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Showing posts from October, 2009

The Tories and Euro Referendums

The Czech government of Vaclav Klaus looks as if it is now ready to ratify the Lisbon Treaty that redefines the European constitution. It is the last government to do so, which means that the treaty is likely to be ratified by the time of the next British general election, and the widely expected change of government. David Cameron, whose otherwise modern new party* is racked by deep-seated euro-scepticism, has said that he wanted a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, but that it is pointless to hold one once the Treaty has been ratified. Really? There is in fact a precedent for post-decision referendums. Edward Heath took Britain into the then EEC in 1973 without a referendum. His Labour successor, Harold Wilson, whose party was hugely divided on the issue, held a referendum in 1975 to decide whether to stay in the EEC. Surely, if he is committed to a direct democratic vote on this issue, David Cameron could promise a post-ratification referendum on the 1975 model. Or perhaps he's n…

The Fading Hopes of President Blair

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For all the initial trumpeting of Tony Blair's candidacy as the first 'President' of Europe, it looks highly unlikely that he will actually get anywhere near the post. One might argue that the final nail in his coffin has probably been Gordon Brown's enthusiastic support, but of course the reasons are more varied than that.

First, the idea of a British politician in the post would be anathema to many European countries. Britain is one of the most reluctant of European nations, whose political leaders still prefer cosying up to America than identifying a European future. A Brit in the top euro post would be almost be seen as akin to appointing a senior Opposition politician into government. Strange and unworkable. Secondly, most European governments are centre-right ones - they are unlikely to be sympathetic to a leftist candidate, even one as blurred as Tony Blair, for the new top job. But most significantly is the personality and history of Blair himself. He is a hugel…

Stopping the MP Gravy Train

Sir Christopher Kelly's report on MPs' expenses isn't due to be published until next week, although its principal findings have, it appears, been leaked to the media. Perhaps full analysis and comment should wait until it is formally unveiled, but it is worth noting the cries of woe that MPs have been generating about the provision to prevent them employing spouses in future. Some 200 MPs do this, and the claim is that these are all properly contracted jobs done by able people who just happen to be MPs spouses. Maybe. But there is no other job or profession that sees such wholesale nepotism going on, and the protests of the MPs and their 'employees' today is indicative of the long road they still have to take before they really emerge from their ivory offices and see themselves as the world sees them. One MPs' wife, employed as her husband's secretary, commented on Radio 4's PM programme this evening that it would be a tragedy if she, as the best p…

Fatal Policy Failures at Defence

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There can have been few more damaging reports issued about the way in which defence matters are managed today than the investigation by Charles Haddon-Cave into the 2006 RAF Nimrod crash. Published on Wednesday, he uses direct language to condemn a "systemic failure" which brought about the tragic accident that lost 14 service lives. Revealingly, on the day that Gordon Brown announced a complete U-turn on TA training - originally cancelled to save money, now reinstated due to serious opposition at a saving that puts TA personnel in danger when serving - Haddon-Cave's most serious accusation is that the wholesale culture in the RAF has moved from safety to budgetary concerns. In effect, forget airworthiness and concentrate on costs. This is no way to run the military.

Two of the ten named individuals singled out for criticism were the first Chiefs of Defence Logistics, General Sir Sam Cowan and Air Chief Marshal Sir Sam Pledger. These were servicemen promoted to the highes…

Question Time - The Verdict

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The panellists were all so anxious to have their go at Nick Griffin they often managed to let him off his own hook. There were some decent audience interventions along with the usual array of utterly incomprehensible ones - none was a killer point. Griffin was really starting to hang himself with his extraordinary discourse on indigenous people, and had he been allowed to keep going uninterrupted could probably have finished himself there and then. Alas, his fellow panellists were interrupting so madly that they broke his suicidal flow. Particularly impressive is Griffin's belief that the indigenous people of this island can trace their ancestry to common ice-age humans - and there was I thinking that regular invasions kept changing and mixing our common heritage, with even the Normans a couple of thousand years ago massacring most of their predecessor settlers, the Saxons.

Winners and Losers? Huhne a definite loser - poor points, couldn't shut up, much too long-winded, an…

Anti-Climax?

OK, the BBC have screened some excerpts from the Question Time programme, and whilst they are too incomplete for a fully informed judgement, my immediate reaction is that, far from being a political bloodbath, this could prove a bit of an anti-climax. Griffin seemed to have been in self-pity mode, while one member of the audience became too angry during his question to be particularly effective. Warsi and Straw seemed to be relying on audience-friendly slogans rather than dealing very rationally with the points about Griffin, but that's possibly a measure of them as politicians. We'll see.....

Giving Griffin Publicity

Have just been watching the huge protests outside the BBC against Nick Griffin. His appearance has generated reams of publicity, yet the best thing that could have happened would have been......nothing. No protestors, no constant reporting of this tedious little man and his venomous opinions. He tugs at a chain and the whole media panoply, together with the large numbers of demonstrators seeking a row, respond - and Griffin must love it! We'll see just how effective a performer he is later on, although I'm not filled with confidence that the Tories have fielded Baroness Warsi, who is usually a pretty poor Question Time performer.

The Laziness of Ken Clarke

Ken Clarke, three times candidate for the Conservative leadership, may be back in the shadow cabinet, but is he basically too lazy for the job? When one of his multiple leadership bids was announced the campaign had to be delayed while Ken finished his holiday. On another occasion, when fighting Iain Duncan Smith, he reacted with surprise when he heard that IDS was actually, you know, going round the local parties and canvassing. Now, Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail, never a man to allow charity to get in the way of a few well aimed barbs, is suggesting Ken may not be very on top of his opposition brief, given that he was easily out-foxed by a simple question from a Labour backbencher yesterday. Opposition? Surely it doesn't require any actual work?

A Row Over the Children's Commissioner

Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for what used to be straightforwardly called the Education Department, and now glories in the more Orwellian name of the Department of Schools, Children and Families, has appointed a new Children's Commissioner. He's appointed Ms. Maggie Atkinson, but Ms. Atkinson's appointment was criticsed by the Select Committee that scrutinises Mr. Balls' department. The chairman of that committee, a Labour MP, Barry Sheerman, has been highly critical of Mr. Balls, describing him as a "bully". Oh dear. Perhaps it is the select committee system that needs a champion. These parliamentary bodies are meant to try and hold government to account, and are based on the much more formidable American Senate and Congress committees. The Atkinson affair shows how toothless they really are - they have no actual power. Mr. Sheerman was probably right to ask why these committees should even bother to vet appointments if they are simply going to be…

Tolerating Intolerance

It's one of the great dilemmas of the liberal society - how far do we tolerate intolerance? Two stories over the weekend raise this question - the continuing debate over the BBC's decision to invite BNP leader Nick Griffin onto 'Question Time', and Jan Moir's Daily Mail column on Stephen Gateley's death. Channel 4 News linked these together in a piece on freedom of expression, although there is a qualitative difference. Even as a panellist on Question Time, Griffin is subject to questioning and debate by fellow panellists, chairman Dimbleby and the studio audience. If his views are repellent, they can be attacked, challenged and dissected. Jan Moir, on the other hand, has a well positioned newspaper column to express her views, uncluttered by the need to constantly refine or explain them to challengers.

Moir's comments, implying that Stephen Gateley died an unnatural death because he was a homosexual, have been seen by many - if the twitter campaign and the …

Wanted - Gay Marine Heroes

Andrew Sullivan has posted a reader's comments on the ongoing debate in America about gays in the military. The current policy is "Don't Ask Don't Tell", but there is growing pressure for a more open approach, as the above contribution explains.

The White House v. Fox News

Fox News may be the home of one of President Obama's most vigorous critics, Glen Beck, but it is, when all is said and done, just a broadcast organisation. They are, however, clearly getting under the skin of the White House as Obama's Communication Director, Anita Dunn, has come out firing against them Describing them as a "wing of the Republican Party", and saying "let's not pretend they're a news network like CNN", it's clear that White House has had enough. By directing such fire-power against Fox, however, it looks a little as if they have just handed Murdoch's US broadcaster a valuable propaganda coup. The better option, in this case, really would have been silence, if only to let people hear Beck's lunacy unfettered - now he sounds like a martyr.

Sarkozy's Son

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While MPs here are paying back their over-claimed expenses, France has been in a bate for several days over the likely new appointment of someone to head the premier business district in Paris. Not only is the proposed candidate just 23 years old, and still doing his undergraduate law studies, but he also happens to be President Sarkozy's second son. The job is one of the most powerful in France, and the president is busy extolling the virtues of Napoleonic meritocracy while hoping to see Jean catapulted into a remarkably influential post. Perhaps Sarkozy the younger is genuinely the best man for the job, but as some observers are remarking, it might not be a bad idea if he finished his law studies first. Others are wondering what sort of job is coming the way of the president's third son, 13 year old Louis.....

Guardian Gagged from Reporting Parliament

If there's one place in the land that should never be the subject of a gagging order, it is the place where our representatives gather and debate, and where they hold government to account. Yet, extraordinarily, the Guardian newspaper has been served with an order gagging it from reporting a parliamentary question from Labour backbencher Paul Farrelly later this week. the question is already laid out on the Order Paper, but thanks to the injunction obtained by solicitors Carter-Ruck, the Guardian cannot even mention the MPs' name, let alone the subject of his question or likely reply.

It may be scandalous that such an order can be issued, but fortunately in this age of internet communication, other sources are not so restrained. Thus, the blogger Guido Fawkes has commented on this and published the question that the Guardian has been gagged from reporting; he also links to this story, linked to the issue that Carter-Ruck's clients are so keen to trample on free speech fo…

A Little Bit of Inspiration

Was struck by this extraordinary story on the BBC website, of the "youngest headmaster in the world". Babar Ali, who lives in West Bengal in India, has set up his own school to teach the poor children who live in his village. He teaches what he has learned that morning in his own school, and so hungry for learning are the children of his poor village that he now has some 800 coming to his free school. A remarkable story of the triumph of the human spirit, and how the most unlikely person can embody it. Woe to you in the West, who complain of your schooling!

Expense Fall-Out

Gordon Brown is having to pay back some £12,000 that he wrongly claimed in expenses, according to the independent adjudicator Sir Thomas Legg; Jacqui Smith has had to apologise to the Commons for her claims, and large numbers of other MPs are dreading the sort of letter that Brown has just received. This scandal has been cataclysmic, directly causing the largest single exodus of MPs at the next election in probably half a century (over a hundred at the latest count, and excluding those who might lose their seats if they do stand). And I doubt the notices about 'retiring' MPs has finished yet, as they ponder what to do with this latest turn.

Paul Waugh, meanwhile, considers that the real story of Jacqui Smith's claims about her principal home is more sordid than the headline points allow.

New Leftie Blog

Actually it's been around for a while, but I've only just caught up with it, via the ever irascible Bob Piper. Anyway, if you're fed up of Tory triumphalism, try the Frank Owen's Paintbrush blog - lots of comradely snarling and plenty of innuendo, if their current tale of homo-eroticism at a right-wing youth fest is anything to go by!

By way of a contrast, this post from a rightist blogger is hilarious, as he calls for the protestors on the roof of parliament to be shot down next time (and I think he is serious, not caricaturing himself)! Mind you, he also blogs on the X-Factor!

Osborne's Question Time

Having been quite critical of George Osborne's performance in his Newsnight interview with Jeremy Paxman, it seems only fair now to note that his Question Time performance seemed far more assured - he managed to combine convincing advocacy with a degree of electoral humility that worked well, I thought. There were also moments when the determinedly non-partisan Ian Hislop was holding more than a candle for the Tories, in a heated exchange with Yvette Cooper. And a final plus point for Osborne, who sneakily wondered aloud whether David Dimbleby would follow Bruce Forsyth's example and take a BBC pay cut.

Cameron's Speech

Early thoughts are that it did set out a coherent vision, even if - as he warned - it wasn't strong on policy detail. Significantly, his vision is much closer to a "One Nation" Tory vision than I ever once thought possible, and it rather confirms the interesting analysis of Team Cameron that is offered by Julian Glover in his Prospect article. He also acknowledged Labour 'achievements' - citing the minimum wage and civil partnerships amongst these; a good move it has to be said, although how many of his party agree is another matter. The personal side was sincere, but he needs to be careful when referring to his son, and his go at Labour for not doing enough for the poor who they have betrayed was canny political theatre. On the whole, he has done himself favours with this speech, and of the three leaders' speeches this year, Cameron's is likely to be recognised as the most effective.

Paxo's Tory victims

The much vaunted interview between Jeremy Paxman and Boris Johnson turned out to be just a bit of light entertainment between the two; not really a Paxo classic, although some Tories - if their comments on Conservative Home are any guide - clearly thought Boris came through the whole bumbling encounter as a sort of latter day anti-hero who should be leading the party as soon as he can! Much tougher was Paxaman's interview last night with George Osborne, who he had on the ropes two or three times. He prefaced one question by saying that everyone regards Osborne as 'the weakest link" in the Cameron team, challenged him on whether everyone really was "in this together" when the shadow Chancellor's plans appear to favour the wealthy, and almost stunned him into silence on the question of whether Tory Deputy Chairman Lord Ashcroft actually pays any tax in the UK, given Osborne's determination to clamp down on tax evasion! Not quite a car crash, but Osborne…

More Tory History Shenanigans

Fast on the heels of his grassroots, the normally thoughtful Michael Gove has also launched into the "British history isn't being taught in schools" debate. Paul Waugh asked Gove for his list of recommended history topics, and a quick glance reveals a list of what comprises much of the current Years 7 to 9 curriculum, as I've already pointed out. I don't necessarily disagree with Gove's priorities, although dictating what history should be taught was, not surprisingly, a popular totalitarian measure, but I do resent his wilful ignorance of the current state of history teaching in schools. Incidentally, one of the comments on the earlier post makes a good point about the impact of globalisation!

Independent Schools Keep Degrees Going

Tony Blair came to power proclaiming "Education, education, education" as his top three priorities. Both David Cameron and Gordon Brown continue to proclaim it as their own key policy areas. Well, they're going to have to do a lot more than simply produce impressive rhetoric, if a report commissioned by the Headmaster's Conference (an Independent School body) is anything to go by.

The report points to a continued over-representation of independent school pupils in key degree areas such as modern languages, engineering and economics. Not because the universities are hugely biased towards the independent sector - we know that it is quite the opposite - but because it is the only sector able to provide students with viable A-level qualifications in these subject areas. While the ideas of academic rigour, and academically focused reform, remain alien ones to both parties, they will continue to betray state school students in favour of the private sector, whatever thei…

The Dannatt Effect

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It's been quite interesting watching the news about Sir Richard Dannatt joining the Tories break during the day. On the one hand, it looks like a brilliant recruitment for the Tories - as I suggested in the post below. Dannatt is a combative general who didn't shy away from fighting battles in Whitehall to defend the needs and wants of ordinary soldiers. Unlike politicians, he carries weight and authority when he speaks on defence matters. The down side, of course, is that the announcement that he is joining the Tories - might even be one of their defence ministers in government - immediately politicises him, and allows the government, probably rather thankfully, to be able to dismiss his views from hereon in. Worse, they might be tempted to suggest that he always was a Tory mole at the top of the defence establishment. On balance, though, the appointment adds weight and lustre to a Tory top team that is worried about its collective lack of experience.

From a non-partisan …

Dannatt and the Tories

Nick Robinson has just posted a piece about General Sir Richard Dannatt, hinting that he might join a Conservative government if asked. No doubting that this would be a significant coup for the Tory Party - Dannatt's leadership and integrity are widely admired, and he has been seen as a victim of the Brown government's dirty tricks machine in recent months.

Tory Grassroots and School History

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Apparently, British history doesn't get a look-in at British schools, and the desire to place the teaching of history as the central feature of every British classroom is the second most favoured policy of Tory grassroots members. Conservative Home say that the policy garnered 94% support in its survey of what the party members want in the next Conservative manifesto. Which is a pretty damning indictment of the Tory backwoodsman view of British schooling.

Am quickly reviewing my teaching schedule for the next few weeks, which includes the intricacies of the Norman invasion, followed by the Plantagenet successors for the Year 7s; a look through the Tudor and Stuart monarchs and their turbulent, game changing reigns for Year 8; and completing the Industrial Revolution (in Britain, "the first industrial nation", naturally) before moving on to British political reform in the 19th. century for Year 9. Not much of a look-in for any NON-British material there I'd say, exce…

What are Cameron's Woes?

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Clegg had a distinctly modest conference; Brown had a pretty dreadful one; so surely of the three main leaders David Cameron has predictably the biggest spring in his step? Well, yes and no. Yes, in that opinion polls are going his way and have been for some time; he looks and sounds like a prime minister in waiting; he didn't get tripped up by one or two rather infantile Marr questions in the same way that Brown did last week; the Sun is still in love with him; and he appears to have a complete control of his party.

But it is not all completely rosy for the first Tory leader in over a decade to look like he might win power. There are a couple of real problems on the horizon that could yet engulf him. The first is a policy issue. Whilst Cameron is, probably sensibly, policy lite, he starts to get into real difficulties when explaining the impact of his proposed cuts regime. It was on the question of "How many people will lose their jobs when you make your promised cuts?&q…

Brown's Look of Loathing

Paul Waugh of the Evening Standard has managed to get the clip of Gordon Brown at the end of his notorious interview with Sky's Adam Boulton, and the look of loathing that Brown exudes once Boulton has thanked him is indeed a wonder to behold. A little surprising, too, as the interview as a whole was not a particularly bad one, and Boulton's questions were perfectly reasonable - you can find the interview on the Sky News site.

Does "The Sun" Matter?

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In politics, the short answer ought to be no. The Sun's much vaunted 3 million readers don't look to it for political guidance; most of them are thoroughly uninterested in politics, and many won't bother to vote. However, the Sun does have a huge influence as a weather-vane newspaper - it generally manages to support the winning party at every election, by carefully following popular opinion. Not that it will have taken a great deal of political insight to gamble on Labour losing the next general election.

What hurts is the timing of the announcement that they are no longer supporting Labour, and some observers are putting this down to the influence of former News International employee Andy Coulson, now David Cameron's Director of Communications. What is also likely to be the case is that Rupert Murdoch, the Sun's owner, is hoping to exact useful political capital for turning his paper's support to a man he once described as 'lightweight'. Whatever…