Westminster: 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.
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.

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
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.

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)
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 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.
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)
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."

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Westminster category from June 2009.

Westminster: May 2009 is the previous archive.

Westminster: July 2009 is the next archive.