Saturday, October 31, 2009

EDP Column: Why Liz Truss Deserves the Support of SW Norfolk Tories

I don't normally print my EDP columns on the blog, but I'm going to make an exception today.

“I suppose you’re going to pour some kerosene on the South West Norfolk selection in your EDP column,” said one local MP to me yesterday, rather miserably. Much as I might like to indulge in some more hyperbole, I shall do my best to resist temptation and try to offer some mature reflection and analyse where this whole sorry saga may head next. Some cool heads are going to be needed among local Tories over the next couple of weeks.

Firstly, let me put the record straight. I did not call all South West Norfolk people ‘neanderthals”, contrary to what Thursday’s EDP front page story implied. I wrote on my blog that the social outlook of those Tories who sought to deselect Liz Truss over her past affair with an MP was ‘neanderthal’. It’s the same social outlook which caused a few – and I emphasise, a few – North Norfolk Tories to swallow hard when I, a gay man, was selected as the candidate there in 2003. And yes, I believe it is an outlook which belongs to a bygone era, not the 21st century.

Others are quite within their rights to hold a different viewpoint, but they needn’t be surprised when they are called to account for it. Why? Because they are often people whose own private lives don’t quite stand up to scrutiny. I wonder how many of the nineteen members of the South West Norfolk Conservatives Executive Committee who voted to put into doubt her candidacy could look themselves in the mirror and honestly say they were entitled to sit in judgment of Ms Truss. The only person entitled to judge her is her husband. And he stuck by her. Isn’t that what should matter?

Ah, some say, but if she betrayed her husband, how can we trust her? How can we be sure she won’t betray her constituents? Utter poppycock. It’s a lazy argument perpetrated by the small minded. Did we not trust Lloyd George to lead us through a world war, when it was common knowledge that he was one of the randiest old goats in the country? Was Paddy Ashdown disqualified as LibDem leader when we found out about his affair with his secretary? Was John Major’s ability to do his job negatively affected by his affair with Edwina Currie? Was Robin Cook a worse Foreign Secretary after he left his wife for his secretary? We might all tut tut in disapproval at what they did and how it impacted their families, but is it any of our business?

Yes, but she was dishonest in not telling the Association and Conservative Central Office should have told us, say some Association members. Wrong. In a job interview it would be regarded as discriminatory to ask someone about their private life and there is a well established precedent that you’re not allowed to ask people if they are married or have children in a political selection, let alone expect them to tell you about every unsavoury aspect of their private life. When I was selected in 2003 I voluntarily chose to tell the local party that I was gay, as I knew it would cause a furore if it emerged later. I won with 66% of the vote on the first ballot. But I would not expect Liz Truss to have to mention a four year old affair.

What I genuinely don’t understand is why local members hadn’t looked her up on the internet. The shortlist was available to any member who wanted to know following the initial meeting which the candidates addressed at the Executive the previous week. If you type Liz+Truss into Google, the detail of the affair is shown on the first page. Most employers take this rudimentary step when employing anyone nowadays. South West Norfolk Tories have only themselves to blame if they did not do the same.

I see no reason for Liz to have been open about a completely private matter. But even if she had been or people had bothered to research the matter, those present would not have been entitled to take it into account. This isn't about "trust" - it is about the boundary between what an Association is entitled to know about a private individual, and what it absolutely isn't entitled to meddle in.

But does it matter what a few local members with questionable social attitudes think? Isn’t it more important to ascertain what the electorate makes of it? If Radio Norfolk’s vox pops are anything to go by, they are remarkable relaxed about having a candidate who has had an affair. Thank goodness for some common sense.

So what now? I imagine Liz Truss is feeling hurt and wounded by the whole experience. In two weeks she will face the music of the local Association in a general meeting, where she will face calls for her deselection. I hope we get to see what mettle she is made of. I wouldn’t blame her at all if late at night she had thoughts of throwing in the towel. She would only be human. But I really hope she doesn’t and that she fights this to the end.

Can we also put to rest another myth, the one which says that David Cameron is trying to parachute in candidates against the will of local parties. It’s rubbish. The six strong shortlist was drawn up by the local party with very little direction from the centre. The local party included one local candidate. James Tumbridge, who fought Norwich North at the last election, but ignored the merits of any other local candidates among the 150 or so who put their names forward. Presumably they did that because they felt that Liz Truss and the four other candidates were of better quality. What other reason can there have been?

I am all in favour of local candidates being selected where they merit it. But if they genuinely aren’t there and don’t come forward, what are we saying? That inferior people should be selected just because they happen to have a local accent? I don’t know how many were at the selection meeting which voted for Liz Truss by a majority on the first ballot, but it will have been at least 200. They did this because they thought she would be a better MP than James Tumbridge or the other four. No one told them or influenced them to vote that way. They did it of their own free will.

And I hope they will repeat the exercise in two weeks. If they vote to deselect Liz Truss it will be a dark day indeed – not just for Liz, but for the Conservative Party.

Book of the Day: Dilly - The Man Who Broke Enigma

From the new Biteback Publishing blog, written by the author of DILLY: THE MAN WHO BROKE ENIGMA, Mavis Batey. Mavis is 88 years old and worked at Bletchley Park.

Normally an obituary in The Times would provide a framework for a biography of an important person in any given field, but that simply wasn't true of the one written for my boss at the British wartime codebreaking base at Bletchley Park. This was the wonderfully eccentric but outstandingly brilliant Alfred Dillwyn Knox, known to his many friends and admirers simply as ‘Dilly’.

George Steiner, the American writer and philosopher, has described the codebreaking achievements that took place at Bletchley Park as ‘the single greatest achievement of Britain during 1939-1945, perhaps during the 20th century as a whole’. If that is true, then Dilly’s own achievements must be ranked among the greatest in their own right.

Dilly’s work on the various Enigma ciphers was certainly among the most important and significant carried out at Bletchley. Enigma was not one single cipher machine, as is often suggested, but a family of many different ciphers and it was Dilly and his research section, of which I was a proud member, who were asked to find a way into each new cipher as it appeared.
The failure of his obituary in The Times to do him justice when he died in early 1943 was caused by the absolute secrecy surrounding the work on Enigma. The obituary mentioned that his father was a former Bishop of Manchester; that his brother was Monsignor Ronald Knox, a famous Catholic theologian; and that another brother, ‘Evoe’, was editor of Punch. It also mentioned his work as a Classicist reconstructing the mimes of the Greek poet and playwright Herodas.

What it could not mention was that he was one of the leading members of Room 40, the Admiralty’s celebrated codebreaking section during the First World War, broke Bolshevik ciphers during the 1920s and 30s, and Enigma ciphers during the Spanish Civil War and Second World War. What it would certainly not have been possible to mention, even without the understandable secrecy, was that Dilly’s greatest triumph had not even taken place when the obituary was written.

Shortly before he died, in great pain from the cancer, Dilly broke the Enigma cipher used by the German secret service, the Abwehr. It was this that allowed MI5 and MI6 to manipulate the intelligence the Germans were receiving through the Double Cross System and fool them into leaving too few troops in Normandy to counter the allied landings.

Now that many more previously secret records have been released into the archives, I have at last had the chance to give my old boss the credit he deserves. I felt a strong sense of déjà vu in seeing once more the same secret enemy messages that we handled over sixty years ago, but then the secrecy was such that even I was unaware of the effect Dilly’s work had on the allied success in the war. I was determined in writing this book to ensure that what Dilly did was never forgotten.

Buy the book HERE.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Former Ambassador to Warsaw Exposes Labour Hypocrisy Over Kaminsky - Twice

Charles Crawford was our Ambassador to Poland. He now writes an excellent blog. He's written a couple of excellent posts on the Kaminski situation in the last couple of days which you can read HERE and HERE.

When the Law and Justice party won the 2005 general elections, there were a few progressive squeaks about the fact that European Civilisation had just ended since Poland had been kidnapped by wild anti-semitic homophobes.

Closer examination suggested that this was not in fact the case.

Which was why in successive high-level meetings between PM Tony Blair and Polish leaders there was not one word of concern expressed publicly or privately by the British side on these scores.

I know because I was in on all these meetings.

And, yes, in 2005 Michal Kaminski himself was there at the No 10 dining-table next to PM Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, scoffing prawn cocktail as Tony Blair's guest.

If David Miliband will not apologise to Michal Kaminski and sticks to his guns that Kaminski is a disgrace, maybe he should then apologise to the British people for Labour using taxpayers' money to host such a disgraceful person at this high level and then resign?

And while he is at it, he also might explain why not a single word of instructions issued to us in Warsaw from London to take up with the Polish side issues of anti-semitism, Jedwabne and all this other stuff.

What in fact happened was that the Labour leadership energetically supported by D Miliband instructed the Warsaw Embassy to get as close as we could to the Kaczynskis and their party, to help align them with us in successive big negotiations over the EU Budget (2005) and Lisbon Treaty (2007).

Which is what my team and I did, with excellent results - and much praise from the FCO and No 10.

And then this, today...

One of the points made by Labour against Kaminski is that he was in effect playing an anti-semitic card by arguing against the apology by then President Kwasniewski for the Jedwabne massacre.

It's obvious! Any Pole arguing against the form or principle of such an apology has to be at the very least a revolting person, and more probably a horrid anti-semitic extremist.


80% of Poles at the time (2001) felt that is was good that the crime at Jedwabne had been made public, but a similar 80% did not feel any moral responsibility for it - why should they? Opinion on President Kwasniewski's apology was divided, with a slight margin in favour.

Noting the complexity of these issues, the then Polish PM Jerzy Buzek was very careful in the way he chose his words:

The slaughter in Jedwabne was not perpetrated in the name of the nation, nor in the name of the Polish state. Poland was at the time an occupied country. Yet, if as a nation we have the right to be proud of those Poles who, at the risk of their lives, sheltered Jews then we must also acknowledge the guilt of those who took part in their slaughter.

We are ready to confront even the darkest facts of our history, but in the spirit of truth, without seeking presumed justifications. We will not, however, agree to have the Jedwabne event serve to popularize false theses of Poland's complicity in the Holocaust or about inborn Polish anti-Semitism.

Hmm. Is that formulation not just a bit defensive. Even ... shifty? Surely that crafty drafting masks a deep anti-semitic instinct!

And where is Mr Buzek these days?

Oh yes, here.

Some things are complicated and deeply morally challenging. Simplify them for banal political purposes at your peril.

How very strange that Labour aren't attacking Mr Buzek, the new President of the European Parliament. After all, he's committed the same "thought crime" as Mr Kaminsky. Surely something inconsistent in left of centre thinking, wouldn't you say?

I Had A Brand New Combine Harvester

At the Tory Party Conference I recorded a three minute video on the stand of the Institution of Occupational Safety & Health about my first job. I'm not quite sure they got what they bargained for, as I related tales from my childhood, helping my Dad on the farm and driving a combine harvester unsupervised at the age of eight. I reckon I had the most perfect childhood anyone could ever have had. What a shame that health and safety rules would stop me having it nowadays!

Click HERE to watch the video.

Are You, or Have You Ever Been...?

I write a fortnightly column for the EDP, and I have great respect for the EDP's political editor Chris Fisher so I shall choose my words carefully. His story today alleges that the Association Chairman was blocked by CCHQ from asking the following question at Liz Truss's selection meeting.
Is there anything in your political, professional or personal life which could conceivably mean that you could attract adverse media publicity either now, in the run-up to the election, or subsequently?

The chairman, Hugh Colver, gave a robust response.
Mr Colver, who worked at Conservative Central Office in 1995, has emphatically denied colluding with it to aid Ms Truss's selection by not asking the 'adverse publicity' question. “I was just waiting for someone to accuse me of that”, he said.

It is true that this question is often asked at the first round of a selection contest. I have no idea whether it was asked at the SW Norfolk Executive Round. I have had it asked in several selection contests, but none in the four selections I have taken part in since the 2005 election. It certainly wasn't asked in Maidstone or Bracknell. So I cannot see there is any kind of conspiracy afoot in South West Norfolk.

I wonder whether other candidates have had it put to them in recent selections.

An Interview With TV's Shane Greer

Tory Rascal has done a rather nice interview with TV's Shane Greer, which you can read HERE.

For those of you don't know him, Shane is from Northern Ireland, although people often think he is American for some reason. I first met him working at 18 Doughty Street and he now works with me as Executive Editor of Total Politics. He and I put the initial business plan together back in the latter part of 2007. In two weeks' time he is getting married to the lovely Brittany - which reminds, me, I need to get measured up for my top hat and tails!

Shane's media profile is increasing all the time, and he deserves it, because he is bloody good at it. Naturally, I taught him all he knows :).

I'm proud to say he's also one of my best friends.

Miliband Campaign Is Already Over

Likes Tony Blair's campaign for the EU Presidency, it looks like David Miliband's nascent campaign to be EU High Representative hasn't got off to a good start. Here's what the Chairman of the Polish Law and Justice Party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has said today...

We respect David Miliband as Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom. But before we could consider him for the role of EU High Representative, we must politely ask him to apologise for the remarks he has made about our party and our leading MEP Michal Kaminski. Law and Justice is a major party in Poland, and our country’s President is from our party. We understand that Mr Miliband has made a mistake, and we would ask him to correct it.

No chance. I don't think Mr Miliband quite realises how badly his vituperative remarks have gone down in Poland.

I wonder what the future holds for David Miliband. He certainly won't be leader of the Labour Party. He also won't be getting the EU job. Anyone suggest what he might do next?

An Unpleasant Encounter With Anne Atkins

I'd love to know what her husband puts in Anne Atkins' morning coffee, because whatever it is, I don't want any of it. I've just had the displeasure of appearing on the Jeremy Vine Show with her to discuss the Liz Truss situation. To say it was a shouting match doesn't do justice to the term.

Her basic premise was that people who have had affairs shouldn't stand for election. But she was so vicious and nasty with it that I am afraid I allowed my inner bitch to let rip at her. She gave as good as she got, but I managed to get the last word and expressed the hope that the South West Norfolk would be less narrow minded than her. It would be difficult not to be, to be honest.

She purports to be a Christian. A less christian person you are never likely to meet. Clearly God never gave her the ability to empathise or express forgiveness.

I shall now calm down, relax and go and have some lunch with the web summit delegates here in Dublin.

UPDATE: Apologies for the rather unfortunate typo in the original headline of this blogpost. It has now been corrected.

UPDATE: You can listen to the show HERE. Scroll in 33 minutes.

UPDATE: Oh how I wish I had known this little snippet before I debated with Ms Atkins. Apparently she thinks Norfolk people are thick... Click HERE. But the one remark from her we all treasure is this... "If we all heeded the Christian teaching, there would be no HIV or Aids.”

Chief Rabbi: "Kaminski is Not an Anti Semite"

I notice that Denis MacShane, David Miliband, James Macintyre and others on the left have been silent this morning about the Polish Chief Rabbi's interview with the Today Programme. As well they might, as he has blown apart their hateful arguments about Michal Kaminski being an anti semite.

Judge for yourselves by listening to the Chief Rabbi's interview HERE.

Jonathan Isaby writes...

When I met him at the Conservative Party conference, he rebutted these claims, yet the smears have continued. William Hague has already demanded an apology from David Miliband for the slurs and he did so again yesterday on the Today programme.

This morning, the Polish Chief Rabbi, Michael Shudrich, nailed these smears as false once and for all in an interview on the Today programme. You can listen to it for yourself here.

He made clear:

  • Michal Kaminski is a strong ally of the state of Israel;
  • He has condemned anti-Semitism;
  • His Law and Justice Party is a "mainstream party" which no-one in Poland would consider as a "fringe right party".

The nonsense from the pro-European Left simply has to stop. As David Cameron rightly said at his press conference on Tuesday, those making the attacks are waging "a totally politically-driven campaign" because they don't like the fact that the Conservatives are now part of a group that doesn't go along with everything Europe does.

The fact that the left continues this campaign of traducement says far more about their own moral compass than it does about Kaminski.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Pots & Kettles of Denis MacShane

And Denis MacShane has the bare faced cheek to accuse ME of being a propagandist. Does he never look in the mirror?!!! His latest effort at black propaganda is to equate Michal Kaminski with Nick Griffin. Desperate stuff from a desperate party. Believe me, it will only get worse.

Bruton to Brutalise Blair's EU Bid?

I've just landed in Dublin, where I will be for the next 24 hours, to learn that former Irish Premier John Bruton is launching a bid to be the first EU president and thereby scupper Tony Blair in the process.

The devil in me would love to see Blair get it, but not for good reasons! It would certainly cement Eurosceptic sentiment in the UK, and I doubt whether it would do much for pro EU feeling throughout the rest of the continent.

But I am convinced he won't win through and that there will be a compromise candidate from one of the smaller countries. Bruton could be the man, although the Dutch premier Jan Peter Balkenende would also be a good bet.

How Very Illiberal of a LibDem Mayor

The phrase 'political correctness gone mad' is overused. But I can't think of a better way of describing what is happening in Watford. Essentially, parents have been barred from public playgrounds in parks. Instead, they are forced to wait outside the railings whilst council-employed "play facilitators" assist the children.

The council claim it is due to Ofsted regulations, although Ofsted have stated "only people working with children needed to be checked, not all adults on the premises. It added: 'We would never seek to prevent parents and carers having access to their own children.'"

The most pernicious quote is from the Mayor of Watford, the LibDem Dorothy Thornhill:

'Sadly, in today's climate, you can't have adults walking around unchecked in a children's playground.'

Honestly. Why not ban parents from having children, then? Wouldn't that save us all a lot of heartache worrying about paedophiles. What is it about some politicians that they have simply lost the ability to differentiate between a real danger and trying to get all bases covered. Of course society should take all reasonable steps to protect children from danger, but when it gets to the stage that all adults are seen as potential child molesters we really do have to start asking questions.

And for a supposedly 'Liberal' mayor to go along with this raises all sorts of questions about what it means to be a Liberal Democrat nowadays.

And believe me, I'd be writing exactly the same thing if this concerned a Conservative mayor.

The full background to the story is HERE in Metro.

UPDATE 2.15pm: The LibDems are in full flow trying to deflect this as a non story. However, perhaps they might like to explain why Dorothy Thornhill deleted this story from her blog...

I think we should be told.

UPDATE 2.20pm: And what do we know. Heresy Corner has retrieved Mayor Thornhill's blogpost HERE, in which she defends the action. So, what prompted her to delete this blogpost if, as the LibDems say, this is a storm in a teacup?

Guido Explains Labour Attack Cock-Up

Guido has a wonderful piece HERE about how a Labour attack strategy against George Osborne went off at half cock. They really can't get anything right, can they?

Polish Chief Rabbi Slams New Statesman Kaminski Story

Remember the attempt by James Macintyre of the New Statesman to assert that the Chief Rabbi in Poland had criticised Michal Kaminski and urged David Cameron to sever ties with him. Rabbi Shudrich has today given his real views. I wonder whether James Macintyre will be man enough to admit he misled his readers. This is what Rabbi Shudrich has said...

There is no doubt that Kaminski is a strong friend of the State of Israel. He himself has spoken out against anti-Semitism on several occasions during the past decade. It is a grotesque distortion that people are quoting me to prove that Kaminski is an anti-Semite. Portraying Kaminski as a neo Nazi plays into the painful and false stereotype that all Poles are anti-Semitic.

I would also like to clarify that the headline of James Macintyre article of July 29, 2009 entitled: "Jewish Leaders Turn on Cameron's Tories: Poland's chief rabbi and others call on Cameron to sever ties with Polish MEP" does not represent what I said to the author. I made no political statement and this headline is misleading and untrue.

So there we have it. If Kaminski is acceptable to the Chief Rabbi of Poland, shouldn't David Miliband now take back the disgusting allegations he has made against Michal Kaminski and the Conservative Party? Shouldn't Denis MacShane look himself in the mirror at some of the terrible things he has said? And will James Macintyre explain how he misled his readers and admit he got it wrong?

I might as well save my breath.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Nice Money If You Can Get It

MPs heard today that if they step down from Parliament or are defeated at an election, their 'resettlement' grant (which can amount to between £30,000 and £60,000) will be reduced to two months salary. So they may well choke on their rice and gruel (after today's news, it's all they can afford) when they read about the bumper payoff to Glasgow City Council's Director of Childrens' Services, Margaret Doran. She trousered £278,000 as a payoff after the council decided to break up her department.

Ms Doran is married to Labour MP Michael Connarty.

Another gift to the SNP.

Iain Martin's FT Watch

Iain Martin's new blog on the WSJ site is fast becoming unmissable. He has launched a one man campaign to hold the Financial Times to account for its apparent anti-Tory bias. Read THIS fisking of their analysis of George Osborne's speech on Monday. Very entertaining. And if you haven't bookmarked his blog so far, now's the time to do it.

The Rights and Wrongs of Kelly's Leaks

Many MPs will be very displeased by the contents of the leak of some of Sir Christopher Kelly's proposals. However, the public are in no mood to listen to what they will see as self-interested bleatings. I think, therefore, they probably have little alternative but to go along with them. That doesn't make them 100 per cent right, though.

Let's take the case of MPs employing their wives or huisbands. In most cases they do a very good job. It is all very well to ban new MPs employing relatives (and I said when I was in North Norfolk I wouldn't do it) but it is quite another to force existing MPs to sack their wives. Employment and anti-discrimination legislation ought to see that it can't happen. A five year phasing in period isn't a solution.

The mortgage interest ban was inevitable, and it is right that MPs should not be able to benefit at the taxpayer's expense. However, let no one pretend that the taxpayer will get a better deal from this proposal. If you have a £250,000 mortgage at the moment you're probably paying around £400 a month in interest. Even when rates were 5 per cent it was only around £1,250. Yet try finding a one bedroom flat in central London for less than that. Even in the suburbs you'll be forking out in excess of £1,000.

MPs who live within a "reasonable" commute of London (said to be defined as an hour) won't qualify for a second home allowance at all. I can foresee all sorts of issues about what constitutes an hour's commute. But I totally agree that with the hours the Commons sits now it is right to expect inner and outer London MPs (and possibly more) to return to their main homes at night. I presume there will be an allowance for hotel accommodation on the odd nights where the Commons sits until midnight or 1am.

MPs should think very carefully about how they react to these changes. But I suspect we will now see a number of them standing down in protest.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

David Davis "Outraged" Over Truss Deselection Bid

I'm travelling back to London on a train from Guildford where David Davis and I have been treading the boards at the Yvonne Arnaud theatre.

We have just heard the news that South West Norfolk Conservatives have voted to refer Liz Truss's selection back to a full meeting of the Association, which will take place in nearly three weeks' time.

I believe the Party and its leadership must take a very strong stand on this. It is completely unacceptable for Liz to be treated like this, and I have no doubt that it wouldn't be happening if she was male. If SW Norfok Tories are so incompetent that they can't use Google that's their lookout. Their social outlook is neanderthal. Should having an affair disqualify you from standing? No. Should not overtly revealing it to a selection process disqualify you? No. If this is allowed to stand, we're heading down a very slippery slope.

David Davis just told me. "I don't know Liz Truss but I am outraged to hear of this and it's no way to treat anybody, least of all when you have been so careless as to conduct a selection without looking them up on Google."

Why Liz Truss Must Pull Through

Imagine it. A political party selects a candidate who in her past has had an affair. Shock, horror. According to the Eastern Daily Press yesterday, South West Norfolk Conservatives are in the mood to deselect Liz Truss, only three days after she was selected as their PPC. Why? Because three years she had an affair, and didn't tell the constituency party about it before her selection. Dear oh dear. Do we live in the dark ages?

Firstly, if the candidate had been a man, do we really think there would be such a fuss? And secondly, it's not as if the affair was a secret. Can South West Norfolk Conservatives not use Google? If you were selecting a candidate, wouldn't that be the first thing you would do? Type their name into Google and see what emerged? Apparently not a single one of them bothered to do that.

But even if they had, is a talented woman really to be deselected over an affair which happened several years ago? The ten people meeting this evening to decide her fate ought to look very deeply into their own pasts and ask themselves if they have lived totally unblemished lives. Very few people have.

The EDP story is littered with anonymous quotes from "outraged" local Tories. What a pity none of them has the guts to put their names to their tawdry views.

I hope Liz Truss comes out fighting.

David Cameron has said in the EDP today that he backs Liz Truss and there is an implicit threat that if the Association seeks to go to the wire on this, they will be put in special measures. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

For what it's worth, Liz has my complete support, and I hope readers of this blog will be more forgiving that some members of South West Norfolk Conservatives appear to be.

PS For the avoidance of doubt, I am not saying this because Liz Truss is a friend of mine. She isn't. I think I have only met her twice, so please can we avoid the ritual accusations that usually follow when I write a piece like this about Dale only defending his mates.

UKIP Stares into a Financial Abyss

UKIP has been denied the right to appeal to the Supreme Court over the £363,000 fine over the illegal donation by Alan Bown. It seems astonishing that the Court of Appeal would make this decision. UKIP must now make a direct appeal to the Supreme Court or face financial ruin. I say this with no relish at all, as the punishment in this case does not fit the crime. If a UKIPballs type rescue fund is set up, I suspect a lot of non UKIP voters will put their hands in their pockets.

As Michael Crick has blogged, the LibDems will also be shifting uneasily in their seats at this decision, as it could them next. They face having to pay back £2.4 million over the donation from convicted fraudster Michael Brown.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Eleanor Laing Wins Deselection Vote

Epping Forest Tories tonight backed their MP Eleanor Laing after a small group of local Tory members had tried to oust her. She survived a formal deselection vote by what was described to me as an "overwhelming majority" of the two hundred members present.

The deselection move was launched by Di Collins, mother of former MP Tim Collins and a local councillor.

UPDATE 9.59: The vote was 164 to 32.

Technologically Challenged

My laptop went purple today. And it froze. Kaputt. Totally and utterly. On top of that I can't get Twitterberry to work. So I took advice and downloaded Ubertwitter on my Blackberry. That doesn't work either. So I'm sat at home typing on an old laptop on which the space bar barely works and the keyboard doesn't have any letters on it. And you all thought I was high tec, didn't you?

So up to Tottenham Court Road tomorrow morning to blow money I don't have on yet another Sony Vaio. And before all you Mac freaks start bleating on, save your breath. Not in a zillion years. I made that mistake once before and I won't be making it again! Macs are the invention of the devil. And that's my final word on the matter!

So if blogging is a little, er, light over the next 24 hours, you'll know why.

Book of the Day: Best Seat in the House by Frank Johnson

If you're stuck on what to buy a political friend for Christmas, you could do a lot worse than buy the new book of political and parliamentary sketches by the much missed Frank Johnson. BEST SEAT IN THE HOUSE pulls together his two previous sketch books with lots of added new material.

I remember when I first became interested in politics in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Frank's sketches in the Telegraph were an absolute delight. He really was one of the finest, if not the, finest sketchwriters of his generation.

it was Frank who dubbed Norman Tebbit the "Chingford Strangler" and first called Dennis Skinner the "Beast of Bolsover".

There are also some wonderful vignettes about his love of opera and ballet and his life in France with his wife Virginia Fraser, who has lovingly compiled the book.

Buy the book HERE.

An Internet Election in Iraq?

Proof that the internet is having a major impact on elections all over the world can be seen in this website of a newly announced candidate for the Iraqi presidential elections next year. It's the sort of site which you would normally see in a US election. The press release announcing the site says...
Ayad Jamal Aldin is a young, Shia cleric, best known for his consistent campaigning for a new, secular Iraq. He first rose to prominence at the Nasiriyah conference in March 2003, shortly before the fall of Saddam, where he called for a state free of religion, the turban and other theological symbols. In 2005, he was elected as one of the 25 MPs on the Iraqi National List, but withdrew in 2009 after becoming disenchanted with Iyad Allawi’s overtures to Iran. He wants complete independence from Iranian interference in Iraq. He now leads the Ahrar party for the 2010 election to the Council of Representatives, to clean up corruption and create a strong, secure and liberated Iraq for the future.

Is this proof that democracy is starting to embed itself into Iraq's political culture? I have no idea how likely Ayad Jamal Aldin is to win, but I think it is fascinating to see how Iraqi politicians are now openly using western new media campaigning methods.

Blair Prepares the Motorcade

The papers are getting very excited about Tony Blair becoming President of the EU. Try as I might I just can't get exercised about it.

My overwhelming thought is that the EU and Tony Blair deserve each other. Or am I being unfair on Tony Blair?

It seems to me that flailing around trying to carve out a role for yourself on the world stage is something both Blair and the EU have been trying to do for several years. And neither have met with huge success.

Still, I wish Mr Blair the very best of luck. If anything guarantees that this country remains overwhelmingly eurosceptic, it would be the prospect of him becoming President of the EU.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Thoughts on Candidate Selection

When I applied for Bracknell I made much of the fact that I hadn't applied for other constituencies. None of the other candidates were able to say that. A fat lot of good it did me! It also meant that when the next batch of constituencies were advertised (Esher, Gosport, Devizes & Central Suffolk among them), I felt I couldn't in all conscience apply for any of them while I was still in for Bracknell, as the deadline was a week before the Bracknell final.

Others took a different approach. Rory Stewart was in for Penrith while Bracknell was going on, and Katy Lindsay was in for Woking and Sleaford. For Rory it worked out, for Katy it didn't (but she WILL be a great MP for a very lucky constituency!).

I still don't know whether I was (or am) right to do one at a time. All I know is that I can only apply for constituencies which I feel I can connect with, and which I have some affinity with. However, some commenters on here seem to think that unless you can prove you have lived somewhere all your life you should be excluded from applying. Rubbish. Was Margaret Thatcher a bad MP for Finchley? Is Nick Clegg a bad constituency MP because he doesn't come from Sheffield? Does anyone think David Ed Miliband can't represent Doncaster properly because he isn't a local?

And anyway, what constitutes local? Phillip Lee lived 10 miles from Bracknell and so had a claim to be a local, yet living 5 miles outside Henley was enough to bar him from applying to be the candidate there in the by-election - not local enough, you see.

I live twenty minutes from Beckenham and Orpington. Does that make me a local or an outsider? Is that really the main criteria by which we should be judging a candidate? Shouldn't we be picking candidates who can do the best job in representing a constituency and who would make the best parliamentarians? That person may or may not be local to the area at the time of selection.

Meanwhile, I have just finished reading one of the more ridiculous posts on ConservativeHome I have read in many a month. Its readers have submitted twenty ideas to help get more women selected. While some have some merit, others are positively patronising and wrong-headed. I feel in the mood for a light fisk... My comments are in green.
  1. End strong arm tactics: "Strong arm tactics can backfire and probably will in some areas". Another said: "CCO have interfered so much that every Association is suspicious women aren't there on merit. Stop all positive discimination and go back to a level playing field." It's got to the stage where people think some of the men aren't there on merit either. Six is too many for a final selection. Associations should be given the power to kick out one man and one woman before the final takes place, leaving a final of 2+2.
  2. Promotional video: Make a YouTube video featuring Priti Patel and Philippa Stroud and our other impressive female candidates. They could explain how they succeeded in becoming candidates. Fair enough, but why restrict it to women. Many men have succeeded against the odds too.
  3. Headhunt from female-dominated backgrounds: "More women attracted onto the Candidates List from careers where women dominate, including teaching and healthcare" plus "Targeting the public sector and small businesses to encourage more women to come forward who are not Westminster centric in their backgrounds." Exactly. The key to this is to get more women to come forward in the first place. If there are 30% on the candidates list, don't be surprised that 30% are being selected. So yes, headhunting and tapping on shoulders is a good idea.
  4. A more balanced candidates list: CHQ putting more women and less men on the approved list in the firstplace. I agree with this. The key thing to do would be to ensure a 50-50 candidates list, alongside 50-50 final selections. At the moment the issue is being tackled from the wrong end.
  5. Tackle the financial handicap facing women candidates: "Bursaries for full time mothers who otherwise might not afford the process of candidate selection", "Setting up a scheme to give financial help to PPCs on moderate incomes with child care needs" and "More support for selected candidates in fighting elections so that all candidates can balance family, childcare and the cost of the campaign." I suggested a bursary scheme for people who find affording being a candidate difficult back in 2005. But this should apply to all candidates, not just women.
  6. Force rich candidates to declare special help: Make candidates declare whether they have had specialist coaching. Many rich men have paid for special help. Associations should know this. Utter bollocks. I've never paid for any form of coaching and never will, but to suggest that it should be declared is ridiculous. Most of the time it's perfectly obvious who has been coached and who hasn't.
  7. Reduce the burdens on candidates: Many female candidates are put off by the endless Association events and the requirement to attend every by election. Allow them to focus on the essential. And, er, how is this different for men? A decent candidate comes to an accomodation with his or her association over what is appropriate. A candidate who lets themselves be steamrollered is perhaps in the wrong job.
  8. A more family-friendly House of Commons: Better childminding facilities in House of Commons and more family friendly hours. Yes to the first. And a limited yes to the second. I am more interested in hours which get the job done. Being an MP is not a 9-5, 5 day a week job and never can be. Deal with it.
  9. More protection from the media for MPs and their families: A party leadership that protects MPs when the media mob goes after them. Any mother will have noted that Cameron threw his MPs to the wolves. Rubbish and an idiotic interpretation of what has happened. The outside world will never know how much the party leadership and whips do to help people in difficulties with the media. It's not the sort of thing they shout about, strangely enough.
  10. Shadow cabinet mentoring: Every shadow cabinet minister should adopt a female candidate and be encouraged to help her get selected. I have no problem with mentoring, but for a shadow cabinet to "help get her selected" would surely be wrong, depending on what that help entails. No one objects to a CV endorsement - we all have them. But it is difficult to see what this proposal means beyond that.
  11. Move to open primary ballots: It was not an accident that a woman won in Totnes when it was tried. And who will pay for them, exactly? In Totnes two of the three candidates were women. I'd like to see some more of these pure open primaries and then we can draw some proper lessons from them.
  12. Independent guidance for Associations: At the start of every selection meeting a professional headhunter should talk to the Association about the value of female candidates. If this person is a professional and not a CCHQ functionary they will get a hearing. No, a headhunter should talk about what an local association should be looking for in a good candidate, be they male or female.
  13. 'Blind sifting': At sift stage no indication given as to age, sex background etc of candidate. An interesting proposal. Age isn't included on the CV anyway, so we can rule that out. Nor is marital status. How on earth is an Association to choose if they aren't allowed to know about the background of a candidate. Are you saying names should be taken out too?
  14. A less macho selection process: No speeches in selection contests. They favour men. Use sofa style interviews. One respondent wrote: "A selection method that involves more than just the ability to "perform" to a large audience. This is why women don't do well. The entire process is geared up to assess only the ability to perform in a "question time" style arena. Ability to influence legislation, work in committee and connect to constituents is entirely absent from the final stages of the assessment. It is no wonder that we end up with MPs who lack integrity and ability, since they've only been assessed on a single dimension - the ability to charm an audience - which is directly correlated with the ability to manipulate, and almost entirely unconnected with the ability to add real value. We select "talking heads" not good decision makers. It depends whether you want MPs who are good at talking or good at doing. We get the former, but not the latter." Another wrote: "Less focus on just the big meeting. Women are often very good on the doorstep and in chairing, participating in meetings - not just a few gags in a big meeting. As a candidate, the doorstep and meeting side is so very important." This really gets to me. Does anyone seriously suggest that women aren't just as capable as men of making speeches? Making speeches is a pretty vital part of being an MP and a parliamentarian. Some are better at it than others. There are plenty of men who can't make a speech to save their lives. The Open Primary system, with the interview, reduces the importance of speeches, but surely we should expect a politician to be able to stand on their hind legs and string a few words together? Obviously the job entails far more than speechmaking, but much of the other things mentioned above are tested in the day long course which you have to do to get on the candidates list in the first place.
  15. Punishment of sexism: Expulsion of any Tory member who asks sexist questions. No questions of a sexist nature or regarding a candidate's family are allowed at a selection.
  16. ConHome should "bless" "sound" candidates: Too many women candidates are newly recruited and we don't know if they are true conservatives. The grassroots trust ConHome and its blessing would carry weight. You what?! Since when was ConservativeHome the arbiter of what makes a true Conservative?! Possibly the most outrageous suggestion of all. And one I hope Tim Montgomerie will give short shrift to. The Conservative Party is a coalition. The fact that Dan Hannan and Ken Clarke are both true Conservatives should be a cuase for celebration in our party, not a matter for division.
  17. Pooled selections: Multiple selections - people may be more willing to pick a mixture if they have to pick more than one. I have no idea what this means.
  18. Require constituency selection panels to be balanced: Require the selection panel to be balanced by age and gender and allow them to choose from any number of males and females on a shortlist. Most constituencies do this anyway in my experience. The A List is dead for all intents and purposes. So a constituency gets to pick from all applicants, although admittedly the number on the shortlist is now 6 - 3 men and 3 women.
  19. Executive committee selection: Revert to selection by constituency executive committee, thus cutting out the large numbers of older women heavily prejudiced against women candidates and especially opposed to women candidates with children. No. Open Primaries reduce the risk of this, assuming that the risk still exists. I would say selection by a constituency executive would be counterproductive. I just don't buy this line that nowadays it's the women who scupper the women. It might have been true in the past, but not now. Or am I wrong?
  20. Patience: The number of women candidates has grown a lot in last few years. It will grow again with time. Rushing the issue will lead to inferior women candidates getting selected. Much progress has been made. We should never be afraid of adopting new initiatives, but not for their own sake. I think going from 9% to 30% women candidates is not bad progress. To expect it to go to 40% or 50% in one leap was never realistic.
So, what other ideas would readers of this blog come up with for helping the Conservative Party along the way to choosing more diverse candidates. I could never support the concept of all minority shortlists for reasons I have explained before. But it is clear that there is still some way to go in persuading some constituencies of the benefits of selecting a woman - and not just in the Conservative Party. Those who think the Conservatives have some way to go in this area just need to look at the record of the LibDems in selecting woman and ethnic minorities in winnable seats. At least the Conservatives are taking action.

Congratulations to Rory Stewart & Liz Truss

I was delighted to see a tweet from @ericpickles informing us that Rory Stewart has tonight been selected as Conservative candidate in Penrith & the Border. Rory was second in Bracknell, ahead of me. He is certainly a very independent minded individual and is just what the Conservative parliamentary needs. There won't be many Tory MPs who can compete with his unique CV!

Congratulations also to Liz Truss who was selected yesterday for South West Norfolk. Liz is deputy director of the excellent think tank Reform.

UPDATE: Paul Waugh gives his take on Rory Stewart HERE.

Vote: Top 100 Political Journalists

Last year Total Politics ran its first Top 100 Political Journalists Poll. And it's now time for the 2009 edition.

I'd like to ask my blogreaders to take the same poll, although the results won't be included in the main poll, but instead will be posted on here separately.

Click HERE to vote.

You need to rate each journalist with a mark out of ten. The survey will remain live until midnight on Friday.

The survey will take about ten minutes to complete. You will be asked to rate reporters, commentators, columnists, TV journalists, radio journalists and bloggers.

NOTE: If you are a lobby journalist or parliamentarian, you will be emailed separately with a link to a bespoke survey, so please don't fill this one in. If you haven't received an email by the end of Monday please get in touch and I will send you the link.

Interviewing Vince Cable

Tomorrow morning I am interviewing Vince Cable for one of my IN CONVERSATION pieces for the next issue of Total Politics. Feel free to suggest questions you think I should ask him.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Deep or Shallow

I rather enjoyed this comment left by an anonymous reader yesterday.
I rarely disagree with you, but when I do I can't help linking your musical tastes to your assertions on, er, things I disagree with. That is, I then link your low-grade, as I perceive them, political views to your low-grade, as I perceive them, musical tastes. Does anyone else think an unwillingness to look beyond Cliff and Roxette must inevitably limit a societal outlook?

Deep, eh? Slightly undermined by the fact that I have 32,000 songs on my iPod and they can't all be by Cliff or Roxette...

I'm not quite sure what a 'low grade' political view is, but I am sure I have many of them. It's amusing that the author of this comment thinks I have 'high grade' views when he agrees with me and 'low grade' ones when he doesn't. I'm not sure the word 'tolerance' figures much in his vocabulary!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Labour Is Responsible for the Rise of the BNP

Rather hilariously, Bob Piper blames the Conservative Party for the rise of the BNP. A neat deflection tactic, as I note he fails to mention anywhere on his blog the fact that the Labour leader of the council on which he serves has been charged with theft today.

I'll tell you what is responsible for the rise of the BNP. It's a Labour government that has failed the communities which is used to regard as its client state. It's a Labour government, which we are told tonight by one of its own advisers, that deliberately encouraged as much immigration as possible in order to make Britain a truly multicultural society. Well that worked well, didn't it?

The huge increases in migrants over the last decade were partly due to a
politically motivated attempt by ministers to radically change the country and
"rub the Right's nose in diversity", according to Andrew Neather, a former
adviser to Tony Blair, Jack Straw and David Blunkett.

He said Labour's relaxation of controls was a deliberate plan to "open up the UK to mass
migration" but that ministers were nervous and reluctant to discuss such a move
publicly for fear it would alienate its "core working class vote". As a result,
the public argument for immigration concentrated instead on the economic
benefits and need for more migrants.

Critics said the revelations showed a "conspiracy" within Government to impose mass immigration for "cynical" political reasons. Mr Neather was a speech writer who worked in Downing Street for Tony Blair and in the Home Office for Jack Straw and David Blunkett,
in the early 2000s.

Writing in the Evening Standard, he revealed the "major shift" in immigration policy came after the publication of a policy paper from the Performance and Innovation Unit, a Downing Street think tank based in the Cabinet Office, in 2001. He wrote a major speech for Barbara Roche, the then immigration minister, in 2000, which was largely based on drafts of the report. He said the final published version of the report promoted the labour market case for immigration but unpublished versions contained additional reasons, he said.

He wrote: "Earlier drafts I saw also included a driving political purpose: that mass immigration was the way that the Government was going to make the UK truly multicultural. "I remember coming away from some discussions with the clear sense that the policy was intended – even if this wasn't its main purpose – to rub the Right's nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date."

The "deliberate policy", from late 2000 until "at least February last year", when the new points based system was introduced, was to open up the UK to mass migration, he said. Some 2.3 million migrants have been added to the population since then, according to Whitehall estimates quietly slipped out last month.

On Question Time on Thursday, Mr Straw was repeatedly quizzed about whether Labour's immigration policies had left the door open for the BNP. In his column, Mr Neather said that as well as bringing in hundreds of thousands more migrants to plug labour market gaps, there was also a "driving political purpose" behind immigration policy. He defended the policy, saying mass immigration has "enriched" Britain, and made London a more attractive and cosmopolitan place.
But he acknowledged that "nervous" ministers made no mention of the policy at the time for fear of alienating Labour voters.

"Part by accident, part by design, the Government had created its longed-for immigration boom.
"But ministers wouldn't talk about it. In part they probably realised the conservatism of their core voters: while ministers might have been passionately in favour of a more diverse society, it wasn't necessarily a debate they wanted to have in working men's clubs in Sheffield or Sunderland."

The chairmen of the cross-party Group for Balanced Migration, MPs Frank Field and Nicholas Soames, said: "We welcome this statement by an ex-adviser, which the whole country knows to be true. "It is the first beam of truth that has officially been shone on the immigration issue in Britain."

The cat is well and truly out of the bag.

Someone in an earlier thread reckoned that most BNP voters are ex Conservatives. Oh how I laughed. Funny, I hadn't realised that Blackburn, Burnley, Rotherham, Dewsbury, Dagenham and Barking had ever been Conservative constituencies. I don't know if any academic work has been done in this area, but as a guess, I'd say that 80% of BNP voters are ex-Labour voters. That may not always have been the case, but I'd bet a Pound to a penny it is now.

Far left Fascist parties like the BNP invariably do well under left wing governments which fail left of centre voters. Le Pen rose to prominence in France under Mitterand. The National Front in this country gained traction under Labour in the late 1970s, and now the BNP is on the rise here again.

I would venture to submit that this is no coincidence.

What Nick Griffin Really Meant

UPDATE 11.30pm: People in the comments seem to be under the impression that I made this video. Er, no. I thought it was vaguely amusing hence why I posted it. Apparently people are "disappointed" in me. Hey ho.

What's Good for the Goose: Part 94

As you know, I am, in general, a supporter of the concept of Open Primaries. On Wednesday I took part in a radio discussion on the subject with John Lloyd who has started a campaign called Open Up. It was a curious discussion in that Mr Lloyd seemed remarkably unknowledgeable about the very subject he was there to talk about.

I see from today's Times that the Open Up campaign has a leading supporter in Alan Parker of Brunswick PR. He wants to clean up politics and open politicians up to more scrutiny. Great stuff. Would this be the same Alan Parker who refuses to publish his own company's client list and won't join the industry's two trade bodies who demand transparency on client lists? Pot. Kettle.

Note: You can listen to the discussion on open primaries from the Simon Mayo programme by clicking HERE. Scroll in two hours 29 mins. Participants are John Lloyd, Anthony Barnett, Mark Hanson and myself.

Quote of the Day: Martin Bell

"Lord Carrington told me when he was Defence Secretary –
it must have been the early ‘70s –
Ted Heath’s Cabinet, every single member had served in the Armed Forces
except for the Education Secretary, Margaret Thatcher
and it was said of her, she’d have made a very effective machine gunner.

Martin Bell on BBC Straight Talk

Let's Have All Male Shortlists... In Primary Schools

Jonathan Sheppard has a unique way of solving the disparity between the sexes in primary school teaching. All male shortlists! Just one problem. Under employment legislation, it would be illegal. Funny that.

Labour MP: It's Racist Not to Invite Me on QTime!

Remember Dawn Butler? She's a Labour MP who seems to specialise in making an arse of herself. For those with short memories click HERE, HERE and HERE. And she's at it again this week, accusing the BBC of racism because they haven't invited her to appear on Question Time. Her reason? Her opponent at the next election, the "hideously white" Sarah Teather has been invited on three times this year. This conveniently ignores that fact that Teather is a leading LibDem front bench spokesman and the LibDems don't exactly have a huge genepool to choose from. Far be it from me to cast aspersions on Ms Butler's intellectual abilities, but her colleagues seem to regard her as, well, not the sharpest knife in the Labour drawer.

The BBC responded by saying...
The suggestion that Question Time does not feature panellists from a wide range of backgrounds simply does not bear scrutiny. Diane Abbott, David Lammy, Sayeeda Warsi, Priti Patel, Chuka Umunna, Shahid Malik, Shaun Bailey, Adam Afriyie, Baroness Amos and Paul Boateng have all appeared. Other panellists include the Rt Revd Nazir Ali, Archbishop Sentamu, Rageh Omaar, Shappi Khorsandi, June Sarpong, Trisha Goddard, Beverley Knight, Tim Campbell, Hardeep Singh, Salma Yaqoob, Yvonne Thompson and Bonnie Greer. Sarah Teather is part of the Liberal Democrat cabinet team and every Labour panellist in the current series has also been at cabinet level.

To accuse the BBC of racism just because she's not been invited onto the most high profile current affairs show on TV is typical of people who see racism in every perceived snub. The rest of us should just laugh at her craven attitude.

UPDATE: I have just been told that Dawn Butler was selected from an all black shortlist. So that's not racist then...

CD Review: Back In Style & Nicky Campbell

When celebrities try their hand at things outside their normal range of activity it usually leads to embarrassment. Nicky Campbell, however, has achieved something fantastic. He has written fourteen songs which have just been released on a CD called BACK IN STYLE, on which Mark Moraghan sings. It's a swing/jazz CD, very much in the style of Harrick Connick Jr. And to be honest, it's not the sort of music I would normally go out of my way to listen to. I put it in my car CD player expecting to whizz through all 14 tracks and listen to each one for a few seconds before deciding to revert to Roxette and Cliff. But not a bit of it. I was entranced and listened to the whole thing. Indeed, on the return journey I listened to it again.

How on earth, I thought, did a news presenter learn to write songs like this? And Campbell didn't just write the lyrics, he wrote the music too. I've always fancied turning my hand to writing songs - well, maybe just lyrics! - but it would be difficult to top this. Mark Moraghan's voice is exactly suited to swing and he puts in a great performance on each and every song, starting with the excellent COME FOR THE RIDE (which he co-wrote with Campbell). WE'LL NEVER HAVE MANHATTEN has a genuine New York feel to it and it's a song you can imagine Sinatra would have liked to sing. In short, and bearing in mind this is not my sort of music normally, there isn't a weak track on this CD. If you like Connick Jr or Sinatra, you'll love it.

Buy the CD HERE.

Brown Dealt Blow by Recession Figures

The figures released this morning showing that Britain remains in recession will come as a blow, not just to a government that has tried to talk things up, but to the whole country. This is apparently the longest recession in history, now that we have been in recession for six consecutive quarters.

France and Germany came out of recession six months ago. Will Gordon Brown admit that, contrary to what he said at the time, Britain was the least well prepared economy in Europe? Will he now admit that many of the measures the government have taken to get us out of recession haven't done what they were intended to do?

Not a chance. We have a government that hasn't got a single new idea about how to get the economy back on track. They've reduced VAT, borrowed to the hilt and even printed money. None of it has worked. Why? Because few people have confidence in their strategy - if that's what one could call it. People will only invest when they think things are on the right track.

George Osborne's task is to ensure that if and when he takes over at the Treasury, the money markets and small investors have confidence that he has what it takes to implement a new economic policy.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Griffin Bombs on Question Time

Let's be clear, Nick Griffin did not come over well on Question Time. He was nervous, trembling, acting with exaggerated gestures, grinning at inappropriate moments and at times incoherent. But. And there is a but. The fact that with one exception every single question was about the BNP or related subjects played into his hands. He was got at. He was ganged up on, and many people watching will have felt a little sorry for him at times. Five against one is never very edifying.

I stick to my view, expressed earlier this evening, that the programme should have concentrated on the news of the week, rather than concentrate on the BNP. Immigration could easily have been brought into the programme with a question on the topical issue of population growth. We should have heard about the postal strike. We should have heard about the bullying manner of Ed Balls. And much more besides. The viewers were short changed by a production decision which I believe was misguided. It elevated Nick Griffin to a status he did not deserve.

I thought Bonnie Greer and Sayeeda Warsi performed well. Jack Straw got better as the programme went on, but came across as evasive and slippery at times. I am afraid Chris Huhne was the wrong choice for the LibDems. He was too party political and tied himself up in knots over the issue of EU enlargement and the resultant number of immigrants from eastern Europe. Jo Swinson or even Lembit Opik would have been better choices.

I am glad the BBC invited Nick Griffin onto Question Time. But it was just as well he showed himself to be way out of his depth. My fear is what might have happened if the BNP had a truly intelligent and charismatic leader.

Perhaps only then would the political elites wake up to the danger which the BNP has the potential to present.

UPDATE: As someone has written in the comments, frankly it doesn't matter what I or any other middle class person thought of Griffin's performance. It matters what the people of Dagenham, Blackburn and Burnley thought. Were they attracted by Griffin or repulsed by him?

Unite Against Fascism Use, er, Fascist Tactics

The Guardian is reporting that the Unite Against Fascism protesters outside the BBC are chanting this charming ditty...

Build a bonfire, build a bonfire, put Nick Griffin on the top, put the Nazis in the middle, and burn the fucking lot."

Is that incitement? asks a commenter in the previous thread. The Police would have every justification for arresting them and charging them with incitement to violence. As Gavin Whenman tweeted just now...

Unite Against Facism by employing facist techniques. Good on you guys!

Rubber-necking Question Time

I have to admit that I am looking forward to watching Question Time tonight, but only in the sense of someone rubbernecking a road accident. There's a big part of me that wonders if it will degenerate into something hugely unedifying, which then runs the risk of allowing Nick Griffin to emerge from the programme either as a martyr or smelling of roses.

In my view the other panellists should view the programme as just a normal programme. And Griffin should be treated like any other guest. He should be allowed his say but questioned in exactly the same way as anyone else. Indeed, there shouldn't even be a question about the BNP.

Liam Murray was so right when he tweeted...
Thanks to UAF, Hain & others Griffin can pose tonight as a persecuted, abused minority; quite remarkable how ill-considered this furore is..

Isn't it also remarkable that whenever freedom of speech is at issue, some people on the left tend to show their true colours. No platforming never achieved anything, apart from giving the authoritarians who promote it a warm feeling in their hearts.

The four other panellists tonight will have been given lots of advice from many people over the last few days. They should ignore it all and treat it like any other edition of the programme. There should be no manufactured fights, no grandstanding and no vicious attacks. That's what Griffin wants. His whole agenda in the programme will be to play the hurt, innocent bystander who is merely trying to put his argument forward but is being shouted down.

The trouble is, whatever the panellists might do, the audience may decide to behave very differently.

What a shame it isn't going out live!

Book of the Day: Delane's War by Tim Coates

Delane's War is one of the first books published by my new book publishing company, Biteback. It tells the story of how the Times newspaper forced the government of the day to conduct an inquiry into the conduct of a war - sound familiar? But this tale is about the Crimean War. The results of the inquiry led to the downfall of the government. I'll leave the author, Tim Coates to tell you more....

I imagine most writers sit, like I do, at the laptop wondering what comes next- until it comes in a bus load. Delane’s War took a long time to write. It started when I came across some official Government reports about Florence Nightingale which complained, with evidence to support the objections, that she was procuring huge quantities of port wine for the use of her patients in the hospital at Scutari during the Crimean War.They were drunk to avoid the pain of death. Those comments come from a Select Committee report of 1855 which is in five volumes, in the last few paragraphs of which she is named as one of the handful people who had acted, in the view of the Committee members, honourably in the appalling events into which they had been asked to inquire.

I followed the trail back, not just for her but for the other people on that short list, of whom I had never heard. There was the Reverend and Honourable Sidney Godolphin Osborne, who turned out to be the vicar of a tiny parish church in Dorset, but who wrote letters to The Times and frequently had them printed. Augustus Stafford the independent MP for Northampton who had travelled to the Crimea to observe for himself the appalling events in the war zone, and John MacDonald the printing engineer of The Times newspaper who had been sent out to administrate The Times Fund – which had been set up by the editor to help bring comfort to the soldiers injured and made sick in the war. The assembly of the stories of all the people gave many possibilities for the tale that needed to be written; the Rev Osborne, when asked about supplies that failed to reach the Crimea, told the committee that he believed that the whole subject should be handed to the police to investigate.

Florence Nightingale, from what I was reading, was most certainly not the angelic lady of the lamp we have all been told about in school and the writings and speeches of Augustus Stafford could hold their own anywhere. But the siftings and tellings of the story in the end all pointed to the person who was driving the moral backlash against the government and the army and he, too, was someone lost in the obscurity of Victorian history: John Delane the editor of The Times, who never put his own name to any article. I then read the daily editions of the great newspaper in the original copies that are held, neatly and magnificently bound in the basement of the London Library, from July 1854 to March 1855. And from these the real story became clear: it was the editor who had fought his own war against the Government of the day, in a way that showed courage almost beyond our experience and conception. I was writing this at the same time that the Blair Government and Alastair Campbell were locked in battle with the BBC and Andrew Gilligan over the reporting of the Iraq war, and the story each day was almost identical — except that in the version of 1855, the journalists held out to win, which sadly was not the case one hundred and fifty years later.

It's a terrific tale. Buy Delane's War HERE.

UPDATE: Tim Coates is giving talks on his new book, Delane’s War, at the following venues. It’s a terrific book and he speaks well so if you find yourself in the vicinity, do drop in.

Tuesday 3rd November 7pm - Swiss Cottage Central Library

Thursday 5th November 7pm – Westminster Reference Library

Thursday 12th November 7.30pm – Fulwell Cross Library

EXCLUSIVE: Parliamentary Watchdog to be Paid £208,000!

If you are MP reading this, prepare for a good old splutter.

Readers may recall that a new Parliamentary Standards Authority is being set up to oversee MPs. A chairman and board members for the authority are being sought.

This morning I can reveal how much they will be paid. I hope you are sitting down. The chairman will trouser a massive £208,000 a year at £800 a day for a five day a week. This time commitment will be reduced after eighteen months. Board members will be paid £400 a day, the equivalent of £104,000.

So the chairman of the Parliamentary Standards Authority will earn more than three times the salary of the people he will be overseeing.

I think the taxpayer deserves to know who set this level of remuneration, and whether the three party leaders endorse it.

I, as a taxpayer, think it is a disgrace.

UPDATE: The PSA website indicates the remuneration is £700 per day for a 3 day week, equating to £109,200. Have the terms and conditions changed since that was published? My sources are adamant that it is a 5 day a week role initially, and that the day rate is actually £800.

Interestingly, there is no mention of the remuneration for the 5 day a week chief executive.

Why Gordon Can't Blame Peter

Until today Lord Mandelson was master of all he surveyed. Seen as a genius by most Labour MPs, he could do no wrong. But as the postal strike begins more than a few MPs are pointing the finger of blame in only one direction.

Normally, the Prime Minister would be doing the same. He has a default position of blaming individual ministers when even the smallest thing goes wrong. Not face to face, of course. That would be too courageous. No, he gets his monkeys to brief the papers. But this time he dare not. Why? Because he knows the moment that Lord Mandelson withdraws his favours, he, the Prime Minister is finished. Which shows just how weak his position actually is.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bedford: What Goes Around...

Further to my previous post about Bedford, I just got this email....

I was at the 2001 parliamentary seat selection for Bedford - she [Nicky Attenborough] made sure that the final members meeting was held in Kempston, where she was the local councillor. She duly packed the room with local supporters of hers.... and strangely enough, won.

Strange how these things happen.

Perhaps Parvez Akhtar learned about political organisation from Mrs Attenborough's own example. It would be cruel to say what goes around, comes around. But it would be accurate.

The Bedford Aftermath

I didn't write about the Bedford mayoral election last week as I was concentrating on Bracknell, so allow me to share a few thoughts now. Much has been written about the Open Primary, most of it derogatory and blaming it for the fact that the LibDems pipped the Conservatives to the post in winning the election. It's a very simplistic viewpoint but one which needs answering.

Since the mayoral election it has been announced that the Bedford Deputy Mayor, and one of the losing participants in the Open Primary, has been expelled from the Party for two years. The reason, I am told, is that she refused to support the winner, Parvez Akhtar, and then proceeded to undermine him throughout the campaign.

That didn't surprise me. Despite consenting to every aspect of the running of the Open Primary, including coming on the stage afterwards to endorse the winner, Nicky Attenborough had a face like a saucer of sour milk. Afterwards she sent a bitter email to Eric Pickles saying that the winning candidate had packed the meeting and that most of the people there either couldn't speak English or were Liberal Democrats or Labour. Utter balls.

Parvez did indeed mobilise support - as the open primary process encourages all candidates to do. All four candidates were local and all four were afforded exactly the same opportunities. The fact is that Mrs Attenborough didn't feel she needed to go through a selection process. She felt it was buggin's turn and that all she needed to do was to turn up to be crowned the winner. Her CV was appallingly presented and her interview was weak. She did not like being questioned and refused to give her view on two key local issues. She also failed to mobilise support. That was why she lost.

It was unforgiveable of her to act is such a petty and petulent way after the election. These two letters from the local paper say it far better than I ever could...

Sir - I was a candidate-neutral participant at the Mayoral selection meeting that Nicky Attenborough claims was hijacked. As far as I am aware, every candidate had equal time to prepare and to mobilise support.

Everyone there had pre-registered and was a Bedford Borough voter – the problem was that there were insufficient people on the door to verify the ID of so many attendees.

The resultant late start limited the candidates’ time to present themselves, but each was afforded the same time to make their impression.

It is a rather foolish and petulant leap to assume that because she was unsuccessful, people couldn’t understand what the candidates were saying.

Each candidate was asked the same series of questions, unfortunately the tenor and tone of her responses did not reflect what the meeting was looking for in a candidate, and my personal view is that she wouldn’t have carried the room even if the doors had been shut at 7.30pm as advertised.

She is to be admired for putting herself forward; but at best her outburst shows her to be politically naive and rather negative, and at worst, divisive and from an era which is thankfully long past.

Either way, these are not endearing qualities in a potential Mayor.

She would have been better advised to hold her counsel and get full square behind Mr Akhtar.

Robin Illingworth
Cornwall Road, Bedford

Sir - Yet another complaint from Nicky Attenborough. Does she really expect the public to vote for a candidate who cannot even organise her own supporters to do something as simple as to attend a meeting and then, as Tory leader, goes on to vilify the organisation of the meeting and its selection procedure.

Worse, she insults a large number of people from the Asian community who did make the effort to attend.

As its previous occupant demonstrated the office of Mayor deserves a better organiser and person than this.

Brian Lawson
Wood End Road,

The fact is that any local resident had a right to attend. Mr Akhtar (who performed best on the night) mobilised his supporters and got his vote out. That's what should happen in a contest. Phillip Lee did that in Bracknell far better than I did, clearly. Do I complain about that? No I do not. What a pity Mrs Attenborough hadn't acted in the same way and got behind Parvez Akhtar. Would it have affected the final result and stopped the LibDems winning? Very possibly. The electorate doesn't vote for disunited parties, and the split in Bedford Tories meant that it was always going to be an uphill struggle.

Mrs Attenborough has now paid the price for her rank disloyalty. What a pity Parvez Akhtar had to suffer the consequences of this woman's self indulgence. And what a pity she, by her actions, has tarnished the idea of Open Primaries.

I congratulate the LibDem candidate David Hodgson on his victory. I hope he does a good job for the people of Bedford.

Miliband ImpliesTory MPs Approve of Jew Killing

From yesterday's Hansard

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that any massacre, big or small, by whomever, of Jews during world war two was a crime against humanity? To whitewash such a massacre and to try to make it relative is intolerable, unacceptable politics, and those who associate with those politicians shame this House and our nation.
David Miliband: My right hon. Friend has done fantastic work with colleagues across every party on anti-Semitism and the need to combat it. There is no room for hair-splitting when it comes to the massacre of 300 or 400 people in a Polish village in 1941, and I would have thought that every single Member of this House would be able to condemn that atrocity without any hesitation.

So that's the new politics is it? For a senior Labour Cabinet Minister to imply that Conservative MPs secretly rather agree with massacring 400 Jews? What a disgrace. What he and his lapdog MacShane are trying to do is nothing short of political vandalism. They see the Kaminski issue as the one thing they have got to beat the Tory Party with and they will go to any lengths to do so. MacShane actually emailed this exchange round to every journalist he knows this morning. Hopefully most of them will have the good sense to see what he is up to and won't fall for it.

In FCO questions in the Commons virtually every answer from Miliband and Bryant carried some kind of reference to Kaminski. And of course Kaminski himself has also condemned the massacre. This is what he told me in the interview I did with him...
MK: What I was saying from the beginning was that it was a terrible crime and I am ashamed that the Polish people were involved in this crime.

ID: If you're ashamed of that, why can't you agree that there should be an apology?

MK: Because my point is, I don't want to put this single crime - however shameful - on the same level as the Nazi policy towards the Jews. You see the difference? We had our underground state, we were occupied by Germans, and what those bandits did at Jedwabne was totally against Polish law, Polish customs and Polish culture. What the Nazis did was according to the state policies of the Nazi government. Do you understand the difference? Because there is a difference. Let's say that you can feel ashamed of British hooligans, but no one will require an apology from the whole British nation for the actions of a few hooligans.

ID: I'm not sure that's true - I feel ashamed about British football hooligans when they go abroad and I do apologise for my country.

MK: But the difference is that it's not about judging the crime. It was a position shared by many politicians in Poland: we condemned the crime but we didn't want to be put on the same side as the Nazis.

ID: Even though what you're saying has a certain logic to it, logic doesn't really matter in these sorts of subjects! I think you need to understand the other point of view.

MK: From the very beginning, when I was confronted with this accusation, I said that I fully understand the feelings of the Jewish people, and that I understand that after such allegations, they can ask me the questions and scrutinise me, because anti-Semitism is really bad. But what makes me angry is that the people who are using this anti-Semitic argument are in the political debate not to fight anti-Semitism, but just as a tool to fight opponents. They are actually undermining the global fight against anti-Semitism, because if you are making false allegations, people will think, oh, this is just politics as usual, whereas actually, this is something really important for me and everyone on this planet. I will repeat: I was in Israel, and I was actually attacked by the Polish anti-Semites. I was an enemy of the far right in Poland. I made a statement about anti-Semitism in Poland as a member of the European Parliament, and I have been attacked for this statement by the Polish far right. But it's a political game, unfortunately practiced by some journalists, which I regret.

I thought David Miliband was better than this, but it appears I was wrong. To think, he once had ambitions of leading the Labour Party.

UPDATE: Have replaced Infer with Imply!!!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

All Women Shortlists: Not In My Name

I agreed with much of what David Cameron had to say about attracting a more diverse range of Conservative candidates. Much progress has been made in this direction, not just over the last three years, but over the last ten. The selection methods which were instituted under Iain Duncan Smith (while David Davis and Theresa May chaired the party) were crucial precursors to what has happened following David Cameron's election as party leader.

I was uncomfortable about aspects of the A List but I recognised that something needed to be done. It was successful in pushing women candidates and more women were selected. However, it did little to attract more women to come forward to apply to be on the approved list. Even now, I am told that only 30% of the approved list are female. It is this issue which needs addressing, not just the proportion who end up being selected. The fact is that there are 30% women on the list, and 30% selected candidates, I believe.

It was thought that Open Primaries would also enable more women to be chosen. That hasn't quite turned out to be the case. Of the last seven, only one (Totnes) has chosen a woman.

David Cameron has today raised the possibility of imposing all women shortlists on some selections which will take place after Christmas. He has no doubt said this knowing full well the outrage it will cause among party activists and male candidates on the approved list. But let's be open about it. This announcement will be seen as a sign of failure, not one of strength.

As a Conservative I believe in equality of opportunity. I believe in a meritocracy. I can just about stomach a final shortlist having to consist of three men and three women, but for me it is thus far and no further. Imposing all female shortlists is a fundamentally unconservative thing to do and one has to ask where it will lead. All black shortlists? All gay shortlists? All disabled shortlists? All christian shortlists? All muslim shortlists?

Not in my name.

I look forward to hearing the views of Women2Win. Will they think this is manna from heaven, or will they think like Conservatives?

So, what to do about it? Apart from deploying force of argument there is little than anyone can do. Futile gestures would be just that. Futile. I'd like to think female Conservative candidates would feel just as strongly on this issue as male ones, but to pretend that anyone can do anything to change David Cameron's mind would be to grandstand. And we have had enough of that in the past.

Even by writing this post, I suppose I will be accused of indulging in a bit of boat rocking. But you'd expect me to be honest in my views, and I have been.