Friday, June 30, 2006

That's enough by-election baloney

You could draw all sorts of conclusions from last night's by-election results in which Labour failed to regain Blaenau Gwent and the Tories held onto Bromley by a whisker. To take just three examples:

* Labour cannot win either in Middle England or its heartlands, given its defeat in Wales and fourth place in Bromley.

* The Tories' modernisation agenda has been a failure, given that the party's vote in Bromley dropped by 11,000.

* The Lib Dems' strong performance in Bromley, coming within 633 votes of victory, means Ming Campbell's leadership is now secure.

And it's all complete baloney.

Although by-elections do have an impact on national politics and party morale, they tell us very little about the overall mood of the nation.

A classic example was the Darlington by-election in 1983. The SDP-Liberal Alliance went into it with high hopes, but Labour's Ossie O'Brien won with the Tories in second place.

The result had a profound political impact. It secured Michael Foot in his leadership of the Labour Party, foiling an NEC plot to replace him with Denis Healey, and that in turn convinced Mrs Thatcher to call a General Election, certain that she could not lose to the veteran leftie.

She was right of course - but what happened at Darlington? The Tories' Michael Fallon won the seat, with O'Brien in second place and the Alliance a distant third.

Similarly, I don't think the results in eiother Blaenau Gwent or Bromley tell us anything at all about how voters would behave nationally if there were to be a General Election tomorrow.

The Welsh Labour Party has got itself into a characteristic pickle in Blaenau Gwent, but it is effectively a little local difficulty, as Macmillan might have put it.

And Bromley? Well, there seems to be much wailing and gnashing of teeth on the Tory blogosphere today about their narrow squeeze, but they should relax.

As I have written on Mr Dale's blog - and as I am sure all England fans will agree - a win is a win is a win.

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Yet another Dead Tree Press diatribe against the political blogosphere

With 114,000 hits a month he doesn't need any publicity from me, but this exchange between Iain Dale and a rather ill-informed Independent leader-writer has to be seen to be believed.

It comes hard on the heels of the Catherine Bennett episode earlier this month in which the Guardian columnist bemoaned the male domination of the blogosphere.

I don't think this is really about gender politics at all. As I said on that occasion, it has much more to do with the strange mixture of fascination and contempt that the mainstream media appears to hold towards the world of blogging.

In fact it strikes me that the relationship is becoming not unlike that which exists between the Lobby and politicians - both needing eachother while simultanesouly despising the other.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

For Labour, all roads lead to Manchester

The Daily Telegraph believes he's now ready to go next year. Meanwhile the Grauniad says he wants to thrash out a new private understanding with Gordon Brown over the timing of the handover. Nick Robinson ain't convinced, and reckons "events" might yet come to his rescue.

So does all this tell us anything new about Tony Blair's political future? Well, the triple by-lines on the two broadsheet tales suggest to me a slight hedging of bets, perhaps...?

The one thing most pundits seem to agree on though is that the thing needs to be sorted out by the time of Labour's conference in Manchester this September, or risk that event turning into a media shambles dominated by speculation about the succession.

Here's what I wrote on this particular issue in the Manchester-based North-West Enquirer a week ago

"For the Labour Party now, it seems all roads are pointing to Manchester, where this year’s annual conference will take place - the first to be held at a non-seaside venue for many years.

"The pattern of Labour conferences in recent years has been a big speech by Brown on the Monday, setting out his vision and leadership credentials, followed by a defiant message from Blair on the Tuesday that he’s here to stay.

"It won’t work this time round. Everyone knows Blair is going, and Brown has made too many leader-in-waiting speeches for another one to be taken seriously.

"Hence it is my hunch that the Prime Minister will not be able to leave Manchester without being forced to do the one thing he most wants to avoid: to name the date for his departure."

The Guardian story suggests that Blair still wants to avoid giving a public commitment by reaching a private understanding with Brown. But once it is obvious that such a private understanding has been reached, it will also be obvious that Blair is going next year.

In this context, Tim Montgomerie of Conservative Home has set up this site where visitors can log their predictions of the Prime Minister's exact departure date, with the chance to win £500.

I won't be entering myself because, as a journalist, I don't believe in betting on political outcomes which you might have to write about and which you might thereby be in a position to influence in some small way.

That said, I'm happy to accede to Tim's request to add the link for anyone else who wants to try their luck.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

My Top 10 Political Heroes

I've done books, speeches, gaffes, journalists and blogs, so as a logical conclusion to the political Top 10s series, here's my list of the politicians I most admire from home and abroad.

1. Sir Winston Churchill. Okay, so he was a Conservative and an imperialist, and I am neither. But maybe you don't choose your political heroes, maybe they choose you, and try as I might, I can't put the man who saved the country from Nazi tyranny anywhere other than at Number One. Yes, he had his faults. For a start, he was pissed for most of the Second World War, which puts Charles Kennedy's problems into their proper perspective. But sentimental old sod that I am, hearing those "fight them on the beaches" speeches still brings tears to my eyes. "We will never surrender."

2. Denis Healey. A theme of lost leaders run through this Top 10, and if Churchill was the greatest Prime Minister we ever had, Denis was surely the greatest we never had. It is the enduring tragedy of the British left that he didn't get the top job instead of James Callaghan in 1976. Had he done so, he might have taken on and beaten the unions himself instead of waiting for Mrs Thatcher to do it, and thereby relegated her to a footnote in Tory history. The man with the legendary hinterland, his autobiography, "The Time of My Life" is the best political book of the last 30 years.

3. Anthony Crosland. If Healey was the left's lost leader, then Crosland was its greatest thinker. He was never a realistic candidate for the leadership, but he is regarded by many Whitehall mandarins as the best departmental minister of all time. His seminal work "The Future of Socialism" in 1956 became the creed of the so-called "revisionists" who aimed to adapt socialism to modern circumstances and was cited by Tony Blair as an inspiration behind New Labour. Personally, I think the entire Blair project would have made this great egalitarian turn sharply in his grave.

4. David Lloyd George. One of three genuine radicals to occupy 10 Downing Street in the 20th century - Attlee and Thatcher, in their different ways, were the others - the "Welsh Wizard" turned on Britain's antiquated class system with unparalleled ferocity. As possibly the greatest reforming Chancellor of all time, his Budgets did as much to lay the foundations of the welfare state as Beveridge's famous report thirty years later. The first PM from a genuinely working-class background, he sadly fell prey to the corruptions of office and a cash-for-honours scandal. Plus ca change...

5. Mikhail Gorbachev. I was a bit of Kremlinologist in my younger days, deriving endless fascination from the machinations of the Soviet Politburo. Mikhail Gorbachev was at least 10 years younger than the rest of the Russian gerontocracy, but he sliced through them like a knife through butter to succeed Konstantin Chernenko in 1983. He then proceded to revolutionise the Soviet Union and with it world politics. Admirers of Reagan and Thatcher like to claim they won the Cold War. Wrong. It was Gorbachev's political courage that really brought down the Berlin Wall.

6. Albino Luciani, Pope John Paul I. Okay, so the Vatican City State is not really a country, and the Pope is not really a political leader, but I had to get him in somewhere. This was the man who was pontiff for 33 days before he was murdered by an unholy alliance of freemasons, mafiosi and corrupt cardinals. The church lost a humble, holy man who might well have abandoned the Vatican Palace and lived in a Roman slum as a genuinely prophetic Christian witness to the world. Instead, Catholicism fell into the clutches of the hardliners Wojtyla and Ratzinger. It has not recovered.

7. Bishop Abel Muzorewa. Most people would think of Bishop Desmond Tutu as the greatest African churchman of recent times but I had tremendous sympathy for this brave little bishop who briefly led "Zimbabwe-Rhodesia" in 1978-79. Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo resfused to accept the so-called "internal settlement," and the British staged a conference to find a political solution that included them. When Mugabe won the resulting election we congratulated ourselves on a smooth handover to black majority rule. White Zimbabweans who knew Mugabe better disagreed, and they were right.

8. Martin Luther King Jnr. Second only to Churchill among the ranks of 20th century orators, his speeches inspired a generation not just within the American civil rights movement but around the world. I love the analogy he drew between arbitrary musical categorisations and the artificial divisions within humanity. "Today on this program you will hear gospel, and rhythm, and blues, and jazz - but all those are just labels. We know that music is music." Died a hero's death, but like Lloyd George, his personal life did not always reflect his high Christian ideals.

9. Henry John Temple, Lord Palmerston. My favourite 19th century Prime Minister, his famous last words were "die, my dear doctor - that's the last thing I will do!" But as well as this memorable quote he also made the definitive statement of British foreign policy in the 19th century: "We have no perpetual allies and no eternal enemies. Our interests are perpetual and eternal and these we support." His words still have resonance today. Would that Tony Blair could have approached the Iraq issue on the basis of whether British interests, rather than perpetual alliances, were at stake.

10. Michael Heseltine. The second of two names on my list who should have been Prime Minister but weren't, the Tories made a catastrophic error in overlooking Tarzan. He'd have been a great Prime Minister and would have weaned his party off the absurd Little Englander mentality that contributed to its three successive election defeats. Should have been rewarded for his political courage in getting rid of Thatcher when it was clear she had become an electoral liability. Instead, his fate was to be largely vilified by a party still hopelessly in thrall to its defeated heroine.

And that's it. If I could have chosen my Prime Ministers of the past 30 years, they would have read something like: Healey 1976-1983. Heseltine 1983-1992. Smith 1992-94. Brown 1994-to date. We would now be a much more civilised, social democratic country, instead of one where so-called Labour governments dance to the increasingly shrill tones of the Murdoch press. But for Gordon, at least, it is not too late.....

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Monday, June 26, 2006

Charles Clarke is a Kinnockite to the last

Much discussion in the mainstream media today on whether Charles Clarke is set to do a Geoffrey Howe and take revenge on Tony Blair over his sacking from the Cabinet last month by demanding that the Prime Minister set a date for his departure.

If so, it is odd that he is choosing to do it in a Newsnight interview which hardly anyone will watch rather than in a Personal Statement on the floor of the House of Commons, but his decision to speak out is significant none the less.

After all, it is not so very long ago that Clarke was still publicly maintaining that the Prime Minister would stay on until summer 2008 before standing down.

Perhaps the key to it is to remember that Charles Clarke was never really a fully paid-up Blairite. He was a Kinnockite, and Kinnock himself made clear as long ago as April 2004 his view that Blair probably ought to go soon after winning a third term.

June 27 Update: The story was not quite as billed. Despite the trenchant criticisms of Reid and the implied criticism of the reshuffle, Clarke apparently still wants Blair to stay on until 2008. Moral: Don't believe everything you read in the Sunday Telegraph and the Daily Mail...

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Politics or football - take your pick!

My two latest podcasts are now live online, one focusing on the World Cup and the other on the past seven days in politics.

The World Cup podcast, put together with colleagues on the thisis network of regional websites, focuses not unnaturally on England's efforts against Ecuador yesterday and their prospects for next weekend's Quarter Final encounter with a weakened Portugal team.

My colleagues are very upbeat about England's chances of making the Final but I remain cautious - I don't really think the experiment of playing Rooney on his own upfront is the best use of the player, and I still maintain a choice will eventually have to be made between Gerrard and Lampard in midfield if we are to get the best out of either.

Anyway to hear the podcast in full, click HERE.

Meanwhile the weekly politics podcast, acompanying my weekly Saturday column, focused on Gordon Brown's nuclear bombshell, and what it could mean for the chances of an "orderly transition."

It can be listened to HERE with the text version available HERE.

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Friday, June 23, 2006

The lost leader returns

I watched Charles Kennedy on Question Time last night, his first appearance on national television since his resignation. And he was brilliant, just brilliant.

Given by the audience reaction to him, his rapport with the public remains as strong as ever and his answers were invariably both sensible and judicious, including one to a question from Dimbleby about whether he was now teetotal.

When he was asked about a possible return to the leadership in future, Charles made clear he was not ruling it out, bringing further cheers from an audience that clearly thought he should never have lost the job in the first place.

Bring it on, I say. Besides mumbling Ming and over-hyped political teenager Nick Clegg, Kennedy remains a class act.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Labour leadership contest is now a certainty

The BBC leads most of its bulletins this morning with the story that Gordon Brown has committed himself to a replacement for Trident if he becomes Prime Minister.

Some appear to be wondering why this is a story at all. Surely it's just a senior Government minister making clear that he supports existing Government policy?

Well, I reckon they're missing the point. The reason this is a story is because there are quite a few people out there in the Labour Party who thought, perhaps naively, that Prime Minister Brown might turn out to take a different view on the replacement of Trident and other nuclear-related matters.

What I think is really interesting about this story - and no-one really seems to have picked up on this yet - is that it makes a Labour leadership challenge from the anti-nuclear, Meacherite left an absolute racing certainty.

Now here's the rub. Until now, it has been generally assumed that Mr Brown wanted an uncontested election, or an "orderly transition" as it is usually described.

I reckon that's wrong, and that the Chancellor has decided he would benefit much more from a contest in which he can define himself as the natural inheritor of the New Labour mantle in opposition to a challenge from the old left.

By making clear his views on Trident at this early stage, he has given the left the perfect cause on which to mount such a challenge - perfect both in the sense that their feelings about nuclear weapons make it inevitable that they will take it up, and in the sense that it portrays Brown as in touch with mainstream opinion in the country.

All Gordon has to worry about now is whether the Blairites will be convinced by this display of loyalty, or whether they will, in the end, decide to run Alan Johnson against him.

Update 1: Clare Short has now made my point for me, by saying she will no longer support Gordon Brown for the leadership, and that there should be a contest.

Update 2: My most recent column looking at the Labour leadership issue, written earlier this week, is published today in the North West Enquirer.

Update 3: Ben Rooney has included this post in today's Guardian round-up of what's on the web - the second time this blog has been featured!

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Barnett back on national agenda?

I seem to have got a bit of a reputation over the years for having an interest in the Barnett Formula, the obscure Treasury funding rules which currently award Scotland £1,473 more per head in public spending than England.

So it's always nice to see other journalists occasionally taking up the issue, such as Alice Thomson in today's Telegraph.

"It must be obvious to the Chancellor that this handout is increasingly unacceptable to the English. It has allowed the Scottish Parliament to bring in free care for the elderly, free nursery places and free tuition at universities, as well as enabling them to build a £431 million parliament building. If Mr Brown wants to put a stop to claims that a Scottish MP cannot be prime minister, this is the way to do it," she writes.

Thomson is known for her closeness to Tory leader David Cameron, so it will be interesting to see what, if anything, the Tory frontbench do about this. For the past two elections, the Lib Dems have been the only party committed to scrapping this monstrously unfair system.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Progressive Disenfranchisement

I've had a fair amount to say recently about political cross-dressing, mainly in relation to David Cameron's attempts to re-occupy the centre ground and, in some circumstances, to triangulate his policies to the left of Tony Blair.

The one aspect of this I've not touched on so far, however, is the attempt by the Liberal Democrats to steal the Tories clothes by posing as tax cutters and abandoning their credentials as a progressive party by ditching the 50p top rate of tax.

Let me be honest about my own position. I believe in redistributive taxation, and furthermore I believe that people like me who are on decent incomes ought, in general, to pay a bigger proportion of those incomes in tax. "From each according to his means, to each according to his need" seems to me a basic ethical Christian principle that should underpin the way we do politics.

But no mainstream party is now advocating this sort of taxation system in any real sense. Even the Lib Dems, petrified that the rise of Cameron will deprive them of votes in Middle England, cannot any longer bring themselves to argue that people earning £100,000 a year or more should pay slightly more tax than those of us earning £30,000.

What this means is that whole swathes of opinion on the progressive left of politics are steadily becoming more and more disenfranchised, accelerating the process that begun under New Labour as a result of Blair's abandonment of anything resembling democratic socialism.

It's still not too late for Labour to do something about that before the next election - see post below - but what about the Lib Dems?

Well, sadly, I have seen nothing over the past three months to make me think I was in any way mistaken in my initial assessment of Charles Kennedy's overthrow as party leader and his replacement by Ming Campbell: that it was a mistake the party would come to regret.

From being the nice party in British politics, the one which actually seemed to stand for something rather than bending with every wind, they have now ditched both their leader and their most distinctive policy in what I believe will prove a vain attempt to counter the Cameron threat.

We read this weekend that Mr Kennedy himself regrets not standing in the leadership election which he triggered. I'll bet he does - with his popularity among the party grassroots, he would have won hands down.

Yet as Kennedy surmised and as a recent post on Jonathan Calder's Liberal England blog confirms, strenuous efforts were made by senior party figures such as Lord Steel to ensure an uncontested coronation for Ming Campbell.

Although Chris Huhne and Simon Hughes did their best to prevent that outcome, the end result of all these stupid machinations was that the party ended up with a leader far less popular than the one they had - and no more effective in the House of Commons for all that - and with policies far less distinctive or attractive than the ones on which they fought the last two elections.

Is it any wonder that some of us are considering voting Tory?

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In the name of Gord, go

The pressure on Tony Blair is cranking up again following last weekend's Compass conference and continuing dismal opinion poll ratings for Labour.

This morning's Guardian leader renews the paper's call for the Prime Minister to stand down this year in the interests of the party, and even fellow blogger Skipper, who has hitherto been notable for giving the PM the benefit of the doubt, has now joined the growing chorus.

It seems to me so self-evident that Blair's continuance in office is badly damaging his party that only someone who was completely self-deluded could fail to see the truth of it. That would be our Prime Minister, then.

As the Guardian piece puts it: "Mr Blair's continuation at the top of his party increasingly appears like an act of vanity."

Blair-must-go watch update:

  • This is the current list of Labour MPs, newspapers, political commentators, bloggers and pollsters who have publicly called on Tony Blair to stand down this year.

    Andrew Smith
    Frank Dobson
    Michael Meacher
    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
    YouGov poll of Labour members

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  • Monday, June 19, 2006

    Top blogging 2 (and some MainStream Media too!)

    Does that rhyme? Anyway, here's the second of my occasional round-ups of things I appreciated on the blogosphere and beyond over the past week or so.

    Stalin's Gran reveals John Prescott's taste in Indian-Italian cuisine...Tim Ireland and Justin McKeating leave some unwanted comments on Alastair Campbell's World Cup blog...Femme de Resistance gives her inimitable take on David Cameron's "Happiness Agenda,"....Iain Dale explains why the right rules the blogosphere...Madeleine Bunting takes her leave of the Grauniad...Stephen Pollard does his best to puncture the absurd media hype surrounding Nick Clegg...The Press Gazette reveals that most senior journalists are public school educated toffs... and A Dutchman comes up with what is surely the daftest blog of 2006 so far!

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    Friday, June 16, 2006

    Labour contest would be "meaningless" - Ken

    A few weeks back, a propos of Ken Livingstone's comments about the Barnett Formula, I speculated that he might be positioning himself as a potential "English Candididate" in a future Labour leadership contest.

    Well, I'm wrong apparently. According to the BBC today, he's endorsed Gordon.

    Furthermore, he reckons Brown's first act as PM should be to call a General Election, in order to give himself a clear and distinct mandate and forestall any cries of "Tony wouldn't have done this..."

    There's only one problem with Ken's analysis, seducitve though it is. It is that no Prime Minister - let alone one as cautious as Mr Brown - is going to call an election while ten points behind in the opinion polls.

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    Thursday, June 15, 2006

    Blog of the Week!

    As if Iain Dale has not been generous enough towards this blog over recent days, he has now named it as Blog of the Week in his slot on Channel 4's podcast, The Morning Report.

    You can listen to it in full HERE but if you want to hear it, make sure you do so today because the podcast is updated each morning. Iain's bit starts about three quarters of the way through.

    In case you miss it - and because I think it's worth preserving! - here's what Iain had to say about me:

    "I still can't work out who he votes for, but his blog carries the sort of insight into the political scene you would expect from a former lobby hack but without the baggage of working for one of the major newspaper groups like the Guardian or Rupert Murdoch. I don't drink, but his blog conjures up the image of drinking a rather fine wine: like a good vintage, some of his writing is to be savoured."

    Some may not be aware that Iain is the proprietor of Politicos, the online bookseller and publisher. So when someone who has published as many books as he has says something like that about my writing, it really means something, I can tell you.

    Incidentally, as Iain is at pains to point out on his own blog, the piece was recorded well before I named his blog at No 1 in my Top 10 published here on Tuesday!

    The rest of his C4 piece, which focuses on the reasons behind the current proponderance of the right-wing blogosphere and the relative lack of prominent left-of-centre blogs, is also well worth listening to.

    Interestingly, he doesn't appear to class this as a "left-of-centre" blog in the context of that debate, but I guess that's because he can't work out who I vote for!

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    The Blears Blog (Not)

    I don't know who thought of doing THIS. But I wish it had been me.

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    Wednesday, June 14, 2006

    A-lister picked to be my next MP

    The Derby Evening Telegraph reports that long serving Derby City councillor and Tory A-list candidate Pauline Latham has won the battle to contest the newly-created seat of Mid-Derbyshire for the Conservatives at the next election.

    Who cares? Well, I do, because I live there and because, as it's likely to be a rock-solid Tory constituency, Pauline is almost certain to become my MP.

    Fortunately, we go back quite a long way. Pauline was on Derbyshire County Council back in the 1980s when I covered it for the Evening Telegraph and we have stayed in touch, occasionally running into eachother and enjoying a drink or two at party conferences.

    Word has it that most of the A-List put in for this seat, so I personally think it's great that they've chosen a local candidate. I might even vote for her.

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    The Great Local Votes Swindle is just the beginning

    A report out today from the Electoral Reform Society drives a further nail into the coffin of our discreidted first-past-the-post electoral system.

    It reveals that a dozen councils in the recent local elections ended up being controlled by the "wrong" party because the one with the largest share of the vote did not win the most seats.

    It also points out that in Barking and Dagenham, the far-right British National Party won 12 seats with 8,506 votes across the borough as a whole while the Conservatives won one seat with 9,306.

    You can read the full report HERE.

    This, however, is just the beginning. As I have mentioned previously on this blog, there is a very real possibility that the sort of scenario outlined in the ERS report could actually happen at national level.

    If the Tories end up in front of Labour by anything between 0-4pc of the national share of the vote, it is overwhelmingly likely that Labour will remain the largest single party and in a position, possibly with Lib Dem help, to remain in government.

    The ERS report seems to have been ignored by most of the big media outfits (including the BBC) today and also by the Tory blogosphere, which doesn't seem to want to discuss proportional representation even though it is crystal clear that their party would benefit from it.

    When the next election produces the constitutional equivalent of a dog's breakfast, perhaps they'll sit up and take notice.

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    Oh no, Oaten's on Question Time...

    Mark Oaten's attempts to rehabilitate himself as a serious politician continue tonight with an appearance on Question Time.

    For my part, I reckon he should take Jonathan Calder's advice and concentrate on being the MP for Winchester. (NB This post is, in part, just an excuse to link to the best headline I have seen in the blogosphere this year.)

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    Tuesday, June 13, 2006

    My Top 10 Political Blogs

    Okay, so this will quite possibly bring me even more hatred, ridicule and contempt than the Top 10 Political Journalists list did...but for the sake of completeness, here are the adversaries I deem most worthy.

    It is quite clear that there are two political blogs that are currently way out in front of the rest in terms of visitors, frequency of posts, volume of comments and general political influence, and there is no use pretending otherwise. The real challenge for the rest of us is for a liberal or left-of-centre blog to come forward and challenge these two front runners, or at the very least, provide a distinctive and authoritative left voice in what is currently a rather right-leaning political blogosphere.

    It's also a very fast-changing world. At various points in the last year my Top 10 might have included the likes of Honourable Fiend, Westminster Village, Ming's Dynasty, Talk Politics and the Apollo Project - all now sadly defunct. Anyway, here goes.

    1. Iain Dale's Diary. I don't of course agree with all of Dale's views - he is after all the former chief-of-staff to David Davis and a former Conservative candidate. But his blog offers an unrivalled insight not only into what's going on in right-wing circles but also which stories are pressing the buttons of the right-wing press, with whom he evidently has close personal links. Unlike many at the top of their professions, Iain is a generous-minded character and often features posts from other less widely-read blogs (like mine) on his site. Pips Guido Fawkes to the top spot solely because his blog is updated more often and covers a slightly broader range of subject matter.

    2. Guido Fawkes. Love him, hate him, you certainly can't ignore him. What I love? The complete and total irreverence for all forms of authority and the sheer chutzpah (and apparent lack of regard for the libel laws) with which he publishes his exposes. What I hate? The druggy references - the real-life Guido was a major player in the rave scene of the early 90s - and the occasional boasts about betting coups, such as making money out of the death of John Smith. But these are but minor personal irritants. This blog is, basically, essential reading for anyone with a serious interest in contemporary politics.

    3. Labour Watch. It won't surprise many people to know that a Lib Dem councillor is behind this. But if you can put that to one side, this blog is a superb journalistic resource for anyone interested in the decline of New Labour as a governing force. Not only will you find here most of the national news stories charting Blair's gradual demise but also a host of local examples of what the author calls "Labour mendacity, corruption and failure." There are cleverer, wittier anti-Blair blogs out there, but none which manage to reflect so well what's really happening on the ground.

    4. Political Betting. I thought long and hard about whether this is actually a blog - in truth it's more a one-man punditry factory, and a hugely influential one at that. But either way, you can't fault Mike Smithson's political analysis, even if the punditry is geared towards the betting markets rather than as an end in itself. It is to some extent a victim of its own success though - each post routinely gets over 100 comments and it is hard going to plough through all of those to see whether the point you want to make has already been made by someone else.

    5. Conservative Home. The third right-wing blog to make my Top 5, illustrating the current centre of political gravity in the blogosphere. But Tim Montgomerie's CH is a very different animal to Dale's Diary. Whereas the latter is very much about Iain's personality and views, Tim is an aggregator par excellence, culling together all the big issues of the day with particular emphasis on Tory matters. If I have one criticism it's that too much of it tends to lead back to the mainstream media rather than to other blogs, but that may change as the blogosphere grows in importance.

    6. Nick Robinson. I don't like mainstream media blogs generally. Most of them aren't real blogs in the accepted sense of the word - Trevor Kavanagh's being a good example - and even the Guardian's much-vaunted Comment is Free (not a blog, but a blogging platform) is fairly restrictive in what it will let you link out to. As a BBC blog, Robinson's suffers from the same problem, but he does at least respond to comments and, unlike some other MSM bloggers, is often more outspoken online than he is on screen. Oh, and his analysis is spot-on too - most of the time.

    7. Skipper. Very much a personal choice, but there's a far amount that Skipper - aka politics lecturer Bill Jones - and I have in common. He lives in the North, his views are distinctly left of centre, his blog aims to be serious yet unpretentious, and he demonstrates that you don't need to be in the Lobby and/or London to write authoritatively about politics. Like me Skip also updates his blog most days, and aims to provide a big-picture overview of what's happening rather than break individual stories. But unlike me, he tends to give Mr Blair the benefit of the doubt most of the time!

    8. Recess Monkey. The humour on this blog can sometimes seem a bit impenetrable to those not well-versed in the ways of Westminster, and a lot of the comments on it are somewhat incestuous. But what's clever about this blog is that, although it is written by a journalist, Alex Hilton, it reads as if it really is written by a bunch of 20-something researchers in MPs offices, of the type that congregate outside the Red Lion on Friday afternoons in summer and then go and shag eachother. That said, it's undergoing a slight dip in quality at present - three months back, it would definitely have been placed third on my list.

    9. Forceful and Moderate. What sets this apart from other Lib Dem blogs is not the quality of its political analysis or aggregation - Jonathan Calder's Liberal England is much better at that - but the sheer brilliance of its main writer, Femme de Resistance, although it is technically a group blog. Like many bloggers, she doesn't post often enough, but when she does it's always worth reading. In contrast to all the other pseudonymous bloggers on this Top 10, all of whose identities are actually fairly well known, I have no idea who Femme de Resistance is, but I suspect she's a journalistic star of the future.

    10. Bloggerheads. Just as you don't judge a book by its cover, don't judge this blog by the design. Tim Ireland is the "twisted genius" behind it, and, for the most part, it is brilliant anti-Blair agitprop, if slightly pre-occupied in recent weeks with the fate of noisy anti-war protester Brian Haw. Tim's sheer creativity rivals that of Guido and ought by rights to make him as influential on the left as his right-wing counterpart, but he suffers slightly from that peculiarly British problem, of being too clever by half. He also doesn't allow unregistered users to comment, which is, frankly, a pain in the arse.

    And that's it. If you want to know who I think is bubbling under, you could take a look at my "Best of the Blogosphere" blogroll once I've got round to rebuilding it which will list what I think are the Top 40, but they will be listed alphabetically, not in order of preference.

    Finally, there are three blogs on that would make it into any other Top 10 but which are not political blogs in the strictest sense although they do touch on political issues, and those are Tim Worstall, Dr Crippen and, pre-eminently, Rachel from North London, the single best writer so far thrown up by the blogging medium. If by now you're bored of reading about politics and need to get back in touch with your emotional side, suggest you make yourself a coffee and read this.

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    Monday, June 12, 2006

    Political cross-dressing: Should left-of-centre voters now support Cameron?

    Last week's outbreak of political cross-dressing, with David Cameron saying let's be nice to public sector workers and Tony Blair and Gordon Brown threatning them with miserly pay increases, provided plenty of food-for-thought for my Saturday Column and accompanying Podcast.

    It led me to pose a question which I think could well become a defining issue for many existing Labour and Lib Dem voters in the run-up to the next General Election. It is this.

    "Is Britain better off being governed by a centre-right party that seeks to adopt an inclusive approach to voters of a left persuasion, than a centre-left party forever fretting about whether it can also appeal to the right?

    "In other words, could a David Cameron government, in practice, turn out to be further to the left than Tony Blair’s?"

    I suspect there will be some fairly robust opinions on this - Stalin's Gran, I'm relying on you for one!

    But it seems to me at least a valid question to ask whether voters on the left will get a better hearing from a man who seems keen to court their support than a man who has always been able to take that support for granted.

    The question is given added significance by the dramatic lurch to the right of the Lib Dems, who have abandoned their unique selling point of being the party that backs progressive taxation in a cynical bid to outflank the Tories in Middle England.

    There are a lot of centre-left votes which are going to be up for grabs at the next election. And mine is one of them.

    * You can read my column in full on my companion blog, In the name of God, go!

    A generous accolade

    Iain Dale is one of the two leading political bloggers in Britain in terms of visitor numbers and influence within the political media as a whole.

    So I'm extremely honoured to have been named as the No 1 journalist blogger in the country in Iain's latest set of listings, above the likes of Adam Boulton, Nick Robinson and Stephen Pollard.

    If I'm honest, all three of those get more traffic than I do, but I do try to provide something a bit different from what the mainstream media are doing a lot of the time and I'm glad Iain (and other loyal readers of my blog) seem to have recognised this.

    It's also a typically generous tribute from Iain who, even though he has reached the top of this particular branch of the profession, regularly takes the time to promote this and other blogs which are not nearly so well read as his is, for which thanks.

    Coming soon: My top 10 political bloggers...

    Friday, June 09, 2006

    Alastair Campbell launches World Cup blog

    I originally thought this was a spoof, but yes, it would appear to be the genuine Alastair.

    Whatever his record in British politics, and I personally take the view that, with the sole exception of Rupert Murdoch, his has been the most baleful influence on British public life over the past decade, I've always thought he talked a certain amount of sense when it came to football, so accordingly, he can have a link on this blog!

    You can access the great man's views HERE. Hat tip: Skipper.

    Thursday, June 08, 2006

    My Top 10 World Cup Memories

    Like most fortysomethings I'm a great one for nostalgia, and at World Cup time there's nothing so nostalgic as watching all those TV replays of great World Cup goals from the past and remembering where you were and what you were doing at the time. So here, with thanks to Nick Hornby for making this sort of thing respectable, are my Top 10 World Cup Memories.

    1. When Lineker Scored, 1990. From a purely footballing point of view, Italia '90 was not one of the the greatest World Cups. There was no single outstanding player to touch the likes of Pele, Cruyff and Maradona, and it was eventually won by a workmanlike German side after a terrible final against Argentina. But this was the tournament which re-ignited the British public's love affair with football, thanks to England's unlikely run to the semis and the artistry of Paul Gacoigne. I watched the semi final against Germany at the Rifleman's Arms in Belper with my then housemate David Gladwin, occasional poster on this blog and one of the best friends I will ever have in this life. Germany scored a freak goal, an Andy Brehme free-kick that struck Paul Parker and looped over Peter Shilton's head, and we began to resign ourselves to the loss of our improbable World Cup dream. And then...and the 81st minute, Gary Lineker got hold of a long through-ball, held-off the German defence and squeezed the ball into the far corner. The pub went wild. More wild than any place I have ever been in my life. And though we went on to lose that penalty shoot out, it was a moment we will both savour for ever.

    2. Marco Tardelli, 1982. I love the Italians and will always support them against any other team in the world except England. So when they played Germany in the 1982 final, I was desperate for them to succeed. Apart from anything else, they had beaten the best team in the tournament, Brazil, in a thrilling 3-2 encounter, while the Germans had fouled their way to a semi-final victory against France memorable chiefly for Harold Schumacher's disgraceful assault on Patrick Battiston. The final began tentatively, but when Marco Tardelli scored to put Italy 2-0 up, victory for the Azzuri was assured. Arms pumping, hair flying, the blond midfielder ran towards the touchline, his face contorted in an upwelling of pure joy. It was the finest outpouring of emotion ever seen on a football pitch, and the greatest goal celebration of all time.

    3. Ballet, 1970. I was seven at the time of the time of the greatest World Cup tournament in history, and I can't say I remember having watched any of the matches from beginning to end. But as the competition went on and began to dominate more and more dinner-time conversation, I became dimly aware of everyone raving about this player whose name sounded like "belly" or "ballet" or something, and as small children do, I instantly adopted him as a hero. In the final, Brazil took on Italy and we all settled down to watch. "Ballet" scored the opening goal, a header of towering dimensions, and my interest in the game satiated, I took myself off to play in the garden, thus missing the Carlos Alberto goal that I would now rank as the greatest ever.

    4. A Touch of the Cruyffs, 1974. Four years on, Brazil were a shadow of the 1970 side, and their two central defenders, Luiz Pereira and Ze Maria, were the dirtiest players I have ever seen. At the opposite end of the artistic spectrum, the Dutchman Johan Cruyff was probably the most sublime. In Holland's opening match against Uruguay he perfected the famous "Cruyff swerve," turning a hapless opponent near the dead ball line and prompting David Coleman to exclaim: "He's left him for dead!" Later, in the semi-final, Cruyff's Holland came face to face with the Brazilians, and completely destroyed them, Cruyff scoring a goal after getting on the end of a sweeping move he had initiated, and Ze Maria being deservedly sent off. Sadly they lost the final to the Germans, but Cruyff had done enough to ensure his place in World Cup history.

    5. England finally catch fire, 1986. England made a farcical start to the 1986 tournament, losing 0-1 to Portugal and then drawing 1-1 with Morocco, a match in which Ray Wilkins managed to get himself sent off for throwing the ball at the referee. Bryan Robson had also been injured, so his managerial namesake Bobby had to reshape the side, teaming Peter Reid with Glenn Hoddle in central midfield, and Gary Lineker and Peter Beardsley up front. The results were instantaneous, a 3-0 victory against Poland which I watched, joyously, with my housemates at the student digs we shared in Sheffield. It was a carefree time between the end of my full-time studies and my entry into the world of full-time work. The exams were over, the sun was shining, and there was nothing to do but watch the footie and drink beer.

    6. The Bridge Street hold-up, 2002. Twelve years on, and David Gladwin and myself were back in Belper and back at the Rifleman's Arms for the England v Argentina group match. England needed to win this one. A dull 1-1 draw against Sweden in the opening game had left us struggling for points with another potentially difficult game against Nigeria to come. Thankfully Argentina were not the side they had been in the Maradona years, and a scorching Michael Owen run into the box earned a penalty which David Beckham converted. There then followed the tensest hour of football watching in my life as we battled to hold onto our lead. When the whistle blew, the entire pub spilled out onto Bridge Street, temporarily halting traffic along the main A6 route through the town, but I doubt if the drivers minded much.

    7. Caniggia gets his come-uppance, 1990. My choice as the funniest moment in World Cup history for all sorts of reasons. The Argentine forward Caniggia, who wore his hair a bit like the early Brigitte Bardot, had been a star of the 1986 tournament, but had lost a yard of pace by Italia ' 90 and was meat and drink for the tough Cameroonian defenders in the opening match. One of these was the aptly-named Massing, a huge defensive midfielder whose favoured method of dealing with difficult opponents was to up-end them. Eventually he sent Caniggia flying and was sent off, prompting Ron Atkinson to reveal his true colours. "I hope his mother isn't watching," said commentator Brian Moore. "She's probably up a tree somewhere," replied Big Ron. Amazingly, it was to be another 14 years before he was sacked for making racist outbursts on live TV.

    8. Lorimer Strikes, 1974. My mum's family all supported Arsenal. My dad's family all supported Tottenham. So as a youngster I resolved this potentially lethal family conflict by supporting Leeds. Okay, so it was a bit like North London youngsters opportunistically supporting Man U or Chelsea today - they were the top side in the country at the time. But I embraced them with a fervour and none more so than Peter Lorimer, who played in my schoolboy position of No 7 and who had the hardest shot in the game. So when he fired Scotland into the lead against Zaire in the 1974 finals with a trademark piledriver from the edge of the area, I leapt for joy. Sadly, a virtually identical goal a year later for Leeds in the European Cup Final was disallowed for offside.

    9. Tears and the Clown, 1973. Like most football crazy 11-year-olds, I was looking forward to watching England compete for the 1974 World Cup in Germany, but our hopes were shattered by the 1-1 draw against Poland in October 1973. This was really my worst World Cup memory, but it makes this list simply because it was such an unforgettable game. Time and again, England rained shots on the Poland goal only to be defied by 'keeper Jan Tomaszewski, whom Brian Clough had branded a "clown." What is forgotten is that England were effectively playing with ten men, the Tottenham centre-forward Martin Chivers having one of his frequent off-days. By the time England actually took part in a World Cup again, in 1982, my childhood was over.

    10. 1966 And All That. Okay, so I don't really remember it. I was three at the time, and even though I clearly remember the TV pictures of the Aberfan coal mining disaster which took place just a matter of months later, I cannot claim to recall seeing Geoff Hurst or Martin Peters bang in any of their goals. But I do nevertheless have a very dim recollection of something happening, of neighbours' walls being thumped on, mum and dad getting excited, and people pouring out of their homes onto our little suburban street in North London to celebrate. Looking back, I think we all underestimate what a great achievement it really was, and how much we owe to "that marvellous man Alf Ramsey" as my dad called him. One day, no doubt, we'll win the thing again - but they don't make 'em like him any more.

    Not another new political blog....?

    Well, no, not exactly. I won't be using In the name of God, go! as an alternative to this blog, which I have been running for a year or so now and which has built up a small but loyal readership - but rather as a sort of companion volume.

    The new blog's URL is and that pretty well sums it up really. Not all of my newspaper columns and other writings are displayed on the web, so this is a place where I will not just be linking to them, but reproducing them in full for the benefit of anyone out there who is sufficiently interested to read my views.

    I've called the blog In the name of God, go! after a column I wrote in the Newcastle Journal, Lincolnshire Echo and Derby Evening Telegraph earlier this year in which I quoted Oliver Cromwell's dismissal of the Rump Parliament in relation to Tony Blair.

    "You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!"

    The desire to see the back of Blair has been the main theme of my political commentaries for the past three years. It seems to me self-evident that he should have gone in 2003, after the shameful death of Dr David Kelly for which his government was directly responsible.

    Had he done so, I believe Gordon Brown would have led Labour to a much bigger election victory in 2005, and would thereby have had the mandate to renew the party in office and lead the left in a new and less intellectually sterile direction than Blairism.

    But he hung on, and in so doing he has poisoned Brown's inheritance to the point that, if and when he does take over, he will be fighting a rearguard action against a resurgent Conservative Party which is seeking, with some success, to take politics onto new and fresh ground, based around the "happiness agenda."

    If there is a change of Prime Minister, I might change the title of the blog. But until then....

    Wednesday, June 07, 2006

    World Cup podcast goes live

    I did warn you that there would be the odd reference to the World Cup on this blog over the next few here's a plug for the World Cup podcast I've put together with two colleagues on the this is website team, Simon Delaney and Ste Ashworth.

    Simon and Ste are fairly upbeat about England's chances, with or without Wayne Rooney, so it's left to me to bring a bit of balance and perspective, notably over Sven's bizarre decision to take only four forwards, one of whom is injured, one of whom is not 100pc match-fit, and another of which has never started a Premiership match.

    You can hear the podcast by clicking here and following the links.

    My hot World Cup tips: Winners: Argentina. Star player: Juan Roman Riquelme. Surprise package: Australia. England's prospects: Semi finalists. Venue of choice for watching the games: The Rifleman's Arms, Bridge Street, Belper, Derbyshire.

    Tuesday, June 06, 2006

    Why Ken Livingstone is right about the Scots

    Source: Public Expenditure Statistical Analysis, HM Treasury, May 2006. Hat tip for graphic: Conservative Home.

    Give Thatcher a private funeral

    My old Newcastle Journal colleague Brian Brady reported in this week's Scotland on Sunday that Tony Blair is planning a State Funeral for his ideological mentor and foreign policy adviser, Baroness Thatcher.

    Apparently this latest wheeze by the Prime Minister is going to cause great distress within the Labour Party - no change there then.

    But for my part, I think Downing Street should come clean about this, and make clear that they do indeed intend to mark the eventual passing of Lady Thatcher with the most fitting tribute they can devise.

    They should confirm that she will receive a State Funeral, then announce a competitive tendering process to hand over the organisation of the event to whoever can do it at the least cost to the taxpayer.

    Monday, June 05, 2006

    Labour needs a clean sweep

    I've so far been pretty silent on this blog on the whole John Prescott saga, but that's because I was saving it up for my newspaper columns and accompanying Podcast over the weekend.

    Basically my argument is that Prescott's useful career in frontline politics is at an end and that he should go - but so, by exactly the same token, is the Prime Minister's.

    "Mr Prescott’s sole case for continuance in office rests on the argument that it would be better for the Labour Party to resolve the leadership and deputy leadership issues at the same time.

    "True - but that is not an argument for Mr Prescott to cling on till Mr Blair goes. It is, rather, an argument that they should both go now."

    The obvious truth of this is borne out by today's dreadful poll result showing David Cameron's Tories are now a clear ten points ahead of Labour.

    This Government is finished politically, and there is now nothing more that Tony Blair can do or say which could convince the public to elect Labour again. Except by resigning of course.

    Instead, Downing Street wastes its time on pointless and divisive scheming, telling friendly newspapers that Gordon Brown risks losing his frontrunner status to Alan Johnson unless he presents an "absolutely Blairite, New Labour face."

    "There can be no sense of an ancien regime being succeeded by a new, Brownite order," a Blair ally tells the Observer. Wrong. A new order - whether Brownite or otherwise - is exactly what Labour now needs.

    Friday, June 02, 2006

    Top blogging!

    To round off the week, here's three things I've really appreciated on the blogosphere over the past few days.

    Jonathan Calder explains why the selection of Tim Collins as Tory candidate would be great news for the Lib Dems in Bromley and Chislehurst.....arch-conspiracy theorist Shaphan shows how MI5 might have been behind the pictures of Prezza playing croquet...and Femme de Resistance shows why she could be the next Nancy Banks-Smith with her review of The Line of Beauty.

    Sheer class.

    Thursday, June 01, 2006

    Peter Crouch, eat your heart out

    No matter how much body-popping robotic dancing England striker Peter Crouch manages over the next few weeks, this will surely never be beaten as the greatest England goal celebration of all time.

    PS Advance warning to fellow politicos - this blog may well feature more footie-related stuff between now and July 9!

    Catherine Bennett: A response

    If I were to write a piece on this blog saying that women used to meet up in coffee shops whenever they wanted to get away from "the hubby" and swap smutty jokes, but now they just text eachother on their mobiles, I would probably be regarded as a bit of a misogynist.

    So why is writer Catherine Bennett allowed to get away with this sort of thing in today's Guardian?

    I think this piece highlights what some of us have suspected for a while: that while the Guardian is clearly fascinated with the political blogosphere - some think it pays us far too much attention - it is a fascination that is mixed with contempt.

    In this context, I am still not quite sure what to make of the Comment is Free uber-blog. Is it really about pluralism and free speech, or is it just an attempt to put the rest of us out of business?

    If the latter, it seems to have failed spectacularly. As Ms Bennett herself notes, the comments section of CiF has already been largely annexed by what she charmingly terms "the virtual men's room."

    So what if men are more inclined to take up political blogging than women? After all, it's surely healthier than drinking, less harmful to animals than fishing, more constructive than wanking, and more interesting than reading The Guardian.