Friday, August 31, 2007

Election Rumour: Could it be 4 October?

You know how people use those stick things to locate water underground. Well, whatever they are called, my political equivalent is twitching tonight. And it's in election mode. Following yet another opinion poll showing a big Labour lead in the Telegraph today I have been hearing things about strange activities in Whitehall, with meetings being cancelled, diaries being cleared and newspaper adverts being booked.

Civil servants in the Department of Health are getting very edgy, I'm told. Tuesday is apparently full of big health events but these are now in doubt as No. 10 have apparently cleared their diary. Naturally the speculation inside the Department is that this is because Brown will be calling a General Election. No date is attached to the rumours but a short campaign gives us a date in early October, with October 4 and 11 the most likely. Remember that the IGC is on October 18th, where the European ConTreatyTution will be agreed. If Brown is tempted by those dates it clearly means that the three party conferences would be cancelled.

Dizzy has heard a different rumour (see HERE) but it all ties in. It may well be nothing, but on the other hand...

PS: I will be reviewing the papers on Sky News tonight at 10.35pm and 11.30pm, and doing the same on BBC News 24 tomorrow at 11.45pm. I'll also be on the Anita Anand Show from 10pm to 1am on Monday night. [Enough - ed]

How the Lefties are Spinning Boris

Andrew Gilligan today takes apart Compass's so-called 'Boris Dossier' in a feature in the Evening Standard. Compass, as a supposedly serious left of centre think tank should be ashamed of itself. It's quite clear that the Left fear Boris like they haven't feared a Conservative for years.

One article cited as proving Johnson's "support" for George W Bush actually has him describing the President as "serially incompetent", a "cross-eyed warmonger" and "maniac" whose re-election in 2004 was "the most dismal awakening of my life". A quote about his "fanatical" backing of the Iraq invasion comes from a pre-war article that condemns the Blair Government's "cynical and ludicrous" attempts to scare the public about Saddam's alleged WMD and says: "If we are really concerned about the weapons of mass destruction, then let the UN [inspection] process work itself through." The report condemns Johnson's support for the Iraq war, nuclear power, more private finance in the NHS, and large-scale cuts to the civil service as a "real threat" to London's "progressive consensus" without saying these are also Labour Party policy.

A Compass spokesman declined to comment on specific issues but said: "We
stand by our report and our analysis."

Do read the whole article as it is as compelling an analysis of political chicanery as you are ever likely to find. It's almost a fisk!

And the Winner Is...

You may recall that I offered a prize of £100 of DVDs and books for entering your Top 20 Political Blogs for the blogging guide, which will be published in a few weeks. More than 500 of you did just that, so it's time to announce who has won the prize (having been kindly prompted by Bob Piper!). And the winner is someone who calls themselves Ciao Bella. Here was his/her Top 20

1) Ben Brogan
2) Paul Linford
3) Hamer Shawcross
4) Hoby Cartoons
5) Chicken Yoghurt
6) Ministry of Truth
7) Spectator Coffee House
8) Beau Bo D'Or
9) Nick Robinson
10) Skipper
11) Dr Crippen
12) Tygerland
13) Evan Davis
14) Idiots for Labour
15) Devil's Kitchen
16) Iain Dale
17) Bob Piper
18) Boris Johnson
19) Samizdata
20) Nicodemus

PS Read zis very carefully, for I shall say zis only once...Judging from Ed and Sam's words in the comments, I don't know if people are feeling particularly dim, but this Top 20 is the Top 20 of Ciao Bella, it is not the Top 20 overall, which will be announced in mid September.

APOLOGY: I'm sorry but I blocked deleted 18 comments earlier this afternoon by mistake. I hit the reject button instead of publish.

Redwood Warns Gummer over Policy Report

In an interview with the Sunday programme on GMTV John Redwood has warned John Gummer and Zac Goldsmith that “they need to steer a very careful course” when drawing up proposals for environmental policy in their Quality of Life Policy Report. He has also entered the debate about green taxes and airport expansion..

I think airports are particularly important to Britain’s economic growth because under this government over the last ten years the big success area has been the colossal growth in business and financial services, particularly the growth of London, and you wouldn’t be able to achieve that without sufficient airport capacity so that people can fly in and out when they’re making their deals and making their investments and having their meetings, and you couldn’t make it without very good telecommunications which fortunately liberalisation and privatisation has delivered in Britain and which allows those businesses to flourish.

“If you start to get either of those things wrong, not enough airport capacity, misery in moving through the airports, not good telecommunications and computer infrastructure, then you will start to lose the jewel in the crown of the British economy.

He also advocates carrots rather than sticks to encourage environmentally friendly behaviour...

I always think it’s easier to encourage people to green behaviour by giving tax breaks or tax reductions than it is to penalise people who may have made sensible decisions at the time and not give them time to adjust properly their spending patterns. It is, for example, a bit dangerous to tax fuel very heavily in a way which penalises people living in rural areas who simply don’t have access to public transport or to a decent alternative, so you have to be careful if you’re going the heavy tax route.

Redwood also warned that taxes on flights from Britain could cause “an economic loss” without “a green gain” since travellers could choose to fly from foreign airports...

My report is about having a Britain that can compete, and one of the most powerful arguments that we produce on airports is that if you tax too much and regulate too much in Britain, it won’t stop British businesses and British people flying. They will simply get on a train or plane to Schipol or to Charles de Gaulle and then take the main flight from there.

That’s already beginning to happen a bit because of the chaos at Heathrow, and that isn’t a green gain, it’s just an economic loss to Britain, so you need a balance, you need to accept that there is going to be some airport and air travel growth and if it doesn’t happen here it’ll happen somewhere else.
Bang on the money in all respects.

Telegraph Column: Weebles Wobble But They Don't Fall Down

My latest Telegraph column can be read HERE. It looks at the reaction to David Cameron's Newsnight interview and the immigration issue, and takes up Dizzy's theme of political triangulation.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

In Search of Matt Drudge

A great feature on the American Blogfather Matt Drudge HERE.

Whipping 'The Whip' Into Shape

In April I speculated about the imminent demise of The Sun's Whip column, which seems to delight in regurgitating three day old stories from blogs in the guise of original diary copy. Well, it's staggered on for a few more months, but surely the end must be nigh. Today the column carries Guido's story on Chris Huhne's BMW and personalised numberplate (although to be far, so does Ephraim Hardcastle). Guido posted it on Tuesday afternoon. Neither The Sun, nor the Mail give Guido any attribution, natch. My News International spies tell me that the Sun's designers often forget to include space for The Whip and that the column's editors have been given a final warning: stop lifting from blogs, find original stories or face the consequences.

FACT: The Whip column has a budget of £130,000.

Indicating to the Right? Return to a Core Vote Strategy? Er, No...

At ten to seven this morning I woke to the sound of my mobile ringing. It was the Today programme. Oh God, I thought, who's died. Luckily no one had. They wanted to know if I could appear on their programme in the the following hour to talk about David Cameron's Newsnight interview and what he said about immigration. Er, Ok, I said, what did they want to do. Well, said the researcher, all the newspapers are headlining his words on immigration. Does this mean that he's reverting to a core vote strategy. Don't be silly, I said. Well, she continued, his people must have briefed it out. I doubt it, I said. He was asked a question and he answered it, and as far as I could recall he hadn't said anything particularly remarkable about immigration, merely repeated previously announced policies. But don't you think he's appealing to the right by saying this? Maybe, I said, but you don't have to be on the right to be concerned about uncontrolled immigration. But it does seem a bit of a coincidence that all the papers have led on his immigration comments, she said. Perhaps, I said, but it wouldn't be the first time the lobby had operated as a pack, would it, I rejoindered, reminding her of David Davis's conference speech.

By this time I could tell that what I was saying didn't really fit the line she was hoping I would take. But she seemed fairly adamant that she wanted me to go on. So rather than go back to sleep I waited for her call back. And waited. And waited. Anyway, I thought I would put the intervening time to good effect so I phoned one of David Cameron's press spokesman and asked if the immigration answer was the one they were highlighting and briefing out. As I suspected, it was not. A journalist had asked if Cameron had said anything new in the interview and the line on transitional arrangements for EU nationals was one that was mentioned. And so the story grew. In a 45 minute interview it would be surprising if absolutely nothing new were said, and it was this that the journalists latched onto.

Cameron's spokesman denied absolutely that this was either a 'lurch to the right' or even sending a signal to the right. Anyway, back to the Today Programme. I continued to wait... and wait... and, well, I went back to a deep doze until I woke at 8.30 to hear the dulcet tones of ConservativeHome's Tim Montgomerie explaining to the nation that that was indeed a signal to the right and the Tory grassroots would be very pleased indeed. He denied it was "lurch" to the right though. It turned out that he had actually done a live interview with John Humphrys at 7.15am which they repeated parts of before they interviewed Damian Green at 8.30am. Much of what Tim said I agreed with, particularly that you can talk about 'touchy feely' issues alongside core vote issues, but his analysis that the last week has shown Cameron rubbing himself up to the right I believe to be entirely misplaced. In The Times this morning Tim is quoted as saying...
The current focus on crime has connected Cameron with the Conservative
Party’s core vote for arguably the first time in his leadership.

With respect to Tim, this is rubbish, or at the very least a total exaggeration and over-simplification. All David Cameron has done is to confirm that the Conservatives are tough on crime, want a European referendum and want secure borders. This is not, as Tim says, "indicating right", it is sound Conservative policy which those on the left and right of the Conservative Party can unite behind.

To say, as Tim did on the Today Programme and on his blog today, that this is appealing to the core vote, is to do Gordon Brown's dirty work for him. The main line of attack by Labour at the moment is that Cameron is lurching to the right and will revert to a core vote strategy. It's a pathetic smear, but if Conservatives like Tim start saying things which appear to endorse it, then it does not bode well. Tim's his own man and will no doubt robustly defend his stance, but in this instance I think he called it wrong.

UPDATE: Dizzy reckons Cameron played a blinder on the immigration question.

UPDATE: Arch lefty journalist Seamus Milne proves my point HERE. Tony Sharp has fisked him HERE on The Waendel Journal.

Cameron on Newsnight

I've just finished watching David Cameron's 45 minute interview on Newsnight. He was grilled by no fewer than four Newsnight journalists, which I thought was a little OTT, but how refreshing to find such a long interview on the BBC. I thought Cameron gave a stormer of a performance - calm, collected, lucid and statesmanlike. I rather agree with Ben Brogan's assessment.

David Cameron needs to do a lot more of these interviews as well as the softer type. I heard him on Steve Wright on Radio 2 last week and he was in his element. Conservatives should be encouraged that he can handle both sorts of interview well.

Watch the Newsnight interview HERE. I recommend it. Listen to the Steve Wright interview HERE. Click on Thursday and then skim forward into the last hour of the show. The interview will only be there until 5pm today, when it will be replaced by today's show.

Bloggers Going to the Tory Conference

If you write a Conservative leaning blog and are attending the Conservative Party Conference, can you email me privately and tell me. Email iain AT iaindale DOT com.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Political Geek Point of Information & More Election Battlegrounds

Have you ever wondered why it's North Norfolk and Dagenham East, rather than Norfolk North or East Dagenham? If so, watch this clip from an Election Battleground programme I recorded with Robert Waller today, and if not, don't bother!

We also recorded three new programmes, which you can view by clicking on these links...

North of England

The South East of England programme will be uploaded sometime tomorrow.

To view all the programmes in this series (covering the West Midlands, East Anglia, the South West and the North West) click HERE.

We will be recording programmes covering other regions of England and Scotland in October and November.

Charlotte Robinson

Sometimes you hear a piece of news which knocks you for six. During the last election campaign I had some fantastic help from some teenagers from the village of Worsted in North Norfolk, one of them being a young lady called Charlotte Robinson.

Charlotte emailed me out of the blue in the spring and asked if she could come and do work experience at 18 Doughty Street for a week this summer. We emailed back and forth and I suggested she come last week. But I never heard back from her. I now know why. I've just been told that she died last week from an eating disorder. She can't have been more than 18. What a terrible waste of a life. Her wonderful family will be devastated. RIP Charlotte.

LibDems Split over EU Constitution Ballot

It's some time since I did a LibDems are split story, which, I suppose, is hardly surprising since they all apparently decided to take August off. But Ming was back in the harness yesterday when he wrote a letter (which took quite a lot out of the old boy) to Gordon Brown asking him to surrender in set a date to withdraw troops from Basra.

According to the Telegraph, Ming is cominmg under great pressure to support calls for a referendum over the EU Constitutional Treaty. Several of the younger LibDem MPs, who are considerably more realistic about the EU than their elders and betters are fed up with being whipping boys on this issue. They include Jo Swinson, Norman Lamb, Julia Goldsworthy and Nick Harvey. Ming, however, is kicking it into the long grass and says they won't decide what to do until they see what "the final document looks like". We already know what it looks like - and it's 96% the same as the old constitution. But even if we didn't already know the contents, isn't this issue a matter of principle, something you feel in your gut. Either you think the people should decide their constitutional future, or you don't. For a party which happily supports regional referenda on devolved government, you'd think they could at least be consistent and support one on an EU constitutional treaty, wouldn't you? No? How very cynical of you.

Pre-Order Your Blogging Guide Now!

Yesterday I finished proof reading the GUIDE TO POLITICAL BLOGGING IN THE UK 2007-8 (kindly supported by APCO Worldwide again) and it will go to the printers today.

We hope to have copies available by 17 September and you can now pre-order your copy HERE. It's a much bigger book than planned - 288 pages. It includes 32 articles on various aspects of blogging, 52 self penned profiles of Britain's leading blogging personalities, a directory of 1200 political blogs, lists of the best Conservative, Labour, LibDem, Non Aligned, Media, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, Religious and Green blogs as well as a glossary of blogging terms. It's in full colour throughout and the RRP is £12.99 but Politico's have it available for £11.04. It isn't on Amazon yet but should be within a few days.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I Think it was Gummer who ate the Burger - Not His Daughter

John Gummer should have been pensioned off years ago. Indeed, I thought he had been. Remember the picture of feeding his daughter Cordelia a burger to prove that they were safe from Mad Cow Disease? Hers may have been CJD free, but if press reports are correct, his policy proposals on taxing airlines out of the country make me wonder if the burger he was eating wasn't somehow contaminated.

What sane politician would actually try to cap ALL airport expansion in the three main airports in the country? John Gummer was Environmeent Secretary in John Major's government, which did all it could to encourage such expansion. There's nothing like a sinner who repenteth, eh? If his madcap scheme was ever put into effect just watch as business drains away from this country to Schiphol, Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt. They must think Britain is going soft in the head.

In addition to preventing these - and presumably other - airports from expanding, he wants to take the first step to abolishing all domestic flights by putting VAT on them. If I thought he wanted to stop there I wouldn't be so worried, but make no mistake, he agrees with Tim Yeo that domestic flights should be done away with completely (apart from the ones Yeo takes to play golf, of course). There is a slight problem, though, in that we don't have the rail (or indeed road) capacity to replace those flights.

And this is the most comical bit of all. The domestic flight slots which would be freed up would be handed to long haul airlines, thereby actually INCREASING air pollution and the airlines' carbon footprint. I realise that long haul flights are supposed to have a smaller average carbon footprint, but if there are more of them it would surely increase.

These proposals are gesture politics of the worst sort. They give the impression of being highly enviornmentally friendly in order to add weight to the VOTE BLUE GO GREEN image, but in reality they are right out of the Liberal Democrat manual of looney tune policies.

If you stop any development of the big three airports all that will happen is that trade will be transfered to overseas hubs like Schiphol. People will then take short haul flights back to London - or - and it's a big or - they may just not bother and transfer their business to a city with good transport links.

I'm tired of politicians of all parties thinking that taxes are the answer to everything. The Conservatives say that increases in green taxes will be offset by tax cuts elsewhere, but it's clear that this won't be the case for everyone. The answer to so many environmental questions is to provide incentives not punishments. Why is it that so few politicians 'get' this?

These proposals will damage the economy of London and the South East, reduce economic activity and lead to job losses. There's nothing Conservative about that. It's the economics of the puerile to suggest that airports who are taxced won't pass the cost onto the customer. So the dear old tax payer is hit with a good old double whammy.

As Iain Murray of the CEI has written: "Giving domestic flight slots to international flights will either cause passengers to take alternative trips (eg London to Schipol, Schipol to Newcastle rather than just London to Newcastle) or put yet more stress on an already straining rail infrastructure. In addition, reducing the attractiveness of short-haul flights will cause serious problems for regional airports. It is unlikely to increase the Conservative Party’s standing in the regions and may be regarded as yet another example of Londonocentric thinking by the Tories."
Also among Gummer's plans is a proposal to tax 4x4 vehicles off the road (pray tell us what Gummer and Zak Goldsmith drive please) even though their carbon emissions are often less than smaller cars.

There are (thankfully) two sensible proposals among those reported in the Evening Standard. One is the Single Flight Tax, which would replace Air Passenger Duty and charge airlines for the CO2 emissions used per flight. This would encourage airlines to fill their flights rather than fly with half empty planes. The second is to break up BAA's big three airports.

Let me make one thing very clear. If by some remote misfortune the Conservative leadership decides to adopt Gummer's mad proposals on airport expansion I will continue to argue until I am blue in the face that they are wrong, wrong wrong. And if by some remote chance I happen to be a Conservative candidate at the next election, you won't find me changing my mind. Airports are vital to our national economy and so is their managed expansion. And I cannot understand anyone who calls themselves a Conservative could believe otherwise.

Now, moving on, I swear to you, it's not April 1st but the LibDems have announced one of their loonier ideas today too. They want to abolish all petrol cars by... wait for it, 2050. They also want to hit business by imposing tolls on road freight. And they're trumping the Tories by wanting to impose VAT on ALL flights, not just domestic flights.

And to cap it all, it seems West Ham are about to sign Adriano from Inter Milan!

I need a lie down.

Regional Fire Centre to be Built...on a Flood Plain!

Tory candidate for North West Leicestershire Andrew Bridgen has discovered that there are firm plans to build a new regional fire and dsaster relief centre ... slap bang on a flood plain. Tory Radio has an interview with him HERE.

Ramping up the Campaign for an EU Treaty Referendum

It's good to see David Cameron keeping up the pressure on Gordon Brown for a referndum on the EU Constitution Treaty. The Telegraph reports that 120 Labour MPs are belling on this and Cameron has a well argued article in The Sun this morning. However, the campaign launched by the Tories today for a referendum is less than snappy.

If a slogan is to work people have to 'get it' instantly. I'm afraid I didn't. I read it three times and thought to myself 'what's it got to do with letting the EU down'? It took about ten seconds for it to click. Too long. It may be that it's Monday morning [It's just been pointed out to me that it is Tuesday - it just feels like Monday!] or that I am not the sharpest pencil in the pencil case.

On the Today programme this morning, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said this...
"I think that as Parliament gets to grips with the reform treaty that comes out,
as they look line by line, they will see first that it is good for Britain, second that it is very different from the constitution in absolute essence, and third that the red lines, the key national interests in foreign policy and other areas of the UK have been protected."

Does he think we are stupid? It has been proven that the new Treaty is 96% the same as the old Constitution. European politicians - on the left and right - have queued up to tell us so, including Bertie Aherne and several of the people who drafted the old constitution. And it's for this reason that we need a referendum. Labour promised one and they now need to deliver on it. And it's good to see that a third of their MPs think so too.

My Day: Golf, Boris, 5 Live, Peter Rabbitt & Denis Healey

Had a really nice day today. Eighteen holes of golf (we lost 3 & 1), made more progress on the LITTLE BOOK OF BORIS, did half an hour on 5 Live on personalities in politics - I must have been in a good mood as I said something nice about John Prescott - then watched the superb film MISS POTTER, about Beatrix Potter, which brought back some very happy memories of my childhood (Squirrel Nutkin was always my favourite!), and have just read the most fantastic interview with that old bruiser Denis Healey in the Telegraph (available online HERE). Here are a few tasters...
Of course, the former Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer and Secretary of State for Defence is getting on a bit. He will be 90 on Thursday, but it would be a great mistake to think he is impressed by this fact. "I don't give a bugger, dear," he booms. "Nowadays, if they are healthy, people expect to live to 100."... Healey is energised by the arrival of Gordon Brown. Blair's famed skills as a communicator cut no ice with him. "He has enormous personal charm but I wouldn't call him a communicator. He's a bullshitter, and very good at it. Almost everything he did after 2002 has been a disaster. He has left Brown all the problems to sort out."... It used to be said of Denis Healey that he was "the best prime minister we never had". In fact, he was much happier being Chancellor and Defence Secretary than he would have been at the top. "I always felt that if you were prime minister it was being something, rather than doing something." His wife Edna once told me that she simply didn't believe that in his heart of hearts he wanted it. But now he thinks that lack of ambition was a weakness. "I never fought hard enough. I think I could have made it if I'd tried." All his efforts were channelled into becoming deputy leader in 1981, in
order to save the Labour Party from Tony Benn - a campaign that began Labour's fight back to power. "I think my main political achievement, which was unforeseen," he says, "was to keep the Labour Party together when the split took place. Tony Blair has always felt that if it hadn't been for me, the Labour Party would not have been there for him to inherit."

I was a teenager in the 1970s when Denis Healey was Chancellor and I regarded him as the devil incarnate. He presided over a terrible period in Britain's economic history and his about turn at Heathrow Airport in 1976 when Britain stood on the verge of bankruptcy is something I shall never forget, even though I was only 14 at the time. Britain begging to the IMF is something which seems a very long time ago, but it's actually only 31 years.

When Healey left active politics he managed to transform himself from being one of the most despised men in Britain to an avuncular uncle figure. He came to a few book launches at Politico's and delighted in acting the fool. I found him once behind the counter with the till open. I remember saying that he'd had enough money off my Dad and he certainly wasn't having any off me! He then spent the next ten minutes serving customers.

We need a few more Denis Healeys in politics today. People with bottom, with a hinterland. But hopefully better at running the economy. I think Healey would have been a far better Prime Minister than he was a Chancellor, but as his wife Edna says, he probably didn't want it enough - something that could never be said of the current holder of the office.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Supporting British Farmers? Waitrose is 'avin a Giraffe!

Have you seen that new Waitrose advert? The one that has Love me Tender as the theme and ends with the caption "Supporting British Farmers", as Elvis sings "And I always will". As Mr Royal might say, 'supporting British farmers, my arse'. I'm surprised it made it through the Advertising Standards Authority checks for accuracy. For one moment I thought it said 'extorting British farmers'. For most supermarkets that would be a far more accurate slogan, and I doubt whether Waitrose is any different to the others.

Anyone interested in the way supermarkets blackmail British farmers should read the final chapter of John Nott's memoirs, HERE TODAY GONE TOMORROW. It is a real eye opener.

See also Vicky Ford.

UPDATE: I'm amazed at the comments on this thread and the number of people who attribute views to me I just do not have. Of course I believe in free markets. But the big supermarkets do not operate in a free market. They use their huge power to subvert the free market of supply. In other words they use their might to blackmail small suppliers. Waitrose, for all I know, may have a better record than the others, but if they do, they should detail it on their website. I have just spent ten minutes on their website and nowhere is there any detail about how they have "supported the British farmer through good times and bad". That says it all. It's a glossy ad behind which there is not a lot of substance.

BBC Editor Slams 'Planet Relief' Plans

Donal Blaney highlights a brave stance being taken by the editor Newsnight, Peter Barron. He has hit out at the BBC plans to devote a whole day to campaigning on climate change. Apparently there will be a PLANET RELIEF DAY. The Mail reports his views HERE. He says: "People are understandably interested in this, but it is absolutely not the BBC's job to save the planet. There are a lot of people who think that, but it must be stopped." In addition, Peter Horrocks, head of television news, warned that the corporation should not be influencing people. He said: "We should be giving people information, not leading them."

The BBC said last night the aim of Planet Relief is to debate the issue and not campaign on a single view. Well if that's the case, why do they have Ricky Gervais and Jonathan Ross fronting the whole thing? And why call it PLANET RELIEF?
Donal says he looks forward to Nigel Lawson getting equal time to put forward his arguments on this issue, and that pigs might fly. I'm sure they'll be offsetting their carbon trotter print...

Bank Holiday Open Thread

Well, at 3am I finally finished proof reading the GUIDE TO POLITICAL BLOGGING - now I've just got to finish the LITTLE BOOK OF BORIS, a collection of Boris quotes and cartoons. If you have any Boris quotes you think I should include, do let me know. I'm off to King's Hill for 18 holes in about an hour, so please use this thread to have a debate on whatever you like. But shouldn't you be on the beach?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Why You Should Read Dizzy Thinks

THIS post demonstrates why Dizzy is a must read blog.

And in case you were wondering about the lack of posting at the moment, in the words of Jesse from THE FAST SHOW, this weekend I am mostly proof reading the 2007 Guide to Political Blogging. And it's taking a long time. That may be because it was supposed to be 128 pages long, but, ahem, it is now well over 200 pages...

Friday, August 24, 2007

Sky to Cover Next Election with 400 Citizen Journalists

The Press Gazette reports today that Sky News is about to recruit several hundred 'citizen journalists' to cover the next election campaign, with the help of the City University Media Department. I'm not toally sure what this will involve, but I guess they intend to have someone in most of the constituencies covering what goes on. Stories would be uploaded to the Sky site and could be on air within minutes. is this the first sign of Tim Montgomerie's prediction coming true? He wrote in the Spectator recently that this would be the first election to be fought on the internet. Maybe that was going a little far, but it looks as if it will certainly be *covered* on the internet in a way it never has been before.

How to Get Rid of Political Love Handles French-style

Hilarious goings on in France, where President Sarkozy's 'love handles' have been airbrushed out of a picture by Paris Match. The full story is HERE. If only Tony Blair had been avail to himself of such a pliant media when he was photographed on his hols resplendent with man boobs. Not that I can talk...

Why You Should Read the New Statesman

When I first heard that the New Statesman had signed up Tara Hamilton-Miller to write a weekly column on Conservative politics I rather thought it must be their attempt to compete with the Speccie's Tamzin Lightwater. I don't mean that as a slight to Tara at all. I just hadn't known of her before. But she is becoming required reading and brings a real insight into the world of CCHQ and the Shadow Cabinet. This week she writes about the relationship between George Osborne and David Cameron. I'd say it gets nearer the truth than most others have done. Read her article HERE and her previous columns HERE.

When You Have 'Em by The Balls...

Click HERE for an innovative line in US political nick-nacks. Do NOT skip the into... If I still had Politico's I'd be ordering a fair few of these. I'm not sure I can think of a British female politician who one could honour by making a UK version... Gwyneth Dunwoody anyone? My eyes are already watering...

How Can We Address Inner City Gun Crime?

David Cameron has made a powerful speech this morning on gang and gun crime and the breakdown of communities. He talked about the terrible murder of Rhys Jones and called for a new "social covenant" between individuals and the state. He said: "What his parents said yesterday, when they spoke of their loss of their boy, of their child, and what he meant to them, was so powerful and moving." PA reports:

David Cameron said that the music and media industry had to take responsibility for their output and its effects on society. Parents had to know where their children were, and needed help to "do their job properly" - if not they should be "shamed" into doing so. He attacked magazines that glorified "getting wasted" and music firms which "grew fat on the profits of exploiting black youth". Video games were pushing the boundaries of acceptable violence, he argued. Social responsibility meant there needed to be a "national recognition" that individuals had to play their part in creating a better society. Strengthening families and communities and changing culture was the most important part of a three-dimensional approach to changing society, he

The Government had failed in creating a culture of respect and responsibility where poor behaviour was matched with rewards, schools were undermined and the tax and benefits system sent out signals that "undermined families, penalises commitment and reinforces family and social breakdown". Speaking to a military audience in Oxfordshire, Mr Cameron said there was
"nothing inevitable" about social decline in Britain. But until the nation thought about its responsibilities in a different way, "we will not serve the interests of those who suffer so much today." He called on people to ask themselves how many more parents would have to "bury their children before we decide to choose a different path for our society."

He said: "This is not about politics, it's not about elections, it's about the kind of society we want to be and the choice is entirely in our own hands. The brutal and callous murder of Rhys Jones has shocked us all." He paid tribute to the parents of Rhys: "Their bravery - and their sense of social responsibility - in doing their broadcast after everything they had been through was awe inspiring. "It must not be allowed to become just another testimony of despair that shocks a nation one night and is then forgotten."

Mr Cameron asked why such a "remorseless increase" in gang culture had taken place in Britain and why the availability of guns had become "seemingly endless". "What has become of our society when we have this spate of children killing children?" But politicians must not "resolve not to fall back just into the usual response," he argued. "A summit is held. A package of measures is announced. Some form of 'crack down' is rapidly briefed to the media. He went on: "But in putting forward what I've called the three dimensional approach - measures on criminal justice, measures on policing and measures to strengthen society - let us recognise once and for all that it is the last of these three - changing our society and, frankly, changing our culture - that matters the most and where change is so desperately needed.

"Yes, strengthening families, strengthening communities, changing culture is the hardest, the most long-term and sometimes the most intangible of the three, but it is so much the most important. So today I say that we should ask not just what we expect from our Government in response to these dreadful crimes - but what do we expect from ourselves and from society?
Just as the Military Covenant sets out what we - society - must do for our military, so today we should consider our obligations in tackling crime and building a stronger society. We need a Social Covenant."

The social covenant was "more powerful than words". It was a "national recognition that it is not just up to the Government to take responsibility for the state of our nation, it is up to all of us.
"To me this is what social responsibility is all about. Not just sitting back and saying that the
Government must act, but all of us saying: this is my country, my society, my responsibility - and I must play my part. It means parents taking responsibility for bringing up children properly. It means schools playing their part in instilling discipline and good values. It means all of us recognising our obligations not just as parents but as neighbours, as members of a community and understanding that those obligations are as important as simply paying our taxes and obeying the law. It means understanding and acting on that age-old maxim that it takes a village to raise a child. It means retailers stopping the sale of alcohol to young teenagers. It means music companies, media companies, games manufacturers, not just thinking 'what is my social responsibility as a company in terms of the projects I support and the charities I back, good and important as they are', but asking: 'what is the effect of the music I produce, the games
I market and the programmes I broadcast?' "That is true social responsibility."

Mr Cameron said questions had to be asked not about how Government was responding to the latest shooting but how it was responding in the long term. He went on: "All too often good behaviour is matched with punishment, poor behaviour with rewards. "Institutions - like schools - whose independence should be championed, and whose role in nurturing values of service and discipline is so essential - are too often undermined. A system of rights that seems to fly in
the face of common sense is introduced and repeatedly sanctioned. Most important of all a tax and benefit system is built up over time that sends signals, and helps to create a culture that undermines families, penalises commitment and reinforces family and social breakdown.
It is time for us to recognise that we cannot go on as we are. Just as there was nothing inevitable about economic decline at the end of the 1970s, so there is nothing inevitable about social
decline in our current decade. What is required is simply asking how many more parents have to bury their children before we decide to choose a different path for our society?"

The reason I have quoted this at length is not to parrot what the Tory Party is saying but because I think this is a very important speech which says some very important things. It's a wake up call, which if we don't heed it we will, as a society, regret it. On 18 Doughty Street last night I discussed this with Patrick Mercer. We both reckoned this was one of the most difficult issues facing national politicians, yet it is actually people at local level who have far more influence and power to put things right. Part of the reason we have the levels of gun and knife crime that we do among our youth is that local politicians and public service departments in inner cities have failed their communities. That's at least a large part of the reason why parts of Manchester, Liverpool, South London, Birmingham, Nottingham, Bristol and Leeds are experiencing these terrible killings and assaults.

It hasn't just happened over the last ten years, it goes back decades. Local Labour politicians have been more interested in protecting their local inner city fiefdoms than tackling the terrible social deprivation that exists within them. When Iain Duncan Smith first went to the Gallowgate estate in Glasgow one of the residents said that they didn't vote Tory round there and just look at the state of the place. "Yes, and who's been running the council for the last 50 years," replied IDS. Obviously that is only one part of the problem. The glorification of violence and guns in video games, in newspapers and on TV surely has to have played its part too, as well as the rising trend of single parenthood.

All the evidence points to the lack of a male role model being a key part in a child's descent into dark places. That's not criticising single mothers, it is just a statement of fact. Chances are that a child with two parents will emerge into adulthood as a more rounded individual that if it doesn't have two parents. This is especially true in inner city areas. This cannot be turned around within a few years, but if we do not do something in our education system to explain the benefits of duo-parenthood then if the current trend continues I fear not only for the future of our inner cities but wider areas too.

As someone who in the past has aspired to hold political office, I don't mind admitting that issues like this leave me reeling. I admire those who are thinking about the answers because I suspect very few of us can point to individual measures which we could take immediately to make a difference. Should we be adopting zero tolerance policies in inner cities, or would that push the crimes out into the suburbs? Should we seek to understand less and punish more, or would that entrench criminality for life?

Whatever we do, we must learn from other countries. It's clear that parts of our major cities are experiencing the kind of violent crime which used to afflict many major US cities. We need to learn from from them how they have tackled it and reduced it. New York is not the only example to look at. But we need to do it quickly.

Apologies for the length of this post, but it's a subject we all need to think about perhaps more than we have in the past.

The Paedophile & the Judge Who Made a Mockery of British Justice

Sometimes I despair of our judges. Yesterday, Judge Tom Crowther gave a three month community - yes, community rehabilitation order to Michael Porter, a paedophile who had been convicted of 24 - yes, 24 - counts of indecent assualt and gross indecency. The reason? He had undergone "therapy".

This is a man who molested a three year old. This is a man who put his hands down the trousers of a five year old. A seven year old woke up to find Porter on top of him.

Even Porter's own sister was appalled at the leniency of the sentence and wanted him put behind bars so he couldn't reoffend.

Can anyone explain to me the logic of a legal system which allows a paedophile, guilty of 24 offences (and probably many others besides) to escape jail and yet bangs up a pensioner for three months for non payment of council tax?

Before all the bleeding heart liberals start writing things like "you weren't at the court, you don't know all the details", let me save them the effort. I don't have to have been in a court to know that therapy can't cure someone from paedophilia. I don't have to have been in court to be 100% sure that this man will reoffend. And when he does, the Judge who passed this ridiculous sentence ought to resign.

Because he could have prevented it from happening.

The Twisted Logic of the UK Deportation System

If any story was evidence of the twisted priorities of our Immigration policy, this one does. Hattip to Harry's Place...

The media has been full of debate and discussion about the deportation of a convicted killer to Italy. I don't want to get into that debate, except to note that the consequences for Learco Chindamo of deportation to Italy would be relatively inconsequential when compared to the probable fate of Pegah Emambakhsh, an Iranian lesbian, about whom there hasn't been a single
column inch in the mainstream media.

Pegah Emambakhsh is an Iranian national who sought asylum in the UK in 2005. Her claim was rejected and she was arrested in Sheffield on Monday 13th August 2007. She is scheduled for
deportation to Iran on 7 August 2007. If returned to Iran, she faces certain imprisonment, likely severe lashings and possibly even stoning to death. Her crime in Iran is her sexual orientation - she was in a same-sex relationship.

Ms Emambakhsh escaped from Iran, claiming asylum, after her lover was arrested, tortured and subsequently sentenced to death by stoning. Her father was also arrested and interrogated about her whereabouts. He was eventually released but not before he had been tortured himself. Ms Emambakhsh has a more than well founded fear of persecution if she is returned to Iran. She belongs to a group of people - gays and lesbians - who, it is well known, are severely persecuted in Iran.

According to Iranian human rights campaigners, many lesbians and gay men have been executed since the Ayatollahs came to power in 1979. In 2006 a German court ruled that an Iranian lesbian could not be deported as she risked death because of her sexuality. The UK Border and Immigration Agency (BIA) have chosen not to believe that she is in danger if returned to Iran, even though the UK government are well aware of the dangerous situation
that gay people face there.

The BIA will be committing a serious miscarriage of justice and a gross human rights violation if they insist on Ms Emambakhsh's deportation. The Asylum Seeker Support Initiative in Sheffield are now getting Pegah new solicitors in order to make a fresh claim for asylum based on new evidence and expert testimonies. A stay of deportation is needed to give Pegah time to prepare and submit this fresh claim.

Pegah's MP, Richard Caborn, has already won one stay of deportation and is working secure another postponement of deportation on 27 August. You can help. Please write or email asap the British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and to Pegah's British constituency MP, Richard Caborn.

Pegah Emambakhsh's Home Office reference number is: B1191057. This number must be quoted in any letter, so the Home Office can identify and access her case.

Faxes and emails need to be sent TODAY, Friday 24 August, at the latest. Mark all correspondence "For the personal attention of..." Rt Hon Jacqui Smith MP, Home Secretary,
2, Marsham St, London SW1P 4DF. Fax no: + 44 (0) 207 035 3262 or +44 (0) 207 035 2362

Thursday, August 23, 2007

They Go Because They Can

I think it was Churchill who said that to be born an Englishman is to win first prize in the lottery of life. The ensuing decades have not proved him wrong, despite huge changes in the social and demographic makeup of the country. So why are 200,000 people a year leaving these islands for a life elsewhere in the world?

The simple answer is because they can. The barriers to travel which used to exist have been pulled down and peoples' horizons have altered. Affluence brings with it a different worldview and a thirst to experience different lifestyles. It also results in more people wanting to come here, and who can blame then?

We hear a lot about people saying they have had enough of this country and will move abroad. I bet few of them do and they make up a small fraction of the 200,000. Sometimes when I listen to Gordon Brown I too am tempted, but I remember my experience of living in Germany for two years in the 1980s. I had a great time but I knew I would always want to return to the UK. There were to many things I missed. The internet makes things easier in terms of communication, but nothing can ever replicate the lifestyle.

So, dear reader, if for some reason you had to emigrate, where would you go? I'd head for either Colorado or Switzerland, I think.

A Game of Two Chancellors

Just had this from a reader...
I need to vent my John Motson-fuelled rage at someone that understands
(hopefully)...Last night, just before the national anthems, the BBC camera
picked up Gordon Brown stood chatting to the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.
Motty, in his wisdom said:"A current and a former Chancellor there *cue Motson
chuckle*. Glad to say that one has been promoted in the past few months, the
other still remains in that same position."

Isn't it about time Motty was pensioned off? His inane comments are only marginally less inane than those of his sidekick Mark Lawrenson. Martin Tyler and Andy Gray put them to shame. Oops, wrong blog.

UPDATE: You can take part in my West Ham blog survey on your favourite and least favourite football commentators.

Click Here to take survey

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

"I came into this world with John and 24 years to the day, he left us"

I defy anyone to read THIS piece on the BBC website and not feel like shedding a tear at the end of it. It's about Will Rigby who watched his twin brother, John, die in Iraq after being seriously injured by a roadside bomb. Will sat at his bedside holding his hand for ten hours until John slipped away. Brave men.

My Vicky Pollard Moment

I just had one of those heart stopping moments. I went in to Sky News to do live piece on the Conservative health, er, campaign, but was bumped because Dubya droned on for too long. in the event I did a pre-record with a Sky News journalist. I gave some reasonably coherent answers about what had happened and then he moved on to the Brown bounce.

I said that David Cameron now had to hit the ground running after his holiday and reinvigorate the party. My interviewer instantly retorted: 'so what you are saying is that David Davis would have made a better leader'... I then opened my mouth like a goldfish and said 'yes, er, no, but...' and then saw him collapsing with laugher. He was just teasing...

Just to show that journalists are fallible too, the Sky presenter Colin Brazier was referring to Henry Bellingham as a Shadow Secretary of State. He'd better not apologise. He might have to retract it.

Just on the subject of Henry Bellingham, he apparently apologised to his local hospital that he hadn't told them about them being on the list in advance. The hospital in King's Lynn should indeed have been included, since the Stragetic Health Authority has said that any hospital with fewer than 3,000 births a year is 'not viable'. So therefore, it has to be regarded as under threat. or am I living in a parallel universe? Don't answer that.

The fact of the matter is that although this health campaign has been presented badly, it is one which ought to resonate with people 'on the ground'. People know that cuts are being made to their local services and that A&E and maternity services are being centralised in regional centres. All the Conservatives are doing is reflecting concerns of local people. And that surely has to be what politicians must do, particularly those in opposition.

Lessons should be learned from what has happened over the last three days, particularly over presentation and fact checking. But let's not fall for any media hype that this is some sort of crisis moment. It isn't.

You Know You're a Conservative When...

Complete the above sentence in the comments and I'll post the best suggestions below... Why do I think I might live to regret this?!

I'll start it off...

You know you're a Conservative when...

1 At the age of fourteen it's Margaret Thatcher rather than Jordan who rocks your boat.

2 You get arrested because your definition of free market extends to believing that everything at the market is free.

Over to you...

Have the Newbies Been Promoted Too Early?

I'm doing some research for an article I am writing for Parliamentary Monitor magazine (published at the party conferences) and I have calculated that of the 52 Conservative MPs elected for the first time in 2005*, a massive 30 of them now have positions on the front bench - three of them in the shadow cabinet.

On the plus side, they bring a lot of freshness, enthusiasm and ability, but on the negative side, most MPs benefit from longer than a year or eighteen months to find their feet. In normal times, when an opposition has around 250 seats or more, you'd have expected only about a dozen of that intake to have been appointed to the front bench at this stage in a parliament. The other 22 must also be wondering what they have done wrong!

For the electorate it is important that they see some new faces as it reemphasises the message that the Party is renewing itself.

But I must admit that before I started counting, I would have guessed the number was nearer 15 than 30.

* including retread David Evennett

A Tale of Two Airports

Clive Davis recounts his troubles at Stansted Airport HERE. Stansted used to be my airport of choice but nowadays it is nearly as bad as Heathrow in terms of an all-round passenger experience. Over the weekend I travelled from London City Airport to Zurich. City Airport is almost a pleasure to go through. It's well organised, there are no large groups of tourists, everything is easy to find and you don't have to walk miles to the gate. Zurich airport is a paradise compared to the larger British airports. It's bright, airey, clean, easy to find your way around and with good check-in facilities. Ok, it's not on the scale of Heathrow, but so what.

One thing I also have to compliment both airports on is their attitude to disabled passengers. My mother can walk a few steps with crutches but for this sort of journey is confined to a wheelchair (the result of five, yes five, hip operations). At both airports the staff could not have been more helpful. At City the lift wasn't working so we couldn't actually go through departures so we were taken through the staff security entrance and then straight onto the plane. I think I might start taking my mother on more trips if they can all be as pain-free as this one!

Apologies for the lack of posts over the last few days. Partly the trip, and partly blogger's block has returned. Must try harder.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Idiot Behind the Norman Lamb Facebook Scam Deserves All He or She Gets

A couple of weeks ago, someone created a false profile of my former opponent in North Norfolk, Norman Lamb. LibDem Voice reported it HERE and today Mark Pack has more information on the likely culprit HERE.

As well as creating a fake Facebook profile, the culprit created a fake Norman Lamb hotmail address and edited his Wikipedia file, which included an accusation that Lamb used underhand tactics in the 2005 General Election campaign against me. As Norman Lamb will confirm, I actually thanked him at the count for not making my sexuality an issue and he then apologised for the remarks of a couple of his councillors. Since then he and I have spoken many times and I interviewed him for an hour on 18 Doughty Street in June (HERE). I wrote about my experience in North Norfolk just after the election in the New Statesman HERE.

I wasn't going to write about the Facebook issue mainly because, apart from condemning anyone who sets up a false Facebook profile, there wasn't much to add to what Mark Pack had already written. However, my name has been dragged into it on another blog which more or less accuses me of some involvement in the scam.

Needless to say, the author of the piece is talking total balls, and what he has written borders on the libellous. Perhaps he'll have the guts to actually say it outright rather than hide behind insidious insinuation. Not only has he done it to me, but he has done it to the present North Norfolk Conservative Candidate Trevor Ivory. It's cheap, it's insulting and totally without foundation.

So let's be clear. Just for the record, I had nothing to do with the Norman Lamb Facebook/Wikipedia business and I utterly condemn whoever was responsible. Someone stalked my Wikipedia profile and kept editing it maliciously, so I know how he feels. Norman Lamb knows I would never do such a thing. Mark Pack knows I would never do such a thing and I hope everyone who reads this blog knows that. Whoever has done this deserves all they get when they are found out.

What a lovely thing to come back to after a wonderful weekend away with my mother in Zurich.
Anyway, tomorrow we will be back to normal service. I almost want to apologise for bothering you with this post. Almost.

The Human Rights of Mrs Lawrence

The case of Philip Lawrence's murderer being allowed to stay in this country upon his release, because to deport him back to his native Italy would breach his human rights, surely has to call into question the future of this fault-ridden piece of legislation. Listening to Philip Lawrence's widow this morning, there can surely be few people who would argue that this Act has failed her and her two children. What about THEIR human rights? The right to live in peace and security and free from the fear that one day they might run into their beloved husband's and father's murderer.

I hope the Home Office will use their right to appeal this case, because the precedent it sets will be of huge importance.

PS Mr Chindamo was sentenced to life for Philip Lawrence's murder. He will be released after twelve years. So a headmaster's life is only worth twelve years. That is perhaps just as big a scandal as the abuse of the Human Rights Act.

Monday, August 20, 2007

And I Think to Myself...

What a wonderful word we live in. In today's Times we learn that the government continues to lie to us over the new EU constitution, that 181 Chinese miners are feared dead, that a freed French paedophile was prescribed with Viagra in prison and then raped a five year old boy on his release, a massive hurricane is hitting Jamaica, the Australian Leader of the Opposition has been forced to apologise for going to a New York strip club but can't remember what happened and the South African Health Minister is an alcoholic who has been accused of jumping the queue for a new liver.

Still, Man U got beaten and Tim Henman's putting himself out of his misery and retiring. So it's not all bad news.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Election Battleground with Robert Waller

Election Battleground is a new programme on 18 Doughty Street, in which psephologist Robert Waller and I discuss boundary changes in each region of the country and their likely effect on marginal seats at the next election. The above clip is on the West Midlands. So far we have recorded four programmes, which you can click on below to watch. Each lasts thirty minutes. For those who don't know, Robert Waller is the co-editor of the ALMANAC OF BRITISH POLITCS. I've also put a link to the BROGUHT TO BOOk programme where he talks about the book.

West Midlands
East Anglia
South West
North West
Brought to Book with Robert Waller

Saturday, August 18, 2007

EXCLUSIVE: Daily Mirror Caught Trying to Infiltrate Conservative HQ

Well, I know while the cats away the mice usually play, but the Daily Mirror has really excelled itself this week. I can exclusively reveal that they have been caught out trying to infiltrate the chairman's office at Conservative Campaign Headquarters.

Caroline Spelman had advertised a secretary and received an application from twenty five year old Emily Miller, who claimed to work for a charity called Asha, who were one of her referees. Something on her CV struck an eagle-eyed CCHQ employee as odd and when they did some background checks they found that someone called Emily Miller had had a byline on a Daily Mirror story. CCHQ did a computer check and discovered that her Hotmail account had been accessed from a Daily Mirror computer.

She had explained in an interview how much she admired David Cameron and also praised John Redwood's proposals. She was asked to a second interview on Friday when Ms Miller was asked if she was interested in the media.
On her CV she made no mention of her interest in the media yet at Oxford she made great play of some work experience she had undertaken with a TV company.

She was then asked what she thought of the Daily Mirror. She mirrored the experience of most of us and described it as "really irritating". Asked if she was the same Emily Miller who worked for the Daily Mirror she completely denied it. However when faced with the computer evidence she knew the game was up and asked to leave.

This is not the first time and it won't be the last time someone tries to infiltrate a political party, but when it is officially sanctioned by a national newspaper you really do have to ask some questions about the way they think they can do things like this.

I have confirmed tonight with CCHQ that this is an accurate description of what happened. A spokesman wouldn't say what further action might be taken, but an employment lawyer confirms that both the Daily Mirror and Emily Miller could indeed face legal consequences. I think at the very least this should be taken to the Press Complaints Commission.

And in the meantime I would urge the Party to break off diplomatic relations with the Mirror Group until they make a formal apology.

UPDATE: The Mail on Sunday has more details HERE.

Saturday/Sunday Open Thread

As I am in Switzerland this weekend visiting my money and the weather is wonderful I shall not be bothering you much over the next twenty four hours. Feel free to discuss Mark Noble's winning goal against Birmingham if you like.... Oops, wrong blog. Now, back to the Rösti...

Friday, August 17, 2007

Bill Deedes: Perhaps the Greatest British Journalist of His Age

Very sad news. Bill Deedes has died. I can do not better than repeat what the Press Associationb are reporting tonight...

"It is with deep regret that the Telegraph Media Group announces the death of Lord Deedes, who passed away this evening at his home in Aldington, Kent."Aidan Barclay, chairman of the Telegraph Media Group (TMG), said: "Bill Deedes was a giant among men, a towering figure in journalism, an icon in British politics and a humanitarian to his very core. "He was part of the fabric of The Telegraph. In his passing we have lost part of ourselves. We will not see his like again. Our thoughts are with his family and his legion of friends."

Murdoch MacLennan, TMG chief executive, said: "The sun has set on a remarkable life, lived very much for the benefit of others. Bill Deedes' journalism enriched all those who read it, his selfless humanity touched us, his good humour and courage - even to the very end - inspired us. For all those in newspapers, it is difficult to imagine life without him."

Daily Telegraph editor Will Lewis said: "It was a great honour and privilege to have worked with Bill Deedes. "He was a wonderful inspiration - both as an outstanding journalist and as a human being whose wealth of experience and charity work will be very sadly missed."

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Britain owed a "huge debt of gratitude" for Lord Deedes' public service. "He started writing as a professional journalist more than 76 years ago and few have served journalism and the British people for so long at such a high level of distinction and with such a popular following. Mr Brown added: "An MP and also a Cabinet minister, he will be remembered most as an outstanding and long-serving editor of the Daily Telegraph, and then a much read columnist. "You could agree or disagree with his views, but like so many others I found his writing fair minded, informed, and enlightening. Such was his commitment to public service that at the age of 85 he became an ambassador for Unicef, a position he also held with great distinction."

David Cameron praised him as a one-off: "Bill was quite extraordinary: doing enough in his time to fill at least three lifetimes. Listening to him, whether about politics, journalism, or events on the other side of the world, he was always a source of both wisdom and entertainment. It's a cliche to say 'we will not look upon his like again', but I suspect with the passing of Bill it is true."

Baroness Thatcher, who had known him for more than 50 years, told the Telegraph tonight: "Bill was a dear friend who will be greatly missed. He had a uniquely distinguished career in politics and journalism. He managed to appeal to new generations just as effectively as he did to earlier ones. I am deeply sorry at his passing."

Andy Burnham & Foot in Mouth

Good to see Andy Burnham admitting what the rest of us have known for some time. He sent out a press release responding to John Redwood's proposals this afternoon, saying the following...
"What's more the recklessness of these cuts would leave a black hole in the
public finances. The Tories are increasingly opportunistic and are threatening
Britain's economic instability."

There should probably be a (sic) at the end of that quote. We know how he feels.

Telegraph Column: Why Should Only the Scots Have a Vote?

You can read my latest Daily Telegraph column HERE. It argues that the Scottish Conservatives have been shortsighted in opposing a referendum on further devolution and goes on to suggest that David Cameron should adopt a policy of creating a UK wide Constitutional Convention. I'm not sure I will be very popular with CCO in Edinburgh...
I'm typing this at London City Airport, as I'm off to Zurich for the weekend. I'm taking my mother, who is wheelchair bound. Naturally the lift doesn't work, so we can't actually go to Departures! Can't say I am looking forward to her getting on the plane using crutches.

An Open Letter to Helen Boaden

Dear Helen,

Earlier this week I wrote a piece on my blog complaining at the BBC News reports of John Redwood's deregulation proposals. In particular I cited news bulletins which started with the words 'Labour has today criticised...'. Others complained about TV News showing Redwood singing the Welsh anthem. You kindly responded on the BBC Editors' blog - a very welcome innovation, I might say - and admitted you were wrong on the anthem issue. You did, however, defend the news coverage, quoting at length various bulletins throughout the day, including the offending bulletin I heard on 5 Live. Contrary to what you asserted, the 5 Live bulletin was not the only one to use those words, as evidenced by several of my readers who heard them on other BBC stations.

Frankly, I had no intention of taking this further, but I am afraid after what I have heard this morning, I am beginning to despair. On Radio 2 at 9am and 5 Live at 9.30am their respective news bulletings began with the words...

Labour has sharply criticised Tory plans to...

There followed a thirty second clip of Alistair Darling accusing the Conservatives of a lurch to the right and more besides. There was no balancing Conservative voice and little attempt to explain the context. My complaint is not particularly one of bias, although you can understand why Conservatives get hot under the collar about this sort of thing. My complaint is of shoddy journalism. I have no idea what your news guidelines are, but might I respectfully suggest that they need updating.

You may well be able to cite examples of new bulletins which begin with the words 'The Conservatives today sharply critised Labour's plans to...' It's just that I don't ever recall hearing them. And even if this has happened, I would submit that nine times out of ten you would have had a Labour response within the bulletin.

I have tremendous respect for most of the news coverage put out by the BBC and I don't make a complaint lightly, but on this occasion I feel it is justified.

Yours Ever

Iain Dale

UPDATE 3.44pm: Apologies for the typos in the original post. I typed it on a Blackberry. The PS has also disappeared for some reason. It said something along the lines of that I thought the Newsnight and Today Programme coverage was very fair indeed.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Labour Tries to Rig Tory Mayoral Vote

Any doubts I had that Labour are seriously worried by Boris Johnson have been dispelled by the story in the Standard that Labour supporters are being encouraged to register for the Tory Open Primary and vote for one his three opponents. A different kind of politics, Gordon? You're having a giraffe.

Blair Hires US Lawyer to Broker a Memoir Deal

Interesting that Tony Blair has hired a US lawyer, Robert Barnett, to sell his memoirs. Aren't there any good literary agents in this country? If he had called, I could have told him about Ed Victor, Michael Sissons and Jonathan Lloyd to name but three. It is a further sign that Blair sees his financial future in America. Sky News reckons he could command up to $12 million for a book deal. Any publisher who pays anywhere near that deserves to go out of business.

Coleman Accuses Mayor & Blair of Drink Problem

The Daily Telegraph carries a news story this morning about Brian Coleman's News Statesman blog in which he accuses Sir Ian Blair of being drunk at public events. Rather than headline the story TORY ACCUSES BLAIR OF DRINK PROBLEM the Telegraph took a leaf out of the BBC text book and ran the headline SENIOR TORY ACCUSED OF SMEARING SIR IAN BLAIR. In the story the criticism of Coleman is the story rather than his very serious allegations. Coleman wrote on his blog...
The Met Commissioner has appeared somewhat the worse for wear at a number of
official functions, most notably the London Mayors’ Association Annual Dinner where he needed assistance from his protection officers to manage the stairs. These indiscretions reflect the alcohol-fuelled administration of City Hall. Mayor Livingstone’s’ two well documented run-ins with the Standards Board (the Party incident at Tufnell Park and the Evening Standard Nazi jibe) have both involved significant amounts of red wine and those of us on the inside of City Hall know that abstemious is not a word in the Mayor’s dictionary.

I have no idea of the truth of Coleman's allegations, but I assume he - and indeed the New Statesman - wouldn't have run it without some element of truth to it. Whatever, the New Statesman is getting great value out of Coleman's blog. It was he who accused Ted Heath of cottaging a couple of months ago. A regular column must surely soon be on offer.

Where are the LibDems?

In the past few weeks, ConservativeHome and I have been critical of some Conservatives for, shall be saying, being absent from the headlines. However, this is nothing compared to the LibDems. have they disappeared off the face of planet earth? The Despatch blog makes a good point this morning, saying it is no good just sending out press releases and expecting great media coverage. Not only has Ming Campbell been absent from the headlines for three weeks, so have his key spokespeople.

Health spokesman Norman Lamb (my old opponent in North Norfolk), however, has hit the headlines for his remarks on the standards of health hygiene in the nation's hospitals. He compiled a league table of the hospitals with the worst records and bravely included his local (well, it's the one nearest to North Norfolk) hospital, the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital, in the top five list of worst hospitals in the country on the basis that inspection reports made five sensible but minor suggested improvements - including fixing some flaking paint behind a dishwasher, and putting a can opener in the dishwasher rather hand washing it. The only trouble is, it turns out not to be true.

Mr Lamb has today been forced into a grovelling apology to the hospital in the Eastern Daily Press. The hospital said: "We had serious reservations about the quality of the [LibDem] research and it would have been nice with hindsight if Norman had got in touch with us beforehand."

I wouldn't like to be the researcher at LibDem HQ who did the legwork on this. We've all done it, I suppose, chased a headline and lived to regret it. I know I have, so I know how embarrassed Norman will be feeling this morning!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Government to Monitor Blogs

The Financial Times reports that the government is about to set up a 'blog monitoring unit' (I kid you not). Another excuse to employ a few more people on the public sector payroll, I guess.
A project by the COI’s Media Monitoring Unit is considering how to add blogs to its regular summaries of government coverage in mainstream press or television. The summaries are used across Whitehall from ministers to departmental communications teams, often as an early warning service on issues rising up the public’s agenda. The blog project was in part prompted by departments’ concerns at being caught unawares by debates spread on the web.

It reflects the growing media profile of the format and the fact some individual bloggers are moving from niche self-publishers to establishment opinion-formers. Clarence Mitchell, director of the MMU, said though there was debate about the objectivity of some bloggers, several
were taken increasingly seriously within government
. Mr Mitchell said: “There’s a whole level of debate taking place online which simply didn’t exist before and departments feel they need to be fully engaged in that.” He insisted any future service by the unit would not intervene in monitored blogs. However individual departments which took any service might choose to reply directly to bloggers’ criticisms – as they would any commentator – or address points through general media statements.

Pilot studies have looked at pensioners’ online reactions to a recent budget and internet opinions on counter-terrorism measures. They have tracked web traffic generated as well as the tone of discussions. The blog monitoring would need a sufficient number of individual government departments to agree to cover the extra costs involved. If this happened, MMU estimates a service could operate by the end of the year.

A growing number of companies already monitor blogs in sectors such as technology where online product reviewers can be highly influential. Universal McCann, the media buyer, recently estimated that more than 50 per cent of UK respondents to an online survey said they had read a blog within the last six months and about 20 per cent had posted comments on their own. The media buyer said this lagged far behind China and south Korea where blogging – mostly
devoid of politics in China – was more widespread, and less likely to be seen as self-interested as it is in the west. The vast majority of blogs in the UK and the US are abandoned after a relatively short period of time or read by only a handful of friends or contacts.

I do know that about a year ago Conservative Campaign Headquarters added blogs to the Shadow Cabinet daily media monitoring brief. I was rather horrified at the time. I guess it is sensible for policymakers of all persuasions to keep tabs on the blogs of people like the Taxpayers' Alliance, Our Kingdom and some of the think tanks blogs, but I would question whether a daily read of THIS blog is a wise use of taxpayers' money!

Quotes of the Day

"Do you know what Roy Strong and his wife do in bed? They read" - Earl Spencer, recalling what the late Queen Mother said in his hearing.
"David Cameron could do worse than promise the return of donkey races, conker fights and other Great British Risks if he wants to win the next election" - Tory MP Ann Widdecombe.
"I was complimented by eight MPs and two ministers. I preened my way through the day under a barrage of praise" - Tory MP Nadine Dorries after having a new hairstyle.
"He made me laugh, he made me cry" - Barbara Windsor after the funeral of Mike Reid.
"Some of the most significant players in the party are part timers. There isn't the hunger on the Conservative front bench that Labour had in the mid 1990s, the party is not hungry enough for power" - Tory activist Tim Montgomerie.
"Even though I am known for flaunting my cleavage, I actually try to disguise my breasts to make them look smaller" - artist Tracy Emin.
"The fashion world don't trust me anymore. And why should they? I looked like crap for years" - Courtenay Love.
"When the four alloy wheels were stolen from my car leaving me stranded, the AA told me, 'We don't class that as a breakdown'" - Anonymous letter to the Daily Mail.

BBC Responds to Redwood Bias Allegations

The BBC's Director of News, Helen Boaden, has written a piece on the BBC Editors' Blog responding to my blogpost on Sunday accusing the BBC of doing Labour's dirty work. She apologises for showing John Redwood singing the Welsh National Anthem, but says their coverage of his report was entirely fair. She quotes all the opening lines from BBC News reports throughout the day, and helpfully includes the one I heard...
Labour has condemned the latest review of policy carried out by the
Conservatives as a lurch to the right wing of politics. The review - led by John
Redwood - identified ways of deregulating business. The secretary of state for
business, John Hutton, said the Tories were now more right wing than they had
been under Michael Howard and William Hague.

Game, set and match I'd say. Well, it would have been had I not said that 'all; news bulletins carried these words. I actually heard the 5 Live bulletin, and normally on a Sunday the Radio 5, 4 and 2 news bulletins are more or less identical. It appears this Sunday they weren't. But the fact of the matter is that the 11am bulletin on 5 Live carried exactly the words I said it did, yet Helen Boaden still seems to feel that this was acceptable.

Media blogger Simon Dickson - under the headline MOUSE SQUEAKS, LION ROARS BACK - reckons it was remarkable that Helen Boaden responded at all...
There’s something faintly surreal at the lengths Helen Boaden goes to, to rebut Iain Dale’s claims that the BBC was biased in its reporting of the weekend’s Tory red tape review. If you wanted evidence of how ‘proper’ media is taking bloggers seriously, here it is.

Well I have never been described as a mouse before!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Why the SNP is Right to Want a Referendum

SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has published a white paper today outlining three options for the future of Scotland. Predictably all three opposition parties have rounded on him and accused him of trying to wreck the United Kingdom. That may or may not be so, but surely it would be a good thing to allow the Scots to vote on their own future, rather than the argument dragging on needlessly. The white paper outlines three options:-

1. Stick with the current devolved settlement
2. Enhance devolution by extending the powers of the Scottish Parliament in specific areas
3. Full independence

I am disappointed Scottish Conservatives jerked their knees and rejected a referendum on these options out of hand. It is surely difficult to argue that the British people should decide on whether we sign up to a European Constitution, and then say that the Scots should be denied a direct say on their own long term constitutional futures. David Cameron is right to want consistency of policy and consistency of argument. While Scottish Conservatives might feel they have done the right thing to protect the Union, this is a short-termist position.

The best way to protect the union in the long term would be to have a full debate now and end it with a binding referendum. The SNP is in government in Scotland and have a right to put proposals like this on the table. Sure, they didn't get a majority of the votes or the seats, but I think it would be better to let them have their day and allow a public vote. My own view is that the unionist side would be far more likely to win that referendum that the SNP. But I guess we shall now never know.

Of course, if the Scots had their own referendum on independence, that would let the genie out of the bottle for a referendum in England on full devolution and an English Parliament. And that would never do, would it? No wonder the three main parties stick together on this.

The 2007-8 Blogging Guide: Progress Report

You now only have a matter of hours to get your Top 20 blogs to me (ranked 1-20) before the deadline of midnight tomorrow. A quick update on what's happened so far...

* More than 500 blogs have been nominated.
* 158 of them are on the right, 131 on the left, 48 LibDem
* Of the Top 100, 38 are Conservative blogs, 15 Labour, 8 LibDems and 4 for the smaller parties
* I have identified 1100 politcially related blogs for the directory
* More than 50 bloggers will be featured in a Who's Who in politcial blogging section.
* The book goes to the printers on 22 August and will be published in mid September

So, if you haven't already done so, email me at iain AT with your Top 20 (or Top 10 if you can't get to 20!) blogs, ranked from 1-20. I can't accept emails votes with just one blog on them!

It Shouldn't Happen to a LibDem: No 94

Colin Rosenstiel is the Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader of Cambridge City Council. And he's angry. Very angry... Click HERE. Watch the video, them read the thread. He accounts for his actions at the end of the thread. Having been the victim of a cyclist with 'road rage' (he smashed my window in!) my sympathy is with the van driver!

What a Stupid Blogger

From the Melbourne Age newspaper...

A Liberal candidate for this year's federal election has been forced to stand down after describing Victorian Transport Minister Lynne Kosky as a "bitch" and "f---wit" on his blog. Hamish Jones, 24, was the Liberal candidate for the safe Labor seat of Maribyrnong, where he was pitted against ALP heavyweight Bill Shorten. But Mr Jones quit after it emerged that he had abused Ms Kosky in his blog, Ranting and Rambling, in April. He was responding to an email Ms Kosky had sent to her state colleagues, saying that they should not refer their constituents' complaints about public transport to her. Instead, she advised them to go directly to the private operators of the public transport system or the ombudsman.

When the blog remarks were brought to the attention of state Liberal director Julian Sheezel, he immediately told Mr Jones such comments were unacceptable, leaving him no option but to quit. The blog last night appeared to have been taken down. Mr Sheezel told The Age last night: "Hamish Jones had a blog which contained inappropriate and unacceptable material. His candidacy was untenable." The Liberals will now have to move quickly to find a replacement. Federal Labor frontbencher Jenny Macklin said last night that the comments about Ms Kosky were "extremely inappropriate".

Let that be a lesson to all you candidate bloggers out there!

John Biffen 1930-2007

I was saddened to learn of the death of John Biffen this morning. He was a tremendous character who had the rare ability to entertain, inform and educate and the same time. It is sad that he will best be remembered for Bernard Ingham's cutting comment in 1987 that he was a "semi-detached" member of the government, to which he replied that Ingham was the "sewer, not the sewage."

Last year I had the pleasure of working with Lord Biffen on his autobiography. It was a characteristically honest account of his own life and his own failings. The childhood section was a pleasure to read, because although it was from a different era, it reflected my own rural upbringing in many ways, and like all good books, it sparked of many childhood memories of my own.

His account of the first few years in parliament was especially gripping, as he became an adherant of Powellism and had a testy relationship with Edward Heath.

John Biffen was perhaps too honest a politician for his own good. But as a failing, it's not a bad one to have.

Members of the Conservative History Group always appreciated his attendance at their meetings, where he would be ready with some great insight and a good joke. We will all miss him terribly.

My best wishes go out to Sara, John's wife, who has been a tower of strength to him throughout his long illness. They got married comparatively late in life but have been a totally devoted couple. I'm thinking of her today.

UPDATE: I've created a facebook group where you can leave tributes and 'vurtually' sign a condolence book HERE.
UPDATE: Margaret Thatcher has paid tribute to John Biffen. She said: "John was an outstanding Parliamentarian, a widely respected Leader of the House of Commons and a great British patriot."

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Pointlessness of Number Ten Petitions

As you may know, I refuse to link to any of the Downing Street petitions because they're a waste of time. The PM hasn't a clue how many people have signed them and isn't even given a Top Ten in his red box each week. The European Referendum petition is a good case in point. It reads...
We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to refrain from signing any
agreement to create a new European Union treaty without first holding a
referendum to ascertain the opinion of the British public.

The people who have signed this petition have now received a response from 10 Downing Street. It is several parapgraphs of well written, pro European prose, which singularly fails to address the question of a referendum raised in the petition, despite covering virtually every other subject. Here it is...
This Government believes strongly that it is in the UK's interests to be a leading player in Europe. EU membership has brought real benefits for the UK in terms of wealth, jobs, peace and security. Around 3 million British jobs are linked (directly and indirectly) to our trade in goods and services with other EU countries, and over half of UK foreign trade is with other EU countries. It is estimated that the EU's single market boosted total EU GDP by 2.2 per cent (around £150 billion) in 2006. And as a member of the EU, working closely with other countries, the UK is able to deal more effectively
with cross-border issues like climate change, migration, jobs and protecting consumers. These are issues that all our citizens care about. Recent EU initiatives to tackle climate change emissions and bring down mobile phone roaming charges have demonstrated the concrete benefits of membership.

To deliver the results that Europe's citizens want, we need to equip the EU to operate more effectively. This means reforms to improve the way the institutions operate now that there are 27 Member States. At the European Council meeting on 21-22 June, EU leaders discussed the basis for a new Treaty to make the necessary changes to the EU's institutional arrangements. We agreed a way forward that the Government is confident represents a good result for the UK and a good result for Europe. The EU will now be able to focus on the issues which will make a real difference to peoples' everyday lives - meeting the challenges and opportunities of globalisation, and delivering prosperity and security to our citizens.

Following the agreement at the European Council, the Treaty designed to establish a Constitution for Europe has been abandoned. Instead, a new Reform Treaty will be agreed by an Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC) - representing
all Member States - in line with the decision reached at the European Council. The new Treaty should be finalised by the end of 2007. It will then be for Parliament to debate and vote on the contents of the Treaty. This ensures that the values presented in the Treaty are compatible with the UK's, and that any concerns that may be raised as part of the democratic process, by Members themselves or on behalf of their constituents can be fully addressed, as is only right and proper.

In preparation for discussions at the European Council, the Government identified four key areas of fundamental importance to the UK's sovereignty. In the subsequent discussions, the Prime Minister successfully defended these 'red
lines', protecting the UK's control over key policy interests. Specifically: there will be nothing in the new Treaty which challenges or requires us to change our existing labour and social legislation; our common law system and our police and judicial processes have been protected; our independent foreign and defence policy will be maintained; and our tax and social security system will be protected.

As the Prime Minister himself stated during a press conference with Chancellor Merkel, "We as a United Kingdom had a number of negotiating objectives, these included objectives in relation to the Charter of Rights, justice and home affairs, foreign and security policy, the social security elements of the amending treaty and national security itself. We are satisfied that in the document that was laid before us, our negotiating objectives have been met. We now look forward to the intergovernmental conference producing in detail the amendments and therefore the resolutions on which our parliament will eventually have to vote".

The agreed basis for the new Reform Treaty states "The constitutional concept, which consisted in repealing all existing Treaties and replacing them by a single text called 'Constitution', is abandoned." The Reform Treaty will be clearly based upon the existing EU Treaties, and will be a traditional 'amending Treaty', along the lines of previous EU Treaties such as Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice. The UK has never held referendums on amending treaties in the past.

So the new Reform Treaty will improve the efficiency of the Union and enable us to focus more sharply on delivering results for our citizens. It sets out what the EU can and cannot do. It ensures that foreign policy remains an issue for national governments. It will strengthen the voice of national parliaments in the EU. And it provides the framework for an enlarged Union of nation states to work together for mutual benefit.

Britain needs a more effective, efficient, coherent EU. The improvements contained in the Reform treaty will enhance the EU's capacity to act effectively to meet the shared challenges we face. As a result it is believed that the agreement reached in June represents an excellent deal for the UK's interests and for Britain's future within Europe.

I must have missed the parapgraph that explain why, when the current treaty is 96% similar in content to the old one, we don't deserve a referendum.