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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.


June 12, 2007

Blair: Media is 'a feral beast'

Alastair Campbell The media is threatening politicians’ “capacity to take the right decisions for the country”. Modern media means that reports are “driven by impact”. The relationship between the media and politics has been “damaged”.

Blair’s back in cuckoo land. His first statement assumes that politicians always know what the right decisions are. The second one is a joke when you consider how the Alastair Campbells of this world have timed announcements for maximum impact. And finally, politicians are equally to blame for the damaged relationship.

Contrary to popular belief, there wasn’t a snap change overnight in May 1997. The Thatcher era expanded the divide between reporters and the reported. But 24-hour news did make a difference. It led to constant analysis of decisions, so that the cooling-down period offered by the newspapers’ life-cycle was destroyed. The new diversity of media sources also made a difference. There is now an outlet for every viewpoint, however extreme or forthright.

But the preferential treatment and spinning dealt out by New Labour put unbearable pressure on the always difficult relationship between journalists and politicians.

It’s right that journalism should ask challenging questions of the powerful. In its perfect form, journalism is the voice of the people, although in practice it only sometimes achieves that aim. But Tony Blair and co took these challenges as a personal slight.

It is the way in which modern politicians react to the modern media which has damaged the relationship between the two.


June 06, 2007

This G8 had better be good

Tony Blair’s got twenty-one days until he moves home and finds himself relatively unemployed. The removal vans have already arrived. But you have to wonder why it’s only the furniture that’s moving out today, and not the owners too.

Blair was supposed to go on a six-week legacy tour, saving the world and reminding us how much he’s achieved since 1997.

So what’s he managed to do?

  1. Helped BP find some business in Libya
  2. Pissed off the Russians
  3. Delayed the cash-for-honours investigation a bit longer
  4. Er… and that’s it.

So this week’s G8 meeting had better be good. Nothing short of a deal with the United States on climate change would be enough to have made this six-week holiday worthwhile.


May 12, 2007

Wishful thinking

This was a genuine screen-grab from CNN International.

Adam, I hear there may be a vacancy going…


May 10, 2007

'This is the greatest nation on earth'

Britain I can tell you what a number of newspaper op-ed pieces will ask over the next few days: Is this the greatest nation on earth?

Tony Blair says it is. And he says we know it, and the rest of the world knows it too. It’s a grand statement, unlike anything he’s ever really said before. And unlike anything most of us have said before.

You wonder if he’s been caught up in the euphoria of leaving one of politics’ great offices, knowing there’s more chance of him getting a Sainthood than becoming UN Secretary General.

But you also find yourself wondering if he’s right. We’re not a nation for posturing. “We’re best” almost seems to be an unfashionable, American motto, but it’s not a notion the British are very comfortable with. A Kiwi colleague of mine laughed when he heard Blair say it. No-one in the room defended our PM. But no-one vocally disagreed with him either.

New Zealand and Canada are two countries who always seem to be in with a shout of being a ‘nicer’ nation than Britain. Given the cultural and language similarities, many of us have probably thought for at least ten seconds about moving there for a while.

And you can hardly blame many of them for thinking they’re better than us. Just look at Johnny Foreigner – our ambassador in T-shirt and shorts, wearing sandals with socks on, and drinking a can of Stella in countries where they actually brew their own lager.

Weakening our claim for ‘best nation’ status is our lack of nationalism. The Union Jack has been hijacked by racists, our cultural institutions seem to acknowledge their continental equivalents are superior, and few of us seem to know what it means to be British.

It’s ironic that Blair believes we’re the best, when if most people were asked, they’d probably say it was he who had made it worse. But outside of politics, is there much that is completely and deep-seatedly wrong?

We are, perhaps, the most upwardly mobile nation on the Earth, and yet few of us try to leave, to try bigger and better things than Britain alone can offer. Is that lack of imagination or satisfaction with what we’ve got?

It’s unnaturally patriotic for most Britons to suggest, but is it true? Is ours the greatest nation on earth?

I’m not sure. But I know I wouldn’t want to leave.


Tony's Resignation Speech: Live Blog

Tony Blair gives his resignation speechSo, he’s going, and it might be even sooner than we thought. The atmosphere at Trimdon Labour Club is pretty hysterical – there’ll probably be tears and there’s already dancing by one woman. Nutter.

11:57 Philip Gould, Blair’s polling expert, is ignoring the idea of “lowering expectations”. Apparently after this speech the whole country will be moved, and start to wonder what we’re missing out on. Wishful thinking, I think. Intriguingly he says: “I think people will be surprised”. Ten more years! Ten more years!

11:59 Anyone know how many people are allowed in Trimdon Labour club according to the fire regulations? I reckon they’re on the upper limit.

12:00 Blair’s agent John Burton introduces the Prime Minister.

12:01 Caption of the morning was on BBC News 24: “Blair: Today is a special day”. Someone suggested there might be 26 hours or something.

12:03 And the PM’s on the stage.

12:04 Joke #1: The person shouting ‘four more years!’ outside Trimdon Labour Club wasn’t on-message for today. He’s paying tribute to his agent.

12:05 And here’s the shock announcement: He loves Cherie. Nope, that’s not it.

12:06 “Today I announce my decision to stand down from the leadership of the Labour Party… On the 27th of June [Wednesday] I will tender my resignation… I’ve been Prime Minister for ten years – I think that’s enough.”

12:08 “I was born almost a decade after the Second World War. I was a young man in a social revolution. I reached political maturity as the world was ending and the world was going through a revolution. I looked at my own country… strangely uncertain of its future. All that was symbolised by the politics of the time. You stood for individual aspiration and getting on in life or social compassion and helping others. You were liberal or conservative. You believed in the power of the state or the power of the individual. None of it made sense to me. It was 20th Century ideology in a world approaching a new millennium.”

12:09 In my opinion, he’s done better speeches than this before. It’s better suited to a Labour Party Conference than a small hall of 300 people.

12:10 “No country attracts overseas investment like we do”. I think China would have something to say about that. And they wouldn’t be alone.

12:11 “Britain is not a follower. Britain is a leader” – So far, the tone’s been fluffier than a set of furry dice.

12:13 Blair’s bearing his soul to the country now. How he put the country ahead of himself, and sometimes even his party.

12:17 He’s moved on to talking about Iraq, terrorism, and how he had to make the decisions he did.

12:19 “I ask you to remember one thing: I did what I thought was right. I may have been wrong – that’s your call. But believe one thing if nothing else. I did what I thought was right for the country”

12:20 “I’ve been very lucky and very blessed. This is a blessed country. This is the greatest nation on earth” – he’s saying things he daren’t have said before.

12:21 And his last words? “Good luck”. That’s it. Less than eighteen minutes. His conference speech last year was probably a little more emotional, but in this one he really showed his colours.


Ten years and ten days later…

Blair waves goodbyeIt’s time for Tony Blair to leave the stage. It’s been ten very interesting years, starting so well, but ending so badly.

This week saw a ray of light at the end of five years of difficulties. Northern Ireland will hopefully be Tony Blair’s legacy in office – he’ll probably try and achieve a similar feat in the Middle East once he leaves it.

His other legacy is to leave his successor a clone in opposition. David Cameron is Tony Blair in blue clothes, and this could be his Achilles Heel in the 2009/10 election.

For his party, Blair leaves behind a group of people who will find transition difficult. Despite the lack of real opposition, Gordon Brown will find he needs to get his party behind him while reaching out again to the centre ground that elected him and his friends in 1997. This week it was suggested David Miliband is holding fire until after the next general election. Others may be less patient.

Blair’s reputation was irretrievably damaged by Iraq and its aftermath. It’s a war he probably still doesn’t regret, but might come to in the years to come.

The next few years will be a time of great reflection for Mr Blair, as well as for the party he leaves behind.

Translate: Translate into French


May 05, 2007

Scheduling

ITV have scheduled an exciting episode of Emmerdale Family Album this Thursday at 7.30pm.

If they show it, I’ll eat my hat.


March 28, 2007

Is Blair about to rewrite his foreign policy legacy?

Writing about web page http://www.guardian.co.uk/frontpage/story/0,,2044281,00.html

From today’s Guardian:

Tony Blair is pushing the United Nations to declare a no-fly zone over Darfur, enforced if necessary by the bombing of Sudanese military airfields used for raids on the province, the Guardian has learned. The controversial initiative comes as a classified report by a UN panel of experts alleges Sudan has violated UN resolutions by moving arms into Darfur, conducting overflights and disguising its military planes as UN humanitarian aircraft.

Iraq undid all of the good work Tony Blair had done in foreign relations before 2001, notably in Kosovo. Cynics will say his embryonic plans for Darfur are nothing more than an attempt to change people’s perception of him, but they should be ignored.

The West should have gone in much earlier, but hopefully the ‘classified report’ will prove not to be another dodgy dossier. If it’s correct, a no-fly zone should be a minimum requirement for the UN, and if they won’t agree to it, then Britain alone. This isn’t Iraq all over again.


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 19, 2007

Why would we want 'personalised' public services?

“eBay-style” ratings for doctors and teachers… Student reports on school websites… Competitive street cleaning and foster care…

Do any of these sound like good ideas to you? It’s all part of the government’s obsession with putting technology to good use. They’re obviously assuming that naming-and-shaming doctors and teachers will make them care how they’re doing. In fact, if one of them is rubbish, an online rating by miserable ‘customers’ is unlikely to change their ways. What people really want is a GP who they can see at short notice, and who remains their doctor for years.

Student reports and marks online? What a stupid idea. Few schools have anyone capable of building a simple one-page website, let alone a database that isn’t susceptible to hacking. Only those with an internet connection – not to mention the interest in it – would bother. And imagine the work required for teachers to input every mark.

But surely making companies compete to clean streets is a good idea? Er… no. People want clean streets, and yes, they want value for money. But the government is breeding a thousand companies who devote 90% of their time to watching their back, rather than nurturing a company who can provide something valuable and build on years of experience.

People want a good, local school and hospital. For a large proportion of the country living outside of the cities, there is no such thing as choice. And if they really wanted us to have choice, they wouldn’t have shut a load of hospitals.

But the government are still after their ‘urban’ dream where millions can choose between good and bad schools, clean and ‘dirty’ hospitals and where, inevitably, the rich, educated elite make better choices than those without an internet connection and broadsheet newspaper.

Stop trying to get ‘personal’. Get real.


March 01, 2007

Tick tock… Tick tock…

Tony Blair - Time to go?I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The longer Tony Blair stays in power, the worse things will get for the Labour Party.

But it’s becoming more and more important that he goes sooner rather than later. Poll results predicting a Conservative lead of 11-13% perpetrate the view that a Conservative government in 2009 is almost inevitable.

That’s a perception that Gordon Brown needs to change. Back in 1995/6, it was obvious the Conservatives were on their last legs. There was little they could do to change the perceived wisdom that the Tories were sleazy, old and without fresh ideas.

Well skip forward to 2007, and it’s becoming hard to disassociate Labour from the same problems. The Cash for Honours inquiry is an unfortunate mirror of the Cash for Questions row – albeit with the threat of jail sentences for added flavour – and there’s only so many tweaks the government can make to the NHS and the education system before running out of ideas.

We’re about halfway through a Labour government. The bristles on a new broom are being weakened every day Mr Blair stays in charge.


February 28, 2007

Labour's scared of hearing 'I Told You So'

Alan Milburn and Charles Clarke will today launch a bid for the Labour Leadership. They’re not standing. But they are bidding to make it an open, transparent and useful process with debate about the direction of the party.

Thinly veiled, it is a challenge to Gordon Brown’s “hide behind the curtains” strategy.

Blair and Brown I’ve always thought Brown would need a kick up the rear in order for him to be honest about what his government would provide, other than more of the same. And so I’m pleased to see Milburn and Clarke push for this so publically. I think their intentions are honest and neither would want to be PM themselves. But the behind-the-scenes briefing seems to be saying this isn’t enough. They want a heavyweight to run against him. And their preferred heavyweight is David Miliband.

None of this is actually likely to make Brown open up and deliver a lecture on anything more useful than ‘Britishness’, his favourite vacuous subject.

But something else might: Polls.

Brown is thirteen points behind David Cameron according to the Independent – which is even worse than Tony Blair at the moment. Mr Brown isn’t stupid, and knows he’ll have to do something about this.

The trouble for him is that the Labour Party members might ‘do something’ before he gets the chance. But something is likely to stop them. Echoing in the back of their minds is the thought that in 2009, under someone else, they’ll hear four eery words from Gordon Brown…

I told you so.


February 08, 2007

Sillyband

David Miliband - a five-star wally Er… whoops. David Miliband’s made a bit of a cock-up on Question Time, suggesting that Gordon Brown will be less popular than Tony Blair…

“I predict that when I come back on this programme in six months or a year’s time, people will be saying ‘wouldn’t it be great to have that Blair back because we can’t stand that Gordon Brown’.”

It’s a shame, because he’s a pretty decent politician and incredibly clever. He’d be a good foil to the Dour One.

But the odds on Miliband ever becoming Labour leader will have just taken a big knock. Silly billy.


January 08, 2007

Splits emerge over a 'troop surge' in Iraq

The 82nd Airborne Division, on their way to Kuwait. (c) Getty Images

America looks set to go it alone in its widely-anticipated “troop surge” in Iraq. An extra 20,000 U.S. soldiers will be sent to the country to ‘finish the job’ and build a longer-lasting peace.

But Britain and other (notably miniscule) members of the coalition don’t intend to follow suit. It’s widely agreed that British forces have been having more success than the Americans, using a cautious, softer approach in trying to win over ‘hearts and minds’. President Bush’s advisors seem to believe they can achieve the same ends through very different means.

Perhaps this is the only option open to the United States. Its forces are hardly renowned for their peacekeeping skills, so a surgical strike may be their own possible plan.

But there’s been criticism of the plan in Congress. The Democrat-led Senate is considering blocking funding for the surge, and a number of Republicans have spoken out against it too.

And with Britain looking to reduce its commitment during 2007, it appears few people have faith in the ‘surge’ as an effective method of bringing peace to Iraq.


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