Thursday, 20 December 2007

Another Lib Dem reshuffle

Following his wafer-thin victory in the Lib Dem leadership election, Nick Clegg today confirmed the make-up of the latest bunch to take up space on the Opposition front benches. Dividing his front bench into "teams", Clegg has claimed that this will enable the party to focus its messages on public services, inequality, families and decentralising power.

Appointments of note include his defeated rival Chris Huhne taking up Clegg’s former position in the Home Affairs brief. Vince Cable retains his positions as shadow Chancellor and Deputy Leader following strong performances in the House of Commons, and Orange Book author Ed Davey has been promoted to the post of Foreign Affairs spokesman. Hornsey and Wood Green shrieker Lynne Featherstone gets Youth and Equality (insert own joke).

Wonder how happy Huhne is at getting Clegg’s sloppy seconds at Home Affairs? Several punters were guessing that Clegg would rather send his defeated rival off the media wilderness of Foreign Affairs, as opposed to the Department which currently causes so many Dim Lebs to squeal. The possibility of course is that Huhne would have refused all positions bar Home, which of course will give him the central role in providing the Yellow Streak’s opposition to ID cards, profiling and prolonged detention before trial.

In any case, Clegg will need his new Chief of Staff (European policy wonk Danny Alexander) to keep an close ear to the ground, since Huhne will be looking to make it third time lucky in the leadership stakes – and will be only too happy to pounce if Clegg proves half as calamitous as his election document suggested.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Clarke savages Brown: Be loyal and draw loyalty

Former Home Secretary Charles Clarke MP has lifted the lid on some of the ruptions currently brewing in the Labour Party. It seems that poor performances at PMQs, ongoing blunders and the shifting of blame onto Ministers and advisers have combined to cause a sharp downturn in the level of parliamentary support for the Dear Leader.

Commenting in today’s Guardian, Clarke mentions that many MPs were “appalled” at the apparent jingoism of Brown's conference commitment to "British jobs for British workers", but have so far been too loyal to criticise publicly. Clarke also claims that senior Ministers are beginning to tire of Brown’s obsession and interference in their Departments - only for the Prime Minister to drop all responsibility in times of crisis.

"In David Miliband and Alistair Darling and [Jacqui] Smith he's got three strong people and good people who should be supported and to some extent they are not… Tony would always support his key people. Gordon should do that with his people."

This is the first recorded attack by a sitting Labour MP on the Prime Minister since his accession in June, following a private instruction by Tony Blair not to criticise his successor – an instruction Clarke finds “staggering, given his disloyalty to Tony”.

Of course, loyalty has never been the most dependable currency in politics, yet one of the key strengths of Blair as both Labour leader and Prime Minister was his ability to draw strong loyalty from his supporters, even after (as in the case of Clarke) he was forced to remove them from Ministerial posts. Blair’s skill was in demonstrating similar loyalty to others before calling it in himself – and as a result, potentially disgruntled former aides such as Mandelson, Byers, Morris, Milburn and Clarke himself remained supportive of Blair’s premiership right up to the end, refusing to criticise the outgoing Prime Minister.

Not for the first time, this appears to be an area in which Brown has been found wanting. With Labour slumping further in the opinion polls, Brown may yet need the support of both traditional allies and former adversaries, especially if the ants start to turn on the Queen.

As for Clarke himself, the Hairy One has recently been positioning himself for a key position in Europe (possibly replacing Peter Mandelson as UK representative on the European Commission), and several commentators have indicated that the recent thaw in relations between the two former Cabinet colleagues is possibly down to this opportunity of mutual convenience, i.e. Clarke’s silence to be rewarded with a prestigious job (abroad).

Fat chance now...

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Clegg wins Lib Dem leadership

So once more, the smoke from the eco-friendly guns has cleared, the most snoozeworthy leadership election in years has been concluded, and Nick Clegg has emerged as the newly elected leader of the Liberal Democrats.

The margin of his victory, a matter of just 511 votes out of the total 41,465 votes cast by the party's members, will not be a source of comfort to the young leader, who is likely to do a lot of looking over his shoulder to check for knives bearing Chris Huhne’s fingerprints. Given that Clegg has previously indicated that he will reshuffle his front bench team as early as possible (ostensibly to promote new ‘talent’ to the Lib Dem front benches), expect big jobs to be offered to both Huhne and Deputy Leader Vince Cable, following the latter’s notable performances at Prime Minister’s Questions.

What may concern grassroots Lib Dems however is not the low mandate of Clegg to lead – barely 1% over Huhne's total – but the relatively limp campaign of the new leader, certainly in comparison with the vibrant and aggressive campaign of Chris Huhne. In particular, his inability to fight back from the ‘Calamity Clegg’ briefing drafted by Huhne’s campaign team will not give cause for confidence to Yellow Streakers hoping for the new leader’s performances in the House to match those of caretaker leader Vince Cable. Given the high number of votes cast early on in the contest when Clegg was still an overwhelming favourite, the likelihood is that if there had been a bar on sending in votes prior to the contest getting properly under way, the party would be hailing a very different result.

On the other hand, it should be borne in mind that Clegg is a smooth operator, and will have noted the amount of damage which the aformentioned briefing did to Huhne’s own campaign, with many Lib Dems privately expressing indignation at such an open attack on a potential party leader and talisman. His charm and appeal to centre-left thinkers is undeniable, and he will be anxious to win back the numbers who have haemmorhaged away to the Conservative fold.

Whether the Lib Dems have elected themselves someone who can even come close to matching Cable at PMQs and give Brown and Cameron a run for their money, we’ll all just have to watch this space…

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

The Police and the Nurses deserve better than Brown

Ah, another day, another kicking for Brown at PMQs, and it seems another public service workforce is up in arms at the latest insult on pay from the Government. Bulldog-faced Home Secretary Jacqui Smith may have held the course of Labour’s sinking ship so far, but even she will find it difficult to stem the growing fury among policemen and women at the Government’s latest backtrack on pay deals for the police, previously agreed by the independent Police Arbitration Tribunal.

Instead of the 2.5% pay rise being backdated from September 1st, the Government has now decided to implement the new pay arrangements as from December 1st. As this reduces the pay increase to 1.9% (hence below the rate of inflation), Police Officers have argued that this effectively amounts to a pay cut, moods were blackened further by the announcement that Scottish PCs will receive their pay increases backdated from the agreed date. Following this decision, the Police Federation are now considering action – including campaigning against the Police Act of 1919 which bars them from striking – in order to lobby their cause.

This of course is hardly dissimilar from the Government’s equally two-faced decision for nurses in England and Wales – a 2.5% pay-rise being staggered (once again, reducing this to 1.9%), while nurses in Scotland received their pay increases unstaggered. In that situation, it was to the Government’s extreme good fortune that a combination of the legendary abilities of Health Secretary Alan Johnson in pouring oil over troubled waters, and the equally legendary calmness and professionalism of the nurses, averted an all-out strike.

Given the fact that it was this Government’s own incompetent handling of the economy that has led in no small part to this financial quagmire (who was head of the Treasury when these decisions were made, hm?), I find it difficult to sympathise with the Prime Minister’s growing list of concerns, particularly following his typically hyperbolous statement to the Association of Chief Police Officers' 2007 conference in June that "there is no greater obligation for us in government than to support you in discharging your duty".

Once again, this Government has failed to live up to its word, and many will have nothing but contempt for the way Brown has effectively treated the emergency services as financial whipping boys. The 1919 legislation was put in place to protect the public, not to give the likes of Brown and his cronies an opportunity to withhold from hard-working emergency service workers their due – and believe me, both the police and the nurses are due a reward given their consistently sterling service, too often without recognition.

Whilst no-one would welcome strike action, sympathy is likely to run deep in the minds of a public still appreciative of the commitment and professionalism demonstrated by the emergency services on 7/7, plus before and since. Given the tumbling approval ratings for both the Government and Brown himself, he neglects the emergency services at his peril.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Progress and Policy Exchange trade blows on David Cameron's leadership

Last night, St. Thomas’ Hospital played host to an eagerly anticipated debate organised jointly by the left and right think-tanks Progress and Policy Exchange, with the motion “Has David Cameron Changed the Conservative Party for Good?” On the panel, Policy Exchange co-founder Michael Gove and Fraser Nelson (political editor of the Spectator) to put the case for the motion, while Immigration Minister Liam Byrne partnered Times columnist David Aaronovitch in opposing.

While the debate provided more than a few sparks for gathered politico crowd, I couldn’t help but feel that too great a focus was placed on the recent strong Conservative showings in opinion polls (not that I object to this renewed popularity, mind you) and that this represented a far greater opportunity than was taken to highlight the growing list of policies emanating from CCHQ. While Michael Gove briefly mentioned the party’s recently published Green Paper on Education, this seemed an all-too brief interlude to an ongoing discussion on the reliability of polls. Am I the only one (clearly not, given the outcome of the debate) to believe that the Conservative party’s journey since Blackpool 2005 has been so much more formative than a simple change in public opinion - albeit one bolstered by Labour’s shambolic performance over the past year?

Quite simply, under David Cameron there has been a change in the outlook of Conservative thinking, which has both preceded and influenced the development of party policy. This process is evident in the a new sense of priority in supporting the public services (especially the NHS), a renewed vigour in foreign policy, and a new responsible attitude towards the environment. Of course, these positions supplement not substitute the existing Conservative outlook on a low tax/small state, typified by policies unveiled at October’s conference to increase the threshold inheritance tax to £1 million, and the abolition of stamp-duty for first-time buyers for properties over £250,000. As one Labour party friend of mine said following these announcements: “It’s enough to make you turn Tory”.

As Michael Gove illustrated, David Cameron has had a transformational effect on the Conservative party, whereas Gordon Brown has given no assurance at all that his stewardship is anything more than a transitional one, before a younger leader emerges with the ideas to drive his party forward to government.

Personally, I felt that this could have been a good opportunity to re-layer Conservative policies before an audience of people in a position to test the practical strength of such proposals. Still, the straw poll taken at the end as to whether anyone had changed their mind since the beginning of the debate (one person out of a crowd of around a hundred) possibly indicating the level of surety in the opinions of professional politicos could possibly explain the superficial nature of the debate.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Oxford Union decision a disgrace

The Oxford Union’s decision to play host to BNP leader Nick Griffin and convicted Holocaust denier David Irving in a debate tonight on the issue of free speech has unsurprisingly generated much discussion, with former alumni such as Dr Julian Lewis, Conservative MP for New Forest East and a Shadow Minister for Defence, resigning his membership and other luminaries cancelling scheduled appearances.

Local Oxford MP and National Secular Society apologist-in-chief Evan Harris has supported the Union’s decision, and will attend tonight’s debate. Coming from an ethnic Jewish family, some might say that Harris is more qualified than most to give his opinion on whether individuals such as Griffin and Irving should be granted a platform to air their noxious views. I consider myself a liberal, and like Evan Harris I understand the need for temperance against unilaterally banning individuals or groups whose opinions are distasteful or even offensive to the majority. However I (not for the first time) disagree profoundly with Harris and the Union’s logic on this issue.

The Union Committee may of course claim that since its purpose is to stimulate debate over such issues as free speech, the event has been a success before the debate has even opened due to the publicity and national discussion generated by the decision. And if such student bodies were consistent in their rulings, this author would have to shrug his shoulders and (along with certain others in this debate) trot out the old Voltairean ideal that while we may despise what a person such as Griffin or Irving might say, we must defend their right to say it. Yet consistency is a virtue which such student bodies have often found difficult to master (I am thinking especially though not exclusively of the decision on the part of the NUS to ban all Israeli institutions, goods and services – naturally without consulting the student body they claim to represent – whilst refusing to make a similar ruling towards nations complicit in Islamo-terrorism, such as Iran or Syria).

Secondly, pseudo-liberal gestures such as those exhibited by the Oxford Union are easy coming from those who will not be forced to deal with the consequences of such “free speech”. Of all the assembled Dons and students gathered at tonight’s debate (which will no doubt be boosted by the notoriety/novelty afforded by the presence of two living Nazi sympathisers), how many will hail from – or return to – the wards of Barking, Dagenham and Redbridge, where the BNP and other far-right groups have slowly been gathering electoral momentum? While such high-minded ideals are fine for those who return will return to the middle-class insulation of Surrey, Devon and Islington, the proposition is a very different one for those facing the prospect of a BNP-led council group in north east London.

For this reason, the Oxford Union’s decision will hardly displace the image in the minds of many who consider Oxbridge students as arrogant, pompous and out-of-touch with the lives of the other 99% of the population. Not for the first time, I am reminded of Tony Blair’s famous reluctance to hire or promote any person who supposedly cut their political teeth in student politics - a position which based on today's evidence, I am inclined to endorse.

Finally, as Peter Tatchell (someone who knows a thing or two about freedom of speech) has pointed out, both Griffin and Irving have the same rights of free speech as the rest of us – they can espouse whatever view they choose in any public meeting or article which they care to proffer, provided that this does not equate to incitement of a hate-crime. The Oxford Union in contrast has gone out of its way to promote both individuals to a prestigious platform from which to air their views, with all the associated coverage which will undoubtedly fuel their profile and, correspondingly, their agendas. As Tatchell neatly summarises, “not offering hate-mongers a platform is not the same as banning them. Hundreds of topical public speakers and first-rate debaters never get invited to address the Oxford Union. They are not being censored”.

In summary, I accuse the students who have rewarded the bigotry of Griffin and Irving not only of the worst kind of arrogance, but of deep-rooted cowardice. When they have stepped out from behind their pseudo-liberal pomposity and stood toe-to-toe against the threat of real fascists (and by which I don’t just mean the possibility of Nestle products being sold by the local Student Union tuck shop) then they can preach on the virtues of libertarianism. Until then, the likelihood is that they will be viewed by the descendants of Holocaust victims as identical to the scabbish Nazi colloborators of the 1940s in all aspects bar perceived necessity.

As I have mentioned, my instincts toward liberalism are to allow free speech, but free speech does not mean that we are therefore encouraged to promote or support those who preach a dogma of hate. By all means lets be liberal in this and other instances, and demonstrate qualities such as tolerance and free speech which individuals such as Griffin and Irving would restrict. But please, let’s have a grown-up liberalism here as opposed to the self-indulgent arrogance which the Oxford Union have peddled in this instance.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Mr Average

England 2, Croatia 3. Probably the best result under the circumstances. Not, I hasten to add, because I have some anti-patriotic desire for the national team to fail (otherwise I would have wanted Brown to attend the match), but because this finally offers the chance for the English FA to get their eyes uncrossed and rebuild before the next World Cup, starting by appointing the man they should have gone for in the first place – step forward Martin O’ Neill.

International football calls for international pedigree, and Steve McLaren just doesn’t have this. I’m sure he’s a perfectly agreeable bloke, but with a background of coaching also-rans and his finest boast being as a number two to other more successful coaches, he was never the man to take the top job. After all, the same is true in any major position – hire mediocrity, and what do you expect?

In contrast, O’ Neill has won the European Cup twice as a player, which is likely to impress any of England’s current crop of so-called superstars. As a manager, his pedigree is first-rate – Champions League experience, league titles (albeit in the two-horse Scottish league), and two cups in England (one more than England’s soon-to-be-ex incumbent). He also has a history in getting the best out of average players – a skill which some might say would be called upon in dealing with England’s current crop.

However with a history of shooting itself in the foot (rivalled only by the current Chancellor), expect the FA to appoint yet another underachiever to the post, make a lot of noise about “getting behind the team”, before sitting back to watch another ignoble embarrassment unfold with a collective expression of "Not my fault, guv".

UPDATE: It has now been confirmed that failing to qualify for Euro 2008 will cost the English FA £5m. So in addition to the £2m payoff to McLaren, plus the lack of activity in shirt sales prior to a major football event, I would put the cost of the FA’s initial decision to appoint McLaren at round about £10 million. Considering he was appointed because he was cheap, this certainly seems to put the comparatively successful Sven-Goran Eriksson’s £4m a year salary into context.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

More of the same, eh Gordon?

Well, the most important political event of the year (bar an aborted election) has been and gone, with predicted results – the Queen’s Speech detailing the Government’s legislative agenda failed to introduce anything we hadn’t already heard before. Of the twenty-nine Bills proposed by the Government, many are simply rehashes of previously proposed legislation (many of which have been rejected by Parliament, e.g. the controversial increase in the time-limit permitted for detention without charge of terrorist suspects). This has not only led to accusations from the Opposition that Gordon Brown is already out of ideas, but also rumblings from within his own party that the decision to publish the proposed legislative programme was a major drop of the political ball, since it allowed little opportunity to add to the legislation agenda.

In terms of Her Majesty’s speech, there were (of course) the usual plethora of touchy-feely-woolly Bills, such as that devoted to “Citizenship”. Such vacuous wastes of Parliamentary time will hardly serve to protect Brown however, given the public outcry he is likely to face when the EU Reform Treaty Bill is debated. Since Labour backbenchers such as Gisela Stuart have already insisted that that Government should honour their election pledge to hold a referendum on the proposed power handover to Brussels (a constitution in all but name), it is not surprising that people on all sides of the party divide have accused Brown of dishonesty. And it is not the first time.

Another Bill of only mild interest to this author is the Health and Social Care Bill (now in its third incarnation – and they say this Government has no ideas…). The central purpose of this piece of proposed legislation is to finally incorporate the findings of the Shipman inquiry (something which, unsurprisingly, have never been opposed by the Opposition) by reforming professional regulation, particularly around the prescription of drugs. The Bill would also lead to the establishment of an overall regulator, Ofcare, to oversee the new regulations and govern the profession in England. You can just imagine the discussion in Cabinet – “So how do you think we can finally cut through all the red tape and bureaucracy currently getting in the way of doctors and nurses doing their jobs?” “ I know Gordon, let’s create another Quango!”. I suspect that the number of ideas is not the central problem with this Government, so much as its instinctive centralising and general Whitehall meddling which most public sector workers object to.

A further Bill which has dragged on for the past three years is the Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Bill, which will seek to transfer unclaimed capital assets from bank accounts lying dormant for periods of fifteen years or more for the use of Young Person’s Training Schemes and other social investment projects. No mention was made as to whom the arbiter of this scheme would be, although multi-billion financier (and major donor to the Labour party) Sir Ronald Cohen has long supported a Social Investment Bank to act as a wholesaler and packager of such capital for the third sector. Alternatively, this could be carried out centrally by the Government, or undertaken by the Banks themselves (as advocated by the Chambers of Commerce). However, knowing both Gordon’s centralising instincts and determination to get his hands on capital gains that essentially have nothing to do with him, we might hazard a guess.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Further poll lead for Conservatives

Conservatives are now eight points ahead in the latest opinion poll, following increased support from young voters. The poll, carried out by ComRes for the Independent, places the Tories on 41% after a seven point rise in the past month, with support for Labour falling four points to 33%.

Commentators have blamed Labour’s slump on Gordon Brown’s handling of the election speculation, plus poor public performances (such as PMQs). In contrast, David Cameron’s surge in support from young voters, which now stands at 35% support among 18-24 year olds, has been attributed to policies such as the removal of stamp duty for first-time buyers.

While this is obviously good news for the Conservatives, it must be borne in mind that given the current electoral map, an eight point lead would translate into just a two-seat majority.

Still, Brown must be furious at his personal ratings taking such a public battering, and with no foreseeable Brown success on the horizon, the prospect of a 2008 election appears to be diminishing all the time.

Monday, 29 October 2007

UK Minister "deeply disappointed" at US security search

It seems to have become an easy thing to do to criticise US immigration controls for supposed overenthusiasm in stopping and searching certain groups before granting the right to enter.

The latest individual to enter the debate is Shahid Malik, MP for Dewsbury and the UK’s first Muslim Minister of State. Whilst travelling to a conference on terrorism via Dulles airport in Washington DC, Mr Malik was detained and his hnad luggage searched by homeland security officials. Mr Malik spoke afterward of his “deep disappointment” at being searched, and that UK politicians should be treated with greater respect when travelling in the US.

"The abusive attitude I endured last November I forgot about and I forgave, but I really do believe that British ministers and parliamentarians should be afforded the same respect and dignity at USA airports that we would bestow upon our colleagues in the senate and congress. Obviously, there was no malice involved but it has to be said that the USA system does not inspire confidence".

It has to be said, respect for visiting dignitaries and officials should be a two-way street, and that our own politicians should of course be treated with the same respect as American guests during their visits (although maybe Mr Malik should cast his mind back to the less-than-gracious hospitality showed to President Bush during his state visit to the UK last year).

Obviously, if the security officials were being “abusive” as Mr Malik originally suggested, then he is entitled to an apology, and an investigation should ensue. However, given his acknowledgement that “there was no malice involved” it appears that Mr Malik is objecting to being searched at all – in which case, I have to say that my sympathy is limited.

Yes, it is a drag having to remain in an airport any longer than necessary, particularly after a twelve-hour flight. And yes, it does seem unusual for staff to feel it necessary to search a serving Minister of State. But for Mr Malik to pull out the “do you know who I am?” card seems either to be an exercise in victimhood played up for his own personal electoral reasons, or a waste of a great opportunity to demonstrate some of the tolerance that he himself appears to allude to.

Certainly, complaining about security controls taken by any country – and particularly one which receives the level of terrorist threats as those received by the US – seems odd when you remember that the reason Mr Malik was in the country at all was to attend a conference on reducing the likelihood of terrorist acts. And to talk of “confidence” in security systems, do we really need to put the question to New Yorkers and Washingtonians as to how they would prefer a security system to operate? Such controls may not appeal to soft-boiled liberals in the UK, but if these are deemed necessary by the US and are carried out in a respectful manner, then quite frankly it really is none of Mr Malik’s business.

Mr Malik is in the privileged position of being able to set an example to Muslim youths both here in the UK and in the US – no mean feat in itself. Perhaps a smile and a “good work, guys” comment could have gone a long way in breaking down barriers at a time of increased tensions. As it is, this unnecessary complaint only serves to build up resentment on all sides, and increasing the likelihood of such controls remaining in place for some time to come.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Brown down at PMQs. Again.

Gordon Brown being destroyed by David Cameron in PMQs is no longer news. Its weekly occurrence has made it just another midday point in the Westminster week, serving only as a half-hour advertisement in Brown’s lack of either composure or oratorical skill.

However, the one point of interest this week was Ian Austin MP (Brown’s Parliamentary Private Secretary) being rebuked by the Speaker for shouting abuse at Cameron, usually when the latter was about to make a telling point against the Prime Minister. This is actually the second week in a row that Austin has had to be reproached for boorish behaviour during PMQs.

Unsurprisingly, David Cameron contemptuously brushed away such antics before laying once again into an increasingly fuming Brown. The Prime Minister hardly did himself any favours when he accused Cameron of misleading the House, following the latter quoting from the recent Gould report on the Scottish election debacle.

Considering the complaints with which Labour persistently piped up back in 1996-97 regarding Conservative MPs barracking Tony Blair at PMQs, Brown’s own hypocrisy serves only to highlight his own shortcomings throughout a parliamentary spectacle in which he is now universally held to be a regular loser.

I wonder what Blair makes of it all?

Monday, 22 October 2007

Democracy costs less to the Liberal Democrats

Well surprise, surprise. The two Liberal Democrat leadership contenders have both opposed proposals in favour of a referendum on the EU Treaty – in direct contradiction of commitments at the previous General Election.

Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg (both former MEPs) claimed that the Treaty – which has been described as being near-identical to the proposed European Constitution which French and Danish voters voted down in referendums last year – was “one of the least radical” and accused Conservatives of avoiding the “big issue” of a vote on Britain’s ongoing EU membership.

Quite amazing for two reasons really: firstly, the majority of people in the UK support a referendum on the issue (over 70% according to the Daily Telegraph). Usually, the Limp Dums are the first to jump on such a bandwagon – have the most watered-down party in UK politics decided that they actually stand for something beyond dog taxes? Secondly, given that the Lib Dems have just dumped their previous leader Ming Campbell primarily due to his inability to oppose the Government effectively, their refusal to do the job they were voted 62 seats at the last election to do (i.e. oppose) shows the Yellow Streak in their most renowned light, i.e. ineffectual, and out of touch with the majority of the country.

So what marks either contender – or, in the absence of a leadership contender made of sterner stuff, the Liberal Democrat party – as any different from the same arrogant “Gordon Knows Best” approach of Labour? With the Yellow Streak still going cap in hand to Brown in the hope of one more meaningless “advisory” position to Gordon’s “Big Tent”, the most likely outcome is that the Treaty (of which only ten out of 250 proposals differ from the original proposed EU Constitution – i.e. 96% of the rejected Constitution remains in the Treaty) will be forced upon us, with the minimum of debate.

Still, things seem to be looking rosier for Gordon than last week. After all, with ‘opponents’ of the consistency of the Lib Dem leadership candidates, he hardly needs to worry about the Treaty vote when it reaches the Commons, even if Labour MPs such as Gisela Stuart do vote to hold the Government to their election promise to hold a referendum on the issue.

Let’s just hope that in addition to the hospital infection cover-ups, the disgraceful standard of combat equipment UK forces were forced to use in Iraq, stolen pensions, and a myriad of other broken promises, the electorate is reminded of this latest breach of an election commitment come 2009 – plus the level of duplicity on the part of the Lib Dems in forcing through a Treaty which transfers even more powers from Westminster to Brussels.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Healthcare Commission report to save Johnson's bacon?

The Healthcare Commission today released its annual report, giving its performance ratings for all NHS Trusts in England. This is the most comprehensive assessment of the NHS’s performance on a local level, and is the second such report following last year’s analysis.

The scale of analysis for the 394 local Trusts was on the basis of two ratings on a four point scale, first for quality of resources and the second on financial management. Out of the 394 local Trusts, 16% were rated as "excellent", with a further 30% awarded a "good" rating on the first quality of resources test. This higher-category total of 46% represents an increase of 5% following last year’s report which rated 41% as achieving this standard. On the negative side, 45% were rated as "fair" and a 8% were rated as "weak". However, the overall report showed that the combined numbers in both lower categories fell from 59 to 53%. In the second test for financial management, 14% of Trusts were rated as “Excellent”, 23% “Good”, 36% “Fair” and 26% “Weak”.

In total, one in three trusts improved on their rating for clinical standards and a similar number did so for financial management, providing welcome news for the the Government following the hospital infection scandals in the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells, and the Stoke Mandeville NHS Trusts. Referring to the recent hospital scandals, Health Secretary Alan Johnson has promised tough action on those trusts deemed to be failing patients.

Whilst Johnson will clearly attempt to use the report as a get-out-of-jail-free card to divert attention from the recent hospital infection scandals, frontline NHS staff will know the full extent to which other issues – such as hospital cleanliness – have been put aside in favour of balancing the books. For example, nurses writing on the blog Dr Rant ( have gone so far as to suggest that the 90 Maidstone patients whose deaths have been linked with the infection epidemic were sacrificed “to save Patricia Hewitt’s career”, following her assurance that she would balance the books or resign. One professional made the following points of how both patient care and hospital funds were cut back to meet the Government targets:

- Most days there isn't sufficient clean linen.
- There are nights when there is only one nurse for eight patients.
- There are nights when there is only 1 staff nurse and 1 Grade A nursing assistant, both male, for 18 patients, 2/3 female, a good percentage elderly.
- There are nights when there are 2 nurses 'specialling' and 1 A Grade nursing assistant for 18 patients.
- The buzzers ring for bedpans, commodes, general lavatory assistance all night. There aren't enough staff to meet the needs of the patients. Beds are soiled, and then, of course, need to be changed, providing there are clean sheets.

“All an unnecessary waste of resources, and an appalling loss of dignity to the patients. Managers kept their heads down and did nothing to resist. They knew what would the result of the cost cutting would be and went along with it to keep their jobs”.

Hardly a ringing endorsement of for Gordon Brown’s determination to retain centrally-imposed targets in the NHS – in the case of Maidstone, no wonder local MP Ann Widdecombe declared that she would be unwilling to send her own mother to Maidstone hospital, such was the level to which cleanliness had been ignored in favour of meeting these absurd non-sequiter goals.

Let’s hope that Andrew Lansley continues to put the punches in on Johnson and this disgraceful Government, who play numbers games with the health and livelihoods of patients.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Another one-sided PMQs

This is getting boring. Biting his nails and looking nervous before today’s PMQs, Gordon Brown must have hardly been looking forward a further public kicking from David Cameron.

And not much has changed since last week. Looking irritated right from the start after a question from Graham Brady on tax relief, Brown positively erupted at Cameron’s suggestion that Government targets had exacerbated the hospital infection crisis in Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells. Stammering over his words and clutching a dog-eared newspaper, Brown only seemed to dig himself deeper by quoting the “new Chief Exective of the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust” as his defence - what a shame that no-one has informed the Prime Minister that the Trust has not yet appointed a new CEO.

Brown did his best to hit back by ridiculing Cameron’s likening himself to Governor of California Arnold Schwartzenegger over their respective climate change efforts, but the result was a one-sided contest in the Leader of the Opposition's favour. If it were a boxing match, the fight would have been stopped to save the Prime Minister any further punishment.

Of far greater interest was Vince Cable’s first PMQs as caretaker leader of the Liberal Democrats. Visibly more confidant than his predecessor, Cable dug back into greater “Liberal” territory (surely not an attempt to curry favour ahead of the upcoming leadership election?) by condemning the comments from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury Andy Burnham supporting tax breaks for married couples. Hardly surprising from this Prime Minister that he glowingly endorsed the Lib Dem steward’s comments (see the post below for this author’s thoughts on this issue). What else would one expect from a Chancellor whose tax burdens have made it more cost-effective for families to live separately rather than stay together?

Still, a further resounding PMQs defeat must surely be piling further pressure upon Mr Brown for a success, in any form, to crow about. As an election can now safely be discounted, expect Brown’s focus to fall upon the negotiation of the EU Treaty. While Number Ten insiders have all but ruled out a referendum on the Treaty in spite of the enormous similarities – some might say identicalities – between it and the former EU Constitution, Brown simply cannot afford to hand the Conservatives another gift (even one in return for stolen policies) in the form of a weakly-negotiated Treaty. The jeers from Opposition MPs which are currently ringing in his ears will be infinitely louder if he returns from negotiations having handed over (further) crucial powers without securing major opt-outs on issues such as social security, justice and human rights.

Clearly, Brown must arrive in Portugal tomorrow morning prepared to play hardball with other EU leaders if he doesn’t get what he wants, nee needs. But on the evidence of today’s showing, that may be a step too far for Gordon the Timid.

Monday, 15 October 2007


It has just been reported that Sir Menzies Campbell is due to make a statement concerning his ongoing leadership of the Liberal Democrats.

Wonder what this will be about, eh?

Why marriage is best

I was having a discussion with a friend of a friend during a long car journey last weekend, and our conversation fell upon the recent discussions around the Chief Secretary to the Treasury Andy Burnham’s suggestion to incentivise marriage (yet another proposal made by the Conservatives some weeks before the Hon. Minister was able to think the idea up all by himself). My acquaintance made the point that marriage is a social choice and as such, should be subject to the same tax breaks as single individuals and non-married couples, whether cohabiting or otherwise. My counter-claim was that as marriage is generally good for society, the policy discussion is more about a quid pro quo exchange between Government and society than rewarding one set of individuals whose behaviour is somehow deemed to be more socially approved of than anothers.

The arguments that, generally speaking, children brought up within a marital home have better life outcomes is supported by a series of sociological research. Most recently, Patricia Morgan (Senior Research Fellow at the think-tank the Institute of Economic Affairs) has attracted the attention of both sides of the debate, with her excellent studies: “Farewell to the Family: Public Policy and Family Breakdown in Britain and the USA” and “Marriage Lite: The Rise of Cohabitation and its Consequences”. Whilst many of the points meticulously analysed by Dr. Morgan will be familiar to the majority of pro-marriage, pro-children apologists, the major point that struck this author was the alarmingly high rate of relationship breakdown among cohabitees following the birth of children and the associated mental and emotional turbulence, often manifesting itself later in life – i.e. when parents may think that the child has “come through it”.

Lets look at the cold, hard facts. Children from homes with both parents are statistically more likely to achieve academically in school, with the associated benefits of greater chances of attending university, than children from broken homes. They are statistically less likely to suffer from depression, self-harm or engage in drug or alcohol abuse. They are statistically less likely to commit crime or serve prison time. In short, marriage offers a priceless emotional stability during a child’s formative years, with varied societal benefits.

Of course, as my acquaintance pointed out, there are the exceptions – “my mother was a single mother, and we’ve done all right!”. No doubt, but equally not relevant. No one is suggesting that every child growing up in a single-parent home will inevitably emerge as a wife-beating terrorist, any more than children born into a married and stable home will automatically be immune to damaging influences. Of course there are exceptions to the rule. But the clear and indisputable facts point to the maxim that marriage is best, not only for the members of the family themsleves, but for wider society. Such policies incentivising marriage are not about penalising single or unmarried parents, but providing recognition and support for an institution that offers such unrivalled and tangible benefits. Polly Toynbee may scowl and grimace, but all the typical hot-air hyperbole does not change that fact.

I could go further in this article – and indeed, have a feeling that this will not be the last time I blog in defence of the oldest social institution – but will restrict myself to one further, somewhat less tangible observation, namely that what is often most frustrating to children of single parents is that the pseudo-liberal commentators decrying the benefits of marriage seem inevitably to have come from comfortable middle-class (married!) backgrounds. In other words, they retain the financial resources to adapt themselves to divorce or separation with the minimum of social upheaval. They are typically insulated from the hard and violent street culture which has claimed so many fatherless young men from deprived backgrounds so alien to their own privileged roots.

Their dismissive attitude towards one of the few lines of defence for working class women and children is not only highly insulting, but downright hypocritical given the fact that they themselves have enjoyed the benefits of a stable, dual-parental upbringing. Or as another commentator puts it, it is so much easier to have a rose-tinted view of single parenthood in the leafy squares of Notting Hill and Islington than in the crumbling high rises of Tower Hamlets and Peckham.

Friday, 12 October 2007

It all gets worse and worse for Ming

Another day, and the pressure is growing ever more intense on beleaguered Lib Dem Leader Sir Menzies Campbell. Now that the hot air of the election that never was has now evaporated, a piece in this morning’s Guardian (,,2189705,00.html) reports that with the yellow vote limping along on 11% (behind the Conservatives on 41% and Labour on 38%) in the recent Ipsos-Mori opinion poll published in the Sun, the knives are now being sharpened for the ageing leader.

Several whispers in the Commons have indicated that senior Lib Dem MPs (if the phrase is not oxymoronic) have already approached Ming demanding his resignation, or face a leadership challenge. The Telegraph also quotes an unnamed source, who commented: “Time is up. We have had a life-threatening experience. The whole dynamic changes now that there is no election for 18 months. We will get him. There is no support for him in the grassroots”.

Frankly, this author wonders what the Lib Dems expected when they overlooked their younger candidates in favour of an OAP with a resemblance to Albert Steptoe. Then again, given some of the lurid details published at the time – not to mention those that escaped the headlines – perhaps its no surprise that the Yellow Tendency plumped for third choice (some things never change).

With no election expected for at least the next twelve to eighteen months, any short-term dip in the party’s fortunes are likely to be overcome under a new leadership of either Nick Clegg or Chris Huhne, assuming that they don’t destroy one another in the ensuing contest.

Still, who isn’t looking forward to the spectacle of the so-called nice party exposing their true colours, with various betrayals, backstabbings and outings taking place in the full public glare?

Thursday, 11 October 2007

PMQs postscript

Interesting piece posted by Guido this morning (, following the post yesterday regarding Brown’s easing off on Ming during yesterday’s PMQs.

Was it really sheer oraratorical incompetence on the part of Brown, or does he know something we don’t – and doesn’t want to come across as the bad guy to floating voters who may be sympathetic to an old man cut adrift?

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Another wet performance by Brown at PMQs

As predicted, the Conservative focus at today's Prime Ministers Questions were on the key issues of Brown’s loss of nerve in calling the election, the refusal to allow a referendum on the EU Treaty, and Labour’s blatant stealing of Conservative policies at yesterday’s Comprehensive Spending Review.

Evading the question as to whether he and the Chancellor had incorporated the increase in the threshold before inheritance tax is paid and the tax on non-domestic citizens prior to the Conservative conference last week, Brown continued to look rattled when put under pressure by Opposition MPs. I’ve said it before, but he just doesn’t have the zing of his predecessor.

Cameron’s accusations of the Prime Minister having “no conviction, just calculation; no vision just a vacuum” appeared to particularly needle, with Brown stammering out a weak response.

On the plus side, Brown probably wasn’t the worst performer – I actually thought that he gave the squeaking Ming Campbell a fairly easy ride, considering the fact that it has been the latter’s weak leadership that has led to the haemorrhaging of support from the Lib Dems to the Conservatives. The House of Commons has always needed a resident runt, and that is one job for which Ming seems eminently qualified.

With the sharks already circling in both parties, Brown really needs a success to emphasise his own authority and put the young pretenders in their place. Conservatives, you have been warned.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Dim-Leb watch:

Which former police chief was heard recently at a parliamentary function, pouring cold water on the aspirations of Lib Dem mayoral hopeful Brian Paddick?

The unnamed individual commented that:

“Brian Paddick is a pleasant enough guy, but it often became frustrating trying to deal with his constant demand for the spotlight.

“I promoted him twice (in the Met), but wouldn’t have done so a third time… His colleagues both senior and junior were tearing their hair out trying to accommodate him. His endless showboating just became too much”.

Paddick, formerly Metropolitan Police deputy assistant commissioner, is most remembered for his scheme in Lambeth to avoid arresting people for smoking cannabis. He later resigned from his post after claiming that he was sidelined by Sir Ian Blair, "because I spoke the truth", also branding the Met “authoritarian”.

He has refused to offer any further details regarding either charge, as this may jeopardise the six-figure deal he struck last month with publishing firm Simon & Schuster for his autobiography.

But reading between the lines, the message from his colleagues seems to be that the current Lib Dem mayoral frontrunner is a petulant and egotistical poser, who alienates colleagues when he feels he is not given enough credit for his contributions to group projects.

How utterly unlike the Lib Dems…

Monday, 8 October 2007

Brown must fight for the right to rule

So as predicted by this author, an autumn election is looking increasingly unlikely to take place following Brown’s announcement. A combination of a strong showing by the Conservatives at their party conference in Blackpool and some fairly transparent “announcements” by Gordon Brown (brilliantly exposed by Brown-basher-in-Chief, Dr Liam Fox) have led to the Conservatives pulling back an eleven-point lead in the polls, with even the Guardian now suggesting a dead-heat between the two major parties, at 38 points each.

The monumental extent of Labour’s crying wolf on a possible election was highlighted by a spluttering Jack Straw on this morning’s Today programme, who endeavoured to assure listeners that an election was merely being considered, but quickly ruled out due to the “lack of public appetite” for a poll. Ha. It has not escaped the attention of the author that Brown strategists Ed Balls and Doug Alexander were seen throughout Labour’s own conference – often in the presence of Brown himself – openly suggesting that the election could be sooner than people think. No wonder that the Tories and the Lib Dems have labelled the somewhat misnomerous author of “Courage”: “Bottler Brown” and “the Great Clucking Fist”.

All of which has left Gordon Brown with some thinking to do – which inevitably means that there is hard work ahead for the Conservatives.

Yes, the Tories had a great conference – certainly the most exciting and enjoyable this author has ever attended (and in Blackpool, too – some feat). In particular, Osborne’s proposal to increase of the inheritance tax threshold to £1 million, and the abolition of stamp duty for first-time buyers of properties under £250,000 have been greeted with support from middle-England, a key battleground for any future election. Some seriously good policy proposals from the likes of Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith and Pauline Neville-Jones, plus David Cameron’s 68-minute speech without notes will also have Brown getting nervous before Wednesday’s PMQs (never an area in which Brown has excelled).

But this is exactly the point where Brown will HAVE to come out fighting.

In his (sycophantic) interview with Andrew Marr earlier today, Brown insisted he would have won a snap election. Some might jeer at such protestations – but it was accurate. While this morning’s Daily Mail poll put the Tories ahead by three points (for the first time since Brown’s accession), history shows us that for a change in Government, Oppositions need to be ahead by a good six to eight points to have a fighting chance.

So why hasn’t Brown called the election, with the likelihood of a Labour victory even in the face of a Cameron bounce? It seems to this author that Brown’s legendary timidity in the face of adversity, plus insecurity as to his own position have caused a re-think. A reduced majority would be disastrous for Brown, who will need a bigger majority than Blair’s (who even in the post-Iraq tarnishment of 2005 still commanded a majority of 68) just to protect his own mandate within the Labour party – despite all the “no more Blairites, no more Brownites” hocus pocus of the Deputy Leadership election from Labour insiders, it is clear from the make-up of the current Cabinet that Blair’s young pretenders have not simply shrunk into the shadows of the Labour jungle.

It will also not have escaped Brown’s attention that the primary source of the Conservative upswing has not been Labour, but from the Liberal Democrats. For this reason, don’t be surprised if the Brown guns are trained on Ming Campbell in the hope that a few more disastrous performances will encourage either Nick Clegg or Chris Huhne to wield the knife in order to save the party’s chances at the next election.

My expectation is that Brown will focus on the areas in which he does best, and push for a major policy programme in the next Parliament. In any case, Conservatives must take nothing for granted, and continue the progress of the conference. We now have the bones of a superb manifesto in place, with some exceptionally good policies before the voting public (assuming Brown doesn’t attempt to steal these and pass them off as his own). For this reason, we need to ensure that these policies are seen and heard by possible floating voters. With the LGA elections coming up next year and increasing demand for a referendum on the EU Treaty/constitution, there are plenty of opportunities to force Brown out on the issues if we hold our nerve.

And the author’s tip on the election? Place your bets for Spring 2009!

Friday, 28 September 2007

The scent of an election in the air?

There is increasing speculation in Westminster that Gordon Brown will decide this weekend whether or not to call an early General Election. While he is not expected to make an announcement on the same day, he would have to tell the public he is dissolving Parliament by Tuesday if a ballot is to be held on October 25, the last Thursday before the clocks go back. However, some are suggesting he will wait and see how David Cameron performs next week.

Regional Labour Party organisers were called together for a meeting yesterday evening, and public shows of loyalty from former Blairites Alan Milburn, Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson will have served to embolden the naturally timid Brown. The mood of the party is also buoyant, with serious policy debates seemingly taking a back seat to speculation over the timing of a general election announcement. It has also been reported by Recess Monkey that Labour have begun recruiting key staff to work on an election campaign. The people approached are currently self-employed or work for lobbyists, organisations sympathetic to Labour or in other political posts from which they can be released immediately. Their jobs range from campaign logistics to voter liaison and press relations with the media for a general election campaign which could be launched in the next fortnight.

As Conservative blogger and A-List candidate Iain Dale has pointed out, if Brown decides not to call the election for this Autumn, there is an eight-month window between now and the next likely election date of May 2008, which he will be all to aware is time enough for the Tories to recover, particularly he is faced with accusations of a loss of nerve (which would be SO untypical of Brown…). However, any further signs of disunity or criticism levelled at the Conservative leadership arising in Blackpool, then I would guess that this would be the final push needed to persuade a jubilant Brown to take advantage of his lead in the polls and call an Autumn election – which given current standings, would be likely to be a disaster for Conservatives.

With the feel-good factor of Boris Johnson’s endorsement as our mayoral candidate, in addition to our taking a potentially Council by-election in Sunderland (plus swings toward us in Kent, Portsmouth and Northampton), there is plenty of positives for us to discuss how to maximise. And if we need something to be negative about, how about the fact that the health “reforms” proposed by Brown have been described by medical professionals (who still haven’t ruled out striking over the insult of a pay deal offered earlier in the year) as akin to placing a sticking plaster over a cyst?

With Brown’s economic record as Chancellor beginning to unravel, these are the points which Conservatives MUST get across over the coming week, namely: as Chancellor, Brown has decimated pension funds, funded the most disastrous military campaign in recent memory, and under his tenure the UK economy has lost its position as fourth strongest in the world. As PM, he has already begun to force further (unwanted and unnecessary) centralising changes upon an NHS buckling under centrally imposed targets and riddled with Nu-Labour interference.

This is Brown’s legacy – lets make sure voters don’t forget it.

Friday, 7 September 2007

A series of amazing coincidences

Lord Sainsbury has today made a £2 million donation to the Labour party. This donation could hardly have come at a better time for Gordon Brown, who is still riding high in the polls and has repeatedly hinted at the possibility of holding a snap election in October, but whose Labour party has debts conservatively estimated to exceed £19 million.

This donation is also incredibly well-timed for other reasons, considering the Human Tissue and Embryos Bill, which will have major implications on the future of biomedical research (including embryonic stem cell research, which as from yesterday, may now involve the creation of human-animal hybrids) is due to receive its First Reading in the next Parliamentary session.

But then Lord Sainsbury has repeatedly demonstrated his impeccable sense of timing. After donating around £7 million to Labour during the build-up to the 1997 election (he has now donated over £16m in total to Labour), the multi-million pound investor in human biotechnology was awarded a peerage following Labour’s victory, and subsequently made Government Minister for Science in 1998. Less than a year before the Human Cloning (Amendment) Act, in fact.

Having loaned the party £2 million to fund the 2005 election, he was questioned by the police as a witness during the cash-for-honours investigation and resigned shortly afterwards. However, he still claims that his intention was always to leave government after three or four years.

But I’m sure its all above board...

Monday, 3 September 2007

Brown's new appointments a wonder

Gordon Brown today confirmed the appointment of three opposition MPs to advise his "government of all the talents". Conservative MPs Patrick Mercer and John Bercow will advise Labour ministers, along with former Liberal Democrat Chairman Matthew Taylor. This is the second wave of non-Labour party appointments by Mr Brown, following previous appointments including former police chief Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, former CBI Director-General Digby, Lord Jones of Birmingham, and Baroness Neuberger.

Mr Mercer (MP for Newark), a former homeland security spokesman under David Cameron before being was sacked following comments on black soliders, will provide advice to security minister Lord West of Spithead; Mr Bercow (MP for Buckingham) has agreed to review services for children and young people with speech, language and communication needs, an area where he has a long-term interest; and Matthew Taylor, MP for the Cornwall constituency of Truro and St Austell, will advise the government on land use and how the planning system can support sustainable rural communities.

The appointment of Mr Taylor (loyalist of and former Chief of Staff to Charles Kennedy who was deposed as Liberal Democrat Party Leader following increased reports about his drinking), is especially interesting, given the persisent rumours of a possible threat to the leadership of Sir Menzies Campbell by either Nick Clegg or by Mr Kennedy himself. Sir Menzies however welcomed Mr Taylor's appointment, stressing he had been privy to the agreement. Of course he was.

Whilst having respect for the achivements of John Bercow, I've got to wonder at the appointment of Pat Mercer, who tied himself up in interminable knots following his comments about racism in the army being akin to the abuse of redheaded soldiers. Whether his taking up the position with the Auld Enemy is the result of a continuing fit of pique at being unceromoniously shelved following the ensuing scandal, or if he simply wants to prove a point to the leadership for any future reshuffle (a post-Election one, for example) who knows, but this certainly seems a strange way of going about it.

As for Labour, the unrest muttered on the part of several Labour MPs previously tipped for Government posts has not gone unnoticed by the author. Whether these MPs have been promised promotion following any prospective election (i.e. once Brown no longer needs the PR value of his "multi-talented" Government and can get back to what does best, namely laying down his personal diktat, refusing all discussion or debate around it, and taking out anyone who doesn't agree) we shall have to wait and see.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

GPs trust Conservatives over Labour to run the NHS

A poll released today has indicated that the Conservative party have opened up a 25% lead over Labour among General Practitioners.

The survey carried out in GP magazine found that out of 301 GPs, 48% intended to vote for the Conservatives at the next General Election, up from 35% in 2005. In comparison, support for Labour has dropped from 31% to 23% while backing for the Liberal Democrats has fallen from 19% to 13%.

Of the same individuals polled, around half of GPs (47%) answered that they considered Labour's performance on the NHS to be either “poor” or “very poor”, with just 17% responding that it had been “good” or “very good”.

When asked on specific policies and what changes they would like to see, 15% said that they wanted to see the creation of an independent NHS, and 7% called for greater GP autonomy. 10% replied that they would like the NHS left as it is.

The poll results are likely to be highlighted by David Cameron as the Conservatives continue the “NH Yes” and “Stop Brown’s Cuts” campaigns. With the future of the NHS already being seen by commentators as a key battleground for an upcoming election campaign, the views of medical professionals could prove decisive on which party is seen as most trustworthy in managing the health service.

Monday, 20 August 2007

House Prices up - again

Interesting piece on house prices rising again, reported today on Guido Fawkes’ blog. According to figures provided by the Nationwide Building Society, the average house now costs a whopping SIX TIMES the earnings of the average person (the historical long term figure is three-and-a-half times earnings). In London, this figure is TEN times average earnings

As someone who has been looking to buy his first property (and have been trying to do so for the past two years), these figures make pretty sobering – though not particularly surprising - reading. Anyone who has wandered into an estate agents office in my area of London will know that anything less than a quarter-of-a-million wouldn’t buy you a shoebox.

It seems incredible that at a time when the country is crying out for more affordable housing, Gordon Brown forces through the impractical and unnecessary Home Information Packs (HIPs) – the hairbrainchild of First Lieutenant Ed Balls’ missus, Yvette Cooper – piling even greater expense on the purchaser. Yet as Guido points out, this should hardly come as a surprise from the Chancellor who promised in 1997: "I will not allow house prices to get out of control and put at risk the sustainability of the recovery".

Gordon talks a good game when discussing the distribution of the proceeds of economic growth but given his failure to live up to previous pledges such as the above, how can anyone take seriously his latest proposals? His recent promise to build more affordable housing come as too little, too late for too many people. Let’s just hope that the electorate remembers this come election time, and rewards Gord’s incompetence with a house move of his own.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

When Two (ex) Trots Go to War

Bethnal Green and Bow MP George Galloway has ended weeks of speculation by annoucing that he will contest the neighbouring constituency of Poplar and Limehouse at the next General Election. The seat is currently held by Transport Minister and fellow Glaswegian Jim Fitzpatrick.

Blogmate Red Maria is already licking her lips at “a suitably bitter and filthy election campaign”. She seems to have got her wish already, with the Respect MP comparing himself to Labour founder Keir Hardie, against Fitzpatrick’s Ramsay MacDonald – “the betrayer of everything Labour stands for".

Commenting on his TalkSport radio show, Galloway also accused the former Socialist Workers Party official of presiding over the "shambles" of Heathrow airport.

Let battle commence…

Local Conservatives say: Ban Hizb ut-Tahrir

Congratulations are due to blogmate Justin Hinchcliffe of Tottenham Conservatives and “Hunter and Shooter” fame, following a bizarre decision by bosses at Haringey's Alexandra Palace to loan the venue for a conference held by Islamic extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Commenting in the Haringey Independent, Justin said: "Hizb ut-Tahrir is a fascist-Islamic organisation – jihad (holy war), anti-Semitism, homophobia and misogyny are what it stands for. We don't want these hate-mongers in Haringey."

Having originally considered banning the terrorist sympathiser group two years ago (in line with most other EU countries), Tony Blair decided against the ban after being briefed by police officials that this would merely drive the group underground.

However, such toleration appears to have simply emboldened Hizb ut-Tahrir into making further attacks on women, gays and Jewish people. As Conservative Leader David Cameron argued at Prime Ministers Questions last month: "People simply won't understand why an organisation urging people to kill all Jews hasn't been banned."

And so say all of us.

Hats off to Hunter for voicing the concerns of the majority of Haringey residents - the sherberts are definitely on me next time we're out.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Political hara kiri

Former councillor, two-time PPC Ali Miraj yesterday signed his own parliamentary death warrant. Frustrated at a flatlining political career, which has included two parliamentary defeats, reports from CCO suggest that Mr Miraj demanded to be nominated by David Cameron for a peerage. When he was unsurprisingly rebuffed, the some-time policy group contributor fired off an incoherent rant on, accusing the Conservative leader of “gimmickry”, an “obsession with PR” and of lacking experience, before going on to attack Communication Director Andy Coulson.

As if the timing of Mr Miraj’s attack – arriving in the week of admittedly more considered questions raised by Edward Leigh MP – and the nature of his allegations were not sufficient to justify CCO's censure, this is not the first time Miraj has prodded the political tiger. In early 2006, Mr Miraj appeared to suggest that his search for a parliamentary seat equal to his own sense of stature was due to racism, publicly questioning whether Witham and other local Conservative Associations were guilty of prejudice in candidate selection. Incidentally, Witham CA’s decision to adopt Priti Patel as their candidate perhaps offers the most withering of responses to such a cheap and obviously unsubstantiated assertion.

When Mr Miraj has finished putting the toys back in his pram, he may come to regret his own arrogant grandstanding. His A-list status, which offered the best chance of rewarding his efforts at the two previous elections, has now been revoked and neither Labour nor (even) the Dim Lebs are likely to welcome such a trouble-maker into their own ranks. Whilst disagreeing with much of Ali’s political platform, this is a sad end to a promising political career.

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

A further lurch to the right is not the path to Government

Edward Leigh MP has argued that in order to beat Labour at the next election, Conservatives should return to traditional Tory issues of "immigration, low taxes and Europe".

Highlighting Gordon Brown’s current lead in the opinion polls (no doubt buoyed by recent by-election success, albeit in two ultra-safe seats), Leigh writes in the current edition of Parliamentary Monitor magazine that it is now “a good time to take stock”, also commenting that "liberalism doesn't win elections”.

Whilst having some sympathy with much of what Leigh argues in favour of (low taxation and deregulation, consumer choice in education, health and pensions, the family as the foundation of society), this is precisely the same “one more heave” approach that has put the Tories to the sword in the past three General Elections.

We stood on a primarily immigration-focused platform in 2005, and lost – and for some of us, who were canvassing around Liverpool and attempting to explain to second- and third-generation Irish immigrants why the Conservatives apparently ‘didn’t want our kind’, the experience was not a positive one. We campaigned on an anti-European platform in 2001, and were beaten out of sight, Labour dismissing us a bunch of reactionary cranks.

While the issues mentioned by Leigh are important ones, all of which it would be folly not to hold positions on, we need to prove to the electorate that we have learned something from our decade in Opposition, that we really have listened, and that our policies reflect the views of the majority of British people. A further lurch to the right is not the path to Government. And contrary to the musings of the Daily Mail, David Cameron has had more than his share of successes also, most notably with the local election results last year.

Edward Leigh is correct in his assertion that Conservatives currently need to take stock, to review the progress we have made in the past two years, and to see where we could do better. Publication of the findings of the policy reviews, followed by a rigorous debate on their proposals at the most anticipated Conservative party conference in years, will go a long way in demonstrating to the country that the Conservative Party is serious about forming the next Government.

This is now the time for Conservatives to hold our nerve, and continue to focus on the real issues that are important to real people. Broon and the Dim Lebs can be beaten, but as friend and maybe-neighbour Hunter and Shooter says, careless talk costs votes!

Monday, 30 July 2007

Rob Wilson promoted to Shadow Higher Education Minister

Following Boris Johnson's departure from the Shadow Cabinet (and possibly the Commons altogether) to focus on his Mayoral campaign, the Conservatives moved fast to promote Rob Wilson to the post of Shadow Higher Education Minister.

This is clearly a shrewd move on the part of David Cameron, by taking advantage of Wilson's first-class knowledge and clear interest in education policy, to complement Michael "SuperBrain" Gove in the Cabinet post of Children, Schools and Families.

As someone who has had the pleasure of working alongside Rob at both party and professional level and never finding him any less than totally committed to improving the lot of those he represents, I'd like to congratulate Rob on a well-deserved appointment and look forward eagerly to his first despatch box performance.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Labour announce candidate for Hornsey and Wood Green

Hornsey and Wood Green Labour Party have recently announced that their candidate at the next General Election will be Karen Jennings, spokeswoman on health issues for the trade union Unison.

The modest Ms Jennings explained the decision by saying: “They needed a political heavyweight and an experienced campaigner, and fingers pointed at me. It got me thinking I might be the right person”.
Noting Ms Jennings’ failure to guarantee that she would necessarily put the needs or views of her constituents before that of her union, it appears that HWG Labour has moved startlingly leftward, particularly given the nature of the constituency’s previous Labour incumbent, Nu-Lab wet Barbara Roache, who was voted out at the last election.

It does make you wonder however why the local Association needed to look as far afield as Streatham to parachute in a candidate who is whispered to be totally unacceptable to almost half the local party. Then again, maybe no surprise at all given the stories of party infighting amongst HWG Labour members currently making the rounds…

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Gordon Brown's PMQs

PMQs this afternoon provided an interesting insight into Gordon Brown’s character. Stumbling over his over his words and looking increasingly haggard and desperate, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a PM fighting for his political life than a leader fresh from unanimous election (speaking of which, it’s been a long time since Ming has looked more impressive than another party leader). Cameron put the PM under pressure again and again to justify the disgraceful two-year delay in banning extremist hate groups.

Brown just doesn’t have Blair’s levels of confidence, humour and charisma – all vital ingredients to survive in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of Prime Ministers Questions.

Perhaps Gordon should start wearing one of those “WWTD” bracelets to keep him in the right frame of mind in such situations.

“What Would Tony Do?”

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Front bench reshuffles

So, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has given the key job of Schools, Children and Families to his most trusted lieutenant Ed Balls; David Cameron has entrusted the same role to intellectual heavyweight Michael Gove; whereas Sir Menzies Campbell has appointed David Laws to the role.

This could be interesting…

Johnson confirmed as new Health Secretary

So the smoke form the guns has cleared, Gordon Brown has announced his first Cabinet as Prime Minister, and none other than Alan Johnson has been confirmed in the post of Secretary of State for Health.

It appears that there are three primary reasons as to Johnson was given this post: firstly with a good record from his time as Education Secretary, and previously at the Department of Trade and Industry, he has a reputation for being a ‘safe pair of hands’, which will clearly be essential in a brief commonly acknowledged to be one of the most difficult in Government. Secondly, he has built a reputation for charm and skilled negotiation, both of which will prove essential in motivating a health service still bristling from the Government's reform agenda: doctors over the new training system and nurses over the staging of their pay award. But perhaps most crucially of all, exactly because the Department of Health is such a difficult brief, the former Chancellor will hope that the challenge is so great that Alan Johnson will not have the time, opportunity or political credibility to create waves within Government, still less generate the momentum towards a prospective leadership challenge. Not only is he known for being a Blairite (Johnson was the one notable front-bench Cabinet Minister to offer public support to Blair following the failed coup prompted by the resignations of Tom Watson and six other Government members), he was even tipped to challenge Brown for the leadership of the Labour Party following Blair's departure.

The benefit of this appointment to Gordon Brown therefore is two-fold: if Johnson manages to successfully trim hospital waiting lists, implement existing proposals and placate the frustrations of health workers, Brown can enter into an election period with a strong record on health provision in comparison to his predecessor. Given the emphasis that David Cameron has placed upon the NHS, this would rob the Conservatives of a major election theme, and could prove crucial in securing Brown his coveted second term as Prime Minister. If on the other hand Johnson fails to reinvigorate the Department of Health, Brown can safely eliminate a major potential rival – or at least demote him in the security of a damaged reputation. For this reason alone it is unsurprising that Johnson was handed such a potential poisoned chalice (it was initially speculated that he would be offered the equally troubling Home Office brief), and it will remain to be seen how well he can work with Gordon Brown as Prime Minister.