Thursday, March 22, 2007

Heading for the sun

It's a winter holiday for the Linfords this year, for reasons that will become obvious later in the year, so barring the odd internet cafe excursion blogging will be light over the next week or so.

In the meantime, I leave you in the very capable hands of the following:

Labour leadership speculation - Political Betting
Insightful political analysis - Skipper
English nationalism - Toque
Christian socialism - Mars Hill
Blogging about blogging - Bloggerheads
Interesting minutiae - Dizzy Thinks
Tory gossip - Iain Dale
Labour gossip - Tom Watson
Lib Dem gossip Jonathan Calder
Any old bollocks - UK Daily Pundit

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Charles Kennedy - Derby County fan?

A work colleague draws my attention to an interesting snippet on the Derby County FC Rams Forum that former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy has been seen at Pride Park in recent weeks. We could certainly do with the support of a few big names as they have been few and far between since Cap'n Bob went overboard.

Other interesting examples of political fan-dom: Osama bin Laden, reguarly spotted cheering on Arsenal at Highbury in the late 1980s, and Tony Blair, never spotted cheering on Newcastle at St James' Park.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Brown stuffs 2p tax cut up Clarke's backside

Without desisting from anything I wrote earlier - the Blairites and Fleet Street would still find a reason for forcing a contest even if Gordon Brown was revealed as the second Son of God - today's Budget was a stormer. For years, governments of right and left have dreamed of a 20p standard rate of income tax. It is Gordon Brown who has finally delivered that and for that and many other reasons he will go down as the greatest Chancellor since Gladstone, whatever happens next in his career.

It was absolutely typical of Gordon that after presenting eleven Budgets himself he went and stole the next Chancellor's first Budget as well by announcing the 2p standard rate cut. His successor probably won't thank him for that but I can't help but admire his chutzpah.

Charles Clarke and Alan Milburn had been calling on Brown to say more about what he would do as Prime Minister, and today Gordon gave them the perfect answer. He not only said what he would do, he actually did it, by pre-announcing a decision that didn't actually need to be announced for another year.

Indeed, he has gone even further than that and announced another major tax cut to take effect in April 2009 - just before the likely date of the next general election - rsising the threshold for the 40p top rate of tax to £43,000 and so free millions of middle-income earners from the pernicious effects of "fiscal drag."

David Cameron tried to make the best of it by claiming Brown had adopted his agenda of "sharing the proceeds of growth," but Cameron knows that he too has been stuffed, and that any room for manoeuvre for further crowd-pleasing tax cuts has been absolutely closed-off.

I wrote earlier today that although Brown's enemies will deny him a coronation, the crown remains his to lose and a good Budget performance would make it all the more certain he would win a serious contest. On that score, the Chancellor certainly delivered.

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Welcome to the Thog

I was pleased to learn today via Paulie that I have been described as a thogger or "thinking blogger" for those unfamiliar with the term. I will do some thogging on the Budget later.

Meanwhile, I am supposed to nominate five other thoggers, so here goes: Skipper, Unity, Shaphan, Femme de Resistance and Jonathan Calder

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Whatever happens today, Gordon will be challenged

Today is Gordon's Day, and by the end of it we will be probably be hearing all the usual stuff about how the Chancellor has once again underlined his status as a political colossus of modern times and how, as Labour MPs reel from the sheer force and brilliance of his intellect, the likelihood of a leadership challenge has now diminished. But much as I would like to believe that to be the case, I'm afraid I won't believe a word of it.

I make no bones about the fact that I am in the Margaret Beckett camp of people who do not believe a Cabinet-level challenge to Brown for the Labour leadership is either necessary or desirable. I think Gordon has demonstrated over the past 10 years that he is the outstanding candidate, and to hold an election now strikes me as rather akin to the common sporting practice of making the club that finishes top of the league by a wide margin play off against the one finishing a distant second for the sake of generating a bit more excitement for the spectators.

But I readily accept that is not how most people see it - even among visitors to this blog. My current POLL shows that only approximately one sixth of respondents think there should not be a Cabinet-level challenge, and some of them are people who support Michael Meacher or John McDonnell rather than Gordon. There seems to be a consensus in the Labour Party - which I happen not to share - that a serious contest would be useful as opposed to a potentially divisive distraction.

And if that view is becoming widespread in the party, it is even more so in the media. Slowly, the pressure has been building - even among left-leaning pundits - for a serious challenge and when Blair actually goes, that pressure will become intolerable.

The campaign to question Gordon Brown's credentials has been conducted mainly through opinion polls designed to show that he would do worse than Tony Blair in a straight contest with David Cameron, even though practically no-one disputes that Labour's position in the polls is bound to improve when Blair finally quits. This has been accompanied by regular guerilla activity questioning Brown's methods and ways of working with colleagues, culminating in yesterday's Gordon the Stalinist attack by former Cabinet Secretary Lord Turnbull.

Its aim was to create the conditions in which a challenge became viewed as desirable and I think it has now succeeded in that. In other words, it has created a need for someone to step forward and fill a vacuum, and human nature being what it is, sooner or later someone will do so.

If not David Miliband, then John Reid or Alan Johnson. If not Reid or Johnson, then John Hutton or Hazel Blears. If no member of the Cabinet, then Charles Clarke or Alan Milburn. Even Jack Straw could come into the reckoning as a compromise candidate if the current run of bad polls continues.

The crown is still Brown's to lose, and a good Budget performance this afternoon would make it all the more certain he would win such a contest. But I think he can forget the coronation now. The Blarites - and more importantly their friends in Fleet Street - simply aren't going to let it happen.

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Bailey on Freddie

For the benefit of those who missed it yesterday, here's blogger Richard Bailey's compelling verdict on why Andrew Flintoff should never have been chosen to captain England in the Ashes series.

"That we so much as considered giving the Captaincy to a man who presents himself to the Queen pissed is intolerable. That he should continue any where near a position of authority after a 5-0 whitewash and the most spineless English series performance ever, is beyond reason.

"The man is a drunk, a talented one perhaps, but a drunk all the same and I for one am thrilled that he has revealed his true colours and will never again presume to lead England in any context ever again."

Sheer class - or is that classism? Either way, it made me laugh.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Justice for Terry Lloyd

Forty years ago this year, a young Derbyshire police officer by the name of Aled Lloyd was killed in a panda car accident while answering a false emergency call. It was the kind of tragedy that would have broken many families, but with the support of their mother Agnes, Aled's two young sons Kevin and Terry went on to make their respective marks in the world of television, one as an actor, the other as an award-winning journalist.

Against that backdrop, the death of Kevin Lloyd from alcoholism brought on by the pressures of TV stardom in 1998 was bad enough. But the killing of Terry Lloyd by US forces shortly after the start of the Iraq War in 2003 was, for me, the saddest episode in the whole wretched debacle.

So I wholeheartedlty support the campaign launched by Terry's former boss at ITN, David Mannion, to make it a war crime to intentionally kill a journalist.

It is too late for Terry, and for Agnes who died shortly before him. But not too late to hope that some good may yet come of the senseless death of this brave reporter - truly a "local hero" up here in God's Own County.

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The enormity of Turnbull's hypocrisy

Good to see Skipper back from a lengthy sojourn in Australia with an excellent post on the Andrew Turnbull "Gordon Brown is a Stalinist" story. I agree with Skip that this will hurt Gordon, and I have no doubt that in the current climate it will have been explicitly designed to do so - but that doesn't alter the fact that Turnbull is a hypocrite of the first order.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Boyhood memories....

You know you must be getting on a bit when the people who were your boyhood sporting icons start dying off, and Bob Woolmer was one such. He wasn't the greatest batsman to play for England in the 1970s, but he was one of the first who truly impinged on my consciousness. His 149 against Australia in 1975 - in only his Second Test Match - was one of the stand-out innings of the era, and he went on to make two more centuries against the same opposition in the 1977 series.

Although never a big-hitter, there was a classiness about Woolmer's batting that was very easy on the eye, and by the time he defected to the Kerry Packer Circus in 1977-78, he had established himself as the Mr Dependable of the England team. I remember being devastated when he went and, as Christopher Martin-Jenkins noted in his incomparable Who's Who of Test Cricketers, whatever he gained financially from joining World Series Cricket, he lost in the momentum of his Test career.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Five things to change the world

Sadly I've never been asked to contribute to Comment is Free - they've probably got enough lefties at the Guardian already - but if I had taken part in yesterday's What would you change? opinion-fest to mark the first birthday of the site, here's what I would have listed as the things I want to see change in the year ahead.

* to see Gordon Brown as Prime Minister reaching out in a radical new, policy-rich direction which genuinely seeks to fulfil Labour's mission to serve the many, not the few.

* to see people starting to take personal responsibility for tackling climate change, including changing their travel patterns, and for acquaintances of mine who refuse to do anything about recycling to realise how stupid and short-sighted they are being.

* to see a growing awareness of the futility of military action in Iraq and other Middle East countries where the West is already viewed as the enemy, and a growing recognition of the need to tackle the Israel-Palestine conflict ahead of anything else.

* to see an end to the absurd micromanagement by Whitehall of housebuilding targets, leading to the production line of uniform boxes with tiny or non-existent gardens coupled with increasing encroachement onto green belt land.

* to see people taking faith and spirituality more seriously, realising there is more to life than money and material possessions.

Oh well, I can but dream....

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Thursday, March 15, 2007


UK Daily Pundit has long been one of my favourite blogs but it has really excelled itself in recent days. Last November, it reported that Shadow Home Secretary David Davis was on the point of resigning. Now he's apparently on the verge of taking over as Tory leader.

I've never quite worked out whether the Pundit is the blogging equivalent of the newspaper racing hack who tips every horse in the Grand National in the run-up to the race so he can say he backed the winner - or whether the entire blog is an elaborate spoof on dead tree political commentary and its tendency to make outlandish predictions about the fates of individual politicians.

Probably a bit of both...!

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More sock puppetry

Looks like this blog has been dragged back into the ongoing Blog Wars between Tim "Manic" Ireland and various rightist bloggers. Tim's latest target is Dizzy who among other things is accused of using a sock puppet called sock puppet to attack Tim on this very site. Dizzy, meanwhile, sets out his response HERE. Guys, guys.....

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Who should challenge Gordon?

Should Gordon Brown be challenged for the Labour leadership? And if so, who should challenge him? Have your say in my latest poll which can be found HERE.

The poll allows for multiple choices so if you think more than one person should challenge the Chancellor, you can vote accordingly. It will be interesting to see if the results differ greatly from more scientific surveys on this issue.

Update: If you think AN Other should challenge Gordon (and s/he is currently running third behind Straw and Miliblogger in the list of potential challengers) why not leave a message in the comments to say who you think that should be.

In answer to the comments about Meacher/McDonnell/Milburn, the question specifies a Cabinet-level challenge. Milburn is included because he has Cabinet-level experience, the other two (along with John Denham) are excluded because they don't.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Is Quentin Letts taking the piss?

I had a fair amount of time for Quentin Letts in my Lobby days - unlike Michael White I did not regard him as a shifty little cunt - but it has to be remembered that he is (a) a Tory, and (b) someone whose writing is often deliberately tongue-in-cheek.

So when I saw his piece in The First Post about the possibility of Jack Straw becoming Prime Minister, I was immediately somewhat suspicious.

Was the ever-mischievous Mr Letts flying a kite in the hope that someone, somewhere might come up with some interesting reasons why Jack might not be as suitable a candidate as he might appear?

Henry G and Alex commenting on the story today on Political Betting, seem to think so...

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Trident debate is Blair's Macdonald Moment

In May 1997 Tony Blair became the second Labour Prime Minister to represent a seat in the North-East of England, following in the footsteps of former Seaham MP and Labour folk villain Ramsay Macdonald. Tonight he will follow in Macdonald's footsteps again by relying on Tory votes to stay in power as up to 80 Labour MPs prepare to rebel on the vote to replace Britain's nuclear deterrent.

Given the Government's majority of 66, a rebellion on that scale would ordinarily mean a Parliamentary defeat on a central issue of government policy - enough in normal circumstances to require the Prime Minister's resignation.

Because the Tories are pledged to support the renewal of Trident, Mr Blair can rest easy on that score, but I think it's a good thing from his point of view that Blair has already promised to go, and that Gordon Brown seems in no rush to hurry him.

If this were not the case, I suspect a lot more would be being made of the fact that the Prime Minister has clearly lost the support of a substantial section of his party.

* Apologies for light bloggage over recent days. Either something is very wrong with my PC or Blogger is going through another of its crap phases. There have been long periods this week when I've not even been able to get on the site.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Ten Questions for Alastair Campbell

So Alastair Campbell is to publish his first volume of diaries, shortly after Tony Blair leaves office this summer. The Guardian's Julian Glover has today published his own top tips of what the great spinmeister should write about, but here's a list of some of the questions I'd like answered, some of them of purely personal interest, others of broader significance to the body politic.

Anyway, here goes:

1. When you held your first briefing as Downing Street press secretary on May 2, 1997 you told us that Tony Blair "felt he had been given a remarkable opportunity to unite the country." Do you genuinely think he has done?

2. When in 1995 you briefed the Lobby that Derek Foster would be given a Cabinet job in return for standing down as Chief Whip, were you aware that he would in fact be offered only a junior ministerial post?

3. Why did one of your deputies tell me in October 1997 that Dr David Clark had "totally lost it" and would be sacked in the next reshuffle, and was it linked to your attempts to undermine the Freedom of Information Bill which he was then drawing up?

4. From whom did Tony Blair first learn about the incident on Clapham Common involving the then Welsh Secretary Ron Davies in September 1998, and why did you refuse to answer this question when I asked it at a Lobby briefing?

5. Do you regret your decision to dispense with most of the heads of the departmental press offices following Labour's first election win, and has the resultant politicisation of Whitehall improved the conduct of government?

6. Why did you brief the Lobby in 1999 that Tony Blair believed the North-South divide to be a "myth," when he never actually said any such thing?

7. A copy of the September 2002 dossier on Iraqi WMD sent in advance to evening papers showed the so-called "45-minute claim" highlighted in flourescent marker-pen. Did you personally authorise that?

8. You said in your diary that it would "fuck Gilligan" if Dr David Kelly were revealed as the source of the BBC report which questioned the 45-minute claim. Do you deny that you had any part in making his name public?

9. When you announced last year that the death of Dr Kelly had almost caused you to have a nervous breakdown, did you think of the impact this might have on the Kelly family?

10. When you left an offensive personal comment on this blog last July, why did you not have the courage to post as yourself as opposed to anonymously?

I think that will do for now....I'm sure other readers will be able to fill in any questions I have missed.

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End of the peers show

The latest podcast, looking at what happens next with Lords reform in the wake of last week's historic Commons vote, is now available HERE.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Memories of Tony

Interesting to see that the BBC is inviting people to send in their stories of the day I met Tony Blair, doubtless as part of some valedictory package it is currently putting together.

I can't really help them as I have only ever met him in a professional capacity, and that doesn't really count. But for the record, even though I interviewed him five times between 1995 and 2001, I always found him a rather shy individual who found small-talk difficult and was extremely reluctant to give anything of himself away.

Gordon Brown on the other hand, on the sole occasion at which I managed to interact with him at any length, came over as ebullient, witty and not at all afraid to indulge in general chit-chat with a journalist.

What I find interesting about this is that it is in complete contradiction to their public personas, of Brown as dour and charmless and Blair as bright and outgoing. It makes me wonder how much we really know about what our leaders are actually like.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Be very afraid

My attention has been drawn to an excellent but extremely disturbing post on Rachel from North London today predicting some potentially shattering forthcoming revelations with regard to the use of intelligence prior to the 7/7 bombings. Apparently this has been known about within media circles for some time but kept secret because the whole thing is sub judice.

Writes Rachel: "There is one hell of a tidal wave coming, as secrets that have been hidden for too long start to emerge."

Obviously I can't add any information of my own at this stage, other than to make the comment that if the contents of her post are even half-way true, then there are going to be such serious questions asked of our political masters that the case for a public inquiry into the bombings will become unanswerable.

Davide Simonetti has taken advantage of the Downing Street e-petition initiative to lodge one in support of an inquiry, and you can sign it HERE.

Update: Sorry to have to impose comment moderation last night but someone took this post as an invitation to openly speculate on the nature of the forthcoming story in a way that specifically linked it to a named ongoing criminal trial. Since I don't especially want to be accused of prejudicing a court case that might result in people who tried to kill hundreds of other people being locked up, I took it down.

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Top referrers in 2007 so far

Quite a few bloggers publish monthly League Tables showing their top referral links - ie where the people who visited your site came from. Thanks to MyBlogLog I am also now in a position to do this but my list has a slight twist - it's a running total for the whole of 2007 which I will update every couple of months.

No huge surprises about the big names on the list but it's heartening to see a good spectrum of blogs represented across the right, left and centre of the 'sphere. Every one of these sites referred at least 50 visitors here during January and February.

1. Iain Dale's Diary
2. Political Betting
3. Guido Fawkes
4. Jane's the One
5. Comment is Free
6. Turbulent Cleric
7. Bloggerheads
8. Mars Hill
9. The Daily
10. UK Daily Pundit
11. Little Man in a Toque
12. Stephen Pollard
13. Labour Watch
14. Comment Central
15. Croydonian
16. Liberal England
17. Tom Watson
18. PragueTory
19. Rachel North
20. Adam Smith

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Welcome back...

Gifted writer Liam Murray is back in blogging action, but this time as himself rather than as Casillis.

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A history lesson from

So far as I know, David Herdson does not have his own blog but he is one of the most regular posters on His posts are always well worth a read but this comment published earlier today is the kind of thing I wish I had written myself. It is one of the best explanations I have read as to why Gordon Brown will be the next Prime Minister, and I will quote it in full.

A quick(ish) word on the form of picking replacement leaders. Parties in opposition behave differently from parties in government because they can afford to take more of a risk in the hope that their man or woman will come good before the election in a few years’ time; PM’s have to come good from day 1.

Going through the leaders of the opposition chosen since 1945 we have: Gaitskell (former chancellor - briefly), Wilson (former middle ranking cabinet minister but very prominent by 1963), Heath (former middle ranking cabinet minister), Thatcher (same), Foot (likewise, though more experienced), Kinnock (backbencher on a mission), Smith (former junior cabinet minister but a prominent member of the shadow cabinet by 1992), Blair (rising member of the shadow cabinet; no experience in government), Hague (ex-junior member of the cabinet), IDS (backbencher in during the Tory government), Howard (former Home Secretary) and Cameron (young man on a mission, short time in the shadow cabinet). Most have cabinet experience, few have spent any time in a senior government position; the average age on election is in their 40s.

People who become PM other than through leading the opposition come almost exclusively from the highest cabinet positions. As it occurs less frequently I’ve taken the whole of the 20th century for examples: Balfour (leader of the House, but de facto deputy prime minister), Asquith (chancellor), Lloyd-George (ex-chancellor but by 1916, minister for doing the things the PM should have been doing were he not drunk), Baldwin (1923 - chancellor), Baldwin (1935 - leader of the house and de facto deputy/joint prime minister), Chamberlain (chancellor), Churchill (an exception, but still a vastly experienced member of cabinet and unquestionably the stand out leader in waiting), Eden (foreign secretary), Macmillan (chancellor), Douglas-Home (foreign secretary), Callaghan (foreign secretary), Major (chancellor).

Nearly all PM’s chosen in office come from the Treasury or Foreign office and those that don’t tend to be the dominant figure of their day other than the PM - and in some cases, including the PM. As Brown obviously fits both categories, it would be a major break with the pattern were he to be overlooked. The people who became PM rarely got there because their office gave them seniority in the party; it was their seniority and ability that got them the office. The dynamics have been the same over a century and more and I for one wouldn’t back against such strong form.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Equidistance is now the only policy that makes sense

For a politician whose experience was supposed to be his greatest asset, Sir Menzies Campbell displayed an extremely poor grasp of recent political history in allowing his party's spring conference to be overshadowed by speculation about who the Lib Dems would back in a hung Parliament and the suggestion that they would sustain a minority Labour government in power.

Before anyone tries to exonerate Ming by blaming the rogue briefing on some lowly press officer, I don't think that whether or not this was "authorised" is really the issue. It should have been made absolutely crystal clear that the whole subject was in fact completely off-limits, and this Ming and his chief-of-staff Ed Davey clearly failed to do.

Had Ming made a closer study of the 1987 election campaign in which he was originally elected to Parliament, he would have realised why. The Alliance campaign that year was wrecked by the fact that David Steel and David Owen each gave different answers to the question - Steel saying it was "inconceivable" he could do a deal with Mrs Thatcher - still alive it seems - and Owen maintaining he could never work with Neil Kinnock.

Similarly, in 1992, all Labour's talk of PR in the last week of the campaign strengthened the impression that a Lib Dem vote was a vote for Kinnock, swinging vital votes back to the Tories at the eleventh hour.

Maybe Campbell was trying to follow the example of his predecessor-but-one Paddy Ashdown, who formally abandoned "equidistance" after that election and came clean about the fact that he wanted a coalition with New Labour. At the time, it made good politics, enabling the Lib Dems to benefit from the wave of tactical anti-Tory voting that swept the country in 1997 and, to a slightly lesser extent, in 2001.

But thanks to the phenomenon of "tactical unwind," those days are behind us now. It follows that positioning the Lib Dems too closely to either of the two main parties is likely to prove counter-productive, especially in what is likely to be a very close race.

It is clear that in some respects, the Lib Dems remain to the left of Labour, notably on Iraq. It is also fairly obvious that Ming Campbell is more of an ideological bedfellow with Gordon Brown than with David Cameron.

But that means they need to work doubly hard not to give the impression that a vote for Campbell is a vote for Labour. I can't imagine this being a mistake that Chris Huhne would have made.

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The Kamikaze mission

Is the "Stop Gordon" mission by the Blairite ultras doomed to destruction, or will it explode Gordon Brown's hopes of the premiership? My full take on Alan Milburn's 2020 vision initiative can be found in my Newcastle Journal column, HERE and as a Podcast HERE.

Interestingly, Recess Monkey reports that Gerald Kaufman has been overheard telling colleagues that the "ultras" have already found their candidate, and that s/he has agreed to stand. Let's hope he has better luck with this prediction than his overnight announcement of the death of Margaret Thatcher.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

More analysis, gossip, leftism, Anglocentricity and humour

That's what you've told me you want to see on this blog, according to my Blog Questionnaire which has now closed. However all the categories I listed got a smattering of votes, suggesting to me that readers appreciate the current range of subject matter covered here.

The full wish-list in order of popularity was:

More in depth political or policy analysis - 48 votes
More gossip or humour - 32 votes
More stuff about journalism and blogging - 30 votes
More coverage of Labour politics - 30 votes
More coverage of the English Question - 28 votes
More coverage of Tory politics - 20 votes
More coverage of Lib Dem politics - 17 votes
More interactive stuff eg polls - 15 votes
It's fine just the way it is! - 15 votes
More stuff about Christian issues - 14 votes
More non-political stufff eg sport, telly - 11 votes
More personal stuff about yours truly - 9 votes

So all in all, it suggests that I've got things about right in trying to make this a blog that majors in left-of-centre political analysis coupled with a fair amount of coverage of the "English Question" and the media world.

I'm not going to give up the occasional forays into more personal stuff though. This is my online diary as well as a platform for serious political commentary, and that's the way it will stay.

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Kilfoyle backs Denham

Peter Kilfoyle has become the first MP to publicly back a John Denham leadership bid following my post on the matter last week, correctly identifying the point that any serious challenge to Gordon Brown needs to come from the "sensible left" of the party and not the uber Blairite right as Milburn, Clarke, Field and Co are clearly advocating.

Unfortunately, according to blogging MP Tom Watson, he won't be standing, and neither will David Miliband. At this stage, it's looking like Milburn might be forced into that kamikaze challenge after all.

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