Sunday, December 30, 2007
My preview of 2008
Twelve months ago, the central question which was dominating British politics as Tony Blair prepared to bow out as Labour leader and Prime Minister was “Can Gordon lose?”
One year on, with Mr Brown having succeeded to the top job unchallenged, the question is: “Can Gordon ever win again?”
The Prime Minister’s decision to funk an autumn election after appearing to prepare and plan for one created a new political narrative in which his administration seemed doomed to failure.
Whether he can recover will not only be the key talking-point of the new political year, but will also go a long way to determining the outcome of the next election whenever it is held.
Before going on to look in detail at Mr Brown’s prospects, here’s three things that, I confidently predict, won’t happen in 2008.
First, there won’t be a general election. Having ruled it out in October, Mr Brown can scarcely change his mind again, and with the economy set to take a turn for the worse, he can only now win by “playing it long.”
Second, there won’t be a referendum on the EU Treaty. It is nothing short of a national disgrace that Labour has broken its promise on this, but the point of maximum danger for the government has now passed, perhaps overshadowed by other events.
Third, the Liberal Democrats won’t change their leader again. They are stuck with Nick Clegg now until the election, though if that turns out as badly for them as the opinion polls are suggesting, the poor chap’s political career could be over at 42.
Away from these shores, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto looks certain to trigger a new wave of instability in the Islamic world, with the position of Pakistani leader and US ally General Pervez Musharraf looking increasingly unsustainable
It is also, of course, election year in the US itself, with the succession to George W. Bush currently looking wide open.
If Hillary Clinton runs away with the Democratic nomination, the Republicans will surely want to counter her with someone of similar weight and experience – and that means either Senator John McCain or former governor Rudy Guiliani.
Much more will become clear after Thursday’s Iowa caucuses which are expected to show which of the numerous candidates currently has what Americans call “the Big Mo.”
But what of Mr Brown and Labour? Well, the short answer to the big question is that, yes, he can recover, but the longer answer is that it depends on the confluence of a number of factors, not all of them within his control.
The first prerequisite of any recovery, besides demonstrating some basic competence, is for the Prime Minister to set out, if not a “vision,” then certainly a “big idea” that provides some connective thread to his government’s actions.
A number of possible options have been suggested, ranging from a new drive for social mobility under the banner of “opportunity for all,” to a generalised commitment towards “building the future,” starting with housing.
Either way, Mr Brown has to come up with something that gives people more of a sense of what his government is about, other than remaining in power for as long as possible.
Secondly, Labour needs to try to switch the focus of attention onto what alternative remedies the Tories are proposing for the nation’s current ills.
The one huge silver lining for Mr Brown in all his travails is that the public’s disappointment with him has not thus far been matched by an outpouring of enthusiasm for David Cameron.
If people don’t currently know what the central purpose of the Brown government is, neither do they know what would be the point of a Cameron one
For sure, the Tory leader is getting the mood music right, but with the sole exception of the proposed cut in inheritance tax, there remains a marked absence of specific, thought-through policies.
But the biggest determining factor in whether Mr Brown can mount a sustained recovery will, as always, be events.
The likelihood of an economic downturn will carry a particular danger for Mr Brown in that he was Chancellor of the Exchequer for ten years. If it does all go wrong, there will be no one else to blame.
Some Tories believe the potential nationalisation of Northern Rock could yet provide a “Black Wednesday” type moment for New Labour.
Their thinking goes that if, in 2008, the government were forced to take a major bank into public ownership, it would symbolise the defeat of everything New Labour was supposed to stand for.
Could it get so bad for Mr Brown that he is forced to consider his position? I don’t consider it particularly likely, but it cannot be entirely ruled out.
Tony Blair’s biographer John Rentoul wrote this week: “The latest idea doing the rounds among serious Labour people is that of a David Miliband-Ed Balls dream ticket, with Miliband as prime minister and Balls as chancellor.”
My only comment on this is that if anyone thinks Miliband-Balls is a “dream ticket,” it is a measure of how bad things have got for Labour.
If there is to be another change of leadership, a more likely option is either Jack Straw as a safe pair of hands, or the return of one of the leading Blairites such as David Blunkett or even Alan Milburn.
So, cards on the table time - what do I think? Well, mainly because I do not think the public are yet convinced by Mr Cameron, I think there probably will be a Labour recovery of sorts.
It will not put Labour back into the lead, but it will leave sufficient room for doubt about the outcome of the next election to intensify the speculation about what Mr Clegg will do in the event of a hung Parliament.
The fact remains, though, that Labour’s best opportunity to renew itself in office came with the departure of Mr Blair, and they bungled it.
Whether another such opportunity will come along - and whether Mr Brown will be able to take it this time – is the question to which no political pundit really knows the answer.
Friday, December 28, 2007
Eight wishes for 2008
1. That my wife Gill and I will be able to start putting our stamp on our new home.
2. That I will manage to spend more time enjoying the lovely countryside where I live.
3. That Gordon Brown will give us all some idea of what his government is supposed to be about.
4. That Channel 4 will decomission Big Brother.
5. That Hillary Clinton will lose the US presidential election.
6. That Mark Ramprakash will be recalled to the England cricket team.
7. That the nationwide Christian social action initiative, Hope 08, will bring in a rich harvest.
8. That the evil tyrant Robert Mugabe will finally be overthrown in Zimbabwe.
Most of the blogosphere seems to already have been tagged by this by now, but if they have not been "done" already, I am tagging Mars Hill,, UK Daily Pundit, Leon Green, Hopi Sen, and Kate.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
A very special Christmas
It's a very special Christmas in the Linford household this year - our first as a family of four, our first in the new home, and the first at which we've been able to invite all our surviving parents to stay at the same time. Most of yesterday was spent cooking and a good part of tomorrow will be too...it's just as well that it's my favourite way of relaxing!
I hope all your Christmases are equally special.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
My review of 2007
Eventful? The political year 2007 was certainly that. Entertaining? Well, that too – if you are the kind of person who enjoyed seeing Gordon Brown fall flat on his face, that is.
But as for epoch-making – only time will tell if 2007, or 6 October, 2007 to be precise, will go down as one of the great turning points of modern political history.
That was the day that Mr Brown finally resolved the question that had dominated the agenda ever since he had taken over as Prime Minister in June - whether or not he would hold a general election.
His decision not to go to the country changed the political weather at a stroke and left Labour on the defensive for the first time in 15 years.
The widespread public reaction to the decision was that a government that appeared to have so little confidence in itself certainly did not deserve the confidence of the voters.
Suddenly, a Labour Party which had carried all before it for a decade and a half began to look like losers.
The mistake, though, did not lie in the decision itself. Despite his earlier surge in popularity, by October the polls clearly showed the best Mr Brown could have hoped for was a hung Parliament.
No, it was in having allowed the speculation and planning to get so wildly out of control beforehand that the eventual cancellation could only be seen as a humiliating retreat.
The first few months of the year had been dominated by the endgame of the long Tony Blair premiership, played out against the grisly backdrop of the “cash for honours” inquiry.
In the event, no charges were brought, but the stench of sleaze would hang over the Labour Party long after the men from Scotland Yard had departed.
But the background story of the spring was not so much whether there would be charges, as whether there would be a challenge – namely to Mr Brown for the Labour leadership.
For a time, it seemed that South Shields MP David Miliband was the chosen one - not least in Mr Blair’s eyes – but he wisely decided that discretion was the better part of valour.
Mr Blair had stayed on, apparently with Mr Brown’s acquiescence, in order to “take the hit” for what were expected to be disastrous local and Scottish election results in May.
In the event these were every bit as bad as anticipated, with Alex Salmond’s SNP overtaking Labour to become the dominant force in the Scottish Parliament.
After what had seemed like the longest farewell tour since Frank Sinatra, the outgoing Prime Minister finally said his goodbyes with a bravura performance at his last Commons Question Time.
It was followed swiftly by his resignation as MP for Sedgefield to take up a new role as a Middle East peace envoy, though the irony of this seemed lost on most observers.
After such a long spell at 10 Downing Street, it was remarkable how little Mr Blair was initially missed.
An attempted terrorist attack, a spate of summer floods, and even a foot and mouth outbreak were all calmly and competently dealt with by Mr Brown and his new-look Cabinet team.
Even when the global “credit crunch” led to the first run on British bank in 150 years – Newcastle’s very own Northern Rock – the Government acted swiftly to cool the situation by agreeing to guarantee investors’ savings.
Consequently Labour went into the autumn conference season on a big high, with one poll showing a snap election would give them a majority of 134.
But the mood began to change after Mr Brown’s closest aide, Ed Balls, speculated openly on whether “the gamble” lay in going now, or delaying – with the clear implication that the bigger risk lay in delay.
From this, it became clear that uppermost in Mr Brown’s election calculations was not the long-term good of the country, but short-term party advantage.
His subsequent non-announcement created a new political narrative in which a government that had seemed destined to succeed appeared instead to be doomed to failure.
And as if to confirm that view, the government then found itself buffeted by a whole series of mishaps – all of them made and manufactured in the North-East.
First, the Northern Rock crisis blew up again, with questions over whether the £25bn of taxpayers’ money spent propping up the bank would be repaid. The outcome may yet be nationalisation.
Then it emerged that a computer disc had gone missing from the Revenue and Customs office in Washington containing the personal details of 25m child benefit claimants.
Finally, Labour sleaze reared its head again after it emerged that a Newcastle businessmen, David Abrahams, had used intermediaries to give money to the party in breach of the rules on donations.
Within a few short weeks, Mr Brown’s long-awaited inheritance had turned to dust and ashes in his hands.
The turnaround in Tory leader David Cameron’s fortunes was no less dramatic. Earlier in the year he had been vilified for going to Rwanda while floods devastated his constituency and for bungling a policy shift on grammar schools.
But he was rescued by Mr Brown’s dithering and an ace-in-the-hole from his Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, who pledged to scrap inheritance tax for all estates under £1m.
Ironically, Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell had made probably the best speech of the conference season - but much good did it do him.
Within a month he was gone, citing the media “obsession” with his age, to be replaced after the closest-fought leadership contest of modern times by the 40-year-old Nick Clegg.
Mr Brown ends the year in a deep, deep hole, with opinion polls now consistently showing a Tory lead of 10-15pc.
The Prime Minister is nothing if not resilient, but his government, of which Labour supporters had such high hopes, has thus far been a huge disappointment.
Where he promised quiet competence, there has been only ineptitude. Where he promised “vision” there has been only drift. Above all where he promised to restore trust in politics it has been dragged only further into the mire.
Can he turn it around? That’s the question for next week’s column, when I’ll be looking ahead to what we can expect the political year 2008 to bring.
A study in contradictions
Well, we are talking here about the instinctive conservative who became leader of the Labour Party; the one-time CND supporter who went to war more times than Churchill; the "pretty staight kind of guy" who presided over the sleaziest government in modern times; the man who "didn't do God" but claimed he would "answer to his maker" for his most controversial decisions; the invader of Iraq who became an ambassador for peace in the Middle East; and the man who promised a "stable and orderly transition" and then spent the first half of this year trying to persuade David Miliband to stand against Gordon.
So no, I think the honest answer is that nothing that Tony Blair says or does should surprise any of us in the least any more.
Like Archbishop Rowan, I wish him well on his Christian pilgrimage. But if there is one thing on which myself and most of those who commented on this recent post would agree, it is that he is not a particularly great recruiting sergeant for those advocating the importance of faith in political life.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Could Milburn come back
"With his impeccable working class background and rags to riches story (single mum, council estate etc), he has the right credentials to look at issues such as social mobility. It wouldn't surprise me to see him leading a review of some kind in 2008, or how about a return to government? Watch this space."
For the record, this was what I wrote about the prospect of a Milburn comeback in my Newcastle Journal column a week ago today. I was writing in the context of the damning report published ten days ago which found that social mobility in Britain had ground to a halt.
"The upside for Labour is that there is a challenge here for Gordon Brown which, if he can grasp it, might just give his government the moral purpose it currently lacks, and a way out of its current political malaise.
There is also, if Mr Brown’s pride will permit, an old adversary who could help in that task – Darlington MP Alan Milburn, Labour’s Mr Upward Social Mobility himself in more ways than one.
The former health secretary famously grew up, the child of a single mother, on a council estate in a remote ex-mining town in County Durham.
Yet he himself has stated that he could not now imagine anyone from such a background as his reaching the Cabinet.
He is also, as far as this issue is concerned, Labour’s prophetic voice crying in the wilderness, having first warned about the looming problem as long ago as 2003.
Back then he wrote: “We should aim to reverse the slowing down of social mobility of recent decades. If these trends continue, Britain will be in danger of grinding socially to a halt.
"Getting Britain socially moving demands a new front in the battle for equal life chances. The most substantial inequalities are not simply between income groups but between those who own shares, pensions and housing and those who rely solely on wages or benefits.”
When Mr Milburn wrote those words, it was designed as a possible prospectus for the third term, a call to arms for Labour to be more, not less radical in its thinking
It didn’t work out that way. Although he did come back briefly to help run the election campaign, Mr Milburn along with most of his ideas ended up being marginalised.
Would Mr Brown now pick up the phone and ask Mr Milburn to join his Cabinet line-up? I don’t know, but it would certainly strengthen what is commonly seen as a rather lacklustre team.
Would Mr Milburn, for that matter, ever want to work again with Mr Brown? I don’t know the answer to that either.
I do know, however, that the last time I spoke to Mr Milburn, he was reading Giles Radice’s “Friends and Rivals,” a cautionary tale about three men whose rivalry prevented them working effectively together.
And as the Tories used to say in the days when they regularly won elections, surely now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of the party?"
Friday, December 21, 2007
Political blogger of the year: Sunny Hundal
But rather bizarrely, his shortlist for Political Blogger of the Year includes neither himself nor his left-of-centre counterpart, Sunny Hundal. This is odd as the pair of them are by far the two most influential figures in the blogosphere at present.
Sunny is the man who, in setting up Liberal Conspiracy has brought some sort of order to the disparate left blogosphere this year. The site is still in its early days, but to get 15-20 left-of-centre bloggers working together at all represents a huge achievement in my view.
The political blogosphere, initially a rather liberal-left fragment of cyberspace, has been dominated by the right for the past couple of years. Next year, thanks in no small part to Sunny's efforts, we will hopefully see some balance restored.
* To spare Sunny's blushes, I have NOT cross-posted this at Liberal Conspiracy.
I still dream about him quite regularly as if he is still alive, that he didn't really die but went off to start a new life somewhere, but I guess this kind of thing is normal when you lose someone so important at a young age. Wherever he is, I hope it's somewhere peaceful.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
The importance of faith
But I do nevertheless believe that having a personal faith does on the whole make you a better politician, although as I will also make clear, there are always exceptions. So why do I believe this?
There are two main reasons. Firstly, I believe that faith can and usually does give politicians a stronger ethical framework for their actions. I am not saying here that atheists will invariably lack a moral compass, just that having an outside point of reference for one's political beliefs and decisions is helpful.
Canon David Sharp puts it thus: "The Protestant tradition particularly requires a careful examination of the conscience; what will be popular with the public or the party comes far lower down. [His] belief creates another criterion to be passed before he can act. Surely such extra moral tests, over and above strictly political considerations, are likely to make for more responsible decisions."
Secondly, and more fundamentally, I think that because faith in a higher being gives people an awareness of their own limitations and imperfections (the Biblical word "sin" is probably not helpful here) it generally tends to incline them towards humility, and this for me is an essential personal quality for anyone seeking to exercise power over people's lives.
This was why I found Tony Blair's particular brand of Christianity so perplexing. I don't doubt he is a Christian, as indeed is Margaret Thatcher, but his apparent Messiah complex and belief that he could singlehandedly save first the Labour Party, then Britain, then the World, often struck me as evidence of a rather anti-Christian state of mind.
Gordon Brown is a much more genuinely humble man in this regard. His Christianity is much more about applying Jesus's ethical teachings to present-day social problems than rescuing the planet from an axis of evil, and in this sense he seems to me to be a much better example of a Christian politician.
I realise that in the current climate, citing Gordon as a good example of anything is unlikely to convince many to change their point of view, but it is nevertheless as sincere an explanation as I can give of why I believe faith to be important in a political context.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Clegg says no to English Parliament (and God)
"Do you believe there should be a Parliament for England similar to what Scotland and Wales has?" was the clear question posed. Clegg replied: "No, but we should devolve power to regions and communities," apparently contradicting his own policy announcement of April this year in which he ended decades of Lib Dem support for elected regional government.
I don't think this is going to play at all well with English voters alienated by New Labour's half-finished devolution project and disillusioned by David Cameron's failure to properly address the issue. Maybe Clegg feels he doesn't need them, but the desire for proper representation for England is part of a much broader revolt against current political structures with which the Lib Dems should be aligning themselves.
English Parliament campaign guru Toque is somewhat pithier as you would expect. "The Clegg family motto is “Let him take what he is able to take”. In Nick Clegg’s case he feels able to take the piss, and so he does."
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
The challenge for Clegg
Britain needs a successful Liberal Democrat party for the simple reason that New Labour has never really been that serious about implementing the constitutional changes needed to introduce genuine democracy to this country. It abandoned any meaningful look at a fair voting system within 18 months of the first term, and has had to be dragged kicking and screaming to an acceptance of the very basic democratic principle that members of the second chamber of Parliament should be elected.
Labour's conversion to greenery has also been rather dilatory and skin-deep in my view. On these and other issues the Lib Dems and their predecessor parties have been setting the agenda in British politics for most of my adult life.
So the first challenge for Clegg in my view is to re-establish the Lib Dems as the party of the environment at the very point it has become the touchstone issue for many voters, and the party of political reform at a time when trust in the established order has never been lower. If he can do this, then I and others will forgive him any amount of cliche-ridden vacuity of the kind we heard in his acceptance speech.
It is clear from both post-declaration speeches that the two candidates have now put the Calamity Clegg episode behind them and are now preparing to work closely together. Huhne has to be Shadow Foreign Secretary in my view, possibly also retaining the climate change brief - it is global warming we are talking about after all.
As a further unifying gesture, I hope Clegg can find room in his team for Huhne's campaign manager, the excellent Lynne Featherstone.
He would of course be mad to move Vince Cable from the Treasury brief, and I don't think for a minute that he will do, but the now-vacant Home Office brief offers the chance for a bold appointment, with Julia Goldsworthy, Ed Davey and David Laws all potential candidates.
Meanwhile, expect Clegg to be the subject of a sustained love-bombing campaign from the Tory bloggers as they seek to persuade Clegg to join Sham Cam's so-called "progressive alliance." Indeed, some would say this has already begun.
Monday, December 17, 2007
Is Cameron playing fast and loose with words?
So it should come as no great surprise that Mr Cameron, in his call for a Tory-Lib alliance to topple Gordon Brown, is now trying to purloin the label "progressive," which has, in British politics at least, traditionally belonged to the centre-left.
I seem to recall there was some discussion about using the word "progressive" in the title of the Liberal Conspiracy blog, but the common consensus was that it's a word that's more readily abused even than "liberal." If so, Mr Cameron's initiative seems to show we probably made the right decision.
Dictionary definitions are no great help. Among those listed by the Free Dictionary are:
Moving forward; advancing. Proceeding in steps; continuing steadily by increments: progressive change. Promoting or favoring progress toward better conditions or new policies, ideas, or methods: a progressive politician; progressive business leadership.
By this token, "progressive" is about as meaningful as that irritating and vacuous piece of management consultancy jargon that is now heard in offices up and down the land - "going forward."
The dictionary also lists a specific definition for "progressive" in the context of taxation, namely:
A tax that takes a larger percentage from the income of high-income people than it does from low-income people.
This is more helpful in terms of defining a centre-left agenda, but then again David Cameron probably claims he believes in this as well, in the sense that we already have a progressive taxation system, and he isn't seeking to make it any less progressive.
Is progressive a word worth fighting over - or should its definition forthwith be restricted to a form of rock music involving long guitar solos, mellotrons and metaphysical imagery?
Kylie in X-factor fix
Meanwhile, here (according to a poster on runner-up Rhydian Roberts' fan blog) is how the conversation between Kylie and X-factor judge sister Dannii might have gone....
Dannii: "Kylie we want you to sing with Leon"
Kylie: "Isn't he the one that you said almost wets himself on stage and sings flat?"
Dannii: "Yes, but...well Simon says he can do something with my career if you agree"
Dannii: "Oh, and don't bother with clothing, just wear your underwear"
Spot on, Sir John
Friday, December 14, 2007
Dr Crippen "not dead" shock
Unfortunately Dr Crippen had a long break over the summer and has not posted anything since October 17, which was understandably the cause of some perplexity among his regular readers.
Earlier this week, someone purporting to be a colleague at his workplace left the following comment:
I am a senior partner at 'John's practice, I have only become aware of this 'weblog' after accessing his email account through our internal system. Other partners have read this website, but none of us knew who the author was - although in retrospect there are a number of clues we could have picked up on!
There is no easy way to say this, but the doctor known as 'John' or 'Crippen' passed away in a road traffic accident mid-October. Although I appreciate the esteem in which many of you obviously held him, I must ask that the emails cease as of now - they are all redirected to our mail server and this is causing some difficulty.
Dr. Crippen's identity may no longer need to be secret for his own purposes, but out of respect for his family and remaining colleagues I shall not be sharing this here, neither will I post another message or reply to any left. This webblog will be removed once I can circumnavigate the security protocols for obvious reasons of confidentiality.
This said, I thank all who visit here for their support of our dear, and much missed colleague.
Kind regards, Dr.P.
I thought this comment was exceedingly odd, not least because the bit about deleting the blog and "circumnavigating security protocols" sounded more like the work of a censorious saboteur than someone genuinely concerned to protect "confidentaility."
Subsequent investigations by myself and a number of other bloggers revealed there had been no road accidents reported anywhere in the UK between 17-31 October involving the death of any GPs.
The esteemed swearblogger Devil's Kitchen now claims to have proof that Dr Crippen is not dead, just that he has had enough of blogging for the time being.
If that is so then I'm glad he's still with us - but if he has indeed given up blogging it's a sad loss to the 'sphere.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
The real scandal of the New Labour years
Today's report by the Sutton Trust provides further hard evidence of this catastrophic policy failure for a party of the centre-left.
Of course it wasn't Labour that started it. The decline in social mobility and emergence of a British underclass over the past 30 years is first and foremost the legacy of Margaret Thatcher. But the fact that the gap has continued to widen in the past ten years is proof, if ever it were needed, that the role of New Labour has essentially been to perpetuate the Thatcherite settlement rather than challenge or overturn it.
Some people will point to the demise of the Grammar Schools as a factor in preventing children moving out of deprived backgrounds. Others will blame house prices. Others will fatalistically conclude that the establishment always reasserts itself, and that the effortless superiority learned at public school will always be worth more in the job market than countless A-grades.
Either way, the political upside is that there is a challenge here for Gordon Brown which, if he can grasp it, might even yet give his government the moral purpose it currently lacks, and a way back from the political malaise in which it finds itself.
There is also, if his pride will permit, an old adversary who could help in that task - former Cabinet minister Alan Milburn, who was warning about this as long ago as 2003.
Back then Milburn wrote: "Getting Britain socially moving demands a new front in the battle for equal life chances. The most substantial inequalities are not simply between income groups but between those who own shares, pensions and housing and those who rely solely on wages or benefits."
It was designed as a possible prosepctus for the third term. Four years on, is it too much to be hoped that such ideas could yet form the basis of Labour's programe for a fourth term in power?
More than 80pc of you say Harriet should go
Clear favourite to replace her was Jon Cruddas with 38pc of the vote to 15pc for the next highest-placed candidate, Alan Johnson, 13pc for John Denham and 12pc for Hilary Benn but there appears to be much less interest in this potential contest, possibly reflecting the fact that after this summer's interminable marathon, we're all feeling a bit deputy-leadershipped-out.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
No way to treat a great English composer
The letter includes a now-infamous request to the producer in question to let them know about any forthcoming premieres of Mr Williams' work, so that this apparent "findability" deficit could be addressed. As any fule kno, Vaughan Williams died in 1958 and the whole point of the proposed film was to mark the fiftieth anniversary of his death next year.
I have to confess that this story, originally published in the Observer, had me checking the date on Sunday to make sure it wasn't an April Fool, but I'm not going to blog in detail on it because (a) it's a few days old now, and (b) The Half-Blood Welshman has said all I would really want to say on his blog.
Suffice to say that RVW was, as Half-Blood says, a signifcant musical figure. One of his most under-rated pieces, in my view, is Five Tudor Portraits, which I sung at the Royal Festival Hall in 1978 as part of the Hertfordshire County Youth Choir. Happy memories.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Is Richard Dawkins a tad confused?
However the recent intervention on the issue by the UK's most well-known atheist Richard Dawkins has finally compelled me to put finger to keyboard.
Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, claims to be a "cultural Christian" who, far from wanting to marginalise Christian traditions and "purge our society of its Christian history," is quite happy to take part in some of them himself.
He then comes out with the quite remarkable statement, for someone of his stated views: "I like singing carols along with everybody else."
Let's look at the words of some of those carols for a moment. How about:
"Christ by highest heaven adored,
Christ the everlasting Lord"
(Hark the Herald Angels Sing.)
"Not in that poor lowly stable
With the oxen standing by
We shall see him, but in heaven
Set at God's right hand on high."
(Once in Royal David's City)
"Yea, Lord, we greet thee,
Born this happy morning,
Jesus to thee be glory given,
Word of the Father,
Now in flesh appearing....
O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord"
(O Come All Ye Faithful)
There is no doubt what all these carols are saying - that Jesus is the Lord of creation, or in the words of St John, the eternal Word who was not only with God in the beginning, but who was God.
Don't get me wrong, I am glad that Richard Dawkins likes singing carols, glad that someone who has been as militantly anti-Christian as he has even celebrates Christmas at all.
But as he sings them again this Christmas, I hope he can reflect on what they really mean - and maybe ask himself again the question "....and is it true, this most tremendous tale of all?"
Monday, December 10, 2007
Is it time for a Ken Clarke comeback?
David Cameron has meanwhile been going back to his constituency and preparing for government. This has involved a fairly sober assessment of how many genuinely Cabinet-grade people he has on his team (he struggled to get into double digits). Ideally, his next reshuffle should be the last. It is vital for his prospects that the Tory frontbench look and sound like a competent government-in-waiting in comparison to the disintegrating Brown Cabinet.
I think this assessment is pretty near the mark. For all the government's troubles, there are really only two shadow spokesmen who look as if they could do a better job than their opposite numbers - David Davis (Home Affairs) and George Osborne (Treasury.) What they are desperately short of is gravitas.
If Cameron wants his Shadow Cabinet to look like a government-in-waiting as Nelson suggests, the man he needs is Ken Clarke, ideally in a cross-cutting, non-departmental role such as Shadow Leader of the House where he could deploy his political skills across the board.
Iain Dale once wrote a light-hearted but brilliantly entertaining political counterfactual about how a Michael Portillo-led Tory Party managed to overturn Tony Blair's first majority and win the 2001 election. Key to Portillo's victory was persuading Clarke to rejoin the frontbench.
Okay, so that was fiction, but I reckon that if Cameron were to pull off the same stunt now, it would have a not dissimilar effect on his election chances. Ken Clarke is still one of the most popular politicians in the country, and as last week's Question Time showed, remains a class act.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Could Gordon stand down?
The digested read goes something like:
Having long believed that Brown did indeed have what it takes to renew Labour in office, this is not a scenario I hoped or expected to be outlining at this stage in the lifetime of his premiership, but it is becoming a very real possibility nonetheless.
I would say he has, at best 6-9 months to turn the situation round. If by that stage the prospect of a David Cameron election victory has hardened into inevitability, Labour really would have little to lose by changing horses once again.
Friday, December 07, 2007
The Special One
The full result of my poll on who should succeed Steve McClaren was as follows:
Jose Mourinho 40%
Fabio Capello 13%
Martin O'Neill 12%
Harry Redknapp 9%
Arsene Wenger 7%
Guus Hiddink 6%
Sven Goran Eriksson 5%
Stuart Pearce 3%
Luis Felipe Scolari 3%
Sam Allardyce 2%
The interesting thing about this, particularly on a blog that is read by quite a lot of English nats, is that readers don't seem that bothered about the nationality issue. Only 26pc went for a British manager as opposed to 74pc for a foreigner.
As I've said before, my choice would still be Hiddink, on account of his track record in achieving success with ordinary players. Wayne Rooney and possibly Gabriel Agbonlahor aside, let's not kid ourselves that we are currently awash with young talent in this country.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Not a day longer
I would just add that on the whole gamut of issues surrounding individual liberty, including of course ID cards, it seems to me that the Tories are currently more in tune with the public mood than the government, a peculiar and rather dangerous position for an avowedly left-of-centre administration to be in.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Frustrate their knavish tricks
Former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith says "concerns" have been raised that the anthem is "anti-Scottish." But if indeed such concerns have been raised, it is clearly by people who don't know what they are talking about.
The verse about rebellious Scots was abandoned after the collapse of the Jacobite rebellion in 1745 and never officially became part of the National Anthem as such. It does not appear in any hymnbook or songbook I have ever seen, and I would be surprised if it has been sung even once in public worship during the last 200 years.
In short, I think someone is trying to manufacture a non-existent row here. I wonder why.
On a related topic, I was one of thousands of people who signed a Downing Street petition in support of a specific anthem for England separate from the UK anthem. A couple of weeks back, I received the following rather dismal response from No 10.
"There are currently no plans to introduce an official English anthem, but the Government recognises that the constituent parts of the United Kingdom may quite properly have national songs for which they have a particular attachment. However, the choice of anthem at sporting events is entirely a matter for the sport concerned."
Tony Holland RIP
His contribution to British television over the last half century is matched only by that of another Tony - Tony Warren, the creator of Coronation Street when it, too, was a ground-breaking drama. Interestingly both men were gay, which may or may not have made it easier for them to write for what have always been primarily female audiences.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Should Gordon hold a Night of the Long Knives?
Paul's rather drastic solution to the Government's current troubles is to suggest that Gordon Brown should try to draw a conclusive line under the dodgy donations affair by sacking everyone involved, namely Harriet Harman, Peter Hain, Jack Dromey and Jon Mendelsohn. You would probably have to add Wendy Alexander to the list as well, though Paul doesn't mention her by name.
There are some obvious attractions to such a strategy, primarily that it would rid the Government and the party of a lightweight deputy leader and a treasurer who doesn't seem to know what day it is, let alone who has given the party money. But the key political question is: would it work, or would in fact serve to deepen Mr Brown's difficulties?
As I have said on Paul's blog, there are to my mind two major pitfalls with Nights of the Long Knives. Firstly, by sacking people you have only recently appointed, you call your own judgement into question. Secondly, some people know where so many bodies are buried that getting rid of them is likely to prove counter-productive.
Jack Dromey is a real case in point here. He was, of course, the man who blew the whistle on the cash for honours affair that hastened Tony Blair's departure, and if the Gospel according to the Blairites is to be believed, he was acting on the direct orders of Gordon Brown in so doing.
If this version of events is true, it makes Dromey unsackable, as the one man in British politics who could prove beyond any reasonable doubt that Brown plotted to bring down Blair.
On the more general point, while reshuffles have become a time-honoured way for Prime Ministers to "relaunch" their governments, recent history seems to suggest that the tactic very rarely works.
The best historical analogy would be Harold Macmillan's Night of the Long Knives in 1962 in which he sacked a third of his Cabinet - "the wrong third" as some commentators said at the time. It did him little good in the longer term, and caused one Tory MP to wryly observe: "Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his friends for his life."
Finally, it seems to me that if Gordon is looking for scapegoats for the current political mess he finds himself in, Messrs Harman and Hain are no more deserving of the sack than Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander.
It was they who really kicked off the current crisis by over-egging the speculation about an autumn election and whipping the media up into such a state of frenzy over it that it virtually guaranteed a backlash.
I do however think that Gordon could strengthen the government by making Jack Straw Deputy Prime Minister, as he should have been from the start, and by bringing back Alan Milburn as Minister without Portfolio to oversee some fresh thinking about a Labour fourth term, including a drive to improve social mobility.
The problem, in my view, with the Brown Cabinet is not that it contains too many incompetent minsters, so much as the fact that it contains too many kids.
Monday, December 03, 2007
Move over Darling
The most surprising thing about this was not that Osborne and Cable were ahead of all Labour contenders but that Ed Balls should be regarded as the leading alternative Labour Chancellor. I continue to believe that Balls has been overpromoted as he is and should go back to being a backroom boy, or preferably, to writing FT leaders.
Anyway, a new week, a new poll - or two to be precise: Should Harriet Harman resign, and if so, Who should replace her as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party.
Who breaks a Butterfly Song on a wheel?
But that was until Tory blogfather Iain Dale laid into the 30-year-old ditty after being forced to sing it - presumably for the first time - at a friend's baby's christening yesterday.
Dale pointed to the song's lyrics as indicative of why the Church of England is losing members, citing the line, notorious even in Christian musical circles: "If I were a fuzzy-wuzzy bear, I'd thank you Lord for my fuzzy-wuzzy hair, but I just thank you Father for making me me!"
And yes, I agree, it's cringemaking in the extreme, and there hasn't been a single occasion on which I have sung it in the last 30 years without cringing. Except that, it's not aimed at me, is it?
For a blogger of Iain's prominence and influence to do this is really a bit like Nancy Banks-Smith giving a critical pasting to In the Night Garden as if she were reviewing the latest Stephen Poliakoff epic.
All that the Butterfly Song is really saying is that God made us as we are, and that we should celebrate our individuality. Somehow, I would have thought that was a sentiment which Iain Dale would have approved of.
* On the subject of God-related stuff, some comments I made in an earlier post about whether or not I would vote for someone who wasn't a Christian seem to have been misinterpreted. I accept that the post in question was clumsily worded and have provided a bit of further clarification HERE.
Saturday, December 01, 2007
Brown's lost mission to restore trust
"It is a very sad conclusion for those of us who hoped Mr Brown could offer a fresh start, but it is going to be hard if not impossible for him to do that now. Voters are starting to conclude that the job of restoring trust in British politics will require not just a change of leadership, but a change of government."
As I said on this blog earlier in the week, it's all very unfair- but then again so was Labour's treatment of poor John Major in the mid-1990s when he was crucified for the sins of others in his party.
The column can be read in full on my companion blog, HERE.
Friday, November 30, 2007
Gordon should have called the police in himself
Brown knows he has nothing to fear personally from such an investigation, any more than John Major had any personal involvement in the Tory sleaze scandals of the mid-1990s. But instead of referring the matter to Scotland Yard himself as he should have done, he chose to set up a meaningless inquiry by Labour trusties Lord Whitty and Richard Harries.
If he had showed a bit more decisiveness on this, I think he would still be in a position to claim that he is the man to restore trust in British politics. By not doing so, I think he has finally forfeited that right.
As for Harriet Harman and those who have been apparently briefing the press on her behalf...she should realise that this is not about the survival of her pesky political career. What is at stake here is the survival of the only Labour government we've got.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Greens set to join the real world
This weekend, in what will be seen as an indication of their desire to be taken more seriously as a party, they are set to ditch their dual leadership structure in favour of having a single leader.
The history of the Liberal-SDP Alliance between 1981-87 ought to be enough to persuade party members that this is a good idea.Before the 1983 election, the Alliance appointed SDP leader Roy Jenkins as "Prime Minister Designate" only to realise half way through the campaign that the Liberal leader David Steel was actually more popular with the public.
There then followed a botched attempt to replace Jenkins with Steel as Alliance leader which had the effect only of weakening Jenkins to such an extent he was forced to resign as soon as the election was over.
It got worse. David Owen took over the SDP leadership and refused to give any quarter to Steel whatsoever despite the fact that the Liberals had three times as many MPs. The dual leadership of the "two Davids" ended in total fiasco in the 1987 election campaign with them publicly disagreeing both over whether to replace Polaris and over which of the two main parties to do a deal with in the event of a hung Parliament.
The moral of the story is that, the closer you come to real power, the more important it is that a party speaks with a single, united voice. If the Greens really can get their act together, I for one could see myself voting for them.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Blair's poisoned legacy of sleaze
Brown has been party leader and Prime Minister for five months. Yet everyone acknowledges that the origins of the David Abrahams affair go back four years.
There is one very important difference between this and both Northern Rock and Discgate. While both of those happened on Mr Brown's watch - and hence are things for which he has to take ultimate responsibility - the vast majority of the dodgy donations were made on his predecessor's.
So for David Cameron to suggest on the back of the affair today that the Prime Minister is not up to the job - without a shred of evidence directly linking him to it - is in my view deeply opportunistic.
It is true that Harriet Harman has been a fool not to check more closely where her deputy leadership campaign funds were coming from, but she was never the sharpest tool in the box.
Someone on another blog compared her to John Prescott the other day. Wrong. Prescott was a highly intelligent guy who was regarded as a bit thick because of his syntactical difficulties. When it comes to the density of porcine ordure, Harman is actually the genuine article.
People are saying there is much more of this story to come out, and I agree with Guido that the key to it probably lies in the government's sudden decision to lift its objections to Mr Abrahams' plans for a business park near Durham in October 2006.
Would it be uncharitable to point out that this decision was also taken under the stewardship of Mr Blair, at whose leaving party in Sedgefield Mr Abrahams was subsequently given a place of such honour?
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Could we have another deputy leadership election?
So of the half-dozen candidates who stood last time round, who would risk throwing their hats into the ring again? Possibly only one or two, in my view.
Harman, of course, would automatically be ruled out. So too would Hazel Blears, Hilary Benn and Peter Hain on the grounds of their disappointing performances in June.
The only candidates from this summer's race I can see fancying another run round that particular block are Alan Johnson, pipped at the post by Harman after being widely tipped as the victor, and Jon Cruddas, who came a good third on the back of a strong grassroots campaign.
Cruddas turned down the offer of a job by Gordon Brown - there is some dispute as to whether it was a party vice-chairmanship or a junior ministerial post - and so is untainted by association with any of the disasters to strike the government over recent weeks. He could well win.
Johnson would also find it hard not to stand, having come so close before. But there would, I think, be other candidates.
The demographics of the Labour Party make it almost certain there would be a woman, with Caroline Flint, Ruth Kelly and Jacqui Smith among the possible contenders in the enforced absense of Harman and Blears.
I think Jack Straw would also fancy it. He expected to be made Deputy Prime Minister, or at the very least First Secretary of State, in Brown's first reshuffle, but the Prime Minister foolishly denied him both titles. He could not deny them were Straw to become deputy leader.
The big question, though, is whether one of the disgruntled Blairites would throw their hats into the ring - Charles Clarke, perhaps, or Alan Milburn, or even Foreign Secretary David Miliband?
If so, the media would very quickly try to turn it into a leadership election at one remove, and the attractions of Straw as a "unity candidate" would become even more apparent,
Could this be Jack's big moment? Although Brown will do all he can to save Harman, I fancy the Government would actually look stronger without her, with Straw officially installed as DPM and someone else entirely - Cruddas? - in the role of Party Chair.
Then again, Michael Heseltine's appointment to the same role in 1995 was supposed to strengthen John Major. And look how that ended.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Should Tony Blair have talked about his faith?
This raises a difficult question for me. As a Christian, I not only approve of politicians who are influenced by Jesus's teaching, I would have difficulty voting for one who wasn't. The main reason I could never bring myself to vote for Neil Kinnock even though he made possibly the greatest speech of the last 30 years was that he was a self-confessed atheist.
But at the same time, I also dislike politicians who claim, or appear to claim, that they have some sort of "hotline" to God that influences not just their general political thinking, but individual political decisions. Mr Blair has clearly implied this in the past in relation to Iraq, for instance.
Whether or not this made him look like a "nutter," it certainly brought Christianity into disrepute by making it appear as if the Christian "viewpoint" on Iraq was pro-war, when in fact the question of whether the Biblical commandment Thou Shalt Not Kill extends to military conflict has always been a hotly-disputed theologically issue.
So I am not entirely sure I agree with Dr Nazir-Ali on this, although it doesn't entirely surprise me to see him criticising Mr Blair. He was, after all, George Carey's chosen successor as Archbishop of Canterbury, but the former Prime Minister went for Dr Rowan Williams instead.
The problem with Tony Blair was not that he was a Christian, nor even that he occasionally made references to the fact, but that he too often allowed himself to sound as if he, alone, had the mind of Christ. The truth is none of us can claim that - at least, not this side of Heaven.
Gordon Brown and Steve McClaren
Parris's piece seems to have kicked off a round of frantic speculation about the Prime Minister's future. Mike Smithson thinks "Brown to go before the next election" is worth a flutter, while Jackie Ashley claims to have spoken to Labour MPs who say he actually will go. Are they serious?
World's worst rhymes
So I was surprised it didn't feature in this list chosen by BBC radio listeners, who plumped for Des'ree's "I don't want to see a ghost, It's the sight that I fear most, I'd rather have a piece of toast," at No 1.
On second thoughts, maybe they've got a point...
Friday, November 23, 2007
Who's next at No 11 and Soho Square?
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Wanted: A proven international track record
Against that, bringing back Frank Lampard when it has been proved time and time again that he and Steven Gerrard cannot play alongside eachother, and using Gareth Barry in an unfamiliar holding role in preference to Owen Hargreaves, were the kind of suicidal selectorial blunders which suggest the manager had a death wish.
What now? Inevitably given his media profile and success with Chelsea, the talk will turn to Jose "the special one" Mourinho, and I think that if he were to indicate that he wants the job, a deal could probably be tied up very quickly. For my part, though, I think the FA would be better off at this juncture going for someone with a proven track record of success in management at international level, and that means either Phil Scolari or Guus Hiddink.
The latter in particular has demonstrated with South Korea, Australia and Russia what can be achieved with a fairly average bunch of players. In my view, as the laughably-termed "Golden Generation" prepares to head into the sunset, that is precisely what England need now.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
When I first bought the place as an impoverished local news reporter, it was a disused shop that was one of only two properties in the town inside my price range. But over the course of about ten arduous but enjoyable years I slowly converted it, first into a bachelor pad, later into the comfortable family home it now is.
The needs of our growing family meant it was time to move on, but although it was inevitably hard to say goodbye, I left this place for the last time shortly before 4pm yesterday afternoon with only happy memories.
For those who appreciate this sort of personal stuff - and I know it's a relatively small minority of you - there's a full pictorial memoir of the house on my companion blog, Behind the Lines.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Is this what Blair v Brown would have been like?
The nuclear option of attacking Clegg personally and portraying him as Cameron-lite was always open to Huhne, but I only expected him to deploy that option had it reached the point where he had nothing to lose. What I cannot understand is why he opted to deploy it at this stage, after a strong Question Time performance last week which would have persuaded many undecided party members to vote for him.
For what it's worth, my view is that they will now be less likely to do so. However its MPs might behave, the Liberal Democrat grassroots are emphatically not the nasty party, and its membership will take a dim view of anyone who so openly attacks a colleague.
Whichever of the two candidates ends up as leader, they are both major assets to the party, and for one of them to attack the other in that way diminishes that asset as well as dividing the party. In the words of one opposition commentator today, "anyone who was thinking of voting LibDem will have been profundly put off by the whole episode."
One person who knows this all too well is Gordon Brown. In 1994, he could have deployed the nuclear option against Tony Blair, portraying him as SDP Mark II (if only...!) and highlighting his policy flip-flops in much the same way Huhne did to Clegg.
I still believe Brown could have beaten Blair by employing such a strategy, but he knew that the party would have ended up so divided that victory would not have been worth the candle. I fear that this is now the fate awaiting Huhne should he go on to defy the odds and win.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Eurostar launch highlights transport divide
Friday, November 16, 2007
The Top 10 Labour Twits
A week or so ago, Tara Hamilton-Miller in the New Statesman put together a list of the Top 10 Tory Twits. It was entertaining reading, though she unaccountably omitted both Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, who was once cut off mid-flight by Mr Deputy Speaker when attempting a graphic description of the homosexual act during a Commons debate, and Alan Clark who famously got his penis out in the hallway of his mistress's flat after feeling neglected during a party.
Surprisingly, no-one has yet put together a list of the Top 10 Labour twits, so I thought I would ask for nominations.
As Monty Python noted, it is hard to define what makes a really first-class twit. Political twittishness is essentially about more than mere rank bad judgement. Its essential ingredient is frivolity, not just in the sense of lack of seriousness but in the sense of failure to think about the consequences of one's actions.
To help kick start the debate, I have put together the following shortlist of ten, although all other suggestions will be gratefully received.
Question Time: Huhne shades it
For my part, I agree that Huhne came over as the more impressive candidate. He seemed both more assured than Clegg and noticeably more passionate, particularly on the issue of Trident which will go down well with many party members.
Clegg seemed in difficulty from the first question, which incidentally came from my friend Gill Reade, of Belper, on whether the party had been damaged by the way it had despatched its last two leaders. When David Dimbleby picked up the "nasty party" theme to challenge Clegg over an attack he made on Huhne last year, the frontrunner seemed flummoxed and unsure of how to respond.
Huhne also dealt more intelligently with the second question, on who the Lib Dems should form a coalition with. He made the very valid point that, in the current climate of political cross-dressing, a coalition between Labour and the Conservatives would make rather more political sense than a coalition between either main party and the Lib Dems.
It was only when they got to the third question, on Trident, that it threatened to get nasty. Clegg accused Huhne, by a rather roundabout argument, of being a unilateral re-armer, not a disarmer. Huhne said that anyone who imagined Trident would be any use against Afterdinnerjazz was "living in cloud cuckoo land."
"Chris for now, Nick for the future" seemed to be the general verdict on Lib Dem Voice. It is one that I would endorse.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Tunisia to join the EU?
The argument over whether Turkey should be part of the EU has been hotly contested but there is at least some historical basis for regarding that country as part of Europe.
But while there is always a good case for closer international co-operation, there surely comes a point beyond which the concept of Europeanism becomes meaningless. Kirghiztan, Uzbekistan, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia are not part of Europe and never will be.
To quote Margaret Thatcher in a not-altogether-different context: "No. No. No."
Update: A nice line in outrage here from Letters from a Tory.
Thames Gateway "is potential catastrophe"
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
No substitute for experience
So it doesn't greatly surprise me that Alan West has become the latest of Gordon's fresh talents to find himself in political difficulties, following on from the controversies that have surrounded Mark Malloch Brown, Digby Jones and Ara Darzi in the months since their original appointments.
A conspiracy theorist might see it all as evidence of a dark plot by Labour MPs to get rid of a bunch of outsiders they never wanted in the government in the first place, in the hope that next time round, the jobs might actually be handed out within the PLP.
Tempting though that theory undoubtedly is, I think it just shows there really is no substitute for political experience.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Scrapping ID cards tops your wish-list
There now seems to be a growing consensus on this across the political spectrum. Gordon Brown still has the chance to ditch the scheme as an unwanted hangover of the Blair years, and given their own stance on it the Tories would be unable to criticise him for doing so, as they undoubtedly would if he attempted to reverse other aspects of the Blair legacy.
The full results of the poll, listing the ideas in order of popularity, were as follows:
- Scrapping ID card scheme 79pc
- Four-year fixed-term Parliaments 53pc
- Abolition of the Barnett Formula 52pc
- Referendum on EU Reform Treaty 51pc
- Fully-elected House of Lords 49pc
- Proportional representation 48pc
- Cap on party funding 35pc
- More action to combat inequality 34pc
- Full year's maternity pay 14pc
- Immediate end to airport expansion 14pc
The level of support for abolishing the Barnett Formula is scarcely surprising, given who the author of this blog is, but the degree of backing for other enthusiasms of mine such as fixed-term Parliaments and PR is encouraging.
Stephen Poliakoff: Genius, or overrated?
But I couldn't help but feel a little let-down by the two more recent films, Joe's Palace, which was shown a week ago on Sunday, and Capturing Mary which had its first airing last night.
While both were brilliantly well-acted, as you might expect from an ensemble cast including the likes of Dame Maggie Smith, Sir Michael Gambon, Rupert Penry Jones, Ruth Wilson and Kelly Reilly, the storylines were exceptionally thin and at times downright unconvincing - for instance when, in Joe's Palace, Sir Michael's character enlists the help of a girl from the local deli (played by Rebecca Hall) to uncover a secret from his father's papers that has eluded scores of professional historians.
I personally think Joe's Palace and Capturing Mary would have worked better as a single film, with the latter shown as flashbacks as Mary unburdens herself to Joe in between the requisite bonking sessions involving Penry Jones and Reilly. It would probably have had to be about three hours long, but would, in my view, have had a much more substantial feel to it.
Poliakoff is of course being commissioned by the BBC to come up with this stuff, but I do wonder whether they are in danger of killing the goose that laid the golden egg, and whether the corporation might be better advised to cast its net a little wider when it comes to showcasing new drama.
Meanwhile, for anyone who loved Friends and Crocodiles and is also a fan of the seminal 1990s artpop duo Mono, here's a special treat.
Monday, November 12, 2007
What does it take to get someone to resign?
In view of the obvious topicality of this, I have devised a league table which lists, in ascending order of pigheaded obstinacy, ten political figures who have either resigned or come under pressure to resign in recent years.
1. Estelle Morris. Decided she wasn't up to the job after a few mildly critical media reports about exam results. Pusillanimous rather than pig-headed.
2. Michael Howard. Quit the day after a general election in which many observers thought his party, despite its defeat, had done well enough to enable him to stay on.
3. Sir Menzies Campbell. Rather impulsively fell on his sword after seven days of consecutive press reports about his age, 48 hours after telling reporters he had no intention of going.
4. Stephen Byers. Initially survived both the Jo Moore affair and claims that he lied over Railtrack, but eventually quit realising that his department was indeed "fucked" as long as he stayed.
5. Peter Mandelson. Thought he could ride out the Geoffrey Robinson home loan affair and actually prepared a media "fightback" strategy. Tony Blair other ideas and told him to bite the bullet.
6. Beverley Hughes. Tried to stay in her job despite visa scam involving work permits for one-legged Romanian roofers. Eventually had to go after it emerged she had been warned about the problem.
7. David Blunkett. Forced to quit over a rushed visa for his mistress's nanny, days after a defiant rendition at the Labour MPs' Christmas bash of "pick myself up, dust myself off and start all over again."
8. Mark Oaten. Stood for the leadership of his party in full knowledge of the fact that his, er, personal difficulties were likely to prove something of a liability if they ever came to light. Eventually saw sense and quit.
9. Tony Blair. Survived a disastrous military adventure and the suicide of the man who tried to blow the whistle on his government's lies before finally accepting that the public had fallen out of love with him.
10. Sir Ian Blair. Remains in his job despite his force being found guilty of health and safety offences over the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, a vote of no confidence by the London Assembly, and resignation calls from across the political spectrum. Clearly, and by some margin, the most pig-headed man in Britain.