Saturday, 29 May 2010

An Ecclestone Moment

Blimey! Less than a month in and the new government has its first scandal. On the face of it David Laws's position is untenable. How can the man who is going to be in charge of the negotiations for draconian spending cuts stay in position when he has been caught out being less than honest about his domestic arrangements and using public subsidy for it? Furthermore why is this only emerging now? The Lib Dems paint themselves as the clean party, purer than pure. This looks terrible.

This is a test for the dual leadership of David Cameron and Nick Clegg. One of the scenarios dreamt up by the doubters was precisely this. What happens when a Lib Dem minister gets him or herself into such a spot of bother? Ostensibly the decision should be David Cameron's as prime minister. But is it?

Last year, during the expenses scandal, Cameron did himself a great deal of good and won a lot of credit by acting swiftly and decisively over expenses. If this were a Conservative minister they would already have been despatched in all probability and rightly so.

Laws will be a great loss because he has performed well and seems to be working well with George Osborne. But with the coalition doing well in the polls and enjoying a honeymoon period with the public CamClegg need to show they are able to work together when the headlines are against them too. This could be their Bernie Ecclestone moment. It's no good telling us that they are pretty straight sort of guys and of course David Laws has just shown that he definitely isn't in any sense of the word. Regretfully they should show him the door.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Rebranding the Millies: An Epiphany

I've had an epiphany. Perhaps it's this warm, sunny weather. Anyway, I have seen some kind of light. Henceforth the two front and currently only runners in the Labour leadership stakes will be known on this blog as Little Milly (as before) and Little Milly Minor. Then, if Little Milly Minor (Ed, for those who can't work it out) actually emerges victorious, they will of course switch titles.

Does this mean that I don't take either of the dweebish nerds seriously? You'd better bet your life it does. 

Thursday, 27 May 2010

So Far So Good

It's early days I know and a lot can and probably will go wrong in the weeks and months ahead because that is the nature of politics. But the new government has certainly hit the ground running and looks fresh, full of of ideas and vigour. The contrast with the Labour Party and even a Labour Party currently in the first throes of a leadership contest is stark. Perhaps the two Little Millies and whoever else manages to get the nominations will come up with some ideas before asking for those votes. Thus far they have been decidedly vague about where they want to take the party. It all sounds an awful lot like their failed election campaign.

The coalition on the other hand, partly because they have spent so long out of government of course, seems to be replete with new ideas and initiatives. Thus far at least, whilst they have gone in for some media management and straight politic posturing from Cameron and Clegg in particular, the meat on the bones has been provided by ministers with a raft of announcements which are impressive and give grounds for optimism. The first hints at cuts to come were presented as early as could reasonably be accomplished with the Budget following in just a month's time. We have the abolition of ID cards coming soon and Michael Gove has launched his reforms of education. Now Ian Duncan Smith is getting serious about the welfare reform that Labour never got around to despite their huge majorities.

I like to think I am being objective about this government. I have criticised their ideas on Capital Gains Tax, 1922 Committee and on the 55% rule for the dissolution of parliament, although even on these issues there are encouraging signs that the government are prepared to listen. But thus far I am impressed. Less than a month in we have grounds for optimism. I don't think we really are seeing a new kind of politics. After 13 years of Labour competent, pragmatic and principled government is all we really require.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Triumph of the Geeks?

Just in case you're interested here are the runners and riders in the Labour Party leadership contest. At the moment it is just Little Milly and Little Milly 2 or Miliband Major and Minor. The order of these two might have to be reversed if the polls are to be believed.

Now it is hard to be enthusiastic about any of the declared runners thus far but the Labour Party, or at least the Parliamentary Labour Party, is showing unusual good sense im failing to back Ed Balls in sufficient numbers. But surely they should also want a straight fight? Thus it is to be hoped that the contest is expanded into something more than a mere family affair.

I am intensely relaxed about the prospect of either of the Millys leading Labour. They are both geeky and uninspiring. Of course I would be even more relaxed if Ed Balls was in charge. But perhaps the party, after three years of Gordon Brown, is finally looking at its leaders and potential leaders in the same way as the rest of us. Then again if they are perhaps they should be casting around for someone anyone else to join the fray.

Open Minded

I applauded David Cameron last week when he backed down over the 1922 Committee problem he had created. It is said that some in his team were dismayed by the coup, having not been consulted. And so Cameron commendably beat a tactical retreat. How very grown up.

Perhaps this is a sign of things to come. John Redwood has proposed some very sensible and welcome ideas for CGT which would help plug the gap in the public finances and yet still send a signal that Britain is open for investment and entrepreneurial endeavour. We shall have to wait and see what happens in the Budget next month to see if his advice has been heeded.

And perhaps the government could take another look at the issue of fixed term parliaments and the threshold for voting for dissolutions. I am a strong advocate of fixed term parliaments (indeed I think I may have been a Lib Con well in advance of the coalition even being considered) but I do regret that the 55% threshold has been proposed in the way it has. I understand the thinking behind it but can't see that something so radical is required.

So here is my proposal: Why not, instead of a 55% threshold, have a threshold of 326 or more votes (that's one more than half of all MPs) required for a dissolution. This would maintain the tradition of 50% plus one vote but would mean that for something as drastic as a dissolution a majority of all of those eligible to vote would be required rather than a simple majority.

It is true that David Cameron has given up the right to call elections and this is a step in the right direction. But the process of reform of parliament and of our democracy has to be slow and steady. We are not a nation given to radicalism and revolution. The 326 solution would be more in keeping with tradition whilst changing things sufficiently to reflect the new reality.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Lily and Ivor



I forgot to mention at the weekend huge congratulations to Lily Allen for winning three Ivor Novello awards for her songwriting on the album It's Not Me, It's You. I've mentioned several times how much I admire and not just in that way the lovely and talented Lily. Her songs are catchy, witty and clever. It's a great album and these awards are richly deserved.

The Ivors are much sought after and Lily was a little overwhelmed by it all, scarcely able to accept them without being choked by tears. But perhaps, after a decent interval while she regroups, Lily will reconsider her decision to quit the music business. Those awards on her mantelpiece are testimony to her rare talent.

It's Not Me, It's YouAlright, Still

Where's Gordon?

It's the state opening of parliament today. A big Victorian invented ceremony to justify a giant gothic building in Westminster and a peripheral monarchy.

But apart from all of the usual men in tights flummery and Pythonesque pageantry there is a specific peculiarity at the heart of today's ceremonials. It is that today the new prime minister will be accompanied by the temporary leader of the opposition, thrust in to her position because of the pique of the now departed leader of the Labour Party.

Those who think that Gordon Brown departed the stage a couple of weeks ago with great dignity should take a look at today's proceedings. The man who just a couple of days before was telling the nation that he ought to remain as prime minister for four months while his party chose a new leader suddenly found that he no longer wanted to remain as his party's leader if he couldn't stay in Number 10. Suddenly the man who had been staying in power to maintain good government and facilitate the creation of a new government quit before that government was properly created. Having failed in his desperate attempts to hang on he suddenly flounced out and left his party in the hands of a woman whose election to the deputy leadership had plunged him and the rest of the leadership into a state of depression.

So why isn't Brown there today? Is it a noble acknowledgement that he lost the election? Is it hell. It is because he doesn't have the nobility to accept defeat and the consequences of it. He would have had to process down to the Lords with the hated David Cameron. He would have had to acknowledge him as prime minister. He would have had to take his seat on the opposition front bench and watch the Tories and Lib Dems opposite him. In short, unlike other losing prime ministers of the past - Major, Callaghan, Heath and Wilson for instance - all of whom had to swallow that bitter pill after electoral defeat and before being replaced, he wasn't a big enough man to swallow his pride. It is another example of why the man was never fit to lead his party or his country.

Will Brown make an appearance on the back benches? Or is he even now trying to secure himself some job which will salve his bruised ego? I don't doubt that money is unimportant to him. Unlike Peter Mandelson who quit his role last week now that the salary and prestige and chauffeur driven cars have been taken away, I don't doubt that that side of the job never appealed to Brown. But he did enjoy the prestige and power. He did enjoy being at the centre of things. This is not a man who will content himself with running a charity, whatever he claims. Maybe he will be found a role at some major international institution. But whoever is thinking of offering him such an opportunity should take a look at this other side of his personality too. This petulance, this lack of grace is not an attractive trait. It is a large part of the reason why he failed as prime minister.

1922 And All That

How refreshing that David Cameron has had the good sense to backtrack on his 1922 Committee coup of last week. Perhaps it was just a simple miscalculation. Whatever it was this will no doubt be called a U turn by some in the media in the same way that they cannot get their heads around the fact that members of a coalition government used to disagree with one another and were often rather rude into the bargain. They are wrong. This is just good sense. The move was completely unnecessary and counterproductive. To own up to this is just grown up politics.

This is a nice contrast to the macho style of his predecessor in Number 10. Governments make mistakes. People understand that. Owning up to them, quickly and graciously, could even be another example of the new politics. It would certainly confuse the media.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Grubby Royals

The story of Fergie and her not very estranged ex husband can scarcely come as a surprise to anyone. These minor and insignificant royals have always been able to extract a price from the sort of people who are impressed by an accent and the merest hint of prestige. Andrew, for all of his pretence that he is a major cog in this country's business relations, tends to favour business meetings near to golf courses. Perhaps he does attract some investment from those who regard him as glamorous. Quite how successful such business people will be taking that attitude to their investments is a moot point.

If there is any justice the press will start picking away at this story the way they would if it involved a politician on the take. Is the prince really ignorant of what his ex is up to? Or is he willing to have his name used in this way to fund at no expense to himself her fondness for the lifestyle their marriage accustomed her to?

Those with gilded lifestyles tend to want to hold on to it at all costs. That has been Sarah Ferguson's approach to life since she lost her royal status. Her ex husband, like his older brother, has been given the impression that he matters and can make a difference. He clocks up the airmiles as a consequence. Then again at least he doesn't seek to lecture us about the environment and architecture.

Quite why these talentless hangers-on are allowed to hang on is a mystery. But now perhaps some questions will be asked. Tomorrow the Queen will open a new parliament. It is a spectacle we are supposed to do well in this country despite it absurdities and for which we are famous. This grubby affair surrounding the mediocrities which make up her family, along with the interfering busybody who will one day succeed her are what we must apparently put up with if we want all that ceremony and pageantry. But perhaps it is time again to question why.

The Blame Game

It will be fascinating to see what the Labour line is on the spending cuts announced today by George Osborne and David Laws. Alistair Darling, now on the backbenches, has already told the government they need to come clean about what is planned - this from the man who decided to delay a comprehensive spending review. What will those who aspire to lead the party have to say?

In many ways Labour should be pleased that the coalition is having so many commissions and reviews into areas of policy which are contentious or difficult to reconcile with previously stated positions. This gives Labour the opportunity to regroup and to wait and see. Otherwise they will find themselves in the position of criticising moves which they later adopt - last week Alan Johnson criticised the scrapping of ID cards and the assertion that Britain had become a surveillance state. His colleagues may not thank him for that in the months and years to come - although of course that won't stop them executing a deft about turn.

The spending cuts we have seen today are just a drop in the ocean. These will have been comparatively easy to come up with. Things get much tougher in the autumn. It's imperative that the government pins the blame on Labour and Gordon Brown as often as possible. Brown has now bowed out of frontline politics, no doubt he is even now considering lucrative offers and whether to forget his earlier words about going off to run a charity - Brown has never had any difficulty ignoring past promises and will find it especially easy now he is no longer running for office. But the legacy of Brown is what Osborne and Laws are now dealing with. The tough choices they face this summer and autumn can be laid directly at the door of Gordon Brown. They should make sure it is laid there with a trowel. The Labour Party may not be able or willing to argue otherwise.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Security State

In the first few days or even hours after taking office, a new prime minister presumably becomes apprised of a great many things of which he was formerly only vaguely aware or just suspected. He also has to become cognisant of nuclear policy and has to issue new standing orders to our nuclear submarines. Many former occupants of Number 10 have found the process sobering to say the least and perhaps a little frightening.

David Cameron has presumably been given briefings as to the nature and extent of the terrorist threat in this country. And yet he has dispensed with some of the security used by his immediate predecessors. Is he being brave or is this just an acknowledgement that the threat has been overstated?

Last week Cameron actually walked to Parliament from Downing Street. This has attracted much comment and been described as reckless by some in the security business. Yet the walk takes five minutes. It is through the most heavily policed and watched parts of our capital. Are the police seriously telling us that they cannot protect one man during an unannounced five minute walk through the centre of London? Are there so many potential terrorists on our streets that one may be cruising down Whitehall with a bomb strapped to his back on the offchance of bumping in to a senior politician?

Cameron should be congratulated for his more reasonable stance. It's so much more British to take the approach that he has. If I were him I would also refuse to move in to that horrible, poky little flat above Downing Street in which he and his family are expected to reside. They even have to pay tax for the privilege. They must have taken one look at the place, thought of their nice airy, modern and light home back in Notting Hill and burst into tears.

We all know that there is a terrorist threat - that there are morons amongst us with chips on their shoulders who imagine that their all powerful god wants them to blow themselves and us to kingdom come (with added virgins). But how numerous are they? How threatening? Are all of those armed policemen really necessary? Are those ugly blocks of concrete disfiguring our public spaces a proportionate response?

The last government famously enacted thousands of new laws against crime and terrorism, posing constantly as our defenders even if that meant riding roughshod over our civil liberties and creating a surveillance state in so doing. Now David Cameron, who is in possession of the full facts we assume, feels it is perfectly safe to take a stroll down to parliament. Perhaps he just is not yet ready to completely dispense with normality. Or perhaps all of this is a little overblown. Maybe he should take a look at whether former prime ministers and minor royals need all of that police protection too. One can't help wondering if any of it is really about security at all.



 

Friday, 21 May 2010

Economical with the Truth about Economics

During the election campaign, all three main parties effectively colluded to say as little about the cuts that this country will have to face in the coming months and years as possible. Of course they pretended otherwise but the excellent IFS did the public a great service by revealing the vast lacunas in each party's manifestos when it came to spending and cuts.

The election is now over. Except it isn't. The Labour Party will now spend 4 months trying to select a new leader. Will there be an outbreak of honesty? This is doubtful because Ed Balls is in the contest and he will keep up the pretence that Labour can somehow make the process less painful. Diane Abbott, as a representative of the delusional left, will tell us that we must keep open the spending taps to achieve fairness and that all of that borrowing will magically disappear thanks to growth. Diane amply demonstated on This Week last night that she has no clue whatsoever about economics. She fumbled around for answers and went uncharacteristically quiet when allowed to do so leaving Michael Portillo and Digby Jones to do most of the talking. Still, she'll make the debate entertaining. But perhaps instead of spending the weekend with her bedding plants she should do some homework instead.

The outcome of the Labour leadership election - and their electoral system makes it by no means clear cut - may well be a watershed moment in British politics. It may even mean the slow and inevitable decline of that party if whoever is elected remains in fiscal fantasy land. What they were able to get away with in government will be a great deal more difficult in opposition when they do not have such ready access to facts and figures or are able to keep them secret. Added to the fact that the mess is a Labour mess some honesty would be advisable. But will it be politically viable?

If you want a more stark illustration of what happens when politicians are economical with the truth about economics just look at Europe. Quite apart from the very obvious example of Greece where reality is now biting hard, Germany is now getting a lesson in what monetary union actually means. Those loans currently being sent south will turn out to be grants. There is no way that Greece will ever repay them.

But this is the reality of the Euro. In order for a currency to work money needs to be transferred from wealthy and prosperous regions to those doing less well. It happens in Britain where London's wealth has been transferred to the regions. It has always happened in Europe. Germany has always been a net contributor and Britain has contributed to the pot too. France, because it is France, has always managed to do nicely. The consquences of the current storm may mean that Germany will be asked to dip further into its coffers. But will France? President Sarkozy recently threatened to quit the Euro we are told. Will he do so again if his country's nice little earner is threatened? Yet how else can the project survive? Who else is going to be prepared to make sacrifices?

But this is the reality of EMU which politicians were always shy about telling us. Monetary union inevitably means unifying a lot of other things to make the currency work. That means the rest of Europe slowly adopting a German approach to finance. Will that happen? Or do they think that Germany will continue to spread its wealth and subsidise everyone else when they lose control and live beyond their means?

It is because of this reality that people like me always said that the Euro, though on the face of it an appealing idea, could never work. Now that reality is emerging. Yet still the politicians will not confront it. Their papering over the cracks is just buying time. Eventually one or more countries are going to be forced out or they will face bankruptcy or civil war. Then the whole thing will come crashing down and chaos will ensue.

Here in Britain we are now confronting the truth of the state of our finances. The Labour Party may well take time to catch up. If certain people emerge victorious they may never catch up. Meantime events in Europe are overtaking them. The price of economic dishonesty will soon be revealed.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Hostage to Fortune

David Cameron's has effectively neutered his party's 1922 Committee. It's an audacious and bold move. It's also stupid. Most of his backbenchers are at the moment going along with the 'new politics' because they are back in power again and this has to be better than Gordon Brown and Labour. But they are being asked to accept an awful lot of compromise, an awful lot of broken manifesto pledges. Some of these are acceptable and in some cases even preferable - few true tax cutting Tories will have a problem with the plans to take the low paid out of tax for instance. But issues like Europe and the 55% rule are creating tensions.

Cameron, for all of his talk of devolving power to the local level, shows signs of centralising it when it suits him. So far he has been generous to the Lib Dems and even the SNP and yet notably less so with his own backbenchers. He got this through because they are not yet ready to rock the boat, or at least there are enough new MPs not wanting to ruin their careers before they are started. As this parliament goes on and times get tougher, Cameron may rue this day.

The None of the Above Candidate

Diane Abbott is standing for the Labour leadership. Hurrah! Fantastic news. If only she could win.

Now don't worry, I haven't had a nasty fall and a consequent change of personality. I just think this Labour leadership election could so easily have been monumentally tedious and grim. Now that we have an election campaign with the gloriously confused and eccentric Diane in it life will become much more interesting.

Diane is actually my MP - although I have to confess that I was not responsible for her increased majority. Given the chaos which prevailed in Hackney a fortnight ago she is lucky that they managed to elect anyone at all. This tiny little London constituency somehow contrived to be one of the last seats in the country to declare. It's a strange constituency too. It is in an area of London in which there is a great deal of poverty and a huge ethnic minority population, yet it is right on the edge of the City of London and there is a large and growing influx of people migrating from wealthier parts of London. Oh and since I arrived at the beginning of February there have been about half a dozen murders in the area, mostly of young black people.

Diane of course had a very good education in the type of school which is anthema to her and her party. She then sent her own son to a private school. She is also given to saying things like she did this morning when announcing that she was standing, claiming that all of the candidates look the same. We can look forward to more of that sort of thing from Diane.

She is of course quite right that there should be women and ethnic minority candidates standing for the leadership of her party as there should be more of them in parliament and in government. But Diane is a classic example of why we should not have token candidates. Diane is barely able to function as a decent MP. Her attempts at being a pundit on TV are entertaining precisely because she is this peripheral figure with a questionable grasp of reality. Yes there should be candidates from her sex and with her background. But there is a reason she is not being taken seriously. And it's nothing to do with her sex or the colour of her skin.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Time for China to Act

South Korea says it has evidence, a smoking gun if you will, that North Korea is responsible for the sinking of its warship the Cheonan. We all of course suspect that North Korea is responsible for this outrage - it isn't as if they don't have form, and anyway who else could it be?

The question is what is the world going to do about North Korea? Nobody wants a war, although it may well be the case that Kim Jong-Il's regime wants one least of all notwithstanding their bellicose behaviour and rhetoric.

It is time for China to start acting like the world power it so clearly wants to be. China has the power to bring its troublesome neighbour to heel either by backing sanctions or taking a firmer line.

Ultimately the only way to get this bizarre nation to behave itself is to hit it hard with tough sanctions and stop propping it up. It's hard to see how life can get any tougher than it already is for the people of North Korea, they are already malnourished and undersized as a consequence. The world needs to act for the good of the people of that country, the peninsula and the region as a whole. It's time for China to show that it can be a responsible power.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

A Persistent Blip

I see that the blip in inflation we were assured would be just a temporary phenomenon is looking rather more persistent. This is just a part of the scorched earth policy of Labour in the last year which George Osborne and his team must now get to grips with.

The risk of deflation in this country was always overstated. Do economists not go to Tesco or Sainsburys? Perhaps if they had they would have noticed that the staples of life as bought in supermarkets have been increasing in price and certainly were not falling as we were told. They never came close. Even if these busy men and women do not do their own shopping they presumably use trains or cars to get to work. They have to heat their homes. All of these items and many more which eat up the bulk of domestic budgets have been rising relentlessly.

Deflation was a theory and the solution dreamt up, quantitative easing, is now causing inflation. Of course it was also a handy way of funding the last government's huge deficit too.

The worry now is, as predicted here months ago, that inflation will continue to rise and that the Bank of England will be forced to raise interest rates to choke it off thus endangering the very recovery Gordon Brown kept telling us his policy of maintaining public spending was ensuring. With much of Europe lurching on the edge of a double dip recession thanks to addressing past profligacy we may be about to lose what chance of growth we have.

The coming year or two is looking ever more dangerous and worrying. How Labour must be pleased that they can now watch and criticise from the sidelines, however hypocritical that criticism will be.

Monday, 17 May 2010

55 % Rule

The government is still talking tough about the new 55% rule. Indeed David Cameron yesterday said that it will be a three line whip vote. I strongly suspect that he may live to regret this. Many are coming out strongly against, including David Davis just today.

Cameron is telling us of course that the arguments have yet to be made and this is true. But I think most of us understand the rationale behind it and can even see that there is an argument for it in this era of new politics. I can see that in a new era of fixed term parliaments there is an argument for this kind of safeguard. But it comes down to a matter of principle. This is a fundamental constitutional shift and has been dreamt up almost overnight in reaction to the new reality. At the very least we need a substantial period of debate on the issue and perhaps an undertaking that it will be for this parliament only. Even that may not be enough to appease critics - it certainly doesn't appease me. This may be an issue on which our new PM has to back down graciously. That would be new politics too.

Field of Dreams

I meant to write last week as the coalition was being formed that perhaps David Cameron ought to extend his big tent to include Frank Field. Now it looks as though this may well come to pass which is extremely welcome news.

The team installed at the DWP is looking pretty impressive. Maybe, just maybe, a government created thanks to deals and an indecisive electoral outcome will achieve much more than did the Blair and Brown governments with their massive majorities. As we start to write about the legacy of those governments and of Gordon Brown in particular, this failure will look ever worse.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

St Vince's Halo Slips

Is it just me or do you feel a bit flat now that the election is over? It all seems so dull now. Thank god we have the FA Cup Final and the World Cup on the way to fill the gap.

Of course the newspapers are filling the gap by talking about all of the differences between the Tories and Lib Dems. Duh! They're in different parties!

We do have the row over the 55% clause to keep us entertained. That should rumble on. I do understand why it is though necessary and I can see their point for having it. But I still can't agree to it. I suspect this may end up being the first casualty of our 'new politics.'

One of the little pleasures of this new era is watching how uncomfortable it makes the likes of Simon Hughes and St Vince of Cable who is looking ever less saintly as the days go by. This ridiculous attitude that some have to disliking the Tories just because they are Tories is surely an example of the old politics they used to talk about.

The fact is that the Lib Dems are a rather pointless party who have managed to garner support just because they are not the Conservatives or Labour. The likes of Hughes and Cable should really be in the Labour Party and indeed Cable once was but couldn't get selected to a parliamentary seat. Answer: join the Lib Dems. That's politics Lib Dem style. Now he finds himself in government but with the Tories. You'd have to have a heart of stone not to laugh.

Letting Down Who?

I have something else non political to get off my chest now that the dust has settled and things have gone quiet.

Doctor Who. Now at the beginning of this new series with a new doctor, new assistant and new writers and production team I said that I was impressed and had enjoyed it. I stand by that judgement and know that I am not alone in it.

But there is something lacking in this new series. Having watched all of the episodes so far there are the usual reservations about some of the storylines - the scripts still sparkle with great dialogue but the stories don't do them justice. The special effects are still excellent. But the direction and editing are letting it down. The pacing is all wrong. Scary moments are failing to have their full impact because they are rushed and the timing is wrong. This was particularly the case in the Weeping Angels episodes. The Weeping Angels are one of the best creations of the new series. The first time they appeared, in the episode Blink, they quite rightly won a lot of acclaim and plaudits. Compare and contrast that episode with the latest which had a lot of money thrown at it and yet had nothing like the same impact. Moments which should have been tense and frightening had no impact and that was because the direction failed to get the most out of it. Cliffhanger moments were thrown away. It was extremely disappointing.

And its a theme which has continued. Last week a chase scene looked as though it had been made with the sort of cameras they used in the 50s and 60s which were huge and immobile and so restrictive for making decent scenes. So what was their excuse? I know it's all done on a tight schedule but this was a scene which just threw away what should have been exciting. Presumably the new production is now using new directors. They are not up to the job.

It gives me no pleasure to say any of this. But the new series looks rather amateurish by comparison to previous series. Someone needs to get a grip.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Stuck in the Past

Changing the subject for a moment. I have to get this off my chest. I have just finished reading The Private Patient, the latest and probably the last Adam Dalgliesh novel by PD James. What a waste of several evenings that was.

I've never really understood the success of PD James. Her books are all the same - all set in isolated places so that there is only a small number of suspects and all set in a world which, though it uses the language of modern policing and forensics, at the same time could so easily have been set at a time when Agatha Christie was still writing.

Now I admit that PD James, or Phyllis as the Director General of the BBC called her recently, is a fine writer of prose. But her stories are far fetched, her characters two dimensional and her dialogue old fashioned and stilted. In PD James's world murders are always committed against people who are actually rather unpleasant and to some extent at least deserve it. They are rarely sympathetic. But then neither are any of the suspects. They are always upper middle class, arrogant, haughty and rude. If they condescend to answer questions at all it is usually with extreme bad grace and never nervously. Answers to questions are routinely accompanied by a short discourse on philosophy or current affairs. Each new scene is described in lengthy and tedious detail. These books are hard work.

Working class people, where they exist, are almost always servants or similar. One almost expects them to doff their caps and be lovable rogues. They speak however in exactly the same way as those they serve. Poor grammar and regional accents are unknown in the world of PD James.

Oh and though Phyllis is clearly across much of the technology and terminology used in crime investigations these days much of the rest of the modern world seems to have passed her by. Coffee is always percolated and never instant. She is across mobile phones and e-mails of course, she could hardly miss those. But GPS seems to have passed her by. The police used maps in this book to find their crime scene.

I have now read several of these books. I don't know why. Maybe I was hoping to see the light and become a fan. But the fact is that these books are just poor. Anyone sending them in now would receive an instant rejection and rightly so. I don't know how well these books sell nowadays but presumably this explains why they are still being published.  But it does make one wonder at what gems are sitting ignored on slush piles when tripe like this makes it into the shops.

Reality Check

It's very noticeable that certain elements of the Labour Party, although by no means all of it, are still in denial about how catastrophically they lost last week. The tone was set by the ridiculous Jack Dromey while the dust was settling and Diane Abbott continued the theme on This Week last night. Labour did worse, yes worse, than John Major in 1997. They have allowed themselves to be distracted by the fact that the Tories did not gain a majority and so the defeat looks less devastating. Yet devastating it was. The only reason Labour is not currently looking up disconsolately at a huge Tory majority is because of an unfair electoral system and Scotland.

This is why Labour trying to hang on to power was so outrageous. Happily for the party some were clear minded enought to see that. It is also why the coalition is such a clever move by David Cameron. He gets a stable (ish) government for five years, gets some protection from the worst of the cuts and austerity headlines thanks to the presence of the Lib Dems and rebrands his party into the bargain. The Tories look united - at least for now - and realistic about the election result. Labour is still in shock or spinning until the bitter end.

For all of their talk about progressive politics Labour will be worried by this coalition. They have of course plenty of time to regroup and can cynically criticise the new government for the measures taken to clear up their mess. But the public took a long time to forget about the economic travails of John Major's Tories even after he departed the scene. The government would be well advised to be open and frank about what state our finances are in and lay the blame where it belongs.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

The Truth About 911

I've been spending a lot of time around Westminster the last few days, working, watching history unfold and so on. I also saw, from a distance, the lovely and now ex MP Julia Goldsworthy opining and indeed pining for what might have been. Our eyes met across the crowds. I would have asked her to dinner to commiserate but she was too far away. Drop me a line though Julia.

Also hanging around College Green and the Westminster environs were various protesters. Some were dancing on the grave of Capitalism or so they claimed. Others were demanding electoral reform and so are probably quite pleased now.

But one other lone protester caught my eye. A woman held up a banner saying: 'Tell us the Truth About 911.'

So what is that all about? Do Porsche have a problem with their accelerators like Toyota. I think the world should indeed be told.

Lord Owen of Blog

Just a word on the make-up of this parliament. Some are pointing critically at the lack of women and ethnic minorities. Some progress has been made, 9 Tories are openly gay, 11 are black and asian including women like Helen Grant and Priti Patel. But it's not enough.

But to be fair the Tories did try pretty  hard to remedy the situation. The much criticised and resented A list of candidates designed to increase numbers of women and ethnic minorities was only partially successful. Only 38 of A listers were elected. The likes of Joanne Cash, Shaun Bailey, Wilfred Emmanuel Jones and Annunziata Rees Mogg were rejected by the electorate. That is hardly Cameron's fault.

If there is a problem its all of those Old Etonians now in parliament - 19 in all. It doesn't look very inclusive does it? Where are the Tories with my kind of background - working class, comprehensive educated and non Oxbridge? Yes we do exist.

Perhaps the solution is the mooted proposals to create lots of new Lords - a proposal only acceptable if this is a temporary measure before reform and democratisation takes place. Why not put some A listers in the Lords? I will be happy to become a temporary peer too. I hereby guarantee that this turkey would vote for Christmas. Lord Owen of Blog. I rather like the sound of that.

The New Deal

Okay, now that the dust has settled, what to make of the deal which has brought us a coalition government for the first time since men still wore hats and bombs and the first guided missiles were falling on London? Overall I welcome what is being proposed. I have argued before on this blog that the Lib Dem policy on taking the low paid out of tax was a good one and this is a policy they will now be working towards. The Tories will get their way on making a start on cutting public spending and we should all be pleased about that. That early budget and spending review are going to be uncomfortable in many ways. But at first sight it looks as though, thanks to a deal which will see a stable and secure government in place for a full term, they can get on with tackling the problems.

On political reform I have more mixed feelings. I wrote at the weekend that the Tories should get real about electoral reform and this is a sign that this is beginning.

The proposal to change confidence votes so that they require 55% of MPs is plain wrong. That is a fundamental change in our constitution for which they have no mandate and for which there is no clear need. They should drop it like a ton of bricks and blame it on a silly idea which occurred to them due to lack of sleep.

Looking at reform of the House of Lords is the very least they should be doing. It will of course take time to come up with an acceptable system as the last government showed and the Lords will put up blocks. Then again there are reports that the new government will create 200 new peers. This is only acceptable if they do reform the upper house.I have no problems with handing over more powers to the Scottish parliament and to the Welsh assembly. But something needs to be done about the West Lothian question. That is a constitutional crisis waiting to happen which the present deal has just put on hold.

On pensions and welfare the appointment of Ian Duncan Smith is a positive move. He is a real reformer with the right instincts. This government needs to get radical on issues like pensions, retirement age and working age benefits. The system is a mess.

The great reform bill abolishing some of 'progressive' Labour's more outrageous attacks on our civil liberties is a punch the air moment so long as it does what is says on the label.

Where there might be problems ahead will not necessarily be on Europe as many expect - since there is nothing major on the horizon on that issue at least for the time being. But what about environmental issues? Did the British public vote for this strange hybrid beast of Conservative green posing and Lib Dem phoney environmentalism? Are we going to get taxed ever more under cover of tackling climate change thus nobbling British industry and creating more fuel poverty? Will they push through the new power stations we urgently need to stop the lights going out? The policy to stop the third runway is sensible. But why not learn the lessons of the recent volcano episode and think seriously about a runway in the Thames estuary as proposed by Boris?

On balance though this looks like a decent and forward looking route map for government. I remain as optimistic as I was yesterday.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

New Politics

I've come over all peculiar. I feel decidedly strange. It's an odd warm and fuzzy feeling. It started yesterday as I was in Westminster watching the momentous events and it has been getting worse all day as this new government has taken shape. I think it may be optimism.

Perhaps it is just a reaction to 13 years of cynicism and dividing lines, of tribal politics at their rawest, but the sight of two politicians from opposing parties working together is strangely compelling and inspiring. Of course there are mutterings off stage as one might expect - we're not used to this sort of thing in Britain - but we are seeing something genuinely new and really rather exciting.

The deal done to bring this about is of course complex and will almost certainly be tested severely from time to time. But you cannot fault its boldness and ambition. In the space of less than a week we have gone from an election which disappointed everyone to a resulting deal which promises a great deal even its novelty and strangeness makes us nervous.

Labour of course is not yet able to adjust to the new reality. It is still in dividing lines mode. They, we are told, are now the only truly progressive party, whatever that means. Yet this new government is promising reform to politics and a referendum on electoral reform. It is going to unravel the huge swathes of illiberal and authoritarian legislation enacted by the so called progressives. It is cooperating. All that Labour can do is mutter darkly about what the Tories will do. It's frankly pathetic. The Tories have agreed to work with another party and give them real power. Were Labour prepared to do the same?

Last week the country, notwithstanding the electoral system kept in place by those progressives in the Labour Party while it suited them, did not elect any one party. That is the reality. Two of our major parties are now adjusting to that reality. On first sight it's a reality that Britain may come to rather like.

Good Riddance Gordon

I'm not going to enter into all of the after the fact hagiographies which so many are indulging in after the demise of Gordon Brown. I don't think he behaved at all honourably or with dignity at any point over the last few days. He was up to his usual tricks and so was his party. Even his resignation last night was timed to cause mischief I suspect. Either he wanted to deny Cameron entering Downing Street in sunshine or maybe he hoped that Cameron is as cynical and calculating as he is and would call off a deal with the Lib Dems once he was installed in Downing Street.

And why did Brown resign immediately as PM and leader of his party? Is it because he cannot bring himself to be leader of the opposition and have to face his nemesis at PMQs for the next few months? It's not very dignified is it?

And Brown went to his party headquarters and took all of the blame for the defeat. Except he didn't. He then blamed the fact that the Tories had more money (it wasn't a problem when Labour had plenty of course) and that the media was against Labour.

Last night, consistent as ever, Peter Mandelson told us that it was typical of Gordon to take responsibility!! I wonder if Sue Nye would agree. I wonder if those in the Downing Street bunker will. Well we'll soon find out. There is no need to keep quiet about the truth now. The memoirs about the Blair/ Brown years will be flooding out in the months ahead. I suspect thus far we have only scratched the surface of what really happened.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Reality Dawns

Well a new day has dawned has it not? I wonder where I've heard that phrase before.

Gordon Brown has accepted reality at last and announced his resignation. Strangely he has also stood down as Labour leader. Yet yesterday he was going to stay as Labour leader for four more months and Prime Minister too. Odd that. Could it be that we have gone through all of the travails of the last few days because Brown could not face having to be leader of the opposition and facing David Cameron as PM? We may never know for sure but that's my theory.

So will a new coalition government be created or will it be something looser. Time will tell. Surely after all of the haggling and two timing of the last few days Clegg and co will now want to be part of the government they are helping prop up? If not how long will it last? But all of that is to come.

Progress of the Progressives

There's something rather comical about these repeated references to 'progressive' parties and a 'progressive alliance.' It's Labour Party spin which has now infected everyone on the left, as they shamelessly scramble for power and try to come up with ever more desperate arguments for ignoring the will of the people.

But there is also something sinister about it isn't there? To my mind this kind of arrogance and presumption brings to mind communist dictatorships which call themselves people's republics. We have your best interests at heart, they tell us, which is why we are now going to tell you what you really said at the election just last week and do a deal to keep out the Tories.

One of the characteristics of some of these 'progressive' types is that they really do think that they have a monopoly on wisdom and rectitude and that consequently they ought to stay in power regardless. This is true of all politicians to some extent of course - it's hardly worth going into politics if you don't believe that your way is the best way. But a degree of humility would seem appropriate after an electoral drubbing. Instead we see sophistry and the most astonishing non-sequiturs in order to defend the indefensible. That's if they bother to make an argument at all. All too often these 'progressive' types just tell us that what they are doing is 'right,' without bothering to condescend to a supporting argument. It's like being preached at rather than anything so time consuming as debate and persuasion.

Some on Labour's side, like John Reid and David Blunkett, can see what is happening and, to their credit can see how wrong it is. They can also see how dangerous it is for the party's future. Gordon Brown is determined to cling on to power just for a little longer and for some reason his party needs 4 times longer to elect a replacement for him than the country needed to elect an entire House of Commons. This would all look dodgy even if the numbers added up. But they don't. The deals needed are ridiculously complex and the various minor parties are salivating at the prospect. The majority in England can only look on and wonder where it leaves them and how much they will end up paying. Are we expected to just accept this?

As is usual the word progressive is being used constantly in the hope that constant repetition of this will persuade the country that what is being proposed is not scandalous and obscene. It's okay, the nation will say, it doesn't matter that the election result has been ignored because they're progressive. That they think they can get away with this is astonishing. That the Lib Dems are even thinking about such an arrangement is mind boggling.

The Tories have played this beautifully. They made a genuine offer and the Lib Dems, thinking they would rather be progressive perhaps, chose to be two faced and hypocritical instead. Then the Tories even raised their offer. The Lib Dems and Labour will have been damaged by this, even if they aren't stupid enough to actually go through with their dodgy deal.  What happens now will be fascinating. If the Lib Lab pact happens Conservatives can relax and watch it unravel. A second election in a few months will be a racing certainty and one trick pony Clegg will no longer be able to talk about the old parties and the new politics. He's worse than the lot of them and indecisive to boot. How very Lib Dem.

Monday, 10 May 2010

The Lib Dem Gazumpers

Just a few weeks ago, a bright and bushy tailed young leader stepped out into the lights, looked the country in the eye and the country seemed to like what it was seeing. Who is this ingenue they said? We like what he says, he presses our buttons. They then got to know him a little more and started to realise that he was just a button pusher rather than a serious figure and so chose not to vote for him.

Today the country is getting to know Nick Clegg and his famously cynical party even better. They have always said different things to different people and constituencies. Now they are doing it in broad daylight and in front of the world's press. Clegg is looking an awful lot like a younger and better looking Gordon Brown this evening.

'A Future, Fair For All' said Gordon. Nick countered with a promise of an end to the old politics. He even spoke, at the end of that election, about the Tories showing that they can govern in the best interests of the nation . How we will laugh about that in the coming days. Now St Nick is cosying up to Labour. The party which came third in this election is actually doing a deal with an unelected and rejected prime minister, trying to do a shameless deal which will shift the goalposts and give them access to red boxes and chauffeur driven cars in perpetuity.

Quite how Labour and the Lib Dems think they can get away with all of this is beyond comprehension. Brown comes out and intones about doing the right thing for the nation but this will mean him hanging on until the autumn. Clegg says the same but is effectively saying that the nation can go hang if it means that he cannot get his way on electoral reform.

What they are proposing is a coalition which will include Labour the Lib Dems and another one or two parties. They are colluding in a shabby deal which will protect the budgets of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and impose cuts on England which voted for the Conservatives. Such a deal will be inherently unstable and will lead to an election later this year or some time next. It cannot survive. Morally it has no right to survive. The British public will be severely unimpressed and probably disgusted and will punish them accordingly.

Quite how they can be so stupid is a mystery. Not only are the Lib Dems making themselves look just as bad as Brown and Labour they are providing a winning argument as to why PR could so easily be disastrous for this country. The Conservatives will be outraged in public but in private probably can't believe their luck. They have made a generous offer to the Lib Dems but, like greedy house sellers during a boom, Clegg and Co are now seeking to gazump them for a better offer. Is this the new politics?

You have to wonder if the Lib Dems went into this process with any real intention of getting into bed with the Tories. Did Clegg just say the right things, aware that he had made a promise in the campaign? Did he know his party would never be able to wear a deal with the Tories? If so then what about all of that pious talk about the electorate being the kingmakers? What about the talk of breaking the mould?

Labour, desperate to hang on to power, seemingly at any cost, are talking all kinds of guff about progressive alliances. Progressive? Ignoring the clearly stated intent of the electorate and installing the parties that finished second and third and imagining that this gives them a mandate for some gerrymandering into the bargain? Progressive? Keeping an unelected leader in power while keeping out the party which won 2 million more votes than he did? Progressive? Installing yet another unelected leader, after those TV debates, to hang on to power at all costs? If they were really part of a progressive alliance why did they not campaign together? Why did Labour spend the campaign disagreeing with most of the Lib Dems policies?

Brown is a desperate man. His determination to cling on to power, even for just a few more months, so that he can leave on his terms is breathtakingly unprincipled even for him. His legacy will be to doom Labour to a defeat even worse than the one it just suffered.

The Tories should now just let Labour and the Lib Dems do their shabby deal. It will never last and will struggle to get off the ground at all. They will never get PR through parliament and may be blowing their best chance of getting it. Brown will remain in office until the autumn in clear defiance of the will of the British public.

In future we may call this the losers parliament. Its consequences will reverberate for much longer than the parliament itself.

Deal or No Deal?

It looks like a deal may be imminent. Are we actually going to have a proper coalition rather than something considerably less formal and so considerably more flaky? That would seem the sensible and mature way to proceed. The country faces a severe financial crisis and needs a stable government with a decent majority to do what needs to be done. A Conservative/Lib Dem coalition would also have the advantage of having a real mandate to govern for the first time since the war. It would enable the Tories to bring on board St Vince of Cable whom the public seems to trust for some reason whilst at the same time reining in his more bizarre policies.

Labour, in their usual cynical way, are already calculating that clearing up the mess they created will make a new government immensely unpopular, thus clearing the way for them down the line. This won't make it any easier for Gordon Brown to accept defeat however. Not only is he a man who is emotionally retarded enough to find this difficult in all circumstances, he also knows that this would spell the end of his leadership of the party. Or will he try to cling on to that just as he has Downing Street? Perhaps he will claim he has to stay in charge in case of an imminent general election.

The best way for a new government to approach the crisis the country faces is to be utterly open and honest about the problems we face. The comprehensive spending review that Labour refused to hold should be carried out immediately along with a full audit of the nation's books. Then lay it out in full for us all to see. This is the damage Labour has done and tried to hide and this is what we need to do to address it. Being part of a coalition would be no bad thing under such circumstances.

And whisper it, but would having a more proportional system after a period of austerity be such a bad thing? Do we want to deliver another landslide to a left leaning Labour Party at the next election which would take three elections to reverse? The more you look at the figures of this election the more you see how broken our current system is. Had the positions been reversed, with Labour on 36 - 37% and the Tories on 29 - 30%, Labour would have a big majority again and Brown would be claiming a mandate for all kinds of excesses and head in the sand economics. Instead we have a hung parliament with Labour complaining that the Tories have no right to govern and Brown squatting in Number 10 refusing to budge. An inquiry into a better electoral system cannot hurt surely. And while they're at it they should think about setting out some rules about what happens in the event of a hung parliament and a means of forcing an incumbent prime minister to accept defeat by forcing him or her out if necessary. Electoral and political reform are very necessary but the answers won't be easy and won't come quickly. Ultmately it will have to go to a referendum and maybe that referendum should give a number of different options.

This election has also confirmed what we all knew. Scotland and England are completely diverged politically. This is actually less of a problem for a Tory government than in the past thanks to devolution. The problem however is more and more in England. The West Lothian problem remains unresolved. Furthermore we have a Labour Party with a leader representing a Scottish constituency who, if given the chance, would remain in power and have to do all kinds of deals maintaining spending in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to the detriment of England. That has constitutional crisis written all over it. Pretty soon you would have people demanding independence - for England.

Whatever deal is being done today the priority is to install a government that will be stable for at least a year or two while the current crisis is addressed. The Tories must be a little tempted to set their red lines and tell Clegg and co to take it or leave it. The trouble with that is it could mean Brown staying where he is and the country going to the dogs. The situation we are in is dangerous and worrying politically and I fear that we could indeed have a Labour majority in a few months again if we get an unsatisfactory resolution. That is why a coalition is actually rather a good idea. Narrow political considerations make one wonder if now is not the time to let Brown stay in and make things even worse. But love of one's country and the fear of what he would do pull the other way. We need Brown out. The next election can look after itself.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

The State We're In

This election and election result is not exactly showing we British at our best. We had chaos at many polling stations when local councils couldn't cope with people who had been enthused by the campaign and the likely close result and so chose to exercise their democratic rights. Now we have a result which leaves nobody in charge except the very man the public has voted by the million against. All thanks to the British constitution.

Of course we don't actually have a constitution. We have a system which nobody really understands and which we need various 'constitutional experts' to opine about at length. The whole thing is a farce.

And the experts are telling us conflicting things. The original guidance was that, in the event of a hung parliament, the sitting prime minister has the right to try to assemble a viable government first as Ted Heath did in 1974. So far, so reasonable. But when this failed Heath resigned. But that hasn't happened. Gordon Brown was told by Nick Clegg, via the media, that the Conservative Party has the right to try to form that government. So out came Brown playing the statesman and playing a waiting game and the experts told us that he was quite right to do so and could stay where he was awaiting developments. Brown wasn't being statesmanlike, it was a desperate man clinging on cynically whilst pretending to be being above the fray.

We have had an uncertain result but the only certainty is that Labour lost. Their position is that, even with the support of the Lib Dems and several other parties combined ( a most unlikely scenario) they can barely scrape a majority. And yet Brown is clinging on and is now an enthusiastic convert to the cause of electoral reform - anything to stay where he is.

The party which tells us that it is progressive is at the moment hiding behind an obscure loophole in our constitutional arrangements so that it can ignore an election result and try to concoct a deal to keep out the party which has won the most seats and the most votes. Yesterday the newly elected MP for Birmingham Erdington, Jack Dromey, seriously tried to rewrite the history of the previous 24 hours by telling us that the nation had shown it did not want a Conservative government, this despite the fact that the Conservatives had won a greater proportion of the vote than Labour did in 2005. This is progressive apparently.

It's being reported today that Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg last night had a telephone conversation and that Brown reverted to type and became angry and abusive, a diatribe laced with threats according to the BBC's Jon Sopel. This is easy enough to believe. Maybe Brown thinks Clegg is a bigot. But this is all part of Brown's sense of entitlement, monstrous ego and hatred for the Tories. It means now that the chances of a Labour/ Lib Dem deal - even if this would achieve a majority - are even less likely. Will Labour finally dump the man? Don't bet on it. Not yet anyway.

And yet still certain parts of the Lib Dems baulk at the idea of doing a deal with the Tories. Isn't this an example of the old politics we heard so much about from their leader? The election has taken place, the people have spoken. The Lib Dems may not like the result but they have to work with it. This is a test for their ideas about PR and more representative parliaments. The Tories won the most votes and the most seats. A deal with anyone else is not viable. If the Lib Dems cannot or will not do a deal then where does that leave their claims of being different? We expect such tribalism of Labour and to a lesser extent the Tories. Now is the chance for the Lib Dems to put the country first.

Quite how sincere the Tories are about doing a deal remains to be seen. It has advantages from a political perspective because of the tough things they are going to have to do. To have the Lib Dems on side in some way would be advantageous in terms of actually governing but also when the next election comes around. But they could just be making the right noises and showing willing before the whole thing unravels. Another election is looking pretty likely a few months down the line.

And the Tories do need to get real about PR. It is not a priority of the electorate and they don't need to make it one, but something does need to be done. Our system worked fine when we had only two parties dominating but that hasn't been the case now for 30 or more years. All too often in the past the Conservative Party has lived up to its name and  been dragged kicking and screaming into the future. Our system is broken and needs fixing. Here is a chance to fix it in a way that would be genuinely democratic and less disadvantageous than anything Labour and Gordon Brown would cynically try. A PR system would not mean the end of right wing governments - indeed it is reported that UKIP cost the Tories 17 seats on Thursday which ought to concentrate a few minds. It would mean no more huge landslide victories such as those in 83, 87 and 97 but that is no bad thing. But the current state is a test to see if our parties and politicians are mature enough to accept a new reality and to adjust to it. Tribal politics are dead.

Gordon Brown is in his usual state of denial about his situation. He cannot lie and bully his way out of this. He has no right to stay in Downing Street. The only reason he is still there is because we have a constitution unfit for purpose and a head of state who is powerless to intervene. Brown seems determined to hang on, although for what is a mystery. I predicted this or something like it would happen months ago, although I hoped for a clearer outcome. If the Tories and Lib Dems manage to do a deal, even a loose deal, then Brown has no choice but to go. But he has little choice anyway. Perhaps it is time for someone to tell him this. Provide me with some Kevlar armour plating and I'll be happy to do it myself. Or perhaps I can be a fly on the wall. The game's up, Gordon. It's time to go. Duck!

Friday, 7 May 2010

Cold Light of the Morning After

Okay so my prediction last night, like those of many others, turned out to be wrong. Not spectacularly wrong but wrong nevertheless. Perhaps it was wishful thinking.

Last night however, as the polls closed, based on those exit polls, I appeared on Mark Parton's programme on Capital Radio in Canberra to give my initial impressions. I said then that I thought that Brown would have to go and that remains my opinion. As the morning goes on I'm becoming more and more confident that my immediate reaction to those rather shocking polls was spot on.

It is scarcely surprising that Brown is trying to cling on. I predicted that he would months ago. It's hard to see how he can get away with it though. From a strictly constitutional point of view he is entitled to try and form a government. But it's hard to see how he can succeed. Labour and the Lib Dems combined still do not have a majority as I pointed out at 10 0 Clock last night. This coalition of losers would be outrageous.

But for now Brown is a block on progress. He has to resign before the Queen can call anyone else. It is at times like this incidentally that the nonsense of a monarchy is revealed so starkly. She cannot interfere even in a situation like this when we need her to interfere. Instead she has to wait for Gordon Brown to swallow his pride and accept that the game is up.

The Conservatives of course will be disappointed by this result but they have won the election. It was always an uphill struggle for them at this election. They have actually done rather well under the circumstances, especially when you consider that our broken electoral system still delivers so many seats to Labour thanks to the way constituency borders are drawn.

So what now? Well we're waiting for Gordon. Nick Clegg has already given him a nudge and to be fair has stuck by his principles and agreed that the Tories have the right to try and form a government first. He should be applauded for that. That effectively prevents Brown from putting out feelers. He has to resign and, given the looming crisis over sovereign debt and the urgent need to put a new government in place, it is his duty to so so quickly for the good of the country.

 Labour can talk about constitutional niceties all they like. But they have lost this election. The fact that the Conservatives have failed to win as well as they would have liked is irrelevant. It is just that they have scored a points win rather than a knock out blow.

Let's hope that the Conservatives now put out a statement telling us that they stand ready to form a government and call on Gordon Brown to accept the will of the people. Strictly speaking Brown can take his time and can hang on until parliament is recalled while he tries to do a deal. But he cannot govern and it will be outrageous if he tries. The man who has governed us for nearly 3 years without having won an election is now trying to cling on having lost an election. It is time to go.

Cross About Crosses

I wrote yesterday after I had been to vote that I had to queue to do so. It seems that my experience was rather common. Later during the day people were still queueing right up until the polls closed. It seems that many have been denied their vote as a consequence.

When I went to my local polling station - a station which has been making the news consequently because apparently fighting broke out there - I opined to one of the local government officers operating it about the rather low tech way of doing things we British still stick so rigidly to. She replied that it worked and so there was no need to fix it. Then look what happened.

Our electoral system is archaic. We have already heard stories about postal voting being abused and now even the polling stations aren't working.

There has to be a better way. When I worked in local government I was frequently asked whether or not I wanted to work on election nights. Most clerical staff were. It was all done in a typically ad hoc, low tech and rather amateurish way. Yesterday a creaking system still using pencil and paper, old fashioned paper lists of electers and locked boxes to collect the polls showed the strain. Surely we should by now be voting electronically? Surely we should have to register and prove our identity and then be issued with a registration number so that we can vote in polling stations on computers? It would make the system more secure and would make counting quicker and easier making mistakes less likely.

How can we as a nation advise other countries about their electoral process and indeed criticise them for flawed processes when ours owes its origins to the Victorian era? This is not an excuse for what happened yesterday which was just bad organisation thanks to local authority incompetence and penny pinching. But the system is creaking and needs reform. It's a national embarrassment.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Election Prediction

Okay, so the polls are set to close in a few hours and we shall soon have exit polls predicting the outcome. These, we are told, are often uncannily accurate. We shall see. I strongly suspect that the same has not been true of the many and various polls during the campaign itself. This has been a close and closely fought election. The polls have struggled to cope.

So here's my prediction for what it's worth: I'm predicting a high turnout, much higher than any election since 1997. I'm predicting a Conservative victory with a narrow majority of around 10 to 15. This is an amendment to my New Year prediction because an awful lot has changed since then. But not as much as we thought. The Lib Dem surge has turned out to be nothing like as significant as we thought. They are not going to break the mould, probably because, for all of their pretence, they are simply not that different. In other respects they are too different with some wacky policies, the sort beloved of parties which do not expect to have to actually implement them. It has been their undoing.

Labour are going to have a disaster tonight. Gordon Brown will lead them to a worse defeat than under Michael Foot certainly in terms of share of the vote.

Interestingly we are almost back to where we are at the beginning of the campaign and before those game changing debates. The only difference is that the Lib Dems have had the spotlight on them and, except at first, have not necessarily enjoyed the experience and of course the country has had a month of unrelenting exposure to Gordon Brown, his lies, his smile and his version of a charm offensive. When the history of this period is written in the years to come, the decision to go into an election led by this man will look as bad as the 1983 manifesto. But then this has also been a remarkably cack handed campaign by the Labour Party. The Dark Lord of Spin and Many Titles and Minister for Everything (this is the last time I shall be able to call him that) has lost his touch, and Bad Ally Campbell will now be called that for a very different reason than hitherto

So I expect Gordon Brown, with extreme bad grace, to have to resign and not be able to try and do some dodgy deal to keep him in power. His Labour colleagues will, at least for now, be spared the task of telling him to go. David Cameron will form a government. He cannot claim to have a resounding endorsement (albeit on a high turnout) but it is enough. It's up to him now to show that his caution in the campaign and preceding it was just canny positioning. He will now have the chance to show us what he is really made of.

The People Speak - In Droves

I've just had to queue to vote. Now maybe this was just an early morning rush before people went to work but the queue was even longer when I came out again and by then it was getting on for 9 0 Clock.

I've been saying for a while that we could see a big turnout at this election and on this tiny and possibly unrepresentative evidence this seems to be the case. This has to be good news, even if ultimately you don't like the result.

So what does it mean? Are people turning out in their droves to kick out Gordon and Labour? Are Labour voters turning out and coming back to the party as Brown practically begged them to despite insulting them last week? Is Clegg mania not fading as quickly as it appeared? It's pointless to speculate now.

My own feeling is that there is almost a hint of 1997 about. People are turning out to try and ensure the outcome they desire and because they feel that the outcome is in doubt. Certain politicians like Jacqui Smith and Tony McNulty are almost certainly quaking in their boots, that is if they haven't already accepted their likely fate. This higher turnout is a product of MPs expenses as well as those galvanising debates.

Oh and I strongly suspect that some of the polling companies are going to be doing a lot of head scratching tonight. I shall be publishing my own predictions for the outcome later today before the polls actually close. A sleepless night has never felt like such an enticing prospect.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

The Way Forward

It will hardly come as a surprise to regular readers that I shall be voting Conservative tomorrow and hope that the country does too. I am by no means an uncritical supporter of the Conservatives. I think the campaign has all too often been lacklustre and has struggled to get across its message. Worse than that they don't really know what the message is. But, though I confess to some worries, I think a David Cameron government is preferable to anything else on offer.

In fact this campaign, though often worryingly insipid and directionless, has given me reason for hope. Cameron has shown himself to be resilient and robust. The Tories never panicked, they adjusted and changed when things were not going their way. David Cameron in particular rose to the challenges of this campaign and is now getting stronger at precisely the right time. That has to be a good sign for the trials of government.

But why have the Tories struggled to seal the deal? To my mind it is quite simple - they have allowed themselves to be branded by Labour as right wing, extremists and out for the rich and privileged. It is a view of them which persists across large swathes of the population, particularly amongst those who do not really follow politics and are largely uninterested in it. It is Labour and Gordon Brown's great achievement. Labour managed to convince the country that the Tories were evil and selfish and that their way was the road to ruin whilst at the same time stealing Tory clothes, or at least pretending to. Back in 1997 Tony Blair promised us that we had elected New Labour and that they would govern as New Labour. Perhaps that was his intention. Unfortunately Gordon Brown had other ideas, it's just that whilst the economy was doing well he was able to hide it. Now the country is reaping what he has sowed. Once again a Conservative government may be faced with clearing up the mess and being branded as evil for doing so.

So how can the Tories change their image? It is not going to be with absurd claims about going green and the like. Perhaps the only way is when in government. Labour are telling all manner of alarmist lies about what a Conservative government plans for us all. Only by governing and failing to carry out what Labour allege is inevitable will they successfully counter such accusations. More than that the Tories have the opportunity to reform so much of our system but in a way that will not cost money we don't have but might even save it. Their talk of localism and greater accountability needs to be put into practice. They should announce straight away that they will implement fixed term parliaments, consult on reform of the House of Lords and devolve power locally. Unelected quangoes should be slaughtered by the dozen.

Unfortunately this is a Tory government which is going to have no choice but to cut and cut hard. Let's hope that they have the courage to do so quickly and get it out of the way early on in their administration if elected. The doom laden predictions of Labour and others about what will happen are unlikely to be vindicated. Indeed the opposite is more likely to be true. By cutting now the Tories can secure that recovery Brown claims only he can deliver. If they cut with care and pin the blame on Brown while they still can.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Brown's Misplaced Passion

There has been much talk since yesterday about the speech Gordon Brown gave to a strange brew of people in Methodist Central Hall. Certainly the speech was passionate,but once again in this election campaign it is the manner of speaking rather than the content which is grabbing attention. Presumably Labour, who keep telling us they want the election to be about substance rather than such trivial considerations, are frustrated about this. Or perhaps not.

So what roused Brown? Perhaps it was the imminence of his ejection from power. But more likely it was the fact that had he not got passionate the headlines would have been stolen by a young girl crying because her family cannot make ends meet.

And this is the legacy of Gordon Brown. He has spent the last 13 years tinkering with our tax and benefits system and doling out cash to all and sundry. Yet this family, with a mother working and not on benefits, is struggling, having to eat lentils for days on end and cannot afford the sort of essentials for a basic education necessary in our modern society.

Brown and Labour boast about their implementation of the minimum wage and about tax credits, they talk about the real help available to the jobless. But here was a dose of reality for them. The minimum wage has become the default wage for millions of people in this country, paid to all workers who are unskilled or low skilled. The government's policy of allowing eastern European immigration meant that employers could get away with paying such low wages across the board. The law of supply and demand was subverted.

But those earning the minimum wage or a little more are still taxed. Furthermore Brown raised their taxes when he increased National Insurance and when he abolished the 10p tax band. His tax credits only help those with children and all too often they penalise anyone who works overtime or gets a pay rise.

13 years since Labour came to power there are millions struggling on less than £240 per week. Have Labour politicians tried living on this? Have they tried living on benefits? Housing costs have increased, taxes have increased, fuel and travel costs have increased, food prices have increased. Brown has thrown cash at the public sector but education is still not performing as it should meaning that millions will remain trapped in low paid jobs even if they can get them and employers will have no need to raise their pay. If the Treasury are paying their own cleaners so poorly then what chance those in struggling sectors of the economy? Inequality has risen in this country as a direct consequence of the muddled and conflicting priorities of this government.

Yes Gordon Brown sounded passionate about the need for fairness yesterday. But he ought to take a long hard look at his own record. He has succeeded in making matters worse for millions of the people he is pledged to help. He is incapable of the leap of imagination required to change tack because it would require honesty, modesty and a fundamental rethink. I don't doubt that he honestly wants to help the poor and implement a fairer society. The last 13 years have shown he has no idea how to achieve that worthy aim.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Dying Days of a Disreputable Prime Minister

I'm not going to do much blogging this weekend. I'm busy doing other things and next week is of course going to get busy.

I shall content myself with observing however that the last few days feel like a watershed in this election. The Brown gaffe - I refuse to call it Bigotgate - has had an impact and so has the debate. But Labour seem strangely fatalistic about what is to come. Brown gave a typically robust and blustering performance in his interview with Jeremy Paxman yesterday. But it was full of lies and evasions and delusions. New Labour is dying and their twitching body has defaulted to its basic instincts.

And this is all that Labour have left. It's clever of course but it doesn't impress us anymore because we've seen it all before. Brown made various claims he knew that Paxman (who has not had a good election) would be unable to challenge and some that he should have challenged - why for instance was he allowed to get away with his sudden conversion to the urgent need for electoral reform? But on the other claims only someone with Brown's geeky recollection of arcane statistics and possessing his ability to twist them would have been able to challenge him. Brown knew this. Accordingly he claimed that when he came to power he had to cure inflation. This is simply untrue. The last Conservative government had many faults but they actually handed, through a mixture of luck and judgement, a benign and healthy economy to Gordon Brown. They had been targeting inflation for 5 years. Brown merely changed the mechanism - independence of the Bank of England - for continuing this policy. On his first day in the Treasury he was told that the economy was healthy. He did not react with enthusiasm. He wanted to claim to have been the one to save it. Yesterday he did precisely that whilst protesting when Paxman quoted back to him his words from 1997.

But that is all that this government has left. They are once more rewriting history, cherry picking statistics, smearing opponents and making dubious claims about the future under anyone but themselves. They have nothing positive to say. The man who has squandered the benign economic state he was bequeathed, doubled the national debt, lost control of public spending, ruined our pensions and increased unemployment nevertheless claims that he and he alone knows how to lead us to prosperity and millions of new jobs. The public don't believe a word he says.

This weekend various newspapers are declaring which of the parties they are backing. Those signing up to Gordon's version of the past and future are thin on the ground. Labour went into this campaign knowing that Gordon Brown was a liability. This week the Prime Minister has proven that beyond reasonable doubt. He and his clueless, pusillanimous party deserve to be consigned to years of infighting. The best way to ensure that is to vote Conservative this Thursday.