Friday, June 29, 2007

The end of the TBGBs?

Surely to goodness one of the positives to come out of the Brown Premiership is that the split between Blair and Brown must now be over. The split between Prime Minister and Chancellor destabilised the Labour Party and often paralysed Government. One resounding strength Brown will have is that he will not have Gordon Brown in the Treasury. So does Blairism wither without its leader? Is this truly an end to factionalism in the Labour Party? Are they really all Brownites now?
Well, no. Politicians are both intensely tribal and factional at the same time. Party loyalties are often less strong than factional ones: witness John Major's rage at the 'bastards' or Kinnock's internecine wars with Militant. To suggest that because Blair is no longer there, peace and unity will reign in the Labour Party is to ignore history. Thatcher left the Commons in 1992, and her shadow was not exactly inactive afterwards. The wonderful thing about past leaders is that they don't have to say much to stir up trouble - in fact they don't have to say anything, merely the mention of their name can be enough to encourage negative comparisons with the current incumbent.
Wait for the first negative publicity for the Brown Government - in fact for the first decision made that doesn't benefit all sides equally - and watch backbenchers like Charles Clarke, David Blunkett and others mutter regretfully to journalists that it would never have happened with Tony 'he always knew how to handle these things you see...'


Thursday, June 28, 2007

Now that is a disgrace

Gordon Brown was a pivotal, key figure in the last adminisatration - with collective responsibility for the decisions that led to our armed forces being over-stretched across too many ill-defined actions; and with personal responsbility for the decisions that have left them underfunded, undermined, undermanned and at risk.
Now he adds insult to injury through a disgusting decision that not only leaves the fool Des Browne in situ at defence but adds Scotland to his portfolio.
Defence of the Realm is the primary responsibility of Government. In this decision Brown has done his utmost to prove unworthy of his duties.

Plot thickens in Zimbabwe

News of the 'accidental' death of Brigadier-General Ambrose Gunda in Zimbabwe goes some distance to confirm rumours of an attempted coup. Gunda's body was found in a car that had been hit by a goods train. To be honest, this detail alone proves that this was no accident. The train lines in Zimbabwe were, at the best of times, extremely infrequently used. Now, with no fuel in the country, and steam trains being recommissioned out of Bulawayo's transport museum, the chances of a collision are small to remote. That Gunda was under house arrest at the time rather confirms the point.
He was, of course, buried at Heroes' Acre as many of Mugabe's assassinated enemies have been. Gunda is small fry as far as the coup is concerned. The names to be watching out for are Emerson Mnangagwa and General Solomon Mujuru (whose wife Grace, aka Comrade Spillblood is also a potential power-seeker). Mujuru is reportedly also under house arrest, though this hasn't been confirmed. Mugabe's response to all this has been to order the rapid nationalisation of any remaining foreign-owned assets and businesses in the country.
Mr Mugabe railed against a number of forces he blamed for the present parlous situation, saying miners had been drafted into a "regime-change" agenda by Britain, deliberately reducing production, raising prices and illegally banking foreign currency abroad. "We will seize the mines... we will nationalise them if they continue with the dirty tricks," said an angry Mr Mugabe.
Frankly, with inflation running at an estimated 10,000%, Zimbabwe is a write-off. Putting her back together again will take a lot of hard work.

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Oh Brave New World

Roy Hattersley splutters excitedly about our fabulous future:
At least for the first couple of days Gordon Brown got both the style and substance absolutely right – no repudiation of the past but an absolute commitment to moving on. And it is clear what the new direction of travel will be. A more personally responsive health service, free from the straightjacket of targets. Affordable houses to buy and rent. A more sustained attack on child poverty.

More important – at least in terms of winning the next election – there will be no more celebrity politics. Glitz and glamour are out. The hard truth and hard decisions are in. No favours for friends. No free luxury holidays. No spin. Fresh air blows through Downing Street.
The problem is that the target system was basically Gordon's idea - it gave the Treasury (ie: him) greater control over domestic spending. To criticise it as wasteful and counter-productive (well duh) now is grotesquely hypocritical. The spin that there is no spin is not sustainable. Every time Brown, as all Prime Ministers must, has a photo-call with a celebrity (Kylie?), or is filmed on a football pitch, everyone will shout 'No spin eh? He's just as bad as the last one.' And they'll be right.
And 'affordable houses to buy and rent' are not something that can be delivered as a policy in itself - they are the result of planning policy, monetary policy, and the cost of land itself. Be very cynical as to whether this is a promise he means to deliver, or whether it is another 'NHS dentist for all' moment.
UPDATE: Oh, about that no spin business?
Mr Ellam came in bearing the news that Brown's first act was to “revoke the orders in council granting powers to special advisers to give instructions to civil servants”. Except this was entirely bogus: these powers were personally conferred on Alastair Campbell (who quit two years ago) and Jonathan Powell (who quit today). So there was nothing to abolish. I felt for Mr Ellam, this little ruse obviously wasn’t his idea. Under mild questioning, he quickly admitted this was a “meaningless gesture".

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The last word

The last word on the Quentin Davies saga goes to Matthew Parris, magisterial columnist who my fellow contributor managed to send flying twice in a week.

Every time a Conservative MP crosses the floor to join Labour there is a small but measurable increase in the average IQ of both parliamentary parties.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

What Broooon did next

So - good start Brooooon. Nice little speech, and you got away with that cheeky little line about it being time to start the change. That was A Big Lie.

You and I know that your record is a lie. That economic prosperity has been held back - not caused - by your policies. Policies which have increased personal taxation, driven up inflation (o, so cleverly masked), destroyed productivity and poured away resource into the maw of the public sector.

You and I know that you have been lucky in spades, clever in part - and have some great cheer leaders in the press , and support from our Adullamites - the Heffers, Daleys and Conservativehome's semi-unhinged commentators, who prefer "purity" to electability; "ancient" ideology from 1978 to common sense, and ultimately Broon to Cameron.

You and I know that in reality, marching under your own colours, you are doomed. But you are a clever swine.

So what is it that I fear you will do that will win you an election. Well:
1) Find some useful idiots to join your cabinet. Both the Tories and the Lib-Dems, being political parties, are packed to the gunnels with 'em, and it damages the 'Gordon's a lefty' pitch;
2) Add a couple of 'unbiased' businessmen to join in prominent positions - including people like Sugar, being touted I suspect as one of several, damage the 'Gordon's a control freak' pitch;
3) Throw in a tax cut - inheritance tax pushed over the £1m mark would play well in the South;
4) Refuse the siren's call for an Iraq wthdrawal - and win! Hold the line you never started it, but in good conscience will not leave 'til the job is done. After all it is for the kids.
5) Keep the housing market safe... could be tough - but mess this up and you are out.
What of the red meat to throw to your left? You will need some.
6) Throwing private equity to the wolves will damage the economy and further undermine business - but would play well to the idiots who vote and the fools who write the papers. And you don't care about business.
7) You hate Oxbridge. Many people do. We can't all get in. So you'll destroy the ancient universities and one can hear Polly Toynbee (3rd Class honours. Very stupid) cooing her approval.
8) You will require the independent schools to offer facilities (paid for out of parent's taxed income) and teachers (paid for out of parent's taxed income) to 'local schools'.
9) You will continue to drive a coach and horses through an old and functioning constitution - stripping away the embedded rights and dues of a sovereign people.

I reckon that Cameron is well able for you. But he needs to be able to focus on his front - and now he has fire coming in from the rear.

If we lose this one to Gordon, we will know who to blame - and then for the first time the right really might split.

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Master Chuf

Celebrity chef Gordon reveals how to make his favourite chocolate Brownies:

- Preparation time: considerable
- Cooking time: 10 years

- 340g bitter dark chocolate
- 255g fat
- 1 large ego
- 255g of something sickly sweet
- 110g plain dour
- 1 tsp banking power
- very large pinch of salt

Preheat the electorate to luke warm (Gazza Mark 1) and butter-up - with considerable Labour - a large political party. Sift together the salt (of the earth) and banking power. In a large chamber, melt the bitter and fat together, whisk in the ego and slowly add the sickly sweet. Beat if required until the mixture has some semblance of consistency - spin any residue. Bake for one parliamentary term, or until it begins to smell. Remove, cool, and place on a rack (hopefully still available from Yates of the Yard) until it can be kept in a secure place.

I feel sick.

Running on rails

So, it's happened. Brown is Prime Minister; Blair is off the scene; Cherie has had her final pop at the press; and it's time for politics to resume. But is it yet? For the last year or so we have effectively known what was going to happen: Brown would be unopposed for the leadership, either literally or to all intents and purposes and the ensuing positive coverage would result in a bounce of some degree and the media eclipse of the Tories.
Nothing that has happened over the past six months has deviated sufficiently from the script to raise eyebrows. Yesterday’s defection of Quentin Davies was a definite surprise, though it’s already looking like a bad bargain for the Labour Party. The rumours of another defection tomorrow may be more serious (though the name on everyone’s lips, John Bercow, has issued a strong denial), as far as Labour are concerned, it would be better coming from the Lib Dems, to prove Gord’s wide appeal.

So has the phony war finished? Do we need to track through the obligatory honeymoon bit, where Brown pretends to be humble and we pretend to believe him? What we need is the first stand-up fight of the new era, the first policy area that causes real debate both between and within parties. For someone who has expended a lot of effort deriding Cameron’s lack of policies it is strange that we have heard none of his own.

Can anyone name me a Brownite policy, evidence of his desire to be the face of ‘Change’? Vague and exhortatory promises to bring peace to the Middle East through the wonders of post-neo-classical endogenous growth theorem aside, all we have so far is his rejection of a referendum for the EU Treaty.

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And another one's going..?

Iain reckons that another Tory MP is on the way over to Gordon's Tax'n'Spend Big Government Party for Intrusive Statism.
An anonymouse comentator reckons the chap is John Bercow - who married a Labour-lass and has probably got it in the neck from day 1 and has finally keeled over.
Not what DC would have chosen, but I reckon he can afford at this stage to be pretty relaxed - unless Gordon goes to the country in the Autumn...

A new dawn has broken

Has it not? So I get to tell a joke, that I've been waiting to tell for years.

Knock Knock
Who's there?
Tony who?
Blimey it's a rough old game is politics...



Fred news...

He is reaching out across the Atlantic

Referendum musing

Europe and Quentin Davies, the two go together like pongy French cheese and a crusty white baguette, and I reckon it is good news for DC and his beleaguered Tories - who in the week that Brooooon takes the precious have seen their poll lead drop to a single point.

Let the people decide should be our motto...

Quentin, we should say, o you weedy wet. It is all well and good for you to have this epiphany about how luverly Brooooooooon is; but you stood as and received your money as a Tory. Let the people decide. Have a bi-election.

Angela, Nicolas, Jose, Brooooooooooooooooooon, we should say, et tu clots. It is simply smashing that you have managed to come to an agreement on how you will run Europe in our name; but we are meant to be a collection of democratic nations. Let the people decide. Have a referendum.

And when they say no, let us pick up a motto used to great effect over 200 hundred years ago NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION


There is only one power more awesome than the viral might of Youtube. Yes - Fredtube is here.

How clever is Brown..?

Floods devastate parts of the country... Henman in Wimbledon thriller... Arnie in town... Blair steps down after 10 years in power...

...and they announce the Davies defection this week?
Doesn't seem that clever to me...

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Flood forces thousands from homes in Lincolnshire

Thousands have been forced from their homes after severe flooding and a mini hurricane hit northern England. The worst affected area was Lincolnshire, where many hundreds of people have been left stranded. Throughout the areas of Grantham and Stamford, a rising torrent of spittle had gradually turned into a deluge and came gushing out in an uncontrollable force, sweeping aside all sense of self-respect.

The torrent has apparently been predicted for some time and no doubt an investigation will be launched to see why people were not better prepared for it. One nearby resident - who gave his name as 'DC' - said: "It's been p*ssing down all week and the waters have slowly been rising. I think it's about level with my neck now. I could really do without all this. I have important decisions to make about whether to wear a tie tomorrow for a meeting, or perhaps just a Paul Smith shirt. Does my brain look small in this?"

The emergency services are still on the scene assessing the damage and trying to restore essential parliamentary representation to local people. "It could take many months before Conservative power is restored to homes in this area", said a spokesman for Lincolnshire County Council. Some residents may have to move out of the area completely as the smell of hypocrisy and risk of infection increases.

The Met Office predict that the flood waters will gradually decrease as the hurricane (nicknamed 'Quentin') loses power. "Hurricanes of this size - whilst unusual in this country - do happen from time to time. They are quickly forgotten and disappear into obscurity within a couple of weeks. The last one of this magnitude was Hurricane Woodward - we thought it might cause long term damage but quickly realised that it was just a damp squib. Quentin will no doubt be the same".

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One more thing

The full text of Davies’s resignation letter to Cameron looks as though it was drafted by Brown’s men. References to how unprincipled Cameron is, and how only Brown provides the sort of leadership Britain needs etc. combine to maximise Cameron’s discomfort and play even harder to Brown’s benefit. Written by Charlie Whelan’s successor then. But for all that Davies plays this card, and for all that Blair will quote his letter tomorrow at PMQs, Cameron does have a riposte.
[Brown] was just incredibly imprudent… extraordinarily incompetent… extraordinarily naïve… desperately complacent.
Sounds a slightly different note, and makes Davies's billet doux sound rather insincere and toadying.

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Rattus Rattus, or reflections on a frustrated hack

(a) Who would have thunk it - first defection has come from left of the Tory party despite the focus on frustrated right wing headbangers;
(b) Great news for Gordon - as it will swing attention onto positive territory for him and gives him a chance to say 'same old Tories, unprincipled Dave' - will be very interesting if this gets traction...
(c) Biting critique of Mr Cameron which hits each of the key labour speaking points. People looking for Broon's attack points need look no further. Odd that...
(d) Actually, Davies Old Bean, it was a jolly personal assault. Poor form and all that;
(e) Key that DC doesn't grace this with a formal response. Hard line to walk... but I would get Ken or Hezza on the airwaves wondering what the hell he was thinking;
(f) Great opportunity to underline the positive differences between us and them - 'funny that Quentin, who claims he believes in ... should join Broon and Harman's party where they believe ...
(g) Let the people choose - link the referendum to the bi-election: we know what Gordon and Quentin have in common, they won't ask the voters for their opinions!
(h) Will reveal a great deal about ConservativeHome's readership and their tendency to be 'useful idiots' to Broon's Uncle Joe
(i) Everytime Tories are asked about this they should preface their answer with 'of course, it is very frustrating when you feel you are being held back - but in such a strong team the more limited are always going to find it hard to get the attention they feel they merit and at least now there should be a K for him, but as a reflection etc etc'
(i) Finally, Thank God that QD looks like and comes across as such a Bufton-Tufton fat headed ass.

PS Most important defection since 1945, my hole.

PPS On a related note, Fred Thompson has never crossed the floor. When one of his colleagues tried it, Fred Thompson picked the floor up and beat him into a pulp with it.

Quentin Davies

Journos and other political tragics have been primed for news of political defections over the last few weeks. The direction of travel was supposed to be from the Liberal Democrats to the Conservatives. Well, Quentin Davies, the Europhile MP for Grantham has confounded them by choosing the day before Gordon Brown's ascension to the Premiership to defect from the Tories to the Labour Party.
Apart from wondering whether this the first recorded occasion of a rat joining a sinking ship, what the hell is Davis up to? In his published letter he talks of his disillusion with a party which “appears to me to have ceased collectively to believe in anything, or to stand for anything. It has no bedrock. It exists on shifting sands. A sense of mission has been replaced by a PR agenda." Which mission is he talking about exactly? That of William Hague? Duncan Smith? Davies was a shadow minister for both. Does he really believe that the Tories are less possessed of coherent policies than under IDS? Or is this merely the move of someone desperate for a little limelight? It's not good news for Cameron, whatever the motive.
UPDATE: Blimey, what a pompous ass
Believe it or not, I have no personal animus against you. You have always been perfectly courteous in our dealings. You are intelligent and charming.
As you know, however, I never supported you for the leadership of the party - even when, after my preferred candidate, Ken Clarke, had been defeated in the first round, it was blindingly obvious that you were going to win.
Nor, for the same reasons, have I ever sought office in your shadow administration.
Although you have many positive qualities you have three, superficiality, unreliability and an apparent lack of any clear convictions, which in my view ought to exclude you from the position of national leadership to which you aspire and which it is the presumed purpose of the Conservative party to achieve.
Believing that as I do, I clearly cannot honestly remain in the party. I do not intend to leave public life.
On the contrary I am looking forward to joining another party with which I have found increasingly I am naturally in agreement and which has just acquired a leader I have always greatly admired, who I believe is entirely straightforward, and who has a towering record, and a clear vision for the future of our country which I fully share.
Because my constituents, to whose interests of course I remain devoted, are entitled to know the full background, I am releasing this letter to the press.
So devoted is he, that I'm sure we can expect a bye-election so that his constituent can register their approval of his move.

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Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. What fantastic news for the Conservative Party. What a catastrophe for the Labour Party. Ms Harman, put forward as a representative of Southern Middle England has a completely tin ear for it. Why shouldn't people buy expensive handbags? What's it to you? Were you lying when you said you thought Labour should apologise for the Iraq War, or when you now say you don't nad never have thought so?
As important is what Harman means to Gordon Brown's anti-Tory strategy. Prime angle has been that, as an Old Etonian scion of the aristocracy (actually landed gentry...) Cameron is hopelessly unrepresentative of modern Britain. This attack gets harder when the deputy leader of the Labour Party is an Old Pauline and the niece of the Countess of Longford. Keen to attack the Tories for their policy of making it easier to opt out of state provision? Good luck when your deputy famously sent her children to independent grammar schools. Not only is she a talented vote-loser in her own right, she also scuppers her party's anti-Tory policy. result huh?

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Half-term report: Lib Dems

Well, what to say about Ming's unhappy bunch? Squeezed by the Cameronite progressives to the right and the Brownian neo-leftism to the left, saddled with an aged and uninspiring leader, crippled by financial worries over fraudulent donations the Liberal Democrats have nothing but catastrophic polling numbers to distract them from the sight of Brown's attempts to split their party and discredit their leadership.
Who'd be a Lib Dem today? Where is the party trying to go? To be the opposition to the Tories in the South? To Labour in the North? In coalition in Wales? Is there no end to these questions? Well, fortunately yes. To be fair to the Lib Dems, much of this is not really their fault. As the political stories have been focused on the resurgence of the Tories, and the ongoing soap opera of the TB-GBs and its final denouement, the Lib Dems have been squeezed out of the picture. It's possible of course that in the course of an election they can recover ground - and there is at least one (and possibly two) by election to come - traditional Lib Dem ground.
My gut feeling, however, is that much of the atmosphere that gave the Lib Dems support over the last ten years is starting to unravel. The Get Rid of the Tory vote will largely unwind as the party looks less weird. The coronation of Gordon Brown may also stem the haemorrhage of left-wing votes in the North. The combination is dangerous for the Lib Dems. As Iraq begins to lose its potency as a protest the last identifying Lib Dem difference fades. Unless things change soon, this drift will have serious consequences.

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Proving there is 'there' there

The Reptile questioned the thereness of the there for Fred.

With this handy fact list, no-one need question whether the there there is there or not there.

(hat tip

Party Reptile Exclusive

Today, Conservative Party Reptile can offer an exclusive to its readers. Both of 'em.

As the attentive reader will be aware, much newsprint has been expended in theorising about what Gordon Brown is thinking, his new policies, the direction of the government, his plans for the lib-lab relationship and how to clunk-off David Cameron.

Thanks to the Mind-A-Tronic (patent pending) I can hereby reveal that the only thought running through Broon's head is "We've got the preecccioousss, the precious, Ohmyprecious, after all these ages-es-es it's ours! Oh. My. Precioussssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss".

Calm down dear, it's only a honeymoon

Just to add my tuppence worth to the reptile's considered deliberation (and let us acknowledge that for a lizard, his judgement is usually, but not always, correct).

Gordon is going to have a good few weeks, OK? He just is. Live with it. There are people who really, really want this to work and, in one of those rotten twists of fate, they can make a lot of noise.
A good example came this a.m. on the Today programme, natch, where the reporter compared Brown's ascension with Blair's election, saying that the fact there wouldn't be the screaming, flag waving children outside Downing St was a sign of the 'umbler nachure of this Brown premiership. Piffle, of course, but a positive message for the confused Daily Mail 'reader' (for want of a better word).

The challenge for our side is not to panic, to ride the next couple of months, to ignore the fools who comment on sites like conservative home. As 2008 gets moving in the US, let those of us on the right who can't let politics alone focus there - rather than giving ourselves hives about misleading MORI polls.

Monday, June 25, 2007


I've been thinking about Sir Salman Rushdie recently - unsurprisingly. I'll write more fully tomorrow, but as an appetiser, have a look at this article by Ali Mazrui, a Muslim and African historian whose books I remember reading a few years back.
It's a good way of remembering (or, in my case, discovering) what the contemporary arguments were from those who didn't exactly disapprove of Khomeni...

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Long long ago, in the dawn of this blog, I wrote a piece decrying the ignorance of a certain Prem Sikka over the legal status of UK Crown Dependencies, which said Sikka was advocating be 'closed down' and have their 'tax haven' status removed. Sikka's beef was that the existence of minimal-regulation, ultra-low tax regimes in places like Jersey encouraged the flow of money to terrorism.
Well, it's a year and a half later, and Johann Hari is banging the same drum, albeit for different reasons. As part of the current wisdom that Britain is swamped by ultra-rich locusts, buying up Holland Park with their bonuses and paying less tax than an office cleaner, Hari has two targets at which to aim.
In the past decade, London has become swollen with a class of the untaxed über-rich, because of a tax loophole nervously protected by the Government. If you are resident and domiciled in the UK, you have to pay full taxes on your worldwide income. But if you live in the UK yet claim not to be "domiciled" here, your worldwide income escapes tax entirely.
Well, actually, your worldwide income is subject to taxation from your place of domicile. Your UK income is taxed here. Whether or not you pay UK tax is dependent on your residency, not your domicile. The basic rule is that, should you be in the UK for 183 days or more in any year, or average 91 days or more over any four year period (there's more, but feel free to go and check yourself) you will be UK resident for tax purposes. This is an attempt to avoid double taxation - a standard practice and not a loophole.
Imagine that you are a French businessman with a summer home in the UK. You like to spend most weekends there and two months in the summer. You are therefore quite possibly tax-resident in the UK. Hari is suggesting that your income from your job in France (which is of course subject to French taxation) should be taxed in the UK. If, incidentally, you decide to set up a small business selling French cheese or some such in the UK, you will be taxed on it. Taxation on worldwide income on the basis of residence is wildly impractical.
One of the reasons that London and the South-east now has such crazy house prices - well out of the reach of even middle-class twentysomething couples - is because this overclass is artifically inflating prices with their untaxed incomes. The upper-middle class now has to compete with the impossibly rich for home help, school places and status symbols.
Well, I'm sure we all feel their pain. So Hari suggests that because the very rich aren't taxed enough, it makes us all poorer - even if only status-poor. What's the solution?
First he could close the loopholes for foreign billionaires and private equity kings in Britain. Then, to stop the minority of the super-rich who would actually act on their threats to leave Britain, he could lead an international battle to shut down the world's tax havens, which act as stinking drains on progressive governments everywhere.
Hmmm. Blaming the struggles of the relatively-impoverished middle classes on foreign financiers doesn't have a particularly glorious history. What about the tax havens? Well the first question, and the one old Sikka didn't answer all those months ago, was how?
Half of all the money stored in tax havens across the world - which totals £11.5 trillion - is either in British overseas territories such as the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands, or British Crown Dependencies such as Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. Brown could issue an ultimatum: bring this money into the taxed economy, or cease to have the military and political protection of Britain.
Firstly, I rather doubt that Bermuda and Guernsey are over-flowing with chests of gold doubloons - the money is invested, re-invested, spent and re-spent. What Hari means is that Gordon Brown (or whoever the new Chancellor will be) doesn't get his mits on it. Which isn't the same thing at all. Secondly, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man (to say nothing of the others) do and always will have the military protection of the UK - what the hell is going to happen to them? Who's planning on invading? The Martians? And if a newly belligerent Belgium did decide to invade, does Hari think that the British Government would blink vapidly at them before getting distracted? It's nonsense. Quite apart from being nonsense, it's blackmail.
Hari is suggesting that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom overrides the domestic policy of effectively independent statelets by bullying and threatening them. A crude form of imperialism, in other words, with the intention of destroying these islands' one major source of financial income. The threats he is supposed to use to get these islands to voluntarily destroy their economies are emptier than Peter Hain's fanclub. It's not only nonsensical blackmail; it's hopelessly unrealistic. Put simply, Brown can't do what Hari suggests; Brown shouldn't do what Hari suggests; and even if he did do what Hari suggests, nothing would come of it. Even gesture politics works better when the gesture means something.

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...and over on channel 4, paint drying.

Ahh, it ain't what it used to be. Arf. As the West Indies gear up for another go, having been thoroughly trounced in the Test series I’ve been a bit surprised at the tone of the press coverage (particularly in the Guardian, unsurprisingly). A strong West Indian team is a great bonus for international cricket. A team as weak as the current lot does nobody any favours whatsoever. At best, they have one player who could have competed for a place in the side of the 1970s and 1980s, the obdurate and organised Shivnarine Chanderpaul – and even he is about as far removed from the swashbuckling big hitters of old as it’s possible to get.

England, in contrast, are confirming what they are: the second best team in the world. With Alistair Cook, Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pieterson, England have three of the world’s best batsmen; Matt Prior has solved the wicket-keeping problem; England have, in Monty Panesar, the world’s best orthodox finger spinner; and the fast bowling cupboard is less bare than we might have feared. England made the West Indies look even worse than they were – and that’s not easy.So why all the regretful nostalgia about days gone by? England have a consistently world-beating side in Test match cricket for the first time since the 1950s. The batting is explosive and elegant at the same time; we have a top-ten spinner for the first time since Derek Underwood and with Hoggard and Harmison we have a new ball attack that is actually capable of doing damage.

I see the point of articles like this, recalling Tony Greig’s ill-judged call to make the West Indies grovel, but frankly I’d rather be an England supporter now, when the main excitement is whether Pieterson can make a hundred in a session, not whether Sir Geoffrey can make it out of single figures.


Unintentional truths

Alastair Campbell on Blair's skills as an orator doesn't make particularly enlightening or amusing reading. The headline, however, suggests that an Observer sub-editor was having a little fun.

Wit, oratory - and evasion. A master debater at work.

Almost right that. Almost.

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Half-term report: Conservatives

Cameron denies drift to the right
So then, what of the Tories? Behind in the polls for the first time in over a year, riven on education, light on almost any policy area you could name, and about to be pulverised by the greatest political muscle of his generation. Or perhaps not. This is, obviously, a Conservative blog so any dispassionate analysis of the party's fortunes is likely to be less gleeful in its disparagement that for the Labour or the Lib Dems. I'll try not to pull too many punches as I explain, in as unbiased way as possible, why this the best of times for the Tories under the inspired and glorious leadership of the wonderful David Cameron.
Of all the circles of hell, I hope there is one reserved for former politicians who allow old bitterness to spill into contemporary analysis. It could be next to that for the designers of airport furniture, or the members of the County Commission that came up with Bath and North East Somerset as a snappy name for a county. Michael Portillo has written thoughtful and articulate comments on the prospects of the Labour Party, and scathing and amusing ones on the Liberal Democrats. When he writes on the Tories, he's usually wrong. Was he on Sunday when he wrote that Plan Cameron was in ruins, that the Tories were hopelessly racist and atavistic and that we're all doomed to another decade of Gordon?
Aside from channelling his inner Private Frazer, Portillo also bears a striking similarity to Saruman in the Lord of the Rings, when he advises Gandalf not to struggle, because Sauron is far too powerful. In reality, the Conservatives are still strongly placed: Cameron is and remains popular, there is a small but distinct source of promotions to come (Gove, Vaizey, Johnson etc) and, above all, there is a political fight coming up that appeals to the entire Conservative Party (more or less) and the right-wing press and which will destabilise the LAbour Party: the referendum on the EU Constitution/Treaty/Whatever.
People who worry that 'banging on' about Europe will put people off the Tories miss thye point that campaigning for a referendum avoids the shrillness associated with Euro-sceptics. Opponents sound like they distrust/dislike the electorate, especially as all three parties espoused a referendum as a manifesto commitment. The EU offers the Tories a perfect attacking point against Brown. Brown knows (presumably) that he will be unable to win a referendum, and so has to decide whether to risk unpopularity through refusing a widespread popular demand for one (88% wasn't it?) or humiliation through losing one.
In boatie terms, this is Labour's bend. The free publicity, coupled with the impression of a new start give the Labour Party the inside track. The Tories' job is to stay in touching distance so that they can capitalise when the river turns their way again.

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Half-term report: Labour

Time, I think, for a bit of an appraisal of the three main parties at this moment of transition. The arrival of a new leader for Labour, the first sign of wobbles for the Tories, and a trip further into the crypt for the Lib Dems. Labour first.

Brown has taken over as party leader with two recent developments: the election of Harriet Harman as Deputy, and the publishing of a poll showing a small Labour lead. New leader, a new policy focus and a new sense of unity and purpose in the party: maybe a 2008 election might even be on the cards. Well, I’m not convinced. As I argued the other day, I don’t really buy the line that Gordon Brown is a political genius. Character traits that are in some ways admirable in a Chancellor or cabinet Minister can be disastrous to a Prime Minister.

Brown’s shown a tendency to micro-manage (Charles Clarke’s story about the faxing of a 25 page list of corrections to a speech he was supposed to be making a scant hour beforehand is particularly instructive), an unwillingness to listen to advice that doesn’t square with his prejudices (read Tom Bowyer for copious examples – or Jonathon Freedland here) and a distinct lack of the common touch. Blair had a gift of defusing enemies, both in the House of Commons tearoom and in the media. Brown has never displayed much of this – despite his apparent warmth and charm within his intimate group.

So much for Brown. Whether he is an evil political genius or a great clunking fist, Brown’s true test will come when he has to deal with dear of Donald Rumsfeld’s unknown unknowns. How will a character who has dealt in the long-planned play cope with the impromptu decision? We shall see.

Harman as deputy is a call that no-one saw coming. Fired from cabinet very early on for her combination of poor relations with Frank Field and failure to get Brown onside over the Child Benefit cuts, shes hardly had a stellar career under Blair. Over the campaign for deputy leader, she was most notable for implying that expensive handbags should be banned. Such impeccably liberal instincts should serve her well - though I doubt Gordon's about to offer her a seat in Cabinet.

The poll showing a Labour lead should also be treated with caution - as Mike Smithson demonstrates. For what it's worth, my feeling is that Labour have showed a bounce back in polling largely because they have dominated all political media coverage for the last couple of weeks. As the other parties fade into the background, the saturation coverage of Labour will have helped. This isn't a trick that can be repeated: the first few days and weeks of a new leader are generally as good as it gets. When Brown starts to get consistently hostile coverage over government actions is when it's time to evaluate his popularity. People who believe that the days of division and splits within the party are now a thing of the past should take note of two things: once a party gets a taste for rebellion, it's very hard to get the toothpaste back in the tube. The second thing, is that's precisely what contemporary pundits were saying about John Major.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Leopards and spots

A case in point on the presentation of Gordon Brown is evident here.
Gordon Brown has said he has learned his lesson about "top-down" government and has pledged to involve ordinary people in his decisions.
Apart from the weirdness evident in the expression 'ordinary people' (who is ordinary? If they're that ordinary do we want them determining policy?) it displays a fundamental variance with what we know about how Gordon works. Whether or not his policies require 'ordinary' peoples' co-operation to implement, they have all been decided on in close consultation with a tiny handful of close advisers. In cabinet, Brown is traditionally silent, neither responding to others' policies nor inviting comments on his own. If he is going to offer a radically different approach to government as Prime Minister it will be an astonishing personality change, and not one I can readily envisage.


Terrible News!

Aren't they happy with this?

Truly awful news for the poor benighted Indians. As the Independent reports: India's economy is booming but its roads are a throwback to pre-industrial times. Among other things, this evidence in the peculiar nature of Indian traffic - a country where by far the most popular car is the Hindustan Ambassador (above) which is essentially identical to the Morris Oxford. Aging, and inefficient the model might be (sodding old and pretty awful is closer to the mark) but the Indy has more bad news in store. In fact this new development is Just what overcrowded polluting India doesn't need. The heinous sin perpetrated on Indians? A new, cheap and efficient car costing only $3,000. Poor buggers, cheap and effective transport is so dreadfully awful for them. Besides all those rickshaws and knackered old bangers made its streets so evocative to see when you're on holiday.

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Gordon Brown decentralising power. Yesterday.

I may have mentioned this before (a few dozen times) but it is the case that the acquisition of a reputation is unutterably important for a politician. Gordon Brown has a conflicting reputation. On the one hand he is dour, unsmiling, sociopathic and Scottish, with the tortured body language of the terminally ill-at-ease. On the other he is the consummate political operator: brutally effective in debate, ruthlessly prudent with the country’s finances and an incomparable destroyer of opponents. I, as should be obvious, tend towards the former interpretation but the latter is powerful. The soubriquet “The Iron Chancellor” has been worn with pride (more evidence of the strikingly ahistorical nature of this administration, Bismarck was after all an autocratic, militaristic old bastard with all the charm of a pickelhauser) and has been a very effective ‘brand’. For evidence of his strategic genius, the ‘independence of the Bank of England’ has always been held up as his masterstroke – proof that he wasn’t a centralising old socialist.

Well, I’m not so very sure. Remember that the status quo was that the Chancellor sat on the Committee and had the final say on any decision regarding interest rates, but that impartial minutes of the meeting were kept and published. If the Chancellor disagreed with his Committee his reasons would be public, and could be challenged in the house. As now, the mission of the Bank was to control inflation. This was a key change of tack from the days before Black Wednesday, when controlling exchange rates was the central aim of monetary policy. If you want to look at where Britain’s recovery started, it was the moment that an exchange rate policy was discarded amid the ruins of John Major’s economic policy. For Brown to absent himself from discussions on interest rates (and incidentally transfer accountability for such decisions from himself to the Bank – not subject to such intense parliamentary scrutiny) was not to alter the priorities of the Bank, nor the essential balance of decision-making (I would be fascinated to know how often Ken Clarke disregarded the advice of the Committee, and astonished if it happened often, if ever). It was, instead, to offer the appearance of sweeping decentralisation without any practical exchange of power. Brown’s ‘great masterstroke’ was, on this reading, little more than the creation of an image.

As with that, as with the recent ‘offer’ of a job to Paddy Ashdown. The image sought was that of openness, unconventional politics and an excitingly new approach. See, Brown isn’t some emotionally retarded shut-in solely reliant on the whisperings of acolytes: he’s gone out on a limb to the Liberal Democrats! If he’d wanted, really wanted, a form of coalition with the Lib Dems, he knows what he needs to offer: some form of PR. Without that, there can be no formal coalition. Brown knows this. When Campbell eventually rejected the approach, Brown subsequently went behind his back and offered Ashdown a cabinet seat. If Brown could succeed in tempting away big noises from the other parties it makes him look outward looking and dynamic – not leader of a party on the back foot. But Northern Ireland was never going to be enough to tempt Ashdown to betray his party – especially not since the recent peace deal made it about as hands-on a role as the Secretary of State for Wales. If Brown had really wanted Ashdown, he had to offer Defence – or even Foreign Secretary. The reason he didn’t, is that he didn’t want Ashdown to accept. That way Brown gets credit for ‘trying’, Campbell is weakened further, making a new Lib Dem leader more likely – itself a development likely to hurt Cameron more than Brown (unless Simon Hughes gets it ho ho ho) and Polly Toynbee gets to waffle moistly about her fabulous dreamy Viking.

All in all, it doesn't really square with his claim to be putting poltiics beyond spin: everything Brown does has been spun since about 1994. The fact that he is still seen as a grumpy, vindictive, charmless old bastard suggests that this aspect of his nature is simply unspinnable. What a lovely few years we have in store.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Religion, or making peoples' jaws drop

I'm actually a rather God-fearing young man. My wedding was in church - the church in which I was baptised and spent my younger days squirming in ecstasies of tedium; I attended a long course of marital instruction at the Brompton Oratory (my own damn fault for marrying a left-footer I suppose); I am, in short, as rigorous a believer as you can be while putting 'C of E' on all your forms.
A 2005 poll by the Pew Research Center found that 42% believe that "humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time." Another 18% believe that "a supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today." Only 26% endorse the view that "humans and other living things have evolved due to natural processes such as natural selection."
Going back to PJ, what the fuck? I mean what the fucking fuck? Only 26% of Americans believe that human beings evolved? I hope that this is indicative more of the failings of polls than of America.

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Lib-Lab pact revisited

A while I ago I wondered whether the patterns of Liberal Democrat and Labour council elections - where there seemed to be a tacit arrangement that they wouldn't stand against each other in certain areas - would be of wider significance. Well, it does seem just possible. The aim is to get senior Liberal Democrat MPs to join Government, if not in cabinet, then on a more ad hoc basis.
If Mr Brown was to go ahead with such an audacious plan the Lib Dem candidates might include Nick Clegg, the shadow home affairs spokesman, or Vince Cable, the shadow Treasury spokesman. Mr Brown is due to announce his cabinet next Wednesday after he takes over as prime minister from Tony Blair.
If Nick Clegg goes along with this, then I'll be absolutely astonished. It's reasonably common knowledge that the Lib Dems have trouble with a basic ideological division in the Parliamentary Party - the so-called Orange Bookers on the right and the Simon Hughes-ite left. Clegg is sufficiently rightist as to have been courted by the Conservatives. And there lies Ming Campbell's problem - the closer he cosies up to Labour, the more he risks defections on the right. Closer co-operation between Labour and Lib-Dem in Westminster could conceivably lead to the irrevocable split of the party.
It seems that Ming has twigged to this judging by the whitewash. As his spokesman said:
They [Mr Brown and Sir Menzies] talk all the time, they talk about Fife and other things.
But of course...

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Keeping y'all posted on progress because I know you care
PS - This you gotta see


I am with Fred

Just to let you all know that I am with Fred.

As Mayor Bloomberg renounces his membership of the Republican - an affiliation which some of us were sceptical of to start with - and starts, Perot like, to position himself for an 08 run, the GOP play offs are becoming more and more important.

Back in 1992 the feeling among conservatives and Reagan democrats that GHW Bush was a bit of a squish leaked support to The Posioned Dwarf and allowed Clinton in. Could be a re-run this time round if the Right don't look to their cattle.

The Reptile has come out for Mayor Guiliani, a man for whom I have the utmost respect but whose positions on a range of social factors is anathema to many conservatives. John McCain's position on the immigration bill kinda rules him out of contention and his poll ratings read like a parachute jump. Mitt is a mormon - sorry but 'nuff said. The rest are all nutters.

But Fred... His detractors say that he will be hammered when he announces, that people don't know what stands for, that his popularity is a consequence of people projecting their hopes and wishes for another Reagan on his craggy form.

Fred, channelling America's Hope for 2008. Could be a campaign slogan...


Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Preferably with a hot iron for the perpetrators of the monstrosity on the left. What I find doubly disturbing (and apologies if this is unoriginal - I've been in Africa) is that it looks uncannily like a big-haired woman (Margaret Thatcher? Lisa Simpson?) giving a headless chap a blow-job. Maybe a symbolic figure representing the London taxpayer being bent over would have been more appropriate.

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Well that was an extremely delightful break. I now have a tattoo-like tanline on my left ring-finger which looks jolly grown up (also cutting out all those singles' nights...). I've also been totally out of the swing of things for two weeks, have read neither papers nor blogs and will thus undoubetdly be trite, ill-informed and derivative. It's like I've never been away...


Sunday, June 17, 2007

The week from hell

I guess that I epitomize most house-sitters, really. The owners disappear off on holiday for two weeks and leave their most treasured items in your care, with clear instructions on feeding the cat and looking after the hamster. The night before they return you suddenly remember that you have failed completely in your duties - the RSPCA have taken the cat into care, Richard Gere has run off with the hamster, and the house has been turned into a squat...

...well, the happy couple return to the Reptile House today (I think) so thought I really should just call in and check that everything is ok. Having set aside diary time all week to add to the blog, the whole thing got trashed by the week from hell at work. Typical. Still, at least my week wasn't as bad as Nicolas Sarkozy.

This clip is genius.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Time to stop digging

At the fear of not wishing to protract the grammar school issue, I stand by my previously stated comment. Having a grammar school system does indeed increase parental choice - having just one system (unless you pay), decreases it. Yes, the schools choose the pupils most suited to their particular school, but that's no bad thing. And anyway, if grammar schools are so bad, why do parents in the areas where they do exist try everything possible to get their children a place.

And if that doesn't satisfy you, watch this instead (c/o YouTube) in which Jordan's son, Harvey, sums up my point more succinctly.

(...and sorry for the lack of blog entries - you just can't get the staff these days)

Saturday, June 09, 2007


You turn your back for one minute...

Just to check in and say that if you want to know what this honeymoon is like, read 1001 Arabian nights. That said, the Muezzin is jolly romantic at sunset (preferably with beer in hand) but one heck of a pain in the arse at 5 in the morning. And on grammar schools, if it's all about parental choice - why is it the school that gets to do all the choosing? Anyway, I'm getting dragged by the ear away from the internet, and back to more congenial shopping, haggling, getting fleeced, etc. so aleikum a-salaam and all that.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

It's all in the grammar

The Reptile won't like me taking a different view to his but - unlike the new Conservative Party - here at the Reptile House you don't get fired for not towing the official line... especially when The Leader is out of the country and left you i/c.

DC is wrong about grammar schools for one simple reason - parents want choice. By moving forward solely with a policy of academies, you restrict parental choice. Furthermore, academic selection is both healthy and advantageous to society. Just by supporting grammar schools it does not follow that the less academically-able will suffer - massive amount of investment is needed in comprehensives and (even more importantly) in specialist technical schools to develop non-academic skills. There is an obsession with 'change' which is riddled throughout British politics - ergo, if you are not looking to change things then you are not making a difference. Rubbish.

The whole argument has become a farce. Today it was announced that the Conservatives will allow the building of new grammar schools in areas where there are already existing ones. Surely that would be a discriminatory policy towards anyone who doesn't happen to be fortunate to live in an area of existing grammar schools?!

I think it would have been better if David Willetts had kept his grammar school ideas firmly under wraps. This could yet prove to be one of the biggest mistakes in DC's leadership.


Three small snippets from today's Daily Telegraph caught my eye, on an otherwise fairly unremarkable news day. Firstly, we learn that Flavio Briatore, the Formula One team director, has been ordered to appear at the corruption trial of David Mills (yep, it's still going on..), after failing to attend as a witness. Mills (in case you have forgotten) is accused of accepting a £350,000 bribe from Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's former PM. He was also responsible for defining how not to deal with the media when they are camped outside your house. After emerging one morning he defiantly told reporters - "Check this out: strumentalizzazione" - and then proceeded to drive over a cameraman's foot and then into the open door of a photographer's car, shearing the wing mirror off his own BMW. I think the footage is appearing in 'Jackass 3'...

Second item of note is the story of Jan Grzebski from Poland who slipped into a coma in 1988 and has just woken. He is gradually trying to adjust to life in 2007 after 19 years asleep. Back in '88 life was rather different - George Bush was in the White House, war was raging in Afghanistan and the Russians were pointing nuclear weapons at major Western cities...

And finally, from coma to comatose, we hear that the Prime Minister's wife is to tour the United States giving a series of speeches and lectures. Apparently, two subjects are banned - the war and the husband. Nevertheless, tickets are selling fast and she is rumored to be set to gross (no pun intended) £90k for the mouth-opening. Perhaps someone at the back of the audience could ask if she is planning on looking up her ancestors whilst she is over - Cherie Blair is allegedly the first cousin four times removed of the American actor John Wilkes Booth who assassinated Abraham Lincoln.

'Scorchio!' as they say in the Jowell household...

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Hobbled with Pink Ribbons

Something of a weekend has elapsed, one that has left me finally abandoning singledom and signing away my future, the souls of my unborn children etc. Consequently I'll be away for the next fortnight on honeymoon and therefore unable to post - it probably wouldn't get the marriage off to the best start if I duck off to seedy African internet cafes all the time...

So toodle-pip chaps and see you all when I get back. I've left the keys to the blog on the sideboard, and I'm hoping that someone's going to walk off with them - over to you Cabbie!

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Friday, June 01, 2007

The Apprentice

I have been a regular reader of the Reptile's comments on topical issues for some time now. Over dinner, Token Bird suggested that it was about time that I stopped ranting verbally and spewed some of it down into my own blog. Well unfortunately, I don't really have the time for my own blog but with the forthcoming nuptials at the Reptile House, I have been asked to 'guest blog' in their absence. What more is there to say except, 'Now is not the time for sound-bites, but I can feel the hand of history on my shoulder...'