Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My Bracknell Campaign Website Launches

The Bracknell Open Primary is now underway and today I launched my campaign website. I wanted it to be simple, light, welcoming and airy. All seven of us have no real campaign template to work from so it will be interesting to see what innovative ideas we all come up with in order to mobilise support.

The Sun Are 'C****' Says Mandy

Paul Waugh on a very foul mouthed Peter Mandelson. Apparently he used a word to describe The Sun which is banned on this blog. Some of us have standards, you know...

Cartoon by Hack

Some Are More Equal Than Others

My friend Sean Dilley, political correspondent for TalkSport reckons Labour have a bit of work to do on equalities issues. Sean is blind and operates with the assistance of a wonderful labrador guide dog called Chipp. Chipp is very popular in the Palace of Westminster.

This morning at the conference he was talking to one of Alan Johnson's special advisers who, mid conversation, walked off leaving Sean talking to thin air. How very rude.

It was especially ironic as Gordon Brown was about to launch into talking about equality for minorities and how much Labour has achieved on the issue. Still a bit of work to do in Alan Johnson's office, it seems...

Quote of the Day: Craig Murray

[Mandelson's] culminating point -
"If I can come back, we can come back" - deserves more analysis.
What does it mean?
"Because this government is so dodgy that a Minister
twice sacked for corruption can come back a third time,
then people will vote for us"?

What People Really Thought of Gordon's Speech

Quote of the Day: The Sun

"It's not editorials which count, but the votes of millions of Sun readers. We believe that they understand the benefits they are now enjoying by working with this Government. They will prove The Sun wrong on election day."

Who do you reckon said that, then? Gordon Brown? Peter Mandelson? Kerry McCarthy on an overlong tweet?

No. None of them. It was a Conservative Central Office spokesman on 18 March 1997.

Plus ca change, plus ca head in the sand. And they say history doesn't repeat itself.

Why Did Brown Insult Adam Boulton?

I'm not sure what Gordon Brown thought he was going to achieve by being just plain nasty to Adam Boulton this morning. You could almost feel the votes slipping away among Sky News viewers. He called Boulton a "political propagandist". Even if he thought it, he shouldn't have said it.

Could Labour Fold?

One of the main topics of conversation in Brighton among Labour Party bigwigs is the financial state of the party. Donations are drying up as few people want to throw money at what they perceive as a lost cause. There's a real fear that the party won't be able to raise enough money to fight a proper and full general election campaign. There is complete and total reliance on the trade unions, especially UNITE, for funding at the moment.

One party source told me: "If UNITE's leadership changed and decided to pull the plug on donations, the consequences could be fatal."

I understand that even at this stage Labour is struggling to meet its annual loan interest payments of £2 million. They cannot pay back their existing loans and in any normal meaning of the term, they are technically insolvent.

Another source hinted that there was more than a possibility that the Party could cease to exist after the election because of its parlous financial state. I raised a quizzical eyebrow at that suggestion, but she was adamant that no one realises just how serious their situation is.

The LibDems will be rubbing their hands with glee.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Sun Sets on Labour

Alastair Campbell has just made a complete tit of himself on Radio 5 Live, saying it really wasn't important that The Sun had endorsed the Conservatives. It was no big deal. Really. What a complete arse. At least Labour blogger Tom Mclouglin had the good grace to admit that it was a dark day.

It's not just the fact that The Sun has endorsed Cameron that is important, it is also the timing. They only endorsed Tony Blair a mere six weeks before the last election. To endorse Cameron eight months before an election means that it will now be a cheerleader for Cameron with a very important group of voters - the so-called C2s, the aspirational working classes (an expression I hate). They have always been a little sceptical of the Cameron Conservative Party. I suspect that over the next few months that may well start to change.

And how about this Tweet for Tweet of the Day, from Labour's Twitter Czar, Kerry McCarthy MP. Oh dear, oh dear.
Labour doesn't need The Sun. We've got Twitter.

Is this woman for real?

Really Good, But...

I've spoken to about 15 Labour delegates here since Gordon Brown's speech ended. Virtually every one of them them said "Really good speech ... but..." And they all had a different 'but'. "It was too long," said one. "Where were the jokes?" said another.

Not a resounding success by all accounts. Indeed, from the reaction of some journalists I have been very kind in my appraisal. I am obviously in too generous a mood today.

Maybe it was sunning myself on the seafront alongside Jacqui Smith, Caroline Flint and Margaret Hodge that did it...

Brown's Speech: Good But Not Good Enough

This was an above average performance by Gordon Brown. He delivered the speech with passion and a degree of eloquence that has been missing for some time. And yet, and yet... There was still something missing. It was a good speech, but it certainly wasn't, as Alan Johnson had demanded, the speech of his life.

He made a couple of new announcements on single mothers (adopting an IDS-lite approach) and had a right old go at what he called 50,000 "chaotic" families. Back to basics, anyone?

He announced a new law to increase development aid and he appeared to abolish compulsory ID cards, conveniently omitting to mention that this is already existing government policy for the next parliament.

He spoke a lot about the wonders of the NHS and talked about eliminating cancer within a generation, something I seem to remember Richard Nixon promised forty years ago.

There was the ritual knocking of the Conservatives but perhaps it wasn't as aggressive as I - or the audience - had expected. He also didn't offer much humour either. Quelle suprise...

But he did spend a lot of money, something Labour politicians are always good at. Free personal care. And much more besides. No word of how it will be paid for.

The most eye catching measure he announced was the Cameron policy of having a power of recall over corrupt or dishonest MPs. The promise of a referendum on PR was well received as was, of course, the promise to abolish all hereditary peers.

There was very little personal narrative in this speech, very little vision. What we got was the usual battering ram of statistics and initiatives, albeit delivered in a style which was less reminiscent of a machine gun than usual.

So, delivery 7/10, content 5/10, chances of being Prime Minister in a year's time 1/10.

In Praise of Gaby Hinsliff

While I am feeling generous, I was sorry to hear this afternoon that Gaby Hinsliff is leaving her job as political editor of The Observer. She announced it on Twitter and more or less said that she wants to have a life again. Who can blame her?

Gaby's a political journalist who is trusted by everyone, and doesn't indulge in the common Sunday newspaper practice of hyping a story beyond all recognition.

I'm sure her lobby colleagues will miss her calming influence and total professionalism. I know I will.

I wish her all the very best in her new life in the country, bringing up her young family and writing to her heart's content.

Building a Big Tent

Politics can often be a very tribal business, especially when it is conducted over the blogosphere. So I was very touched to read Tom Harris's post of support for me in Bracknell. It's all the more important as it is an Open Primary which supporters of other parties may attend and vote in. I'm certainly not changing my views on anything to court support from other parties, but all politicians know that in the end they represent ALL their constituents, not just those who vote for them. In a post headlined WHY YOU SHOULD VOTE FOR A TORY, Tom said this...

I confess I don’t know any of the other candidates, but I’ve come to know Iain
quite well over the past couple of years and I would count him as a friend.
Politically, he’s wrong on just about everything, of course (well, he is a Tory,
after all) but I genuinely believe he would be an asset to the Parliamentary
Conservative Party if he were to achieve his ambition. This is someone with a
significant political achievement to his name; Iain Dale buit the template for
serious political blogging in the UK and no-one has yet managed to improve on

He’s also honest, principled and speaks his mind. And his head certainly wouldn’t be turned by the prospect of front bench responsibilities.

If you’re a voter in Bracknell, even if you normally vote for a party
other than the Tories, I hope you’ll seriously consider lending your vote to

Tom's support is quite brave bearing in mind the backlash he is getting from some of his more tribal collegaues on Twitter and on other blogs. But Tom's support comes on the back of a nice comment from the LibDem Norfolk Blogger. too.

If the Tories want to reach out to the middle ground whilst also having people
with fundamental links to the Thatcher era, a foot in both camps candidate, then
Iain is their man. Would I vote for him over a Lib Dem ? No. Would I attend an
open primary if I lived in Bracknell and vote for him. Yes I would. I prefer Lib
Dems, but if I couldn't have a Lib Dem, I think Iain Dale would be a good

I'd like to think that if the situations were reversed I would do the same for them.

I am sure there will be tribal Conservatives (and I can be as tribal as anyone!) who think it is wrong to encourage support from other parts of the political spectrum. It's not wrong. It's called friendship. And if there were a bit more of it in politics, the whole system might work a little better than it does at present.

Keep Calm And Carry On

There's a poster on the all of the BBC Regional Radio unit here at the Labour Party Conference with the following message...
How about a nice big cup of shut the **** up - think before saying something stupid.

I pointed it out to a journalist who retorted, "Yes, we're going to show it to Andrew Marr if he shows his face."


Why I'd Like to be MP For Bracknell

Some of you may have seen on various sites over the last two days that I am in the final round of the parliamentary selection for Bracknell. I didn't want to say anything here until the shortlist was officially announced by the local party.

There are seven of us in the final of the Open Primary, which takes place on 17 October. The others are Rory Stewart, Margaret Doyle, Katy Lindsay, Philip Lee, Julia Manning and Ryan Robson.

As regular readers will know, I haven't applied for a seat for nearly two years. I decided that the launch of my new business, TotalPolitics, wasn't compatible with being a candidate due to time pressures, but that I would review the situation after 18 months. Now that the business is up and running, and going well, I felt now was the time to plunge in.

To be honest, earlier this year, I had almost decided to give up any parliamentary ambitions, but it was the expenses scandal which got me fired up again. And however much people tell me I would have more influence doing what I do now, rather than being an MP, I cannot agree with that. If you want to effect change you've got to get 'in the arena'. Douglas Carswell has proved that you really can achieve things as a backbencher.

At the end of August, CCHQ advertised eight constituencies for selection, including Bracknell. I didn't apply for any of the others. I'm a great believer that you shouldn't have a scatter gun approach and that you need an affinity with a constituency you wish to represent. I'm certainly not going to pretend I am a local expert yet, but it's an area I know quite well.

I was delighted to be shortlisted from more than 200 applicants, and last Friday the seven of us addressed the local Association's Executive. On Saturday I joined some local activists to campaign in a council by election, and over the next three weeks we are all going to be out and about in the constituency meeting people, learning, listening and encouraging people to attend the Open Primary on 17 October.

I think it is a great shortlist, packed with people who have real life experience outside politics. Having met the other six on Friday, I think any one of us would make a great MP for the area.

If you'd like to express your support for my candidacy (even if you don't happen to live in the Bracknell constituency!) you can join the Iain Dale 4 Bracknell Facebook group HERE.

Note for residents of Bracknell, Sandhurst, Crowthorne & Finchampstead
If you are on the electoral roll in Bracknell and would like to attend the Open Primary on 17 October, you can find all the details HERE on the local party website. You must pre-register by phoning 01344 868894 or emailing primary AT bracknellconservatives DOT com. You do not have to be a Conservative Party member to attend or vote.

Gordon Forsakes Guardian for Telegraph

There was much clenching of teeth at the Guardian party at the Labour conference last night. Why? Because Gordon Brown failed to show up, and decided instead to break bread with the Telegraph at their bash instead. And frankly, who could blame him.

However, there was some consolation for the assembled Grauniad hacks. Martin McGuinness turned up, which, bearing in mind the event was held at The Grand, was surely some sort of sick joke. Or ... [fill in the blanks yourself].

Leaked Document Gives Away Election Date

May 6th. That's when we will finally be rid of this shoddy government. Well, according to Bloomberg, who have seen a leaked copy of Labour's election war book. Details HERE. And as if it couldn't get much worse for Gordon Brown on the day he makes his latest make or break speech, Labour have been overtaken in the polls by the LibDems. Oh well, the good news is, last time it was UKIP!

Labour Fringe Meeting TONIGHT!

If you are attending the Labour Party Conference today in Brighton, can I cordially extend an invitation to the Total Politics fringe meeting which is being held jointly with Henley Business School

Trust in Politics: How We Lost It & How to Get It Back

Tuesday 29 September, 6-8pm
Queens Hotel, Kings Road, Brighton
Refreshments provided


Sadiq Khan MP,
Prof Anthony Seldon,
Prof Chris Bones,
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

Chaired by Iain Dale

All welcome

And please do visit the TotalPolitics Exhibition Stand in the Hewison Hall, where you will get the chance to win an ASUS Eee PC! And please be nice to Emily. She gets lonely at conferences, you know...

Monday, September 28, 2009

Harriet Goes Victorian

Do you remember in Victorian times they used to cover piano legs in case gentlemen got too aroused. Well, Harriet Harman today went out of her way to protect female modesty. Next to the Labour Party stand there's a poster advertising a concert by Rhianna. Harriet walked past and was not amused at the amount of female flesh on display. So she ordered it to be covered up. And it duly was.

I might go and Twitpic it for you tomorrow. I promise not to get too excited in the process...

Naughtie Tests the Mood

Jim Naughtie's five minute report on the Today programme was a brilliant summing up on the mood of Labour MPs and activists. Listen to it HERE.

Fisking Yvette

A reader has sent me this fisk of Yvette Cooper's speech this morning...

Just listened to the hideous Yvette Cooper at the Neo-Labour conference. I couldn't even bring myself to look at her she's so chillingly slimy. My God she was in nausea over-drive, even for her. I’ve never voted for any of the main three parties, and probably never will, but the faux melodrama of the depression of the thirties and of the last recession under the Tories, I fully expected her to have tears running down her cheeks. Typical Neo-Labour quasi-religious rantings that bear no resemblance to the truth:

"...and we learnt too, of the importance of the strong leadership, of our chancellor, and our prime minister, and we thank them, and pay tribute to them now: Alistair Darling, and Gordon Brown!...Conference we know that unemployment is never a price worth paying."
Except for the three million officially unemployed…obviously. Apparently there's more help than ever before "...including Job-Centre Plus..." who's entire help to me over seven months was repeatedly, "Do you need any help searching our database?" They were so much help I’ve set-up my own company and am struggling along on my own.

Maybe that’s just sour grapes though. Neo-Labour has helped other people:

" Anthony who I talked to in Castleford, who got a job after fourteen months on the dole. He told me it's transformed his life. He's now got a place of his own, he's done management training, and his first ever holiday abroad."

So all you need under Neo-Labour is training and you can call yourself a manager: Tea and coffee management degrees; stationary management degrees; table, chair and crockery management degrees. Then there was this priceless and magical figure manipulation:

"Conference, look at the facts. For every 100,000 people we get off unemployment, we save, £700,000,000."
What?! Over how long?! That's £7000 per person. On the paltry £62.50 per week I had to beg for, that's 112 weeks, or 28 months, or 2.25 years unemployed! My money got stopped after 7 months and I've paid in for the last twelve years since I started working.

"...David Cameron doesn't believe in active government to help the unemployed, because David Cameron doesn’t believe in active government. Their campaigns for broken Britain, for an age of austerity, are all designed to break people's faith in a brighter future. They want us to despair of the purpose of politics, or the role of government. A council of despair that would have run Britain into the ground if we had followed it last year."
Err...surely that's what's happened under Neo-Labour? Thankfully she finished and received a glum looking standing ovation then the silly woman chairing conference said, "Wow! That was inspiring!"

I think I may need a bigger bucket to get through this week.

The Top 100 Left Wingers in Britain

Today the Daily Telegraph publishes its Top 100 Influential people on the left list, together with a comment piece from Brian Brivati and myself explaining the rankings. It's certainly rather different from last year.

As they meet at their party conference in Brighton , Labour’s members know that an unelected politician, who has twice resigned in disgrace, now holds the government together:

Baron Mandelson, of Foy in the County of Herefordshire and of Hartlepool in the County of Durham, First Secretary of State, Lord President of the Council, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and the most powerful man on the Left of British politics.

Never before in The Daily Telegraph’s annual survey of the British political elite has Gordon Brown been off the top spot. But these are extraordinary times. When Brown brought Mandelson back into the Government, it was presented as the return of an experienced minister, In reality, it was the return of a political manager.

In a crisis, Mandelson stays calm, gives instructions, offers advice and issues threats to those who need to hear them. When Brown’s leadership was most heavily challenged, in the wake of the expenses crisis and the meltdown in the European elections, it was Mandelson who kept him in office. If he walked tomorrow, the government would not fall – but the remaining confidence in the future of brand Labour, as currently constituted, would disappear.

There is another reason for Mandelson’s supremacy: he is the only minister offering a coherent narrative of how Labour might win the next election, based on a return to the New Labour project of making policy that sits comfortably with middle England (hence Brown’s recent, and almost certainly doomed, attempt to portray himself as the champion of the middle classes).

Yet he has not had it all his own way. Alistair Darling’s stubborn refusal to be consigned to the dustbin of British politics kept both Mandelson and Ed Balls out of the Treasury, while his insistence that retrenchment would be necessary, given the scale of the fiscal disaster we face, helped puncture the Prime Ministerial fantasy of Labour “investment” vs Tory “cuts”.

Darling climbs 19 places accordingly. Similarly, while David Miliband slips due to his vacillation over the leadership, his refusal to leave the Foreign Office limited Brown’s scope for reconstructing his government and again demonstrated the limits on the Prime Minister’s power.

Yet the dramatic changes on our list since last year do not just reflect convulsions within the leadership – they demonstrate a wider malaise on the Left of British politics.

Of course, our survey, put together with the help of a panel of experts, is not scientific – that is part of the fun. But while the succession of ministerial resignations – including Hazel Blears, once tipped for a top job in government and party; Caroline Flint, a former rising star who thought herself “political window dressing”; and of course Damian McBride, number seven on our list last year – have created openings, there have been few new faces demanding a place at the high table.

The unions have improved their rankings overall, and some old faces have come out fighting: John Prescott, with the help of his son David, has used the internet to rally the troops and extend his political life, as has Alastair Campbell, and Charles Clarke has kept his profile high with a series of biting attacks on Gordon Brown. But who else?

James Purnell, last year’s golden boy and a major player in those bloody days of June, slips back a little. Yes, he was the only Cabinet member to summon the courage to resign on principle – but his resignation was not the knockout blow he expected, indicative of the extent that Brand Blair has declined in relevance, as many within Labour have lost faith in the one virtue that kept the project alive for so long – election-winning.

Purnell is now doing some hard thinking about Labour’s ideological direction at the think-tank Demos, Of his former colleagues, Harriet Harman has been a big winner, keeping the parliamentary ship afloat, holding the party together and positioning herself for life after Brown.

Of the Miliband brothers, it is Ed, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, who came out of the expenses scandal and the leadership crisis best off.

Generally, the Brownite loyalists have slipped back as the Prime Minister’s authority receded: Ed Balls is down eight places, Douglas Alexander down seven, though Balls’s wife Yvette Cooper continues her slow creep up the rankings. By the same token, the prime minister’s advisers – McBride apart – might have done their jobs well, but those jobs have become increasingly difficult, hence their slide down the rankings.

So a vacuum has certainly opened up, but who is filling it? The old Left has climbed – Dennis Skinner enters our list at 68, for example – but not nearly as much as they should have done. Whenever Labour has lost power before, whether in the 1930s, 1950s or 1980s, there has always been a strong and coherent Left-wing position, critical of the governing wing of the party and ready to make its case after a defeat.

Yet the sheer scale of the party’s plight seems to have shocked them into silence: Jon Cruddas (up 61 places) and co have raised their voices, but have yet to produce a credible alternative to the existing agenda on the really big issues (even though they are well-positioned for the carnage the next election will bring about).

It has been left to lower-profile figures such as Jessica Asato at Progress and Richard Reeves at Demos (whose position on the Left is nominal at best) to make the running on issues like constitutional reform. Indeed, apart from the arguments about public expenditure, this is the only area in which clear Red water has developed.

Admittedly, in the current economic and fiscal environment, it is hard to see what the domestic agenda of a resurgent Left would really look – another stimulus package, paid for with even higher direct taxation on the rich? Yet globally, the state is back, a liberal sits in the White House and the recession is slowly responding to various forms of fiscal stimulus (or emerging from the cycle as it would have done anyway, depending on your economics). It should be a time of dynamic new entries to the list. But the great thinkers of the Left seem strangely muted, while the younger generation seems to be keeping its head down and waiting for the election.

There are very few fresh faces on the scene, very few new ideas surfacing. The Left is treading water as the sharks on the right circle and wait for the kill. By the next year, the corpse will have been picked clean, and not many of the people at the top will remain relevant. The question most of our 100 names are spending rather too much of their time thinking about is who will replace them.

Here are the Top 50, together with their rankings last year...

1 81 Peter Mandelson
2 1 Gordon Brown
3 6 Harriet Harman
4 4 Ed Miliband
5 24 Alistair Darling
6 67 Jon Cruddas
7 11 Charlie Whelan
8 2 David Miliband
9 14 Alan Johnson
10 9 Derek Simpson
11 Sarah Brown
12 3 Alex Salmond
13 5 Ed Balls
14 12 Tony Blair
15 8 James Purnell
16 13 Jack Straw
17 John Prescott & David Prescott
18 Lord Adonis
19 Tessa Jowell
20 29 Alastair Campbell
21 21 Tony Woodley
22 53 John Denham
23 16 Polly Toynbee
24 22 Nick Brown
25 42 Andy Burnham
26 37 Frank Field
27 28 Shriti Vadera
28 50 Caroline Lucas
29 38 Yvette Cooper
30 34 Liam Byrne
31 31 Deborah Mattinson
32 65 Sunder Katwala
33 26 Douglas Alexander
34 64 Richard Reeves
35 45 Neal Lawson
36 25 Andrew Rawnsley
37 39 Shaun Woodward
38 Glenys Kinnock
39 Geoff Mulgan
40 52 Dave Prentis
41 Baroness Royall
42 54 Mark Serwotka
43 Amartya Sen
44 43 Alan Rusbridger
45 23 Jackie Ashley
46 94 Steve Richards
47 47 Jack Dromey
48 30 Brendan Barber
49 57 Jim Murphy
50 88 Phil Collins

Short biogs and analysis of the Top 50 are HERE and 51-100 HERE.

Quote of the Day: Gordon Brown

"People want to know how is the special relationship...
...Well Peter and I are getting on well"

Gordon Brown at the LGA Reception, Labour Conference

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fun With the Fabians

Earlier this evening I was part of a Question Time style panel at a Fabian Society fringe meeting titled CAN LABOUR WIN? Chaired the the Observer's Gaby Hinsliff, the meeting also heard from Ed Balls, Caroline Flint, Caroline Lucas and Sunder Katwala, the director of the Fabian Society.

Naturally Balls and Flint both thought that the answer to the question was yes. Big surprise. Flint, however, was slightly more candid in her analysis of Labour's problems and accused the government of trying to do too many things at once, something I agree was a danger - I termed it 'initiative-itis'. Balls's answer was incredibly complacent. There was no vision, just a ritualistic attack on the Tories, something he did in every single answer he gave. In my answer I quoted Tim Montgomerie's blogpost about the comparison between Labour now and the Tories in 1996. I reckoned there were five aspects to Labour's chances of winning in 2010...

  • Their ability to unite - people don't vote for disunited parties. It's all very well Prescott saying Stop Complaining, Get Campaigning, when he himself launches an attack on Harriet Harman.
  • The party leadership and activists have actually got to believe they CAN win and have some self belief. No Labour MP or activist I talk to thinks the party can, or will, win.
  • Changing the leader would be no panacea. It may save at most thirty seats. Labour's top brass should get behind their existing leader rather than positioning themselves to be the next one.
  • The economy - It won't get better in time for people to believe it is better in advance of the election. Unemployment will still be rising, and tax rises will come in in April. For that reason the election is unlikely to be at the beginning of May.
  • Events - no one knows what can happen in politics. There could be some earth shattering event which changes everything. It's probably Labour's best hope.
The second question was about whether there should be a referendum on PR on the same day as the general election. Caroline Flint was adamantly opposed both to a referendum and PR itself. Ed Balls was slightly more equivocal, but not much. I said that if there is to be a debate about PR, let's have it, but not mix it up with the general election. Quite a few of the audience seemed to agree. Caroline Lucas, needless to say, was all in favour.

The next question was about the Conservative policy on marriage. I ended up having a bit of a ding dong with Ed Balls who launched into a bitter attack on David Cameron for supposedly creating a two tier society. I quoted Tom Harris's writings on this subject and explained that if we as a society believe that marriage is important and good for society there was no reason why this should not be reflected in the tax system. I spoke about the importance of a male presence in the lives of children and that the main priority for us all should be to encourage stable, loving and committed relationships, no matter what the form. I related an argument I had had with Ann Widdecombe on the subject, but the less said about that here the better :).

The discussion then moved on to a question on whether taxes should go up. Ed Balls tried to create some more of his artificial dividing lines by asserting that the Tories would abolish universal child benefit. I responded that this was utter tripe. Balls had tried to imply that the Taxpayers' Alliance and the IOD were Tory Party stooges and they were setting policy for the Tories. If only, some might say. I said it was ludicrous that people earning £55,000 were receiving tax credits and that this should no longer happen. I was then portrayed as a wicked Tory. I agreed that a sensible Tory government could not rule out tax rises and that Tory governments had had to put up taxes in 1981 and in the early 1990s. The key to our economic future lay in getting the balance right between controlling pubic spending and borrowing, and getting our tax system right.

All in all it was a thoroughly enjoyable debate. Sunder Katwala, the director of the Fabian Society is a very impressive thinker, with a great ability to speak engagingly about policy wonkery. If the Labour Party is in opposition after the next election I foresee a big role for him. I hope he changes his mind and tries for Parliament. I may not agree with him on everything but he is totally genuine and an original thinker. Parliament needs people like him far more than it needs the partisan hackery of career politicians like Ed Balls.

I also felt that Caroline Flint had changed. In government she behaved like a talking robot, always happy to trot out a party line, no matter how ridiculous it made her sound. Tonight, she seemed to have matured into someone whose judgement may well be called upon by her party after the next election.

Caroline Lucas, who I used to find a rather inspirational figure in some ways, didn't spark at all. Her answers were formulaic and lacked warmth. I could predict virtually everything she said. I had a real go at her when she asserted the Tories would gerrymander seat boundaries after the next election. It's exactly that sort of talk which is corrosive and encourages cynicism about politics. She knows as well as me that the Boundaries Commission is not susceptible to political influence. Why is it that under a Tory government it redrew the boundaries to give Labour a huge advantage? She didn't have an answer to that.

I have to admit to finding Ed Balls a fascinating enigma. He has quite a good sense of humour, but seems devoid of the ability to connect with an audience. Many of his answers were so predictable that people were almost mouthing his answers before he had uttered them. His default answer to any questions was to mount an attack on what he alleged to be a Tory position, but was really a position he wished the Tories would take. He kept on about wanting an honest debate about tax and spend, but I really got the impression that the concept of an honest debate was totally alien to him if he continually created artificial dividing lines. Judging from some of the tweets I have seen from the event, people in the audience clearly felt we hated each other. Certainly not true in my case - I won't speak for him - but I think I want to continue the debate with Mr Balls. I feel a Total Politics IN CONVERSATION coming on...

UPDATE: Next Left have a report on the disagreement between Ed Balls and myself over Tax and Spend.

Quote of the Day: Peter Mandelson

"Jack Straw in neither here nor there."
Peter Mandelson, Sunday Times, 27/9/09

Talking about Jack Straw distancing himself from plans to allow
Peers to renounce their peerages to sit in the Commons

The 100 Most Influential Lefties 100-51

For the third year running the Telegraph are publishing the Top 100 Most Influential People on the Left list. The first of two parts is published today HERE.

It was compiled by a panel of people on the left, including one MP, two bloggers, three journalists and two former advisers. Brian Brivati and I then put it all together. Tomorrow, in the printed paper, there will be an article explaining our thinking and the rankings of the Top 50. Well, it's a hard job, and someone's got to do it...

What's Good for the Goose...

Did you hear Radio 5 Live this morning? Phil Williams, the Breakfast show host, was talking about Gordon Brown and Michelle Obama.

"What did you make of Gordon Brown holding hands with Michelle Obama then? There's a lot of men in the world would've liked to be in THAT position!"

The feminists are out in full cry, accusing his of sexism and worse. Except they're not, because he never said it. But Gaby Logan, on her show later this morning, did say...

"What did you make of Obama holding hands with Sarah Brown then? There's a lot of women in the world would've liked to be in THAT position!"
The truth is that if Phil Williams HAD made the comment above he would have been traduced by the politically correct, dungaree wearing lobby. But when a female presenter says something like that no one bats an eyelid.

Just sayin', like.

Hattip: Biased BBC

Labour MP Lose Sex Discrimination Tribunal

Stephen Hesford resigned as a PPS at the Law Officers' Department this week, over the refusal of Baroness Scotland to resign. Today's News of the World provides a rather contrasting picture of this 'man of principle'. (sadly the story doesn't seem to be online)

One of his staff has taken him to an industrial tribunal after she was sacked as his constituency press officer. Mr Hesford failed to respond to her allegations of sex discrimination due to what he termed his "heavy workload". He was found guilty in his absence and has now launched an appeal. He now stands accused of trying to drag out the proceedings. A friend of his former staffer, Jacqueline Snell, told the NOTW...
He's doing everything in his power to delay these proceedings and drag them out. He knows her background and he knows that she cannot afford to keep fighting.

Those of us who have witnessed Mr Hesford's tactics in fighting Esther McVey would, I am sure, happily start a fighting fund for Ms Snell if her finances proved to be an insurmountable barrier.

This isn't the first time Mr Hesford has been in trouble. In 1997 he was was reprimanded for failing to turn up for a court case.

If there's one result I am looking forward to on election night, it's hearing that Esther McVey has won. She's going to be an absolute star in Parliament.

Should Marr Have Asked THAT Question?

It's not often I am left open mouthed by an interviewer's question, but Andrew Marr achieved it this morning when he asked Gordon Brown directly about the rumours that he is taking "prescription drugs such as painkillers". UPDATE: The actual quote was: "A lot of people use prescription painkillers and pills to help them get through, are you one of those people?"

Brown simply replied "No" and then rambled about how he has coped with his eye problems. He was clearly furious Marr had had the temerity to ask such a question. Was he right to be furious?

I'd say not. The PM's state of health is a legitimate matter for concern. Marr has heard the same rumours as the rest of us and clearly felt there was a possibility that the rumours might have some validity. Unfortunately the Prime Minister's behaviour throughout the interview would have done nothing to dispel the rumours.

Marr proved something to a lot of sceptics this morning. That he has some big, fat, hairy ones.

What's the betting Brown refuses to be interviewed by him again?

Brown's Own Little World

Brown's mendacity knows no bounds. On Andrew Marr, he just attributed the fact that there have been fewer mortgage defaults than in the 1991 recession to the success of his Mortgage Renegotiation Scheme. What a shame Andrew Marr didn't reveal the fact that this "successful" scheme has helped just eight families at the last count. Eight! Brown lives in his own world where every scheme he launches is a massive success. Luckily, people see through it.

UPDATE: I've compared Brown to Nixon before. He is sweating so profusely during his Marr interview that he looks like Nixon in the 1960 debate!

UPDATE: Marr: What's your biggest mistake?
Brown: Not to move faster on my fairness agenda.

YeGods. He had enough to choose from yet still resorts to hubris.

What a terrible interview. Labour MPs will be mutinous. Well, actually they won't. They haven't got the balls.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Date For Your Diary

I hope those of you who are attending this year's Conservative Conference will come along to a little party I am throwing on the Wednesday evening. I've lined up a couple of special guests, who I will tell you about nearer the time.

I have now created a Facebook Group for the event. Please do sign up if you intend coming. Click HERE.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Why Do Candidates Work in Public Affairs?

According to The Times this morning, you'd think lobbyists were akin to child molesters. Not surprising really considering the article was written by Tom Baldwin, who, it seems, has returned to these shores from America.

Baldwin thinks it a scandal that 28 - yes, all of 28 - Tory candidates are in some way involved in the world of public affairs and lobbying. Here's the intro to his "story"...
Dozens of Conservative parliamentary candidates are working in the lobbying industry that seeks to influence their party’s leadership.

Dozens? Well, strictly speaking 28 does include more than one dozen. But quite why this should be a front page story is something I will leave to The Times editor to justify. If lobbying were illegal, there might be a point to it, but it isn't. And if any of the 28 were being secretive about their employment, the prominence given to the story might be understandable. But so far as I can see, all those working for consultants declare their employment through the Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC) and in turn declare who their clients are. And the fact is that many Labour and LibDem PPCs also work in the same line of work.

The implication of the Times article is that candidates should be banned from working in public affairs. And according to Baldwin there is something deeply fishy in the fact that selected candidates do end up in public affairs. He writes...
More than a quarter got their jobs after being selected to fight seats.

So that would be a total of, er, 8. The reason that people do seek work in public affairs after they are selected is that they often find it difficult to find a job where there is an understanding that they need to spend one or two days a week in their constituencies. So when people get selected they often give up a 5 day a week job for a 3-4 day a week job in lobbying as they know that public affairs consultants will understand why they need to do that. There's nothing sinister in it, as long as it is all transparent.

What really gets me, though, is the implication that it is really only Conservatives who do this. Baldwin writes...
Only seven Labour and three Liberal Democrat prospective candidates with realistic hopes of victory have jobs in public affairs or communications.

That is something which is so patently wrong as to defy belief. But of course he doesn't define what "realistic hopes" means. If he looked at the Top 100 Labour, Tory & LibDem marginals he'd get a very different picture. It is probably the case that Baldwin has probably analysed the Top 150 most likely Tory wins, but only looked at a couple of dozen Labour seats and fewer LibDem seats.

Perhaps my readers might like to help identify Labour & LibDem PPCs who work in public affairs, so we can see just how accurate Baldwin's claims are.

Has the Telegraph Mole Donated His Fee to Charity?

I don't mind admitting that the Telegraph book revelation this morning was slightly less, er, impactful than had been expected. The whole thing seems to be covering old ground. Nothing wrong with that, but if the biggest point of interest is that the leaker was a serving soldier, it's not quite the big deal putting the book out under a massive embargo would imply.

However, it's interesting to read the man's motives, which will prove embarrassing to the government.

Workers who processed the MPs’ claims included serving soldiers, who were moonlighting between tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan to earn extra cash for body armour and other vital equipment.

The soldiers were furious when they saw what MPs, including the Prime Minister, were claiming for and their anger convinced one of their civilian colleagues that taxpayers had a right to know how their money was being spent. The mole who leaked the data has told his story for the first time, in the hope that it will shame the Government into finally supplying the right equipment for the thousands of soldiers risking their lives in Afghanistan.

“It’s not easy to watch footage on the television news of a coffin draped in a Union Jack and then come in to work the next day and see on your computer screen what MPs are taking for themselves,” he said.

“Hearing from the serving soldiers, about how they were having to work there to earn enough money to buy themselves decent equipment, while the MPs could find public money to buy themselves all sorts of extravagances, only added to the feeling that the public should know what was going on.

“That helped tip the balance in the decision over whether I should or should not leak the expenses data.”

One of the expenses that particularly enraged staff was Gordon Brown’s claim for a Sky TV sports package, which cost £36 per month.

But it was the position of the soldiers, who had used their annual leave to find temporary work as security guards, that caused the most outrage. “As the days progressed the soldiers joined in the conversations and became as angry as those doing the editing,” the mole said.

“Everyone in that room was of the same mind. This was our money and these were our employees, effectively, but no one could hold them to account.

“Pretty much everyone working in that room was being paid a pittance to do their job. Meanwhile the MPs were being well paid and claiming a fortune on their expenses, yet what have they done for us in the last 10 years?

“That was why I leaked the information: because the British public deserves better.”

Indeed it does. I stick to the view that the mole performed a public service by leaking this to the Daily Telegraph, and the Telegraph were right to publish, even if some of the stories were reported in an unfair and lurid manner. Many MPs were correctly banged to rights, but there were quite a few innocent victims too. I am thinking mainly of those MPs who weren't mentioned but who were all tarred with the same brush.

So, yes, the mole did the right think and performed a public service, but we should also remember that he was paid handsomely for the information. The actual figure has never been revealed, but the sum of £70,000 has been mentioned. UPDATE: It has been confirmed that he was, in fact, paid £110,000.

I would like to think that bearing in mind what he says about his motivations, he has donated this money to Help for Heroes.

You can order the Telegraph book HERE.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Shriti to Head for Brussels?

What money on Shriti Vadera succeeding Baroness Ashton as Britain's Commissioner in Brussels? Just askin'...

With her legendary diplomatic skills she would make Margaret Thatcher's handbag look positively weak...

Baker Denies Rumour He's Quitting Parliament

I had decided not to blog this, but seeing that Tim Montgomerie has twittered it, here goes. This morning I was told by two sources that LibDem MP Norman Baker will stand down from Parliament at the next election. One was a Tory source and one was a LibDem source. I put it to a senior LibDem spokesman who checked it out with Baker himself. He described the reports as "entirely fabricated". That seemed pretty categoric to me so I didn't run it.

That's probably why I am not a journalist!

ConservativeHome Guarantees Its Independence

I never thought I would see the day when The Times would have a leader on the subject of the future of a single blog. But it did this morning, when it questioned the future of ConservativeHome under the ownership of Lord Ashcroft. Tim Montgomerie has penned a response HERE, which contains some interesting commitments to his site's editorial independence.

What a pity it is that a handful of left of centre politicians and commentators have taken their bat and ball home from PoliticsHome. As others have said, wouldn't it have been better to at least give the site the benefit of doubt and see how it panned out? After all, the site contains no comment, merely news aggregation.

Perhaps in three months time they might like to consider whether they acted in haste.

Labour Scandal Book Published Tomorrow

I'm told that tomorrow morning a new book will be published and be serialised by a national newspaper which won't make happy reading for the Labour Party. Booksellers have been told to expect embargoed copies tomorrow morning. Transworld are the publishers.

The last time a political book was published like this was when Edwina Currie published her diaries and serialised them in The Times. There was total secrecy in advance of publication. It came out on the Saturday before the Tory conference and completely dominated the event. It seems the same is set to happen to Labour tomorrow.

I have been unable to find out any further details. Maybe you know more...

It Shouldn't Happen to a Prime Minister: Part 94

Whether Gordon Brown actually was snubbed by Barack Obama doesn't really matter. Everyone thinks he was. Clearly the release of the Lockerbie bomber is going to take some time to get over. But it's not just that. Obama's people probably take the view that Brown isn't much longer for this political world and is of little significance.

It would never have happened to Tony Blair, though, would it?

I look forward to reading James Macintyre's thoughts on this. Bearing in mind how crap his US sources have been in the past (cf Obama's view of Cameron) they should make for entertaining reading.

Sweet FA

Driving to the station this morning, I could hardly believe my ears. Did you know that the taxpayer is forking out £40 million a year to football? Me neither. It's channelled through the FA and the Football Foundation to pay for initiatives in grassroots football. The government is threatening the withhold it unless the three football organisations (FA, Football League and the Premier League) overcome their mutual hostility and start to work together.

I question why the taxpayer is providing any money in the first place. Why not instead impose a levy of £2 million a year on any club in the Premier League. That's the equivalent of the annual wages of one Premier League player.

So, another £40 million off public borrowing. Maybe a pinprick, but you know what they say about a lot of little pinpricks...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Behind the Scenes at LBC

Sorry for the lack of posting since lunchtime. When you get a call to say "can you present our evening show tonight?" from a nationally renowned broadcaster it kind of throws your schedule.

A few weeks ago I did a tryout for LBC to present a show with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. We spent forty minutes in a tiny studio doing a mock show. To be honest I wasn't sure that it went very well. Anyway, something must have sparked.

I had an important meeting this afternoon to decide on which new titles to commission for Biteback Publishing so I didn't get to LBC until just after 5, so there were only two hours to prepare. We decided on the subjects and then I had to record a couple of trailers and do a live taster on James Maxx's drivetime show. Having not eaten since breakfast I popped out into Leicester Square to get something to keep my energy levels up - not good for the diet!

In the last hour we decided to cover the subject of assisted suicide - way outside my comfort zone. They had lined up MS sufferer Deborah Purdy to talk about why the law needs to be clarified. I suggested getting Nadine Dorries on to put the counter point of view.

And before I knew it, it was time to go into the studio. One and a half minutes to get my papers sorted out and off we went. No script. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end. We spent the first 45 minutes talking about the LibDems and asking listeners: "What's the point of the LibDems?" Mike Smithson from came on and was fairly scathing about the conference and LibDem strategy against the Tories, as was virtually every caller with the exception of the ever loyal Mark Thompson who called in having just got home from Bournemouth. People really don't like Vince Cable's mansion tax.

In the second hour we did the regular Wednesday night panel with guests Will Straw, Baroness Ludford MEP and James Broeknshire MEP. We had a lot of callers and talked about Baroness Scotland, Gordon Brown and climate change. The hour went by very quickly indeed.

In the final hour we talked about assisted suicide, following today's clarification of existing law by the DPP. I hope people felt I treated it with the sensitivity it merited. I interviewed Debbie Purdy, the MS sufferer who had forced the law to clarified. She was a brilliant interviewee and rather inspirational, I felt. I then interviewed Nadine Dorries who thinks the law should remain as it is. She pointed out the dangers of the state condoning assisted suicide. We had quite an abrasive interview although she remained very calm. I think she felt I had given her a bit of a hard ride.

The last part of the show was the stickiest as there was a problem with the phones so I had to extemporise like mad. But I think I just about pulled it off.

And before I knew it, it was all over. I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. To be honest I felt totally at home. A professional radio presenter friend of mine twittered me afterwards and said...
That was the most laid back debut I've ever heard. You're a natural.

That meant a lot. But it was the text from the LBC MD which I was dreading. But I needn't have. It ended with the words.
Consider yourself part of the LBC team.
Job done!

Debuting Tonight on LBC from 7.15-10pm

Tonight I will be presenting a three hour phone in show on LBC 97.3 (and DAB throughout the country), standing in for Petrie Hosken from 7.15-10pm. It's my debut on the station, so keep your fingers crossed for me. It won't be quite as loose and radical as my Play Radio Show was, but we'll be talking about the hot issues of the day and from 8-9 we have the weekly 'Parliament' slot with political representatives from the three parties.

UPDATE: Just to give you an update on the PlayRadio Show. I am told that the station has gone into administration, so I am afraid it won't be returning. A great shame as it will a hugely innovative station.

If you have time to listen on 97.3 FM, you'd be very welcome indeed, and do feel free to call in on 0845 60 60 973 or text 84850. You can also listen on the LBC website HERE.

UPDATE: From 7.15 to 8 we'll be asking "What's the point of the Liberal Democrats?" I'll be talking to Mike Smithson and taking calls from listeners

From 8-9 it's the Parliament Panel with guests James Brokenshire MP, Will Straw and Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP. Subjects include the LibDem Conference, Gordon Brown's award, Baroness Scotland and much else.

From 9-10 we'll be talking about assisted suicide. I'll be interviewing MS sufferer Debbie Purdy, the woman whose legal case brought about a clarification of the law.

And at 10pm I shall either feel very depressed or slightly euphoric...

Hesford Deals Further Blow to Baroness Scotland

I hesitate to praise the Labour MP Stephen Hesford, for fear of what his Tory opponent Esther McVey might do to me, but his resignation as a government PPS in the law officers department over the Prime Minister's decision to retain the services of Baroness Scotland is an honourable one. What a shame the Attorney General herself doesn't seem to have the same sense of honour. But there's still time...

Just When Gordon Thought It Was Safe

Just when the World Statesman of the Year (no, really) thought his leadership was safe, up pops that nice, helpful Charles Clarke again to stick the knife in. In an interview with the Evening Standard he suggests that Gordon Brown should resign, citing "ill health" as his reason. This would be the only way to save the Labour Party from 15 years in the wilderness.

It's all kicking off HERE.

Miliband: Euro Referendum is "Extremist"

So, there we have it. David Miliband thinks it is "extremist" to want a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Doesn't that tell you everything you need to know about New Labour's moral bankruptcy?

UPDATE: Those who are asking where this came from should read the front page of today's Telegraph.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Very Worst Kind of Gesture Politics

I've just got home from the LibDems to read of the row that has been developing of the purchase of 57% of ConservativeHome and PoliticsHome by Lord Ashcroft. Let's start with a declaration of interest. Lord Ashcroft owns 25% of my company Biteback Media, which publishes Total Politics, and is the 85% owner of Biteback Publishing. And also for the record, I haven't talked to Michael Ashcroft, Tim Montgomerie or Stephan Shakespeare before writing this.

Today Andrew Rawnsley resigned from PoliticsHome. Funny, I thought he already had. He doesn't seem to have written a word on the site for three months. Read his reasons HERE. Stephan Shakespeare responded with THIS statement. Since then various left of centre personalities have publicy resigned from the PoliticsHome panel. Their reasoning is that they think PoliticsHome will become a tool of the right.

Have they not noticed that it has been owned and run by Stephan Shakespeare, an avowed Tory, since its inception in 2008? The same Stephan Shakespeare who was behind 18 Doughty Street? He assured the panel at the time the site would be politically neutral and it has been.

I experienced these very same accusations when I started Total Politics. People on the left (understandably) treated my assurances that it would be politically neutral with some scepticism. After all, if Dale and Ashcroft were involved it stands to reason doesn't it, that it would be biased? Except, no it doesn't. No one raises those accusations now. Even Kevin Maguire has publicly said that he can detect no right wing bias in the magazine. And I would challenge anyone else to. And that's for two reasons. Firstly, we have a politically balanced editorial staff who have striven to ensure that no accusation of partisanship can be levelled. And secondly, because Michael Ashcroft has better things to do that peer over the editor's shoulder. Ask Sarah Mackinlay or Ben Duckworth if they have ever been influenced by Michael Ashcroft. In fact I don't think either of them have ever clapped eyes on him, let alone had a conversation with him. Ask Sarah or Ben if I have ever tried to influence their editorial direction.

PoliticsHome is a new service - a news aggregator. It doesn't have much of its own original content.

So to those who have resigned from the PoliticsHome Panel I ask this question: what makes you think Lord Ashcroft would want to influence the editorial direction of PoliticsHome when it is transparently clear that he has never done it with Total Politics? To Tom Harris, I say: why are you happy to write for Total Politics but then resign from the PoliticsHome panel? To Denis MacShane, I say, why are you happy to be on the Total Politics editorial board, but have resigned from the PH panel?

What you are doing is playing the very sort of politics you accuse the right of playing. That's your perogative, of course, but it makes you all look damn silly and rather like sheep who are quite happy to be herded by the likes of Sunny Hundal (who was also happy to write for Total Politics - perhaps he'd like to return the cheque...). I'd expect the likes of Tom Watson to behave in this partisan way, but I'm disappointed that Catherine Mayer, Matthew Taylor and Lynne Featherstone appear to have fallen for it too. Should I now boycott the RSA panel I am speaking at on Thursday lunchtime because Matthew Taylor has politicised his position as its director? No. Because I wouldn't be so pathetic.

But hey, you know what, it's a free country. I look forward to PoliticsHome proving that it has the integrity and self belief to continue with its stated mission. And when it does, those who have indulged in the politics of the school playing field can feel slightly ashamed.

And I say again: why is being owned 57% by the Conservative Lord Ashcroft any different to being 100% owned by the Conservative Stephan Shakespeare? Cos I am buggered if I know.

PS Cue stream of comments saying Dale's an Ashcroft lackey. Water. Duck's. Back.

A Thought on Baroness Scotland

Am I right in thinking that if a magistrate had been fined £5,000 for breaking the law, he or she would have been thrown off the bench?

LibDems Obsessed by Personal Attacks on Conservatives

So Chris Huhne was delivering a speech on housing today? Well I have read the whole thing and there's not a single word about housing in it. Instead it is just a series of personal attacks on various Tory politicians. Exactly the sort of thing LibDems usually piously tell us will turn off voters.

Note to LibDems: Labour is in power. Why aren't you attacking them? Scared of losing seats to the Tories? Need to squeeze that Labour vote just a bit more? Ah, I see. But these personal attacks are signs of desperation. Even many of your own delegates are repulsed by them. Think on.

Baroness Scotland Should Do the Honourable Thing

How on earth can Baroness Scotland stay in office when, according to reports, she is being fined £5,000 for employing an illegal immigrant. It can't be put down to a simple technical error when it was she who took the original legislation through parliament.

There used to be a time when honour played some part in these things. If that were the case today, she'd be gone by lunchtime. As Martin Bright has just twittered...

How can you have an Attorney General who has been fined for breaking the law?

Bang on. Of course, Gordon Brown could sack her, but that would require a bit of courage, wouldn't it?

The Top 50 Most Influential Liberal Democracts: 25-1

The Telegraph concludes its Top 50 LibDems list today with the Top 25. Mini biogs can be found HERE. The second figure denotes last year's ranking.

1 2 Vince Cable
2 1 Nick Clegg
3 3 Chris Huhne
4 - Chris Fox
5 9 Danny Alexander
6 7 David Laws
7 - Baroness Scott
8 49 John Sharkey
9 13 Tom McNally
10 5 Paddy Ashdown
11 - Lord Oakeshott
12 27 Polly Mackenzie
13 33 Tavish Scott
14 16 Evan Harris
15 11 Shirley Williams
16 - Richard Allan
17 21 Lord Lester
18 25 Duncan Brack
19 6 Charles Kennedy
20 22 Paul Burstow
21 28 Lynne Featherstone
22 23 Lord Shutt
23 8 Simon Hughes
24 12 Norman Baker
25 26 Steve Webb

Click HERE for positions 26-50.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Liberal Daley (Half) Dozen: Monday

1. Subrosa thinks the LibDems have lost the plot. Surely not.
2. Yesterday Himmelgarten Cafe was named LibDem Blog of the Year. Today it died.
3. Charlotte Gore writes her conference diary.
4. has news of a 17% Tory lead.
5. Mark Pack on correspondence chaos in the Cabinet Office.
6. Iain Martin says the spending cuts row is silly.

Question for Vince: What About Ability to Pay?

Just because you live in a big house, that doesn't mean you can find an extra couple of grand to pay the taxman. Vince's new mansion tax is clearly a replacement for the 50p rate, yet it bears no relation on the ability to pay. At least with a 50p rate you had some income to pay the extra tax. What about a retired couple who have lived in a house all their lives and never dreamed it would become so valuable? Where are they supposed to come up with the readies from? Well, where? I'm waiting...

LibDems Sceptical About the Cable Mansion Tax

Talking to LibDems this afternoon about Vince Cable's proposed mansion tax, I have yet to find more than a handful who support it. The majority say that while they personally find it acceptable, it's political madness. One delegate described it as an "indulgence".

Susan Kramer must be spitting tacks and it's just as well she isn't here this week as she'd probably deck him. Her Richomnd-on-Thames constituency has a lot of houses which fall into that bracket, as Zac Goldsmith will no doubt he highlighting.

To me this has all the hallmarks of becoming the LibDem poll tax. It's also envy politics of the worst find.

A Reader's Reaction to Vince Cable's Speech

From a reader...

"I've just been watching St Vince Cable's conference speech. I persevered almost to the end, but turned it off in anger. I have been bamboozled, I fell for his saintly economic credentials, I even contemplated voting Lib Dem out of frustration at clear policies from the Conservatives. However, the Straight Talk interview with Andrew Neil the other night punctured a few illusions and the speech today punctured the rest. It was a classic example of envy politics. I loathe people who indulge in that, the reason I would never vote Labour. Well, now I will never vote Lib Dem either, and UKIP, while I agree with their criticisms of the EU, has no domestic policies, and Greens are a bunch of arrogant authoritarians, as exemplified by the Moonbat, and I am just sooooo frustrated! I guess the Conservatives will get my vote as the least of evils..."

I wonder how many others are thinking in this way.

How Do We Find Housing For Ex Service Personnel?

I am at the Royal British Legion fringe at the LibDem conference listening to a discussion about the treatment of our armed forces.

A LibDem councillor has just related a tale of someone from 3 Para who has recently left the armed services after serving in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 15 years. He joined up at seventeen and is now 42 32. And he is homeless. There has been no help for him to find accommodation. So he isn't exactly demob happy. Who can blame him, after giving the best years of his life to his country.

Nick Harvey suggests forming a specialist housing association. Anyone have any experience in this area? How widespread is this problem, and what are your ideas for doing something about it?

Czechs Delay Lisbon Ratification Even Further

Now THIS is interesting. It seems that whatever the result of the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, the Czechs may be about to put yet another spanner in the works.

The Czech PM said before the weekend that a legal challenge through the Czech constitutional court could delay ratification by 3-6 months. Sarkozy is supposed to have reacted with fury and threatened the Czechs with unspecified ‘consequences’. How very typical of the way the EU likes to bully small countries into submission.

Maybe we will get our own referendum after all.

Daily Politics: Who Will Cover For Anita Anand?

Many congratulations to Anita Anand, who has been visited by the stork and is expecting. That means Peter Allen will have to find a new sparring partner on Drive (step forward Asma Mia) but more to the point the seat next to Andrew Neil on the Daily Politics will become vacant. That set me wondering who would be a good short term cover for Anita's maternity leave.

Jo Coburn has stepped into the breach before but she will probably be otherwise engaged on election coverage. Other potential candidates could be Petrie Hoskin, who hosts a nightly phone in on LBC. She's got the right kind of sense of humour which Andrew likes to feed off. Or perhaps Victoria Derbyshire, Jane Hill or even Fi Glover?

Its a fairly crucial period to cover as it will be in the runup to the election so it probably needs to be someone who is an experienced interviewer. My vote would go to 5 Live's Shelagh Fogarty - and not just because she happens to be a friend! She has the interviewing experience, a waspish sense of humour, a good political brain and perhaps just as importantly has worked well with Andrew Neil before on 5 Live.

Any other suggestions?

UPDATE: Apologies to Jo Coburn for spelling her name incorrectly. I know how she feels.

Calling All LibDems: TP Fringe Today!

If you are attending the Liberal Democrat Conference today in Bournemouth, can I cordially extend an invitation to the Total Politics fringe meeting which is being held jointly with Henley Business School

Trust in Politics: How We Lost It & How to Get It Back

Tuesday 22 September, 1-2pm
Hermitage Hotel, Exeter Road, Bournemouth
Refreshments provided


Lynne Featherstone MP,
Prof Anthony Seldon,
Prof Chris Bones

Chaired by Iain Dale

All welcome

And please do visit the TotalPolitics Exhibition Stand in the Solent Hall, where you will get the chance to win an ASUS Eee PC! And please be nice to Emily. She gets lonely at conferences, you know

The 50 Most Influential LibDems 50-26

No, don't laugh. Really. Each year the Daily Telegraph asks me to put together three panels of experts to compile the Top 50 LibDems, Top 100 most influential people and the left, and then the right. Today the Telegraph publishes the first part of the LibDem list, running from 50 down to 26.

The rankings were arrived at by a panel of 5 Liberal Democrat personalities, which was chaired by myself. i.e I am sharing the blame! Here's the list. The second figure denotes last year's ranking. Click HERE to get the full details including mini biographies and a short explanatory article HERE.

26 19 Norman Lamb
27 29 Jonathan Oates
28 4 Chris Rennard
29 15 Lord Carlile
30 44 Sarah Teather
31 39 Alison Suttie
32 - Hilary Stephenson
33 - Richard Kemp
34 20 Baroness Neuberger
35 14 Ed Davey
36 34 Ming Campbell
37 38 John Shipley
38 - Kirsty Williams
39 48 Richard Grayson
40 - Paul Scriven
41 Jo Swinson
42 36 Mark Pack
43 41 Dorothy Thornhill
44 - Neil Sherlock
45 45 David Howarth
46 - Daniel Radcliffe
47 - Mark Littlewood
48 - Willie Rennie
49 - Fiona Hall
50 18 Lembit Opik

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Labour's Maddest Idea Yet: Find All Motorists Guilty!

Have you ever heard a crazier idea than THIS?Apparently Labour Ministers are intending to pass laws to ensure that all motorists are found to be the guilty parties when involved with accidents involving pedestrians or cyclists. Unbebloodylievable.

I always thought justice involved proof of guilt, not arbitary judgement.

The behaviour of cyclists can be incredibly dangerous sometimes, and to say a cyclist can never be at fault in an accident involving a car is incredible and goes against every single law of natural justice. What about an accident involving a cyclist and a pedestrian? The warped logic of this government will no doubt find some reason to find an absent motorist guilty of that too.

This demonising of the motorist has to stop.

Good on Nick Clegg

Good on Nick Clegg for having the balls to admit that he has used private healthcare for his son. Not an easy thing for him to do, when he is floating the idea of cutting universal child benefits.
Asked why he had opted out of the NHS, he said: “Because we were very keen to see a particular consultant for a particular problem very quickly.”

That sounds suspiciously like the answer Margaret Thatcher gave when asked during the 1987 election why she used private healthcare.
Because I can see the consultant I want, when I want.

She got huge flak for that. I wonder if the same media firestorm will engulf Mr Clegg. In some ways, I hope not, because it's about time we got over this absurd idea that private healthcare is somehow a bad thing.

Baroness Scotland Faces Questions on Three Fronts

When the Prime Minister expressed his full confidence in Baroness Scotland, you could tell she was on the political equivalent of death row. Today she has taken a further step towards political oblivion. First there is the revelation that her ex Housekeeper's flat has been raided by the Border Agency. Secondly, she has been unable to provide copies of the papers she should have copied under the very legislation which she, herself, took through Parliament. She cannot even plead ignorance as a defence. But thirdly, there is the revelation in the Sunday Times that she has claimed £170,000 of London living allowances which she is clearly not entitled to under the rules. You can only claim it if you live outside London, yet she has listed her London home as her main home since 2001.


UPDATE: And a second Labour Peer, Childrens' Minister Baroness Morgan (you know, the one who Humphrys roasted on Today over the paedo register) has been claiming £140,000 because she lists a holiday cottage as her main residence. Toast with butter.

Why Don't the LibDems Have More Ethnic Minority Candidates?

A reader has sent this....
Andrew Pierce just asked Lynne Featherstone why no there are no black Lib Dem MP's and the answer came back:

"We don't have any safe seats where you can just place people, you have to earn your spurs in the Lib Dems."

What would Jimmy Macintyre make of that?

Indeed. I think Lynne Featherstone is being slightly disingenuous. There are indeed LibDem held seats which could select BME candidates. The trouble is that the LibDems have made little effort to encourage a more diverse range of candidates in LibDem held or marginal seats. She is also insinuating that the other parties have just placed candidates in seats as tokens. As she well knows, in the Conservative Party it doesn't work like that. Adam Afriyie, Shailesh Vara, Priti Patel and dozens of others are testament to that. They all won their selections on merit, not through any preferential treatment.

The LibDems have never elected an ethnic minority MP at a general election. Their only MP was the short lived Parmjit Gill who won the Leicester South by election in 2004 but lost it at the ensuing general election.

UPDATE: LibDem Blogger Jonathan Fryer rather makes my point for me in THIS post which is titled WHY IS THE LIBDEM CONFERENCE SO HIDEOUSLY WHITE?

Ed Davey & Tea With the Taleban

Sometimes I wonder what on earth possessed Nick Clegg to give the foreign affairs portfolio to Ed Davey. His speech to the LibDem conference this morning will have left LibDems wondering the same thing. I've read the whole thing, and it was toe-curling. But one passage stuck out...
It’s time for tea with the Taleban - and tea with the multitude of local tribal Afghan insurgent leaders.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think we can end the military mission overnight. We will still have to ask our amazingly brave armed forces to stand up to hostile insurgents. Perhaps for some time to come.

But tea is actually the most potent drug in Afghanistan if you want peace. It’s how peace deals have been struck in Afghanistan down the ages.

Tea with the Taleban? What a ridiculous phrase, and one which is an insult to those who serve with our armed forces in Afghanistan. Whatever one's view of whether one should open some sort of communication with the Taleban, this is a phrase which should come back to haunt Ed Davey. It was cringemaking in its inappropriateness. And I suspect that when I discuss it with my LibDem friends in Bournemouth later on tonight.

Who Would You Like to See as a Conservative MP?

Tim Montgomerie has taken something of a risk today by identifying twenty people on the Conservative Party candidates list who he thinks would make good MPs. He's kind enough to include me on the list. In compiling this list he has probably created 800 enemies! I guess we all have friends who we would like to promote and hope might be successful in getting a seat before the next election. I'm not going to name mine, but instead I will invite you to nominate someone you think would be an asset to the Conservative Party on the green benches.

Quote of the Day: Nick Clegg Colemanballs Edition

"There's something to be said for a bit of stage management.
Only a bit, though. You have to keep it spontaneous."

Nick Clegg at the LibDem Conference (where I shall be heading this evening..)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Advice to Political Agents: Part 94

A friend of mine has just bought a book, published in 1935, entitled "Rules and Conduct for Agents in a Parliamentary Election Campaign". The opening chapter includes the following priceless advice:

"A Candidates' Agent should ensure that motor cars are available to transport voters to and from the place of poll. This is particularly important in rural constituencies which contain high numbers of farmers, crofters, woodsmen, countryfolk and the physically lame. It is advisable that a flatbed truck is procured onto which even the most severely crippled can be hoisted and transported to the voting place."

Invaluable. Flatbed trucks at the ready please!

Fisking James Macintyre

The New Statesman has a long, proud history. Yesterday that reputation was tarnished. Political correspondent James Macintyre wrote an blogpost which contained this shocking sentence...
I believe the Conservative Party is institutionally racist.

He then went on to make various allegations against Tory MEP Dan Hannan, who he clearly believes is racist too. He cites some quotes from a piece about Barack Obama without providing any context. He also omits to say that Hannan supported Obama. The New Statesman later removed the article from its website, but it can still be seen HERE. I thought it deserved a light fisking. His words are in red (as well they might be)...

The cat is well and truly out of the bag.
Is it? How? Do explain. Are you sure you don't mean that the white hoods have come off?
In the past, there has often been an element of fogginess to rows about Tory racism as they erupt (though in this area, there is never smoke without fire).
Two cliches in one sentence. Where's the sub? Evidence please.
What exactly is the relationship between the anti-immigration Monday Club and the Conservative Party?
There isn't one. Iain Duncan Smith removed them as an affiliated organisation some years ago. But you probably didn't know that. Or if you had, you'd have mentioned it. Well, wouldn't you?
Does hailing Enoch Powell amount to closet racism?
No. Next.
He was a good parliamentarian, after all.
Nice of you to admit it.
Is a racist joke a sign of true feelings about the matter?
It might be, or it might not be. Is telling a joke about the Irish racist, even when they do it themselves?
I believe the Conservative Party is institutionally racist. I always have done.
Good of you to set out your stall. Evidence please.
I have witnessed too many "jokes" or sideways looks when talking about immigration with Tories -- and done too much research into racism in the party over the years -- to think otherwise. But many would disagree.
Indeed they would. Of course there are racists in the Tory Party. There are, whisper it, also racists in the Labour Party and the LibDems. Try walking into Wallsend Labour Club if you're black and observe the reactions. That doesn't make the Labour Party "institutionally racist. Do try harder...
I would ask those people to read Daniel Hannan's blog for the Telegraph (not some dodgy recording at a Monday Club meeting, but words written down by him), on the question, raised correctly by the former president Jimmy Carter, of whether the rows in the US over President Obama's health-care plans are fuelled by an unspoken racism (which they are).
Yes do read it, because you would then see that Hannan was agreeing Carter, saying that some of the opposition to Obama's healthcare plans is driven by racist motives. You'd have thought
Macintyre would have welcomed Hannan agreeing with his own view. But oh no...
Hannan neatly proves Carter's point by saying: "Barack Obama has an exotic background and it would be odd if some people weren't unsettled by it."
And this is evidence of racism? Oh perlease. Is the word exotic the supposedly racist word? Send round the thought police now. Obama is not out of the typical US President mold. It's not just his skin colour, it's his family background, employment background etc. People are always fearful of the unknown. That's all Hannan was saying.
"[Obama seems to] have family on every continent".
Er, yes, that's a fact. Again something rather different to your average US President and likely therefore to cause comment.
"[I]t could hardly fail to leave a chunk of people feeling that Obama wasn't exactly a regular guy."
Er, yes, and that's evidence of what exactly? Don't tell me; racism. Oh dear. Is that the best evidence on offer that Dan Hannan is racist? Which particular Labour SPAD fed you all this guff?
So, who is Daniel Hannan? He has been in the news lately for running down the National Health Service on American television. Is he an obscure MEP? No. David Cameron rewarded him for the fallout over the NHS row with a new frontbench European job on legal affairs.
No he didn't actually. It was nothing to do with Cameron, and as a political correspondent you ought to know that. The job was given by the leader of the new grouping.
But are they close? Yes.
Actually, no. But don't let an inconvenient fact get in the way.
Like Michael Gove, Hannan is a former newspaper columnist (you may remember he tried to smear me in the Telegraph, a subject to which I will return in future weeks) in whom Cameron invests reliance.
Ah, now we're getting down to it. So this is all done to get back at Dan Hannan for something he wrote in a column about you. Diddums. Get over it. Rise above it. Grow up.
Reports claim the next Tory election manifesto is even being inspired by his 2008 book The Plan.
Yes, and so it should. It contained a number of excellent ideas, some of which, whisper it, are beign adopted by Labour - David Miliband in particular.
Now I know this post will result in howls of fury and clever-stupid ridicule from various partisan Conservatives pretending to be neutral truth-seekers. I will be dismissed -- as I was by Hannan -- as a "Labour spin doctor". But please, just reread those quotes, take a deep breath, and think about those words.
I have, I did, and I still think you're talking bollocks.

Many other bloggers have rightly called Macintyre to task for his comments. I was tempted to write a knee jerk denunication too, but decided instead to put some questions to him and get his side of the story. It was done by email so I will print my questions and his responses in full..

Q. What on earth were you thinking of?
A. What I was "thinking of" was that I believe the Tory party to be institutionally racist. I stand by that and look forward to the opportunity to expand on it.
Q. Did you know Hannan supported Obama and still does?
A. Yes I knew Hannan "supported" Obama for whatever that was worth. It makes no difference at all to his comments justifying racism towards him.
Q. Why was the article removed, and was it done with your knowledge?
A. No comment.
Q. Seeing as it was removed, would you like to offer a public apology to both Dan Hannan and the Tory Party?
A. No. Would Hannan and other Tories like to apologize to me for their smears?
Q. Why have you told another blogger that you can’t comment? Either you stand by your words or you don’t.
A. I stand by them. The "no comment" was about the removal of the post.
Q. Have you and or the NS been threatened with legal action?
A. No legal action threatened to my knowledge.

This, of course, begs more questions. He seems to be standing by his comments completely but sheds no light on why his article was removed from the NS website.

In his short time with the New Statesman Macintyre has become known as the most partisan political correspondent the magazine has employed in its recent history. Despite excellent pieces like THIS article about the McBride affair, he's seen by some as too close to some of his political friends. THIS somewhat nauseating piece about the wonders of Ed Miliband and Douglas Alexander is a case in point. It lends weight to the view of some that he's not a "political correspondent" by any normal definition of the term - he's an opinionated commentator. Nothing wrong with that at all, but why not admit it? However, whatever one thinks of his reporting style, his interviews are excellent - full of good questioning and insight. If I were his editor I'd get him to stick to interviews.

So what's the fallout from this? I cannot see how any Tory politician will want to speak to Mr Macintyre in the near future, let alone be interviewed by him, if he really does believe the party they represent is 'institutionally racist'. At a time when the NS is trying to cosy up to the Tory Party it is a shame to say the least that this storm has been provoked, and I suspect this was the real reason the article was pulled.

Could it be because the NS co-chairmen Mike Danson and Geoffrey Robinson read the riot act due to the timing? Two weeks tomorrow, for the first time I can ever remember, the New Statesman is holding a reception at the Conservative Party Conference. If I were James Macintyre I might discover I had a subsequent engagement in my diary...