Friday, July 31, 2009

The Daley Dozen: Friday

Tune in to 5 Live at midnight when I'll be with Stephen Nolan or 20 minutes reviewing the paper.

1. Tory Radio on how to save the High Street.
2. Roger Helmer MEP on the right to die debate.
3. Mark Pack tells us which blog he thinks is most underrated. Who's yours?
4. This Observer on the Gary McKinnon case.
5. Capitalists@Work asks what did the Olympics ever do for East London?
6. FT Westminster Blog has the revelation that David Cameron is not a fan of the West Wing.
7. Party Lines on Gary McKinnon case. John Owens analyses the "imbalance".
8. Shane Greer on dying with dignity (if you've got the cash).
9. Mr Eugenides has 101 uses for a dead pigeon.
10. Red Box reveals how the LibDems are leaking members at a faster rate than Labour.
11. Tim Montgomerie called Edward McMillan-Scott the left's useful idiot.
12. Prospect has a new website.

Parish Notice: When's the Radio Show Returning

I'm touched at how many of you seem to be missing my Friday Night Radio Show. I spoke to Tommy Boyd from Play Radio UK and he tells me that the new studios are still not going to be ready before September, so nothing will happen before then. The Play Talk station is being launched on October 6th.

So until then, my devoted listeners will have to find something else to do between 11pm and 1am of a Friday night.

Tonight, however, I'll be on the Stephen Nolan Show for 20 minutes from midnight. They're starting a new paper review feature and I'm apparently the guinea pig.

And finally, the Total Politics counting agents tell me that votes have been flooding in today in the Blog poll, which closes at midnight. If you still haven't voted you've got only a few hours to email your Top Ten Blogs (ranked from 1-10) to

Bob Ainsworth: Up to the Job?

This is a quote from Bob Ainsworth from an interview with the Telegraph...

"I have strengths and I have weaknesses. I don't pretend to be able to write a great thesis or doctorate - I have no pretensions in that direction...But I'll tell you what I do have. I have a good feel for ordinary people, for politics, and those are my strengths." He added: "I don't try to pretend I am cleverer than a general or the Chief of Defence Staff but I can bring something else, a knowledge and understanding of Parliament and of civilian life."

So, we now have a Defence Secretary who believes the main strengths he has for the job overseeing our armed forces at a time of war are a good feel for ordinary people and and understanding of civilian life! Heaven help us. I never thought anyone could make Des Browne look good.

I am sure our service personnel in Afghanistan are sleeping in their beds a lot easier tonight.

Boulton v Richards: Seconds Out...

I'd love to know what Steve Richards has done to Adam Boulton to provoke THIS lambasting from the Sky News Political Editor. Adam quite rightly lays into him for his outmodish views on the desirability of leaders' debates during election periods, but he goes way beyond the normal boundaries of journalist to journalist discourse. He sarcastically calls Steve "man of the people", and "snobby". Excellent. More please! I wonder if Steve Richards will respond to this onslaught...

Labour Donations Mask the Real Figures

It seems that the Labour Party have the same approach to their own balance sheet as Gordon Brown has to the nation's finances. The papers have reported this morning that in 2008 they raised more money than the Tories. Er, not so. They only got to the figure of £34 million by reshaping their balance sheet to make it look better than it really is. £4.6 million of the £34 million was a VAT rebate. A further £2 million was a loan converted into a donation by Lord Sainsbury. When you take into account the amount of money they receive from the unions, the figures don't look quite so healthy. Indeed, it seems J K Rowling was their biggest donor in 2008.

Britain's Debt Positions Worsens

The IMF has today released figures comparing the budget deficits of the G20 nations. Guess who has the biggest? Got it in one. Our budget deficit will reach 13.3% of GDP in 2010. Our national debt is growing proportionately faster than other countries, too.

Can it be much longer before our credit ratings are downgraded? That's when a drama really does become a crisis. George Osborne has just issued a statement which ends: "Gordon Brown's denial of the truth about the debt crisis and the need to cut spending whoever wins the election is doing serious economic damage to Britain's recovery.” He's right.

Cameron: We Must Review the US Extradition Act

This morning the courts rejected Gary McKinnon's appeal against extradition to the US. Legally, I suspect the courts had little choice, but that doesn't make it right. David Cameron has just issued this statement.
I am deeply saddened and disappointed with this decision. Gary McKinnon is a vulnerable young man and I see no compassion in sending him thousands of miles away from his home and loved ones to face trial. If he has questions to answer, there is a clear argument to be made that he should answer them in a British court. This case raises serious questions about the workings of the Extradition Act, which should be reviewed.

That won't win him many friends in Washington, but it's the right thing to do. This extradition act is a one way deal and is not reciprocal. It should never have been signed by the British Government, and I hope David Cameron will renegotiate it.

Reminder: Voting Closes at Midnight Tonight

Click here to vote in the Total Politics Best Blogs Poll 2009

You only have until midnight tonight to send your votes in for the 2009 Blog Poll.

Email your ten favourite blogs (ranked from 1-10) to

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Bobby Robson - A Giant Among Men

In a game of duplicity and dishonesty Bobby Robson stood out like a beacon. He was a true gentleman and one of the few people in football of whom no one could say a bad word. His achievements at Ipswich Town were legendary, and although he was attacked for his record as England manager, few football fans will ever forget the achievements of his team in 1990. The England v Germany semi final was a game that most of us will always list in our top five most memorable games of all time. I was an insurance reporter for Lloyd's List, covering a brokers conference in Nottingham. I remember sitting in a room with about 800 insurance brokers watching the game, and when Gazza broke down in tears so did we. Bobby Robson was about the only person to keep his cool.

His fight against cancer lasted a very long time. He couldn't quite believe he survived for as long as he did.

It really is true to say there will never be another Bobby Robson. He was a giant among footballing men.

PS Yes, this is a politics blog, but Bobby Robson was a much loved national figure, so please don't bother leaving a comment complaining about this post, because it won't be let through.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Daley Dozen: Thursday

1. Party Political Animal calls on politicians to be brave about drugs policy.
2. English Eclectic explains his joy at the Debbie Purdy judgement today.
3. Stephen Tall asks: where next for Lembit?
4. Kerry McCarthy MP identifies a sticky, sleazy issue relating to theft and chocolate.
5. Richard Willis reports on two LibDems in trouble - one for racism, another for smearing.
6. Politics Cymru reports that Plaid Cymru are in the money.
7. Donal Blaney on the launch of the campaign.
8. Letters From a Tory reckons the left should be ashamed.
9. Charlie Beckett reviews the Myth of Digital Democracy.
10. Tom Harris quashes the PM for PM story. It's the silly season, he says.
11. Charles Crawford on some diplomatic ghastly moments.
12. Charlotte Gore lists her Top Ten Political Blogging Tips.

And click HERE to read the Total Politics blog interview with Theresa May.

The Iraq Inquiry: Nothing But The Truth?

The main point of the Iraq Inquiry is to establish whether the invasion was both justified and legal. On that basis I see absolutely no problem with Tony Blair and other witnesses giving their evidence in pubic, live on television. William Hague has questioned whether Blair will in fact be giving all his evidence in public.
According to Sir John [Chilcott], sessions will be held in private not just when national security is concerned but also when there is a need for candour. This is a worrying new caveat.
Indeed it is. No one would expect a former Prime Minister to reveal details relevant to national security in public, but equally some of us felt that at the time the former Prime Minister publicly misled the entire country about the national security reasons for going to war.

The caveat about candour should concern anyone. This may not be a court of law, but Sir John is entitled for witnesses to treat it as if it were. We need the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Meeting in private should not be a prerequisite for persuading witnesses to tell it.

Pounding the Depths

There's little more hilarious than the British media howling in self righteous indignation. And that's what they're doing this morning, as David Cameron's twitter comments transform themselves into 'Twatgate'.

But when Stephen Pound is rolled out to comment you just know that depths are being plumbed. Mr Pound is often given to the odd bit of fruity language himself, yet he sees fit to slag off David Cameron. Funny that. Pound's emergence is a sure sign that the story has no legs.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

In Praise of Nick Robinson

Perhaps I am guilty of criticising the BBC too often on this blog. Many of my friends who work at the BBC certainly think so, so let me redress the balance a little.

Whoever had the bright idea of getting Nick Robinson to present Newsnight this week deserves a promotion. He looked and sounded as if he had been doing it for years. If ever a man was comfortable in his work, he was it. He interviewed people well, chaired discussions without imposing himself too much and did exactly what a presenter should do - enable the audience to gain a good understanding of an issue without himself becoming part of the story. And he felt comfortable in using a bit of humour, without it ever looking like an excuse to dumb down a story.

I don't know how long Nick intends continuing as political editor. But whenever he decides to hang up his hat in the lobby, Newsnight should do their darndest to recruit him as one of their main presenters.

The Daley Dozen: Wednesday

1. Tory Politico is annoyed the Tory Press Office won't send him press releases.
2. Norfolk Blogger on Independent ego trips. Who can he be referring to?
3. Alex Massie reckons it's advantage Brown in the debate stakes.
4. James Manning on the MoD's legal case to cut soldiers' compensation.
5. Lesley Riddoch explains why she won't be heard on Radio Scotland any longer.
6. Jonathan Sheppard is the new Michael Fish.
7. Comment Central on the latest twatterings from Westminster.
8. says the PM for PM campaign starts here.
9. Tom Harris explains why he is proud to be an MP.
10. Events Dear Boy likes Nick Robinson on Newsnight.
11. PoliticalBetting asks if UKIP is getting a free ride.
12. Tim Montgomerie on why newspaper editorial lines matter.

Mandy Opens the Door to Brown-Cameron TV Debate

Just a few short months ago, Gordon Brown made it clear it would be a dark day in hell before he agreed to a televised debate in the election campaign with David Cameron. But this morning Peter Mandelson has said on Sky News that he would be in favour of such a debate. One must presume that he had cleared this with the Prime Minister beforehand, otherwise one can imagine a few Nokias being thrown at the PM's holiday home this afternoon.

Whatever the reason, it's a welcome change of mind. As Cameron has said, the British people deserve to see the two of them up close and personal during an election campaign. It's not being presidential, it's just the way our politics are done nowadays. I suspect such a debate would get a massive audience and would hopefully really catch the imagination.

Many commentators automatically assume that Cameron would walk such a debate. Don't be so hasty. They are risky things, as I well remember from the leadership contest. In the Question Time debate, David Davis was a clear winner, and the others were draws. Nothing should be taken for granted, as Brown is likely to come out fighting.

Bring it on!

UPDATE: According to The Times, Gordon Brown has firmly shut the door and slapped down our very dear First Secretary of State. Does Mandelson feel so powerful now that he feels he can just freelance on issues like this without even having discussed it with the man formerly known as the Prime Minister?

UPDATE 6pm: David Cameron has written to Gordon Brown...

I am writing to ask you to clarify the Government’s position on the issue of a television debate between the leaders of the main political parties.

Five months ago, when I challenged you at Prime Minister’s Questions to a televised studio debate, you refused. This morning, Lord Mandelson said you were open to the idea. But within an hour, a Downing Street spokesperson back-tracked, saying this was not the case.

The Government seems to have a number of positions on this. I’ve only ever had one: a prime time televised debate is just what our political system needs.

It would help to energise our democratic process, engage the electorate and restore trust in politics. Democracies across the world – from Australia to America to Brazil to Indonesia – have benefited from the invigorating effects of these debates. Even in Iran a series of television debates was held during the recent election campaign.

Your previous objection was that a televised debate was unnecessary as the issues were aired each week in parliament. But Prime Minister’s Questions simply cannot compete with the accessibility of a primetime studio debate. I want the chance to set out the choice at the next election to many more people than those who watch on a Wednesday lunchtime.

For these reasons I hope you will today make clear your position on this crucial issue.

The BlogPost I Daren't Write a Headline For

Sky's Niall Paterson reports on an interview David Cameron gave to Christian O'Connell this morning (odd, though he was on holiday in France) on Absolute Radio (never heard of it).

O'Connell asked him why he wasn't on Twitter.
It's too instantaneous... Too many twits might make a twat".
A good line, although no doubt he will be criticised by those of a 'cloyingly sanctimonious' (copyright Tristan Hunt*) disposition for using the word 'twat'. However, it is now a word which has become almost synonymous with 'twit'. I suspect most people don't even know its proper meaning. Let's just wait for the howls of outrage. It is the silly season, after all.

Maybe Twitter newbie Henry Macrory will twitter about it. Henry is Cameron's Head of Press! If I were him I'd tweet "Dave says's Dale's a twat". That won't be news to anyone...

PS If I had written a headline for this blogpost I suspect I'd have proved David Cameron's point! That should, of course, not inhibit my blogreaders from having a go.

UPDATE: You can listen to the Cameron interview HERE. The Conservatives have just tweeted it, so they're clearly unfussed by the remarks.

* In a recent article the leftie historian called me 'cloyingly sanctimonious'. From him, I take it as a compliment.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Robinson Bests Peter Mandelson on Newsnight

I much enjoyed Newsnight tonight. The clash between Nick Robinson and Peter Mandelson was a joy to behold. Mandelson just about kept his calm, but I have rarely seen Nick Robinson be so aggressive in his questioning. But aggressive in a good way. He didn't constantly interrupt Mandelson, but kept giving him rope to hang himself. Mandelson didn't quite do so, but at times you could tell he was a tad rattled.

And the final question will be pored over in minute detail by all Westminster watchers. Nick Robinson dangled a carrot in front of Mandelson and he just couldn't resist devouring it. Asked if he might become Prime Minister Peter Mandelson said that might be one comeback too far. But he certainly didn't deny he had thought about. Watch it on the iPlayer.

I hope to be interviewing Mr Mandelson myself in the not too distant future. It is safe to say I am looking forward to it!

The Daley Dozen: Tuesday

1. Danny Finkelstein is playing a "One of my classmates" game. I can't play cos I ain't go no famous classmates.
2. Shane Greer's life hasn't been fair. But he's dealt with it.
3. Nadine sucks custard. Nearly.
4. FT Westminster blog on the latest spat between MPs and the Telegraph.
5. PJC Journal on the Norwich North lessons for the Libertarian Party.
6. Andrew Mitchell reports on his meeting with the Rwandan President.
7. LibDem Voice on some changes in electoral law.
8. Craig Murray relates a truly worrying encounter with a bailiff.
9. Pickled Politics predicts Shami Chakrabarti will take over from Trevor Phillips.
10. Biteback Publishing is advertising for an intern.
11. J Arthur MacNumpty asks: whither bloggery?
12. Longrider on blogs, blogging and the MSM.

Why Didn't Bob Ainsworth Just Say No?

The court case today involving the MoD in an attempt to reduce compensation payments to injured soldiers could not have been more ill timed. The contrast with the pictures of four coffins arriving back from Afghanistan could not be starker.

But this was a misfortune of the government's own making and could so easily have been avoided if any of the Defence Ministers involved had had any political nouse or influence. When their civil servants came to them with proposals for the case, all it would have taken was for Kevan Jones or Bob Ainsworth to say no, and send them away with their tales between their legs. And that would have been an end to it.

To be fair to Labour, they have raised compensation payments to injured servicepeople to a considerable degree. But this saga has undone all the political kudos which had been won in previous years. As Norfolk Blogger writes, this is something that won't go down at all well with Labour's core vote, as well as the rest of us.

But that's what you get when you appoint a Defence Secretary with no political clout. Mr Ainsworth has gone away on holiday for two weeks. The question is: will anyone notice?

Finders Sheepers ... Or Not

Yesterday, I wrote about 15 sheep which had suddenly turned up at our home on Sunday afternoon. My partner didn't want me to mention it here. I said that maybe putting it on the blog might help identify their rightful owners. "Yeah, right," he said. "I doubt whether many of your readers live in Pembury."

This morning one of my blogreaders (thank you Ewan) emailed me to say they might belong to his uncle. We've finally tracked him down, and sure enough they do. He had been looking for them since Friday. Blogpower works, you see!

The Tunbridge Wells Courier have also been on and want to come round for "the story". I have half expected to get BBC South East News on the phone. It's just the kind of story they lead their news bulletins with nowadays. Well, it is the silly season...

Bookies Predict Rantzen Won't Make It To Luton Poll

Ha! Ladbrokes are quoting me 4/6 odds on that Esther Rantzen will pull out before nominations close for Luton South. That means they think this is more likely than a Rantzen win. Wise people, these bookies.

One thing which occurred to me. I wonder if she realises that in the unlikely event that she wins, all her outside earnings will have to be declared, along with the hours she spends on them.

I am also sure that she will demonstrate her commitment to the good burghers of Luton by moving there as soon as practicable. It's a bit of a commute from Hampstead, after all. Although to be fair, Margaret Moran managed it from Southampton :).

Esther's Ego Lands in Luton

To be honest I am astonished that La Rantzen has decided to stand in Luton South. Either she has got friends who have given her very bad advice or her ego is bigger than we all thought. Whatever her motivation, I just can't understand the point of it. What point is she trying to make? Margaret Moran is standing down. She's gone. History. If Esther really wanted to get her teeth into someone, why not pick on someone who has done wrong but is still in situ.

It's difficult to judge what effect her candidacy will have. Ladbrokes have shortened her odds to 4/1 but still make the Conservatives odds on favourites at 4/7. Conservative candidate Nigel Huddlestone has issued a 'through gritted teeth statement', as well he might. He warns that she could let Labour in through the back door.

Hopefully the people of Luton will be more sensible, although my head tells me that come the day, there won't be a candidate called Rantzen on the ballot paper. I might ring Ladbrokes and see what odds they will quote me on her pulling out before the close of nominations....

New Political Book Publishing Company Launched by Total Politics

Here's a self explanatory press release we're sending out today. We think it will fill a big gap that has been left in the world of political publishing. So few people are publishing political books nowadays. Big publishers will only publish a book if they think it will sell at least 10,000 copies, while smaller and medium sized publishers have been gobbled up by bigger ones. So as a consequence, the kind of books I used to publish at Politico's are not being published any longer.

So if you think you have a book in you, you know who to pitch it to! We're going to be strictly non partisan in our approach, as you will see by the list of books we have already signed up.


A major new political & current affairs publisher was formed this week, when Biteback Publishing launched itself into the book publishing market with three new imprints - Total Politics, Dialogue and Biteback. Biteback Publishing is 85% owned by Biteback Media, the publisher of the monthly glossy political magazine, Total Politics.

Biteback founders Iain Dale and John Simmons have been joined by John Schwartz, MD of leading political design agency SoapBox and Sean Magee - described by the Guardian as ‘a London publishing institution’ - as minority shareholders. Both worked with Dale & Simmons at Politico's Publishing, which they sold to Methuen in 2003. Schwartz has worked for the left leaning IPPR and is a former editor of Labour History magazine. Magee has had a distinguished career in current affairs publishing and has published best selling books by Michael Foot, Peter Riddell, Peter Hennessy, Brian Brivati, Geoffrey Goodman, Nicholas Jones and many others.

Also joining them as a shareholder and commissioning editor will be Michael Smith, author of several bestselling books (Foley, The Spying Game etc) on the intelligence services and award winning defence editor of the Sunday Times.

Sean Magee will act as chief commissioning editor and is joined on the staff by former Politico's editor Jonathan Wadman and former Methuen Sales & Marketing Manager James Stephens. The company will operate from Biteback Media's new Kennington offices.

An advisory board has been established to monitor the work of and advise all three Biteback imprints.

• Professor Peter Hennessy (Queen Mary & Westfield College, University of London), Britain’s most prominent contemporary historian
• Peter Riddell, nfluential political commentator for The Times
• Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, controversial columnist for The Independent
• Professor Philip Cowley (University of Nottingham), leading political analyst
• Professor Bruce Hoffman (Georgetown University, Washington DC), international terrorism expert
• Professor John A. Hall (McGill University, Montreal), eminent professor of comparative history

Biteback Publishing intends to publish between 30 and 40 books annually throughout the three imprints. Biteback will publish general current affairs titles, including biography, humour and political fiction. Dialogue will concentrate on contemporary history and current affairs with a strong international flavour, while the Total Politics imprint will be concerned with specialist political and reference titles.

Iain Dale, Biteback's Managing Director comments...

"This is an exciting new venture. There is a huge gap in the current affairs publishing market which needs filling. At a time when interest in politics is growing, few publishers seem to be publishing political titles. Sales of non-fiction books are holding up despite the recession. No business can claim to be recession-proof, but interest in current affairs, economics, and political history is likely to increase in an economic downturn."

The first titles will appear in September and include the following...


Trust: How we Lost It & How to Get It Back by Anthony Seldon
Screwing Up by Mark Oaten MP
The Yes Minister Miscellany by Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn
Kinnock: A Biography by Martin Westlake
How to Create a Successful School by Francis Beckett
Effective Political Speechmaking by John Shosky


Seeking Gadaffi (a biography of Colonel Gadaffi) by Dabiel Kawzcynski MP
Inside the Pakistan Army by Carey Schofield
Dilly: The Man Who broke Enigma by Mavis Batey
Six: 100 Years of the Secret Intelligence Service by Michael Smith
Delane's War - Tim Coates

The Total Politics Guide to the General Election edited by Greg Callus
The Art of Consultation by Rhion Jones & Elizabeth Gammell
Blueprint: Inside the Next Conservative Government by Lionel Zetter
How to be a Politician edited by Shane Greer
Rise & Fall of the Dock Labour Scheme by John Dempster
Total Politics Guide to Political Blogging 2009-10
British Electoral Facts 1832-2006 edited by Colin Rallings & Michael Thrasher

Compass DSL will handle trade sales for Biteback and Abingdon based Marston books will handle distribution. A website and catalogue will be published in early September.

Further information from

Newspaper Publishes Expenses Story (Seven Months Late)

Dizzy's story HERE illustrates perfectly the reason why if you want to know what goes on in parliament you're often better off reading his blog than a national newspaper. The Telegraph has trumpeted the fact that greedy, thieving MPs have just awarded themselves a new allowance of £9k a year. Except that they haven't. It was done in January, way before the expenses scandal took off.

The BBC has fallen in line and reported the Telegraph story as gospel. The fact of the matter is it was decided on in January and was in the March edition of the Green Book. It's still a story, but at least four - if not seven - months late.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Has Anyone Lost Fifteen Sheep?

This is going to be one of my stranger blogposts. Yesterday evening someone came to our door and said: "Did you know 15 sheep have just walked into your field?" And sure enough, there they were. Fifteen woolly beasts. And twenty four hours later we have still been unable to work out where they came from and who they belong to. We've locked them into the field, and given them water. We've reported it to the Police (I don't want to be known as a sheep rustler, or indeed a sheep anything else!) but frankly, what can they do? No one has reported them missing.

So the point of this post is to ask this. Does anyone know of any missing sheep in the Pembury area of Tunbridge Wells? I've asked stranger things before on this blog and got an answer!

The thing is, what if no one claims them? What do we do then? Roast them?

The Daley Dozen: Monday

1. Total Politics is looking for two interns.
2. Tory Rascal doesn't think we should be talking to the Taleban.
3. Dan Wilson reflects on a Green by election success in Brighton.
4. Party Political Animal explains why Norwich North was bad news for everyone.
5. Amol Rajan wants me to come off the fence on legalising drugs.
6. Donal Blaney on the airline that hates its passengers.
7. Shane Greer wants to kill himself (well, he has me as a boss...).
8. You'd think a LibDem blogger would like the weather to be orange, wouldn't you?
9. Danny Finkelstein won't be taking betting advice from Mike Smithson.
10. Nadine fingers Pat McFadden as the ultimate man in a grey suit.
11. Nick Wallis bids farewell to Five News.
12. Alistair Burt MP reports on football training in Rwanda.

Do We Want David Davis To Be a Nodding Dog?

James Forsyth has written this morning about the "David Davis problem". He thinks the Tory leadership needs to give him something to do. His article was sparked by Davis's piece in this morning's Times which calls into question the approach of contracting out the maintenance of health records to companies like Google. Forsyth views this as "unhelpful" to the Cameron leadership and lists it as the latest in a line of sallies by the former Shadow Home Secretary, which appear to demonstrate a willingness to fall off the tightrope of outright slavish loyalty. Well, up to a point.

There have been three occasions when Davis has written articles which have tried to kickstart a debate - on the future of Trident, and the need to cut public spending, and our role in Afghanistan. In all three cases he was successful. On Trident, he questioned the need for a full upgrade. Liam Fox might not have approved but many others around the leadership of the party did. And on public spending he was the first to suggest that this would be the main issue of the next election. He was criticised for raising the issue at the time, but he has been proven right. Similarly, after a trip last autumn to Afghanistan he raised a number of the issues which have since become common currency, and questioned the basis of our mission there.

A few weeks ago he wrote an article on the need to retain grammar schools. Last time I looked, that was actually Conservative Party policy. Admittedly he went on to say they should be expanded, which is patently not party policy.

This raises the whole question of what being a backbench Member of Parliament is for. Do we want a parliament full of nodding dogs? Surely not. What we want is for senior politicians to feel able to try to lead a debate on particular issues. If when Davis writes an article it is now only viewed through the prism of whether he is trying to cause trouble, it says something about the level of political debate in this country.

The trouble is that the media only ever report anything a senior politician says if it could in some way be interpreted as an attack on their party's leadership. Alan Milburn and Charles Clarke would no doubt agree. I am not saying that they are always wrong in this. All I am saying is that it is wrong to interpret everything a politician says in this way. It's called judgement.

But it is not only the media who have to judge when a politician is speaking with conviction or whether he's out to cause trouble. Politicians must exercise judgement too - they must judge when it is right to speak out and when it is best to shut up. No one easily forgives a politician who gratuitously rocks the boat in the nine months before an election. But a politician who has something meaningful to say but feels inhibited from doing so because of possible accusations of disloyalty may well not be able to forgive himself.

No one said being a politician was meant to be easy.

Why The Left Have Got It In For Trevor Phillips

It's not often I'd defend the head of the Equalities & Human Rights Commission, but that's what I found myself doing on Saturday night while doing the paper review with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. She launched into a full scale attack of Trevor Phillips and accused him of playing the race card (I just about stopped myself laughing) as he defended his stewardship of the Commission. She also reckoned he is a closet Tory. She has launched a vicious attack on him in this morning's Independent.

Several of the EHRC commissioners have resigned over the last few weeks, along with the chief executive and communications director, Kamal Ahmed. Listening to Ben Summerskill (of Stonewall) explaining his resignation led me to believe that there was more to this than met they eye. He reckoned Trevor Phillips was 'not up to the job'. Funny how it had taken him three years to come to that conclusion.

It seems to me, looking in from the outside that there are three issues here.

Firstly, there are many people in the equalities industry (and that is what it has become) who don't think Trevor Phillips is sufficiently left wing enough. His criticism of multiculturalism has gone down like a cup of cold sick.

Secondly, the bringing together of the various vested interests into one body has not been easy. The gay lobby thinks Phillips doesn't pay it sufficient attention. Nor does the race lobby. Or the women's lobby. And so it goes on. Phillips has to manage all those vested interests. They have always been sceptical of him since making it clear before he took on the job that he was sceptical about the viability of a single body covering the whole gamut of equality and human rights issues.

That leads on to the third issue, which is his management style. Quango chief executives are normally consensus builders. They operate by the law of the common denominator. Phillips doesn't. he leads from the front and expects people to row in behind him. The various commissioners seem to have had some difficulty doing that. In their own bodies, they are used to getting their own way and have found it difficult to adjust.

Perhaps this is the ideal time for the Conservatives to review the whole issue of whether to retain the EHRC. It employs a massive 500 people and costs £70 million a year to run. In effect it has become a super-lobbying organisation.

UPDATE: Ben Summerskill has just sent me this...

Iain, you’re certainly right on one thing. A new Conservative government should look very carefully indeed at how much the EHRC is costing taxpayers. And as a body spending public money it should justify that cost. At Stonewall our income has gone up 150% in the last five years, much of that from companies across the private sector. They expect us to be able to justify every pound they spend with us on advice or research.

But where you should calm down, if I may, is over the idea that somehow criticism of Trevor Phillips is a loony-left conspiracy. I agree with him about a lot of things. However one core function of a non-executive director, whether of a public body or a public company, needs to be to say something if the person in charge isn’t delivering. Ministers in a new government will also be perfectly entitled to ask why no one blew the whistle if public money wasn’t being managed properly. Yours. Ben

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Daley Dozen: Sunday

1. Dan Hannan wonders what he should say to Nick Griffin.
2. Tory Politico thinks the New Stateman is ignoring reality.
3. Anna Raccoon on the consequences of Sarkozy's clenched buttocks.
4. A Lanson Boy thinks the Greens are all mouth and no trousers.
5. Lord Toby Harris wonders if the MoD has lost the plot.
6. Cranmer on the church that doesn't do God.
7. Tom Harris on being a new boy.
8. Labour MP Kerry McCarthy can't quite believe a former CND campaigner has joined he Tories. Me neither, frankly.
9. Norfolk Blogger on the denigration of youth and women in politics.
10. wonders what has happened to the famous LibDem byelection machine.
11. Quaequam on the trouble with Rennardism.
12. David Smith on why VAT must go up to 20%.

Could It Be 1915 Again?

A reader has contacted me with an interesting historical analogy. He wonders if the current political argument over helicopters in Afghanistan is in any way similar to the Shell Scandal of 1915 which led to a change of Prime Minister.

A quick question prompted by the latest revelation (see link below) - do you think the emerging realisation that our troops have been woefully under-equipped could become the 'shells scandal' of our age? In 1915 it came from no-where, quickly gathered public anger, forced ministers to defend what was increasingly indefensible and ultimately led to the collapse of the Liberal Government.

Perhaps we are too close to the next General Election for this to make much difference but I think the similarities between now and 1915 at least make for an interesting conversation.

My knowledge of that period of history is not good enough to make an relevant comment, but I am sure my readers are better informed.

MacKinlay Explains His Decision
interviewed Andrew MacKinlay yesterday about his decision to stand down. It's worth a watch, particularly when he talks about his frustration with parliamentary politics, the McKinnon case and Damian Green.

At the end he expresses the hope that Thurrock Labour Party will be able to choose his successor in an open way. Sadly that won't be the case. The Labour Party hasn't yet held an Open Primary, and the probability is that they will be presented with an all women shortlist to choose from..

Herbert Launches New Countryside Website

Tory DEFRA Spokesman Nick Herbert has just launched a rather good new campaigning website called Future Countryside. Isn't this the sort of thing every shadow team should be doing?

Nick explains the initiative HERE.

Craig Murray Didn't Deserve Coverage, But UKIP Did

Craig Murray has been whinging in the Mail on Sunday again. "S'not fair," he whines. "The media wouldn't give me any coverage." Perhaps if he had done anything worth reporting, he might have got some media space, but the fact is that the "honest man's" sole noteworthy contribution to the campaign was to put out a virtually libellous leaflet about Chloe Smith. Desperate men... It's rather odd as Mr Murray's entire reputation, such as it is, is built on playing the media for all he's worth.

Whatever I might think of Mr Murray (and I try not to), the media did indeed get the coverage of the candidates from the big parties very wrong. As Nich Starling pointed out yesterday, the BBC in particular gave massive coverage to the Greens, yet managed to completely ignore UKIP. In the event UKIP's vote was substantially higher than Rupert Read's. The Green record in Norwich is what led the BBC to go down that road, but many of us pointed out that their support was largely confined to wards in Norwich South rather than Norwich North.

I do think that the BBC needs to re-evaluate its policy towards UKIP. It has tended them to pigeonhole them along with the BNP in the "too difficult" tray. I understand why, but when they can nearly beat the LibDems in a by-election, perhaps they need to be treated more fairly. I say this not as a supporter of UKIP, but as someone who has come to believe that national broadcasters (and I include ITN and Sky in this) have made very little effort to understand why UKIP is gaining such levels of support or indeed where that support is coming from.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Daley Dozen: Saturday

1. Liberal Burblings offers some thoughts on the state of the LibDem blogosphere.
2. Chris Whiteside remembers Harry Patch.
3. Charlotte Gore has thoughts on why the Libertarian Party failed in Norwich (36 votes).
4. Norfolk Blogger awards his by election prizes.
5. Liberal Bureaucracy brings news of a LibDem MP standing down.
6. Devil's Kitchen puts the case for legalising drugs.
7. Tom Greeves defends youth politics.
8. Douglas Carswell takes on the BBC for its report on Tory open primaries.
9. Luke Akehurst on Labour's Norwich disaster.
10. Sharpe's Opinion is long live campaigning!
11. Sky's Niall Paterson on the aftermatch of Norwich North.
12. Major Plonquer lists ten reasons why Gordon Brown is no Winston Churchill.

Why the Media Doesn't 'Get' Elections

Nich Starling, the LibDem leaning Norfolk Blogger, has written an excellent article on why the press don't seem to be able to understand elections. It's well worth a read. Here's an excerpt...

Perhaps the most hard done by party in this election was UKIP. BBC East should hang their heads in shame for doing a head to head debate amongst (as they called it) the four main candidates, excluding UKIP, despite UKIP polling far more votes across Norfolk in the Euro elections that the Green party. The fact that UKIP came in 4th place, well ahead of the Greens and not far behind the Lib Dems speaks volumes about the way the press sought to get the result they wanted and not the real result. The press had their mind set on a Green breakthrough despite the fact that the Greens had no real campaign at all. The only things the Greens actually did in the campaign was to launch a campaign pledge (which all the signatories broke), which the Lib Dems refused to sign simply because it was a meaningless pledge. But oh how the press loved this pledge. Why ? Because it allowed them to indulge their obsession with the Green Party.

It's not just the BBC though. Last week Rod Liddle made himself look like a prize tit by devoting a whole article in praise of the Green surge and breakthrough in Norwich North. Other newspapers too had fallen for this guff. I spoke to a Sky News producer yesterday at the count who was asking me how close the it was between the Greens and Labour. She was shocked when I told her the Greens were 5th. "Poor Rupert" the Sky News producer replied. "You've fallen for it too", I replied, and she had. The press had bought their own lie.

Witness early reports on Sky News yesterday which were effectively saying from the count that they expected a Tory majority of 2000 because of the impressive showing of UKIP and the Greens. I saw the BBC journalist listening and scribbling notes. I said to her, without giving anything away "Take what they are saying with a pinch of salt".

I was chatting to a Tory MP at the count yesterday and he told me that the press asked for a statement from him on something recently. He said the thing they were reporting was untrue, and he told them that in no uncertain words. He repeated that he knew it to be a lie, and the press' response was "We're reporting it anyway". So what is the point ?

It is little wonder that political blogs are now becoming preeminent when it comes to find out real political news. Not only do most political bloggers really understand politics, and by this I don't just mean policy, but I mean elections, campaigns and strategy. But they also know what is bullshit and what is genuine. Whilst people might resent Iain Dale's Tory bias, at least we know his political leanings and you can cut through the bits you don't like to get to the key elements of truth within what he writes.

I am no great fan of Guido Fawkes self congratulatory style and his obsession with being Guido rather than Paul Staines, but he does the sort of journalism that political journalists today simply cannot be bothered to do. No wonder they resent him so much. He puts so many of them to shame.

Similarly you may not like my bias, and I have been called an attack dog by some people whose views I don't greatly respect, but I think those reading this blog would have got a far greater insight in to what is happening in Norwich North than you ever would have from reading The Guardian or watching and listening to the BBC (or Sky), which is a shame as they are my TV channel and paper of choice. The other advantage of a blog is that you can send a comment to the blogger and get a response. Try doing this with the BBC. I wrote days ago about their debate and I have still not had a response...

Ultimately though the problem with the reporting of politics is that political journalists do not understand anything that happens outside of Westminster and the old style political "lobby" journalists don't understand elections.

Read the whole article HERE. While I am at it, let me congratulate Nich Starling for his coverage of the Norwich North by election. I know for a fact that he was a daily port of call for most activists involved in the campaign, and many journalists. Earlier in the year he went through a period when he considered giving up blogging. Like many others, I am glad he didn't.

Balls to Purnell

Blinky Balls has gone and done it again. In an interview in the Telegraph he demonstrates his total unsuitability for high office, and instead of using it as an opportunity to discuss his vision for the education system, he does what he is best at - talking about himself. He then goes on to his second favourite pastime - slagging off any rival politician who might stand in the way of his ambition to succeed Gordon Brown. This time James Purnell is on the receiving end of some sage advice from Mr Balls' titanic sized brain. Brace yourself...

"There are times when individuals in their early forties have crises. They buy motorbikes or go off and travel round the world and have a gap year..."

At this point we should recall that Mr Balls recently bought a Scalextrix...

"...Sometimes people do that. I don't think for political parties to have those kind of moments is very sensible, especially when you are at your moment of greatest clarity and vision... [Now is not the time] to be going off to think tanks to find out what your identity really is."

Straight between Purnell's shoulderblades. Expect a lot more of this over the next nine months.

Five Thousand of my Blogreaders Are Cokeheads

Yesterday I asked you to take part in a drugs survey. More than 1,200 of you did. Here are the rather shocking results.

57% of you have tried an illegal drug at some point
31% of you use marijuana occasionally or regularly
7% of you are regular potheads
17% of you have used Cocaine at least once in the last twelve months.
5% of you use cocaine regularly

If those of you who took part in the poll are in any way representative of my blogreaders, 23,800 of you are cocaine users and 7,000 of you are regular cokeheads.

I can't pretend I am not astonished and rather horrified. But then again, I did ask.

UPDATE: In response to this post and the previous one, Devil's Kitchen makes a powerful case for decriminalisation of all drugs and uses Portugal's experience as one to follow. As does Mark Reckons.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Daley Chloe: Friday

1. Richard Willis analyses the Norwich North result.
2. Liberal Burblings on the twitterfication of Norfolk Blogger.
3. Politics Cymru analyses the three party leaders up close and personal.
4. Obsolete offers some thoughts on Norwich North.
5. Neil Stockley thinks Brown's reaction to the by election was too clever by half.
6. Brian Barder asks what being the left means.
7. John Owens on Party Lines warns us not to read too much into Norwich North.
8. Rupert Read reflects on his campaign in Norwich North.
9. Joshua Chambers takes Douglas Carswell to task over global warming.
10. Norfolk Blogger gives us an account of the Norwich North count.
11. Danny Finkelstein & Phil Collins give Gordon some advice. Which he will ignore.
12. Liberal England offers some melancholy thoughts on Norwich North.

When Blogging Met Pickfords

A lot of people imagine that there's a very small group of people who read each other's political blogs and twitter to each other. I have always maintained that that's an increasingly wrong perception and that blogging is beginning to reach parts of the electorate the MSM and politicians don't always manage to get to. With more than 100,000 readers each month, I've always thought that figure contains an increasing number of people who aren't part of the political system or the Westminster village - people who have, for whatever reason, developed an interest in politics through blogs. Dan Hannan has provided me with a little anecdotal evidence. Here's an email he sent me this evening...

Iain, I am in the middle of moving house, and have just had this conversation with one of the removal men:

REMOVAL MAN: "You're Daniel Hannan. Brilliant. I know exactly who you are."

DH: "No, really?"

RM: " 'Course. I read Iain Dale. Doesn't everyone?"

If only.

PS I hope those who have been critical of the quantity and quality of recent blogging efforts may be satisfied by my efforts today :)

Tweet of the Day

@iaindale - Pardon me for asking, but what exactly makes you a Conservative commentator?
You sound very left wing on TV.

Alexander Nekrassov

EXCLUSIVE: Andrew MacKinlay Quits Parliament

There are some MPs, no matter which party they belong to, who command respect from their opponents. Andrew MacKinlay is one of those MPs. But he has decided tonight to tell his Constituency Labour Party in Thurrock that he will not be a candidate at the next election. It's got nothing to do with expenses, but all to do with the fact that he is physically exhausted and, I think, very disillusioned with the way Parliament is heading.

I have known Andrew since 1991. We met when we were both monitoring the progress of the Ports Bill through its committee stage. He was working for a trade union and I was advising port authorities. I have immense respect for him and what he has achieved in Parliament since he was first elected in 1992. He has been a courageous, independent voice, often taking on vested interested. But throughout his 17 years he has developed into a fine parliamentarian. The fact that he has so clearly fallen out of love with parliament should set off a few alarms.

I spoke to Andrew at length yesterday about his decision. He says he is "physically and mentally burned out" and that ideally he'd like a sabbatical, but recognises that this is just not possible in politics, commenting: "An MP has no deputy or substitute. In many other jobs it is possible to take a sabbatical. This is impossible for an MP". He describes the job as "unrelenting" and has come to the conclusion that "something has to give". He can't remember having a weekend off and says he is on duty 7 days a week, 365 days a year. He says this not to plead for sympathy but because he has reached a stage where he is worried for his health if he continues in this way. "I need to recharge my batteries. Life is short," he said.

Although he made the decision to quit some months ago, the debate I wrote about HERE on the Gary McKinnon case appears to have served to strengthen his resolve. I get the feeling he has grown increasingly disillusioned with the direction in which parliament is headed and has become frustrated at the inability of his fellow MPs to hold the executive properly to account.

But it is the exhaustion side of this decision that should give us all pause for thought. The job has been his life, and he is not untypical in that. Whenever Mackinlay has taken an annual holiday (which since 2000 he has taken every year within the UK) he has, each day, had his official post pouched sent on to him. But that won't be happening this year. To his wife's frustration he has, in recent years, frequently interrupted many a holiday by agreeing to pop in to a nearby television studio to do "down the line" interviews the request of some television journalist in London. She has tried in vain to restrict his "all too ready availability".

The measure of an MP’s success can be high an ever increasing case load. If they are any good they attract work like a miracle worker. This is especially true in marginal seats like Thurrock, where an MP always has to be on his toes. In turn, good MPs have an ever increasing rate of invitations in the constituency... and indeed elsewhere.

In short, if you are in a marginal seat, it's difficult to say no. And that can lead to exhaustion and burnout. Some people find it very difficult to achieve a proper work-life balance and MPs are no exception.

MacKinlay is certainly a maverick. He has a slightly eccentric ritual of a few days into every parliamentary recess going up to what he alleges is are largely empty offices/ press gallery and muttering "Where is every body? This is place looks like the bloody Marie Celeste". Indeed, I am told he did that this afternoon after having received the Daily Telegraph's missive on MPs' holidays. Not a single soul was he left them a message saying: "I came to see you - but you were not here...Andrew Mackinlay. P.S. I am working".

I want to see more MPs like Andrew MacKinlay - true parliamentarians with an independent streak. I think there will be MPs from all parties who are as sad as I am at the news.

Question for MPs: When Did You Last Beat Your Wife (or Husband)?

The Daily Telegraph is apparently planning to do a big feature over MPs' holiday plans. This is an email which MPs have been receiving today.

Dear XXXX,

The Daily Telegraph is conducting an investigation into MPs’ plans for the summer recess.
As part of this investigation, we would be very grateful if you could answer these short questions about your own plans.

1. Have you made plans to take any overseas vacations during the Parliamentary recess?

2. If so, where will you be travelling to, and for how many days?

3. If you have not yet made plans to take any overseas vacations during the Parliamentary recess, do you consider that it is likely that you will make such plans later in the summer?

4. If so, where do you anticipate travelling to, and for how many days? Please provide a broad estimate (ie “roughly two weeks / somewhere in Europe) if you are unsure.

5. Have you made plans to take any vacations within the British Isles during the Parliamentary recess?

6. If so, where will you be travelling to, and for how many days?

7. If you have not yet made plans to take any vacations within the British Isles during the Parliamentary recess, do you consider that it is likely that you will make such plans later in the summer?

8. If so, where do you anticipate travelling to, and for how many days? Please provide a broad estimate (ie “roughly two weeks / somewhere in Scotland) if you are unsure.

9. How many days or part-days do you anticipate spending in your constituency during the Parliamentary recess?

10. How many days or part-days do you anticipate spending in London or elsewhere on Parliamentary, party or ministerial / shadow ministerial duties during the Parliamentary recess?

11. How many days or part-days do you anticipate spending in London or elsewhere on non-Parliamentary, party or ministerial business during the Parliamentary recess? Please elaborate on your activities. (ie work as a director / spending time in London second home working on book)

12. Will you attend some or all of your party conference? If so, how long will you attend for?

13. Do you consider that your plans this year are broadly similar to those of previous years?

14. If not, what are the reasons for the change?

Please could we have your response by 9am tomorrow (July 25) so that it can be reflected in our article.

I suggest MPs issue a four word response. Mind. Your. Own. Business. Taking care not to insert the F word in front of business.

LabourList Gets It

Well done to LabourList. At least Alex Smith seems to understand what Harriet Harman and Ben Bradshaw don't. His story is headlines A CRUSHING DEFEAT WITH LONG TERM CONSEQUENCES.

Harman Should Withdraw Her Claim of Tory Arrogance

Harriet Harman just plumbed a new depth on Sky News. She says the Tory reaction to the Norwich result is "arrogant" because they have said it means they have now won the general election, and it's in the bag.

Unfortunately Kay Burley failed to ask her to provide evidence for this. I haven't heard or read of a single Tory who has said any such thing and if anyone does, they're a fool. Still, better to be a fool than someone who indulges in unfounded smears, which is what Harriet Harman has just done. I will put it no more strongly than that.

Norwich North: Triumph for Chloe Smith

Peter Baggs (Ind) 23
Thomas Burridge (LPUK) 36
Anne Fryatt (NOTA) 59
Bill Holden (Ind) 166
Howling Laud Hope (Loony) 144
Craig Murray (Ind) 953
Chris Ostrowski (Lab) 6,243
April Pond (Lib) 4,803
Rupert Read (Green) 3,350
Chloe Smith (Con) 13,591
Glen Tingle (UKIP) 4,068
Robert West (BNP) 941

Turnout 45%

Majority 7,348

This is a great victory for Chloe Smith. A 16.5 swing is momentous in anybody's language, together with a majority of more than 7,300 fully vindicates the Tory campaign. She didn't quite get 40% of the the vote (she got 39.5%), but in the circumstances that is hardly surprising with the number of fringe candidates taking part.

For Labour it is worse than a disaster. To go from 44% to 18% takes some doing, even in these circumstances. They can explain it away all they like, but it would seem unlikely they can recover their position in the nine months available before the general election. But at least they just clung onto second place.

The result will be a huge disappointment for the LibDems. To only get 14% of the vote having thrown the kitchen sink at the seat will be debilitating indeed. That's 2% less than they got in 2005! One wonders whether April Moat will now stick by her decision to remain in Norwich North for the general election.

UKIP did rather well, beating the Greens into 5th place.

So what now for Chloe Smith? She can't take her seat until October so for three months she will be operating in a political no man's land. She could do worse than spending the next nine months preparing for the next election - spending as much time in the constituency as possible and dealing with casework. She should also take the time to build up the local political infrastructure. Her local association desperately needs an injection of new blood, and hopefully several new activists will have been recruited during the campaign. It's an exciting time for her and I couldn't be more delighted that she has come through her first big political test with such flying colours. It can't have been an easy time, but she really hasn't put a foot wrong. It bodes well for a successful political career.

UPDATE: According to the BBC, Chloe Smith is Britain's "Youngest Labour MP". Wishful thinking?

13.08: Mark Senior, LibDem spinner in chief, thinks it's a bad result for the Tories as they polled 2,000 fewer votes than in 2005. He omits to mention the fact that his beloved LibDems polled nearly 3,000 fewer. Fail.

13.46: Former Blears SPAD Paul Richards waits less than half an hour to stick the boot into the Labour campaign on the Progress Blog. He outlines the five lessons Labour needs to learn. Only 5?

13.54: Nick Robinson offers a very amusing translation service to the post election spin.

Norwich North: Result Imminent

11.58 The increasingly indispensable Andrew Sparrow has blogged that Labour has received 19.5% of the vote - compared to 44% on 2005. He reckons the Tories have taken the seat on a 14% swing, which, if true, would be a terrific result for Chloe Smith.

12.05: Sparrow reports that LibDems remain in third place with a paltry 16%. They will be gutted by that.

12.19: Sky reporting a Tory majority of 4-5,000.

Horrfying Figures on Cocaine Use

I may be very naive but I find it truly shocking that nearly one million people in this country are cocaine users. Seven per cent of 16-24 year olds use the drug.There has been a 375% rise in the number of under 18s being treated in hospital for cocaine use. Ten per cent of adults expect to take cocaine at some point in their lives. Living where I live and working where I work, that probably means that 20% of the people I know have taken cocaine. All this reminded me of part of the Jacqui Smith interview which didn't make the final edit.

ID: Drugs policy has been a disaster for years hasn’t it? The fact is, we have more drugs on our streets now than ever before.

JS: No we don’t. What we have is less drug use in both adults and young people – it might not be the perceived wisdom but all the research in all the surveys suggested that that’s the case. We have massively more people going through drug treatment, we have just in the last few months a very big increase in the wholesale price of cocaine because of the success we are having downstream in cutting off the supply so I think actually funnily enough one of the things that I looked at towards the end of the time that I was Home Secretary was what the impact of the drugs strategy had been because we had a 10 year drug strategy and one of the things I did quite soon after becoming Home Secretary was we had the next drugs consultation and then the next drugs strategy. I think we have been more successful than your question would suggest, but it remains one of those things the people are extremely concerned about maybe because you worry and, as the mother of a teenager, I worry, about drugs and alcohol and you worry that it fuels crime as well and it is something out of control. The reality is that it’s not as out of control as people fear and I think we’ve got a handle now on what we need to do to control it and to keep it down.

I don't mind admitting that I am a complete prude where drugs are concerned. I have never taken an illegal drug and will never do so. It's never wise for someone with a vaguely addictive personality to put themselves into that situation! But everyone has to answer for their own actions and their own lifestyle. No one will ever win a war on drugs. All government can do is try to limit supply and educate people about the disastrous consequences of taking all drugs, not just class A substances.

There is of course a school of thought that says that all drugs should be legalised and that would lead to a decline in their use. Alan Duncan argued that in his book Saturn's Children. Whatever the merits of that argument I cannot think that any UK political party would ever adopt such a policy.

Mind you, I'd have said the same thing about legalising gay adoption a decade ago...

UPDATE: A reader has suggested I ask my blog readers about their use of cocaine. Take the survey...

Phlog: Norwich North Update

This is my debut "phlog". It's essentially a two minute phone call which can then be embedded within seconds on the blog. Is this something you would like to see more of? I did a few "vLogs" which got quite a good reaction, but they're quite time consuming to produce and upload. This isn't and is fairly instantaneous.

I guess the secret of these Phlog software is only to use it when there's a point to it and not use it as a replacement blog post. Anyway, I'd welcome your advice on how, when and if to use it in the future.

Norwich North Count Underway

The Norwich North Count has started. If you want to follow it minute by minute you might want to follow Norfolk Blogger's Twitter Feed HERE.

9.52: Sky News is reporting that Labour has conceded defeat and are expecting to come third.

10.17: UKIP reported to be getting lots of votes in the city wards in Norwich North. LibDems not doing as well in the Broadland wards as expected.

10.29: Turnout is 45.88%. Result is expected between 11.30 and 12.30.

Greens Win Another Brighton Council Seat

I don't normally comment on individual local council by elections, but there was one last night in Brighton, which merits a couple of words. The Greens took Goldsmid Ward from the Conservatives with 38% of the vote, which means the Tories have lost overall control of Brighton council. The Tory vote remained steady, but there was a 12% swing from Labour to the Greens. The LibDem vote also went down by 7%.

GRN 1,456 - 38.5% (+17.6%) GRN GAIN FROM CON
CON 1,104 - 29.2% (-0.9%)
LAB 816 – 21.5% (-6.8%)
LD 280 - 7.4% (-7.32%)
UKIP 129 - 3.4% N/A (others 6% last time)

I'm not sure which of the three Brighton seats this ward is in, but Caroline Lucas has already trumpeted the assertion that it means she's on her way to Westminster.

This is a spectacular win. It signals an unstoppable surge to elect the first Green MP at Westminster, whenever Gordon decides to go to the country. With this result, we’re on the threshold of taking Green politics to the heart of Westminster.

Nothing like a bit of OTT hyperbole is there? The Greens got 22% in 2005 in Brighton Pavillion. Tory candidate Dr David Bull had been making good headway but now he's stood down and hasn't yet been replaced who knows what will happen? All of this makes it one of the most interesting seats to monitor over the next nine months.

Vote: Your Top Ten Political Blogs

Click here to vote in the Total Politics Best Blogs Poll 2009

Email your ten favourite blogs (ranked from 1-10) to

It's that time of year again, when Total Politics asks you to vote for your Top 10 favourite blogs. The votes will be compiled and included in the forthcoming book, the Total Politics Guide to Blogging 2009-10, which will be published in September. This year the poll is being promoted/sponsored by LabourList and LibDemVoice as well as this blog.

The rules are simple.

1. You must vote for your ten favourite blogs and ranks them from 1 (your favourite) to 10 (your tenth favourite).
2. Your votes must be ranked from 1 to 10. Any votes which do not have rankings will not be counted.
3. You MUST include ten blogs. If you include fewer than ten your vote will not count.
4. Email your vote to
5. Only vote once.
6. Only blogs based in the UK, run by UK residents or based on UK politics are eligible.
7. Anonymous votes left in the comments will not count. You must give a name
8. All votes must be received by midnight on 31 July 2009. Any votes received after that date will not count.

If you have your own blog, please do encourage your readers to take part. Last year, more than 80 blogs did so. We hope this year it will be far more than that. BUT, DO NOT list ten blogs you think your readers should vote for. Any duplicate voting of this nature will be disallowed. If you do not wish for your blog to be voted for please email Here's the code to add to your blog sidebar or blogpost to feature the graphic above with an automatic clickthru to the instruction page...

There are many ways of measuring a blog's popularity. Wikio and Technorati have complicated logarithms which measure the importance of incoming links and traffic. Google Analytics does it by measuring how many people visit. But the TP poll gives blog readers the opportunity to vote for the ones they like and visit most often. It's not scientific. It's impossible to achieve 100% balance and no one pretends it's perfect.

The results of the poll will be published in the forthcoming book the TOTAL POLITICS GUIDE TO POLITICAL BLOGGING IN THE UK which will be published in mid September in association with APCO Worldwide.

So, go to it. Email your Top Ten Favourite Blogs to

Malloch Brown: Banged to Rights

If you are a politician and you give an interview and then you claim you have been misrepresented, you'd better be damned sure the journalist hasn't recorded it. Mark Malloch Brown impugned the integrity of both Mary Riddell and the Daily Telegraph when he allowed Downing Street to put it about that his views had been misrepresented over the number of helicopters. The Telegraph have now hit back and published a recording of what Malloch Brown actually said. Perhaps he and the Foreign Office would now like to apologise to Mary Riddell.

Hattip Shane Greer

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Daley Dozen: Thursday

1. Norfolk Blogger enjoys some celebrity (and a near naked woman).
2. Mary Honeyball MEP admits she got her facts wrong.
3. Steve Tierney blogs about a railway for the Fens and an armed robbery in his shop.
4. Hopi Sen interviews Jon Cruddas, the soon to be ex MP for Barking & Dagenham.
5. Christine Quigley is horrified she has found common cause with me.
6. Mike Rouse turns holiday novelist.
7. Dave's Part says Gary McKinnon should be tried in Britain.
8. TrueBlueBlood on William Hague's fine oratory.
9. Jesse Norman thinks James Purnell is becoming a Conservative.
10. FT Westminster Blog on Conservative prospects for a landslide.
11. Norfolk Blogger will be twittering from the Norwich North count.
12. Tory Press Chief Henry MacCrory explains why he has started twittering.

Keith Simpson's Summer Reading List

Before each recess, Conservative MP Keith Simpson produces a list of books that his parliamentary colleagues might consider reading. Here's his summer recess recommendations...

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has allegedly instructed his ministers only to have a two week break this summer and to be at their desks coming up with initiatives. In contrast, David Cameron has said that Shadow Ministers should have a break and recharge their batteries. And what better way than with a good book, perhaps taken from our team’s suggested summer reading list. The majority of these books have been published over the past few months with a few yet to be published later this summer. Enjoy.

The outstanding read for the summer is Patrick Hennessey The Junior Officer’s Reading Club Killing Time and Fighting Wars. Hennessey educated at a boarding school and a graduate in English from Balliol College Oxford, joined Sandhurst in 2003 and was commissioned into the Grenadier Guards. Whilst serving in Iraq he and a few friends were effectively “The Junior Officers’ Reading Club”, although strictly speaking this became an extended Club watching films on DVD, emailing and looking at Facebook. But his right of passage as a soldier was in Afghanistan and he graphically describes what it is like to serve there at the front as an infantry soldier. This book is really “Siegfried Sassoon meets Mad Max” and Hennessey is shrewd enough to recognise that like Sassoon all that he has written is not necessarily fact. Some readers will carp over whether Hennessey’s account is typical of the experience of his contemporaries, that it is too young Guards officer orientated and littered with expletives, and maybe they will be disorientated and even repulsed by the excitement and thrills he experiences of actual combat. All too familiar to warriors of previous conflicts and to old military historians who taught at Sandhurst, here described as “Hogwarts with guns”.

The best diaries published this year are Chris Mullin’s A View from the Foothills. Based on the diaries he kept during the period of the Blair government when he was an aspirant and then a junior minister. Of particular interest are the periods when he was at DFID and the FCO. Self-deprecating, amusing, insightful and indiscreet, these are Alan Clark’s diaries without the sex and malice.

Talking of the old rogue, Ian Trewin who edited Alan Clark’s diaries has now written Alan Clark The Biography, which will be published in mid September. Based upon more diaries and letters found at Saltwood and interviews with friends and colleagues this biography should complement the published diaries.

John Campbell is a prolific political biographer – Lloyd George and Margaret Thatcher – and we await with interest his authorised biography of Roy Jenkins. In Pistols at Dawn Two Hundred years of Political Rivalry from Pitt and Fox to Blair and Brown, he has covered some familiar ground but with fresh insights and a sure feel for the historical context.

At the rough end of politics – and we MPs have been experiencing a lot of that recently – is the interaction between the electorate and those who wish to represent them. From good old fashioned hustings brought to life by Dickens and Trollope to the TV debate and reality shows of today. In Electing Our Masters The Hustings in British Politics from Hogarth to Blair, Jon Lawrence has written a stimulating account of this aspect of political life.

Colin Brown of The Independent has long been fascinated with the personal, political and architectural aspects of Whitehall. He has now written a short and entertaining book Whitehall The Street that Shaped a Nation which should be required reading for David Cameron and the Labour Party’s numerous leaders in waiting.

Neville Chamberlain’s reputation was destroyed by the failure of his policy of appeasement, and yet before that he had a formidable reputation based upon social reform and financial competence. Recently there have been several biographies written about him but for those who wish to read one that combines recent research and interpretation then Nick Smart’s Neville Chamberlain published in August should fit the requirement.

Ever short of money, Churchill was never one to ignore a literary opportunity based upon his political experience and contacts. His Great Contemporaries drew vivid pen portraits of leading political and military figures. Frank Field has had the idea of pulling together some of the journalistic writings of Clem Attlee with a similar theme. Attlee’s Great Contemporaries The Politics of Character, gather together a selection of witty and caustic pen portraits from 1951 – 1966.

Harold Macmillan continues to fascinate us both as a person and as a politician and Prime Minister. Already we have several carefully edited volumes of his memoirs, the Alistair Horne official biography, and recently his edited post-war diaries. Charles Williams, a Labour Peer and prolific biographer, has now turned his pen to Harold Macmillan. He has revisited Macmillan’s complex personality and the humiliation of his wife’s affair with Bob Boothby as well as his transformation from the rather eccentric and marginal backbencher of the 1930s to the masterful and calculating front bencher of the 1950s.

Macmillan was a publisher, a writer and someone who loved reading books which were a great comfort to him. Sir Oliver Wright recalls that when he was a junior diplomat working with Macmillan as Foreign Secretary he observed him at an international conference in 1955.

“Macmillan had his own technique for surviving these bum-numbing sessions…. When it was not his turn to speak, he would encourage the time to pass more agreeably and more quickly by reading a book placed on his knees out of sight under the conference table. I remember being very shocked at first, thinking that our Foreign Secretary should be taking his work more seriously; but after a time, I realised how wise he was and only wished I could do the same”

Churchill, it would seem still attracts biographers and now Max Hastings has entered the fray covering a period of the Great Man’s life that one would have thought had been written out. In Finest Years Churchill as Warlord 1940-1945 to be published in September, Hastings argues there was a deep divide between what Churchill wanted from the British people and their armed forces, and what they were capable of delivering.

Twenty years ago Max Hastings wrote a powerful book about the 1944 Normandy Campaign and now Antony Beevor the author of Stalingrad and Berlin has revisited the campaign in D-Day the Battle for Normandy.

The experiences of the First World War overshadowed the 1920s and 1930s. In popular British imagination the Battle of the Somme in 1916 epitomised the futility of war. Now William Philpott in Bloody Victory The Sacrifice of the Somme and the Making of the Twentieth Century, has put that campaign into a wider context that includes the French and German experience and demolishes many of the myths perpetuated by, amongst others, Winston Churchill.

Constitutional reform is now flavour of the month and all political leaders are keen to be a champion. Peter Kellner has written Democracy 1000 Years in Pursuit of British Liberty, which is a sort of serious version of 1066 And All That. Kellner traces specific dates in British political history and provides a useful analysis of their significance.

Vernon Bogdanor has established a reputation as a constitutional historian who nurtured undergraduate David Cameron at his Oxford knee. In his The New British Constitution Bogdanor’s purpose is to show that New Labour’s largest, and largely accidental project, has been to partly transform an uncodified constitution into a codified one. This will prove to be a “must have bluffer’s guide” for those of us grappling with the challenges of constitutional change. Perhaps something for Speaker Bercow’s sand and surf reading?

John Keane’s The Life and Death of Democracy
claims to be the first substantial, broad, revisionist interpretation of the history of democracy for over a century. It must be another book of the moment given the furore over MPs expenses and the rush into a constitutional change. Keane argues that “representative democracy” has been overtaken by “monitory democracy”, in which power and authority are open to continual scrutiny and challenge.

Under Blair’s policy of “liberal interventionism “there has been considerable controversy concerning the legal justifications for such action, particularly over Iraq, as well as the conduct of operations and treatment of prisoners. Nigel D White considers this looking at British military deployments since 1945 in Democracy Goes to War British Military Deployments under International Law.

The continuing recession has seen a plethora of books looking at the historical precedents and the origins of the immediate crisis and some tentative suggestions for dealing with it. On the historical context Liaquat Ahamed’s Lords of Finance, 1929, The Great Depression and the Banks Who Broke the World, concentrates on the personalities and economic thinking of the governors of the central banks in the UK, USA, France and Germany. Keynes has suddenly come back into fashion and Robert Skidelsky’s two volume biography is now much in demand. In September the author will publish Keynes The Return of the Master, which will consider the man and his economic theories in a contemporary context.

Two books looking at the current crisis are Andrew Gamble The Spectre at the Feast Capitalist Crisis and the Politics of Recession, and Viral V. Acharya and Matthew Richardson (eds) Restoring Financial Stability How to Repair a Failed System. The latter is a series of essays dealing with every aspect of the financial crisis and should be required reading for our Shadow Treasury and Business teams.

For those colleagues who require some historical breadth and depth to their summer reading then I would suggest Peter H Wilson Europe’s Tragedy A History of the Thirty years War, which is a superb and comprehensive new history of that terrible seventeenth century conflict in Europe.

Poland’s history is one of triumph and tragedy and a struggle for survival. Adam Zamoyski’s Poland a History, is a well written, scholarly researched and thoughtful history which attempts to answer the question, “what is Poland?”

It would be fair to say that Chiang Kai-shek has had fairly critical reviews by historians. The leader of the Chinese Kuomintang he has been accused of being a Soviet puppet, a leader who only “shadow boxed” with the Japanese, and then was defeated by the Communists and lived out his life in the Nationalist fortress of Taiwan. Now Jay Taylor in The Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China, has written an enthralling revisionist account, which, whilst not restoring Chiang to the premier league of world leaders does rescue him from the also rans.

If you had been quick off the mark then it was possible to obtain a copy of Andy Hayman The Terrorist Hunters before the lawyers arranged for its withdrawal. As the former counter-terrorism chief with the Metropolitan Police Hayman dealt with the impact of 7/7 as well as other terrorist threats before being forced to resign. Much of the narrative is anecdotal but he does give a glimpse into the at times chaotic response to 7//7 and has some proposals for future policy in preventing terrorist threats.

Richard English’s Terrorism How to Respond, is an excellent short, concise bluffer’s guide. The author has written about the IRA and Irish nationalism and in this study demolishes a lot of the myths about terrorism and has some practical suggestions on how governments can limit their own contributions to giving terrorists the political oxygen they need.

Christopher Andrew has established himself over many decades as the doyen of British historians writing about our intelligence community and relations with the United States and Soviet intelligence services. Over the past few years he has effectively been a member of the Security Service to research an official history. In October his The Defence of the Realm The Official History of M15, will be published and with all the usual caveats about the nature of official histories, this will prove to be a very valuable contribution to our understanding of our Security Service.

Operations in Afghanistan still dominate Britain’s security priorities and there are plenty of memoirs and accounts of soldiering at the operational and tactical level. A golden oldie written fifty years ago and still in print thanks to the Oxford in Asia series is Sir Olaf Caroe The Pathans. Caroe served in the old Frontier Political Service from 1920 until 1949, and this book is a labour of love and the Pathans themselves recognise it as a locus classicus of their history.

Keith Simpson MP
Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister