Thursday, August 31, 2006

Hoby's Road to Nowhere No 2

Click to enlarge. Visit Hoby's website HERE...

Top Ten Things Not to Say to the Police When Caught Speeding

PC Bloggs, in her ever helpful way, tells us about the top ten remarks that will guarantee you a ticket...

1. I pay your salary.
2. Haven't you got anything better to do?
3. I'm going to miss my flight now.
4. Please don't - I've already got 9 points.
5. I've got three babies in the back, don't let them see this.
6. My wife/child/aunt is dying in hospital!
7. Someone else was driving. He ran off that way.
8. While you're here, I'm being harassed by my neighbour.
9. I was too busy talking on my mobile phone and didn't notice the speed.
10. The accelerator was stuck on.

I must say that the line "I've just been slagging off John Prescott on Newsnight and I am rushing home to watch it on TV, officer," always seems to work for me...

UPDATE: Mars Hill Blog takes this on a stage further and gives the Policeman's likely response to each of the above HERE.

Hammers Enter the Big Time

I have spent the whole day in a state of nervous exhaustion, constantly refreshing the West Ham Website Homepage to see if it really could be true that the two best footballers in South America had really signed for us. Other Hammers fans will know the meaning of the words 'just like my dreams, they fade and die'. We all expected it to be some massive hoax that Carlitos Tevez and Javier Mascherano had signed for us, but signed for us they have. This deal reminds me of the one that brought Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa to Tottenham in the late 1970s. It gave Spurs a huge boost and this really could propel the Hammers into the big time. But let's not get carried away. Oh sod, it let's. Have a look at this video of Tevez, and tell me youre not just that teensiest bit jealous that he hasn't signed for your team.

Some useful phrases (courtesy of the West Ham mailing list) for our new Argie Argentinian players...

"el pastel doble y tritura por favor amor" - "double pie and mash please luv"
"Así que usted ha hecho página tres?" - "so you've done page 3?"
"mejor marca mina un shandy" - "better make mine half a shandy"
"yo siempre he admirado a chicas inglesas" - "I've always liked English birds"
"estoy aquí como la parte del trato de Carrick" - "I'm here as part of the Carrick deal"
"he soñado de jugar delante del corral durante muchos años" - "I have dreamed of playing in front of the Chicken Run for many years"
"fuera Brown!" - "Brown OUT!"

And in Entertainment News Today...

I never tire in telling people about my trashy taste in music, and no 1980s group sums this up more than Dollar. So you can imagine my delight when I read in Private Eye yesterday that Dollar's David van Day has signed up to the Conservatives and is standing for a local council seat in the unfortunately named Skidrow ward in East Sussex. He really is a SHOOTING STAR. let's hope he won't need his HAND HELD IN BLACK & WHITE [That's enough - ed].

And in other non political news to annoy my readers today, it seems West Ham have pulled off the transfer of the year and signed the best two players in South America, Carlitos Tevez and Javier Masherano, as well as a young Czech goalkeeper who chose the Hammers over Real Madrid. Wise boy. UPDATE 5pm: Click HERE to find out why I'm a happy Hammer tonight.

PS Sorry for lack of meaningful posts today. Brain is tired. Back to normal this evening (hopefully). What would you like me to write about?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Des Browne Up Against the Wall

James Cleverly is throwing his toys out of his pram over Des Browne's performance as Defence Secretary HERE.

Jonathan Sheppard has a revealing interview with Lord Bell HERE.

Tales from Bob Piper No 94

Bob Piper always has a good yarn to spin on his BLOG, but I was delighted to see this little tale in a Comment he left on the Tom Watson story below.

"On the subject of the Brown-Blair business, I was out canvassing with one Midlands Labour MP in the General Election when, upon hearing of the fuss being created because Labour MP's were not putting the Leader's photo on their election address, promptly got on the mobile to his agent."Make sure Tony's photo appears on the election address" said the ambitious MP. About three doors down he stopped, phoned again, and said, "Oh, and make sure there is a picture of Gordon too!"

Why are we not surprised! Wouldn't have been Tom Watson by any chance?!

Ming's Dilemma: Friend or Party

Ming Campbell comes in for some flack in today's papers for keeping quiet about Charles Kennedy's drink problem. Magnus Linklater in The Times wonders if these lines from E M Forster floated into Ming's head as he contemplated the decision he had to make...

"If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I would have the guts to betray my country."

I accept that all those around Kennedy had a terrible dilemma, but it says much about the way Ming and his colleagues would seek to govern us that they chose the 'betray my country' option for so long.

Remember, these people allowed Kennedy to be their candidate for Prime Minister not once but twice in the full knowledge that he had a debilitating drink problem.

I really do appreciate the personal dilemmas involved here, but when the time came to exert leadership they were all found wanting. Those six million people who voted LibDem were betrayed. And in the end, that's all the electorate will remember from this sorry episode.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

David Miliband Gets Down With The Dudes (And Can't Spell Doherty)

Can anyone shed any light on a very strange posting by our revered Secretary of State for Wasting Taxpayers Money on His Blog the Environment on his blog? Click HERE. Not being an NME afficionado myself I do wonder if he's having an identity crisis... But the trouble with politicians trying to get 'inda house' is that they usually come a cropper. If David Miliband really knew who the lead singer of Babyshambles was, he'd presumably spell his name Doherty, rather than Docherty. Oh well, back to saving the planet... Hattip for graphic to Curly

What do Segolene Royal & David Cameron Have in Common?

I've written an article for CommentIsFree today comparing David Cameron with Ségolène Royal, the likely Socialist candidate for the French Presidency.

You wouldn't think a French Socialist and a British Conservative could have much in common, but you'd be wrong. Take Lionel Jospin and Michael Howard, for instance. No self-respecting paparazzi photographer would have wasted two minutes on snapping them in their respective swimwear, yet Ségolène Royal and David Cameron were submitted to the full gaze of the tabloid lens. Why? For one reason only. They've both got It - It being that indefinable star quality that touches those who are destined for stardom. Sometimes you can acquire It (Margaret Thatcher did) but more often than not you've either got It or you haven't.

Ségolène Royal is everything that Socialist leaders traditionally never have been: female, Blairite and stunning. Cameron is everything Tory leaders traditionally are not - young, with a full head of hair and ideologically neutral. Just as Royal is willing to ditch the hard core leftwing policies that led to Jospin's humiliation last time, Cameron is losing no time in dropping the Thatcherite inheritance that he believes has bedevilled his party for 15 years. All that is needed is for Samantha Cameron to enter politics and the comparison will be complete. Unbelievably, Royal's partner,
François Hollande, with whom she has had four children, is seen as her main rival for the Socialist party's presidential nomination.

Both Cameron and Royal are seen by many in their respective parties as seeking to emulate Tony Blair, both in style and substance. Both deny it, yet it's easy to see why the accusation can be made. Royal knows that with its current policy platform her party is unelectable. She has seen what Tony Blair had to do to make the Labour party capable of winning an election and she is determined to drag the French Socialists kicking and screaming into the 21st century. And Cameron? He believes parts of his party have barely made it into the 20th century and is determined to exploit his undoubted mandate from those very same people to modernise, modernise, modernise.

Interestingly, Lionel Jospin is deploying exactly the same tactics to criticise Ségolène Royal as David Davis did to trash David Cameron. Davis criticised Cameron for his aspirations to be the "heir to Blair", while Jospin had a go at Royal's use of the media and her blog to go over the heads of Socialist party leaders to reach party members directly. He says: "Informal links do not provide content. Technique does not replace politics. There has to be ideas, convictions and the issues have to be explained."

The subliminal message was that the slip of a girl hasn't really got the faintest idea and these things should be left to those who know about them - that is, a group of 60-year-old men who have done so disastrously in the past. And by transmitting this message, Jospin is playing into Royal's hands in exactly the same way that their British equivalents are doing David Cameron's dirty work for him. Both Royal and Cameron must be laughing themselves silly.

Check out Segolene Royal's Myspace page HERE.

Tom Watson's Shift of Loyalties

Tom Watson is an ex Labour whip and is now a Labour Defence Minister. He was one of the first politicians to blog. Today he he written THIS extraordinary post attacking Stephen Byers. He shows good taste, you may think, in his choice of opponent, but his post shows more clearly than anything that the sands in the Labour Party are-a-shiftin'. Tom Watson has always been seen as a tooth and claw Blairite, yet his cosying up to Gordon Brown is clear for all to see. Here's his post in full...

Steve Byers is being a very busy policy bee lately isn't he? In the media, if not in the House of Commons. Interestingly though, his recent pronouncements on inheritance tax have been soundly condemned by many colleagues, some in public, many more in private. I'm not sure if that's because of the issue or because people worry that Stephen is more concerned with picking internal fights than mapping out our policy future. Assuming that Gordon Brown is the choice of the Labour Party to replace Tony Blair, then I think he will have a team of people who are overflowing with ideas for the future. Ed Balls, Jacqui Smith, David Miliband, Pat McFadden, James Purnell, Andy Burnham, Liam Byrne, Yvette Cooper, Douglas Alexander, Caroline Flint and others - these are all ministers under 45. All of them are cooking on gas with policy ideas. He's worrying too much. Chill out Steve.

I wonder if Tom is attempting to add himself to that long list. He is after all a mere babe in arms at the age of 39. Hat tip to Spin Blog.

How Many ex-DCMS & Greenwich Council Employees Work for AEG?

The revelation on the GreenwichWatch site that Rosa D'alessandro, the AEG employee who misrepresented the position of the Greenwich peninsula chaplaincy, is a former senior executive with Greenwich Council raises a number of questions.

Sadly I haven't got the time today to answer them, but I'll ask them anyway in the hope (and expectation!) that Her Majesty's Press can provide the answers.

1. How many other ex members of Greenwich Council staff do AEG employ, and what were their former roles?
2. How many former DCMS officials or advisors are employed by AEG?
3. What are their roles within AEG and do they undertake any form of lobbying activity?

I must admit that having heard their Chief Executive David Campbell on the Today Programme this morning I am far from reassured by their apology to the Chaplaincy group. It seems clear to me that there was a blatant attempt by AEG to misrepresent the position of the Peninsula Chaplaincy and they were found out. While the apology was welcome, the damage was done. I trust that the Super Casino Panel which meets tomorrow will take this into account in their questioning of Mr Campbell and his colleagues.
UPDATE: A further update on GreenwichWatch: We've just received an email containing the allegation that when the press tried to view the Dome's development plans at the Council's office, they were turned away and told to get permission from AEG and Freud Communications first. How odd?!

The Blog Pyramid Effect Strikes Again

Yesterday's exclusive about the Anschutz Casino bid in Greenwich has not only made the front page of the Daily Mail, but all the broadsheets (except the Independent). It also made the final interview of the Today Programme. All the newspapers and Today attributed the story to this Blog, apart from The Times. Words will be had...

I may be wrong but I think this marks yet another step change in the relationship between the mainstream media and blogging. Journalists are far more willing to 'go' with something they see on a blog than they were even a few months ago. There's no longer that slight distaste that was there before. Most have finally come to realise that there can be a mutually beneficial relationship between the blogosphere and journalists, which doesn't have to turn into a destructive one.

There is another phenomenon which this story illustrates. I make no pretence for being a super sleuth which uncovered the AEG emails. I merely put them 'out there'. This is the third occasion when someone who is involved with a smaller blog has approached me with information which they feel would be ignored if it just appeared on their blog. They believe that if I put it on my blog it will get the attention it deserves. So there's a sort of BLOG PYRAMID EFFECT developing. I know Guido has experienced the same. There's nothing wrong with it - it merely mirrors the same trend in the national media. Many stories you see in the national papers have appeared (albeit maybe in a slightly different form) in a local or regional paper the day or week before.

Monday, August 28, 2006

EXCLUSIVE: LibDems Knew of Kennedy's Drinking for Years

Tomorrow The Times will serialise Greg Hurst' new biography of Charles Kennedy. It alleges that senior Libdems knew of Kennedy's drinking problem when he was first elected leader in 1999. It also reveals that Kennedy planned to make his alcoholism public in July 2003 but backed out at the last minute. When his drinking became a real issue his four closest aides (Anna Werrin, Dick Newby, Jackie Rowley and Lord Razzall) hatched plans to hide it from the public. Sir Menzies Campbell was also complicit in the deceit and according to The Times, the revelation will "call his judgment into question".

The book also offers an explanation for Matthew Taylor's fall from grace. In 2004 Sir Menzies Campbell and other senior MPs met Charles Kennedy, who was asked if he was an alchohlic. He replied "Yes". Matthew Taylor, then Party Chairman, repled: "The next time you pick up a drink, you give up being leader."

UPDATE: This has just been posted in the Comments... "I was a BBC reporter at the time of the 2005 General Election and I was preparing to interview kennedy. was going to ask about his drinking. I was warned off by the Top Brass only to find my assignment list was altered." Regular readers will remember a little spat I had with Nick Robinson when I accused him and others in the lobby of 'maintaining a conspiracy of silence' over certain issues. What I meant by that was that mainstream media journalists were keeping quiet about things which were entirely relevant to a politician's ability to do his/her job or stank of hypocrisy. Prescott's affairs and Kennedy's drinking were two examples I used. I'd love to hear from other journalists who were ordered by their bosses to keep quiet about various issues, which they might have felt were in the public interest. Anonymity is guaranteed.

As luck would have it I am doing the News 24 paper review at 10.50pm and 00.15 am!

PS: I suppose I ought to declare a minor interest in this book, having originally commissioned a book on Charles Kennedy when I was still with Politico's Publishing in 2003. It was meant to be written by former LibDem Policy Director Duncan Brack, but he decided not to go ahead in the end. After I sold Politico's Publishing they signed up Greg Hurst of The Times to take it on.

The Top 100 Conservative Bloggers: Nominate Your Choice Here

At the Conservative Party Conference there will be a bloggers stand, for the first time. I'm not entirely sure what it will be, who will be on it or what it will look like, but rest assured that the profile of bloggers at the Conference will be higher than it has ever been.

I'm about to produce a leaflet which will be given out to people at the conference which will explain what blogging is to the uninitiated and give a list of what I consider to be the Top 100 Conservative Blogs (anyone out there wish to sponsor it?!). The list will be primarily made up from those in my links section (see down the left hand column), but I am sure there are plenty of others which I have not yet linked to. If you'd like to nominate a blog for inclusion in the list, please do so in the Comments Section.

The ranking will not be arbitrary but it will obviously by definition be subjective. I will be marking each blog out of 100, for design, writing ability, freqency of posting, personality, humour, commentary, popularity, independence of thought, range and interaction.

So, let's hear your thoughts on who should be in the Top 100...

UPDATE: I am grateful to Sir Bentley Pauncefoot for this comment: I have no strong views as to which bloggers should appear on your list, just so long as at least fifty percent of them are women...

UDATE 2: Please nominate Conservative related blogs that do not appear in my links or that I might never have heard of. All of those who have nomianted their own blogs can rest assured that they were all in the list anyway!

EXCLUSIVE: Anschutz Company Leaked Emails Show AEG Spinning Out of Control

John Prescott's best mate Philip Anschutz has been up to his old tricks again. Anschutz, you will recall, owns the ranch which Prescott famously visited to discuss AEG's Casino bids the Slave Trade but didn't register the trip with the House of Commons authorities. Anshutz's company AEG is currently trying to persuade the relevant authorities to grant it the Super Casino licence in order to build it on the Greenwich Peninsula. The Daily Mail reports HERE today that it has somewhat pre-empted the decision and started to build the shell of the building which will hold the casino.

Professor Stephen Crow, chairman of the Casino Advisory Panel, suggested that the joint bid by Dome owner Philip Anschutz and Greenwich Council was in the lead because building work had already started on the Las Vegas-style casino. This admission triggered cries of foul play from opposition MPs, who said it was worse than cricket's ball-tampering scandal. Professor Crow's panel will start public hearings into the seven bids this week before recommending one site before the end of the year. But it emerged last week that Mr Anschutz's firm AEG has jumped the gun by constructing the shell of an 'entertainment complex' on the Dome site at Greenwich.

So what have I got to reveal that's new? Well, readers of the excellent GreenwichWatch blog will already know that AEG has been caught falsifying documents which are due to presented to the DCMS Casino Panel this Wednesday. Click HERE to see a document from AEG listed on the DCMS website (I bet this will have been removed by tomorrow) . To cut a long story short, AEG has now been forced to apologise to the Greenwich Chaplaincy for misrepresenting their views. Click HERE and HERE for the full details.

The full exchange of emails between AEG and the Greenwich Chaplaincy has been leaked to me and can be seen HERE in full.

It starts off with an email from Revd Malcolm Torry to AEG representatives...

I'm sorry I've had to send a rather intemperate email to the Department of Culture with copies to people who might be rather concerned about what look like views emanating from the Greenwich Peninsula Chaplaincy. You really ought to have asked.

Following a slightly apologetic reply from AEG, Revd Torry replies more starkly...

I'd be perfectly happy for genuine correspondence to be published - but there hasn't been any, and the paper on the Culture Dept. website looks like a letter from me and it isn't one. I can see that some of the phrases in it are taken from the paper which we published on a possible casino, but much of the document has been simply made up and it has a tone which is positive towards the casino plan whereas the paper which our trustees put out is negative (in varying degrees, because different faith communities contain a spectrum of views). Yes, our paper also contains a promise: that if there is a casino on the peninsula then we shall offer to be chaplains to it so that we can serve the needs of workforce and visitors; but most of the content is what different sacred texts say about gambling: and they're not complimentary.

By now, it;s clear that AEG realises it has a crisis on its hands and the cudgels are taken up by AEG Chief executive David Campbell, who writes this full blown apology...

I cannot excuse the fact that this summary should have been cleared with you. I don't know how this happened but it is a mistake and as CEO I am ultimately responsible and so apologise unreservedly to you and your colleagues. I sincerely hope this genuine mistake does not stop us all moving forward with the many excellent areas of your work on the Peninsula.

It's quite clear that yet again, AEG is playing fast and loose with the truth in order to get their own way. I'm not sure what the remit of the DCMS Casino Panel is, but I hope they do their duty on Wednesday and give AEG the hardest grilling they have ever had.

Hattip to Greenwich Watch for background research and original story

What Conservatives Expect of George Osborne

I've already made my views on lower taxes very clear. I don't always agree with Shipley MP Philip Davies, but on this issue he sums things up perfectly in today's Telegraph...

"We can't tiptoe around the subject. We have to be confident in what we believe: that lower taxes increase economic activity and thus produce a higher tax take. We should not be fighting the battle on Gordon Brown's ground, arguing about how to slice the cake. We should be saying to the public: you have been overcharged for your public services and here is your refund."

In yesterday's Sunday Telegraph George Osborne gave an interview to Melissa Kite in the Sunday Telegraph in which he emphasised again his cautious approach to economic reform. Here are some quotes from the interview...

"What the Conservative Party needs to understand is that we have to be seen as people who can responsibly run the economy. When they come to vote for us, people need to know that their mortgages are safe. We are making a lot of progress on that...Economic stability must come first. Second, there are plenty of other taxes out there [he had earlier ruled out abolishing Inheritance Tax]. It's an amazing fact of Gordon Brown's tax system that the poorest people pay the highest proportion of their income in taxes. One of the things we need to look at is whether we can take low income people out of tax... The Thatcher Opposition promised tax refom, they said they would reduce some taxes but increase others. They did not promise to reduce taxes overall. And indeed, when that government actually came in, Geoffrey Howe's priority was getting a grip on inflation and the tyax burden actually rose. So those who say the Conservative Party is in government a tax cutting party or it is nothing should look at the early history of the Thatcher government."

There are some good points in that, but the last bit is a slight rewriting of history. Let me quote from the 1979 Conservative Manifesto...

"We shall cut income tax at all levels to reward hard work, responsibility and success; tackle the poverty trap; encourage saving and the wider ownership of property; simplify taxes - like VAT; and reduce tax bureaucracy. It is important to cut the absurdly high marginal tax rates both at the bottom and the top of the income scale."

Is there a single word of that quote which every Conservative could not sign up to today? However, George is right to say that there was also a commitment to raise some taxes. Again, quoting from the 1979 manifesto: "We must therefore be prepared to switch to some extent from taxes on earnings to taxes on spending."

I think all some of us are asking for - and will continue to ask for - is a commitment to reducing the level of the overall tax burden over the lifetime of a Parliament. No one expects huge tax cuts in the first budget of a Tory government. But we do expect a clear signal to be given that Conservatives believe taxes are too high and that under a Conservative Government they will not only be made fairer and simpler, but also lower.

Memories of Sir Alfred Sherman

The Godfather of Thatcherism, Sir Alfred Sherman has died. You can read his full obituary HERE in the Daily Telegraph, but I wanted to add a few thoughts and memories of my own of Sir Alfred.

I first met him in the late 1980s at a time when he had been despatched from the Thatcher circle. At the time I was campaigning to persuade the Thatcher government to abolish the Dock Labour Scheme and in the process of building a coalition of interests to support the port employers's argument. As part of this I occasionally attended lunches at Aims of Industry (now defunct) run by the inimitable Michael Ivens. Sir Alfred was always present and would invariably hold court, reducing the rest of us to a stunned silence. I remember thinking to myself that he was the cleverest, intellectually most brilliant man I had ever met. But he was also exceedingly rude, and it was this character trait that led to most people surrounding Margaret Thatcher to cast him into the wilderness. They just could not cope with his persona and his brain.

I next encountered him in the late 1990s when he would turn up to booklaunches at Politico's. He constantly badgered me to publish his memoirs. In one way I was tempoted, because I knew that he was a Thatcherite before she was. His account of how he influenced her and gave the Thatcher Opposition the intellectual ballast it needed would surely be a pageturner. But two things held me back. Sir Alfred said he had never written more than 1500 words at a time and doubted whether he could write the whole book himself, so a researcher/ghost writer would be needed - not something I could finance. And secondly, I increasingly had sympathy with those 1980s Thatcher advisers who felt they couldn't cope with him. To me the relationship between a publisher and an author has to be a close one, but I didn't feel I could cope with Sir Alfred in various ways. So I put him in touch with Conservative academic and author Mark Garnett, who spent the next three years helping Sir Alfred put the book together. By the time it was ready I had sold Politico's Publishing and the book, Paradoxes of Power: Reflections of the Thatcher Interlude was eventually published by Imprint Academic. You can see more details of book HERE.

Sir Alfred was a complex man, a brilliant man, a difficult man and a scholar. His full contribution to the Thatcher revolution has not yet been recognised.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Colouring the World Red

I just stumbled across a SITE where you can 'map' the countries you have visited in the world. The countries in red are the ones I have been to. It certainly brought home to me how much more of the world I have to see. I've never been to Africa, South America or the Far East. There's just never enough time. In the 1980s and 1990s I went abroad three or four times a year but in the last few years I haven't travelled very much at all. Compiling these maps has made me think a lot about where I'd really like to go.

Prescott's Two Sons in Sleaze Allegations

For a change, it's not John Prescott who's in trouble in the Sunday papers, it is his two sons, David and Johnathan. I've only jhust got round to reading the Mail on Sunday but they have a story about David Prescott getting a House of Commons pass for his son David (whose daytime job is as a PR consultant/lobbyist) to carry out "media monitoring" work while Prezza was in charge of the country. Yeah, right. Like Prescott doesn't have an army of civil servants and Labour Party hacks to do that for him. Having been through the process, it takes some time to get a House of Commons pass - in my case three weeks, but I have heard of it taking a couple of months. I suspect that Prescott therefore arranged for it to be 'fasttracked'. But I wonder if David Prescott declared his interest in Geronimo Public Relations (proprietor, Gez Sagar, former Head of Media for the Labour Party) on the application form. I don't suppose we will ever know (and that's a hint to any journalist with a good contact in the House of Commons Pass Office!).

The Sunday Times makes allegations against Johnathan Prescott for using Prescott's grace and favour flat to entertain clients. It ends with a quote from a Prescott spokesman who says "It's a private matter and he can do what he likes with the flat". Not when it is owned by the taxpayer, he can't.

So, a few more chips in the Prescott armour. But that's all they are, chips.

Independent on Sunday Diary Column

The news that two of the finest heads of hair in journalism are to take over ITV’s Sunday political show, has opened up a new career opportunity for ITN newscaster Alastair Stewart. As Andrea Catherwood moves from Mark Austin’s deputy on the News at When to join Andrew Rawnsley on the Sunday sofa, Stewart has been promoted to replace her in the number two slot on the ITV late night news show.

It’s quite a coup for Stewart who was convicted three years ago of a drink driving offence and lost his high profile job as presenter of ITV’s Police, Camera, Action. And earlier this year he was ousted as chief anchor of the ITV News Channel when it shut down.

Speculation is also rife that Andrew Rawnsley will now be forced to give up his Sunday night presenter slot on the Westminster Hour. However, a decision on Rawnsley’s future is unlikely to be taken immediately if only because the programme’s editor Terry Dignan is on holiday, as is his boss James Stephenson, as is his boss Rick Bailey. BBC insiders think it is a particularly odd move by Rawnsley as the Westminster Hour has an audience double the size of the old Dimbleby programme, and anyone who’s anyone in the political world listens to it. But Rawnsley’s friends say he was never happier than when he was presenting Channel 4’s A Week in Politics with the much missed Vincent Hanna. This was the programme which gave Martha Kearney her break in political broadcasting and it would be deeply ironic if Rawnsley’s defection to ITV opened up the Westminster Hour for Martha Kearney to take over. Stranger things have happened.


There was a mild sense of panic at Talk Sport last week when George Galloway hadn’t shown up to present his Sunday night show, but with minutes to spare he ran into the studio hopelessly out of breath and almost unable to speak. It transpired that his open top red sports car had caught fire on Battersea Bridge and with time running out our intrepid hero had to leg it to Talk Sport’s Waterloo studios, leaving his passion wagon smouldering on the roadside. Rumours that members of Mossad were spotted in a getaway launch on the Thames heading towards Putney were said to be wide of the mark. I think.


As the UKIP leadership race draws to its conclusion at least two of the leadership candidates appear to indulging in a bit of mutual backscratching. Former Tunbridge Wells Tory Chairman David Campbell-Bannerman and MEP Nigel Farage are the two favourites to succeed to the charismally-challenged Roger Knapman but I hear that Farage has proposed Campbell-Bannerman for membership of the exclusive East India Club. Farage’s Brussels colleague Godfrey Bloom is his seconder. It’s either an illustration of the gentlemanly nature of UKIP leadership contests, or a hostile takeover of the East India Club. If I were them I’d be thinking about a blackball.


Good to know that the Dunkirk spirit is alive and well among British Airways air hostesses, or flight attendants as we must now call them. On the day of the latest airport terror alerts a group of Al Jazeera journalists landed at Heathrow on their way to the States. Their outbound flight unsurprisingly experienced a lengthy delay, but it wasn’t until they were eventually airborne that they discovered the real reason for the delay. It was nothing to do with the terror alerts at all. Apparently the BA trolley dollies objected to being asked to take their stockings off as part of a security check, and they duly downed tools, if that’s an appropriate expression. Quite how they were eventually coaxed out of their stockings is best left to tasteless speculation.

Meanwhile, it appears that BAA is taking drastic action to improve the speed of their security checks at Heathrow. According to a friend of mine to flew to Los Angeles last week Duty Free shop staff are being given one hour’s training and drafted in to search passengers’ bags. They’re none too happy about it and openly admit they haven’t got a clue what they’re doing. Still, it doesn’t beat my experience at ITN last week when I was told by their security guard to search my own bag, as due to health and safety legislation he wasn’t allowed to put his hand in the bag himself. Just as well, as I had brought my pet piranha along for the ride.


Filming is about to start on a new BBC2 drama series called Party Animals, which appears to be a sort of House of Commons meets This Life. The main characters are a group of twentysomething parliamentary researchers whose lives revolve around sex, drugs and politics. So it’s quite true to life then. The script writers have been inundated by phonecalls and emails from party apparatchiks detailing their various liaisons and sniffing escapades within the Palace of Westminster. Sadly, most of the real life experiences are too unbelievable to be included in the script. Mark Twain’s remark about truth being stranger than fiction has never been more apposite.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Now is the Time to Make Case for Lower Taxes

Regular readers of this blog will know my views on whether the Conservative Party should commit itself to lower taxes. A poll in tomorrow's Sunday Times makes very happy reading for those of us who believe the Conservative Party is nothing if it does not believe in lowering the level of taxation on ordinary working people. I won't go into the details because you can already read them HERE in exhaustive detail on ConservativeHome. Making the case for lower taxes is a long term project. We mustn't let Labour steal the march on us. I think people are now beinning to realise that they've paid over huge amounts of money to the government but not seen the return on their investment. Some years ago (I think it was under William Hague) the Party ran a poster campaign with the slogan YOU'VE PAID THE TAXES, WHERE ARE...? It might be time to repeat it, as it was a few years too early to catch the public mood.

Proof that Blogs Can Engage Young People in Politics

From time to time I get emails from people telling me either how much they like the blog or telling me what a tosser I am. Forgive me if I don't print the latter ones, but this one arrived this evening, which has brought a warm glow to my heart. Because if half what he says is true it makes the time I spend on this blog worthwhile.

Sorry to just email you like this out of the blue. I've followed your blog for a while now (can't remember how I stumbled across it). I love it and I must say, I'm quite a young person and my interest in British politics until I found your blog and Guido's was minimal. I find your blog shows politics in a slightly more realistic light than BBC/ITV etc, you seem truly independent of the whole shebang.

Anyway, I have forwarded the link to my friends, all of whom to be honest were not interested in politics one jot, although upon reading your blog they have taken a new interest in such matters. I think it is because you report the 'underbelly' of it all, the briefing etc. Guido is also a big hit among my friends because of his 'I don't care' attitude! Blogs like yours and Guido's go into the nitty gritty of politics. You shine a spotlight and pick up stories the MSM would never touch. 'Who watches the watchman?' Well now it's bloggers.

My friends and I (all of whom are under 25) are much more receptive to this form of reporting/blogging and how easily it is accessed (RSS Feed etc, the wit of the delivery. We don't want to read some dry, humourless byline or weekly column!). It's a more realistic and engaging presentation of politics and how it works. If you go to it is like a message board for whatever ridiculous New Labour 'initiative' they have dreamt up. Obesity/Health & Safety blah blah!

I don't buy this line that 'young people are not interested in politics' We are, although it has to be presented in a manner in which young people who have grown up with the internet feel is relevant to them. A young person is more likely to access something on Youtube than watch the TV, we don't sit about and accept the status quo. We decide for ourselves how we access information, it's very much on our terms. We don't watch the 6 News on BBC1, we have the RSS feeds of numerous websites/blogs in our RSS readers.

I find it refreshing that a man such as yourself grasps this instinctively. If the Tory party 'get' this concept and harness it, they will be well on their way to mobilising a significant number of young people to vote in their favour. I find it mind-boggling that Labour are so far behind on this concept! Anyway, I am sorry to blab on like this. I wish you all the best in the future for your blog and I sincerely hope you become an MP. Although, if you do, please remember to keep blogging with your trademark wit and humour.

Good one, Barry. I know Francis Maude reads this blog and he'll want to take note of the beginning of the last paragraph.

But We Don't Want to Give You That...

Joan Collins and her husband Percy were just on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? For £16,000 they had this question...

Who is the current Father of the House of Commons?

A. John Gummer
B. Alex Salmond
C. Tam Dalyell
D. Menzies Campbell

Just as well they didn't attempt to answer it becasue Chris Tarrant would have had egg all over his face. The correct answer is, in fact, Rt Hon Alan Williams MP. Tam Dalyell was indeed Father of the House, but he retired at the last election. Tsk Tsk.

UPDATE: This is very odd. Derek Laud and Edwina Currie are now in the hotseat. This programme must have been recorded about a year ago because I was one of Derek Laud's phone-a-friends (supposedly for my knowledge of sport!). Luckily I wasn't called... Perhaps the programme is a repeat, but it doesn't say so in the paper.

Conservative Future Election Ballot Underway

I gather the ballot papers for the elections to the Conservative Future Executive have been landing on doormats today. More info on the candidates HERE. When I was at the CF Conference in Lougborough at the beginning of the month I met Karen Allen, who's standing for the Executive and was hugely impressed with what she had to say. I hope she'll be elected, and even more importantly go for a seat at the next election.

Mark Clarke is standing for chairman of CF, alongside Andrew Young (creator of ConservativeFutureTV) and Caroline Hunt. My vote would go to Mark, although at the age of 44, you won't be surprised to hear I don't have one! I don't know him well but from what I have seen he has the ability to take CF onto the next stage in building it up as a formidable youth organisation. It's already bigger than the Labour & LibDem youth sections added together so whoever is elected they have a good base on which to build.

Sam Coates has started a new Blog on Conservative Home entirely devoted to CF HERE.

Programmes You'll Never See on the BBC...

8am The Big Breakfast with Eric Pickles
10.30am This Morning with Ann & Nick Winterton
11.30am Grumpy Old Tories with Sir Peter & Sir Patrick
1.00pm Fox News with Liam and Jesme
1.30pm Keith & Mrs Simpson
2.00pm The Darling Buds of Theresa May
2.30pm Just William Hague
3.00pm The Graham Brady Bunch
3.30pm Biker Grove with PJ & Alan Duncan
4.00pm Skippy the George W Bush Kangaroo
4.30pm Bill Cash in the Attic
5.00pm The Weakest Spink
5.30pm The ToryTubbies with Nicholas Soames
6.00pm Judge John Reid
6.30pm How do you solve a problem like Maria Miller?
7.00pm IainDale Farm
9.00pm Liddington Britain
9.30pm I’m a Conservative, Get me out of Here
10.00pm The George Osbornes
10.30pm Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Isaby
11.00pm Blue Dwarf
11.30pm Michael Howard’s Way
12.00 Conservative Love Island hosted by Ann Widdecombe & John Hayes

Should the Opposition be More Pro-Active?

The Daily Telegraph has a bit of a go at the Shadow Cabinet, and indeed Tory backbenchers today in their leader column HERE. The headline reads WHERE ARE THE TORY HARRIERS? Here's how the editorial concludes...

From 1994, when Mr Blair became leader, until the 1997 election, he and his front bench worked tirelessly, as a team, to harry and discomfit John Major's ministers. They prided themselves on working through the summer recesses to keep the pressure on. We have simply not had that from the Tories. Yes, Mr Cameron has made a couple of August sallies - but where has his front bench been, other than on the beach? Most voters would be hard-pressed to name more than one or two of them. The Conservatives need to look like a government-in-waiting - it's not enough simply to have a leader who may look like a prime minister-in-waiting. When Mr Blair stands down - and most of his colleagues expect next month's party conference to be his last - his successor, Gordon Brown, will bring to Downing Street both an enviable strategic grasp and unrivalled front-line experience. He will be a truly formidable opponent, which is why the Tories have to lift their game. They have enjoyed the novelty of a charismatic new leader and reaped the political benefits. Labour is tantalisingly close to enjoying a similar leg-up. Too many Conservative politicians seem to feel the job is just about done. As they are about to find out, it is only just beginning.

So how fair is this? You can either take the point of view that even politicians deserve a holiday and the public also deserve a politics-free August, or you think that harrying the government is a twelve month, 52 week, 365 day a year job. The truth of course is somewhere in between. Of course leading politicians deserve a break, but the truth of the matter for Opposition Parties is that August is a gift of a month for them.

Political journalists have very little to write about so it's often easier to get the media to take a weak story seriously. Why do you think the media have spent so much time on trying to unzip the author of the Unzipped novel? Answer: because they've not got much more to do. Listen to the Today programme each morning and you'll see that they are struggling to fill their three hours. But this is an opportunity both for Shadow Cabinet Ministers, junior spokespeople AND Tory backbenchers.

I think the Daily Telegraph has a point. This week I can recall Chris Grayling doing something on transport broken promises, Philip Hammond saying something about 9 to 5 jobs and Damian Green on immigration, but I''d be hard-pressed to think of much else this month, apart from a couple of David Cameron initiatives on candidates, Built to Last and the war on terror.

Admittedly we're only in the second year of this administration but I'd like to think that next year the Conservatives will be a little more vocal. Harrying the government is the job of the opposition. We need more backbenchers rto follow the example of John Bercow and Eric Forth in the 1997-2001 parliament. David Davies seems to be taking on their mantle but we need more of his colleagues to take up arms and lead the charge.

Sure, we've got to present oursleves as an alternative government but we have to exploit any weakness there is in the government defences. And there are so many open goals waiting to be scored. It's all very well thinking that the government are doing their best to self-destruct - and they are - but we cannot just rely on that old maxim that governments lose elections, oppositions don't win them.

The Conservatives are now 6-9 points ahead in the polls at 38-40% in virtually every poll. This is real progress indeed, but as the Telegraph points out, we cannot rely on that lead holding if Labour elect a new leader who enjoys a honeymoon period. And the trouble with a successful honeymoon is that the new leader might think that is just the time to call an election. We've always got to bear that in mind. I hope that somewhere deep in the bowels of CCHQ there is a small group of people who are planning for just that eventuality, because if not, there ought to be.

PS But if the Conservatives are accused of being invisible, just where are the LibDems? Ming seems to have vanished from sight completely. As do his colleagues. Still, I musn't complain...

Fined for Being a Christian

I was listening to the news this morning and caught the tail end of a piece which I thought said that a footballer had been arrested to making the sign of the cross during a football match. Nah, I thought. Must have misheard. However, it appears that the old Dale hearing is in perfect working order as the venerable Archbishop Cranmer (for it is he) has emailed from beyond his grave to alert me to THIS post on his blog which details the whole sorry story. This is what the BBC website says...

Celtic goalkeeper Artur Boruc has been cautioned for a breach of the peace by police for blessing himself in an Old Firm match at Ibrox in February. The Crown Office said the procurator fiscal had issued the caution as an alternative to prosecution. A spokesman explained that Boruc's actions "included a combination of behaviour before a crowd in the charged atmosphere of an Old Firm match". And that the Polish keeper's behaviour had "provoked alarm and crowd trouble". The incident was said to have taken place at the start of the second half of the game on 12 February. Police investigated the complaints and submitted a report to the procurator fiscal. "It's a worrying and alarming development, especially since the sign of the cross is globally accepted as a gesture of religious reverence," said Peter Kearney, a spokesman for the Catholic Church.

I accept that Celtic v Rangers matches are highly charged affairs, but the sign of the cross is used by both Protestants and Catholics alike. It's used by all sorts of sportsmen just before they begin to perform or after they score. To be cautioned by the Police for making the sign before a game of football is nothing short of a disgrace. And I speak as a confirmed agnostic. We are after all a Christian country.

Let's imagine that in the Cricket World Cup, Pakistan plays India and one of the Pakistani Muslim players bows to Mecca. Do we really think the Police would even contemplate cautioning him because he may have offended the off Hindu India supporter? Of course not, and nor should they. All the Police have achieved by this ridiculous caution is a further accentuation of the religious divide.

UPDATE: Me Eugenides has a different take on this HERE.

Is British TV Too Right Wing? - No, Don't Laugh...

Yesterday there a was a debate at the Edinburgh TV Festival titled: "Is British Television too Right Wing?" Quite unbelievable. Especially when you consider the debate was being chaired by Kirsty Wark!

This is the blurb on the event...

Is television politically biased? Traditionally British Television has been accused of being dominated by liberals and lefties intent on spreading their progressive poison. But these days the schedules are stuffed with right wing historians, columnists and journalists. So are you more likely to get on telly if you're a Tory and what does this mean for the quality of debate and current affairs?

The panellists were Martin Bell, Dorothy Byrne, Head of News, Current Affairs and Business at Channel 4, Peter Horrocks, Head of TV News, BBC & Peter Oborne. If anyone as at the event and would like to report on the discussion I'd be delighted to hear from you.

And in other news today, "Is Ben Thatcher a Wimp?", "Why is Simon Cowell the Shyest Man on TV?" and "The BNP: Why are they so soft & cuddly?"

And now a bank holiday challenge to you. Make suggestions for an entire day's programming of right wing programmes, using existing programme titles but slightly changing them. For example, 'Jackanory' becomes 'Jackatory'. Just a bit of fun.

Talking Politics at 11am

Talking Politics on Radio 4 at 11am today features a half hour discussion on political dirty tricks between Bruce Anderson, Madeleine Bunting from Demos and myself.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Dizzy Fancies a Birdie: Anyone for Golf?

Dizzy has suggested a bloggers golf tournament. See HERE. Happy to offer to host it at my club at King's Hill near West Malling in Kent sometime in October. If anyone is interested, let me or Dizzy know. God, you can tell it's a quiet week when we're reduced to organising a golf game, can't you? All my regular golf partners are busy this weekend, so if anyone out there fancies a game over the weekend, feel free to get in touch. After watching West Ham play Liverpool tomorrow I suspect I might be in need of taking some aggression out on something...

Hoby's Road to Nowhere No 1

This blog now has an official cartoonist and his name is Hoby. You can see more of his work HERE. Click on the image to enlarge it. Hoby will be providing a new cartoon each week.

Rawnsley & Catherwood to Replace Dimbleby

Two of the finest manes names in broadcasting are to take over the ITV Sunday morning politics slot recently vacated by Jonathan Dimbleby. Andrew Rawnsley, who currently presents Radio 4's Westminster Hour, will be joined on the sofa by News at Ten presenter Andrea Catherwood. I'm not sure what Catherwood's political broadcasting background is but it seems she wants to do something different. I hope this show is restored to the 1pm timeslot. 10.30am is simply too early and a ridiculous time for a terrestrial channel political show. No wonder the Dimbleby viewing figures dropped to a mere 350,000.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Channel 4 News Morning Report Podcast

Apologies for the late posting of this, but my latest Podcast for Channel 4 News Morning Reorts is HERE. It features, and my Blog of the week, Chicken Yoghurt, among others.

She's Just a Devil Woman, With Evil on Her Mind

There's an interview with Cliff Richard in The Guardian today HERE. Do please read past the bit where he says he likes Mateus Rose. For those who are shaking their heads in disgustbewilderment at the very mention of the old crooner, I should explain that I am a fan. Of Cliff, not Mateus Rose. Did I tell you about the time I met him a few weeks ago? [That's enough - ed]

Pssst.... Kiss my Webcam

Tonight I'll be on Sky News at 9.30pm live on my webcam via Skpe. Well, that's the plan. I'll be taking part in a discussion with Michael Brown on the Unzipped book. God knows what'll happen...

UPDATE 9.53pm: The wonders of modern technology, eh? Sky's server crashed shortly before I was introduced, so bang went the webcam. I then caught a glimpse of the screen with a very unflatering photo which rather put me off my stride! And when Michael Brown talked about me "romping home in Winchester" I really did think I was living in a parallel universe.

LibDem Blog of the Year Poll

If you'd like to vote in the LibDem Blog of the Year poll, click HERE. The award will be presented at the LibDem Conference. According to the LibDem website, "The award is for the blog that has done the most to promote liberalism in the last year."

My friend in CCHQ thinks people should nominate my blog after all I have done to promote the Liberal Democrat cause over the last six months. Very naughty. Having said that, I am a true Liberal in the old fashioned sense of the word, so why not?! I look forward to making an acceptance speech!

Seriously, this is a good initiative and will 'up' the profile of political blogging.

UPDATE: Apparently you can't vote, just nominate. Just to be clear.

EXCLUSIVE: First Tory All Woman Shortlist

I can exclusively reveal that Chesham & Amersham Conservatives have selected their Parliamentary Candidate for the next election from an all woman shortlist. The candidate in question is Cheryl Gillan. It was a shortlist of one! Gotcha.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A Fisking for David Blunkett is No More Than He Deserves

Thanks to Andrew Woodman for alerting me to David Blunkett's pisspoor column in today's Super Soaraway Sun. How this man gets paid a penny for his weekly column I just do not know. It's unreadable bilge which would do well to get a spot in the Ilkley Bugle, let alone Britain's best selling tabloid. Quite what he's got on Rebekah Wade we can only speculate. Anyway, before this develops into a Ronnie Corbett style monologue, let me get to the point. And the point is, the bearded wonder had a go at me in his column today for having the temerity to talk about immigration on the BBC on Sunday. His remarks deserve a bit of a 'fisking' if you ask me - my comments in italics. Do make sure you read the last para...

Fancy my surprise when I heard the Conservatives raise the issue of [Eastern European immigration].
Well, David, we certainly wouldn't expect you to raise the issue, would we? After all, it was you who reassured us that only 13,000 Eastern Europeans would come here. Remind us, what was the final number? 600,000, was it? Ah yes...
But which Tory? Was it David Cameron? Was it their Shadow Home Secretary? Was it even someone close to them, like the doorman at their head office? No, it was someone described by the BBC as a "commentator on behalf of the Conservative Party".
Oh David, you really are jealous aren't you. Desperate for another go in the limelight perhaps? And that wasn't how I was captioned on screen, as you well know. I was titled as "Conservative Commentator". But let's not split hairs.
This "commentator" was Iain Dale, famous for running a Westminster bookshop and being a (failed) Conservative candidate at the last election.
Banged to rights guv.
Nothing wrong with that.
How kind.
But if this is Conservative policy why didn't one of their big guns lead the charge instead of tagging along like the women who used to follow armies in the old days.
Well, sorry to burst your conspiracy bubble, Dave, but there was a very simple reason why I did this interview. I was already at the BBC to do their Sunday paper review. I was asked by Jo Cockburn to do a quick piece to camera for their morning news bulletin. Damian Green was already lined up to go on Sunday AM but they wanted a Tory comment on the Sunday stories about a new Tory line on immigration policy. I wasn't speaking "for" the Conservative Party in any official capacity at all. Indeed, I made the decision to do it without having spoken to anyone at CCHQ. I tried to speak to Damian and David Davis but neither were answering their phones - not surprising at 11pm. So, no plot, no conspiracy, I just happened to be there. Simple as that.
Perhaps it was because they felt Iain Dale might be able to raise the fear of the new immigrants brininging Aids into the country - without the Tory leadership being accused of scaremongering or scurrilous and outrageous exaggeration. A cheap shot if you ask me.
A cheap shot indeed David - and beneath you. Seeing as no one in the Conservative Party had the faintest idea that I was appearing they could hardly have "felt" anything. My decision to do it was based on the fact that Jo Cockburn was running her story anyway and I felt it best to have a Tory voice on it. As to your accusation that I "might be able to raise the fear of the new immigrants bringing Aids into the country" that is preposterous, as it was not something I was either asked about or even mentioned in my piece. As a gay man it's not a subject I would seek to make political capital out of, as you well know. As you say David, "a real cheap shot, if you ask me." But then, that's rather typical of you, isn't it? Best not do it again, or I might be forced to reveal how you used taxpayers money to buy copies of your own books from Politico's, wouldn't I? And that would never do, would it? No, we'll save that one up for your third resignation, shall we?

Byers Aims His Pea Shooter at Brown

The Sunday papers were full of Stephen Byers wanting to bury Inheritance Tax - presumably in the same way that his spin doctor once tried to bury bad news. I have 'history' on this in that I spoke out in favour of ditching Inheritance Tax at the Tory Party Conference in 2004. To me the argument is simple. It's a tax on death. It's taxing you on money you have already been taxed on. It's blatantly unfair and if as a Conservative you believe in cascading wealth down the generations you cannot possibly be in favour of retaining Inheritance Tax. It was one tax reform the Thatcher government should have tackled but didn't. Actually, there were others too, but let's not get sidetracked. I wanted a commitment in the 2005 Conservative Manifesto if not to abolish it outright, to phase it out.

Now if I thought Stephen Byers really wanted to abolish Inheritance Tax, really felt it in his gut, then I would applaud him. But his move is a cynical one. It's to fire yet another shot across the bows of Gordon Brown. Byers is an ueber-Blairite - a so-called 'outrider', whatever that means. His mission is to make it as difficult as possible for Brown to succeed in his quest to succeed Blair. But who's he acting for? Milburn or Reid? I frankly have no idea, but I suspect it will become clear over the coming weeks. But just as interesting, who else will come out of the woodwork to launch similar grenades into the Brownite bunker?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Off to the Sunny Climes of .... Watford

Today I will be mostly blogging... nothing. Off to Watford now to see the West Ham game. I do hope Hornets fans Kerron Cross and Mark Oaten will enjoy their evening - but not too much. Hopefully at around 10pm tonight the M25 will be resounding to the sound of me singing this little ditty...

Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way
Oh what fun it is to see
West Ham win away

Oh, Jingle Bells.... etc

I apologise for being distinctly unprolific today, but even I deserve a day off. Even if I have been working all day. No rest for the obsessed.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Is the Unzipper About to be Unzipped?

This is the cover of the Unzipped book which is obsessing Westminster at the moment. I had an email from some cheeky bugger at the Evening Standard Londoner's Diary today asking if I knew who it was. Like I'd hand the story to him on a plate. However, I do have a couple of names I am investigating. Sadly none of them household ones. Even in their own household.

Iain Dale Fantasy Football League: Week 1 Top Ten

So, after the excitement of the first weekend of Premier League games, here are the top ten teams in my fantasy league. If you have entered a team and want to check your position click HERE and log in.

1 Red Lions K J, 83 points
2 The, Peter Elliott 76
2 yiddos, ben green 76
4 Stealth Cyclist, Iain Lindley 75
5 Those Charming Men, paul linford 74
6 Never All Over, Dominic Llewellyn 72
7 Premier What? Mike Wood 71
8 Palace in the Prem, Daniel Harvey 69
8 sheva me timbers, S R 69
8 injured cyclists, tom amos 69
My two teams are in 65th and 106th place! Still, not as bad my Tottenham supporting friend Tracey Crouch who emualtes her own team and is second from bottom in 141st place!

Poll Gives Cameron 9 Point Lead

I understand there's an ICM poll out tomorrow showing the Conservatives on 40%, Labour 31% and LibDems 22%. This is the highest Conservative per centage for 14 years in an ICM poll and the lowest Labour share for 19 years. Before we pop the champagne corks, Electoral Calculus calculates that a nine point lead would only give the Conservatives a majority of 10. I predict the following comments on

Mark Senior: "Complete rubbish. It's a two horse race and the LibDems are winning here"
Peter Pidgeon: "This is yet more evidence that Ming is leading us to victory"
Rik: "Further proof that Cameron's Conservatives are heading for a 350 seat majority"
Nick Palmer MP: "I'm f***ed"
Alastair Matlock: "This is rather good news"

Now which are those seats I should be applying for? Must dash...

Signs of Political Correctness Gone Mad No 94

LONDON (AFP) - Smoking scenes in "Tom and Jerry" cartoons are now banned in Britain, following a viewer's complaint to the government agency that polices the airwaves.
In one episode of the classic US cartoon series, Tom is seen smoking a roll-up cigarette in a bid to impress a female cat. In another, Tom's opponent in a tennis match was seen smoking a large cigar. Following an investigation prompted by the anonymous viewer's complaint, regulator Ofcom said Monday that children's TV channel Boomerang has agreed to edit out scenes deemed to glamorise or condone smoking. "We note that, in 'Tom and Jerry', smoking usually appears in a stylised manner and is frequently not condoned," said Ofcom, recalling how the cartoons were made in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s when smoking was not so controversial. "However, while we appreciate the historic integrity of the animation, the level of editorial justification required for the inclusion of smoking in such cartoons is necessarily high."

What on earth has happened to our country?

Candidate Selection: Further, Wider, Faster, Deeper

ConservativeHome has a rather critical, post HERE on the new 'A' List changes to be announced by David Cameron today. The key points to note are...

* 60% of the 150 people on the 'A' list are female
* Associations with fewer than 300 members to be forced to have an Open Primary in which non members can participate and vote
* Target/Con Held seats to have option of Open Primary but if not, full membership of the Association to whittle a shortlist of 12-15 names down to 4. Executive Council to have final choice after 'rigorous job interviews'.
* Two of the final four candidates must be women
* Seats to be given to option of choosing to have an all women shortlist, in which case all members can vote in the final round

I also understand that the definition of 'local candidate' is being revised and will be more restrictive in future.

ConservativeHome points out that nowhere in the new measures is there anything to address the issue of financial exclusion, or indeed any carrot to offer the 450 people not on the 'A' List.

Let's address the positives first. Nearly one third of candidates already selected are women, double the number we had at the last election. That is good progress. In more than 30 selections only 1 constituency failed to include a women in the final shortlist. This would have been unheard of in the past. Ten per cent of our selected candidates are from the ethnic minorities - also good progress. So from that viewpoint the 'A' List is delivering. But if you come from Francis Maude's "further, wider, faster, deeper" school of thought, this progress now needs to be hastened if the Party is to be seen to be changing.

I have heard only good things about Open Primaries. They have so far produced good candidates in the right seats, so I am quite in favour of their role being expanded. However, I remain deeply sceptical about giving non Conservatives voting rights in these selections. Sure, let them attend, participate and ask questions, but I am not sure it should go beyond that. I am also not sure of the logic of forcing smaller Associations to have them but allowing larger ones to choose whether to or not. It's a bit like the old Grant Maintained School logic, where parents were given the right to choose. My argument in those days was that if this was such a great policy, why not make all schools grant maintained and have done with it. The same logic could be applied to Open Primaries. So to that extent I would agree with "further, wider, faster, deeper".

However, the most controversial aspect of these new changes is that for target seats which do not go for Open Primaries, the wider membership will not have a vote on the final candidate. This is being spun as a positive thing in that the wider membership will be involved earlier in the process and draw up the final four, two of whom must be female. I am all in favour of involving as many people as possible at every stage of the process, but I fear that this change will not deliver the result which the leadership expects. By giving the final vote to the Executive Council it may well be that fewer women are chosen. The Executive Councils of Conservative Associations are possibly less representative of the wider populace than the wider membership. Because they are made up of councillors and branch chairmen they may have a higher average age than those who would normally be expected to attend a final selection meeting. Sociologically it is also true that the Executive Council tends to be made up of like-minded people from a narrower social set than the wider Association membership. I live to be proved wrong on this, but I do not think this change will reap the rewards some people think.

Offering Associations the option of all women shortlists will be seen by some as the first step on a very slippery slope. It will be interesting how many Associations avail themselves of this opportunity. And indeed, I wonder how many women would apply for such a seat. As Ann Widdecombe rightly said on the Today Programme: "A woman must be able to look anyone in Parliament in the eye, from the Prime Minister downwards, and be able to think that she got there on exactly the same basis as he did".

Restricting the definition of local candidates is something I can't comment on in depth because I do not know the details. I hope it only means that people not on the general candidates list would have to actually live in the constituency concerned in order to be able to apply for it. That would seem reasonable. But I fear that it may mean that non 'A' Listers who are on the general Candidate's List will find their options restricted even further. If so, it is another blow to those who feel they have been ignored over the last six months.

There are two things I would like to see the Party do now. Firstly, make progress to get a general candidates list which consists of 50% men and 50% women, thus rendering the 'A' List redundant. Secondly, find a way of remotivating and energising the 450 people not on the 'A' List. If that is not done soon we are going to lose an awful lot of very good people.

Declaration of interest: For those who don't know, I was put on the 'A' List in the second tranche.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Visiting the Reagan Library & Ranch

I'm jealous. My friend Simon Jones is spending 5 days at the Reagan Library in California and David Farrer of Kiwiblog has visited the Reagan Ranch. I presume they must be on the same trip. I visited the Reagan Library in 1994 - it's built on a wonderful hilltop location and is now owned by the Young Americans Foundation. Kiwiblog has some great pictures of the ranch so do click HERE to see them.

Despite enjoying my visit to the Reagan Library I have to say the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda was even better. If you ever visit Los Angeles, do visit them both. It doesn't matter what your politics are, they're fascinating.

Some time ago I wondered about organising a trip to spend two weeks visiting as many US Presidential Libraries as possible. Two weeks of political geek heaven!

Josh & Donna - Missing You Already

Call me an old romantic, but I just found this on YouTube and loved it.

Let's Unmask the Unzipper - You Know You Want to

The whole of the Westminster village seems to be agog with this new sex novel called UNZIPPED. There was a big feature in the Indy on Sunday today making a rather weak attempt to identidfy the author. It's apparently someone 'steeped in Tory politics'. Translated, that probably means it's written by someone most of us have never heard of. He's reportedly a former Tory PPC in his mid forties, who used to be a lobbyist. That sounds, er, rather like me, doesn't it? But he's also married with two children. Phew, let off the hook. And apart from that I can't write sex. Well, having said that, I've never tried, you'll be relieved to hear. I suspect there would be an overuse of the words 'thrust', 'writhe' and...well, shall we stop there?

Anyhow, wouldn't it be nice to unmask (or should I say 'unzip'?) the culprit in the blogosphere? I can think of no better place to unzip than here, so do email me if you have any clues as to who might have written this grubby, and most certainly unputdownable book. Reminds me, must buy Ann W a birthday present...

Michael Portillo on Dr John Reid

It's not often I enjoy (or agree with) a Michael Portillo article, but today's effort in the Sunday Times is a must read for anyone interested in the coming battle of Reid versus Brown. Read it HERE.

When I was defence secretary he was the junior shadow spokesman. He
assaulted me in a Commons speech that was full of personal invective. His lack
of manners and taste left a lasting poor impression. But to cap it all, when I
met him shortly after in a corridor he was oleaginous and smiley. Politicians
who want to be both vile and pally earn my contempt. This attack dog likes to
have his tummy tickled, too.

The Meme of 3

Paul Burgin at the increasingly unmissable Mars Hill Blog has done his entry for the Meme of 3 which is buzzing round the blogosphere at the moment. Here's my effort...

1... Things that scare me
When I'm on a flight, thinking just that little bit too much
about how planes actually get off the ground
A full blown Julian Dicks tackle
2.…People who make me laugh
Julie Walters
Sir Les Patterson
Frankie Howerd
3...Things I hate the most
Avocado & prawns
People who speak like Ashleen on Big Brother
Being overweight
4...Things I don't understand
How to get my new 10,000 station digital radio
working with my wireless internet connection
5...Things I'm doing right now
Watching the Test Match - Kevin Pieterson is out for 96
Listening to my dog, Gio, bark
Wondering what the week ahead is about to bring...
6...Things I want to do before I die
Write a political biography
See West Ham in the Champions' League
Become Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport
7... Things I can do
Speak near fluent German (well, I used to be able to!)
Not embarrass myself at golf
Unintentionally impersonate Rick Stein
8.Ways to describe my personality
Shy (but I manage to hide it!)
9. Things I can't do
Tie things - including shoelaces
Resist cheesecake
10...Things I think you should listen to
The national anthem sung at Twickenham
Me, when I'm on the radio!
Churchill's wartime speeches
11...Things you should never listen to
White people trying to talk 'ethnic'
Jose Mourinho or Sir Alex Ferguson. Take your pick.
Patricia Hewitt
12...Things I'd like to learn
How to play the piano
13...Favorite foods
Chicken Fajitas
Yorkshire Pudding
Baked Raspberry Cheesecake. Ok, let's be honest. Any cheesecake.
14...Beverages I drink regularly
I'm teetotal and hate tea or coffee, so...
Any kind of fruit juice
Sparkling mineral water
Britvic 55
15...Shows I watched as a kid
Val Meets the VIPs (Valerie Singleton)
Skippy the Bush Kangaroo
16...People I'm tagging (to do this meme)
Jonathan Calder (Liberal England)

Addicks Get Hammered

Well at least I've had a better 24 hours than Watford supporting Labour Blogger Kerron Cross. Click HERE to read about his very trying train journey back from seeing his team lose at Everton. By all accounts they were rather hard done by. I'll be going to Vicarage Road on Tuesday to see how they cope with West Ham. Which brings me neatly onto the game at Upton Park yesterday. For those who are bored by my football talk, look away now.

Last season West Ham had best record of any premier League team for coming from behind (Matron!). So when we went 1-0 down to Charlton, for some reason I just knew that we would still win. I just knew. Can't explain it, I just knew. When Traore got sent off we were already dominating the game with Lee Bowyer in superb form down the right. Apparently we are still looking to sign a right sided attacking player. When we have Bowyer and Benayoun in this sort of form, I think I'd save the money. The great thing about this Hammers team is that we have top class cover in every position. I don't think I can ever recall that being the case before. We've got 5 top class strikers (Harewood, Cole, Zamora, Ashton, Sheringham), two excellent left wingers (Etherington, Reid), two excellent right wingers (Bowyer, Benayoun), a clutch of central midfielders (Mullins, Reo-Coker, Noble, Dailly) and too many defenders to mention. Apart from one. Yesterday Ghanaian International John Paintsil came on for the whole of the second half and was stunning. He's certainly an attacking right back and his precision passes along the ground through to Harewood were fantastic. We got him for less than a million. With Konchesky on the left - and almost playing wing-back in a 442! - playing out of his skin and punting crosses in for fun, this will always be a team that scores goals. Bizarrely we scored three goals yesterday without either of the strikers playing particularly well. Zamora scored two but didn't so a lot else. And for Carlton Cole to come on and score within 20 seconds will have given him the lift he needed and injected the whole squad with a buzz. Alan Pardew must be a very happy man today, and he has every right to be. If we perform to that level for the rest of the season it's going to be a very enjoyable one.

An amazing 142 teams have entered my Fantasy League. I'll post the leaders after the Chelsea match later on.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

More Changes on Candidate Selection to Come?

I have just been through the Sunday papers and the Mail on Sunday and Sunday Times both have stories saying that David Cameron will tomorrow announce changes to the Conservative Party selection procedures. It appears he intends to ensure that on second round shortlists of six, three women are included, and there must always be at least one woman in the final selection meeting. The Sunday Times also believes that 60% of the 'A' List are female. I guess it's best to wait to see the details before commenting properly, but if these stories are true it may well be a seminal moment. The reaction among constituency activists is hard to predict.

I have always taken the view that the best way to get more female candidates selected is to get a general candidates list of 600 or so people, half of whom are women. If we had women on the list in those numbers there wouldn't be a need for an 'A' List at all. That's what the Party should now be concentrating on - attracting more onto the list in the first place.

It also needs to make those who are not on the 'A' List feel that its worth actually staying on the wider list. I've lost count of the number of friends of mine who are seriously thinking about jacking the whole thing in because they don't feel they are being offered any kind of future. That must change - and change fast.

A Little Joust with Stephen Pound MP

As you may have noticed, from time to time I use images supplied by TheoSpark. However, more often than not I don't use them. Not because they're not good, but well, as the late lamented Kenny Everett might have put it, they're not always in the BEST POOOSSSIBLE TASTE! They still make me laugh, but they might give some of my more sensitive readers heart failure. If you want to risk it, click HERE.

Anyway, this latest one by Theo is of Steve Pound, who I shall be debating with on Sky News tomorrow morning at 10.45. Subject? John Prescott. Stop that yawning at the back!

Actually, I think Theo has got Steve wrong. He's one of the few Labour MPs not to adhere 100% to the Blairite line. In fact, it's quite comical when he tries to. Steve Pound is always the bad boy at the back of the class who no one can quite take seriously, even when he tries to be taken seriously. But he certainly adds to the gaiety of parliament (no, not in that sense) and seems to have taken over Tony Banks's mantle as court jester.

The last time we were on the media together I got him into rather a lot of trouble. Remember the Today Programme Listener's Law competition a couple of Christmases ago? Steve and I were on the panel to compile the shortlist, along with the volutuous Julia Hartley-Brewer. I insisted that the so-called Tony Martin law was on the shortlist much to Steve and Julia's disgust - and blow me down if the Today listener's then picked it. Well Steve was then presented with a rather thorny dilemma as he had promised to introduce a Private Member's Bill on whatever law the listeners had chosen. He then reneged on his promise causing an almighty uproar. I don't think he or the Today Programme have quite forgiven me to this day. Oh well, it should be an enjoyable enough little joust. Pity Adam Boulton won't be there. He's still sunning himself on his honeymoon in the pacific. Although I see he has been blogging despite being away. Addictive, isn't it? I shall resist any smutty jokes about what he ought to be doing on his honeymoon in case he's reading this... And Adam, if you are - get back to bed mate!

Steve Pound started a blog in July. But dear oh dear. It's only got three entries and hasn't been updated since July 26th. I shall be remonstrating with him tomorrow...