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June 27, 2007
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.
May 11, 2007
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.
11:15 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.