All 132 entries tagged Politics

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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 20, 2007

An English Parliament? No–one cares.

At the time of writing, 1,128 people had signed a petition of the Number 10 website for the creation of an English Parliament. It’s a popular idea with a few Tories, who know they’d probably get a permanent majority in such an assembly.

But it doesn’t seem the public care…

21,445 people want census data to be made available earlier
10,984 people want St David’s Day to be a Welsh national holiday
5,649 people want Ruth Kelly to give up her job
4,228 people want to replace the national anthem with ‘Gold’ by Spandau Ballet
2,033 people want to ban the sale of “puppy farms”
1,781 people want to “save Suffolk middle schools”
1,214 people want to prohibit the sale of fireworks
1,148 people want the government to give Blackpool the super-casino

In the light of which, it seems that people really aren’t fussed about England getting its own Parliament. Unless, of course, their wages are likely to come out of it.


February 14, 2007

Brown v Miliband? The gloves start coming off

Having been controlled by a duopoly for the past 13 years, Labour should consider jumping a generation to free itself from the negative incumbency factor that will otherwise plague the new government’s future.

Frank Field MP, writing in The Guardian today.

His suggestion? Step forward, David Miliband.

It’s a strange time for Mr Field to write this. Under a week ago, Miliband made a silly comment about Gordon Brown on the BBC’s Question Time. It looked like a schoolboy error.

There’s clearly going to be a Blairite wing of the party who look to someone like Miliband to defeat Brown. But it’s not going to happen, and luckily David Miliband is clever enough to know this.

Frank Field should be too.


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 31, 2007

Race for 2008: getting a bit crowded

It’s turning into a two-year Olympic event. The race for 2008 now has at least 21 serious contenders, 9 for the Democrats and 12 for the Republicans1.

They’re going to need heats and semi-finals long before it gets to the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries next January.

So here’s Round 1:

Who do you find more convincing?

1 There’s also three Libertarian candidates. They don’t stand a chance. The only other possibility is Michael Bloomberg, the New York Mayor, who might run as an independent. He also has little chance. Unbelievably the Prohibition Party still exists: its main policy still being the banning of alcohol.


January 25, 2007

Huw says political 'argy bargy' is a gigantic switchoff

I’ve just met Professor1 Huw Edwards (right). Lovely man. But he’s worried.

The audience is changing. We need to know what the audience thinks and why they may or may not be watching.

Because while big news stories like the Suffolk Murders get big ratings (the same audience as big stories got in the 1980s), there’s been a large general decline in TV News watching.

Huw Edwards, speaking at Cardiff Journalism School, 25th January 2007Since 2001 there’s been a drop of 16% in the number of 16-34 year olds watching BBC News bulletins. It’s been worse on other channels and no, they haven’t all been going online.

By 2012, if current trends continue, only around two-thirds of the UK will see any BBC News. It’s currently over 80% each week.

Huw’s worried because the licence fee – which pays his wages – depends on the BBC being seen by as many people who pay for it as possible. If they stop watching, people will wonder what they’re paying for.

Another worry – for politicians, and for me as a budding political journalist – is that the public are fed up with what Huw called “political argy-bargy”. It’s a “gigantic switchoff”. And yet that’s what political reporting seems to have become. Because we care about ‘human interest’ stories. So Gordon Brown’s home life is more interesting than his five economic tests. And yet we hate seeing stories about him and Blair having a tussle. Hmm…

Audiences are fickle. And so Huw’s message was that if you watch the news and think “Why are they doing that!?”, then the answer is that it’s because – often – that’s how you want it. Their very expensive research says so.

Listen to some of what Huw had to say (1m10):

1 Professor? Yup, that’s right. He was in Cardiff to give his inaugural lecture as a Professor in the Journalism School.


The knives are out for Reid

Is it the beginning of the end for the Home Secretary?


January 23, 2007

Supermarkets are getting an easy ride from the Competition Commission

Supermarket share prices, 23rd Jan 2007 It’s several years since supermarkets were last checked to see if they were anti-competitive. Since then, the answer’s become even clearer. Corner shops and convenience stores are lucky if they’re reporting declining sales. At least they haven’t shut up shop already.

But despite this, the Competition Commission has given the supermarkets plenty of breathing space while outlining their ‘emerging thinking’ today. And where’s the evidence? Well, it’s on the right. If the stockbrokers think that an across-the-board rise in supermarket share prices is appropriate, it probably means they’re going to get an easy ride.

The inquiry says it’s now going to “go local”. But you have to wonder if they’ll bother to speak to any of the thousands of people put out of business by the 800lb gorillas in the market.


January 21, 2007

Chris Doidge's Blog Forces Major New Government Policy

Chris Doidge’s Blog, 16th January 2007:

There’s probably a case to be made that the Home Office is permanently “unfit for purpose”, encompassing too many different roles. And it’s rumoured Gordon Brown will split it into two when he becomes Prime Minister. The question is: why can’t that be done now?

BBC News Online, 20th January 2007:

The Home Office could be split into two departments under recommendations put forward by Home Secretary John Reid. One department would deal with security issues and the other with justice under the plans, which are set be to put to the Cabinet for discussion.

This post may have a tongue-in-cheek title, or may be true. You decide.


January 20, 2007

Hillary's In

It doesn’t come as a surprise to see Hillary Clinton announce a bid for the U.S. Presidency. But it does feel strange to hear her talking about it openly and passionately.

You see, for over a year now, Hillary’s said things like “We’ll see when the time comes”, “Whatever will be, will be”, and my personal favourite “I haven’t decided”.

She’s dodged every question about a potential run for the White House and so it’s nice to finally see her open up about her intentions. For one thing, it looked like a relief to her. When asked about a run, “I haven’t decided” was probably as close to a barefaced lie as you’ll get out of Clinton. She’s been working towards this for months.

There’s a train of thought that the last thing America needs is a inward-looking Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton theme to the Presidency. Hey, Jeb Bush might even make it five in a row!

But I’m not sure I give this ‘problem’ much truck, if only because the two families – apart from their obsession with politics – are so different.

For now though, I still find Barack Obama the more interesting candidate. Clinton spent eight years as the most proactive First Lady in history. We know pretty much what she stands for and what her priorities would be in office.

But Obama turns the personality up to 11. So if he can find a good reason to run, offer good answers to America’s problems and steady the rocky ship, then he’s got a pretty good chance of undoing the Bush/Clinton lock on the White House and ruining Hillary’s plans.


January 18, 2007

The rain in Spain falls mainly on Peter Hain

Peter Hain Blamerbell is surprised no-one has stuck up for Peter Hain’s rant against American foreign policy in the New Statesman. (link)

I love a challenge, so here goes.

Peter Hain is representative of one of the nicest things about politics. For while opponents will complain about any ‘policy splits’, they’ll do the same when the government all have their heads in the sand.

What he represents is the plurality of views within a political party. We all know that parties are broad churches (Labour is no narrower than the Tories and Lib Dems).

Yes, collective responsibility is important, and yes, Hain voted for war in Iraq. But there is an alternative to politicians sniping about ‘u-turns’.

They might, for instance, welcome the wide range of thinking within the government. They might think that everyone singing from the same hymn sheet might be a little boring and self-defeating. They might put opportunism to one side and even welcome Hain’s remarks.

For the truth is that they all agree with what he’s said. But for the daft, opportunist politician who wants a cheap headline, making fun of intelligence within another party is all too tempting.

No, the title of this entry doesn’t make much sense.


Standing room only

Britain’s trains seem to be becoming like low-cost airlines. Only without the low cost.

The Head of Railways at the Department for Transport said yesterday:

If you are travelling a relatively short distance I do not think that it is unacceptable to expect to stand in the peak. The cost of providing sufficient capacity to enable everyone to get a seat would expand the railway budget way beyond anything we have here.

Dr Mike Mitchell clarified his remarks, saying a ‘short journey’ was anything under thirty minutes in length.

Given that a season ticket into London costs £5,000 a year, this is unbelievable. There should be an urgent investment in longer trains and longer platforms, as well as an attempt to reduce prices from their spectacular highs.

For many years, train travel has only been a realistic option for wealthy people. Now it seems you also have to be patient, well-balanced and slim to use the railways. How come most European countries can manage to provide a civilised train system, yet we can’t even come close.


What's wrong with our criminal justice system?

Well, what isn’t wrong with it? That’s almost the impression I got after a day spent observing the work of Her Majesty’s Courts.

Cardiff Crown Court I sat in on the start of a case in Cardiff yesterday. A nineteen-year-old was charged with GBH after punching a man in the face. He admitted making the punch but denied the charge (he’ll probably be found guilty in my opinion).

Of course, it’s his right to plead ‘not guilty’. But I wonder whether the whole matter might not have been best settled out-of-court. The government have played with the idea of on-the-spot-fines for minor offences. And this case – with neither party appearing particularly innocent – would have been much more easily settled with some money changing hands.

The cost of the case must have been enormous. Two barristers, a judge, a security guard, three legal assistants and several witnesses were all required, not to mention 14 jurors (two more than strictly necessary). It’s unlikely a jail term would be appropriate unless he’s got form, and in all likelihood, he’ll get a fine and maybe community service.

At a very rough guess, it’s probably cost over £10,000 for this case to come to trial. And yet the Crown Prosecution Service – cheekily called the Criminal Protection Service by some – ignores other cases because they don’t think they’re worth pursuing.

It seems the CPS needs far more resources to do its job properly. The assessments it makes seem a little slap-dash. And with prison a relatively pointless, and horrendously expensive exercise*, isn’t court very often a waste of time and money?

I can’t think of anyone who benefited from this case coming to court. And yet the taxpayer is probably funding hundreds of these wasteful cases every day. Is justice for minor crimes really worth it?

*The consensus about prison seems to be shifting. Few people still regard it as a method of rehabilitation. Given the overcrowding and drugs problems in prisons, it is merely seen as ‘punishment’.


The government concentrates on the important issues

We [Britain and India] are for countries that practise what we preach, which is a message of fairness and tolerance to all human beings

- Gordon Brown

This is not simply a piece of fun – this is a problem

- Ed Balls

I think this is racism being presented as entertainment and I think it’s disgusting.

- Tessa Jowell

The only people who don’t appear to be taking it seriously are Channel 4.

- Keith Vaz Shilpa Shetty

I understand concerns that there should be a debate and I will do what I can to assist

- Jack Straw

The current vulgarity is a classic example of the case against any kind of public subsidy for Channel 4

- Chris Mullin

And in a rare moment on honesty on the issue:

I have not seen this particular programme so I cannot comment on it

- Tony Blair

Is there anyone who hasn’t expressed a view yet?


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