Monday, May 31, 2010

Gunning for Alexander

The Daily Telegraph is strongly opposed to the proposed increase in Capital Gains Tax. They also hate the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition. It took them 17 days to work out how to get David Laws. It has taken them just one to start moving against his successor, Danny Alexander, over the issue of his non-payment of CGT on a property. I do wonder, though, how much appetite the public has for these continuing revelations. There comes a point where you accept you are not going to get perfect politicians, where you understand that many of them were embroiled in the sort of expenses imbroglio that most private corporations manage to keep secret, where you acknowledge that such sleight of hand has now been genuinely tackled by a new parliamentary process, and you just want to move on and see how this government deals with the important issues of the day. Then again, if you had paid over a million pounds for some old MP expenses files, you might not see 2010 as much of a turning point!

Matthew Parris on the "Foul Hypocrisy of David Laws' Downfall"

Like Iain Dale yesterday, Matthew Parris has got the Laws issue spot on today in the Times. Here's what he says about why Laws, at 44, may have felt unable to come clean about his sexuality:

You start by declaring nothing — and friends and family assume there’s nothing to declare. You find yourself, by your silence, playing along with a lie you never meant to tell.

Imperceptibly, but in the end fatally, the outer self diverges from the inner. And whenever you grit your teeth and resolve to blurt it out, there’s always a mother who might be heartbroken, a dad who’d be devastated, a boss who’d be contemptuous, mates whose trust you might lose, or a frail grandma for whom this might just prove the final blow. The years go by, the gap widens and calcifies.

He concludes by explaining why so few politicos 20-odd years ago would have wanted to 'come out':

Maureen Colquhoun, then an MP, was pulled apart, and sank, never to resurface. Later, Chris Smith survived. As an ex-MP in 1987 I endured a brief weekend of sniggering in the News of the World, but lived to tell the tale. And what was it we all feared in those not-so-distant days? It was the vengeful hatred of newspapers such as The Daily Telegraph.

MacKenzie's Fluster

Kelvin MacKenzie, the former editor of the Sun, always manages to pop up and give us his own brand of moralising, for which he's been well rewarded over the years. So it was good to hear him a little flustered this morning on the Today programme, when Evan Davis asked him why, in fact, it was wrong for an MP to contribute to the rent of a house shared with a partner. Mackenzie works in more broad brush approaches than this, where there are no ambiguities or nuances, and naturally enough went a little quieter than normal. A pleasant interlude. Iain Dale, on the same programme, was also pursuing what has been his very effective explanation of the Laws issue since it started (see here, for example).

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Telegraph's Dismal Victory

The David Laws story isn't really about expenses, for all the wasted newsprint being expended on that topic. If his expenses had been the real issue, there was nothing to stop the Daily Telegraph printing all this last year, alongside all its other victims. There is no chance they could have somehow missed David Laws' claims - he was, after all, a frontbench Lib Dem spokesman, not exactly an unknown. No, the issue is indeed his homosexuality, and his 'secret' partner. The Telegraph have it up there in their headline, and it is David Laws' unwillingness to admit his sexual orientation that is the focus of so much of the commentariat's angst this morning. It is difficult to avoid the suspicion that Telegraph acted on a tip against one of the coalition's star turns, in the knowledge that the revelations about his private life, and his desire to keep it secret, would provide the hook for the story's sensationalism. Well, they have their victory, but what a dismal one.

There are precious few national interests served by removing an able and talented man from one of the government's key portfolios, in which, after just 18 days, it looked as if he was shining. But this campaign has managed that, for few people, particularly people of intelligence and sensitivity, can survive this sort of media onslaught. The more we subject our would-be public servants to this sort of hysterical 'scrutiny', the less likely we are to get genuinely high calibre people into serious government jobs. We might as well give up the whole process and simply appoint Max Clifford as the independent arbiter of who would be suitable. This has been a victory for an increasingly tawdry newspaper, but it is an unpleasant, negative one for all that.

As for the gay issue, it has exposed the frailty of the wisdespread view that somehow we have managed to achieve such a sublime level of gay acceptance that there can surely be nothing standing in the way of gay people pursuing high profile careers in full open-ness about their sexuality. For a start, acceptance of homosexuality is far from widespread. Go beyond the cosmopolitan capital's inner environs, and there remains a hefty level of suspicion and bigotry towards gay people. Such attitudes are often community based. They are certainly often found in family units. Who are we - or any metropolitan media commentators - to judge how appropriate it may be for individuals of different backgrounds and beliefs to be fully open about their sexuality? In any case, we won't have matured as a society until such revelations are essentially redundant. It would have been an optimistic sign if the news about David Laws' expenses had been made without reference to the sex of his partner, or to his own long hard night of the soul. But this was not to be. Even the Independent on Sunday has sought to provide a half page profil of Mr. Laws' partner, complete with reprints of various trivial twitter messages from him to flesh out the article. The one commentator who has provided useful illumination has been the Conservative blogger Iain Dale, who has used his own struggle with admitting his homosexuality to explain David Laws' dilemma in an article for, of all papers, the Mail on Sunday.

This whole sorry affair has told us very little about parliamentary propriety or about the issue of expenses generally - it was old news (his claims were between 2004 and 2007, and the only year of interest here is 2007 itself, after the 'partner' regulations came into force); it was low-level stuff that the Telegraph itself was uninterested in at the height of the expenses scandal. It has, however, told us a great deal about the continuing destructive impact of a media that has lost all sense of judgement and responsibility.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

David Laws' Mistake and the Telegraph's Cant

Apart from Nick Clegg, David Laws has been the most visible Lib Dem member of the new coalition government. He was a key part of the negotiating team, and then moved smoothly into his alliance with George Osborne at the Treasury. He and Osborne have been starting to show how the coalition can work effectively, in the department at the very heart of government. It is no small blow to hear that the Telegraph - a natural berth for right-wing opponents of the coalition - have been able to expose an expenses scam by Laws, whereby he claimed money to rent rooms in the house owned by his male partner. For Laws, the issue is compounded by the fact that one reason he did not hitherto come clean about this was his desire to keep his homosexuality secret.

Whatever Laws' personal motivation, this is a supremely careless error from a man who is a lynchpin of the new governing agenda, and the last thing the coalition needs is the reminiscence of the expenses nightmare of the old parliament to be dragged up. I hope Laws survives intact, but the message to the Cameron government is that the media feeding frenzy is not over yet.

UPDATE: Fantastic bit of media cant in the Telegraph this morning. It piously declares that "The Daily Telegraph was not intending to disclose Mr Laws’s sexuality, but in a statement issued in response to questions from this newspaper, the minister chose to disclose this fact." And it really thought there was going to be any other consequence of its story? Having got their admission, the Telegraph is now able to make its headline "Treasury chief, his secret lover, and a £40,000 claim". Is there really much doubt as to what the paper's main intention was?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Campbell's Caper

Alastair Campbell is an overwheening former soft porn writer who bears more responsibility than anyone except Peter Mandelson for the poisoning of national political discourse these past 13 years. He is also an exceptionally able - because amoral and ruthless - political operator, and while No.10's decision not to put anyone against him on last night's Question Time was perfectly understandable, it would have been better all round if they had. Guido Fawkes has pretty well hit the nail on the head with his blogpost here - which, incidentally, includes the Newsnight footage of Michael Howard disecting Campbell, to Paxman's apparent concern (towards the end, Paxo, in awe of Campbell, tries to defend him from Howard's attack).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Problem with School Reform

It's been quite entertaining watching Liam Byrne opposing the government's proposed deficit cuts, knowing as we watch him that he handed the coalition a propaganda weapon so valuable they will keep on using it to the end of time - or the end of the coalition, whichever is the sooner. David Cameron used it, in a feisty Commons performance which suggested that having made common cause with one set of former enemies he was going to make up for that unnatural conciliation by redoubling his aggression against the remaining enemy. His Liam byrne line was "thirteen years of government summed up in thirteen cavalier words" - or words very close to that anyway.

Meanwhile, as expected, one of the more eye-catching parts of the Queen's Speech, delivered in her customary jokey manner, was Michael Gove's proposed school reforms. I'm not a great expert on schools reform, teaching as I do in one of those that clearly doesn't need any reforming. And I was pleased when Gove asserted the need for history to be taught as a chronological package, if a tad surprised to learn that you can clearly teach it in thoroughly non-chronological packages. But there's no doubt that however exciting the whole Academies project looks, it will take a lot of effort to persuade most schools that they really want to go independent. Educationalists are naturally cautious when it comes to their own jobs and livelihoods, no matter how radical they are with other people's learning, and the real fight for Gove won't be setting out the ideas, or even getting broad public consensus - it'll be persuading educationalists to accept them. Stephen Pollard makes the same gloomy prognostication in the Telegraph today.

And as for reform, if Gove really wanted to make the lives of schools, teachers and heads easier he could start with simplifying the disciplinary process. I know a school whose head could be spending much of his next year or so at appeals hearings and in court because the parents of expelled pupils simply won't accept the right of the school to take that sort of disciplinary action. There is no behaviour so bad, or infraction so obvious, that punishment for it can't be challenged over a time-consuming and expensive period by recalcitrant parents. And discipline suffers. The case of the science teacher who hit a boy with dumb-bells (whilst at the same time shouting "Die, Die, Die" in a distinctly non-peaceful disciplinary manouevre) has been much commented upon, mainly along the lines of "good on him, the boy had it coming to him". Possibly, although I venture to suggest that perhaps one or two other less obviously damaging forms of disciplinary action could have been tried first, before the one that fractured his skull and damaged his hearing. But, as the First Post's Brendan O'Neill presciently observes, the case throws up a more disturbing issue, concerned with the overall decline of discipline and authority in schools and society:

Fundamentally, the driving force behind the demise of discipline in school is the collapsing authority of teachers themselves, where their moral and professional authority over their charges has been eroded by a creeping culture of relativism and today's broader cultural disdain for the idea that adults know better than children.

So, Mr. Gove, start sorting out the nonsense that masquerades as school discipline and you might indeed be a great reforming Education Secretary.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Orwell Prize Blog Illuminates The Underclass

The Orwell Prize for blogs has been awarded for the second year, and the winner is the pseudonymous Winston Smith, writing a bog entitled "Working with the Underclass". It is a blog of literate and illuminating wisdom from a residential care worker whose heroic efforts to improve the lives of the 'underclass' are not hampered by unnecessary sentimentality. For those of us who could never imagine going into that area of work, it is a real eye-opener. If ever you start to feel that perhaps unrestricted drug taking is ok, or that the idea of a few moral values is a bit too middle-class as a concept to impose on others, go over to Winston Smith's blog, select a few posts, and see the consequences of such irredeemably vacuous and dangerous thinking.

The blog is clear evidence to those of us living in the middle class enclave of the existence of 'two nations'. No longer just the 'rich'and the 'poor' as Disraeli had it, but the valued and the neglected. And the neglect is both self-imposed as well as externally evident. The Orwell Prize's first award, last year, was interestingly given to another pseudonymous public service author - a policeman writing about his experiences with this suddenly fascinating and repellent underclass. We are unlikely to get fed up of reading about this, even while we bemoan our impotence and wonder how society ever threw up such inadequate systems that thwart the efforts of the brave few willing to offer their help.

After reading some of Winston Smith, writing a blog entry on David Cameron's victory over the 1922 Committee seems somehow rather banal!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

AS Students - Electoral Reform

Mike McCartney has this helpful update on the subject of electoral reform, posted to the tutor2u website. He makes use of the Electoral Reform Society's observations on the recent election. Well worth any student's time in the next couple of days.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Case For Grammar Schools - Again!

Cristina Odone, writing in today's Telegraph:

There is one way for children in this country to climb out of the rut they’re born into. It’s called grammar schools. They allow the brightest children from disadvantaged homes to climb out of their milieu. They provide their students with aspirations and fill them with the self-confidence to fulfill them. But under the Conservatives, and then Labour, these schools have shrunk to 164, catering for only 140,000 students. Labour hates them because they’re selective, and therefore divisive; David Miliband, during his tenure as Secretary for Education, embraced the comprehensives as the only way forward. David Cameron, when he was going through his we-must-be-more-like-Polly-Toynbee moment in Opposition, bought this line and turned his back on grammars as well; and the Lib Dems had no plans to resurrect them.

AS Revision

SGS students go here for revision details.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Cameron As Prime Minister

This is for AS students specifically. As far as your work on the Executive goes, David Cameron's take-over of that office is too recent to merit much comment in the exam, but there are one or two points that can be made. I have used an article by Peter Riddell in today's Times to make some suggestions on the tutor2u blog.

Milibands Compete

Ed Miliband has thrown his expected hat into the Labour leadership ring, to compete against his brother David, and presumably some further as-yet-to-be-announced contenders. I must confess that Miliband Snr's candidacy leaves me rather cold - he backed out twice from challenging Gordon Brown, thus putting himself in the same unenviable position as Michael Portillo when he failed to challenge John Major. Portillo suffered ever after from being branded a cowardly careerist, before becoming fed up with party politics and leaving the Commons. However, Miliband does have one clear advantage over Portillo - he is still in the House of Commons. While Portillo's later leadership bid, in 2001, was a failure, it is quite possible that had he retained his Enfield seat in the 1997 election he might still have become leader of the Tories after Major, in a leadership election that lacked spark and went ultimately to the relatively untested William Hague.

Ed Miliband announced his candidacy this morning during a lecture sponsored by the Independent and the Fabian Society, and I have to say, listening to him, he sounded as if he would be offering a more dynamic, thoughtful approach. He is a bit dorkish, and his public persona at present is limited (but remember Cameron's was virtually invisible in 2005), but he does seem to have something about him. I'm not sure his older brother really offers a convincing change, other than being a capable and high profile ex-minister with a reasonable media image (banana aside). But this fight has barely started, and we await other candidacies with anticipation. Please stand, Ed Balls. You're the coalition's great hope for the future!

Brown's Historic Reputation

History will deal Gordon Brown a kinder hand than contemporary commentators, so says Anthony Seldon in the Guardian today. "The reputation of Brown's premiership will grow" he says, although it is hard to see how it could in any case go much further in the opposite direction!

Seldon - who has made something of a living (alongside his day job as Head of Wellington College) out of analysing the different premierships of recent years - makes some interesting comparisons between Blair and Brown. Blair, he suggests, was much the better political operator, but achieved rather less than Brown when it comes down to substantive policies. He sees Brown as the creative force behind much of the success of the first Blair term, although conversely says that Brown then went on to limit the success of the second term with his obduracy. Blair, of course, faced a far sunnier set of political circumstances in 1997 than Brown ever managed to face. And the manner of Brown's exit was, indeed, a dignified one.

Seldon provides useful illumination and some recent historical parallels - he compares Brown with that other short-lived Labour premier and former Chancellor, James Callaghan. Whether or not the way in which Brown conducted his office - revealed so vividly in Andrew Rawnsley's book - will have an impact alongside an assessment of his political record remains to be seen, although I suspect Seldon is right. The stuff of Rawnsley's book - Brown's rages, his way of working - makes for entertaining reading, but hardly affected Brown even amongst voters today; I don't think history will see that side of him as more than a footnote. More serious will be the analysis of his role in Blair's government, which was such an essential precursor to his own short premiership.

The Coalition Honeymoon

Political honeymoons are strange affairs of very diverse lengths. Tony Blair's lasted virtually his entire first term, and then some. Barack Obama's was pretty short before he was plunged into the maelstrom of finance and health reform. The new Cameron-Clegg coalition enjoyed a good press conference in the No. 10 garden, and must then have wondered where its honeymoon went as 'senior' Tory backbenchers (well, Chris Chope anyway) on one side, constitutional experts such as the admirable Professor Hennessy on the other, and rejected suitor Lord Adonis on yet another, all honed in on the proposed change to parliamentary dissolution arrangements. This is yet to be debated, and there is hopefuly room for manouevre, although the key element of the change - the removal of the Prime Minister's right of choice over election dates - is to be welcomed. It is the 55% requirement in the Commons for a dissolution of a government to occur that is causing headaches. The angst over 55% may be over-stated, at least in terms of praticalities. The last time a vote of no confidence succeeded was 1979, where Margaret Thatcher famously forced Callaghan to call an election as a result of a one vote majority in the Commons. But Callaghan was pretty well at the end of Labour's term anyway, and would have had to have an election by the end of the year in any case. Before that vote, you'd have to go back to the 1924 vote against the minority Conservative government, which was passed by well over 55% of MPs.

There is, incidentally, some honeymoon joy for the coalition - although it is mixed. UK Polling Report indicates a 60% approval for the new government. Alas, 28% think it will last less than a year!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Endorsement of Its Enemies

It is often said of the BBC that since it is criticised equally by politicians of the left and politicians of the right, it must be doing something right. The same sort of thing might increasingly be said of the new coalition. Criticised by an unholy alliance of right-wing commentators and the just defeated Labour Party, we might infer that it must be doing something right.

The rancorous comments against the coalition of Melanie Philips (Daily Mail) and Mehdi Hasan (New Statesman) on Question Time tonight - both of whom are commentators with no need to engage in practical politics - reflect two defeated agendas that are currently writhing around in pain, thrashing wildly out against the thing that has defeated them. Heseltine and Hughes both gave bravura defences of the new arrangement, with Heseltine quite correctly pointing out to the audience that this is what "you, the masters of democracy", have created. We can't really spend years complaining about how politicians just don't work together across the party divide, and then start complaining when they do.

The Centre-Right Project

Voices on the left and right are already moving in on the new coalition, the difference being that most of the leftist voices are from outside the Liberal Democratic party, while most of the rightist voices are from inside the Conservative Party. Conservative Home's Tim Montgomerie wasted no time in posting a critique of the party's campaign on his website - about which more in a later post - and today Paul Goodman, the former MP and, long before that even, former moderate leader of the Federation of Conservative Students before it entered loonyland, has penned a mournful observation on the same site. Goodman is predicting - rather hopefully I felt - that the coalition may not last five weeks. He does, however, end with an observation on Cameron and Osborne that is, I think, very acute. He makes this point as a regrettable occurrence - I see it as a thoroughly good one:

In short, they're doing a Roy Jenkins in reverse - seeking to form a progressive coalition of the centre-right rather than the centre-left: a new force that will isolate Labour; stuff Mandelson, Campbell (Menzies as well as Alistair), Adonis, Shirley Williams, Ashdown and the rest of Jenkins' heirs, and dominate British politics during the early part of the new century. Read here David Alton's account of how the Liberal Democrats' predecessors split again and again - over Unionism, coalitions and National Government - and were gradually absorbed by the Conservatives. In the nicest possible way, Baldwin's successors are seeking to repeat history today. If they eventually succeed, it will liberate them from the Party's right which, they surely believe, has held the Conservatives prisoner since at least the mid-1990s. David Cameron must catch himself thinking that his lack of a majority is a stroke of wonderful fortune.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The New Cabinet

A few quick thoughts. My main surprise - as for many - was reserved for Theresa May's appointment as Home Secretary. I don't find her particularly impressive on television; she is a rather pedestrian performer, with little ability to go beyond a well learned brief. With the talent of two parties at Cameron's disposal, I couldn't quite believe that he really thought she was the best person for the job, and wondered whether a need for female representation was a more pressing issue. Shades of the unfortunate Jacqui Smith started to hove into view. However, the Telegraph's Benedict Brogan, a seasoned observer, does take a more positive view, so it's possible I'm being unfairly negative.

Vince Cable is clearly the Lib Dem who is least comfortable in his coalition role. Liam Fox will reassure the Tories about Trident, and since he has been shadowing the post and built up an expertise about the state of the armed forces, he is likely to be able to hit the ground running. William Hague is an increasingly admired Conservative politician, certainly more than able to hold his own at international gatherings, and with the makings of a great foreign secretary. He may hope that President Sarkozy doesn't ask him about his notorious Have I Got News For You comment many moons ago, when he described the French, to Ian Hislop's delight, as "cheese eating surrender monkeys" (about 5.20 in on this video here).

It was always unlikely that George Osborne wouldn't get the Chancellorship, given his closeness to David Cameron - despite the rumours, faithfully blogged here, about Clarke etc. He is an under-rated performer with a terrible public image (but perhaps as Chancellor he doesn't see a need to be popular) but a possible canny grasp of what is needed. Accompanied by the very able Lib Dem MP David Laws as his Chief Secretary, the man who will actually execute the cuts across Whitehall, this again has the potential to be a very effective team.

It was good to see Michael Gove at Education, and good to see the return of a straightforward name for that department. Gove's ideas were amongst the more interesting and coherent in the Tory manifesto, and his performance over the past few days has been very sure-footed. Ken Clarke is also a fine appointment for Justice, even if, by his own admission, he is very out of date on legal issues and has a lot of work to do. But that's Ken.

Overall impression is very strong, and this coalition is a lot more interesting and exciting than a majority Tory government would have been.

Coalition Success and Cynical Comment

The leaders of the coalition - Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg - were clearly brimming with enthusiasm about it in their joint press conference this afternoon. As well they might. There has been much talk over the decades about changing British politics (the old SDP, out of which the Lib Dems were born, sought to 'break the mould' but alas didn't) - these two, with a bit of nudging from the electorate, have actually done it.

David Cameron's enthusiasm in particular suggests that he seems more at ease in this new arrangement than he might have done with a majority Tory administration. At least the coalition gives him the chance to ditch a few less favoured Conservative policies and keep a leash on the right. One Nation politics is very much back. Cameron, in fact, has shown daring and decisiveness in his drive to get this coalition on the road, which bodes well for his future leadership of the country. Clegg has been hardly less impressive as he steered the Liberal Democrats through their suspicion to a deal.

This is a new politics, engendered by the election, of the sort which journalists and commentators have been calling for ages. You know, politicians putting aside their differences and actually working together. So it is rather depressing to see that so many of the media are several steps behind the curve, happier with talk of division than compromise. The journos' questions at the press conference either harked back to the old style of politics or were essentially trivial. Cynicism is the main emotion of most commentators. One of the worst in this regard has been Newsnight. A combination of Kirsty Wark and Michael Crick has really failed to move with the body politic. Crick annoys as an intellligent man with a frivolous, door-stepping approach to his stories. His aim as a reporter is to get as much on the nerves of potential interviewees as possible for a bit of good television. Wark, meanwhile, has persistently tried - and usually failed - to get her political guests to resort to a bit of old fashioned partisanship. She has wilfully ignored the needs of compromise in a coalition arrangement, and baldly asks why this party or that have dropped their commitment to a treasured policy. She and Crick are clearly happier with party politics and point scoring than are the Conservatives or Lib Dems at the moment. Cameron and Clegg have, for the moment, overcome the possible opposition of much of their parliamentary parties, but they obviously have a long way to go before they can overcome the inbuilt cynicism of the political commentariat.

The Deal Is Done - Cameron As Prime Minister

It's been a long election in British terms, but only the second change of government in 30 years has now occurred, and the Etonian groomed Mr. Cameron has finally crossed the threshold of the house he has probably long coveted. Yesterday started with Labour in new talks with the Lib Dems, and the Westminster village was alive with all sorts of rumours - manifested in tweets and blog updates - as to which deal was going somewhere and which wasn't. In the end, of course, not only did the Labour deal lack the arithmetic, it seemed to lack the will. John Reid and David Blunkett were only the tip of the sceptics' iceberg, and it turns out that barely any of the Labour parliamentary party had been consulted. Diane Abbot spoke tellingly of unelected people (she mentioned Mandelson and Adonis) riding roughshod over the representatives, and David Lammy went on television to say that he knew nothing of what was going on. The word from Labour is of a seething fury at the way things were handled.

At the same time, the right-wing commentariat and 'senior Conservative' figures could barely conceal their anger at Nick Clegg's apparent duplicity for daring to speak to another party! Peter Oborne in the Mail was a wonder to behold. Was Clegg's move a bid to prove to his party that a Labour deal was a no-hoper, and thus an attempt to bring them into line? Perhaps. It seems to have worked, as both Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties swing in behind a historic coalition, the final details of which will unfold today.

It was a day of milestones - youngest prime minister since Lord Liverpool (not a great analogy given Liverpool's reputation as a pretty reactionary and repressive PM); first coalition since 1945; only the second change of government since 1979; first Liberals round the Cabinet table since, well, 1945 (hmmm, maybe the milestones aren't so great after all!); first Liberal Deputy PM EVER; first Etonian Prime Minister since Home.

One historian commented this morning that history had delivered David Cameron one of the worst hands an incoming peacetime Prime Minister has ever had to face. With all its potential for failure, and all the difficulties that have accompanied its birth, maybe this coalition government could just work; maybe this sort of alliance in government is actually what we need to face down such serious crises, and provide Britain with better, more effective government? After decades of authoritarian rule punctuated by the occasional election endorsement, an era of different government, particularly headed by men of the undoubted calibre of Cameron and Clegg, could be a genuine refreshing of the political system.

On the other hand, it might go completely pear-shaped! Politics is nothing if not unpredictable.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Brown Leaves, Cameron Soon to Arrive?

So Gordon Brown has finally gone - his second resignation in as many days! David Cameron has not yet agreed a final deal with the Lib Dems, although William Hague and the negotiators are now reporting back to him, presumably on the nuts and bolts of a coalition deal. But we may not hear such details until tomorrow, and certainly the Cabinet positions may take some time to emerge!

Close To A Deal?

There seems little doubt that the Lab-Lib Dem talks have collapsed, with some suggestions from Downing Street that Nick Clegg was not really committed to them in any case. He needed to consult Labour to keep some of his party associates happy, along with former leaders like Ashdown and Campbell. Rumours in the early evening include the Lib Dems having 6 cabinet places. Nick robinson is speculating that Ken Clarke could be Chancellor, with Cable as his Chief Sec., and Clegg as Deputy PM of course. Osborne would go to Business in a swap with Clarke. Could be a very sound coalition!

UPDATE: The Spectator's Alex Massie has this explanation of Nick Clegg's recent manouevrings.

Tory Discipline Needed

There are inevitable signs of growing Conservative impatience with events. The right-wing commentariat has never been on a leash, but Conservative Way Forward is also now calling for a minority government to be formed. George Osborne, in fact, declared on this morning's Today programme that such a minority government was simply not viable, and he's probably right. What the Tories need to be very careful of is allowing any Lib-Lab deal to generate civil war in their own ranks. So far, they've played the situation very impressively, and if their own Lib Dem deal doesn't work, they will be in a very strong opposition position - but only if they maintain their support for Cameron and maintain the discipline for which they were once famed.

Labour's Would-Be Leader and the Liberals Would-Be Chancellor

A couple of items picked up. David Miliband was apparently all ready last night to announce his candidacy for the Labour leadership. Certainly the well-connected Paul Waugh of the Evening Standard was tweeting along those lines before the Cabinet meeting. Miliband is apparently keen to gain momentum and to make up for the hesitancy which has marked his previous leadership 'bids'. Alas, this time the Cabinet put paid to his opportunity, as they demanded that no contenders announce their candidacy while the Lib Dem discussions were going on. Guido Fawkes has been blogging about the build up of a Miliband team.

Meanwhile, over in the orange corner, the Telegraph reports tension at the top of the Liberal Democratic Party. Noticeable for his absence from the Conservative negotiations has been Vince Cable, the former Labour man turned SDP member. Cable is one of those opposed to a Conservative deal, and there is also apparently tension anyway between him and the man who succeeded him when he was a mere 'acting' leader of the party. Also in the Labour camp, so reports have it, are former leaders Ashdown and Menzies Campbell - Campbell, of course, is a friend of Gordon Brown's anyway.

Boulton versus Labour

Two fantastic confrontations between Sky's Political Editor Adam Boulton and two of Labour's apologists yesterday. Boulton clearly fed up with the line that Labour won, and definitely fed up with Campbell claiming he was upset that Cameron didn't win. In the first video, the real dust-up begins at about 3.30 minutes in - great television.

The second one is slightly less angry, but only just - this time it's Ben Bradshaw who rouses Boulton's ire.

[Hat Tip Guido Fawkes]

Clegg Hamstrung By Party

The Times today reports on the meeting of Lib Dem MPs that seems to have forced Nick Clegg into a further round of talks with Labour. What is clear is how unhappy a number of those MPs were with the slow movement towards an agreement on voting reform by the Tories. The Lib Dem constitution does not allow Clegg much freedom of manouevre on his own, hence the need to open up a new line of communication, helpfully enabled by the Brown decision. What is certainly true is that the Conservative offer of a referendum on AV would not have been as forthcoming if it hadn't been clear that the Lib Dems had the option of going in with Labour.

The Lib Dems are very divided on who they should go in with, and there is the added complication for them of the numbers - the Lib-Con deal gives a healthy majority in the Commons, the Lib-Lab deal requires an inherently unstable collection of other minor parties to join it. This is difficult territory for the Lib Dems - but it is what they've been wanting for decades.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Party Games

If the Conservatives are feeling a bit two-timed by the Lib Dems, then they are refusing to show it. Michael Gove was pretty well pitch perfect on Sky and later on Newsnight when discussing progress, and acknowledged that of course the third party had every right to negotiate with whom it chooses. The Lib Dems themselves might want to have a care, of course, about how sullied their leader starts to appear if they don't make a commitment one way or the other pretty soon.

Meanwhile, the Lib Dem tactics, ably abetted by Gordon Brown's resignation, has brought a promise from the Tories for a referendum on the Alternative Vote. This is as far as they can possibly go, but to be fair it is as far as anyone can possibly go. There are sufficient numbers in the Labour Party prepared to vote down such a proposal if it is simply introduced as a bill, as Tom Harris made clear on Newsnight. Quite apart from that, there is also the minor point of perhaps consulting the people via a referendum on such a significant change in the operation of our democratic machinery.

On balance, the Lib-Lab option still looks a lot trickier than a Lib-Con one. Former Cabinet Minister John Reid who, let us not forget, represents a Scottish constituency, was pretty clear about why he thinks a Lib-Lab deal shouldn't even be considered. It doesn't on its own bring a majority, it looks like a coalition of the losers, and it requires nationalist support which, says Reid, would inevitably come at the cost of demanding that any public spending cuts fall on the English rather than equitably across the provinces. Reid knows this is a non-starter, as does his Scottish colleague Tom Harris, who also noted that there was no way many Scottish Labour MPs would want to enter a coalition with the Scottish Nationalists. The 'rainbow coalition' so beloved of Campbell, Mandelson, Miliband et al is beset with monumental constitutional difficulties that simply don't arise if the Lib Dems eventualy run with a Conservative alliance.

This is what happens with a hung parliament, and it's exciting stuff. Whether we get better government as a result remains to be seen. But if they want to try and keep some of the high ground they've spent the last few decades occupying, the Lib Dems will need to come to a conclusion pretty quickly.

How Does Brown's Resignation Change the Picture?

It's taken Gordon Brown a long weekend and several intense conversations with Mandelson and Campbell to make the decision that John Major reached within hours. Now that he's reached it, at just the right time to throw a spanner into the Conservative-Lib Dem talks, does it make an alliance with Labour more attractive to the Lib Dems?

Nick Robinson cogently outlined three problems for the LD's - they still get Brown until September; they then get another unelected leader; and they open themselves up to being called a 'loser's coalition'. In addition to those problems, Labour and the Lib Dems alone do not have enough seats to reach a majority (unlike a Con-LD deal), so need to bring in the varied interests of the nationalist parties and the Green MP. In those circumstances, do we get 'strong and stable government'? Not likely. And then there's the undoubted problem for Nick Clegg of entering a coalition with an as yet undetermined prime minister for the long term. If he joins with Labour now, he could end up serving under Ed Balls, David Miliband, Harriet Harman, or any one of several others? Is he equally happy with any of them? All, of course, unelected as PM.

New Labour has lived and died by the spin, and they are now using a last minute spin gambit from a discredited leader to give their tainted brand a few extra gasps of the breath of power. Like they needed to do anything else to remind us of their unsuitability for power.

UPDATE: Robinson accurately describes this as "an audacious bid by Gordon Brown to keep Labour in power, and to keep himself in power for a few more months". Audacious indeed.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Cameron Prime Minister by Tuesday?

Nick Clegg has apparently set a 24-hour deadline for a deal to be completed with the Conservatives, otherwise he's looking elsewhere. He believes the public will start to get restive without a solution soon. Rumour has it that Clegg and Cameron are getting on well, and that an increasing number of Labour MPs want to go gently into the night of opposition now. Cameron is meeting his own MPs tomorrow evening - if the new ones can actually get into the Westminster without any passes. How they react to the weekend's discussions will actually be the first indication of how this very new grouping, with its virtually unprecedented number of new MPs, will operate under Cameron's leadership in the new parliament.

The Conservatives Should Stop Their Whinging And Rein In Behind David Cameron

The grousy voices from disappointed Tories are already being heard. Both the Observer and the Independent report - rather gleefully - on dissension in the Conservative Party about the way David Cameron ran the campaign. We should have had a majority, go the siren voices of discontent; how did Cameron throw this away?

Only the Conservative right could be quite so self-deluded. The only person standing between the Conservative Party and greater oblivion throughout this parliament, and certainly in this election, was David Cameron. The deep-seated suspicion that many voters still have of Tories has been put on hold while they gave David Cameron a chance to prove things had changed. Michael Portillo, once a hard-line member of the Tory right until his emblematic defeat in 1997, put it eloquently in his Telegraph column on Friday:

In the last parliament the Tories had fewer seats than Michael Foot won in 1983. It took three elections before Labour recovered from that rout sufficiently to win an overall majority. Cameron was expected to do it in a single leap. He needed a swing of about eight per cent, not unprecedented but rare. Tony Blair managed it, but at no time in recent months has it felt as though a political earthquake was in store.

Cameron’s election performance was pretty good. The gains are superior to those achieved by any party throughout most of the twentieth century. A swing of five to six per cent would usually be hailed as massive. It is better than that accomplished by Margaret Thatcher in 1979 - even though before that election Britain had descended into chaos under Labour.

But let's go further. One of the reasons for the Conservative failure to achieve a majority in this election has been the stubborn failure of Scotland to embrace any Tory candidate. Why? Because the residue of Thatcherism is still remembered in Scotland. If we want to track the reason for the Tories' inability to gain majority status in parliament to any single person, then we ned to track it to Margaret Thatcher herself. It was under Thatcher's 11 year dominance that the Conservatives saw their representation in large areas of the UK diminish and eventually vanish. The cities stopped voting Conservative, so did Scotland and Wales, so did vast swathes of the north of England. This was the toxic legacy of one of the most divisive prime ministers of modern times. It was the legacy that poisoned John Major's attempts to redraw Conservatism . It was the failure to pull away from Thatcherism that doomed the subsequent leaderships of William Hague and Michael Howard. David Cameron's considerable triumph has been to claw Conservatism back into the mainstream, to such a point that some of the historic losses of 1997 have now come back to the party, and they now dominate local government in a way not seen since 1977.

The complaints against David Cameron are the complaints of a recalcitrant group of rightists who have always loathed One Nation Conservatism and all it stands for. They are currently swinging out against the group of Cameron advisers who are the architects of the Conservative revival. Tim Montgomerie, of Conservative Home, has blogged that David Cameron must revive a conversation with the Tory Party? Really? To what end? To see that the grassroots Tories do not have any real association with the concerns and aspirations of the majority of ordinary voters? To hear again that Thatcherite grails such as anti-Europeanism and immigration are the way forward?

It is time that Conservative members realised that David Cameron has given them one last chance at government. It is time they realised that, on the cusp of power, his obligation now has to be to the larger majority of voters who are not party-aligned. Tory members have no divine right to determine the direction of their party's national governance, any more than Labour members or Liberal Democrat members do. Democracy is not about the will of the minority, which is what party members, for all their virtues, are. The last party to succumb to the rampant desires of its unreconstructed membership was the Labour Party of Michael Foot, and that is hardly a place that the revived Conservative Party needs to be. Lay off Cameron and his team - they've brought you nearer to power than any would have thought possible 5 years ago.

UPDATE: Delighted to see the Tory Reform Group, my old stamping ground, issuing a clear statement in support of the idea of coalition with the Lib Dems.

UPDATE 2: Another good post, in support of coalition idea, here on Platform 10.

The Left Recoil In Horror At the Pact

The liberal-left commentariat are in full swing against the prospect of a Con-Lib Pact. The Independent's Steve Richards led the charge yesterday with a strong invocation not to deal with the dreaded Tories - they will never deliver electoral reform, he reminded his liberal readers. Helena Kennedy was another example as she appeared on the Andrew Marr show this morning to remind us that the Tories hadn't actually won the election, more people voted against then Tories than for them, and it would be a whole lot better for a 'rainbow coalition' to be formed with Labour at the helm. It took Labour supporting Rory Bremner to remind her that, technically, there's no brown in rainbows.

But are they all right? It is difficult for Cameron to deliver electoral reform, certainly, but how much easier would it actually be for Gordon Brown, many of whose own MPs are strongly opposed to the idea and would surely vote down any referendum proposal for change that he might try and make. As for the 'rainbow coalition', is it really more democratic to allow the Scots, the Northern Irish and the Welsh to ring-fence spending in their countries as part of a deal to keep Labour in power in England? Where then does the bulk of public spendcing cuts fall? Why should the semi-devolved provinces be dictating the politics of England? The fact remains (see post below) that Cameron has a substantial majority in England, and that a deal with the Liberal Democrats, should one be forthcoming, provides a coalition that represents a clear majority across the whole of the UK. Hardly undemocratic, and if Nick Clegg is having to settle for a less full-blooded commitment to electoral reform (and he is unlikely to come away with nothing at all) than he might get - albeit dubiously - from Gordon Brown, he will at least have recognised one of the clear mandates of the election - not to keep Brown's Labour party in power. He will, moreover, be able to show, for the first time in decades, that the Lib Dems are a capable party of government, and perhaps be part of forging a genuinely new politics.

It's clearly not going to be easy, especially given the deep-seated suspicion both parties' memberships have of each other, but it is time the liberal left outside the world of pragmatic politics took a more realistic view of what is actually happening, and stopped trying to pretend that there was some scenarion in which Labour still have a mandate to govern. It's also, perhaps, time to stop the pretence that Gordon Brown would somehow meekly step aside from Downing Street if any 'rainbow coalition' deal could be darwn up. Of all the political fantasies on offer, that one is the most extreme.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

English Results

If David Cameron does manage to secure a government with Lib Dem agreement, he could do better than to put Scottish and Welsh independence near the top of his reform agenda. The English results, shorn of the two semi-devolved provinces, make for interesting reading:

Conservatives 297
Labour 191
Lib Dems 43
Green 1

Total seats 532 (1 still to declare - likely to be Tory)

Giving the Conservatives a healthy 62 seat overall majority!

Friday, May 07, 2010

The Brains of the Conservatives?

Andrew Sullivan has unearthed this great quote from J.M.Keynes, ending:

"The brains and character of the Conservative Party have always been recruited from the Liberals.......Possibly the Liberal Party cannot serve the state in any way better than by providing Conservative governments with Cabinets, and Labour gvoernments with ideas".

Shock Con Home Survey

Conservative Home has surveyed its Tory loyalist audience, and headlined the results of a 'grassroots' poll. Amazingly, 86% of ConHome readers (they headline this as 86% of Tory members, which is a nice bit of assimilation) would prefer a minority Conservative government to a coalition. Next contestant Conservative Home, special subject the bleeding obvious.

And probably an equally large number of the ordinary voting population would prefer their political representatives to get together and work out a deal as soon as possible. Now who do we think our political leaders should be seeking to represent at this point - the interests of a tiny cadre of party members, or the interests of the voting public at large?

Lembit's Comic Resurrection

I always found Lembit Opik to be a somewhat annoying celebrity MP - trivial and crowd-pleasing, a man whose performances in front of the student audiences that I take AS politics students to were a cringeworthy example of the lowest point that politicians-as-celebrities could get to. Now that he's been kicked out he has finally entered fully into the world of showbiz that he always hankered after, with his appearance this evening on "Have I Got News For You". He wasn't great, and elements of his attempts at being self-deprecating about his own recent defeat were indeed cringeworthy, but you've got to hand it to the man, he's not wasted any time moping about and feeling sorry for himself. He's dusted himself off and allowed himself to face a potentially mocking public, with the consequence that there actually seemed to be a lot of sympathy for him amongst the audience. Mind you, I thought he was about to lose that carefully won sympathy when he got his bloody harmonica out and started playing it - some things he really doesn't learn.

Cameron's Way Forward

David Cameron's speech offers a fascinating, even radical, way forward. There is probably no doubt in Nick Clegg's mind that it is Cameron who carries the electoral legitimacy; his earlier comments said as much. There is also no doubt as to Gordon Brown's sheer desperation now to remain in power, and to ensure that he controls the levers of power as long as possible. The almost blank page that Labour are now offering Clegg on which to write an electoral reform policy is extraordinary. Cameron, by contrast, speaking from a position of strength as the leader who has garnered most votes, but conscious of the weakness of his parliamentary position as the largest minority party, has offered something far more nuanced, interesting and far-reaching.

Cameron offered some reassurance to his own party, notably on Europe and immigration. But, possibly unlike many of his party die-hards, Cameron, as ever, does 'get it', just as he 'got it' when the expenses scandal broke out. Cameron knows that it is vital he taps into the electorate's mood for change, without unbalancing their continuing suspicion of party politics. He has offered a deal to the Liberals that could move this currently stalemated political proces forward in a way that suits the verdict proclaimed yesterday. By identifying common interests in policy with the Lib Dems, and by proposing a commission to consider electoral reform, Cameron has taken a huge gamble, for these are things many in his party are innately suspicious of. But Cameron has steel, and he is also - tantalisingly for the Tories - within a hair's breadth of power, and he is assuming that no sane Tory (not a fully inclusive label) will want to rock the boat away from such a prospect now.

If Nick Clegg responds - as it seems he might - in a positive way to Cameron's wide-ranging overtures, the prospect of an intelligent, effective, reforming and 'new' type of government could well emerge. I think Cameron and Clegg both have the vision and pragmatic grasp to make this work, but boy are their parties going to be difficult! Cameron's speech has, at any rate, confirmed the view that this is indeed a leader who knows how to grasp a situation and steer it impressively. He is absolutely a prime minister in waiting now, and the man in Number 10 needs to make way quickly.

UPDATE: Blogger Guido Fawkes carries this upbeat response to the Cameron project. If it comes off, he reckons, we could see the death of Labour.

Clegg the Honest Broker?

Nick Clegg's statement this morning about David Cameron and the Conservatives having earned the right to try and rule in the national interest will have done much to enhance his already strong public image - a man taking note of what the people have said, and avoiding the murky business of political horse-trading, especially when it involves the tarnished brand of Gordon Brown's Labour Party. Might it also be a peace offering to the Tories? A way of suggesting that he is not going to queer the pitch by making demands up front? You get the impression that Clegg and Cameron would both be perfectly capable of cutting an amicable deal, but their problem will be in their party memberships - and MPs. Even as Cameron is working out how to approach becoming a minority Prime Minister, there are apparently stirrings amongst some of his right-wing MP tendency to question the campaign and limit his room for manouevre. The BBC's Justin Webb is apparently suggesting that there are mutterings coming from the David Davis camp!

Meanwhile, on the vexed subject of electoral reform, an interesting post on Tory MP Douglas Carswell's blog, indicating why he might now favour it. Carswell is an individualist, maverick MP who nonetheless has the ability to wield considerable influence as a sharp minded policy thinker; he it was who initiated the historic downfall of Speaker Martin, and he has also writeen - with MEP Dan Hannan - "The Plan", a hugely influential policy document within Tory circles.

Now What?

A fascinating, if ultimately frustrating, night. Much depends on these final seats, and how the numbers work. Can Brown and Clegg put together a viable coalition pact that gives them the magic 326 plus? Would such a pact be based around a short-term alliance preparatory to a referendum on electoral reform? If the Lib-Lab figures don't add up, can Cameron push on with a minority government? We assume a Con-Lib deal is not viable, although perhaps shouldn't write off an 'understanding' too quickly. If the arithmetic doesn't work out for Cameron, how long will it be before blood-letting starts in the Tory Party? Lord Tebbit has already been putting his oar in, with frequent implied claims that David Cameron is failing the Conservative Party by not winning big. Conservative Home, the ubiquitous websites for a self-selecting minority of the grass roots, has already put out a survey to its readers about the election campaign. And what about the Liberal Democrats? After all the hype, they have plunged badly in the actual contest. Is a deal of any sort preferable to oblivion?

In amongst all the uncertainty, some good new MPs have been elected, and some prominent ones despatched. But what oh what do they do now?! And how frustrating would it be to embark on your nice new parliamentary career, only to have to defend it all again in October?

Seats Info

So Lembit Opik is no longer adorning the House of Commons - lost to the Tory on a massive anti-Lib Dem swing! Good to see that SGS Sixth Form Officer's sister has gained Loughborough for the Tories too.

LATER: Some good Conservative gains from a One Nation perspective. Richard Fuller winning in Bedford, and Jane Ellison earlier in Battersea, puts two impressive political operators into parliament.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Exit Poll Tension

So the exits are predicting a hung parliament at the moment, but also put the Libs on a mere 59 seats. Tories, they say, will be 19 short of a majority. Definitely going to be a long night, and am hoping the polls are wrong.

Tories on 39%?

Politics Home is reporting exit poll rumours of the Tories being on 39%, which would be enough to give them an overall majority. Paul Waugh of the Evening Standard, on the other hand, is tweeting his view that the apparently high turnout could be evidence of a Lib Dem surge, which he thinks will do for Labour. I'm thinking small Tory majority at the moment.

Meanwhile, am watching Channel 4s Alternative Election Night as they broadcast the first of 4 "Come Dine With Me's", featuring three huge egos - Derek Hatton, Brian Paddick, Rod Liddle and Edwina Currie. Paddick described it afterwards as four nights of torment!

The Electoral System is Not Biased Against The Tories

The Independent's John Rentoul publicises the findings of a fascinating paper by the BBC's Head of Political Research, David Cowling. Cowling concludes that there is no inherent bias in the electoral system against the Tories; the number of votes required to elect them is down to the issue of low voter turnout in Labour seats. That, of course, may be something that changes tonight.

High Turnout?

Purely anecdotal evidence, but I hear of queuing at polling stations in Oxford and in the West Midlands this morning. A high turnout is not usually deemed to favour the Tories, but this time, with the huge number of undecided voters, might it mean that people have decided to come out and vote for a change after all? Conservative HQ was reported to be optimistic of a majority earlier today, with its phone operation placing some 10,000 calls to undecided voters this morning.

The People Decide

So, briefly, the politicians stop and the people decide....for one day only! I've cast my vote. I was wavering back and forth during the campaign, voting as I am in a Lib Dem marginal. But I have stuck with my political tribe, much as I often despair of them, and once again lent the Conservatives my vote. I believe in David Cameron's attempts to pursue One Nation Conservatism, and I believe that this is, potentially, a last chance for such a brand to survive. Much as I like my local Lib Dem MPs, I have cast my vote nationally. I confess I could have done it with more enthusiasm, but having made my commitment I am happy it was the right one. And in terms of results, I really do want to see a Conservative majority - the idea of a hung parliament, with the nationalist parties holding the mainstream ones to ransom over how much funding goes the way of Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, does not seem to me to be a recipe for governmental success. But we shall see. This election has been one of the most unpredictable in decades, and tonight's results will be nailbiting. The people are deciding, but we seem no more clear than the politicians seeking to represent us.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Democracy in Action - Britain and Greece

David Cameron has just finished his marathon 24-hour campaign-a-thon, and shows no signs of letting up yet. If sheer energy was the pre-requisite for government office, then all three of the main leaders should be in with a chance. However many people vote, or don't vote, tomorrow, at least we can't accuse any of the party leaders of taking the electorate for granted. You get the impression that if they could talk to every elector, then they'd have a good stab at doing so - Gordon Brown might, of course, need a few aides to guide him in the right direction, but that's life. All of which, of course, is great for democracy. That's what it's all about - politicians as supplicants, looking for support to rule over the next five years. Election time is when we hear clear policy messages, and weigh up the hard options on offer. Right?

Er, not quite. Election time is when the fragile electorate get to hear the message deemed palatable enough to give them by politicians in hoc to focus groups, polls and the like. And perhaps it's hardly surprising, as any politician foolish enough to tell us the truth and give us the genuine hard options would find themselves in the ex-politician class faster than Gordon Brown can fling abuse into a radio mike. The message we seem to really want, and are getting for the most part, is this - yes, we'll deal with the massive public spending deficit, and we'll do it without making any serious cuts in public spending, other than in the generic waste that is somehow always there. Are the politicians being cowardly, or are we the electorate being duplicitous? We say we want to hear hard truths, then we vote for the ones who give us saccharine.

While we're busy duping ourselves into believing the parties' more or less homogenous message that the economic solution doesn't have to hurt too much, the Greeks have been out on the streets striking, protesting, battling with police and generally causing mayhem. And no, they're not battling against some oppressive dictatorship that has forced them down the road to bankruptcy. They're battling against the latest elected government to fail to tell them the truth or take action against endemic corruption. And the reason why successive governments have failed to do this? Because they were fearful of the electorate that would keep them in opposition if they suggested reforming the system. Democracies are societies of vested interests, but those interests are not, in fact, the interests of the few, but are interests of the many, tied up in a complicated manner with different groups of the very electorate who vote for governments. Thus does democracy work - or, perhaps, doesn't. The Greek people are actually not protesting against the sheer miserable inadequacy of their governments; they are protesting against the possibility that years of happy over-run might now have to end. The very over-run which they've all been merrily voting for.

A teacher, Thrasyvo Paxinos, is quoted on the BBC website saying "I'm feeling more and more angry each day, because those who got us into this mess are not held responsible". Not entirely, Mr. Paxinos. Because you live in a democracy, and you too have had a responsibility not to be indulged by governments who have failed to confront you with the truth.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Stroud and the Lib Dems in the Twittersphere

Actually that's two separate issues really. First, I notice that the Philippa Stroud story is the number one trending topic in the UK twittersphere - still! Many twitterers are apoplectic about her reported comments, and equally outraged that no broadcast media has sought to report on them. There may be a lot going on in cyber-space when it comes to politics, but the level of "Get this onto the broadcast media" comments being made certainly make it clear where most people believe the key stories are debated and decided - on good old fashioned television.

Meanwhile, ex-SGS politics student Jack Marshall is currently reporting from New York on the digital world, and notes in this report that it is the Lib Dems who seem furthest ahead in their use of social media. We are still, of course, nowhere near the US/Obama model, but perhaps it is Lib Dem activists after all who are keeping Philippa Stroud at the top of the twitter lists at the moment!

The Hung Parliament Issue

With the polls still remaining obstinately close, and given the by now well known vagaries of our electoral system, the prospect of a hung parliament lies tantalisingly close. It wouldn't be a bad guess to suggest that we will not have a government - other than a caretaker administration - on Friday, or indeed across the weekend. The BBC's Evan Davies has tweeted that the big question of Thursday will be whether the Tories get a majority; if not, anything could happen.

Politics lecturer and Tory peer Lord Norton has meanwhile provided some illumination on the role of the Speaker in a hung parliament.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Are the Tories Getting There?

Nick Clegg is worried enough to call David Cameron's arrogance 'breathtaking' - by which he means he is very concerned that Cameron might be able to get into No.10 without him. David Cameron's campaigning is getting more and more frenetic, with a 24 hour slot being promised tomorrow, although I have no idea who he thinks he's going to be campaigning to at 3 in the morning. Maybe he'll be in some red light district trying to make up for his candidates' moralistic tendency.

The latest poll has Cameron's Tories gaining a 7% swing in 57 key marginals, which would, so the polling statisticians assure us, put them into a 2 seat majority. Hmmm. Not substantial - he might be advised to check out some private medical insurance for the more elderly returned MPs of which, thankfully for his sanity, there are remarkably few following the expenses clear-out. What does seem to be happening is a gradual - very gradual - shift towards Cameron, occasioned in part by the inevitable momentum that accompanies a likely winner, and also by the stubborn failure of the 'Clegg Bounce' to materialise into anything too substantial. Seems that first debate was simply a reminder of Clegg's existence, and not the harbinger of a new British political wunderkind after all. And Cameron does seem to enjoy campaigning, in contrast to Brown who loathes it, and Clegg who is determinedly wooden and humourless. At least, I think he's humourless, but he did call earlier today for "an end to Lord Ashdown", which might have been intended as an amusing comment on his predecessor. Or he might just have mis-pronounced Ashcroft.


David Cameron is on a final all-out campaigning trip for the next four days, but he may pause during one of his cross-country commutes to remember that today is the 31st. anniversary of that election in 1979 which brought Margaret Thatcher to power, and changed the shape of British politics. The stats bear thought - on a 75% turnout, Thatcher's Conservatives gained 43.9% of the vote and a majority of just 43. Labour were second on 36.9% of the vote.

Have the Tories Really Changed?

Have just come across this Rowan Atkinson video lampooning the Tories. This was made for Not The Nine O'Clock News soon after the Thatcher victory of 1979, but have a look and see whether you can't imagine a modern day Conservative making the same comments! Classic stuff (starts with the end of a Griff Rhys Jones sketch so give it time!)

Where is the Times Edited Now?

Great story here, showing the Times' two front pages for today, just 45 minutes apart! Now I wonder where the inspiration came from to change the original headline "Cameron Risks Backlash With Early Talk of Victory" to the clearly much snappier and controversial, er, "Cameron Outlines Plans For First Days In Power!

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Why Vote Labour?

Nick Cohen has written an excellent and typically vigorous article in the Observer explaining why, despite all the disillusion with them, real radicals should still vote Labour and steer clear of the deceptive middle-class embrace offered by the Liberal Democrats.

He starts by taking Douglas Alexander and Ed Balls to task for offering nothing more idealistic than "If you vote Liberal Democrat you'll let in the Tories" when answering Cohen's question about why left-of-centre voters should stick with Labour. Cohen is excoriating about Labour's failures, and its blind, destructive love-in with the banking system:

The alliance with the City, which complacent commentators hailed in the 1990s as the supreme example of New Labour's "realism", was disastrous for party and nation alike. It produced the unprecedented spectacle of a dazzled centre-left government, who ought to have had the history of the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and Great Depressionbanged into their heads as children, allowing bankers to inflate one of the greatest bubbles in capitalist history.

This is a theme he has written on before, in his storming book "Pretty Straight Guys". But, just when you think Cohen is about to pronounce the last rites on a Labour party that no self-respecting radical could possibly want to be associated with again, he moves the focus to those would-be radical pretenders in the Liberal Democrats. Their middle-class campaign to seize voters who remain alienated by the Tories has nothing to offer an equally alienated working-class, in thrall to the BNP and others, he claims:

Interestingly, while Nothing British About the BNP and other Conservative groups oppose ultra-reactionary politics in both their white supremacist and clerical guises, the Liberal Democrats are absent without leave from the battles in the slums which will determine the character of Britain.

He concludes about Labour:

Alongside all Labour's scoundrels and freeloaders, you can still find honourable men and women who believe in equality and internationalism. Their presence shows that even if the party's leaders cannot make it, and even if it takes a gut-wrenching effort to make it on their behalf, there remains a case for voting Labour – despite everything.

Perhaps, but while those same "honourable men and women who believe in equality and internationalism" continue to take a back seat in their once radical party, and allow the value-less, PR spinning, war-mongering mediocrities who came into possession with Blair and are still hanging on via Brown to stay in control, those "honourable" few cannot say they have done nearly enough to tempt radicals back into the Labour fold. Cohen has made a good case for a Labour party that should exist but doesn't.

Sutton's Prominent Tory

The Conservative high command are very keen that Philippa Stroud wins the Sutton and Cheam seat on Thursday. Hers is a much more high profile campaign than that of her neighbour, Ken Andrew, the third-time standing Conservative candidate in Carshalton. So it will be interesting to see if the burghers of Sutton are attracted or repelled by a story in the Observer this morning. The story focuses on Stroud's recent past as an evangelical church founder, who was keen to help congregants 'pray out' their demons, including the demon of homosexuality. There is no doubt that Stroud is a caring person - she "genuinely cares about people" says one disaffected former member of her church, and the quotes provided from her book are not so much judgemental as pitying. It's just that many of her potential voters may find the level of her spiritual campaign against homosexuality, and her willingness to see it as a work of the devil, to be a little too much to bear. A further quote from the book, provided by the Observer, has Stroud recalling the death of a young girl struggling with drink, who choked on her own vomit after a drinking bout. Stroud reflects that, knowing the girls' struggle with changing her lifestyle after conversion, perhaps "God was calling her home". Sutton is in what is sometimes referred to as England's Bible Belt - looks as if the Thursday election really will provide a clash of cultures between secular liberalism and evangelical christianity! Never mind the parties!

Further thoughts on this issue are blogged here.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

No Darling Leadership Plan

An enticing rumour going the rounds amongst Labour supporters has been the thought that, should Gordon Brown go down to a substantial defeat next week, he would resign the leadership straight away and Alistair Darling could become the new 'interim leader'. Darling has proved himself a more than steady political operator as chancellor, and has, moreover, withstood the storm that engulfed him from No. 10 a few months ago. He is no political patsy, and is regarded as being a steadying figure in the party as chancellor. Alas for Labour, Darling himself has quashed the idea, in an interview on the BBC with Andrew Neil where he says he has no interest in being an interim leader. Back to the boy Miliband then.....

Guardian Deserts Brown

With the Guardian's announcement that they are backing the Liberal Democrats, I think that leaves Gordon Brown only with the support of the Daily Mirror. Of course, the papers don't win elections, and this is of interest more as an inidcation of how these commercially attuned enterprises see public opinion going. Nonetheless, it does mean that if Labour under Brown do have role in the next government, the majority of the print media will be viewing it all from the outside, and they and their owners are not usually satisfied with that!