Monday, September 29, 2008

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 positive as they should be, the Tory lead was halved to just 12 points at the weekend, and people still await some concrete Tory ideas. Osborne's was one of them - what else is coming out from the party that would be next in government we wonder?

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 sort of political grasp outside the politics of Alaska. Little wonder that there is talk of having Palin replaced on the Republican ticket (no chance of that though), or that she is being kept firmly away from the mikes as often as possible. After last week's presidential debates, while Joe Biden was pretty well everywhere giving the spin about Obama, Palin was kept well hidden. That Palin is a complete disaster as a vice-presidential choice is clear, although I wouldn't completely write her off for the Vice-Presidential debates this Thursday. Nevertheless, although the Republican grassroots continue to adore her for what she stands for, some of the right-wing commentators on this side of the Atlantic might begin to review their own hasty hagiographies of the woman who thinks Russia is going to attack America via Alaska.

Extracts from her truly embarrassing interview can be seen below.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

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 the extreme care that each candidate takes not to say anything that could remotely be held as a hostage to fortune for the remainder of the campaign. Pity. Debates are meant to inspire passion not passivity.

I did, however, experience some political passion last night when I went to see the play "Now or Later" at the Royal Court theatre. Great play, sparkling with tightly scripted dialogue, based around a developing family crisis for the victorious Democratic candidate on the night of his winning the presidency. Focused around compromising internet footage of the president-elect's gay son dressed as Mohammed at a party, the play took up ideological cudgels for freedom of expression, and provided its own response about the dangers of liberal intolerance and its assumption of superiority. Topical, thought-provoking, a reminder that politics can be stimulating, divisive and never less than fascinating, it was like a bit of 'West Wing' on stage. Much better than a presidential debate, it seems.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

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 the Downing Street mob to run a story about a minister's resignation that the minister herself had had no intention of releasing. All in the name of squashing a hypothetical plot.

There have been numerous stories of the paranoid, bunker mentality currently prevailing on Team Brown (see this post by Iain Dale, and the article linked opposite by Nick Cohen as examples), and the Kelly affair, so utterly self-destructive, seems merely to pile more evidence on the 'Gordon Brown is mad, delusional and out of control' theory.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Did Brown's Speech Stop the Rot?

If the major, four-yearly convention speeches of presidential candidates in America provide only a temporary 'bounce', how much more transient is the impact of British party conference leaders' speeches. They are hyped up by a media that is part of the political in crowd, desperate to promote them as game-changing events, but the reality is that they barely feature on the radar of most ordinary people. The conference speech is there to shore up the party faithful, and project a positive image to the wider electoral world, but it is unlikely to change any electoral arithmetic.

Given that, how did Gordon Brown do? He can probably chalk this up as a success. He reassured his party audience, even giving some good old fashioned Labour sentiments to a party not always used to getting those from its leaders. He came across as a little more human, gave some decent lines about changing things one life at a time, had an eye-catching policy announcement - the removal of prescription charges for cancer sufferers - and even delivered some very effective, and savage, one-liners. No surprise that at least two papers are leading with headlines that read "No Time For A Novice" (with Newsnight following suit), although his more personal, anti-Cameron jibe about not using children as props came across as just nasty, and sat uneasily with his decision to use his wife as a helpful prop to introduce him.

Brown continues to look awkward when playing it light, and in truth he didn't waste much time on lightness this time either. Nonetheless, he showed that he is absolutely determined to stay on, gave warning to party opponents that he will be no pushover (did they ever think otherwise?) and may have hinted at a more left-wing focus for his remaining year and a half in power. Cameron's repsonse should be interesting.

Monday, September 22, 2008

'Inspirational' Brown

So David Miliband hails Gordon Brown as 'inspirational' - in the field of international development. I wouldn't want to denigrate Brown's undoubted commitment to dealing with global poverty, and it may be that this sort of work can usefully consume him for many years when he leaves No.10. It's just that Miliband seems ever so slightly desperate in his attempts to find something to praise Brown for.....

How the Democrats Can Win - by Jed Bartlett

From Aaron Sorkin's "Bartlett Meets Obama" piece, as published under Maureen Dowd's by-line in the New York Times:

OBAMA The problem is we can’t appear angry. Bush called us the angry left. Did you see anyone in Denver who was angry?


BARTLET Well ... let me think. ...We went to war against the wrong country, Osama bin Laden just celebrated his seventh anniversary of not being caught either dead or alive, my family’s less safe than it was eight years ago, we’ve lost trillions of dollars, millions of jobs, thousands of lives and we lost an entire city due to bad weather. So, you know ... I’m a little angry.

OBAMA What would you do?

BARTLET GET ANGRIER! Call them liars, because that’s what they are. Sarah Palin didn’t say “thanks but no thanks” to the Bridge to Nowhere. She just said “Thanks.” You were raised by a single mother on food stamps — where does a guy with eight houses who was legacied into Annapolis get off calling you an elitist? And by the way, if you do nothing else, take that word back. Elite is a good word, it means well above average. I’d ask them what their problem is with excellence. While you’re at it, I want the word “patriot” back. McCain can say that the transcendent issue of our time is the spread of Islamic fanaticism or he can choose a running mate who doesn’t know the Bush doctrine from the Monroe Doctrine, but he can’t do both at the same time and call it patriotic. They have to lie — the truth isn’t their friend right now. Get angry. Mock them mercilessly; they’ve earned it. McCain decried agents of intolerance, then chose a running mate who had to ask if she was allowed to ban books from a public library. It’s not bad enough she thinks the planet Earth was created in six days 6,000 years ago complete with a man, a woman and a talking snake, she wants schools to teach the rest of our kids to deny geology, anthropology, archaeology and common sense too? It’s not bad enough she’s forcing her own daughter into a loveless marriage to a teenage hood, she wants the rest of us to guide our daughters in that direction too? It’s not enough that a woman shouldn’t have the right to choose, it should be the law of the land that she has to carry and deliver her rapist’s baby too? I don’t know whether or not Governor Palin has the tenacity of a pit bull, but I know for sure she’s got the qualifications of one. And you’re worried about seeming angry? You could eat their lunch, make them cry and tell their mamas about it and God himself would call it restrained. There are times when you are simply required to be impolite. There are times when condescension is called for!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Wizarding support

J.K.Rowling has given £1 million to the Labour Party, and accompanied it with a few choice comments as to why Gordon Brown, husband of her friend Sarah Macaulay, is the best man for the country in these difficult economic times. And I suppose there is some justice in Brown's receiving such strong support from the inventor of a fantasy world of wizards and witches in which the main financial institution is run by goblins, guarded by magic that is meant to be attack-proof and successfully raided by a heinous half-dead force of long-forgotten evil.

The Brown Gaffes

The BBC news pages comment that Gordon Brown's interview suggests he is feeling more relaxed about leadership challenges and their status as non-occurring prime-ministerial extinction level events. I think he uses at least two phrases which suggest his institutional memory of the office he holds is every bit as poor as his economic recovery plans.

By invoking his school motto ("I will do better") as his continuing inspiration, he inspires comparison with Neville Chamberlain's determination to live up to his nanny's old saying, "If at first you don't succeed....etc etc", as uttered on his return from the triumph we all know as Munich. Both sayings are as banal and insipidly meaningless as they come, aimed appropriately at very small children who can be offered comfort by such useless mantras but used very inappropriately by national leaders who are meant to have attained some level of maturity. (If you want school mottos, of course, 'Keep Faith' might have been a little more in keeping with the times!).

Second, he described himself as a "pretty ordinary guy". A man who is a political obsessive from his teens and becomes prime minister after serving ten years as Chancellor of the Exchequer may be many things, but they emphatically do not include being a "pretty ordinary guy". Worse for Brown, this ludicrously self deluding phraseology bears comparison with Tony Blair's equally erroneous statement that he was a "pretty straight guy". For a thorough going demolition of that piece of aggrandising hypocrisy go no further than Nick Cohen's furious book-length denunciation in "Pretty Straight Guys".

If this really was the best that Brown could do, he is in as much trouble as he has ever been, and the only light at the end of his tunnel is the quiet release into retirement after the next election.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Paxman's Sneer

A glorious start to this evening's Newsnight. Opening with the most recent Halifax advert, we see the chirpy Halifax manager walking towards the beach singing "Woke up this morning, feeling fine...." Cue Paxman's voice over, in his best, most savage tones - "No you didn't". Newsnight theme - crisis of capitalism - etc etc.

The Citizenship Test

So should we have to pass a test before we can vote? That was one of the ideas put forward in a politics discussion on democracy today, so as a quick guide, here is the link to the UK citizenship test, containing the questions that the government believes you should know the answers to if you are to have UK citizenship, and thus the right to vote. Try it and see.

Should We Know James Purnell?

At the moment, most of us probably don't. But the Work and Pensions Secretary has given an interview to the New Statesman which is already being reported by Sky News under the headline "I Share Rebels' Concerns". Could the dashing junior cabinet minister be preparing the way for a leadership challenge? I've heard at least one Labour insider tip him for the top - but how quickly?

Clegg's Great Moment

Even in the midst of drama in the markets, there is still room for banality in politics. I must confess I hadn't even realised that today was the day of Clegg's great speech until one of those ex-politics students with even more time on their hands than they had in the sixth form texted me with the message that "It's like stand up with Nick Clegg. Laugh a minute." Well, irony was always his strong point (the student, not Clegg). Clegg's forcedly casual speech, which had him striding around the stage note-less, Cameron style, going from one poor one-liner to another, was a marvel of embarrassment. He should be embarrassed at so nakedly emulating the man he is already accused of being a virtual identikit for. He should be embarrassed at spewing so many terrible would-be jokes that fell flat before an audience which could hardly recognise them. He should be embarrassed that the best he has to offer is a series of empty insults towards his opponents. And he should be embarrassed at the whole style of the speech.

Read it on the BBC website.

A massive series of single sentence comments.

Designed to appeal to a moronic audience.

No linking ideas.

Absent of content.

Absent of passion.

Just terrible.

Bye Bye Clegg.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Communication, Communication, Communication

Andrew Marr's other half, Jackie Ashley, writes in the Guardian today that Gordon Brown's real problem is his failure to understand the importance of good political communication. It's a quality Blair had in droves, and that is serving Cameron well, but, reports Ashley, Brown is utterly inept at it, for all the admirable values that apparently still motivate him politically. Her assessment of Brown rings true - the political need to communicate meaningfully with the 'ordinary voter' can hardly be underestimated - although she becomes overly apocalyptic in her prediction that the Labour Party faces destruction.

I still just about believe that Brown will hold on to the leadership until the general election, although most commentators look to the continuing state of the economy, and the imminent Glenrothes by-election as possible 'change' moments. The real blow, however, will be struck by the constant drip feed of stories decrying his leadership, and there is no obvious way for him to stop those.

Mike Smithson over at Political Betting, meanwhile, speculates that the possibility of continuing economic bad news, on the scale of the Lehmann disaster, might persuade people to stick with Brown as a familiar guide. Not sure about that, although I'm taking heart from his other prediction, that the focus on the economy should benefit Obama in the US election.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Clegg Dilemma

As the Lib Dems gather for their conference in Bournemouth, Nick Clegg is firmly setting out his stall as a rightist Liberal, or Orange Booker. He's been urging public sector spending cuts, and unambiguously said he would send his children to independent schools because the state sector is in such a poor state. I must confess I rather liked Clegg's chutzpah on the schools front, in refusing to use his children as political footballs and condemn them to poor schooling as a PR exercise. Nonetheless, his problem is all too clearly revealed by research undertaken by a group called 'Liberal Vision'. They suggest two-thirds of Liberal MPs could lose their seats, mainly to the Tories, in the next election.

The Liberal problem has always been that they have increased their Westminster representation at the expense of a weakened Tory party for the past decade, but failed to commit their voters to a new, distinctive Liberal position. They have grown rich on the soft pickings of a declining Tory party, but it was always going to be the case that once the Tories revived, their newly acquired seats would disappear back into the natural middle-class fold of the Tory Party. The Liberals look increasingly like the British political equivalent to the Eastern Europe nations between the wars - created when their powerful neighbours were weak, it was only a matter of time before a resurgent neighbour gobbled them back up.

The Liberals have functioned as a protest party for disillusioned, moderate Tories, and have in addition inherited Tory seats with apparently healthy majorities on the strength of low turnouts. A resurgent, moderate Tory party under Cameron means not only the potential return of some of the protest vote, but also the return to voting by the hitherto absent Tories. There is no easy way for Clegg to combat this. In fact, the real answer for the Liberals was probably to take advantage of New Labour's move into the centre ground under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown by seeking to colonise the left of the political spectrum more effectively. There are a huge number of disillusioned, disenfranchised voters in ghetto-ised urban areas which a genuinely radical Lib Dem party could have reached, creating a much stronger, more lasting majority for itself. Successive Liberal leaders simply failed to grasp this opportunity, and in choosing to follow the other two parties into the centre-right, they will reap the rewards of their callow opportunism at the next election.

Miliband - no iron.

Whatever the Labour Party do this autumn, and it probably won't replace its leader, David Miliband has finally ruled himself out of any contention as a future Labour leader. He reminds us all of no-one so much as Michael Portillo and his unfinest hour in the Major years. Miliband was all for positioning himself as an alternative leader in the summer, but lacking the courage to strike a blow himself he was clearly waiting for some-one else to launch the battle. No such luck, and as a final coup de grace for his miserable efforts, he has uttered the fateful words that everyone should back Gordon Brown. Labour should remember Miliband's lack of iron when it eventually comes to choose a new leader, and should avoid him like the plague.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Is It About Class?

Discussing where we stand politically with both L6th politics groups this week, it was interesting to hear that class may still be a factor, not only in why we hold the positions we do (and yes, my family is a middle-class Tory one), but also in examining the political integrity of our leaders. Labour have recently tried to focus on the class issue, not least because of the proliferation of Etonians and fellow (if lesser) public schoolers in the Tory high command. After all, Cameron is a scion of that privileged institution, so is London's mayor, so is the shadow Home Secretary...the list goes on. Labour's thinking must be that one Brown advantage might be to play up his humble origins and hope the traditional vote is inspired to move back into play to stop the toffs taking over. Harriet Harman (St. Pauls Girls), tried to make class an issue in her speech to the TUC, although she resorted to the use of 'fairness' as a euphemism in the end. Commentators may disagree on whether she was initiating a new class war on behalf of her leader (see Nick Robinson here and Stephen Pollard in the Telegraph here), but the privilege of the Tory leadership still seems a favourite target.

It's not a great strategy, since class - at least in our leaders - seems ever less important for British voters. In Crewe and Nantwich they gave short-shrift Labour's notorious class-based campaign (which wasn't helped anyway by having a Labour candidate who features in Burke's Peerage). Then there's the fact that the public school educated Blair (Fettes - the Eton of Scotland) and Cameron seem a lot more effective at communicating with ordinary British voters than their state school counter-parts (compare Hague, Duncan Smith or Howard with Cameron, and Brown of course with Blair). Perhaps we've just never lost that feudal feeling of wanting to be told what to do by our social betters!

Could Hillary Replace Biden?

It seems unlikely that the Democrats will panic so much that they will engineer Joe Biden's disappearance from the ticket, replacing him with Hillary. But it may be a sign of how confused and alarmed they are that this story has appeared in a Canadian paper. All grist to the Republican mill.

Reasons Why Brown Won't Be Challenged

Another couple of Labour MPs this morning joined sacked junior whip Siobhain McDonagh in calling for a leadership 'debate'. It's causing great excitement in Westminster and on the blogs, but there is still a sense of unreality about it all. A small handful of unknown MPs do not make for a leadership threat, even if they do make for a mischievous and frustrating news cycle for the Labour leader. For all the party implosion that this seems to represent, the odds must surely still favour Brown staying as leader until the next election. Why? Here are just a few reasons:

- The Cabinet's gimicky Birmingham meet-up saw them all making up-beat noises about Brown and the direction the party was going;

- There is no certainty that any other prominent Labourite could do any better than Brown, and the most prominent of them - Miliband - has arguably already shot his bolt;

- A leadership election would plunge Labour into even more chaos when what they desperately want is a bit of stability to work on their message;

- Labour is not as ruthless as the Tories in this regard;

- Brown was only elected a year ago, and elected unopposed - how stupid would it make the entire party look to now accept that this was a mistake?

- Yet another leader in just over a year would surely make a General Election unavoidable, and Labour would lose - no Labour MP wants to risk their seat this early;

- Despite the much publicised calling for nomination papers by several MPs, party rules require 70 nominations and an alternative candidate to spark a leadership election - that seems unlikely.

Of course, politics is nothing if not unpredictable, and there is no saying where a movement can go once it gains momentum, but the most likely scenario for Brown is that he continues to face damaging sniping (as, for instance, in an article written by several Blairite MPs calling for a change of direction) rather than a direct leadership challenge.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Democrats in Trouble?

The video of Joe Biden calling on Missouri state senator Chuck Graham to stand up, before realising that Graham is a paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair is certainly doing the blog rounds (it's here on youtube).

It's embarrassing of course, although I think Biden recovers from an awful gaffe pretty well, but that may be because he does make rather a lot of them. It's the same Biden, after all, who plagiarised almost word for word a Neil Kinnock speech many years ago. More seriously for the Democrats than their vice-presidential nominee's mishap, is their presidential nominee's level-pegging with McCain.

Obama has been on the defensive since his own convention, when despite a hugely popular final speech, he and his party failed to land a blow on McCain. And that was before McCain unleashed Sarah Palin. There are real concerns in the Democrat camp that this election is slipping away from them yet again - an extraordinary state of affairs given the dismal popularity of Republican incumbent president George W. Bush, and the dire state of the American economy. Today's memorials for the victims of 9/11 may provide an opportunity to review the unpopular outcome of Bush's subsequent wars (consensus has it that Iraq looks hopeful, though far from won, while Afghanistan remains a nightmare). Whether that provides an opportunity for Obama to rediscover his political voice (he did, after all, vote against the Iraq war) and start regaining the political initiative remains to be seen, but recent history is littered with the political corpses of Democratic presidential candidates who failed to deliver the killer punch to their weak opponents (Dukakis against Bush Snr., Gore against Bush Jnr., Kerry likewise), and it would, alas, be entirely in character if Obama joined them.

Two Covers, Two Leaders

Two posts this evening on well-known blogs feature contrasting Time magazine covers. Iain Dale's blog reviews the current issue of Time (also linked opposite) and its profile of "British Prime Minister-in-Waiting David Cameron", a largely admiring article although one which does show up the paucity of Cameron's policy depth. The other post, by David Herdson guesting on Political Betting, uses the Timecover from 1990 showing Margaret Thatcher bowing out of office, as a hook to consider the impact of her forced removal and the likelihood of its being repeated for Gordon Brown today. Eighteen years apart, the two covers illustrate well the strange journey the Tories have made in that time.
Herdson, incidentally, concludes that Brown is safe in office at least until next summer - at which point, I'd say, he's safe until the election.

Brown's Campbell?

The Guido Fawkes blog carries this post this morning, and wonders whether the Mirror's political editor Kevin Maguire could be ready to join the Downing Street team as Gordon Brown's Alistair Campbell. Brown needs a political street-fighter, certainly, but he needs some sort of effective narrative as well for any new Communications guru to get their head around. I suspect Fawkes' conclusion is right - Maguire would be committing suicide if he took the job.

Meanwhile, the Spectator sees James Forsyth challenging David Cameron to ensure he has a secure political foundation, citing Barack Obama as an example of what happens when the novelty of newness runs out and you are left politically bare.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Lipstick on a Pig

The good old Republicans are at it again. When John McCain used the phrase "if you put lipstick on a pig it's still a pig" in reference to Hillary Clinton's healthcare policies, that was ok and not worth a comment. Now Barack Obama has just used it to describe McCain's attempt to promote himself as the change candidate, and suddenly it becomes a sexist smear against Sarah Palin. Not that Palin was referred to at all in Obama's speech, but who needs facts when you've got the Republican attack machine at full pelt.
Fortunately, Obama has chosen to respond aggressively to this nonsense, and it may just expose the vacuity at the heart of McCain's bid for the presidency. It certainly exposes the willingness of the Republicans to try any tactic to ensure their continued hold on the White House. McCain once had a reputation as at least an honest, if sometimes bewildering politician. How rapidly that has vanished!
For a scathing indictment of the still very newsworthy Sarah Palin, incidentally, the Daily Kos has this report on her time as mayor and governor in Alaska. The Palin bomb may yet explode other way.

The Curse of Brown

He really doesn't seem able to get anything right at the moment. Gordon Brown has now caused a transatlantic stir with an article in 'Parliamentary Monitor' that appears to endorse a Barack Obama policy, whilst making no mention of John McCain's policies. Now it's an admittedly small slip, but it has already caused a response on the McCain/Palin website, and Brown should have been savvy enough to remember what happened when a recent, ill-fated predecessor tried to tie his party too closely to the presidential campaign of one of the candidates. John Major, who backed George Bush Snr., found himself frozen out of Washington when Bush's opponent, Bill Clinton, was elected.

Of course, it's highly likely that no-one really cares about who the British Prime Minister is supporting (and the McCain site is pretty scathing in its open contempt for Brown's support). After all, the Special Relationship has only ever existed in the minds of romantic British atlanticists - the Americans give it no credibility whatsoever.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Tory Posers

Just when I was thinking that the Tories were playing things rather well, we get two sets of images today which are hardly calculated to endear them to the public. First, their leader, David Cameron, attends the swish do that is held to promote a by all accounts execrable book called "Cameron on Cameron". Written by Dylan Jones, the editor of style magazine GQ, this exercise in navel gazing allows all our worst preconceptions about the son of privilege to rise to the surface.

Next, a bunch of ambitious Tory candidates, united in their utter lack of judgement, have allowed Tatler magazine to take glossy photos of them wearing expensive clothing and bill them as the Tory cabinet of the future. If these ridiculous individuals really do think that this somehow advances the conservative cause, then the hope some of us might be investing in a future Tory government looks as if it should evaporate faster than a puddle in Arizona.

GQ and Tatler. Truly, a great way of extending the Tory reach out of the affluent suburbs.

Brown's Narrative


In seeking to persuade us that he is the man to get us through the economic downturn, and perhaps provoke a bit of sympathy, Gordon Brown strayed into personal territory. He reminded everyone of the fact that he has overcome some difficult times himself, which is presumably meant to be a clumsy metaphor for the national picture. It was in many ways a gruesome speech, and while I don't often find myself rooting for Richard Littlejohn, I did feel that, in his own intemperate fashion, he hit the nail on the head with this response to the Brown speech in the Daily Mail.
Meanwhile, in a transparent piece of gimickry, the Cabinet have met outside of London for the first time since Lloyd George called everyone to his holiday home in Inverness. Truly historic. Not in any way a replacement for imaginative political thinking, or an attempt to make a tired bunch of no-hopers look dynamic and sensitive to the national mood.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Republicans on the March

The Republicans are past masters at the art of hypocrisy, even down to their outrage if anyone tries the same approach on them. For years they've been happy to employ all the savage arts of sexism against Hillary Clinton, but have been yelping like puppies because their new heroine has had to suffer it a bit for a couple of days. They have been bitter in their denunciation of parents whose children carelessly get pregnant outside of wedlock, although for a once little known family from Alaska it is essentially a private matter and one for praise and admiration. And, of course, they are keen to laud John McCain's war record as virtually beyond judgement, although four years ago they besmirched the name of another war veteran while rallying behind a spoilt rich boy who went no nearer military service than the Texas Air National Guard - from which he promptly went AWOL.

Republicans are wretched people, but the real problem for their nominated candidate is that he appears to be fighting Republicans as much as anyone in his campaign, and his followers are at best tepid in their support, reserving their real enthusiasm for his number 2. If you're John McCain, you should be seriously worried that your Republican base really thinks it's fighting for a Palin presidency. The appointment that was meant to freshen his campaign, has ended up overshadowing it; whatever McCain's pitch, Palin places his campaign firmly in the heart of traditional, fundamentalist Republicanism. The very thing he once fought against.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

McCain the Hero

Great line from a jovial American interviewed by Newsnight's Peter Marshall this evening. "I think McCain's a great American hero. What he went through I could never do." [pause, while interviewer waits for final endorsement of McCain]. "And that's why we need Barack Obama as president - to make sure no-one ever has to go through that again". Excellent.

An Average Hockey Mom Says...

Sarah Palin has been the at the centre of the political storm that is the presidential election over the past few days. She used her chance to answer back in her convention speech last night to give her supporters the lift they so desperately wanted, and strike fear into the hearts of opponents who really were hoping that when George Bush leaves office, they'd finally get rid of ardent right-wing hicksters full of personal bigotries and utterly ignorant of the world outside.

Palin delivered a good speech. She's a fighter, and she gave no quarter to Obama and the liberal media. Of course she didn't give adequate answers to some of the charges against her, but that wasn't really the purpose of the speech. She is serving her purpose on the ticket admirably, as the pin-up girl and bright new hope for the Republican party's pharisee wing. Whatever virtue McCain had as a 'maverick' Republican who wasn't like George Bush has been completely wiped out by the knowledge that his VP - the person whose only constitutional role is to step into the shoes of the president when he keels over - is every bit as bad politically as the outgoing president, but a little more dangerously articulate.

The points being made about Palin's limited executive experience are also irrelevant. It isn't her executive experience that's the key. After all, Obama has none, and Bush, as Governor of Texas, hadn't exactly been tested by exercising one of the weakest gubernatorial positions in America. Successful presidents become so not because they've had great experience - nothing can really prepare them for the presidency - but because they have a mind-set ready to take on this unique role. Bush has been a disaster because he never acquired any political maturity as president - he has taken decisions for eight years with the same parochial outlook that he must have exercised as Governor of Texas. Palin would be the same. The point about Obama and Biden is that they have a broader grasp, and a maturer vision, of America's role in the world as well as her domestic needs. They have both sought to look beyond their own personal horizons even while they acknowledge their roots, because they know that as president and vice-president they will be representing a hugely diverse nation, and they will assume global responsibilities that come to no other national leader.

We who are not Americans are rightly nervous about the way in which those who are will exercise their huge responsibility.

Plots? Or Just Westminster Talk?

There's been a slightly misleading headline on the BBC News page's sidebar, that runs "Blair denies he is to be ousted". Every time I see it I keep thinking I've missed a year or so, and we're back in the good old days when Tony Blair was prime minister, busily having to deny that his chancellor was trying to oust him. Well, of course, after a ten year conspiracy, his chancellor did indeed succeed in taking over, and I bet Blair couldn't be happier about the way things are going for him now.

It may not be a surprise that former Home Secretary and famous Brown hater Charles Clarke is sounding the ring of doom for the current prime minister, but it can't be of great comfort to Brown that only Ed Balls, his swivel eyed loyalist and likely next Chancellor, and Deputy Leader Harriet Harman are the only cabinet ministers to offer full throated support. It was also fantastic to hear Brown say, in his speech to the CBI, that his economic recovery plan would not be about "short term gimmicks or giveaways" - the very principle that has been his hallmark.

The news is awash with variant stories on the 'Brown's government is imploding' theme, but two of the more substantial pieces are the FT's Sue Cameron, and the Evening Standard's Joe Murphy, both of whom focus on the mess that is Brown's backroom team.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Old Gordon Brown is Dead and Gone....

The prime minister has had a dismal summer. His foreign secretary, having just completed his GCSE's, showed exactly what he thought of the PM's leadership when he floated, in coded form, the idea of a Miliband leadership. Brown and Miliband are, of course, meeting for the first time since that little contretemps for their jaunt to Brussels to decide what to do about Gordon....sorry, Georgia. Then Alistair Darling, arguably one of the least interesting and most inoffensive men in politics, chose to admit the truth about the British economy that has been stewarded for so long by one G. Brown. You could hear the glee in George Osborne's voice as he enthusiastically endorsed the Chancellor's sentiments. Now, the Independent is reporting a turf war in Downing Street which has apparently resulted in the downgrading of the man once assumed to be Brown's PR saviour, Stephen Carter. He is, it seems, not aggressive enough towards the Tories. Because that's really the main reason for Labour's poor standing at the moment. Honest.

In one year Brown, the man who said he wouldn't be spun, has managed to get through more spin doctors than Blair ever managed, so I suppose he has at least been proved right on that front. He is relentlessly unspinnable. It seems that he is going to revert to his old pals for advice, so expect Ed Balls to be promoted to Darling's Treasury role (a relief for schools who will no longer be subject to his chronic Napoleonic tendencies), and key roles for back-room boys, and loyal Brownies, Wilf Stevenson ands Ian Austin.

Palin's Values

Because she's such an unknown quantity, Sarah Palin remains eminently newsworthy. Even better, she is a no holds barred holder of classic, social conservative 'Christian' views. The liberal blogs, notably the Daily Kos, have been running more or less continuous material on her, as if they can't quite get over just how much of a caricature right-winger she is. The conservatives, meanwhile, are over the moon. Or were, until today, when Governor Palin announced that her teenage daughter was pregnant by her unwed boyfriend.

Now of course, the family affairs of candidates for public office should not really be part of our judgement about the candidate in person. After all, their families aren't running. But in reality, I think we can follow a politician's lead. Tony Blair, for example, was always very keen to broadcast pictures of his family, including baby Leo, so could hardly complain when his children made the news in less regulated fashions. Similarly, one of Sarah Palin's selling points - one that she and her supporters broadcast long and loud - is her social conservatism, exemplified by her family values, her strong proposition of sexual moralism, her vigorous anti-abortion stance etc. Nearly every sympathetic story about her trumpeted her wonderful triumph in being a mother of five (so bad luck to all those sour-puss men and women who, for whatever reason, cannot be quite so germinatively prolific) ; rather tastelessly, there has even been some right-wing exulting about the fact that her youngest born suffers Down syndrome. So, unfortunately for them, she has made her family absolutely legitimate targets for comment in the public eye.

The issue with the beauty queen turned soccer mom turned governor turned vice-presidential candidate of the most powerful country in the world is that, contrary to the popular belief that she was there to woo Hillary Democrats (who can't possibly give her a second glance), she is actually there to woo the evangelical, judgemental, morally fascistic conservatives whom the Republicans believe won their man the last election. No surprise to learn that Karl Rove may have been behind the nomination. Even her present trials are not going to dampen the enthusiasm of the conservative base, who still can't quite believe that they have someone who is so completely in their camp on the ticket of an allegedly maverick Republican. In the blue corner, meanwhile, is one of the most authentically liberal tickets ever produced by the Democrats, and their job is to show that the majority voice of America is not, in fact, the world-hating right-wing one that has been too much in the ascendant.

Gustav's Silver Lining


1. Gustav is now downgraded, and New Orleans looks a lot safer than it did 24 hours ago.
2. Although they weren't in the end necessary, the measures - including mass evacuation - taken by New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin and others suggest that it is possible for inadequate leaders to learn from their mistakes.
3. Even George Bush wanted to show he'd learned his lesson, although ideally he should never allow himself to be near microphones that can broadcast his more or less consistent stream of asinine banality.
4. Best of all, if you're a McCain Republican, the storm has removed the embarrassing spectacle of an address to their convention by two of the most detested politicians in America - er, its president and vice-president.