What I wrote at Lib Dem Voice

October 31, 2006

Blair's homage to The West Wing

(Not a spoiler, but if you want to avoid anything to do with season seven, don't read on.)

Let's play spot the difference:
"Leo and I are the past. You’re the future. It’s up to you now. We’re counting on you."

(President Bartlet in The West Wing, broadcast 16th April, 2006.)

"So: it's up to you. You take my advice. You don't take it. Your choice. … You're the future now. Make the most of it."

(Tony Blair's speech to the Labour Party conference, 27th September, 2006.)

October 29, 2006

Did Sunday just happen?

I was having a productive Sunday, work-wise. Then this happened:

Sure-fire way to lose that extra hour I gained. (And some.)

Criminally stupid

A coda to last week's post in which I suggested Jack Straw's typically authoritarian approach to problems in society - slap a law on it - was pointless in the case of those idiots who choose to advertise their crimes on YouTube.

Mr Straw had argued: "This is a really serious issue about how these kind of videos should better be controlled." I suggested: "if a criminal offence has been committed, surely it having been caught on camera and broadcast is more likely to lead to the capture of the culprits of any offence committed?"

I spotted this story in yesterday's Soaraway Sun:
A YOB who stole spectacles from a charity worker was arrested after his mates posted footage of the theft on the net.

The 20–second phone video clip showed a grinning lout approaching the street collector then snatching his glasses and running away, to the cheers of his laughing friends.

It was titled “Wild specs robbery” with the caption: “P***ed up bald lad steals randomers specs in street! Absolutely WILD!!!”

Police were tipped off about the video, on the YouTube website, and arrested an 18-year-old youth yesterday. ...

A police source said: “The lads involved obviously were not the brightest blokes around.

“Most criminals try to protect their identity rather than putting video of their lawbreaking on the web.”


October 27, 2006

Bush campaigns for Dave Lamberti

Just a shame his name is Jeff.

New ways to feel old (and poor), No. 97

It's awfully kind of the Department for Work and Pensions to be thinking of me:
We are writing to tell you how much State Pension you may get when you reach State Pension age. Retirement may seem a long way off but thinking about it now can make a big difference to your future. ...

If you retire at State Pension age, we estimate your total State Pension will be £85.81 a week at today's prices. This figure includes:

Basic State Pension: £84.25
Additional State Pension: £1.56
Thank goodness for that Additional State Pension, then - where would I be without it? Worse off by £81.12 a year, I guess. And see what I could buy with that. (The Fitted Fleecy Heating Underblanket should come in handy.)

Anyway - like I imagine for one moment I'll have any State Pension by the time I qualify in 38 years' time. As the young people used once to say: as if.

Scissor Brothers

Forget the Arctic Monkeys (pretty easy, actually), it’s time to out the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, as a fan of popular New York disco-combo, Scissor Sisters.

Yesterday, Mr Brown and his Tory shadow (in every sense), George Osborne, went mano-a-mano at their monthly House of Commons duel. I’ve just watched the exchange on ParliamentLive.tv, and the deep contempt in which the doughty old Labour lugger holds the upstart young Tory Turk is electrifyingly clear.

This edited extract from Michael White’s Guardian sketch captures the scene:
The chancellor wore his usual bush-backwards look, crumpled blue suit, pink-ish tie and glower, the Heathcliff of Kirkcaldy. More to the point, he came heavily armed with facts, every one of them fine-tuned to destroy Tory attacks. But anything Mr Brown can do the competitive Mr Osborne is keen to do too, even being annoying. Mr Osborne challenged the chancellor to admit ("I know you don't do humility") ruining the pensions industry. "Answer, answer," roared Tory MPs. The Kirkcaldy Steamroller steamed on. "No one believes what you say about your own policies, let alone ours," smirked young George. He gives good smirk. At this point Mr Brown lost it and tossed a clutch of papers across the dispatch box, presumably those Tory tax plans.
And the link to the Scissor Sisters?

Well, the stand-out single on their latest album (Ta-Dah) is I Can’t Decide, and seems - if only to me - to sum up the furious enmity that burnishes between Gordon and George.
I'm not a gangster tonight
Don't want to be a bad guy
I'm just a loner baby
And now you're gotten in my way

I can't decide
Whether you should live or die
Oh, you'll probably go to heaven
Please don't hang your head and cry
No wonder why
My heart feels dead inside
It's cold and hard and petrified
Lock the doors and close the blinds
We're going for a ride

It's a bitch convincing people to like you
If I stop now call me a quitter
If lies were cats you'd be a litter
Pleasing everyone isn't like you
Dancing jigs until I'm crippled
Slug ten drinks I won't get pickled

I've got to hand it to you
You've played by all the same rules
It takes the truth to fool me
And now you've made me angry

I can't decide
Whether you should live or die
Oh, you'll probably go to heaven
Please don't hang your head and cry
No wonder why
My heart feels dead inside
It's cold and hard and petrified
Lock the doors and close the blinds
We're going for a ride

(Hat-tip to AZlyrics.com for the lyrics.)
(You can listen to it here.)

October 26, 2006

All you need to know about the science of opinion polling

  • According to Mori in the Financial Times (22nd Oct), the Tories trail Labour by 2% - 35% to 37%.
  • According to Communicate Research in The Independent (24th Oct), the Tories lead Labour by 6% - 38% to 32% - with the Lib Dems plummeting to 14%.
  • According to ICM in thegrauniad (25th Oct), the Tories lead Labour by 10% - 39% to 29% - with the Lib Dems increasing to 22%.
From this we can conclude, within the +/-3% margins of error, that:
  • The Tories are either more popular than Labour or less popular than Labour, scoring somewhere between 32% and 42%.
  • Labour are either more popular than the Tories or less popular than the Tories, scoring somewhere between 26% and 40%.
  • The Lib Dems are either losing support or gaining support, scoring somewhere between 11% and 25%.
So that’s all clear then.

Question: why do reputable news media outlets and The Independent devote so much space to discussing individual polls which, when viewed in isolation, are about as reliable as a Tony Blair answer at Prime Minister’s Questions?

October 25, 2006

New ways to feel old, No. 93

Flick through the City Council's 2006-07 Committee membership listings, and find out you're one of the 10 longest-serving councillors.

Why journalists and politicians should get out more

John Harris - a likeable left-winger who recently managed, through painful contortions and with multiple nose-pegs, to square his conscience with re-joining the Labour Party - yesterday railed against the complacent assumptions of the liberal media. (That he did so in, of all places, thegrauniad has its own internal irony.)

Still, it’s a well-written, well-argued and well-timed piece:

Just before this year's local elections, I spent time in Stoke-on-Trent … where the BNP were snapping at the heels of a broken-down Labour party, sending round leaflets that read less like the Potteries' take on Mein Kampf than something put out by the Socialist Workers' party ("Labour betray the working man and woman - potteries, mining steel ... all destroyed"). The regenerated urban wonders of Manchester were less than an hour away, yet here were scenes that are actually more common than some people would like to believe: walled-up factories, Poundstretcher shops, low-paid service-sector jobs, and the abiding sense that the good life was happening somewhere else. A couple of days later I ended up discussing all this with a former editor of a tabloid newspaper, who looked at me as if I was slightly mad. His counterargument was based on the usual mirage of limitless affluence and what used to be known as embourgeoisement: "Britain is booming," he snapped back. And there it was, the predictable sound of a cloistered elite that either misinterprets macroeconomic statistics or fails to see much beyond the end of its own metropolitan nose.
Much of what Mr Harris writes is true - both that there is huge poverty (relative and absolute) in the UK, and that this is largely ignored by the national media, cosily ensconced in their latté-sealed designer-metropolises.

There is a real and growing disconnect between what is reported - whether by the media or government - and what is actually the case.

Unemployment today may stand at 1.7 million - but there are another 2.7m folk claiming incapacity benefit, many of whom would once have been regarded as unemployed before the Government ‘adjusted the figures’.

And though the CPI inflation rate stands at 2.4%, we all know that actual inflation is much higher than this because the Government excludes those things which might be considered inflationary (where I work we factor in 5% as the real increase in annual costs).

Mr Harris and I would disagree on how you solve the appalling inequalities that still exist: I believe you can best help people by giving them access to those markets which those of us who are comfortably off unthinkingly take advantage of each day; he would argue for a state-sponsored solution that requires people to come cap-in-hand to government to have their poverty date-stamped. Where we can agree is that the scale of the problem has to be acknowledged, and that the media’s self-reinforcing and panglossian attitude is stifling debate.

Sure, parts of Britain are booming. Mostly they’re the parts where journalists and politicians live. They, we, should get out more.

October 23, 2006

Webcams, Alexander Graham Bell and promenades

Just three of the topics covered in this two minute tour de gloss vidcast:

(Or you can watch it on GoogleVideo here.)

Regulators rush in...

Writing in today's FT about the need for a new and improved statutory regulatory framework for London's post-Big Bang financial markets in the 1980s, Nigel Lawson records:
The government sought the advice of Professor Jim Gower, who wisely observed that the level of supervision should not “seek to achieve the impossible task of protecting fools from their own folly”, but should rather “be no greater than is necessary to protect reasonable people from being made fools of” – a rubric that is today too often overlooked.
Which is perhaps the best definition of an appropriate level of government regulation I've read.

October 22, 2006

Studio 60 - hot or not?

I’ve just caught up with the first four episodes of West Wing-creator Aaron Sorkin’s new NBC show, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. And, no, it’s not as good as TWW, but that’s a pretty tough gig to follow. Sorkin can take heart from Joseph Heller:
"When I read something saying I've not done anything as good as Catch-22 I'm tempted to reply, 'Who has?'"
It’s a problem Sorkin acknowledges up front in this exchange between Bradley Whitford’s not-Josh-Lyman-no-sirree-no Studio 60 producer, Danny Tripp, and NBS president, Jordan McDeere, who has just bigged-up their new show to the press:
Josh Danny: You raised the bar a little high.
Jordan: Clear it.
Anyway, here’s my likes/dislikes of Studio 60 to date:


1. It’s. Aaron. Sorkin. Writing. For. Telly. Again. If you can’t rejoice at that, you are spiritually dead. Fact.

2. Matthew Perry is a triumph as Matt Albie, currently acting everybody else off the screen (including Bradley). Yeah, so he’s still pretty much the wise-cracking Chandler Bing - but he’s a lairy, haggard, Vicodinned-up Chandler, and I can dig that.

3. The chemistry between Josh and Chandler Danny and Matt sooo works. Even the homo-erotic stuff is ironically hat-tipped as they self-consciously slug it out in the sand.

4. Snappy, whiz-crack dialogue rants, like this: “there's always been a struggle between art and commerce, but now I'm telling you art is getting its ass kicked, and it's making us mean, and it's making us bitchy, and it's making us cheap punks, and that's not who we are.”

5. Or this: “You can blame the blogs, but I blame The New York Times. They quote the blogs like they've found a source. CNN quotes the blogs. 'Beverly, Editor-in-Chief of the BeverlyBlog, says the Fed should cut interest rates to counter the drop in consumer spending over the past fiscal-' who the hell is Beverly? I don't believe in free speech, I think it should require a license. What happened to credentials. What happened to being impeccably credentialed, and when did elite stop being a good word?”

Not Great:

1. No really likeable women: no CJ Cregg, no Abi Bartlett, no Donna Moss. I guess we’re meant to root for Jordan. But I can’t.

2. Sarah Poulson’s Harriet Hayes, one of Studio 60’s leads, and a good ole’ southern Baptist girl, principled but not uptight (giving Sorkin the kind of cover from the Christian right that TWW’s Ainsley Hayes gave him from the Republican right). She’s supposed to be Matt’s love interest, but there’s zero chemistry. She’s supposed to be hilarious, but forgot to bring the funny. As Mandy was to TWW’s first season, so is Harriet to Studio 60.

3. The show is lacking the wise patriarch figure of a President Bartlett, who could close an episode with his ‘Jerry Says’ spiel of liberal enlightenment. Steven Weber’s NBS chairman Jack Rudolph might become that guy, but Sorkin seems conflicted whether to make him into God or Satan.

4. Erm, not too sure quite how to put this without blaspheming against Sorkin, but… Studio 60 just isn’t funny enough. Not so much the programme as a whole, but the show-within-the-show Studio 60: gags are laboured and sketches drag. Not as badly as the lethargic Letterman (folk still watch him?), but, compared to the pin-sharpness of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, Studio 60 sadly trails.

5. It’s behind-the-scenes telly, not behind-the-scenes politics. I’m interested in both, but I care about the latter. It never mattered whether or not I understood why Leo was so pissed with the House majority leader’s attempts to tack on a reservation to the Appropriations Committee’s Social Security (No Pensioner Left Behind) Bill (or whatever) - I got the issues, I wanted Leo to win. Not sure I can get so fired up about whether Matt can nail his ‘cold open’ for Studio 60.

Curious? Watch the first 10 minutes of Episode 1, Pilot, here.

Missouri: a Senate race to watch

The latest Electoral Vote projection for the United States’ senate after the Fall mid-terms suggests a 50-50 split between Republicans and Democrats. (Which leaves me a little unsure how they’re categorising Democrat-turned-Independent Senator Joe Lieberman, who currently leads his Democrat challenger Ned Lamont 49-38% in the race for Connecticut.)

The picture is more decisive in the battle for control of the House: the Dems currently are tipped to hold 227 to the GOP’s 206, with two races statistically tied.

This week’s Economist focuses on the race in Missouri - the famous bellwether ‘show me’ state which has successfully backed every victorious Presidential candidate since 1960 - where incumbent Republican senator Jim Talent (a name in search of a trait) is trailing feisty Democrat state auditor Claire McCaskill, who unsuccessful bid for the gubernatorial mansion in 2004.
In the flesh, Mr Talent is amiable but an awkward speaker: on the stump after the debate he had to remind his audience to clap. But he can draw on a reservoir of support from rural and Christian voters, who typically deplore the Democrats' tolerance of abortion and gay marriage. “If we had a real Christian party, I'd go with that,” says Larry Atkins, a minister attending a Talent speech in Waynesville, a small town north-east of Springfield. But failing that, Mr Talent “is a good moral person.”

The race is a toss-up, according to the polls. The result depends on who gets out the vote, says Mr Talent. Ms McCaskill agrees. The Republicans think they are the best at this, she tells her supporters, “But this time we've got the passion on our side.” Unsurprisingly, given Missouri's importance to the balance of power, the national Democratic and Republican parties are pitching in with oodles of cash and attack ads.

Both sides profess confidence. Ms McCaskill claims to be winning converts in conservative rural areas. One couple, she says, told her they used to vote Republican but were planning to switch because they no longer felt middle class, having lost their health insurance. “Jim Talent will win,” says Missouri's Republican governor, Matt Blunt, stumping for him with bone-crushing handshakes on the county courthouse steps in Rolla, south-east Missouri. Behind him, an eight-year-old girl, urged on by her mother, is giving Mr Talent a hand-written extract from the Bible.
Two of the crunch campaign issues are Amendment 2, the Missouri Stem Cell Initiative - which would authorise stem-cell research within Missouri, and for Missourians to benefit from any cures produced - and Proposition B, which would raise the minimum wage to $6.50 an hour (that’s £3.45). Ms McCaskill supports both Amendment 2 (which Mr Talent opposes) and Proposition B (which Mr Talent has yet to take a position on).

The stakes have been upped considerably by the intervention of Michael J Fox, the symptoms of whose Parkinson’s Disease are painfully evident in this powerful advert recorded in support of Ms McCaskill’s Amendment 2 position:

And for those of us who too easily and too often stereotype the US stance on social issues according to our perception of scary-evangelical Christian Deep Southers, the Pew Research Centre report, Pragmatic Americans Liberal and Conservative on Social Issues (August 2006), is a reminder that things are rarely that simple:
Americans cannot be easily characterized as conservative or liberal on today's most pressing social questions. The public's point of view varies from issue to issue. They are conservative in opposing gay marriage and gay adoption, liberal in favoring embryonic stem cell research and a little of both on abortion. Along with favoring no clear ideological approach to most social issues, the public expresses a desire for a middle ground on the most divisive social concern of the day: abortion.
For ‘Americans’ substitute ‘Britons’ and that paragraph would, I suspect, accurately reflect views here, too. As George Bernard Shaw (probably) said, “Two nations divided by a common language”. It's a statement which is still more true than false.

October 21, 2006

Everybody needs good soaps

In today’s thegrauniad, Mark Lawson reflects on 20 years of that most iconic of soap operas, Neighbours.
"The huge UK success of the show can be attributed to the strong presence of the young but also to another element rarely seen in Crossroads and Coronation Street: the sun."
True, though in its earliest incarnation (way back when it was broadcast on Australia’s Seven Network), Neighbours’ storylines were much darker - for example, focusing on the cruel dashing of Shane Ramsay’s Olympic diving hopes following a spinal injury, and the tough-love bullying of his dad, Max, who was trying to live his own thwarted dreams through his son.

Perhaps this dark-underbelly psycho-probing helps explain why Neighbours was initially such a failure, rescued by its transfer to Network Ten, and the introduction of teen heart-throbs, like Kylie and Jason.

Though (as you may be able to tell) I was a child-fan of Neighbours - even if it did help globally export that most irritating of verbal constructs, AQI - it is not my all-time favourite soap.

The top two places would have to belong - as is my liberal wont - to more, erm, minority tastes, both made by Granada.

Revelations was broadcast in 1994 in only three ITV regions. Created and written by Russell T Davies, and featuring lesbian vicars and conniving bishops, the words most commonly associated with it are ‘ironic’ and ‘camp’ (what a surprise). But as it filled the Prisoner in Cell Block H hole in ITV’s schedule, this seemed entirely apt.

Night and Day lasted slightly longer, with 80 hours broadcast on ITV between 2001 and 2003. Had it been on Channel 4, it would have been a critical and commercial success: outrageous plotting, witty writing, and a stellar array of acting talent. (Including the really rather lovely Stephanie Leonidas.)

Night and Day’s self-consciously arty direction - ironic intercutting, musical montages, flashback fever and comic campery - lives on, however, in Holloyoaks, which owes much to the trail blazed by its short-term rival. Here's a taster.

October 20, 2006

Which MP wrote this?

"Relaxing is easy in Bangkok — on every street corner there is the offer of a Thai massage. We nervously entered one establishment and an hour later had been pampered, pulled and pulverised — all for about £12. Ask for a couples room, expect some pain and avoid the seedier, smaller shops off the side streets near Patpong. It is worth walking through this red light district, but be prepared to be offered virtually anything — it is not for the faint hearted."
No prizes for guessing. All together now: if you're going to Bangkok, why not also Phuket?

Short changed?

It’s the people who are most alike who are most likely to fall out big-time. That, at any rate, is my explanation for the visceral (and, I suspect, mutual) hostility between Clare Short and Tony Blair, which resulted today in Ms Short’s resignation as a Labour MP.

Both share a burning conviction of their own moral rectitude, a zealous self-importance, rampant egotism, and a disturbingly cast-iron certainty that they are indispensable.

And both of them are utterly, bloody clueless about when is the best time to quit.

As John Kampfner notes in his superb book, Blair’s Wars:
“If Short had co-ordinated her departure with Robin Cook before the war, Blair would have been in serious trouble.”
If anything explains Ms Short’s subsequent bitterness, it is her too-late recognition that, by allowing herself to be played by Mr Blair, she is implicated in the tragedies which followed.

George Bush proved right about Iraq

That's George HW, the 41st President, rather than George W, the 43rd... speaking on 28th February, 1999, to 200 Gulf War I veterans:
"Had we gone into Baghdad - We could have done it. You guys could have done it. You could have been there in 48 hours. And then what? Which sergeant, which private, whose life would be at stake in perhaps a fruitless hunt in an urban guerilla war to find the most-secure dictator in the world? Whose life would be on my hands as the commander-in-chief because I, unilaterally, went beyond the international law, went beyond the stated mission, and said we're going to show our macho? We're going into Baghdad. We're going to be an occupying power - America in an Arab land - with no allies on our side. It would have been disastrous."

(Quoted in State of Denial (p.11) by Bob Woodward.)

October 19, 2006

YouTube if you want to

I currently have a head-full of cold, so maybe I’m missing something from this BBC report:
"Posting footage of assaults and violent acts on websites such as YouTube is a serious issue which MPs should discuss, Commons leader Jack Straw has said."
Mr Straw was responding to the concerns of Hartlepool MP, Labour’s Iain Wright, who has highlighted an odd and unpleasant video posted on YouTube by ‘taffyturner’ entitled Milton Road Fight Club.

It shows a man being chased down the street by another, before being kicked full in the face. It’s unclear what the relationship between the two men is, or quite what is the role of the person filming the scene. (If you wish, you can watch it here, but be aware there is swearing and violence.)

The BBC quotes Mr Straw:
"We shall be discussing the Violent Crimes Reduction Bill during the next week. I hope very much [Mr Wright] raises the issue on an appropriate amendment on that Bill. This is a really serious issue about how these kind of videos should better be controlled."
It seems that Mr Straw’s knee has well and truly jerked. Two points:

1. Everyone who uploads a video to YouTube has to register an account and agree to certain Terms and Conditions. These are listed here, and 5 (c) is pretty clear:
… you further agree that you will not: … (iii) submit material that is unlawful, obscene, defamatory, libelous, threatening, pornographic, harassing, hateful, racially or ethnically offensive, or encourages conduct that would be considered a criminal offense, give rise to civil liability, violate any law, or is otherwise inappropriate;
Strikes me that ‘taffyturner’ has breached this condition, and will shortly be hearing from YouTube.

2. Anyone who downloads a video from YouTube has the option to flag a video as offensive, as I have just done to Milton Road Fight Club, citing ‘graphic violence’. YouTube promises to “review each and every submission within 24-48 hours”.

These two conditions guarantee that not only does YouTube ensure every account-holder is responsible for their own actions, but also ensures its consumers can hold to account those who appear to break the rules.

Which is why YouTube is a self-regulating community which thrives.

Not only is this a good thing in itself, it is also the only practical way in which the company could operate, since to pre-censor every video would be an impossible (and wholly undesirable) task.

It’s sadly typical of Labour that they cannot believe self-regulation works, and feel they must instead interpose government laws instead.

In any case - even if neither of these conditions held true, and YouTube was an unresponsive and irresponsible company - I’m not convinced what government regulation/censorship would achieve.

After all, if a criminal offence has been committed, surely it having been caught on camera and broadcast is more likely to lead to the capture of the culprits of any offence committed? Otherwise, why does our Government - and indeed the wider public - fetishise CCTV?

October 18, 2006

The latter is the correct answer

This is really rather brilliant...

(Hat-tip: Guido Fawkes.)

New vidcast: behind the ferns at Doughty Street

As promised, here's my behind-the-scenes peek into 18 Doughty Street filmed before and after my guest appearance on Iain Dale's Vox Politix. (Which, ahem, you can watch again here.)

Enjoy the high-quality production, well-lit intro, and seamless editing.

PS: or you can watch it on YouTube here.

October 17, 2006

Delayed-blogging 18 Doughty Street

Well, I survived my first 18 Doughty Street experience. Quite enjoyed it, too. Whether viewers did, I’ve no idea. I’m typing this on the train back from Paddington to Oxford, and haven’t yet looked at the Vox Politix blog to see what the reaction’s been.

Iain Dale had been a gentleman and given us - me, Alex Hilton (aka Recess Monkey) and Phil Hendren (aka Dizzy Thinks, who was a bit disturbed to discover I’m also an Evertonian) - advance warning of the topics up for discussion. So I knew he was going to start with Michael Brown’s disputed £2.4m donation to the Lib Dems. My defence of the party - that the worst we were guilty of was stupidity/naivety, and that even that wasn’t proven - was probably a tad over-defensive.

But for me this is the crux of the issue. Cash-for-peerages - if it happened - is about corruption. Michael Brown is just embarrassing, with the (remote?) possibility that it might also be expensive.

The discussion wandered onto state funding of political parties - which all of us opposed, though I suggested there was a case for funding some specifics, such as the printing of manifestos and party political broadcasts. Ie, stuff which aims to inform the public, rather than (eg) the dire tribalism of advertising billboards.

Next up was the story in today’s/yesterday’s The Times suggesting Labour has skewed hospital closures towards seats represented by the Tories and Lib Dems. (Fortunately I’d nabbed a discarded copy of the demi-Thunderer on the train, so at least knew the paper’s version.)

Impossible to know the fairness or otherwise of the story - but I would be amazed if political pressure were absent from the decision-making process. If so, I don’t imagine Labour is uniquely guilty… Perhaps the only news about this particular story is that, for once, we’ve found out about it? There’s only one right response to this story, regardless of party: if there have to be hospital closures - and there will be from time to time as health-care advances and patients’ needs vary - it must always and everywhere be on the basis solely of clinical care.

We touched briefly upon Labour minister Phil Woolas’s intemperate comments, prematurely urging the sacking of teaching assistant Aishah Azmi before her employment tribunal has yet reported. All of us agreed he should have kept his nose firmly out. I didn’t quite succeed in making the point that liberals are always and everywhere about allowing people to be what they want, un-enslaved by conformity (or ignorance and poverty, for that matter). But I hope it was kinda implicit in what I said.

One point I did get to make - which I half-blogged yesterday, but didn’t post - was my fed-upness with Labour MPs saying they’re ‘starting a debate’, but then refusing to state their views - like naughty boys ringing a doorbell and running away. Step forward Peter Hain and Shahid Malik, who spent most of Sunday mouthing this empty platitude when defending Mr Woolas.

Finally, I had the mild embarrassment of my homage to Webcameron being broadcast as a prelude to talking about how the Internet is transforming politics. (It did at least give me the opportunity to deliver a live-on-air apology to my parents for my unclothedness.)

All too clearly, politicians are still feeling their way into the Internet age, unsure either of the limits or the extent of its reach. As a result, folk like Sion Simon - the Labour MP whose one-joke YouTube spoof of Webcameron, caused faux-outrage last week - have come a cropper. Yet in France, the likely Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal has embraced blogging via her ‘Future Wishes’ site, with huge success. The web has the power to stymie a political career, or to launch one. So small wonder risk-averse politicians are regarding it sceptically.

All done in an hour. Think/hope I avoided dropping a clanger or making too many sweeping generalisations with scant regard to fact. And I’m returning home with a dinky little video camera to enable me to become one of 18 Doughty Street’s citizen reporters. Only trouble is I have to be in work at 8 am tomorrow/today.

PS: I’m aiming to stitch together some of the video footage I scrabbled together while I was there to offer you, my loyal readers, some behind-the-scenes footage of what really takes place at Tim Montgomerie and Iain Dale’s house of ill repute.

However, as everyone was on their best behaviour the moment I switched my camera on you’re getting considered sound-bites, rather than any back-stage bitches or last minute hitches. And, though Guido Fawkes was there lurking, I didn’t even try to capture him on film. I know he has standards. Or something.

October 16, 2006

Live at nine

I'm one of the three bloggers who will be guesting on Iain Dale's Vox Politix over at Internet telly channel 18 Doughty Street, live from 9pm tonight.

Not too sure what's up for discussion... "We’ll be looking at the coming week in politics and what’s on the blogs," is what Iain's e-mail told me. Doubtless we'll dissect the entrails of Webcameron and Sian Simon a little bit more. There may even be some time to chat about things which matter a toss.

I'm also hoping while I'm there to be able to film some behind-the-ferns footage to unleash on y'all.

October 15, 2006

Why Phil Woolas should take his own advice

There’s a right way of going about things, and there’s a wrong way. Today’s crass and clumsy intervention by Labour’s Phil Woolas - calling on suspended teaching assistant Aishah Azmi to be sacked - falls squarely in the latter, dog-whistling category.

Why? Because there is such a thing as due process, an essential component of that fundamental liberal principle, the rule of law: our guarantor of peace, order and good government.

At its heart, this means that every citizen who is subject to any form of judicial process must have confidence that they will be given a fair hearing equal to that of any other citizen. Evidence will be tested in a robust and impartial manner, and a verdict independently determined by those who have heard it all at first-hand.

Ms Azmi’s case was heard by an employment tribunal over the course of five days in September, with the judgement due in a couple of weeks. As a result, when her employer, Kirklees Council, was asked for a quote by the media they said simply: “It would be inappropriate to comment further.” Mr Woolas felt no such constraints: "She should be sacked. She has put herself in a position where she can't do her job."

Fair enough, you might argue. Not only is Mr Woolas a Member of Parliament for near-by Oldham, he is also the government minister whose responsibilities include ‘Community Cohesion, Race and Faith’. Who better to make clear his position on behalf of the Government?

But who is in a better position to judge the rights and wrongs of Ms Azmi’s case against the Council: a tribunal which has heard the full story from both sides? Or an attention-seeking, rent-a-quote MP who thinks nothing of trampling over a woman’s life and career if it secures him a couple of column inches in the Sunday Mirror?

Individual cases (understandably) get the press excited: they are comprehensible and bite-size, with lashings of human interest. They should not, though, be the basis for new laws.

However, Mr Woolas - as a member of that band of populist authoritarians which now masquerades as the Labour Party - drops heavy hints in the Mirror that the Government may be unable to resist leaping aboard this passing bandwagon:
Mr Woolas gave a clear signal that the Government would not tolerate others who followed her example. He said: "There are limits in a liberal democracy. There are boundaries in a democracy and this is one of them. It's a boundary we can't cross."
Yet there is no reason to believe that government intervention is needed. This kind of employment issue is best left to the individual school and its governing body to resolve according to their local circumstances.

If a school believes with good reason that recruiting a Muslim woman who wears a veil in lessons would be incompatible with the learning needs of its pupils they should explain why this is to her, and give her the choice of accepting the school’s employment requirements, or turning the job down. But if a school is quite happy to employ as a teacher a Muslim woman wearing a niqab why should I, you or Mr Woolas’s Government have any problem with this?

In the meantime, I hope Mr Woolas will engage his brain before interfering with due process in the future. Or he might just find that he has put himself in a position where he can’t do his job. Sound familiar, Phil?

October 14, 2006

Live from Norwich...

... Where I've been watching my older brother, Mark, be inducted as second minister of Norwich Central Baptist Church. (I'm on the far right in the family pic below; Mark's the one standing next to me; beside him are my parents, and then my brother and sister-in-law are on the left.)

It's been the first of what I expect will be many trips to Norfolk now he's moved there.

It looks like a lovely place on first acquaint - just wish it was a little easier to get to. (It's not well placed for an Oxford-based non-motorist.)

On the up-side I've been chauffered everywhere by family who are quite happy to tolerate me anti-socially catching up with some reading.

October 13, 2006

People trafficking and prostitution

The Guardian notes the publication today of a report on human trafficking from the parliamentary joint committee on human rights. There are some startling figures:
"The suggestion that the number of women being trafficked for prostitution into the UK is on the increase seems to be corroborated by the fact that 'whereas 10 years ago 85% of women in brothels were UK citizens, now 85% were from outside UK'."
The committee's report also urges the government to sign and ratify the 2005 Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings - a call that has so far been resisted.

All serious stuff.

So why the hell does the Guardian website insist on illustrating it with that most hackneyed of photo stand-bys, the alluringly provocative stockinged-leg of a prostitute?

October 12, 2006

This will hurt me more than it hurts them

The Adam Smith Institute has highlighted my article on the BBC licence fee in their 14th Blog Review:
"In an extremely disturbing turn of events we seem to have identified an actual classical liberal within the Lib Dems."
(They've clearly not met Jock Coats yet.)

Are we really in the Brown stuff?

Those two well-known friends of the Lib Dems, The Times and Iain Dale, are once again enjoying making hay from the party’s discomfort at having accepted a £2.4m donation from Michael Brown, who was subsequently convicted of fraud.

There’s no new story, and certainly no smoking gun. But that won’t stop ‘em. Read The Times story carefully, and it becomes clear that Mr Brown covered his tracks pretty assiduously. The paper quotes High Court judge Mr Justice Cooke as saying:
“It is also clear that Michael Brown tried to hide the fact that there had been no legitimate trading with the funds supplied to him.”
The Lib Dems were obliged to carry out due diligence on Mr Brown. Were we diligent enough? I don’t know. But we certainly were not obliged to undertake a major fraud investigation.

What Iain and The Times are seeking to do is feed the cynicism that ‘all parties are the same’, that each and every one of us is up to our necks in ordeure. Yet there has never been any suggestion that the Lib Dems promised anything to Mr Brown in return for his donation. In short: the party might have been stupid, but it wasn’t corrupt.

The corruption question mark still hangs over Labour and the Tories, however, with Scotland Yard’s inquiries into the cash-for-peerages row continuing. Let’s see how many Lib Dems are implicated, shall we?

I have heard, from one Tory donor I know, that they were promised a seat in the House of Lords in return for a seven-figure donation. Yet the Lib Dems’ wealthiest backer, Paul Marshall, is applying for his seat through the party’s democratic ‘Peers’ Panel’ process.

Go figure.

October 11, 2006

Good telly: too important to leave to the BBC

What is the Lib Dems’ policy on the BBC? asks Martin Hoscik in a stimulating article on Lib Dem Voice. My answer: unthinking, conservative and wrong.

Let’s start with some liberal first principles: freedom of the individual, the democratic accountability of public institutions, and the merits of free and fair market competition in raising standards.

Which is why I am baffled by our party’s approach to public service broadcasting, with the Lib Dems passionately defending a state-run megalith, answerable only to a quango, immune from the rigours of the bottom line, and funded by a regressive poll tax.

Martin’s article explodes the myth, favoured by the Lib Dems’ culture spokesman Don Foster, that good telly is created by better regulation. However, his article perpetuates the myth that good telly has been created by the licence fee. That was not, and is not, the case.

The good telly, for which Britain is still famed, is the product of competition between the BBC, ITV and Channel 4. ITV was founded in the 1950s precisely because it was recognised the danger of having a monopoly supplier of public service broadcasting. Similarly, the complacent duopoly of the BBC and ITV was broken up in the 1980s by the arrival of Channel 4, with its explicit 'minorities' remit.

Think of great drama - Brideshead Revisited, Inspector Morse, GBH - ground-breaking documentaries - 7-Up, Death on the Rock, Dispatches - cutting-edge comedy - Brass Eye, Spitting Image, Smack The Pony: all the product of commercial television. To argue that only the BBC can be entrusted to make great telly is to do a real injustice to the generations of independent producers who have helped shape our popular culture.

Yet those telly programmes are the product of a different age, an era when terrestrial channels were all there was, and when telly was the major past-time of the nation. Neither assumption now holds true.

Digital television has vastly expanded the choice available. Much of it may be what we would call ‘rubbish’ (code for ‘telly we don’t like or watch’): a lot of it isn’t. Around the world there is far more good telly being made than ever before - the vast majority of it without any state funding.

The old telly economy, which created those gems each of us fondly remembers, is dead. And yet the new economy which is emerging threatens to turn back the clock 50 years, with the BBC once again the dominant, effectively monopolistic, supplier of public service broadcasting. As advertising diminishes in line with audience share, the commercial channels have begun to chase ratings more ruthlessly than in the past: there are going to be more X-Factors, fewer South Bank Shows in the future.

The Lib Dem response to this appears to be to put all our eggs in the BBC basket: trust in the licence fee-engorged Auntie, and all will be well. It won’t be. First, because monopolies - whether public or private - are bad for the consumer, growing lazy, complacent and detached. (Yes, there are exceptions, ‘natural monopolies’ - telly isn’t one of them.)

Secondly, because the BBC is itself declining in popularity - one-fifth of 18-34 year-olds don’t tune into any BBC station in any given week. The BBC is enormously good value if you watch or listen to it regularly: it’s a rip-off if you don’t. The universal reach which justified the licence fee is soon going to become a distant memory.

And, of course, internet television is breaking through, whether in the form of YouTube or 18 Doughty Street. As close to a perfect market as you can imagine, such technology will increasingly make a mockery of the idea that you can only watch telly if you’ve paid the government a flat fee each year.

The market for telly has been transformed in the past decade. It will be even more unrecognisable in another decade’s time. And yet, perversely, the Lib Dems are attempting to hold a line on the licence fee, pretending not only that its existence will guarantee good telly, but also that it will remain politically possible. We would be better off thinking through what the broadcasting landscape will look like - and how we would wish to see it look - once the licence fee comes to an end.

This party is sometimes accused - by critics from within and without - of being little more than a glorified think-tank. Yet it’s the opposite that tends to be the case: far too often the Lib Dems are afraid to challenge received orthodoxy in how public services can best be delivered, preferring instead to stick to the trite-and-tested trick of accusing other parties of legislating or spending too much or too little (delete according to taste).

So dazzling is the broadcasting future in front of us that we seem to prefer to contemplate it facing backwards.

October 10, 2006

Blair talks sense on prison over-crowding

“The huge increase in numbers and the prevalence of short-term sentences is crippling to any attempt at a constructive approach to prison.”
This was Cherie Blair, of course, back in 2002.

(Hat-tip: the FT's Philip Stephens.)

Granita Pact II - the revenge?

Yesterday, The First Post’s Mole (hat-tip Guido) revealed that:
John Reid, the bookies' favourite to challenge the Chancellor for Labour's top job, made it clear to Brown privately last week that he would not stand against him.

Despite encouraging signs during Labour's conference, Reid has realised that support for a serious challenge isn't there. Odds are that, having made his peace, Reid will remain Home Secretary when Brown moves in to No. 10.
Today, the Indy’s Pandora diary column reports:
Allies of Brown said the story was “broadly right”, but cast doubt on the details. “They did meet last week,” my source says. “Reid signalled he’s not likely to run. But talk of a ‘deal’ is not correct. The Home Secretary thing is wrong.” Brown’s spokesman refused to comment “on private conversations”. Reid’s special advisors could not be reached.
It concludes:
Were Reid’s camp to dispute the Brownite version of events, it could lead to a repeat of the Blair-Brown enmity. And even if Reid has promised Brown he won’t stand, you wouldn’t rule out The Doctor just yet…

October 09, 2006

The figures that prove how brilliant this blog is

I understand it’s become the custom on some blogs to note how many readers visit. As if size matters. It all seems terribly un-English to me. But if you can’t beat ‘em…

Here, then - in the spirit of full disclosure - are my user stats. The left (y) axis is the number of unique users, the bottom (x) axis is the year:

As you can see, I started from a low base, as I hadn’t in fact dipped my toes in the blog-water in 2004.

In the circumstances, therefore, I’m perfectly content that attracting zero visitors was as good as I could realistically have hoped for.

(It’s always good to have a stretch figure, but it should be seen as just that.)

The next year, 2005, is harder to explain. Apparently, half a unique visitor viewed this site. (My StatCounter does, naturally, have a 'blocking cookie' to avoid totting up my own visits here. Otherwise this graph would be well into seven figures.)

I suspect either someone very short, or very young, must have visited very quickly.

Of course, the past month has seen this blog attract a decent amount of media exposure, which has perhaps skewed my 2006 figures to a record-breaking three unique users. Two of these are my parents, who didn't know about it before (which was the way it was meant to be).

But that I now have one regular unique user per year outside of my family suggests to me that this blog is on the up. Indeed, it’s probably fair to say that its reach now exceeds its grasp. At this rate of exponential growth, I will overtake Iain Dale within 10 years.

Blogging really is the future.

Never before seen. With good reason

I see m’colleague, Cllr Rundle, has posted a quick ‘n’ easy users’ guide to aid the unfamiliar in distinguishing the two of us. (I learned a few things about myself I can tell you.)

David tends towards the circumlocquacious. Me, I’m more direct and visual. So here’s a photo.

Most councillors have stashed away somewhere a campaigning photo that’s never seen the light of day, one that seemed a good idea at the time - and which, in hindsight (and perhaps with some foresight), was never going to work.

Here’s ours.

This photo was taken three years ago by a very kind and trusting local resident, who willingly loaned us her baby.

The image was supposed to show how the Headington Lib Dems’ campaign to ‘Keep Osler Road Special’ would safeguard the futures of the kids who lived there.

Unfortunately, the captions it provoked from friends included: ‘My two gay dads’ and ‘Sign our petition, or the kid gets it.

It has thus never before been published.

October 08, 2006

The wheels on the liberalibus are going round and round

A large liberal welcome to my Headington ward colleague (and Oxford City Council deputy leader), David Rundle, who has - at bloody last - joined the Lib Dem blogosphere. He's posting at the snappily-titled de moribus liberalibus.

Make nice to him 'cos he's worried no-one will notice...

October 07, 2006

14,185 complaints and £123,927...

... that's the cost of Royal Mail's mistakes in Oxfordshire.

On 20th August, I applied to Royal Mail under the Freedom of Information Act for some information about how they handle complaints made against them:
- how many are made in Oxford,
- what’s the cause,
- how many are upheld, and
- what is the cost?

A mere 31 days later - 11 days longer than by law they are obliged to respond - I’ve got an answer. (Even if the e-mail reply does refer, rather oddly, to my having requested information for Mole Valley.)

Or, to be precise, I’ve been pointed to one of the documents, Number of complaints handled by postcode area 2005-06 (2.7mb), available on the Royal Mail website. I’ve gone through it myself and done the math.

In the OX postcode (which is Oxfordshire, rather than Oxford - let alone the areas within the city), there were:
* 14,185 complaints made against Royal Mail in the last year.
* Of these 14,185 complaints, 5,778 (41%) were upheld.
* The total cost of compensation paid out was £123,927.

(I don’t know how this compares with previous years because that information is not available.)

Which is all very interesting, but tells me nothing about the situation in Oxford. That’s no accident, of course, as my Royal Mail correspondent informed me:
"The information is not broken down to show the areas within Oxford and we would consider this more detailed unpublished performance information to be commercially sensitive and therefore exempt under Section 43 of the Freedom of Information Act (prejudice to commercial interests). It is our view that the release of unpublished, local performance data could be presented out of context by business competitors (who are not themselves required to publish such information), and therefore used to prejudice the commercial interests of Royal Mail in a competitive market.

"This provision is subject to the public interest test. Although there is public interest in the level of customer satisfaction with Royal Mail's performance, we believe this interest is satisfied through reporting to Postwatch (our independent consumer watchdog) and the publication of our performance against nationally agreed targets. Further, Royal Mail Group is a publicly owned company and there is a real and direct public interest in its commercial performance and financial well-being. Therefore in our view the public interest clearly lies in maintaining this exemption."
Fair enough? No, not really.

The local sorting office in my Oxford city council ward of Headington was closed last year. This was Royal Mail’s justification:
"It is true to say that some customers will be disadvantaged by the relocation of the Delivery Office to the East Oxford site. However, we believe that the benefits of the new operation including most importantly, far more efficient mail handling outweigh this."
How to test whether this efficiency has been delivered? Well, one way is to find out whether the number of complaints made by the public has increased since the sorting office was closed.

But, of course, any increase (or - let’s be fair and objective - decrease) in complaints caused by the loss of the sorting office will be masked by looking across-the-board at the OX postcode figures.

Which leaves only one route open to me. Yes, an appeal to the Royal Mail’s Head of Information Compliance asking for a review of the non-disclosure.

How empowered do I feel right now?

Victory to 'Escape...'

The Observer Blog is asking readers to name what we think is the best football movie ever made.

Too easy: it has to be Escape to Victory, released 25 years ago. Some cite Max von Sydow's sensitive protrayal of a Nazi-wth-a-heart. But, for me, it's the way Pelé acts Sylvester Stallone off the screen.

It's either the worst best film ever made, or the best worst film. Either way it should win.

Straw demands head-dress removal

Well, do you reckon he asked Saudi Arabia’s Prince Saud Al-Faisal to take it off? Me either.

October 06, 2006

Foley's follies

For the last few days, US politics has been in thrall to the revelations surrounding Republican Congressman, Mark Foley, accused of ‘sex chat’ with two underage male pages.

This clip from Jon Stewart’s Daily Show gives the flavour:

No-one enjoys a laugh at Republican expense more than me - but this report from the Washington Times might give us some pause for thought:
The blogs giveth, but now the blogs are taking away ABC News’ scoop that former Rep. Mark Foley talked naughty to an underage boy.

Not that it makes the story any less creepy, but it turns out Mr. Foley was talking to a former page of legal age to uhm, engage in discussions that need not be repeated here.

Republicans and conservative commentators have been beside themselves since the story broke, blaming Democrats and calling it an “October surprise” carefully designed to impact the elections — skepticism that, at first, didn’t seem all that relevant to this blogger/reporter.

But now blogs are questioning whether ABC reporter Brian Ross deliberately left out key information — that the lad was 18 — to advance a story not quite true.
Without doubt, Mr Foley was abusing his position of power; just as Bill Clinton did with Monica Lewinsky. But to label him a ‘a child sex predator’ is cheap hyper-inflation of some grubby misbehaviour.

(Shades here of Mark Oaten, who was forced to resign from the Lib Dem front bench, after the News of the Screws exposed his affair with a ‘rent-boy’ - a far more sensationally pejorative term than ‘male prostitute’.)

But it still seems a sex story is that much more justifiable, that much more in the public interest, if the media can elide homosexuality and paedophilia.

Killers me softly

Like Mr Cameron, I’m a big fan of The Killers, so I’ve been listening tonight to their latest album, Sam’s Town. (Brilliant, btw, and thanks for asking.)

No idea what made me think of Dave and the Tories... It might have been the song, Read my mind (“Coz I don't shine if you don't shine / Before you go / Tell me what you find when you read my mind”).

Or it may have been When you were young:
You sit there in your heartache
Waiting on some beautiful boy
To save you from your old ways
You play forgiveness

Watch it now

Here he comes

He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus

But he talks like a gentleman

Like you imagined
When you were young

Can we climb this mountain
I don’t know
Higher now than ever before.
Or how about going back an album (Hot Fuss), and Smile like you mean it:
Save some face, you know you've only got one
Change your ways while you're young
Boy, one day you'll be a man

Oh girl, he'll help you understand

Smile like you mean it

Smile like you mean it
[Enough tenuous song lyric links. - Ed]

October 05, 2006

The 'Why do you blog?' meme

The Council press office has been in touch: "Would you be agreeable to send me about 120ish words (sorry, know that's not much) to educate people about blogging and why you do it etc please?"

Here's my answer:
The reason I blog is quite simple: I have stuff I want to say, and which I hope some folk may want to read. My blog is my space to write about whatever’s delighted or annoyed me that day, and forces me to arrange my half-formed thoughts into something semi-coherent. That my readers, wherever in the world they are, can then leave comments taking me to task helps keep me honest and up to the mark. I think the best blogging is the kind of thing you'd want to say down the pub if you'd had the chance to script it. It’s informal, clever, spiky, funny, sexy, pithy, cool - like starring in your own version of The West Wing.
What's yours?

Ode to New Labour love

I don't really do poetry. So this is from a novel:
Michael went to the village for a walk.
That was the kind of thing a chap like him did,
holiday stroll to the village, hands in pock
ets, casual, professional, on a whim, did.
He sat outside a church and got a shock.
It sounded more strenuous than a gym did!
People were clearly fucking in that church.
It was the sound of Michael in the lurch.

It was the sound, to Dr Michael Smart,
of tragedy, a bloody song of goats.
That’s what it was, a goat-song. Was it Sartre
said tragedy was those who got their oats
when others didn’t, or something like thart?
Michael was tired of being a rubbish poet.
Tired of a language that barely suffices,
words that could call this All a mid-life crisis.

Michael had fallen for a bit of rough
who’d happened past their Norfolk holiday home.
There was no doubt about it. It was luff.
He swelled with false hope, like the Millennium Dome.
He fucked his wife instead. Not good enough.
Like the Millennium Dome, nobody’d come,
they couldn’t find it, it was off the map,
and when they did get there the show was crap.

It was New Labour love, then, him and Eve,
a dinner-party designer suit-and-tie,
a rhetoric that was its own motif,
they believed in each other, and a lie
was at the very centre of belief.
The waste it was made Michael want to cry.
He was a ruined nation, and obscene,
and nothing meant what it was meant to mean.

(Ali Smith, The Accidental)

October 04, 2006

Not so much

I watched Mr Cameron's speech today, fully intending to analyse it calmly, rationally and maturely. But I just can't bring myself to.

Truth is: I loathed it.

Every single fatuous, banale, jejune, trite, tedious, reductive moment of it. Never before have I heard nothing of substance said in quite such a risibly flimsy, flabby, saccharine way. It was neither funny nor serious. Just a damp, limp, saggy, wretched, pleading, empty paean to vacuous mediocrity.

I hate what Mr Cameron is doing to politics - sucking out its soul, replacing policies with lullabies, spewing platitudinous pieties.

I hate that the media is letting him get away with it - glossing over the froth, condoning the cojones, excusing the execrable.

And most of all I hate that he has induced from me this negative diatribe - the kind of thing I swore I'd never write - with no pretence at balance, which advances no argument, and lowers the bar of political discourse still further.


PS: Anne Perkins has said much of this, only like a proper grown-up, over at the Grauniad's Comment Is Free.

Full text of that Cameron speech

October 03, 2006

Our survey says...

John Reid has at least stormed into the lead in one poll. Sadly for him it’s the one I’m running at m’other gaff asking who you think would be the best Labour leader from a Liberal Democrat perspective? (Ie, who will be worst for them, and best for us.)

Currently Dr Reid is in the enviable position, with 51%, of winning on the first ballot.

To be honest, I’m not sure how to read this verdict. (And not just because I’ve a sneaky suspicion some people might deliberately have voted for the person they thought would be best for them and worst for us.)

In one sense, I agree that - from a Lib Dem perspective - Dr Reid is the least likely to try and pitch his tent on our lawn. He doesn’t strike me as one of nature’s pluralists.

And while Labour home secretaries are for ever destined to be an easy target of liberal dismay, Dr Reid (like his predecessor-but-one, David Blunkett), seems to take strutting delight in trampling on freedoms to assert his macho credentials.

It is almost impossible to imagine the Lib Dems being able to contemplate any kind of electoral arrangement which propped up a minority Labour government led by Dr Reid.

However, that doesn’t mean I think Dr Reid will be the worst leadership option for Labour from a Labour perspective, for I’m pretty sure that a Reid win would strike fear into the Tories.

First, because a victory for an underdog is always harder to play. The Tories have had longer to think through their lines of attack on the heir-presumptive, Gordon Brown, many of which will be lapped up by the press.

But if he falters, the Tories will find themselves eclipsed by the attention-deficit disorder of our media, who would far prefer Dr Reid’s brazen novelty to Mr Brown’s grizzled staleness (and perhaps to Mr Cameron’s callow vacuity).

And, secondly, because there will be many among the Tory faithful who will ponder nervously the fact that the authoritarian Dr Reid speaks their kind of language more effectively than the ‘liberal’ Mr Cameron.This year, the Tories are beaming up conference delegates’ text messages onto the big podium screens. One yesterday read: “If I ran prisons there would be no TVs in their rooms and no soft treatment from governors.”

Who’s more likely to deliver such a policy: Dr Reid or Mr Cameron?

A Reid-led Labour Party is far more likely to hold on in Labour/Tory marginals than if Mr Brown becomes Prime Minister. It’s a depressing reality.

Anyway, if you’ve not yet had the chance to cast your vote, there’s still time…

October 02, 2006

The best pictures are on the radio

Doing anything at 2 am on Tuesday morning? Me either, so why not tune into Radio Five Live's Pods & Blogs show?*

I'm on, together with ConservativeHome's Tim Montgomerie and Labour's official conference e-scribe, Jonathan Roberts. The three of us muse on the triumph that is Webcameron and chew over the merits and risks of political blogging.

They even play a clip from my vidcast - though sadly not the bit where I'm semi-naked, as I think I'd look pretty hot on the radio.

* or, more likely, you can listen again via the BBC website. (It begins about 8 minutes in here.)

Before the bubble bursts

Tim Hames concludes his article in today's Times with a thought-provoking question:
... Mr Cameron is much more Clark Kent than Superman. The serious danger for him this week in Bournemouth and beyond is excess expectations. Once Tories no longer believe that their man can fly, will they remain inclined to follow him?
The Tory leader-cum-wunderkind has enjoyed a spectacular year, having risen without trace. His newsworthiness has been derived less from what he has said, than from what he has not said.

Taxes, immigration and Europe have been banned from the Conservative Party's (public) lexicon. They have been replaced by buzzwords such as sharing, rehabilitation and inclusiveness. Simply by confounding our expectations, Mr Cameron has exceeded our expectations.

The media has given Young Dave a pretty easy ride, thrilled that - for the first time since 1992 - British politics has once again become genuinely competitive. But the first chink in the armour has been on display at this week's Bournemouth conference.

Mr Cameron's warm words and fuzzy blandishments are receiving shorter and shorter shrift. You cannot read a profile of the Tory leader without the question - 'Where's the beef?' - being asked by interviewers searching for a glimpse into what a future Tory government might do. And hoping for a slightly more concrete answer than, 'Good stuff'.

It's because the first year as leader is generally your easiest, your most popular, that it is the one time when you can do (pretty much) what you want. This is especially true of Mr Cameron, who has earned the talismanic devotion of the Tory membership for looking and sounding electable.

Which is why I have always thought it a mistake for him to defer setting out his policy stall. Because it's not going to get any easier.

In fact, as we have seen at today's conference - with Norman Tebbit's clarion call for lower taxes and withdrawal from the EU - the policy vacuum Mr Cameron has created is allowing the Tory right to gain even more traction within the Conservative party. And they can scarcely be accused of disloyalty when there are no policies for them to betray.

The danger for Mr Cameron is that - if the wind changes - his position will become vulnerable. Like a market bubble, Mr Cameron's stock has increased in value solely on the basis of investors' belief in future returns. If those returns begin to look risky the bottom could very quickly fall out of the market.

Fair's fair: he's earned some capital in the last year. Now's the time to start spending it.

October 01, 2006

New vidcast - my take on Webcameron

Y'know, I'm not so sure this was such a good idea. But - what the hell - here goes:

PS: Will Howells' rather excellent take is well worth watching here.

Did he really just say that?

At last year's Tory conference, David Cameron wooed the party faithful with a carefully-rehearsed "look-mum-no-notes" speech. It worked brilliantly for him.

But it contained one of the most emptily emetic lines of political rhetoric ever deployed by a politician hoping one day to occupy the highest office in the land:
"Let's dream a new generation of Conservative dreams."
Frankly, I didn't think anything could top that. But I just heard Mr Cameron's peroration in his first conference speech as Conservative party leader:
"Let optimism beat pessimism, let sunshine win the day."
That's how to put the retch into wretched.

If our next-but-one Prime Minister is really going to be a Tory, can it please be someone who doesn't think that leadership is about reading the country a bedtime story?