Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Brown berated as Al finds his voice...

does inflation trouble you...only after mealtimes!

In The Daily Mail today, normally timid Southampton MP Alan Whitehead is quoted comparing Mr Brown to US President William Taft, who was in the White House from 1909 to 1913 and is remembered mainly for his corpulent frame. ‘Taft could never have been President in today’s politics because he was fat,’ said Mr Whitehead. 'Gordon is not fat but he has the same problem. He just doesn’t have the “phwoarr” factor.’

I would argue that if William Taft is remembered for anything, it is that he remains the only U.S. President to finish third in a bid for reelection to a second consecutive term...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Books & bookmen!

The papers have been full of stories based around three new political books, namely those by Cherie Blair, Lord Levy and John Prescott, focusing largely on the political pain the publications are causing Gordon Brown .

When one adds Alastair Campbell's 'The Blair Years- extracts from the Alastair Campbell Diaries' a fairly consistent picture seems to emerge;

  • Harold Wilson's observation that the Labour "Party is a moral crusade or it is nothing" could easily apply not only to Tony Blair's views of his own administration but also those of many around him.
  • Most of those closest to Blair had a strong personal dislike for each other and interestingly this is a central theme of all three memoirs and Campbell's diaries.
  • The rivalry and problems managing Gordon Brown took up an inordinate amount of time and energy of Blair and some of his top team.
  • That said, all the players worked incredibly hard and did have some notable successes in moving their own agendas forward. For example, for quite some years, Campbell's management of the media and selling of 'the message' in a 24 hour rolling news age was remarkable.

My friend, the writer, blogger and one-time publisher Iain Dale attacks the fact that all three memoirs are vacuous, skimming over important events such as Prescott's affair with Tracey Temple but I would ask what does he expect? All too often, memoirs are really just an attempt at self-justification but are they any really the worse for that? Would Prescott really want to dwell on an affair that nearly wrecked his marriage and hastened the demise of his political career? Of course not. What such books can do is give an insight into the subjects themselves and fill in the background to events and dramas, albeit with the benefit of hindsight.

In 2001, I chatted to Cecil Parkinson about his autobiography 'Right at the Centre' which I think was published in about 1993. He told me that although he had many happy memories contained within the book, he had not enjoyed writing it. Although it had sold modestly well, it was certainly only the press serialisation (I think by the Sunday times) that made the work financially worthwhile. If memory served me right, I think he said they paid about £300k, a substantial sum of money, even then. Iain says,"Publishers need to stop paying huge advances for books like this, which will never wash their faces commercially and are entirely reliant on newspaper serialisations" but I don't agree. If it wasn't for the press, the books would never get written.

A relatively new phenomenon for the political autobiography is the advent of the 'ghostwriter' especially below prime-ministerial level. Apparently Ned Temko of The Observer wrote Mr Levey's tome while Hunter Davies penned Mr Prescott's work. Sadly I do not think this is neccassarily a desirable trait; surely part of the art of a good biography is being able to tell it how it is from one owns perspective? I can guess that Jordon may struggle to write her own tome (actually she probably does, thinking about it) but these were senior figues in public life- surely they are up to it?

or maybe not!

Monday, May 12, 2008

On patrol with Gordon Brown

cheer down...

I heard a classic, apperently true story on Sunday.
Apparently Gordon Brown has been doing a bit of campaigning in Plymouth (keeps him out of the way in Crewe I guess!!!) and with his media handlers arranging for him to visit an old peoples home.
Introduced to Maisie Wright ,aged 94, the leader said, "Hello, I'm Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister" .
"That's nice" replied Maisie, "Wilf over there thinks he is Jesus Christ..."
History does not record what happened next!
Update- I see Guido has got the same story- mine source was a Conservative Councillor in Alan Clarke's old seat of Plymouth Sutton.

Monday, May 05, 2008

We lost wards we didn't expect to lose and didn't lose ones we expected to!

When June Bridle lost her seat in Sholing, it was down to Councillor Jackie Rayment to face the music in the guildhall. On the BBC's Politics Show (about 48 mins in) and in The Daily Echo, she said,

"We lost wards we didn't expect to lose and didn't lose ones we expected to."

Interesting! Bearing in mind labour lost 15 of the 17 seats they contested, I wonder which of the two seats, Bevois or Woolston, they expected to lose?

The King is dead, long live the Queen!

the odd couple...
0r, out with the old, in with the new...

I see that following Vinson's defeat, the Lib-Dems have adopted Councillor Jill Baston as their new leader. I wish her good luck- in my opinion she is going to need it. If the results in Southampton were bad for Labour, they were truly dreadful for the Lib-Dems. They lost their leader, all their sitting councillors and won no seats out of 17. Their overall share of the vote fell from 24% to 19%. In Bevois the Greens came third, beating the Lib-Dems into fourth place as my friend Chris Rowland points out.
Extraordinarily, all the evidence is that Councillor Baston has learnt nothing from the Lib-Dems' crushing defeat.
In The Echo, Baston is quoted as saying, "A lot of their (Tory) literature seriously misrepresented us. They said things about our future plans which were not true - for instance plans for a fortnightly bin collection. They are aware that changes in waste collection are unpopular and put it out in a deliberate attempt to mislead and they misrepresented the car parking issue."
Bizarre!!!! They put the fortnightly bin collection in their budget and it is on the official local Lib-Dem website HERE .
They are also moaning about us campaigning about parking charges. It seems the Lib-Dems and Labour are trying to now say they don't want to charge for residents parking permits- actually they did, it is current council policy (but won't be for long now we are in control!) and the Cabinet report could not be clearer.
On the 17th March, the Lib-Lab cabinet unanimously adopted a paper A19 'Adoption of a Strategic Level Parking Policy for the City'. This was largely based on a policy paper from a consultant called Halcrow that was circulated to all members of the Environment and Transport Scrutiny Panel in December 2007. Williams & Baston both got copies.

Appendix 2 , Para 2.12 reads
"Finally, there is a clear recognition that the provision and availability of parking facilities has a value, and that users should expect to contribute towards their provision, maintenance and management" (the bold is the report’s emphasis, not mine!).
Para 3.2
"The provision and management of parking facilities creates a significant level of cost to the Council and users should thus pay for there use in recognition of the benefits they provide. Charges should be set at levels that reflect the value of the facility and that act as an incentive to consider the use of other modes of travel- this provides the basis on which the council charges for the use of …parking permits".

The killer is section 4(b)(ii)
· All types of permit should attract a fee, albeit on a sliding scale.
· The objective should be to make Residents’ Parking Schemes self-funding

Below is the link to the official record of the decision.

If I were her, I would reflect that it was policy mistakes by her party that largely lost them seats.
another interesting point. As The Guardian notes today, "in southern seats, where the Conservatives are stronger, such as Southampton Itchen, the Liberal Democrats have been squeezed as voters have rallied to the Conservatives".
In Southampton, I believe an additional factor came into play. Lib-Dem voters switched to the Conservatives to keep the Lib-Lab pact out. As a vocal supporter and member of the pact, Councillor Baston was, in part, architect of her party's destruction.
If I were her, I would now embark on a complete review of the the Lib-Dems policies. Why pick a fight with the whole of Swaythling (over the gypsy site), Portswood (over alternate weekly bin collection) and Bedford Place (over traffic regulations for gods sake!) to name just three examples.
Finally, if I were her, I would re-orientate my party politically. As William Rees-Mogg writes today in The Times today, "these local elections show anti-Tory tactical voting is dead and buried". You would never know it reading Lib-Dem literature in Southampton. As Wednesday showed, working closely with Labour is electoral death. The Conservatives are not the unpopular party in Southampton as the elections proved- Labour are the bad boys now.

Friday, May 02, 2008

How did the Tories do it?

Nick Robinson called it 'the first wow result' while The Daily Echo called it a 'Sensational victory'.
Of the 17 seats up for election, the Conservatives won 15- a remarkable achievement. We also defeated the two heads of the 'political beast' formed to run the council in the form of Labour leader June Bridle (who lost by nearly 700) and lib-dem leader Adrian Vinson (who lost by about 130). In my own ward of Shirley, Conservative Terry Matthews was returned with just under a 800 majority.
So how did we do it and was it a surprise?
Nick Robinson has had a stab at how we did it HERE.
Mr Robinson is on the right lines- we did run on some popular policies such as offering pensioners a 10% rebate on their council tax, offering the public a say before approving or rejecting a 'supercasino' in the city and stopping the gypsy and transit site being built in Swaythling.
We also proposed a 100% council tax rebate for serving 'Special Constables' as a recruitment tool, the strengthening of supplementary planning guidance to protect family housing and a huge project of promoting school sport in conjunction with Solent University. What is fascinating is that Labour and particularly the Lib-Dems didn't really offer any policies to the electorate at all. They refuted charges made by the Conservatives that they planned to introduce charges for permit holders (despite having voted for it in cabinet) and that they had no plans to scrap the weekly refuse collection despite saying on the Lib-Dems website that they want to do so but at no point did they really attempt to outline their vision for the city. I debated with the Lib-Dem councillor Liz Mizon at one hustings and despite speaking for 6 minutes or so, she didn't articulate one single policy- it was all 'we must all work together to make Southampton a nicer place to live' sort of stuff.
Another local issue was the pact between the Lib-Dems and Labour, the so called two-headed beast that was running the city after the short lived coalition ejected the Tories from office in Febuary. People hated it, especially Lib-Dems who dislike Labour and could remember Cllr Bridle's former administration. After all, why vote Lib-Dem if you are just helping to secure a Labour led administration? The feeling on the doorstep was often that the pact was a stitch up, that people had not been consulted. The pact also had an unforeseen advantage that it freed up leading Conservatives to campaign who would have otherwise been running the city and conversely tied up Lib-Dems and Labour Councillors at the Civic Centre when they should have been out pressing the flesh. There is much truth in the adage 'elections are not won at the town hall'. Clearly what the Tory opponents should have done is humiliated them by voting down their budget, forcing them to limp on impotent until May and use it as a campaigning tool- but then hindsight is a wonderful thing!
The national scene did not help them either. Northern Rock, the credit crunch generally, the 10p income tax abolition, food and fuel inflation and even the war(s) came up as reasons not to vote Labour.
The final factor was unquestionably the issue of the premier himself. Time and again residents said how they couldn't empathise with the dour Scot, the ditherer who ran away from calling an election. I don't know if Mr Brown's reputation is recoverable but I am beginning to suspect not...