Tag Archives: david-cameron

Is it okay to hate Tim Leunig?

Burning a dummy in effigy
Guardian Readers burn Tim Leunig in effigy.

Press, politico and blog reaction to the Policy Exchange’s Cities Unlimited report has been quite extraordinary. The Guardian today was particularly wretched, producing a big special article extolling the North (if you really think it’s so great, why did you leave Manchester then?) and quoting David Cameron extensively (audio here):

“This report is rubbish from start to finish,” he said, repeating the charge four times in two minutes. “I think the author himself said it might be a bit barmy. It is barmy.” Referring to the report’s co-author Tim Leunig, he added: “I gather he’s off to Australia. The sooner he gets on the ship the better.”

Being part of a multi-media network these days, the paper has been prominently advertising Chris Grayling’s rebuttal of the report on Comment is Free (“I’m not allowed to say what I really think of it on a family website”) while failing to mention that Tim Leunig himself has an article giving his side of the story. To compound things, the paper has issued a handy extract of the report providing all the “damning quotes” while failing to mention its actual proposals or even provide a link to the report.

On the blogosphere, Leunig is variously described as a “twat” and a “fucking idiot.” Recess Monkey has been far more restrained, merely posting a mugshot of who presumably all right thinking socialists should direct their Daily Hate towards. Finally, noticing that no-one in the media appear to have noticed that Leunig was the central party’s golden boy 12 months ago (he being of the Community Land Auction idea), the Lib Dem press office have issued a standard press release so all local parties can join in with the fun (I’m surprised that Tom Papworth is moaning about this though; doesn’t he have some Focus leaflets to deliver?). But just to show what a classy act we really are, the party has declined to issue a national press release. I’m sure those of us working in public policy are now really reassured that the party will stand by us when the chips are down.

What is most remarkable is that in the last 24 hours since it has been available, none of these people appear to have bothered to read the actual report. Jonathan Calder has, and it is hard to fault his analysis:

David Cameron has called Cities Unlimited “insane”. My own reaction on reading it is quite different. While I like the idea of selling empty property cheaply to its neighbours and local control of development funds, it seems to me to be based on two quasi-Marxist assumptions. They are:

  • contempt for piecemeal reform;
  • the belief that it is the state’s role to forecast how society and the economy will develop and then expedite that development.

The fact is, Leunig and James Swaffield do bear some responsibility for the mess they have found themselves in. Fundamentally, they appear to not be able to make their minds up. On the one hand, most of the prescriptions of their report are excellent. But their analysis of the situation is at the height of economistic hubris. No-one can deny that northern towns such as Manchester and Newcastle have declined since the height of the industrial revolution and have struggled to recover since, but how does that inform us about the future? No-one can deny that the south east has been beneficiary of the post-industrial era, but how does that lead one to conclude that it will remain the case over the next 20-50 years? Can you really measure success and failure in such simplistic economic terms (I for one would move back to Manchester in a heartbeat if I thought I could have a similar career to the one I have here in London; I can’t stand the Capital)? Fundamentally, how can you claim to believe in devolution and reject ideas of a command economy while proposing to plan UK-wide demographics down to the last neighbourhood?

It isn’t really the north that should be upset by this report, it is the good burghers of Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire whose countryside Leunig and Swaffield are proposing to tarmac over. Yet this is based on the assumption that in a post-industrial information age, location will remain as important as it was 100 years ago. My ill-informed analysis is different: the south east has boomed while the north has wilted because that is where the UK’s knowledge economy has been focussed. Invest in a knowledge economy up north and there is no reason why we can’t see benefits across the country. From reading the report, I would expect Leunig and Swaffield to agree with that, at least up to an extent, so why preface their work with the counsel of despair which has caused them so much heat over the past 24 hours?

Back to the media reaction though, I have to wonder if this whole row has been engineered by the Policy Exchange deliberately. The Smith Institute has just had an uncomfortable year with the Charity Commission breathing down its neck. The Policy Exchange must know that its intimate, revolving door relationship with the Conservatives is likely to come under scrutiny sooner or later. So, why not engineer a row with the Tories? And use a Lib Dem as the patsy to boot?

Earlier this year, there was a suggestion that Nick Clegg’s Policy Exchange speech had been leaked to David Cameron thus allowing the Conservative leader to undermine his rival by making a strikingly similar speech 24 hours earlier. Charity Commission investigation or not, if you are a Lib Dem you would be well advised to only sup with the Policy Exchange with a very long spoon.

42, Northern Ireland and Cameron’s non-leadership

Is it me or is there a link between the government’s (possibly premature, possibly not) triumphalism about winning round the Labour rebels over the Terrorism Bill and the latest political crisis in Northern Ireland?

For weeks now, it has been well known that the Brown government has been courting the DUP with a view to persuading them to back them on the 42 days vote. If Jacqui Smith really did manage to sweet talk her own rebels last night however, then the DUP just lost their bargaining position. Cue: Sinn Fein raising the stakes and Shaun Woodward calling for devolution to be “completed“.

Obviously the arrival of Peter Robinson almost certainly is a catalyst as well, but I can’t help but feel Labour would be doing more to avoid this particular row this week if it didn’t feel confident about the terrorism bill next week.

No doubt they have also been bolstered by a breakaway group of Tories, lead by Ann Widdecombe who are planning to support the government plans. Widdecombe’s call for the act to be subject to an annual vote recalls the nonsense of the old Prevention of Terrorism (Northern Ireland) Act. Introduced by Roy Jenkins in 1974, this “temporary” measure was annually renewed until 2000 when Labour decided to drop the farce and make it permanent. That’s the problem with “temporary” security measures. You can always find “exceptional” reasons to keep them, politicians like to look tough by supporting them, and pretty soon they just become an accepted way of life.

Once again of course we appear to be looking at Cameron failing to hold discipline within his own ranks. If he calls for the vote on detention without charge to be a free vote, we know we’re really fucked. I’ve been saying this for years now, but letting your own backbenchers run rings around you like this is not leadership. I like to think that if this vote ends up being won by a small margin in which the Tory rebels are the decisive factor, the media might actually wake up to this, but I doubt it. Heaven help us if/when he becomes Prime Minister.

Finally, just a quick note to link to this letter which was published in the Guardian today. The Terrorism Bill is about a lot more than detention without charge but it looks like everything else will simply be waved through.

Cameron and Johnson timed the Venezuela announcement for after the Crewe by-election

At a stroke, Boris Johnson has undermined the capital the Conservatives have made out of the 10p income tax fiasco. It isn’t that the cheap oil deal with Venezuela was defensible – it wasn’t. It was this sort of tokenism that disqualified Livingstone from office in the eyes of most Londoners. But no-one begrudged low income earners from getting half-priced travel. In Crewe, the Tories ground Labour into the dust attacking them for doubling the 10p rate and blithely ignoring the impact it would have on low income earners. Now the Tories have imposed swingeing cuts on a very similar group in society.

What’s worse is the timing: on a bank holiday weekend just hours after winning the Crewe by-election during which time they had very carefully kept quiet about the plans. It is clear they don’t plan to offer people on income support any alternative, otherwise why the stark announcement rather than a more cuddly “consultation” about how to continue paying for the scheme? It is clear they knew it would be politically damaging. And it is abundantly clear that was not merely approved by CCHQ and Cameron but crafted by them in the first place. Make no mistake – this was Cameron’s decision.

Expect this issue to become a Focus leaflet staple, within London at least. I can think of no better symbol of how paper thin the “new” Conservativism really is. Scratch beneath the surface and the nasty side is just itching to come out. At least now we know, but is has the public already made up its mind?

Tony Blair “lead from the front” in by-elections? In WHAT universe Mr Cameron?

Having a pop at Gordon Brown for failing to show his face in Crewe and Nantwich is all fair and good, but why does David Cameron have to go and spoil everything by talking unmitigated bullshit like this?

Mr Cameron taunted him by saying his predecessor as PM, Tony Blair, “led from the front” at by-elections.

During the Blair years it was a standing joke, as it is now, that the Prime Minister never attended by-elections. Indeed, in the last general election, using a picture of Tony Blair (almost always with George Bush) on your literature was one of the easiest ways to pick up votes (assuming you aren’t the Labour Party of course). Blair was ballot box poison, at least after 2003.

David Cameron, having as he does a bit of a schoolboy crush on Tony Blair, may like to think different, but that’s the way it goes.

Can Cameron Lead the Conservatives (part 587)?

Stephen Tall has pointed me to this piece by John Rentoul on the Independent Blog:

David Cameron voted against the majority of Conservative MPs who took part in the division yesterday on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. He was one of 37 Tories voting in favour; 49 voted against. The rest found something better to do.

This sounds awfully familiar. Indeed, the Embryology Bill is a fascinating case study of Cameron Non-Leadership in action.

First of all, there is the “they aren’t defying me if I make it a free vote” tactic. He did this earlier in the year when he allowed his MPs to back the Bill Cash amendment on the Lisbon Treaty. Of course, the argument against that is that the Embryology Bill comes under that catch-all of a “conscience issue”. He can probably get away with this as, aside from the apparent admission that political philosophy is completely useless when it comes to fundamental issues of principle such as the rights and wrongs of abortion, it is a view shared by politicians from across the political spectrum (while insisting that J.S. Mill & co DO have something instructive to say on, for example, the practicalities of recycling). It is hard to see how the Lisbon Treaty came under this category though. Or House of Lords Reform.

What is interesting with this Bill however, is that while Cameron supported the Bill overall, he has adopted a quite a reactionary view when it comes to the detail. Backing Mad Nad’s (I’d call her Dorries Karlof but that one’s taken) 20 Weeks amendment is particularly peculiar given the fact that her case has been pretty comprehensively quashed by the scientific evidence. 20 week fever appears to have gripped the Conservative Party. Alan Duncan was raving about it on Any Questions despite seeming unclear about what the current limit actually is (which rather suggests he hasn’t done the slightest bit of research into the subject). It has been dressed up as the safe, reasonable, responsible thing for right-minded Conservatives to do when in fact it is a blatant wedge strategy (apparently funded by the religious right, it emerges).

But the more tricksy one is this proposed amendment to the Bill regarding IVF to single women and lesbian couples. Andrew Lansley is proposing to reword the Bill’s requirement for “supportive parenting” thus: “the need for supportive parenting and a father or a male role model.”

On the surface this seems innocuous enough. Certainly a “male role model” is up there on my list of “desirable” things for a child to grow up with. Lansley was insistent that this wasn’t about excluding lesbian couples. It is certainly something worth exploring in committee. Would sticking a poster of David Beckham up on the side of the crib suffice, for instance?

And yet. And yet. While I think there is something in the argument that the current problems we face with youth gangs and violence on the streets is rooted in the lack of supportive parenting, what I’m not clear about is that it is somehow rooted in lesbians getting IVF treatment. Getting IVF is a much more stringent process than having a fumble in the back of a car, and no-one is proposing to change that. A tiny minority of women get IVF treatment. Of them, a minority of them are lesbians. Of them, a tiny minority of them are likely to end up in a gang. Just what are the Conservatives preventing here? Maybe one thug per decade being grown in a test tube?

Once again, this appears to be a “reasonable” amendment being supported by the Tory front bench which you only need to take a sideways glance at the attack dogs yapping at their sides to see the real agenda. Can you say “dog whistle”?

It all seems so tactical. I don’t know if Cameron is the liberal he claims to be or not and to an extent that is irrelevant. What I’m concerned about is how a Cameron government would behave in the face of a reactionary Conservative backbench of the kind we are likely to continue to see for decades to come. His approach since becoming leader has been to avoid confrontation where possible, and capitulate where not. In this respect he is very different from Tony Blair circa 1995. Blair loved to face down his detractors in the party; that’s why the “demon eyes” approach was so unconvincing. With Cameron, we really do seem to be getting a Tory wolf in woolly liberal’s clothing.

David Cameron’s privacy

It is none of my business if David Cameron’s disabled son has been rushed to hospital or not, but it does raise an issue about the way Cameron expects to be able to turn his family’s privacy on and off like a tap whenever its suits him. Apart from that recent ITN footage of him serving his kids breakfast and that notorious Webcameron film, there was the fact that early in his leadership he invited cameras to film him taking Ivan to hospital in the back of an ambulance.

The way Cameron has used his family is quite spectacularly cynical. He has frequently used Gordon Brown’s protectiveness of his own family against him in a quite nasty way and just seems to treat his own children as props to advance his own agenda. It may yet end up biting him in the bum. It makes Clegg’s “30 lovers” admission seem tame in comparison.

David Cameron’s new pledge: “I’m a socialist jihadist conservative”

Cameron’s Conservatives have taken their broad church to new limits this week by recruiting a former RESPECT councillor in Tower Hamlets.

Ahmed Hussain, who is also a Muslim and a member of the Socialist Worker Party was welcomed into the fold by “four jobs” Bob Neill. His defection makes the Conservative Group the official opposition on Tower Hamlets council. Furthermore:

…his move comes as a bitter blow to council leader Denise Jones and Poplar & Canning Town MP Jim Fitzpatrick, both of whom are understood to have written glowing references to London party chief Ken Clark.

This is another chapter in the crazy world of Tower Hamlets politics, but it does seem remarkable for the Conservatives, of all people, to jump into bed with a socialist jihadist quite so merrily. Nor is this simply a little local difficulty. According to Respect Renewal (admittedly not the most impartial of sources), Cameron himself is due to put in an appearance next week.

How long can it be before Cameron is shown shaking hands with the Tories latest defector from the BNP? Does he have a bottom line?

Nick Clegg’s half century: not out

Not my best ever article, but I’ve written about Clegg’s first 50 days over at Comment is Free. I’m delighted to see my Tory baiting has caused a reaction:

All the signs are there to indicate that David Cameron is likely to have a poor 2008. Gordon Brown’s remarkable meltdown has not brought Cameron the sort of poll ratings that even Neil Kinnock could take for granted in the early 1990s. The success of last October is now a distant memory. Labour and the Tory headbangers have out-maneuvered him and forced him to bore for Britain on the Lisbon treaty; an issue which steadfastly refuses to fly for him. It is becoming increasingly evident that George Osborne – Cameron’s closest ally – is woefully out of his depth in the job of Shadow Chancellor at a time when the economy is a bigger issue than ever. And fundamentally, his own parliamentary party simply defy him every time he tries championing a progressive issue, something which he does less and less often these days.