Sunday, May 30, 2010
More Thoughts On Departure of David Laws
Barbara Ellen is a columnist who often devotes her weekly space to amusing frivolities, but today she nails Laws for claiming:
"My motivation throughout has not been to maximise profit but to simply protect our privacy and my wish not to reveal my sexuality."
She challenges this claim given the options available to him:
Look at his options: he could have declined to claim for rooms, period, or he could have rented from someone else, and in both instances kept his gayness completely secret. Surely Laws would have preferred to take these options if, as he claims, privacy and secrecy were his prime concerns. There seems no single good reason to take the risk of linking himself in this way with(James) Lundie.
This thought had rather occurred to me too. Laws suggests there was some kind of obligation incumbent on him to tell all about his sexuality if he told the Fees Office he was paying rent to someone it might be proved he was having a relationship with. It just doesn't add up. Moreover, Laws' admitted brilliance in his former job had made him a multi- millionaire: why risk the job for which his life was intended for a lousy few thousand quid? Ellen suggests he was just plain greedy and maybe he was; I suspect he was plain stupid, neglecting to check if the 2006 rule change had a nearing on his situation.
Political careers have been lost over less- as fellow gay person Peter Mandelson will attest. But here's my theory about both mens' attitudes towards their own sexuality. Both had grown up in a world where homophobia was dominant and discretion essential. Such public attitudes can implant feelings of guilt and shame and it becomes a natural defence mechanism to be secretive, a habit which is hard to change even though attitudes have liberalised almost to the point of indifference.
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Loss of Laws Will be Big Blow to Cameron
I really cannot see how Laws can survive this one: he'll surely have to resign. In the wake of the expenses scandal, when the Lib Dems took such a sparkly white moral high ground position, he really should have checked things out more closely. It's kind of surprising that he didn't given how brilliant he clearly is. He took a double first in economics at, Kings Cambridge, became vice poresident of JP Morgan aged 22 and five years later was MD of Barclays Bank(he's made millions so can afford to pay the money back). You could also see the intellectual confidence of the man as he performed from the Despatch box.
If he goes- Paddy Ashdown hopes he won't but I can't see how he can stay- Cameron will have lost a great talent and a crucial political lightning rod to absorb the traumatic shock those future deep cuts are going to provoke. He'll want to replace him, I suspect with another Lib Dem but I can't see anyone comparable to Laws. Besides which, the junior partner might be wise to move such a prominent memeber of their party from slap bang in the firing line and let Dave find one of his own to take the flak.
Friday, May 28, 2010
Who Will Make the best Labour Leader?
Labour is not in as bad shape as some of us feared it might be six months ago: 258 seats and a grandstand seat while the coalition possibly digs its own grave. And Gordon has gone. Martin Kettle pointed out yesterday that Labour has not been very good at looking after its own interests; it allowed Gordon to insist on that no contest 'oronation'in June 2007 and then, when it realised its mistake, was unable to screw up the courageto get rid of him. I just hope its sense of preservation is a bit sharper when it comes to choosing his replacement. What of the candidates?
John McDonell: a worthy leftie who has tried before to raise the required number of signatures but failed. His candidature is more of a gesture than a serious attempt to win.
DianAbott: something like the same applies to her chances of gaining nominations and maybe she is also the 'symbolic woman'? I used to be quite impressed by Ms Abbott but less so since she has been pitted against Michael Portillo on Andrew Neill's programme. By comparison she seems ill informed, lightweight and lacking in insight. Labour really needs an able woman to contest the leadership- I don't think Diane is she.
Ed Balls: I'm trying hard to like this Ed as I'm awre I'm prejudiced by his closeness to Gordon Brown and the role he played as Broon's acolyte, spreading negative briefingsand slavishly doing his masters darker political deeds. I hear from other sources that he is not really like that and is a committed politician who wants to achieve a fairer society. I'm not sure and I'm not impressed by his level of articulacy either. As a top flight politician he should be better with words.
David Miliband: this is a very able and articlate guy who is also likeable and quite funny. But I wonder if he is able to connect with voters in the right way. I fear he is a bit too cerebral and unable to enter different strata of social communication. Also I wonder if he really has the temperament, given that he bottled standing against Gordon in the autumn of 2008 and June last year when James Purnell bravely showed the way. Still unsure about David but would accept him if he won as someone who might succeed and become the next Labour PM. And a successful one too.
Ed Miliband: not as experienced as his big brother but I think more talented politically. He is able to transcend the Blair-Brown divide and the unions like him. Heis also funny, clever and communicatesbetter than his brother. On balnce I'm for him at the moment. But lets see how their campaigns shape up. Should be fun.
Monday, May 24, 2010
On Stings, Entrapment and the Public Interest
Don't know about you but I'm getting fed up with such duplicitous stunts. This isn't just because they are inherently sleazy and dishonest, but the subjects have sometimes seemed not so much transgressors as 'victims'.I refer in particular to Lord Triesman's recent little escapade with the Mail on Sunday. Andrew Anthony, a journalist whom I rather dislike, penned a telling piece in The Observer, excoriating the Mail on Sunday for its hypocrisy (what's new?)and arguing the Labour lord's privacy had been violated by this tawdry operation.
Just as culpable as the Tory rag was Melissa Jacobs, if we are to believe her, Triesman's former lover. She it was who attended dinner with him,indicating a closeness surviving their affair. In the same situation any man might imagine that such a meeting was for old times-sake- just friendship. No problems with that. But Melissa was wired! What did she think she'd get? Maybe she knew he was indiscreet but he was no longer a minister and his only claim to fame was being the chairman of the Football Association, pitching for the 2118 World Cup. But he said something about rumours that Spain and Russia were trying to bribe referees and the shameless MoS gave her 75,000 quid for this useless but lethal piece of speculation. More shame on their readers I know, but Anthony was right to claim this as a violation of civil liberties.
This was a private meal where old friends might well expand and say things they might not say in the company of others. It happens all the time and we really have hit Orwell's 1984 if such a meeting can no longer be carried out without prior body searches. Ms Jacobs should be thoroughly ashamed of herself. Her failing was much worse than that of the Duchess or his lordship, in my view, as she betrayed an apparently decent man doing a job for his country; if she hated him then boy, she's got to have a good reason but why pretend frienship if she did?
Was it in the 'national interest' that she blow the whistle on his self aggrandizing gossiping? Of course not- Bitain will probably fail to nail that lucrative gig for 2118 as a result of behaviour which can only be compared to that of Judas Iscariot.
Friday, May 21, 2010
So Much for Nick and Dave's 'New Politics'
I recall in the sixties listening to a Soviet academic claiming trade unionists had no need to be militant in the 'socialist sixth of the world' as they recognised the objectives of workers and government were identical and were in any case being fulfilled. Thought that was a bit dodgy and similar claims by the Chinese to be equally so. Dictators and tyrants of every stripe like us to think their rule is so effective that everyone comprises one happy family.
I thought of that when I heard what Cameron told Conservative MPs last night:
The prime minister said that (Sir Nicholas) Winterton talked about "you", rather than "we". "I am asking a very sensible and serious question. I think it is much better to have one organisation in the party which has one mind and, to coin a phrase, we are all in it together."
Oh boy, that will have riled them up. The change he insisted be approved was that the Tory backbench party- called the 1922 Committee after the year in which the Tories voted to leave the Lloyd George coalition- should in future meet not as backbenchers but with ministers present as well. The effect of such a measure, according to some, is that such an influx of the party 'establishment' would neuter
free discussion and cause discontent to be suppressed. Given the party's propensity for a bit of internal dissent in the past one sympathises with party managers but if this banning of party democracy is an example of the 'new politics', then come back Gordon Brown.
118 of the party's 306 MPs voted against it. It took Labour quite a while to clock up such big rebellion but Dave has done it in just over a week and on an issue which will return again and again, given the size of the discontent. Perhaps he can have Nick sitting alongside him the next time he addresses his backbenchers to reinforce his message of unity...? Martin Kettle in The Guardian suggests this move was intended to disarm his troublesome rightwing which was about to support Graham Brady-he's the guy top left who looks like Greg Rusedski -as chairman of the 1922 Committee, someone who resigned his front bench job over the issue of grammar schools back in 2007.
Could be this is part of the cunning plan but I'm not sure Cameron has made a mistake here and angered rather than pacified that peculiar creature, the Tory backbencher. And who is the gentleman top right? Two house points to those who spotted Andrew Bonar Law, the beneficiary of that hnistoric 1922 decision and who emerged as party leader and prime minister and who is now revolving in his grave. Bonar Law only managed 210 days as PM, Dave please note.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Faultlines in Coalition Already Showing
Whether Abid Nasser is really an Al Quaeda operative or not still seems a bit short of definitive evidence, though it would seem wise to assume he is dangerous, based on what we have. But how to treat him now that the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, chaired by Mr Justice Mitting, has said the threat or torture or worse should he return to Pakistan, rules out the option of deportation to his homeland? I can imagine those of a certain cast of mind asking(not without good reason): 'Why did you plan to murder innocent shoppers in the northwest if you were not prepared to take the consequences?' adding perhaps, 'if you were prepared to blow yourself up, why worry about a bit of home-grown torture?'
'Control orders', our version of strict 'house arrent', seems the obvious answer for Theresa May, but, hang on a minute, don't our new partners, the fragrant and lovely Lib Dems, have a view on these orders? They do indeed, is the answer. The fresh faced lad sitting by the PM yesterday back in 2007, said:
"How can it be right to impose what amounts to home detention without giving suspects any evidence for such a measure?"
And what about the party's Home Affairs spokesman back in January?
Chris Huhne, fumed: "It is an affront to British justice and the freedom people have fought and died for to place people under de facto house arrest without even telling them why." Two months later Huhne condemned the orders as Kafkaesque, a bad dream and a nightmare, that were "a violation of fundamental rights and an expensive failure to boot".
Stand by for more and more faultlines opening up over Lords reform, EU and voting reform to name but three.
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Nick Listening to Din of Discontent over 55% Rule?
We learnt soon after Nick and Dave's civil ceremony that their marriage had an anti-divorce device proposed: to dissolve the five year fixed term a majority of 55% will be required. On the face of it Cameron has relinquished one of the PM's major powers: that of choosing the election date, often criticised as allowing a time to be chosen when the economy is good or can be made to seem so. But the new rule suggests Cameron could be defeated on a vote of no confidence by 51% yet still continue in power to try and form a new coalition. The rationale here is that neither party in the coalition would be able to 'pull the plug' on it as the Conservatives have 47% and the opposition plus the Lib Dems 53%. So neither side can pull the rug out within the 5 years, just because, say, they are ahead in the opinion polls and think an election would do them a power of good. Sounds good? Hmm.
Critics argue that wheras before the PM would have been bound to face the voters, he can carry on and if MPs want to cause this to happen, they have to muster more than the current opposition currently numbers. So this 'locks in' the coalition and makes it invulnerable, in theory to adverse votes. Many, like David Blunkett, Andrew Adonis and Jack Straw that his is merely a cynical 'fix' to keep Nick and Dave cosy and safe in power. The US has fixed terms they say but if the executive party loses its majority in the legislature, it just has to struggle on as best it can. However there is a precedent within the UK. The Scottish Parliament has a threshold of 66%, set by the Labour-Lib Dem coalition. And if a new first minister cannot be found within 28 days then an election must be held. Wales has a similar system.
All this proves what a delicate and perverse thing the constitution is; you pull away at one bit and another threatens to fall off in a completely different part. But Tory MPs are not happy about all this and may kick up. Because they think it unconstitutional and udemocratic? Or because it prevents them rushing to the polls once Dave has lulled us into thinking he's quite good at this governing business and Nick can now be ditched?
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Reasons to Be(a bit more) Cheerful
i) We have a government which is needed given fragile and nervous markets.
ii) Lib Dems will moderate Tories and neutralise their wild rightwing which has been strengthened by the election. Maybe this is the most valuable reason to be cheerful as it ensures the 'nasty party' tendency remains in its kennel.
iii) Fixed term parliament is long overdue. Tories would never have gone there on their own.
iv) Beginnings of another go at reforming voting- I know it's not much but what if the dominant voting moves right of centre? Then it might even suit Tories.
v) Wright reforms look like they may go through to strenghten MPs against govt.
vi) Elected House of Lords on the agenda
vii) Gordon has gone-hooray!
vii) Labour were only defeated not obliterated as I feared.
viii) Conservatives and Lib Dems have a hell of a job to do and Labour best sitting this one out and saying how useless they are. Which they will, though not sure they are.
Press reports on the Labour side of their talks with Clegg and co, suggest ther likes of Ed Balls were not too receptive to the LD offers, explaining why the wind came out of the possible deal even while negotiations were in progress.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Extraordinary Volte Face by Clegg Transforms Possibilities
Well just when so many people- me very much included- assumed a Lib Dem-Tory agreement was smoothly progressing towards a conclusion, everything was turned on its head. The reasons were twofold as I see it. Firstly Lib Dem MPs reasserted in their meeting with Clegg, that they represent a left of centre party which would compromise its future appeal to its voters if it facilitated a Conservative accession to power. The rank and file moreover require nothing less than thorough-going electoral reform. Secondly it seems Mandelson and Campbell were able to prevail upon Brown to stand down- albeit after a further period in power- in order to make a higher bid for Lib Dem support.
So we are now right in the middle of a bidding war. Poor William Hague, no doubt dismayed and let down, was forced to withold what he was probably thinking about Clegg in case their enhanced wooing of him eventually wins his hand. From concluding the 'rainbow coalition' was an unlikely and possibly undemocratic concept, we have all beeen forced to exhume it, dust it down and endeavour to find some credibility in it. To be honest, whilst I am intensely desirous of voting reform, I am still doubtful about: the stability of such a grouping; the efficacy of the Alternative Vote sytem being touted- it is much less proportional than the Jenkins favoured AV Plus; and the wisdom of allowing a losing PM to continue if offfice after being rejected by voters.
The voters themselves might have a dusty response waiting a few months down the line if this goes ahead. The risks for Labour have just ratcheted up more than a few notches. I still feel Labour would be better off allowing the Tories to make their play at solving the debt crisis and regroup in opposition under a new leader. I was interested to hear that gritty old pragmatist, John Reid, suggesting something similar on BBC News. Two sources from which we have not yet heard a great deal over the past 36 hours or more: David Cameron himself, and those allegedly volatile markets. Maybe we'll hear from both today...?
Monday, May 10, 2010
Time For Labour to Accept Defeat and a Future in Robust Opposition
If Gordon Brown's fate has been to resemble not just one but several Shakespearean tragic heroes – cursed in his relationship with Tony Blair by a jealousy worthy of Othello, racked in the first months of his premiership by the indecision of Hamlet – then today he was Macbeth, seemingly playing out his final act. Like the embattled Scottish king holed up in his castle, watching Birnam Wood march on Dunsinane, Brown sat in No 10 knowing that, a few yards away, enemy forces were gathered, preparing to combine and seize his crown.
Looking back a few months, when Labour faced a meltdown, possibly obliteration as a political force, this outcome is far from being a disaster. Labour still possesses its urban heartlands and the Liberal Democrats, as the price of their seduction by power, risk complicity with what is destined to be a hugely unpopular government. Labour can expect to take seats off both come the next election and, after 13 years in power, they need a period in opposition to tgake stock and regroup.
First job? Get rid of Gordon. As Wintour observes:
Cabinet members believe the public will not change their negative view of Brown, and despite what they see as his stamina, personal courage and dignity in the campaign, he probably cost Labour 40 seats.
Saturday, May 08, 2010
Odds on Lib Dem_Tory Agreement and that Clegg Will Let Voting Reform Slip
1. Exhuming Gordon's undistinguished government will seem totally contrary to the election result. Gordon has been rejected.It would help a great deal if he resigned but he is so power obsessed the idea would never even occur to him.
2. Doing a deal with Brown will contradict his avowed statement earlier in the campaign, thus reinforcing the view you can't trust politicians.
3. A 'Rainbow' coalition of Labour, LDs, Greens and Nats will just appear too unstable and opportunistic.
4. A referendum on voting in these conditions would quite likely become a referendum on the Lab-LD 'deal' and be voted down anyway.
5. The rightwing press would crucify such an agreement.
6. Such a deal would be unlikely to have the political strength to pass the necessary tough measures to reduce ther deficit and reassure the bond markets.
So, while I'd love to see PR, I fear this cannot be the moment. It's coming, but not yet- emerging from the depths of this current crisis. Clegg will ally or do a deal with Cameron but I'd advise him not to get too close. The second election- maybe in the autumn- might be tricky if unpopular measures have been forced through. Making Vince Cable Chancellor would fall right into this trap and Clegg will avoid it if he has any sense. First thing Labour should do is get rid of their political liability Gordon Brown as leader.
Friday, May 07, 2010
Prediction: After Gordon Tries and Fails Cameron Will Govern as Minority PM
i) Once all trhe results declared, Gordon will seek to cobble together a coalition from LDs and Nats.
ii) Tories and their press will shriek illegitimacy for a 'defeated' PM and government to seek to do this, especially when an economic crisis threatens to overwhelm the country..
iii) Clegg will come to conclude such an alliance will be damaging in any subsequent election-he said he'd never do a deal with Gordon after all- and maybe Nats too will come to same conclusion. A deal would be easier if Gordon stood down but this doesn't seem likely at the moment.
iv) Eventually, in a day or so, Gordon will give up and let Cameron in to rule as minority government.
What I really want, of course, is for Labour and LDs to do a deal on reforming the voting system but I just can't see it emerging out of the current chaotic situation. I'd be delighted if it did. I also feel it was a disgraqce that so many voters were turned away from the polling station for reasons which were beyond belief: eg they'd run out of ballot papers!
Thursday, May 06, 2010
Cameron's Election to Lose Now
Polling days can be very slow news days. On Radio 4 this morning they replayed an interview from an earlier election when some desperate news-editor sent someone to interview Ted Heath's milkman. 'What sort of milk does he buy?' gasped the radio hack. 'Oh, usual kind.' replied milkman. 'Have you ever met Mr Heath?' persisted the BBC man. 'No' said the milkman.
So Nigel Farage crashing out of the skies was a godsend to the news channels and, I just wonder, will the resultant sympathy vote- he should not have walked away virtually unhurt from what was left of that plane- might help him defeat John Bercow. I'm all set for tonight with wine, mates and nibbles but what seems likely? The polls still predict a hung parliament but my gut instinct tells me Ashcroft money, Dave's truly stakhanovite last push and the tendency for polls to over estimate Labour's vote, will, sadly, deliver victory to the Conservatives. Moreover the Liberal Democrat surge now seems to have abated as their final poll rating was not much higher than it was in 2005.
But I am so hoping to be pleasantly surprised. Maybe Labour will edge up to keep Dave's seats well shy of 300 and maybe the aftermath of Cleggmania will seduce a big chunk of those uncommitted voters we read about which might still number 20-30% of those left to vote. I was amused by one speculation I read about that Cameron might try to emulate Salmond in 2007 and, should he win the vote but not have enough seats, fly to London and declare himself winner, even to extent of beginning to drive up the Mall. Now that I would like to see.
Tuesday, May 04, 2010
It Looks Like Dave but Arithmetic Will Decide
1. Cameron wins big with 39+% of vote and over 326 seats. This is way above current predictions but if Ashcroft money pays its dividend and Labour polls overestimate its support as some maintain, including the very astute Mike Smithson, then this is certainly possible. Cameron has certainly given his all in the campaign too.
2. Cameron has biggest number of seats but no overall majority. This would place him in the 300-315 range with the possibility of governing as a minority assuming he can rely on DUP and maybe other odds and sods to support him. Will Hutton sees him doing a number of things:
David Cameron may offer Clegg a few concessions to gain his consent, but he will go to the country again before the pain of his economic measures are felt and as soon as the Lib Dem surge fades. He will want to win a proper mandate for a fully fledged Conservative government and then refine the first-past-the-post voting system, reduce the number of constituencies by 10% but in so doing redraw their boundaries to be fairer to the Tories and disqualify Scottish and Welsh MPs from voting on English issues. The state will become a Conservative fiefdom.
3. Cameron gets under 270 seats. This is when it gets interesting as one of the big parties will have to ally with the Lib Dems to provide stable government. Tories and Clegg would gag on voting reform(totally indigestible), EU and spending but Clegg might be prepared to accept a 'promise' on voting reform in exchange for that first real, heady, taste of power. Alternatively, Cleggy might reckon Labour more receptive to voting change and do a deal with them. His rank and file would be more amenable to such a thing wheras they would blench at a coalition with the Tories.
The problem with 3 above is that Gordon might spoil it all. Labour will probably come third in the vote yet second in seats. Will Gordon accept he 'lost'? It's not definite he will and may decide to hang on, claiming a contest is needed to remove him. The Sun says Mandelson has Miliband poised to move in to become leader and possibly to negotiate with Clegg. As his fianl act of arrogant perversity I wouldn't put it past Brown to bugger up such a plan. He's buggered up so much else after all.
Saturday, May 01, 2010
Poll Gloom for Labour but Still Chance of a Hung Parliament
The current Economist offers a good take on the election. As you note, I have 'borrowed' said graphic the better to relay its messages. It illustrates a poll conducted by high performing Canadian firm Angus Reid Public Opinion whose 'ballot paper' technique The Economist admires. The poll shows Cameron holding 33% but Labour trailing in 3rd place on 23%. Gloomy indeed for those of us who think the Conservatives will be bad both for us and the country. On policies the Tories lead on seven out of eight issues with Labour shading it just on health. Even worse, Angus Reid polls have in the past shown how Labour deliver a lower level of support on polling day than the polls display.
Mike Smithson, who runs politicalbetting.com, a website that displays Angus Reid numbers, says that every poll but one since 1987 has overstated support for Labour, whether in general or local elections. Those that show the least enthusiasm for the party tend to be most accurate. No one is entirely sure why, or whether the trend will continue this time.
Having drenched Labour supporters with gloom, the journal gives its article the cheery title: 'It's not over yet'. Well, you could have fooled me. The silver lining seems to be the willingness of 39% of the electorate to vote tactically- this might help Labour- and the 'softness' of some of the vote. As the graphic shows 32% of Tory supporters, 35% of Labour and a whopping 53% of Lib Dems say they could change their minds before 6th May. I accept the crumb of comfort gratefully but it seems very unsubstantial; Labour has done nothing so far to suggest it could seduce large slices of support from voters leaning in other directions. The worst Labour result since 1983 seems certain and some of us would settle for that. B ut it still might be a hung parliament and out of that a system changing coalition might conceivably emerge. Seats based on the polls figures would deliver 294 to Conservatives, 32 short of a majority.
More re-assuring, perhaps, is the view of Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England who predicts that the severity of the cuts required to solve the deficit problem will be so great that the government implementing them will be 'exiled from power for a generation'.