Friday, October 30, 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 not quite as keen for the Tories to take this issue to the country as he might suggest?

* Actually, perhaps not that modern, at least in social attitudes - the party in South West Norfolk is reconsidering its selection of a candidate, Lyn Truss, because it turns out she had an affair with an MP a few years ago. Without wishing to condone an affair between separately married adults, I wonder if the Tories are really suggesting that only the chaste and the faithful will make decent political leaders? And they might want to consider the famous response of Jesus when asked to condone the stoning of a woman taken in adultery, as sanctioned by the Jewish law - let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

The Fading Hopes of President Blair

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 hugely divisive character. He took Britain, squealing, into a war most of her people didn't want, and which most of Europe took exception to. He remains a divisive character in Britain, where there is absolutely no political consensus behind his nomination (unlike the last senior British appointment of Roy Jenkins, the former Labour Home Secretary, as President of the European Commission in the late 1970s). His role as George W Bush's most faithful lackey makes him an extraordinarily poor choice for any international post, and his own character would hardly fit into the 'chairman of the board' role envisaged for the new European 'president'.

David Miliband, whose reputation surely slips a little each time he makes a speech, made the extraordinary statement that he wanted Tony Blair as European President, so that he could stop the traffic in Beijing. This is hardly how the position is described in the Lisbon Treaty. The new president of Europe, who carries no democratic mandate, is intended to be a chairman of the board at meetings of properly elected European heads of government, and then a spokesman for those collectvie views. Tony Blair, whose attitude to his own cabinet was to ignore it as much as possible and rule as an individual leader, is hardly suited to that sort of consensus role. But we needn't worry - with Gordon Brown behind him, he hasn't a hope.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

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 person for the job, was now discriminated against just because she was married to the MP. I do just wonder how many candidates for the job were interviewed besides her though!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fatal Policy Failures at Defence

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 highest level and charged with implementing government cost saving initiatives that were bound to result in safety failures somewhere along the line. Cowan instituted a cost saving regime that was ruthlessly pursued, while Pledger apparently even wondered whether he should continue with such a scheme in the light of the government's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. That he did so, seemingly against his better judgement, is what has led to his shaming by Haddon-Cave.

Then there are the civilian contractors, each incompetent and careless on the issue of safety. Two of the named individuals worked for Qinetiq, the defence firm that was later privatised by the government, netting its executives windfall payments of up to £20million and £23million. There can surely be no greater indicator of the bankruptcy of defence logistics, and a shameful government policy that commits the armed services to a greater and more complex level of armed combat than has been seen since 1945, whilst at the same time cutting its budget and placing huge pressure to deliver financial savings above everything else.

The Haddon-Cave report has shed light on the appalling nature of the Nimrod tragedy, but it has cast its beam inadvertantly wider by illuminating the whole shoddy structure of current defence policy. The same shoddiness led to the Chinook crash of 1994 - a crash initially blamed on pilot error before a campaign by the dead pilots' families eventually revealed that software problems were to blame. Software problems for the chinooks further led to 8 new helicopters, ordered at a cost of £259million, being indefinitely grounded. And Gordon Brown wanted to save a comparatively paltry £20million by stopping all TA training.

There isn't much that is positive about this whole dismal saga. The government, its defence agencies, and senior servicemen, stand monumentally indicted. But Haddon-Cave's report has at least brought all this into the open, and its direct, critical style should be the template for every future independent report into the sometimes fatal failings of government. Openness has brought us this, as it has brought us the knowledge of our MPs' expenses shenanigans, and there can surely be no good argument against introducing stronger and more far-reaching Freedom of Information legislation as soon as possible.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Question Time - The Verdict

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, and always angry; Dimbleby seemed to think he was a member of the panel rather than the chairman; Warsi was actually a lot better than expected - made some good points pretty effectively, and has moved some way from her previous inarticulate self; Bonnie Greer was wonderfully academically disdainful of Griffin, who for some reason kept reacting to her as if she was his best buddy; and Jack Straw was solid, but after a decent opening comment never really found his dynamic point; and Griffin has got his pound of publicity, but is poor in front of an audience of unbelievers. Next time - just let him speak without interruption.

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.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

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 ignored.

Throughout this furore, however, no-one has asked the obvious question - what on earth is a Children's Commissioner for?

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 complaints received by the Press Complaints Commission are anything to go by - as being just as repellent, and in the same bracket, as the views often expressed by Griffin. Both appear to want to attack and ghettoise groups of people for characteristics that such people are hardly in control of (skin colour, sexual orientation). The Moir column, in fact, exposes the frailty of such 'big-name' columnism. Writers such as Moir are given headline-heavy titles, prominently positioned in the newspaper, and then permitted to proselytise on any subject of their choosing, no matter what their own personal knowledge, as if they are somehow experts. Few such columns are particularly well researched, and effectively give someone who is little more than an articulate pub politico the credibility of a national thinker. In a visceral attack on Moir, the Guardian's Charlie Brooks, amongst other things, wonderfully mocks the forensic expertise she must clearly possess in order to challenge the coroner's report on Gateley's death.

Interestingly, the once lofty position of the columnist is being increasingly challenged and attacked, as the internet response to Moir adequately shows. Moir may not have to respond instantly to such criticism, and will doubtless have the luxury of her column to rebut her critics in a more leisurely way than will be afforded Nick Griffin on Question Time, but she will have to respond I think. And actually, that's why the liberal society can go some way to tolerating intolerance. Because as long as it's operating properly, with a range of alternate voices, such intolerance quickly runs into the sand of political debate. That it is the internet which increasingly provides the forum for such essential plurality is another reason for all liberals to praise the coming of the last great arena of free expression, good and bad.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

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

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.....

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

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 for; while Iain Dale also reports the matter extensively, and carries this link to the original Guardian story, by reporter David Leigh, that has caused all the fuss. Seems that companies like Trafigura can dump all the toxic waste they like along the West African coast, and stil manage to use the British legal system to keep their activities quiet.

UPDATE: Lovely piece here from a blogger called Mr. Eugenides about how Carter-Ruck's attempt to gag the Guardian has pretty well guaranteed that Trafigura have now received far greater coverage than they ever would if no such order had been placed. Suddenly, they're big news and their nefarious activities are in every spotlight!

UPDATE 2: Carter-Ruck have accepted defeat and withdrawn the gag order. Nick Higham on the BBC website has posted an analysis of the internet/twitter aspects of today's rather extraordinary developments. A commenter of good repute reports some tension within Trafigura about whether to employ the very aggressive Carter-Ruck - good that they know what they're doing, these poisoners of innocent Africans.

Monday, October 12, 2009

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!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

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 didn't emerge unscathed; very different from the chummy time Boris had with Jeremy.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

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 their fine words suggest.

The Dannatt Effect

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 point of view, the entry of men and women who have made significant achievements outside politics into the political arena is to be welcomed. Another former serviceman, Colonel Bob Stewart, is already on the Conservative candidates list, and his performance on Newsnight was measured and authoritative, especially when set against the rather inane babbling of the always irritating Phil Woolas.

As a side issue, however, the Conservative high command certainly need to work on their communication skills - the Chris Grayling gaffe, where he cautioned against the appointment of Dannatt as a political 'gimic', because he thought it was a Labour appointment, didn't inspire great confidence in joined up opposition, even if it has provided the media with some regularly regurgitated amusement.

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.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Tory Grassroots and School History

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, except as a form of context, and that little lot follows the National Curriculum guidelines laid out for all schools. As if you needed further evidence of the focus of British schools on British history, a glance at any issue of the history teaching profession's trade journal, "Teaching History", would put it to rest. A wide variety of teachers and other practitioners seem to be wrestling almost exclusively with the problems and fascinations of British history teaching. That this is such a key Tory grassroots view would seem to confirm my view that an unreconstructed - and apparently rather ignorant - party membership could be David Cameron's biggest problem.

It goes without saying that the freezing of the BBC licence fee is number 3 in this list of policy lemmings, followed by the need to maintain our nuclear deterrent. The Tories - never knowingly progressive!

What are Cameron's Woes?

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?" that Andrew Marr really seemed to make Cameron uncomfortable. He knows cuts = job losses, but he absolutely cannot say so. His gamble is that the electorate are currently keener to see economic stringency (in the belief that this is good economic management) than confront the prospect of public sector job losses, but that is not necessarily a given over the next few months. Labour aren't yet so incompetent that they can't land some useful PR punches on Tory economic plans if they choose.

The second problem comes from within Mr. Cameron's own party. He may be the acceptable face of Tory change, but the deep suspicion that much of his party hasn't really changed still persists, and the unwelcome re-appearance of the Europe issue, in the form of Ireland's 'Yes' vote, brings this suspicion to the front of our consciousness, for it is in their fanatical opposition to Europe that many of the Tories' most unlovely characters force their way to the front of the publicity queue. Cameron's party is not as governable as people think, and if they think power is within their grasp they will see it as their right to keep Cameron to heel on the European issue. Hard-line Euro-sceptics have been the manifestation of the Tory's right-wing laager tendency for years, and for years their antics have denied Tory leaders the opportunity to win elections (they utterly screwed John Major's chances in 1997; it was the ludicrous Save the Pound campaign that ditched any faint prospect William Hague might have had in 2001). If he really is aware of his party's history and its pitfalls, David Cameron should be petrified of the Lisbon Treaty!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

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?

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 the Sun does, it isn't for political conviction, of that at least we can be sure!