Sunday, June 29, 2008

Blogging Lite

I am away for a couple of weeks, soaking up the undoubted joys of CCF camps, so no blogging here until July 13th! Last year when I went to CCF camp, Gordon Brown was riding high in the polls as a welcome new prime minister, whose every action drew praise, and Hillary Clinton was the runaway favourite to win the Democrat nomination.....

Resignations and Blood Money

The Tories haven't yet lost their chairman over her payment of expenses to her nanny, but they are hardly likely to take much comfort from today's Labour resignation - Wendy Alexander standing down as Labour leader in Scotland. She has not been an impressive leader in Scotland in the short time she has had, failing to combat the SNP's challenge to Labour north of the border and on one occasion - her call for an independence referendum now - clashing clearly with her boss and usually ally, Gordon Brown. Nonetheless, her resignation is over a failure to appreciate the full demands of the complex legislation governing campaign contributions, rather than a big issue of principle, and certainly suggests that even the slightest deviation now from wholly accurate and transparent financial dealings - with or without public money being involved - will considerably shorten your political shelf life. That's the cold comfort for the Tories.

Another resignation - of Glasgow East's Labour MP - could well lead to another Labour slaughter at the polls, this time to the benefit of the SNP. Mind you, the Tories could do with a strong showing here if they want to convince us they're back as a truly national party. Tory deputy leader in Scotland, the former student firebrand Murdo Fraser, did wryly admit that this wasn't traditional Tory territory...

So, Labour is in trouble north of the border, while Cameron's MPs are in apparently upbeat mood at their weekend retreat in Buckinghamshire. It is possible, though, that the Indepedent on Sunday's front page might dent some of their optimism, citing as it does 6 Tory MPs - including the newly promoted Dominic Grieve - as having business interests in Zimbabwe. And not interests designed to make life more difficult for Mugabe I think we can surmise!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Spelman's Woes

On a day when the Tories are celebrating holding that well known marginal Henley, it cannot help that their chairman's expenses difficulties continue to be in the news. Apparently, a former secretary originally pulled the plug on Mrs. Spelman's use of parliamentary expenses to pay her nanny. Caroline Spelman justified her use of that money in part by saying that when she became the Tory MP for Meriden there was no office or administrative help to speak of and that she had to work from her house. Meriden was my home seat, and I must confess I certainly remember the association not only having perfectly good offices - sharing a building with neighbouring Solihull constituency - but also a couple of staff as well, when Caroline Spelman was selected. Whether there were some personality clashes that meant she didn't feel comfortable using the offices is another matter, but she does not appear to have been entirely transparent in her comments. All of which is a little odd, as she has always come across as a decent, honest and hard-working MP, if not a particularly exciting one.

Meanwhile, whatever Mrs. Spelman's troubles, Gordon Brown can hardly take comfort from his party's fifth place in Henley. The BBC have even started putting a feature on their news site about what life would be like in Cameron's Britain. Lovely and sunny, with no fuel crisis, of course.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tory Fury

Tory blog-sites are alive with the sound of teeth gnashing and righteous eruptions over the sacking of one of Boris Johnson's key aides. Uninvolved as I now am with Tory politics I had not actually heard of James McGrath until his fate was drawn to my attention by the ever vigilant consultant. McGrath made a stupid comment in an interview about black people's reaction to Boris's election, saying, in response to the interviewer, "Let them go home if they don't like it here." A crasser comment you could hardly hope to come across, and about as helpful as a tiger at a children's tea party. Hardly surprising that he should have had to go - Boris Johnson was regarded with suspicion by many black voters on account of his earlier writings, and any political aide worth his salt would have trodden very carefully in an interview that discussed race with a campaigning black journalist.

More surprising is the outraged sense of injury being expressed by Tories of various hues, in the blogosphere. The two main commentating culprits are Iain Dale and Conservative Home, who are probably guilty of a bit of insider affection warping their judgements. More illuminating are the large number of posts from other Tories - if this is the authentic voice of the Tory grassroots, Cameron has problems aplenty.

The original article by Marc Wadsworth is here, and his reaction to the furore in the Guardian is here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Monday, June 16, 2008

Westminster v. the World

David Davis announced his little coup de grace on Thursday, and by Sunday the press were performing an almost complete U-turn. The media reaction on Friday - doubtless fuelled by some hefty insider briefing - as almost unremittingly hostile. Davis' main supporter was Simon Heffer in the Telegraph, and he long ago ceased to be a serious commentator. The main message was that this man is a loony, a maverick, completely unpredictable and that this by-election thing was a vanity stunt. Then, by Sunday, polls started to suggest that actually Davis' stand was garnering quite a lot of public support, and media reaction started to change. Most hilariously of all, Rupert Murdoch, the Australian born US citizen who likes to have a say in UK affairs, was backing away from the Kelvin MacKenzie candidacy as fast as his aged legs could carry him.

So what, if any, are our conclusions here? First, the Davis action has certainly divided people, and not along party lines. Labour MP Bob Marshall-Andrews, for instance, has said he will go and campaign for Davis (although Marshall-Andrews is well known as one of Labour's independent tendency). Second, and much more interestingly, the affair has shown up a genuine Westminster/public divide. It is the Westminster insiders who can't quite fathom what Davis is up to, and the public who admire his apparent spirit and principle. This sheds a revealing picture on the public view of poor, cocooned Westminster. Without wishing to suggest that Davis is in any way a modern hero (see previous post), there is no doubt that so appalling is the image of the modern MP, driven in part by their monumental mediocrity and absolute unwillingness to mark out anything like an independent line when representing their constituents, that a gimic like Davis' immediately appeals to the public mind as something refreshingly new. If nothing else, this should be a wake-up call to all those time-serving backbenchers to start doing the job for which they were elected - to represent the public interest and make life difficult for established power in both parties.

Third, the ludicrous Kelvin MacKenzie intervention has shown just how much the Westminster media is in bed with the political class (a point emphasised repeatedly by Peter Oborne in 'The Triumph of the Political Class'). MacKenzie may have once invented himself as a man of the people, but he is no better at perceiving the public view than anyone else - ridiculing Davis on Friday, he found himself being ridiculed, and significantly out of step with public opinion, by Sunday.

This entertaining little Whitehall farce could throw up more vignettes and surprises yet. Meanwhile, of the acres of print dedicated to analysing this over the weekend, Andrew Rawnsley's Observer piece here is the one that I think is most balanced and perceptive.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Conviction Stand or Political Stunt?

David Davis suffered a major reverse to his ambition when he failed to gain the Tory leadership. Worse, he was dismissed as a grey, unexciting, uninteresting politician compared to the man who steamed past him to the Tory prize, David Cameron. Now, with his announcement that he will resign his seat to fight a by-election over the issue of 42 days detention, Davis is back at the centre of the political storm. He is the one seen as a risk-taker. A politician prepared to gamble with his career in order to defend a point of principle. This is not a roundabout type of leadership bid, but it is a bid to remind the Tories, and the public generally, that he is a force to be reckoned with.

It is a fascinating political stunt, and you have to give credit to Davis for his understanding of political drama - an understanding lamentably absent when he fought for the leadership. But we should understand first, that this is a wholly unnecessary gesture, and second that it is not much of a gamble.
First, David Davis has always opposed the 42 days detention bill, and the other encroachments on civil liberties that he is fighting this by-election about. His position has not changed. His constituents know that their MP opposes further attacks on civil liberties, as he sees it, in the form of ID cards, 42 days detention etc. He is standing for re-election on exactly the same platform that he is currently representing his constituents. There is no change in his position. He is still a Tory. He has represented his views in parliament, for his constituents, with consistency. There is therefore no reason whatsoever for him to stand down and fight a by-election. It is an utter waste of public funds, and it asks for no new or fresh support for a radically changed position.
Furthermore, it is difficult to argue, a mere few weeks after Labour's catastrophic defeat in Crewe and Nantwich, that this is a big gamble. If Labour can't win in Crewe, the chances of them taking Davis' 5,000 plus Tory majority away from him in Haltemprice is as likely as Tony Blair apologising for something he was actually responsible for. Davis has taken a shrewd look at the political weather, seen that he risks very little for his dramatic gesture, and stepped into the political limelight with considerable agility. The main risk to him is that he becomes seen as irrelevant, or trivial.
And what of the Tory party? Cameron can hardly be pleased about this unnecessary political distraction. The last thing he needs is a prima donna prancing around the corpse of Gordon Brown. Once Davis is re-elected, there is little Cameron can do to avoid re-appointing him to his old job, with added grassroots support for admiring Tory members. Which is a pity, as the one good thing to come out of this is Dominic Grieve's well deserved shadow cabinet promotion as Davis' successor. Should Davis falter - and the political landscape is nothing if not rock-strewn - then the Tories will at least benefit from Grieve's new prominence.