Daily Archives: 17 April 2007

Why Gordon Brown hasn’t a clue

Iain Dale wounded me last night by implying that I spend too much time taking the piss out of him and seldom point out where we agree. Well, when it comes to things like Lords Reform, I tend to keep blog posts to a minimum on areas which are to do with my day job (partly out of a desire to compartmentalise and keep the two seperate, partly out of a desire not to sound like a one-trick pony), and when I do link to his site, it tends to be in response to some criticism or other he has made about the Lib Dems. But, in the interests of not being open to the accusation of mindless tribalism, I will just say that I agree that the recent Tory PEB outclasses its Labour equivalent by quite some margin.

It isn’t that there is anything particularly clever about the Tory one: with the right editing you could make just as successful PEB with almost any other politician. But while it is, of course, all presentation and style made to look like substance, it is done with a certain amount of panache.

There was no reason, for instance, for the Tories to tackle the BNP in the ad, but it was good positioning for them to do so. The way Cameron answered the question about the slave trade, was again quite a clever piece of positioning. This was all about presenting people with the image of David Cameron as a man who doesn’t necessarily tell you what you want him to say, to counter his caricature as a bandwagon jumper. It’s all rubbish of course, but it is quite effective rubbish.

The Labour ad, by contrast, is just rubbish. After 10 years, is a long stream of random questions good enough? We want answers: Labour can only say ‘we’re listening.’ It is appalling. The ‘reveal’ with Blair and Brown in the back of the cab is excrutiating. The scene with half the cabinet answering telephones lacked any credibility whatsoever.

To an extent, during this inter-regnum period, there isn’t very much Labour can say except that they’re listening. The problem is, they’ve been stuck in this holding pattern for three years now and it has grown beyond stale. The whole transition from Blair to Brown has, at every stage, been done on Blair’s terms and for all his harrumphing, Brown has simply let him.

This makes it all the more incredible that Brown is now launching a book called ‘Courage‘. A series of 8 portraits of people Brown finds inspiring, this is a progression from the nonsense we had earlier in the year with Brown making comparisons between himself and Gandhi. Every one of his eight ‘heroes’ unquestionably demonstrated courage in their lives; what is less clear is how Brown can claim to have emulated them.

What is striking from his list, is what easy choices they all are. Every single one of them is unimpeachable; secular saints for a modern age. A more charitable man than me would be pleased that a future leader of the country has taken the time to write a book about them. The cynic in me however is all too aware that he is, by extension, seeking to have some of their magic fairy dust rub off on him. So much for the ‘death of celebrity culture‘. I’ve seen dogs on heat rubbing up against men’s trouser legs make for more edifying spectacles. This isn’t courage: this is vicarious courage.

It would have been more interesting, and more revealing, if Brown had attempted to defend more controversial figures, people who weren’t necessarily saints but who shared his values. Gordon Brown on Lloyd George would have told us far more than hagiography about Aung San Suu Kyi (whose inclusion in any case begs the question: what has Gordon Brown, as one of the most powerful men in the world, done to advance her cause?). What about Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson? What about Thatcher? These must be people that Brown admires as he and the party of which he is a key architect have been so influenced by them. Sticking with people who lead blameless lives is as patronising to the public as Tony Blair chumming up with Noel Gallagher 10 years ago. Using them as political fig leaves in this way is somewhat offensive. Did anyone ask if they minded being co-opted in this way?

By publishing this book, now, Brown shows that he is anything but courageous. Having spent 13 years hiding in the shadow of Tony Blair, his first instinct is to reach out and hide behind eight more people. All this and we are still none the wiser about what will be in his first Queen’s Speech. Make no mistake: Labour is in deep trouble.

Watch me on 18 Doughty Street. Me. Me. Me.

I forgot to mention/cowardly avoided mentioning (delete according to preference) that I was going to be on 18 Doughty Street last night. You can however still watch the programmes (Blogger TV and Vox Politix) on their on demand site. Better still, they don’t appear to have the End of the Day Show on demand, by which point I was falling asleep and saying even more stupid things than normal.

Thanks to Iain for having me on. I survived it rather better than the last time I was on!

Loans for lagging

Surprisingly little discussion in the Lib Dem Blogosphere about Chris Huhne and Andrew Stunell’s proposals for tackling the thorny problem of reducing the carbon impact of British housing. Indeed, the only commentary at all I’ve read thus far is Iain Dale denouncing it as illiberal. Poor show.

Myself, I’ve only skimmed through the policy paper and have yet to fully digest it, but it does seem to be a very sensible policy. In short, it works like this: beef up building standards so that all new build will meet tough efficiency standards by 2011; encourage energy companies to offer people long term loans (which will stay with the house, not the individual) to install a “WarmHome” pack on existing buildings; in the longer term, increase stamp duty on homes which haven’t installed the package.

Using the market in this way to promote energy efficiency is at the heart of the Lib Dem approach to environmental policy. Making utility companies the solution rather than the problem and keeping the use of environmental taxation to a minimum is both pro-business and pro-consumer. Iain Dale’s criticisms are flawed on a number of grounds:

  • the policy is not about ‘forcing’ people to take out loans, but encouraging them to do so by spreading the cost over 25 years and thus enabling them to see immediate savings. The emphasis is squarely on carrot, not stick.
  • the retrospective stamp duty ‘punishment’ is actually an inducement to encourage people to take steps which would save them money in any case. And they will be given a year’s grace to make the necessary changes.
  • he is completely wrong about the system of random spot checks: these are about giving people peace of mind about building standards. They are checks on the industry, not the consumer. Nowhere in the paper does it say that people would be ‘forced’ to undergo inspection. On the other hand, a free spot check to ensure the £10,000 you have just forked out has actually been spent on something which meets minimal standards is something I would have thought most people would welcome.

My one complaint about the paper is that the use of the word mortgage is a little intimidating. Once I read the detail, I was happy, but the ‘m’ word suggests expensive loans hanging over peoples heads for decades when in fact the paper is proposing savings. I prefer another analogy used in the paper: hire purchase.

Overall though, this is a valuable contribution to Lib Dem policy (not that it will be party policy for another 5 months) and something I suspect the Tories will be ‘borrowing’ very soon, regardless of Mr Dale’s reservations.

Plaid bid to subvert the RPA fails

Plaid Cymru are crying foul over the BBC’s decision not to throw the Representation of the People Act out of the window and allow them thousands of pounds of state-subsidised advertising.

All I can say to that is: ha ha. If Plaid should be angry at anyone, it is the Welsh Rugby grounds who signed a contract that they surely knew they had no ability to fulfill.