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Showing posts from September, 2010

David Miliband Finally Exits

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David Miliband may well be looking at his last headlines tomorrow, as he shuffles off his political coil and finally exits the front-line political scene he has occupied for so relatively short a time. He has managed to upstage his leadership winning brother for much of this week, but now he's accepted the logic of his position - and implicitly acknowledged the bitterness of his defeat - and made the first steps away from politics. If he lasts as an MP to the next election I'll be surprised. If his reputation lasts any longer I'll be even more surprised.

The meteoric rise and rapid fall of David Miliband have been an instructive tale on the conduct of modern politics. He was one of that increasing group of advisers who were making their name before they even hit parliament. Ushered into a safe seat, David didn't have to waste much time on the backbenches before oozing smoothly into the cabinet, where he was almost instantaneously spoken of as the obvious Blairite succe…

The Press and Miliband

The line being taken by Critics of Miliband includes, of course, the fact that he was only elected by dint of union support, and was clearly not the first choice of members or MPs. One thing calculated to quickly bring the Labour membership into line behind him will be the front pages of today's newspapers. With two exceptions, they subject Ed M. to a critical firestorm - just the sort of thing to persuade ordinary Labourites to swing in behind their new leader.

The Miliband Dilemma

They really don't know what to make of him. The pundits, that is. So much so that Blairite John Rentoul in the Independent on Sunday basically seems to want to write Cameron's PMQ attack lines for him, while the conservative James Forsyth on the Spectator blog explains why Ed is a far more formidable figure than the Conservatives are allowing.

More on Miliband

Quite a bit is being made of the role that Derek Simpson's Unite union played in Ed Miliband's victory. Certainly the union did all it could to swing its members votes for Ed, but not all is what it seems! One very Conservative friend of mine happens to have joined Unite in the last year or so to protect his position, and used his opportunity as a union member and devoted Conservative to vote for the man he thinks will keep the Tories in power. Chalk up another one to Ed M.

Cameron, Clegg, Miliband - The Triumph of the Political Professionals

Ed Miliband’s victory as Labour leader tells us virtually nothing about the possible direction of the Labour Party, as witness the acres of disparate punditry occupying today’s press. Is he ‘Red Ed’, or is he the pragmatist leader of a new generation? Is he Iain Duncan Smith or Tony Blair made anew? Other than the fact that the unions appear to have voted for him in order to reject his more obviously Blairite brother – one in the eye for a historically failing Blair there – what, really, does Ed Miliband stand for? We don’t really know. We don’t really know because he has been in front line politics for such a short length of time, and it is this fact as much as anything else that may be the most telling aspect of Ed Miliband’s election, as the renowned political scientist Philip Cowley comments today.

Read more here.

"Miliband of Brothers"

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Thenight before one of them becomes the Labour Party leader, More 4’s tongue in cheek docu-drama, “Miliband of Brothers” didn’t do either of them any favours, but was an entertaining and illuminating watch.Yes, they were both portrayed as the nerdy middle-class sons of a comfortably off, radical professor who quailed when faced with real rebellion.Yes, it was entertaining to watch the clashes between their well-meaning, utterly divorced socialism and the real world of conflict (there’s not a lot of conflict going on in the left-wing parlours of North London and the glorious isolation of Oxford colleges after all).In terms of character, I suspect the programme makers rather favoured Ed Miliband over his even nerdier brother, giving him a more entertainingly subversive personality with a slightly stronger relationship to planet Earth than that enjoyed by his brother.David’s inability to party or act like “a normal teenager” was played up for a bit of cheap humour, but partying is over-r…

Vince's Masterly Hatchet Job

When Nick Clegg was merely an inexperienced neophyte who had rather surprisingly been elected to the leadership of a third party few people really cared about, he was very often in the shadow of a far greater, altogether more majestic figure. Vince Cable had shown, during his temporary leadership of the Lib Dems, that age didn't have to be a bar to effective leadership. He had combined well aimed comedy - his jibe about Gordon Brown transforming from Stalin to Mr. Bean was one of the most wounding to be aimed at the former PM - with a reputation as the country's greatest political seer. Never mind Cardinal Newman, it was Vince that everyone thought should be sainted.

Even as the election campaign began, the Lib Dems seemed to think that St. Vince, as he was commonly becoming known, should always be seen at Mr. Clegg's side in order to give the younger man more gravitas. Well the rest is, as everyone rather unoriginally says, history. Nick Clegg delivered a passable performa…

Brown Damned Again

With one academic book about the 2010 election already out (the Hansard Society one, launched last week at Portcullis House), another one is due soon. Edited by Philip Cowley and Dennis Kavanagh, it contains more lurid descriptions of the inability of Gordon Brown's No. 10 office to function properly. We have heard much of this before from Andrew Rawnsley, but Iain Dale has a flavour of what else is to come to haunt Brown on his blog here. Little wonder David Cameron has been greeted with relief for being just more - well, normal.

What Unites Lib Dem 'Progressives' and Tory rightists?

Utter dislike of the Coalition of course. The Lib Dems may have greeted Nick Clegg triumphantly enough today, but the tenor of many questions to him yesterday was far from triumphal. Even today's set piece speech seemed, to the BBC's Nick Robinson, just a little defensive.

If you want a clear idea of just what problems beat against the coalition from the Lib Dem left and the Tory right, have a read of the following two articles. Evan Harris in the Guardian explains why the Lib Dems need to distance themselves from policies which they feel have been imposed on them by the Tory part of the coalition. Tim Montgomerie on Conservative Home bemoans the fact that the Lib Dem part of the coalition has become too powerful, and identifies three more policy changes which concern Tory right-wingers.

The leadership of the two parties may be pretty well in synch, and former Tory turned Lib Dem Baroness Nicholson might exult that we now have a properly One Nation government, but this is …

The Tea Party, a masturbation socialist and Palin's Presidential Run in 2012

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The Tea Party movement in America is admired and venerated by some of those right-wing Tories, like Dan Hannan MEP, who distrust David Cameron's leadership. As a movement dedicated to the classical liberal philosophies of less government and low tax, it is the most successful recent incarnation of the New Right. It has also managed to create waves with the selection of a range of Republican candidates for the forthcoming mid-terms who are sympathetic to its aims. For the most part, such candidates have not caused much comment outside of being Tea-Partiers, and one positive account of the current Republican situation can be found in the Weekly Standard here.

However, the selection of Christine O'Donnell in Delaware (Joe Biden's home state) has caused waves. She was well supported by Sarah Palin, and is considered by many to be on the extreme fringe of the Republican Party, and even the Tea Party movement (Slate magazine exposes her as a 'masturbation socialist' h…

Clegg - A Tory Favourite (But not a Liberal One!)

The Evening Standard reports a poll which shows Nick Clegg having a far higher popularity rating amongst Tories than amongst his own Lib Dems. The Lib Dems, indeed, have had a battering as a result of their coalition decision, currently languishing at 15% in the polls. This is in part to do with a problem of identity - are they an indistinguishable part of a Tory government, or are they a distinctive party of the liberal-left? One Labour insider put it to me, rather gleefully I thought, that Clegg's real problem was that he had embraced the coalition, and his partnership with Cameron, much too enthusiastically. From the moment he appeared like a love-struck courtesan in the garden of Number 10 he was doomed. Had he suggested that it was only with real difficulty that he entered into coalition, and kept on showing real regret, perhaps even occasionally emulating Vince Cable's all too frequent look of utter despair, then anti-Tory voters and Lib Dems might have been prepare…

A Coalition Electoral Pact?

There was some agreement at yesterday's Hansard Society meeting that the Conservatives were still drawing the poison of the Thatcher years in terms of their electoral appeal. No-one doubts that the Coalition has the happy effect of moderating some Conservative positions, and there is the persistent rumour that David Cameron prefers being in coalition to governing alone, when he would be even more subject to the raucous calls of his right-wing without the defensive buffer provided by the Lib Dems. Inevitably, there is going to be talk of whether it might help for the Conservatives to enter a formal electoral pact with the Liberals as well. This issue has received a little more attention as the result of an article by influential Tory MP Nick Boles in the Times. One moderate Tory reaction, very much favouring Boles' proposal, is here. However, as we were also reminded by yesterday's assembled academics, the round of party conferences is going to show us both Lib Dem and…

Lessons for Education from TV

Michael Gove apparently wants schools to start emulating Gareth Malone, whose "Extraordinary School for Boys' series started last week on BBC1. Malone could become the Jamie Oliver of lessons, so I finally got round to watching the first episode of his programme. It's difficult to say what was most annoying about this tedious tv enterprise. It could be Malone himself, who combines his ridiculous keenness with an incredibly annoying adoption of a naive/'little boy lost in big world' persona that was wearing thin after the first five minutes. It could be that the programme is based upon the nonsensical premise that educating and playing are essentially the same thing. Or it could be the programme's desire to keep focusing in on the class 'characters' - who of course are the really annoying kids with loud, inarticulate opinions who would be better advised to go and re-read the school's Healthy Eating guidelines.

The programme had an annoying habi…

Coalition's Narrow Lead Against Leaderless Opposition

The headline polling figures yesterday were about the Labour leadership (see below) the results of which are due in two weeks. Just as interesting were the YouGov daily polling figures which had the Conservatives on 42%, Labour on 38% and the Lib Dems on 14%. Plenty has already been written about the Lib Dems' current precarious state amongst potential voters, and you can see why they will be best advised to get five year fixed term parliaments in as soon as possible. But it isn't that much sunnier for the Tories - with spending cuts yet to bite, and an opposition that has effectively been leaderless since the election, a 4% lead is not exactly an Everest of electoral approval. Whichever Miliband wins, they will surely have the nouse and position to close that narrow gap very quickly. Cameron's honeymoon is already over.

The Miliband Race

With the YouGov polling data now out there is the fascinating conundrum that while Labour members apparently see David Miliband as more electable (55% to 25%) and a potentially better prime minister (45% to 28%), the poll of members, as reported in the Sunday Times over the weekend, gives Ed Miliband a narrow lead (51% to 49%). But, this lead makes an assumption over second preferences, dividing them equally between the two brothers from the other three eliminated candidates. That this is by no means certain is commented on by James Forsyth on the Spectator blog.

On first preferences (and with the other candidates still in the race) David beats Ed 36% to 32%. Whether or not Labour members really will decide to use their second preferences to give the leadership to the man they perceive as both less qualified and less electable remains to be seen, although it will be an interesting commentary not only on how a party membership often rejects electability in favour of ideological comf…

Robert Harris Damns Blair

Robert Harris once began his regular Sunday Times column during the dying years of the Thatcher regime with the following words: “It is a sobering thought to realise that we are being governed by someone who is mad”.Hardly surprising that he embraced Tony Blair and New Labour with enthusiasm.However, the man who is now one of Britain’s most popular novelists (“Fatherland”, “Lustrum”) fell out of love with New Labour, and especially its egocentric leader.In his novel “The Ghost” he damned Tony Blair through fiction.Now, in his Sunday Times book review, he has damned Tony Blair via the former premier’s memoirs.If you haven’t read it in the paper (the ‘Culture’ section), it is worth the pound to read it online.Harris is withering about Blair in every possible way.While politics students and teachers will almost certainly want to read the book for themselves, they can get an (obviously partial) sense of it from Harris’s extraordinary critique.
Despite Blair’s merely passing reference to re…

There is No Defence of the British Tabloid

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The Case Against Andy Coulson continues to be analysed in the less Conservative friendly newspapers - notably the Guardian and Independent. Coulson, Cameron's now press chief and former News of the World editor, is the man currently at the heart of the story - always a bad position for someone whose job should keep them directing rather than starring in the drama - but both the Guardian and Independent (see this piece in today's Independent on Sunday for instance) have widened their investigations to implicate a much broader culture of illegal behaviour at the Murdoch tabloids that places the spotlight much more firmly on Murdoch's direct minions and even Murdoch himself. Since Murdoch controls the most ferocious tabloids in Britain, the story obviously stands as a pretty strong indictment of tabloid behaviour and attitudes, full stop. Now, however, there are starting to appear attempts to defend the appalling culture of the British tabloids.

One such appeared in the Ba…

The Anniversary - And Have We Learnt Anything?

Of the rash of articles about this year's anniversary of the Day The World Changed, the most emotional and perceptive, not entirely surprisingly, comes from Robert Fisk of the Independent. Considering Pastor Terry Jones, he says:

Just look at all the other crackpots spawned in the aftermath of those international crimes against humanity: the half-crazed Ahmadinejad, the smarmy post-nuclear Gaddafi, Blair with his crazed right eye and George W Bush with his black prisons and torture and lunatic "war on terror". And that wretched man who lived – or lives still – in an Afghan cave and the hundreds of al-Qa'idas whom he created, and the one-eyed mullah – not to mention all the lunatic cops and intelligence agencies and CIA thugs who failed us all – utterly – on 9/11 because they were too idle or too stupid to identify 19 men who were going to attack the United States. And remember one thing: even if the Rev Terry Jones sticks with his…

Petraeus' Hand Was Forced

I've criticised the White House media operation over Pastor Jones below, but Justin Elliott of salon.com has this explanation of why General Petraeus, and thence the White House, needed to weigh in.

To grasp the real story here, one has to understand the context in which Petraeus decided to weigh in: At that time, the Quran burning had already been treated as a major story in the media in the Muslim world for several weeks. In other words, since at least late July, when it started to get attention in some Muslim-majority countries, the story has been doing untold damage to America's reputation.

MPs Afraid of Press

It's difficult to get too excited about Channel 4's exclusive report this evening about MPs on the Culture Select Committee who were investigating the News of the World phone-tapping scandal. Apparently, they backed off from forcing News International chief Rebekah Brooks to appear before them because they were afraid of repercussions. According to 4 MPs who spoke to C4 News, they were fearful of News International papers prying into their private lives. Being reminded that our elected representatives are terrified of the press - especially ones as feral and unchecked as those run by News International - is hardly revelatory. Hearing that they might have been prepared to act to bring Britain's tabloids into the realms of responsibility, however, genuinely would have been.

Reacting to Pastor Jones

The first thing to note about Pastor Terry Jones is that his small Florida church had a congregation of about 50 a year ago, which by all accounts has declined rather more since.The second thing to note is that this small time extremist has been condemned by pretty well anyone who can get in front of a microphone in America.So we are entitled to show bemusement, incredulity, disbelief and a whole range of other emotions besides when we watch the astonishing level of protests in the Islamic world, listen to portentous and inflammatory pronouncements from country leaders like the president of Indonesia, and hear of the shootings of four people outside the one Anglican church left in Iraq.If we can condemn Pastor Jones as an extremist, words surely start to fail us in describing the people who are reacting thus.If nothing else, the mendacious minister’s would-be book burning has illumined, once again, the enormous gulf that exists between East and West.
Pastor Jones’ proposed stunt was mi…

Trouble for Cameron - from the Conservatives

David Cameron returns from paternity leave on the day after his deputy, Nick Clegg, successfully steered the Alternative Vote Referendum Bill through the Commons. But Cameron's troubles when it comes to constitutional reform aren't going to go away, and despite some vocal Labour opposition to yesterday's Bill (despite Gordon Brown having promised a similar referendum in his dying days as PM), it is from the Conservative benches that Cameron is going to face his most serious opposition.

Tory whips had to do some pretty severe arm twisting to bring recalcitrant backbenchers into line last night, but the Conservative parliamentary party has no shortage of hard-liners who detest the coalition, and see the constitutional reform proposals as little short of a Lib Dem legislative coup. Not only is a head of steam building behind various wrecking amendments to the Bill, but it is clear from various Tory contributions to yesterday's debate (as reported by the AV sceptical Cons…

A Nudge and a Wink

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The blogger Guido Fawkes was primarily responsible for pushing the Hague story into the limelight, with his relentless posts about Hague's sleeping arrangements. Is he now trying to suggest something untoward about Alan Johnson, the Shadow Home Secretary currently deciding to pursue Andy Coulson's scalp? Johnson, notes Guido, wasn't quite so keen to make a big deal of the alleged 'phone tapping' scandal when he was Home Secretary. Says the scandal spreading blogger:

Many wondered why Johnson didn’t run for leader and perhaps now, without such a great need to keep News International’s tabloids away, we might read why exactly Alan Johnson was so keen to avoid confrontation with Coulson’s former employers while in office.

A Tabloid Affair

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Andy Coulson edited what remains one of the most vituperative and unsparing tabloid papers to ever be published. He is currently in the heart of the Cameron inner circle as the tribune of popular opinion in his guise as Head of Communications. The spat over his role in his former paper's phone tapping scandal, which has become the most partisan of recent Westminster quarrels, will doubtless soon fade away. Meanwhile, the Economist'sBagehot has both Coulson's former paper, and Coulson's current role, just about right. On the News of the World, which Coulson edited, he notes this:

FEW things frighten a British politician as much as a phone call from the News of the World, a ferocious, ruthless Sunday tabloid that is the country's best-selling newspaper. Many British daily newspapers are raucous, salacious and intrusive, while also being astonishingly professional. The NOTW takes all this to another level: no other publication devotes the same resources to getting scoo…

It's Only Politics

As another term begins, and another round of trying to explain the political world to neophytes starts, it's good to see that the old idealistic adage that politics is really about issues, and not personalities is.....completely untrue. A quick look at the top-rated stories of the last few days gives us, in no particular order:

- Former Prime Minister blasts closest colleague and successor;
- Foreign Secretary shared hotel room with adviser and has to announce he's NOT GAY!
- Prime Minister's Press Secretary - and former Murdoch editor - embroiled in phone-tapping scandal.

A little further down the list is the Labour leadership election, not causing as many waves as it should, possibly because all of the candidates have been rather over-powered by the neatly timed Blair memoirs and a difficulty in distinguishing themselves from each other apart from a chorus of "We're not Blair".

These may of course be the fag end of the annual summer 'silly season' stori…