Wednesday, May 31, 2006

House overboard - will it stop the man sinking?

John Prescott has given up his grace and favour home at Dorneywood despite days of refusing to do so. Is this desperate act enough to save his career? Or is he sinking beyond recovery?

Is the "free market" always right?

Iain Dale comments on Waterstone's taking Ottakars's and believes that "The End of British Bookselling is Nigh". As many commenting on his blog have been quick to point out, this is not an unusual occurrence in the free market, and this raises the Conservative dilemma of whether to support the free market or the small business when the two conflict.

I have to be perfectly honest - I think the small business should be supported. There are times when the free market isn't always right. Often it fails to deliver real diversity and specialty, instead pushing everything towards an identikit approach (look at the way Waterstone's branches have gone from being highly specialised and localised to a crude chain) and denying the consumer the opportunity to discover exciting new products. Looking at the books on my shelf, many would never be there if I'd only been buying from the big national chains and the internet. Similarly my DVD collection would not be as diverse as it is without stores with large stock selections allowing me to browse - there's only so much the internet can do to tempt me to buy a product.

Small businesses are the backbone of our society and their loss is everyone's loss. When all the shops for a particular product become identical there is no real choice at all. That market is not truly free. Sometimes government intervention is necessary for the benefit of consumer choice.

Ming tries to strike back

UselessUselessFollowing a period of strong criticism from across his party, Sir Menzies Campbell is attempting to relaunch himself. Next week he will deliver a speech attempting to set out his personal priorities and give his party something resembling a direction. There's been an official denial that this is a relaunch, but frankly what else could it be? Campbell has been subject to criticism from across the party, ranging from grandees like Shirley Williams, fellow senior Lib Dems like Simon Hughes and supposed rising stars like Nick Clegg.

UselessUselessCampbell's speech will no doubt try to put is leadership on the front foot at last, but will it do anything to silence his critics? Or will his problems just continue? It's clear that ambitions have been stoked and it will be hard to push those away. And with the lowest personal poll ratings for any Lib Dem leader in the party's history Campbell will have to perform something really spectacular to get those plotting against him to put the knives away.

The leader has my supportWhat do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do?Of course Campbell isn't under fire from every one in his party. He has some supporters. Lembit Öpik is supporting him for one. But frankly a hole in the head would be more help. The End is coming.

Lib Dem campaigns lose their Razzall

Going, going... into another post!Guido Fawkes and others broke the story today that the Liberal Democrats' election mastermind Lord Razzall has quit his post and is now Ming's personal spin doctor. Clearly someone is trying to put the Lib Dems in order after disappointing results, but is merely moving a few people around going to turn the Liberal Democrats around? Razzall is not the reason why the party is flatlining and confidence is collapsing in the party's second leader this year.

So just what is John Prescott for?

Over on BBC News, Nick Assinder asks "What is John Prescott for?" Does anyone truly know? Assinder is far from the first to suggest that if Prescott resigns from the government it may cause a tidal wave in the Labour Party that would make it impossible for Tony Blair to stay.

Would that be such a bad thing? Cherie would find it harder to milk her non-position for money but for everyone else, Blair's loss would be the nation's gain.

Who'd make a better Deputy First Minister - an ex IRA commander or an ex British spy?

Even by the standards of Northern Ireland, this story is seriously bizarre. Newspapers have alleged that Martin McGuinness was a British spy, claims which he vehemently denies. Whether they're true or not remain to be seen, but let's not forget that Sean O'Callaghan and Denis Donaldson were no minor figure but senior Republicans. (Indeed Donaldson posed with Bobby Sands in this picture from which the famous mural on the side of Sinn Féin's headquarters in West Belfast is taken). However these claims are so bizarre it is hard to swallow them.

McGuinness claims that the DUP are behind them, but they claim they have nothing to gain. And yet... the DUP is vehemently opposed to sharing power with Sinn Féin, not least because it would mean Martin McGuinness serving in a senior role in a restored Executive. (Despite this, they still served in an Executive with him between 1999 and 2002 but consistency has never been their strongest forte.) Would making McGuinness out to be a British agent make it somehow more acceptable for them to enter government with them? Okay it's one of the more bizarre conspiracy theories but nothing about this story makes much sense at all.

In other news a visitor to my blog was searching on Google for progressive unionist party homophobia. What have they been saying about Paul Berry?

Monday, May 29, 2006

So who's in charge of the Lib Dems' campaigns?

I'm in commandNo I am... I thinkThanks to Yellow Peril for highlighting this story. It seems there is a serious breakdown in the chain of Liberal Democrat command. As noted earlier, local Liberal Democrats tried to start campaigning in the Bromley and Chislehurst by-election, but were slapped down by Sir Menzies Campbell. However someone has gone and set up this room in spite of his orders:

The Lib Dem campaign HQ for the by-electionThis is the Liberal Democrat by-election campaign headquarters in the constituency, which shouldn't be open yet according to Campbell's orders. Now was this authorised by Lord Rennard, the Liberal Democrat Chief Executive, in spite of Campbell's orders, or did Campbell make a mistake and the party doesn't want to admit it? Just who is in charge?

Will the Lib Dems let Ving do his sums?

Can I do my sums properly?Besides the leadership crisis, the Lib Dems are also in the midst of an ideological war. The latest shot has been fired by Vincent Cable, who has announced that the party will aim to cut the main rate of tax from 22p in the £ to 20p. But this will require spending cuts of up to £6 billion, something that runs at odds with many a Liberal Democrat spending pledge. So will the Lib Dems propose these cuts or will we once again see the Lib Dems offering two mutually contradictory policies?

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Grassroots Lib Dems give up on Ming

Thanks to Cllr Iain Lindley for highlighting this story. When revisting his old university (York) he saw this leaflet by local Lib Dems advertising a meeting with Nick Clegg:

A future leader?As Iain says:

I couldn't help noticing that the University Liberal Democrats are showing their strong support for Sir Ming by... advertising a visit by Clegg as "a potential future leader of the Liberal Democrats".
So was this due to the local Lib Dems taking an initiative or is Clegg generally advertising himself as a future leader? And what does the embattled current one think?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Statler's been getting around a bit

I've been getting around a bit It seems Statler's been a bit busy in the blogosphere since certain similarities were first noticed. I've just seen yet another blog where his image appears alongside a relevant story.

First off KERRON CROSS - The Voice of The Delectable Left used him for "Brown Pants for Lib Dems" (although he seems to be casting Statler as Vincent Cable, Waldorf as Campbell, Fozzie as Mark Oaten and Kermit as Lembit Öpik, although at least Miss Piggy is Sarah Teather). Then Guido Fawkes ran "Muppet Ming Muffs PMQs Again", followed by The Vented Spleen with "Apparently Ming Will Be Gone Within a Year".

Does anyone else have any sightings of Statler in the blogosphere? Maybe he can become the de facto representation.

Cherie still doesn't get it

Doesn't she get it?Following on from my earlier posts the row about Cherie Blair's hair has been reignited by the woman herself. In an interview she has tried to dismiss the affair as a "load of fuss about trivia" and "Who noticed, or who made a big fuss, that the Tory Party paid £3,500 for the leader of the Opposition's make-up?" The two cases are not remotely comparable - Michael Howard was leading the campaign and being put forward as a potential Prime Minister and whilst Cherie Blair is just a hanger on. But with Cherie's cavalier attitude it should comes as no surprise that The Little Red Book of New Labour Sleaze contains several Cherie stories detailing the way she has milked her non-position for financial gain. With Not So Very New Labour trying to introduce state funding for political parties does anyone want our taxes to be paying for pointlessly expensive hairdos for this hanger on?

Things get worse for Ming

What do I do, what do I do?It seems I wrote too soon. Ming Campbell has faced two further crises today.

First off Campbell sought to reverse his party's policy on giving the vote to prisoners. But as some have noticed, Ming doesn't have the power to change party policy - only the party conference does and no-one expects it to do so. Ian Dale has noted some other Lib Dem policies on law and order, some of which they were less than happy to be reminded of during the last general election:

The Lib Dems would scrap mandatory life sentences for murder and for a second serious sexual or violent crime. Lib Dems voted against the legislation introducing anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs) and dispersal orders. They would send offenders on go-karting trips because it would 'disincentivise' crime (Mark Oaten, Q&A session at Lib Dem Conference, Bournemouth, 22 September 2004). Repeat offenders should not go to prison, but remain in the community 'by imposing a curfew requirement or tagging them' (Lib Dem Press Release, Liberal Democrat proposals for tough community sentences, 17 November 2003). Simon Hughes has said 'I am clear... as Liberal Democrats have always been clear, that there should never be mandatory sentences. We have argued against such sentences for murder and in respect of lesser crimes... I think they are wrong in all circumstances' (Hansard, 13 January 2003, Cols. 433 and 437).
Does anyone else get the feeling that the supply of Muppets is being exhausted?And there's another crisis in home affairs - the Lib Dem home affairs spokesperson Nick Clegg has been caught slagging off his leader in earshot of a journalist and has failed to issue a denial:

Ming the Mediocre, according to Clegg, is hesitant and disorganised, commits avoidable errors and lacks momentum but - this was the loyal bit - is capable of recovering. With friends like Clegg, who needs Simon Hughes?
Indeed. Hughes may have been the first to get into the public domain on this but once again he has been shown to be replacable. Clegg is seen by many as the Lib Dems' best hope for the future - at times it seems their only hope - but now he's piled in on the disloyalty and undermining that is all too common amongst the Lib Dems. The way things are going, labeling 2006 the Lib Dem Year of Three Leaders may be an undercounting!

Harman and the Brownites get desperate

Harriet Harman has declared that the next Labour Deputy leader must be a woman. She has made similar calls before so I don't think this is motivated by a desire to avoid a repeat of John Prescott's recent affairs. But in view of her past hints that she will run for the Deputy Leadership it's pretty clear which woman she has in mind. Since so many in Not So Very New Labour take Old Man Brown's succession to the leadership for granted one must wonder if she's concerned as much with gender balance (apparently not - according to Labour Watch she's calling for there to be two deputies but only with a minimum of one female, not one of each) as with political imbalance. There are few obvious non-Brownite women who would be strong candidates otherwise, but many men. Harman would be hopeless (some might say I could stop the sentence right there - remember when she didn't know who her own Prime Minister is?) against them. And in light of the famous row over candidate selection in Blaenau Gwent, will the ordinary party members stand for this either? Without a real leadership contest (since the Labour Party is so lacking in talent) a properly contested Deputy Leadership election is the nearest substitute. The members haven't had the chance to confirm Blair's leadership for years, it looks doubtful they'd get much say about a Brown leadership, they have no real way to express a formal verdict in Prescott and now Harman seeks to deny them this. Why can't Labour have a full contest and see if a woman will be elected? It worked for Margaret Beckett.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Conservatives stand up for the UK's sovereignty

I've just seen this post on Guido Fawkes' blog of parliamentary plots, rumours and conspiracy. I'm surprised this hasn't received more attention but I'm glad to see a stand being made for UK sovereignty and democracy.

Did the Tories Really Vote to Abolish EU Primacy?

Have the Tories voted for UK independence? What exactly is Bill Cash on about? In the FT he had a letter claiming:-

"The Conservative party as a whole last week voted to support my backbench amendment to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, expressly to override the European Communities Act 1972 by providing the legislative means to deregulate European burdens on British business and make this binding on the British judiciary. The bill has now gone to the House of Lords."

Did Guido miss something?

UPDATE : It appears that 128 Tories did indeed vote to abolish the primacy of the EU over British parliamentary sovereignty. Did they all understand that they were so voting is debatable. Bill Cash is to be congratulated for his ingenuity.
The amendment unfortunately failed but it's very encouraging to see a stand for our country's sovereignty.

Ming - can it get any worse?

Any more bad news?He came to power following a brutal overthrowal of the previous leader. Since then it's been one disaster after another for the Liberal Democrats under Ming Campbell.

First the Lib Dems couldn't make up their mind on their flagship tax. Then the leader came under fire from a senior figure on his own side. Then it was revealed that ordinary party members may have to dig deep to repay a major loan and it's questionable whether they can raise the money. Then Mark Oaten put his scandal (if not his dirt) back in the public eye. Then Campbell began making dangerous accusations based on dodgy evidence at Prime Ministers Questions. Then a former parliamentary candidate defected to the Conservatives. Then despite limiting their hopes to "net gains", the local election results were poor and Campbell was forced to try and pretend he wasn't on test. Then in an attempt to boost his profile as a Campbell went on a Question Time panel with a man who entered the Cabinet in the 1970s and didn't come out on top. The problem of Prime Ministers Questions recurred, leading to the strange public announcement that attempts would be made to improve Campbell's performance leading to heavy disquiet amongst the Lib Dems with MPs predicting Campbell going within a year. Problems grew as commentators across the spectrum began writing Campbell off. In a sideshow Simon Hughes' own performance at party president also came under fire. Meanwhile Campbell's leadership received the kiss of death that is support from Lembit Öpik. In an attempt to assert his authority Campbell had a "full and frank" discussion with Hughes that brings to mind the quote "like being savaged by a dead sheep". And then this week local Liberal Democrats in Bromley and Chislehurst were exposed starting the by-election campaign before the late MP had even been buried.

And now there's more disaster in the week of Campbell's birthday. Iain Dale describes the problems today:

...the YouGov poll... showed the Lib Dems on 16% and told their leader that only 8% of people thought he would make the best Prime Minister, the lowest score for any LibDem leader since the Party was formed.
It was the first part of a day in which the Party hopes to show that it is not soft on law and order. My spy at Charing Cross tells me that things did not get off to a good start. Only one camera and two photojournalists showed up, and the first thing they filmed was the Lib Dem leader getting out of his car and immediately stumbling. Luckily he quickly regained his composure. Apparently one of the journalists present found it deeply ironic that the Lib Dems were having a law and order day on the day after it was revealed they might have to repay a £2.4 million donation from a man who faces a very long stretch in prison.
So can it get any worse for the Liberal Democrats and Ming Campbell? The party seems to be in unstoppable decline. Meanwhile the real alternative to Labour goes from strength to strength.

P.S. What did people think of Nick Clegg's performance on Question Time last night? Should the Lib Dems be replacing Ming with him?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

NUS debacle - the Steering Committee response

Following on from my earlier post about the NUS National Executive trying to get out of the mess it's in, including the attempts by the NEC to pass the buck to the Steering Committee in the row about the recent NUS Conference not even discussing the matter, some of you may have seen this comment posted. With permission I reproduce it as a new post:

The Steering Committee at every stage ensured that there was time allotted to Emergency Motions on the Order Paper and on each revised Order Paper. This time allocation never was fewer than 20 minutes. Requirements under the Standing Orders were also observed for the prioritisation of business and the prioritisation of time allocated to main items. Delegates who sought advice on how to challenge the Order Paper for the purposes of moving the Conference onto discuss the Emergency Motions, received advice on how to do this. Those representatives who attended the Drafting Commission meeting for the Emergency Motions were also advised as to the process for how the Conference would deal with Emergency Motions and the process of how Order Paper challenges could raise Emergency Motions towards the top of the agenda, including being notified that there were priorities for debate as listed in Standing Orders.

Challenges were received to the Order Paper both on the Wednesday evening penultimate session and on the Thursday morning final session. One of these requested a ruling from the Chair of Conference on timing (for Elections and Emergency Motions) as the No-Platform Policy amendment had run on into time for Elections and the other was raised as a Point of Order requesting a Chair’s ruling on time allocation during the Coca-cola motion and amendments which the Chair of Conference again dealt with. In the latter case, the Chair asked the Conference if it wished to hear the case for the Point of Order. The case was put that (15 minutes of) time be removed from the Zone Debate on Society & Citizenship and allocated to the Emergency Motions time allocation. The Conference denied this request and the Chair of Conference ruled in favour of the Conference’s decision. This meant that the guillotine on the Society & Citizenship Zone fell at 13:42, leaving only 18 minutes of time allotted for the whole of Conference. Items remaining for discussion along with the Emergency Motions, included Estimates, the Accounts, Ratification of Liberation Conference Policy, the Policy Lapse, all of which are time prioritised above Emergency Motions in the Standing Orders.

The Steering Committee has met in a wash-up meeting, and has highlighted priorities which need to be addressed, both by the Steering Committee and other parties involved in the organisation of the Conference. The minutes of Steering Committee meetings are open to inspection by any Union and any student of the NUS for inspection at anytime including the allocation of time and discussion of the submitted Emergency Motions to the Conference in March 2006.

This statement should be read along with the full Steering Committee Report on Emergency Motions, which includes background information and details which explain some of the minutia. Other useful documents include CD15 The Order paper (Appendix A), CD19 The Steering Committee Report to the Conference (Appendix B) and CD22 The Minutes of the Conference (Appendix C).

Steering Committee, May 2006

Monday, May 22, 2006

Which country should you REALLY be living in?

Thanks to Iain Dale for this one, although I hope he doesn't take it as a hint to go to Canada!

Which country should you REALLY be living in?

The United Kingdom

You have pride in yourself and pride in your country. You believe that history and culture is an important factor to the future of your country, and that traditions and values should be upheld. You love your scones and tea, and reading soppy romance novels. The UK is where you should be...

Personality Test Results

Click Here to Take This Quiz
Brought to you by quizzes and personality tests.

Happy 65th Birthday Sir Menzies Campbell!

Happy Birthday!Sir Menzies Campbell is 65 years old today. Many happy returns! In celebration here's a bit of a party (and unlike his usual one he'll actually enjoy this!), featuring some characters we otherwise haven't yet seen on this blog. And as a special party treat, can you guess who any of their alter egos are?

A grumpy old womanEveryone knows Waldorf and Statler, the grumpy old men. But how many people know about Astoria, Waldorf's wife and Statler's sister, the grumpy old woman?

An extra femaleHaving sufficient females around can sometimes be a problem and so new ones have to be introduced or brought to prominence. How many of you remember Skeeter, who only appeared in the Muppet Babies cartoon?

He should be generating order but instead causes chaos around himYou'd expect people in certain positions to maintain order and dignity in their search for advancement. But Dr. Bunsen Honeydew instead keeps coming up with outlandish creations and causing damage to those around him when he should be helping.

So irritating that there are websites devoted to hating him!And of course you can't have Dr. Bunsen without his sidekick Beaker. Perhaps the single most annoying Muppet of all, there are websites devoted to hating this guy. And he usually ends up on the receiving end of all the disaster.

The most popular and famous Muppet of them allAnd of course we can't forget the most famous Muppet of them all, Kermit the Frog. He's hosted popular shows and is recognised the world over, being truly the biggest celebrity of them all. But I'm not too sure what his normal way of walking is...

Curiously none of the Lib Dem blogs I'm linked to have mentioned Campbell's birthday. So I'm afraid all I can only offer bipartisan links to PoliticalHackUK: Bus pass for Mr Campbell and Iain Dale: Happy 65th Birthday to Sir Menzies Campbell.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

How things have changed!

Just spooted this on Daniel Vince-Archer is Dan Quixote :: Saucer Wars - The Return:

One thing's for certain - the Liberal Democrats have now stolen the Conservative mantle as the party seemingly in a perpetual state of leadership crisis.
It's incredible how things have changed. In the days of Paddy Ashdown leadership was one of the few things the Lib Dems had no problem with.

Ming throws the tomatoes

The leader is underperformingThat bear annoys meDaniel Snowdon has highlighted this story as the Lib Dem leader confronts his ex-rival. Campbell has had a "free and frank" discussion with Simon Hughes about the latter's comments in the media that have not helped the leadership. One has to wonder why it has taken Campbell so long to get round to this. And why am I reminded of Dennis Healey's famous comment that being attacked by his Conservative opposite, Sir Geoffrey Howe, was "like being savaged by a dead sheep"?

And we thought Patricia Hewitt had a bad conference!

Patricia Hewitt may have been severely heckled at the Royal College of Nursing's conference but compared to some of her counterparts it seems she had an easy time! In the Czech Republic the Health Minister, David Rath, and his opposite number, Miroslav Macek, had a punch up at a meeting of dentists. This comes a month after Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek sent his leading rival, Mirek Topolanek, a pair of dueling pistols to challenge for a television debate. I always thought Czech elections were calm affairs but it looks like they could give John Prescott a run for his money!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

More thoughts on Ervine

My earlier post Ervine in, Women out has attracted a lot of attention, more for Ervine than for Women which is probably saying something about the long term impact of the Women's Coalition. But as for David Ervine...

Peter Robinson showing his committment to peaceful methodsI appear to be one of the few bloggers to have commented on the story without immediately condemning it. At one level this is a natural progression - the Progressive Unionists supported the Ulster Unionists in the last Assembly, providing a crucial pro Good Friday Agreement majority within the Unionist assembly members at crucial times. Nearly all the major parties in Northern Ireland have had dealings with terrorist groups at one point or another - much is being made of the fact that the DUP and UUP voted in as Lord Mayor of Belfast the Progressive Unionist Hugh Smyth back in 1993, whilst I'm sure the DUP can't be happy with reminders of their links with Ulster Resistance being brought up, such as this photo of deputy leader Peter Robinson. He wasn't at a fancy dress party!

What has his action achieved?I don't doubt that long term reconnecting loyalism with the political mainstream is a desirable move. But in the short term what has Ervine's joining the UUP Assembly grouping achieved? It may give the UUP an extra seat if the Northern Ireland Executive is ever reconvened, but the way this is presented as a triumphant snatching from Sinn Féin which can do little to build trust between parties, let alone the nationalist electorate who can only look on in bewilderment and wonder why an active undecommissioned UVF is more acceptable than a ceasefired decommissioned IRA. The UVF has yet to declare a ceasefire, although if the UUP could somehow negotiate one it might in the long turn prove to be the most positive benefit of this whole affair.

Reg Empey has been on quite a trawlThe main problem is that for all the talk of these benefits, it has emerged that Ervine was not the first Assembly member approached by the UUP. The numbers game in the Assembly is such that they have been one member short of another potential ministerial post for some time now. And it appears that Ervine was not the first to be approached but was instead one of the last approached in Sir Reg Empey's search. In such circumstances one has to wonder just how principled a stance this is. And how would some of the other potential recruits have been received?

A berry berry naughty boyAmongst others who appear to have been approached is Paul Berry, well known for an incident with a male masseur in a hotel room that eventually led to his leaving the DUP. In recent times Berry has become a figure of ridicule for this, obscuring the fact that he has a reputation for being incredibly partisan against the UUP and more generally being fiercely sectarian even by DUP standards, with some describing him as the natural heir to the William McCrea tendency in the party. Whilst Berry may be seeking to rebuild his political career through helping Unionism, many in the UUP would have had real personal objections to his joining. However I'm not sure what they would have made of his sexuality.

Not such a Close supporter of some alliancesSpeaking of gay issues, another who was approached was former Alliance deputy leader Seamus Close. Close is most famous in recent times for his leading opposition to Lisburn City Council's marriage room being used for civil partnerships. Despite being a negotiator to the Agreement that includes "a statutory obligation on public authorities in Northern Ireland to carry out all their functions with due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity in relation to religion and political opinion; gender; race; disability; age; marital status; dependents; and sexual orientation", Close opposed these particular alliances. Many in Alliance were outraged. One can only but wonder what would have happened if both Berry and Close had joined the UUP (although it would have solidified their position in the Assembly). Indeed how would the UUP feel about its image in much of the rest of the UK with such a controversial figure on board?

Just who is Mark RobinsonThe other name being thrown about is Mark Robinson, a sitting DUP Assembly Member who is seemingly at odds with many of his party colleagues and seemed a potential defectee. I know little about Robinson, though I'm not aware of his being related to Peter and Iris Robinson (which makes a change - Northern Ireland is full of political families such as the Paisleys, Fosters, Beggses, McGimpseys, McCreas, Doddses, Alderdices and so forth - although I can't off the of my head think of a Nationalist family). This would probably have been received with rather less reaction than Ervine, or for that matter the defections from the UUP to the DUP of Norah Beare, Jeffrey Donaldson, Arlene Foster or Peter Weir. But clearly he declined, so the UUP have looked elsewhere.

Seeking support and recruits from outside your own party is a natural part of politics - indeed one of the current ministers at the Northern Ireland Office, Sean Woodward, started off as a Conservative MP before defecting (which in the long run did the Conservatives more good than Labour, as Woodward's successor as MP for Witney is David Cameron). But trying to present it as some great principled move for another purpose can only backfire when it is exposed.

More generally the Ulster Unionists have once again shown an inconsistent direction. They have repeatedly alternated between trying to appeal to both the alienated Protestant middle classes and Catholics by following a liberal line and trying to out hardline the DUP. The problem is that one cannot easily do both. Pursuing one is liable to alienate the other and the UUP seems to be finding ways to alienate both. Exactly where are they finding political support other than perhaps the handful of Progressive Unionist voters?

The best way Empey can try to overcome the uproar is to utilise the link as best as possible and to devote all energies to getting loyalist ceasefires and decommissioning. A few statements of high minded altruistic intentions rarely succeed in the purpose - one must show sincerity by going back again and again and again to the problem at hand and keep working at it until there is a proper resolution. Of course one can ask if Empey will be there long enough for this but it doesn't look as if his leadership has reached Campbell levels of danger yet.

Political Correctness gone mad

Blackpool City Council has banned cabbies from wearing shirts supporting England.
One claims he was told it might prove offensive to visitors from other parts of the UK.

The angry drivers have accused the local council - which is currently flying a flag in support of a Gay Pride event above the Town Hall - of taking political correctness to ridiculous limits.
Contrast this with my own local council (Newham) who recently put up several banners in support of West Ham football club despite many in the borough supporting a different club (such as me) or none at all. People should be allowed to show their support. And what appears to be double standards by Blackpool council will do nothing but stir up prejudice.

And where are the people who are offended by these shirts? Remember the row over the teacher who banned Three Little Pigs because it might offend Muslims despite not even consulting any? All too often actions taken "to prevent offence" to certain groups are done without properly consulting them. Bans like these do nothing but cause resentment and divide people.

AUT/NATFHE marking boycott - the NUS tries to extract itself

Whilst the marking boycott rumbles on and students get more and more worried about their results, the National Union of Students has finally sent out an email to all their members for whom they have email addresses (i.e. the ones who registered their NUS cards online), presented as "Lecturer’s pay dispute: what you need to know" although it's frankly very one-sided. But this is the first time the NUS have bothered to try and explain their position to students directly. No doubt they have been forced to because of the heavy student opposition to the boycott and some think one of the reasons is the poor level of direct communication. One has to wonder why NUS has taken so long in getting its act together, given the rising levels of opposition to the position the National Executive Committee has taken.

One of the issues that has given the NUS the greatest embarrassment is the failure of the national conference in March to even discuss the issue. Some have asserted that this wasn't the NEC's fault, but past NUS Conferences have shown that when the NEC is behind emergency motions time has been made for them. The failure to take a lead and seek a mandate from the conference has left the NUS exposed and I am not surprised there is talk on the educationet messageboard about unions potentially disaffiliating.

The latest NUS update details NUS's meeting with UCEA and also their lobbying of the Association of Graduate Recruiters to ease the problems for students graduating, but also contains the following statement:


Delegates at regional conferences have made it clear that they were frustrated that a motion on the industrial action was not debated at the national conference in March. This frustration has been shared by NEC members who had done everything they could to ensure that this was debated. An emergency motion was put forward, and Steve Wharton, President of AUT, traveled up to Blackpool to answer students' questions at Julian Nicholds, Vice President's invitation. Following the Steering Committee's failure to allocate time for this debate to take place, Gemma Tumelty, National Secretary, has written to them requesting a statement that explains the reasons for this. We will ensure that members are informed of the response of the Steering Committee.
The "done everything they could" rings hollow and I wonder just who will be editing and passing on the response. And why on earth is the National Secretary Gemma Tumelty (and National President elect) having to write to the Steering Committee when she's the NEC member on it? Doesn't she know the answer?

I hope that the NUS NEC does not try to pass the buck onto the Steering Committee for the failure of the conference to discuss the motion. If the NEC were so confident that their position was actually supported by students' unions, they would have submitted an emergency motion themselves and ensured that the time to debate it was found.

These attempts by the NUS to reconnect with students and get back in touch are piecemeal at the moment. They need to do a lot more to reassure students and students' unions across the country that they are listening to concerns. Otherwise I would not be surprised if unions start disaffiliating.

The Tory Monday Club

As I promised earlier, here are my brief recollections of the Tory Monday Club from my days as an undergraduate at the University of Kent. I've left names out as, with one exception, I have no idea where they are now.

Many years ago now the Kent University Conservative Association experienced several of the problems that all political societies experience at one point or another, albeit altogether at once. In the 1999/2000 year membership increased hugely (to the irritation of the now deceased Kent Labour Club who drifted into extinction over the next two years) but with it came a number of individuals who were to cause problems. Amongst them was one who frankly fitted the stereotype of the tweed jacket Tory (and I use that word deliberately) with ideas that even people in Lord Salisbury's Conservative party would have been ashamed to be associated with. However he rarely expressed them at first.

When the annual round of officer elections came up that January we had the unenviable situation of two strong candidates for Chairperson. One was the above mentioned, the other was the sitting Secretary. The election threatened to turn into the classic "should the society be primarily a political force or a good political/social body" that almost all political societies face at one point. The meeting was literally divided down the middle - the first ballot tied. After two hours of discussing how to break a tie (no-one in those days seemed to realise there is such a thing as drawing lots - it's good enough for deciding control of Crawley council!). Eventually the tie was broken against him but over the next six months the division in the society continued. The loser was not especially gracious at times and at one point over the next few months went and caused a lot of deliberate confusion by setting up a dining club and making no attempt to dispel confusion.

For some reason I forget now we had to have another set of elections that June. This time round there was a suspicious influx of new members signing up just before the meeting (the rules of qualifying to vote were changed not long after) as well as a mixture of mud throwing and charm offensives. The same candidates stood and this time round the guy won. Over the vacation it rapidly became clear what a big mistake this had been.

All membership organisations require members to survive and university societies especially need to recruit new members every year, with so many existing ones graduating. Nearly everybody understood this and several months of preparation for the new year had been made, including getting a number of high profile speakers as well as the more mundane preparation for the Freshers' Fair. But the new Chairperson was one of the few who didn't, believing instead that the society should be a handful of political obsessives "who are committed", believing that they would seek the society out. Matters were not further helped by his decision not to return to Canterbury until the day of Freshers' Fair itself, lying that he couldn't travel beforehand. (This was the time of the fuel protests but he was traveling by train.) Consequently other officers had to put the whole thing together and it went well, apart from the Chairperson turning up in the middle of things and wanting to start displaying flags that a lot of us were uncomfortable with.

Subsequently over the next few weeks divisions and feuds continued, even though our membership was so large we were having problems finding a room that could seat everyone. What the new members made of all this I'm not sure but there were a lot of nasty things said and some of the meetings were uncomfortable.

It also didn't help that our external image was being damaged. The height came at a students' union general meeting. Some of us had tabled a motion for a campaign for better lighting on campus. But during the meeting the Chairperson and his little coterie of mates called quorum and invalidated the meeting because they wanted a laugh. It provoked a lot of hostile media coverage, both on and off campus, and brought things to a head. A lot of members who weren't at the meeting were given a very distorted account of things.

Matters came to a head at the society meetings afterwards. There was a lot of arguing and one resignation at the first. Then by the second the following week we had the spectacles of the local party agent turning up, most of the officers (myself included) agreeing to a joint resignation if we couldn't force the hands and the announcement that the Chairperson was leaving to form a new group, not affiliated to the students' union, that would be more political. A good number left with him.

Over the next few weeks it became increasingly clear to a few of us just what "the Tory Monday Club" actually was, though some of the members were still ignorant, having joined out of ties of friendship and personalities. But at the students' union annual general meeting the following written question was submitted and answered:

(From the minutes.)
Q: Georgios Charambalos to the Executive: Are you aware of the following:
-That recently an organisation was formed on campus calling itself the Tory Monday Club?
-That it is named after an extreme right-wing, anti-decolonisation, pro-apartheid organisation formed in the 1960s with strong links to the National Front and opposed to non-white immigration?
-That **** ****, the chairman of the TMC, has frequently been overheard around campus making derogatory comments that have deeply insulted and upset many people for their racist, homophobic, sexist and generally insulting tone, such as openly proclaiming that any LGB person who is out should get back in the closet immediately, regardless of the pain such a situation causes?
-That **** ****, his right-hand man, has also been frequently overheard making such insulting and upsetting comments including the frequent reference to numerous black women as Mrs Buthelezi?
-That **** ****, Press and Propaganda Officer of the TMC, has recently posted messages to the newsgroup ukc.misc implying that the AIDS epidemic is the fault of homosexual and bisexual people?
-That the three individuals named above have persistently sought to cause the maximum disruption and chaos on campus, such as the last Union General Meeting when they called "count"?
-That many people have found these statements and actions by members of the TMC to be deeply upsetting?
-That the leaders of the TMC have frequently taken advantage of other students' lack of full knowledge of a situation to present an extremely inaccurate and highly biased point of view to present themselves in a favourable light when challenged over any controversial situation?
-That on several occasions the leaders of the TMC have been informed about the fear and upset that they have generated and asked to correct the information but on each occasion their response has been either personal abuse aimed at the questioner or to come out with ridiculous comments along the lines of "Most students are just here to inject themselves" or "Is this just left-wing bias?"?
-Are you aware of all this?
-What does the Executive intend to do, given the serious nature of the situation?

A: Seb Martineau [SU President]: States that in the previous year a No Platform motion was rejected so people with upsetting views can state them. It is up to every member of SU to respond appropriately. Exercises freedom of speech to state that he thinks these people are "sad, twisted, despicable little bigots."
Despite being by far the longest question I've ever heard submitted and read out, it generated a huge standing ovation, as did the President's response. The Tory Monday Club's response to this was weak and this led to a couple more members leaving, having now realised what they had joined. From there onwards the Club drifted into obscurity and eventually faded away.

Meanwhile Kent University Conservative Association is still going strongly to this day.

That's the main bones of it, although there's a lot of detail that could have been added, including some of the nastiness that went back and forth. But nowadays it's all in the past and everyone's graduated so I'm surprised anyone's even searching for it.

Steptoe and Son - "My Old Man's a Tory"

Steptoe & SonToday I received the latest Steptoe and Son DVD, containing all the episodes from the fourth series. And amongst them is the classic My Old Man's a Tory where Albert and Harold clash over their political views. Ironically the first Conservative of the day that Albert mentions is Enoch Powell, some years before his most famous moment. All in all it's one of the best episodes of the series I've seen, with fun such as the usual Albert and Harold fight as well as the Labour branch meeting (with both Harold and the agent sporting a mackintosh and pipe in the style of Harold Wilson!). There's also an interesting prediction when Harold is told that despite having lived in the ward all his life he is not considered a suitable candidate as the Labour Party wants to move away from the cloth cap working class image and be more appealing to the middle classes. It seems there was Blairism before Blair. Also look for the picture of Harold Wilson at the meeting, adorned with Union Jacks. When would we see Labour members today doing that to Tony Blair's picture?

(Also note the rosettes that Albert and Harold are wearing. Although it's black and white, they are clearly not wearing the blue and red ones familiar today. The 1960s was the fag end of the days when party colours varied widely across the country - the historian John Barnes has recalled that when he went out for his first canvass as prospective candidate for Walsall North in 1963 he was wearing a blue rosette - and was immediately kissed by a lady who had been waiting thirty years for a Liberal candidate! In that seat the Conservatives traditionally used red, the Liberals blue and Labor yellow, later yellow and red. Shortly after Barnes' adoption the local Conservatives chose a red, white and blue rosette.)

The whole DVD is full of delights. This series pioneered the classic sitcoms of today and I urge you all to take a look for yourselves.

Buy the Little Red Book of New Labour Sleaze!

It has now been published.

I have written two pieces in the book, both of which are also available as excerpts at and so I'll reproduce them here.

"A good day to bury bad news"

"It's now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury. Councillors' expenses?"
On September 11th Jo Moore, Special Advisor to Stephen Byers, Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, emailed out the above, suggesting that bad news could be released whilst the media's attention was focused on the tragedy in New York. It was to spark a row that only ended in the burying of her own career and eventually Byers' as well.

In October 2001, the email was leaked to the press, causing uproar. One relative of a victim of the September 11th attacks outrage over "basically burying bad news . . . under the bodies of six and a half thousand people." Such was the intensity of the row that Moore gave a public apology on camera stating:
I would like to sincerely apologise for the offence I have caused. It was wrong to send the e-mail and I accept responsibility for doing so.
Jo Moore's responseBut she smirked and the image went across newspaper frontpages. The next day Tony Blair called the email "horrible, wrong and stupid," but stated that defended "sack[ing] someone and end[ing] their career [is] too heavy a penalty," declaring he considered the matter closed.

And there the affair would have rested but for a sequel the following February. On February 13th it was reported that Martin Sixsmith, the Department's Director of Communications, had sent an email stating:
"Dear Jo, there is no way that I will allow this department to make any substantive announcements next Friday. Princess Margaret is being buried on that day. I will absolutely not allow anything else to be."
Although the actual text was misreported, the phrases struck and reignited the whole affair. Reports that Moore was at war with civil servants left an image of a Department in chaos. That Friday Downing Street ordered the row settled. It was not just Princess Margaret who was buried that day but also Jo Moore's career.

The following year Channel 4 ran The 100 Worst Britons poll. Moore and Byers were ranked at number 59. Moore now works as a teacher in London.

Moore's departure may have removed her from storms at the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions but they would consume others until the Department was broken up at the end of May...

Stephen "Liars" Byers and the resignation that wasn't

It was not just Jo Moore's resignation that was announced on February 15th but also Martin Sixsmith's. It subsequently emerged that Sixsmith had not resigned after all. The row was to end in the resignation of Stephen Byers, whose name became synonymous with "liars", as Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions.

Sixsmith had spent most of his working life as a BBC foreign correspondent before becoming Director of Communications at the Department of Social Security in 1997. He subsequently worked in the private sector for Marconi before being appointed Director of Communications for the Department of Transport in December 2001. After the initial row about the Department's public image and the leaking of emails by civil servants, it was hoped he could restore order. However, just two months later the report of Sixsmith conflicting with Moore over releases of information reignited the whole affair.

On February 15th, Sixsmith returned from a hospital appointment to hear that both his and Moore's resignations had been announced by Byers. But Sixsmith had not resigned at all - he had been informed Moore was demanding his resignation as the price for her own departure and had merely agreed with Sir Richard Mottram, the permanent secretary that he would consider the matter after his hospital visit, with no action taken in the meantime. Mottram summed up the affair with: "We're all fucked. I'm fucked. You're fucked. The whole department's fucked. It's been the biggest cock- up ever and we're all completely fucked."

Sixsmith went public and denied his resignation, leading to a war over words as to who had said what. Byers came under immense pressure after his Commons state- ments were shown to be inaccurate. His Conservative shadow, Tim Collins, called it "the most clear example in human history, of a man being caught out lying."

On May 7th, the Department issued a statement confirming Sixsmith had not resigned in February after all. Since Sixsmith felt it impossible to continue his job given the continuing public rows, he agreed to finish at the end of May. Two days later Byers was forced to give a statement to the House, but he refused to apologise. At the same time pressure was building on Byers after a critical report by the Labour dominated Commons Transport Select Committee. Finally on May 28th he resigned.

Ironically, Sixsmith was still at the Department, working out his contract.

See for more excerpts, cartoons and contributors.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Blast from the past

I've just seen that someone who visited my blog had done a search for university of kent tory monday club on Google. "Now that's a name I haven't heard in a long time."

At some point in the near future I'll see if I've still got one or two sets of minutes from my undergraduate days and I will recount briefly a split many moons ago between the Conservative and Tory wings of an organisation.

Did I just see...?

Whilst watching Question Time I saw a man who said he worked at my former university, the University of Kent. He looked the spitting image of the Vice Chancellor, David Melville. Was it indeed him?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Why are students so strongly against the AUT/NATFHE marking boycott?

A post on NewerLabour about "Why have students turned on the AUT?" links to here and I composed a reply. However as it's very long, I thought it best to post it here.

after the solidarity the AUT/NATFHE showed with us over fees (they could have benefited from the contra), the worst thing for us to do would be to stab them in the back

I think there are several reasons, some obvious, some less so, for this. And in several ways it just reflects the very real wider problems for students and their representative bodies as a whole.

First off, the most recent public battle on fees was a couple of years ago. The student life span is such that many of those who campaigned against fees have either now graduated or are sitting their finals. In turn a lot of first and second years know very little of who backed the anti fees campaign at the time. The more recent campaign has not yet caught the mainstream media's attention so most students are probably completely unaware of it and so do not think they have anything to reciprocate solidarity for.

Secondly, there is a large level of non-participation in students' union and student campaigns - I do not think I'm exactly breaking any great secret. For every student we may personally know of who did something, whether sign a petition or come on a demonstration, in the anti-fees campaign there are at least two (and usually more) who did not. Whatever the reasons we again have a large volume of students for whom the AUT/NATFHE position on fees goes over their head in all this.

Thirdly on a more general point, the concept of "solidarity" is one that increasingly few students understand or agree with these days. Most would rather reason the point for themselves, not give blank cheque support.

Fourthly, the AUT/NATFHE have not done very well in actively seeking student support. There are many reports of local students' unions being told by their AUT branches (I'm not aware of any NATFHE cases) that because "the NUS" is supporting the action (although the recent BBC coverage suggests to me that the NUS leadership are trying to play down any firm position one way or the other, probably in preparation for any formal change in position or as a tactical move to see off the threats of disaffiliations) the local SU cannot oppose it. From what I've seen neither the lecturers' unions themselves nor NUS have made much of an effort to promote support for the boycott amongst students. Even the NUS response to the opinion poll revealed this - they would rather the poll questions had included certain "facts" which they think would have delivered a majority for action.

We also have the way that students' unions are increasingly divided - one tally of announced positions today has found 38 against, 35 supporting, 8 neutral, 4 unaffected (due to the universities not being in the national pay framework) and 36 whose position couldn't be determined from their website (if they have one) or who haven't signed any letters of support/opposition. Tellingly in the pre 92 sector the declarations have a clear majority of opposition, whilst in the post 92 sector a majority support, suggesting that the NATFHE experience (where the setting of exams is still going on) is not provoking such an outcry compared to the AUT experience. With more and more students' unions taking a public position, the supposed national voice of the NUS is bypassed. We also have the petitions that show rather more students signing against the action than in favour (3372 on Petition against the AUT boycott and 2827 on Give Us Our Marks compared to 99 on SUPPORT OUR LECTURERS: DON’T LET THE BOSSES DIVIDE US!). I am not aware of any other petition in favour of the action. I think it's telling that most on educationet who argue that the boycott has strong student support are forced to challenge the opinion poll methodology and issues with the petitions, rather than pointing to alternative polls and petitions.

(There is also the issue of the way the NUS leadership decided to support the action, with the National Conference not even discussing it. Whilst very few students on the ground would have felt in any way bound by a conference vote, it has given weight to those opposing the boycott who attack the NUS position as out of touch, indirectly leading to some of the polls and surveys. It also may in the long run lead to the NUS breaking up. But normally the NUS is taken to be speaking for the students. However, on this one more and more has come out that suggests otherwise.)

I do not want to belabour this point to much as it is a bit on a tangent from actually student opinion. But I'll repeat my words from a post of mine on ednet:

"It's a two way process - a representative democracy only works when the representatives recognise that they cannot get too out of line with the wishes of those they represent. The represented invariably tolerate much distraction or expert consideration and so forth, but when it comes to huge issues they expect their opinions to be taken into account. Leadership requires two things - those who are willing & able to lead and those who are willing & able to be led. Leadership that goes it alone can work but requires strong levels of trust and respect to be given the benefit of the doubt. When that trust is lacking such leaderships crash."

however, students graduating now have thought in the short term, and turned against the strike.

Even if every finalist was against the action, they only account for at most 25% of the student body (and probably less once I get my figures sorted). Where does the rest of the 77% come from?

How selfish. we are endangering the prospects of future students.

Again, this is a point that has not really been sold very well at all. Whether it would have swung minds is hard to say - there are many other factors involved. Also most students (about 68% according to the same opinion poll) support the pay claims - just not this method of seeking them. The case that the one is essential for the other is not shared by many.

In summary, have students "turned" on the AUT? I am not sure they were all "with" the AUT to start with. Most of the students' unions who have come out against the boycott have been responding to student opinion and the pressing situation (which, if anything, is increasing as students reach the times when exams should have been set and marked - maybe the poll underestimated student opinion, being taken about a month ago) but I question whether most students in any way actually feel they owe the AUT much.

Boris says "Dock boycotting lecturers' wages"

Boris Johnson has entered the row about the AUT/NATFHE assessment/marking boycott with a call for lecturers taking part in the boycott to have their wages docked for the work they are not doing. In a letter to the head of Universities UK he says:

For thousands of students across the country, the degree they hope to receive is a crucial self-defining moment.

Their degrees, and their grades, will be vital to their job prospects for years to come.

It is therefore unthinkable and outrageous that these exams should not be marked.
I hope very much that you will urge all your members of Universities UK to consider docking the pay of academics who refuse to mark exams.
[The shadow education secretary said withdrawing their labour might be their right.]

But if they persist in causing such uncertainty and distress among students, then it must surely be the right of universities to refuse to pay them.
With heavy levels of opposition to the boycott and its impact getting even worse, one can only hope that a resolution comes soon.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Same old Lib Dems!

Whilst looking scanning through some of the old posts on this blog, I've found this one from five months ago about the problems facing the Lib Dems:

The Lib Dems have purported to be the "Real Alternative" to Labour. At the moment they are a squabbling party, with the front bench falling over backwards in public to make it clear they support the leader whilst sharpening the knives, and endless speculation about potential successors. Compared to the Tony Blair & Old Man Brown show that's not an alternative at all!
One brutal deposition and a new leader later and they're still like this!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Ming passes the point of no return

A partnership that is guaranteed to losePoliticalHackUK has spotted that Campbell's leadership is doomed. He has received the kiss of death that is the support of Lembit Öpik:

Ming's fate is confirmed by Lembit 'Nostradamus' Opik with his fullsome show of support for and faith in his leader.

I was quite surprised about the opinion against Charles but that looks now like a moment of madness. It's not our style. There is no way people are going to be talking about changing the leader again.

You may remember that Lembit loyally stood by his friend Charlie, even as all others were preparing to sacrifice him. Lembit then backed Mark Oaten. His track record this year hasn't been great - the man's a jinx.
Simon Hughes may have given comments that came out as "give Ming until the party conference" but increasingly it looks like Ming will not even make the summer recess.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Ming not the only one failing?

I've just seen this interesting post on Quaequam Blog!:

Watch out, the tomatoes are coming!
21 months
Simon Hughes has been President of the Liberal Democrats for 21 months. I mention this because he seems to believe we should set arbitrary dates after which a politician should be assessed.
Can anyone name a single innovation that he has introduced in that time? More specifically, can anyone name a single innovation that he has introduced aimed at achieving his election pledge of the Lib Dems' membership exceeding Labour's by the end of his tenure this year?
Many of the problems we currently face as a party are rooted in the party's Federal Executive, the way Hughes chairs it and the way it has ceased to be the co-ordinating body it needs to be. In that respect, the phrase "dismal failure" springs to mind when thinking of Hughes, something not exactly confounded when he gives dumb interviews like this.
So it's not just Ming who's under fire at the moment. Can Hughes survive the barrage of criticism? It's not as intense as that surrounding Ming - not least because not even Hughes drop gaffes that undermine himself!

Is this the silliest search term ever?

Someone visiting my blog did a blog search for...

"Blog search."

Can this be beaten for being so bizarre?

Take a look at the search for yourselves.

Ervine in, Women out

There have been two developments in the politics of Northern Ireland, both in their way reducing political diversity in the province.

First off the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition has decided to disband. The Women's Coalition was yet another Northern Irish party that sought primarily to be a vehicle to represent a single group in society but at least they found a different way to cut up society. It was one of the most pro Good Friday Agreement parties, but ultimately floundered. And I'm not sure many feminists would have agreed with the NIWC's position on a number of issues - they declined to support liberalisation of the province's abortion laws for instance.

One party that has supported freedom for women in the province is the Progressive Unionist Party, the political wing of the Ulster Volunteer Force. Yesterday came the news that their leader and sole member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, David Ervine, is to take join the Ulster Unionist Assembly group, whilst remaining leader of the PUP.

This has provoked furious reaction, as shown on both Slugger O'Toole as well was the Young Unionists website in both this and this thread. Whilst a lot of the criticism can be dismissed as the usual venom from both Nationalists and the DUP, there are some serious points in all this.

The fact remains that the UVF is still a terrorist organisation and Unionists are often accused of double standards for loyalist and republican terrorist groups and their political representatives. The UVF seem unlikely to recommision their weapons so the UUP's repeated objections to Sinn Féin sitting in government become even harder to explain.

On the other hand many are comparing this to the Hume-Adams talks that led to Sinn Féin coming ever more fully into the political process. Whilst Ervine has already been a party to the Good Friday Agreement and later a regular member of the Assembly, and to some appears to be one of the most reasonable Unionists, there is still a real need to re-engage with loyalists and bring them in. As one email to me succinctly put it, the province isn't a middle class utopia.

One point of which much is being made is the fact that Ervine's move alters the numbers game in the Assembly. Seats on the Northern Ireland Executive, if it is reformed, are allocated by the D'Hondt method. Without running through the calculations in detail, the changes in party affiliations by members of the Assembly have altered the various parties' entitlement to seats as follows:

*The 2003 Assembly Election elected 30 DUP, 27 UUP, 24 Sinn Féin, 18 SDLP, 6 Alliance, 1 PUP, 1 UKUP and 1 Independent (Kieran Deeny, campaigning solely in the issue of hospital provision in Omagh). This would give the DUP and UUP three seats apiece, and Sinn Féin and the SDLP two each. When there is a tie for allocating seats, the tie is broken by dividing the party's total number of first preferences in the last election by the number of seats they have already received plus one.

*The defections of Jeffrey Donaldson, Norah Beare and Arlene Foster from the UUP to the DUP altered the numbers balance so that the DUP gained one potential Executive seat from the UUP.

*However the suspension and later resignation from the DUP of Paul Berry after the stories about him seeking gay sex meant that the DUP total slipped to 32, costing them the 10th Executive place. The UUP and Sinn Féin tied for it on the numbers in the Assembly but Sinn Féin got more first preferences in the Assembly Elections so they would take a third seat.

*The adherence of Ervine to the UUP now means that they, not Sinn Féin, take the 10th seat. Also as parties pick the ministries in order, the UUP could now stop Sinn Féin from taking a sensitive post like Education.

I'm honestly not sure what I think of the whole event. But I wonder what the reaction would have been if the UUP had gained the Executive seat by being joined by Paul Berry instead?

Let's also not forget the DUP hands are not clean. Not only did they form Ulster Resistance but they also joined with loyalists to bring down the Sunningdale Agreement assembly and executive in the 1970s. Ironically the current Assembly is to be reconvened on the thirty-second anniversary of that action.

One other thing that has been brought to my attention is this statement by the Northern Ireland Labour Forum, to all extents and purposes the Northern Ireland branch of the Labour Party in the Republic of Ireland (although it doesn't fight elections in the North). It's calling for Northern Ireland to be a joint part of both a United Kingdom and a United Ireland, and "seeking a formal structural relationship with the British Labour Party, in the spirit of the proposal..." Whether Blair's Labour Party will reciprocate and be a party for the entire country remains to be seen, though with Fianna Fáil possibly also organising in the province and the Conservatives sensing an upturn, things could get very interesting.

Ironically the party that has the most to fear from a strong Labour force is the Progressive Unionist Party. They have long claimed to be a party in the mould of the old Northern Ireland Labour Party. Could we see another smaller party fade away?

Even Charles Kennedy lasted longer!

The show is rubbishSir Menzies Campbell's problems are continuing to grow. And there's not much comfort in the blogosphere.

This is awfulCampbell's performance at Prime Ministers' Questions this week was poor, as shown in Guido Fawkes' Action Replay : Ming the Meandering Mumbler which shows the reaction of senior Liberal Democrats such as Vincent Cable as Campbell struggles to make a point and needs to check his notes to identify the department he has a problem with.

Some Muppets reqularly sharpen the knives...Amongst the bloggers comenting, Skipper wonders "Oh Dear! Was Ming a Mistake?" whilst The Exile ponders "Is Ming a mong?". A Place to Stand reports how "Ming Campbell is proving a disaster for the LibDems" and Kevin Davis relays "Lib Dems are now privately convinced they will have new leader within a year". A Tangled Web wants to know "just what are the Liberal Democrats FOR, exactly?" whilst noting "KNIVES ARE OUT FOR MING".

The reaction from Lib Dem bloggers is mixed. Peter Black AM expresses his dismay at the turn of events even though "I was unhappy with the result of the leadership election and I have not been too impressed with what I have seen so far". Richard Huzzey offers not a staunch defence of Campbell's leadership so far but pleads "Give Ming A Chance", a call echoed by A Liberal Goes A Long Way who suggests:

And while I'm on one, can someone please gaffer tape Simon Hughes' mouth shut until he's learned how not to fan the flames of a non-story? He must have known that saying "we need to judge [Ming] when it comes to conference after six months rather than after a few weeks," would provoke the inevitable headline in today's Indy, Hughes tells Campbell: 'You must do better by Lib-Dem conference'.
So who could replace Campbell?

A future star no longerHe may anger the grumpy old men but he will never succeed themThe events of the last leadership contest have frankly ruled out both Mark Oaten and Simon Hughes' chances for a long time. The revelations about both men have been hard for many Lib Dems to respond to, whilst the local elections were especially disappointing for the Lib Dems in both Winchester and Southwark, suggesting that the voters have not responded well to either man.

Just who is he?The one senior Liberal Democrat to have come out of the last six months with their reputation considerably enhanced is Chris Huhne, unknown before January. Coming from nowhere to take second place in the contest, and at times leading in both opinion polls and bookies' odds, Huhne demonstrated an ability to tap into the desire of many Lib Dems for radicalism and tried to claim the mantle on environmentalism. But can he do so well in a second contest? And if the leader is changed with only one candidate, what will be the reaction of party members, already facing the prospect of having to repay the party's massive debts?

His time to shine may have finally comeOr what about the younger generation of the party? One candidate who has in the past announced that he would stand for the leadership the next time it becomes vacant is Lembit Öpik. But was he really considering one so soon? And given his ability to bring disaster to every campaign he backs, can he really buck the trend for himself?

We only ever seem to see one female Muppet on a regular basisWhat about a female leader? However there's only one female Lib Dem with a regular media presence and that's Sarah Teather. Barely half the age of Campbell (and younger than David Cameron) she would truly be a bold move. However there's a real possibility that she may not even be an MP after the next election - boundary changes are abolishing her Brent East seat and the replacement Brent Central seat looks likely to be a notional Labour seat.

Is it time to bring him back?There's one intriguing possibility. As discussed on this blog before, one can legitimately ask if the Lib Dems did the right thing when they brutally deposed Charles Kennedy. Could the fall of Ming lead to an opening for Kennedy to return?

How about an unusual candidate?Or could the Lib Dems modify their rules to allow a leader outside the Commons, at least in the short term? Someone who is unamiguously a caretaker would allow them time to sort out the party's direction and find a permanent long term successor. So could Paddy Ashdown be the veteran they need back?

Can the backroom boys' mistakes be corrected?Whoever becomes the next Lib Dem leader will need to get a lot of things in order. The recent fiasco with the party facing having to raise £2.4 million from its members shows the mess the party structure is in, and the leader will need to ensure that no more backroom cock-ups occur.

Will this Muppet have a party to aspire to?They will also need to inspire the even younger generation of Liberal Democrats and convince them to stay in the party when the Conservatives are performing so well and reclaiming the legacy of the classic Liberal Party (inherited in part via the Liberal Unionists and later National Liberals along with many individual recruits over the years). If the Lib Dems thought they were facing their greatest crisis in January, they may have been premature.

So who do readers of this blog reckon will be Lib Dem leader come Christmas?


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