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

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Tony Blair should be the next EU President

It’s a no brainer. Tony Blair should be the next president of the European Union.

He is the only candidate with the vision, stature and star quality to give the EU the credibility it needs.

As David Miliband rightly points out, we need an EU President who can “stop traffic”. Tony Blair is that man.

Contrary to what some media commentators have argued, he also proved himself as a committed Europhile when he was in office. So what, that the UK did not join the Euro under his watch? This is not the only defining characteristic of being a good European.

Under Blair, there was no more “awkward partner” or “empty chair” policy as there had been under John Major. Instead, we got a dynamic leader (who incidentally speaks French) who put the UK in the driving seat of European reform. On every issue ranging from European defence to the Budget to climate change to EU enlargement, the UK played a key role in shaping EU policy. This was thanks to Tony Blair. His contribution over ten years in power was invaluable.

The Left should support his candidacy because with Labour facing near certain electoral defeat next year, we will need a strong counterweight to what will be a viscerally bonkers anti-EU Tory Government. A Tony Blair presidency makes David Cameron’s job a lot harder. We should relish that.

Blair is also a naturally outward looking leader and this is what the EU needs. There would be little or no institutional introspection with him. Good. He would be very clear about his goals and achieving them. He could not be ignored in the capitals of Beijing, Moscow or Delhi.

After Bill Clinton, he is probably the best political communicator going. If anyone can explain the Byzantine workings of the EU to ordinary voters, he can. As he demonstrated in Northern Ireland, he is also capable of the type of schmoozing and arm twisting that is an essential feature of EU business. Never underestimate Tony Blair’s ability to persuade people.

If EU leaders fail to choose Tony Blair, it will be a bad omen. It will show that they are not really serious about reforming the EU and making it a stronger actor in world affairs.

We should get behind a Blair presidency. It will be good for Europe and what is good for Europe is good for Britain.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Where is CJ Cregg when you need her?

Does Gordon Brown have the worst spokesman ever? Asked by the Guardian this week whether the Prime Minister had watched the BBC's Question Time show, the spokesman replied:

"He very rarely watches Question Time. He is often busy on important government matters, finishing paperwork and other government business. He was certainly engaged on government business."

God, I wish CJ was here. On the most important political issue of the week, Nick Griffin's appearance on Question Time, Number Ten did not even have a good line to take. They could have used the opportunity to talk about anti-racism or tolerence or multiculturalism but instead we got this ridiculous, flustered reply.

If you want to see how a good press officer should answer a question (and still get across the Government's key messages) watch this:

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Why the BBC is right to let the BNP speak

I think the decision by the BBC to invite Nick Griffin, the leader of the BNP, onto its Question Time show tonight is the right one.

I oppose everything the BNP stands for but the BBC has a public service duty to allow everyone, regardless of how odious their views are, the right to a hearing. I do not for one second accept that Sinn Fein should be classed in the same category as the BNP but it was a mistake to silence Gerry Adams’s voice (quite literally) in the 1980s and 1990s and I think it is self defeating to silence Nick Griffin’s voice now.

We have to face facts. In both Yorkshire and the North West, there are BNP MEPs. Nick Griffin got 8% of the vote in those elections. The party polled 8.9% in the North East and 8.6% in both the West and East Midlands. They polled 6.1% in the Eastern region, 5.5% in London, 5.4% in Wales, 4.4% in the South East and 3.9% in the South West. In places like Rotherham and Doncaster, they polled even higher. They are a political fact and a majority of people in a few communities voted for them. We cannot ignore this reality any more.

Labour’s ‘No Platform’ approach has been an utter failure as well. Pretending that they don’t exist, hoping that they will go away and just calling them ‘racist’ all the time hasn’t worked. We need a new strategy that proactively argues against the BNP’s views. That is why the Generals’ intervention earlier in the week was so effective.

I also think we should stop blaming the BBC for this. The real culprit is the Labour Government for spectacularly ignoring the working class over the last ten years, failing to listen to some of its legitimate grievances about housing and jobs and treating many members of the working class as if they are nothing more than an underclass or a bunch of 'chavs' (as we are now supposed to call them). Effective MPs like Jon Cruddas, Hazel Blears and David Blunkett, who speak to that working class demographic, are sadly few and far between.

I also think that if we give the BNP the opportunity to appear on shows like Question Time, it will allow us to interrogate their views and expose them for what they are. A Paxman interrogation of Nick Griffin would show him up for sure.

I think we should all watch Question Time tonight. I think we all need to be aware of what the BNP stands for so we can take them on. And in light of that, the other political parties, but notably Labour, need to rethink the way they deal with the BNP in the future.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

We should all hate the Mail

The reaction to Jan Moir’s article on Stephen Gately in the Daily Mail has been fantastic.

It just goes to show that after all the progressive advances over the last ten years, you simply can’t get away with expressing views like hers anymore.

I don’t know how she can hold her head up in polite company. Where is her humanity?

Her article is just another example of the poisonous, spiteful writing that passes as journalism at that paper.

The poor boy was not even buried before she decided to attack him by suggesting that there was nothing ‘natural’ about his death. Her comments were nasty, insidious and spiteful.

But the reaction to her comments has been overwhelming and just shows how much our society has changed over the last ten years.

There have been over 1,000 complaints to the Press Complaints Commission. They will have to do something now.

There are 12,000 members of the Facebook group calling for the Mail to retract her comments.

Stephen Fry has denounced her. A well liked, respected figure he described her comments as "loathesome" and "inhumane".

Alastair Campbell on his blog reminds us all of why we should hate the Mail anyway.

And best of all, Marks & Spencer withdrew their online advertising from the offending web page. Whoever decided to do that at M&S should be commended. They have just enhanced their brand reputation by about 100%. Other companies should follow suit.

There are lessons to draw from this. Unfortunately nasty views like Ms Moir’s still exist and are still readily expressed and we have to remain vigilant against them. And secondly, and more positively, they are no longer considered acceptable. Marks & Spencer’s response just shows how seriously even big business takes this sort of thing nowadays.

We should follow its example and vote with our feet and never buy the Mail again. Not that I ever did.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Are the Tories already out of date?

If the Conservatives are supposed to be the party of the future, why did their conference today feel so dated and past it?

Not only did we have to watch Ken Clarke shuffling about in his Hush Puppies, we also had to put up with Kenneth Baker (who was bloody old in the Thatcher Government) droan on. He looked as slimy as he did when Spitting Image used to mock him.

The fact that the conference was obsessed with Europe as well meant the whole thing had a distinct 1990s flavour to it. It was all a bit tired and past it.

Boris Johnson didn't exactly spice things up either. And we can usually count on him to have a good laugh (at).

After admitting to delegates that Manchester was one of the few great British cities he had yet to insult, the Mayor then promptly told his audience that London remained the motor of the UK economy and cities like Manchester were dependent on it. This was surely not the message the Tory leader, David Cameron, wanted northern voters to hear.

It's also untrue, Manchester does very well for itself thanks Boris.

During his speech, the Mayor stuck rigidly to a traditional Tory agenda of tax cuts, free markets and anti-statism. He staunchly defended the actions of city bankers and even moaned about the “communist era free sheet called the Londoner”. The speech felt like it was twenty years out of date.

There was no mention of Europe or President Blair or anything of controversy in what he said. It was all a bit safe and tired and traditional, not the Conservative Party David Cameron has been trying to sell us.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

The Conservatives head to Manchester

The Conservative Party begins its conference in my hometown of Manchester this week. The party has every reason to feel pleased with itself. Although the Labour conference wasn’t as bad as everybody expected, the Sun’s decision to come out in favour of Cameron will have given the Tories a nice little boost before they all gather together.

However, let me throw a few spanners in the works.

Firstly, this is not 1996 and Mr Cameron is no Tony Blair. There is little public appetite for the Tories as the opinion polls show. Its poll numbers should be in the high 40s (and they’re not), there should be fewer floating voters and its lead over Labour should be bigger. It is a tired phrase but the Tories have not sealed the deal with voters.

Secondly, there are serious question marks over the Conservative’s handling of the economic crisis and its stance on Europe. I think there is an increasing view out there that the Tories made the wrong call on the economic crisis twelve months ago. Voters still feel uneasy about trusting a leader who displayed such poor judgement. The party’s position on Europe is all over the place as well. Its stance on the Lisbon Treaty is ill thought through, liable to antagonise important allies like Sarkozy and Merkel and makes no sense. Cameron looks like he is about to have a major row on his hands. It also seems hypocritical to me that a party which says it has changed has got into bed with some pretty unsavoury characters in the European Parliament.

Thirdly, George Osborne is a liability for the party. He is disliked, distrusted, looks like he relishes the idea of enacting ‘savage cuts’ and has shown bad judgement on some major decisions. His speech will be the most important of the week and he will have to demonstrate that he looks like a credible Chancellor in waiting. Fat chance.

Finally, I have doubts that the Tories message of ‘cuts, cuts and more cuts’ will resonate with voters in the major northern cities of Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds - never mind Wales and Scotland! The Conservatives are not a national party, yet.

So, Conservative MPs may well feel that they are about to be handed the keys to Number Ten and I am sure they will spend the next week desperately trying not to appear smug. But there remains some major concerns about what they stand for, their competence and their policies for the future. This should give Labour some hope.