Friday, December 01, 2006

So how is Cameron really doing?

For the last 25 years, only one leader of the opposition has become Prime Minister. Historically, this is an unusual statistic, but it does underline how dificult a job being Leader of the Opposition really is.

Foot, Kinnock, Hague and Howard all lost and resigned. John Smith, sadly died and Ian Duncan Smith wasn't allowed to run with the scissors of leadership. So how is Cameron doing in comparison to his predecessors on the opposition benches?

To find out, It's time for Graphs! Woo hoo!

Mori have asked how satisfied voters are with each of the opposition leaders. The questions and the polling techniques have been consistent for more than 25 years, so are internally consistent. You can find the raw data here. What I've done is take the data for each of their first 10 surveys and put them side by side.

First up, here is the percentage of voters satisfied with the performance of each leader. David Cameron is the thicker blue line. As you can see, after a good start, where the numbers satisfied with him was in the Kinnock(83)/Smith/Blair territory, his numbers have flatlined, or even slightly declined, and he is now firmly in Foot/IDS/Howard/Hague territory. It's a dramatic contrast to Blair, who started well, then improved. It's closer to the performance of Neil Kinnock in '83- a good initial performance followed by a sag in support.

It's not all that bad for Cameron. Here are the numbers dissatisfied with each leaders performance. Here, a low, declining chart is good. Again, Cameron is the thick blue line.

Here we can see that the British people are patient people who will wait before deciding they hate you!

All the leaders started out with low dissatisfaction ratings, and saw them rise over their first year. Foot, Howard, Hague and Kinnock saw the greatest increase, while Blair saw only a minimal increase.

Cameron does quite well in this area, coming second only to Blair in not annoying people. Third was IDS- which goes to show that not terrifying people in your first year isn't enough for political success.

One can argue whether this good score for Cameron is a result of policy lightness, or brand repositioning (or both) but it is real.

We then combine the satisfied and the dissatisfied, to get the Net satisfaction rating for each leader after one year. This is the figure you tend to see in the papers.

Clearly Blair performed incredibly in his first year, with Smith coming a distant second and Cameron third, putting him ahead of the people who were defeated by landslides, but declining over time.

Worringly for the Tories, we've seen that Cameron's strength compared to Foot, IDS, Hague and Howard is driven by the fact not very many people are disatissfied with him, rather than by any great enthusiasm for him. His satisfaction ratings are low.

That's dangerous, as for all the leaders dissatisfaction inexorably rose over time, while satisfaction ratings rarely broke out of the settled range people established early on. Cameron hasn't scared many people off, but he has generated only the same enthusiasm as the big losers in British politics.

Conclusion? Cameron's not doing that well. His support is soft.

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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Al Gore is Stiff

I know, you can't wait for another party funding post- and there will be more, I promise.

But in the mean time, I wanted to draw your attention to possibly the most explicit quote I've ever heard from a US politician. It's from an interview in US GQ.
Q. What kind of freedom do you feel now that you didn’t feel when you were running (for president)?

A. You know my all time favorite Onion headline—you read The Onion?—sometime in the summer of 2001, the lead story on the front page had a picture of Tipper and me, and the headline was, “Gores Enjoying Best Sex of Their Lives.” And she said, “How did they know?”

See. When they said Al Gore was stiff, they were just telling the truth.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Big Bad Ben

Yesterday we asked how a company that was registered as "non trading" at Companies house managed to lend the Conservative party £2.6million.

Today, thanks to an eagle eyed friend, we can go a little further.

Above, we see the latest Directors report for Big Ben films, covering up to December 2004. As you might be able to see, it says "Principal Activities: The Company is dormant and has not
traded for the year". As the report was filed in October 2005, I think we can assume that there wasn't a surge of activity immediately after that.

But it gets better.

The day before Big Ben films lent the Conservative party £2.6million, it filed another report with Companies house.

This did two things. First, it confirmed that the company was non-trading- the day before it scraped together the cash to lend the Conservative party £2.6million.

You can see the relevant parts of the report, and the dated signature of Johan Eliasch below.

Secondly, itnotified Companies house of the transfer of the entire shareholding (both shares) of Big Ben Films from a company called Boldergate, based in the attractive sounding "Sea Meadow House, Blackbourne Highway, Tortola" to Johan Eliasch personally.

Now, your humble correspondent isn't well travelled, and hasn't heard of Tortola.

It turns out to be.. the largest island in the British Virgin islands, and the address is the home to many lovely offshore tax avoidance companies, including those provided by the charming AMS group of Sea Meadow House, Blackbourne Highway, who offer "business that can be carried out in a tax free envirionment".

But Tortola it did ring a bell. Hmm. Where can I have seen Tortola recently? Ah yes. It's mentioned in.... The Conservative parties register of Loans! What a coincidence. Lanners Serices Limited is registered as lending the Conservatives £3.6million in January 2006. It's Michael Ashcroft's creature, apparently.

So what do we think is happening here?

First of all, you need to remember that in late 2005 and early 2006 the Conservative Party was coming under increased pressure to name a number of people who had loaned it money. The electoral commission was threatening to take it to court if they didn't reveal their funding sources. Some of these people very much did not want to be named, so before revealing the names of the sources of their loans, the Tories repaid a number of loans. We don't know how much, because of course, they didn't declare the loans they'd repaid, but £5million seems reasonable.

However, to repay that money they needed funding, which is where the loan from Big Ben films comes in. The day the Conservative party paid off its "secret" loans they didn't want to tell anyone about, they got a £2.6million loan from Big Ben, which enabled them to balance the books.

The problem is of course, is that since Big Ben is a non trading company, dormant for at least two years, it's a bit of a mystery where it managed to find £2.6 million. It's not the sort of money that you'd forget you had in a little known corner of your corporate empire, is it? It's a real shame their latest accounts are late.

It's a mystery why a Swedish millionaire would need to use a dormant, non-trading company to make an emergency unsecured loan of £2.6million to the Conservatives. It's even more of a mystery why just before making the loan the ownership of the company moved from an obscure offshore company to him personally.

So perhaps someone should be asking Mr Eliasch how his dormant, non-trading company managed to have £2.6million to lend at such an opportune moment?

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Who are Big Ben films?

Big Ben films lent the Conservative party £2.6million last year. Not bad for a company that is described as being "non trading" at Companies house.

But who are Big Ben films? Basically they're a UK based dormant front, (I mean non trading company) for Swedish tycoon Johann Eliasch.

How do I know this? Google "Big Ben films" and you get various references

1. An Indian film being produced in Kerala by "UK based Big Ben films international"

2. Porn. (NSFW, obviously). I don't think these are the same people, but what do I know? I thought you might like the link. Perverts.

3. References to an off-shoot to Alex Korda's "London films". The current London films is based at the same address as Bib Ben films registered address and seems to own various old TV programmes and films.

I phoned the contact number for London films up and the nice man at the end of the phone told me Big Ben Films was "dormant" and both it and London Films were owned by Johann Eliasch, the Tory lender who lent Michael Howard his private plane and who appears to be a mate of Belinda Carlisle.

Anyone who wants to see how active Big Ben films actually is can download their accounts here for a pound. I'd do it myself, except, perhaps unsurprisingly, they're overdue.

Now, the Tories released information about a loan from Johann Eliasch earlier this year.. but it is intriguing that Mr Eliasch routed his loan through a dormant British company.

After all, Mr Eliasch isn't a British citizen, so if the Tories were unable to repay the loan, he couldn't make a donation, but the company could.

Of course, if that were to happen, and Big Ben films really was a non trading business, any donation from Big Ben films would merely be a disguised donation from a foreign citizen, and therefore illegal.

I'm sure this is one loan that would never be converted into a donation.


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Memo to TV news editors:

People who do not work for television broadcasters care very little about the managment structures of television broadcasters.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Cameron is almost as popular as Iain Duncan Smith - Fact.

Over the last few months various commentators have given the impression that David Cameron is quite.... Popular. Refreshing. Exciting.

So perhaps today, as the man himself puts the meat on that radical, exciting policy agenda by errr.. Cancelling his speech at the CBI, is a good time to reflect on exactly how popular David Cameron is.

According to the latest Mori poll*, After a year as leader, David Cameron is...

1. Less popular and just as disliked as Michael Howard was 6 months into his term as Tory leader
(Sat/Dissat 25/31 compared to 30/31)

2. Less popular and more disliked as Tory Leader than Iain Duncan Smith after 8 months.
(Sat/Dissat 25/31 compared to 26/27)

3. Less popular but marginally less disliked than William Hague after 10 months into the job (and to be fair, the Tories really were unpopular in 1998).
(Sat/Dissat 25/31 compared to 27/27)

4. All of the above.

If you chose, option 4, you won our special prize, a laudatory op-ed piece saying how you are striking a chord with voters across the country by taking part of lots of funky photo opportunities.

(Oh, and If you're wondering why someone doing that badly is ahead in the polls, the answer lies in the PMs satisfaction ratings, which are bad. For perspective, they're slightly worse than they were on October 2003, two years before he won his third term and better than Margaret Thatcher's were in 1981, two years before.. well you know).

Gordon Brown? He's not a party leader, so the questions not asked in the same way- but his satisfaction rating was in the high 40s the last time they asked.


* if you're one of those who's been trained into discounting MORI by the good folks over a political betting, remember - this is about historical comparison between polls caried out in the same way by the same company, so the comparisons are valid.

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Letwin? Seriously?

Oliver Letwin is the Tories policy chief.

Tory. Policy. It's hard not to laugh. Letwin is one of those people who, despite utter incompetence in every field of political activity has somehow managed to gain a reputation as a deep and thoughtful thinker. This is mostly because he's generally regarded to be quite pleasant, and has good books on his shelves.

Let's recap his career.

He became a Tory education adviser- despite never having visited a state school.

He moved to No 10 under Thatcher, where he recommended the Poll Tax.

After becoming an MP, he became Shadow Chief Secretary and managed to single handedly detstroy the Tories election campaign by absentmindedly sketching out to the FT how many billions the Tories would cut from public spending.

He had a brief stint as Shadow Home Secretary, when he decided to be a liberal at the single moment when the British people were moving towards tough measures on immigration, crime and policing.

He also managed to get into the Newspapers by saying (remember, he is an old Etonion) that he would rather sleep in the Steets than send his children to the local state schools.

By 2005, he was Shadow Chancellor. He produced economic plans to cut public spending by several billions, whose impacts for public spending were made clear by his Shadow Chief Secretary, a la recherche du temps perdu.

This career is the single greatest example of failing upwards in British politics. It's not just a leftie like me that sees this, the right wing Social affairs unit published an (unsigned) rather perceptive analysis of the man, calling him the "second worst opposition politician of the century".

So, he's in charge of Tory policy now. Is he no longer a tax cutter? Of course he still is, it's just now he doesn't want you to know that he is. Be.. rrilliant.

Today he posts a little squib in the Times, setting out the Tory policy on poverty after he discussion of the last week. The 10 paragraph opus sets out the following piece of startling political thinking - The way to deal with ingrained poverty is to give money to social enterprises that you expect will be wasteful, have a high failure rate and will be unregulated.

Now this is all very nice. After all, we all like to embrace a risk taking culture- but how much moeny is Letwin willing to spend on these difficult intractible problems? Silence. Will this be extra spending- or will it replace Tax credits that help working families? Silence. How will this new munificence for charities be governed, and how will he ensure that the money isn't wasted, stolen or used corruptly? silence.

This isn't a policy, it's an idle wish.

I'm sure Oliver Letwin is a wonderful man. He's clearly a pleasant and cultured one. However, as a politician, he's a walking time bomb. His presence at the Tory top table is immensely re-assuring to me.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

My manifesto for the Daily Politics

WhenI first started this blog I had some expectations of glamour, success and massive importance. I fondly imagined that I would be approached by journalist, editors and cogniscenti to give my views on the issues of the day.

Surprisingly, it did actually happen, although I had to say no to the opportunities that came up.

I remember getting complimentary e-mails from both Melanie Phillips and Nick Cohen in the same week (surely a record of some sort?) and I still regret the fact that as I was firmly anonymous I couldn't accept Danny Finkelstein's offer to write an article for the Times.

The message here to bloggers is- keep at it. If someone as crap and typo-freindly as me can attract real proper journalists, so can you.

Yet, throughout this whirlwind of acclamation and general brilliance * cough * I never got the call I really wanted- the call from the team at the Daily Politics asking, nay, begging me to take over. It went something like this:

Daily Politics: Hello is that British Spin- sorry, what can I call you?

Brit: You can call me Sir, minion.

Daily Politics: Righty ho, sir. We just wanted you to know that we've finally realised that Andrew Neil is a total spunkwad, a repulsive reptilian creature from David Ickes most fervid fantasies, an oily, creepy, sycophant and a terrible, terrible human being, and that giving him an attractive young co-presenter just leaves the viewer with a queasy, unsettling vision of his wrinkled, drooping visage leering over...

Brit: Enough. I get the picture. I don't want this fantasy conversation to get libellous. Cut to the chase.

Daily Politics: Well, sir, we'd like you to take over. After all you are the most attractive and charismatic anonymous left of centre political blogger – apart from Hamer Shawcross, of course.

Brit: That bastard. The ladies love the moustache. It's fake.

Daily Politics: Will you do the show?

Brit: Can I present from my bedroom?

But sadly, the call never came. I can't think why.

So I've decided to get proactive. Here are my five simple rules for making the Daily Politics bearable.

1. Sack Andrew Neil.
He's biased, weird and tries to take over the show. Replace him with a decent political journalist who isn't simply a pretty face -and who is more interested in the story than the process. So no effing James Langdale. You could have your pick of hungry, smart lobby hacks, all of whom would know the political scene a zillion times better than Neil.

2. Equality of lunacy.
Please BBC, for the love of god stop the practice of pairing a total lunatic (of course I mean, provocative maverick) with a party line loyalist. You might think Jeremy Corbyn and Ed Vaizey make good TV but all it means is that the loyalist gets to parrot the party line without being challenged, while the maverick agrees that the leader of their party is indeed an evil, unprincipled swine. If you're going to have loonies on the show, let them balance each other out. I want to see Tapsell versus Corbyn, Abbot versus Fabricant, Hoey versus Carswell.

3. Get someone who'll challenge Nick Robinson.
Nick is just another journalist. He is not to be deferred to as the fount of all political knowledge. If he's going to be on the show to opiniate, he should be treated with the same scepticism as any other interviewee, not allowed to simply make unexplained assertions. Sometimes he's right, but the show would benefit from someone explaining why Nick had got it utterly wrong. This can't be the political guests, but someone who has no interest in making Nick look good would make the show better.

4. You're Inside Baseball- So be inside Baseball.
Look, no-ones going to watch the Daily Politics who doesn't have an interest in politics. You don't have to patronise them. So be prepared to go in depth on the politics of an issue. If you're going to do a piece on gambling, say, make it a political story. Why is Labour suddenly becoming free market friendly on this issue? What pressures are taking the Tories to embrace regulation? Is it simply government and opposition, or is there a more profound philosophical shift inside the parties? These are interesting questions that no-one else will ask, so why doesn't the one show that's about politics ask them?

5. Stop it with the Mugs. It's not funny. Never was, never will be.

Now, about my salary...

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