June 2009 Archives

Body blow in Norwich North.

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cllradrianramsay.jpgIain Dale reports an interesting poll for the forthcoming Norwich North byelection. 

Tories: 34% (+1%)
Labour: 30% (-15%)
Liberal: 15% (-1%)
Green: 14% (+11%)

I'm sure people will still be told that "only the Liberals can win here". Their increasingly absurd "Norfolk Blogger" claims this is "a blow to the Greens". If an 11% increase in our numbers is a blow, mate, I'd be happy to see one or two more of those. 

Our friends in Norwich are led by the exceptionally effective Adrian Ramsay (above), the leader of the largest opposition group on the council and soon-to-be MP for Norwich South. They're great grassroots campaigners and very hard working. I think those numbers will shift pretty hard during this campaign, and the longer it runs the more the Liberal vote will trickle away. 

Ladbrokes have Greens at 12/1 and the Liberals at 33/1, incidentally. Political Betting's thread is here.
Holyrood settled today for a compromise position on much of the Climate Change Bill, with a few notable exceptions. 

The idea of carbon-costing future budgets is now written into law, the odd "may" is now a "must", and that interim target is higher, at least for now. 

Rob Gibson quoted Patrick's comment that the SNP would need to be dragged kicking and screaming to 40% scathingly, as if that wasn't basically what happened (in fact, I could almost see him kicking his desk at the time).

The trouble is that when Labour made their move on this at FMQs last week, they needed to have loads of caveats in their text to keep Des (I'm guessing) happy. 

When the Nats decided to try and outbid them, they gleefully adopted his language, caveats and all. Notably, they can abandon the target if they get a letter from the big boys in London allowing them to do so.

Stewart Stevenson made some pledges on that, as follows (I paraphrase): 

"I promise not to ruin the Bill if we get a tough deal at Copenhagen, I promise only to ruin the Bill if I get the letter I've already got, and I promise only to ruin the Bill once."

The bottom line here remains the same, and the problem is much wider than the SNP. It's the policy weaknesses shared across the Chamber. Labour, the Tories and the Liberals are all signed up to climate-busting transport schemes across the country, to new coal plants with as yet undeveloped technical fixes (although you can never make opencast clean), to airport expansion, and to doing next to nothing on insulation.

Whatever the target, without actual policy change in these areas all we'll be doing in future years is berating Ministers for missing their targets. Those activists who pushed Parliament as far as the other 127 would go had better not pack up: without their continued efforts, on actual policy issues, we won't have achieved as much today as they hope.
clementattlee.jpgSimon Jenkins rails against the dearth of progressive choice in modern politics. 

Of Labour: "The withering of the party apparatus and of its base in the unions and local government left nothing to which future reformers might grasp."

Of the Lib Dems: "They were beguiled by the magnetism of the vacuous centre."

The result? "Those on the left who are against the current wars, the drug laws, an authoritarian Home Office and a centralised state have no voice. Nor do those who want to see bankers taxed and local council housing surge."

His prescription: "At present [democratic equilibrium] needs a Labour party. Someone should found one."

I disagree, obviously. You can have all those things and sustainable economics too, with Greens. But you'll never again see a Labour Party able to deliver them (which I agree is a sad state of affairs).

I'm reminded of this curious paean to Clem Attlee in the Daily Mail. That's what you can't have back, right there.
salmondJCB.jpgSo it'll be at least 42%, the interim target. Following the Maximum Eck's embarrassing performance at FMQs last week, having been lobbied by everyone from Cardinal Keith O'Brien to Ian Marchant, and having stared into the face of a Labour Party prepared to move in the right direction and rub their face in it, the Nats finally blinked.

You can tell how full of caveats it's going to be, though. The Liberals already had a 42% down, but that wasn't good enough for the SNP, so they've put down a last minute manuscript amendment with the same figure. I'm sure there's a section in invisible ink about exempting North Sea Oil or the FM's own limo, so the Chamber Desk better be on the ball.

At some point Stewart Stevenson will have to be told the good news, too. Whether or not he gets the science, sooner or later he'll have to pick and choose from those motorway projects he and the First Minister love so much. Without scrapping some of them, plus the new coal power stations the Nats are unnaturally fond of, even 42% could actually be a tough target. 

To end on a more constructive note, here's a starter for any Ministers wanting to find another 8% carbon emissions reductions at short notice. The insulation scheme we proposed in last year's Budget would have (by their own figures) led to a 5.85% reduction all by itself, as well as substantial economic and financial benefits. Just sayin'.

Dog bites man.

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tugakiltthanksjeff.jpgMany of the papers today had a PA story about the Nats calling for more powers to be devolved. Here's one example: SNP tell Jim Murphy: We want more powers for Holyrood now.

Why on earth is this newsworthy? It's all they ever do. Alex Salmond wakes up calling for more powers, even as he then refuses to use the ones we have already, and he goes to bed cursing Westminster for not devolving the power to eat all the fish today. His dreams no doubt regularly feature him winning a big tug-of-war with Jim Murphy over the border.

If anyone who can find a senior Nat saying they're happy with the devolved settlement, then that's a story. Until then, how about a bit more coverage of, I dunno, maybe the biggest crisis facing humanity, something which Holyrood will actually vote on this week
blairberlusconi.jpgAccused of "frequenting minors" by his wife, hiring call girls, and under fire, at least Blair's old friend Silvio Berlusconi can rely on his friends in the media (he's impotent, so it didn't happen) and his lawyer (he was only the "end user" of the women, and besides he can "have them in large numbers for free"). 

That's that cleared up then.

The Daily Mail vs the internet.

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It's hard to be tolerant of newspaper websites with click-to-vote polls on them. They're even less accurate than (say) Big Brother voting. Even using the word "poll" is dishonest, given how easily they can be rigged. 

So when the Daily Mail asked their readers whether the NHS should allow gipsies to jump the queue, based on some spittle-flecked Littlejohn rant, the internet intervened, through Twitter and Facebook. Cue this result:

That'll make it a touch harder for Littlejohn or others to use the "results" as supporting evidence for future racist diatribes. I hadn't intended to vote multiple times, incidentally, but it wouldn't let me see the results without at least trying to. Inevitably, the whole thing got taken down

The most spectacular and determined instance of "poll"-rigging remains April's 4chan vs Time Magazine smackdown. Read here for more.
Thumbnail image for harrismerge.pngIn February 2008, Tom Harris, the Lord of the Scottish Blogosphere and Trappist monk of anti-Brownism, claimed a staggering £1568.69 (pdf) under the Additional Costs Allowance. 

Items we paid for include £952 for his rent, £400 for pies food (the maximum under the "rules"), £80 for cleaning (scrub your own house or pay for it yourself mate), £55 for his council tax (!), £11.61 for his TV license, and £28 for telephone and internet.

So, before even touching his salary, he's spent the equivalent of a month's income, after tax, for someone earning more than £24,000. Of our money. (calculation via the useful Listen To Taxman).

People in other lines of work don't live like this, and neither should MPs.

Expenses: a musical summary.

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As the redacted MPs' expenses documents go online, it's my last reasonable opportunity to post Beau Beau D'or's magnificent musical guide, parts one and two.

Clegg catches up on Trident.

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The Liberal position on Trident set out by Ming Campbell, and backed by his party, never made any sense to me. Let's wait and see, they said, presumably wondering if the Cold War was about to kick off again, or if terrorists might after all be deterred by a multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle submarine-launched ballistic missile.

Nick Clegg has tonight changed his mind and confirmed that his party is now firmly against Trident. Although it's the cost that seems to bother him most, I do not believe that politicians who change their minds should be criticised simply for u-turning, only for selling out, which this definitely isn't. 

Combined with the earlier straw in the wind from the Tories, this could leave Labour as the only pro-Trident party out there. Sometimes I really wonder why anyone's still a Labour member, activist or voter.

One caveat, though, on the Liberal position. Apparently Ming himself has been asked to look at "cheaper alternatives". If that's better diplomacy, great. If that's buying cheaper nukes from the North Koreans, no thanks.

Jenny Jones nails it.

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jennyjonesken.jpgI'd paraphrase, I'd give my comments, but it'd be a waste. Jenny Jones (left, with Ken) gets it spot on in the Guardian.

"It's disappointing to see someone of Leo Hickman's stature reinforcing old stereotypes. His assertion that the Greens are a "one-issue" party is plainly wrong and his reasoning - that "the clue's in the name" - doesn't entirely stack up.

"Let's think about this for a moment. Suppose there was a party called... oh, I don't know, let's say Labour. By Leo Hickman's reasoning we would all assume it was a one-issue party that dealt only with employment issues. Its flagship policy would be Jobcentre Plus."

Choosing a new Speaker.

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speakerschair.jpgThe ten candidates to take over from Michael Martin (Frank Field having dropped out) gave a hustings today attended by both MPs and the media, and the Guardian helpfully liveblogged it

The qualities of the individual will be more vital than ever, and an open hustings like this is a great symbolic and practical step in the right direction.

Who I'd like to see: Bercow, despite his hard-right past, failing which Widdecombe, despite her anti-feminist credentials.

Who I expect to see: Haslehurst. The sort of patrician stuffed-shirt most governments really prefer. Young is also a strong contender, I think, but could do a better job.

Worst choice: Beckett, with Beith a close second. Both are weak, partisan and unimpressive. Luckily, neither seem at all likely.

We need a vigorous reformer, a campaigner for openness, an independent-minded champion for the Chamber as a whole, and someone prepared to stand up to over-mighty governments and their devious ways. I have a suspicion we'll be disappointed.

(pic from the Westminster CC stream)
stevensonthumbs.jpgThe Scotsman successfully used FOI to extract a Government paper on Ministerial preferences (as per the shame heaped on Liam Byrne down south).

Much of it is no surprise. For instance, Salmond wants "facts and figures which demonstrate why the government's position is right", which I'm sure civil servants manage to provide even when the government's position is palpably absurd.

Other parts seem entirely sensible, and simply not newsworthy. John Swinney likes civil servants attending a meeting with externals to turn up 15 minutes early in case he wishes to discuss the matter in advance. It's called a pre-meeting, and it's standard practice.

More amusing, though, is the note that Stewart Stevenson prefers minutes "to be short, to the point and not repetitive". One thing's for sure: he's never had to sit in the audience for one of his own speeches.
thatcherforwar.jpgThis morning Parliament is discussing whether Westminster should have a general election. Come Decision Time tonight, how Holyrood votes will be crucial. 

If the Tories, the Lib Dems and the Nats line up and vote for change at 5pm, Gordon Brown will finally relinquish control. Expect to see pics of him clambering into the hybrid Daimler and heading down to see the Queen and ask for a dissolution.

No, not really, but it is still a telling debate. The Tories are drooling at the prospect of power, and just love railing against Iain Gray as a Gordon proxy. For them, Scotland needs a new government purely because they want to see Dave's clammy hands on the steering wheel. They know the voters loathe Labour, and are determined to misread this as some kind of enthusiasm for Tory government.

Bruce Crawford and Mike Russell were in their element too, demonstrating the extraordinary extent to which attacking Labour is the SNP's core business. It's a mix of petty student debating points, the worst sort of hustings behaviour, and the pure loathing they feel towards Labour but not, curiously, towards the Tories. I think they've forgotten the 1980s (above).

Labour for their part share the loathing, and they spewed Tartan Tory-bashing rhetoric at the Nats. In particular, they refought the fall of Callaghan, when the Nats ushered in Thatcherism (although then as now the real problem for them was their own failures). They can add to that the pure fear they feel about this general election, with predictions of the Strange Death Of Labour Britain continuing to spread. 

Grim stuff today, therefore. Everyone's time was wasted, it's as if there really wasn't anything more important to discuss, and the mood in the canteen will be like three stag parties meeting on Lothian Road, one in Celtic tops, one in Rangers tops, and one from Chelsea. Thankfully the testosterone levels will be higher than the alcohol levels, otherwise there'd be trouble.

Housekeeping notes: I've finally found out how to turn off authentication for comments, so discussion should flow a little more easily. If I get all that Chinese spam that 538 seems to suffer from I may change my mind. Also, the Tuesday before the Euro poll was this blog's busiest day ever, so thanks for stopping by.

A belated election review.

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Now everyone else has hashed and rehashed the Euros, here's a wee review. At every level, the silver lining comes with a black cloud attached. (image from b3ta)

Scottish good news: It was our best ever result in a Scotland-wide election, even above the famous 1989 surge, and we continue to move up as the Liberals move down again.
Scottish bad news: The Westminster parties have never been less trusted, and we should have done better. Despite their total chaos, Labour won almost three times as many votes as us. 

UK good news: Our friends down south saw the biggest increase in their support of any party, and came out on top across Brighton and Hove and also Norwich, the party's two top targets for the UK General.
UK bad news: Seeing Nazis get elected, especially in the Northwest, where just 5,000 more Green votes would have seen the wonderful Peter Cranie returned to Europe instead of the vile Nick Griffin. The BNP's vote fell and they gained seats. More than a quarter of a million more people voted Green, but we got no more seats, narrowly missing out in a few regions.

European good news: Greens were the big winners across the continent, with great results in France, Germany and elsewhere.
European bad news: The far right in Hungary, Netherlands and elsewhere also did well. Nick Griffin will have plenty of friends, even if they're furriners.

Looking again at the Scottish result, it seems clear that the SNP have positioned themselves as anti-Westminster, despite some shocking abuses of the expenses scheme, and so were ideally placed to pick up the reform/protest votes here that we might otherwise have won.
duckhouse.jpgThe most pleasing result so far for me, topping even the mighty work of Norwich Greens, was from Totnes, in Devon, one of four county councils now with Greens on them for the first time. 

Sir Anthony Steen, owner of one lovely Copenhagen-style duck house at our expense, is now represented by new Green councillor Paula Black. The only surprise, given his staggering arrogance, is that anyone voted for a Tory in his area.

Roll on the Euros on Sunday night. It seems pretty likely he'll have a Green MEP too on Monday.

Update: Much of this story is simply wrong. I got the wrong Tory scoundrel. Sir Peter Viggers of The Duckhouse sits in Hampshire. Sir Anthony Steen, who does indeed have a new Green councillor, is the one whose house looks like Balmoral. Apologies to any ducks or others offended by this mistake.
A pal of mine, it turns out, has posted a few rather lovely Eliot knock-offs at New Labour's Book of Impractical Cats. I found out only when, by complete coincidence, I sent her the following:

Let us go then, you and I,
When New Labour is laid low in the polls
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted polling stations,
The muttering resignations
Of restless days on green leather benches
And one-to-ones on College Green with Sky TV:
Briefings that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question..
Oh, do not ask, "When will he resign?"
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Alan Johnson.


(I may come back and do the whole thing. Original here)
hutton.jpgSky are reporting that John Hutton's gone. Whatever the long-term consequences, this means one fewer pointless New Labour drone governing us right now.

Picture in case you would have walked past him on the street and not noticed.
purnelltennis.jpgSo James Purnell was the Minister planning to leave the Cabinet as the polls close, as per the days rumours. Or he saw the rumours and thought "that makes sense". Perhaps someone else would have resigned if he hadn't, or maybe there's more to come before Newsnight starts.

He wants a debate. Over PR? Health policy? Or the uselessness of Gordon Brown? My money's on the last of those. But one Cabinet Minister resigning per day for three days looks like a coordinated attack for sure.

Let us turn to the Pashtunwali for help with this, the Pashtun code (believed in some quarters to be Tajik slander). 

According to my Afghan specialist, balandra is a word from a cooperative venture, originally meaning a collective attack in which everyone is killed. This fits the bill. But of what sort of attack? Two more terms come up.

"Mirata is such a crime that one side warms up the other side's house and kills all the male members of the family no matter how old or how young. The difference between mirata and pagra is that in the former women are not killed, but in the latter all, including the women, are killed."

The long-delayed endgame must be upon us, and it gets gorier by the day. No-one will be spared. Still, presumably Purnell won't have to pay back his unpaid Capital Gains Tax.

Vote Green.

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It's too late for policy arguments, so here's something more shallow. You'll be in good company, including Alexei Sayle, Mark Steel, Joanna Lumley, Jonathan Freedland, Mark Thomas, George Monbiot and Peter Tatchell (who's a member), not to mention local blogger Malc in the Burgh

Even better, drag someone else out to vote too, ring your family and make sure they vote, all that good stuff. 

One vote counts for three or four with a turnout this low: think how much difference a handful could make.

Just to encourage you, here's a cute picture of a baby fox.
Dear Gordon,
Over the last 12 years in government, and before, you have made an enormous contribution to this country and to the Labour Party, and this is very widely acknowledged.

However we are writing now because we believe that in the current political situation, you can best serve the Labour Party and the country by stepping down as party leader and prime minister, and so allowing the party to choose a new leader to take us into the next general election.

Lots of love,

Various Blairites

p.s. we helped Sky get this shot to illustrate where your career is at..

Thumbnail image for toiletfilming.jpg(seriously, apart from the picture, the signature and the post-script, this is apparently The Letter)

Alexei Sayle voting Green.

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Perfect. I'd never have predicted that both Alexei Sayle and Joanna Lumley would be voting Green this time. Here's what he said to Peter Cranie, the Green lead candidate in the English North West.

"One of the great things about Britain is that, unlike in a lot of Europe, we have never let extremist parties of the right get anything but a tiny toehold in our electoral system. I'll personally be voting Green this time but whoever you support you should use your vote to continue our noble tradition and keep the BNP out."

Herewith a classic Sayle moment:

bloodbath.jpgInteresting times. Yesterday's departure of the Home Secretary (finally confirmed by her on camera today), plus two other junior ministers, has been followed by Hazel Blears, and presumably Darling will go on Friday or Monday at the latest. 

Caroline Flint could be next, according to totally baseless rumours I've heard, while Sky News says Labour backbenchers are circulating the "Go now! Give me an outside chance to save my seat!". Well you would, wouldn't you?

It's Labour's death by a thousand cuts, it's an early bloodbath, it's a self-harm version of the night of the long knives, and things can only get gorier.
Thumbnail image for plug.jpgSometimes the Westminster world portrayed in The Thick Of It seems entirely believable, and today is a prime example. Just after 12.30 this afternoon, Sky News started reporting that Jacqui Smith was going to resign. Now, just after midnight, it's still "sources say" on the BBC. No comment from the Home Secretary, no formal response, no confirmation or denial, yet clearly the media have had this from a source they're confident about.

Very strange, especially just two days before an election. So what happened? It's like Kremlinology, trying to work out who did what to whom when. 

Let's take one usually reliable approach. Who benefits? It seems unlikely that the Home Secretary herself does, although she may have planned a more Howe-esque departure and been talked down during the day. Perhaps the whips have something even more juicy on her and warned her to shut up, but it seems unlikely. Whatever such a closet skeleton might have been would surely have been lost in the drama of a resignation speech, even a full record of her Blockbuster receipts. The failure to get out and explain herself during the day points makes her an unlikely candidate, I think.

Alex at LabourHome thinks it came from within Downing St, but that covers a multitude of evils. The PM himself clearly doesn't benefit: his shambolic government has taken another step down the apparently ever-descending spiral staircase to electoral hell. I think we can rule him out. 

That leaves Cabinet and the special advisers as the obvious shortlist. Someone who wants her job, perhaps? It seems unlikely at this time of chaos that even one of this crazy crew could be sitting in a bunker trying to work out how to become Home Secretary. 

We're left, I think, with the most likely candidate being someone who wants Gordon's job, and wants to destabilise him as quickly as possible. Johnson, Milliband, or Harman, those would be the obvious guesses, and Johnson would appear to benefit most as the heir apparent. It's a bit thin even by New Labour Kremlinology standards, but it's the best I've got. 

If it was him, or indeed if it was any of the Cabinet, there'd have to be an ally in Downing St for them to give a little plausible deniability.

For a comparison with a fictional Ministerial departure from The Thick Of It, do check out the opening "resignation" of the series. Perfect Tucker malevolence:

"I've also drafted a letter of resignation. Gives you a chance to say you're jumping before you were pushed although obviously we're going to be briefing that you were pushed, sorry."
Numbers just out from ComRes* put us in a great position UK-wide. I couldn't resist a bar chart, although I refuse to label it "Only Greens can win here".
Jeff and others always love their Scottish subsamples, so here are the eye-popping Scottish numbers for your delecation.
That's right, it shows us in third, ahead of the Lib Dems and the Tories. It's a small sample, and it's only a poll, so no-one get complacent, mm'kay?

* note: our Green colleagues down south commissioned the poll, so feel free to tell me the customer is always right.

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