Showing posts from January, 2008

Boring but Noteworthy

When Gordon Brown readmitted Paul Murphy to the Cabinet as, er, Welsh Secretary, he caused a vacancy in the chairmanship of one of the Commons Select Committees. Quite an important one too - the Intelligence and Security Committee. So which gallant campaigner for greater parliamentary scrutiny of the executive has been appointed? Step forward yet another ex-minister - the ex-Foreign Minister, Margaret Beckett. Beckett had arguably the least distinguished record of any foreign secretary, and certainly has no record as an indepedent minded legislator, so here's yet more evidence of the uselessness of the select committee system whose chairmen are appointed by government whim.

Tory MPs in Trouble

Derek Conway's offence is relatively easy to understand, compared to the sometimes labyrinthine arguments about campaign funding that have been afflicting a succession of Labour figures. The Tory MP for Old Sidcup and Bexley used his Commons expenses - a perfectly legal entitlement - to pay his two sons a hefty wage for 'research work' that coincided with their passage through university. A perfectly unethical action. Essentially, he took taxpayers' money for his own family's advantage - theft I think it's known as. Now Conway is not a significant figure in the Tory party - an old rightist of little wider influence who huffs and puffs a lot on right-wing issues. It probably wasn't the most difficult decision for David Cameron to remove the Tory whip from him. Nonetheless, at least Cameron did act, and relatively swiftly (although not without a bit of overnight dithering), which one can't help but observe was a deal more decisive than anything coming fro…

Reshuffle Time

Peter Hain's resignation prompted a mini-reshuffle which saw the photo-shopping Culture Secretary James Purnell promoted to Work and Pensions. The details of the reshuffle are here.

And have the Tories been caught on the hop? They didn't call for Hain's resignation, and are now being asked why, given that they have spent today saying he was right to go!

Gone At Last

All the normal news outlets can be used to pick up news of Peter Hain's resignation because police are now investigating him. He certainly has more support in resignation from Labour colleagues than he had in hanging on to office.
One of the perennial political questions is 'when should ministers resign?'. The honest answer is probably along the lines of 'when the heat becomes too much', although purists might prefer it if the old principle of ministers going either because their department made unacceptable mistakes, or because they themselves had been guilty of wrongdoing, still held good. Peter Hain left because the scandal became too great. He hasn't left because he admits any wrongdoing. He isn't the first self-justifying minister to be hauled out of office, and he certainly won't be the last, but we probably wait in vain for any repetition of a Lord Carrington-style resignation, back in 1981. Carrington, Foreign Secretary at the time, resigned beca…

Let Ahmadinejad Stew

As if we needed further evidence of the need for the West - and particularly America - to lay off grand-standing about Iran, this story in the Guardian reveals that the bellicose Iranian president is losing the support of Iran's Supreme Leader, and heading for a 'winter of discontent'. More significantly, the Guardian report suggests that domestic opposition to Ahmadinejad is being stepped up now that the president can't keep relying on the American bogey to prop himself up. Sane heads have argued for some time that Ahmadinejad needed the threat of American military action to shore up an increasingly untenable domestic position, and the ever obliging Bush administration has not, until recently, let him down. Leave him be, however, and his domestic chickens start coming home to roost. It is perhaps worth adding, in this US election year, that the candidate who has been most robust about Iran, thanks in part to his neo-con advisers, is Rudy Giuliani. Fortunately for the …

Jacqui Smith's Mistake

It was not, perhaps, the wisest move on the part of a Home Secretary in a government that's been in power for 11 years to admit that she didn't feel safe walking the streets at night, but that was indeed Jacqui Smith's mistake at the weekend. She made the admission while being interviewed by Andrew Marr, and came across as if she were just another of all these helpless people who can't do anything about the soaring crime rate. Except that she's, well, you know......Home Secretary, and sort of in charge of the police and keeping crime down.

One result of her admission has been to push one or two of the newspapers into an anti-crime frenzy, none more so than ardent Labour supporters, the 'Sun'. Their front page today prints a desperate reader's letter that talks about 'decent members of the public being murdered by the feral youths on our streets.' Their website page then goes on to catalogue a veritable smorgasbord of horrors to hammer the poi…

The Tories' Successor to Widdecombe

Ann Widdecombe, one of the most recognisable faces of Conservatism over the past decade, is stepping down from parliament. Her safe Kent seat, Maidstone and the Weald, has therefore been looking for a suitable successor and today they announced the result - Helen Grant, a black solicitor and mother of two. Raised by a single parent on a council estate in Carlisle, her personal profile certainly makes a change from the average one for a Tory candidate (although not completely - she is, as I mentioned, a lawyer!), which is possibly why David Cameron had been keen to put her on the party's A-list. (The Evening Standard image opposite is from the Conservative Home site.)

The selection of candidates, particularly in a party's safe seats, is one of the more hotly contested rights of local constituency parties. The local parties value, and fight for, their independence, not least because selecting the next MP is one of the few genuine, tangible powers that they hold. The central party…

3 Primaries, 3 Winners

Another winner for the latest Republican primary in Michigan, and at last the multi-millionaire former governor of Massachussetts has topped the poll.  Romney as a candidate has rather failed to define why he should be president, which might explain his defeats in New Hampshire and Iowa despite spending huge sums of money there.  Michigan has given his campaign a much needed oxygen injection, but we shouldn't read too much into it - this, after all, was a state where his family connections included having a father who used to be governor.  Romney also managed to be utterly underwhelming in his victory speech, trotting out what is by now the tired old 'Comeback' reference - although apparently, Mitt's comeback is 'for America'.  Er, right.
Giuliani and Thompson came bottom of the republican poll again, but I have been asked to comment on Ron Paul's little noted campaign.  Paul has been holding in there with a distinctive libertarian platform, and could yet de…

Hain Rumbles On

So now we have Hain the 'committed' campaigner for Labour Party office. So committed, in fact, that he was too busy concentrating on his cabinet jobs to take much interest in the financing of his campaign. And, of course, he has 'done nothing wrong' and has 'nothing to hide'. Well, nearly nothing. His late disclosures were not done without much media pressure, and we still know litle of the relationship between him and the mysterious think tank, Progressive Policy Forum. It has apparently done little actual thinking, but that seems to be de rigeur for anyone or anything connected to Peter Hain at the moment.

Nick Clegg made a good point this morning - either Hain is incompetent to an extraordinary degree, or he is indeed guilty of obfuscation. Neither accusation renders him able to credibly carry on as a minister of the Crown, and it is to the discredit of the opposition parties that they have not been calling for his resignation. Are they really enfeebled by th…

Hain's Woes

Peter Hain has long been one of the smuggest, smarmiest, most unbearably self-righteous of the New Labour mob, so it's difficult to feel anything other than genuine rejoicing over his current come-uppance. Lacking humour, self-deprecation, or stellar ability, this tediously tanned apparatchik is now splashing around in a little financial scam - namely, the inability to declare £103,000 in donations to his deputy leadership campaign. His justifications are typically self-serving and require real efforts at a suspension of disbelief - apparently he is such a committed public servant, and so uninterested in his party ambitions, that he really didn't pay much attention to the little matter of where the money was coming from. We should really stop hounding such a fine public servant.

Hain should probably resign, although the thought that he might do so quickly and voluntarily won't have occurred to him, so we'll have the unedifying spectacle of yet another cabinet minister c…

'Bring Back Vince'

At the time of writing the parliamentary sketches haven't appeared on the newspaper websites yet, so we await their all important verdict on Nick Clegg's underwhelming debut as Lib Dem leader at Prime Minister's Questions today. He didn't mess up, but he didn't stun either. There were, apparently, shouts of 'Bring Back Vince' from the Tory and Labour benches and actually, worthy though Clegg's question about fuel prices leading to 25,000 deaths might have been, he still lacked a bit of the humour and lightness of touch that served his predecessor well. But humour was at a premium today. Gordon Brown raged his way through PMQ's, asking almost as many questions of David Cameron as Cameron was asking of him (perhaps they could re-name this Leader of the Opposition Questions?), and Cameron tried some humour towards Clegg, and then more savage humour towards Brown, but it all came across as just rather bad-tempered. Where's the love??

New Hampshire Screws Media

I was jolted awake some time after 6 by the very voice of the devil talking about hell. When I'd recovered my sanity, I realised that the voice belonged to Senator John McCain. The Today programme was broadcasting his speech about Osama Bin Laden - McCain proclaims, lest anyone be in any doubt, that as president he 'would chase Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell'. Excellent. Because what we need is a president who is prepared to get a little more aggressive out there in the Middle East.

Actually, McCain, to be fair, is one of the better Republican candidates (I know, I know - that really is like suggesting Posh is one of the more intelligent Spice Girls, but there we go) and his win in New Hampshire was every bit as exciting as the astonishing Hillary Clinton turnaround. Well, actually, more a sort of turn-and-turn-again-around, since Clinton was well in the lead, then behind after Iowa, then back in the lead. Americans are nothing if not fickle, and they do love their un…

Age is the Thing

John McCain is 71 and is a serious contender for the presidency. Ming Campbell, in his 60s, was seen as being too old to be leader of a party that is unlikely to form a government. The main opposition leader, David Cameron, is 41, as is the Liberal leader, Nick Clegg. Hence, an interesting bit of musing by Newsnight's Michael Crick here about the vagaries of age in politics. To be honest, we should be wary of callow youths seeking office before they've experienced the world in all its glory. Hitler was 44 when he became Chancellor - a real advert for virulent youth, and he was of course the ultimate youth worshipper with his interminable youth brigades. But who was it who brought him low? Winston Churchill, 65 when he became Prime Minister. Still a bit young, but needs must.

Brown's new Aide

One of Gordon Brown's great boasts, after the era of spin, was that he wouldn't succumb to dark arts himself. After all, here was a man who it was very difficult to spin, and whose great strength would be that what you see is what you get. But prime ministers need help from whatever quarter they can get it, and the PM today announced the appointment of his new 'Principal Political Adviser'. And the lucky winner? Step forward media and PR man Stephen Carter, straight from his post as CEO of the, er, PR firm Brunswick. They don't get much more senior than that in the spinning world! And you can see here for the inevitable Guido Fawkes diatribe!

A Tale of Three Elections

In the Russian state of Georgia, where democracy is a new and fragile thing, the snap election called by President Saakashvili looks as if it has been conducted fairly - according to the legion of foreign election observers - and has resulted in a victory for the reforming Mr. Saakashvili. As such, it marks a useful milestone on Georgia's road to the democratic community of nations, and potentially lifts her up as a lodestar to surrounding nations in the tortured Caucasus region. (The Economist comment prior to the election result is an illuminating one, and is here.)

In America, the candidates had one of their vaunted television debates today, and all eyes are on New Hampshire to see if the weather will blow the same way as it did in Iowa. Hillary Clinton is falling in the polls as the Obama bounce takes hold, but even if she should fail to gain victory in New Hampshire, it would still, I think, be too early to write her off. These two caucuses/primaries count for nuts when it com…


In the film 'Blood Diamond', Danny Kruger (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and his erstwhile employer, the Colonel, coin the acronym 'TIA' - 'This Is Africa' - by way of justifying unjusitifiable events. Murder, corruption, mayhem, slaughter - they are all seemingly inexplicable, except for the fact that 'TIA'.

I was reminded of this when hearing about the Kenyan election debacle. Yet another power-hungry, corrupt African political 'big man' wants to hold on to power and the wealth that goes with it, and in consequence he is prepared to cast his country to the dogs. The inevitable response to Kibaki's stolen election was violence in the streets. One BBC image showed a man being pursued through town; the journalist informed us he had been hacked to death seconds later by his pursuers. TIA.
In a continent that contains Robert Mugabe, we might be inclined to dismiss Kibaki as pretty low level on the corruption scale, but his greed has turned what s…

Ready for Change in America?

The presidential election isn't until November, but the first electoral shots have now been fired. The Iowa caucus remains far too individual, small and, frankly, unrepresentative to stand as an indicator of American opinion, but it does provide momentum to the lucky winning candidates. And in both parties the winning candidates were the outsiders - former Baptist minister and small state governor (Arkansas - the Clinton state!) Mike Huckabee for the Republicans, and black first-term senator Barack Obama for the Democrats. The result is particularly galling, perhaps, for Hillary Clinton, who thought she had a lock on the Democrat nomination way back in 2007. But both she and the Republican front-runner, Mitt Romney, have suffered from campaigns that have been almost too calculating. Clinton's political positions have been varied and contrasting and it has been difficult to establish just what she does mean for the future of America. Experience and change are not exactly comfo…