Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Police mergers: Time to stop this anti-democratic nonsense

Sometimes, governments have to do things which are unpopular because they are necessary. Gordon Brown's decision to raise national insurance by 1p in 2001 to free up resources for the NHS and schools comes to mind.

But the plan to create regional police forces across England and Wales strikes me as neither popular nor necessary. In fact, for a government already in deep political trouble in other areas, it strikes me as potty.

I have written on this before in the Derby Evening Telgraph, one of many local papers who have campaigned against a proposal which appears to have very little public support.

Now, it seems, Labour MPs are cottoning-on to the fact that this is a certain vote-loser and urging the new Home Secretary, John Reid, to ditch the plan.

If he has any sense, he'll do what they ask. Reid's reputation as Home Secretary - and as a potential future leadership candidate - will rest on how far he succeeds in tackling the chaos of the immigration system and clamping down on violent crime, not whether he can successfully reorganise the police service.

The Government's argument that bigger forces are required to tackle major organised crime and counter-terrorism is a complete red herring.

We already have a new national agency for dealing with organised crime, and there is no reason why we could not bring back the old Regional Crime Squads to deal with other major cross-border investigations.

But 99pc of policing is local, not national or regional. That is why the present structure of locally-based forces, accountable to local people, should stay.

60pc leftie, 40pc Tory....

I'm generally a bit sceptical of these sorts of questionnaires, but if you allow for the Americanisms, this isn't far off...

Your Political Profile:
Overall: 40% Conservative, 60% Liberal
Social Issues: 75% Conservative, 25% Liberal
Personal Responsibility: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal
Fiscal Issues: 0% Conservative, 100% Liberal
Ethics: 50% Conservative, 50% Liberal
Defense and Crime: 50% Conservative, 50% Liberal

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Happiness Agenda: Now Milburn jumps on the bandwagon

I took David Cameron's money can't buy happiness speech as the main subject for my latest column and Podcast, after Cameron appeared to take up my earlier suggestion that the party which most closely manages to identify itself with this agenda will win the next election.

"Bit by bit, Mr Cameron is cleverly positioning himself as the man who – in contrast to the dour Scotsman - can put a smile on Britain’s face."

But wait. It now emerges that someone else whose name has frequently been mentioned in connection with Number 10 Downing Street is making a big pitch for exactly the same territory.

Step forward Alan Milburn, who like Cameron, is no friend of the Chancellor and may conceivably be entertaining thoughts of running against him in a contested election sometime soon.

The really interesting thing about Milburn's piece in this week's Sunday Times News Review is that although it starts off as a paean to family life and spending more time with the kids, the more your read on the more it starts to come across like a personal manifesto for the future.

Take this for example:

"I suppose most of us have always known in our hearts that neither power nor money can buy happiness.....But while money alone won’t make us happy, tackling poverty alleviates misery. The happiest societies tend to be the most equal ones. And since unemployment — alongside family breakdown and bad health — makes the biggest contribution to unhappiness, creating paid employment is good news for the individual as well as for the economy."

Furthermore, although he several times insists he made the right decision in resigning twice from the Cabinet, not once in the piece does he rule out another return to the frontline.

Regular visitors know my views about Milburn's chances - I think they are very slight in view of his relative lack of standing with Labour MPs and the unions compared to Mr Brown and other potential rivals such as Alan Johnson.

But I wonder whether Milburn might just be craftily positioning himself as the man who can beat Mr touchy-feely Cameron at his own game?

Friday, May 26, 2006

My Desert Island Discs

David Cameron has done it, so has Iain Dale, so without further ado here are my eight Desert Island Discs - with not a Benny Hill novelty record or piece of aspirational M People rubbish in sight!

1. 101 Eastbound - Fourplay. Smooth jazz has been the music of choice in the Linford household for the past few years, perhaps because my wife got fed-up with me listening to The Smiths and Prefab Sprout all the time. But I needed no musical re-education to get into this wondrous, uplifting piece of jazz funk. Whenever we hear it, it seems that God is in his heaven and all is right with the world.

2. Piano Concerto in C Minor - Sergey Rachmaninov. Rach 2 is, quite simply, the most romantic piece of music ever written. Forget the fact that Barry Manilow ripped off the tune of the 2nd Movement for "All By My Self," and immerse yourself in those luscious chord sequences and impassioned climaxes.

3. I Trawl the Megahertz - Paddy McAloon. Paddy is of course best known for his work with Prefab Sprout, but this solo effort released in 2003 is his masterpiece. A 22-minute voiceover set against an orchestral theme, it builds into a musical poem which is astonishing in its sheer breadth of imagination - full lyrics here.

4. Adagio - Samuel Barber. This will forever be associated in my mind with the 2001 Last Night of the Proms when, in the wake of 9/11, American conductor Leonard Slatkin dispensed with all the usual nationalistic rubbish and played this instead. "This is our music of grief," he explained. Totally moving.

5. Thieves Like Us - New Order. There are any number of things I could have chosen from my student days in the 1980s when most of my musical tastes were formed, but this stands out for its sheer symphonic sweep and immensity. The lyrics - something about the air supporting eagles - are best forgotten though.

6. Blood on the Rooftops - Genesis. A unique song-writing collabration between Phil Collins and the great Steve Hackett, who sadly left the band the shortly afterwards, this pips "Supper's Ready" as my favourite Genesis track. Perfectly captures the spiritual hangover of the 1970s, "dark and grey...the Wednesday Play."

7. Come Together - Primal Scream (Album Version). An extended remix featuring a voiceover from Martin Luther King. When the long instrumental introduction finally cranks up and the full works kick in, it's supposed to mirrror the rush of E - hence "Come Together" - but when the music's this good, who needs the drugs?

8. "I Cannot Tell...." - Londonderry Air. Set to the tune of "Danny Boy," "I cannot tell, how he whom angels worship" is my favourite hymn. We had it sung at our wedding in 2001 and, one day, it will be sung again at my funeral, whenever that is. I hope it raises the roof.

Book: The Bible. No contest here - as the Westminster Confession says, this contains all that is necessary for salvation.

Luxury Item: My Tent. Apart from the fact that I might need it from time to time, most of my happiest memories are mixed up with it and if I ever was stranded on a desert island, I could close my eyes and imagine I was back in my favourite place, the Lake District.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The best John Reid story of the week

Amid all the sound and fury about John Reid and the deportation of foreign prisoners debacle, together with some mischievous speculation about the whereabouts of his PhD thesis, Stalin's Gran lightens the atmosphere with this delightful story about what the Home Secretary saw in his wife. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Guardian poll prediction would mean constitutional crisis

The Guardian leads this morning on an opinion poll which shows support for Labour now down to 34pc with David Cameron's Tories on 38pc and Ming Campbell's Libs on 20pc.

Julian Glover, who seems to have taken over from Alan Travis as the paper's poll-meister, writes that this result "suggests that the next election may well produce a hung Parliament."

That is something of an understatement. Not only would such a result produce a hung Parliament, it would also lead to certain constitutional chaos in that the party that lost the election would still have the largest number of seats in the House of Commons.

To see what I mean, go to the Electoral Calculus site and type in the Guardian's poll predictions. It will give you a result that has Labour on 305 seats, 19 short of a majority, the Tories on 272, and the Lib Dems on 37.

What this means is that the party that would be deemed by public opinion to have "won" the election - the Tories - would not be in a position to form a government even in coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

The Labour Party, by contrast, would probably be able to stitch together enough alliances withe minor parties to stay in power, even though it would be clearly seen to have lost the confidence of the British people.

This is pretty unchartered constitutional territory. Only once before, in 1950, has the party which won the most votes (the Tories) not gained the largest number of seats and consequently not formed the Government. But then it was only by a tiny margin and there was no third party to complicate things.

As the Chinese used to say, we live in interesting times....

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Does David Cameron read my column?

Last Thursday, in my new(ish) column in the North West Enquirer, I made the following observation about the changing terms of the political debate.

"Other concerns are slowly coming to the fore.....most fundamentally of all, perhaps, the rise of the so-called “happiness” agenda – the idea that the first duty of governments should be to promote the emotional well-being of their citizens, even if this is at the expense of economic growth."

Yesterday Tory leader David Cameron, who may very well read the Enquirer since he has already featured in a front-page story and interview, said the following in a keynote speech.

"It's time we admitted that there's more to life than money, and it's time we focused not just on GDP, but on GWB - general well-being. Improving our society's sense of well-being is, I believe, the central political challenge of our times."

Seriously, I think Cameron's attempt to claim the "happiness agenda" is a potentially incredibly significant development in terms of the political battles of the next few years.

His reference yesterday to there being more to life than the "Protestant Work Ethic" is a direct dig at his likely election opponent Gordon Brown who the Tories see as obsessed with work and regulation whereas they want to be identified with wellbeing and relaxation.

In my Enquirer column, I also made the prediction that, as we enter the twilight of the Blair era, the party which best manages to tap into this changing public agenda will be the one that ultimately emerges as the dominant force of the next decade or so.

Well so far, it's 1-0 to Mr Cameron.

The one that got away

My copy of the Little Red Book of New Labour Sleaze arrived in the post yesterday. A great effort all round to get this into print, particularly from co-editors Iain Dale and Guido Fawkes.

There are three contributions from yours truly, but I was mildly disappointed to see that my piece on the downfall of Ron Davies is not one of them - so I'm publishing it here instead!


A Moment of Madness

The bare facts are beyond parody. Welsh Secretary Ron Davies, returning to London after a difficult weekend spent dealing with a spate of floods, goes walkabout on Clapham Common near a notorious gay cruising zone known as "Gobbler's Gulch."

He meets a Rastafarian who invites him back to his place in Brixton for a curry. On the way there, Davies is mugged and some personal items stolen.

The hapless minister might have left matters there had it not been for the fact that one of the items stolen was his House of Commons pass, obliging him to report the matter to the police.

Within 24 hours, Davies was an ex-minister, ruthlessly dispatched into the political outer darkness in one of the most clinical operations of the entire New Labour era.

The police, it later emerged, told Home Secretary Jack Straw. Mr Straw told Tony Blair. Mr Blair told Mr Davies he would have to go, and asked Alastair Campbell to write his resignation letter for him.

But was he forced out because he had shown a lack of judgement in his dining companions? Or was it simply to appease a tabloid press who were convinced Britain was being run by a "gay mafia?"

If his case was "sleazy" it was more to do with the dishonesty involved in maintaining a double-life behind what was a robustly heterosexual fa├žade.

Over drinks with journalists in opposition, Davies would regularly make jibes about the sexuality of the then Welsh Secretary William Hague, but Hague turned out to be straight, while Davies eventually admitted his bisexuality in an emotional personal statement in the Commons.

Would Davies had been forced to resign today? Probably not. His behaviour was foolish for a man in his position, but what tended to be forgotten was that he was essentially a victim of crime.

The fact that he was also Old Labour, Welsh, and a leading proponent of devolution meant he was never likely in any case to top the Prime Minister's Christmas card list.

Freed from the shackles and constraints of office, Davies went on to develop a passion for what he called "badger watching."

But that, as they say, is another story.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Labour Party profits from the death of Dr David Kelly

Iain Dale has this story on his blog at the moment which I hope he doesn't mind me linking to ;-)

It shows that the Labour Party have been auctioning off signed copies of Lord Hutton's report into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly to raise more cash for party coffers.

Of course, we knew New Labour had no sense of shame. But even I never thought they would stoop this low.

May 23 Update: Tory MP Stewart Jackson has now tabled this Early Day Motion into the affair. Let's hope some Labour members have the guts to sign it.

Ming's birthday blues

BBC online's Nick Assinder has become the latest pundit to question whether Ming Campbell - 65 today - is up to the job of Lib Dem leader.

"Some have started re-examining the way former leader Charles Kennedy was ousted. Mr Kennedy, remember, took the Lib Dems to historic electoral heights only last year, and appeared to have a rapport with ordinary voters," he writes.

"The question that some are asking is whether the fact that there has been a successful Lib Dem leadership coup once this Parliament means there is more, or less, appetite for more leadership turmoil before the next election."

I think I know the answer to the last question....

Will Reid run?

The political prospects of Dr John Reid formed the main subject-matter of my Saturday Column and accompanying Podcast this weekend.

Dr Reid could easily become the latest in a series of Home Secretaries to drown under the weight of the department’s mountainous bureaucracy. But alternatively, he may – just may – manage to turn the situation round, and establish himself as a credible alternative contender to Gordon Brown for the Prime Minister’s job.

Interestingly, Guido Fawkes is today urging punters to get their money on Reid, in the wake of last week's declaration by Mike Smithson that Gordon will ultimately be beaten.

For my part, like Smithson, I reckon Alan Johnson is a marginally more attractive alternative bet, given his power-base within the union movement and Reid's relative lack of popularity with MPs.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Little Red Book goes live

The Little Red Book of New Labour sleaze is now on sale at all good bookshops and also has its ownwebsite.

The book, detailing 101 scandals to have hit the government since the whiter-than-white one came to power in 1997, has been put together by Iain Dale and Guido Fawkes with help from around 30 or so political bloggers, including myself.

For what it's worth, I contributed entries on Ron Davies's "moment of madness," the award of peerages to deadbeat old MPs in return for safe Labour seats for Blair favourites, the routine trashing of out-of-favour ministers by Alastair Campbell and Co, and the "dodgy dossier" under which the country went to war with Iraq.

As Guido says - buy this book, and throw it at Tony Blair every time he claims to be a "pretty straight kind of guy."

Friday, May 19, 2006

Now Hague flies the kite for Tory-Lib Dem coalition

A few weeks back, it was Ken Clarke. Now William Hague has become the latest senior Tory figure to hold out the prospect of a Tory-Lib Dem coalition at the next election.

No link I'm afraid as the story was in the pesky Spectator which continues to run a subscription only website, but what he said was as follows:

"There is going to be a greater likelihood of hung parliaments and parties having to co-operate in government. There are some sensible Lib Dems, but others whose instincts are very left-wing.

"I have no idea whether the split Liberal Party, and one now with rather weak leadership, would be willing or able to work with a minority Conservative administration."

The flaw in Hague's thinking, to my mind, is shown up in those phrases "split Liberal Party" and "sensible Lib Dems."

The implication is that the Tories will somehow be able to pick-off the Nick Cleggs of this world to serve in a David Cameron-led coalition, even if the Steve Webbs of this world are vehemently opposed to that.

For my part, I find it very hard to believe that the Lib Dems would allow themselves to be carved-up in this way, given that it would lead to their certain demise as an independent party.

Hague also fails to mention proportional representation, which would be the absolute minimum requirement of any Tory-Lib Dem deal.

BBC prepares to kill off Margaret Thatcher

This, from Recess Monkey, is well worthy of a wider audience.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

My Top 10.....Political Journalists

I thought long and hard about this one. At least three of the people on this list are people I worked closely alongside in the Lobby and doubtless some will think that's all a bit incestuous. However most of my nominations either retired before my time, worked in fields of political journalism far removed from my own, or are sadly no longer with us.

The one thing they all have in common is that they were never seduced into becoming mouthpieces for the government of the day, or dependent on them for stories. That is one way of doing political journalism, and it can be a richly rewarding one for those who practice it. But it is not mine.

1. Hugo Young. Without question in my view, the greatest political commentator of the past 40 years and a great loss not only to the profession but also to British public life. His column on the death of Dr David Kelly, written shortly before his own death, will stick in my memory for ever. Cutting to the real core of the tragedy in a way Lord Hutton never managed, he said that Kelly's death illustrated "the dynamic that is unleashed when the Prime Minister's sainted reputation becomes the core value his country has to defend." He commanded public opinion in a way no other commentator has managed in my lifetime, and I genuinely believe that, had he lived, the Blair administration would by now have been consigned to the history books.

2. Anthony Bevins. Most of his best work was done by the time I joined the Lobby, but as the inaugural political editor of the Independent he helped shape a newspaper-of-record which, for a time, filled the gap in the market left by Murdoch's dumbing-down of The Times. Is justifiably remembered for asking Mrs Thatcher a killer question about the NHS, namely whether she had ever used it. It was sad that he spent his final years working for a crap paper like the Express.

3. John Cole. What more can be said? Virtually created the role of BBC political editor in its current reporter-cum-pundit format but never forgot that the reporting role ultimately came first. In 1990, Mrs Thatcher said she would "fight on and fight to win" after being forced into a second leadership ballot against Michael Heseltine. Cole duly reported her line but said he was keeping 2pc of his mind open to the possibility that she would in fact throw in the towel. She did.

4. David Hencke. In my opinion the best reporter of his generation, political or otherwise. Secured the Neil Hamilton scoop which seriously damaged John Major's Tories, then showed his even-handedness by uncovering the Peter Mandelson home loan affair. Had Tom Baldwin been able to follow Hencke's example and use his considerable talents for mischief-making against both parties instead of allowing himself to become a tool of Alastair Campbell, he too would be up there.

5. Alan Watkins. I grew up with Watkins' peerless Observer column and a large part of my fascination with politics and politicians came from him. I would guess that, in common with Trollope and Roy Jenkins, he saw politics as essentially the interplay of personalities seeking preferment rather than as a battle of ideas, a worldview which was brilliantly reflected in his writing. Was once absurdly sued by Michael Meacher after questioning the left-winger's working-class credentials.

6. Peter Oborne. One of the great iconoclasts of political journalism, Oborne is often regarded as some sort of Tory mirror-image of Campbell, about whom he wrote a memorable biography. But don't be fooled - the bucolic Old Etonian may be a right-winger, but his career in journalism to date shows he is nobody's poodle. Most rate the Campbell biog as his masterpiece, but I would nominate his pamphlet on the Government's hypocritical dealings with Robert Mugabe.

7. Elinor Goodman. I never really got on with Elinor but it was impossible not to admire her refusal to get sucked into the New Labour propaganda machine, especially as a woman of the centre-left. Her contributions to No 10 press conferences and lobby briefings were memorably waspish and her reporting incisive. A shame she never got the BBC job - she'd have done it with far more brio than Robin Oakley and far more objectivity than Andy Marr.

8. Andrew Roth. A one-off who carved his own unique niche in the profession, Roth is included on account of his exhaustive profiles of MPs which, for decades, have been an essential research tool. Also writes most of the obits of obscure former MPs which appear in the Guardian, ensuring some sort of memorial for those whom the slings and arrows of political fortune have left behind. One of two regional lobby men on my list, Roth was also Pol Ed of the Manchester Evening News.

9. Andrew Rawnsley. A slightly reluctant nomination, as in his closeness to New Labour he has on occasions come very close to crossing the line between journalism and propaganda. But there is no-one to rival the sheer elegance of his writing and he edges out Don Macintyre as the must-read chronicler of the Blair-Brown "project." His Observer column is to modern-day politics what Alan Watkins' was to the 70s and 80s - simply the best big picture summary of the week's events.

10. Ian Hernon. As well as being a fine reporter in his own right, this Glaswegian gets in for his amazing record in tutelary political journalism. In 80s and 90s, he ran a Lobby news agency that turned out numerous stars of the future, notably Joe Murphy (Evening Standard) and Roland Watson (The Times). Some claim they owed their success to Hernon's bizarre initiation rituals which allegedly involved consuming a half-pint or equivalent in every one of Westminster's 17 bars.

As to those big names I haven't can draw your own conclusions. Suffice to say that too many of the big beasts of political journalism over the past 10 years ended up by getting slightly too close to New Labour, and like Harry Evans, my definition of news is that it's what the Government wants covered up, not what it wants out in the open.

At the end of the day, what do Messrs Kavanagh, White and Marr care about my opinions? Probably not a lot. But I will say this. If I had been nominating the ten most courteous men in political journalism, all three would have been included.

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Conspiracy theories

I see another blogger has picked up on my piece of a few weeks back about Press Gallery Freemasonry, adding some new information of his own.

The same blog also has an interesting and rather alarming piece on some of the unanswered questions concerning the death of Robin Cook last August, together with a separate post on some official secrets he was alleged to have revealed before his death.


Jury still out on Ming

Differing opinions on the blogosphere today on whether Ming Campbell's problems have worsened or eased following this afternoon's PMQs.

Iain Dale: Ming Bombs Again at Question Time
Guido: Ming Doesn't Mess Up PMQs
Recess Monkey: Ming the Mindless
Skipper: Reading the Clues at PMQs

Unfortunately I didn't see it, so am unable to add my two penn'orth on this occasion, but I doubt there's much he could do to alter my view that the Lib Dems have made a big mistake.

Ace punter bets against Brown

Hat tip to Guido for drawing this to my attention, but Mike Smithson at the influential site has today called the Labour leadership election against Gordon Brown.

This may of course reflect the fact that Gordon is currently very poor value at around 1-3 on compared with more attractive bets like 13-1 on Alan Johnson and John Reid, but nevertheless given the impact that political punters can have (remember the Chris Huhne betting ramp?) I think this is significant.

Smithson's case is that Brown is not a natural campaigner, and that if the election becomes contested, he will find it hard actually asking for votes he believes should come to him by right. He touts the most likely alternative as Johnson, arguing that he has the killer instinct Brown lacks.

I don't happen to agree with this - in my view Brown has enough of the unions and MPs' votes sewn up to be defeated in the constituency ballot and still win comfortably overall - but the fact that such a possibility is even being canvassed will doutbless add succour to his enemies - of which there are many.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Normal service resumed (again)

I'm now back online following a very relaxing long weekend in Jersey - luckily they had the Cup Final on in the hotel bar - so without further ado here's this week's Saturday Column and accompanying Podcast, about how Blair and Brown stepped back from the brink, together with my North West Enquirer column which focused among other things on how the North-West's MPs fared in the reshuffle.

In terms of other things that have been happening while I was away....the disquiet surrounding Ming Campbell has now reached the point where he feels obliged to deny that anything is wrong...Paddy Hennessy reckons John Reid is planning a Labour leadership bid, which may just be an attempt by the Brownites to flush him out...and there's some utter drivel from Stalin's Gran and others on Guido about how Labour would have lost the 1997 election under John Smith. Enjoy.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The other leadership crisis

What with all the current media focus on Blair and Brown, little attention has been paid thus far to the other unresolved leadership issue in British politics: whether Ming Campbell should be quietly pensioned off as leader of the Liberal Democrats.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I didn't support him as leader, but when he won I was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Ming is a decent man, of that there is no question, but my suspicions that he would prove ill-suited to the demands of modern politics have proved sadly correct, and it is not just Tory MPs and part-time bloggers who think he cannot take the party through the glass ceiling.

He has failed to give the Liberal Democrats the distinctive branding and youthful appeal they had under Ashdown and Kennedy and even his House of Commons performances, which were expected to be his strong suit, have been stumbling.

Sir Ming's official explanation for last Thursday's underwhelming local election performance has been to say that it was a "night of consolidation."

But consolidation is not good enough for an opposition party when a Government is this unpopular. They must be making gains.

Party loyalty being what it is, there has been very little debate thus far in the Lib Dem blogosphere about this issue - where is the sadly-now-defunct Ming's Dynasty when we need you?

Perhaps the most thoughtful contributions, while stopping short of outright criticism of Sir Ming, have come from Quaequam and Jonathan Calder.

Jonathan writes: "It is hard to resist the conclusion that we Liberal Democrats are close to exhausting the incremental strategy we have followed so far. Local campaigning will continue to win us the odd sear. But in order to make a further breakthrough we shall have to develop policies that appeal to voters outside our current areas of strength.

"The questions then become whether we agree on enough as a party to be able to do that and whether we have the skills to put them across in the national media when we have done so."

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Back from the brink

After a couple of days in which it looked like New Labour could genuinely implode, Messrs Blair and Brown appear to have stepped back from the brink once more.

Blair has done the sensible thing and, instead of seeking to provoke Brown beyond endurance, has acknowledged (a) that he probably will end up stepping down well before the end of his third term, (b) that he will organise an orderly handover, and (c) that Gordon remains, publicly at least, his chosen successor.

Inevitably this has been interpreted as meaning he will go next year, but as I have said before, I always thought that was the likelist scenario.

As Nick Robinson has noted, Brown has very little alternative but to go along with this, unless he wants to inherit a fatally divided party.

Of all the punditry that has appeared on this over recent days, quite the most ludicrous came from Robert Harris, who argued that Blair should in fact sack Brown unless he publicly commits to allow him to serve a full third term.

And what do you suppose Gordon would then do next, Mr Harris? Say: "Okay Tony, you win," and slink off to the backbenches to make the occasional speech on neo-endogenous growth theory? No, he would be straight down the Strangers' Bar with Nicky Brown and Dougie Henderson to organise a leadership contest.

By contrast, the most sensible piece of advice was yesterday's Guardian leader pointing out the huge responsibilities now lying on both men to avoid a civil war.

I think they may have just about managed it - for now.

Blair-must-go watch update:

  • Calling for Blair to go now/this year

    Andrew Smith
    Frank Dobson
    Ashok Kumar
    Glenda Jackson
    The Guardian
    The Daily Telegraph
    The Economist
    The New Statesman
    Polly Toynbee
    Matthew Parris
    Jonathan Freedland
    Stephen Pollard
    Paul Linford
    BBC Newsnight poll
    Times Populus poll

  • Demanding a timetable for leadership handover

    Neal Lawson/Compass
    Nick Raynsford
    Martin Salter

  • Calling for Blair to go next year

    The Times
    Rhodri Morgan

  • Calling for Blair to serve "full third term."

    Robert Harris
    Janet Anderson
  • Reshuffle gives new legs to English Parliament campaign

    Tony Blair's decision to make John Reid Home Secretary and promote Douglas Alexander to Transport Secretary has given further impetus to the debate about England's democratic deficit, as witness this letter by former Home Secretary Lord Baker in today's Telegraph.

    Of the two, I am less concerned by Dr Reid's appointment. Although Scotland has a separate legal system it is not strictly the case that the Home Office is an "English-only" department, especially now that most of its work consists of dealing with homeland security issues.

    Slightly more troubling is the appointment of yet another Scot as Transport Secretary, given that transport is not only an entirely devolved matter but that, under the Barnett Formula, the Scottish transport budget is way in excess of that of England's in terms of spending-per-head.

    More reaction at the CEP newsblog.

    Ron tires of badger-watching

    I see from the Western Mail that my old mucker Ron Davies is considering another political comeback.

    Seriously, I hope he makes it. Politics needs its colourful characters, and of all the people forced to resign from Blair's Government, he was possibly the most harshly treated.

    The Little Red Book

    In the unlikely event that there is anyone who reads my blog who doesn't also read Iain Dale and/or Guido Fawkes, here's a plug for their forthcoming Little Red Book of New Labour Sleaze to which I and other bloggers have contributed. You can order a copy online, via Politicos, natch, by clicking here.

    Monday, May 08, 2006

    So does going bald make you want to go with rent boys?

    As a baldy, I was both amused and relieved to read this story by Brendan Carlin in today's Daily Telegraph on the latest Mark Oaten revelations.

    “Balding men generally will hardly welcome the link between hair loss and having an affair with a rent boy,” he writes.

    I can of course personally attest to the truth of this observation - but what I am sure we're all dying to know is what Nick Robinson thinks.

    Friday, May 05, 2006

    After the long night, now for the night of the long knives....

    It's 6am and I've just finished covering the local elections for our 30 this is websites - a very different kettle of fish from covering for one newspaper as I've done for most of my career.

    Anyway, it's clear this has been a terrible night for Labour and that Blair is going to have to do something mighty big in today's reshuffle to knock this off the front pages.

    The Labour Party - and even some of its traditional supporters in the media - is finally realising what some of us knew even before the last election - that Blair is now an electoral liability.

    He got away with it in 2005 for the simple reason that he was up against Howard. But now the Tories have got themselves a half-decent leader, there's nowhere left to hide.

    Surely the most chilling spectacle of the night for Blair will have been seeing Nick Brown, the grim-faced assassin from the North-East whom he sacked three years ago, telling David Dimbleby that something had to be done to halt the drift.

    Asked whether there was anything Blair could actually do, Brown replied: "Well, he'll have to try." And if he fails, we all know what "Newky" will do next.

    So what of the reshuffle? Well, there has been so much speculation about this over the past couple of days that I sense that literally anything could happen, and I'm not about to make an idiot of myself by making predictions that could look silly by the end of the day.

    I reckon there'll be at least one big surprise, but whether it will be enough to save Blair is surely very much in doubt.

    Tuesday, May 02, 2006

    The problem isn't Prescott, Clarke or Hewitt - it's Tony Blair

    "This Government does not need another relaunch, still less another shifting of the deckchairs on the Titanic. It needs putting out of its misery – and fast."

    That's my verdict on the Government's current troubles, as set out in my Saturday Column and accompanying Podcast.

    Charles Clarke is clearly on the way out and I doubt that John Prescott will be that far behind him - but I don't think either of these things are going to fundamentally alter the fortunes of this increasingly wretched government.

    Only a change at the top will do that.