Archive for December, 2010

2011: the year in review

31/12/2010, 01:00:54 PM

by Dan Hodges

2011. What  a twelve months it’s been. Tweaking the nose of convention. Hurling itself robustly into the face of popular wisdom. The year of living counter-intuitively.

It started, of course, with the amazing scenes from the Oldham & Saddleworth by-election. Tory activists barring the way to the polling stations for known Conservative voters. David Cameron, in yellow rosette, claiming that his great grandfather was best friends with Lloyd George. Ken Clarke, in sandals, and ill-fitting “Save the Whale” t-shirt, urging voters to “hold your nose, close your eyes, and vote Lib Dem”.

All to no avail. Labour: 25,000; Tories: 15,000; Lib Dems: 133. “A wake up call”, said Nick Clegg.

Oldham & Saddleworth only heralded the start of the electoral drama. There were the unprecedented seventeen by-elections held after Labour MPs convicted of erroneously charging paper clips to their expenses were each sentenced to 13 years imprisonment. Their decision to appeal their convictions was widely condemned by the media. “These paper clip thieving ratbags just don’t get it”, raged Richard Littlejohn. “Hanging’s too good for the scum”. (more…)

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The Uncuts: 2010 political awards

31/12/2010, 07:30:03 AM

It’s been a busy old year. Gordon departed. Cameron and Clegg moved the brokeback wagons into Downing Street. Gideon slashed and burned. Vince tried to waltz his way into some young “constituent’s’” knickers and Ed beat David.

After the arguments over the electoral college in Manchester, and the luke warm tussling over AV we thought it best to pick our winners rather than have a readers vote. The old fashioned way. Feel free to add yours in the comments.

Politician of the year

There really could only be one winner:

George Osborne

Filled with his own self importance, and a belief that he was born to do this. He had the audacity to call his budget “progressive” while slashing and burning with that trademark smirk. But in all serious political circles he has earned (grudging) respect. As Cameron twists and turns, Nick jumps through hoops and Vince dances around a resignation, Gideon has become the rock at the heart of the Cameron government. Well advised, well rehearsed and well… impressive. Let’s hope 2011 isn’t as good a year for the man who could keep Labour out of power for the next decade.

Runners up:

Ed Miliband won against the odds. Has finally beefed up his team and started landing punches. A win in Oldham East &  Saddleworth followed by a good showing in the locals could give him the momentum to really take on the government in 2011.

David Cameron. He won. Just. He made it into Number 10. Just. He ends the year with decent poll numbers all things considered, a “radical” programme and a sturdy majority (courtesy of his Lib Dem pals). Fair dos. Not a bad position for a PM to be in.

Best supporting politician

Winner:

Nick Clegg. Like The Man from Del Monte in the old ads who liked to say “yes”, Clegg’s willingness to hop into bed with Cameron and accept his “big, comprehensive offer” now gives him more clout than any of his predecessors since Lloyd George. But at what price?

Runners up:

David Miliband for his magnanimous speech at conference.

Gordon Brown for not backseat driving.

Harriet Harman for super-subbing during the summer, although lost marks for her fingerprints – or at least dinner plates – being all over the Hewitt/Hoon plot.

Geraldine Smith (late of Morecombe & Lunesdale) whose gutsy defences of Gordon and denunciation of all wannabe coup-ists was a sight to behold.

Brass neck of the year

What a 'Jeremy Hunt'

Winner:

Nick Clegg for his volte face on tuition fees.

Runners up:

Hewitt and Hoon for their risible, back-of-a-fag-packet plot to oust Gordon Brown.

George Osborne for calling the budget “progressive”.

Tony Blair for saying Bank of England independence was his idea in A Journey.

Liam Fox for his “fury” over his leaked letter to Cameron about defence cuts. 

The man behind the man award

Winner:

Stewart Wood From Peter Parker to Spiderman. The bespeckled Oxford don and foreign policy adviser to Brown became the war time consigliere to Miliband Jnr. Masterminding the tortoise vs the hare victory over Miliband Snr. Now a peer with his sights set on taking down Sayeeda Warsi.

Runners up:

Sue Nye Respected for her long-suffering loyalty to successive Labour leaders and unfairly fingered for Gordon Brown’s Mrs. Duffy encounter (“It was Sue” squealed the nark). Bows out both well-liked and well-respected.

Ray Collins for helping keep the Labour show on the road and ensuring that Labour did not do as badly as some predicted. Or end up as broke.

Off to a flying start award

Winner:

Rory Stewart for his less than generous remarks about the sartorial standards of his constituents.

Runners up:

Mark Reckless Crazy name, crazy guy. Too pissed to vote. His “I don’t intend to drink in Westminster again” pledge is one that Westminster’s watering-hole watchers will be keeping their bleary eyes on.

Chris Kelly the publicity hungry backbencher is rumoured to be taking his chicken whisperer act on “Britain’s got talent” next year.

Survivor of the year

Winner:

Andy Coulson. Like all spin doctors, a wannabe Rasputin. And like the mad monk, seemingly unkillable. He ends the year in situ. But the phone hacking scandal is not going away.

Runners up:

Vince Cable One time Lib Dem treasure, ended the year on a low after trying to impress two young undercover journos with his “nuclear option.” Neutered but still walking. Just.

Jonathan Ashworth. It is said that in the event of a nuclear holocaust Jonathan Ashworth will still be working in the Labour leader’s office. 3 masters in 12 months.

Gisela Stewart. One of the bright points of a grey evening was seeing Birmingham Edgbaston – the first seat to indicate the Labour landslide back in 1997 – stay Labour.

Nigel Farage. A plane crash at the general election, a train crash of a successor. Britain’s favourite little Englander still stands.

Political battle of the year

Winners:

Miliband vs Miliband. Part A river runs through it, part The Godfather II. It was what it was always going to be: two brothers divided by their determination to get the top job. It leaves a legacy. It must. But is there more drama to come?

Runners up:

Osborne vs Mandelson. You might think you know which one is the better politician, but only one of them masterminded their way into government this year

Balls vs Gove. Michael Gove’s early billing as a star of this Tory generation took a near fatal hammering from a brutal master of political pugilism, Ed Balls. Gove’s calamitous decision to axe the building schools for the future programme was made to hurt more than he ever imagined it could.

Adam Boulton vs Alistair Campbell. Did Sky want the Tories to win the election? At a corporate level we can be fairly sure that it did. At a journalistic level? Hard to say. But Boulton’s reaction shows that the accusation strikes close to the bone.

(Ex) minister of the year award

Winner:

Alistair Darling To emerge, as chancellor, from a beaten government and a tanking economy with your reputation enhanced is truly a remarkable achievement and the mark of a quietly brilliant man.

Runners up:

Kenneth Clarke The Tory right may be screaming for his head, yet his enlightened approach to prison reform may set penal policy in a direction that actually works. But will Cameron’s nerve hold and keep Ken where he is?

Bob Ainsworth An unlikely hippy, it’s safe to say, but his recent call for drugs reform was a significant intervention from a former minister who knows that the “war on drugs” was lost long ago. The number of people who secretly agree with him but would never dream of saying so is a small part of everything that is wrong with politics.

The Jo Moore award for PR disaster of the year

Winner:

Bigot-gate Gordon Brown’s description of Rochdale pensioner, Gillian Duffy, as “that bigoted woman” was the undoubted numero uno gaffe of the general election campaign. Few recall, however, that Labour took Rochdale from the Lib Dems on election night.

Runners up:

Fire up the Quatro poster. A spectacularly ill-judged Labour campaign which turned Cameron into one of the country’s most loved TV characters.

Airbrushed Cameron Equally backfiring idea, which showed Cameron to be even more plastic and artificial than he is.

Liam Byrne – His “there’s no money left” note to his successor, David Laws, was quickly used as a stick to beat him with. A colossal mistake by an otherwise smart man.

The fourth (rate) estate award

#Hackinggate Non-reporting of the biggest media scandal in decades. Guilty consciences all around Fleet Street as no-one seriously doubts that the culture of phone hacking goes well beyond one rogue reporter at the News of the World. We know this because people keep owning up to it in the Guardian. Yet, apparently, this despicable practice, the gross and illegal abuse of privilege, doesn’t warrant a mention in the vast majority of the press.

Runners up:

Nick Clegg’s Nazi Slur on Britain One of the most pathetic days in recent British journalistic history. Andy Coulson got exactly the headlines he wanted. Those responsible – editors and scribblers – damaged their own reputations to suck up to their future bosses, and Lib Dem central office wasted a day fighting fires started by lickspittle. Tawdry, tawdry stuff.

Kay Burley Sky News’s afternoon anchor. Just type her name in to YouTube. Enough said.

Prediction of the year

Winner:

Dan Hodges for his “David Miliband has won” prediction on Uncut, five days before the coronation ceremony. At which Ed was crowned.

Runners up:

Benedict BroganCameron will be PM by tea time on Friday”.

Nick Robinson “David Miliband will win”‘ prediction, about 90 seconds before he lost.

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Friday News Review

31/12/2010, 07:15:46 AM

Johnson calls for VAT rise rethink

The shadow chancellor, Alan Johnson, urges an 11th hour rethink of Tuesday’s planned VAT rise in a letter to the government today, as theConfederation of British Industry (CBI) warned public spending cuts could lead to a dramatic slowdown in the pace of economic recovery. Outgoing director general of the employer’s body, Richard Lambert, predicts “bumpy times ahead” for businesses which are “extremely uncertain” about what the new year will bring. “That’s understandable because the economic and political outlook both seem volatile over the short term,” said Lambert, who is knighted in the New Year honours list. “For a start the pace of economic recovery could slow quite markedly in the first few months of 2011. The VAT increase will be taking effect, and the construction sector will start to feel the pain of public spending cuts,” he said. While the influential body is not predicting a double-dip recession and expects the rate of growth to pick up later in the year, Lambert expresses concern about the early months of 2011. – The Guardian

Rebel rebel

Government MPs are rebelling against their parties’ policies on a scale not seen since 1945, new research for The Independent has revealed. During the Coalition’s first seven months, dozens of Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs – including many elected for the first time in May – have repeatedly defied House of Commons whips to vote against the Government. The findings suggest the Coalition – which has a Commons majority of 84 – could be vulnerable to defeat as the Government becomes more unpopular and the austerity measures hit home. Earlier this month the rise in tuition fees scraped by with a majority of 21. The research, conducted by Professor Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart of Nottingham University, found Government MPs rebelled in 84 of the 160 Commons votes between May and 20 December when Parliament rose for the three-week Christmas break. They say the 53 per cent rebellion rate is “without parallel in the post-war era”. – Independent

Lansley U-turn on flu after Healey pressure

THE ConDems were forced into making a humiliating U-turn as the flu death toll rose to 39 last night. It launched a desperate publicity drive to curb the spread of the virus – just months after scrapping an advertising campaign as too costly and unnecessary. Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has now resurrected the £1.5million “Catch it, Bin it, Kill it” programme. Geoff Martin, chairman of pressure group Health ­Emergency, said: “They scrapped the publicity to save a few pounds but placed people’s lives at risk.” The Health Protection Agency said the number of flu victims in intensive care has almost doubled in a week to 738. Twelve more people have died since last week, on top of the 27 victims killed by the virus since October. – The Mirror (more…)

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What did you expect?

30/12/2010, 03:30:58 PM

by Chris Bryant

Not inconvenient blizzards bleak

Or frosts to hoar your cheek.

Not passengers without a flight

Or trains congealed all night.

Not journeys inched down icy hills

Or record nightly chills.

Not politicians rosy-cheeked

With eagerness to please.

Not agonising Liberals

Contorted by real power,

Their Tory friends exasperate

By lenient Kenneth Clarke.

The cynic always love to know

That he was right to doubt.

So he has cause to sneer and pout

And say ‘I told you so’.

Too swiftly, we expect the worst

And barely see the joy at first.

The same is true of Parliament.

Yes, we are tribal, venal, vain,

But decent people, in the main.

These truths need our acknowledgement:

We only briefly strut and fret;

Opponents have their honour yet.

And yet the indices of happiness

For us are as for all:

A present prized,

A partner’s hand,

A friend surprised,

A journey planned,

A niece all smiles,

A thank you note,

A fond recall,

A verse that’s a success.

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Klösters catastrophe as Osborne loses luggage

30/12/2010, 11:46:32 AM

Spare a thought for poor George Osborne. The chancellor has had a tumultuous year. A great office of state before the age of forty. Master of all he surveys. Slashing and burning for Britain. Curbing the excesses of the poor.

A crafty winter holiday was the least he deserved. Klösters, the world’s most exclusive ski resort, the only destination equal to his sybaritic grandeur.

But at the airport this week he was reduced – like the most impotent child – to tears of frustration at the loss of his luggage. Reports reach that he shouted and stamped, cursed and cajoled, but nothing could call into being the exquisitely riveted corners of his monogrammed portmanteaux.

The chancellor is not thought to be staying at the Klösters home of his millionaire associate, scion of the famous banking dynasty, Nat Rothschild.

He is thought, sadly, to be still looking for his luggage. Airline executives are counting the cost as we speak.

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Foster care: why it matters

30/12/2010, 07:00:50 AM

by Peter Watt

Neil is ten years old. This morning he woke to find that he had wet the bed. His Mum smacked him and told him that he was stupid. It happened most days. His bed was changed only occasionally. He did not wash or shower. He put on the same clothes as yesterday. The same clothes that he had been wearing since the school holidays had started. His trainers had got wet in the snow and had never properly dried.

He knew that today was going to be a bad day. He had heard his Mum and Dad get in from the pub late, arguing loudly. His Mum had gone off to meet his Dad, leaving him to get tea for his brother Arnie, aged seven, and sister Sam, aged three. He had eventually taken himself to bed. He certainly did not want to be up when they got in. Sometimes they would come back with strangers and stay up talking loudly. He was pretty sure that they were taking drugs. When that happened he took his brother and sister into his room, shut the door and hoped for the best. (more…)

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Thursday News Review

30/12/2010, 06:58:09 AM

Ed’s new year message

BRITAIN faces a year of pain as reckless ConDem cuts and tax rises bite, Labour leader Ed Miliband warned today. In a New Year message, he said the full impact of the coalition austerity measures are now about to hit home. He blasted David Cam-eron and Nick Clegg for breaking election promises and being indifferent to the unnecessary pain they are about to inflict.Mr Miliband said: “2011 will be a year of consequen-ces for Britain. Consequences felt by hard-working families all across the country. Consequences of reducing the deficit at an irresponsible pace and scale.” – The Mirror


Ed Miliband is warning Britons to be braced for the pain of deep spending cuts – and accuses Coalition ministers of being callous in how they wield the axe. In his New Year message, the Labour leader denounces the “irresponsible pace and scale” of austerity measures which he says will be felt “by hard-working families”. “Many people feel powerless in the face of these decisions that will affect their lives, families and communities. The political forces in Whitehall which have made these choices appear forbidding and unheeding,” he says. Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, warned that 2011 would be “horrible”, with rising unemployment and cuts to benefits and services. – Independent

2011: Year of social and economic misery

Support for the coalition has now collapsed from 59% to 43%, backing for the Lib Dems from 23% at the general election to 8% in some polls, and Nick Clegg has become one of the most hated men in Britain as his party prepares to pay a savage political price in next May’s elections – and quite possibly in his lifeline electoral reform referendum as well. Given that Brown was still fighting off Blairite cabinet coups last January, this really has been a year of dizzying political change. By the same token, 2011 promises to be a year of social and economic misery, as the coalition’s cuts and the heaviest costs of the bankers’ crisis are loaded on to the poorest under the slogan “we’re all in this together”. Everything from cuts in housing benefit and childcare support for those on low and middle incomes, to the abolition of the educational maintenance allowance and the slashing of basic council services will move from the realm of political debate to real life in the new year. – The Guardian

Polling in Oldham

I’ve just had word that the automated phone pollster, Survation, is carrying out a survey in Oldham East & Saddleworth ahead of the by-election. Survation is not a member of the British Polling Council and I had heard little of it until now. According to its website it carried out polling during the Labour leadership race and I am told it also did a general election exit poll. I don’t know where or when the Old & Sad poll will be published but it’s findings could play a key part in establishing whether the blues or yellows are best placed to challenge Labour. At the general election it was LAB 31.9%: LD 31.6%: CON 26.4%. – PoliticalBetting

AV contest warms up

The referendum on changes to the electoral system is shaping up to be the political event of next year. As it should be. Voting is a serious matter, and no alteration to the established way of doing things should be undertaken lightly or without exhaustive discussion. While not as fundamental a reform as The Independent and other advocates of proportional representation would like, a move to the Alternative Vote system would still be a landmark change for a country that has used first-past-the-post since modern elections began. The battle lines are already being drawn up. Late last month, the “no” campaign introduced its leaders: Margaret Beckett was named president; David Blunkett and Lord Prescott were given supporting roles, along with the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and the Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, making it a truly crossbench affair. – Independent

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Memoirs of a geezer: self-justification in the age of bad manners

29/12/2010, 08:00:19 AM

by Tom Watson

Anthony Seldon has published a biography of Gordon Brown. I broke a golden rule and agreed to be interviewed, because I admire him and he charmed me into it. My father in law raves about his books. So I relented and talked to him for over an hour in July. It was a mistake.

After a quick skim-read of the pages on which I’m quoted or mentioned, the results do not appear disastrous. But I still feel sullied. And though I hope I’ve not hurt the feelings of the subject, I’m not sure if I’ve contributed to a greater understanding of the times.

Nevertheless, I’m told that Mr Seldon gives a good account of Gordon’s time in Number 10 – as told to him by the great leader’s friends and foes. Yet reading many of the books chronicling contemporary political times is a poor way to understand the period covered. (more…)

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‘No’ campaign releases Labour names

29/12/2010, 07:55:11 AM

Following on from the Labour ‘Yes’ campaign publishing its supporters in an open letter to the guardian – the ‘No’ to av camp has published a list of 114 Labour MPs who are ‘backing’ the ‘No’ campaign:

David Anderson, Blaydon
Ian Austin, Dudley North
Adrian Bailey, West Bromwich West
Gordon Banks, Ochil and South Perthshire
Margaret Beckett, Derby South
Stuart Bell, Middlesbrough
Joe Benton, Bootle
Clive Betts, Sheffield South East
Hazel Blears, Salford and Eccles
David Blunkett, Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough
Russell Brown, Dumfries and Galloway
David Cairns, Inverclyde
Ronnie Campbell, Blyth Valley (more…)
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Wednesday News Review

29/12/2010, 06:58:33 AM

Hughes set to sell the un-sellable

Simon Hughes, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, was yesterday handed the job of selling the Government’s unpopular higher education reforms to prospective students. Downing Street said Mr Hughes – who abstained in the Commons vote on raising tuition fees – agreed to take up the unpaid role as an “access advocate” to persuade parents and children from poor backgrounds they will be able to afford a university education when the new fees come into effect. However, just as important will be Mr Hughes’s role in convincing recalcitrant Liberal Democrat supporters that the party has not sold out to the Tories over the policy and that the new fees structure is genuinely fairer than the previous system. Mr Hughes is a popular figure in the party and his acceptance of the new role is a sign of how seriously the leadership takes the fall-out from the tuition fees vote. – Independent

The unprecedented unpaid appointment was agreed by David Cameron and Nick Clegg before Christmas, and follows the huge controversy that followed the Commons decision to treble tuition fees from 2012. In an admission that he is losing the propaganda war, Cameron, in his letter appointing Hughes, claimed there was a “material risk” poor schoolchildren would be put off by “misinformation” from applying to higher education institutions or staying on to study A-levels. It was also being stressed that Hughes will have the power to make policy recommendations for what should replace the abolished £560m education maintenance allowance aimed at helping poor children into further education. EMA subsidised young people in England who remain in education after the age of 16 by up to £30 a week if they came from poorer families. – Guardian

Mr Hughes, who has positioned himself as a standard bearer for the left of the party, will tour schools and colleges to discuss the policy with the students of the future and report their concerns to Mr Clegg and David Cameron. The move is designed to ease Lib Dem concerns about the policy, which directly contradicts their manifesto pledge to abolish tuition fees. Fewer than half the party’s 57 MPs supported the plan to raise fees to a maximum £9,000 a year earlier this month. But the unpaid role risks opening Mr Hughes to ridicule, coming less than three weeks after he threatened to vote against the policy he will now be promoting.  – Daily Mail

Labour and Tories trade flu jab insults

The health minister, Simon Burns, accused Labour of stooping to a new low of political opportunism today after it claimed the government had cut a routine flu vaccination for under-fives. John Healey, the shadow health secretary, said the cut had been against scientific advice and was driven by the need to make financial savings. He said: “The serious problem lies with the groups that are most at risk, like children. That has come because the government axed the annual advertising campaign and they cancelled the flu jab plan for the under-fives.” But an angry Burns said: “Labour have stooped to a new low of political opportunism today. By calling on the government to reject independent scientific advice, they risk undermining the public confidence in immunisation programmes which is so crucial to their success.” The rate of flu cases in England almost doubled in a week earlier this month, from 34 people in every 100,000 to 87 in every 100,000 – a faster rise than in 1999, the last time England suffered a flu epidemic. Labour had criticised the government over the lack of dedicated protection for young children and the decision to axe the annual flu jab awareness campaign. – Guardian

Last year, all healthy children aged six months to five years were offered the jab. This year, doctors asked for £25 per patient to cover the costs of the jabs for the 38million youngsters. Mr Healey accused ministers of making the ‘wrong judgment’ by cancelling the jabs. Mr Burns yesterday hit back, saying: ‘Labour have stooped to a new low of political opportunism. The Government is legally obliged to implement recommendations made by experts on the joint committee. John Healey is either spectacularly ill-informed or playing politics with people’s health.’ Mr Healey told the Mail on Tuesday: ‘The problem lies with the groups most at risk, like children. That has come because the Government axed the annual advertising campaign and cancelled the flu jab plan for the under-fives.’ – Daily Mail

Is David stateside bound?

South Shields MP David Miliband could be US-bound. The former foreign secretary is being touted for the post of British ambassador to Washington, according to reports in the national press. Mr Miliband forged a good relationship with US secretary of state Hillary Clinton when he was foreign secretary and, as US ambassador, observers believe he would be a voice trusted by the Obama administration. But if he was offered the post it could lead to problems within the Labour Party – with the ambassador appointed by the UK Tory-led government. – The Shields Gazette

It’s official Tories have something wrong in their head

Scientists say Conservative voters really do have something unusual happening in their heads. Researchers found that right-wingers are likely to have a very thick amygdala – a part of the brain associated with emotion. Like many Tory supporters, the amygdala is ancient and primitive. The study was commissioned as a bit of fun by actor Colin Firth as part of his stint guest editing BBC Radio 4’s Today programme – but has developed into a serious effort to discover if people’s political views are encoded. – Mirror

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