Saturday, October 26, 2002

What does Estelle Morris's resignation say about British politics?

The dust has settled over the political corpse of Estelle Morris. In three short days she has gone from being one of the most powerful people in Britain, to a kind of saint of humility, to a forgotten former Minister with a dubious political legacy. In her place come burly men, marching happily over the body of their fallen former comrade, onwards and upwards onto new challenges, until the only people left behind are a few political columnists, trying to make sense of it all. (oh and a few puzzled anoraks, wondering why we still don't have a Europe Minister)

As ever, the columnists reflections on these few days reflect their own concerns. Jackie Ashley goes from Estelle to family friendly working hours in three easy steps (Politicians are weird, We need to create a new kind of politics, the answer is reforming the House of Commons). I have to take exception to some of her claims (Is Scottish politics less personal and venomous because Holyrood has office hours, and if so why did Wendy Alexander quit?) but the call for a less frenzied, vicious politics will strike a chord.

The Times takes Ms Morris's words at face value. If Estelle wasn't up to the job, then good on her for admitting it, but don't expect us to be too grateful, what we really wanted was for the job to get done. The Telegraph, in another unsigned leader, does the same, but with more flinty brutality.

However, Alice Thomson, in the same paper, disagrees, feeling instead that Ms Morris's resignation was an impressive act of bravery and honesty, and at the same time a great bit of politics. She also mentions her own personal reaction to the resignation, which is worth quoting.

"Here was a decent, intensely private woman trying to do her best for the good of the nation and admitting she'd failed. There was no self-pity, no whingeing, just a wistful apology and admission that she lacked the skills for the job she had always wanted."

Donald Macintyre seems to distil the conventional wisdom in one article, where he describes the reshuffle as paradoxical a sign of the PM's strength. Able to promote his preferred candidates, who consist of Ex Kinnock staffers Reid and Clarke, New loyalists (Hain delivered wales to Alun Michael, remember) and quiet meritocrats (Murphy), As Donald sees it the PM worries about pleasing no faction, admits no change in course, and bows to no brooding scottish Chancellors.

David Aaronovitch muses on the beatification of Estelle, noting the somewhat stunned reaction of the political world to a Minister who just didn't enjoying being bashed about the head. He also, rather wittily, asks some important questions about the fixation of politics with trivia and "scandal", while managing the feat of endorsing the conclusions of Ms Ashley about he state of politics, and of the Times that we should take Estelle at her word about her ability.

and Me? what do I think? Well, I'm one of the weird, certainly. I'm genuinely worried about our missing Europe minister (I had thought the TB would want to promote at least one woman, but now I think that perhaps John Hutton is in line for the job). so I plead guilty to that charge.

Politics, like any absorbing activity, distorts prioirities. So to ask politicians to be normal is stupid. The normal don't spend their evenings wondering about the impact of the Euro on the next set of Local Elections, or are intrigued enough by the death of a US Senator to stay up at night trying to understand the impact on the US Senate. It's sad, but that kind of single-minded dedication works, it means the obsessive have a level of knowedge and passion that the rest of us can never match. I'm not suggesting that all our governors should be obsessives, but if someone offered you a job where you'd be paid less than you are now, have the job security of a Afghan missionary, see your every private mishap become public property and finally be subject to the mistrust of virtually the entire populace, would you want it?

What to do? In the end it comes down to this. We need to accept that there is always the chance of failure and the likelihood of flaws. Winston Churchill is one of the ten greatest britons ever, according to the BBC, yet he was thrown out of ofice in 1945, made some of the worst decision of any chancellor and opposed every argument of reason over India. Disraeli was a moral and financial bankrupt. Gladstone, a prodigous freak. William Hague was a disasterous leader of the opposition, but perhaps one day he might make a superb Foreign secretary. If we begin to allow our leaders to have human flaws, we allow them to become human. By accepting that politicians fail and that we don't need their head on a stick each time they do, We give them an incentive to take risks.

Ironically, the politicans that might allow us to see the benefits of tolerance are precisely those who are sacrificed to the relelntless grind of modern politics. If we see that we lose something when we throw failures on the scrapheap, when we see that they could still serve, that they have good qualities as well as bad, the more inclined that might be to reach further.

This is not an appeal for tolerance of failure, but an appeal for the recognition that failure, while it should be punished, can also be the beginning for redemption. Let politicians fail and we give them a chance to succeed.

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Thursday, October 24, 2002

Where's the Europe Minister?

So the reshuffle's happened, but there's a hole. Who is the next Europe minister?

The rumour is, it won't be announced until tomorrow. Two possible explanations. First, it's being tied into a wider junior ministerial reshuffle. Second is, certain finance ministers are making their feelings known in the strongest terms. My money is on both.

By the way, can I just blow my own trumpet? before the announcements were made, I said :

"Alternatively, If Reid is freed up, then Clarke to Education, Reid to Chair, Murphy or Ingram to NI (if Murphy a "devolution department? seems early for that and Prescott won't let regions go) Hain to Wales, Then Kelly or Cooper to Europe."

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Reshuffle speculation

How does reshufle speculation happen?

The first thing to realise is nobody has the faintest. it's a self referring circle, journalist A talks to Journalist B who talks to minister C, who talks to MP D, who talks to journalist A. This is why you will see names appearing, then being winnowed out. Journalist A might think person X has a chance, but B, C and D pour cold water on it, so they stop mentioning it. Everyone's prescience is then tested against the actual decision. Obviously, what everyone is trying to do is guess the PM's thought process. Those who guess right are regarded as better politicians and journalists than those who guessed wrong, which is why Andrew Marr is so embarrassed about having named Charles Clarke for Byer's job and is hedging now.

I'm glad to see that my post below named almost all the speculated about runners and riders, plus a couple who no-one has mentioned (Hodge). I'm surpised Reid was mentioned with such frequency, because for all Reid's political guile and skills I just can't see the PM wanting to shift him now, re-enforcing the sense that NI doesn't matter in British politics. The only way the PM could get away with this would be to bring in an old NI minister to the top job (Paul Murphy? Adam Ingram?).

I have heard that this reshuffle will be larger than just a replacement reshuffle. A few people to look out for then, especially at junior and Minister of State level. Ruth Kelly, ferociously bright technocrat currently at the Treasury. John Denham a safe pair of hands at MoS level. Yvette Cooper If she's moved, it might be a sign that there's unlikely to be a Euro referendum soon.

For my money I'd move Hewitt (or Jowell) to Education, Clarke to the DTI (less likely if Culture), Hain or, at a push, Reid to Chair of the party. Then someone like Kelly or Cooper to Europe.

Alternatively, If Reid is freed up, then Clarke to Education, Reid to Chair, Murphy or Ingram to NI (if Murphy a "devolution department? seems early for that and Prescott won't let regions go) Hain to Wales, Then Kelly or Cooper to Europe.

See how much fun this can be., Infinite possibilities. But hurry. There's only half an hour before they make the announcement!

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How frustrating

Heard the Estelle Mois news about 7.40pm. After a few calls and fact checks, went onto blogger and posted by about 8.30pm. Then, nothing appeared on the blog. Nothing at all. Made me angry, furstrated and annoyed. Then I realised, I'm addicted to blogging. Oh dear.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Taking responsibility

Well, the manner of Estelle Morris's leaving of government has been something of a revelation. Personal responsibility, not thought she was good enough?

Impressive. Suprising. Not quite politics as usual is it?

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hmmm is blogger screwed?

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Estelle Morris Quits

Education Secretary Estelle Morris has resigned tonight, Downing Street has announced. In what will surely be seen as either a collapse in personal confidence or a rare occassion where a minister actually takes personal responsibility for her department, the Education secretary has resigned despite having been cleared during the Tomlinson enquiry.

Speculation will immediately move on to a replacement. Since everyone else will be doing it tommorrow, I will speculate about the likely replacements now.

Charles Clarke, Chair of the Labour Party and minister without portfolio. Rambunctious, tough and straightforward, Neil Kinnock's former chief of Staff was widely speculated on as a possible successor to Stephen Byers, but didn't get the job. Rumoured to have a tense relationship with Gordon Brown and certain unions, there may be countervailing pressures to either keep him as chair in order to sort outparty funding or move him on to another job.

David Miliband, the 37 year old Minister for Schools and former head of the Downing Street policy unit, was only elected in June 2001 and became a minister during the Byers reshuffle, He is widely regarded as a rising star. Has the trust of the PM, and his brother Ed works for Gordon Brown's treasury team. However, is this too soon for his promotion?

Tessa Jowell, Culture Secretary, regarded as doing a good job and would be seen very much as a like for like swap. Culture is not seen as a vital priority, so could be reshuffled without too much pain.

Margaret Hodge, Minister of State for Education, Again, has the advantage of being in the job already, and more experienced in Government than Miliband. However is not seen as being a "Star".

Helen Liddell, Scottish Secretary, wide experience of government and not overly streched at the Scottish office. However, Scottish elections are coming up, so might be difficult.

Patricia Hewitt, Trade and Industry Secretary, similar to Tessa Jowell really, but current job might be regarded as more demanding.

Peter Hain, regarded as doing a good job in Europe, but the area might need him for a while longer.

Peter Mandelson.. well no list would be complete without him!

Stephen Timms was Schools minister for a year after the June 2001 election, so might be an outsider. Is the kind of low key technocrat christian the primeminister tends to favour.

Of the other cabinet ministers, Prescott, Brown, Straw, Blunkett, Hoon, Milburn, Cook, Darling and Reid are either too important or in the middle of vital work. Boateng, Smith, Amstrong Murphy or Beckett would be surprising choices.

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The Firefighters in the news

Hundreds of words have been written today on the Firefighters strike. I shall attempt to give you some of the views of the commentators.

Anne McElvoy focusses on Tony Blair’s mindset

Janet Daley muses on whether this is a return to the 1970’s?

Frank Johnson has a good laugh at John Prescott

Trevor Kavanagh says that it’s only the beginning – the new old left are waiting to show their hand (and incidentally that we need to downsize government). The Sun also gives the gallery of shame treatment to Prentis, Crowe, Serwotka, etc

David Aaronovitch attacks the Firefighters case and lambasts the radical union leaders.

Simon Carr says Prescott was incomprehensible (and notices that Portillo was in the chamber to spy on David Davis)

Polly Toynbee thinks the Firefighters have won the argument but shouldn’t strike.

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It's always interesting when someone predicts a risis over the horizon.

Michael Brown (a former Tory MP, so you know where he's coming from) believes that the next big crisis will be in Electricity supply. This sounds like a brifing from the electricity generators to me, but it's an interesting case.

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Is humour genetic?

In the case of the Corens the inability to be amusing certainly seems to be. Alan Coren , Vicky Coren and Giles Coren . None of them funny. Could someone please tell them that the world would be a better place if they went into industry?

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Alice Miles on Firefighters

Well, she might be getting tired of hearing the words, "No short term fixes", but Alice Miles is convinced that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are as one against the firefighters and her notes on their different motivations for the same objective are insightful.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Why Stoke and the BNP matters

I'm no Michael Gove fan, but this article is superb. I wish I'd written it myself. At least I can comfort myself withthe knowledge that I shared the man's views, if not his writing ability. At least I can now reassure myself that with Mr Dodge and Mr Gove as concerned as I, I am not turning into some kind of cassandra on the BNP. I leave you with the final paragraph of this article.

"There are dangers in the failure of established politicians to develop an honest relationship of mutual respect with voters. We already have malevolent clowns such as Livingstone in office. It should not need a 19 per cent vote for the BNP in Stoke to alert the political classes to the problem of disconnection. The real problem, however, is that it has not."

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Monday, October 21, 2002

More on Stoke

Here is the local news coverage of the Stoke Mayoral elections. What it shows is exactly how surprised everyone is by the rise of the BNP in Stoke. It's clear that even the BNP didn't expect that support. It's also interesting to see exactly how differently the local and national Labour party is perceived. For those who are horrified and cynical about these elections, this profile of the new mayor of Stoke should be of interest. While you may not agree with the Mayors views, he certainly seems to be charismatic and driven, the sort of qualities expected of mayors when they were first mooted.

However, the last word must be given to one of the losers, who responded with the kind of grace which should go down in political legend.

"Harry Chesters, who was the lowest- scoring candidate, with 453 votes, said: "It was worth standing for the election so that I could put my views across to the public. But they have voted for what they want, so now I am going to leave the country and live in Japan.""

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Northern Ireland continued

Thanks to Slugger O'Toole for linking to Gerry Adam's response to the Tony Blair speech last week. I have to say I agree with Mick's reaction, that it is remarkably free of the spin and the rhetoric I usually associate with the SF leadership on these occassions. Indeed if I were to try and read between the lines, the lack of a hysterical response seems to indicate a basic (if coded) acceptance of the premise of the Prime Minister's speech, that Sinn Fein and the IRA face a historic choice. I can only hope that this is the case.

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What's with you freaks?

I heartily endorse Caitlin Moran's work on Ego-Googling in the Times today which manages to combine modesty about the station of life of a pop culture commentator (useless parisitic fluff) with the natural pride of the demi-famous (and who amongst us would not do the same?). However, I have a word of warning for those of you who keep coming here looking for Belly Button Torture (I've had more google references for that than for such weighty issues as the BNP, the Euro and Derek Simpson) . It's not going to happen. I'm not letting you anywhere near it. But since I'm a sporting type, and I like your company, I will let you know that it's an innie, not an outie. Satisfied?

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Robert Worcester on the Euro

Robert Worcester of MORI is the sage of pollsters. Last year he though the government could hod an win a Euro referendum in this parliament. Now he thinks it won't happen until 2006 at the earliest.

This article explains why. It's worth it just for the judicious and thoughtful approach he takes to a matter of suh passion and bile. if you ever wonder what pollsters add to the political process this article ought to show you. They give a guide to the boundaries of the possible. Of particular interest is his analysis of what people think the Euro will actually do for the country.

"In a survey last July, a majority said they thought the euro would not create more jobs, would not result in lower inflation and would not create faster economic growth, whereas they thought it would cause Britain to "lose control over its economic policy" and to "lose too much of its identity". "

The Pro-Euro campaign must own the economic territory if they are to be successful. I doubt they have progressed at all in the last year.

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A Korean Diversion.

Umm, the one thing that confuses me about this North Korean "we have nuclear bombs now" statement is this. Why do we believe them?

The reason I pose this question is that if I were an ultra secretive Military communist-fascist dictatorship (not as hard a jump as you might think) and America declared me part of a an axis of evil, It would be rather appealing to try and frighten off any possible attack. In the words of none other than Andrew Sullivan

"The argument that immediately surfaced in the media following the North Korean revelation about their nukes has been: See? Why shouldn't we invade North Korea now? The Bushies are sooo inconsistent. They just want to invade Iraq for oil/empire/the hell of it/the mid-term elections, or fill in the latest Dowdian allegation. But the difference between North Korea and Iraq is so simple it's astonishing some people don't see it. So let's put this as clearly as we can: North Korea has a nuke; Iraq, so far, doesn't. Got that? When a rogue state succeeds in getting weapons of mass destruction, our options are severely limited."

So, by that (perfectly consistent) logic, the best thing for Saddam Hussein to do now I say "hey Mr Bush, I have the Al-Saddam big bomb right here, come and have a look." Of course he can't, because we know it would be a big fib. With North Korea however, we don't have the faintest. All we know is that when we asked them if they had a nuclear bomb they said "Yup, we do" (or rather they had a programme and we then inferred they had a bomb) and that it is possible, in this murky world, that they have extracted enough uranium to make bombs, and might have had some help from the Pakistani's.

Now, I don't doubt that the North Koreans have a nuclear weapons programme, I just wonder why they have suddenly decided to hint that they have achieved Nuclear power status. Is it possible that they are trying to bluff the Americans, to make themselves look bigger and harder than they really are? After all, the tactic isn't unknown in either the animal or military world and it certainly seems to have worked- everyone is being very nice to the Koreans.

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