Thursday, July 31, 2008


History often repeats itself. But it takes time to recognise precisely where and how, and often the key players fail to duplicate the historic figure they are most often compared to. For example during the last years of the Major government Ken Clarke was often compared to Roy Jenkins during the end of the first Wilson government. But Clarke did not go on to play a damaging role that electorally crippled the Conservative Party in subsequent years and certainly never formed a breakaway party. Nor did the players always play quite the role at the time that subsequent myth gives them.

Right now it seems umpteen comparisons are being drawn between the Brown government and John Major's circa 1995. So invariably David Miliband is being talked of as the Michael Portillo, the one who lays the ground for a leadership bid and then backs out of it. (e.g. The Debatable Land: Alea Iacta Est, Global Dashboard: Miliband's folly, Daily Telegraph - David Hughes: David Miliband - a leadership tick list and Raedwald: Miliband - too weird-looking to win.) But there are some key differences.

Portillo personally never forced the 1995 leadership election - John Major opted to call that off his own back in response to his weak position on the back benches, not to outmanoeuvre Cabinet colleagues. But once the leadership election was on he, and for that matter Michael Heseltine, went and prepared campaign headquarters for a second round. It's a bit of a myth that either man was preparing to challenge Major but rather both were planning on Major being toppled in the first round and opening up the second round. Really it's only because another Cabinet minster - and to be honest a not very important one - resigned to contest the first ballot that the myth of Portillo preparing and bottling it emerges. Conservative assassinations take place behind closed doors not in full view. Nor did Portillo completely blow his chances then - most people think that if he hadn't lost his seat in 1997 then he would have won the resulting leadership contest. And in 1995 the issue wasn't really about John Major personally but about the direction of the party and policy issues.

This is a very different thing from Miliband all but openly reminding his party there are alternatives to Gordon Brown and putting forward a vision. If he is to challenge Gordon Brown then he must either round up a set of Cabinet heavyweights (if there are enough for a set!) and issue an ultimatum or else he must somehow try to get Labour MPs to support a formal leadership challenge through a very complicated procedure that requires the challenging candidate to publicly put up whilst simultaneously avoiding the odium of adding to the government's problems. That's a very tall order and it's not really clear what Miliband hopes to get out of this. Being sacked for telling Brown he needs to go for the party's sake would at least give him a clear status for a leadership contest. Being sacked for just shit stirring and compounding the government's problems would have the reverse effect.

If Miliband is anyone from that era he's William Hague - seen in some quarters as the Great Hope of the future despite not really having done anything or been properly tested. And when Hague ascended far too soon he proved a disaster as leader. (He should have stuck to his original plan to run as Michael Howard's deputy on a "dream ticket" and then win or lose waited until 2001 for his own bid when he would have been in a stronger position.) So maybe it's not "Portilliband" but "Milihague"?

On ideology in youth wings

Tory Bear has recently posted Back to the Future about the lack of ideological battles in Conservative Future elections. And he has a strong point - for as long as I can remember in Conservative Future (since about 2000 - yes I'm showing my age!) virtually all the candidates in elections for the national executive have run campaigns based on what sort of administration they would run if elected and nearly all have had supporters' lists that are ideologically all over the party. The handful who've tried for purity have never got anywhere and even those candidates strongly associated with certain ideological groups in the party have not tried to run on such a line.

Now to a large extent this is because the Conservative Future national executive is an administrative body and so it's utterly irrelevant as to what are someone's opinion on grammar schools, whether or not Conservative MEPs should sit in the European People's Party (although the issue of Conservative Future's affiliation to the European Democrat Students is one that could do with settling) or so forth.

But it's also because a lot in Conservative Future have always been deeply wary of bringing ideology into elections. Many of us have encountered the teenager and twenty-something year-old for whom everything in politics is absolutely back & white with nothing in between, for whom ideas of pragmatism, compromise, electability and so forth are anathema and who often calls for those who don't agree with them to leave the party. Friends in Labour and the Liberal Democrats have confirmed that this is not a feature unique to the right. The idea of ideological based elections brings the danger that the outcome would be a very ideological Conservative Future that would be very off putting to new members, to the detriment of membership and effectiveness. (That problem exists at the moment but it would hardly be resolved by this!) It could also become an embarrassment to the party in general if the youth wing started coming out with absurd policies. Then there's the danger that particular groups in the party would regard the youth wing as a platform to be captured for espousing their own particular policies rather than for benefiting the younger members of the party as a whole.

And what exactly is the point of a party's youth wing espousing political views, which would generally not be those of the membership as a whole or even a national council, but probably those of just those members of the executive controlling decisions and/or accessing the microphone? If it's to influence the party policy there are far better ways to do that - indeed it's better to be enabling individual members and groups to be able to submit their voice rather than have one single voice for all young members. If it's to give the organisation a sense of purpose then it's rather an extreme step to take. And taking it back to the issue of elections, what difference would it make if one candidate is from the One Nation wing of the party, one from the Thatcherite wing and one from the Faith, Flag & Family wing? How would their ability to do the job be in any way affected by this?

(The one point I have seen a few people raise is over the allocation of forty-two places on the Conservative National Convention that are reserved for Conservative Future. How the places should be filled has been a somewhat contentious issue over the years and in one election a chair candidate's supporters asserted that there is a danger of putting forty-two voting places in the wrong hands. But the answer to that must be reform of the Convention places, not hoping for the "right" hands!)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Has Lembit been decontaminated?

Now a safe pair of hands?Liberal England blogs that The Curse of Lembit is lifted. His endorsement of a candidate for the Presidency of the Royal Institute of British Architects has not sunk her.

So does this mean the tide is turning and Lembit can now support people and causes that will succeed? If so it puts a crimper on his hopes of being the next Liberal Democrat leader!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Lib Dem donor on the run

Michael Brown is in the news again. He is the businessman who famously gave the Liberal Democrats £2.4 million in possible breach of party funding laws (see Is this the end of the Liberal Democrats? and Are the Lib Dems facing their final point?) and also dubbed the party as "muppets" for getting rid of Charles Kennedy. Now it appears he has skipped bail while awaiting trial for fraud and money laundering. (Sky News: Police Issue Arrest Warrant For Lib Dem Donor) I guess the Lib Dems won't be taking any donations from him for the time being!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Conservative mergers - all the rage?

A few years ago the Canadian Progressive Conservative Party and the Canadian Alliance merged to form the Conservative Party of Canada. It is now the government of Canada. Then this week we heard the proposals for a Conservative-Ulster Unionist merger which could well become the government of the United Kingdom at the next election. And yesterday in Queensland, Australia the National Party and the Liberal Party merged to become the Liberal National Party of Queensland. (ABC News: Qld conservatives hail new party) It remains to be seen if the Liberal and National parties in the rest of Australia will follow the trend (although in the Northern Territory this merger was made decades ago) but the new party offers a single force to take on the Labor state government and start a conservative revival across Australia.

So will we see more conservative mergers in other countries around the world?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Conservative-Ulster Unionist merger?

The news that the Conservatives and the Ulster Unionists are to explore moves towards a joint party (ConservativeHome: The Conservative AND Unionist Party and Conservatives in Northern Ireland: A Historic Statement by David Cameron and Sir Reg Empey) has come as a surprise to me, which is a credit to the discrete negotiation skills of Owen Paterson and stands in complete contrast to the way attempts to form a new group in the European Parliament have been handled. But it's also a good move for not only both parties but the whole of the United Kingdom. For too long Northern Irish politics has been an isolated microcosm, with only half hearted efforts at organising by a handful of parties from both Britain and the Republic of Ireland, give or take a few small parties, and the result has been alienation and sometimes hatred, most recently when the DUP provided the majority of 42 days' detention or Iris Robinson MP's horrific comments about homosexuality.

A party that is a strong and credible contender at all levels of Northern Irish and UK politics, that can allow for full engagement with national and international politics, can only help to move political debate forward in the province. It also helps to anchor the Conservative Party in all nations of the United Kingdom, a contrast to Labour who've had to be dragged into allowing even membership by the courts and is determined to remain a Brits only party.

Will this lead to a sudden landslide in Northern Ireland at the next election, with seats turning blue all over? Well let's not get carried away - there's a lot still to do and hundreds of thousands of voters to engage with. But it's a good start with promising signs to come.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Inhuman MPs?

Tom Watson has beaten Kerron Cross to this one. (Tom Watson: Biohazard in the House of Commons & Kerron Cross: In Loo Of Recent Posts...) This is the scene in a House of Commons toilet:

When people say MPs are inhuman I didn't think they mean it quite like this!

Welease this film!

Many years ago some people heard about a film and shouted "down with this sort of thing". It wasn't about the Messiah it was just a very naughty film. And many councils banned it. Even those that had no cinemas.

It seems some of the bans are still in the place today. Life of Brian actress Sue Jones-Davies has now become the Mayor of Aberystwyth and wants to lift the ban. (BBC News: Mayor wants Python film ban ended) However as nobody in the Ceredigion council licensing department is aware of the ban it could prove harder to lift than expected.

In the meantime here's the scene all political bloggers remember:

And the British extreme left still acts like this to this day!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Cheeky Boy no more?

News has emerged that Lembit Öpik has been dumped by his fiancée, Cheeky Girl Gabriela Irimia. (Daily Telegraph: Lembit Opik ‘dumped by his Cheeky Girl fiancée Gabriela Irimia')

Once again Öpik is in the news for all the wrong reasons. There have been murmurings of dissent in the Liberal Democrats about him before (see Liberal Democrat *leaders* in trouble, admittedly several leaders ago) and I wonder just how much further his stock can fall. And will Liberal Democrat activists want to fight the fight in Montgomeryshire for him? (See Can a political Jonah save himself?)

A beautiful defection?

News of the latest possible recruit to the Conservative Party has come through - Gemma Garrett, the current Miss Great Britain and Miss Belfast and founder of the Miss Great Britain Party, who recently stood against David Davis. (Daily Mail: A glamour move? - Gemma Garrett may switch to the Tories) It's an interesting possible move but if true I suspect she won't get so much publicity as a mere regular on the candidates' list. Also the policies of the Miss Great Britain Party contain some things that aren't out of place on a Conservative manifesto but some of them, like two new tax rates, are not exactly expected!

Hattip to Guido Fawkes: Beauty and the Basher for this story.

Friday, July 11, 2008

A battle of equalities - or the onset of culture wars?

It's hard to know what to make of the Lillian Ladele case. But it has plenty of elements to make various people's blood boil. Discrimination on the basis of religion. Discrimination on the basis of sexuality. (Which puzzles me as talking about equality between marriage and civil partnerships is a total oxymoron.) And of course it had to happen in Islington.

Now I've not yet had a chance to read the tribunal outcome but from what I've seen in the media the tribunal focused on the point of whether or not she was being bullied in the workplace for her religion and whether Islington was still able to deliver the service rather than over whether she was right to refuse to perform civil partnership ceremonies. (As an aside if you were entering into a civil partnership wouldn't you want a registrar who actually wanted to do the job, rather than one who was forced to by their employer and the law?) Also a point that hasn't received that much attention is that the nature of the job has changed since she took it - until late 2007 Islington registrars were effectively working freelance and thus her colleagues were taking civil partnerships and so it wasn't an issue. (The Guardian: Paying to be discriminated against - The decision in favour of a registrar who refused to deal with gay couples sets a hugely dangerous precedent) So it's not a case of someone taking up a job even though they disagreed with part of what it entailed - the requirements of the job changed whilst she was in post. This may also have some bearing on whether or not it was possible to resign.

But what is worrying is the way that so much of the reaction to the tribunal outcome is deeply polarised, going beyond the issue of the balance between equality of religion and equality of sexuality and into what feels scarily like the opening shots in something like the US "culture war". Some of the comments I've seen on the web have been incredibly anti-religious whilst other comments sound like a gloating victory over "political correctness". Naturally the case emerging from the UK's answer to San Francisco adds to fuel to the fire.

For a long time issues of both religion and personal behaviour have traditionally been regarded as "issues of conscience" and not made party political issues. Quite apart from the party management advantage it has also meant that the parties have not been divided down such lines and the UK has for the most part avoided the US "Red States-Blue States" divide that leads to radicals on each side almost demonising the other and making control over issues such as education ridiculously tense. And it encourages minority mentalities whereby particular groups in society get told they must support a party not because they agree with it on the basics but because only that party looks out for it and the other hates it. In turn it leads to a belief that when the other party is in control everything will be bad.

Some of that last paragraph doesn't sound too dissimilar to behaviour in certain quarters of UK politics does it? Is this really to the benefit of the country?

David Davis vindicated!

The results of the Haltemprice and Howden by-election, 2008, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Haltemprice and Howden by-election, 2008
Party Candidate Votes % ±%

Conservative David Davis 17,113 71.6 +24.1

Green Shan Oakes 1,758 7.4 N/A

English Democrats Joanne Robinson 1,714 7.2 N/A

National Front Tess Culnane 544 2.3 N/A

Miss Great Britain Party Gemma Garrett 521 2.2 N/A

Independent Jill Saward 492 2.1 N/A

Monster Raving Loony Mad Cow-Girl 412 1.7 N/A

Independent Walter Sweeney 238 1.0 N/A

Independent John Nicholson 162 0.7 N/A

Independent David Craig 135 0.6 N/A

The New Party David Pinder 135 0.6 N/A

no label David Icke 110 0.5 N/A

Freedom 4 Choice Hamish Howitt 91 0.4 N/A

Socialist Equality Chris Talbot 84 0.4 N/A

Independent Grace Astley 77 0.3 N/A

Christian Party George Hargreaves 76 0.3 N/A

Church of the Militant Elvis Party David Bishop 44 0.2 N/A

Independent John Upex 38 0.2 N/A

Independent Greg Wood 32 0.1 N/A

Independent Eamonn Fitzpatrick 31 0.1 N/A

Make Politicians History Ronnie Carroll 29 0.1 N/A

Independent Thomas Darwood 25 0.1 N/A

Independent Christopher Foren 23 0.1 N/A

Independent Herbert Crossman 11 0.0 N/A

Independent Tony Farnon 8 0.0 N/A

Independent Norman Scarth 8 0.0 N/A
Majority 15,355 64.2 +53.5
Turnout 23,911 34.5 -35.7

Conservative hold Swing N/A

With Labour running away from the opportunity to defend government policy the by-election could have had micro turnout but it didn't. David Davis has been vindicated in his courageous stance on forty-two days detention.

Looking at the also-rans, amazingly there are six women immediately behind Davis but this could just be because of candidate selection. And the Official Monster Raving Loony Party's hopes of getting their best ever result have been thwarted once again. Ronnie Carroll was looking for the lowest number of votes ever and failed - he didn't even finish in the bottom five. Here's a couple of tips - don't tell everyone that's your goal and don't run with a description saying "Make Politicians History" that was bound to pick up a few votes.

So this is IDS's idea of Heathcliff!

On Question Time tonight Iain Duncan Smith said that he thought Heathcliff was a cartoon cat. I guess that he, like myself, has never read Wuthering Heights (I was forced to read Jane Eyre instead for GCSE) and it's nice to see a politician who is aware of culture other than lengthy novels that were seemingly designed to terrify a generation of students, especially one of the cartoons of my childhood.

So here's the intro to the second Heathcliff cartoon, thanks to YouTube:

So what would it say about Gordon Brown if he'd been comparing himself to this Heathcliff?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Bureaucracy gone mad!

You couldn't make this up - Jayne Jones, a mother in Aberfan has been told by Merthyr Tydfil council that she cannot travel to school with her severely epileptic son Alex because she hasn't undergone a Criminal Records Bureau check. (BBC News: Mum's police check for school run) A system that was set up to protect children and put parents' minds at rest when other people are looking after them is now being used to stop a mother from being with her son in case he has an attack and needs drugs administered by someone trained. How is this benefiting anyone?

A spokesperson for the council said:
"We cannot comment on particular cases but can confirm that CRB checking is a requirement of our transport provisions in relation to adults travelling on home-to-school transport in the capacity of an escort.

"This is a standard requirement and has been for several years.

"Any adult acting as an escort will, in the public gaze, be viewed as acting with the full acquiescence of the council and hence with its implied authority.

"For the protection of the council and all vulnerable persons in its care it's essential all those endowed with an authority, implicit or explicit, should meet the security requirements within the transport contract provisions."
Can anyone make any sense out of this?

Outrage! backs Boris's move!

In an interesting follow-up to the news that Boris abolishes a do-nothing advisory panel, the move has been backed by none other than OutRage! (PinkNews: OutRage! backs Boris over abolition of gay advisory panel)

Brett Lock of direct action LGBT rights group OutRage! said that Mayor Boris Johnson was "quite right" to scrap it.

"It was elitist, unelected, unaccountable and anti-democratic," he said.

"No one elected the panel. They were hand-picked by Ken and were not necessarily representative of the LGBT community.

"Instead of negatively sniping at the Mayor, LGBT groups should concentrate on presenting Boris with practical and constructive policy ideas for the benefit of LGBT Londoners," he said.
Note also Brett Lock's comments about LGBT Labour activists being more concerned with LGBT for Labour than Labour for LGBT:

"Instead of petty party-political point-scoring, gay Labour activists should concentrate on pressing their own party to stop mistreating LGBT asylum seekers and end the ban on same-sex marriage," said Mr Lock.
Unfortunately it seems some are determined to make party matters of the personal.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Boris abolishes a do-nothing advisory panel

This shouldn't need to be a story should it? Ever since Boris Johnson was elected Mayor of London a new broom has been sweeping through the Greater London Authority and many of the wasteful and tokenistic initiatives of the Livingstone era have been abolished. However the decision to abolish a Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Advisory Panel that had only been formed a few months ago and had just a preliminary meeting has provoked some criticism. (PinkNews: Boris team rejects criticism over LGB advisory panel) But surprise surprise the first person to speak out about this is a Labour Party councillor - the reaction of many Labour members to Boris's victory struck me as one of outrage that the voters had dared to deny Labour its supposed God-Given-Right to rule. On close inspection the panel membership is also suggestive:

...the panel which was chaired by Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, included Linda Bellos of Black Lesbians UK, Jackie Lewis of trade union UNISON, Lynsey River of Polari, the older people's LGBT network, Brenda Ellis of REGARD, a disabled LGBT group and Mr [Pav] Akhtar in his role as Chair of Imaan, a Muslim LGBT group.
This sounds suspiciously like a mainly Labour mates show that did very little but ticked a few boxes, of the kind all too common under the Livingstone regime. For another example see PinkNews's interview with Deputy Mayor Richard Barnes where he talks of a disability adviser who similarly served to tick boxes. (PinkNews: INTERVIEW: A heartbeat away from the Mayor of London)

I remained to be convinced that this advisory panel that only ever had a preliminary meeting was actually doing anything to the benefit of Lesbian & Gay (and I deliberate use just those words) Londoners and that their lives were in any way enhanced by its existence. Maybe the timing of the announcement wasn't the best but I don't want Labour style gesture politics that creates positions and throws around money for appearances' sake, I want results and substance. And I believe many Londoners want the same.

So I hope Boris Johnson will carry on getting rid of wasteful tokenistic bodies that just serve to tick boxes and get one with delivering real results for all Londoners.

Battle of the CF blogs!

A little competition never hurts anyone. Recently the blog Tory Bear was launched, focusing mainly on gossip around Conservative Future. And now a rival has sprung up - the Blue Guerilla. Hopefully this will encourage the appearance of further such blogs and the competition will be a great force for driving up quality. Battle away!

Has David Davis succeeded?

When David Davis announced his resignation from the Commons over 42 days detention many saw him as making a courageous move because opinion polls suggested that public opinion was behind the government on this issue.

Now an opinion poll has suggested a significant shift in public opinion, suggesting that because the issue has had much greater debate in public people have learnt more about it and decided they don't like it. Taking the debate to the wider public, rather than facing down Mad Cow Girl, has been the purpose of Davis's stance and it seems he's been successful, regardless of what the result is on Thursday.

Hattip to Iain Dale: Has David Davis's National Debate Been Sparked?

Lib Dems: Wales is only a "Region"

Whilst glancing at Liberal Democrat Voice I saw the post Welsh Lib Dems choose Alan Butt Philip as lead Euro candidate, leading to the announcement on their website "We can win" - says Welsh Lib Dem Euro candidate and the following caught my eye:

Based on the 2007 Regional Assembly Election,
(My emphasis)

So according to the Liberal Democrats, the party full of more pedants than any other, Wales is a "Region" and the title of its devolved body is "the Regional Assembly".

Anyone want to place bets on how the Liberal Democrat list will do in the "Region of Wales"?

Monday, July 07, 2008

Do we want lame duck Mayors?

I've not blogged about the Ray Lewis affair, partially due to lack of time, partially due to the wide range of contradictory information (for example I've seen lengthy posts on just when someone becomes a magistrate with a suggestion that even the Ministry of Justice isn't 100% consistent). But there's an interesting suggestion made by Gulf Stream Blues: The Ray Lewis Fiasco and echoed by Liberal Burblings: The Boris/Lewis train wreck - an American perspective about the basic problem in the system:

In a larger sense this is partly to blame on a problem that has nothing to do with the Conservatives, as the new position of London mayor still gets the kinks worked out. The position of mayor is essentially an American system that was shoehorned into British politics in 2000, but in some aspects they seem to have not grasped it properly. An American-style complete change in administration takes time to work out. That’s why the US has its elections in early November, and the winner doesn’t take office until January. That gives them several months to put together an administration and ensure an orderly transition. Here, Johnson took office just days after the election, and had to hurriedly select administration professionals and advisors without proper background checks.
We've already seen this to an extent with candidate selection - the British system generally expects politicians to work their way through the benches, not jump straight in to a high profile position from outside politics, Arnold Schwarzenegger style. For borough councils an elected Mayor just about works because it's a natural extension of the role of a councillor, although there have been many independent Mayors from outside politics. However for London it becomes hard to attract candidates in all parties as it's a diversion from a parliamentary career (and indeed takes one out of the House) but candidates from outside the regular political classes are hard to recruit.

And we see it again with the lack of a transition period. This is a relatively new thing in British politics - in past decades the outgoing government often took a few days to resign and the incoming one had more time to put together an administration. But nowadays a new government has to be put together by the new Prime Minister within hours of the election result. Because virtually all the ministers will be experienced MPs and peers it's often relatively simple to do this. However as Gulf Stream Blues has noted, the Mayoral administration has to recruit for the most part from outside the political mainstream and has very little time to do so. During the election Boris Johnson refused to list who would he appoint as he was the candidate standing not them, but it left little time to do the appointment checks.

The seemingly obvious solution would be to have a gap between the election and taking office. But this would mean the incumbent Mayor would remain in post for the time being, empowered to take decisions despite potentially having been rejected by the voters - not a good recipe for decisive decision making in a country not used to lame duck politicians. Just what is the solution here?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

No June on this blog yet...

Tracksy is currently playing up and I'm not sure why - is anyone else experiencing problems? So for the moment I'm afraid there aren't any details about June's readership.


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