Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Campaign Against Visual Pollution?

I really think it's about time someone started a Campaign Against Visual Pollution. When I was at school I learned there were three types of pollution - air, sea and visual. We seem to have completely forgotten about visual pollution and are instead totally obsessed by air pollution. What other reason could there be for the fact that we seem quite happy to allow giant wind turbines to blight our landscapes, or that we pollute our village streets with green and brown monstrosities called wheelie bins, or that totally useless roadsigns inhabit every ten yards of some of our roads? I am sure you can think of more examples. Green belt legislation is not enough. Yes, it prevents building and development, but that's it.

What I really can't abide are roadsigns which are a statement of the bleedin' obvious. Like the one at the end of my parents' drive (on a ten foot high metal pole) which informs you that the footpath ends here. As if we hadn't noticed. Or the lamp post in the same village with a 30mph sign on it ... 5 yards before one with a 20mph sign. We need to encourage councils to rip down unnecessary road signs. I know Alan Duncan has done a lot of work in this area, but there's a lot more which needs to be done.

A Strange Definition of Loyalty

I rather liked this piece from Nic Cecil's story in the Standard tonight...

"... But some ministers remain dismayed at Mr Brown's leadership. "I knew Gordon's weaknesses but I thought they would be lessened by becoming Prime Minister, and that his strengths would increase," said one Cabinet loyalist. "I was wrong...."

If he's a loyalist, I'd like to see Nic Cecil's definition of a rebel!!! Maybe Gordon is in more trouble than we thought.

Balls Talks Balls (Again)

You've got admire the balls of Ed Balls. He has accused David Cameron of bullying Gordon Brown? Laugh? I nearly wet myself.

He's also spent the morning on every conceivable media outlet making policy announcement after policy announcement ahead of his statement in the Commons this afternoon. It's almost as if he is saying to Speaker Bercow "Come on if you think you're hard enough". Bercow took no action against Brown yesterday for doing the same thing.

More Haste Less Speed

The other day I got two speeding tickets on the same journey, both after 3 in the morning on the A23 in South London. One was for doing 37mph in a 30 limit and the other was at 40mph. I have now been invited to go on a two hour long speed management course. The carrot is that I wouldn't get 3 points on my licence but the stick is I will have to pay £95 rather than £60. I will, however, get three points for the second offence. You don't get offered the course option twice!

Have any of you been on a speed management course? What does in involve?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Podcast of Iain's Friday Radio Show

The Daily Dozen: Monday

1. Danny Finkelstein asks what the IEA is for.
2. Conservative History Journal marks two unfortunate anniversaries related to WW1.
3. Donal Blaney thinks he is owed an apology.
4. PoliticalBetting asks if Speaker Bercow will follow through on his warning.
5. Fraser Nelson on how David Cameron is taking the fight to Gordon Brown.
6. Letters From a Tory on how I am encouraging converts to Islam.
7. Mark Pack on 6 ways not to judge a political website.
8. ConHome on the 18 year old Tory constituency chairman.
9. Devil's Kitchen on Brown, Balls and bankruptcy.
10. The Daily (Maybe) has the Ladbroke's odds for Norwich North.
11. Cicero's Songs thinks the party's over.
12. Working Class Tory wonders why the Germans are so pro EU.

LibDem PPC Defects to Labour

The Manchester Evening News is reporting the defection of LibDem Candidate for Denton & Reddish Paul Moss from the LibDems to Labour...
Mr Moss said: "Nationally the Liberal Democrats are a complete joke. And I have seen how the Lib Dems in Stockport have completely ignored local people and have helped to seriously damage communities like Reddish through their uncaring policies."

Oh dear. LibDem Voice attributes his departure to a clash of personalities rather than differences over policy. I assume that's what they will do next time they get a defector.

EXCLUSIVE: John Blundell to Step Down As IEA DG

It is being announced today that John Blundell, the long serving Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs is stepping down at the end of the year. He will, however, continue to be associated with the IEA and take up the position of the Institute's Distinguished Senior Fellow, while continuing his writing and research efforts.

Blundell commented: "I have always since my teenage years loved the IEA's vision and mission and I know I leave the senior management with its programmes and financial resources in much better shape than I inherited. I am very proud of all we have achieved over 17 years and I really welcome the chance to devote myself 100% to writing and lecturing as the IEA's Distinguished Senior Fellow."

The IEA is an integral part of the right of centre think tank world and Blundell's successor will need to be chosen very carefully indeed. The think tank is absolutely crucial in promulgating the ideas of free markets in a liberal society. John Blundell has made a huge contribution to the rise of the intellectual right over the years and I wish him well in his future writing.

Have Peter & Shaun Fallen Out?

The FT's George Parker and Brian Groom have a very revealing interview with Peter Mandelson this morning. This exchange caught me eye, as it reveals that Lord M and Shaun Woodward clearly do not get on at all.

Although Lord Mandelson shares advisory duties in Number 10 with Ed Balls, an old foe, he seems less happy about the growing presence in the inner circle of Shaun Woodward, a Tory defector and now Northern Ireland secretary.

Gordon Brown rates Mr Woodward and turns to him for advice – most noticeably during prime minister’s question time. But Whitehall insiders suggest that Lord Mandelson finds the Northern Ireland secretary a doleful presence and questions his judgment.

Asked about Mr Woodward’s role, he is icily precise. “I have meetings with the prime minister and Ed Balls because Ed plays an informal role as well – as he did at the Treasury,” he says.

“But my main desire is to weld together the team of full-time staff working in central government.”

On whether he endorses the advice being offered by the Northern Ireland secretary, he replies: “I don’t know.

“What is the advice being dispensed by Mr. Woodward?”


Will Speaker Bercow Act?

Over the weekend Ed Balls, Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham all made policy announcements relating to the Building Britain's Future document which the government is launching tomorrow. One would have thought that such announcements ought to have been made first in the House of Commons. I imagine Speaker Bercow will have something to say on the matter this afternoon. And if he does, this blog will be the first to praise him.

Mandy's Nose Just Got a Bit Longer

Remember Gordon Brown saying the government was going to be straight with the British people? Perhaps he should have a word with Peter Mandelson, who has just told an absolute porker. He says that the part privatisation of the Post Office may have to be put on hold because he can't get a slot in the legislative timetable. What a joke.

Everyone in politics knows that the Government hasn't got any legislation to speak of at the moment and that MPs regularly finish early. So to argue that space for Post Office legislation can't be found is at best specious ... and, well, you can guess the rest. The real reason for delay is that Labour backbenchers are in open revolt.

Why can't Mandelson just admit the truth for once? Two words. Leopards. Spots.

UPDATE 9.15: I can't believe I am even having to write this, but one or two sick individuals in the comments appear to believe the headline to this post is anti semitic. Just for the avoidance of doubt, it was a Pinnochio reference.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Banning the Burka: Racist, Populist or Just Plain Right?

It wouldn't surprise me at all if Gordon Brown thought that emulating Nicolas Sarkozy and banning the burka was one way of boosting his electoral popularity.

Until the last few years very few muslim women in Britain wore the burka or hijab. Why have they taken to doing so now? Feminists believe that they are being enslaved and that it signifies being owned by a male. Others believe it protects female dignity. The one thing we do know is that nowhere in the Koran does it say that women should wear the burka.

I don't like banning things and I want to uphold the right to freedom of expression. Seeing women wearing the full burka may make me feel vaguely uncomfortable but that is not reason enough to ban it. However, it is a symbol of cultural apartheid. The message it sends out is clear: I don't want to be part of British society even though I live here. The burka further ghettoises the women who wear it. But is that enough reason to ban it? We'd never ban a sari, but then saris don't shield a woman's face, do they?

Two further points. Burkas should indeed be banned by employers if they wish. How can you possibly teach wearing a veil covering your face? How could you be a social worker or TV presenter? In addition, the police and airport security must be able to order a woman to show her face if required. Jack Straw was right to feel uncomfortable when he had a burka wearing woman at his surgery. I would have been too.

Western women who go to Saudi Arabia are required to respect the dress code of the country and clothe themselves accordingly. Our liberal values don't require the same in return. Sometimes we may be too tolerant for our own good.

The day a woman can wear a bikini on a beach in Saudi Arabia will be the day I will totally accept the burka.

5 Places Lower Than Alan Carr & 51 Higher Than Elton John

The Independent on Sunday has today published its annual Pink List, the top 100 most influential gay people in Britain. It rightly questions whether it should be publishing such a list at all. After all, no one would publish a Top 100 Straights list, would they? But since it has appeared, it would be remiss of me not to point out that they've promoted me 18 places this year to 26. Nick Boles is the top rated Tory at number 10, I'm second, Sir Simon Milton is 29, Alan Duncan 7, Dan Ritterband 39, Margot James 46, Greg Barker 65, Matthew Parris 69, Nick Herbert 70, Andrew Pierce 72, Richard Barnes 82.

Quite how I am more influential than many of those - or for that matter Peter Tatchell, Paul O'Grady, Will Young, Nick Brown, Chris Bryant (only 49, bless) or Ben Summerskill I really don't know.

Anyway, here is the text of an article I wrote for the Indy on Sunday today....

ON THURSDAY I spent an hour signing letters to Tory MPs inviting them to attend a late night "Pride Party" at a gay nightclub in Canal Street in Manchester during the Tory party conference in October. It's being organised by the Tories as yet another signal that the party is entirely at ease with sexual equality and diversity. Ten years ago the Tory Campaign for Homosexual Equality used to hold rather furtive fringe meetings in rather down-at-heel hotels, which 30 people – including a couple of MPs – might attend in a good year. Nowadays, it's rather different.

Sexuality isn't really an issue in the Tory party any longer. There are two gay members of the Shadow Cabinet, both of whom have entered civil partnerships in the last year. There are so many gay parliamentary candidates – both female and male – that no one bothers to keep count any more. And that's as it should be.

If you're a gay teacher, does it affect how you teach? If you're a gay electrician, does it affect your ability to rewire a house? Of course not. And at long last the Conservative Party has recognised that being gay should not be a bar to holding any position in politics. We have got to a point where it is quite possible to imagine Nick Herbert or Alan Duncan leading the Tory party with virtually no one raising an eyebrow. Remember, the Tories had the first Jewish-born Prime Minister and the first woman Prime Minister. I'd bet money they will also have the first gay and black PMs. Of course, not everything is perfect. There is the odd Tory MP who will no doubt rip up my letter in ill-disguised disgust, and there are no doubt a few Neanderthal types out there running local Tory associations. But you get this in all parties, not just the Tories. Homophobia certainly exists in politics, and probably always will. But the progress made over the last five years is astonishing, but our opponents have difficulty in recognising this and delight in trying to make the caricature of homophobic Tories stick.

This week the Tories set up a new group in the European Parliament which contains 15 members of the Polish Law and Justice Party. This party's record on equality issues is not exactly exemplary. Opposition politicians have been quick to accuse David Cameron of being only "skin deep" in his commitment to gay equality and ask how he can ally himself to homophobes. It's a fair question. The truth is that Labour and the LibDems also sit in Euro groupings with deeply suspect characters – some hold homophobic views, others are extreme Communists or worse. Law and Justice's lead MEP Adam Bielan responded to criticism by Denis MacShane last week by saying: "We are fully committed to human rights and equality under the law, and object to all forms of discrimination, whether on grounds of race, sex or sexual orientation." You can't get much clearer than that. But actions, of course, speak louder than words, and I will be looking at what Law & Justice do on the home front to stamp out the rampant homophobia that exists in much of Poland's society.

Bill Clinton invented the phrase "don't ask, don't tell" relating to gays in the US military. That used to be the maxim of gays in the Tory party. Nowadays it's different. The shock factor has disappeared and if anyone feels the need to announce they are gay, the declaration is treated with a massive shrug of the shoulders and a collective "so what?" As I say, that's exactly as it should be.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

How Many New MPs Will There Be?

The news that Alan Milburn is to stand down from Parliament at the next election is hardly a surprise. But I think it brings to around 50 the number of Labour MPs who are retiring. On the Tory side, more than 20 sitting MPs are going, with many more expected to quit in the next few months. When you add in the expected 150 or so changes of seats and you get a Parliament which will contain 40 per cent new MPs. It's possible it could even be an unprecedented 50 per cent.

For those of a 'Clean House' disposition, this will be very welcome news indeed, for obvious reasons. For the two main parties it will be a mixed blessing. If Labour is reduced to around 200 seats, a large number of those will be new faces. No wonder putative leadership candidate Ed Balls (no, don't laugh) is spending much of his week on the rubber chicken circuit, buttering up likely new MPs.

For the Conservatives the situation will be even more stark. If they get 350 MPs the likelihood is that more than 200 of them will be newbies. Indeed, we're getting to a situation where David Cameron may have to make a few first time MPs ministers.

It will be interesting to see how this intake of MPs asserts itself - on both sides of the House. If they take a stand against some of the older ways of doing things they could make a real difference. The crucial thing will be how many of them take the whips' shilling and are determined to climb the greasy pole of promotion at the first available opportunity.

The situation is slightly comparable to the 1983-87 Parliament, which contained a large number of Tory MPs who had never expected to be elected in the first place - people like Cecil Franks in Barrow and Gerry Bowden in Dulwich. There were a number of MPs who knew the way to get promotion was to be viscerally loyal and do the whips' bidding at every available opportunity. Michael Howard, Patrick Nicholls and Edwina Currie were the most obvious examples of this tendency, and sure enough, if my memory serves me correctly, they were among the first to be made PPSs and then ministers. Perhaps PoliticalBetting.com should run a book on the most likely equivalents of the 2010 Tory intake.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Radio Show: Tune In Tonight from 11pm

NB We are back to our normal email address tonight talk@playradiouk.com

At 11pm tonight I'll be hosting my weekly Friday night show on PlayRadioUK.com. Just go to the website, click on LISTEN and then choose Play Talk. If you have problems with the stream copy and paste this link into your browser.


Mac users should go to the homepage of Playradio below the list of stations on the left. Alternatively, click on this link


Or click HERE for the iPlayer

Click HERE to launch Play Talk UK in your default media player

It may take a few seconds to load, so be patient! Hopefully you might want to take part in the programme. Here's how to do so...

If you want to appear live on the programme call 0208 123 1528. Obviously we can only take one call at a time so you may have to wait a bit, but don’t give up!



Dial up play.radio.uk . We can take Skype calls, and also Skype chat messages.


You can use my twitter name @iaindale, and it will appear on my Tweetdeck app.

If you are still having trouble accessing us, leave a comment here and someone will come up with a solution. I know AOL browsers don't seem to work, so if you can use IE or Firefox, that's your best bet.

Ian Gibson May Stand After All

Former Norwich North MP Ian Gibson has dropped more than a hint to Michael Crick that he might well stand in the by-election as an Independent candidate. Well that would certainly put the cat among the pigeons. A lot depends on what his former constituents make of his second home claims. If the reaction in the local papers is anything to go by, they are less than impressed. Set against that is the fact that it is undeniable that he was a popular constituency MP.

Of course, they might also ask why he resigned his seat and caused a by-election. Why didn't he just continue as an Independent MP in Parliament?

Quote of the Day: Steve Dixon

"There are so many faces to Michael Jackson - literally."
Steve Dixon, Sky News presenter

Tories Ahead in Norwich North Poll

The University and College Union has this morning published an ICM poll of voters in Norwich North.

Con 34% (+1)
Lab 30% (-15)
LD 15% (-1)
Green 14% (+11)
Other 7% (+4)

This shows that it really is, as the LibDems would say, a two horse race - between the LibDems and the Greens for third place. Just my little joke.

Only 45% say they are certain to vote. Interestingly the Conservatives are furthest ahead (40%) in the 18-24 age group.

UPDATE: The full poll details can be found HERE.

Tune in Tonight at 11pm

Hope you'll tune in tonight from 11pm on PlayRadioUK.com. Lots to talk about!

Death of a Legend

It was one of those "where were you when you heard the news that" moments*. News of the death of Michael Jackson was shocking, but in some ways, when you think about it, he was almost destined to die an unexpected death. In some many way, Michael Jackson was the Elvis de nos jours - a fantastic talent that had gone totally off the rails. Like Elvis, you just had to look at him and you knew that something wasn't quite right.

But forget all his personal oddities, Michael Jackson wrote and performed some of the best pop hits of the last thirty years, and it is for those we should remember him with respect and affection. Thriller and Bad were undoubtedly two of the top albums of the 1980s, if not all time. 'Beat it' and 'Billie Jean' and 'Thriller' itself were three of the songs which personified the music of that decade, and in the early years of the pop video, brought a new sense of innovation to the genre. But it was Jackson's talents as a dancer, as well as a singer which conferred legendary status on the two albums.

Jackson's music will live on for decades, and rightly so.

* I was at the entrance of the Bushhill Golf Club in Enfield, having just addressed 70 members of Enfield Southgate Conservatives. And a very nice bunch of people they were too. Where were you when you heard the news of Jackson's death?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Kevin Maguire is Away

Readers of the New Statesman will be horrified delighted to learn that next week I am replacing Kevin Maguire on the Commons Confidential column. They can rest assured that I shall not be mentioning a single trade union leader or lefty persona that no one has ever heard of. Seeing as Mr Maguire's blog hasn't been updated since 6 May, perhaps I should make a takeover bid for that too.

LibDems Replace Chris Rennard

The LibDems have announced the appointment of Chris Fox as their new Chief Executive. He replaces Chris Rennard, who is quitting the post in September. Fox is a communications expert who was hired to improve Nick Clegg's image and pull together the LibDems' communications strategy. All in all he has done a very good job in a very short time. I suspect he will find the rather disperate nature of the Liberal Democrat organisation very frustrating, and although he isn't steeped in the party in the same way as Rennard, I think his appointment is a formidable one. He is not to be underestimated.

Preparing for Government

On last night's Newsnight I was amused to see Jeremy Paxman's fake shock at the Guardian front page lead story about the Conservative plans to hold a two day Cabinet session to decide how best to cut public spending. From Paxman's reaction, you would have thought it was akin to King Herod wanting to cull the first born. Philip Hammond dealt with it all rather well, although I'd have preferred him just to say: "Yes, damn right we're going to do this. Isn't that what Cabinet government is all about?" Conservatives must learn not to be defensive about the need to justify every pound of public spending. The public mood is with them on this issue, and people are less likely to be taken in by Labour's increasingly outlandish scare stories.

But the main reason I raise this is that, assuming the Guardian article is essentially true, it demonstrates that Francis Maude's implementation team has really started motoring. The first few months of any new government are crucial. If the requisite level of planning has not been undertaken there is a real risk of drift and ministers being dominated by the civil service machine. I was talking to one Shadow Cabinet Minister yesterday who has already made clear to the Permanent Secretary of the department he is shadowing what will need to be implemented in week one. Maude's challenge is to replicate this level of planning across each and every government department.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Cos They Had a Bad Day

It's not just Gordon Brown who has had a bad day today. Imagine, you're Health Minister Ann Keen MP. You and your MP husband are informed that your main home is about to be repossessed because it has been empty for months ... and then that nice Paul Waugh finds that you have charged some private healthcare bills to the taxpayer.

Is that the sound of someone saying"Brentford & Isleworth, Conservative Gain"? Or is it the sound of a hasty ministerial resignation being prepared?

The Bradby/Bercow Spat For Your Delectation

At last the clip of John Bercow being skewered by ITN's Tom Bradby on last night's ITV News has been put on YouTube. We watched this at home last night and my non political partner, who is not given to swearing, turned to me and said: "What an arrogant ****". I have since reassured Mr Bradby that he was not in fact referring to him. :).

I've been known myself to take interviewers to task on the odd occasion, but then again I am not the Speaker of the House of Commons. If, as Speaker, you are going to do interviews, you have got to take the rough with the smooth and exude bon homie, even if you think the interviewer is asking disgraceful questions. Bercow's problem is that Bradby was asking the questions any self respecting journalist would have asked. Bradby only repeated the question because he was not getting an answer. To react as he did, demonstrates that John Bercow hasn't quite realised he needs to leave his argumentative side behind him - at least in public.

Bank Governor Slates Deficit as "Extraordinary"

The Governor of the Bank of England this afternoon called on the Government to act to reduce the budget deficit. He called the deficit "extraordinary". The Shadow Chancellor has been quick to go on the offensive.

This is the demolition day for Gordon Brown's tax and spending policies. In the morning new figures showed Britain facing the biggest deficit in the world; at lunchtime the Prime Minister’s attempts to defend himself in the Commons ended in ridicule; and in the afternoon the Governor of the Bank of England delivered the final blow by demolishing for good any claim that this discredited government ever had to a credible plan for the recovery. The judgement David Cameron and I took last autumn to warn of Britain's looming debt crisis, and this summer to be honest about the need for spending cuts, has been entirely vindicated. We urgently need an election to rescue this country from a government whose denial is a danger to the recovery.

It's not been a good day for our poor Prime Minister, has it? I gather he was walloped at PMQs, and now this. I wonder if David Miliband has yet had pause to consider how wrong he was to stick by Gordon Brown two weeks ago? Believe me, several Labour MPs are pinning all the blame for future Brown disasters firmly on Miliband's lapel.

Gordon's Cuts

A nice new ad from the Conservatives on Gordon Brown's spending cuts.

The Top 50 Political Myths

My colleagues at Total Politics are in the process of compiling a Top 50 Political Myths List - things like Jim Callaghan never really saying "Crisis, what crisis?". On the basis that 160,000 brains are better than theirs, they have asked me to ask you to nominate your own most notorious political myths to see if they have missed out anything blindingly obvious.

On your marks, get set...

PMQs & Open Thread

Am in meetings most of the day so over to you, I'm afraid.

What did you make of PMQs? What was The Speaker like?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

EXCLUSIVE: Clegg Approached Martin Bell & EDP Editor to Stand in Norwich North

April Pond - The Third Choice LibDem Candidate

My story about the selection of the LibDem candidate for Norwich North certainly got several LibDem bloggers hot and bothered. All I can say is, brace yourselves for round two.

It seems that April Pond was very much their third choice candidate, for I can reveal that Nick Clegg personally approached Martin Bell to ask him to stand in the seat, and when he refused the blandishments of the LibDem leader, Clegg turned his attentions to Peter Franzen, the veteran editor of the Eastern Daily Press. Franzen also said no, leaving the local party to choose an already selected candidate for the neighbouring seat of Broadland.

It was the Eastern Daily Press which lured Martin Bell out of political retirement to stand in the European elections in 2004, after a series of sleaze rows hit local MEPs. I'm told this time around Bell, although severely tempted, decided he had bigger dragons to slay than Ian Gibson who had already fallen on his sword.

I emailed Peter Franzen about the approach from Clegg earlier this evening and while he wouldn't actually confirm Clegg had asked him to stand, he gave a pretty clear indication.
It is true that Nick Clegg came to the EDP last week to do a "web chat" and that he and I discussed Norwich North and my imminent retirement as editor of the Eastern Daily Press, but I think it would be unfair to the now-adopted prospective parliamentary candidate for the Lib Dems (April Pond) to say any more than that.
So that's a yes, then. Tonight, I put this to Nick Clegg's official spokesman, who gave me this comment...
The only candidates considered were those that went before the formal selection process. April won through and was selected on Sunday. She is an excellent local candidate.

So, no outright denial. Having spoken to other sources, both in Norwich and London, I am 100% confident that Clegg did indeed ask Franzen to stand.

Norfolk Blogger, who himself had been interested in standing, will have further food for thought. He's already echoed some of my own thoughts about the advisability of a candidate in a nearby seat being selected.

In my previous blogpost I wrote that it would be ludicrous for April Pond to return to Broadland after losing the by election, only to be told by various LibDem supporters that there would be nothing wrong with that at all. I am now told that if she loses, she will be sticking with Norwich North and abandoning Broadland for good. She said so at her selection meeting, according to a local source. This may come as a relief to several senior LibDem activists who have abandoned her campaign after growing tired of her refusal to take advice on how to run it. If you were being suspicious, you might possibly think that the LibDems were being very machiavellian and using this by election to shift a failing candidate out of one of their main target seats. While you might think that, I couldn't possibly comment.

There are also further signs that Labour is intending to delay the by election until October, leaving the constituency without an MP for four months. The reason is that they fear that if Labour loses the seat there would be further pressure on Gordon Brown in advance of a Labour conference. Their reticence in selecting a candidate may also be a further sign that they are inclined to avoid a quick poll.

Note: Declaration of interest - I write a fortnightly column for the Eastern Daily Press. Possibly a reason why I have been even more careful than usual to check my sources!

Shurley Shome Mishtake

When I first saw this headline on ConservativeHome earlier today, I must admit I wondered what John Bercow had ever done to offend the French President... More haste, less speed, as my mother used to say. I always thought that was a ridiculous expreshun.

Speaker Bercow's First Test

Paul Waugh has the story. Gordon Brown has just announced on the World at One the details of Harriet Harman's statement to the Commons this afternoon. I wonder if John Bercow will have the courage of his convictions and bring the Prime Minister before the House to explain himself.

Bloggertariat v Commentariat

I reckon I blew my chances of a column on The Times yesterday evening at the Editorial Intelligence Bloggertariat v Commentariat event. The first three speakers (Anne Spackman, Comment Editor of The Times, Martin Bright and Mick Fealty) had all been a bit matey so I decided to liven it up a bit. I knew the final speaker, David Aaronovitch would want something to get his teeth into, so I thought I'd oblige. Here's a rough account of how I opened...

The fact that the Twitter hashtag for this event is #eiblogger and not #ei comment rather indicates the organisers believe bloggers are winning. John Lloyd started by saying that he newspapers are dying because of blogs. They are not. They are dying because they have no strategy. They have poured millions of pounds into their online efforts without the faintest idea of the endgame. John Lloyd also says he hates blogs. Sometime I hate newspapers. Indeed I hate newspapers who delight in killing blogs. Last week The Times killed a blog for no other reason than it could. There was no journalistic reason to expose Night Jack's identity, and because The Times did that the rest of us are denied the opportunity to read a blog which shone a light into a world few of us know about. If The Times is so against anonymity perhaps it will tell us who its anonymous sources are when it writes that "a source close to the Prime Minister told The Times". But of course, this is the same newspaper that thinks unmasking a blogger is a big deal and yet turned down the opportunity to publish the MP expenses details...
Aaronovitch kept muttering insults all the way through that, I gather, yet strangely didn't argue with any of it in his own speech. Clearly he couldn't be bothered to answer the points raised by a mere blogger. He seemed far more bothered by the fact that Guido's commenters call him a ****. On this performance it was easy to see why. He flailed about all over the place informing us that columnists were all seeing, all knowing sages who we were damned lucky to have the opportunity to read. In the next breath he admitted to using blogs as research for his columns. He seemed particularly upset by my appearances on the TV talking about the Labour Party. "He knows nothing about the Labour Party and he's always wrong," he moaned. Was it me or Aaronovitch who predicted Hazel Blears' resignation before the Euro elections? Just askin'.

He ended by basically thumbing his nose at Mick and myself and telling us that he could interview somebody we would never ever get to interview. Er, wow. Thanks for that insight, Dave. After I had left, he apparently decided to slag me off to all and sundry. This is how one conversation went...

Aaronovitch: That Iain Dale is a complete idiot.
Neil Stewart: Er, David, let me introduce you to Shane Greer. He works for Iain Dale....
Aaronovitch: Er...

I've always rather liked David Aaronovitch, but last night he showed himself up. He did it in a vaguely entertaining way, but he demonstrated he just doesn't get new media or understand its potential. That's fine. Let him continue writing his crafted prose, and I'll continue what I do.

PS EI have filmed the event. I will post the links when they are up and you can make your own mind up about who came out of this with their dignity intact.

UPDATE: Mark Reckons has a comprehensive account of the debate HERE. Alex Smith of LabourList was none to impressed by DA HERE.

UPDATE: The Podcast of the event is now online HERE. My speech is about 30% of the way in and David A follows me.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Bercow is a Servant of the House, Not Its Master

The votes are in and we must all now get used to Mr Speaker Bercow. As readers will know, I have expressed huge doubts about John Bercow's ability to do the job, and I am afraid the voting has proved that. He starts in exactly the same position as Michael Martin did nine years ago - with one side of the House almost wholly against him. But those of us who supported other candidates should now allow John Bercow to get on with the job and see what he makes of it. He has a lot to prove to a lot of people. And he has about a year to do it.

It would be churlish for Conservatives not to wish him well. If he makes a success of the job everyone should be happy. But John Bercow must remember that he is a servant of the House, not its leader. If he can succeed in enabling MPs to hold the Government to account more, to scrutinise legislation better and to help backbench MPs regain the power they need, then he will have done a great job. He can't achieve everything in a year, but he needs to reassure all parts of the House that he intends to do a job, and not become a personality. Yes, he can be a spokesman for the House, but he must beware of becoming a media personality. He should remember that interviewers are looking for stories. He has a particular tightrope to walk and must ensure that he remains on it at all time.

John Bercow should start as he means to go on. On Wednesday he should ensure that the Prime Minister answers questions rather than asks them. The first time a government minister announces a policy on the Today Programme, he should be hauled before the Commons to explain himself. Although he must be given a little time to find his feet, he also needs to send a clear signal that the House is now under new management.

Speaker Vote: Evening Open Thread

This evening I am speaking at an Editorial Intelligence event: Bloggertariat v Commentariat - Who's Winning? Sadly therefore I must leave you to your own devices for the rest of the Speaker votes until 9pm.

Go Sir Alan!

Speaker: Result of the First Ballott

Bercow 179
Young 112
Beckett 74
Haselhurst 66
Beith 55
Widdecombe 44
Dhanda 26
Shepherd 15
Cormack 13
Lord 9

This seems to me to be bad news for Margaret Beckett and good news for Sir George Young. I think Sir Alan Haselhurst can also be very happy at his fourth place showing. Assuming Ann Widdecombe and Alan Beith continue to the next ballot there are now 63 votes to distribute around the other six candidates. My hope and expectation is that at least a third of these would go to Sir Alan, so he would end up with between 85 and 90. Sir George Young will also receive a good proportion, but I can't see many going to Beckett and Bercow.

Very annoyingly, I am speaking at an event later on so I reckon I am going to miss the result of the second ballot. Damn and blast.

Speaker Prediction: The Order They Will Drop Out

That was a slightly unremarkable hour, with all ten candidates delivering speeches. I'd say the best were John Bercow, Sir George Young, Ann Widdecombe and Sir Alan Haselhurst. Margaret Beckett was perhaps the most unexpectedly disappointing, and I would be surprised if she now topped the poll.

I'm going to stick my neck out now and risk public ridicule by predicting the order in which the different candidates will fall by the wayside...

10. Sir Michael Lord
9. Richard Shepherd
8. Parmjit Dhanda
7. Sir Alan Beith
6. Sir Patrick Cormack
5. Sir Alan Haselhurst
4. Ann Widdecombe
3. Margaret Beckett
2. Sir George Young
1. John Bercow

I wonder if Beckett will last that long actually. I think Alan Haselhurst got the biggest vote, but I musn't let my bet sway my judgement. But if he can get into the final four, he is in a very powerful position as the second choice of most. We'll see.

PS Loving listening to Betty Boothroyd on the Parliament Channel.

Speaker Election Live Blog

15.37 Dhanda did very well and has done himself a huge amount of good. 7.5/10

15.35 Dhanda has some wacky ideas, but delivers them charmingly.

15.32 Parmjit Dhanda has won my vote by wearing a Duchamp tie!

15.31 Short speech from Sir Alan Haselhurst but it got good cheers. 8/10.

15.27 Apologies. Had to take phone call so missed most of Sir Patrick.

15.19 Sir Patrick Cormack mentions Bannockburn. Not sure that was wise.

15.17 Too long. I can't remember much Michael Lord said. Said he hadn't campaigned or canvassed colleagues. Whaddamistakadamaka. 6/10.

15.12 Michael Lord rather pedestrian. He needed to be extraordinary.

15.09 Less eloquent than I would have expected from Richard Shepherd. 6/10.

15.04 Richard Shepherd gets off to a nervous start.

15.02 Bercow slightly lost his way towards the end, but delivered a powerful performance. Not sure if it will have convinced many Tories. 8.5/10.

15.01 I take it back. Bercow did have notes. They were being held and shown to him by Julian Lewis to his left.

14.59 Bercow had a dodgy start, but has delivered a stormer. No notes, passionate and full of content.

14.54 I nearly fell asleep. Woeful. 5/10.

14.51 Sir Alan Beith is unlucky in having to follow Widdecombe. He is speaking too quickly and reading from notes.

14.50 Widdecombe sits down having made a very powerful speech. Will have swung a few doubters I suspect. 8.5/10.

14.48 Widdecombe speaking from the heart without notes. House receiving it well. I wonder...

14.44 Widders: "I am unique". No one's arguing!

14.43 George Young was very good. Lots of content and ideas. 8/10.May well have swung some doubters.

14.38 George Young kicks off with some good titter-raising jokes. "I'm in the Conservative Party, not run by the Conservative Party".

14.37 Beckett 6/10. Competent, but hardly radical, with no 'hear hears' at any point except the end.

14.36 I have just tweeted to Tom Harris: "I dare you to pinch her bottom..."

14.31 Margaret Beckett's opening joke falls flat and fails to raise even a titter.

14.25 Ladbrokes are quoting Sir Alan Haselhurst at 12/1, down from 40/1 on Friday. They tell me they had a large number of bets after I placed my own on Friday afternoon. I shall have to bear in mind in future how easy it is to influence a betting market!

14.20 Only ten minutes to go before the speeches start. I'm told they are restricted to 8 minutes each, so the voting won't start until about 3.45pm. I wonder what proportion of MPs will be listening to the hustings speeches with a completely open mind.

Conservatives Form New European Parliament Group

So, David Cameron and William Hague have defied their critics and announced the formation of a new grouping within the European Parliament. It will have at least 55 MEPs from 8 different countries. So much for those in the EPP who said it could never be done. And it has been done without resorting to lining up with fruitcake parties with dubious views. A lot of the credit for this goes to William Hague and Europe Spokesman Mark Francois. No doubt a lot of mud will be thrown by the EPP and other Tory opponents but virtually all the members of the new group are down the line, mainstream politicians. ConHome lists them as...

* 26 British Conservative MEPs
* 15 Polish MEPs from the Law and Justice Party
* 9 Czech MEPs from the Civic Democratic Party
* 1 MEP from Belgium's Lijst Dedecker - Derk Jan Eppink, a Dutchman who is a former senior European Commission official
* 1 MEP from Finland's Centre Party, Keskusta - Hannu Takkula (who has left the Liberal Group where the rest of his party sits)
* 1 MEP from the Hungarian Democratic Forum - Lajos Bokros, a former finance minister
* 1 MEP from the Latvian National Independence Movement - Roberts Zile, a former finance and transport minister
* 1 MEP from the Dutch Christian Union - Peter van Dalen
I suppose there will be comment about the fact that the Polish Law & Justice party is involved, as one or two of their members have said some pretty objectionable things about homosexuality. But then there is the odd member of the Cornerstone Group who holds some strange views on that subject too. The good thing is that Law & Justice do seem to be liberalising their stance somewhat. Their lead MEP, Adam Bielan, recently responded to criticism for Denis MacShane on this point in a letter which he wrote to the Guardian.

Denis MacShane makes an unfair allegation against my party, Law and Justice, calling us "gay-haters". We are fully committed to human rights and equality under the law, and object to all forms of discrimination, whether on grounds of race, sex or sexual orientation. We are the second-largest party in the Polish Sejm, and hold the presidency of the republic. To make such claims, simply because we believe in a Europe of nations and share David Cameron's opposition to Euro-federalism, is pretty low.
Adam Bielan MEP (7 May 2009)

Before Labour throws too many stones on this perhaps they ought to look at their own PES Group in the European Parliament. The majority of the Democratic Left Alliance MEPs (Labour’s Polish sister party, allies in the Party of European Socialists (PES) in the European Parliament) were Communist Party members in the 1980s. The Czech Social Democrat MEPs also include a number of people who were active Communists in the 1980s. Mr Bogdan Golik of Samoobrona is a member of the PES. Samoobrona are a populist nationalist left wing party led by the former farmer Andrzej Lepper. Andrzej Lepper rose to prominence by populist grand-standing. He once accused the liberal conservative Civic Platform of having met members of the Taliban in a small Polish village to sell them anthrax. He is said to have worked with the anti-Semitic publisher Leszek Bubel (Stephen Roth Centre). At one point Jean Marie le Pen was his role model (ibid.). He has even, in a qualified way, praised Hitler. He said he ‘At the beginning of his activities, Hitler had a really good programme. He put Germany on its feet and eliminated unemployment … I don’t know what happened to him later ... who had such influence over him that he moved toward genocide’ (Zycie Warszawy, quoted in the Financial Times, 15 April 2004).

And before the LibDems say too much, consider some of the people who they sit with. They sit in the same group in the European Parliament as Latvia’s First Party/Latvian Way. They have demonstrated against gay pride parades in Riga, attempted to ban discussion of gay issues in the media (Agence France Presse, 7 September 2006) and have used exceptionally violent language against homosexuality - one of their leading figures, Janis Smits, whom they succeeded in appointing as Latvia’s human rights commissioner, described homosexuality as a ‘plague’ (Guardian, G2, 1 June 2007). They were re-elected to the European Parliament in 2009. The LibDems are also allied to extreme feminists: In the last European Parliament the Liberal Democrats sat in the same group as the Swedish Feminist Initiative, who believe that marriage is a form of male oppression and so should be banned and that there should be a special tax on men to recompense women for the violence men exclusively inflict on society.

Nice, eh? I only point this out to underline that all groupings in the Eurpopean Parliament contain one or two pretty strange characters. But the platform to which all 55 MEPs in this new group have signed up is straight down the lines mainstream conservatism...

1. Free enterprise, free and fair trade and competition, minimal regulation, lower taxation, and small government as the ultimate catalysts for individual freedom and personal and national prosperity.
2. Freedom of the individual, more personal responsibility and greater democratic accountability.
3. Sustainable, clean energy supply with an emphasis on energy security.
4. The importance of the family as the bedrock of society.
5. The sovereign integrity of the nation state, opposition to EU federalism and a renewed respect for true subsidiarity.
6. The overriding value of the transatlantic security relationship in a revitalised NATO, and support for young democracies across Europe.
7. Effectively controlled immigration and an end to abuse of asylum procedures.
8. Efficient and modern public services and sensitivity to the needs of both rural and urban communities.
9. An end to waste and excessive bureaucracy and a commitment to greater transparency and probity in the EU institutions and use of EU funds.
10. Respect and equitable treatment for all EU countries, new and old, large and small.

So that's that then.

Margaret Beckett's a Shoo In!

Tom Harris has this "evidence" that reforms* haven't yet quite seeped through to the House of Commons authorities, who still seem to be under the influence of the government whips office!

* For the avoidance of doubt, this is a joke.

Podcast of Iain's Friday Radio Show

Here's the podcast of last Friday's radio show on PlayRadioUK. It includes a song from Elvis, who also announced that he is giving up blogging. I was joined in the studio by a new presenter's friend, Sarah Lornie. I shall be inviting her back!

Confronting Margaret Thatcher

Reading Roy Hattersley's article on PMQs in today's Times, I was struck by this paragraph...

Years ago, when I deputised for the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Speaker Weatherill required participants in PMQs to accept that question time was a time for questions. Whenever I prepared to confront Margaret Thatcher - elation mixed with terror - my main concern was to get through the first half dozen words without my syntax, or even my intonation, creating the suspicion that the sentence was not interrogative. Standing behind the opposition dispatch box did not provide protection from the indignity of being told to sit down. The briefest preamble was ruled out of order.

Is Lord Hattersley's memory failing him? Or is mine? I cannot recall a single occasion when he questioned Margaret Thatcher at PMQs. Can anyone else? So far as I remember, whenever he deputised for Kinnock he faced either Willie Whitelaw, John Wakeham or Geoffrey Howe.

UPDATE: A commenter says he spoke at PMQs on 10th January 1985 and 18th February 1988. I don't know what the circumstances were, but this is interesting because if Margaret Thatcher was willing to take questions from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, perhaps Gordon Brown should have done so when David Cameron was away earlier this year.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

LibDems Select Itinerant for Norwich North

I always thought the LibDems could be a bit dim, but they've really gone and done it now. April Pond is their candidate for the new Norfolk seat of Broadland. Or she was. Today Norwich North LibDems have selected her as their candidate for the Norwich North by-election. Let's make an assumption that she loses - after all, the LibDems have never really done anything in Norwich North in the past and always come third, so it's a reasonable assumption. What does she do then? Go crawling back to Broadland LibDems and beg for them to have her back? What on earth will Broadland voters make of her whoring herself across Norfolk? After all, in 2005 she was the candidate in South West Norfolk for the LibDems. Norman Lamb had better watch out. She'll have her sights set on North Norfolk if he's not careful!

I do look forward to hear what Norfolk Blogger has to say on this. If the LibDems had had any sense they would have moved heaven and earth to persuade him to stand.

It's an unwritten rule in politics that once you are selected for a seat, you stick with it. Imagine in 2004 if I had abandoned North Norfolk to apply for the then vacant seat of Tunbridge Wells. April Pond's selection shows just what a dearth of candidates they must have had for this by-election. I suspect they will come to deeply regret their choice.

[It's OK, I have stopped ROFLing now.]

UPDATE 8pm: LibDem Voice has now posted about April Pond, but for some strange reason have omitted to mention her previous candidacy. Wonder why that would be.

What Would Thatcher & Reagan Have Done About Iran?

Over the last week I have been perplexed, and a little appalled, at the response of both the British and American governments to what has been going on in Iran. Their attitude has been totally 'hands off' on the basis that they don't want to interfere in the internal affairs of another country. And yet Britain and the US are supposed to be beacons of democracy and free thought - countries who have been known for spreading the gospel of freedom all round the world.

Think back to the early 1980s. Did Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan stand on one side when Solidarity was in its infancy? Did they think that uttering words of support might be damaging? No, not a bit of it. They recognised the importance of sending a clear signal that those who were fighting oppression and dictatorship were in their thoughts.

I thought of that when I listened to David Miliband's weasel words last week. And when Barack Obama couldn't bring himself to say what the leader of the free world should have said.

And then on Thursday David Cameron uttered the words I was expecting to hear from Obama: "The protesters should know this - we are on their side". Well, hallelujah.

At least one politician said what other were too weak to.

Pay Appeasement Never Works

In this week's New Statesman RMT leader Bob Crow has written the diary. In it, he writes...
We had submitted our pay claim - at the management's request - back in November...
Excuse me? Doesn't that sentence tell you all you need to know about what is wrong with the management at Transport for London? Instead of drawing up its budget and working out what it could afford to pay its staff by way of a pay rise, it asked the Union to put in a claim. What did it expect? A claim for very little? Any union, but particularly one controlled by a leftist idiot like Bob Crow, was bound to put in a claim for far more than the management would find acceptable. So instead of keeping control of the agenda itself, it handed it to the RMT.

Yet another reason for Boris to finally get rid of TfL Managing Director Peter Hendy. He should be replaced by someone who doesn't believe in a policy of pay appeasement.

Scotland Votes for Independence

love novels with political plots. Sadly, nowadays, they are few and far between. Publishers seem to think that they don't sell. So well done to Mainstream Publishing for publishing a new novel called Rogue Nation by Alan Clements. There's a review of it in today's Scotland on Sunday, which you can read in full HERE.

IT'S 2014. The Tories are running the UK, having won the election in 2010. An SNP government is re-elected in 2011. They hold a referendum on independence, and Scottish hostility to the Tories generates a yes vote. Alex Salmond and Michael Russell's less-than-secret plan? No, it's the opening of Alan Clements' excellent thriller Rogue Nation.
The novel opens on 2 May, 2014, the morning after the Scottish people have voted by the slimmest of margins – 2,000 votes – to leave the United Kingdom. We are introduced to the main characters as they react to the news. Nick Jones, the modernising Tory prime minister, accepts the people's verdict and pledges a swift move to a "velvet divorce". Todd Macfarlane, the new Republican president who had consigned Obama to one term, ponders the impact on the US of losing the nuclear base at Faslane. Sammy Wilson, ultra-unionist hard man from Dennistoun, denounces yet one more betrayal of the loyalist working-class. George Wallace, senior special adviser to Ross Johnston, Scotland's SNP First Minister, with a hangover and too little sleep, starts to plan that morning's press briefing. And president Igor Churov of the Russian Federation calls on his top British specialist to initiate "Operation Braveheart".

Buy Rogue Nation HERE.

PS: Do you have an idea for a political novel? Have you written one? If so, please get in touch with me? I can't give more details yet, and sorry to be cryptic, but all will soon become clear.

Internet Takes Over the Reporting of Parliament

Tom Watson has written a provocative article in the Independent on Sunday which, among other things, calls for the reform of the lobby system. He makes the very valid point that lobby journalists ignore most of what goes on in Parliament. Not a single national newspaper now has a page, or even half a page, reporting parliamentary proceedings. Watson writes...
I laughed in disbelief when told on my first day as an MP that "if you want to keep a secret, say it on the floor of the House of Commons". But other than for the most important front-bench speeches, it's true. Driven by the decreasing space allocated to Parliament in their papers, lobby journalists report only a fraction of Westminster discussions. Where, for example, can you read of recent debates on extreme solar events or addiction to prescription medicines? These and others were not reported because they were not the big story of the day – and all because a cartel of political editors convened over afternoon tea to decide that this was so.

Last month, Sri Lanka was the big story. This month, alas for the Tamils, it wasn't. So Siobhain McDonagh's debate on 12 June over the plight of 300,000 Tamil refugees was barely noticed.

The 238 pass-holding lobby journalists do not have an outlet for lesser stories, so they end up, pack-like, having to chase the same one or two stories each day.

Yet it is a stark reality of life in the internet age that parliamentary reporting no longer has to be constrained by column inches. The new Speaker should log on to see what is possible. See, for example, Ispystrangers.org. There you will read of discussions as wide-ranging as NHS provision in Cornwall and job losses on a missile range in South Uist.

But the great thing is that the internet is taking over the reporting of Parliament. Sites like ConHome, Dizzy Thinks and I Spy Strangers are now trawling through Hansard to find the stories which mainstream journalists don't seem interested in. They are far more deserving of lobby passes than many of the national newspaper hacks who have them.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Blair Pleaded for Private Iraq Inquiry

Tomorrow's Observer has the story that Tony Blair exerted pressure on Gordon Brown to hold the Iraq War Inquiry in private. Wonder why that would be, then.

Tories Open 17 Point Lead

John Rentoul has details of tomorrow's ComRes poll for the Independent on Sunday. The Tories are up one point on 39%, Labour is unchanged on 22 and the LibDems are down two points on 18%.

No doubt I will be discussing this with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown at 11.20 on the paper review on the BBC News Channel! I'm sure she will be as uplifted as I am!

How Can MPs Possibly Overclaim on Council Tax?

I've just been reading about the 50 MPs who have claimed too much council tax on expenses. Maybe I am being thick or naive, but how exactly is it possible to overclaim on council tax? Each March you get a bill from the council telling you exactly what the amount is, and how it can be divided into ten instalments. How is it then possible to claim a different amount?

Surely the Fees Office should have demanded a copy of the bill from the local council. Apparently not. You see, until this year receipts were not required for monthly claims of less than £250.

Sometimes it is possible to blame the system. But in this case, that's too easy an option. The fact of the matter is that 50 MPs were so lax in their own personal administration that they just couldn't be bothered to put in for the right amount.

The only saving grace, I suppose, is that it certainly won't happen again!

Labour MP Makes Arse of Himself: No 94 (Repeat)

This is a perfect example of an MP agreeing to do an interview when he shouldn't have gone within a million miles of a TV studio. Eric Joyce is a Labour MP. This week he appeared on Newsnight Scotland to talk about his parliamentary expenses. Watch as he digs himself deeper, and deeper, and deeper. The question is: what on earth did he think he was going to achieve by appearing on the programme in the first place. The real entertainment starts about five minutes in.

Slapping Down

A reader has alerted me to this clip of Sir Alan Haselhurst in action. Nothing like displaying the grip of firm speakership.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Why I've Bet £100 on Alan Haselhurst

The race to be next Speaker has not, it has to be said, yet caught fire. I'm doubting whether it will. Most of the comment so far has centred on the fact that John Bercow cannot command support across the House. And in my opinion that should rule him out. We have just seen the consequences of electing a Speaker whose abilities are called into question by half the House. Frank Field recognised that he couldn't continue because of this, and it is a shame John Bercow does not.

Parmjit Dhanda has fought a good campaign but no one seriously believes he will win. Sir Michael Lord is seen as too 'old guard' and Richard Shepherd is seen as too erratic.

It seems to me there are seven serious candidates - Margaret Beckett, John Bercow, Sir Patrick Cormack, Sir Alan Haselhurst, Sir George Young, Ann Widdecombe and Sir Alan Beith.

I'm not going to go into the pros and cons of all seven candidates. Most are obvious. And they all, have plus points. I'd love to see Sir Patrick Cormack in the Speaker's Chair. His love of Parliament is transparent.

I'd also love to see Ann Widdecombe don the wig. Back in March 2006 I wrote on the blog that I felt Ann Widdecombe would make a good Speaker. Indeed a poll on the blog showed that she had widespread support from blog readers. I wrote: "The Ann Widdecombe campaign for Speaker starts here!" Ann is a good friend of mine and I think she would make a fantastic speaker, but I think she suffers from two drawbacks. I have my doubts about her ability to garner support across the House and I just don't believe that an interim Speaker is a good idea. Superficially I can see why it might be, and if someone could guarantee there won't be an election until May 2010, that's one thing. But what's the point of electing a Speaker who could only be in office until October? Also, the last thing you should do in a new House of Commons, containing maybe 300 new MPs, is ask them to vote for a new Speaker when most of them won't have any knowledge of the likely candidates. So much as I deeply regret it - and she's a dear friend - if I had a vote, it would be going to another candidate.

For me, the outstanding candidate in virtually every respect is Sir Alan Haselhurst. Why? Firstly, he has proved he can do the job. When Michael Martin was ill for three months, Sir Alan stood in and received plaudits from all sides of the House for how he conducted the business of the House. He's fair but firm and doesn't suffer fools gladly. He has also shown in the hustings that he recognises the need for the role of Speaker to change. He wants to become an advocate for Parliament as well as lead a consensus for reform.

Six months ago, he would have been considered one of the favourites for the job. The fact that Labrokes are now quoting odds of 40/1 is a reflection of the fact that the media feel he has been damaged by the expenses scandal. Well, up to a point. But if he is damged, isn't Bercow (who had to repay CGT)? Isn't Beckett, over her gardening claims? Isn't Sir George Young? Why is Sir Alan being singled out?

I believe Sir Alan Haselhurst has a good chance of coming through the middle. It can be a very powerful position being most people's second choice. And from my soundings among MPs from all parties, that's the position he has. If he can negotiate the first few ballots and is still in the final four or five, he stands a very good chance of coming through the middle.

And that's why I have broken the habit of a lifetime and opened an account with Ladbrokes. I have put £100 on Sir Alan Haselhurst winning at odds of 40/1. I'm probably mad, and that bet will probably give him the kiss of death, but logic tells me that 40/1 are mad odds when you consider the system of 'knock out' voting which will take place on Monday.

UPDATE: It appears that since my bet, his odds have come down to 25/1.
UPDATE 8pm: His odds are now 16/1 with Ladbrokes!

Dinner & the Dock Labour Scheme

A few weeks ago I wrote about my part in the downfall of the Dock Labour Scheme, which the Thatcher government abolished in 1989. On July 6th, together with Nick Finney, my old boss at the British Ports Federation, I am helping to organise a dinner to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Royal Assent of the scheme's repeal. Norman Fowler, who was Employment Secretary at the time, will be the guest of honour. There will be a lot of old colleagues from the ports industry there too. If anyone would like to book a ticket for the dinner you can do so HERE.

Binley Gives the Telegraph a Piece of His Mind

Brian Binley, Tory MP for Northampton South has written a piece for the Cornerstone Group blog in which he takes aim at the Daily Telegraph and pulls the trigger with some panache. He is furious at the Telegraph's story about his living arrangements this week, and after reading his defence, I have to say i don't blame him. Read his story HERE.

Tweet of the Day

"I have one vote. I gave it to Moussavi.
I have one life. I will give it for Freedom."


In Conversation With Alan Duncan

In the new issue of TOTAL POLITICS I have an extended 'In Conversation' interview with Tory front bencher Alan Duncan. You can read it in full HERE. But here are a few extracts...

ID: What is it with you and Harriet Harman?

AD: On a personal level I really like her. We joke, we spar and we tease but I think it shows something important about Parliament. Just non-stop ding dong yahoo biffing and bashing across the dispatch box is not very good box office and people think 'just get real, get a life'... I've got far more out of her by introducing a bit of wit and not being ferocious than if I'd gone hammer and tongs. So although it is humorous it is also serious, and I think it's much more effective politics than just throwing grenades across the chamber.

You're naturally quite a combative politician and I suspect if it had been somebody else in that job you might have adopted a different approach.
Well I'm capable of being combative because I don't like just backing off, and I think in politics you should fight your corner. In that sense - and in many senses - I'm a misunderstood person in politics.
You said you were misunderstood, why did you say that?
Well we can come to that later [laughs]. I am always being caricatured as a short little terrier, but those that know me know that life isn't as simple as that.
But do you think sometimes people deliberately misunderstand you?
Of course.
And do the caricatures hurt sometimes?
Yes, they do actually. I am quite easily hurt but I'm quite good at not showing it. The trouble is that as soon as you start discussing it, people start saying 'pathetic little self-pitying wimp', which is not me either. Discussing one's inner feelings in politics is almost impossible because we live in a pretty malicious political climate and there's insufficient generosity of spirit to ever expect people to be understood. I'm sure Blair had feelings and felt that he was being ripped to bits all the time. That can't have been nice. I think it's better to be tough on people for their politics and their decisions and not their personality.
Do you feel you get far more thrown at you from your own side than you do from the opposition?
Maybe. I haven't seen it recently but maybe it's there. I suppose last January there was a lot flying around in the run up to the reshuffle, but why? If people want to have a go at me they can. I can't quite work out what their motivation might be, but that's up to them.
Do you think it's got to do with money?
I remember about 20 years ago, Peter Luff, who used to work for Peter Walker, said that the one thing Peter Walker regretted was that he got labelled rich before he ever really made any money. I really find it irksome to be labelled a multi-millionaire. I am not a multi multi-millionaire...
Just a multi...
...I suppose I am if I'm dead, but I can't just sign a cheque for a million quid or something. It's one of those modern labels where 50 years ago 'millionaire' was like billionaire today, and still newspapers just stick it in as a label. And yes, it creates resentment. I can't escape the label and compared to lots of politicians I'm nowhere near what they're worth. I certainly would have been if I'd stayed in the oil business, so you can imagine it gets up my nose that not only have I given up being super rich but I'm accused of being super rich when I'm not. It's one of those crosses one just has to bear in this game.
If you had your time all over again would you have still made the decision to go into politics?
If I was starting now, it really saddens me that I would probably recommend to a young professional that they should not do it.
The lack of reason, the vilification - it's almost impossible now in politics to retain one's self-esteem. I'm not just talking about the allowances and expenses issue, I'm talking about in general and from my own point of view. To quote someone I have met once or twice, "I'm not a quitter and I am seeing this through".
How well do you know Gordon Brown?
Gordon Brown's blown it. The man has completely busted the country, he has spent ten years spending other people's money as if there was no tomorrow and now is hitting us all in the gob and I am actually a very angry politician because of that. I think he's blown it and it's going to hurt people for generations. I think he has no leadership qualities whatsoever in the sense of those qualities that unite a country. He is the most divisive, antagonistic political figure I have ever encountered in my life. His only political motivation is to get one over the other side. He is incapable of any kind of general consensual action, and he is pathologically divisive. I think the same goes for Ed Balls. He's the little mini-me who has inherited all the qualities of the man whose boots he has licked for the last ten years or more.

He [Brown] is so tribal and so antagonistic he rarely engages any Conservative person in conversation. I used to bump into him in the street when he lived in his flat in Westminster every now and again. He only ever stopped in the street for a chat once and it was a begrudging few words as I was off to the laundry with all my shirts in a black bin liner. He said: "Oh, what's that? Your manifesto?"
You got a joke from Gordon Brown?
I thought, bugger me, he's got a sense of humour tucked away there somewhere; but it was said with a scowl. But that was it. I find him worryingly odd.
Why should the taxpayer fund your garden?
The outburst of fury is understandable and must be understood. We've reached the absurd and vulgar state of affairs in which a lot of people can't pay their basic bills and MPs look as though they are being paid in luxury items. Public opinion says: 'I don't care what the rules were. You should have applied a better moral code yourself.' I did. I refused to use expenses for TVs and cookers and things, and I declined ever to use the allowance to buy food. I didn't have to, but I insisted on giving receipts. That is why the Telegraph was able to say that what was pretty basic maintenance - which is what the allowance was designed for love it or hate it - was for pruning the roses which it wasn't. If you take Nick Clegg, wasn't it £800 on a rose garden, another £900 on his garden, £800 on curtains, and £1,400 on food? Where was the coverage for that? I don't think taxpayers' money should be used to pay an MP in things; you should just let an outside body decide what they should be paid and get rid of a lot of these allowances. MPs should not be deciding on their own pay and allowances. We are paying the price for prime ministers over the last 20 years not being able to stand up and accept the recommended pay rise and the whips hiding it under the carpet in this disguised allowance system. The world has changed and MPs should have seen this coming. I think I have set a very good example early on in this trouble by recognising the public outrage and getting out a cheque book and saying I don't care what the rules were, even if we were within the rules as all of us were, we are going to sign a cheque where it hurts to show we understand.
But some would say that's all very well for you because you can do that. There are other MPs who are in a very different financial position who are finding it incredibly difficult.
I know, it's a nightmare.
Do you feel that your own reputation has been besmirched by all of this?
Yes, and you have this standoff between politicians who are annoyed and upset that their reputation has been damaged when they don't think it should have been, and the public who say how dare you think you deserve any sort of reputation at all. This is a very corrosive period in British politics.
What would you say looking back on your career in politics so far, what do you think you have achieved?
My generation, the 1992 intake, has helped keep the party afloat through a very punishing decade. In terms of specific achievement, getting stuck into William Hague's leadership campaign and making that work was a very dramatic moment. We were working in the complete wreckage of the party after 18 years in government. There was no press apparatus to speak of in Central Office and I pretty much drove myself to the edge of a nervous breakdown for the six months after William became leader just trying to do the work of ten people in the press office. No one appreciates what was happening behind the scenes there. When I helped William get elected I didn't ask for a job on the Shadow Cabinet or anything like that, I just got on with the real nuts and bolts stuff in Central Office and tried to build up a press capability. But it was too much. The phone would start at six and finish at one in the morning. I just couldn't do it.
There are those who think he didn't treat you particularly well.
Well he had a lot on his plate. I didn't keep a diary or anything but I think I can look back on that and say if I hadn't flogged myself to bits for that year after the election I think a lot of the apparatus would have completely fallen to bits. There were some other players in there too, such as Charles Hendry - George Osborne was in William's office later. But in that period William kept the show on the road. He had some pretty horrid, torrid moments, but look where he is now. He's deeply respected, powerful, assured. The phrase I use is 'combat trained', as you have got to go through the mincer sometimes to come out as a strong politician and few people in Parliament are combat trained in that way.
How conscious are you of being a bit of a role model for gay people in politics?
It cuts both ways. I probably get about three or four letters a week quietly saying thank you. I have never been anyone who parades this and I regard it as something that ought to be matter of fact. But I do regularly get letters saying 'you have really made a difference to my life' and that's very heartening even though I don't like to go and jump up and down about it. In a way I would just rather be shot of the 'gay' label. I've done my bit. I hope it's helped, but the trouble is over the past few weeks exactly the opposite has happened. I've had letters that I know come for BNP-type people and some older people which are vicious. I know exactly what they are saying. You can read between the lines. There's a lot of hatred and nastiness tucked away beneath the surface and I think that actually political leadership had been very important on this and on racism and on other kinds of religious discriminations be it anti-Islamic or anti-Semitism. It's very important for political leadership to have consensual dominance of this issue so that it doesn't go wrong, but when there is an eruption such as we've seen recently, it becomes a pretext for some really nasty stuff. I can never un-derstand why, but people quite often want to have a go at me. It's probably one of the subliminal reasons why, but I have never complained. It's better not too.
I have always thought that this is the reason why that in some ways you have been held back in the Conservative Party and I think your reputation has been affected by this issue.
People accuse me of certain things which are not true because what they are really doing is getting at me because of that. Do I care? No, should I care? I don't know. I once joked with a friend that in politics you should never fall prey to jealously or self-pity. Sheer hatred on the other hand... [laughs]
You got civil partnered last July; do you regard yourself as married?
I don't use the word because, exactly as I said in the Civil Partnership Bill, we must respect the distinctive faith and belief of churchgoers and other religious believers who feel that the word 'marriage' is owned by them really, and that's fine by me. So although people use it as shorthand, I don't. It would be useful if we could find another word for it. But as I said in the debate these are two parallel lines - very similar, but distinctive. Parallel lines do not meet, yet nor do they collide, and we must respect the church in my view. There's room for both and no need for friction between the two.
Is being media friendly a double edge sword? Would you say your most recent experience on Have I Got News For You rebounded on you?
I try to be media friendly rather than a media tart, I'm not just rent-a-quote, I try to lift a discussion to more thoughtful territory...
Like shooting beauty queens?
We will come on to that in a second. One of the deepest frustrations of modern politics is where interviewers think 'how can I trip up a politician today' rather than get them to say what they think. I have been on Have I got News for you four times. Two were great, one was an absolute classic triumph with Brian Blessed and the fourth was a complete almighty disaster because when it was recorded no-one could have foreseen the fury that was about to burst. They recorded longer than ever before, over two hours, and I was knackered by the end of it and it was in the last five minutes that I goofed. I had faith in the editing and they edited it in instead of editing it out. Then of course all the blogs completely distort what happened and you get attacked for what was never said. I think it's a pretty sad world that doesn't any longer know how to distinguish between a comedy programme and really political comment.
But as a politician you aren't allowed to have a sense of humour are you?
We must be allowed to have a sense of humour, although I think there would have been a better occasion than that programme [laughs]. I admit it, it was a disaster but it's all in the editing.
You had a double whammy with making light of all the expenses stuff and murdering this beauty queen.
There's no point in going through this [laughs]. I did not say she should be murdered and, funnily enough, blog and media outrage can sometimes head up to the stratosphere and it doesn't actually bear that much relation to what most people in their daily life think.
I watched that and I thought you were pissed!
At the end I had a headache coming on.
No, at the beginning...
At the beginning, I hadn't had a drop; I'd been sat around the studio for two hours drinking water.
So you would do it again?
I doubt it [laughs].

Quick Fire

Jack Bauer or James Bond?
Definitely Bond

What makes you laugh?
Being interviewed by you [laughs]

What's on your iPod?
So much, but I am hopeless at remembering names, James Blunt and all that lot

Favourite meal?
Tagliatelle carbonara

Sarah Palin or Bree Van de Kamp?
Who's Bree Van de Kamp?
You know the one from Desperate Housewives
Oh God, anyone but Sarah Palin

Who's your favourite superhero?
Superman probably

Favourite Labour politician?
Alan Johnson

Most hated Labour politician?
Sorry Gordon, but you're it

Most formidable opponent?
In terms of me being up against them, it was Alan Millburn when I was shadow health spokesman

Thing you most like about Harriet Harman?
Her cheerful dippyness

Most romantic thing you have ever done?
It's a secret

Favourite comedian?
It's got to be Rory Bremner

You can read the full interview HERE.

Back From the Dead

OK, after a miserable 24 hours I am now feeling a bit better. Thanks to those of you who have emailed me to encourage me back to better health! And yes, I will be doing my radio show tonight as usual from 11-1pm on PlayRadioUK.

By the way, the Hansard Society Speaker Hustings will be televised in full, including the questions that were put to the candidates by MPs, at 9pm on Saturday June 20, on the BBC Parliament channel, available on Sky (Channel 504), Telewest (Channel 612), NTL (Channel 128/13) and Freeview (Channel 81). Just thought you'd like to know.

I will be blogging a bit later on the Speaker election and declaring who I would vote for. Have you already guessed?

Tune in Tonight at 11pm

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