I am only asking. England took 7 wickets for 77 runs before lunch and the sun is still out at Edgbaston.
Come back Gordon. Australia needs you.
Steve Richards gives his views about the on-off-on-off-maybe TV election debate. He rightly says:
Over the next few months, we should be debating which party has the best solutions for guiding Britain towards an economic recovery and better public services and which has the most constructive foreign policies, not least in relation to Europe. We need to examine in more detail how the parties have responded to the economic crisis so far. Given the gravity of the situation, the election is arguably the most important since 1979.
If there is a series of televised debates, none of these issues will get a look in. The event, or events, will become the only talking point. Right away there would be a major debate about the format of the debates. Should all three party leaders take part? What about the other leaders of smaller parties? How much time should each of them get? Will there be a studio audience? The answers to these questions would take up a thousand front pages and, come to think of it, quite a few columns.
Steve, you forgot to mention the blogosphere.
Then Richards proceeds to mention about all the other little matters that will have to be resolved, how it will be organised, who will transmit the beauty contest(s), etc. It is when he considers who will present the charade that my interest in what he had to say picked up:
Next there would be the battle over the presenter of the debates. This will dominate the front pages for weeks. Jeremy Paxman will be in the frame. Perhaps Nick Robinson would like to do it; Adam Boulton of Sky certainly would. Maybe they could do one each. But then there would be a row about the lack of women. Three male leaders chaired by a man would get the thumbs down. The media would be in uproar: bring on Kirsty Wark! Hold on a minute, what about Martha Kearney?
This jesting is of no use. Serious thought should be given to this matter of national importance. Let’s throw Andrew Neil into the mix. He would be good, takes no prisoners and deserves some prime time exposure. At present he fronts the little watched This Week and the Daily Politics. The BBC should make more use of him.
Your right. I have left out David Dimbleby. Deliberately so. Thinking I had resolved what is good for Newsnight before Robert Peston’s untimely intervention, Question Time was next on the agenda. There is a need to keep something back for the politics free weekend.
In the end the debate will not happen. How to accommodate Clegg will be the show stopper, as he is not entitled to the same air time as Brown and Cameron during an election campaign. It will hardly go down well with the sandal wearing brigade when Neil dismisses him from the studio after his allocated time is up. And then we have Scotland and Wales to think of and all the other minor parties. It is all too hard, when, as Richards rightly says, we should be debating the policies.
Still, it keeps us all assumed while Brown is away developing his strategy for the autumn and worrying himself sick about Alan Johnson.
Bob Ainsworth, the lowly Cabinet ranked Defence Secretary, does his best to be as non-Churcillian as one could possibly hope for:
I have strengths and I have weaknesses. I don't pretend to be able to write a great thesis or doctorate - I have no pretensions in that direction.
But I'll tell you what I do have. I have a good feel for ordinary people, for politics, and those are my strengths.
I don't try to pretend I am cleverer than a general or the Chief of Defence Staff but I can bring something else, a knowledge and understanding of Parliament and of civilian life.
Now Bob, could you remind us all about your “understanding of Parliament” and how you were able to use this to maximise your expense claims. The troops would wish to know.
I take it all back. Nick Robinson will have to stay right where he is. There will be no move to Newsnight or to the Sunday morning slot. All bets are off. Just look what Pandora is reporting in the Indy:
While Nick Robinson enjoyed a successful stint as guest host on Newsnight this week, his high-profile colleague and rival Robert Peston – the BBC Business Editor who is said to covet Robinson's gig as the corporation's political supremo – announces that he is far too busy for similar undertakings.
When asked yesterday about whether he might fill Robinson's shoes and become BBC political editor, Peston was unusually quiet.
Dam it. I had forgotten all about Peston’s former political work and his biography of Brown to boot. He will be nothing more than he is now, a New Labour mouthpiece wearing a different hat. It will not matter if Labour are in government or opposition. The lad’s father is the economist Maurice Peston, now a Labour Lord. The whole family is Labour through to the marrow of their bones.
This must be stopped.
The Telegraph is not having a good week. First, we had the expenses story demolished by Dizzy. Now, we have a YouGov poll. The topline figures are:
CON 41%(+1), LAB 27%(+2), LDEM 18%(-2).
Here is the sub-heading of the article:
Gordon Brown's Government is now as unpopular as John Major's the year before his Conservative party suffered a landslide general election defeat, according to a new poll.
Within the article:
A YouGov poll found that 70 per cent of voters now disapprove of the Government's record, with only 17 per cent approving. That is identical to the Major government in July 1996.
All very well, but Brown has been more unpopular than Major, as Anthony Wells, who should always be read when a poll is published, explains:
In the Telegraph’s report they concentrate upon the extreme negative rating for the government. Only 17% of people now approve of the government’s record, with 70% disapproving - a net approval rating of minus 53. The Telegraph seem to have focused on this because the dying Major government got the same figures in July 1996, a year before their annihilation. It’s worth noting however that this isn’t actually the worst this government have recorded - they managed minus 57 back in May. (For that matter, it’s not the worst Major recorded either!).
Now, it wouldn't have taken much for the Telegraph to have included this within the article. Facts are important when it comes to the polls, as they are with everything else
Clearly, the Telegraph’s concern is with headlines and sales. Some of us would like the complete picture, even if the details, important or not, have to buried in the small print of an article.
The showcasing of future Newsnight presenters continues. Tonight we get Martha Kearney. That is it. Problem solved. She is the fourth person we need.
So, the BBC should dump Esler and Wark. Replace them with Nick and Martha who will join Jeremy and Emily. James Landale becomes political editor. Shaun Ley takes over the World at One to be assisted by the much underrated Norman Smith.
It won’t happen of course, but it is good silly season stuff.
Next, Question Time
Sir John “I’ll do my way” Chilcot launched the Iraq inquiry this morning. My humble predictions:
No question that Chilcot won all the arguments with Brown on how the inquiry will be conducted. But there will be nothing to see here for many months and after the election the clattering train would have moved on.
Three cheers for Tom Harris to post about the “Peter Mandelson for Prime Minister” silliness that is doing the rounds. As Harris says:
WHEN Parliament isn’t sitting, journalists have to try that wee bit harder to justify their existence to their news editors. Which is why stories that wouldn’t normally make it above the crease — or, indeed, onto the front page at all — suddenly become “breaking news”.
But the silly season is well named, and its staple ingredient is the bonkers story which is clearly nonsense but which the media collude in talking up because it fills up newsprint. “PM for PM” is a typical example.
But he’s never going to be Prime Minister or Leader of the Labour Party. You know it, I know it, Peter knows it and the media know it. Michael White knows it too, and spends quite a lot of time (and a lot of newsprint) explaining why today.
As I attempted to explain after Mandy’s now famous Newsnight interview, he knows it is not going to happen and any by-election this side of an election would be silliness:
There isn't the time and to have a by-election that would dominate the news for a month is not clever, even if the polls were more favourable to Labour. The electorate would not take kindly to Labour playing musical chairs with unelected politicians. Mandy isn't stupid.
The PM4PM campaign is a non-starter but the AJ4PM is not, but you wouldn't expect Tom Harris to comment on that, at least not for the moment.
Little doubt, if there was any, that Mandy is in total control of the government. Following on from yesterdays ping pong on whether there will be a leaders TV debate during the general election campaign:
Initially Mr Brown’s political spokesman insisted that he had not dropped his opposition to holding a TV debate with opposition leaders during an election campaign. “The position hasn’t changed. Voters have the chance to compare the party leaders at Prime Minister’s Questions.”
Later, however, the spokesman said that a final decision had not yet been taken. A senior Downing Street aide indicated that discussions on the issue had been held in recent weeks.
And I doubt there was even a discussion with Brown before the counter statement was put out.
The poll closes at midnight tomorrow. Full instructions by pressing the link.
After much thought here is my ten:
I have only considered blogs who have one author. I have also excluded those which aren't updated that often. There is also an argument that professional journalists who use their employers’ websites should not be considered. In principle I agree, but Paul Waugh and John Rentoul are influential and provide me with much food for thought.
While Brown is busy on the phone cocking matters up, Alan Johnson is slowly, efficiently dealing with the bad apples that have been building up at the Home Office. First, there was the U-turn on ID Cards and now:
The home secretary has agreed to release unseen documents relating to the 1989 Hillsborough disaster. Alan Johnson told the mothers of three of the 96 victims of his decision at a meeting today. The release of the documents, in co-operation with South Yorkshire police, will be co-ordinated by the Hillsborough Independent Panel, which is to be set up soon. The panel could start sifting through the paperwork in September. The Home Office said the documents would be made available to the families first because they many contain sensitive information about the final minutes of the victims' lives.
While everybody else rushes around making speeches; appearing on Newsnight; saying there will be a TV leaders debate during the election; and appearing on obscure radio stations, here we have Alan Johnson quietly getting on with the necessary business of government and achieving results.
This man could go far. Now where have I heard that before!
How not to do it:
Gordon asks for a piece of work, then rings half an hour later to ask how you are getting on.
One can assume that Brown can only do that if hasn't smashed his mobile whilst dealing with some other ill thought through initiative.
Anthony Eden was the same. Always interfering with the work of others by constantly being on the phone.
Both Eden and Brown have much in common. Not looks, just everything else.
One further thought. If Nick can’t give up his day job (unlikely this side of the election) then he could easily replace Marr.
Can the blogosphere influence the BBC?
On whether there will be a US-style, live television debate between Brown and Cameron (not forgetting Nick Clegg) during the next general election:
Here is Mandy:
I don't think Gordon would have a problem with that. While Cameron is good with words, he doesn't have the ideas or policies to back them. I think people would see through the smile. The more the public sees of them, the more they'd realise that Gordon is the man with the substance.
I pressed Gordon about it in the House of Commons and he was against it if he's changed his mind I'd be delighted. I've always believed that television debates between the party leaders would actually add to a general election, would bring it alive.
The Lib Dems:
The Liberal Democrats would welcome a televised debate with the other two leaders. Since he became leader Nick Clegg has been taking part in open town hall meetings around the country and we look forward to giving people the chance to see who really has the vision for a fairer country.
But wait. Back in the bunker they are having other ideas:
The position hasn’t changed. Voters have the chance to compare the party leaders each week at Prime Minister’s Questions.
Brown and Mandy are not at one. Just what is going on? Mandy is not one to shoot from the hip. All is well planned and executed as far as the real prime minister is concerned. He is having a few thoughts. That Newsnight interview was the clue.
Labour's summer of love moves on……
….in the otherwise very dull Marr interview (by the way, I thought Nick Robinson v good interviewing Peter Mandelson last night, especially when the First Sec was wriggling over use of word "cuts"; perhaps Nick should take over the Sunday prime slot - what would it be called: Breakfast with Robbo? Robinson's Morning Jam? Er, maybe not.)
What a good idea. We may even get some sport rather than those silly culture slots that Marr insists in forcing upon us on a Sunday morning.
I may have include Jane Merrick in one of my top 10 blogs. God bless her.
Marvellous stuff from Cameron in this interview. Do listen. He is in great form.
When asked why he was not on Twitter, he said:
It's too instantaneous... Too many twits might make a twat.
And then, when asked about the mood of the nation, he replied:
The public are, rightly I think, pissed off - sorry, I can't say that in the morning - angry with politicians.
Just the a the type of down to earth banter, with a bit of honesty thrown in, that they will love in the Dog & Duck.
It is just the thing you could expect Alan Johnson to say to make an impression with us voters. Perhaps Dave is thinking a few weeks ahead……
I apologise in advance, but in August one does have to dig around for the odd story and even on occasion link to Kevin Maguire, Brown’s representative at the Mirror. Today, he has a typically well agued and intellectually robust piece:
For the record, Brown doesn't throw mobile phones.
No. 10 officials say he's more of a sweeper, clearing tables with a swing of his arm, or pushing chairs across the floor, when the red mist comes down.
And then this thought provoking remark:
Refreshing Labour in office was a tough enough task before the errors and international events way beyond the PM's control.
Refreshing Labour in office! What is he referring to?
Yet Brown's very resilience, an unshakeable belief that he can win, is his greatest strength.
…and Labour's biggest weakness.
Tell me, does Maguire draw a salary to write such drivel?
Leaving aside who initiated the “I am in charge for the summer’ slot on Newsnight, Nick Robinson’s interview with Mandy was a revelation. Seventeen minutes were devoted to his Lordship. Firstly, a short profile of his rise to greatness and then the interview in his office. Did you notice the carefully positioned ministerial red box in the background to give the impression he is hard at work, while Brown is watching Thomas the Tank Engine with his boys. The man doesn't miss a trick.
Nick Robinson probed Mandy on why he wouldn't use the word ‘cuts’ and the real prime minister was very uncomfortable with the line of questioning. He doesn't like being challenged and is a sensitive old boy at heart, which makes him rather lovable. However, it was when the interview moved on to more weightier matters than the economy that the fun started.
On the election:
Of course it's difficult, and of course we're coming from behind.
But that's precisely why we've got to, after all this time in office, work even harder to demonstrate that we have the ideas and the policies but also the discipline to bring to government.
It's going to be harder for us, in other words, to be insurgents rather than simply incumbents.
"It's going to be harder for us to convince people in the way that we need to do that we are going to continue to be, as I say, the change-makers in British politics.
And to the finale that will be picked over endlessly:
I can't just migrate from one chamber to another.
Given all the political comebacks that I've made in my political career becoming prime minister might be a comeback too many.
You will note the phase “might be” when he could have used “would be”. Alternatively, he could have ruled the whole matter out by saying that he would not leave the Lords even if the law is changed. Not Mandy's style. Keep the guessing game going, but he knows it will not happen. There isn't the time and to have a by-election that would dominate the news for a month is not clever, even if the polls were more favourable to Labour. The electorate would not take kindly to Labour playing musical chairs with unelected politicians. Mandy isn't stupid.
Mandy is resigned to the fact that it is all over for Brown. Mandy knows that Cameron will win the election campaign hands down against Brown (like the rest of us he watches PMQs). He knows that Cameron has won the “cuts” debate. He knows that Brown can’t communicate. He knew fifteen years ago that Brown wouldn't make a good PM.
So, what is Mandy going to do about it? Is he going to move against Brown? That remains the mystery of Labour’s summer of love.
PS. Can anyone remember when Brown has subjected himself to an interview on Newsnight whilst Labour has been in office? Don't think too hard.
Mandy deserves another post all to himself following his interview on Newsnight, but we should first discuss Nick Robinson’s career development.
Robinson has been first class anchoring Newsnight this week. He chaired an excellent debate on the NHS on Monday and last night we get an interview with the real prime minister. The BBC should take note. Is Nick in the right job? Last year, in a summer slot, he was superb on Today and this year we have a repeat performance.
Newsnight could do with some new presenters and what better than to have Nick Robinson in the lead up to the election. He and Paxman with the gorgeous Emily Maitlis, to boost the ratings on dull news day, would be a fine trio. Wark and Esler could be despatched at anytime without anyone noticing their absence.
That leaves us to find a new political editor. James Landale anyone?
Newsnight could do with a shake up and the slot after the 11pm news needs a complete revamp.
Let’s hear it for Nick Robinson.
Apart from devoting his whole piece to tell us why David Cameron is not a Tory (who ever said he was), we get this little nugget:
He [Cameron] must pray either that the economy does not pick up, or that Alan Johnson is not catapulted into Downing Street, for either of those things might just check his otherwise jet-propelled progress to the highest office.
The way Simon Heffer talks about the Tories, he could well become one of Alan Johnson’s biggest cheerleaders. John Rentoul will not be pleased.
The background. The Luton South seat is called a Bellwether constituency. The seat, of many previous names, shapes and sizes, has elected an MP from the winning party at each election since the 1951 general election.
Today, Esther Rantzen has declared that she will contest the seat at the general election.
Seeing that Luton South is a Bellwether seat, does that mean that if Rantzen wins she comes PM?
Here we go again. First, we had Andrew Rawnsley back in March talking about a clique that surrounds Cameron. Today, we get the a similar piece from Rachael Sylvester. My eyes just roll over when I read this stuff:
Policymaking and strategy are driven by the gang. According to Tim Montgomerie, of Conservative Home, “the biggest decisions are drafted in very small groups”. One senior Tory claims that Mr Cameron has never had a group meeting with any of the frontbench departmental teams.
There are, of course, benefits to this approach. The Conservative high command is united and can react quickly to events. But there is growing resentment in the wider party about the exclusivity of the inner circle.
Now this jaw dropping stuff:
Tory backbenchers are remarkably grumpy given the state of the polls and last week’s by-election win. Shadow Cabinet ministers complain about the lack of teamwork, the absence of political discussion and the failure to consult before decisions are made. It is said that Mr Cameron is so used to having his friends around him that he will not listen to those who tell him something he does not want to hear. “The cliquiness is awful,” says one frontbencher. “Everyone should be very excited about the prospect of power but they’re not. People are very demoralised, there’s not much enthusiasm because the Cameron lot are so disdainful of everybody else.”
While he is an opposition leader ahead in the polls, Mr Cameron can afford to rely on a small clique, but if he becomes prime minister in such difficult circumstances, he will need a far bigger circle of friends. “Cameron has the potential to be a really significant prime minister,” says one frontbencher, “but he risks destroying himself because he won’t widen his circle.”
Cameron will become a really significant prime minister if he doesn't widen his circle. These ‘leading’ commentators and their sources on the Tory backbenchers need to take some basic management training. Cameron is successful because he has surrounded himself with people he can trust and depend on. These are the tried and tested methods that any successful leader will use. Both Thatcher and Blair had small teams they depended on as did Harold Wilson before them. All were successful leaders.
If a copy of Sylvester’s article reaches Cameron while he is on holiday, here is my advice. Take note of what the article says, call a few of these ‘grumpy’ backbenchers in for a chat after the summer, listen to what they have to say, smile and move on.
One more point. The reason there wasn't a successful coup against Brown in June is because there was no leader of a ‘small clique’ to organise one.
Either Tory MPs want Cameron to succeed or they don't. It is about time they made their mind up.
Oh no. The Government has produced a Twitter strategy and all ministers will be encouraged to tweet:
I have smashed five mobile phones today
A Cabinet minister tweets:
I have been rushed to hospital with a badly bruised face
The Downing Street duty officer tweets:
I spend all my day ordering mobile phones
My title is to be lengthened. At present it is only 114 characters with spaces and 97 characters with no spaces.
You have been warned!
Super Sarko doesn't look that well on leaving hospital yesterday. Just what has Carla done to him? Well, apparently Carla has introduced him to a whole new way of life:
The first lady, who he married last year after a whirlwind romance, is attributed with overseeing a complete "metamorphosis" of her husband as part of his bid to run for a second term in 2012. She helped him drop the glitzy "bling-bling" image that saw him plummet in the polls and raised his cultural credentials, weaning him off Rambo films in favour of high-brow theatre and literature.
The stress of Sarko wanting to be younger has got to him. Carla has completely changed his ways:
- He used to have a chocolate addiction, sported love handles, and jogged flat-footed. His wife introduced him to a 26-year old personal trainer who changed his exercise habits and diet.
- He used to be partial to frumpy, light-coloured suits. Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy has put him in dark suits, English shirts from Hilditch & Key and dark ties.
- He used to wear chunky, bling Rolexes. His wife bought him a thin gold Patek Philippe instead.
- He used to describe himself as a "total fan" of Sylvester Stallone and "Les Bronzés," a modern-day French Carry On comedy set at Club Med. Now he is mugging up on Fellini films and claims to like All About Eve, A Streetcar Named Desire and A Clockwork Orange.
- He used to have little interest in classic French literature and outraged academics by slating La Princesse de Clèves, a 17th-century saga of thwarted love. He now says his favourite book is Stendhal's classic, le Rouge et le Noir. Recently he has quoted Céline and Jean-Paul Sartre, the existentialist philosopher and dined with Michel Houellebecq, the controversial but acclaimed French novelist.
- He liked ageing French crooners like Michel Sardou and Johnny Hallyday. Now he has branched out, recently going to a Leonard Cohen concert and meeting Bob Dylan and Marianne Faithfull.
This is no good. A man can’t be expected to alter himself in middle age. I have a feeling an exit strategy will be devised for Carla. Sarko is supposed to be running a country rather than a personal fitness crusade.
How lucky we are this side of this English Channel in that Brown hasn't changed that much. The only difference that can be detected with Brown is that silly false smile. Let us hope it stays that way and wild thoughts don't run through Sarah’s mind during Gordon’s month off.
Some of us like Brown just the way he is.
Anthony Wells points out that there was a poll in the Sunday People yesterday which everyone missed. The top line figures are:
CON 40%(-2), LAB 25%(nc), LDEM 20%(+2), Others 16%
Even the mainstream media failed to pick it up. Perhaps we are all getting over reliant with information being available on-line or we should admit to not reading the Sunday People.
Moving on. Daniel Finkelstein’s analysis of Norwich North is important and explains why Norwich North was such a disaster for the Labour party:
A good performance for the Greens and UKIP was always likely to mean a bigger Tory majority, not, as everyone seemed to assume on Friday, a smaller one.
Yes, these two parties took votes from the Conservatives and depressed the Tory share of the vote. But they took even more from Labour. They contributed to a catastrophic Labour result, which meant Labour lost by a landslide even with the Tories below 40 per cent of the vote.
They could perform a similar role in a General Election.
The logic works and puts paid to Brown’s theory that the by-election was a one-off due the expenses scandal.
There is no end of the lesson for the Labour party.
I have heard it reported this morning that young Yvette Cooper is announce a Bank Holiday to recognise Workers Memorial Day to commemorate people killed at work. Apparently the day is already celebrated by several countries already on 28 April.
Leaving aside whether our damp islands should have a holiday for Workers Memorial Day, some logistical problems move into view. Let us assume the general election will be on 6 May 2010. The Monday of that week is the May Day Holiday. So, in the final two weeks of an election campaign we will two four day weeks. Also, in a year of a late Easter we could have a Bank Holiday fall in four consecutive weeks during a time when the weather is usually awful.
Has this proposal been thought though? Probably not, so true to form where Brown is involved, expect an announcement soon.
The mix of a short older man and a younger beautiful woman was never going to work. Poor Nicolas, who must spend his every waking hour dreading the day when Carla's eyes start wandering, is not eating and is forever exercising to keep his aging body in trim.
Yesterday, on a hot and humid afternoon just outside Paris, Sarkozy goes for a jog to burn off the Sunday lunch and faints.
These men, they never learn. Carla must be worried sick, as we all are. The G8 and G20 may never be the same again.
Let us hope he gets well soon, so Carla can continue to dominate the gatherings of the great and the good.
In the meantime, the good old French taxpayer will have to foot the bill for the welcome home. Carla will be spending a further £600 on flowers.
David Davis doesn't mince his words in The Times today over Tory plans to trust Google with sensitive personal data:
When I read in the pages of this newspaper this month that the Conservative Party was planning to transfer people’s health data to Google, my heart sank. The policy described was so naive I could only hope that it was an unapproved kite-flying exercise by a young researcher in Conservative HQ. If not, what was proposed was both dangerous in its own right, and hazardous to the public acceptability of necessary reforms to the state’s handling of our private information.
Google is the last company I would trust with data belonging to me. In the words of human rights watchdog Privacy International, Google has “a history of ignoring privacy concerns. Every corporate announcement has some new practice involving surveillance”. It gave Google the lowest possible assessment rating: “hostile to privacy”. It was the only company of the 20 assessed to get this rating. It also said Google was leading a “race to the bottom” among internet firms, many of which did little to protect their users.
Obviously he thinks the idea a bad one in principle and his views will be shared by many, but there is more here than meets the eye. It is when he says, “the policy described was so naive I could only hope that it was an unapproved kite-flying exercise by a young researcher in Conservative HQ”, the penny drops. Davis is having a go at the people that surround Cameron.
Now consider this. Steve Hilton, Cameron’s Director of Strategy, is married to Rachel Whetstone, who so happens to be Google’s Global VP of Public Affairs and Communications. Digging deeper, Eric Schmidt, Google's Chairman and CEO, advises Cameron.
The question that has to be asked of Davis is, why now? As he says, this idea has been out there for a month. Why does David choose to use an article in The Times to sound off? Why this proposal? Aren't there more important matters to discuss?
What Cameron doesn't need is David Davis sounding off in the press about a bit of blue sky of thinking, no matter if Google are involved or not. Sounds to me like another misjudgement from the overrated self-important Davis. Maybe he has been told he will not get a seat in a Cameron cabinet.
The Tory party need team players not maverick politicians nine months out from a general election.
Now for the serious news. The Observer is reporting that Brown is planning to hold a referendum on changes to the voting system on the day of the general election:
The idea, backed by senior ministers, has come to light amid growing recriminations within the Labour party over poor campaign strategy and a lack of fresh ideas for attacking Cameron, following Labour's thumping loss in Thursday's Norwich North by-election.
Cabinet sources have revealed that one idea being developed is to paint Cameron as a leader opposed to a wide-ranging reform of the political system that voters are demanding following the scandal over MPs' expenses.
A source gives the game away with the reasoning behind such a move:
It has the added attraction that if the Tories won power and the answer in the referendum was 'yes', the first act of a Cameron government would be to do something he was fundamentally opposed to, or overturn the will of the people.
This fits Brown’s short term tactical thinking, but he still doesn't get it and has learnt nothing from Norwich North. The electorate have had enough of Brown’s dividing lines.
There is going to be more of this. As I have previously warned, Brown is going to make it as difficult as he can for Cameron. The message for Dave is that he has to out manoeuvre Brown and stay one step ahead of these tactical stunts.
With Brown away for a month watching Thomas the Tank Engine with his boys, he will plenty of time to think up a manifesto full of dividing lines.
Stay with it Dave and keep hold of that Ming vase.
This is desperate stuff. As I discussed, Labour strategists do plan to keep Brown away from the cameras in August in the hope that absence will improve his ratings, according to Martin Ivens. Nevertheless, so we don’t forget about Our Dear Leader, he has given an interview to the Sunday Mirror where he lays it on the line to the Labour party:
We’ve got to show that we are a disciplined party getting on with the work of Government. I think people are very clear that we’ve got a task ahead. We’ve got work to do to prepare for the autumn.
My attention is focused on what I can do for the country. I will not be diverted.
If the Mail on Sunday is to be believed these words didn't reach the desk of all Labour MP’s :
The Mail on Sunday has been told that the 'guerrilla MPs' would start resigning at staged intervals throughout the summer and autumn, forcing a series of by-elections which Mr Brown would almost certainly lose.
The pressure on the Prime Minister to step down would then become irresistible.
Some MPs are even said to be considering quitting both their seats and the Labour Party and standing for re-election as independent candidates on a 'Brown must go' platform.
Up pops Barry Sheerman again:
If we are not careful, a number of MPs could leave their seats in the coming weeks and months and face by-elections because they are fed up with what is going on - and then we would be in real trouble.
Don’t your eyes roll over when you read this stuff? Ian Gibson was a one off. End of story. In addition, MPs will be sacrificing a great deal of money by taking the by-election route.
Expect more of these briefings during the silly season. The Mail on Sunday and Labour MPs will have to try harder if they are to have an ounce of credibility.
All is revealed. Mandrake has the exclusive news. Our Dear Leader has a a little local difficulty with his teeth:
Most people do it in their sleep, but you can see Gordon doing it during the day, too," whispers my man in Whitehall. "Up close, some of his teeth are already looking quite jagged. It's a classic sign of stress and frustration, and, in all the circumstances, I suppose it's hardly surprising that he's started doing it.
However, Brown will not be depending on any old NHS helpline to solve the problem:
The Prime Minister's dentist is believed to be Mervyn Drurian, of the exclusive London Centre for Cosmetic Dentistry in Hampstead, north London, but he was the soul of discretion when Mandrake called. If it is the case that Brown has become a grinder, then Drurian is likely to recommend an occlusal splint, which Brown would have to insert into his mouth at bedtime. The device tends to make the wearer look a bit like Hannibal Lecter, but it does protect the teeth from wear and reduce jaw muscle activity, and – good news for Sarah, perhaps – the noise of teeth grinding.
Apart from benefiting Sarah, the splint could be a daytime blessing for us all if he forgets to remove it. That way he can say little and will not be able to put on that false smile. There will not be any further YouTube delights. His poll ratings may even improve. Alan Johnson will not be needed after all.
Should he keep it in? Let’s have a national debate to kick off the silly season.
Remember last year, when she took herself to the LSE at the height of the credit crunch, and asked the question that Brown clearly fails to answer at their weekly fireside chats:
How come nobody could foresee it?
Well, the great and the good got together at the British Academy in June and have come up with answer:
In summary, Your Majesty, the failure to foresee the timing, extent and severity of the crisis and to head it off, while it had many causes, was principally a failure of the collective imagination of many bright people, both in this country and internationally, to understand the risks to the system as a whole.
No doubt it will please HMQ that some of her subjects were prepared to go to such great lengths to answer her very pertinent question.
Ma'am, the British people can reassure you that it will only be a matter of months before you are supported by a prime minister who will answer all questions put to him. As an added comfort Ma’am, he is a distant member of your family, so should he able to understand your needs without difficulty.
Ma’am, in the intervening period an ex-postman may well turn up each week, although unlikely. Should this be the case, please make him very welcome. He communicates well and smiles naturally, both of which will come as a refreshing change to chap you have had to put up with for the past 2 years.
Matthew d'Ancona hits the nail on the head in his weekly column:
I am not sure the PM and his colleagues yet fully grasp how furious the public are with them – all of them. Furious with Mr Brown for dithering over the election date, for failing to explain his purpose and his trajectory, for seeming only to cling to power for its own sake. Furious with a regime that, against a backdrop of global recession, devotes its energies to planning disgusting smears against its enemies. Furious with the Labour Party itself which, yet again this weekend, is whispering of leadership plots, ultimatums, petitions, and (those now-familiar words) "Alan Johnson in Number 10 by Christmas".
Barry Sheerman, the Labour MP for Huddersfield, said on yesterday's Today programme that the PM was on probation and had "got this summer to show he's got the capability to do it". Others are muttering darkly of another yet attempted coup after the Labour Party conference in Brighton.
It's all nonsense, of course. The Brown premiership can be defined as follows: Gordon's inability to establish unchallenged leadership of his party, and his party's no less pathetic inability to get rid of him. They deserve each other, they really do. No wonder the public is so angry. And that anger will get deeper between now and polling day. Norwich North is not a little local difficulty: quite the opposite. It is a tiny portent of a much greater rising against a party closer to grand catastrophe than it truly knows.
Precisely. Labour are in denial about what happened on Thursday. By failing to understand the reality of their situation, Labour will just make the defeat much worse than it would otherwise be.
Even when speaking of a death, Brown just does not get it.
Prince Charles shows how:
Brown looks and sounds insincere and puts on his force smile, which is not needed on this occasion.
Brown’s tribute is just pathetic. Enough said.
Your eyes will roll over this morning as you scan the papers. In fact, mine did last night when Charles Clarke popped up on Newsnight in predictable fashion. Not being content to make his point once, he goes into print in the Indy on Brown’s style:
This incompetent and unjust style has deeply damaged democratic politics. Moreover the appalling result in Norwich illustrates the important political side-effect that Labour, as the governing party, has been injured worst of all.
Now Barry Sheerman:
….morale among Labour members is low and the party is in a "desperate situation".
And the boy Balls looks over the horizon to when he will challenge for the leadership and deals with James Purnell in McBride style:
There are times when individuals in their early 40s have crises. They buy motorbikes or go off and travel round the world and have a gap year. Sometimes people do that. I don’t think for political parties to have those kinds of moments is very sensible, especially when you are at your moment of greatest clarity and vision.
He says now is not the time “to be going off to think tanks to find out what your identity really is”
Charming stuff that gets Balls or the Labour party nowhere. As for Clarke and Sheerman, we have heard it all before. Neither is saying anything new nor offer any solutions to Labour's predicament because there aren't any. The Blair, Brown era is over.
As for Alan Johnson, it is all too late. John Rentoul, who is dead right about Brown being unelectable in England, will keep banging the AJ4PM drum as I will, but Labour MPs haven't the stomach for the fight. Rentoul’s colleague, Steve Richards, sums the situation up:
The rebels had their chance to remove Brown last month and failed. As one of them told me a few days ago: "We did not have an alternative candidate. In the end that is what explains what went wrong". They still do not have one.
Key cabinet ministers also made their choice when, in their different ways, they supported Brown last month. Lord Mandelson, Alan Johnson and David Miliband are unlikely to revisit those decisions in the autumn. Some of those who might have played their part in another insurrection are leaving politics altogether.
Partially the course is set. Labour has no other candidate to lead them. As one cabinet minister put it to me yesterday: "I just can't imagine Alan Johnson preparing for the next G8 summit and the pre-Budget report."
Indeed so. Would Johnson want it in the present situation even if it was handed it to him on a plate?
Which brings us to David Cameron. So long as he takes the advice that I remember Barbara Castle giving the young Blair when he became Labour leader, then Cameron will win the election. She told Blair not to make any mistakes and wondered whether he had the killer instinct.
Perhaps Roy Jenkins’ description of Blair’s approach to the 1997 election as being like an elderly butler carrying a Ming vase across a slippery floor from one end of a room to the other equally applies to Cameron today.
Brown may get a couple dead cat bounces in the polls. No doubt there will be countless initiatives and policy launches. There may well be more plots and attempted coups, Alan Johnson may well take over, Afghanistan or some other unknown may force Brown out, but it will not matter. So long as Cameron doesn't make any mistakes and drop that Ming vase, Labour has lost the election. Clarke, Sheerman, Balls and certainly James Purnell know it.
Before we move on to the main business of the morning we should pay attention to what Lord Guthrie, former Chief of the Defence Staff, has to say in an interview in the Times. He is not happy.
On the lack of resources:
Peter Mandelson said this week he was convinced that no one had been killed through lack of helicopters - well I don’t believe that’s so. And when Alistair Darling says we will give the army everything it asks for, that is patently not true.
In defence of Dannatt:
He’s got to the end of his tether, it’s all very well saying he’s got to be loyal to the Government but he’s also got to be loyal to the people who work for him.”
….has never “cared” about the armed forces. He said to me once: 'you don’t think I understand defence, do you?’ I said ‘no you don’t'.
When we could have made a decent investment we didn’t. Gordon Brown focused on health and education rather than defence. That means we’re not prepared.
When Mr Brown was at the Treasury, Lord Guthrie says, he was the only Cabinet minister who refused to attend briefings with the top brass. “I was very upset that he wouldn’t come and hear our side. The only time he did was to talk about the future of Rothsyth docks in his constituency.”
This is not some bitter old general sounding off because he is nothing better to do. Guthrie won the war in Kosovo and had much to do with New Labour in the early days. His views matter.
We can expect more of this during the summer, especially when Dannatt is free to talk at the end of August. As I have discussed before, Afghanistan could well be a huge contributory factor in bringing the Brown premiership to an end.
Acres of coverage and analysis you will read follow this by-election result. Perhaps Chloe Smith spoke for the country today when her result was declared:
The people of Norwich North have rejected the old politics of personal attacks, of bickering, of smears and scare stories.
They have voted for change. And in doing so they have sent a message to Gordon Brown very loud and very clear.
Cameron has now ‘sealed the deal’ with the electorate. This by-election result is a watershed and there is little doubt that Cameron will our next elected Prime Minister.
If the Norwich North swing of 16.5% was repeated across the country, this would be the result at the next election:
The Tories would have 434 MPs, with Labour on 107, Liberal Democrats 79 and others 30.
Cameron would have a majority of 218.
For the Labour party the choice is simple. It has to replace Brown if it is to avoid meltdown at the next election. Will it happen? Will Mandy now move after the summer and tell Brown it is all over? Will there be a bloodless transition to Alan Johnson? There is not much time. The calls for a general election will grow and Cameron will bang this drum repeatedly with much justification.
At the end of Brown’s bleak day the reality is Labour will not win the election no matter who is the leader.
Just press here folks. Stephanie Flanders has the analysis that Brown will not want to read:
The forecasts for the public finances are pegged to a slightly more conservative forecast of a decline on 3.75%. But I'm reliably informed that in preparing the Budget in April, the Treasury civil servants wanted a gloomier forecast, to allow for the possibility of a 2% decline in GDP in the first quarter (they got that initial first quarter estimate, hours after the chancellor sat down).
No 10 had a different view, and in the end, the forecast was for a decline of 3.25-3.75% this year. For a while it looked as though the data were moving the prime minister's way. Not any more.
Ironically, Brown may not have to spend all his waking hours worrying about the economy for much longer