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.