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

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The Return of Tony Blair

The decision to bring Tony Blair back for the election campaign is a good move by the Labour Party.

His speech today to Trimdon Labour club was a reminder of just how good he is. It had a narrative and a coherent argument. It set out clearly the choice facing the electorate and managed to convincingly attack the Tory philosophy without descending into a personal attack on Cameron and Osborne, which would have been inappropriate for a former prime minister.

I thought his best line was about needing "certain leadership in uncertain times".

Some people will argue that the move is risky because it reminds voters of Iraq and has the potential to show up the presentational failures of Brown.

But I think the pros outweigh the cons.

If Blair is used judiciously and effectively in the campaign he could be a real asset with party members and marginal voters in the swing constituencies.

We forget that Blair left office with very high ratings amongst Labour supporters, 89 per cent of whom rated him as a good prime minister overall. The same was said by 61 per cent of the electorate. Clearly, there were voters who still liked Blair until the very end. And probably still do.

I reckon his return will help stem the tide of voters who have, until recently, been drifting to Cameron and give Labour Party members a boost before the campaign proper begins next week.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

What would I like to see in tomorrow's Budget?

Tomorrow marks Alistair Darling’s third Budget as Chancellor. Like many people in the Labour Party, I think Darling has done the best possible job he could have under very difficult circumstances.

Two years ago, when he predicted that this would be the worst economic crisis for 60 years, he was widely denounced (even by his colleagues in Number Ten) but in the end he was vindicated. He is now a more credible figure for it.

Tomorrow he faces one of his toughest tests. He made most of his announcements about tax and spending in last November’s Pre Budget Report so he has left himself very little wriggle room now.

Therefore, tomorrow’s Budget is likely to be narrowly focused with relatively few new measures. He should certainly steer clear from pre-election ‘give-aways’. Voters will see through them.

Instead, he needs to show the public and the markets how the Government will nurture the economy back to growth.

There is likely to be some extra revenue from the bank bonus tax. He should use this to pay down the deficit and introduce new measures to alleviate unemployment.

He should announce a Green Investment Bank to stimulate low carbon industries in the future. Sometimes government support can kick start private sector investment. This is surely the right thing to do and something Thatcherites have never understood.

A serious crackdown on tax evasion is long overdue. It’s essentially about fairness and paying your way.

Finally, if the Chancellor wanted to be really radical the closest he could come to a game changer is to announce support for a Robin Hood tax on all financial transactions. This would raise revenue and help repair the damage to the public finances. France and Germany favour this approach, so does the economist Jeffrey Sachs. Apparently, Richard Curtis and the actor Bill Nighy have already met with George Osborne to discuss the issue so why not come out strongly for it? Radical by any standards but entirely fair.

This might be the last Budget a Labour Chancellor delivers for a long time. Mr Darling should treat it as a final opportunity to show voters the Government is on their side.

Obama Passes Healthcare Bill

I am delighted that Barack Obama has finally got his health care Bill through Congress. It's been nearly twenty years since the Clintons (and Hillary especially) first tried.

The new Bill will insure around 32 million people and save the American taxpayer money in the long run. It is the single most important piece of domestic legislation passed since the 1960s.

It took enormous arm twisting and lots of cajoling to get the thing passed (it brings to mind the famous Bismarck quote that “laws are like sausages. Its better not to see them being made”) but I don’t think that matters too much. The president and his party just needed a win and once the dust has settled the American public will come to support health care reform just as they did with Medicare in the 1960s, also denounced at the time.

In the short term the Democrats may well suffer badly as Republicans seek to exploit the electorate’s fears, but it is the Republicans who have bombed spectacularly. Their party has been pushed further to the Right, moderate sensible voices have been drowned out. Their message has been entirely negative. They have offered nothing positive in response. In the long term, it will be seen as the Republican’s great failure.

After a gruelling year, Obama has emerged as a political street fighter – not the aloof, philosophical president some had complained about. It will stand him in good stead for the future battles that lie ahead.

And the best bit of the whole vote? Well, the sight and sound of Democrats chanting “Yes We Can” in the House just after the Bill had been passed. Pure political magic.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Cameron's judgment is on the line

The row over Lord Ashcroft's tax status continues to rumble on.

The Tories point out that Labour is hypocritical on the issue because we have taken money from non-doms as well.

But this misses the point.

The issue isn't Ashcroft's tax status (although I dislike the idea that a non dom can become a peer) but rather the Conservative party's handling of it.

Back in 2000, William Hague gave very clear assurances to Tony Blair, the Appointments Committee, Parliament and the Palace that Ashcroft was committed to becoming permanently resident in the UK. We now know that this did not happen.

For ten years, the Tories and Ashcroft have refused to answer any questions on it.

Either Cameron did not know about it (which reveals an extraordinary weakness and lack of judgment on his part) of he knew about it and decided to do nothing (which means he deliberately lied to people and all his talk of a fresh start and a new type of politics can not be trusted).

Even Norman Tebbit now reckons Ashcroft should have revealed the truth earlier.

David Cameron acted shrewdly and in my view correctly during the expenses scandal but his sure touch seems to have deserted him on this occasion. Voters fear that for all their talk of change, the Conservatives are still the "Same Old Tories" they were in 1997. The Ashcroft affair only confirms that impression.

It also confirms voters' fears that Cameron's Conservatives are a rich, metropolitan, self centred elite. The Ashcroft affair can now be added to a long list: George Osborne (otherwise known as the 'Sun King') and his dealings with a certain Russian oligarch, Zac Goldsmith's non dom status, Nicholas Winterton's blatherings about 'standard class', the Notting Hill fraternity - they all suggests a party out of touch with ordinary voters.

Cameron should have acted on this much sooner. The fact that he didn't raises serious question marks over his judgment. And Labour would be foolish to let an opportunity like this pass by.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

The Tories still need to answer questions about Ashcroft

The brouah over Lord Ashcroft’s tax status is good news for Labour, which now smells blood.

Ashcroft has secretly remained a non dom for nine years while he has sat in Parliament. In order to qualify for a peerage he should be “permanently resident” but it seems he has got away with only being “long term resident”.

Not only does he appear to have broken a promise that he would become permanently resident in the UK to secure a seat in the House of Lords but his odd tax status also means that he could have avoided paying tens of millions of pounds in income tax.

William Hague doesn’t seem to know what, if any, tax Ashcroft was paying. Cameron doesn’t seem to understand that this is a question about his judgement and integrity.

Ashcroft has effectively bankrolled the Tories over the last few years. He has developed his own personal fiefdom at Central Office which has given him enormous sway over Tory policy and, because of the bags of cash he has thrown at swing seats, an enormous sway over the outcome of the next election

The Conservatives refuse to answer any more questions about the affair but there should now be a full inquiry into his nomination for a peerage and his tax affairs.

The situation is not comparable with that of the Labour peer, Lord Paul, either. He has never hidden his non dom status. He has never had a say over the direction of the Labour Party and he was never described by the chair of the peerages scrutiny committee as “not a suitable man to be a peer”.

The whole affair only adds to voters’ impressions that the Tory leadership is an out of touch, mega-rich elite who think there is one rule for them and one rule for everyone else.

It is a sign of Labour’s appetite for a fight on this that Mandelson was all over the air waves yesterday stoking the flames. This thing still has legs.