31 October 2009

A very odd campaign

Like him or not, Blair has been a very successful.  Luck, of course, has had much to do with it.  He was well positioned when John Smith died and having dealt with Brown, took the Labour leadership with ease.  Blair then went on to win three general elections, very much helped along the way because the Tory party was unelectable.  As an individual he is not used to failure.

Now, we come to the little matter of who will be the first President of Europe and the goings on in Brussels over the last couple of days.  Both Brown and Miliband have lead a very public campaign to secure Blair the job, even though the post does not yet exist.  Merkel and Sarkosy would appear to have other ideas, with the French President saying:

The names that first come out of the hat are not necessarily those that are finally chosen.  With Chancellor Merkel, we completely agree that we are going to have the same approach, the same vision and support the same candidate when the time comes. I think it's very important that France and Germany, on a choice that is as important as this one, show their determination to walk hand-in-hand down this road.

Then, we get this from Brown at the end of the summit:

I recognise that there are many candidates who may come forward but I do believe that Tony Blair will remain an excellent candidate.

Fair enough, but has anyone actually checked with the ex-leader that he wants the job.  Mandy rather gives the game away in his yet-to-be-shown interview with Stephen Sackur:

SS: Have you talked to Tony Blair about it.

PM: Of course, I've talked to Tony Blair about it….not recently, but in the past.

How strange that tactically astute Mandy, a close and trusted colleague of Blair, hasn't discussed the matter with him more recently.

Then we come to the actual mechanics of how one would go about organising a successful campaign where 27 countries are involved.  Mary Dejevsky believes it has been a lesson in how-not-to-it:

If, as it appears, yesterday's EU summit spelled the end of Tony Blair's undeclared ambition to be the first President of Europe, you have to ask whether he really wanted the job at all.

It is not just in the arcane world of EU diplomacy, but in the diplomatic world generally, that the cardinal rule is to ensure the invitation will be accepted before you send it. Neither as a nation, nor as a minister, do you put your head above the parapet until you are pretty sure of a favourable reception. You quietly check the lie of the land; you sound out trusted intermediaries; you do nothing that would risk losing face.

It would not have been hard to discover that opinion within individual EU states was, to put it mildly, unconvinced by the merits of Mr Blair. Most journalistic outlets teased this out days in advance. Why did Britain's diplomats in Brussels not pass the message to London – or, if they did, why were they ignored?

If Blair was serious, then surely this so-called campaign for him to become President of Europe would have been executed along the lines that Mary Dejevsky suggests.  It is most odd that Blair, who knows a thing or two about how to charm people, hasn't been more closely involved. 

Then we come to the role of Gordon Brown, who has a history of winding up the media without knowing what the outcome will be, as the 2007 non-election proved.  Little doubt that our short-term tactical leader has used Blair to deflect attention from his more immediate political problems.

You have to ask why such a successful man as Blair has allowed himself to be identified with a campaign that looks like it will end in abject failure.  It doesn't fit the Blair mould.

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30 October 2009

A U-turn by lunchtime

Well, that didn't take long.  Following the report in The Times, Jack Straw has just issued a statement saying the proposals to close polling stations and cut voting hours are “simply unacceptable”:

I and other ministers had absolutely no knowledge about this exercise.

I make no complaint about that but now that it has gone public I make clear what I would have told officials privately: That these proposals are simply unacceptable.

The exercise has therefore ended. Democracy has to be paid for.

It must be the fastest U-turn on record.

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A classic Question Time moment

imageInevitably, Jacqui Smith’s sleeping arrangements came up on Question Time.  John Sergeant, who kept asking the other panellists’ questions, did enjoy himself when he put this to the ex-Home Secretary:

It is a puzzle to people, when you’re asked where your home was, and you were Home Secretary, and you didn’t seem to give the right answer

Was it a complicated question, that you therefore genuinely got wrong and took advice on? When someone says, ‘Where’s your home?’, I can answer that pretty quickly.

A replacement for David Dimbleby has been found.

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Democracy on the cheap

Are you are looking forward to the election?  You remember the drill.  A polling card arrives, then on election day it is just a short stroll to the polling station to cast your vote.  Well, thanks to Mr Boom & Bust all this is about to change.

The Times (if you can believe what's in the paper these days) brings the news of Jack Straw's latest wheeze to cut public expenditure.  In this “Age of Austerity” polling stations are to be closed, voting hours reduced, and polling cards will be replaced by an e-mail.  In a bid to save £65m, other cost saving measures to increase voter apathy and make it harder for candidates to stand will be laid before you.

This cunning plan, of course, will make it harder for people in rural areas to vote where there are fewer Labour supporters.

If there any changes to be made to the democratic progress they should made with cross-party support after a period of consultation, rather than be rammed through by Brown.  He will never learn.

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29 October 2009

Not Mandy again

Speculation is obviously the media buzz word of the week.  Andrew Pierce has had enough of all the Tony Blair talk and devotes his column to the possibility of Mandy taking over from Brown.

Behind this latest wheeze is The Constitutional Reform Bill, which will allow Mandy to take questions in the Commons.  According to Pierce, logic dictates that this will lead straight to Downing Street.  He quotes a senior party figure close to Blair:

Peter is easily the most impressive [performer] we have got.  It's true many of us have been talking about finding a way that he could do it. He gets things done. He has credibility. He's the only one who scares the Tories.

Perhaps this Blairite is not up to speed with Mandy's role in postal dispute.  Moreover, there is no evidence that he scares the Tories.

Pierce has also worked out (briefed, more likely) how Mandy could be parachuted back into the Commons:

As caretaker leader, Lord Mandelson could, according to the plotters, soldier on to the election or pick his moment to fight a safe seat. Hilary Armstrong, the former Labour chief whip with a solid 13,443 majority in Durham North West, is standing down at the election, and the guarantee of a peerage might persuade her to go earlier. Other seats in Labour's heartlands could also be fixed in return for a suitable bauble for the retiring Labour MP.

So, we may have an unnecessary by-election in the middle of winter for the sake of Mandy’s career.  Pierce is obviously not old enough to remember what happened to Patrick Gordon Walker.

Oh, then there is the small matter of Mandy's lack of popular appeal with non-Blairite Labour MPs, the unions and the electorate.

It would be a much better use of Mandy’s time to manage the succession to Alan Johnson and then, with Alastair Campbell, planning the election campaign.  Mandy is a good number No 2, but is no leader.  The Gordon Brown experience should tell him that. 

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If Brown had a flag

Mathew Norman has a wonderful writing style.  Having demolished Jack Straw last week he turns his attention to Our Dear Leader.  Norman is far from impressed with Brown’s performance and mentions the surrender over cutting the TA budget:

If Gordon had a flag, it would be a cream cross on a beige background.

He concludes:

Gordon is the Sadim of global politics, everything this reverse Midas touches turning straight to plutonium. There is no point asking how much more radiation sickness he can take. Endurance of suffering is the one strength he has left, and no disaster or torrent of them will send him to his study with the Glenlivet and trusty Luger now. But it isn't pretty to watch, and it feels immoral that it should continue. Killing a healthy baboon is a very different proposition, as his Cabinet still has a little time to appreciate, from mercifully ending the political life of an ailing buffoon.

Hopefully, sometime soon, he will turn his attention in a positive way to Alan Johnson.  His support would be most welcome.  There is still time left.

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Tony Blair for el presidente

imageNo, Blair hasn't said it nor has he given an interview, but it easy to assume that he had.  All we get, from the once great newspaper of record, is unidentified sources saying that Blair wants the job if the role is substantial.

In his never ending pursuit to wrong-foot the Tories, short-term tactical Brown is all in favour of the man that achieved so much for him by winning three elections. 

However, the Germans and other far away countries of which we know little are having doubts.

Within these damp islands, the Tories and Lib Dems have said no.  The great British public, who once so idolised him like a rock star, don't even want a President of Europe let alone Tony Blair.  Finally, there is the Iraq inquiry to come, which starts to take evidence towards the end of November.

Some Labour MPs are not keen and have tabled a Commons motion condemning the Government as “wrong and unwise” to champion Blair.  This is hardly an ideal time to cause the comrades further grief, a point that Brown, as usual, appears to have overlooked.

The media, of course, want him as he will provide endless stories, which could leave Blair open to ridicule.  Then there is small matter of Cherie to consider, hardly a popular figure with the press or the public.

Against this background you have to ask if Blair does want the job, if he is right person and what he will achieve.  Blair is used to a command and control sofa style way of working rather then being answerable to 27 heads of state.

The speculation will go on until the Czech president signs the treaty, which may have far greater consequences for David Cameron than it does for one Tony Blair.

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28 October 2009

Labour must regain the initiative

Two U-turns from Downing Street last night.  First up, the inevitable climbdown over the the decision to cut the budget of the Territorial Army.  John Reid, no friend of Our Dear Leader, must have been at his bruising best when he trotted along to tell Brown that a rebellion was afoot.  After securing his victory, he decided that politeness was the best way of informing the press:

I very much welcome the fact that the prime minister has been prepared to listen to the issues and personally intervene to make sure that the Territorial Army training budget is retained.

Then, not content with just one late evening U-turn, Brown announces that he will, after all, actively lobby for Tony Blair to become the President of Europe.  With the decision from the Czech court still a week away, why does he need to say anything at this stage?  It will further isolate him from a host of Labour MPs that are not keen on the three times election winner.

There is wider point to be made.  Where is the policy setting agenda?  Why hasn't Labour been out there attacking Osborne’s politically astute, but much criticised announcement on bank bonuses?  There has been little from Labour of late that has grabbed the headlines and put the Tories on the defensive.

Labour are just reacting to events.  The whips are not forewarning Brown of the feelings on the backbenches.  Have they given up?  Brown is becoming increasingly isolated and not even Mandy is out there defending Brown in his usual way.

It is obvious that Brown’s authority is draining away, but Labour cannot allow this to continue much longer.  It will further demoralise Labour MPs and, more importantly, it will become in increasingly difficult to regain the political initiative under a new leader.

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27 October 2009

Miliband still has that banana

imageBrown and Mandy have been very quiet this week.  Just what is going on?  Have they given up all hope?  Perhaps that are working behind the scenes to resolve David Miliband’s diplomatic gaffe:

Unless Europe gets its act together, policymakers in Washington, Delhi, Rio de Janeiro, Moscow and Beijing and elsewhere are going to conclude that Europe is not ready to be the partner they want.

You would think our Foreign Secretary would know that the capital of Brazil is Brasilia.

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Not “singing and dancing”, but “chairmanic”

Cameron made his views plain at his press conference:

I don't think we should be having a president of Europe, but if we absolutely have to go in that direction, I would prefer someone who took more of a chairmanship of the union rather than an all-singing, all-dancing, all acting president, which I know Blair would be.

He went further:

And even if there is a president, I don't think it should be Tony Blair. They should be more chairmanic.

Chairmanic?  Just imagine the media reaction if Brown had come up with a word like that.

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AJ4PM: The campaign goes on

Our Man goes from strength-to-strength.  Following his announcement in the Commons on Gary McKinnon, AJ has received the welcome news that the Home Office has shown “great improvement” under his leadership.

The sketch writers are also impressed with AJ’s performance in the Commons.

Simon Carr says he gave a “world-class reply” to a question about population growth and:

It must be said that Alan Johnson doesn't look as hopeless as he keeps saying he is. "Vote for me! I haven't got the desire, the talent, the confidence for the job!" Maybe it's a more cunning plan than we think.

Simon Hoggart has similar thoughts:

It is said that Johnson is not at all certain whether he could actually handle the job if he became prime minister. He has publicly expressed doubts on the matter. So he gives the impression of a man who is trying to snatch the prize but is terrified of succeeding.

The penny drops:

His technique seems to be to say as little as possible, and not to offend anyone when he says it.

Hoggart could have added that smiling and nodding are also an important part of the technique.

Perhaps AJ is telling us he wants the job, but, unlike the Milibands, he doesn't need to make it so obvious.

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Not just another poll

There is a new ComRes poll in the Indy.  Unfortunately, it compares the figures with last poll to appear in the daily paper rather than the last one that ComRes carried out for the Indy on Sunday.  Anthony Wells has the correct comparison:

CON 40%(nc), LAB 27%(-1), LDEM 18%(-1)

Anthony Wells also notes that there has been no significant boost for the BNP following Griffin’s appearance on Question Time:

Like YouGov at the weekend, they are at 2% in this poll, up from 1% in the last poll, but pretty much par from the course (ComRes already had them at 2% in their poll at the start of October).

Now, for the figures that confirm that David Cameron has yet to seal the deal with the electorate:

Nearly half of voters (45 per cent) say they agree David Cameron “seems likeable, but I am not sure I am ready to see a Conservative government”, with 49 per cent disagreeing


38 per cent of Tory supporters agree with the statement, underlining the problem party strategists continue to face in converting hostility to the Brown government into positive support for the Conservatives.

So, barely six months out from the election there is further proof that is not all over for the Labour party, if only they would resolve the leadership.

For Cameron the problems are twofold.  Not only is his party failing to cut through with the electorate, but it isn't  united behind him during this critical pre-election period. 

Party grandees and the grassroots are at odds with him on women-only shortlists and Michael Heseltine has rightly warned Cameron that his European policy will have to change.

As Mike Smithson says the Tories are stuck on 40%, “which isn’t comfortable enough”.

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26 October 2009

AJ “stops the clock”

Wonderful news from Our Man.  AJ has confirmed to the Commons that he will examine new medical evidence that may well halt Gary McKinnon’s extradition to the US:

There are two issues upon which Gary McKinnon’s legal advisors have argued: the first is that the Director of Public Prosecutions should have tried him in this country.

The High Court in July dismissed that, and wouldn’t allow it to go to judicial review.”

I have to ensure that his Article 3 human rights are being respected.

And we get a sound bite to boot:

We have stopped the clock ticking on the representation to the European Court because new medical evidence has been provided.

As mentioned on more than one occasion, have faith in AJ.

His moment will come.

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Once again, Klaus changes his mind

Vaclav Klaus, the Czech President, has obviously had a bad weekend.  On Saturday it was reported that his demands had been met and he would sign the treaty.  Today, Klaus has had another mood swing:

In a submission to the Czech constitutional court, which will decide tomorrow whether the treaty is compatible with the country’s constitution, Mr Klaus has suggested that it should be subject to a referendum.

The court will hold a one-day public hearing tomorrow in a case seen as the final legal obstacle to the treaty in the Czech Republic.

President Klaus has vowed not to sign until after the court’s verdict, which is expected in a week’s time.

This is all very frustrating, as there are important matters to be decided.  Will Tony Blair become President of Europe?  If not, will Miliband the elder be off?  Then, there is the small matter of who will replace Our Dear Leader.  And finally, Cameron’s ‘new policy’ announcement and little explosion this will cause within his party.

The politics of our damp islands are in suspended animation due to this dithering old man, who wishes to retain Czech sovereignty but interfere with ours!

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Official: Brown is not depressed

The “Prime Minister's aides were aghast” with the headline, “Battle to stop depression is being won – PM”, that appeared on the Downing Street website over the weekend.  As this referred to the economy and not Brown’s health, the word "depression" was swiftly replaced with "downturn" after just a few hours.  Mandrake explains:

The headline was at best ambiguous, coming just a few weeks after Andrew Marr had asked Gordon if he was perhaps on prescription painkillers or pills to get him through," whispers my man in Whitehall. "It was removed on orders that came from pretty high up.

Presumably, another batch of replacement mobile phones are on order.

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25 October 2009

Miliband for Europe?

First, here is the transcript of Marr’s interview with David Miliband:

AM: Thank you. Would you, if asked, take the job of European Foreign Minister, or indeed European President?

DM: No, I'm not a candidate for that. I'm not available. I've got a job that I'm absolutely committed to and I'm proud to do. There is a bigger game going on here than just to do with the High Representative, the foreign policy role, and that is to do with the Presidency of the European Council …

Will that be enough to kill off the speculation?  Gavin Hewlitt, having watched Marr, doesn't think so and believes that there will be an interest in Miliband if Blair fails to be come President of Europe:

That may not stem the growing interest in the British foreign secretary in European capitals.

So, the rumours will rumble on for a while until Miliband utters the words, “not in any circumstances”.

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The Tommy Cooper of No 10

Alan Watkins returns to the subject of the Labour leadership and is not convinced a change will come about or make any difference.  The Milbands fail to get a mention, but one Harriet Haman does:

Do not undervalue Ms Harriet Harman. Whenever I mention her, my friends among the political editors and parliamentary sketch writers fall about with exaggerated hilarity. She would, they say, be the equivalent of Mr Michael Foot in 1983. But times have changed. Desperate times require remedies of last resort.

Apart from having ruled herself out again, Harman would indeed be a remedy of the last resort.

Now, to this wonderful nugget:

We are told, such-and-such a by-election will prove crucial to the success of Mr Brown's government and to his future as Prime Minister. Or there is some other event upon which the wellbeing depends.

The by-election is duly lost; or the event refuses to take place, or turns out differently from what Mr Brown had expected. Mr Brown is surprised, or disappointed. Sorry about that, he says; try again; better luck next time. He is the Tommy Cooper of No 10; with the difference that the late comedian exercised considerable skill in his act.

In the end, like many Labour MPs, he gives up:

In test after test, imposed by himself or by others on his behalf, Mr Brown fails, and he is still there. He is like one of those old-fashioned toys that have lead in their bottoms. But the Labour benches are in a fatalistic mood. To them, another prime minister would not make much difference – and a new one might even make things even worse.

There is no evidence to back-up this statement, apart from the odd question asked in a few polls.  But, there is every reason to suggest that a new leader would make a considerable difference, and the arguments have been rehearsed many times.

Alastair Campbell, although still backing Brown, has this pithy analysis on his blog:

They [the Tories] have not sealed the deal, because they're not serious on policy, because they haven't changed much, and because a lot of people don't really like them.

You only have to look at ConversativeHome and the reaction to Cameron’s announcement on women-only shortlists to appreciate that the Tory party hasn't changed.

Then there is Europe, which is going to explode in Cameron’s face fairly soon.  Tim Montgomerie and his chums will have fun with that one.

As discussed previously, there is no great excitement at the prospect of a Tory government.  Armando Iannucci puts it well:

I don’t think there’s going to be dancing in the streets. I think it will be like…It will be like knowing you have to go in for a knee operation. You know it’s going to happen, it’ll get done and you’ll probably walk a little bit better a result, but you’re not really looking forward to it. I think that’s the feeling that people have.

Despite the polls, 2009 and is not the same as 1996.  Labour may not be able to win the election in 2010, but under a new leader a hung parliament is more than a possibility.

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Is George Osborne ready?

Skip over what Brown has to say in his latest fireside chat.  The interesting stuff is tucked away at the bottom of the article:

Labour, meanwhile, is to target George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, in an effort to highlight his perceived "lack of judgement" in the run-up to the Pre Budget Report, expected in late November or early December.

MPs are to be issued with "attack lines" against Mr Osborne, including claims that, had he been chancellor, he would have seriously damaged the economy and Britain's recovery chances.

One Labour strategist said:

We need to take him out of the game.

As discussed, Labour do need to chip away at Osborne’s credibility in the hope it will destroy his confidence.  If they are successful, it leave Cameron rather exposed.

Labour’s strategy is correct and it is surprising they have not rolled this out before now.  It may well have some success, so long as Mandy doesn't launch further personal attacks on Osborne.

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Ken Clarke’s thoughts on David Cameron

Unlike Ken Clarke, Gyles Brandreth boasts that he was the person who spotted David Cameron’s talents back in the 1993 when he was sacked along with Norman Lamont:

I thought it was a mistake to drop him, so I wrote a memo to the new chancellor, Kenneth Clarke. I said, we mustn’t lose this man, he is gold, and I remember having a conversation with Clarke, who was saying he’s Lamont’s man, very right-wing. I said, no no, he was working for Lamont and therefore reflected Lamont, but I think you’ll find he’s our kind of Conservative, a liberal Conservative. Clarke still dropped him. Wouldn’t be persuaded. Wouldn’t.

Mandy has the perfect quote to use against Ken Clarke when he takes questions in the Commons.

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24 October 2009

EM4PM: Something is not right

Yet more speculation, this time in the Indy, on the career development of the ‘band of Miliband brothers’.  Like it or not, there does appear to be consensus building in favour of Miliband the younger to take over from Brown.

Paul Linford, picking up on the unfolding developments of the week, suggests that Miliband the elder will be happier going off to Europe and Mandy favours the younger Ed:

As well as resuming his front-runner status for the Labour leadership, Mr Miliband is also being spoken of as a contender for the post of EU foreign minister or "high representative," due to be created once the Lisbon Treaty is ratified.

Mr Miliband used Twitter to deny the rumour yesterday, but some insist he'd be happier in that role than in No 10, and that it's actually younger brother Ed who is Mandy's chosen one.

One slogan heard doing the rounds this week was “New Year, New Leader” – and once again, the name of Miliband seems to be in the frame.

This is all very well, but to date the Czechs haven't ratified the Lisbon Treaty.  Also, brother David can only race off to Europe if someone, rather than his mentor Tony Blair, becomes President of Europe.

So, we have Rachel Syvester’s original story, which has mushroomed during the week with no attempt to close the rumours down; the Europe dimension, which is outside the control of the Labour party; and Miliband's tweet, which doesn't add up to much.

How odd that a coup, not expected to take place until January, be allowed to gain traction on a daily basis under the watchful eye of the media.

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What Alan Johnson thinks

As with so much else, Our Man is not happy with how the postal strike is developing:

Publicly, he is not saying. Privately, he has been heard to mutter about "the Andy Gilchrist school of negotiating".

In 2002, Gilchrist was leader of the Fire Brigades Union, a popular group of state employees who went on strike with public backing and lost.

Johnson is right.  Nothing is achieved by megaphone diplomacy.  The pubic rhetoric has to stop. With Mandy having lost credibility, AJ should do his bit behind the scenes and persuade the two sides to talk to Acas.

The Times is right.  There is no alterative to Alan Johnson becoming involved in an attempt to resolve this dispute.

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23 October 2009

Another dreadful week

So, the British Chambers of Commerce has been proved right, the UK economy has not come out of recession.  However, before we all overreact it is well worth reading Stephanie Flanders.  The headline figures may not be reflecting what is actually going on.

That, of course, will not help Brown after another dreadful week.  His political credibility has fallen further after Biscuitgate, save the world Part II, an awful PMQs, the postal strike and Rugbygate.

Keep in mind that there only two further sets of quarterly figures to come, Q4 2009 and Q1 2010, before the election.

Even if David Blanchflower is proved right and Brown is following the correct policies, the political events are making it far more difficult for Our Dear Leader to argue his case and inspire confidence.

Today’s headline figures will only add to the leadership speculation.

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The Royal Mail & Alan Johnson

Somebody had to say it and now The Times has.  Alan Johnson should get involved with the postal strike:

Though the CWU declined to back Mr Johnson in his bid for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party in 2005, his stature as the union’s former leader and status as the current Home Secretary surely means that he could arbitrate in a way that, for different reasons, seems beyond either the Business Secretary or the Prime Minister.

All very well, but AJ went on Question Time and said the politicians should keep well away.  It is almost unprecedented for a Cabinet minister to openly become involved in the affairs of another department.  It would be much better for AJ to work behind the scenes to help resolve the dispute, if that is what he wants.

These days, knowing what Alan Johnson wants has become rather an issue as the leadership speculation rumbles on.

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DM4PM or EM4PM. What is going on?

First, a little recap.  On Tuesday we had Rachel Sylvester telling us the ‘band of Milband brothers’ were going to take over the Labour party.  Then, Jon Snow reported that Miliband the elder had had enough and would be taking himself off to Europe.

This morning both The Times and The Guardian have similar stories about DM’s career plans.  The “Mole” over at The First Post repeats most of what Sylvester said, but then adds:

The question is, which Miliband? Many say Ed is likely to defer to his elder brother David. But Ed is seen as more personable and a stronger campaigner than David. Couple those factors with the chitchat in Brussels and Paris that David could become Europe's first foreign minister - sorry, "high representative" - and you see why the smart money is moving in Ed's direction.

How odd that in her rather gossipy article Sylvester missed the Europe dimension.  Her conclusion was the Mandy and DM would cook up some kind of deal over the weekend.

Anyway, there is a certain logic to all this.  DM moves to Brussels in the new year, with the announcement made sometime before.  This then allows EM to organise a bloodless coup in December or January.

So, we have a consensus building around Miliband the younger, but there has to be a question mark if this is the right choice.

It is doubtful Cameron will be losing much sleep if he has to face Ed Miliband at the general election.

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22 October 2009

It’s “all a game” to Nick Griffin

In a far from flattering profile, here is Jackie Griffin on husband Nick:

I thought he would grow out of it.

I've been... working to keep us going financially and bring up four children while he's spent his time playing at stupid politics. To Nick, it's all a game.

Let us all hope that David Dimbleby can blow the whistle on Griffin’s “game” tonight.

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Mandy has left Brown very exposed

Little wonder that Brown was more than a little tetchy at PMQs yesterday.  The Royal Mail dispute has left him in a very exposed position.  It was not so much that Cameron called him ‘weak’, which struck home, but more to do with Mandelson.

Mandy is being attacked by the CWU for blocking a settlement and 131 Labour MPs are backing a motion supporting the postal workers' union.  There can be little doubt that Cabinet ministers are also privately questioning Mandy’s role.

Back in June, Mandy played the key role in ensuring the that half-baked coup did not succeed.  He was listened to and respected then, as he was when he gave his rather self-indulgent conference speech pledging his support and loyalty to Brown.

The postal dispute rather changes the dynamics.  Mandy's protective shield around Brown is no longer impregnable.  He has little credibility left with Labour MPs nor with the unions, both who have to kept onside if Brown is to remain as party leader.

The obvious point is that any backbench coup or Cabinet rebellion is now far more likely to succeed than it was before the postal dispute blew up.  Mandy, so instrumental in shoring up Brown’s position, could very well facilitate his downfall.

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Did Ken Clarke work without a red box?

imageKen Clarke is a hero with MPs having received an unreserved apology from Sir Thomas Legg.  However, his past is not all it seems.

Alice Thompson, in an article about Tory talent, obviously believes Ken had so much of the stuff that be never needed a red box when he was Chancellor:

Having been out of power for 13 years, only two Shadow Cabinet ministers have swung a red box — William Hague and Sir George Young.

Just how did Ken manage to bring the country out of the last recession and lay the foundations for Brown’s ‘boom & bust’?  We should be told.

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21 October 2009

Being “Tory-proofed”

Try as Brown may to finalise the devolution of policing and justice to Northern Ireland, he can only go so far:

Once Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness are happy that it can be signed off then Mr Robinson will go and speak to David Cameron and ask him if he will stand over the figures if he becomes prime minister.

All important matters these days have to be “Tory-proofed” against Our Dave possibly becoming the Prime Minister.

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MP’s to get a pay rise!

That’s the latest idea from our desperate Prime Minister, as he attempts to buy off a growing backbench rebellion in the wake of the Legg audit and the forthcoming Kelly report.

The pay rise will be to compensate MPs for a “loss of income from expenses claims”.  There will no cost to us taxpayers, as any rise in an MPs salary will be paid for by a reduction to ministers wages.  Now, who’s idea was that?  Step forward one David Cameron.

The latest wheeze is the same old story.  Grab a Tory policy and then use it to create a dividing line.

Persuading the voters to accept this ‘Grand Plan’ is another matter all together.

Not flash, Just Gordon.

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Polls, biscuits, the Milibands and Brown’s plans

Not one but two more polls that paint a similar picture to Mori.  All three show a 17% Tory lead .  It as if the conference season didn't happen.

Meanwhile “Biscuitgate” rumbles on with Jim Pickard reporting:

I’m told on good authority, Brown didn’t even see the biscuit questions. No fewer than 800 queries were lobbed at him by the mothers. Most were filtered by his advisers.

Then there is further news on the Milibands, with the Phi100 panel saying it should be Ed not David.

So, there we have it.  Dreadful polls, Brown being badly advised and the untested Miliband as the favoured candidate to lead Labour at the next election .

Meanwhile, Iain Martin has news that Brown still believes he can win through:

I’m told of much frantic work on the Labour campaign effort, with the PM now in over-drive working out his plan for the election. I am agog to hear what he’ll come up with.

This brings us neatly back to the policy debate, which has been discussed before.  Unless Labour have a credible leader who can communicate and is not constantly ridiculed, then the “campaign effort” will fail.

The question that Labour MPs need to ask themselves is this.  Do the ‘band of Miliband brothers’ have the leadership qualities to sell the policies and reverse the polls?

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20 October 2009

Cameron proved himself today

After sitting on the fence over Europe, Cameron has shown leadership with his announcement at the Speaker’s conference that he may introduce women-only shortlists.  It will not worry Cameron one bit that Iain Dale and ConservativeHome are up in arms.  What Cameron has done is demonstrate to the wider public that he can and will change his party in the lead up to the election.

Overall, Cameron gave a polished confident performance as against Brown, who was his usual wooden self and only interested in scoring political points.  Little wonder he decided not to appear with the other leaders, as was originally planned.  If Brown does remain as leader, the TV leaders’ debates will not happen.

Labour is fast approaching the point where it is running out of time.  The latest poll, at odds with other recent surveys, gives the Tories a commanding lead:

Con 43% (+7), Lab 26% (+2), Lib 19% (-6)

The figures show that voting intentions have returned to the parties’ positions before the conference season, but we still need a few more polls to confirm the trend.

Cameron showed today that it will be a near impossible task for a new Labour leader to establish himself before the election.

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David ‘two jobs’ Miliband

According to Jon Snow, a tug-of-war has broken out over David Miliband’s career development:

There is increasing talk that the best candidate for the other job on offer, that of high representative for foreign affairs – a potentially more important job than the presidency itself – could be offered to Britain’s foreign secretary, David Miliband, whose ratings in Europe have been in the ascendancy for the past six months.

A permanent job is a much better prospect for a young man with a family to support.

The gloom has already started to lift.

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The focus shifts from AJ4PM to DM4PM

The sun is not shining on Alan Johnson this morning, the man that the Tory party fear the most.

First up, John Rentoul has spotted this “slightly quixotic” brief letter from Labour MP Colin Challen :

Perhaps Labour could avoid a generation out of power with the following calendar: 23 November, election of a new PLP chair is a signal that there is sufficient feeling that Gordon too has to go; 30 November, sufficient signatures gathered, Gordon goes; party recognises need for quick leadership election, new leader installed by 21 December; one month to show off new cabinet and launch one Tory-busting cruise missile of a new policy; dissolve parliament 28 January, election day 18 or 25 February. Labour's bounce leaves it as largest party, possibly with Ed Miliband as PM. What are the odds?

There is further gloom on the AJ front.  Rachel Sylvester, having spoken to a Cabinet minister or two, comes down on the side of the Milibands:

There are many who hope that the Miliband brothers, having saved the world, will save their party. For years Labour was dominated by the political brothers, Mr Blair and Mr Brown, whose rivalry tore the family apart; now the leadership is hovering between two real brothers who, for the moment at least, remain friends.

It’s no good going for a caretaker candidate, fun though Alan Johnson is. Labour needs a leader who looks ready for the future and really wants the job. The party has to move on to the next generation.

Sylvester hints that Mandy may well switch his support to Miliband the elder.  If that is true, then it is all over for Brown.

So, there we have it.  AJ’s star is fading and a momentum is building for the ‘band of Miliband brothers’.  No question that Miliband the elder wants the job, but is he the ideal alternative to David Cameron?

If the rumours are true, we will soon know the answer.

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19 October 2009

“Saving the world” just one more time

Brown is good at doom.  Here he is speaking about the forthcoming Copenhagen summit on climate change:

If we do not reach a deal at this time, let us be in no doubt: once the damage from unchecked emissions growth is done, no retrospective global agreement, in some future period, can undo that choice.

So we should never allow ourselves to lose sight of the catastrophe we face if present warming trends continue.

According to Our Dear Leader, we have “50 days to save the world” from global warming and he wonders if it can achieved:

We must frankly face the plain fact that our negotiators are not getting to agreement quickly enough. So I believe that leaders must engage directly to break the impasse.

Ah, we a problem there as his best friend may not be going to Copenhagen.

Just what will happen on day 51 if Brown can’t “save the world” again?

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Six men that could well threaten Brown

Moving on from Barry Sheerman’s loose tongue, there are possibly more serious threats to Our Dear Leader.

Paul Waugh is reporting that five Labour MPs are warning of by-elections “if Brown doesn't curb Legg's retrospective cap”.

Not to be left out of the growing rebellion, Frank Field, no lover of Gordon Brown, is also refusing to pay up.

Now, the possibility of five by-elections, plus the involvement of the much respected Frank Field, are a much more credible threat to Brown’s premiership than anything Sheerman may or may not get up to.

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Barry Sheerman’s fast moving world

After taking a pot shots at Ed Balls, Sheerman has now directly criticised the “cowardly party leadership from Cameron, from Clegg and from Brown” over the Legg review.

He has also confirmed that he was taken soundings over standing as Parliamentary Labour Party Chairman:

I think we do need a good tough independent chair - someone who’ll look the party in the eye and saying this isn’t good enough."

Then this jaw-dropping remark:

Many backbenchers feel that when the history of this period is written what we’ll see is very few MPs have done anything wrong.

Perhaps he has changed his mind and will directly challenge Brown.  Much could happen in the next few weeks

We watch and we wait.

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This comrade is not happy

Barry Sheerman, the chairman of the Commons education select committee, is far from happy with Ed Balls over the appointment of a new children's commissioner:

Everyone knows Ed Balls likes his own way, and he’s a bit of a bully.

He’s more of an executive man that a parliamentary man.

Yvette Cooper will not be best pleased with this parting shot:

I don’t think he likes strong independent people who stand up to him.

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Why Labour shouldn't give up

From time to time William Rees-Mogg, the great defender of Richard Nixon, pops-up with an article worthy of consideration.  Today is one of those occasions.

After dismissing Brown and wondering why Labour has not already taken the necessary action to change their leader, he takes a reality check on the polls:

Labour cannot reasonably expect to win the next general election, whatever Labour MPs decide to do; things are too far gone for that. But that does not mean there is nothing left to fight for, even now. A Labour victory in 2010 would be an astonishing reversal, but a hung Parliament, with the Conservatives as the largest party, is entirely conceivable as an outcome. Indeed the next general election is already on a tipping point at which a small shift in opinion, one way or the other, would produce a large switch in seats.

He explains:

If one looks at Rallings and Thrasher’s Media Guide to the New Parliamentary Constituencies, one can see how small a swing might decide the election result. If one takes Labour’s baseline as 30 per cent of the votes, then the Conservatives would face a hung Parliament if they only got 40 per cent, but would have an overall majority if they won 41 per cent.

A single percentage point in the actual voting would be worth 14 seats, or 28 seats in terms of the majority. With the polls as they are, a comfortable Conservative majority and a hung Parliament can be regarded as next door to each other, and as about equally likely.

Then the penny drops:

This may explain why there has been so much recent interest in the possibility of a hung Parliament.

And now for the vital point:

This sheds a different light on Labour’s leadership question. If a change of leader were only worth a single percentage point in the share of votes at the next election, that could be worth 28 seats on the majority. That would not keep Labour in power, but it could result in a hung Parliament and prevent the Conservatives gaining an overall majority.

Rees-Mogg is spot on with analysis but once again, as with Nixon, his judgement lets him down:

If Harriet Harman or one of the Milibands could create the faintest ripple of additional support, that could be vital for the parliamentary arithmetic of the next decade. That is worth playing for.

Oh dear.  The news about Harman and Miliband the elder has obviously not reached him.  Miliband the younger is far from ready.

Anyway, the point Rees-Mogg makes should not be lost.  For all the reasons that have been given many times, Labour has far better chance of stopping the Tories reaching the “tipping point” under a new leader.

As the sub-heading to his article says:

There is still something for Labour to fight for.

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The PLP vote: Another failed coup in the making

Once-upon-a-time it was rumoured that Barry Sheerman would run for the chairmanship of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) as a ‘Brown must go’ candidate.

Last week, Hopi Sen carried out a little detective work and reported that if Sheerman does stand it will not be to challenge Brown.

Now, The Telegraph is speculating that others may enter the ring:

Disaffected MPs say Barry Sheerman, Parmjit Dhanda and Jane Kennedy are all under pressure from colleagues to put themselves forward to challenge Mr Lloyd for his job.

Obviously, the article doesn't refer to Hopi’s good work neither does it reflect the views of Jim Pickard:

In fact many Labour MPs (including hard-core rebels) have told me that Mr Sheerman wouldn’t have a chance. He is not seen as very clubbable. “I don’t know who his friends within Westminster are,” one told me.

More importantly, there are also concerns that just because he wants the PLP vote to be about Mr Brown’s leadership that would not necessarily make it so. There would still be questions over whether people were voting on Sheerman vs Brown or simply on Sheerman vs Lloyd.

Admittedly, matters have moved on somewhat since last week but the vote not is taken until after the Queen’s Speech, still some weeks away.

It is far too early for any sensible plotter to declare their hand.  As discussed previously, if there was an organised coup it would not be in the papers.

This unfolding story has all the hallmarks of being another cock-up.

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18 October 2009

Who is right, the polls or the media?

The latest polls from YouGov and ComRes reinforce the Populus findings that the Tory party haven't had a post-conference bounce and, more importantly, the next election is far from over.

Not that this worries the media, who have further reports on the Tories post-election plans.  Today we are told that Cameron is going to appoint temporary peers and bring back Michael Heseltine.

Matthew d'Ancona adds to the complacency that the election is in the bag:

After he has settled into No 10, David Cameron will doubtless convene a meeting of his new and much-larger parliamentary party.

With little more than six months to the election, a sense of arrogance has crept into the media that a Tory victory is assured.  However, the psephologists, now backed by the polls, indicate that a hung parliament is the more likely outcome.

The media narrative will not change, especially while Brown is still leader, but with Cameron failing to cut through to the pubic Labour should not give up.

There is no evidence to suggest that Labour should be written off.  Far from it.

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Brown and Cameron have a common bond

GB wants six.  Nick Clegg wants three.  Cameron only wants one.  The negotiations over the TV leaders’ debates are heading towards the buffers.  Melissa Kite has the latest:

Mr Cameron has proposed the most slimline option, involving one debate with all three leaders. But Mr Brown has told broadcasters he wants at least six. He and Mr Cameron would go head to head in one, Mr Brown would face Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, in another while Mr Cameron would face Mr Clegg in a third. Then there would be three more debates between Mr Brown and Mr Cameron focused on a different issue each time, such as the economy.

“Madness” is the word used to describe the negotiations.  Well indeed, although you have to ask if Brown and Cameron really do want the debates to happen.

When the talks do fail we will have the delight of witnessing the mother of all blame games.

Cross the popcorn off the shopping list.

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17 October 2009

Just put the tin hat on it

Brown was asked the question 12 times. Now this:


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AJ: Solving one problem at a time

Our Home Secretary is slowing working his way through his pending tray.  Having returned a copy of Brown’s conference speech to No10 with the comment, “check with me next time” written besides the appropriate paragraph, he moves on to the next task.

Alan Johnson is turning his attention to case of Gary McKinnon.  Following new evidence on his health, the computer hacker has been given more time to fight his extradition to the States.

Have faith in AJ.  It sounds better than ‘Not flash, Just Gordon’.

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The non-starter and likely runners

Harriet Harman is getting rather tiresome.  Every few weeks she takes great delight in telling us all that she will not be running for the leadership of the Labour party.

Interviewed by Andrew Neil on Straight Talk, she had this to say:

AN:  So, if a vacancy should arise for the leadership of your party you will not stand?

HH:  No, not.

AN:  Under any circumstances?

HH:  I’ve said so, absolutely not.

AN:  If asked, will refuse; if nominated, will decline?

HH:  Absolutely.

The exchange is preceded (it starts here) by an embarrassing little chat on her decision to ask activists to rank her and Brown from one to five.

Martin Bright, possibly forgetting that she has already said it, thinks her latest announcement is significant:

With Harriet gone, the way is now clear for a genuine challenge.

But then:

The likelihood is that this won't happen. Although almost anyone would improve Labour's chances, the party is just exhausted (and this applies especially to the parliamentary party).

Translation:  The party is not prepared to fight.

Having dispensed with an already declared non-starter, we move to the other outside bet.

Miliband the elder is having a rough time.  The judges are causing him no end of trouble.  Then we get the farcical goings on in Geneva.  After all this, a sensible person would head off for a quiet weekend.  But no, Miliband pops up on Newsnight to tell us all how right he is.

Meanwhile, AJ goes about his work in an unassuming way by clearing up another of Brown’s ill thought out cunning plans.

Matthew Parris, who can’t bare the thought of another six months of Brown, urges a Cabinet minister to mount a challenge:

Yes, I could pull the plug. But would the water leave the bath.

There may well not be a challenge in the way Parris suggests, but if there were it would depend on the identity of this yet-to-be-named Cabinet member.

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The way Brown works

Brown is taken to task by Andrew Grice over his handling of the expenses scandal.  He starts off with this anecdote:

The floor of Gordon Brown's room at the House of Commons was plastered with the parliamentary expenses claims made by his ministers. Remarkably, the exasperated Prime Minister was ploughing through reams of paper by himself, to find out which MPs it would be safe to promote in an imminent reshuffle.

The incident, which happened just before his cabinet shake-up in June, highlights both Mr Brown's inability to delegate and just how much the controversy over MPs' expenses has cast a shadow over British politics since it broke in May.

How Brown managed the expenses scandal is a classic case study in “how not to do it”:

Not for the first time, Mr Brown made the right call on a big issue and then made a mess of implementing it. He didn't consult Labour MPs or opposition party leaders before pre-empting a review of expenses by the Committee on Standards in Public Life by rushing out interim changes. That allowed MPs in all parties to defeat his proposal to replace the "second homes" payment with a daily Commons attendance allowance. He also made a hash of announcing his plans in his "smiley" YouTube video.

And summing up the Brown premiership:

When Mr Brown "gets it", he expects everyone else to instantly, doesn't take people with him, gets impatient, bulldozes ahead and crashes. So even when he's right, it goes wrong.

It is this lack of management skills, the failure to take colleagues with him and taking decisions through the prism of short-term tactical advantage that could well lead to his downfall.

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