Saturday, September 07, 2002

Did we have clues?

If this Independent story is right, The whole debate on Terrorism preperation changes.

Basically, accroding to the sources, THe US and UN ignored a warning that the Taliban were planning something big on American soil that would kill thousands of civilians because

a) They'd had so many warnings that Bin Laden was going to kill thousands and the warnings never came true.

"We were hearing a lot of that kind of stuff. When people keep saying the sky's going to fall in and it doesn't, a kind of warning fatigue sets in."

b) There was no chance that the US was going to spend billions on invading Afghanistan as the Foreign Ministers aide requested.

"He appeared to be speaking in total desperation, asking for a Mountain Storm, he wanted a sort of deus ex machina to solve his country's problems. But before 9/11, there was just not much hope that Washington would become that engaged in Afghanistan."

Obviously, you need to be on Cover Your Ass watch throughout this story. However, it does show how the question about "preparedness" framed in the wrong way. It's not a question of acting or containing. It's about political willingness to spend money, risk lives and persuade the American public that there was a price to pay for liberty and prosperity.

Neither Clinton nor Bush were about to do that on the strength of warnings or possible threats. Missile attacks, sure. Covert Ops, yes. But War and Nation Building, you'd have to be joking. Just try and imagine US any president proposing invading Aghanistan, spending billions on the new state there and keeping trrops in the region indefinitely before September 11th. George Bush sure wasn't going to risk it. This is a man who campaigned for the Presidency on a platform of LESS interventionism overseas.

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Derek Simpson says no way

George Bush asks Tony Blair to fly to America to help him plan a war, but Derek Simpson, the new Amicus General Secretary, won't leave his Blackpool hotel room to have a chat with the PM.

I've been pretty impressed with Derek Simpson's handling of his union since his election, but this is just plain stupid. I don't think he's trying to be malicious, as the rest of the interview makes clear that he doesn't want to be seen as an enemy (and indeed even that quote could be read as saying he had no fights to get into).

However, publicly saying he has nothing to raise with the Prime Minister has to raise questions over his effectiveness as a union leader. It's just dumb.

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Friday, September 06, 2002

and The Tories slide into the background..

Nick Robinson makes a very good point here, which I wish I'd twigged.

"The politically astute among you (and the cynical) may note that the PM will don furry hat at Putin's dacha on the same day that Iain Duncan Smith makes his party conference speech. A stunt last pulled by Margaret Thatcher when she took to "the man I can do business with" - Mikhail Gorbachev."

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Derbyshire gets worse!

While, accusing Tony Blair of being a wimp and a weed may just be forgiveable, This is not.

"Kaufman is himself Jewish, from the old 19th-century community in Leeds, a city in the northeast of England."

Leeds in the North-East? How dare you sir. If I had a subscripton to read your magazine, I'd cancel it in protest. Some things are sacred. Surely Iain Murray at least is with me on this issue.

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John Derbyshire is flat out wrong

Just over two weeks ago, John Derbyshire predicted that Tony Blair would rat on the USA by using weasel words. He was totally wrong. Where is Mickey Kaus screaming for corrections and apology when you need him?

This kind of knee jerk anti-Liberalism is a disgrace to the profession of journalism blah blah blah.....

"Blair is a clever little chap, though, and he will find a way to retain the affection of his party, and probably of the electorate, too, by ratting on us. He probably has it all worked out already, down to the very words he will say to express his "regret" that he cannot go along with an "ill-advised" and "premature" operation, undertaken before some blathering U.N.-sponsored "process" or other has been given the opportunity to "bring Saddam to the table." There has hardly ever been such a master of weasel words as Tony Blair — ask an Ulsterman. He'll rat on us, his party will applaud, and his electorate won't care. You heard it here first."

While I'm on the subject, I was totally wrong about Mr M Cashman becoming leader of the exciting EPLP. Looks like he hadn't closed the deal with his colleagues before people started biefing on his behalf. They promptly told him to get stuffed and elected a Pro Euro nobody.

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IDS's base ascent

Did anyone notice that Iain has a strategy and thinks are going pretty well. Phew. That'll be a relief.

“We have reached what I call base camp. It is now time to move on from the base camp.”

“All in all, we are where I wanted to be by this stage. Of course, there will be short moments where there will be problems and difficulties. That is politics. I have succeeded in settling the party. We have had the longest period where the party has not been arguing about policy issues and Europe, talking and slagging each other off."

I'm not a Tory activist, so it's hard for me to judge whether this sort of thing fits with the internal mood of the party, but judging from the press reports, the conversations I've had with Tory friends and the general tone of the conservative internet community things are, as Quentin Tarantino MP might say, pretty fucking far from OK.

It's true that the Tories haven't really been arguing about policy. There are two possible reasons for this. The first is that the Conservative policy review process is satisfying all wings of the party and is developing a radical new conservative agenda that will appeal to the lost voters the Tories need to reclaim. The second is that after 4 years of miserable debate, the Tories are terrified of opening the pandora's box marked policy. Instead the party has managed to squabble over the vitally important issues of candidate selection, the chair of the party and how to be more connected to the community. I believe that this is merely a proxy war, to the real one that will break out when the new policy documents are published. At that point, one or two groupings in the party are going to feel stiffed.

Here is an example of this. Vouchers.

The Conservatives want to be about Choice. The right of the party likes vouchers. The left dislikes them and fears they will alienate middle england voters and be impractiable. IDS's response?

"He would not talk about vouchers “because immediately everyone writes that up. But choice in schooling is vital for us. But stage one has to be to have schools that parents will want to choose.” At present, he said, there is no choice because schools are failing"

Well, that clears that up. Can anyone explain to me what that means? To this, Labour will just say, well OK, but We're going to invest X billion into public services. If you want to cut taxes, you'll ruin our plans to improve education. I find it hard to believe that "freedom in schools" is a bigger issue than investment in schools, at least while investment increasing and standards can be shown to be rising. It sounds like an attempt to sound radical without actually being radical at all.

What is interesting is that Oliver Letwin is praised "repeatedly". His strategy is to nestle right next to Labour and pick holes. I think this makes sense, but I can imagine a fairly significant section of the party (i.e. those who voted for IDS in the leadership election) will hate it. So what will they do when they find their last best hope has blown them off? Alternatively, what does IDS do if he doesn't move off base camp anytime soon?

One last point. George W Bush is cordially loathed by most people in Britain, even those who are fairly right wing. THis may be entirely unfair, but it;s the case. So why go out of your way as an opposition leader to identify yourself with him. Say you support America by all means, but not dubya. Don't even think about having his picture on your desk like an acolyte.

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Wednesday, September 04, 2002

Lie back and wait for England?

Andrew Gimson'spiece in this weeks Spectator provides an interesting contrast to my own praise for the PM's political ability (about two articles below). Where I see a politician bestriding the British political scene, He sees a lonely figure, in constant danger of a painstaking alliance fracturing apart. I'd argue that the maintenance of a difficult alliance is the hallmark of a great politician (FDR anyone?), but it's a useful antidote to my own starry eyed admiration.

On the other hand, his advice to the Tories seems to be to wait for events, before shaking their head in sorrow and saying "it's a difficult business, but wouldn't it be better if we had a little less government?". It's not a bad strategy, except that a strategy that relies on inaction is axiomatically vulnerable. It is vulnerable because it allows the other lot to identify their weaknesses and fix them before you've attacked. Does anyone really think that Labour won't notice when they start getting unpopular with their 1997 and 2001 voters?

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Loving Lyin' Lyndon

I agree with almost every word of Stephen Pollard'sreview of Master of the Senate by Robert A. Caro. I'd also recomend Robert Dallek's Lone Star Rising and Flawed Giant for Johnson fanatics (especially Flawed Giant for those who can't wait for Caro's volume 4).

I found Caro's Means of Ascent rather dissappointing. Caro was far too nice about Coke Stevenson and emphasised Johnson's personal habits so much that I wondered if I had more insight into Caro's obsessions than Johnson. However, Master of the Senate makes the effort of Means of Ascent worthwhile as the contrast between the public and private sphere's becomes more weighted to the public.

One point I wanted to mention was that Lyndon Johnson is a hero for many British political figures. Figures as diverse as Gordon Brown and William Hague can talk knowledgably about LBJ and clearly admire him as a master of the political arts. I wonder if it speaks of something about our leaders. I suspect tht many politicians recognise in themselves the conflict beteen altruism and personal interest that Johnson (and especially Caro's Johnson) is an almost mythical example of, so when they see someone who has these same qualities, but in cinemascope, they respond to it.

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But what about....

Of course, having said all of the below. If the PM is so good, one has to wonder what else he could use that Bully Pulpit for successfully.

It would be a very interesting exercise to show TB talking on various topics to a group of voters wired to measure psychological and emotional reaction and see how his effectiveness varies from topic to topic. Is TB on the Euro or on the NHS as convincing as TB on Iraq? If not, why not?

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The Press Conference

Ever wondered why Tony Blair is the Prime Minister?

Yes, that means you, the Fogey at the back with the countryside alliance sticker.

Think he's a vacuous windbag who is sending the country downhill? Mystified at his continuing popularity and election winning skills? Peturbed by the oppositions consistent inability to damage him?

Want to know he manages to keep everyone else happy with his government while the telegraph and the mail fume and rumble?

Yesterday's press conference explains it.

First of all, After a month of relentles pressure, he took 90 minutes of questions on any subject from the cream of the British media, and emerged unscathed. Who else can you see in British politics who could do that? This is Tony Blair's third time.

First quality. He's got the stuff. He can play in the big league. Could William Hague have survived that grilling? Or Iain DS?

Second, under pressure from the left, from the trade unions, from rebel MP's, from the liberal media, from pretty much everyone to trim on Iraq. What did he do? Stated clearly, with conviction and passion why what he is doing is right.

Second quality. Has a moral compass. Agree with it or not, it's there and it's consistent.

That oft criticised moral sense and preachiness gives him the passion and authority to use his leadership like the Bully Pulpit Theodore Roosevelt always said it should be.

Third, he picked the right enemies and changed the terms of debate. When everyone else was concentrating on the opposition to attacking Iraq. Tony Blair divided it in two. First, the usual suspects, the Galloways, the Dalyells, the Pontificate and the punditocracy. These can be dismissed for having been wrong again and agan. Reminding us that Blair has been right on Kosovo, right on Afghanistan.

Blair separated these out from the "reasonable sceptics". Define these as those who believe the combination of mass Destruction and Saddam is a threat that must be dealt with, but are unsure of how to do it.

These people can be persuaded, at heart want to take action but aren't there yet. Blair promised to persuade them and changed the terms of the debate.

Third quality. Knowing who you need on your side. Focussing relentlessly on them. Changing the question and changing the debate to focus on them.

Tony Blair got back off holiday and transformed the political debate in this country in 90 minutes. You can agree or disagree with the policy, but imagine putting yoursef in that spot, or try and put any other British politician in that press conference, and you can see instantly why he is peerless in British politics.

That's why he's PM.

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Sunday, September 01, 2002

An apology...

The site hasn't been updated for a few days.. this is due to some very frustrating internet access issues, and not to a lack of interesting things to say. Watch this spot on Sunday for some thoughts on some more of the issues of the day.

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