Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Daley Dozen: Sunday

1. Richard North of EU Referendum has finally lost not only the plot but what remained of his marbles.
2. Liam Halligan says we are being ruled by a bunch of charlatans.
3. Quaequam reckons Professor Vernon Bogdanor has gone mental over Damian Green.
4. Jane Griffiths fisks Martin Salter. And not for the first time.
5. ConHome reports on the selection of a 19 year old as parliamentary candidate for Durham.
6. LibDem Yorksire Gob lives up to her name and lays into Nick Clegg in no uncertain terms.
7. Fraser Nelson thinks our system of government has overreached itself.
8. LibDem Voice readers are also none too impressed by Clegg's reshuffle comments. Chris Rennard quotes me in defence of his leader. Never thought I would see the day!
9. Cranmer wishes his readers a Happy New Abortion.
10. John Redwood remains unimpressed by Sunday newspaper reporting of the PBR.
11. Tom Watson wants suggestions for 50 people who should twitter. And he's already got 27!
12. Jane Merrick on her new blog says thank God for Harriet Harman. Sort of.

Ten New Blogs

Evil G
Cherry Hinton Road - Cambridge Tory councillor
Jess the Dog - Scottish Conservative/SNP blog
Sleepwalking Britain - Libertarian
Clameur de Haro - Jersey politics & economics
Cassius Writes - Right of centre
World of JR - Conservative youth blog
De Spencer - Fiscal Conservative, social liberal
Mark Reckons - LibDem
Mike Hobday - Labour candidate in Welwyn & Hatfield

These blogs aren't necessarily newly created, but I haven't known about them before and they had not, until now, appeared in the TP Blog Directory.

Visit the Total Politics Blog Directory which contains more than 1,670 blogs. If you know of one which isn't there, please fill in the Submit a New Blog form on the left hand side of THIS page.

Book Review: Sir David Mitchell's Memoirs

I have known former Tory MP Sir David Mitchell on and off for more than twenty years. Around eight years ago he told me he was considering writing his memoirs, and asked me what I thought of the idea. I told him that in my view all politicians - especially those who have been Ministers - owe it to posterity and history to record what went on during their political careers. Sadly I left the world of political publishing before David completed his manuscript, otherwise I suspect I would be plugging this book as a publisher rather than a reader.

FROM HOUSE TO HOUSE: THE ENDLESS ADVENTURE OF POLITICS & WINE is a delight from start to finish. There's no killer fact, no sensational story, but it does contain a raft of anecdotes from a political career which lasted more than three decades. The mix of political chapters together with chapters of his career in the world of wine (he ran El Vinos for many years) give the book a uniqueness and charm.

Knowing nothing about wine (and frankly caring even less) I will admit that I didn't read all the wine chapters, but to the connoisseur, they will be fascinating. For me, the best bits of the book were the chapters detailing David's Ministerial career during the Thatcher years, where between 1979 and 1988 he served at Industry, Northern Ireland and then Transport, which is where I first met him in my early days as a lobbyist for the ports industry. His recollections of the way government was run in those days provide a welcome contrast to the shambles that exists today.

Sir David Mitchell was the MP for Basingstoke from 1964-83 and then for Hampshire North West from 1983-97. His son Andrew is Shadow Secretary of State for International Development.

Buy the book HERE.

Tory Bear Wants DC to Cuddle DD

THIS post on ToryBear made me laugh.

When the going gets tough there is only one man who the Conservatives need back at the centre of their team.

He's a man that could strangle you with a cordless phone...

A man who doesn't read books, merely staring at them until he gets all the information he needs...

A man who can slam a revolving door...

A man who doesn't wear a watch because he decides what time it is...

It's time to bring back David Davis.

I wouldn't be holding my breath, Mr Bear, if I were you. Keep taking the pills though!

Perhaps Brown Should be Arrested Too...

I challenge any supporter of the Police action against Damian Green to argue the case that what Gordon Brown admits to in this 1985 video is different to what Damian Green is accused of - procuring misconduct in public office.

Perhaps Sky & the BBC might like to show this video on their news bulletins. UPDATE: Apparently it was shown on Newsnight on Friday, according to commenters.

Hattip: Guido Fawkes

Two Must Read Articles

Matthew D'Ancona in the Sunday Telegraph.
Ministers deny that they knew in advance about Mr Green's arrest. What they cannot deny is that, after 11 years, they have created a culture of expectation in the machinery of state, that stretches from permanent secretary to police officer, in which the control of information is the defining feature of power. These leaks were an intolerable loss of that control. The irony is that this fixation led to an inquiry and an insanely ill-judged arrest that will only foster the public's impression that nobody is in control at all.

Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer.
I am sure it has not been a happy experience for the MP for Ashford and his family, but he has not been carted off to a gulag. He has been presented with a gift-wrapped opportunity to cast himself as a victim of state bullying and a hero of liberty. I bet David Davis is inflamed with jealousy that he wasn't arrested as well. He would have insisted on the police leading him away in irons... Britain is not a police state, but some people, notably in the Met and Whitehall, are beginning to behave as if it were.

Why Damian Green's Constituents Should be Worried

One aspect of the Damian Green case which has been overlooked is the effect this has on his ability to represent his constituents and take up cases on their behalf. All his computers have been seized, along with his mobile telephone and home phone lines. In effect, he has no the ability to communicate with the outside world from his constituency home in Ashford. Indeed, he has asked people to send him their phone numbers and contact details via his Facebook page.

Having worked for an MP doing constituency casework (OK, it was 21 years ago!) I know what kind of confidential problems constituents approach their MP with. Imagine you had written to Damian Green a few months ago with a complaint about the Police and he had taken it up for you. Imagine how you would feel this morning, knowing that in all likelihood some anonymous Detective inside Special Branch is at this moment trawling your correspondence on his hard disc.

Imagine you were a battered wife, seeking advice on how to get redress against your violent husband, who just happens to be a Police Officer. That correspondence would now be being read by a Police Officer.

Imagine you are a constituent wanting urgent help on an immigration case, or that your benefits have been miscalculated and you are urgently waiting for an answer. You won't be getting one very quickly...

Presumably Speaker Michael Martin thought about this when he gave the Police permission to enter Damian Green's office. This is why people across ALL parties are so concerned at what has happened. It's not Conservative v Labour. It's about Parliament v The State.

Melissa Kite: I Was Right to Publish Green's Leaked Documents

Melissa Kite was the recipient of one of Damian Green's leaked Home Office documents. It concerned the case of an illegal immigrant working in the Commons. Liam Byrne, the then Immigration Minister was alerted but failed to come to Parliament to explain himself. The document then appeared in the Sunday Telegraph. Can amyone seriously argue that this was not a legitimate matter of public interest. Here's Melissa Kite's comment piece in full. I defy anyone to disagree with either Damian Green's or Melissa Kite's actions...
The starkly written document was marked "urgent" and it was clear, without much debate, that its publication was in the public interest. It was apparent after reading the first few sentences that it revealed incompetence which could endanger public safety and, what's more, a government cover-up.

The memo, dated January 31, set out how a Brazilian national called Elaine Chaves Aparecida had just been arrested by police after attempting to gain entry as a cleaner into the Houses of Parliament by using another person's security pass. It was sent to Liam Byrne, the then-immigration minister, and warned him that the woman had absconded from Heathrow airport three years earlier and had been missing until her arrest that day at Parliament.

She had been working there since December 3. This alone was a shocking security breach. It was surely a matter of public interest to expose problems that allowed someone with no security clearance to gain entry to what is supposedly the most tightly-guarded building in Britain.

Mr Byrne had been informed about the incident on the day of the arrest, and yet by the time we published the memo on February 10, he had still not chosen to come to the Commons with the information, which ought to have been the subject of a ministerial statement.

Normally I would only reveal that I received the memo through a trusted source. But the Tories have now said that this story was one of four put in the public domain by Damian Green, and that this may have led to his arrest.

I believe Mr Green did the public a service. Voters trust the government to ensure the safety of those representing them in the Houses of Parliament, and indeed of tourists and other visitors to that building. We assume security is being well taken care of, and when it emerges that it is, in fact, so fallible that an illegal immigrant can con their way in using a pass bearing someone else's photograph, people have a right to know.

Leaks form an essential basis of journalism. In a perfect world, they would not have to. But in a system where people try to cover up mistakes for personal or political reasons, we rely on finding out the most inconvenient truths in ways which are necessarily covert.

So long as national security has not been put at risk, there is no excuse for the police coming down like a ton of bricks on people who are basically "whistle blowers", holding a light to mistakes in the hope that the publicity will lead to them being put right. That is public service, not criminality.

Davis: Charge Damian & Subpoena Blair & Brown

David Davis has an absolutely superb article on the Damian Green affair in the Mail on Sunday today. This is the headline...


David Cameron has a trenchant article in the News of the World.

"When it comes to vigorous opposition, if this approach had been in place in the 1990s, then Gordon Brown would have spent most of his time under arrest. He made his career from passing on Whitehall leaks. And he’ll be guilty of hypocrisy if he doesn’t speak out. On the right to publish information in the public interest, people are asking valid questions about where this will all lead. After all, if they arrest a politician for passing on information, will they next arrest the journalists who publish it?"

Jacqui Smith Appears to Give Police Carter Blanche

I have just been watching Andrew Marr's interview with Jacqui Smith. At the end of the Major government, many Cabinet Ministers appeared on TV and were seen as totally out of touch with public opinion. The interviewer would say something was white and they would say it was black. Perfectly decent human beings were seen as tired and out of touch with the people they were governing. Jacqui Smith exhibited all those signs in this interview. She had a line to take and she stuck to it. She refused to apologise to Damian Green and his family for their treatment and said it would be wrong of her to make any operational comment on the Police action.

Indeed, her attitude was that the Police had carte blanche to do as they liked if it furthered an inquiry. If that isn't the sign that we live in a Police state, I don't know what is. If she can't see that things have gone too far in this case, I cannot see that she is fit to remain in office.

Jacqui Smith rightly said her Department and the Cabinet Office should investigate a series of "systematic leaks". Of course they needed to. No one denies that. But she failed to convince anyone watching about the need for an Opposition politician, who was doing his job, to be arrested.

She also refused to confirm or deny whether she had signed a warrant enabling the security services to bug Damian Green's phone. If it turns out she did, then the consequences are clear.

If she genuinely didn't know anything about the Police investigation until after Green's arrest, if she genuinely thinks she shouldn't have intervened at that point and told the Police they had overstepped their operational freedoms, one has to ask, what is the point of her being Home Secretary? If she genuinely believes the Police have the operational freedom to act as they see fit, and thinks it is perfectly reasonable for nine counter terror officers to ransack a Member of Parliament's home then we live in very worrying times indeed.

The Home Secretary is accountable to Parliament. In this case, it seems the Police are accountable to no one.

PS Carol Vorderman was brilliant in the paper review on this issue, calling the arrest "disgusting". She laid into Jacqui Smith - such a shame she didn't carry out the interview with Smith rather than Andrew Marr. Catfight!

Mirror Journalist Undermines His Own Clegg Exclusive

The Sunday Mirror has what looks quite a good story about Nick Clegg slagging off his LibDem colleagues - but if you read it you'll see it doesn't quite stack up. Their intrepid reporter, Adam Lee-Potter (son of Lynda) sat in the seat in front of Clegg on a flight to Inverness (strange, though the LibDems didn't approve of internal flights - but I digress). He overheard Clegg talking in very disparaging terms about his colleagues and his plans for a frontbench reshuffle. And this is where the story becomes unstuck. Lee-Potter clearly not only doesn't have a clue about politics, he isn't very good at research. Take this...
He revealed his dislike for Steve Webb, his Environment spokesman, and decided to demote Chris Huhne, his former leadership rival and currently Home Affairs spokesman, before adding he wasn’t “emotionally intelligent” enough for the environment job.

So a move from Environment to Home Affairs is a demotion in Adam Lee-Potter's view, is it? And there's more...
He finally decided on David Laws for Environment, but only because “he’s not enjoying Education”, Goldsworthy for Education and Webb for Justice – currently Chris Huhne’s job.

Er, that would be the same Chris Huhne who is mentioned above as Home Affairs spokesman, would it? And to think, Mr Lee-Potter was actually being paid to write this crap! It comes to something when a journalist undermines his own exclusive.

Does anyone actually still buy the Sunday Mirror?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Police Are the Worst Leakers of All

I wonder if the Police would like to conduct an investigation into their own leaking habits. Haven't you always wondered how odd it is that press photographers and TV networks happen magically to appear at the scene of an arrest just as it is about to happen? Amazing, isn't it?

Remember how a phalanx of photographers appeared at Ilford Police Station, waiting for Neil and Christine Hamilton to arrive to be questioned over an alleged incident of rape? Remember how reporters just happened to know about a Special Branch operation against possible terror suspects in the West Midlands a couple of years ago? We never quite found out whether it had been leaked by a Ministerial Special Advisor or by the Police themselves.

I am sure readers can quote a zillion other examples.

Funny how these leakers are never identified, isn't it? One law for them, one law for the rest of us...

The Daley Dozen: Saturday

1. Iain Martin takes a trip back to the 1970s, accompanied by the noble Lord Mandelson.
2. Tracey Crouch goes all girly over some fairy lights.
3. Lynne Featherstone has read the confidential Baby P Case Report.
4. Liberal Burblings is all over the place on Damian Green - being very illiberal.
5. Alex Hilton is asking for your help over a legal challenge.
6. Norfolk Blogger reckons he did something worthwhile as a local councillor.
7. Liberal Conspiracy on the left wing blogs which think it's great to arrest a Tory.
8. Letters from a Tory has a letter to Peter Mandelson.
9. Guido doesn't have much good faith in the LibDems.
10. John Redwood has some advice for Mandelson. Don't.
11. Ian Kirby has a preview of Cameron's article for tomorrow's NOTW. It's very aggressive.
12. Tom Harris is rather depressed at the latest ICM poll. Shame, that.

Ten New Blogs

All Seeing Eye - Gibralter based centre right blog.
Central Devon Conservative Future
Hagley Road to Ladywood - Leftish, and a love of conspiracy theories
Oncewerefree - Attack blog
Planet Politics - Non aligned anti politics blog
Claws Four - Anti Tory left wing blog
Liberation - Blog of a New Zealand political academic
Independent Left - Does what it says on the tin
Politics Cymru
Our Man in Abiko - English speaking Japanese political blog

These blogs aren't necessarily newly created, but I haven't known about them before and they had not, until now, appeared in the TP Blog Directory.

Visit the Total Politics Blog Directory which contains more than 1,670 blogs. If you know of one which isn't there, please fill in the Submit a New Blog form on the left hand side of THIS page.

The Damian Green (Half) Dozen

1. Matthew Parris is on the money as usual
On the whole, and in the main, and everything considered, you do not in a democracy go around arresting the Opposition...A Prime Minister otherwise known as the Big, Clunking Fist will struggle to dissociate himself in the public mind from an astonishingly heavy-handed police operation against a critic.
2. Financial Times editorial
Governments must be jealous of giving the police too much power and of vague, open-ended offences. Unaccountable police forces with such loosely defined prerogatives are a menace to liberty. But there is little reason to hope that this administration will recognise this...The government must stop making free with civil liberties.

3. Andy Grice in The Indy says Gordon Brown made his name on receiving leaks.
In opposition, Mr Brown was a regular recipient of leaked documents, which he deployed with devastating effect against the Tories. Now the boot is on the other foot.
4. Nick Clegg in The Telegraph

When opposition politicians heard about Damian Green's arrest, many of us asked ourselves the same question: "When did it become a crime to hold the Government to account?"
5. Richard Littlejohn in the Mail
Interviewed by Adam Boulton on Sky News yesterday, the Prime Minister gave not the slightest inclination that he was in any way troubled by this outrageous arrest of a fellow Honourable Member or the invasion of Parliament by the heavy mob. He merely denied any 'prior' knowledge and repeated ad infinitum that this was solely a matter for the police. I'm surprised he didn't add that this raid began in America.
6. The Sun editorial
Ms Smith and Gordon Brown insist they knew nothing. Is it likely a Shadow Minister would be seized without the Home Secretary or PM knowing? MPs from Mr Brown downwards have used leaked documents to grab headlines. It’s part of politics. Mr Green’s arrest stinks.

Another Hilarious DOWNFALL Video

This has to be one of the best 'Downfall' spoofs ever made. It involves Mervyn King, Yvette Cooper, Ed Balls, Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson. It gets funnier as it goes on. Well done to the Crown Blog for making it.

Can British Bloggers Make Money Out of Blogging?

The latest issue of the British Journalism Review has a fairly lengthy article by me on whether UK bloggers can make money from their blogging activities. Although it has only just been published, the article was written three months ago. Links to all the blogs mentioned can be found at the end of the article.

In the United States political bloggers have taken on an importance that would be unthinkable here. Several of them have a profile comparable with the leading print media and broadcast commentators. The Drudge Report is the media phenomenon of our age. The Huffington Post and Daily Kos are as familiar to the political establishment as Sam Donaldson and Peggy Noonan. US bloggers are prominent in all US election coverage. Hundreds of political bloggers make real money from their activities and devote their entire working day to their online activity.

But in Britain it’s very different. The development of the UK political blogosphere, while much heralded in almost weekly newspaper features, is way behind that of the United States. Few bloggers have any sort of media profile and even fewer make any money at all out of their online activities.

There are only four independent UK political blogs with what one could describe as a mass readership – and by that I mean an audience of at least 50,000 absolute unique users each month. Guido Fawkes, the anarcho-libertarian blogger who specializes in political gossip and scandal boasts a readership of more than 100,000. ConservativeHome, edited by Tim Montgomerie, recently joined by the Daily Telegraph’s Jonathan Isaby, and my own blog, Iain Dale’s Diary, both boast monthly audiences of more than 70,000 individuals. attracts more than two million page views each month.

But there are others who are building an audience which any normal website would envy. Liberal Democrat Voice, the LibDem equivalent of ConservativeHome is about to break through the 20,000 monthly user barrier, Conservative technogeek Dizzy Thinks is up to 25,000 and the libertarian swear bog Devil’s Kitchen has an average monthly audience of 25,000. And there are plenty of others snapping at their heels, including LabourHome, John Redwood’s Diary, Liberal Conspiracy and Tim Worstall. When you consider that the New Statesman has a circulation of 25,000 and the Spectator 70,000, all these blogs can be considered influential to one degree or another.

Over the last twelve months, political blogs run by mainstream media (MSM) organizations have taken on a new importance. Virtually every newspaper or magazine has now ordered its team of political journalists to get in on the act. The Telegraph has Three Line Whip, the Times has Red Box and Comment Central, The Guardian has Comment is Free and even the Independent has finally caught up with its Open House blog. The Daily Mail’s Ben Brogan is considered to be the best individual political journalist cum blogger, while the Spectator Coffee House has become one of the most widely read political blogs in the country. But they have all struggled to find as big an audience as the leading independent bloggers. Despite the marketing power of the Telegraph, its political blogs struggle get half the audience of Guido Fawkes. Ben Brogan’s blog and Sky News’s Boulton & Co, although widely read in the Westminster village, attract barely a fifth of the audience of Conservative Home or Iain Dale’s Diary.

The thing most of the independent blogs have in common is that they are owned, written and edited by individuals, the majority of whom blog as a sideline. In contrast to the situation in the United States, there isn’t a single UK based political blogger who earns a living directly from their blog. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Few bloggers ever commence blogging thinking that they might earn money from the activity – or even wanting to. I certainly didn’t. I saw blogging as a platform for me to give my views on politics. It was attractive because I could do it when I wanted and write what I wanted with no media filter. I never thought of building a huge audience. It just kind of happened. Blogging wasn’t a substitute for anything.

Many in the MSM believe bloggers to be wannabe journalists, or even failed journalists. That may be true for a very small minority, but the rest of us regard it as an insult. If I wanted to be a journalist, I would be. I didn’t set out on my blogging journey to do anything journalistic, I set out to write an online diary providing daily political comment. I never set out to be investigative or break news. The fact that I do so from time to time is more by accident than design. I still regard my blog as a vehicle for personal political commentary. And I think I am typical of many of the many ‘one man band’ bloggers.

ConservativeHome’s Tim Montgomerie is an exception, as his blog is funded by polling entrepreneur Stephan Shakespeare but Guido Fawkes, Devil’s Kitchen, Dizzy Thinks and are all run by enterprising individuals who have created niches. With the level of audience these blogs have reached one might assume there is a pot of gold of advertising revenue out there somewhere. In the future, that might be the case, but it certainly hasn’t been found yet. Advertisers are wary of partisan political blogs, even if they have the kind of readership demographics most advertisers would die for. For example, ten per cent of my readers earn more than £100,000. Blog readership is predominantly male, aged 25-50 with a high propensity to travel abroad and read broadsheet newspapers.

Message Space, an online advertising agency was set up three years ago to exploit the blog advertising market. While it initially found it difficult to persuade brand advertisers of the merits of advertising on blogs, slowly but surely a breakthrough is coming. It has a network of more than 50 blogs, each of whom are now earning money from the adverts placed by Message Space on their blogs. It ranges from a hundred pounds a year to several thousands. With the acquisition of several blue chip advertising clients, Message Space now confidently predict that I will earn a low five figure sum from them over the next twelve months - but still not enough to give up the day job, even if I wanted to.

My blog traffic levels are attractive to many. Twice now, I have been approached by mainstream media organizations (who shall remain nameless!) who wanted me to blog on their platforms. I could certainly see the advantages from their point of view (extra traffic etc) but what was in it for me, beyond the kudos of being associated with … well, let’s not go there.

The money on offer was derisory and the loss of independence would in the end have had an effect. At the moment I can blog what I like, whether it’s to do with politics, football or some personal idiosyncrasy. I doubt if a MSM blogging platform would welcome my musings about the death of my Godmother.

But for me, much of my other income is an indirect result of what I do on my blog. I certainly wouldn’t have my Daily Telegraph column if the editor hadn’t liked what he saw on my blog. The same goes for Phil Hendren (Dizzy), Tim Worstall and Oliver Kamm in The Times. Would I be invited onto TV and radio so much if it were not for my blog? I doubt it. Similarly, the blog has given me a public profile which has enabled me to charge a decent fee for public speaking engagements.

There also other minor sources of income which a blog can provide. The two main ones are Google Ads and Amazon commissions. For most blogger this won’t amount to much more than pin money, but for the high traffic blogs it can amount to several hundred pounds a month.

Blogging is almost a byword for specialization. And with specialization can come real influence. Richard North co-writes the EU Referendum blog, specializing in foreign policy and the Defence of the Realm blog on defence issues. He now enjoys a status within the MoD far higher than most defence correspondents. Former Defence Secretary Des Browne irritated them beyond belief when he told them: “this is Richard North - he writes the Defence of the Realm Blog and his blog has had more influence on MoD procurement policy then the rest of you put together”. North says he has never seen a group of journalists look more annoyed. But he says that far from earning money from his blog, the effort he puts into it means he is subsidizing it. Other specialist blogs ought to be a magnet for advertising in their own spheres yet advertisers have so far shied away from the likes of NHS Blog Doctor, Burning our Money or Inspector Gadget.

Crime writer Martin Edwards says that he too earns money indirectly from his blog Do You Write Under Your Own Name but it’s mainly because it has improved his reputation. “Since I started blogging (every day) a year ago, my profile and sales have increased and I've won a major award for the first time. I don't attribute this mainly to the blog, but I do think the blog creates increased interest and profile, and it must be helpful.”

Liz Upton, who writes the Gastonomy Domine blog agrees. “I started my (food) blog when I was working in educational publishing and loathing it, “she says. She intended that the blog should work as a portfolio for a kind of writing she wanted to do professionally and reckons it has served its purpose well. “I left my job and went freelance, and I now have some huge clients including the National Geographic and Penguin, she adds. “There's absolutely no way I could have got the exposure I needed to find work with them without the blog - many of my clients have approached me directly after having read it, which is just as well, because I'm rubbish at networking in the old-fashioned way.”

Some bloggers have earned money directly from their blogging by winning book deals. Former Sunday Times journalist Judith O’Reilly won many plaudits for her blog Wife in the North where she told the painful story of following her husband north and the changes it meant for their family. She reportedly earned a £70,000 advance. Conservative PR guru Ellee Seymour has also signed a book deal which would never have happened without her blogging profile.

Speechwriter Nick Thomas started his blog a year ago with three aims: acknowledge, advise and advertise. He says: “ [I wanted to} acknowledge the hospitality and appreciation from the audiences I speak to, advise other speakers by passing on presentation skills tips and, of course advertise my services as a speaker, speechwriter/comedy writer and coach.” And it has paid dividends and brought him work he would not have got without the blog.

Some bloggers, me among them, grow incredibly frustrated by the habit of newspaper diary columns to steal their original work and pass it off as their own. The Sun’s Whip Column and the Mail’s Ephraim Hardcastle are the main culprits. On some days both columns are stuffed full of stories they have lifted (sometimes almost word for word) from the likes of Guido Fawkes blog. Had he or I sold them the stories directly we’d both probably be several thousand pounds richer each year. More fool us, some might say. The Evening Standard’s Londoner’s Diary is far more willing to credit where a story came from, and because of it gets far more tip-offs.

Earlier this year, the LabourHome was sold by Alex Hilton and Jag Singh to Mike Danson, the new co-owner of the New Statesman. They were rumoured to have paid in excess of £50,000 for it – an astonishing sum bearing in mind its lack of readers. But Danson invested because of its potential. Hilton and Singh were wise to cash in. However, they were only able to do so because the blog is not reliant on a single person for content. Guido Fawkes calculated that if LabourHome was worth £50,000 his own blog must be worth £1 million. Up to a point, Lord Fawkes. A blog like his or mine is only worth anything if its author comes as part of the package. We are our blogs. Blogs like PoliticalBetting, ConservativeHome or Labour Home are group efforts and are therefore easier to monetize. recently revealed that a blog in the United States with 100,000 readers a month earns around $75,000 per annum from it. A few earn more than $200,000. Bloggers on this side of the Atlantic can only dream of such rewards for their efforts!
It has been suggested that some bloggers could charge a subscription for their work. Maybe, but it goes against all the non existent rules of blogging. It would shrink the audience and be very exclusive. Would I rather have 1,000 readers paying a few pounds a month to read my blog or 70,000 reading it for free? Clearly the latter. tells of a blogger called Jason Kottke who quit his job to blog full time. He asked his readers to support him, and they did. More than 1,450 of them coughed up nearly $40,000 but he abandoned the experiment within a year, worried that people wouldn’t contribute again. His blog remained open to all, though. I have little doubt that if I decided to go down this road I would be able to raise a substantial one-off sum to keep me going, but could I do that every year? I’m not sure I would risk it just yet.

Political blogging in the UK is three or four years behind the United States but it is flourishing. Readership is rising year on year – in my case by 50% over the last twelve months. Newspapers and magazines would kill for that. Blogging here hasn’t got the money making ability of US blogs, or their influence, or their profile. But in three or four years they might have.

Links to blogs mentioned in this article

Ben Brogan
Boulton & Co
Comment Central
Comment is Free
Daily Kos
Defence of the Realm
Devil's Kitchen
Dizzy Thinks
Do You Write Under Your Own Name
Drudge Report
Ellee Seymour
EU Referendum
Gastronomy Domine
Guido Fawkes
Huffington Post
Inspector Gadget
Jason Kottke
John Redwood's Diary
Liberal Conspiracy
Liberal Democrat Voice
NHS Blog Doctor
Nick R Thomas
Open House
Red Box
Spectator Coffee House
Three Line Whip
Tim Worstall
Wife in the North

Why We Can't Negotiate With Al Qaeda

On Question Time on Thursday a member of the audience suggested that it was now time to sit down with Al Qaeda and negotiate with them because otherwise we will "never know what they want". It provoked a round of applause. Even some politicians have begun recently to say the same thing. This viewpoint is unbelievably naive.

Al Qaeda is not like the IRA. It is not an 'organisation' in the conventional sense that. Who would one actually sit down with? There are so many diverse people who say they belong to Al Qaeda, or who support them that it's just not possible to treat them as a body that has any ability to negotiate.

So before this particular hare starts running, and the peaceniks clearly want it to start running, let's be very clear as to why it can't and won't happen.

The phrase 'war on terror' was perhaps ill judged when it was first uttered by George W Bush in 2001 in the sense that it is a war which will never be wholly won. Terrorism has always existed, and in this age of technology and 24 hour media it will always exist in one form or another. It is a war which the forces of good will never win, in the conventional sense. But it a war which must continue to be fought - and fought vigorously if we cherish our hard won democratic freedoms.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Guido's Friday Caption Competition

Guido is running his usual Friday caption competition, using the above photo of Polly Toynbee, Damian Green and myself speaking at an event earlier this year. Frankly, the quality of the captions on his blog have not been up to much. Can you do better?

I'm now off for to attend a recession busting party in Hertfordshire. I won't be quaffing champagne, but purely because I don't like it. My hairshirt has been put away for the evening in all other respects. See you tomorrow. Depending on what time I get up.

LibDems Look Into the Abyss Over £2.4 Million Donation

Michael Brown, the man who gave the LibDems £2.4 million, has been convicted of fraud, following an early conviction of perjury. The Electoral Commission has said it will now reopen its investigation as to whether the donation was permissible in the first place. If it finds that it wasn't - and I can't see what other conclusion it can come to - then the LibDems face having to pay back the £2.4 million. That is also the conclusion - or at least the headline - of The Times report
Anti-sleaze laws forbid political parties from accepting corporate donations unless the companies are actually “carrying on business”.But Brown’s 5th Avenue Partners was “just a sham”, Detective Sergeant Nigel Howard of City of London Police's Economic Crime Department told The Times. “It’s just a company that didn’t trade in anything. He just had it as an off-the-shelf company. It sounded good but he never actually traded in any bonds.”
This is key because any due diligence by the LibDems would surely have shown that it was a non trading company. The Times article continues...
The Lib Dem hierarchy persisted in defending Brown even after an investigation by The Times disclosed he had a police record in America where he was wanted for jumping probation. A party spokesman said today: “All our donations from 5th Avenue Partners were received in good faith."
I don't doubt that, and I am certainly not accusing the LibDems of deliberately procuring an illegal donation. But their internal procedures clearly failed, and they did not do enough to find out if Brown's company was a legitimate donor. That much is surely something even most LibDems could agree.

At this stage, an admission of at least some culpability might persuade the Electoral Commission to look more favourably on their position than they might otherwise do.

Why Protest About Green, But Not Tisdall or Ponting?

It was revealing that the first instinct of several Labour bloggers was not, as you might have expected, to engage with the issue of Damian Green's arrest. It was to attack my interpretation of it and the Conservative reaction. Yes, Luke Akehurst and Sunder Katwala, I'm talking about you.

Luke reckons I have double standards on the basis that I wouldn't have criticised the Thatcher government over the arrest of Sarah Tisdall or Clive Ponting in the mid 1980s. Sunder reckons I am inconsistent because in my post last night I said it was dangerous to comment on breaking news stories without knowing the full facts and then proceeded to do just that. Well, if that's the worst he can do...

But let me engage with Luke's argument, for it is one worth having. He says...
Iain Dale is already getting a bit self-righteous about Damian Green being arrested over alleged Home Office leaks. I wonder what position Iain took on civil servant Sarah Tisdall, jailed for 4 months for leaking documents, or civil servant Clive Ponting, charged but acquitted of a similar offence? Of course it was his hero Margaret Thatcher who ordered their prosecution, so I'm sure he thought it was justified, and didn't huff and puff like he is now.

Labour commenters on previous threads have also adopted a similar argument, and even questioned what I would be saying if Margaret Thatcher or John Major had ordered the arrest of an Opposition politician in the 1980s or 1990s. That point falls flat on its face, because they didn't.

Anyway, back to Mr Akehurst. This is what I posted in his blog comments in response...
Luke, You are quite right, I didn't comment on those two cases. I didn't have a blog at the time. And I suspect you are also right, that if I had, I might not have been so vociferous in defence of civil liberties. It was a very different age. That's no excuse, just an assessment of my thoughts at the time. I suspect at that time I would have had more trust in the state to do the right thing. I was probably in favour of ID cards too. But I have seen the light.

The thing that most concerns me is the deployment of counter terrorism police and the government's willingness to use counter terror legislation in a way they promised they never would. As I said in my original post, it is too early to make a full analysis, but surely you, like me, must be concerned at the way this has been done.

But not a bit of it. Luke, even now, hasn't expressed a scintilla of concern. But let me turn his question back on himself. Imagine if a Conservative government had been in power, and a Labour Opposition spokesman had done what Damian Green had done and was then arrested for it. Does anyone seriously believe that Luke Akehurst, Sunder Katwala and every other Labour blogger wouldn't be protesting on their blogs about it? Of course they would. I would also like to think that if a Conservative government charged a whistleblower that I too would protest about it.

One should also bear in mind that neither Tisdall or Ponting were Parliamentarians. Ponting leaked information to Tam Dalyell. No one even considered arresting him.

John Major had every opportunity to take action against Robin Cook and Gordon Brown in the 1990s and all those in the civil service of leaked to them on an almost weekly basis. The fact is that neither he, nor the Police would have done so or even thought about it.

I frankly have no idea whether Jacqui Smith knew about the arrests. Ken Clarke and Michael Howard find it inconceivable that she didn't. I do too. Surely to goodness it's something her Permanent Secretary would have at least informed her of, even if she wasn't actually consulted. I suppose the question is this: if she was informed prior to it happeneding, would she, or should she have issued an order preventing the arrest from happening? I would submit that if either Clarke or Howard had been Home Secretary they would have done just that.

As someone said in the comments, if she knew, it's a sign we live in an authoritarian state. If she didn't it's a further sign that we're moving towards a Police state.

Police Officer Found Not Guilty of Damian Green's "Crime"

This has just hit the wires. It relates to a simialr charge to the one on which Damian Green was held yesterday...

A former police officer, his son and two journalists have been cleared of charges in connection with the alleged leaking of confidential information. Det Sgt Mark Kearney, who was involved in the unrelated bugging of an Labour MP Sadiq Khan's prison visit earlier this year, was cleared of misconduct in public office. His son, Harry, and journalists Sally Murrer and Derek Webb were cleared of aiding and abetting misconduct.

The judge said the journalists' right to protect sources had been infringed. Prosecutor Sir Alan Green QC said the Crown has decided against seeking leave to appeal. Mr Kearney, who has since retired from Thames Valley police, had faced eight charges of misconduct in public office, three of which alleged he passed confidential information to Mr Webb and five of which related to Ms Murrer, his former lover.

One count of aiding and abetting misconduct in public office against Mr Kearney's son, Harry, a soldier, was also dropped. All four were formally acquitted at Kingston Crown Court. Mr Justice Southwell said the journalists were both entitled, under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, to protect their journalistic sources. But Thames Valley Police had flouted the convention by raiding Mr Webb's premises and authorising the bugging of Mr Kearney's car to discover if he was the source of the journalists' information, the court heard.

Damian Green: 15 Questions Which Need to Be Answered

1. As an Opposition Health and Trade & Industry Spokesman, Robin Cook built his parliamentary reputation as the receiver of leaked government documents. Why is Damian Green's behaviour any different to Robin Cook's?

2. Many journalists - David Hencke and Robert Peston being two examples - have built their journalistic reputations on being receivers of Whitehall leaks. Why is Damian Green's behaviour different to theirs to warrant an arrest?

3. Why are Ministers allowed to leak with impugnity? Why aren't they covered under the same law which was used to countenance Damian Green's arrest?

4. What did Jacqui Smith know and when did she know it?

5. Did she instigate the police investigation? If so, was it motivated by a desire to give a warning to future whistleblowers?

6. Why did the Serjeant at Arms lay lown like a puppy and have her tummy tickled by the Met?

7. Did she consult Mr Speaker before giving permission for the Met to search Damian Green's Commons office?

8. Why was Damian Green kept locked up for nine hours and reportedly only questioned after seven? (as was reported last night).

9. If the job of an Opposition spokesman is not to hold the government to account, then what exactly is it?

10. If Damian Green has been arrested, why haven't the journalists to whom he gave the stories been treated in the same manner?

11. What role did the security services play in this. Have they been monitoring Damian Green?

12. Why is the media not trumpeting the virtues of free speech and the rights of whistle blowers?

13. Why aren't Labour bloggers as outraged by Green's arrest as they would have been over Sarah Tisdall or Clive Ponting? (I will be doing a separate post on this later).

14. Why were counter terror police used to search Green's four home and office premises? He was arrested under a so-called Common Law, not an anti terror law, as I understand it.

15. Have the Police impounded Damian Green's various computers? If so, how is his constituency casework corresponded safeguarded? How can any MPs' constituents now believe that their casework is totally confidential?

Will George Osborne (and David Davis) Be Next?

I can't remember where I read it, but on Tuesday a political journalist speculated that the reason why George Osborne was so well prepared to give his excellent speech on Monday, was that his team had been leaked all the details of the PBR by someone in the Treasury. Nick Watt has some details HERE. What he doesn't mention is that a senior (non MP) Tory staffer was apparently spotted in St James's Park talking to a senior Treasury official. No crime in that (or at least you'd think so), but the Treasury's "mole-watch" machine has gone into overdrive.

If, indeed, a mole is found and exposed, can we expect the Shadow Chancellor to be arrested too?

And what about David Davis? Far be it from me to want to see the old knuckleduster behind bars, but with the number of leaks he had during his time as Shadow Home Secretary, surely at least one of them must fall under the same kind of legislation which led to the arrest of Damian Green? And if not, why not?

Does This Man Not Have A Country to Ru(i)n?

Oh. My. God.

Hattip 10 Drowning Street

Mr Speaker Stays Mum

Shane Greer has just phoned the Speaker's Office to ask if due process was followed and if Mr Speaker gave his express permission to the Met to search Damian Green's office. Here's how the conversation went...
Speakers Office: "We have nothing more to add to the statement already given"
Shane Greer: "But what was the process that was followed?"
SO: "You’ll have to ask your source to clarify the statement"
SG: "So you can’t tell me yourself what the process is?"
SO: "I am not going to tell you what the process is"
SG: "So, to clarify, you followed a process, but aren’t prepared to tell me what it is?"
SO: "Yes"
SG: "Well if you won’t tell me, is there someone else there who will?"
SO: "I can give you a number for someone to speak to"
SG: "Who would that be?"
SO: "Shereee Dodd, a press advisor"
SG: "And she’s the press advisor to the Speaker’s Officer?"
SO: "No, she’s the press advisor to the HoC Commission"
[Gives me her number]
SG: "So you aren’t prepared to say what process was followed?"
SO: "No"

All a bit dodgy if you ask me. Anyway, I gave Sheree a buzz and asked her to clarify the statement. Sadly the Speaker’s Office haven’t um… spoken to her yet.
That would be the same Sheree Dodd who used to be a Labour government spin doctor and Daily Mirror hack.

*Keep tuned. I'll have a list of questions which need to be answered by the various participants in this scandal within the next thirty minutes.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Consequences of the Arrest of the Ashford One

It's always dangerous to comment on breaking news stories. The full facts are rarely known, but in the last half an hour quite a bit of information has emerged, which should give all those who cherish our freedoms and democracy great cause for concern.

At 2pm today counter terrorism police arrested Damian Green at his constituency home in East Kent. He was brought to London and currently is detained awaiting interview. It is now 9.43pm and seven hours after his arrest, he has, apparently, still to be questioned. These are the tactics of a totalitarian state. According to reports, he was arrested for "aiding and abetting misconduct in public office". I'm not sure which law pertains to this. Perhaps readers can enlighten us.

His "crime" has been to reveal Home Office statistics and misconduct which they tried to cover up. If it is now a crime for a politician to do this sort of thing then just think how many other people should have been arrested - Robert Peston being a good recent example. What about government ministers who relished leaking information about the PBR?

One of the most disturbing aspects of what we know so far is that the Police were permitted by the Serjeant at Arms and The Speaker to search Damian's House of Commons office. Outrageous. I would guarantee that if Parliament had been sitting, they would never have dared. Their entry would have been barred. One MP I have spoken to tonight said that he would have physically barred their way and shouted for help to assist him in preventing their entry.

The general public should be appalled at these developments, as should the media. I am disturbed that both Sky News and the Telegraph are already speculating that Damian Green's position as Shadow Minister is under threat. They should concentrate on the wider implications of this. If Green can be arrested by counter terror police, what about the journalists who then reported on the information Green allegedly gave them (detailed HERE)? First they came for the politicians - then they came for the journalists. It might be a well worn cliche, but there is a serious point to be made.

There is no way that this arrest could have happened without the involvement of Government ministers. We need to know who instigated it and if the Prime Minister, Home Secretary or Justice Secretary authorised it. One has to assume that Jacqui Smith was the lead Minister.

If the Government feels unconstrained about invoking anti terror legislation and deploying counter terror police at a whim, on issues completely unrelated to terrorism, where exactly are we heading?

We don't yet live in a Police State, but one be forgiven on nights like this from wondering if we are headed that way.

UPDATE 11.09: To those who have questioned why David Davis is not all over the airwaves, I have just spoken to him. He has been speaking at a dinner in Essex this evening and is on his way back to London now, heading straight for the Sky studios. Not sure whether they know it yet though! Suffice it to say, his dander is well and truly up.

UPDATE 23.20: Boris Johnson has just released this statement...

The Mayor of London has expressed grave concern over the arrest of Conservative frontbencher, Damian Green. Boris johnson, who chairs the Metropolitan Police Authority expressed his concerns - in trenchant terms - ahead of his arrest. A spokesman said the Mayor finds it hard to believe that on the day when terrorist have gone on the rampage in India that anti terror police in Britain have apparently targeted an elected representative of Parliament for no greater crime than allegedly receiving leaked documents. The Mayor told the new acting commissioner of the Met that he would need to see convincing evidence that this action was necessary and proportionate. He suggested that this is not the common sense policing that people want when London faces a real potential terror threat and serious knife crime problem on the streets.

Sky Report Damian Green Arrested

Sky News is reporting that Damian Green has been arrested but not charged over an alleged breach of the Official Secrets Act.

James Kirkup reports on Three Line Whip...

The following facts have just been supplied to journalists at Westminster by Conservative Party spokesmen:

Damian Green, the Conservative immigration spokesman was arrested earlier today.

He was detained on suspicion of aiding or procuring misconduct in public office. The arrest is connected to the disclosure of several Home Office documents over the last year. Police officers searched Mr Green's home in Kent and his Commons office. At the time of posting, he remains under arrest at a central London police station. He has not been charged with any crime. Mr Green denies any wrongdoing and and has not been charged with any crime.

UPDATE 9.30pm: The Telegraph has the most complete version of the story HERE.

What's the Tory Story?

James Forsyth has a post on the Spectator Coffee House blog speculating that a big story relating to the Tories was about to break. I had a call from a senior Tory around 6pm saying the same thing, but I failed to drag out of him any hint at what it related to I'm afraid. Not very good at this investigative journalism lark, am I?

Cameron is giving a speech at 8am tomorrow morning. Wonder if it relates to that...

UPDATE 8.30: Two people rexckon it involves the Police. One says it involves the government, the Tories and the Police. A Treasury leaker has been discovered perhaps?

Fitting the Media Stereotype

Each month I get a newsletter from a public affairs consultant friend of mine in Australia called LETTER FROM MELBOURNE. This is what Alastair Urquhart says of his visit to the UK in September...
At the Conservative Conference I was having a quiet coffee when I looked up to see a photographer about to capture my red socks, pinstripe suit and tie. When I said 'Good morning, I'm from Australia', he said 'I need a Tory image for my paper and this photo won't show the accent'.
Nothing like a good old stereotype, is there? Rumours that he wore sandals at the LibDem Conference and a cloth cap at Labour cannot be corroborated. :)

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree...

Spotted: Three ex Chancellors of the Exchequer walking through Portcullis House together - Messers Howe, Lawson & Lamont. Can't think where they may have been...

Boris Strikes Again

Three cheers for Boris! Again! He has scrapped the western extension of the congestion charge. There was never any merit in this in terms of cutting congestion - indeed, in some ways it encouraged it. Local people voted en masse in favour of scrapping it and Boris has responded appropriately.

Munk Chipped: How Very Dare They?

Matthew Parris writes in today's Times...

Home from Heathrow just in time to hear a distressing first on the BBC Today programme. Hazel Blears was actually faded out. While still speaking. I nearly dropped the marmalade.

In the old days they would have tried politely to hurry her along, but yesterday, as Ms Blears twittered happy thoughts about new Labour's many achievements, they just turned off her mike. And she had only reached about the eleventh achievement.

Poor Hazel. It was brutal. Forget Monday's mini-Budget. Wednesday was truly the day that new Labour died.

How very dare they?

Hattip Tim Worstall

Tory Concerns Grow Over Villiers Airports Policy

UPDATE 5pm: Thanks to the reader who emailed me this poster. Very funny!

There is growing disquiet among Tory MPs, and the Shadow Cabinet, about Theresa Villiers witchhunt against BAA. The Shadow Transport Secretary issued a press release yesterday headlined PROMISES FROM BAA CAN'T BE TRUSTED. The release went on to accuse BAA of breaking all its promises on a third runway.
BAA are right to admit that they have lost the trust of Parliamentarians and local communities over the third runway. However today's letter is just the next in a long line of promises which may have been sincere at the time, that were subsequently cast aside by the company. We have seen this all before. What BAA needs to realise is that people do not want a third runway, we do not need a third runway, and under a Conservative Government there will not be a third runway.

All this was said in response to a BAA proposal that a completely independent body should be set up to ensure that it is impossible for promises to be broken. Surely that was something a Shadow Transport Secretary should welcome. One has to ask what kind of message this sends out to private companies who want to act responsibly? "Sorry, we don't trust you so don't bother trying".

I have been a fierce critic of BAA in the past for its lack of investment in its airports and the terrible impression foreign visitors get when they first set foot in Heathrow. I also think that in the past it has been its own worst enemy in some of the policy positions it has adopted. It's certainly not beyond criticism now. But that criticism should be measured and logical and not driven by the agenda of a bunch of environmental fundamentalists.

Yes, BAA has changed its position on a third runway since 1994 when it said there wouldn't be one. If that's the basis of Villiers' increasingly strident and personal campaign against them (which seems to rely on West London Friends of the Earth for most of its ammunition) perhaps she should look at the transport policies of the Conservative Party and see how they have changed in the last 14 years. By her logic, no one should trust the Conservative Party either. Why are politicians allowed to change policy every two minutes, yet private companies with shareholders have to maintain the same policy for ever?

It comes to something when a group of Conservatives feel the need to form a lobby group to stand up for the aviation industry in opposition to their own front bench spokesman. But if needs must. But they are not alone. There are a substantial number of Shadow Cabinet members who are furious at Villiers' stance, and the leadership's apparent endorsement of it. Perhaps they will soon have the balls to speak out.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I Fancied Esther Rantzen: Who'll Raise Me Gail Tilsley?

I seem to have created a bit of a stir with my latest Twitter/Facebook status update. For those who missed it, this is it...

Iain is wondering if it is wrong to admit that as an eleven year old, he fancied Esther Rantzen

Now, perhaps it deserves a little - but not too much - explanation. Well, so it might, but who can explain these things properly? Was it her teeth? Was it the way she looked over to the old man at the edge of the studio and said, "Cyril"? Was it her billowing evening dressed in which she presented THAT'S LIFE? Who knows, but as I watched her this evening on I'M A CELEBRITY buried in a coffin with maggots and cockroaches crawled over her prostrate body, well, those old stirrings kind of returned. [enough info - ed].

When someone on Facebook wrote...
Iain, if it helps, I'll raise you Gail Tilsley set me thinking. Who is the weirdest person anyone fancied as an 11-14 year old? You know how to click on comments... go on, you know you want to tell someone...

The Daley Dozen: Wednesday

1. Burke's Corner on Michael Gove and Scrooge.
2. LibDem Voice says the Electoral Commission knows not what it says.
3. Waendel Journal tells how Labour is screwing small business. No change there then.
4. Jon Craig reports on how New Labour is not dead, just resting.
5. Tory Diary explains how a million hours of police time can be saved.
6. Red Box is unimpressed by Margaret Beckett's empty diary.
7. Paul Bristow on another council tax cut in H&F.
8. Taking Liberties on Andrew Lansley's gaffe.
9. Tom Harris is really a conservative...
10. Norfolk Blogger on the government buying British bacon. Or not.
11. David Hughes is partying like it's 1992.
12. Cranmer on Woolies.

Quote of the Day: Will Robbins

"Peter Stringfellow’s customers find themselves
in a similar position to Alistair Darling.
Both bank on stimulating side effects
without wanting to be too optimistic
about their chances.
Both are betting on steady rises."

Will Robbins is an intern at Total Politics. Read his full blogpost HERE.

Neatly Avoiding the 45p Bear Trap

Sunder Katwala on the Fabian Society's Next Left blog is trying to stir up a bit of trouble over the 45p tax issue. When it was announced I wrote a post saying that the announcement of a new higher rate signalled the end of New Labour. In the comments we had this exchange...
Sunder: So are you sure you know which way your leadership will jump on this?
Iain: Yes I am sure. And you sound as if you would have liked the figure to have been 55P ... or perhaps higher?! :).
Now Sunder, being a man of the left (and a decent one at that), is trying to stir up a storm over something which won't even come into effect until 2011. So if the Tories win the 2010 election it won't have even come onto the Statute Book, I assume. Therefore, they wouldn't even have to reverse it.

When I said "Yes I am sure" I could have meant one of two things. Sunder obviously thinks I meant that they would oppose the measure hook line and sinker. Alternatively I could have meant that I am sure they won't jump into the bear trap laid for them by Gordon Brown. The beauty is that I could have meant both and been quite consistent.

This measure was nothing to do with economics, it was all to do with politics - class politics. So it's quite right that the response is political too. And the response has been perfect. "Reversing this would not be a priority" is what has been said by Tory spokesmen. Which says everything and at the same time, says nothing. Why should it? Because at the moment, there is nothing to reverse.

It is a profoundly unConservative thing to approve of class based tax increases. No Conservative I know of would do such a thing. There may well have to be tax increases in the future - Gordon Brown's economic chaos has almost made that a racing certainty. None of us know what the situation will be like in 2011, so why the Conservatives should have to give any response to the 45p rate at all is beyond me.

Sunder does his best to cause foment in Tory ranks...
If you believed – as I believe most Conservatives do – that this was the wrong policy, you should say so. If you believe there are strong moral, economic and political arguments against higher taxation on top earners, then you would make that case. After all, your luck would really, really be in if your political opponents had declared the death of New Labour, vacated the centre-ground of British politics, abandoned Middle England and all the rest of the things you have all been saying over the last 48 hours. Where’s the trap in that? It sounds like more of an open goal.

Keep stirring mate. Of course there are very strong arguments against higher taxes for anybody, let along higher earners, and Sunder knows exactly what they are so I needn't rehearse the arguments here. There are also great arguments against unfunded tax cuts. Perhaps Sunder, as an intelligent man, would like to rehearse those with us, but I am sure that won't fit his agenda at the moment.

Sunder and his left wing friends find any sort of tax cut anathema to their very being - unfunded or not. And that's where the clear blue water is really emerging. The British people can spot political phonies a mile off. They know that all this spending and borrowing cannot be reconciled with temporary tax cuts. They see a government maxing out its own credit card, yet exhorting others to be responsible in their own borrowing. They know that in the long term there will be a price to pay for Labour's recklessness with the public finances and they are not going to be bought off with a temporary cut in the rate of VAT.

These are several issues a general secretary of a left of centre think tank should be concerning himself with (Sunder is general secretary of the Fabian Society) but Tory tax policy is not one of them. Advising Brown on how to get himself out of this mess might be a better use of his time. Or then again...

Warming the Cockles...

If you were reading my blog in March 2007, you may remember THIS video of the reaction of the American public to US service personnel returning from Iraq.

In the same vein, click HERE for a similarly moving tale which apparently took place on an airplane. I have no idea whether it is true or not. But the point of me linking to it is that I can imagine it happening in America. I'd like to say I can imagine it happening here, but...

Obama to Visit the April Fool

Gordon Brown's announcement that Barack Obama will be visiting London on 2 April (only a day late, then) for the G20 summit will, no doubt, get political pundits sniffing a Spring election. April 23rd anyone? No, me neither, but I bet there will be plenty of speculation about it.

PMQs: Brown's Same Old Story

I just appeared on the new Sky News PMQs programme alongside Jackie Ashley, who reckoned Gordon Brown had come out on top. I begged to differ as I thought Cameron exposed the PM's hubris rather well.

Brown have quite a good answer to Sir Peter Tapsell's initial question, but it was downhill all the way after that. Brown's trouble is that he cannot deploy humour and is unable to think on his feet. If his briefing notes don't give him the answer, he is unable to deflect a question using humour, as Blair would have done. And once he has given an answer, he will repeat it ad nauseum, whatever supplementaries Cameron follows up with. He did this today in spaces, repeatedly alleging the Conservatives were quite happy to "do nothing". Quite how he gets away with this when the Conservatives have announced any number of initiatives to help companies and individuals is beyond me. But his line about a "do nothing politician, leading a do nothing party" is one that will now no doubt replace "the right man for the job" as the mantra trotted out by Labour MPs at every opportunity.

I thought Nick Clegg's two questions were very poor. He started off well enough but didn't seem to know where he was going to end up. So to finish up with questions of "why did he botch it?" and "why didn't he take action?"* was weak in the extreme.

I think both David Cameron and Nick Clegg make one fundamental mistake in their approach to PMQS. Their questions are more like statements and they take too long to ask. This means that Gordon Brown has plenty of time to think about an answer. Brown is at his worst when he has to answer a six word question. He simply cannot think on his feet.

Gordon Brown 5
David Cameron 7
Nick Clegg 4

A Unique Opportunity for the Tories

In today's Telegraph Simon Heffer writes...

"There has never been such an opportunity for the Tories to win the hearts and minds of the voters, and to do the right thing for Britain, since Mrs Thatcher's great campaign in 1979."

He is right. These times demand clear and courageous leadership. The Tories must avoid the temptation to be merchants of doom, but instead mix their critique of the government's parlous management of the economy with a sense of optimism about the future. "We can get through this, and this is how we are going to do it," should be the message. Cameron shouldn't use flowery language, but instead come across as the man with a plan. Above all, the country is seeking reassuarance that its rulers know what they are doing. They are not getting that from Labour, but they are seeking it from the Conservatives.

Today George Osborne should start his speech by exposing the flaws in Labour's approach and the effects of the measures announced in the PBR. But then we want to hear some positive stuff which will tell us more about the direction the Conservatives are going in. He needs to meld together the recent policy announcements into one coherent strategy.

PS It seems I was right and that Yvette Cooper will be opening for the Government. Will Darling and Brown be sitting beside her?

UPDATE: There seems to have been a change of heart. The Treasury is now saying Darling will open the debate at 1.15 and Cooper will wind up. She's good at that...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Daley Dozen: Tuesday

1. Tory Bear has the George Osborne Trance Remix.
2. Richard Benyon MP on why Parliament isn't working.
3. Hopi Sen has a modest proposal, even though he says so himself.
4. UK Polling Report on what to expect from the next round of opinion polls.
5. Dan Hannan has five ways to make Parliament more representative.
6. Tracey Crouch has news of the sad death of former Tory MP Andrew Rowe.
7. Andrew Neil on the politics of Life on Mars.
8. Richard Spring's flabber is well and truly ghasted.
9. LibDem Voice on some very strange Japanese electoral laws.
10. James Forsyth awards the Marie Antoinette award to ... Polly Toynbee.
11. Iain Martin on the consequences of Labour abandoning aspiration.
12. Daily Referendum has done some DIY posters. Here's the best one.

Labour Tries to Deny VAT Hike to 18.5%

There is no “hidden manifesto” – “everything is above board”.
(Gordon Brown - Sunday 23 November, quoted in the Times on 24 November)

I would lay bets that the government will have to put VAT up beyond 17.5% at some point over the next three years. Basic economics tell you that if the cost of the 2.5% cut is to be recouped you can't do that just by putting it back on in 13 months time. Robert Peston predicted that the new VAT rate would be 22.5%. He was wrong - but only on the detail.

It seems the Government plans to put the rate up to 18.5%, but only after the election has been and gone. How very strange. Not. The BBC has the full story HERE. The above graphic is from a document called EXPLANATORY MEMORANDUM TO THE VALUE ADDED TAX (CHANGE OF RATE) ORDER 2008 2008 No. 3020. The Government say that this was left in the document in error. George Osborne has been quick to seize the political initiative...

"This is Labour's secret tax bombshell. It explains why there is a black hole in the PBR. Because at the last minute Gordon Brown clearly decided to keep secret his plan to hit everyone with an extra tax rise to pay for his borrowing binge. Gordon Brown told us that he would have no “hidden manifesto” and that “everything is above board”. But these documents show that Labour was planning to deceive the British public, and will raise VAT on everyone after the election. Labour have a secret tax bombshell set to explode under the British people if they ever get re-elected. It tells you all you need to know about Gordon Brown and Labour."
Have you ever seen a budget unravel so fast? Well, OK, the last one did too, but it's a sure sign of a government in real trouble when this sort of thing happens.

Alistair Darling's Lost His Cojones & Found Mrs Balls

Can this really be true? I may be behind the curve on this and it has been written elsewhere, but I hear that Alistair Darling is ducking out of leading for the government in tomorrow' debate on the Pre Budget Report and that his stand in will be the Pontefract Princess, Yvette Cooper.

What an insult to Parliament, if true.

PS Am sooo proud of that headline!

It's Lending, Not Spending That's the Problem

Alex Barker reports on the FT website that Mervyn King thinks there will need to be a further financial injection into our banking system...
Appearing before the House of Commons Treasury select committee, Mr King praised the £20bn government stimulus package but warned the “single most pressing challenge” was to break the logjam in lending.

Well he's certainly right on the second part of his analysis. However, he needs to look a little closer to home, and the activities which the Bank of England plays a part in regulating, before calling for more government action.

RBS has attracted a lot of praise for apparently telling its customers that its lending policies and overdraft approval mechanisms remain unchanged. Indeed, I am told it sent a letter out to its branches last week making this clear. What did not get so much facility was a follow up letter the next day effectively making any new lending virtually impossible.

All the banks are indulging in a process of deleveraging the like of which we have never seen before. They are withdrawing from the risk market completely and relying on existing lending to make profits. If banks refuse to lend to companies with proven track records these companies run the risk of going under. If that starts to happen there will be a domino effect. So many people will lose their jobs that any amount of fiscal stimulus will have no effect whatsoever. Unemployed people cannot boost economic activity.

So if there is one thing the government really ought to be doing, it should address this issue with the banks as a matter of urgency. We were told this had happened last week, but their practices on new lending have not altered at all - in fact, in some cases lending has become far more stringent.

In tomorrow's debate, I hope the Conservatives will really push hard on this point.