30 November 2009

Cameron’s Brown Monday

Team Cameron is having a bad time.  Not only do we have another poll confirming the trend back to Labour, but Cameron has been forced to apologise to the Commons:

Can I start by putting right something I got wrong last week. While the two Islamic schools I mentioned got government money while being run by people linked to the extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, and while they did receive that money under a Pathfinder scheme, it was not the Pathfinder scheme concerned with combating extremism.

I am sorry for the error. I believe that when you get a fact wrong you should put it right but I continue to believe that it is wrong that taxpayers' money goes to schools run by extremists.

Oh dear.  Tip for Dave: Never apologise, never explain.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, Zac Goldsmith remains in post and Tim Montgomerie says, “there is no need to worry at this stage” then:

The Tories should not wait until the General Election campaign to launch the manifesto but should launch it on Monday 4th January and use the following months to explain how life will be better with David Cameron in Downing Street.

If Cameron follows that advice he will need to worry.   The ‘heir to Blair’ has to remember to smile, nod and say very little.

That Ming vase is looking a rather fragile object tonight.

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Brown gets it wrong (again)

A minister is worried that the Chilcot inquiry will damage Labour at the polls:

People are starting to wonder whether Gordon has done the right thing by allowing all this to come out before the election.  Some voters who could not bring themselves to vote for us in 2005 because of Iraq might have been tempted back into the fold next year to stop the Tories winning. But now they are getting a daily reminder of why they turned against us.

Note to minister: Change the leader before the election.  It may help ease your concerns.

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The Times becomes a Tory freesheet

A little explanation is required for William Rees Mogg’s article in The Times for the battle of the marginal seats in the West Country.

Two of his children, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Annunziata Rees-Mogg, so happen to be candidates in Somerset, which the former editor of the paper bluntly acknowledges:

I do not pretend to be impartial about the campaigns being fought by my children.

Having recognised the damage that father William could inflict on the Tories, David Cameron has asked Annunziata to change her name to plain Nancy Mogg for the election campaign.

Soon, if Dear Rupert gets his way, we will all have to pay to read these little exercises in family promotion.

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Two jokes from Zac Goldsmith

The son of James, who inherited an estimated £200m from his father, had this to say about his tax affairs:

The non-domicile status has delivered very few benefits.

Rumour has it that he will be delivering a lecture tonight entitled:

How do we spend our collective wealth?

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James Macintyre will have a long wait

The man who gets so much wrong does it again:

For those interested in the question of when the UK signed up to George W Bush's plan to invade Iraq, this morning is a moment we've all been waiting for.

James, the session starts at 14.00hrs and some of us have heard it all before.

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29 November 2009

Inheritance tax and wider issues for the Tories

There is one matter that Brown and Darling will be at one on.  The need to create a dividing line with the Tories on inheritance tax, as The Observer reports:

Government sources say Alistair Darling, the chancellor, is considering whether to abandon the government's recent policy of progressively lifting people out of the inheritance tax net. Instead, he is considering freezing the threshold at which the tax becomes payable, as part of plans to cut the deficit. This means that, if property prices rise, more – not fewer – householders will be liable to pay the 40% tax.

The plan is being urged on the chancellor by senior figures in the Labour party, who believe the move would allow Labour to sharpen its attacks on the Conservatives for being the party of the rich.

Andrew Rawnsley, who confirms that Alastair Campbell is popping into No10 for a weekly cuppa, rightly says the tax “has gone from being a lifesaver into an albatross around the necks of him [Osborne] and David Cameron”.   He concludes:

So why don't they just ditch it? Partly because they don't want to be accused of doing a U-turn. Partly because it won't go down well with many of their activists and MPs. Partly because Gordon Brown would crow. The most profound reason may be psychological. It is hard to strangle one of your first babies, especially when you have such loving memories of how it saved your skins a couple of years ago.

As a result, they are glued to a policy which has little economic merit and makes them politically vulnerable, a promise to privilege those who are already privileged.

In the grand scheme of things, inheritance tax doesn't really matter.  It raises little revenue and well organised folk can devise cunning plans to avoid it.

The wider issue is more important.  On Afghanistan, climate change, tax, public services and the economy it is Labour that is now setting the agenda, not the Tory party.  More and more Team Cameron is being pushed on the defensive.

Without a policy setting agenda, it will be very difficult for the Tories to regain the initiative in the run up to the election.

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The good news. Darling is not happy

What do have we here.  The Sunday Times and The Sunday Telegraph are suggesting that Messrs Brown and Darling are not getting on over the small matter of the Pre-Budget Report.

Brown, of course, wishes to be rather more optimistic than Darling:

Mr Darling was determined to leave voters in no doubt over the "tough choices" that needed to be taken as the government strives to hit its target of halving Britain's soaring public deficit over the next four years.

The Prime Minister, by contrast, is keen to approach the next election – which must be held by next June – by stressing Labour's plans to carry on spending on schools, hospitals and other "front-line services".

“Relations have become so bad that the two men can now barely agree on a time to meet,” said a Whitehall source.

Splendid! Splendid!

This is significant news for the few of us left who still believe that Labour should change leader before the election.  A major fallout between Brown and Darling could well be the tipping point.

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Zac Goldsmith to become ‘one of us’

Another week begins and for Team Cameron the bad news keeps on coming.

The Sunday Times is reporting that Zac Goldsmith, the Tory candidate for Richmond Park and green supremo, admits he claims non-domicile tax status. 

Having been found out, Goldsmith suddenly declares that from next year he will start paying UK tax on his vast fortune.

Oh dear.  Not only does this call into question David Cameron’s judgement, who employed Goldsmith to draw up the Tories environmental policies, but it will put pressure on Lord Ashcroft to confirm his tax statues.  It is about time that little mystery was cleared up.

Goodbye to Zac Goldsmith.  For David Cameron it has suddenly become rather messy.

Has the Tory party really changed?

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28 November 2009

Ken Clarke and one MP

This is unfair and taken out of context, but what Ken Clarke says is true:

Plainly there are difficulties if we get into power with only one MP.

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The latest poll and Labour’s worries about Brown and Mandy

YouGov’s monthly poll shows that Tories would fall short of a majority:

CON 39%(-2), LAB 29%(+2), LDEM 19%(+1)

However, in 32 northern marginal seats the Tories are doing rather better:

CON 42%(+8), LAB 36%(-8), LDEM 12%(-5)

As usual, Anthony Wells has a good analysis:

The overall share of the vote doesn’t appear to be enough to guarantee the Conservatives a majority, but in at least one group of marginals, they are outdoing the national swing by enough to get a majority.

However, The TImes reports that voters are returning to Labour:

Although still reasonably confident about their chances of victory, senior Tories have acknowledged a shift against them. Recent canvassing has found that “Coronation Street” voters, who typically live in terraced houses and switched to the Conservatives because of the 10p tax rate, are returning to Labour.

Assuming he is still in post, The Times article also highlights Labour’s concern about how to present Brown at the election “as he asks for five more years in charge”

We cannot afford for it to be just Gordon and David Cameron on telly the whole time.

So, who then?  Well, it will not be Mandy:

Populus asked voters in September to rate politicians on a scale of 0 to 100 and Lord Mandelson’s low rating, at 29.4, suggests that the revival in his reputation has not reached beyond Westminster. His rating of 50 among Labour voters is the lowest among their party supporters. “Downing Street knows that he isn’t as popular outside as he is in here,” said one minister.

The solution is to have a have a new leader.  It would solve these little presentational difficulties and ensure there was a hung parliament after the election .

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The icing on the cake for Team Cameron

Oh dear.  It has been rather a poor week for Our Dave.  First, a little reminder on how it all unfolded.

There was the Ipsos-Mori poll showing the Tory lead down to 6%.  This was followed by the Muslim schools blunder (Michael Gove admitted the inaccuracies on Friday’s Newsnight).  Moving on, we had Cameron’s rather bizarre appearance at the launch of ResPublica - he left after five minutes. 

Now to the icing on the cake.  Stephen Greenhalgh, Tory leader of the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, has made some rather tactless comments on the lack of experience at the top of the Tory party:

My mates are all in the shadow Cabinet, waiting to get those [ministerial] boxes, being terribly excited. I went to university with them, they haven’t run a piss-up in a brewery.  They’re going to get a department of state, in one case running the finances of the nation.

One can only assume that he was referring to George Osborne.

They may only be small matters, but there too many mistakes being made. Cameron needs to instil some discipline into his team and the Tory outriders beyond.

It will not take Mandy and Co. long to capitalise on the latest of these unforced blunders.

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27 November 2009

Keeping faith with Alan Johnson

Even the Coffee House blog can see the merits of Alan Johnson:

It's a truism that in order to have a sensible debate, you've got to be willing to actually have a debate – so it's encouraging that Johnson is taking this more conciliatory approach to the question of immigration.  And it also reflects well on him, as you suspect some of his more tribal government colleagues (and there are plenty of them) would have dealt with the question differently.  All in all, you can chalk it up as more fuel for John Rentoul's AJ4PM campaign.

How true, but “little local difficulties” do pop up from time to time.

Having “stopped the clock” in an attempt to halt Gary McKinnon’s extradition to the US, Alan Johnson has now allowed it to go ahead:

I have carefully considered the representations in the case of Gary McKinnon.

I am clear that the information is not materially different from that placed before the High Court earlier this year and does not demonstrate that sending Mr McKinnon to the United States would breach his human rights.

As the courts have affirmed, I have no general discretion. If Mr McKinnon's human rights would be breached, I must stop the extradition. If they would not be breached, the extradition must go ahead.

Earlier this year the High Court upheld the extradition request for Mr McKinnon. This was after all proceedings under the Extradition Act 2003 had been completed.

The High Court dismissed a further challenge by Mr McKinnon that extradition to the USA would be in breach of his human rights.

Throughout this process there have been a number of assurances. Firstly due to legitimate concerns over Mr McKinnon's health, we have sought and received assurances from the United States authorities that his needs will be met. These were before the High Court in July.

It is also clear from the proceedings to date that Mr McKinnon will not, if convicted, serve any of his sentence in a supermax prison. Finally, should Mr McKinnon be extradited, charged and convicted in the US and seek repatriation to the UK to serve a custodial sentence, the Government will of course progress his application at the very earliest opportunity.

I know there is a concern on all sides to see a conclusion to these proceedings. It is now open to Mr McKinnon's lawyer to consider their legal options. As a consequence I do not propose to comment any further.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said:

The shoddy treatment of this vulnerable man should demonstrate that our rotten extradition laws need urgent reform.

It is unfortunate that this controversial case should have arisen at the present time, however Johnson does have to into take account the law as it stands at the present time.  With that in mind, it shouldn't have a bearing in his somewhat hidden ambition to lead the Labour party.

Whether it will do or not, remains to be seen.

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Suddenly, Cherie becomes a Brown fan

imageCherie Blair, having once said “"Well, that's a lie" when she heard Brown tell the Labour conference it been a privilege to work for Tony Blair, has buried the hatchet. 

She is promising to campaign for Our Dear Leader should he survive to fight the election:

It’s too early to say what I will be doing, but I will make myself available and really look forward to it.

Not only should this seal Brown’s fate, but will put paid to all the talk of a hung parliament.

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Brown linked to Dubai crisis

Gordon Brown, the man that saved the world, strikes again.

On Monday, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, decided to have a little chat with Our Dear Leader.

Yesterday, came the announcement that a debt-laden Dubai state corporation was unable to meet its interest bill.  The FTSE 100 index of leading shares plunged 171 points, which wiped £44bn off their value.

Even the FT Westminster blog suggests that “the curse of Gordon” may have been responsible.

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26 November 2009

More Tory complacency and the wrong policies for winning the election

First up, comes this from Ben Brogan on how the Olympics will do wonders for Cameron:

David Cameron is likely to find himself at his mid-term nadir, reviled for the pain he has had to inflict, and waiting for signs of the good times he promised would follow. No wonder he is talking privately of the Olympics as the "turning point" that could restore national morale and get him off the hook in time for a general election.

Then, this from James Forsyth:

The party’s plan to start at a fast pace also includes an 18-month opening session of parliament, with vastly reduced summer holidays for MPs. The aim is to get as much done as possible before Labour selects its new leader, something that is expected to happen at its autumn conference. To tinker with Whitehall structures straight away may seem odd, given the scale of what Cameron will have to do. But unless the Tories can fix the broken government machine, they won’t be able to deal effectively with the broken economy, broken society — or the broken politics.

But, there is the small matter of first winning the election, and for that to happen, having the right policies would be handy.  It is this little matter that Larry Elliot has an issue with:

David Cameron is having a mad monetarist moment. That's the only conclusion to be drawn from his insistence that the first task of a Conservative government will be to start cutting Britain's budget deficit. What we need, he told the CBI this week, is a decisive plan that starts now.

As Dominique-Strauss Kahn, the head of the IMF, noted this week, policy tightening should await a sustained recovery in private demand and entrenched financial stability. Britain has neither of those things. With the US looking fragile and European demand weak, there is the threat of a double-dip recession in 2010. What Cameron is proposing would turn that threat into a stone-cold certainty.

So, we have Tory complacency, the wrong economic policy coupled with Cameron's lack of judgement in the Commons yesterday.

If Cameron is not careful, that famous Ming vase could well start slipping from his grasp.  What he should be doing is smiling, nodding and saying very little.

The ‘heir to Blair’ still has much to learn.



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AJ’s classic quotes

Following AJ’s comment on Belle De Jour, we now have this wonderful stuff from his NS interview, which the Sun says is AJ’s “poll disaster” alert :

On the Tories:

What are they offering? The 'age of austerity' and - if you want a bit of fun - the return of fox hunting.

On the Lib Dem failure to support the campaign for a PR referendum on voting day:

He's a strange man is Clegg, isn't he?

On the election:

We are now looking at a watershed election, à la 1945, à la 1979, more so than 1997.

Finally, asked to give a "cast-iron guarantee" that he will not be leading Labour come polling day next year, Johnson comes up with the classic line:

Gordon Brown is the best man for the job.

Which rather resembles what Rab Butler once said about Anthony Eden, “the best prime minister we've got”

The NS article concludes:

Johnson is a natural communicator, funny, amiable and down-to-earth. He knows how to strike a populist note and court public opinion - essential qualities for a modern home secretary, but also a modern Labour leader.

Quite so.

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25 November 2009

DM4PM: Has the decision been made?

Good stuff from Iain Martin.  He reports that members of the Cabinet are to meet leading figures from the Obama administration to to be given a few helpful tips on electoral strategy and communication.

Labour’s team for this round table discussion are Lord Mandelson, Foreign Secretary David Miliband, general election coordinator Douglas Alexander and Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy, who will be leading Labour’s campaign in Scotland.

So, one David Miliband is included in this little foursome.  How interesting.  Perhaps it will be DM4PM?  A little patience is required while we wait for the authoritative answer.

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Getting “mentally” prepared for a hung Parliament

Steve Richards is excited about the prospect of a hung parliament.  Meanwhile, Daniel Finkelstein has this to say:

I still believe that the next election will produce a Conservative majority. A hung Parliament is, however, certainly possible given the ground David Cameron has to make up. And I don’t believe we are mentally or constitutionally prepared for the minority rule that could be with us soon.

Steve will have to stay calm for a few more weeks.  As for the former SDP supporter, now a convert to Team Cameron, the AJ4PM campaign committee warn Danny that he should “mentally” prepare himself for January when a hung Parliament may become a real probability.

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AJ on Belle De Jour

In an interview with the New Statesman that will be published tomorrow, Alan Johnson comments on “Belle De Jour

I've never read it, never met her. In any capacity.

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Save the City after a nuclear war

Apart from all matters Chilcot and a little difficulty for Boris, Sue Cameron has this nugget:

Some 30 years ago Whitehall carried out an exercise on what everyone should do in the aftermath of a nuclear war. I’m told the Bank of England’s response was that nothing should be done which might damage the pre-eminence of the City as a financial centre. Of course.

Gordon Brown may well have other ideas after Mervyn King’s latest outburst.

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24 November 2009

The Labour leadership. One last chance

All the excited talk about a hung parliament can stop unless Labour replace Brown.  Coffee House has evidence of a yet to be published poll that shows a 14% Tory lead over Labour.

Next up, we have Ben Brogan saying that the Tories are “worried and perplexed….why David Cameron somehow just can’t click with the electorate”.  Well , if he hasn't sealed the deal five months from the election he never will.  The doubts remain, not about Cameron himself, but about the party he leads.  They are deeply split over Europe and the never ending difficulties with their grassroots, ably highlighted by ConservativeHome, do little to help the cause.  Moreover, the continuing policy shifts on the economy hardly inspire confidence.

Now we come to the Labour party and the utter failure to deal with the leadership.  Jon Craig at Boulton & Co has been chatting to an unnamed Labour MP, who confidently tells him that Plan A (challenging Brown at the PLP) has been abandoned (thanks, we know that) but there is a Plan B or C:

Plan B, a Labour MP who regards Brown as a hopeless loser tells me, is a "round robin letter" calling for the PM to step down.

Plan C, my malcontent informant tells me, is a "stalking horse" challenger for the party leadership.

He concludes:

It strikes me that if Plan A couldn't even get off the ground, what hope is there for Plan B or Plan C?

Indeed.  If there was any likelihood of either B or C working they wouldn't be out there for all to see.

David Miliband hasn't turned down a job in Europe to lead a rump of Labour MPs after the election.  Neither has he stayed to spend more time with his family.  According to Martin Ivens, Brown is fully aware about Miliband’s intentions:

Twice Brown pushed the high rep job Miliband’s way, but the young rival “showed steel”, putting his party above a cushy career abroad. In the words of a key ally: “David is back to being the leading candidate.”

What has to happen is a coordinated Cabinet rebellion in January that will force Brown out and replace him with either Alan Johnson or Miliband.  Otherwise Labour will just drift to certain defeat.

If Brown remains in post you can write the script now for when David Dimbleby turns to Nick Robinson at the end of the marathon election coverage:

DD: Nick, so why did Labour lose?

NR: What is clear is that the voters have no love for the Tories but didn't want four more years of Gordon Brown.  Former Labour MPs and the Cabinet must be kicking themselves that they didn't do anything about the leadership when the opportunity presented itself.

DD: It could have happened?

NR: Oh yes.  No doubt about it.  The unanswered question is why it didn't.

DD: Good afternoon.

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Michael White’s about turn

What is it with Guardian columnists?  First, we had Jackie Ashley changing her mind on the certainty of a Tory victory.  Next, up comes Michael White with one of his daily 1000 words rants, telling us all yesterday:

A hung parliament is not going to happen.

Then, just 12 hours later:

Make ready the smokeless rooms: a hung parliament is on the cards

Just who is going to pay to read this drivel on-line?

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23 November 2009

Back to reality for Labour MPs

On the day that Labour MPs failed yet again to take the leadership issue seriously, we have a poll showing the Tory lead at 17%:

CON 39%(+1), LAB 22%(-2), LDEM 21%(+1)

This is first poll conducted after the Queen’s Speech.

Anthony Wells, who did a demolition job on James Macinrye earlier, has this to say:

This poll is pretty much in line with the average Conservative lead still being somewhere around 13 or 14 points.

It is time for the Cabinet to wake up.

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James MacIntrye and Not Gordon

Believe James MacIntyre if you wish, but a rather more realistic assessment of the latest Ipsos-Mori poll comes from The Mole:

Grumbling voices inside the Labour party yesterday saw the poll quite differently from the Brown camp. Instead of being a vote of confidence in his leadership, it suggests that if only Brown would step down and allow someone else….to fight for the crown, Labour would have a real chance of beating Cameron.

"Those who have been round a bit don't believe the spin that the Brown camp are putting on this poll," one disgruntled Labour MP told the Mole. "Because if there is a choice between Gordon and Not Gordon, people will go for Not Gordon. We have always believed it is going to be a close-run thing but if you're sensible about this, if you really want to win, you have to persuade Gordon to step down and let us run with a new leader."

The Not Gordon camp will win through.  Watch and wait.

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The polls and two Jackie Ashley articles

Two weeks ago Jackie Ashley had this to say:

Some Labour people may think I'm sounding too gloomy, but those who have been privy to recent private polling are a lot more than gloomy. This suggests that Labour could return to the Commons with just 120 MPs or thereabouts, taking the party back to 1930s territory. As ministers look for jobs to keep themselves going after politics, a Miliband move to Europe looks sensible.

Today, on the back of one poll showing the Tory lead narrowing to 6%, all that is forgotten:

First, an overall Tory victory is not 100% certain. Second, a minority Tory government would be a very fragile craft. Third, there is a possible Lib-Lab deal to be done if the personalities are right.

Perhaps we should all calm down, read Anthony Wells and Nick Robinson and wait for a few more polls.  Only then will we know if there has been a dramatic shift in public opinion.

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Will there be a challenge to Brown today?

Just a little reminder to all watchers of the great debate on the Labour leadership.  Nominations close today for the chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Now that Barry Sheerman has decided not to stand as a “Brown must go” candidate it will be interesting to see if there will be a token challenge. Hopi Sen doubts anything will happen, but John Rentoul says that this is an opportunity for Labour MPs do something about the leadership.

Whatever happens today the real danger for Brown will come in January, which is the last opportunity for Labour to make the change before the general election.

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Mandy is ‘angry and bruised’

Following on from The Sunday Times article that Mandy wants Brown to make him foreign Secretary, “friends” of the business secretary attempt to put the toothpaste back in the tube:

Lord Mandelson’s allies tried to end the row on Sunday, describing reports that he wanted Mr Miliband’s job as “total rubbish” and insisting he was ready to dedicate all his energies to Labour’s election campaign.

But Lord Mandelson is still angry and bruised over events in Brussels last week when Lady Ashton beat him to the socialist nomination for EU foreign policy chief, after Mr Miliband decided not to go for the post.

Friends of the business secretary said he believed the negotiations were “botched” and that Britain, unless it had a heavyweight foreign policy chief, should have instead tried to secure a top economic role in the European Commission.

Mandy is indispensible to Brown and he knows it.  Brown had little choice but to nominate Lady Ashton.  As discussed, she got the job because she was available and Europe wanted a woman.

The only way that Mandy will become foreign secretary is under a new Labour leader.  Mandy cannot be seen move publically over this.  He will only withdraw his support for Brown if the Cabinet move decisively and if the alternative offers Labour a better chance of securing a hung parliament.

The media like to portray Mandy is being the all powerful figure but in truth he, along with everybody else, is dependant on events.

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22 November 2009

AJ4PM: It could still happen

While we wait to see if today’s Ipsos-Mori poll is the start of a trend, it worth paying some attention to the details behind the headlines:

If the voting intentions are replicated at the next election, probably in May or June, the Conservatives will hold the most seats but fall 35 short of an overall majority in the Commons.

Then, the usual about the standing of the leaders:

Gordon Brown's personal rating remains in the doldrums. Only 34% of people are satisfied with his performance, against 59% who are dissatisfied. David Cameron had approval ratings of 48%, with 35% against.

This leads us on to what Andrew Rawnsley has to say:

All the pollsters say there has never been a precedent for such an unpopular leader managing to put himself back in an election-winning position. Those in the government who are contemplating another attempt at a coup are likely to seize on this poll as evidence that they might be able to close the gap with the Tories altogether if only Labour had a more popular face at the top.

Indeed so, but us leave that aside and consider what Rawnsley has to say if Labour hold the largest number of seats in a hung parliament:

This is the mother of all nightmares for the Lib Dems. Their senior MPs are already privately divided about what they would do in that case. Even if Labour had the most seats in the Commons, the Conservatives are almost certain to have won more votes in the country. The Tories would cry – and their argument would get huge amplification in much of the media – that Labour had lost its "moral authority" to govern. Having spent the election campaign saying that the country cannot stand another five years of Gordon Brown, how could Nick Clegg turn round and announce that the Lib Dems were going to give him life support to stay at Number 10? One very senior Lib Dem tells me he fears that they would be "crucified".

There is one intriguing solution to this dilemma, which is being discussed very quietly among some senior politicians. A blood sacrifice would be required to acknowledge that Labour had been rejected as a majority government in order to facilitate a coalition with the Lib Dems. The Lib Dems could even make this a condition of striking the bargain. The deal would be that Gordon Brown resigns and is replaced with a new Labour prime minister with a commitment to electoral reform. Hello and welcome to Number 10, Alan Johnson or David Miliband.

This commitment to electoral reform was proposed in May by one Alan Johnson.

It is still preferable to remove Brown before the election and put in place the man who would appeal more to the Lib Dems.  If this fails to happen, Alan Johnson could still be in a pivotal position should there be a hung parliament with Labour holding the largest number of seats.

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The reading habits of the young Eric Pickles

Eric Pickles has outed himself as a former communist.  Once-upon-a-time he had a passion for Leon Trotsky and Karl Marx:

I was massively inclined that way.  It was part of my upbringing.

I was a pretty serious young chap. For my 14th birthday I got Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution as a present — and I read the damn thing.

Good grief.  However, just two years later he changed his mind:

I was 16 years old in 1968 when Dubcek’s Spring was crushed. I was very interested in Dubcek and thought it was the natural evolution of communism. So I felt a tremendous shock when the tanks rolled into Prague.

I thought the [inaction from the] British government [of the Labour prime minister Harold Wilson] was useless, in the way that only a 16-year-old can think the British government is useless. And I thought: ‘What’s the most outrageous thing I can do to protest? I know, I’ll join the Conservative party’

Little wonder that Eric Pickles doesn't quite fit the Tory mould.

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Lights, camera, action (sometimes)

imageThose were the days.  Brown, with cameras at the ready, was warming up for the non-election of 2007.  In an attempt to wrong-foot the Tories he invited Lady Thatcher into No10 for a cuppa.

While they were having their little chat, Brown decided to commission a picture of Maggie that would hang in Downing Street.  Tomorrow the picture is unveiled but this time there will be no cameras present.  Apparently, Brown “is terrified of unflattering comparisons of their records” and doesn't wish to be photographed with Lady T amongst a group of her former advisors.  Perhaps he will be outside the famous door to meet her, unlike David Cameron who will sneak into No10 via a side entrance.

Cameras are causing a host of other problems for substance Brown.  He, along with David Cameron, have had to apologise to the Dean of Westminster Abbey for exploiting the Armistice Day service, having turned the event in a photo opportunity.

If that wasn't enough.  Earlier this month Brown was photographed jogging in a London park in full view of the cameras.  He has not been seen since and some are wondering that it must have been a stunt.

The long road to the election has begun.

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Quote of the day

Having been evacuated from her home in Cockermouth, Ann Burns met with Gordon Brown:

He tries. I'll give him that. We all need a bit of a lift.

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Tory assumptions and complacency

Matthew d'Ancona believes that next election will probably dominated by three issues:

economic competence; change versus experience; and whether the public can stand another four years of Gordon Brown (a question which, sadly for the Prime Minister, rather answers itself).

But d'Ancona has left one small matter out.  The complacency that appears to be gripping the Tory party as demonstrated on the Coffee House blog:

One interesting thing to watch after the next election is how many of the 2010 intake are offered ministerial jobs straight away. This will be a delicate party management issue for Cameron as there is already grumbling from some members of the front bench about the possibility of them being cast aside in favour of members of the 2010 intake after the election.

Not so fast, lads.  The fat lady has yet to sing.


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21 November 2009

Poll caution

There is a Ipsos-Mori poll out showing the Tory lead down to 6%.  The fieldwork was carried out in the immediate aftermath of the Glasgow North East by-election and before the Queen’s Speech:

CON 37%(-6), LAB 31%(+5), LDEM 17%(-2)

Anthony Wells rightly says:

As ever, I would urge extreme caution on any poll showing a large shift in voting intention, especially where there is no obvious reason for a large, short term movement.

We need a post Queen's Speech poll before jumping to any conclusions.  If the trend is confirmed we could be in for a very interesting few weeks as Labour MPs finally decide what to do about the leadership.

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20 November 2009

Why Baroness Ashton got the job

imageOf course, as Iain Martin suggests, it is a bizarre decision to appoint Baroness Ashton to the post of EU high representative for Foreign Affairs and security:

But this weird kind of compromise choice is what you get with backroom stitch-ups. With France and Germany settled on Van Rompuy for president, the high representative needed to be from the socialist grouping and a big country. So thoughts turned to Britain. But who did Gordon Brown have to hand after the machinations of recent weeks? Not David Miliband, or Ashdown or Patten. No, at the eleventh hour modern Britain had just Baroness Ashton to offer.

The reasons are two-fold.  Ashton got the job because Blair didn't and for the simple fact that Europe wanted a woman and Ashton was available.

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Brown has failed. Harman should resign. A joint AJ/DM ticket is required


The scene in the Commons sums up the week.  Labour MPs have lost interest.  His strategy for the autumn fightback is in tatters.  Brown’s failure is complete.

The Labour party is short of money and has fallen back on protecting the core vote.  The polls have failed to move and there is little evidence that a hung parliament is possible under Brown’s leadership.  His economic policy lacks credibility.  Brown has yet again misjudged the issue of MPs expenses.  The Queen’s Speech was too clever by half with badly thought through policy announcements that have been criticised from within the Labour party.

Now, we turn to Afghanistan.  Brown is appealing to Labour MPs by e-mail as he attempts to head off a backbench rebellion.  Frank Field, who could well play a key role in any attempt to remove Brown, has said:

We don't want an email. We want a debate. There's not a member that doesn't grow more disturbed by the scenario unfolding before us in Afghanistan. Even if some of them do not wish to change policy, there's widespread and deep unease among the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Which brings us neatly on to the PLP elections.  As discussed, there was unlikely to be a move against Brown at the PLP but the mood music has changed again since the weekend.  Barry Sheerman has now dropped his plans to stand as a “Brown must go” candidate.  However, there may well be a token challenge and it could come from Parmjit Dhanda, the MP sacked by Brown last year.

One way or another the leadership issue has to be settled.  Brown has failed and even if Labour MPs have given up, the Cabinet has to act.

A joint AJ/DM ticket would be ideal because Labour will also need a new deputy on the back of Harriet Harman’s local difficulty.  The mechanics of how this is organised are secondary to what needs to be done if Labour is deny the Tories a majority at the next election.

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Gordon has been a naughty boy

The man needs constant supervision.  HMQ is far from happy with the way her Prime Minister dressed for the Armistice Day service at Westminster Abbey.  Mandrake explains:

Brown ignored the clear advice given to male members of the congregation that they should wear morning dress or lounge suits and not dress for a funeral.

"It is fair to say that Her Majesty was not amused," says my man at the Palace. "It is a source of embarrassment to others when someone as prominent as the Prime Minister chooses to ignore the dress code."

A spokesman for the abbey tells me: "There was advice on the invitations on dress. The service was to celebrate the generation who fought in the war. Civilians were not told to wear black ties."

We can’t have the Queen upset.  Something must be done.

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Has anything changed?

Well, back to it.  Perhaps it is best to assume that Brown hasn't saved the world; that the Queen’s Speech fell apart as soon as HMQ left the Lords; that the polls haven't moved; and that Labour MPs are still dithering about the leadership.

All correct?  Good, we will move on.

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16 November 2009

Never apologise, never explain

Blog break.

Everything will be OK, Our Dear Leader is going to save the world, again.

This unbiased service will return after HMQ has launched Brown’s final bid to stay in office.

Happy days.

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15 November 2009

The message to all Labour MPs

It comes, of course, from John Rentoul.

Having quoted from an unpublished book to argue why it taken so long and four unsuitable leaders for the Tories to comes to their senses, he concludes:

It would be to defy all precedent for Labour to learn the lessons of its unpopularity before an election defeat. But there is no reason why it should go through years of introspection and four unsuitable leaders before it comes up with a good enough response to Cameron. It should know that the personality of the leader is not only critically important, but something that it could do something about in, well, about a week.

By the way, he is referring to the PLP meeting.

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David Cameron would also apologise

On Monday Kevin Rudd, Australia’s Prime Minister, will deliver a national apology to the “Forgotten Australians” and recognise the mistreatment and ongoing suffering of some 500,000 people held in orphanages or children's homes between 1930 and 1970.

It is being reported this morning that Gordon Brown, after consulting with the survivors of the programme, will apologise for the UK’s role in the new year.

Following on from this, Tim Montgomerie, the Editor of ConservativeHome, is having fun on Twitter listing all the things that Gordon Brown should apologise for.  It is in very poor taste and shows a lack of judgement on his part.

The “Forgotten Australians” is an emotive issue and still angers many people.

If David Cameron was Prime Minister today, he would also be considering the implications of the Australian apology.

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A U-turn Sunday

You remember Brown’s big speech at the party conference when he dazzled all before him with little thought though initiatives.  As usual, most of them fell apart within hours but two have lingered in the forlorn hope that maybe, just for once, they would see the light of day.  But it is not to be.

On this U-turn Sunday, Brown’s plans to end childcare vouchers have been dropped following a growing backbench revolt and over 80,000 signing a Downing Street petition.

Gordon has always said he would listen to people on this,” said a No 10 source. “There is clearly a need to look again at this issue and we hope to have something ready to announce before MPs go away for the Christmas recess”.

That is not all.

Brown’s announcement that 0.7% of national income would be “enshrined in law” will not happen.  All we will get is a draft bill in the Queens Speech, which means there is no chance of it becoming law before the election.

An NGO campaigner said:

This shouldn't involve particularly complicated legislation, given that all parties are committed to 0.7 per cent, but without a commitment to at least try to get this on the statute book before the election, it looks like an attempt to play party politics and create artificial dividing lines.

Enough said.

Other U-turns will be laid before you as Brown’s authority rapidly drains away.

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Brown has double booked.

Our Dear Leader is doing all he can to prop up support for the war in Afghanistan:

In an unprecedented move that reflects deepening anxiety in government about low morale among soldiers' relatives, the prime minister has invited 80 members of forces families, including wives and grandparents of serving soldiers, to Downing Street this week for a private reception to discuss their concerns.

However, Brown’s his best endeavours have hit a slight snag:

Brown had been due to attend the Downing Street reception but has asked his wife Sarah to do so as he has to attend a special summit in Brussels to choose the first permanent president of the European Council.

You would have thought the reception could have been rescheduled by a few hours, but no.

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14 November 2009

The polls: Brown’s leadership still in doubt

Two polls show little change:


CON 41%(nc), LAB 27%(nc), LDEM 18%(+1)


CON 39%(-1), LAB 25%(-2), LDEM 17%(-1)

ComRes also asked three questions on Afghanistan:

I would support a phased withdrawal of British forces from Afghanistan, the aim being the end of combat operations within a year or so"

Agree - 71%

Disagree - 22%

The threat of terrorism on British soil is increased by British forces remaining in Afghanistan"

Agree - 47% 

Disagree - 44%

David Cameron would handle the issue of Afghanistan better than Gordon Brown has done"

Agree - 39%      

Disagree - 46%

And, on the Sun’s treatment of Gordon Brown’s letter to the mother of Jamie Janes:

The Sun was unfair to Gordon Brown over his handwritten letter to the mother of Private Jamie Janes.

Agree 60%

Disagree 27%

The most significant finding being that 71% now want a phased withdrawal from Afghanistan.  For that to happen, Brown is totally dependent on what Obama eventually decides to do.

So, there is little comfort for Labour or Brown after his ‘week of weeks’.  Nothing has changed.  Brown’s leadership is still vulnerable to a challenge.

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What will the PLP do?

There is much sympathy out there at present for Brown after his “week of weeks” and views expressed as to whether he will now survive as Labour leader.  A key event take place next week and it worth paying some attention to the small matter of PLP elections.

Hopi Sen highlights the timetable:

The Parliamentary Labour Party has now proposed the timetable for the election for chair of the parliamentary party, which will be finalised by the whole PLP next week.

Nominations will open on the 18th November and close on the 23rd. The election itself will be on Thursday the 26th, the same day as the vote on the Queen’s speech, with the result in the early evening.

Once-upon-a-time the speculation was that Barry Sheerman would stand as a “Brown must go” candidate and Hopi wonders if this will still be the case:

Sheerman has varied his reasons for his possible challenge, sometimes saying it would be a direct challenge to Gordon Brown and at other times saying he wanted to stand because he felt the PLP hadn’t been aggressive enough in his defence of MPs over the expenses scandal.

So two interesting issues – will Sheerman stand, and on what basis?

I’d put the line on Sheerman at about 100 votes if he stood on his own, but probably less if it was an explicit challenge to the PM, especially after this week.

Polly Toynbee, once a Brown cheerleader, is convinced that he has to go if Labour are to stand a chance at the next election.  She quotes Paul Whiteley of Essex University, whose British Election Study polls every month:

Of course it can't be done with Gordon Brown as leader. Opinion has crystallised, and they won't listen to a word he says. Their mind is made up. He's a loser, and that's it.

Toynbee says the views amongst Labour MPs haven't changed:

"Febrile", "rudderless", "despaired" are all descriptions I've heard this week of Labour at Westminster. No one knows what others think but more are said to be agitating than in June, both of right and left. Like riderless horses, retiring MPs are beyond the reach of whips. A plan for someone to stand as PLP leader on a "Gordon must go" ticket hangs in the air: it would let MPs vote in a secret ballot for what they fear to say out loud.

There maybe rumblings against Brown at the PLP but Hopi has a point.  After the events of this week a move against Brown is unlikely to happen.  As noted, the parliamentary timetable makes this near impossible before Christmas.

‘A week is a long time in politics’ and for the moment the mood music has changed.  As discussed, if a challenge does come it will be in January as John Rentoul has always said.

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John Prescott is better drunk than sober

Having enjoyed himself at the The Spectator's annual parliamentary lunch in 1991, Prescott attends a Shadow Cabinet where they are discussing contacts between the opposition and civil service:

I know I'm pissed, but first I want to ask one question.  Why do I want some permanent cabinet secretary telling me things? I'll find out soon enough when we're in government.

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13 November 2009

What The Sun and Brown have in common


Enough said.

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