Thursday, January 28, 2010
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.
This final passage of President Obama's first State of the Union, after a pretty difficult and trying year, is inspired:
Andrew Sullivan blogs it here.
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.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Monday, January 25, 2010
UPDATE: Ladbrokes have now reduced their odds considerably to 20/1.
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
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
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.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
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
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 Slate.com, 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
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 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 norms....in 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.
“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
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.
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
Thursday, January 07, 2010
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?!
|Conservative||321 seats (+123)|
|Labour||261 seats (-95)|
|Liberal Democrats||38 seats (-24)|
|Others||12%||12 seats (nc)|
|Northern Ireland||18 seats (nc)|
Wednesday, January 06, 2010
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!
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
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
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.