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January 28, 2009

Obama copying Brown's economic plan?

Writing about web page http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/27/AR2009012700457.html

This article in the Washington Post (signup required) might provide some rare good news for Gordon Brown.

The U.S. Treasury is planning to help America’s banks in much the same way as Gordon Brown has in the UK.

On the table are several approaches, which officials have begun to experiment with on a smaller scale. One would give the firms a federal guarantee protecting them against losses on assets that are backed by failing mortgages and other troubled loans. Another would set up new government institutions to buy these toxic assets. A third would inject more money into financial firms in exchange for ownership stakes, perhaps ending with nationalization in all but name.

Pretty much entirely the British plan then, and the piece also goes on to say how the whole project will rely on ‘trial and error’ and ‘a combination of initiatives’.

For the ‘Saviour of the World’ (© All Media Outlets) to be considering exactly what Gordon Brown has been often criticised for will surely give the PM something to smile about.

He might be under fire for having caused the problem, but if Obama’s economic team is in complete agreement about how to fix it, Gordon Brown might just come out of this with his head held high.

Either that or the UK and US are both doomed.


November 19, 2008

Someone needs to consolidate…

Dizzy has found some great quotes from recent budgets.

“borrowing for this year and future years is therefore £27 billion (2003), £24 billion (2004), £23 billion (2005), £22 billion (2006) and £22 billion (2007).” - Budget 2003

“borrowing for this year will fall to £34 billions (2004) and in future years fall further to £33 billions (2005), falling again to £29 billions (2006), then falling to £28 billions (2007), £24 billions (2008) and £22 billions (2009). - Budget 2004

“[it] will be £34bn (2005) this year falling to £32bn (2006) next year, then falling again to £29bn (2007), falling to £27bn (2008), then to £24bn (2009) and then £22bn (2010).” - Budget 2005

“[borrowing] will be £37bn this year, £36bn next year, then £30bn, falling to £25bn, £24bn and £23bn in 2010-11” - Budget 2006

“the figure for [borrowing] this and future years will be £35 billion (2007) – over 1 billion less than forecast at the Pre Budget Report – then 34 (2008), 30 (2009), 28 (2009), 26 (2010) and 24 billion (2011)” - Budget 2007

If Gordon Brown were a normal person, would he need a) advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau, or b) sectioning?


September 23, 2007

An Early Election… For and Against

If you had three years left of a cushy job, nice wage, and free houses dotted around the UK, you’d be considered barmy for gambling it all just for an extra two years, wouldn’t you?

Of course, Gordon Brown’s dilemma isn’t as simple as that, and there’s potentially more to gain.

For:
- A new mandate for him and his policies.
- A clean break from the Blair era
- A shortened political career for Mr Cameron
- He could be the PM during the London 2012 Olympics
- Make the most of his handling of recent crises
- Polls put him in the lead
- The Labour Party is united behind him
- Things can only get better worse© D:Ream
- Northern Rock might be the tip of the iceberg

Against:
- Northern Rock might be the tip of the iceberg (the rest might appear before November)
- The public might get restless about an unnecessary election
- Scotland and Wales – the nationalists are on the rise
- Polls might change in the next few weeks
- Another crisis might happen that he can’t handle
- Oh… he might lose.

If I was him… it might just be a gamble worth taking.


July 22, 2007

Brown’s Bounce

Worn down by the British weather, bored of the bloody Beckhams and fed up with the falling dollar (okay, maybe not that last one), Britain seems to have become fond of the quiet life.

Lewis Hamilton isn’t the only quiet yet determined person to be enjoying a summer of popularity. Gordon Brown, too, is feeling groovy.

Today’s Sunday Times/YouGov poll puts the government on 40%, Labour’s best in nearly two years. David Cameron, meanwhile, is off to Rwanda, hoping things can’t get much worse while he’s gone. He’s staring at a seven-point abyss between him and the dour one.

I was one of many who thought the popularity chasm created by Blair’s departure would cause a headache for Brown. But if anything, the workmanlike approach from the new Prime Minister is winning people over. The closest the government has had to a scandal has been the cannabis revelations this week. But this will be a non-issue for Labour while the opposition is led by a man with a (what’s the word…) colourful past.

As Rod Liddle hints in the Sunday Times this morning:

When I was at university – around the same time as Ruth Kelly, as it happens – habitual drug use was divided strictly on party lines. The lefties smoked dope… Coke was seen, back then, as an upwardly mobile, aspirational, Thatcherite drug. I think we need to hear a few more specific confessions from Conservative Central Office, don’t you?

This is not an issue on which the Tories can make much hay, and they were predictably quiet this week.

But if silence is a virtue, it is one Labour have grasped more effectively. While David Cameron practically carpet-bombed Ealing Southall with his presence, Gordon Brown left the by-election to local lieutenants. The result – third for the Tories, a modestly reduced majority for Labour – says it all.

He might be boring, but so far he’s been effective (to use one of his buzzwords, ‘resolute’).

The test will come in the Autumn, when election fever reaches a crescendo. How well can he do rabble-rousing?


July 02, 2007

Anything you can do…

David Cameron plays poker with his cabinetI see your Sir John Stevens and raise you Dame Pauline Neville-Jones!

[EDIT] That cheeky Nick Robinson has used the same title for his blog. Great minds…

[EDIT 2] Ooh… he’s lucky. He posted one whole minute before me.


June 28, 2007

Gordon's First Cabinet

My view on Gordon’s Cabinet members, as they’re announced.

Job Person Thoughts
Chancellor Alistair Darling A shoo-in for the role, he’ll be a safe pair of hands, friendly to the Chancellor.
Foreign Secretary David Miliband A bit of a surprise. It’ll be spun as giving the rising star one of the great ‘offices of state’, but you only have to look at the low profile of Margaret Beckett in the past year to see he’s being slightly sidelined from Gordon’s priorities.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith The big surprise. The former Chief Whip gets a massive promotion. The first female Home Secretary and her gender may have played a big part in the decision. She’s not run a department before, so not sure what Brown’s up to here.
Health Secretary Alan Johnson A poisoned chalice, but at least he’ll be more popular with the public – and probably health professionals – than Patricia Hewitt
Education Secretary Ed Balls Gordon Brown’s “representative on Earth”. Not a great surprise, but presumably a step on the ladder to Chancellor.
Universities, Skills and Innovation John Denham A return for the able former minister who resigned over Iraq. I’m not convinced that splitting Universities from the Education Department was a good idea.
Environment Hilary Benn He might have hoped for something better than this if he’d done better in the Deputy Leadership campaign. Well-liked, but should have done better.
Business and Enterprise John Hutton Essentially the Department of Trade and Industry. A safe, but ultimately quite dull, pair of hands.
Communities Hazel Blears The ‘chipmunk’ is popular in Conservative circles, simply because she’s such a liability. Personally, I can’t stand her, so this fairly insignificant role is fine by me.
Transport Ruth Kelly The Opus Dei member can’t cause much damage from here. Low-key.
Treasury Andy Burnham A second Treasury role in the Cabinet. Another rising star.
Work and Pensions & Wales Peter Hain Lucky to still be in the Cabinet after a poor performance in the Deputy Leadership campaign, and a general sense of incompetence whenever he’s on TV.
Northern Ireland Shaun Woodward A major surprise. A big jump to go from Minister for Digital Switchover to Secretary of State for N.I. A chequered past – there’ll be plenty of headlines about the former Tory.
Culture, Media and Sport James Purnell No surprise at all, really. He’s worked in the department before and is a rising star.
International Development Douglas Alexander Good friends with David Miliband, who he’ll have to work with at the Foreign Office. Perhaps he could have claimed a bigger department, but he’s also the party’s general election coordinator (in his spare time!)
Defence & Scotland Des Browne Perhaps the only bit of continuity in Gordon’s cabinet. Not sure if the armed forces will be pleased or not!
Justice Jack Straw Jack loves his constitutional reform, and he’ll get to manage it from here.
Chief Whip Geoff Hoon An interesting return for Geoff Buffoon. An important enforcer role within government – he probably won’t be turning up on the chat shows.
Commons Leader Harriet Harman Giving her three jobs is a strange decision, but it means that her salary will come from the Government, not the Labour Party, which might be significant given their financial woes. I assume she won’t be trusted with House of Lords reform (you can bet she’d cock it up) so Jack Straw will probably take this bit of the role with him.
Cabinet Office Ed Miliband Well-regarded Brownite, likely to take charge of Gordon’s special cross-government projects.
Lords Leader Baroness Ashton Never heard of her.
Attorney General Baroness Scotland Or her.

Waiting nervously to hear their fate…
Yvette Cooper, John Denham, Tessa Jowell

12:20 Blair steals the limelight after all
Tony’s been busy. As well as resigning as an MP, he’s found time to talk to the police again about the Cash for Honours inquiry.

11:54 The winner takes it all little
An anonymous contributor to Iain Dale’s blog makes a good point: “It strikes me that it may be better to lose a labour deputy leadership campaign than it is to win it.”

11:37 Lords-a-Leaping
Traditionally there’s a couple of Lords in the Cabinet. Who will they be? I wouldn’t be surprised if at least one of them wasn’t a Labour card-carrier. Incidentally, Peter Hain apparently keeps the Wales brief. Lucky them. Not.

11:34 Tessa
Tessa Jowell will – according to the BBC – remain in government, but not in the cabinet. Will Gordon give her a role managing the Olympics or casinos, or move her elsewhere?

11:30 Jobs for the Boys?
As a footnote, does Gordon Brown’s cabinet send out a message about his relationship with women? He seems to have put his male friends (and potential rivals) in some of the big jobs very easily, and the women (with the possible exception of Home Sec) seem to be filling in the gaps a bit.


June 27, 2007

B–Day: Live Blog

It’s truly the end of a political era today. Perhaps knowing about it for over a year has taken the fizz out of it, but the departure of Tony Blair – and the arrival of Gordon Brown – is still a major shift in British politics. Throughout the day I’ll let you know what’s going on and offer my own analysis on the news that comes out about the country’s political future.

Approximate timetable:
12pm Prime Minister’s Questions
1.30pm Tony Blair goes to the Queen
1.45pm Gordon Brown goes to the Queen
2.15pm Gordon Brown enters Number 10
4.30pm Details emerge of PM Brown’s first cabinet members
5.00pm Tony Blair goes to his constituency, Sedgefield

19:27 Margaret Beckett and Baroness Amos are both out. Iain Dale says the rumour mill has (Tory) Chris Patten as Foreign Secretary. I doubt it very much.

16:54 Bush and Sarkozy have apparently been in touch. There’s a lobby briefing in Westminster at 5pm, so we might hear some more gossip after that.

16:48 Only 18mins out on my prediction (above). Patricia Hewitt is stepping down as Health Secretary. I don’t know why she didn’t announce this herself weeks ago.

15:02 Nick Robinson’s latest rumour: David Miliband to the Home Office or Foreign Office?

14:56 His wife, Sarah, looks pretty uncomfortable in the camera’s glare. I suspect she’ll be extremely nervous if she’s had any advice from Mrs Blair.

14:53 Brown walks up Downing Street and over the noise of the helicopters and the anti-war protesters, announces he has accepted the invitation to become Prime Minister. His voice is slightly strained, his manner more Chancellor-like than Prime Ministerial, to be honest. There’s the ‘c’-word: Change. He repeats his school motto: I will try my utmost.

14:47 Britain’s new Prime Minister leaves Buckingham Palace for his new home, Number 10.

A New PM

14:18 Gordon’s new car doesn’t look as smart as Tony’s old one. Has he requested something a little more low-key?

14:11 Latest rumours: The BBC will be told the name of the new chancellor by 6pm tonight (I could tell them now, if they asked). And John Bercow is rumoured to be the defecting Tory MP. The Times has a rumour that he’ll be Secretary of State for International Development. I doubt it.

14:05 The BBC’s Robert Peston seems to have been one of the first to be briefed about departmental changes. That, or he’s speculating. Apparently the DTI will be refocused on deregulation and competitiveness, while a new ministry of skills and innovation will take on some of the DTI’s former role. Here’s a name for you: Lord Digby Jones?

13:58 Oh dear, oh dear. It looks like 7pm in Downing Street – dark clouds are overhead and it’s about to pour with rain. Not a great start!

13:55 Assuming all is well, Gordon Brown is now Prime Minister. He’s inside the Palace and will be having a quick chat with the monarch about his future plans. If there’s any policy shocks coming, the Queen’s probably the first outsider to hear them.

13:50 Who will be the first foreign leader to congratulate Britain’s new Prime Minister? George Bush would be likely, although I wonder if he will symbolically answer the call of Nicolas Sarkozy or Angela Merkel first.

13:47 I’d just point out that my timetable (above) has been far more accurate than either the BBC’s or Sky. I doubt he’ll be in No 10 by 2.15pm though.

13:46 Calm down, Harriet. Gordon’s got the call and is on his way.

13:44 All eyes are on the Treasury, as we wait for the Queen to call on Gordon Brown. Assuming she thinks he’s the most suitable person to call… Harriet Harman’s the only one actually elected by her party’s members, after all!

13:40 Plain, old Mr Blair has left the palace. No longer Prime Minister, although for some reason he’s still in the PM’s car. I hope Gordon has a moped.

13:33 Don’t panic – Mr Blair’s not the only person with the keys to the nuclear button. But then we should be worried if the other person needs to use it!

Britain is without a Government

Blair and family outside Number 1013:30 The BBC aren’t the only people choosing a silly day to make a big announcement. Plaid Cymru and Labour are going into coalition in Cardiff. Certain Plaid AMs won’t be happy at all.

13:16 The handover begins and we see Tony Blair for the last time as Prime Minister as he enters Buckingham Palace.

13:12 And in an echo of 1997, Mr Blair and family (with an additional member) stand on the doorstep of Number 10 as Tony and Cherie head off to Buckingham Palace. Cherie Blair: (to the press) “Bye! I don’t think we’ll miss you!”

13:11 John Prescott’s just had a good old poke at Rupert Murdoch. I doubt we’ve heard the last of him on the relationship between the media barons and the government.

12:59 And the rain’s started pouring in Downing Street. Nothing like the sunny day that Blair arrived on in 1997.

12:58 Tony’s having a quick reception at No 10, and seeing as I didn’t get an invite, I’ve helped myself to some lunch while blogging. Seeing the replay of PMQs, David Cameron led the opposition benches’ standing ovation, although not everyone on the opposite side of the house was clapping.

12:35 So what’s next? Blair will return to Number 10 and pay an emotional farewell to his staff, and in around half an hour will head to Buckingham Palace to ‘kiss hands’ with the Queen. Unlike the film, the ‘kissing of hands’ doesn’t actually take place, and is just figurative.

Prime Minister’s Questions

12:32 Nope, the final question goes to Alan Williams, the longest-serving member of the House of Commons, who thanks him for his Premiership. Blair: “I’ve never pretended to be the greatest House of Commons man, but I can say I always feared it.” Mr Blair sounds slightly choked. A pat on the back from Gordon Brown, a standing ovation and Tony Blair is gone.

12:30 And the last question goes to… Ian Paisley, who feels the exasperation Mr Blair felt whenever he visited him! “Perhaps he even lost his temper…but we faced our difficulties and I’m glad I can stand here and say to the PM the people of Northern Ireland felt the same way as he did”. The Commons is silent. A very good ending to Tony Blair’s ten years in power.

12:29 And more local rubbish: “What message do you have for the people of Sheffield?” You’d think their local MP could have asked something constructive about the flooding, wouldn’t you?

12:28 It’s Blair’s 319th PMQs. It makes you realise how little Parliament is in session: That’s only 32 per year!

12:27 The Conservative member for Banbury manages to use this occasion to waffle on about local politics. Yawn…

12:25 David Blunkett’s stood up to ask a question which sounds an awful lot like his way of saying “Wasn’t I a good education minister and Home Secretary, Tony?” Go away, David.

12:24 An unsurprising question from Sir Nicholas Winterton about the expense of the European Union. What a pompous old fool! He thinks he’s Churchill and the Speaker’s told him to shut up. Blair says “Au revoir, Auf Wiedersehen and Arrivederci!”. Very funny.

12:23 A joke from a LWLMP about the Terminator who visited yesterday: “If my Rt Hon friend came back from the future, what would he do to save the planet?”

12:22 Blair’s telling a joke about picking up his P45 yesterday. Not up to his Catherine Tate cameo. Followed by a bizarre question about the Church of England. Blair’s brilliant reply: “I think I’m really not bothered about that one!” He’s back on form!

12:20 According to Sky, Gordon Brown was considering doubling PMQs’ length. I can see why. No-one would watch! It would show more accountability to Parliament, but you can bet BBC Two wouldn’t show the whole thing.

12:18 Nick Robinson is pondering whether Mr Blair will know how to use the telephone. Virtually every call he’s made in the last ten years will have gone through the Number 10 switchboard, and as Nick points out, he might not know about the ‘new’ area codes!

12:15 And here’s another left-wing Labour MP, or LWLMP as I’ll refer to them from now. “When will troops be withdrawn from Iraq?” The answer should be “Ask the next guy!” Blair’s getting a roasting from his own backbenchers and an easy ride by the front benches!

12:14 Ming’s in a bright red tie, incidentally. He’s extending his best wishes to Blair and his family.

12:12 Time for Ming, who’s doing very poorly in the polls. He’s asking about the mental health of armed forces coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan.

12:10 Another left-wing Labour MP. Who calls Brown ‘his predecessor’.

12:09 Fifth question is a congratulation on serving for ten years. A heartfelt statement with no jokes, and no question! Blair says he can’t wish Cameron well politically, but does so personally.

12:08 Fourth question – “Will the PM agree that the Palestinians’ interest is best served if Alan Johnston is freed immediately?” It’s taken many weeks for Cameron to raise this at PMQs.

12:07 Third question – “Can the PM tell us what his first priority is in his new Middle East envoy role?”

12:06 Cameron’s second question – “Can military resources be deployed regarding the flooding, if need be?”. Er, yes, but it won’t be Blair’s job to send them in!

12:04 Today’s all-important tie-choice sees Blair in red, Brown in light blue and David Cameron in a burgundy. Talking of which, he’s just stood up. He’s asking about the floods and the Middle East. A very easy first question. He’s playing nice for now.

12:03 The first question comes from a Tory who asked the public for a question. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t very good, and wasn’t very well delivered either. The second question comes from a left-wing Labour backbencher.

12:02 He usually tells the House what business he has later today. His answer today? “I’ll have no such meetings later today, or on any other day”.

12:00 Blair is giving quite a poignant thought on the British armed forces. He says: “Sorry for the dangers troops face in Afghanistan and Iraq”. That’s the closest we’re getting to an apology then.

11:59 The House of Commons is packed. Not a spare seat in the house. And for the first time PMQs starts early.

The morning in Westminster

11:57 Oh dear – that music choice is even worse than Doctor Who’s use of Voodoo Child last weekend. BBC News 24 is playing Justin Timberlake over an entirely pointless montage of shots from today.

11:56 Tonight could be a bit of a nightmare for BBC TV schedulers. Do they go with special news programmes about the new PM, or do they focus on Tim Henman’s primetime match at Wimbledon?

11:55 Just minutes until his last PMQs. Will it be a funny occasion, or will some choose today to stick the boot in one last time?

11:32 Ooh yes. My book comes out today. The Big Red Book of New Labour Sleaze is written by lots of bloggers political commentators and it’s in all good bookshops from today for the very reasonably price of £9.99.

11:28 As D:Ream said in 1997, “Things Can Only Get Better”. “Iain Dale”: thinks another Tory MP might defect tomorrow, based on remarks made by Ed Balls.

11:16 The Prime Minister leaves Number 10 for the penultimate time. I hope he’s not too attached to that nice car he’s traveling in.

11:13 Blair has got the job of Middle East envoy that he wanted. That means he’ll almost certainly head to Sedgefield tonight and announce he’s stepping down as an MP.

11:10 Ironic, don’t you think, that Tony Blair’s last public words as PM will be in the House of Commons. He’s never shown such devotion to the place before.

10:15 What do the newspapers have to say about Blair’s legacy? The Guardian: “Tony Blair’s habit of cherry-picking ideas from across the political spectrum was brilliantly effective as a strategy for holding on to power, but it has seriously disrupted the old system of party politics.” The Times: “There is the risk that Mr Blair could become something of an embarrassment for his successor. Every word that he utters (or fails to utter) will be scrutinised for additional evidence that the titanic feud of old with Gordon Brown has continued after Mr Blair’s exit from Downing Street.” Daily Telegraph: “It ends today as it began, stage-managed to the last detail. From the “new dawn” he spoke of just as the sun rose on that May morning a decade ago through to today’s meticulously choreographed exit, Tony Blair has not had a spontaneous public moment.”

10.07 Personally, I prefer packing to unpacking. But while Tony Blair’s belongings are paraded in front of the world’s press, Gordon Brown won’t have to do any moving at all. He already lives above Number 10 after a house-swap with Tony Blair since 1997. Blair’s big family needed the extra space that Number 11 afforded them.

10:00 If I was an MP, what would I ask at Prime Minister’s Questions this lunchtime? “With Channel Five having recently bought the rights to a certain Australian soap opera, could the Prime Minister advise them on whether good neighbours really do become good friends?”

09:54 What will Gordon leak to the newspapers tonight? It’s almost inevitable that his agenda for the rest of this Parliament will start to be revealed once he’s got his slippers under the Number 10 desk. So what will he announce? It’s highly likely he’ll have a ‘Bank of England’ idea – a major proposal which is easy to carry out and can be announced ASAP. Rumours include splitting the Treasury in two or a promise of electoral reform. I’m not convinced by either. I think Gordon will pull a surprise rabbit out of a hat.

09:42 How much will we hear about Gordon’s cabinet today? Not much. I think we’ll hear that Alistair Darling is the new Chancellor and Jack Straw is the new Home/Foreign Secretary later today, but that’s probably about it. The rest of the jobs will be announced tomorrow. Expect a Cabinet job for Lord Neil Kinnock – he’s been very visible in recent weeks.

09:37 The world’s most careful removal men are taking the Blair’s belongings from Number 10. As there are several entrances to No 10, you have to wonder if the removal van in Downing Street is entirely necessary or whether it’s mostly for effect. I wonder how much of the government crockery is being quietly sneaked out by Cherie?

Spot the deliberate pun in the blog’s title. And yes, my anti-spam question will remain correct all day.


May 17, 2007

Gordon Brown – the 'Unity' leader?

It’s that time of year when A-Level Politics students sit down and are faced with the question:

I have no idea what their answer should be. The question should really ask:

Gordon Brown and Jack Straw tried to explain how the Labour Party had had its say. In reality, the coronation of Gordon Brown is identical to the way in which the 1922 Committee used to elect the leader of the Conservative Party, before they realised democracy was healthy.

Within Labour, policy had long been ceded by the party conference to the party leader(s), but that was taken on the chin because at least the party members got to decide who those leaders were.

But the party’s MPs closed ranks around one candidate who offers little difference from the last one. Technically, the trade unions and constituency parties can still nominate someone to be leader. Only their choice is either a) Gordon Brown, or b) Gordon Brown.

Gordon Brown outside the offices of Bloomberg, today.As well as defending the election farce, Gordon Brown also veered straight towards the Rumsfeldesque at times. He repeatedly spoke about how the electorate would be able to have their say in “the next period…erm…of time”. Has he just stepped off a Tardis? I could forgive him saying this nonsensical thing once, but over and over? Oh dear.

Nearly 90% of Labour MPs nominated Gordon Brown for leader. Of the other 10%, about half abstained and half voted for John McDonnell. Gordon Brown thinks those numbers are representative of the party he leads. He thinks he’s the “Unity” candidate. He’s probably wrong, and the blogosphere at least seems to indicate disaffection may be high.

Mr Brown could have stopped this. He could have told more MPs to vote for McDonnell if he really wanted a contest. In fact, he could have just not tried instead of putting a determined three-line whip on MPs who were supposed to be loyal.

He’s shot himself in the foot. Labour Party membership is already very low. How many will leave the party now, knowing that the only vote they’re going to get is in the vanity contest for the non-job of Deputy Leader?


May 14, 2007

A new era for British–Franco relations?

Two men, from similar political backgrounds, with similar political views. Yet one is mocked by the British as the archetypal miserable Frenchman, while the other represents a great new hope for relations between his country and ours.

The Times’ Washington correspondent, Gerard Baker, wrote that:

Having endured years of Gallic disdain, contempt and hostility, America is getting used to the happy possibility that France might actually be a friend and even an ally again.

Sarkozy and Blair, 11th May 2007Given Britain’s ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ relationship with the United States in recent years, the election of Nicolas Sarkozy to the Élysée Palace also permits a thawing in relations between Britain and its neighbour.

The bonhomie exhibited by Mr Blair and M. Chirac this week was tinged with the disdain that the two statesmen have held for each other ever since Blair burst onto the European stage with his brand of slick, demanding diplomacy in 1997. But when he met M. Chirac’s successor (right), things were very different.

Perhaps M. Sarkozy’s warmth was helped by the knowledge that his British counterpart will not long be in a position to demand things of Europe. The infamous rebate will surely come up again in time, and Mr Brown is known to be a more passionate defender of Britain’s subsidy from Europe than Mr Blair has been.

Yet there is little to suggest things will be frostier when the Scot moves to Number 10. While he may not be the Europhile that Tony Blair is, he and Sarkozy may find their mutual Atlanticism to be a useful asset.

An infamous Sun front-pageSarkozy’s nicknames include ‘Sarko the American’ and ‘Speedy’ (a sign of his apparent hyperactivity, apparently). Both seem to be traits that Gordon Brown is moving towards. The steady hand on the economic rudder will likely be replaced by a fervent Prime Minister, keen to exert control quickly over ‘his’ government while making constitutional changes to win over the people. His ability to sit on the fence was demonstrated well in his recent book, Courage. It features a delicately balanced portrayal of two Americans, two Brits and two Europeans.

Denis McShane – former Minister for Europe – painted a picture of a European tricycle, with Brown, Sarkozy and Merkel perched on each wheel. It’s a convincing image. With Iran and Syria seeming to pose the only foreign threats to this balancing act, on foreign affairs the leaders of Europe’s major industrial nations are generally united.

But will this new-found Euro-love permeate into wider society? Britons’ ridicule of all things Gallic has become something of a cliché. The optimist would suggest that better relations between our political leaders might help to rectify this over time. Certainly the tabloid front-pages accusing the French of being “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” might be a thing of the past if co-operation at a political level succeeds.

Of course, Sarkozy will only be a success if he solves the numerous domestic conundrums that he promised in the election. But rebuilding relations with Britain and America could be an even greater prize for his country in the long-term.


May 12, 2007

Wishful thinking

This was a genuine screen-grab from CNN International.

Adam, I hear there may be a vacancy going…


May 11, 2007

GB4B.com – not very inspiring

GB’s launched his new website to win over… er, GB. GordonBrownforBritain.com isn’t the most inspiring website ever seen, for the following reasons:

1) There’s a blog written by Oona I love you Gordon, can I have a seat in the Lords, pretty please King, who if you need reminding, was beaten in the general election by George Galloway. The second staged contribution comment came from ‘skabucks’ who thanks Gordon for doing so much to help in the Welsh Assembly elections in Cardiff North. That’s the same Cardiff North that Labour lost to the Tories, despite it being quite a winnable seat.

2) As part of Gordon’s Big Conversation (oh no, we can’t call it that, Tony tried it and gave up) we can have our say on the important issues of the 21st Century in Gordon’s poll. So this week, the question is: What should this site be talking about this week? Is it a) The NHS, b) Education, c) International Development or d) The Economy. Obviously Gordon’s decided to tackle his least confident topics first. Strangely absent are e) Iraq, f) House prices, g) Tax and h) Immigration.

3) The front page features a poorly compressed photo of Gordon surrounded by adoring kids. Well, mostly adoring. One or two look scared witless, but they’ve probably just been told how much their university tuition will cost.

4) In a brilliantly original feature, you can Follow Gordon around the country. This is remarkable similar to Guido Fawkes’ Where’s Gordon? feature which asked the same question during the elections when he was remarkably quiet.

5) My favourite page is the Policy one. It benefits from Gordon’s signature, some ‘values’, and a warning about how bad the Tories are. But seemingly no policies…

6) I LOVE the Terms and Conditions. They’re a hotbed of irony. Especially this bit: “Also, we want the debate to be civil, so posts that use offensive, racist or homophobic language won’t go up.” I wonder why they singled out racist and homophobic but not sexist or xenophobic…

Apart from that, it’s lovely. Completely devoid of anything useful, but lovely nonetheless.


Gordon Brown's Leadership Announcement: Live Blog

Yesterday, Tony left the stage. Today, Gordon enters stage right (or left?). He’ll be announcing his candidacy in a few minutes time at the ‘Imagination Gallery’ in London. Will it be as fluffy as Tony’s speech was, or will he actually say something new? We’ll see.

10:56 A girl on BBC News 24 has just made thousands of Labour students look very very daft. Apparently Gordon Brown will be “a new face”...”he hasn’t run his own show before”. Not sure who she’s got Gordon Brown confused with. Now she’s talking more vacuous nonsense. Get her off.

10:57 The weatherman’s excited. He’s just told us it’ll rain in East Angular. I didn’t know Jade Goody had a new career. And a sex-change.

11:00 Anyone want to place a bet on Gordon announcing he’s creating a new Super Home Office, incorporating the police and justice functions in one department? No, didn’t think so.

11:02 Do we think Gordon is ‘bovvered’ whether Tony endorses him or not? It’s all a little late now, isn’t it?

11:04 How much does graphic design tell you about Gordon’s campaign? In the backdrop – presumably the motif for the next seven weeks – is a blurred Union Jack with: “Gordon Brown for Britain” written in a fancy modern font. Very British Airways. Not Blairways.

11:10 Blair’s the ultimate conviction politician, right? He could give a speech telling us that the sun was blue and some of us would believe him, right? Well why is his endorsement of Brown so stuttered, so unbelievable, so carefully worded that it’s fairly apparent he doesn’t mean it. Is he deliberately trying to trip Gordon up? Iain Dale said the same thing.

11:11 Brown’s being introduced by a well-spoken twelve year-old girl. And there’s a major logistical cock-up. The autocue screens are in the way of the cameras.

11:13 “Today I announce I’m a candidate to lead the Labour Party and a new government”. Didn’t see that coming.

11:14 “Britain is a great country that can become greater still”. Not very on-message. Blair said we were ‘best’ yesterday.

Gordon Brown11:15 A little more substance than Blair yesterday, but we still can’t see his face.

11:16 “Your priorities will be my driving purpose”. Does that mean he’ll run a government by plebiscite?

11:17 Ah I see how he’s going to be driven by ‘our priorities’. He’s going to tell us what they are. So far, no answers as to how though.

11:18 “The way we must govern must change too…When you fall short, you listen, you learn and then are confident enough to set new priorities…For me, this starts with governing in a different way”.

New Policy: Greater power to Parliament. A code of conduct for MPs and Ministers.

11:19 I tell you what, I wasn’t expecting this. I’m actually impressed. I actually think he could win the next election. He also looks a little bit younger – maybe because he’s not talking about economics.

11:21 He’s going to engage on a big tour of the country, finding out what people want. Tony Blair did the same thing a few years ago, calling it ‘The Big Conversation’, but it got canned soon after being announced.

11:22 There’s clear red water emerging between Blair and Brown. Gordon’s suggesting mistakes have been made in the past ten years and he’s the man to correct them. But they still have something in common – education, education, education…

11:23 “I’ll lead a government of all the talents” – Erm, is he suggesting a cross-party cabinet or just using fancy words? (Newsnight’s Political Editor, Michael Crick, asked Brown to clarify this later: Brown says he’s ruling nothing out. Lord Ashdown for the cabinet???)

11:24 A draft Queen’s Speech will be announced over the Summer, to allow for public consultation. It sounds new, but it’s basically a non-election manifesto.

11:25 “I will listen and I will learn. I want to lead a government humble enough to know its place… on people’s side.” And that’s it.

11:27 Fourteen minutes – a bit shorter than Tony Blair was yesterday. Questions from the media now. Nick Robinson threw him a fairly easy one.

11:28 “You can’t meet challenges merely by legislating” – erm… I thought legislation was what government was for? Will the Brown era be government as pressure group?

11:29 Ah, that’s more like it. Adam Boulton throws him a tougher question about Blair. Jack Straw won’t reveal how many nominations Brown has, but Brown quips he got at least one this morning – from the incumbent.

11:35 Tony Blair seems to be trying to bury bad news. He’s over at Wembley Stadium opening his white elephant legacy.

So he gave us one policy to chew on for a while – increased powers for parliament. He’s not been specific, but I think he might mean Parliament would always be given a vote on whether to go to war. The end of Royal Prerogative, perhaps?

He also promised a consultation on the Queen’s Speech. While this sounds fantastic, it’s merely Brown’s attempt to seek a mandate without having to go through an election. Just like the consultation that goes before a manifesto, without the vote at the end.

A well-judged speech, I thought. Within a few months he might just seem Prime Ministerial.


March 25, 2007

No no no no no no no no no… I mean Yes?

Jim Trott from the Vicar of Dibley The sky is green. The sky is green. The sky is green. No matter how many times you say it, it still won’t be true.

But still, newspapers continue to say David Miliband should – perhaps will – run against Gordon Brown for the Labour leadership. But it still won’t happen.

Today’s Observer reckons Tony Blair wants Miliband to run. That in itself seems a bit unlikely, but even if it’s true, the story ignores one crucial thing about Miliband.

He’s a bit clever.

No serious challenger with their head screwed on would actually run against Gordon. His “Gord Giveth, Gord Taketh Away” budget is evidence that he can just about get away with anything. Only a major slip-up would change that.

Miliband would, I reckon, make a better job of PM than Gordon. But he’s not ready for it, Gordon’s going to win anyway, and if you look hard enough, he doesn’t even look like he wants it.

When Miliband says no, he doesn’t mean yes.


March 22, 2007

Gordon Brown's Budget. And some cheese.

Gordon and Cheese

A 2p TAX CUT!!! And the scrapping of the lower rate of income tax to cancel it out.

A BETTER DEAL FOR BUSINESSES!!! And an increase in corporation tax for small businesses.

AN INCREASE IN CHILD TAX CREDITS!!! And a change in the threshold so that you’ll get less.

A TAX CUTTING BUDGET!!! And firm promises that taxes will actually go up in future years.

CASH BORROWING IS DOWN!!! Except for last year, but I won’t mention that.

THE LOWEST INCOME TAX RATES IN DECADES!!! And the highest stealth taxes ever, to make up for it.

A BUDGET THAT LOOKS TO THE FUTURE!!! Ah… yes, he got that bit right. Half of the measures he introduced won’t actually start until next April. Howzat for the next Chancellor, eh?


March 21, 2007

Brown finishes with a Jobs

The Chancellor’s been watching Steve Jobs, the maverick boss of Apple. In his final budget, Brown saved the big news until the end, just as Jobs always does – a 2p cut in the basic rate of income tax. It’s not a new iPod, but the iPod generation will be happy…

...until they see the small print. Less trumpeted was the scrapping of the lower rate of income tax at 10p. So the cut in the basic rate of income tax will be almost ‘revenue neutral’. Put in laymans terms, the BBC reckon Brown will get £8bn more by cutting the lower rate, but lose £9.5bn by reducing the basic rate. The £1.5bn will probably be made up partly through a rise in small business tax – sure to be controversial – and by selling more government buildings and the student loans, both short-term gains.

I still don’t understand why tax on beer and wine goes up by 1p per pint or 5p per bottle, yet spirits – which surely contribute to anti-social behaviour as much as beer – is frozen. Measures on the environment will be welcomed, but are hardly radical. The inheritance tax threshold went up to £350,000 (by 2010), by which time many houses will cost that much.

It was a big-headline budget, but beneath the surface, Brown did little more than tinker at the margins. As Menzies Campbell said, it was a budget of a man ready to move on.


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