31 March 2010

Dissolution fever: Exclusively wrong

James Macintyre has the “exclusive” news that Brown will call the election on 6 April.  Does this mean he is the first person to inform HMQ that Brown will visit next Tuesday? 


Confirmation that the announcement will come two days after Easter contradicts speculation that rail strikes planned for that day -- which Government insiders now expect to be delayed -- would cause a delay in the announcement, possibly until as late as the week after next.


Fact check:

The latest date the dissolution can take place, if the election is to be held on 6 May, is 12 April.

Besides, Brown will be overseas on both 12 and 13 April.

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Proof that the Tory party are out of touch

From Tim Montgomerie’s ToryDiary*:

image LOL

*Noting the error of their ways the post has been removed, but it still appears on Google Reader.

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Dave, a tip from Harold Wilson

Tim Montgomerie goes into overdrive on what the Tories should do if there is a hung parliament:

The Conservatives need to draw up a plan to deal with this. They need plans to understand all the constitutional implications of a hung parliament. They need a media strategy. They need a basis for talking to the Liberal Democrats, nationalists and Northern Ireland parties. It doesn't need many people diverted to the task but it needs to be done.

In February 1974 while Ted Heath was using his unique charm on Jeremy Thorpe, Wilson retired to his home in Oxford to play ball with his dog and said nothing.

The Tories strategy, if there is a hung parliament, should be the two words that Harold Wilson used time and time again:

No comment

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Brown pleads for Blair's help

If Labour do win a fourth term, Andrew Rawnsley’s book will have to be renamed, ‘The Party Goes On and On’.

On page 655 of this endurance test, there are details of a phone call between Brown and Blair.  It took place on the night when members of the AJ4PM committee almost became national heroes.

After James Purnell resigned:

Brown rang Tony Blair for advice and asked his predecessor to intervene with Blairites to prevent them from resigning.  Brown, who had used a coup to push out Blair, had been reduced to pleading for Blair’s help to protect him from a coup.  The irony was not lost on the other man.

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The Harold Wilson way of doing things

The Guardian doesn't like the Government’s proposals on social care:

"Now is the time for bold reform," the government's white paper on social care declared yesterday. And what does that reform consist of? "At the start of the next parliament we will establish a commission to help reach a consensus." Not so bold, then, after all.

Nor does The Indy:

Yesterday's White Paper is welcome for one reason and one reason alone: it puts the argument about social care squarely on to the electoral agenda. While proposing a National Care Service that, like the NHS, would be free at the point of need, however, the Government has once again sought to duck the funding issue.

Listen up, folks.  It’s the classic Harold Wilson trick.  There was nothing he would like more than to toss difficult issues into the long grass by publishing a White Paper or by appointing a commission or two.

Oh, and he did win four elections.

That’s politics, stupid.

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Gordon Brown to remain as PM shock

The dead-tree press have cleared another forest to report the non-news that:

In the event of a hung parliament, Mr Brown initially remains the Prime Minister, and is entitled to have the first attempt at forming a government.

As has always been the case.

Meanwhile, over at The Guardian:

It also emerged today that it is possible that the chancellor, Alistair Darling, could even remain in his post – in charge of policy on sterling – pending the formation of the government, even in the event that he has lost his parliamentary seat.

It has been the custom and practice for years, even if they lose their seats, that existing ministers stay in post until a new government is formed.

Finally, over at The Telegraph:

The new guidelines make it clear that the Queen could refuse a request for a new election if it were close to the first. The last hung parliament was in 1974 when the Tory Prime Minister Edward Heath lost the Commons in the February general election, failed to form a coalition with the Liberals and resigned several days later.

Harold Wilson formed a minority Labour government and in November asked the Queen for another election.

Fact check: The second 1974 general election took place on 10 October.

A no news story.  Move along.

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Poll shock

Following George Osborne’s non-game-changing moment, the Tories drop to 38% in the latest poll.

But there is another startling revelation:

Whom do you rate as the better Prime Minister, Tony Blair or Gordon Brown?

Tony Blair (Prime Minister 1997-2007) - 50 per cent

Gordon Brown (Prime Minister since 2007) - 16 per cent

Don't know - 33 per cent

Presumably the “don’t knows” have forgotten how good he is.

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30 March 2010

Dave, are you really the heir to Blair?

You have to admit it, nobody does it better.  Tony Blair gave a masterclass performance this morning.  Forget the negative spin the Tories are attempting to put on his speech, the points he raised are the ones they are going to have to answer in the coming weeks

On change:

As I always used to say when some in our ranks urged a mantra of "time for a change" in 1997, it is the most vacuous slogan in politics. "Time for a change" begs the question: change to what exactly? And the reason an election that seemed certain to some in its outcome is now in sharp contention lies precisely in that question.

On policy:

When it comes to the big policy issues, there is a puzzle, that has turned into a problem, that has now become a long, hard pause for thought: where are they centred? Is there a core? Think of all the phrases you associate with their leadership and the phrase "you know where you are with them" is about the last description you would think of.

On Europe, they've gone right when they should have gone centre. On law and order, they've gone liberal when actually they should have stuck with a traditional Conservative position. And on the economy they seem to be buffeted this way and that, depending less on where they think the country should be, than on where they think public opinion might be.

But Blair has done something more than take the fight to the Tories head on.  His speech also sent a powerful reminder to his party that, if they lose, the New Labour agenda must be continued.  In a subtle way he was endorsing David Miliband as the next leader.

At the end of the day the challenge Blair set the Labour party and Gordon Brown in 2006 is still shining in neon lights:

If we can't take this lot apart in the next few years we shouldn't be in the business of politics at all.

The brakes have finally come off Labour's election winning machine.  Blair's carefully crafted speech has launched Labour's bid for a fourth term.

It remains to be seen if Brown and Mandelson can now “take this lot apart”.



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The return of Tony Blair

The story goes that during Tony Blair's final speech to the Labour conference, George Osborne text his colleagues: “Thank God he’s going”.  Not for the first time, the Shadow Chancellor spoke too early.  Later today, the three-time election-winner returns to the hustings:

In a speech at the Trimdon Labour Club in Sedgefield, his former constituency, Blair will say that in his opinion the Tories have not been through the fundamental rethink of their policies that marked Labour in opposition.

Blair is reported not to be planning a personal attack on David Cameron, partly because he feels that is not the appropriate way for a former prime minister to behave, and partly because he feels that it would detract from his central message on the economy.

Labour will be hoping that Blair’s persuasive communications skills can, once again, capture the votes of middle England .  However, if he becomes the story, or if Iraq raises its head, then Labour will have to decide if he continues to play a role in the campaign.

Presumably, it’s for those reasons, he being given a dry run this week.

Gordon Brown, more than anyone else, will be hoping that Blair's return can make up for his own obvious shortfalls.

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We still need that game-changing moment

Three more polls show a slow drift back to the Tories.  It will be enough to boost Team Cameron’s morale in the final few days before Brown goes to the Palace, but, in reality, the Tories should be further ahead and they know it.

According to ComRes, neither party is impressing the punters:

Fifty per cent of people regard it as "unthinkable" to elect Mr Brown for another five years, while 44 per cent disagree with this statement. Almost one in four Labour supporters believe electing Mr Brown for another term would be "unthinkable". However, 51 per cent say they personally feel no enthusiasm for the Conservative Party, with 42 per cent disagreeing. Remarkably, a quarter (24 per cent) of those people who intend to vote Tory say they have no enthusiasm for the party.

It’s as if time has stood still.  The old chestnuts of the Labour leadership and the failure of the Tories to get its muddled message across are the two issues that keep rebounding again and again.

Steve Richards calls the Tory leadership “unprincipled amateurs” following their “rushed announcement on a cut in National Insurance” and concludes:

A more nimble-footed governing party could take this confused, inexperienced Conservative leadership to the cleaners.

But, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, it’s going to happen.  Mandelson & Co have just been kicking the ball around within the centre circle in this pre-election period.  There is no need for the “underdog” to peak early.  Why should Labour make the running while the Tories keep exposing themselves with their muddled thinking?

Soon the phoney war will end and the deadly game of winning the election will begin.  What the campaign will need is a game-changing moment that will inspire and engage the voters.  The party that can provide this will win the election, no matter what the polls say at the present time.

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29 March 2010

The Chancellors’ debate: It should have been Ken Clarke

It wasn't enlightening nor a game changer, but nobody bombed.

The important point is whether voters perceptions of Darling, Osborne and Cable were changed by the debate.

However, the trick that the Tories have missed is not having appointed Ken Clarke as Shadow Chancellor.

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Osborne's Monday blues: Dave speaks about “efficiency savings”

Hopi Sen, one of ‘the clever people’, has done some homework.

Is tonight’s debate still on?

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And so ends the career of Vince Cable

Vince’s retirement message in full:

Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman, has been forced into an embarrassing apology after exaggerating his own economic importance.

Mr Cable earlier this month claimed to have been consulted by the Treasury about his party’s policies and suggested the talks were a prelude to his becoming Chancellor in the event of a hung parliament.

It later emerged that the meeting with Sir Nicholas McPherson, the permanent secretary at the Treasury, had been a “courtesy call” requested by Mr Cable himself.

We all wish Vince every success for the future.

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Osborne’s Monday blues: “Efficiency savings”

While we wait for ‘the clever people’ to driving a coach and horses through to give there considered judgement on Osborne’s “efficiency savings”, down at The Voters’ Arms the punters don't understand what the Tory party are going on about.

Osborne was asked at the press conference this morning if the Tories were worried about Blair returning to the hustings tomorrow.

Perhaps Osborne should be been asked to give his opinion on the likelihood of Peter Mandelson becoming Foreign Secretary after the election.

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The Tory mood down in leafy Surrey

A comment attached to Jackie Ashley's column in The Guardian:

It's very clear even here in the Tory heartland (Surrey) that they haven't sealed the deal. The feeling is much more one of resignation than excitement with the Tory faithful (pretty much 100% Thatcherite, not Cameroon) thinking we need to support him for the election but we really don't like him. Loads peeling off to UKIP.

I'd expect the Lib Dems to do much better than the polls might suggest.

If the one man band called David Cameron's Conservatives lose the election stand-by for civil war.

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Might June 3rd just be back on the agenda?

Mike Smithson should know better than to ask.  Perhaps he does it just to wind John Rentoul up.

Then again, the answer could be ‘yes’ if Brown wishes to be ridiculed and ensure a Tory landslide.

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Labour’s tax bombshell

Let’s go back to the Budget and remind ourselves of the key line from Darling’s statement:

I have no further announcements on VAT, on income tax, or national insurance rates.

Today, after much speculation, Team Cameron will announce that they will reverse part of Labour’s national insurance rise due to come into effect next year:

It is understood that the Tories would reduce the planned rise by about half, although only low and middle-income earners would benefit.

The Shadow Chancellor will indicate that the cost of easing the burden of the NI increase will be met by cuts in public spending rather than a new tax rise, such as lifting VAT. It is not clear, however, where the axe would fall.

This is clever wheeze to set the agenda ahead of tonight’s debate with Cable and Darling.  But it could come apart very quickly unless Osborne sets out exactly how the NI reduction will be paid for.

Now back to Darling’s statement.  On the surface, it could be concluded that Labour will saying nothing further about VAT, tax and NI before the election.  However, it’s possible they have a cunning plan.

What was not mentioned, or even raised in any of the post Budget analysis, is what Labour will do about the 50p tax rate that kicks in next week.  As discussed, the tax is not expected to raise much revenue and the Treasury may have put pressure on Darling to drop it.

Play this out.  We get the Osborne's announcement with the predictable Labour response.  The debate follows where we will learn very little.  Then, during the campaign, Labour drops its tax bombshell by abolishing the 50p rate, which will not involve cuts elsewhere.

If this happens it would cost the Tories support in marginal held seats, as it will bring an immediate tax benefit.  Not only that, but it destroys the Tory argument that they are a tax cutting party.

The Tories should pay more attention to Darling’s statement.  It rules nothing out for what Labour may announce during the campaign.

Mandelson & Co are going to play the Tories at the own game and trump them on tax cuts.

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28 March 2010

A safe pair of eyebrows

Ed Balls would be well advised to steer clear of the Sunday papers where he will find nothing but praise for Alistair Darling.

Mandelson describes him as a “safe pair of eyebrows” and:

There is no showing off, there is no bravado about him. He says it as it is. I texted him and said, “Alistair, you are in danger of becoming a national treasure.”

Steady on, old chap.  Whatever next?

Labour’s ‘priceless asset’ is taking it all his stride in hours before his next big test:

Tomorrow evening, he will face his Tory and Lib Dem shadows in a Channel 4 debate, effectively the first big televised showdown of the election campaign. Preoccupied with the budget for several weeks, he has not been thinking about the debate. One of his aides suggested that the chancellor might like to spend some time preparing.

He responded: "Why?"

Now, Alan Watkins joins the party:

The hero of the hour, if that is what he can be called, is Mr Alistair Darling.

He resembles a piece of the good ship New Labour that is still afloat, just about. The struggling crew are clinging to the wreckage. He is like a Scots lawyer (which is, after all, what he is) who tells the assembled family that, with a little saving here and there, they can just about manage to get by.

Last but certainly not least, John Rentoul puts the icing on the cake.

Good grief  One throw-away line and the AD4PM committee has been formed.

But wait.  The coming man has given an interview to GQ magazine:

Mr Darling said he had "absolutely" no desire to lead the Labour Party.

Of course not, Darling.

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A campaign all about George and Brown

On the day the clocks change, the policy debate stops.  The election turns into a battle between the two ‘weakest links’.

First, the non-shock of the day.  Labour have decided “to focus on Osborne as the prime target throughout the campaign”.

A senior Labour party insider said mocked-up images of Osborne standing outside 11 Downing Street had been tried out on the focus groups and had drawn very negative responses.

Then comes the jaw-dropping comment:

The intention is not to make it personal, but to make it about policy.

Mandelson is going to enjoy himself.

The Tories have brought this upon themselves.  They could and should have moved Osborne away from the front line weeks ago and replaced him with Ken Clarke.  It is too late now.  If Osborne performs badly in the Channel 4 debate on Monday, where he will be besieged by both Darling and Cable, the Labour attacks will only intensify. 

Second, we come to Gordon Brown.  It hasn't taken long for M&C Saatchi to come up with the obvious negative posters.


Their target is an easy one, but how will the posters go down with the voters?  Have the Tories panicked and played their thump card too early?  If they don't work, then where do they go from here?

If only the Cabinet had done the necessary and replaced Brown will Alan Johnson, then Saatchi would have faced a more difficult challenge.  In fact, they probably would have turned the work down.

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The second edition of the NoTW hits the streets

Not on-line yet:

Which is why, after much soul-searching after a phone call from Rupert and pressure from Andy Coulson, the News of the World believes that David Cameron and the Tory Party must now be given the chance to run the country.

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27 March 2010

It’s the strikes, stupid

Three polls out tonight.


CON 39%(+1), LAB 31%(-1), LDEM 19%(nc)


CON 37%(nc), LAB 32%(-1), LDEM 19%(+1)


CON 37%(+1), LAB 30%(-4), LDEM ?

Forget the vacuous pledge card.  Get the strikes called off, Gordon.

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Is Bob Crow a Tory secret agent?

Asks Iain Martin.  Yes, but only for “40 days and 40 nights”.

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Tax cuts! The Tories are having a laugh

Are you sitting comfortably?  Good.  So, listen up.  The Tory party, in an attempt to resurrect its faltering campaign, is going to offer tax cuts.

Michael Crick confirmed on Newsnight that the Tories will stop next year's rise in national insurance contributions.  It will be announced in the next few days, but, as yet, there are no details where the money will come from.

Let’s get this straight.  The country has no money.  Our debts are nearly £900bn and this year the deficit is £167bn.  We all know that, after the election, public expenditure will be cut and taxes will have to rise further than has already been announced.

Even a cynical and sceptical electorate understand that in these dire circumstances what you give with one hand, you take with the other.

So, how do you sell a tax cut?

Team Cameron, it’s over to you.

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The quotes of the day from Gordon Brown

Interviewed by The Guardian:

Show me a soldier who has made no mistakes and I will show you a soldier who has won no battles.


You have got to be honest that sometimes you do make mistakes.


The only thing the Conservatives seem to have changed is their advertising agency

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“Of course” Darling

Asked if Alistair Darling would remain as Chancellor if Labour wins the election, Brown said:

Of course. He is doing a great job.

But, he didn't use the words ‘he will’ or ‘definitely’, so there is some wiggle room.

However, it is a smart move because it stops at a stroke the issue being raised during the campaign.

Clever Gordon.

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26 March 2010

Tory panic attack

Initiated by Peter Kellner via FT Westminster:

At a press event today, Peter Kellner of YouGov explained that Bullygate, Ashcroftgate and Lobbygate made no discernible difference to the polls. The response of voters was: ’so what?’

He put the Tory decline down to two other factors.

First, the economy has noticeably picked up but people sense it is a fragile recovery. It has brought out a defensive instinct and raised the perceived risks of change.

Second, voters are less convinced by Cameron and Osborne. As the chart below shows, Cameron’s ratings have been in slow but steady decline since October.

Earlier this week just 30 per cent of respondents thought he would make the best prime minister — the lowest level since February 2008. It’s hard to pinpoint what turned people off. But given the Tories opened this year with a nationwide campaign focussed on Cameron, this trend will be worrying.


Good grief.  Time to place a bet.

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Dissolution fever

Ben Brogan speculates that the dissolution may not happen on 6 April but on 7 April to allow PMQs to take place.  Technically this is correct.

However, when Brown goes to the Palace he seeks a dissolution.  Parliament is not actually dissolved for a few days to allow for the “wash-up”.  So, Brown could in fact see HMQ on 6 April and there would still be PMQs on 7 April.

Whatever.  The important point to note is the latest date for the dissolution that allows for 6 May election is 12 April.  However, it’s likely to be earlier than this to allow Brown to have his picture taken with Obama.

But, then again, Brown could surprise us all.  He due to speak at the Scottish Labour party spring conference on Saturday.  And, as it so happens, he has already had a chat with HMQ this week.

Just a thought.

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Oh no, not another leadership committee

John Rentoul is on the verge of forming another committee.  This one will devote its efforts on deciding what happens if the Tories lose the election.

This committee only needs to meet once.

As Iain Martin rightly says there will be civil war.

Rentoul speculates who will take over:

The bookmakers have William Hague, Boris Johnson and George Osborne as joint favourites. But that says it all. Cameron stays.

Not agreed.

Further nomination.

Liam Fox

Meeting adjourned.

Let’s concentrate on the future of the Labour party, old friend.

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The strikes: ‘Beer and sandwiches’ by telephone will not do the trick

The Guardian has the details of exactly what went on last Friday evening as Brown attempted in vain to get the BA strike called off.  The problem.  It was all done over the telephone.

The penny will have to drop very soon that the only way to negotiate is by sitting round the table with one party at a time, and then with both.

Although there has been little movement in the polls to date, that will soon change if the rail strike takes place:

One cabinet member was told by Brown that evening that if the strike went ahead, the election would be lost. The stakes were that high.

Former cabinet members in marginals insist the threat of a return to union militancy is playing terribly. The polls may be lagging behind a mood that could turn sour if there is an outbreak of transport strikes through the election.

Media sound bites will not solve the strikes.  As discussed, the Government will have to get involved with the rail strike.  Brown should be seen in his attempts to solve the BA strike.  It is a risk worth taking.

If Brown succeeds, it will be the perfect platform to launch the election campaign.

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“We can’t go on like this”

There is no end of the lesson for the Tory party.  Clearly in a blind panic after their recent slump in the polls, ill-thought-out-measures are to be laid before us.

First out of the traps is a proposal to stop next year's rise in national insurance contributions.  The problem is that they haven't worked out how to fund it:

But it would deprive an incoming Cameron government of about £7bn a year of revenue and, to have a credible platform, the party would have to spell out how that would be found.


The Tory manifesto will include plans to reward marriage in the tax system and to raise the threshold for inheritance tax from £325,000 to £1m.

Oh dear.  Why saying anything until the plans are watertight and it can be proved how they are to be funded.

This, of course, is exactly where Peter Mandelson wants the Tories to be:

To govern is to choose. And if the Tories want the public to choose them, they need to say how they would govern. David Cameron has no manifesto and no mandate. If he doesn't like what we are doing, quite simply, what on tax and spending would he do instead?


Not to worry.  To paper over the cracks of the Tory party’s campaign, Lord Saatchi has been wheeled back in to save the day.  A poster “showing 365 pictures of Gordon Brown will carry a strapline with words which are expected to ask: "Could you really bear another year of this?"

Perhaps it would be better if he produced a poster saying:

Thank God for the trade unions.

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What Geoff Hoon should have said

Heaven help those who dig holes for themselves, and for some unexplained reason, keep going.

Geoff Hoon, one of the three former Cabinet ministers under investigation over allegations of lobbying, has just been interviewed on Today.

He needs learn to use a simple phrase:


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Derailed by a Crow

Strikes are like buses.  They all come along at once.

The threatened rail strike is one where the Government is directly involved, so let’s put one matter to bed.  Lord Adonis, the Transport Secretary, shouldn't be allowed to get away with this:

Both sides should seek to resolve this dispute by negotiation and not confrontation, and I am urging them to do so.

One side of the rail dispute is the Government.  Network Rail is a nationalised industry.  We own it and take all the risks.  Adonis sets the parameters, though the Rail Regulator, on how the railways are managed and maintained.  He has the ultimate responsibility for the infrastructure, but not for the trains.

On the other side of the fence sits Bob Crow, who has no allegiance to the Labour party, only to his members.  There is nothing he would like more than to cause a spot of bother during an election campaign.

The reasons why the strike has been called are complex and go back to the days when one Stephen Byers, who made the decision to renationalise the railways, was Transport Secretary.  It’s all to do with driving down the costs of keeping an aging network operational.  New technology has been introduced for maintenance, which utilises less labour.

What hasn't helped is that the Office of Rail Regulation issued a letter saying that Network Rail’s efficiency targets may imperil safety, which they will not.  But that is what comrade Crow has focussed on.

The RMT union is not another Unite. Its structure is simple.  There are no unions within unions with different agendas.

For obvious reasons both Network Rail and the Government will want this dispute resolved.  There is plenty of time, but Lord Adonis will have to get involved.  The statement he made was disingenuous, and he knows it.

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25 March 2010

Andrew Rawnsley’s brass neck

Interesting tweet:


Perhaps Rawnsley will publish a supplement to his book?

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Time for Cameron to get his act together

David Cameron is turning into an angry man.  His reply to Darling certainly woke everybody up, but he didn't have much to say: ‘What a load of rubbish.  It’s all Gordon Brown’s fault.  Clear off.  The country needs us.  Goodnight’.

The problem is the electorate are not exactly warming to the Prime Minister-in-waiting.  The latest poll, taken before the Darling medicine had been swallowed, will start the panic bells ringing:

CON 36%(-1), LAB 34%(+1), LDEM 17%(-1)

Then we move to the line in Darling’s speech that they should pay close attention to:

I have no further announcements on VAT, on income tax, or national insurance rates.

Were the Tories listening?  Are they prepared for the onslaught from Labour that will start very soon?  Just what are the Tories proposals for tax and and public spending?

Well, we don’t know and that is a problem for Team Cameron.  If they are not clear, the Tories will be labelled as not ready for government.  If they are, Labour will paint them as being too austere, ‘doom and gloom merchants’ and a party that will not fund growth and the investment needed to create jobs.

Team Cameron have lost momentum,  They need to do some quick thinking and fancy footwork to get their show back on the road.

If the polls continue along their present trend, the Tories will become reactive and push forward policies to protect their core vote.  Immigration, anyone?

Nothing will please Mandelson & Co more if that happens.

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It’s the election, stupid

Instantaneous comment on a Budget that Brown has crawled over has proved an unwise game to play.  The next few days will determine whether Darling's lifeless speech, which Peter Mandelson’s fingerprints were embedded into, withstands the scrutiny it will come under.

The chances are that it will, even if the growth forecasts are not sustainable.  Fraser Nelson, who usually takes much pleasure in ripping Brown’s efforts apart, can’t find much to moan about:

Unless there is something buried so deep in the Red Book that I haven't seen it, then it is as benign a budget as we could have realistically hoped for under the circumstances.

But, of course, it wasn't a Budget; more of an election rallying cry.  All Darling needed to say was: ‘We are for the many, not the few.  We’re the people who got you through the worst recession in memory, we took the tough responsible decisions, trust us.  Why take risks with the other lot?  This is no time for novices.’

Instead we had an hour of therapy, as Darling attempted to keep us all happy until after election.  We got the dividing lines, the rabbits and a well delivered wheeze about Lord Ashcroft, which apart from keeping his name up in lights, won’t achieve much.

The warning signs about the painful cuts to come were neatly left out of anything Darling had to say, and issued in the form of press releases, dressed up as “efficiency savings”.

So, we wait to see if the Darling medicine works and the patient is kept happy.  As discussed, if the pills do their job, and Labour hold on to power, it may prove very difficult for Ed Balls to fulfil his ambition to become Chancellor.  AD4PM, anyone?

This was a non-budget for the next six weeks, not for the real world that will exist after polling day.  Darling fired the starting gun, as he set out how Labour will fight the election campaign, so let’s get on with it.

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24 March 2010

Budget Day: Keeping the voters happy

The waiting is over.  After the endless speculation, we reach the day when Labour launches its bid for a fourth election victory.

There will key words; “recovery”, “investment”, “jobs”, statistics galore, lots of cheering, waving of order papers, slaps on the Chancellor’s back when he sits down and far too much analysis.  You never know, Brown may even smile as the Budget speech unfolds.

Labour has done well to lower expectations ahead of the great day.  The overnight polls, despite the strikes and the lobbying scandal, are still indicating a hung parliament.  The underdog, as Mandelson described New Labour last year, are well placed to deny the Tories their expectant election victory.

As Team Cameron nervously counts down the hours until Darling gets to his feet, what should we look out for?

Two small matters are most important; satisfying the markets that Labour is doing enough to tackle the deficit, but, above all, keeping the patient happy and content until polling day. 

There will, of course, be Brown’s famous dividing lines to wrong foot the Tories, plus a few rabbits and plenty of sweets to keep us all happy.  Above all, the Budget will be very political.

What Labour will want to avoid is the usual slump in the polls that has happened after recent Budgets.  The presentation must be watertight and not unravel after a few clever people have studied the small print.

When Cameron gets up to reply we will get the usual cry of doom and gloom and the boring attacks on Gordon Brown, which are not going down well with the punters.  Perhaps he will surprise us all and finally behave as a Prime Minister-in-waiting should, but it is doubtful.

Once the show is over comes the hard sell, when we can expect Labour to focus their efforts on exposing George Osborne.  He will come under tremendous pressure over the next few days to explain where the Tories will cut and when.

At the end of the day what will matter to Brown and Mandelson is how the Budget plays out in The Voters’ Arms.

If they do succeed in keeping the patient happy and a momentum builds and the Red Book doesn't fall apart, why wait until 6 April to call the election?

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23 March 2010

“Can we stop for a second”

The Prime Minister-in-waiting in action:


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Blaming the Blairites

From Guido Fawkes:

A Blairite source tells Guido that Ed Balls is already telling Labour colleagues that the blame for a potential Labour defeat lies with the Blairites for (a) rocking the boat with repeated attempted coups (b) getting caught money grubbing. Coincidentally he is expected to be Charlie Whelan’s chosen candidate against Blair’s protege Miliband. Nothing like getting your attack in first…

If Labour is not careful, it will declare civil war before the election.

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AJ4PM: The committee are now in agreement

Back we go to John Rentoul’s latest post on our favourite subject.  The emeritus chairman of the AJ4PM campaign point is taken; if Labour are the largest party after the election, it will prove difficult to remove Brown.

One, Brown is continuing to make overtures to the Lib Dems.  Today’s olive branch of fixed-term parliaments will go down well with Clegg & Co.

Two, for reasons discussed earlier, Mandelson’s influence is now weakened.

However, the committee should keep an eye on the polls and pay attention to what Brown and Clegg say during the campaign.

Since Sunday morning, the goalposts have moved and may do so again over the next few weeks.

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Why Cameron can’t ‘seal the deal’

At his press conference, Cameron overreached himself:

All of the things that Labour are saying are complete and utter lies.

They are appalling people, the sooner they are out of the government of this country the better.

Not the language a Prime Minister-in-waiting should be using, especially one that still needs to attract floating voters.

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The future of the Blairites

There can be little doubt that Mandelson must feel very let down by the three former Blairite ministers caught red-handed by the latest lobbying scandal.  Looking shattered by the day’s events, Mandelson gave a below par performance on Newsnight, where he debated with a poorly briefed Ken Clarke.

Now let’s go back to last December.  Rachel Sylvester has the details of how Mandelson made the decision to cut the budget for higher education:

Backed by Lord Mandelson, the Chancellor has won his battle to stop the Prime Minister contrasting Labour “investment” with Tory “cuts”. For months the two men have been fighting a guerrilla war against Mr Brown’s beloved strategy. Just before Christmas, for example, Lord Mandelson shot off a letter, while on a trip to India, to the chairman of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, informing him of a £398 million reduction in the 2010 budget for universities. The note caused mayhem at No 10, because nobody knew in advance that it was being sent; but by the time Mr Brown realised what was going on, the cut was a fait accompli.

The conclusion has to be that he didn't clear it with Brown because it have would not have been approved.  But, was this such a smart tactical move?  Brown tends to remember these little incidents and store them away for future use.

Forward the clock to this morning and to a remark that Nick Robinson made on Today:

Nick Robinson began the package by saying that Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon have not been told in person that they are being suspended from the Labour party. A source close to one of them told Robinson their suspension was pure "revenge plus" because of the role they played in trying to undermine Gordon Brown.

Up to a point.  If Hoon, Hewitt and Byers have broken Labour party rules, then their suspension is justified.  However, Brown will use this lobbying scandal to further isolate the Blairites.

So, we have the Mandelson incident and the isolation of the Blairites.  Now, add to this mix the cunning plan that Unite have up their sleeve to deposit a coach load of MPs onto the Labour benches that are not keen to take the New Labour project forward.

Stir all that together and conclusion has to be that it will be easier for Brown to remain as leader after the election, and clear the way for Ed Balls to become the next Labour leader.

On Newsnight, for the first time, there were signs from Mandelson that he could see the New Labour project slipping away.

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Can Alistair Darling pull it off?

Not to be outdone by Channel 4’s Dispatches programme and what followed, the BBC has discovered that 20 MPs have broken rules by failing to declare trips paid for by foreign governments.

Although Peter Mandelson was referring to Byers on Newsnight, his comment did sum up the day:

It is extremely disappointing and it is very sad and rather grubby.

Hopi Sen makes the point that we are on the verge of having two elections:

The first General Election we could have would be about the interests of politicians. It would be about corrupt MPs, about expenses claims, about lobbying and about a system that seems to be about serving the interests of the political and financial elite, not the people.

The other election we could have would be about the interests of the voters. It would be about jobs, and taxes, and growth. It would be about industry, and capital lending and petrol prices. It would be about immigration, infrastructure and insecurity.

Despite everything, I believe this second election is the one the voters are focussed on.  It is why I think the polls generally show a trend of narrowing Tory leads as people focus on the choice the country faces.

This is a similar argument to one first advanced by Daniel Finkelstein, and both are right to to draw this conclusion.

As Hopi says, the one remaining opportunity for Labour to set the agenda ahead of the election is the Budget.

If Alistair Darling does pull a few rabbits out of the hat tomorrow, it will be him, rather than Balls or Cable, that will have the claim to be Chancellor after the election, if Labour form the next government.

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22 March 2010

AJ4PM: Strategy revisited

The AJ4PM committee is a prefect model.  Meetings take place in the open, there are no little cabals and the motives of its members are honourable.  All we have attempted to do is make the case and demonstrate why the Labour party would be better placed to win a fourth term, if it had a leader who could communicate and sell its message rather better than Gordon Brown.

If the Cabinet and Labour MPs had acted as they had been advised, this little committee would have disbanded and regrouped to determine who should replace Alan Johnson during Labour's fourth term.

However, our small task continues, mainly due to the failure of Team Cameron to ‘seal the deal’.  This unexpected event has resulted in the polls indicating there may well be a hung parliament after the election, where Labour is almost certain to be the largest party.  That being the case, then the Lib Dems may well be called upon for its support.

Until yesterday, our esteemed chairman was advocating that Alan Johnson would be best placed to cut a deal with the Lib Dems.   Then suddenly there was an about turn.

Today, John Rentoul has responded:

If the choice for Labour MPs were to ditch Brown or go into opposition, they would ditch Brown. But it would not be. My point is that, if Labour were the largest party, all Brown has to do is to persuade Clegg not to oppose his continuing as Prime Minister. Once again, the key point is this:

There is a limit to what Nick Clegg can say No to.

Well, the small problem is that Clegg has already said no, and it will be very difficult for him to swallow his words.  Moreover, an unelected Prime Minister, with a 60 seat majority in his back pocket has failed, if he is not returned with a mandate at a subsequent election.

Anyway, if the polls remain as now, the campaign may very well determine if Clegg can indeed work with Brown, as the question is bound to be raised as we near election day.

One further point that our chairman needs to consider:

Brown’s removal would make it far easier for David Miliband to eventually succeed or become leader of the Labour party at the same time Johnson become Prime Minister under an arrangement with the Lib Dems.

After his experience of recent weeks, David Cameron would surely agree it is always advisable to have an agreed strategy and avoid U-turns.  On the other hand, we should be thankful to him for allowing us to have this little discussion.

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The Obama way

Now Barack Obama has achieved the miracle, it’s worth reflecting on what he said to the House Democratic Congress before the historic vote:

Sometimes I think about how I got involved in politics. I didn't think of myself as a potential politician when I get out of college. I went to work in neighbourhoods, working with Catholic churches in poor neighbourhoods in Chicago, trying to figure out how people could get a little bit of help. And I was sceptical about politics and politicians, just like a lot of Americans are sceptical about politics and politicians are right now. Because my working assumption was when push comes to shove, all too often folks in elected office, they're looking for themselves and not looking out for the folks who put them there; that there are too many compromises; that the special interests have too much power; they just got too much clout; there's too much big money washing around.

Something inspired you to get involved, and something inspired you to be a Democrat instead of running as a Republican. Because somewhere deep in your heart you said to yourself, I believe in an America in which we don't just look out for ourselves, that we don't just tell people you're on your own, that we are proud of our individualism, we are proud of our liberty, but we also have a sense of neighbourliness and a sense of community and we are willing to look out for one another and help people who are vulnerable and help people who are down on their luck and give them a pathway to success and give them a ladder into the middle class. That's why you decided to run.

And now a lot of us have been here a while and everybody here has taken their lumps and their bruises. And it turns out people have had to make compromises, and you've been away from families for a long time and you've missed special events for your kids sometimes. And maybe there have been times where you asked yourself, why did I ever get involved in politics in the first place? And maybe things can't change after all. And when you do something courageous, it turns out sometimes you may be attacked. And sometimes the very people you thought you were trying to help may be angry at you and shout at you. And you say to yourself, maybe that thing that I started with has been lost.

But you know what? Every once in a while, every once in a while a moment comes where you have a chance to vindicate all those best hopes that you had about yourself, about this country, where you have a chance to make good on those promises that you made in all those town meetings and all those constituency breakfasts and all that travelling through the district, all those people who you looked in the eye and you said, you know what, you're right, the system is not working for you and I'm going to make it a little bit better.

And this is one of those moments. This is one of those times where you can honestly say to yourself, doggone it, this is exactly why I came here. This is why I got into politics. This is why I got into public service. This is why I've made those sacrifices. Because I believe so deeply in this country and I believe so deeply in this democracy and I'm willing to stand up even when it's hard, even when it's tough.

Every single one of you have made that promise not just to your constituents but to yourself. And this is the time to make true on that promise. We are not bound to win, but we are bound to be true. We are not bound to succeed, but we are bound to let whatever light we have shine. We have been debating health care for decades. It has now been debated for a year. It is in your hands. It is time to pass health care reform for America, and I am confident that you are going to do it tomorrow.

Selling and communicating wrapped up in one neat package.  A unique attribute that has allowed him to achieve what all former Presidents of the United States have failed to do.

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Brown’s unknown unknowns

What could not be foretold when Brown decided against a March election, were the small unwelcome events that would inevitably bubble to surface.

First, we have “bitter British Airways dispute” that Brown is now urgently attempting to resolve.  As discussed, that will not be easy due to the fractured structure that exists within Unite:

Government sources claim a deal to prevent the walkouts was in sight last Thursday, but Tony Woodley, Unite's joint general secretary, was given little room for manoeuvre by hardline shop stewards and officials representing the cabin crew union Bassa.

The threatened RMT action is another headache that Brown could well do without, but Acas should be able to come up with a remedy later this week.  Neither Network Rail or the RMT itself can afford for this dispute to result in strike action.  The railways, despite Lord Adonis’s best efforts, are still a weak child.

To cap all this off, we have the civil service action and the expected picket line that will not-so-tactfully be placed outside the Commons on Budget Day.

Team Cameron are having great delight with all this, as well they might.  However, to compare the present little difficulties with the Winter of Discontent is a big mistake.  The unions, thanks to Margaret Thatcher, do not have the collective power nor the membership they once had.  Moreover, the legal framework they exist under today is completely different to what it was 30 years ago.

Secondly, we have a new lobbying scandal that is dominating the headlines.  Again, Team Cameron have been quick to jump up and down with obvious comments over leaked extracts of a programme that that has yet to broadcast.

At the end of the day, these are unwelcome distractions in the pre-budget period for the Labour party, even if Cameron may have overplayed his hand.

There could well be other ‘unknown unknowns’ in the pipe line.  After all, it was over the Easter weekend last year that Damian McBride became a national figure.

Sometime soon we will focus on the boring unpalatable policy issues that are facing our damp islands, but not until after the election.

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‘Mandelson’s fingerprints’

From The Times:

Mandelson’s fingerprints are all over Chancellor’s ‘workmanlike’ Budget

Indeed they are.

The report goes on to mention possible budget measures:

A proposed new green investment bank to fund renewable energy schemes

Shaving future borrowing forecasts

Cash for schemes to help youth training and other employment schemes

Tax breaks for small businesses to help them to retain staff

Above-inflation rises in alcohol and cigarette duty

Deferring the 2.5p fuel duty increase due on April 1

What has happened to the abolition of the 50p tax rate and the other ‘dividing lines’ that will wrong foot the Tories?

In two days those goodies will be unwrapped.

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