Archive for October, 2012

Mitchell and the Police Federation

Saturday, October 13th, 2012

Andrew Mitchell continues to deny the words attributed to him and recorded at the time in Police Notebooks. It is worth noting that in a court of law when an accused is in denial and challenged by the notebook evidence of three Police officers (not ordinary coppers, but from the elite Diplomatic Protection Squad) the likely verdict of most juries in most circumstances would be guilty.

This incident has done the Tory party huge damage leaving it with an image problem only marginally less toxic than the whiff of sleaze wafting around the Major cabinet. There is no doubt Cameron should have sacked his Chief Whip right at the beginning and is now contaminated by the same show of weakness previously seen over Coulson and Fox, both of whom went in the end.

If Mitchell survives, laughing stock as he has become as the source of endless jokes, some broadcast on popular shows, it will be because the Police Federation allowed itself to stray from the solid ground of outrage at the challenge to the integrity and truthfulness of sworn officers, who in the line of duty are required to put their lives on the line to protect the Cabinet, onto the quicksand of political manoeuvre. If the Federation had continually complained of the inferred slur and kept mum about what should be done with Mitchell, he would almost certainly have gone by now. The cynical view is that while demanding he goes, all opposed to the government want him to stay, knowing that the longer he does, the more damage he will do.

The BBC And Savile

Friday, October 12th, 2012

The BBC is being somewhat cautious about reporting the unfolding Savile scandal. This is not surprising since the Corporation is at the heart of a good deal of what is alleged to have happened. It is also rather shy about referring to its new Director General, George Entwistle, because Mr Entwistle was Head of Vision (TV) at the time the Newsnight investigation was dropped.

ITV is bolder, not least because it is ITV’s investigation which has brought the shocking activities of a national icon into the open. Last night on News at Ten an ITN journalist and camera crew waylaid Mr Entwistle in the street and asked him whether he knew, as Head of Vision, that Newsnight was running an investigation into Savile. He replied that he knew about the investigation but not what it was about.

This blog finds that statement surprising. Surely the response to such an alarming declaration would be something on the lines of

‘An investigation? What kind of investigation? What about?’

This would be the expected response of a senior executive with responsibility for all mainstream television,  to the news that a national hero was being  ‘investigated’ by Newsnight, no less?

Apparently not. This blog sees trouble ahead for the BBC.

Cameron Speech: Words from A Leader

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

Cameron arrived at the Tory Conference in an awkward atmosphere of muttering about his leadership and Boris fever. He can leave knowing that he has demonstrated two things; he is by far and away the best leader the Tory party has and Boris is a showman. There will be no more talk of stalking horses.

It is true that Ed Miliband’s performance caught everyone, his party and the media, by surprise for the sheer panache and eloquence of his performance. No longer is he the wrong brother. But though his oratory was remarkable and the One Nation slogan eye catching, there was little explanation of what this meant, how it would be achieved or where it would lead.  Such is the luxury of Opposition.

Cameron, by contrast is Prime Minister, leading a nation in financial dire straits. His message was part personal and at times emotional, but it connected well with the best traditions of one nation Conservatism, which is a far cry from radical Thatcherism. What was impressive was the way he was able to join up all the policies, some controversial as we know, covering not only economics, but health, education, transport (ooh) and so on and show the initiatives not as individual reforms and improvements but all part of a central plan to keep GB in the premier league of advanced world powers. Whether this will connect to hard pressed families in the suburbs is hard yet to tell, but it is a clear coherent and inspiring message for ministers and activists to promote across the airwaves and doorsteps.

Now it is all over it can be said that all three leaders have come out of the party conference season with their status enhanced rather than diminished. None has scored a hit upon another but all look more permanent than they did before. It will be interesting to see what, if any, effect this has in the polls. It is unlikely that the Tories will slip further, unless of course a cabinet minister loses his temper…..

Cameron may have to revisit Plebgate. It is not going away.

Tories: Confidence and Supply: A Better Way Ahead?

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

To hold all they have and win another score or so seats at the next general election in 2015, many think the Tories will need a miracle. They will certainly need a plan, but above all they will need a message. A clear message, not one fudged by the demands of coalition.

It is as plain as a pikestaff that the Tories and their Lib Dem partners have reached the ideological end of the road and are now talking at cross purposes and pulling in opposite directions. Each is vetoing the ideas of the other. It might now be best all round to have the Lib Dems leave the government with a six month Confidence and Supply agreement. Cameron cannot any longer, as the result of a minor constitutional amendment of his making, go to the Palace and request a dissolution. At the end of six months and a failed confidence vote, the Commons would very likely back a Dissolution Motion.

If it did not the Queen would be obliged to send for Miliband and invite him to form a government. This would most likely take the form of a Coalition with the Liberals, but it would have to include all the other parties to enjoy a majority. It would probably not be able to and would have to go forward without a certain majority for contentious bills until May 2015. Labour and the Liberals would then have to go to the country defending a less than ideal situation of a nation still hobbled by debt and cuts, seven years after the crash.

Whichever way it goes, the Tories would have a clear and simple message. We made progress with left leaning Lib Dems, but to do the job properly we need a majority. Cameron would look a very attractive option compared to Miliband and Clegg, by then ensnared in Coalition muddles and mess ups if in government, or if in opposition, having to come clean next spring with their own plans, which appear nowhere near thought through. Thirty seats could fall easily to the Conservatives either in 2013 or 2015.

The downside is that Miliband and Clegg form a government and do well, so that the country turns its back on the Tories. That would be a setback for the party, which has not won a general election since 1992, but all would not be lost forever. They have Boris.

The US Election: It Counts In Europe

Monday, October 8th, 2012

We are pre-occupied with the party conference season and the never ending uncertainties of the euro. Little attention is being paid to developments across the Atlantic, yet it is there that the most important election of all is being held in November. It is not just about who is to be President of the United States. It is about which party gains a majority in Congress and which vision of America, of two which are essentially incompatible, gains the support of voters. The worst outcome is a President of one party and a Congress of the other. As we have seen this leads to deadlock and indecisive government over domestic economic and fiscal issues which affect not only Americans, but all in the West. Obama’s difficulties stem in large part to failures during his first two years, which led to the loss of the Democratic majority in the House, which in turn hobbled his programme thereafter.

Americans now have to make up their minds whether they want to give the President a decent chance to finish doing what he promised in the euphoric celebrations following his triumph in November 2010, or whether they feel he has had his chance and it is best to go with the erratic Romney. Having decided that they then have to decide whether to give their choice the Congressional majority a strong president needs to enact domestic policy. The checks and balances so favoured by the founding fathers can lead to damaging stalemate.

A Romney win will herald a more bombastic US foreign policy, although the US is no longer, with all its military might, the voice it once was on the world stage. It will also lead to a mix of fiscal conservatism and trickle down economics, very different to Obama’s neo-Keynesian approach. Euroland should watch carefully, for if Romney does win and it is a big if, Washington, London and Berlin will all have governments which favour cuts above spending. The effect of that could be profound.

Tory Conference: An Anxious Moment

Saturday, October 6th, 2012

Any delegate arriving for the Tory Party Conference in Birmingham, who is not seriously worried about the electoral prospects of their party, is a fool.

Not only are things not going according to the Tory plan on the economy, for whatever reason, which would be bad enough but arguably outside the government’s control. The scale of blunders and unfortunate sayings reveal a strangely inept party led by people with little idea of what has impact where. There is a long list of policy derailments, too wearisome to review here, but it began with a muddle over NHS reforms, picked up steam at a confused Budget laced with U turns and has now thundered on with dysfunction and chaos and the Department of Transport.

Unfortunately this is not all. Ministers have been saying unwise and offensive things. Mitchell and the plebs controversy and now, yes just today, Hunt, Secretary of State for Health no less, tells us he favours abortion at twelve weeks maximum. Not only is this likely to offend the majority of women in all walks of life, but flies in the face of the progressive and compassionate advances in thinking, treatment and therapy achieved over several decades. There is no chance that this misguided nonsense will become policy, not least because Downing Street has already issued a terse rebuttal and it would never pass through the House of Commons anyway. But the damage to the party’s image among a huge and vital section of progressive voters will be immense.

It does not end there. Two weeks ago, while acknowledging Labour was ahead mid-term in the polls, Tory grandees pointed to Ed Miliband and chuckled. Well, no longer. Ed’s triumph in Manchester has transformed the mood of Labour and changed the dynamic of politics. Meanwhile Cameron no longer enjoys that universal acclaim any leader needs from a party if it is going to win. They will cheer him of course, but many of the cheers will be hollow and tinged with anxiety.

Finally, if that were not enough, there looms in the shadows a dishevelled and ungainly vote winner who can wow the crowds and inspire the activists. All eyes on Boris.

Ed Miliband:The Big Speech

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

Far too much store is now laid at the podium of the leader’s speech at party conferences, few of which are recalled by anyone for long. Leaders begin to think of themselves as celebrities, their parties think of them as idols, but the modern voter looks to them as managers and innovators. They are judged upon their ideas and delivery, not upon their roots or education. Inspired by the TV show Who Do You Think You Are? their advisers assume that the public interest in the roots of politicians is as keen as it is for actors. The truth is the public does not care who a politician is; they want to know what this person can do. Boris is popular because he is a wild card and outspoken, but if that were all he was he would not rank in public affection. They like him because he is wild and different, but only because above all he runs London well.

We are told that Ed is going to talk about his refugee origins and all that, to make him more user friendly and human. This is the stuff of media hype. Votes come from bold ideas, grand plans, the power to inject hope, a philosophy of can do; it is through these elements of a leader’s speech that real gains can be made. Labour supporters will hope that a speech billed to be heavy on family nostalgia will be even heavier on a better way forward for the country. A better way worth voting for.