Friday, 30 April 2010

Final Debate: The Verdict

This strange election campaign is now effectively over. Yet we still have another week of campaigning  to come. The campaign has been dominated by those debates and, now that they are done, we have a phoney war until polling day. Barring another debacle like Wednesday (the Paxman interview tonight?) it is hard to see anything making any difference between now and next Thursday, not even the return of orange mid Atlantic man Blair to the campaign trail.

Last night's debate was a Cameron victory. He didn't score a knock-out blow but he took on Brown and Clegg, was more aggressive and assertive. Clegg was as polished as previously but his line about being new and different and the constant posing about being above the fray was wearisome and now rather tired and hackneyed. He had nothing new to say and also came unstuck on policy after Cameron's attacks. His policy on immigration is an achilles heel and he became shrill when talking about it. He also got his facts wrong. EU immigration does not make up 80% and yet he kept repeating this. Today Paddy Ashdown has done the same, unchallenged by interviewers unlike on Newsnight last night.

Brown was just Brown. This was a slightly better performance from him - all three leaders have got used to the format and have improved - but he gurned hopelessly, told very obvious lies about Conservative policy and was neatly skewered by Cameron. Brown tried to undo the damage of Wednesday but his line won't work. Yes he makes mistakes he told us but he knows how to run an economy. Really, Gordon? The public doesn't buy this. Yesterday a voter on the campaign trail told him their company was doing well despite him. It is a widely held view. Brown thinks the economy is his trump card. The electorate sees things differently.

So now we have to await the verdict of the public. Brown is toast, we can all see that and so can his party.  It was the case before Wednesday but that was the final nail in his coffin. If he were an injured animal we would put him out of his misery. All that remains now is to see if he can accept his rejection with any kind of good grace. In some ways his party should be hoping for a narrow Conservative majority so that even Brown has to accept his fate. A hung parliament may well see him try to cling on and do a deal thus forcing his colleagues to show some cojones at last and tell him the game is up. 

What will the result be? I suspect that Cameron may have done just enough to get that majority. Clegg peaked too early and has been exposed as a Blair style performer without any real substance. The debates have however created three party politics in this country. It remains to be seen how permanent this is. It depends on the result of course but also on how Labour react to their seemingly inevitable defeat. In a week's time, once the dust has settled and we have a new government, that may well be the next big story in British politics.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Dalston Tory Posters Update

The latest Tory poster on that site in Dalston, east London lasted just two days this time. The previous one did manage to stay up for the duration (about a week) but with added comments. This one has gone the way of it predessors and been torn down completely. Dalston's vandals are very thorough it would seem. Perhaps the poster's message, about getting 16 year olds to do a kind of modern form of national voluntary service, did not go down well with the local youth. It would after all eat in to their poster destruction time.

It would be an interesting test of course to see if the posters of other parties were given similar treatment. Unfortunately there aren't any. Labour and the Lib Dems can't afford any and even Unite has felt it unnecessary to harangue the people of this safe London seat. So why are these political vandals so determined to silence any other opinions? Well clearly they are following the example of Gordon Brown. People who disagree with him are just plain wrong and should be abused and silenced wherever possible as he showed us just yesterday. Tearing down posters is actually rather gentle compared to abusing pensioners for daring to have an opinion.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Gordon's Gaffe

You have to hand it to Gordon, when he does gaffes he really does them big - it's a bit like his attitude to public spending and the deficit. Why mess about eh?

In a stroke Gordon Brown has confirmed what we all knew about him but which he and those around him have studiously denied. He is a petulant, moody and angry man who cannot tolerate dissent.

But this is more damaging than confirming what we all knew. This confirms what we sort of suspected about the whole Labour Party. This is what they think of their core vote. The clever career politicians who went to the best schools and the best universities and who so dominate the Labour Party are really rather contemptuous of the people who hand them their safe seats. It's bad enough that these metropolitan sophisticates have to head up to the grim north every four or five years. But they tolerate it for the power and status it provides. But as far as Gordon and his ilk are concerned these are just bovine masses who can be bought off with promises of more welfare, more spending and state jobs. Their other concerns are given lip service at election time and then ignored. Such views aren't nearly 'progressive' enough.

Gillian Duffy, the woman Brown has called a bigot, said nothing even slightly racist or in any way bigoted. She expressed perfectly legitimate concerns about a range of issues and Brown dealt with her reasonably well. But then we got his true feelings. They reveal a great deal.

People are concerned about immigration, not because they are racists or bigots but because they can see its impact on their lives and the country as a whole. They can see that importing hundreds of thousands of eastern Europeans has held down the wages of the low skilled. That is a simple case of the law of supply and demand. Gordon should understand that surely? The government tells us that we need skilled people to help the economy. Maybe so. But why do we need to import so many people to work at Pret a Manger making coffee and sandwiches? Ordinary people can see this and it makes them angry. They can see that the wave of immigration allowed by Labour quite deliberately has put pressure on jobs, public services, roads, schools, housing and public transport. Yet anyone who raises the issue is regarded as a bigot by those who think they know best and call themselves progressive.

The leaders' debates have of course been far and away the biggest issue of this election but this gaffe will run them a close second. The man who talks about his moral compass has shown himself for what he really is. He has shown his contempt for the sort of people he relies on to keep him in power. Those who call themselves progressives are not core Labour voters in inner city constituencies, they are Guardian readers and career politicians who tell themselves they are working for the underprivileged and those hard working families whilst holding their views and concerns in contempt. This arrogant, authoritarian government which has the cheek to talk about fairness thinks it always knows best. Gillian Duffy today thought otherwise and said so. Gordon Brown's reaction to her is typical of the man but a great deal more typical of his party than they will ever admit.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Vintage)Leave Your Sleep (2CD)Kindle Wireless Reading Device (6" Display, Global Wireless, Latest Generation)Avatar (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo) [Blu-ray]

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

No Substance or Personality

If you want proof that Labour really need to be put out of their misery it was in their press conference this morning. Labour want to talk about policy and substance they tell us but then won't talk about spending cuts. The spin meister, the dark lord himself, has lost his touch this election. He refused to answer the question and even, hilariously, criticised people who 'were not standing for election.' Neither are you was the obvious riposte.

But whether or not people are standing for election is irrelevant. The IFS, the subject of Mandelson's ire, are not standing for election. This makes them ideal for settling arguments on public spending and Labour are being dishonest about their own spending plans whilst talking about future Tory cuts.

Labour cannot do personality in this election because they are stuck with Brown. But they have no policies either and won't talk about the central issue of public spending except when alleging that their opponents will make cuts. They are fortunate in a way that the Tories have been so incompetent. Any cuts that will come after this election will be Brown's cuts whatever the result. That this is still not firmly established is testimony to how much the Tory campaign is backfiring also and why the result is so much in doubt.

It's Not Christmas Yet St Nick

I remain rather sceptical about the polls at this election. Before the Clegg effect took hold the polls that are now showing Labour in freefall were showing them narrowing the gap with the Conservatives. Then along came the newly beatified Nick and suddenly people were switching to the clean and upright Lib Dems on the basis of him looking at the camera and mouthing platitudes about the dirty tricks of the other two. It all seems rather unreal. Perhaps it is.

Unlike most people it would seem I was aware of the existence of Nick Clegg before this election. I heard him try his purer than pure schtick on the House of Commons and the occasional interview before. I also knew that the Lib Dems are notorious for saying different things in different parts of the country and lying every bit as egregiously as Labour do when it suits them. I knew that they are not as clean as they represent themselves to be on party funding and MPs expenses and that their tax and spending promises were no less opaque than those of their opponents. But now that the great British public is suddenly aware of Clegg and his really rather lacklustre colleagues are they really ready to hand him the balance of power based on a couple of weeks in the limelight? I suspect not. Okay, I hope not.

Clegg has come a little unstuck these last couple of days as he continues to try talking about what he will do after an election. The serious prospect has now arisen that he could keep Labour in power under a different leader. That is precisely the kind of dodgy dealing which we sceptics have been talking about. If Labour's desperation to hold on to power means they dump the same leader they have been telling us is the only man to secure the recovery a few hours after people voted and at the behest of someone from a different party how is that going to look for the new politics? Labour is looking at an obscure part of their constitution which would enable Brown to be replaced. Presumably the man pulling the strings as part of this would be the unelected Peter Mandelson. But the deputy leader of Labour is Harriet Harman. Or are they going to try to ignore that inconvenient election as well as the one the entire country is about to take part in?

The sanctimony of the Lib Dems and their sense of entitlement is, to my mind, every bit as infuriating as that of Labour. Their cynicism may be something the British public does not yet fully appreciate. But I suspect that those polls are not telling the full story of just what the electorate is thinking and what their impressions of Nick Clegg are. When the real story is told in 10 days time a few people are going to be in for a shock. This election is going to be a watershed but not in the way that some are imagining

Monday, 26 April 2010

Delivering Real Change

Over the weekend, as that much needed scrutiny has increased, the Lib Dems have been forced to become a little clearer about their intentions. Their bottom line, they say, is electoral reform. So, let's be clear about this, the party that is representing itself as unlike the 'old' parties, and as a fresh force for change is nevertheless demanding as its top priority an issue which few people care about.

Their non negotiable item is not lower taxes, not the abandonment of Trident for an allegedly cheaper option, not their mansion tax, not VAT on new houses and not their peculiar regional immigration policy with added get out of deportation free card for illegals. No, the Lib Dems, if they hold the balance of power, will insist first and foremost on a new electoral system which will ensure that they are likely to continue to hold that balance of power and thus key government posts in perpetuity. It is a policy which means that manifesto pledges will be a basis for negotiation. It is a policy which will ensure minor parties like the nationalists and of course the BNP will find themselves with real power.

It is this streak of hypocrisy aligned with nauseating sanctimony which is so repellent about the Lib Dems. They are still refusing to tell us what they will do in the event of that hung parliament. They cannot win this election but refuse to tell us what they will do and who they will back if they get what they have wanted for 30 years. And now they tell us that if they hold the balance of power they will attempt to hold the other parties to ransom to implement a system which will deliver power to them in perpetuity, almost regardless of their electoral performance. This they call fairness.

What happens next week is of course entirely dependent upon how the numbers work out. If the Tories become the biggest party only a few seats short of a majority they can do without Nick and his gang and will probably do so. If things are much tighter or an aberrant result comes about thanks to our admittedly flawed system then the haggling begins.

But here's an option the Tories should consider. The Lib Dems are presenting themselves as the party of change and fairness. Cameron should offer them a referendum on electoral change but with different options for the electorate to choose. One can be the current system, another a proportional system as advocated by Lord Jenkins all of those years ago. But what about a third option, a really radical one? What about the best of both worlds?

Our present system delivers strong government but does tend to favour the two main parties. So why not have directly elected governments and directly elected prime ministers? To make it fair there would be two votes as in France (Clegg should like that)  The first vote would be for all declared candidates and the second would be a decider between the two finished who first and second. We would then have a prime minister elected by more than half of the nation. Parliament could then be elected by a PR system with real separation of powers. The PM would be free to select the best people for his Cabinet and government rather than have to draw them from parliament. It would mean that parliament would actually do its job and scrutinise legislation properly at last without vying for ministerial preferment.

I have advocated the above before. But this would be wholly preferable to what we may end up with under current proposals. The Tories and Labour favour the current system. The Lib Dems and minor parties want what they call fairness. There is no perfect electoral system in a parliamentary system. So let's change that system. Parties calling for fairness, democracy and accountability can hardly object can they? 

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Vintage)

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Gordon Brown: Time Traveller

Is Gordon Brown secretly a Dr Who fan? I only ask because lately he has been going everywhere with his glamorous assistant - his wife - and he seems to want to go back in time to a point when he had not ruined the economy and broken all of his own promises. His campaign theme is that only he can be trusted to repair the mess he has created. It's a novel approach you have to say, or perhaps he really is living in a time bubble.

He is even endlessly recycling old slogans. Yesterday, without a trace of irony, he told us that his priority was jobs, jobs, jobs. What happened to education, education, education? Answer: they buggered that up but now all of the 97 generation have grown up with their devalued qualifications and now need jobs. The trouble is that employers prefer to import people from abroad to do them because foreigners are better educated, more reliable and more willing to work for Labour's minimum wage.

Does Gordon now wish he could go back in his Tardis (Number 10 is a lot bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside) and change a few things? Probably. Having someone independently compile statistics is his gravest mistake. Not even a sonic screwdriver can change that.

Every Sperm is Sacred

The best story of the weekend by far is the Foreign Office's plans for the Pope's visit. A junior official (obviously) wrote what we can only assume was a jokey memo arguing that the Pope should open an abortion clinic, launch his own range of Benedict branded condoms and apologise for the Spanish armada. They also proposed that he should stay in a Bradford council house and do some forward rolls with some children to promote healthy living. That last one in particular has conjured up all kinds of images in my mind and led to many moments of amusement. A man wearing a dress doing forward rolls is just funny.

The official responsible for this piece of satire has now been disciplined we're told - although he may be approached to write gags for Jimmy Carr - and the Foreign Secretary is said to be appalled, if only because this came to light during an election campaign, a time when even the Labour Party pays attention to voters, even Christians.

I suspect however that many at the Foreign Office will, like the rest of us, have been secretly sniggering. They may have conjured up a few more activities themselves. I for one would like to see the Pontiff enter a pub quiz to see if he really is infallible.

The Catholic Church, when it is not covering up the abuse of children, is a ridiculous and comical institution. This memo was in the best traditions of sending it up. Are we disrespecting it as one right-on bishop alleged? You bet we are. I would go further. When he lands on these shores he should be greeted by a rendition of Monty Python's Every Sperm is Sacred which makes more or less the same point as did this memo but in musical form.

The beliefs propagated by the Catholic Church are absurd and farcical. But worse than that they are damaging and unhealthy. Since we are such good friends with the Holy See we should say so. That's what friends are for isn't it?

Saturday, 24 April 2010

The Politicians We Deserve

It is fashionable during this election in particular, but during most elections since this is the nature of politics, to criticise politicians for their lack of honesty and opennness about spending cuts and tax rises. Yet the media and indeed we the public are just as culpable for this state of affairs. On the rare occasions when politicians are honest - that's really honest rather than the Lib Dem version of it - or when, after persistent questioning, they are cornered into it then they are ritually slaughtered. The public demand honesty and to be treated as adults but then change their voting intentions as a consequence. It's why nobody will tell us where the axe is going to fall. It is why Labour are telling us what the Tories will do based on what they have not said in their manifesto. Absurd!

Jeremy Paxman yesterday interviewed David Cameron for BBC One in the latest of his interviews with the three main leaders. Cameron said that the public sector is too big , particularly in the north east of England and Northern Ireland where it makes up more than two thirds of the economy. This is clearly an undesirable state of affairs. It is unhealthy and unsustainable. This should be a statement of the obvious.


Later, on Newsnight however, Michael Crick called it a mistake and the press in both areas are interpreting this, via banner headlines, as Cameron promising cuts in both areas. He said nothing of the sort. No doubt Labour will make great play of this. They have already been sending out leaflets talking about cuts which they have made up and so this will be grist to their mill. What will the 'honest' Lib Dems make of it? They have target seats in the north east. Will they be mock outraged too?

This statement of the bleeding obvious is nevertheless controversial in this election campaign because of the way it is reported and by the dishonest reaction of the opposing parties. Honesty is demanded by the press and commentators and then when they get it they shout 'gaffe.'

The whole public spending debate is a nonsense. Labour is already imposing cuts this financial year despite their rhetoric about protecting the recovery. Furthermore they have increased taxes this year too by not raising personal allowances, increased duties and of course putting VAT back up to 17.5%. They were right to do all of these things thanks to their mishandling of the public finances. But this is taking money out of the economy.

According to the peculiar rules of this election, what Cameron said was a gaffe because he admitted what we all know to be true. The public say they want such honesty because they know what is coming. Yet the last time the Tories preached austerity and cuts their poll lead diminished. Some people even believe that cuts can be accomplished purely by cutting waste. In fact Cameron performed very well in the interview. He explained himself clearly and coherently. Will that make headlines though? Of course not. Gaffes or perceived gaffes make for better just as, shock horror, the press love it when members of the same party or government disagree with one another on certain issues. Then they can write about dissent and civil war.

None of the parties, including the Lib Dems, are being honest with us because they know what will happen if they are. It's why the Lib Dems talk about change and honesty whilst fiddling the figures just like the others. Truly we get the politicians we deserve.

Billboard Update

The political vandals of Dalston in London have changed tactic. The latest Tory poster has not been torn down this time, instead some not terribly original graffiti has been added exhorting us all to riot. Are they trying to convince us that they are loony lefties now?

Also added to these giant posters is a much smaller one calling for 'Nurses Not Trident.' Just how many nurses do they think the country needs?

Stop and analyse this latest theme of some on the left, including the Lib Dems, and they are essentially arguing that our national finances are so shot that we can no longer afford to defend ourselves. There was some of us thinking that that ought to be the first priority of any government however many nurses we need.

Those on the left just do not like nuclear weapons. Well, few of us do. If we could wave our magic wands and uninvent them then we would. But we are stuck with them in a world in which ever more nations are trying to get hold of them thus meaning that they are falling into the hands of dictators and swivel eyed megalomaniacs like Kim Jong Il and President Ahmadinejad.

Nuclear weapons have actually kept the peace these last 65 years since the world last tried to destroy itself with conventional weapons. Mutually asured destruction, terrifying though it is, has actually made us see sense. Thus all of that money is actually money well spent.  The world is now more dangerous than ever before because of the likes of North Korea and Iran and an unstable Pakistan, all of whom either have these weapons or will soon have them. The first two, under certain circumstances, would probably use them too.

David Cameron was recently criticised for worrying about China in the future. Why? China is an emerging superpower with ambitions to spread its sphere of influence. It has frustrated our attempts to rein in Iran and North Korea. For all of these reasons Britain unfortunately needs its own nuclear deterrent because we are still seen as a world power and our history means this will continue even if we spend all of our money on nurses instead and try to turn ourselves into one vast health service, a kind north Atlantic Switzerland in which everyone wears a uniform and washes their hands every five minutes.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Heir to Blair

I'm feeling out of step with the nation. Maybe it's because I actually listen to what he says rather than pay attention to the way he says it, but to me Nick Clegg comes across as smug, smarmy and insincere. This is the true heir to Blair. He has all the same mannerisms, hand gestures and pregnant pauses. He has the delivery of an actor and that faux sincerity which at first was what seemed so refreshing about Blair. But ultimately listening to Clegg is like listening to a talking bullet point.

You have to give him credit. He is good at what he does and better than either Cameron or Brown. He always gets in his jibes, he always gets in his slogans about the old parties and the need for change. The others do it too of course but Cameron is regarded as being smug when he does it and Brown is dismissed because he can't actually say anything but jibes and slogans. Labour's line is that Brown is about substance. That was what Alastair Campbell was spinning last night for all he was worth. But he also Tweeted about Brown's jibe about his opponents being like his two sons at bathtime - who wrote that one Ally? Perhaps he just felt proud that Brown actually managed to deliver the line without messing it up. I for one doubt the picture of a happy family at bathtime - Gordon famously used to fill his bath in Scotland with books - but if that was all Campbell could Tweet about then it does rather undo his claims about substance.

While we're on the subject of trivia, why does Clegg always refer to his opponents by their full names. He even does it when asking them questions. 'Gordon Brown,' he said while Brown was in mid ramble, 'what does that mean?' He sounded like a scolding parent or school teacher.

All three party leaders were trying to paint themselves as more honest and trustworthy than the others. They were all guilty of claiming not to be scoring points whilst scoring political points. Cameron was more robust than last week but seemed more willing than the others to let a point be made without answer. This is actually the major difference between the parties and the leaders in particular. Cameron can be just too polite. Clegg and Brown did not hesitate to interrupt the others in mid answer whereas Cameron never did, each time waiting for his turn to reply. Clegg interrupted more than the others, shouting questions at them in mid answer preceded by their full name for some reason. Brown did it once or twice. Cameron never. Perhaps this is the true disadvantage of an Eton education.

At least Cameron did try to nail some Labour lies being repeated in their literature. This was Cameron at his best and most combative. Labour's strategy is to lie and lie endlessly. It has always been Brown's preferred electoral strategy but this time it is more or less his only one. Cameron said so forcefully, Brown recanted a little but then went back to lying again and Cameron just rolled his eyes.

Brown had the distinction of being the only participant who had to be told to stick to the question rather than ramble off into his comfort zones. But he kept doing it anyway. For such a supposedly clever man he seems completely incapable of extemporising - does anyone seriously believe that it wasn't Ally Campbell who came up with the boys at bathtime joke?

The one piece of leadership that Brown has shown was to stop them all standing like lemons together on the stage at the end of the debate after they had all shaken hands. They have now followed his lead and go down to greet the audience. It looks just as false of course but more dynamically false.

All in all I agree with the rest of the consensus. This was a score draw between Cameron and Clegg with Brown still behind but not as far behind as last week. Clegg was not allowed to get away with as much this time but still came across well. In these X Factor days that may well be enough to get him the breakthrough everyone is assuming. Ultimately these debates, welcome as they are, are too superficial. But there seems to be little we can do about that. It is human nature to judge people on looks and manner rather than what they say. It is why Clegg and the Lib Dems got away for a while with claiming to be different. The papers and The Spectator today are picking at Lib Dems policies and claims of purity.  The Lib Dems it seems are guilty of some creative claims to fund their election campaign with taxpayers money. It will be interesting to see if this scrutiny cuts into that lead in the next couple of weeks.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Afghanistan Could Win It For Clegg

If the debate tonight spends much time on Afghanistan then the chances are that Nick Clegg will score a second win. What are we there for? What are we trying to achieve? If we achieve it what is to stop the Taliban coming back again once we pull out? The only way to prevent this is to stay there for decades and spend ever more billions. Is that what our leaders are proposing? If not then what is the point?

All that Clegg has to do is point this out and he will score another win. Our soldiers are dying and nobody really understands why. Defeating terrorism? How so when we have been operating such a relaxed immigration policy for the last decade and when home grown terrorism is a greater fear? About the only argument that Cameron or Brown can deploy against this is that it is wrong to undermine our troops while they are still fighting. But if they are reduced to that then Clegg will win anyway.

Labour Civil War Imminent

I'm going to be watching tonight's debate unlike last week's. In many ways, despite the unprecedented nature of what has happened over the last 7 days, we don't really know what to expect once again. How will Nick Clegg react to the sense of expectation? Will the pressure get to him? How will Cameron play it? Will he be less nervous, less keen to play it safe?

Even Gordon Brown, one of the least surprising politicians in democratic history, leaves a little room for doubt. Will he still try smooching Nick or will he attack?

All of the attention this last week has been on the Lib Dems and on the Conservative reaction to the game having changed. Labour have been largely forgotten. Gordon has been out gurning constantly, shaking hands whilst looking at people's shoulders and keeping his wife constantly in tow so as to appear half human. Yet can you remember anything he has said and done? No. The reason is that he has talked in vacuous soundbites as usual. He has no new policies and nothing new to say and so he has been ignored.

When the history of this election campaign comes to be written people will of course major on what happened with the Lib Dems whether or not they make the breakthrough many are predicting. But we shouldn't forget just how hopeless has been the Labour campaign. For all of their experience and undoubted campaigning skill they have nothing to say. For now the infighting has not begun and they are maintaining discipline. But, once the smoke has cleared and a new government is elected, created or cooked up in Westminster's back rooms, that infighting may well be the story this summer.

Sandal Vandals

That billboard site in Dalston I wrote about other day has a new Tory poster on it today. It's another one attacking Gordon Brown's record. Let's see how long this one lasts. Perhaps, given the state of the polls, the Tories should start putting up posters about Nick Clegg now instead. It would also test my theory that this is more than mere vandalism and politically motivated, unless of course the Lib Dems have some like minded yobs in  the area. Would they be sandal vandals?

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

It's the Economy Stupid

Is the state of the economy about to come to the rescue of the Tories? Unemployment is up today after inflation yesterday. Yet Brown says we need to re-elect him to protect the recovery. He tells us that his policy of spending our cash is what is saving us. In fact it is making matters worse.

This election is being complicated by the Lib Dem surge of course but ultimately this election, like all others, is about the economy rather than change. The Tories had a good couple of weeks talking about NI and had Labour on the run. St Vince is claiming that he has the recipe for our ills and yet he too buys the peculiar notion that we should not be making cuts yet to protect this illusory recovery. Perhaps we should ask him what's going wrong. Earlier today St Vince was skewered in a debate on BBC2 when asked about the detail of his spending cuts. Their talk about honesty is just talk. The question is will their image and Vince's halo last another two weeks?

Spinning to the Bitter End

Right until the bitter end this hopeless, hapless government is showing us why it has made such a mess of things. We don't know for certain that the volcano ash crisis was a debacle but its looking increasingly likely. But the government's response has been lacklustre, confused and confusing. As I wrote yesterday, it does rather prove the need for a big society rather than a reliance on government action.

It may well be the case that the initial closedown of our airports was required. But why wasn't there a better mechanism for constantly reviewing the data, asking questions of the experts and putting in place measures to help and reassure the public?

It's been this government in microcosm. All too often they have taken an unquestioning attitude to the experts. It was the same with their response to foot and mouth disease, the various floods we have seen and of course most notoriously their willingness to set aside centuries of English law to lock up terrorists without charge. The job of ministers is of course to listen to what the experts say and weigh the evidence. But they must also always weigh the impact of their decisions on the country. This they have repeatedly failed to do.

And of course the only response we did get was a panicky one once the headlines started turning against them. This has always been the approach of this government. Knee jerk reactions to headlines and focus groups are not what government should be about. But it has been the key determinant of this government's policy. It is no coincidence that most of those stories about Brown losing his temper were in response to bad news and consequent headlines. The same is true of their absurd decision to 'send in the navy.' Did they think it was going to be there Maggie's taskforce moment? Or maybe Brown imagined it was his greatest hour.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Experts Surprised Again

Surprise surprise, inflation has crept up again. Brilliant! So all of that money we have been printing in order to prevent deflation is now causing inflation meaning that interest rates may well have to go up sooner than otherwise would have been the case. This could easily push us back into recession.

The next time Gordon Brown tells us that only he can protect the recovery perhaps we should mention this. I have been predicting it for months and yet the experts are again being surprised. Quantitative Easing was always a stupid policy designed more to keep Brown's spending splurge going, including the few billions currently being wasted apparently but which we cannot possibly take out of the economy now for fear of what happens. The effects will be felt long after he has left Number 10. Not only has he loaded an unprecedented peacetime debt on us he has unleashed inflation too. Next it will be stagflation - Brown's triple whammy to coin a phrase.

Clear Blue Water

The conventional wisdom of the various pundits as they ponder what the Tories should do to rescue their election is that they should steer well clear of talking about Europe. They cite as evidence for this the fact that this is what William Hague did in 2001. Quite what this has to do with anything is a mystery. The Conservatives were never going to win that election. In those days, before Gordon Brown took leave of his senses and went on his spending splurge, before Tony Blair was revealed as suffering from a messianic complex, before we grew inured to their spin and lies, Labour was popular and still trusted. The Tories were in a mess. They talked about Europe because it was actually one of the few subjects which had some resonance with the public and they did the country a service by forcing Blair to promise that he wouldn't take us into the Euro without a referendum. How grateful should we be for that now.

Time has moved on. Labour and the Lib Dems have reneged on a promise to give us a referendum on Lisbon and the Tories (wrongly in my view) decided that there was no point in promising a referendum now that it had passed into law. The fact that the Tories are still failing to seal the deal with voters can be traced back partly to the MPs expenses debacle but also to Cameron's stance on the referendum he promised. He could and should have promised a referendum regardless. He could and should have pledged not to leave matters there. Instead he chose a quiet life. The public thus regard him as just another lying politician. I argued at the time that he could have created a new principled image for himself. He chose not to.

It is a myth that Europe is an obsession of right wing types alone. I'm not particularly right wing for instance - I'm just quite fond of representative democracy. Plenty of people across the political spectrum are hostile to Europe and its anti democratic tendencies. The British people by an overwhelming majority are Euro sceptic and regard the Lisbon Treaty as a betrayal - one of many from this deceitful government but also by the sanctimonious Lib Dems who plan to blackmail us all into accepting the European project by holding an in or out referendum. They are also still keen on the Euro despite the mess that it is currently in and the crisis it has created in countries around its periphery. Even Gordon Brown learnt the lesson of our ERM exit in 1992. It seems the Lib Dems did not.

We're told that Cameron is a confirmed Euro sceptic. Yet his advisers tell him to steer clear of the subject. It is one of many subjects that he is steering clear of from spending cuts to immigration. Can they not see that this is why he is failing to seal the deal? This election is already turning out to be vastly different to anything that has gone before, yet still the various advisers and pundits are fighting the elections of 2001 and 2005. 2010 is a watershed in our politics. If they're not careful it could in future  be seen as a greater disaster than either of these last two elections and a moment which saw the beginning of the break up of all of our major parties as we change to a European model of politics.

Going Green

One of the recurring themes of this nearly post recession election is that most of the parties are promising to create jobs - in particular green jobs. Yet has anyone asked them how this will be done? Labour have promised to create a million new jobs. How? What will these jobs be? Will they be in the public sector again?

All parties are of course jumping on the green bandwagon, indeed The Daily Politics today had a floating voter who seemed to have bought into the whole greenwash drivel and was even voting for the Greens themselves - a bunch of socialists who have cunningly disguised themselves as sandal wearers. They, in addition to various policies which would have not looked out of place in Labour's 1983 manifesto, were promising to create green jobs. Today the SNP are at it, promising to create several thousand green jobs. Yet what are these jobs? What makes them green? How can they be created by politicians?

Remember not so long ago we had an indigenous company making those wind turbines so beloved of people who think this is all we have to do to 'go green'. Given how many of them there are one would have thought that this was a growth industry with a huge potential market. Yet it somehow contrived to go bust.

Actually it is questionable whether even creating wind turbines is a green job. They create an awful lot of CO2 during the manufacturing process and, as we all know, this gas is satan's breath. But what else is a green job? I would really like to know.

Monday, 19 April 2010

People Power

These last few days have made me feel rather proud to be British. It's not our sudden experimentation with real democracy and making the parties actually sweat and work for our votes that is doing it, welcome though this is.

No, our response to the great volcanic disaster has brought British stoicism, humour and resourcefulness to the fore. People stuck in airports making the best of things, people enjoying longer holidays, people travelling by taxi for thousands of miles or hiring coaches and selling tickets, people buying bikes in Calais so as to get around the fact that there was no more room for foot passengers on ferries. It's all been rather inspiring.

And when you think about it this could all feed into David Cameron's argument for a big society rather than big government to solve our problems. While government and the state has dithered and wrung its hands whilst assuring us that all possible is being done, the stranded public has just gone on with it or just accepted that there is nothing to get on with.

Gordon Brown and his fellow ministers are today convening COBRA, possibly just because they like saying that they are having a meeting of COBRA. It makes them look dynamic and assertive. It makes them look in control. For a moment Gordon can imagine that he is like those movie presidential figures in those computer strewn dark situation rooms, surrounded by uniforms and giving orders. The reality I'm sure is rather different. 'What can we do?' says Gordon. Well, we can send a ship or two and hire a few coaches. But it might take a while and the volcano may stop erupting before then. Perhaps the forces commanders will take the opportunity to remind Gordon of how jolly useful they can be when we have crises such as this despite his obvious disdain for them.

Ultimately though volcanoes are out of our control. We could of course talk tough about volcanoes and the causes of volcanoes. Maybe we can invoke some terrorism laws against those pesky Icelanders again. But it won't actually get any planes airborne.

Indeed government and officials are more of a hindrance in situations like these. Sending out a flotilla of boats Dunkirk style has been banned by some jobsworth somewhere and anyway those who are on the near continent will be able to get back eventually. It is those stranded farthest away who are most helpless and out of reach even of COBRA.

The only way is for someone to decide to hell with the safety regulations and take a risk. I can't say I would be keen to give it a try though. But maybe this is the opportunity for Dave. He should announce forthwith that he is willing to go up in his private jet and test it out for the good of the nation. Gordon once claimed to have saved the world. Now it is up to Dave to save Britons who are stranded all around it. 

PS

I will be happy however to drive a coach for the good of the nation. I have my licence and I'm willing to use it. Let it not be said that I was unwilling to step up when my fellow countrymen were stranded on foreign shores.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

How To React?

What are the Tories and indeed Labour going to do about the Lib Dems? It's hard to know because we don't know whether this is just a momentary upsurge or something more permanent. I suspect the former but, since we are less than three weeks away from going to the polls you cannot discount the latter.

I would have thought it's a greater condundrum for Labour. After all they are cosying up to the LDs in the hope that they will do the same after the election. A decent showing by the Lib Dems may also make it harder for the Tories to win outright. On the other hand if Labour voters who would not dream of voting Tory now switch all too happily to the Lib Dems as is perfectly possible it could lead to a highly unpredictable situation. The latest poll of course has Labour in 3rd place. This is unlikely to be maintained but I would argue that Labour voters are much more likely to switch than Tory voters. Oh how they must wish they had dumped Brown.

Labour are going to find it hard to react to this and Brown just doesn't have the ability to turn on the charm in the remaining debates. After a decent first three months of the year in which Labour started to hope once again, the decision to take part in these debates could be looked back on as the most disastrous since that Kinnock election rally in 92. Are Labour heading to disaster?

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Late Reaction

I've finally got around to watching the first debate. Did Clegg win? He certainly came across the best so long as you didn't listen too carefully to what he was actually saying. He was confident, assured and pressed all the right buttons. Cameron started well and then seemed to lose his way. To be fair to him 90 minutes is a long time when one is being assailed from both sides.

I take it back though. Nick Clegg and his 'I am the real change' spiel is not the most nauseating part of this election campaign, although it's close. The real nausea was caused by Brown's attempts to suck up to him. 'I agree with Nick,' he kept saying. The audience are prevented from clapping, booing or otherwise reacting, but what about a more visceral reaction from gut level?

Labour are attempting to spin that Brown won on substance. But what substance? He approached this the same as he does with PMQs, with a stream of statistics and pre-prepared lines. 'Look,' he keeps intoning, ' we need to protect the recovery and the public services.' But how? Presumably we don't need that kind of detail.

Labour are clearly fighting a losing battle. This is turning into a disastrous election campaign for them. The Tories won the first week and now the Lib Dems have stolen into second place. It's making even the dark lord of spin look hopeless and helpless.

How the Tories react to this is the most interesting part of what happens next. They need to stop the Lib Dems stealing their change clothes. Cameron is as new a leader as Clegg is. He hasn't been in government before. Thus it is hardly unreasonable for him to claim to be the man for change. And they need to meet this Lib Dem sanctimony head on. Just how different are they after all? They are telling the nation that we need to be honest about the need for cuts whilst their candidates are demanding that local A and Es aren't closed. Their figures on taxes and spending cuts do not add up.

And the Tories have some good and detailed policies which represent real change. Their schools policies and proposals to democratise local policing, the big society agenda is good and impressive. Cameron didn't talk about it. He needs to. He is at his best when he gets passionate. But perhaps Clegg will now make him raise his game again.

And whisper it but maybe just maybe the Tories ought to bring up the subject of Europe. The Lib Dems have gone quiet about the Euro now but they used to be great enthusiasts for it. They are the most enthusiastic for the whole European project. The party that lectures us about the need for greater democracy and fairness are evangelists for all things European, that is an institution that is undemocratic, unaccountable and often corrupt. They also promised the referendum on the constitution treaty only to change their minds just like this cynical government.

The Lib Dems get away with their claims about being more honest and open and being for fairness precisely because of the battle for words which usually takes place only between Labour and Conservative Parties which they so decry. Since Labour are now firmly on the ropes and regretting having not committed regicide when they had the chance, perhaps it is now time for the Tories to turn their fire on St Vince and his blue eyed apprentice. They are getting a bounce in the polls because of superficial impressions. Let's see if they can withstand the spotlight they have long been craving.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Historic Parallels?

I'm not the first blogger to see parallels with ancient electoral history. Let's say that in the last two debates things go in a similar way to this week's. Let's say that the Lib Dems get a real bounce and that Labour voters switch to the Lib Dems in their droves. This would clearly lead to a complex picture psephologically speaking. But it is possible we could get into a 1983 type scenario in which a third party taking votes from Labour could actually hand a larger majority to the Tories than would otherwise have been the case.

The consensus of opinion seems to be that Clegg won, Cameron was solid but unspectacular and that Brown his usual stodgy and moody self. Things have moved on since 1983 of course but Labour are still doing badly in the polls, have an unpopular leader and are in danger of being caught in a pincer between the other two parties. Everyone is assuming that a good Lib Dem performance will mean a hung parliament. But it could mean precisely the opposite. Would Labour implode under such circumstances? Would those pious Lib Dems suddenly feel quite fond of our first past the post system? Interesting times.

A Pretty Straight Sort of Guy?

I didn't watch the greqt debate last night. Given the choice between going to see my Mum while she is over from Spain or listening to a lot of political platitudes I chose my Mum. Judging by the coverage this morning and last night I got it right. Oh and Wetherspoons was selling a very nice Rose for just £4.99 too. All in all it was a good choice even if it now turns out that, due to an Icelandic volcano, I could have seen her today instead.

Anyway, the general consensus seems to be that Nick Clegg won. I think that tells us all we need to know. Perhaps it is just the novelty value. Perhaps it is that Brown was just Brown and Cameron chose to play safe leaving the way clear for Clegg to impress. I am finding this whole Lib Dem holier than thou approach nauseating. I suspect that the British people may well come around to that point of view, especially if they finally get a little more scrutiny. Their tax and spending policies are full of holes. Their spiel about reforming politics is welcome of course but then they spoil it by whining about PR as they have been doing now forever. But what is worse is that, though they may well end up holding the balance of power, they won't tell us what they will do with it. How is that breaking the mould of politics? How does that make them any better than the other parties who won't come clean about taxes and spending cuts.

We still have another 3 weeks of listening to Clegg telling us how different he is. Yet in so doing, and with his performance last night, he may well end up reminding us of another leader who represented change and hope and who promised to be purer than pure. Perhaps an interviewer can ask him if he is a pretty straight sort of guy.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Tory Posters Aren't Working

Is there a coordinated campaign going on in some parts of the country to vandalise and destroy Conservative Party posters? Is this someone's idea of levelling the playing field since Labour don't have any money?

There is one poster site in Dalston in London which has been displaying various Tory posters now for weeks. Well, trying to anyway. They last a couple of days and are then torn down. It doesn't seem to be happening to normal commercial adverts. Thus one can only conclude that this is a politically motivated campaign to silence the Tories.

So far there has been one of those silly David Cameron posters, one of the better 'I've never voted Tory before...' posters and the latest one about Gordon Brown doubling the deficit. All lasted for a maximum of three days. Who is responsible? Or is this an ironic commentary on Labour's achievements on crime?

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Not So Saintly

Is the real reason that Mrs Nick Clegg does not want to go on the campaign trail with him because she would first have to jostle St Vince of Cable out of the way? I can see her giving a tearful interview in a few months time: 'There were three of us in this marriage, so it got a bit crowded - especially at election times.'

It was the Lib Dems' turn to present their manifesto to a bored nation today and St Vince was there to lend it the credibility he seems to have mysteriously garnered. Did St Vince warn us of the disaster that was about to befall us all? Well, no actually. He warned us about debt, but then he was by no means alone in that. Even I, a mere blogger rather than a celebrated economist, could see that elephant in the room. His prescience did not foretell the great banking disaster but somehow the myth seems to have been created that he did, and few interviewers ever ask for evidence.

The same is true of Lib Dem claims of honesty about the public finances. They are as guilty as the other parties of promising jam tomorrow whilst refusing to set out what will be cut. They talk about cuts to things like ID cards and Trident of course but that doesn't amount to much. And they are promising huge tax cuts. I happen to agree with them that taking low earners out of tax is a good idea but how are they going to pay for it? Their mansions tax was widely discredited the moment it was announced and this comes from a party that complains about the unfairness of Council Tax. They are trying the same Labour trick of claiming that all of the pain will be borne by the rich.

Ultimately we all know that the Lib Dems will not form a government, although their alleged honesty will not even accept this as Clegg showed (for once without St Vince at his side) during his interview with a cold ravaged Jeremy Paxman earlier this week. What they may be able to achieve is to hold the balance of power. Yet they refuse to tell us what they will do under those circumstances, the one realistic scenario for them at this election. Thus their claimed honesty about tax and spending and clearing up politics seems rather phoney.

The Lib Dems like to pose as the party of principle and honesty, the party out to break the mould. Yet they won't tell us which of the main parties they will back in the event of a hung parliament. Labour is attempting to cosy up to them in an attempt to hang on to power. Will Clegg indulge them? Will he allow Gordon Brown to stay in power despite his inability to win power directly? Will his price for doing so be a new electoral system which will make the Lib Dems permanently hold the balance of power? Doesn't the British people have a right to know?

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Post Bureaucratic Age

I am currently in the process of reading Heather Brooke's new book The Silent State. If you are in need of further convincing that Gordon Brown should be pitched from office next month this will do the trick. Indeed the Conservative's should consider issuing it as an addendum to their manifesto.

Brown is today attacking the Tories manifesto and their desire to give more power to the people by alleging that the they will be leaving people to their own devices. Apparently he considers this a bad thing. In our increasingly intrusive, interfering and authoritarian country wouldn't it be nice to be left alone a little more, or to be trusted to look after ourselves.

Heather Brooke's book reveals much of what I already knew but some of the details are astonishing. The slow creep of this surveillance state in which bureaucrats are accruing ever more information about us and refusing to be accountable for it is scandalous. Labour's approach to everything is the bureaucratic option, preferably with added databases. Yet, as Ms Brooke demonstrates, their endless reams of forms and tickboxes have either made little difference or have made the jobs of teachers, social workers, police officers and any number of other 'front line' officials ever harder.

I wish the Tories felt able to be more radical over constitutional reform. But their approach to public service and empowering communities has to be right. The Labour top down approach has failed, often with tragic consequences. From a fiscal as well as a social perspective we really cannot go on like this. There has to be a better way and I believe that the Conservative ideas are just that.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Shooting the Messengers

Not only have Labour no ideas but they are losing patience with anyone who points this out. As Adam Boulton reports here their manifesto launch was more like a political rally and journalists who asked questions were deemed unsatisfactory were booed, actually booed. Is this a party which is confident it has the policies to win or one low on confidence with a loser for a leader which is heading towards defeat and civil war? Still, shoot the messenger eh?

Where's the Vision, Gordon?

It's well known that Labour's modus operandi is to say the same thing over and over again so that in the end people believe it to be true. Presumably then their plan is to keep repeating that their manifesto, revealed today, is radical and inspiring so that we will not believe the evidence of our own eyes.

Two and a half years since Gordon told us he was going to set out his vision to inspire us all, this is it apparently.

They're not going to raise income tax - we've heard that before. They have raised the upper rate contrary to previous promises and have raised National Insurance which is income tax in all but name. Furthermore they have made no promises not to raise VAT. Interesting that. They claim, as do the Lib Dems, that the Tories will raise VAT and yet both refuse to rule out the option. How is that any different to the Tory position? The Tories also claim that they have no plans to raise VAT. We may or may not believe them but at face value all three parties are saying the same thing. Labour claim that the Tories have a track record for raising VAT. Well, sort of. But that was previous Conservative governments from nearly 20 years ago. As Labour keep reminding us, the present front bench Tory team have little experience, so consequently they have no record of raising VAT do they? Labour on the other hand have a long track record of stealth taxes and broken promises on taxes.

There's going to be a global levy on bankers - they were criticising the Tories for proposing this a couple of weeks ago because we need international consensus.

No stamp duty on first time buyers - a policy that was first proposed by the Tories.

Raise miminum wage in line with earnings - whose? the private sector or the public sector? There's a big gap.Is continuing with a policy from 1997 radicalism?

Right to recall MPs. No arguments from me here. But again this is hardly radical, although all party consensus seems to be happening which is welcome.

Referendums on changing the voting system. Why? To achieve what? Will the public be given a choice about a new system or will it just be self serving and aimed at keeping the Tories out? How is that improving democracy and accountability if it would make a left leaning parliament a permanent fixture regardless of performance?

Referendum on democratic House of Lords. Why does it need a referendum? Labour have been saying the Lords needs reform for 13 years and have been elected on that platform. Why does it now need a referendum and why should we trust them to do now what they spent the last 13 years avoiding doing while it suited them?

And that's it. It's an open secret that those writing this manifesto - and it's not Brown but people like Ed Miliband (Little Milly 2) who hopes to be leader one day - have been asking for ideas for a manifesto. This is all they could come up with. Labour are going to reform the public services they tell us. They've had 13 years to do that. They are going to offer guarantees to people. How are they any different to targets?

But the big argument Labour are making is that they and they alone can take us to recovery. Gordon Brown is seriously claiming that he is the man to take us out of a recession he said was not going to happen and for which we were best prepared. That's the experience we should all regard as vital. Essentially Labour's argument for election is more of the same which they will be calling radicalism.

This is Gordon's vision. He should have gone to Specsavers.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

New Who

Just to vary from the election coverage for a moment. I didn't get chance last week to write about the new Dr Who Matt Smith and indeed the whole makeover she show has been given. i was always confident that new lead writer Steven Moffatt would be more than up to the job - in many ways he is a better writer than Russell T Davies, and of course he was responsible for some of the best episodes of all of the earlier series. But this was a terrific start. It was funny, clever and fast paced.

Did I have my doubts about Matt Smith? I did indeed. But he was terrific. He is not so very different from David Tennant to turn off the fans but sufficiently new to make him interesting. And the new assistant? Well what can you say about Karen Gillan? She follows in a long line of sexy and great looking assistants who will keep the blokes interested. But she can act too.

If RTD had a failing it was that his storylines were often rather lacking. I suspect that Moffatt will be rather better in this respect. He will certainly not be let down by his new cast and the special effects department as before.

The Economics of Marriage

Should government and indeed society encourage marriage or other forms of long term commitment? Those on the left including the increasingly sanctimonious and irritating St Vince of Cable say no. But why not? Marriage in particular is recognised as being a key ingredient to stability in society and raising decent, well adjusted children. Thus from a purely economic point of view St Vince ought to recognise that society has a stake in encouraging that institution. If the state has to pick up the tab for the consequences of failure then surely it ought to take preventative measures by trying to encourage marriage in the first place?

It's not a lot of money of course. But every little helps at the moment as all but our gilded MPs will recognise. And it's also a start. After months being accused of having no policies the Tories are now revealing their hand. The other parties may disagree and are free to make the counter arguments. That is what elections are all about. But St Vince's only argument seems to be that it's not enough money to make a difference. And that's not really an argument at all is it.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Brown Misleads Parliament

In his last PMQs on Wednesday, Gordon Brown was, as usual, asked to detail his engagements for the day. It is one of those pointless little pieces of procedure in which our parliament takes such delight. Brown gave the usual response - a sort of verbal piece of copy and paste - and told the nation what he always tells them. Now I don't usually follow the diary of the prime minister on a day to day basis because life is too short. But this is an election campaign. I know for a fact that Brown did not attend further such meetings with colleagues in addition to his duties in the house that day as he told the House of Commons. Instead he went out electioneering and was heckled by a member of the public. It was all over the news. His answer was wrong.

Does this matter? Probably not. But it is symptomatic of Brown's casual attitude to the truth and his disdain for parliament when he can't even be bothered to answer this question honestly. Surely a man of his alleged intellectual abilities should have seen that the answer was wrong. He could have ad libbed a little and made a remark about going out and talking to the British people about Tory cuts for instance. Instead he just read out his pre-prepared lines which had presumably been carried over from the last session.

Whatever happened on Wednesday however it does remind us of Brown's attitude to the truth. All politicians try to be as economical with it of course whilst claiming to be the opposite. It's just that Brown goes so much further than the rest by telling outright lies when evasion doesn't work. He did it just yesterday when asked about setting the forces of hell on his chancellor. More seriously though he does it with statistics all of the time. This is a prime minister who has lied to an official inquiry he set up and then even managed to be economical with the truth when apologising for his supposed error to the House of Commons.

But it is this approach to politics which is Brown's sole strategy for the election. This is why Labour are so irritated by the Conservative line on National Insurance. The Tories are playing them at their own game and Labour are struggling to know how to respond. Only today George Osborne got the best of Alistair Darling live on the BBC One 0 Clock News.

Gordon Brown's approach to this election is the same one he has used in the last three general elections. He will try to paint the Tory party as cutters and claim with cast iron certainty that they plan to sack thousands, cut front line services, raise taxes and so on. It is all lies. Even if the Tories do plan such things Brown cannot possibly know. But after 13 years in power this is all he has left. Not only does he have no real policy ideas he has no new electoral tactics or strategies. He is bankrupt in every sense of the word.

His misleading of parliament on Wednesday was not very important and may well have been inadvertent. But one can't help feeling that it was nevertheless a statement of intent for the month ahead. Lies and misrepresentations are all he's got. 

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Thursday, 8 April 2010

Gordon's Dilemma

Labour, despite the beating they have taken this last week, are determined to keep banging away about the Tory National Insurance policy. They are at it again now. Gordon Brown claims it is all worked out on the back of an envelope. You would think then that they would be finding it all rather easier to refute then wouldn't you.

Labour, who came up with their own efficiency savings instead of talking about cuts but then at the same time claimed that this money would reduce the deficit and at the same time fund increased spending, now have the cheek to accuse the Tories of having sums that do not add up. Today the BBC is reporting however that the civil service are actively considering ways of implementing Tory efficiency savings. Are they doing it on the back of an envelope too?

None of this is going well for Gordon Brown. So why does he keep talking about it? Why doesn't he change the subject? Part of this is because Brown regards the economy as his specialised subject and he is pathologically incapable of admitting he is wrong or mistaken. Part of it is because of course this is all one of Brown's dividing lines. If he can't make the notion that there is a big gap in Tory funding and that they are going to impose draconian cuts then he has nothing to say - he ignores the fact that Labour are going to have to impose cuts themselves all thanks to his past profligacy. But the main reason that Brown won't talk about anything else is because he doesn't really have anything else to talk about. They are policy lite. If he cannot talk about 'securing the recovery' what else will he talk about for the next month?

Ultimately the Labour line on this makes no sense. It is ridiculous to claim that making six billion in cuts now will endanger the recovery. They have already made cuts this year and have put VAT back up to 17.5%. The Tories may not have identified what they are going to cut but it is perfectly reasonable to argue that it is better to cut some waste in a vast sea of public spending which has doubled under Labour than impose a tax which will make employers think twice about taking on more people. Labour are losing the argument. Their huge problem is that they don't really have another argument to deploy.

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Brown's Dodgy Deals

Gordon Brown is talking about constitutional reform now. Oh he's doing his best to make it sound as though he is doing so for all the right reasons and that this is his big radical idea to clean up politics, but it's hard to take him seriously.

What, for instance, does electoral reform have to do with the MPs expenses row? Those MPs who were caught out last year are standing down in record numbers today because they know they would probably not win their seats again. That surely is a vindication of our present, admittedly flawed system? Yet it is a system which favours Labour. That Brown feels the need to change it even further  should arouse our suspicions. His favoured system would actually hand Labour a further advantage. Is he proposing that we should have a choice of electoral systems in a referendum or just the one he likes the best?

One of the problems with our present system is that we have the modern day equivalent of rotten boroughs - safe seats which almost always stay in the hands of the same party. Thus, once selected, a candidate has a seat effectively for life. But the parties, not the electoral system, make this worse by parachuting in favoured candidates for these plum seats. Look at Jack Dromey (Mr Harriet Harman) in Erdington in Birmingham. The way to address this is to adopt a primary system as pioneered successfully by the Tories in certain areas along with a system for recalling those MPs who are corrupt or otherwise prove to be unsuitable. Is Brown promising this kind of reform?

It is our political system which is more at fault than the electoral system for our present state. I don't doubt that most politicians go in to politics for all of the right and laudable reasons. But then, all too often, they get caught up in the system and become corrupted by it. This doesn't necessarily make them grasping and venal but it does make them blinkered and trapped in that peculiarly Westminster way of looking at things. The control of the parties and of ruthless men like Gordon Brown has made the system what it is. His sudden sanctimonious talk about changing the electoral system and his equally sudden conversion to fixed term parliaments, though welcome, is not terribly convincing.

The Lib Dems of course are trying to pose as the great reformers. Yet how is their position any less self serving? We all know they cannot win a majority and yet they refuse outright to talk about what their conditions will be for propping up a government. Thus they are refusing to inform the electorate of what will be the basis for government for the next 4 or 5 years. It does make a mockery of their pious talk about being honest with the electorate about spending for instance.

The objection to a PR system which would deliver near permanent coalition governments is that it leads to backroom deals done without recourse to the electorate. Yet we are seeing that already before a vote has been cast. Gordon Brown is a convert to electoral reform which he always blocked when Labour were had a healthy majority. We know pretty much for certain that, even if Labour win more seats, they will not have a majority. So now Brown is trying to do a dodgy deal in advance to cling on to his job and to hell with what the voters think.

As the parties crowd around the centre ground the choice at this election is becoming narrower and narrower. It's no wonder that voters flirt with fringe parties like UKIP, the various nationalists and even the BNP.

But what of the Lib Dems? They are basically Labour Lite. Their policies are not materially different to what Labour's are. Gordon Brown would be perfectly comfortable with most of them in return for hanging on to his job as was Tony Blair when he flirted with the Lib Dems for most of his first government. Yet the Lib Dems try to present themselves as diametrically different and then whinge constantly about the unfairness of the electoral system which denies them power. Perhaps instead of moving the goalposts they should either adopt more popular approach or simply join a party with a chance of power.

Essentially we have two Labour type parties who are conspiring to change the electoral system for their own advantage and then have the cheek to talk about fairness. I've written before that dodgy deals like this could well end up having all kinds of outcomes that few on the left who are contemplating moving the goalposts can now imagine. Our present party system would not survive the implementation of PR. The parties would break up and we would see the creation of new more tightly focused political entities. That might be more democratic and thus welcome. But it would mean a lot of short term chaos and infighting among all of the parties.

That we are even talking about any of this is of course down to Labour and Gordon Brown's desperation. Brown will do more or less anything to cling to power. The irony is that if he is reduced to these kind of dodgy deals he will lose control and with it the job he so desparately wants to keep. I wrote yesterday that it was almost certainly his last PMQs. His talk about political reform just makes that an ever greater certainty.

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Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Last Questions

Yesterday Peter Mandelson compared the granite like qualities of Gordon Brown to the allegedly more plastic nature of David Cameron. Did he mean that Brown is heavy, grey, dour, unbending and unchanging as against someone who is bright, modern, flexible and versatile?

I couldn't help thinking that after watching what will very likely be Brown's last PMQs. It was typical Brown as Cameron himself pointed out. There was lots of evasion and changing the subject; plenty of statistics used which actually manage to make him look even more shifty and numerous soundbites thrown in regardless of their relevance. The Labour benches roared but in the back of their minds or right at the forefront for those in fear of their seats must have been the knowledge that their granite like leader remains as stubborn and unmoving as rock but nothing like as reliable.

I rarely watch breakfast television. I have made this choice because breakfast television is presented by a sort of endless legion of bland grinning automatons whose weak jokes and faux chat make me grind my teeth. These days however another reason to avoid breakfast television is that Gordon Brown seems to spend an inordinate amount of time on it. It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase sofa government. When Gordon feels he ought to get out there and talk to the people (hilariously he claimed that those he has met this week so far are all telling him not to endanger the recovery) he almost always chooses the GMTV sofa. Their interviewing style is less likely to enrage him or accuse him of rewriting history. Nevertheless these fearless hacks did get our soon to be ex leader to accuse business leaders of having been deceived by the Tories over their NI cut. The response has been that even more such leaders have joined in calls for the hike to be scrapped.

Labour and Brown are in a mess over this. Their claims of using efficiency savings have been cleverly thrown back at them. Their line over it is confused. It's been a big Tory victory this last week and Brown helpfully rekindled it for them. No wonder he is avoiding a more exacting interviewer, the sight of him avoiding Newsnight's Michael Crick last night was endlessly amusing. He wouldn't even look at him.

Cameron got the better of Brown in this last Commons setpiece and the Tories have had a spectacular coup over NI for over a week now. It's been a good start to the campaign for them. It's still early days and a lot can still happen. But the most likely forum in which that could take place is in those debates. Will the unbending and unyielding granite look solid and dependable, or will it just look old and stubborn and too slow to change? The debates will probably not amount to much. But if anything does go wrong the odds are surely that it is Brown who will either make mistakes or just be as charismatic as a big chunk of rock. His performance today will not have calmed Labour nerves.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

And They're Off

Do you think Gordon was praying for an outbreak of foot and mouth over the weekend? Or a nice crisis? A collapsing bank perhaps? Instead he's had to call a damned election. Now he's finally going to have to get a proper mandate and meet people and gurn at them. He's putting a brave face on it and so are his colleagues but they must fear the worst.

In a month and two days we all finally get to give a verdict on the Brown years. We shall of course do so without the benefit of that vision he promised us when he called off an election in 2007. One could be forgiven for thinking that Gordon's only vision is of the tunnel variety - he just likes being prime minister without really knowing what he plans to do with his power, indeed the whispers about Labour's manifesto are that it is a remarkably thin document, bereft of ideas and yet calling itself 'progressive.' Brown is pinning his hopes on somehow convincing us that he is not responsible for the mess we are in, that he alone has the answers to repair that mess and that he can reform public services he has left unreformed this last decade now that the money has run out. That he is as close as he is in the polls is remarkable and rather depressing. We have to hope that Cameron and the Tories prove to be more competent at governing than they have been at campaigning and showing up this bankrupt prime minister.

The pundits are out in force on TV today along with on message politicians spinning 'the line.' The pundits are telling us it's going to be close and the politicians are talking up the vast differences between them. Even I find the prospect of listening to that for four weeks dispiriting. I suspect that I am going to be shouting at my television a great deal during the month of April.

But at least we are finally here. The election is on. It's going to be historic. What kind of campaigner is Macavity going to make? Will he use those debates as an excuse to avoid interviews with the Paxmans, Snows and Humphries of this world? Will Cameron's recent revival continue? Will Clegg make the breakthrough? Will St Vince of Cable get the chance to put his rhetoric into practice? What gaffes will be made? How will the expenses scandal impact? Will some big names fall on May 6th in an echo of 97?

My prediction remains that the Tories will win with a modest but workable majority. I had my doubts a few weeks ago but now I'm convinced I'm right. The country wants rid of Gordon Brown. For all that many have doubts about the Tories and the Cameron makeover, it would take more than a makeover to make Gordon Brown electable.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Labour's Legacy

So, the election is about to be called. Mr Brown is now, after much dithering and a false start ready to face the electorate - well, actually he has finally run out of time and ways of putting off that inevitable day. We still await that much vaunted vision. We still ponder what exactly a Brown government is for. Indeed now we may never find out. The odds are that we are entering the last month of what has been 13 years of Labour rule. Now seems as good a time as any to take stock, to remind ourselves of the Labour years and what we are being asked to re-elect.

Back in 1997 on that heady day when Tony Blair entered Downing Street to cheering crowds, even though we knew that those permitted into Downing Street itself were Labour activists and hand picked, there was a palpable sense of hope and excitement about the new government. Indeed that hope persisted for longer than anyone could have thought possible, longer than that other merchant of hope, Barack Obama has enjoyed. Labour came to power with all kinds of pious claims about their purity, their motives and their intentions. Gordon Brown talked the talk about his tax and spending intentions, he claimed to have seen the light. It was, as we would find out, all spin and mirrors. On his first day Brown was told that the economy was actually in rather good shape, taxes were flooding in and things were hopeful. He told the Treasury to make things look worse so that he could then claim the credit for what was already in place and which he would soon commence destroying.

Back then though, in the autumn of 1997, we were still giving them the benefit of the doubt. Just six months after winning power, Blair had survived a mini wobble over the Bernie Ecclestone affair, done his 'I'm a pretty straight sort of guy spiel' and had then gone on to put into words the nation's feelings about the death of Princess Diana. For a while he enjoyed 90% approval ratings.

Even his dour neighbour had got off to a sure start and not just thanks to his golden inheritance. He had immediately announced Bank of England independence, a clever way to show that Labour were keen to learn the lessons of the past and ensure financial stability. And that may well have been his intention. But we didn't know then what we know now about the then chancellor's real instincts, his hunger for dominating government and its policies and his willingness to bully those who refused to toe the line. Furthermore we did not then know that his every word and announcement should be rigidly studied to see what was really going on and that his intention all of the time was to raise taxes on the sly to spend on public services and his lifelong obsession with wealth redistribution.

And even Bank of England independence had a sting in the tail. At the same time he set up his tripartite regulation for banks, the same system that was responsible for them going on the lending binge leading to the recent recession and which has put us in unprecedented levels of debt. A recession which came from America? Oh no.

That same new and arrogant Chancellor who came in like a new broom to the Treasury surrounded by his clique, sold off most of our gold at an average price of $275 an ounce, netting $3.9 billion. Had he waited, as France did, and sold it off nearer the top of the market, we would now be $10 billion better off, or at least less indebted.

Not content with that, the then Chancellor introduced a new tax regime for pensions destroying one of the best pensions systems in the world and costing us another $100 billion. It isn't as if he wasn't warned. From the moment the policy was first mentioned civil servants warned of the likely consequences. They were ignored.

And remember that 97 election? Remember that pledge card Labour distributed? That too was a sign of things to come. It's not that the aims expressed in such short and gimmicky form were anything but laudable. It's that they expressed in equally short terms what would be Labour's whole approach to government. It was all about targets. It was all about spin and PR. They said something would happen and, thus decreed, it should then happen. They didn't bother themselves with the minutiae of how. It was an odd, back to front way of doing government and one they have never been able to unlearn.

Spin has of course been in politics for as long as there has been politics. Only under New Labour did it become quite so cynical, obsessive, all consuming and thus degraded. When we refer to spin now it is with contempt at having endured it these last 13 years. At the upcoming election Labour will try and present themselves as the party of fairness. It's a moral issue says Gordon. Yet it was this Prime Minister, whilst Chancellor, who abolished the 10p tax thus hitting the very poorest. Why did he do this? It was purely to create a stick with which to hit the Tories. Taxing the poor extra for political advantage. That must have been another example of his moral compass going haywire. They will also try to present the Tories as the party of wealth and privilege and will point to Zac Goldsmith's non dom status. Apparently they have forgotten or think that we have forgotten the former close aide of Gordon Brown, Geoffrey Robinson, a millionaire with off shore accounts in the Channel Islands. They have apparently also forgotten their enthusiasm for rich people when they can be persuaded to be Labour donors, especially when it was hinted that a few honours would come their way in return. Gordon Brown was a big cheerleader for bankers, calling the City the new North Sea Oil. We all know what happened there. Brown is now very anti rich people, but like so many things it has little to do with principles and morality and everything to do with tactics.

And then there were the broken promises, often promises made in election manifestos. This was a government, remember, which came to power promising to be purer than pure, which had accused the Tories of being the party of sleaze and deceit. Yet quickly they began breaking those promises. Air Traffic Control privatisation, student tuition fees, student top-up fees and most damagingly of all their promises not to increase the burden of taxation. This they have done with the numerous stealth taxes, presumably assuming that we are too stupid to notice.

And then there are the taxes on our future. PFI was a lovely wheeze for a government trying to make good on its promises to reform our public services but not wanting to tax us to do so. Solution? Tax our children with some handy accountancy sleight of hand. You think our current borrowing is eye watering? A lot of it isn't included thanks to Gordon's PFI and PPP tricks.

And that borrowing. This government came to power under the most benign circumstances of any since the war, and possibly since the 19th century. The country was booming, public finances were in good health. Brown was even gifted a £22.5 billion lump sum from an old Conservative policy to sell off licences for 3G mobile phones. He rather sensibly used it at the time to pay off public debt. By 2002 our interest payments were at their lowest since 1914. He even boasted about it. Remember his old mistress Prudence? Then he let loose. Public spending more or less doubled. Since then, despite the fact that the country was growing and taxes were flooding in, he ran a public deficit so that by the time the bust finally came he had no room for manoeuvre. The man who lectures us about Keynesian solutions to recessions forgets that Keynes advocated public spending to level out booms and busts. Thus Brown, as a true Keynesian, should have been reducing public borrowing when the cash was flowing and increasing it when times were tough. He did for a while then, typically, started making up his own rules, he's even been reduced to printing money so as to keep the cash flowing instead of grasping the nettle and cutting spending or, as happened in the dim and distant past, offering his resignation for having failed to properly run the public finances.

Again, he was warned about all of this and long before the recession arrived. Many columnists and bloggers, myself included, expressed worry about the level of borrowing during a boom. More than that Mervyn King referred to it in a speech as long ago as June 2004. Brown heard it, he was sitting three people away. He ignored it.

There is no need to go over the whole Iraq war story again. We all know it too well. All I need point out is that we were led to war by a man who, though he didn't 'do god' thought he was leading a moral crusade for a new world order. He said so in a speech in the aftermath of 9/11. But he tried to impose that new world order through two wars fought on two fronts, one of which was of dubious legality. All the time he was fighting these wars with armed services that were seriously overstretched and operating on peacetime budgets at the insistence of a Chancellor who is now Prime Minister. Gordon Brown has been excused giving evidence to the Chilcott Inquiry on Iraq until after the election.

This was a government that, uniquely in our history, lost two ministers through resignation - twice: Peter Mandelson and David Blunkett - both resigned, both were resurrected and then both had to resign again. On the first Mandelson resignation, both his noble letter taking the blame and Blair's moving and emotional letter in response were both written by Alastair Campbell. I laughed out loud when I first read about that. It so sums up New Labour.

But it is this obsession with image and spin that will define this government. Unfortunately their obsessive desire to control their coverage went further than merely playing tricks with the truth. If you were not on their side you were fair game for all manner of vicious tactics. There were the smears about opposition MPs including Chris Patten as revealed by Peter Oborne. And there was the campaign by Brown and his acolytes to smear and remove from the scene either those he saw as rivals or those whose policies and ideas he disapproved of. We saw this illustrated in the Damien McBride affair last year. That was just a small sample of what became routine for Brown and his team so that they could get their way. It was what was at the root of those years of tussles and splenetic rows with Tony Blair. This is how he operates. Did he know nothing about what was going on as he claims? Yeah, right! He is, in the words of Matthew Parris, a talentless bully.

Not that this mode of operating was unique to Brown. He was just the worst. The culture of smear and spin and bullying was very much a New Labour modus operandi. But the worst example of all was in the wake of Iraq and the reporting of that dodgy dossier. Andrew Gilligan's report that May morning was essentially correct about the sexing up of that dossier. But the government and in particular Alastair Campbell went ballistic. Campbell to this day refuses to acknowledge that he or the government did anything wrong. The resultant row led to the death of a mild mannered scientist whose name was shamelessly leaked to the press by government spin doctors out for revenge. Even now there are suspicions amongst some that his death was not suicide.

This has been an astonishingly authoritarian government. We have seen a huge increase in the number of CCTV cameras with questionable results. There are now 4.2 million of these unblinking eyes watching our every move. The government has created a DNA database larger than any other in the world and in defiance of the law which has told them to delete the profiles of those who have not been convicted. And their obsession with watching and recording and tracking us has spread further with the ludicrous and pointless ID card scheme which they are only now and reluctantly backtracking on.

Yet for all of this monitoring of ordinary and law abiding citizens, this is a government that has proven incapable of keeping out astonishing numbers of illegal immigrants and bogus asylum seekers. Current estimates are that there are a million illegal immigrants in the country, arrived mostly since 1997. They allowed a huge influx of perfectly legal immigrants from eastern Europe after underestimating how many would want to come. And the government that has fought a war in Afghanistan, ostensibly to protect us at home, has been incapable of sending home the enemy within. Various Islamic extremists remain in this country, living at our expense and preaching hate because of human rights legislation which they exploit. All too often those perpetrating terrorist outrages are found to have links with Britain and have often been turned to their absurd and bigoted views by those we cannot deport.

Now we enter an election campaign again and Gordon Brown will be asking for five more years. What is his vision for the country? It is the same as ever. More spending as the cure all for our nation's ills, although back in 1997 he claimed that the opposite was true. Since it has become one of his famous dividing lines. He used to tell us that Labour had seen the light, that they no longer believed in tax and spend. Then he proceeded to behave like every Labour government in history and our deficit is the consequence.

Labour investment versus Tory cuts will be his mantra. It is wilfully dishonest. Thanks to this prime minister, a country that was in rude economic health 13 years ago is now in danger of having our credit rating downgraded. Any cuts after the election will be Gordon's cuts and they will happen whether he likes it or not. They have to.

Here is a quote from a rising star on the Labour benches from 1989, his name was Gordon Brown: 'We end this year and indeed this decade with the worst deficit in our history, the worst deficit in Europe, simply as a result of measures taken by this government.'

Now the older and supposedly wiser Gordon thinks that, despite the very real threat of our credit rating being downgraded, we should keep on spending. What changed? Nothing really. It's just that he is now in government and his one and only strategy for winning the election is not his vision for a better Britain it is crude and dishonest dividing lines with the Conservatives.

Even now, after 13 years of spin and bullying and shameless lying, Brown cannot level with the British public about what we face, a situation ten times worse than that criticized by his younger self. This, more even than all of the above, is why we should turn out in record numbers and remove the worst prime minister in two generations.