Last night's debate
30 April, 2010
I think we can conclude a number of things from last night's TV debate between the three party leaders.
1) Brown is truly finished as a force in British politics. Though he showed some fighting spirit after the debacle of 'bigotgate,' his scaremongering about a Tory victory did not wash. Cameron rightly derided his claim that abandoning the proposed increase in NI contributions represented 'taking £6 billion out of the economy.' As the Tory leader pointed out, this reflected Brown's statist (and rather arrogant) assumption that the state and the economy were the same thing.
The Prime Minister's attempts to take credit for the bank bailout were also disingenuous. Again, Cameron deserves credit for pointing out that it was Brown who lauded Fred Goodwin, the man whose hubristic behaviour nearly brought the British economy to its knees. He might have also reminded the audience about that phrase 'No return to boom and bust.' No, Brown's claim to economic competence is bunkum, pure and simple.
2) The Clegg shine has now started to wear off, which perhaps was simply a matter of time. Clegg came from virtual obscurity to take centre stage a fortnight ago, much to the surprise and consternation of the Conservatives. Now the novelty factor is disappearing, perhaps the result of some deft performances from Cameron. It is looking less likely that the Lib Dem leader will have a major say in the next government - which means the decreasing likelihood of a hung Parliament with all its deleterious consequences. Perhaps Clegg looks like just another member of the Westminster elite - which is what he is.
3) Cameron is now in the ascendancy, looking the most likely candidate to deliver on his 'change' agenda. But even his economic credentials should merit close scrutiny. The Conservative plans for deficit reduction remain vague and insubstantial, the result of wanting to avoid the charge that they will destroy front line jobs in the public services. As a result, they have been too cautious on the economy.
The thrust of Cameron's case for deficit reduction is that it is essential to avoid Labour's imminent 'job's tax,' which is a fair argument. But it is also essential to spell out how public spending will be cut in order to avoid other inevitable rises in taxation. It is not enough to repeat the mantra that 'waste' will be tackled in government.
For the Tories, victory may be just around the corner. Let us hope that success can follow soon after.top
Brown is mendacious and two faced. So what's new?
29 April, 2010
The only thing more astonishing than Mr Brown’s verbal gaffe yesterday is that anyone can be remotely surprised about it. Is anyone really shocked that the Prime Minister feigned warmth and understanding towards Gillian Duffy, only to reveal his true feelings moments later?
Here we have an ordinary member of the public expressing her concerns about the state of public debt, education and levels of immigration in Britain. These are the kind of issues that are shared by millions of ordinary people, the voters whose support Brown claims to cherish so much. In public, he showed interest and that infamous faked smile of his. Yet in private, he regarded the interview as a disaster and the woman as a 'bigot.'
Like other progressive left-liberals, Brown has treated ordinary members of the public with contempt, dismissing their concerns on immigration, asylum, Europe and the economy as the ramblings of an ill educated rabble. For years he has encouraged the culture that condemns anyone questioning immigration policy as a bigot, racist or Little Englander. Ministers who refuse to tow the line have been compared to fascist sympathisers or BNP leaders. The damage for Brown personally will be catastrophic - obviously. Whatever the doubts about his leadership thus far, they will be magnified enormously afer this disaster.
But the episode will merely reinforce all of the public’s worst suspicions about the political elite – that they never tell the truth, that they care little for the electorate (except on pre arranged and tightly controlled speaking tours) and that they live in some isolated Westminster bubble divorced from the real world. Who can doubt that one of the biggest winners from the 2010 election will be the party called ‘None of the above.’top
Cameron has yet to win over the British public
23 April, 2010
Happy St George's Day to all my readers.
Cameron’s supporters are already congratulating themselves on the Tory leader’s ‘fightback’ last night. In round 2 of ‘Westminster’s got talent,’ Cameron supposedly showed his leadership potential by routing the ‘lightweights’ Brown and Clegg.
If only this were true. The evidence from the most recent opinion polls only confirms that there was no overall winner last night, at least between the two young, telegenic rivals. Cameron’s victory, if there was any, was exceedingly slight.
He can now claim parity with the Lib Dem leader after being outplayed so badly last week. Quite simply, that means that he has yet to seal the deal with the British electorate. True, he looked much more comfortable yesterday, offering some of the passion that was absent in the first debate.
But on many of the key issues raised, there was once again another alarming absence of real debate. On Europe, climate change, Afghanistan, expenses and even immigration, an unhealthy consensus replaced a serious airing of fundamental differences.
True, they pretended that they were cut from a different political cloth when it came to foreign affairs. Thus Cameron adopted a Eurosceptic position, claiming that the other two party leaders were selling out ‘the people’ by refusing to offer a referendum on the Lisbon party. He wanted to ensure that Britain was ‘in Europe and not run by Europe.’
But quite how any country can be a fully paid up member of the European superstate and not be ‘run’ by Europe is a mystery of the highest order. And the Tory offer of a referendum lock on any future withdrawal of power rings hollow – it ignores the emasculation of power that Britain has already suffered since 1973! All three leaders (surprise, surprise) bought into the tired Euro-narrative that Britain was nothing if it was outside the EU.
On climate change it was the same. When asked what they were personally doing to tackle this terrible menace, the party leaders engaged in a clever game of one-upmanship, each vying to prove that he had the best green credentials. None actually questioned the strategy of de-carbonisation or whether the science of global warming might actually be flawed. The passionate climate debate was nothing of the kind.
Still, at least it provided the most hilarious moment of the whole debate. At one point, Clegg lumped together the Tories’ allies in Europe as ‘Nutters, anti-semites, people who deny that climate change exists, homophobes.’ In other words, to be a sceptic on climate change means you are like those who commit hate crimes. What a lamentable judgment from this ‘outsider’ of British politics.
On Trident, there was a clearer distinction between the party leaders. Here rather strangely, Brown appeared the most confident as he demolished the argument that Iran or North Korea could be confronted without a proper deterrent of our own. Still, there was no discussion of the Iranian nuclear threat and how it could be confronted through the use of force.
When it came to the expenses scandal, there was once again little to separate them. ‘The politicians have been treating the people like mugs’, said Cameron. For the offenders, ‘No punishment is too great’ declared Brown. What a shame that neither of these leaders were prepared to sack the most powerful miscreants in their own parties (Darling, Osborne, Gove to name but three).
The great immigration debate was also a fairly tepid affair. True, Cameron did say that immigration had been too high and that a cap needed to be placed on future migration. He also exposed the utter futility of offering an amnesty to illegal immigrants, a sharp rebuke to the ill considered proposals from the Liberal Democrats.
But Labour’s mass immigration policy has not merely been badly managed and chaotic. It has been a national scandal. Far from being the result of poor thinking, it was intended as a deliberate means of changing Britain’s social fabric and altering, perhaps permanently, the political calculus in Labour’s favour. None of this was mentioned. It was an obvious target for Cameron but he ducked it, despite the public being incredibly sceptical about mass immigration.
All three agreed that EU membership was essential to Britain’s long term future, ignoring completely that it is precisely this factor that prevents us from controlling all aspects of immigration.
Cameron seemed on safe ground when the discussion turned to the economy. He argued, in my view correctly, that a hung parliament would lead to political deadlock and potentially jeordarize the recovery.
But even here he failed to point out the economic nonsense in Brown’s claim that reversing the NI rise would ‘take £6 billion out of the economy.’ And where were the grand, expansive plans to slash the quangos, bureaucrats and non workers who are part of the behemoth that is Brown’s client state? For that matter, how many times did he mention ‘The Big Society?’
Acts I and II of the great TV debate have been distinctly underwhelming. One shudders to think what Part III has in store.top
The Clegg 'triumph' is as vapid as our political culture
19 April, 2010
So it seems that the country is awash with Clegg euphoria. The Lib Dem leader has surged ahead in the polls, capitalising on his success in last Thursday’s yawn inducing TV debate. One poll has even puts Clegg above both Brown and Cameron which, translated into an election result, would almost certainly spell a hung parliament.
No wonder the Conservatives are panicking. Clegg has now successfully presented himself as the outsider, the ‘real deal’ change candidate in contrast to his crusty political rivals. What a rich irony for the Tories that, having promoted the agenda of change to win over Liberal supporters, they are now being presented as agents of the old order.
All the efforts Cameron has made to ditch the image of the ‘nasty party’ and hook on to a false left-liberal agenda have blown up in his face spectacularly. In political terms, he has been hoist by his own petard.
But there is also something phoney about Clegg’s PR. His sanctimonious claim to be remote from the Westminster ‘establishment’ is a truly disingenuous piece of spin. Like so many others, he worked his way up through the political system, as both speech writer, political consultant, MEP and then MP.
He plays the ‘old’ game of politics as adeptly as Brown and Cameron. Given half a chance, does anyone honestly believe that Clegg would turn down a crafty deal with either party to win power and influence in government? Nonetheless, politics is scarcely always rational.
So if Clegg is just another traditional career politician, what does it say about the voting public that they would elevate him to such heroic heights? In part it is because he is the new boy on the block, making his first major appearance before millions without the raucous atmosphere of Parliament.
But it is also because the public know so little about his real agenda on key issues. The Liberal Democrats are in favour of Britain entering the Euro and offering an amnesty for illegal immigrants. These are highly damaging policies which rightly enjoy little public support. Yet these issues have barely surfaced in the pre election debate thus far.
Indeed how many people could seriously differentiate Conservative from Lib Dem economic policies, or ones on education or health for that matter? Indeed there are some key differences between the Tory and Labour-Liberal positions on social and economic issues but these have been glossed over by an unhealthy consensus elsewhere; hence the refrain that the main parties are ‘all the same.’ The Conservatives barely mentioned 'the big society' last Thursday despite it forming a central plank of current Tory philosophy.
In part the media obsession with celebrity is to blame for this. There is a relentless focus on politicians’ lifestyle choices, houses and spouses as if we were voting for glamourous film stars. Inevitably, policies and past experience are discounted in favour of soundbites, spin and image. Sadly for Cameron, Nick Clegg seems to do image better than the Tory leader.
But the politicians have also connived with this growing Americanisation of politics. They have invited the media into their homes, opening up a private world to incessant public scrutiny. If a vapid political culture is the result, it is barely surprising.top
The TV debate
15 April, 2010
On initial reflection, the first ever televised debate in British history appeared to be a success. It offered a chance to see the three party leaders together without the raucous atmosphere associated with the House of Commons. But, and this is crucial, there were no thrills or unexpected answers, few verbal gaffes and no memorable lines. Most of us could have predicted everything that all leaders actually said on the night. The party scripting was clearly well done.
For my money, Cameron came across marginally best on questions of substance. His answers on immigration, education and crime were relatively convincing whereas Gordon Brown's attempts at self justification, particularly on immigration and army life, were more than a touch disingenuous. Hardly surprising when he told us how he could safeguard an economy that he has allowed to go to hell in a handcart!
If this was decided on substance, the points may have gone to Cameron. Instead it was settled on image and here Nick Clegg took centre stage. He won this debate, not so much because of what he said but because he communicated more effectively with the audience than his two rivals.
He distanced himself successfully from Labour and Tories, lumping them together as the two 'old' parties that had spent 65 years exchanging their hold over Great Britain. In the wake of the expenses scandal, Clegg's argument that only he could bring 'change' to Britain must have sounded the most convincing. No wonder he won.
The fact that Clegg's economic policy was not radically dissimilar from his rivals, that his immigration policy was unworkable, that his mouthing of CND policy was dangerous and that his policy on schools parroted Labour, all of this seemed to matter less than the fact that he had had no association with government in living memory.
Nothing better reveals the public's discontent with the political class as a whole and the cynicism with which mainstream politicians are held, a cynicism for which the Westminster elite must take ultimate responsibility.
Why not to fall for the Lib Dem spin - to follow.top
Immigration - the unspoken issue
14 April, 2010
The Conservative launch appears to have clarified the Cameroons' big ideas of devolving power, decentralisation and empowering society. These ideas are welcome and merit closer scrutiny by the political class - they may yet prove electoral assets too. Yet as the venerable Frank Field points out in the Telegraph today, there has been little talk of immigration. As he puts it, despite being one of the biggest of voter concerns, 'immigration is the issue that dare not speak its name.' The Labour MP is more than aware of the scale of the problem that confronts this country:
'A continuation of mass immigration on roughly the present scale will bring the population of the UK to 70 million in 20 years – and the growth won't stop there, unless we are prepared to control drastically the size of net migration. Immigration will account for 70 per cent of this population increase. This is what needs to be tackled.'
Maternity units are struggling as 25 per cent of all births in England and Wales are to foreign-born mothers – in London that proportion is 50 per cent. Primary schools in some areas have to resort to portable classrooms to cope with new arrivals, and are forced to redirect teachers' time to teaching English rather than ensuring that the weakest pupils succeed.
Housing is another area where pressures have been allowed to build. Nearly 40 per cent of all new households over the next 25 years will form due to immigration – an average of nearly 100,000 extra households every year. We are not building homes to match this demand and that is why the waiting list for social housing in England has gone up by 60 per cent in seven years, leaving Britain's white and black citizens at the end of the queue.
The policy of uncontrolled mass immigration, as opposed to the policy of controlled and sustainable immigration, has put untold pressure on public services - on schools, on hospitals, on maternity wards, on housing stock and other areas. Left at its present levels, the demographic pressures, particularly in the South East, would exacerbate social divisions, further erode the quality of public services and entrench the ghettoisation of our cities.
In other words, this remains a massive 'state of the nation' issue that cannot be brushed under the carpet for reasons of political correctness. But do you hear the Conservative party launching a tirade against the government for 13 years of immigration mismanagement? Their silence is deafening.
The Tories are too scared of being painted as the 'nasty party' who have never reconciled themselves to multicultural Britain. So by keeping this subject at arms' length, they are preserving their carefully nurtured image of compassionate Conservatism while giving a golden opportunity to genuine bigots to exploit popular discontent. We all know who those bigots are, don't we.top
Labour still doesn't get education after 13 years
12 April, 2010
After 13 years in power, you would hardly expect the Labour party to produce radically innovative proposals for boosting public services. But even by their low standards, the Labour party education manifesto looks fairly risible. Here are some of the highlights:
Ensuring that every child leaves primary school confident in their literacy and numeracy skills.
How exactly do you measure confidence? Presumably if you leave primary school being literate and numerate so that you can prepare for the intense rigours of secondary school. But why is it that nearly one third of primary students already leave school at 11 unable to fully read or write?
Ensuring that no school has fewer than 30 per cent of its pupils achieving five GCSEs at A*-C grade, including English and maths, by 2011.
Now that really is a grand piece of thinking. But here’s a thought - why is it acceptable to have any school where 70% of pupils fail to get 5 good GCSE’s? Perhaps because this represents a huge improvement for some schools where, despite Labour’s best efforts, only a tiny percentage of their pupils get good GCSE results.
Providing one-to-one tuition for 300,000 pupils in English and maths who are falling behind their peers.
This would prove to be a highly expensive gesture. Don’t you think that the reason why Brown has introduced this promise is that it will rapidly be forgotten about after the election?
Giving every parent and pupil the "guarantee" of a good education, including the right to high quality sport and culture.
This is the most absurd of all Labour’s educational promises. You can guarantee people schools, hospitals, doctors and nurses, cancer treatment or anything else which is tangible or can be measured. We can all agree when those things have been delivered, built or created. But how do you guarantee a ‘good’ education or even decide what constitutes a ‘good education?’ It is rather like a sweetshop guaranteeing ‘tasty’ chocolate or a restaurant that guarantees ‘fine cooking.’ It is a pretty empty gimmick. Which just about sums up 13 years of Labour government.top
The non debate over public spending
9 April, 2010
Of course tens of thousands of jobs will go if the Tories cut £12 billion of public spending in the current financial year. The latest revelation from Sir Peter Gershon is not surprising in the slightest. Public spending is so bloated, and has been so augmented in the last 13 years, that jobs are bound to go if severe spending cuts are made. So when the Tories say that the money can be saved just by not filling vacant positions and cutting waste, they are sounding a little disingenuous.
In fact, this is rapidly becoming a non debate. The £12 billion is but a fraction of what needs to be saved if the deficit is to be cut back to manageable levels. In the long term, hundreds of billions of pounds of spending must be cut if we are to tackle the behemoths of state education, the NHS and welfare. That means that in the next Parliament, hundreds of thousands of workers (consultants and managers in the NHS, diversity advisers in local councils, teaching assistants, quangocrat millionaires) should be re-hired in the productive private sector to give taxpayers genuine value for money.
But are we ever going to have this kind of debate? Will taxpayers ever be told how their hard earned money is being wasted by the government's policy of creating a client 'public sector' state? Or how the liability of unfunded public sector pensions weigh down heavily on the next generation?top
So they're off and under way
07 April, 2010
Blog delayed due to holiday
So they’re off and underway in one of the most crucial elections in recent history. Yet already the focus is on the most trivial of issues. The media spotted Cameron’s choice of white shirt and rolled up sleeves, as opposed to his opponent’s more dour dress sense. Then contrasts were drawn between the Prime Minister appearing with his Cabinet and Cameron appearing on his own, followed by the relative merits of the political wives, Sarah Brown and SamCam. Mrs Clegg, quite wisely, decided to stay away.
It is no wonder that the parties’ campaign slogans (all of which seem to involve ‘change’ and ‘fairness’) are so vacuous amid this grotesque trivialisation of politics. If this is how the next 4 weeks is shaping up, we might as well switch off now and pray for it all to be over.
It is all the more tragic because, when you strip away the surface froth, you find that there are in fact some differences between the two main parties. Despite his best efforts to persuade us otherwise, Cameron has articulated a ‘core’ belief: that big government doesn’t always know best and that devolving power to local communities, grassroots organisations and individuals is the way forward. In other words, that it is necessary to empower local communities, using charities and the voluntary sector when possible, to deliver social reform and build a better society.
This provides an exciting and much needed contrast with the centralising obsessions of our Prime Minister. For 13 years, as both chancellor and Prime Minister, Brown ruthlessly expanded the size and scope of the state, regulating as and when he felt necessary. Taxes were increased, using stealth wherever possible, in order to fund a relentless expansion of jobs in the public sector. Public spending now accounts for more than half the economy.
Whenever there is a pressing social concern, whether it be anti social behaviour, teenage pregnancy or obesity. Brown’s automatic impulse is to press a new level of governmental control in order to deal with it. Invariably, the problem remains unsolved though it does provide employment, albeit at taxpayers’ expense, for a new army of public sector workers.
The Conservative vision must embrace a drastic reduction in the size of the state to be truly radical. But the vision must embrace a whole new way of thinking about all the big issues of the day. If power is to be truly localised, we need some outline of the mechanisms by which this is to be achieved. In other words, what we need is a bold new set of ideas, not just froth and empty soundbites.top
Two Labour MPs who are beyond the pale
2 April, 2010
How often have we seen debate on Israel/Palestine morphing into the ugliest forms of prejudice, bigotry and outright anti semitic hatred. The virus, as I have repeatedly pointed out, is not confined to Islamists and hard left Marxists but is now becoming mainstream, affecting the left/liberal chattering classes and the 'progressive' intelligentsia.
Some MPs now feel perfectly comfortable in issuing the most pernicious diatribes against Jews and Israelis, spewing forth their deranged hatred without even attempting to cover it up. Take the story in this week's Jewish Chronicle, also reported in the Telegraph:
The election campaign took a distinctly unpleasant turn last week as pro-Palestinian MPs suggested the “Israel lobby” would play a behind-the-scenes role in key constituencies.
Martin Linton, chair of Labour Friends of Palestine, told a meeting at the House of Commons held by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Friends of al-Aqsa: “There are long tentacles of Israel in this country who are funding election campaigns and putting money into the British political system for their own ends.
The notion of a Jewish state extending its financial 'tentacles' to influence a foreign polity is not a million miles away from certain other forms of diabolical imagery that depict Jews as intent on world domination. In the Arab world, it is commonplace to believe in paranoid conspiracy theories linking Jews to subversion and financial domination.
Jews are depicted as hook nosed demons whose 'tentacles' are designed to capture the citadels of power in the Arab world. The imagery is taken straight from Nazi propaganda and then lapped up by Muslim populations across the globe. Whatever Mr. Linton's intentions, he was invoking dangerous cultural associations that would have resonated with his audience.
Worse were the comments then made by Sir Gerald Kaufman, a figure notorious in the Jewish community for his ill mannered outbursts against Israel. Sir Gerald outdid himself this week. At the same meeting, this is what he had to say:
The veteran Jewish anti-Zionist MP Sir Gerald Kaufman suggested wealthy members of the community would play a role similar to that of Tory “non-dom” peer Michael Ashcroft. “Just as Lord Ashcroft owns most of the Conservative Party, right-wing Jewish millionaires own the rest,” he said.
Usually people using this language deny they are talking about Jews; it is Zionists, they scream. They shelter under the cover of the Arab-Israeli conflict and say their words have been taken out of context. Not Sir Gerald. He really meant what he said when he claimed that Jewish millionaires 'owned' the Tory party.
The JC's leader screamed that this was as bad as the BNP. Actually it is worse. You would expect a far right, fascistic organisation to indulge in pernicious diatribes of this kind. But for a leading member of the Jewish establishment to turn on his own community with such venom is inexplicable. It puts him completely beyond the pale.
How long before Gordon Brown expels Sir Gerald and Mr. Linton from the party?
As soon as I am able, I will start a petition on the Downing Street website calling for Mr. Brown to remove the whip from these two.top
01 April, 2010
Last week I attended the LJCC Q and A session with William Hague. The shadow foreign secretary stuck me as being a highly articulate, witty and affable individual with an interesting range of views on the Middle East conflicts. During the session, I asked him what was meant by describing Israel's actions against Hamas and Hezbollah as 'disproportionate.'
He answered by saying that he had used that term during the 2006 conflict with Lebanon though he had not used it during Operation Cast lead. The charge of disproportionality, he suggested, was related to his belief that Israel's actions would have a negative effect on the government of Fouad Siniora while he doubted whether the war would leave Israel in a stronger position.
What was interesting was the clanger he then made. Why did he not use the term 'disproportionate' in 2009? His answer was that at the time 'Israel was under rocket bombardment' from the terrorists of Hamas and the charge of disproportionality would not have been a fair one to make. But Israel was under fire in 2006 as well, even more so than in 2009.
Between 300,000 and 500,000 Israelis in the North were forced to flee South to avoid rocket attacks from Lebanon in an enormous and hasty national exodus. If anything, this made the full scale Israeli war against Hezbollah far more justifiable than Mr. Hague chose to make out. Perhaps the shadow foreign secretary had a poor memory of events in 2006 or perhaps he was being a tad disingenuous in his explanation. In any case, his use of the word disproportionate still needs clarification.top