand strategy. His cavorting with millionaires did the party few PR favours, and he still looks too much like a rabbit caught in headlights when dealing with Gordon Brown or Alistair Darling, but it may be that the worst is over, and that his position is secure enough for him to concentrate on developing a coherent and winning opposition line on the economy.

Another presidential election result.

Unbeknown to most people, the Lib Dems have been holding their presidential election over the past few weeks, and the results have just been announced. The winner is......Ros Scott. Trumpets and excitement all round. As it happens, of more interest is the fate of the 2nd. placed candidate - one Lembit Opik, who despite his high media profile - or perhaps because of it - gained only 22% of the vote. Maybe the Lib Dems are fed up of being seen as the clownish party now that they've got nice, serious Mr. Clegg as their leader, and wanted a president (whose role I'm not entirely sure of by the way) who wouldn't overshadow him. They've certainly managed that. Lembit probably didn;t help himself with a rather self-pitying email that he sent to voters, which was reported on Iain Dale's blog recently. Ah well, back to those media appearances I guess....

Glenrothes Means.......

....that Gordon is back on track? Possibly. It does at least mean that a visit from the PM to a by-election no longer ensures defeat in said election. Glenrothes is hardly a typical constituency, so any lessons from the result should be treated with caution, but it should give Labour a bit more bounce, and certainly suggests that Brown is recovering his poise with the electorate. It might even mean that he starts considering an election before the due date in 2010!

More West Wing Trivia

Emanuel, the congressman and ex-Clinton staffer just appointed by Obama as his new Chief of Staff, was the inspiration for the Josh Lyman character in the series 'West Wing'. they certainly knew a thing or two, those writers.

And there has been much reaction about Emanuel's appointment, of the "he's too partisan and tough to be a nice chief of staff" variety, all of which rather misses the point. Obama, the great reconciler, will need a tough staffer to field the dirty work. Furthermore, the chief of staff wil spend much time liaising with Congress to get the presidential legislative agenda through, and it's the Democrats, not the Republicans, who he will need to get on side. Frankly, the Republicans are an irrelevance at the moment. So Emanuel, who knows the Democrat caucus better than anyone, is absolutely the right man for those disparate tasks. A great first appointment!

The Obama Moment

As the impact of last night's historic US election victory settles in, it is worth considering the huge task facing the President-elect as he prepares for four years as the world's most powerful man. That in itself is an odd - if regularly given - sobriquet, given the number of issues that are beyond the control of the US president, but I digress.

First, Obama's acknowledgement of victory. His speech from Grant Park in Chicago was another rhetorical triumph. And such rhetoric should not be despised. The right-wing commentator Douglas Murray was scathing about the 'pretty words' used by politicians such as Obama and Cameron in an article for 'Standpoint' magazine; but is ire is misdirected. He dislikes their political stance, and thus loathes their ability to articulate it so effectively. The ability of political leaders and would-be leaders to inspire us, and articulate fine ideals, has always been a mark of some of the greatest figures in history, and…

Election Night and West Wing!

It's the most exciting night of the year, but predictions about the US elections at this late stage, as the citizens of the greatest democracy on earth head to the polls, is futile. While we await a result, here's a diversion from online magazine Slate, about why the superb television series 'West Wing' seemed to be predicting the rise of a popular, appealing, ethnic minority presidential winner!

Who Really Hounded the BBC?

It would seem, on the surface of it, that public opinion has triumphed in the BBC/Jonathan Ross/Russell Brand imbroglio. 30,000 plus complaints have finally been vindicated, with the resignation of two figures (Brand and the Radio 2 Controller) and the suspension without pay of another (Ross). But surface images are, inevitably, misleading, particularly in the opaque world of the media. 28,988 of the 30,000 complaints came some time after the show was broadcast, from people who didn't listen to it. They were encouraged by a tabloid campaign, initiated by the Daily Mail and joined with energy by the Sun, to protest. True to form, the daring elected politicians, led by Cameron and Brown, fell into line, and the rest, as they say, is history. But wait. What could have driven the tabloids, those custodians of public taste and morality, to launch their campaigns with such fury? Could it possibly be that their corporate media owners - Lord Rothermere (the Mail) and Rupert Murd…

Watching Mandelson Squirm

Amidst all the fuss about George Osborne's oligarchical links, it is worth noting that his lordship, Peter Mandelson has yet to come clean about his own relationship with the sinister Deripaska. Mandelson may still be a master of the dark arts of gossip and intrigue, but he looks regularly uncomfortable in BBC interviews when they are conducted by tenacious journalists. Two stand out - Sophie Raworth, standing in for Andrew Marr a couple of weeks ago, managed to extract a very bad-tempered response from the new Business Secretary, while Richard Galpin, the BBC's Moscow correspondent (and the first BBC reporter, I recall, to file reports from South Ossetia when the Georgians invaded) kept pushing for an answer from Mandelson in this interview on News 24, but got nowhere. Nonetheless, the very fact that the questions were being asked allowed viewers to draw their own conclusions about Mandelson's evasiveness. It is worth noting that the Raworth/Galpin tenacity against a p…

Brand, Ross and a Pointless Political Kerfuffle

Huge amounts of media coverage has been expended on the exploits of two potty-mouthed 'entertainers' on a show which attracts a mere 400,000 listeners. One of them has now resigned, and the other must be living in desperate hope that his 6 million pound annual salary is safe after all the internal 'investigations' have happened. The media, of course, loves this - it covers itself more joyously than it covers anything else, and why should we be surprised or concerned? More wretchedly, though, has been the sight of the PM and his opposite number giving earnest comments to the press about the incident. There was me thinking that little things like a global economic crisis might be occupying all of their attention..................

The Unpleasant Truth About Oligarchs

The Observer's Nick Cohen typically got to the heart of the Deripaska Affair with his article in the Observer last Sunday. However, whilst concentrating on illuminating the dark arts and shady friendships that make Derispaska both hugely wealthy and, er, alive and not in jail in Putins Russia, Cohen also has this sharp comment about the British judicial system whose craven libel laws provide such lovely cover for such men:

London not only offers crony capitalists Michelin-starred restaurants, security guards and discreet bankers. Our authoritarian libel laws also attract the rich. Editors think once, twice, 100 times before crossing them. They know they must contend with libel judges and Law Lords unfit to hold office in an open society because they won't stand up for freedom of speech.

Bang on.

Bristol Apes Oxford Shock!

We all know that Oxford is the spiritual home of upper class toffs with nothing better to do than commit extravagant vandalism via such enlightened societies as the Bullingdon Club. And we also know that Bristol has long been the repository for Oxford rejects, so how appropriate that toff vandalism now inhabits the halls of that other mighty provincial university. Under it's inventive headline "The Italian Yob", today's Sunreports on a "Mini Disaster" at Bristol's Wills Hall, home to certain distinguished SGS alumni, and just down the road from Churchill, also home to distinguished SGS alumni. They must be so pleased to be be in such wonderful company.

Anyway, it's good to note that the old Harrovian driver of the car will only be charged for drunk driving, and not possession of the illegal substances which his mate managed to stash away before the police arrived!

Tory Sleaze

Could there be more Tory sleaze stories still to come out in the wash? Certainly, Politics Home is reporting that the media have gained a renewed appetite for such items, and that Lord Ashcroft, amongst others, can expect a higher profile coverage. On the other hand, with Mandelson back in government, they could still turn the media spotlight back onto him.....

The Osborne Affair

Neither George Osborne or Peter Mandelson are popular politicians outside their close circle of friends and admirers. Given that Nathaniel Rothschild was apparently a 'best friend' of Osborne's since their days together wrecking restaurants as members of the obnoxious Bullingdon Club, and has now turned so firmly against him, perhaps Osborne's friends aren't that wild about him either.

The story of potential donations is not, whatever the Tories would like us to think, a non-story. It has murky depths and there were clearly discussions about getting donations from an extraordinarily inappropriate source. But this aspect remains vague at present, stuck in the realm of speculative conversations and rather dream-like 'what ifs'. What is much clearer is the remarkable lack of political judgement of a man who is sometimes seen as the Conservatives' co-leader, and the narrow, rarefied, world that our political elite sees fit to move in.

First, the judgement iss…

Too Little Comfort for Cameron

The two stories linked opposite, by Andrew Rawnsley on Politics Home, and Nick Robinson at the BBC, both illustrate the continuing problem for David Cameron as he tries to work out the best position for the Tories in the present crisis. Robinson starts his assessment pithily - "David Cameron can't say I told you so, because he didn't"! ConservativeHome, meanwhile reports an ICM poll that suggests little change in Brown's polling since his rescue plan was announced, although an earlier poll reported by them shows the Tories with an 8% lead - given that they enjoyed double digit leads before their Conference, this is hardly good news either! The First Post's 'Mole', incidentally, comments that the YouGov poll (reported by ConHome) would actually result not in a Tory majority but, given the way in which the electoral system currently works against the Tories, a hung parliament instead.

Still all to Play in US Election

The Drudge Report is carrying news of a gallup tracking poll that has Obama only 2 points ahead of McCain. Karl Rove, George W's Svengali, meanwhile, has a fascinating analysis in the Wall Street Journal where he suggests that the Obama campaign has definitely not closed the deal yet. Whatever else one thinks about Rove, he was a fearsomely effective election strategist for the Republicans, winning two terms for a monumentally weak candidate, and his assessment is a very credible one. Seems the Obama campaign shares it, too, as they ratchet up the spending and try to portray Obama as more presidential in his half hour broadcasts before the election. Rove mentions the Harry Truman precedent at the end of his piece - Everyone assumed that Truman would lose the 1948 election to Republican Thomas Dewey. The Chicago Daily Tribune was so confident it ran a front page on the day after election day proclaiming Dewey the winner. The rest, as they say, is history! Elections depend on…

George Osborne's Difficulty

Actually, there are quite a lot, so you could argue with the singular case in the above, but the particular difficulty I have in mind is his inability to make anything like a convincing case for the new, go-harder aggressive case against Gordon Brown's economic management that is apparently being made today by David Cameron. Osborne was on the 'Today' programme this morning, and gave a truly terrible interview. Having given his assessment of all the things that have gone wrong with the economy over the last ten years, he was confronted with a not entirely unpredictable question from Sarah Montague, to the effect that "why have you never made any of these criticisms before?" Now the honest answer is that the ideological divide between the Tories and Labour is miniscule, and the Tories on the whole bought in wholesale to the policies of the Financial Wizard of Downing Street. Now things are belly-up, they have no more idea than anyone else how to cope - less, a…

Question Time's Insight into BNP Success

Question Time is in Stoke on Trent tonight, where the BNP have 9 councillors on the local council. One audience member has vigorously defended his support for the BNP in a recent election by talking of the politics of frustration. I don't know the local situation, and he wasn't the most articulate of speakers, but he did express the general antagonism that he, as an ordinary voter (and given the BNP success, presumably a representative ordinary voter) felt for the established parties. In Stoke on Trent, struck with economic difficulties and high unemployment, the directly elected Labour mayor seems well supported by Labour, Liberal and Conservative councillors - so where, asked our frustrated BNP supporter, is the opposition to come from? He claimed to repudiate the BNP's racism, and he may well be telling the truth; the fact is, when established parties become so cosy in their collaboration that they fail, in times of hardship, to provide an adequate choice for voters, th…

Catching Up

First off, Nick Robinson, in his blog today, comments on the bread and butter issues that are likely to be of more concern to most voters than a financial crisis they don't really see the direct effects of.

The Telegraph is reporting that David Dimbleby is thinking of quitting Question Time if the BBC inists on moving its production to Glasgow. Iain Dale's blog had a poll for his putative successor - Andrew Neill just beat Paxman in the result.

Conservative Home's Centre-Right blog finds that you can blame Bill Clinton for the credit crunch.

In the new Standpoint magazine, American sociologist Charles Murray suggests that not every child really needs an academic education, and we are wasting our resources providing it.

"Fifty per cent of children are below average in linguistic and logical-mathematical ability. Being below average means that they are limited in the things they can do in reading and maths. It is no more remarkable than being limited in the things one can …

The Banking Crisis - Who's To Blame?

For those getting increasingly confused by the events of the past few weeks, Bill Jones provides a coherent - if left-slanted - analysis of the causes on his web-site:

PoliticsConsidered: Explaining the Banking Crisis

He has a summary version on his blog here.

Who Says Osborne is a 'Bloody Fool'....?

Adair Turner, Chairman of the Financial Services Authority and former CBI bigwig, that's who, according to this post by Sky's Alistair Bunkall!

Comrade Cruddas on the March!

Jon Cruddas is the left-wing Labour MP (don't often hear that description of Westminster's governing party reps these days) who didn't quite manage to defeat Harriet Harman for the all important deputy leadership of the Labour Party. Bet he's gutted now! It turns out that he was offered a job in the recent reshuffle - Housing - which he turned down because Brown didn't agree with his plans for more council house building (it went subsequently to the ever ready Margaret Beckett). Well, Cruddas is using his continued leisure on the backbenches to start formulating a left-wing alternative to current nostrums, which must surely be of concern to the prime minister as he struggles to make capitalism work again. Not only has Cruddas started talking of establishing a new, leftish think tank, but he is increasingly the unions's favourite to succeed Brown, and he is keeping the ideological momentum going with an article in today's Guardian about the failure of fr…

Successful Cure or Sticking Plaster?

Several commentators have already mentioned how Gordon Brown seems to be relishing the present crisis, as it gives him - at last - a sense of destiny as prime minister (see Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer here). One prescient commenter on a previous post here has also suggested that the financial crisis could be Gordon's Falklands - the thing that elevates him above the apparently toxic unpopularity he has been enduring, to make him a runaway election victor when he next faces the polls.

I suspect that such optimism is mislaid. The real impact of the financial crisis has yet to hit the homes of most ordinary voters, and when it does, in the form of family budget crises and rising unemployment (The Observer carried a prediction of 2 million by next month when the crisis squeezes the real economy) there is unlikely to be much electoral sympathy for Gordon Brown. The policy of nationalising the banks may or may not work - and not every country has had to go through this extraordinary …

Peston's Power

The BBC's Business editor has a slightly off-putting reporting style, involving the emphasis of random words and a slightly out of breath feel, but he is being touted as a key mover in the present crisis. The right-wing approach is exemplified in this earlier post by Guido Fawkes, which quotes a City source as claiming that Peston's reporting has a thoroughly destructive impact on prices; the Guardian, meanwhile, in reporting the loss of influence of the 'Today' programme, highlights one reporter whose sway is still sky-high - step forward, Robert Peston. Along with accountants and lawyers, Peston is benefitting considerably from this crisis!

Another example of economic silly season also seems to be hitting the web paper First Post, whose self-styled Westminster insider "The Mole" reported that Gordon Brown might consider inviting Vince Cable to be Chancellor if things don't improve!

A Failure of Ideology?

Commentators of both the left and right were speculating today about the implications of the economic crisis for the Tories, and many honed in on the fact that the current lame Tory response is due in no small part to their free-market commitment to the sort of unregulated system that is currently looking a little, shall we say, tarnished. The Spectator's James Forsyth reviews this problem on the Coffee House blog, finding hope only in the fact that voters can't blame the Tories because they're not in government. Not, perhaps, the most confident rallying call ever heard from a conservative commentator.
But, lest there be a complete failure of conservative nerve, Conservative Home has come to the rescue, identifying 5 Tory principles to hold onto in this crisis. Let's see if Cameron and Osborne respond - they have in the past proved remarkably resistant to the more earthy conservative blandishments of the Tories' unofficial, but hugely influential, website! NB: The G…

Barack Hussein Obama...

So, these are American voters. And despite the woman's insistence on voting for Hillary Clinton, does it worry you that the obsession with Obama's middle name ("Hussein") seems to suggest that here is Sarah Palin and John McCain's target audience?!

(courtesy of Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish blog).

Opposition Difficulties at PMQ's

The economic crisis overshadowed David Cameron's conference, and it is blunting his edge as Opposition Leader in parliament as well. Since he has no clear alternative ideas to those being put forward by Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling, he is having to broadly offer support while taking issue in minor areas. Thus, at Prime Minister's Questions today - and repeating a tactic pursued by George Osborne on the 'Today' programme this morning - he chose to attack executive bonuses. Emotionally significant, the bonuses are economically insignificant, quite apart from the fact that the Tories are unconvincing scourges of city bonuses. It is a tactic that smacks of populist desperation, and the the Cameron-Osborne team might be best advised to examine their underlying economic answers more closely. Then, they might be able to come up with more convincing alternatives. Or perhaps, when both parties are so ideologically close, there are no convincing alternatives?

Incidentally, …

US Election Updates

Andrew Sullivan on the'Daily Dish' explains just what the Palin choice tells us about the McCain candidacy - and Sullivan's a conservative commentator.

The Huffington Post reports another instance of Obama's middle name being used as a crowd inciter at a rally with both McCain and Palin.

Alexander Cockburn in the First Post finds the most recent debate a clear case of 'imbecilic tedium', but has harsher words for Obama - as the self-proclaimed candidate of change, he has offered no new ideas says Cockburn.

The Daily Show's Jon Stewart on Sarah Palin's 'terrorism' accusations against Barack Obama - a gem, again!

The Political Brain

"...the vision of mind that has captured the imagination of philosophers, cognitive scientists, economists, and political scientists since the eighteenth century - a dispassionate mind that makes decisions by weighing the evidence and reasoning to the most valid conclusions - bears no relation to how the mind and brain actually work."
This comment, from Professor Drew Westen, introduces his book, "The Political Brain", a book which America's most successful Democratic politician in the last 4 decades - Bill Clinton - described as the most informative book on politics he'd read in years.  Why?  Because the book's central thesis, that the political brain uses emotion over simple reasoning, is one Clinton's empathetic politics was admirably suited to exploit, but which his Democratic successors seem often reluctant to emulate.  Even Barack Obama, inspiring as a set-piece speaker, is being criticised for being almost too cool and dispassionate under fire…

"That One"

Watch John McCain's body language in one of his encounters with Barack Obama, and you can see the discomfort, and the almost visible loathing. McCain isn't good at covering up his emotions - it used to be one of his strengths - and his determiend refusal to even look at Obama in the first debate pulled a lot of comment. Nothing like as much, however, as his contemptuous reference to Obama as "that one", when referring to his opponent's senate vote. John McCain may be trying not to dignify an opponent he dislikes with a name, but his avoidance device is adding more grist to the mill of those who want to paint his campaign as petty, nasty and mean-spirited. And his biggest problem at the moment - polls increasingly suggest that Americans want "that one" in the White House next.

Danny Finkelstein in the Times' Comment Central suggests that Obama will win, not least because he is massively outspending McCain on television spots.

A Very Serious Meeting

Courtesy of Sky's Joey Jones, this is the Press Association's report of today's Cabinet meeting in full:

"In London the Cabinet meeting broke up after about an hour and a half. Foreign Secretary David Miliband, emerging from Number 10, said: "These are very serious times. We take them very seriously." Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon echoed his comments, saying: "It was a serious meeting."

Betting on President Palin?!

Mike Smithson of the Political Betting blog likes to have an occasional flutter on the outrageous, but his latest suggestion on the US election had more than bets fluttering. He is now considering whether Sarah Palin, the knowledge-challenged running mate to John McCain might not 'flip the ticket' and seize the front spot for herself! Actually, nothing would surprise me in this election, and Smithson acknowledges this as being merely better than a 0.23% chance, but it is horrifying nonetheless. Palin's latest gem - outside of accusing Obama of cosying up to terrorists - is to say that she didn't perform well in the Katie Couric interviews because she wasn't asked the right questions. Er, no, she didn't perform well because the pleasant but persistent Couric kept asking such real blinders as what are your main news sources, and what is your foreign policy experience, and Palin's gibbering, incoherent ignorance was thus given full reign. That the Republican p…

The Democracy Debate

Michael Heseltine's defence of Boris Johnson on yesterday's Question Time was a reminder of how good the old lion could be at the top of his form. Heseltine was always a supporter of directly elected mayors, on the grounds that it reinvigorated local democracy, and his endorsement of Johnson - his successor as MP in Henley - was on democratic grounds. Johnson has the mandate of the people of London, thus he is perfectly entitled to exercise that mandate over unelected officials who should still be accountable in some way. You could see Johnson's move as a narrowing of the democratic deficit by that argument. Heseltine also made a throwaway suggestion of directly elected police chiefs - a democratic step too far, or the right move to sharpen the instincts of our public servants?

"A stunning failure of judgement"

Courtesy of Conservative Home, Williams Hague nails the Mandelson appointment:

“Today’s reshuffle demonstrates a stunning failure of judgement by Gordon Brown. In bringing back Peter Mandelson – the man who created Labour spin – he has broken his promise to govern in an honest and open way. You can only conclude that his appointment was designed to distract from the changes he should have made. By leaving in place a Chancellor who has failed and a Foreign Secretary who has undermined him at every opportunity Gordon Brown has also been exposed as weak. With this bizarre reshuffle the Prime Minister has achieved the impossible and made the Government even more dysfunctional.”

Mandelson Again

I don't get the Mandelson appointment at all. I don't really think the idea of inviting ex-ministers back when they've been put out to grass is generally a great idea, unless they're brilliant, or clearly have exceptional skills. As a spin doctor, and co-creator of the New Labour brand there is no doubting that Mandelson was brilliant, but as a minister, he was distinctly middling, and had to twice fall on his sword for serious political misjudgements and misdemeanours. Hardly a glittering cv. In Brussels, too, it would be difficult to say he has cut a swathe through trade regulation and revamped that bureaucratic mess. So why get him back? The BBC's Nick Robinson is gobsmacked, others hail it as a masterstroke; to me it looks like a prime minister who's run out of options falling back on the safety net of a few old hands - as well as Mandelson, Campbell's back in favour, Margaret Beckett's back in the cabinet, Derek Draper's busy plotting and…

Another Blair Out!

There won't be many policemen on the beat mourning the passing of Sir Ian Blair. He was always a political copper - Tony Blair's best friend in the force, determined to ingratiate himself with New Labour, thoroughly apprised of the need for PR tactics etc. Given that political pedigree - the same sort that saw Alastair Campbell's 'best mate' John Scarlett eventually promoted to head up MI6 - it is a bit rich for the under-whelming Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to talk about the dangers of politicising police apointments. That was done when Blair took office.

That the Met Commissioner didn't have the confidence of the new Mayor speaks only favourably of the mayor. Blair has presided over some truly appalling errors - the killing of Jean Charles Menenez being merely the most tragic - and has, moreover, shown little sign that he really appreciates this. He may agonise about his public persona, but he has agonised precious little about where his wretched leadership ha…

The Cameron Plan

David Cameron hit that nightmare scenario for party leaders - a party conference that coincides with far more significant domestic and international news elsewhere. Thus it was that, out of all three party conferences, the Tories probably achieved the lowest profile, and the Cameron speech was perhaps the least anticipated. He had, indeed, already given two speeches to his conference in any case. In the lead-up to this week, as polls showed them soaring ahead of Labour, David Cameron apparently told his shadow cabinet and MPs not to be too triumphalist at their conference. Seems he needn't have worried - economic woes and the 'no time for a novice' jibe have taken the chtutzpah out of the Tories at what must have once seemed their triumphant return to the major players' league.

As for the Cameron speech, it evinced in many ways the problems that still beset the man himself. Much commentary has centred around its style - that it was delivered from a lectern, and wit…

Can It Get Any Worse?

Congress may have rejected the bailout plan, the stock market may have crashed, but Newsnight reminded me that things can still get worse - one of the European Union's senior flunkeys responsible for economic direction is the Trade Commissioner - none other than Peter Mandelson! Preserve Us!

Vote Tory To Stop Council Tax Rises

Did I blink, or did George Osborne promise greater central control of local councils? That, at least, is what his eye-catching promise to freeze council tax bills for two years appears to suggest. It is a little difficult for Osborne, under pressure as he is to demonstrate a real difference between the Tories and Labour on the economy. A year ago, he managed to reverse Tory fortunes - and send Labour into a spin - with his promise to cut inheritance tax. Now, desperate for more headline grabbing initiatives, he has come up with the council tax freeze. The Tories are clear that they want to be seen as the party of the tax-cut. It is much less clear how they do that without cutting public services - after all, there are only so many consultants you can dismiss, or red-tape you can get rid of.

The Tory Conference in Birmingham should look like a breeze this week, with Cameron enjoying good opinion poll ratings, but as several punters are pointing out, his ratings are not nearly as p…

I'll Try To find Some And I'll Bring It To Ya

When he was running for president in 1960, Richard Nixon was undone by an unintentional comment from President Eisenhower, whose Vice-President Nixon had been for the previous 8 years. Asked on television what specific ideas Nixon had contributed to the administration over the past two terms, Eisenhower had said "If you give me a week or two I might think of one". Eisenhower hadn't meant to sound quite so negative about his VP and would-be successor, and perhaps his comments were the reaction of an old man unready for the question.

No such excuse can apply to the much worse answer given by Sarah Palin in her CBS interview the other night. Asked for the specifics about her claim that John McCain "will reform the way Wall Street does business", Palin floundered helplessly before saying "I'll try to find something and I'll bring it to ya." This was possibly the lowest moment in a pretty dire interview which exposed her complete lack of any sor…

Debate Desert

I have only seen extracts of the first presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain, and those few seem to paint Obama as a more direct, on the ball individual. McCain doesn't excel in these things, and was noticeably keen to avoid any eye contact with his sprightlier opponent. Mind you, Obama, for all his rhetorical skills, is not a great debater either, so I guess the fact that he appears to have emerged as the winner, according to various polls, can be chalked up as a success.

Frankly, McCain had a disastrous week with his dash back to Washington backfiring badly, and his attendance at the debate was an own goal given his earlier determination not to, unless the financial crisis was solved - and I'm sorry, did I miss something, or is global finance still in a mess?
Reviews of the debate are pretty unanimous in their assessment of its dullness - you'd get more fun out of an English Speaking Union debate between novices - and the reason for that, of course, is t…

That 'Heseltine Moment'

One thing that caused the unimpressive David Miliband such trouble this week was the BBC's report of the conversation between him and his adviser about not having a 'Heseltine moment'. Miliband has vigorously denied making such a comment, but the Evening Standard's Paul Waugh has uncovered the source of the report, and it seems pretty solid. Makes Miliband look even more demeaned on two counts - one, his denials are rubbish, and two, the man is stupid enough to drop an indiscreet comment in front of a complete stranger.

[And for those not sure of the significance of a 'Heseltine moment', here is the BBC's brief survey of the great man's political career.]

How Dysfunctional Is Gordon Brown?

It takes rare political skill to achieve something of a much needed success with your conference speech, briefly allaying all the doubts about your leadership, and then to ignite the events that, merely hours later, lead everyone to start questioning your leadership all over again.

Whether you liked the speech or not, Gordon Brown at least seemed to satisfy his party faithful and generate some positive news headlines the following day. Job done, you might think. Not in Brownland. Knowing that the Transport Secretary, Ruth Kelly, would be resigning at the time of the cabinet reshuffle, it seems that Brown's bunker-like team of advisers started to convince themselves that she would use said resignation as a starting gun for other, disillusioned cabinet ministers to join her at the exit. This bizarre line of reasoning led someone to leak news of her impending resignation to some favoured journalists, and ultimately gave rise to the extraordinary spectacle of a 3am press conference by …