Sunday, April 30, 2006

Prescott - how many more?

Dear God, he's been a busy chap. Iain Dale (see Links)has a quote from Sarah Bissett-Scott in the Sunday Mirror. She, it seems, was one of Prescott's mistresses, although this was a few years back. She says that "he may be fat and ugly now, but when I knew him he was a very attractive man". That, I think, is what's called a backhanded compliment. She also says she assumes "there were many other lovers". There is also some quite damning evidence from Tricia McDaid. And Guido Fawkes and Iain Dale have also identified another mistress. I'm bored with this now; no more on Prescott.

The Observer's Priorities

The Mail On Sunday apparently has nine (!!) pages on the Prescott affair. More interestingly, the Observer leads on it, and has a four-page "Fatal Attraction" pull-out. By contrast, the far more serious Clarke affair is on page three. They do say that sex sells. I understand Blair has given an interview to the News of the World in which he refuses to speculate on Clarke's long-term future (that seems to suggest no short-term intention to ditch him). Is the Blairite strategy to sacrifice Prescott and try to save Clarke? If Clarke can survive in the short-term he can probably survive in the long-term.

Walden on Minsterial Resignations

I always thought Brian Walden was a very good (if rather prolix) interlocutor on Weekend World many moons ago. But as a commentator I find him a pompous reactionary. Still, he was on the ball on Radio 5 this morning, arguing that nowadays what determines whether a Minister resigns is simply public and press reaction. The Minister will wait to see if there is a huge public outcry and whether it dominates the front page of the papers for days or weeks on end ("the Campbell test") and if it does then "the chap has to go"; if not he stays. On the other hand, I suspect it was always like this: perhaps the role of the media is more important nowadays, but my guess is that base political calculation has always been the key consideration. The oft-cited examples of Thomas Dugdale and Peter Carrington are perhaps exceptions that prove the rule; and even in these cases closer examination might show "the primacy of politics" vis-a-vis abstract constitutional doctrine. Charles Clarke view that - because he was responsible for the recent fiasco - he should not resign, but has a duty to stay on to sort things out, involves a flat rejection of the standard interpretation of "individual ministerial responsbility". It is also, of course, quite absurd.

A Bad Week for Cameron?

Is it possible that the past weeks events have been bad news for David Cameron? If, after such a bad week for Labour, the opinion polls do not show any significant shift towards the Conservatives - and if Labour do better than expected (or less worse than expected) in Thursday's local government elections - could Cameron come under renewed pressure to abandon his modernisation strategy? Could Cameron eventually go the way of IDS?

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Peter Law

One of the more pleasing constituency results in last years General Election was in Blaenau Gwent (formerly Ebbw Vale) where Peter Law, standing as an Independent, took the seat overturning a 19,000 Labour majority on a 49% swing. The Labour leadership had "parachutted-in" the Blarite clone Maggie Jones (who is, apparently, "a friend of Tony and Cherie") on a "woman's only short-list". Trica Law has recently revealed that the Labour leadership tried to bribe her husband into steppping-down by offering a peerage (The Labour Party swifly denied that, but we all know that the Labour machine has a very distant relationship with truthfulness). It is still not clear who offered the bribe. Peter Hain campaigned in Blaenau Gwent on Maggie Jones' behalf. Sadly, Peter Law has now died (he suffered a brain tumour shortly before the election, although, after surgery, continued to campaign). There will now be a by-election and I earnestly hope that the group of rebels expelled by Labour for refusing to bend he knee to apparatchik Jones find a credible candidate and retain the seat (Peter Law was also a member of the Welsh Assembly and there will be an election to fill that vacancy also). Good Man, Peter. RIP.

Prescott: Hypocrite or Cad?

John Prescott has been a very naughty sexagenarian. He has had a 2-year affair with his Diary Secretary, Tracey Temple (on the "up" side, from Labour's point of view, at least it was an affair with a woman). There is also another affair with a junior Minister who is apparently threatening to sue if her identity is revealed (anyone interested in finding out who she is should go to the Guido Fawkes blog). I am, however, unconvinced by the charge of hypocrisy. Yes, I know Prescott attacked the Major Government for sleaze - his 1996 Labour Conference speech, complete with joke about Shagger Norris's "chat up lines" is being widely quoted. But, let's face it, the Major Government (if not, to be fair, Steve Norris) asked for it, by going up and down the country banging on about "back to basics". Since becoming Deputy Prime Minister Prescott has not, so far as I am aware, made it his vocation to preach at us about our private lives. There is also something about the Prescott-baiting which sits uneasily with me. The Tory Boys hate him, with a venomous intensity which cannot be explained solely by Prescott's manifest failings: it is, I think, tribal(I think it is a hatred reciprocated - Prescott is not overly fond of Tory Boys - but I find that easier to understand). On the other hand, Prescott issued a statement in which he said he "regretted" the affair. This is a standard formulation in these circumstances, but it is so dismissive of the woman in question and - to use an old fashioned word - so dishonourable as to merit a more serious charge: the man is a cad. It seems Tracey Temple will have her revenge, however; she has been snatched up by Max Clifford and this guarantees widespread tabloid coverage. Then, of course, it cannot be long before the second woman's name becomes known, with further tabloid salivation. There is already speculation that Prescott could be forced to resign. I don't think what Prescott has done is a resigning matter; it doesn't bear on his Ministerial duties. Originally, I thought (on the "Palmerston principle") that the fact that a sixty-odd year old man had a late-thirtyish/early fortyish mistress might not do his reputation any harm (it's given me some encouragement); but I think I underestimated the power of ridicule. Will Prescott resign? I don't know; but it would be absolutely outrageous if he resigns and Charles Clarke survives.

The Clarke Fiasco

Now that the "Willie Horton" moment has arrived it cannot be long before Charles Clarke resigns. The Guardian reports that at least five of the released foreign prisoners committed further offences including crimes of violence, and it seems there may even have been a rape. John Humphreys said on Radio 4 this morning that "more serious culpability is harder to imagine" and that if Clarke doesn't resign over this then it is not easy to imagine any circumstances whatever in which a Minister would have to resign. It is true that Clarke inherited this mess from Blunkett, but he has known about it since last July and has not sorted it out. Clarke is not being asked to accept responibility for the failings of civil servants about which he knew nothing (On Tuesday the Guardian reported that Downing Street in support of Clarke had stated that Ministers could not be expected "to know what is going on in every nook and cranny of their department". The clear inference is that Clarke did not know what was going on, which is untrue). The whole saga shows how little the doctrine of "individual ministerial responsibility" matters to politicians. It is not constitutional niceties but raw politics which determine whether a Minister resigns; and most will cling to office until driven from it (The resignation of Peter Carrington in 1982 was very unusual in this respect. But even this was politically calculated: his resignation took the heat off the government). The signs are that Clarke will in typical fashion try to bluster his way through this, and the uber-Blairites do not want to lose another Cabinet ally. Clarke will probably wait to see what the Sunday papers say (apparently the Times and the Mirror are taking the line that he should not resign); but even so it hard to see how he can survive.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Labour and the Opinion Polls

This morning's Guardian has an ICM opinion poll which puts Labour on 32%, the Conservatives on 34% and the Liberal-Democrats on 24%. This is, apparently, Labour's lowest point in the polls since the 1987 General Election. On my reckoning, this would, if repeated in a General Election, produce a hung parliament with Labour as the largest party. It is a pretty remarkable showing for the Liberal-Democrats considering the mess they were in not so long ago (as a result of Kennedy's resignation, and the Oaten and Hughes revelations); but this probably has more to do with disillusionment with Labour than enthusiasm for Ming the Monotonous. The silver lining for Labour is that the Conservatives are still flatlining. A poor result in the May local elections and any further slippage in the polls will increase the pressure on Blair to go. My money is still on an early departure.

Sunday, April 23, 2006


I have never understood the veneration of monarchy by (most of) the British public. We have just had another bout of bowing and scraping with the Queen’s 80th birthday. I’m with Jack Dromey (the same) who said on Any Questions last Friday that the Queen stands at the apex of a system of “privilege, class and deference” which is ill-fitting in a democratic society at the beginning of the twenty-first century (I wonder if Mrs. Dromey ever expressed that opinion in Cabinet). Yet, sadly, the opinion polls show only around 20% favour the (return of) the British Republic. It’s amusing to look again at Bagehot. Monarchy, he wrote, provides “a visible symbol of unity to those still so imperfectly educated as to need a symbol”. Which roughly translates as: the great unwashed are half-wits and the monarchy is there to keep the poor sods transfixed. But to judge by the incontinent gushing of BBC types it isn’t just the poor serfs who are addicted to forelock-tugging. Still, on the up side, 20% is a lot more than back in the bad old days when Willie Hamilton M.P. was seen as utterly eccentric for advocating a Republic. The argument for a Republic has made some headway…

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Steve Bell Cartoon

Steve Bell has a wonderful cartoon on the job losses at Peugot and Brown's beloved "flexible labour markets". It can be seen here:


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Last Train from Euston

These are my last comments on the Euston Manifesto. On Normblog (see Links, but note Norm does not allow comment on his blog) it is stated that the Manifesto is not a pro-war document. The Manifesto says that the signatories, “took different views on the military intervention in Iraq, both for and against”. However, looking though the list of signatories, the ones I recognize are all well known for their pro-war position. It would be interesting to know which ones were anti-war (none of the “leading lights” seems to have been). Secondly, the document certainly seems to support the continuing occupation of Iraq. The argument is something like this: there were “compelling reasons” for and against the “intervention” and we may have disagreed over this; but here we are now, and there is no point “picking over the rubble” of these arguments; from where we are now, we must support the occupying forces. I think it is reasonable to describe this as a pro-war standpoint. The occupation is really an ongoing war and the signatories support this war. Those – whoever they are - who opposed the intervention/invasion in 2003 but who now support the occupation are effectively saying: “we were against the war, but now we are for it”. But as Iraq descends into mayhem it is increasingly obvious that invasion and occupation is a poor strategy for promoting democracy. There will be no good end to this hubristic adventure, but ending the occupation is the least worse option.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Euston Manifesto

The authors of the Euston Manifesto describe themselves as “democrats and progressives” many of whom are on the “left”. They are pro-war and many are also pro-Israel. The Manifesto contains much that is commendable: they support “fair trade” and debt cancellation; support democratic trade unions; advocate the separation of state and religion; and defend “universal human rights” against “cultural relativism”. They argue that the deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorists is a crime which cannot be justified, and, God knows, they are right about that (although they have less to say about the civilian fatalities resulting from the actions of the US military). Elsewhere, however, the Manifesto is less persuasive. For example, the Manifesto accuses critics of US foreign policy of a “generalised prejudice” against the USA and its people. But I doubt if more than a miniscule percentage of those who demonstrated in opposition to the Iraq war in March 2003 were incapable of distinguishing between the actions of successive US governments, on the one hand, and the American people on the other. Secondly, deploying a similar argument, the Manifesto refers to the “resurgence” of anti-Semitism” and argues that “some exploit the legitimate grievances of the Palestinian people under occupation by Israel, and conceal prejudice against the Jewish people behind the formula of “anti-Zionism””. In reply here are two points:
(i) It is not clear to me that there is a "resurgence" of anti-Semitism. There is no doubt that anti-Semitism is rife in the Arab world and is officially encouraged by Arab regimes (as it is in Iran); just as there is plenty of Israeli racism against Arabs. I suspect that there is a great deal of anti-Semitism in the Asian-Muslim community in Britain. And of course there are the fascist groups such as the NF and the BNP and so on, for whom anti-Semitism remains a core doctrine. But among the great majority of the non-Muslim population in Britain, I see very little evidence of “resurgent” anti-Semitism. The most common forms of racism are white racism against blacks and Asians, and racism against (often “white”) asylum-seekers (sometimes by - depressingly - blacks and Asians; by comparison anti-Semitism is far less common (it is no less vile, of course).
(ii) I dare say some anti-Semites do hide behind “anti-Zionism”. But as a generalised charge this is also false. The great majority of those who are angry at the manifest injustice done to the Palestinian people by Israel, and the one-sided support of Israel by the USA, are not anti-Semites and the accusation that they are is unjust and unworthy. It smacks of the kind of thuggish tactics used all too often to silence all criticism of Israel, labelling all such criticism “anti-Semitic”. Shame on you.

Perhaps the greatest weakness of the Manifesto is the inability to admit that the invasion of Iraq was a disaster. With Alice-in-Wonderland stubbornness they argue that the main concern in Iraq is “to put in place a democratic political order and to rebuild the country’s infrastructure…” That would be great, but it seems completely disconnected from the grim reality the invasion has unleashed, and to which there seems no foreseeable end. The authors seem to think that the US military can impose a kind of western-style democracy at gunpoint which will then become a beacon for democracy everywhere in the Middle East. The more likely outcome at this stage seems to be escalating ethnic conflict, leading to the dismemberment of the state and (if the USA and UK decide to quit and run) the intervention of neighbouring states. The alternative is a war which will drag on for years with mounting casualties. Islamic fundamentalism and Islamic terrorism could not have been gifted anything better than the invasion of Iraq. Yes, we need to fight and defeat fundamentalist terrorism, but the strategic ineptitude of the US has been staggering, and the authors of the Manifesto cannot see it. No wonder they disfavour “picking through the rubble of the arguments over intervention…” So would I, if I had supported invasion. (A final, very small point. The authors claim they do not get a fair hearing in the mass media. Several of them are columnists on national newspapers. Give us a break guys!).

The Manifesto can be read here:

Euston Manifesto

Saturday, April 15, 2006

More on the Vardy Schools

The Vardy Schools and Creationism

Peter Vardy was on Radio 4 this morning. He denied that creationism was being taught in any of the schools he has funded. They are not, he said, teaching anything “wild and wacky”. He said that he believes in “a creator God” but denied that he is a creationist in the commonly understood sense of the word. But in the past the Guardian has reported that Emmanuel College at Gateshead has hosted a creationist conference and that “senior staff have given a series of lectures at the college urging teachers to promote biblical fundamentalism and giving tips and techniques making pupils doubt the theory of evolution” (9/3/02). The Chairman of the Board of Governors at Emmanuel in Mr. N.J. McQuoid, the author, alongside John Burn, of “Christianity and the School Curriculum” published in 1995 by The Christian Institute. Under the heading “Science” (sic) the article states that “…attempts to reconcile evolutionary theory with the Biblical account of creation strain and distort scripture…” It describes the theory of evolution as “a faith position”, and says “schools should also teach the creation theory as literally depicted in Genesis…”, and that “Both creation and evolution provide ways of explaining the past that are beyond direct examination and verification. Ultimately both Creation and Evolution are faith positions”. Just to remind ourselves: this is under the heading “Science”. The article contains many other horrors of which my favourite, under “Literature” is the observation that there are too few teachers “committed to Biblical Christianity” (Yep, that’s what we should be looking for in teachers of literature). If you have the stomach for it, the whole thing can be read here:
Rod Liddle’s recent Dispatches programme on Channel 4, which contained interviews with former students, also provided evidence that creationism was being smuggled into the school curriculum. The Government is covertly encouraging this, or at least turning a blind eye. Backbencher Barry Sheerman says he visited one of Peter Vardy’s schools, and saw no evidence of creationism being taught. This is the same Barry Sheerman who not so long ago said he had seen no evidence of sleaze since 1997 (see my post of March 11) He obviously walks around with his eyes closed and, God help us, he is the Chairman of the Commons Select Committee on Education and Skills.
On creeping creationism in schools The British Humanist association web-site is invaluable:

Friday, April 14, 2006

PC Plod and Des Smith

In an earlier post I said the police inquiry would come to nothing. Am I wrong? Maybe (its not unknown). Des Smith, head of All Saints Catholic school in Dagenham and until recently a member of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT) which recruits sponsors for city academies, has been arrested and released on bail. It seems the millionaire donors will be questioned. It isn't what I expected, but I still think it is unlikely to lead to successful prosecutions. Smith's mistake was to shoot off his mouth to a Sunday Times undercover reporter. I think it would be very hard to prove in court that he was doing more than bragging (Of course, we all know the truth, but its proving it in court that's the problem). In any case, peerages are not in Smith's gift. If peerages were being sold (and they were) the trail must go to Number 10. I think PC Plod will (even if he is very bold) go no further than discretely questioning the PM. I suppose it's possible Smith will be brought to trial, but I doubt it. I think the police will conclude there is not sufficient evidence for a prosecution. And others - who have I suspect cleverly been more circumlocutionary in their dealing with donors than he has - will be safe, although they will have been given a nasty fright. I will be absolutely delighted if I am wrong. What I'd really like is for Blair to be banged-up in Strangeways...

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Tony's Pal Fails to Get Re-Elected

Tony will be disappointed this morning. His buddy Berlusconi has narrowly failed to get re-elected.
In the Chamber of Deputies the Unione won 49.8% of the vote and 341 seats. The House of Freedom won 49.7% of the vote and 277 seats.
In the Senate the Unione won 49.95% of the vote and 154 seats, and the House of Freedom 50.21% of the vote and 156 seats.
The “House of Freedom” won a greater share of the vote in the Senate elections (50.21% compared to 49.95% for the Unione) but these seats are awarded based on regional results rather than national percenages of the vote.
The Unione is a coalition of social-democrats, Communists, Eurocommunists and Greens. The House is a coalition of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, the Alleanza Nazionale (National Alliance) led by the Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini, and the Lega Nord (Northern League) led by Umberto Bossi. The Alternativa Sociale (Social Alternative) a grouping of common-or-garden fascists is also part of the “House of Freedom” but they failed to win any seats. The National Alliance is “post-fascist” and Fini apparently works hard trying to present himself as an ordinary Conservative . Tony Barber in the Financial Times says Fini's views are "far more enlightened than those of his party's base" (12/4/06). (I’m not sure what a post-fascist is: a fascist with a lap-top? a fascist in a suit? one that doesn’t shave his head?). Prodi’s victory is obviously very narrow. If he were to undertake what the Financial Times calls “structural reform measures” he could easily find his left flank exposed. The Rifondazione Comunista (Communist Refoundation) party has 41 Deputies and 27 Senators, and is likely to resist market-driven reforms (and Prodi will be alert to what has just happened in France). This could mean trouble for Prodi in the future and could give the right an opening. Still, for the moment, it is time – as Thatcher might have said – to rejoice, even if they are crying into their soup in Downing Street. Although rejoicing should perhaps be tempered by the thought that it may be weeks before Prodi takes office. The President, Carlo Azeglio Ciampo, ends his seven-year term of office on May 18 and wants his successor to appoint the new Prime Minister. (Berlusconi will remain Prime Minister until then and will doubtless cause all sorts of mischief. Already the old fraud is refusing to concede defeat, and has even - with, one hopes, typical hyperbole - spoken of Italy being close to "civil war"). It says a great deal about Tony Blair - his worship of money and contempt for his own party and its values - that he should have chosen to consort so intimately and openly with Berlusconi.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Tessa and Sue and women Permanent Secretaries

Sue Street, the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Culture Media and Sport has resigned. She has issued a statement denying that the resignation follows rows with her Secretary of State Tessa Jowell, who ought to have reported to Street the £350,000 "gift" from Berlusconi to her husband, David Mills (Jowell, of course, rather implausibly claims she knew nothing about the "gift"). I understand bloggers can be sued for libel, but (although I have not had recourse to a lawyer) I think I'm safe if I say I am just a tad sceptical. Is it posssible that Street does not believe that Tesssa knew nothing about the bung/ "gift" and is miffed at being decieved? If so, join the club Sue. Tessa Jowell is a clear beneficiary of the loans-for-peerages-and-government-contracts scandal, which has taken the heat off . But this, I think, is a temporary respite. It was amusing to see Jowell at the launch of Labour's local election campaign, focusing on the need to tackle anti-social behaviour - meaning working-class teenage yobs, I suppose, rather than tax-avoiding sleazebag lawyers. According to most newspapers, Sue Street's resignation leaves only one woman Permanent Secretary, Helen Ghosh at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA or "Death Ray" as it is sometimes known). Intriguing, that Department is also headed by a woman, Margaret Beckett. The Cabinet Office's list of Permanent Secretaries does however also contain Karel Dunnell (Director of the Office of National Statistics), Julie Wheldon (the Treasury Solicitor) and Eliza Manningham-Butler (Director-General of the British Security Service). I am a little confused about this: do these three have Permanent Secretary status too, and if not why are they on the list? Perhaps what the newspapers mean is that there is only one woman Permanent Secretary in a traditional government department headed by a Secretary of State. Ghosh would seem to be the only one in this category, now Street has gone. The list is at:

There is no question, however, that woman are under-represented. They are 43 names on the list, and of these (including Sue Street, whose name has not yet been removed) only 5 are women (only about 12%). And the women are in less elevated positions (Cultue, Media and Sport rather than the Treasury or the Home Office).

Monday, April 10, 2006

Pouring Gasoline on the Flames

Seymour Hersch and others are reporting that the Bush administration is involved in “extensive planning” for an attack on Iran. Apparently a military invasion is not contemplated, extensive bombing is preferred, including the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons. Bush apparently believes he is fulfilling a “mission”.

Wheatcroft and Numerlogy

Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s ignorant diatribe about the Easter Rising in the Observer is so wrong-headed that one does not know where to start by way of refutation, and it isn’t really worth the effort. But one passage stands out as particularly risible: the resort to numerology. Wheatcroft tells us that Yeats eulogised those executed by the British after the Easter Rising. And Hitler built a great mausoleum in Munich to the “old comrades” who fell in 1923: “They were just the same number, 16 dead men”. QED. Perhaps this methodology should be generalised? Suppose we add the number of Kikuyu tortured or hanged by the British during the Kenyan “Emergency” to the number butchered at Amritsar, multiple that by the number of unnecessary deaths by famine in India between 1879 and 1908 (between 12-33 million), divide by the five million who died in the Bengal famine of 1945, and subtract the million odd who died in the Irish famine in the 1840’s. Then multiple this by the square root of those who died in British concentration camps during the Boer War, add the number of Africans equipped with pointy sticks who were mown down by British soldiers armed with Gatling guns all over Africa in the nineteenth century, and subtract the number of slaves shipped to the Americas by British slavers over several hundred years (and divide that by the number who died en route). Then multiple that by the number of civilians killed by loyalist assassins acting in collusion with M15 in Mid-Ulster in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and finally – lest we be here all day – subtract both the number of sepoys blown from the mouths of canons and villagers hanged on a whim after the Indian Mutiny of 1857 and the number of croppies hanged after the ’98. My computational wizardry reveals the answer: 666, the mark of the Beast, which proves…bugger all, actually. Oh, and Wheatcroft says that if the Irish celebrate the Easter Rising they are in no “moral position” to criticise “violent insurrections against lawful government” in other contexts. On the other hand, Wheatcroft as an Englishman already occupies the moral high ground. By right of birth.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Milburn declares his hand

I have just seen Alan Milburn on the Andrew Marr show (he is interviewing Jack Straw as I write) and it is obvious that Milburn intends to stand for the Labour leadership. Asked directly by Marr if he would stand Milburn resorted to an obvious euphemism: that there isn't a vacancy yet. His whole demeanour did not suggest someone keeping his options open, but someome who has decided to mount a challenge to Brown. Two other odd things about the AM show: Alan Milburn was wearing an open-necked shirt, trying to appear informal, whereas Oliver Letwin interviewed in what apears to be his own home on a Sunday morning was in suit and tie (very unDave-like); and Milburn's body-language towards Kate Melua was extraordinary, at one point looking over her head (while she was making a point to him) in order to make eye contact with Gyles Brandreth, and then replying to Brandreth and ignoring poor Kate. Milburn simply doesn't have the media skills which Blair has (in truth, no one does, Blair has always been excellent at this). Even Milburn's attempt at informality of speech sounds awkward (who actually says "all that jazz"?). Milburn will be a leadership candidate; but I think he has little chance of winning: he does not have enough support in the party and he does not look like "prime ministerial material".

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Blair: the Endgame

Andrew Rawnsley in last Sunday's Observer suggests that uber-Blairites are considering persuading Blair to set a late date for his departure (the autumn of 2008 or early 2009) thus inviting the Brownites to do their worst. David Clark in the Guardian (7/4/06) says that some Blairite fanatics are "flirting openly with the idea that it might be better for Labour to lose the next election under Brown...". My own view is that it is obvious that Blair does not want Brown to succeed him, and if he cannot stop Brown, he will try to delay the succession. When the time comes there will be a challenge to Brown, probably by Milburn; and once Milburn throws his hat into the ring others will follow. My guess is that Brown will win although a good outside bet is the "shapeshifter" Peter Hain (if there is a mood to return to Labour values after Blair). The contest will be sooner rather than later: Blair setting a late date for departure will simply hasten an early challenge. According to Guido Fawkes' rather right-wing but excellent - and entertaining - blog (one has to be philosophical about these things) Glenda Jackson could be a "stalking horse" as early as the next party conference. My guess is that faced with a stalking-horse (and realising that the game is up) Blair might go; and I think he could easily declare his support for Milburn (having discovered some issue over which to break with Brown). If all of this so damages the Labour Party that it loses the next election I don't thnk this would disturb Blair overmuch. The left has often described the Blair faction as "hijackers". Well, its not that unusual for someone who has hijacked a car to leave it a burning wreck. (It would also appeal to Blair's apalling vanity if Labour, having won elections with him as Leader, then lost one under Brown). As for his "legacy": I can't see why it should worry Blair too much if Cameron became Prime Minister, especially since Cameron so clearly models himself on Blair. The odd thing is that - Polly Toynbee nothwithstanding - there is no great idelogical difference between Brown (the champion of PFI's and "flexible labour markets") and Blair. It is all about ego and ambition. Anyway here's the bottom line: I think Blair will be gone before the end of the year.

PFI Folly

In the course of an interesting article on pensions there is this by Simon Jenkins in the Guardian (5/4/06): "The accumulated liabilities of Brown's private finance initiative are now running at over £100bn, with a crippling cost to the health, education, prisons and transport budgets for decades. The Treasury spends more on Whitehall consultancy fees - a total indulgence - than on NHS dentistry".

Saturday, April 01, 2006

PC Plod and Tony Blair

The inquiry by the police will come to nothing. It is a nice fantasy: Blair bundled out of Downing Street with a hood on his head, pushed into the back of a Black Maria, and driven away at speed, with outraged members of the public running after the vehicle shouting abuse. Back at the station he is roughed-up (sorry, he “falls down the stairs”) before being thrown into a cell – where the only other occupant is, yes, David Cameron sporting two black-eyes. No, I just can’t see it. The British way is to sweep such things under the carpet. Here’s what will happen: the police will say they have found no evidence to sustain a prosecution; there will be some further reforms of election law; and the apparatchiks will immediately start pondering how to get around the new regulations. I suppose in all honesty it is hard to prove the sale of peerages. I have no inside knowledge of how such things work, but I’ve always assumed that the Prime Minister (or his minions) didn’t actually say to Sir Lotsa Moneybags “if you give us £2 million we’ll make you a Lord”. I had always assumed that the PM or minions solicited the donation (or “loan”) and then in a very Sir Humphreyish way expressed “how grateful” the PM was for Sir Moneybags’ largesse, and how such generosity “would not be forgotten” or some such more elegiac version of “nudge-nudge-wink-wink”. Nothing is actually said about the exchange of money for honours because nothing actually needs to be said: everyone knows “what is going down”. The Prime Minister can then argue – risibly – that Sir Moneybags is being made a Lord not because he donates to the party, but because of his sterling work on behalf of the Battersea Dogs Home. The fact that he donates to the Labour Party should not, the Prime Minister will say, be a disqualification; it should not mean that his work on behalf of stray dogs should go unrecognized. And that Sir Moneybags’ company was awarded this astonishingly lucrative PFI contract (which no one able to add-up could possibly regard as value-for-money and for which the taxpayer will pay through the nose for decades) also has nothing to do with his donations or loans: his company simply made the best bid, the contract was awarded on a purely commercial basis. Of course, it is all nonsense (and the fact that the PM makes such an argument shows the utter contempt in which he holds the voting public): the connection between donating (or “lending”) money and obtaining a peerage is too close to be coincidental. But proving, in a court of law, that it is a corrupt exchange is another matter. We know it is a corrupt exchange, and I suspect that they know that we know, and they probably think that we know that they know that we know. But hey are also saying to us: “so what? You can’t do anything about it”. Nothing can be proven, and – to coin a phrase – the “chiselling little crooks” with get away with it.

More on the secret loans...

Over the last few days the Conservative Party has hurriedly repaid £5 million in loans in a desperate attempt to conceal the identity of the donors. Francis Maude, the Conservative Party Chairman, looking very uncomfortable on TV last night, conceded that some of the £5 million may have come from foreign sources (this is not illegal if the loans were on commercial terms, but it looks bad). Meanwhile, it transpires that Lord Ashcroft gave £250,000 to individual constituencies to enable the Conservatives to massively outspend their opponents in marginal seats: in Welwyn Hatfield the Conservatives outspent the Labour Party by £180,000 to £14,875 but this was not contrary to the limits on campaign expenditure because most of it was not spent during the campaign (from April 11 to May 5). Skipper - here:
- suggests that limits on expenditure between elections (rather than just during the campaign) might help to ensure “a level playing field”. Additional safeguards might include: a ban on foreign “loans” (as well as donations) and a requirement that all lenders (and not just donors) who contribute more than a few thousand pounds must be identified (and that the repayment terms of such loans must also be revealed). Even this would not remove the influence of money: in the United States, for example, money can be spent on “issue advocacy” by pressure groups not formally linked to any of the parties, but whose aims clearly suggest support for a particular candidate. This would be a little more difficult here because politics is more ideologically divided in the United States (over issues such as gun control, teaching creationism, abortion, and gay rights – issues which have a great deal less - or no - salience in UK elections). (Incidentally, I read in the Guardian (17/10/05) that Lord Ashcroft’s libel action against the Times was dropped after Rupert Murdoch “agreed to facilitate a front page clarification”. Why? Didn’t the denizen of Belize want his day in court? Didn’t he want damages – the Guardian doesn’t refer to any financial settlement?).