All entries for June 2007
June 28, 2007
A couple of points.
Newsnight have just used a picture of Tessa Jowell to represent Harriet Harman. I admit it’s hard to tell the difference, but they could have done better than that.
And Shaun Woodward has the worst job in the new Cabinet. Not only does he have the minefield of Northern Ireland to deal with, he won’t even get paid for it. Not that he needs the cash anyway.
I’ve seen bits of BBC Two’s Culture Show before, and despite the nonsense sometimes uttered by Lauren Laverne, it’s seemed pretty good. I mean, it’s got Mark Kermode on it, what the hell else do you want?
But this surely deserves a bigger audience than the couple of million viewers that usually watch the show.
Written by John Oliver – who’s now working on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show in the U.S. – and Andy Saltzman, performed by Rory Bremner, and with the animation of the 2DTV team, this is British satire at its very best.
My view on Gordon’s Cabinet members, as they’re announced.
|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.”
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.
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
That, there on the right, is possibly the most highly anticipated bit of technology this year. Screw the iPhone. That, there, is the BBC iPlayer, and it’s going online a month today. It’s about to make every VCR completely redundant.
It looks like the ad slogan will be “Make the unmissable unmissable”, which is pretty good.
Shame they picked today to announce the date though.
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.
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
13:30 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 26, 2007
June 25, 2007
June 24, 2007
Students are probably more interested in the size of their overdraft than interest rates. Obviously when they leave university, they’ll have to repay their student loan, maybe take out a loan for a car, perhaps get a mortgage in a few years.
But could interest rates become a more pressing concern?
As the Bank of England interest rate pushes 5.5% – and looks like continuing northwards – people who’ve bought properties to rent to students might be thinking their mortgage is too expensive and their investment is less attractive.
Analysis by HSBC seems to recommend that landlords take their cash out of housing, and put it in normal savings accounts or ISAs, where the returns are more favourable.
Their buy-to-let property isn’t likely to be making them much money month-to-month, and they’re hoping house prices continue to rise. But this is unlikely to happen for much longer.
This is leading in one direction: fewer, more expensive, student properties to let. Some landlords will sell up while others will get a better return on their mortgage by putting up rents. Either way, students lose out.
With more campus accommodation not high on the agenda of many universities – including Warwick’s – where are the students going to live when landlords get out quick?
Alan Johnson received far more first, second, third and fourth-preference votes than Harriet Harman.
Harriet Harman is still Labour Deputy Leader.
Jon Cruddas 30.06%
Harriet Harman 33.58%
Alan Johnson 36.35%
Harriet Harman 50.43%
Alan Johnson 49.56%
So Jon Cruddas’ votes went to Harman then.
June 14, 2007
The BBC loves it. Rupert Murdoch loves it. Even the government is falling in love with it.
But like Grandstand, Marathon bars, the Drachma and the Beatles, everything has a lifecycle.
What am I talking about?
MySpace, Facebook and Bebo have quickly grown to become some of the biggest websites in the world. Facebook’s growth has been particularly impressive: 400,000 just over six months ago is 2,000,000 today.
But how long can these websites (if we can call them that) continue to expand? And what will happen when they reach their peak?
One small event triggered me to wonder whether social networking sites are ultimately doomed: My mum joined one.
Now, I can cope with this. I’m a grown-up and I know she’s only joined so she can spy on the local trouble-making kids (ah, if only Facebook had net curtains).
I think most mums are probably as inquisitive as mine. And they’ve got better things to do than join their own special site for middle-aged people. They’d much rather jump on-board the kids’ version and use it to their advantage.
But what happens when everyone’s mum is on Facebook, MySpace or Bebo? How will the yoof react?
Facebook I find particularly troubling. The USP of Facebook was that it was an academic site, useful for arranging nights out or joining groups where you slag off your lecturers. But then they opened up to everyone. Not only does this make privacy an issue, but it also leads to PSD, or Parental Snooping Disease.
While I can still just about see a use to Facebook, I wonder whether the fact that everyone is on there – and the ebbing away of the site’s coolness that will follow – will be enough to tip people over the edge and back to their previously hermitic existence when they weren’t connected to their ‘mini-feed’.
Ultimately, we’ll find ourselves asking ‘Do I really need Facebook/Bebo/Myspace?’ and then asking ‘Is that need outweighed by the fact that having my mum on there is mortally embarrassing?’. The more time I spend on Facebook, the more I begin to think it’s like Big Brother (the TV show rather than the Orwellian concept, although the latter may also be true). It’s addictive to start with, and then you realise it’s just wasting your time.
This isn’t what big business wants to hear. They’re piling onto the social networking bandwagon faster than you can say ‘cash-cow’. The trouble is… might they arrive too late?
And if they are too late and social networking recedes, then what next? Will we find new and more involving ways to connect with people online, or will we rediscover the phone, texting, and even (whisper it) talking face-to-face?
Following last night’s surprise winner of The Apprentice, I thought I’d present my guide to the next season of the show so as to avoid disappointment when it comes around.
1) If Sir Alan nods his head, gives a thumbs up, or an ‘ok’ signal to a contestant at a vital moment, that contestant will lose.
2) If a contestant makes themselves look like a complete fool, that contestant will win.
It doesn’t matter who looked like the better contestant last night. The editing will have made the other look better, so Sir Alan’s decision came as a big shock. If you watched the “You’re Hired” show afterwards, you’ll have seen the bit of Simon’s speech which made him look composed and clever. Funnily enough we didn’t see that in the main show.
It’s called TV editing, and it’s my simple two-part guide to the next – and every – series of The Apprentice. Watch Series 3 all over again and you’ll see how right I am.
June 13, 2007
June 12, 2007
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.
This book is coming out in a couple of weeks. It should be quite good. I wrote some of it.
June 11, 2007
Make cuts to BBC News, or scrap BBC Three? I’m not alone in preferring the latter:Chris Doidge’s Blog, 3rd June
Ray Snoddy, 11th June
So-called ‘linear’ channels aren’t the way of getting 18-30 year olds interested in the BBC. I speak from experience here. We’re far more likely to watch something on YouTube or through the BBC’s forthcoming iPlayer. I’m not saying that BBC Three’s programmes should be scrapped. Just that the genuinely original ones should be broadcast somewhere else. BBC Three’s content often isn’t that original (there must be more repeats than on any other BBC channel), and the original programming could return to BBC One and Two, where it used to belong. Or be a web-exclusive, promoted on TV.
How about saving money by making BBC Three a largely interactive broadband service? It is after all aimed at the young. Hit shows could still get a broadcast slot. Space could then be made for a repeats channel for those with neither laptop nor iPod.