Friday, January 09, 2004

Tribune Weblog

Tribune beats the New Statesman, Spectator and Progress to the punch by being the first Political magazine in the UK to have their own Blog.

As yet, there's no posts, but this is another good development for the UK blogging scene. I wish them all the best.

(Can they start by posting the Max Anderson article in this weeks edition? I wanted to link to it, as it's an interesting attack on the PM by a former Press officer, but no internet version is up)

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Paul Foot is embarrassed by events.

Earlier this week, Harry Hatchet brought our attention to an article by SWP codger Paul Foot. His critique was yet another public service by my tip for the top of British Blogging.

Harry focussed on Iraq, as is his wont, but Mr Foot ranged a little wider than this, attacking Labour party chairman Ian McCartney for a wide variety of reasons, with labour's horrendous failure of young low paid workers getting prominence.

Foot assails McCartney for having the temerity to be proud of introducing the minimum wage:

"It could only have happened in the Labour party," he brags, "that a young 15-year-old low-paid worker could aspire one day to became a Labour minister who introduced the first-ever national minimum wage in Britain."

Somehow McCartney forgot to mention that the 15-year-old, even when he or she becomes 16 or 17, is not eligible for the minimum wage.

My friend was too disgusted by McCartney's reply to respond."

How terrible. What a sell out of socialist principle. Unfortunately, Paul Foot is a little out of date. His screed was published on January 7th. The Government announced that the Minimum wage should be extended to 16 and 17 year olds four days earlier.

Oh well, I'm sure Mr Foot will find another reason why Labour has let down the dispossessed soon enough.

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Fear and loathing: Robin Cook

Of all Labour's senior politicians, my least favourite has always been Robin Cook. (No, this isn't just since he resigned, I thought he was a scheming so and so from way back)

Some of this is irrational and self defeating. Cook did a fine job in opposition and a reasonable job in office, yet I still disliked him. Was my dislike as bad as those who said he could never be leader because he looked like a Ginger garden gnome?

However, today I had the satisfaction of remembering why I never felt him to be trustworthy.

In the Independent today, Robin Cook offers Tony Blair the advice that it would be far better for him to fold his hand than raise the stakes on top up fees. (the poker anology is his, not mine) Cook cites a litany of reasons, from avoiding a split, through the good of parliamentary democracy, to (bizarrely), in place of strife and Harold Wilson being happy for Dustman to pay for the education of Doctors (more fool Harold, but what the heck).

All of this is phrased on terms of Olympian advice, purely in the best interests of the party, Nothing personal.

At the same time, Cook minion David Clark is being a little more candid in the Guardian. He decided a while back that Tony had to go. Now he's raised the stakes (sorry, poker again) by calling the Prime Minister a "Fantasist or Liar".

Cook is pretending to be purely interested in the issues of policy, while all the time looking for the main chance to get back into Carlton Gardens, letting others do the dirty work. I for one, am glad he is out of the Leadership.,3604,1119139,00.html

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Thursday, January 08, 2004

The visa's in the post.

So the Americans want Brits to have a visa before we visit. So much for the English speaking imperium, or whatever it's called.

Actually, the US proposal is both more reasonable and more pointless than the headlines suggest. Basically, you only need a visa if your current passport runs out mid 2005.

This is because the UK will only launch Biometric passports by 2006. However, the US wants them in place by October this year.

So terrorists are perfectly OK, as long as they get their passports issued by October the 26th2004. They'll then have their photo taken after they've landed the plane they hijacked. Or something. After that, though, they'll have to get a visa, or wait until 2005, when they won't need a visa again.

Frankly, the Americans have the right to do whatever they want, but they do seem to be employing their unique talent for pissing off the citizens of their closest allies over the utterly pointless.

Quite irrationally, we'll all take this personally as we stand in long queues to get into America, while terrorists will not be deterred one jot.

Look, if you're going to launch suicide bombing campaigns, your fingerprints being in a US datablase isn't much of a deterrent. Neither's the prospect of getting a visa.

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The flip side.

Boris Johnson, writing in the Telegraph, takes precisely the opposite view to me on the totality question. I'd be more conviced if he offered a shred of evidence for what he says, rather than wodehousian verbiage. As I point out below, The PM made very clear that they did not release the name, but that confirming a name already in the public realm is a very different thing.

Sorry Boris, nice try.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2004

"The totality of what I said"

Micheal Howard taday asked the Prime minister if he stood by his remarks on the death of Dr David Kelly, when during a plane journey to Hong Kong, The PM told the press " I did not authorise the leaking of the name of David Kelly.". Micheal Howard asked if that was still the case in the light of Kevin Tebbitt’s evidence that the PM chaired the meeting that agreed MoD strategy.

The prime Minister’s response, “I stand by the totality of what I said”, is intriguing, but easiliy answered.

The next day’s Guardian contains the relevant text.

"Mr Blair said he "emphatically" did not authorise the leak, but he said the confirmation of Dr Kelly's name was a different matter, adding that the judicial inquiry he had set up would look at all the facts.
Questioned on why the government confirmed Dr Kelly's identity, he replied: "That's a completely different matter once the name is out there. The inquiry can look at these things."

Blair chairs a meeting in which it is agreed to confirm David Kelly’s name if raised by reporters. This is the Tebbitt meeting. At no point is leaking Kelly's name authorised. The PM’s is right.

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Those Angry Doctors...

The Iowa caucuses are almost upon us, and I've been tracking them with some interests.

My favourite smear of Howard Dean has to go to "He's one of those typical angry, rude Doctor's. They're totally unsuitable to be President."

See Mickey Kaus, Andrew Sullivan and Jonah Goldberg, repeating Marjorie Williams on this.

Let's take Andrew Sullivan for example. He's "extremely leery of doctors in politics - right or left, they always veer toward the intolerant, dictatorial and secretive. They belong to one of the least democratic professions imaginable and think they can transit effortlessly to the most."

So Senator Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, is presumably changing his MD to an MBA as I write. After all, Doctors bad, failed businessmen good. Got it?

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Meacher says cut down the PM’s power. Eh?

Michael Meacher was Tony Benn’s vicar on earth, A rather good Environment minister and after resignation, was revealed to be a September the 11th conspiracy theorist of the most disturbing kind.

Now he has published an article in the Guardian claiming that the PM is too powerful and needs to be restricted. This is a commonplace on the left, but the fact is Tony Blair is significantly less powerful than, say Margaret Thatcher.

First, take the devolution of Power. Tony Blair cannot control, except indirectly, the politics of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Even there, his influence must be played with a light touch.

The re-admission of Ken Livingstone into the Labour party and the success of Rhodri Morgan in Wales shows the limitations of Blair’s power- if a Labour outsider can connect with his voters, then Blair has to accept that.

In addition, In significant areas of policy the executive is less powerful than it was ten years ago. The Government has no direct control over interest rates, for example. The progeression of European Union has limited the executives room for maneuveure. these may be good or bad things, but they are facts.

That’s the institutional argument, but even in nakedly political terms, Blair is circumscribed in ways Thatcher never was. Thatcher had no NEC to deal with, and only the opposition of cabinet ministers to fight against. No Business Chief Executives sat in her party conferences with a half the votes. Blair might have a freer rein than callaghan, but far less than even Major.

So Meacher’s objections are not in fact an objection for an ever more powerful Prime Minister but for greater powers for the House of Commons. For example, Meacher wants to see Parliament approve and sack Cabinet choices- a totally pointless exercise, which could have as it’s only outcome frustrating the duly elected Prime Minister and putting in place cabinet ministers who are distrusted by the centre (Where the executive and legislature are separate there is a case for this, but that’s not the system we have).

Meacher also wants to see referenda decided by a “high level committee”, appointments ditto, finance votes and so on. As far as I can tell, all these reforms would do would make decision-making almost impossible.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Was Enoch Powell a panderer to racism?

Actor John Hurt has defended Enoch Powell, saying:

"I think he was just, at the time, saying 'we can't afford to have any more',

"Anyway, we've had a heck of a lot more and in many ways we've handled it badly, but the minute you say something like that, people are ready to jump on you."

"I've been hauled over the coals for supporting Enoch. He was another very bright man and I don't think he was being racist about immigrants.

"I am not a Powellist - I just think people's understanding of Powell was too glib and that people with half his intelligence were accusing him."

Make up your own mind here.

The clever thing about Powell's speech is that the racist language is put into the voice of the "common man", while Powell remains lofty and literary. So when Powell talks about grinning picanninnies terrorising white grandmothers or the black man holding the whip hand, he can claim that this is not his voice.

Does Powell argue these views are right or wrong? He does neither. He claims he will be pilloried for mentioning them, and then uses them as license for first, supporting repatriation and second, opposing the race relations bill.

This both pre-empts the accusation of racism, and dismisses it by claiming to be merely vox populi. The problem is, Powell twice calls those who express racist views "Decent, ordinary". At no point does he attempt to decry racist views or challenge them. He accepts racism and uses it as the basis of his argument. In effect he legitimises it without ever taking the personal step of endorsing it.

It's clever, but it's cowardly. Powell either agreed with what his correspondants said but would not say so, or did not agree, but would not dissent.

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Political Popularity Contests

There's been much coverage of the stunt.

I don't like the idea that any elected representative would be dictated to by online voters. It's about the only thing I'm a good Burkean on.

However, The idea of "Pol Idol" does intrigue me.

As far as I can tell there are three key requirements for a success in Reality TV that does not then sink into David brent style utter obscurity.

You must be:
Gay (Brian Dowling, Anna from BB1, Will Young, Alex Parks)
Fat (American Pop Idol guy, Michelle McManus, Rik Waller)
Female (Michelle, Jade, Helen and many, many more)

So I deduce that the ideal Political Idol candidate would be a fat, gay, Woman.

It can only be our readers favourite, Janine Booth.*

*this refers to my memory of 1990 era Janine. For all I know Janine could now be waif like and married. People change. Good luck to her, whatever life she has pursued.

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What unites political Bloggers?

Nothing, except that we are the only people who spend out Sunday afternoons watching BBC parliaments coverage of 40 year old election nights.

Peter, Nick, Paul, Tom, and I. Bloggers and BBC Parliaments total audience.

Not so much the new world of political comunicators as the electoral version of fantasy role players, methinks.

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Today is Ken's day.

Ken Livingstone will be re-admitted to membership of the Labour party today. In other news, a selection procedure will be put in place to choose a new Labour candidate for Mayor of London. Are these two events related?

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Monday, January 05, 2004

Political Strangeness in America.

American congressman Rep Ralph Hall switched sides to the Republicans over the holidays, saying

"He told The Associated Press that he's always said that if being a Democrat hurt his district, he would switch or resign. He said GOP leaders had recently refused to place money for his district in a spending bill and "the only reason I was given was I was a Democrat.""

A lot of US sites have covered this, but I couldn't understand why this isn't a bigger story. Apart from anything else, woudn't a normal politician respond to such a blatantly stupid proposition respond by saying "OK Jerk-off, I'm going to make such a stink about this that you won't be able to move without being asked why you're such a corrupt, blackmailing slimeball. Screw with me on this and I will kill you in the media"

Is this Hall guy just craven? or stupid? Or do the US media not care about Congressmen being blackmailed for votes? If Hall's district gets the money now, isn't that a prima facie corruption scandal?

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The Great Top Up fees debate..

First off, let’s be clear. I am not going to talk about the relative viability of the different schemes for funding universities. These are no doubt important and significant issues that need to be considered, but let us cast them aside as so much chaff. The real interest here is the political implications of the vote. The students can wait.

To start off, we have the abiding Brown-Blair division story. This is given fuel by the fact that Nick Brown (an old, old Gordon ally) has emerged as a leading organiser of the “stop variable fees” movement.

On the other hand, the other leader of the stop top up fees movement is none other than Robin Cook (an even older Gordon enemy). Also, a few weeks back, David Blunkett was having to deny that he was the secret rebel leader on top up fees and you have a most confusing mixture.

Nick Brown is Gordon's old Consigliore, and is de-facto leader of the beleaguered North-Eastern Brownites. For those that care, the other charter members are Doug Henderson and Kevan Jones. (Inter-alia, the careers of these three stand in stark contrast to that of North east Blairites like Byers, Milburn, Armstrong and Miliband).

Robin Cook has also allowed his old special adviser to call for the sacking of Blair, (and even Robin can’t think he’s the prince o’er the water, so that can be viewed as an attempt at reconciliation).

Add this to the fact that the Brown supporting New Statesman has been let off the leash (feeble pit bull though it is. I doubt it could take out a tiring corgi) and you have the sense of the paranoia that infect some Blairites. Brown, Cook, Short, January Backbench rebellion, Hutton, Join the dots.

Now to some extent, the Blair people want this to be a “Brownite” rebellion- because for every eager Brownite hoping for advancement is a generally loyalist backbencher with policy concerns. If the vote can be portrayed as a test for Blair, rather than a policy vote, several sheep will return to the fold. Especially if Peter Bradley can get some concessions to act as fig leaf.

On the other hand, the thought of a rebellious group with the organisation that ex Chief whip Nick Brown can give, should give the current whips nightmares. This group will have cover outside the PLP too- especially within the GMB of Kevin Curran, an old ally of Nick, Doug and Kevan’s from the North-East.

So how to tell whether the rebellion has bite? First off, ignore the much touted Early Day Motion. All it does is express “concern”. Less than half of those who have signed it will vote agin the government. I’d expect maybe 60 votes against, with more abstaining.

The real thing to watch for is the rebellion momentum. MP’s who haven’t rebelled over Foundation hospitals rebelling this time or Iraq rebels getting a taste for it. No-one should give a toss if Bob Marshall-Andrews, Alan Simpson, Ronnie Campbell or Paul Flynn rebel. The shock is if these, and about 20 more lefties, don’t rebel.

More interesting are the ex ministers- and how co-ordinated they are: Dobson, Smith, Nick Brown, Cook, Short, Henderson et al. Are they a unified, cohesive group, deploying complementary arguments, or just a group of old warhorses kicking up a fuss? How vicious are their attacks? Are allies voting with them? Are they talking just about this vote or briefing on other fronts too?

The sacked can always be accused of sour grapes, So most interesting of all are the disillusioned ’97 brigade. These are 1997 intake MP’s who have realised that they are unlikely to get ministerial jobs after 6 years , and now have little to look forward too but occasionally tweaking the nose of the government and being a local hero to constituency activists. Of course, the savvier of this group might become Brownite NCO’s. Say you are a GMB sponsored PPS or backbencher, slowly realising that David Lammy would be in the cabinet before you were a junior minister. Rebelling might look mighty attractive about now.

So, taking the 20-30 seasoned rebels, say another 15 disgruntled ex-ministers, plus 15 with their eye on a brighter future, and you get my sixty or so. Might be a bit more, but not a defeat.

You read it here first, folks.

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The 1964 Election... on BBC Parliament.

The BBC may be a decadent public service broadcaster (etc etc etc), but it provides at least one wonderful public service for the political obsessive- the airing of the General Election night programmes from old general elections, in their entireity, for hour after hour, without adverts.

last night was the turn of 1964. The end result was a Labour majority of 4, ending 13 years of conservative rule, but by 2pm on Friday afternoon, the majority was still in doubt and seeing the live coverage really brought the election to life in the way that no academic study ever has- especially as we have the benefit of hindsight.

Some fun points culled at random

The election of a certain Captain Maxwell in a key marginal. I wonder what will become of him?

Nigel Lawson appearing as a pundit- and looking about 12.

Anthony Howard, ditto.

The genuine tension and surprise at the result of key marginals.

Just how close journalists and the rest of us could get to the door of number 10. The reporters really were doorstepping the Prime Minister as he made his way to the palace to resign. The wasn't much sign of deference either, the shouted questions were pretty direct.

Anyway, a wonderful night of entertainment for the inner geek.

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I believe...

We here at British Spin have discovered the first draft of Michael Howard's "I believe" New Year message. We share it with you in the desire to expose the maturing of this vital document.

I believe it is natural for men and women to want to have sex with each other.

I believe it is the duty of every politician to serve the people by removing the obstacles in the way of these ambitions

I believe people are most likely to be happy when they are masters of their own lives, when they are not nannied, except for adult babies.

I believe that the people should be big. That the state should be small. I hate dwarves.

I believe red tape, bureaucracy, regulations, inspectorates, commissions, quangos, "tsars", "units" and "targets" came to help and protect us, but now we need protection from them. Armies of interferers don't contribute to human happiness.

I believe that people must have every opportunity to fulfil their potential, unless their potential is to be an officer in an army of interferers.

I believe there is no freedom without responsibility. It is our duty to look after those who cannot help themselves, like cripples and that. Though there should be some kind of test.

I believe in equality of opportunity. Injustice makes us angry. Grrrrrr. Really angry. So angry

I believe every parent wants their child to have a better education than they did had.

I do not believe that one person's poverty is caused by another's wealth. Unless that other person is a burglar.

I do not believe in being very clear about causality.

I do not believe that one person's sickness is made worse by another's health. Which is good, because if it was, we’d have to put all healthy people into isolation wards, and let the sick wander the streets.

I believe the British people are only happy when they are free. Except see 3, above, and extend to masochists.

I believe that Britain should defend her freedom at any time, against all comers, even the almighty.

I believe that by good fortune, hard work, natural talent and rich diversity, these islands are home to a great people with a noble past and exciting future. I am happy to be their servant, but I refuse to wear that gimp suit. A chap has standards.

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