Tag Archives: pant-watch

Operation Legacy goes forward

What do Virgin Radio and the New Scientist have in common? They’ve both been graced with Tony Blair’s presence over the past week.

Blair phoned Virgin on Friday (which by chance I heard) to ask listeners to support the Freeman Heart and Lung Transplant Association. Meanwhile, he is in the New Statesman this week banging on about the importance of scientific research (podcast here).

All very well, but it does rather suggest that his Operation Legacy that was leaked to the papers in September is very much going ahead. We’ve already had Blue Peter and no doubt Songs Of Praise is just around the corner.

My concern about all this is that it doesn’t seem to have very much to do with running the country, and yet it has everything to do with promoting the Labour Party and giving Blair’s own ego a boost. Yet are either of these two paying to have him go around the country as Prime Rentagob? Blair stands to make a tangible pile of cash out of boosting his legacy. If all he’s going to do for the next six months is remind us how wonderful he is, and leave the actual job to Gordon Brown, then it really is time he did the decent thing.


Tommygate continues to bemuse. Is Watson the first minister to resign in order to spend more time with the Chancellor’s family?

The “cover story” – that Watson was merely visiting to give Brown’s baby a present – is so laugh-out-loud unlikely that it could actually be true – who would make up an alibi like that? On the other hand, its very unlikelihood could be purpose built to bamboozle us.

Watson is, of course, a past mater of the bamboozle, managing to portray the Hodge Hill by-election as a magnificent victory when the truth is it was a rout as far as Labour were concerned.

But one thing has become apparent from all this – none of the political correspondents have a clue who he is, with Jackie Ashley thinking he is a horny-handed Scottish trade unionist (instead of the lily-livered ex-student hack from the Midlands we all know), and Michael White calling him, of all things, a Brownite.

When is a chair not a chair?

I’m a little confused. Ed Davey has been elected unopposed as Chair of the Lib Dems Campaigns and Communications Committee. But Lord Rennard has simultaneously been appointed Chair of the General Election Campaign. This is confusing, because the CCC Chair post replaced the Chair of the GE Campaign post back in the late 90s. What’s more, Rennard, as Chief Executive, is technically accountable to the President and, on campaigning, the Chair of the CCC. So who takes the decision, and who takes the blame? Are we seeing a bit of a conflict of interest here?

Personally, having sat on the Party’s Federal Executive for three years, I had come to the conclusion that the elected nature of the CCC Chair was a mistake. It was established as a reaction against the fact that Paddy Ashdown had appointed Richard (now Lord) Holme as GE Chair because of his links with Rio Tinto Zinc. However, the effect has been that accountability over campaigning has been dispersed: no longer could you blame the leader for ballsing up campaigning as the FE now elected the person in charge. Yet the FE can’t be held to account as it is elected by STV and is thus a representative body. Add to that the decision (which in retrospect I think was a mistake) to effectively merge the roles of Chief Executive and Campaigns Director, and we already had the confusing situation where it was unclear who was in charge. With Rennard’s appointment as GE Chair, that situation has become even more confusing.

The party has a major issue with accountability, as the Michael Brown affair exposed when it first came to a head six months ago. This suits the establishment as it means they can always take the credit for when things go right and blame others for when it goes wrong.

We need more checks and balances. But we need a simpler model for who gets appointed to what, and we need fewer job titles. Fundamentally, we need clarity about who is in charge. Since Charles Kennedy declined to rule out this week whether he might one day go for the leadership again at some point in the future, it should be pointed out that he is chiefly responsible for our current mess. That is why I’m not quite as excited by the prospect of Kennedy for President as Andy Mayer appears to be, regardless of the superficial attractions.

Osborne on Brown: “he smells of wee”

The Tory Shadow Chancellor has unveiled a masterful new strategy for attacking Gordon Brown: whinge for Britain:

“It seems to me he has been nothing but unpleasant in his dealings with me,” Mr Osborne told a lunch meeting for women political journalists in Westminster yesterday. “That’s a decision for him to take. I’ve had very good relationships with other ministers I’ve shadowed. I understand from conversations I have had with other Labour ministers that this is not an uncommon experience.”

Mr Osborne drew a contrast between the “wide range” of people who advise and talk to David Cameron and what he called “the five-strong cabal surrounding Gordon”. Mr Osborne complained that since he became Shadow Chancellor, after the general election last May, he had had only one telephone conversation with Mr Brown, who rang to brief him about a trip he was making to Gaza. At other times, he said, Mr Brown has deliberately ignored him, passing him in the corridor “without a flicker of recognition”.

Note that this was at a lunch of women journalists. I know his sort, I went to school with them. They sit in the corner of parties and look miserable so a girl will take pity and come up to them. Then, they jump on them for a snog at the first opportunity. It takes a certain low cunning, but they rarely amount to anything.

Regarding the stuff about Brown snubbing him in the corridor, whisper it, but did it ever occur to him that Gordo might be a bit shortsighted? Perhaps if Georgie was more than 4ft tall the Chancellor might have a chance of spotting him.

I know Cameroons get off on imagining themselves as characters in Lord of the Rings (the fact that the heroes in Lord of the Rings end up throwing power away appears to have passed them by) – you can just imagine them being the sort of annoying gits who used to spend their lunch breaks hitting each other with rubber swords – but far from Lord Sauron and Merry, I actually think Brown and Osborne more closely resemble these two fantasy characters.

DONKEY: Hey, hey, hey, come back here! I’m not through with you yet!

SHREK: Well I am through with you.

DONKEY: Uh-uh. You know you was always me, me, me. Well guess what? Now it’s my turn. So you just shut up and pay attention! You are mean to me. You insult me, and you don’t appreciate anything that I do. You’re always pushing me around, or pushing me away!

Simon’s Dodgy Dossier

Comical Ali

A spokesman for Simon Hughes said: “My feelings – as usual – we will slaughter them all.”

Quoth Mr Hughes:

Although the race is close, the evidence is that I have a slight lead with the other two battling it out for second place.

Good luck to Simon, and I’m really pleased for him if he’s feeling confident. But please. What evidence?

The evidence may be flawed, indeed I think we can all agree that to at least some extent it is, but it all points towards a close fight between Huhne and Campbell. Every opinion poll of actual members, as opposed to supporters, suggests this. The punters tend to agree, with the lowest available odds on a Hughes victory currently standing at 12/1.

There is a fine line between self-confidence and self-delusion. Guido has a rather poorly phrased joke on his blog today, which nonetheless sums it up:

Q. What’s the connection between Simon Hughes and his Nokia phone?
A. They are both Finnish.

Time to face the inevitable

I can’t get Monty Python out of my head. The dead parrot sketch or the Black Knight in Holy Grail snorting “’tis but a flesh wound!” – take your pick of analogies. Either way, it is clear that a) Charles Kennedy’s leadership is over and b) he just refuses to roll over and die.

I’ve supported Kennedy throughout all this – the anonymous briefing at the start of December was just pathetic, the pre-Christmas letter signed by 11 front benchers was ill-judged. But it is equally becoming clear that at least part of the reason for the increasingly hard line being adopted by MPs is that Kennedy just refuses to listen, mistaking qualified support for complete vindication. The strength of feeling coming from the front bench – reportedly 19 frontbenchers are putting their money where their mouth is – is a political failure on Kennedy’s part and it looks increasingly as if he has been choosing to talk to them via the media as much as they have been doing the same to him.

Ultimately, this is a contest of wills that Kennedy has already lost. He could well decide to brazen it out, he might even be able to find 7 MPs who are still willing to sign his nomination, he might even win an all member ballot. But if he does, he will only destroy the party. It’s sad, but it is time to go.

So, who do we have instead? In all honesty, I can’t see anyone but Simon Hughes winning. Oaten is simply too isolated, and thanks to Cameron, without a platform. Campbell would make a great caretaker leader, but why would the grassroots vote for that if they’ll get the full monty from Hughes? I’m not convinced this would be the right decision, but I can’t see a more likely outcome. I can only assume that this latest group of MPs have come to the same conclusion and decided it was worth it.

All in all, a depressing day.

UPDATE: Finally found the full list of the MPs who have signed the latest statement. Of the 11 who signed the earlier letter, 3 haven’t signed this latest one. In effect, that means that a total of 28 out of 62 MPs have now called for Kennedy to resign – just two short of 50% if you discount Kennedy himself and the PP chair Paul Holmes. Does Kennedy really believe he can win a vote of confidence now?

No, I don’t have a clue what to do next either

If this was the West Wing, then all Kennedy would have to do next Wednesday is make an impassioned, poignant speech at the Parliamentary Party, underscored by some inspiring strings and suddenly everyone will realise what a noble, wonderful leader he is, never mind the booze and the lies, and everything will be forgotten in time for the end credits. Of course, that would require every day until that point to be raining.

Unfortunately, this is the real world and it don’t work that way. I started off thinking that Kennedy had performed a masterstroke in self-preservation, although was less convinced it was good for the party. Now however I’m not so sure about even that. On the other hand I remain unconvinced by any of the likely pretenders.

I really haven’t made my mind up about this at all. So instead, a few random points:

1. To be nominated as a candidate in this contest, an MP needs 7 of his/her colleagues to nominate – even Charles. I don’t think any parliamentarian should back anyone unless they are absolutely convinced they’re up for the job. No blank cheques this time.

2. Having said that, I don’t think anyone should sign childish letters calling for their leader to resign either unless they have a pretty good idea who they want instead. So who do the Brutus XI support? They seem a pretty diverse bunch and I don’t see them uniting behind anyone. It was the political equivalent of a toddler’s dirty protest. Like so much thinking going on at the top of the party, it was tactically very effective but strategically clueless and has left us up the creek without a paddle.

3. The fuck ups and failures of the past few years are as much the responsibility of Charles’ inner circle as himself. An alcoholic can be an effective leader – cf Winston Churchill – what they need is a core team around them who are not in denial themselves. Time and again they have left him exposed and vulnerable. Karma – and realpolitik – demands that some blood needs to be spilt now. If that isn’t to be the leader himself, then we need to see a major scalp – otherwise it just looks complacent.

4. It is surely only right and proper to ask if Daisy McAndrew ever lied for Charles Kennedy when she was his press officer?

5. One thing is for sure, David Cameron has effectively killed off all hope of an Orange Book Revolution within the party. Even the most frothing idealogue would baulk at the idea of fighting a General Election campaign to the right of the Tories. Cameron’s commitment on Wednesday to block any move towards health insurance essentially scuppers the whole David Laws plan. The party simply cannot afford to go to the right at a time when the Tories are doing the exact opposite.