Monday, January 30, 2012

Missing The 'West Wing'.......?

How about this for a new US TV series concept? Divorced former First Lady struggles to keep family together whilst working in the new politically hot job of Secretary of State. Who'd have thought; a former First Lady becoming SecState - the imagination churns! Well, for better or for worse, that is indeed the concept behind USA Network's projected 6-part drama "Political Animals". And yes, they did recently employ Chelsea Clinton. What would she know?

Big Bad Bonkers Newt Could Fight All The Way To The Convention

There might be worse things for Newt Gingrich than the 20-point lead the Mittmeister seems to have built up in Florida, courtesy of ad expenditure in the region of $6.8 million. But there surely aren't sadder scenes than this one, according to New York Magazine's John Heilemann -

At what was billed as a Hispanic town hall meeting at another church yesterday in Orlando, Gingrich was greeted by row after row of empty pews and maybe 40 voters in attendance. For a full hour after the scheduled starting time, Gingrich and his wife, Callista, sat outside, cloistered in his campaign bus — possibly sulking, possibly fuming at his campaign's horrid advance work, and surely praying that a few more souls would show up. When Gingrich finally entered the building, it was announced that the event was a town hall no more; the candidate would speak briefly, then take pictures with the scant few who'd turned up. And "briefly" was an understatement: Standing behind a Lucite lectern, Gingrich talked for a bare eight minutes and eleven seconds, looking deflated and exhausted. By no small margin, it was the worst and saddest campaign event that I have witnessed in this presidential cycle.

After the glory moments of South Carolina, here's Newt back on terra firma and holding out for yet another come-back. But Heilemann reckons he might decide to make a fight of it all the way to the convention, which would be a nightmare for Romney, and possibly the Republican Party. After all, Newt does nothing quietly. If Florida doesn't comprehensively bury him, he'll be up and running again soon. They love this show in the White House.

Obama's Got Balls

Bush didn't do it, Biden advised against it, and everyone knew it was a ballsy decision.

Given his independent status, the Daily Dish's Andrew Sullivan is a powerful and articulate cheerleader for Obama. Here, he reminds us that the decision to get Bin Laden would have caused the GOP to demand an extra face on Mount Rushmore if only he were a Republican. He says:

It was Obama who made that dangerous, ballsy call. It was Obama who argued in a 2008 debate with McCain that he would be prepared to ignore Pakistan and launch a raid in that country if OBL was found there and the US could get him. He was derided as "naive" and without the experience to be commander-in-chief. McCain specifically said he would not authorize such a mission.

Catch 21

Have just come across 'Catch 21', a politics site run by Hull University students. Their main focus are the videos they post featuring a range of politicos and scenarios, but their blog is a thought-provoking one. Check out the most recent articles, on the American PACs that are busy buying electoral victories for their sponsors, and the threat from French far-right leader Marine Le Pen in our favourite enemy's forthcoming presidential elections.

The 1 Million Pound Bonus Question

The MP for the City, Mark Field, wonders on a Conservative Home blog entry whether or not the eventual success of the campaign to get Stephen Hester to return his bonus is something of a pyrrhic victory. Mr. Field makes many apposite comments, not least his dislike of the unpleasant campaign of denigration waged against Mr. Hester. There was a lynch-mob mentality to it, and the ensuing media discussion was far from edifying. But there remains a question mark about the huge pay differentials in this country, and Mr. Field's concluding paragraph is scathing about the abilities of significantly more lowly paid people. He writes:

Either the government leads the way in making the case for protecting our £45 billion investment in this bank, which we so sorely hope to get back in due course. Or alternatively the only other logical option is that we write-off the entire sum pumped into RBS and from now on run it as a public utility headed by a civil servant on an established grade salary.

Wow! It could be that bad?! A "civil servant on an established grade salary"? Boy oh boy! If Mr. Field's conclusion is that ony sums in the region of £1 million or more can bring in people of real talent, then what price any form of public service, to say nothing of vast numbers of talented private sector toilers? Teachers, doctors, nurses, soldiers, sailors and airmen, civil servants - just go back to mediocre-land and exist on your sub-human salaries worthy only of such despairing lack of talent. If you're not in the million pound bracket, you're useless!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Henry VII's Birthday

It's Henry Tudor's Birthday!! Or would be, if he had possessed a sort of rarefied human longevity that matched his legendary wealth. The man who founded England's most famous and popular dynasty, the all-conquering Tudors, was born on this day in 1457. His mysterious, secretive personality, grasping acquisitiveness, extraordinarily canny political nouse and ceaseless intelligence gathering secured the throne for him in the most febrile of circumstances throughout 24 years of sinister rule. He bequeathed England his son, Bluff King Hal, and grand-daughter, Gloriana the Virgin Queen. He remains relatively unknown, but the brilliant book by Thomas Penn, "The Winter King", has come as close as anything to unravelling the secrets of the first Tudor's rule. A sort of Nixonian king who isn't particularly likeable but is endlessly fascinating.

The Right Turn on Maverick Gingrich

As if his less than stellar performance in the most recent Republican primary debate wasn't enough, it appears that a slew of right-wing media luvvies are turning against - or to be more accurate, were never really for and are now coming out publicly against - the former Speaker and pet Republican firebrand. Politico reports on the Campaign Against Newt, and also carry a fascinating report on the influence of news aggregator Matt Drudge. Drudge's site, a messy array of links, remains one of the most influential in America. He doesn't express an opinion, doesn't write an article, but his selection of links still drives readers and, presumably, views. Mind you, as one Republican aide comments at the end of the article, Drudge doesn't actually win elections for people.

Debating is The Winner In Republican Campaign

The Republican primary campaign has been a great show, and there's no doubt that one reason is the sheer number of debates between the candidates. These may not have been to the benefit of the Republican Party, but they've certainly livened up the whole campaign and placed debate back where it should be - right at the heart of democratic politics. No matter how much preparation is done, no matter how much packaging is wound round a candidate, once they get into the debating chamber they are exposed like at no other time in a campaign. Your wits, your passion and your knowledge matter. The debates certainly put paid to the campaigns of determined ignorists like Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann. They allowed Newt Gingrich, despite the stretches on his finances, to come back as a front-runner. They expose Mitt Romney's hollowness. For all the rules attempting to govern them they remain politics in the raw - a clear, sometimes visceral unpealing of a candidate's carefully managed image. They are absolutely what is required in a democratic process, and they have contributed hugely to the brilliant, roller-coasting unpredictability of the Republican race.

Mitt staged his come-back of sorts with a better than normal performance in the Jacksonville debate, while his old foe Gingrich seemed subdued, out of sorts and downcast. Andrew Sullivan thinks Ron Paul and Rick Santorum had a good night and wonders if that will see yet more polling number changes. David Frum calls it for Mitt, and concludes it was a bad night for Gingrich.

There have been murmurings that the Republicans may try and change matters in four years time - too many debates have exposed the divisions and fratricidal tendencies of their party. I hope they see sense. It may be messy, but the debates are classic politics, and the end result will be to promote candidates with more wit and a nimbler grasp of their political aims and principles than anything else on offer. The change now should be for more debates in the autumn, after the primaries. As for the UK, it took us over forty years to learn from the Americans and stage debates between the leaders. They should learn a lot more quickly that debate is the warp and weft of political life, and make the next election even more debate-focussed. Only then can you really take the initiative out of the spinners' hands, and give it back to the people.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Struggling Leaders

David Cameron can bestride the British political scene at the moment, calmly dispensing advice to other world leaders at Davos, with relatively little concern about being outmanouevred by the other party leaders. With the exception, perhaps, of Alex Salmond, and even he has had to force the pace of the Scottish Independence debate thanks to a Cameron tactical strike. But the two major English party leaders, Clegg and Miliband, are united only in the poor publicity, and hence public profile, that each has. Add in the lack of a serious opposition figure (as opposed to some of the collective opposition) within his own party, and Cameron can afford to be relaxed.

This can't last, especially not in the midst of a long and relentless recession - today's headlines about Stephen Hester's bonus show just how febrile the atmosphere actually is - but Cameron should enjoy the experience while he can. As to the other two, can they improve their position?

Nick Clegg is both the first Liberal leader in generations to be in government, but is of course similarly hidebound by that very arrangement. He has, in many respects, managed it very well, exercising real influence at the centre thanks in part to his positive relationship with Cameron, and managing to put out a distinctive Lib Dem message in more recent months. Politics Home's Paul Waugh observes the tactical success of Clegg's recent TV Sofas campaign on lower taxes for poorer earners, and it is worth emphasising that Clegg specifically, and the Lib Dems generally, have never been able to depend on any heavyweight media support. He is also a helpful lightning conductor for discouraged right-wing Tories who prefer not to attack their leader directly. Much better to direct frustration and blame towards Clegg, and never forget that the Tory media fields some very heavy, and very effective, guns in the British polity. There is an element of the old medieval tactic of not criticising the king but savaging his dispensable advisers instead. Clegg may yet emerge intact, and politically stronger, from his coalition experience if he can stay the course and keep perfecting the art of Liberal message making.

Miliband seems to be a worse case. For an opposition leader not to be making inroads at a time of economic convulsion is the sort of achievement no politician really wants to their credit. Even the Republicans have some credibility in the US political debate, and look at their cheerleaders. The latest Miliband interview, by Paul Waugh (again!) in the House magazine still shows him as strangely relaxed and optimistic, but whether his personal stoicism is enough to keep fending off grumbles from within his own party remains to be seen. If Yvette Cooper keeps sweet talking the Labour MPs, and Miliband keeps being duffed up by the bully Cameron at PMQs, no amount of zen-like relaxation will rescue him from the abyss. It must be Cameron's sincerest hope that his opposite number survives - somehow I think he'll find Cooper a far more difficult opponent both publically and in parliament. "Calm Down, Dear" only works once.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Obama's 91% Approval Rating For State Of The Union

The Republicans may be getting much of the publicity at the moment - and given the nature of it, probably very much to the White House's satisfaction - but Obama's 'coming out fighting' State of the Union address seems to have hit a strong chord with the American public, if a CBS News poll is to be believed. They give him a 91% approval rating for the speech which several right-wing commentators and politicians have slated for being too left-wing. The CBS site comments:

According to the poll, which was conducted online by Knowledge Networks immediately after the president's address, 91 percent of those who watched the speech approved of the proposals Mr. Obama put forth during his remarks. Only nine percent disapproved.

All excellent news for the Obama camp no doubt, although it is worth noting that the poll sample was heavily weighted towards Democrats in any case, who tended to form the majority of viewers:

Americans who watched the speech were generally more Democratic than the nation as a whole. Forty-four percent of viewers polled were Democrats and 25 percent were Republicans. (Historically speaking, that is not an unusual statistic: a president's supporters are more likely than his opponents to watch State of the Union addresses.)

Twitter or The Guardian - Who Wields Most Clout?

An interesting case study here from the Media Blog about a Guardian sourced 'twitterstorm' that forced a gym to relax its rigid contract towards two of its customers. The case is interesting of course, but the Media Blog write-up is mostly concerned with what it tells us about the relative centres of media power, and how they inter-relate

Monday, January 09, 2012

The Last Labour Leader To Be Deposed....

Courtesy of Peter Kellner over on YouTube, where he tells the story of the last Labour leader to be deposed by his own MPs - John Clynes, of course, back in 1922 and just after he'd led Labour to one of its best electoral performances ever at that time. Kellner's full article also contains some interesting analysis of Ed Miliband's polling figures - analysis which, from a seasoned psephologist like Kellner is well worth perusing. Meanwhile, here's his lesson from history:

JR Clynes, a trade unionist from Oldham, had been elected party leader (technically in those days, Chairman of the party’s MPs) in February 1921. Although one of the party’s least known leaders he was arguably one of its most successful. In the 1922 election Labour more than doubled its number of MPs, winning 142 seats. However, in two ways that proved to be Clynes’ undoing.

First, one of Labour’s ‘new’ MPs was Ramsay MacDonald. He had been an MP before – from 1906 to 1918 – and had, indeed, led the party from 1911 until 1914, when he resigned because he opposed the party’s support for Britain’s involvement in the First World War. Back in Parliament in November 1922, he was ambitious to resume the post he had surrendered eight years earlier.

Secondly, Labour was now, unquestionably, Britain’s main opposition party. But the Speaker did not want the party to acquire the full rights of His Majesty’s Opposition, and some Labour MPs criticised Clynes for not standing up to the Speaker.

The showdown took place on November 22, eight days after the election. More than 20 MPs were absent – mainly Clynes supporters, new to Parliament, who were trade union officials and who had yet to disentangle themselves from their union commitments. Clynes assumed he would be re-elected unopposed, and let them stay away. Macdonald, however, had quietly but effectively organised his support. He challenged Clynes and won by 61 votes to 56. Fourteen months later MacDonald was Prime Minister. (Fourteen years later, MacDonald was out of power, out of Parliament and largely discredited; but that’s another story.)

The School Dilemma

Two developments today highlight the continuing dilemma over just what type of state education gives the nation's children the best chances in life. Kent County Council has announced an expansion of its grammar school system by setting up a new 'satellite' grammar school in Sevenoaks in response to the huge demand for grammar places. Education Secretary Michael Gove has relaxed legislation sufficiently to allow such an innovation. In addition, for those who may not pass the 11+ necessary for the new grammar school places, Gove's free schools legislation is being taken up by a local priest who is hoping to set up a new Christian comprehensive.

By contrast, Tottenham MP David Lammy is tonight addressing a meeting opposed to the conversion of a failing Haringey primary school into an academy. This has provoked controversy on the right, with Spectator columnist James Forsyth blogging that such opposition will keep the pupils of the Haringey school mired in the morass of inadequate teaching and poor results. Certainly Lammy appears to be allying himself with dyed-in-the-wool opponenets of any educational change such as the NUT's Christine Blower and Fiona Millar.

Education has become one area of significant change and challenging ideas under Michael Gove. The problem is delineating any form of consensus on what might pass for good teaching - given the diversity of several million pupils passiong through the state system this is, of course, inevitable, but it is surely a good thing that a one size fits all policy is no longer applicable. The permanent revolution in education may yet yield real leaps forward and, importantly, a sense of ownership for parents and pupils.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Harmony At The Top

Back to Conservative Home for this enthusiastic piece by Bruce Anderson, who praises the calibre and unity of the present Conservative governors. He may be a little over the top, but it makes lovely reading all the same. On the key relationship between Cameron, Osborne and Hague, Anderson has this to say:

They enjoy each other's company. There is a lot of laughter, but also a lot of serious business. There is no rivalry and total mutual confidence. In the entire history of British government from the time of Robert Walpole, I cannot think of a moment when relationships at the top were so harmonious. In fraught circumstances, that is of inestimable value.

Compassionate, Winning Conservatism?

Is this the way forward towards a Conservative election victory next time? Conservative Home's Tim Montgomerie identifies the five key policies that a "right-wing party with a heart" could use to win over a majority of the electorate. It's an interesting agenda, returning the debate once again to the issue of how to ensure a right-wing party can best promote the interests of 'one nation' rather than seeming only to be a clique of the wealthy and the already powerful. Montgomerie, never one to shy away from throwing brickbats in the general direction of the current Tory leadership, is often at his best when looking at how conservatism can successfully position itself to govern in the interests of all, and this article is a persuasive argument in that direction. Particularly since he highlights existing policies, rather than searching in the ether for new ones.

Santorum in the Wrestling Ring

This is brilliant. According to the blog "Political Advertising" the Romney team unearthed this piece of comedy gold from an earlier Santorum campaign in 2006. just wondering if he'll maybe try an update for the primary campaign?

Ed Miliband's Calm

I'm impressed by the sense of calm that apparently dominates Ed Miliband's office at the moment, at least if today's Guardian interview is anything to go by. He's got his troubles in perspective (a tweet's a tweet and occasionally people make typos after all), had a relaxing Christmas, isn't worried about Lord Glasman (not many people are) and comes across for all the world as if he's really riding quite high. I do quite like the willingness to ignore the frenzy around you - it bespeaks a certain sort of self-confidence that is a prerequisite for political, and indeed other, leaders. But there is always the danger that Miliband's Zen-like calm might also indicate an insularity so great that he has no hope of leading a successful Labour charge. If he's not fussed by the current furores over palpably foolish things, perhaps he hasn't quite understood the situation?

I did rather like Telegraph blogger David Knowles' tweet earlier -

Ed Miliband: "I will not be Ramsay MacDonald". Very true. Ramsay MacDonald was Prime Minister of three governments.

And that, in the end, is the dilemma for Ed Miliband; for all his preternatural calmness, is he capable of leading Labour to victory?


Great tweet from The Media Tweets:

"Thoughts go out to staff at Conservative party HQ who have all had to give up their weekend to brainstorm "blackbusters" jokes for next PMQs"
Just wonder if the bit of advice they really need to accept is simply "Don't bother mentioning it"?

Friday, January 06, 2012

The Daily Show - In England!!

At last! At last! America's pre-eminent liberal satirist, the nightly appearing Jon Stewart, is finally watchable to UK afficonados without the bother of making 34 different adjustments to your operating software.

Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" is making clips from Stewart's programme available for watching on UK computers and not before time. Stewart's liberal bias makes him a scourge of the Republicans, but his real ire is aimed at the increasing lunacy of America's competitive and crowded news programmes. Take at look at some of the clips currently being offered from recent programmes - particular favourites are his 'Republican Box of Chocolates' spoof, and the 'Commission Impossible' lambasting of fake Republican anger at Obama's most recent recess appointment.