Wednesday, September 29, 2010

One way of putting it...

But Rosie [Winterton] is no political virgin.  She ran John Prescott’s office from 1994-1997, became MP for Doncaster in 1997 and held several ministerial posts.
One ministerial post in particular, if rumours are to be believed.

Ballsing it up

Since it seems all but inevitable that David Miliband will not stand for Shadow Cabinet, his brother is left with even more of a dilemma as to who to make Shadow Chancellor.  The problem is that the stand-out candidate, Ed Balls, is a risk.  He’s a risk for two reasons.  The first is that he comes complete with a pretty thorough economic policy of his own – essentially ‘no cuts until recovery is established’.  If Ed Miliband agrees with this, then fair enough – it’s if he prefers the Alistair Darling approach that formed, after all, the centrepiece of the manifesto that Miliband wrote that this is a difficulty.  The second problem is the nature of Balls himself.

Ed Balls was Gordon Brown’s consigliere for the entire lifespan of New Labour.  He was fundamental in plotting the downfall of Blair, and the rise of Brown.  He’s a dangerous man to hug too closely.  But then, he’s a dangerous man to leave in the cold as well.

And if it isn’t Balls, then who is it to be?  The other obvious choice would be Yvette Cooper – but would she really connive in the supplanting of her husband?  If Balls wants Shadow Chancellor – and he was desperate for the real job a year ago – I don’t think Cooper would stand in his way.  Burnham and Byrne are just too lightweight (and crippled, in Byrne’s case, by his infamous letter to David Laws), Alan Johnson has no economic background and, well, who else is there?

The solution I would try to work, were I Ed Miliband, would be to persuade Balls that he was best suited, for now, for the Home Office and that his wife should take Shadow Chancellor.  But I rather suspect that won’t fly, and we’ll be seeing a duopoly of Ed’s in control.

So who liked him before he won?

In case anyone was wondering whether Ed Miliband wasn’t such a bad choice after all, all things considered, lets have a quick look at who the pundits were who originally supported him over his brother.  First up, and from my old alma mater, there’s tribune of the people Seumas Milne.
By contrast, his brother has at least begun to absorb the lessons of New Labour's failure and rejected its triangulation, social authoritarianism, embrace of flexible labour markets and support for tuition fees. He has also taken the essential step of denouncing the Iraq war, which he opposed at the time.
Next on the list comes long-time Reptile favourite Johann Hari.
Ed Miliband's agenda – to appeal to Britain's true middle and the lost low-income workers by arguing that they should have a greater share of the wealth they generate, while not killing a million people abroad – polls well.
And finally (yes, there really were only three of them), comes Jackie Ashley, although she does leave herself plenty of wriggle room.  In fact, if ever there were a case of damning with faint praise…
Ed's problems would be, in some ways, deeper still. He would not have the big names from the past, or the money. That means he could look dangerously reliant on the unions and unreconstructed leftists among the membership. He could become the "public sector leader" or the "northern leader" rather than, as he wants, the leader of the "squeezed middle". By concentrating his policies so much on pay and not enough (though he's moving) on economic growth and modernisation, he's playing into his critics' hands…That is a formidable to-do list and frankly, Ed may not be up to it.
That Milne, Hari and Ashley are the only supporters who always supported you is not, in my mind, much to cheer about…

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The perils of predictive text?

While journalists should always strive for accuracy in reporting, I think we can let Dave Weigel off for this particular infringement.
In a Sept. 15 "Politics," David Weigel misspelled the names of former Colorado gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis, former Illinois gubernatorial candidate Adam Andrzejewski, Michigan congressional candidate Dan Benishek, and New York congressional candidate Nan Hayworth.
Reminds me of the (antique) story about the Pole going to the opticians for an eye-test.
“Can you read me the bottom line of the chart please sir?”
“Read it?  He’s my best friend!”

Applause! Applause!

I think we’ve amply demonstrated that I don’t understand the Labour Party.  I do, however, entirely agree with Hopi Sen here that Ed Miliband will receive a rousing reception from the Party, keen to show how unified they are in support of their new leader.  How much should we read into this?  Well, IDS got 20 standing ovations for his conference speech in 2003, and he was toppled three weeks later.

Monday, September 27, 2010

IMF Approval

One further thought on the difficult choices facing Ed Miliband.  In the absence of a permanent leader this summer, Labour has defaulted to an oppositionist ‘all cuts are bad’ stance.  Where this has been impossible to maintain, they have reverted, as Ed did on Andrew Marr’s show yesterday, to ‘of course we need to make cuts – just none of the ones the Tories are doing’.
In doing so, they are dangerously close to nailing their colour’s to Ed Ball’s mast (and there’s a mental image I apologise for), that the Government’s cuts are unnecessary and counter-productive and will tip the economy into a double-dip recession.  What’s needed instead is more expansionary fiscal policy, paid for by more borrowing, to return the country to economic growth, at which point there’ll be no need for cuts, because we’re growing again.
Attractive as this ‘no nasty medicine today’ policy looks – not least because it allows Labour free reign to oppose all cuts, a position they’re much happier with – it carries with it a significant hostage to fortune: what if George Osborne is right, and what if there is no double-dip recession?  Bearing that in mind, have a look at the IMF’s latest statement on the UK economy:
The UK economy is on the mend. Economic recovery is underway, unemployment has stabilized, and financial sector health has improved. The government’s strong and credible multi-year fiscal deficit reduction plan is essential to ensure debt sustainability. The plan greatly reduces the risk of a costly loss of confidence in public finances and supports a balanced recovery. Fiscal tightening will dampen short-term growth but not stop it as other sectors of the economy emerge as drivers of recovery, supported by continued monetary stimulus. Upside and downside risks around this central scenario of moderate growth and gradually falling inflation are balanced. Monetary policy will need to be nimble if risks materialize, and fiscal automatic stabilizers should operate freely. Meanwhile, the UK authorities should continue to provide leadership and build support for ambitious global reform of financial regulation. Ensuring a smooth transition to a new supervisory architecture at home will also be important to secure a safer post-crisis environment.
That could have been drafted by George Osborne himself – it provides authoritative backing for the Coalition’s economic policy, and handily rebuts a lot of Labour attack lines.  Whoever the Shadow Chancellor is, he’d better be ready.

Cabinet makers

The manner of his victory isn’t going to be the only problem facing Ed Miliband in the next few weeks.  The construction of his shadow cabinet also has the potential to throw a few banana skins in his path.  Appropriately enough, his brother is wielding the slipperiest of all.
From David’s perspective, this must all seem like a nightmare.  He resisted sticking the knife into Gordon Brown before the election because he couldn’t see a way of winning the election afterwards – much better to pick up the crown later, and let Brown take the blame.  He also refused a dead cert job as EU Representative for Foreign Affairs, again pinning his hopes on the leadership.  He was the runaway favourite for almost the entire campaign, so much so that he wasn’t prepared to offer the sort of sops to the Unions that might have turned them his way. And, surely most difficult of all, he won.  He won the MPs, he won the party, he won virtually every constituency party.  He won everything except the Unions, but that wasn’t enough.  Beaten at the post by his younger brother, that’s really going to sting.
He has three options ahead of him: to sign up as a Shadow Cabinet member; to return to the backbenches; or to walk away from British politics altogether. Labour, and especially Ed, must be desperate that he opts for the first: rumours are flying around that he has been offered Shadow Chancellor.  But how attractive would serving in a subordinate position to his brother be – especially when you consider that economics was probably the biggest difference in their campaign positions?  Equally, does he really want to retire to a sort of ‘King over the water’ position on the back benches?  For all the bitterness he must be feeling, Ed is his brother, and David’s presence as a backbencher couldn’t help but be a destabilising influence.  Walking away altogether must be tempting, but there probably aren’t nearly so many lucrative and imposing international jobs as people seem to think.
I’m not going to try and predict what he’ll do – this all seems more like an emotional choice than a wholly rational one – but in his position I might be tempted to exploit the fact that his brother now needs him far more than he needs his brother.
If Ed can’t persuade David to stay on in cabinet (or if he can, but only in the semi-detached role of Shadow Foreign Secretary), Ed will need to find a Chancellor.  The ‘obvious’ choice would be Ed Balls, who has heavyweight economic credentials (albeit in the ‘persuasive but wrong’ category).  That really would be nailing Labour’s colours to the Brownite ‘Labour investment vs. Tory cuts’ approach, and would mean repudiating Labour’s election position, and alienating moderate Darling-ite MPs – who overwhelmingly voted for David as leader.  Maybe Balls would be better shadowing the Home Office: he’s an effective opposition politicians, and the Home Office is rarely short of targets.  Who for Chancellor then?  His wife perhaps?  She’s certainly competent enough, although she needs to work on her television manner, but there’s another problem (worse is Mili-D is shadowing the Foreign Office).  The four great offices of state would be shadowed by two brothers and two spouses.  That’s quite a shallow gene pool.
Perhaps it’s no wonder that Ed Miliband looked quite so miserable while he waited for the results to be read out on Saturday.  He’d realised quite what a pickle he’s in.

IDS with hair?

Who can fathom the workings of the Labour machine?  Not me, that’s for sure, although on a closer inspection perhaps I identified a part of the problem.
Miliband D seems to have based his campaign on the David Davis/Hillary Clinton model of inevitability.  It’s actually a good technique, so long as there are no unexpected hiccups along the way, but he hasn’t been desperately visible so far.
Anyone spot what Davis, Clinton and Miliband D have in common? Quite.
I think I can be forgiven though for assuming that David would be the choice of the party – not least because he was the choice of the party.  The intricacies of AV and the Union votes handed victory to his brother by the slimmest of margins and on the final round of voting.  Which, one would think, should be the mother of a political problem for the new leader – not the choice of his MPs, not the choice of his party, scraping home thanks only to the votes of Trade Unionists.  That’s a pretty hefty handicap at the beginning of your leadership.  What were my thoughts about Ed back in the summer?
My problem with Ed Miliband is that, basically, I don’t get him.  His brother is a wonk.  Ed Balls is a thug.  Diane Abbott is a loon.  Andy Burnham is…  Anyway, I can’t seem to place Ed Miliband; he hasn’t stamped his identity on the media.  This can be a good as well as a bad thing – it is the baggage carried by Balls in particular that is hamstringing his run – but it carries with it the risk, as with William Hague, that his identity gets fashioned for him by an unfriendly media.
Well, ‘Red Ed’ hasn’t got off to the best of starts on that front, although it’s early days.  But looking at the reactions of the left to this news, I’m pretty happy. People who I respect as being on the sensible, electable wing of the Labour party – Tom Harris, John McTernan, John Rentoul and so on – are unhappy and are worried both about the fact and the nature of Ed’s victory.  On the other hand, Charlie Whelan, Tony Robinson and Sunny Hundal are delighted.  That tells me pretty much all I need to know right now.
The Coalition are probably quietly satisfied as well – the ‘wrong’ Miliband won, and only because the Union vote trumped the wishes of the Party.  On the basis of his acceptance speech it’s also hard to see Ed triumphing often at PMQs.  On the other hand, Labour were cock-a-hoop in 1975 after the victory of that shrill, extreme and unelectable woman, so it’s best not to count any chickens just yet.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Leadership credentials

It’s a feature of closed systems that affairs and arguments that seem all-consuming and massively important to their members will often appear extremely trivial to those not in the loop.  Think office politics – or selection arguments for a local cricket team.  The ongoing rows about Andy Coulson and the News of the World voicemail accessing seem to me to fall into this category.  From the outside you see a scandal from five years ago, concerning vague skulduggery by tabloid journalists that resulted in the resignation of the editor, but never any proof that he was involved.  Tabloid editor in ‘does anything for a story’ shocker.  As far as dramatic exposes that shake your understanding of the world as you thought you knew it, this ranks right up there with ‘Pope believes in God’ and ‘the lavatorial habits of bears: revealed!’.
From the inside, or at least on the Opposition benches, this is a scandal fit to rank alongside Watergate (seriously) and easily worth spending all your questions at PMQs on (a tactic only slightly undermined by the news that the first person to call Coulson after his resignation was Gordon Brown…).  Disproportionate this all may be, but the winner for most crazily unhinged comparison goes to David Miliband, who demonstrated his moral seriousness and fitness for office in the following tweetwritten during PMQs, presumably not a habit he’ll be continuing for long.
Clegg says govt "acted wrongly" in 1972 in not investigating Father Chesney case. So why no investigation into Coulson?
Because, obviously, the moral equivalence between terrorist murders and possible editorial oversight of voicemail messages is plain for all to see.  Someone needs to pull their head out of their arse and get a sense of perspective.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The sound of a barrel being scraped

Presumably getting a bit desperate to pull something tangible out of his Hague exposé, Guido latches onto the fact that the Tory Diary tracker poll of the grassroots has shown a slump in his support. Exactly how devastating this news must be to Hague can be shown by the fact that last month he had the support of 92% of respondents.  That figure has now plummeted to a measly 91%.  Truly damning.

Monday, September 06, 2010

So what's the problem?

This is, basically the special pleading of old media when confronted by new media.  You could read essentially the same critique of the scurrilous pamphleteers taking advantage of that newfangled ‘movable type.  No accountability, no responsibility – no filters between what we, the press, know and what you, the public, should be allowed to find out.  Funnily enough, I’m broadly sympathetic with Alibhai-Brown’s point of view – the bottom half of the internet is not always a particularly pleasant place, and there are very few sites (politicalbetting is the only one that springs to mind) where the comments are as much worth reading as the posts themselves.
But in her assault on the morals and integrity of Guido (certainly a hittable target), she rather drops a brick.  Because it is now undeniable by all but the most Luddite commentators that the blogosphere (still a ghastly neologism) has its uses.  Specialist technical blogs, voices out of Iran or China, and even the breaking of true public interest political stories: all of these are the ‘right sort of blogging’, unlike the prurient Guido, who clearly stands for the ‘wrong sort of blogging’.  But look at the examples of proper political stories to break she uses:
Some personal decisions do reflect on public life and probity. It is perfectly legitimate to bring them to the surface – the Italian dealings of Tessa Jowell's lawyer husband, say, or Lord Ashcroft's undeclared money matters, the underhand methods of Alistair Campbell or revelations about mistresses working for their Parliamentary lovers.
Now, despite the lack of any real evidence, the story Guido was pushing, shorn of its innuendo and euphemisms was a purported revelation about a ‘mistress’, male in this case, working for his Parliamentary lover.  According to Yasmin that’s exactly what political blogging is for – so why the outrage?

Friday, September 03, 2010

Talking rubbish

Of all the contrived, phony, hand-wringing, nonsense I have seen, today’s leader in the Independent comes out close to the top.
There is a rather unpleasant message carried between the lines of the Foreign Secretary's extraordinary public statement denying he had had an "improper relationship" with a male aide, or indeed "with any man". It is the idea that scandal still attaches to the fact that a politician may be gay.
Claiming to detect the whiff of homophobia in Hague’s statement that he had not had an affair with his SpAd, is stretching the point way past breaking.  It may have escaped the Independent’s notice, but Hague is married.  To a woman.  Suggestions that he is gay strike at the very heart of his relationship with his wife – they suggest that he never loved, never married her for the right reasons.  It is a particularly offensive suggestion, and the Hagues are perfectly within their rights to counter it as heavily as possible.  Suggesting that this is homophobic is the far side of pathetic.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Not even good at being bad...

To be perfectly honest, I’m staggered anyone cared enough.  And there’s something faintly humiliating in only being the 100th worst blog in the UK (I mean, c’mon – I must be worse than Hopi surely?).  But there we are, the people have spoken, the bastards.
The thought occurs that there must have been a pretty damn low threshold for votes…

Now that is impartial...

Some things are sufficiently good as to be worthy of posting without further comment.
The BBC used to be guilty of political bias towards the left, but has entered a new era of impartiality according to its director general, Mark Thompson.
Mr Thompson argued that the corporation had changed dramatically, and dismissed the attacks from the right, particularly from the Daily Mail, about its alleged left-wing agenda.
He said: "In the BBC I joined 30 years ago, there was, in much of current affairs, in terms of people's personal politics, which were quite vocal, a massive bias to the left. The organisation did struggle then with impartiality.
"Now it is a completely different generation. There is much less overt tribalism among the young journalists who work for the BBC. It is like the New Statesman, which used to be various shades of soft and hard left and is now more technocratic. We're like that, too."
Yup.  The BBC used to be massively politically biased to the left.  Now it’s impartial, like the New Statesman.

Blast from the past

It’s always useful to have one’s own prejudices and biases challenged.  Apart from believing (which I definitely do) that the rumours that have been floated around William Hague are tenuous in the extreme, and involve adding 2 and 2 together and making 347, my other initial response was that none of it was any of our business, and what the hell difference did it make anyway?  So, a quick look in the archives is in order.  Cast your minds back to July 2006…
The Times, the Guardian, even the Telegraph have articles declaring close season on Prescotts. All of them say that it's time to stop probing into the DPM's personal life; that further attacks are mean-spirited and hypocritical and that the BBC had no right even to ask him to deny rumours. A slight whiff of sour grapes is detectable in the tone of much of this: this story is being driven by the blogs, predominantly Iain Dale and Guido, and the MSM have yet to come to terms with the style and nature of the blogosphere.

More disconcertingly, the tone seems to be that it's just not fair to pick on Prescott. Whose concern is his personal life anyway? It's a point, and yet not a very good one. It is ridiculous that if Prescott had been a star of Coronation Street every one of his tawdry affairs would have been published instantly, on suspicion, and yet his elevated title seems to make him immune from press speculation. It is also richly ironic that the self-styled scourge of Tory sleaze should seek privacy for himself when the tables are turned.

But the point that everyone seems to be missing is that Prescott's infidelities are inextricably connected with his failings as a minister. The women were in his office, subordinate to him. To have affairs, and to offer preferment in return is not just unpleasant for aesthetic reasons, but for legal/ethical ones as well. To ignore a story of this significance is a dereliction of duty. To attempt to downplay the allegations as coming from 'Tory blogs' is fatuous. It isn't time for us to lay off Prescott, but for Prescott to be laid off.
Double standards or what eh reader(s)?  Well, up to a point it probably is.  There was something irresistibly comic about Prescott’s love-life – and there was something concerning about a cabinet minister having affairs with civil servants.  And I am definitely much less enthusiastic in cataloguing the peccadilloes of Coalition ministers.  But, on the other hand, Prescott didn’t limit himself to sharing twin-bed hotel rooms, or wearing unfortunate sunglasses (I have to agree with Alex Massie that the acknowledged “sins” of William Hague are astonishingly trivial).  Unless the press (or Guido, who lets face it really is just doing to the Tories what he always did to Labour) have anything that proves Hague is lying, there’s nothing to this story – and if that is the case then the reporting of it has been pretty shameful.

Coming Out

I suppose it’s time I made a confession: I’m gay.  If that comes as a bit of a surprise to you, imagine how I feel – I mean, here I am, married with children and gay all along.  My list of conquests is pretty long and sordid too – various members of touring cricket teams, friends on stag nights, a vast array of people at school and, most appallingly of all, my own brother for years when I was a child.
If only I had realised sooner that the act of sharing a room with someone automatically gays you, we could all have been saved this unpleasant little charade.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

A lightweight and an outsider

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about the Tony Blair autobiography at some point – although that he and Brown didn’t get on, and that he still thinks he was basically right about basically everything hardly strike me as earth-shattering revelations.  One detail, however, appals.
By the standards of days gone by I was not even remotely a toper, and I couldn’t do lunchtime drinking except on Christmas Day, but if you took the think everyone always lies about – units per week – I was definitely at the outer limit.  Stiff whisky or G&T before dinner, couple of glasses of wine or even half a bottle with it.  So not excessively excessive.  I had a limit.  But I was aware it had become a prop.
That he was worried about being an alcoholic, because he was drinking half a bottle of wine with dinner is bad enough – one shudders to think of Churchill’s reaction – but that Blair drank scotch before dinner is the frozen limit.  Bounder.