Daily Archives: 12 January 2006

Huhne wavers on supertax pledge

According to the Guardian, he said today:

“The 50p top tax rate is now looking in international terms quite uncompetitive . . . and there are alternative ways of being redistributive.”

I certainly agree with the second point, although I think the first can be overblown. While it is hardly a policy announcement, it is certainly more sensible than Oaten’s fudge.

Scrap the Ministry of Fun?

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and this story (via this bloke) has got me thinking again: if the Lib Dems would abolish the DTI, then why not abolish the Department of Media, Culture and Sport at the same time?

I’m not suggesting, as Tim seems to imply (not that I’m putting words into his mouth), that we should abolish all arts subsidies, but it does make me wonder what the DCMS is actually for. Gambling, licensing laws and smoking could easily be passed onto the ODPM. The Olympic bid would suggest there is some sense in having a government interest in sporting matters, but it could easily be part of another department. Indeed, given the importance of its impartiality, I would have thought that not having a whole department with responsibility over the BBC would actually be a desirable thing. And not having a whole department with this responsibility would decrease the possibility of taxpayer’s money being wasted on something like Icons (why not just ask the BBC to do this if you’re that bothered FFS!?).

Before the Kennedy Assassination, Chris Huhne was asked to find £15bn in spending cut commitments. I think he could do worse than to look here, but I’d be really interested to know what other people think.

That Campaign Launch #2

Simon Hughes’ launch was a lot slicker than Mark Oaten’s and he was wise to mention his win as Party President 16 months ago but, well, it was a bit boring if truth be told. He seemed to be speaking in slow motion. And while it was good to have a venue sorted that didn’t literally leave journalists out in the cold (note, Mark, the correct use of the word literally there), why the Oxo tower? Is he hoping for lots of bad puns about people putting “stock” in him? I don’t see it beefing him up (hyuk, hyuk…).

I may have watched too many episodes of the West Wing recently, but why not launch your bid outside of somewhere personally and politically significant such as a local school? Yes, the tower is in Hughes’ constituency, but what did that say about his campaign and him personally? Having a constituency just over the river is a huge bonus for the Hughes campaign, and he needs to be using it to the full.

One positive thing is that he took questions and generally came across as talking to the room rather than making a declaration.

He’s unashamedly positioned himself with Beveridge and Lloyd George, which is about as unsurprising as it gets. In fact, there didn’t appear to be any surprises at all, or even content. That was true of Oaten’s launch as well, but at least he has been sounding off to the press for the past week about policy ideas (even if they are bad ones). It leaves one with very little to write about.

All in all, a competent performance from a competent performer, but an anti-climax given the amount of time we’ve had to wait for him to make it.

Tomorrow will be the really interesting one.

UPDATE: Stephen Glenn argues that Simon Hughes’ declaration that none of his nominees are nominating other candidates is a blow for democracy. I would disagree with that, as by definition it narrows the choice available to the membership to vote on. But it does make good political sense, and makes it harder for other candidates to subsequently accept nominations from the Mike Hancocks of this world, however desperate they may be. In fact, while Hughes today argued that we need a rules change, I would argue the rule works fine as it is. Anyone who now accepts nominations in this way will look like a Big Fat Loser.

The Big Mo (not M.O.)

According to the best prices on politicalbetting.com right now…

  • Shock! Simon Hughes (5/4) leapfrogs Ming (11/8)!
  • Bosh! Chris Huhne (7/1) leapfrogs Mark Oaten (9/1)!
  • Parp! John Hemming (80/1) lags behind 5 people who have already said they aren’t standing.

UPDATE: The above linked book appears to have closed. But this is the link to the book on the Lib Dem Leader on 01/01/07. As of 8pm on 11/1/06, it has: Hughes 6/5, Campbell 5/4, Huhne 13/2 and Oaten 10/1.

Lib Dem Leadership Face Off

Matt T points me to this new face recognition software and tries a few bloggers with its celebrity database.

Of course, I HAD to have a go with Lib Dem leadership contenders.

So, here are the results:

  • Sir Menzies Campbell QC MP AC DC (this photo): Henry Fonda (69%), Peter Ustinov (61%), Gianni Agnelli (61%).
  • Simon Hughes (this photo): Herman Melville (61%), Sergio Vierra de Mello (60%), Kernal Ataturk (56%), Clint Eastwood (55%).
  • Mark Oaten (this photo): Bill Gates (55%), Tony Blair (54%), Martin Scorsese (53%).
  • Chris Huhne (this photo): Mario Vargas Llosa (61%), Neil Young (50%), Johannes Brahms (49%), Bill Murray (48%).
  • John Hemming (this photo): Greg Bear (54%), Leonardo di Caprio (53%), Pope Pius XII (53%), Jean Claude Van Damme (52%).

My opinion: Henry Fonda is a good match for Ming (for those too young to remember him, Fonda is the star of The Wrong Man and the Grapes of Wrath). It is a bit disconcerting that so many results are of obscure people I have never heard of, but it does explain John Hemming’s sex appeal. And, Mark Oaten as Gates and Blair? I rest my case.

UPDATE: Just realised who Herman Melville is. Quite appropriate, as for Simon Hughes leadership is a bit like a white whale that he endlessly pursues but never manages to harpoon.

Hmmm… Huhne?

Yesterday’s PMQs said all too much about both of the main challengers in the Lib Dem leadership contest and the problem with the party in general. Both of them had seized on the idea that it would be tactically very good to ask a question, but neither of them showed much evidence of having really thought it through.

By contrast, I know an MP who got a shot at PMQs and spent a week agonising about what their strategy should be. The eventual question was beguilingly simple, yet led to favourable coverage in almost every single sketch column. PMQs may sometimes resemble a school playground game, but it is really political chess at its purest, and anyone who doesn’t regard it as such shouldn’t waste everyone’s time by “having a go”.

Which leads me to Chris Huhne. Too inexperienced? Well, it’s true that he’s only been an MP since May, but he was an MEP for six years before then. Not to mention his years of experience as a journalist. A divisive Orange Book moderniser? Well, Huhne wrote Quality, Innovation, Choice, a superb policy report about the direction public services should go under a Lib Dem government. It briefly united the party, both left and right, yet for some baffling reason it was never internalised by the party at the top and was ignored in the General Election campaign (in fact, a lot of its reforms were included in the manifesto, but we didn’t campaign on any of them). Low profile? An anonymous source in the Guardian suggested that he wasn’t known among grassroots because he “only” represented the South East. The South East Euro Region has 15,000 members – approximately 20% of the party – and Huhne regularly communicated with all of them while he was an MEP (better in fact than most MEPs).

Regular readers of his blog will know that I have an obsession with economic and land reform and environmental policy. I’m happy to say that Chris Huhne isn’t anything like as obsessive as me, but he is the only candidate on offer who has an active interest – and a platform – on all these issues.

My struggle at the moment is to figure out why I shouldn’t back him. I have a few, but they aren’t very substantial (too insubstantial in fact to mention here). Any suggestions?

UPDATE: Can I just take a moment to copyright the phrase “For Huhne the Bell Tolls?” thanks.