This is a sometimes 'cheesey' blog about British and American politics and anything else which tickles my fancy!

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

The Tories vs. The Police

It is a truth universally acknowledged that politicians need the police and the police need politicians.

Going up against them is a risk few governments or ministers are willing to take.

Only a few years ago, Charles Clarke had to back down in the wake of police outrage after he tried to implement some meagre reforms to do with local forces.

And just last year, Jacqui Smith was brave (or foolish) enough to put her foot down over police pay. Relations have never really improved since.

You would have thought politicians would have learnt all this by now. After all, the police are powerfully represented by the Police Federation and if it came to a popularity contest between both groups, the boys in blue would win hands down.

This is why I cannot understand why the Tories are insisting on dragging out this Bob Quick affair. I would want the whole thing to go away.

It will come as no surprise to most people that parties leak things to the press and brief against people in the media, but it would be a bit of a stretch to argue, as Mr Quick seemed to imply, that the Tories had organised a concerted campaign to undermine him in the media. He did make an error of judgement when he described the Party’s behaviour as ‘corrupt’ but he has since apologised.

David Cameron should have left it at that. But the Party is now increasing the pressure on Mr Quick by suggesting he needs to ‘consider his position’.

Obviously, the whole affair has unveiled a simmering tension between the Conservative Party and the Metropolitan police force.

Relations were already strained over the 42-day detention saga and the resignation of Ian Blair.

But the Tories will get no traction politically if they are seen to be anti-police and that is what it feels like at the moment.

Good relations and most importantly good results depend on trust. This has now broken down completely.

It is a far cry from the days when the Tory Party strutted around pretending to act like the party of law and order.

If I was the Tories, I would ignore the support of the Mail and Express and worry about the way the public perceived this. Attacking Mr Quick won’t win them many friends.

And just like Labour should never bend over backwards sycophantically to do what the police want it to do, the Tories should be careful not to distance themselves to much either.

Sooner or later they will be back in Government and they will need the support, expertise and help of our Bobbies.

The issues – terrorism, crime and anti-social behaviour – are too important to let a falling out last too long.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Manchester turns its back on congestion charge

I think it’s a real shame that the people of Manchester have voted against the introduction of a congestion charge.

The Council had proposed that the Charge would apply at peak times (7am to 9.30am and 4pm to 6.30pm) Monday to Friday. Drivers would cross both an outer ring and an inner ring where they would have had to pay a small fee.

But it looks like this idea is now dead for at least a decade.

What a pity.

The Government had promised that if Manchester voted “Yes” it would release £1.5 billion from its Transport Innovation Fund to improve public transport across the city and a further £1.2 billion would have been borrowed to help with this.

I thought it was a brilliant opportunity to vote for a massive package of transport improvements and economic investment.

The £2.7 billion would, among other things, have paid for double length trams which had the capacity to carry an additional 30,000 passengers each morning and evening.

It would have also paid for a huge expansion of the Metrolink system (41 new stops and 20 miles of additional tracks).

And along with the extra buses, bus lanes and cycle routes, the money would have paid for 180 yellow school buses to take kids safely to and from school.

But none of that’s going to happen now.

No extra jobs will be created and Manchester’s transport system will creak along as it always has.

The ‘Yes’ Campaign never seemed to get off the ground. Certainly, in the visibility stakes the ‘No’ Campaign was way ahead. It had more billboards, leaflets and a stronger advertising campaign which seemed to reinforce its message.

The Council didn't do a good enough job explaining the whole package to voters. Its message seemed confused and weak. It was also a bit elitist. There was an element of "We know what's best for you so you better vote for it" when I think it would have benefited from a more grass-roots approach.

Small business said it would be penalised unfairly by the charge, but it would have adapted – just like it did in London. And it would have found new ways of transporting goods that didn't clog up the roads and harm the environment. Unless you force behaviour to change, nothing will improve.

The Council did all it could to make the charge palatable to voters. For example, it would not have kicked in until 2013 when the vast majority of public transport improvements would have been nearly completed.

I always think you should trust voters to make the right decision. But I can’t help thinking on this occasion it was a missed opportunity and one we will come to regret.

Friday, 12 December 2008

The Barclay's are the new Christmas Scrooges

Are these two men the new Christmas Scrooges?

The Barclay Brothers, owners of the Telegraph, have taken umbrage with the people of Sark for voting against their chosen candidates for election.

Sark was until yesterday Europe's last remaining feudal kingdom. But the one hundred or so inhabitants of the tiny island in the middle of the English channel voted in their first democratic election yesterday.

And because they didn't vote for the brother's candidates, the Barclay's have decided to pack up and close their businesses on the island including all the hotels and restaurants that employ local people.

One hundred people are expected to lose their jobs, in the midst of a credit crunch, right before Christmas.

Who do they think they are?

They remind me of the "William Randolph Hearst" character in 'Citizen's Cane'.

I hope the people of Sark manage to withstand the Barclay's pressure. What a vile pair of sharks!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Has Labour forgotten its anti-establishment past?

The whole sorry saga concerning the police raid on Damian Green's office has made me think about Labour's anti-establishment past.

Not all the facts are known and some might appear in the next few days which would make me rethink what I am about to say, but since when should Labour politicians automatically defer to the police?

I'm not a natural supporter of Tony Benn, but he was on Channel 4 News a few days ago and I agreed with what he said. He criticised the police for their heavy-handed actions. He was concerned that it would threaten parliamentary sovereignty and prevent MPs from acting independently on behalf of their constituents. If he had known, he might also have questioned why they acted without a warrant.

For just one second, there was a hint of the old Labour anti-establishment radicalism about his argument.

It should be the role of Labour to question the police force, scrutinise it and provide checks and balances. From the argument over 42-days detention to the raid on Damian Green's office, our senior Labour politicians seem to have accepted what the police say as gospel.

This is not our natural territory - nor should it be.

We all know the police do a great job, sometimes under immensely difficult circumstances. We also know that they need support to ensure that they do their job well. But with every mistake the Met makes, with every PR disaster that unfolds, the public loses confidence.

Labour shouldn't be scared of publicly questioning what is going on. It shouldn't be afraid to challenge the police over its actions.

The police will always be able to look after themselves. They have their own organisations who do that very well and if push comes to shove the Conservatives are usually on hand to help too.

But Labour should always be on the side of the marginalised, the bullied, the voiceless, the dispossessed, the victim even if occasionally that person is an opposition Member of Parliament.

That is the real radical tradition.

Monday, 1 December 2008

"The real death this week was not of new Labour but of Tory new Labour posturing".

I attended the annual Progress conference this weekend in London. As ever, it was full of the great and the good.

Gordon Brown put in a surprise appearance and gave a really fine speech about the economy. He was even better during the Q and A when his knowledge and personality shone through. I mention it because it surprised me. He was eloquent, confident, assured and knowledgeable - the kind of person you want in a crisis. I even got to shake his hand!

I think he probably reassured the Progress audience, many of whom don't instinctively warm to him in the same way that they warmed to Tony Blair.

James Purnell had a hard act to follow but he gave an equally fine speech in which he made a vigorous defence of new Labour. He laid into the Tories calling their modernisation a "spray job". He attacked them for their vacuousness: "Politics by numbers is what you get when you lack a politics of ideas" and he called time on Cameron's efforts to change the Party - "The real death this week was not of new Labour but of Tory new Labour posturing". He faced a little bit of criticism from one man in the audience about his repeated attacks on the Tories, saying this was what turned voters off, but I think this is exactly what we need. Many on the Labour front bench are bad at exposing and attacking Tory policies. James Purnell does this very well and made an intelligent, passionate case for sticking to new Labour core principles at the same time. Just the stuff we need.

The rest of the day saw Peter Mandelson in conversation with Martin Kettle and Ed Miliband addressing the conference hall. Mandelson came across as funny and charming. He was also brutally honest about his previous experiences in Government. He said he had never been more happy and relaxed now. This certainly came across. Ed Miliband did the whole "I am going to give a speech and walk around the stage at the same time" routine and did it very well. He was very good on energy and climate change and repeated the Government's argument for new nuclear. Good. He also said, in strong terms, that if the energy companies did not act on unfair prices and pre-payment meters the Government would legislate.

I also went to a public services seminar with Alan Milburn - who still remains a great thinker and passionate advocate of public service reform. It was good to hear him and Liam Byrne make the case for a personal, bottom up NHS - although this will require a big shift of power away from Westminster and to local communities - and I am not convinced the Government or the Party gets that yet. Why isn't Alan Milburn back in a role though? It doesn't have to be a Cabinet position - but he is wasted on the backbench.

This year's conference was much better than last year's which in my opinion seemed a bit flat. The Party is certainly united behind Gordon and I think we probably feel that we have a momentum behind us all of a sudden. Certainly, Progress people seemed positive and upbeat which is half the battle.

I hope that now translates itself into better electoral prospects.

Friday, 28 November 2008

The Cream of the Crop

Barack Obama is filling his Administration with former LSE Graduates, so the FT reports today.

According to the newspaper, there are more LSE graduates about to become Obama Administration figures, than any other university except Harvard.

I think this is quite interesting. Most American students who make it to LSE tend to be highly educated, latte-drinking, liberal, international-looking, fashionista lefties who like to party.

President John F Kennedy was a General Course student at my old university, for example.

What does this tell us about who Barack Obama will surround himself with?

Well, I think it probably shows a President who has a diverse selection of friends and advisers. Smart, liberal people, with different backgrounds who have spent time abroad and probably have a background in economics – quite helpful, you would think, at the moment.

Maybe, this will encourage even more Yanks to come across the pond to experience the joys of a LSE education!

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Cameron: Must Do Better

This is very good:

Exceptional times call for exceptional measures

So the battle lines are drawn.

It is a return to the usual politics.

On the one hand, are the Conservatives sticking rigidly to a policy of monetarism and on the other hand sits the Labour Government - social democratic to its core.

The choices couldn’t be clearer. The consensus politics of the last few years has disappeared in a flash.

Yesterday’s pre-budget report was Labour at its best. Exceptional times call for exceptional measures.

The Chancellor introduced a fiscal stimulus which will help families and businesses through the tough times ahead. Some of the announcements were eye-watering:

• £775 million for investment in social housing

• An extra £100 million for energy efficiency measures, as part of a £535 million “Green stimulus” package – help for people suffering from fuel poverty now

• Extra money to help pensioners in the New Year - £120 extra for a couple on top of the Winter Fuel Allowance

• Child Benefit increases brought forward

• A £3 billion capital spending programme brought forward to be spent on motorways, housing, GP refurbishments and a school building programme

The Government has chosen a simple, clear approach to help families and business now.

More to the economy.

More to the public finances.

And more to society.

It is a stimulus which is supported by the CBI, the Institute of Directors and the IMF to name but a few.

At the same time, the Chancellor announced that VAT would be cut from 17.5% to 15% - helping business now and putting £12.4 billion back into the economy.

Alastair Darling’s best line of the speech was when he tackled head on the Conservative line of attack. “We did fix the roof when the sun was shining,” the Chancellor said. “And we fixed the roofs of the hospitals and schools up and down this country”. It quite rightly got a big cheer.

Some newspapers this morning have talked about the end of New Labour but news of its death is premature.

One of New Labour’s strengths was its essential pragmatism and the wielding together of middle class and working class voters into a grand coalition.

I thought yesterday’s budget fitted into the New Labour narrative. It was a pragmatic response to the economic problems we face, with something for everyone: business, the City, middle England, low and medium income voters and even the green lobby.

This pre-budget will revitalise New Labour – give the Party a sense of purpose and direction which it has sometimes lacked over the last year.

On the other side, George Osborne gave a shrill performance which at times made him sound slightly unhinged. The Conservative backbenchers didn’t take the occasion seriously enough either – there were far too many interruptions.

But at least, after weeks of dither and delay, the Conservatives have settled on a position.

And that seems to be “do nothing”.

Osborne and Cameron don’t look like leaders. They look out of their depth.

The electorate now faces a simple and stark choice. In nine months time, we will know which side was right.

After yesterday’s announcement, I wouldn’t bet against Mr Brown.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

We must listen to Hazel

Writing in yesterday’s Guardian, Hazel Blears the Communities Secretary, said that the rise of the BNP had been made possible because the political parties have abandoned sections of the white, working class.

She is absolutely right.

Since 1997, the grand coalition of middle class and working class voters that elected the Labour Party has broken down. We have lost about one million voters.

In her article, she urges the Party to take the fight directly to the BNP. We need to devise a long-term strategy to win back support, she says. Estates that have been ignored, voters who are taken for granted, services that are failing in some of the poorest communities and a political class which looks like it’s from a different planet, lead to voters who are primed and ready to listen to the BNP’s message of pure poison.

As one of the few genuine Labour MPs who comes from a working class background and who represents a working class community, Hazel Blears is the best person to lead this fight.

She ran a great Deputy Leadership campaign, which was admirable for the fact the she stuck doggedly and correctly to a new Labour message, when ‘Blairism’ - lets be frank - wasn’t that popular. She is a great campaigner with sound political judgement and in one hustings famously said, “I don’t need a sociologist to tell me about the views of the white working class” and meant it. Her brother still drives a bus in Manchester.

I would argue that the way for the Party to win back the working class – white or from any community – is to remember what motivates working class people in the first place and that’s ‘aspiration’. Working class people are aspirational to own their own homes, to send their kids to great schools and then university and to have the tools at their disposal to feel empowered. And yes this does mean more academy schools, greater choice in public services and more devolution of power to local communities.

Blears understands this. She instinctively gets it. We need to listen.

I would also add two other areas.

First, until the Government takes the legitimate and genuine concerns of working class communities seriously when it comes to immigration, we will continue to cede ground to the BNP. Communities are worried about the effect immigration has on housing and local services. I am still not convinced that the Government has found a Labour way of making a case for immigration that would eliminate the need for voters to turn to the BNP.

Second, whatever happened to the Respect agenda? We used to own that. Working class communities suffer disproportionately from anti-social behaviour. It is people like my grandparents on their estate who fear yobs and hooligans and worry about petty street-level crime. I can’t remember a single government minister who has spoken out about it over the last eighteen months. By not doing so, we have totally ceded ground to the Tories and more worryingly to the BNP on this issue.

It is time Labour sorted this out. This weekend, Hazel Blears kick-started that debate.

We must listen to her.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Hillary for Secretary of State!

If the rumours are to be believed then Hillary Clinton will be offered the job of Secretary of State by Barack Obama this week.

She should take it.

There are strong reasons why she would be the best person for the job.

First, she is qualified to do it. Her knowledge, experience and judgement make her the best candidate.

Second, she demonstrated her energy and ability in the gruesome primary campaign. It marked her out as an important and serious political and intellectual street fighter in her own right. She would be a strong advocate of American foreign policy abroad – helping to take on America’s foes and win back its allies.

Third, she would be competent. She has an excellent grasp of the issues and her experience working in the Executive and the Senate will help her to navigate “foggy bottom” (the State Department).

These reasons easily trump a) the sense of dynastic politics that would be created by her ‘return’ b) the foreign policy differences with Obama that she exhibited during the primary season and c) the argument that she isn’t enough of a change.

President-elect Obama has already united his Party, but by bringing Hillary on board he gets unconditional support from the second most powerful Democrat in the country. Together, they look like the sort of strong team that would enhance America’s profile abroad and reverse President Bush’s disastrous decisions.

On a personal level, Hillary should heed the lesson of F. Scott Fitzgerald: “there are no second acts in American lives”.

With Barack Obama looking like a two-term President (fingers crossed), Hillary would be past her prime in eight years time and she isn’t mad enough to challenge him in 2012 anyway. She had her go and she didn’t do it. There are no second chances in politics anymore. So the best she can hope for, if she really wants a “legacy role” is to take the job of Secretary of State and do it well.

It would be a mistake for her not to.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Yes he can! Labour romps to victory in Scotland

Labour’s surprising by-election victory in Glenrothes this week is the first indication that Gordon Brown’s political fight-back is beginning to work.

The Party – which only a few weeks ago looked set to lose the seat in spectacular fashion – defied the odds and romped home with a majority of 6,737.

The candidate, Lindsay Roy, proved to be an excellent campaigner too. A street-fighter with impeccable local credentials and a strong grasp of the issues, Roy proved adept at winning over sceptical voters and shoring up the base.

And on this occasion, the Prime Minister led from the front. Defying convention, he visited Glenrothes twice during the election campaign and Sarah Brown visited over seven times. The victory will be a boost to their morale.

Labour opted for a long campaign. This proved an effective strategy. The Party, which had suffered in Glasgow East because of poor organisation and low voter identification, had time to organise effectively. As we have just witnessed in America with Barack Obama’s victory, the importance of grassroots organisation should never be underestimated.

Secondly, Brown’s handling of the economic crisis undoubtedly played a part. Of course, it helps that he is a local lad, but voters recognised that in an economic downturn what they wanted was a safe pair of hands and Brown has proved adept and assured.

Labour activists on the ground said from the start that the mood up in Glenrothes was good. Party campaigners outweighed SNP activists by a significant margin. The mood and the atmosphere was all good for Labour and attempts by the SNP to work Obama’s message don’t seem to have come off.

Of course, we mustn't get carried away. A bounce is different from a sustained lead and there is more for Labour to do. Let's wait until the local and European elections next Spring to see if there has been a reversal.

However, as Nick Robinson’s blog notes, today politics is all about momentum. Labour’s victory has given Brown a huge boost. It has given the Party north of the Border a huge bounce.

Could the ‘Big Mo’ - as the Americans call it - be with Labour again?

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Obama Seizes Victory!

Cometh the Hour, Cometh the man.

Change has finally come.

Barack Obama's stunning victory on Tuesday night has changed America and the world irrevocably.

It is a testament to his outstanding qualities as a leader and a testament to the American people for embracing change and hope, rather than the politics of fear.

I was lucky enough to watch the night unfold from the US Embassy in London. The atmosphere inside was electric. Obama supporters predominated, although the McCain contingent was sizeable too. Everyone was wearing campaign badges, bunting was dangling from the ceiling, there was a real carnival atmosphere. There was even a Starbucks, Subway and Burger King inside the Embassy! Lots of celebrities and lots of politicians mixed with political anoraks like me. It was great.

There were some spine-tingling moments from the night - like when you saw Jesse Jackson crying or Obama's girls ran on the stage at Chicago. That sort of took my breath away as you realised for the first time that actually the image of that family in the West Wing will be incredibly powerful.

In the end, Obama won an electoral college landslide and took a comfortable majority of the popular vote.

6 million more African Americans voted Democrat than they did last time.

3.5 million more under 30's voted Democrat than they did last time.

These are the beginnings of a new electoral alignment in American politics.

People feel it is their victory. They are energised and engaged.

McCain made a gracious and moving concession speech, characteristic of the dignity that has always been a feature of his personality and politics. He is a good man but he wasn't right for now.

Obama made a brilliant speech. Uplifting, powerful and strong. Perfect.

His greatest problem now is how to manage expectations. He is not a miracle worker and the problems facing America are daunting. It is a difficult task but I believe he has shown he has the qualities necessary for the challenges ahead.

The whole night reminded me of the void we have in British politics though. Where is our Obama?

Ouside the White House, crowds had gathered and were apparently chanting "goodbye, goodbye". Brilliant.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Why I'm supporting Barack Obama

This is the most important election of my lifetime.

What happens tonight in America will reverberate around the world for decades. And have huge consequences for all of us, everywhere. Will America slip backwards for more of the same? Or will it embrace change and become the leader we so desperately want it to be?

It has been the most exciting General Election campaign of my life so far. I remember when no-one, other than my dad and I, had even heard of Barack Obama – but we have followed his progress from the start. And tonight we will be watching from the US Embassy in London as the results come in.

I will be looking, in particular at three states: Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Virginia used to be the most important state in the union. All the early Presidents came from there. It has not been Democratic though for decades. Republicans have dominated state and national elections.

Tonight it could all be different. The demographics of Virginia have changed. It is younger, richer, more liberal than ever before and there is a large chance Obama will take it. Results for this state should be in by midnight our time. If Obama wins it, I think he is on course for a landslide.

Ohio is the stereotypical bellwether state. In the election of 1828 when Andrew Jackson became President, it was a fiercely fought, close contest even then. The polls show Obama is ahead but I think things are finely balanced. If Obama wins this state he will be President.

Pennsylvania is a real fight. The polls show Obama leading here, but each campaign says things are much closer. In the last two weeks, both candidates have traversed the state up and down. In the primary campaign, Obama struggled to win over white, working class voters. But over the last few weeks, as the economic crisis has deepened, he has really connected with them, while McCain’s efforts have been lacklustre. If McCain wins this state, it will be a major setback for Obama and probably create a frisson of nervousness in every Obama supporter’s living room. However, if Obama wins he will be President.

All of these results should be in by 3am our time. I predict turnout will be huge – particularly amongst African American voters in places like Georgia and North Carolina.

And they will be voting for a candidate who offers real change and real hope.

I do not just support him because he is an eloquent, brilliant speaker, nor because he is ferociously bright – he is all of those things by the way - but because he offers a real antidote to the cynicism and spin we have come to associate the Bush Presidency with.

He is authentic. He speaks with passion and conviction. He appeals to our better natures.

He is inspirational yet thoughtful – capable of making momentous decisions and let’s not forget he has an awful lot in his in-tray when he enters the Oval Office.

His campaign has tested him and proved his metal. He grew up through the hard knocks school of Chicago politics. He had the Clintons and the Republicans throw everything at him, but he remained cool and measured and determined. Important qualities which make him fit for the White House.

His election would truly be transformational and have huge symbolic value for African Americans living in the States who still remember what it was like to grow up under segregation.

In one important way though, his election would also prove an age old truth: The politics of change and hope will always triumph over the politics of fear.

Come on Barack!

Monday, 3 November 2008

Who is Best for Britain?

Does it matter to the ‘special relationship’ which man is next elected US President?

I think the answer is most definitely yes.

First off, neither McCain nor Obama should be thought of as the British candidate. The relationship between Britain and the United States is founded on national interest and personality. It really doesn’t matter which party is in power on either side of the Atlantic. Harold Wilson and Lyndon Johnson never got on, Thatcher and Reagan got on well but weren’t afraid to disagree with each other and Tony Blair just got on well with everyone!

But personality is important and John McCain does seem to have more sentimental attachment to Britain than Obama does.

At the end of the day though McCain will only ever be concerned with what is in the national interest of the United States.

We also don’t know whether Obama’s Kenyan father has given him a view of Great Britain either. Maybe he has, but the candidate has not said much.

This leaves two questions.

Which man is more likely to work with Britain on the issues that matter to us like Afghanistan, Climate Change and the Middle East and be more agreeable to our goals?

And which one is more personally suited to a role which requires calm and serious decision making under pressure?

The answer to both of these questions is Obama.

He has calved out a distinct position on the Middle East through his proposed policy of talking to Iran. It may not work, but relations cannot possibly be worse between the US and Iran than they are right now, so why not try it?

He has promised to engage with the Middle East peace process and he has vowed to do more to win the ‘just’ war in Afghanistan.

McCain, on the other hand, seems to think the solution to Iran is to bomb it. He thinks international organisations can afford to be ignored and he argues that the way to deal with Iraq and Afghanistan is to leave troops there for a hundred years and forget about a political solution.

On climate change, Obama’s policies are the genuinely interesting ones. He proposes greater carbon trading, a more activist approach from the US administration in setting up a post-Kyoto framework and he hasn’t pandered to the lobbyists and big business either.

McCain, on the other hand, did once have a good record on the environment and climate change but with every passing day of this election campaign he has run further to the right. He does not have an admirable green agenda anymore. At one point the slogan of his campaign was "Drill, baby, drill!" Enough said.

This finally leaves us with the question of personality.

Whoever takes over from George W. Bush will have the legacy from hell – financial, political, diplomatic, military.

We need a President who has the temperament and judgement to deal with all of this.

McCain loses his rag every minute. His pathetic, panicky and destructive attempts to involve himself in the financial bail-out a few weeks ago looked like the last acts of a desperate man and hardly inspired confidence.

His decision to choose Sarah Palin as candidate for VP shows a recklessness and contempt for ordinary people which should bar him from the White House.

Obama, on the other hand, has had the Clintons and the Republicans throw everything at him. He has risen up through the hard knocks school of Chicago politics and all the time he has remained cool, calm and collected. He has never lost it. If this is any indication of what he will be like as President, then it is a bloody good one.

Britain should be rooting for Obama.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Obama and I

Here's how I could have lost the election for Obama.....

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Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Mandy is back!

George Osborne is on very dodgy ground.

The revelations yesterday and today that the Shadow Chancellor supped champagne on a Russian oligarch's yacht and, it is suggested, solicited a donation from him have created a bit of a media frenzy.

The accusations have been vigorously denied.

Whatever the truth, the whole sorry saga has the fingerprints of Peter Mandelson all over it.

Basically enraged that Osborne went public a couple of weeks ago with the claim that Mandelson had "dripped pure poison" into his ear about the Prime Minister, the new Secretary of State for Business has bided his time and told his mate, Nat Rothschild, to go public.

What does this tell us?

One simple thing: Don't cross Peter Mandelson.

Ever since the announcement he was to return to the cabinet, there has been a conservative witch-hunt, fuelled by their friends in the media, to get Mandy.

This attack on Osborne is a warning shot: if you try, I will come after you too.

It is classic politics.

It says, "I'm back" and now that the Tories are on the run for a change, the Labour Party should be very grateful.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Shares in Gordon Brown are up

It was Harold Wilson who famously posited “a week is a long time in politics”.

Only a few weeks ago, at the Labour Party conference, all talk was of leadership change.

Since then, there seems to have been a miraculous reversal in the Prime Minister’s fortunes.

An Independent on Sunday poll today sees Labour narrow the Tory lead. It is possible we might even win the Glenrothes by-election – unthinkable only a few weeks ago.

The Prime Minister’s handling of the financial crisis has been assured and decisive.

The £500 billion bail out of Britain’s banks is a big gamble, but it had the support of the opposition and no one, least of all George Osborne, is offering a credible alternative.

Mr. Brown has put all his cards on the table and now we must wait and see.

But surely no one can accuse him now of dither, delay and indecision?

If anything, this financial mess has galvanised him and Labour backbenchers. There is nothing quite like an international crisis to improve a government’s prospects.

Of course, this is no comfort to all for us who will end up paying for the mistakes of others. The next couple of years are going to be hard, very hard.

But politically, it has given Brown an opportunity to revitalise his government.

Take a look at Paul Krugman’s
article in the New York Times. Even Americans think Mr. Brown has saved the world financial system.

He seems to be the only leader who is genuinely interested in solving the current financial crisis on an international level, rather than retreating to nationalist solutions.

He has also been calling for reforms of the world’s banking and financial structures for years. Now, would seem a perfect opportunity to put that into practice.

And no longer does he have to pretend to be happy or flash. Serious times call for serious men. The ‘novice line’ he used in his conference speech the other week is beginning to work.

So for now, Brown is safe. There is not going to be any leadership challenge. There is not going to be any plotting.

Labour’s fortunes are tied to the economy.

The Prime Minister has had a good few weeks, we will wait and see what the next few bring.

Monday, 6 October 2008

How Sarah Palin works

My blogging on the US elections has been intermittant lately - the perils of moving house, starting a new job and going to the Labour conference.

But I did watch the Vice-Presidential debate the other night. For those of you who did as well, you might like this flow diagram about Sarah Palin (straight off the Huffington Post). It made me laugh

Back to the Future

The return of Peter Mandelson to the Cabinet has generated widespread criticism.

Some MPs have rightly pointed out he is a divisive figure. Other have called it a classic case of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer.

But, I think it is a political masterstroke.

Peter Mandelson has formidable political talents. He is probably the best political strategist of his time.

He can provide focus and direction to a government which sorely lacks it.
He has impeccable media firefighting skills - a quality, incidentally, which Margaret Beckett also has.

He does not underestimate the Tories - he understands them - which few in Brown's inner circle do.

His political renaissance has improved the quality of the Cabinet by about 100 per cent.

He will be a strong voice in the government for the New Labour project which has won this Party three General Election victories.

It is a political gamble, but when you are twenty points behind in the polls, what do you have to lose? On this occasion, Brown is right to take a risk.

It could of course go horribly wrong. But as the Tories might discover, it could go horribly right.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Time to go after the Tories

It is time to take the fight to the Tories.

This is what Hazel Blears intends to do when she travels to the Conservative Party conference this week - the only Cabinet Minister, to my knowledge, who is doing so.

And this is what Gordon Brown started to do in his conference speech last week when he attacked Cameron and Osborne with some effective and cutting lines.

But Labour won’t win the next election unless we get off our back foot and go after them.

From a political perspective, the economic situation offers Labour a number of opportunities.

What, for example, is the Tories answer to it all?

Even greater laissez-fair economics? Looser regulation? Neither the public, nor the media, nor indeed the financial services industry could tolerate that.

When Irwin Stelzer, the grand-master of capitalism, says that the old capitalism is dead and government intervention and tighter regulation, in some areas, is permissible, you know things have fundamentally shifted.

But do the Tories have an answer to it?

No, they trail behind public opinion – still extolling the virtues of unregulated, unfettered capitalism when the past few weeks have shown that the free market doesn’t have the solution to everything.

Why do the Tories oppose the ban on short selling as well? Is it because their wealthy backers have made millions out of this scheme and they don’t want to lose their rich friends?

And do the Tories really think that one of the features of capitalism is that people get wealthy off the misery off others as George Osborne said? This is what the Tories think and Labour needs to remind every voter of it.

Their economic document masquerading as a plan for economic reconstruction has no proper commitments for social housing and promises tax cuts but with no commitment to maintain public services. Bad economics and bad policy.

And while we’re on the subject of rich people who pay tax, let’s have a debate about Michael Ashcroft’s role – the Tory donor who skulks away in Belize.

Is he on the electoral register? Where does he live? Does he pay tax? And is he channelling funds through his corporations into Conservative Central Office’s coffers?

When modest and low income families are suffering, does the man who is practically bankrolling the Tories pay any tax? It is a simple question.

There is room here for Labour to strike. Do it.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Labour Conference: Gordon's speech

As speeches go it was one of his best.

He didn't dwell on past mistakes, although he apologised for the 10p tax fiasco, but instead he looked to the future.

He said, "I'm not going to be something I'm not" and for once you believed him.

The theme of the speech was fairness.

"A Britain of air chances for all and fair rules for all."

At last, you got a sense of what Brown's vision is.

There were some good new announcements too:

- the extension of free nursery places for two year olds
- funding for a million families to get online
- free universal check ups for everyone over 40
- free prescriptions for 250,000 cancer patients

And there was a hint of how Brown will attack the Tories over the coming months. His line,
"My children aren't props; they're people" was powerful and easily the best attack he has made against Cameron in a while. It is also a fair one.

Brown reminded us of George Osborne's reaction to last week's financial turmoil too. The Shadow Chancellor had said, "that its a function of financial markets that people make loads of money out of the misery of others". Classic Tory. Disgraceful. Vile. Wrong.

Brown is right to expose them for it. We need to see more of this over the coming months.

The issue, unfortunately, isn't whether it was a good speech or not. The issue is whether it has done enough to help turn around Labour's fortunes.

On that question, the jury is still out.

Next week, the Tories will have a great conference and Cameron will make a serious, statesmanlike speech that will see him steal the news agenda.

When that happens, Brown's speech may well fade into the background and we will be back to square one.

He has won himself a stay of execution. But that is all.

It will take more than a good speech to turn around Labour's fortunes.

Labour Conference: Delegates have their spiritis lifted

The Labour conference needed a bit of Olympic magic.

Delegates have spent the past week searching for that elusive feel good factor.

As the Prime Minister put the finishing touches to his make or break speech, we got a taste of it on Tuesday morning when Tim Brabants, Olympic gold medal canoeist in Beijing, spoke on the conference floor.

Taking part in a question and answer session with Alastair Campbell, Brabants had an important message for Labour Party members:

“You need to get behind one another. A good team behind you gives you confidence.”

It was a warning some elements of the Party might need to listen to.

Brabants was joined on stage by Olympics supremo, Tessa Jowell and Olympic Cycling Director, Dave Brailsford – the mastermind behind our recent cycling glory.

Brailsford wants to see cycling introduced as part of the national curriculum and he made a direct plea to government.

“Sport helps tackle social exclusion. It inspires people. It’s aspirational.”

Tessa Jowell agreed. The London 2012 Olympics she said would allow people “to realise their ambitions and possibilities”.

The conference lapped it up. Labour Party members can feel some pride that their government, which has increased funding for grassroots sport, is partly responsible for recent Olympic success.

The debate was rounded off with a speech by Andy Burnham, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

He reminded the Party about the steps Labour had taken to increase participation, mentioning the compulsory five hours of sport in school that the government introduced.

He also welcomed the uptake of free swimming places – something my grandparents are currently feeling the benefit of.

It was a passionate speech. “Free culture, free sport, inspiring ideas that proclaim Labour values,” he yelled.

Not everyone will believe it. And not everyone will agree with it.

But as a welcome respite from the plotting and rumour mongering, the debate helped lift delegates’ spirits.

Not such a bad thing.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Labour Conference: Part Three. Miliband: Foreign Policy as a Labour Strength.

David Miliband cuts a dashing figure.

As he strode into Manchester Town Hall yesterday, he looked purposeful and determined.

All eyes were on him.

A couple of carefully placed features in the weekend papers about his personality and home life and Alan Johnson’s endorsement of him in an interview had raised temperatures.

Everyone was waiting to see what he would say about the leadership.

Addressing an audience of Fabian members, the Foreign Secretary of course disappointed us. He stuck rigidly to the topic: “Foreign Policy as a Labour Strength.”

He discussed everything from Iraq to Europe to Africa to climate change.

He sounded knowledgeable and serious and although it took him a while to get going, by the end the audience had really warmed to him.

Miliband pointed out that power in international relations is shifting.

From West to East.

From states to multilateral organisations.

From government to civil society.

The Labour Party had to recognise all three and develop policies which matched those changes.

A clever question from an audience member about how the Labour Party with its motions and committees and laborious processes could cope with the fast moving world of foreign relations, temporarily flawed the Foreign Secretary.

He didn’t have the answer.

But his mind quickly recovered and he instantly launched into a discussion about Labour values.

It was a good performance.

I came out of the meeting thinking that Mr. Miliband looked and acted the part of a leader.

Only time will tell whether he actually makes it.

Labour Conference - Part Two

On Saturday night, I tried to cram in as many parties as possible. C’mon I am allowed to!

I started the night off with a Young Labour reception. My friend and colleague Olivia Bailey, a member of the National Policy Forum, has finally got the Party to take seriously the issue of “Votes at 16.” It looks like it will be in the Party’s next manifesto. Great news! So the Young Labour reception was buzzing with success.

The Prime Minister turned up and seemed very high spirited. He gave a good, relaxed speech thanking Labour Youth members for all their work. Note: few Labour MPs or politicians ever thank activists, particularly the young ones (who they regard as dispensable), so it was nice that the PM did.

After the Young Labour reception, I went to the New Statesman Party. It was a great opportunity to hobnob with all and sundry. Then I finished the night at Labour’s LGBT Party on Canal Street. It seemed like the whole of the conference had descended there – really relaxed, inclusive and informal. I staggered home at 4am.

Labour Party Conference - Part One

The Labour Party Conference got off to a magical start on Saturday in Manchester with the announcement that J K Rowling was donating £1 million to the Labour Party.

Timed to perfection, the announcement put a smile on delegates’ faces.

In Manchester, the sun was shining brightly too.

On these occasions, I am always so proud that my city scrubs up well.

Manchester looked great.

When I got there I did the obligatory walk around the exhibition stands. There were some interesting groups but many big corporate names were missing and the exhibition area was smaller than in previous years.

Not a good sign.

My first fringe meeting of the day was a Fabian event at Manchester’s grand Town Hall.

“What does the white, working class want?” was the title. It was a packed audience.

Hazel Blears and Jon Cruddas were on the panel. Both gave good performances.

Hazel summed up Labour’s policy toward the working class in one word: “ambition.”

Working class communities are ambitious to own their own homes.

Ambitious to send their kids to a good school.

Ambitious for their kids to get to university.

Labour has to find policies that allow working class communities to fulfill their ambition.

She also raised the Respect Agenda as an important issue.

I couldn’t agree more.

Whether you call it Respect or not, anti-social behaviour is a real problem and one which working class communities suffer disproportionately from.

But over the last year, we have totally ceded the ground to the Tories on it. Where has it gone as an issue?

I don’t think I have heard the Prime Minister mention it once. Tony Blair used to be all over it.

Jon Cruddas, coming from a different place from Blears, was equally impressive.

I don’t always share his politics, but he was sincere, clued up and not afraid to talk about issues like immigration in a sensible Labour way. I am increasingly impressed by him.

Both Blears and Cruddas give us hope that there are some people in the PLP who have good ideas and want Labour to succeed.

This wasn’t the case everywhere though.

While the party put on a veneer of unity, everyone I spoke to talked about the leadership question.

A lot of people are burying their heads in the sand, saying that Gordon needs more time. I think that would be disastrous. The issue needs to be settled now - one way or another.

One former Minister told me that he was going around telling everyone that Brown had to make the speech of his life this week, because when he didn’t expectations would be raised so much that we would have to get rid of Brown.

And indeed I am sure Labour will have a good week and Brown will do just enough. But next week, the Conservatives will have a great week and Cameron will look like a great leader and the whispers and rumours about Brown will start again and nothing will have changed.

That isn’t fair on Brown. It isn’t fair on Labour and it certainly isn’t fair for the country.

The leadership issue needs to be resolved now.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Rebels attack Brown

"Infamy, Infamy, they've all got it in for me."

Poor Gordon Brown.

The last thing he needed as he was preparing for his conference speech this weekend, was to fight off a backbench insurrection.

It has all the echoes of the "September coup" that he mounted against Tony Blair a few years ago. Et tu Gordon.

I admire Siobhain McDonagah. At least she has had the courage to nail her sails to the mast and call publicly for a leadership contest. For someone so loyal, it must have been an agonising decision. At least, she is not another one of the mindless backbench Labour lemmings refusing to face up to reality, marching headlong into political oblivion.

It is quite clear now that for all the good measures announced over the past few weeks in energy policy and housing, none have had the seismic effect necessary to stop Labour's slump in the polls.

I may have waited until after the Labour Conference to see if Gordon could turn things around and I am still inclined to do this.

But more Labour MPs seem to be calling for a leadership contest and this morning the Business Secretary, John Hutton, refused to condemn them.

Even if you vehemently disagree with the Labour rebels, their actions have further destabilised and weakened the Prime Minister. It is hard to see how you row back from all of this.

I suppose like many Labour members, I am still in two minds about the best course of action to take. I am deeply frustrated and annoyed with the government and the Prime Minister but I am yet to see a credible alternative - hardly a ringing endorsement for Brown I know.

What infuriates me the most is those MPs who are happy to sit there and eek out another two years of salary and benefits, knowing full well that they will eventually lose their seats, but unwilling to take action now to prevent it.

The Labour Conference next weekend is going to be brutal.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

The week in politics

I started a new job this week and I am in the process of moving house at the moment so I haven't been blogging as frequently as I should, but by the end of the month I'll be back to normal.

However, two things stand out from the past week:

One, Charles Clarke's criticism of Gordon Brown was neither surprising nor particularly useful. But he did articulate what many Labour Party members are privately thinking. In fact, I thought he was too generous to the Prime Minister. He says Gordon has months to turn things around. I think he has a matter of weeks. The announcements this week by the government regarding the housing market and energy prices will go some way to alleviating concerns. But while these measures will help some people, they don't add up to a wider vision of what the government stands for. There is still no clear sense of purpose or direction. We need to see this over the forthcoming weeks and Brown needs to do a total mea culpa at Conference if the situation is to be improved even in the slightest.

Two, I am more convinced than ever that John McCain made a disastrous choice when he picked Sarah Palin as his VP. Although, she gave a barnstorming speech at the Republican convention (compared to McCain's lacklustre and plodding effort) she is inexperienced and lacks political judgement. Her extreme right wing stance on the issues and the question marks raised over her judgement back in Alaska should be areas which the Obama campaign can exploit ruthlessly. In choosing Palin, McCain shows us what a reckless and impulsive decision maker he actually is. You would have thought that after eight years of George W. Bush, Americans might want a more measured, thoughtful President. McCain's choice of Palin is pure political opportunism. Obama's choice of Biden shows someone who is serious about governing.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Another shake-up at Downing Street

Gordon Brown's Chief Strategist, Stephen Carter, is to be sidelined in a further shake up of operations at Number Ten.

It is another ominous sign that Gordon can't get a grip of his Downing Street team.

Mr. Carter was and is a welcome breath of fresh air. But, the PM's plunging popularity and the government's low opinion poll ratings show Carter has been unable to turn things around.

It doesn't instill confidence.

It doesn't inspire hope that the government's relaunch today will be a success and it doesn't suggest Gordon can dig himself out of this hole.

If Carter had been allowed to get on with his job, instead of facing all that sniping from Brownite hacks, he may have stood a chance.

As it is, Brown has no one else to blame but himself.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

John McCain chooses Miss. Congeniality

John McCain has chosen Sarah Palin, a former beauty Queen and currently the Governor of Alaska, to be his Vice Presidential candidate.

I am in two minds about this.

On the one hand, it is an audacious move. It will generate enormous media interest and public excitement over the next few days. It will also rally the Republican base and evangelical vote - Palin is anti-abortion, fiscally conservative, a member of the NRA, anti-gay marriage and religious - so McCain will be able to extend his appeal on the Right.

It is also a blatant attempt to appeal to the 'Hillaryites' who are still annoyed that their candidate didn't make it.

McCain interviewed her for the job and ultimately made the final decision. It is possible that he sees a steel glint in her eyes that we have yet to discover.

However, the decision also smacks of utter desperation.

Palin is unknown outside of her home state. She has no knowledge or experience of foreign policy and is mired in her own corruption scandal back at home.

I think the McCain camp also overestimates the hostility of female Clinton supporters towards Obama. They may be disgruntled for now, but it is quite another thing to switch sides and vote Republican in November. Will they be willing to vote for a woman even though she is anti-abortion? I just don't see how she appeals to them.

Palin will also find it difficult to hold her own against Joe Biden in the debates and on the stump. It will be clear from the start who is the more experienced campaigner and unlike Obama she has not been through the rigours of a Primary season.

However, the Obama camp has to be careful about the way they go after her. When it comes to the debates, Biden will have to tone down his combative and blustering nature. He must also avoid being seen as patronising and belittling. It will be a fine line.

My guess is Palin will probably surprise us and turn out to be quite a good campaigner. If I was McCain I would let her work on shoring up the Republican base, while I concentrated on the Independents. The media and women's groups will also love it initially. But, I think over the next few weeks it will become quite clear who has the stronger ticket. The ethics cloud hanging over her head may come back to haunt her and her extremist policy stances will do very little to win over Independents and Hillaryites.

The decision also tells us something very interesting about McCain's character. If he were to be elected, he would be in charge. There would be none of the co-Presidency we have seen under Bush and Cheney. If Mitt Romney or Tom Ridge had been chosen, for instance, then they would have established their own centres of power. But does anyone seriously think Palin is going to stand up to McCain? Offer him policy advice? The answer is no. Unlike the Obama/Biden ticket, this ticket doesn't look like one ready to govern now.

She will turn out to be mere window dressing. In time, Americans will see right through it.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Democratic Convention Day Four - Barack Obama and the Promise of America

Barack Obama talked about the "Promise of America" last night in the most important speech of his career so far.

Accepting the Democratic nomination for president in an outdoor stadium of 80,000 people, Obama carefully interwove soaring flights of rhetoric and oratory with detailed policy proposals and a workmanlike approach to the job at hand.

He stuck to his message of change and linked his candidacy for the presidency with what he referred to as the promise of America. It was fitting that it was 45 years to the day that Dr. King had made his famous speech after the march on Washington.

It was a departure from previous speeches, in which Obama has often veered off into abstract concepts of change and hope. These themes were still there but Obama offered as well specific policy proposals which should help to minimise Republican attacks that he is messianic and/or full of hot air.

He proposed a new tax code and the elimination of capital gains tax for companies that invested at home rather than outsourced abroad.

He pledged to reduce tax for 95% of middle class Americans.

He offered to end the American dependence on oil from the Middle East within ten years.

He said he would carefully look at nuclear power and push forward with a renewables revolution.

He pledged policies on education and health care and said he would do everything in his power to enforce equal pay for women.

He also tackled the contentious issues of abortion, gun control, immigration and gay rights, sounding every bit like the kind of President Americans have been crying out for.

People who criticise him for not producing specifics now need to shut up.

He also repeatedly attacked John McCain and the Republicans throughout the speech - for me, the best part.

He opened up a strong line of attack in which he dealt with the issue of 'experience' head on. He made it about judgement and temperament, thereby subtly questioning McCain's suitability for the job.

Like Bill Clinton on Wednesday night, Obama suggested that experience was one thing but judgement was quite different and McCain had neither the temperament nor the judgement to become President. He reminded us that McCain had voted with Bush over 90% of the time and we should not be ready to accept only a 10% chance of change.

In one of the best criticisms of McCain, Obama also pointed to McCain's world view and subtly reminded us of his opponent's age: "We need a president who can face the threats of the future, not keep grasping at the ideas of the past."

He also told voters about his own life story, rebutting charges from the Republican camp that he is nothing more than a vacuous celebrity.

I think Obama judged the whole thing brilliantly. He was quite right to tone the rhetoric down and concentrate on some of the more bread and butter issues. The setting, lights and music also looked perfect and getting individual voters to introduce him (I particularly liked the Hispanic teacher) gave the whole thing a more real, earthy quality which should play well. There are now 67 days to go until the General Election.

Finally last night Obama introduced himself to the American public. If they are anything like me, they will like what they see.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Democratic Convention Day Three - Bill and Joe Deliver the Goods

The Democratic convention was treated to two very fine performances last night.

Both President Clinton and Senator Biden gave excellent speeches in which they vouched for Barack Obama's character and went straight for McCain's jugular.

The night had already started emotionally. The roll call of delegate votes is always strange to watch at the best of times. Each state delegation calls out who they are going to support as well as giving their own state a massive plug. But when it got to New York, Hillary Clinton surprised us with a cleverly orchestrated appearance in which she moved a motion of acclamation. In other words, she stopped the roll call and called for the Convention to endorse Obama. I am a sucker for moments like this and I did have tears in my eyes when it happened. Her actions put Obama over the edge and gave him the nomination.

When Bill appeared, the Convention went wild. I loved it when they played "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow." Ah, the memories! He gave a great speech in which he explicitly endorsed Obama and showed the Democrats just how they could attack McCain. He did a lot to rehabilitate himself in my eyes. He had a couple of great lines too: "People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power." Slam Dunk and thank you.

With the crowd more than nicely warmed up, Biden also delivered the goods. In particular, he went after McCain's biggest supposed strength: his foreign policy experience. For me the best single line in his speech was: "The times require more than just a good soldier, they require a wise leader." This was exactly the right thing to say. Biden has the credibility to question McCain's stance on foreign policy and national security. His mantra seemed to be, "John McCain wrong, Barack Obama right." Experience is fine, but judgement is something else. I should never have questioned Obama's decision to choose Biden. After last night's speech, I understand why he was chosen as VP candidate. Biden came across as wise and experienced. A man with a good back story who would take the fight to the Republicans and appeal to those white working class communities in the rust belt who Obama is struggling to touch.

In the end both speeches tackled the thorny issue of judgement. Clinton and Biden argued forcefully that compared to McCain, Obama's judgement was spot on. He was ready to lead now. Exactly the sort of thing we needed to hear.

Tonight, Obama gives the most important speech of his life.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Democratic Convention Day Two - Did Hillary nail it?

Did Hillary nail it? Was her speech a slam dunk?

The common consensus seems to be that she did. It was the speech of her life, even better than her very good concession speech.

I liked it because there were no misty eyed reflections about her campaign. No sense of defeat. Instead, it was punchy, resilient and with a clear a sense of purpose. She was unequivocal in her endorsement of Barack Obama. The speech will help to erode tensions within the Party and present a united front to the electorate.

It was also peppered with some exceptionally fine rhetoric and oratory. As well as urging Democrats to come together to support Obama she also went on the attack when it came to the Republicans. Three lines stand out:

"No way, No How, No McCain."

"We don't need four more years of the last eight years." And...

"With an agenda like that it makes sense George Bush and John McCain will meet together in the twin cities because these days they're awfully hard to tell apart."

These quotes will and should be replayed as much as possible. The Democratic strategy has to be about linking McCain with the Bush years.

She did talk a lot about herself and she did talk a lot about Democratic values but on every occasion she tied it back to Obama. I don't know how she could have shown more support than this.

It was more like a Presidential statement than anything else. Perhaps, if she had found that voice more during the Primary campaign, she would be making that speech on Thursday night instead of Obama.

A word of caution though.

In today's Guardian, Michael Tomasky has written an excellent piece. He points out that Hillary did not vouch for Obama's character in the speech nor did she say anything about his abilities as Commander-in-Chief. Strange considering this is his main area of weakness and her main focus of attack during the Primary season. It is possible that in a few weeks time we will have forgotten Hillary's calls for unity and the Party will remain divided.

I find this unlikely though.

The speech helped shut down the negative narrative that was beginning to define the convention and create a more positive climate in time for Obama's speech. It moved me and I am Barack Obama's biggest fan and for Democrats at least, it should put the wind behind their sails. It was a call to arms for Democrats everywhere.

"Before we keep going, we need to get going by electing Barack Obama."

Good on ya Hillary! I could not have put it better myself.

Joe Biden now has a big job matching that and we will wait and see what Bill says tonight...

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Democratic Convention Day One - Did Michelle do enough?

I think the answer is yes.

Michelle Obama delivered a convention address last night that was perfectly pitched. It was accessible, genuine and heartfelt.

By stressing the common themes of family, change and values the Obama camp hoped Michelle would make an an emotional connection with voters. I lost count of the number of times I heard the phrase "American family." And by successfully linking her family's rise and success with the fulfillment of the American dream - "America's a place where you can make it if you try" - Michelle forced voters to make an important connection in their minds between the Obama family and voters' perceptions of the 'typical' American family.

It seems odd now that anyone would question it but the speech also helped to erase doubts that she was 'an angry black woman.' It was simple and family based which should go down well with female voters who feel hard done by after Clinton's defeat. Incidentally, there was a warm tribute to Hillary which I thought was a nice touch and should help to improve Democratic unity.

If, at times, the speech seemed cloying and schmaltzy then this was OK too. After all, Americans go mad for this sort of thing. And if you can't do it when your husband is about to be officially nominated as Presidential candidate, when can you do it?

When Obama appeared by VT link at the end, there was also a good joke about him pestering Michelle until she went out with him and how Americans would need a persistent President. The little girls also looked cute. If the object of the address had been to introduce Michelle to the American people then it worked very well.

Tonight, Hillary makes her debut. She needs to go out of her way to show that she is right behind Obama's candidacy, if not rumours of Democratic disunity will haunt the rest of the week and the campaign.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

One House Too Many

John McCain can't remember how many houses he owns. Here's one house I hope he never gets his hands on...

Saturday, 23 August 2008

A Safe Pick

Barack Obama has named the Delaware Senator, Joe Biden, as his running mate.

It is not the most exciting choice, but it is a solid one.

Biden brings foreign policy expertise to the ticket. He has been Chair of the Senate foreign relations committee for years and is comfortable dealing with the men in uniform. The recent crisis in Georgia put further pressure on the Obama camp to find a running mate who had some expertise in this area. Biden is more than capable of countering the accusations from the McCain camp that the Democrats will be weak on foreign policy.

Biden is also older. With an electorate increasingly aged, this has got to be a good thing. Obama has never been great at reaching the grey vote.

He is also combative. He will take the fight right to the Republicans and with the campaign getting increasingly negative and the attacks on Obama more personal, this is an absolute necessity. In Biden, the Democrats have found someone who can give as good as he gets.

He is also a Catholic and pro-abortion. Two demographics the Democrats need to win back the White House.

All in all it is a steady choice, if not exactly an inspiring one.

It would have been better had Obama copied Clinton's example in 1992 and chosen a running mate who was just as transformational as he is. But that is always a risky move.

As it is, Obama has found a candidate who balances his foreign policy inexperience and also knows a thing or two about governing.

The only problems I can see are that in choosing Biden, Obama draws more attention to his lack of foreign policy credentials. The Republicans are bound to exploit this.

Biden is also known for his gaffes, so these will be regurgitated by the Republican attack machine over the next few months and used to embarrass the Democrats.

But, no choice is ever perfect and in choosing Joe Biden, Obama has found a solid, experienced politician who will campaign well and take the fight right to the Republicans.

Roll on the convention....

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Who do we have to thank for Beijing?

Do you think Britain's current success in the Beijing Olympics has anything to do with the increased investment in sport over the last ten years?

According to the Office of National Statistics, when Labour came to power in 1997 the Department of Culture, Media and Sport spent less than £50 million per year on sport. That figure is now closer to £257 million.

This means that between 2003 and 2012, Labour will spend close to £2.4 billion on sport.

This investment has gone on many things including improved community sports facilities, a national sports coaching strategy, 430 specialist sports colleges and grants and sponsorship for athletes.

It was also a Labour Prime Minister who was responsible for winning us the Olympics in 2012.

Now the Government has announced that it will spend £140 million on a Swimming Challenge Fund. It hopes that by 2012 all over 60s and under-16s will get to swim for free. It also promises that by 2012 all children will have access to 5 hours of sport a week.

Not only is this good for the health of the nation, it also helps to reduce crime by giving kids something to do and makes us feel proud when we see our athletes doing so well at international tournaments.

When Mrs. Thatcher said there was no such thing as society, many Tories applauded her. But the realisation of this belief meant that for 18 years, investment in our parks, recreational areas and sports facilities (like so much else) fell way below the European average. Our community facilities were left to rot. No wonder we did so badly in the 1996 Atlanta Games.

Our athletes are doing well this year because they have put in enormous effort and hard work to get there. But they have also done well because for the last 10 years they have had a government that has supported them.

A Tory Government would never have done that. We would do well to remember it.

Great Hatred, Little Room

I have just finished reading Jonathan Powell's book on the Northern Ireland peace process, Great Hatred, Little Room.

Powell was Tony Blair's Chief of Staff for over ten years and the chief negotiator during the peace process. If, like me, you are not familiar with the intricacies of Northern Irish politics (who could blame us?) and have only picked up information from the TV or the newspapers, then I think this book would be a good place to start.

Powell has an insider's view of the personalities and politics involved which makes for a riveting account. He also writes clearly about the history of the conflict and is honest about the mistakes he made.

I came away with two conclusions after reading the book:

One, the importance of talking. Powell's argument is that all sides in a conflict should always keep talking even if sometimes the problems seem intractable. When the talks stop, the vacuum is filled with violence. It is not hard to see how this policy could be adopted in other areas of conflict around the world. Indeed, one of the differences between Obama and McCain is that Obama argues persuasively that America should talk even to its most inveterate foes.

Secondly, the importance of a Prime Minister having good advisors. Powell was one of many loyal advisors who worked for Blair for a long time. By and large, they were well-rounded individuals who provided him with balanced, careful advice. They were also a good mixture of men and women, young and old, left and right. Brown has never had a strong team around him and indeed part of his problem may well be the quality of advice and personalities that he surrounds himself with.
This is a well-written, interesting political account of the peace process that sheds light on the politics and personalities who contributed so much to peace in Northern Ireland.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Tories say move south

The right-wing Tory think-tank, Policy Exchange, published a report today in which it argued that northerners have no chance of a better life and should move south instead.

The report claimed that cities like Sunderland, Rochdale and Bradford could not be revived and had "little prospect of offering their residents the standard of living to which they aspire." The report said it was time to stop pretending Sunderland had a bright future.

It also argued that people in Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool should move south where they would enjoy a higher standard of living.

If this report was not so funny, it would make me furious. And this is supposedly David Cameron's favourite think-tank! It tells you what the Tory leader really thinks.

It reminds me of Norman Tebbit telling everybody to get on their bikes in the 1980s.

Ill-informed, uncaring, unsympathetic, right-wing, Thatcherite, London-centric rubbish. The Tories have not changed one bit. They should be crucified for this.

If the Tories could escape, for just one second, from their London/South-East centric bubble they would see that the North is booming. Manchester has enjoyed a renaissance. Liverpool is European Capital of Culture. (See my earlier post) Hale has more millionaires than anywhere else in the UK. Our northern cities are being rejuvenated. People do enjoy a high standard of living.

But this is not the point.

The point is that the Tories are STILL offering the same old solutions to the problems we face. Instead of facing up to the fact that they ruined our northern cities and towns through eighteen years of neglect and under-investment and offering a workable solution to improve places like Sunderland, the Tories have taken a leaf out of Tebbit's book and told people to move south.

Tebbit - talk about the undead.

It has taken ten years of Labour Government to reverse the decline. Investment in our services, infrastructure and industries has transformed many areas. There is more to do but the Tories offer us no solutions. Instead they hark back to a 30-year old view of the north.

What turns my stomach the most is when the report warns that politics has been dominated by ministers representing poorer towns - as if this was a bad thing! Thank God, I say.

At least Labour has been a voice for all those communities who were counted out by the Thatcherites and their cronies. If the Tories had their way, Britain would be governed by the rich and for the rich with the south-east getting everything.

If you really want to know the difference between what Labour offers and what the Tories offer you could start by reading this report. Labour invests and helps to rejuvenate. The Tories peddle the same poison and prejudice.

Same old Tories, same old solutions. No one is falling for it.