Friday, October 31, 2008

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 Murdoch (the Sun) have long harboured a commercial resentment at the BBC's public funded dominance of the media market, and were keen to inflict a serious blow against them as part of the campaign to denude them of public funds and leave the market open to such brave, free-market media oeprators as, er, Associated Newspapers and News Corp? Heaven forbid!

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 politician known for his absolute hatred at being challenged represents BBC journalism at its best - a nice contrast to that corporation's more high profile struggles at present!

Incidentally, the Evening Standard's Paul Waugh provides a first class, clinical analysis of the Galpin interview here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

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 Sun reports 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!

Friday, October 24, 2008

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.....

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

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 issue. George Osborne has made several mis-steps here. He took an ill-advised visit to the yacht of a dodgy Russian billionaire (and yes, ALL Russian billionaires are dodgy, given the creation of their wealth out of the rush for state assets following the fall of communism!). Also,at a time when the Conservatives should be trying to distance themselves from the perception of free-loading that was such a weakness of Tony Blair's, Osborne takes a free holiday from a multi-millionaire hedge-fund manager. Just reflect on last summer for a second - a summer when Gordon Brown was anxious to be seen as taking a modest British holiday in Suffolk, and David Cameron paraded the joys of west country beaches (before, less publically, jetting off to Turkey!). This need for modesty from political leaders clearly passed Osborne right by. Then there's Osborne's extraordinary action in leaking the comments made to him by Mandelson at a private dinner hosted by Rothschild. Here, Osborne was trying to enter Mandelson territory, and has been badly burned, just as the malicious Mandelson himself was burned as a consequence of using such tactics over many years. To call Osborne a fool and a charlatan in this respect hardly does him justice.


Second, the world of the political elite. Whatever the ins and outs of the donation question, the stench of unmerited wealth and privilege that emanates from this story almost overwhelms it. The whole thing is like one of the less savoury scenes from Brideshead Revisited. Osborne and Rothschild were fellow members of the Bullingdon Club - the ultimate haunt of spoilt, wealthy upper-class vandals with no respect for anyone who doesn't come into their rarefied circle. Andrew Feldman, the Tory fund raiser, and now chief exec., who was asked by Osborne to join him on the visit to the Russian billionaire, is another member of the narrowly based Oxford circle - a mate of David Cameron's, himself a member of the aforementioned Bullingdon Club. The unsavoury Russian billionaire, and the thoroughly tarnished EU Business Commissioner add to the sense of unreality, and this heads into overdrive when you realise that Rupert Murdoch, owner of the newspaper which has just published Rothschild's letters, parked his yacht near to the Rothschild estate and dropped in for a visit too. Was Osborne really wanting a nice holiday, or was he attracted by the presence of media and financial star power?


In Britain today, hundeds of thousands - potentially millions - of households face losing their jobs, or homes, or both; they face increasing hardship as the economy heads into slow mode; ordinary families wonder what they will have to leave out of the weekly food basket; people young and old seek shelter on our street; our cities house increasing levels of crime, much of it lethally violent; the downward social spiral occasioned by greater drug and alcohol abuse engulfs more and more people; and George Osborne and Peter Mandelson between them offer us a glimpse of a faraway political world that seems ever more spoilt, ever more insular, ever more incapable and ever more irrelevant. From such nonsense the seed of political revolution is often sown.

Monday, October 20, 2008

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.

Friday, October 17, 2008

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 the the will of the people, and they are utterly unpredictable.

Meanwhile, the Obama campaign can take a little comfort from the unravelling of the the Joe the Plumber story. Having cited the 'ordinary Joe' - a figure who challenged the Democrat candidate on the stump a few days ago - no less than 20 times in the last presidential debate, McCain may wish his people had done a bit more fact checking (not one of their strong points - look at Sarah Palin). Turns out that Joe the plumber isn't licensed and is a bit of a charlatan all round.

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, actually. But a half decent politician, needing to regain some credibility, might be able to make a response to the "why didn't you say anything before?" conundrum with a light-hearted acknowledgement of past ignorance and quickly steer things back to current solutions. What, of course, you wouldn;t do is claim that you have been making these criticisms all along. Which, er, is what Osborne did.

To her credit, Montague pushed this point and Osborne, lamely referring to some very ambiguous stands he may have taken in the last general election, was left reeling on the ropes. A classic case study of how to stuff up when in opposition at a time of crisis.

I've always thought Osborne was over-rated and in over his head - he continues to sound a bit like a smug public schoolboy who has absorbed one or two bits of political ideology but never really fought for anything substantial in his life. Oh, wait a minute, George Osborne IS a........

UPDATE: Jeff Randall, not exactly a cringing leftie, has this negative view of Osborne's recent performance in the Telegraph today.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

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, then in the flailing around for a party to protest with, fringe parties who are good at disguising their unpalatable side will start to benefit. If the main parties are identified with a political elite no longer responsive to the people's will, then eventually the democratic deficit may be paid back in alarming ways.

The main party spokesmen, incidentally, steered well clear of direct responses.

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 do in sport or music."

And Bill Jones reflects on Gordon Brown's astonishing resurrection...it's the stuff that makes politics exciting!

Monday, October 13, 2008

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 free-market finance and the need to establish a 'People's Bank'. Go comrade!

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 rescue plan, notably Australia and Sweden - and the long-term consequences of nationalised banking have yet to be properly weighed up, but for the crisis proper, Gordon's rescue plan is still obscure. In these circumstances, the Tories merely have to sound credible - I agree, something they are still struggling with - but they can take some comfort from the fact that no-one rewards governments that preside over a general economic stagnation. Once the banking crisis has disappeared from the front pages, what will be left will be a huge expenditure of government money, and a lot of people wondering why their jobs can't be saved in the same way as the banks. Whatever rational explanation there may be for that conundrum, it does not add up to any good electoral figures for the incumbent government.

Further Links (UPDATED):
Guido Fawkes on Brown's delusionary beliefs
John Rentoul on why it's game over for Brown.
Paul Krugman's view - the Nobel prize-winning economist praises Brown's actions - see the comments on this.
John Redwood.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

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 Guido Fawkes blog has also been bemoaning the failure of capitalist nerve. They are all in a tizz!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

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, best line of the afternoon probably belonged to Nick Clegg - "When a ship is sinking you send out the lifeboats, you don't argue about who steered it into the iceberg."

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.  Where's the emotion that connects him to us, ask the voters.  Anyone who might doubt Westen's thesis needs only to look back over the reviews that Sarah Palin received for her appalling debate performance.  She was a success.  She hauled the campaign back.  She provided a boost for McCain.  Why?  Not for any reasoning abilities on her part - there were none.  Not for her penetrating political insights - absent again.  But because she came across as friendly, as an ordinary girl, as the sort of person you wouldn't mind having a drink with.  

Westen's success is using what may seem to many of us to be an obvious conclusion about the nature of political discourse, and applying it to the American political landscape and then determining both why she remains a right-wing country in terms of her voting record, and how a Democratic party that is more often in tune with voters than it seems can regain the initiative.  Well worth a read, and you can bet that the next Democrat incumbent of the White House won't be long in ignorance of its contents either.  After all, he'll want a second term when he's challenged in four years by the folksy Alaskan outsider who garners so much passion. 

"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.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

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."

Monday, October 06, 2008

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 party thinks this woman is fit to occupy the second highest office in the land speaks volumes about their suitability to ever hold office again!

And, while we're on it, Palin's debate performance against Joe Biden was execrable. She gloried in her ignorance, tried to suggest her utter lack of national preparedness was basically about being a 'maverick', and performed the whole debacle as if she were a star-struck loser who had just been allowed on a local talent show through a sympathy vote. Saturday Night Live's Tina Fey has achieved considerable fame by sending up Palin's ludicrous persona, and got it right again with her take-off of the debate performance. And to think some Republicans seriously thought Palin had quashed the doubters.

The Tina Fey debate spoof on SNL is here, while her take-off of Palin's Couric interview is here, given added spice by being placed alongside the actual interview. Gems both; if only it was Fey who was running!

Friday, October 03, 2008

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 spinning on behalf of the government. Just like old times, but hardly a move forward!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

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 has been taking the Met. To maintain the capital that this act has given him, Boris doesn't need to suggest a political appointment to succeed Blair - he merely needs to engage the services of a good copper who understands the job.

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 with notes this time, that it was soberly given - rather than the distinctly absent content. Cameron is selling himself, rather cornily, as 'the man with a plan', but the plan is no clearer now than it's ever been. Indeed, while Cameron seeks to deflate hopes of tax decreases in his speech, his shadow chancellor made the only eye-catching announcement of the week in his determination to freeze council taxes. While there is such schizophrenia over the party's tortuous central message, what hope is there for all of the other bits?

David Cameron still looks like a man who can win, but this week has shown, if he didn't know it already, just how fragile that look is, and just how quickly political tides turn. He is a long way from the dominance that Tony Blair was achieving in the run-up to the 1997 election, and that must surely be continuing to give him cause for concern. Man with a plan? The Tories must be hoping that plan includes a winning strategy somewhere along the line.