Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Levy/Blair Strategy

The Sunday Times is reporting that Lord Levy - who is known as "Lord Cashpoint" - has put Blair in the frame over the "cash-for-peerages" scandal. Levy has apparently told the police that in obtaining loans he was acting on the direct orders of Blair. According to the Sunday Times: "...Levy told the police that everything he did was for the top man. It wasn’t for anybody else, just for Blair. That’s why the PM has to be interviewed...Blair hosted dinners and meetings with those who went on to lend money to Labour. He personally approved the controversial loan scheme...A friend of Levy said this weekend: “The prime minister knew all these people [who lent money] and it was entirely his decision who became working peers. He is right at the centre of the whole thing.“Lord Levy was against raising money through loans but did so after being asked to by Blair — amid serious financial problems for Labour. He has nothing to do with honours and could not offer anyone anything — that is up to the prime minister.” It is thought that the police will interview Blair within the next few weeks.

I suspect that what is going on here is that Levy is protecting himself. He knows that Blair is an "untouchable" (we like to think that the rule of law applies to everyone, but, really we know that this is not true). Levy is signalling that, if he is prosecuted, he will implicate Blair. His calculation is that this will make him safe. He is probably right. I suspect Blair is a party to this strategy.

The Sunday Times also reports that Blair believes the whole thing has been biased. It quotes "one source" as saying: "The Tories have been taking loans — and giving peerages to those making loans — for years, yet none of them have been arrested. Why not?” Well, Blair has a point there; and that is undoubtably why the Tories are not keen to try to make political capital out of this.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The YouGov Poll

In an interesting article in The Times (which Skipper brought to my attention) Peter Riddell sets out some simple rules for interpreting opinion polls (and advises against over-interpretation). The rules (slightly adapted) are:
Ø Always look for levels of support not leads, which exaggerate differences.
Ø Disregard variations of one or two points, which are within the margin of error.
Ø Compare the results of individual polls from the same polling organisations not different ones (because they use different methodologies).
Ø Look at the underlying trends.

This is good advice (although it is also a good idea to look at whether the same underlying trend is corroborated by other polling organisations).

The latest YouGov poll puts the Conservatives on 39%, Labour on 32%, and the Liberal-Democrats on 16%. Following Riddell’s rules, and comparing this with previous YouGov polls, the underlying trend shows a dip in the level of Labour support and a rise in the level of Conservative support since the end of last year (At the end of September, YouGov had Labour and the Conservatives on level pegging on 36%. This was probably a "conference bounce". This aside YouGov has had the Conservatives in the lead since the end of April). ICM, Populus and BPIX have also had the Conservatives in the lead since the end of April/May. So has MORI, apart from two recent polls giving Labour a small lead. The level of support for the Conservatives has been in the 35-38 range, occasionally peaking at 39-40%. Labour's support has been in the 31-35% range, occasionally peaking at 36-37%. There are no doubt a number of reasons for Labour's relatively poor showing but Iraq, the Labour “succession crisis”, the “Cameron effect”, together with the inevitable disappointments and travails which go with being in office for 10 years, seem to me to be the most obvious factors. However, in a comment on Anthony Wells latest post on UK Polling Report (which is the best source I have found for informed comment on polling trends: see Links) Andy Stidwell makes the following observation:

“Although the Conservatives are beginning to register solid leads in the polls, such as this YouGov survey, their share of the vote is still rather low.
In fact, looking at the last 73 opinion polls on this website, not a single one has any party reaching 42% of the vote, and only 9 of them have any party reaching 40%, (8 Conservative and 1 Labour).
It will be interesting to see if this pattern continues in 2007, or whether David Cameron can push the Tories towards 45%”
Given that the electoral system currently disadvantages the Conservatives the latest YouGov ratings would leave them as the largest party but (just) short of an overall majority in the Commons.
Of course, there won’t be an election for some time and things could change; but if I was a Labour MP in a marginal constituency I would be less worried about “Blair’s legacy” than my own future.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Royal Free Hospital Too Late

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Campbell: extradite Lloyd's killers.

Ming Campbell at PMQ's asked Blair whether in the light of the coroner's verdict that Terry Lloyd was "unlawfully killed" we could expect the extradition of the those responsible for his death. As we all know the extradition arrangements beteen the USA and the UK are extraordinary: the US does not have to provide any prima facie evidence before extradition can proceed, but the UK must do so. It is a treaty of the kind concluded between an arrogant imperial power and a client state lacking any pride. Blair mumbled some nonsense in reply to Campbell; but we all know the answer to his question. Servants don't make such demands of their masters.

The Recent Polls

Today's ICM/Guardian poll gives the Conservatives a 10% lead (39% to 29%). It is Labour's lowest ICM/Guardian rating since 1987. The Liberal-Democrats are on 22%. The extra spending on the NHS appears to yield no political dividend for Labour; most voters seem to think that much of the money has been wasted (the Guardian editorial muses on their "ingratitude" and suggests endless "reform" may be part of the problem).
A poll in yesterday's Independent gave the Conservatives a 6% lead (38% to 32%). It gives the Liberal-Democrats an unusually low 14%.
Both polls are at odds with the Mori poll published a few days ago. The Mori poll may be a "rogue poll" or it may be the different results are due to different methodologies.
The Independent poll also showed that 72% think that the war in Iraq is unwinnable, and 62% think the UK should withdraw as soon as possible (An ICM poll in yesterday's Guardian reported similar results).
The "Iraq factor" is obviously taking its toll.

Just Good Friends

I have always though that football players were a bit odd: something about the way they leap on each other legs akimbo after scoring a goal. Now I read in yesterday's Guardian that "...Pablo Alfaro, nicknamed "the Doctor", once tried to disturb Athletico Madrid's Toche by putting a finger up his backside while playing for Seville during the 2003-2004 season...". And when Jose Antonio Reyes scored against Real Valladolid in December 2001 his team-mate Francisco Galardo was so "overcome by joy" that he "decided to take a nibble at Reyes genitalia...". As the old hippies used to say, whatever turns you on...

Monday, October 23, 2006

Trots and the Veil

The Socialist Worker argues that Jack Straw's remarks on the veil "demonises Islam" and is part of an "attempt to whip-up full-blooded racism". It relates the case of Hina'naz Ahmed, a student at Wolverhampton Universty, who was assaulted by a gang of youths who tried to remove her veil and repeatedly shouted "Jack Straw" at her (ignorantly claiming that Straw had made the veil "illegal"). Obviously, this is a deplorable incident, and it is more than likely that racists will indeed try to exploit this issue. But not every criticism of what (some) Muslims do is an example of "Islamophobia" and it is not reasonable to automatically class as racists those who find the veil discomforting. Straw was not, to repeat the elementary point, questioning the right of Muslim women to wear the veil, he was trying to persuade them not to (at least in his surgery), and pointing to the obvious fact it signifies a desire to separate oneself from others. (Surely to God the Trotskyist SWP doesn't actually favour veil-wearing?) Trevor Phillips was making a more restrained argument over the week-end, saying that we need to get all this into perspective, and that Muslims feel threatened. I am sure he is right about this, but, as he also said, these are things that need to be discussed. For those of us who dislike the veil persuasion should be our only weapon and a sense of proportion is essential. But surely it is possible to combine a dislike of the veil with a detestation of the thugs who attacked the Wolverhampton student. If I was a Trot at this point I might say something about the "dialectic"...

Arrogant and Stupid

Alberto Fernandez, a senior US State Department official has described US policy in Iraq as "arrogant and stupid". Really? The State Department is saying Fernandez (who was speaking in Arabic) was mistranslated; which appears to be a (stupid) lie.

MORI Puts Labour in the lead

A MORI poll in the FT shows a Labour lead of 2% over the Conservatives (37% to 35%) among the 56% who say they are "certain to vote". The Liberal-Democrats are on 18%. Cameron's overall approval rating has fallen 14 points to minus 2 this month. On the Politics Show this morning there was speculation that Cameron was seen as both too "policy light" and too posh (he has 15 Old Etonians in his Shadow Cabinet). There are further polls due out later this week.

Straw in Spamalot

This morning’s newspapers report on a leaked 18-page memo presented by Jack Straw (the Leader of the House of Commons) to the cross-party working group on Lords reform on October 12. It is to be followed by a White Paper in November, and a Commons vote in January, so presumably this is a kite-flying exercise. Straw is apparently proposing that 50% of Lords be elected by proportional representation (it is unclear what system he favours, but it sound like the closed regional list system used for electing MEP’s). The Lords would be smaller (450 instead of the current 751); the remaining 92 hereditary peers would be removed; life peerages would be ended with peers serving a single non-renewable term equal to three Commons terms (a maximum of 15 years, but more likely to be about 12 years); and there will be quotas for women and ethnic-minority groups. The reforms are to be phased-in gradually: there are to be redundancy packages to encourage existing peers to retire with 80 peers elected at each of the next three elections. On this timetable it would be around 2020 before nearly 50% of peers are elected peers. The longer term of office of peers (as compared to MP’s) and the fairly low proportion of elected peers (50%) are evidently designed to meet the standard objection to a wholly elected Lords: that it would acquire the same democratic legitimacy as the Commons and that this could lead to legislative “gridlock”. Conversely, there are several objections to Straw’s proposals: 50% is a low proportion for those who are more “democratically-minded”; the use of the (closed) regional list system gives too much power to party leaders (who decide who appears on the list and in what position) and too little power to voters (who cannot choose between individual candidates); and the time-scale for reform is too long. The irony of all this is that it will probably lead to a Lords whose composition is pretty much the same as it is now: recycled politicians, party donors, and assorted grandees, most of them elevated via the patronage of party leaders. And so Britain limps along in the twenty-first century: with an hereditary head of state, hereditary peers (for the moment), unelected peers (for ever), a disproportional electoral system for the Commons (and a government for which only about 20% of the electorate voted), and the powers of the “royal prerogative” vested in the Prime Minister (not so much “presidential” as “monarchical”). Only 19% of the Commons are women and only a handful are ethnic-minority MP’s. The influence in public life of those from a public school/Oxbridge background is still hugely disproportionate. There is an established Church and a ludicrous and antiquated honours system (“Order of the British Empire”, et al). There is no written constitution embodying individual rights immune to statutory intervention (unless the treaties of the European Union serve that purpose). There is discomfiture with Europe and widespread Europhobia, and a stance of pre-emptive servility towards the United States (sucking-up to the biggest boy in the playground). Democracy? It’s more like Spamalot.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Clare Short Resigns Labour Whip

Clare Short has resigned the Labour whip and intends to spend the rest of this Parliamentary term as an "Independent Labour" MP. She has already said that she will not stand at the next election. As I understand it, she could still remain a member of the Labour Party (I have glanced at the Labour Party rules and there doesn't seem to be anything covering this). However, she has already said she intends to "campaign for a hung Parliament" at the next election. As several people have pointed out, this is rather bizarre: how do you campaign for a hung Parliament? It isn't an option on the ballot paper. But a hung Parliament must mean that at least 35 or so Labour MP's lose their seats and it is against the rules to support candidates of other parties. So there are clear grounds for the NEC to expel her. It is all rather a pity. Always somewhat eccentric there was a time when she was respected for being "outspoken", but her performance over Iraq won her no friends. The anti-war left despaired that she didn't resign in March 2003 over the war. It helped Blair tremendously that she did not resign then (and earned her the sobriquet of "Blair's useful idiot"). Her later resignation over "reconstruction" and (clearly justified) attacks on Blair's style of government didn't impress the left, and obviously angered the Blairites. From what I can gather she has few friends within the Labour Party, and party loyalists of every hue are pretty pissed off by the idea that it would be a good idea for the Liberal-Democrats to gain seats at Labour's expense. Yet, a hung Parliament does have some merits: it is hard to see otherwise how electoral reform can be achieved. It is also very much a possible outcome of the next election. But the very, very considerable downside is that, with the Liberal-Democrats steering to the right and rediscovering "economic liberalism", and Cameron posing as a centrist, it is also quite posible that a hung Parliament could produce a Blueish Blue-Yellow coalition. As for Clare, I suspect she will turn to TV punditry.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Who is the smallest one of all?

We have just had a rather animated discussion in our office. Who is the shortest MP? So far the, ahem, short-list consists of Hazel Blears, Ian McCartney, Sarah Teather and titchy Alan Duncan. Which of these is the shortest? And is there anyone shorter?

And for that matter: who is the tallest MP?

Does anyone know?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Terry Lloyd

Guardian media has an article by Stewart Purvis, who was ITN boss at the time, on the death of Terry Lloyd, which the coroner has just ruled an "unlawful killing". It is damning stuff. The American troops, he writes, appear to have made "no difference between military and civilian targets". The British and US military "did not want unilaterals around because in the new jargon of the war they wanted "to control all the information in the battle space...". The Ministry of Defence did not tell the bereaved families everything they knew about what happened and "were not keen for the full story of Lloyd's death to be told because it would be embarrassing to their American allies". The American military refused to attend the coroners court, instead they submitted witness statements which the coroner described as of "no evidential value whatsoever". Cameraman Fred Nerac is still missing after being bundled into a car and taken from the scene. The thought that occurs to Polititaholic is that is if this is how American troops behave when there is a television crew around (the two vehicles were clearly marked "TV") how do they behave when there are no journalists around?

The Putney Debates

The 1647 Putney Debates have been chosen by Guardian readers as the most neglected radical event from British history, with the Peterloo Massacre in second place and the 1549 Cornish Prayer Book Rebellion in third place. Putney parish church is to make a digital copy of the original manuscripts of the debates and have them on display. Here we will be able to read Colonel Rainsborough's immortal words: "For really I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he". Giles Fraser, the vicar of Putney (who seems a good egg despite being a sky-pilot) compares this passage with Galatians 3: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female: for you are all one in Jesus Christ". He says Galatians is more "inclusive" than Rainsborough. No, sorry Giles: Galatians is referring to the after-world, not this one. It doesn't actually urge, for example, the abolition of slavery. It is pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die stuff. Rainsborough is talking about this world, and wants to change it. True, the levellers wanted a propery qualification and spoke only of male suffrage: but it is still the beginning of democracy in England. There is also something rather unpleasant about Galatians: we are all one "in Jesus Christ". And non-Christians? (It smacks of Jesus's "there is no other way but through me" or whatever it was he said, which, as Bertrand Russell pointed out years ago, is the deepest intolerance). Putney is a worthy winner.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Tory Property Dealing

Further to yesterday’s post today’s Guardian reports that the Midlands Industrial Council has belatedly crept out of the shadows and named its 22 members, presumably in a bid to head off adverse publicity (Although as I argued yesterday, the Tory blogs took no interest in the story, taking the line that because MIC donations were declared to the Electoral Commission, it was of no account that the actual donors were anonymous). The status of Constituency Campaigning Services is, as I understand it, still being investigated by the Electoral Commission, as is Tory (and not just Labour) "cash-for-peerages". Sadly, I am not optimistic that there will be successful prosecutions. Meanwhile yesterdays Observer carried a story about the Tories acquisition of their former HQ in Smith Square (together with another property) for £15.65 million. This was done by purchasing the offshore company which owned the properties – Platinum Overseas Holdings based in the Virgin Isles – a ruse which allowed the Tories to evade £600,000 in stamp duty. It also seems that whoever owned Platinum (which is a mystery) sold the company for less than its market value: in effect this amounts to an undisclosed anonymous donation of about £4.35 million.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Guido looks the other way...

Has anyone else noticed the deafening silence from mega-bloggers Guido Fawkes and Iain Dale vis-a-vis the scandal of the secret funding of the Tories by the shadowy Midlands Industrial Council (apparently, if Cameron's admission that Constituency Campaigning Services at Coleshill Manor is "part of the Conservative Party" is accurate, in violation of the rules on party funding)? Iain Dale lists Guido as an "independent" blog, not a Tory one. My arse.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Amazing Richard Dannatt

That a serving military officer - the British Army's Chief of General Staff no less - should feel so free to meddle in politics is a little disturbing. What General Richard Dannatt said about Iraq - that the British military presence "exacerbates the security problems" is plainly true, and that is what he should have been telling his political superiors in private. But it is not for a serving General to tour television studios making political speeches (if he held a much lesser rank he would probably be sitting in the glasshouse by now). He has the option of leaving the army, becoming a private citizen, and then making his views public (many senior officers in the United States have followed this course). The anti-war left should be wary of making a hero of the General (difficult given that he is so gung-ho vis-a-vis Afghanistan). That Liam Fox (the Shadow Defence spokesman) should think it a "refreshing change" for Dannatt to make his views public shows a slender grasp of democatic proprieties (pretty much what one would expect from a right-wing fruitcake). One assumes that there have been raised voices in private, but it says something about Blair's loss of authority that he feels he cannot sack the General, and instead has to pretend that what Dannatt said "is precisely the same as we're all saying". Interestingly, both Malcolm Rifkind and Michael Portillo (former Defence Secretaries) have, however cautiously, criticised Dannatt for crossing the line into the political arena. Rifkind says: "I think senior generals....musn't cross the line into expressing political views at variance with the government of the day". Why does it take Tory to say that? Rifkind rather generously thinks Dannatt didn't do this "intentionally" (yeah, sure) and that "he'll be sadder and wiser this weekend". I doubt it. I think the "straight-talking" General will be reading the largely favourable press coverage and watching The Amazing Mrs Pritchard, rather wistfully.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Straw and the Veil

Politaholic broadly agrees with Straw's comments on the niqab (the Muslim veil that covers the face). Straw isn't saying that Muslim women should not have the right to wear the niqab; that would be ridiculous. But he is saying he would prefer that they didn't because it impedes communication and signals what might be called a segregationist intent (to shut oneself off). To show ones face to others is a minimum courtesy. The message the veil gives is: "I dislike and distrust you, and I do so to such an extent that I refuse to show you my face". Facial gestures - smiles, grimaces, etc - are also an important part of human communication. The veil says "I don't want to communicate with you". Finally, whatever Muslim women who wear the veil say about it being their own choice it is obvious to me that it is a symbol of the lesser status of women as compared to men (especially when the veiled women walk several paces behind their menfolk).

Monday, October 02, 2006

Cameron's "Tim Nice But Dim" Moment

He actually said "Let sunshine win the day!" Well we can't say he doesn't have policies. I wonder what Thatcher would think of this one (Wouldn't she prefer the dark to rule the day?). Martin Rowson gets it just right with this delicious cartoon:

Cameron the Phoney

WebCameron looks smart at first glance: Cameron is comfortable in front of the camera, looks affable, and comes across as a "family man" washing the porridge bowl. And yet... Isn't that an awfully small kitchen/dining room for someone of Cameron's wealth? Doesn't it look rather cluttered? And look - here's a book and a note-pad on the kitchen table; suggesting that, once the dishes are cleared away, he uses it to work on. The poor chap can't even afford a desk. Does Old Etonian Cameron really do the washing-up? Or perhaps it is a traditional household and Samantha, the daughter of Viscountess Astor and Sir Reginald Sheffield, the 8th Baronet, does the washing-up and cleaning. Or is that a nanny or a cleaner we glimse briefly in the background? It doesn't look like the Baronet's daughter. I wonder which of their two homes this is: the one in North Kensington or the one in Chipping Norton? A window in the background appears to look out on a front lawn which stretches as far as the horizon. That doesn't seem quite to fit with their cramped quarters. But then this is a film set. It is no more real than the facade of a western town on a Hollywood studio lot. It's phoney. Of course, before the 1997 Election Blair did the same thing, inviting a film crew into his Islington home where he pretended familiariy with a vacuum cleaner; and there wasn't a nanny in sight, although there was one, later silenced by the lawyers. But when it comes to using his kids as props in party political broadcasts and photo shoots Cameron is in a class of his own. And this attempt to affect "ordinariness" is not remotely convincing.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Killer Jellyfish Thwarted by Brave Cameron

I seem to recall that Peter Cook claimed that the great regret of his life was that he once saved David Frost from drowning (which, apparently, he did). Now it seems that while the posh boys were holidaying in the south of France in 1995, David Cameron saved Andrew Roberts from a shoal of extreme left-wing killer jellyfish. Why?

Cameron Trying tooHard

This morning Kevin Maguire on Radio 5 observed that Cameron – in his bid to be likeable - is “trying too hard and it might backfire on him because the voters will not want to be patronised”. In the Sunday Telegraph Matthew D’Ancona muses on Brown’s “toughness” and endurability and says “he is to be feared”. Meanwhile a YouGov poll for the Sunday Telegraph shows the two main parties level-pegging on 36% with the Liberal-Democrats on 16%. Labour could be enjoying a “conference bounce” (strangely denied the Liberal-Democrats) and we will have to see what the polls say in a few weeks time. But Cameron is certainly vulnerable to the “style not substance” charge. On AM this morning he was eager to claim – repeatedly - how “substantial” he is. But if you have to say it…