Friday, November 30, 2007

Harman About to Admit Guilt

The Harman campaign is about to issue a statement - she did extend the mortgage in order to fund the campaign. It wasn't registered with the Electoral Commission. Her campaign finance manager Anita Gale only checked

with the register of members interests not the electoral commission whether to register the extension to the mortgage (duh! That was one of the first things I checked when doing tje declarations for DD's leadership campaign). The law is specific. HERE are the regulations:

Any loan above £1000 to a regulated donee any part of which is used for political purposes MUST be declared within 30 days. The mortgage is included. See this part of the rules:...

3.10 If any part of the value of a loan is used in connection with the regulated donee's political activities, it is a regulated loan. This includes loans taken out for any other purpose (e.g. a personal credit card), any part of which is used in connection with the donee's political activities.

Sky News Paper Review Tonight

At 10.30 I'll be looking at tomorrow's front pages on Sky News, then at 11.30pm expect a bit of fur to fly when I'm joined by my old sparring partner Yasmin Alibhai-Brown for the full paper review until midnight. Do tune in!

Does This Sound Good, Harriet?

According to Westminster council, "ten items of drugs and weapons had been seized since May 2004" at Sound nightclub, the venue for Harriet Harman's fundraiser next Wednesday. More details HERE.

Hardly an appropriate venue for a senior cabinet minister, I'd have thought. I wonder what the hire charge is. I've no doubt that she'll be declaring any discount on the normal rates. We wouldn't want any more 'administrative errors' (copyright Peter Hain 2007) would we?

Someone Has to Lose

This week has seen great excitement in the Parliamentary Press Gallery as it holds its annual elections. Colin Brown from The Indy was elected unopposed as Chairman but unusually the ten places on the Press Gallery Committee were contested - by twelve people. The election was held under the STV system where the mathematically-challenged feral beasts had to rank their colleagues from 1 to 10 and then put the ballot paper in an envelope, and then put that envelope in another envelope. With me so far?

Needless to say there were rather a lot of disqualified ballots. Anyway, it was an election so someone had to lose and the two unlucky contestants were freelancer Jerry Lewis and the Sunday Mirror's Vincent Moss. Bad luck, chaps! Blame it on the idiocy of the electorate. That's what politicians usually do! Not me, obviously...

EXCLUSIVE: Brown's Team Broke Electoral Law by Tearing Up Cheque

Bear with me with this... Gordon Browns campaign, by tearing up the cheque, appear not to have followed the requirements of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. for rejecting a donation. The Act is clear that where the procedures, set out in Law, have not been followed within 30 days of receipt of the donation, the donee is deemed to have accepted the donation. So what are the required steps?

s56 of the Act sets out the requirements, and whilst this section may appear to relate to parties, not individuals, Schedule 7, part II, (8) of the act explains that s56 – s60 also apply to individuals.

Section 56
5) For the purposes of this Part a donation received by a registered party shall be taken to have been accepted by the party unless— (a) the steps mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (2) are taken in relation to the donation within the period of 30 days mentioned in that subsection; and
(b) a record can be produced of the receipt of the donation and—
(i) of the return of the donation, or the equivalent amount, as mentioned in subsection (2)(a), or (ii) of the required steps being taken in relation to the donation as mentioned in subsection (2)(b), as the case may be.

And subsection (2) states
(2) If a registered party receives a donation which it is prohibited from accepting by virtue of section 54(1), or which it is decided that the party should for any other reason refuse, then—

(a) unless the donation falls within section 54(1)(b), the donation, or a payment of an equivalent amount, must be sent back to the person who made the donation or any person appearing to be acting on his behalf,
(b) if the donation falls within that provision, the required steps (as defined by section 57(1)) must be taken in relation to the donation,

So, under the letter of the Law, Gordon Brown, by not having returned the cheque, and having a record of doing so, was deemed to have accepted the donation. Is this just being pedantic? Well consider the situation in a long running election campaign. A cheque is received by a party that they have doubts about, but they may need the money…They decide to hedge their bets. The cheque could be placed in a draw and only banked if things become desperate and they decide to take the risk. In the event that the monies are not needed, the cheque could simply be torn up. No record exists as to when this happened, and it can always be argued that it was torn up immediately. The requirement in Law for the payment to be returned, and a record kept, prevents this from happening.

At the very least, Brown cannot make the same claim that Harman has been making – that she has not broken the letter or the spirit of the Law!

Will Guido's Letter Prove the End for Wendy Alexander?

Guido has got the proof that Scottish Labour leader Wendy Alexander was not telling the truth when she said she knew nothing of Paul Green's donation to her leadership campaign. He's got a copy of her thank you letter. I think it is fair to say that Wendy Alexander is even more trouble than Harriet Harman now.

The Public Affairs Sector Needs to Wake Up to the Internet

What proportion of the Uk population do you think read blogs? According to a new poll conducted for Edelman, and reported in Public Affairs News, it's about a quarter. Out of 1,007 random UK adults polled, 262 said they read blogs. I must admit, I find that statistic unbelievable. I'd have though it was under 10%. In the same poll, 38% said they had signed a petition within the last 12 months and 18% had attended a local meeting on local issues. The poll was used by Edelman to demonstrate that lobbyists should make more use out of internet campaigning.

This morning I chaired a session at the Public Affairs News conference and was both amazed and appalled by how little importance the two speakers in my session, and indeed many of the audience, gave to using the internet to persuade opinion formers. The same was true in a session last week with I did with Lynne Featherstone at an NCVO conference. For voluntary organisations and charities, the internet ought to be manna from heaven - it's more or less free and it's used by everyone. For those without large budgets to spend on public affairs blogs, Facebook and the like and a great way of spreading the message. Yet all we heard were bleats about the time it takes to blog and the difficulty in measuring success. Very disappointing.

Just as the internet can help candidates and politicians to get their message across, it can do the same for companies, interest groups and charities.

Is Clegg Heading for a Calamity?

Where on earth has Nick Clegg disappeared to? While Chris Huhne has been campaigning around the country like a rabbit on crack, very little has been heard of Nick Clegg for some time. Is his heart in it anymore? Fraser Nelson writes...
A big winner of donor-gate is Chris Huhne. He's been the face of the Lib Dems on
this, as Vince Cable continues to hound Northern Rock. The ability to jump on a
news issue is a key skill required for a Lib Dem leader, and he's demonstrating
his credentials here. Where on earth is Nick Clegg? Where is his campaign? If
he's not careful, winning the Spectator/Threadneedle newcomer
of the year
awards really will be the highlight of his year.

I reckon the result of this leadership contest is going to be very close indeed. A month ago I'd bet my house (if I had one) on Clegg walking it. No longer. And before LibDems accuse me of spinning things in favour of Huhne because he will be less of a danger to the Tories, I'm no longer so sure of that either. Huhne has demonstrated in the last few days that he is a tenacious campaigner who has an eye for the media. Clegg has demonstrated the very opposite.

Patrick Mercer Brought in From the Cold

Patrick Mercer, the former Shadow Homeland Security Minister, who was sacked by David Cameron in March has been brought in from the cold to advise the Party on the treatment of troops and their families. Cameron met with Mercer earlier this week to affect a rapprochement and Mercer was only too pleased to accept. Good for both of them. More HERE.

Breaking News: Harman Development

The Electoral Commission has contacted Harriet Harman over the funding of her Deputy Leadership campaign following David Grossman's report on Newsnight last night. Perhaps she will answer the questions David put to her last night, which she failed to respond to then.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Kevin Maguire is a...

Andrew Neil had better watch his step. He's just introduced Kevin Maguire as a Geordie. He isn't. He's a Mackem, from Wearside. Mr Maguire will not be pleased.

Now, complete this sentence. Kevin Maguire is a...

Was the Mendelsohn Donation From Mendelsohn?

This is what the Press Association is reporting about a donation from Gordon Brown's chief fundraiser to the Peter Hain Deputy Leadership campaign of, er, £5,000...
Work and Pensions Secretary Peter Hain tonight admitted that he failed to register a £5,000 donation to his deputy leadership campaign by Labour's new chief fund raiser. Mr Hain blamed an "administrative error" for the failure to inform the Electoral Commission of the donation by Jon Mendelsohn. "In the light of recent events, it has come to my attention that a donation from Jon Mendelsohn to my deputy leadership campaign was mistakenly not registered with the Electoral Commission," Mr Hain said in a statement. "Jon Mendelsohn made a personal contribution of £5,000 at the end of June 2007. We wish to make clear that this was entirely an administrative error on the part of my campaign. "I very much regret that the donation was not registered as it should have been and I am taking immediate steps to do so." Mr Mendelsohn, who was not the party's fund raiser at the time, is already facing calls for his resignation after the disclosure that he was aware two months ago of the proxy donations to the party made by property developer David Abrahams.

The question Mr Mendelsohn will need to answer is this: was it truly a "personal" donation? I am sure it is a coincidence that the donation was for £5,000, exactly the same amount as Mrs Kidd wanted to donate to Gordon Brown's campaign, and exactly the same amount that Mr Abrahams gave to Hilary Benn. The donation was made at the end of June, just shortly after Mr Mendelsohn offered two different leadership campaigns "help" in raising funds for their campaigns, according to today's Evening Standard. Funny, that.

And for the Very Latest...

This just gets more incredible by the minute. Peter Hain has just admitted he got £5k via Abrahams or one of his agents Jon Mendelsohn too and didn't declare it to the Electoral Commissionm. A lawyer called Neill Blundell has just very eloquently explained why the following people will be needing the services of M'Learned Friend 'ere too long...

David Abrahams
Janet Kidd
Rodney the Builder
Jonathan the Lawyer
Jon Mendelsohn
Peter Watt

He also reckons Harriet Harman could face prosecution via the Electoral Commission in a Magistrates Court for her non declaration of loans.

Telegraph Confirms 11 Point Tory Lead

Seems I was right about the Telegraph poll. The key thing here is that only 8 weeks ago, Labour were 11 points ahead. Now the Tories are. This turnaround is unprecedented in electoral politics, anywhere. It's the largest Tory lead since Margaret Thatcher was at her most popular in 1987. The Telegraph has the full story HERE. Antony King says the reversal of fortunes ofr Labour as "among the most devastating for any Government in the history of opinion polling". The Telegraph's story says...
More than 60 per cent of Britons are now either "very worried" or "somewhat worried" that there will be an economic downturn in the next two years with the
majority of the electorate now expressing doubts over the Government's ability to deal with such a crisis. The poll also puts the Tories slightly ahead of Labour on the issue of economic competence. A third - 33 per cent - of those polled said Tory leader David Cameron was now more likely to run Britain's economy well compared to 32 per cent who supported Mr Brown. Before the 2005 General Election, 49 per cent of people backed Labour to manage the economy well compared to 27 per cent for the Tories and management of the economy was previously seen as Labour's strongest electoral card.
Not a good night for Labour, is it?
UPDATE: Hmmm. No sign tonight of Chris Paul, David Boothroyd, Dirty European Socialist or even any of the normal anonymous Labour trolls who normally appear at times like this. Obviously they have moved along, as there was nothing to see.

Newsnight Allegations Mean Harman Cannot Survive

Much as I would like to watch Alan Duncan make mincemeat of Caroline Flint tonight on Question Time, I shall be watching Newsnight. Why? Read on, dear reader, read on.

David Grossman has uncovered more about the reason Harriet Harman was so keen to accept money from David Abrahams Janet Kidd. She is in debt up to her very pretty eyebrows. Her campaign overspent to the extent that next week she is holding a fundraiser in Leicester Square, billed as "This is the last opportunity to raise funds towards the cost of our very successful campaign. Places are limited and tickets are available strictly on a first come first served basis.". Tickets are a mere £30. However, that's not the juicy bit.

It turns out that Harriet Harman has taken out undeclared loans to fund her campaign, which have not been declared to the Electoral Commission and the loans amount to a five figure sum. We already knew that she took out a £10k loan at the beginning of the campaign, which she was totally open about. Grossman is alleging that the further loans should have been declared to the Electoral Commission. He says on the Newsnight blog...

The Electoral Commission's entry for Harriet Harman only records one loan arrangement - an overdraft facility for £10,000 with Nat West taken out in October 2006.This lunchtime I filed a series of 11 questions to the Labour Party - I'm still waiting for a response Here are the questions:
1 How did Harriet Harman fund her campaign for the deputy leadership election?
2 How much did the campaign cost to run in total?
3 Is the loan for £10,000 pounds from the National Westminster Bank taken out on the 3rd October 2006 the only loan she has entered into to fund her campaign?
4 Why is she still raising money for a campaign that finished on 22nd June 2007?
5 Where will the money go that is raised at the event planned for 5th December 2007 at Sounds
Nightclub in Leicester Square?
6 If the money raised at this event goes towards settling campaign debts, where are the required records of those debts?
7 Did she borrow money in her own name for the purposes of the campaign without declaring it to the electoral commission as a loan?
8 Did she borrow money against any assets owned jointly with Jack Dromey for the purpose of
funding her campaign?
9 Why is Harriet Harman using her office in the House of Commons as a base from which to raise party political funds, in contravention of Parliamentary rules? (the initiation for her fund raiser on the 5th December invites people to send donations to Charlotte Montague at her office at the
House of Commons)
10 Is Charlotte Montague’s salary paid from Harriet Harman’s MP’s allowances?
11 If Charlotte Montague is paid from Harriet Harman’s MP’s allowances why is she working on Harriet Harman’s campaign from Harriet Harman’s office at the House of Commons? Why has she not registered this in the relevant register of interests for MP’s staff?

If these allegations turn out to be true I cannot believe Harriet Harman can survive. If you want a prediction, it is that she will be gone by Monday.
UPDATE: Just as a point of information, Harriet Harman's salary is, I believe, not unadjacent to £150,000. Her husband's salary is also into six figures, I believe. Could they not contribute to her campaign themselves?

Chris Leslie Speaks With Forked Tongue

There is a complete inconsistency in Chris Leslie's statement this evening. On the one hand we are told the Brown campaign team ripped up Janet Kidd's cheque because they didn't know her. Yet on the other hand Leslie was happy to recommend her to Harriet Harman. I cannot be alone in finding those two actions entirely in conflict with one another.

Spat Over Spratt

I happened to switch on Radio Kent this morning to find a Labour MP breaking the first law of politics - never give your opponent a platform. Chatham & Aylesford MP Jonathan Shaw was rather annoyed when his Tory opponent, Tracey Crouch, said in one of her newsletters that he has missed a debate on the MRSA problems affecting the local hospital. She pointed out that he was in Luxemburg in his role as Fisheries Minister and hadn't ever bothered to speak out about the hospital in Parliament. Infuriated, Shaw challenged Tracey Crouch to debate the matter on the radio, which they did this morning. Why, oh why, oh why? If he had ignored her the matter would have been forgotten. Instead, Crouch was able to tell him that he was completely wrong to suggest that Ministers cannot speak from the backbenches on important constituency issues, which left listeners wondering if he was on top of his job What he was essentially saying was: "I can't stick up for my constituency because I'm a Minister". Good one Jonathan!

Darling to go Back to School?

Rather ironically, Alistair Darling was in Norwich today to open the National Skills Academy for Financial Services. Perhaps he thought of enrolling...

Brown's Version of Events Unravels Further

Harriet Harman is in deep do-do, but not perhaps as much as Gordon Brown is in now. Adam Boulton has just reported on a statement from Harriet Harman which says that her campaign team hadn't got enough money to pay her campaign bills. She then went to Chris Leslie, the former Shipley MP, who was running Gordon Brown's campaign. Leslie then put her on to Janet Kidd. It appears that in May Leslie had had a phone call from David Abrahams offering money and saying he had "a friend" who wished to donate too.

So not only did Gordon Brown's personal fundraiser know about it, so did his campaign manager. And they seriously expect us to believe that the Prime Minister knew nothing.

Interesting POST from Nick Robinson, who says Peter Watts' predecessors knew nothing about the 'Abrahams arrangement'.

Labour Donations: The Plot Thickens

The Evening Standard story is proving to be a major headache for Labour and Jon Mendelsohn in particular. It alleges that he approached two of the Labour Deputy Leadership campaigns…, well read it for yourself HERE.

Guido has emphasized that despite legal threats, the Standard is sticking by its story and that its source is rock solid. Now enter Dizzy. At 5.30 this evening he posted an exclusive story alleging that a member of Harriet Harman’s campaign team was seen dining at Shepherd’s Restaurant in Marsham Street last night with the very same journalist, Paul Waugh, who wrote the Standard’s story today.

In a separate story Dizzy later posts a picture of Kevan Jones, Labour MP for North Durham and a key backer of Harriet Harman’s campaign. Dizzy writes
“Say hello to Kevan Jones, the Labour MP for Durham north. I've been wondering all day if he knows David Abrahams or not. One thing is for sure, he signed Harriet Harman's nominations paper. Maybe she should have invited him to go for
dinner in Westminister and seen if he knew who that cheque for £5000 was really
from? They could have found a booth somewhere so no one saw them and whispered.”
So make of that what you will. It indicates to me that the different parties involved in this murky saga are turning on themselves. It also implies, if – and I emphasise if – Harman’s backers are indeed briefing in this way, it could mean that her people actually knew that the Janet Kidd donation was indeed from Abrahams but they were assured by others that it was all OK. The question is: who were the others, and was one of them the man the Evening Standard alleges offered to raise money for more than one deputy leadership campaign – one Jon Mendelsohn?

But if Harman's people are briefing in this way, it further undermines her own position. Labour MPs will not look kindly on it.

EXCLUSIVE: New YouGov Poll Puts Tories 11 Points Ahead

I am told that the YouGov poll for tomorrow's Telegraph is quite devastating. The Three Line Whip blog points to terrible figures for Labour in the detail of the poll, but the headline figures are bad enough. I emphasise that these figures have not been confirmed by either the Telegraph or YouGov, but I am assured they are true...

Conservative 43
Labour 32
LibDem 14

UPDATE: ConservativeHome reckons I'm wrong HERE. As Tim says, we'll see who's right at 9.30 when the poll is officially published.

Inspector Yates Makes a Comeback

Do not go away from your computer this evening. It promises to be quite a night...

* Dizzy is onto something HERE with the source of the Evening Standard story
* Rumour is that the YouGov poll for the Telegraph is terrible for Labour
* The Electoral Commission has now referred the donations scandal to the Police

God how I wish I was on Question Time tonight...

More in a bit...

Another Day, Another Government Incompetence

Just when Gordon Brown thought it couldn't get any worse, it has. It's just
been announced that Leeds Magistrates Court has let hundreds of criminals
get away with their crimes by not passing on the details of people who
haven't turned up when their cases have been brought before the court. These
offenders include sex offenders. Because the details were'nt routinely
handed to the Police, they haven't been chasing up the missing criminals.
You couldn't make it up! It all dates back to 2005 when the government
changed the remit of Magistrates Courts, so their is clear political
culpability, it would seem. More details will be emerging soon, I gather.

The War of Mrs Gibbons' Teddy Bear

In bygone ages wars have been started over less. The fact that Sudan has escalated this incident is of great regret. I heard a Sudanese diplomat on 5 Live yesterday saying we have to let the Sudanese legal process take its course and that the Sudanese government has no power to intervene. Stuff and nonsense. The fact that Mrs Gibbons was charged in the first place looks to me like a political act in itself. The charges took place after the Sudanese legal authorities had briefed that she was about to be freed. What changed? I suspect it was a political intervention to put pressure on the British government to back off over Darfur.

David Milband has called in the Sudanese Ambassador (two days too late) and far from giving him the diplomatic equivalent of cauliflower ear, he is merely seeking to establish the facts. Er, I think we know the facts. A British subject has been arrested on trumped up charges which not even devout muslims think should stick. She was in the country doing good - not to insult anyone. If this court finds her guilty and doles out the barbaric punishment of 40 lashes it is something which ought to have severe political consequences for Sudan.

Did Baroness Jay Warn Labour About Abrahams?

Baroness Jay has so far failed to answer a key question in the donor scandale, although it is very possible that she hasn't been asked it yet. When she found out that David Abrahams was making donations through 'agents' and that this wasn't permissible, why didn't she immediately contact the Labour Party's Treasurers team to tell them? Wouldn't thatr have been anyone's natural response. What hasn't emerged in any reports yet is that Margaret Jay was a member of the Committee on Standards in Public Life and would be well versed on issues like this.

Of course, there is the possibility that she did indeed alert them back in June but no one did anything about it. Which is it?

There is also an inconsistency in David Abrahams' account of how he gave the cheque to Hilary Benn. In one interview he said he gave it to him personally and in another he said he forwarded it to his campaign. Which is it? Mr Abrahams is becoming a very unreliable witness.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Harman Sleuths at Work

Exclusive Cartoon by Howard Woodall. Click to enlarge.

MacNeill Challenges LibDem Contenders to Return £2.4m Donation

Two developments from Scotland tonight. Beleagured Labour leader Wendy Alexander is under fire over a donation of less than £1,000 from someone in the Channel Islands. Can't get very excited by that.

However, good old Angus MacNeill has stirred it with the LibDems - what a mischievous chap he is. Here's a press release he has just sent out...

SNP MP, Angus MacNeil, has today written to Liberal Democrat leadership contenders, Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg, asking for clarification on whether, if successful in their party leadership bids, they will repay the £2.4million donation made to the Liberal Democrats by disgraced businessmen, Michael Brown, in 2005. Mr Brown was later jailed for perjury and a passport offence. As Mr Brown had not been resident in the UK, and not on the electoral register, at the time he made the donation, he used a bogus company name (5th Avenue Partners Ltd) as the official legal donor. Mr MacNeil said: "I understand Chris Huhne has made a complaint to the Metropolitan Police over Labour's illegal funding scandal. Clearly, it is important that political donors are not only fully identified and beyond reproach, but also actually entitled to make such donations in the first place. In this respect, I would politely challenge both the Liberal leadership hopefuls to commit themselves to repaying the £2.4million donation made by Michael Brown back in 2005. The question is, are Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg prepared to lead by example?"

Notes to editors: In his letters to Mr Clegg and Mr Huhne, Angus MacNeil said: I'm sure we can both agree it is important not only that political donors are both fully identified and beyond reproach, but also that they are entitled to be making such donations in the first place. In a similar vein, I'm sure you will not have forgotten the controversy surrounding donations received by your own party from Michael Brown via 5th Avenue Partners Ltd, at a time when neither Mr Brown nor 5th Avenue were permissible donors. To this end, if elected as leader of the Liberal Democrats, will you commit yourself unequivocally to repaying the donations made by 5th Avenue Partners Ltd?


How to Gain a Child Without Giving Birth

From a reader...
I am a regular reader of your blog and love it. I am so schocked and angry
and for some reason decided to write to you. I have just recieved a letter from
the HMRC telling me they are changing the amount of my child benefit. I thought
to myself that is an odd time of year to change the rates. I then looked at the
back of the letter and noticed that HMRC have added a new child to my brood. I
have two children and now an interloper called Shay (!). Rang the benefit office
they are going to look into it and get back to me on Monday!!!

What is the Point of Jack Dromey?

I suspect the second casualty of this scandal, will be the resignation of Jack Dromey. He has just told reporters that there was "complete concealment" from him about the Abrahams donations. He is the Labour Party Treasurer. This is the second time he has been kept in the dark. The last time he pleaded total ignorance was about the loans for honours affair. Courageously he blew the gaffe on that. What is the point of him remaining in position if he hasn't got a clue what is being done in his name? He's proved that he can't impose systems to stop this sort of thing happening. He ought to resign. Like Gordon Brown, he's not cut out for the job.

Admin Note

I have noticed an upsurge in Anonymous commenters making baseless allegations in the last few days. Just a reminder that if you post anonymously and you make spurious allegations against others, the chances are that your comment won't get through moderation. So why not save yourself the bother? Or at least have the guts to put your name to your comment.

The poster who styles himself as DIRTY EUROPEAN SOCIALIST has been yellow carded. Any repetition of his libellous comments will result in a complete ban.

A New Blog on the Block

The Telegraph has started a new blog today called THREE LINE WHIP. It is their equivalent of the excellent Spectator Coffee House, and will have contributions from across the Telegraph political team. I think the main man will be Iain Martin.

'Sue me' Says Chris Huhne

Chris Huhne has just announced on the Daily Politics that he has "done an Angus MacNeil" and written to Sir Ian Blair asking him to launch a police inquiry into the Labour donations inquiry.

He then had a rather nasty little spat with little Ben Bradshaw about the sale of honours. Bradshaw had goaded him about not repaying the Michael Brown money and Huhne then accused the Labour Party of selling honours. Bradshaw said that could be libellous and Huhne invited him to sue. Bradshaw concluded the spat by saying it had demonstrated why Huhne was unfit to lead his party. No one can say Chris Huhne hasn't shown what I am told people on Neighbours refer to as 'spunk'.

UPDATE: Huhne has just been on Sky News and said this. "There's no way the LibDems would bank a cheque for £5,000 without knowing the person it came from". No, of course not. They only bank cheques for £2.4 million without checking out their provenance. Glass houses, Chris. Glass houses.

How Independent is the Inquiry?

The inquiry which Gordon Brown announced yesterday into the donations scandal will be conducted by a former Labour Party General Secretary (Lord Whitty), scrutinised by a Judge (Lord McClusky) who is a former Labour politician and the former Bishop of Oxford, (Richard Harries) who, if I remember correctly, was successfully encouraged by Peter Mandelson to slag off the Tories in the mid 1990s. And who does it report to? Harriet Harman, the chairman of the Labour Party whose own conduct forms a part of the investigation! You couldn't make it up.

Brown Skewered by Cameron (And Cable!)

Well, no one can say Cameron didn't go in for the kill at PMQs. He absolutely skewered Brown by asking 5 forensic questions and then finishing off with one of the most pointed political and personal attacks I have seen in the Commons for years. The faces of Labour MPs and their muted reaction to Brown's defense of Jon Mendelsson told their own story. In Brown's final answer, instead of defending himself from a vicious attack from Cameron he harked back to 1992 and recited a tired list of the government's so-called achievements. As Cameron said, he really isn't up to the job.

And the Vince Cable came out with one of the best lines of the week: "Hasn't the Prime Minister transformed himself from Stalin to Mr Bean?" A class act.

So, let's have your views on what happened at PMQs. Listen to again, courtesy of Tory Radio HERE.

Donations Scandal Day 4

If you were Chairman of the Labour Party and in a spot of bother, who would you want as your closest political adviser and mopper of furrowed brows? A contact has just spotted Harriet Harman scurrying through Portcullis House followed by her doting PPS, Mr Christopher Bryant MP - possibly the most ambitions MP in the House of Commons. Not sure he's the one I'd want doling out tea and sympathy if I were in Harman's position, but Harpies can't be choosers.

Let me put a question, which has been niggling me. Why would a donor offer Harriet Harman money a week AFTER her campaign was over and she had won? There is ample precedent for donors giving money to two campaigns during an actual campaign (it happened to Cameron and Davis), but to donate money once you know the result provokes all sorts of suspicions as to the motive. At least it would to the likes of you and me, but not to Harriet Harman apparently. The question is: would this money have been offered to her if she had lost? You might as well ask if bears defecate in the forests. Of course it wouldn't.

Jon Mendelsson's position looks untenable now. Guido looks into his background HERE. From what we are hearing it seems clear that he also knew about Abrahams' 'little arrangement'. So Gordon Brown's assertion that only Peter Watt knew is unravelling by the day. Hilary Benn and Margaret Jay knew too. Mendelsson has known about it for a month yet has apparently done nothing about it. Not only that but he has sent a handwritten letter to Abrahams essentially holding out his begging bowl. Mendelsson was brought in by Gordon Brown as his equivalent of Lord Levy. He and Brown go back a long way and he's a close friend of both the PM and his wife, whose PR business did a lot of work with Mendelsson's lobbying company LLM.

PMQs is coming up in a few minutes. This is a tricky one for Cameron. The donations scandal may be construed by the Speaker (after having received "advice") as a party issue. Cameron needs to be careful how he structures his question. There may actually be a case for him not even asking about this and concentrating on Northern Rock or the Data-Disc scandal. But he would then probably accused by the media of not going for the kill.

People keep telling me there is much more to this than meets the eye. The Sunday newspapers are digging deep into various planning applications by Mr Abrahams. In these cases, there is always someone who will tell journalists slightly more than they ought to. This isn't over by a very very long chalk.

Who or What is the Smoking Gun?

I shall be returning to the Labour donations story in a few hours time. So much has happened, it is almost difficult to keep up with, but it seems to me that there is a smoking gun out there somewhere. Read THIS rather informative piece by Stephen Pollard and you'll see why my nostrils are-a-sniffin'...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tuesday Evening Open Thread

I'm off to Daventry now to give a speech this evening, so I won't be updating the blog, barring Harriet Harman resigning...

So please use this open thread to discuss any political issue you fancy. Here are a few ideas...

* what does it say about the media that Northern Rock and Disc-Gate hardly got a look in at the PM's press conference?
* has Harriet Harman done anything wrong?
* should Richard Branson be allowed to take over Northern Rock?
* the state of the polls
* tomorrow's PMQs

How Will the £600,000 be Returned?

So Gordon is going to give the money back. All £600,000 of it. I remember the last time this happened, when Labour returned Bernie Ecclestone's cheque. It took him a year to cash it. Perhaps Mr Abrahams will be encouraged to do the same. Of course, in theory there is nothing to stop him then donating it back to the Labour Party under his own name.

To save face all round, perhaps it might be best of the Labour Party were to give the money to chsrity. Then there can be no suspicions of anything.

Cameron Shows Brown the Way at the CBI

Yesterday the CBI heard a speech from Gordon Brown. Today it heard from David Cameron. Cameron provided Brown with a lesson in how to do 'vision'. Brown just delivered his usual battering ram of a thirty minute speech using a signle sentence, while Cameron was thoughtful and visionary. I especially liked his concentration on delivering smaller, competent government and his trenchant attack on the iniquitous CGT changes announced in the budget. Sky News carried the whole thing live and it's a pity it has been rather hidden by all the Labour donations stuff.

What Will Gordon Say?

In twenty minutes Gordon Brown will take his monthly press conference. He's not been lucky with these, has he? Last month's was also dominated by subjects he'd rather not have discussed.
This was supposed to be the relaunch. It won't be. There will be three topics for discussion - party donations, Northern Rock and Disc-gate. It will be facinating to see how he copes with an hour of (presumably) hostile questioning. Blair would have been in his element. I somehow doubt Brown will be.

UPDATE 12:17: Has anyone noticed the several occasions when Brown put on a huge grin (as if someone had told him to smile occasionally) and then one second later he had an intimidating glare on his face. He's losing it.

Monday, November 26, 2007

45 Words That Shame the Labour Party

"I was aware of arrangements whereby David Abrahams gave gifts to business associates and a solicitor who were permissible donors and who in turn passed them on to the Labour Party and I believed at the time my reporting obligations had been appropriately complied with."

Those were the words of the General Secretary of the Labour Party, Peter Watt, who resigned tonight. They are also the words of either a liar or an incompetent fool.

It is absolutely inconceivable that as General Secretary he did not know that these donations were impermissible. Bear in mind that his previous job was Head of the Labour Party's Legal & Constitutional Unit.

I have been in his position. I had to declare all donations to the David Davis Leadership Campaign to the Registrar of Members' Interests and to the Electoral Commission. I had never had to do anything like this before and approached it with some degree of trepidation in case one mistake by me could be used against David and his campaign. I made sure I understood every part of my responsibilities. Is Peter Watt really expecting us to believe that he was too incompetent to do the same and understand his legal obligations? He also had legal advice from the Labour Party's solicitors to fall back on.

He says he was "aware of the arrangements". This indicates that he knew it to be irregular, but one can only draw the conclusion that he did not seek further legal advice because he knew what that advice would be.

But there is also a wider question, which is this. Is David Abrahams himself a "permissible donor" and has the Labour Party checked? In Peter Watt's statement on the Labour website the words in bold (see the quote above) certainly imply that Abrahams may not have been a permissible donor. At least it doesn’t make it clear that he is/was. As a property developer it is quite possible that he is tax resident offshore, and therefore probably not registered to vote. So, did the Labour Party check whether Abrahams was a permissible donor, and if he is/was not will they return the donation? and if they did check, which register is he on?

Just trying to help.

UPDATE: LibDem Voice has a potentially explosive exclusive, with a copy of an email sent to all political parties in July outlining the rules regarding second-hand donations. Attached was a draft new edition of the Electoral Commission’s guidance on donations. This is what paragraph 4.29 of the document said:

If the original source of the donation is someone other than the individual or organisation that transfers the donation to the party, the individual or organisation making the transfer is acting as an agent for the original donor. Where a person acts as an agent in making a donation, they must ensure that the party is given all the relevant information as listed at paragraph 5.4 (s. 54 (6)). Transferring a donation to an agent rather than directly to a party must not be used as an attempt to evade the controls on permissibility and transparency.

How could Peter Watt ininterpret that? Or did he not read it? According to LibDem Voice's Mark Pack: "This information was in previous editions of the guidance, and was also (using exactly the same words) in the final version published by the Electoral Commission (and available on their website, see page 19)."

Good work, Mr Pack.

UPDATE: Guido has two big breaking stories on this tonight. He reveals HERE that Harriet Harman's deputy leadership campaign received £5,000 from a close associate of David Abrahams (UPDATE: So did Hilary Benn Hilary Benn actually turned a donation from Janet Kidd and then accepted a donation - entirely properly - from David Abrahams directly), and also HERE that Abrahams had an intertesting planning application magically unblocked by wee Dougie Alexander. Natch.

A 13 Point Tory Lead: Can This Really Be True?

This really does come under the heading 'unsubstantiated rumour' and I almost hesitate to pass it on, but word on the street is that there will be a very interesting poll in tomorrow's Independent. If the rumour is to be believed, it will show a 13 point Tory lead. Yes, you read that right. Tories on 40% and Labour on 27%.

UPDATE: Apparently it's true! My only caveat is that this is done by Communicate Research, whose polls do tend to swing rather violently.

UPDATE: LibDems are on 18%. Thanks BJ!

Panic on the Underground

I pass this email on, which I received earlier.
This morning as we pulled into Temple on the District line the doors opened at about 9.05. All of sudden there came a screaming voice from the platform that “there’s a suspect package – get off the train”. Your heart sinks and adrenaline sets in. All you want to do is get out and so does everyone else! As people are running off the cramped trains and get up the stairs into the ticket hall you find a queue as people are needing to swipe their Oyster cards to get out! I shouted at the woman to open the gets. She couldn’t she replied as she was “waiting to find out what was going on”. I don’t think I have ever been so angry - and to be fair she also looked panicked.
Three questions I’m sure we all want to know:

1. What the hell do TfL staff “need to find out what is going on” for? People were desperate to get out.
2. We are all told to be vigilant but surely TfL need to up their game?
3. Why does TfL delay the evacuation of a station? Clearly there was a problem!

It seems clear that the Underground staff weren't clear what procedures they should be following. Patrick Mercer has long been a powerful critic of TfL and their reluctance to update their emergency procedures since 7/7. This is further evidence that he was right.

More on David Abrahams' Labour Donation

Just a couple more thoughts on the Labour Party donor once-removed, David Abrahams.

1. If he gave his two staff £382,000 for them to donate to the Labour Party, HMRC will no doubt be interested if they paid 40% tax on it.
2. If the Electoral Commission just administers a slap on the wrists rather than a punative fine, what will deter an overseas donor channelling money through one of his UK staff or contacts?

UPDATE 6pm: Labour's General Secretary has resigned. I doubt whether he would have done that if there hadn't been any wrongdoing.

LibDem MEP Defects to the Conservatives

The Conservatives have announced the first major defection to them since David Cameron became leader. LibDem MEP Sajjad Karim has jumped ship. This is his statement.
Two years ago David Cameron described himself as a Liberal Conservative and
that's very much how I see myself. But I needed to be convinced that he could
change his party and now I am. David Cameron's recent speech on immigration was
incredibly impressive - sensible, rational and positive. It persuaded me that he
is a leader who has changed his party and will change this country. I'm afraid
that the Liberal Democrats have lost their way and are no longer a serious force
in politics. I'm here to serve the people of the North West and I think I can
only do that now as a Conservative. I'm sure I will not be the last politician
to reach the same conclusion. It's David Cameron and the Conservatives who are
now setting the political agenda in Britain. Only the Conservatives are capable
of putting right Labour's continued failure.

Strangely, the announcement hasn't featured in either the Radio 4 or Radio 5 Live news bulletins I have just listened to. I think we all know that it would be headline news if the defection had been the other way.

UPDATE 9.35am: 5 Live has just carried it on their 9.30 news bulletin.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Political Donations Again Brought Into Disrepute by Labour

When political parties receive donations - especially large donations - it is incumbent on them to check their provenance. The Mail on Sunday's story today demonstrates culpable failure on the part of the Labour Party to do that. A North East businessman, David Abrahams, has given £382,000 over the last five years, but you won't find his name on the Electoral Commission website as he channelled the donations through two of his staff. He gave them the money, then they wrote the cheques. All three are now in big trouble. But surely these were impermissable donations and should have been checked by the Labour Party themselves? But Mr Abrahams and his colleagues are certainly in big trouble. The law is quite clear...

S54 PPERA 2000
(6) Where—
(a) any person (“the agent”) causes an amount to be received by a registered party by way of a donation on behalf of another person (“the donor”), and
(b) the amount of that donation is more than £200,
the agent must ensure that, at the time when the donation is received by the party, the party is given all such details in respect of the donor as are required by virtue of paragraph 2 of Schedule 6 to be given in respect of the donor of a recordable donation.
(7) A person commits an offence if, without reasonable excuse, he fails to comply with subsection (5) or (6).

S61 PPERA 2000
(2) A person commits an offence if—
(a) he knowingly gives the treasurer of a registered party any information relating to—
(i) the amount of any donation made to the party, or
(ii) the person or body making such a donation,
which is false in a material particular; or
(b) with intent to deceive, he withholds from the treasurer of a registered party any material information relating to a matter within paragraph (a)(i) or (ii).

What I am less clear about it the responsibility of the Party which receives these donations without apparently questioning their provenance. Presumably the Electoral Commission will be looking to Labour to return the money and fine them for accepting it in the first place. Or not, as the case may be.

Who Benefits Most from the Hayman Allegations?

The Sunday Times reports that Andy Hayman, the Met's Anti-terrorism chief, is under investigation over his expenses. I have to say there's something in this story which doesn't quite ring true. Hayman fell out with Sir Ian Blair recently and I wonder if this is Sir Ian getting his revenge. There are nasty insinuations about Hayman's relationship with his, gasp, female staff sergeant and the fact that they both stayed in a Heathrow Hotel before getting an early morning flight, despite the fact that he has a grace & favour central London flat. If that's the best they can come up with... I too have spent the night in an airport hotel before getting an early morning flight - doesn't mean I was shagging the person I was with, does it?

Andy Hayman was the Chief Constable in Norfolk when I was there, and I just don't buy the allegation that he's somehow crooked. I suspect it rather suits Sir Ian Blair for someone else to be in the spotlight at the moment and for him to look tough by launching an internal investigation. I could be completely off-beam with that suspicion, but let's face it, you can hardly blame me for wondering with his track record, can you?

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Well, it had to happen sooner or later. I have just been seduced by a white Macbook. Not that I actually have it in my grubby little mits yet. I went down to the local PC World but they didn't have one in stock (always happens when I want a particular model) so I ordered it from Amazon - at a £100 cheaper than PC World. I'm only really intending to use the Macbook to edit stuff on iMovie but we'll see if I fall in love with it, as so many people tell me I will. I nearly bought a desktop as the screens and keyboards look simply awesome. Why do I want to edit stuff on iMovie? Well, if I told you I'd have to kill you. Watch this space.

Is Gordon Brown the Political Equivalent of Steve McLaren?

Matthew Parris thinks so HERE, in a quite devastating analysis of Gordon Brown's likely fortunes. He's not often wrong.

Defeat for the Right in Australia

Not only has John Howard lost the election in Australia, he's lost his own seat too. That takes some doing for a sitting Prime Minister. But let there be no doubt - Howard did a good job for his country. ConservativeHome has some excellent analysis HERE. I met John Howard in 1991 when I was doing some consultancy for the Australian Liberal Party on port reforms. I was very underwhelmed and was astonished when he became party leader. But he was obviously an easy man to underestimate. His failure was not knowing when to hand over the reins. I suspect it wouldn't have made a difference to the result, but it would probably have been less of a landslide.

Interestingly, Kevin Rudd could only defeat John Howard by nicking his policies. But this isn't the first time this has happened in Australia. Bob Hawke only won in the 1980s because he adopted many right of centre neo-liberal economic policies, which were then embedded by his successor Paul Keating. But as ever, the dark cloud on the economic horizon for Australia is that the trade unions will again flex their muscles. No Australian government has really successfully curbed their power, and most of Rudd's colleagues come from the trade unions.

Indian PM Voted World Policymaker of the Year

You may remember that earlier this week I told you I was part of a judging panel whose task was to pick the World Policymaker of the Year for 2007. Well, we reached a decision and have given the award to Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India. The citations says...

An economist by profession, Singh was Governor of the Reserve Bank of India from 1982 to 1985. He served as Finance Minister under Narasimha Rao from 1991 to 1996, and was Leader of the Opposition in India’s Upper House from 1998 to 2004.

Following the 2004 elections, Sonia Gandhi formed a new coalition government. As parliamentary leader of the largest party (Congress), she was expected to become Prime Minister herself but finally appointed Singh. The move surprised many because of long-standing tensions between India’s Sikhs and the central government.
Prior to 1991, India had a planned economy modelled on socialist principles. Enterprise was governed by a complex system of licences, taxes and regulations, which deterred foreign investment and stifled competition. As Finance Minister Singh began a programme of economic reform and liberalisation which lead to rapid and sustained economic growth. Since becoming Prime Minister, his administration has reduced fiscal deficits, provided debt-relief to poor farmers, and implemented many social programmes. Singh has also worked to defuse religious tensions between the Hindu population and minorities including Muslims, Christians and Sikhs.

The investment bank Goldman Sachs recently predicted that India could be the world's fifth largest economy within a decade, and second only to China by

The World Leadership Forum’s annual ‘Policymaker of the Year’ Award is given to a living individual who has created, inspired or strongly influenced important policy or legislation. The nationality or domicile of candidates has no influence on the outcome; the sole criterion is the quality of leadership shown.
Last year John McCain was the winner. We arrived at Dr Singh after an evening which saw 25 names under discussion. In the end we whittled it down to a shortlist of four. I must admit that I ranked Nixolas Sarkozy and my own nomination, General David Petraeus top.

The other judges were, Jon Craig, Chief Political Correspondent of Sky News; Mishal Hussain, anchor for BBC World, Janet Kersnar, Editor in Chief of CFO Europe; Dame Ann Leslie, Foreign Correspondent of the Daily Mail; Emily Nelson, London Bureau Chief of the Wall Street Journal; Dr Irwin Stelzer; economist and journalist; and Malcolm Turner, President of the World Leadership Forum.

Two More Polls for your Delectation

Today's Guardian had a poll with the Conservatives enjoying a six point lead (37-31) and the LibDems incredibly on 21%. Obviously appearing to be the nasty party pays off. Joking aside, it has to be said their local government by-election performances on Thursday were far better than their national poll position would suggest. Tomorrow's News of the World has a poll comparing the parties' economic competence. The main findings are...

* The 12-point lead over the Tories which Labour enjoyed on managing the economy just two months ago has been erased, with the two parties now neck-and-neck on 38%
* A slim majority (49% to 47%) said that Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling should quit.
* 46% said the Government was bad at handling a crisis, against 42% who rated it good.
* More than half (54%) said ministers had handled Northern Rock badly.
* David Cameron has an eight-point lead over Mr Brown as the best political leader, on 46% to the Prime Minister's 38%.
* The Conservatives have a 10-point advantage over Labour as the party with the best policies and ideas for Britain, on 46% to the Government's 36%.
* Among 25-34 year-olds, David Cameron is 17 points ahead as the best leader
* The Tories have a 17-point advantage on policy and are seen as best to handle the economy by a margin of 16 points.

The Mail on Sunday also has a poll tomorrow. More details later.

Paddy Ashdown ... as Played by Tommy Docherty

This oil painting of Paddy Ashdown, by Andrew Festing, has just been hung in the smoking room of the National Liberal Club. I can't help thinking that it looks very much like the ex-football manager Tommy Docherty!

What is it With Iranian Leaders and Satirical Songs?

Did you know there are no homosexuals in Iran? None. It must be so because Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tells us so.
In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country. We don’t have that in our country. In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon. I don’t know who has told you that we have it.
The American TV programme Saturday Night Live seems to beg to differ. This song, I RAN SO FAR AWAY says it all...

As I was watching it, I thought, hang on a minute, that reminds me of something. And then I remembered the NOT THE NINE O'CLOCK NEWS sketch featuring Pamela Stephenson singing Ayatollah Don't Khomeini Closer...

The Leftie World of 'Lady' Fiona Phillips

I've always thought GMTV's Fiona Phillips to be a bit of an airhead. No wonder then that Gordon Brown wanted to appoint her public health minister. Mind you, I suppose she would have been an improvement on Red Dawn Primarolo. In today's Daily M****r she tells us that she turned down the job out of concern for her two children. That concern obviously doesn't extend to being there for them when they wake up each morning. Anyway, I digress. Ms P shares with us her Top Ten Ways to Make us Great. I feel they are worth quoting in full.

1 EXTRADITE Jose Mourinho from Portugal and force him to manage the England
team, while boarding at my house (rent free).
2 BAN all titles, including Baroness and Duchess, and scrap the Honours system.
3 SHUT all private schools. What's good enough for the rest of us is good enough for those who think they're better than us. It'll improve education for all.
4 BRING back lost childhood by raising school entry to age seven. Yes I know this'll cause havoc for working mums and dads but, er... let me come back to you on that one.
5 BAN selection in schools - no creaming off the brightest pupils. Local schools for local people.
6 BRING back the right to be a mother by upgrading the status of stay-at-home mums. The majority of mums want to care for their pre-school children but can't afford not to work. Maybe instead of tax allowances for childcare, cash incentives for staying at home? Er... I'll come back to you on that one, too.
7 BAN all private medical work in NHS hospitals.
8 GET rid of contract cleaners and make Matron and nurses responsible for hospital hygiene.
9 RENATIONALISE Britain's rail network. It's never been the same since John Major privatised British Rail, splitting it into over 100 separate companies which resulted in profits over safety and efficiency.
10 PROPER local authority care in the home for the elderly. Reinstate full home-he lp and meals-on-wheels services.
P.S. And, I know it's supposed to be a 10-point plan, but none of us can rest safely in our beds until we...Take George Bush to Iraq and shoot him. Readers, I commend this to your house. Now I need to go away and prepare for office.

So one of Britain's highest paid TV presenters suggests that the President of the USA should be shot. I didn't detect any hint of irony or humour in this comment. It's about time GMTV did the same to Fiona Phillips' career. Picture credit Daily Mail

The Stifling Effects of Brussels Regulation

Read THIS absolutely fantastic article in Der Spiegel (don't worry, it's in English!) about the suffocating effects of Brussels regulations. When the Germans start worrying abour regulation you know the situation is getting very serious indeed. Here's a short extract...

There is only one thing the Brussels bureaucrats have forgotten in their zeal to slap regulations on just about everything: the often-evoked "responsible citizen." The Europeans of the 21st century appear to be dim-witted and unable to cope with life -- and wholly dependent on the dictates of Big Brother in Brussels. When it comes to protecting the population from its own supposed lack of common sense, Big Brother is enthusiastic...

Advocates for the protection of consumers, children, animals, patients and practically everything else are tirelessly proposing new things that they are convinced require regulation or, in some cases, ought to be banned outright. The EU administrators in Brussels are only too pleased to comply, while the representatives of the member states are quick to give the go-ahead...

This commission's creed might as well read "I forbid, therefore I am," complains Silvana Koch-Mehrin, a member of Germany's business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP) and of the European Parliament. According to Koch-Mehrin, depriving human beings of all risks creates a false sense of security and makes them "continually less free." What is not expressly permitted is verboten. Instead of "you may," the new mantra is "you may not."...

This is not an article full of so-called Euro myths. It is a carefully crafted expose of over regulation by Brussels bureaucrats which shows just how horrific the situation has become. It's a classic picture of the effects of a self evident truth: the more bureaucrats you have, the more regulations they will produce. It's what they do. That's why we need much smaller government both here and in Brussels.

Five Thousand Blogposts and Counting

This week Iain Dale's Diary reached a bit of a milestone. I posted my 5,000th blogpost! Just thought you'd like to know. I hope to reach 10,000 by the middle of next month...

I had a very pleasant evening with West Worcestershire Conservatives last night. I met a lady who had been at school with Ann Widdecombe in Singapore, who rather disappointingly dried up with her anecdotes when she realised I knew Ann! I met a Falklands veteran who was, shall we say, rather forthright in his views on government defence policy. After doing a shortish speech I then took part in an Any Questions type session which turned out to be great fun.

One thing which I was quite shocked by is the number of people in the area who are still homeless after the July floods. In West Worcestershire there are still 2,000 people affected and they think they have been forgotten. Many local businesses in places like Upton on Severn have still not been able to reopen. Many areas haven't seen a penny of the government aid which was promised. In these circumstances people look to their government for help - and when it doesn't arrive they lose confidence in the entire system and think they have been forgotten. Yet more reasons to abolish DEFRA and start again.

Friday, November 23, 2007

An Evening in West Worcestershire

I'm sitting in my car in total darkness outside Powick Village Hall in West Worcestershire where I am about to speak at a fundraiser for my friend Harriet Baldwin, who will succeed Sir Michael Spicer at the next election. I first met Harriet when she was in the final with me at North Norfolk. Despite me beating her she was really kind to me afterwards and held a fundraiser for me at her home, which Margaret Thatcher attended. Tonight I shall do a shortish speech, then we're both taking part in a mock Any Questions.

I have just been looking at the Conservative Home Tory Diary thread on my Telegraph article. It seems I have upset some of the Tory Taleban. I've been called a Europhile (!), a lightweight amd God knows what else. Sometimes I wonder if some of the people who contribute to Conservative Home are on the same planet. Rather than engage with a perfectly reasonable argument there are too many people who seem to prefer to attack the man rather than the ball. We are, after all, all supposed to be in the same Party, although it seems Conservative Home is sometimes more like UKIPhome on threads like this.

I find it a constant source of amusement that one week I get slagged off for praising David Cameron and then the next week the very same people criticise me for talking about something which is not quite on message. Apparently this article will diminish my chances in Maidstone, according to some commenters on ConHome. Do they really think I write every word on this blog or the Telegraph thinking to myself: how will this go down in Maidstone? Maybe that is how their minds work, but it isn't how mine works. I'm paid by the Telegraph to tell things how I see them, and that is what I try to do. If a columnist writes uncontroversial and boring columns he very soon becomes an ex-columnist. You might not agree with what I write but I hope it is at least sometimes thought-provoking.

Harman Really is Daughter of Prescott

The Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Harriet Harman, has been talking about the loss of two discs containing the child benefit details of millions of people. She was asked on the Daily Politics if the Chancellor knew -- when he addressed MPs this week -- that a senior person in Revenue and Customs knew about the decision to send the discs through the post. She replied...

As far as what the allegation that's been made by Edward Leigh, the
chair of the Public Accounts Committee, about the level of seniority of......
the decision making in terms of sending out those cds .....that of
the things when sudden problem arises.... that you have to do have to
find out what actually did go on and there's a number of suggestions of what did
and didn't go on.... and who said what to whom and when... and... .. Alistair
Darling the Chancellor has appointed Keiron Pointer, the head of PWC to look
into that, he'll do a quick investigation and report back to the House.

Glad that's clear, then.

Has Balls SPAD Broken Code of Conduct?

click on the image to enlarge
An interesting aside to the education green paper stuff this week – Ed Balls has stayed silent on the whole thing but there has been a string of attacks from Labour ministers Jim Knight and Andrew Adonis both in press releases fired out to journos (often based on selectively quoting Michael Gove completely out of context) and in appearances on TV. I saw three of these press releases and the thing that struck me was that they were from Ed Balls’s special adviser, Alex Belardinelli. So whilst Balls was keeping his powder dry by not giving quotes or going on telly he was obviously masterminding this activity behind the scenes.

Anyway, there is a question mark about whether Balls’s SPAD broke the rules in doing so. A quick google search shows he does have an official government email, but if he used this to send out the material in question I think he would be in breach of the special advisers code of conduct, which very clearly states: “Special Advisers should not use official resources for Party political activity.” The key part is this...

Contacts with the media

12. Special Advisers are able to represent Ministers’ views on Government policy
to the media with a degree of political commitment that would not be possible for the permanent Civil Service. Briefing on purely Party political matters should however be handled by the Party machine.

If this was a government response, why wasn't it issued by the Department's Press Office? And if it was a political response, why did it not come from the Labour Party Press Office. It is not the role of taxpayer paid for special advisers to slag off the opposition. They are there to give political and policy advice to their Minister and that's that.

Telegraph Column: Should the Tories Steal the LibDem EU Referendum Policy?

I suspect my column in today's Telegraph may provoke a bit of a reaction. It suggests that the Conservatives should consider stealing the LibDems' policy of a referendum on EU membership. I reckon it would kill off UKIP and gift another twenty or thirty seats to the Conservatives at the next election. Read the column HERE.

I'm putting on my tin hat...
UPDATE: I particularly enjoyed this comment, left on the Telegraph site... " Why are leftwingers allowed to write for the DT? Send him to the Mirror!"

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Clegg May Prove to be a LibDem Calamity

I should have linked to Danny Finkelstein's eye-watering demolition of Nick Clegg much earlier. HERE IT IS. I reckon he's bang on the money. The last few weeks have not been good for Nick Clegg. I don't mind admitting, I wondered whether Clegg would be a real threat to the Conservatives. I'm no longer so sure. He's shown himself to be impetuous, inconsistent, flouncy and entirely without a coherent narrative. I still think he's likely to win, but he no longer fills me with any sense of trepidation.

The Chancellor Has Lost His Clothes

Click on the cartoon to enlarge.
Cartoon by Howard Woodall, who draws cartoons for LibDem News

A Very Strange Day

I don't post readers' comments as main blogposts very often, but this one, just posted on one oftoday's threads from M Hristov struck me as being particularly good.
I’m starting to wonder if someone slipped something into my breakfast coffee.The
day seems to get stranger and stranger.On comes Steve McClaren, having been sacked but he is grinning from ear to ear (Memo to F.A. Time you realised that
Sven wasn’t crap. McClaren was awful and your players are pampered, overrated, spoilt babies.). Then we have George Osborne and he is grinning from ear to ear, despite the grave possibility of millions losing money (Memo to Osborne. You must be cock-a-hoop about all this but don’t show it.). Then I turn to the net, after doing a little work. There is a grinning picture of Yvette Cooper and an article about the introduction of HIPs (Home Information Packs) for all properties and an admission that their introduction, for three bedroom properties and above, has slowed the housing market. Presumably it will be slowed further, precipitating a crisis which this government will find difficult to escape from. A bedtime story, for the teenagers who now rule this government.“Once upon a time there was a man called John Major and he was a Conservative Prime Minister. He wanted to feed a magic snake called the ERM by giving it lots of pounds. He made the pounds fat by feeding them interest rates. Unfortunately that hurt “property owners” and they made sure that Mr Major disappeared in 1997. Moral. Do not muck about with the property market.”Foot and mouth reared its ugly head once again at PirbrightThen the former Chiefs of the Defence Staff opened fire on Gordon Brown from the House of Lords.The Conservatives sprint to 9 points ahead.There is an extraordinary posting in “The Daily Telegraph”, by Lloyd Shepherd, rambling on about the end of newspapers in 2010 and the subsequent collapse of democracy, except in China. To cap it all, Alex Salmond praises Iain Dale. Get your kilt on Iain. You could be the Scots Alistair Campbell.I wonder if this parallel universe will be around tomorrow?


Another Sign of Data Mismanagement Within Government

Remember THIS story I wrote a couple of days ago, about someone receiving discs from the DWP with rather more information on them thanm they had bargained for? The story is taken on a stage further in today's Eastern Daily Press HERE. Here's an extract...
Copies of call-centre telephone conversation recordings about child tax credit claims were mistakenly sent to two people in Norwich who had been pursuing a dispute with the HM Customs and Revenue.The pair had received the recordings on a CD after requesting information from the HM Customs and Revenue relating to themselves on a different matter. They subsequently passed it on to Norwich North MP Ian Gibson, who forwarded it to ministers.Dr Gibson said he was given
the disk about three weeks ago and said he had been given assurances that the problems had been sorted out.It is not clear how much data was stored on the disk, but the information is thought to be recordings of conversations about tax credit claims, which are routinely recorded for data protection purposes.“Two constituents, came to see me in my office,” he said. “They had been having a discussion with the Inland Revenue about some personal issues and had asked for the conversations to be recorded.What they wanted was a recording of their discussion on child tax credits,” he said. “In the copy they got there was other information on it. “There were things about tax credits and things like that. It was information that shouldn't be divulged.“I sent it to the minister and asked if there was a problem. I've spoken to the minister about it and the mistake has been rectified, so that it cannot happen again.” A spokeswoman for the HMRC said: “This was caused by an equipment error which we have identified and has been rectified. We have checks in place to ensure all CDs sent out to customers are correct and we have reviewed these since this incident and further strengthened them. We have apologised to the individual concerned.”

This sort of thing beggars belief and demonstrates that there is systemic failure at the heart of government in the use of confidential data.

Gordon Told to Pay Full Rates

From Popitch...
When Dragon's Den judge Duncan Bannatyne's ompany took over the Living Well
gym in Westminster he discovered that MP members (including Estelle Morris,
Gordon Brown and Paul Boateng) were paying a hugely reduced rate compared to
the 85 pounds per month that all the regular members were paying. Bannatyne was not impressed, raging "If Mr Brown wants to be a member of THIS gym, he can pay the same as everyone else". Gordon Brown no longer uses that gymnasium, but Ann Widdecombe does.

FYI: A fellow gym-goer tells us that Gordon Brown is "incredibly pale and doughy" and that he's "not at all keen on flashing" his [that's enough - ed]...

"I Love Iain Dale's Diary" Says Alex Salmond

Fraser Nelson has an interview with Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond in this week's Spectator. Read it HERE. Sadly Fraser didn't include this little exchange, but emailed it to me instead...

Q: Might you stand against Brown?
A: I read that in Iain Dale’s Diary, his blog. l love his diary but that didn’t come from me and I told him it was nonsense. I have got … for goodness sake, I am the member of parliament for Banff and Buchan, I am the MSP for Gordon and is that not enough?


New Poll Puts Tories 9 Points Ahead

During the summer I said that it would be impossible to tell the real state of public opinion until sometime in November and that the polls would be all over the place until then. I think even my most bitter opponents might agree with that. Well, it is now a little beyonf mid November, and we see every poll showing a reasonably healthy Tory lead. I'm not going to get over-excited by that, but it is an undeniable fact.

This evening's Channel 4 YouGov poll shows the Tories nine points ahead of Labour on 41%, their best lead for 15 years. The poll was taken after the lost data revelations. A majority (55%) reckoned Alistair Darling should share some of the responsibility and nearly half (49%) said the same of Prime Minister Gordon Brown. PA reports that...
Only a slim majority of voters still consider the Brown/Darling team to be very
(15%) or fairly (36%) competent when it comes to managing Britain's finances.
David Cameron and his shadow chancellor George Osborne enjoy the confidence of
46% on the same issue - although only 9% rate them "very competent" and 37%
"fairly" so. The Tories are up five points on the last YouGov poll for Channel 4
News in early October - two days before Mr Brown ruled out an early general
election. Labour have dropped a massive eight points since then with the Liberal
Democrats enjoying a one-point boost to 14% after ditching Sir Menzies Campbell
as leader.

I do not believe that the Conservatives have a nine point lead in reality, and this poll is a reaction to the lost data scandal. Taking other recent polls into account, I think the real position is more like a five or six point lead. The LibDems are still rubbing along around 13-14% despite their increased exposure as a result of their leadership contest. Whatever the lead, we're now getting to the stage where some polls are showing 42% or even 43% of the vote for the Tories. To get a majority of seats, 42% is the minimum requirement.

UPDATE: The Times has a poll tomorrow which shows...

1. Confidence in Darling and Brown to run the economy has plummeted from 61% to 28%
2. Brown's competence rating has gone down from 56% to 26%.
3. Brown's rating for honesty and being principled has dropped from 37% to 20%

Anyone care to argue that Tuesday wasn't Black?

See You a Bit Later - Open Thread

Another day, another funeral. Today I have to give the address at my sister's partner's mother's funeral. I seem to be making a habit of this.

No blogging until this afternoon. And soooo much to blog about!

Discuss what you like in this open thread until later.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Brown Tries Another Pathetic Smear Against Cameron

Gordon Brown should hang his head in shame. At PMQs he effectively tried to blame the Conservatives for what happened to the lost data. Cameron was right. This is not the time for the PM to play party politics. At this time, people want reassurance from their Prime Minister, for him to have the guts to take responsibility and to outline what he intends to do about it. This pathetic posturing by Brown will tell voters all they need to know.

I hope the whole country was watching PMQs, because if they did, I know who which party leader they'd vote for.

How 'Junior' Was the Envelope Stuffer?

It's usual in circumstances like this for the details of a Ministerial Statement to unravel. One thing I am waiting on is for a newspaper to identify the idiot who put the discs in the envelope. How junior was this person? I suspect that they aren't very junior at all, because if they were, they presumably wouldn't have access to the full data. Or would they? If a junior typist can get access to such data then we all ought to be even more worried that we already are!

Sir Paul Gray: Laughing All the Way to Resignation

Yesterday I wrote about what kind of "resignation package" Sir Paul Gray might receive following his resignation from HMRC. Read it HERE. My fears seem to have been realised. This morning's Daily Mail reports...
Meanwhile, Paul Gray, the £190,000-a-year chairman of HM Customs &
Revenue who resigned yesterday, is set to remain on full salary pending a deal
to let him retire on a full pension. Mr Gray, who was praised for quitting "as a
matter of honour", will not lose a penny by falling on his sword.

So there you have it. Honour among thieves, eh?

Hattip to the Daily Brute

The Delusions of Charlie Whelan

In this morning's Daily Telegraph my old sparring partner on Sunday Service, Charlie Whelan, comes out with this corker...
"This was no Black Wednesday, after which millions of people really suffered as a result of Tory economic incompetence. In the current volatile political climate, the polls will go up and down regularly, but, when people go to put their cross on the ballot paper, what was essentially a Westminster story will not matter a jot. Not for the first time, the Westminster village will be seen to be completely out of touch with reality."

Deluded. Absolutely deluded. Every single person (mainly outside politics) I talked to yesterday - and indeed this morning - is talking about this. People are worried, and so they should be. Charlie Whelan is the ultimate Westminster Villager. He tried to get away from it by moving to Inverness. But he couldn't rid himself of the political virus and now he's back in the thick of it, taking a trade union's shilling. His spinning for Gordon Brown makes Kevin Maguire look positively disloyal.

More from Dizzy and the Coffee House

Could 25 Million People Sue HMRC?

When drafting legislation the government is often very good at inserting clauses making sure that it is exempted from large parts of it, especially when it relates to being sued. I asked a legal friend of mine to look at the Data Protection Act and ask if HMRC could be sued over losing 25 million child benefit records. In short, he says there is no exemption for government in this area. He says Schedule 1 of the Data Protection Act is relevant here.

The data protection principles
The seventh principle
Appropriate technical and organisational measures shall be taken against
unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data and against accidental loss or destruction of, or damage to, personal data...
Interpretation of the principles in Part I
9 Having regard to the state of technological development and the cost of
implementing any measures, the measures must ensure a level of security
appropriate to—
(a) the harm that might result from such unauthorised or unlawful processing or accidental loss, destruction or damage as are mentioned in the seventh principle, and

(b) the nature of the data to be protected.

My contact gives a lot of other reasons why a law suit could work, but they are very technical so I won't bore you with them here. But while the thought of 25 million taxpayers suing the government amuses me, I suppose we'd better remember that they would, in effect, be suing themselves. After all all, it's the PBT (poor bloody taxpayer) mwho's end up paying the fine or damages.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

But It's 18 Inches Too Big!

Regular readers may recall that five weeks ago I ordered a new bed (see HERE). I wanted an oversize length bed so for the first time in my life my feet wouldn't hang out the end. So I duly ordered a 7 feet long bed. Beds still come in feet and inches, which is nice. Today I got the call that the bed could be delivered tomorrow morning. Excellent, I thought.

But I knew it was too good to be true. Sure enough, this afternoon came the call that, well, sorry, but the bed isn't quite the size you ordered, Sir. Oh joy. Oh well, I thought, no matter. Six inches between friends won't hurt anyone will it, Matron? It was then that I remembered I had already ordered sheets to fit the exact size. Damn. And then came the piece de resistance. Ah Sir, came the reply, it's actually 18 inches wider than you ordered.

So it will now be another few weeks until my feet get to rest their weary selves on a mattress. Why is it that this sort of thing always happens to me?!

More Evidence of Misuse of Personal Data by HMRC

I've been contacted by someone who, a few weeks ago, wrote to their MP enclosing a copy of a CD containing confidential information about HMRC Tax Credit Office clients that had been sent in error by HMRC to him.

This person had called HMRC asking for a CD audio copy of telephone conversations they’d had with HMRC when discussing their Tax Credit award. HMRC sent them a CD not only with their recordings but with two hours’ worth of recordings from people right across the country containing bank details, NI Numbers, addresses, phone numbers, details of which schools people’s children went to etc.

I'm told the MP forwarded the letter and CD to a Minister asking if they could ascertain if this was a more widespread problem within HMRC. So far, no reply has been forthcoming.

This seems to be further evidence that this misuse of public data is widespread within government.

If HMRC has breached the Data Protection Act then presumably they can be held liable in the courts - by 15 million people... The mind boggles.

How Much Will Paul Gray Get?

One of my commenters, Herr G Eagle, has just asked a very pertinent question. What is Paul Gray's severance package from HM Revenue & Customs? Seeing as the taxpayer will be paying for it, it is an entirely legitimate question to ask, so if we're given some b******s about "it's a private matter" then we'll keep asking asking the question until we get the answer.

Fisking Home Office Identity Theft Advice

Do visit THIS page on the Home Office website about identity theft. Best to wear a nappy before you do though, because you might wet yourself laughing. Here's a fisked extract...
Criminals commit identity theft by stealing your personal information.
Or intercepting it in the post, if you somehow forget to send it registered...
This is often done by taking documents from your rubbish or by making contact with you and pretending to be from a legitimate organisation.
Like a government department like, well, er, HMRC, perhaps.
Identity theft can result in fraud affecting your personal financial circumstances, as well as costing government and financial services millions of pounds a year.
No shit Sherlock. Especially if it is the government's fault and they are then sued for millions by irate Child Benefot receipients.
If your identity is stolen, you may have difficulty getting loans, credit cards or a mortgage until the matter is sorted out.
But perhaps that nice Mr Darling will step in and help you, like he did with Northern Rock. It's only taxpayers' money, after all
The following tips will help you protect your identity and prevent criminals from committing fraud in your name: Your identity and personal information are valuable assets. Keep them secure.
Best thing is never to let the government have them in the first place. Did someone mention ID cards?

In case you were wondering, my comments are in italics!

Alistair Darling: Trust Me, I'm from the Government

Ronald Reagan once said that the most frightening sentence in the English language is... Trust me, I'm from the government and I'm here to help. Never a truer word spoken, especially today. Picture credit: JamieD

The Death of ID Cards

For some time the Conservatives have argued that government cannotbe trusted with personal information. If today isn't proof of that, I don't know what is.

Today marks the death knell of identity cards.

UPDATE: It seems George Osborne agrees!

The Happy Life of an IKEA Jobsworth

I'm in grumpy old git mode. We just had a call from IKEA to say that they are trying to deliver a sofa to Doughty Street (yes, OK, nothing to do with me, I wouldn't buy one from there either) but due to Health and Safety their drivers can't deliver it. Why? Because they have to park on the other side of the street and they're not allowed to cross it. This, despite the fact that there's a zebra crossing.

What gets me though is the mentality of the driver who, rather than doing what any normal person would do, decided to ring up his call centre and then get them to ring us. So now they'll have to come back again and no doubt we'll go through the same palava all over again. Does anyone seriously think this would happen in any other country? We must be mad.

What Exactly is the Cabinet For?

Adam Boulton has just reported on Sky News that the Northern Rock crisis wasn't even discussed at this morning's Cabinet meeting. I find this incredible and leads me to ask, what is the point of Cabinet government if major crises aren't discussed by the Cabinet. It can only mean that the whole thing is being run from Number Ten and Number Eleven. We already know that there are only three Ministers who Gordon Brown takes into his confidence - Balls, Miliband and Alexander. Isn't it about time one or two Cabinet members got some backbone and insisted on things like this being discussed openly in full Cabinet?

Gordon Brown promised a return to cabinet government when he took over. It's yet another commitment he's jettisoned when the going got rough.

Am I One of the 15,000?

I have a pensions policy and an endowment with Standard Life. I've just heard that the financial details of 15,000 Standard Life customers have been lost by HM Customs & Revenue. On top of this HM Revenue & Customs have lost more personal data in a much wider breach of security. It is scant consolation that the Chairman of HM Revenue & Customs has taken responsibility and resigned. I suppose it is too much to ask for a Treasury Minister to take responsibility too.

UPDATE: Unbelievable. They have lost 7.5 million records relating to child benefit. There has to be political accountability here.

Who Deserves the Award of Policymaker of the Year?

Tomorrow night I am going to be part of a judging panel which will decide the World Policymaker of the Year Award for 2007. Your nominations please.

Meeting Matt Drudge

Tonight at 11.30pm on Sky News I will be doing the paper review with none other than Matt Drudge, author of the world famous Drudge Report. Just to emphasise how influential he is, his site has had 16 million page views in the last 24 hours. Mine has had 18,000!

Will Paragon be the Next Northern Rock?

With Northern Rock shares falling like a stone (so much for Alistair Darling's reassurances yesterday), it seems a second mortgage lender is also on the skids. Paragon, Britain's third biggest buy to let mortgage lender has seen its shares dip from 250p to 111p in the last 24 hours after it disclosed that it would not pay a dividend until it had secured a refinancing agreement.

I am not an economist and won't dream of trying to assess the wider economic implications of this, but politically it could be devastating if Northern Rock and Paragon are but the first of several. Can the Bank of England really come to the rescue of them all?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Plaid MPs Found Guilty of Allowances Misuse

Plaid Cymru has today been found guilty of using public money for electioneering purposes. The House of Commons Committee on Standards and Privileges published its report into the misuse of the Parliamentary Communications Allowances of Plaid MPs Elfyn Llwyd, Adam Price and Hywel Williams. They had used it to pay for adverts prior to the Welsh Assembly Elections in May. The Report concluded that the advertisements constituted "campaigning, therefore breaches paragraph 6.1.1. of the Green Book" (the Parliamentary rule book). The three MPs have been told to repay to Parliament the sums claimed, which amount to thousands each. The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Sir Philip Mawer, concluded that Parliamentary rules had been broken and the Report indicates this was also the view of Parliament's Director of Operations. Earlier this autumn, the Electoral Commission stated that the Plaid MPs'
advertisements should be listed in Plaid's Assembly Elections campaign returns.

I suspect this is going to be an ongoing issue for all parties, not just Plaid. It's quite clear to me that the rules governing this allowance are rather opaque. The trouble is, each time MPs are found guilty - no matter from which party - the reputation of politics in general suffers even further.