31 May 2009

Two views on the Labour leadership

John Rentoul now argues that Brown will survive for the time being.  Moreover, he says, it is the unexpected events that could cause his downfall rather than the more obvious ones that will happen this week, i.e. the awful election results for Labour.

Matthew d'Ancona not only advocates an early election but also strongly supports Alan Johnson and says:

As a member of the Cabinet, Mr Johnson could not be seen to have blood on his own hands; but he is, I am told by one senior colleague, "more than ready" to step in if others take on the nasty work of assassination. So – to recap – if the voters give Gordon a sufficiently brutal kicking on June 4, it is now quite conceivable that Labour will try to force a third prime minister upon us in the course of a single parliament.

And he concludes:

The Labour Party knows that the defenestration of Gordon Brown must be part of the slate-wiping. Why not do it now, they mutter to themselves, rather than after the next election, when all that is left of the Labour Party may be an email address and a whopping overdraft.

Which is why, quietly and efficiently, Mr Johnson is positioning himself as the leader-in-waiting who could make the difference between mere defeat and outright catastrophe; who could, in short, bring fresh meaning to the words "postal vote".

John Rentoul and I have debated for some months about Brown’s shortfalls and when and how Labour could make a change to Alan Johnson.  A month ago John changed his mind on June and more recently I gave my views when the expenses scandal broke.

The debate has now collided with real time events.  The June elections and those expected dreadful results for Labour are about to become reality.  Also a reality is that during the coming days Alan Johnson does have the one time chance to rescue Labour’s fortunes.  If he doesn't take it then d'Ancona will be proved right, the general election will be catastrophic for the Labour party.

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Election results programmes without a Dimbleby

Iain Dale has asked that all political bloggers promote the two programmes he and Hopi Sen are hosting to cover the forthcoming elections.  I am happy to oblige as Iain has on several occasions promoted this blog.


You can find the details here.  Good luck to Iain and Hopi.  I assume they will make provision on the Friday to cover the possible Brown reshuffle and Alan Johnson's every move and utterance.  It could be a very interesting day.

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Brown’s last will and testament

Watching Marr's interview with Brown, one thing is for sure.  Brown has not used his recent break from public appearances to improve his interviewing skills.  He came across as more delusional than ever.  He was pathetic and failed to answer a single question.  The interview was one big bore.  There was no sign whatever that Brown recognises his own unpopularity and not a single idea of how he will turn around Labour’s dreadful position in the polls.  He kept interrupting, saying nothing was his fault and repeating throughout that he was the only person that would come up with right ideas for constitutional reform.

As for Marr.  He is just not up to the job of landing any punches whatsoever on whoever he interviews.  Why does he have to keep demonstrating to us all that he so clever by not using notes?

Perhaps this should be Brown final act as prime minister.  Marr asked him why the Queen had not received an invitation to the to the D-Day commemoration service in France.  Brown did not address the point head on but then said:

If the Queen wants to attend these events or if any member of the Royal family want to attend these events I would make that happen.

Make it happen Gordon and then go.

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He is good that Alan Johnson


This why Alan Johnson would be good.  The Observer reports:

In a sign of his frustration at Labour's failure to land blows on Cameron and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg over the expenses scandal, Johnson said the two, whom he dubbed the "self-righteous brothers", had been allowed to take the moral high ground without being challenged over their own financial arrangements.

“I am amazed what an easy ride Cameron and Clegg have had over this whole issue,” he said.

Three simple words, ‘self-righteous brothers’, that would hit home.  Let us hope this novice is allowed to prove he is up to the job.

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Balls to the rescue. Maybe not.


If you are looking for clues to what tactical Brown is thinking, the Sunday papers are a big disappointment.  Only one story stands out.  The Sunday Times has the no-surprise news that Brown wants Balls to be chancellor.  Who knows whether Downing Street is testing the water, Mandy is attempting to get the wonderful idea called off or Balls himself if doing some self-promotion:

According to the well-placed insider, Brown has been working on the scheme to make Balls chancellor since the expenses debacle engulfed Westminster, taking a handful of his closest aides into his confidence.

Brown knows the appointment would be highly controversial and is ruminating over the possible consequences. However, Balls’s elevation would fit into a wider strategy to position Labour for the next general election, which rests on hopes of an upturn in Britain’s economic fortunes just before polling day.


The Sunday Times understands that Lord Mandelson, the business secretary, has warned Brown of the potential dangers, but is ready to support the move as part of a final attempt to revive the government’s fortunes.

Then we discover:

However, the scheme is still open to challenge from some No 10 advisers as well as Balls’s powerful Blairite enemies who will attempt to block it.

Brown’s authority has become so weakened that some ministers are openly defying Downing Street. Insiders claim the most audacious are dodging his calls – deliberately “going to ground” when he tries to phone them.

Brown is many things but he is not totally mad.  Making Balls chancellor would cause deep division within the PLP.  Brown needs effective media performers and Balls is certainly not one who falls into this category.

In truth, nobody knows what is going on.

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30 May 2009

Labour now in 3rd place

There is an ICM poll in the Sunday Telegraph:

General election intentions:

CON 40%(+1), LAB 22%(-6), LDEM 25%(+5)

European election intentions:

CON 29%(-1), LAB 17%(-7), LDEM 20%(+2), UKIP 10%(nc), Green 11%(+1), BNP 5%(+4).

Anthony Wells reports:

The Lib Dems caught Labour as recently as 2003, after the Brent East by-election, but as far I can see one has to go back to 1986 to find them ahead of Labour.

There are some variations with the Saturday's Populus poll.  However, these are desperate figures for Brown just four days away from the June elections.

A reshuffle will not pull these figures around no matter how dramatic.  Just what is Brown planning?

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Brown’s last stand

The critical week for Brown begins in the morning when he finally comes out of hiding and appears on Marr.  If the running order is any judge he gets the full treatment with a 30 minute slot.

Four days out from the June elections expect Brown to pull a few rabbits out of the hat.  He can hardly say little in the week that will determine whether his premiership will end.  Just what surprises have him and Mandy in store for us all.

Just this once, Marr will well worth watching this Sunday.

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A conversation between Mandy and Brown

Peter Morgan's The Deal has an imagined conversation that takes place between Mandy and Brown after the former has chosen to back Blair following John Smith’s death.

PM: Certainly you are seen as the biggest intellectual force and the strategic thinker the party has.  No one is saying you would not be capable as leader, merely the timing is bad for you.  Lately there have been presentational difficulties.

GB: Oh really.  What’s that, PR for Scottish.

PM: It means you alienate people.  You can be moody.

GB: Others call it passion.

PM: And intense.

GB: I have high standards.

PM: And intolerant.

GB: I don't countenance fools.

PM: All of which is admirable.  But politics is not always about higher matters.  Sometimes it is about the ugly business of making friends, keeping friends, being liked.

Fifteen years on, not much has changed.

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Mr Brown and Mr Clegg

I am glad to see others are worried what Brown is up to.  The Telegraph has a short speculative piece wondering if the LibDems will be tempted to save Moses.  A Cabinet minister tells the paper:

We have to be looking at reshaping the whole Government and not just a simple reshuffle of the Cabinet that rarely means anything to the wider public.


One radical idea would be to bring senior Liberal Democrat MPs into Government, the most obvious being Vince Cable. That would involve a series of deals behind the scenes involving Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader.


Last night Labour sources suggested that any such deals were still a long way off.

Brown’s problem is time.  He has just days to pull some rabbits out of the hat.  Yes, I suppose he could attempt to bring in the LibDems, the logic being that Labour could hold onto power at the election by doing so.  However, would the LibDems want to tie themselves to Labour at this stage of a Parliament and would they stay united if Clegg backed Labour?  On both counts, this would be doubtful.  The danger for both parties is that if the overtures fail and the talks leak, it would leave Brown very exposed, not to mention what it would do to Clegg’s credibility.

One for the too hard basket.  But with short-term tactical Brown, you never know.

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I wonder if Thatcher attempted this?

I missed this wonderful piece of intellectual claptrap.  The other day one time SDP supporter, failed Tory candidate, failed advisor to Major and Hague, one Daniel Finkelstein had a go at working out the percentage chance of Brown going after the June elections.  It is wonderful stuff.

What a pity our Danny wasn't at his prime in another era.  Can you imagine back in 1975 Maggie sitting down with Denis and working out mathematically her chances of overthrowing Heath?  No, nor could I.

Is this the same Daniel Finkelstein who, as chief leader writer of The Times, wrote this on the same day?  We should be told.

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29 May 2009

Is it finally all over for Brown?

This is the information we need.  The first of the weekend polls has arrived from Populus for the Times:

General election intentions:

CON 41%(+2), LAB 21%(-6), LDEM 15%(-2)

European election intentions:

CON 30%(-4), LAB 16%(-9), LDEM 12%(-8), UKIP 19%(+13!), Green 10%(+5), BNP 5%(+3)

Anthony Wells reports:

The latest Populus poll suggests a further slump in Labour support and brings the pollsters broadly in line, suggesting it is Labour who have most suffered from the expenses scandal. Asked directly who had suffered most from the expenses row 35% said Labour, with only 7% saying Conservative - though 50% said all parties had suffered equally. Asked which of the party leaders was most damaged the contrast was even starker - 62% said Brown, only 5% Cameron, and only 25% said the leaders had suffered equally.

Other polls are required to see if there is a uniform trend.  However, if these figures are accurate Alan Johnson has some serious thinking to do over the next few days before panic breaks out in the Labour party next weekend.

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What is Mandy going to do?

Mandy now joins the queue in spinning the elections results that are still a week away:

Every party and every government for as long as I remember has suffered disappointments or setbacks in the polls. I think you have to listen to a result. You have to draw appropriate conclusions. Then you have make sure that you refocus on what you need to be doing for the people of this country. That is what we shall be doing.

Of course it is last two sentences that stand out.  You have to laugh.  Labour will be doing everything but helping the people of his country after next Thursday.  The ‘refocus’ will be all about Brown, the Labour party and what Alan Johnson intends to do.

Mandy knows this.  The point is, what is he going to do?  Does he back Brown or not?  Mandy’s utterances should be closely monitored in the coming days.

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Balls starts to roll out Brown’s excuses

Clearly, Brown is going to blame the expenses scandal for Labour’s expected bad showing in the polls next week.  Balls has began to do his leader’s bidding:

In European and local elections, [held] before a general election the governing parties tend not to do so well.  That is going to happen to us. Of course it is. That is what happened in 2004.

The polling we are seeing [shows] that in these elections [the expenses row] is going to impact on mainstream parties because it is probably going to persuade [voters] to stay at home.  That will be a judgment on the whole political system rather than simply the government.

So there you have it. Your eyes can start to roll over now in preparation for Brown’s henchmen touring the TV studios next weekend blaming Labour’s poor showing at the polls on the expenses scandal.  Will it be enough?  That depends on two factors, whether Labour finish third behind the LibDems or fourth behind UKIP.  More importantly, it hinges on Alan Johnson’s judgement that he can narrow the Tory lead by overthrowing Brown.

What we need now are a few polls.  Unless there is an earth-shattering announcement from Brown, they should give a reliable indication of what we can expect.

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MPs’ expenses: On and on we go



There is no stopping the daily dose of revelations on MPs’ expenses. Today, the Telegraph homes in on Bill Cash’s crimes and misdemeanours.  Buried deep in the article you find that Cash’s claims were illegitimate under the rules at the time.  No matter, the media mob will be after him.

Elsewhere, The Independent leads on the £1m payoff that MPs who quit at the next election are entitled to and the Guardian reports that at least 52 Labour MPs wish to join the Lords.  There is no mention of any names or where the information comes from.

Haven't we had enough?  Haven't we got the message?  Do we need the anymore of the nightly shouting matches on Newsnight?  We have an independent committee looking into the whole matter that will report in the Autumn.  One more time, isn't time to move on?

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28 May 2009

What is Brown up to?


Where is the man?  Is he still performing the duties of prime minister?  For days now Brown has kept a low profile carrying out engagements that backbench MPs delight in.  What is going on?  He is up to something is tactical Gordon.  What have him and Mandy cooked up before the country goes to the polls?

Brown is due to go on Marr on Sunday in a final appeal to save his premiership.  Are we to have a major announcement just days before the elections?  Will Brown surprise as all and reshuffle before the 4th June?  There is no logical reason why not.

Something is brewing.  Radio silence can’t be maintained for another week.

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Julie Kirkbride, constitutional reform and Royal Commissions

I am beginning to think that the Julie Kirkbride episode in the never-ending MPs’ expenses scandal could well undermine the leadership that Cameron has recently shown and do his party collateral damage.  Cameron needs to close this down and insist that she resigns as an MP at the next election.  The discussion between Fraser Nelson and Iain Dale last night on The World Tonight did nothing to help her cause.

Moving on.  The party leaders are falling over themselves in wanting to come up with the best ideas on constitutional reform and how and when this should be achieved.  The Guardian has this from Nick Clegg:

Let us bar the gates of Westminster and stop MPs leaving for their summer holidays until this crisis has been sorted out.

I'm setting out a plan of action to get all the changes we need delivered in just 100 days – making it possible for MPs to be sacked by their constituents, abolishing the House of Lords, getting corrupt money out of politics and changing the electoral system to give a voice to everyone.

Meanwhile, The Indy reports that Jack Straw will lead emergency cross party talks that will begin in two weeks:

They will discuss sweeping overhaul of Commons procedures, as well as the power to remove unpopular MPs and the case for introducing fixed-term parliaments. Reflecting the urgency of the crisis facing politics since the expenses scandal erupted, the aim will be to produce a blueprint for reform by the summer. However, there is no prospect of the talks discussing changes to the voting system.

Off course, what is driving this ‘mine is bigger than yours” mentality are the June elections.  Perhaps we should have a pause for a few days in the frenzy of activity to reform the way we govern ourselves.  What we need are well thought out reforms that are not rushed to meet the political timetable.  Whatever happened to Royal Commissions?  Surely, that would be a more preferable way forward in this heated atmosphere than Clegg’s infantile ideas.

In another famous phase that Macmillan pinned on the door of his private office in Downing Street:

Calm deliberation disentangles every knot.

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The Times: The Choice for Labour

imageThe Times has a leading article calling on the Cabinet to rise up and and dispose of Brown after the elections next week:

The vital choice lies with his Cabinet colleagues. This, if they choose to seize it, is their moment.

The likes of John Denham and Jack Straw, David Miliband and James Purnell, John Hutton and Hazel Blears, Geoff Hoon and Alistair Darling must spend the next week asking themselves what they will do in the event of a shattering defeat. …. The fact is that Cabinet members have the power and, within a few days, the opportunity to change Labour's course and they now has to decide.

They could choose action. This would involve a Cabinet minister (or ministers) resigning, voicing in public the frustration with Mr Brown's leadership that is common currency among them. Senior resignations would trigger a leadership contest that, with the slightly mysterious emergence of Alan Johnson as the likely winner, would lead in short order to a general election.

In conclusion:

The question is now whether any of them is prepared to act. For a long while they have steadfastly maintained, at least in public, that the cost of removing the Prime Minister from office was greater than the benefit. Perhaps the verdict of the electorate will steel one or more of them to speak the truth about power. But doing nothing is itself a choice. Either way, Labour's future is not just Mr Brown's but the Cabinet's collective responsibility.

Gone are the days when The Times leaders had the authority they once did, but clearly the Murdoch press is preparing the ground for what may happen after next Thursday.  The same paper also reports Jack Straw saying:

The Prime Minister is secure in his job.  He’s doing a very good job in what are very difficult circumstances. The Prime Minister is not going to be ousted.

As I have discussed many times, The Labour party and the Cabinet have to decide in June if Brown remains.  Unless the results next week are heavily distorted due to the expenses scandal, Labour has little option but to back Alan Johnson and then hope he can narrow the Tory lead.  There is no alternative.

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Why United lost: Brown was watching

imageContinuing on with my theme of why and how important football matches are won or lost, just assume that Brown was watching the Champions League final last night and supporting Manchester United.

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27 May 2009

Don’t forget the economy


Remember the economy?  The subject that Brown was so preoccupied with before the expenses scandal.  Well, it seems that the Chancellor may have been rather economical with the truth as far as the borrowing figures are concerned.  A survey of 20 independent forecasts predicts that:

….over the next four years the total borrowing figures will be £679 billion. In the Budget Mr Darling said it would be £606 billion. That would mean the Treasury would need to find another £72.7 billion in borrowing.

Last month’s Budget forecast that growth would be 1.25 per cent in 2010 before bouncing back to 3.5 per cent in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

But the average forecast found that in 2010 it would only be 1.25 per cent, and then 1.9 per cent in 2011, 2.4 per cent on 2012 and 2.6 per cent in 2013.

Standby for a revision to the Treasury’s forecasts when Darling knows he is safe in his job.

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Reform: They are all at it

imageIn the rush to move on from the expenses scandal the party leaders give their views to The Indy on constitutional reform.  All the articles are full of I’s and we’s.

The Indy leads Brown’s piece with the headline:

I'll consider anything that makes the political elite accountable to citizens.

“I’ll consider anything” is accurate to describe the position Moses will find himself in after 4th June.

Buried away in his article we discover what our elusive leader has been up to these past few days:

Yesterday I spent time meeting young people in Fife and tomorrow I will meet members of the Youth Citizenship Commission to talk about how young people can vote on local budgets, run local youth councils and elect members to a national youth parliament.

A most odd campaign strategy.  I wasn't aware there were any local elections in Scotland.  Perhaps Labour’s priority is to keep Brown out of sight as much as possible in the run up to 4th June. Whatever, he has an article in the FT on the forgotten topic of Europe.

Isn't rather clever of Cameron.  Not only has he set the agenda on expenses and constitutional reform but he has avoided Europe.  A timely speech on the forgotten subject of the economy before next week would be welcome.

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Not only Rantzen, but also Heffer

As MPs rush to stand down at the next election on the back of the expenses scandal, I was beginning to worry where the talent will come from to implement the great constitutional reforms that are being spoken of.  Fear not.  Some top notch candidates are coming forward.

Not only has Esther Rantzen confirmed she will stand against Margaret Moran unless the Labour MP resigns over her expenses, but now Simon Heffer has also come forward.  The great columnist has indicated that he will stand against Sir Alan Haselhurst if the deputy speaker fails to stand down at the next election.

The Telegraph also reports that other celebrities who may well gatecrash the Commons are David Van Day (who?) and Robert Harris.

I would consider standing myself on an anti-Brown ticket.  Alas, The Great Man may not be with us at the time of the election.

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Brown: The latest theory


Adam Boulton has the latest on Brown’s exit strategy, although you would have thought he had already left the stage due to his non-appearance over the last few days:

Lots to talk about already you might think, yet when I bumped into one star of the Blair/Brown era with a cheery "What's up?", the answer was apocalyptic: "I'll tell you what's up," came the reply, "Gordon will be gone by the middle of next month. The theory is that the election results will be so poor for the government, that the Prime Minister will find an excuse - health? - to duck out and avoid further humiliation. Mr Brown has backed out before, it's pointed out, refusing to challenge Tony Blair for the leadership, and ensuring there was no election when his chance finally came in 2007, so why not avoid the approaching unpleasantness of an approaching crushing election defeat.

I can’t see him going without a push.  However, you never know.  Health problems can suddenly be found, convenient excuses given, as to why our present leader should spend more time with his family.

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26 May 2009

Has Cameron given up on Brown?

I mentioned below that Cameron was directly challenging Alan Johnson by coming out against PR.  Jane Merrick, the Political Editor of the Independent on Sunday, believes Cameron has given up on Brown and is now fighting Alan Johnson:

Johnson insists his increased activity in the past week is not a leadership bid. It doesn't need to be - it is enough that the cleanest member of the Cabinet sounds like a proponent of reform to the rotten Parliament. Cameron is rightly concerned about the threat the Health Secretary poses. It is not enough for Cameron to clear out the pension-age bedblockers in his party. The Tory leader has responded to Johnson's calls for PR by rejecting it, but coming up with more workable ideas.

Cameron has already written off Brown, and is now fighting the charismatic former postman.

She also makes the point that if Johnson did take over he would have to call an immediate general election:

Some ministers are daring to believe that Johnson could not only limit Labour's losses at an election, but even win - given that the new Labour leader would have to call an election immediately, so he would still be in his honeymoon period.

Was Cameron’s speech today really about constitutional reform or more to do with the threat posed by Alan Johnson?  I fancy the latter.

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Brown needs a war


Just where is “the man that saved the world” when we need him?  Is he asleep?  Is he ill?  Have all communications to the outside world failed in the bunker over the last 24 hours?

Here we have North Korea firing nuclear test missiles off left, right and centre and not a word from The Great Leader.  He has a golden opportunity to save the world once again and all we have is silence.

Has Brown gone into exile?  Has he given up?  Just what is he up to?

Gordon, a war could save your premiership!

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Why Burnley won

Alastair Campbell still has influence within Downing Street.  I can exclusively reveal that he stopped Brown sending a message of support to the Burnley team ahead of the crucial match.  Indeed, there had been a rumour that Brown wished to attend the match itself but no last minute tickets could be found.

Now you know why Burnley won!

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Oh no. Hattersley comes out for PR


Not one for being left out in the cold, Roy Hattersley, one time failed deputy leader of the Labour party comes out for proportional representation.  Speaking at the Hay literary festival:

I now conclude that the sort of country I want to see is most likely to come about if, and when, PR offers the prospect of a progressive alliance.

This has to be seen as a major setback to Alan Johnson’s bid to lead the Labour party at the next election.  Hattersley, who has always wished he could write as well as Roy Jenkins and have as much influence on the Labour party as Woy, brings a kiss of death to anything he touches.

Poor Alan Johnson.  Not only does he have Polly Toynbee cheering him on, but now Roy Hattersley.  Don't give up Alan.  Credible support will arrive in June.

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Cameron does it again

You have to hand it to Cameron.  He really does know how to chime with the public mood.  He has a whole serious of articles in today’s Guardian setting out his proposals for constitutional reform. In summary:

  • Limiting the power of the prime minister by considering fixed-term Parliaments, ending the right of Downing Street to control the timing of general elections.
  • Boosting the role of Parliament by giving MPs free votes during the consideration of bills at committee stage. MPs would also be handed the power of deciding the timetabling of bills.
  • Increasing the power of backbench MPs by allowing them to choose the chairmen and members of Commons select committees.
  • Curbing the power of the executive by limiting the use of the royal prerogative which allows the prime minister, in the name of the monarch, to make major decisions.
  • Strengthening local government by allowing councils to reverse Whitehall decisions to close popular services, such as a local post office. They would be given the power to raise money to keep them open.
  • Open up the legislative process to outsiders by sending out text alerts on the progress of parliamentary bills and by posting proceedings on YouTube.
  • Publishing the expenses claims of all public servants earning more than £150,000.

Some are rather gimmicky and others will be difficult to implement.  However, the proposal for ending the prime minister’s right to call an election will hit home.  It puts Brown on the back foot and highlights his refusal to go to the country.

Iain Dale commented on Sky News last night that Cameron had been planning these changes for sometime.  Maybe.  However, it can be assumed that he has announced them at this time due to the expenses scandal, and because he wants to highlight the general election issue.

Interestingly, Cameron comes out against PR:

Proportional representation takes power away from the man and woman in the street and hands it to the political elites. Instead of voters choosing their government on the basis of the manifestos put before them in an election, party managers would choose a government on the basis of secret backroom deals. How is that going to deliver the transparency and trust we need?

In one hit, Cameron puts Brown on the defensive and directly challenges Alan Johnson.  The novice has done well.

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25 May 2009

More on Johnson’s intervention

The Coffee House blog has a couple posts, here and here, on what Alan Johnson has said this morning in The Times.  Both miss the point.

Johnson has to have a policy that has already been developed that he can sell quickly to the electorate.  He hasn't the time to develop policy.  As I have argued, if there is to be a new Labour leader there would have to be an immediate general election.  What Johnson has done is to cleverly pick something that voters may well back.  If they did and there was a hung parliament, the LibDems would support Labour keeping the Tories out.

As I discussed below, Johnson hasn't decided to move yet.  He has floated an idea in the hope it will gain traction.  He will only move after the June elections if, in his judgement, he can close the gap on the Tories and keep them out of power.

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Blair: Brown will not beat Cameron

John Burton, Blair's former agent in Sedgefield, has written a book, We Don’t Do God.  There is an extract in the Mail on Sunday

On Brown:

At Budget time, Gordon would keep everything secret: at times not even the Prime Minister knew what would be announced. If they met in a corridor, Gordon would ignore Tony.

Once, Gordon had to be physically restrained when he got into a temper over an election campaign issue. He was riddled with resentment.

Perhaps Brown didn't have a mobile in those days!

On Cameron:

After his farewell speech at Trimdon Labour Club in May, 2007, Tony told me he knew he would have been able to deal with Conservative leader David Cameron at the next General Election, but he didn't believe Gordon would have it in him.

Hmmm.  No question Blair is right about Brown.  On Cameron, I am not so sure.  Future historians of the New Labour era will debate this at length.  What Blair couldn't have foreseen when he made these comments was the coming recession.  With him still PM and Brown as Chancellor, it could well be that Labour would be in better position to win the coming election.  We will never know.

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Alan Johnson is on manoeuvres


Alan Johnson writes in The Times this morning calling for a referendum on electoral reform to held on the same day as the next general election.  His article is followed up by no less then four pieces all headlining Johnson’s initiative.

Peter Riddell sums up his intervention:

Demands for electoral reform are invariably about political advantage. So Alan Johnson’s endorsement of the plan produced by the late Lord Jenkins of Hillhead in October 1998 invokes comparison with the reaction to the death of Metternich, the wily Austrian statesman of the 19th century — “Now what did he mean by that?”

First and foremost, Mr Johnson wants to present himself as a political reformer at a time of turmoil regarding MPs: in his own words, overhauling the engine, not just cleaning the upholstery. But his means of doing so are bold and unexpected.

Mr Johnson’s proposal that a referendum be held on the choice between AV plus and first-past-the-post on the same day as the next general election is intended to portray Labour as reformers even though there would be no government recommendation. If the outcome of the general election were a hung Parliament, but voters backed AV plus, there would be a strong incentive for the Lib Dems to support Labour, since the Tories would oppose the change. So what Mr Johnson is really talking about is an attempted Labour rescue plan or lifeboat in the face of the storm of public disillusionment.

Riddell is right.  The move by Johnson is clearly for political advantage.  As Riddell says, Johnson judges that the best Labour can hope for is a hung parliament at the next election.  Calling for electoral reform will attract LibDem support.

In The Sun, Trevor Kavanagh reports:

Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman has allegedly done a deal with Johnson for a clear run at the premiership if she can keep her job.

If the June results indicate that Labour can hold onto power at the next election with LibDem support, then Johnson’s proposals will be taken seriously.

At long last Johnson has broken cover with a shrewd intervention.  Whether he will move against Brown in a decisive way after the June elections remains to be seen.

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24 May 2009

Darling: What I really mean

Alistair Darling on the Politics Show:

I think we will see a return to growth towards the end of the year. I am confident but cautious. I think we have some way to go yet.

What he really means:

I think I will keep my job as Chancellor.  I am confident but cautious.  Until I know for sure, I will keep saying the economy will return to growth by the end of the year.  After I am confirmed in my job I may, depending on the political situation, give a more candid assessment.  It all depends on whether Gordon survives and when the general election will be.

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What Brown and Blair talked about

It had to happen.  Brown has swallowed what pride he has left and summoned the last elected Labour leader and three times election winner in for a fireside chat.

This made me laugh:

Sources said that they did not discuss election timing or strategy, but the conversation did cover domestic politics.

So what did they talk about?  Perhaps the conversation went something like this.

TB arrived at No10 and many of the staff remarked he had put on weight since leaving office.  I can exclusively reveal that he was wearing a padded suit, having heard about flying mobile phones and the odd broken laser printer.

GB: Tony, How are you?

TB: Fine, just fine.  You?

GB: Not so good.  How is the Middle East going?

TB: A bit like the Labour party really.  Everybody hates each other.  The various factions all jockey for position and are not focused on the real problems facing the region.  All they are interested in is survival and dividing lines.  There is no strategic thought, just short-term tactical manoeuvres which the other side sees coming.  I just try and keep focused on the big picture and not get bogged down with personalities.

GB: (wondering what TB is banging on about)  As you don't spend much time in the UK, how up to speed are you with what is going on here?

TB: A little.  Rupert phones me occasionally and Alastair of course.  Mind you, he has become rather obsessed with the football of late.

GB: I know, he is not focused.  I was furious the other week.  He couldn't make my weekly strategy meeting due to some match at Burnley.  He left a note that was not passed on in time.

TB: What was the note about?

GB: To beware of YouTube.

TB: Oh, that was funny.  Did you do it for Comic Relief?  It would have been better if you had done it with Catherine Tate.  That was probably what Alastair was going to tell you.

GB: (trying very hard to keep calm and not reach in his pocket for his mobile)  Do you speak with Mandy?

TB: He makes a call every night as he can’t sleep.

GB: Is he worried about something?

TB: You, the polls and that fact that he gets no mail.

GB: I will have a little chat with him.

TB: Time is getting on.  Did you want anything specific?

GB: (pointing to an empty file on his desk)  Your expenses whilst you were an MP.

TB: Oh that.  I burnt all the evidence that day I left office.  It was the only sensible thing to do.

GB: (now trying to reach for his mobile)  I am worried about June and the election.

TB: (hearing a car horn going off in Downing Street)  I must go.  Cherie is picking me up.  Look, I had dinner with Alan Johnson the other night and gave him all the advice I could.  He said he would pass it on to you in due course.

GB: You did what!

TB: Must go.  All the best for the future.

GB: I haven't finished.

TB: See you.  Mustn't be late.  We are dining with the Dave and Sam.  I will send your regards.

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Alan Johnson is doing more than thinking about it

Seek and what do we find.  This is buried deep in the Sunday Times:

Then there is the Alan Johnson issue. The popular, blokeish health secretary is being urged by disgruntled Labour MPs to challenge Brown for the leadership. They hope Johnson’s easygoing charm could help limit Labour’s defeat at the next general election.

One backbencher said he had a five-minute conversation with the health secretary last week about taking on Brown. “I thought it was interesting that he never said categorically that he would not have a go,” said the MP. “Alan simply expressed concern that he might not be able to beat the Tories.” No 10’s strategy is to kill Johnson’s ambitions with kindness. “AJ [Johnson] is a great communicator. He can have any job he wants,” said a source.

He may not beat the Tories but it would be a close election.  All Johnson has to do is pluck up the courage, follow my advice and go to the country.

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23 May 2009

MPs’ expenses: Time to move on

The Archbishop of Canterbury has a piece in The Times this morning:

The issues raised by the huge controversy over MPs' expenses are as grave as could be for our parliamentary democracy, and urgent action is needed to restore trust. It is good that all parties are recognising this. But many will now be wondering whether the point has not been adequately made; the continuing systematic humiliation of politicians itself threatens to carry a heavy price in terms of our ability to salvage some confidence in our democracy

The leading article in the Indy this morning (well worth reading in full) peddles a similar line, The pursuit of MPs is becoming a witch-hunt:

Yet, after a fortnight of bloodshed on the green benches of Westminster, the public reaction to this matter is in danger of getting out of hand. The tone of the debate has become hysterical. What began as a justified critique of MPs' behaviour has degenerated into crude bullying. And the row is now in danger of eroding the democratic health of the nation.

The Telegraph will know doubt continue with the revelations for commercial reasons alone.  However, Williams makes many valid points and the Indy leader is a well argued piece. 

An anonymous MP talks about scandal on Today.  I doubt the views will get much sympathy but they are well worth a listen.

It is solutions that are now required to the political process not more damaging revelations.  Everybody recognises and accepts what has been going on is wrong.  Immediate action has been taken on MPs’ expenses, the Speaker has resigned and the leaders of all parties now acknowledge that change must come, even if the political point scoring may not stop.

The leader in the Indy concludes by saying:

An overhaul of the voting system is not going to be implemented in the coming months, however desirable that would be. And in the absence of such a reform, a general election, in which the public can vote out those MPs who it feels have betrayed its trust, is the next best thing.

While we wait for that reckoning, we ought, collectively, to take a deep breath and rediscover a sense of perspective on recent revelations. Those MPs that have milked the expenses system have, without question, behaved appallingly. But by overreacting to what has taken place, we risk doing our democratic system a double disservice.

This has to be right.  We live in a democracy and it as at the ballot box where the electorate will pass judgment on MPs, the way we have been governed and who is best to do so for the next 5 years.

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Further calls for an early election

There are two further polls indicating there has been a clear shift in public opinion towards having a general election in the wake of the expenses scandal.

PoliticsHome has a poll showing that 48% would prefer an early election compared to 34% in a similar poll taken three weeks ago.


The Guardian reports:

That 36% of respondents believe an election should be held as soon as possible. Another 30% said they wanted an election before Christmas – suggesting that two-thirds of voters want to go to the polls in 2009.

Only 30% said the election should be delayed until 2010 (Gordon Brown cannot leave it later than June 2010). 55% said they believe Brown should go to the country before the process of constitutional reform could begin.

The Sun is reporting that ministers are saying that Brown’s ‘best hope’ is to go the polls in October after the launch of the new ‘national plan’.  No, I don't think so.  Labour's ‘best hope’ is described here.

Meanwhile, the calls for an early election will only grow due to Brown’s lack of authority and his failure to show any kind of leadership.

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