Thursday, January 28, 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 Cameron will face from his party's unattractive right-wing, and it seems still to be the case that the one group of people who could disrupt his campaign may be his very own 'loyal opposition'! They still don't really 'get' why Cameron's succeeding where their favoured right-wing leaders never did.

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 what it took to keep the dream of this nation alive for their children and grandchildren.

Andrew Sullivan blogs it here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

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.

Monday, January 25, 2010

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.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

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 World column 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 realism amongst Conservatives that, while it is hardly top of the average voter's list of concerns, they may need to review their stance on the existing voting system. Who knows, perhaps there's even the substance for some future coalition collaboration with a Lib Dem party who have longed wanted to put electoral reform on the table.

Nelson goes on to suggest that Cameron's real fear must be that he gets elected as a young leader promising radical change, and finds himself hamstrung by a weak parliamentary position. He suggests that Cameron need only look across the Atlantic to see a similarly fresh young leader up-ended by inactivity -

"Barack Obama has done precious little since his election. Last week, voters in the Democrat heartland of Massachusetts turned on him."

Mind you, I have to say that Nelson, whilst giving us the standard rightist view on Obama, is harsh - putting healthcare on the table, with the possibility of a Bill still highly likely, radically changing global perceptions of the US, and arguably pushing through a necessary stimulus package might all count as pretty impressive achievements for a first year president, even in good times.

Friday, January 22, 2010

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 nothing to hide, but others may wonder whether the man whose role at the time of the war is the most ambiguous of all really is well advised to air his dirty washing in public so near to the public's own electoral verdict being delivered on him.

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 they really need, of course, are a few 40-something teachers from state grammar schools with a history of ineffective political activity......

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?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

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 admirable unit's broadcasts are worthwhile, and well worth anyone's half an hour. You do often need to scroll in about a minute and a half before the programme actually begins, however.

As to yesterday's events, David Cameron kept his questions - on Haiti and the Doncaster tortures - sober and well-meaning, and failed to either score a particular hit, or to offer Gordon Brown a chance to practise his new-found comedic skills. The Spectator's Lloyd Evans offers a pretty scathing account of Cameron's failure, in his view, to step up to the mark. This is of a piece with the Spectator's current highly critical stance towards Cameron - they appear to be positioning themselves as the defenders of arch-Thatcherite Toryism, and we look forward to Norman Tebbit's imminent appointment as Advisory Editor!

Nick Clegg had a good PMQ's, with his question about the RBS funding of Kraft's take-over of Cadbury. It was pointed, relevant, and potentially damaging to the government which, as Clegg reminded us, had promised to fight tooth and nail to preserve Cadbury's. Brown, meanwhile, when not answering Clegg's question, was also keen to remind the House of a recent speech by old Tory warhorse Ken Clarke. Clarke had made a perfectly sound case for opposing a marriage tax allowance - he suggested it was not the business of politicians to determine whether or not people get married, a view that should have appealed to any remaining neo-liberals on the Tory benches. Of course, the problem here was less Clarke's previous out-spokenness, and more Cameron's commitment to an increasingly embarrassing policy.

Gordon Brown, in fact, appeared to have quite a good PMQ session - his second in a row. However, so focused is he on remembering his new one-liners, that the real business of this session now appears to be lost on him. Paul Waugh has a useful anecdote here about a well meant question from Tory MP Michael Fabricant which received unjustifiably short shrift. As I say, until more people decide that it is worth tuning in to what their representatives are saying, and how they are scrutinising government, we will continue to get the PMQ's we deserve.

REMINDER: That the BBC Democracy Live pages offer an excellent collection of videos and reports from all of the representative chambers.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

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 sallied nicely back into the White House at his own re-election. In the end, the Massachussets election has done what elections are meant to do - shake up the ruling class and remind them who's really boss.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

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.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

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!

UPDATE: OK, Andrew Sullivan has put the post on his blog here - well worth reading in its entirey.

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.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

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 military action, including the wars we are still fighting. Hardening public opposition to the Afghan mission is not solely about the loss of life: it is about the loss of faith. After Iraq, whenever we hear our leaders telling us force is necessary, we start counting the spoons.

And this does matter. It matters that government should be trusted, for the health of civic society depends upon a mutual trust. We who do not spend our lives making political decisions should be able to have as our most basic understanding a belief in the integrity of those who do, and an acknowledgement that they will at least speak the truth to us. Campbell has ruined this, and ruined far more. Freedland goes on to warn:

Let's say a new administration ­concludes that Iran really is developing a nuclear arsenal, and that its regime ­genuinely poses a danger to the world's most unstable region. Who would believe David Cameron when he began talking about "intelligence ­assessments" and "credible threats"? Not only has Iraq killed off the 1990s notion of liberal intervention; it may have destroyed for a generation Britons' willingness to use force anywhere.

The poisoning of public discourse is never a small matter, and it infects the body politic for years. As Campbell pockets the profits from his diaries, we should remember his most lasting contribution to British politics.


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).

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

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.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

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 significant that Conservative Home's Tim Montgomerie - himself no Cameroon - laid out a plea to right-wing heroes Peter Hitchens and Simon Heffer to come and support Cameron on his website the other day. Today, he gave Peter Hitchens the space to reply - which the Mail journalist did, at length. Hitchens explained why he believed David Cameron's brand of conservatism to be effectively a betrayal of traditional Tory values, going so far as to brand it a continuation of the Marxism that has destroyed Britain's traditional (and by implication, Tory) heritage. Hitchens also took time to have a swipe at his critics, calling them 'gratifyingly rude'. In fact, few of those critics wil be found in the comments section of the Conservative Home website, where most of the commenters praise Hitchens and express scepticism about the Cameron agenda.
And it's not just the Peter Hitchenses of this world who have been ready to rally the disaffected Tory member. The Spectator, under the new editorship of its former political editor Fraser Nelson, has been taking a similarly sceptical line. On its Coffee House blog, both Nelson and his new political editor James Forsyth were Miliband-esque in their support for the Cameron campaign on the Monday, and quick to step in to criticise the tentative move away from a marriage tax proposal - a move Cameron quickly shuffled from. The current issue of the magazine, meanwhile, features a distinctly uncomplimentary cover of an empty headed Cameron, waiting for ideas to pour in. James Forsyth writes a scathing piece condemning Cameron as ideology-free, while David Selbourne puts the boot in to Cameron's lack of philosophical coherence. When you have a writer claiming that Cameron is 'no Balfour' you know the man's in trouble. I mean, Balfour?! Cameron can't even be allowed to aspire to the heights of one of the Tory Party's least successful twentieth century leaders. Selbourne really doesn't like him! Fraser Nelson rounds up his current approach with a defence of his magazine's contents on the blog, and to be fair finishes by asserting his belief that Cameron could yet be a 'transformational' prime minister. But not, one gets the impression, on his current terms.
David Cameron managed to quell any disturbance from his ferociously Euro-sceptic party over the dropping of the Lisbon referendum, partly because not even the wildest sceptic could argue easily for a referendum on a Treaty that has been passed, and partly because Cameron has already thrown them some red meat in the form of his Euro Parliamentary alliances; out with the EPP, in with a new, more determinedly anti-federalist and right-wing grouping, led by new Tory hero Michal Kaminski.

It may be Gordon Brown's troubles that are headlining at the moment, but Brown, whatever his flaws and problems, is fundamentally at one with his party when it comes to policy. For David Cameron, however quiet the bulk of his party stays during the election campaign, there is no such guarantee of quiescence once they taste power. His policy problems are only just beginning.

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 calculator comes up with the following based on today's figures. Both Tories and, even more, Liberals are seriously under-represented of course, a feature of the current system and boundaries that is already common knowledge. But Clegg could decide to give the Tories a majority in coalition with him, or he could deny them the opportunity by defeating their Bills in alliance with Labour, thus precipitating a likely new election within months. Of course, it is possible that the experience of the SNP in Scotland might be an indicator as well - still in the driving seat despite having to fight each Bill one by one in view of its minority status.

So, an absolute Tory majority is still a massive aspiration for Cameron, who has been lucky in this weeks Hoon affair, given that it has taken the spotlight off his own marriage tax mis-step. Just prior to news of the plot, this had given Gordon Brown new life in his Commons exchanges at PMQs yesterday, which really does beg the question of what an earth the plotters thought they were doing - unless, of course, they are indeed desperate to prevent a Brown victory themselves?!

Swing Calculator

Con Conservative 321 seats (+123)
Lab Labour 261 seats (-95)
LD Liberal Democrats 38 seats (-24)
Other Others 12% 12 seats (nc)
NI Northern Ireland

18 seats (nc)

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.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

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 the Conservatives. Guido Fawkes prefers to focus on the fact that the BBC's Nick Robinson had earlier said that rumours of a plot were untrue, producing a rather lame video response that is unlikely to give Robinson any sleepless minutes. Robinson himself admits his error, at the end of a blog post where he emphasises the unprecedented nature of the would-be coup so close to an election. But Robinson says any plotters might draw some comfort from the partial parallel of Australian Labour leader Bob Hawke, installed just 25 days before an election which he won.

On the left, meanwhile, there is generally incredulity. Labour List publish a series of hostile emails sent to Hoon and Hewitt from various Labour MPs. 'Skipper' Bill Jones says that the attempted coup has received more raspberries than a summer pudding, provides six reasons why the plot is a bad idea, and then quotes the Guardian's Jonathan Freedland's apposite article today. The New Statesman's Mehdi Hasan attacks the credibility of the plotters, while finally, over at the First Post, 'The Mole' hints at a Mandelsonian involvement - he did, after all, work closely with Hewitt when they were in opposition.

It's been a busy day on the internet!

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 they materialise.

Well, he will probably be able to see off the latest leadership threat too. Neither Hoon nor Hewitt are impressive former ministers, and their letter sounds as if they are twisting in the wind rather than sitting at the heart of a well thought out conspiracy. Neither is it clear what alternative there is to Brown. David Miliband has been found wanting once before, and not he, nor Alan Johnson, nor any of the oft touted next leaders offers such a fresh new dynamic that they could conceivably change Labour's election chances. Labour's best bet remains sticking with its current leader - for all his communicative inadequacies - and getting behind his economic diagnosis. Flitting around looking for the saviour who doesn't exist is pure farce - but then Geoff Hoon, after all, was the man who happily took us into Iraq and behaved with such grace over the David Kelly affair. Not, perhaps, Labour's cutest political strategist.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

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 not to speak at all.

Meanwhile, Peter Mandelson has commented that it would be foolish for Labour to rely upon a 'heartland votes' strategy - seemingly challenging the 'class war' approach recently favoured by Brown which was pursuing just that. Mandelson, true to his New Labour convictions, wants to pursue the middle class vote as vigorously as ever.

Monday, January 04, 2010

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 party, as this blog post from the Spectator's Coffee House already illustrates. They were also less than enthused by his decision to front his campaign with the NHS.

And so it begins.....but before we start to worry about weariness, or electoral apathy by the time of the election, we should remember that this is democracy at work. The charge of weariness with politics is futile, negative and callow, and if we want a healthy democracy we should be ready to show the interest in it that it demands. After all, we have just spent the past year slamming MPs for their inadequacies - now let's really investigate their policies, and try and get a parliament that justifies us.