Wednesday 16 July 2008

SNP show their true colours

The Scottish National Party is attempting to diffuse accusations of duplicity following comments made yesterday by a candidate. John Mason, SNP candidate for Glasgow East, suggested that the party would keep on holding referendums on Scottish independence until consent was given for the split.

"When you ask someone to marry you, sometimes you have to persist" said Mason, Leader of the Opposition on Glasgow City Council, before hurriedly adding that if such a referendum was lost, the SNP would not hold a further one “the following day”.

Of course, what the SNP are proposing is not marriage but political divorce (and like many divorces, participants can occasionally indulge in exaggeration, speculation and occasionally outright deception). But the Nationalists should be cautious – on an appearance on BBC1’s Question Time earlier this month SNP Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was jeered by the Musselburgh audience over her party’s refusal to hold the promised referendum due to fears over the result – i.e. that the majority of Scottish people do not support breaking up the Union. Confirmation that the party is really not that interested in representation so much as using the parliamentary process to reinforce private hobbyhorses is unlikely to go down well at the ballot box.

Still, refreshing to see the SNP show their true duplicitous colours for once.

Monday 14 July 2008

Let’s face it – waterboarding IS torture

Despite disagreeing with him on virtually any subject you could mention, I must confess to being a fan of the contrarian author/journalist Christopher Hitchens. No matter how controversial the subject of his polemics, I regularly find it impossible not to be challenged by his arguments. Perhaps most impressively of all, he is also one of the few journalists who are prepared to put their own convictions to the test – an all-too-rare quality in the champagne socialist world of journalism dominated by the likes of Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Polly Toynbee. In my opinion, it is this exact quality that is the reason that Hitchens’ latest article for Vanity Fair has caused such a stir amongst all sides of the media.

Writing in the online American journal Slate at the end of last year, Hitchens made the suggestion that “extreme interrogation” does not necessarily constitute “outright torture”. On publication of these comments, the former member of SWP pre-runner International Socialism and now apologist-in-chief for the war and current occupation of Iraq was accused of supporting the use of “waterboarding” as a means of interrogating suspects of terrorism. Challenged by Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter to be put through the experience himself, Hitchens agreed to be placed in the hands of the elite U.S. Special Forces team skilled in the advanced form of training SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape).

So on a May afternoon at an undisclosed location in North Carolina, the experience began: hooded and handcuffed, Hitchens was led to a darkened room where loud techno music was being played and short sharp lights pierced the veil of his hood, before being “turned around a few times” for disorientation purposes. The journalist was then tied to sloped wooden board, facing upwards but with the head positioned lower than the heart, and several additional layers were applied over his face. A slow jet of water was then poured over this padding, tightening the damp cloths against the face to produce the stifling drowning effect, a feeling further exacerbated by the attempts of the prisoner to breathe through this layered mask. A feeling? Perhaps a more accurate description would be the drowning experience – as Hitchens himself argues, the "official lie" about waterboarding is that it "simulates the feeling of drowning", whereas in reality “you are drowning - or rather, being drowned". In the event, Hitchens managed to withstand the experience for all of eleven seconds before panic set in (a video his experience is here), a record which reads slightly more impressively when considered that trained CIA officers subjecting themselves to the same technique have lasted an average of fourteen seconds before caving in.

While the instant reaction of many to the “dunking” of the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (referred to by the U.S. National Commission’s report as "the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks") would be one of disdainful brush-off, the practice by the U.S. of this procedure upon prisoners suspected of terrorism raises a number of uncomfortable questions. Quite apart from natural objections on the grounds of human dignity, this procedure has been accused of producing flimsy and unreliable “confessions” from suspects, an objection which is common to procedures more generally accepted as torturous. In demonstrating this point, Hitchens recounts the case of one such suspect being so panic-stricken by the ongoing procedure that he eventually “confessed” to being a hermaphrodite. Such accounts raise the uneasy spectre of the genuinely innocent detainee, equipped with no form of resistance training from Al-Qaeda or any other, literally being “dunked” until he provides information which he simply does not hold.

Accusations have also arisen that support for this practice – tacit or otherwise – has allowed terrorists to claim both provocation and justification for the use of (admittedly more extreme forms of) torture when dealing with Western hostages. After all, if countries which claim to be bound by Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are seen to endorse or employ such methods, what hope do coalition forces have when taken prisoner by those pariah regimes, fed on a diet of anti-Westernism? This point is brought home all the more forcefully when reminded that waterboarding was first employed by America in training Special Forces to resist such methods if taken prisoner by such an enemy – not to inflict this themselves.

As well as the obvious immediate and long-term consequences to physical health, the mental affects of a torture experience are rarely erased. To illustrate this point, Dr. Allen Keller, Director of the Bellevue/New York University Programme for Survivors of Torture, offered the following example in an interview with the New Yorker magazine of one such patient who had been waterboarded years before: “He couldn't take showers, and panicked when it rained. The fear of being killed is a terrifying experience”. As in the case of capital punishment, there is often no way back from a torture experience – a far cry from the inalienable human right against torture and cruel or unusual punishment, a definition which I find it hard not to apply to this practice. When confronted by the arguments of the anti-abolitionist movement, Abraham Lincoln once stated that “if slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong”. Hitchens takes up the same moral test by arguing that “if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture. On this evidence, it is difficult not to agree.

William Hague has previously pledged to put human rights at the heart of the Conservative Party’s foreign policy. In implementing this laudable objective, a Conservative Government must be seen to provide a significantly better alternative to the hypocrisy of New Labour’s “ethical foreign policy”. Perhaps placing pressure on our American allies to discontinue this method of torture would send out the best message on the seriousness with which we as a Party and as a nation take human rights, as well as providing the starkest contrast to Labour’s record both domestically and internationally.

Monday 2 June 2008

Hillary expected to concede tomorrow

Reports from across the Atlantic have suggested that the US Primary could soon be over, with Hillary Clinton finally ready to concede the Democrat nomination to Barack Obama. The New York Senator is expected to give her formal concession following the results of the two remaining states of South Dakota and Montana who vote tomorrow. Politico reports that Hillary’s campaign team, currently spread over South Dakota, Montana and Puerto Rico, have already been informed that their roles are now effectively redundant, with staffers being given the option of either returning home or travelling to New York for her official announcement and probable endorsement of the Illinois Senator.

Senator Clinton’s withdrawal has been expected for some time, with many – including several of her own former campaign staff, plus members of her husband’s former White House team – expressing their dismay that she has continued a fight the result of which has long been considered a foregone conclusion. The final nail in Hillary’s campaign coffin appears to have been delivered by the Democrat party rules committee’s compromise agreement to split the previously inadmissible votes of Florida and Michigan, with the New York Times quoting two members of Hillary’s campaign staff that she has “come to terms with the near certainty” that she will lose out on the nomination for November’s Presidential election, following the decision. Reports had indicated that the Clinton camp were expecting as much as the full quota of the available votes.

However, while victory appears to be within Obama’s sight, it may yet prove a tainted one – despite his gaining seventeen delegates yesterday in Puerto Rico as well as widely being expected to take both remaining states, the thirty-one combined available votes will not be enough to finally carry him over the threshold of 2,118 needed to finally secure the nomination outright, and the support of superdelegates will be required to make up his current shortfall of forty seven. In addition to a long and sometimes bruising battle for both Clinton and Obama, this result must be music to the ears of Republicans, who will now point to the latter’s inability to win a clear elected majority among his own party, let alone the country. For this reason, both Harry Reid (Democrat Senate Majority Leader) and Nancy Pelosi (Speaker of the House of Representatives), are reported to have been contacting as-yet uncommitted superdelegates to support Obama as soon as the results have been declared, if only to avoid accusations of a wounded candidate before the election proper has even begun.

As for Clinton, the nature of the contest appears to rule out any prospect of a “dream ticket” with her running alongside Obama for VP, for the reason that the two contenders sharing a platform would provide a regular public reminder of both the often bitter campaign between pair, and the extremely narrow margin of his victory. In addition, Clinton is not known for playing a happy second-fiddle, and her recent comments appearing to allude to an assassination may have given Team Obama the perfect excuse for Clinton to be passed over a second time. Instead, this author expects her to retreat back to New York where she will gracefully endorse the Illinois Senator, before ploughing herself back into her Senatorial career – probably picking up Ted Kennedy’s mantle as the party’s all-star liberal lion. In doing so, this could place her in prime position for a second run at the prize in 2012 should Obama fall to McCain in November’s election, or in 2016 should he prove successful.

So the Clinton story continues, with the only question that remains is whether Obama can overcome the slings and arrows sustained during the most closely fought Primary in recent memory, or if such previous attacks have presented John McCain with a crucial advantage in the fight for the White House.

The battle is over, let war commence.

Tuesday 27 May 2008

Hillary ready to concede?

According to two separate sources, Hillary Clinton is currently preparing her concession speech.

Hopelessly behind Barack Obama following a series of disappointing results in a campaign which was supposedly due to conclude in her favour back in February, Ms Rodham/Clinton has remained in the contest in the hope of persuading a majority of the unelected (and unaccountable) superdelegates over to her cause at the Democrat convention in Denver.

However accusations from several senior Democrats that her continuation in a lost contest is causing only further division in an already fraught contest, jeopardising the party’s chances at the Presidential race in November, have not helped her cause. It also seems that her gaffe last week, in which she suggested that a reason fro her to remain in the contest was in case of Obama’s assassination, appears to have proved the final nail in her campaign coffin.

It now appears that Hillary will return to New York to prepare for a run either in 2016 (if Obama wins the Presidency), or 2012 (if he is unsuccessful).

More details to follow.

Friday 23 May 2008

A leadership challenge to Brown?

News just in – following Labour’s dismal collapse in the Crewe and Natwich by-election, Graham Stringer MP has called for a leadership challenge to Gordon Brown to prevent a "disastrous" election in 2010.

"Is it more damaging for the party to change the leader or cross our fingers and hope that things get better?" the Manchester MP told BBC Online.

Alan Simpson MP has also weighed in, warning Brown that he has until the end of the year to turn things around, or face deposition.

This development follows soundings from within Westminster that either Charles Clarke or Alan Milburn, both uber-Blairites with Cabinet experience, could make a stalking horse challenge to encourage a more heavyweight challenger such as David Miliband, Alan Johnson or even Brown’s first lieutenant Ed Balls, to enter the fray.

This blogger has consistently held that Brown would be safe, at least until the next election, on the basis that seventy MPs would need to sign a motion calling for a challenge – a considerable hurdle deliberately placed to reduce damaging contests – and the fact that Labour would look ridiculous deposing its leader less than a year after unanimously electing him.

However, with tumbling polls and this latest humiliating by-election defeat, it’s no wonder that Labour MPs with less than secure majorities are beginning to get tetchy.

This could get messy…

Friday 16 May 2008

Fixed term Parliaments due to fail at Second Reading

You’ve just got to love them, don’t you? Possibly taking advantage of Gordon Brown’s willingness to return many of the executive powers so freely exercised by his predecessor, the Liberal Democrats have tabled a Bill to remove the sitting Prime Minister’s right to call an election at any point within his term, and replacing this with fixed four-year term Parliaments.

Strange that the Dim Lebs of all people should have decided they oppose the current system – if Brown had stuck to his guns and called the election last Autumn, it would have most likely spelt electoral meltdown for the Yellow Streak, led by the hopelessly ineffectual and charisma-free Menzies Campbell. Now with the more voter friendly (though as yet, barely more effective) Nick Clegg at the helm, Britain’s fourth party may at least plug the gaps and live to fight another election.

The Conservative Party have not altogether ruled out looking at fixed-term elections in the future, but have highlighted that early elections are at times appropriate. For example, “in the case of a prime minister who says he's going to serve a full third term and then doesn't I think it's appropriate to hold an election, because the people voted for one thing and then got something completely different" suggested Teresa May.

Yet the current system is “unfair and inefficient” said the party’s Justice spokesman, David Howarth. Unfair possibly, since this clearly gives the Government party the opportunity to assess the electoral winds for the most favourable time, but inefficient? The UK has not proportionally had any greater or fewer elections than any other democratic state in the EU since the Second World War, save the dual-election year of 1976 – and given the strikes and civil strife taking place that year, this was surely such an example of where a renewed mandate was necessary.

The likelihood of this Bill to pass to Third Reading is pretty remote in any case, but you would think that a party with aspirations of Government would have higher priorities at this time.

Tuesday 29 April 2008

Kate Backs Boris

Following last week’s piece on Kate Hoey’s last minute withdrawal from a “Back Boris” event in her constituency of Vauxhall, Boris Johnson announced this morning on LBC Radio that Ms Hoey would join his mayoral administration as a non-executive Director with the responsibility for promoting competitive sport and monitoring preparations for the 2012 Olympics.

As a former Minister for Sport, this could be the perfect role for quintessential Londoner Ms Hoey, though the ramifications for her amongst Labour colleagues could be huge. Under usual circumstances, such collaboration with an Opposition candidate would immediately result in a withdrawal of the party whip. However, with Labour flagging in the polls, a Prime Minister out of touch even to his own MPs, and the only clear policy announcements being a stubborn persistence with the very policies which have alienated the party from its core vote, Labour might well need Ms Hoey more than she needs them.

Rumours have persisted that she has previously come close to crossing the Rubicon and joining the Conservatives, though has never quite made the full jump. But with Brown’s administration going into meltdown, Ms Hoey may well feel that now is the time to walk.

(Hat tip: Iain Dale)

Monday 21 April 2008

Hoey pulls out of Boris event

News reaches this author that Labour MP Kate Hoey has just pulled out of an event in her Vauxhall constituency, where she was due to appear alongside Conservative mayoral candidate, Boris Johnson.

It is unclear whether Ms Hoey – who has frequently been linked with rumours of a defection to the Tories – would have thrown her support behind Boris, but even appearing with him would hardly have helped her already fractious relationship with the Labour Whip’s office.

But I’m sure that this would have had nothing whatsoever to do with her sudden illness, which has struck on the first day back from Parliamentary recess…

Friday 18 April 2008

Angela Smith – who cares?

Am I the only one to really not care whether Angela Smith, Parliamentary Private Secretary to Yvette Cooper at the Treasury, resigns or not? Sure, Brown is in the, er…brown stuff, and he could certainly do without anyone drawing extra attention to the fury amongst Labour MPs at the abolition of the 10p tax rate for lower income workers.

But what are we really talking about here? PPSs by any stretch of the imagination are there to carry the books of their Ministerial masters, and not much else. Sure, some have used this as a springboard to a Ministerial post, but the exception tends to prove the rule.

The rather dithering Ms. Smith will no doubt use this episode to point to her “genuine concern” for the lower-paid employees in her constituency (and there are plenty in Sheffield), but neither her departure or lack of it is hardly likely to upset the workings of the Government.

I am reminded of Peter Mandelson’s contemptuous dismissal of the attempted ‘coup’ against Tony Blair, when Tom Watson resigned the day after a mysterious meeting with Gordon Brown, followed by a series of PPS departures:

“A junior Minister, five PPSs and a dog? Call that a coup?!”

Friday 11 April 2008

Educating Ed

Earlier this week, I suggested that one of the possible hatchet men to doom Gordon Brown to a half-term mediocrity as Prime Minister could be his most loyal lieutenant, the current Children, Schools and Families Secretary Ed Balls. While this opinion was dismissed by several social Politicos, it now seems that such speculation may not have been as absurd as some first thought, with several pieces emerging in the media highlighting current internal meanderings. Word is that Balls is already jockeying for position in a post-Brown administration, possibly even planning a run for leadership itself.

Oxford and Harvard educated, Balls has long been considered as Brown’s golden boy – a senior feature writer at the Financial Times at the age of 23, before being picked out by the then shadow Chancellor to become his senior economic adviser. Elected to the Labour stronghold of Normanton at the 2005 election and swiftly appointed to the Cabinet, he finally cemeted his place at the centre of Brown’s Government team by being tasked with the beefed-up Department of Children, Schools and Families upon Brown’s coronation last summer. Incidentally, while some were initially surprised that Balls was not elevated to the Chancellorship himself, Alistair Darling’s current difficulties would explain more clearly than any commentator the extent to which Brown has protected his protégé well in advance.

But what of a leadership bid? Educating Rita syndrome suggests that the pupil will always eventually outstrip the teacher, and Balls is nobody's fool - with tumbling polls suggesting a Conservative victory at the next election and precious few ideas or policies emerging from the Labour benches, Balls appears to be looking after No. 1.

His recent tacking to left on issues such as admissions policies, faith schools, examination reform and social exclusions have fanned rumours that he is toadying up to the left of the Labour party to present himself as a “more Brownite than Brown” candidate. But Balls may need to be more subtle than he has been of late. Such a swift rise to the top does not typically teach an aspiring Minister the importance of patience, and he has already made several notable enemies on the way. In particular, wresting the “respect agenda” from Jacqui Smith is hardly likely to earn him any bouquets from the Home Secretary.

That he is talented is undeniable, but reports increasingly emerge that he is less than popular among his peers, possessing an impatient and abrasive air when dealing with fellow Ministers and civil servants (a foible shared with his benefactor) – hardly a formula for leadership. Also sharing with the current ex-PM-to-be, he has been described as arrogant and patronising (not unlike many of the anti-faith school brigade, who incessantly seem to know what is best for the children of working class families, particularly those from an immigrant background). The Daily Mail even reported this week that mild-mannered Jack Straw was so irked by the overbearing manner of the Schools Minister following a disagreement over youth justice policy that he threatened to punch him – can you imagine anyone within Cabinet making a similar threat to Tony Blair? (Gordon Brown being the obvious exception...)

Most unpredictable all is of course the current Prime Minister. While Brown himself has been a wounded beast of late, he is still the man to be pulling the levers for some time yet. Colleagues past and present have paid testament to the loyalty of the former Chancellor but even loyalty has its limits, and Brown is notorious for bitter lifelong vendettas against anyone he feels has crossed him. Brown’s burning enmity of Tony Blair following the latter’s election as Labour leader in 1995 is legendary – how would Brown react to the possibility of a similar betrayal by his closest aide?

It seems to this author that building relationships with some of the big beasts within Cabinet could well grease the way to a realistic leadership bid, or at least, Cabinet survival under the next leader. Building ridges with the likes of Smith is a must – just look at the extent to which Anne Widdecombe managed to savage Michael Howard's 1997 bid - and while Blairites such as David Miliband and Alan Johnson may once have sat on the other side of the fences during Labour’s decade-long civil war, demonstrating unifying abilities could yet prove the key to securing the prize.

So, a bit of keeping friends close but your enemies closer could be due. That, and don’t wake the baby…

Wednesday 9 April 2008

A Fair Deal for Nurses

Following weeks of wrangling, the Department of Health have announced an agreement with the Royal College of Nursing, Unison and NHS Employers for a three-year pay package for staff working on the NHS Agenda for Change.

The package averages out at an almost 8% pay increase over the three years, including a full acceptance of the 2008-09 NHS pay review body’s recommendation for a 2.75% pay increase for nurses, midwives and other healthcare professionals from April 1 2008, followed by a 2.4% increase in 2009, and a further 2.25% increase in 2010.

While this author welcomes the agreement, it seems incredible that things got to the extent where even the Royal College of Nurses – usually the most placid of bodies – felt forced to ballot their members for a possible strike over the previous pay deal. The previous pay offer, it must be remembered, was to be staggered, effectively reducing the pay increase to 1.9% (unlike nurses in Scotland, whose pay increase was unstaggered). A fair deal for nurses should be an absolute minimum requirement for any Government claiming to be addressing investment issues in the NHS – the nurses really are the Service’s most valuable and cherished resource.

In regards to the pay deal, it appears that he legendary negotiation skills of Alan Johnson have won the day, managing to overcome even the financial hardballers at the Treasury. However, the success of the Health Secretary is unlikely to prove balm to Prime Minister Gordon Brown – not exactly known for being Johnson’s biggest fan.

The Prime Minister’s difficult few weeks are likely to be exacerbated by the strong showing of a possible successor in the light of Labour falling even further back in the polls, and even the Brown’s most loyal lieutenant Ed Balls has reportedly been exploring his own various career trajectories.

With backbench MPs increasingly wondering whether they should have stuck with Tony Blair after all, the only questions are whether Brown can hang on to the next election, or whether a senior figure such as Johnson, Miliband or even Balls, will be prepared to wield the knife.

Wednesday 2 April 2008

Brown downed again - this time by his own MPs

Dear oh dear, Mr Bean just can’t seem to catch a break, can he? Brown’s meeting with the Parliamentary Labour Party on Monday night, initially called to calm nerves over the Labour’s flatlining in the polls, apparently turned into open rebellion with several MPs genuinely furious over the Primie Minister’s answers during the Q&A session.

While the session opened with Brown urging MPs to “go out and tell voters that the Government 'is on your side”, the increase of taxation on lower paid workers and the closure of post offices – both legacies of Brown’s last Budget as Chancellor, in which he scrapped the lower 10p rate of tax – left MPs fuming.

One Minister was quoted as saying that "People were queuing up to complain to me about it – if Boris Johnson wins the mayoral election, it will be open warfare, like it was in the 1980s".

Boris is currently running ten points ahead of Red Ken, whose “private” distancing of himself from Labour was recently published to the media, furthering widespread speculation that Team Brown is coming apart at the seams.

Then just when things couldn’t look bleaker for Brown, who should step into his shoes at PMQs while the PM attends a NATO conference in Romania? Harriet bloody Harman. Fresh from the drubbing at the hands of the media over her stab-proof vest gaffe at the weekend, Harperson was given a masterclass in PMQ performance by shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague, who delighted in quoting Health Minister Ivan Lewis’ recent article, claiming that the Government have become out of touch with ordinary voters.

Brown needs a PR success sharpish, or the knives could be sharpened quicker than he anticipated. New policies are called for, new ideas, possibly new people – and it wouldn’t surprise this author if a reshuffle is brought forward to pacify potential troublemakers (what’s that nice Mr. Alan Johnson been doing lately?).

I know I’ve said it before, but what must Blair be thinking?

Thursday 20 March 2008

Treatment of the Gurkhas a national scandal

It’s not often that I have cause to agree with Nick Clegg, but this is one issue where Conservatives and Lib Dems (plus I daresay, more than a sprinkling of Labour supporters) can most certainly concur. The Lib Dem leader raised the treatment of the Nepalese Gurkhas on the floor of the Commons to the Prime Minister at yesterday’s PMQs.

The Ghurkhas, one of the most famous and distinctive regiments within the British Army, have fought for Britain since the Napoleonic wars, including in the Falklands, Afghanistan and Iraq. However, current rules do not provide the Gurkhas any right to remain in the UK if they retired from the Armed Forces after 1997.

Unsurprisingly, Brown dismissed any change to the status quo for the veterans, with the Government arguing that such a retrospective change would be too difficult to enforce. However, Communities Secretary Hazel Blears did promise to look “very carefully” at the issue. Some comfort. Frankly, it is a sad day for Britain when fifty retired servicemen feel the need to hand back their military honours to a Government they fought for, yet one which will not recognise and reward that sacrifice.

Several Conservatives have raised this as an example of where Britain is prepared to let in benefit migrants from EU countries, yet will refuse leave to remain for those who have put their lives on the line for the sake of British values. As Clegg himself has argued "I think this is a simply scandalous way to treat some of the most modest, brave and courageous individuals I have ever met". I can only agree.

A Bill has now been tabled in the House of Lords to give the Gurkhas the right to remain, and parity of pension rights as British soldiers. This is a Bill which I hope will receive genuine cross-party support, and that Britain is seen to treat her friends and allies better than Brown and Co. would have it.

Tuesday 18 March 2008

The Prime Minister’s lost his brain – again

Spencer Livermore, Gordon Brown’s closest adviser for over a decade, has confirmed his departure from Number Ten. Livermore, once hailed by Pink Times as the most powerful gay man in Britain, will take up a post at Saatchi and Saatchi managing Labour’s PR activities in the build-up to the next election.

The departure of such a key lieutenant in the Brownite machine could hardly have come at a worse time for the ailing Prime Minister, still reeling from the Bad News Budget and a newly published Guardian/ICM poll which gives the Conservatives a thirteen point lead.

While both Brown and Chancellor-in-Waiting Ed Balls are said to have attempted to persuade Livermore to stay, Brown just doesn’t seem to have that motivating touch – unlike his predecessor Tony Blair, who famously persuaded spin supremo Alistair Campbell to remain for two years beyond his initial departure date.

The blogosphere has been buzzing with rumours that Livermore’s departure was hastened by Stephen Carter, Brown’s new head of political strategy. Yet whether Livermore’s decision was more influenced by Carter’s behind the scenes machinations, or if he still has not forgiven Brown for the famous explosion following October’s election fiasco – which according to sources, reduced the thirty-two year-old Livermore to tears – is currently unclear.

Whether this will be the first of several political “disappearances” from Number 10, or merely the beginning of the rats leaving New Labour’s sinking ship is also a matter fro debate. Either way, this author has little sympathy for Brown, whose legendary mood swings are hardly likely to build deep loyalty in his closest aides.

Once again, a lesson sorely ignored from Number Ten’s previous incumbent – but not, it may appear from yesterday’s post, its next one…

Monday 17 March 2008

Behind every great leader, there's a Gove

Shadow Children, Schools and Families Secretary Michael Gove has long been viewed as a rising star in Conservative circles, but BBC Newsnight reports that the former Times correspondent has impressed many in his briefing of David Cameron prior to the leader’s speech at least week’s Conservative Spring Forum.

“He was really cracking the whip” reported one onlooker, advising the young party leader to refer to “mothers and fathers” as opposed to “parents”, and that dated phrases such as “creeds and colours” were best avoided. While Steve Hilton, Head of Media and Communications at Conservative Central Office, was in attendance, it is understood that he made few comments other than to endorse Mr. Gove’s suggestions.

That it was Michael Gove who persuaded Cameron to run for the party leadership following the 2005 election is common knowledge amongst Cameroonies. Now seen as an arch-Cameronite and party moderniser, it comes as little surprise to us Goveites to hear that the man tipped as a possible successor to Mr. Cameron is playing an increasing role in passing on the benefits of his journalistic background.

From the hammering he has regularly been handing out to Brown’s boy Ed Balls (Brown’s Balls?), this commentator anticipates an ever-higher trajectory for the Shadow Education Secretary just as his Labour opposite number’s star is beginning to wane. In the meantime, there could be worse appointments for the Conservatives to make than to give the Surrey Heath MP an increased role in the formulation of policy and election strategy.

Come on Dave, give us a Gove!

Tuesday 4 March 2008

Just how "highly thought of" is Harman?

An amusing aside for all those who have cause to wonder the level of respect and trust between Gordon Brown and his Labour Party Deputy Harriet Harman (and since her funding difficulties, there are many) passed on by a friend in Camberwell.

Apparently, Ms. Harman was on a routine constituency visit to a local school yesterday and (true to form) giving comments to the local press. When one hack asked how she felt about Prince Harry’s recent return from Afghanistan, following the Prime Minister’s expression of pride in him and the other deployed forces, Harperson was handed a scrap of paper by a party aide, which she quickly glanced at before answering in the affirmative.

What did the note read?

“You are proud too”.

Wednesday 30 January 2008

Edwards withdraws from Democrat race

Following yesterday’s (nominal) victory for Hillary Clinton in the Florida caucus, John Edwards has announced that he is pulling out of the race of for Democratic Presidential nomination. According to BBC News, this “leaves the Democratic contest a two-horse race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama”.

As opposed to what exactly? Edwards has finished a distant third in all five caucuses so far, even admitting that he got "butt kicked" in both Nevada and his home state of South Carolina where he was expected to do well. On this evidence, the decision by the former North Carolina Senator to retire gracefully prior to the cash-fight of Super Tuesday, where 21 States will cast their vote for their nominations, appears a wise one.

Nevertheless, this author must admit to being surprised at Edwards’ relative lack of success, considering his strong showing during the previous Presidential election where he ran as Vice-Presidential nominee to eventual loser John Kerry – a ticket which several commentators suggested would have been more successful with Edwards headlining.

While Edwards has not yet endorsed either candidate, it would not be surprising to see him link up with either candidate in a second Vice Presidential bid – placing him in a good position to launch a final bid for the Presidency in two elections time (should the Democrats be successful in November).

In the Republicans corner, I expect Rudy Giuliani to withdraw from the race within days following a disastrous showing in the Florida caucus (which unlike the Democrat vote DID count). Florida victor John McCain paid a gracious tribute to the man dubbed "America's Mayor" following his handling of the 9/11 Terrorist attacks, and could yet make further approaches, possibly in return for Giuliani's public endorsement of his candidacy.

What price a potential Republican dream team of McCain-Giuliani?

Tuesday 29 January 2008

Goodbye Rudy Tuesday?

Things are looking pretty hairy for Rudy Giuliani. After a high-risk campaign strategy of ignoring the supposedly “smaller” states to focus on the Florida ballot, the associated lack of publicity and rusty campaigning may prove his undoing. According to the latest Rasmussen poll, Giuliani is well behind both of the two frontrunners, John McCain and Mitt Romney, who are currently running neck-and-neck:

John McCain: 31
Mitt Romney: 31
Rudy Giuliani: 16
Mike Huckabee: 11
Ron Paul: 4

If the former Mayor of New York fails to win the backing of Floridans, this could effectively take him out of contention altogether, given the electoral college votes of Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, and South Carolina already banked by his rivals. Rumours are also abound that Giuliani is suffering from a lack of funding – a critical handicap in such a high-spend arena as a US Primary – and that senior members of his campaign staff have not been paid for weeks.

Giuliani has even appeared to hint that he could drop out of the race altogether if he doesn’t succeed in winning Florida. "When it's Wednesday morning we'll make the decision," he said yesterday.

This author will be waiting in anticipation…

You REALLY couldn't make it up...

Another one for the “You couldn’t make it up” brigade to masticate on – a children’s story based on the Three Little Pigs has been refused nomination and funding by a Government education agency, on the grounds that "the use of pigs raises cultural issues".

BECTA, the Government’s Educational Technology Agency, claimed that the digital book “Three Little Cowboy Builders” also offended those in the construction industry – a slight which the book’s creative director Anne Curtis described as being "like a slap in the face".

Like most individuals who basis of opinions is not the front page of the Daily Express, I have never once heard of Muslim, Jew or member of any other faith claim that the recitation of a fairy tale is offensive to their beliefs. Indeed, many have expressed disquiet at the antics of such interfering busybodies in patronisingly declaring what is offensive to religious and/or ethnic minorities for stirring up resentments at what has been manipulated into apparent hectoring on the part of British Muslims (apparently a favourite tactic of the National Secular Society).

Such accusations however are as erroneous as the usual responses are misguided. Take for example the Muslim Council of Great Britain’s speed in condemning the petulance of a Marks and Spencer (Muslim) employee who refused to handle the sale of a copy of a Children’s Bible, claiming this was “unclean”, as being both “very offensive and unacceptable. Many Biblical stories complement the teachings of the Koran. We hope that M&S will investigate this incident."

Swift, accurate, and to the point.

Perhaps if Conservatives spent more time listening to UK Muslims instead of hearing what so many of them seem to want to hear, we would find that they are actually our most natural allies on a whole host of issues which Nu-Labour would be only too happy to brush under the carpet.

Thursday 24 January 2008

NEWSFLASH: Peter Hain resigns

Peter Hain has bowed to the inevitable pressure and resigned from his dual position as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and as Welsh Secretary.

More to follow.