Thursday, May 31, 2007

Blair's heir finds his Campbell

So Andy Coulson, the former Editor of the News of the World is to be the new Director of Communications for the Conservative Party.

He is obviously supposed to be the Alastair Campbell to David Cameron's Tony Blair. He may well offer an approach that is every bit as brutally effective at savaging a tired NuLab administration as were Campbell's attacks on John Major (remember the "Y-fronts outside his trousers" image).

But one of the most powerful moments of the whole "end of Blair" saga was Michael Howard looking Campbell in the eye on Newsnight and telling him how much he had lowered the quality of British public life. (

So in making this choice (doubtless a smart operational one) Cameron cements his positions as a true heir to Blair.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Brown vs ?

At least Gordon's coronation avoids the ridiculous situation where the unions end up with a critical choice in who will be the next Prime Minister.

Now that Brown has no competition for the leadership a nation (OK, a tiny proportion) will turn its eyes to the Deputy leadership selection race. This looks like it might shape up to be the proxy for the national debate on Labour's future that the leadership race should have been.

And the debate might - if it somehow catches fire, and Cruddas is surely best placed to deliver that - become more interesting than all but the most eye-catching of Brown's pronouncements. Why? Because whizzy announcements from the top have become rather too much part of the Blairite background. Something genuinely exciting from the Deputy Leadership debate may wake things up - with 6 candidates playing it safe will not wash.

And who knows - we might even end up with a Deputy Leader with a far stronger mandate from the Party than Gordon Brown.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Milliband should run - but won't

All the recent speculation about whether or not Milliband will run rather miss the point. He should.

I start with the assumption that he wants to be Prime Minister. My evidence? He is a politician. The Pope is Catholic.

Given this - why should he not take the gamble and go for it? The scenario under which not running make sense is that Labour will lose the next election, then David Cameron loses the next Election - and we'll get Prime Minister Milliband.

This assumes several things:
  • That Labour will lose the next election. Given current opinion poll trends this would appear worth a bet.
  • That David Cameron will prove a shallow and unsuccesful PM and lose the following election. Possible.
  • That the Labour Party in opposition will maintain its discipline and hold together - meaning that the next Labour leader could bounce back to power after a brief interim in Opposition. Hmm.

All this would mean that David Milliband could pull off what William Hague could not. Step in to the leadership of a party that will have been exhausted by over a decade in power, and with some unfinished squabbles to settle. And go on to win.

I'm not sure what Milliband can lose by running. The various threats to his career are aggressively unsubtle - whether from Beckett or un-named Brownite sources. But if Brown wants to win a General Election he has to prove himself able to manage a big tent, and therefore casting out one of the few remaining talents in the Labour front ranks from spite would be seen as yet more proof of Stalinist tendencies.

Running a smart campaign would raise Milliband's profile, especially outside the Labour Party. He would be guaranteed good media coverage as the press are desperate for a battle; a new story after the years of Blair / Brown duopoly. He would go from a smart egghead to a real contender-in-waiting. Look how improved Chris Huhne's status was by his daring bid for the LibDem leadership.

And it would be good for the Labour Party. An open debate might actually help refresh the Labour Party - vital given the current intellectual exhuastion on display. It might even be good for Gordon Brown - he would be seen to have beaten a serious challenger. He would be forced to have a debate - and show that he can actually win an electoral contest.

For Milliband there is also the simple problem of timing: it is rare that you get a second opportunity. The alternative is to blink and not go for the race. When, with courage, he might have won. In short, Michael Portillo.

Portillo or Hague? Great choice. David Milliband - run!

PS If he did run, its likely that he would lose the internal party vote, but he might just win the popular outlook outside the Party. But of course he won't run. His articles and general comments suggest that he would so love to run. But can't quite bring himself to do so. Shame.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Blair's last grasp

Every time I speak to anyone working in Whitehall I hear the same thing: if a policy proposal or No. 10 diktat comes through then the civil servants receiving it ask themselves if Gordon Brown would like it, or want it to happen. If yes, it happens. If not, well there's always the slow tray...

We're in a pre-dawn world where Blair clings on to the last shadows of his rein, desperate to safeguard his destiny, still personally persuasive to the last (and Labour will soon realise how much they'll miss him). But he's frantically pulling on levers of power that no longer really connect to the front line of the civil service. All around him the No. 10 team are polishing their CVs and working out the colour of their parachutes.

Menawhile, Gordon Brown practices his smile in the mirror, as all the polls suggest mounting leads for David Cameron. And Government waits for the new dawn.

Rather than bemoan this lack of movement perhaps we should be grateful. The busier Blair's lot have been the more half-baked and incompetent legislation they have pushed through. A spell of quiet would do everyone a dose of good. Its only political hacks (and bloggers) who crave constant movement.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Market leadership

When Mirror journalists ramped shares they'd recently bought, and then sold them after they rose in response they ended up in jail. The 'City Slickers' affair nearly destroyed Piers Morgan's career many years before his Iraq pictures.

How handy then that the rise of new markets offer less risky ways for commentators to make money from their words. Guido Fawkes - widely read and closely followed by the political elite - recommended a bet on the Labour leadership market, then piled out shortly thereafter which you can do with spread betting. As he put it: "Even easier than investing in private equity..."

And an even better tax regime than private equity.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Triple-counting signatures

Much has been made of the 1.3m (and counting) signatures on the N.10 E-petition website against road charging. I'm not a techie, but one reason for this might just be that when you sign up for a petition (once) you get 3 replies from the website that you need to click to confirm - possibly triggering 3 signatures?

I was signing up to a petition against ID cards

Monday, February 05, 2007

Judging Number 10

Its not an obvious thought - and its one that I find hard to bring myself to say, but I will.

I hope, I really hope, that Tony Blair is not charged, let alone found guilty, of any wrong doing in the ongoing cash for honours scandal.

Let me explain.

Firstly, the last thing British politics needs is corruption at the highest level - so I am living in hope that he will not need to be hauled in front of the courts. This would be destructive for both the country but also our whole system of politics.

The hardest conversation I find on doorsteps when canvassing is persuading disinterested, often young, people to vote - not when I encounter someone with a strong set of views counter to my own. This would only get harder. On an international level it will make it harder for any British Givernment to wield any moral clout when criticising countries like Zimbabwe as they engage in truly corrupt mis-Government.

I also think that Tony Blair has done far more shocking things - like invading Iraq - and that is what he should have been punished for. But at the ballot box, not at the hands of the police.

Meanwhile, what sort of Government will we have if it is constantly in fear of judicial enquiry? Trust is the key to running any sort of organisation, and especially so in Government. Constant worries about deleting Emails and individuals coveribg themselves will not help Government work effectively.

Meanwhile, Governments of all colours have given honours to raise cash for politics. The answer is reform - of the Lords, of our political processes and of the role of money in our elections. Blaming it all on Blair will be to miss the structural issues at the expense of the crudely personal.

Don't get me wrong - if he has broken the law then he should be prosecuted. But I so hope that he hasn't.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Reid with embarassment

Another day, another wave of embarassment for John Reid.

He is not a man who is very easy to warm to but its hard not to feel a little bit sorry for him as yet another mine explodes under his feet. He has not yet been in the job so long that he could have turned the Home Office round. The problem is that he has not helped himself - by singing from the Daily Mail song book he can hardly complain as the tune gets nastier and nastier.

However, the woes of the Home Office go to the very heart of the failed Blair project.

Whilst "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" is now often seen as simply a piece of spin it remains one of the most powerful slogans of the New Labour avalanche. David Cameron was groping towards the same position with his "hug a hoodie" speech.

But, rising to power, New Labour was obsessed with the media. Alistair Campbell and Peter Mandelson decreed a media planning cycle that required quick Government responses to newspaper headlines, thus creating a blizzard of initiatives. Given the nature of tabloid journalism this affected the Home Office more than any other department (with Health following close behind).

'Tough on crime' was far easier to show than 'tough on the causes of crime' - projects which would inevitably take far longer to mature. Ironically, a decade in is when some of those latter types of projects might be beginning to make a real impact. But instead we have had a decade that added a criminal offence for almost every day that New Labour has been in power.

And because there was so much going on there was no time for doing the simple, boring things like getting processes and systems lined up and teams talking to each other. No time for management.

And so we have a sky-rocketing prison population, a disaffected judiciary delighted to have the opportunity to put the boot in as they very publicly release child abusers and a Home Office in crisis.

Not to worry though, Reid has the perfect answer: capture the headlines with a plan to split the Home Office in two. Problem solved! Until the next revelation...

Friday, January 12, 2007

Freedom of Information

Why is it that this Government seems intent on destroying even the good things they've done?

They are now set on limiting the Freedom of Information Act which has been used to such effect by campaigning MPs like Norman Baker and journalists in the serious press (especially the Guardian). The aim apparently is to limit the "serial requestors" - in other words the dogged investigators who keep digging for information.

But it will hopefully save the Government £10m... Hurrah - that's enough to begin saving for another war.

New Year blues

There is a lot of speculation about the supposed imminent collapse of the most successful multi-cultural and multi-ethnic state in modern history. No, not Iraq. The UK.

Strong polls for the SNP, and carefully-fanned English resentment of the higher levels of public spending in Scotland mean that political commentators are talking seriously about Scottish independence. Or as seriously as political commentators who have a regular deadline to fill with the latest breathless crisis can do.

But this is hugely irresponsible. For 300 years the Anglo-Scottish Union has created an immensely successful dynamic that has benefited both nations. This may not always have been put to the very best possible use - witness the race for Imperial domination. But it has created the modern world of liberal democracy, the importance of the rule of law, the Industrial Revolution and the global financial system. Now – at least partly because the Tory party wants to destabilise Gordon Brown and the press are happy to have a story – all this is being cast in to doubt.

There may be a coherent intellectual argument to make for splitting the Union – but it has to involve the belief that it will be through broader integration with the European Union that England and Scotland can regain the influence and scale that would be lost through partition. To be fair that is part of the SNP argument. But the very right-wing English commentators calling for a split are the same ones who turn puce at the very mention of the EU.

As you may be able to guess from my name I feel especially torn. My family roots are Scottish but I grew up in London. One grandfather slogged through the trenches of World War one with the London Scottish. I personally feel British before I feel either Scottish or English.

The current system is not perfect. It not fair or sustainable that our current Home Secretary can bring in laws that do not affect his constituents. But to jump from this to breaking up the Union shows a short-sightedness that can only be driven by the need to sell more newspapers tomorrow. Or rattle the Chancellor.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Happy New Year

I saw in the New Year in a wind-blown house somewhere near Glasgow. The storm knocked out the electricity, meaning that we ended up eating (and drinking) in a room full of candles, listening to the rattling moan of the tempest outside. A nearby shed was shaking itself to bits in the wind and it was dangerous to venture outside as the night was full of flying tiles. It had all the makings of an Agatha Christie novel and I was waiting for the sudden news that our host had been found dead in the kitchen / sitting room / bedroom, slain by a kitchen knife / tile / rolled up newspaper. The coppers would have to be round in the morning to work out who'd done what.

A useful insight in to what it must be like in Downing Street as 2007 starts.