Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Sir Ming Makes His First Big Mistake

So far so good for Ming Campbell. He has handled the prospect of a hung Parliament and an ensuing coalition with dexterity, calling for a strategy of 'maximum votes, maximum seats'. However, today, forthe first time he admits that he has asked his chief whip, Paul Burstow, to prepare a paper on the conduct of such talks. It's in an interview in THE TIMES.
In an interview with The Times to mark his first anniversary as party leader, Sir Menzies Campbell said that the price of putting Gordon Brown in Number 10 would be a firm commitment to the introduction of proportional representation at Westminster. The success of the Liberal Democrats in Scotland, where they secured proportional representation for local council elections, has made the party “more hard edged” about demanding its introduction for the rest of the country, he said.
“The party has moved. The party’s view is pretty clear about PR. If you look at Scotland, the Scottish Parliament, local government and European elections, they were all by proportional representation. The only one that isn’t is Westminster,” he said. The Liberal Democrat leader confirmed that he had asked Paul Burstow, his chief whip, to report on how coalition talks are conducted. “You would be very surprised if I wasn’t getting assistance from any source that I thought helpful,” he said. The report will examine the conventions surrounding coalition discussions, last used in February 1974. Sir Menzies attempted to play down the move, saying that it was part of wider election preparations, and insisted that he did not want the party to become distracted by theoretical discussions. “I am by no means convinced of the statistical probability of a hung Parliament,” he said. “I think the one thing you cannot campaign for is a hung Parliament, you have to campaign for your own policies and your own values.”

Now that he has discussed the subject once, the media can be forgiven if the question is repeated again and again. It's a legitimate subject for debate. The polls currently point to a Conservative victory, but I think a hung Parliament is by no means beyond the realm of possibility.

By even mentioning the possibility of a formal coalition, Sir Ming has opened a Pandora's Box.

Visit to the State Department

Earlier today my colleague Shane Greer and I went to the State Department to meet the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs (could she have a longer job title?!) Colleen Graffy. We were rather early so we stood outside the building in the morning sunshine on a grassy knoll. The place seemed to be crawling with secret service agents and eventually one sidled up to us and asked what our business was. I explained we had an appointment with Colleen Graffy so he asked us to go into the building. I asked if that was an order and he smiled and said it was more of a request. I didn't dare ask what might happen if we preferred to stay in the sunshine. It was only once we were in the building that we found out President Bush was due in the building to swear in Condi Rice's new Deputy, John Negroponte. We quickly vacated the grassy knoll.

We spent an hour with Colleen Graffy, who used to be based in London as chairman of Republicans Abroad. She was even in the Conservative Candidates List (she has dual nationality) for the last election. Colleen has responsibility for building relations with 45 different countries, including most European countries. She is clearly totally au fait with British and European blogs and we talked about how new media was affecting politics and political communication. Indeed, she's going to have one of the 18 Doughty Street citizen journalist cameras and file films for us when she's on her overseas travels.

We then went on to a lunch at the Heritage Foundation for a speech by Walid Phares, the author of THE WAR OF IDEAS: JIHAD AGAINST DEMOCRACY. At the ensuing lunch he told us he thinks that Britain is the battleground for the War of Ideas and he is very concerned that the Jihadists are winning. He told how on a train journey from Leeds to London an attempt was made to recruit him to the 'cause'. His book will be published in England soon. The blurb says...
From Afghanistan and Iraq to Europe and the United States we are engaged in one of the most heated wars of all time. In this incisive new book, the man that has been called--the only one to understand the mind of the jihadist--shows that the most important battle is actually taking place in the hearts and minds of the world's population. This is the war of ideas, where ideology is the most powerful weapon of all. Phares explores the beliefs of two opposing camps, one standing for democracy and human rights, and the other rejecting the idea of an international community and calling for jihad against the West. He reveals the strategies of both sides, explaining that new technologies and the growing media savvy of the jihadists have raised the stakes in the conflict. And most urgently, he warns that the West is in danger of losing the war, for whereas debate and theorizing rarely translate into action here, ideas and deeds are inextricably linked for the forces of jihad.

James Baker's Foreign Policy Timewarp

This evening I went to the Henry Kissinger Lecture, given by former Secretary of State James Baker. Much of the Washington foreign policy glitterati were there, including Kissinger himself. Jack Kemp, John Negroponte (Bush's new Deputy to Condi), Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson heard Baker give a homily on how America should be developing its foreign policy. He called for positive dialogue and engagement with Syria but his call to arms was for a 'pragmatism idealism' in foreign policy - not something which means much to anyone. He's an advocate of 'realpolitik' and was quite open about the need to engage with regimes which America might not approve of. He felt that the Bush administraton was successfully rebuilding fractured relationships with former allies, although he was scathing about France's role in the build up to the war in Iraq.

All in all, this was a speech from a very wise man, but from someone stuck in a timewarp. His solutions were those of the 1990s. We live in a very different world today, a world in which the western nations need to understand the threat to them that Islamacist fanatics present. It's not a war in the conventional sense and it's a war that demands unconventional defence mechanisms. Baker didn't seem to understand that, although he was willing to concede that the US had the right to 'go it alone' when absolutely necessary.

What the audience wanted to hear was a defence of his report on the War in Iraq, but it was barely mentioned. He avoided any discussion of the fact that President Bush has ignored most, if not all, of its recommendations.

This was not a speech with any of what Bush 41 (as some Americans now refer to George Bush senior) called 'the vision thing'. Perhaps it was too much to expect. I left rather disappointed.

Click HERE for a fuller report on the speech.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

SNP Takes Advantage of Labour Turmoil

News reaches me from New Labour sources that Gordon Brown's worst nightmare is materialising with significant progress for the Scot Nats ahead of May's Scottish Parliament polls.

In recent weeks Broon has tried to micromanage his northern fiefdom, as the Labour campaign has come apart at the seams. This has included his clumsy efforts to rope the CBI in as part of his election efforts against Salmond's insurgents.

All to no avail, with bad news for Brown followed by even worse news. Yesterday's Scottish papers were full of resignation stories of a key Labour campaign figure. This is about to be trumped by a poll out tomorrow (Wednesday) in the Scotsman which shows the Nat lead over Labour growing!

With less than 70 days to go until polling day the SNP are five points ahead in the constituency contest and 4 points in the PR list vote. In terms of Holyrood seats this is seriously bad news for Labour. They wouldn't even have enough to continue their coalition love-in with the LibDems whose support is also down.

My New Labour insider says this mess is the perfect Blair legacy for Brown!

Go Girl!

From Nadine Dorries's blog...
I joined a group of ten women Conservative candidates for dinner last night
- a fun evening. Our new lot are very intelligent, feisty, principled and
gorgeous. I had to do to do the usual move a few places in between courses
thing. The last time I did that was at a party fundraiser, just before David
became leader. I was sat on a table with ten businessmen. On my last musical
chairs shift, as I sat down, the man I sat next to introduced himself by saying
"so Nadine, tell me, what do you prefer, sex or politics" I replied -"sex of
course, but unlike you, I prefer it with someone else".

I expect he ended up made a large donation.

Launch of the Chipmunk

Click HERE for Ann Treneman's hilarious sketch of my little chipmunk's campaign launch. Sadly I had to send my apologies... And there's further analysis HERE from Tim Worstall. here are some highlights...
I come to you straight from Hazel Blears’s launch for Labour’s deputy leadership and my ears are ringing. I don’t think it’s tinnitus. Indeed, I know it’s not. Instead it is a new condition called Hazelitis or, as it is destined to be known, Bleary Ear. The problem lies in Hazel’s words-per-minute output. It is a shorthand nightmare. The words crowd together, hundreds of them in every minute, gasping for breath. It is like battery farming with sentences.
Hazel bustled in, babbling about what a fantastic launch she’d had in Salford at the weekend. She wished we had all been there (no one moved a facial muscle at this) and told us all about who had been. “Most importantly, there were lots of Salford Labour party members!” she cried, adding: “Did I say most importantly?” She stopped for nanosecond, which may be her version of a comic pause. “Most importantly was my dad! He was there!” I believe this may have been a Hazel joke. Hazel’s words were filling the room so quickly that it was getting hard to breathe. I can only give you snippets, for obvious reasons. Hazel told us that she wants to “build on success”. Indeed, these were the very words in her brand-new brochure. Her slogan is “Winning for Labour”. She told us this as if it were interesting. Why does not realise that it would only be interesting if she said it was “Losing for Labour”?
But how would she differ from John Prescott? “Well,” she said, giggling. “I’m small and I’m a woman which will be very different indeed!” Plus, she chirped, she had energy. Indeed, she is like one of those battery-operated rabbits who just never stops. We shuffled out, ears almost bleeding, to a rallying cry from the campaign manager, Caroline Flint, perhaps best known as Minister for Obesity. “Hazel Blears doesn’t just talk the talk, she walks the walk. She gets out there. She’s a great motivator. There are no no-go areas for Hazel Blears!”
I suspect this is true. If only there were, the world would be a much quieter place.

Al Gore Can Kiss My ....

A great line on the David Letterman show in a section called THE ACADEMY AWARDS RETROSPECTIVE. Cue a reporter out on the snowfilled streets of New York...

"So Al Gore won an Oscar for global warming. Well Al Gore can kiss my frozen ass."

So eloquent, and so concise. I particularly loved the scenes of all those celebrities swooning over Gore... having all arrived in their 7 litre stretch limos. Dontcha just love Hollywood hypocrisy?

My Day in DC

For those who have absolutely no interest in my activities in the capital of the free world, feel free to scroll down. I spent Saturday and part of Sunday with some old friends Mark & Jane Milosch who live in Silver Spring. I worked with Mark when he was an intern in the Commons in 1986 and we have remained friends ever since. It's good to pick up with someone you haven't seen for ages, and you feel totally at ease with them. Last night I arrived at my hotel to find their car park closed for 'emergency repairs'. Why does it always happen to me?

Today I eventually found a copy shop which could make 1000 DVDs of our WORLD WITHOUT AMERICA advert, which we'll be distributing at a conference later in the week. It was then off for a talk at the Heritage Foundation with Andrew Roberts, followed by lunch. It was good to meet Fred Barnes from the Weekly Standard. He used to be on the McLaughlin Group, which was a high impact political talk show hosted by the veteran John McLaughlin with two right of centre journos and two from the left. Fred's spats with Newsweek's Eleanor Cliff were a sight to behold. Also at the lunch was someone from the White House who knew all about our advert.

This afternoon we visited the Leadership Institute in Arlington, where we'll be recording some interviews for 18 Doughty Street on Wednesday with various Washington based politicos. And tonight, we had dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. Anyone who has been to one of these restaurants will tell you that the portions are so huge that there is rarely room for any cheesecake. I'm about to go to bed and I feel totally obese... No change there, then.

Tomorrow I'm off to the State Department to meet my friend Colleen Graffy who used to be chairman of Republicans Abroad in London, but who is now Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs in the Bush Administration. Later in the day I've got a tour of the Library of Congress, after which I will be attending the Henry Kissinger Lecture, which is being delivered this year by former Secretary of State James Baker.

Daniel Hannan Has a Blog


A View of the 24 Hour Media: Cynical or True?

A friend of mine, Paul Osborn, made a telling point today at a lunch I was attending in Washington. He was speaking at a pro-war rally in Washington some time ago and said...
The 24 hour news media seem keener to report failure over success. Every
challenge is insurmountable, every obstacle is too great too overcome. They
prefer to report on people who hate their country rather then those who love
their country. I can’t help but wonder if the Second World War was fought under
these circumstances whether we’d have won. Winston Churchill would have had to
say: “We shall fight them in the focus groups. We shall fight them in the opinion
polls. We shall never surrender unless our approval rating drops below


How to Run a Parliamentary Selection

It's tough to lose a Parliamentary selection, especially when you get to the last four. Vicky Ford's gracious post HERE demonstrates what a class act she is. It's only a matter of time before she gets selected. I was shortlisted for Tiverton & Honiton too, and can testify to the professionalism of the Association and the way it went about the selection. I withdrew before the interview for personal reasons but my impression of the local association was mirrored in what Vicky wrote. Other associations could learn a lot from them.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Home from Home

I'm at the Heritage Foundation this morning for a lecture by the historian Andrew Roberts on his book THE HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH SPEAKING PEOPLES 1900-2000. Andrew is a historian and writer I greatly admire. I was introduced to his work about 12 years ago when I read his only novel, THE AACHEN MEMORANDUM, which centres around Britain pulling out of the EU in 2045. His biography of Salisbury is his best book so far - a real doorstopper but beautifully crafted.

Clegg: Ming's the Best Leader We've Got

Remember when RAB Butler answered a question from a journalist on whether Anthony Eden was "the best prime minister we've got" by answering "yes"? Well today we have a 2007 version. This is what Nick Clegg said in an extensive INTERVIEW in today's Times...
"People Shouldn't write Ming off."

No indeed, Nick, but carelss talk costs political lives... The Times interview is a classic case of positioning. No politician does an interview with someone like Giles Hattersley without knowing exactly what his game is. Clegg knew full well that it would be largely about his own ambitions, with a bit of Home Affairs stuff for appearances sake. And it comes at a time when a LibDem whispering campaign against Sir Ming is already in full swing - well, in partial swing. Here's a bit more from the interview...
But never mind all that, is a leadership race on the cards? Clegg says not. “People shouldn’t write Ming off,” he says carefully. “I think the contrast between Cameron and him will work.” Is Clegg at least sensing the buzz about him? “It is both flattering and problematic.” But you’ll run when Campbell steps down after the general election? “Look, if and when I think I have a serious contribution to make then I’d be daft not to give it serious consideration.” Increasingly with Clegg it seems much less “if” than “when”. As the compassionate Conservatives, with their touchy-feely work/ life balance agenda, encroach further on Liberal ground Clegg is seen as one of the few who can play them at their own game. There is talk that his leanings are so blue, in fact, that the Cons once tried to poach him for their own shadow cabinet.
Now, when I see a similar interview with Chris Huhne in another newspaper I'll know that the whispering campaign really is in 'full swing'. I'm sure I won't have long to wait.

Denham to Challenge Brown?

Over the last few days I have had several emails from people suggesting that John Denham is being asked to stand against Gordon Brown.

He's a former Home Office Minister who resigned over Iraq, and he currently chairs the Home Office Select Committee. Paul Linford suggested the possibility the other day and follows up his original article with THIS today. He reports that Mike Smithson from has put a bet on him at 320/1. Denham is a serious player and well liked, but he's never been in the Cabinet, but there's little doubt he would stand more of a chance of getting 44 nominations than either Meacher or McDonnell. But then again, so would I.

The Times has a POLL suggesting Labour MPs reckon Brown won't help them hang on to their seats.

The Sun has a POLL showing that 92% of 'opinion formers' back Gordon. As Guido points out, the poll has been conducted by Gordon's favourite pollster, Deborah Mattinson. 59% believe that Gordon better understands 'ordinary voters'. Of course opinion formers live such normal lives, don't they?!

Giuliani Pulls Ahead

Ok, I've only been in Washington for a day, but I have yet to meet a single Republican who thinks Rudi Giuliani will win the Republican nomination. I reckon I am mixing with the wrong kind of Republican. The Daily Telegraph reports today that Giuliani would wallop Hillary Clinton by 53-42 if they were the two contenders. More HERE. To me Giuliani stands out head and shoulders above the contenders. People used to say he wouldn't be able to raise the money. then they said his colourful private life would 'do' for him. Then they said his liberal social views would be unacceptable. What 'they' haven't reckoned with is his clear record of achievement, both in governing New York and then becoming 'America's Mayor' following 9-11. The diehards might not like him but the voters do. The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself and listening to what the people are saying. And what they're saying is: We want Rudi.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

That Aussie Sense of Humour...

Best not to send THIS sort of text message if you're a political candidate. People might get the wrong idea. Hat-tip Kiwiblog.

Who do so Few Candidates Have Blogs?

My friend Tracey Crouch has set up a blog. She's recently been selected as Tory candidate for Chatham & Aylesford. It set me thinking. Only 10 Tory candidates, out of around 110 selected so far, have blogs. Why?

I think it's quite simple. There is a real fear that blogs are dangerous. That you can write something which either might come back to haunt you later in your career, or that you will inevitably write something which the Party hierarchy disapproves of. This is very short-sighted. Blogs provide candidates with a cost-free way of communciating with their electorate, when they want, how they want, as often as they want. They can't replace printed literature and more traditional ways of voter communication, but they can compliment what candidates already so.

In my view there is a smple solution to this. CCHQ need to make clear that they positively encourage candidates to have blogs. I think there is a real recognition by Francis Maude that the positives of blogs far outweigh the negatives. There is no single best way to do a blog. Look at the examples out there and there's a tremedous variety. Here are the 1o Tory candidates with blogs. If I have missed any, let me know.

Andrea Leadsom, Andrew Percy, Brandon Lewis, Deirdre Alden, Kevin Davis, Esther McVey, Marcus Wood, Nick King, Trevor Ivory, Tracey Crouch.

PS Well, it's snowing in Washington. Off now on a second hand bookstore trawl.

Is Someone Out to Get UKIP?

Devil's Kitchen compares and contrasts two stories from EU Referendum and Daniel Foggo from The Times. They concern the financial activities of UKIP MEP Tom Wise. If you read the Devil's piece you'd think he was accusing Richard North of plagiarism (see his final paras), but it seems to me that North & Foggo have co-operated with each other in researching the story.

Whatever the truth of it is, the whole saga hardly paints UKIP in a very positive light. It's interesting that this is being raised again now, in the week in which UKIP's very existence has been threatened by the Electoral Commission. Anyone would think there is someone out there who is out to get them.

Hazel Blears Gets My Vote!

It's time for all chipmunks to come off the wheel fence and give their backing to the only credible candidate for the Labour leadership. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Hazel Blears. As Tom Watson MP says (for it must be true) "I would say that this is a very serious bid indeed, that easily eclipses many of the other campaigns so far." She has a super WEBSITE, a profile on Facebook (but only 26 members!), MySpace and Flickr and even announced her candidacy on Youtube. Sadly, despite Dizzy's best efforts, this spectacular video has only been seen by 24 people so far, so I urge all my blog readers to watch it and support Hazel. You know it makes sense.
And we can help her in another way. I don't think her campaign slogan quite works: HAZEL FOR DEPUTY - WINNING FOR LABOUR. Well, it just doesn't make me moist with excitement. And you, dear readers, can do better. I know you can.

Blair to Sign a New European Constitution

The News of the World reports today that Tony Blair will sign up to Angela Merkel's replacement European Constitution without having a referendum. If this happens it really is true to say that we will have effectively become a province of the Greater Belgian Empire United States of Europe.
The News of the World can reveal the Prime Minister intends to rubber-stamp
the European Constitution without consulting his likely successor Chancellor
Gordon Brown — not to mention British voters. Mr Blair has PERSONALLY pushed
forward plans for a permanent EU President and Foreign Minister as one of his
last acts before he stands down as premier. He will travel to Berlin on March 25
to sign the 50-page agreement, Declaration on the Future of Europe. Far from a
simple "declaration", this is a binding treaty which embodies "basic laws" for
490 million people in 27 countries.

Its proposals were set out in the despised constitution, already crushingly rejected by voters across Europe. It will set up:

*A PERMANENT, unelected, president of the European Union who will speak
as a sole voice for the whole of Europe and serve a five-year term.
*FULL-TIME foreign and defence ministers to represent Europe — which means
powers like China and America will by-pass Britain and speak directly to them.
*A REFORMED European parliament, empowered to draw up more of its own laws.
Britain would lose the ability to veto its decisions — and each member state's
own government will lose the right to "opt out" of EU laws and treaties.

That will mean that Mr Blair's successor will be unable to renegotiate ANY
of the European treaties. The document is being finalised by the German
government, which holds the EU presidency. But we can reveal it will state:

*If a change of government in a country calls into question what has been
agreed, not only is society split in that nation, but our continent is increasingly incapacitated.
*We must commit to our European legal principles: pacta sunt servanda — "treaties are to be honoured."
*Officials in Brussels have been working on the new agreement since June 2005, when the Dutch followed the French in rejecting the 300-page constitution which laid out exactly what powers the EU needed when it expanded from 12 to 27 member states.

In all, nine countries with a population of over 150 million turned it down
or, like the UK, decided not to put it to the vote. Downing Street played a
major role in the latest negotiations but their plans have infuriated the
Treasury, which fears Gordon Brown will be landed with a series of deeply
unpopular moves when he takes over. One Brown aide told us: "Why are Downing
Street doing this? We don't need more European integration, we need the
integration we have to work properly." Under the new plans, the European
parliament will be able to come up with trade union laws, green regulations on
carbon emissions and metres of red tape that could cripple business. It can set
its own budgets, meaning the EU will tell Britain how much we must fork out to
fund its massive bureaucracy. That move alone will cost Britain hundreds of
millions a year, since the EU will be able to reduce our rebate from Brussels
negotiated by Baroness Thatcher in the 1980s.
Blair will deny this is a replacement to the original European Constitution, but if it looks like a constitution, sounds like a constitution and smells like one, then that's exactly what it is. And the Conservatives should now lead the campaign against it.
The NOTW also reveals that Blair will cause a by-election in the Autumn as he doesn't want to stay on in the House of Commons when he steps down as Prime Minister. More HERE.

A Way to Broadcast the Bremner/Beckett Tape

So it was Margaret Beckett who was duped by Rory Bremner into having a conversation with Gordon Brown about a rehsuffle. I'd love to be a fly on the wall when she next sees Patricia Hewitt. Bremner says the tape cannot be broadcast on TV because of Ofcom rules. True, but of course internet TV is not bound by them... I'm sure I could find a way of broadcasting them on my 18 Doughty Street programme! Anyone got Rory's email address? If so please email it to me rather than leave it in the Comments.

Read an edited transcipt of the conversation HERE.

Prescott's Buttocks Cause TV Dilemma

Please assure me you are not eating your Sunday lunch before you read THIS from Atticus...
You wouldn’t think life could get any more embarrassing for John Prescott,
whose affair with Tracey Temple will be dramatised on Wednesday in ITV’s
Confessions Of a Diary Secretary. Members of the cabinet are already wishing
they knew how to set their videos. But actor John Henshaw has revealed that
a stunt double was brought in the play the deputy prime minister’s buttocks.
Only a specialist, of course, could truly understand the motivation of the
buttocks in the love scenes.

I feel queasy.

MP Thinks Kelly Was Murdered

LibDem MP Norman Baker reckons David Kelly did not commit suicide. Click HERE for more. I have to admit, the same thought has occured to me more than once.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Adios, Au Revoir, Auf Wiedersehn

If ever the government want to take global warming seriously and discourage people from flying can I suggest that they make all airports like Terminal 3 at Heathrow? If ever anyone doubted the need for Terminal 5...

I'm not surprised Richard Branson complains about the small corner of Terminal 3 Virgin are tucked away in. Thank God I arrived in good time. If i had arrived twenty minutes later I'd have been in a queue which was double the size of the one I joined. Checking in online was my first mistake. So had everyone else. The queue for normal checking in was quite short in comparison. To Virgin's credit they had a big sign up slagging off the Chancellor's Airport Duty Tax rise. It ended up with a very sarcastic "We can't wait to see how the Chancellor will spend the money..."

I asked if an exit seat was available rather than the seat by the loo I had been allocated. To my utter surprise and delight one was free. Then came the sting in the tail - Virgin now charge an extra £50 for an exit seat. The moths have never flown off my wallet so quickly.

So, having dropped off my suitcase (overweight by 4kg... but I was let off) I then made my way to the departure gate - another 300 yard long queue. Oh the joy of air travel.

And so ladies and gentlemen, I bid you farewell for the rest of the day. Think of me at 4.50pm as I am stuck over the Atlantic, heading for the land of the free, not knowing if West Ham have beaten Charlton. As I am in the cheap seats I doubt whether the pilot will keep me informed!

PS I bought an iPod in duty free having not been able to find it last night. The nice people at Dixon's are charging it up for me as I type this. Lord Kalms will be pleased.

Responding to Frederick Forsyth

I am honoured that Frederick Forsyth has written a letter to the Telegraph commenting on my article on Wednesday. Here it is...
Sir - Iain Dale ("Tories' Champagne should stay on ice", Comment, February 21)
tells us that David Cameron "wanted to make Lib Dem voters feel that they could
come home to the Conservatives".

Problem: the 4.5 million Conservative voters who voted for John Major in 1992
but refused in 1997 did not switch to the Lib Dems. Nor did the extra 1.5
million who walked away between 1997 and 2005. Had they done so, Sir Menzies
Campbell would now be Prime Minister.

The slowly rising Lib Dem harvest of seats derives not from former Tory votes
for the Lib Dems, but from the falling vote of their two main opponents. Mr Dale
might address himself to the conundrum: what happened to the 10 million voters
who, across 13 years, have refused to turn out for anybody? Even if 20 per cent
have died or emigrated, that is still a huge missing electorate. David Cameron
does not need to convert Lib Dems. He walks into Downing Street if he can find
the missing Tory voters and bring them back.

Second problem: they were mostly traditionalists when they walked off in
disgust on May 1, 1997, and being now 10 years older probably still are.

Frederick Forsyth, Hertford

He raises some good points. Let me respond. Of course it is not just LibDem voters Cameron needs to attract. My point was that it is voters in the centre - whether Labour or Libdem - who need to feel that the Tory Party is a decent Party and can relate to people like them. The phrase 'good for me, good for my neighbour' sums this up.

Forsyth is wrong to imply that it is not Libdem voters which should be targeted. Many of their 63 MPs won their seats because former Tory voters went over to them in 1997 and 2001 - North Norfolk, Taunton, Winchester, Eastleigh, Harrogate, Kingston... Need I go on?

Forsyth is, however, right to ask why 10 million people now do not vote at all. In the 1000 words available to me I was addressing other issues so did not cover this, but I would say that one of the reasons (and there are many others) is that they felt the Tories had moved away from their values. It is Cameron's task to appeal to this group too, and I believe he is making good progress with them.

I do not agree with Forsyth that most of this group were 'traditionalists' and even if they were, I suspect they would have been in the upper age groups and after ten years are a rapidly diminishing number. No, most people who don't vote tend to take the 'plague on all your houses' approach and are a very difficult group to entice back into the polling booth. It's even more difficult when there is relative economic stability.

However, we should also remember that many people didn't vote last time and the time before because they thought it would make little difference to the result. That will be different next time.

The Cost of the Olympics

Mihir Bose, the new BBC Sports editor has taken Peter Horrocks at his word (see below) and got an 'exclusive' on the cost of the Olympics. He reckons they will cost up to £9 billion, including a 60 per cent contigency. This is four times the original government estimate. The 'Bah Humbuh' tendency is already out in force.

We should be excited about the Olympics rather than constantly carp about the cost. Any sane person could have worked out that the original £2 billion estimate was pie in the sky. My carp is not the underestimate, it is about how it will be paid for. It is wrong that the national lottery is being raided and that other good causes will be losing out. It is also wrong that London council tax payers will be paying the bulk of the cost. The Olympic games will be enjoyed by the whole country and benefit the whole country. Therefore, what can't be funded through private means should be funded out of general taxation.


What is the one thing you don't want to lose with just a few hours before you spend eight hours on a flight to Washington. Got it in one. Your iPod...

Friday, February 23, 2007

Peter Hain Heralds the Return of the Politics of Envy

A reader has sent me an article by Simon Nixon of Money Week in which he lambasts Peter Hain. He accuses him of reverting to old style 'envy politics'...
I’m usually one of those who believe Tony Blair is among the worst prime ministers in modern times. But now and then something happens to remind you just how much we all owe him. I had one of those moments this week when I read that Peter Hain was calling for City bankers to give away two-thirds of their bonuses to charity. Sounding more like a gangster than a minister, he warned that if they didn’t hand over their cash, others would take action... Blair’s genius is to have led a government stuffed with people like Hain...for ten years and yet to have stopped them from destroying the economy, as they did in the 1970s. Hain and his friends forget that the City already pay tax at 40% on everything they earn. If they gave away a further two-thirds, they would be left to keep just 20% of their earnings. If he thinks they should be taxed at 80%, he should come out and say so. He won’t, of course, because he knows the City is vital to the UK economy... In fact, Hain’s beef with the City has nothing to do with economics, or even morals. It’s about aesthetics. He doesn’t think it looks good to have 4,000 people in the City earn more than a £1m a year. The less well paid could be offended. Rising inequality is bad for social cohesion. If the bankers don’t give way, there is no knowing where public pressure – no doubt whipped up by demagogues like Hain – will lead.

I don’t buy this analysis. For a start, I don’t believe people care about inequality nearly as much as Labour politicians think. As a financial journalist, I spend my professional life among people far wealthier than me – indeed, the very people Hain wants to give their money away. At a recent dinner, I tried to guess the combined wealth of the other guests and put it at about £2bn. I reckoned the next poorest was probably worth £10m more than me. But that didn’t tempt me to sound the tumbrils. What people really care about is opportunity. Most people accept wealth inequality is a fact of life. What they resent is being denied the chance to compete. What struck me about my fellow diners was not only how competitive they all were, but how none had started out wealthy. That’s a huge change in the City even in the 15 years since I started work, when there were still many people at the top who seemed to be there simply by dint of heredity. The Sunday Times Rich List bears this out. Three-quarters of those appearing in it are self-made, whereas 20 years ago, 75% inherited their wealth. Britain should be proud of this record of social mobility. What should really worry Hain is that, thanks to this Government, social mobility has actually got harder.

A United Nations report finds that British school children are the bottom of the league among 21 developed countries on almost every measure from education to health and happiness. The Confederation of British Industry has pointed out time and again that our education system is churning out school leavers without the basic skills to take their place in the workforce. Last week, Sir John Rose, the chief executive of Rolls-Royce, warned that, thanks to Britain’s open borders and reluctance to protect national companies, the UK economy will live and die by its skills. And right now, our skills aren’t good enough. A generation is being denied the chance to compete effectively. It is that – and not the fact that some banker in the City earned a £10m bonus last year – that will make people resentful. The City understands this only too well. Quietly, without fanfare, many bankers, hedge-fund managers and private-equity people are giving away large amounts of money, much of it to educational charities. Business and the City have been major backers of Blair’s City academies – schools that he had to fight to establish in the teeth of opposition from many of his own party. It is Hain and Prescott, with their ideological objection to selection and competition and their insistence on a one-size-fits-all mediocrity that poses the real threat to Britain’s social cohesion. Blair may have succeeded in preventing his colleagues from destroying the economy. But it will be up to his successors to deal with the consequences of a failed generation.

Lloyds TSB Can Whistle for Their £35

Lloyds Bank are apparently writing to customers like me who have a Lloyds credit card but don't use it very often. We are being told that unless we use the credit card within the next thirty days or close their account they will be charged a £35 fee. And there was me thinking that extortion was illegal...

Footnote: Lloyds TSB announced a £4.25 billion profit today. I am a Lloyds customer. But possibly not for much longer. The trouble is, the Big 4 are all the same.

Sir Patrick Saved for the Nation

Sir Patrick Cormack has been handed a reprieve. Details HERE. Quite right too. Let's hope his constituency association see sense if it comes to another vote. Whatever his faults he does not deserve deselection and it's a row the whole Party can do without.

And in a BBC News Exclusive Tonight...

At the RTS Awards for news programmes the BBC only won one award. ITN won seven and Channel 4 won five. Peter Horrocks, the Head of News at the BBC has hit the roof and ordered News 24 editor Simon Waldman to send an email to all BBC news journalists.
"Peter H [Horrocks] led a discussion in the wake of what he called 'one of
the grimmest nights in terms of BBC TV News performance' at the RTS. As you
know, TV News won NOTHING - apart from the admirable Darren Conway winning
cameraman of the year (again)."

Horrocks reckons the BBC should "concentrate on uncovering exclusives" which "challenge those in power". This is a very revealing quote. Surely the role of BBC News is to report the news, rather than create it. Surely it is the role of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition to challenge those in power, rather than BBC journalists. BBC journalists are there to report the news in the most impartial manner possible. That's not to say that no BBC journalist should report on matters unfavourable to those who wield power, but the story has to warrant it.

We need fewer hyped up reports which start with the words "the BBC has learned". This sentence is used to create the impression that a journalist has been burrowing away to discover information which someone has tried to keep from them. Sometimes that is indeed the case, but it often means that they have either picked up some good gossip which is worth a punt, or they have been leaked some information by someone with an agenda. You'll see the same thing on the front page of The Times most days.

So when you hear criticism of bloggers for revelling in gossip and unsubstantiated fact, just think to yourself what methods mainstream journalists are using to collect their information. They're little different. But if a blogger wishes to express and opinion and "challenge those in power" that is all well and good. But it's not the role of the taxpayer funded BBC News department. Its role is to report on facts and events.

UKIP Donation Row: Does the Punishment Fit the Crime?

Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader, has just appeared on Sky News alleging that the Electoral Commission is part of an establishment plot to close them down. If I were in his position I'd probably play the injured party to gain public sympathy. After all, for a Party with an annual income of £250,000, it could be curtains if they have to find £367,000 to hand over to Gordon Brown (under the rules the donation is not returned to the donor). Let's ignore the party political side of this for a moment and look at it dispassionately.

Farage is right when he says that the legislation was drafted to catch illicit foreign donations. He alleges it is all down to a simple clerical error. Well, up to a point. It is actually illegal not to put yourself on the electoral register, and we should not ignore the fact it was down to UKIP to ensure he was actually on it. This partly explains why UKIP's accounts are so late. It is clear that UKIP knew this was going to be an issue and have spent the last six months attempting to persuade the Electoral Commission to give them nothing more than a rap on the knuckles.

There is also the issue of fair play here. It was quite right to fine them for the late submission of their accounts, but it is certainly arguable that the punishment of losing £367,000 was far worse than the crime. Their was no attempt to deceive, the donor was British and it was fully declared, albeit late. The question for UKIP now is whether they can afford a Judicial Review. I am no lawyer, but it is certainly a case that is ripe for one I would have thought.

I'm also interested in the implications of this for the Liberal Democrats who still face the prospect of repaying the £2.4 million they received from the jailed fraudster Michael Brown. The Electoral Commission had intended to make a judgement on the permissability of the donation by the end of last year, but as the City of London Police are still conducting their own inquiry, the Commission is waiting until that comes to an end.

The Vaizey/Clegg Affair - From the Horse's Mouth

Ed Vaizey is interviewed on GMTV's Sunday Programme about his trip to the Arctic Circle with other MPs, including the LibDem Nick Clegg.
Ed Vaizey: You’re on this tiny wooden sled which has two runners at the back so it’s a bit like skiing and Nick Clegg, it turns out, the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman, used to be a ski-instructor – little known fact about Nick! – So he was the best at that. But I fell off quite frequently.
Steve Richards: When you weren’t falling off [the sled], the odd rumour that’s got back that you and him had such a rapport in the Arctic that you were talking quite a lot about Con/Lib pacts when you had a moment together away from the drama.
Ed Vaizey: Absolutely, yeah. No, I’m trying to tempt Nick over and he wasn’t taking any of it but….
Steve Richards: You’re trying to get him to defect to the Tories, not agree to form a relationship with you after the election…
Ed Vaizey: We have different views on different issues but I do think that Nick is a very, very impressive politician. He’s got leadership skills I have to say from the five days I spent in the Arctic with him. He’s a very nice and charismatic fellow. I do think he’s in the wrong party: he thinks he’s in the right party. Unfortunately
we have to leave it at that.

Cleansing Parliamentary Graffiti

Earlier this week Dizzy wrote about the spiralling cost of Early Day Motions. Printing them on the order paper costs a massive £627,000 a year. We can all name ridiculous EDMs which backbench MPs put down to curry favour with their local papers and constituents. The most recent example was where Andrew Pelling MP put down an EDM commiserating with Rick Stein about the death of his Jack Russell. Utterly preposterous.

So this set me thinking. Should EDMs be abolished, or is there something constructive that could be done with them? They were once described as 'graffiti on the walls of Parliament' as they never get debated. So my proposal is this: to make them more relevant there would be two one hour debates every week (maybe in Westminster Hall) on the two EDMs that gain the most signatures in a given week. That way people could lobby their MPs to sign EDMs and there would at least be some outcome at the end of the process.

Any other ideas?

For your Blog Delectation...

Paul Linford on why John Denham should stand against Gordon Brown
Dizzy Thinks about pig masturbation
Nadine on lunching with Dave
Norfolk Blogger on David Dimblebore
Stephen Tall on the LibDems' confusion over road pricing
EU Referendum on UKIP's woes

New Balls Please

So the All England Club have given into demands to give equal prize money to men and women at Wimbledon. On the fact of it that is to be welcomed. Men and women should indeed be treated equally - that is if the work they do it the same. In this case it isn't. Yes, they are ostensibly playing the same game, but in actual fact it's totally different. It's conducted over three sets not five and it attracts a fraction of the sponsorship money that the men's game does. Compared to the men's game, it's also very unexciting. I see no logical reason therefore - apart from political correctness - for awarding women the same prize money. It's a bit like saying Dagenham & Redbridge should get the same money for winning the Conference as Chelsea do for winning the Premiership.

And while I am at it, who on earth would want to watch a couple of women slugging a ball from baseline to baseline for an hour? It's about as exciting as watching paint dry.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

UKIP Forced to Pay Back £367,000

Sky News are reporting that UKIP's finances are to be investigated by the Electoral Commission. There are some major discrepancies in their financial accounts and they have been ordered to pay back more than £367,697 of 'unacceptable donations' and fined £1,000 for the late filing of their accounts. I wrote about this back in January HERE. Natutally it was all dismissed as a storm in a teacup at the time. Rather like the LibDems dismissed the furore about Michael Brown. Which reminds me, I wonder how the Electoral Commission is getting on with that particular investigation...

Viral Advertising: It's the Future and it Works

18 Doughty Street's WORLD WITHOUT AMERICA advert seems to have been rather a hit.

* Today it is the second most popular political video on Youtube
* It is the 23rd 13th most viewed video on Youtube today
* It is the 20th 12th top rated video on Youtube
* It has been viewed 30,00077,817 124,876 times on Youtube and 25,000 times on our own website
* It is the sixth most favourited video on Youtube today
* It has 770 1948 comments on Youtube
* It is the most commented on video of the day in the political section
* It is the third most commented on video on the whole of Youtube today
* Fox News (the real one) are featuring it tonight

Viral marketing, eh?

Transport Minister in Retreat on Road Pricing

Stephen Ladyman, who is the Minister for Transport, is in a bit of bother. This is what he said on December 13 2006 in a Westminster Hall debate in the House of Commons...
“There will be national road pricing. We have said that that will happen
around the middle of the next decade, although I shall not have a sweepstake on
exactly which year it will be. It might be a little later than that;
circumstances and the Government of the day will determine when it is. In no
discussion with any transport expert, academic or other person who has studied
traffic issues around the country have I heard any dispute that road pricing is
coming to the roads near us at some time in the future”. Hansard, 13 Dec 2006, Column 286WH.

However, today his tune seems to have changed in his webchat today. Could the road pricing petition have had some effect after all?
“This is a debate, no decisions have been made yet and there is time for
everyone to have their say”. Webchat, 22 February 2007

Martha Kearney Leaves Newsnight

Tonight's Newsnight email brings the devastating news that Martha Kearney is quitting her job as Political Editor to take over as the new presenter of the World at One on Radio 4. She will be a great loss to Newsnight as her contacts book is unrivalled and she's one of the nicest journalists I know. The only time we have had a cross word was after her 15 minute profile of David Davis during the leadership campaign. But she was so nice about it that it was me that ended up feeling bad. Quite a talent. I hope she likes her new lunchtime perch.

Egyptian Blogger Jailed for Insulting Mubarak

Just as well I don't live in Egypt.

Eating on the Job

Another gem from the Blog of Nadine Dorries MP...

David Burrowes, the lovely and always happy MP for Enfield Southgate and
his wife are expecting baby number 6!!! David and I sometimes chat in the lobby
during voting and he is always entertaining – never so entertaining as he was
last night though! I was riveted to the green bench whilst he regaled me with
the latest antics of Dougal Burrowes, his little boy, (no 3 in descending

Dougal has a pet lizard, it’s called James ‘bonkers’ Burrowes. In James’ cage, to keep him company, was a rather frisky, in the true adult sense of the word, fully grown, rather large, gender challenged, sexually frustrated cricket.

The cricket made many advances to the lizard, but all to no avail, and eventualy, the cricket decided to just go for it, and he did, went for it, literally. Having navigated his way onto the lizard, (gosh I don’t know how to put this delicately but I am sure you get the picture), and just as he reached the point of no return, the lizard turned
around opened his mouth and ate him in one – whilst Dougal and David watched as
spectators and looked at each other in some surprise. Surprise because although
a predator, this had up until now, been one very lazy and laid back lizard.

Who said the female of the species was more deadly than the male? What lesson did Dougal learn from this tableau? Better than any he will get in a PSE lesson in school I reckon!

Just not cricket eh?

Your Questions for Julie Kirkbride Please...

Tonight at 9pm I'll be talking to Tory MP Julie Kirkbride for an hour on 18 Doughty Street. If you have any questions you'd like me to ask her, please leave them in the comments...

Vox Politix at 10pm will be with Daily Mail columnist John Torode, former Tory candidate Ashley Crossley and teacher Tom Richmond.

Anecdotes from the Thatcher Statue Unveiling

A word of praise for James Hardy of the BBC. His report on last night's unveiling of Margaret Thatcher's statue struck just the right tone. Having been a journalist on the Daily Mirror, I suspect that James is not a card carrying Tory, but he capture the mood of the occasion beautifully.

Two anecdotes from the evening. My informant tells me that another person who acquitted himself well was Speaker Michael Martin. He led Lady Thatcher into Members' lobby from the chamber of the House of Commons. Assorted Tory MPs and 'old lags' from Thatcher Cabinets of years gone by were gathered to greet her. There was a touching moment when she saw Geoffrey Howe, who immediately held out his hand. Not a word was exchanged, but I'm told it was one of those 'moments' when words would have been superfluous.

It was also good to see John Major attending. A few years ago he wouldn't have been seen dead in her company. Time heals, I suppose.

An amusing exchange occurred when a Conservative MP questioned an 'Old Labour' MP as to why he was there. "I would have thought you would rather anyone else had a statue erected here," said the Tory. "Look mate, if it stops that bastard Blair from getting a statue, it's got to be a good thing," said the Labour MP. "No, no, you don't understand," replied the Tory, "In this new technological age, Blair won't be getting a statue, there will be a permanenet moving hologram of him on the ceiling of Members' Lobby." Just for a moment the Labour MP believed it.

From what I have seen of the pictures the statue captures Lady T perfectly. I hope to see it in the 'flesh' this afternoon. Apparently, if the doors of the Chamber are open, the statue is clearly visible if you're speaking at the Opposition Despatch Box. What greater inspiration could David Cameron have?!

One final thing. Somebody in the Commons has a sense of humour. Were the statue of Lady T able to look down, what would she see? A small bust of Edwad Heath on a shelf. How very appropriate.

Anyway, I'll be on TalkSport at 10.20 talking about Lady T should you be listening to Mr John Gaunt this morning!

Meacher in Diary Mix-up

Labour MP Michael Meacher was at the centre of an embarrassing diary mix-up this morning. At a press conference announcing his candidacy for the leadership of the Labour Party he was overheard whispering to an aide: "You bloody told me it was he 1st of April today". Mr Meacher is 94.

More HERE.

Steve Norris: 'Let's Get Out of the EU'

Steven Norris tonight backed Britain formally withdrawing from Europe. The former Government minister and mayoral candidate told me on 18 Doughty Street’s Live at Nine programme that Britain “just doesn’t belong in the same institutions” as other European countries.

Norris had said earlier in the programme that he would back the Conservative under David Cameron if they made a decision to withdraw from the EU. He also signalled his intention to stand against Ken Livingstone for a third time in the 2008 London Mayoral Elections.

On Europe, Norris said...
“The institution of the European Union which I think is corrupted and corrupting and largely redundant…if it were put to me that it were practicable the intention of Cameron’s Conservative party to withdraw ourselves formally from the European Union that wouldn’t cause me a single moment’s distress.

‘I would say…we have a completely different tradition in terms of democracy, in terms of institutions, in terms of economy, in terms of our use of English language, our transatlantic connections…We just don’t belong in the same institutions…We want a relationship that is constructive in Europe and will continue to be, you need us, we need you, but what we don’t need is the institution of the European Union of which I’m profoundly suspicious.

Most of the interview was spent on the London mayoral race and transport issues. Watch the programme and you won't be left in any doubt that Steve will run for the Tory nomination and a good thing too. He told me he would scrap the congestion charge zone altogether, scrap bendy buses, reinstate Routemaster buses, tax company car parking spaces, ban goods vehicles from the streets at peak times and much more besides. It really is worth listening to. His enthusiasm is infectious. He finishes by saying: "If I run, I'll win".

The hour long programme can be seen in full HERE.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Your Questions for Steve Norris Please...

I'll be interviewing Steve Norris for an hour from 9pm tonight on 18 Doughty Street. Join us live in the programme on MSN or email the same address. Or you can leave your questions on this thread and I'll put them to Steve.

Read His Lips

So Tony Blair says road pricing will not be a stealth tax. Maybe he had better have a word with his Chancellor, who seems addicted to stealth taxes like airport passenger duty which he makes out will save the environment, but in reality will save not a single tree.

Nicholas Boles Steps Down from Policy Exchange

Anthony Browne, Chief Political Correspondent of The Times, will take over from Nicholas Boles as the Chief Executive of Policy Exchange. Nicholas is leaving the award-winning Think Tank to concentrate on his bid to be Mayor of London. He's now gone from 'listening' to 'running'. He's a very credible candidate and I wish him well. Talking of the mayoral race, I'll be interviewing Steve Norris tonight on 18 Doughty Street at 9pm.

Anthony Browne was the Brussels Correspondent before he moved to Westminster and will be a considerable loss to the paper. I understand that he used to be a Labour supporter, then joined the Conservatives but isn't attached to any political party at the moment.

I became a Trustee of Policy Exchange when it was formed in 2001. I've been delighted to see it grow to become one of the most influential think tanks in the country. Its expansion has been largely drive by one man, Nicholas Boles. He's exactly the kind of inspirational leader who commands loyalty from his colleagues and staff without ever having to ask for it. He's someone I'm delighted to call a friend.

Footnote: It seems the right time for me also to step down as a Trustee. I'm sure it will come as a great disappointment to all the conspiracy theorists out there, but I haven't actually been able to attend a single Policy Exchange Trustees meeting for eighteen months due to diary clashes. I think it is now a good time for Policy Exchange to appoint someone as a Trustee who will be able to commit more time than I have been able to recently.

UPDATE: Message to the anonymous trolls who are spouting their usual guff about Policy Exchange. Save yourselves the trouble. If you can't be bothered to identify yourselves, your comments won't be posted. And that goes for anonymous posters in general. If all you want to do is slag people off, go and do it elsewhere.

A Different Kind of Westminster Challenge

It was reported in yesterday's Evening Standard that Ed Vaizey's favourite part of his Arctic adventure was when fellow MP and charity fundraiser, Emily Thornberry, fell off the top of the igloo they were building together. I wonder what Emily's high point was? It might have been watching the relations develop between one of Cameron's nearest and dearest and everyone's favourite tip for the next Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg. I'm told that the two MPs became quite close during the trip - perhaps a sign of easing relations paving the way for a possible coalition after the next election? Probably not.

What is for sure though, is that the first Westminster Challenge has been a major success. The initiative, led by former Tory Party Conference Chairman, Richard Stephenson, has generated huge amounts of media coverage and raised a great deal of money for the charities, Crimestoppers, The Children's Society and Cancer Research UK. At the welcome back party hosted by the Lithuanian Ambassador this week, Stephenson announced plans to ballot MPs on the destination for the next expedition due to take place in 2008. Possibilities include; trekking across the Namibian desert, climbing Mount Kenya, a jungle adventure in Ecuador and rafting through Lithuania - strangely nobosy suggested a trek through Chechnya... Click HERE for more on the Westminster Challenge. Ed's take on the trip is HERE. He's says Nick Clegg an't budgin'. Well, he would, wouldn't he!

That Blair Roadpricing Email in Full...

In the Telegraph Today...

If you'd like to read my debut column in today's Daily Telegraph click HERE. It's a look at the aftermath of the ICM/Guardian poll and where Project Cameron should go from here. Key bullet points from the article...
* Why Tory champagne should stay on ice
* Why Edward Leigh is wrong
* What breaking the 40% barrier means
* Phase 2 of Project Cameron
* The right way to develop policy
* Learning from the Thatcher opposition
* Francis Maude & the rebuilding of the Party organisation
* David Cameron's Reaganesque qualities

Politics for Adults: A World Without America

This is the fourth of's weekly adverts. At a time of rampant anti-Americanism this ad - produced with - aims to remind the world of the great economic, technological and political benefits that the US has brought to the world. Click HERE for the page on 18DS.

UPDATE: The viriol against America displayed by some people in the Comments section of this post demonstrate why this Advert needed to be made. There is a disturbing level of anti-americanism in this country at the moment and someone needs to put the case for the defence. Whatever its faults, America is a beacon of freedom and has saved democracy three in the last century - twice from German tyranny and once from the Soviet jackboot. Some of the comments in this thread are from people who ought to know better.

Politics for Children

Courtesy of Beau Bo D'Or
Let no one say we don't have a sense of humour...

Monday, February 19, 2007

BREAKING NEWS: New Poll Gives Massive Tory Lead

One poll does not a Summer make. But if you're a Conservative you ought to buy The Guardian tomorrow. Their ICM poll gives the Conservatives their best showing for 15 years with 40%, Labour on 31% and the LibDems on 19%. If you're a Labour supporter you will be very worried by the fact that when people were asked how they would vote if it were Cameron v Brown, the Tories rose to 42%, Labour fell to 29% and the LibDems also fell by two points to 17%. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why the Labour leadership contest may not be quite the shoo-in that everyone thinks. One or two more polls like this and Labour MPs will be getting very twitchy. However, the Labour Party leadership rules only give MPs one third of the votes, so Brown may be safer than he would have been under a one member one vote system, or if only MPs had the vote.

Anyway, let's see if this trend is reflected in the next YouGov and Populus polls.

Welcome to Mount Rushmore on Sea

Courtesy of the Washington Post
This is what we can look forward to if Al Gore is right!

Straw Backs Down on Lords Reform Vote

Well done to Jack Straw for backing down on the preferential voting system on House of Lords reform. More HERE. His proposal would have set a dangerous constitutional precedent. As Theresa May says: "A preferential ballot would have taken us into murky constitutional waters. It is a fundamental right of Parliament to reject Government proposals should it wish to do so, and the preferential system of voting would have removed that right."

How Should we Fight the War on Drugs?

Alec Douglas Home once said: "There are two problems in my life. The political ones are insoluble and the economic ones are incomprehensible".

This quote sprang to mind when I saw The Independent's front page this morning. POLICE CHIEF CALLS FOR HEROIN TO BE AVAILABLE ON THE NHS. The strapline read - Addicts should be given drugs on prescription to stop them turning to crime, says Britain's most senior officer. The senior officer is question is the President of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), Ken Jones.

Call me old fashioned, but I have a zero tolerance of drugs. I left a party once when I saw someone smoking a joint. It's just the way I am. So I am all in favour of fighting a so-called war on the wretched things. But I do keep asking myself the question: is the war on drugs winnable?

Seventy per cent of crime in urban areas is now drug related. So should we start thinking the unthinkable and actually doing what Ken Jones is suggesting? I still can't quite bring myself to advocate it, but the fact that I can even treat such a suggestion seriously shows how the debate has moved on. Here's Ken Jones justification...
"I was a drugs officer and we have to be realistic. There is a hardcore minority
who are not in anyway shape or form anxious to come off drugs. They think 'I am
going to go out there and steal, rob, burgle and get the money to buy it'. What
are we going to do - say 'OK we are going to try and contain this by normal
criminal justice methods' and fail, or are we going to look at doing something
different? Start being a bit more innovative. It is about looking at things in a
different way without turning away completely from the current position."
He added that drug prices in some areas of the UK had reached a historic low, which
he conceded was a good indicator that drugs were readily available.
He said: "I am not in any shape or form a legaliser, but what I am concerned with is that we have to shape up to some tough realities. We don't have enough treatment
places for those who want to go on them. What we need is a cross-party consensus
which considers the overwhelming public view to be tough on the roots of drugs,
as well as treating its victims."
Studies on heroin prescription in the Netherlands and Switzerland found significant reductions in illicit drug use among those receiving the treatment. Both the Swiss and Dutch reported a drop in the crimes committed by their addicts. The widespread prescription of heroin in Britain was phased out in the 1960s. GPs in England and Wales have the legal power to prescribe heroin, but do so extremely rarely. The UK has 327,466 hardcore "problem drug users" who are regularly using either heroin, crack or cocaine. A report by Glasgow University last year found that fewer than 4 per cent of heroin addicts beat their habit with methadone. There are an estimated 40,000 problem heroin users using methadone.
Mr Jones said that he knew of one region where many years ago doctors had prescribed heroin to try to deal with problem addicts. "There are junkies who are alive today who would have been dead now," he said. "Their lives are stable, yes, their addiction is being maintained, but far better they are being maintained than them trying to get their fix off the street from crime. Heroin is an incredible stimulator of crime and I think we are foolish if we don't acknowledge that."

Up to now I have always taken the view that if you can deal with the dealers and the traffickers you should be able to keep the drug problem at manageable levels. But the trouble is we have failed in that and the drugs which are coming into the country are very different and far stronger than they used to be. That does not mean to say we shouldn't redouble our efforts to bang up the dealers for a very long time, but at the moment they are not deterred. the likelihood of being caught is fairly minimal and the sentencing is sometimes laughable.

So what do you think? Do we need to take a radically different approach to the war on drugs?

John Redwood on an English Parliament

John Redwood is featured in The Independent's YOU ASK THE QUESTIONS column this week. I was slightly surprised at his answer to this question...
Do you think that the Union can be sustained without England having its own
parliament? TOM JACKSON, Stockport
Yes, I do. Politics and political parties are unpopular enough, without asking the country to pay yet more money for another group of elected politicians to argue in our very over-governed country. The present botched devolution settlement is unfair to England, and many more English people are now annoyed about that. I suggest we go to a system of English votes for English issues within the Westminster Parliament.

Compare the answer to THIS blogpost on John Redwood's blog, where he adopts an idea I put forward last year...

Let me try to explain my idea again. This is not official Conservative policy which is still being discussed. The official Conservative policy in 2005 was to create English votes on English issues in the Westminster Parliament to deal with the worst imbalance of Labour’s bodged and biased devolution “settlement”. My proposal goes further. I suggest that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have devolved assemblies settling a range of agreed issues on the Scottish model. We elect MPs to Westminster who are dual mandate MPs in every case. Those sitting for Scottish seats sit in the Edinburgh Parliament part of the time to settle Scottish
matters, and sit in the Westminster Parliament to settle Union matters for the
rest of their working time with MPs from the other three parts of the UK. There
would no more Scottish elections for a different cast of characters to be MSPs -
instead Westminster MPs elected for Scottish seats would also be the MSPs.
Those sitting for English seats would sit in the English Parliament - meeting in the Westminster building which has been the home of the English Parliament for many hundreds of years, prior to it becoming the Union Parliament in 1707. They too will meet with colleagues from the rest of the UK to settle Union matters at Westminster, which would also remain the home of the UK Parliament. It would be up to the elected English MPs to decide what office holders they wanted to carry out their business. These proposals would

a) Restore symmetry and fairness between the different countries of the Union
b) Save money compared with a model which required yet more politicans to be
elected to a new English Parliament, and compared to the present model with the
current additional elected people in Scotland and Wales
c) Ensure full time use of the Westminster Parliament and facilities, and better value from all elected politicians.
d) Overcome some of the weaknesses of the Scottish (and English) Parliaments being the subsidiary bodies, dependent on tax and grant votes in the Union Parliament for the money they spend. If we carry on with two different sets of elected representatives, one in the each of the devolved bodies and one in the UK body, it provides every excuse for no accountability. The devolved representatives blame the Union for insufficient funds, and the Union MPs blame the devolved administrations for running things badly. No-one is to blame. if the same people carry out the devolved functions and share responsbility for the Union functions it is easier to establish accountability.

Of course the Union can only survive if enough people in all parts of it want it to. At some point we need a referendum throughout the Union on whether the settlement is working and whether the Union is still supported.

The longer we avoid dealing with this question, the more difficult it will be when we do finally come to discuss it.

On Blogger TV Tonight...

Blogger TV, tonight at 9pm on 18 Doughty Street will feature Paul Bristow, Mark Clarke, Caroline Hunt, Clive Davis and Andy Mayer. We'll be talking about why so many under 25s blog, the launch of BlueShark TV and taking a look at the differences between US & UK political blogs.

For Sale: Audi Cabriolet

I am looking to sell my beloved Audi Cabriolet sometime before the end of March. As you may known I'm an Audi addict, so I'm buying another one. The photos shown are not of my actual car but mine is identical. The details are below. If anyone is interested please email me.

For Sale: Audio Cabriolet 3.0 Sport (petrol), manual, 2002 02 plate, Black automatic hood, Dolphin grey, DVD Sat Nav, In car TV, 6CD autochanger, Bose sound system, Full leather electric seats (heated), Cool box, Cruise control, Computer, Driver Information System, 5 spoke alloys, Air conditioning, Electric mirrors, Xenon headlights, Tracker, Full service history, 82,000 miles - £39,000 new. Yours for £14,250. Summer's coming!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Dizzy Uncovers Proof of Home Office Break-Up

Dizzy Thinks has uncovered evidence that a new Ministry of Justice is about to be formed HERE. Apparently Tony's bezzie mate Lord Falconer's Department of Constitutional Affairs registered last week. Obviously Falconer will want to progress this pretty quickly, because he's unlikely to be in the Cabinet once regime change has happened. I wonder what the good Doctor Reid will make of it... I think I can guess.

Mother & Father Are Now Offensive Words

The Scottish NHS (supported by Stonewall) has just brought out a document entitled FAIR FOR ALL - THE WIDER CHALLENGE - GOOD LGBT* PRACTICE IN THE NHS. You can read all 56 pages of it HERE. Apparently we should now no longer use the term 'mother' or 'father' for fear of offending...

Here's a quote from the taxpayer funded document...

Using the terms “husband”, “wife” and “marriage” assumes opposite sex
relationships only and will automatically exclude all LGB people. Using the term
“partner” and “they/them” to refer to the partner will avoid this problem. This
is also inclusive of all heterosexual couples, regardless of their marital status.

LGBT people can and do have children, sexual orientation or gender identity
has nothing to do with good parenting or good child care. According to a Scottish wide survey, one fifth of LGBT people have children. Some children will have been born or adopted into heterosexual relationships before a parent had ‘come out’ and some are born into samesex relationships or adopted by an LGB individual. Individual circumstances lead to varied family structures and parenting arrangements. It is important to be aware of this. When talking to children, consider using “parents”, “carers” or “guardians” rather than “mother” or “father”.

So now you know. I don't know how much public money was wasted on this document, but it's money that should have been spent on patient care.

* For the uninitiated LGBT stands for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender

The Truth About Argentina - Upside Down

Make sure you stick with this to the end. Very clever.

This is What Your Taxes Pay For

In 2000 the Home Office has signed a twelve year computer leasing contract with EDS for 25,000 (yes, 25,000!) computers. The annual lease cost of each laptop is a whopping £2,800 - more than double the cost of some of the most expensive laptops on today's market. This deal should be examined by the National Audit Office.

However, all is not lost. the News of the World reveals that the Treasury is wallowing in loads of money which the Government has robbed from motorists over the last ten years...

Parking Fines - doubled to £1.2 billion
Speeding Fines - up eightfold to £120 million pa
VAT on fuel - up from £4.3 billion to £6.8 billion
Fuel tax - up from £19.4 billion to £25.2 billion
Road tax - up from £4.5 billion to £5.5 billion

The annual tax bill for drivers has nearly doubled over the last ten years to a massive £45 billion a year. And now they want us to pay more through road pricing. In theory road pricing is a good idea if they cut the equivalent amount off fuel duty or road tax. Can you really see that happening? No, nor can I.

The Attorney General: Who Knew What and When?

Dominic Grieve, the Shadow Attorney General said of the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith a few months ago: "I regard the Attorney General as a person of impecable integrity." He repeated this when I interviewed him on 18 Doughty Street a couple of weeks ago. Just because he has had an extra marital affair does not make him a bad man, or a man unfit to hold his office. However, when the affair was with a high flying barrister whose career he was in a position to help, it is legitimate to ask questions. Furthermore, the affair was going on while he was giving advice on the legality of the Iraq war. Inexplicably, he changed his mind on the legality of the war overnight. He had told the PM it could be illegal, and yet 48 hours later told the Cabinet the reverse. At he time it was thought that Lord Falconer, the then Lord Chancellor, had persuaded him of the error of his ways. I understand that Goldsmith's affair with Kim Hollis was common knowledge in the upper echelons of the legal profession and would probably therefore have been known by Falconer. Is it beyond the realms of possibility for Falconer to have hinted at his knowledge at the time to Goldsmith?

And are we really to believe that the Prime Minister knew nothing about the affair, as he told Andrew Marr this morning? I find it highly unlikely. With his wife's contacts I find it incredible. And if the security services didn't know about it and hadn't passed it on, it begs the question as to what they were doing.

There is a legitimate public interest justification for further inquiries here.

Wife in the Money

Wife in the North has only been blogging for a few weeks, but she's already got a £70,000 book deal. And it's front page news HERE in the Sunday Times.
Last week, after whirlwind approaches from an agent and a publisher, she
[Judith O'Reilly] signed a deal to turn the blog, which has become a
surprise hit in Britain and America, into a book to be published by Viking
Penguin. Her publisher believes the theme of a former career woman following a
dream to bring up a young family in rural surroundings will tap into the
zeitgeist of the postBridget Jones generation. O’Reilly’s wry, poignant
descriptions of her life have met sudden success because of stylish writing and
the power of having the right connections in cyberspace. Like the pop singer
Lily Allen, who came to prominence through her site on MySpace, O’Reilly found
an audience on the internet before breaking into the traditional media. “It’s
amazing, it’s all happened so fast,” said O’Reilly, who had not had any paid
work for months after moving north from London. In mid-January her blog was
mentioned on the website of Tom Watson, the MP and regular blogger, whom she had asked for advice. The next day Iain Dale, the political commentator and another
prolific blogger, linked Wife in the North on his site. That in turn led Andrew
Sullivan, the American writer and Sunday Times columnist, to note its quality.
US readers soon logged on in droves. Within days Patrick Walsh, a British
literary agent and publisher, had seen the potential and began working on a
deal. “I’ve done other blogs,” said Walsh, “but what’s so refreshing is that it
isn’t about sex or celebrity; it’s wry, humorous and honest.” O’Reilly, 42, left
her previous job as education correspondent of The Sunday Times and moved to
Northumberland because her husband Alastair loved the area and wanted to bring
up their family away from east London.

Well it's nice to have played a small part in Judith's success. Now, where are all those literary agents beating a path to my door? Silence...

UPDATE: The Sunday Times leader article is also about blogging. Read it HERE. I don't think I have been mentioned in an editorial before!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Will the Last Tory to Leave the BBC...

Robin Aitken worked for the BBC for twenty years. This week he's got a book coming out called CAN WE TRUST THE BBC? It's serialised in tomorrow's Mail on Sunday. If you want to find out what he felt like working at the BBC as a Tory click HERE.

Although I do think there is an institutional liberal bias at the BBC (as Andrew Marr admits) I am constantly surprised at the number of political journalists there that I know to be Tories. Perhaps the fact that they hide it well is to their credit. If only some of their left of centre counterparts did the same...

Watch an interview with Richard D North HERE on his new book SCRAP THE BBC. Hat-tip Spin Blog.

UPDATE SUN 10am: Well, I waited in vain for Andrew Marr to ask Tony Blair about the Cash for Peerages Inquiry. Not one question, not a single one. Astonishing.

Attorney General Admits Affair With Barrister

Breaking news from tomorrow's Mail on Sunday is that the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith has admitted having an affair with a 49 year old barrister, Kim Hollis, only a matter of days after the Director of Public Prosecutions Ken MacDonald admitted the same thing. Anyone would think we were watching a replay of the 1990s at the moment - in spades. No doubt they were wearing a Chelsea shirt...

UPDATE: 18.57 This story is a Mail on Sunday exclusive, although the News of the World seem to be erroneously claiming it too. More in a moment

UPDATE: 18.59 The married father-of-four, a close ally of Prime Minister Tony Blair, said the matter was now "all in the past". Kim Hollis, 49, the first Asian female lawyer to become a QC, was identified by the News of the World as the woman involved. In a statement, 57-year-old Lord Goldsmith said: "My wife knows all about this and has done for some time. "It is all in the past and we are both very happy. "This is a private matter and my wife and I have no further comment to make."

UPDATE 19.01 Lord Goldsmith is in California at the moment and only learnt of the breaking story when the Mail on Sunday's Simon Walters contacted his office at 10am this morning. The News of the World got wind of a story and phoned the Attorney General's office, who confirmed what the Mail on Sunday were about to print. So the News of the World put it out to the Press Association as their Exclusive. Hilarious.

UPDATE 19.05 Read the full story on the Mail on Sunday website HERE. Read a profile and interview with Kim Hollis HERE.

Miliband Improves His Blog

Much to my astonishment, blogging Environment Minister David Miliband has added a link to me on his taxpayer funded BLOG. I guess that deserves a reciprocation. Indeed, much as though it may pain me to say it, his blog has improved remarkably in recent weeks.

The Party Animals Village Vermin blog also has a link here. I hope to update my blogroll tonight, so those of you who have asked for links should be added soon. If there are any others out there who have links to me but none from me to them, let me know and I'll do my duty.

UPDATE 8.06pm If you want a link, please have the good sense to tell me what it is. Unlike most of the people who have posted so far...