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Sunday 30 May 2010

Not Beyond The Laws – 2

And so he was gone. It was no surprise to tune in to the Andy Marr Show this morning and find out that David Laws had resigned. What is more unusual is some of the reaction to the whole sorry saga.

What was clear yesterday morning was that Young Dave had not voiced any tangible support for his Treasury Secretary. Cameron told that Laws was right to refer himself to the Parliamentary authorities – but even then, only through a spokesman. So it was strange to see today’s Mail On Sunday pushing the view that Cameron had been “fighting to save his star”.

Baloney. His statement was the coded equivalent of telling Laws that the bottle of Scotch and loaded revolver were in the drawing room, there’s a jolly good chap. Clearly this is intended to be a Teflon Government – nothing, but nothing, is going to stick to it.

Elsewhere, tales of conspiracy, and of folks in the darkest of shadows plotting to bring down a minister, are rife. This, too, is baloney: within the Westminster village, Laws’ homosexuality was an open secret, and the Fourth Estate was falling over itself to find a story with which to “out” him. No conspiracy, just rabid competition from those who never have to face an electorate – or justify their moral compass.

And there has even been an attempt to suggest the complicity of Alastair Campbell in the affair, on the basis that he had a framed photo of Laws about his person on Question Time last Thursday. The explanation for that was straightforward – Big Al was expecting Laws to be on the panel, and he’d been mugging up on this, for him, new opponent.

How could he have known of the Maily Telegraph story, given that Young Dave and Corporal Clegg didn’t know until the next day? We’ll hear next that Campbell has a Tardis at his disposal.
No, what happened is that the assembled hackery, mindful of the need to find circulation boosting stories, homed in on a Government figure for once, rather than their more usual diet of Z-list slebs. The Maily Telegraph got there first: if the Murdoch or Rothermere press had beaten them to it, does anyone for a moment think that they would have hesitated before splashing the unfortunate Laws all over the front page?

Back on the Andy Marr Show, Tory veteran Iain Duncan Smith suggested that Laws might yet return to the Government. But do he and his partner want to go through all that again? Yes, it’s not pleasant. But it’s the reality of politics today.

Welcome to the bear pit.

Called That One Wrong

Those people who are prepared to back their instinct with a visit to the bookies earn my grudging respect, even when their visit shows them to be terminally clueless. And over the weekend, the cause of cluelessness has been served superbly by the ridiculously overrated Paul Staines, who blogs under the alias of Guido Fawkes, and who is now significantly less cash rich than beforehand.

As the Maily Telegraph splashed the unfortunate David Laws all over its Saturday edition, it became clear that, as I said yesterday, there were two choices facing the keepers of the new and improved two-headed donkey: tough it out and risk more revelations, or sack him. In the event, the coalition has avoided the potential risk, and Laws has been caused to jump before being pushed.

At first, Staines laid out his stall reasonably well, telling that “it doesn’t just look bad, it is bad” and concluding that “Using the ‘we wanted our privacy’ line doesn’t really wash when it comes to public money”. But then, sad to say, the great pundit drew the wrong conclusion, reasoning that “he will probably survive because he is too important to the coalition”.

Er, hello? What is most important to the Coalition is that the Coalition survives, Paul. That means keeping its distance from anything dodgy in the expense department. But Staines wasn’t reading his own analysis: he then, by his own admission, put five hundred quid on Laws surviving the episode. He did this at the same time as noting that the probability of Laws not surviving was increasing.

So, once again, the question has to be asked of Paul Staines: just what part of your own analysis do you not understand?

Saturday 29 May 2010

The Donkey Goes Chicken – 2

After the non-appearance of a Government pundit on last Thursday’s Question Time, it might have been thought that the keepers of the new and improved two-headed donkey would keep their heads down, and try not to put their feet in it quite so badly next time round. But that would be to underestimate the nature of the beast – and those keepers.

Because the grumbling from Donkey Central over Alastair Campbell’s presence on the programme has continued, with Evening Standard political editor Paul Waugh being given a seemingly exclusive insight from a “Downing Street source”. Quite why Waugh feels the need to use such coded terms is unclear, as any fule kno that his “source” is Young Dave’s resident secondee from the Murdoch “family”, Andy Coulson.

And Coulson is admitting a weakness in carrying on his misery-fest against the Beeb: he’s scared witless of Big Al. Moreover, unless Cameron is preparing to appease Rupe and his troops by moving against the Beeb, Coulson would do well to keep schtum and not make matters worse.

In any case, he may have bigger fish to fry before long: the ferreting about in the debris of Phonehackgate by Guardian man Nick Davies has not stopped, and Coulson will know that anything implicating him in the routinely criminal behaviour of those in and around the Screws means that he would be finished. Young Dave would have to dispense with his services, and Rupe wouldn’t have him back.

There just aren’t the career openings for former donkey mucker-outers nowadays.

Not Beyond The Laws

It never does take long for an incoming Government to be buffeted by Supermac’s “events”: Tony Blair got his initiation over taking a Bernie, and now Young Dave finds his previously highly regarded chief Treasury Secretary splashed all over the Maily Telegraph due to a rental arrangement which turned out to be with his long term partner.

The moralising part of the Fourth Estate – for which, read the kingdom of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre - will no doubt be in nudge, nudge mode next week (who will wield the hatchet, Jan Moir, Janet Street Expletive Deleted Porter, or Fat Dick Littlejohn?) over David Laws’ admission that he is gay. But Cameron faces a more universal and straightforward dilemma.

Laws has decided to pay back around forty thousand quid, which suggests by implication that he has admitted to wrongdoing. Against his claims is Laws’ presence as the new Government’s chief hatchet man, deciding who should tighten their belt, and who should be thrown overboard. He’s been hot on playing the squeaky clean card when it comes to expenses, but may not have been within the rules after all.

Young Dave has so far, as the Guardian has noted, not blessed Laws with anything like unwavering support. And if the Treasury’s number two continues to attract adverse comment – with the Maily Telegraph giving every appearance of being in scalp taking mode – he will have a simple choice: stick by Laws and risk further revelations, or act quickly and remove him.

There is, after all, a replacement ready to go: Philip Hammond, now at Transport, shadowed the job before the election.

A Stroll Across The Astroturf – 12

Just because Zelo Street has not featured the antics of the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) for a while, it doesn’t mean that this less than totally principled body has been idle – far from it. The TPA, which represents less than one tenth of one per cent of UK taxpayers, and demands transparency in others while still not publishing its accounts and a list of backers, has recently brought out a video.

Wow. No advance in technology gets past the TPA, does it? Yes, a video. So that’s what all those generously compensated staff have been up to. And the video tells how we all spend lots of our time working for the taxman. But, so what? How exactly does the TPA expect hospitals, schools, highways and the rest to function?

The TPA’s economic stance, it might be thought, would mean that they would know of the best known saying of Professor Milton Friedman, the high priest of economic quack doctory: that there is “no such thing as a free lunch”. Friedman stressed that someone, somewhere would have to pay for that lunch. It’s the same with those services provided via the public sector. Someone, somewhere will have to pay for them: the TPA’s inference, that anything they don’t like is by definition “waste”, is mere flannel.

And this is characteristic of the TPA: in this “report”, they tell of the millions being raked in by those dastardly local authorities in parking fines. Wow. 328 million, in fact, for 2008-9. And, horror of horrors, some of them are allowed to spend any surplus as they want.

The “report”, in typical TPA style, goes into the most minute “detail”, showing every local authority, how much they have taken in fines, and how large a population they serve. But something is missing: in order to demonise this particular Government – and that, after all, is the sole motivation of the TPA – one figure has to be left out, and that is cost.

Yes, cost – how much does it cost to bring in the fines, which the local authorities concerned have a statutory duty to enforce? This is not as trivial as it may seem: Parking Review magazine has revealed that more than a hundred English councils lost money on their parking operations in the year covered by the TPA “report”.

So that 328 million is not, as the TPA “report” infers, some kind of windfall profit. What surplus there is, we are not told. That would get in the way of the TPA’s routine demonising of Government, and that would not do.

Oh, and where are those accounts, good TPA people?

Friday 28 May 2010

The Donkey Goes Chicken

It’s an important week for the Government: we’ve had the Queen’s Speech, the new Parliament has been opened, the cuts are being announced, and, most significant of all, the new and improved two-headed donkey has refused to move in the direction of the BBC.

For the last few days, it’s been known that one of the pundits on this week’s Beeb Question Time would be Alastair Campbell. He’s been tweeting about it on and off for long enough. Also pencilled in was Piers “Morgan” Moron, famous for being himself, and likely not to agree with Big Al over trivialities such as Iraq, Iraq and Iraq, but not necessarily in that order.

So how does the two-headed donkey handle this one? Easy. It puts one or more of its hooves in the brown smelly stuff by trying to get Big Al chucked off the programme. A Government representative, the Beeb was told, would not appear against Campbell, but they would field someone if a Shadow Cabinet member appeared in his place.

Not surprisingly, the Beeb declined this attempt at panel gerrymandering, pointing out that when Labour were in power, they willingly put up ministers against Tory supporting journalists or peers. Moreover, Question Time does not impose any precondition or qualification on its panellists. It would be mightily boring if panels were made up only of MPs, and subject to haggling over appearances by minor parties.

In the event, the Beeb roped in Tory maverick John Redwood, who had no problem with debating Big Al, and he acquitted himself well. And that’s the whole point: this is a forum for debate, but in a way that entertains and informs. As for the “not elected” mantra, it should be ridiculed for its sheer lameness. Whatever next? Removing Dimbleby Major from the chair for being “unelected”? No more journalists appearing because they’re “unelected”?

The reality is that the Beeb has gained in stature for standing firm, the Government has emerged looking foolish, and Big Al has trumped Andy Coulson big time.

Thursday 27 May 2010

Casting A Long Shadow

Anyone living in or near the city of Bradford in the late 1970s will need no prompting about the Yorkshire Ripper case: Peter Sutcliffe was eventually arrested, then charged and convicted of thirteen murders, and there were probably several more. Most, but not all, of his victims were prostitutes.

The shadow of the Ripper has now been cast over the same part of the world as a number of street workers have gone missing recently, but on one count, things are very different: West Yorkshire police have made an arrest soon after the grim discovery of body parts in the River Aire at Shipley.

Because, in the Ripper case, it seemed that there might never be an arrest. Sutcliffe was questioned more than once, and on one occasion, one of his victims had a newly issued five pound note in her purse which was traced back to his employer’s payroll. But he was released, and carried on killing.

West Yorkshire police were also diverted from their task by a hoax audio tape made by a man with a Wearside accent (the culprit was, many years later, jailed for his efforts), and when Sutcliffe was eventually brought in, it was the neighbouring South Yorkshire force that arrested him.

What has changed? Well, one major handicap for the investigation in the 70s was that everything was done manually: no significant use of Information Technology was involved. The amounts of paper and card must have been immense – and unwieldy. Potentially crucial evidence went missing, or was not cross referenced to tie it to Sutcliffe.

Hopefully, the West Yorkshire force has nipped this series of killings in the bud. Even so, the memory of Peter Sutcliffe will continue to cast its shadow over the county, and its police.

[UPDATE: Stephen Griffiths, age 40, has now been charged with three murders]

French Leave

Apologies. There has been no traffic on Zelo Street for two days: this has been because I’ve had a trip over to France. Not so much a holiday, more a shopping expedition.

And what the trip showed was that, despite adopting the single currency some time ago, France is still as independent and wilful as ever. Nowhere is that independent attitude more on view than on a drive south along the A16 Autoroute.

There are nice touches in the finish of the road: statues by many overbridges, for instance. And the stretch of road from Calais to Boulogne is not subject to the toll system, or péage, of many similar motorways across France.

But, and there is inevitably a but, the surface of the carriageways is deteriorating badly in places (hence the lengthy contraflow at present in force), there are some unnaturally severe gradients (no doubt cheaper to build it that way), and when it rains with any force, drainage is in the impressionistic category.

That said, the hypermarket provided good service and a decent range of wine bargains, which latter was the whole point of going. And, despite all the horror stories about it, Eurotunnel were on the dot both ways.

Back to more routine matters next.

Monday 24 May 2010

Bad Day For Tel Aviv

Even after the testimony of Mordechai Vanunu, the official line on nuclear weapons from Israel was non-committal. Spokesmen would neither confirm nor deny claims that their country had joined the nuclear club. But the declassification of papers by the ANC Government in South Africa has put the Israelis on the spot.

Because the documents confirm that the South Africans, back in the mid 1970s, were seeking to acquire nuclear warheads, and that the Israelis were angling to supply them. And the signatures of the South African justice minister, P W Botha, along with that of the Israeli defence minister Shimon Peres, are clearly visible on the front page.

It would be strange indeed for a country that did not have nuclear weapons to try to sell nuclear weapons to another country. More likely is that the Israelis – assisted, among others, by the British – did indeed have those weapons, and that a sale to South Africa would have created an income stream away from the gaze of the USA.

Not surprisingly, the Israelis did not want the papers to be declassified. Equally unsurprising is that the new order in South Africa paid little attention to them. And that isn’t the only irritation for the Government in Tel Aviv: the Australians are only the latest to demonstrate their disapproval of the use by the Mossad of fake passports.

The Government in Canberra has concluded that the Israelis were behind the use of false Australian passports in the assassination in Dubai recently of a leading member of Hamas. As the Mossad is believed to have carried out the killing, the link is rather obvious. An Israeli diplomat has been expelled from Australia as a result.

After all, the UK had already taken similar action. Israel is increasingly being treated not as an exceptional case, but in the same way as any other country. Welcome to the level playing field.

Mood Swings

Temperatures in parts of the UK over the past few days have set new records for the time of the year. The hot and sunny weather, together with the race day crowds, made the city of Chester one very busy place on Saturday: no-one selling their product to day trippers will have had any complaint over their revenue stream.

So how will this be interpreted by the climate change denial lobby? Simple: if it gets mentioned at all, it will be held to be a fluke, a freak interlude, and a rare chance for telling that there is a difference between longer term climate patterns and transient weather events.

This is true, but then, when temperatures drop later this week, as they are forecast to do, the denial lobby will about turn and attribute the change to show that there isn’t any man made global warming. Alternatively, they can deflect the issue altogether and follow the wilful and eccentric Christopher Booker, now reduced to ranting to an echo chamber of equally deluded admirers, in blaming it all on the BBC.

The Beeb, Booker has decided, has an “obsession” with global warming, which would be an interesting line to take if it had any basis in fact. But, sad to say, right now on the Beeb website, the front page has no mention of “Climate Change” or “Global Warming”. Nor is there any mention of the IPCC.

Booker ought to pack in his feeble wittering. And the Maily Telegraph should tell him to take his product elsewhere in the marketplace – if anyone wants it.

Sunday 23 May 2010

What Labour Can Do – 4

One event, and one alone, dictates whether your party gets someone’s vote, and that is the moment in the polling booth when the decision is made to put an X against your candidate. Many things influence that voter: some may be national issues, and the prevailing mood, but in an election campaign where the challengers have not established a decisive lead – as in the one just gone – the clincher may be simply that your party is the one listening to them.

And that means that your party has to lay claim to that most basic part of leadership: that you are addressing the peoples’ greatest concerns. Those concerns may relate to the most local of issues. They may relate to law and order, bin collections, and – in some parts of the country – immigration. If you want their vote, your party must show that it is addressing them. Nowhere was this approach demonstrated, and vindicated, more than in Birmingham’s Edgbaston constituency.

Edgbaston had been solidly Tory until 1997, when in the Blair landslide the seat was captured by Gisela Stuart. This time round, it was a top Tory target, but Labour prevailed. They did so by responding to the concerns of the electorate, bringing in large numbers of volunteers, and by the popularity of an MP who had demonstrated that she was of independent mind. This campaign is now being hailed as a model for what Labour need to do next time round.

But it isn’t rocket science, and it isn’t just in Birmingham: in east London, Margaret Hodge pointed out back in 2006 the potential vulnerability of Labour to fringe parties such as the BNP, because the white working class felt that they were not being listened to. Hodge addressed the concerns of her electorate on the subject of immigration, and her vote rose at the election, with that of the BNP falling.

It’s so simple, it should not need saying: listen to the electorate, and demonstrate that you are addressing their concerns. That’s leadership.

Truly Legendary

One joke used to demonstrate Brian Clough’s well known lack of modesty has him arriving at the gates of heaven and being offered entry by St Peter, providing he can correctly identify the Holy Trinity. Cloughie points at the three in turn, saying “You’re the Holy Spirit, you’re Jesus Christ ... and thank you for keeping my seat warm, young man!

Clough never got to manage any of the biggest clubs – and didn’t manage in mainland Europe – but he would have identified with another boss who has just confirmed that he, too, is right not to let modesty get in the way. José Mourinho, Setúbal’s most famous son, has now become only the second manager to lift the European cup in two different countries, and he wants to do it in a third.

Mourinho first won the Champions’ League in his native Portugal with FC Porto: the size of the club’s ambition and presence is not hard to notice, with their home, the huge Estádio do Dragão, or Dragons’ Stadium, looking down over the city. The club has won the Liga four times since Mourinho left, but not the Champions’ League.

The side that has just won Chelsea another Premiership title is at its heart Mourinho’s, and now he has done a treble with Inter Milan. The next stop for this true legend among managers is said to be Real Madrid: if Mourinho can get the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo to remember that, as Rushie used to say at Liverpool, “it’s a team game”, then he will have proved his greatness.

Any less and they’ll sack him. Ask Fabio Capello.

Band Of Brothers

It’s good to see your advice being followed, even if those advised probably didn’t see the post concerned: the Labour leadership contest has, with the inevitability of night following day, reached the thorny subject of Iraq.

And a clear gap has opened between the Miliband brothers on the issue. David, who I still see as the most likely to win the contest, has suggested – rather in the style of Tone – that we should “move on” from talking Iraq. Brother Ed, though, has said he was against the war, something he didn’t have to vote on at the time as he was not yet an MP.

Someone else not an MP at the time, and another going by the name of Ed, former Pa Broon confidant “Auguste” Balls, has also decided to tell that he was also against the Iraq adventure. That might come as a surprise, given his long service as an advisor to Brown when the latter was in opposition, and then Chancellor of the Exchequer.

What to make of it all? Well, the elder Miliband will have brought back less than positive memories, and done himself no favours, speaking in the style of the bloke who got the party into the mess in the first place, whatever the context. His brother may be considered more credible on his opposition than Balls – not that the latter may be thought to be less than honest, but because of his closeness to Brown, who is still unyielding in his support for Blair.

I still have the elder Miliband in front, but this issue could damage him.

All Rise For Her Majesty

In Pa Broon’s three years at the helm, there was a stream of gaffes, losses and leaks, so it has surprised few observers that the new and improved two-headed donkey has chalked up its first leak this weekend. What will come as a surprise is that the leak is apparently of the Queen’s Speech, which makes it a first.

So, assuming the leaked material to be genuine, we now know that there are to be scrapping of ID cards, more schools becoming academies, a policing bill, and of course legislation to bring in fixed term Parliaments. Yes, there was much advance briefing under Labour, but not of a Queen’s Speech.

Who could have been behind the leak? The possibility that those in Tory and Lib Dem ranks opposed to the coalition deal are behind it cannot be ruled out, but how many rank and file MPs see this beforehand? My guess is that this is the work of hacked off civil servants: all it needs is a quick copy and paste to lift the text and drop it into another file.

Why would anyone do that? Well, why not? There are job losses on the way within the Public Sector, with a figure of 300,000 having been pitched. And there is little use dressing the cuts up as “only back office posts”. Whichever office is affected, these cuts are of people and, until and unless they find alternative employment, their livelihoods.

Someone may have got their retaliation in first.

Friday 21 May 2010

Inexcusable Rendition

Fighting an enemy that you can’t pin down can be a nasty business, and we all want our country to be secure, but that hasn’t stopped a sense of unease at revelations of torture – some of it violent and sadistic – visited on suspects in the name of the so-called “War on Terror”. It seems that some unfortunates have been flown to countries with less than squeaky clean human rights records especially to enable this abuse to take place.

So it’s interesting to hear the new man at the FO, William ‘Ague, say that there will be a judicial enquiry into claims that the UK’s various intelligence agencies were complicit in the process of “rendition” and torture. This shows that Master ‘Ague, who previously challenged David Miliband over the matter when the latter was Foreign Secretary, was not just politicking and is serious about getting answers.

So credit where credit’s due. Because this kind of behaviour is meat and drink to the terrorists and particularly those recruiting them: if the decadent West says it’s OK for human beings to do this to one another, then you can be sure that the followers of Lardy Binman will be more than prepared to do it to our soldiers and anyone associated with them.

But Master ‘Ague has a problem with the torture business: there are those in his own party that are in favour of a bit of torture, so long as they don’t have to be on the receiving end of it. Our old friend Donal Blaney, CEO of the Young Briton’s Foundation (YBF), considers waterboarding to be perfectly acceptable, so much so that he believes the practice would not cause significant psychological damage. And, as a Guardian investigation showed, he names Master ‘Ague and even Young Dave among his contacts.

So perhaps William ‘Ague could get Blaney to reassess his approach to torture. After all, the YBF has trained many party activists in the recent past, so it would not look good for its CEO to take a stance against his preferred party.

Scraping The Barrel

Away from politics in the wake of the election loss, Alastair Campbell still has plenty to occupy himself, not least his reply to a shockingly bad piece of ranting hackery coming from those less than well intentioned folk at the Daily Mail.

Big Al has taken particular exception to a tirade in Wednesday’s paper by Janet Street-Porter, who as everyone knows is famous for ... er, maybe we should just move right along. One thing Janet is notorious for is the ability to spew out faux shock pieces, which by fortunate coincidence is in tune with the why-oh-why orientation of the Mail, and its legendarily foul mouthed editor Paul Dacre.

And the object of Street-Porter’s disdain this week has been those who suffer from depression. This is a condition that has never affected me, and mightily glad I am too: the description of the condition by sufferers, and the effect it has on those around them, is grim enough. Campbell has suffered for over two decades, and his openness about the condition has helped raise awareness – and combat ignorance and prejudice about it.

So I can understand Big Al being less than impressed by Street-Porter comparing depression to a “must have” fashion accessory. This is the crudest and cruellest of stereotypes, demonstrating a staggering level of ignorance and intolerance. Moreover, by falsely linking depression and stress, she reveals how little research – if any – was done beforehand. Therefore her appalling hackery is completely at home on the pages of the Daily Mail.

Also, Street-Porter’s rant is not a one-off: she is a regular columnist on the paper. And no regulars are in the Daily Mail without the approval of Paul Dacre. So if there is one legitimate target for the revulsion that even many commenting on the Mail website clearly feel, Dacre is it. In the meantime, if he wants to inform and educate his readership, rather than repel them, he could do worse than hire a columnist who knows what they are talking about.

And send Janet Street-Porter to spend more time with her bus pass.

Thursday 20 May 2010

Trouble In Paradise

I never did get round to visiting Thailand, and may not do so after recent events. Another example of a location pushed by the tour operators and travel supplements whose image as presented to us when booking (and paying) appears to diverge from everyday reality for many of those who live there.

The brochures show idyllic resorts. The recent unrest in Bangkok shows many Thais live in grinding poverty, in a country with a less than stable Government. And it has all ended with the army wading in and many people dead.

For those who know that, even across the EU and the USA, there are those that have fallen by the wayside, it should not come as a surprise.

1922 And All That

Yesterday evening, the Tory Party’s back bench 1922 Committee had a meeting, and it was addressed by Young Dave. Only at the very last minute were those back benchers told of Cameron’s jolly good idea that ministers – including him – should be able to participate in the committee’s business. Normally, when in Government, it’s back benchers only.

So what? Well, the “22” has a role, when the Tories are in Government, for the foot soldiers to air their grievances, for the mood among them to be taken and then advised to the PM. Its history stretches back to the year when those same Tory back benchers pulled the plug on the Lloyd George coalition – the last Tory and Liberal one – in order to preserve the party’s identity and allow it to go on and govern alone.

But Young Dave doesn’t like the idea of excluding ministers: he says the Tories need to be “one party” (Who said “Ein Volk”? Go and stand at the back). It’s thought that the idea of holding the “22” rather closer than before came from the experience of “Shagger” Major: the last Tory PM had a torrid time with back bench plotting. Whatever the objections from some old hands, Cameron carried his vote, predictably given the size of the new intake this time. But 118 MPs voted against him.

And meetings of less than totally happy Tory back benchers don’t have to happen in a Commons committee room. In fact, given the means of communication available nowadays, actual meetings don’t have to happen at all. Unless Cameron intends to monitor his MPs’ email, mobile phone, Twitter and any other communication they care to use, he could be in the dark as much as Major or Thatcher were.

Moreover, there would be nothing to stop the 118 disaffected – and however many more they may recruit along the way – forming a new committee. Right now, the new Government is still in its honeymoon phase, but given the usual crises and scandals, together with the strain of holding two parties close to one another, there could well be a 2012 Committee rising from the ashes of the “22”.

It might not have been such a good idea for Young Dave to listen to “Shagger” Major, who brought us Back to Basics, the railway sell-offs, the Cones Hotline ... you get the picture.

Wednesday 19 May 2010

Rewriting History

Retelling historical events can be a tricky thing: any attempt at bias or selective memory is easily exposed when that history is recent. But the further back you go, the less widely the history is known. And once you go back before, say, the days of photography, then selection becomes easier.

This may or may not have been in the mind of Corporal Clegg today when he signalled the supposedly biggest shake up of our democracy since the Great Reform Act of 1832. Because that act, although it extended voting rights, still meant that only one in seven adult males were able to vote. Even after subsequent legislation in 1867 and 1884, only 60% of males had the vote, and there was still a property qualification. Universal – and unconditional - suffrage for all over 21 did not come until 1929.

And, although some of the suggested repeals are ones I agree with – ID cards go in the WOTAM category (Waste Of Time And Money), and the over-zealous use of DNA and other databases is in my book A Bad Thing – he may come unstuck on the attempt to stop the move to biometric passports, at least for those travelling to the USA. Moreover, the idea of asking the public which laws they would like to have repealed smacks of cheap populism. Leaders are there to lead (there’s a hint in the name).

But it is in the area of voting reform that Clegg must know there will be problems. The Tories don’t want what he wants, so the donkey’s two heads will campaign against one another on the issue. Even if there is a referendum on a new voting system, the chances are that any proposal for change will be defeated when it comes to the vote that matters – that in the House of Commons. Such a defeat would not even need Labour MPs to get involved: they can sit on their hands while the Lib Dems’ paltry 57 votes get trampled under more than 300 Tory ones.

Thus the inevitable outcome when idealism is subject to the cold wind of reality.

Toothless Is As Toothless Does

The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) regularly gets it in the neck for being less than totally effective. This is not totally unrelated to its being perceived as too close to the industry it is supposed to be policing: its Editors’ Code Committee is chaired by the unapologetic and bullying Paul Dacre, the legendarily foul mouthed editor of the Daily Mail.

So it was no surprise that the Commons’ committee for Culture, Media and Sport recommended the PCC get increased powers, and that it called the PCC toothless. The inadequacy of the PCC was then superbly illustrated when another unsavoury and unapologetic Daily Mail hack, Jan Moir, penned a hatchet job on the memory of Boyzone star Stephen Gately, generating over 25,000 complaints.

The PCC has now ruled, surprise surprise, that Moir’s article did not breach press guidelines, with suitably worded noises about “free expression of the columnists’ views”, which is complete baloney. The Moir article had nothing to do with free expression: rather, it was written to order, and to fit the Mail’s agenda, which in the case of Stephen Gately, was to reinforce prejudice against gays.

The apologist for the PCC’s behaviour, Baroness Buscombe, then tells that editors have to “consider ... key ethical issues before publishing”. This, too, is utter tosh: that Paul Dacre has any ethical compass, let alone being constrained by such a concept, is utterly fanciful. Moreover, that he or any other editor would defer to the PCC is beyond the bounds of credibility.

If there is to be regulation of the Fourth Estate, then it should be done properly, and that means having a regulator independent of the press, able to make binding decisions and order proper and prompt retractions and apologies. Such a body, operating fairly but firmly, would soon cause the various editors to actually think through the consequences of their actions before publishing.

Because right now, all we have is a toothless and therefore useless regulator, leaving the only redress for so many victims of the less principled part of the press in the hands of lawyers. Those who cannot afford legal redress become damaged by the sequence of publication, delay and grudging retraction. That’s not good enough.

There should be proper regulation of the press, and an end to the sham that is the PCC.

Tuesday 18 May 2010

Back To The Playground

Matters Stateside have taken a back seat on Zelo Street of late, but that changes today: Barack Obama has made his second nomination for the Supreme Court, and it has provoked the usual barrel-scraping desperation from the right, showing that some people don’t get it.

Previously, the assault on Sonia Sotomayor was rabid and ferocious, including a bizarre accusation of racism from the deeply unpleasant Rush Limbaugh. Everything was thrown into the campaign against her appointment. And every participant in that campaign lost. Ms Sotomayor is now on the Supreme Court.

Now, Obama has nominated Elena Kagan to replace the retiring John Paul Stevens, and the abuse has begun in earnest. Another routinely rabid stalwart of talk radio, Michael Savage (né Wiener) has called her “a New York City radical, Marxist lawyer through and through”, which is so flagrantly dishonest it has earned him a PolitiFact “Pants On Fire” award.

There has also been the customary anti-Semitic outburst over Kagan’s Jewish faith, this coming from Pat Buchanan, who says that her appointment would mean that there were “too many Jews” on the Supreme Court. Elsewhere there has been a nudge-nudge campaign showing Kagan playing softball and therefore suggesting that she is gay (but, so what?).

It would be helpful if her confirmation actually considered Kagan’s suitability for the Supreme Court, but that does not look likely any time soon. The right are too busy trying to dig up nonexistent demons.

No change there, then.

Damp Squib

On occasion, one might be forgiven for thinking that the chatterati get themselves worked up just for the sake of it. Between yesterday evening and this afternoon there has been a superb example of this, and it had to do with the House of Commons and its Speaker.

Now that we have a new Parliament, and a new Government, there has to be either a new Speaker, or confirmation of the incumbent in post. But John Bercow is not universally liked, the awkward squad consisting of a small number of MPs such as – yes, it’s her again – Tory member for Mid Bedfordshire Nadine Dorries.

La Dorries sent all her fellow MPs an email late yesterday urging them to say “no” on the vote to confirm Bercow in post. However, Young Dave, many of whose chaps were previously sceptical about the current Speaker, urged acceptance. So when Sir Peter Tapsell, Father of the House (he worked for Anthony Eden once upon a time) called the vote, and very few said “no”, he concluded that the “ayes” had it, and that was that.

So it seems that La Dorries has wasted everyone’s time in pursuit of this particular pet hate. Her idea of putting forward alternatives such as veteran Lib Dem Ming Campbell didn’t gain much traction, perhaps because none of the 200 plus new MPs knew him.

But it kept someone busy for a day or so.

Global Signoff

Sadly, the consistently excellent Daily Show is taking a break right now, but you can enjoy the best bits from last week in the Global Edition which is available on 4OD.

This is especially topical for those of us in the UK, as Jon Stewart takes a characteristically detached look at the aftermath of our elections. This includes a discussion with “Senior British Person” John Oliver, who considers the supposed humiliations doled out to departing Prime Ministers, including Margaret Thatcher’s tears.

Oliver tells that Thatcher crying “made the entire eleven years worth it”, which fair weather Daily Show watchers like Iain Dale, a compliant and reliable conduit for Tory propaganda, will not be crowing about any time soon. But the best commentary in the show comes from occasional contributor Lewis Black.

Black starts his piece on the subject of Arizona’s new law forcing the carrying of ID, but his real target is Glenn Beck, “star” of Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse). Black notes that Beck has been offended by those playing the “Nazi card” over the new law, and then demonstrates Beck’s own ability to play that card – several times.

Black tells that “This is a man who uses more swastika prompts and video of Nuremburg rallies than the History Channel” and concludes that “Glenn Beck has Nazi Tourette’s”. His recommendation on how Beck should keep himself safe brings the house down.

Hopefully the Daily Show break will not be too long.

Careful Whispers

The foreign exchanges have not been kind to the Euro recently (and likewise Sterling, which those supporters of the new and improved two-headed donkey may care to note). There are good reasons for this, with the Greek debt crisis and realisation that other countries within the Eurozone are well outside the budget deficit limits of the stability pact.

So it is with interest that I hear talk that the Germans are starting to print Deutschmarks as a step towards leaving the Eurozone and going it alone. Is there any truth in the story? Put directly, none at all, but this rumour is not wild speculation: it has been started as part of a very deliberate campaign.

And that campaign is being waged by those, principally in the hedge fund business, who have been betting on a fall in the value of the Euro. There would be no more severe blow to the credibility of the single currency if its strongest member were to leave, and this would bring those hedge funds to the payout window in droves.

The trouble is, it’s not going to happen: the stories recently told that French President Sarkozy threatened to pull France from the monetary union are equally ridiculous. France would suffer terribly if it left the Eurozone, and so would Germany, given its dependency on the rest of those participating EU countries.

When the Euro debuted, the bets were that it was a “toilet currency” and it was sold in huge amounts, but to no avail: it subsequently rallied strongly and even now is trading against the US Dollar at a rate seven points higher than when introduced.

All that the rumours confirm is that there is little change over time in the behavioural patterns of the inhabitants of the casino.

Monday 17 May 2010

Unintentionally Cheap Flights

Good news twice over today: the strike by BA cabin crew has been stopped in its tracks by the courts, so intending passengers will not suffer any disruption to their travel, apart from that already being caused by ash from the Icelandic volcano. But many punters will already have made alternative arrangements, so Willie Walsh and his pals now face 20 days’ worth of having their planes less than full.

So if you’re on the lookout for a good flight deal on a “proper” airline, and you’re going anywhere on the BA route network, this might be a good time to buy. Meantime, despite my dislike of management bending staff to their will by less than totally savoury methods, I have to tell the awkward squad at BA that their bosses are likely to prevail on this one.

You’ve enjoyed the good years – now the lean ones beckon. Get over it.

Loading The Lords

Another day, another questionable idea emanating from the new and improved two-headed donkey: this time, the meeting of Young Dave’s jolly good chaps and Corporal Clegg’s motley platoon has gone for a particularly brazen attempt to stack the House of Lords in its favour. Like the 55% rule, which I considered previously, it has hardly seen the light of day, but already there is a most unpleasant smell from its general direction.

There are just over 700 members of the Lords. Of these, 211 support Labour, which by my arithmetic makes them over 140 short of a majority. Moreover, many of the 186 so-called crossbenchers are conservative, if only with a small “c”. Also, there are a total of 258 peers supporting the coalition, giving 47 more than Labour. But notwithstanding all of that, there appears to be a move afoot to appoint another 172 Government supporting peers to ensure that legislation is passed.

Rupe’s troops at the Times, in its last few days before vanishing behind a paywall, have run the story by headlining “100 Peers”, but then the article admits that it’s going to be more than 100, with the increases (Tories from 186 to 263 and Lib Dems from 72 to 167) then revealing the total of 172. The excuse for this blatant act of vote rigging is that it is to make the Lords “reflective of the vote” at the election.

Reflective my arse. This is another crude and inexcusable attempt to stack the odds in favour of the two-headed donkey. And, like the 55% rule, it will not be explained away merely by Young Dave trotting out a bit more of his amateurish PR. Over at the Guardian, Alan Travis is suitably unimpressed: as he points out, even with this supposed numerical superiority, Labour was defeated in the Lords 350 times between 1999 and 2006.

But I’m sure that Cameron will be along soon to tell that he has no more territorial ambitions. And, as I write this (Monday at 1730 hours) the usual suspects in the Tory cheerleading part of the blogosphere have thus far been silent on the matter.

Sunday 16 May 2010

The Blame Game

Anyone wondering when the usual politics, where one party blames the other for the country’s ills, would restart needed to look no further than this morning’s Andy Marr Show, which featured a jolly good interview with Young Dave, where he asserted that the work of the new and improved two-headed donkey was starting to unearth “crazy” spending in Labour’s last years.

But, as Mandy Rice-Davies would have reminded us, he would say that, wouldn’t he? And Cameron’s assertions fail to stand up to a little scrutiny. His main – or should I say only exhibit in support of his point - was Civil Service bonuses. Note that the b-word gets trotted out because, although the amounts are hardly likely to be more than a couple of percent of pay, “bonus” has recently come to signify something excessive and bad.

Moreover, what is really being discussed is performance related pay – in other words, giving Civil Servants some measure of incentive. This, one might think, is something the Tories would recognise as A Good Thing. And, before he decides to cut those bonuses – a two thirds reduction was mentioned – it is to be hoped that someone in Government checks to make sure that unilaterally changing thousands of pay deals is something that can actually be done.

And this cut is mere gesture politics: the saving is fifteen million, and the budget deficit is over a hundred billion. So is the assertion, in the same interview, that the highest paid Civil Servant should earn no more than 20 times the salary of the lowest. That’s just more crude demonising of public service: there will be no such lecture given to the inmates of the casino, trousering obscene amounts of money while devising ever more dubious ideas for screwing over the financial system.

The usual excuses will be trotted out: we have to set an example, don’t you know? Whatever. The fat cats will laugh a little louder, take a little less notice, and carry on as before. More amateurish PR.

What Labour Can Do – 3

If the last election has one lesson for the Mainstream Media, it is that the print part of it no longer has the influence of old. Labour was abandoned by all except the Mirror and Morning Star, the Murdoch and Rothermere press (and Richard Desmond) piled in behind the Tories, yet Young Dave came up short of the win line.

The lesson for both Labour and Tory is equally clear: there is no point in going out of your way to placate the press, something the Tories did this time round, and Labour did when Tone trounced “Shagger” Major, William ‘Ague, and the one who isn’t a Welsh Windbag because he’s a Tory.

The media that really influences the public mood – and another reason to keep the impartiality rule – is television, but only those channels that significant numbers of folks watch, which lets out Rupe’s troops at Sky News (“first for breaking wind”).

And the thought that the press are losing their influence has also occurred to Big Al, who has said much the same on his blog, the post containing the simple message “My advice to the next Labour leader is not to worry too much about the media”.

So there you have it: stop appeasing Murdoch the Interfering Foreigner, don’t be fussed what the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre thinks, and treat the Desmond press as the joke it is rapidly becoming. Take a leaf out of Barack Obama’s book: you can get your message across without the Fourth Estate.

Adding Value

The rumour mill has, since the election, been in high gear on the prospect of tax rises, and favourite for those fancying a flutter has been Value Added Tax (VAT), on which the Tories have previous.

VAT first appeared in the early 1970s, on the watch of Sailor Heath, as a more or less straight replacement for Purchase Tax, and was levied at a rate of 10%, which the following Labour Government amended to 8%. After Margaret Thatcher came to power, there were accusations that her Government would double the tax: in the event, it was increased to 15%, which to the average consumer is as near as makes no difference. But former Chancellor Geoffrey Howe still gets miffed when his VAT increase is described as “doubling” the rate.

There was one more hike in the VAT rate, and that was on the watch of “Shagger” Major – to the present 17.5%. Now there is talk of an increase to 20%, which would bring the Treasury more than ten billion notes’ extra revenue a year. Such a rate is not unusual across the EU: top rate VAT in France is 19.6%, with Germany and the Netherlands at 19%, Austria and Italy at 20%, and Sweden and Denmark at a whopping 25%.

But increasing the top rate of VAT is not the only possibility: the scope of the tax could be widened as well. Right now, we have a 5% reduced rate and, of course, a “zero rate”, which effectively exempts a range of goods. An increase in the reduced rate – Spain and Portugal are both following the course this year – brings in more revenue, with an ending of zero rating for some products adding yet another stream.

And a reduction in the range of zero rated goods could prove mightily controversial: remember the froth generated by the Fourth Estate when the idea was floated that childrens’ clothes might cease to be zero rated? But, at the start of a new Administration, it might be thought worthwhile to bite the bullet and get it over with quickly.

In the upcoming “Emergency Budget”, watch for a hike in the top rate of VAT for definite, with an increase in the reduced rate almost a certainty, and a reduction in the scope of zero rating a middling possibility. You read that here first.

A Week Is A Long Time In Politics

That sentiment was attributed to Harold Wilson, who left the stage in 1976, but is even more relevant nowadays, given the speed at which information moves compared to thirty-odd years ago.

And if a week is a long time, then a year is a veritable eternity by comparison. But why should this be such a big deal? Ah well. Our new Government is presently considering a move to fixed term Parliaments, and the term that is being pitched is five years. But that wasn’t the term that was most widely talked about before the election.

Maybe it wasn’t in Young Dave’s script, but on most occasions the idea of fixed terms came up, the timescale was four years. That may have been a nod to the USA, where the Presidential contests have to be of that frequency, but there are other countries across the EU that have adopted the four year idea: Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal all adhere to it.

Yes, in the UK we currently have a five year term, but this is the maximum period before there must be an election. So why does Cameron want to make the fixed term equivalent to the current maximum, rather than cap it at four years? That question is bound to be asked as the measure is debated, and my reading is that there may have to be a falling back to four years in order to reach consensus.

Or, of course, the proposed period could be amended before the debate, just to show that someone is thinking things through, rather than making up policy on the hoof. That’s hoof as in donkey – the two-headed variety.

[Young Dave was happy to bang on about process when quizzed this morning on the Andy Marr Show, but was distinctly sketchy on policy. This is something that Big Al has been stressing time and again, and Cameron gives every impression of proving him right]

Saturday 15 May 2010

Absolutely Fatuous

The central character of the comedy series Absolutely Fabulous worked in the world of PR – something that she did very badly. And bad PR was cringe inducing, which was the whole idea. Well, bad PR has come to Westminster, with the cobbling together of the new and improved two-headed donkey under the guidance of Young Dave.

And that PR is just as cringe inducingly bad as Ab Fab, with Cameron, who clearly fancies himself as a practitioner of the art, selling the donkey for all he’s worth, and as we all know, he’s worth a jolly big pile of money. But this week as he deployed those PR skills while introducing incoming Business Secretary Vince Cable to his civil servants, it did not disguise the awkwardness of the occasion.

Because those civil servants knew that, only days earlier, Young Dave and his jolly good chaps, egged on by their cheerleaders in the press and elsewhere, had been knocking lumps out of Cable and his reputation in a desperate effect to counter the popularity of Corporal Clegg. Moreover, Cable and Cameron both knew that the Lib Dems had been doing their level best to do the same to the Tories.

And what they also knew was that Cable had, until after the weekend following the election, leaned towards an alliance with Pa Broon and his pals: Cable started his political journey with Labour, and arrived in Lib Dem territory via the SDP. Thus the awkwardness.

No amount of confident PR deployment can cure the coalition of the significant amount of previous. Of course, in Ab Fab, the bad PR kept on coming, because there were more shows, and then more series, to do – and it was fictitious. In the real world, there is a limit to how much of what Cameron is doing to paper over the cracks can be tolerated.

Especially without the laughs. Pats? Pats!?

Friday 14 May 2010

What Labour Can Do – 2

One characteristic of our society here in the UK is that of freedom of the individual. Allied with this is the presupposition of innocence until being proved guilty, and strict limits on any kind of detention without charge. The last of these has, on the watch of the New Labour Project, been the subject of change, which I believe to have been mistaken.

Detaining someone without charge for even a fortnight – which is where we came in – is bad enough, whatever the alleged offence. Going from there to 28 days was unnecessary, and when Tone suggested that there could be grounds for extending that to a whopping 90 days, I concluded that he had done a Parthenon, and been separated from his marbles.

This kind of authoritarian behaviour, I believe, is an abuse of power, and the electorate will rapidly tire of being bullied into acquiescence by having the supposed spectre of terrorism waved in their faces. And the kind of example trotted out in defence of the authoritarianism does not stand serious analysis.

The agents of terror, we are told, nowadays use computer disks to store information: clearly nothing gets past the political class. So let’s compare this with the more traditional paper. How long does it take to search a filing cabinet full of indifferently indexed paper? Now compare with how long it takes to search a hard disk unit, which can routinely hold many times more information.

Searching the disk is faster by many times. Thus the duration of detention without trial, if it depends on searching that kind of information store, should be getting shorter, not longer. The suspect won’t let you know the password or unlock it for you? Fine – that’s an offence for which they can be tried and sentenced. For how long? Ooh, try 28 days for starters, rising to 90. Job done.

No, longer detention without trial is not justifiable. Moreover, it is flagrantly illiberal, and on a pragmatic level will chase the more liberally minded voters away. They are less likely to come back unless the party can be seen to move to a more liberal and, yes, common sense position.

But won’t there be an outcry from some parts of the media? Ah well. That will be covered next.

What Labour Can Do – 1

As promised yesterday, I’ll be setting out in a series of posts the kind of things that could benefit Labour as it looks to counter the new and improved two-headed donkey and move itself back towards power. And no, I am not a member of that or any other party: these are observations from the viewpoint of someone of independent mind.

One event that hung over the 2005 General Election, and benefited the Lib Dems’ vote share, was the military adventure in Iraq. Seats like Manchester Withington and Bristol West – both with an electorate featuring many young professionals and academics – were won as the Lib Dem opposition to the conflict made them the only way for voters to register their dissent.

Since then, we have had a series of enquiries into the war, but the feeling lingers that, notwithstanding the spirited and committed defence of their decisions by Tone, Pa Broon, Big Al and the rest, we shouldn’t have followed Dubya Bush, “Dick” Cheney and the rest of the Neocon rabble into an invasion that the UN declined to rubber stamp.

So my first suggestion is that the new Labour leadership comes clean and admits that the Iraq adventure might not have been such a good idea, that the emphasis on less than sound intelligence was unwise, and that the UK in future will not necessarily say “how high?” when the US suggests that we jump – plus we would be well advised to consult around the EU rather more widely.

What I’m not suggesting is that this would involve anyone being carted off for trial in den Haag, admitting that the legal opinion on which our participation in Iraq rested was suspect (although that is my personal conclusion), or otherwise saying that Nick’s party was right. All that is needed is to say that maybe we should have done things differently.

Then Labour might consider this: some voters choose the Lib Dems because of their perceived Liberalism, and Labour’s lack of it in recent years. I’ll look at that next.

Not A Spiffing Wheeze

The new Government is no more than a couple of days old, and already there is controversy: more or less the first act of Young Dave’s jolly good lash-up has been to tinker with the Constitution, and it’s not proving popular.

So what’s the big idea? Well, it’s all to do with confidence votes, the means by which incumbent Governments can be turfed out of office. Right now, a simple majority of MPs wins a vote of no confidence and the Government thus defeated has to go, triggering a General Election. This was what finally finished Jim Callaghan in early 1979.

This first legislative act by the new and improved two-headed donkey is to raise that threshold – but only for dissolution votes, not, apparently, confidence ones – to 55%. This would mean that, with the Tories having 47% of MPs, some of them would have to rebel to reach the new marker.

Not surprisingly, a variety of opposition figures have denounced the move as equivalent to gerrymandering. Government supporters, such as William ‘Ague, have called it a “constitutional innovation”, and stressed that it is all part of the package of introducing fixed term Parliaments.

I don’t buy this one, and neither has one concerned visitor to Zelo Street, who picked up on the proposal and alerted me to it earlier. Saying that there are no plans to extend the 55% rule to confidence (or any other) votes does not sound all that different to “I have no further territorial ambitions”.

There is likely to be considerable resistance to this proposal when it reaches the House Of Lords, and that might cause it to be quietly shelved. But if this is a taster for things to come, we should all be on our guard.

Not a good start.

Thursday 13 May 2010

A Confession – 2

Being of independent thought and liberal mind, one blog I read regularly and would recommend to others is Liberal Conspiracy. Here is a forum where folk from a wide range of views blog and comment.

So the news that Corporal Clegg and his motley platoon have gone in with Young Dave and his jolly good chaps has been debated with some vigour in LibCon over the last few days.

And here I find myself on the opposite side of the debate – something that does not happen often – from the routinely mischievous Sunny Hundal, on the subject of minority Governments.

My view is that it would have been perfectly reasonable for Clegg and the Lib Dems to leave the Tories to form a minority Government and deal with it on a “confidence and supply” basis. Then it would have been down to Cameron to behave sensibly and demonstrate that he really was behaving in the national interest (rather than emulating Stanley Baldwin).

Sunny is of the view that a minority Government would not be sufficiently stable, which is entirely possible, but then, Alex Salmond and the Scot Nats seem to be coping at Holyrood. On this issue I suspect we will not persuade each other of our case.

Where I do agree with Sunny is that Labour has not made it easy for the Lib Dems to deal with them, and that there is sufficient baggage from the thirteen years of the New Labour Project to turn off many who have favoured the Lib Dems at the ballot box from considering voting Labour.

So what can Labour do to demonstrate that they are worth the consideration of those voters, while retaining the support they have? This I’ll consider next.

A Confession

Confession, it is said, is good for the soul. So in seeking a moderate benefit in that area, I have a confession to make, and it is this: I have in the past, on occasion, voted Liberal Democrat.

I made this choice for a variety of reasons, and one of these was that in voting Lib Dem I was not voting for the Tories. A vote for the Lib Dems was not a vote for the party that had brought us Milton Friedman’s quack doctory, crippling unemployment, decimation of much of the country’s manufacturing base, the Poll Tax, bus deregulation, the railway sell-offs, a worsening of the NHS, and the latest in an historic series of misguided attempts to use Sterling as a national virility symbol.

The Tories, moreover, were a party not untainted by bad behaviour: this was the home of Cecil “von Porkinson” Parkinson, “Shagger” Major, Tim “The Dishonourable Member” Smith, Mostyn Neil “A Liar And A Cheat” Hamilton, Jonathan Aitken, Tim Yeo, Graham Riddick, David Tredinnick, Shirley “Gerrymanders’R’Us” Porter, “Shagger” Mellor, Jeffrey bloody Archer, and the permanent stench emanating from the Al Yamamah arms deal.

And in this view I am not alone: the Labour party has put on thousands of new members since Corporal Clegg and his motley platoon went in with Young Dave and his jolly good chaps. Many of them, I suspect, are former Lib Dem supporters or even activists. Of course, Labour has also had its moments of sleaze over the past thirteen years – which demonstrates just how strongly some now disillusioned Lib Dems feel.

So can Labour build on that reaction to the new and improved two-headed donkey? I’ll give that some thought later.

Wednesday 12 May 2010

Return Of The Coupon?

As the first Tory/Liberal coalition since 1918 takes shape, a number of side issues are emerging. Europe figures prominently, with William ‘Ague looking to repatriate powers from the EU (won’t happen), there is the matter of Corporal Clegg’s lack of upstanding Christian faith in a Government with just a few of the God squad within it, but top of the pile is by-elections.

There are always a few by-elections during the course of a Parliament, and these by definition occur at times least convenient to the incumbent party, or, as we now have, parties. Thus far, both Tory and Lib Dem have been represented separately in these contests, but now both parties are supposedly in coalition, so how will they square this one?

Well, in 1918, the Tories, and Liberals who followed Lloyd George into coalition with them were those who had “taken the coupon”: other Liberals, loyal to Herbert Asquith, would not sign up to the coalition. Will this be the way by-elections are fought in this world of the “New Politics”? Will we see “approved” candidates taking a 21st Century coupon? Or will both parties be allowed to compete with one another as before?

The thought has occurred that this question has not yet been faced. And, while that is understandable in the rush to get a credible Government established, it leaves a potential minefield out there in the long grass, with endless opportunity for mischief making by Labour, Greens, UKIP and the rest.

The two-headed donkey rears its ugly heads once more.

That’ll Cost You, Sport – 14

Waiting at the payout window, as a new two-headed donkey is stitched together by Young Dave and Corporal Clegg, is an interfering foreigner whose less than benign influence this country could well do without.

Yes, Rupe and Junior will be looking to their quid pro quo for all that slavish support, hopeful that Cameron’s talk of neutering Ofcom and dealing with the Beeb will deliver them more power over the luckless citizenry. Well, they might just be disappointed.

Because the incoming Government will have more pressing priorities than to gift even larger revenue streams to a family that has already extended its malign influence too far. Any lobbying by the Murdochs should be treated in the same way as the Sky junk mail that dropped through my letter box less than an hour ago.

Straight in the bin with it. Sorted.

On Your Marks

The race to finalise the new Government continues: meanwhile that to succeed Pa Broon at the helm of the Labour Party is about to kick off. So who’s in the frame, and equally, who’s not?

The who’s nots already include Deputy leader Harriet Harman (so that’s a few quid lost by the clueless Paul Staines) and Alan Johnson, the latter already backing David Miliband. Whether Miliband’s brother Ed decides to enter the fray might make it more interesting, while one man who likes a bit of a scrap, Brown confidante “Auguste” Balls, will undoubtedly stand.

As in so many of these contests, who will win and who is best for Labour could return two different answers. Balls has the determination and the connections to succeed, but does not have the presence before the media that Miliband displays so effortlessly.

Prediction? After John Smith’s sudden death, I identified Tony Blair ahead of Gordon Brown as the obvious successor, and for the same reason – electability – my choice would be Miliband ahead of Balls.

That’s David Miliband.

Call My Bluff

So there I was taking in the news just after watching the Daily Show over on More4. Pa Broon had resigned: that suggested that Young Dave and Corporal Clegg had finalised their agreement to work together. But they hadn’t. Brown had concluded he couldn’t put together an alliance with the Lib Dems and so had moved first.

That the other parties’ bluff had been called became clear when Cameron arrived in Downing Street. The details have still not been finalised as I type: right now the Beeb is reporting only the confirmation of Clegg as “Deputy Prime Minister”, William ‘Ague at the Foreign Office, The Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne (heir to the Seventeenth Baronet) at the Treasury, along with Liam Fox at the FO, Andrew Lansley at Health, and Vince Cable perhaps in a “Business and Banking” role.

The thought that a Lib Dem – presumably Chris Huhne – might secure the last great office of state, the Home Office remains unconfirmed. There might just be competition for that one within the Tory ranks. Another name to feature is David Laws, who might get Education in preference to “Oiky” Gove. But as the dust settles, it’s clear that Cameron has put his jolly good chaps in the seats that matter.

So is it a coalition? And what happens to all the talk of a fixed five year Parliament if the whole thing falls apart? What of all those Lib Dem party members who campaigned tirelessly to keep out the Tories? All will no doubt be revealed, but one news item I can break right now is that the Tory cheerleaderati will not be alluding to David Low’s caricature of Lloyd George and that two-headed donkey.

Full stop. At all.

[And Chris Huhne has only got Environment. Not even Justice]

Tuesday 11 May 2010

The Stew Is Served

Some in the blogosphere are getting terribly excited right now, as it seems the long and tortuous process of forming a Government is about to end. The excitement is coming mainly from the Tory and Lib Dem cheerleaderati, which suggests that the moment has caused normal caution to be blanked out temporarily.

Over here on Zelo Street, I can’t wait: for those of us who regard politics as a spectator sport, a new era mining a rich seam of ridicule is about to begin. The new arrangement between Young Dave’s jolly good chaps and Corporal Clegg’s motley platoon may have much goodwill behind it right now, but given a few months of what Harold Macmillan memorably called “events”, together with frustration and disappointment from the assembled hackery that cheered for the deal, and what could be a fired up Labour Party under a new leader, it could be getting fractious.

Actually, I’m being unduly pessimistic: make that will be getting fractious. The last Tory and Liberal coalition was ruled over by David Lloyd George, and both Cameron and Clegg aren’t in that league. It fell apart because LG and his MPs were far more radical and centre-left than the Tories – a bit like now, whatever the pretence and the spin.

And, as Lib Dems will know, the end of the Lloyd George coalition was where the Tories screwed the Liberals over and the decline of the party set in – so they will be constantly looking over their shoulders, knowing that the Tory Party is the one with the most ruthless survival instinct and will come out of this arrangement stronger than them.

Meanwhile, in the blogosphere, as things get difficult for the new Government – as they always do – I await the fracturing of the current clique of Tory and Libertarian bloggers with relish. It won’t be happy, it won’t be pretty, but it will produce excellent sport.

So stay tuned while I sharpen my pen and load up both barrels.

Who’s Next? – 2

Another day, another lack of a new Government, and now Corporal Clegg and his motley platoon are apparently inching towards Young Dave and his jolly good chaps. But the desperation in Tory ranks was laid bare last night when, on hearing that the Lib Dems were to hold talks with Pa Broon’s clan, William ‘Ague promised a referendum on changing the voting system to the Alternative Vote (AV) system.

This is coming from a party that is vehemently opposed to moving away from the current First Past The Post (FPTP) system of electing MPs. Why should they yield such a concession? Ah well. Put this alongside the feedback from the Lib Dem negotiating team, who reported back that they did not believe their Labour counterparts were serious about the idea of a Lib-Lab coalition.

And you get a slice of cynical manipulation that can only have come from Baron Mandelson of Indeterminate Guacamole, Big Al, and “Auguste” Balls being in close proximity to one another. Labour may be sounding as if they want to stay in power, but they also want to do some damage to their opponents, and top of their hit list is Young Dave. But, it might be argued, Cameron went to a meeting of back benchers yesterday evening and was given a rousing, cheering reception.

So he was. But so was Pa Broon when the knives were coming out for him. There is much discontent within the Parliamentary party over the way Cameron runs the Tory Party and some of the manifesto content, notably the “Big Society” idea that went down like a lead balloon with many ordinary voters. And the longer that Cameron stays out of Downing Street, the more temptation there will be for someone to wield the knife on him.

It wasn’t just my thought: over at the Guardian, Nicholas Watt has put together a post saying much the same thing. The Tories are yielding more than might be expected to the Lib Dems, because once they get Cameron into Number Ten, he’s safe. He would then be a success, no matter how much of his wish list has to be junked in order to keep the peace.

And, if it becomes a coalition, the Tories will have the Lib Dems where they want them: Cameron has the opportunity to reprise Stanley Baldwin’s actions and pull the plug on the hapless Clegg at a time of his choosing. Lib Dems know what happened in 1922, so when it happens, they can’t say they weren’t warned.

[Martin Rowson summed this up in his Guardian comment cartoon yesterday]

Don’t Reach For The Sky – 3

There were mutterings during the election campaign that Rupe’s troops over at Sky News (“first for breaking wind”) were becoming less than impartial in their politics, and favouring Young Dave – they were in a very small minority in calling the first Leaders’ Debate for Cameron, when most commentators agreed that Corporal Clegg had walked it.

And then there was Sky’s own Leaders’ Debate, moderated by Adam Boulton, an appallingly immodest man with much to be modest about. Boulton managed to put a question outside the subject of the debate to Clegg and then interrupted him in mid-answer, thus flagrantly breaching the debate rules agreed by all three parties.

But this was as nothing to the aftermath of the election, as Rupe and Junior found that all the cheerleading had failed to get their duly anointed nominee into 10 Downing Street. First the Super Soaraway Currant Bun, and then the supposedly quality Sunday Times, put out stories claiming that Pa Broon was “squatting” in Number Ten and suggesting he was there improperly – which, with no successor Government having been formed, he wasn’t.

And in what Sky management will no doubt say is pure coincidence, their “stars” have given the appearance that they are losing the plot – live on air. First to descend into hectoring incoherence was Kay Burley while interviewing David Babbs of electoral reform group 38 Degrees. Supporters of that group registered their displeasure by heckling Burley during a later interview.

But the icing on the cake came yesterday afternoon in the wake of the Brown resignation: this time it was Adam Boulton who went into meltdown during a less then good humoured exchange with Alastair Campbell. Boulton courted disaster with his instantly and persistently aggressive approach, and Big Al did the flannelled fool up like a kipper. We were not allowed to see the conclusion of the exchange, as Boulton went puce and lost it completely: the transmission cut away.

Is Sky News breaching the impartiality rules? Given the amount of discussion that these incidents have generated in Mainstream Media, blogosphere and on Twitter, it’s entirely possible that someone at Ofcom has noticed and is monitoring events.

[Boulton had another wobbly moment later with Labour MP Ben Bradshaw]

Monday 10 May 2010

Who’s Next?

So Pa Broon is going – although not just yet. Consider the maths: Labour and the Lib Dems together gives 315 MPs. The three SDLP members would take the Labour whip, and the Alliance have ties with the Lib Dems, so that gives 319. They would still not have a majority – which, given that Sinn Féin’s five representatives would not be expected to take up their seats, would be 323.

But the idea that either of Plaid Cymru or the SNP going through the lobbies with the Tories to defeat such a coalition is a long shot: the best that the Tories could hope for is the eight DUP MPs, giving them 315, assuming they retain Thirsk and Malton, which they should. So a “progressive” coalition is possible, if only just.

But then what happens to Young Dave? He’s not managed to get the Tories over the win line, despite all the money thrown at the campaign, the fawning press coverage and an army of new party members. Some in the Tory Party are starting to grumble about his leadership, and the rule from the centre by a small clique.

Ah well. Cameron may not be the problem: anyone complaining about the manner of his leadership should bear in mind that he consistently polled well ahead of the wider party. The idea of pushing Cameron forward while keeping some of the potentially less appealing Tories in the background has probably increased their vote – not held it back.

But if a Government is formed, and the Tories are not part of it, the recriminations will follow in the sure manner of night following day. The days when Sailor Heath could lose an election, as he did in 1966, and be allowed to carry on and win the next one are long gone. That process of “one election and out” was effectively defined by William ‘Ague after his trouncing by Tony Blair in 2001, and has continued since (with Ian Duncan Smith not even getting to contest an election).

It would be an appallingly backward step for the Tories to ditch Cameron. But there are enough in the party who dislike him, and are daft enough, to move against their leader. If that happens, Pa Broon will finally have something so smile about.

Brown Is Through

It was almost an LBJ moment, but not quite “I will not seek, nor will I accept”. Pa Broon has announced that he will stand down – not immediately, but after giving notice to his party that they should set in train the process of choosing a new leader. He will not back any candidate. That last may be bad news for “Auguste” Balls.

So how has this particular push come to shove? The Lib Dem Parliamentary party have apparently not reacted favourably to the thought of going in with the Tories, which may mean that their grasp on the history of Liberalism is at least good enough to remember 1922, and Stanley Baldwin, a supremely devious operator, pulling the plug on Lloyd George in order that the Tories should survive and remain strong.

So the Lib Dems are now looking rather more favourably on talks with Labour. And Corporal Clegg has been shown to be absolutely right to keep the Labour channel open while talks with the Tories went on.

As for Brown, he has taken the brunt of a ferocious media onslaught for long enough. There comes a time to make the difficult decisions. That time has come, and he has made his decision. He may yet get some peace and quiet in his retirement.

I’m Sorry, I Haven’t A Clue

I’m developing a liking for the way that Corporal Clegg does business. This morning, the Beeb’s Nick Robinson found out that the Lib Dem negotiators had, as well as sitting down with the Tories’ team, found time to also speak to a Labour team featuring such luminaries as “Auguste” Balls and Baron Mandelson of Indeterminate Guacamole.

What’s the problem? Clegg and his platoon can talk to whom they like. They’re not beholden to the Tories or anyone else, but there have been mutterings from some of Young Dave’s jolly good chaps that the Lib Dems are acting in bad faith. No, they’re not: they’re being open minded and pragmatic, and their behaviour might just put the burner under the Tories.

Meanwhile, there has been a meeting of Lib Dem MPs, which has not given its clear endorsement to any deal with the Tories, but requested “clarification” over policy detail, which is code for someone smelling a rat. Clegg’s MPs are also telling him to keep listening to Pa Broon and his pals. And their leader has had another face to face with Brown today.

Otherwise, the best guess of the assembled punditry is that what is being discussed between Tory and Lib Dem teams is some kind of arrangement stronger than “supply and confidence” but short of a coalition. But the idea of forcing the pace to get an agreement today may be fading: Lib Dem stalwart Simon Hughes has now said that he’s sure there will be a Government “by the end of this week”.

Anyone with their head screwed on correctly, then, should own up and admit that they don’t know how it will all pan out. But not one supposedly leading blogger, who has suggested that some of Clegg’s MPs will now jump ship and join the Tories. Who is this clueless fantasist? Have a guess. You’ll only need the one.

Winners Are Really Losers

While talks between Young Dave’s jolly good chaps and Corporal Clegg’s platoon drag on, there has been a concerted effort from the Tory cheerleaderati to head off any idea of a deal between the Lib Dems and Pa Broon. This has brought another superb example of meaningless flannelspeak into play.

And that flannelspeak is to call such a deal a “coalition of losers”. Like many buzz-phrases, it makes a brief impact, until some thought is applied. And then it is revealed as pejorative and empty.

All those folk who were returned by their constituencies won. Yes, they won a Parliamentary Election. All of them, whether Lib Dem, Nationalist, or even Labour, are winners. They would not otherwise have become MPs.

So agreement between these people would not feature any losers. But it would mean that the Tories lost out. Hence this latest desperate deployment of flannelspeak.

Sunday 9 May 2010

And Still They Talk

Another day, another series of talks, and no sign yet of a new Government emerging. All the parties are, in public at least, being remarkably civil to one another, yet agreement has not come. Why might that be?

Well, it could be to do with the C-word: as in Coalition. There can be no doubt that the Tories want to bring the Lib Dems into one, and equally no doubt that the Lib Dem negotiators – including Lloyd George Liberal Chris Huhne – know that the last time they did that, as Harry Callahan observed in the pool hall, they ended up with the cue up their arse.

The Tory push for coalition got under way as former PM “Shagger” Major was wheeled out to float the view that yielding a few cabinet posts would be a price worth paying for a stable Government. This continued on today’s Andy Marr Show with “Oiky” Gove giving that rarest of politicians’ answers: a straight “yes” when asked if he would be prepared to cede the education portfolio to the Lib Dems.

And so negotiations got under way, with the coalition talk now floated in the Tory cheerleading part of the blogosphere: Iain Dale, a compliant and reliable conduit for Tory propaganda, has jumped on the “Change Coalition” bandwagon, deploying this otherwise meaningless phrase with palpable enthusiasm.

What Dale has managed to miss is that the body that really matters in the Tory Party, the 1922 Committee (and he shouldn’t need to ask Chris Huhne where that particular moniker came from), has not yet met and pronounced on the talks – that will happen tomorrow afternoon. And today’s talks have ended without any conclusion other than the usual flannelspeak “very positive and productive”.

Will there be a coalition? I still doubt it. The best Cameron can hope for is a less formal understanding, and as I’ve already said, he’ll have to get on and form a minority Government. There is no appetite for another election any time soon: all he needs to do is to address the real issues and blank out the rest.

And there will not be a new Government in place when the markets open tomorrow morning. The sky will not fall in, and the residents of the casino, like the rest of us, will have to be patient and get used to it.