Showing posts from January, 2010

The Spectator Attacks Cameron - Again

Britain's two most venerable political weeklies are probably the Spectator and the New Statesman. The 'Speccie' is the right-wing one, while the 'Staggers' views life from the left. They are reasonable gauges of political opinion from amongst the chattering classes, and as such the 'Speccie' at the moment should definitely be up on Cameron's bastards list (and if he hasn't started keeping one, it's about time to do so!). Its political editor, James Forsyth, has been sighing about Cameron's inadequacies as a proper, die in the wool, straight out of the laager right-winger for some time now, and he's given full vent to all those sighs in his current article in this week's magazine. I doubt Cameron and his team will be over-bothered by a never very friendly 'Speccie', but the asssessment of how troublesome the MPs might become could be something he needs to start planning for.

I've already noted the possible problems Ca…

Obama - Still Worth Believing In

This final passage of President Obama's first State of the Union, after a pretty difficult and trying year, is inspired:

Remember this - I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I can do it alone. Democracy in a nation of three hundred million people can be noisy and messy and complicated. And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy. That's just how it is. Those of us in public office can respond to this reality by playing it safe and avoid telling hard truths. We can do what's necessary to keep our poll numbers high, and get through the next election instead of doing what's best for the next generation. But I also know this: if people had made that decision fifty years ago or one hundred years ago or two hundred years ago, we wouldn't be here tonight. The only reason we are is because generations of Americans were unafraid to do what was hard; to do what was needed even when success was uncertain; to do wha…

How Badly Are We Governed?

Pretty badly, according to a report from a group of senior civil servants for the "Better Government Initiative". Amongst the issues to be criticised are the speed with which legislation is scrutinised and passed, leading to ill-thought out laws and initiatives; the short periods that ministers serve in any given post; and the impact of 24 hour news requiring instant, and often poorly considered, responses from government. The report illuminates what many already suspect about the nature and effectiveness of the British legislative process, and is required reading.

What Next? US Update

The Economist carries a couple of articles analysing the Massachusetts election. This one urges President Obama to copy Bill Clinton and make a move to the centre, while here they suggest that the impact on health care should be to start all over again, this time in constructing a better reform. Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria, meanwhile, says the problem has really been that Obama has governed too much like a prime minister, rather than presided like a president. Andrew Sullivan justifies Obama's need to govern, but agrees he should campaign again. Finally,'s Timothy Noah offers Democrats the nuclear option in this assessment of Congress's options.

February Election?

The editor of Political Betting has identified a lot of Downing Street activity today, and wonders whether Gordon Brown might actually be considering a snap February election. Let's see how good Mike Smithson's political acumen is - he watches the runes carefully, and puts his money where his antenna twitch. Apparently, a flutter on a February election at 40/1 is definitely worthwhile.

UPDATE: Ladbrokes have now reduced their odds considerably to 20/1.

Tory Divisions and Pressure Group Insights

The Observer ran this story on Sunday suggesting Tory divisions over its prisons policy. Communications Director Andy Coulson was fingered as having launched a 'prison ships' policy without reference to the actual, er, shadow minister for prisons, Alan Duncan. When he heard of it, Duncan called the policy 'repulsively simplistic'.

Interestingly, one of the people able to throw a bit of light on the development of Tory policy was Frances Crook who, as director of the pressure group Howard League for Penal Reform, is in regular contact with Tory frontbenchers, thus cementing her group's continuing position as a key insider group. The spat also highlights growing concern amongst Tory Party observers and activists that too much policy formulation is decided by a cabal of Cameronite insiders, without reference to the wider shadow ministerial team. The Dannatt appointment is another example of this type of insider mis-management.

Jon Stewart on the Massachussets Win

A little late with this, and it's only up on the Channel 4 site for another couple of days, but Jon Stewart strikes a blow against Republican triumphalism over the Scott Brown senate victory here.

Tory Supporters Start To Worry About the Electoral System

I suppose Fraser Nelson, the editor of the 'Spectator', counts as a Tory supporter, even if he's clearly not much enamoured of Cameron at the moment (see previous blog posts). Anyway, he uses his weekly News of the Worldcolumn today to attack the voting system in no uncertain terms:

First he tells us that "Britain’s weird electoral system tends to deliver two outcomes. A strong PM, or a hamstrung PM at the mercy of his party." Then, ratcheting up the anger in good old tabloid fashion, "The unfair Westminster voting system means the Tories could win FIVE MILLION more votes, but still barely control parliament."

Take away the specifics of the Tory problem, and these words would be manna to any Liberal Democrat. Nelson - who is an influential commentator in Tory circles - limits himself to pointing out the woes of the voting system in his column, but he has history in proposing reforms of our political system, and this could be the start of a gathering real…

Chilcot Inquiry

Iraq has fallen off the radar of most voters - perhaps wrongly, but that's a short term electorate for you - so the Chilcot Inquiry is probably seen by many as an irrelevant working over of old history. It is nothing of the sort. As an insight into how government worked at the time of Tony Blair, and more importantly, how and why a democratic government felt able to commit its people and its soldiers to a war against an enemy who posed no immediate threat to our security, it is of immense significance. High profile witnesses have been producing some interesting statements, and anyone interested in politics should be following the Inquiry's progress. The BBC offers a day by day summary here.

Meanwhile, today's news is that Gordon Brown, who was expected to be able to wait until after a general election, will be giving evidence to the Inquiry before the next election after all. It's his offer. The First Post's Mole speculates that this is because Brown knows he has no…

The New Tory MPs

In his talk to the Lower Sixth, Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Paul Burstow reminded us of the massive turnaround in MPs that will be seen at the next election, with so many standing down as a result of the expenses scandal. The parliamentary Conservatives will arguably be the most transformed, not just because many of their old guard were hit hard by the revelation of what they thought they could get away with from the public purse, but because they are also the party likeliest to gain more new MPs as well (unless that Liberal offensive in the cities comes good of course). Conservative Home has long been analysing the potential new intake, and one of its editors, Jonathan Isaby, writes a summary of the findings so far in the Times, telling us what the new face of the parliamentary Tories will be like. Good, bad or just the same old charlatans in new clothing? Read and make up your mind whetheryou are uplifted by some game-changing candidates, or depressed by their similarity. What…

The Tory Interest in Education

Apparently, most aspiring Conservative candidates want to be Education Secretary, according to a Conservative Home survey. Perhaps they see it as the easiest option for people with limited experience of anything else - after all, they all went to school, so they must be education experts. On the other hand, perhaps they genuinely feel education is the most important issue facing government. So maybe, instead of pontificating about it, they should all resign their seats and sign up to be teachers instead? Or are they not 'elitist' enough for the New Model Teachers that the Cameron leadership wants?

Yesterday in Parliament

There are several ways of following Prime Minister's Questions on the web, and politics students should do so. PMQ's will rarely be a game-changing exchange, but it is meant to be the House of Commons at its scrutinising best - the prime minister stands before the country's elected representatives to hear and answer their questions on our behalf. If it were followed by more electors, there's a chance that it might become less of a rather sub-standard student debating club, and more of a forum in which there was a genuine pressure on the PM to provide answers to important questions. Even as it stands, though, it provides the key to understanding the ongoing political conversation at Westminster, hence its importance for anyone interested in what is going on in our democracy.

The best regular report on parliament actually comes from Radio 4's 'Today in Parliament'. Yesterday's PMQs feature on the Wednesday January 20th. programme, but all of this admir…

A Glum Anniversary Day for Obama

It's a year to the day that Barack Obama took office as President of the United States, but that's hardly going to be a cause for celebration in today's White House as they survey the wreckage of the Massachussets senate race. Republican Scott Brown scored a handy victory, and the extensive analysis has already begun. Is this a slap in the face for Obama? Is it more the consequence of local issues? Does this derail the health care bill? How can the would-be 'transformational' president recover, especially with mid-terms due in November.

Your starters for 10 could be this report in the Washington Post, Andrew Sullivan's wrap-up on the Daily Dish (complete with exhaustive links), and Rachael Larimore on, suggesting the Republicans shouldn't celebrate too much. And it might be worth remembering that Bill Clinton also came unstuck over health care, losing control of the House and Senate in the mid-terms two years after his own victory, but still …

Massachussetts and Health Care

The state of Massachussets elects a new senator to replace Ted Kennedy today. The most liberal state in America could elect a Republican, and they could thus yet bring down Obama's health care bill, riding as it does on the 1 seat 'super-majority' that the Democracts currently have in the Senate.

This is no humdrum election, and the fall-out will be considerable, even if the allegedly 'lacklustre' Democrat candidate, Martha Coackly, does manage to pull a win out of the bag. There is no way she is going to 'win big', and so the questioning of just how Obama has lost his liberal majority so quickly will be up and running across the political nation.

Andrew Sullivan is convinced the Republican - Steve Brown - will win; he also references this comment from New Republic's Jonathan Chait about what to do if Coakley loses today. The mid-terms are in November, but today faces President Obama with his first electoral test since his own election.

Obama as President

Andrew Sullivan in today's Sunday Times gives a positive view of President Obama's first year. Much of the criticism the president is getting comes either from a frustrated hard left, or a still raging hard right. Look at his actual achievements, says Sullivan, and the conclusion has to be that the first year accurately reflects Obama's shrewd strategic grasp of how to run the presidency. As soon as I can find the link online I'll post it. Meanwhile, one of Sullivan's interesting points - and one well worth remembering as a future exam answer quote for A2 students studying the presidency - is this:

"Obama is a liberal pragmatist in politics and a traditional conservative in his understanding of the presidency. Once you grasp this, his first year makes much more sense. He has marshalled conservative constitutional defence of a liberal restoration of the importance of government". Think about it, figure it through, and use it!


Too Powerful Prime Minister Heads Dysfunctional Government

The Sunday Times has a heads up on a report to be published tomorrow by the Institute for Government. It's an independently funded (by Lord Sainsbury) outfit, and the report makes damning reading about the method of government currently being employed by No. 10. Because it has gathered its raw info from a wide range of Whitehall mandarins, the conclusions are worth noting. In its conclusion, it confirms the view that a lot of politics students will probably be reading about the office of Prime Minister -

“The office of the British prime minister holds a concentration of formal power greater than that of almost any other country in the developed world."

For all students doing the AS course, the report will be essential reading with relevance to the 'Executive' side of the paper - in Edexcel that's Unit 2. The Sunday Times extracts and summary are here.

A Poisoned Public Discourse

The Cultural Revolution in China - Mao's last great act of madness - killed many and ruined more, but one of its lasting negative contributions was to poison public discourse in China for years to come. After a decade or more in which official pronouncements not only lied, but turned reality completely on its head, no-one in China could give credibility to their government's word any longer. Alastair Campbell's confident, unashamed swagger before the Chilcot Inquiry the other day reminds us of just how ruthlessly he and Tony Blair manipulated the national conversation in this country, and to similar effect. Government announcements are greeted with cynicism and disbelief as a matter of routine, thanks to the triumph of Campbell's 'black arts'. Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian has an excellent article reflecting on the lack of public faith in politics, and especially the politics of war. He says:

The Iraq episode has poisoned public support for any and all…


And if you want a change from the staid old blogs, politics student Charlie Edwards - never knowingly under-opinionated - keeps a regular diatribe of right-wing musings here. Also linked in the sidebar.

Political Correctness - It's Gone Mad!

What a mad old world we live in, when you can't grit your own front doorstep without risk of legal action (thanks for alerting us to this, "Sunday Telegraph"), and poor old Mylene Klaas gets reprimanded for waving a knife through her kitchen windows at some yobboes (thanks again, Sunday Tel.).

Even madder, though, to think these stories might actually be true, for all the coverage they received. Thanks to Tabloid Watch for unearthing what actually happened (which, broadly, is nothing, apart from a bit of hyper-activity on the part of Klass's agent).

Defending the Dodgy Dossier

It's good to see that Alastair Campbell has lost none of his front. During his five hour grilling today by the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war, he said that he defended "every word" of the Iraq dossier. Including, presumably, such gems as the 45 minute warning, and the large numbers of WMDs just waiting to be fired off. He also announced that he was proud of the part he played; comfort, I'm sure, to so many Iraqis as they survey their shattered country and count their civilian losses, to say nothing of the British troops who who were committed to such a clearly just, visionary and well executed conflict. Certainly, in Campbell's case, age does not weary him nor the years make any wiser.

Cameron's Own 'Loyal' Opposition

Gordon Brown's little local difficulty may have been headlining for the past couple of days, but it is also worth considering the hold - or not - that Cameron has on his party's true believers. It has long been received wisdom at Westminster that Cameron governs from within a tight clique of friends and aides who are not representative of the Conservative Party as a whole. It is also received wisdom that there is little love lost between the Leader and many of his own MPs, a large number of whom felt he hung them out to dry over the expenses scandal, whilst protecting a few close friends. Cameron's problem with his MPs may or may not be solved by the huge number of newcomers who will transform his parliamentary party after the next election. Many of those who viscerally loathe him at the moment are the same ones who have had to issue their retirement notices. What is less certain for the Tory leader is how far his party core will follow his modernising agenda.

It is signifi…

What the Polls Say

The Sun has a YouGov poll in today's edition which puts the Conservatives a mere 9% ahead of the Labour Party, and also suggests that a change of leader would have only a marginal impact on people's voting intentions (5% according to the poll).

Despite the shenanigans of yesterday, which will soon blow over in any case, the poll, and the electoral arithmetic, suggests that Labour is far from being out of this game, which makes one wonder why on earth anyone in that party thinks raising leadership issues at this time is anything other than the baddest of bad ideas. If you want an indication of just how the polling maths piles up, take a look at this projection on Political Betting. Labour gets the largest number of seats even if it is polling some 6% behind the Conservatives. The current YouGov poll would have the Tories 5 seats short of a majority in a hung parliament, which makes Clegg, despite his protestations, the kingmaker after all. UK Polling Report's swing calcu…

Closed After All

I felt quite smug when Kelvin MacKenzie - the former Sun editor - was blasting all teachers as wasters on Sky News last night, because all the schools were closed. We, at least, I self-righteously thought, kept the faith. Alas, we have succumbed after all; ice has done us in, and the school is closed today. A peaceful, slightly eerie quiet dominates the empty shell of a building.

Smooth Talking Mandelson

Not a hair out of place, not a word out of order - Mandelson gave a very smooth performance against Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight this evening. Paxman's best array of incredulous expressions failed to draw him on the abortive Hoon plot. Later in the programme, Paxman lot off steam by exploding at the Icelandic president "So the lesson is, DON'T TRUST AN ICELANDER"!

The Best Blog Around

It's this one. Tabloid Watch. A brilliant attempt to keep exposing the half truths and slanders that make it into the tabloid press as news. Over the last few days they have taken the Mail to task over made-up health stories by celebrities; noted the fact that newspapers all identified an innocent man as a paedophile but have mysteriously removed their small apologies from their online versions; expose the Sun's hatchet job on a private citizen whose father is an eminent scientist embroiled in a row with the government; and compare headlines about the death of the Johnson and Johnson heiress ("Lesbian heiress") with those reporting the death of actress Britanny Murphy (no mention of her being a "straight actress"). It's a tonic for the soul, an immensely worthy use of the internet, and should be looked at regularly by anyone who thinks tabloid news is anything other than a complete travesty!

Blog Round Up on the Great Hoon Non-Plot

The Spectator's Fraser Nelson said that there were German operas which lasted longer than today's Hoon-Hewitt plot to oust Gordon Brown. He was being generous, given that the Ring cycle goes on for rather longer than the plot. But comment on it - well that's another matter entirely. The blogs and online writers have all been leaping into action to comment, presumably preceding the Dead Tree Press's more lofty commentators tomorrow.

The right-wing bloggers are predictably delighted. Iain Dale focuses on the bumbling nature of Geoff Hoon's technical wizardry - apparently the first email he sent to Labour MPs was blank - but otherwise has little comment. The Spectator's Coffee House sees editor Fraser Nelson remark upon the ineptness of the plotters, while his colleague James Forsyth notes the lukewarm nature of David Miliband's support. Tim Montgomerie on Conservative Home meanwhile sees the whole incident - not unreasonably - as a massive boost for th…

Snow Stops Schools

As London awoke to the awesome spectacle of a thin layer of snow, schools in Sutton and other boroughs took the brave decision to quickly close, lest anyone find out that it was actually quite easy to get in to work today. Training their students for the world of work, where any weather condition is sufficient to excuse closing down, most schools quickly announced that there would be no education being carried on today. With, of course, one or two notable exceptions. Realising that traffic was moving on roads, trains were still operating, and that some staff and students lived near enough to actually walk in, Sutton Grammar School defied British educational and working tradition, and opened its doors. Eventually, groaningly, the student body trooped in to carry on their education, and show the sort of mettle that might just prevent them earning a minimum wage in a few years time!

Labour's Own Little Storm

While the rest of the country was dealing with the snow that always seems to surprise us in winter, with only a few noble, resolute schools opening their doors to the hardy elites, Labour decided to engulf itself in its own little storm. Two former ministers, Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt, have written a letter to colleagues urging that the parliamentary Labour party hold a leadership ballot.

This is not the first time that Gordon Brown has faced leadership rumblings since he took over, although, as Nick Robinson points out on his blog, it is unprecedented for such a challenge to be made just weeks away from a likely election. Brown, who secured the leadership unopposed thanks to the strong-arm tactics he had been employing for years beforehand, must be wondering whether it really was worth all the trouble. Even John Major, the Tories' last, troubled premier, managed to win two leadership elections and a General Election. Brown's tactic is to see off such elections before …

Another Day of Electioneering

The Tories started today with the environment, and their idea of a supermarkets' "ombudsman" as the big idea to talk about. In fact, despite a promising start on the morning news bulletins and the 'Today' programme, they have gained rather less ground than yesterday, being pushed well behind by the weather - always a British favourite - and security issues in the US and Yemen.

Nick Clegg has managed to generate a few opinions about what his role might be should there be a hung parliament (no-one seems very interested in his actual policies at the moment). The Independent's Steve Richards comments that the Cameron-Brown rivalry, and the possible closeness of the election vote, are working very much in Clegg's favour, without him having to say much at all. However, the Tory blogger Iain Dale takes Clegg to task for a seemingly mealy-mouthed approach on Nicky Campbell's Radio 5 Live programme this morning, so perhaps on the whole it is better for Clegg…

And So It Begins

Each election campaign will be the longest one ever, until the entire period of a parliament is simply one long election campaign. That must be the premonition as the parties mark a return to political activity by firing off some of their election material today.

David Cameron has made most of the running, although not entirely smoothly. His decision to major again on the NHS is sensible, and as a long-term strategy has significantly shifted people's perceptions of the Tories and the NHS in the same way that Blair shifted perceptions of Labour and crime with his 'tough on crime' mantra. But Cameron was a little on the defensive about the decision to place himself as the focus of a new poster campaign on the NHS, and encountered a policy problem over marriage. He appeared to back-track on promises of a tax break for marriage in an interview with Nick Robinson, which looks a little less than sure-footed, and is also likely to rile the unreconstructed rightists in his own …