Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Report from the Cameron 'Built to Last' Speech

Sorry about the lack of posts today but I've been in London doing various things (how cryptic!) and have not had any computer access. Anyway, this evening I attended the Cameron speech event at Vinopolis near London Bridge. Quite an experience, one way or another. About 400 people congregated in a dimly lit bar area to be served with lager, water or smoothies before the main event got underway. I was aghast to walk into the main auditorium to find there were no seats and we were faced with the prospect of listening to seven speeches standing. There was no podium and the audience surrounded the raised small circular stage. Boris Johnson got things underway in typically Boris style. As I surveyed the room I spotted a pensive looking Stuart Wheeler standing at the back. So I wasn't the oldest one in the room, after all. Other notables there were George Osborne, William Hague, Michael Ashcroft, Andrew Mitchell and Hugo Swire. A succession of younger fresh faces addressed the throng. Grant Shapps got things underway and was followed by Justine Greening, Margot James, Sayeeda Warsi, Zak Goldsmith and a sparky lady whose name I didn't catch who described herself as a 'social entrepreneur'. All were impressive and spoke without notes. Boris then introduced a film which he called 'Cameron the Movie', a sort of Cameroonian greatest hits video, which got us all suitably hyped up for the main event itself. In walked Dave to rapturous applause, waving to the crowds. I wondered to myself how this would look on TV, but having just seen it on Newsnight, it looked great. DC gave a relatively short speech and outlined the main points of the Built to Last document. He rehearsed again many of the themes which have become familiar over the last few months. The key passage for me was this...

This party voted for change. Now we have to show what that change means. Not just what we're changing from, but what we're changing to. We have to show that the change is real, that it means something, that's it's built to last. That's why today I'm setting out, in this statement of aims and values, what we stand for and what we're fighting for.

The document itself is far from detailed, but no the worse for it. It gives the Party a compass from which to develop a detailed policy platform. But we need be in no hurry to do that. DC was asked by the BBC's James Landale if he wasn't squaring for a fight with the right. He denied it and said he wanted as many people as possible to sign up to his statement of values. He also took head-on the belief that there is now little difference between the Conservatives and New Labour. He proceeded to outline many key areas where there is a chasm of difference.

But when people say there's no choice in politics any more, that politicians are all the same, I couldn't disagree more. There's a clear choice between our approach and Gordon Brown's. A Labour prime minister who says that only the state can deliver fairness, and a Conservative party fighting for people and communities, to unleash the power and positive spirit of our fantastic voluntary organisations and social enterprises. A Labour prime minister in Gordon Brown who wants the state to take an ever-bigger slice of the nation's income in tax and spending, and a Conservative party fighting for a dynamic economy, understanding that this can only be built by sharing the proceeds of growth between public services and lower taxes. A Labour prime minister in Gordon Brown who thinks that public services can only be run by the state, and a Conservative party fighting to improve public services for everyone through an understanding that public services paid for by the state don't have to be run by the state. A Labour prime minister in Gordon Brown who's said nothing and done nothing about the environment and a Conservative party that's put the environment at the top of its agenda. A Labour prime minister in Gordon Brown who will continue with Tony Blair's ineffective authoritarianism and wasteful ID cards, and a Conservative party that will stand up and fight as the hard-nosed defenders of freedom and security. A Labour prime minister in Gordon Brown who seems to think that Britishness is about telling people to plant flags on their lawn, and a Conservative party that understands the deepest instincts of our great nation.

The only part of the event which was disappointing was the Q & A. I often take the view at this type of event that anyone putting their hand up to ask a question should be automatically disqualified from doing so. And so it proved this evening, with the nutter question quota unusually high. I suspect if this had been a New Labour event all the questions would have been planted. I'm not advocating we do that, but it would perhaps have been better to have had no Q & A.

And so to the Built to Last document. There's always a degree of motherhood and apple pie in this type of statement of aims, but reading it on the train home, there is actually more to this than just a simple run through of traditional Conservative values. If you want to run through the whole document, you can download it HERE. Read in particular the words which are underneath each of the 8 statement of aims in the section What We're Fighting For. They are quite thought provoking, especially the sections on public services and the role of government. I was amused to see the David Davis line of 'standing up for the victims of state failure' given prominence. I could see DD's handiwork in the section on Security and Freedom, which was also highlighted in DC's speech. He made a clear pitch for smaller and less intrusive government and made clear he intends the Conservative Party to take a stand against ineffective authoritarianism. He said he did not want to live in a country with ID cards, where you could be taking your dog for a walk and be 'asked for your papers'. Hear, hear to that.

All in all, a very worthwhile exercise, which has had great media coverage and reenforced the message that the Conservative Party is changing. The emphasis now is on what it is changing to, rather than what it has changed from. And that is certainly progress.

If Ever You Had a Doubt About George Galloway's Insanity...

Update: 1 March. I have had to delete the quote which was originally here from George Galloway. The quote was sourced from Liberal England via Harry's Place who had got it from a BBC website translation of an interview given to an Arab newspaper. This morning I had a phone call from a national newspaper who wanted to follow it up. They have now discovered that the BBC have withdrawn the translation from their website on legal advice. Mr Galloway apparently had registered a complaint. As a result I have withdrawn the quote pending further developments.

"censored censored censored censored censored censored censored censored censored censored censored censored censored censored censored censored censored censored censored censored censored censored censored censored censored censored censored censored censored censored censored censored censored censored"

I don't think I need comment. Hat-tip to Liberal England

Monday, February 27, 2006

NFU Has Betrayed Small Farmers

Another good piece on Newsnight about the National Farmer's Union. Apparently the militants are set to take over. The guy who led the fuel protests a few years ago, David Handley is standing for NFU President. He's unlikely to win, according to Newsnight, but he's being backed by Zak Goldsmith and Mark MacGregor, who stood for the Tories in Thanet at the last election and knows a thing or two about campaigning. Newsnight were billing this as a Cameroonian takeover of the NFU. Hardly. But whatever the result of tomorrow's vote it is clear that some in the NFU view their role as cosying up to New Labour, managing the decline of British farming and allowing the big conglomerates to grow ever bigger, at the expense of the smaller farmer. I speak with some passion, and a little knowledge about this, as my father is one of the small farmers who has been driven out of the industry due to the failures of successive government's policies. He gave up full time farming last autumn after sixty years.

A Reminder of Why I Despise New Labour

I'm watching Newsnight. Neal Lawson has just reminded me why I despise New Labour. What he says is an exemplification of why people hate politicians. A typical New Labour apparatchik. Pass the sick bucket.

UPDATE: Here's one that takes the biscuit. Quote from Neal Lawson: "I came into politics to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor" Er, is this the same Neal Lawson who made an absolute mint from starting up a lobbying company in 1997 called Lawson Lucas Mendelsohn. I wonder how much of the profits from LLM went redistributing money to the poor. I'd love to know. For according to Red Star Research Neal Lawson has boasted of helping GTech, the discredited Lottery company, to win their Lottery contract. Presumably to use the Lottery as a stealth tax on the poor.

Cameron Launches Clause 4 Values Document

Why is it that I have that tingling sense of excitement? I have just watched Nick Robinson on News at Ten repeat Guido's scoop about the major announcement tomorrow by David Cameron that he is publishing a new set of principles and values, which the Party will vote on. Robinson repeated some of the more controversial parts of it, which will cause some people on the right to chunter at the very least. But that, for the Cameroons, might be a good thing. It was interesting to see the cameras being invited into the Cameron kitchen to film him and senior colleagues discussing the final draft. Theresa May and Oliver Letwin were there and the cameras focussed on David Davis nodding rather a lot. I'm going to hear Cameron's speech tomorrow night so I'll post something when I get back from it. There's more on the story HERE.

Tessa Jowell: What's the Big Deal?

I'm not quite sure I can see where this Tessa Jowell stuff is heading. OK, she signed a mortage loan application form, but from the information given in the Sunday press I don't really see this as the smoking gun. To me this just doesn't have the whiff of scandal that one has been able to smell so easily in previous Labour (or, for that matter, Tory or LibDem) sleaze scandals. I may well be proved wrong, but I hope not. The wider body politic can do without yet another scandal.

UPDATE: 23.40pm Sky are reporting that Tessa Jowell and her husband have 9 mortgages on their two houses. Nine! No crime in that, but the Oonagh Blackman, political editor of the Mirror, who is reviewing the papers on Sky, clearly smells blood.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Ming Campbell Bumper Sticker Goes on Sale

Buy it HERE. Hat tip to Niles' Blog

Who Will be the Next Speaker of the House of Commons?

No matter what one thinks of Speaker Martin's abilities as Speaker (not a lot, in my case, as it happens), I'm sure we all wish him a speedy recovery from his heart problems. However, it does raise the question of whether he will see this Parliament out and if he might resign part way through, as Betty Boothroyd did. If he did, let's have a bit of fun and speculate as to who would succeed him. Normally the Speakership alternates between the two main Parties, but as Labour broke that centuries old tradition when they voted en bloc for Gorbals Mick I would have thought that it wasalmost inconceivable that the next Speaker would not be a Conservative. Last time Ming Campbell and Alan Beith stood, but it seems unlikely that either of them would put their names forward next time. Sir Alan Haselhurst, Michael Lord & Sir George Young both stood last time, as did Sir Nicholas Winterton. I would expect Sir Patrick Cormack to throw his considerable hat into the ring. Derek Conway is a senior member of the Speaker's Panel and would add some colour to the role, and although Ann Widdecombe has announced she will retire at the next election, if she thought she could win, she might have a punt. I can't really see
who else on the Tory benches might fancy their chances, but do enlighten me if know different. It's a shame Gwyneth Dunwoody is persona non grata with the government as I think she would actually make rather a fine Speaker, but I think that would happen over the Cabinet's collective dead body. Now there's a wicked thought. So, dear readers, if a vacancy arose this year, who would you vote for? I'm restricting it to Tories to avoid all the LibDem and Labour supporters all voting for their own candidate! Vote in the box at the top of the left hand column of the page. Voting will remain open for 5 days.

Worries over new Falklands Conflict Grow

Remember this famous Sun front page? Scotland on Sunday reports today that worries are growing about Argentinian shows of military strength and their intentions towards the Falkland Islands. Next year is the 25th anniversary of the conflict of April-June 1982. Read the article HERE. This comes in the week that the BBC announced it was abandoning radio broadcasts to the Islands (while starting up two new FM services in Rwanda!). This is just the sort of signal which the Argentinians could misinterpret. The most worrying thing in Brian Brady's article in the fact that the Argentinian Air Force is now twice the size it was in 1982. Tory MP Andrew Rosindell, chairman of the all-party Falkland Islands Group, said: "It is time the British government told the Argentinians they won't get away with this alarming hostility. I hope the Argentine government is not planning any military action, but we have got to learn the lessons of the past and any actions have to be rebutted. The moment we are seen to be weakening, our resolve is going to be questioned." It was the Falklands War that first got me interested in politics in a big way. A twenty year old called Iain Dale was killed in the conflict. I ws 20 at the time. It certainly brought home to me the terrible sacrifices made in the course of defending our rights and freedoms.

Black Dog Bites Sir Nicholas Winterton

I do hope that Sir Nicholas Winterton hasn't read the Mail on Sunday's Black Dog column today. Dog alleged that Speaker Martin had thrown Sir Nick out of the Commons the week before last. He did nothing of the sort. Here's their exchange recorded in Hansard...

Mr. Speaker: Order. If the hon. Gentleman is unhappy about who I call, he is out of order. Those on the Conservative Front Bench make a demand on these questions, and I am obliged to call Front-Bench Members. That means that Back Benchers lose out.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Further to your observation, Mr. Speaker, which was obviously directed—
Mr. Speaker: No, there are no points of order. I will not take the hon. Gentleman complaining—
Sir Nicholas Winterton: I never complained. I never uttered a word.
Mr. Speaker: Well, that is news to me. I have heard him complain.

Black Dog is a very naughty boy. Back in your kennel! You wouldn't get that sort of slapdash reporting in the diary on the Independent on Sunday, would you? LOL

Jeffrey Archer's Week

There's a very good 'My Week' style article in The Observer today by Jeffrey Archer. Click HERE to read it. I rather like Jeffrey Archer and thought all the fuss about him rejoining the Conservative Party last year was full of sanctimonious hyprocrisy. His three volumes of Prison Diaries were brilliant, and while I didn't think they should have been published while he was in prison, they gave a superb insight into prison life. Put aside your prejudices and read them.

The Gover Boils Michael Moore at Centigrade 7-7

Neocon Tory MP Michael Gove, recently voted New MP to Watch, is picking a fight with American polemicist and leftie filmmaker Michael Moore. So incensed was Gove by Moore’s anti-Bush movie ‘Fahrenheit 9-11’ he is publishing his own book in the summer titled ‘Centrigrade 7-7’. Get it? I’m told the title was the idea of veteran publishing magnate Lord Weidenfeld, whose eponymous publishing house will be bringing the book out a week before the first anniversary of the 7-7 bombings.

This is the last of my stories from today's Independent on Sunday diary column. See below for the rest.

Another LibDem in Vomiting, Defecating & Urinating Scandal

I don’t know what the LibDems are drinking at the moment but it does seem to be getting them into trouble. Take LibDem Councillor Isabelle Campbell, for example. She’s up before the Dingwall Sheriff Court in the Scottish Highlands on Thursday accused not only of drink driving but also of "having wilfully vomited, urinated and defecated" in a vain attempt to purge her body of alcohol, to try to avoid being charged. She was also charged with conducting herself in a disorderly manner and breaching the peace in a police car. You might think that as a member of the local Police authority, she might have known better. But the brazen Mrs Campbell is nothing if not a fighter. She has had to resign from the Police Authority but she insists she will stand for re-election in May. "I’ve done nothing wrong," she protests. Perhaps a little too much.

Bush's Brain Advising Berlusconi?

The international aspects of the Italian elections are getting murkier by the day. Stories have begun to emerge in the Italian press that Silvio Berlesconi is being advised by White House Guru Karl Rove. Berlesconi’s campaign certainly carries all the hallmarks of a classic hard hitting negative Rove style with posters going up all over Italy proclaiming "Plenty of illegal immigrants? – No Thank You". Every politician seeks advice from consultants these days but should the rumours prove to be true about Rove’s involvement watch out for the fireworks. Rove would be breaking American Law as he is a paid White House official, not a freelance consultant.

Gordon Brown is Mr Potato Head

Gordon Brown has a new nickname among Treasury who officials, who are growing increasingly bemused by his recent rather comical attempts to change his image from a dour Scot, with the weight of the world on his shoulders, to Mr Happy. Having been someone who could only force himself to break into a weak smile if Raith Rovers won an away game, he has now obviously been instructed by his new best friend Alastair Campbell to break into that rather offputting grin at any available opportunity. Hence the new nickname – Mr Potato Head. Hat tip to myself in the Independent on Sunday!

PodCasts from the Dear Leader?

Imagine yourself sitting on your commuter train and the bloke beside you has got his iPod turned up just that little bit too loud. You’d like to say something, but frankly he looks a bit of a nutter. Chances are that in future he might be listening to a PodCast he has downloaded from an MP’s website. No, seriously. Three MPs are trialling some technology which will enable them to put Podcasts on their websites. So if you fancy learning more about antics of New Tory Ed Vaizey, LibDem Jo Swinson or Labour’s Shahid Malik you won’t have long to wait. It’s all the brainchild of Smooth FM DJ David Prever, who’s set up a Podcasting consultancy, Politics On Demand, with ex LBC Managing Director Mike Flanagan and Ad man Pat Murphy. Can it be very long before we have weekly Podcasts from our Dear Leader? I can hardly wait…

A Lesson in English for Senor Beckham

Fantastic quote from David Beckham in the News of the World today, explaining that he can't do his six year old son's Maths homework. "Maths is totally done differently to what I was teached when I was at school." English too, apparently.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Sunday Times Mention for This Blog

Fame for this blog in the Sunday Times. Roland White discusses the poll we had on favourite Radio interviewers. Click HERE to read the full story.

Don't forget to buy the Independent on Sunday today to read my diary!

The Guardian on David Cameron

It's not often that I find a Guardian leader column very thought-provoking. But today is an exception...

There is an infamous moment in Conservative party history, only partly created by Winston Churchill's subsequent portrayal, when Stanley Baldwin acknowledged putting the party's electoral prospects ahead of the country's need to rearm. It is the 70th anniversary this year of the Commons debate when Baldwin told MPs that no party advocating rapid rearmament could hope to have won the previous year's election, as he had with 53% of the popular vote. Tory diehards are already preparing the ground
for a similar charge of betrayal against their new leader. For the moment, the Thatcherite grumbling - most recently in this newspaper by Stanley Kalms and in the columns of Prospect magazine by Robin Harris - signifies nothing more than proof that David Cameron is moving in a more electable direction. He is doing much better than any of his recent predecessors; but is not yet doing terribly well. Since his election in December, the Tories have nosed ahead in the polls after 14 years of flatlining, a big achievement. However, the lead is only a few points, and sometimes not even that. He cannot afford too many catastrophes like the Dunfermline byelection result when the Tories were left trailing in fourth place, and he would be ill-advised to await the kind of crisis that Thatcherites remember so fondly, the winter of discontent that transformed tax-cuts, monetarism and hostility to trade unions into electorally attractive propositions. The government has problems ahead, but as David Cameron rightly anticipates, they are unlikely to lend allure to the doctrinaire agenda of the traditional Tory diehard. So far, Mr Cameron has been lucky and smart. The one area where he would not be forgiven for abandoning the old party line is Europe. Instead, he has incurred the wrath of other European centre-right leaders and taken it to an even more sceptical position by promising to withdraw Tory MEPs from the European People's party. Since Europe does not loom large on the domestic horizon, and residual feeling tends to the hostile, he has escaped serious difficulty. But he has taken significant risks with treasured party dogma on tax, on selection in education, women in politics and - though not yet fleshed out - the environment. Among the electorate he has established himself, despite flimsy evidence, as the greenest of the current crop of party leaders. It is not clear what interventionist powers a Cameron government would take to pursue his aspirations. His bravest move has been to declare against the 11-plus and further selection in education - the move that seems most to have irritated one of the party's leading backers, the spread-betting tycoon Stuart Wheeler. Almost as provocatively, he is clearly determined to use the power of Central Office to ensure that Conservative candidates in the next election will represent contemporary society a good deal more effectively than at the last, a move that has ruffled many in a party that is still inclined to cite Margaret Thatcher as a pioneer of gender equality. There are undoubtedly affronted Tories, although nowhere near enough to justify the renegade UK Independence party's claim that offering them succour will restore its fortunes. Mr Cameron can safely assert that the two-to-one margin by which he won only last December is a mandate for change. He knows his political history: and he has a far greater challenge than cuddling up to the core vote. He has to prove that his party has a reason to exist into its third century. It positioned itself on the wrong side of the modernisation argument in the 19th century and teetered on the brink of it in the first half of the 20th. But it has always had an appetite for power that has fostered what the Conservative historian Lord Blake once called "wholesome pragmatism". It may not be glorious. But it's what democracy is for.

New Poll in the News of the World

Hot News from the Press Association...

By Andrew Woodcock, PA Chief Political Correspondent Gordon Brown is the clear favourite to be the next Prime Minister, ahead of Conservative rival David Cameron, according to a poll released today.The survey for tomorrow's News of the World puts Brown a commanding 12 points ahead of Cameron as voters' preferred successor to Tony Blair in 10 Downing Street. Some 45% of those taking part chose the Chancellor as the best PM, against 33% for his probable opponent at the general election expected in 2009 or 2010. The result suggests that, despite giving the Tories a sustained lead in the polls since his election in December, Mr Cameron still has a significant mountain to climb before he can be confident of seizing power from Labour. The detailed results of the ICM poll indicate that, while Mr Cameron has to a great extent succeeded in presenting himself as a likeable personality, he is yet to persuade voters of his leadership abilities. Respondents rated Cameron as more presentable than Brown - by an overwhelming 61% to 22% - as well as more likeable and less arrogant. More said they would like to go for a drink with Cameron than with Brown, and a majority said they thought the Tory leader was more likely to stop what he was doing to help them out. Some 54% thought the Chancellor would avoid paying for a round of drinks, compared to 21% for Cameron. But Brown was rated most in touch with the issues that matter by a margin of seven points, most trustworthy (by 11 points) and the best leader (by seven points). Asked who looked most like a Prime Minister, those taking part in the poll plumped for Mr Brown by a margin of 43% to 40%. :: ICM Research interviewed 1,025 adults between February 23 and 25.

Links Policy on This Blog

I've added quite a few links to the directory in the left hand column in the last few days, so do check them out. If you have a blog then let me know and I will happily add a link - it doesn't have to be a Tory blog. You'll see a rnage of LibDem and Labour bloggers listed. The deal is that you add a link here too. With the number of hits I'm getting at the moment, you won't regret it! So if you want me to add your link, just send an email to iain AT iaindale DOT com.

Just for information, these are the sites I get most traffic from...

1. Guido
2. PoliticalBetting.com
3. Conservative Home
4. Paul Linford
5. RightLinks
6. Stephen Pollard
7. Quaeqaum/Liberati
8. Campaign for an English Parliament
9. Liberal England
10. Kevin Davis

Tory Women Off to Washington

News from Washington, where, following hot on the heels of William Hague and George Osborne, a formidable group of 18 senior Tory women will be hotfooting it to the American capital next week (followed by myself, three weeks later!). I hear they are trying to get one up on the Shadow Cabinet team and secure a meeting in The White House, albeit with the First Lady. The purpose of their visit is to learn how the Republicans have won back the womens’ vote. Fiona Hodgson, who chairs the Conservative Womens’ Organisation, is leaving no stone unturned in her quest to get more women involved in politics. She’s set up meetings with Republican Party chairman Ken Mehlman as well as a host of pollsters and consultants and Bush’s Labor Secretary Elaine Chao. Now there’s a lady who would tick two boxes for the Tory candidates ‘A’ List. Ms Chao is the first Chinese-American to make it to the Cabinet – quite an achievement for a lady who arrived in the US from Taiwan at the age of eight speaking not a word of English. Something she has in common with her President then…

A few days before the trip the CWO is holding a seminar on green politics where they will be addressed by Zak Goldsmith. It seems to me that Fiona Hodgson is doing what some of her predecessors have failed to do and making the CWO a little more political. This can only be a good thing. I always felt that part of their problem was that they couldn't break out of the traditional image of a Tory woman (or should i say 'lady'), and were therefore never taken seriously by the Party. From what I have detected, Fiona Hodgson and Margot James, the new Vice Chairman for women's issues, are making quite a difference.

Something of the Flight

Michael Howard will be spluttering hover his breakfast this morning when he reads The Telegraph Spy column. It reports that Slough Conservatives have elected Bruges Group Director Robert Oulds (pic left) as their chairman. It was Oulds, you will recall, who was deselected after he was photographed on a friend's bed surrounded by guns. Not satisfied with that Slough Conservatives made his successor as Candidate, Adrian Hilton, a Vice President. Hilton was also deselected for having odd views on the supposed Catholic hegemony of the EU. And all this in the week when Howard Flight was accepted back onto the Candidates list. Sandra Howard says her husband doesn't have a short fuse, he has no fuse. Not a quiet morning in the Howard household, I suspect.

Playing Devil's Advocate on Public Sector Pensions

One blog I look at fairly regularly is the Devil's Advocate. He's written a diatribe this week on public sector pensions and how the private sector is having to pay for them. Well worth a read. While still in rant mode, he comes up with these gems...

I joined a pub discussion about the gay footballers and their curious
antics as exposed by the News of the World. “That wouldn’t have happened in
Bobby Moore’s day”, nodded one bore. I’m not surprised. Can you remember the
size of mobile phones back then? ... Finally, as I inched to work through the
snow and ice this morning, I heard a NuLabour mad woman on Radio 4 demanding
that we should stop watering our gardens and flushing our toilets forthwith or
there’d be standpipes in every street by Easter. Ain’t life grand?... My
man Whittaker skulks through the stable yard in the early hours of Wednesday
morning clutching a black balaclava and an A-Z of the Tonbridge area. Later that
day he is seen buying drinks all round in the Dog and Blunkett with a brand new
£50 note. For some reason, this makes me feel a trifle uneasy.

Click HERE to read more

Friday, February 24, 2006

Plaid Cymru is to Politics What Crossroads Was to TV

I see Plaid Cymru have had a 'makeover'. Click HERE. Their new logo reminds me of the old ATV logo that used to come on the TV before Crossroads. Not that I ever watched Crossroads. No. Never. Not ever. Really.

Grant Shapps on E-Campaigning

Interesting interview HERE with Grant Shapps MP on his use of e-campaigning.

Which 24 Hour News Channel Do You Prefer?

Fresh from its success as RTS News Channel of the year, BBC News 24 is becoming increasingly aggressive in its battle with Sky News for the attention of us news junkies. This week's Press Gazette has a front page article on the fight for supremacy. Sky had its own way for many years, but since Peter Horrocks took over as BBC Head of News News 24 has had a very successful relaunch, increased resources and fresh new presenters. Sky also had a very expensive relaunch in October with new studios, new presenters and new programmes. The BBC thinks this has been a disaster. I wouldn't go that far, with the one exception of James Rubin's international show, which goes out weekdays at 8. He is incapable of reading an autocue and is wooden beyond belief. But the half hour newspaper review at 11.30pm is required viewing now, and has prodded News 24 to introduce two paper reviews, one to beat Sky at 10.45 and a second, longer one at 12.15am. Emily Maitliss and Ben Brown will be presenting a new weekday show at 7pm on News 24 and they are trying to persuade Huw Edwards to present a 5-6pm how every day too. One thing which hasn't worked for Sky is the innovation of three presenters on screen at any one time. It destroys the chemistry that build up between certain duos and with them wandering around the studio like lost ducks looking for mother the viewer is left slightly confused as to what is going on. However, there is a degree of informality, which News 24 has yet to emulate - and some would say a jolly good thing too. And Sky have the consistently excellent Jeremy Thompson (news presenter of the year), Kay Burley, Steve Dixon and Martin Stanford. I never see either of their breakfast coverage so I'm not sure how Eamon Holmes is doing. Sky's political coverage is also very good - does Adam Boulton ever get any sleep? But it's not just him - they also have Jon Craig and the ever entertaining Peter Spencer. News 24 has beefed up its political coverage with James Landale taking the lead role. So, which of the two do you normally switch on? Take part in the poll...

Free polls from Pollhost.com
Which 24 hour news channel do you prefer?
BBC News 24 Sky News

Ken Livingstone Should Resign

I've just heard on Sky News that Ken Livingstone has been suspended from office for a month for the comments he made to an Evening Standard journalist, likening him to a concentration camp guard. The Standards Board for England, who have made the judgement, are rapidly becoming a revolting kind of thought police. Yes, his comments were illjudged and he should have apologised, but who are these unelected people? What they're doing is denying the people of London the services of the person they elected to serve them. As you might imagine, I don't agree with Ken Livingstone on anything, but when people elected Ken, they knew full well what they were getting. If I were Ken I would consider resigning and fighting a by-election (I presume the system allows for this). This is a freedom and speech and democracy issue. It's about the power of unelected quangos to usurp the democratic process. The Standards Board for England and the Adjudication Panel should be abolished.

Blair to Nuke Scotland

Well, sort of. Tony Blair is on his way to speak at the Scottish Labour Conference in Aviemore, but on his way he's going to stop off to blow up part of the country, but all in a good cause - to enable work to start on building a hydro-electric power facility. It appears in his speech he will talk about the benefits of nuclear power. Should stir things up a bit.

Has George Pascoe-Watson Got it in for Cameron?

It's interesting to see the tug of war that appears to be developing at The Sun between new political editor George Pascoe-Watson and his immediate predecessor Trevor Kavanagh. Kavanagh is a Thatcherite Tory and would like nothing better than to get The Sun supporting the Tories again, yet GPW appears to be doing all he can to trash Cameron and boost Gordon Brown. It was also noticeable that Kavanagh did the piece 'outing' Simon Hughes, which you would have thought would have been done by the political editor. Today's write-up of the MORI poll is a good example where GPW has gone slightly OTT - and this on top of the hard time he gave the Tories over the Dunfermline by-election leaflet and the next day's PMQs. This contrasted with a very positive piece for Brown about the public finances with a boost in revenue from taxes filling his "22 million black hole". Tory sources are openly speculating that GPW has been 'got at' by the Brownies and isn't giving their man a fair crack. It has to be said that the Cameroonian style was never going to be immediately attractive to The Sun, as they revel in confrontation and he doesn't. But the Tory spin doctors shouldn't be panicked by this. Their task is to play the long game with The Sun, ignore any barbed comments and mount a two year long charm offensive. The Sun was never going to cut and run from New Labour very quickly. Until it sees the substance behind the smile it won't move. But let's not kid ourselves, The Sun's support will be a crucial part of performing well at the next election. But it only backs the winner. If it sees Cameron as the winner, it will back him. If it doesn't, it won't. That's why the Cameroons need to play a long game.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

A Tribute to Norwich Conservative Activist Marjorie Lloyd

I've just had a very sad phone call from a good friend in Norwich to tell me that a lady called Marjorie Lloyd has died. I doubt whether anyone reading this blog will have met her, but she was one of a kind. I first met her in the mid 1980s when I was working for Patrick Thompson, the then MP for Norwich North. She replied to an In Touch leaflet and offered to deliver a whole housing estate for us. As the 1987 election approached, she came to work in the party HQ and was an invaluable member of our team. Whenever I went back to Norwich I tried to go to visit her. She was always someone who knew how to look on the bright side of life. She loved her bowls and was the most active 84 year old I have ever met. Even on Friday, she was playing tennis! She collapsed on Sunday on her way home from church with a massive stroke. I'll remember her with a great deal of affection.

Not That I'm One to Gossip, But...

I forgot to mention that I am writing the Independent on Sunday diary this week. It's not all political stuff, so if you have any juicy snippets from the world of entertainment do email me at the usual address (see above!).

Blunkett's Dog Ate My Yorkshire Pudding

A Popbitch Correspondent writes:

"I had lunch at the Great Gallery on Pall Mall last week. David Blunkett was having lunch with Rebekah Wade, Trevor Kavanagh and another man from The Sun. During lunch Rebekah got up to go to the toilet, which prompted the other three men to start whispering together. So no-one realised that at that moment Blunkett's guide dog popped up and ate Ms Wade's Yorkshire Pudding from her plate."

OK, my headline isn't quite as good as FREDDIE STARR ATE MY HAMSTER, but it's the best I can do, OK?!

New Poll on Switching from Miles to Kilometres

So let's hear what you think about Neil Kinnock's suggestion of switching over the Kilometres...

Do you agree with Neil Kinnock that miles should be replaced by kilometres?
Don't Know
Don't Care
Free polls from Pollhost.com

Scrap the Mile Says Kinnock

I've just been watching News 24 who are reporting that Neil Kinnock says we should scrap the mile and adopt kilometres instead. Go swing on it, Neil. Impeccable judgement as ever. I'm sure that'll be a real votecatcher. The residents of Cambridgeshire village Six Mile Bottom will no doubt look forward to being renamed Six Kilometre Bottom!

UPDATE: Yes, thanks to all those who have pointed out is should be Nine Point Six Kilometre Bottom!

FURTHER RANDOM THOUGHT: If harmonisation is the reason for this move, then shouldn;t we all switch to driving on the right?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A NATIONAL Health Service?

Last week Ann Marie Rogers (pic right), in her own words, was sentenced to death. She had requested that her local health authority pay for Herceptin medication to treat her breast cancer. They refused. She took them to court. She lost. Rogers has already undergone a breast mastectomy and chemotherapy treatments, but she was hoping that Herceptin would decrease the chances of her cancer recurring. The court ruling may potentially hurt thousands of other English women who currently receive funding for the medication. And yet, what do we hear today? If Ann Marie Rogers lived in Wales, she'd be OK. See HERE. And if she lived in Scotland she'd be OK too. See HERE. It surely renders the concept of a NATIONAL Health Service a joke. However, I am sure Ann Marie Rogers and her family will find it distinctly unfunny that their taxes are paying for Welsh and Scottish women to be given the treatment which their own country denies her. What a disgrace.

Galloway on Gay Rights in the Middle East

Britain is in no position to blame the Middle East for the harsh treatment of homosexuals, according to George Galloway.

Oh really?

Speaking exclusively to PinkNews.co.uk, the Bethnal Green and Bow MP claimed that years of military intervention and interference in Arab countries by Britain and the West meant they couldn’t complain about homophobic attitudes in the Middle East and said anti gay laws could be justified by the Koran.

What planet does he live on?

Mr Galloway told PinkNews.co.uk: "Intervention by Britain in the Middle East has a bad name unsurprisingly. In the context of military intervention that you have to see it. If you go around the world invading other peoples' countries, slaughtering their compatriots, and occupying them and then arming and training the puppets that you install in your wake, you're not in a position to make interventions of other kinds in terms of their attitude to issues like this.""There are a very large number of homosexuals in the Arab world, the official rhetoric is often well short of the actual practical situation is on the ground."

Of course it is George, of course it is. They are havens of understanding and tolerance. Ever been out on gay scene in downtown Cairo? No? Perhaps it's because there isn't one. I wonder why that would be...

To read George's unedited views on this issue click HERE.

More on the Sharia Law Poll

The Mid-Atlantic Blog has an update on the Sunday Telegraph Muslim poll which showed 40% of British Muslims in favour of the introduction of some sort of Sharia Law into the UK. It seems that rather unbelievably more Muslim women that men are in favour. Here's an extract...

40% of the total sample were in favour [of Sharia Law being introduced into Britain], with an equal number against. Look at it on the segmental basis, though, and things change. Women, for example, turn out to be net in support of the introduction of Sharia law in certain circumstances (a net of 3% in favour) while men are mildly opposed (a net of -6%). Those under 35 are in favour (+5%), while those 35 and over are opposed (-9%). ABC1s are strongly opposed (-12%), while C2DEs are quite strongly in favour (10%). Voting intentions are interesting too, with Tories (-33%) and LibDems (-21%) very strongly opposed, but with Labour supporters actually neutral on the issue (a net of 0%, believe it or not). There is quite strong support in the Midlands (+8%), with opposition in the South (-7%).

To read more click HERE.

How to Vote in the Banana Republic of Birmingham

I've just been having my daily flick through the threads on PoliticalBetting.com. Today they've been discussing postal voting and the debate got on to voting abuses. The following is from a post by someone called Iain from Birmingham. He doesn't say which Party he's from. This is shocking...

"I’ve seen presiding officers trying to sling out correctly appointed polling agents, agents and even the candidate. I’ve even seen that happen where people not correctly appointed from the other parties have been inside the station working it. I’ve seen people being allowed to canvass and hand out palm cards inside the polling station. I’ve seen women hand over blank voting papers to fill in to men and when I exploded in a fit of rage, I was told it was a cultural practice and I was being racist. I’ve seen people showing a polling agent their vote. I’ve seen presiding officers ignore me when I’ve issued a challenge to a voter. I’ve seen presiding officers ignore the law on things like tendered ballots. I’ve seen the police called on tellers who are outside the gates of the polling station. I’ve seen tellers in places where they shouldn’t me (including at least once, some of mine ). Before the new easy-fraud postal system, I’ve seen mini-buses of young men going from polling station to polling station with some old geezer giving them fresh poll cards at each station. I’ve seen polling cards not delivered to flats, just dumped at the bottom of the stairs ready to be scooped up. I’ve seen binbags used as ballot boxes “because it was full”. I’ve seen gangs of people intimidating voters outside polling stations. I know this because I’ve had voters to say they wanted to go and vote but were too scared. I didn’t see, but was told that there was a small pitched battle outside a couple of polling stations in 2005, I’ve certainly seen a polling station where it was very close to kicking off. I’ve watched an election lost by 24 votes where it was proved that at least 30 voters in person were dead, in prison or out of the country on the day. We screwed up the election petition, sadly, and as usual the powers that be were not interested."

The Electoral Commission was set up by Tony Blair in 1999 but I see scant little evidence of voting procedures having become more secure. I wonder if this is because the Commission is actually a rather toothless quango. On many occasions it has recommended change to the Government and the Government has completely ignored them. What's the point in having an Electoral Commission is you're going to constantly ignore its recommendations?

Earl Preston of the Ordinary Boys & Duchess Chantelle

It appears that Preston from Big Brother and the Ordinary Boys is the Great Great Great Great Grandson of Earl Grey, Prime Minister from 1830 to 1834. Grey betrayed his wife and had a notorious affairs with the Duchess of Devonshire. Preston betrayed Camille and has an affair with Chantelle. And they say history doesn't repeat itself...

Hat tip to Jonathan Calder and BBC Online

Taking Multi-Culturalism Too Far?

This is the list of languages currently spoken at the White Hart Lane School in North London. The new head teacher has said that in future all lessons will be taught in English. The previous head teacher is now a government adviser and reputedly was taken on for his 'innovative' approach in a multi-ethnic school. What do we all think about this? Did the previous approach take multi-culturalism too far? Is a zero tolerance approach to using languages other than English likely to work? My own view is that the best thing for a harmonious society in future is if we take every measure we can to integrate immigrants into British society and being able to speak the language is pretty fundamental to this. Without the capability of speaking English a child is likely to recede into a ghetto culture, from which it might be difficult to escape.

Hat tip for graphic to A WelshView

Quiz: Who Said This?

In September 2002 the Government published their notorious dodgy dossier. A few days later, which leading politician said the following?

"He (Saddam) most certainly has chemical and biological weapons and is working towards a nuclear capability. This dossier contains confirmation of information that we knew or most certainly should have been willing to assume. Saddam's possession of chemical and biological weapons, have been eloquently demonstrated by this dossier."

Feel free to leave your guesses in the Comments section. I will post the answer at 7pm.

UPDATE: Yes, correct, it was Ming Campbell. The reason I raise it was after seeing a letter on the subject in The Scotsman. It read...

I was interested to read that Sir Menzies Campbell, one of the three candidates hoping to become leader of the Liberal Democrats, received great applause for his comments on the war in Iraq to a recent hustings meeting in Edinburgh for party members (your report, 20 February). Sir Menzies seldom passes up an opportunity to boast that on that matter he got it right all along. Sir Menzies seldom passes up an opportunity to boast that on that matter he got it right all along. But did he? If readers were to turn to Hansard (24 September, 2002), immediately after the publication of the 45-minute dossier (the so-called "dodgy dossier") you can see what he said then. After denouncing the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, as an evil tyrant who posed a real danger to both his own citizens and people from neighbouring countries, Sir Menzies went on to say: "He most certainly has chemical and biological weapons and is working towards a nuclear capability. "This dossier contains confirmation of information that we knew or most certainly should have been willing to assume. Saddam's possession of chemical and biological weapons, have been eloquently demonstrated by this dossier." Sir Menzies should explain why, and at what point did he have such a dramatic change of mind.

And I always thought he was such an expert on foreign affairs...

Vote 2006 Discussion Forum Opens

The demise of Dan Hamilton's Vote 2005 discussion forum was much lamented by many...apart from those of us candidates who were subjected to a bizarre form of ritual abuse on it. However, the good news is that I can report that a new Vote 2006 forum has been opened by Iain Lindley. There isnb't much on it at the moment, but I'm sure that will change once people discover it is there! You can go to it HERE.

How to Change the Way Government Works

A friend of mine, Daniel Forrester, has just launched a new blog in America at GovernmentChangeAgents.com. Snappy, eh? He works for Sapient who are a large management consultancy practice and since 2001 he has been heading up their advisory team to the US Department of Homeland Security. Yesterday they launched a paper which highlights the need for innovation and change in government departments. Its perhaps not difficult to guess that many of his conclusions apply to government here too. In fact, more so. The press release blurb says...

The paper captures interviewees’ insights on the concept of change agents in government. Tom Ridge, former Department of Homeland Security Secretary, defines a change agent as someone who “effectively redirects the capacities of individuals or organizations to achieve either better results for a traditional mission or new outcomes based on another assignment.” Scott Hastings, CIO for the US-VISIT program at the Department of Homeland Security, is cited in the paper stating, “Change agents see what is and see what ought to be. You come into the senior executive service government ranks because you see a problem and are willing to take risks to fix it.”

Daniel says: "There is an urgent need for a new breed of leader to spearhead change within government. This research will be a powerful tool for current and future government executives who seek to understand how to have a lasting impact within their agencies and across the

If you'd like to download the full report CLICK HERE. If any broadsheet journalist thinks this would make a feature I'd be happy to pass on Daniel's contact details.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

42% of Kids Born Outside Wedlock

These figures, out today, are on the face of it rather worrying. The number of
children born outside marriage has gone up from 10% to 42% in 25 years. BBC
Online reports:

The proportion of children born outside marriage in the UK has leapt from 12% in 1980 to 42% in 2004, according to the Office for National Statistics. In contrast, 15 other EU countries had an estimated average of 33%, the annual ONS' Social Trends report said. The average UK household size fell from 2.9 to 2.4 people from 1971 to 2005. This was due to more single-parent families, smaller families and an increase in households of just one person, the ONS said. From 1986 to 2004, the percentage of non-married people under 60 who cohabited rose from 11% to 24% among men, and from 13% to 25% for women.

I am not qualified to comment on this in detail but it seems to me that the increasing crime rates among the country's youth cannot be totally divorced from this. I think something like 80% of some kinds of crime are down to youth offenders. In some parts of Britain children are growing up with no male influence in their lives at all. I remember a primary supply teacher telling me how he was often mobbed by children in the playground. They would hold on to his legs as to them, being male in a position of authority, he was an oddity - almost a celebrity. Single mothers have one of the toughest tasks life can throw at them but it's often just as hard for the fathers too. I don't pretend to have an answer. It's no good indulging ourselves in moralising lectures yet at the same time we cannot just stand by as if it doesn't matter. The figure on the graph which interests me is Germany. Perhaps we should be looking to them for advice. Ideas on a postcard please...

Adam Boulton's New Blog

I had lunch today with Adam Boulton, political editor of the excellent Sky News. I said I'd plug his new blog. So visit it HERE!

Cartoon Museum Opens in London

It's great to see that at long last a Cartoon Museum is opening in London this week. Run by the Cartoon Art Trust, it will be located near the British Museum in Great Russell Street. More on it HERE.

Arsenal 0 Real Madrid 2

It comes to something when Real Madrid have more English players on the pitch than Arsenal. 16 year old Theo Walcott is the only British player in the Arsenal squad and he is on the subs bench. Real Madrid have Beckham and Woodgate. Doesn't bode well for the English national team, in future, does it?

CORRECTION: Woodgate's off injured after 8 minutes...!

UPDATE: 9.45pm. I never thought I would ever be able to bring myself to write this, but....oh God....can I really.... WELL DONE TO ARSENAL. There. I've said it. Happy?

Tories Must Avoid Division

The Guardian is just reporting that Tory donor Stuart Wheeler has just been on 5 Live denouncing David Cameron. I didn't hear the interview myself so I will restrict myself to saying this in as kindly a manner as possible. Shouldn't political donors be seen and not heard? If they are donating money for philanthropic reasons - which the overwhelming majority are - then they normally neither expect or want anything in return. But occasionally there are those that donate money and expect the Party to then follow their policy agenda. And if the Party doesn't do so, there is a very willing media who are happy to report signs of division and disagreement. Just look at the reporting of Robin Harris's article in Prospect Magazine. If we Tories haven't learn by now that signs of division are anathema to the electorate and will be leapt upon by our opponents, then where have we been for the last decade?

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Highs and Lows of a Political Canvasser

Antony Little was Conservative Candidate in Norwich South at the last election. He's 26 and teaches at a high school in Norwich. Just the sort of candidate we need to encourage. and he's also got a rather good BLOG. His latest posting reveals the frustrations of a political canvasser. Make sure you read the last paragraph. No matter what Party you support, I suspect you'll feel a degree of empathy...

Canvassing is one of Britain’s great political traditions. We live in a country where a near stranger comes onto your land and asks you about your civic right to vote in a secret ballot and then leaves to record that information on a database. In many countries, such as France and the USA, canvassing simply isn’t done. I think it is a great way of bring the feet of politicians back down to earth. This month we’ve delivered a leaflet across the whole of Bowthorpe and Earlham and sent out roughly 5000 questionnaires. But nothing prepares you for the views of the population.There are three groups of people who are, though, making life though. The first are those people who simply won’t open their doors. I think that’s running at about 5% at the moment. They are in, the windows are open, the TV is blaring out and they ignore you.Then there’s the next group, I think touching 10% who don’t care why you are there but want to be rid of you. One look at somebody they don’t recognise and it’s “no thank you,” then slam! Is that a “no thank you” to politics, the Conservative Party, me personally or simply anybody in the world you don’t yet know?Lastly there are the group who tell you they simply won’t vote. Now I’ve never accepted the argument about not voting. The parties aren’t the same and yes your vote will make a difference (Labour majority in Bowthorpe and Earlham is 14 votes). However, these days there seems to have been a culture shift. During much of the previous 50 years not voting was frowned upon and even if you didn’t vote you didn’t admit to it. Nowadays people wear the “non voter” label like some kind of badge of honour. It’s almost as if some of them say, “you can’t hold me responsible for the state of the nation because I don’t vote.” Actually, it is those people I DO hold responsible for the state of the nation. As we went down the streets in West Earlham, two gents were washing a car. They enquired what we were doing (well, half a dozen people clutching clipboards and discussing what Thatcher would say about the state of the pavements in Earlham). When I explained who we were, they both said they never vote. Then one ventured the idea that no time or money was ever spent in Earlham whilst places such as Lakenham, Mile Cross and Marlpit get all the investment (never mind if this is true, it is what he thought). When I explained that if he felt like that he needed to change the people in charge – Labour have won the area since the 1960s – he said, “oh, no, voting’s not for me”. Rather like the curious argument that “I’m too old to vote” (no word of a lie, people do say that) this is a bit of a cop-out. If people like that gentleman had voted (plus 13 more), I’d have been their Councillor for two years and I think things would have been different. Also there are the people who say they don’t vote but just lie. After elections the parties are given what is called a “marked register” which lists who did and didn’t vote. It doesn’t tell us how you voted, just if you did or not. During the day 23 people told us that they never vote but had done so only last May. We know that they almost certainly wanted to hide the fact that they weren’t voting Conservatives (in fact the common view is that people like that vote LibDem but are utterly ashamed to admit it) but why feel the need to lie? Canvassers don’t attack and if you tell the truth then we don’t come back. If you say, “I might vote for you” when you don’t mean it, then we will come back! In total, we met (no word of a lie) 136 people who said they weren’t going to vote. That is more than the total number of pledges for Labour, LibDems and Greens added together. It seems all politicians have more work to do.During our Friday and Saturday canvassing sessions we came across a variety of issues. Youth provision needs improvement and people want real street policing to be re-introduced. Council tax is too high but, sorry LibDems, there was no appetite to replace it with the higher-charging Local Income Tax. Roads and speeding came up and also the development at Three Score was a big concern.

We got 2 new members, one new poster site and a collection of very angry dogs.We saw one naked woman, one naked make UEA student, two babysitters, three builders, three people unable to speak English, one person who didn’t know what the Conservative Party is, two people clearly still drunk from the night before, two of my ex-students, one Chairman of the Bowthorpe Labour Party, one Labour Councillor, two domestic incidents, one police van, two cleaners from the UEA and (amazingly) three people who claimed to work for the British Nuclear Authority – all in different houses.All we need to do now is to get them to vote.

Back to you in the Studio Fiona. Cluck Cluck.

BBC News becomes more like Drop the Dead Donkey every day. I have just watched the ridiculous sight of Environment Correspondent Tom Heap being interviewed about bird flu from inside a dark chicken hut. Come back Damian Day. You were ahead of your time!

UPDATE 10.40pm. Jeremy Paxman just introduced Environment Minister Ben Bradshaw live from outside his house in Shepherd's Bush. Now bearing in mind BBC TV Centre is actually in Shepherd's Bush one wonders why Ben Bradshaw couldn't get into his Ministerial car and leg it on down to be interviewed by Jezza in the studio.

Kate Hoey: A Correction

Letter in the Telegraph

Sir - In their interview with me (News,
February 17
), Alice Thomson and Rachel Sylvester say that I was wearing "a
Gucci watch and a jacket trimmed with fake fur".The fur was real. The Gucci
watch was fake. Kate Hoey MP, London SW1

Pure class.

Bird Flu - Read This & Be Very Frightened

As bird flu wings its way closer to these shores we can all take comfort from the fact that the man who headed up the Ministry of Agriculture at the time of BSE is publishing a book called THE POLITICS OF BSE. Richard Packer, the Perm Sec at the Min of Ag, will no doubt launch a staunch defence of his own role, despite being panned by the Committee of Inquiry. It's highly unusual for a civil servant to go into print like this, but few will be buying the book as it's priced at a hefty £50! And should you decide to buy it, you won't get a lot of reassurance about the government's capability to handle a bird flu outbreak. This is from the book's promotional blurb...

He reveals the awful truth about the lack of information about this new disease and how the decisions taken to protect public health were a combination of informed guesswork and sheer good fortune.

I suspect a number of farmers will be horrified to read that. I don't expect they will be clicking HERE to buy it...

The ID Cards Bill - What You Can Do To Help Defeat It.

Andrew Watson of No2ID has asked me to publicise the final stage of their lobbying campaign on the Identity cards Bill. He's trying to get as many people as possible to write to Members of the House of Lords before it considers the Bill again on Monday 6 March. Click HERE and then HERE to find out more.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Visit to American Presidential Libraries

I am going to Washington at the end of March and am thinking of tacking on a few days to go to the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station and the LBJ Library in Austin. I just wondered if any of you have been to either of them and if you tell me if the trip would be worth it. I've been to the JFK, Nixon and Reagan libraries already.

Rod Liddle on What Patricia Banned Next

Rod Liddle in the Sunday Times today echoes my post a few days ago (scroll down to Wednesday 15 February), predicting that banning alcohol in pubs is next on Patricia Hewitt's hit-list. In fact, some might say the resemblance to my article is uncanny. Read for yourself HERE.

Nick Clarke Talks About Being Legless

While I was at the BBC last night I picked up a copy of their in-house magazine (known as BBC Pravda) Ariel. An article on Radio 4 World at One Presenter Nick Clarke caught my eye. Nick has just had to have a leg amputated because of cancer. He tells of a listener who wrote to him saying he had been as affected by his ansence from the airwaves as he had been by the wthdrawal from service of the Routemaster bus! After describing himself as legless in a World at One newsletter, a listener wrote in saying: " I hope you don't mind clarifying one point - are you really legless, or do you still have a remaining leg?" I hope he's back on the radio soon.

Lobbying Companies and All Party Groups

Liam Halligan, who's day job is Channel 4 News Economics Correspondent, has a very good article in the business section of today's Sunday Telegraph. It is headlined "Its good that MPs shop around for assistance" and examines the links between lobbying companies and All Party Groups, using the All-Party Parliamentary Small Shops Group as an example. He comes to the conclusion that the links are by and large, which contrasts to the rather hysterical tone in recent articles in The Times on the subject. Click HERE to read the article.

Test Your Political Knowledge

Click HERE to take part in the Politics Show Quiz of the Week. I got 8 out of 10.

Forty Per Cent of British Muslims Want Sharia Law

I have just got back from doing the paper review on News 24. If you read this before you go out to buy your Sunday papers, let me give you a word of advice. Go back to bed and save your pennies. Rarely has there been such a boring batch of Sunday papers. The main story I talked about was the poll of 500 British Muslims in the Sunday Telegraph. Apparently 20% of them have some degree of sympathy with the 7/7 suicide bombers, 40% believe that Britain should be governed by Sharia law and 9% have no affinity or loyalty to Britain. The last figure may not be surprising as I suspect there may be roughly that number of Christians who hold the same view, but the figure which should send a chill down our spine is the first one. I think it is hard for most of us to understand how anyone would have any degree of sympathy with or understanding for a suicide bomber no matter what their cause. Just as I am afraid I do not understand the mentality of people who go out on the streets urging the heavens to open on anyone who prints a cartoon. I don't remember Christians rioting in the streets when the BBC transmitted Jerry Springer the Opera, which many found profoundly distasteful and blasphemous. This kind of reaction is just not something we can relate to. And how do we compreend the fact that 40% of British Muslims believe Britain should in part be governed by a form of Sharia Law? Are we to have religious police? Are we to have public stonings and allow amputations? In the end Britain is a Christian country and although I am not religious myself, I do believe the time is approaching when we had all better start standing up for the kind of society we believe in. Our country has a tradition of encouraging Judeo-Christian values and at times we are now being made to feel as though we shouldn't stand up for them. Well we should and we must. All that stands in the way of us doing so is a perverted adherance to political correctness. And those who we seem to be afraid of offending laugh at the fact that we seem ashamed to call Christmas by its proper name - that we aren't allowed to have carol services for fear of offending people of other faiths. The one thing we can do tough is to ensure that moderate muslim community representatives make their voices heard. Too often they are drowned out by their more radical brethren. Muslim MPs like Shahid Malik are going to carry an awful lot of responsibility on their shoulders and so is the Muslim Council of Britain. It is time for them to stop their public hand-wringing and display the leadership they have so far sadly lacked.

Take a look at this piece from Canadian journalist Margaret Wente about the introduction of Sharia Law in Canada (yes, really!). Believe me, if we're not careful it'll happen here....

Homa Arjomand knows what it's like to live under sharia law. In Iran, she endured it until someone tipped her off that she was about to be arrested and imprisoned. Many of her activist friends had already been tried and executed. She, her husband and two small children (the youngest was barely one) escaped on a gruelling trip by horseback through the mountains. That was in 1989.Today, she lives in a suburb northeast of Toronto. Her job is helping immigrant Muslim women in distress. And now she is battling the arrival of sharia law in Canada."We must separate religion from the state," she says emotionally. "We're living in Canada. We want Canadian secular law."Sharia law in Canada? Yes. The province of Ontario has authorized the use of sharia law in civil arbitrations, if both parties consent. The arbitrations will deal with such matters as property, marriage, divorce, custody and inheritance. The arbitrators can be imams, Muslim elders or lawyers. In theory, their decisions aren't supposed to conflict with Canadian civil law. But because there is no third-party oversight, and no duty to report decisions, no outsider will ever know if they do. These decisions can be appealed to the regular courts. But for Muslim women, the pressures to abide by the precepts of sharia are overwhelming. To reject sharia is, quite simply, to be a bad Muslim.Ms. Arjomand's cellphone is constantly ringing -- with calls of support, or calls for help, or updates on various crises. A client of hers has just that day died of cancer, leaving behind a nine-year-old daughter. The husband was brutally abusive, and now the dead woman's family is terrified that he's going to take the daughter, who was born in Canada, and go back to Iran. Ms. Arjomand has been trying to get Children's Aid to intervene.In the burgeoning Muslim communities around Toronto, it's customary to settle family disputes internally, by appealing to an imam or an older person in the family. "I have a client from Pakistan who works for a bank," Ms. Arjomand tells me. "She's educated. She used to give all her money to her husband. She had to beg him for money to buy a cup of coffee. Then she decided to keep $50 a month for herself, but he said no."They took the matter to an uncle, who decreed that because the wife had not been obedient, her husband could stop sleeping with her. (This is a traditional penalty for disobedient wives.) He could also acquire a temporary wife to take care of his sexual needs, which he proceeded to do. Now the woman wants a separation. She's fighting for custody of the children, which, according to sharia, belong to the father.The law permitting a sharia court was passed in 1991, when Ontario sought to streamline the overloaded court system (and save money) by diverting certain civil cases to arbitration, including arbitration conducted on religious principles. Jewish courts have operated in the province this way for many years. "People can agree to resolve disputes in any way acceptable," said Brendan Crawley, a spokesman for the Ontario attorney-general. "If they decide to resolve disputes using principles of sharia and using an imam as an arbitrator, that is perfectly acceptable under the arbitration act."Promoters of Islamic law in Canada have been working toward this goal for years. Last fall, they created the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice, which has already chosen arbitrators who have undergone training in sharia and Canadian civil law. The driving force behind the court is a lawyer and scholar named Syed Mumtaz Ali, who was quoted last week saying "to be a good Muslim," all Muslims must use these sharia courts.Many Muslims, including many women, are enthusiastic about giving Islamic law an official place in Canada, and they emphatically deny that it will harm women's interests. On the contrary. They insist that under Islam, a woman's rights are protected. "We follow the Islamic law, secure with a perfect sense of equality between the sexes," wrote Khansa Muhaseen and Nabila Haque in a letter to the Toronto Star, where the sharia debate has been raging fiercely.Opponents of the new tribunals argue that the government's imprimatur will give sharia law even greater legitimacy. Sharia law is based on the Koran, which, according to Muslim belief, provides the divine rules for behaviour. What is called sharia varies widely (in Nigeria, for example, it has been invoked to justify death by stoning). The one common denominator is that it is strongly patriarchal.Alia Hogben is president of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, a pro-faith group with members from every Muslim culture. But the council was never consulted about the new sharia courts, and it strongly opposes them."This is a very difficult position for us to be in because we are believing women," says Ms. Hogben. "But to apply Muslim family law in Canada is not appropriate." In Britain, she adds, the government has flatly rejected councils for sharia law.Both Ms. Hogben and Ms. Arjomand -- the former an observant Muslim, the latter not -- are lobbying hard for Ontario to change the arbitration law.(Ms. Arjomand has launched a petition, which you can find through a web search for "International Campaign Against Sharia Courts in Canada.")When Ms. Hogben's family came to Canada 50 years ago, the Muslim population was tiny. In the 1970s, she and her husband started a tiny mosque in Toronto that they shared with Albanians and Bosnians. Today, Canada's Muslim population numbers more than 600,000, and many Muslims live in self-contained enclaves where there is little interaction with the outside world. Ms. Hogben welcomes the stronger sense of identity among Muslims now. But she warns that many of the new arrivals have brought with them a far more rigid version of Islam. "A lot of money is being poured into North America from very traditional groups from Saudi Arabia and Libya," she points out. These groups are not known for their tolerance of other versions of Islam, or for their progressive attitudes toward women.Immigrant women are among the most vulnerable people in Canada. Many don't speak English, are poorly educated, and are isolated from the broader culture. They may live here for decades without learning the language, and stay utterly dependent on their families. They have no idea of their rights under Canadian law.Both Ms. Hogben and Ms. Arjomand say that we are sacrificing these women on the altar of multiculturalism."This is an abuse of multiculturalism, says Ms. Hogben. "There is a lack of courage [on the part of governments], and also a fear of offending Muslim sensitivities.""I chose to come to Canada because of multiculturalism," says Ms. Arjomand, who gave up a career in medical science to work with women who are victims of abuse. "But when I came here, I realized how much damage multiculturalism is doing to women. I'm against it strongly now. It has become a barrier to women's rights."

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Daily Telegraph - Ideal for Pheasant Pluckers Everywhere

I was just flicking through The Spectator while...well, let's not go there... and came across a wonderful little anecdote about the size of newspapers. Martin Vander Weyer was talking to a woman over lunch about the success of the Observer now that it has gone to its new Berliner size. Apparently its circulation is up by 25%. "Oh dear," said the woman, "I simply couldn't bear it if the Telegraph went tabloid." Some of thought it did that content-wise years ago, but that's by the by. When she heard that Vander Weyer wrote for the Telegraph she said to him"Now you go and tell them from me, I shall be most put out if they change the size. It's perfect for plucking pheasants on!"

Employment Law Kiwi Style

In the 1980s New Zealand led the way in free market economics. Roger Douglas (pic right) and Richard Prebble (pic left) trailblazed privatisation and deregulation which countries round the world were to emulate. And they were ministers in a Labour government. When Labour decided to ditch these policies they formed their own Party, ACT. Under the government of Helen Clark there has been much backsliding and I was interested to read on the excellent Kiwi Blog about a new labour relations law which the government wishes to introduce. Here's David Farrer's take on it.

In 2000 the Government introduce the Employment Relations Bill. It was a draconian bill and the huge uproar from employers saw many of its worst provisions deleted before it was passed. Then in their second term Labour brought in amendments that reintroduced many of the draconian aspects they had relucantly dropped in 2000. And then again after an uproar the select committee took out some of the worst aspects. But now into the third term they are going for it again. How the law will work under this change is as follows. Say you have a small to medium sized business. And you employ a cleaning firm to clean your premises. Now let's say after a year you have had crap service from the firm. The cleaners don't do a proper job, they often forget to do stuff etc and you sack the cleaning firm after you find a new cleaning firm. However the new cleaning firm will be forced by law to hire the very same staff that were doing such a lousy job at the old cleaning firm!!

Echoes of state socialism at its worst. No doubt it's the sort of thing the TUC would like to see introduced here.

John Pardoe's Missing Bald Patch

Christo on PoliticalBetting.com quotes Simon Hoggart in today's Guardian...

‘This Lib Dem leadership election is pretty tame stuff. Back in 1976 David Steel, a tough political knife-fighter, knew that his opponent, John Pardoe, was easily riled and that his ill-temper could end any chance he had. So he mused in front of two reporters (me and the man from the Daily Mail, as it happens) about Pardoe’s missing bald patch. Where had it gone? When the articles appeared, Pardoe duly went berserk, talking about “descending into the sewer” and the “drip drip drip of the total lie.” Steel won easily. They seem innocent times.’

My Top Ten Political Novels

Paul Linford has posted his Top Ten Political Books. So always being one to jump on a bandwagon (!) I thought I'd follow his lead, but give you my Top Ten Political Novels instead. My definition of a political novel might be different to some people's, but you will gather from this list that I enjoy a plot which centres around Parliament. I started to write a political novel myself a few years ago (which unbelievably featured Charles Kennedy as Foreign Secretary oin a Tory led coalition!) but only wrote one chapter. I came across it again the other day on an old computer and it read rather well. Maybe I should have another go!

1 Second Term by Simon Walters
A ripping yarn about a Labour Prime Minister trying to get a second term in office. I published this book at Politico's even though we didn't normally do fiction. Several of the fictional pieces then turned into reality. Strange but true. Buy it HERE.

2 Aachen Memorandum by Andrew Roberts
A little noticed novel by historian Andrew Roberts. Centres around the implosion of the EU in 2045. Absolutely gripping. Now sadly out of print.

3 A Very British Coup by Chris Mullin
Left wing firebrand Harry Perkins becomes PM but doesn't reckon on the opposition of the security services. Subsequently a brilliant Channel 4 drama. Buy it HERE.

4 House of Cards by Michael Dobbs
The first of the trilogy, featuring the cunning chief whip Francis Urquhart and his memorable phrase, "you might say that, I couldn't possibly comment". Buy it HERE.

5 Line of Beauty - Alan Hollinghurst
Set in the latter Thatcher era it centres around the life of a coke snorting, gay sex addict who actually gets to meet Mrs T. Won the Booker Prize and is about to become a BBC2 drama. Buy it HERE.

6 Winston's War - Michael Dobbs
First of the tetrology of novels with Winston Churchill as the main character. Dobbs has started a new genre in historical fiction which works surprisingly well. Buy it HERE.

7 51st State - Peter Preston
Former Guardian editor imagine how Britain might become a 51st State of the United States. Far fetched but somehow he makes it seem just that little bit feasible.

8 Black Book - Sara Keays
Cecil Parkinson's former amour writes a salacious novel about the Black Book in which whips record the transgressions of their fellow MPs.

9 A Parliamentary Affair - Edwina Currie
Edwina's novels are highly readble and enjoyable, with a fair degree of bonking thrown in, it has to be said. This and its sequel, A Woman's Place are undoubtedly the best.

10 Palace of Enchantments - Douglas Hurd
Hurd's best novels were written in the 1960s and 1970s and have all been recently re-released. This one features a junior Foreign office minister who is desperatre to become Foreign Secretary. Buy it HERE.

Do post your own favourites in the Comments section.